Musical and song rabbit-holes

I was listening to an oldies station on the way to work this morning and Keep On Dancing by The Gentrys (1965) came on. A simple tune but I’ve always liked it. After a little research, I discovered it was a cover of the original by The Avantis (not to be confused with the surf rock band with the same name) It was written by Allen A. Jones, Andrew Love and Richard Shann and released in 1963. But that’s not all! I found a song called Rinky Dink by “Baby” Cortez. It’s an instrumental song that pre-dates them both. While it’s an instrumental, it’s clear that’s where the idea for Keep On Dancing was influenced by.

Another song I’ve always liked is a rockin’ little number from Led Zeppelin called Boogie with Stu. I loved it for many, many years before I discovered it borrowed heavily from Ritchey Valens’ Ooh My Head. Yes, to be (somewhat) fair, they did give writing credit to “Mrs. Valens” on the original record but I have to think that was to hopefully stave off the inevitable lawsuits.

Songfacts says this:

“The song was recorded when Led Zeppelin was set up in Headley Grange. They were using the Rolling Stones mobile recording unit and Stu stopped in. There was an old piano in the main room that was slightly out of tune. Stu was playing it and Jimmy Page was tuning his guitar to how the piano was out of tune. Tape was rolling and everything was pretty much improvised from Bonzo’s drumming to the lyrics Plant was singing.”

Given that Plant knew the enough of the words, “improvised” is being charitable.

(Speaking of out-of-tune pianos, that de-tuning pianos is a thing was news to me. There is a whole world about it whose adherents can get quite passionate. A good place to start is here)

Anyway, back to Ritchey Valens, it appears he got the idea for the song from the Little Richard’s song “Ooh My Soul”.

And so it goes. Anyone got a favorite musical rabbit-hole?

Hah! Loads.

The story of the origins of rock and roll? Started with ‘Rock Around The Clock’ (1954), by that fat and ancient wild boy Bill Haley? Certainly did not, and the lack of a link here is intentional. Back in 1947 Hank Williams had recorded ‘Move It On Over’ (Move It On Over (song) - Wikipedia). That wiki page coyly states of ‘Rock Around The Clock’ that it

“…resembles “Move it On Over”…”

Yeah. Judge for yourself - Move it on Over - Hank Williams - YouTube

I think there’s a good argument that this - ‘Move It On Over’ - is the point that rock and roll starts - and this part of the story is fairly well known, but it isn’t where the story starts. The wiki page above digs further.

First we need to go back to 1929 (!) and ‘Going To Move To Alabama’ by Charley Patton - 1st Rock And Roll Song 'Going To Move To Alabama' CHARLEY PATTON 1929 - YouTube. (NB that description comes from the guy who posted it on YouTube, not me - but I’m not going to pick an argument over it. But we’re not done yet.)

This one is from 1927 (!!): Jim Jackson - Kansas City Blues (Parts 1 & 2) - YouTube.

I have no doubt that if we dug deeper we could push the date even further back. And also no doubt that, this being the Dope, someone will disagree with/correct me. It’s all good - bring it on!


PS: Andrews Sisters next?

Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, Bob Wills, and a bunch of other recording artists were combining boogie with a backbeat well before WWII. There are hundreds of accidental candidates for first Rock and Roll record but if you want one that intentionally nailed the formula and the desired audience (white teens with money in their pockets) you’re back to Bill Haley and “Rock Around the Clock”.

BTW- Anybody who really digs a deep dive into the influences, backgrounds, and personnel and production details of particular songs, really needs to check out some of the books written by Andrew Hickey; Particularly, California Dreaming and A History of Rock in 500 Songs.

Speaking of Hickey, he has a fascinating theory about the origins of Doo-Wop…The Gregorian Chant!

Most of the music heard in the Middle Ages was church music which would be a tenor singing motets in Latin while other people would sing commentary in the vernacular. To the average Joe Peasant this would sound like somebody singing in his own language accompanied by somebody singing unintelligible, but pleasant sounding, gibberish. The Latin part might as well be “bop shoo bop shoo bob dip da dip da dip”. Bits that tell a story and bits that are nonsense but sound good.

