Before We Was Fab: Benny Spellman, “Fortune Teller”

Before We Was Fab looks at some of the best songs of the pre-Beatles era, in search of great singles that have largely been forgotten.

If you’ve heard of Benny Spellman at all, chances are it’s because of his association with groups such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, The O’Jays, or The Hollies — all of whom covered his songs.

Benny Spellman, "Fortune Teller"As it happens, I was listening to the iconic Who album Live at Leeds and paid particular attention to their live rendition of “Fortune Teller.” The Who, as with many English rock bands of the time, had a deep love and appreciation for popular and obscure R&B, and that’s where “Fortune Teller” comes in.

The song was written by the great Allen Toussaint under the pseudonym Naomi Neville, and was first recorded by Spellman as the B-side of his only hit single, “Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette).” That single was released on Minit Records in the spring of 1962 and debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on May 5. The A-side peaked at #80 on June 2, but did find greater success on the Hot R&B Sides chart (#28).

Musically, there is very little difference between Spellman’s original and the versions recorded by The Who or The Rolling Stones. Toussaint’s production has a little more bounce and flair (courtesy some extra percussion and barely noticeable horns), but doesn’t have the same bombast (Who) or speed and urgency (Stones). But otherwise, even the greatest rock groups ever knew to leave a great tune largely alone.

Benny Spellman never had another hit and released only a few singles after 1965. He was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009, and died of respiratory failure in June 2011, at the age of 79.

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Listening Booth — The Who, “Had Enough”

One of my resolutions for 2016 is to start publishing more Listening Booth posts, but why not get a head start before 2015 finishes? Here’s a gem from the last studio album by The Who to feature the legendary Keith Moon. It’s “Had Enough” from 1978’s Who Are You LP.

Roger Daltrey reportedly hated the string arrangement on this song, but I love it. It lends an extra element of emotion to a very world-weary track from John Entwistle. I especially love the chord progression on the chorus, which is nothing short of brilliant.

Don’t forget you can hear most of the songs from in my Listening Booth series on Spotify.

Jimi Hendrix

“Hope I die before I get old” — Do famous musicians really die young?

Jimi Hendrix

With her tragic and untimely death, Amy Winehouse became the latest member of a grim group — the so-called Club 27, whose only entrance requirement is to be a famous musician and to die at age 27. The club also includes legends such as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain. This got me to thinking — is it really true that the brightest stars burn out the earliest? Or does it just seem that way because of our fascination with stars who die young?

Curious, I decided to conduct a little research so I compiled a list of famous and influential dead musicians. Of course that list could be limitless, depending on your standards for fame and influence. I ultimately opted to use Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, first published in 2004/05 and updated in 2011. So yes, it focuses heavily on rock and pop, leaving out a ton of worthy artists from country, jazz, hip hop, and other genres. No Patsy Cline, no Biggie Smalls, not even Miles Davis. So if you want to complain that your favorite musician was left out, take it up with Rolling Stone. Sorry!

That means this data includes solo artists from Rolling Stone‘s list, as well as members of groups that made the list. And believe me, for some of those Motown and southern rock groups, it was not fun collecting that data.

What I Found

Here are some interesting facts I picked up from this list:

Sid Vicious

Sid Vicious

Youngest to die — Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), age 21. On the evening of 1 February 1979, Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie) overdosed on heroin at his new girlfriend’s (Michele Robison) New York City apartment. He was reportedly revived by those in attendance, and went to bed with Robison at approximately 3am the next morning. On the morning of February 2 his body was discovered. No autopsy was ever performed.

Oldest to die — Bo Diddley, age 79. Diddley was one of the most influential guitar players in history, and his trademark shuffle is instantly recognizable to this day. His career spanned more than six decades, until a stroke and heart attack in 2007 put an end to public playing days. He finally died of heart failure on June 2, 2008, with more than 30 family members at home with him. His grandson, Garry Mitchell, stated that a gospel song was sung at Diddley’s bedside and afterwards the legendary musician’s last words were, “I’m going to heaven.”

Age with the most deaths — You guessed it, 27. Eight members of the RS 100 (Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Dave Alexander, and Rudy Lewis) died at 27, twice as many as any other age.

Most lethal age groups — Bolstered by the members of Club 27, the 26-30 group had 15 members. After that there is a pretty big dropoff until things pick up again in the 46-50, 51-55, and 56-60 ranges.

Lynyrd Skynyrd (1977)

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Group with the most deaths — Due in no small part to a tragic 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of three members, seven members of Lynyrd Skynyrd have died since the group’s inception in 1964. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines (as well as assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray) were killed in the crash.

