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In February of 2018 I approached some of my favorite music makers and asked them to create a recording just for us. There were only two rules: 1. to cover a song that went top-40 somewhere on Earth in the 1970s, and 2: no irony.
This album is the sixth (and last, at least for a while) in a series. Like previous volumes, having a first listen as the tracks trickle in never fails to excite and humble me. It is not just the high quality of the recordings, but also the obvious number of hours put into their creation and the intangible creative spirit contained within them that blows my mind. It is inspiring to know that so many musicians appreciate and want to contribute to our free-form radio mission.
If you appreciate the support these artists have shown to WFMU, don’t be shy! Please support them in return. Reach out to let them know that you value their contributions.
Below you will find information about the original hit recordings of these songs, some background about the musicians behind these new cover versions, recording credits and quotes from the some of the artists about why they choose the song they did.
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1. Yo La Tengo “Smile A Little Smile For Me”
Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan & James McNew play all the instruments
Recorded by James McNew in Hoboken, USA
More than any of the previous volumes, the sequencing of this album was near impossible. About ten different songs once were the lead off track, and though this sequence is unusual. I think it makes for an excellent listen from start to finish. Finding the right spot for Yo La Tengo’s effort was the key to the whole thing. Once I tried it in the lead off position, the rest of the lineup fell into place.
Most of you probably know Yo La Tengo best from their stellar version of Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw The Light” on the very first volume in this series (I kid, although it is a great version). This born in Hoboken trio has been making music together for almost 35 years. Wikipedia says “Despite achieving limited mainstream success, Yo La Tengo has been called "the quintessential critics' band" and maintains a strong cult following,” which proves that Wikipedia is full of shit. “Despite” means “in spite of.” So, Wikipedia is saying that critics like them, even though critics usually like acts with mainstream success. That makes no sense. This is what keeps me awake at night. A wonderful band, with a large and multi-textured catalog, and proof that nice guys finish just fine, thank you.
The Flying Machine’s “Smile A Little Smile For Me” peaked at #5 in November of 1969, but stayed in the top-40 into the new year (phew!). It was written by U.K. team Geoff Stephens & Tony Macaulay who between them had a hand in some serious hit songs, including "Baby Now That I've Found You," "Build Me Up Buttercup," “(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All," "There's a Kind of Hush," and "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)." Interestingly, this recording failed to chart in the U.K. And please note: the original B-side "Maybe We've Been Loving Too Long" is also a total #1 hit.
You can catch up with WFMU fill-in DJ Ira “The K” (a close friend of the band’s) at wfmu.org/playlists/IK, and visit yolatengo.com for more on YLT.
2. Chris Collingwood and Friends “Leaving On A Jet Plane”
Chris Collingwood - all instruments & lead vocals
Tim Brewer, Rick Murnane & Philip Price - backing vocals
Engineered, produced & mixed by Chris Collingwood at Camp Workaround, Northampton, MA
This is former Fountains of Wayne front man Chris’ third Super Hits contribution. After five FOW LPs Chris recently started a solo project named Look Park with a debut release produced by Mitchell Froom.
“Leaving On A Jet Plane” was first recorded in 1966 by writer John Denver. Peter, Paul & Mary recorded it in 1967 but did not release it as a single until 1969, when it reached #1 at the end of December, staying on the charts into 1970.
In 1989 Denver won a suit against New Order that claimed a guitar melody from their song "Run 2" was based on "Leaving on a Jet Plane."
Chris tells how he decided on this song: “I've been meaning to do a cover of this song for years because I think John Denver is unappreciated and it's one of the best songs ever written. Many of the songs I wrote for Fountains of Wayne are variations on the same theme. Plus it was a good opportunity to sing harmonies with some buddies.”
Catch up with Chris at: lookparkmusic.com and check my radio show archives for a July 2011 live set from Fountains Of Wayne.