Sidetrack: I saw the Gentrys, paired with the New York Dolls, in an open-sided tent in near-freezing weather at a Minneapolis fair. I was visiting my Rundgren-obsessed girlfriend who liked the Dolls (Todd R produced their 1st album). The Dolls were probably pissed about doing a tiny-venue two-show gig in cold weather and blew off their first show.

But the Gentrys played an extended gig and IMO killed it. They played barefooted in the cold, and were tight, talented, active and likable.

Two months later I was visiting my hometown of Joplin Mo, and some cynical-cool friends from high school were talking about maybe going to a show by the Gentrys at the local college (Joplin got almost zero touring rock acts). I gave a glowing recommendation, but they snorted a bit when I mentioned the bare feet. When I ran into them a few weeks later and asked about the show, they seemed grudgingly impressed.

There are numerous blues standards that fit the OP, at least for someone like me who came to the blues by first learning the songs from covers by white rock bands from the sixties. For instance I first heard “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” in the version by Cream and a short time later the Canned Heat version, so I first thought one of the bands had covered the other (I was very young and ignorant about the blues). But classic rock bands piqued my interest in the blues, so I was surprised that Muddy Waters had recorded the song long before the sixties rock revolution. But that was not the end, when I first heard Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” (which is the same song with different lyrics), I thought I had made another great discovery and chalked it up as another blues standard originally written by Robert Johnson. Of course that wasn’t the end of the line, I later learned (I don’t remember if I read it in a book or on the early internet) that the first recording ever was Hambone Willie Newbern’s “Roll And Tumble Blues” from as far back as 1929.

I made several experiences of that sort, especially with blues songs. Bill Wyman’s (yes, the Stones bassist) excellent book “Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey” was a great source for those discoveries, and with almost every song ever recorded having a wiki page now, I still find those rabbit-holes about the history of songs from time to time.

With its culture of heavily borrowing from previous songs, hip hop and rap are often more warren than rabbit. An obvious example is Ray Charles “I’ve Got A Woman” and EPMD’s “Gold Digger” combining to make the Kanye West version and it’s more radio-friendly Glee knockoff.

My GF bought me a turntable for Christmas, years after my vintage stereo system gave out.

I don’t remember buying 80 pct. of my albums. And a good 50 pct. I’m asking myself “Whyy??”

“Melissa Manchester’s 'Hey Ricky’ album??”

But now I know she did a version of ‘Chariots of Fire’ with lyrics, and the story behind “You Should Hear How She Talks About You”

Yeah, I don’t doubt that there are plenty of branches to that particular rabbit hole…

But, The Andrews Sisters I promised, and the Andrews Sisters we shall have (I’ve posted at least some of this story before).

When I first heard Rum And Coca Cola, it was a jaw dropping moment for me. I thought The Andrews Sisters just did homey Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree type stuff, and I was absolutely blown away - so much so that I rushed out and bought The Best Of The Andrews Sisters. Actually, most of it was homey Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree type stuff, but I digress. Here is The Andrews Sisters - Rum and Coca Cola - YouTube.

Cultural appropriation, you might think. Worse than that, actually.

From the Wikipedia article on the song:

The song was published in the United States with Amsterdam listed as lyricist and Jeri Sullivan and Paul Baron as composers. The melody had been previously published as the work of Venezuelan calypso composer Lionel Belasco on a song titled “L’Année Passée,” which was in turn based on a folk song from Martinique. The lyrics to “Rum and Coca-Cola” were written by Rupert Grant, another calypso musician from Trinidad who used the stage name Lord Invader.

The song became a local hit and was at the peak of its popularity when Amsterdam visited the island in September 1943 as part of a U.S.O. tour. Although he claimed never to have heard the song during the month he spent on the island, the lyrics to his version are clearly based on the Lord Invader version, with the music and chorus being virtually identical.

So, the original: Lord Invader, Rum and Coca Cola (1943) - YouTube

And the song on which it was based: 1907 Lionel Belasco L'année Passée - YouTube

Now, about that “folk song from Martinique” - that’s not quite what I found. This source says

Adapted from
King Ja Ja written by [Traditional]

I’ll leave the link to King Ja Ja, in case anyone is interested in that cite, which gives:

Barbadian folk song about a real African King, exiled in the West Indies around 1890, and a humble house maid.

