Rock 'n' Roll 101
Unearthing the Secrets Behind Rock's Greatest Hits

Supertramp: "The Logical Song"

By 1977, British progressive rockers Supertramp had reached a crossroads. Their last two albums were disappointments; Crisis? What Crisis? hadn’t yielded a successful single and its follow-up, Even in the Quietest Moments…, could only deliver one hit, “Give a Little Bit.”

It would be two years before the band—Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, both singers and keyboardists, John Helliwell on saxophone, bassist Dougie Thomson and Bob Siebenberg on drums—would release their next album. The more pop-oriented Breakfast in America would become the group’s greatest success, with four hit singles: the title cut, “Take the Long Way Home,” “Goodbye Stranger” and their triumph, “The Logical Song.”

Hodgson and Davies shared the writing credit for this and many compositions, but “The Logical Song” was written by Hodgson during the break after Quietest Moments was released. Hodgson told Creating the Classics that he reached back to his own childhood for the lyric.
For many years I complained about being sent away to boarding school but I have to say that it spawned a lot of great songs and “The Logical Song” was one of them…

I do remember being very, very happy as a young kid, very happy and I see 8mm movies of me and I was just a joy bubble, I was very happy and then I see later 8mm movies after they sent me to school and I’ve got stress on my life and I’ve got stress lines on my face already, so something happened when I got sent away to school. I started getting confused and the joy kind of started leaving me…

They left me with the question, “Please tell me who I am.” I want to remember that joy-filled being that came into this world.
Hodgson maintained to Dan MacIntosh that the song remains relevant.
I think it was very relevant when I wrote it, and actually I think it's even more relevant today. It's very basically saying that what they teach us in schools is all very fine, but what about what they don't teach us in schools that creates so much confusion in our being. I mean, they don't really prepare us for life in terms of teaching us who we are on the inside. They teach us how to function on the outside and to be very intellectual, but they don't tell us how to act with our intuition or our heart or really give us a real plausible explanation of what life's about.
In 1978, Supertramp went into Village Recorders in Los Angeles to co-produce with Peter Henderson the Breakfast in America LP. Hodgson told John Stancavage that the band insisted on a pristine sound… and that takes time.
I wouldn’t rest until we had everything just right. What was the point of recording the songs if you could not get them to sound their best? That’s why Breakfast in America took eight months to record. In those days, we didn’t have computers and samples and all the other technical wizardry. We had tape. But it was a labor of love.
Supertramp was a band that liked to play together live in the studio. But with Davies on the Clavinet, Thomson playing bass, Siebenberg on drums and Hodgson at the Wurlitzer electric piano, the main room was packed tight; Henderson told Richard Buskin that space had to be found for Halliwell to play his saxophone so his sound wouldn’t be heard on another track. Thus the memorable sax solo of “The Logical Song” was performed in the toilet.
Everyone was playing together on the track, and we couldn't have John's sax bleeding onto the drums…

John kept moaning about his lot, but I think he actually quite enjoyed it.
One other addition that came from outside the studio was the sound of a Mattel electronic football game, which punctuated the word “d-d-d-d-digital” in the lyrics. Hodgson told Nick DeRiso how the sound effect was added.
One of the band, I can’t remember who, was in the sitting room of the studio, playing away on this video game. We’d hear that sound, over and over, coming from the other room. I think, at some point, we decided: Why don’t we put that sound on it? And it worked. We were always looking to create new sounds.
“The Logical Song” would be the band’s most successful single, reaching #6 on the US charts. “’The Logical Song’ was a lot of fun to write – coming up with all those words that ended in –al: logical, criminal, liberal, digital—and putting them in an order that worked,” said Hodgson.

“Please tell me who I am,” says Hodgson, still resonates with students.
I've been told it's the most-quoted song in school. That may be because it has so many words in it that people like to spell. But I think it also poses that question, and maybe stimulates something with students. I hope so.

Jan & Dean: "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena"

In the early 1960s, the cool, clean sound of surf music spread from California across the U.S. Like the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean seemed to effortlessly produce catchy, chart-topping singles extolling the pleasures of surf, sand and street rods.

But Jan Berry and Dean Torrence were not completely dedicated musicians; the two were college students who juggled classes with recording dates and public appearances. Torrence studied advertising design while Berry pursued a degree in medicine.

One spring evening in 1964, Berry’s roommate Don Altfeld was cruising in his Corvette down LA’s Colorado Boulevard towards Pasadena. Though he studied medicine with Berry at UCLA, Altfeld was also an aspiring songwriter who had a vision that night of an elderly grandmother tooling down the strip in a yellow 1932 Ford coupe.

The archetype of the granny behind the wheel of a souped-up ride was becoming popular by the time of Altfeld’s drive to Pasadena. Many couples had moved to the area in the early part of the century and by the 1950s, as the story goes, widows were often left with their late husbands’ powerful roadsters in the garage. Intimidated by the cars’ size and horsepower, the grannies would soon trade in the behemoths for something smaller. Used car salesmen would then tell buyers that the previous owner was a “little old lady from Pasadena who only drove the car to church on Sundays.”

That soon became a punchline for comedians like Johnny Carson, whose Tonight Show would periodically broadcast from the West Coast. Carson fueled the country’s appetite for all things California with references to “Beautiful Downtown Burbank” and “the little old lady from Pasadena.”

