DOUG THOMPSON: CONFESSIONS OF A PROFESSIONAL ROCK AND ROLL INTERVIEWER – BITS AND PIECES, ODDS AND SODS AND WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE WHILE YOU’RE AT IT

Doug Thompson headshotOK, this is as good a place as any to admit this – I’m probably as close to being a ‘hoarder’ as you can get without actually being featured on the TV show.  No, I don’t have piles of decades old newspapers and I can actually walk through my entire house without following a prescribed path through all the debris.  My so called ‘hoarding’ is specifically related to materials from my 40+ years in the radio/advertising/interviewing/television industries.

Lots of recordsNot unlike quite a few people reading this blog, I have thousands of vinyl LPs, thousands more 45rpm singles and even thousands more CDs.  By no means am I unique there.  I have several close friends who have 25,000 LPs or more.  Even if vinyl is making a comeback these days, I doubt I’ll ever reach that number.  My well-over-a-thousand interviews that I’ve conducted are on various formats – reel-to-reel audio tape, high quality cassettes and DATs.  These occupy several walls in what I call my ‘Archive Room’.  In actual fact, I live in a four bedroom house and with the exception of my master bedroom, all of them function as ‘Archive Rooms’, although there is an actual bed and dresser drawers in the guest room.

I also have literally hundreds of reels of audio tape with commercials, jingles and radio programs that I’ve written and/or produced.  For the past 8 years, I’ve been actively working on digitizing this material before it turns to dust.  I suspect I’ll be dust before the task is completed.

Lots of booksThen there’s my collection of 2500 (mostly hardcover) books.  You won’t find a single fiction book among them.  They’re all biographies, autobiographies and non-fiction books about music and musicians.

What to do with all this material?

I suppose I could donate everything to Library and Archives Canada (although I don’t think they even accept donations from individual citizens anymore) or the Canadian Broadcast Museum or even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  They have a tremendous archive in Cleveland and several friends of mine, including Vancouver radio legend Red Robinson, have donated a lot of their rock memorabilia to the site.  But what would I do with all the extra space in the house that donating this material would give me?  Get married again – nah, been there, done that, wrote the ridiculously large cheque.

musician stampsI’ll probably start collecting something else.  Maybe stamps from around the world that feature musicians.  That shouldn’t take more than a few years (although Canada releases about 6 musician related stamps each year now).  At least stamps won’t take up as much space in the house.

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Since I first started listening to the radio and haunting record stores, I’ve always loved novelty records, those Dickie Goodman style ‘break-in’ records as well as what would probably be described as ‘off the wall’ or very ‘off beat’ records.  Eddie Lawrence “The Old Philosopher” is one of my favourites. The Old Philosopher for DJs

As is Spike Jones.  I also have an extensive collection of vinyl news LPS from the 1950’s through to the ‘80’s, produced by various news networks and radio stations over the years (NBC, CBS, ABC, BBC, United Press International, Associated Press, etc.  You just never know when a good audio clip from former U.S. President Richard (I’m not a crook”) Nixon or a pithy quote from O. J. Simpson’s lead defence attorney, Johnny (“If it doesn’t fit…you must acquit”) Cochrane will come in handy for some radio program.

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For the final section of this blog, you are about to enter the ‘Twilight Zone’ of rock and roll, where artists speak (and occasionally sing) in ‘foreign tongues’.

Record companies, as is their want, often ask artists signed to their labels to do some strange things…or at least they used to.  Every red-blooded baby boomer knows that The Beatles recorded two of their hits, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” in German.  At the time, the thinking at EMI (The Beatles British record company) was that the group wouldn’t sell records in Germany unless they were sung in German.

“Sie Liebt Dich” – The Beatles (German)

Oh how wrong they were.

But that got me to thinking about other artists who recorded in foreign tongues and even recording artists from far away lands who had hits in North America singing in their native language.

