One of the things I enjoy doing is tracing a song back to it’s roots. In the over 60 years since rock has become a viable musical force, there has been countless covers by many artists, and today we look at one of my favorites from the 70’s.
The song’s writer, Clint Ballard Jr. began his songwriting career after leaving the army in the mid-50’s and had early successes with “Gingerbread” by Frankie Avalon and “Ev’ry Hour, Ev’ry Day of My Life” by Malcolm Vaughn. In the very early 60’s he attempted to record as well with no real success. He struck gold again in 1963 with, “You’re No Good” for Dee Dee Warwick.
Warwick was in a gospel trio with her sister Dionne and Cissy Houston called The Gospelaires and was wanting to try a solo career. Produced by Leiber and Stoller, it bubbled under the top 100, but was as far as it went. Listening to it years later, it stylistically was the closest of Linda’s version, which might have been why it didn’t chart, it was a bold arrangement for 1963.
Two more versions of note were released shortly afterward. Betty Everett (“The Shoop Shoop Song) reached No. 51 with her version which was more bluesy feel to it, Betty’s voice is more polished which gives it a smoother edge.
The UK band, The Swinging Blue Jeans, who had several top 40 hits (“Hippy, Hippy Shake” was their biggest in 1964) to their credit, took the song on and put more rhythm and less blues into the mix. Although barely scraping into the US charts, it reached No. 3 in the UK. It was this version which was a favorite of Peter Asher’s, who was recording with friend Gordon Waller and making hit records himself.
As Gordon and Asher began to fade and finally disbanded in 1968, friend and almost brother-in-law Paul McCartney, tapped him to be the A&R man at the fledgling Apple Records. It was there that Peter signed an unknown artist from North Carolina, James Taylor and agreed to produce his first album.
While the album went nowhere, Asher was convinced enough of Taylor’s talent to quit his job at Apple, move to the US and become his manager. As JT’s star began to rise, Asher’s did as well not only as a manager, but as a producer, not only producing “Sweet Baby James” but also producing for the Bee Gees and Taylor’s sister Kate for a short time.
Kate Taylor released her debut album in 1971 which went nowhere, and soon afterwards chose to leave the business, but before doing so, asked Asher to assist her and Linda Ronstadt on a couple of songs on Linda’s album, “Don’t Cry Now”. Ronstadt was impressed enough to ask Peter to not only become her manager, but to be her main producer, a job which he did until the late 1980’s.
While on tour in 1973, one of the member’s of Linda’s band suggested she work up the song and shortly thereafter began including it in her setlist. Asher, who remembered the song as one of his favorites during the mid-60’s suggested that she record it for their upcoming album. The album, “Heart Like a Wheel” became the breakthrough for her as a solo artist reaching #1 and was the first of three top 5’s that year (the others being, “When Will I Be Loved”, and “Heat Wave”). The following is a video from 1976…a fine version of the song live.