Monday, April 13, 2009

Chubby Checker meets Boyce & Hart: 'Lazy Elsie Molly' (1964)

Singer Chubby Checker was a Philadelphia teen-ager still in high school when his recording career began.

In the late 1950s, his talent for mimicry of pop records caught the attention of Dick Clark, host of the American Bandstand TV show, still based in Philadelphia at the time.

Clark helped get him a contract with Cameo-Parkway records, and used him as something of a 'utility vocalist' from time to time on the Bandstand show, performing some of the rising chart hits of the day. Occasionally Mr. Checker performed more 'palatable' versions of popular songs from the R&B charts that were deemed too wild for the relatively conservative show.

Such was the case with 'The Twist', written and first recorded by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, to moderate success.

But when Chubby Checker performed the song on Bandstand, he created a sensation by incorporating dance moves that Philadelphia teens had been doing to the Hank Ballard version.
Checker's subsequent 1960 cover recording of 'The Twist' was a smash hit, and he was at the forefront of a dance craze that swept America and the world in the sixties.

Other hit records followed for Mr. Checker, many of them capitalizing on other popular dances of the era, though none would quite reach the heights of his first chart-topper.

Some of his hit singles also began to incorporate more nonsensical lyrics and song titles, taken from folk songs and nursery rhymes, which is where the song featured here comes in.

'Lazy Elsie Molly' was only a minor hit, reaching #40 in the U.S. charts in 1964, but its bit of pop music history comes from it being the first commercial success for the songwriting team of Tommy Boyce and
Bobby Hart

Boyce & Hart took an old Mother Goose rhyme, re-worked and embellished it, changed the title from 'Elsie Marley', set it to a melody reminiscent of Chubby's '62 hit, 'Limbo Rock', and came up with a song perfectly suited to be a new Chubby Checker single.

Listen to:
Chubby Checker - Lazy Elsie Molly
(Parkway Records 45, 1964)
(click for audio)

Prior to this single, Boyce and Hart had each had some fair amount of success (and failures) as writers and performers on their own. They met in Los Angeles in 1959.

(In the photo, ▶
Tommy Boyce is seated on the right,
with the guitar)

Following 'Lazy Elsie Molly' they had a much bigger hit with their song 'Come A Little Bit Closer', which became a top-ten record for
Jay and the Americans later that same year.

By the end of '65 they were working for
Don Kirshner, writing, producing and performing music for the TV pilot of what would become 'The Monkees'.

When the Monkees' TV series and records began appearing in 1966, essentially what we heard was Boyce & Hart (and their own band, The Candy Store Prophets) backing lead vocals by The Monkees.

It would get a little bit confusing as Monkeemania continued, but many of the Monkees songs we heard were written by Boyce and Hart, including 'Last Train to Clarksville', 'I Wanna Be Free', 'Valleri', and several that had initially been recorded by other bands, like 'Words' by The Leaves, 'Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day' by The Astronauts, 'I'm Gonna Buy Me A Dog' by The Gamma Goochee, and '(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone' by Paul Revere & the Raiders.

Beginning in 1967, Boyce and Hart began performing and releasing their own records as a duo, their biggest hit being 'I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight' in 1968.

Their music biz and TV connections continued to merge for the next few years, and they made several TV appearances, including guest shots on 'The Flying Nun',
'I Dream of Jeannie', and perhaps most memorably, on 'Bewitched', performing 'I'll Blow You A Kiss in the Wind'.

See also:
- Boyce and Hart at AllMusic.Com

- Boyce and Hart's single, 'Out & About' at The Devil's Music

- A site devoted to the 1970s post-Monkees group, Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart

See also:
- Chubby Checker at AllMusic.Com

- Chubby Checker was also featured in director Ron Mann's 1992 documentary film, 'Twist', a fun and fascinating movie, all about popular dance crazes and their effect on culture. Worth seeking out!


Phillyradiogeek said...

An article that discusses both a Philly-born artist and the Monkees? That's my kind of post. Thanks!

keenom said...

Thanks for remembering Boyce and Hart. I was working at a little camera shop in Waikiki when Tommy came in and left off a roll of film. He was so jazzed that I knew who he was he left me a signed 45 of I'm Not Your Stepping Stone and several other photos and a letter in Sheraton Hotel stationary. He was a great guy and we all miss him I'm sure.

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