Ain’t It Good, Ain’t It Right: Ode to a Classic

Andy Kim 1974

Forty years ago today (September 28), Andy Kim‘s enduring classic, “Rock Me Gently,” hit the top of the U.S. charts. Of course, back then the song wasn’t yet a classic, enduring or otherwise. The track had just been recorded a few months earlier, and the single was released in June, when it began its steady climb to the #1 position. For disc jockeys and program directors, it was little more than business as usual; records hit the streets, get included on radio playlists and loaded into jukeboxes, garner radio play, are purchased at retail outlets, and (hopefully) ascend the charts, with the lucky ones going all the way to the pinnacle. An everyday occurrence and nothing to get worked up over. For Andy, however, the process was nothing short of a miracle.

When Andy Kim finished composing “Rock Me Gently” in February of 1974, he knew he had come up with a winner. He could feel it in his very heart, through which the melody and lyrics had flowed with sublime ease during a ten-minute session on guitar. So convinced was he that this was the song that would mark his return to the music charts that he carefully put his guitar down and proceeded to do a hand-spring across his living room, followed by a return hand-spring back to his instrument and the window through which he’d been gazing as the poetry residing in his soul was made manifest. It was the sort of moment we all live for, when everything comes together and the less athletically inclined among us pump our fists in the air—”YES!” A moment of joy when our grins all but split our faces in two, and we feel at one with the Universe. For some people, this happens only a handful of times in a lifetime.

Yet Andy’s euphoria was quickly followed by a strong dose of reality: He had been without a record label since the previous year, and if his new creation was to see the light of day, he had to get that little dilemma solved. And fast. Though only in his twenties, he knew that time waits for no man; all we have is the present in which to act. This was a life and work ethic to which Andy held fast. He had had a run of success as a songwriter and recording artist on Jeff Barry’s Steed Records from 1968 to 1971, recording eleven singles and three albums for the label. Five of those singles, including his first effort, “How’d We Ever Get This Way,” hit the national Top Forty; his remake of “Baby, I Love You,” which has come to be as identified with Andy as with the group that originated it, The Ronettes, made the Top Ten and earned Andy his first gold record. After Jeff Barry discontinued Steed Records and relocated from New York to California, Andy was signed to Uni and recorded an eponymous album for the label, in 1973. The Montreal-born singer of Lebanese extraction was accustomed to moving forward; he hadn’t become a successful singer/songwriter by resting on his laurels or sitting on his ass. There was work to be done, arrangements to be made, music to record. Details such as booking a studio and finding a record company willing to press and release this new creation of his had to be seen to, as well as getting all of the promotional ducks in a row. Andy enlisted the help of his older brother, Joe, to help with the business end of his chosen profession; then he raided his piggy bank for the funds needed for studio time. The record wasn’t going to cut itself.

Andy Kim, 1970s

For a time it looked as if the record wasn’t going to be cut at all. But Andy was nothing if not resourceful, and he decided to bring Muhammad to the mountain, so to speak, by founding his own label, Ice Records—a fitting name for a Canadian-based company—and proceeding with the studio work on pure faith. After getting the track laid down to his satisfaction and with the remaining session time down to minutes, Andy made the decision that, rather than his recording another song as a “B” side for “Rock Me Gently,” its flip would be the instrumental backing track (which would be entitled “Rock Me Gently [Part II]”). Actually, the decision was made for Andy by his newly svelte piggy bank, which vetoed the idea of paying for another session.

Andy had done all he could. Things were now in the hands of the gods … who came through with flying colors when the folks at Capitol Records heard “Rock Me Gently” and decided to sign Andy to a record deal and to release the single, with its instrumental counterpart on the B side. Andy was on his way, and the song itself was on its way to attaining hit status.

