09 June 2010

Jeff Barry

Jeff Barry at the Piano

A Jeff Barry Record Date:
Vintage Album Reviews
An AndruCharlz Production
All Selections Composed by AndruCharlz
Arranged and Conducted by Donny Jacobs
Produced by AndruCharlz and Donny Jacobs
Recorded live! at The Pop Culture Cantina

Jeff Barry: "Is everybody here? Yeah, I see all my guys out there . . . Hugh McCracken, Sal DiTroia and Trade Martin on guitars, Russ Saunders on bass, Artie Butler on keyboards, and Gary Chester on skins. There's Art Kaplan, too . . . hey, Artie, did you bring your horn? I think we may want a sax solo in there . . . Ellie's rehearsing the background singers . . . she's got the harmonies sounding real tight. Neil, swallow that sandwich! I need you on mike. We're gonna get started now. Are we ready, Brooks? OK, everybody, let's do a take. "Hanky Panky", Take One! Ah-one, ah-two, ah-one-two-three . . . "

The Feel Of Neil Diamond

The Feel Of Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond
Arranged by Artie Butler
Produced by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich
Bang Records STEREO 214
Released Autumn 1966
Lately, a couple of oldies deejays that I listen to have been introducing every Neil Diamond track they play as by "the real Neil Diamond." Now, maybe they're just being cute, but maybe they have a point! There are at least four different Neil Diamonds on wax: The Solitary Man of the 1960s, the Song Sung Bluesman of the '70s, the Comin' To America actor/singer of the '80s, and the 21st century living legend he's evolved into. Which Diamond is authentic? My vote goes to the Solitary Man. I recently had the chance to hear The Feel Of Neil, Mr. Diamond's début album for Bang Records. This was his very first LP, supervised by the very capable team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Jeff and Ellie built their stellar reputation writing and producing mega-hits for Girl Groups and Bubblegum acts; just as you'd expect, they brought their teen Pop sensibility to bear on Neil Diamond sessions. Hearing their maiden collaboration with Neil was a big nostalgia trip for me, but it also reminded me of a time when his music wasn't just exceptional. It was fun, too!

Does this mean he wasn't as brooding, as intelligent and as thoughtful as he's always been? Certainly not! All those words apply to such tracks as "Love to Love,"(soon to be covered by The Monkees), "Oh, No No (I Got the Feeling)", "Do It," "Solitary Man," "Someday, Baby," and "I'll Come Running" (destined to scale the British charts when released as a Cliff Richard single). That's more than half the album right there! But raucous, handclapping remakes of the Gary US Bonds classic "New Orleans" and Ritchie Valens' immortal "La Bamba" show that, in 1966, Neil could smile, laugh, shout, bust a move, and not have it look forced or unnatural when he did.

"Cherry, Cherry", his first Top Ten smash and the album’s centerpiece, sounds anything but forced. That whirling lariat of a guitar intro is the ultimate attention-grabber: it crackles with raw energy! Jeff and Ellie lay down handclappings, tambourines and backing vocals bathed in crisp reverb; before you know it, the track has become a fiesta on vinyl. Neil has captured a Spanish Harlem block party in song, and nobody’s partying harder than he is; just listen to him whoop and holler! Clearly, the boy's having a ball.

Elsewhere on the album, Neil injects much youthful enthusiasm into obligatory cover versions of recent hits: "Red Rubber Ball" is so lively, it almost makes The Cyrkle's original version sound lethargic; and with Ellie Greenwich's golden harmonies taking flight behind him, he all but steals "Monday, Monday" away from The Mamas & The Papas. He even dares to get silly, demolishing what few traces of seriousness there were in "Hanky Panky", Tommy James and The Shondells' recent chart-topper. Neil's delightful send-up of the song resulted when Jeff Barry tried to get him to record it (well, Jeff wrote "Hanky Panky", so why not?) and he resisted. He didn't think it was his kind of material. They reached a compromise, and Neil agreed to cut it as an "outtake" . . . but his performance was so hilarious, it ended up being chosen for an album cut. Four years later, the track would resurface on the B-side of Neil's penultimate Bang Records hit, a remix of "Do It." Knowing Jeff's offbeat sense of humor, he doubtless had a lot to do with "Hanky Panky" not being left to gather dust in a tape vault.

