Monthly Archives: March 2013

My Favorite Record #6

The Cryin’ Shames: Please Stay (Decca, 1966) I’ve always had a soft spot for melancholy. As a teenager, I would pull out all my favorite metal ballads and sit in the dark, listening to Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Close My Eyes Forever” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Megadeth’s “In My Darkest Hour.” Though my metal years are long behind me, I still find myself making way too many melancholy mixes, with titles like “very very sad songs,” “only the lonely,”  “devastated,” “seance on a winter afternoon” (for when I have the winter blues). The Cryin’ Shames’ “Please Stay” is on every one of those mixes. I can think of few songs sadder than this. The Drifters lay claim to the original, but it comes nowhere near the devastation of this Liverpudlian sextet’s cover. Singer Charlie Crane sounds so close to tears, you can practically hear him trembling. Producer Joe Meek was never one to play it safe; the organ is straight out of a funeral procession, the bass and drums muffled and detached from the vocal. “Please Stay” charted at #26 in the UK.  A year later, Joe Meek murdered his land-lady, … Read more

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yawn

I had planned to get straight back to writing upon my return to New York, but I have completely under-estimated the brutal, brain-attacking, energy-sapping, total mind and body shut down that is readjustment to life in the Northern hemisphere. Our return to NYC involved a one-hour flight from Melbourne to Sydney, a 13-hour flight from Sydney to LA, a 2-hour wait in LAX, and finally a 5-hour flight from LAX to NYC. The guy sitting next to me does this trip once a month for work. Sweet jesus. I wouldn’t wish this feeling on my worst enemy. And I happened to be randomly selected for intense security searches in both Sydney and LAX airports. And I was shouted at by a customs officer for opening my carry-on bag to remove my sneakers because according to his logic, I could have been taking out a weapon. Ooooookay. America and airports do not mix. Hopefully tonight I will be able to sleep more than 2 1/2 hours. Cha Cha Charming updates will resume (more frequently) on Monday. 

Notes from the Australian Road

I’m currently sitting in a hotel room perched above Apollo Bay, on the southern coast of Australia. It’s our last day of a two week trip that took us from Sydney down the East Coast to Melbourne, to the tip of the ridiculously scenic Mornington Peninsula for a wedding in Portsea, and lastly to the Great Ocean Road. The first huntsman spider I’ve seen outside of the zoo is currently hanging out above the door in the bathroom. And yesterday we drove up a pathway in the Great Otway National Forest, where high up in the eucalyptus trees we spotted wild koalas.  The drive from Sydney to Melbourne takes you along some pretty coastline, but the Great Ocean Road, with its rugged cliffs, beautiful and accessible white sand beaches, lined with what looks like the world’s largest christmas trees, is by far the most scenic road I’ve ever travelled (it’s similar to California’s Pacific Coast Highway, but surrounded by tropical rainforest and koalas!). The drive begins in Torquay,  the surfer’s capital of Australia. Sadly we arrived two days early for the Rip Curl Pro competition at Bell’s Beach. The plan for … Read more

My Favorite Record #5

Connie Stevens: Tick Tock (Bell Records, 1970) Kudos to the A&R man who paired Connie Stevens with Philly “sweet soul” producer, Thom Bell. The single may have done little to revive Connie’s flailing music career, but A-side “Keeps Growing Strong” would become a million-seller for the Stylistics and a proud moment in Philadelphia’s musical history. Thom Bell and co-writer Linda Greer had written “Keeps Growing Strong” specifically for Connie. When they delivered it to Bell Records with the title “Betcha By Golly Wow,” the label balked, complaining that the title sounded too similar to Connie’s early novelty hit “Kookie Kookie Lend Me Your Comb.” Despite Thom Bell’s objections, the label went with “Keeps Growing Strong.” When the record tanked, Thom Bell took it to the Stylistics, whose cover version of “Betcha By Golly Now” has pretty much erased all memory of the original. “Tick Tock” doesn’t have nearly as exciting a story, but this little-known B-side has earned its rightful spot on the Northern Soul scene. Connie Stevens couldn’t be further from a soul singer, but somehow her vanilla voice blends beautifully with Thom Bell’s lush pop-soul arrangements. If only the storming instrumental outro didn’t have … Read more

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Jeanette

1971. France, Belgium, England, Mexico, Italy, Argentina, Spain, Venezuela- across the European continent and via the South American airwaves came the latest hit– “Soy Rebelde,” an angelic pop ballad cut by a mysterious young singer residing in Barcelona. The international success of “Soy Rebelde” (I Am Rebellious) spawned the release of English, French, and Japanese versions of the song, while 21-year-old Jeanette Dimech suddenly found herself center stage– the unforeseen idol of Spanish-speaking teenage girls worldwide. That is how the story goes, but ask most Europeans or Latin Americans to hum a line from “Soy Rebelde” and they’ll be hard-pressed. “Soy Rebelde” might have made a slight dent on the global charts, but the musical career of Jeanette was not a major success story like her biography might lead you to believe. Jeanette was at most, a one-hit wonder, and although she had a couple of singles out on the international circuit, her achievements were pretty much confined to Spain. With a new generation of music historians and fans tapping into the vaults of pop music from every era and spot on the world map, there are few artists who … Read more

