Would you repeat that?

In the five-plus years of publishing this blog, I’ve come up with many dozens of themed playlists of songs that cover a broad range of topics or similarities. Some of these have been rather frivolous and inconsequential, but nonetheless mildly interesting.

This week I’m offering one of those. I’ve pored over my research materials and have come up with 16 songs in which the title consists of a word repeated once…or twice. Does it mean anything? Nope — just a fun list of great songs from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s which share a linguistic quirk.

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“Louie Louie,” The Kingsmen, 1963

“It is the best of songs, it is the worst of songs,” summed up rock historian Dave Marsh in writing about this iconic R&B tune. Written and first recorded in 1957 by Richard Berry and The Pharaohs, “Louie Louie” is best known in its garage-band treatment by The Kingsmen in 1963. Incredibly, the FBI investigated whether the lyrics, sung unintelligibly, were obscene, but they were merely about a Jamaican sailor returning home to his girl.

“Sookie, Sookie,” Steppenwolf, 1968

The Urban Dictionary refers to “Sookie” as a derivation of the name Sue or Susan, and also a term of admiration for a sexually attractive woman. Not surprising then, I suppose, for the term to show up in a Sixties rock song lyric. It was written by Don Covay and Stax Records house guitarist Steve Cropper and recorded by Steppenwolf, who used it as the leadoff track on the group’s 1968 debut LP.

“Corrina, Corrina,” Bob Dylan, 1963

The history of this tune is a bit muddy, but it appears to have been written and first recorded by country blues artists Bo Carter in 1928. Since then, it has been covered and reconfigured by dozens of artists in numerous styles, including folk, jazz, blues, rock and even Cajun swing. Bob Dylan recorded his version for his second LP, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” in 1963. Joni Mitchell also covered it in 1988 as “A Bird That Whistles (Corrina Corrina).”

“Darkness, Darkness,” Jesse Colin Young, 1969

First written and recorded by Young when he was still with his Sixties band The Youngbloods, “Darkness, Darkness” emerged as an example of what was known as psychedelic folk. Young re-recorded it in both studio and live versions, but none of these ever made much of an impact commercially. It wasn’t until Robert Plant recorded his rendition on his 2002 album “Dreamland” that the song reached #27 on the US singles chart.

“Marie Marie,” The Blasters, 1981

The Stray Cats may have found the most success from the rockabilly revival of the early ’80s, but it was L.A.’s The Blasters with guitarist brothers Dave and Phil Alvin who offered the best albums and original material. Dave Alvin wrote most of the band’s songs, including “Marie Marie,” which kicks off the group’s second LP (“The Blasters”) in fine fashion. He went solo in 1986, but The Blasters with Phil Alvin continue playing roots rock today.

“Rebel Rebel,” David Bowie, 1974

One of Bowie’s most celebrated anthems from his mid-’70s period is this hard-rocking single from his 1974 LP “Diamond Dogs.” Described as his last glitter/glam rock track, it features Bowie on guitar playing a repetitive Stones-like riff, singing lyrics about a rebellious, nihilistic teen (a “hot tramp,” gender undetermined). It was a Top Five hit in the UK and Europe but stalled at #64 in the US.

“Baby, Baby,” Lazarus, 1973

Dominated by singer-songwriter Bill Hughes and his gorgeous songs, Lazarus was a little-known, mostly acoustic trio from Texas in the early ’70s discovered by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary. They released just two albums, but they’re both solid efforts well worth hearing. Their second LP, “A Fool’s Paradise,” includes tracks with more instrumentation that rock out a little more, such as “Baby, Baby.”

“Jelly Jelly,” Allman Brothers Band, 1973

Every Allman Brothers album cooks along on a diet of ferocious uptempo blues with at least one sexy slow blues track to mix things up. There’s “Dreams,” and “Stormy Monday” and “Need Your Love So Bad,” and on their hugely successful 1973 LP “Brothers and Sisters,” that song is “Jelly Jelly,” eight minutes of guitar and piano solos with Gregg Allman’s marvelous voice singing forlornly about sex and mistreatment.

