Childhood Classic: Sha Na Na Still Brings The Memories

Sha Na Na was released by Karma Sutra Records in 1971

 

 Every once in a while, I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see some of those in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com.  With the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock this year, I thought this would be the perfect time for this release.

 

Before MTV came along, music listeners had to watch their favorite music acts on television, via shows like Solid Gold, American Bandstand, and variety shows. Two of the biggest acts that had their own variety show when I was growing up were The Bay City Rollers and Sha Na Na.

Even today in 2019, some people do not give Sha Na Na the respect they deserve. The band was started at Columbia University, where some of the members were studying graduate work. The act was featured in movies like Grease, American Graffiti and on Happy Days. The fact that they provided almost a whole side of the Grease soundtrack, which is one of the top selling movie records of all time, should say something right there (plus singer Scott Simon co wrote the song “Sandy” for the movie, which was a hit for John Travolta). They even played the original Woodstock Festival, right before Jimi Hendrix performed. Their variety television show lasted almost four years to many viewers, which provided music, comedy, and other guest stars. The band’s popularity was not only due to bass singer Jon “Bowzer” Bauman , but had quality musicians including Lennie Baker (who played with Danny and The Juniors) and Henry Gross (of the hit “Shannon”) was in the early lineup. The group’s greaser look, as a tribute to the 1950s -1960s music acts, gave a historical lesson to listeners like me who were too young to remember those days of music.

The act released several albums, mostly of cover songs from the early rock era, but one album that I listened to frequently from my childhood was 1971’s Sha Na Na record, known among followers as the “Gold Boots” record, due to the album cover.

The first side is a live concert from Columbia University, filled with the early rock staples like ” Yakety Yak,” Great Balls of Fire,” and “I Wonder Why.” These covers are great capturing the live energy of the band, including Bowzer’s bass parts on the up-tempo versions of Gene Chandler’s “Duke Of Earl” and “Blue Moon,” which ended up being a slower version on the Grease record.

One of my favorite songs off the first side is the cover of Ray Peterson’s “Tell Laura I Love Her,” which has a pop feel to it. I list this song as one of the few songs that is better than the original. Peterson’s version has a folk sound to it, where I like the more rock style that the act brings, with Johnny Contrado on lead vocals and the drumming by Jocko Marcellino. I used to love playing this version on my drums when I was younger, and wanted to play it in the bands that I was involved in, only to be vetoed each time.

The last song on the release, “Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay,” a tribute to Danny and The Juniors, is a memory for me only because there is a F- bomb thrown in there before the song. Before parental warning stickers, I wonder to this day how it got kept on the release, and how I listened to it for years and my parents never noticed it.

The second side is where I think the band impresses me the most, with studio songs, almost all written by Scott Simon. “Only One Song” has a ballad that has The Beatles-like harmonies and studio production on it that if I played it to a stranger , they may not know it was Sha Na Na. The song is wonderful and one of my favorites to this day from my childhood.

“Depression” has is a guitar driven song that I remember for being the theme song to my toy wrestlers. I was a big wrestling fan growing up, and would play with my wrestling figures (even using my G.I. Joes when I didn’t have enough figures). I would make up my own characters and created my own Supercards, where my figure who I chose to be me, would be on the same cards as wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Nick Bockwinkel, and others, regardless of the league they were in. Being a fan of the tag team The Rock N Roll Express, I would use “Depression” as my theme song. The rhythm and guitar work was perfect for my imagination.

“Canadian Money” is a song I always play when I get this record out, even sometimes just to hear it. A slow acoustic feel to it, talks about sites in Canada. I recently researched information for the song, and it has been mentioned that it was a protest song for the Vietnam War, with it’s line “No great Army doing it’s duty/Making waves across the sea.” If it is true or not, I love the song, and it should have been a release from the album.

One song that did chart from the band is “Top 40,” which has a old Southern Gospel feel to it, with some humorous lyrics. The song hit #84 on the Billboard charts. The song tells the story of someone who asks if they are going to be a hit in heaven because they were one on earth. The lyrics “Are you on the Top 40 of your Lordy?” has the tongue in cheek lyrics gives the song an unique take on heaven and how to live life on earth.

“Ruin Me Blue” reminds me of something that would have been on one of my favorite all time TV shows, W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati. It has strong piano and guitar work that drives the song, although the lyrics are pretty simple.

The final track , written by drummer Jocko, “Just A Friend” has a Rolling Stones-feel to the song. I think it is the weakest of the studio tracks, but the band still gets credit for writing some original work.

Sha Na Na may have started out as a novelty act, but listening to this record shows that the members had talent. The act has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, even finding some of the TV shows on Youtube to watch to this day. They were not a bunch of street gang people that they portrayed on television; these guys had talent and also had graduate degrees- they consisted of lawyers, writers, and great musicians who worked with some of the acts they covered. Bowzer has been an advocate for decades for preserving the names of the originals acts of the 1950s and 1960s, to where the groups have to let the public know how many original members are still in the groups.

The cover of this record , along with the music, takes me back to a great time of my early music childhood, being one of the first records I can remember getting as a child.

 

Track Listings:

  1. Yakety Yak 2. Jailhouse Rock 3. Duke of Earl 4. Tell Laura I Love Her 5. Blue Moon
  2. I Wonder Why 7. Great Balls of Fire 8. Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay
  3. Only One Song 10. Depression 11. Canadian Money 12. Top Forty 13. Ruin Me Blues
  4. Just A Friend.
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