30 August 2007

The Drifters (Part One)

Drifters' Greatest Hits

We Gotta Sing!
The Drifters On Broadway
1959-1966
by Donny Jacobs
How do you create a Rock 'n' Roll legend? You need the right elements. Start with music. How about "There Goes My Baby", "This Magic Moment", "Save The Last Dance For Me", "Sweets For My Sweet", "Up On The Roof", "On Broadway", "Under The Boardwalk" and "Saturday Night At The Movies"? Only some of the most beloved songs in the history of American popular music. Add a famous record company: Atlantic, the most successful independent label ever launched. Add a landmark: The Brill Building, birthplace of hundreds of classic American Pop songs. Add colorful characters: Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, Bert Berns and Phil Spector, among the most respected producers and record executives in the music business. Add exceptional vocalists: Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King, two of the greatest Soul singers ever to set foot in a recording studio. Add Pop superstars: Burt Bacharach, one of popular music's most important composers. Dionne Warwick, Bacharach's protegée, a trailblazing artist who bridged the gap between Gospel, Pop and R & B. Carole King, a singer/songwriter par excellence with dozens of enduring hits to her credit. Finally, throw in some lesser-known but equally important names: Sound engineer Tom Dowd. Arrangers Stan Applebaum, Klaus Ogermann, Bert Keyes, Teacho Wiltshire and Gary Sherman. Performers Charlie Thomas, Rudy Lewis, and Johnny Moore. Session singer (and sister of Dionne) Dee Dee Warwick. Power couple George and Faye Treadwell. Stir these elements together, bring them to a boil, and you've got a fascinating true story that took place in New York City nearly 50 years ago. It's the story of a singing group: The Drifters and their incredible musical legacy. A story so lengthy and complex, only a small portion of it can be told here.

The Drifters were the hottest R & B act of the 1950s. They morphed into the top Pop vocal group of the early '60s. How did they accomplish this feat? They didn't! The same name was printed on the record labels, but it wasn't the same group. Let's trace the act's origins back to the summer of 1953. Clyde McPhatter was the lead vocalist of a hugely popular group called The Dominoes; their chart-topping hits from 1951 and '52, "Sixty Minute Man" and "Have Mercy, Baby" are considered seminal Rock 'n' Roll discs today. For reasons that have never been made clear, The Dominoes' music director Billy Ward gave McPhatter his walking papers. Upon learning that he was a free agent, Atlantic Records' Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler contacted the singer. At their urging, he founded a new vocal group to showcase his unique tenor voice. Signed to Atlantic, Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters racked up seven consecutive Top Ten R & B singles over the next two years. The first, "Money Honey" topped national R & B surveys for a staggering eleven weeks. The fourth, "Honey Love" nearly matched it with an eight week run. The sixth, a doo-wop version of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas", crossed over to Pop and became an enduring holiday standard. McPhatter was drafted into the Army in May of 1954, which limited The Drifters' recorded output. After his discharge, he decided to pursue a solo career. The group's manager, George Treadwell, recruited a new lead singer, and they continued scoring major hits. However, Ertegun and Wexler didn't think much of The Drifters without their charismatic original lead. They grew disenchanted, and producers' indifference can be as lethal to a music career as poor sales.

This certainly proved true, when, at Jerry Wexler's instigation, George Treadwell fired the entire five-man ensemble in late 1958. Clyde McPhatter had sold the Drifters' name to Treadwell, so he could do whatever he wanted with the membership. What he did was christen a new group of singers with the name. The Five Crowns had been appearing at the Apollo Theatre on the same bill with The Drifters. After signing them to a contract, Treadwell called music director Reggie Kimber and went to work rehearsing them on the Atlantic hits. Then he sent them out on tour, where they had the unenviable task of winning over fans of Clyde McPhatter's group. Eight months later, he called the five harried men back to New York City and had them report to Coastal Recording Studios. It was time to begin cutting new Drifters sides. Jerry Wexler got the new sound he wanted; The Crowns' lead singers, Ben E. King and Charlie Thomas, were both baritones, and The Drifters' previous leads had all been tenors. Still, the change of personnel wasn't enough to make him want to produce Drifters sessions again. He turned them over to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the independent producers who'd recently given The Coasters a string of Pop and R & B smashes. Wexler hoped they could cross The Drifters over into the Pop market again. His hopes were realized, and then some!

Over the course of two 1959 recording sessions, Leiber and Stoller completely revamped The Drifters' image on wax. They softened the hard R & B sound of their previous releases with romantic, classically-influenced orchestrations. However, they anchored the new tracks in energetic Latin rythms: The rhumba, the cha-cha-chá, the samba, and a bouncy Brazilian beat known as the baião. New York session musicians lacked familiarity with the baião, so it quickly evolved into a similar Cuban rhythm known as the habanera. This four-beat refrain has been a part of American music since before the turn of the 20th century; it forms the basis of the tango, and many Drifters records cut under Leiber and Stoller's auspices are Rock 'n' Roll tangos. The combination of bluesy vocals, sweet band string sections and percolating Cuban dance patterns revolutionized Rhythm and Blues, and took early '60s Pop radio by storm. Between 1959 and 1966, The Drifters bagged a combined total of 21 Top Ten Pop and R & B platters; three of those singles went Gold. An equal number of Drifters songs rated Top Forty airplay during this period. Fronted first by Ben E. King, and later by Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore, the group became known for their highly commercial Habanera Rock sound(also called "Beat Concerto Rock", "Chalypso Rock" and "Rock-A-Beguine"). They didn't start the trend, but they did more than any other act to popularize it. The masterful backing tracks on Drifters releases, crafted by Leiber and Stoller in collaboration with top East Coast music directors, set a new standard for the record industry. Those tracks exerted a strong influence on Rock 'n' Roll arrangements for nearly a decade.

Songwriters beat a path to Leiber and Stoller's office suite at 40 West 57th Street; everybody wanted to write a Drifters record! Conceivably, Jerry and Mike could've supplied all the tunes themselves; after all, they'd written hits for the original Drifters("Ruby Baby", "Fools Fall In Love" and "Drip Drop"). However, their bluesy writing style didn't fit the group's new image. To maintain that aura of Latin romanticism, they needed to solicit outside material. After collaborating with Ben E. King on the first two singles, the team commissioned veteran tunesmiths Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman to write the next batch. Burt Bacharach, who briefly served as the group's conductor, penned a best-selling side for them, too. Then Leiber and Stoller began favoring a group of young songwriters who worked in the environs of the Brill Building, a music publisher's haven located at 16th and Broadway. The charting singles Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote for The Drifters helped catapult the Aldon Music staffers into the top echelon of Pop composing talent. Bert Berns, himself a Brill Building writer, succeeded Jerry and Mike at the production helm in 1963. Berns also favored Goffin/King and Mann/Weil material, but he didn't limit himself to their output. He and Jerry Wexler (acting as executive producer) scoured the Brill Building for more young talents. They found Artie Resnick, Kenny Young, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, whose dynamic compositions translated into more hit platters for the group. Other successful releases bore the credits of songwriters from Muscle Shoals(Dan Penn), Philadelphia (Kenny Gamble) and London(Kenny Lynch). Today, The Drifters' label credits read like a Who's Who of '60s songwriting legends.

