Smackdown

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Our cat has not enjoyed these sudden thuderstorms the past few nights. He keeps getting caught in the rain and has to wait it out on the porch until someone in the house wakes up to let him in. Thought we’d re-run a post from 2011 today…

BATTLE OF THE SOUTHERN STATE RAINY DAY SONGS

Here they are…

“Alabama Rain” by Jim Croce

Jim Croce’s “Alabama Rain” is a bittersweet stroll down the dirt road past memory lane.  Its full of the carmel sandstone custom cut bullshit on which baby boomer memories of the world are founded – Croce sings about things like drive-in movies and weeping willows, creating an idyllic world he would find alienating and unlivable today.  “Alabama Rain” is Jim Croce’s “Brown Eyed Girl” saved only by the fact it wasn’t sold to a television commercial.  Here is, like so many songs of the early 70s, an idyllic portrait of something that was lost.  Like Phil Och’s “Boy in Ohio” or John Hartford’s best sentimental songs (“The Girl with the Long Brown Hair” or “The First Girl I Loved”) it’s simple, unspecific and heartfelt.

The thing is, we’re talking about the guy who wrote “Time in a Bottle”.  In his all-too-short career Croce crafted such masterpieces as to leave us wishing for a well of unreleased material to dip into (Not there, sorry.  But Jimi’s still putting out records).  “Alabama Rain”, lovely as it is, falls far short of his best work.

“Kentucky Rain” by Elvis Presley

“Kentucky Rain” has become a popular early 70s Elvis tune, but it was not a particularly big hit when it was originally released.  Through a simple, vivid narrative Elvis tells of searching for a lover who has run away.  His delivery is emotional and expressive, characteristic of the January/February 1969 recording sessions at American Studios in Memphis.

His performance is accented by the rumbling piano of Ronnie Milsap, then an unknown session musician, and evocative backing vocals. The decision to not record with the ubiquitous Jordanaires but rather a group of unknown Memphis session musicians led to a grittier, authentic sound lacking on most Elvis records of the 60s.  “Kentucky Rain”, for instance, is soulful and undeniably southern.

Interestingly, the song was not issued on any of the albums that came out of these productive sessions – Back in Memphis and the classic From Elvis in Memphis.  So far as I can tell its first appearance at 33 1/3 was more than fifteen years later, on the double LP collection The Memphis Record, which ostensibly collected all of the January/February 1969 American Studios sessions.  Regardless, the song has become a classic rock staple and a favorite of many Elvis fans.

“Louisiana Rain” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

We suppose nobody writes about the rain in the state where they were born, because Gainsville, FL native Tom Petty’s classic southern rain song is “Louisiana Rain”.  On a first listen it seems as though “Louisiana Rain” is telling a very similar story to the one in “Kentucky Rain”, but in fact the similarities stop where the stories begin.  While Elvis has gone after his lover, trudging from town to town under a heavy downpour, Tom stays at home and drinks.  “Louisiana Rain” is a great example of the deceptively upbeat pop sound the Heartbreakers cultivated, a style which often hides the weary desperation of Tom Petty’s lyrics.  In fact, “Louisiana Rain” is one of his darkest songs to date, including lines like:

I pour whiskey down my soul but nothing ever seems to change
‘Cause this pain keeps pourin’ down like Louisiana rain

“Rainy Night in Georgia” by Tony Joe White

“Rainy Night in Georgia” was written by the great genre-bending singer Tony Joe White, but the most familiar recording was made eight years later by Brook Benton on his “comeback” album Brook Benton Today.  Benton’s #4 hit is the first track here, and the second is a nice instrumental version by the Jazz Crusaders.

If you could put together a single story “Rainy Night in Georgia” would fit inside or next to “Kentucky Rain” and all these other songs.  There seems to be a common narrative.  “Rainy Night in Georgia” is distinct in only that is soul-bearingly sincere.  That seems to be a hallmark of the 70s country soul genre that songwriter Tony Joe White fit into – Like his contemporary Joe South, Tony Joe White wrote songs reluctantly chosen by the King (Elvis recorded a beat-driven version of White’s “Got a Thing About You Baby” eventually) but ones that also deserve more recogniton.

“Rainy Night in Georgia” is a great song if only because its got a great story.  There’s something that we don’t know (Every great story should have a back story we have to infer) – This is what brings all of these songs together.  We don’t think we could choose a winner, if only because each of the fighters brought so much to the match.

Yesterday’s explosive post continued our ongoing “smackdown” series by putting 70s folkies America against 80s rockers Europe. Neither band is a particularly big seller in the used records market anymore, but each has their memorable hits. We concluded by asking which was more likely to beat 80s prog rock supergroup Asia. Of course, all of these comparisons fall into the apples n’ oranges field, because America really belongs to a different era than the other two groups. While Asia and Europe were burnin’ up the charts in the early 80s, America was in the September of its career, winding down to a comfortable life on the classic rock circuit. This is part of why we chose them in yesterday’s post: Europe and Asia are awfully similar, although superfans of either group might argue that conclusion. From the perspective of a record browser flipping through the classic rock bin, America feels different. Exploring their catalog became a great experiment all its own, because they are like so many other 70s relics, a reminder of a less cynical, less commercial era in pop music.

Asia, on the other hand, was a supergroup formed by members of major progressive rock bands who were, at the time, disappearing from the charts and the stadium circuit (members of Asia had previously performed in Yes, King Crimson, Uriah Heep, Roxy Music, UK and Emerson, Lake & Palmer). The band was essentially put together by a record executive at Geffen for the purpose of creating an enormous hit, and this experiment was a success: Their monolithic debut album sold more than four million copies in the US.

America vs Asia

Biggest bummer:

Asia’s first album was an instant and enormous commercial success upon its release in 1982, but a disappointment to fans who expected something of a prog rock revival. Here and there the self-titled record sounds a little like Relayer-era Yes, but nothing contains the expansive arrangements or instrumentation of a King Crimson album. Most of it, in fact, sounds like the arena rock of contemporaries like Boston and Journey.

asiaNothing on Asia hit that mark as solidly as “Heat of the Moment,” a natural hit that topped Billboard’s rock chart and propelled its 4x platinum sales. It’s pretty awesome arena rock — better, if you ask us, than anything in Journey’s catalog.

