The music history books are vast and full of interesting bits of knowledge.
“Big” Jay Sorensen gives you a recap of the biggest and most interesting music news from the week; something from the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s — and sometimes *gasp* ’90s.
This week, Big Jay highlights The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer”, Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”, and Billy Vera and the Beaters’ “At This Moment”!
“I’m a Believer”
If you love “I’m A Believer” by The Monkees, you’re gonna love this story. The Neil Diamond work of genius “I’m A Believer” was the second single to reach the uppermost slot on the Hot 100 Singles chart for the actors who played the roles of the Monkees on Colgems Records. It was still cheerfully sitting in the prime position of the Hot 100 Singles chart, for this, the fourth of seven decisive survey-stages on a countrywide magnitude. Neil Diamond probably could have retreated from the music business on the royalties from this song single-handedly. “I’m A Believer” was picked by the fabrication mechanism that ran the Monkees to be their second single. It ended up not only being the final number one song of 1966 (and for the next six weeks in ’67) but it would be the principal selling-single of the total year in ’67. Released on Colgems Records, “I’m A Believer” was yet an additional music track recorded entirely by session musicians (L.A.’s so-called “Wrecking Crew”) with only the band members’ voices being employed. The central voice on the single was Mickey Dolenz (one-time morning radio personality on the legendary CBS-FM 101.1 in The Greatest City in the World) who also sang lead on their first single, “Last Train To Clarksville.” This new No. 1 song was the highlight track on the Monkees’ second LP, More Of The Monkees. That album would crown the LP chart for 18 weeks from February through June of ’67 while their introduction LP The Monkees was still at the pinnacle when this new single reached the apex of the Hot 100. This week, their debut album was in the 11th of an eventual 13 total survey-stages as the biggest LP in the land. Here is the slightly sped-up official video of the track “I’m A Believer” featured on More Of The Monkees, produced by Jeff Barry.
The ‘B’ side of that single was in point of fact an honest rock & roll song called “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” penned by songwriters, singers and producers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Here’s the Monkees interpretation from More Of The Monkees.
“(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” was, in truth, a remake of a Paul Revere & the Raiders album track released in May of 1966. “I’m A Believer” was remade in 2001 by the group Smash Mouth and used in the animated film Shrek—reaching No. 25 on the Hot 100. You’ll occasionally hear that updated version on CBS-FM!
“I Wish” was the No. 1 Pop hit in the U.S.A. for just this one survey-phase on the Hot 100 in ’77; but what a record it was. When a song and corresponding LP proclaimed—produced, arranged and composed by Stevie Wonder blasting from the printed label; that alone left little hesitation that this young man was one of the true geniuses at his craft by the time Songs In The Key Of Life was released in late ’76; the earliest album to debut at No. 1 by an American artist. Englishman Elton John had the first in America with Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. “I Wish” was also at the helm of the Hot Soul Singles chart as well this week, for the second of five ultimate survey-periods as the leading 45 RPM on that chronicle. Wonder’s double-album (plus EP) began its prolonged ride at the peak of the Top LPs & Tape chart for the week ending on October 16, 1976—for an eventual 14 non-successive survey-cycles. This week, Wonder’s album was at No. 3; as Wings Over America was on top, with Hotel California by Eagles in the place position as the chart-leaders on the Top LP’s & Tape register. Stevie’s album would rise to the zenith again next week for final stay. In addition, Songs In The Key Of Life also led the Hot Soul LPs during this chart-phase. The album was in its 13th of an eventual 20 amazing weeks as the biggest Soul LP in the nation. What’s known as the “Classic Stevie Wonder Period” started in 1972 with the LP Music Of My Mind. That was followed afterward in ’72 by Talking Book, Innervisions from ’73, Fullfillingness’ First Finale in ’74—and, after a long-drawn-out waiting period—Songs In The Key Of Life in ’76. Wonder almost renounced the music business before Songs In The Key Of Life was released, as he was discontented the U.S. government; almost moving to Africa. He thought twice about it, and signed yet an added deal with Motown/Tamla. As an outcome, and after many pushed-up release dates for the album, the first 45 RPM single from the set was “I Wish,” an expression of joy of Stevie’s youth. Here’s a live version.
Wonder’s recording would lead him to seven GRAMMY® Award nominations for his work on the LP. Stevie Wonder had turned 21 in 1971 and let his current Motown contract expire. To return, he insisted on not only a higher royalty rate, but independence to record practically everything he desired. Fearing of losing Wonder to a different company, Berry Gordy, Jr. consented. Over 100 people were involved in Songs In The Key Of Life, including a multitude of musicians. Sometimes, like to name some of the unsung heroes of songs. So, here’s a tip-of-the-hat to the musicians on “I Wish,” including: Raymond Pounds on drums, Nathan Watts on bass, Hank Redd alto sax, Trevor Lawrence on tenor sax, Raymond Maldonado & Steve Madaio, on trumpets along with backing vocalist, Stevie’s real-life sister, Renee Hardaway.
