30 Day Song Challenge, Day 4 – “A Beautiful Morning” by The Rascals

The subject for Day 4 of my 30 Day Song Challenge is “A song that reminds you of Spring“, and for my pick I’m going way back to 1968 with “A Beautiful Morning” by The Rascals. It’s not a song about Spring per se, but for me, its positive title and exuberant sunny vibe evoke images of a lovely Spring-like day, where it just feels good to be alive.

Co-written in Honolulu by band members Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati while the band was performing in Hawaii, “A Beautiful Morning” continued with the theme of carefree optimism expressed on their massive hit song “Groovin'”. The song was appropriately released at the beginning of Spring on March 22, 1968, and was the band’s first single released as the ‘The Rascals’, rather than their previous moniker ‘the Young Rascals’. The single was also one of the earliest to be released in stereo, as 7-inch 45 singles had generally been recorded in mono. Together with the Doors “Hello, I Love You” it’s credited with changing the industry standard of singles. (Wikipedia) “A Beautiful Morning” also became a big hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

EML’s Favorite Songs – “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes

The other night I watched the wonderful classic 1942 film Now, Voyager, starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains on Turner Classic Movies. Seeing Davis in scenes on the cruise ship, her famous eyes luminescent beneath the wide-brimmed white hat, made me think of the 1981 Kim Carnes hit song “Bette Davis Eyes”. It’s my favorite song of 1981, and ranks among my favorite songs of all time.

“Bette Davis Eyes” was written in 1974 by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, who’d had prior success with her hits “What the World Needs Now is Love” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”. With lyrics about a strong-willed, alluring and precocious woman with “Greta Garbo standoff sighs and Bette Davis eyes“, the song was originally recorded in 1974 by DeShannon for inclusion on her album New Arrangement. Her original recording has more of a country vibe, with twangy guitars and honky tonk piano, but it was Kim Carnes’ more synth-heavy 1981 version that made “Bette Davis Eyes” a massive worldwide hit. It spent nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and reached #1 in many countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and South Africa. It was ranked the #1 song of 1981 on the Hot 100, and also won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

Though she’d been writing and recording music for well over a decade, it wasn’t until 1980 that the raspy-voiced Carnes broke through with two top 10 hits – her duet with Kenny Rogers “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer”, which she co-wrote with her husband Dave Ellingson, and a terrific cover of the Smokey Robinson song “More Love”. But it was her cover of “Bette Davis Eyes” that shot her to international fame and acclaim.

The song fell into her lap almost by accident during the search for material for her album Mistaken Identity, which she was recording with music producer/engineer Val Garay (who’d previously produced “More Love”). Garay later recalled that songwriter Donna Weiss had contacted him about a song she’d just written with Bruce Roberts that she wanted to play for him and Carnes. “So she came over and played us the song, and Kim and I kind of looked at each other and we thought, ‘Yeah, not bad.’ But it wasn’t what we were looking for. So she said, ‘Well, you know, I have this other song I gave to George Tobin and nothing ever came of it.’ And that was ‘Bette Davis Eyes.’ Kim had actually heard it before, and liked it. So she played the demo for me, and it was totally different than the record. It sounds like a Leon Russell track, with this beer-barrel polka piano part. But I loved the melody and I loved the lyrics.

Garay had keyboardist Bill Cuomo come up with the signature synth riff, using a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer, which became a defining element of Carnes’ more sensual and rather mysterious version. The song was recorded in the studio on the first take. (Wikipedia, MIX webzine)

Bette Davis was 73 years old when Carnes’ version of “Bette Davis Eyes” became a hit, and was thrilled to have a song named after her and inspired by her legacy. She wrote letters to Carnes, Weiss, and DeShannon, telling them she loved the song and thanking them for making her “a part of modern times“, also adding that her grandson now looked up to her and told her she had “finally made it”. After their Grammy wins, Davis sent all three of them roses as well. In her 1987 memoir This ‘N’ That, Davis wrote “It was a thrill to become a part of the rock generation” as a result of the song. Carnes and Davis also struck up a special friendship, with Carnes visiting Davis at her home several times before her death in 1989.

