TBT: Orson Welles and Andy Kaufman

What a wonderful thing the interwebs is.

Here’s Orson Welles interviewing Andy Kaufman in 1982, when Welles subbed for Merv Griffin on his daytime show. There’s a whole lot of weird in that sentence. Maybe the weirdest thing about the actual footage, though, is how not weird it is.

R.I.P. James Ingram

I was so sad to hear the news today of the untimely passing of James Ingram. He was a respected voice in my household and one of our favorite R&B singers.

In the Sandoval house, we learned about James Ingram when the musical world did——as a signature voice on Quincy Jones’ 1981 album The Dude. That I knew that both sides of that album as well as I knew Thriller, which was released the next year and also produced by Jones, says a lot about the musical mix I grew up with. We listened to pop and rock (well, I did), but we also listened to the music my folks played——oldies, R&B, jazz, and soul——a lot of sounds that morphed into “adult contemporary” over the years.

James Ingram was a master of the R&B love song. He had a voice of passion and range. He was a real talent and a true artist. Maybe the nicest thing I can say is that even after all these years (I probably haven’t played a James Ingram song in decades) I still know the words to all my favorites he sang. He was that much a part of the soundtrack of my youth.

Here are my favorites. None are surprises or “deep cuts.” They are probably his biggest hits, but they’re all gems.

Just Once (1981)
Definitely my favorite James Ingram song, from The Dude.

One Hundred Ways (1981)
Another hit from Jones’ 1981 album, a classic love song in the adult R&B style.

Baby, Come to Me (1982)
His first hit duet with Patti Austin.

Yah Mo Be There (1983)
From Ingram’s debut solo album, sung with Michael McDonald.

I Don’t Have the Heart (1990)
His last “big” hit, this one was on the repeat tape of this one office job I had.

R.I.P. James Ingram.

Friday Five: January 1961

1961 was a good year, a good year indeed. And the first month of that year brought us some classics.

5. “All in My Mind” by Maxine Brown
If Maxine Brown was a stock in 1960, you would have sunk all your money into her. Why she never made it big is a mystery but she did make quality R&B songs for a decade starting with this song——which she wrote——released late in 1960. She peaked at #2 on the R&B charts (only #19 on the Hot 100 pop charts. (If Wikipedia is to be trusted, Ms. Brown is still with us, too. She’ll turn 80 this summer.)

4. “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” by Elvis Presley
Iconic. And there’s a good story behind it, too. The King recorded the song starting at 4:00AM on April 4, 1960. It was the last song recorded as part of his Elvis is Back! album, his first after leaving the Army. Presley wasn’t pleased with his work and thought he couldn’t do the song justice. His producer (Steve Sholes) convinced him to do another take by saying that the Jordanaires had messed up by bumping their microphone stands. The King obliged, and that take (only #3) was what we have. (Apparently, at the very end of the song you can be hear somebody stapling the pages of Elvis’ contract.) It started the month at #1 and sold a couple of million copies. (Since we’re on it, the King is, of course, dead.)

3. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles
The King started the month at the top and the Shirelles closed it out. I guess the way to the top of the charts in January 1961 involved asking a question. The group (Shirley Owens, Micki Harris, Doris Coley, and Beverly Lee) met as teenagers——they all attended Passaic High School in New Jersey, where they started performing. After a few years of recording and touring, they released “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (written by Carol King and her husband Gerry Goffin) and had their first of many hits. It was the first #1 single by an African American, “all-girl” group. (They would only reach #1 one other time, with 1962’s “Soldier Boy.”) The Shirelles paved the way for the wave of “girl groups”—The Chiffons, The Ronettes, Martha and the Vandellas, and, of course, The Supremes—all of who came later. For my money, this is one of the best of the decade. (Owens and Lee are still kicking. Coley passed in 2000 and Harris died tragically while performing on stage in 1982.)