“Neighbor, Neighbor,” ZZ Top, 1971

Spearheaded by Billy Gibbons’ guitar and lead vocals, this Texas-based trio offered an excellent stew of blues, boogie and Southern rock right from their beginning in 1970. On “ZZ Top’s First Album” (1971), Gibbons’ blues tune “Neighbor, Neighbor” bemoans the nosy intrusions and badmouthing of the people next door. The group went on to have many high-charting albums and singles throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

“Tighter, Tighter,” Alive N Kickin’, 1970

In 1969, the Brooklyn sextet known as Alive N Kickin’ befriended Tommy James, who had ridden to glory in 1966 with his huge hit “Hanky Panky.” James had offered to give Alive N Kickin’ a new song called “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” but he liked it so much he kept it for himself and instead wrote and produced “Tighter, Tighter” for them. The track peaked at #7 in the summer of 1970 and was the only success for this “one-hit wonder.”

“Teacher Teacher,” Nick Lowe/Rockpile, 1980 #51

The British pop/rock band Rockpile featured Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, both talented singer/songwriter/guitarists with their own solo record deals, and some of what would have been Rockpile tracks were released as solo hits instead (“Girls Talk” by Edmunds and “Cruel to Be Kind” by Lowe). “Teacher Teacher,” an Edmunds tune, was a minor hit (#51) from Rockpile’s 1980 LP, “Seconds of Pleasure.”

“Monday, Monday,” The Mamas and The Papas, 1966

Papa John Phillips, who helped lead the way in adapting folk music to the rock scene, wrote and arranged most of the Mamas & Papas catalog. He claimed he came up with “Monday, Monday” in about 20 minutes one gray and rainy Monday morning, with lyrics that reinforce the near-universal feeling of dread we feel as another work week begins. It was the quartet’s only #1 single, although “California Dreamin'” was their true signature song.

“My, My, Hey, Hey,” Neil Young, 1979

Here’s a title with two words repeated. In 1979, Young was wondering about his own relevance in a music scene then dominated by punk and New Wave sounds. His album “Rust Never Sleeps” emphatically shows his transition from acoustic music to something more ragged and harsh, and the contrast in styles is most evident in the opening and closing tracks, “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”

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To round out this playlist, I’ve include three songs that have titles with one word used three times:

“Run Run Run,” Jo Jo Gunne, 1972

Singer Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes had been key members of Spirit (“I Got a Line on You,” “Mr. Skin,” “Nature’s Way”) before they left to form Jo Jo Gunne in 1972. Their first album had a modest hit (#27) that year with Ferguson’s “Run Run Run,” but their two subsequent albums went nowhere. Ferguson had an even bigger hit once he went solo, reaching #9 on the charts in 1977 with “Thunder Island.”

“Hi, Hi, Hi,” Paul McCartney and Wings, 1972

In the first few years following the breakup of The Beatles, it was hard to predict what McCartney would do next. He flip-flopped from disposable little ditties to serious rock, from nursery rhymes to controversial topics. The latter showed up in the form of the politically charged “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” and the sex-and-drugs romp “Hi Hi Hi” (which should have been titled “High High High”).

“Gone, Gone, Gone,” Bad Company, 1979

From their explosive debut in 1974 until their breakup in 1983, Bad Company was one of England’s most successful bands on US charts. The distinctive vocals of Paul Rodgers and sturdy guitar work from Mick Ralphs served them well on 12-15 singles and album tracks that became FM radio staples. From 1979’s “Desolation Angels” comes bassist Boz Burrell’s great rocker “Gone, Gone Gone,” about a girlfriend’s departure.

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Honorable mention:

Jenny, Jenny,” Little Richard, 1957; “Release, Release,” Yes, 1978; “Mony Mony,” Tommy James and The Shondells, 1968; “Talk Talk,” Talk Talk, 1982; “Mary, Mary,” The Monkees, 1966; “Sugar Sugar,” The Archies, 1969; “Cherry Cherry,” Neil Diamond, 1966; “Star Star,” The Rolling Stones, 1973.

Turn! Turn! Turn!,” The Byrds, 1965; “Say Say Say,” Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson, 1983; “Stop Stop Stop,” The Hollies, 1965; “Cold Cold Cold,” Little Feat, 1974; “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” The Ohio Express, 1968; “Baby, Baby, Baby,” Aretha Franklin, 1967; “Fun, Fun, Fun,” The Beach Boys, 1964.

