A 60 Degrees Girl Group Christmas

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I have always loved Christmas music. I tend to listen to older music all year round, but when it comes to sharing music with the general public, this is the only time of year when Brenda Lee is considered cool. To combat the 60’s holiday tracks that are over-covered and overplayed, I am always searching for more obscure holiday recordings by girl groups and female vocalists that are not on radio or Spotify playlists.

60DegreesWhen I began hosting my internet radio show 60 Degrees back in 2008, it started an annual tradition of putting together a holiday program full of female 60’s singers and girl groups, interspersed with vintage commercials and sound clips from classic holiday movies and television shows. You can listen to the Halloween show here.

East Village Radio was a pirate radio station that went legit and switched to the internet, broadcasting from a storefront in New York’s Lower East Side. This first 60 Degrees holiday show debuted on December 22, 2008 and was repeated annually throughout the shows 5 year run. By 2012, the holiday programs had gained such a following that 60 Degrees was given an uninterrupted 16 hour marathon on Christmas Day.

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At the beginning of Part 2, I read a Christmas poem that I wrote about an incident from my childhood involving our tinsel-eating dog Sunshine, which has previously been posted here and also on The Good Men Project website. You can’t say I don’t recycle!

Other than my speedy vocal delivery (someone tell that guy to slow down) and some minor sound level issues, the show holds up pretty well. There are a few mis-statements that I wish I could fix:

  • I said that Maya Rudolph’s mother, the late great Minnie Riperton was not singing lead on The Gems tracks when she is.
  • I mis-pronounce the Meditation Singers as “The Mediation Singers” and would add that soul singer Laura Lee was a member of the group, having replaced Della Reese in the 1950’s.
  • Janice Orenstein sang There’s Always Tomorrow from the Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer soundtrack.

Gems MinnieMeditation SingersJanice Orenstein

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Part 1 Flirtaitons

  1. Donde Esta Santa Claus – Toni Stante
  2. Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas  – Carla Thomas
  3. My Boyfriend’s Coming Home For Christmas  – Toni Wine
  4. Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day – Brenda Lee
  5. White Christmas – Baby Washington
  6. Snowfall – Doris Day
  7. I Want A Boy For Christmas – The Del-Vetts
  8. You Better Be Good, World – Shirley Ellis
  9. Peace For Christmas  – Gigi Parker
  10. Christmas Calling  – Valerie Masters
  11. Christmas Time – Jan Bradley
  12. All I Want For Christmas Is You – Carla Thomas
  13. Christmas Is The Time To Be With Your Baby – The Orchids
  14. Christmas Time Is Here Again – The Flirtations
  15. O Holy Child – Dusty Springfield
  16. Sleigh Ride – Darlene Love wi/ The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  17. Deep in the Heart of Christmas Darlene Love wi/ The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  18. Christmastime For The Jews – Darlene Love
  19. Xmas (Baby Please Come Home) Live 2005 – Darlene Love

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Part 2: Suprems xmasbboard

  1. Wish You A Merry Christmas – Kim Weston
  2. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – The Miracles (featuring Claudette Robinson)
  3. Oh Holy Night – The Supremes (featuring Florence Ballard)
  4. Won’t Be Long Before Christmas – The Supremes
  5. Blue Christmas – The Meditation Singers
  6. Blue Holiday – Aretha Franklin
  7. Love For Christmas  -The Gems
  8. Jing Jing A Ling – Honey & The Bees
  9. Silver Bells – Rachel Sweet
  10. Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas) – The Free Design
  11. The Christmas Song – Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
  12. I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You – Margo Guryan
  13. Happy New Year Baby – JoAnn Campbell
  14. Happy New Year Baby – The Sisters
  15. January First – Peggy March
  16. Happy New Year – Beverley
  17. Jingle Jingle Jingle – Burl Ives
  18. There’s Always Tomorrow – Janice Orenstein
  19. Auld Lang Syne – Honey & the Bees

I’ll be uploading other episodes of 60 Degrees in the future. I hope you enjoy them. Thanks for listening!Delvettes 45

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A Christmas Without Miracles: The 1987 “Motown” Christmas Special

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I have this pet peeve… it’s a situation that usually occurs at a party or in a bar situation. Someplace with a jukebox or a DJ where the alcohol flows freely. An overplayed 60’s soul hit like Respect or Dock Of The Bay starts to play and some booze bag sloshes over and says “OH I LOVE MOTOWN! I love Aretha and James BROWN and the Shirelles and the Ronettes and OTIS and ALL the rest of the Motown acts.”

Honey. Sit down. Let me get you a glass of water. We need to talk.

While I appreciate your enthusiasm, let’s set the record straight: Sam Cooke. Otis Redding. James Brown. The Shirelles. The Ronettes. They are NOT Motown acts. Never were. And while Aretha Franklin is FROM Motown, aka Detroit, she was never ON Motown records.

Referring to every black artist who recorded soul music in the 60’s as a “Motown” singer is lazy, insulting and possibly a teensy bit racist. Kapeesh? With that said, perhaps I should cut people some slack. I know, we are all very busy and don’t pay a whole lot of attention to minutiae. And besides, sometimes the record labels themselves are a little guilty of causing confusion. Case in point: The 1987 Motown Merry Christmas special.

First, a little context: In 1984 the Motown 25 TV special was a blockbuster ratings success, Motown 25with all the former stars of the record label coming home to celebrate Motown’s 25th Anniversary and kiss the ring of founder Berry Gordy. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The 4 Tops, The Temptations, Martha Reeves, Mary Wells and many others made appearances. Lionel Richie reunited with the Commodores! Smokey Robinson reunited with the Miracles! Diana Ross reunited with the Supremes for a minute and half before Miss Ross allegedly pushed Mary Wilson out of her way! That last part was edited out of the broadcast…. but anyway… the real highlight of the show was the reunited Jackson 5, followed by Michael Jackson’s performance of Billie Jean, which introduced the moonwalk to the world and we were never the same again.

