Common Thread: Rare Performance Turns from Famous Producers (Part 2)

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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A World Without Love, Peter & Gordon (1964, Capitol)

One of the more underrated acts of the British Invasion, Peter Asher and Gordon Waller racked up a very impressive run of ten U.S. Top Forty hits between 1964 and 1967 that included three Top Ten hits, one of them – the highly infectious title track of this disc, just one of many hits written for the duo by Paul McCartney – a Number One smash. [That they were labelmates with the Beatles wasn’t Peter’s only connection to McCartney – Paul dated Peter’s sister Jane and even took up residence at the Asher family household for several years in the mid-‘60s.] After the duo split, Asher largely gave up performing and retreated behind the scenes, first working as an A&R representative for Apple Records and then becoming a producer for one of Apple’s earliest discoveries, James Taylor. Asher would go on to produce the bulk of Taylor’s albums from 1969 through 1985, including Sweet Baby James, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, JT, and Dad Loves His Work, and would also go on to produce most of Linda Ronstadt’s albums during the same time period, most notably Heart Like a Wheel, Simple Dreams, and Mad Love. Asher’s also produced albums for 10,000 Maniacs (In My Tribe, Blind Man’s Zoo), Andrew Gold (What’s Wrong with This Picture), and Bonnie Raitt (The Glow).   

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Where Were You When I Needed You, Grass Roots (1966, Dunhill)

The Grass Roots’ history is a slightly complicated one: with Rob Grill as lead singer (and future The Office co-star Creed Bratton on guitar!), the band was a regular fixture on the Top 40 between 1967 and 1972, crafting such enduring radio classics as “Temptation Eyes” and the Top Ten smashes “Let’s Live for Today,” “Midnight Confessions,” and the criminally underrated “Sooner or Later.” But the very first of the band’s fourteen Top 40 hits – the title track of this debut album from the group – and its parent album were actually recorded by the duo of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, who had already written such hits together as Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” Herman’s Hermits “A Must to Avoid,” and Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” The band The 13th Floor was recruited to become the new Grass Roots, and Sloan and Barri retreated behind the scenes, the latter man continuing to produce the Grass Roots through the early ‘70s. Barri would also go on to produce Number One hits for the likes of Tommy Roe (“Dizzy”), John Sebastian (“Welcome Back”), Alan O’Day (“Undercover Angel”), Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (“Billy, Don’t Be a Hero”) and Rhythm Heritage (“Theme from S.W.A.T.”).

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Music to Watch Girls By, Bob Crewe Generation (1967, DynoVoice)

The instrumental title cut of this album might be the only hit Bob Crewe ever had under his own name, but few people in the music business have a resume quite as impressive as his. Crewe was instrumental to the success of the Four Seasons, producing and/or co-writing nearly all of their ‘60s hits, including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Rag Doll,” as well as such Frankie Valli hits as “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Swearin’ to God,” and “My Eyes Adored You” and the Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels hits “Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Jenny Take a Ride” and “Sock It to Me Baby!.”  Crewe’s also co-written LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” the Walker Brothers’ “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” Lesley Gore’s “California Nights,” Disco Tex & the Sex-o-Lettes’ “Get Dancin’,” Freddy Cannon’s “Tallahassee Lassie,” Diane Renay’s “Navy Blue,” the Tremeloes’ “Silence Is Golden,” and the Rays’ doo-wop classic “Silhouettes.”

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Feelin’ Groovy, Harpers Bizarre (1967, Warner Bros.)