Look up Drifters titles in a Pop singles reference book anywhere in the world, and you'll find cover versions galore! Donna Summer, George Benson, Dolly Parton, Tony Orlando, Steve Alaimo, James Taylor, Laura Nyro and Bruce Willis are just a tiny sampling of the many stars who've raided the group's catalog over the years. Starting in the '60s and extending into the 2000s, their classic hits were covered by hundreds of acts. Happily, the singers as well as the songs made it into the 21st century; The Drifters' latter day incarnation commands a loyal international following from its home base in London. While their records aren't played on classic oldies radio as often as they used to be, their reputation as an American Pop music institution remains intact. "The Drifters On Broadway" is a retrospective that focuses in depth on the groundbreaking sides that introduced Latin romance to a generation of Rock 'n' Roll lovers.

The Ben E. King Era

The Drifters
featuring Ben E. King and Charlie Thomas
with Reggie Kimber, guitar, and King Curtis, tenor saxophone

6 March 1959
A Leiber-Stoller Production
*Arranged and Conducted by Reggie Obrecht
Arranged and Conducted by Stan Applebaum
Coastal Studios, New York City
3396 Hey, Senorita! (Lover Patterson-George Treadwell)*
3397 There Goes My Baby
(Ben E. King-Jerry Leiber-Lover Patterson-Mike Stoller-George Treadwell)
3398 Baltimore
(Walter Coleman-Ben E. King-Lover Patterson)
3399 Oh, My Love (Ben E. King-Lover Patterson)

Four violins, a cello and an out-of-tune kettledrum changed the sound of Rhythm and Blues forever! The groundbreaking "There Goes My Baby" came dangerously close to not being released; executive producer Jerry Wexler despised the track. Through the intervention of Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic's chief engineer Tom Dowd, the single version was released over his strenuous objections. It shattered the barrier separating so-called Black and White music, and charted a bold new musical course for a fresh roster of Drifters. Its flipside, "Oh, My Love" didn't sound as revolutionary, but its solemn waltz tempo and anguished Ben E. King vocal resulted in a track that was also very commercial; had the topside failed, deejays no doubt would've flipped the platter over. Reinforcing this session's Latin mood is "Hey, Señorita", a Lover Patterson composition originally waxed by The Cadillacs; a funky cha-cha rocker, it sounds primitive compared with the sophisicated fusion fare soon to come. Charlie Thomas sings lead on "Baltimore", a conventional R & B number that recalls the original Drifters.

The Drifters
featuring Ben E. King and Johnny Lee Williams
with Abdul Samad, guitar

9 July 1959
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged by Stan Applebaum
Conducted by Richard Wess
A & R Studios, New York City
3726 If You Cry (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)
3727 Dance With Me
(Ben E. King-Jerry Leiber-Irving Nahan-Mike Stoller-George Treadwell)

This was the first Drifters session to be recorded in stereo. The public didn't know it, but Ben E. King had quit the group following a money dispute with George Treadwell. Atlantic signed him to a solo contract, and kept him singing lead on Drifters records for a while longer. His replacement, Johnny Lee Williams, was a Clyde McPhatter soundalike. He debuts on this session, and sings lead on "If You Cry." A heavily orchestrated track with a pleasant Adult Pop melody, this Pomus/Shuman number ends up sounding quite bland; Williams' deadpan delivery is no asset to the track. He was a better harmony singer than a lead, which probably explains why he didn't remain a Drifter for very long. Even though "If You Cry" landed in the R & B Top Ten and made a respectable showing on the Pop charts, fans clearly preferred the bold Latin romanticism of its flipside, "Dance With Me". Sung with gusto by Ben E. King, this side scored the biggest hit. Although King co-wrote the song, his name doesn't appear in the official composer credits. During this period, he was constantly strapped for cash, and got into the habit of selling off his copyrights. That changed once his solo career took off.

The Drifters
featuring Ben E. King and Johnny Lee Williams
with Abdul Samad, guitar

23 December 1959
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Stan Applebaum
Bell Sound Studios, New York City
3987 This Magic Moment (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)
3988 Lonely Winds (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)
3989 Temptation (Nacio Herb Brown-Arthur Freed)

With its tornado of a string arrangement, "This Magic Moment" is clearly a Pop record. Yet, R & B radio responded to it most strongly. Most of the Pop airplay would go to Jay and The Americans' version, cut ten years later. This rhumba-licious track arguably features the most attractive vocal reading Ben E. King would ever contribute to a Drifters side. Surprisingly, there's nothing Latin about "Lonely Winds"; it's an old-fashioned Country high-stepper complete with banjo accompaniment. Pop audiences turned up their noses at it; future hillbilly stylings would be saved for flipsides and/or album cuts. Johnny Lee Williams shows off his skill as a harmony vocalist on the track; predictably, his lead performance on the Perry Como oldie "Temptation" didn't make the grade. The unfinished master would be kept under wraps until 1965 when a new vocal was grafted on.

The Drifters
featuring Ben E. King
with Abdul Samad, guitar

19 May 1960
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Stan Applebaum
Bell Sound Studios, New York City
4565 Save The Last Dance For Me (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)
4566 Nobody But Me (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)
4567 I Count The Tears (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)
4568 Sometimes I Wonder (Ben E. King-Lover Patterson)

This was Ben E. King's final studio outing with The Drifters. Rumor has it that he submitted his song "Stand By Me" for this session, and George Treadwell rejected it. If true, then The Drifters' loss was King's gain; the revamped Gospel standard became his most enduring hit. The material Leiber and Stoller did cut at this date wasn't exactly second-rate. Pomus and Shuman's "Save The Last Dance For Me" tango'd its way straight to the top of the charts, scoring a worldwide smash for the group. Believe it or not, Atlantic originally marketed this classic disc as a B-side! Fortunately, "American Bandstand" host Dick Clark contacted Jerry Wexler and urged him to start plugging it. Wexler complied, and was mighty glad he did. Cover versions proliferated, including an outstanding French-language reading by Petula Clark. "I Count The Tears" and "Nobody But Me" drew their share of covers, too, but only the former tune deserved covering; its driving habanera rhythm and hurricane string section combined with Ben E. King's superb vocal to create sheer magic on wax. "Nobody's" cloying nursery rhyme melody deserved nothing but the B-side status it ended up with. Despite being one of The Drifters' most dramatic recordings, "Sometimes I Wonder" was nevertheless an inferior retread of "There Goes My Baby"; it couldn't even crack Billboard's Bubbling Under chart. Johnny Lee Williams would soon be gone, and the hunt would commence for a new lead. George Treadwell raided the ranks of Gospel music for his next frontman, a singer who would match and arguably surpass everything Ben E. King had done with the group.

