12 (More) Forgotten Classics by Women-Led New Wave Bands

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Last week, the New York Times posted a piece by Doug Brod titled 12 Forgotten Classics by Women-Led New Wave Bands. Brod writes: “……for every Kate Bush, Blondie, Bow Wow Wow or Go-Go, there were lesser-known female artists who exuded both sharp, shoulder-padded glamour and beehived, boho cool, often mixed with quick wit and sass.”

It’s an admirable dozen, evenly weighted with some of my favorites (The Waitresses, Josie Cotton, Rachel Sweet, Pearl Harbor & the Explosions, The Passions, Holly & The Italians) and tracks I had forgotten or never heard before (The Cosmopolitans, Nervus Rex, Spider, Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, Pulsallama, Suzanne Fellini).

Kenneth Walsh of KennethInThe212 blog posted a link to the article noting “I guess every writer finds himself saying, ‘How did I not write this’ at some point or another…..Seriously, how did I NOT write this?”

(Update: Kenneth has posted his list HERE)

I thought I would take the bait and compile my own list. And here we are:

12 (More) Forgotten Classics by Women-Led New Wave Bands

Of course, “forgotten” is subjective. Is The Flirts’ Don’t Put Another Dime In The Jukebox forgotten just because nobody can remember the band name or mis-identifies them as the Bangles? If I say “I might like you better if we slept together” to the most casual fan of new wave music and they get the reference but can’t place the band, does that make Romeo Void forgotten? Can a song be considered forgotten when it is on the soundtrack of one of the most popular video games of all time? (I’m looking at you, Passions. With a side-eye towards Romeo Void as well).

Both of these lists assume that you are already familiar with prominent post-punk / new wave acts like The Raincoats, Marine Girls, Slits, Go-Go’s, Blondie, Berlin, Eurythmics, Motels, Altered Images, Bananarama, Divinyls, Missing Persons, Pretenders,  Kim Wilde, Siouxsie, Yaz, Nena, Lena, Nina… the list goes on.

So – now that I have set the playing field, here are my picks – chosen by a middle-aged New Yorker who still loves the music of the 80’s but with little nostalgia for the decade. The music was great, but it was the pits to live through. Don’t kid yourself.

The Shirts – Laugh and Walk Away (1979)

The Shirts were the CBGB’s band that got away. Rubbing shoulders with the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads did not lead to worldwide success, although they garnered a few hits in Europe. Laugh and Walk Away was a single from their second LP Streetlight Shine.

Post-1981 breakup, lead singer Annie Golden’s Hang Up The Phone was a highlight of the Sixteen Candles soundtrack. Her eclectic career is now in its 5th decade, spanning film (Hair), Broadway (Leader of the Pack), and television (Cheers, Orange Is The New Black).  By all accounts she’s also one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. And The Shirts do get back together from time to time.

Hilary – Drop Your Pants (1983)

Hilary Blake released one EP – the Stephen Hague-produced Kinetic. Both the title tune and Drop Your Pants were voted “Screamer of the Week” – the coveted top-voted song by listeners to New York’s influential WLIR alternative radio station. Drop Your Pants – with a repetitive pulsating chorus of “Drop you pants around your ankles / You make me shiver when you deliver” was Hilary’s commentary on how ridiculous the fear of sex in United States was at the time.

Hilary and Hague were married for many years but had divorced before she died of cancer in 2007.

Jane Aire and the Belvederes – Breaking Down The Walls Of Heartache (1979)

Jane Aire, aka Jane Ashley was one of several acts (The Waitresses and Rachel Sweet among them) featured on Liam Sternberg’s Akron compilation LP. Like Chrissie Hynde before her, Ashley left the wilds of Ohio to record in London, where her Belvederes were the UK band also known as The Edge: Lu Edmonds, Gavin Povey, Glyn Havard and Jon Moss (later of Culture Club).