Altfeld, writing about himself on his website, described how that image of a speedy senior would develop into a surf rock classic.
The next day he's sitting in Bacteriology class. He scribbles down "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" as a song idea and starts writing lyrics in the margins of his notes…

Jan thinks it could be a great song. Don calls friend and lyricist Roger Christian at radio station KFWB. Roger jets over to the boys' apartment in his Cobra and they collaborate on the "Little Old Lady" idea. In about three days they have a complete version of the song.

Roger Christian was a disc jockey who often co-wrote songs with Brian Wilson for the Beach Boys, adding authentic touches to tunes about hot rods and hodads. Christian also wrote with Jan Berry, blending his lyrics with Berry’s melodies on “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Drag City” and “Honolulu Lulu.”

Jan & Dean had booked a 3-hour recording session for March 21, 1964 at Western Recorders in LA, one day after “Little Old Lady” was written. The pair regularly used some of the best session musicians in town, a rotating group of players known as the Wrecking Crew. On that day, the session included drummers Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer, Leon Russell on piano, Jimmy Bond and Ray Pohlman on bass, and guitarists Tommy Tedesco, Billy Strange and Bill Pitman.

To save money, tight-fisted Liberty Records demanded that five songs be recorded during the three-hour session – no overtime for the musicians allowed. Altfeld writes that there was no flexibility; the musicians union tracked every minute of studio time to ensure that its members be paid for the time that they worked.
In the sixties the musical tracking sessions would last three hours, and not a second more. Reason being that the "union man" would knock on the door precisely as the second hand would hit the "twelve," marking the end of the third hour. If the session didn't end at that second, it was "overtime pay" for the musicians — which was about triple the ordinary rates.
In his book on the Wrecking Crew, Kent Hartman writes that the first four songs were recorded without a hitch, but time was running out.
(W)ith only ten minutes left on the date, they still hadn’t touched the oddball yet promising song about the old lady and her car. The only one of the bunch that might be worth releasing as a single. And as bad luck would have it, one of the union reps happened to be lurking nearby, watching the high-profile session like a hawk, making sure that any overtime would be duly reported on the session log.
After they quickly regrouped following a false start due to a tape machine malfunction, there were now only three minutes left, barely enough time to get the song in the can. Nerves were on edge. The second take would have to be it.

However, with a singular crack of their synchronized snares, Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer set the world right for one and all. Using only Jan Berry’s scratch vocal track as their guide, they instantly moved to push the other Wrecking Crew players into an inspired effort, surging along with them in laying down a perfectly executed, rollicking instrumental track, hitting the last note precisely as the second hand hit the twelve. The union man could now go home; Granny had crossed the finish line right on time.
Released on June 8, 1964, “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena” was a smash, rising to #3 on the Billboard charts; Torrence has called it the most requested Jan & Dean tune. Jan & Dean’s reference to Granny’s “shiny red Super Stock Dodge” spawned a series of ten-second commercials by the Southern California Dodge Dealers that starred actress Kathryn Minner as the “Little Old Lady.” Minner’s signature line? “Put a Dodge in Your Garage, Honey!” Minner was so perfectly suited for the role that Jan & Dean featured her on their “Little Old Lady From Pasadena” album cover.

The Doobie Brothers: "Listen to the Music"

The Doobie Brothers came of age musically during the psychedelic sixties, soaking up the music of local bands and touring performers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Founding member Patrick Simmons told Dennis Cook about the impact of the scene on the band.
We were right there during the Summer of Love [laughs knowingly]. We were the ones at the Fillmore Auditorium freaking out while the Grateful Dead played. It's warped us to no end. We loved Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, Mike Bloomfield and Electric Flag, and all the music that was coming through here, the blues legends like Freddie and Albert King and John Lee Hooker.
Moby Grape was perhaps most influential. That band’s multi-guitar orchestration and layered harmonies mixed country and rock into catchy three-minute songs, a formula the Doobies would later mine. It was Grape guitarist Skip Spence who introduced drummer John Hartman to Tom Johnston, a singer-songwriter; Hartman and Johnston would team with bass player Dave Shogren and guitarist Simmons to form a group that would become the Doobie Brothers.

It was the band’s second album, 1972’s Toulouse Street, that introduced most fans to the Doobies; that LP included their first hit, “Listen to the Music.” Tom Johnston told Carl Wiser how he came to write their breakthrough single.
I was sitting in my bedroom in San Jose. I was doing what I always do, I had been up playing guitar for hours. It was like 2 or 3 in the morning. I had the opening riff to it, and I think I figured out all of the chord changes as well. I called Teddy (producer Ted Templeman), woke him up, and played it for him over the phone, and he was less than enthusiastic (laughing). I think it was because I woke him up. But he said, “Well, yeah, it might be pretty good. Needs a couple of changes.” But we didn’t ever change anything.
The lyrics reflected a belief Johnston and many others held in the late 60s and early 70s: that music can open people’s minds and change the world. As the Vietnam War raged, Johnston became less idealistic and understood that leaders would not solve the world’s problems by coming together and sharing music.

Today Johnston and Simmons are the last of the founding members in the band. “Listen to the Music” was the first of many Doobies hits written by Johnston and Simmons; Johnston wrote “Long Train Runnin’” and “China Grove,” Simmons “Black Water.” All featured the trademark vocal harmony and guitar interplay that made “Listen to the Music” memorable.

