In Volume 33 of The Originals, we’ll look at the first recordings of Glen Campbell’s Gentle On My Mind, The Drifters’ On Broadway, Millie’s My Boy Lollipop, George Harrison’s Got My Mind Set On You and Lutricia McNeal’s Ain’t that Just The Way. The two versions of On Broadway that preceded The Drifters’ version are of particular interest because they were recorded as originally written; the song was reworked for the version that became a hit. As always, thanks to Walter and RH who helped me out with songs.
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John Hartford – Gentle On My Mind (1967).mp3
Glen Campbell – Gentle On My Mind (1967).mp3
Leonard Nimoy – Gentle On My Mind (1968).mp3
Boots Randolph – Gentle On My Mind (1968).mp3
Elvis Presley – Gentle On My Mind (1969).mp3
Even without a chorus, Gentle On My Mind made a great impact when it first appeared in the late 1960s. John Hartford, who wrote the song, picked up two Grammys for best folk performance and best country song, but that was eclipsed by Glen Campbell, for whom it became a signature tune (literally; it was the theme of his 1969-72 TV show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, on which Hartford frequently appeared). Campbell, who discovered the song when he heard Hartford’s record on the radio, also won two Grammy for his version, for best country recording and solo performance). His version was a hit twice, in 1967 and again in 1968. The song also bothered the charts in versions by Patti Page (1968) and Aretha Franklin (1969), and featured on Elvis Presley’s excellent comeback album, From Elvis In Memphis (1969). In Britain, its only chart appearance was a #2 hit for, of all people, Dean Martin in1969.
Gentle On My Mind was not a typical John Hartford number. The singer is better known for his bluegrass roots which found expression in his accomplished use of the banjo and fiddle (shortly before his death at 63 in 2001, Hartford won another Grammy for his contributions to the bluegrass soundtrack for the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Hartford — the son of a New York doctor who grew up in St Louis and later acquired a steamboat pilot licence — said that he wrote Gentle On My Mind after watching the film Dr Zhivago. “While I was writing it, if I had any idea that was going to be a hit, it probably would have come out differently and it wouldn’t have been a hit. That just came real fast, a blaze, a blur.” See Hartford’s scribbled lyrics on the website dedicated to the singer.
The song is said to have spawned some 300 cover versions. Elvis’ remake is from the great Memphis sessions which also yielded Suspicious Minds (another cover, dealt with HERE); saxophonist Boots Randolph delivers a very likable easy listening instrumental; and Leonard Nimoy’s version…well, it needs to be heard.
Also recorded by: Tammy Wynette (1967), Trini Lopez (1968), The Lettermen (1968), Burl Ives (1968), Eddy Arnold (1968), Nancy Wilson (1968), Jim Ed Brown (1968), David Houston (1968), Johnny Darrell (1968), Wally Whyton (1968), Patti Page (1968), Billy Eckstine (1968), Dean Martin (1968), Frank Sinatra (1968), Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell (1968), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), Wolfgang Sauer (as Die schönen Zeiten der Erinnerung , 1968), Andy Williams (1969), Lenny Dee (1969), Nat Stuckey (1969), Aretha Franklin (1969), Elvis Presley (1969), Lawrence Welk (1969), Wayne Versage (1969), Claude François (as Si douce à mon souvenir, 1970), The New Seekers (1970), Albert West (1975), Bucky Dee James & The Nashville Explosion (1977), Howard Carpendale (1980), Mark Eitzel (2002), Johnny Cash with Glen Campbell (released in 2003), Lucinda Williams (2006) a.o.
The Cookies – On Broadway (1962).mp3
The Cystals – On Broadway (1962).mp3
The Drifters – On Broadway (1963).mp3 (reuploaded)
George Benson – On Broadway (single version) (1978).mp3
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were among the giants of the Brill Building songwriting collective, although they were based at Aldon Music on 1650 Broadway, not in the actual Brill Building at 1619 Broadway (Aldon Music was co-founded by Al Nevins, one of the Three Suns who recorded the original of Twilight Time). According to Cynthia Weil, her future husband Mann had wanted to write a “Gershwinesque” pop song, and she, being a Broadway fan, was delighted to put appropriate lyrics to the melody. They first had the song recorded by The Cookies (who featured in The Originals HERE), who ordinarily recorded songs, mostly demos, by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Their demo was not released, but that by fellow girl-group the Crystals recorded soon after was, opening side 2 of their 1962 Twist Uptown album.
