Al Kooper, 1967, stage managing at Monterey Pop (in stereo)
Now, I’m not talkin’ about earBUDS that are really bad for your ear canals and can cause hearing damage; I’m talkin’ about a comparatively inexpensive, dependable set of the recording studio diehards — SONY Studio Monitor headPHONES MDR-7506s. Now that’s the way to listen to your iPod, computer, movies on your computer, etc. It’s great sound and pretty comfortable as well and if you don’t overamp the volume, they're much safer than those earduds. Okay — the preacher has stepped down and the former college professor now stands in his place once again.
I am queer for stereo mixes on headphones, especially songs that were recorded before stereo mixes and then gone back to and mixed in stereo. The reason I am perverted in their favor is that they are incredibly educational to someone such as myself (who produces and engineers recordings) who could not exist without a strong knowledge of the oldies listed here today. I can learn so much more by listening to these stereo mixes than one-dimensional, one-track monaural ones. I am not putting down mono — I am just preferring stereo myself for various reasons. So here are ten amazing tracks that are not often heard in... uhhh... educational stereo!
Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.
We apologize to our readers/listeners who are trying to enjoy the playlists via mobile devices like iPhones/iPads and are finding that they can't; these are, unfortunately, circumstances beyond our control. At present, Grooveshark is not compatible with those operating systems, and in order to stream the playlist, you will need to use a PC or Mac.
1. "Ain't That Peculiar" — Marvin Gaye (2:51)
This is one of his early singles (September 14, 1965), with an amazing guitar figure and a driving beat. Backup vocals at this time were sensational (i.e. "Stubborn Kind of Fellow") and this track is no exception, featuring The Adantes. This was written and produced by Smokey Robinson and features guitar work by the immortal Motown guitarist Marvin Tarplin — a jewel in the crown of Marvin singles made even more listenable by this great stereo mix.
2. "Smoky Places" — The Corsairs (2:59)
The Uzell brothers and cousin George Wooten from La Grainge, North Carolina changed their name to the Corsairs and moved to NYC in 1961. They were discovered by R&B producer Abner Spector and their second single, produced, written and arranged by Abner, peaked at #10 on R&B and #12 on Billboard’s pop charts on December 16, 1961. This is a perfect record — great song, original arrangement, and wonderful lead and background singing by the lads. This is a peerless stereo mix as well with amazing fidelity so that ‘secrets’ like the tuned bongos in the verses become more apparent than in the mono mix. And no other record had the immortal lyric “sum-a-la-vicky” as far as I can recall.
3. "Toy Soldier" — The Four Seasons (2:34)
My favorite comparatively obscure single by the revered Italian Jersey boys. All the usual top-ten ingredients are present, but alas, in 1964, this gem peaked at #64 — a slap in the face to their usual chart positions. Nonetheless, this Bob Gaudio-Bob Crewe composition arranged by Charles Calello is as good as any other as far as I am concerned. The only bad side of their hit compilations is the distortion in some of the recordings that might’ve occured in tape transfers. This track was one of the guiltier parties but still survived to be in MY Four Seasons top ten.
4. "Fire" — The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (2:45)
I miss the loss of this Crazy World. I saw him accidentally set his hair on fire onstage at the Fillmore East, be ‘crucified’ onstage at the Reading Festival in the UK, and generally show up in attire that would inspire at all live shows. This is a great track featuring great organ playing by Vincent Crane. The arrangement and stereo mix kinda stand the test of time and always lead us to the conclusion about just how unique a vocalist Arthur was/is.
5. "Tell It Like It Is" — Aaron Neville (2:25)
What a great surprise to uncover a two-track mix of this great oldie! With Neville’s amazing voice, Allen Toussaint’s tasty tutelage and piano playing and horn arrangements, etc., this is "New Orleans in a Nutshell." Here in stereo the ingredients are easier to discern and appreciate on this 1967 chart-topper. Like the great Tony Bennett, his voice shows no discernible loss considering its deacdes of demanding perfection.
6. "Our Day Will Come" — Ruby & The Romantics (2:27)
Ruby & The Romantics day came in March, 1963 when their single reached the #1 position. Featuring stand-out organ playing by Leroy Glover and great bossa nova drumming by Gary Chester, this Mort Garson-Bob Hilliard composition has easily survived the tests of time. The stereo mix reveals a little more of what made this so listenable all these years.
7. "Spoonful" — Howlin’ Wolf (2:43)
Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett) started out on the Sun label in Memphis to no avail, but rose to blues fame after relocating to Chicago and Chess Records. Equal fame was achieved by his guitarist Hubert Sumlin for his sensitive and stinging string-bending alongside the howling of The Wolf. Second generation Chess sibling Marshall Chess (son of founder Leonard) began recording in stereo comparatively early for a blues label and captured this early classic in a great stereo mix. Marshall was also famous for having mostly African Americans in attendance at his bar mitzvah.
8. "Any Day Now" — James Brown (3:12)
Many say James could record the phone book and make it funky. I was totally amused by his cover of this Bacharach chestnut. The sophistication of the songwriting bothered Brown in some places and he compensated by replacing Bacharach with Brown in those places. I find these alterations more musical altercations and laughed out loud the first time I heard this track. ANY James Brown track is a gift in stereo and this is certainly no exception — just humorous as well.
9. "If You Let Me Make Love to You" — Ronnie Dyson (3:02)
In his abbreviated life of 40 years, and starting at age 18, Dyson did more recording than most vocalists who lived twice that long. His standout hit is here, in the original stereo mix. Dyson was cast in the original Broadway play Hair in 1968. He segued to another stage show called Salvation two years later and recorded this song from the score of that play and brought it into top tens around the world. Amusingly, he appeared in the comedy film Putney Swope around the same time. He continued to record, mostly with the Philadelphia International producers including a full album produce by Thom Bell entitled One Man Band. His tone-filled high voice was amazingly recognizable, but he was never able to match the chart position of his original hit. He died of heart failure in Philly in 1990. It’s great to hear that voice again in a very '70s stereo mix.
10. "Brown-Eyed Woman" — Bill Medley (3:14)
On the lower end of the pitch range, he became famous for all time uttering the words, “...you never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips...” Mostly a Righteous Brother, he attained a little solo fame with this minor hit in 1968 when it hit #43 on the charts as a solo single from the album Bill Medley - 100%. This is the original stereo mix and I sure do love it. See yas next week, hopefully...
Bill Medley IS David Cassidy!