"The Drifters On Broadway" continues with Part Two.

29 August 2007

The Drifters (Part Two)

Drifters Under The Boardwalk

We Gotta Sing!
The Drifters On Broadway
1959-1966
by Donny Jacobs

The Rudy Lewis Era

The Drifters
featuring Rudy Lewis and Charlie Thomas
with Abdul Samad, guitar and Mort Shuman, piano

1 February 1961
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Burt Bacharach
Bell Sound Studios, New York City
5323 Room Full Of Tears (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)
5324 Please Stay (Burt Bacharach-Bob Hilliard)
5325 Sweets For My Sweet (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)
5326 Some Kind Of Wonderful (Gerry Goffin-Carole King)

Rudy Lewis was a troubled, closeted Gay man with a drug addiction that would prove lethal. He also possessed a burnished mahogany voice that could stretch and bend like molten steel. The Gospel training he got during a stint with The Clara Ward Singers increased its amazing flexibility; with a single note, Lewis could transmute almost any song into gold. His first session as The Drifters' lead singer produced one killer of a record: ""Please Stay", a fabulous tango rocker from the pen of an up-and-comer named Bacharach. Stepping up to the studio microphone for the first time since 1959, Charlie Thomas does himself proud on two tasty Pomus/Shuman numbers: "Sweets For My Sweet", a bodacious cha-cha, and "Room Full Of Tears," a gorgeous Spanish rhumba. The only disappointment to come out of this date is the stiff arrangement that hampers Goffin and King's "Some Kind Of Wonderful". The staid Pop chorus sounds a false note, the kettledrum parts seem contrived, and the shrill string section drags on Rudy Lewis's soulful lead. He's such a riveting stylist, though, the track is still worth hearing. R & B fans certainly thought so; they made "Wonderful" The Drifters' eighth Top Ten single in two years. (With Goffin and King producing, Little Eva would wax the definitive version in 1962 for her Loco-Motion album.) Atlantic's studio logs credit Ray Ellis, and the record labels say Stan Applebaum, but Burt Bacharach actually directed the musicians on this session.

The Drifters
featuring Rudy Lewis
with The Gospelaires and Abdul Samad, guitar

13 July 1961
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Burt Bacharach
Bell Sound Studios, New York City
5630 Loneliness Or Happiness? (Burt Bacharach-Hal David)
5631 Mexican Divorce (Burt Bacharach-Bob Hilliard)
5632 Somebody New Dancing With You (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)

This summer session yielded a trio of classics. None are well-known to the public, because all of them were issued as single B-sides. Of the three, "Mexican Divorce" is the most acclaimed, and deservedly so. The blend of exotic percussion, agitated strings, melancholy vocals and virtuouso Spanish guitar is exquisite, nothing less than a work of art. The tragic mood is maintained on "Loneliness Or Happiness," a Bacharach-David rarity that fairly drips with dramatic tension. "Somebody New Dancing With You" is a less intense dance number that nevertheless mirrors the estrangement theme of the other two selections. All in all, this session was a stellar showcase, both for Burt Bacharach's arranging skills and Rudy Lewis's interpretive abilities. The Gospelaires were Cissy Houston, Doris Troy, Dee Dee Warwick and her sister Dionne; individually, all four would go on to make an impact on the charts. Of course, Dionne Warwick would become a superstar(as would Cissy Houston's daughter Whitney a few decades hence). Rock historians claim that Bacharach scooped Dionne up immediately after this date and began grooming her for a solo career. Untrue; he had no intention of producing her at this stage. First, he started using her as a demo singer. One of her demos, "Move It On The Backbeat", became the sole release by a one-shot studio group called Burt and The Backbeats. A later one, "It's Love That Really Counts", unexpectedly led to Dionne getting signed by Scepter Records. At that point, the grooming began in earnest . . . but that's another story.

The Drifters
featuring Rudy Lewis and Charlie Thomas
with Abdul Samad, guitar

26 October 1961
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Atlantic Studios, New York City
5743 Jackpot (Chuck Kaye-Aaron Schroeder)
5744 When My Little Girl Is Smiling (Gerry Goffin-Carole King)
5745 She Never Talked To Me That Way (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)

Rudy Lewis and Charlie Thomas made a great lead vocalist tag team; their raspy styles complimented each other, so much so that some listeners couldn't discern between one and the other. Some reviewers named Lewis as lead singer on "When My Little Girl Is Smiling"; others thought it was Thomas doing the lead. In actuality, Rudy sings the opening verses over sparse harpsichord backing. Then an ocean of samba percussion engulfs the song, and Charlie takes over. This was the second hit single written for The Drifters by the crackerjack team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Many years later, Charlie Thomas would amusedly recall rehearsing material with King; a small Jewish woman surrounded by hulking Black men, she would insist that they phrase her husband's lyrics just so! "When My Little Girl Is Smiling" made for a beautiful, panoramic production, possibly the most romantic number in the group's catalog. Rudy Lewis lay a cocksure vocal on "Jackpot", a sleazy Blues ballad; a year later, it slipped out unnoticed on the flipside of a belatedly-issued "Sometimes I Wonder". "She Never Talked To Me That Way" was a song-in-progress; Doc Pomus hadn't polished the lyrics when The Drifters cut it, and the rhyme sounds noticeably awkward. Klaus Ogermann's strident rhumba arrangement wasn't awkward, though: loaded with hooks, it bathed the tune in waves of Cuban rhythm. Del Shannon's arranger Bill Ramal interpreted this number quite differently. He turned it into a whirling dervish of saxophone, strings and snare drums. Shannon released it as the flipside of his 1962 single "The Swiss Maid" with a revised lyric and title: "You Never Talked About Me". Either the Del Shannon or the Drifters version could've cracked the charts, but deejays didn't bother to flip "The Swiss Maid" over, and Atlantic Records didn't even bother to release their master.

The Drifters
featuring Rudy Lewis
with Abdul Samad, guitar

15 March 1962
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Produced by Ahmet Ertegun
Atlantic Studios, New York City
6031 Stranger On The Shore (Acker Bilk-Robert Mellin)
6032 What To Do?
(Florence Davis-Abdul Samad-Faye Treadwell)

Two months earlier, Atlantic Records had scored a million-selling Adult-Contemporary instrumental with Acker Bilk's original version of "Stranger On The Shore." Ahmet Ertegun was keen to chart with a vocal version, and he also longed to produce a record with Rudy Lewis. When Leiber and Stoller were unavailable to supervise this session, he jumped at the chance. Rock purists sneer at this record, which stalled on the Pop charts and got hardly any R & B airplay. They must never have really listened to it! A marriage of quaint Old World atmosphere, Latin-American exoticism and pure schmaltz, it's a remarkably evocative production; as you listen, you can almost see the harbor lights twinkling. Despite the lyric's contrived sentimentality, Lewis's mournfully earnest vocal (which climaxes in a spine-tingling falsetto) rips your heartstrings out by the roots. So what if it's not Rock 'n' Roll? It's beautiful. If Rock's what you want, look no further than "What To Do", a great boogie-woogie tune that would've suited the original Drifters to a tee. The group's touring guitarist, Abdul Samad, penned it with his wife and George Treadwell's wife Faye; for sure, it must've been a crowd pleaser on stage.

