My New Favorite Oldie Is . . .

Cherry PieI was in San Antonio when I came across the long version of “Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey on the radio. That was followed by the original version of “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle,” made famous by Deniece Williams, but known to me many years earlier as an R&B classic by the Royalettes. If that had been the tone of the radio station I discovered, that would certainly have been deep enough.

But those were the most familiar songs I heard on KCJV-LP, which launched about 18 months ago and bills itself as “No Hit Radio” and “The Greatest Songs You’ve Never Heard.” “We play what others don’t know exists,” correctly declared one sweeper. One friend-of-the-station, posting on Facebook, pegs it as playing 150,000 songs.

The next morning, I tuned in the station again, this time online. And this is what I heard in about 40 minutes:

Sapphires, “I Found Out Too Late” (1964) – R&B vocal group with their similar-feeling follow-up to the bigger “hit,” “Who Do You Love?”

Malibus, “Gee Baby (I Love You)” (1967) – Pumping late ‘60s R&B from Houston

Spot Barnett, “Sweetmeats” (1959) – “Raunchy”-type instrumental apparently by a pre-“Sir Douglas Quintet” Doug Sahm.

Shades, “When You Said Goodbye” (1968)  – R&B/Garage from Chicago, with a similar feel to a Buckinghams record.

Rel Yeas, “Whirley Bird” (1960)

Velours, “Can I Come Over Tonight” (1957)

Stanley Mitchell, “Quit Twistin’ My Arm” (1967)  – Great loping R&B with a similar feel to Edwin Starr, “Stop Her on Sight (S.O.S.).”

Last Draft, “It’s Been a Long Long Time” (1969) – Garage band ballad from LaCrosse, Wis., well after garage rock had mostly morphed into something else.

Bruce & Terry, “Don’t Run Away” (1966) Hearing their “Summer Means Fun” would have been impressive, much less this surf ballad.

Vickie Baines, “Got to Run” (1965) – Girl group sound on Cameo/Parkway that sounds like Unit 4 + 2’s “Concrete And Clay,” if it were an R&B song.

Travelers, “Lenora” (1957) – Uptempo doo-wop.

Majors, “Lost in a City” (1965) – From Chicago. Not the “Wonderful Dream” group. 

Chairman of the Board, “Bless You” (1970) – The B-side of “Pay to the Piper.”

Of those 13 songs, there are about three I’ll try to hunt down for my own collection at some point. That’s a pretty good average. At a time when I’m unenthused about much of the current product, I also worry that I’m losing my interest in learning new oldies after all these years of collecting. When I was poring through the junk bins on a regular basis, there used to be revelations on a daily basis. So I was glad that some of what I heard on KCJV resonated.

But KCJV is not where I discovered my favorite “new oldie.” That happened while I was going through the ARSA survey archive about seven months ago. There was a top 30 chart for legendary AM top 40 WSAI Cincinnati.  And the No. 1 song was a local hit that I somehow never knew. Since then, I’ve shared “Cherry Pie” by Sixth Day Creation with other collector friends, who find it similarly awesome.

Sixth Day Creation was the one-off successor to Cincinnati garage band Ivan & the Sabres, whose first local hit was five years earlier. The lead singer was Larry Butler, later a Warner Bros. artist relations executive in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and now the author of two music business books. I dropped Butler a note on Facebook. When I followed-up later for this column, he wrote, “Thanks for reaching out and having an unaccountable interest in [the song].”

But I like local hits, particularly the one or two local garage-rock hits that every market had in that era. I like bubblegum. And “Cherry Pie” sits precisely at the intersection of those two genres and late ‘60s “sunshine pop.” Butler correctly describes it as “an okay song, but a great production” by Paul Leka. The lyric is goofyand the title metaphor hard to parse — is it dirty? Butler says nobody ever really asked, but it doesn’t matter. There’s a hard-working garage band on duty and they attack it with full vigor — landing somewhere between “Mony Mony” and “Magic Carpet Ride.”

What propels “Cherry Pie” is the guitar work. Butler says Rick Coghill’s solo was improvised along the lines of the Blues Magoos’ “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet.” Coghill wanted a second try to come up with something entirely new, but Leka wouldn’t let him. The opening riff, Butler remembers, came from the Lemon Pipers, who initially demoed the song, but didn’t want to record it. Then the guitar carries the song home again at the fade — essentially serving as the equivalent of vocal ad-libs. Throughout, the guitar work is hyper-kinetic, but it’s not mixed so prominently that it upstages the rest of the song.

It’s that whole feel of “garage-band record hidden under a bubblegum record” that fascinates. Even when there’s a real band attached to late ‘60s pop/garage of this sort, it’s not unusual to find that a song was mostly a producer’s creation, with only one or two band members actually participating. Or none.  But Butler says that it’s the band’s own drummer (Artie Alinkoff) and bassist (Fred Leaverton) heard on the song. Leka did play keyboards, which normally would have been Butler’s job.

