The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

My proposition for today is I’m a Believer by The Monkees. While it’s a silly love song, it always makes me happy. And what’s wrong with that?

It may come as a surprise to some readers that I’m a Believer was written by then-25-year-old Neil Diamond. He actually spent his early career as a songwriter in New York’s legendary Brill Building. By the time Diamond penned I’m a Believer, he already had created a top 20 hit for Jay and the Americans with Sunday And Me that had come out in November 1965.

According to Songfacts, Don Kirshner while looking for material for The Monkees came across I’m a Believer. As part of a deal with Diamond, he allowed him to record the song as well. The Monkees’ version appeared first in November 1966 as their second single. It became a smash, topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia, UK and various other European countries.

Diamond’s version certainly wasn’t bad. It appeared on his sophomore album Just for You from August 1967 but wasn’t among the three singles that were released from the record – probably a smart decision, given it would have been very unlikely to match the success of The Monkees or even come anywhere close to it.

A few additional tidbits from Songfacts: The Monkees sang on this, but did not play any instruments. The producers used session musicians because they were not convinced The Monkees could play like a real band. This became a huge point of contention, as the group fought to play their own songs. [We know eventually they did – CMM]

Neil Diamond had intended the song to be recorded by the Country artist Eddy Arnold, and was surprised when record executive Don Kirshner passed it instead to The Monkees.

Monkees guitarist Michael Nesmith didn’t believe this would be a hit, complaining to the producer, Jeff Barry, “I’m a songwriter, and that’s no hit.” Jeff Barry banned him from the studio while Micky Dolenz recorded his lead vocal.

A cover version by Smash Mouth was featured in the 2001 movie Shrek and went to #25 in the US. Diamond wrote the song “You Are My Number One” for Smash Mouth’s next album.

Mojo magazine July 2008 asked Neil Diamond if he resented at all the Monkees’ success with this song at a time when his own recording career was less successful. He replied: “I was thrilled, because at heart I was still a songwriter and I wanted my songs on the charts. It was one of the songs that was going to be on my first album, but Donny Kirshner, who was their music maven, hears ‘Cherry, Cherry’ on the radio and said, ‘Wow, I want one like that for The Monkees!’ He called my producers, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich…But the head of my record company freaked. He went through the roof because he felt that I had given #1 records away to another group. I couldn’t have cared less because I had to pay the rent and The Monkees were selling records and I wasn’t being paid for my records.”

Happy Hump Day, and always remember George Harrison’s wise words: All things must pass!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the first Sunday Six of 2022 and once again Happy New Year! Frequent visitors of the blog know what’s about to unfold. In case you’re here for the first time, welcome, and I hope you’ll be back for more. The Sunday Six is a weekly recurring feature celebrating music in different flavors from the past 70 years or so, six tunes at a time I typically present in a zig-zag fashion. Ready to embark on my first music mini-excursion of 2022? Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go!

Regina Spektor/New Year

Since it’s the beginning of 2022, I thought why not kick off this installment with a song titled New Year. It’s a nice ballad by Regina Spektor, a Russian-American singer-songwriter and pianist. Spektor, who was born in 1980 in Moscow, then the Soviet Union, has lived in the U.S. since 1989 when her parents emigrated to New York. After studying classical piano until she was 17, Spektor started to become interested in other music, including hip-hop, rock and punk. She initially gained prominence as part of New York’s so-called anti-folk scene. According to Wikipedia, anti-folk emerged in the 1980s to protest the mainstream music scene with mocking and clever lyrics. In July 2001, Spektor self-released her debut album 11:11, a jazz and blues-influenced record. New Year is a bonus track from her seventh and most recent studio album Remember Us to Life that appeared in September 2016.

Miles Davis Quintet/Airegin

Next, let’s turn to a great jazz standard composed in 1954 by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. The tune was first recorded in June that year by the Miles Davis Quintet for a 10″ LP titled Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins. In addition to Davis (trumpet) and Rollins (tenor sax), the musicians included Horace Silver (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). Rollins also made four additional albums with Davis, in addition to 50-plus studio and live records as a bandleader over a 60-year recording career, as well as more than 20 albums as a sideman. The latter included The Rolling Stones’ 1981 studio album Tattoo You.

Bronski Beat/It Ain’t Necessarily So

While I’ve never been a synth-pop fan, I’ve always loved It Ain’t Necessarily So by Bronski Beat. The timing of featuring this tune isn’t coincidental. Sadly, the trio’s co-founder Steve Bronski passed away on December 7, 2021, at the untimely age of 61. Bronski who due to a stroke in 2018 had limited mobility, reportedly died from smoke inhalation due to a fire at his apartment in London, England. In addition to him (keyboards, percussion), Bronski Beat also included Jimmy Somerville (vocals) and Larry Steinbachek (keyboards, percussion). It Ain’t Necessarily So, composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin, is from Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. Bronski Beat recorded the tune for their debut album The Age of Consent released in October 1984. Here’s the official video – such a cool rendition!

The Yardbirds/For Your Love

English blues rock group The Yardbirds are best known for featuring three of the top British guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Clapton replaced the band’s first lead guitarist Anthony “Top” Topham in October 1963. When Clapton left in March 1965, he recommended Jimmy Page as his replacement. But Page declined and Jeff Beck took over on lead guitar. Page ended up joining the group on bass in 1966 and switched to lead guitar after Beck’s departure in November that year. The Yardbirds split in 1968 and reformed in 1992, including original members Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar, bass) and Jim McCarty (drums). They are still around with McCarty remaining the sole founding member in the current line-up. For Your Love, first released as a single in the UK in March 1965, became the band’s first hit. It marked a departure from their blues roots to a more commercial sound, which was the key reason for Clapton’s departure. For Your Love was written by Graham Gouldman who subsequently co-founded 10cc. That harpsichord played by organist Brian Auger and the different sections of the song are just cool!

Smash Mouth/Walkin’ on the Sun

Retro group Smash Mouth were formed in San Jose, Calif. in 1994. The initial line-up consisted of Steve Harwell (lead vocals), Greg Camp (guitar), Paul De Lisle (bass) and Kevin Coleman (drums). By the time they recorded their debut album Fush Yu Mang, Michael Klooster had joined on keyboards. Released in July 1997, the album included Walkin’ on the Sun, the band’s debut single. Written by Camp, the tune surged to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, hit no. 3 in Canada and reached no. 7 in Australia. It also became a top 20 hit in the UK (no. 19) and charted in various other European countries – smashing!

10cc/Dreadlock Holiday

I’d like to end this first 2022 Best of What’s New installment on a groovy note with Dreadlock Holiday by 10cc. Released in July 1978, this catchy funky tune was the lead single of the English band’s sixth studio album Bloody Tourists that appeared in September of the same year. Co-written by two of the group’s founding members, Eric Stewart and the above-mentioned Graham Gouldman, Dreadlock Holiday was based on real events Stewart and Moody Blues vocalist Justin Hayward had experienced in Barbados, and Gouldman had encountered in Jamaica. The tune was a no. 1 in the UK and also became 10cc’s first no. 1 hit outside the UK, topping the charts in Belgium, The Netherlands and Australia. I recall this song got lots of play on my favorite mainstream pop FM radio station in Germany at the time. 10cc remain active and with Gouldman still have an original member. The current line-up also includes Paul Burgess (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Rick Fenn (guitar, backing and lead vocals, bass, keyboards) who already were around for Dreadlock Holiday. The group has announced a UK tour starting in March 2022. I love it (Eh!).

Last but not least, here’s a playlist with the above tunes. Hope you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube