February 2015

Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh’s finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Tady!

In case you missed it here’s what he played with commentary by Scott:

Diamond Rugs, "Voodoo Doll" - Spoon with a shot of Morphine is what I'm hearing from this single off the sophomore album by a band that includes Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), John McCauley and Robbie Crowell (Deer Tick), Ian Saint Pé (ex-Black Lips guitarist), T. Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate) and Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite). Just some friends blowing off steam. The musical equivalent of a lightly planned/publicized party that turns out to be a blast.

Juliana Hatfield 3, "If I Could" - Well, it had been 21 years since their rookie effort, so the jangly power/indie-pop trio decided to release a sophomore album (out last week). Hatfield sounds all cool, sweet and vulnerable with her singing -- just as we've always like her solo. Sample lyric: "You take a piece of mind every time you leave," she says, telling a wayward lover she'd kiss away the tears to make him stay. Back in the '90s, Pittsburgh-Beaver Valley band Paint had a song called "Juliana Hatfield on My Mind." It should've been a hit. Well, at least a cult classic.

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This Friday (2/20/15), WYEP will be celebrating the 1960s British Invasion era of U.S. popular music. We'll be playing some British Invasion bands throughout the day. Make your suggestions for what songs most represent that time period to you here.

 

But what, you may ask, was so important about the British Invasion? Well, let's go back in time.On February 9, 1964, The Beatles made their famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and everything changed. Not just for the Fab Four, but for the entire popular music world in the United States. Beforehand, British artists weren't taken seriously by U.S. record labels or by the public. In 1963, of the 658 songs that were on Billboard's weekly 100-song pop chart, only fourteen were from artists originating from Great Britain.

 

In 1964, there were 95 British artists who made it on the chart. In 1965, that number swelled to 127. And in 1966 and '67, there were 86 and 79 U.K. acts charting in America, respectively.

 

But it's not just the number of songs that climbed the U.S. chart that made the British Invasion a sea change in American musical culture. It's also the heights to which those hits rose. In 1963, no artist from the U.K. topped the U.S. chart, and there were only two top 10 hits and a total of only three top 40 hits.

 

By contrast, in 1964, British artists scored nine #1 hits in the U.S. (six of them by the Beatles, but also by The Animals, Manfred Mann, and Peter & Gordon). There were twenty-eight top 10 hits by U.K. acts and fifty-nine top 40 hits.

 

So over 60% of the charting British acts were top 40 hits in 1964, while only slightly more than 20% of them were in 1963. (The 1964 figure was matched or slightly rose through the rest of the British Invasion period: 60% in 1965, and then 65% in both 1966 and 1967.) That means that not only was there more representation from the U.K. on the chart, but much more radio airplay and record store sales of those songs.

 

And there's the sound of the actual hits themselves. In 1963, the highest charting singles from the U.K. were much less credible fare than what was to explode on the music scene in 1964. There was the breathy pop of sister singing duo The Caravelles. Their #3 hit in '63, “You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry” could easily have been recorded several decades prior. There was Aussie-to England transplant Rolf Harris' novelty hit “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.” The only other top 40 hit from a British artist in '63 was “Mr. Bass Man” by 18 year-old teen pop singer Johnny Cymbal. “Mr. Bass Man” was fun, had tempo, and was a clever merging of American teen idol and doo-wop genres. But there was nothing really rock 'n' roll about any of the U.S. top 40 hits from Great Britain in 1963.

 

In 1964, however, there was energetic rock 'n' roll to spare with The Beatles' “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” “A Hard Day's Night,” “Can't Buy Me Love,” and even “I Feel Fine” at the end of the year. Plus there was Manfred Mann's “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” and the gritty “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals. And those were just among the #1 hits originating from the U.K. in 1964.

 

In terms of both quantity and quality of charting songs, the British Invasion represented a true sea change in how American audiences perceived music from Great Britain. A milestone of sorts was achieved on May 8, 1965, when the U.S. top 10 featured nine artists from the U.K.

 

However, eventually the invasion began to wane. October 15, 1966 was the first time since The Beatles first appeared on Ed Sullivan in 1964 that no British artist was found in the U.S. Top 10. And beginning with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967, rock 'n' roll bands began to transition towards the album as a unit of currency, and so the chart success of an artist or a song -- a key yardstick of the British Invasion -- was much less important.

 

The British Invasion gave way to album-oriented counterculture rock in 1968 and beyond, but by then, artists from the U.K. were firmly and permanently established as part of the cultural dialogue in music.

The Biggest British Invasion Artists (By Number of U.S. Chart Appearances, 1964-1967)

 

  1. The Beatles (60)

  2. Dave Clark Five (23)

  3. The Rolling Stones (19)

  4. Herman's Hermit (17)

  5. Peter & Gordon (14)

 

U.K. Artists Whose U.S. Hit-Making Career Was Contained Entirely Within British Invasion Years of 1964-1967

 

Freddie & the Dreamers - This Manchester band was centered around the rambunctious frontman and former milkman Freddie Garrity. Although the band only had five songs hit the U.S. pop chart, they had a 1965 #1 with "I'm Telling You Now" and attempted to start a daft leg-swinging dance craze with the single "Do the Freddie" (the song had more success than the dance).

 

Gerry & the Pacemakers - Following closely in The Beatles' wake, this Liverpool group was managed by Brian Epstein and was produced by George Martin. Eleven of their singles hit the U.S chart, although they were never able to top their first American hit, "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying," which hit #4 in the summer of 1964.