But think of it: Could you imagine Neil getting that silly, or that loose, on most of his later albums? Like I said before, on this LP, Neil Diamond is fun! There's a lightness and joy to his work here, even on the serious tracks, that would vanish as his career progressed. Neil made an unfortunate musical trade-off: his songs improved as he moved more aggressively toward the "theatrical Rock" he's known for today, but the degree of introspection got so heavy, they began to sag under their own weight. Only recently, with his hit CD Twelve Songs, has Neil's music started showing that happy, good-time side of him again. Maybe it's the side those deejays mean to evoke when they talk about "the real Neil Diamond" . . . ya think? Hear that side for yourself on The Feel Of Neil, his very first twelve song collection. That is, if you're lucky enough to lay hands on a copy; they’re kinda scarce!

Jeff Barry: "Brooks, bring up the bass. I really want to hear that bass groove."

The Night Is Still Young

The Night Is Still Young
Produced by Jeff Barry
Kama Sutra Records STEREO 2050
Released Summer 1972
Sha-Na-Na: Donny, Denny, Johnny, Lennie, Jocko, Gino, Ritchie, Vinnie, Bruno, Santini, Bowser and Screamin Scott! Those greasy-haired kids from Columbia University whose appearance at Woodstock (question: How much wood would a Woodstock stock . . .?) propelled them into a long and successful career. Years before their fondly-remembered variety show debuted in 1977, they'd already become undisputed kings of '50s Rock revivalism. With their flashy, campy stage show bursting with vintage cover tunes, Sha-Na-Na lit the fuse of a '70s nostalgia explosion that left the hit TV series "Happy Days" and the blockbuster movies American Graffiti and Grease among its cultural debris.

I never begrudged the boys their success; on stage, they were sensational. I just considered them a pale substitute for the real thing! That was especially true on records, where they didn't shine much at all. No, scratch that: they did shine once! Recently, I heard one of SNN's early albums, The Night Is Still Young, for the first time. I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that (a) Jeff Barry produced it (when Jeff produces something, y'all, attention . . . must . . . be . . . paid!) and (b) it wasn't all '50s covers. Indeed, of the album's 13 tracks, only three are straight-ahead '50s nostalgia: "In The Still Of The Night", "Sea Cruise," and the Doo-Wop medley "So Fine/You're So Fine." The latter two cuts don't even sound like moldy oldies; they’ve been refitted with gritty, garage-rocking arrangements circa 1970.

For the rest of the album, the Sha-Nas show off lots of what they'd never shown before . . . musical range! Country Rock holds forth on Screamin' Scott Simon's "Oh! Lonesome Boy". R & B/Funk busts loose on Donny York's performance of "Bless My Soul" and Johnny Contardo's soulful reading of "You Can Bet They Do", both Jeff Barry originals. For the first time, contemporary Pop/Rock rears its head on Rich Joffe's tuneful "Sleepin'On A Song". The band goes Gospel with "Sunday Mornin' Radio" and Calypso/Caribbean with "Bounce In Your Buggy"(the latter song another Barry original, culled for single release). Jocko Marcellino tries his hand at Paul Revere and The Raiders-style Hard Rock with "It Aint Love", and Donny returns for a second helping of Funk called "What'cha Do With What'cha Got". Playing piano, John "Bowser" Bowman surprises with a bit of lounge lizard musical comedy called "Glasses", and Denny Greene delivers some snarky political/social commentary in "The Vote Song"! Who broke open this cornucopia of genre diversity? Jeff Barry . . . obviously! He's the kind of producer who likes to nudge his artists in new directions; it's a safe bet that the lion's share of credit for the band's updated sound belongs to him.

