Before we get started, a word for all you Substack loyalists. Long before there were Substacks, writers wrote things called blogs. This is one. Please feel free to explore this blog’s vast archive — more than 800 posts — as you would any museum.
It was 16 years ago this evening — Feb. 25, 2007 — that I sat down and wrote the first post here at AM, Then FM. I had two good eyes back then.
Because I’m recovering from eye surgery to repair a detached retina, typing is a bit of a hassle, so I’ll keep this short.
Though the audience grows smaller every year, thank you to all who have visited and read and commented and offered encouragement over the years.
In the third year of this blog’s existence, I went to see Chuck Berry at our local casino ballroom. Of that night, I wrote:
“He opened with a little ‘Roll Over Beethoven,’ then a little ‘’Round and ‘Round,’ then a little ‘Sweet Little Sixteen,’ all played only slightly faster than a shuffle pace … then announced: ‘If you guarantee at this moment that we are in tune, we would like to open our show.'”
It was indeed sweet. So, from a record I’ve had for almost 50 years …
Dig this, too. A lip-syncing but still swaggering Chuck is introduced by host Dick Clark and guest Johnny Carson on the second episode of the “The Dick Clark Show” on ABC. This is from Feb. 22, 1958, barely two months after “Sweet Little Sixteen” was recorded and just a month after the single was released.
Chuck may be gone, and Substacks may rule the day, but this old blog is gonna keep on keepin’ on.
Burt Bacharach, who composed the music that was the soundtrack to the lives of people all over the world for generations, is gone. He died yesterday at 94.
The beautiful thing about Burt Bacharach’s songs is that they were so widely heard yet made such intensely personal connections. Which is why, as I list my favorite Burt Bacharach songs and interpreters, someone else might have an entirely different short list of equally great Burt Bacharach songs and interpreters. You just can’t go wrong with his body of work.
My introduction to Burt Bacharach’s songs came on the TV variety shows of the ’60s. Those were regular viewing at our house. I may have known the singer before knowing the composer, but I knew the songs.
“Walk On By,” the Baja Marimba Band, from “Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965.
“What’s New Pussycat?” — Tom Jones, 1965. We kids would have had to have heard this on those old TV variety shows. How else would we have learned to sing “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!” When we saw Tom Jones in Indianapolis last year, this was the fourth song in his set. He introduced it with a winding and good-natured retelling of the story of how he initially wasn’t impressed with the song, which Bacharach brought to him in 1965. “What’s New Pussycat?” became a sing-along, with Sir Tom directing the choir from his perch on the stage.
“What’s New Pussycat?” Tom Jones, from “What’s New Pussycat?” 1965.
“One Less Bell to Answer” — Keely Smith, 1967.Which is a perfectly fine version. But for me, the definitive version is by Marilyn McCoo with The 5th Dimension in 1970. It starts cool but turns into a scorcher of a torch song. I’d listen to Marilyn McCoo read the phone book. (Oh, yeah, dating myself there.) The 5th Dimension is one of the great (and underrated and underappreciated) singing groups of our time. Just watch them in “Summer of Soul,” the Questlove documentary on the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969.
“One Less Bell to Answer,” The 5th Dimension, from “Portrait,” 1970.
“What the World Needs Now Is Love” — Jackie DeShannon, 1965.That version is great, but the one that sticks with me is the one I heard so often on the radio in 1971 — “What the World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin and John” — a remix/mashup produced by Los Angeles DJ Tom Clay. Fierce social commentary and a contemporary American history lesson laid over/juxtaposed with Bacharach’s gentle, elegant classic. This version is sung by the Blackberries, the great West Coast trio best known as much-in-demand backup singers — Venetta Fields, Sherlie Matthews and Clydie King.
“Casino Royale” — Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, 1967. Late to the party on this one, too. Always knew it was a cool instrumental. Never connected the dots to Burt Bacharach, though.
Four, maybe five years ago, my friend Jeff bought my copy of the “Casino Royale” soundtrack. Instant seller’s remorse. Wasn’t too long before I bought it back from him.
Burt Bacharach was married four times, once memorably to Angie Dickinson. They were the super cool, super glamorous couple of their time, the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s. But now Burt is gone and the gorgeous Angie is 91.
These are mp3s from my collection, taken from vinyl whenever possible. Enjoy. All music presented here is shared under the premise of fair use. This blog is solely intended for the purpose of education, a place for me to tell stories and write about music and cultural history. If you are a rights holder to any of the music presented and wish for it to be removed, please email me directly and it will be taken down.
About the words
The text is copyright 2007-2023, Jeff Ash. Text from other sources, when excerpted, is credited.