Category: Single of the week

Mambo No. 5 (Lou Bega)

Once upon a time, list songs were very popular but are few and far between now. This week’s choice was a number one hit in 1999 with a vocalised cover of a 1950 instrumental. Lou Bega said of it in an interview with VH-1, “Mambo makes you happy, Latin music makes you happy, it’s sexual, it’s erotic, energetic, I think that’s the point.” So why all the girls names and who were they? Let’s find out.

In the fifties Cuba was run by the corrupt General Batista, who kept most of his citizens in poverty. It was liberated by Fidel Castro in 1959 when he and his bearded guerillas took control – they were actually known as Los barbudos (The bearded ones). President Kennedy did not support Castro and so Castro declared the country to be a socialist republic and aligned himself with Russia. If the Russians had not backed down in 1962, there could have been another world war.

The CIA had many, almost comic plans for removing Castro including presents of exploding cigars. He has survived assassination attempts and was still in control until April 2011. His compadre, his Ministry for Industry, Che Guevara, was less lucky: he left Cuba in 1965 and continued guerilla warfare in Bolivia. He was killed in 1967 but he lives on as a poster and t-shirt icon.

Although Castro appreciated the importance of song (his guerillas had guitars as well as rifles), the new order affected the lifestyle of the main Cuban musicians and they either emigrated to America (until that loophole was closed in 1964) or were reduced to poverty, The beautiful music continued, however, and the mambo and the cha-cha retained their native popularity. Because of the détente between America and Cuba, few Americans knew of the music.

The Cuban bandleader, Pérez Prado, toyed with the concept of the mambo in the early Forties. He had the concept of adding American swing music, especially the saxophone, to Afro-Cuban rhythms and he wanted something more exciting than the rhumba. He said, “I am a collector of cries and noises, elemental ones like seagulls on the shore, winds through the trees and men at work in a foundry. Mambo is a movement back to nature by means of rhythms based on such cries and noises and on simple joys.”

Pérez Prado recorded numerous mambos, often giving his original compositions names like Olé Mambo, Manhattan Mambo and Mambo-Jambo. When he ran out of inspiration, he would simply number them and Mambo No. 5, in 1950, was one of a series of eight. Mambo in its time became old-fashioned and was replaced by salsa.

Lou Bega was born David Lubega in Germany in 1975 to Ugandan and Italy parents who both loved Pérez Prado’s music. He made his first album as a rapper in Munich in 1990. He achieved popularity as a singer and rapper and trumpet player. He set about writing lyrics to Mambo No. 5, paying tribute to Angela, Pamela, Sandra, Rita, Monica, Erica, Tina, Mary and Jessica. It was reported at the time that the girls he mentioned were all former girlfriends but is it really likely he had chosen a stack of women whose names ended with an A? Unlikely.

Bega did say in an interview with Fox News that the story was a simple one. “I dated a lot of pretty nice ladies when I was younger. These names of my past, you know, just came to me and I wrote it down, got the melody and the rest is history.” He went on to say, “My favourite is Sandra, that’s why she was the one in the sun.”

The song was first issued in Germany where it went to number one and stayed there for 17 weeks and a record-breaking 20 weeks in France. It became so popular that import copies started to sell in the UK and when RCA realised, they released it here and it went to the top. It also went to number one in 20 other countries.  He looked elegant in his thirties hat, white suit, pocket handkerchief and spats and he said, “Never lose your joie de vivre; there is more beauty around us than we can possibly imagine.”

It was covered in 2001 by Neil Morrissey as Bob the Builder where it went to number one again but with time with re-adapted lyrics and regularly name-checking Dizzy, Lofty and Roley.

The year before, it became the theme song for the 2000 Democratic Convention which was Bill Clinton’s party and that night he gave the opening speech. It became a bit more of a joke when someone noticed the line, ‘A little bit of Monica in my life.’