3. Ben Vaughn “Coconut”
Ben Vaughn played everything – probably recorded at The Relay Shack
Ben Vaughn writes great songs! His long and varied discography is filled with idiosyncratic gems. And he has a prolific career creating music for TV shows (including ‘3rd Rock From The Sun’ & ‘That 70s Show’) and Movies, and he hosts the very groovy syndicated radio show “The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn.”
What is this one chord song about? Sister gets a belly ache after drinking a combination of lime & coconut. She calls and wakes the doctor, who confirms what we learned in the first verse, then he recommends a cure of the same lime/coconut combination, the one that caused the belly ache in the first place?!
Catch up on all things Vaughn: benvaughn.com and check my radio archives for my April 2011 and July 2014 chats with Ben.
4. David Brookings “Without You”
David Brookings played everything
Recorded by Don Budd at Tone Freq Studio, San Jose, CA.
San Jose based David Brookings (who before relocating to the Bay Area David worked as a tour guide at Sun Studio, in Memphis) grew up in Richmond, Virginia and started playing in bands as a teen. He (sometimes with the help of his band The Average Lookings) has released eight albums of catchy pop inspired music that some have described as having “a modern day British Invasion feel.”
“Without You” was written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger. If you hunt around you can find demos of early versions that show its evolution from a song with an almost upbeat feel to the well-known ballad first released on their 1970 album ‘No Dice’ that Paul McCartney once described as "The killer song of all time."
Harry Nilsson’s version was #1 for four weeks in early 1972 and features Gary “Dream Weaver & The Buggs’ ‘The Beetle Beat’ ” Wright on piano, Klaus Voormann on bass & Jim Keltner on drums. The recording earned Nilsson a "Best Male Pop Vocal" Grammy. Ham and Evans both committed suicide.
David on why he picked this heartbreaker: “It’s just such a desperate song of love and loss. Plus it’s timeless.”
You can see what David is up to at: davidbrookings.net
5. NRBQ “Everybody’s Out Of Town”
Recorded live in Pennsylvania
Terry Adams – keyboards, vocals
Scott Ligon – guitar, vocals
Casey McDonough – bass, vocals
John Perrin – drums
NRBQ has brought me countless hours of joy. Amazing live shows. Amazing records. If you have never seen them perform, I HIGHLY recommend doing so. They are my favorite band (who are not named The Beatles or The Beach Boys) and they are as good as ever. For more info, check my radio show archives for my eight interviews with Q band members.
Burt Bacharach & Hal David wrote and produced “Everybody’s Out Of Town” for (January 2010 guest on my radio show) B.J. Thomas who had a #26 hit with it in 1970.
Keep tabs on The NRBQ here: nrbq.com
6. Sam Elwitt “I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top”
Sam Elwitt played all the instruments
Produced and recorded by Sam at Nokie's
Multi-talented Sam Elwitt delivers his third excellent S.H.O.T.S. contribution while juggling his work with a multitude of projects including The Nutley Brass, The Moto-Gators and recently producing two albums for Miriam Linna.
“I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top” was a hit for The Hollies in 1970 with its highest chart appearance a #6 showing in New Zealand. Their recording features Elton John on piano and is a nice transition into the ‘70s for the band with their classic harmonies, cruising McCartney style bass & explosive drums.
Mr. Elwitt on why he choose this tune: “I'm a big fan of the Hollies '60s output and thought it would be fun to do one of their '70s hits in a more '60s style.”
See the long list of current and past Sam related bands & projects at: samelwitt.com
7. Greg Townson “I Can Help”
Produced and performed by Greg Townson at 2-Bit Studios, Rochester, New York
Busy Rochester New York based Greg splits his time making fine solo recordings, gigging/recording with his power trio The Hi-Risers and as a masked member of Los Straitjackets, who recently have been backing Nick Lowe live and on records!
Billy Sawn claims he wrote “I Can Help” in twenty minutes! His version was a #1 hit in 1974 and features the late Reggie Young on guitar. In Norway it is the 4th best-performing single of all time.
Greg expounds on why he picked this gem to cover: “The lyric is fantastic. If this were a sixties comp, I might have chosen ‘Lover Please’, another Billy Swan classic.”