“And now you find yourself in ’82,” sings John Wetton, whose solo album hadn’t received much notice just a couple years earlier. “The disco hot spots hold no charm for you.” These were lean years for classic rock fans, and especially prog fans. King Crimson and Yes were seemingly defunct. Genesis without Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett had transformed into a pop band, which is what would happen to Yes in a year or so. Others like Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull were either fragmenting or trying to reinvent themselves as well. Asia probably inspired a lot of these guys by assuring them they could start to make some serious bank again by playing to a post-punk, MTV audience. And that was probably a pretty big bummer for fans of the quartet’s 70s work.

America went through a line-up change around the same time the major prog rock bands started breaking up and changing direction. Dan Peek left the trio in 1977 to pursue a successful solo career in Christian pop, signing to Pat Boone’s Lion & Lamb label. Bunnell and Beckley sang some backup vocals on “Love Was Just Another Word,” a song from his first solo album All Things Are Possible. It was the last time the trio performed together.

Bunnell and Beckley carried on as a duo, but their first album without Peek, America Live, falls far short of the high standards of a 70s live record (it’s not even a double album) — the first indication that America had run its course even though they weren’t giving up. That only one song from their last LP as a trio (Beckley’s “Sergent Darkness”) was included suggests they were headed towards becoming a ‘here’s our hits’ revue. The biggest disappointment came at the concert’s end, where their biggest hit loses the atmospheric rootsiness that made it memorable six years earlier.

DSC06843Best Album Art:

America’s 1975 greatest hits LP features cover art by Phil Hartmann, who later dropped an “n” from his last name before become actor Troy McClure. We remember him from such films as Give my Remains to Broadway and The Revenge of Abraham Lincoln. His painting features a variety of references to America’s first several albums, including the car from Holiday, the Golden Gate Bridge (seen on the cover of Hearts) and a portrayal of Peek and Bunnell which is similar to the one on the poster inside original copies of Hat Trick. Hartmann included a sharp rendition of London’s Elizabeth Tower (known in 1975 simply as the “Clock Tower”) to reference the band’s British heritage.

historyHartmann’s other record art has already been featured on the Hymies blog (here), but so has the work of Asia’s cover artist, Roger Dean. He created one of the most distinctive bodies of work found on LP jackets, his designs and lettering the subject of countless imitations. The most famous of these being the blockbuster film Avatar, which borrowed heavily from the imaginary landscapes Dean created for Yes album covers in the 70s (we first wrote about the similarities, and Dean’s subsequent lawsuit, here).

Dean’s work on the first three Asia album covers reflect a less organic world than the one born in Yes’s Fragile and Yessongs. An advanced civilization appears to have developed alongside the surreal landscape, it’s inhabitants perhaps the spooky creature seen on the cover of Astra in 1985. Asia absolutely wins this round, especially considering the legendary Dean is still creating cover art for their albums as recently Gravitas, their album released this year.

asia2astraBest video:

You’d think this round would be easy for Asia to win, since their career coincides with the rise of MTV, a time when America was past their peak. Their 1982 video for “Heat of the Moment” was an early Godley & Creme production and it’s innovative and fun, even if the images chosen present an absurdly literal interpretation of the lyrics.

Asia’s Geoff Downes, we should mention, was one half of the english pop duo the Buggles, and a co-author of their single hit, “Video Killed the Radio Star” — a song with the distinction of being the first featured on MTV.

Thevideo for the other single from Asia, “Only Time Will Tell,” is an equally goofy gem from the era (check it out) but the video for “Go” from their third album, Astra, flops altogether while attempting to realize Roger Dean’s bizarre art by telling the story of the eerie creature seen on the album jacket. The result looks more like a Lazertag commercial than the surreal world in Dean’s painting.

America’s official video for “A Horse with no Name” mixes live footage with the band, predictably, wandering around in the desert. Periodically wild horses are seen running in the hills, but nothing really matches the hazy, drugged mood of the song (an interpretation Bunnell has long denied, incidentally). Still, it is what it is, and the live footage makes America look pretty cool, on a stage that is half Merv Griffith Show half Muppet Show. It is, unfortunately, no match for Asia’s cool “Heat of the Moment” video.

Best skeleton in the closet:

A single from America’s seventh album, Harbor, attempted to revive their lackluster sales with a light dance-floor jam, “Slow Down.” It is one of the last songs Peek wrote the group before leaving, and could likely be seen as the songwriter’s message to himself.

The song didn’t chart, and its disco was already not cool anymore by ’77.

DSC06842In this scene from The 40 Year Old Virgin, Steve Carrell’s character Andy is mocked by his friends for having an Asia poster. “You know how I know you’re gay? You like Asia.” Ouch. The truth hurts, and America wins this round.

Best song that sounds like something else:

From the very beginning, “A Horse With No Name” was mistaken for a Neil Young song, something that surely bristled the budding band in 1971 as they celebrated a first success. As it happened, when their single hit #1 on the US singles chart, the song it displaced was Young’s “Heart of Gold.”

Another hit single by America is just as easily mistaken for another artist. It’s almost impossible to hear the opening of “Sister Golden Hair,” their second #1 hit, without thinking of George Harrison — folks have long speculated if the legendary producer George Martin, who produced America’s Hearts and several other albums, pulled some strings to have the Beatle sit in, since its one of the only such appearances of the distinctive slide guitar style on an America LP.

Gerry Beckley, for his part, sounds an awful lot like George on the song, although the lyrics are clearly more Jackson Browne than George.

Pretty much every song on Asia’s second album, Alpha, could be mistaken for any other arena rock band of ’83. Shades of Journey, Foreigner and even REO Speedwagon are all this contrived attempt to recreate the first record’s success — one song, “The Heat Goes On,” even tries to tap the success of their breakthrough hit. Guitarist Steve Howe, still best known to fans for his long tenures with Yes, left the supergroup after this album and hardly contributed to it. His only songwriting credit is on a b-side appropriately titled “Lyin’ to Yourself.”

