Single of the week

Red Rubber Ball (The Cyrkle)

This week’s song owes its success, but only in America, to one half of a legendary duo and one quarter of an even more legendary quartet. Despite charting half a dozen US hits in just 16 months, The Cyrkle are only remembered for their debut which was called Red Rubber Ball.

Rhythm guitarist singer Don Dannemann and singer, lead guitar and bass player Tom Dawes met in 1961 whilst studying at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and originally formed a band with drummer Mary Fried called The Rhondells. Dawes said, “We did all the pop tunes of the day including songs by the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons.” It was after a performance at Atlantic City in New Jersey that led them to signing a recording contract with Columbia records. The area where Lafayette College is situated in downtown Easton is known locally as the circle. According to the sleeve notes on their anthology, Red Rubber Ball : The Best of the Cyrkle, Dawes said, “Nat Weiss (an artist lawyer) had spoken to Brian Epstein (whom he had been friends for a while) and supposedly asked John Lennon if he had any ideas for group names and, as an allusion to the college area, he came up with The Cyrkle.

The newly named Cyrkle got their big break in early 1966 when they opened for Simon and Garfunkel for whom Dawes was also a touring member. During that time Paul Simon offered them Red Rubber Ball, a song he had co-written with Bruce Woodley of The Seekers. After the duo had released the album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. which failed in America, Simon moved to the UK where he met Woodley and the pair wrote the song which was originally intended for The Seekers, but the rest of the band didn’t like it and turned it down. After learning that it was a hit for The Cyrkle, the Seekers eventually did record it and can be found on their 1966 album Come the Day which was titled Georgy Girl in the States. Later that year, because of the Brian Epstein connection, they opened 14 nights on the Beatles’ US tour.

It was Dawes who first heard the demo and played it to Dannemann who recalled a few years later what he thought at the time, “To be honest with you, my first feeling was it’s no great shakes, but everybody else seemed to think, ‘yeah there’s something here.  Let’s try it.’  So we did and the song became a big hit for us. It’s really funny, but I never thought much about it at the time.”

Paul Simon has stated in numerous interviews that he wrote Red Rubber Ball whilst in England and did so just to get a £100 advance from the Seekers. The Cyrkle’s version, which features an electric organ played by Earl Pickens, was the first production by John Simon who later went on to work with The Band. What set it apart from other tracks of the era was that it was recorded in stereo with lead, bass guitar and percussion on the right track and acoustic guitar and electric organ on left. The vocals were on both.

The Cyrkle had one other top 20 US hit, Turn Down Day, but following the death of Brian Epstein the band broke up with Dannemann and Dawes becoming successful jingle writers. Dawes’ most famous TV advert was for the ‘plop plop fizz fizz’ jingle for Alka-Seltzer. Dannemann’s most popular material was for Continental Airlines and Swanson Foods, eventually writing the original 7Up – Uncola ads which featured Geoffrey Holder.

The song, which not only famously featured on Leonard Cohen’s jukebox, has been covered by Del Shannon, Mel Torme, Cliff Richard, Cilla Black and Neil Diamond.

In the mid-eighties Sundazed records acquired the license from Columbia to re-issue The Cyrkle’s back catalogue, “They sent me what they were putting out and they wanted comments from Tommy and I and our drummer, Marty Fried,” recalled Dannemann. “Now understand, after the band broke up I got involved in advertising and had a nice career doing commercials and things. I had a production company. So I had really left that part behind. Anyway, I was on a plane and had nothing to do, so I pulled out my Walkman and listened to the cassette. When Red Rubber Ball came on and as soon as I heard the first two seconds, it was like ‘Wow! There’s magic in that. That really was a special hit.’ I had just never thought about it like that. My conclusion is, you can take the best producers, the best musicians, the best writers, and the best artists and bring them all together and you might make a good record.  But you can’t guarantee the magic. It may or may not happen.”

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Follow Me (Lyme & Cybelle )

Once upon a time there were two kids who met in high school, later in life they formed a duo, had one modest American hit and then went their separate ways and had successful careers in their own right. Let’s find out about that one song and the people behind it.

The label credit on this week’s suggestion is given as Lyme & Cybelle which gives nothing away. The single was only issued in the US, Canada and Australia and bizarrely, in America, the label credited their names in lower case letters apparently in an effort to be trendy like a couple of poets once did, but in Oz and Canada they were correctly given capital letters. So, Cybelle was the name chosen by Violet Santangelo which was inspired by the 1962 French film Sundays and Cybelle and Lyme is first musical outing for Warren Zevon who originally began using the non de plume Stephen Lyme before he was famous.

