Random Runners-up: ‘Let’s Work Together’, by Canned Heat

My special feature for the week is a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Last one, and we’re off to the seventies today…

‘Let’s Work Together’, by Canned Heat

#2 for 1 week, behind ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)‘, from 15th – 22nd Feb. 1970

A groovy last runner-up for the week. It’s got that slightly fried feel of some of the late-sixties/early-seventies #1s – ‘Spirit in the Sky’, ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and ‘I Hear You Knocking’ – as if the band has been keeping the party going that little bit too long.

The message is positive, though: Together we stand, Divided we fall… Every boy, every woman and a-man…! while the frazzled lead guitar chops and changes, and the rhythm section chugs along with a nasty edge. It really feels like this should be the backing to a tale of sleaze and sauciness – a ‘Honky Tonk Women’ Pt II, for example – not such a feel-good rallying cry.

Lead-singer on this record, Bob Hite, also gives the lyrics a threatening edge. He snarls, rather than encourages. Come on, come on, Let’s work together… he sings, though I’m not sure I would, with him. I like it though, this scuzzy, bluesy, boogie-woogying tune.

It had been written and recorded in 1962, as ‘Let’s Stick Together’ by Wilbert Harrison, before being rerecorded in 1969, by the same guy, as ‘Let’s Work Together’. His version was the hit in the US, while Canned Heat had the success in the UK. It was by far their biggest hit here. I knew it best through the Bryan Ferry version, which he turned back to ‘Let’s Stick Together’… Way to complicate things… Ferry took that to #3 in 1976 – a great, if slightly glossier, reimagining in which he pleads with his wife not to divorce him.

I’ll leave you with the version that made #2 in early 1970, behind ‘Love Grows…’ (what a great top 2!) Enjoy. I’ll do another blast of random runners-up sometime, it was fun. The regular countdown will resume over the weekend.

Random Runners-up: ‘Cool Water’, by Frankie Laine with the Mellomen

My special feature for the week is a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Today’s random runner-up takes us back a good ol’ while…

‘Cool Water’, by Frankie Laine with the Mellomen

#2 for 3 weeks, behind ‘Rose Marie‘, from 5th – 26th August 1955

Before Slade or T Rex, before the Stones and the Beatles, before even Elvis himself, one man dominated the UK singles chart in its earliest days: Frankie Laine.

In 1953, the first full year of the singles chart, he scored three #1s that lasted at the top for a staggering twenty-eight weeks (!) This record was his 16th Top 20 hit in under 3 years. Everything he recorded turned to chart gold… Which perhaps explains the success of ‘Cool Water.’ It was a hit by default.

Or maybe its been so long since I reviewed a pre-rock single I’ve forgotten how dull most of them were. It’s a song from a Western, about a cowboy lost in the desert, dragging his horse, Dan, along in search of water. Cool, clear, water….

Dan can y’see that big green tree, Where the water’s runnin’ free…? Dan doesn’t answer because it’s just a mirage, and he’s just a horse. It’s very 1955, this song, and it fits right in with the spaghetti-western film-score feel of #1s like ‘The Man From Laramie‘, ‘Give Me Your Word‘, and the 11-week mega chart-topper that held this off top-spot, ‘Rose Marie’.

A few months after this hit #2, ‘Rock Around the Clock‘ would come along and that would be that. Rock ‘n’ roll would be here to stay. Frankie Laine’s chart-topping days would be numbered, although he remained a recording artist into the 1970s. In fact, he would re-record ‘Cool Water’ in 1961, for an album titled ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ (Is it just me, or does that sound more S&M than C&W…?)

Meanwhile, the Mellomen, who provide the actually quite cool deep-voiced Cooool Water… backing vocals, have also appeared on a #1 themselves: Rosemary Clooney’s ‘Mambo Italiano‘ earlier in the same year. A fun, catchy song that reminds us there actually were some great chart-toppers before Bill Haley and Co. came along.

