Posts Tagged ‘Neil Diamond’

Is there a better song than “Up on the Roof”?

According to Rolling Stone, the answer is yes – 113 songs, to be precise, as the original rendition by the Drifters, which was released in 1962, ranks No. 114 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list, which was put together in 2004.

I rate it higher.

Written by the husband-and-wife team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the single peaked at No. 5 on the pop charts and No. 4 on the R&B charts in early 1963. In the years since, it’s been covered by an array of artists, both in concert and on vinyl. The idea for the song came to King – who was all of 20 at the time – while she was out for a drive; her original title was “My Secret Place.” Goffin suggested the roof as the escape destination, as he was a West Side Story fan, and penned poetic lyrics that echo a universal truth. (American Songwriter delves deep into the song’s sophistication here.) 

Here’s the demo for it, which features Goffin singing and King playing piano.

As wonderful as the Drifters’ single is, however, it flopped in England – but East London-born Kenny Lynch’s version made it to the Top 10.

Up-and-coming singer Julie Grant made her U.K. chart debut with the song right around the same time.

In 1970, fellow New Yorker Laura Nyro recorded it for her Christmas and the Beads of Sweat album; it became her sole single to crack the Top 100, peaking at…No. 97?!

That same year, Carole King recorded it for her debut album, Writer.

A year later, Dusty Springfield performed it on the BBC’s The Rolf Harris Show

In 1975, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band covered it in concert:

In 1979, James Taylor – who had performed it with Carole King on Writer and their early tours together – scored a Top 40 hit with it.

Jumping ahead a few decades, Neil Diamond covered it on his 1993 salute to Brill Building songs…but the orchestral touches are a tad over the top, IMO.

The British pop duo Robson & Jerome topped the U.K. charts with their faithful cover of it in 1995…

 … and actor-singer Sutton Foster does a sweet version of it on her 2009 debut album, Wish.

There are far too many additional covers of the song to list here, so I’ll close with this: Carole King and James Taylor at the Troubadour in 2010. does it get any better than this?

As far as summer days go, July 20th, 1969, was a pleasant (Delaware) valley Sunday in the Philadelphia area: After a string of hot-and-humid days caused the Philadelphia Electric Co. to issue a power emergency due to the increased use of air conditioning and a generator failure, the temperature wasn’t predicted to push past 85 degrees Fahrenheit (and, as the day played out, never made it past the upper 70s). The only downside: It was cloudy, and thunderstorms were possible at just about any moment.

The biggest news of the day, as evidenced by the front page of “the oldest daily newspaper in the United States,” the Philadelphia Inquirer, was the Apollo 11 mission. The culmination of President John F. Kennedy’s push to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, it was and remains a breathtaking human achievement.

The other headline is for a story that likely changed the course of history: Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off a Chappaquiddick Island bridge. He escaped the wreck, of course, but Mary Jo Kopechne – one of the “Boiler Room Girls” of Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign – died. Kennedy claimed he made repeated attempts to save Kopechne before leaving the scene of the accident, which he didn’t report to the police until the next morning.

Prior to the accident, he was considered the frontrunner for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. After? The questions of what happened haunted him for the rest of his days, and shifted his national appeal into the “what if” territory. 

On the entertainment front, here’s a list of movies playing the theaters.

As I’ve noted before, movie distribution was very different back then: There were no large-scale openings. All films started in select markets, and gradually made their way across the country. (That would change in the early-mid ’70s.) And, too, they hung around longer, as there was no actual after-market. The Graduate, for example, dates to 1967, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Love Bug to late 1968. Goodbye, Columbus and Popi, as well as True Grit, were more recent flicks.

Then, as now, Philly was a hot bed for concert-goers. Interestingly, however, one of the ads is for a three-day music festival happening in upstate New York…

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Now, as astute readers may remember, I covered this same date last year, so am delving deeper into the same Weekly Top 40 chart (for the week ending July 19th) for today’s Top 5: July 20, 1969 (Part Deux).