In February 1963, Brill bosses Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber were in need of a song for the Drifters. At their request, Mann & Weil offered their On Broadway. Leiber & Stoller didn’t quite like their arrangement, and revised it overnight with the original composers. Next day the Drifters recorded the song, with Leiber & Stoller protégé Phil Spector on guitar and Rudy Lewis (successor of Ben E. King as the group’s lead singer) making one of his final appearances as a Drifter before his sudden death of a heart attack in 1964. Released in March ’63, the Drifters’ version became a hit, reaching #9 in the Billboard charts.
George Benson’s jazzed-up 1978 live recording did even better, reaching #7 in the US. Recorded in L.A., the crowd clearly agrees with the statement that Benson “can play this here guitar”.
Also recorded by: The Challengers (1963), Bobby Darin (1963), Nancy Wilson (1964), Dave Clark Five (1964), Frank Alamo (1964), Freddie Scott (1964), Lou Rawls (1966), King Curtis (1966), Nancy Sinatra (1966), Willis Jackson (1966), Blossom Dearie (1966), Mongo Santamaría (1970), Livingston Taylor (1971), Tony Christie (1972), Eric Carmen (1975), Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes feat. Sir Monti Rock III (1977), George Benson (1978), Bogart (1979), Gary Numan (1981), Jeff Beck & Paul Rodgers (1983), Neil Young (1989), Jeff Beck & Paul Rodgers (1994), George Benson & Clifford and the Rhythm Rats (1995), Stacy Sullivan (1997), Johnny Mathis (2000), Barbie Anaka with David Loy (2003), Frankie Valli & Jersey Boys (2007), James Taylor (2008), Daniele Magro (2009) a.o.
Barbie Gaye – My Boy Lollypop (1956).mp3
Millie Small – My Boy Lollipop (1964).mp3
How often does a cover version change the course of music history? Elvis’ remakes of country, blues and rockabilly numbers. The standards sung by Sinatra and Crosby. And Millie’s My Boy Lollipop, widely regarded as the first crossover ska hit which helped give reggae a mainstream audience. In its original version, My Boy Lollypop (note the original spelling) was a song recorded in 1956 by the white R&B singer Barbie Gaye, at 15 two years younger than Millie Small was when she had a hit with the cover in 1964.
As so often in pop history, the story of the song’s authorship is cloaked in controversy. By most accounts, it was written by Bobby Spencer of the doo wop band the Cadillacs, with the group’s manager, Johnny Roberts, getting co-writer credit. Barbie Gaye’s single became a very minor hit, championed by the legendary rock ’n roll DJ Alan Freed (the late songwriter Ellie Greenwich styled herself Ellie Gaye in tribute to Barbie on her first single, 1958’s Silly Isn’t It). It was Spencer’s misfortune to come into contact with the notorious record executive and music publisher Morris Levy, who implausibly claimed that he had in fact written My Boy Lollypop, using the moniker R Spencer as a pseudonym. The Cadillacs’ Spencer was later reinstated on the credits which nonetheless still list Levy as a co-writer. Levy’s name is attached to other classics which he had no hand in writing, such as Lee Dorsey’s Ya Ya, Frankie Lymon’s Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and later the Rivieras’ California Sun.
My Boy Lollipop was resurrected in 1964 by Chris Blackwell, boss of the nascent Island Records in England label which had recorded no big hit yet. He chose young Millicent Small, who as the duo Roy and Millie had enjoyed a hit with We’ll Meet in Jamaica, to record it. Her version changed that: the song became a worldwide hit, reaching #2 in both US and UK. Island, of course, went on to become the label of Bob Marley, Roxy Music, Robert Palmer and U2. Millie’s German version of the song featured HERE.
Also recorded by: Joan Baxter (1964), Heidi Bachert (German version, 1964), Plum Run (as part of a medley with Lollipop, 1969), Maggie Mae (1974), James Last (1975), Lea Laven (1976), Flesh (1979), Bad Manners (as My Girl Lollipop [My Boy Lollipop], 1982), Lulu (1986), Isabelle A & The Dinky Toys (1996), Die Mädels (2003), Élodie Frégé (2003), Steven Seagal (as Lollipop, 2005), The King Blues (2008), Amy Winehouse (2009) a.o.