Fast forward three years – the Motown brand was still being milked for all it was worth, even if their current roster of artists were not exactly burning up the charts. I mean, even DeBarge had left the label by this point. But a nostalgic look back at Motown with a Christmas special seemed like a good idea, as most of the top Motown acts had released holiday LPs during the label’s heyday. In fact, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson & Miracles each released two Christmas LPs on the label. But… you do have to get the acts to come back and perform for a TV special, right?

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For whatever reason (read: money) only the Temptations and Smokey Robinson are on hand for this star-studded Motown Merry Christmas, which was taped – not in Detroit – but at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood, California.

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The show aired December 14, 1987 on NBC, hosted by Philip Michael Thomas, the guy who wasn’t Don Johnson on the hit NBC-TV show Miami Vice. Interesting spot of trivia: Philip Michael ThomasThomas, notorious for his over-inflated ego, is credited with coining the acronym EGOT for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony wins, as he often crowed in interviews that he would win one of each. As of 2018, he has never been nominated for any of them.

The show opens with our humble host reading a version of “Twas The Night Before Christmas” that name-checks some Motown artists, including Stevie Wonder, who is not there.

This segues into a performance by the 1987 version of The Temptations (which means no Eddie Kendricks or David Ruffin). They are wearing nightshirts and slippers as they Temptations White Christmasperform a doo wop version of White Christmas. Although the group had recorded the song as a ballad on their 1970 Christmas album, that version is scrapped in favor of the Drifters uptempo arrangement, originally released on Atlantic records in 1954. In any case, it’s a fun showcase for the deep bass voice of original member Melvin Franklin.

Pointer Sisters MJNext, The Pointer Sisters sing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, a track from the very first A Very Special Christmas album, which had just been released and is now considered a classic. Their performance is spirited, but once again a reminder: The Pointer Sisters have nothing to do with Motown, although a kid imitating Michael Jackson does makes an appearance.

Redd Foxx Lola Falana

For the comedy portion of the program, Redd Foxx arrives onstage dressed as a pimped-out Santa Claus along with Marsha Warfield of NBC’s Night Court and Lola Falana of many a Las Vegas lounge. Redd performs a rap and the result is exactly what you would imagine a Redd Foxx rap might sound like. Then things get serious as they read a fake letter from an imaginary homeless child and Santa Foxx promises to find him on Christmas. So I guess the kid will have to fend for his imaginary self until then.

Side Note: Although Redd Foxx is best remembered today for Sanford and Son and his other sitcom work, he was also known as “The King of the Party Records” -with over 50 raunchy comedy LPs released on a dozen different record labels. None of these labels was Motown.

Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love deliver a medley of songs from the Phil Spector Darlene RonnieChristmas Album, which, of course, was not a Motown production. Darlene sings a generous portion of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Just the previous Christmas, she had performed the song on David Letterman’s show for the first time, launching a tradition that would continue for the next 28 years.

I forgot to mention: as this is the 1980’s, there is a large gaggle of dancers present throughout the entire show. During this segment they are dressed primarily in gold mylar, gyrating around Ronnie and Darlene as they herd from one end of the stage to the other. One of the more prominent dancers is Michael Perea, a staple of 80’s music videos for many artists including Michael Jackson, Cher and especially Madonna, having appeared in her videos as well as on the Virgin Tour and Live Aid performance. In the mid-80’s, I wanted to BE Michael Perea, shaking my tambourine to Dress You Up and Dancing On The Ceiling with Lionel Richie. I was sorry to learn recently that he died of AIDS complications in 1989.

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Next up – another medley: Desiree Coleman, one of two artists appearing here (besides Smokey) that was actually signed to the Motown label at the time. Desiree sings Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Desiree ColemanShe is decked out in a tacky 80’s outfit full of sequins and linebacker shoulder pads. I mean… all the costumes in this show are hideously dated, but this one is at the top of the very flammable acrylic heap.

Philip Michael Thomas is onstage with her but thankfully does not sing. Apropos of nothing, Desiree hits a Mariah Carey dog-whistle note at the end of her segment and Thomas leads her away. I’m not a fan.

Smokey sings a portion of a forgettable ballad before Natalie Cole comes in with her soulful rendition of Donny Hathaway’s This Christmas (Side note: do yourself a favor and check out Dave Holmes dissection of Patti LaBelle’s disastrous version of this song from the 1996 National Christmas Tree lighting. Really.)Natalie Smokey2

I remembered This Christmas as a highlight of the program, thinking that Smokey and Natalie had some real chemistry. Re-watching it now, I see that it’s all Natalie’s doing. SHE has chemistry. All we see is the back of Smokey’s head as she sings her way towards him. Together they segue into Give A Little Love On Christmas Day, and it sure does seem like someone’s gonna get a little love before Christmas day even gets here. Oh – Philip Michael Thomas and Desiree Coleman are still onstage too. Thankfully, Philip Michael Thomas still does not sing.

The Temptations are back with a very nice version of Silent Night, featuring the tight Temptations Silent Nightsoulful harmonies that are their trademark. They end their performance with a declaration: “Merry Christmas from the Motown Family…” as if they are here to represent the rest of the “family” who had to go visit the in-laws and just couldn’t make it this year.

After some more Redd Foxx shenanigans, Run DMC (who were on Profile records) performs Christmas In Hollis, which was also on the A Very Special Christmas LP. Quick geography lesson: Hollis is in Queens, New York, which is about as far from Detroit, Michigan as the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Stephanie Mills sings the R&B ballad When You Love Someone (It’s Christmas Every Day), a song that they twice mention was written by our very own Redd Foxx. What they don’t mention is that the song was recorded by former Motown artists Gladys Knight and The Pips, who are not here.Stephanie Mills2

It’s ironic that Mills appears on a Motown special for a couple of reasons: Not only was she never a Motown artist, but her greatest success was playing 13 year old Dorothy in The Wiz on Broadway, but when Motown produced the movie adaption, 34 year old Diana Ross was given the role.