Greg Townson H.Q. is at: gregtownson.com
8. Marshall Crenshaw “What The Hell I Got”
Marshall plays everything
Recorded in The Hellhole
Mixed by Scott Anthony at Storybook Sound
I remember when Marshall’s eponymous debut was released in 1982, it was one of the records that reset the playing field for me. Smart fun rock & roll with a point of view I could identify with, but with more edge then the mostly bland top-40 pop and without the ridiculous pomp of the classic rock bozos. He’s still at it, and these days spends some time fronting New Jersey’s Smithereens.
“What The Hell I Got” was written by icon Michel Pagliaro. I was trying to figure out his U.S. equivalent: “He’s the Canadian version of…” but I was unable to complete the cliché. He’s a one of a kind, with many hits and a long career (his first single dates to 1966) with lots of phases (including going New Wave for a while in the ‘80s).
Marshall explains why it had to be this song: “If you were a Detroit-area kid like me, then you might know this one, a big smash hit on CKLW-AM over in Windsor, Ontario, which was the dominant Detroit-area Top 40 station in the early ‘70s. Michel Pagliaro mostly recorded in French, is still a Rock icon in Quebec. I’m glad that he did this one in English so I can sing along...”
Visit Marshall at: atomicmusicgroup.com and check WFMU’s archives for my June 2007, April 2011 and March 2012 for Marshall’s three appearances on my show.
9. The Tripwires “Nights On Broadway”
Recorded by Kurt Bloch at Strictly Vintage Ballard, Washington
John Ramberg – vocals & guitar
Johnny Sangster - guitar & vocals
Jim Sangster - bass
Dan Peters – drums
The Tripwires are a Seattle super group made up of alumni of bands like The Minus 5, Screaming Trees, and The Young Fresh Fellows & The Model Rockets. Great songs and a whole new approach to the whole two guitars, bass & drums thing. This is their fourth Super Hits contribution, and their fourth HOME RUN. Take that Reggie Jackson!
"Nights on Broadway" was written by all three Brothers Gibb who had a #7 hit with it in 1975. This is the third Bee Gee cover in this series, which proves how hard they dominated the ‘70s. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and right now do a search for “nights on broadway midnight special.”
John on why The Tripwires picked this song: “I love this song and have been trying to figure out how we could record it for this very compilation series since Michael first asked us to participate. I think we finally cracked it, though some may disagree! What a melody.”
Poke The Tripwires: https://www.facebook.com/The-Tripwires-97507791378/
10. Mitch Easter “Rock And Roll Love Letter”
Mitch Easter - guitar, piano & vocal
Chris Garges – drums & Moog
Shawn Lynch –bass & vocal
Recorded and mixed by Mitch Easter at Fidelitorium Recordings, mixed at Unusual Systems
Mitch Easter returns for his third Super Hit contribution! His work on R.E.M.’s early output pied pipered 100s of bands to his Drive-In Studio (originally located in his parental garage) for a dose of Mitch’s production, a sonic recipe that really helped shape the indie rock sound that emerged in the ‘80s. A veteran of a million bands, but best known for Let's Active.
"Rock and Roll Love Letter" was written by American Tim Moore whose 1975 version failed to chart. After a recommendation by label head Clive Davis, The Bay City Rollers sped it up just a touch, emphasize the pop hooks and their 1976 version reached #28.
Book some time at Mitch’s current studio: fidelitorium.com
11. Willy Wisely "Little Willie"
Willie Wisely - guitars & vocals
John Fields - everything else
Produced by John Fields at Creation Audio - Studio B, Minneapolis
Minnesotan Willie Wisely is a constantly evolving singer/songwriter. He gets compared to Paul McCartney, Ben Folds, Elliott Smith, the early Rolling Stones, Graham Parsons, Al Green, British psychedelia and even Crosby, Stills & Nash, so you know his influences are free-form and deep. His 8th studio album “Face The Sun” is due out in the Spring 2019.