Where are they today?:

Like the progressive rock bands its members started with, Asia contained huge personalities that weren’t able to share the stage with one another for long. In fact, by the millenium, Asia only included one original member, Geoff Downes. When he left to join the re-formed original lineup in 2006, there remained a band led by bassist and lead singer John Payne, who by this time owned a share of the name “Asia.” Eventually a legal settlement allowed him to continue touring and recording with a band called “Asia Featuring John Payne.” The re-formed original Asia, meanwhile, released Phoenix in 2008, their first album together in decades.

The result of all of this confusing business is that Asia is one of several classic rock bands that exists out there in two completely different forms, as reflected by their different official websites: Original Asia and Asia Featuring John Payne. Payne, it seems worth noting, is also a former member of ELO Part II.

America continued after Dan Peek left in 1977, but the highest they’d ever chart again was when Janet Jackson sampled “Ventura Highway” in 2001. The remaining duo has augmented their sales with a number of career retrospectives and live albums, and even a Christmas album in 2002. Meanwhile, Peek never returned to the group but continued to record sporadically until he passed away from pericarditis in his sleep in 2011.

In July of this year America announced the retirement of their long-time drummer, Willie Leacox on their official website. Leacox, from Iowa, had played with the band for forty-one years. America’s longtime lead guitarist Michael Woods had also retired this year. The band is currently touring, including a three night stand in Hawaii later this month.

So who won?

In the world of international diplomacy and war, there often aren’t any winners.

In a lot of ways, Europe is the only band whose music reflected the continent for which they were named, sounding undeniably like a Scandinavian hard rock act on nearly every track. For the life of us we can’t figure why Asia was named Asia, except that Roger Dean’s lettering of the name looked sweet. Of the three they’re the only one enjoying enduring success, having finally pleased fans by turning towards their progressive rock roots in their records since reuniting in 2006.

We probably couldn’t fill a mix tape with songs we love by these three bands, so once again the true loser of the smackdown is us, the listener. Then again, we had a lot of fun digging through these albums, some of which probably hadn’t left their jackets in years. And if its not fun, why work in a record store. If it’s not fun, why go to a record store. We hope you enjoyed reading.

 

Click on “smackdown” in the tags below the title of this post, and you can wander back through the Hymie’s archives to read past battles of record store nerd-dom. Follow the bloody trail far enough and you’ll find the first ever “smackdown”: Boston vs Chicago. It was the only time we allowed two bands to represent their hometown, in part because we never found a band lame enough to lose to Baton Rouge, but mostly because these conflicts of geography inevitably become larger and larger. Eventually, it all leads to…

America vs Europe

If you’re struggling to name a second song by either of these groups, we don’t blame you. Both bands were major players in their respective eras, only to be forgotten by successive generations of record collectors. When Neil Young sang “It’s better to burn out than fade away” in 1979, he started a discussion that’s never really been resolved, although many of those who joined the fray in have done one or the other. So long as there are places like your friendly neighborhood record store here, “rock and roll can never die” (to quote another line from Young’s song “Hey Hey, My My”) since there are going to be shelves busting at the seams with one-time favorites like America and Europe, and as we shall see at the end of this post, another band largely ignored by record collectors…

Best name:

While Europe started their career in 1979 as Force, America never went by another name. The trio, founded in London, chose their name with pride — all three were the children of American GIs. The group eventually relocated to California (hence the Bay area image they pushed with albums like 1975’s Hearts). Even at the height of their success, Europe was eternally routed in the Scandinavian metal tradition — the band might just as well have named themselves Sweeden. America can’t win this round — their name is essentially a marketing ploy, even if it’s logo-fied version was something you were more likely to draw on a your jean jacket or notebook cover in ballpoint pen.

america logo europe logoBest Breakthrough hit:

America spent years being mistaken for Neil Young after “A Horse with No Name” was certified gold in 1972. People still come into the record shop once in a while and ask which of his albums has the song (they’re usually seem a little disappointed when they find out it was on an album in their dad’s collection). “A Horse with No Name” is a great song, almost entirely in spite of itself. Dewey Bunnell’s description of the desert fumbles for imagery (“There were plants and birds and rocks and things,” “The heat was hot”) while the trio’s harmonies hold the dry, minor key tune together. The song was good enough to knock ol’ Neil’s “Heart of Gold” out of #1.

At over forty years old, “A Horse with No Name” is still a classic rock staple, as well as a song often heard in commercials, television, film and video games. It has appeared in The Simpsons.

“The Final Countdown” topped the charts in twenty-five countries, but not the United States, where didn’t get higher than #8. Technically it probably sold a lot more copies than “A Horse with No Name,” it was just a lot harder to top the American charts in 1986.

The synthesizer introduction to “The Final Countdown” is ubiquitous stadium fare, finally entering retirement after decades of rallying the crowd behind the home team. Not a lot of people jam to the rest of the song, at least as far as we can tell by its lukewarm reception here in the shop, where folks snicker when they hear the opening (probably remembering it from some sporting event) and shrug their shoulders when they remember the rest of the song. Wikipedia tells us its lyrics were inspired by David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,”and it deserves to be a list of all-time awesome rock and roll songs about space travel (maybe between Bowie and Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin'”) but for all its use at football games it has never appeared in The Simpsons.

America ties it up by winning this round.

Most Obscure First Album:

Europe-europe_(album)

DSC06841

America’s self-titled debut was released by Warner Bros. in 1971 to a modest reception in England. The following year the band jumped up the charts with “A Horse with No Name,” a stand-alone single that was quickly added to a re-issue of the album. Having sold fairly well without the hit single, original copies do show up in the shop pretty often, and most folks might not even notice the difference between copies with or without the hit single. It’s actually a pretty good folk-rock relic either way.

Europe’s first three records, on the other hand, were issued on the Swedish label Hot Records. Each was welcomed by Scandinavian hard rock fans (and the Japanese), but wasn’t a hit in America. Once in a blue moon we see a copy of their second record, Wings of Change, but rarely will you find a copy of their self-titled first record, or the soundtrack that was their third album. Europe handily wins this round — folks in Minnesota who loved hard rock were much more likely to pick up punk and new wave albums from the continent in 1983, making this an uncommon import in the collector’s market around here.

Most completely ignored recent album and how cheap is it on Amazon:

America’s Here & Now, released in 2007 was the last new studio record the group has made. In spite of a slew of guest artists (Ben Kweller, Ryan Adams, the guy from My Morning Jacket) it spent only a week on the album chart, stalling at #52. You can buy a used copy online for about six and a half bucks, but it should be noted there are a couple different versions of this album.