So, maybe Barbadian then. And I think the trail ends here - this is King Ja Ja - The Barbados Folk Singers - YouTube (seems to be the only version on YouTube.)

I really like that you can follow the tune back through all of that.

Aside: when I posted part of this before, I have half a memory that @EinsteinsHund had an almost equally bizarre story about the Andrews Sisters’ Bei Mir Bist Du Schön. Have I got that right?


Well, you have a better memory than me, I only had a very dim memory of it and had to search the boards. But yes, I posted about “Bei Mir Bistu Schein” almost a year ago:

Another song that has a convoluted and dubious origin is “Strangers In The Night”. The official version is that the German bandleader Bert Kaempfert (btw., that’s also the guy who made the first ever recordings of the Beatles, in Hamburg) wrote the tune which was set to English lyrics by American songwriters for the Sinatra version. But there are at least three different people who claimed that Kaempfert had stolen the song from them. I learned about that in Bob Dylan’s highly entertaining “The Philosophy Of Song”. Here’s the story of the song on wiki:

Another song with a similar history to “Rum And Coca Cola” is “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” aka “Wimoweh” aka “Mbube”. Like in most of these stories, the original writer almost never got credits (not even from Pete Seeger):

Did they mention Slim Gaillard’s version, “Bei Mir Bist Du Pork Chops” ?

I’m sorry, I don’t remember, it’s been a year since I’ve heard that radio program.

Not to hijack my own thread, but speaking of Pete Seeger (although this is a bit of a rabbit-hole), as an architecture student in the 70’s and an avid reader of DWELL Magazine, I’ve always detested the song Little Boxes. It was a “protest song written by Malvina Reynolds as a wake up to Americans, who were becoming homogenous and losing their individuality in the post-war era,” made famous by Seeger. She was referring to Westlake subdivision of Daly City in California.

Sure, if your goal is to live free, riding the rails, buying into the American dream might have seemed like selling out. Something soulless squares did. Or conversely, putting one house for every acre. But this is ecologically irresponsible as norm to shoot for.

The houses were well built and not substandard. I contend the architecture is attractive and well thought out. They provided an affordable alternative for young people and new home owners.

Also, there is nothing wrong at with going to University and being a productive member of society.

(Steps down from my soapbox and returns you to your regularly scheduled rabbit-hole)

There are a lot of stories from the mid-century record business about artists “stealing” from each other. Few songs were created from whole cloth; songs had pedigree that, if known, would show them borrowing from a previous song that had itself borrowed from another song going all the back to some unknown fieldworker in the 18th Century if not all the way back to Africa or Europe.

And then there were covers. As soon as someone had a hit, everybody and their grandmother could cut that song as long as they paid the songwriter royalties. But granny and the rest would put their own style on it and appeal to different audiences. Sadly, white cover artists could cover black artists and outsell the originals many times over because most radio stations would only play records by white artists and the white audience was larger. But even then, the white artist put their own style on it, even if that just meant “correcting” the grammar or stripping the lyrics of innuendo.

And then there is a singer named Georgia Gibbs.

Gibbs was one of the aforementioned white artists who covered black records and outsold the original by the millions, but she took it to an extent that really does count as “stealing” in my book. After several years of releasing “cleaned up” versions of songs by black artists, she (or actually her management and label) actually went out and hired the same arrangers, engineers and backing musicians who played on the original records. Only the singer was different. LaVerne Baker’s “Teedle-Dee” and Etta James’ “The Wallflower” were the biggest victims of this treatment. Singers like Etta James put up with it because she had a writer’s credit and would receive royalties off of Gibbs’ better selling records. But since Baker wasn’t a songwriter, she got squat. And she got really pissed off.

When she flew to Australia on tour, Baker gathered some reporters at the flight insurance booth and made Gibbs her beneficiary, proclaiming that if the plane crashed, Gibbs would be out of work. She made such a fuss, it reached the US Congress. Even though no legislation was passed, Several white radio stations instituted a “no straight covers” policy and Gibbs label swore to discontinue the practice (they didn’t). When Baker had a hit on the R&B charts with her “Tra La La” single, Gibbs copied it. The Gibbs version made it to #24 on the Pop charts which was rather mediocre for Gibbs. But the B-side of Baker’s version (“Jim Dandy”) was the real reason the record went to the top of the R&B charts and it was that song that passed up Gibbs at 24 and made it to 17 on the Pop charts, something remarkable for a black artist. Gibbs never broke the top-thirty again.