Zevon was born in Chicago in 1947 and, although didn’t have any UK hit singles, he’ll always be best remembered for the radio favourite Werewolves of London which featured Fleetwood Mac members John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums. Violet said, “I was born in Chicago and later moved to the Land of Lost Angels and attended Hollywood High School, where I met Warren Zevon.” The pair, who were never romantically linked, both shared a love of the Beatles and began singing songs together.

At a gig one day the American child actor, Michael Burns who appeared in the TV series’ Lassie and Bonanza among others told his mother about the duo he’d seen. She worked at White Whale Records which led them to sign a recording contract with them. They recorded three songs with the label, the self-penned Follow Me was the first, a cover of Bob Dylan’s If You Gotta Go, Go Now and their final one was Write If You Get Work.

Follow Me was written by both Zevon and Santangelo and because of its sound it is generally accepted as being one of the earliest psychedelic songs. It has beautiful harmonies reminiscent of the Mamas and the Papas and a catchy hook, but it only peaked at number 65 in America. One of the reasons for its low placing was, as Santangelo recalled, “The single began selling well, only to have its momentum crushed when Bill Gavin, a powerful radio industry figure, claimed the song was sexually suggestive.” Listening intently and scanning the words carefully one wonders what planet the people who make these decisions are on. Not one word, even for the sixties, can remotely suggest anything suggestive. It’s the epitome of a flower power anthem all culminating with a brilliant production by Bones Howe who is best remembered for his production work with Fifth Dimension and The Association, both revered harmony groups, as well as The Monkees and Alessi’s 1977 hit Oh Lori.

Zevon, who was writing a number of songs, began presenting them to White Whale label mates The Turtles. Outside Chance, which was co-written with Santangelo, was one such track, but it didn’t chart even though it had more than a passing resemblance to the Beatles’ Taxman. Incidentally, the B-side of Follow Me was called Like the Seasons and appeared on the B-side of The Turtles American pressing of Happy Together but in the UK it was relegated to the flip side of the non-hit Can I Get to Know You Better.

After the second single failed Zevon walked away, his reasons weren’t clear but Santangelo claimed that she walked away from Zevon because of his excessive drinking and drug use. Either way, Zevon concentrated on a solo career and released 14 albums between 1969 and 2003. For some reasons his career never took off in the UK, his only charting album was The Wind in 2003 which spent a solitary week on the chart at number 57. As for Violet Santangelo she quit the music industry and moved into theatre. She studied and gained a scholarship at the University of Southern California and, changing her name to Laura Kanyon. From her website she explained, “After learning the triple time step and paying my dues at the Bluth Bros. Theatre I decided to go big time and leave home.  I was married, left home and moved to New Yawk all on the same day! Two weeks after moving to the Lower East Side in Manhattan, I found myself in an Off Broadway piece called Peace in which I played a character referred to as Abundance. Two weeks later, I was Martha Raye’s maid in a new musical called Hello Sucker and after two years of belly dancing with Richard Kiley in the Man of La Mancha, I starred in Ron Field’s Broadway production of On the Town. My life has been full of up (town) and down (town) experiences. I’ve written with Warren Zevon, had more than 15 minutes at the Warhol Factory, worked with gifted directors, composers, and artists and developed my craft through the eyes of the inspired actress, Alice Spivak, who is also my mentor and acting coach. I recently ended my run as the Baronessa Serafina Delle Rose in Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo, and I continue to inspire and educate young artists with the experiences that I have had in my career.”

Her musical highlight must have been performing as Lyme & Cybelle in a club on the Sunset Strip with Van Morrison as their opening act.

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Shannon (Henry Gross)

Songs written about a loved one is always going to be personal to the person who wrote it or to anyone in a similar situation who can relate to it. The same must apply to songs written about pets because pet owners will usually get very attached to it, but, oddly, this week’s choice is a song written about someone else’s pet.

Henry Gross was a one hit wonder in the UK, his only hit was called Shannon. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York and because his mother loved music, she encouraged her son to become a musician. He learned to play a number of instruments including the guitar, ukulele and sitar and by the time he was 14 he began playing in small clubs around the New York area. In 1969, when he was 18, he became a political science and speech major at Brooklyn College and was a member of a band called Orogeny which is the technical name for a formation of mountains. Whilst there he and a couple of school mates had the idea to form a fifties revival band which they called Sha Na Na. The same year they played at Woodstock and in doing so Gross became the youngest person to play the main stage. In 1970, he decided to depart for a solo career.