Most prominent on the single is what Johnston calls his “chunka-chunka” strumming on rhythm guitar. Johnston told Dick Clark that he developed his signature style while playing at folk clubs.
I really wasn’t a fan of folk music at all but I had to do it on account of I needed the money. So as a result I learned how to strum differently. I learned how to get a sound with a flat pick that sounds like finger picking but it's not finger picking. It all just kind of melded into one; I developed that chunka-chunka style.
Johnston plays lead guitar on “Listen to the Music” and handles lead vocals; Simmons, who plays second guitar and banjo, sings the bridge. The song’s unique sound owes to one of the first uses of phasing as a recording technique.

“Listen to the Music” would reach #11 on the Billboard charts in 1972. Johnston, who says he immediately knew the track would be a hit, told Ward Meeker that the record changed the band’s life.
I remember first hearing it in my Volkswagen – we were pretty much living on food stamps and brown rice, paying 40 bucks a month rent and playing as many gigs as we could. But when that song hit, we started getting a little bit more money for gigs, started playing organized shows, and started becoming a professional unit.

Before the Beatles, Carl Perkins: "Matchbox"

Ringo Starr has performed lead vocals on some of the Beatles’ most beloved songs; his gentle, self-effacing style was perfect for classics like “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Yellow Submarine.” But in the band’s early days, little care was paid to Ringo’s efforts. Paul McCartney told Mark Lewisohn that it was only because of Ringo’s popularity that the drummer was given tunes to sing.
Some of them we just couldn't get behind! I must admit, we didn't really, until later, think of Ringo's songs as seriously as our own. That's not very kind but it's the way it was. Ringo, in fact, had to be persuaded quite heavily to sing…

I think John and I were really concentrating on "We'll do the real records!" but because the other guys had a lot of fans we wrote for them too.

That was the case on June 1, 1964, when the Beatles came to Abbey Road studios (then known as EMI) to record a few sides for an upcoming album. At a party the previous night, the Beatles had met the “King of Rockabilly,” Carl Perkins. McCartney told Tom Mulhern that Perkins was one of their heroes.
Anyone who was a legend in our formative years is still a legend. I haven't grown out of that. Carl is still the guy who wrote "Blue Suede Shoes," and he can never do any wrong. It only took one guy to do that, and he did it. Elvis recorded it and beat his version, but still Carl wrote it. There's some magic stuff. We used to love those early albums-very primitive, very simple, but just such soul. Carl has lovely stories about how he was taught by an old black gentleman [John Westbrook], and he speaks of him with great reverence. It's very nice to hear. He said, "You know, Paul, I used to pick cotton in the field, and when we had a break, we'd sit down and this old black gentleman would show me some of his licks." It was very exciting for us kids. We'd grown up in a kind of urban world, and we didn't really know about that stuff. He's still an idol.
The boys invited Perkins to come by their session the next day as they recorded “Matchbox," the singer's 1957 hit. Dave Rybaczewski writes that the band rushed through the song, finishing the track in an hour.
Five takes of the song were recorded, only three of them complete, which comprised a full live performance by all four Beatles plus George Martin on piano…

Ringo opted to sing while playing the drums, although vocal overdubbing was done afterward. In fact, Ringo triple-tracked the vocals, as is especially evident as the last verse begins with the word "well" beginning at three different times. John's guitar solo, which attempted to recreate the flavor of the original version, was double-tracked, although it started to sound muddled at the end due to the overdub. This overdubbing was performed onto the best rhythm take, which turned out to be Take Five.

Perkins recorded "Matchbox" on December 4, 1956 during a session at Sun Records. At his father Buck’s suggestion, Perkins improvised new lyrics for “Matchbox” based on the blues standard “Match Box Blues” by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Covered many times since Jefferson first recorded it in 1927, the song’s most memorable line goes back to 1924, when blues legend Ma Rainey recorded “Lost Wandering Blues” with the verse:
I'm leaving this morning, with my clothes in my hand
I won't stop to wandering, 'till I find my man
I'm sitting here wondering, will a matchbox hold my clothes
I've got a sun to beat, I'll be farther down the road.

Jefferson, who lost his sight as a teenager, wrote and recorded “Match Box Blues” three years later, as the verse became:
I'm sittin' here wonderin', will a matchbox hold my clothes
I'm sittin' here wonderin', will a matchbox hold my clothes
I ain't got no matches but I still got a long way to go.

Perkins, accompanied by Jerry Lee Lewis’ boogie-woogie piano, turned the song into a rockabilly classic. Though covered by Bob Dylan as well as the Beatles, the song was not the most memorable event at Sun that day. In the early afternoon, Elvis Presley dropped in, followed by Johnny Cash; the two stars joined Perkins and Jerry Lee for an impromptu jam session. As tape rolled, the musicians played more than 40 tracks of country and gospel standards, most incomplete. The four giants, who never played together again, would be known as the Million Dollar Quartet.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys: "This Diamond Ring"

In the early 1960s, Al Kooper and lyricists Bob Brass and Irwin Levine were hungry young songwriters hoping to craft their first hit. The trio would write songs all day, every day, and shop them to New York’s music publishers. Often their tunes were “answer songs,” written in response to a big hit of the day. In his autobiography Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards, Kooper writes that one day the team composed “a bright little R&B item that none of us figured to be worth all that much.”
We’d written this particular song with The Drifters in mind…

The Drifters turned the song down, but a West Coast producer named Snuff Garrett, then successfully masterminding Bobby Vee’s recordings, picked up on it...