Smokey and the Temptations are back again to sing The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire). This is fine. But where are the Miracles? Where are the 4 Tops? Gimme some Pips! My kingdom for a Marvelette!

Marsha Warfield

Marsha Warfield reappears dressed as a glittery bag lady as we head into the closing 8+ minute medley. Carrie McDowell is introduced. She is the only caucasian on the bill and the only other artist besides Desiree and Smokey signed to Motown at the time. Carrie McDowellThat said, she was dropped shortly after her debut LP tanked that same year. McDowell has the featured spot here… and this girl can SANG, that’s for sure, but…. this also means that all the other great singers behind her: Natalie Cole, Darlene Love, Pointer Sisters, etc. are given much shorter solos – some are reduced to a single line of a song. Poor Ronnie Spector has one duet line with Stephanie Mills.

Lola finaleLola Falana has a very brief solo with some very odd stilted physical movements, which I always attributed to the severe multiple sclerosis flareup that plagued her at the time. But upon repeated viewing, she moves quite naturally when she steps back in line with the others. So I don’t know what that was about.

The cast sings approximately 15 seconds of every holiday song ever written. Phillip Michael Thomas is singing now but nobody gives him a mic. And then we’re done. Credits roll. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

In 2000, Diana Ross attempted to launch a Supremes reunion – the first time they would have performed together since the Motown 25 special. Unfortunately, very little money was offered to Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong and both declined to participate. In their place were installed Lynda Lawrence and Scherrie Payne (Freda’s sister), both members of the Supremes in the 1970’s – years after Ross had left. Fans didn’t buy it and the tour fizzled out quickly. As with this program, it was just another example of the Motown name being slapped on something and fans were expected to eat it up.

Of course, if we are talking about drunk people at a party, maybe they do fall for it. But some of us are bound to stand up and say… Honey, no. We need to talk.

Motown Merry Christmas TV guide

Some Thanksgiving Treats For You

Happy Thanksgiving! I have arrived at your holiday feast bearing a cornucopia of tasty Turkey day treats, both bitter and sweet. Enjoy!

When it comes to holiday music, unfortunately Thanksgiving is lost in the long shadow of Christmas. There’s a severe lack of Thanksgiving songs, aren’t there? All we’ve got is Let’s Turkey Trot by Little Eva, and even then it is not really about Thanksgiving at all. The song’s title refers to the Turkey Trot, a dance step popular back in the early 1900’s.

Dimension DollsLet’s Turkey Trot was Eva Boyd’s third single, released in 1963 with the hopes of recapturing the #1 success of her debut platter, The Loco-Motion. Let’s Turkey Trot gave Little Eva a respectable showing on the charts, peaking at #20, although it should have been billed as Little Eva & The Cookies, as the backing group is as much a part of the success of the record as the lead. Group member Earl-Jean McCrea delivers solo lines echoing their own hits Chains & Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby, which also featured Little Eva on background vocals.

Here’s an abbreviated performance by Little Eva on Shindig in 1965. Darlene Love and the Blossoms stand in for the Cookies in what must be one of the proudest moments of their career. Gobble Diddle Dip!

The Dollyrots also covered this track in 2014. Besides using footage of Little Eva’s Shindig performance throughout the video, they also namecheck “Little Eva back in ’63”:

Want some Mashed Potatoes with your Turkey Trot? Here’s Dee Dee Sharp with her own ode to a Thanksgiving staple / dance move:

During the Thanksgiving episode of SNL in 1997, Lilith Fair stand-up comic Cinder Calhoun (a recurring character played by Ana Gasteyer) & singer Sara McLachlan paid a visit to Norm MacDonald and the Weekend Update desk, singing the Thanksgiving classic Basted In Blood. It would not be nearly as funny if they didn’t sing it so well.

https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/weekend-update-segment—cinder-and-sarah/n12937

On the darker side… one of the faux trailers from Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse is the hilariously spot-on Thanksgiving, directed by Eli Roth. It is entirely plausible that someone would have jumped on the bandwagon of grade-z holiday themed horror films that followed the success of Halloween. But this one is a fake. As of now. Who knows…. maybe Roth will film it one day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Madame Spivy’s Tarantella

Ladies and Gentleman, I’d like to reintroduce you to someone you should know (if you saw my earlier post about her): the late great Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he was born Bertha Levine in Brooklyn.”

Spivy piano

Spivy owned a chic NYC piano bar called Spivy’s Roof, which was on the top floor of a building that still stands at the corner of Fifty-Seventh Street & Lexington Avenue. Notable performers through its 11 year existence included Mabel Mercer, Thelma Carpenter and Martha Raye as well as early performances by Liberace and Paul Lynde.

Here is Paul Lynde talking about Spivy on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, April 30, 1976:

“I played another club – Spivy’s Roof. Do you remember Spivy’s? It was a penthouse club and it was very, very “in” when it was hot.  Well… I closed it. I closed Spivy’s. I really did. I was the last person to perform there and as I said it was up on top of the roof. And Spivy and I would be sitting back in the corner all alone and we’d hear the elevator and she’d say “Get your props, you’re on!” And I would get my props out… and it was just the elevator man… he was lonely and wanted to talk to us…. or the landlord trying to collect the rent.

“It was just incredible and you know Spivy… when we did have people, like on the weekend… I would announce her after I was through and she’d run in the john and lock herself in there until the club closed. She never would come on. She would as soon as the club closed … and Judy Garland and Martha Raye and Judy Holliday… they used to come in and Spivy would entertain all night long for them…. but she would not for the audience.

“Finally one night I went to work and the piano was down on the sidewalk under the canopy so I knew it was over.”

Spivy 7 gay LP copy

I previously posted her song The Alley Cat. Today we have The Tarantella – both such short recordings that they fit on the same side of a 78 record as part of her 1939 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs. This is one of the few compositions credited solely to Spivy.