James Ray – Got My Mind Set On You (1962).mp3
George Harrison – Got My Mind Set On You (1987).mp3
Produced by Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra, it was a cover version that gave George Harrison his first big hit since his nostalgic All Those Years Ago six years earlier. With Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, Harrison and Lynne went on to form the Traveling Wilburys. It is no accident that Harrison’s US#1 and UK#2 hit sounds a lot like a Wilburys song.
Got My Mind Set On you was originally recorded at roughly the same time as the Beatles began their ascent. Indeed, Harrison discovered the song at that time when he bought James Ray’s LP during a holiday to visit his sister in the US in September 1963. It was written by Rudy Cark, who also wrote The Shoop Shoop Song (featured HERE), Good Lovin’ (which will still feature in this series) and Barbara Mason’s Everybody’s Got to Make A Fool Out Of Somebody. He also co-wrote the Main Ingredient’s Everybody Plays The Fool. R&B Singer Ray James was remembered mostly for only one song, and it wasn’t the song Harrison resurrected 25 years later, but If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody, which reached #22 in the Billboard charts. It might have become a Beatles cover (they did perform it), but in Britain Freddie & the Dreamers had a hit with it.
The diminutive Ray began recording in 1959, as Little Jimmy Ray, releasing one single which flopped. He soon became destitute until he was rediscovered in 1962, while busking in the streets and living on a rooftop in Washington, by Gerry Granahan of Caprice Records. Soon after, If You’ve Got To Make A Fool became a hit, and Ray’s star seemed to be rising. Alas, he struggled to have more hits. James Ray died in 1964, reportedly of a drug overdose. Featured here is the longer album version of I’ve Got My Mind Set On You, on which Ray was backed by the Hutch Davie Orchestra, which Harrison would have heard on the LP he bought (and which is a lot better than his cover). The single version apparently was brutally truncated.
Also recorded by: ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic (parody as This Song’s Just Six Words Long, 1988), Shakin’ Stevens (2007)
Barbi Benton – Ain’t That Just The Way (1976).mp3
Lutricia McNeal – Ain’t That Just The Way (1997).mp3
Twenty years before the unusually named Lutricia McNeal had a European hit with Ain’t That Just The Way, it was recorded by the girlfriend of Playboy honcho Hugh Hefner. Hefner and Benton became a couple, for seven years, after the then 18-year-old pretended to be his girlfriend in episodes of the Playboy After Dark TV series in 1968. Born Barbara Klein (the more Playboy-friendly name was suggested by Hefner, of course) in New York and growing up in California, Benton was primarily an actress, appearing in a few unsuccessful movies as well as in the TV show Hee Haw. Between 1978 and ’81, she had three cameos playing three different characters on the Love Boat. In the meantime, she recorded six albums (including a live set) between 1974 and 1988, scoring a country chart top 5 hit in 1975 with Brass Buckles. She also appeared several times in Playboy, making it to the cover in July 1969, March 1970, May 1972 and October 1985 — but never as a Playmate.
Benton first released Ain’t That Just The Way, which she co-wrote with film composer Stu Philips, as a single in 1976, possibly for the TV series McCloud, which Philips scored. It Appears in an episode of which the song played (the “Park Avenue Pirates” one, fact fans). Benton re-recorded a slowed-down version of the song, produced by Deep Purple’s Roger Glover, for her 1978 album of the same title (the cover of which is pictured here). The version featured here is the 1976 single. Benton today is married to a millionaire real estate developer and apparently works as an interior designer in L.A.
The song was covered in 1977 by Dutch singer Patricia Paay, retitled Poor Jeremy. Two decades later, American R&B singer McNeal had a big hit throughout Europe with her version, restored to its original title, reaching #5 in Britain and the top 10 in every European chart, as well as topping the Billboard Dance charts. In a bit of a twist, McNeal posed in the German edition of Hefner’s Playboy magazine in 2004.
Also recorded by: Patricia Paay (as Poor Jeremy, 1977)