Garrett had cut a white version of our tune with Jerry Lewis’s thoroughly inoffensive white son Gary and sent us a copy the day it was released.

We were revolted. They’d removed the soul from our R&B song and made a teenage milkshake out of it. Never mind that who-were-we-to-be-talking-about-soul in the first place; this was disgusting. We dismissed “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys on one hearing.

The song had had an earlier, more soulful release by R&B singer Sammy Ambrose that may have been closer to Kooper’s conception. But Ambrose’s “This Diamond Ring,” released on January 9, 1965, only reached #117 on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 charts; the Gary Lewis pop version, released later that year, quickly eclipsed Ambrose’s heartfelt take.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys had been discovered in 1964 by producer Snuff Garrett, who signed the band to a contract with Liberty Records. Lewis, the son of comedian and actor Jerry Lewis, told Carl Wiser how he first heard “This Diamond Ring.”
Snuffy Garrett called me into his office after we had signed, and he said, "We've got to be very careful now. We're going to pick your first song. We want it to be a big one." And he says, "I've got this song that I offered to Bobby Vee," because Snuff produced Bobby Vee before me. He said, "Bobby doesn't like it, he doesn’t want to do it." And so I listened to a demo of it and I said, "Well, yeah, I like the tune. Sure, let's do it." So we went into the studio, we cut the basic track.
Garrett recruited members of the Wrecking Crew, LA’s premier session musicians, to enhance the basic track laid down by Lewis and the Playboys. Keyboardist Leon Russell, a regular at Garrett’s sessions, wrote the arrangement. Tommy Alsup on guitar, Hal Blaine on drums and bassist Carol Kaye rounded out the session. Lewis admitted to Gary James that at the time he wasn’t a very good singer.
I had the basic stuff you need to record. I could sing on pitch. I knew the notes. I could hear a song once or twice and have it memorized. I didn't have to look at the words to sing. I had what it took, but I was just brand new and it wasn't developed yet…

I was an inexperienced singer that needed help with doubling voices and echo.

To get that help, Snuff Garrett called session vocalist Ron Hicklin. Though his name isn’t well known, Hicklin has performed backing vocals on hits by groups like Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Partridge Family and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. In the liner notes of The Complete Liberty Singles, Hicklin says that the Playboys session had come to a standstill when he received Garrett’s call.
They had gotten to the point where they didn't know what to do, so I said, “Let me put a harmony part on with him.” Snuff thought that my voice, mixed with Gary's, would smooth his out a little and he liked the lift it gave to the song….

I sang all the leads right along with Gary, the two of us on the same mic at the same time. Whatever he was doing, I could phrase it right with him at exactly the same time, almost as if we were linked mentally. Then we'd do the overdubs, multi-tracking the voice, and then I would do any backgrounds myself.

Lewis, however, downplays the contributions of Hicklin and the Wrecking Crew. He told Wiser that much of what is written about his band’s musicianship is a myth.
We went in the studio, myself and the Playboys and played on every single track we ever did. I mean, we were the track band. And so many people say Gary Lewis and the Playboys never played on anything. I've even read write-ups that said Gary Lewis didn't even sing on his records. All that is just such bull. The Playboys and I played on absolutely everything we ever did, album tunes, everything. And since we were so young and inexperienced, that's when the Wrecking Crew came in to do overdubs and solos. Now that's the absolute truth right there.
An appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show helped “This Diamond Ring” rocket to #1. Gary Lewis and the Playboys followed with a string of huge hits in the 1960s, including “Save Your Heart for Me,” “Everybody Loves a Clown” and Al Kooper’s favorite Playboys cut, “Count Me In.” Kooper finally recorded “This Diamond Ring” for his 1976 album Act Like Nothing’s Wrong (now out of print, re-released on Rare and Well Done); while Kooper would go on to join the Blues Project and found Blood Sweat & Tears, the song would remain Kooper’s biggest commercial success.

Sammy Ambrose, who had recorded the song before Lewis, didn’t fare as well. Joe Knapp writes that after his version of the tune faded from the charts, Ambrose went on the road with a band called the Afro-Beats.
Unfortunately, Sammy Ambrose was overcome by drug addiction. As that destroyed his career, he took to selling heroin on the street. One of his customers was a 28-year-old Vietnam veteran who bought dope from him on 12 October 1976 and died of an overdose shortly afterward. Sammy was charged with first degree murder and sent to prison. He died in Dade County, Florida at the age of 47 on 26 February 1988.

The Outsiders: "Time Won't Let Me"

Like many music-crazy teens in 1965 Cleveland, Sonny Geraci loved the records of Motown and the Beatles. At the same time, local bar band Tom King and the Starfires decided their sound had to move in the same direction. The Starfires had developed a following in Cleveland with regional hits like “Stronger Than Dirt.” The group recorded on the Pama label, which was owned by King's uncle, Patrick Connelly.

Geraci told Mike Voger how he came to join the Starfires.
I had an older brother (Mike Geraci) who played the saxophone...