The Tarantella

Oh she did the tarantella with a colorful umbrella and in her hat, she wore a quill.
She dressed up like a fella in a suit of real bright yellow just to give the audience a thrill.
She would prance in her dance with the chance that her pants wouldn’t stand the strain. 
She would fall into splits til the folks lost their wits and cried “Again! Another refrain!”

Her coattails she would swish up and they said she shocked the bishop
But the bishop said “Oh no.”
She may be slightly vicious but her footwear is delicious, why it makes me shout “Bravo!”
I shall not leave this place until three times more at least she will 
Do the tarantella with that colorful umbrella and in her hat, that darling quill.

Oh she did the tarantella with a colorful umbrella and in her hat, she wore a quill.
She dressed up like a fella in a suit of real bright yellow just to give the audience a thrill.
She would prance in her dance with the chance that her pants wouldn’t stand the strain. 
She would fall into splits til the folks lost their wits and cried “Again! Another refrain!”

Her coattails she would swish up and they said she shocked the bishop
But the bishop said “Oh no.”
She may be slightly vicious but her footwear is delicious, why it makes me shout “Bravo!”
I shall not leave this place until three times more at least she will 
Do the tarantella with that colorful umbrella and in her hat, that goddamn quill.

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That goddamn quill. It always surprises me to hear swearing on a 78 record. Even light swearing. It’s not as if she dropped an F-bomb. But we are so used to the sanitized Hollywood version of the 1930’s that it is easy to forget that curse words were not invented in the 1960’s. It’s not the last expletive that we will hear from Madame Spivy, as future posts will show…

Click here for Auntie’s Face.

Click here for 100% American Girls

Click here to revisit The Alley Cat

Spivy Manchurian Candidate
No quill in her hat: Madame Spivy in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Your Halloween 60’s Girl Group Playlist

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It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years since I put this Halloween show together for 60 Degrees, my weekly radio show focusing on “60’s chicks and girl groups – the hidden gems, cult favorites and unreleased obscurities of the decade.” The show ran for five years (2008-2013) on East Village Radio, a storefront internet radio station in New York City. This Halloween episode was originally broadcast on October 27, 2008 and aired every Halloween for the duration of the run. As with every episode, the songs were interspersed with vintage commercials, sound effects and movie clips.

Janie JonesIn this very special episode, we’ve got soul witches, rockabilly rabble-rousers, death discs, horror movie theme songs, science fiction sirens, girls driven to madness by love and more dead boyfriends than you can shake a broomstick at. Plus a whole lot more!

UPDATE: Unfortunately due to copyright claims, parts 1 & 3 are housed on xtube as they were removed from youtube – there are links below but beware of adjacent NSFW content. 😉

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Part 1:  32271754_1665062953574761_4924338085430296576_n

  1. Reparata & the Delrons – Panic
  2. Babs Tino – Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
  3. Sparkle Moore – Skull & Crossbones
  4. Wanda Jackson – Riot In Cellblock 9
  5. Southern Culture On The Skids – Torture
  6. France Gall – Frankenstein
  7. The Crystals – Frankenstein Twist
  8. Hayley Mills – Jimmy Bean
  9. Claudine Clark – Walking Through A Cemetery
  10. The Sham-ettes – Hey There Big Bad Wolf

Part 2:c82209d7084a0308624f95dbe31eea5b

  1. Hayley Mills – Cranberry Bog
  2. The Shangri-La’s – Give Us Your Blessing
  3. The Satisfactions – Daddy You Just Gotta Let Him In
  4. The Goodees – Condition Red
  5. The Nu-Luvs – So Soft, So Warm (Dressed In Black)
  6. The Whyte Boots (Lori Burton) – Nightmare
  7. Glenda Collins – It’s Hard To Believe It
  8. Judy Garland – Purple People Eater
  9. The Kane Triplets – Theme From Mission Impossible
  10. Tracy – Strange Love
  11. Mikki Young – Who Killed Teddy Bear?
  12. Patti Seymour – The Silencer
  13. Josie Cotton – Maneaters (Get Off The Road)

https://www.xtube.com/video-watch/embedded/60-degrees-wi-brian-ferrari-halloween-girlgroups-pt-3-37900991?embedSize=big

Part 3:60degrees1

  1. Janie Jones – Witches Brew
  2. Martha & The Vandellas – Mobile Lil The Dancing Witch
  3. Bettye Lavette – Witchcraft In The Air
  4. Erma Franklin – Abracadabra
  5. Dusty Springfield – Spooky
  6. Marie Applebee – The Boy Who Took My Heart (took my mind)
  7. The Love Chain – The Love Chain
  8. Peggy Lee – The Case of M.J.
  9. Janie Jones – Psycho
  10. The Martin Sisters – Mother Mother (I Feel Sick)
  11. Julie Budd – All’s Quiet On West 23rd St.
  12. Gayle Haness – Johnny Ander
  13. The Indigos – He’s Coming Home
  14. Cass Elliott – The Costume Ball
  15. Teacho & The Students – Chills & Fever
  16. Dusty Springfield – Haunted

     

10 Forgotten Cher Moments

Comedian Frank DeCaro recently tweeted:  I’m convinced Cher gave us the Dancing Queen album so we could get through the Kavanaugh hearings.

I was intrigued with this album concept from the moment it was announced: Cher covering ABBA. Two great tastes that taste great together. I put it on my Christmas wish list. But after the album’s release last week, a wave of raves washed across my very gay Facebook newsfeed. So I purchased it and, I must say…. listening to this album makes me downright giddy. It’s the perfect antidote to 2018: Chicken soup for the ears, if you will.

10 Dancing queenDancing Queen scored an A- minus from Entertainment Weekly and is likely to debut atop the Billboard album charts later this week. Reminder: Cher is 72 years old. This is 20 years after the #1 success of Believe, which was considered to be an impossibly late career comeback at that time.