 

The Swinging Blue Jeans - Another Liverpool band, they began as a skiffle group in the late '50s and evolved into a rock 'n' roll act as it became clear where the wind was blowing. They only had three singles chart in the U.S., all cover songs: "Hippy Hippy Shake," "Good Golly Miss Molly," and "You're No Good."

 

The Yardbirds - The London band which launched the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page started off their chart success in the U.S. with the #6 hit "For Your Love" and then fared less well for their subsequent eight singles to make the American pop chart. Of course, after their 1968 dissolution, Page put together The New Yardbirds which would quickly be renamed Led Zeppelin before the release of their debut album.

 

Some Lesser-Known British Invasion Artists

 

The Nashville Teens – This group, despite their American-sounding name, was from Weybridge, Surrey (where Kenwood, John Lennon's estate from 1964 to 1968, was located). They had two songs chart in the U.S.: 1964's “Tobacco Road” hit #14 in America, and another single, “Find My Way Back Home," peaked at #98 in March 1965. Like The Beatles, The Nashville Teens honed their chops early on in the clubs of Hamburg, Germany, backing Jerry Lee Lewis in an engagement there that was captured on an acclaimed live album. The also backed Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry on record or on stage. Although they started off with commercial success, it tailed off before the end of the British Invasion period. The band continued into the 1970s, and a version of The Nashville Teens still exists. They had a bit of attention in 2010 when “Tobacco Road” was included on the TV show Mad Men.

 

The Ivy League – This band's biggest claim to fame wasn't for one of their own recordings, but rather for their prominent backing vocals on The Who's “I Can't Explain.” The Ivy League issued a few singles under their own name in 1965 and '66 (and one album in '65), but although they had decent chart success in the U.K., they couldn't translate their American collegiate name into recognition in the U.S. Their one chart entry on these shores was “Tossing and Turning” which peaked at a disappointing #83. Very soon, personnel turnover and a lack of a distinctive identity sunk the band (although the band apparently continues to exist, albeit with no original members).

 

Hedgehoppers Anonymous – A quintet that began in Peterborough (75 miles north of London), since most of the bandmembers were in the Royal Air Force at a base located there. The “hedgehopper” of their name was aviator jargon for a low-flying plane. The group's producer was Jonathan King (himself a British Invasion-era artist, with two songs that charted in the U.S., including the top 20 hit “Everyone's Gone To The Moon”), who also wrote Hedgehoppers Anonymous' lone minor hit in America, 1966's “It's Good News Week." It climbed to #48 in early 1966. After a few further unsuccessful singles, the band broke up.

 

The Overlanders – This trio began as a folk group but then shifted their sound to take advantage of the excitement for “Beat” groups in the wake of The Beatles. The had some regional interest in the U.S. but only hit the American chart once in 1964 with a cover of the Chad & Jeremy song “Yesterday's Gone," which peaked at #75. In total, they only recorded a handful of songs, but a version of the band still continues to today.

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of WYEP’s trusted music experts joins me (Cindy Howes) on The Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Sarah Wardrop from WFUV in New York!

In case you missed, it here’s what she played:

Matthew E. White, "Rock & Roll Is Cold" - This Virginia-based songwriter, producer and arranger released his debut Big Inner in 2012, and his new album, Fresh Blood, is due out on March 10th. Hopefully the title doesn't scare you off, because the songs showcase White's talent for building intricate-but-not-extravagant arrangements that perfectly suit his low-key vocal style. He's proving his range live too, with upcoming album release shows that are either solo or with a 30-piece band.

Courtney Barnett, "Depreston" (live at WFUV) - One highly anticipated album of the year (and not just by me) is Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, which will be out on March 24th. The guitar-focused "Pedestrian At Best" is one preview we've gotten. Another is a song Courtney and her band performed at WFUV back in February of last year, called "Depreston." I'm very curious to hear how it ends up sounding on the album, but this version sets Barnett's clever wordsmithing in some sweet, melodic melancholy.

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh’s finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Pop City's Patrick Bowman

In case you missed, it here's what Patrick played:

Waxahatchee, “Air" - Waxahatchee is the moniker of Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield, who in 2013 recieved rave reviews for her sophomore breakthrough album Cerulan Salt by pairing intimate, literate, lyrics with the guitar moves and slacker atmosphere of 90s alternative rock. She returns in April with her third album Ivy Tripp, and just released the record’s debut single “Air,” which builds neatly on the success Cerulean Salt: wirey, pared down guitar parts, lyrics that sound like fractured bits from a short story, and now, a bolder sense of production, with swelling keyboard parts, and small studio touches like the space and echo she affords her percussion.

Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian At Best” - Aussie singer-song writer Courtney Barnett first got attention stateside in 2014 with her debut official release The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. The records’ relaxed collection of country-tinged rockers betrayed a knowing sense of cynicism and intelligence in Barnett’s songwriting that gave her music a bite that otherwise wasn’t present. For the lead single “Pedestrian At Best” from her forthcoming full-length debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, Barnett kicks up the energy a knotch with squealing feedback, crunchy power chords, and practically spoken word verses that grow gradually urgent as the song progresses. “Pedestrian At Best” is Barnett’s real breakthrough, a track that promises great things when the accompanying album drops in March.

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