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Hats off to Larry (Del Shannon)

Two weeks ago, I lost my dearest best friend Larry Foster to that wretched COVID-19 virus. I’m still desperately sad and when this request came in from jukeboxdil I pushed it to the front of the queue. jukeboxdil was a regular attendee at one of Larry’s music quizzes and they’d become friends. He had also become a regular at my Start of Year quiz so I got to know him too. He wrote, “As a little tribute to the Mad Hatter (one of Larry’s early DJ names) would you consider doing Del Shannon’s Hats off to Larry as single of the week soon – I’ve never asked before – so now so seems a good time.” That song was also Larry’s mobile ringtone. When I spoke to Larry’s son Scott following the tragic news, he said, “That ringtone was so annoying. It was so loud and it used to drive us all mad. Now, I just want to hear it again.”

Battle Creek, Michigan is affectionately known as the Cereal City USA as Kellogg’s has its headquarters there. In 1959, the workers would unwind at the Hi-Lo club and listen to a 25-year-old Charles Westover fronting the resident band. “There was a guy in the club who wanted to be a wrestler called Mark Shannon,” Del explained in an interview with my Number Ones book co-author, Spencer Leigh, “and I thought Shannon was a great name and borrowed it. Mark Shannon wasn’t right though as it sounded like a detective. I was selling carpets by day and the guy who owned the store had a Cadillac DeVille, which was beautiful and so I became Del Shannon.”

A modest man, Del never claimed he was doing anything original with his vocal, saying that it borrowed from The Ink Spots’ We Three, Jimmy Jones’ Handy Man, Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover and Dion & The Belmonts’ I Wonder Why.

His first hit was the multi-million selling Runaway and firmly established Del on the music scene. Hats off to Larry became the follow up in September 1961 and is a break-up song with sweet revenge. Just after Runaway had been a hit, Del was making his debut stage appearance at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre in New York where he was sharing the bill with Dion Dimucci. They also shared a dressing room and as Del explained on his website, “I wrote Hats off to Larry in the dressing room that night with Dion and fellow rock ‘n’ roller Bobby Vee present.”

Hats Off, which was solely written by Del, tells the story of his heartbreak when his girl goes off with another man. That is reflected in the slow one piano chord intro and Del telling that her name doesn’t even matter now and how she went off with another guy who now, doesn’t even look at her. But then the beat kicks in and suddenly it’s upbeat because he’s realised that the new man, Larry, has already dumped her and Del is happy to take her back but not until he’s reminded her that Larry told her lies like she did to Del and it’s her turn to cry, cry, cry when Larry said goodbye to her.

Shannon was signed to Big Top records in the States and like most record companies they think they know best. They were not too happy with the slow intro. They told Del that it should have been faster to hook the listener in earlier and seemly ignoring the song’s sentiment. Del wrote it, he should know best. He said in an interview with Ted Yates, “I had to fight for about two hours to get that the way I wanted it. They didn’t want to listen to me. I was just the singer.” Thankfully, Del rightly got his way.

The song features a similar instrumental break to Runaway;  that familiar sound is an electronic keyboard called a Musitron and played by Max Crook. Max had auditioned for Del’s band and brought his prototype synthesiser that could copy violins and other instruments. As soon as he heard it, Del said, “Man, you’re hired.” A music publisher, Ollie McLaughlin, was impressed with the group and asked Del and Max for original songs. Max wrote the instrumental, Mr. Lonely which appeared on the B-side of Johnny & The Hurricanes’ 1961 hit, Ja-Da.

In January 1961 Del and Max and their wives, Shirley and Joann, went to New York and the two men recorded with session musicians. While they were recording, Shirley and Joann joined the audience of a TV show and Joann ended up as a winning contestant on Beat the Clock. Almost nine months to the day, Shirley gave birth to their daughter, whom they named Jody, after the B-side of Runaway and itself named after a girl who went to the Hi-Lo.

Anyone who has toured with Del Shannon knows he was full of obsessions – one day he was attacking sugar and the next day scooping down ice cream – and he went from one fad to another. His songs reflect his paranoia and he took his own life in 1990.

Larry Foster was my closest friend for 37 years. He had celebrated his 50th anniversary of DJing last year and was, by far, the world’s best music programmer. Nobody, but nobody could touch him for his knowledge of how to read an audience. He just knew what to play as well how and when to play it. When an evening fell apart he could fix it quicker than anyone I know or will ever know and to that I take my hat off to Larry! RIP my dear friend.

