December 4, 2017

"In this vast and troubled world, we sometimes lose our way, but I am never lost/I feel this way because...."



"It was Mr. Margo’s idea for the Happenings to do an up-tempo version of the Gershwin brothers’ 'I Got Rhythm,' his nephew Noah Margo said. The record reached No. 3 on the Billboard singles chart in 1967."

That's from the NYT obituary: "Mitch Margo, an Original Member of the Tokens, Dies at 70." You think of The Tokens — if you think of them — as the group that did the much-loved early-60s song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." But I see that The Tokens went on to produce records for The Chiffons, Randy and the Rainbows, and Tony Orlando and Dawn. Mitch Margo was one of the producers on the sublime Chiffons hit "He's So Fine." *

And I know the most famous Randy and the Rainbows song without looking it up: "Denise." That also seems to have been produced by The Tokens (under the production company name Bright Tunes). "Denise" was redone in 1978 by Blondie as "Denis," which — apart from the masculinization of the love interest  — aurally copies the Randy and the Rainbows version, though the visual effect is quite different:



Denis Denis, oh with your eyes so blue/Denis Denis, I've got a crush on you...

And Mitch Margo wrote "Laugh," the Monkees song, and "Slow Dance," which, we're told, The Carpenters released in 1989.

Speaking of dying, did Karen Carpenter survive to the year 1989? No, she died in 1983. But you can listen to the song while looking at video of Karen slow dancing with her brother Richard, here.

If that's too sad, here's "Laugh," replete with way-too-frenetic Monkees antics.
___________________

* "He's So Fine" was written by Ronnie Mack. You know that song "Jimmy Mack" — "Jimmy Mack, when are you coming back?" — which seems to be about a boyfriend who's staying away too long, was inspired by Ronnie Mack, who had died of Hodgkin's lymphoma when he was only 23.
Jay Siegel of the Tokens later said of Mack's songs: "They had the most incredible lyrics; not intellectual lyrics, but just the things that people speak of in everyday language. Most people don't have the talent to write them down as music, but he did.... [Had he lived] he...would have been one of the most successful songwriters of the '60s."

31 comments:

ballyfager said...

Wasn't there a plagiarism issue between He's So Fine and G. Harrison's My Sweet Lord?

Ann Althouse said...

"Wasn't there a plagiarism issue between He's So Fine and G. Harrison's My Sweet Lord?"

Yes, but I think it's a real shame that's the one thing people remember about that song. "He's So Fine" is (of course) the original song and "My Sweet Lord" was shown at trial to have copied many elements of it.

MadisonMan said...

Blondie's Plastic Letters -- on which Denis sits -- was an awesome album. (Probably still is!!)

Guildofcannonballs said...

"A third of a century ago, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" got to Number One in Britain for Tight Fit. Can't quite place Tight Fit? It sounds like a vaguely parodic name for a boy band, but in fact they were a coed combo - one boy, two girls, a male model and two female dancers, hired as a photogenic front after the record had already been made. The girls had failed to make the cut at an audition for the more successfully contrived group, Bucks Fizz, and were shortly booted out of Tight Fit, too. But for a few weeks in 1982 on the BBC's "Top Of The Pops" they did well enough moving about in synchronized "Wimowehs" while the male model mouthed to a vocal track actually sung by a guy from the band City Boy.

The bottom inevitably drops out of the Tight Fits of the music biz, but "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" roars on regardless. It's one of the biggest songs ever about a lion, apart from the Oscar-winning "Born Free" and the Eagles' "You can't hide those lion eyes". "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" has been a hit in every medium - on movie screens all over the world, in Disney's The Lion King, and then on Broadway, in the stage version. Before Tight Fit, it was a Billboard Number Three for Robert John in the Seventies, a Number One for the Tokens in the Sixties; under the title "Wimoweh", it was a hit for the Weavers in the Fifties, and in the Forties, as "Mbube"... Ah, but that's where the story gets murkier." - https://www.steynonline.com/6003/the-lion-sleeps-tonight

james james said...

The judge ruled that Harrison "subconsciously plagiarized" the melody.

If the melody copied was from the pre-copyright era it would be considered in the public domain and there wouldn't be a legal issue. Led Zeppelin found out that those blues songs they credited as 'Plant/Page' were not in the public domain.

Although the 'original' blues writer may have used a melody that was not copyrighted back then, and was able to get his name on it first.

Non-memorable melodies get copied all of the time. Because they seem generic. Meh, as some on the internet might say.

The memorable melodies are the ones to watch out for.

- james james

Roger Sweeny said...

I had never realized that not only is "My Sweet Lord" very like "He's So Fine" but "Oh, Happy Day" is like both of them.

james james said...

I do believe in the "subconsciously plagiarized" theory.

You are playing some chords, a melody comes to mind. How exactly did it get there? Did it sound good because it might have reminded you on some level of something you liked in the past? How do you know this melody is of different origin than the many others you have come up with, when you can't articulate just how you got them, exactly?

It is not like Harrison couldn't come up with a melody on his own, even if some were a bit dreary.

Maybe you can't put your finger on it.

There are only so many notes and configurations in a given key. Unless you go atonal. The cat walking across the piano? I wrote that.

- james james

Saint Croix said...

that's a horrible cover song

but her Ring of Fire is amazing

james james said...

Yes: I am suing your cat.

- james james

Caroline Walker said...

Ithank you, Althouse! Loved kicking off my Monday hearing I’ve got rhythm. Haven’t heard it in decades, it was like proust’s madeleine for me.

Unknown said...

