2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life


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Rock ‘n Roll favourites that never hit the charts in the UK

music_square_icon_1600_wht_7971That esteemed publication Vintage Rock published a fascinating article this month called “40 Rock ‘n’ Roll hits that missed“.

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’sAin’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


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Vintage Rockers’ top Rock ‘n’ Roll songs

Vintage Rock magazine asked its readers to vote for the top 100 rock ‘n’ roll songs.

Here are the top 10 results.

At number 10 was: Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley.

A song written by Hoyt Axton’s mother and Elvis’s first chart topper in 1956. I remember playing this in a group competition at the Mecca in Burnley. The opening is quite dramatic and it was different from many other songs at the time. Which guitarist could resist those double stop notes in the intro?

Number 9 was another Elvis song Mystery Train

One of the rockabilly records he recorded for Sun with Scotty Moore and Bill Black.

Number 8 was Whole lotta shaking goin’ on by Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee’s breakthrough single in the US (it got to No 3 in 1957) was a cover of earlier recording but another success for Sam Phillips at Sun records.

Number 7 was Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran

It reached No 8 in the US charts in 1958. This three-chord tune with sense of humour was (and still is) a favourite with all the guitar groups.

Number 6 was Move It by Cliff Richard and the Drifters.

This pre-Shadows recording was Cliff’s first hit reaching No 2 in the British charts and arguably the UK’s first home-grown rock ‘n’ roll hit. I thought for years that the cool twangy  guitar playing was Hank Marvin but it wasn’t.

Number 5 was Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis

This achieved No 2 in the US charts and No 1 in the UK and was his follow-up to Whole Lotta Shaking.

Number 4 was Gene Vincent with Be-bop-a-LulaSCAN0131

Vincent wrote this song which got to No 7 in the US charts.

I saw him in Lancashire appearing on the same bill as Jet Harris and Tony Meehan (ex-Shadows) and John Leyton (singer of Johnny Remember Me and an actor in the Great Escape). It was March 1963 and either at the Southport Odeon or King George’s Hall Blackburn. Another song every guitar group played (and some still do)

Number 3 was Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley

Jailhouse Rock was his third film and this song was a hit in 1957.Written by Leiber & Stoller it featured Scotty Moore on guitar and D J Fontana on Drums. It’s also his third appearance in this top ten listing.

Number 2 was Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and his Comets

This song, originally recorded as a B side, briefly hit the US charts at No 23 in 1954. An unlikely rock legend despite the kiss curl. His style was based on country and swing but was the start of something big and when he released Shake, Rattle and Roll the following year it was the first rock ‘n’ roll record to enter the UK charts earning itself a gold record.

And at No 1 was Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry

This, possibly autobiographical, song of a country boy who became a rock n roll star reached No 8 in the US pop charts and No 2 in the R & B charts. Go Johnny Go is reputed to refer to Berry’s pianist Johnnie Johnson (although ironically he didn’t actually play on this song). The guitar intro was something every aspiring guitarist had to learn to play and the song has been covered many, many times,

And if you’ve been living on the moon and never heard it (although it was included on the golden disc NASA sent out in Voyager) here it is on Youtube

If you want to see the full list of 100 you’ll have to buy the magazine.

Some of my favourites which were listed were Del Shannon’ Runaway, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ Shaking all over, Dale Hawkins’ Susie Q, Buddy Holly’s Brown-eyed Handsome Man, Carl Perkins’ Honey Don’t, Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, and The Wanderer by Dion & The Belmonts.


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The Best R & B records ever?

old_instruments_pc_1600_wht_1310I was browsing through the magazine section in my local supermarket and spotted a magazine called “Vintage Rock“. Can’t say I’ve noticed it before but one of the articles caught my eye. Jeremy Isaacs listing the 40 Best R ‘n B records.

I’m always suspicious when I see anything labelled R & B as most of the modern stuff is urban music with no connection to the Blues. The article quotes Fats Domino from an interview in the 1950s when he said “What you call Rock ‘N’ Roll now is Rhythm & Blues. I’ve been playing it for 15 years in New Orleans“. I enjoyed the magazine and decided to subscribe to it.

As for they article on the best R & B records, I didn’t agree with all the author’s choices but there were enough to make me think, “those were the days!”  If you want to read the full list of 40 buy the magazine!

Here are the ones I agree with (by year of release)

  • Ain’t that a shame – Fats Domino (1955)
  • Youngblood – The Coasters (1957)
  • Memphis Tennessee – Chuck Berry (1959
  • Chain Gang – Sam Cooke (1960)
  • I just want to make love to you – Etta James (1961)
  • Stand by Me – Ben E King (1961)
  • Green Onions – Booker T & the MGs (1962)
  • Dancing in the Street – Martha & The Vandellas (1964)
  • Time is on my Side – Irma Thomas (1964)

From the rest of the list I like these performers but not the song Isaac has chosen.

  • Ray Charles- Mess Around (1953)
  • Little Richard – Tutti Frutti (1955)
  • Bo Diddley – Who do you Love? (1957)
  • James Brown – Try Me, I need you (1958)
  • The Drifters – There goes my Baby (1959)
  • Lee Dorsey – Ya Ya (1961)
  • Marvin Gaye – Hitch Hike (1962)

And Arthur Alexander doesn’t even get a mention!

You probably have your own list; it’s all down to personal choice in the end.

sc00058e25As a footnote on the question of what is R & B I have an album released on Stateside in 1963 called “the ‘sound’ of the R & B hits”. It’s actually a Tamla Motown production with the following tracks, some of which like “Do You Love Me” and “Money” were staples of R & B groups:

Side 1

  • Shop Around – Mary Wells
  • Way over there – The Marvelettes
  • Everybody’s gotta pay some dues – The Miracles
  • Mockingbird – Martha & The Vandellas
  • Bye Bye baby – Mary Wells
  • I’ll try something new – The Miracles
  • Dream baby (how long must I dream) – The Marvelettes

Side 2

  • Money – Barrett Strong
  • What’s so good about goodbye -The Miracles
  • Let me go the right way – The Supremes
  • Don’t want to take a chance – Mary Wells
  • Broken Hearted – The Miracles
  • The one who really loves you – The Marvelettes
  • Do you love me – The Miracles

The sleeve notes said “This very special package from Tamla Motown records showcases the particular style of rhythm and blues that the company has successfully produced and it is sure to appeal to its ever-growing legion of supporters