Since then four other members of Skynyrd have passed — Allen Collins died in 1990 from chronic pneumonia, a complication from paralysis suffered in a 1986 car accident; Leon Wilkeson died in 2001 after suffering from suffering from chronic liver and lung disease; Billy Powell died in January 2009 of a suspected heart attack, but no autopsy was performed; Hughie Thomasson died in September 2007 of a heart attack; and Ean Evans died in May 2009 from cancer.

Collins, Wilkseon, and Powell were survivors of the plane crash in ’77, incidentally.

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GFS Mixtape: Power Pop for Now People

Gray Flannel Mixtape: Power Pop for Now People

GFS Mixtape: Power Pop for Now People

Ask a dozen people to define the term “power pop” and you’ll likely get a dozen variations of the same concept. For my part, any music with killer melodies, crisp songwriting and arranging, and (usually) big guitars probably qualifies. Or to get more specific, here’s what the All Music Guide says:

Power Pop is a cross between the crunching hard rock of the Who and the sweet melodicism of the Beatles and Beach Boys, with the ringing guitars of the Byrds thrown in for good measure.

Yeah, that’s about it. So anyway, power pop probably offers more value for your listening dollar than any other style I can think of. Here is but a handful of some of the most choice power pop ever committed to tape.

1. Nick Lowe, “So It Goes” (from Jesus of Cool, 1978) — Power pop aficionados will recognize the title of this post as my little homage to the man known as Basher. For those who aren’t in the know, Lowe’s brilliant debut album, Jesus of Cool, was sold in the U.S. as Pure Pop for Now People. Whatever name you want to call it, it’s an ace record and this is one of the best cuts.

2. Georgie James, “More Lights” (from Places, 2007) — Sadly, this is likely the only album we’ll ever get from the pairing of Q and Not U drummer John Davis and singer/songwriter Laura Burhenn, as they split in 2008. Still, I’ll always remember Places as one of 2007’s best albums and “More Lights” as one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in years.

3. Kiss, “Tomorrow” (from Unmasked, 1980)That Kiss? Yes, that Kiss. I can’t imagine power pop was what most of the Kiss Army wanted to hear in 1980 but that’s what they got. I say to them, why not enjoy this for what it is rather than bitch about what it should’ve been?

4. Field Music, “She Can Do What She Wants” (from Tones of Town, 2007) — A lot of so-called indie pop really is just power pop minus the mainstream success. In another time perhaps, Field Music would be huge. But at least they’re here.

5. Badfinger, “No Matter What” (from No Dice, 1970) — It’s hard to separate the great music this band produced from the absolute train wreck they became in the mid-’70s.  This was a star-crossed group if ever there was one. Still, it’s hard to argue against the brilliance of “No Matter What,” written in the days when there was nothing but promise in Badfinger’s future.

6. Jellyfish, “The King Is Half-Undressed” (from Bellybutton, 1990) — That Jellyfish only put out two records is a crime, plain and simple. Check out this gem from their 1990 debut and feel the same frustration I do.

7. Josh Fix, “Bad With the Superbad” (from Free At Last, 2008) — As if it weren’t enough that Josh Fix wrote all the songs on this spectacular disc, he also plays most of the instruments. Sick.

8. Sloan, “She Says What She Means” (from Navy Blues, 1998) — Look, there’s no rule that power pop has to be wholly original to be awesome. So if these guys want to be the Canadian Beatles (or in this case the Canadian Big Star), God bless ’em.

9. Todd Rundgren, “I Saw the Light” (from Something/Anything?, 1972) — Few artists have been able to spin so much pop gold with such seemingly little effort.

10. The Duckworth Lewis Method, “Mason on the Boundary” (from The Duckworth Lewis Method, 2009) —  When this song pops up in my car, I’ve been known to hit repeat and just lose myself in that chorus again and again. That I’ve never once been in an accident while doing so can only be chalked up to sheer dumb luck.

11. Big Star, “In the Street” (from #1 Record, 1972) — Most people will recognize this as the theme song from That ’70s Show, although the Big Star original was never used. In its place were covers by Ben Vaughn and then Cheap Trick.

12. Be Bop Deluxe, “Maid in Heaven” (from Futurama, 1975) — Few acts in the ’70s so brilliantly walked the line between glam rock, power pop, and progressive rock. Bill Nelson’s Be Bop Deluxe was one of them.

13. Matthew Sweet, “Girlfriend” (from Girlfriend, 1991) — Go ahead, try and make it all the way through the first chorus without bopping your head or singing along. I’ll wait here.

14. The New Pornographers, “Mutiny, I Promise You” (from Challengers, 2007) — One of the most ebullient numbers from the relatively muted Challengers disc, this A.C. Newman composition is a prime example of his songwriting potency.