Willie on this great tune: “Recording this track was obviously fated. Plus the fact that I grew up in the prime years of these K-Tel comps. Plus, K-Tel was something of a hometown hero label, despite all their sad re-records and truly bad pressings. What did we know about all that? What really mattered was that you could sing along to the TV commercials and knew those choppy edits better than you did the original recordings.
And what the heck is that lyric about (besides my killer wardrobe)?
Up town, down town
Little Willy, Willy drives them wild with his run-around style
Willy sends them silly with his star-shine shimmy shuffle smile
Turns out Willy was a stray cat that lived around the band's practice space (a.k.a. their mom's garage) when they were just starting out.”
Keep your eye on Willie here: williewisely.com
12. Sarah Borges “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)”
Sarah Borges - vocals
Keith Voegele - bass, guitar, vocals
Dave Westner – drums
Recorded and mixed by Dave Westner at Side Hill Sound
Massachusetts native Sarah Borges burst onto the national scene in 2005 as the lead singer of The Broken Singles, and has since carved out a niche as a songwriter and performer with roots that tap into Americana AND loud rocking pop songs. Her latest album, ‘Love's Middle Name,’ was produced by #19.
Sarah on what inspired this cover: “About 15 years ago I wrote a response song to 'Brandy' because it's one of my favorite songs of all time, so I figured I should go right to the source this time and try my hand at covering the original.”
Info about Sarah can be found here: sarahborges.com
13. The Rubinoos “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”
Jon Rubin - lead vocals & guitar
Al Chan - bass & vocals
Donn Spindt - drums & vocals
Tommy Dunbar - guitar & vocals
Produced by Tal Morris
Engineered by Tal Morris and Matt Kerslake
Recorded and Mixed at Ice House Studios
The core of The Rubinoos (rhymes with “two canoes”) formed while they were Berkeley California High School students in 1970. Their blend of four insanely good vocalist with catchy power pop songs has been their trademark for a career almost at the five decade mark. Keep your ears peeled for the band’s summer of 2019 Chuck Prophet produced new album.
A bunch of people have asked me: was “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” really a top 40 hit? Yes! In the U.K. The Ramones’ 1977 single of this mostly written by Joey Ramone tune reached #22 (and a surprisingly high #81 in the U.S.A., at a time when “Hotel California” was #1).
Here’s what lead to The Rubinoos choosing Sheena: “We always loved The Ramones, and this song in particular. Also, we couldn’t figure out the chords to Pinhead!”
Visit with the band at: rubinoos.com
14. The Bakersfield Breakers "Theme From S.W.A.T."
Keith Yaun – guitars
John Hamilton - bass guitar
John DiGiulio - drums
Produced by the Bakersfield Breakers and Rich Gaglia
Recorded by Rich Gaglia at Rich Sound Studios, Flushing, NY
This instrumental band’s mission is to reawaken the classic guitar-driven sound of 1950s Bakersfield and the driving tunes of 1960s surf rock, a not-so-obvious marriage that has resulted in two fine albums and blistering live sets, like the one they did live on WFMU in July 2018!
In 1976 Rhythm Heritage had a #1 with their cover of this popular T.V. show theme (from their awesomely titled lp ‘Disco-Fied’). When co-producer Steve Barri was a guest on my show on June 23, 2018 he explained the story of how the hit came to be. It’s too long to type, so check the archive.
Here’s how the Breakers picked this song: “All three of us loved this theme when we watched the show as kids, so when we were asked to pick a tune to record for the CD it was an early contender. The fact that it's an instrumental was also a motivating factor. We learned our parts from the original recording, and added a dash of Surf 'n' Twang to make it our own. Voila!”
Find out more at: bakersfieldbreakers.com
15. Los Aliens "Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)"
João Erbetta & Pete Curry play all the instruments
Produced & Recorded by João Erbetta & Pete Curry
Recorded at The Powow Fun Room, Culver City, CA
The truth can now be told: Los Aliens is a side project between Los Straitjackets’ masked bassist Pete Curry, and his neighbor/frequent collaborator João Erbetta.
Not only is Mr. Pete a rock solid bass player, he can also be found behind the drum kit with The Outta Sites and was the featured guitar player in the long time L.A. surf band The Halibuts. João Erbetta is an L.A. based Brazilian musician who stays very busy and blending jazz, Latin, surf, spaghetti western, and easy listening on solo albums, like “Guitar Bizarre” and with his band Panamericans!
"Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)" aka “That song from 2001” aka “That song Elvis used as his show opening fanfare” has a complicated history. It was composed in 1896 but started out as a tone poem by Richard Strauss, inspired by a Friedrich Nietzsche philosophical novel of the same name. The 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey” used the Vienna Philharmonic’s adaptation. Interestingly, there was an original score written for the film, but director Stanley Kubrick liked the temporary score better, a collection of classical recordings. In 1974 Brazilian Eumir Deodato had a #2 hit with a funky arrangement and won the Best Pop Instrumental Grammy. He went on to produce and co-write Kool & the Gang's hits "Celebration."
Here’s why they selected this particular song: "We picked the song because Joao had just gotten a new fuzztone!"
Visit straitjackets.com for more information about Pete and check out this link for a nice overview of João’s work.
16. Robbie Fulks “Rub It In”
Robbie Fulks - guitar & singing
Todd Phillips - string bass
Shad Cobb - violin
Recorded live & mixed by Victor Abascal at Vines On The Marycrest, Paso Robles, Ca.
Without doubt Robbie Fulks is one scarily talented dude! It has been a gas to watch his career go from guy-in-a-Bluegrass-band to songwriter-performer-with huge point of view and eventually Grammy-nominated-guy. He’ll move you to tears but he also harbors a decent percentage of wise-guy, and isn’t afraid to use it. His 2018 collaboration with Linda Gail Lewis was my FAVORITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR. If he plays anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and go!
Billy "Crash" Craddock’s 1974 version of "Rub It In" was a #16 pop hit and #1 Country hit even though many stations refused to play it at first because they thought it was risqué. It was Craddock’s biggest hit (so far) and inspired a sequel “You Rubbed It In All Wrong.”
Here’s Robbie on his affinity for this song: “I always liked ‘Rub It In.’ In the 1970s radio pop music got a lot dirtier but you still couldn’t use obscenities, which made for an interesting puberty.”
Spend quality time with Robbie at: robbiefulks.com and check out my September 2018 chat with Linda Gail & Robbie and Robbie’s September 2017 amazing solo performance on the show and his July 2009 amazing solo performance, AND my November 2006, May 2007, September 2013 and October 2014 phone interviews with Robbie!
17. The Dahlmanns “Already Gone”
Line Dahlmann - vocals
Andre Dahlmann - guitar
Magnus Gulbrandsen - guitar
Jan Erik Hoel - bass
Otto Gamst – drums
Marianne Bache Mathiesen – hand claps
Produced by Magnus Gulbrandsen & Andre Dahlmann
Engineered and mixed by Magnus Gulbrandsen at Jelöy Sound
Husband/wife duo, The Dahlmanns, return for their third Super Hits contribution, another example of their knack for combining pop hooks with loud/fast Ramones-style energy. Their latest six song mini-album ‘American Heartbeat’ is the latest in a series of super catchy releases from the greatest band ever from Norway.
“Already Gone” was written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund and was a single for the much hated Eagles in 1974. Considering that I feel like I’ve heard their version twenty billion times I was surprised to learn that it only peaked at # 32.
The Dahlmanns keep it simple on why they choose this tune: “A great pop song is a great pop song.” Amen.
To visit The Dahlmanns simply fly to Norway, or click: facebook.com/thedahlmanns
18. Zambonis – “(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song”
Tim Walsh - bass, Moog Rogue & jazzy guitar
Cary Pollick - lead guitar
Dave "Zamboni" Schneider - vocals
Produced By Tim Walsh and The Zambonis
by Tim Walsh at Read's Studio, Bridgeport, Ct.
Since 1991 this Nutmeg State based band has pretty much cornered the market on the genre known as Hockey Rock. All of their songs, (for instance “The Referee’s Daughter” & “Hockey Monkey”) in some way, touch on the subject of the icy sport. They’ve been welcomed by NHL fans, and the NHL itself, which has asked the band to play at countless events and All Star Games.
Our second B.J. Thomas related tune of the lp won 1976 Best Country Song Grammys for songwriters Larry Butler and Chips Moman. Thomas’ version hit #1 in April of 1975. The title is the longest of any song to reach #1.
The Zambonis on their memories of this song: “Cary and Dave specifically remember this song on the AM radio while riding in the car with their families. Be it a Station Wagon or a HUGE four door Lincoln, that guitar hook stuck in their heads to this very day.”
See the Zambonis at: www.thezambonis.com
19. Eric Ambel “Crazy Mama”
Eric Ambel - Vocal & guitar
Jimbo Mathus - rhythm guitar & harmony
Keith Christopher - bass
Phil Cimino - drums
Produced by Jimbo Mathus
Recorded and mixed by Mario Viele at Cowboy Technical Services Recording Rig
Illinois native Eric Ambel is a man with a long musical resume. Some of the highlights include a two-year stint as lead guitarist in Joan Jett’s original Blackhearts, co-founder the gritty New York foursome The Del-Lords, member of the alt-country super group The Yayhoos and an impressive resume as producer, sideman (e.g.: Steve Earle, Sarah Borges) AND he was a co-owner of the much loved, much missed, NYC watering hole/venue The Lakeside Lounge.
J.J. Cale wrote "Crazy Mama" and had a #22 hit with it in 1972, which really tells us something about either the amazing diversity that use to populate the top 40, or the crass control of the charts by major labels.
Eric with the story behind this recording: “While working on my most recently released record “Lakeside” we were running some songs in the studio. We did one take on JJ Cale’s “Crazy Mama”. I really liked it. It didn’t make the album because of vinyl time restrictions but I’m happy to have it released here.”
For all things Eric: ericambel.com
20. Miss Georgia Peach and Travis Ramin “Dim All The Lights”
Miss Georgia Peach - vocals & bass
Travis Ramin - drums, guitars, keyboards, bongos & whistle
Matt Castore – synths
Produced by TravoRaMoroder
Recorded by Matt Castore at A Harder Commune Studio
This Minneapolis based duo are both members of Beebe Gallini (makers of girl group/garage rock) and the rocking trio The Short Fuses. It should be noted Travis is also a busy record producer, who even worked with the very WFMU connected simian group The Chimptations.
"Dim All the Lights" was the only Donna Summer hit single that she wrote alone. It reached #2 in November of 1979, one of twelve top 40 hits she had.
For more info head to: travisraminproducer.bandcamp.com, shortfuses.com and beebegallini.com
Miss Georgia Peach and Travis Ramin want you to know that this recording is “Dedicated to Mom”
21. Los Straitjackets “Angie”
Eddie Angel - guitar
Greg Townson - guitar
Pete Curry - drums & bongos
Jake Guralnick – bass
Recorded by Pete Curry at the PowWow Fun Room, Mar Vista CA
Here’s how they worked up this arrangement: “We started playing this is as a bit of a goof but quickly discovered what a fantastic melody the song has and how great it sounded with a vaguely Latin approach.”
El website-o: straitjackets.com
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Special thanks to;
-Scott Anthony at Storybook Sound for mastering the project (and the other five volumes in the series) and taking 21 masters recorded in different corners of the world and making them sound like a cohesive album - and for helping out by mixing a few of the songs, and for being a “yes” person
-Steve McFarland for the just perfect package design for all six volumes in the Super Hits series!
-Aaron Dunkel for the perfect video editing!
AND Once again, thanks to you for supporting WFMU!
-Michael Shelley 2019
This document will be occasionally updated and corrected
This is version 2.4