21 December 2009

Habanera Rock Divas (Part One)

Darlene Love
South Of Spanish Harlem
Habanera Rock Divas

by Donny Jacobs

The Habanera Rock sound was essential to Girl Group records in the 1960s. What would the fondly-remembered hits of The Shirelles, The Chiffons, The Crystals, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las and The Angels be without their flamenco handclappings, their gypsy tambourines, their Tex-Mex guitar riffs, their pasodoble strings, and their exotic, hesitating drum beats? The answer is: not much! Five decades ago, south-of-the-border embellishments helped give women's Rock 'n' Roll its own unique sabor: A colorful style, form and identity.

More important, those Latin flavorings made female vocalists highly commercial. Large numbers of them rode the habanera rhythm up the music sales charts: The Jaynetts with "Sally, Go 'Round The Roses"; Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans with "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"; Ruby and The Romantics with "Our Day Will Come"; Sarah Vaughn with "Broken-Hearted Melody"; Eydie Gormé with "Blame It On The Bossa Nova"; The Essex with "Easier Said Than Done"; The Exciters with "Tell Him"; Claudine Clark with "Party Lights"; Skeeter Davis with "I Can't Stay Mad At You"; Dee Dee Sharp with "Do The Bird"; Lesley Gore with a string of Latin-tinged singles; and so many others. For a while, when America listened to women's voices raised in song, it preferred those women dressed in the musical equivalent of Spanish lace.

Previous installments of this series (with the exception of our Lesley Gore profile, "Queen Of The Rock 'n' Roll Tango") have focused on Habanera Rock recordings waxed by men. Now, it's Girls' Night Out! We turn our attention to women rockers, and not just from the '60s. We'll also showcase legendary ladies from the 1970s and '80s who paid homage to the Girl Group sound. So here they come: Twenty-eight of the finest femme acts Rock, Pop, Soul and Country music have to offer. Con orgullo, presentamos las divas del Rock a la Habanera. Let's take another trip south of Spanish Harlem!

"Ooo-Wee, Baby"
(Jeff Barry) 
from the M-G-M/UA film The Idolmaker
Darlene Love
Darlene Love was the Queen of Phil Spector's Philles label, the most successful female artist on his roster.  Although the label said "The Crystals", it's really her voice you heard on the chart-topping 1962 smash "He's A Rebel." When director Taylor Hackford contracted Phil to produce soundtrack music for The Idolmaker, his 1980 movie biography of Rock impresario Bob Marcucci, he made it known that he wanted Darlene to sing the theme song. He got Darlene, and also got a great theme, written by Jeff Barry. What he didn't get was Phil Spector, who backed out of the project. The Mad Genius was barely missed. Jeff Barry's production of "Ooo-Wee, Baby" had all the nostalgic Wall of Sound ambiance Hackford wanted.
Produced by Jeff Barry

"Your Hurtin' Kind Of Love" 

(Mike Hawker, Ivor Raymonde) 
Dusty Springfield
Released as the follow-up to La Springfield's 1964 British smash "Losing You", "Your Hurtin' Kind Of Love" was only available as an album track in North America. Dusty hated the song; it never became a regular part of her stage repertoire. To be sure, Ivor Raymonde's melody isn't much to write home about, but Mike Hawker's angst-ridden lyrics more than make up for what it lacks: Even though you broke my heart/I can make a brand new start/I'm so glad to see you go!/You will cause me no more pain/I will never cry again! With a somber tango rhythm hanging over it like a black thundercloud, Dusty's vocal reading seesaws between utter misery and barely-controlled rage. If this is what she sounded like when she didn't like her material, then she should've gone against personal taste much more often! 

Arranged and Conducted by Ivor Raymonde
Produced by Dusty Springfield and Johnny Franz

"They Don't Know" 

(Kirsty Macoll)
Tracey Ullman 

For a few years in the early 1980s, British comedienne Tracey Ullman basked in the Pop singer limelight. This delightful throwback to the Girl Group era hails from that time; it scored a major international hit. Later in the decade, "You Don't Know" would reappear as the theme song of Ullman's critically-acclaimed TV show. 
A Loose End Production
by Peter Collins

