Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop

Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop

by Marc Myers

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“A winning look at the stories behind 45 pop, punk, folk, soul and country classics” in the words of Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper and more (The Washington Post).
Every great song has a fascinating backstory. And here, writer and music historian Marc Myers brings to life five decades of music through oral histories of forty-five era-defining hits woven from interviews with the artists who created them, including such legendary tunes as the Isley Brothers’ Shout, Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love, Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz, and R.E.M’s Losing My Religion.
After receiving his discharge from the army in 1968, John Fogerty did a handstand—and reworked Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to come up with Proud Mary. Joni Mitchell remembers living in a cave on Crete with the mean old daddy who inspired her 1971 hit Carey. Elvis Costello talks about writing (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes in ten minutes on the train to Liverpool. And Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart, the Clash, Jimmy Cliff, Roger Waters, Stevie Wonder, Keith Richards, Cyndi Lauper, and many other leading artists reveal the emotions, inspirations, and techniques behind their influential works.
Anatomy of a Song is a love letter to the songs that have defined generations of listeners and “a rich history of both the music industry and the baby boomer era” (Los Angeles Times Book Review).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802189653
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 11/01/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 145,190
File size: 9 MB

About the Author

Marc Myers is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal, where he writes about rock, soul, and jazz, as well as the arts. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Why Jazz Happened, and posts daily at, two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association’s award for Blog of the Year.

Read an Excerpt


Lawdy Miss Clawdy


Released: April 1952

Up until the early 1950s, records were marketed primarily to adults who could afford phonographs. Pre-teens and teens had radios and jukeboxes, but much of the music they heard reflected adult tastes. The turning point came in 1949, when RCA introduced the 45 — a virtually unbreakable vinyl disc with a large hole in the center. At first, RCA used the 45 to compete against Columbia's 33 1/3 album, which had been unveiled a year earlier. To take on its rival, RCA sold multiple 45s for each album and manufactured a special phonograph that could drop a stack of 45s individually onto the turntable, each one playing in turn. But by 1951, RCA realized that its efforts on behalf of the 45 were impractical compared with the ease of Columbia's LP, a format that quickly became the industry's preferred standard for albums. But the 45 had a bright future. In 1952, the jukebox industry announced it would begin replacing the heavy 78 with the lighter and more durable 45. Since most R&B recordings were heard on jukeboxes, that genre soon rolled over onto the 45.

R&B was also greatly helped by a second innovation — the magnetic-tape recorder, which began replacing the clunky "cutting" stylus and wax disc in recording studios in 1948. Tape improved fidelity; lowered the cost of recording, since music could be recorded, erased, and rerecorded on the same reel; and made musicians' mistakes easier to fix through splicing. As a result, less accomplished musicians were able to record, boosting the number of R&B recording artists in the early 1950s. Tape also enabled executives at small independent labels to travel the country with portable recorders in search of new talent. One of those executives was Art Rupe, owner of Specialty Records, a Los Angeles R&B and gospel label.

In early 1952, Rupe arrived in New Orleans, home of pianist Fats Domino, who had already recorded three R&B hit singles. Rupe traveled to New Orleans hoping to find other musicians with Domino's magic but instead wound up auditioning a nineteen-year-old singer named Lloyd Price, who was introduced to him by local bandleader and arranger Dave Bartholomew. In March, Rupe recorded Price singing an original song — "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" — with Domino on piano. The song became one of the first R&B recordings to dryly emphasize the second and fourth beats without the more common boogie-woogie jump-blues flourish found in songs such as "Rocket 88" (1951). After "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" was released in April 1952, it spent seven weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's R&B chart, becoming an early template for teen-directed rock 'n' roll.

Interviews with LLOYD PRICE (singer), DAVE BARTHOLOMEW (producer and arranger), ART RUPE (Specialty Records owner)

LLOYD PRICE: I grew up in Kenner, Louisiana, a rural suburb of New Orleans. As a child, I took a few trumpet lessons, but taught myself to sing and play piano. By the time I was seventeen, in 1950, I had a band and was singing at local clubs. We covered R&B jukebox hits, like "Blue Moon," "Good Rockin' Tonight," and "Honey Hush."