This seemed like a good time to have a look at some of the forgotten moments of Cher’s fifty-fucking-five year career.

Let’s face it – some things are not remembered because they are just not very good. But there will always be some uber-fan in the comments section that will argue that Cher has never had a bad moment, EVER and you can go to HELL if you disagree. Cher 70s

Also – some critical or commercial failures do fare better when viewed through the lens of time. So let’s not categorize the following examples as good or bad… just… worth a mention.

 

Like this outfit.

 

 

1 Bittersweet white light1) Bittersweet White Light (1973)– In certain circles, this LP is considered a camp classic. It’s up to you to decide if you belong in that camp. If you want to hear Cher tackle an Al Jolson medley and other American songbook standards while wading through a muddy, dated Sonny Bono production, look no further! Although her vocal rage had expanded since the 1960’s, she was still partially stuck in her honking Dylan-by-way-of-Sonny-style of singing. Compare her vocals here to anything she has recorded in the past two decades: Vocoder and pitch correction aside, her range now – vocally, stylistically, dramatically – is a world away from her own limitations 40+ years ago.

2) A Woman’s Story / Baby I Love You (1974) Cher reunited with producer Phil Spector for this single, which has never appeared on any Cher LP or compilation. The A-side was written by Spector with brother / sister duo Nino Tempo & April Stevens. Soft Cell’s Marc Almond covered this with a spot-on Cher imitation that few realized because the original was so obscure.

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The B-side is a cover of the Ronettes classic – Cher sang backing vocals on the 1963 original. Here, the song is slowed down to a snail’s pace while ramping up the bombast that you would expect from a Spector production. I won’t argue the pros and cons of this venture – some think it’s brilliant, while Ronnie Spector reports that John Lennon referred to it as proof that Phil had gone ‘round the bend.

 

 

3) Cherished (1977) – Cher’s last Snuff Garrett-produced LP continued in the storytelling style of their earlier #1 hits Dark Lady and Half Breed. But by 1977, both Cher and the pop music world had moved on. Like her other mid-70’s solo LPs, this album never charted and has never been released on CD. Cher reportedly owns the rights and has no plans to re-release them.

4 black rose4) Black Rose (1980) People forget that Cher is a rock chick at heart. She seems to have made peace with dance music now, but in 1980 she was bristling under the disco material she was recording for Casablanca records. Cher formed and fronted Black Rose, a punkish indie rock band with then boyfriend/guitarist Les Dudek. Casablanca released one LP – it was neither a critical or commercial success and closed out her tenure at the record label.

5) Cher & Meat Loaf: Dead Ringer For Love (1981): From Mr. Loaf’s follow up to the hugely successful Bat Out Of Hell LP. This duet was a moderate chart hit in other countries, but inexplicably not released as a single in the U.S. If you want to hear Cher take part in the trademark aural excesses of a Jim Steinman production, here it is.

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6) I Paralyze (1982) Continuing her early 80’s musical slump, this sole LP for Columbia records was a flop. New Wave Cher didn’t translate well to the current pop market. She then focused on her acting career for the next 5 years before resurfacing with 1987’s self-titled comeback LP. At the time it seemed like she had been gone for much longer, since her early 80’s material had all gone largely unnoticed. Here she is on American Bandstand:

 

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7) Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean (1982) – Robert Altman directed this low-budget movie version of the Broadway play, which he also directed with the same cast. Cher co-starred with Karen Black, Sandy Dennis and a young Kathy Bates. While not commercially successful, people did sit up and take notice of her acting chops. Surprisingly, the whole movie is on YouTube, but skip to 1.29 if you want to watch her character’s heartbreaking meltdown.

 

8 not.com.mercial.jpeg8) Not.com.mercial CD (1994/2000) – In 1994, Cher attended a songwriter’s workshop that garnered an album’s worth of songs that she had co-written. The resulting album was subsequently rejected by her record label as “Nice, but not commercial.” Cher held on to it for 6 years before releasing it with little fanfare via the internet during her post-Believe renaissance. At the time, she said “I think that the internet is a place that at least it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s life and if you want to go there you can go there and check it out, and if you don’t want to be bothered by it you don’t even have to know it’s in the universe” Reviews were generally favorable.

9 Walking in memphis9) Walking in Memphis (1995) – When the record company rejected Cher’s songwriter LP, she returned the following year with It’s A Man’s World, about which she told the Advocate “I don’t know. It’s kind of good. It doesn’t suck.” The standout track is her cover of Marc Cohn’s signature song. A modest success in Europe and the UK, it sank without a trace in the U.S. It should have been a hit, with a music video featuring Cher in Elvis drag. Cher liked the video so much, it was played in its entirety on the big screen during her live shows for years after. Take that, bitches.

10 Faithful10)  Faithful (1996) – Director Paul Mazursky’s final film – written by Chazz Palmienteri based on his stage play. This was the end of Cher’s A-list Hollywood film career – whether it was the cause or she purposely walked away is debatable. In any case, the film was a commercial failure – criticized for not translating well to the big screen. A charming LA Times review also said “she’s had so much cosmetic surgery, you can’t get through a single close-up without marveling at the cadaverous mask she has become.” Which… by the way… have you seen Palmienteri lately? But I digress: It’s a pretty good movie that is definitely worth revisiting.

 

BONUS: Don’t Come Crying To Me (1991/1999)

Originally recorded during the Heart Of Stone album sessions, the song was unreleased until 1999, when it was remixed and included in first pressings of If I Could Turn Back Time: Cher’s Greatest Hits. The song was later removed, at Cher’s request. In any case, it’s a favorite of mine.

Madame Spivy’s Alley Cat

Ladies and Gentleman, I’d like to introduce you to a long lost lady of song that you should know: the late great Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I would add “…. if he was born Bertha Levine in Brooklyn.”