The rest is musical history. “Rock Me Gently” began a steady climb to the top of the (U.S.) charts and would reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on September 28, 1974. It would go on to hit the #2 spot on the U.K. Singles Chart two weeks later, on October 12, 1974, and subsequently garner a second gold disc for Andy (which was intercepted and informally presented to him by John Lennon at the Capitol Records building!). In the years since, the song has stood the test of time and become a pop standard. It remains in constant rotation on classic rock radio stations and is probably being played somewhere on the planet at just about any given moment. It’s even been used in commercials. And, in 2012, Andy Kim himself good-naturedly recorded a parody of the song, entitled “Mock Me Gently,” for Toronto radio station CHBM-FM (Boom 97.3)’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest.

Andy Kim - Gold Record

“Rock Me Gently” came into being at the perfect time. First of all, it’s a wonderful dance tune, so it’s fitting that it became a hit as disco was emerging as a musical genre. Second, and perhaps more important for reasons of longevity, the song is classy; it makes perfect sense that it became a classic. “Rock Me Gently” is both romantic and sexy, without being blatantly sexual or using explicit lyrics of any sort; the physical intimacies are hinted at rather than baldly spelled out, with whatever may have been taking place between the sheets laying between the lines. It’s the perfect song for amorous couples to listen to during romantic nights in front of the fireplace, and in fact the track has shown up on more than one CD compilation of love songs. It’s safe to say that Andy Kim’s financial investment has paid off many times over—and his personal and emotional investment continues to pay off, with  multiple generations of music lovers reaping the dividends. Thanks to the dream and vision of Andy Kim, “Rock Me Gently” has become part of the world’s DNA.

Videos

Andy Kim – “Rock Me Gently” (official video):

Live Performance of “Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim on Top of the Pops (UK, October 1974):

TV Commercial for Jif Cleaner (UK):

2008 Jeep Liberty “Pouring In” Commercial feat. “Rock Me Gently” (US, 2007):

Andy Kim (with Blair Packham) performing “Mock Me Gently” for Boom 97.3 FM’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest (Toronto, 2012):

Distinguished Artists: Interview with Andy Kim (2009):

“Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies: Still sweet after 45 years

Sugar, Sugar - The Archies

It was forty-five years ago today—September 20, 1969—when The Archies‘ “Sugar, Sugar” reached #1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. This was a remarkable feat for a group that had never toured or made personal appearances, mainly because the band was, well, animated. Yet this animated band managed to not only hit the top spot on the charts but to remain there for a solid four weeks, with “Sugar, Sugar” ultimately becoming the #1 song of the year and garnering a gold record from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

“Sugar, Sugar” was actually The Archies’ third single, preceded by “Bang Shang a-Lang” and “Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y.-D.O.O.).” Like the latter tune, “Sugar” was composed by producer Jeff Barry and Andy Kim; and, as with all of The Archies’ recordings*, the lead vocals were provided by session singer Ron Dante (who, incidentally, went on to have an enormously successful career as a producer himself, working with Barry Manilow and Cher among others). Ron was kind enough to provide some details of the session, which he modestly referred to as “just another Archies session at RCA Studio C in New York.”

Ron Dante:

Jeff Barry and Andy Kim were working on the Sugar, Sugar track when I arrived to do vocals. Jeff was working with the band to get just the right feel for the song. Andy [played] guitar for the band to show them just the right tempo and pocket. Jeff worked especially long on the bass part with Chuck Rainey and it turned out to be perfect. … My good friend Ron Frangipane played the keyboards.

Of course, with studio time being a precious commodity—running just a minute over could result in being charged for another session—decisions needed to be quick, and allowances had to be made for slight mishaps. Ron continues:

Andy broke his guitar pick and had to use a matchbook instead. That’s the sound of the guitar that everyone loved.

Now that the backing track was laid down, it was time for Ron to begin work on the vocals:

I remember working a little longer than usual on the lead vocal. I had in my mind Donovan’s sound and it worked. I doubled tracked my voice and did a solo one with a harmony in the middle verses.