My mother was a great cook and owned a popular sandwich shop in Kenner called Beatrice's Fish 'n' Fry. I went there to eat and play the beat-up old piano she kept there. I was hoping to write and record a song that she could put in her jukebox. I hoped that fame would be my bus ticket out of town. The bigotry down there was unbelievable then.

One day, I was listening to WBOK and heard a black radio announcer named James "Okey Dokey" Smith, who had his own twenty-minute show. Okey Dokey's appeal was his funny way of grabbing your ear. He'd say things like, "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy, eat your mother's homemade pies and drink Maxwell House instant coffee." Maxwell House was his only sponsor.

I liked that line — "Lawdy Miss Clawdy." Days later, I was with my band at Morgan's, a club in Kenner, when I began fooling around on the piano with Okey Dokey's line. At some point, Okey Dokey came into the club and wandered over to where I was playing. He said, "Hey, you're doing my thing from the radio." He gave me a pat on the head and walked off.

Around this time, my girlfriend, Nellie, broke up with me. I was crushed. At my mom's sandwich shop, I was playing the piano and working on my song, "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," with pitiful sorrow in my voice. Halfway through, I just stopped in frustration. A customer asked what I was playing. I told him without turning around. He told me to play it again and sing all the words. When I finished, I looked up. Dave Bartholomew was standing next to me. I nearly fell off my chair.

Dave was one of the most important musicians in New Orleans back in the late 1940s and early '50s. He was a trumpeter, composer, arranger, and bandleader. He played all the black proms and big clubs. He also was a huge figure in the recording studios as an R&B producer.

DAVE BARTHOLOMEW: I had dropped in to get a sandwich when I heard Lloyd playing that piano. The feeling in his voice caught me. It was completely original. Art Rupe, the owner of Specialty Records, a gospel label in Los Angeles, was holding an audition in a few weeks in New Orleans for young singers. I thought Lloyd should come by and sing his song.

PRICE: When Dave told me I had a shot at recording, I couldn't believe it. Dave had cowritten, arranged, and played on Fats Domino's "The Fat Man," a big R&B hit in 1950. "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" sounded like it, but with a younger feel.

Weeks later, Dave called and told me to come down the next day to Cosimo Matassa's J&M Recording Studio on New Orleans' Rampart Street. That was like telling me to get on a plane and fly someplace. I had never been to the French Quarter. Fortunately I knew a bus driver who let me ride for free, and he directed me to the studio. At J&M, seven or eight musicians were there, and Dave was explaining how my song would go. Art was there, too. He loved gospel growing up in Pittsburgh and was trying to bring gospel singing together with an R&B beat.

ART RUPE: I had gone out to Hollywood in the early 1940s with hopes of becoming a writer for radio and film. I started my first R&B record label, Juke Box, in 1944, but changed the name to Specialty in 1946. By 1948, Specialty also was recording gospel, which soon had a big influence on R&B.

I went to New Orleans in '52 because I liked the Creole sound down there, particularly on Fats Domino's recordings. I wanted to emulate the sound. Cosimo owned the big R&B studio in town and put me in touch with Dave [Bartholomew]. At the audition, Lloyd was the only one who impressed me, based on the commercial potential of "Lawdy Miss Clawdy." Lloyd's voice and the way he sold it had gospel's intensity. Lloyd was nervous and shy, but he sang with such sincerity and passion that I decided to record him.

PRICE: When it was time to record "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," Fats Domino arrived and took over the piano. He started playing a boogie-woogie, but Dave stopped him. He wanted something different. So instead of playing boogie-woogie, Fats played the introduction like a tinkling piano roll. To this day, nobody has ever played that intro like Fats did that day.

Then drummer Earl Palmer came in and I started singing, with the horns and rhythm section behind me. Earl's beat was complex. He was hitting the second and fourth beats hard on the snare but also adding a 6/8 figure on the cymbal, picking up on Fats's piano triplets. The rest of Dave's band included Ernest McLean on guitar, Frank Fields on bass, Herbert Hardesty on tenor sax, Joe Harris on alto sax, and Jack Willis was on trumpet. There was no sheet music — it was all in their heads. We called it "padding" — the horns playing held notes behind me while I sang.