The Drifters
featuring Rudy Lewis and Charlie Thomas

28 June 1962
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Gary Sherman
Bell Sound Studios, New York City
6356 Another Night With The Boys (Gerry Goffin-Carole King)
6357 Up On The Roof (Gerry Goffin-Carole King)
6358 I Feel Good All Over (Otis Blackwell-Winfield Scott)

"Another Night With The Boys" is a stone hillbilly number! It wouldn't have gone over well on R & B radio, but it sure made a great B-side. The duet version Goffin and King cut with Big Dee Irwin and Little Eva is pleasantly folksy, but Rudy Lewis's interpretation seems to have been torn from the depths of his tortured soul. His world-weary performance hollows out the song at its core, transforming it into a reservoir of melancholy and a Country/Blues masterpiece. As inconsolably glum as he sounds on "Boys", Lewis infuses "Up On The Roof" with a palpable sense of joy: I climb 'way up to the top of the stairs/And all my cares just drift right into space. His cares were anything but feather-light, but he sang those words like he really meant them. Sad songs were unquestionably Rudy's forté, but with "Up On The Roof" he proved that his sorrow-laden voice could soar. The first in a series of picturesque urban vignettes that The Drifters would become famous for, this gently swinging tango immediately broke for a Top Ten smash upon its release in the fall of 1962; nobody could resist its strong lyrical imagery and its tropical vacation resort music. Now that Gary Sherman had taken over as the group's music director, fans were in for a bevy of exceptional Latin-flavored sides. There wasn't much Sherman could do to redeem "I Feel Good All Over", though. The Drifters had no business cutting this rinky-dinky barroom novelty; it belonged in the Coasters' catalog. Charlie Thomas gives it all he has, but it's not enough. Definitely not one of Otis Blackwell's better compositions!

The Drifters
featuring Rudy Lewis
with Roy Buchanan and Phil Spector, guitar

22 January 1963
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Gary Sherman
Bell Sound Studios, New York City
6743 Let The Music Play (Burt Bacharach-Hal David)
6744 On Broadway
(Jerry Leiber-Barry Mann-Mike Stoller-Cynthia Weil)

High intensity human angst captured for eternity on a seven-inch circle of wax: That's "Let The Music Play" in a nutshell. Originally cut by Dionne Warwick under the title "Make The Music Play", this superb habanera track is the finest showcase Rudy Lewis's Gospel/Blues artistry ever got. Lewis fills Hal David's poignant lyric with so much lip-biting emotion, it's almost unbearable! For this performance alone, Leiber and Stoller's ninth recording date with The Drifters would be legendary; but it also included "On Broadway", one of Rock 'n' Roll's most revered standards. If the only versions of this Mann/Weil classic you've ever heard are the ones cut by George Benson and the cast of the Broadway musical Smokey Joe's Cafe, you're in for a surprise. The sheer power of this track was a revelation in 1963: The world-shaking electric guitar hook rings out like Armageddon thunder! Heavy Metal Rock may well have been born at this session. The obligato guitarist on the instrumental break is indeed Phil Spector, who'd already produced a version of "On Broadway" with The Crystals. Goffin and King produced the earliest version for The Cookies. However, once you've heard the majestic roar of Gary Sherman's orchestra framing Rudy Lewis's commanding vocal, those excellent predecessors just seem to evaporate into thin air. The single's #9 Pop and #7 R & B chart placings downplay the song's importance in the Rock 'n' Roll canon. Over the years, it's come to symbolize a golden era of 20th century American music. If The Drifters could only have one signature tune, "On Broadway" would have to be that one.

Rudy Lewis
with The Gospelaires

11 April 1963
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Gary Sherman
Atlantic Studios, New York City
6917 I've Loved You So Long (Ahmet Ertegun)
6918 Baby, I Dig Love (Rudy Clark)

Recognizing a budding R & B legend when they saw one, Atlantic executives prepared to launch Rudy Lewis as a solo act in early '63. These two sides comprised his debut single. R & B radio ignored both of them upon their release that spring, which means that somebody dropped the ball! "Baby, I Dig Love" is one bitchin' hunk of wax, a pepper-hot dance floor workout with funky organ parts suggestive of Booker T. and The MGs' records; Lewis's limber vocal sears over a crackling habanera flame. Dee Dee Warwick and The Gospelaires baste the track in a sassy, scat-sung call-and-response marinade. The flipside is an Otis Redding-styled Soul ballad that fades out just as the emotion starts to intensify. Had this platter taken off, Memphis and the Stax Records sound would've been the logical next step for Lewis.

The Drifters
featuring Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore

12 April 1963
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Gary Sherman
Atlantic Studios, New York City
6919 Only In America
(Jerry Leiber-Barry Mann-Mike Stoller-Cynthia Weil)
6920 Rat Race (Jerry Leiber-Van McCoy-Mike Stoller)
6921 If You Don't Come Back (Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller)
6922 I'll Take You Home (Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil)

In retrospect, it's hard to fathom how anyone could think a number as jingoistic as "Only In America" would work for a Black vocal group. It surely wasn't going to fly during the height of the Civil Rights struggle. Originally conceived by Mann and Weil as a protest song, Leiber and Stoller's revised lyrics articulate the American Dream from a Goldwater Republican's perspective: Only In America/Can a guy from anywhere/Go to sleep a pauper/And wake up a millionaire. Not exactly a realistic scenario for a Black man living in the racially segregated South! The Drifters hated the song, and you can tell by the sullen sound of their background voices. For his part, Rudy Lewis sends it up something terrible with a reading that's drenched in sarcasm. A nervous Jerry Wexler quickly nixed the release, and Leiber and Stoller gave the track to Jay and The Americans. For five Jewish singers, "Only In America" was perfect; it jump-started their stalled career and won them a cult following among Cuban exiles in Miami. "Rat Race" was chosen for The Drifters' next single, but ironically, its bleak urban narrative proved too gritty for fans used to romanticism; it peaked at #71 on the Pop charts and didn't even register on R & B lists. The remaining tracks on this session are led by Johnny Moore, tapped by George Treadwell to replace Rudy Lewis whenever his planned solo career took off. "I'll Take You Home" pulled a Top Thirty Pop hit with its warm, folksy appeal, while "If You Don't Come Back" generated enough interest to chart as a B-side; the new recruit handled this saucy mix of Blues and cha-cha stylings like a pro. No surprise there, because he was a pro! He was also a veteran Drifter. Moore had filled Clyde McPhatter's spot in 1955, and fronted the group on their R & B smashes "Ruby Baby" and "Fools Fall In Love". Then, just like McPhatter, he got drafted. This proved to be a blessing in disguise, because he avoided the group's mass sacking in 1958. Since his discharge from military service, Moore had been cutting solo sides for the Sue and Melic labels. Those platters hadn't exactly set the world on fire, so Treadwell had no trouble recruiting him back into the fold. Charlie Thomas probably didn't appreciate being elbowed out of his role as second lead voice, but Rudy Lewis didn't mind sharing the spotlight with Johnny. Reportedly, the two became fast friends. The Lewis/Moore era probably would've gone on for quite some time, had a hypodermic needle not intervened.