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Take another little piece of my heart now, baby

Did you know someone in middle school or high school who was relentlessly bullied, picked on, or humiliated by other students?  Of course you did.  It’s pretty much a universal thing and, sad to say, it’s been going on for many decades, and only recently is it being more seriously addressed by school authorities.

It happened in the late 1950s at Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur, Texas.  Kids there taunted and tormented one particular girl they felt was an ugly freak, a shy outlier who had severe acne problems and weight fluctuations.  Try as she might, she never fully got over the persecution, and suffered self-esteem problems the rest of her life.  But she survived by befriending other outcasts, listening to blues records by Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Nina Simone and Odetta, and developing her own singing voice by mimicking theirs.  It was a strategy that worked well for her…for a while.

That girl was Janis Joplin.

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Fifty years ago this Sunday, Joplin died in Room 105 of the Hollywood Landmark Hotel (now the Highland Gardens), a short walk from the Hollywood Bowl where she had thrilled a sold-out crowd a year earlier.

She had been an intermittent heroin user, and the dose she injected that night was allegedly cut with something else, which killed her.  She was 27.

Her death was a punch to the solar plexus of rock music lovers everywhere, particularly because it came only 16 days after the passing of the wondrous but troubled Jimi Hendrix, who died in similar fashion in England.

Friends, family members, business managers, armchair therapists and countless others have written books and granted interviews in an attempt to analyze Joplin, a moody, hugely talented, self-destructive, fun-loving young woman whose star shone so brightly for only three years before being extinguished far too early.

images-302Joplin’s influence was enormous and far reaching.  Hundreds of female vocalists and blues musicians in the five decades since her death have lavishly praised her electrifying live performances and her surprisingly polished studio recordings.  Critics sometimes took exception to the way she  overworked her material to the extreme, but most adored her “devastatingly original voice,” her “overpowering and deeply vulnerable artistry” and her “Elvis Presley-like ability to captivate an audience.”

British singer Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine, who wasn’t born until 17 years after Joplin’s death, had this to say:  “She was so vulnerable, self-conscious and full of suffering.  She tore herself apart, yet on stage, she was totally different.  She was so unrestrained, so free, so raw.  It seems to me her suffering and the intensity of her performance went hand in hand.  There was always a sense of longing, of searching for something.  I think she really sums up the idea that soul is about putting your pain into something beautiful.”

Unknown-576Despite her small-town upbringing, Janis was a free spirit from an early age, rejecting Port Arthur’s narrow thinking regarding sex, segregation and a woman’s place in the world.  She attended college in Beaumont and in Austin, playing coffee house gigs as a solo acoustic act, honing her chops on folk and blues tunes.  At the first opportunity she left Texas for California, hitchhiking there with her friend Chet Helms, who later became manager of the San Francisco band Big Brother and The Holding Company.

Eventually, Joplin became that band’s lead singer, and by 1966, Bay Area people were buzzing about the gypsy-like girl who could belt out blues tunes with unparalleled passion and energy.  She dove head first into the

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no-rules milieu of the counterculture, experimenting with psychedelic drugs , wearing outré boutique clothes, and enjoying sexual relationships with men and women alike.  She considered herself “one of the boys,” sleeping with whomever she pleased and resisting the double standard that said men could do that but women could not.

Even before they had released their first LP, Joplin and Big Brother won a slot at the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967, and her mindblowing performance there was so spectacular that it forever secured her place in the rock pantheon.  It also won her a recording contract with Columbia Records.  Despite all this attention (which she adored and craved), Joplin confided that she was plagued by self-doubt, always fearing she wasn’t really good enough.

Unknown-532Ah, but she most certainly was.  Joplin and Big Brother recorded a stellar set of blues and rock songs which comprised the compelling LP “Cheap Thrills,” the #1 album in the country for eight weeks in late 1968.  Joplin and producers chose to add manufactured audience sounds to make it appear to be live, but in fact only the final track, the explosive “Ball and Chain,” was recorded in concert.  The Top 20 single “Piece of My Heart,” “Combination of the Two,” a cover of the Gershwin classic “Summertime” and the Joplin original “Turtle Blues” combined to make a well-rounded blues album for the ages.

images-342Big Brother wasn’t the most precise band around, and Joplin grew weary of their sloppiness.  At the same time, the band grew resentful of her “star trip” eclipsing the band, and by year’s end, they went their separate ways.  Janis had become enamored with soul and R&B and rounded up musicians who shared that bent.  They became The Kosmic Blues Band, with prominent horns and a much funkier beat than Big Brother’s psychedelic blues.