It took six years until Gross first graced the US chart with the track One More Tomorrow which reached the dizzy heights of number 93. Gross was a fan of the Beach Boys and paid a visit to Carl Wilson and Gross revealed in an interview with Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo what they talked about, “Carl told me that he had an Irish setter named Juliet and it was killed by a car. I related to it strongly because, at the time, I had an Irish setter too and her name was Shannon. It was corny, but it really touched me because I knew how I’d feel if my Shannon had died, so I went home and wrote the song in about 10 minutes. I’m a real animal rights person and loved my dog so much that it was easy for me to write the song.” He went on to explain about likening the background music to the sound of the ocean, “I was living in an apartment in Queens and there was a guy from Colombia living on the floor directly above me and he had these great big speakers on the floor and in the afternoons he’d blast his salsa music. It was really great music but I couldn’t think nor write because it was so loud. So I went out and bought an environmental sound record called The Ultimate Seashore and played it at full blast to drown out the bass coming from upstairs. Those ocean sounds put me in the right frame of mind to write Shannon.”

He recorded the track onto a cassette and sent it to Carl Wilson hoping the Beach Boys would record it. It even had the falsetto sound the Beach Boys could produce. “I never heard from anyone about it, so I recorded it myself and put it on my album,” Gross recalled.

Gross was signed to A&M records at the time and he was teamed with producer Terry Cashman. Terry wasn’t over keen on the song until he saw Gross perform it live and that changed his mind, so much so that he bought Gross’ contract from A&M and signed him to his own newly-formed Lifesong label. The execs at the label preferred to release a track from the album called Springtime Mama believing it had more potential than the story of a deceased canine but Gross said, “I didn’t want to hear about it. I loved Shannon and believed in it. To me, it’s the best thing I’d ever written and I wanted to go with it without further ado.”

In the mid-eights Gross moved to Nashville and continued songwriting and recording. He formed his own Zelda Record label and released the album Nothing but Dreams. In 2006 he recorded an album called One Hit Wanderer which is also the name of his one-man show which he still performs around the States. In 2016, Joe Brown began a UK tour an invited Gross, his long-term friend over to share the stage where they perform songs from both of their repertoires. It was a great success and in January 2018, the pair took to the road again for three months and this time it was recorded for a live album.

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Somebody to Love (Jefferson Airplane)

If Scott McKenzie’s San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear some Flowers In Your Hair) and Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale shaped the Summer of Love in the UK in 1967, almost certainly Somebody to Love by Jefferson Airplane did the same across the pond. It might just have been the right time for that song because it failed first time round.

The song, which for a certain generation, will always be associated with the American psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, never made the UK chart so for another generation it will be best remembered by the Boogie Pimps who took a dance version to number three in 2004.

Jefferson Airplane were formed in 1965 in San Francisco and originally comprised singer and rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner, bass player Marty Balin, lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, singer Signe Anderson, double bass player Bob Harvey and drummer Jerry Peloquin. Within a few months Peloquin was replaced by Skip Spence and Harvey left. Arguably the most famous female voice of Jefferson Airplane was Grace Slick who joined the following year to replace Anderson who left to have a baby.

Slick, who was born Grace Wing, was a member of The Great Society, a band formed at the same time Jefferson Airplane. That band comprised Grace’s husband (drummer) Jerry and his brother (guitarist) Darby and they recorded Somebody to Love originally in a much mellower style but it sank without trace. It was written by Darby when he realised that his girlfriend had done a runner. Darby became a bit disheartened and turned to exploring Indian music and in-turn Grace left to join the Airplane and one of their first tasks were to re-record the song this time in a more brash way most notably with the line ‘ Your mind is so full of red.’

Balin was unhappy about Anderson leaving and Slick replacing her and despite them singing together on most song they rarely spoke to each other, “Marty was never very communicative, which is odd when you’re singing duets,” Slick recalled, “Maybe he was jealous of me ‘cos I was so fabulous. He’s the only one (of the band) I never speak to anymore. Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner – anyone who’s alive is fine. Not Marty. His wife calls me once a year – when she’s drunk.”

In an interview with Loudersound, Slick was asked what she remembered about the recording, “I don’t know whether it was a Tuesday or Thursday, but I remember being in front of the microphone, then listening to the playback on four big Altec speakers in the control room. I remember thinking, ‘My God that is amazing – they make it sound like I can really sing.’ My mom was a singer, I can imitate her, but it’s not my style. She was a lot quieter. They didn’t have rock and roll in the thirties.”

Their debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off in 1966 did the exact opposite, it failed to trouble the UK & US chart, the follow-up, Surrealistic Pillow, now with Slick at the helm had a cult following and, like the single, never troubled the UK chart, but did reach number three in the States. It also contained the Slick-penned track White Rabbit also written and first recorded by the Great Society after Slick had read Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland.

