20 December 2009

Habanera Rock Divas (Part Two)

Darlene Love
South Of Spanish Harlem 
Habanera Rock Divas 
by Donny Jacobs

"If You Were A Man" 
(Jerry Riopell) 
Clydie King
Unofficially, Phil Spector had several protégés, among them Nino Tempo, Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche. However, the only official protégé Phil ever had was Jerry Riopelle. Under his supervision, Jerry produced a promotional single for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1965 ("Things Are Changing", sung by Darlene Love and The Blossoms). He also helmed productions independent of the Mad Genius, and the best was this shimmering Rock-a-Merengue track released on Imperial Records. The featured artist is Clydie King, a former member of the Ike & Tina Turner revue and one of Phil's regular session singers. 

Arranged and Conducted by Nick De Caro
Produced by Jerry Riopell

"When The Love Light Starts Shining" 
(Lamont Dozier, Brian & Eddie Holland) 
Diana Ross + Supremes
Motown jumped on the Habanera Rock bandwagon early on with a string of Cuban-influenced hits by the likes of Marvin Gaye ("Stubborn Kinda Fella"), Smokey Robinson and The Miracles ("Mickey's Monkey"), The Contours ("Do You Love Me?"), and Mary Wells ("The One Who Really Loves You"). The label's top act, Diana Ross + The Supremes, stirred the salsa, too: Listen to the cha-cha beats rocking Diana's first star turn, "Let Me Go The Right Way". Also, notice how strongly the march-time rhythms on Supremes singles circa 1964 hint at the boogaloo. Latin seasonings could always be found in the group's music, but over time the flavor grew more subtle. However, there's nothing subtle about the bold pasodoble sound of "Ask Any Girl" (the flipside of "Baby Love"), or the pronounced rhumba pattern that drives 1963's "When The Love Light Starts Shining." Dusty Springfield cut a great cover version of this red-hot Holland-Dozier-Holland song. 

A Holland-Dozier-Holland Production
Produced by Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland

"Say Goodbye To Hollywood"
(Billy Joel) 
Ronnie Spector with The E Street Band
Producers who worked with Ronnie Spector after her divorce from Phil must've found it a mixed blessing: They got from her the remarkable voice they heard on "Be My Baby", but little in the way of raw emotion. Phil Spector was the only producer who could consistently light a fire under Ronnie's vocals. Her delivery on "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" lacks passion, and that's true for most of the other recordings she made in the 1970s. Both Bette Midler and "Hollywood" composer Billy Joel cut livelier readings, but Ronnie's original is still definitive. Miami Steve Van Zandt's production shines like a buffed diamond, the tune boasts vivid imagery worthy of a Martin Scorcese movie, Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band boots it big time, and then, well, then there's that remarkable Ronnie Spector voice. Even at less than its best, you just can't top it!
Produced by Sugar Miami Steve

Ronnie Spector

"It Comes And Goes" 

(Neil Diamond) 
Priscilla Mitchell 
They cut Habanera Rock records down in Nashville, too, and sometimes the featured singers were top Country stars like Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison and Marty Robbins. Priscilla Mitchell, wife of swamp rocker Jerry Reed, ventured South of Spanish Harlem in 1965, the same year she scored a #1 Country duet with Grand Ole Opry regular Roy Drusky ("Yes, Mr. Peters"). She took with her one of Neil Diamond's best early compositions. Its original title was probably "He Comes And Goes", but that would've been a tad too suggestive for a proper Southern lady like Mrs. Reed to sing! Some copies of the single were credited to "Sadina", which was the name of Jerry and Priscilla's baby daughter. 
Arranged and Conducted by Ray Stevens
Produced by Jerry Kennedy

"Please Don't Wake Me" 
(Russ Titelman, Cynthia Weil) 
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were too busy writing hits like "Uptown", "Blame It On The Bossa Nova" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" to concentrate much on producing. However, when they did supervise a recording session, they delivered the goods! The stunning "Magic Town", waxed by The Vogues in 1966, is one of a handful of chart records they co-produced. This thunderous habanera pasodoble from the summer of 1964 might've charted, too, had deejays not preferred its more sedate flipside, "Baby, Baby (I Still Love You)". At the end of the day, both sides stiffed; maybe Dimension Records should've sold them under the group's real name: The Cookies! After all, Dorothy Jones, Earl-Jean McCrea and Margaret Ross had already scored bestsellers with "Chains" and "Don't Say Nothin' Bad About My Baby." Ross, a hugely underrated Girl Group vocalist, sings lead on "Please Don't Wake Me".
Produced by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Russ Titelman