Europe Bag of Bones 2012 was certified gold in Sweeden, and about as successful as America’s Here & Now in their native England, but sold sluggishly everywhere else on Earth. You can get a CD for about six bucks on Amazon, but you’ll have to pay about four times that for an LP. Europe wins this round, if anyone cares — at least their home country still loved them.

Best Record Collector Surprise:

Producer George Martin (of Beatles fame) remixed songs from the first three America LPs for the compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits. Several songs benefit from the changes, notably “A Horse with No Name,” which takes on a heavier, bass-drive feel. Complete-ists are compelled to own the collection, and the re-mixed versions have replaced the originals in FM radio play.

historyEurope doesn’t re-mix songs. They’re too busy rockin’ the fuck out. At the peak of their fame, Europe did an unannounced gig at the Whiskey A Go Go as Le Baron Boys. The widely bootlegged disc of the same name does not, unfortunately, contain a recording of the show, just a bunch of scuzzy demos that sound like a watered-down Bon Jovi. America wins this round.

Best Cover Art:

America’s 1975 “best of” compilation History (above) featured cover art by their manager’s brother, Phil Hartmann. You may have seen his art on other albums (most of Poco’s catalog for instance), or recognize his name, with one fewer “n,” from film and television. Phil Hartman was much mourned after his death in 1998 by fans of Saturday Night Live, News Radio and of course The Simpsons, where he played the roles of attorney for hire Lionel Hutz and actor Troy McClure. He is also remembered by record collectors for his successful first career as an artist.

final countdownOn the other hand, The Final Countdown shows Europe in what appears to be the “Phantom Zone,” Krypton’s extra-solar prison presented in the Superman films as a sort of giant two-dimensional pane of glass. One can only imagine what would have happened if the Man of Steel would have released Sweden’s finest hard rock band instead of General Zod — of course, what did he think he was doing in the first place, hurling a nuclear bomb like that? Pretty careless for Earth’s greatest hero if you ask us. Europe wins this round in spite of Superman’s completely reckless disregard for the Phantom Zone.

Fun fact round:

Except for their self-titled debut, all of the America albums by the group’s original line-up have titles that start with the letter H: Homecoming, Hat Trick, Holiday, History, Hearts, Hideaway, and Harbor. Their eighth album, the first without founding member Dan Peek, was titled Silent Letter.

holiday

Hymie’s has not sold a copy of Out of this World, Europe’s follow-up to their enormously successful Final Countdown, in years. The same copy has been languishing on the shelves here since we moved the shop four and a half years ago. Whether someone has ever taken it to the listening station is anyone’s guess.

europe is sad

America wins this round because their fun fact isn’t sad.

Tie-breaker round: Who is more likely to beat Asia tomorrow?

America is one of those 70s bands that every used record store has in surplus. Several fine songs are sprinkled over them, and you can hear most of those on History, one of the most popular greatest hits collections of its time. We probably have a different feeling for the because we grew up in Europe’s age, so old hits like “A Horse with No Name” and “Ventura Highway” were songs we heard when Mom and Pop picked the radio station. They’re songs that have aged well, no more ‘moldy oldies’ than albums by Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young, as well as other folk-rock hits from the same time. You’re sure to see an America album in the 50¢ bin, or on our next “Free Records Day” (coming soon!) and it wouldn’t kill you to give it a try. After all, they’re named for your country. Unless you hate America. You don’t hate America, do you?

Europe, on the other hand, is a band whose appeal has steadily shrunk since around the time labels shirked away from producing LPs in the late 80s. The Final Countdown is pretty easily found by record collectors, and it’s as much a surprise when we sell a copy of it as it is when we sell an America record. There aren’t a lot of people who loves The Final Countdown who don’t already own it. And they don’t have the magic nostalgia of Guns n’ Roses or the weird appeal of 80s KISS, they’re just one of those embarrassing bands out of the big budget metal days.

Hell, Joey Tempest made a series of contrived singer-songwriter albums before exploring electronic pop before finally reuniting Europe. That’s just not a very metal thing to do. Observe the slow, mellowing decline:

If Europe had stayed the course of Wings of Change they might have won this battle, but the fact is we don’t believe their keyboard-heavy pompous arena rock can defeat Asia’s keyboard-heavy pompous arena rock. If we take nothing else from the life of General Joseph Stillwell (or The Princess Bride) let’s all hold dear to the advice “Never fight a land war in Asia” as we enter tomorrow’s smackdown …

America vs Asia

asia 2

Tune in tomorrow… if you dare.

Today’s post is a favorite “Smackdown” from the Hymie’s archive…

EDDIE “LOCKJAW” DAVIS vs EDDIE “CLEANHEAD” VINSON

They performed together on 11 tracks recorded by Cootie Williams’ big band in 1944. Later that year Davis left the band, and Vinson recorded a couple more numbers with them as a vocalist, launching his own career. Davis, a tenor, and Vinson, an alto, both developed distinctive styles and enjoyed active careers into the 80s.

So we can get it out of the way, the first category is…

Best Nickname:

Davis became “Lockjaw” because of the way people noticed he clamped down on his mouthpiece. Vinson became “Cleanhead” after an accident with a lye-laced straightener destroyed his hair. This is a 1977 recording of his song “Cleanhead’s Blues” with Johnny and Shuggie Otis:

Winner: Vinson. Its just a better story.

Best Band Played In:

Davis played with Count Basie’s band for more than a decade, working alongside a whole cast of jazz legends.

Previously, he had performed in big bands led by Louis Armstrong, Andy Kirk and Cootie Williams.

In the late 50s, Davis led a group featuring which you could say set the standard for the organ/tenor sound that became widely popular in the coming decade. Later still he recorded with several “all star” groups for Pablo Records, performing with Oscar Peterson’s trio, Zoot Sims, and the Tommy Flannagan trio.