My brother knew all the groups in Cleveland. There was one called the Starfires who were looking for a singer, because their singer got drafted into the Army. My brother recommended me, and I auditioned. I think I sang a Zombies song on my audition. I got the job, and I was singing in bars while I was still going to high school.

The other guys in the band were older. They'd already made some records that were released locally in Cleveland — not anything that broke the national charts. So these guys had already done it; they weren't really concentrating on making records. But when I joined, I wanted to make records.
Geraci said he urged the band to record an original tune instead of a planned Beatles cover.
Tom King, our rhythm guitarist, started to write the core of the song. Then we all just kind of chipped in. I brought in my brother, who played saxophone, and he brought in his friends who played trumpet. We weren't a horn band, but we liked horns.

Growing up in Cleveland, there was always the influence of Motown and the British Invasion. That's what was going on. So that's what that song was. We were representing our view of the sound in Cleveland.

“Time Won't Let Me” was like Merseybeat meets Motown.
As the band worked to create this new sound, Tom King hoped to land a deal with a record company bigger than Pama. King told Deanna R. Adams that his ambition created a problem... and a new name for his group.
It was a family situation, and I got into an argument with my uncle about it. I was soon deemed an outsider. So I decided to use it.
The Outsiders—lead singer Geraci, King on rhythm guitar, Mert Madsen on bass, Al Austin on lead guitar and drummer Ronnie Harkai—recorded “Time Won’t Let Me” (written by King and his brother-in-law Chet Kelley) at the Cleveland Recording Company in the fall of 1965. Audio engineer Ken Hamann told Steve Silverstein how the rock classic was produced using a 3-track recorder.
The first run-through was strictly drums, guitar, bass. There were solos with the baritone sax, the organ, and so forth on another track. All of the vocals and other effects were on a third track. It took a lot of anticipation because we had to do a lot of sub-mixing. At the time, I remember I thought the organ was too hot, but that turned out to be one of the features of the record.
Bruce Eder writes that its Motown-inspired horn section contributed to the Outsiders' unique sound.
Part of the secret behind the Outsiders' musical success lay in the group's embellishments, which slotted in perfectly with their basic three- or four-piece instrumental sound (the group existed primarily as a quintet, though it also functioned as quartet at some points in its history). King, who also played tenor sax, did the saxophone arrangements (often using Sonny Geraci's brother Mike and Evan Vanguard for their reed work) and Tommy Baker arranged the strings and horns, but however bold and ambitious they got, one never lost the sense of a hard, solid band sound at the core. With Geraci's magnificent singing out front, it was impossible for anyone with an ear for soul not to love how this group sounded.
On the strength of “Time Won’t Let Me,” the Outsiders were signed by Capitol Records; A&R man Roger Karshner became the group’s manager. Sonny Geraci told Carlo Wolff that Karshner was key to the band’s breakout success.
Roger Karshner was a genius at promoting. Capitol Records was owned by EMI; EMI’s all over the world…

Wherever EMI had offices, Roger would have letters sent from there to all the program directors in America, the top stations. The first thing they’re going to open is something from France or Germany, all it would have was a sheet saying the Outsiders are coming. This went on for a couple of months, so by the time our record came out, they were pretty interested. When it finally came out, it started to take off in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and when it broke in Baltimore, Capitol knew they had a hit.
By February 1966, the Outsiders had a top ten record. “Time Won’t Let Me” continues to be one of the mainstays of classic rock radio. Geraci told Adams the song’s effect was felt long after its release.
We were ahead of everybody with that song. Over the years, a lot of successful people [in the industry] have sat eyeball-to-eyeball with me and said, “Time Won’t Let Me” was a major influence for them. People in groups like Chicago [and] Tower of Power and James Guercio, who produced hits for the Buckinghams, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Chicago, all told me that song was their favorite track of all time.

The Spaniels: "Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite"

In 1978, Donna Summer's "Last Dance" signaled the evening's end at discos across America. But in the 1950s, there was one song that carried that unmistakable message at every school dance or basement party. When the needle touched vinyl on “Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite,” you knew the night was over.
The 1954 hit by the Spaniels was written by lead vocalist Thornton James “Pookie” Hudson, a pioneer of doo wop music.

Doo wop was born in the early 1950s, as teens gathered to harmonize on the street corners of America’s cities. Their a cappella singing incorporated nonsensical words to mimic musical instruments. The Spaniels, a group of high school students in Gary, Indiana, were among the first to use the doo-doo-doo riff in their songs. Pookie Hudson has been called the first true leader of a doo wop group as he would perform his solos at his own microphone, apart from the rest of the group.

First formed as Pookie Hudson and the Hudsonaires, the group included Gerald “Bounce” Gregory (bass), Opal Courtney (baritone) and tenors Ernest Warren and Willie Jackson. Hudson said the inspiration for their name change came from Gregory’s wife. Pookie said that when she was asked what she thought of the group, her reply was that they "sounded like a bunch of dogs. So, that’s how we ended up becoming the Spaniels.”