Spivy cover2In the 1930’s, the former Ms. Levine entertained as a singer/pianist in the back room at Tony’s, a Fifty-Second Street speakeasy and celebrity hot spot. In 1939, the New York Times wrote that “Spivy’s material, witty, acid, and tragicomic, is better than most of the essays one hears about town, and her delivery is that of a sophisticated artist on her own grounds. She knows the value of surprise in punching a line, she uses understatement unerringly, and her piano accompaniment is superb.”

Spivy opened her own chic piano bar, Spivy’s Roof, in the summer of 1940 on the top floor of a building at the corner of Fifty-Seventh Street & Lexington Avenue. Notable performers through its 11 year existence included Mabel Mercer, Thelma Carpenter and Martha Raye as well as early performances by Liberace and Paul Lynde. Spivy’s Roof makes an appearance in the seminal book Gay New York and pops up in several memoirs and biographies of performers, artists and notable society personalities of that era.

Spivy's Roof

Writer Ignacio Schwartz fondly recalls visits to Spivy’s Roof when he was a Holden Caulfield-esque 16 year old boarding school student seeking adventure in New York. The whole article is worth a read, but here’s an excerpt:

She was a plump lady (one writer said that she was “squat like a bulldog.”) She wore her hair in a tight pompadour with a white streak down the middle. She would place a tall glass of what was probably chilled gin on the piano before her. During her time on stage, she would drain a couple, but her singing — her low, throaty voice — would always be perfect.

The one (song) I remember best of all is The Alley Cat. I cannot for the life of me remember more than a couple of lines of Hamlet that I was taught in that Prussian military school. I still have trouble remembering which novels were written by the Brontë sisters and the ones that came from the pen of Jane Austen. But to this day I can recite most of the words of The Alley Cat, along with the intonations, the riffs (and the pauses for laughs) exactly as it has been tricked away in my memory-bag for the last fifty years.

Spivy Alley Cat copy

The Alley Cat, which Spivy co-wrote with Jill Rainsford, was a staple from her live show and recorded for her 78 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs (1939).

Here’s a video that I put together with lyrics included:

The Alley Cat

On the 14th floor of a walk-up flat, I used to keep an alley cat.
Each night I’d walk him down the stair, and waited while he got the air.
He grew up fast and developed a yen, no sooner was he in than he was out again.
I hated to spoil his fun, but I knew what must be done.

So I called the cat and he staggered home, with a ragged ear and a broken dome
But I knew he felt like hell that day, so I spoke to him this way:
Is it worth it? For that momentary something to yowl around til neighbors call the cops?
Is it worth it? For that momentary something to have nine hundred kittens call you “Pop”?

You’ve been an awful wild cat – you should welcome a vacation.
Just to sit around and brood and think about your operation.
I’ll give you one more night out to complete your education
Then the sheltered life is good enough for you.

I took him to the vet and had his profile bobbed, and when he sat down he said, ‘Hell, I’ve been robbed!’
He went out that night but came right home to bed, and the look on his face was a scream as he said:
“Well, you’ve done it. Now the operation’s over, I’ll never be the same, it seems so strange, but you’ve done it.
Now the operation’s over, no longer will I take chances with the mange.

I had so many wives, I didn’t know where I was at.
But since my change of scenery all the girl cats holler ‘Scat!’
I pass them by and hear them cry; ‘There goes that pansy cat.’
But the sheltered life is good enough for me.”

Spivy 7gay copy

Spivy recorded approximately 15 of her most popular songs. Some she co-wrote with Rainsford, others with lyricist John LaTouche. None of these recordings – originally issued on 78 record albums between 1939-1949 – were ever reissued in any format. I am slowly uploading them to youtube and will dole them out along with other Spivy tidbits in the near future.

(UPDATE: Click here for The Tarantella, here is Auntie’s Face and here for 100% American Girls)

In the meantime, if you are so inclined, check out the Queer Music Heritage website , which has a lot of information on Spivy, although the site is rather antiquated and some browsers won’t support it…. If you choose to heed the “unsecure site” warnings and avoid it… then the sheltered life is good enough for you.

Gimme Gimme Gimme… Erasure Covering ABBA

When Cher’s cover of ABBA’s Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) was released earlier this month and immediately mashed-up with Madonna’s Hung Up, one Facebook friend of mine declared that the result was gay ground zero. To this I meekly respond… “….but what about Erasure’s cover of Gimme Gimme Gimme? Cuz, ya know… lead singer Andy Bell is actually… gay?”

Erasure Pierre Gilles1

Erasure’s version first appeared in 1986 as a B-side of their third single, Oh L’Amour, a modest chart hit at the time that has proven to be one of the band’s signature songs.

Oh Lamourerasure-gimme-gimme-gimme 45sire

 

Trying to keep track of Erasure’s discography takes more time than anyone but the most devoted fan has to offer. Album track listings vary on different releases throughout the world, not to mention multiple reissues and bonus editions. As far as I know, this original version of Gimme Gimme Gimme was never included on any of their official album releases, although there was a remix on a 2011 Wonderland double-CD reissue and a live version was included on Two Ring Circus.

Erasure wonderlandEISErasure 2 ring

It was also a staple in their live act in the 1980’s – there are several versions on concert DVD releases, some with Andy singing a few a capella bars from ABBA’s Money Money Money before launching into Gimme Gimme Gimme.

ABBA sure did like repeat-word song titles, didn’t they? Well Honey, Honey, I’m not sure I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do. But anyway…

I was an ABBA fan from childhood and got into Erasure as a teen, when Andy Bell was one of the few out gay singers. Any gay singer at that time still had to remain coy in their lyrics – Boy George would tumble for “you” rather than “him.” Frankie might say “Relax” but not “when HE wants to come.” Erasure singing Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) was quite a revelation to my 18-year-old gay self. Covering a song without changing the gender in the lyric is done more frequently now – often just to be provocative. But in the 80’s? Not so much.

erasure.jpg

I remember playing the song in my freshman dorm room (vinyl on a real record player, thank you very much) while my straight but artistic roommate came to the realization that the androgynous singer pleading for a man after midnight was a dude. Towards the end of this version, the song builds as the tempo speeds up … and up… and up…with Andy Bell imploring “Gimme. GimmeGimme….” Well. I thought my roomie’s Depeche-Mode-lovin’ head just might explode.