Her hair is Harlow gold
Her lips a sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She's got Bette Davis eyes
She'll turn her music on you
You won't have to think twice
She's pure as New York snow
She got Bette Davis eyes

And she'll tease you, she'll unease you
All the better just to please you
She's precocious, and she knows just what it
Takes to make a pro blush
She got Greta Garbo's standoff sighs, she's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll let you take her home
It whets her appetite
She'll lay you on a throne
She got Bette Davis eyes
She'll take a tumble on you
Roll you like you were dice
Until you come out blue
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll expose you, when she snows you
Off your feet with the crumbs, she throws you
She's ferocious and she knows just what it
Takes to make a pro blush
All the boys think she's a spy, she's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll tease you, she'll unease you
All the better just to please you
She's precocious, and she knows just what it
Takes to make a pro blush
All the boys think she's a spy, she's got Bette Davis eyes
She'll tease you
She'll unease you
Just to please you
She's got Bette Davis eyes
She'll expose you
When she snows you
'Cause she knows you, she's got Bette Davis Eyes
She'll tease you

The song’s official video, which shows Kim Carnes singing in front of her support band before an audience of oddly-costumed people doing bizarre dance moves and symbolically slapping one another in sync with the percussive synths, is deeply unsatisfying to me. I think it would have been far more effective to have Carnes sing the song against a visual backdrop of scenes of Bette Davis from some of her most iconic film roles, but my guess is that it would have been prohibitively expensive or a lengthy legal process, or both, to obtain the rights to be able to include such scenes.

Here’s a simple audio of the song, which has much better sound quality:

EML’s Favorite Songs – “Somebody Told Me” by The Killers

I’m a big fan of American rock band the Killers, and love many of their songs. But my favorite of them all all is “Somebody Told Me“. Serving up three minutes and 17 seconds of exuberant foot-stomping beats, roiling guitars, spacey synths and pounding drums, it’s an electrifying blast from start to finish. It also features one of the best lyric phrases ever written: “Somebody told me you had a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year.

The Killers formed in Las Vegas in 2001, taking their name from a logo on the bass drum of a fictitious band portrayed in the music video for the New Order song “Crystal”. And though they’ve turned out to be one of the biggest rock bands of the 21st century, it took them a few years to gain traction. Surprisingly, both “Somebody Told Me” and their debut single “Mr. Brightside” were not successful upon their initial release. (“Mr. Brightside” was re-released in 2004 and went on to become their biggest-selling single, reaching #10 in both the UK and on the Billboard Hot 100. To date, the song is also the longest-charting single on the UK Top 100 Singles Chart, with 278 non-consecutive weeks!)

“Somebody Told Me” was the second single released from the Killers’ debut album Hot Fuss in 2004, and though it eventually reached #3 in the UK and on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart, it failed to crack the top 40 on the Hot 100, peaking at only #51. Nevertheless, it’s become one of their most enduring and popular songs, garnering nearly 450 million streams on Spotify alone.

The song is essentially about trying to meet someone at a club, but not having much success. I love lead singer Brandon Flowers’ plaintive vocals that beautifully express his exasperation over striking out with the ladies despite repeated attempts to woo them with his considerable charms:

Breaking my back just to know your name
Seventeen tracks and I've had it with this game
I'm breaking my back just to know your name
But heaven ain't close in a place like this
Anything goes but don't blink, you might miss

'Cause heaven ain't close in a place like this
I said, oh, heaven ain't close in a place like this
Bring it back down, bring it back down tonight (Ooh-ooh)
Never thought I'd let a rumor ruin my moonlight

Well, somebody told me you had a boyfriend
Who looked like a girlfriend
That I had in February of last year
It's not confidential, I've got potential

Ready? Let's roll onto something new
Taking its toll then I'm leaving without you
'Cause heaven ain't close in a place like this
I said, oh, heaven ain't close in a place like this
Bring it back down, bring it back down tonight (Ooh-ooh)
Never thought I'd let a rumor ruin my moonlight

Well, somebody told me you had a boyfriend
Who looked like a girlfriend
That I had in February of last year
It's not confidential, I've got potential

The entertaining video was shot in the desert outside Las Vegas, and shows the band performing the song at night in front of a large screen that displays their logo and scenes of them performing. I love when Brandon Flowers stomps his foot at the end of the first pre-chorus.

