The classic, exhilarating sound of AM radio is alive and well with a pair of new releases from Varese Vintage that emphasize the “golden” in golden oldies! Last week, the label offered The Very Best of The Happenings from the New Jersey pop vocal quartet, and this Friday, Varese releases All-Time Greatest Hits from the Motor City’s own Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels!
Bob Miranda, Ralph DiVito, Tom Giuliano and Harry Arthur came together in northern New Jersey one night in 1961, united like so many teenagers at the time by their love of singing. With keyboardist David Libert as support, the quartet first formed as The Four Graduates. Though that group released a couple of singles, The Graduates’ big break didn’t come until Miranda got hired as a staff songwriter for The Tokens’ Bright Tunes organization. The Tokens recognized their talents and signed them to a five-year contract. Though Arthur chose to leave the group, Libert took his place, and The Happenings were born.
The Very Best of The Happenings collects 16 sides originally released on The Tokens’ BT Puppy label and on Jubilee Records between 1966 and 1969, during which time the group established themselves as a premier harmony group best known for inventive cover versions. Ladling on newly-created vocal hooks to The Tempos’ 1959 hit “See You in September” (written by Sid Wayne and future 1776 composer-lyricist Sherman Edwards), they reinvented the gentle ballad as an uptempo floor-filler. It reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and established the pattern for The Happenings’ future hits. Soon, the group and arranger Herb Bernstein were applying their newfound style to other oldies-but-goodies like Steve Lawrence’s Goffin and King-penned “Go Away, Little Girl” (No. 12, 1966) and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” (No. 41, 1967) and stretching back even further for the likes of the 1918 showtune “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” and a certain George and Ira Gershwin song. Few groups would have had the audacity to rewrite the great lyricist Ira, but The Happenings did with “I Got Rhythm.” Adding a new introductory verse and replacing “I got daisies in green pastures” with the more, well, happening “I got good times, no more bad times,” the group gave George and Ira a smash hit in 1967: No. 1 in Cash Box, No. 3 in Billboard!
In addition to all of the above, Varese’s collection also features the controversial follow-up to “Rhythm,” a rendition of Walter Donaldson, Sam Lewis and Joe Young’s “My Mammy,” most closely associated with the legendary Al Jolson. Though “My Mammy” reached No. 13 on the Hot 100, Bob Miranda questioned releasing a song identified with a blackface performance (even one by as remarkable and era-defining a performer as Jolson) at the height of the civil rights era. It turned out to be The Happenings’ final Top 40 hit. The Very Best of The Happenings happily continues their story with both original songs (The Tokens’ “I Believe in Nothing” and “When the Summer is Through,” Miranda and Libert’s “Randy”) and covers of songs from Teresa Brewer (“Music Music Music”) and Neil Sedaka (“Breaking Up is Hard to Do”). The set also features Miranda’s solo “Girl on a Swing” (which was a hit for Gerry and the Pacemakers but not for its composer) from 1968. The next year, the group parted ways with The Tokens; DiVito also exited the group, and guitarist Bernie LaPorta and drummer Mike LaNeve joined. A medley of songs from Hair featured on the new group’s Piece of Mind album on the Jubilee label. As The 5th Dimension scored with “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In,” Three Dog Night had “Easy to Be Hard” and The Cowsills ran with the musical’s title song, The Happenings were left with “Where Do I Go,” “Be-In” and “Hare Krishna.” Though attractive (particularly the ravishing melody of “Where Do I Go”), the medley didn’t restore the group’s fortunes, and The Happenings broke up in 1970.
Dawn Eden provides a fine new essay with fresh reflections from Bob Miranda, who still tours as The Happenings today, and The Tokens’ Phil Margo. Steve Massie has remastered, and Steve Stanley has provided the spiffy period artwork including a replica BT Puppy label.
Like The Happenings, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels bucked with the trend of self-composing material to score a number of hit records in the second half of the 1960s. The 16 tracks on All-Time Greatest Hits are drawn from the band’s material on Bob Crewe’s New Voice and DynoVoice labels released between 1965 and 1968. Most of the tracks on this set was produced, arranged and conducted by the prolific Crewe, whose later years as an artist were addressed on Second Disc Records’ The Complete Elektra Recordings. Other cuts feature arrangements by Crewe’s associate Hutch Davie.
