Thursday, October 20, 2011


Last month, we took a pilgrimage to Cleveland, Ohio, to visit the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Although Cleveland has often been the butt of jokes, many of which were true, we enjoyed our 4 day stay at the Doubletree Hotel. The city has cleaned itself up, and we were impressed, especially with the restaurants in the trendy Warehouse District. Cleveland has become an international city, at least while we were there.

The Hungarian president, Pal Schmitt showed up outside our hotel to lay a wreath in front of the statue of Hungarian patriot Lajos Kossuth who visited Cleveland in 1852.Schmitt gave a speech to a group of Hungarian-American boy scouts and others. Although we don't understand much Hungarian, we hung around to watch him because the street was blocked off by Secret Service guys in incongruous suits while everyone else was dressed casually. Cleveland has a large and active Hungarian community.

The R & R Hall of Fame was an all day event for us with about 6 floors of exhibits, none of which are devoted to the Hungarian contributions to rock 'n' roll music. They don't let you take photos in most of them. One piece of information I took out of there was that John Lennon was a big fan of Buddy Holly's Crickets and was inspired to also name his group after an insect. The Beatles? So there you have it! John Lennon was also reportedly a closet Republican.

The exhibit that captured our attention most was the One Hit Wonders display. The computerized exhibit allowed you to scan the alphabet to find One Hit Wonders by group or artist and play the song. We spent over an hour going through the alphabet. While there are literally thousands of these to pick from, below I have featured some of those with interesting stories.

One Toke Over the Line, Brewer & Shipley (1971) According to Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley, the Kansas City based singer-songwriters, the song is about smoking marijuana. They wrote it supposedly while they were high. One toke over the line sweet Jesus, one toke over the line, sittin' downtown in a railroad station, one toke over the line... Radio stations played it because they weren't sure if it was a gospel song or a drug song. While Vice President Spiro Agnew railed against it as subversive to American youth, Lawrence Welk, who was conservative middle America promoted the song. The wholesome looking Gail Ferrell and Dick Dale (Gail & Dale) performed it on his show. They thought the words were "one toe over the line." The song is mentioned in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson. Apparently it was his favorite song.

Playground in my Mind, Clint Holmes (1973). This novelty song by Holmes with lyrics like "My name is Michael, I've got a nickel..." rose to Number 2 on Billboard. Holmes is now a very popular Las Vegas headliner. He was elected by a tourist magazine as "Best Singer in Las Vegas" two years in a row, as well as "Best All-Around Las Vegas Performer". We've enjoyed his show, and he always trots out that song because it is so incompatible with his image today. Holmes is a high energy performer although he had a broken leg the night we saw him. Holmes has a interesting background. Born in England, his father was an African American jazz musician and his mother an English opera singer. He learned to sing from his mother, and he learned how to have fun doing it from his father.

Susie Darlin', Robin Luke (1958). The 16 year old Mr. Luke was living in Hawaii when he wrote this song about his 5 year old sister Susie. Apparently he had many girlfriends, but to avoid the appearance of favoritism, that was his story and he was sticking to it. He made the rounds of the Dick Clark Show for awhile, meeting Buddy Holly and others, but his family insisted that he continue his education. Today, Dr. Luke is a college professor and the head of the Marketing Department at Southwest Missouri State University. Sister Susie Robison lives in Columbia, MO. and works for the state.

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, Vicki Lawrence (1973). Don't confuse this song with Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Knight, Rainy Night in Georgia by Brook Benton, or Georgia on my Mind by Hoagy Carmichael or Ray Charles. My wife, Dianne is from Georgia, so I had to write about this one. After recording this song, Vicki Lawrence became better known for her comedy work on TV shows ranging from the Carol Burnett Show and Mama's Family to Love Boat, $100,000 Pyramid and even LaVerne & Shirley.

The song was written by Bobby Russell, Ms. Lawrence's first husband. It was offered to Cher, but was turned down by Sonny Bono. Ms. Lawrence became pro-Bono when her song soared to Number 1 on Billboard and sold over 2 million records. Last year, Ms. Lawrence stirred up some controversy among advocates for the homeless when she made a parody about Ted Williams, the homeless man who became famous for about 15minutes when he landed a job doing some voice-over work. He couldn't hit a baseball like his namesake, however, and the Ted Williams Expressway in Boston is not believed to be named after him.