Back in 1983, when I was writing “Ringo’s Yellow Submarine”, the 24 hour radio series for ABC/Watermark in Los Angeles that Ringo Starr hosted, I took a drive to Sherman Oaks to interview former Capitol Records (U.S.) executive Dave Dexter, who at that point, had long been retired from the biz.  In the early 1960’s, Dave (who was a jazzer more than he was a rock or ‘pop’ fan) was in charge of listening to all record releases on EMI associated labels from around the world.  He decided what international records would be released in the U.S.  In early 1963, he received a phone call from a disc jockey pal in Fresno, California.  This DJ knew that Fresno had a large number of Japanese-Americans and he liked to program hits from Japan from time to time.  One such song that he’d had sent over, had been released in Japan as “Ue O Muite Aruko”, which, when translated, means “I Look Up When I Walk”.  Whenever the Fresno DJ played the song, the phones lit up.  Capitol had the North American rights to the song through their arrangement with Toshiba in Japan, but Dave wasn’t about to release the song under the original Japanese title (or even the English translation for that matter), so it came out under the title “Sukiyaki”, which is obviously not part of the lyrics and has absolutely nothing to do with the song.  Nonetheless, Dave’s ears had not failed him as the now named “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto claimed the  # 1 spot for three weeks on Billboards’ Hot 100 chart in June of ’63 and went on to sell thirteen million copies.  Kyu was also the first Asian singer to have a # 1 hit in the U.S..   Sadly, Kyu Sakamoto died on August 12, 1985 when his plane, KAL flight 123, crashed into a mountain after the pilots lost control of the aircraft.  All 15 crew members were killed, as were 505 of the 509 passengers.

“Sukiyaki” – Kyu Sakamoto (Japanese)

Dave Dexter did miss one British act on a huge scale.  He kept turning down Beatles records that were being sent over from EMI in London.  He told me that when he first heard “Love Me Do”, he “regarded the raspy harmonica by John Lennon as particularly distasteful.”  Dave continued to turn down Beatles song after Beatles song until finally in late ‘63, pressure was brought to bear on Capitol (U.S.) from EMI headquarters in England and Capitol reluctantly began to release Beatles records in the States.  Now, to be fair to Dave Dexter, Beatles records had previously been released on two other U.S. labels, VeeJay, based in Chicago and Swan Records, out of Philadelphia and guess what…?

Nothing happened.

The songs may have received limited airplay on a few radio stations, but they didn’t sell well in America at all.  It wasn’t until the U.S. release of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” that all hell broke loose.  Here in Canada, we can boast that we beat the mighty United States by almost a full year in knowing about and hearing The Beatles on the radio.  All thanks to Capitol (Canada) A&R Director Paul White, who released several of their hits in the Great White North (that also didn’t sell well), but had great faith, despite his Capitol bosses apprehensions, and continued to release Beatles hits until they finally exploded.

LesleyBut I digress.  Another number one hit in 1963 was from Tenafly, New Jersey native Lesley Gore Remember “It’s My Party”?

It was a massive hit around the world – number one for two weeks on Billboards’ Hot 100 chart. Other hits followed – “Judy’s Turn To Cry”, “She’s A Fool” (both Top 5 hits) and “You Don’t Own Me”, one of the first feminist songs several years before there was even a feminist movement.  All four of those hits from Gore charted in 1963.  These were true ‘pop’ songs with an amazing production pedigree.  The arranger for all of those hits was Claus Ogerman, who’d moved to the U.S. in 1959.  Prior to Lesley Gore’s hits, Claus had arranged albums for jazz greats such as Wes Montgomery, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Kai Winding and Bill Evans.  Several decades later, Claus arranged and conducted the orchestra on the 2001 release of Diana Krall’s “The Look of Love” album.  He continued his work with Krall on her 2009 CD “Quiet Nights” and won a Grammy Award in 2010 for ‘Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)’ for “Quiet Nights”.