“At This Moment”
Billy Vera and the Beaters
Some of you might think this week’s No. 1 45 RPM in America in ’87 was a One-Hit-Wonder. Nope. Not even close. At least not by Big Town “Record Pigs” like your Big Jay.
Billy Vera had been putting records on the Hot 100 singles chart as far back as late 1967, with “Storybook Children” on that duet sung with Judy Clay, one of Dionne Warwick’s cousins. But that record didn’t make the Top 40 and only managed to reach No. 54 nationally. A follow-up did a bit better called “Country Girl–City Man,” reaching No. 36; but disappeared quickly after release by Atlantic Records. Billy Vera (real name William McCord) had a solo single on Atlantic called “With Pen In Hand,” (No. 43 Pop) written by Bobby Goldsboro, who also released a version of the song in the 1972 toward the end of his long chart run. After “With Pen In Hand,” Billy Vera disappeared from the chart. But lookie here now. Move ahead to 1981 and Vera, backed by the Beaters, just squeaked into the Top 40 with a decent record called “I Can Take Care Of Myself” on the Japanese-owned Alfa Records label. That tune attained the highest position of No. 39. Still, it was a comeback. The hopeful follow-up was recorded live at the Roxy in West Hollyweird. Billy had written the song in 1977, and recorded it live in January of ’81 in that California club. Alfa was almost ready to go belly-up in the states, and “At This Moment” was only able to get to No. 79; and after three weeks it was gone. So before we continue with this back-from-the-dead story, let’s watch and listen to the song.
This week’s primary single in America was already six years-old by the time it reached the top slot on the Hot 100 singles chart. When it was first released on Alfa Records back in 1981, it simply didn’t catch a break, as that label was having its dying gasps. Move up 1985-86 TV season, when producers of the show Family Ties, starring Canadian actor Michael J. Fox, added the song to the show during a romantic moment or two. The show featured the song just enough for fans of Alex P. Keaton to notice. And so did the reissue record company Rhino Records. They were not known for releasing 45 RPM records, but the demand was so high after the TV sitcom used it when Fox’s character was wooing his girlfriend Ellen Reed (soon to be real-life wife Tracy Pollan) they decided to get it into the public’s hands quickly. Rhino Records too “At This Moment” all the way to No. 1 on the Hot 100 and the Adult Contemporary chart. It didn’t happen instantly, as Vera himself had to first pitch a deal for Rhino to “re-release” his six year-old recording, which finally happened after the two shows featuring the song had played in re-runs during the summer of ’86. Then, by the late autumn of ’86, Rhino was able to get the record played on the radio (some stations already had played it) and shipped to record stores—remember those? Not only was “At This Moment” a hit on the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary lists; it also went as high as No. 42 on the Hot Country chart and it briefly appeared on the Black Singles Action listing at No. 70 as well. It was a No. 1 single in Canada in early ’87. As an added bonus for record buyers, some copies of “At This Moment” have Vera’s comeback record “I Can Take Care Of Myself” as the B side. Other copies had a song called “Peanuts” on the flip-side. “At This Moment” was one of the last 45 RPM discs to be certified a million-seller for over one million copies sold. The music business is a fickle thing ya know. So fickle, that Billy Vera and the Beaters couldn’t get one single record on the Hot 100 after that monster hit. After all those years of trying and playing lounges at a local Holiday Inn, Billy’s Pop chart-life ended.
Here’s an interesting “coulda-woulda-shoulda” situation. Dionne Warwick (Billy’s one-time singing partner July Clay’s famous Aunt) turned down or never got the chance to record the song, as did Aussie Olivia Newton-John. But their reluctance, or for whatever reason they didn’t put it to tape, got Billy and the Beaters a shot at stardom, even for one brief moment in time. Vera formed the group just for a hoot, just to have something to do between writing songs for other artists including Dolly Parton. But, Billy Vera still records; and did you realize he sang the theme to TV’s Empty Nest with Richard Mulligan, Dinah Madoff and David Leisure and King Of Queens starring Kevin James, Leah Remini, Jerry Stiller, Victor Williams and Patton Oswalt? Now ya do. Billy didn’t just vanish after his own chart records dried up on the Pop charts, as he has had side careers as a music producer, movie and TV actor and commercial voice-over artist. And just days ago in January of 2016, Vera released a Jazz album on Varese-Sarabande Records called Billy Vera: Big Band Jazz; a tribute to Count Basie, Duke Ellington and others.
—Big Jay Sorensen/WCBS-FM