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Kung Fu Fighting (Carl Douglas)

This week’s suggestion is another in a long line of songs that weren’t ever destined to be a hit as it started life as a B side and took just 10 minutes to write as a throwaway track. Rather than a radio DJ choosing to play the B-side and thus making it a hit, it was actually the artist who suggested and the record company listened and agreed.

The interest in the martial art, kung fu, came about through the films of Bruce Lee and then the TV series, Kung Fu, with David Carradine. Thousands of people were learning the art and as Carl Douglas observed, everybody was Kung Fu fighting.

Carl Douglas was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1962, but he came to the UK after his grandmother died and obtained a degree in engineering. He sang soul music with The Charmers and he built up a following around the London clubs. For over 10 years, Douglas released singles from time to time and was tantalisingly close to the big break. In 1972, he sang the title song from the espionage thriller, Embassy, starring Richard Roundtree and Chuck Connors. He was also a session singer for Pye records.

Despite there being a number of kung fu-related films and TV shows, it wasn’t directly any of them that inspired the song, the idea came to Carl when he saw two teenagers in London showing off some kung fu moves.

Embassy‘s score was written by an Asian producer Biddu, who wanted to make some disco records. In 1974, he asked Carl Douglas to record a new American song which he and Larry Weiss had written called I Want To Give You My Everything. “Kung Fu Fighting was not meant to be a hit,” Biddu explained in an interview with the Metro in 2004), “Carl Douglas had recorded something for an A-side of a single and every session was three hours long. We spent two hours on the first song and then took a break and I said, ‘quick guys, we need to record the B-side in two takes.'” Carl asked if he could put his own Kung Fu Fighting on the B-side. The hoo’s and the ha’s in the production are reminiscent of Sam Cooke’s Chain Gang. Biddu  continued, “I played the A-side to the guy at Pye Records, Robin Blanchflower, and he said, ‘Can I listen to the rest of the reel?’ When he heard it, he said, ‘This should be the A-side.'”

The song went to number one in Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the UK. It also topped Billboard in the States and in doing so, Biddu became the first Asian producer to top the UK chart and in the States, Douglas became the first Jamaican-born artist to reach the Billboard summit.

Douglas had two further minor hits, the first was Dance the Kung Fu that tried to stick to a winning formula but the public lost interest and the song peaked at number 35 and three years later Run Back stalled at number 25 but did become a favourite on the Northern Soul scene. Biddu, as an artist, had a very similar chart career to Douglas; in August 1975, he recorded Summer of ’42 which peaked at number 14 and his two follow up’s were Rain forest (number 39) and, two years later Journey to the Moon which just missed the top 40 by one place. However, as a producer and writer, Biddu Appaiah had UK hits with Tina Charles, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds and the Real Thing.

The song has been used in a number of movies including, Wayne’s World 2 (1994), Beverly Hills Ninja (1997), City of God (2002), Daddy Day Care, (2003) and Bowfinger (1999). A cover version was performed by Cee-Lo Green and Jack Black in the 2008 kid’s movie Kung Fu Panda.

Douglas returned to the top 10 one more time in 1998 when the British dance act Bus Stop sampled Douglas’ vocals on a new version of Kung Fu Fighting. It had added rap but kept the authentic oriental sounds. Bus Stop were Mark Hall and Graham Turner and Daz Sampson. Sampson later represented the UK in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest with Teenage Life where it came 19th out of 24. Hall and Turner later recorded under the guise Flip & Fill where they managed eight UK hits, the highest being Shooting Star which got to number three.

Carl Douglas now lives in Hamburg, Germany and owns a production company that supplies music for films and advertisements.