The Drifters
featuring Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore
with Abdul Samad, guitar

22 August 1963
A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Gary Sherman
Atlantic Studios, New York City
7172 Land Of Make-Believe (Burt Bacharach-Hal David)
7173 Didn't It? (Rudy Clark)

The Drifters never got more exotic than "Land Of Make-Believe", a sensuous wet dream of a Bacharach/David ballad that would later be essayed by Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield, among others. An understated steel guitar lends the production a vaguely Hawaiian ambiance as Rudy Lewis moans seductively over a serpentine Afro-Cuban backbeat. On the chorus, he falls into a masturbatory call-and-response frenzy with Johnny Moore, who hyperventilates at the top of his considerable vocal range. Gary Sherman's string and saxophone combination sways around the two men's voices like a troupe of sexy hula girls. This track never gets culled for Burt Bacharach CD anthologies, but it should; there's no finer interpretation of the song to be found. A little too steamy for radio airplay, "Land Of Make-Believe" nevertheless sneaked out as a 1964 flipside. Another future flipside, "Didn't It?", clocks in at less than two minutes, but this spirited Soul cha-cha lasts long enough to get listeners involved in a groovy Jimmy Smith-style organ break. Johnny and the boys lay right into it, wailing their ever-lovin' hearts out.

The Drifters
featuring Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore
with Dee Dee Warwick

12 December 1963
A Bert Berns Production
Arranged and Conducted by Teacho Wiltshire
*A Leiber-Stoller Production
Arranged and Conducted by Gary Sherman
Atlantic Studios, New York City
7466 Beautiful Music (Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil)*
7467 One Way Love (Bert Berns-Jerry Ragovoy)
7468 Vaya Con Dios
(Inez James-Buddy Pepper-Bobby Russell)

This session was pivotal in several ways. First, it marked the end of Leiber and Stoller's tenure as The Drifters' producers. Behind the scenes, Jerry and Mike had gotten into a royalty dispute with Atlantic Records. Jerry Wexler played hardball, cutting off their access to the label's acts. In their place, he brought in Bert Berns, a hot new writer/producer with a growing list of hit songs to his credit: The Isley Brothers' "Twist And Shout", The Rocky Fellers' "Killer Joe", The Jarmels' "A Little Bit Of Soap" and Garnet Mimms' "Cry Baby," just to name a few. Later would come The McCoys' "Hang On, Sloopy" and Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart". Even more hooked on Latin music than Leiber and Stoller, Berns quickly got busy rehearsing the group on a Mexican standard. Second, Gary Sherman bowed out of the Drifters story at this point; he'd go on to work wonders with Gene Pitney's music(see my previous essay "Conquistador"). This was also to be Rudy Lewis's final Drifters session; he had less than six months left to live. The aforementioned standard, "Vaya Con Dios" will be his swan song, but what a triumph he makes of it! The south-of-the-border theme and waltz tempo are the only nods Bert Berns gives to a Latin sensibility. The vocal interpretation is pure, industrial-strength Gospel. Backed with a session chorus led by Dee Dee Warwick and Charlie Thomas, Lewis goes straight to church, crying sanctified like a redeemed sinner kneeling at the altar of Christ. In later years, Faye Treadwell would call "Vaya Con Dios" his most honest Soul performance; R & B lovers probably felt the same way. They sent the single hurtling into Billboard's Rhythm and Blues Top Ten. Rudy led the same Gospel chorus through a take of "Beautiful Music", but there's no comparison; this meandering track was an afterthought that Atlantic wisely decided to shelve. (The song was originally called "My Heart Said The Bossa Nova", and Leiber and Stoller had previously cut Latinized versions with Tippie and The Clovers and Irene Reid. The original tune was right up The Drifters' alley; why they had Mann and Weil pen new lyrics is puzzling.) The other hit from this session was "One Way Love", sung by Johnny Moore; its gimmicky trumpet refrain notwitshstanding, this hook-laden cha-cha rocker typified the kind of material The Drifters would wax for the next two years.

"The Drifters On Broadway" concludes with Part Three.

28 August 2007

The Drifters (Part Three)

Drifters Golden Hits

We Gotta Sing!
The Drifters On Broadway
1959-1966
by Donny Jacobs

The Johnny Moore Era

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore and Charlie Thomas

21 May 1964
A Bert Berns Production
Arranged by Mike Leander
Conducted by Teacho Wiltshire
Atlantic Studios, New York City
7922 Under The Boardwalk (Artie Resnick-Kenny Young)
7923 He's Just A Playboy - Key of E (Bert Berns)
7924 He's Just A Playboy - Key of G (Bert Berns)
7925 I Don't Want To Go On Without You (Bert Berns-Jerry Wexler)

Originally scheduled for 20 May, this session was postponed 24 hours due to Rudy Lewis's tragic death from a drug overdose. Understandably, a spirit of profound gloom filled the studio, and that dark mood bled through on the tracks, particularly "Under The Boardwalk". Mike Leander had arranged the song in Lewis' key; forced to lower his range, Johnny Moore ends up channeling Sam Cooke. The vocal resemblance is nothing less than uncanny. Behind him, the rest of the group drone in mournful call-and-response. The funereal quality of their voices cuts the carefree tone of Artie Resnick's lyrics with a strong tinge of desolation. That weird contrast was probably the key to the record's massive success; The Drifters would never perform this particular urban vignette in exactly the same way again. Sung in the key of G, "He's Just A Playboy" would be the flipside of "Under The Boardwalk's" follow-up single; bouncing back and forth between a fox trot and a baião, this vibes-dominated track lopes along underneath Johnny Moore's chilly lead. The guys chant the chorus Robby The Robot-style, with Johnny Terry's dour bass stabbing the air like an accusatory finger and Charlie Thomas's gruff baritone underscoring the guilty verdict. Then Thomas steps to the mike and pours all his heart into the waltz tempo weeper "I Don't Want To Go On Without You." Obviously, he's singing in tribute to his departed colleague, and his performance sounds so sincere, you can practically see the tears welling up in his eyes. This maudlin masterpiece later caught the attention of The Moody Blues, who covered it and scored a Top Forty UK hit. Heaven knows what it took for The Drifters to pull these performances out of themselves on such a dismal occasion; their grim professionalism salvaged a date that could easily have gone down the tubes.

