On this day in music history: October 15, 1988 – “Red Red Wine” by UB40 hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. Written by Neil Diamond, it is the first US chart topper for the reggae/pop fusion band from Birmingham, UK. Formed in 1978, the band UB40 takes their name from the document form that recipients must fill out to receive unemployment benefits. The band is led by brothers Robin (guitar, vocals) and Ali (Alistair Ian) Campbell (lead vocals, guitar), with Earl Falconer (bass), Jimmy Brown (drums), Mickey Virtue (keyboards), Brian Travers (saxophone), and Astro (born Terence Brown) (trumpet, vocals). UB40 receive their big break in 1980 when Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders sees them performing at a pub in London, offering them the opening act spot on her bands first major tour of the UK. The exposure heightens their profile significantly, leading to a record deal with indie label Graduate Records before forming their own label DEP International Records (distributed by Virgin Records). After three successful albums containing original material, UB40 record the album “Labour Of Love” in 1983. “Love” consists of cover versions of the bands favorite reggae, ska and dub songs recorded by artists the members grew up loving like The Melodians, Jimmy Cliff, The Slickers, and Bob Marley. A major favorite of the band is “Red Red Wine”, recorded by Jamaican singer Tony Tribe in 1969. His version is a minor hit in the UK, peaking at #45 on the UK singles chart. Tragically, Tribe’s career is cut short when he is killed in a car accident in Canada in 1970. When UB40 covers “Red Red Wine”, they are unaware that the song is a cover, and was written and recorded by Neil Diamond in 1968. UB40’s version is a huge hit throughout much of the world, hitting number one on the UK singles chart for three weeks in September of 1983. With reggae only enjoying a cult following in the US, the record is only a minor hit Stateside, initially peaking at #34 on the Hot 100 in March of 1984. Fast forward ahead four years later, and UB40 releases their self-titled eighth album which is another hit worldwide, but only makes a modest showing in the US. Program director Guy Zapoleon at KZZP in Phoenix, AZ revives the nearly five year old “Red Red Wine” by placing it in heavy rotation when the station begins receiving heavy listener requests for the song. Zapoleon contacts UB40’s US label A&M Records to convince them to reissue the record. In the midst of promoting their latest album, they initially ignore Zapoleon’s request, until other stations begin adding “Wine” their playlists. Finally, A&M re-releases “Red Red Wine” in July of 1988. Re-entering the Hot 100 at #85 on August 13, 1988, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. The belated success of “Red Red Wine” in the US also drives the album “Labor Of Love” into the top twenty on the Top 200, going Double Platinum. “Red Red Wine” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1984 – “Valotte”, the debut album by Julian Lennon is released. Produced by Phil Ramone, it is recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, AL, Beartracks Recording Studio in Suffern, NY, A&R Studios, Clinton Recording Studios, and The Hit Factory in New York City from February – August 1984. The first album from the eldest son of rock icon John Lennon, the then twenty one year old singer, songwriter, and musician works with veteran producer and engineer Phil Ramone (Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Chicago), with Lennon writing or co-writing nearly all of the songs himself. The album features a number of notable guest musicians including The Muscle Shoal Rhythm Section (Barry Beckett (keyboards), David Hood (bass), and Roger Hawkins (drums)), Ralph MacDonald (percussion), Marcus Miller, Carmine Rojas (bass), Michael Brecker (saxophone), Jon Faddis (trumpet), Martin Briley (guitar) and Jean “Toots” Thielemans (harmonica). Listeners and critics are immediately taken with the younger Lennon whose singing voice and physical presence bares more than a passing resemblance to his late father, and with the quality of the material on his first recording effort. It spins off four singles including “Too Late For Goodbyes” (#5 Pop), “Say You’re Wrong” (#21 Pop) and the title track (#9 Pop). “Valotte” peaks at number seventeen on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1983 – “Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus & Chaka Khan hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #22 on the Hot 100 on December 3, 1983. Written by David “Hawk” Wolinski, it is the fifth and final chart topper for the veteran R&B band fronted by lead singer Chaka Khan. Originally a member of the Chicago based garage band Shadows Of Knight (“Gloria”), Wolinski joins Rufus as a second keyboardist in 1978, after working as a side musician for Minnie Riperton. He quickly becomes a major creative force within the band, writing (or co-writing) several hits including “Hollywood”, “Everlasting Love”, “Street Player”, “Any Love” and the chart topping “Do You Love What You Feel”. He comes up with the initial idea for “Ain’t Nobody” in 1982 while working with musician Michael Sembello. The song had been considered for inclusion on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album when the songwriter offers it to Jackson’s producer Quincy Jones. Rufus’ producer Russ Titelman convinces Wolinski to hold on to the song. Rufus records it with Chaka Khan as one of four new studio recordings on their final album “Stompin’ At The Savoy”. Another unique characteristic of the record is its drum pattern, played both by drummer John Robinson (live drums) and by keyboardist Wolinski on a Linn LM-1 drum machine. Not wanting to play it with a straight 4/4 time signature, the pair create the songs’ distinctive syncopated rhythm. “Ain’t Nobody” earns Rufus their second Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals in 1984. The song is also featured prominently in the film and on the soundtrack of “Breakin’” in 1984.