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For Once In My Life (Stevie Wonder)

The majority of Motown’s biggest hit were written in-house either by the staff writers of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier & Edward Holland, Norman Whitfield, Henry Cosby and Sylvia Moy or even by the artists themselves like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder. Quite rarely did they cover other artist’s songs. There are a few exceptions for example, The Four Tops did If I Were a Carpenter written by Tim Hardin and Do What You Gotta Do as written by Jimmy Webb and Stevie covered Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind and equally, Motown writers rarely wrote for artists outside the stable, but obviously hundreds of acts covered Motown songs. One particular exception is this week’s suggestion of For Once in My Life, which began long before Stevie Wonder got his hands on it.

It was written by the Motown staff Ron Miller and an outsider called Orlando Murden. There has been, for years controversy as to who recorded it first especially as a number of the singers claimed they did it first. According to a recent article by David Freeland on the American Songwriter site, who says, “Sometime in 1965, Miller gave lead sheets of For Once in My Life to two Detroit-based singers, Jo Thompson and Sherry Kaye. In a letter written to the Detroit Free Press in March 2019, Kaye claimed that she performed the song first in a musical revue at the Gem Theater. Meanwhile, Thompson was featuring it in her act at the Celebrity Room, a swanky club operated by Flame Show Bar owner Al Green (not the 70s soul singer). Today, both Thompson and Kaye own ‘original’ copies of the song, and Thompson’s even bears the hand-written note from Miller: ‘To Jo Thompson who sang it first, and best!'”

It transpires that neither did it first, but another argument that arises as to not only who did it first, but whose was released first. At the end of the day, the first recording laid down is the original regardless of any release. In 1966, a version by a Jazz/soul singer called Jean DuShon who was a recording artist signed to the Chess record label. It is claimed that Miller had her record the song as a demo, but liked her version so much that he thought she should sing it. In November 1966, another Motown-signed singer, Barbara McNair (who died in 2007) included the song on her album Here I Am. Since delving further into this minefield, it seems that DuShon’s version was issued first, but a close checking on the copyright on McNair’s record label reveals that her version was recorded in 1965, preceding all other versions. So, in short, McNair did the original and all others followed.

All the early versions were in a ballad style but it was Hank Cosby who had become responsible for the studio operations at Motown and it was he who suggested Stevie Wonder record the song and up the tempo. “The song had been previously recorded by some big named acts,” Cosby recalled in an interview with Stuart Grundy. “I said to Stevie, ‘this song sounds like people are dying and crying and I thought it was supposed to be happy so I suggested he put some life into the song.’ Stevie said to me, ‘Oh no, I hate that song, but to please me he started singing and playing and I started the tape recorder playing.’ I played it back and asked Stevie what he thought, to which he replied, ‘It wasn’t too bad.’ We did it again and, again, he said it wasn’t too bad so I said come on, let’s cut it.”

After the song was recorded, Cosby, said, “I thought it came out great, done with so much fire and so much feeling, but when Ron Miller heard the jazzed-up version  he went berserk. He went crazy saying, ‘what have you done that for?’ and because he didn’t like it, it sat on the shelf for one year. A year later, they finally released it because there was no other product on the shelf.

Ron Miller, in the same interview, explained a slightly different story, “When I wrote that song, I wrote it the way I thought Tony Bennett would sing it. Tony had a hit out at the time and did record it but never had a hit on it. Stevie came to me in my basement office and said, ‘Hey man, I love that tune’ and I said, ‘great’, but Stevie said, ‘I want to do it like this’ and he started playing it the way he wanted with the whole concept of his new arrangement. When I heard it, I said, ‘Listen man, you’re talking Oscar Hammerstein, I don’t want to hear it like that, but Stevie actually spent three or four months trying to talk me into letting him do the song that way. Finally, I said OK and we did the song but I was dead against it because I thought it was a sacrilege to a beautiful song. But then it sat in the can for almost two years because the company didn’t like it.” Eighteen months later, Stevie said to Miller, maybe they don’t like the pace of it, so let’s do it again and put a harmonica solo in. That’s what happened and then everyone was happy and it got released.

Many other acts recorded it including Frank Sinatra, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Emeli Sande, Michael Buble and the Temptations which then had Paul Williams on lead vocals. Tony Bennett often included it in his live shows and in 2006 performed a slower paced version with Stevie Wonder for his album Duets: An American Classic. That version went on to win a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. At the awards ceremony, Wonder dedicated the Grammy to his mother, who died that same year.