In 1996, Jim Carrey performed a version in the film The Cable Guy in which he starred.

The Airplane recorded five further albums over the following five years, After Bathing at Baxter’s (1967), Crown of Creation (1968), Volunteers (1969), Bark (1971) & Long John Silver (1972) but by now Balin had left the group and other members were embarking on their own solo projects. Some remained friends and continued touring and they decided in 1974 to continue under the name Jefferson Starship with Balin returning. Balin left again in 1978 and was replaced by Mickey Thomas and the following year Slick departed for a solo career. In 1980 they had a UK hit with Jane and recorded eight albums under that moniker.  In 1984, Kantner, the last remaining original member left and then filed a lawsuit over the use of the name. Kantner settled out of court and an agreement was signed that no one left in the group could use the name Airplane nor Starship, so they became just Starship and had their biggest UK success with We Built This City in 1985 and the chart-topping Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, written by Albert Hammond, two years later. At the time it was announced that Slick, then aged 47, became the oldest female to appear on a number one hit however researchers at the time hadn’t considered Hilda Woodward, the piano-playing mum with Lieutenant Pigeon who was 59 when Mouldy Old Dough went to number one in 1972.

After all that, in 1989, with the original 1966-70 line-up (except Dryden), reunited for a tour but he did join them in 1996 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where they performed as well, but Slick was not present apparently due to medical reasons.

In 2006, Richard Branson launched Virgin America Airlines and named their first aeroplane Jefferson Airplane. Slick was present at the time and gave a speech. The same year she had health issues suffering from diverticulitis and also required a tracheotomy. She was put into an induced coma for two months but then had to learn to walk again.

Not many of the original line up are still about; Spencer Dryden died of colon cancer in 2005 and both Anderson and Kantner died on the same day – 28th January 2016.

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Three Lions (Baddiel, Skinner & The Lightning Seeds)

In America, only one song by the same artists has reached the top spot twice in separate chart runs, that was Chubby Checker’s The Twist which did so in 1960 and 1962. In the UK, the same feat has happened twice, firstly in 1991 when Bohemian Rhapsody topped the chart 16 years after it was first there and that was following Freddie Mercury’s death. The second time was in 2002 when George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord returned to the top spot exactly 31 years after its original run and that was following George’s death. Only last week have we had a song return to number one for a third time.

Pages of misheard lyrics are rife on the internet, but many of the examples look too contrived to have evolved naturally. In 1985 Prince had a hit with Raspberry Beret and one of the lines was ‘Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees’ the Liverpool musician Ian Broudie heard it as ‘Thunder drowns out what the lighting seeds’ and that became their name. They were the most successful Merseyside band of the nineties. This was largely due to Ian’s melodic songwriting and strong vocals, but the contributions at different times of guitarist Paul Hemmings, bass player Martyn Campbell and keyboard player Angie Pollock should not be overlooked. Chris Sharrock was the group’s first drummer and for a time they also had Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey, in the band too.

Between 1989 and 1996 they charted eight UK singles but none had made it into the top 10. When they were asked to make a record for Euro 1996, Ian Broudie was not sure, “I would never have bought a football single myself and I certainly didn’t want to do one of those cheer-leader records. Being a fan is being about losing and, if we did it, I wanted to write it from a fan’s point of view.” He asked the football-obsessed comedians, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, to sing on the record and help with the words.

David Baddiel explained what he remembered at the time, “What I do remember clearly is getting, probably on cassette, Ian having come up with the melody. We’d talked, I think, about football’s coming home.” Ian added, I remember Frank coming up to Liverpool but David couldn’t make it because there was a Chelsea game on he wanted to watch, but Liverpool were playing Leeds and David and I went to watch that match. Then we went back to the studio after the match and I played, in a jovial way, this la-de-da tune that we all know.” David continued, “Football comes home was from a branding slogan that was already around and whoever came up with that we owe a bit of debt to, but then Ian came up with this melody which was actually ‘it’s coming home, it’s coming home’ which worked around Ian’s melody.”

“I remember when we played the single to Terry Venables and the team,” Broudie recalled, “They were training and we had this horrible ghetto-blaster. I was suddenly conscious of the words, ‘Everyone knows the score, we’ve seen it all before’ in other words, ‘We’re rubbish’ and we did get some funny looks. But the song is from a fan’s point of view and England fans are pretty long-suffering.” When it came to presenting the song to the players Broudie was worried, “I could see them thinking: ‘what is this guy saying? We’re going to get stuffed?’ Fortunately Frank Skinner made an impromptu speech explaining the song’s hopeful sentiments, then Paul Gascoigne pronounced his approval, and all was well.”