EML’s Favorite Songs – “Mine Forever” by Lord Huron

One of the best acts making music today is indie folk-rock band Lord Huron. Regular followers of my blog know I’m a huge fan of theirs, and their gorgeous single “Mine Forever” is currently enjoying a long stay atop my Weekly Top 30. The song recently peaked at #2 on the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay (AAA) chart. For those still unaware of Lord Huron’s music, “Mine Forever” is a perfect introduction, as the song is both breathtaking and catchy. Those twangy, borderline surf guitars are gorgeous, and together with the soaring strings, captivating vocal harmonies and infectious toe-tapping groove, it all comes together to create a truly phenomenal track. 

Their uniquely beautiful music is a glorious mash-up of folk, western, rock and roll, pop, surf rock and new age, and has been described by a few music writers as evoking the ‘high-lonesome’ sound of such legendary acts as The Band and Neil Young, as well as newer acts like Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket. The most striking features of their sound are the lush twangy and shimmery guitars, backed by stirring orchestral strings, and lead singer Ben Schneider’s achingly beautiful vocals, which have an arresting and heartfelt vulnerability. For me, listening to their music is an almost religious experience, transporting me to a dreamy, faraway place somewhere out in the open West. The cinematic quality of their music makes many of their songs perfect candidates for the soundtrack of a sweeping Western epic.

Lord Huron was formed by singer-songwriter and guitarist Ben Schneider as a solo act in 2010, after he relocated from Michigan to Los Angeles. The name was inspired by Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes that border Michigan. The band eventually grew into a four-piece, and now includes Miguel Briseño on bass, keyboards & theremin, Tom Renaud on guitar, and Mark Barry on drums & percussion. They released their debut album Lonesome Dreams in 2012, but I didn’t learn about them until 2017, when I heard their beautiful ballad “The Night We Met”, from their second album Strange Trails. Their biggest hit thus far, the song has been streamed more than 857 million times on Spotify, and is one of my favorites of 2017.  

“Mine Forever” is from their critically acclaimed fourth album Long Lost, an ambitious and stunning work released this past May, and featuring 13 songs plus three brief interludes. Every one of the 13 tracks is outstanding, and I think it’s hands down one of the best albums of 2021. Another one of the album’s singles, “Not Dead Yet”, topped both my Weekly Top 30 and the Billboard AAA chart this past June. I strongly urge everyone to set aside some time to listen to the album, because you’ll be glad you did. Even a few friends of mine who aren’t that much into music have remarked on how good it is.

The song’s lyrics seem to describe an obsessive and dysfunctional love-hate relationship, in which the singer feels he can’t live with nor without his lover. Lord Huron tends to make quirky entertaining story videos featuring a mix of newly-filmed and vintage B-movie footage, and the one for “Mine Forever” is no exception. The song ends with blurry images of a couple embracing as a woman speaks words in French. I love it!

Here’s the Spotify link of Long Lost for those who wish to check out the full album:

EML’s Favorite Songs – “Constant Craving” by k.d. lang

One of my favorite songs from the 1990s is “Constant Craving” by silky-voiced Canadian singer k.d. lang. A mezzo-soprano, her gorgeous and clear singing voice is as close to perfect as any female vocalist I can think of. Born Kathryn Dawn Lang in 1961 in Edmonton, Canada, she’s had a successful career as a solo artist, and has also collaborated with the likes of Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett, Elton John, The Killers, Anne Murray and Ann Wilson, among others. She started out as a country singer, but eventually transitioned to a more pop-oriented sound. She’s won Juno and Grammy Awards, and is a long-time animal rights, gay rights, and Tibetan human rights activist. Lang has been openly lesbian since 1992.

“Constant Craving” was co-written by lang and Ben Mink, and is included on her beautiful second album Ingénue. The song was released in 1992 and won her a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1993, as well as an MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video. The song peaked at #8 on the Canadian singles chart, but only #38 on the Billboard Hot 100, which is a travesty. I think it should have been a #1 hit, and is my favorite song of 1992, a year that pop music went over a cliff as far as I’m concerned. (Some of the biggest hits that year were “I’m Too Sexy”, “Baby Got Back”, “Jump” [by Kriss Kross] and the insipid Boyz II Men snooze fest “End of the Road”; those four songs alone dominated the top of the Billboard charts for 29 weeks, more than half the year! Enuf said…)

The stunning song features lang’s beautiful vocal harmonies layered over strummed and twangy acoustic guitars, accompanied by a gentle accordion riff and delicate xylophones that give the song both a slight country and charming French vibe. In fact, the unusual award-winning black and white video produced for the song, and directed by Mark Romanek, presents an artistic recreation of the premiere of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot in Paris, 1953.

