African-American History Month - "shake it up"
On this day in 1963, the Beatles recorded ten of fourteen tracks for their first album. Wait, I thought we were talking about African-American musicians and writers, Wil? Now I’m a true blue Beatles fan, and most of the record, which replicated a live set in the EMI (Abbey Road) Studio, is written by Lennon/McCartney, but like so many groups in the “British Invasion” did, The Beatles brought Black music to White America. They loved rock and R&B, blues and rockabilly, were listening to it on the BBC and in record stores, and performed covers of those songs while they were writing their own. The first cover they performed on that productive day was “Anna (Go to Him)”, originally by Arthur Alexander, who recorded and released the song in 1962. It peaked at #68 on The Hot 100 and cracked the top ten on R&B charts. Alexander also wrote and recorded the first of the Muscle Shoals’ hits - “You Better Move On” - when Rick Hall’s FAME Studios was in an old tobacco warehouse. So within a year, he had The Beatles (“Anna”) and The Rolling Stones (“…Move On”) record his songs. “Boys” was first recorded by The Shirelles, co-written by hit-maker Luther Dixon, who produced and wrote (“Tonight’s the Night”) for the ladies, hits for Pat Boone, Perry Como, and Bobby Darin, and “16 Candles” by The Crests. Ringo Starr still performs “Boys” with his All-Starr Band. “Baby It's You” was another Shirelles song, one that the lads performed from the earliest days. The first African-American “girl” group to have a number one took this one to the third spot on the US R&B chart (#8 on Billboard’s chart). The Beatles hit the UK top ten (#7) with it - as a re-issue in 1995! It was written by one Barney Williams - a pseudonym of Dixon’s. Of course we all know Herb Alpert’s instrumental “A Taste of Honey” - but the first vocal recording of the song were in was by Lenny Welch, who also recorded Billboard hit (#4) "Since I Fell for You" in 1963. The Beatles were listening to Welch’s take and just modified it a little. They saved the best for last - and because John Lennon was sick, and because he always said the finale tore up his throat so bad he was done after this one. Phil Medley, who also had a hand in 1960’s “A Million to One” by Jimmy Charles & The Revelletts, which peaked at the fifth position on The Hot 100, co-wrote it. The original by The Top Notes featured an orchestra and did not chart. The first cover, however, by The Isley Brothers, cracked the US top twenty. Medley’s co-writer produced it for them to help a struggling young producer who had hit a “wall” - Phil Spector did a little better later, well, with music anyway. It has become a rock classic. For The Beatles, though it topped out at #2 - because their “Can’t Buy Me Love” held the top spot. It charted again in 1986 after it was featured in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and ‘Back to School.” Of course our finale is “Twist and Shout” now a karaoke favorite everywhere, but The Beatles features, as Dave Grohl once put it “that sound that only the back of John Lennon’s throat” made. So put on a little Beatles music and enjoy this recording anniversary - and commemorate the contributions of African-Americans Arthur Alexander, Luther Dixon, The Shirelles, Leon (Lenny) Welch, Phil Medley, The Top Notes, The Isley Brothers and countless forgotten others made as the Brits invaded America for the third time, this time bringing American music back to us.
Here’s Arthur Alexander with “Anna (Go to Him)”