Anybody out there remember when Senator Bobby had a hit record?
It was back in the earliest months of 1967 when the Senator’s version of the Troggs immortal “Wild Thing” inched its way up the charts. True, the quirky cover version peaked at the number twenty position and only spent four weeks in the Billboard Top Forty, but even with the limited exposure such middling sales insured, the combination of a faux Bobby Kennedy very awkwardly “singing” the lasciviously primitive rock anthem was more than enough to guarantee at least one sale - to ME!
You’re all familiar with the now-famous Kennedy Boston accent, right? And you probably know most of the overly simplistic lyrics to “Wild Thing” too, I’m betting. Okay, then - take a moment and try combining the two in your head!
Plain out and out hilarious, huh?
Well, it is - ESPECIALLY if you’re a fourteen year old boy at the time!
Man, I played that 45 over and over, and then over again, so much so that I knew every single vocal nuance and aside by heart!
I just discovered that there’s a very short article posted over at the Time website, extracted from the magazine’s January 13, 1967 issue, one that deals with the record (here’s the link). To give you a slightly better idea of what I’m babbling about, allow me to quote them quoting some of the record’s lyrics:
“Stand by,” the control room orders. “This is ‘Wild Thing,’ Take 72, Senator.” The music begins. “Bobby” comes on in the heavy-breathing opening stanzas with all the lustiness of a dried cod:
Wild thing, you make my heart sing. You make everything groovy. Wild thing.
“That’s perfect, Senator,” says the producer. “Lay it on them.” “All right,” the Senator tells his sidemen, “Teddy, on the ocarina, let’s go . . . Eunice, a little more tempo there.” Then Bobby is cued for the big sock finish. “Come on and hold me tight,” he begins laconically, but from the control room a voice interrupts: “A little more Boston soul, Senator.” Later, when he waxes too hot (”O come on, wild thing”), the producer cautions: “Not so ruthless, Senator.”
Yeah, that used to break me up every time!
And as a bonus - a big, BIG bonus - the flip side of this single featured the very same musical track, only “sung” by a Senator McKinley. This. y’see, was a parody of the long-time Illinois Senator (1950-1969), Everett McKinley Dirksen, an elderly, gravel-voiced politico whose flag-waving, spoken-word ditty. “Gallant Men”, was topping out at number 29 on the charts that very same month of January.
(Need I mention that THAT was one slab of round vinyl I took a pass on? I thought not…)
While not nearly as well known as the dulcet tones of a Kennedy, the growling impersonation effected by Senator McKinley - think a slightly less intelligible version of Soupy Sales pet canine, White Fang - was nearly as laugh-inducing as the record’s A side. At the time, I had no idea who was responsible for this two-sided gem, but thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I’ve since learned it was an actor named Bill Minkin (who later also apparently appeared in the film Taxi Driver, among a whole slew of other credits), working in conjunction with a comedy troupe called Hardly Worthit. The group released an entire LP of political yuks as well, and I imagine things were going along just swimmingly…
Then Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
That put the kibosh on any Senator Bobby follow-ups (I would’ve liked to have heard him take a go at “Light My Fire”…), but - in a strange and extremely weird twist - nonetheless helped lay the foundation for the oddest Top Ten record of all time…
But first, a digression of sorts.
Back in August, my long-time pal, Roger Green - along with his lovely wife and daughter - stopped by for their annual visit. Inasmuch as Rog and I are the same age, and knowing him to be a repository of pop music info, I eventually got around to asking him if he was at all familiar with Senator Bobby’s version of “Wild Thing”. Most people, I’ve found, aren’t. Sadly, Roger was no exception to this anecdotal rule. Even more sadly, there was no possible way I could share the inspired wackiness of this fabled recording with him, as, to the best of my knowledge, not only isn’t there a CD reissue floating around anywhere out there, but I myself no longer even own my copy of that precious little 45rpm disc! (I have NO idea what became of it - I’ve generally been pretty good about carting along everything I ever bought previous to turning legal age my entire adult life, but this unique memento mysteriously escaped my clutches long, long ago. Damn…)
Anyhow, failing to land on the same page during our “Wild Thing” discussion (though I did drop in the provocative fact that the song was written by Chip Taylor, Jon Voight’s brother - and thus, uncle to the prototypical Wild Thing herself, Ms. Angelina Jolie!…), the conversation soon turned to ANOTHER politically connected cover version. But here’s the odd thing: Roger began talking about a post-Dion take on “Abraham, Martin, and John”, which, while it didn’t ring a bell with me, prompted me in turn to counter with memories of a post-Jackie DeShannon version of “What The World Needs Now Is Love” - and it STILL took us a few minutes to realize we were both talking about the very SAME recording!! Because, while I had completely forgotten the “AM&J” portion of the recording, there’s NO way I could’ve EVER forgotten the rest of the most peculiar number to ever crack the Top Ten - even though I hadn’t heard it since it reached the number eight position on the Billboard charts back during the summer of 1971 - Tom Clay’s astounding “What The World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin, and John”! !