BARTHOLOMEW: Before Lloyd arrived for the audition, the band did a few run-downs to polish and tighten it up. We had a great time recording "Lawdy," but it was work to get it done just right.

PRICE: After the first take, Dave decided I needed a second verse, to turn the song into a story. I quickly wrote: "Because I gave you all my money/Girl, but you just won't treat me right/You like to ball in the mornin'/Don't come back till late at night." It wasn't hard. That's what my friends and I did all day — we'd make up lyrics. After we recorded this section, it was spliced in on the tape to lengthen the song.

When we finished, Art said, "Sounds great. What's the B-side?" I didn't know I needed to write a song for the record's other side. So I had to come up with something. With Fats playing a boogie-woogie, I wrote the lyrics for "Mailman Blues," which was really a jam session with solos. I was expecting my draft notice any day, so the lyrics related to that.

RUPE: I recorded Lloyd's songs on a two-track Magnecord tape recorder. Dave's arrangement and the musicians gave Lloyd's vocal greater urgency. Lloyd's soulful singing style had authenticity and would connect with teens who listened to the growing number of R&B radio stations.

PRICE: When we were done, there was no playback of the tape. That was it. The first time I heard myself on the record was four weeks later. I was helping my father and brother install a septic tank in our backyard. The radio was playing, and Okey Dokey announced my song. My brother looked up and said, "Hey, don't you have a song like that?" At the end, Okey announced my name. I felt like I was flying.

Even more remarkable was what Art did for me. If you wrote a blues or R&B song back then, you were lucky if you got credit for it. If you did, you often shared the credit with others who had nothing to do with it. They were on there just to feed off the royalties.

Art was different. He listed me as the sole writer, which is amazing when I think back on it. He had published the song, so he kept the publishing rights, but everything else on the writing side was mine.

RUPE: It never occurred to me to put my name on Lloyd's composition or that of any other songwriter. To do so would have been theft. My contribution was my role as record producer, publisher, and manager of the creative process. That's it.

PRICE: When the record came out, my mother opened her jukebox, moved all the records down one, and put "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" in the A-1 button spot. After that, every girl in Kenner wanted to ride in my car.


K.C. Loving


Released: Late 1952

In the summer of 1952, about 40 percent of all R&B records sold in Southern California were being bought by white teens, thanks largely to the region's growing number of independent radio stations. Teens cared little about the race or ethnicity of artists and more about a song's beat and feeling. They also were attracted to the energy and endurance of R&B instrumentalists such as saxophonists "Big Jay" McNeely, Red Prysock, Paul Williams, and Joe Houston. As television caught on faster than expected in the early 1950s, the Federal Communications Commission began issuing a greater number of radio licenses to independently owned stations to ensure that radio remained competitive. Many of these new, smaller radio stations played R&B records.

Few songs better illustrate the fickle R&B market in the early 1950s than "K.C. Loving." As Los Angeles became an R&B recording center, songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller found themselves with plenty of opportunity. R&B recording sessions needed not only songs but also musicians, arrangements, and overall management to ensure efficiency. Late in the summer of '52, Leiber and Stoller wrote "Kansas City," a bluesy coming-of-age song. At the last minute, Federal Records decided to change their title to "K.C. Loving," thinking it would better connect with African-American record buyers than just the name of the city. But when the single by Little Willie Littlefield was released at the end of '52, it failed to chart and soon faded away.

Seven years later, in 1959, little-known singer-pianist Wilbert Harrison recorded the song as a relaxed stroll with a shuffle beat. Retitled "Kansas City," the single featured finger-popping vocal phrasing by Harrison and a twangy electric guitar solo. The single shot to No. 1 on Billboard's pop and R&B charts, and it was followed by several additional cover versions, illustrating how timing and tweaking could turn a forgotten R&B song into a sensation. "Kansas City" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001 and though it may have been the bigger hit, it's hard to beat Maxwell Davis's tenor saxophone solo on "K.C. Loving."

