Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Wolfman Jack & Flash Cadillac

 Side 4 of 4 (Record 1)

Since I Don't Have You: The Skyliners (2:35)
The Skyliners consisted of 5 white Pittsburgh teenagers with perfect voices. The lyrics to "Since I Don't Have You" were written by manager Joe Rock, (while sitting in his car between stoplights), while 17-yer-old lead singer, Jimmy Beaumont wrote the music the next evening.  A rough a cappella demo was recorded.  After shopping the demo around and getting rejected by 13 established labels, the group contacted Calico Records who set up an audition.  The group passed and "Since" was recorded on December 3, 1958. A total of 18 musicians were used which was the first time a full orchestra was used with the group.  The record was released the day after Christmas and shot up the charts to number one in Pittsburgh, which resulted in the group being invited to appear on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.  Within three days of their performance on Bandstand, "Since" had charted on Billboards' Top 100 and had sold 100,000 records.

Chantilly Lace: The Big Bopper (2:21)
In the film this song is timed precisely to the action or vice-versa. Toad is fiddling around with the wires trying to hot wire the Chevy.  As the wires connect the radio comes to life and we hear the sound of a phone ringing and Wolfman asks, "Who's this on the Wolfman telephone?"  The unmistakable voice of The Big Bopper says,  "Hellooo, baaaaby!" Just then Toad looks up to see a large bad-ass looking at him. The Big Bopper was a disc jockey at KTRM in Beaumont, Texas.  Bopper (real name Jiles Perry Richardson) became a pop star when he recorded and released a single called, "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor."  The B-side was a rockabilly song he wrote called "Chantilly Lace" which became an international hit in 1958.  He created a stage show based on his radio personality and was asked by his friend Buddy Holly to join a Midwestern tour in the winter of 1959.  On February 3, 1959, between concert stops in Mason City, Iowa and Fargo, North Dakota the tour plane crashed killing everyone on board including Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens and the "Big Bopper."

Teen Angel: Mark Dinning (2:35)
Born in Oklahoma, Mark Dinning came from a musical family.  His 3 sisters were known as The Dinning Sister in the 1940s.  Their biggest hit was "Buttons and Bows."  Mark had a contract with MGM in 1957 but had a failed career as a country artist.  His sister Jean and her husband gave him a song they wrote called, "Teen Angle."  The lyrical content, somewhat dark, was about a girl who was killed by a train while retrieving her boyfriend's ring. In February 1960, it rose to the top of the US charts.  One of the first examples of songs about death "Teen Angel" spawned dozens of similar morbid tunes. 8

Crying in the Chapel: Sonny Till and the Orioles (3:04)
The Orioles
Considered to be one of the founding fathers of rhythm and blues, The Orioles, with their smooth delivery were also excellent at singing love ballads. The group's origins started in Baltimore in 1946 by singing on street corners which in turn landed them a opportunity to sing at the bar on one of the corners where they sang.  Inside they met songwriter Deborah Chessler who became their manager.  By 1948 the group had recorded and released a single written by Chessler, "Its Too Soon."  Almost immediately the group's single shot up the pop charts to number 13.  The group followed up their success with many more great records.  The group made many appearances on TV shows and played for top dollar.  The band suffered a setback in late 1950 when an auto accident killed guitarist Tommy Gaither and injured some of the others.  In June 1953 the band went into the recording studio and recorded their next single, "Crying in the Chapel."  It was one of the group's strongest efforts and by the end of summer 1953 the song reached number 11 on the pop charts and number 1 on the R&B charts

 A Thousand Miles Away: The Heartbeats (2:25)
A THOUSAND MILES AWAY plays on the soundtrack while Curt is at the radio station talking to the manager about going to college back East- indeed, "a thousand miles away." The song also works to reinforce the distance Curt feels between himself and his fantasy dream girl.  The harmony group performing the song, The Heartbeats, owe much to their fan club who helped popularize their biggest hit.  After having only two releases, Heartbeats fan clubs started springing up all around the New York area.  When their single "Oh Baby Don't" began to get airplay in the fall of 1956, fans would call up the radio stations and demand that the disc jockey turn the single over and play the B-side, "A Thousand Miles Away." Lead singer, James "Shep" Shepard wrote the song about his girlfriend who had moved to Texas.  Shep's lilting lyrics and soaring voice helped make the song a classic.  Shep would revisit the "Thousand Miles Away" story several times and his other group, Shep and the Limelites charted with a similar sounding song "Daddy's Home" in 1961.