The Spaniels were the first group to sign with Vee-Jay Records, the first major black-owned label. Hudson said that the lyrics came to him one night while on a date.
I was going with this girl and I used to walk home from her house and as I walked, I put “Goodnite, Sweetheart” together because her mother was always telling me, “Well, it's 3:00 in the morning and it's time for you to go.”
Hudson, who wrote the song with Vee-Jay A&R man Calvin Carter, went into the studio on September 23, 1953 to record “Goodnite Sweetheart, Sweetheart.” Robert Pruter describes the magic of the Spaniels’ sound.
They harmonized with superb tightness and expertise, and—unlike many fifties groups—they received fine, crisp production from their record company...

With his smooth tenor and just a touch of vibrato, Hudson ranks as one of the outstanding voices of the 1950s… If one were to describe tenors as either sweet or dry, one could say Hudson’s was semisweet. Then there was the Spaniels’ outstanding bass, Gerald Gregory, whose low-register vocalizing out front mimicked magnificently the sounds of the saxophone, and in the background provided a solid bottom. Surrounding the lead were the two tenors and the baritone; with a restrained falsetto top that comes from the diaphragm and not the nose, they created the classic Spaniels harmony sound.
As often happened in the era, white singers would rush out a cover of a black group’s successful track; in this case the McGuire Sisters' version reached number 7 on the pop charts and outsold the Spaniels' original, which was largely restricted to black stations and audiences. For 30 years, Hudson earned little from the song. The tune appeared in films like American Graffiti, Three Men and a Baby and Diner, but it was not until the 1990s that Hudson began to receive regular royalties from his song.

From 1977-1981, vocal group Sha Na Na each week closed their popular variety show with “Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite.” Bass man Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, who sang Gerald Gregory’s famous low notes, told Melissa Block that well beyond the doo wop era, the song still signaled the end of the nigh.
I constantly have these people coming up to me, you know, who were little kids watching the “Sha Na Na” television show, saying “I'm 32 now. Your show ended at eight o'clock, I was four years old. And my mother said, ‘When he says good night, and sings that song that says good night, he's talking to you, and you're going to bed.’”

Before the Rolling Stones, the Valentinos: "It's All Over Now"

In the mid-1960s, AM radio was the only place on the airwaves to hear rock and roll. New York City was rich with Top 40 stations and the DJs were giants: “Cousin Brucie,” Bruce Morrow on WABC, WMCA's Scott Muni, "The Professor," who later joined Morrow at WABC, and Murray the K, who spun the hits on his Swingin’ Soiree every weeknight from 6:30 to 10 on WINS. Murray Kaufman, who as Murray the K called himself the Fifth Beatle and the Sixth Stone, originated “blasts from the past” and “submarine race watching.”

When the Rolling Stones arrived in New York City in June 1964, the final stop on their first US tour, Murray the K had the group as guests on his show. In his autobiography, bassist Bill Wyman described the scene.
We were on the air live for three hours, talking, joking, asking each other for fags (which freaked everyone out) and reading commercials.

After the show Murray played us a single by the Valentinos called “It’s All Over Now,” and suggested that we cover it for our next single.
The Valentinos, fronted by legendary singer and guitarist Bobby Womack, was a gospel group known as the Womack Brothers when discovered by Sam Cooke in 1956. Cooke convinced the brothers to abandon their gospel roots for pop. Signed to Cooke’s SAR Records, the group changed its name to the Valentinos; their first single, “Lookin’ for a Love” (later covered by the J. Geils Band) was an R&B hit. In 1964, the Valentinos followed up with “It’s All Over Now,” written by Bobby Womack and his sister-in-law, Shirley Womack. The song had just appeared on the charts when Murray the K played the song for the Stones, who quickly decided to cover it.

Nine days after hearing the song at the WINS studios, the Stones were in Chicago at a place, Keith Richards wrote, that made the band feel like they’d “died and gone to heaven.”
2120 South Michigan Avenue was hallowed ground – the headquarters of Chess Records in Chicago... There in the perfect sound studio, in the room where everything we'd listened to was made, perhaps out of relief or just the fact that people like Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry and Willie Dixon were wandering in and out, we recorded fourteen tracks in two days. One of them was Bobby Womack's "It's All Over Now"…

In America people like Bobby Womack used to say, "The first time we heard you guys we thought you were black guys. Where did these **** come from?" I can't figure that out myself, why Mick and I in that damn town should come up with such a sound — except that if you soak it up in a damp tenement in London all day with the intensity that we did, it ain't that different from soaking it up in Chicago…

The most bizarre part of the whole story is that having done what we intended to do in our narrow, purist teenage brains at the time, which was to turn people on to the blues, what actually happened was we turned American people back on to their own music.
Michael Lynch explains how the Stones made the song their own.
Mick sings the verses solo, with Keith adding a higher harmony on the chorus, Brian [Jones] also taking a part. Keith plays a fast, Chuck Berry-ish solo while Bill plays a variation of a walking bassline. The instrumental break plays in the blues progression, even though the main song is not. Careful listening suggests that the intro and outro originate from a different take as the body of the song. Notice how the guitars in the intro are swamped in reverb, but then, after Mick starts singing the reverb suddenly disappears. Also notice how it magically reappears at the end of the song.
It’s All Over Now” became the Stones’ first #1 hit in the UK while reaching #26 on the US charts. Richie Unterberger explains why many prefer the Stones’ version to the Valentinos' original.
In its original version, the song was a catchy but somewhat sluggish number, with a far more jaunty approach including almost country-influenced guitar and bells. The Stones, as was their wont, made the song far more guitar-rock-oriented, starting with the memorable, grandly echoing interweaving guitars of the instrumental intro.