Understand please that, even though I’ve frequently listened to Oldies radio stations in the three and a half subsequent decades, this was one disc that absolutely NEVER was exhumed for a revival spin after its initial burst of popularity! Sure, you might well hear oddities like “The Ballad of the Green Berets” and “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Ha!” on rare occasions, but trust me, the aforementioned (you should pardon the initials) “WTHWNNIL/AM&J” never, ever left the vault.
Imagine then my twisted sense of delight when Roger confessed to actually OWNING a copy of this elusive track!
The Mowest single release (Mowest being a subsidiary of Motown - and more on THAT later) appeared on Mr. G’s copy of “20 Hard-To-Find Motown Classics, Volume Two” (as well as the somewhat easier to obtain “Motown Sings Bacharach”), and recently Roger - who maintains his own illuminating webpage, Ramblin’ With Roger, don’tcha know - created a theme CD of his own entitled “John, Bobby, and John”, a compilation on songs dealing with John Lennon, RFK, and JFK. Appropriately, Roger chose to end the proceedings with the number currently under discussion - and you can read all about Roger’s disc (which, yes, he ever so kindly sent me a copy of) by going here. (Nice job overall, Rog, though excuse me if I pick a few nits - where was Elton John’s Lennon tribute “Empty Garden”, or the Byrds JFK salute “He Was A Friend Of Mine”? Sorry, but I felt compelled to ask…)
Credited to a long-time Detroit DJ, Tom Clay, the recording commences with a man - presumably Clay - asking a young girl (who couldn’t have been very much older than three, if that) a series of questions, as the tinkling piano strains of Bacharach’s popular melody plays quietly in the background…
Man: What is segregation?
Girl: I don’t know what seggeration is.
Man: What is bigotry?
Girl: I don’t know what biggery is.
Man: What does… hatred mean?
Girl: I don’t know what that is..
Man: What is prejudice?
Girl: Hmm.. I think its when someone’s sick.
The toddler’s innocent mispronunciations add an extra layer of pathos, but before things get too cute, we segue sharply into the sound of marching troops and then gunfire. Good morning Viet Nam!
After that startling interlude, the Blackberries - the female trio providing vocals for the recording - offer up a brief snippet of “Abraham, Martin, and John”, after which, things get REALLY weird…
We’re suddenly transported back in Dallas on that dark, dark day of November 22nd, 1963. Apparently we’re listening to an on scene reporter’s broadcast as he witnesses first hand that infamous moment in history, all the while the girls croon “What The World Need Now Is Love” mournfully in the background. Here’s just a short portion of his report:
Somethings happened here, we understand there has been a shooting. The presidential car coming up now, we know its the presidential car. We can see Mrs. Kennedy’s pink suit, there’s a Secret Service man spread eagle over the top of the car. We understand Governor and Mrs. Connolly are in the car, with President and Mrs. Kennedy. We can’t see who has been hit if anybody’s been hit, but apparently something is wrong here, something is terribly wrong…
Yeah, don’t we know it.
Then we soon shift to another voice..
We interrupt this program to bring you a special bulletin: Dallas Texas, the flash, apparently official: President John F. Kennedy died, at 1 p.m., central standard time.
Another quick stanza of “AM&J”, and it’s time for some stirring excerpts of Martin Luther Kings’ famous “Mountaintop” speech, all the while - yes - the ladies continue to croon Hal David’s well-intentioned lyrical plea for peace over Burt B.s warm melody.
Back again to “AM&J” (which, compared to the other tune, makes but a cameo appearance on this audio melange, readily explaining why I so easily managed to forget its inclusion, pivotal though the usage of its transitional nature may be…), and now it’s Bobby’s turn. He triumphantly tells his campaign workers that it’s on to Chicago in his bid for the Presidential nomination, but then - uh oh - shots ring out!
Again we get to listen to the words of an on the spot reporter, and these are even more chilling than those of the fellow who watched as JFK’s motorcade sped away. Clearly shocked, the reporter implores the crowd surrounding the fallen Robert F. Kennedy to quickly subdue the assassin, and to track star Rafer Johnson, “Get the gun Rafer! Break his thumb if you have to!”, concluding with “We don’t want another Oswald”, which is used as a cue for our final “AM&J” segue, morphing into Teddy Kennedy’s eulogy for his slain brother, his voice quivering, near to breaking at several junctures. As the heartfelt tribute to JFK by his younger sibling RFK concludes (you all KNOW what the gals are singing in the background by now, right?…), the dialogue between Clay and the little girl that kicked things off is replayed once again in its entirety, giving the nearly six and a half minute recording a cold - and stark - ending when she innocently utters her line about prejudice being when somebody is sick.