Meanwhile, Vinson led a 1952-3 group that included a young John Coltrane, but prior to his breakthrough R&B hit “Old Maid Boogie” had not played in a lot of the great big bands. As mentioned before, he did perform in Cootie Williams’ band at the same time as Davis (1941) on a number of cuts, giving him his first opportunities as a vocalist. Vinson’s extensive catalog includes a variety of groups that suggest his flexibility as a performer – In the 70s, he performed with T-Bone Walker and Jay McShann on one session, Johnny and Shuggie Otis on another, and Larry Coryell on a third. Never one to rest, a short time before he passed away he played on a great session with Etta James issued in two volumes by Fantasy in 1986.

Winner: It’s close but Davis wins. I recognize that Vinson played with a wide variety of great musicians including a variety of my personal favorites, like blues pianist Jay McShann, but Davis’ various bandmates are pretty consistently regarded as legends. I may prefer McShann to Oscar Peterson but most people wouldn’t agree.

Best Original Composition:

We could not find a lot of tracks credited to Davis on the records we have in the shop – He seems to stick to standards when recording as a leader and toss in the occasional original, like “Squattin'” from a 1950 quintet session with Wynton Kelly and a relatively unknown rhythm section.

This stomper titled “Telegraph” is from his Montreux ’77 recording on Pablo with the Oscar Peterson trio, and was composed by him:

This next track is from another Pablo album, this one with Tommy Flannagan’s trio. Here’s “The Chef”:

Vinson is credited with writing “Tune Up” and “Four” which are commonly attributed to Miles Davis. Gosh, hard to imagine Miles taking credit for somebody else’s work…

The track you heard above was the biggest hit from Vinson’s R&B years, “Old Maid Boogie” (It topped the R&B charts for two weeks). Its flip side was “Kidney Stew” which became his signature tune – Its heard here not from that original single, but from an album Vinson made years later called Kidney Stew is Fine. This recording on Delmark (From the early 70s?) features a great blues band with legends Jay McShann and T-Bone Walker.

Winner: Davis’ originals are some of the swingingest tracks on his Pablo albums, but not particularly memorable. Vinson wrote several great R&B tracks early on, and also managed to include at least a few new jazz arrangements on his 70s albums, like “The Clean Machine” and “Non-Alcoholic” from his 1978 album on Muse named for the first song. Its pretty clear Vinson was more prolific and more versatile a composer.

Most Facebook followers: Vinson, with 69. Sadly, in a world where “Weird Al” Yankovic has nearly 38,000 followers on Facebook, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis has only 32.

Best adjective used by allmusic.com: Vinson is described as an “advanced stylist” and Davis as “the possessor of a cutting and immediately identifiable tough tenor tone”. Certainly Davis gets more adjectives, and its safe to say they’re cooler.

Vinson won the first internet round, but Davis took the second washing it all out.

Most resemblance to Dave:


Winner: Vinson. Bald head and (Sometimes) big beard beats Davis’ look which usually featured a moustache. Davis got pretty round, too, whereas Vinson looks pretty lean even in his later years.

Best recording of a standard:

Davis is likely to win this round – His records lean heavily towards standards, from this 1950 version of “Sweet and Lovely” from the same session with Wynton Kelly heard earlier to this great arrangement of “On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)” (One of my favorite standards from the stage) a quarter century later:

Vinson is more likely to have written a standard than recorded one – He has recorded the Mercer Ellington standard “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” a few times but he’s been singing that one since the 40s, making him part of the reason it became a standard.

Here’s “Straight no Chaser” from a live album Vinson made with Larry Coryell in 1971. The band jumps right into Vinson’s own “Cleanhead Blues” at the end.

Winner: Davis, although its not entirely fair because so many of Vinson’s originals are standard-worthy. The Pablo albums Davis recorded with Oscar Peterson and Tommy Flannagan feature great quartet performances of jazz standards from Rogers & Hart’s “Lover” to lesser-played but good songs like James Moody’s “Last Train from Overbrook”.

AND THE WINNER IS…

We’re too much of a Cleanhead fan to let him lose, honestly – This has been a rigged match from the start. Lockjaw is a great tenor but easily outshadowed by a dozen contemporaries (Especially Johnny Griffin), whereas Cleanhead carved out a unique niche during his long career which allowed him to shift comfortably from rhythm and blues, to jump blues to jazz, even within a single session.

In fact, here at Hymie’s we usually file his records under blues, rather than jazz. Both Davis and Vinson are such great artists that we usually only have a few by each in stock. Hope you enjoyed our little smackdown, even if the winner was decided from the start. Next time around we promise a more fair fight.

apple jamgrape jam

Best Sneak Attack

Fans who bought Wow, Moby Grape’s second album, in 1968 received a bonus record. The two discs were packaged separately but sold together for the price of a single LP. Used copies of Grape Jam, the bonus record, are usually sold independently by record shops like ours today, and many collectors don’t even realize it was once a bonus for buyers of Wow.

Everyone who bought George Harrison’s much anticipated All Things Must Pass two years later were probably not as pleased with the bonus surprise, for they had paid closer to full price for the jam slipped into its attractive black and grey box. While Harrison’s proper debut has consistently earned masterpiece marks in the four decades since, Apple Jam remains misunderstood at best and maligned by most. Rolling Stone originally dismissed it as “mostly boring,” and today All Music pans it as “entirely dispensable.”

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out of the blue 2

“Out of the Blue” from Apple Jam (in two parts)

Moby Grape wins this round — with the Wow/Grape Jam package they convinced Columbia to release an album that otherwise would not likely have seen light. George Harrison, on the other hand, could probably have released anything he wanted in 1970 (Wonderwall, anyone?). Their add-on jam also proved surprisingly influential, given its ad hoc nature, which we’ll see in coming rounds.

There’s one last sneak attack worthy of note, however. Grab you copy of All Things Must Pass and take out the Apple Jam sleeve (go ahead, we’ll wait). Look at the credits for “Out of the Blue.” Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock, Eric Clapton, Carl Radle … where have we seen these names together…?

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That’s where — Apple Jam is where Derek and the Dominos begin! How’s that for a sneak attack?

Best Superstar Guests

In addition to 4/5 of Derek and the Dominoes, All Things Must Pass features performances by Bobby Keyes and Jim Price (from the horn section you hear on albums like Exile on Main Street and Mad Dogs and Englishmen), Gary Wright (the “Dream Weaver” guy) and Gary Brooker (of Procol Harum). Plus Badfinger. Yep, all four members of Badfinger back Harrison throughout the album, sometimes augmented by drummer Alan White (Yes) and — in an uncredited performance — a young, pre-Genesis Phil Collins.