The far more jangling verses gave Mick Jagger his chance to sing the lyric of revenging a two-timer with a spiteful venom missing in the original. The group really launched into the chorus exultantly, with well-placed low growly guitar riffs after key lines emphasizing the sense of triumph. The guitars got a lot raunchier and bluesier in the break, with a high-amped freneticism suggesting a jilted lover let loose on the town to declare his freedom. The instrumental fadeout, again stressing those low booming guitar riffs, jangles on a little too long, helping to establish the Rolling Stones' tradition of using long fadeouts on their singles. 
Womack told Brent Fason that when Sam Cooke broke the news that the Stones would record his song, he was upset.
In ’64, Sam said, “I need a song that’ll break pop," so I gave him “It’s All Over Now.” Then Sam came to me and said, “There’s an English group called the Rolling Stones; they’re not known over here yet, but you should let ‘em record that song.” At that time, the Stones didn’t know they could write.

I kept saying, “Let ‘em get their own song. These white boys are always Pat Boone-ing and waiting until we get something out, and then they take it.” Sam said, “Bobby, I’m trying to tell you in a nice way that they’re
gonna record this song.” Their record came out and went No. 1. When I received the first check from the Stones, I’d never seen money like that — $250,000.
“It’s All Over Now” would later play another role in rock history. It would become the first song a then 14-year-old Bruce Springsteen learned to play on the guitar.

Before Elvis, "Big Mama" Thornton: "Hound Dog"

Elvis Presley was already a national sensation by July 2, 1956 when he arrived for a session at RCA’s New York City recording studios. His recent appearances on the Milton Berle and Steve Allen TV shows only fueled the pandemonium. Working with his band – Scotty Moore on guitar, bassist Bill Black, and drummer D.J. Fontana, with backing vocals by the Jordanaires – Elvis planned to record “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Any Way You Want Me.” But producer Steve Sholes insisted Elvis start the session with a song the King had performed live to great reaction but only considered to be a novelty tune: “Hound Dog.”

Ace Collins writes that once Elvis agreed to record “Hound Dog,” he insisted on a completely different style than he'd performed before.
Though he usually slowed it down and treated it like a blues number in concert, in the studio Elvis wanted the song to come off as fast and dynamic. As he sang his up-tempo version for the studio musicians and backup vocalists, he began to beat his hands, in a machine-gun manner, against the body of his guitar – and anything else he could find. Then, to emphasize to drummer Fontana what he wanted, he had the Jordanaires clap out the rhythm with him. It would take the percussionist thirty-one takes to get it just like Elvis wanted, and even on the final version, the quartet’s clapping can still be heard setting the pace…

With its rapid beat and dynamic pacing, the song was a real rocker. Because of this, “Hound Dog” probably had more to do with making Elvis the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” than anything he recorded before or after.
Elvis first performed “Hound Dog” in May 1956 after hearing Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, a Las Vegas lounge act, deliver a comedic tongue-in-cheek version at the Sands Hotel. D.J. Fontana told Arjan Deelen that once the band caught Bell’s act, Elvis enjoyed it so much they returned after their own performances at the Frontier Hotel.
We went out there every night to watch them. He'd say, "Let's go watch that band. It's a good band!” That's where he heard “Hound Dog,” and shortly thereafter he said, “Let's try that song.”
Freddie Bell changed some of the lyrics of “Hound Dog” from the original by legendary producer/songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. When they wrote the song in 1952, Leiber and Stoller were both teenagers, struggling to come up with their first big hit.

In August of that year, the duo was invited by bandleader Johnny Otis of “Willie and the Hand Jive” fame to write a few songs for Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, an R&B belter then on tour with Otis’ band. Ian Whitcomb (cited here) describes Thornton on stage.
(S)he’s slow and easy and also menacing, smiling like a sabre-tooth tiger, her black diamond eyes glinting fiercely. Then, with the band in full roar, she leaves her chair to ambulate off in a swaying promenade that has a certain military regality, and the whole house cheers like royal subjects.
Leiber and Stoller told David Fricke they were at first intimidated by the singer.
Leiber: We saw Big Mama and she knocked me cold. She looked like the biggest, baddest, saltiest chick you would ever see. And she was mean, a "lady bear," as they used to call 'em. She must have been 350 pounds, and she had all these scars all over her face.

Stoller: She was a wonderful blues singer, with a great moaning style. But it was as much her appearance as her blues style that influenced the writing of "Hound Dog."
Inspired, the pair drove back to Stoller’s house, where they wrote “Hound Dog” in less than 15 minutes. Confident they’d penned a hit, they rushed back to the rehearsal. Leiber told Paul Zollo that they hadn’t time to prepare a proper lead sheet for the song.
(W)e came back, and I had this sheet of paper. And we walked in. And I think I said, “We got it.” And Big Mama walked over and she grabbed the sheet out of my hand and she said, “Let me see this.” I looked at her and I looked at the sheet. And I saw that the sheet was upside-down. And she was just staring at it, looking at it, as if she could read it, right?

She said, “What does it say?”

I said, “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, quit snooping 'round my door.”

She said, “Oh, that’s pretty.” She took the sheet back and she started singing [slowly and melodically], “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog…” She’s singing a ballad. She’s crooning a ballad.