Three Lions was the first football single which suggested that the team might not win and was therefore more realistic. It turned out to be correct as England lost to Germany in a penalty shoot-out in the semi-final. The reason for the title is that the Lion has been a symbol of England since the 11th century and it was featured on early versions of the English Coat of Arms. English medieval warrior rulers had a reputation for bravery and the most notable was Richard I who was known as Richard the Lionheart. After he died in 1199, the arms on the second Great Seal of Richard I was used by his successors until 1340 and depicted three golden lions on a red field, representing the ruler of the Kingdom of England, Duchy of Normandy and the Duchy of Aquitaine. Between 1154 and 1189 the crest was a single vertical lion facing left, from 1189 – 1198 there was two vertical lions facing each other and 1198 – 1340 there were three horizontal lions facing left but looking forward.

After Three Lions, the Lightning Seeds had further hits with What If…, Sugar Coated Iceberg and You Showed Me but then in 1998 they were asked to update Three Lions for the 1998 World Cup with slightly different lyrics. Again, England did not come through and the home team, France, won. “We’re like Spinal Tap,” Broudie said, “we’ve had hundreds of drummers, they keep appearing and disappearing.” When they met up with Ringo Starr’s son, Zak, he was with The Who who were not on the road at the time, so he joined them, playing drums on the remake of Three Lions. “The song has passed into folklore,” says Broudie, “Every time there’s a big match, you can guarantee that some newspaper will be quoting from the song in their headlines.”

Lightning Seeds disbanded in 2000, and although a reunion tour has been mooted, it grows less likely as Ian Broudie has been producing hit singles and albums by The Coral and The Zutons.

Another new version of Three Lions was recorded by The Squad to tie in with the 2010 World Cup and featured Robbie Williams, Russell Brand and commentator John Motson. Brand told The Sun about recording the tune: “I was embarrassed by how emotional I felt singing this song. I nearly cried. It took me back to Euro ’96 – Spice Boys, dentist’s chairs and Gazza’s last hurrah. It’s the only good England song and I look forward to singing it as we crash out on penalties. Then I will be crying.”

At the 2018 World Cup in Russia England got further than expected. By the time of the semi-final, it was no longer a World Cup, just European as the only teams left were England, France, Croatia and Belgium. At this point the football anthems began to make the UK chart again. The week England made it to the quarter finals Three Lions re-entered the chart at number 72, but as it was all down to streaming and downloading the version that entered the chart was just billed as Three Lions because it was an amalgamation of the 96 and 98 versions. The following week it climbed to number 42 and once we’d made it to the semi-final it sprang up to number 24. The week we were due to play the semi-final the midweek sales flashes had the song at number one. When England lost to Croatia the streaming dropped off but it had done sufficiently well earlier in the week to remain at number one when the chart was revealed on Friday 13th July – not unlucky as it became the first song to top the chart three times. Even the chart-topping predecessor, George Ezra, selflessly encouraged fans to buy Three Lions. That week’s ‘sales’ of Three Lions was 79,999 which was made up of 43,369 in paid-for downloads and 36,410 streams. It took the single’s total sales to date to 1,078,421.

In this day and age you need to be a mathematician to understand the chart rules implemented by the Official Chart Company. The rules state that an act with a lead credit can only have a maximum of three tracks in the chart, this followed the Ed Sheeran debacle where every track from his Divide album went into the top 20. Other rules state that if a track has had three consecutive weeks of sales decline then ACR (accelerated chart ratios) kicks in, which means that a sale to stream ratio will change from 1:100 to 1:200 (in the case of premium streams) or 1:600 to 1:1200 (in the case of ad funded streams). But these rules do not apply until a song has been on the chart for at least 10 weeks. As of 1st July 2018 video streams were taken into account for chart counting. Just to add to any confusion, a new recent tweak of chart rules say that a track only escapes ACR if it is not being actively promoted, Three Lions wasn’t so as chart commentator, Alan Jones, put it, “If Three Lions was being actively promoted, its sales this week would be 116,189 instead of 79,779.” Anyone keeping up with this? Incidentally, the week following the final saw another chart record set when Three Lions dropped from number one to number 97 beating the previous record set by the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir’s rendition of A Bridge Over You which dropped to a mere number 29 in 2016.

Tom, a producer on the Radcliffe and Maconie show on BBC6 Music, just before the final, witnessed and was incensed that some French football fans people in a pub were singing ‘Football’s coming home’ but not for England but for themselves. Well, why not, for them it did.

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