"Did You Ever Love A Guy?"
(Steve Duboff) 
The Emeralds
The lead voice on this superb ballad sounds suspiciously like that of Gracia Nitzsche, wife of phenomenal composer, arranger and producer Jack Nitzsche. However, the Nitzsches were based on the West Coast, and "Did You Ever Love A Guy?" was engineered by Brooks Arthur at New York City's Mirasound Studios. Still, the Habanera Rock arrangement, which isn't credited on the label, has all the earmarks of a Jack Nitzsche chart. Did the couple travel East in 1964? Or was this one of those bi-coastal tracking sessions, with parts recorded in two different cities? It's a mystery that will probably never be solved, but there's nothing mysterious about the high quality of this disc. It's got everything necessary to qualify as an instant Girl Group classic: Castanets, a flamboyant string section, bleating femme vocals, lyrics dripping with angst, a densely layered sound mix, and of course, that thrilling Rock-a-Tango rhythm. 

A DuLev Production
by Neil Levenson and Steve Duboff

"To Sir, With Love" 
(Don Black, Mark London)
from the Columbia picture

Never mind the chart-topping single! Here's the extended Rock-a-Tango version of the 1967 movie theme, which is found only on the Fontana soundtrack album. It's the only version of Lulu's signature song that you ever want to hear.
A Mickie Most Production


"All Over Again" 

(Paul Hampton) 
Jill Jackson 
Jill Jackson was one half of the Pop duo Paul and Paula. When her partner Ray Hildebrand retired from performing, she struck out on her own. Signed to Frank Sinatra's Reprise label, Jill cut a series of exquisite singles penned by Brill Building composers: Bert Berns' "Here Comes The Night", Goffin and King's "Love You For A While" and this beautiful bossa nova ballad from the pen of one-time Burt Bacharach collaborator Paul Hampton. If she'd had the foresight to track a Spanish vocal, "All Over Again" might well taken South America by storm. 
Arranged and Conducted by Bill Justis
Produced by Jimmy Bowen

"We Live For Love" 
(Neil Giraldo) 
Pat Benatar
This record calls to mind Blondie's 1980 hit "Atomic" in that it sounds like a soundtrack outtake from a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. It's the most Girl Group-oriented item to be found in Pat Benatar's early repertoire; Pete Coleman's bristling Wall of Sound production would have done Phil Spector proud!
Produced by Peter Coleman

"I Got A Man" 
(Sandy Linzer, Denny Randell) 
Crystals featuring La La Brooks
Undoubtedly, La La Brooks' greatest contribution to Habanera Rock was her stunning performance on 1963's "Then He Kissed Me". That legendary Phil Spector production epitomizes the Habanera Rock/Girl Group genre, and its majestic sound was endlessly imitated. The Crystals never surpassed it, but some of the tracks they cut for producer Paul Tannen do rival their work with Phil. This boogaloo-based Blues rocker is one example; our Miss Brooks cuts loose with the kind of gritty, greasy vocal reading Phil would never have allowed. To much lesser effect, "I Got A Man" was concurrently waxed by The Toys. 