There was something in the late 60s air for ambitious albums, and "The Tokens" "Pet Sounds" album was "It's A Happening World". Still a great record! After that they shot for "Smile"/"Sgt. Pepper" territory with "Intercourse", supposedly named for what their record company was doing to them -- a dispute that caused only a very few copies to be pressed. You can now (or could as of a few years ago) get the full album from their web site. They also did new music up into the 21st century, also on their website, "Tonight THe Lion Dances" and "Oldies are Now". Fun records.

Wilbur said...

I remember that song "I Got Rhythm" leaping out of my transistor radio from WLS in Chicago (The Big 89), such a catchy version of an old hit. I also remember being surprised when I learned how old the song was, and who wrote it.

Unknown said...

"He's So Fine"/"My Sweet Lord" -- I've never bought the plagurism charge because Spector was involved with both records. If it was plaguraism, he would have realized. (Unless he intended it..).

JohnGalt said...

I don't understand "an up-tempo version of I Got Rhythm." I've never heard a down-tempo version of the song.

truth speaker said...

Unconscience plagarism was a poor foundation for a legal decision.

There are (basically) 88 notes in popular musical and a lot less
tempos. Harrison got screwed.

IIRC he eventually bought the publishing company that owned He's So Fine.

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Rana said...

Althouse, Karen Carpenter is not dancing with her brother Richard in that video clip, but rather John Davidson.

Ann Althouse said...

"Althouse, Karen Carpenter is not dancing with her brother Richard in that video clip, but rather John Davidson."

Really? Are you reading that somewhere? Looks like Richard to me.

Ann Althouse said...

"My Sweet Lord" doesn't just copy the melody.

I remember reading the trial judges opinion... more than 30 years ago. There were some number of elements — perhaps 5 — that were the same in both recordings. It wasn't just a melody that might have preexisted both songs. There was a lot more to it, and I think if you read the opinion, you'd agree with the outcome.

Ann Althouse said...

From the opinion:

"Seeking the wellsprings of musical composition -- why a composer chooses the succession of notes and the harmonies he does -- whether it be George Harrison or Richard Wagner -- is a fascinating inquiry. It is apparent from the extensive colloquy between the Court and Harrison covering forty pages in the transcript that neither Harrison nor Preston were conscious of the fact that they were utilizing the He's So Fine theme.10 However, they in fact were, for it is perfectly obvious to the listener that in musical terms, the two songs are virtually identical except for one phrase. There is motif A used four times, followed by motif B, four times in one case, and three times in the other, with the same grace note in the second repetition of motif B.11

"What happened? I conclude that the composer,12 in seeking musical materials to clothe his thoughts, was working with various possibilities. As he tried this possibility and that, there came to the surface of his mind a particular combination that pleased him as being one he felt would be appealing to a prospective listener; in other words, that this combination of sounds would work. Why? Because his subconscious knew it already had worked in a song his conscious mind did not remember. Having arrived at this pleasing combination of sounds, the recording was made, the lead sheet prepared for copyright and the song became an enormous success. Did Harrison deliberately use the music of He's So Fine? I do not believe he did so deliberately. Nevertheless, it is clear that My Sweet Lord is the very same song as He's So Fine with different words,13 and Harrison had access to He's So Fine. This is, under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished. Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp., 81 F.2d 49, 54 (2d Cir. 1936); Northern Music Corp. v. Pacemaker Music Co., Inc., 147 U.S.P.Q. 358, 359 (S.D.N.Y.1965).

"Given the foregoing, I find for the plaintiff on the issue of plagiarism...."

Ann Althouse said...

Also:

"He's So Fine, recorded in 1962, is a catchy tune consisting essentially of four repetitions of a very short basic musical phrase, "sol-mi-re," (hereinafter motif A),1 altered as necessary to fit the words, followed by four repetitions of another short basic musical phrase, "sol-la-do-la-do," (hereinafter motif B).2 While neither motif is novel, the four repetitions of A, followed by four repetitions of B, is a highly unique pattern.3 In addition, in the second use of the motif B series, there is a grace note inserted making the phrase go "sol-la-do-la-re-do."4"

Yancey Ward said...

My introduction to popular music came as a child from my mother's choices of 8 track tapes for the car (this was the late 60s- late 70s) and her record collection of 45s, one of which was "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" which I probably played several dozen times the first time I found it around age 9 or 10. Have always loved that song, even Robert John's remake of it.

Yancey Ward said...

I think Rana is right- that looks like John Davidson to me, too, not her step brother.

Yancey Ward said...

It seems to be from one of two Carpenter's Christmas specials made in the late 70s.

Here is photograph from one of them: Karen Carpenter and John Davidson

eddie willers said...

One of my favorite Lion song:

Bruce Cockburn: Wondering Where the Lions Are

And in the never-ending argument of which was the first rock & roll song I have always named I've Got Rhythm, but that may have been influenced by the Tokens version.

Unknown said...

Don't forget Van Morrison Listen to the Lion and Neil Diamond's engagingly goofy I Am The Lion

Darrell said...

Karen, Richard, and John Davidson.

https://scs-assets-cdn.vice.com/int/v13n3/htdocs/slimming/main_large.jpg

Darrell said...

Carpenters - Dancing In The Street (1968, Full video)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=208&v=ONGVPxbFENM

Dave in Tucson said...

Harrison wrote This Song as commentary on the infringement case.

It's one of his better solo songs as well.

miklos000rosza said...

Brian Eno also covered "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," but his version doesn't particularly work other than as a novelty.

miklos000rosza said...

Laura Nyro and Labelle cover both "Jimmy Mack" and "Dancing in the Street" on her album of R&B classics, Gonna Take a Miracle -- itself a classic by now. The Kinks did a version of "Dancing in the Street" that's somewhat dessicated, but not bad.

Ann Althouse said...

I love that Laura Nyro album.