Saturday, April 16, 2011

Amy Rigby’s “Dancing with Joey Ramone”

Text © Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Music and images from the Internet

Amy Rigby is one of the cooler singer songwriters on the scene. She’s the girl your parents didn’t want you to play with, or date. Tough and tender at the same time, with a rough and lovely voice, and a hard strum on her acoustic guitar, she can be considered an anti-folk poster child – er – woman.

More one of the guys, she retains a strong sense of oomph that one might link to the Shangri-Las or Ronettes; she’s a smooth bottle of malt that has just the right kick at the end. Okay, enough with the analogies, here is one of my favorite songs of hers, “Dancing with Joey Ramone” (from her Little Fugitive album), accompanied by her husband, the Wreckless Eric.

She mentions a lot of great music within the song. So raising it from the meta-, here is are the tunes she references:

The Temptations: Papa Was a Rolling Stone
While a club may not play the full 7-minute version (depending on the venue, of course), it’s still a sharp number with a throbbing rhythm that highlighted an urban problem that was not commonly discussed in the ‘60s, but if anyone could do it with a sharp tone and keep the melody, it’s the Temps to show us it’s still a ball of confusion, even if it’s within one’s own family.

Blondie: Hanging on the Telephone
One of the better Chrysalis period songs by Blondie (I still like the first Private Stock album best) from the Parallel Lines album, this is a solid cover of the Nerves’ song. You can hear Debbie’s solid Jersey accent in it.

The Nerves: Hanging on the Telephone
Though most likely it was the Blondie version that she was talking about, Rigby is cool enough to be possibly referencing the original, so I’ve included them both. Yes, I own this, and yes, I prefer it of the two. Jack Lee (vocal / guitar) is killer on it, and it also helps that he’s backed by the likes of Peter Case (bass) and Paul Collins (drum). They only released one 7-inch EP.

The Brooklyn Bridge: The Worst That Could Happen
Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge were discovered at a nightclub in Bay
Ridge, Brooklyn (it was on 86 St and Sixth Ave., across the highway from the now-Blockbuster Video Store). Even after fame would rise and fall for Maestro (d. 2010), he would often play at that club, as well as do local shows such as at the Walker Theater in Bensonhurst. He had a pure doo-wop voice that never failed, sounding great throughout his life. Before the BB, he was the lead singer of the Crests, who did “16 Candles,” “The Angels Listened In,” and one of my faves of the period, the lyrically silly-but-fun “Trouble in Paradise.” Unfortunately, the BB did not have as many hits as the Crests, though everyone knows “The Worst…” (written by Jimmy Webb).

The Crystals: He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)
This controversial song is loved now for its kitsch factor (and that it was done by one of the better girl groups of the ‘60s), but when it was released it was quickly pulled from radio rotation because of the message it was delivering (i.e., promoting violence against women). While I agree, it also seems a double standard since it’s the same tale as “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” except rather than Johnny hitting the other dude for dancing with “his” girl, he smacks her instead for being unfaithful. Both are ridiculous messages, despite being catchy tunes.

Dave Clark Five: Glad All Over
Growing up in the ‘60s, the DC5 were one of my favorite British Invasion bands (more so than even the Beatles at the time). Mike Smith’s (d. 2008) vocals were strong, and the band’s drive and harmony had me hooked. The “thump-thump” between chorus lines and Smith’s soaring keys hooked me in right away. They had so many great songs, like “Catch Us If You Can” (the first song of theirs to catch my attention when I saw the film Having a Wild Weekend), “Bits and Pieces,” and “Anyway You Want It.”

The Searchers: Needles and Pins
Written by Sonny Bono for Cher's solo album, fortunately it was the Mersey Beat group The Searchers who made it to the charts with the tune. I actually had the priveledge to hear them play at a Richard Nader show at a half-filled Madison Square Garden in the early '70s (one of my first shows). There has always been sort of a cult following for the Searches, more so it seems than many of the other MB bands.

The Ronettes: Be My Baby
The story goes that Ronnie Bennett only needed a single take to make this classic, one of the many great songs she did before being locked away for years by her producer husband Phil Spector (as for Phil, now that, my friends, is karma). And Ronnie being friends with Joey (as well as the Dead Boys and Patti Smith!) makes it all the more appropriate to be included here. This is not just a song, but it is iconic for the time and girl-group style.

The Shadows of Knight: Gloria
Along with “Wild Thing,” “Gloria” is one of the first songs a novice guitarist will likely pick out. Written by Van Morrison and first recorded by his band, Them, the cooler kids know that it’s the Shadows of Knight version that is definitive. Sure, Patti Smith would turn it over and make it her own, but in the garage rock lexicon, “Gloria” belongs to the SoK. This rendering below is a live recording, and is pretty long. Like “Roadrunner,” its basic melody can be played for an extended periods, looping along the identifiable riff.

The Chiffons: He’s So Fine
“Doo-lang-doo-lang-doo-lang…” My ex-managing editor, Stacy, had a fixation for this song back in the late ‘70s, and quite understandably. Even though they had so many great recordings, such as “One Fine Day” and the gender groundbreaking “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” the “doo-lang” of the chorus is instantly recognizable and keeps one singing along.

The Coasters : Charlie Brown
Mostly considered a “novelty” group (“Yakety Yak,” “Along Came Jones”), the Coasters also had many straight hits, such as “Poison Ivy.” They definitely were a fun band who pushed the envelope on what was becoming standardized doo-wop, into a bit of the wild side, which again makes it appropriate to be mentioned here. For example, this song is one of the first that has a juvenile delinquent as the main protagonist. I’m sure that sat well in the Deep South.

The Dovells : Can’t Sit Down
This song from 1963 was the precursor to some of the wilder side of American rock’n’roll that wouldn’t be tamed by the Beatles, such as the Count V’s “Psychotic Reaction” or even Sam the Sham and the Pharaoh’s “Wooly Bully.” The Dovells started out with the wonderful “The Bristol Stomp,” and continued to be hard edged through this song, which was quite frantic and fast for its period.

The Ramones : Blitzkrieg Bop
Do I really need to explain (a) why this is here, (b) how important this song is, and (c) just how amazing a tune it is (albeit overplayed)?

Bonus Videos:
Ramones: Needles and Pins

The Dahlmanns: Dancing with Joey Ramone

The Crests: Trouble in Paradise

Dave Clark Five: Having a Wild Weekend trailer

L7: Hanging on the Telephone

Sleater-Kinney: I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone


  1. This is great but I'm sorry to have to tell you that you missed I Feel Alright - He's So Fine and I Feel Alright, Charlie Brown...

  2. And You Can't Sit Down by The Phil Upchurch Combo