2. “Angel Baby” by Rosie and the Originals
I almost left this one out, only because I’ve written about it so many times. But I just love it too much. It’s one of the archetypal Chicano oldies, recorded by a half-white, half-Chicana teenager (she was 15) from the San Diego area. It peaked at #5 on the pop charts but it lives in generations of Chicano families to the present-day. (Rosie Hamlin passed away in 2017 at the age of 71.)

1. “Shop Around” by The Miracles
“Shop Around” is historic on two fronts——it was the first hit for Smokey Robinson (the lead singer of The Miracles who, with Motown-founder Berry Gordy, wrote the song) and the first hit for Motown Records. It topped the R&B charts in January, where it stayed for 7 weeks. It hit #5 on the pop charts that month, too, before peaking at #2 in February. The first million-seller for the Detroit company, the song opened the door for what became the most legendary home of R&B music of the era. I often like to think how as tens of thousands of African American young people (mostly college students) were taking over the segregated lunch counters of Woolworth’s across the South, they were also making this song #1. There’s nothing inherently political about it, but still… (Smokey was practically a baby when he hit it big. He’s only 78, and still performs.)

Friday Five: January 1960

5. “I’ll Take Care of You” by Bobby Bland
A mainstay of the late 50s/early 60s R&B charts, Bobby Bland was a blues singer with a softer touch than most. His skills, honed on Beale Street with contemporaries like B.B. King and Junior Parker, are all over this minor hit which peaked at #4 on the R&B charts in late January 1960.

4. “Talk that Talk” by Jackie Wilson
One of the greatest of the early era, Jackie Wilson’s voice, passion, and energy are among the foundations of modern “soul” music. This minor hit harnesses (in both senses of the word) a lot of his signature attributes into an orchestral-backed single that peaked at #3.

3. “El Paso” by Marty Robbins
Country star Marty Robbins started the 1960 calendar year sitting atop the Billboard “Hot 100” with this, his biggest crossover hit and most well-known song.

2. “Be My Guest” by Fats Domino
New Orleans raised Fats Domino is one of the foundational sounds of rock ‘n roll. His first hit—”Fat Man”—was released in 1949, when he was only 21. It is often cited as the first million-selling record of the rock ‘n roll era. He’d have even bigger hits once the that era got firmly established, songs like “Ain’t that a Shame” and his signature “Blueberry Hill.” By 1960, his biggest hits were behind him but in songs like this one (which peaked at #2 on January’s R&B charts) we can see how the “Fats Domino sound” had become something of a recipe for both him and his record label.

1. “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning
This one-hit-wonder hit it big with this tragically sad song of teenage love and death. Written by Mark’s sister and brother-in-law, the song was released in October 1959 to very little support. As the story goes, many radio stations refused to play it because it was too depressing. But the kids loved it! It peaked at #4 in January 1960 before hitting the top spot in early February, where it sat for two weeks.

Friday Five: January 1959

It’s a brand new year so let’s try a brand new way of doing things. Each week I’ll move year-by-year and post 5 songs that cracked the Billboard top 5 for the month in which I post. Why don’t we start with 1959 because, well, why not?

5. “One Night” by Elvis Presley
The King started 1959 at the #5 spot with this song, originally recorded by Smiley Lewis in 1956. Lewis’ version begins “One night of sin / Is what I’m now paying for,” a line too suggestive for RCA and Elvis’ handlers. The cleaned up version was released in ’58 and peaked at #4 before working it’s way downward in the following year.

4. “Sixteen Candles” by The Crests
Comprised of three African Americans, an Italian American, and one Puerto Rican, The Crests were the first interracial doo-wop group to achieve any chart success. This song was their biggest hit, reaching #4 in January 1959 before peaking at #2 the following month (they were kept out of the top spot by the next song on this list). I suspect we’ll see some cinematic representation of the 50s more than a century from now (or whatever cinema becomes by then) where this song will be played. I’m not sure that make its timeless but, rather, more “time bound” and iconic.