Following a couple of Stiff singles, an LP was released on Virgin with background vocals provided by Ms. Sweet and Kirsty MacColl .  The album features several choice covers: Pearl Harbour & The Explosions’ Driving, The Supremes’ Come See About Me, and this Northern Soul classic by Johnny Johnson & His Bandwagon which was also later recorded by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

Mari Wilson – Just What I Always Wanted (1982)

Mari Wilson was the epitome of the “beehive boho cool” that Brod writes about in the New York Times piece. And the foot-high beehive was her real hair. Do other people consider this song forgotten? It’s a default earworm in my head, so my perception may be off. But I am happy to introduce it to anyone who doesn’t know it.

Just What I Always Wanted was Wilson’s biggest hit – reaching the UK top 10 accompanied by a video which gave glimpses of the dynamic stage show Mari and her Wilsations were famous for. As it turned out, being a pop star wasn’t just what she always wanted, and she moved on to successful forays in jazz and stage musicals. Wilson may not have garnered more pop hits, but her catalogue is considerable and definitely worth checking out.

Face To Face – 10-9-8 (1984)

Laurie Sargent fronted the Boston-based quintet Face To Face. In the 1984 movie Streets of Fire, the fictional band Ellen Aim and The Attackers were played onscreen by Diane Lane and the male members of Face to Face, with Lane lip-synching Laurie‘s lead vocals on several tracks. 10-9-8 was Face To Face’s debut single on Epic records and also their biggest hit – peaking at #38 on the US Billboard Top 100.

Book Of Love – Boy (1985)

Boy was the debut single by Book of Love, a New York by way of Philadelphia synthpop band fronted by Susan Ottaviano. Signed by Seymour Stein to his Sire records, the band gained exposure opening for Depeche Mode on their 1985 & 1986 tours.

Although Boy was popular enough in NY to become a WLIR “Screamer of the Week” in February 1985, the song did not chart nationally until 2001, when a Peter Rauhofer remix topped the U.S. Dance Charts. In a 2016 Village Voice interview, keyboardist/songwriter Ted Ottaviano revealed that the song was written about the gay East Village night spot Boy Bar.

Burns Sisters Band – I Wonder Who’s Out Tonight (1986)

Nowadays, Ithaca New York’s Burns Sisters are a well regarded folk duo with 10 albums under their belt. Back in the mid-80’s, The Burns Sisters Band launched as a quintet of siblings giving the Bangles a run for their money. Marie, Annie, Jeannie, Sheila and Terry had the WLIR “Screamer of the Week” with this single in July of 1986 – perfect listening while takin’ the time to do your hair / puttin’ on something HOT to wear.

The Tourists – So Good To Be Back Home Again (1980)

The Tourists’ output included three LPs and a handful of hit singles in their native UK. A peppy cover of Dusty Springfield’s I Only Wanna Be With You scraped the US charts as well. Keyboardist Ann Lennox shared lead vocal duties with guitarist Pete Coombs. There was also a guy named David Stewart in the band. After The Tourists split in 1980, David and Ann went on to do some other stuff you may have heard of, but their Tourists output is seldom mentioned and definitely worth a revisit, starting with this track – a top 10 hit in the UK and Ireland.

Put Your Back To It – November Group  (1983)

I actually ventured into the comments section of the NYT article (I know – the comments section can be a scary place. But for the most part, this time it wasn’t.) There were quite a few mentions of this alt band from the Boston new wave scene. November Group formed in the early 1980s with Ann Prim and Kearney Kirby, both previously of Wunderkind. Put Your Back To It was a single from their second LP- Persistent Memories.

Suburban Lawns – Janitor (1981)

“What do you do?”

Su Tissue was trying to have a conversation in a noisy room. She misheard the response “I’m a janitor” as “Oh, my genitals.” And a song chorus was born.

Suburban Lawns was formed in Long Beach, California in 1978 by CalArts students William “Vex Billingsgate” Ranson and Sue “Su Tissue” McLane. Their first single Gidget Goes To Hell may be more likely to turn up on new wave compilations, but Janitor – the lead single from their self-titled IRS LP – is an overlooked gem.