Speaking about lights going out, the BeeGees who were NOT a One Hit Wonder had a song called Massachusetts with the recurring line "and the lights all went down in Massachusetts..." Songwriters take inspiration from everything including power failures.

In the Summertime, Mungo Jerry (1970). I picked this one because I liked the name of the artist. One would expect to find a comma between Mungo and Jerry. Actually there is nobody with that name. This English band was formed by Ray Dorset and is still performing today led by Dorset, although the others in the group are interchangeable. The name of the group comes from a T.S. Eliot poem. Outside of England, this group was a One Hit Wonder. Mungo Jerry had several other recordings that sold well in England though not in the U.S. They bring out this song every summer, and the recording has sold 30 million copies over the years, bringing in a nice annuity for Mr. Dorset. Another favorite Summer song was It's Summertime by the Jamies (1958).It's summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime, summertime, summertime sum sum summertime...etc. So much for original lyrics.

Teen Angel, Mark Dinning (1959). This was a teenage tragedy song like several others by One Hit Wonders, e.g. Endless Sleep by Jody Reynolds; Patches, by Dickie Lee; and Last Kiss by J. Frank Wilson. Teen Angel was written by Mark's sister Jean and brother-in-law Red Surrey. When the song was released, nobody was sure what to make of it, but it rocketed to Number 1 on the charts. Unfortunately, Mr. Dinning's life was a tragedy also. He had a severe alcohol problem and, after appearing at performances in an inebriated state, they stopped booking him. He died of a heart attack at age 52. Back in the 1970's, I met his nephew Howard Dinning, an incredibly talented artist who was performing at a local supper club near Chicago. Between sets, I went up to him and asked if he was related to Mark Dinning. "Yeah, that's my uncle," he said. He agreed to sing Teen Angel for us.

Hang on Sloopy, McCoys (1965). We know that every state has a state song, but did you know that Ohio has a state rock song? Well, this is it. The Ohio State University Marching Band plays it before the fourth quarter of every football game. The song is also played at every Cleveland Indians baseball game. The Ohio Legislature passed a resolution in 1986 in response to the State of Washington making Louie, Louie by the Kingsmen their official state rock song.

Hang on Sloopy (not Snoopy), originally recorded as My Girl Sloopy, was written by Wes Farrell (once married to Tina Sinatra) and Bert Russell. For whatever reason, they wanted to honor jazz singer Dorothy Sloop (1913-1998), from Steubenville, Ohio (also Dean Martin's hometown) who called herself Sloopy on stage. Incidentally, Russell also co-wrote Twist and Shout, a big hit for the Isley Bros. and also the Beatles. Hang on Sloopy has much longer staying power than the group that performed it.

The McCoys was originally Rick & the Raiders, from Union City, Indiana, but to avoid confusion with Paul Revere & the Raiders, they had to change the name. Sixteen year old Rick Derringer and his combo were recruited by the producers of the song to sing it on an already completed backing track by the Strangeloves (I Want Candy) who were still riding that hit and didn't want to release a new record so soon. They needed to get the record released quickly to beat out the Dave Clark Five who were also planning to record the song. They succeeded.

I Want Candy, The Strangeloves (1965). Their story IS strange, if not outrageous. The group was composed of Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gotteher who proved to be brilliant marketers (see Hang on Sloopy above). They claimed to be shepherds from Australia named Giles, Miles and Niles Strange, and their story was they made a fortune crossbreeding sheep. Not many bought that story (their New York accents may have given them away), but they were successful anyway. They recruited and created the McCoys (see above), naming them after a Ventures song. They also produced My Boyfriend's Back, a big hit by the Angels.

San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), Scott McKenzie (1967). This song was written by John Phillips to promote the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. It became the anthem of the hippie generation and has been featured in several movies including Forrest Gump. McKenzie's real name was Philip Blondheim, but nobody could remember his name. In show biz, name recognition is key, so he brainstormed after a gig with several friends to come up with a new name. Somebody said he looked like a Scottie dog, and he got his first name. McKenzie was the middle name of John Phillips' daughter Laura, now known as actress MacKenzie Phillips. I didn't make this up, it's on Scott McKenzie's website.

