Saturday, July 2, 2011

And now for something utterly inconsequential

It’s a bleak, grey Saturday morning and I’m feeling picky. There are innumerable things I could feel picky about, but I’ve chosen something utterly inconsequential.

Today’s Your Weekend magazine, which comes with my Dominion Post, contains a review of Ray Columbus’ autobiography in which the claim is made that She’s A Mod, the 1964 hit by Columbus and his backing band the Invaders, was the first New Zealand record to reach the top 100 in the United States. It’s not clear whether this claim is made in the book or whether the reviewer got it somewhere else, but it didn’t ring true with me, so I checked.

Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: 1955-2002 is the bible of the Billboard chart, listing every song that made the top 100 in the US during that period. It’s a treasure trove for tragic students of pop minutiae, among whom I count myself, and it makes no reference to Ray Columbus and the Invaders. In fact there are very few New Zealanders listed. Among those I’ve stumbled across in its 1000 pages are Auckland-born Gale Garnett, whose We’ll Sing in the Sunshine went to No 4 in 1964; John Rowles (Cheryl Moana Marie, No 64 in 1971); Split Enz (I Got You, No 53 in 1980); Dragon (Rain, No 88 in 1984); Crowded House (whose Don’t Dream It’s Over went all the way to No 2 in 1987, one of five Neil Finn songs that made the Billboard chart) and the late Pauly Fuemana’s OMC (How Bizarre, No 4 in 1997). Keith Urban has four entries too, but I’m not sure whether we can claim him. In fact I’m not even sure we can claim Crowded House, strictly speaking, but Whitburn generously describes them as a New Zealand band and that’s good enough for me.

Alas, however, no Ray Columbus and the Invaders. This is not to diminish that group’s considerable achievements: they went to No 1 in Australia and in so doing, cracked open the Australian market for countless other New Zealand outfits. But we must keep the record straight.


Vaughan said...

It is a sunny Saturday morning where I am and the post is not inconsequential for me because it reminds me of a great song performed by Ray Columbus and the Invaders.

I’m not talking about She’s a Mod but the one that followed, Till We Kissed.

I still think the rendition by Ray is a masterpiece of the genre, whatever it is (pop, rock?). The energy just surges through the song.

As far as getting to the top of the charts is concerned, there was a song in 1968 that we pinned our hopes on.

If I Only Had Time, sung by John Rowles, was heading up the charts in the UK but got pipped by a number performed by Louis Armstrong.

That tune was What a Wonderful World, and it has proved a more enduring hit.

Louis was hard to hate. But for many New Zealanders, his song made it a mildly disappointing world. Whenever I hear it, I enjoy it but a little “darn” always pops up in my mind.

pdm said...

Karl are you aware that Ray Columbus had Waipukurau connections?

Our next door neighbour in Takapau Road, Mrs. Carney was (I am pretty sure) his grandmother.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Were you also an avid listener of Casey Kasam's American Top Forty show? I was. Sat and soaked it up on the car radio while my unappreciated boyfriend played club rugby Saturday afternoons.

Karl du Fresne said...

I offered wondered why John Rowles wasn't a bigger success. I thought he had the voice and the looks to rival Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, but he never quite delivered. I suspected that perhaps he was poorly managed, but an alternative explanation surfaced in a recent interview Rowles gave. He explained that after his first couple of hits he scored a residency in Hawaii (I think it was at the Royal Hawaiian, the famous pink art deco palace on the Waikiki beach-front), and he liked it so much - the warmth, the lifestyle - that he stayed there when his career would arguably have been better served if he'd been in London or LA. A very New Zealand thing to do, when you think about it.
One day someone will compile a book of famous people with Waipuk connections. It will be a weighty tome.
Yes, I was a Casey Kasem fan in the 1970s, though I can't say I listened to him while my boyfriend was playing footy. Solid Gold FM recycles American Top 40 on Sundays - I sometimes hear it in the car.

pdm said...

`One day someone will compile a book of famous people with Waipuk connections. It will be a weighty tome.'

That seems like a task you are well qualified to undertake Karl.

Simon said...

That Whitburn isn't accurate though - How Bizarre was a US number one in August 1997.

The number 4 info relates to one radio play chart AFAIK. It remains the only NZ recorded song to make the US top 50.

I've got a big (ugly) plaque which was given out by Billboard to commemorate the number one at the time.

Chris Bourke said...

Does that Whitburn book cover the Billboard Top 100? Mine only covers the Top 40 over the same period and is over two inches thick. Ray Columbus's book doesn't claim that 'She's a Mod' was on the Billboard charts, but he does say that 'Till We Kissed' entered the Billboard Top 60. Similarly Tommy Adderley claimed to have #2 a hit in Canada that was pipped by 'A Hard Day's Night'. I couldn't find the evidence. It was interesting to read what kept John Rowles's great song from a UK #1 - Louis Armstrong. The same guy who finally knocked the Beatles out of their US dominance in 1964, with 'Hello Dolly'. Trainspotting aside, I felt that the DomPost piece reviewed (ie, paraphrased) Columbus's career rather than the book.

Karl du Fresne said...

My Whitburn book doesn't mention Till We Kissed either. And yes, it does cover the top 100.
I agree that the book review you mention was disappointing. There was virtually nothing in it that couldn't have been gleaned from the library files.