Interviews with MIKE STOLLER (cowriter), BILLY DAVIS (guitarist with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters), and ALFRED "PEE WEE" ELLIS(saxophonist and arranger with James Brown)

MIKE STOLLER: I was still living at home in L.A. with my parents when Jerry [Leiber] and I wrote "K.C. Loving." We were both nineteen and had been writing together since 1950. Los Angeles back in '52 was a frenzy of R&B artists. Small record companies like Federal constantly needed songs. The guy who ran Federal was Ralph Bass, and he had us write for artists like Little Esther and Etta James. We'd teach them our songs and then they'd record them. Everything happened fast.

One day, Bass asked us to write a song about Kansas City for Little Willie Littlefield. Kansas City was the home of swing, jazz, and the blues — music that Jerry and I loved. It also was known as a pretty wild place. So Jerry and I set to work at my folks' house at 1444 South Norton Avenue. Off the living room they had a separate alcove with a sliding door and an upright piano. Jerry would come over and write lyrics while pacing back and forth, and I'd experiment with melodies to go with them.

We asked a bunch of R&B musicians for the names of big streets in Kansas City. When we heard that 12th Street and Vine was a hot part of town, we used it. After Jerry finished the lyrics, I wrote a blues with a melody. Jerry wanted the blues to be more traditional — the kind a blues shouter might sing. I wanted a recognizable melody so if it was recorded as an instrumental, it would still be identified as ours.

We argued about the music until I finally said, "Who's writing the music, you or me?" Jerry gave in. After we finished, we played "Kansas City" for Bass. He loved the song and told us to teach it to Little Willie Littlefield. We already knew saxophonist-arranger Maxwell Davis, so we all met at his house in South Central L.A. In those days, Max ran recording sessions for Federal, Modern, Aladdin, and lots of other independent R&B labels — before the title "producer" was even invented.

When Jerry and I arrived at his house, Little Willie was already there. I sang and played the song for him. Usually, Jerry showed artists how to phrase the lyrics, but in this case I wanted to make sure Willie heard how we wanted the music to wrap around the words. Then Willie and I sang and played the song at the same time until he had it down.

We cut the single at Radio Recorders with Federal's engineer Val Valentin. Little Willie was on piano and Max was on tenor sax. Max's boogie-woogie arrangement had a great groove, like a train heading for Kansas City. He didn't really need our help in the studio, but Jerry and I went anyway to make sure Little Willie got the melody and lyrics right. Just over a minute into the record, Little Willie shouted, "All right, Max!" — signaling to Max to take his sax solo. It was a great touch.

Jerry and I had originally called the song "Kansas City," but Federal had the publishing rights. Bass said, "You know what's hip? 'K.C.' is hip. I'm going to change the title." So Bass renamed it "K.C. Loving." There wasn't much we could do. We thought changing the title was dumb since there was no change in the music or lyrics. I also thought the new title was too obscure and probably would keep the song from being recorded by other artists. I was right — for seven years.

By 1959, Jerry and I had relocated to New York to write and produce the Coasters and other artists. One day, tenor saxophonist King Curtis came into the studio to record on a session and said to us, "Hey, y'all got a hit. It's 'Kansas City.'" Curtis had been the session leader at Fury Records on Wilbert Harrison's recording, even though he didn't play on it. Apparently Harrison had been singing it in clubs for years.

Harrison changed part of Jerry's lyrics from "They've got a crazy way of loving there and I'm gonna get me some" to "They got some crazy little women there and I'm gonna get me one." Maybe Fury Records' Bobby Robinson thought our lyrics were too risqué. The new lyrics didn't rhyme perfectly and Jerry and I liked perfect rhymes. But in the history of the blues, messing around with lyrics was common, so we let it go. But there was another problem.

While we liked that Fury used our original title — "Kansas City" — the initial release didn't credit us. They apparently didn't know who had written the song, and didn't care. We showed them Little Willie's single, and the songwriting credit was fixed. Within weeks, six new singles of "Kansas City" came out — including versions by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and Little Richard.