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1978 – “Toto”, the debut album by Toto is released. Produced by Toto, it is recorded at Studio 55, Sunset Sound in Hollywood, CA, and Davlen Sound Studios in North Hollywood, CA from May – September 1978. Having previously established themselves as prominent LA studio musicians for the likes of Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Seals & Crofts and Sonny & Cher (to name a few), the band are signed to Columbia Records in early 1978. Rock critics react negatively to their first effort calling them “faceless” and “formulaic”, but does not affect public opinion, who love the record from the outset. It spins off three singles including their first top 10 hit “Hold The Line” (#5 Pop), with Toto also scoring a surprise reverse crossover hit with “Georgy Porgy” (#48 Pop, #18 R&B), when the single becomes an airplay favorite on black radio stations and in clubs due in part to it featuring background vocals by singer Cheryl Lynn (several members of Toto played on her debut album and was co-produced by David Paich). The album also earns Toto a Grammy Nomination for Best New Artist in 1979. In 1991, rapper MC Lyte samples the track for her hit single “Poor Georgie”. The album is remastered and reissued on CD by Culture Factory Records in 2014. It is also previously reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Music On Vinyl in 2011, and by Friday Music in 2012. “Toto” peaks at number nine on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1970 – “Jackson 5 Christmas Album”, the fourth album by The Jackson 5 is released. Produced by The Corporation, it is recorded at The Sound Factory and Hitsville USA West Studios in Hollywood, CA from July – September 1970. The groups first and only holiday album, it is The Jackson 5’s fourth full length LP release of the year, issued only five weeks after “Third Album”. The collection quickly becomes a perennial favorite during the Christmas holiday season with their versions of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” becoming two of the most requested Christmas songs played on radio. The album tops the annual Christmas albums chart published by Billboard Magazine in 1970, but not on the main Top 200 or R&B album charts due to Billboard’s then policy of not including seasonal holiday albums or singles on their main charts. The album returns to the top again in 1972, charting a total of six times over the years. Originally released on CD in the mid 80’s, it is remastered and reissued in 2001 under the title “The Best Of The Jackson 5 – 20th Century Masters The Christmas Collection”, with the previously unreleased “Little Christmas Tree” added as a bonus track. The “Jackson 5 Christmas Album” spends four weeks at number one on the Billboard Christmas Albums chart, going Platinum in the US, and selling over three and a half million copies worldwide.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1968 – “Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White is released. Written by Tony Joe White, it is the seventh single release and biggest hit for the singer and songwriter from Oak Grove, LA. The youngest of seven children, Tony Joe White begins performing in the early 60’s, making a living playing clubs. In 1967, White relocates to Nashville to land a record deal. Originally the home of Roy Orbison and other legends including Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton and Ray Stevens, Monument Records signs White. He works with producers including Stevens and Dan Penn, but are unable to get a hit on him. White is paired up with label mate Billy Swan (“I Can Help”) to produce him. During this time, White reaches back to his roots to write a new song. Inspired by Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe”, he spins a tale about a poor young girl, whose family harvests a type of greens called pokeweed or “polk sallet”, that grow wild in the swamp lands. Similar to a turnip green and tasting a bit like spinach when cooked, many poor families subsisted on them (which had to be cooked since they were potentially poisonous if consumed raw) when there was nothing else to eat. White and Swan cut the song titled “Polk Salad Annie” at RCA Victor Studio B in Nashville, TN on May 16, 1968. It features musicians Norbert Putnam (bass), Jerry Carrigan (drums), David Briggs (organ) and White himself (vocals, guitar, harmonica). It’s released as a single in the Fall of 1968, to virtually no response. Undaunted, White returns to the road to promote it. While performing in Texas, “Annie” gets a big response from audiences who begin clamoring for the record. Having written it off as a failure, Monument begins sending White promo copies to sell at shows, when the meager supply of stock copies run out. The musician has to black out the “Disc Jockey – Not For Sale” text on the label with a marker, in order to supply local record stores with stock to sell. This continues for several months as “Polk Salad Annie” grows in popularity through the south. It seems like it will remain a regional hit only, when a radio station in Los Angeles begins playing it in the late Spring of 1969. From there, it goes national. Finally entering the Hot 100 at #86 on July 5, 1969, it peaks at #8 seven weeks later on August 23, 1969 over ten months after its released. Though it is his only major pop hit, “Polk Salad Annie” firmly establishes Tony Joe White as one of the main purveyors of “swamp rock”. It is covered by a wide variety of artists including Elvis Presley, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Clarence Reid (aka “Blowfly”) and Tom Jones. That same year, R&B singer Brook Benton lands a smash with the White penned “Rainy Night In Georgia”, and is also widely covered by other artists. Years later, Tony Joe re-records “Polk Salad Annie” for a television commercial for McDonald’s, advertising the chains’ McRib sandwich.