On top of Claus’ arranging brilliance, Lesley Gore’s producer at Mercury Records was none other than the uber legendary Quincy Jones, a multiple Grammy Award winning writer/producer/ arranger/film composer who’s worked with such musical legends as Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson and on and on goes the list.  Not a bad little group to have working on your ‘pop’ hit records.

Now at some point in your life, you’ve probably heard a Lesley Gore record, but most likely, you’ve never heard “You Don’t Own Me” like this:

“JE NE SAIS PLUS” (“YOU DON’T OWN ME”) – LESLEY GORE (French)

Lesley recorded several of her hits in several languages, including French, German and Italian.  60’s pop star Neil Sedaka also re-recorded several of my hits in different languages…as did Gene Pitney and The Hollies.  Here’s their 1966 hit song, “Look Through Any Window” sung in French (with those marvelous Hollies harmonies).

“LOOK THROUGH ANY WINDOW” – The HOLLIES (French)        

Even Motown in the ‘60’s thought that this might be a way to sell more of their Detroit centric music around the world.  How about Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” or as they call it in Germany, “Wie Schon Das Ist”.

“WIE SCHON DAS IST” aka “HOW SWEET IT IS (TO BE LOVED BY YOU)” – MARVIN GAYE (German)

In 1987, Motown even released a CD called “Motown Around The World” that featured 19 tracks by legendary Motown artists such as Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops, Jimmy Ruffin and Stevie Wonder singing in tongues (foreign that is). Check out The Temptations Italian language version of “The Way You Do the Things You Do” aka “Sei Solo Tu”.

“Sei Solo Tu (The Way You Do the Things You Do) Temptations [Italian Version]

In 1960, there was a # 5 hit called “Sailor (Your Home Is The Sea)” sung in German by Lolita, an Austrian chanteuse (Yes, I know that’s a French word, but France is only one country awayfrom Austria, so it’s perfectly fine to use it in this context, according to Hoyle anyway). Lolita died in 2010 at the age of 79.   The 45rpm record was released on the Kapp label and halfway through the song (on the U.S. version anyway), there are bi-lingual lyrics, with the English words being spoken by someone who I can only assume wasn’t Lolita, since it sounds nothing like her.  Another compromise to the American radio audience, I suppose.  Lolita charted only one other song on Billboards’ Hot 100 chart, something called “Cowboy Jimmy Joe” (how’s that for American sounding?).  In German, the song was titled “Die Sterne Der Prarie”.  It barely made a dent, climbing only as high as # 91.

Then in ’63, a real-life nun, who recorded under the name Sister Sourire (Sister Smile in English) went straight to # 1 for four weeks with the French language song “Dominique”.  The following year (1964 for those keeping score), “Bonanza” patriarch, Pa Cartwright (Canada’s ‘Voice of Doom’ during World War II when he was a young CBC Radio newsreader), Lorne Greene, took his spoken word hit “Ringo” all the way to # 1.  Most ‘60’s music aficionados have no clue that Lorne also recorded “Ringo” in French (I didn’t until recently).  Take a listen to that rare version if you dare.

“RINGO” – LORNE GREENE (French)

Jumping forward into the 1970’s ABBA recorded an entire album (including several of their international hits) in Swedish.  Certainly makes sense since they were from Sweden.

Here’s “Waterloo” in ABBA’s original language.

“WATERLOO” – ABBA (Swedish)

Also during the 1970’s, Captain & Tennille re-recorded their entire “Love Will Keep Us Together” album in Spanish.  In fact, the original English 45rpm single version of “Love Will Keep Us Together” only took nine weeks from initial release to climb to # 1, where it remained for four weeks in 1975.  Captain & Tennille’s Spanish language version, “Por Amor Viviremos”, which charted while the English original was still on the charts, only made it as high as # 49.  Apparently, that’s the first time two versions of the same single have charted simultaneously.  Here’s an interesting trivia fact.  Anyone who knowsn anything about music, knows that Daryl Dragon, aka Captain, played keyboards for The Beach Boys, which is where he got his nickname ‘Captain Keyboards’ because he always wore that ship captain’s hat on stage.  But did you know that Toni Tennille sang backup for Elton John on several songs, including his 1974 # 2 hit, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”.  Toni also sang backup on Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album.