"Just Keep On Lovin' Me!" 
(Michel Deborah, George Goehring, Joseph Martins) 
The Angels, whose fans rightly regard them as the quintessential '60s Girl Group, have assumed numerous guises over the years; the group's members have worked under such names as The Starlets, The Beach Nuts, and Jessica James and The Outlaws. In 1965, when lead singer Peggy Santiglia was on extended hiatus, Babs and Jiggs Allbut cut four wonderful singles as The Halos; the jazzy lead voice of Toni Mason was featured. "Just Keep On Lovin' Me!" was the most Latinesque of the quartet. LeRoy Glover's bold pasodoble arrangement is nothing less than exquisite. 
Arranged and Conducted by LeRoy Glover
Produced by Pierre Maheu

"Move Over, Darling!" 
(Hal Kanter, Joe Lubin, Terry Melcher)
from the Columbia picture 

Doris Day
The late Terry Melcher, producer for Paul Revere and The Raiders and other West Coast acts, was the son of screen legend and songstress extraordinaire Doris Day. Briefly in the early '60s, he supervised his mother's Columbia recordings. He wanted to give her a musical makeover, updating her sound with a sharp Girl Group edge; but label executives resisted the change. They gave his New Wave Doris Day tracks a thumbs-down, and Terry watched helplessly as his Mom dropped off the American singles charts, never to return. He did manage to get a handful of his Spectorish productions released, though, and "Move Over, Darling!" is the gem of the bunch. Doris lays on a sexy vocal, Jack Nitzsche provides the sparkling Rock-a-Tango arrangement, and backing vocals are handled by Darlene Love and The Blossoms. While their efforts were lost on stateside audiences, Doris' British fans bought the 45 mix in huge numbers; twice it cracked the UK Top Ten, once in 1964, and again when reissued twenty-five years later. 

Arranged and Conducted by Jack Nitzsche
Produced by Terry Melcher

Doris Day

"Lady Of The Night" 

(Pete Bellotte, Giorgio Moroder) 
Donna Summer 
Before "Love To Love You, Baby" and the advent of the Disco craze, Donna Summer logged a trio of hit singles in Europe: "The Hostage", "Virgin Mary" and this excellent 1974 release. Musically, "Lady Of The Night" evokes the Latin-tinged productions of Leiber and Stoller and Phil Spector. Lyrically, it anticipates the prostitution theme of "Bad Girls" by five years. The Queen of Disco's very first collaboration with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, "Denver Dream" sounds vaguely Latin and also boasts an Erect-A-Spector sound.  Later in the '70s, she'd cut a thinly-disguised remake of The Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me" under the title "Love's Unkind".
A Say Yes Production
Arranged by Giorgio Moroder
Produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte

Donna Summer

"Chico's Girl" 

(Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil) 
Recorded (but never released) by The Crystals as a possible follow-up to their hit single "Uptown", "Chico's Girl" was a funereal, slow pasodoble in its original incarnation. The Girls, an East Los Angeles Rock band composed of four sisters, substituted anger and attitude for The Crystals' melancholy and maudlin. Diane, Rosie, Margaret and Sylvia Sandoval refitted this obscure Mann/Weil composition with a faster tempo and snarling guitars. Despite much airplay and TV exposure, no hit resulted, but a cult classic was born. Drummer Margaret sings the bratty lead vocal.
Produced by Steve Douglas

"House Of Gold" 
(Mark Barkan, Terry Phillips) 
Dee Dee Warwick 
Dionne Warwick's best kept secret was her little sister Delia, a gifted Gospel singer in the Aretha Franklin vein. Better known by her nickname, Dee Dee, she sang background for her superstar sibling and managed to score a few hits of her own. In 1965, producer Jerry Ross tracked Dee Dee Warwick on a suggestive Latin-flavored dance number called "House Of Gold"; she sang the part of a Mexican madam who lures men into her pleasure palace using florid doubles-entendres. This hot tamale of a tune surfaced on her third Mercury Records 45. Unfortunately, it was hidden on the B-side of that single and garnered little attention; but then again, maybe that's just as well. Can you imagine what Dee Dee's Gospel music colleagues would've said if they'd ever heard her singing "House Of Gold" on the radio? ¡Hey, señor! ¡Ándale, ándale! Lord have mercy! Ellie Greenwich led poor Dee Dee down the road to sin by singing the demo she learned the song from. 
Arranged and Conducted by Jimmy "Wiz" Wisner
Produced by Jerry Ross

Dee Dee Warwick

"Goin' Back" 

(Gerry Goffin, Carole King) 
Dusty Springfield rode this power ballad into the UK Top Ten back in the summer of 1966, but few people got to hear the original version by Goldie Zelkowitz. She forgot half the words, and Gerry Goffin was outraged; rumor has it that he demanded her single be withdrawn from sale. It might as well have been withdrawn, for all the airplay it got! Botched lyrics aside, the record's assets far outweigh its flaws; the melody is gorgeous, the tango rhythm is hypnotic, Goldie's performance is soulful, and producer Andrew Oldham's Spectorish embellishments give the track a surreal aura. It would've been criminal for a track so special to remain shut away from the public forever; England's Castle Music reissued it in the year 2000, and Mr. Goffin seems to have voiced no objections this time. Goldie Zelkowitz later changed her name to Genya Ravan, and sang lead for the Hard Rock band Ten Wheel Drive. 