Cristina – Is That All There Is? (1980)

This slashing cover of the Peggy Lee classic was produced with broken glass and cuckoo clocks by August Darnell, a.k.a. Kid Creole. When the single was originally released in 1980, songwriters Lieber and Stoller successfully sued to have it withdrawn, objecting to the lyric changes embracing drugs, physical abuse and the club scene. They later changed their mind.

Cristina, aka New York socialite Cristina Monet-Palaci Zilkha recorded two highly regarded but commercially unsuccessful albums for ZE records before turning her attention elsewhere.  She succumbed to coronavirus at the age of 64 on March 31, 2020.

And as sure as I’m standing here talking at you, I was not ready for that kind of a come down.

Strawberry Switchblade – Let Her Go (1985)

Strawberry Switchblade – Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall – were a Glasgow duo formed in 1981. They released one album and had a top 5 UK hit with Since Yesterday. Follow-up single Let Her Go and a synth-pop cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene also charted – especially in Japan – before the duo split in 1986. Both continued to make music but were unable to recreate their Switchblade success.

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New York City In Touch, 1979

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A few weeks ago, I posted an article from the Nov/Dec 1979 issue of In Touch Magazine. This was part of trio of San Francisco articles from gay publications (the other two from the September, 1980 issue of Blueboy featured essays by Armistead Maupin and Randy Shilts).

Shifting focus back to the East Coast, there were some New York-centric ads and pop culture info that I wanted to post, since that’s my home turf.

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So here we are again, back in 1979 with Issue #44.

Lets get a different perspective of cover model / centerfold Todd Denson:

 

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There are several ads throughout the magazine for CBC Clubs  – a gay-owned chain of bathouses that dotted North America. CBC Club New York was located at 24 First Avenue in the East Village. This branch closed in the mid-80’s and the space was purchased by the Suthon family, which turned it into the restaurant Cave Canem and later Lucky Cheng’s. It was during the twilight days of Cave Canem that I moved to the neighborhood.

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I had been living there for about a year when my boyfriend and I saw a listing in HX magazine for a gay bar/restaurant inhabiting an old bathhouse located at 24 First Avenue.  This seemed strange – it was only 4 blocks from our 6th Street apartment, yet we had never heard anything about it.

One night we ventured over – only to be turned away by a surly doorman who claimed there was a private party inside. We didn’t believe him – how did he know we weren’t invited guests? Our imaginations went wild with speculation of what gay/leather/sex dungeon lurked behind those doors. After reading this interesting piece on the history of the space in Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, I gather that it probably WAS a private party that we tried to crash… and possibly a lesbian orgy.

LuckyChengsThe following year Lucky Cheng’s Chinese Restaurant opened with its now famous drag and gender-fluid waitstaff, thriving at this location for 19 years. By the time I finally ventured in – just once – it was to buy a gift certificate for my parents, at their request. The once bohemian restaurant had become an edgy staple for straight out-of-towners. Lucky Cheng’s eventually followed the tourist trade up to the theatre district. The building was sold and is slated to be torn down and replaced by… you guessed it: Luxury Apartments!

One other note to add a little context: right across the street at 19 First Avenue is Lil’ Frankie’s Restaurant and the former home of East Village Radio’s storefront broadcast booth. This is where my show 60 Degrees aired from 2008-2013. (see & hear here & here)

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1979 marked the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.  Here’s an account of how the occasion was celebrated in NYC and Fire Island, as well as the protests surrounding the filming of Al Pacino’s laughable misfire Cruising.

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Some background on the musical references above:

16 year old France Joli’s July 1979 Pines performance is the stuff of legend. She made a return to the annual Beach Party in 2018.

Wardell Piper is mentioned performing “Super Sweet” at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove. She had been a member of soul group The First Choice, but this was her biggest solo hit:

I love the passing reference that Ann-Margret – “hot to go disco” – couldn’t get into a West Village club to have them play her record. Sounds like the gays weren’t having it. “Love Rush” was a track from this brief chapter of her career. Any allusion to poppers is purely intentional.