 

AbbaABBA had not experienced any kind of renaissance at this point. They were a 70’s relic, prone to ridicule like Saturday Night Fever or Donny and Marie. Most of their LP catalogue was out of print. If you had their old albums, you certainly did not bring them to college. It wasn’t until the 90’s that the group would have wave after wave of resurgences – ironic or otherwise.

1992 saw the release of Erasure’s ABBA-eque EP – a collection of 4 ABBA covers that hit #1 on the UK charts. Unfortunately, Gimme Gimme Gimme was not a part of this collection, which featured SOS, Lay All Your Love On Me, Take A Chance On Me and Voulez-Vous. The video for Take A Chance… had Vince Clarke and Andy Bell in and out of drag, playing all 4 member of ABBA.

ErabbaErabba2

The ABBA Gold greatest hits came out later in 1992 and never stopped selling…. followed by the film Muriel’s Wedding in 1994…

Muriels Wedding

… and then the A*Teens, the stage musical Mamma Mia, the movie(s)… and the rest is history.

mamma MIA

So maybe Erasure had a part in ABBA’s renaissance. Or maybe they just caught the first wave. In any case, their version of Gimme Gimme Gimme deserves a listen. Maybe someone will mash them up with Cher AND Madonna for the ultimate gay apocalypse.

Cher Mamma Mia

Oh! And while Andy Bell was often the one running around scantily clad onstage, here’s a NSFW pic of Vince Clarke from photographer Rankin’s book Male Nudes. Gimme Gimme indeed.

Kate Bush is 60, too! Revisiting Her Gayest Songs.

Here’s something for you to chew on: Madonna and Kate Bush are the same age. I always have trouble reconciling this – they never seemed to exist on the same planet, let alone at the same time, but it’s true – The Material Girl and our ethereal goddess have both turned 60 this month. I have always been a fan of both of them and am not here to put down one over the other. I love them for different reasons – to hold one up to the other would be like comparing apples and umami. Diversity among the divas, right?

Madge has garnered plenty of press upon turning 60, so I wanted to focus on Kate, specifically her early gay-centric songs. Two appeared on her second LP, Lionheart, which came out 40 years ago this November – another number I can’t quite wrap my head around. Lionheart may be her least-known LP, rushed out just 9 months after her acclaimed debut, The Kick Inside. Much of the material were songs written by Kate throughout her teens, including Kashka From Baghdad and Wow.

The-Kick-Inside-US-Sleeve_0-559x560Lionheart1

Prone to obscure literary inspiration, Kate would often (reluctantly) explain the origins of her lyrics by vaguely pointing the listener in the right direction, allowing them to fill in the blanks for themselves. Kashka From Baghdad is not a song that needs much explanation. The opening line:

Kashka from Baghdad lives in sin they say / With another man / But no one knows who

Kate sings the song from the perspective of a person watching their shadows “Tall and slim in the window opposite / 
I long to be with them.”

The chorus, if you can call it that, is: At night they’re seen / Laughing, loving / They know the way / To be happy

Awfully progressive for a catholic teen writing songs at her piano in the mid-70’s British suburbs, don’t you think?

Kashka From Baghdad is one of Kate’s many forgotten early songs – overlooked in favor of all the brilliance that came after. On the other hand, every Kate Bush compilation contains the song Wow, which became her third UK top 20 hit song. “‘Wow’ is about the music business,” she said at the time. “Not just rock music but show business in general, including acting and theatre.” Fill in the blanks yourself.

Kate Bush Wow singleKATE_BUSH_WOW-68451

In the book Kate Bush, A Visual Documentary, authors Kevin Cann & Sean Mayes go a bit further in explaining the lyrics: “… people working together hype each other’s spirits up with their enthusiasm and admiration. But as most performers know this can be deceptive – ‘still we don’t head the bill.’ And this actor has a problem: many successful performers are gay, but some are too gay – ‘He’ll never make the Sweeney (a popular UK TV program at the time), be that movie queen. He’s too busy hitting the vaseline.’ For many gay actors, there is no place in the mainstream – we’ll call you – ‘but don’t hold your breath.'”

Wow vaseline

 

In the original video for the song, Kate punctuates the ‘hitting the vaseline’ line with a pat on the bum, which was suggestive enough to get the video censored by the BBC.

 

 

There is a song called Moving on Kate’s first LP that was written about Lindsay Kemp, her dance teacher and mentor. Kemp was/is an openly gay dancer/actor/mime, a highly influential British artist who was involved personally and professionally with David Bowie. He staged and performed in the Ziggy Stardust stage show among many other acclaimed theatrical productions with his own dance company.

lindsay kemp bowie

“I couldn’t believe how strongly Lindsay communicates with people without even opening his mouth;” Kate said in a 1979 interview. “It was incredible, he had the whole audience in his control, just with his little finger. And it was amazing. I’d never seen anything like it, I really hadn’t. And I felt if it was possible to combine that strength of movement with the voice, then maybe it would work, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

I’m not going to pretend to know how vigorously Kemp pursued a film career, but a glance at the IMDB shows a list of film roles that seldom had character names: Pantomime Dame, Jester, Cabaret Performer …

 

“We’d give you a part, my love, but you’d have to play the fool….”

Kate Lindsay 1993

 

Well, she did give him a part. In 1993, Kate cast Kemp in his biggest film role costarring with her and Miranda Richardson in The Line, The Cross and the Curve.