Dianne and I met Scott McKenzie in 1986 on an elevator in Dallas. As he stepped on, I greeted him by name, and he was quite surprised that anybody would recognize him. He was gracious, and we talked a little bit.

While living in Virginia around 1960, he became friends with and sang with Phillips who later formed the Mamas and Papas with his wife Michelle, Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott. After Elliott died, the group broke up, but in 1986, McKenzie joined a reconstituted version of the group and was their musical arranger when I met him and saw his performance. Among other accomplishments, McKenzie co-wrote the Beach Boys' song Kokomo with Phillips. He retired in 1998 and lives in Los Angeles.

Sugar, Sugar, Archies (1969). This recording was the Number One song for the whole year, and there is no artist that claims responsibility for performing it. The Archies are cartoon characters--Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, etc. The song was written by Jeff Berry and Andy Kim and performed by studio musicians managed by Don Kirshner. Berry offered the song to the Monkees who turned it down. Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make.

To paraphrase Barbara Walters, the most fascinating character in that group is Forsythe Van Jones II whom we know as Archie's loyal friend Jughead. (Nobody would name their kid Jughead, would they?) His shtick is his laziness, winning eating contests and avoiding female companionship, not because he doesn't like them, but because he likes eating better. He wears a beanie shaped crown on his head and has a big "S" on his sweatshirt. He plays the drums in the Archies band. He does have a sometime girl friend, Big Ethel, a large gangly but friendly girl whom he usually tries to avoid.

How Do You Do, Mouth & MacNeal (1972). This was a short lived pop duo from the Netherlands. "Mouth" was Willem Duyn (1937-2004), a large man with a full beard, loud clothing and a loud mouth. He also plays the violin in the song. His partner, Maggie MacNeal, by contrast is a sweet looking blond girl, 13 years younger. Together they had good chemistry. Maggie's real name is Skoukje Van't Spijker, and in recent years she performed in Europe as Skoukje Smit. This song rose to the top of the U.S. charts in 1972. I highly recommend one of several YouTube videos of the duo because they mingle with the audience and really enjoy performing the song. They performed together for only a year or two and had some success in Europe, but How Do You Do was their only U.S. hit.

You can find all the above songs on YouTube. Enjoy!



Thursday, October 6, 2011


We spent two days at sea because it is a long way from Greenland across the Labrador Strait and the Davis Strait to Newfoundland. Cruise ships have many activities (see Party, Polar Bear, in my last installment), and we got to do two activities in which we have never before participated.

The first was the Marriage Game Show (think Newlywed Game) in which three lucky couples are obliged to share their intimate secrets before a live audience. The cruise director cleverly induced us to appear by talking to Dianne and me separately, convincing each of us that the other agreed to participate. How well do I know my spouse? Not as well as the other two couples knew theirs. We had two lawyers in the group, but fortunately no divorce lawyers. we were asked mildly embarrassing questions like "which part of your spouse's body would you like to change?", and "the most unusual place you've made love?"

The other activity was karaoke. Now I've never done karaoke before in my whole life. In school, I sang in Mixed Chorus, and the teacher suggested that I drop the class. Needless to say, I don't sing very well, though perhaps I can do hard rock, or whatever passes for popular music nowadays. The young lady running the karaoke, the lovely Australian dancer, Felicity conned me into performing I'm a Believer, the Monkees' song written by Neil Diamond. I did a somewhat respectable Neil Diamond imitation in duet with her while her proud parents whom we had befriended cheered us on. Their sage advice to me was "Don't quit your day job!"


The unusual thing about Newfoundland, other than the jokes mainland Canadians make about the locals is that it has its own time zone, 30 minutes ahead of Atlantic Time, or 1 1/2 hours ahead of Eastern Standard time. So when you re-set your watch, you are a half hour off. Newfoundland used to be an independent country in the British Commonwealth until 1949 when it agreed to become a province of Canada. The Newfies had one non-negotiable condition to becoming a part of Canada--they must be allowed to hunt the common murre (a/k/a turre) for food all year around. These large seabirds, called guillemot in Europe, can't fly very well, but they swim very well, even underwater, catching fish. In their nesting grounds, they are relatively easy to catch. Since the rest of Canada didn't know what they were, they readily agreed.