A Paul Tannen Production
Arranged and Conducted by Charlie Calello
Produced by Paul Tannen

La La Brooks

"When Love Goes Wrong"
(Bodie Chandler, Barry DeVorzon) 

Dean Cannon
Miss Dean Cannon belonged to a group of singing sisters, who undoubtedly provide backing vocals on this tasty disc. Judging by her performance here, Deanie didn't possess an exceptional voice, but the young lady did know how to sell a lyric. "When Love Goes Wrong" has Drifters sensibility stamped all over it; you couldn't be blamed for thinking it was an outtake from one of their 1960 sessions. All that's missing is a lead vocal from Ben E. King, although the song would've needed modulating down a few keys to fit his vocal range!
Arranged by Perry Botkin, Jr
Produced by Barry DeVorzon

"Daddy, You Just Gotta Let Him In!" 
(Joey Brooks, Wally Gold)
No question about it: Gracia Nitzsche is definitely the lead voice heard on this track, and her husband Jack served as both arranger and producer. Here the Nitzsches snatch the iconic flamenco riff from "Then He Kissed Me" and paste it onto a song guaranteed to scare every father of a teenage girl. After spinning a backstory that calls to mind the plot of Rebel Without A Cause, Gracia wails: He needs a place to hide away/And Daddy, you just gotta let him in/One of Hell's Angels/Will be knocking at your door tonight! A lyric like that may sound tame today, but it was controversial enough to make a radio programmer soil his underpants in 1966! Unfortunately for The Satisfactions, there was only room on the airwaves for one juvenile delinquent Girl Group, and that group was The Shangri-Las. 

A York-Pala Production
Arranged and Produced by Jack Nitzsche


(Roberta Day) 
Roberta Day
Some artists didn't need to visit Manhattan's Brill Building in order to find top-notch Habanera Rock songs; they could write their own. Roberta Silvanoff was one such singer/songwriter, and though her career never took off, her sublime, self-composed 1964 single compares favorably to classic Crystals and Ronettes sides. Captured on wax by Gerry Granahan, Jay and The Americans' regular producer, "Someday" really sparkles during its swirling, pasodoble-influenced instrumental breaks.

Arranged and Conducted by Alan Lorber
Produced by Gerry Granahan

"Spanish Eddie" 

(Chuck Cochran, Dave Palmer) 
Laura Branigan
With her operatic contralto and penchant for highly dramatic vocal performances, the late, great Laura Branigan was born to sing Habanera Rock! "Spanish Eddie", a very European dance record which evokes the excitement of a bullfight, was her most spectacular gift to the genre. The song's Top Forty chart placing in July of 1985 proved that Rock's Latin tinge was still commercially viable two decades after its heyday. 

Arranged by Harold Faltermeyer
Produced by Harold Faltermeyer and Jack White

Laura Branigan

As we've discussed before, plenty of male artists mined the Latin groove. Seminal rockers like Johnny Otis ("Willie and The Hand Jive") The Champs ("Tequila") and Ritchie Valens ("La Bamba") pioneered Habanera Rock, and The Drifters "There Goes My Baby" officially kicked off the trend with 1959's "There Goes My Baby". Before long, Doo-Wop groups, lounge singers and teen idols galore had jumped on the bandwagon. The habanera was sampled by male vocalists as diverse as Andy Williams, Chuck Jackson and Roy Orbison, proving as commercially viable for them as it was for Sarah Vaughn, Claudine Clark or Lesley Gore. When Gene Pitney sang the Tex-Mex tango "Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa" and Roy Orbison rocked the cha-cha-cha with "Pretty Woman", it was fantastic; but even singers as immensely talented as they were couldn't hold a candle to Darlene Love wailing her heart out on "He's A Rebel". There's something about a female voice that complements the Latin tinge in ways that male voices don't.

It's no secret that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame suffers from a shameful dearth of female membership. Too many of the nominating voters think women rockers should be female versions of Elvis or The Beatles! To be sure, there were ladies who fit that description during Rock's formative years, but such a narrow criterion is historically indefensible. In the 1950s and early '60s, Rock 'n' Roll women were more likely to wear prom dresses than leather jackets! They had their own special look and sound that was just as valid as the male rocker image. Rock historians need to stop listening for bluesy guitar licks in women's records, and start listening for castanets instead! Then maybe they'll finally open RRHOF membership to long-deserving candidates like Lesley Gore, Connie Francis, Petula Clark, Skeeter Davis, Jody Miller, Dionne Warwick and the overlooked ladies discussed in this essay.

Dedicated to the memory of Laura Branigan.

On behalf of the staff of the Pop Culture Cantina,
Stuffed Animal would like to wish everyone
¡Feliz Navidad y un año nuevo fabuloso!

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