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1968 – “Promises, Promises” by Dionne Warwick is released. Written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, it is the twenty-second single release for the pop and R&B vocalist from East Orange, NJ. Writing more than dozen top 40 hits for singer Dionne Warwick since making her debut in late 1962 with “Don’t Make Me Over”, songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David turn their creative energies to the Great White Way in 1967. Collaborating with playwright Neil Simon, whose successful works at that point include “The Odd Couple” and “Barefoot In The Park”, Bacharach and David are hired by producer David Merrick (“I Can Get It For You Wholesale”, “Stop The World – I Want To Get Off”, “Hello, Dolly!”) to write the music and lyrics for Simon’s stage adaptation of the Oscar winning film “The Apartment”. Titled “Promises, Promises”, the musical stars Jerry Orbach (“Law And Order”, “Beauty & The Beast”, “Chicago”) and Jill O’Hara playing the roles originated by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in the original Billy Wilder directed film. Before the original cast album is recorded, Burt and Hal have their musical muse Dionne Warwick record the song first, mainly as a guide for Jerry Orbach who sings the song in the show. The title song’s narrative has to do with “false promises” made by its protagonist, and the pressure they put on themselves to keep their word, but often falling short of that promise. The harmonically and structurally complex composition features numerous jumps in octaves and time signatures, moving from ¾ time, to 6/8 time to 4/4 time all in the course of three minutes. Featuring chord changes that are more akin to jazz than the average pop song of the day, the song proves to be difficult for many to sing. But Warwick takes it all in stride when it comes time to record her vocals. The track is recorded at A&R Studios in New York City in the late Summer of 1968, engineered by studio owner and future superstar producer Phil Ramone. The title track from her eleventh album, it released as a single in the Fall, and quickly becomes Dionne Warwick’s sixteenth Top 40 pop single, peaking at #19 on the Hot 100 on December 7, 1968, #7 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #47 on the R&B chart. One other song from the musical, “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” (#6 Pop, #17 R&B, #1 AC) also becomes major hit for Warwick in early 1970. The musical makes its debut on Broadway at the Shubert Theater on December 1, 1968 and is an immediate hit, running for 1,281 performances over the next four years, and winning a Grammy Award for Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album in 1970. The show has run consistently over the years, and is revived on Broadway in 2010 with Sean Hayes (“Will And Grace”, “Cats And Dogs”) and Kristen Chenoweth (“Wicked”, “The West Wing”) in the lead roles.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1968 – “For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder is released. Written by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden, it is the seventh pop and twelfth R&B top ten hit for the Motown superstar. Written in 1965 by Motown staff songwriters Miller and Murden, it is originally composed as a ballad. The song is first recorded by singer Barbara McNair, and also by Jean DuShon whose version is released as a single by Chess Records in 1966, though neither makes any significant impact. The first male artist who cuts the song is actor Jack Soo ( Detective Nick Yemana of “Barney Miller”), signed to Motown in 1965. Soo records the song in a slow pop ballad style. His version is not released and remains in the Motown tape archives to this day. The Temptations record “For Once In My Life” in 1967 for their “The Temptations In A Mellow Mood” album with Paul Williams on lead vocals. Around this time, singer Tony Bennett records it, becoming a part of his live performance repertoire for the next forty years. Having heard previous versions of “Life”, Stevie Wonder asks Miller if he can record the song in a dramatically different and uptempo style, to which he agrees. The basic track for Wonder’s version is recorded at Motown’s Studio B (the former Golden World Studios located in the Donovan Building in downtown Detroit) on January 18, 1968 with members of The Funk Brothers providing musical backing. He overdubs his initial lead vocal the next day on January 19, 1968 at Studio A, with the horns and strings added on January 25, 1968. Wonder’s initial version is rejected by Motown boss Berry Gordy, Jr., and the master is shelved. When work begins on a new Stevie Wonder album later in 1968, “For Once In My Life” is pulled