Singer-songwriter Toni Wine (who currently tours with Tony Orlando as a member of his band) provided female vocals for The Archies for the first two years of the group’s existence. On “Sugar, Sugar,” it’s Toni who sings the line “I’m gonna make your life so sweet.” Her voice was a perfect complement to Ron’s:

Toni Wine and I then did background voices. She had this wonderful street type of sound that blended with my voice so the backgrounds really took off. Jeff did a quick mix as he sat at the board and as usual it sound[ed] like a hit.

Which, of course, it was. “Sugar, Sugar” went on to be covered by many other artists, including Wilson Pickett, Tina Turner, Bob Marley, Jonathan King (under the name Sakkarin), Gladys Knight & The Pips, Micky Dolenz** (in 2012)—and even the song’s co-composer, Canadian singer Andy Kim, who recorded it in the early 1980s under the name Baron Longfellow. The original track by The Archies has not been absent from the airwaves since its 1969 release; it’s an enduring classic that has been featured in several TV shows and films, including The Simpsons, Cake Boss, From the Earth to the Moon, Now and Then, and Bee Movie. It has also been used in commercials and even greeting cards.

That “Sugar, Sugar” enjoyed such enormous success, reaching #1 during the psychedelic era (and a bare month after the festival at Woodstock) is a testament to its awesomeness. Or, putting it another way, good music is good music. The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” had just the right ingredients: A catchy tune, great hook, solid production, wonderful musicianship by studio veterans (in addition to those mentioned by Ron above, musicians on the session included Gary Chester on drums and Dave Appell on guitar), and fantastic vocals. “Sugar, Sugar” has become part of the planet’s DNA; regardless of age, millions of people are familiar with the song and can even sing along. Billboard has listed the Archies’ recording as #73 on its All-Time Top 100 Songs.

Thanks to the collective efforts of music supervisor Don Kirshner (1934-2011), producer Jeff Barry, Ron Dante, Andy Kim, Toni Wine, and a talented group of A-list session musicians, mankind was blessed with an upbeat tune that will endure for generations. Or, putting it another way, the world is a much sweeter place because of the events on a single day in 1969 at RCA’s Studio C.

Notes:

*Ron Dante sang lead on every Archies recording except the 1971 single “Love is Living In You,” for which lead vocals were provided by songwriter Bob Levine; why this track was released as an Archies record remains a mystery to this day. [This note was edited on 11/8/14 to change the name of the singer; it was originally thought that composer Richie Adams sang lead on “Love is Living In You,” but a comment on a YouTube video by Mr. Levine cleared up the confusion!]

**Although the rumor has persisted for years that “Sugar, Sugar” was offered to The Monkees before The Archies,  its songwriters have both refuted this claim: Jeff Barry stated in an interview that he did not remember this being the case, while Andy Kim has said that the song was written specifically with The Archies in mind.

Videos:

The Archies: Official video for “Sugar, Sugar”

Ron Dante: Video from c. 1971, featuring The Archies’ lead singer performing the song in triplicate

Andy Kim: Performing “Sugar, Sugar” as Baron Longfellow in 1983

The Simpsons: Brief clip of Homer Simpson singing along with The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar”

A little Halloween fun: “Sugar, Sugar” Babies

R.I.P. Bob Crewe, The ‘Fifth Season’

Bob Crewe

The world lost one of the true giants of the music industry when the legendary Bob Crewe passed away on September 11, 2014, at the age of 83. Although he was best known for his work with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, especially in the years since the musical Jersey Boys made its debut on the Broadway stage, Crewe had an extensive career as a singer, composer and producer spanning several decades.

Often referred to as the Fifth Season, Crewe was a true Jersey boy, born in Newark on November 12, 1930 and raised primarily in Belleville. A partnership formed in the early 1950s with Frank Slay, Jr. resulted in a record label, XYZ; and, ultimately, a national Top Ten hit with “Silhouettes” by The Rays. The song was written by the Crewe/Slay team and the record produced by Crewe. “Silhouettes” was covered by The Diamonds and later remade by Herman’s Hermits with whom the song again garnered Top Ten status, in 1965.

