1964 / Motown Meets UK Scruff & The Tremolo Umami

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Headphones revealed the unintended theme of this 1964 playlist: the trans-Atlantic gap in production quality between Motown and the singles from these up-and-coming English groups. As you’ll hear, everyone had the songs, though, so …

Tell Her No / The Zombies. The least famous of The band’s three U.S. hits, but catchy. You can tell the electric piano technology would advance a bit beyond this unit, and a couple of lead/backup vocals sound a little dodgy, but it doesn’t matter because the song works and the recording has a feel.

The Pink Panther Theme / Henry Mancini. Of course the long signature riff is classic, but I’ll suggest that the tremolo on those vibes is the umami that really makes this recipe.

You Never Can Tell / Chuck Berry. What a lyric. The title suggests the old folks were kinda surprised that the kids made it. Can’t help but think of “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” as the sort of flip side, down to detailing the young couple’s purchases. Except that in Joel’s story, everyone expects Brenda and Eddie to make it, but they don’t.

I Get Around / Beach Boys. Beach Boys vocals are Beach Boys vocals. That thick instrumental riff between lines in a couple of the verses, though … and that organ at the outro, too. The kind of details that’ll get you your first U.S. #1.

The Way You Look Tonight / Frank Sinatra. Not easy to make the cover the dominant version 28 years after the original. But 28 years after Fred Astaire sang it to Ginger Rogers, I guess it was ready for an update. Sinatra and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra took the Broadway oldie, carried it beyond a “refresh” and made the Kern/Fields tune an enduring classic.

Too Many Fish In The Sea / The Marvelettes. What to say, one of a mountain of classic Tamla/Motown tracks. In stores barely three weeks after it was recorded. Tighter vox than The Zombies!

Things We Said Today / The Beatles. TIL that that piano on the bridge is Lennon’s and it’s actually all bleed-through onto other tracks in the mix. Something appealing about the wavering between minor/major throughout, and of course those gorgeous chords underpinning the chorus.

The Girl From Ipanema / Stan Getz & Joao Gilbert. Speaking of gorgeous chords. If Sinatra pulled off the cover that defines the composition, these guys (with Astrud Gilberto on vocals) defined the American perception of an entire genre. Sure, it’s a Hollywood trope for music in the elevator (WHERE’S MY SUPERCUT, YOUTUBE?). But you know what? I’m always hoping those scenes last a little longer.

Time Is On My Side / Rolling Stones. This song actually got around a bit before the Stones picked it up and scored their first U.S top 10 single. Listening to this studio version for the first time in a while, Mick’s tambourine needed to take two large steps back to make more room for Charlie (and Mick needed to get a little tighter with his tambo work, if we’re being honest). And some of these backup vox make the Zombies sound like the Beach Boys. Still, a good single. Ian Stewart on the organ.

Come See About Me / The Supremes. The middle single in an all-time great run of singles. Diana Ross’ cool delivery and, unlike the previous track, Motown’s typically organized arrangements and production … a formula for success.

People / Barbra Streisand. Made-to-order showcase for Ms. Streisand in Funny Girl, and listen to her effortlessly hop up there to a new note and back down on the last “people who need people.” The strain of melancholy has always shown up in this track to me. I’ll go ahead and read too much into it by noticing it was recorded a month after the JFK assassination.

The Way You Do The Things You Do / The Temptations. The Funk Brothers, some great singers and, of course, the genius of Smokey Robinson.

All Day & All Of The Night / The Kinks. “I’m not content to be with you in the daytime” … sounds a little like a note from a stalker colleague, received by the soon-to-be victim in a detective show, doesn’t it? And so we end kind of where we started — production that won’t win any awards, but raw power in hook and execution that more than makes up for it.

1 thought on “1964 / Motown Meets UK Scruff & The Tremolo Umami

  1. This diverse list of tracks/styles underscores – at least filtered through my 67-year old sensibilities – just how much potent and real music was around before all that hippie nonsense started a few years later. And I appreciate the extra focus on keyboard parts. ;-)

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