from the vault, with background vocals by The Originals and the Andantes added on August 28, 1968. Wonder overdubs the songs signature harmonica break on September 8, 1968, also re-recording his lead vocal. When these changes are made to the song, Billie Jean Brown, the head of Motown’s Quality Control department plays the revamped version for Gordy, who then finally gives it his approval for release. Issued in mid October of 1968, the single is an immediate smash, racing up the pop and R&B singles charts simultaneously. Stevie Wonder’s version of “For Once In My Life” peaks at #2 on both the Billboard R&B singles chart and the Hot 100 on December 28, 1968, behind Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, which ironically had also been shelved before finally being released. Published through Motown’s Stein & Van Stock Music (sister to the company’s Jobete Music publishing arm), “For Once In My Life” becomes one of Motown’s most recorded songs with versions by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Wilson, Andy Williams, Cilla Black, and Gladys Knight & The Pips. Stevie Wonder’s recording of “For Once in My Life” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2009.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1966 – “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by The Four Tops hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 2 weeks on October 29, 1966. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the second pop and R&B chart topper for the Detroit based vocal quartet. By 1966, Motown’s top production team Holland/Dozier/Holland are in the midst of a major hit streak, writing numerous smash hits for The Supremes, The Four Tops, and several other acts on the label. Around this time, the trio’s confidence is at an all time high, and they begin to experiment with their tried and true formula. Moving from simpler three and four chord songs, HDH start writing more complex songs, incorporating influences from different musical genres. One of those is “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, which merges the gospel influenced, soul stirring vocals of The Four Tops with classical song structure and unique rhythmic changes. When it comes time to cut the track, HDH are very firm about what they want from the musicians and vocalists, but also leave them room to improvise and bring their own unique magic to the proceedings. Recorded at Motown’s Studio A in mid 1966 with The Funk Brothers cutting the basic track, “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is a showcase for James Jamerson’s virtuoso bass playing, laying down one of his most memorable and highly regarded performances. The group record their vocals a short time later, not thinking that the song will be anything more than just another album cut. Label founder Berry Gordy, Jr. calls the group into his office and tells them they are about to have the biggest hit of their career. When he tells them that it is “Reach Out”, The Four Tops are skeptical about the songs’ chances after the meeting. Motown releases it as a single on August 18, 1966, and within two weeks, the record is on nearly every major radio station in the US. Entering the Hot 100 at #82 on September 3, 1966, it swiftly climbs to the top of the chart seven weeks later. “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is also a major smash overseas, topping the UK singles chart for three weeks beginning on October 27, 1966. The single is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1998. “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1957 – “Elvis’ Christmas Album”, the third album by Elvis Presley is released. Produced by Steve Sholes, it is recorded at RCA Victor Studios in Nashville, TN and Radio Recorders in Hollywood, CA from January – September 1957. Presley’s first holiday album consists of eight Christmas songs and four gospel songs (the latter previously released as the EP “Peace In The Valley”). The LP’s lavish original packaging is designed to look like a photo album and contains a photo booklet with publicity stills from Elvis’ latest film “Jailhouse Rock”. First press run copies also come with a gold “gift tag” affixed to the front of the LP jacket (which also adds to original pressing’s collectible value). Upon its release, the album is the subject of some controversy when songwriter Irving Berlin, the composer of the classic “White Christmas” objects to Presley’s recording of the song, going as far as requesting that radio stations ban it from airplay. Some others feel that Elvis recording gospel songs is “sacrilegious”. One disc jockey is actually fired for playing the album on the air. In spite of all this, it becomes a classic and a perennial holiday favorite over the years, being reissued every year. After its first year, the albums artwork is changed for the first of several times before the original album packaging is restored in 1985 as part of RCA’s reissue program (some vinyl copies are pressed on red or green vinyl) to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Presley’s birth. Out of print on vinyl since the late 80’s, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2010, pressed on red vinyl. It is subsequently reissued by Friday Music, with one release being pressed on translucent blue vinyl, and sold exclusively through retailer F.Y.E.. “Elvis’ Christmas Album” spends four weeks at number one on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, and is certified 13x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, receiving a Diamond Certification.