Bob Dylan (“The ’59”) #023

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Bob Dylan (1962)

Dylan met John Hammond at a rehearsal session for Carolyn Hester on September 14, 1961, at the apartment shared by Hester and her then-husband, Richard Fariña. Hester had invited Dylan to the session as a harmonica player, and Hammond approved him as a session player after hearing him rehearse, with recommendations from his son, musician John P. Hammond, and from Liam Clancy.

Hammond later told Robert Shelton that he decided to sign Dylan “on the spot”, and invited him to the Columbia offices for a more formal audition recording. No record of that recording has turned up in Columbia’s files, but Hammond, Dylan, and Columbia’s A&R director Mitch Miller have all confirmed that an audition took place. (Producer Fred Catero, then a recording engineer for Columbia Records, claims to have the master of that session. It is not the original demo for Columbia, but a session from December 6, 1962, recorded by John Hammond, Sr.)

On September 26, Dylan began a two-week run at Gerde’s Folk City, second on the bill to The Greenbriar Boys. On September 29, an exceptionally favorable review of Dylan’s performance appeared in the New York Times. The same day, Dylan played harmonica at Hester’s recording session at Columbia’s Manhattan studios. After the session, Hammond brought Dylan to his offices and presented him with Columbia’s standard five-year contract for previously unrecorded artists, and Dylan signed immediately.

That night at Gerdes, Dylan told Shelton about Hammond’s offer, but asked him to “keep it quiet” until the contract’s final approval had worked its way through the Columbia hierarchy. The label’s official approvals came quickly.

Studio time was scheduled for late November, and during the weeks leading up to those sessions, Dylan began searching for new material even though he was already familiar with a number of songs. According to Dylan’s friend Carla Rotolo (sister of his girlfriend Suze Rotolo), “He spent most of his time listening to my records, days and nights. He studied the Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music, the singing of Ewan MacColl and A. L. Lloyd, Rabbit Brown’s guitar, Guthrie, of course, and blues … his record was in the planning stages. We were all concerned about what songs Dylan was going to do. I remember clearly talking about it.”

The album was ultimately recorded in three short afternoon sessions on November 20 and 22. Hammond later joked that Columbia spent “about $402” to record it, and the figure has entered the Dylan legend as its actual cost. Despite the low cost and short amount of time, Dylan was still difficult to record, according to Hammond. “Bobby popped every p, hissed every s, and habitually wandered off mike,” recalls Hammond. “Even more frustrating, he refused to learn from his mistakes. It occurred to me at the time that I’d never worked with anyone so undisciplined before.”

Seventeen songs were recorded, and five of the album’s chosen tracks were actually cut in single takes (“Baby Let Me Follow You Down”, “In My Time of Dyin'”, “Gospel Plow”, “Highway 51 Blues”, and “Freight Train Blues”) while the master take of “Song to Woody” was recorded after one false start. The album’s four outtakes were also cut in single takes. During the sessions, Dylan refused requests to do second takes.

The album cover features a reversed photo of Dylan holding his acoustic guitar. This was done to prevent the neck of the guitar from obscuring Columbia’s logo.


Dion – Alone with Dion (“The ’59”) #022

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Dion – Alone with Dion (1961)

By the beginning of 1961, Dion had released his first solo album on the Laurie Label, “Alone with Dion”, and the single “Lonely Teenager,” which rose to No. 12 in the US charts. The name on his solo releases was simply “Dion.” Follow-ups “Havin’ Fun” and “Kissin’ Game” had less success, and the signs were that Dion would drift onto the cabaret circuit. However, he then recorded, with a new vocal group, the Del-Satins, an up-tempo number co-written with Ernie Maresca. The record, “Runaround Sue,” stormed up the U.S. charts, reaching No. 1 in October 1961, and No. 11 in the UK, where he also toured. “Runaround Sue” sold over a million copies, achieving gold disc status

Lonely Teenager” was written by Alfred DiPaola, Silvio Faraci, and Salvatore Pippa and was Dion’s first solo single It reached No.47 in the UK in 1960.

The Staple Singers – Swing Low (“The ’59”) #021

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The Staple Singers – Swing Low (1961)

“Swing Low” was the second album by The Staple Singers, released on VeeJay Records in 1961.