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore
with Abdul Samad, guitar

4 August 1964
A Bert Berns Production
Arranged and Conducted by Teacho Wiltshire
Atlantic Studios, New York City
8057 Sand In My Shoes (Artie Resnick-Kenny Young)
8058 Saturday Night At The Movies (Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil)

Johnny Moore makes with his amazing Sam Cooke impression again on "Sand In My Shoes". Perhaps the most underrated of The Drifters' urban vignettes, it's distinguished by his playfully sexy reading and a sultry mix of castanets and Spanish guitar. Then Bert Berns cranks the baião rhythm up to fever pitch for Mann and Weil's "Saturday Night At The Movies". It's a tune inspired by the NBC television network's popular weekend film series. Kinescopes of The Drifters performing the song live reveal go-go dancers freaking out to its bouncing ball beat.

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore

20 October 1964
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Produced by Jerry Wexler
Atlantic Studios, New York City
8234 Spanish Lace (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)

At this point, Jerry Wexler decided to take a more active role in The Drifters' production. It's odd that he didn't try to do so during Rudy Lewis's tenure, given the way he raves about Lewis's talent in his 1993 autobiography Rhythm And The Blues; Wexler clearly considered Johnny Moore a lightweight in comparison. Moore may have sensed his snobbish attitude and copped an attitude of his own; his rendition of "Spanish Lace" is colder than a Wisconsin winter. This was an old Barrett Strong track from 1961 that Wexler decided to graft The Drifters' vocals onto. The result is a pretty record that's pretty uninspired, suitable only for a B-side. Gene McDaniels' hit version from 1962 remains the definitive one.

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore

22 October 1964
Arranged and Conducted by Richard Wess
Produced by Tom Dowd
Atlantic Studios, New York City
8265 The Christmas Song (Mel Tormé-Robert Wells)
8266 I Remember Christmas
(Florence Davis-Abdul Samad-George Treadwell)

This two-sided Christmas release was an attempt to duplicate the success of the original Drifters' rendition of "White Christmas." It didn't even come close! Richard Wess was a daring arranger, but his chart for "The Christmas Song" is as pedestrian as can be. His backing music for "I Remember Christmas" falls equally flat. Fans no doubt found these rehashed sweet Swing arrangements particularly stale, what with the British Invasion raging in full force. Adding insult to injury, the songs aren't even Latinized! Johnny Moore's readings are adequate, but they leave no lasting impression; singing in his high tenor voice, he sounds disinterested at best.

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore

10 November 1964
*Arranged and Conducted by Stan Applebaum
Arranged by Ray Ellis
Conducted by Richard Wess
Produced by Tom Dowd
Atlantic Studios, New York City
8340 Quando, Quando, Quando
(Pat Boone-Tony Renis-Alberto Testa)
8341 I Wish You Love (Charles Trenet-Lee Wilson)
8342 Tonight (Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim)
8343 More (Norman Newell-Riz Ortolani)
8344 What Kind Of Fool Am I? (Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley)
8345 The Good Life (Sacha Distel-Jack Reardon)
8346 As Long As She Needs Me (Lionel Bart)
8347 Desafinado (Antonio Carlos Jobim-Milton Mendonça)
8348 Who Can I Turn To? (Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley)
8349 San Francisco
(Walter Jurmann-Gus Kahn-Bronislau Kaper)
8350 Temptation (Nacio Herb Brown-Arthur Freed)*
8351 On The Street Where You Live (Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe)

In their entire twelve year existence, The Drifters had never cut a studio album. Albums had been released, of course, but they were always compilations of single sides. George Treadwell suggested it was time Atlantic's flagship vocal group released a stand-alone LP. In the interest of transitioning his chief engineer into A & R work, Jerry Wexler put Tom Dowd in charge of the project; Bert Berns was occupied elsewhere. The soundman's inexperience at handling singers inevitably led to difficulties; an entire session had to be scrapped. The group didn't relate well to Dowd's methods, and they reportedly had trouble warming up to the material. What finally emerged from the chaos was The Good Life, a tasteful collection of Pop standards, most bearing The Drifters' trademark Latin rhythms. More than anything else, the LP is a showcase for Johnny Moore's silky-smooth singing style. He could raise the intensity level when necessary, but more often than not he preferred to come across laid-back and cool. That approach works just fine on lazy tropical ballads like "More", "The Good Life", "I Wish You Love" and "On The Street Where You Live". Suprisingly, it also suffices for danceable bossa nova items like "Desafinado" and "Quando, Quando, Quando". Moore doesn't lack for lung power, though, and he displays it judiciously on the showtunes "Tonight", "As Long As She Needs Me", "Who Can I Turn To?" and "What Kind Of Fool Am I?" Ray Ellis's charts sparkle with Latin Jazz sophistication, but not so much that they distract from his vocal artistry. Unfortunately, the budget ran out before Tom Dowd could complete an even dozen new tracks("San Francisco" was never finished); to compensate, he was forced to salvage "Temptation" from The Drifters' December 1959 session. Johnny Moore wasn't given much time to overdub this frantic pasodoble track, but he certainly rose to the occasion: It's his most dazzling performance on a Drifters side. "Temptation" really shows what his voice was capable of; he sounds like Caruso on steroids! The previously recorded "Saturday Night At The Movies" rounded out the Good Life LP, which logged in at #103 on Billboard's Top Pop Albums listing. It was the group's second highest-charting album; their highest was the compilation Under The Boardwalk at #40.

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore
with Abdul Samad, guitar

12 November 1964
A Bert Berns Production
Arranged and Conducted by Teacho Wiltshire
Atlantic Studios, New York City
8323 In The Park (Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil)
8324 At The Club (Gerry Goffin-Carole King)

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's "In The Park" was never released, but it ranks with the best of The Drifters' urban vignette records. The habanera is brought front-and-center with foot-stomping emphasis, calling to mind early Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons hits; it's a relentless Latin onslaught designed to propel the stubbornest of wallflowers onto the dance floor. What with Johnny Moore's vocals soaring, the strings swirling, and crisp horn blasts anchoring each verse, this delightful track should've had Atlantic's single pressing plants working overtime. It would've made an ideal follow-up to "At The Club", a wicked Goffin/King cha-cha complete with maraca and gourd percussion; this platter surely had kids dancing holes in their living room rugs, not to mention parroting the lively Cossack yells that the guys break into at the bridge. How a groove so insidious could fall outside Billboard's Top Forty is a complete mystery! At least R & B lovers had the good sense to make "At The Club" a Top Ten favorite. In 1972, British fans would rediscover the track and confer belated million-seller status on it. The woodblock player is distractingly prominent on the mono version, so much so that it makes you think of slapstick sound effects from old Three Stooges films . . . in stereo, he's much better integrated into the mix.