My Favorite Record #4

Peggy Lee: Sneakin’ Up On You (Capitol, 1965) I haven’t even begun to grasp the decades-long, genre-spanning musical career of Peggy Lee. There is a TON of material, and so much of it–whether big band, jazz, or pop–is top-notch. “Sneakin’ Up On You” came out long past her “Fever” prime, when she was 45-years-old, on husband number four, but the detached cool that she sang with remains. Songwriter Chip Taylor called it “a cool sexy little thing,” where Peggy plays a one-eyed cat, stalking her love interest and throwing in a few sultry purrs. Cats popped up in quite a few of Peggy’s songs, most notably on her own co-write,”The Siamese Cat Song,” a hilarious tale of naughty kitties featured on the Lady & the Tramp soundtrack. 

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A Spider Story

A Mexican Tarantula n’ me at the London Zoo I’ve just spent 24 hours at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, sleeping in a tent overlooking the Sydney Harbor, taking a night tour of the lion’s den, and finally getting to see a koala, kangaroo, platypus, and tazmanian devil first-hand. It was also a chance to get very close to Australia’s enormous arachnids, many of which were hanging out on webs and walls outside of the official displays. It’s clearly the season of the golden orb weaver spider, with a leg span larger than my hand and the most beautiful, elaborate webs. They were everywhere. When we went to visit the “behind the scenes” feeding of the Orangutans (which, by the way, are also gigantic and we’re told, very strong and thus very dangerous), I saw my first huntsman spider, an extra-large, scary-looking thing that likes to scale walls and doesn’t require a web to catch its prey. These spiders are FAST. No fly or cockroach stands a chance with a huntsman around. They are also harmless, despite their menacing appearance. Six months ago, I never would’ve been able to write so enthusiastically … Read more

Australia-bound

Over the next coupla weeks, Cha Cha Charming will take on a slightly more Australian tone, as I’m currently one hour into a 20-hour trip to Sydney. This is a continent I never thought I’d see in this life-time, as I’ve spent 34 of my 35 years as a severe arachnophobe, always researching the spider population of a country before I visit. I believe Australia is home to the largest, most diverse, and most dangerous population of spiders and so it has always remained at the bottom of my list of places to visit. I’m planning to do a proper post on the AA for arachnophobes that miraculously cured me of my fear, but just wanted to quickly write up a post that will explain the jet-lagged, exhausted, sporadic nature of the next few days of blog posts.  We’re spending five nights in Sydney, and then taking a coastal road-trip down to Melbourne, where we’ll be staying for a week. Aside from my thorough research on Australian arachnids, I know very little about the cities I’ll be visiting. Any tips on record shopping (specifically for 45s) would be greatly appreciated. 

My Favorite Record #3

Earth & Fire: Weekend (Vertigo, 1979) In the days before Shazam, I’d find my pockets full of restaurant napkins, scribbled with the lyrics I attempted to decipher from songs played in public. I first heard “Weekend” at a waffle restaurant in Amsterdam. The immediacy of the melodies and steel drums-intro cut through the crowd chatter, and I managed to catch the lyric “I don’t wanna be your lover for the weekend” (still my favorite part of the song). It turned out to be a massive hit by Dutch prog-rock band Earth & Fire, reaching #1 in Germany, Portugal, Denmark, and Switzerland as well as in their native Netherlands. Twin brothers Chris and Gerard Koerts founded the group in 1968. Singer Jerney Kaagman signed on a year later, and the band scored nine top ten hits throughout the ’70s, each getting progressively more pop. By 1979, Earth and Fire clearly got the memo that reggae was in, and managed to merge the ever-trendy style with melodies that even those disappointed with the band’s commercial direction couldn’t help but love. Some of you may recognize it by the 2003 cover from the very irritating German techno group, Scooter, who … Read more

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Gee Ellie Gee

An Interview with Ellie Greenwich 2013 update: I interviewed the late Ellie Greenwich in the summer of 2005. I recall hanging up the phone, putting my headphones on and practically skipping across the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan. With “The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget” on full blast, I remember feeling completely and utterly elated that I had just spoken to my hero. This interview originally appeared on the old Cha Cha Charming site. A few people have been asking if I’d re-post the collection of articles, so here is the first of the lot, and definitely my favorite. I wanted to include the audio to go along with the text, but that will require a lot of digging through un-labeled cassettes, so I’ll save that for a later date.  Musical geniuses were never envisioned as perky blondes in miniskirts gushing over the “Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget.” Such honors have always been reserved for the troubled frat pack—deranged producers, couch-ridden junkies, and worse, sensitive strummers seeking answers in the wind. Rock snobbery may dictate, but those aware of pop’s purest pleasures rank Brill Building songwriter Ellie Greenwich at the top. … Read more