Here’s some other ads – one for Broadway Arms Baths, which was located across the street from the Ambassador Theatre on West 49th Street, and two NYC-based gay porn video companies featuring VHS tapes for the low low price range of $65-$99.50! Just imagine what the VCR cost.

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I had to post pics of this guy, who is SO 1979 that it hurts. Michael Mouse Hank Owens is a landscaper, a Sagittarius and only indoors when he’s at the disco!

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That’s all for now! I leave you with an ad for lube. Natural lube. With a horse.

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The Ultimate Fauxchella Lineup

Here’s a little something I thought I would share…
I recently stumbled across a TruTV show called Rachel Dratch’s Late Night Snack. This ran from 2016-2018 – somehow I had never seen or heard of it. One segment in the Ghost Story Club episode had a character who was a roadie for a band playing at Fauxchella – a fictional Coachella-like music festival of cover bands. A list of the lineup flashed on the screen in one of those freeze-frame-or-you’ll-miss-it moments.

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For your enjoyment, here is the Fauxchella lineup:

Fish With An “F”
The String Cheese Accident
Hall and Wheats
Mow

Dave Matthews Hand
The Whom
The Bortles
Piss Sextols
Puhink Fuhloyd

311 Was An Inside Job
Ungrateful Undead
Booty and the Hofish
Creamy

Steve Miller’s Dad’s Band
Lady Naked Bears
Faux Fighters
Minivan Halen
BOSTON… Massachusetts
What About Bob? Dylan!
Mother Of Pearl Jam

Nirvaner
Puns N’ Roses
Third Eye Legally Blind
Won’tco
Very Dizzy Gillespie
Three Cat Day
YY Bottom
Sneaky and the Family Rock
Kilometers Davis

Expensive Trick
The Lovin’ Sporkful
The Laming Flips
Will, Jada, and Aero Smith
Stevie 1der

Farther
Gerry Jarcia
Sham! (Like Wham!)
Barry Off-White
Fleetwood Mock
Disco English Muffins
Bela Fake and the Faketones

Shallow Purple
The Black Keyholes
Tim Peppy and the Heartdestroyers
Brunette
The Further Backstreet Boys

The Doors(tops)
Simon & Garfinkle
The Faux-lice
The Velour Underground
Billie Jewish Holiday
Rochester Springfield

I have visions of the writer’s room with a board full of post-its.

Got any to add?

UPDATE: KennethInThe212 blog did cover a couple of clips from the show, including this one:

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Madame Spivy: Auntie’s Face

“She was once like Whistler’s Mother – now they whistle when she passes.”

Ladies and Gentleman, it is time once again to revisit that late great dynamic lady of song, 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.” You can see earlier posts about her here and here.

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Since my last Spivy post, I was thrilled to see that she had been profiled on Dennis Dermody’s Cinemaniac website, and even happier to see that, after a little nudge, I was given some credit for all the “borrowed” photos, video and large portions of my previous posts. Bless his heart, I’m sure it was just an oversight.

Moving on… today we will be listening to Auntie’s Face, a song written by Broadway actor and fellow nightclub performer Guy Moneypenny. Spivy’s recording was featured on her 1949 album An Evening With Spivy.

spivey-evening-medSpivy had something of a catchphrase that she would use to introduce a song: A solemn pronouncement that “This is VERY sad and we must be VERY quiet, please.” She would then launch into a number that was anything but either of those things. At least four of her recordings contain this introduction – one can imagine that it was a playful way to get the attention of a noisy nightclub audience.

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We all have strange relatives… but let me tell you about my Aunt Grace.

She’s a MAD thing. This is very sad and we must be very quiet, please.

This is the tragedy of poor Aunt Grace – how she became a complete disgrace

It all began when she lifted her face and decided to be young and gay.

Since she’s become a rejuvenated case, the whole house suffers from her madcap pace

There’s no longer any quiet in the whole damn place

So we lift our eyes to heaven and pray.

Please God make Auntie’s face fall. For we’ve all got our backs to the wall.

Her reputation’s battered. Our principals are shattered. She hasn’t any moral code at all.