This baroque-pop group’s debut disc spawned two Top 40 hits, the #37-peaking “Come to the Sunshine” and the #13 smash – and Simon & Garfunkel cover – “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” (Contrary to popular misconception, the Simon & Garfunkel version of the song was never released as an A-side in the U.S., though it ultimately appeared on 45 as the B-side to “At the Zoo,” so Harpers Bizarre technically had the bigger hit with the song.) That the group split up turned out to be a blessing in disguise for pop fans everywhere – the band’s drummer Ted Templeman would go on to serve as the regular producer for both The Doobie Brothers (helming all their studio albums from their self-titled debut through 1980’s One Step Closer) and Van Halen (who he’d work with from their 1978 self-titled debut through 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge) and also helm David Lee Roth’s first two solo albums, Sammy Hagar’s VOA, Michael McDonald’s first three post-Doobies solo albums, Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey and Saint Dominic’s Preview, Little Feat’s Sailin’ Shoes and Time Loves a Hero, Carly Simon’s Another Passenger, Nicolette Larson’s first three full-lengths (including the hit single “Lotta Love”), Patrick Simmons’ Arcade, and Tom Johnston’s Everything You’ve Heard Is True, just to name some of his biggest credits.

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Everything Playing, Lovin’ Spoonful (1967, Kama Sutra)

John Sebastian may be the only member of this beloved pop outfit to have gone on to score a solo hit (thanks to his 1976 chart-topper “Welcome Back,” the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter), but he’s not the only Spoonful alumnus to thrive in the music industry after the group’s breakup. Jerry Yester – who had already played piano on the band’s delicious debut single, “Do You Believe in Magic” – replaced original member Zal Yanovsky just in time to serve as a full-time player on this album (which spawned the group’s final hits in “She Is Still a Mystery” and “Six O’Clock” and also sports such fine cuts as “Younger Generation” and “Money”). Yester would retreat behind the scenes in the ‘70s and produce such critically-heralded albums as Tim Buckley’s Happy/Sad and Goodbye and Hello and Tom Waits’ Closing Time. Not that Yester abandoned performing entirely – he spent part of the early ‘70s as a member of The Association, a band he’d not only produced in the past (he helmed their second album, Renaissance) but one which his brother Jim Yester had been a full-time member of since 1965!

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Happy Together, The Turtles (1967, White Whale)

Though no one from the Turtles ever went on to solo stardom per se, the band’s alumni certainly went on to help create many a hit record. Bandleaders Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman – aka Flo and Eddie – went on to sing backing vocals on everything from T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” to the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” while drummer John Barbata went on to play with Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young (he can be heard on their live album 4 Way Street) before spending most of the ‘70s as the full-time sticksman for Jefferson Starship. Joel Larson (who’d already played alongside Emmitt Rhodes in the Merry-Go-Round) went on to play with Lee Michaels (it’s Larson’s forceful drumming you hear on “Do You Know What I Mean”) and serve as a member of the Grass Roots from 1971 through 1975. Chip Douglas only recorded one album with the Turtles as a full-time member before trying his hand as a producer at the urging of Mike Nesmith. Douglas would take to the role winningly, helming three albums for the Monkees (Headquarters; Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd.; and The Birds, The Bees, and the Monkees) and such hit singles as “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Daydream Believer.” Following his work with the Monkees, Douglas would return to the Turtles as their producer and helm their smash hits “Elenore” and “You Showed Me.”

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Everything’s Archie, The Archies (1968, Kirshner)

The ‘60s equivalent of Gorillaz, the Archies were quite literally a fictional band based on the legendary comic book and animated cartoon series. Naturally, the “band” never toured, but that didn’t prevent them from scoring a string of hits, including the massive Number One hit “Sugar, Sugar,” thanks to the help of such notable songwriters as Andy Kim (who’d later top the charts on his own with “Rock Me Gently”) and Jeff Barry and backing vocals from Bobby Bloom (“Montego Bay”) and Ellie Greenwich. Toni Wine (who had co-written the Mindbenders hit “Groovy Kind of Love”) would provide the singing voices of Veronica and Betty on their first two albums; she’d later go on to co-write the Tony Orlando & Dawn hits “Candida” and “Knock Three Times.” The singing voice of Archie would be provided by Ron Dante, who’d formerly been a member of both the Detergents (who scored a major hit with “Leader of the Laundromat,” a spoof of the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack”) and the Cuff Links (it’s Dante who sings lead vocals on their Top Five smash “Tracy.”) But in the ‘70s, Dante would turn his attention to producing, and he’d have great success in that department, going on to produce all of Barry Manilow’s albums from his 1973 self-titled debut through 1980’s Barry.