It was at this time that I personally became aware of Joplin.  I was 14 and buying up as many hip rock albums (Zeppelin, Hendrix, Steppenwolf, Cream) as I could afford.   I admit I bought “Cheap Thrills” partly because I was captivated by R. Crumb’s fantastic comic book art on the cover, but when I took it home, I was so taken by the music, especially “Ball and Chain,” that I played it incessantly.

images-304I was first in line at the record store when she and her new group released “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again, Mama!” in September 1969.  I was pleasantly surprised by the R&B punch of “Try,” “To Love Somebody” and “Maybe” with their dominant horns and keyboards, but she was still true to her blues on “One Good Man” and the riveting title track.  What a fine album!

Joplin had solidified her cachet by appearing at Woodstock that summer, even though she felt it was a sub-par performance and refused to allow it in the documentary film or its soundtrack.  She broadened her fame by making several memorable appearances on national TV on the quasi-hip “Dick Cavett Show,” having a blast chatting and giggling about everything from her regrettable high school days to her left-leaning political views.

As it turned out, Janis and the Kosmic Blues Band musicians never really gelled, so she left them as well.  She made it known that, despite her ability to pack arenas like Madison Square Garden, she actually preferred playing much smaller venues and clubs — another example of her inner conflict between self-loathing and a need for adulation.

images-300She took time off in 1970 to travel with a new paramour to Brazil, taking time to give herself a little distance from the drugs and the craziness of her rock star life.  When she returned a month later, though, her heroin use resumed.  She assembled a third group, The Full-Tilt Boogie Band, which featured organ but no horns.  They did a train tour of Canada and added some U.S. dates at the end, which met with mixed reviews.  Some praised the band’s tightness while others felt Joplin appeared exhausted and uninspired.

In an interview that summer, Janis confirmed what others have said about her conflict between the inner woman and the outer performer:  “I’m a victim of my own insides.  There was a time when I wanted to know everything.  It used to make me very unhappy, all that feeling.  I just didn’t know what to do with it.  But now I’ve learned to make that feeling work for me.  I’m full of emotion and I want a release, and if you’re on stage, and if it’s really working and you’ve got the audience with you, it’s so sublime.”

In August and September of that year, she and the band recorded several songs in Los Angeles with producer Paul Rothschild at the helm.  Vibrant tracks like “Move Over,” “Half Moon” and “Get It While You Can” showed a renewed vigor, while Joplin’s reading of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” showed the full range of her unmatched vocal talent.

images-303The band laid down the instrumental tracks for “Buried Alive in the Blues,” and Joplin planned to record her vocals the following day, but it was not to be.  In tribute to Janis, the track was left as is, leaving listeners to imagine her vocal part on their own.

Just as with Hendrix, Jim Morrison and others who died young, her tragic death only served to raise never-resolved questions like, “I wonder what kind of music she would’ve been making in her 30s, 40s or 50s?”

Unknown-531The final songs were compiled onto her final LP, the posthumously released “Pearl,” which rocketed to #1 in early 1971, as did the single of “Bobby McGee.”

At age 20, Stevie Nicks was performing with Lindsay Buckingham in a Bay Area band called Fritz, often serving as a warmup act for legends like Joplin and Hendrix.  She recalled watching her from the wings during her performances.  “When Janis got up on that stage with her band, this woman became my new hero.  She was not what anyone would call a great beauty, but she became beautiful to me because she made such a powerful and deep emotional connection with the audience.  I didn’t care much for the feather boas and the bell-bottom pants, but she didn’t dress like anyone else, and she definitely didn’t sing like anyone else.

“She put herself out there completely,” said Nicks, “and her voice was not only strong and soulful, it was painfully and beautifully real.  She sang in the great tradition of the rhythm & blues singers that were her heroes, but she brought her own dangerous, sexy rock & roll edge to every single song.  She really gave you a piece of her heart, and that inspired me to find my own voice and my own style.”

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God love ya, Janis.  Your legacy is in your performances on the records, and I’ll cue them up and dig ’em whenever I need a dose of “dem ol’ kosmic blues, mama!”

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