One last #2 coming up tomorrow…

Random Runners-up: ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’, by Gene Pitney

I’m running a new feature this week – a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Today’s random runner-up…

‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’, by Gene Pitney

#2 for 2 weeks, behind ‘Little Red Rooster‘ and ‘I Feel Fine‘, from 3rd-17th Dec. 1964

It reminds me of ‘I Believe‘, with its strong, deliberate chords in the intro. It also reminds me of Roy Orbison’s boleros – his mini-operas – ‘Running Scared’ and ‘It’s Over‘ that grow and grow to outrageously dramatic conclusions.

I’m gonna be strong, And stand as tall as I can, Yes I’m gonna be strong, And let you run along… Gene’s gonna put a brave face on a break-up, gonna look his girl in the eye, smile, and walk away. But, as he finally admits in the final line, as the crescendo crashes: After you kiss me goodbye… How I’ll break down and cry….!

He gives it everything, does Mr. Pitney. It is a song for blowing away the cobwebs, for getting you out of bed on a winter’s morning. It sounds a little old-fashioned, especially considering the songs that kept it off the top, but when someone performs a song like this, with gusto and volume, you’ve got to tip your hat.

Our first two runners-up, The Spencer Davis Group and Connie Francis, had already had #1s. Gene Pitney hasn’t, and he’ll have to wait a good long while for his one and only chart-topper. He scored ten Top 10s between 1963 & ’68, bookended by what are probably his most famous songs (i.e. the ones I know): ‘Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa’ and ‘Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart’.

Random Runners-up: ‘Mama’ / ‘Robot Man’, by Connie Francis

I’m running a new feature this week – a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Today’s random runner-up…

‘Mama’ / ‘Robot Man’, by Connie Francis

#2 for 1 week, behind ‘Three Steps to Heaven‘, from 23rd – 30th June 1960

A double-‘A’ to double your pleasure. Except… I haven’t missed these OTT pre-rock intros. Strings swirl, soar, flutter and fly – you know the score. Even in 1960 this sounded old-fashioned. When the evening shadows fall, And the lovely day is through… Darkness falls, and Connie Francis gets to thinking about a lost love. Not a boyfriend, though… Her ‘Mama’.

Connie Francis had two chart-toppers in 1958, the all-time classic ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ and another double-‘A’ in ‘Stupid Cupid’ / ‘Carolina Moon’. They were great rock ‘n’ roll singles (OK, ‘Carolina Moon’ was a bang-average ballad, but still). This though… this is not for me. It’s beautifully sang, gorgeously orchestrated, all that kind of thing, but no. I give thanks that the days of overwrought dramatic ballads hitting #1 are long gone.

‘Mama’ was from Francis’s album ‘Italian Favourites’. She is Italian-American, although she apparently couldn’t speak the language fluently and had to get a tutor to correct her pronunciation as she sang. And perhaps she was ahead of the curve… In a few months Elvis would return from his stint in the army by belting out ‘It’s Now or Never‘ and ‘Surrender‘ – both based on old Italian hits.

Had this made it to #1 then the most interesting thing about it would have been that it was sung largely in a foreign language – not many chart-toppers can claim that – and that it was four minutes long (making it the longest #1 up to that point.) But it didn’t, so all that is moot.

Luckily for us, just before ‘Mama’ lulls us into a stupor, we can flip the disc and enjoy ‘Robot Man’. It’s Connie Francis ™ rock ‘n’ roll by numbers – a mix of ‘Stupid Cupid’ and ‘Lipstick on Your Collar’ – but it’s more than welcome. Plus it’s got a bizarre B-movie sounding intro because, well, robots.

Connie’s sick of ‘real life boys’ giving her grief, so she wishes she could have a robot man. (Or, as Connie sings it in her New Jersey-by-way-of-Alabama twang, a roo-bot mayun.) That way, she wouldn’t have to put up with any of his human shit. We would never fight, Cos it would be impossible for him to speak!

But, if science fiction has taught us anything it is that robots don’t stay obedient for long. They will learn, they will evolve, and they will enslave us. Soon Connie will be chained to a bucket and mop, reminiscing about flesh and blood boys whose worst fault was that they didn’t phone.

Another runner-up tomorrow…