As for her inspiration for writing the song, lang later told the producers of Balletlujah (a 2014 documentary about lang and the portrait ballet based on her life and music): “I was sitting at my house at my typewriter, and in my head I heard the phrase ‘constant craving’. When I wrote it, I felt it deeply, but I honestly can’t tell you what I was craving at the time. Sex? Love? Something cold to drink? I don’t remember. As a Buddhist I struggle with desire, but sometimes I just embrace it. Acknowledging it, contemplating it, and making friends with it is one of my lifelong journeys.”

Even through the darkest phase
Be it thick or thin
Always someone marches brave
Here beneath my skin

And constant craving
Has always been

Maybe a great magnet pulls
All souls to what’s true
Or maybe it is life itself
Feeds wisdom
To its youth

Constant craving
Has always been

Constant craving
Has always been
Has always been

Constant craving
Has always been
Constant craving
Has always been

Constant craving
Has always been
Has always been
Has always been
Has always been
Has always been
Has always been

EML’s Favorite Songs – “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield

One of my favorite songs from the 1980s is “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield. Released the day after Christmas in 1987 as the second single from the Pet Shop Boys’ second album Actually, it’s my favorite track of 1988. On the strength of “West End Girls”, their first chart single in the U.S., and my favorite song of 1986, British synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys (consisting of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe) became one of my favorite acts of the late 1980s. And who doesn’t love the legendary Dusty Springfield?

“What Have I Done to Deserve This?” was written in late 1984 by Tennant and Lowe, with help from American songwriter Allee Willis (who co-wrote the Earth, Wind & Fire hit “Boogie Wonderland” with Jon Lind). It was originally intended for inclusion on the Pet Shop Boys’ first album Please (which includes “West End Girls”, “Opportunities” and ‘Love Comes Quickly”), but they couldn’t come up with a female vocalist suitable to sing the other half of the duet. Various popular singers of that time period were suggested to them, including Tina Turner and Barbra Streisand, but none seemed suitable for the song. Tennant and Lowe wanted a woman whose voice suggested both experience and vulnerability, warmth but also a tough, independent attitude.

Their manager’s assistant eventually suggested Dusty Springfield, whose 1969 album Dusty in Memphis was a favorite of Tennant’s. But EMI did not want her, believing her career had been in decline for too long and that she would not bring anything of value to the song. Tennant insisted that they choose Springfield, but after reaching out to her with a demo of the song, she turned them down. She had no idea who the Pet Shop Boys were, and wasn’t interested in singing a duet with them, so the song was left off Please. Many months later, Springfield heard “West End Girls” on the radio and liked it so much that she reconsidered. She was living in California at the time, so flew to London in December 1986 to record the song. In an interview for The Sunday Times, Tennant later recalled the vocal session with Springfield:

She arrived at the studio on time, in a black leather designer jacket and high-heeled boots, with blonde hair and black eye make-up, clutching the lyric-sheet of the song, annotated and underlined. Chris Lowe, Stephen Hague and I began to consult with the living legend about how to sing our song and she was very nice, surprisingly a little lacking in self-confidence. As if by telepathy, a Dusty fan appeared on the studio doorstep and was invited in to listen. Dusty’s English secretary arrived, bearing a new compilation cassette. ‘They keep repackaging the old songs,’ the legend marveled. Then she went through to sing. Her voice was the same as ever. When she sang her solo part Since you went away everyone in the control room smiled. She sounded just like she used to. Breathy, warm, thrilling. Like Dusty Springfield. ‘Is that the sort of thing you want?’ she asked.

Though the song has a bouncy, upbeat vibe with exuberant synthesized orchestral instrumentation, the bittersweet lyrics describe a dialogue between two adults in the aftermath of their acrimonious breakup. Each of them wistfully observes that they should be happy to now be free of each other, yet wonder how they’ll move forward without them. Tennant rap/sings with resentment from the male point of view: “I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers. I read you books and talked for hours. Every day, so many drinks, such pretty flowers, so tell me what have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?