It’s an… interesting piece of work to be sure, something you might want to hear once, maybe twice, but certainly not something that stood up well to the scrutiny afforded the heavy airtime a top ten hit of the day generally received. And yet, there it was, played nearly as often as the then latest Three Dog Night smash (and I think everyone of a certain age can testify just how annoying the phrase “Jeremiah was a bullfrog, he was a good friend of mine” all too soon became…).
My most vivid memory of “WWTNNIL/AM&J” came while sitting on a warm, sunny Long Island beach with some friends one late summer day in 1971, the transistor radio tuned to 77 WABC-AM, the mood peaceful and mellow, when suddenly THIS thing comes piping out of the tiny speakers! No, it wasn’t the first time we’d heard it - not by a long shot. Fact is, me and my buddies had long since been inured to its poignant message, as the incessant repetition eventually spawned instead some mindless teen-age mockery (I was 18 by this time - but not particularly mature for my age. Some say that still…). The well-intentioned - if somewhat morbid - purpose behind this aural montage soon gave way from a thoughtful consideration on the nature of violence in our society to a bounty of inappropriate jokey catch phrases. Each one of my buddies - fine, decent fellows, every last one, I assure you - all took a turn at imitating that poor, clueless little girl! And who could even count the number of times the command, “Get the gun, Rafer! Break his thumb if you have to!” was used as a giggle inducing non sequiter in my little circle of goofball associates? Sitting on a blanket that day, expecting to hear a Beach Boy surfin’ classic, or maybe something by Tommy James and the Shondells, this instead came over the airwaves like a bucket of cold water thrown right in the face! WHAT were they thinking?
I never found out. Tom Clay never had another hit, and back then, if you had a question about some obscure topic or another, well, good luck, brother.
But that was then and this is now, and now we have Google! So, thanks to my buddy Roger giving me the opportunity to hear this curious cut again for the first time in (ulp) 35 years, I thought it was high time to investigate matters a mite bit further. Here’s what I found..,
Clay was indeed a popular Detroit DJ back in the fifties and sixties, but by the early seventies, he had no steady gig. Eventually, he landed a three week fill-in job on KGBS, and, overwhelmed by the spirit of the times, put together his little medley, apparently with no plans whatsoever to release it on vinyl. However, one night, Berry Gordy - head honcho of Motown Records - heard the piece, and was impressed enough to offer Clay a contract to release it for real on the aforementioned Mowest label. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that, years earlier, Clay had been instrumental in propelling Marv Johnson’s “Come To Me” - the very first Motown hit - onto the local charts while working at another Detroit station, helping to launch an empire in the process. So obviously, Gordy owed the man a favor, and if he could accomplish same while concurrently extolling a message of peace and tolerance to the masses, well, all the better.
Of course, once Clay’s follow-up number, “Whatever Happened To” stiffed big time, that was the end of his association with Motown. Whatever happened to, indeed…
But that’s not quite the end of our story. In his blog, Roger wondered if this was the same Tom Clay also responsible for a 1964 Beatles novelty recording (take a look here). Yup Rog, same guy - even though, as noted next to the photos of said memorabilia, Clay never actually got to accompany the winners of the contest sponsored in his name to the Beatles’ Detroit show, as he’d already left the station by that time. Why? Well, perhaps this excerpt from the Tom Clay entry over at Answers.com will shed a little light…
He left CKLW in 1965 on the heels of a questionable promotional scheme, one of many Clay masterminded over the years. Over CKLW’s airwaves, Clay offered a membership card to what he called the Beatles Booster Club for one dollar and an SASE. What donators were supposed to receive was a card or a decal. The responses were overwhelming, lining Clay’s pockets with more than 86,000 dollars, as there were more than 86,000 letters in Clay’s recently rented P.O. box. With cash in hand, Clay resigned from CKLW and lived lavishly for awhile.
Yessirree folks, that’s right - according to Internet sources (which are rarely, if ever, wrong), the man who appealed so creatively to the social conscience of a generation of AM radio listeners in 1971 had, only a short half decade earlier, lined his pockets with their mailed-in dollar bills with a scam that puts Soupy Sales jokey attempt at same completely to shame!
“What the world needs now is love?” Perhaps, but it would seem that for Clay, “All You Need Is Cash”!
Sigh. We sure could’ve used Senator Bobby at a time like that.
What the world truly needs now is Hembeck.com! Get the link, Rafer! But try not to break your thumb…
-Copyright 2006 Fred Hembeck
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