Arranged and Conducted by Arthur Greenslade
Produced by Andrew Loog Oldham

"I'm Nobody's Baby Now" (Jeff Barry) 

Reparata & The Delrons
Artistically, 1966 was a banner year for Jeff Barry. He wrote Ike & Tina Turner's "River-Deep, Mountain-High", introduced the public to Neil Diamond, and produced The Monkees megahit "I'm A Believer". This heart-wrenching bolero, famous among Girl Group aficionados as the best song The Shangri-Las never recorded, would rate high on a list of artistic achievements for any year. A better vehicle for the Spector sound simply doesn't exist; Reparata O'Leary has called "Nobody's Baby" her favorite of all the songs she recorded with her group. Listen to it, and you won't wonder why. 

A World United Production
Arranged by Johnny Abbott
Conducted by Hash Brown
Produced by Bill and Steve Jerome

"Kiss Me, Sailor" 

(Eddie Rambeau, Bud Rehak)
Diane Renay
If the lyrics of this castanet-laden dance rocker come across like a Gay man's sailor boy fantasy, don't blame Diane Renay. She just sang the song. Don't blame songwriters Ed Rambeau and Bud Rehak, either; they just wanted to write a nautically-themed follow-up to "Navy Blue," Diane's first hit. That leaves producer Bob Crewe as the culprit, but he swears he's not responsible either! 

A Bob Crewe Production
Arranged by Charlie Calello
Produced and Directed by Bob Crewe

(Perry Botkin, Jr, Gil Garfield, Harry Nilsson, Phil Spector) 
Bette Midler 
There are better known versions of this tropical reverie on wax, cut by The Shangri-Las and The Ronettes. The latter, produced by co-writer Phil Spector, is naturally considered definitive. Yet once you've heard the Divine Miss M tackle the tune, you may judge differently. Sexy delivery notwithstanding, Ronnie Spector didn't do much with the lyric. Bette Midler's incendiary vocal transforms "Paradise" into an erupting volcano of emotion, going head-to-head with Artie Butler's Wagnerian arrangement in a knock-down, drag-out fight to win your attention. The fight ends in a draw, and an artistic triumph for both. Sixties backing vocal mainstays Ellie Greenwich and Mikey Harris bring up the rear. 
Arranged and Conducted by Artie Butler
Produced by Brooks Arthur

Bette Midler

"I Adore Him" 

(Jan Berry, Art Kornfeld) 
This sassy tango flamenco, co-written by Jan Berry of Jan and Dean, was The Angels' follow-up to "My Boyfriend's Back." Bet you never heard a flamenco guitar played quite like the one featured here: it's very Duane Eddy-influenced. Lead singer Peggy Santiglia tosses her mantilla and flutters her Spanish fan while teasing you with a vocal that's half-sexy, half-tongue-in-cheek. 
A Feldman-Goldstein-Gottehrer Production
Arranged and Conducted by Alan Lorber
Produced by Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer

"Any Way That You Want Me"
(Al Gorgoni, Chip Taylor) 
Evie Sands 
Sixties cult favorite Evie Sands was dogged by hard luck; commercial success always lay just out of her reach. "Any Way That You Want Me", a torrid 1969 ballad about a woman's infatuation with a Gay man, brought her closest to grabbing the brass ring. Note the habanera during the instrumental break, shamelessly swiped from The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". Other classic Habanera rockers Evie waxed under the crackerjack production team of Chip Taylor and Al Gorgoni include "I Can't Let Go" (covered by The Hollies), "Take Me For A Little While" (cut by numerous acts including LaBelle and Vanilla Fudge) and "Angel Of The Morning", a star-making vehicle for Merilee Rush.
A Taylor-Gorgoni Production
Arranged by Al Gorgoni
Produced by Chip Taylor and Al Gorgoni

"Habanera Rock Divas" concludes with Part Two.

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