Springfield then responds with feelings of regret and second thoughts: “Since you went away, I’ve been hanging around. I’ve been wondering why I’m feeling down. You went away, it should make me feel better. But I don’t know, oh how I’m gonna get through?/ We don’t have to fall apart, we don’t have to fight. We don’t need to go to hell and back every night. We can make a deal.” Their wonderful vocals complement each other’s so beautifully, particularly when they harmonize.

It’s a marvelous song, and peaked at #2 in both the U.S., where it was kept from the top of the Billboard chart by Exposé’s “Seasons Change” and fellow British singer George Michael’s “Father Figure”, and the UK, where it was held back by Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. It’s also Dusty Springfield’s highest-charting single, and would help revitalize her career by introducing her to a new generation of listeners.

The official video for the song barely features Dusty Springfield at all, so I’ve instead chosen their live performance at the 1988 BRIT Awards. Unfortunately, they lip sync the song, which was still typical for that time period.

And here’s the song on Spotify:

EML’s Favorite Songs – “That’s the Way of the World” by Earth, Wind & Fire

One of my favorite songs of the 1970s is the enchanting and soulful “That’s the Way of the World” by Earth, Wind & Fire. The song was the title track from their magnificent sixth studio album That’s the Way of the World, released in March 1975. I loved the entire album, and had it on repeat that summer when I also experienced my first significant love affair.

Named for band founder and front man Maurice White’s astrological sign of Sagittarius (which has a primary elemental quality of fire and seasonal qualities of earth and air), Earth, Wind & Fire was formed in Chicago in 1969. White had formerly been a session drummer for Chess Records, as well as a member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio. He eventually moved the band to Los Angeles, where it grew to include as many as nine members.

Their extensive lineup underwent numerous changes over the years, but some of the notable members have included Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, Larry Dunn, Al McKay, Roland Bautista, Robert Brookins, Sonny Emory, Fred Ravel, Ronnie Laws, Sheldon Reynolds and Andrew Woolfolk. They’re known for their exotic kalimba sound (characterized by the Mbira, a family of traditional musical instruments of the Shona people of Zimbabwe), exuberant horn section, elaborate stage shows, and the dynamic contrast between Philip Bailey’s falsetto and Maurice White’s baritone vocals.

Their first five albums each met with successively greater success, and two of the singles, “Mighty Mighty” and “Devotion”, from their fifth album Open Our Eyes cracked the Billboard Top 40. But it was “Shining Star”, the lead single from That’s the Way of the World, that would be their breakout hit, going all the way to #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts. The song also won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, but I digress…

“That’s the Way of the World” was the second track from the album to be released as a single, in June 1975. It reached #5 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart, but only #12 on the Hot 100, which I always thought was a travesty, as the song is so phenomenal. I used to compile my own Weekly Top 10 back then, and it was a #1 hit as far as I was concerned. To this day, it remains my favorite of Earth, Wind & Fire’s many great songs.

It’s a beautiful and uplifting song of love, hope and optimism, but with a darker undercurrent touching on how racism and intolerance can corrupt an innocent child. The serene R&B melody is sublime, and I love the jazzy horns, lovely keyboards and funky guitars. And, as always, the dual vocal harmonies of Maurice White and Philip Bailey are fabulous.

Hearts of fire creates love desire
Take you high and higher to the world you belong
Hearts of fire creates love desire
High and higher to your place on the throne

We've come together on this special day
To sing our message loud and clear
Looking back we've touched on sorrowful days
Future, past, they disappear

You will find (you will find) peace of mind (yeah yeah)
If you look way down in your heart and soul
I don't hesitate 'cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart 'cause you're never old at heart

That's the way of the world
Plant your flower and you grow a pearl
Child is born with a heart of gold
The way of the world makes his heart so cold

On their 2004 version of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Rolling Stone ranked “That’s the Way of the World” at #329, however, the song was dropped altogether on their revised list that just came out on the 15th of this month (a list with which I have many issues). Surprisingly, the inferior (to me) and grossly overplayed “September” ranks at #65 on the more recent list. But it’s their most popular and most-streamed song by far, so what do I know?