In 1977, Linda Ronstadt re-did Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” as a sultry, sexy ballad (Orbison’s original was also a ballad).  Wonder how many ‘70’s love children were conceived to Linda’s version?  Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou” went to # 3.  She also released a wonderful version in Spanish, titled “Lago azul”.  Of course, Linda’s no stranger to the Spanish language, having released several Spanish albums, including 1987’s “Canciones de Mi Padre”.

“BLUE BAYOU” – LINDA RONSTADT (Spanish)  

In ’84, a German group called Nena had radio stations around the world playing both the original German language version as well as an English language version of “99 Luftballons” (“99 Red Balloons”) hit the charts and zoomed up to # 2.

“99 LUFTBALLONS” – NENA (German)

The Alarm got a lot of airplay in ’89 and ’90 with several songs, including their only charted hit (# 50), “Sold Me Down The River”, taken from their Tony Visconti (T. Rex/David Bowie) produced album “Change”.  Since The Alarm came from North Wales, it only seemed natural for them to release a Welch language version of the album, entitled “Newid”.   Enjoy some Alarm in Welch (maybe you could grab a glass of Welch’s Grape Juice to enjoy while you listen – just a thought).

“Newid” Track Six – The Alarm (Welch)

David Lee Roth is not someone you think would be recording a Spanish language version of anything.  But Diamond Dave did just that in 1986 with “Sonrisa Salvaje”, the Spanish language equivalent to his English album, “Eat ‘Em And Smile”, which garnered the # 16 hit, “Yankee Rose”. 

“Yankee Rose” David Lee Roth (Spanish)

There are oh so many more examples, but I’ll let you discover those for yourselves.  Add any you find to the comments section below.  As for me, I’ve got to go clear a path through my archives so I can get to my downstairs bathroom.  Ciao bella.

=DT=

Doug’s column appears here every 4th Monday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

DBAWIS ButtonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. and has won 152 awards for his work.  He worked with Canadian actor John Candy for 17 years, writing and producing commercials, specials and several weekly radio programs.

Currently, he’s writing and producing the second season of a television program for the Hi Fi channel in Canada called “Hi Fi Salutes”, a series of short biographical documentaries on Canadian musicians, producers and record industry pioneers.  One of those programs recently won a Platinum Award at the World Film Festival in Houston.

8 Responses to “DOUG THOMPSON: CONFESSIONS OF A PROFESSIONAL ROCK AND ROLL INTERVIEWER – BITS AND PIECES, ODDS AND SODS AND WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE WHILE YOU’RE AT IT”

  1. David Lennick Says:

    Lorne Greene must have done an entire album in French. I remember “Du Sable” (Sand) on a 45.

    • Doug Thompson Says:

      David, “Du Sable” (aka “Sand”) was on the flipside of the French language version of “Ringo”. Both sides were written by the same songwriting team – Don Robertson and Hal Blair with French translation by Lucien Brien. The 45 was on a green RCA Victor Canada International label.

  2. Another great insight to what many/most of us never see or think about going about our fascinating lives. Maybe you would like to hear about the unknown side of real estate appraisal. – lol. Loved the foreign language versions as much in some cases as the English originals.

  3. All from my era Doug, thanks. Radio is was the best experience of my life.

  4. Dave Creelman Says:

    Great article and Doug. Thank you for sharing your passion and memories.

  5. Michael T. Says:

    Your tidbits never cease to stupify, Doug.

  6. Yes another great article, I thought I was doing well with about 200 books, man 2500, that’s a full library…

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