“Cherry Pie” was a hit in Cincinnati and Dayton, but went no further, despite being on a national label (Laurie) and one that had done well with similar garage/pop acts (Music Explosion, Royal Guardsmen). As with the garage rock of 1965-67, there was more bubblegum pop in 1969 than radio could accommodate, especially given Top 40 programmers’ own ambivalence about the genre. I think bubblegum gave Top 40 some of its only excitement at a relatively fallow time, but if you didn’t like it, each new Archies record or Joey Levine production was an ad for the FM rock stations that didn’t play it.

Since then, “Cherry Pie” has shown up occasionally on oldies AM WDJO Cincinnati, according to market veteran Dan Allen, as well as Allen’s other stations over the years. I also fully expect to hear from Dave Schmidt of AM 1620 York, PA, whose station rivals KCJV for song-after-song oldies discovery, that he’s been playing it for years.

I’m mostly glad that it’s possible to find new oldies so easily these days. On occasion, I feel annoyance at a new generation discovering songs out of context as random exotica (although it never occurs to me to ask if that was what I was doing 30 years ago). Sometimes, the notion that there is so much out there that one will never hear is daunting, to the point where it would be easy to give up. I have 16,000 songs on iTunes now. Shouldn’t I just listen to the ones I have? But I’m glad that KCJV and AM 1620 are there. And I’m glad when I still come across something great.

  1. a5k says

    When the current music scene leaves me cold — and it usually does — I remember that there are so many older songs I’ve never heard that are right up my alley. Gang Starr b-sides I’d never come across at the time, Teddy Riley maxi-single remixes, incredible James Brown songs that got lost in his flurry of releases, etc. Reminds me that there will always be fantastic finds that are simply “new to me”! Always looking for the song that will completely floor me, but those days are rare anymore.

  2. paxman356 says

    I’ve been doing a deep dive into the bottom of the 80s charts recently, and I’ve found some pretty interesting stuff.

    I was reminded of Joan Armatrading. I had heard “Drop the Pilot” before in 1983, probably on MTV or one of TBS’s “Night” video shows. It was her highest charting song in the US (78) and the UK (11) and one of three top 40 UK hits.

    My favorite new song though is Robin George’s “Heartline” from 1984. It’s from a genre I never liked in the 80s, hair metal/rock, and I’m sure it’s the fact that it has those big power guitar drops that makes me like it so much. It’s a song that deserved a lot better than 2 weeks on the hot 100, and a peak of 92.

    But something that did not get released caught my eye recently that may top that. I never bought Aretha Franklin’s “Who’s Zooming Who?” album in 1985, although after listening to it recently I fixed that error. There is a song on the album that is a very unlikely duet. It is Olivia Newton-John/The Tubes (with Gene Kelly) type of unlikely. Aretha did a duet with a rock star who had just put out a solo album a year earlier after splitting with a very successful early 80s band. And that album made it to number 24, with two top forty hits. So Peter Wolf had the pop chops, but he just doesn’t seem to fit in an Aretha song. But it works, much in the same way putting Chaka Khan and Green Gartside (Scritti Politti) works. I don’t think “Push” is going to make it into any of my favorites lists, but it is already in rotation on my iTunes.

    Thanks for the great article, Sean!

    1. johndavis says

      And now you’ve reminded me of Chaka Khan’s Love of a Lifetime… I had totally forgotten about that!

  3. Sean Ross says

    I’m with you on Robin George/Heartline. It hit during that trough between the end of corporate rock and all things hair band going into orbit. But it has a lot of those things I like — powerchords and high harmonies.

  4. tom lane says

    Outside of YouTube, I continue to find one-offs and other obscurities that I don’t have in my collection from Sirius’ 50’s channel.

  5. Bruce McLaird says

    I’ve been having a great time locating music for my online ’60’s music station, It’s strange all the different places you can find great period music, like movies, air checks, old TV shows, and all the online resources. I really love the local and regional bands that were seldom heard outside of their local radio footprints…like the E-types out of San Francisco or The Flaming Ember (Westbound #9 is a new favorite of mine) out of Detroit.

    By the way…I’m placing ‘Cherry Pie’ in my rotation…wonderful! It will fit right in!

  6. saladressing says

    I can relate. While not 60s music, I was listening to a mixtape from the 90s of some electro stuff like Atari Teenage Riot, Future Sound of London, Alex Reece etc and was using Shazam to identify the songs. It’s great because of Shazam to now be able to identify all these great tracks (many of them with no or minimal/unintelligible vocals) that I had no idea what they were until now.

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