The Staple Singers were an American gospel, soul and R&B singing group. Roebuck “Pops” Staples (1914–2000), the patriarch of the family, formed the group with his children Cleotha (1934–2013), Pervis (b. 1935), and Mavis (b. 1939). Yvonne (b. 1936) replaced her brother when he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and again in 1970. They are best known for their 1970s hits “Respect Yourself”, “I’ll Take You There”, “If You’re Ready (Come Go with Me)”, and “Let’s Do It Again”, which with one exception (“I’ll Take You There”) peaked on the Hot 100 within a week from Christmas Day. While the family name is Staples, the group used “Staple” commercially.

Roebuck Staples moved from Mississippi to Chicago after his marriage, and worked in steel mills and meat packing plants while his family of four children grew up. The family began appearing in Chicago-area churches in 1948, their first public singing appearance being at the Mount Zion Church, Chicago, where Roebuck’s brother, the Rev. Chester Staples, was pastor.

They signed their first professional contract in 1952. During their early career, they recorded in an acoustic gospel-folk style with various labels: United Records, Vee-Jay Records (their “Uncloudy Day” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” were best sellers), Checker Records, Riverside Records, and then Epic Records in 1965. “Uncloudy Day” was an early influence on Bob Dylan, who said of it in 2015…

It was the most mysterious thing I’d ever heard… I’d think about them even at my school desk…Mavis looked to be about the same age as me in her picture (on the cover of “Uncloudy Day”)…Her singing just knocked me out…And Mavis was a great singer—deep and mysterious. And even at the young age, I felt that life itself was a mystery.

Shirley Bassey (“The ’59”) #020

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Shirley Bassey (1961)

This was Shirley Bassey’s fifth studio album and her third with EMI/Columbia. Released in 1961, Bassey was accompanied on the album by Geoff Love and his orchestra and The Williams Singers (aka The Rita Williams Singers). The album spent eleven weeks on the charts, beginning in February 1962, and peaking at No.14 It was issued in both mono and stereo. The stereo version was reissued and released on CD in 1997 by EMI.

Cliff Richard & The Shadows – The Young Ones (“The ’59”) #019

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Cliff Richard & the Shadows – The Young Ones (1961)

‘The Young Ones’ was a soundtrack album by Cliff Richard and the Shadows to the film of the same name. It was produced by Norrie Paramor, with music by Ronald Cass and Stanley Black and topped the UK Albums and Singles Charts in 1961.

Move on some 20 years and ‘The Young Ones’ is a British sitcom, broadcast in the UK from 1982 to 1984 in two six-part series. Shown on BBC2, it featured anarchic, offbeat humour which helped bring alternative comedy to British television in the 1980s and made household names of its writers (Ben Elton, Alexi Sayle & Ricv Mayall) and performers (Richard Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planar, Christoper Ryan and Alexi Sayle).

Nina Simone – Forbidden Fruit (“The ’59”) #018

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Nina Simone – Forbidden Fruit (1961)

Forbidden Fruit was Nina Simone’s second studio album for Colpix Records, the first recording company for Columbia Pictures. The rhythm section accompanying her is the same trio as on both live albums before and after this release.

It was both recorded and released in New York in 1961.

The Shadows (“The ’59”) #017

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The Shadows (1961)

The Shadows were formed from members of late 1950s UK skiffle groups: Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch, both inspired by US pop music, came from the Newcastle-based Railroaders (and also the Five Chesternuts on Columbia Records); and Jet Harris and Tony Meehan from London, both inspired by UK jazz–skiffle music, came from the Vipers Skiffle Group (on Parlophone Records). Originally the backing band for Cliff Richard, ‘The Shadows’ became an instrumental combo in their own right following their success with the Jerry Lordan composition “Apache”.

They disbanded in 1968, but Marvin and Welch formed a vocal–guitar trio with ex-Strangers member John Farrar, as Marvin, Welch & Farrar. Because of low sales and fans demanding Shadows numbers at gigs, the band re-formed in 1973 with Bennett as a full member and various extra musicians. It disbanded again in 1990 but re-formed in 2004–05 for a UK and continental European tour and again during 2009–10 to tour and release an album with a 50th anniversary reunion with Cliff Richard.

Their self-titled debut was released in September 1961 and went straight to No.1 in the UK album charts.