Ron Miller’s other successes included Heaven Help Us All, Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday and A Place In The Sun which were all hits for Stevie Wonder as well as Touch Me In The Morning for Diana Ross. His most recent UK chart success was I’ve Never Been To Me which she had recorded in 1977 but finally topped the UK chart upon re-issue in 1982.

Miller died of a heart attack in July 2007.

In an interview with Ralph McKnight and Martin Lawrie, Jean DuShon described her feelings of hurt when Stevie’s version became a hit, “It was a very big disappointment in my life. I stopped singing it ’cause I didn’t have the song. I didn’t have anything. It wasn’t mine anymore.”

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Sometimes (Gerry Cinnamon)

Wiggles has been hounding me to write about this song for weeks, but apart from having heard the song, I knew little about it. When this happens I usually contact the person or people involved to try and find out more. On this occasion, despite several attempts, Gerry and his manager, Kayleigh haven’t bothered responding, however, through a friend some details have been obtained.

Gerry was born Gerard Crosbie in Glasgow in 1984 who, by his own words, said, “My life was f***ing mental growing up” because he had no father around and from his teens was often in trouble. Post education he worked as a plumber and then as a scaffolder without satisfaction. He tried his hand at being a chef and even worked in a coffee shop, but then moved to London and resided with a friend’s father and began learning guitar. He briefly formed a band called The Cinnamons but that didn’t work out and he returned to Scotland. Following some experience with cocaine, he began writing songs about his past experiences which he found came easy and has since poured them out in his songs.

Gerry began a solo career and originally used the mononym, Cinnamon before adding is real first name. He is passionate about his home country and all things to do with it and sings in a strong Glaswegian accent. Many of his songs are reminisce about growing up in Glasgow and his use of cocaine.

“My lyrics are honest almost to a fault, it gets me into trouble,” he told Nadia Younes. “I think people appreciate that… The music I write is what I want to hear myself. What other artists play acoustic guitar and their gigs are bouncing? That’s all I’m looking for.”

In 2017, he released his debut album of self-written songs on his own eponymous label and called it Erratic Cinematic and the opening track is Sometimes.

Sometimes really talks about his troubled upbringing, he openly states, ‘Insecurity is rife, I’m not the ideal person to be lecturing of life.’ and then in verse two the reference to the drugs, ‘Some things I’ve learned about myself, being in sticky situations, I won’t bore you with the filth, breaking bones and sniffing gear.’

Gerry formed his own Little Runaway records because gone are the days when artists needed record labels to help boost their career because with the advent of social media, the artists can do their own promoting and not lose interest like the record labels so often did if a song wasn’t a bit hit first time round. He told Craig McLean at The Face, “I know there’s people that think that the fact I don’t deal with labels is some sort of front. As if I’ve not had any offers from labels! If they think that what I’m doing just now is because I haven’t had offers from labels, then they’re a fucking idiot, aren’t they? They don’t know what they’re talking about. Of course I’ve had offers! All sorts of offers. But it’s like, why would it work for me? Why should I sign? At the start I was like: ‘let’s see if I can open the door. If I can show that there’s a way to do this without the glass ceiling or waiting for somebody else to do it for you.”

He has a cult following by a loyal fan base who turn up time after time regardless of where the gig is and it’s another thing that record companies never really took into consideration. They just looked at sales figures and how much money they could make.

In 2017, he played the John Peel tent at Glastonbury to a 7000-capacity audience who seems to know every word to every song which just enhances his live popularity.

He has, to date, minimal UK chart success having charted three singles, Canter, in the summer of 2019 peaked at number 50, the follow up, Sun Queen petered out at number 64 and last week Where We’re Going stalled at number 67. Meanwhile the album, Erratic Cinematic, reached number 17 and spent one year on the chart. In May 2019, he supported Liam Gallagher on tour and later this year he confirmed he’ll be headlining the Hampden Park festival, the 51,000 capacity stadium and thus will become the first Scottish act to do so. Things are really taking off for him and only three weeks ago he announced that he will be appearing at the Reading and Leeds festival in August.