Excerpted from "Anatomy of a Song"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Marc Myers.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1 Lawdy Miss Clawdy Lloyd Price Lloyd Price Dave Bartholomew Art Rupe 9

2 K.C. Loving Little Willie Littlefield Mike Stoller Billy Davis Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis 17

3 Shout The Isley Brothers Ronald Isley 23

4 Please Mr. Postman The Marvelettes Katherine "Kat" Anderson Schaffner 29

5 Runaround Sue Dion Dimucci Dion DiMucci 35

6 Chapel of Love The Dixie Cups Jeff Barry Darlene Love Mike Stoller Barbara Hawkins Rosa Hawkins Artie Butler 41

7 You Really Got Me The Kinks Ray Davies Dave Davies Shel Talmy 49

8 You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' The Righteous Brothers Barry Mann Cynthia Weil Bill Medley 55

9 My Girl The Temptations Smokey Robinson 61

10 Reach Out I'll Be There The Four Tops Lamont Dozier Abduf "Duke" Fakir Paul Riser 67

11 Darling Be Home Soon John Sebastian John Sebastian 73

12 Light My Fire The Doors Ray Manzarek Robby Krieger John Densmore 81

13 Groovin' The Young Rascals Felix Cavaliere Chris Huston Gene Cornish 87

14 White Rabbit Jefferson Airplane Grace Slick 93

15 Different Drum The Stone Poneys Michael Nesmith Linda Ronstadt Bobby Kimmel Don Randi 101

16 (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay Otis Redding Steve Cropper Booker T. Jones Wayne Jackson Ben Cauley 107

17 Fist City Loretta Lynn Loretta Lynn 113

18 Street Fighting Man The Rolling Stones Keith Richards 121

19 Stand By Your Man Tammy Wynette Billy Sherrill Hargus "Pig" Robbins Jerry Kennedy 127

20 Magic Carpet Ride Steppenwolf John Kay Michael Monarch 133

21 Proud Mary Creedence Clearwater Revival John Fogerty Sonny Charles Tamiko Jones Perry Botkin Jr. Brent Maher 143

22 Oh Happy Day The Edwin Hawkins Singers Edwin Hawkins Dorothy Morrison 149

23 Suspicious Minds Elvis Presley Mark James Chips Moman 155

24 Whole Lotta Love Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page George Chkiantz Eddie Kramer 161

25 Mercedes Benz Jan is Joplin John Byrne Cooke Bob Neuwirth Michael McClure Clark Pierson Brad Campbell 169

26 Moonlight Mile The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger 177

27 Maggie May Rod Stewart Rod Stewart 185

28 Carey Joni Mitchell Joni Mitchell Gary Raditz 191

29 Respect Yourself The Staple Singers Al Bell Mavis Staples 203

30 The Harder They Come Jimmy Cliff Jimmy Cliff Jackie Jackson Hux Brown 211

31 Midnight Train to Georgia Gladys Knight and the Pips Jim Weatherly Cissy Houston Tony Camillo Gladys Knight 217

32 Ramblin'Man The Allman Brothers Dickey Betts Chuck Leavell Les Dudek 223

33 Rock the Boat The Hues Corporation Wally Holmes John Florez Joe Sample H. Ann Kelley 229

34 Walk This Way Aerosmith Joe Perry Steven Tyler 237

35 Love's in Need of Love Today Stevie Wonder Stevie Wonder 245

36 Deacon Blues Steely Dan Donald Fagen Walter Becker Larry Carlton Tom Scott Pete Christlieb 251

37 (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes Elvis Costello Elvis Costello 259

38 Heart of Glass Blondie Chris Stein Debbie Harry Michael Chapman 265

39 Another Brick in the Wall Pink Floyd Roger Waters 273

40 London Calling The Clash Mick Jones Paul Simonon Topper Headon 281

41 Brother John/Iko Iko The Neville Brothers Cyril Neville Aaron Neville Art Neville Charles Neville Barbara Hawkins Mac Rebennack 287

42 Big City Merle Haggard Merle Haggard 295

43 Time After Time Cyndi Lauper Rob Hyman Cyndi Lauper 301

44 Nick of Time Bonnie Raitt Bonnie Raitt 309

45 Losing My Religion R.E.M. Peter Buck Mike Mills Michael Stipe Bill Berry 317

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