Common Thread: Rare Performance Turns from Famous Producers (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Common Thread is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which we offer up mini-reviews of a small (and often very diverse) assortment of albums that all have one specific shared trait; that "common thread" can vary from column to column. 

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Jimmy Bowen, Jimmy Bowen (1957, Roulette)

Bowen was one of the earliest rockabilly stars and, as a teen, reached the Top 40 with this disc’s “I’m Stickin’ with You,” co-written with his friend Buddy Knox, whose Number One hit “Party Doll” Bowen also co-wrote. Bowen’s fame as a performer was short-lived, but he’d go on in the ‘60s to be brought in as an in-house producer for Reprise Records, a role in which he flourished, producing a steady stream of hits for the likes of Frank Sinatra (including “Strangers in the Night” and “Somethin’ Stupid”), Dean Martin (including “Everybody Loves Somebody”), and Sammy Davis, Jr..   

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The Teddy Bears Sing!, The Teddy Bears (1959, Imperial)

This trio had just one hit, but it was a big one: “To Know Him Is to Love Him” went all the way to Number One.  Carol Connors would go on to co-write two very big songs – the Rip Chords’ “Hey Little Cobra” and Bill Conti’s chart-topping Rocky theme “Gonna Fly Now” – but she’s not even the most famous alumnus of the group. That would be the legendary Phil Spector, who’d go on – following early productions for the likes of Ray Peterson (“Corrine, Corrina”), Curtis Lee (“Pretty Little Angel Eyes”) and the Paris Sisters (“I Love How You Love Me”) – to start Philles Records and create his own trademark “Wall of Sound” production style that would result in a long string of hits for the likes of the Righteous Brothers (including “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “Unchained Melody”), the Crystals, the Ronettes, and Darlene Love. Spector would also go on – following the demise of Philles – to co-produce the Beatles’ Let It Be, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, John Lennon’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies Man, and the Ramones’ End of the Century. He’s also responsible for producing A Christmas Gift for You, arguably the most well-known and highly-revered holiday album of the rock era.

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The Lion Sleeps Tonight, The Tokens (1961, RCA)

Nearly everyone is familiar with the chart-topping title track from this disc and its chants of “Wimoweh,” but certainly fewer people realize that the members of the Tokens (often mistaken as one-hit wonders, though they actually had three additional Top 40 hits) were even more successful behind the scenes than they were as performers. They’d start their own record label, for one, in B.T. Puppy, which found success with the group The Happenings, best known for their enduring oldies-radio classic “See You in September.” They also worked extensively as producers, helming such vital singles as the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,” “One Fine Day,” and “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” and Randy & the Rainbows’ “Denise,” while Hank Medress went on to rack up an extraordinary run of hit singles in the ‘70s as the full-time co-producer for Tony Orlando & Dawn. The band would quietly reunite (without the in-demand Medress) in the early ‘70s under the moniker of Cross Country and score a final Top 40 hit with a hazy, slowed-down remake of Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour.”

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Eddie Holland, Eddie Holland (1962, Motown)
Out Here on My Own, Lamont Dozier (1973, ABC)

Motown’s had many first-rate songwriting teams over the years – Nicholas Ashford & Valerie Simpson,  The Corporation (the team behind the earliest Jackson 5 hits like “I Want You Back” and “ABC”), and Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong, to name just a few – but none were more invaluable than the legendary team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, made up of Lamont Dozier and brothers Eddie and Brian Holland. Together, the men both wrote and produced nearly every major hit released by the Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas, and the Four Tops between 1963 and 1967, also writing and producing such other great sides along the way as the Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart of Mine,” Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved By You),” “Can I Get a Witness,” “Baby, Don’t You Do It,” and “You’re a Wonderful Gone,” the Elgins’ “Heaven Must Have Sent You,” and Jr. Walker & the All-Stars’ “(I’m a) Road Runner.” After leaving Motown, they continued to write and produce hits for acts like Freda Payne (“Band of Gold”), the Flaming Ember (“Westbound #9”), the Honey Cone (“Want Ads”), and Chairmen of the Board (“Give Me Just a Little More Time”); Brian (who had co-written the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman”) and Eddie would write Michael Jackson’s “Just a Little Bit of You”; and Lamont Dozier would write Alison Moyet’s “Invisible” and both co-write and produce Phil Collins’ “Two Hearts.” It’s a wonder the men ever found time to record anything for themselves, but that they did, and few people realize these days that both Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier have Top 40 hits to call their very own, the former man accomplishing that feat with 1963’s #30-peaking “Jamie,” while the latter scored two sizable hits in 1974 with the Out Here on My Own singles “Fish Ain’t Bitin’” and “Tryin’ to Hold on to My Woman.”

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The Rising Surf, Richie Allen & the Pacific Surfers (1963, Imperial)

Richard Podolor’s biggest commercial success in the ‘60s came as a session guitarist (most notably, he and Glen Campbell are the two guitarists you hear on the Hondells’ “Little Honda”), though he also moonlighted as “Richie Allen,” the leader of this much-regarded (if only modestly commercially successful) surf-rock outfit. But by the ‘70s, he had branched out into producing, an area where he quickly became in hot demand, helming albums for Iron Butterfly (Metamorphosis), Steppenwolf (Steppenwolf 7, For Ladies Only), and the Blues Image (Ride Captain Ride, the title track of which went Top Five). Even more impressively, he produced every Three Dog Night studio album from 1970’s It Ain’t Easy through 1973’s Cyan, helming such enduring singles along the way as “Joy to the World,” “Shambala,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” “Black and White,” “Never Been to Spain,” and “Mama Told Me (Not to Come).” In subsequent years, he’d go on to produce the self-titled debut from country-rock supergroup Souther-Hillman-Furay Band (and its hit single “Fallin’ in Love”) and both solo albums from former Dwight Twilley Band member Phil Seymour, who’d nearly reach the Top 20 in 1981 with the Podolor-produced “Precious to Me.”  

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The Raindrops, The Raindrops (1963, Jubilee)

You might assume from first glance at the titles on this disc – “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Hanky Panky” in particular – that the Raindrops were a covers act, but you’d be wrong. In fact, Raindrops members Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich were actually responsible for writing and producing those seminal ‘60s classics, in addition to such other hits as the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love,” the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack,” the Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me,” the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” Lesley Gore’s “Maybe I Know,” and the Beach Boys’ “I Can Hear Music,” to name just a few. [They also produced all of Neil Diamond’s earliest singles, including “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman.”] This one-off record from the couple (who were married from 1962 to 1965) did give them a hit of their own in “The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget,” which reached #17 in 1963. After their split, Barry would go on to produce the Monkees (it’s Barry who helmed their biggest hit of all, “I’m a Believer,” as well as “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”), co- write the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” and, with Peter Allen, co-write Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You” (he’d also co-write the theme songs for The Jeffersons and Family Ties!), while Greenwich would become an in-demand background vocalist, popping up on albums by everyone from Blondie (most notably on the hit single “Dreaming”) to Cyndi Lauper, and also create a hit Broadway musical based on her life and music called Leader of the Pack.