Old Beatle pals contributed to All Things Must Pass, too — in fact, Ringo hits the skins on some of the album’s best tracks (“My Sweet Lord” and “Wah Wah” for instance). He does not, however, appear on Apple Jam. Billy Preston does, however, as well as Ginger Baker and Dave Mason. So many stars it’s hard to imagine quiet George keeping it together, but maybe that’s why it’s an informal jam.

kooper bloomfieldGrape Jam, on the other hand, rests itself proudly on two distinguished guests: Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. And Bloomfield plays the piano! What’s really remarkable about the appearance of these two is that they continued to work together, teaming up (with Stephen Stills) for the now-ubiquitous Super Session album which more or less solidified the rockin’ jam tradition to which Harrison’s Apple Jam is deeply indebted.

Credit for creating the jam session album hardly belongs to the Moby Grape crew, nor Bloomfield and Kooper — such sessions have a long history in jazz and their popularity owes much to producer Norman Granz, the founder of many favorite jazz labels, including Verve, Clef and Pablo.

Harrison’s Beatle connections earn him a win for this round, no contest. The passages on “Plug Me In” and “Thanks for the Pepperoni” during which the listener must wonder whether he’s hearing Clapton, Harrison or Mason are awesome. That said, Kooper’s piano romp on “Black Currant Jam” provides the best guest appearance moment to be heard on either record.

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“Black Currant Jam”

Best Low Point

Yep. Best. If you can’t appreciate the low points, you’re never going to learn to love 70s rock records, which owing to the jam tradition borne of the era of Apple and Grape Jam are teeming with tedious moments of self-indulgence. The worst moments of these two records isn’t in their extended jams, however, as with Super Session, Jamin’ with Edward or the Derek and the Dominoes album. Harrison and Moby Grape include short tracks that feel like outtakes from the more polished product to which their jams are attached.

Moby Grape’s “The Lake” features fan poetry (Michael Hayworth had also won San Francisco’s FKRC radio songwriting contest) and a sound collage in the style of Edgar Varèse and John Cage, likely introduced to the band by the fourth side of Frank Zappa’s Freak Out! The result probably led to Grape Jam’s reputation as a throwaway disc.

the lake

“The Lake”

apple jam labelApple Jam’s shortest track, “It’s Johnny’s Birthday,” celebrated John Lennon’s thirtieth birthday. Here’s where Harrison fucked up: he based his short little silly song (forty-nine seconds) on Cliff Richards’ song from the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest (“Congratulations”) without crediting the original authors. Legal action followed and subsequent pressings of All Things Must Pass credited them. This, of course, was not the only accusation of plagiarism Harrison faced from the album (the decade-long legal battle over “My Sweet Lord” and it’s appropriation of the Chiffon’s “He’s so Fine” ended when Harrison purchased the plaintiff’s publishing company, Bright Tunes, from his former manager, for more than a half-million dollars).

George’s costly, embarrassing birthday message to John is perhaps the last indulgent crap track he put on an album (not to say everything on his subsequent nine albums hit the mark). This is just about the complete opposite of his former bandmates, who seemed to litter each album with novelty fillers. Let’s give him this round, too.

Best Legacy

Because this is the sort of thing music journalists write about. Apple Jam led to “Layla.” Grape Jam gave us the Super Session and The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, which in turn gave us Carlos Santana. No Grape Jam no “Jingo”? Hard to say.

One band clearly influenced by Grape Jam was Led Zeppelin. They like “Never” so much they borrowed its lyrics and melody for a track on Led Zeppelin III (“Since I’ve Been Loving You”). But they didn’t like it enough to credit Moby Grape — Kind of like what they did with other songs by Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Eddie Cochran, Jake Holmes, and about ten more….

People seem to like the two jam records for different reasons, but our record shop experience has taught us that collectors are more excited about a nice copy of Grape Jam than Apple Jam. Even torn up copies of All Things Must Pass are pretty clean on sides five and six. Our two part tribute to Harrison’s epic included a defense of Apple Jam (read it here and here), which didn’t sit well with friends and fans. We’re not saying Moby Grape fans are just a little more easy going, but well…there’s that.

Best Jam

When you think about it, that’s what it’s all about. Which one has the best jam?! The rest of it’s just academic.

Let’s just admit there’s no beating a Beatle — look inside your copy of Living in the Material World. That’s George Harrison’s house. The guys from Moby Grape, on the other hand, had to fight over their name. They also faced all kind of other troubles, like homelessness and mental illness, and kids today haven’t even heard of them.

As for the records themselves — Even though Bobby Whitlock and Billy Preston both play with intensity, Apple Jam is a guitar-drive affair. Grape Jam, on the other hand, is so piano driven that Mike Bloomfield doesn’t play guitar on it at all. This puts Apple Jam much more on the “in” side of the music scene of 1968-70, where keyboards begin to become marginalized in rock and roll. It also lends a ho-hum quality to “Thank for the Pepperoni” after a couple minutes.

Harrison’s longer jam, “Out of the Blue,” slows and re-builds itself (right around the point where we split it into two tracks above). It also features a few notes from Keyes’ saxophone and for a moment a leading role for Whitlock at the keys.

The heaviest moments of Moby Grape’s “Boysenberry Jam,” feel more collaborative and jazzier. Their rhythm guitarist Peter Lewis didn’t appear on Grape Jam, and Harrison and his famous guests could probably shred circles around lead guitarist Jerry Miller. The song falters a little for lack of direction where “Out of the Blue” seems propelled forward.

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“Boysenberry Jam”

thanks for the pepperoni

“Thanks for the Pepperoni”

The best jam is “Black Currant Jam,” which you heard up above there a ways. Kooper steals the show but the whole band is in fine form. Mosley and Stevenson don’t fall behind for a moment. It’s the only jam on either record that captures the feeling from the notes on the back of the album:

Just laying down some music when the mood struck, indifferent to the microphones, with no afterthoughts and postmortems and retakes, laying it down just the way it happened — finding out again that music can be fun, and that the fun is easily shared….