We docked in St. Johns, the capital of Newfoundland on their municipal holiday, August 3rd, their annual Regatta. It has been held the first Wednesday of August since the 1820's. In this city of 100,000, about one-third of the people attend this extravaganza. Most stores and banks in town were closed. The Regatta consisted of a series of rowing races in long narrow sculls pitting 5 teams of 3 rowers plus a navigator. Presumably the spectators bet on the outcomes or what would be the point?

The event is like a large county fair with carnival rides and food stands run by local restaurants. It reminded us of Taste of Chicago or Milwaukee Fest. We walked the mile or so to the event and returned on the city bus. We got off by the Yellow Belly Brewery built in 1725.

The bus ride was memorable for one reason--we almost ran over actor Russell Crowe. Crowe was filming a TV series with local actors around town. We encountered the film makers at a red light. The bus driver told us to look for Mr. Crowe. I don't know what he looks like, but Dianne does, and sure enough, he was standing in front of the bus. She pointed him out to me, and I admit he looked familiar, but I wouldn't have picked him out of a crowd.

Other than visiting the Regatta, we did the usual tourist spots in St. Johns, a city totally unfamiliar to most Americans. The Easternmost point in North America (if you don't count Greenland) is Cape Spear which is known for its two lighthouses, the old one and the new one. We are intrigued by lighthouses, and we visit and photograph them all over the world. The lighthouse keeper is a member of the Cantwell family. The original Cantwell saved someone's life and, in gratitude, was granted a wish. The guy actually wanted the lighthouse keeper job, and 7 successive generations have continued the tradition. Standing on the rocky shore, we spotted whales spouting offshore. The famed Grand Banks, renowned for their fishing, are close by.

We went up to Signal Hill where they built a stone fortress Gothic Revival building in 1897 to commemorate John Cabot's discovery of Canada in 1497 while sailing under the British flag. Cabot's real name was Giovanni Caboto, but his descendants quickly became British. The Cabot Tower was considered a white elephant when it was constructed. St. Johns had burned to the ground in a huge fire in 1892, and the Newfoundland banking system had crashed in 1894. Local sentiment compared it to "putting a silk hat on a man who can't afford to buy a pair of boots."

The hill was enshrouded in fog, so we couldn't enjoy the view although we learned a lot at the museum. For centuries, the British had used this site for signaling ships with maritime flags. This national historic site achieved new significance when another Italian guy, Guillermo Marconi, in 1901 demonstrated his new invention by receiving the first wireless radio signals from Europe.


This stop was almost an afterthought on our trans-Atlantic cruise, but it's interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, St. Pierre & Miquelon (pronounced MICK-a-lon), little known except to philatelists, is the last French possession in North America--Quebec doesn't count. These anachronistic islands, 10 miles off the coast of Newfoundland are considered part of France. They are totally immersed in French culture. They fly the French flag, and the people speak French. France goes to huge expense to maintain this token presence in the New World. They built a large international airport, but hardly anyone flies there. To fly to France, you have to first fly to Canada. Of the 6000 inhabitants, about 75% work for the French government. Their currency is the Euro, and many places won't accept American or Canadian money, although credit cards seem to work. Other than government, their main industry is fishing.

We took an hour tour of the country and enjoyed the brightly painted houses and stores. For lunch, we went to a French restaurant for escargots with our Aussie and New York friends. They don't put mayonnaise on everything like the Brits do.

The islands have one other claim to fame. Although it is not mentioned in the guide book, the most significant event in their 500 year history occurred when Al Capone came to town to set up his bootlegging operation, and all they have to show for it is his hat. Back in the 1920's, Capone established his headquarters at the Hotel Robert which we visited. With 43 rooms, it's not exactly the Ritz. When Capone left town, the hotel manager asked him for a memento. He gave them his straw hat, which is today locked up on display in a glass case. Al Capone is like George Washington--hotels all over creation like to boast that he slept there. We weren't impressed because Capone DID sleep everywhere we go, back home in Chicago. In any event, when Prohibition ended, these islands sank into depression for decades.

We caught the 5 o'clock Ocean Princess headed for New York and back to warm weather and the real world.