Crewe and Slay subsequently began working with Swan Records, where they co-wrote an infectious ditty called “La Dee Dah” (whose lyrics referenced other popular song titles of the era, a trend which seems to have been more or less in vogue at the time) for the duo Billy and Lillie; the song peaked at #9 on the charts. Additionally, the Crewe/Slay team added a couple of recordings by Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon to their list of successes, beginning with “Tallahassee Lassie” for which the pair wrote additional lyrics and revamped the arrangement. The result was yet another Top Ten hit on Crewe’s resume.

It was about this time when the Philly-based Swan Records signed a new young singer named Eddie Rambeau. “I met him [Bob Crewe] when I was working for Frank Slay in Philadelphia and Bob and Frank decided to rejoin forces,” Ed Rambeau says, referring to the merging of Crewe’s publishing company with Slay’s. Crewe became a songwriting partner of Rambeau’s as well, ultimately co-composing roughly a hundred songs by Rambeau’s estimation. One of these, “Navy Blue,” written by Crewe and Rambeau along with Bud Rehak, became a national Top Ten hit for Diane Renay in 1964. Subsequently, Rambeau adds, “I moved to New York and began working at the Bob Crewe organization along with Frank.”

Before “Navy Blue,” however, Crewe had begun the association with which he would be forever remembered, composing (with Bob Gaudio) and producing the song “Sherry” for a group called The Four Seasons. This record, which went all the way to the top of the charts in 1962, was the beginning of a collaboration which produced a number of hits for Frankie Valli and the group, among them “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and others forever immortalized on record and in the stage play and movie Jersey Boys.

 

Frankie Valli and Bob Crewe

In 1965, Crewe founded DynoVoice records, and its first release was “Concrete and Clay” by Eddie Rambeau. Crewe had brought a demo of the song back to the States after a visit to the UK; the voices on the demo were those of the song’s composers, Tommy Moeller and Brian Parker. Crewe had Rambeau record the song for the new label; the recording was produced and arranged by Charles Calello, who would go on to replace Nick Massi in The Four Seasons later that same year. A week after Rambeau’s version of “Concrete” was released, a second version, by its songwriters and their group, Unit 4 + 2, hit the streets and the airwaves. Despite this, DynoVoice’s inaugural release managed to make it to the U.S. Top Forty. Rambeau followed this up with his second single for the label, “My Name is Mud,” which like “Navy Blue” was composed by Rambeau with Crewe and Rehak.

During the 1960s and early ’70s, before and during his tenure as lead vocalist for The Archies and The Cuff Links, Ron Dante was an A-list session singer in New York City. Dante notes: “Bob was an incredible person. Really talented and visionary about pop music. I used to do backgrounds for him in the sixties. He would call at all hours of the day and night [asking me to] bring some singers over to a studio he was working in. Sometimes the sessions would start just before midnight and we’d work until the wee hours. Bob was a great man. I was so impressed with his musical skills.”

Over the years, much has been written about Bob Crewe’s incredible career and his many successes in the music world as songwriter, producer and recording artist, which in addition to his body of work with The Four Seasons and the other recordings mentioned in the previous paragraphs also included hits like “A Lover’s Concerto” (The Toys, 1965); “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” (The Walker Brothers, 1966; originally recorded by The Four Seasons); “Music to Watch Girls By” (The Bob Crewe Generation, 1967); “Jean” and “Good Morning Starshine” (Oliver, 1969); “Lady Marmalade” (Labelle, 1974); and “Get Dancin'” (Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, 1974). Rather than duplicating everything here, I recommend visiting Bob Crewe’s Wikipedia page, which includes a partial list of his hits over the years, and a second page on Wikipedia which lists songs written by him.