 

 

Here’s wishing Kate a Happy 60th Birthday. I still hope that she might bring her triumphant 2016 stage show to Broadway for a limited run. We shall see. Whatever her next move, oooh yeah… it’ll be amazing.

Wow1

You Know The B-52’s Song Roam Is About Butt Sex, Right?

A couple of months ago, the internet burst into flames when Bunny Wailer, songwriter of The Electric Slide, confirmed rumors that the song is indeed about a vibrator. (It’s electric!).

An article on the Aazios site quoted him as saying that he wrote the song after a girlfriend told him she didn’t need him because she had a toy she nicknamed the “electric slide”. The story went viral.

Singer Marcia Griffiths was not happy about it. “I don’t sing about vibrators,” she said. “I sing to teach, educate and uplift.”

“Why not both?” I say.

ALT whynot both

Huffpost, which initially reposted the Aazios story, then printed an update that it was not true… noting, apropos of nothing, that Aazios is “an online source of LGBTQ news and entertainment” – as if that had anything to do with Bunny Wailer, the vibrator, or the validity of the story.

Snopehas labeled the story FALSE with a quote from Bunny Wailer that reads like a statement issued by a lawyer protecting a client from litigation: “At no time have I ever lent credence to a rumor that the song was inspired by anything other than Eddie Grant’s Electric Avenue. To state otherwise is a falsehood and offends my legacy, the legacy of singer Marcia Griffiths, and tarnishes the reputation of a song beloved by millions of fans the world over.”

The problem is… he wrote the song in the 1970’s, years before Eddie Grant’s 1982 hit. The song was dusted off and reworked to ride the “Electric” coattails of that hit record. And thirty-five years later, it is still a dance floor staple at a certain calibre of venue. It makes sense that anybody who still makes money off this record does not want to suddenly admit that their cash cow is about a dildo.

electric slide

 

Bottom line: It is or it isn’t. But forevermore you will have a topic of conversation to yell over your 9th cocktail while your mom and Karen from finance are knocking into each other on the dance floor. 

 

So… now can we talk about The B-52’s 1989 hit song Roam? You know that it’s about butt sex, right?

b52s wildplanet

Of course, nobody is going to step up and confirm this now. The B-52’s still make a nice living touring the world performing Roam along with party classics like Rock Lobster and Love ShackOne song they haven’t performed in years is Dirty Back Road, a track from their 1980 Wild Planet LP. Co-written by a guy named Robert Waldrop with band member Ricky Wilson, it’s not that much of a stretch to figure out what this little ditty is about:

 

Wreckless driving / Like a sports car / God I want you / Like a fuel engine / Energized line / Like a road / You ride me / Like a road / You ride me / Foot on the peddle / Feet in the air / Sand in my hair / Don’t look back / Don’t look behind you / Reckless drivin’ on / Dirty back road

Pretty obvious, right? Well… of course not, according to YouTube comments. People will argue about anything. I know, I know. Never read the comments.

b52s dirty back roadb52s-dirty-back-road-1980

So lets move on to Roam: Co-written again by Robert Waldrop, this time with the surviving members of the band. Ricky Wilson had passed away from AIDS complications in 1985 during the recording of the Bouncing Off The Satellites LP. After taking a few years off, the band came back in 1989 with the LP Cosmic Thing, which would be their biggest commercial success. The singles Love Shack and Roam topped the charts around the world and still get regular airplay today.

b52s cosmic thingb52s roam

When did I realize that Roam was about butt sex? I couldn’t say. I just always knew. I saw Robert Waldrop’s name in the cassette booklet, read the lyrics to Roam and thought “Oh… he cleaned up the Dirty Back Road.” Well, not completely – the second line has them “dancing down those dirty and dusty trails.” It may not be as blatant, but it’s there.

The phrase “Take it hip to hip rock it through the wilderness” is repeated about a dozen times throughout the song.

The chorus: Roam if you want to / Roam around the world / Without wings without wheels / Roam around the world / Without anything but the love we feel… 

And then there’s this verse:

Hit the air-strip to the sunset Ride the arrow to the target / Take it hip to hip rock it through the wilderness / Around the world the trip begins with a kiss 

(at this point in the video, a banana goes through a hole in a bagel)Roam

I would like to make it clear that I do not make these pronouncements as some sort of slander. Believe me, I am a big fan of butt sex and partake as often as possible.

In posting this piece, I realize that there are people who will get annoyed or upset that their favorite B-52’s hit is all about taking a ride on the Hershey highway, but really… if you think this is shocking or not possibly true then you never really understood the band and/or their sense of humor in the first place. People who only know them from Top 40 radio might not remember that they were/are a predominantly gay party bandThey were messysubversive and more than just a little punk. Fun punk. 

If a clueless fan does not know that, it’s akin to saying that you love John Waters because of Hairspray and Cry Baby, but have never seen Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble.

Polyester

Like many other bands before or since, the B-52’s started out edgy and moved towards mainstream pop as their career progressed. While their current tour does pull heavily from their first two LPs, their bread and butter is still playing the hit songs. They are a business  not so much a band as a corporation like their contemporaries The Go-Go’s and Blondie.

Even if the B-52’s issued a statement today that Roam never was or is about getting popped in the pooper, the motivation would not be to tell the truth, but rather to protect their own livelihoodCase in point: The Village People, Inc. When faced with anti-gay protests for a gig in Jamaica back in 1998their representative had the balls to issue a statement that there was nothing gay about them. The fucking Village People, people. I would like to think that the B-52’s are still way too cool to ever do such a thing.

So… I just thought you ought to know. Roam is about takin’ it up the ass. And now you have a topic of conversation when you hear it wafting over the airwaves at the supermarket or when you are in line at the bankI am not going to debate the evidence. It is what it is. I think it’s a hoot – it makes me chuckle whenever I hear it. But if you feel a strong opposition to the theory… may I invite you to hit the airstrip… and teach yourself the Electric Slide. Boogie woogie woogie.

B52s loveshack.gif