And I said, “Mama, it don’t go like that.”

She grabbed the sheet and she said to me, “Don’t you tell me how to sing.”
In the duo’s autobiography, Stoller writes that Otis interceded, suggesting that Leiber sing the song for Thornton as the pair had envisioned it.
Big Mama liked Johnny’s idea. She stood there with her arms folded, ready to laugh at the white teenager trying to sing the blues. As I played, Jerry sang the first few lines:
You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, quit snooping ‘round my door
You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, quit snooping ‘round my door
You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more

You told me you was high class, but I can see through that
You told me you was high class, but I can see through that
And Daddy, I know, you ain’t no real cool cat
Suddenly the joke was over. Big Mama heard how Jerry was singing the thing. She heard the rough-and-tough of the song and, just as important, the implicit sexual humor. In short, she got it.

She took the lyric sheet from Jerry and ran it down herself.

Johnny started playing drums. By turning off his snare, he created a kind of tom-tom sound. Meanwhile, Pete Lewis adjusted the strings of his guitar to an old Southern tuning.

“That’s it,” said Johnny. “We’re cutting it tomorrow.”
“Big Mama” Thornton recorded “Hound Dog” at Radio Recorders in Los Angeles on August 13, 1952 with Johnny Otis as producer. Unsatisfied with the sound, Leiber and Stoller convinced Otis to take over the drums and they assumed the producer’s role; it would be the first of many great records they would go on to produce.

Backed by Otis’ band (credited as Kansas City Bill & Orchestra), Thornton’s “Hound Dog” topped the Billboard R&B charts in 1953, selling a half million copies. Though it became her biggest seller and signature song, Thornton later said, “I got one check for $500 and never saw another.”

Released on July 13, 1956, Presley’s version of "Hound Dog" became his most successful single, remaining #1 for eleven weeks. But Leiber and Stoller didn’t like Elvis’ interpretation, especially his use of Freddie Bell’s lyrics, which they considered “nonsense.” It was Bell who contributed “You ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine.” When Thornton sang the original it was addressed to her man, a gigolo. Elvis, the writers maintained, sang his version to a dog. Leiber told Rikky Rooksby that Elvis stamped the hit with his own identity.
(A) white singer from Memphis who’s a hell of a singer – he does have some black attitudes – takes the song over…

But here’s the thing: we didn’t make it. His version is like a combination of country and skiffle. It’s not black. He sounds like Hank Snow. In most cases where we are attributed with rock and roll, it’s misleading, because what we did is usually the original record – which is R&B – and some other producer (and a lot of them are great) covered our original record.
Stoller told Willy Brauch that in time, his opinion changed.
I heard the record and I was disappointed it was too fast, too white. But you know after a few years and it had sold seven or eight million records, it started to sound better.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins: "I Put a Spell on You"

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins has been called the original shock rocker, the inspiration for acts like Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, KISS and Marilyn Manson. Hawkins would be carried on stage in a blazing coffin and emerge dressed as a vampire, carrying rubber snakes and tarantulas. A favorite prop was Henry, a cigarette-smoking skull that Hawkins kept on the end of a walking stick.

Hawkins was not always an outrageous performer; in the early 1950s he was a rhythm and blues pianist who had played briefly with Fats Domino. Hawkins told Radio London that a fan gave him the idea for his nickname during a performance.
And there was a big, big, huge fat lady... And she was so happy. She was downing Black & White scotch and Jack Daniels at the same time, and she kept looking at me and she said, "Scream baby, scream, Jay!" And I kept saying to myself, you wanted a name, there it is - Screamin' Jay Hawkins!
Hawkins’ biggest hit was “I Put a Spell on You.” Hawkins wrote the song as a ballad about the loss of his girlfriend; he recorded it for Grand Records in 1955. A year later, he moved to Columbia’s subsidiary label Okeh, where the song became a voodoo-tinged tale about putting a curse on the girl to get her back. How the song was transformed is rock and roll legend.

Hawkins says Columbia A&R man Arnold Maxin told him, “With a song title like that it's got to be unusual. I heard the original on Grand, and it was a straight ballad, this song must be weird, it's got to be scary. So how do we go about it?”

Hawkins told Radio London that when no one else had a suggestion, Maxin came up with a plan.
“Look, what do you guys do when you do it in a nightclub and you're really having a good time?” And we said hell, we're so drunk we don't know what we're doing. And he said, “That's it!” And he turned around and he spoke to somebody and a half hour later, they came in with boxes and boxes of booze, and boxes and boxes of chicken. He said, “This is a party, it's not a recording session - a party, everybody drink, everybody eat. Then when l think you're right, then well make it a recording session.”

Well we partied and we partied, and somewhere along the road l blanked out. Then ten days later, they told me, he says, “Here, learn this. It's on the market, it's selling, you've got a hit record.” So l said, “What's it called?” He said, “It's ‘Spell.’”
Hawkins maintained that he remembered nothing of the session and had to re-learn the song from the record in order to perform it. Radio stations banned the song for what they called Hawkins’ “cannibalistic” snorts and howls; the song never charted but its influence is enduring. “I Put a Spell on You” has been covered by Nina Simone, the Animals, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker and Creedence Clearwater Revival, who also performed it at Woodstock.