Some great songs that never made it into the UK charts. I’m not going to list them all – you can buy the magazine for that – but here are some that resonate with me for various reasons, mainly because I played them in various groups I performed with.
Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry (1958) was Berry’s 6th million-seller in America but amazingly it never even dented the UK charts. Although autobiographical Johnny has also been said to refer to his pianist Johnnie Johnson (although Johnson didn’t actually play on this record).
Every group in the 60s played this with its memorable intro (alleged to be copied from Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t that just like a women“) and later generations will remember it from the film Back to the Future.
Louie Louie by Richard Berry (1957) but recorded by over 300 artists including the Kingsmen for whom it was a hit. One of the most recorded songs of all time (for which he eventually received substantial royalties) and another firm favourite with groups in the 60s. Just 3 chords and a set of maracas was all you needed to get the crowd going.
What’d I say by Ray Charles (1959). I remember this was on the jukebox at the corner cafe (alongside Johnny Kidd and the Pirates) and was one of those 12-bar blues tunes with a riff that lent itself to a twangy guitar. I was so pleased when I learned to play it. And with the call and response pattern it must rank as an early soul tune.
Rockin’ Robin by Bobby Day (1958) reached No 2 on the American charts. Another upbeat 12-bar blues format song popular with groups after the Hollies covered it in the early 60s. (I think our singer got a bit fed up with all that tweeting in the end.)
What I didn’t know was that Bobby Day was the original Bob in Bob and Earl who made that fabulous soul record Harlem Shuffle (which I also played).
Do You Wanna Dance by Bobby Freeman (1958). Another Bobby who had a top 5 hit with this in America. I knew it from the cover by Cliff Richard and the Shadows who released it as a B side in 1962. Another 3 chord song which was easy for groups to play.
I didn’t know there was a false ending on the original (where the song is brought back in on an ascending arpeggio similar to What’d I say) until I watched it on YouTube. Unfortunately it’s an embarrassing setting with Freeman dressed as a circus master serenading a baby elephant. Almost as bad as Elvis singing Hound Dog to a hound in a top hat!
Shout by the Isley Brothers (1959) was the record which made Lulu and the Luvvers famous in 1964 and a precursor to Twist and Shout which the Beatles recorded in 1963. Never performed Shout but loads of groups did and we succumbed to performing Twist and Shout (again with that arpeggio device towards the end). The Isleys made more great records after that.
La Bamba by Ritchie Valens (1958)was based on a Mexican folk song from the state of Veracruz and made the American top 40. Similar in structure to Twist and Shout but with the Mexican flourishes which were a gift for a guitarist. It was a double sided single with Donna (a hit for Marty Wilde in the UK).
Hippy Hippy Shake by Chan Romero (1959). Romero was seen as a successor to Ritchie Valens and recorded this just two weeks after his death. Another 12-bar blues format song with a catchy riff that made it popular with groups it became a hit for the Swinging Blue Jeans in 1963.
Money (that’s what I want) by Barrett Strong (1960) reached No 2 in the R & B charts. Written by Berry Gordy and one of the first, if not the first, record released on Tamla Motown records. Popular with groups for its raunchy riff and its call and response format it was covered by most British groups including the Beatles and the Searchers. I was taught to play it by a scouser on a coach journey to a Butlins holiday camp who told me it was popular down the Cavern.
Old Black Joe was a song written by famous 19c songwriter Stephen Foster and was the first song I learned to play when I got a real guitar in 1961. I assumed – wrongly -that it was a gospel/plantation song along the lines of Lucky Old Sun (recently recorded by Bob Dylan) and probably from the same songbook.
My Dad encouraged me to learn it probably because he liked Paul Robeson who sang it. I didn’t know it had been recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis or become a rockabilly staple and I don’t think my Dad ever found out either! I never performed it but here is Jerry Lee’s version:
So thanks again for the inspiration for this post Vintage Rock magazine