Listen to this track by Crescent City R&B singer, radio personality, and self-styled “R&B Emporer of New Orleans” Ernie K-Doe. It’s “Mother-in-Law” his 1961 number one single that would become his signature tune.
The song was written and produced by indispensable musical renaissance man Allen Toussaint, although it was something of a throwaway tune from him almost literally. The right take on the song proved to be very elusive during the three-hour recording session. In frustration, Toussaint took the songsheet and threw it away. Luckily for Ernie K-Doe and also for Allen Toussaint, backing singer Willie Hopper fished it out of the trash and encouraged the singer to give it another shot, convinced that the song was a hit. It was.
“Mother-in-Law” scored the number one spot on the R&B charts in May of 1961 and stayed there for a week. Ernie K-Doe (born Ernest Kador, Jr.) would trade on this song for decades, singing it during live appearances until the end of his life in 2001. As much as it was signature for him, being his best chart showing by far, the song itself can be viewed as a mark of the times out of which it came, too. Read more
Listen to this track by experimental pop collective and repositioners of classic R&B songs The Flying Lizards. It’s “Money (That’s What I Want)”, a cover of the much-beloved 1959 Barrett Strong original. As often as it was covered, by both The Beatles and by The Rolling Stones among many others, The Flying Lizards made this one their own. After its release as a single, it eventually appeared on their self-titled 1979 debut album and became an (perhaps unlikely) hit single; number 5 in the UK, and number 22 on the dance charts in the States.
In some ways, it sounds as though this take on the song is trying to throw its own fight in the appealing pop music stakes. And yet somehow, the opposite effect knocked listeners out during the height of new wave when weirdly cool records were able to thrive as record companies, perhaps, were still trying to figure out the paradigm shift. Even in 1979, this sounded pretty weird coming out of the radio; a true novelty hit.
But beyond the novelty aspect of things, I think there is something underneath this version of a classic and well-covered R&B song that does more than just amuse us by being such a curiosity as a hit single.
Listen to this track by musician, actor, and novelty song innovator Bobby “Boris” Pickett and his merry band of Crypt Kickers. It’s the huge 1962 novelty hit, and just in time for Hallowe’en too, “Monster Mash”.
The song was released as a single, but later appeared on the LP The Original Monster Mash. It was released at the end of the summer that year, and just in time for the creepy, fun Hallowe’en season.
Like many songs that endure long past the eras in which they were created, “Monster Mash” was meant to be a knock-off, a bit of fun, while the business of a straight forward pop career was being forged. Although to start with, Bobby Pickett was singing in a pop group while he also pursued an acting career.
But, with this song, his chops as an actor, particularly his love of classic Universal horror movies to which British actor Boris Karloff was central, served him well in creating this seasonal hit.
But, what really brought the world’s of doo-wop pop and kitchy horror movies together in the first place? Read more