1) Stevie Wonder – “My Cherie Amour.” The No. 9 single in the land is this classic song from Stevie Wonder, who was 18 when he released it and possibly 19 in this vintage clip…

2) Henry Mancini & His Orchestra – “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet.” Yes, there was a time when the singles chart consisted of more than songs targeted at the young. One example: Mancini’s rendition of the theme to Franco Zeffirelli’s classic adaptation of the Shakespeare play, which dropped to No. 10 this week during a slow drop from the top of the charts. The film, as evidenced by the above movie listings, was still in some theaters nine months after its premiere, and quickly became a mandatory class outing for middle-school students.

3) The Dells – “I Can Sing a Rainbow/Love Is Blue.” Written by Arthur Hamilton, “Sing a Rainbow” – which became the theme song to the Philly children’s TV show Captain Noah and His Magical Ark TV, which aired from 1967 to 1994 – was first recorded by Peggy Lee for the 1954 movie Pete Kelly’s Blues, covered by Andy Williams in 1964 and Cilia Black in 1966, and then as part of a medley by the Dells in 1969, whose version peaked this week at No. 22 on the pop charts.

4) Neil Diamond – “Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good).” On its way up the charts is this now beloved-detested song, which sits at No. 24 while on its way to its peak, No. 4, which it would hit the following month.

5) The Rolling Stones – “Honky Tonky Women.” Debuting on the charts, at No. 79, is this classic tune from Mick, Keef and the boys. 

I rarely discuss matters of faith, but – when or if pressed – will confess to membership in the cross-denominational Church of Birch, whose charismatic prelate turns on the light of love and salvation in her melodic testimonies.

I’m speaking of singer-songwriter Diane Birch, of course.

Yesterday, she unveiled a PledgeMusic project. One could say she’s passing the donation plate to fund her next album, and promising a plethora of cool premiums in return. I pledged last night, though not for the premium I most desire – a cover song of my choice. That clocks in at a reasonable $400; if not for our impending move, and the upfront costs that will entail, I’d have clicked on it without a second thought. (Instead, I’m settling on the dream journal and USB thumb drive of demos.)

The Pastor Birch has a knack for turning the songs of others into her own. The first time we saw her live, in July 2009, she turned a fun rendition of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” into a way-cool moment by linking it with the Beatles’ “I Got a Feeling.” The second time we saw her, in 2010, it was a Hall & Oates song – “Rich Girl,” I believe. And in-between those two shows, on French TV, she turned in a mesmerizing spin of Gossip’s “Heavy Cross” that spliced in a little Screamin’ Jay Hawkins…

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Songs I’d Pay Diane Birch to Cover (If I Had the Cash)… 

1) Carole King/Gerry Goffin – “Up on the Roof.” My first choice. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest songs ever written…and Diane would send it into the stratosphere. Here’s Dusty Springfield’s take on it…

2) Laura Nyro – “The Sweet Sky.” My Diane’s first choice would be this deep cut from Laura Nyro’s 1978 Nested album.  (That’s Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals on electric piano, by the way.)

3) Paul Weller – “The Soul Searchers.” From Weller’s recent five-star album, True Meanings, this song is perfect fit for DB. I think she’d do wonders with it.

4) Neil Diamond – “Holly Holy.” DB would slay this stirring stream-of-consciousness song. It’s perfect for her.

5) Sandy Denny – “I’m a Dreamer.” Recorded for Sandy’s final studio album, Rendezvous, in 1977. Here’s an alternate take from the Notes and Words box set. (It’d go doubly well with DB’s own “Stand Under My Love.”)

And two bonuses…

6) Karla Bonoff – “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was recorded by Linda Ronstadt for her 1976 Hasten Down the Wind album. 

7) Style Council – “Shout to the Top.” I realized, looking at the first six picks, that I’d leaned hard on mid-tempo tunes. Here’s a remedy…and what a remedy!