Here’s a tale of two discs. Note the songwriters on the discs.

Billy’s Blues (recorded June 1956)
So, the songwriter “Stewart” on the first disc is the singer and piano player (and presumably lyricist) Billy Stewart whose record this is. Williams is his guitar player, Jody Williams who you hear picking out that nifty electric riff that is familiar to anyone who has seen Dirty Dancing or listened to an oldies station:

Love is Strange (recorded October, 1956)
Mickey Baker executes an almost note for note rendition of the Jody Williams riff he was credited for on “Billy’s Blues”. So why doesn’t Williams have writing credit on “Strange Love”? And who the heck is Ethel Smith?

To answer that, you have to go back a month before “Billy’s Blues” was recorded. In May, 1956 Bo Diddley wrote and recorded (but didn’t release) a song called…“Love is Strange”. The lead guitarist on that season was…Jody Williams. Diddley offered the song to another of his session guitarists, Mickey Baker who had just formed a duo with Sylvia Vanderpool.

Mickey and Sylvia’s record was a massive hit and when other artists like The Everly Bros., Buddy Holly, Lonnie Donegan, Sonny & Cher, Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton recorded it Mickey and Sylvia joined Ethel on the writing credits because of the spoken word parts they added to the lyrics.

So, who was Ethel Smith? Although she has 181 records credited to her discography, she never actually wrote a single song (as far as I’m aware). Diddley had a habit of submitting the name of his current wife (he had four - not at the same time) when he filled out copywrite forms. Bo Diddley always said that he put Jody Williams’ name on the form he submitted for “Love is Strange” but someone at the label screwed up. Williams didn’t believe him and didn’t speak to Diddley for decades because of it. Williams never saw a penny from a song that has made millions of dollars over the years.

In the 1960s Bo Diddley sold Ethel’s rights to the song to Sylvia. Sylvia became a very rich woman and used some of that money to found the Sugar Hill Rap label in 1979.

Reminds me of a story I read about the guy who “wrote” Elvis’ Love Me Tender, which Elvis gets credit for.

George R Poulton’s family came to America in 1835. He started composing songs at the age of 12. In the age of upbeat minstrel shows, Poulton composed a simple sentimental ballad with the traditional theme of a beautiful young woman with shining hair.

He called the song Aura Lee and it was published and copyrighted in Cincinnati in 186. Although Aura Lee was successful as a minstrel song, it gained unexpected popularity with the trainee soldiers at West Point, where it quickly became a graduating class song and gained new words by LW Becklaw and was soon becoming known as Army Blue.

Aura Lee became a favorite for troops on both sides of the American Civil War conflict. After the war, it was a favorite of barber-shop quartets and recorded by many artists. It was subsequently featured in several movies

in 1956 Elvis was contracted into his first role, in a movie to be called Love Me Tender. And it was decided that in it he would sing his first-ever non-rock ballad.

The music director on the movie, Ken Darby, found the 95-year-old melody Aura Lee. The simple tune was fine as it was, but it needed new words. Darby wrote the revised lyrics, but he gave the credits to his wife Vera Matson - and Presley.

Later, when asked why he gave his wife writing credit, Ken replied, “Because she didn’t have anything to do with the writing either”.

Ha! I wonder if any other artists did this, and why.

I went down a rabbit hole with Little Richard’s “Keep a Knockin” that goes all the way back to a 1915 recording but the most interesting thing I learned is that his record is basically a one minute recording played twice. The splice is at the “WHOOO!” at 1:08.

Hah! I did the same thing just a few weeks ago, inspired by Led Zep’s “Rock’n’Roll” for which Bonham “borrowed” the drum intro. I first heard the song as a Fleetwood Mac cover from a live recording when they were still Peter Green’s blues band and knew that theirs was a Little Richard cover, but I had never known that the song has a much longer history.

Here’s the 1917 record (my mistake - the song was copyrighted in 1915). Starting around 2:30 the melody is unmistakable.