With his fiery blend of blue-eyed soul and pure, high-adrenaline rock-and-roll, Mitch Ryder (real name: William Levise, Jr.) set the stage for Michigan rockers from Bob Seger to Grand Funk Railroad to conquer the charts. Inspired by the incendiary onstage antics of James Brown and the electrifying music coming out of Motown’s Hitsville USA in Ryder’s own backyard, he formed a band. Billy Lee and the Rivieras (originally with Jim McCarty on guitar, Earl Elliott on bass and Johnny Badanjek on drums) became local favorites, and before long, a demo tape made its way to Bob Crewe in New York. Ever prescient, Crewe sensed the band’s potential and signed them. As a producer, he was able to channel their fast-and-furious onstage style into the recording studio, and while the group had perfected the art of the medley in concert, it was Crewe who famously paired “C.C. Rider” with Little Richard’s “Jenny, Jenny” to create “Jenny Take a Ride.” The single by the rechristened Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels shot to No. 10 on the Hot 100 and established the medley formula for many of the band’s later successes.
Crewe unleashed a harder-edged, raucous style for The Detroit Wheels which was far-removed from his gritty yet gossamer Four Seasons productions. He also hoped to groom Ryder for solo stardom, and a handful of Ryder’s somewhat smoother solo tracks are also included on All-Time Greatest Hits alongside the band’s hits like The Righteous Brothers’ “Little Latin Lupe Lu” (No. 17, 1966), Crewe and L. Russell Brown’s “Sock It to Me Baby” (No. 6, 1966), “Too Many Fish in the Sea/Three Little Fishes” (No. 24, 1967) and Bruce Springsteen favorite “Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly” (No. 4, 1966). The music of Motown continued to be a big influence on Ryder (as it had on Crewe in other productions such as The Toys’ Supremes-aping “A Lover’s Concerto”) not only with “Too Many Fish in the Sea” but with covers of Smokey Robinson and Marv Tarplin’s “I Like It Like That” and Holland/Dozier/Holland’s Supremes chart-topper “Come See About Me.”
Goodtime rock and soul doesn’t get much more exciting than on All-Time Greatest Hits. Though the relationship between Ryder and Crewe ended in acrimony, the music they created remains vibrant and visceral. Jerry McCulley has written the copious new liner notes, drawing on quotes from Ryder. Steve Massie and Steve Stanley have remastered and designed, respectively, to the highest standard. (The Mitch disc features a replica New Voice CD label.) The Very Best of The Happenings is available now, and Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels’ All-Time Greatest Hits is due on Friday. You can order at the links below!
- Go Away Little Girl
- Thought I Fell in Love
- Goodnight My Love
- I Got Rhythm
- I’m Always Chasing Rainbows
- My Mammy
- I Believe in Nothing
- Why Do Fools Fall in Love
- When the Summer is Through
- Music, Music, Music
- Sealed with a Kiss
- Breaking Up is Hard to Do
- Girl on a Swing – Bob Miranda
- Where Do I Go/Be-In/Hare Krishna
Tracks 1-3 & 13 from The Happenings, BT Puppy 1001, 1966
Track 4 from Back to Back, BT Puppy 1002, 1967
Tracks 5-8 from Psycle, BT Puppy 1003, 1967
Tracks 9-12 & 14 from Golden Hits, BT Puppy 1004, 1968
Track 15 from BT Puppy single 544, 1968
Track 16 from Piece of Mind, Jubilee 8028, 1969
- Jenny Take a Ride!
- Shake a Tail Feather
- Little Latin Lupe Lu
- Break Out
- Takin’ All I Can Get (Mono Single Version)
- Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly (Mono Single Version)
- I Like It Like That
- Sock It to Me Baby (Mono Single Version)
- Too Many Fish in the Sea/Three Little Fishes
- Joy – Mitch Ryder
- I’d Rather Go to Jail
- What Now My Love – Mitch Ryder
- You Are My Sunshine – Mitch Ryder
- Come See About Me
- (You’ve Got) Personality/Chantilly Lace – Mitch Ryder (Mono Single Version)
- Ruby Baby/Peaches on a Cherry Tree – Mitch Ryder
Track 1 from New Voice single 806, 1965
Track 2 from Take a Ride, New Voice LP 2000, 1966
Track 3 from New Voice single 808, 1966
Track 4 from New Voice single 811, 1966
Track 5 from New Voice single 814, 1966
Track 6 from New Voice single 817, 1966
Track 7 from Breakout, New Voice LP 2002, 1966
Track 8 from New Voice single 820, 1966
Track 9 from New Voice single 822, 1967
Tracks 10-11 from New Voice single 824, 1967
Track 12 from DynoVoice single 901, 1967
Track 13 from New Voice single 826, 1967
Track 14 from New Voice single 828, 1967
Track 15 from DynoVoice single 905, 1968
Track 16 from New Voice single 830, 1968