I also heartily recommend listening to the audio interview conducted by deejay Ronnie Allen a few years ago. Ronnie, who worked for Casey Kasem’s organization during a 15-year period from the early ’70s to the late ’80s as a researcher for the American Top Forty program, has for the past several years recorded interviews with a number of the music industry’s major players for the Jersey Girls Sing website

Here, word for word, is what Ronnie Allen has to say about his interview with Bob Crewe:

I first communicated with Bob in 2003 when he was my surprise live phone-in guest on a radio show that I did with Diane Renay. Five years later we did an 80-minute radio interview show for the Jersey Girls Sing website in which we focused on his amazing career. Laura asked my permission to share it with you and I said “you absolutely have it!”

If Bob had produced and written songs for the 4 Seasons and nobody else, his enduring place in pop music history would still be firmly established. But he also produced and/or wrote so many hits for other artists including the Rays, Billy and Lillie, Freddy Cannon, Diane Renay, Mitch Ryder, Lesley Gore, Oliver, Kenny Notan, LaBelle and even the outrageous Monti Rock III (AKA Disco Tex)!

In this radio show from January 2008, Bob’s stories about the artists and the hits are as fascinating and entertaining as the hits themselves. The unbelievable success of the 4-Seasons-based show Jersey Boys, the hottest ticket on Broadway and wherever else it is playing, is icing on this man’s proverbial cake; he wrote many of the hit songs from that show. And now there is additional icing as he is one of the main characters in the recently-released Jersey Boys film and of course his songs are prominently featured there as well.

Bob was an incredible talent and, just as important, a true gentleman with an engaging sense of humor.

It was truly an honor to do this show with him as a tribute to his prolific body of work.

And thanks again, Laura, for agreeing to share it with your very large number of followers.

The Bob Crewe Interview, by Ronnie Allen (January 2008):

A truly incredible career, the likes of which might be equaled but will probably never be surpassed. Bob Crewe was truly one in a million.

Sadly, Crewe was visiting his brother Dan’s home a few years ago when he suffered a fall down a flight of stairs, from which he never fully recovered. Crewe passed away at a care facility in Scarborough, Maine, on September 11, 2014. He was 83 years old.

Ron Dante, who was known as “Ronnie” during his demo- and session-singer heyday, remembers Bob Crewe with fondness—and also shares a surprising anecdote: “Personally,” Ron says, “he [Crewe] was so impressive as a human being. A true gentleman and kind taskmaster for the singers. He was the reason I changed my name from Ronnie to Ron. He did my numbers and said I would have much more success with [fewer] letters.”

As for Ed Rambeau, he has this to say about his friend and mentor:

“Bob was a really fun-loving guy and one of the most memorable things I remember about him is that when we went to see a movie, he always fell asleep in the movie theater. We usually went in a group and the person sitting next to him always had to keep nudging him awake … especially when he began snoring. However, as a talent, no one compared. He had an ear for a hit song like nobody else in the business. He was also quite a remarkable painter and that’s primarily what he was concentrating on before the accident when he fell down a flight of stairs at his brother’s house at around age 80. Since that fall, he was never the same. Although he’s gone, his music and art will live on forever. So to Bob Crewe I say, ‘It’s never goodbye, it’s just so long for awhile.'”

 

Videos and social media tributes from Jersey Boys movie cast members and others:

Bob Crewe performing “Water Boy” on the Jack Spector show, 1959:

“The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” — the Walker Brothers:

“Lady Marmalade” — Labelle

Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio in the movie adaptation of Jersey Boys, 2014):

Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi):

Mike Doyle (Bob Crewe):

 

Frankie Valli:

Neil Sedaka:

Jersey Boys:

 

Links:

The Bob Crewe Foundation
Bob Crewe Obituary and Guestbook on Legacy.com

Happy 80th Birthday, Dan Ingram!