It was a chilly December day in 1969 when my father, then 38, arrived home from Vietnam, where he’d worked the previous 15 months as an electronics field engineer attached to the 5th U.S. Marine Base at Da Nang. He maintained the Marine Corps’ communication system called TRC-97 at fire bases and outposts between Da Nang and the DMZ, and sometimes took sniper fire while riding a motorcycle from one site to the next. He wasn’t a G.I., having left the Army after serving in the Korean War the decade before, but an RCA employee.

According to the thorough family history written by my grandfather the following year, my dad left for Vietnam on Sept. 16th, 1968, and returned stateside on Dec. 15th, though I imagine he first touched ground in Hawaii or San Diego and, even if he flew straight through, made it home a day later. What I recall: my mom crouching beside me, who was all of 4 1/2, and pointing to a tall man dressed in fatigues walking toward us. “Daddy,” she whispered in my ear. I ran to him, arms outstretched, and bellowed the same.

Young children welcoming a parent home from war: It’s a scene played out many thousands of times every decade, it seems. And, as with me, I’m sure it’s the first memory many have of that parent.

I was reminded of the day by Herc’s thoughtful write-up of The Vietnam War, the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary series that recently aired on PBS. I haven’t watched it yet, though at some point I likely will, but it got me to thinking of December 1969 and the winter that followed – it’s the last time, I think, that I enjoyed snow. By the next Christmas we were in Saudi, and snow and frigid weather were non-factors for the next five years.

Anyway, Christmas of 1969, as I remember it, was great; the family was together and, in addition to my dad, I received one of the greatest gifts ever: Billy Blastoff. (It was an action toy, not a doll!)

To pull the magnifying glass away from me, major events of this month included, on the 1st, the initial draft lottery; on the 2nd, the 747 making its official debut; and, on the 6th, “Woodstock West,” aka the Altamont Free Concert, erupting into violence. Unemployment for the month was just 3.90 percent, but was about to begin a gradual climb to 6 percent by the end of 1970; and inflation was relatively high, at 5.5 percent.

(For more on 1969, see here and here, though each now features a clip that’s gone AWOL from YouTube.)

Movies released this month included A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Hello, Dolly!, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Topaz and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Top television shows included Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Mayberry R.F.D. and Family Affair. Brady Bunch aficionados will know that the kitsch classic’s lone Christmas episode, when Carol came down with a bad case of laryngitis, aired on the 17th; another historic Christmas-tinged TV moment came 10 days earlier with the first airing of Frosty the Snowman.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: December 27th, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40):

1) Diana Ross & the Supremes – “Someday We’ll Be Together.” This, Diana’s final single with the Supremes, closed out the 1960s in spectacular fashion. (Producer Johnny Bristol can be heard harmonizing along, and giving Diana encouragement.)

2) Peter, Paul & Mary – “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I never knew this was written by John Denver until the mid-2000s, when I watched an excellent PPM biography on PBS. There’s this, too: PPM recorded it in 1967 for Album 1700, but didn’t release it as a single until October 1969. It promptly ascended the charts and, on Dec. 20th, became their only single to hit No. 1. This week, it dropped a notch to No. 2.

3) B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” Written for the Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid film, this classic Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, which won an Oscar, has been covered more times than than ASCAP/BMI can count. (Just a joke.) Here’s B.J. Thomas singing it on Top of the Pops in February 1970:

4) Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Down on the Corner”/“Fortunate Son.” The double A-sided hit  – one of the best – dropped to No. 4 from No. 3 (its peak) this week.

5) Steam – “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” Who knew, as 1969 came to a close, that the chorus to this ditty – which topped the charts for two weeks in early December – would become one of the de facto sing-alongs at sporting events within a decade’s time?

And two bonuses:

6) Neil Diamond – “Holly Holy.” The No. 6 this week is this gospel-tinged classic, which may well be Neil Diamond’s greatest song. (And even if it isn’t, it certainly feels that way when he’s singing it.) Here he is performing on the BBC in 1971:

7) Gladys Knight & the Pips – “Friendship Train.” Topping out at No, 17 is this under-appreciated Norman Whitfield-penned call for peace, love and understanding. Here’s Gladys & the Pips performing it in 1972: