Donovan first met his future wife, Linda Lawrence, in 1965 when she was recovering from a broken relationship with Rolling Stones founding member Brian Jones. The pair dated briefly, but not wanting the scrutiny and uncertainty of being a pop star’s girlfriend all over again, Lawrence broke it off at the end of the year. Donovan responded with this song.
“It’s not a normal love song, the singer told Mojo magazine June 2011. “On the face of it, the song is about being with Linda again. But sunshine is a nickname for acid. The Superman is the person capable of entering higher states because it’s not easy to go into the fourth dimension and see the matrix of the universe in which everything is connected.
The line, ‘everybody’s hustling’ referred to the pop scene at the time, where you could lose yourself very easily. Gyp Mills – Donovan’s lifelong friend and tour manager – would always keep my feet on the ground; we had left home at 16 to busk so we could see fame for what it is.”
Donovan was good friends with The Beatles, and they were both making very innovative and trippy music at the time. Donovan’s producer Mickie Most told him not to play the Sunshine Superman album to Paul McCartney under any circumstances, because he knew McCartney would be tempted to do something similar.
Donovan recalled to Uncut magazine: “My arse was being sued by Pye after Sunshine Superman so , my masterwork, sat on the shelves for seven months. If you date it, it was at least a year and a half before Sgt Pepper and I remember Mickie saying to me, ‘Don’t play it to McCartney’ but of course everybody was sharing with everyone else and nicking from each other.” ”I played it to McCartney anyway,” he continued. “But they were already there, anyway, and George Martin was doing something similar with The Beatles, working out arrangements from ideas they had in their heads. George Martin was The Beatles’ guy and John Cameron was my guy and they both had an appreciation of jazz which was key.” Originally, the “Sunshine Superman” single was subtitled “For John And Paul,” a reference to Lennon and McCartney.
Donovan was recording for Pye Records when he was working on this. Pye also had Mickie Most under contract, but he moved to CBS before the album could be released. This prompted a lawsuit that delayed release of the album, so it didn’t come out in the US until September 1966, and wasn’t released in the UK until 1967. This was unfortunate for Donovan, because this would have been considered much moer innovative if it were released on schedule.
This was one of the first ever overtly psychedelic pop records. Donovan played down the drug implications of the song, but they were certainly implied: “Sunshine” was a name for LSD.
The song was Donovan’s only single to reach #1 on the Hot 100 . “Gypsy Dave [Donovan’s creative companion] and I went off to Greece with about three quid in my pocket,” he recalled to Billboard magazine. “The phone rang, and Ashley Kozak, my manager, said ‘Get yourself back to Athens, you’ve got a first-class ticket to London. ‘Superman”s released and it’s #1 all over the world!”
This is Alan Tolz, the official music maven blah blah blah…
DID YOU KNOWs
DID YOU KNOW #1 – Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin’s great guitarist, played lead guitar on this track. He was a session man at the time.
DID YOU KNOW #2 – This was the first hit song with the word, “Superman” in the title. In future years, it was used in many songs, often as a symbol of inner strength.
DID YOU KNOW #3 – This was used in the 2010 “Snow Trip” commercial for the Honda Accord…and finally…
DID YOU KNOW #4 – In the Beatles video of the song, “A Day In The Life”, You can see a close-up of the single, “Sunshine Superman”, playing on a spinning turntable.
The Archies were the group that performed on the Saturday morning cartoon Archie. The group itself was never seen, just the cartoon characters. The song was written by Andy Kim and Jeff Barry, and was performed by session musicians including Kim, Toni Wine, Ron Dante and Ellie Greenwich. Kim had a hit in 1974 with “Rock Me Gently”; Dante produced Mandy for Barry Manilow and “Heartbreaker” for Pat Benatar. Greenwich and Barry, who were married from 1962-1965, wrote many famous songs, including “Be My Baby” and “Chapel Of Love”; Toni Wine wrote the hit songs A Groovy Kind of Love and Candida.
According to Jeff Barry, he and Andy Kim wrote the song with preschoolers in mind since that was the audience for the Archie TV show (Barry had a 3 year old and a 4 year old at the time). The line, “You are my candy girl” came from thinking that’s what kids that age like – candy, but they wanted to appeal to adults as well, so they added a weightier line, “I just can’t believe the loveliness of loving you.”
Toni Wine explained, “It just was a very easy session. Donnie Kirshner wanted to bring The Archies to life, which he did. And Jeff Barry was going to produce this fictitious animated group called The Archies. We went into the studio. Jeff and Andy Kim, who had hits on their own as writers and singers, wrote ‘Sugar, Sugar,’ Ronnie was Archie, and I was Betty and Veronica. We went in, we did the record. It was a fun session, it was a blast, and at the session we just knew that this was something, and something huge was going to happen. We didn’t really know how huge, but it was huge. In fact, a friend of mine had been in town, Ray Stevens, who’s an incredible songwriter, singer, producer, musician, and we were going to just grab a bite to eat, so I told him to meet me at the studio, pick me up, and then we’ll go eat. And he wound up handclapping on ‘Sugar, Sugar.'”
This was the $1 song on the US Billboard chart for 1969, beating out the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, The Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder. It logged more weeks on the hot 100 (22) than any other song on the US charts that year. It also spent 8 weeks on the UK hot 100 charts.
The Archies group was put together by Don Kirshner, a prolific promoter and producer. Kirshner also created The Monkees, and he wanted to do the same thing with cartoon characters because they’re much easier to work with than people. Kirshner said, “It wasn’t written for anything other than to satisfy a Saturday morning animated show. Sugar, Sugar was one of those songs that I kept humming. I kept loving it. It would not leave me. And with the magical mind of Jeff Barry, a great record was made. There was no time to analyze and to pontificate and to see if it made any sense. The writing and the recording and the euphoria of being part of it just excited me.”
A degree of mystery surrounded the Archies as the song climbed up the charts. Toni Wine said, “It was a big secret who we were.” The song met with resistance at radio stations, which didn’t want to play a cartoon band. According to Andy Kim, Don Kirshner hired an experienced promotion man to work the stations. His tactic was to visit the stations, play the song for the program directors, but not reveal the artist until they agreed to play it. In some cases, he could only get them to play it once, but that was all he needed because the phones would light up.
“That was the best part of being in the music world then, said Andy Kim, you really had such an active audience response to what they hear. And you didn’t have that many choices. So, if the audience loves it, you play it. And that started what became a wildfire all across this planet. When I toured, no matter where I was, I’d start the song and everyone would sing along.”
According to Ron Dante, here are the musicians who played on the track:
Guitarists Dave Appell, Sal DeTroia and Andy Kim, Keyboards: Ron Frangipane, Bass: Joe Mack, Drums: Gary Chester and hand claps, Toni Wine, Jeff Barry and Ray Stevens.
This is Alan Tolz, the official music maven of the Bobby Katzen Baby Boomer and Gen X show. Tune on to the Bobby Katzen Show next week to hear more stories about the music you grew up with.
DID YOU KNOWs
DID YOU KNOW #1 – This wasn’t the first Archies song. They recorded and released several “Bang Shang A Lang the year before Sugar Sugar. (which went to #22). The follow up to Sugar Sugar, Jingle Jangle, went to #10 and was a gold record.
DID YOU KNOW #2 – This knocked “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones out of the US #1 spot.
DID YOU KNOW #3 – Ron Dante also sang lead on the novelty song “Leader Of The Laundromat” by the Detergents, and was the voice of The Cuff Links, who had the hit, Tracy.
DID YOU KNOW #4 – A dance version by Olivia Newton-John appears in the 2011 movie A Few Best Men, where she plays the mother of the bride.
And Finally…DID YOU KNOW #5 – The line, “Pour a little sugar on me, baby” inspired the title for the 1987 Def Leppard hit “Pour Some Sugar on Me”
This song was the first #1 Hot 100 hit recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama where Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones, and many other famous musicians would later record some of their classic songs. It’s a legendary love song, but the story of its writing and recording is a bit murky. Sledge, who died in 2015 at age 74 had told long, florid tales about how he came up with the song, but Quin Ivy, who produced the track had a much simpler story.
Sledge was an orderly at Colbert County Hospital during the day and sang with a band, The Esquires Combo, at night. As Sledge tells it, one night while playing a gig, he was upset about a woman. He was so upset about this broken relationship that he couldn’t concentrate on the music he was supposed to sing. He was so overwhelmed with emotion as the group started their set, he asked bass player Calvin Lewis and organ player Andrew Wright if they could play a slow blues – any key, their choice.
After a couple of glances, nods, and shrugs among them, the band started to play and Sledge vented in song for about 6 minutes. In Sledge’s story, Quin Ivy was at the show and approached the band about polishing the song and recording it. Sledge says he worked on the lyrics with Lewis and Wright and recorded it at Norala Sound with Ivy producing.
Quin Ivy’s sound studio was also a record store, and he says he met Sledge when the singer walked into the store one day and they were introduced by a mutual friend. Sledge and the Esquires tried recording the song at FAME studios, but it wasn’t working, so the engineer there sent them to Norala to record with Ivy, complete with their big Hammond B-3 organ for Wright to play. This recording was a success and the song got proper distribution when Ivy played it for FAME’s owner, Rick Hall, who contacted Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records, who signed Sledge, released the song and it became a huge hit.
In Sledge’s version of the story, he co-wrote the song with his band mates Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, but let them have sole composer credits since they gave him the opportunity to sing his heart out. Whether Sledge was acting out of the goodness of his heart, or had nothing to do with writing the song is a matter of debate, but the writing credit had huge implications, resulting in a windfall for Lewis and Wright who continue to get the royalties every time it’s played.
Since the song went on to be covered by many artists, they get paid for those performances as well. If it was a goodwill gesture by Sledge, it cost him millions of dollars.
The musicians who played on the song were many of the same guys who recorded at FAME and later at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, a competing studio that opened in 1969. This included Spooner Oldham on organ, Marlin Greene on guitar, Junior Lowe on bass, and Roger Hawkins on drums.
Trained musicians can tell that the horns on this song are out of tune, and that didn’t escape the ear of Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records. He sent back the original version so it could be fixed, but the fix never made it to the shelves. As legend has it, the song got re-recorded with different horn players but the tapes got mixed up when sent back to Atlantic so they pressed and released the original with the out of tune horns, and that became the hit.
Percy Sledge says that when he sang this, he had a woman named Lizz King in mind. She was his girlfriend for three years before she left him for a modeling job in Los Angeles. Sledge recalled that he didn’t have any money to go after her so there was nothing he could do to get her back.
This song had a totally different title and meaning when it started. Sledge said, “When I wrote the song at first, it was called, “Why Did You Leave Me Baby?” And I changed it from that to “When A man Loves A Woman” when Quin Ivy said to me that if I was to write some lyrics around that melody and that line, it would be a hit record.”
DID YOU KNOWs
DID YOU KNOW # 1 – In 1987, this was used in a series of Levi’s commercials in the UK. It was re-released there to capitalize on that exposure and went to #2 on the UK charts, a higher position than it had there when originally released in 1966.
DID YOU KNOW #2 – This was by far the biggest hit for Sledge and his only top 10 in the US or UK . His next record, “Warm and Tender Love” only made it to # 17 in the States. His 2nd biggest hit was, “Take Time to Know Her”, released in 1968.
DID YOU KNOW #3 – Sledge performed this at his induction ceremony into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. He sang it as a tribute to his waif, Rosa, and included her name in the lyrics.
DID YOU KNOW #4 – One of this song’s many admirers is John Fogerty. When asked which song he wished he’s written, he said without hesitation, “When A Man Loves A Woman”.
And finally…DID YOU KNOW #5 – This was featured in a commercial for Tony’s Frozen Pizza as, “When A Man Loves A Pizza”.
Last week we were talking with callers about “one hit wonders” and I said that we’d be learning the story behind a song where the title is not in the lyrics this week. Not only is that the case, but the song is also a “one hit wonder”. Set your way back machine to 1965 for a song that got as far as #2 on the American Billboard Hot 100. The song was titled, “A Lover’s Concerto and it was performed by The Toys.
The melody for this classic was adapted from a classical piece – “Minuet in G” by Christian Petzoid. Now even the “Minuet in G” has a back story…it’s often thought to be a J.S. Bach composition because it was included in a book of sheet music kept by Bach’s wife, but that’s another story for another day.
“A Lover’s Concerto” was written by Denny Randell and Sandy Linzer who went on to write some of the Four Seasons biggest hits. It seems Randell was taking music lessons at a very early age and “Minuet in G” was a favorite of his. As he got older and started to write songs, he knew that at some point he’d write a pop song from the melody, and even though his song is in a different time signature than the original, he was able to put it into a form that worked perfectly for the romantic lyric, which he adapted from poems he wrote as a teenager.
This song is a rarity of sorts since its title is not in the lyrics. The title is a combination of both the feeling of the melody and the romantic poems from which the lyrics came.
The Toys were Barbara Harris, Barbara Parritt and June Montiero. They met in high school and were signed by Randell and Linzer. They had this big hit in 1965 and broke up in 1968.
This song was recorded at Olmstead Studios in NYC and was produced by Charles Calello. That’s only worth mentioning because Colello also produced “Lightning Strikes by Lou Christie and “Let’s Hang On” by the Four Seasons. “A Lover’s Concerto” was also a big influence on The Supremes’ hit, “I Hear A Symphony” which was Motown’s first #1 hit with elements of Classical Music.
We’re going to stay with the love theme and another little nod to classical music next week, with a song that peaked at #3 in January, 1969.
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