Even though The Night Is Still Young cracked the lower half of Billboard's Top Pop Albums list without benefit of a hit single, it wasn't what you'd call a best-seller. If it had been, Sha-Na-Na might've avoided falling into that nostalgia-only rut they wound up having to plow for years and years afterward. They certainly made the most of it, but this excellent album gives us a tantalizing hint at the kind of versatile Rock group they might have become.

Jeff Barry: "Play that guitar part a little bit slower, Hugh. I want it to sound real laid-back."

How'd We Ever Get This Way

How'd We Ever Get This Way?
Andy Kim
Arranged by Dean Christopher
Produced by Jeff Barry
Steed Records STEREO 37001
released Summer 1968
Many people only know the Jeff Barry-Andy Kim writing partnership for the million-selling Archies songs it produced. Many people only know the singer Andy Kim from his two biggest singles, "Baby, I Love You" and "Rock Me Gently." Many people are missing something! Everything they're missing can be found on How'd We Ever Get This Way?, the 1968 début album for both Andy and Jeff's independent record label, Steed.

Jeff produced the album (natch), and all but one of its dozen songs were written by Barry and Kim ("Pretty Thing", later a single for Ethan Frome and Then Some, was a leftover from the Jeff Barry-Ellie Greenwich catalog). With blockbuster productions like The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" and The Monkees' "I'm A Believer" under his belt, Jeff more than earned his Bubblegum King credentials; but anybody who expects to hear Andy sing nothing but cheery Sugar Pop confections will be shocked by the diverse and sometimes quite dark sounds emanating from these grooves. Not that there isn't any cheer! The title tune, "Love That Little Woman" (buoyed along by an Ellie Greenwich-led background chorus), "Do You Feel It, Too?" (destined for revival by The Monkees) and "You Got Style" (a regional hit for Folk/Rock duo Jon and Robin) all have that same handclapping, tambourine-shaking sound that was so much a Jeff Barry trademark. On some of these tracks, Jeff even added marimba accents for a Caribbean touch à la "Sugar, Sugar". "You, Girl" and "Circus" carry the same Gospel-cum-Latin vibe, though not as intensely.

"Shoot 'Em Up, Baby", whose lyrics were inspired by the courtship of Andy's parents, bounces astride a Motown-ish backbeat; it wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Supremes album. Much to Jeff's surprise, when he decided to release this song on 45, college kids mistook it for an ode to recreational drug use! Fortunately, in the strung-out late '60s, misperceptions like that helped instead of hurt record sales; by late summer, Andy Kim had bagged his second Top Forty single, thanks to potheads everywhere! Though lacking in controversial content, "Ordinary Kind of Girl,"(the flipside of "Shoot 'Em Up, Baby"), "Pretty Thing" and "Just Like Your Shadow" would've made good singles, too; each one boasts a Beatlesque feel. On "Shadow," Andy sounds remarkably like Colin Blunstone, the whispery lead voice of the Zombies. By contrast, he sounds oddly menacing on "Sunday Thunder", belting the chorus over a grinding guitar groove that anticipates '70s Arena Rock. Then there's the big surprise at the end: "Resurrection", a Rock 'n' Roll dirge that's one of the darkest songs Jeff Barry ever wrote. Delivering a wrenchingly forlorn performance, Andy assumes the role of a man on the verge of suicide. I won't spoil the climax by revealing whether he does the awful deed or not; you'll just have to listen for yourself.