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore
with Abdul Samad, guitar

31 December 1964
Arranged and Conducted by Teacho Wiltshire
Produced by Jerry Wexler
Atlantic Studios, New York City
8447 Answer The Phone (Johnny Moore-Jerry Wexler)

Jerry Wexler's second attempt to produce the reconstituted Drifters yielded another forgettable track. Maybe he thought he could get more passion out of Johnny Moore by collaborating with him on a song? If so, he shouldn't have bothered. Moore does inject more life into this performance, but "Answer The Phone" hardly rates the effort. It's nothing but a contrived and gimmicky rewrite of Jerry Butler's 1960 hit "He Don't Love You(Like I Love You)". The arrangement is also a throwback to the past, sounding like something off Ben E. King's first album. This track falls far below The Drifters' usual high standards, and proves that Wexler was wasting his time with them in the studio.

Charlie Thomas
17 March 1965
An Alice In Wonderland Production
Produced by Ted Cooper
Atlantic Studios, New York City
8940 The Outside World (Helen Kelly-Stephen Marcus)

Charlie Thomas, on his own? Evidently so. This record may be listed in The Drifters' discography, but the rest of the group is nowhere to be found on it. Charlie makes the best of his brief solo flight, sinking his teeth into the poor-boy-loves-rich-girl lyric and snarling like a tiger in heat while kettledrums crash, horns blare, fuzz guitars vibrate and vamping voices wail all around him. Essentially a Rock 'n' Roll cha-cha, this fierce little record morphs into a Tijuana Brass-style pasodoble on the instrumental break. Very impressive! Destined for the flipside of "Follow Me", "The Outside World" offers a hint of what The Drifters might've sounded like if Phil Spector had produced them.

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore and Charlie Thomas

17 March 1965
A Bert Berns Production
Arranged and Conducted by Bert Keyes
Atlantic Studios, New York City
8745 Looking Through The Eyes Of Love
(Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil)
8746 Follow Me (Kenny Lynch-Mort Shuman)
8747 Chains Of Love (Jimmy Bishop-Kenny Gamble)
8748 Far From The Maddening Crowd (Marlin Greene-Dan Penn)
8749 Come On Over To My Place (Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil)

The bulk of tracks cut at this session appear on the album I'll Take You Where The Music's Playing. That album is The Drifters' best, and the inclusion of these sides explains why. Like Gary Sherman, bandleader Bert Keyes specialized in colorful Latin-flavored arrangements; for "Follow Me", "Chains Of Love" and "Looking Through The Eyes Of Love", he devised a hesitating habanera pattern overlaid with heavy drum fills. For "Come On Over To My Place" and "Far From The Maddening Crowd," he got Bert Berns' session crew swinging hard to the boogaloo, a sledgehammer backbeat derived from the cha-cha-chá. From a rhythmic standpoint, these are arguably the most danceable numbers in The Drifters' catalog. From a vocal standpoint, Johnny Moore and Charlie Thomas (who sings lead on "Chains Of Love") get the chance to really belt out their parts. From a song standpoint, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil outdid themselves writing the splendid "Looking Through The Eyes Of Love", a compelling ode to love's power to trump misfortune. For some unfathomable reason, The Drifters' original version stayed in the can; a few months later, Gene Pitney did justice to the tune, but Johnny Moore's fabulous reading raises it to a higher level. The other standout from this date is "Far From The Maddening Crowd," whose title was inspired by Thomas Hardy's acclaimed 1912 novel Far From The Madding Crowd. With its cast-of-thousands thematic sweep, this song deserved to be in a movie, preferably a Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza! Soon after wrapping this record date, The Drifters embarked on a whirlwind tour of Great Britain. Their popularity was starting to wane at home, but they were pleased to discover an avid following in the UK. The group was especially revered by Mods, an important youth-based cultural force. That adulation would endure and prove advantageous to them in a few more years.

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore
with Jeff Barry, tambourine

30 June 1965
A Bert Berns Production
Arranged and Conducted by Gene Page
Produced by Bert Berns and Jeff Barry
Atlantic Studios, New York City
9078 I'll Take You Where The Music's Playing
(Jeff Barry-Ellie Greenwich)
9079 Nylon Stockings (Tony Bruno-Vic Millrose)
9080 We Gotta Sing! (Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil)

At this session, another exceptional batch of tunes was committed to tape. All three sides feature the dynamic boogaloo rhythm that had begun to sweep Latin New York and R & B music centers around the country. Barry and Greenwich's "I'll Take You Where The Music's Playing" tells the same story as Mann and Weil's "I'll Take You Home", but in reverse: Instead of offering to drive the jilted girl home from a dance, the best friend promises to take her out dancing. This hip-swaying ditty became the title track of the group's next-to-last Atlantic compilation album. However, just like The Drifters' last three singles, it fell short of Billboard's Top Forty. George Treadwell surely wasn't pleased! He wanted to start booking The Drifters into upscale venues, and rockers that stalled mid-chart were counter-productive to his plans. "Nylon Stockings" didn't chart at all, but the song was probably more to his liking. Despite being rather risqué(anybody got a stocking fetish?), its sophisticated sound made for ideal supper club fare. Superbly orchestrated by Gene Page, and dripping with romantic angst à la Danielle Steele, this image-rich torch ballad plays out like a climactic movie scene. How could it have bombed so badly? The single should've ruled Adult-Contemporary radio. Its flipside deserved attention, too: "We Gotta Sing" is an anthem for vocal groups waiting to be discovered. Cynthia Weil's brilliant lyric captures the dreams, determination and naïvete of millions of would-be Drifters, hungry for a shot at the big time and ripe for exploitation by predatory managers: There's a club in town/We know it's just a dive/But we hang out there/'Cause they let us sing/When the band takes five/And just last night this guy came in/Smoking fifty cent cigars/And he said for only 10%/He's gonna make us stars! Johnny Moore's rousing lead puts the song across like gangbusters; Charlie Thomas and the rest of the guys bring up the rear, belting out the chorus with hearty enthusiasm. This is Broadway musical-calibre songwriting!

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore and Charlie Thomas

27 January 1966
A Bert Berns Production
Arranged and Conducted by Artie Butler
Atlantic Studios, New York City
9880 Up In The Streets Of Harlem (Bert Berns)
9881 Memories Are Made Of This
(Richard Dehr-Terry Gilkyson-Frank Miller)
9882 You Can't Love Them All
(Bert Berns-Ahmet Ertegun-Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller)