One thing I learned in researching for this write-up is that the album That’s the Way of the World was initially written as a soundtrack for a film of the same name that was produced and directed by Sig Shore, who also produced the 1972 film Super Fly.  The film starred Harvey Keitel, Ed Nelson, and Earth, Wind & Fire as “The Group”. Keitel played a record producer who hears The Group performing and is impressed by their act. The band was convinced the film would be a flop (which it was), and decided to release the soundtrack prior to the film’s premier. It turned out to be a smart move, as while the film bombed, the album became a huge hit.

EML’s Favorite Songs – “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” by The Walker Brothers

1966 is arguably one of the greatest years in the history of recorded music, and one of the many standout songs that year was The Walker Brothers’ gorgeous “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”. Even though I was only 11 years old when the song came out, I loved it, and it still has the power to cover me with chills 55 years later. The magnificent cinematic arrangement and orchestration, combined with Scott Walker’s achingly beautiful baritone vocals, make it one of the most dramatically compelling songs of its time. The lyrics speak to feelings of desolation and loneliness after a break-up.

Is a cloak you wear
A deep shade of blue
Is always there

The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love, baby

Is a place you’re in
With nothing to lose
But no more to win

The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love

Without you baby
Girl I need you
I can’t go on

The song was originally written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio for fellow Four Seasons band member Frankie Valli, who’s solo 1965 recording of it failed to chart. The Walker Brothers recorded their version the following January, and that spring the song went all the way to #1 in the UK and #2 in Canada, but only peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although American by birth, The Walker Brothers relocated to England in 1965, where they became much more successful and popular than they were in the U.S.

Interestingly, The Walker Brothers were not brothers, nor were any of them born with the name Walker. John Walker was born John Joseph Maus, but began using the surname Walker in his teens, while Scott Walker was born Noel Scott Engel, and Gary Walker was born Gary Leeds. John and Scott originally formed The Walker Brothers Trio in Los Angeles in 1964, along with Al “Tiny” Schneider, with John on guitars and lead vocals, Scott on bass and backing harmonies, and Al on drums.

Later that year, they met Gary Leeds, who’d played drums with The Standells from 1962-64, and eventually replaced Al Schneider on drums. They changed their name to simply The Walker Brothers, and eventually both Scott and Gary took the surname Walker as well. Leeds, along with the help of Rolling Stones band member Brian Jones, persuaded his bandmates to consider relocating to England, where their early rock and roll and blues style would go down well in “swinging London”. (Wikipedia)

Once in London, they signed a recording contract with Philips Records, whereupon Philips producer and A&R man Johnny Franz began refashioning their sound from upbeat R&B to more dramatic pop ballads similar to those of The Righteous Brothers (another brother act who weren’t really brothers). With this new direction, Scott Walker become the group’s de facto frontman and lead vocalist, as his distinct baritone was better suited to their new sound. Under Franz’ direction, and with full ‘wall of sound’ orchestral arrangements by Ivor Raymonde and performed by session musicians, The Walker Brothers scored their first #1 hit in the UK in 1965 with their cover of “Make It Easy on Yourself,” a Burt Bacharach and Hal David ballad originally recorded by Jerry Butler. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” would be their second and final song to top the UK charts, as well as chart on the Billboard Top 40.

They continued to have more chart hits in the UK through 1967, but with diminishing commercial success as pop continued to evolve, making their music sound dated. They also had to leave the UK for six months in 1967 because of work permit problems, which didn’t help. By the end of 1967, the pressures of stardom, internal tensions and ‘artistic differences’ had taken their toll, and The Walker Brothers officially disbanded in 1968. All three members continued to release solo records, however, in late 1974 all three agreed to reform The Walker Brothers, and in 1975, they released the album No Regrets, followed by two more albums Lines and Nite Flights, which were less commercially successful. They drifted apart for good by the end of 1978. The three went on with their individual music careers, with Scott having the most success by far. He’s been cited as an influence by many British recording artists, including David Bowie and Radiohead. John passed away in 2011 and Scott in 2019.

“The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” has come to be considered The Walker Brothers’ signature song, as well as an important song of the so-called Rock Era. NME ranked it at No. 357 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Pitchfork ranked it at No. 187 on its list of The 200 Best Songs of the 1960s, and it is listed in the 2010 book 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die.

EML’s Favorite Songs – “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas & the Papas

One of my favorite songs of all time is “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas (it ranks #3 behind Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and the long version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire”). It’s also unquestionably one of the most perfect songs ever recorded. Everything about it is magical: the simple but emotionally compelling lyrics, stellar arrangement, captivating instrumentals – most notably the haunting flute in the song’s bridge, and the gorgeous call and response vocal harmonies of the four band members – John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty & Cass Elliott. Literally everyone I know who’s ever expressed their opinion of this song loves it.