For better or worse, "Sugar, Sugar" and "Jingle Jangle" are the kind of songs Jeff Barry and Andy Kim will be best remembered for. How'd We Ever Get This Way reminds us how much more they were capable of; the sophisticated orchestrations of Dean Christopher (Jeff Barry's brother-in-law at the time) further ensured that there'd be no unwelcome comparisons to Archies records. Recorded for the most part at Century Sound, the studio Jeff co-owned with audio engineer Brooks Arthur, this début was a shining moment for Andy. It's far from his only one under Jeff's supervision, though: Just check out his follow-up Steed LP, Rainbow Ride, for which the former Andrew Joachim delved even deeper into progressive Rock territory. No sophomore slump there! And then came Baby, I Love You in 1969 . . .

Jeff Barry: "What's that, Neil? Do I know what doin' the Hanky Panky is? Don't sweat the small stuff, baby. I'll tell you after the session's over!"

Bobby Bloom

The Bobby Bloom Album
Bobby Bloom
Produced by Jeff Barry
L & R Records STEREO 1035
released Winter 1970
Bobby Bloom achieved his greatest success as a songwriter, helping to pen such hits as "Mony Mony" for Tommy James & the Shondells, "Indian Giver" for The 1910 Fruitgum Company, and "Heavy Makes You Happy" for The Staple Singers. When he wasn't writing tunes, he kept himself busy behind the scenes as a session musician, working regularly with the likes of Jay & The Americans, The Monkees, The Archies, Tommy James, and the Kasenetz-Katz stable of acts. Bobby also cut numerous solo sides in the mid-to-late 1960s, but they were little noticed. Then came 1970 and The Bobby Bloom Album, released on Joey Levine and Artie Resnick's short-lived L & R imprint. This album is a crowning achievement for Bobby, and some folks think it's also the greatest artistic triumph of its producer, Jeff Barry(a recent Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductee, dont'cha know). Jeff and Bobby wrote and arranged all the songs and, except for Jimmy Calvert's lead guitar, played all the instruments; that's Bobby's righteous piano chords you hear ringing out over the rhythm section.

The LP kicks off with "Careful Not To Break the Spell," a surreal stroll down the boulevard where Mrs. Bloom's baby boy encounters a "medicine man" and a tough guy who claims to be a "son-of-a-gun" (Bobby dares him to lemme see you smoke). During the course of the song's five-minute-thirty-second length, Bobby morphs into an almost Messianic figure, commanding a body of water to run, river, run and urging a church choir composed of his own overdubbed voices to tell me again! Then he throws a hissy fit over some mojo lady named Sister Suzy . . . it's the wildest trip you'll ever take without smoking something illegal! This metaphysical Gospel rocker was born when Barry and Bloom cobbled two incomplete songs together; easily one of the most progressive recordings of the early '70s, it deserves to be better known.

"Spell" is followed by Bobby's hard-rocking original of the aforementioned "Heavy Makes You Happy," the Gospel-ish "Try A Little Harder," the gentle "Oh, I Wish You Knew", featuring acoustic guitar as the only accompaniment, and (closing Side One) the pounding, conga-driven instrumental "Fanta." If, when listening to the latter track, you momentarily believe you've put a Santana record on your turntable by mistake, you're to be forgiven: The Latin Rock rhythms sound uncannily similar. But it ain't nothin' but Jeff Barry and Bobby Bloom, digging deep down into the same musical trick bag they pulled The Archies' hit single "Sunshine" out of!

Side Two kicks off with a triple-dose of R-rated Funk! Lyrically, this trio of numbers seems to chart the course of a steamy one-night stand. First, Bobby hyperventilates over "Heidi," who sure ain't no vestal virgin: Bobby (nearly) talks dirty in bed to her, and even offers her a cigarette after the moaning stops! Then, he wonders how he can get out of "This Thing I've Gotten Into" (he looks for his guitar, but keeps finding her pantyhose instead)! He ends up getting into an argument with the girl, and deciding that this tryst is "A Little On the Heavy Side" . . . and after such shameful debauchery, what can a poor boy do but rush back to church and sing the hymn-like "Brighten Your Flame"? The haunting background music is provided by Jeff Barry on keyboards, who convincingly impersonates a Vatican cathedral organist. Not bad for a Hungarian Jew from Brooklyn!