In time for that he’s had begun work on his second album, The Bonny, which is short for Bonfire and in his mind that is an image of defiance and light coming together.

“The statistics I never really gave a fuck about, it’s just the magnitude of it,” Cinnamon revealed to Nadia Younes “To be honest, I’ve got no ambitions, I’m trying to say this without sounding like a negative bastard, but I don’t really have any ambitions for it to go any bigger. I don’t want it to get any bigger. It’s just trying to make it better. And if that means a bigger venue, then so be it.”

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Lido Shuffle (Boz Scaggs)

This week’s song was chosen by General Blee who emailed to say, “I had forgotten how good Lido Shuffle was and how much I actually liked it. However, having tried hard to listen to the lyrics, I am still confused as to what it is all about. Can you have a look at this one for me please? Before contacting a friend of mine who has interviewed Boz Scaggs, a little research on the internet confirmed why I don’t rely too much on it. It never ceases to amaze me what rubbish is written on so many websites that people make up which then gets transformed into folklore over a period of time. I read on three site that this song is about a man being released from prison in Mississippi and needed a boat to get across the water which he’d just missed and so thought about robbing a bar. What utter tosh. Let’s tell the real story.

William Royce Scaggs was born in Canton, Ohio and because his father was a travelling salesman, he moved around a lot firstly to Oklahoma and then spent much of his childhood growing up in Texas. He began learning guitar at the age of 12 and when he was 15 he met Steve Miller (who was in the same school and had his own band) and Scaggs was invited to join as vocalist. He then attended a private school in Dallas where a schoolmate gave him the nickname Bosley which was later shortened to Boz. Miller and Scaggs both attended the same University and then went their separate ways with Scaggs heading to London and then to Sweden. In 1965, he released his first solo album, Boz, which bombed. Two years later he returned to the U.S and San Francisco where he was reunited with Steve Miller and played on his first two albums.

He secured a record contract and released his second album, the inventively titled Boz Scaggs that featured then-session guitarist Duane Allman. It wasn’t commercially successful despite good reviews. His 1974 album, Slow Dancer, had a more soulful feel as it produced by Johnny Bristol.

In 1976, for his next album, he gathered more top session musicians including David Paich, Jim Gilstrap, Fred Tackett and Jeff Porcaro and was recorded at Hollywood Sound Studios in Los Angeles. Paich and Porcaro went on to form Toto and Tackett was a member of Little Feat. Paich also co-wrote and played keyboards on most of the tracks with Scaggs. Lowdown was the first release and made number 28 in the UK. The follow-up, What Can I Say made the top 10 and then came Lido Shuffle which went to number 13.

Scaggs in the interview said of the song, “Lido’ was a song that I’d been banging around. And I kind of stole… well, I didn’t steal anything. I just took the idea of the shuffle. There was a song that Fats Domino did called The Fat Man that had a kind of driving shuffle beat that I used to play on the piano, and I just started kind of singing along with it. Then I showed it to David Paich and he helped me fill it out. It ended up being Lido Shuffle. The song is about a drifter looking for a big score.” He concurred in another interview with Barry Scott, “It’s sort of a little throw-down, that’s an impressionistic little thing about a character who is flying by the seat of his pants. That’s probably as well as I can describe it.”

Another track on the parent album, Silk Degrees was We’re All Alone which was released as the B-side to Lido Shuffle. A&M records decided it was too good to waste as a flip and gave it to Rita Coolidge to cover who took it to number six in June 1977.

In 1996, Boz and his second wife Dominique moved to Napa Valley in California and four years later they began to produce their own wine incorporating a blend of classic southern Rhone varieties. It became known as Scaggs Vineyard. Sadly they lost their house during the Napa Valley wildfires of October 2017. Their wine business continues in Oakville, California. Scaggs said last year, “Recently we partnered up with Matt Naumann at Newfound Wines to produce our wines. We love that aspect of our lives up here and we’re going to continue that.”

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