Let’s skip the introduction — it’s been far too long since we had a good Hymie’s blog SMACKDOWN…if you’re really worried about the rules you can find them here.

We enjoy comparing our favorite records and artists because this is what people do in a record store to pass time (yep folks, this one is not just in the movies). Here are our three most recent SMACKDOWNs…

To Coast or to Drift
The Battle for Middle Earth
Herb Alpert’s 9th vs. Beethoven’s 9th
and here’s a further collection of earlier links: Best of the Smackdowns

It’s all in good fun. Today’s is the first to explore the big, weird little world of progressive rock, pitting a beloved King Crimson/Traffic-affiliated album against a rare local gem. Today we present…

McDonald & Giles vs. McDonald & Sherby

Round 1: Best Cover

Kind of not fair, for while McDonald and Sherby are pictured by their hippy selves, McDonald and Giles appear with their hot girlfriends — maybe if Catharsis has come out on a bigger label McDonald and Sherby would have been asked to invite their girlfriends for a better photo befitting a gatefold jacket. Looking at the pictures and comparing these two duos, it’s possible McDonald and Sherby didn’t have girlfriends to invite to the shoot.

catharsis

mcdonald and giles

Round 2: Best prog rock moment

Side two of McDonald & Giles starts as such:

birdman

This side-long track has an oppressively progressive title — Birdman; involving The Inventor’s Dream (Q.U.A.T.), the Workshop, Wish-bone Ascension, Birdman Flies!, Wings in the Sunset, Birdman–The Reflection. This is what’s actually written on the album jacket, along with extensive information on the composition’s, um, composition. It was “mostly written in the spring of 1969,” in case you’re worried for details.

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Catharsis opens with “Addoranne,” a slow plodding love song to a woman with a surreal name. It takes a while to build, but when the synthesizer comes in about a quarter of the way through the fourth minute it sets course for interstellar space — and from there it’s got a “side two of Thick As A Brick” drive that works.

3 – Sweetest drum break

“Tomorrow’s People — The Children of Today” was sampled by the Beastie Boys on Hello Nasty (“Body Movin'”). We haven’t found a single sample from the McDonald & Sherby album, although there’s some trippy isolated cymbal and organ moments in the instrumental jam “Space Beam” (see Round #6).

tomorrows people the children of today

“Tomorrow’s People — The Children of Today” by McDonald & Giles

 4 – Shreddin’-est ass-kickin’-est guitar jam

McDonald & Giles is closer to the first couple Caravan records than King Crimson in its jazzy jams, while McDonald & Sherby lean roots n’ riff heavy on Catharsis. Guy McDonald really goes to town in “Drivin’ me Crazy”:

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“Drivin’ me Crazy” by McDonald & Sherby

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5 – Most ironically stupid arty instrumentation credit

Percussionist Ian McDonald wins this round for his team — his role is credited as “including milk bottle, handsaw, lip whistle and nutbox.” He played the nutbox.

Actually, that’s just a part of a drum kit, but this guy wanted credit for the unique way he worked his nutbox. That’s what prog rock is all about.

nutbox!6 – Best Prog-y Organ Jam

This is the round where underdogs McDonald & Sherby upset their well-heeled opponents. For while McDonald & Giles were able to borrow Steve Winwood from Traffic to back them on their album, Guy McDonald’s wild playing on Catharsis is far more exciting than anything Winwood contributes to McDonald & Giles.

Winwood’s presence suggests there’s going to be some awesome keyboard pyrotechnics, but the album is more Low End Spark of High Heeled Boys than Mr. Fantasy, in Traffic terms. Winwood is afforded the organ freak-out that opens the “Birdman” suite (heard in Round #2) but is mostly a backing musician here. “Flight of the Isis” has him playing a mellow fender rhodes.

flight of the isis

“Flight of the Isis” by McDonald & Giles

Guy McDonald is credited for keyboard and synthesizer on Catharsis, and his contributions are part of why this album has such an appeal to collectors of 70s prog albums. “Space Beam” overdubs his interstellar synthesizer on an surely Winwood-influenced organ jam. Where other middle-seventies progressive rock albums turned towards fusion, “Space Beam” seems blues-rooted along with the more guitar driven stuff on the album.

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“Space Beam” by McDonald & Sherby

What have we learned?

Both records are a little too much — not really stuff for the casual collector. You might get a little more out of McDonald & Sherby’s album, but you’ll probably pay about ten times as much. So maybe your best bang for your buck (or in the case of progressive rock what gets you ‘Close to the Edge’ of ‘the Wall,’ if you’re ‘Thick as a Brick’) comes from McDonald & Giles.

But we like to stick close to home — McDonald & Giles sound so oppressively British at times. Yeah, we might be biased in favor of the McDonald & Sherby album because it was recorded about fifteen blocks from the record shop, but it really is a better listen. Still, as with many of our SMACKDOWNs, the winner is really anyone with a turntable and an open mind to listen.

Today’s existential title refers to the two groups who will be squaring off in our latest “Smackdown”: The Coasters vs. the Drifters. Both are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (presumably) and legendary to say the least. The question is, who is the greatest? We’ll find out the answer in today’s Smackdown, sure to go down as one of our most exciting matches…

The Coasters vs. The Drifters

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BEST SONGWRITING SUPPORT DUO

Here we hear the toughest competition in today’s exciting smackdown. The Coasters enjoyed the support of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller for many years. This is the awesome pair who wrote “Hound Dog” and “Kansas City,” to name just a couple seminal rock and roll jams. Meanwhile, the Drifters were fortunate to be the first to record many songs written by Carole King & Jerry Goffin (check out our birthday tribute to Carole King to hear a couple of the many great songs they composed, including one by Eydie Gorme and a classic by the Cookies that was covered by the Beatles). The King & Goffin songs written for the Drifters included one of their most famous songs, “Up on the Roof.”

up on the roof

But the Drifters can’t win this round. Why? Because they also recorded a number of Leiber & Stoller songs, something that buoyed their waning career (they were also an act that recorded a couple early Bacharach & David songs). The Coasters, on the other hand, were a favorite of Leiber & Stoller, and were given as many as a dozen songs that could be considered jukebox standards, such as “Yakity Yak” and “Charlie Brown.”