Heart and Soul: The Cleftones (1:49)
Hailing from Jamaica, New York, The CLEFTONES were a quintet that had a few regional hits in the mid-50s including, "LITTLE GIRL OF MINE (1956). Patricia Spann was added to The CLEFTONES lineup in 1959 which helped move the group away from traditional group-oriented doo wop harmonies and toward a vocal sound that was dominated by the lead vocals. The band charted with their biggest hit in 1961 with HEART & SOUL, a tune that was first popularized by Larry Clinton in 1938. 

The Cleftones 1961
  Green Onions: Booker T. and the M.G.'s (2:25)
Booker T. Jones who played saxophone and keyboards became part of the Stax establishment in 1960.  Jamming with Mar-Keys guitarist, Steve Cropper led to the creation of the M.G.'s (Memphis Group) and to the recording of "Green Onions."
Booker T & The MGs
The single went to number 3 in 1962.  Several instrumental hits followed but the band is most famous for doing back up work on hits by other Stax artists including Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Rufus Thomas.  In the film, GREEN ONIONS is used to convey challenge as the two hot-rodders line up their cars side by side to race against each other.  Both drivers rev their engines and tension builds. Allusions throughout the film convey that Milner is very aware that life is constantly changing, and by the end of GREEN ONIONS we realize that he knows that it is dangerous to cling to the past.

Only You (And You Alone): The Platters (2:35)
The Platters
Originally considered unreleasable, the group re-recorded the song during their first session for Mercury records.  Released in July of 1955, "ONLY YOU" became the groups' first Top 10 single on the Pop charts. The tune was written by the band's manager, Buck Ram who also played piano on the session when the original pianist had to leave early. During this period The Platter's sound was built around lead tenor, Tony William's unique voice. ONLY YOU is used  in the film to convey Laurie and Steve's fidelity to each other.  The sun starts to rise as Steve holds her and reassures her that he will not leave to attend college or date other girls.

Goodnight, Sweetheart,Goodnight: The Spaniels (2:43)
Like so many black artists in the 1950s, The Spaniel's single, "Goodnight,Sweetheart, Goodnight" had to compete in the charts with the McGuire Sister's version of the song that was recorded for the white market.  Despite the competition, The Spaniels' version managed to reach number five on the R&B charts in 1954.  At the time National Music Promoter and influential DJ, Alan Freed demanded that two writers of "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight," Calvin Carter and James Hudson list him as a co-writer, even though he'd contributed nothing to it. Such aggressive and unfair tactics happened frequently among music business figures in the era, but they refused to give credit to Freed, who then allegedly refused to play the Spaniels' records on his program.

 All Summer Long: The Beach Boys (2:05)
Probably the first rock song to feature a xylophone, 1964's "All Summer Long" is an upbeat classic summarizing all the fun that happened over the summer, presumably at some California beach. Such fine song craftsmanship was the result of prolific songwriter Brain Wilson who in early February 1964, embarked on a rigorous period of songwriting, emerging some weeks later with songs including "I Get Around," All Summer Long," "Wendy," and "Girls on the Beach."
The Beach Boys (l-r) Dennis Wilson, David Marks, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, & Brian Wilson
 At this point in the band's history, they were no longer playing their instruments on their records. The Beach Boys dubbed their vocals over the instrumental tracks performed by session musicians, all produced by the 21-year-old Wilson. Legend now has it that at the time Wilson felt an immediate and lasting rivalry between the Beach Boys and the lads from Liverpool, The Beatles.  The competition that Brian felt may have sparked a creative drive in him that resulted in many infectious pop-gems like this one.