15. Raspberries, “I Don’t Know What I Want” (from Starting Over, 1974) — Well, if you’re gonna model a song after the Who you might as well do it right. Let’s just call this “Won’t Get Fooled Again, Pt. 2.”

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2010: The Gray Flannel Suit Year That Was

It’s been another fun year for me in running this site, and I’d like to thank all of you who visit regularly, irregularly, or even once.  I’d also like to thank everyone who has helped by contributing comments and post ideas.  It’s good to know there’s at least a few people out there who enjoy my little corner of the intertubes.  Since we’re in the midst of year-end review season, let’s take a quick look back at the posting year that was 2010 for The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

Most Popular Posts

This is really what it’s all about right?  It’s always interesting to me to see what content takes off and what content gets largely ignored.  Since I want to stay positive I’ll focus on the former.  So here are the eleven most-popular posts on the site for 2010.

#11. Happy Hoff-Day! – David Hasselhoff is ageless, wouldn’t you agree?  Apparently many do, as this birthday celebration post from all the way back in 2007 is an evergreen.  For Hoff lovers, might I recommend you check out my Hasselhoff/Shatner showdown post from 2008?

#10. Rush album countdown: #4-#1 – Leading up to the 2007 release of Rush’s Snakes & Arrows, I took on the task of ranking every Rush studio album to that point.  As you can guess, this was the payoff.

#9. Retrotisements – Marlboro cigarettes – I’ve made no secret about my fascination with American tobacco advertising.  This classic from July 2007 showcases some vintage Marlboro ads, from long before the Marlboro Man rode into the American pop culture scene.  Maybe he was one of the infants from these early ads?

#8. Album cover of the week: Peter Gabriel (car) – The second album cover post in the top 10, this one showcases the debut album of prog rock legend and former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel.  Creepy stuff.

#7. Rush album countdown: #8-#5 – I guess fewer people were interested in the big finish to the Rush countdown?  Or maybe I didn’t rank A Farewell to Kings high enough?

#6. Commercials I hate – Hyundai Sonata hipster Christmas – And making a late charge into the top 10, it’s everybody’s least favorite car commercial featuring annoying hipster musicians.  I figured I wasn’t the only one who hated this spot, but even I was surprised to see how this post resonated.

#5. Album cover of the week: The Who Sell Out – I think I’m getting the picture that I need to get on the stick with more album cover posts.  Or at least more with cool information, like this Who one.

#4. Michael – Death is a weird thing.  I and countless others spent years distancing ourselves from Michael Jackson and his music, and as soon as he died it’s like it was OK to like him again.  I guess that means I can expect a ton of hits here when I kick the bucket?

#3. Attn: Cartoon porn enthusiasts – I’m not too proud to admit that I wrote this to mess with people.  I noticed a strange trend of incoming searches for cartoon/Disney porn, so I set this up as a sort of welcome tent for pervs.

#2. America the Brave: A selection of Veterans Day images – I dusted off this 2008 image gallery in November, and it’s proven to be even more popular than before.  The Vietnam War seems to be the main topic of interest for people looking at this post, so maybe I’ll write a new one just for ‘Nam.

#1. Album covers of the week: 1962-1966 & 1967-1970 – I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the most popular band of all-time is the subject of my most popular post of the year.  I am a little surprised that this relatively obscure (for the Beatles) compilation is searched for so often.  I imagine there will be at least one or two more Beatles albums in future installments of Album Covers of the Week.

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Listening Booth – The Who, “Imagine a Man”

As much as the Who staked their claim as rock legends on high-octane numbers like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “My Generation”, I find that often it’s the more contemplative songs where they really shine.  Take, for instance, this cut from 1975’s The Who By Numbers.  The lyrics are bleak but the music…the music is startlingly simple and beautiful.  Did Pete Townshend ever write a better ballad?

I’m not sure, but this is certainly a worthy contender.  Here’s “Imagine a Man”:

Imagine a man
Not a child of any revolt
But a plain man tied up in life

Imagine the sand
Running out as he struts
Parading and fading, ignoring his wife

Imagine a road
So long looking backwards
You can’t see where it really began

Imagine a load
So large and so smooth
That against it a man is an ant

Then you will see the end
You will see the end

Imagine events
That occur everyday
Like a shooting or raping or a simple act of deceit

Imagine a fence
Around you as high as prevention
Casting shadows, you can’t see your feet

Imagine a girl
With long, flowing hair
And the body of chalky perfection and truth

Imagine a past
Where you wish you had lived
Full of heroes and villians and fools

And you will see the end
You will see the end
And you will see the end
You will see the end
Oh yeah