Dan Ingram, Musicradio WABC

Happy 80th birthday to the greatest Top 40 deejay of all time, Mr. Dan Ingram! Actually, to call Dan Ingram a “deejay” is to greatly oversimplify things—he was (and is) so much, much more than that. Funny, witty, with such a fast, clever mind—and an extremely commercial-sounding voice, which he used to great advantage over the years, providing voiceovers for countless TV and radio ads. An ability to talk up each record right up to the point where the artists began singing, as well as the ability to deal with broken “carts” and unexpected dead air (and, on at least one occasion, a major blackout!). AND, most important to me personally, an ability to make listeners double over with laughter at his jokes and ad-libs. To this day, listening to Dan’s old airchecks from 77 WABC (which I do quite often), I frequently end up crying from laughing so hard! Big Dan, a very happy birthday to you and many more. You have brought so much joy and happiness to my life, and although I wasn’t what could be called a battered child, you did cheer me up many many times when things at home were not so great. You’ve lifted so many of us up, made us smile, made us laugh, and inspired countless folks to go into radio. You’re my absolute favorite radio personality, then, now and always. Thank you for sharing your wonderful talents and brilliant mind with the world … and thank you for being you. Many happy returns, Kemosabe.

A partial Dan Ingram timeline (courtesy Wikipedia):

  • 1958 — WICC, Bridgeport, Connecticut (under the name Rae Tayler)
    1958 — WNHC, New Haven, Connecticut
    1959 — KBOX, Dallas
    1960 — WIL, St. Louis
    July 3, 1961 — May 10, 1982 WABC, New York City
    April 1984 — December 1986 Hosted CBS Radio’s “Top 40 Satellite Survey”
    1984–June 1985 — WKTU-FM, New York City
    October 1991–June 2003 — WCBS-FM, New York City

For a more comprehensive history of Dan Ingram’s radio career, the best single source on the web is Allan Sniffen’s fantastic website, Musicradio 77 WABC, which contains a wealth of airchecks and interviews. A great place to start is the WABC Airchecks page. For a great example of Dan’s wit, scroll down to 1965 (airchecks are in chronological order, by year) and listen to the audio file that features Dan’s intro and outro to Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” which is pure genius but so typically Dan. Another wonderful page to check out is the Interviews section, which has a bunch of, well, interviews with Dan (among others) through the years; the one with Allan Handelman of WQDR in Raleigh, North Carolina, from November of 1982, is particularly noteworthy as featured within the interview is a treasure trove of airchecks from as early as 1954(!), including some belly-laugh-inducing commercials that Dan read live on the air on 77 WABC; listen to his creativity with those for Bohack Supermarkets and Marcal Paper Products! And there’s a page called The Evolution of MusicRadio WABC which features airchecks solely by Dan Ingram, from his first year with the station, 1961, to 1982 when 77 WABC switched its format to talk radio.

—> EDIT (9/7/16): What better time than Big Dan’s 82nd birthday to include this link to Allan Sniffen’s fantastic tribute to Dan, The Life and Times of Dan Ingram: In His Own Words. This wonderful six-hour retrospective originally aired on Rewound Radio on July 2, 2016. Extremely well conceived and edited, a fun history lesson disguised as entertainment (or vice versa), this show is a must-listen! <—

A few samples of the genius of Dan Ingram:

Aircheck from the summer of 1969 (so pristine it appears to have been recorded from the FM simulcast), on Airchexx.com. Great example of Dan at his best!

Castro Convertible commercial (audio), with which Dan sings along (sort of) and goofs around a bit, but then reads the copy with his usual professional aplomb

Dan Ingram’s closing theme, which is actually an edit from “Tri-Fi Drums” by the Billy May Orchestra. (From the Musicradio 77 WABC website.)

Hawaiian Punch ad (audio only), featuring one of Dan Ingram’s many commercial voiceovers

The Northeast Blackout (audio from November 9, 1965)—like most of the rest of the northeastern United States, Dan had no idea what was happening when the lights began dimming and his music, jingles and prerecorded commercials began slowing down, but listen to how he gets through it until the station completely lost power during the news broadcast, then his professionalism the next day after everything had been restored to normal

Save