Then there's "Give 'Em A Hand," a half-affectionate, half-sarcastic glimpse at a mediocre Rock band's struggle for attention. I personally feel this is the weakest track on the album, but I guess I'm in the minority; Polydor Records culled "Hand" for single release in several foreign territories. Naturally, the album closes with Bobby's signature hit, "Montego Bay," that rollicking, tuba-driven dose of sheer Jamaican fun. In the closing months of 1970, you heard it blasting out of every portable radio. The L & R single fades out rather abruptly, but this LP version ends with a spontaneous a cappella snippet of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning" from the musical Oklahoma! You wouldn't usually describe a Rock 'n' Roll number as charming, but really, there's no better description for this tune. "Montego Bay" has certainly charmed countless Reggae bands over the years!

Sadly, Bobby Bloom wouldn't get much more of a chance to show off his exceptional talent. During an argument with another man (over a woman, according to Jeff), he was shot to death in February of 1974. The Bobby Bloom Album is a worthy memorial to him, and essential listening! The same goes for most of the non-album singles Jeff produced for him, especially the Funk-fueled "We Need Each Other" and "Until They Say Mercy", the Disco-flavored "Island", and the eerily prescient "We're All Goin' Home", his final chart record. One of those single sides, "I Really Got It Bad For You," became Bobby's last hit song when The Persuasions waxed it a few months after his demise.

Jeff Barry: "Hey, it's been a great session, everybody. Ellie, Jeannie and Leslie, come back tomorrow night and we’ll do some overdubs.

Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich

bust a move in the recording studio

Happy Father’s Day 2010 to Jeff Barry
from the Pop Culture Cantina staff and all of his fans
and friends!


Jerry1234 said...

My husband is the lead singer, arranger and producer of The Persuasions. ( Jerry Lawson) He loved those Bobby Bloom songs. He recorded "Until They Say Mercy", the "Island","We're All Goin' Home", and "I Really Got It Bad For You," all on the same album that Jeff produced with The Persuasions. Jerry had no idea about Bobby Bloom until reading your blog.

Persuasions fans were devastated to hear the guys with instruments so back to Preserving The Art of
A Cappella.

And now 4 decades later Jerry has left The Persuasions and has a new A Cappella group."Jerry Lawson & Talk of The Town" And together we have self produced the A Cappella masterpiece of Jerry's career which can be purchased at Jerry's website: www.jerrylawson.biz

God Bless,

Julie Lawson


Hi Julie,

Your husband is an excellent singer! I have the A & M albums that feature him singing the Barry-Bloom songs, and they're all wonderful. The Persuasions' version of "We're All Goin' Home" is better than the one Bobby Bloom did. However, Jerry Lawson doesn't sing lead on "I Really Got It Bad For You". Do you know who did?

I've often heard how outraged Persuasions fans were to hear the group recorded with instruments. When Jeff Barry added orchestration on some tracks, he didn't compromise their talent one bit! Who in their right mind would've preferred that The Persuasions record "Somewhere To Lay My Head" without the swingin' rhythm section? That track is a masterpiece. And nobody remembers that Jeff produced several exceptional a capella tracks with The Persuasions, like "Touch The Hem Of His Garment". I think it's a shame when fans try to lock singers into a stylistic box. Your husband can sing up a storm, with or without instrumentation, and God forbid he not have the option of doing both!

Jerry1234 said...

Jerry says "thank you" and that it was his childhood friend Willie Daniels who sang lead on "I Really Got It Bad For You" Willie stayed with the Persuasions just a few years and then fell in love. His new partner didn't want him to be on the road so he left the group. What an amazing talent!

By the way NBC has picked up "Sing Off" for a second season which will air this coming Fall. It's an A Cappella version of "American Idol" We hope you'll check it out and if Jerry is on there please vote for him!

In Harmony,

Veen said...

Awesome blog. Linking yours to mine.