Imagine a man
Not a child of any revolt
But a man of today feeling new

Imagine a soul
So old it it is broken
And you know your invention is you

And you will see the end
You will see the end
You will see the end
You will see the end
Oh yeah

Album cover of the week: The Who Sell Out

I’d wager that if you ask most casual Who fans what their favorite albums by the group are, and they’d probably say Tommy, Who’s Next and maybe Live at Leeds.  All fine choices, of course, but before any of those were even released there was my favorite – 1967’s The Who Sell Out.  It was Pete Townshend’s first crack at a concept album, although this is more of a theme album actually.  The premise is that the entire album (complete with radio jingles) is actually a broadcast from the pirate station Radio London.

It’s the commercials, not the songs, from which the design for The Who Sell Out is inspired.  And it is inspired.

The Who Sell Out

That’s Townshend and Roger Daltrey on the front, pitching Odorono and Heinz Baked Beans respectively.  Honestly the image of Daltrey sitting in a tub of beans creeps me out a little bit.  And on the back cover that’s the late Keith Moon (pitching Medac) and John Entwistle (for Charles Atlas).  I looked for the name of the woman with Entwistle but couldn’t find it.

The Who Sell Out

Graphic design for the album was handled by David King and Roger Law, and photography was by David Montgomery.  King and Law handled the design for another classic album released the same month as this one:  The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold As Love.   Of note is that this was one of the first pop albums (Moby Grape’s debut LP earlier in ’67 being the first) to not list the song titles anywhere on the cover.

As legend has it, John Entwistle was originally supposed to sit in the tub of beans but heard about it in advance and was conveniently late to the photo shoot.  Daltrey was drafted to take his place, and for being a good sport got a mild case of pneumonia (the beans were refrigerated).

There are multiple versions of this album cover depending on the country of origin.  Notably, the Australian release substitutes Medac for Clearasil on Keith Moon’s photo.  This was probably confusing to Aussie listeners since one of the jingles on the album is for Medac, and as far as I know they didn’t record a Clearasil spot.

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Album review: The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely

I’m not sure if it can accurately be said that the Raconteurs’ new album, Consolers of the Lonely, represents an unexpected left turn. After all, who’s to say that their 2006 debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, isn’t the aberration instead? Either way, fans looking for a repeat of the brilliant, trippy power pop of BBS would do best to just stick with that album. Consolers – steeped as it is in the blues, hard rock, and even vintage country – is an altogether different experience, so I expect the critics and fans to start taking sides now.

The good news is that despite representing a radical departure in style, Consolers has groove and guts to spare, and it feels like a much more cohesive musical statement than BBS. Throughout, the Raconteurs play with supreme confidence and sounds like a comfortable and well-oiled unit. The album boasts a healthy mix of scorchers and engaging slow- to mid-tempo songs. “Salute Your Solutions”, “Hold Up”, and “Five on the Five” in particular rock harder than anything on the first record, while “You Don’t Understand” is a wonderful counterbalance to the fury of the faster cuts.

The band also seems to be channeling the bluesier side of Led Zeppelin and the Who for much of Consolers. “Top Yourself” would sound at home on Physical Graffiti, while “Old Enough” could be an outtake from the Led Zeppelin III sessions. The band does cross the line from reverent to derivative with “Rich Kid Blues,” which is a sadly ineffective amalgamation of Zep’s “Ten Years Gone” and a lot of the Who’s Quadrophenia album. Too bad it lacks the sheer delicacy or power of either.

Without having read the writing credits for this record, my take is that it certainly seems to be a more Jack White-dominated affair. The blood-boiling openers “Consoler of the Lonely” and “Salute Your Solution” are really just White Stripes songs played by a full band, and along with much of the album seem like a thinly veiled (albeit successful) do-over of the disappointing Icky Thump – witness the mariachi flavor shared by the Stripes’ “Conquest” and this band’s “The Switch and the Spur” for instance. The abundance of horns can’t be a coincidence either.

The album closes with the excellent and chilling “Carolina Drama”, in which White delivers the tale of a troubled man named Billy in his familiar cadence while simultaneously evoking the sound of latter era Bob Dylan. It’s the last in a series of twists and turns that mark a consistent and consistently surprising album.

On a down note, despite a multitude of great riffs, very little of Consolers of the Lonely is as instantly memorable as the Raconteurs’ debut. And weighing in with 14 songs, some of the album feels less than necessary. A little editing (I really could’ve done without “Pull This Blanket Off” in particular) would’ve heightened the overall impact a great deal. Still, it’s a bold record from a band that could’ve easily – and justifiably – opted to repeat the winning formula of their debut.

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