3. “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price
It’s a song about a real life event——the 1895 Christmas night murder of a man (Billy Lyons) by a St. Louis pimp (“Stag” Lee Shelton) all over a Stetson hat. A song evolved over time, “corrupting” the name of the assailant into we have now. Lloyd Price’s version would reach the top spot the following month but it peaked at the #5 position in January 1959. As a young teenager I loved to listen to this on an old 45 my folks had. Even then it sounded like a game changer to me. I can only imagine what this sounded like in 1959.

2. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by The Platters
This is why you slow dance. The Platters reached #1 with this gem in January 1959. It was originally written for a musical named Roberta in 1933 and had grown into something of a standard over the next two decades for everyone from Glen Miller to Nat King Cole. The Platters were already established after hits like “Only You” and “(You’ve Got) The Magic Touch” when they started reworking older tunes and making them their own. The widow of the original composer stirred some controversy when she expressed her displeasure with the reboot of her husband’s work by a rock ‘n roll group. It’s a peak into the window of time when rock ‘n roll meant something bad.

1. “Donna” by Ritchie Valens
How can I not put this at my top spot? The seventeen-year-old Chicano named Richard Valenzuela had a professional musical career that lasted less than a year. He only released three singles in his lifetime. The first was a song he wrote, “Come On, Let’s Go.”  It was his first hit record (the B-side was the Lieber/Stoller song “Framed”). His second was this song, a tune he wrote about the girl he loved. The B-side was “La Bamba,” Valens’ reworking of a Mexican folk ballad. Side A peaked at #3 in January 1959.  On February 2, Valens (along with Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson, a.k.a. “The Big Bopper”) would perish in a plane crash.  “Donna” would peak at #2 a couple of weeks later.  “La Bamba” at #22.

They Made It to 2019

Happy New Year! Another new year brings another chance to revisit my running list of celebrities who are still alive but whom we might have thought were dead. As I’ve said in years passed, my goal with this commemoration is to enjoy the “I didn’t know s/he was still alive” thought without having to read the obituary of the celebrity in question.

First, we should mark the passing of a few folks who have been spotlighted in years passed. Charlotte Rae died in 2018 at the age of 95. So did Jerry Maren, former member of the “Lollipop Guild” and the last (verified) living “Munchkin” from The Wizard of Oz. He was 98 years old.

Now for the good news. A whole host of stars from the stage and big screen are still with us in 2019. The legendary Carol Channing is 97; Doris Day is 94; and Hal Holbrook is 93. Though he may not be as well-known as that bunch, the iconic (to me) Henry Silva is now 90.

They all seem to be spring chickens compared to Olivia de Havilland and Kirk Douglas, both of whom turned 102 in 2018. One of the leads in Gone With the Wind, de Havilland is the oldest living Oscar winner. Douglas, the star of Spartacus and Paths of Glory the greatest living celebrity of Hollywood’s “Golden Era.”

Two music legends deserve mention. The legendary Little Richard is 86 and Jerry Lee Lewis is 82. Both men are the last of the greats of the founding generation of rock ‘n roll. With the passing of Aretha last year, they may be the most significant living musical artists, too.

Finally, television was the creative home to a slew of nonagenarians. Producer Norman Lear (96) is still doing well. Actors Larry Storch (95) and William Daniels (91) are still alive. Comedic legends Carl Reiner (96), Dick Van Dyke (93), and Mel Brooks (92) continue to thrive. Van Dyke even had a role in the recent Mary Poppins movie. Comedian Bob Newhart is 89 right now, but he’ll turn 90 in September.

And, of course, Betty White is still with us. At 96, White isn’t the oldest on the list, but she might be the most well-known senior citizen of the bunch. She is often an internet meme for her longevity, as well as for her rumored (or feared) passing. She’s also occasionally still seen on TV, lately in simple appearances rather than in acting roles.

Here’s to good health and a happy 2019 for each and every one on this year’s list!