Bert Berns gave The Drifters' version of Dean Martin's 1955 chart-topper a spicy Mexican makeover. The group sounds marvelous with a phalanx of mariachi horns backing them up. Atlantic should've commissioned a Spanish-language version, because this jumping bean of a tango ranchera had potential to become a solid smash in Latin America. Predictably though, Pop radio gave it short shrift; it was two years into the British Invasion, and programmers now saw The Drifters as a group past its prime. Yet even with the charts clogged with imitation Beatles and Motown knockoffs, "Memories Are Made Of This" almost penetrated the Top Forty. Had this single hit the market in, say, 1962, it no doubt would've matched the sales of "Up On The Roof" or "Under The Boardwalk". Not so "Up In The Streets Of Harlem", Bert Berns' belated attempt to write a Civil Rights anthem. To the accompaniment of an militaristic march-time beat, The Drifters sing: Oh, baby!/Don't turn your back on me, I'm leavin'/I've got to fight for what I believe in/Don't want no more of hate and grievin'/You know that I love you/But I'm goin' away . . . it sounds like they're headed off to fight in the Spanish Civil War! SNCC volunteers wouldn't have been caught dead singing a stilted song like this. That said, the guys do treat it seriously, especially Johnny Moore; in fact, his solemn delivery damn near makes the pompous lyrics believable. He put so much feeling into the song, it must've been a blow for him to learn that deejays were flipping the record over. They were playing Charlie Thomas' rendition of "You Can't Love Them All" instead! That made no sense at all. True, Solomon Burke did record the tune first, and it does boast a distinguished list of composers, but let's be blunt: It's a silly trifle that wasn't even worthy of B-side exposure. To be sure, it went nowhere fast, sputtering to a dead stop at #127 after a solitary week on the charts.

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore

8 February 1966
A Bert Berns Production
Arranged and Conducted by Artie Butler
Atlantic Studios, New York City
9912 My Islands In The Sun (Johnny Moore-Abdul Samad)

The Drifters' latest audio vignette exchanges the usual urban setting for a tropical climate. Johnny Moore co-wrote "Islands" with guitarist Abdul Samad, but unlike "Answer The Phone", this is an altogether decent tune. Artie Butler sets it rocking to riotous Calypso music, and the guys sound like they're having big fun on a Caribbean cruise. During the height of early '60s folk music mania, this flipside of "Memories Are Made Of This" might've made an excellent topside; however, by the mid-60s, such blatant Harry Belafonte stylings came across like yesterday's news.

The Drifters
featuring Johnny Moore and Charlie Thomas
with Abdul Samad, guitar, and Jeff Barry, tambourine

26 July 1966
A Bert Berns Production
Arranged and Conducted by Jeff Barry
Produced by Bert Berns and Jeff Barry
Atlantic Studios, New York City
10544 It Takes A Good, Good Woman (Jeff Barry)
10545 Aretha (Jeff Barry-Bert Berns)

This was the last date Bert Berns would supervise. In 1964, he'd launched two record labels, Bang and Shout; they'd since become successful, and their day-to-day operations were claiming more and more of his time. Jeff Barry was working at Bang/Shout, too, cutting sessions with a promising new artist named Neil Diamond. The unreleased song from this session, "It Takes A Good, Good Woman"(spiritedly sung by Charlie Thomas), was actually written for another Bang artist named Gayle Haness. So both Berns and Barry were on their way out the door, and they had reason to leave quickly: Berns had recently backed out of a distribution agreement he'd made with Atlantic. The soured deal had rankled Jerry Wexler, prompting him to dissolve his friendship with Bert. Yet when this final session rolled around, he came to it brandishing a sense of humor. Listen closely to the lyrics of "Aretha", and that sense of humor becomes apparent. Aretha Franklin wasn't as famous in 1966 as she later became, but she was well-known in music circles; there's no question that the Drifters song bearing her name is about her. Or, rather, addressed to her. Over a thumping rocksteady beat, Johnny Moore entreats her to Come down/Run down to me/Run, run, Aretha, run! As it happened, Jerry Wexler was then in negotiations to bring the Gospel music veteran to Atlantic Records. Under his direction, Berns and Barry evidently wrote (or rewrote) this song as a tongue-in-cheek invitation to Lady Soul. Wexler's little joke was infectious enough to chart, but had he promoted it as an A-side, Miss Franklin might've found it a wee bit tacky! "Aretha" ended up gracing the flipside of a later recording, the Eric Gale-produced "Baby, What I Mean". Years later, British deejays rediscovered the disc and made it a cult favorite on the Northern Soul dance club circuit.

Preoccupied with Rock band signings and Memphis Soul acts, Altantic executives let The Drifters wither on the vine after Bert Berns' departure. In 1967, rumors circulated that George Treadwell had groomed another set of replacement members, and was on the verge of another mass firing! However, he died suddenly that same year, and whatever plans he had for the group died with him. Saddled with a succession of one-shot producers including Ronnie Savoy, Syl Johnson, Lou Courtney and Swamp Dogg, they soon disappeared from the American charts. Fortunately, Faye Treadwell took over the group's management. When their contract with Atlantic Records expired in 1972, she relocated them to England, where their fan base was still strong. She got The Drifters signed to Bell Records UK and assembled a battery of top British producers to revive their recording career. A string of European smashes resulted: "Like Sister And Brother", "Kissin' In The Back Row Of The Movies", "Down On The Beach Tonight", "There Goes My First Love", "You're More Than A Number In My Little Red Book", and others. These records were derivative, most of them thinly-disguised rewrites of the group's American triumphs. Nevertheless, they sold like hotcakes to a public hungry for '60s nostalgia. In 1975, Bell UK issued a double-length compilation album called 24 Original Hits that mixed oldies with recent successes; it topped the British charts for an amazing 34 weeks, and established The Drifters once and for all as Habanera Rock royalty.

Johnny Moore led various permutations of the group until his untimely death on New Year's Eve, 1998; he lived long enough to see himself, Ben E. King, Charlie Thomas, Rudy Lewis, Clyde McPhatter and all the other Drifters personnel* inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Of the '60s lead singers, only King and Thomas survive. However, all of their awesome studio recordings survive on tape. The most comprehensive Drifters reissue is a seven CD series called The Definitive Drifters Anthology, released on the British Sequel label in 1996. It's been out of print for a while, but hopefully some enterprising reissue outfit will see fit to reformulate those CDs into a box set. The producers will want to dig up lost stereo masters like those for "Sometimes I Wonder", "Land Of Make-Believe" and "Rat Race", as well as do first-time stereo mixes of non-LP singles like "Nylon Stockings", "We Gotta Sing", "Aretha" and "Memories Are Made Of This." Of course, copious liner notes will be in order, featuring interviews with surviving associates like Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Jeff Barry. These people aren't getting any younger, so the work had better start soon! At some point, there definitely should be a Drifters musical, and a Hollywood biopic wouldn't be a bad idea, either. There's no other Pop group that's more deserving of such honors, and nobody who knows Rock 'n' Roll history could disagree with that assessment.


*Between 1959 and 1966, Drifters members included William Brent, Danny Danbridge, Tommy Evans, George Grant, Dock Green, Elsbeary Hobbs, Eugene Pearson, James Poindexter, Johnny Terry and William Van Dyke.

Dedicated to Stan Applebaum, Jeff Barry, Burt Bacharach, Artie Butler, Ray Ellis, Bert Keyes, Mike Leander, Klaus Ogermann, Gene Page, Gary Sherman, Richard Wess and Teacho Wiltshire, whose "Beat Concerto" arrangements put Latin romance into The Drifters' music.