 BONUS ! ! ! 
Two songs from the movie that are not on soundtrack album.
Just when you thought you were done reading this lengthy article your buddy, Kip adds a bit more. There are two official recordings in the film that didn't make the soundtrack album:  "Gee" by The Crows, and "Louie Louie" by Flash Cadillac.  It's a shame they're not on the soundtrack album because the inconsistent collection of tunes could really benefit from a shot in the arm with these two killer songs!  Some may want to argue that there's more than two songs that aren't included on the soundtrack album. Some die-hard smarty pants will probably read this and want to correct me because I didn't list Harrison Ford singing "Some Enchanted Evening."  Sorry. And, I'm not counting the incidental music from commercials on XERB, ie, "Grazing in the Grass."  Do I sound defensive enough? Get off my back, already!  Okay, here's the tunes:

Gee: The Crows
The Crows
The Crows were a vocal quintet that consisted of Sonny Norton (lead), Harold Major (tenor), Mark Jackson (tenor) Bill Davis (baritone) and Gerald Hamilton (bass). Their song "Gee" along with "Sh-Boom" by the Chords, are often credited as being the first records to "crossover" into the white market. Good things were happening for the Crows in the spring of 1953 when they won first place in the finals of the amateur night show at Harlem's Apollo theater.  This led to a record contract with record label Rama and the single "Love You So" b/w "Gee" being released in June.  The single gained some popularity on the R & B charts before it started to fizzle. However, after a lapse of a few months, "Gee" began to slowly build in popularity.  By the end of the year it was beginning to get serious airplay on mainstream radio. The popularity of the tune, with its catchy vocals and Charlie Christain-like guitar solo, spawned two cover versions by other artists in 1954: June Hutton on Capitol and The Skyliners on Columbia Records.  Despite the competition of other groups, The Crow's version of "Gee" was quite successful, reaching number 14 on the pop charts during the early months of 1954.

Louie, Louie: Flash Cadillac
Flash Cadillac at Stans Drive-in
Few songs have caused as much controversy as the record Louie Louie. In the early 60s an urban myth developed which said, the song by The Kingsmen contained obscene lyrics that could only be unveiled if you play the 45 rpm single at 33 1/3. This led to  a ban on airplay and a FBI investigation. After 30 months and a load of tax payers money the FBI concluded that the lyrics were unintelligible.

Louie, Louie was one of three songs performed in American Graffiti by Flash Cadillac. Although the Kingsman were the band that popularized "Louie, Louie" back in 1963, the song's history goes back several years earlier.  "Louie, Louie" was written in 1955 by Richard Berry and released as a single in 1957 on Flip Records. Recorded with the Pharaohs, Richard created an infectious, calypso-style tune that was originally intended as the B-side for his recording of "You Are My Sunshine."  It is Berry's version of the tune that Flash Cadillac emulate in the film. Although Berry's version was a moderate success in the area around Los- Angeles  he wound up selling the publishing rights to pay for his wedding. It wasn't until later that he realized he had made a mistake by prematurely selling the publishing rights to a song that would become an ever-lasting, well-known party favorite.  Luckily, with the help of an organization by the name of Artists Rights Enforcement, Richard Berry was able to recover some of his publishing rights in 1986. 


-American Graffiti. Flash Cadillac Web Page.
-Badman, Keith. The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America's Greatest Band on Stage and in the Studio. Backbeat Books (September 1, 2004)
-George-Warren, Holly (Ed) The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll Fireside. New York.  2005
-Predoeh, Eric  Louie, Louie. <>
-Marion, JC. Website.The Crows and The Chords: Rock Begins.
-Warner, Jay American Singing Groups Hal Leonard Corp. Milwaukee. 2006

© Mark Groesbeck 2011-2013

1 comment:

  1. Professor Kip,

    Thanks for another well researched article. The impact that American Graffiti's soundtrack had on the entertainment industry can't be overstated. It changed everything. As with many other important milestones, it's easy for subsequent generations to forget how different things were before this came along. Although it might be said that using pop music in films has since then been played out, at the time, as crazy as it seems, no one had done it. Certainly not to the extent of completely replacing an original score. Similar to Lucas' use of multiple parallel story lines, his soundtrack principle was one of the most influential changes to movie and television production in our time. As you illustrate with this blog, American Graffiti, regardless of it's success and popularity, is a very important film.

    I'd be interested sometime in having you revisit the soundtrack as you have done here, but from the perspective of each song's meaning to the movie and why it was chosen.

    Keep up the good work. I always enjoy your essays and can't help but learn something each time.