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BEST SOLO CAREER – Battle of the Kings

Session saxophonist King Curtis was called the “fifth Coaster” — a fairly eaerned title, considering his contributions to nearly every classic Coasters hit is distinct. He also recorded on tracks ranging from Buddy Holly’s “Reminiscing” to Joe South’s “Games People Play,” all while enjoying a handful of instrumental hits with his own group, the Kingpins. That group even opened up for the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965 — One of the songs they played was Curtis’ original hit of the previous year, “Soul Serenade.”

soul serenade

The Drifters have been the subject of endless legal conflict for more than sixty years, and over those as many performers have passed through the group. Clyde McPhatter was the first Drifter to make a lasting impression on his departure, particularly with the hit “A Lover’s Question.”

Some time after McPhatter left the group was re-formed by George Treadwell, who owned the name “The Drifters.” The new group he enlisted had been performing as the Five Crowns, and their lead singer had been known as Ben E. Nelson. We know him as Ben E. King.

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“Stand by Me”

“Stand by Me” is the most famous record Ben E. King (and, incidentally, a Lieber & Stoller song), but his first solo super hit was “Spanish Harlem” (co-written by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector). King had some funkier hits (like “Supernatural”) in the seventies, but didn’t sustain the fame that followed “Stand by Me.”

Still, the Drifters’ solo work far eclipses King Curtis’ instrumental work with the Kingpins. Ben E. King has recorded dozens of post-Drifters albums, and his official website says “tour dates coming soon.” So here’s a round for the Drifters.

BEST LEGAL FIGHT OVER OWNERSHIP OF THE BAND’S NAME

As mentioned, the Drifters have been a source of more ongoing legal conflict than nearly every other band in pop history. In fact, just as during there era of the Avignon Papacy, during which there were two Popes for a period in the fourteenth century, or the more recent co-existence of two L.A. Guns, there have been at one time or another two Drifters. There have been as many as four concurrent Drifters groups touring and recordsing, including Bill Pinckley’s Original Drifters, Don Thomas and the Drifters Review and the Drifters Legends.

There were also several different competing Coasters in the country during the 1970s, including a group led by Cornelius Gunter, an original member of the Platters and an early member of the Coasters. A member of his illegitimate group was killed in a grisly murder in 1980. Ten years later Gunter himself was shot by his own manager, who was protecting his plan to buy furniture with stolen checks when Gunther said he was going to talk to the police.

Nobody wins. This round sucks.

BEST HEARTBREAKER

The Drifters win this round. How could songs like “The Idol with the Golden Head,” “Searchin'” and “Little Egypt” compete with the Drifters’ best tear jerkers. One track in particular stands out, not only because it introduced the ‘new Drifters’ but because it introduced the lush production that would define soul music in the years following its 1959 release. “There Goes My Baby” was in its time bold and innovative, and it’s rich strings only enhanced the song’s feeling, which is one of heartbreak.

there goes my baby

“There goes my Baby”

BEST ACTUAL HEARTBREAKING STORY

On August 13th, 1971 (yes, a Friday the thirteenth) Curtis Ousley (aka-King Curtis) came home to his brownstown apartment on west 86th street carrying an air conditioner when he found two junkies on his steps. In the argument that followed he was stabbed and died from the wound.

drifters boardwalk 45Rudy Lewis became a member of the “27 club” on May 20th, 1964 when he died of a drug overdose in a Harlem hotel room. He was a closeted homosexual and a binge eater, as well as a heroin addict. He was to have recorded the group’s hit “Under the Boardwalk” the next day.

under the boardwalk

“Under the Boardwalk”

Nobody wins this round either. Folks, drugs are bad. Say no to them.

BEST SONG FOR YOUR SWEETHEART

Here is a round the Drifters win without much of a fight — the Coasters’ love songs were goofy at best. They walked a fine line between serious and silly, and even at their sappiest they weren’t to be taken so seriously (as on “Zing when the Strings of my Heart,” for instance). The Drifters, on the other hand, were probably heartbreakers. Most of their hits are perfect for those Time/Life compilations that show a couple sitting in a convertible at the drive-in (he usually looks like Ricky Nelson and she is always wearing a pink sweater and a schoolgirl skirt).

“Save the Last Dance for Me” was one of the very best love-y songs the Drifters recorded. It was a #1 hit in 1960, and has been frequently covered since. Damita Jo recorded a response song (“I’ll Save the Last Dance for You”) that we featured in the first of our ongoing franchise of “Sequel Songs” here.

save the last dance for me

“Save the Last Dance for Me”

BEST SONG ABOUT MEXICO

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“Mexican Divorce”

Celebrities who went south of the border for a quicker, cheaper divorce included Johnny Carson, Katherine Hepburn, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe. Jack Kerouac mentions Mexican divorces in On the Road and Tom Waits makes reference to them in “The Part You Throw Away” on Blood Money.

The laws have since changed, but the Drifters’ 1962 recording of this early Bacharach composition is an enduring classic. Ry Cooder re-recorded it on his album Paradise and Lunch, and Steely Dan borrowed from it in their own “Haitian Divorce.

down in mexico

“Down in Mexico”

The Coasters’ “Down in Mexico”  is about a cat named Joe who runs a place in Mexico “where the drinks are hotter than chili sauce.” He could just as easily be a character in one of Jim Croce’s saloon-soaked story songs.

Both songs have distinct percussion and great performances, but the Coasters’ Mexico song is just more fun, so they win this round.

BEST SONG THAT’S JUST AWESOME

poison ivy

“Poison Ivy”

shoppin for clothes

“Shoppin’ for Clothes”

three cool cats

“Three Cool Cats”

This round is pretty much all Coasters, as these three great singles — all lesser-known than hits like “Charlie Brown” and “Yakity Yak” — are all more fun than anything the Drifters recorded. In fact, every Coasters record we’ve ever heard is like a little party in a sleeve.

So who wins? We don’t know — and who cares? We listen to the Drifters when we’re feeling soulful or sad, and the Coasters when we’re feeling saucy or silly. This “smackdown” turned out to be even more apples & oranges than our battle royale between Beethoven and Herb Alpert (here). We recommend you own a record — or a tape or a CD or something — by both of these groups. We recommend you listen to them often.

 

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