Though they were only together as a band from 1965-68, The Mamas & the Papas released five studio albums and 17 singles, six of which made the Billboard top 10, and have sold nearly 40 million records worldwide. They were immensely popular, and are considered one of the defining music acts of the mid 1960s. The most striking aspect of their music were their incredible vocal harmonies.

“California Dreamin’” was written by John and Michelle Phillips in 1963 while they were living in New York City during a particularly cold winter. Michelle was feeling homesick for her home state of California (she was born in Long Beach and spent her childhood and teen years in Los Angeles and Mexico City). At the time, John and Michelle were members of the folk group the New Journeymen, which later evolved into the Mamas and the Papas with the addition of Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott.

The song was originally recorded by Barry McGuire, with John and Michelle singing backing vocals, and members of the renowned Los Angeles-based session musicians The Wrecking Crew playing instrumentals. Impressed by the Mamas and the Papas, who had recently signed with Dunhill Records, label executive Lou Adler had the track re-recorded with Denny singing lead vocals and paired with the same instrumental and backing vocal tracks, along with a stunning alto flute by Bud Shank and a guitar introduction played by P.F. Sloan. The song was released in December 1965, and ultimately peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following March.

Even though I was a California native who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the song has always strongly resonated with me. I still vividly remember the time I heard it on the radio as a kid while riding in the car with my family from our home in Santa Clara up to San Francisco in February 1966. We were going to “The City” to watch the Chinese New Year’s Parade in Chinatown, but things weren’t looking very promising, as it was a gloomy day with rain in the forecast. To this day, I think of that trip to San Francisco whenever I hear “California Dreamin’”, and yes, it ended up raining on our parade. Many years later, I spent 17 years living in St. Louis, which has a lot of cold, dreary weather in winter, and often found myself California dreamin’ during those periods.

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm, if I was in L.A.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Stopped into a church I passed along the way
Well I got down on my knees and I pretended to pray
You know the preacher likes the cold, he knows I’m gonna stay
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
If I didn’t tell her, I could leave today
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

Though this video of the Mamas & the Papas performing the song for the TV show The Hollywood Palace has them doing a pretty poor lip-syncing job, it does show them in their prime.

EML’s Favorite Songs – “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos

One of the most romantic love songs ever written has to be “I Only Have Eyes For You”. The song was written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin for the 1934 film Dames, starring Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell. Powell sang it in the film and several artists also recorded their own versions of the song in 1934, including bandleader Ben Selvin, (with vocals by Howard Phillips), pianist Eddy Duchin, and singer Jane Froman. But the version released in 1959 by R&B/doo wop band The Flamingos is without question the most captivating of them all. It’s among the earliest songs I ever remember hearing as a very young boy, and I’ve loved it my entire life.

The song was the biggest hit for the Flamingos, reaching #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #3 on the Hot R&B Songs chart, but it should have been #1 in my opinion. Their version has endured over the years and is recognized as an important work. The song has been included in numerous ‘best-of’ lists, and in 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #158 on their list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. It was also featured in the 1973 film American Graffiti.

The song is perfection from start to finish, with a dreamy arrangement and that sultry doo wop groove that’s so damned enchanting. I love the repetitive piano riff that establishes the mesmerizing percussive rhythm for the song, as well as those tasty little guitar notes sprinkled throughout. Then there are the fabulous silky vocals by Nate Nelson, backed by echoed vocal harmonies of the rest of the band that almost have the effect of another instrument in themselves. God, what a magnificent song it is!

My love must be a kind of blind love
I can't see anyone but you

Are the stars out tonight?
I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
I only have eyes for you, dear
The moon may be high
But I can't see a thing in the sky
I only have eyes for you.

I don't know if we're in a garden
Or on a crowded avenue
You are here, and so am I
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you

Other versions of the song were later recorded by numerous artists, including Frank Sinatra in 1962, The Lettermen in 1966, Art Garfunkel in 1975 (who’s version went to #1 in the UK), Carly Simon in 2005, and Michael Buble in 2018. But the best will always remain the one by the Flamingos.