Her breath now reeks of bathtub gin. Goes out nights in search of sin.

We wake up in the morning to find her coming in… from an all night brawl.

We’re all in such a dither, for heaven knows she’s coarse.

When she brings the milkman with her – wait ‘til you hear this one – why must she bring his horse?

Please God make Auntie’s face fall. For nothing is sacred at all.

We caught her teaching Granny to manipulate her fanny in a rhumba with a cashmere shawl.

And just last night they phoned from the jail – it seems they’re holding Auntie ‘til we fork up the bail

They found her on Broadway singing Love For Sale. Yes they did! And the price was small.

She steals cigars from brother. She’s thrown away her glasses.

She was once like Whistler’s Mother – now they whistle when she passes.

She thinks she’s the belle of the ball. We’re afraid that she’s going on call

Dear God we beg your pardon but to hell with Lizzie Arden

If you’ve any mercy left at all… please God make Auntie’s face fall!

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Some of Spivy’s other recordings contain obscure references that require a little research and explanation. Not so with Auntie’s Face: Cole Porter’s song Love For Sale is still a well-known standard. The line “To Hell with Lizzie Arden” is a reference to cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden, whose beauty product empire still stands. And who isn’t familiar with Whistler’s Mother? Furthermore… a song about plastic surgery certainly rings truer today than it did 70 years ago. It may come as a shock to fans of the Real Housewives that the first facelift procedures took place in the early 1900’s.

Other Spivy posts:
The Alley Cat
The Tarantella
100% American Girls
A Tropical Fish
I Brought Culture To Buffalo In The 90s

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Revisiting Blueboy Magazine (1980)

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A recent post – the one featuring an essay written by Armistead Maupin for the September 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine – was my most-viewed ever. This was thanks in part to links from Queerclick and KennethInThe212. I threatened to upload another article from the San Francisco-themed issue written by Randy Shilts: What If They Gave A Backlash And Nobody Came? Several people requested it, so here it is.

But first… a couple of other items of interest from this same issue:

 

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There used to be a whole lot of Uncle Charlies in New York City! None of those advertised above is the one that lasted longest: The Uncle Charlies bar on Greenwich Ave. in the West Village, which closed in 1997. And then there’s the one that has been on E. 45th st for 10 years now.

And Look! It’s an advertisement for Grace Jones’ fourth LP… her first good album!

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Record review: San Francisco’s very own Two Tons O’Fun. Izora Armstead and Martha Wash had been Sylvester’s backup singers. They soon changed their name to The Weather Girls when it started raining men… and the rest is history. Hallelujah!

 

 

 

PM Movies
10 time capsules from PM Productions. Check ’em out! They’re a hoot. And Christopher Street Blues has a zippy little theme song.

And now for our feature presentation. This article recounts several significant incidents where backlash against the San Francisco gay community was anticipated, but did not happen. It’s interesting to read Shilts’ account of what had been accomplished up to this point in time – with no idea that they were standing on the precipice of a health crisis that would decimate the community and undo so much of the work towards assimilation that he was highlighting.

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Randy Shilts Interviews Harvey Milk ca1977_8
Randy Shilts Interviews Harvey Milk (1977/78)

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Randy Shilts CRose 1993
Randy Shilts on The Charlie Rose Show (1993)

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Randy Shilts with Lily Tomlin (1993)

Shilts would go on to write three books, all important documents of gay history: The Mayor of Castro Street – a Harvey Milk bio, And The Band Played On, which chronicled the early days of the AIDS epidemic and Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians In The Military. He died of AIDS complications in 1994.

Just imagine what he would have to say about the current administration. Or Mayor Pete. Picture him as a frequent guest on Rachel Maddow. His voice is sorely missed.

 

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.

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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.

michael-perea lionel Richiemichael-perea-1985michael Mykal Perea

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!

giphy

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 or LeVoe (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.

________________________________________________________

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…

All our Spivy posts:
A Tropical Fish
Auntie’s Face
100% American Girls
The Alley Cat
I Brought Culture To Buffalo In The 90s

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