Denise – Denis

In my earlier post, The Mysteries Five, I speculated about the possible influence of a song on the choice of name for the popular cartoon character Scooby Doo.  I was recently contacted by one of the contributors to a part of the Scooby Doo page on Wikipedia (see update and comment to the original post for details).  An interesting piece of information to come out of our communication was the fact that a well known writer on many animation series, including Scooby Doo, Mark Evanier, has also expressed an opinion that a song may have inspired the name Scooby Doo.

In an item on his own news website, POVONLINE – NEWS from ME, on June 10th 2002, he suggested that the song Denise by Randy and the Rainbows (1963), which has a repeated phrase, “scooby doo”, rather than the more common doobee-doo, may have been the inspiration for the name of the well known and much loved cartoon character!  I think that the idea has good reason to be taken seriously, as Denise is from six years before The Archies song I suggested.  Also Mark Evanier is an experienced and knowledgeable writer, with a great deal of insider insight of the the animation world.  His website has a wealth of background information on a whole range of people and events that he had direct contact with – for more details see his about m.e.

Randy-and-the-RainbowsAnyway, before I become distracted with the wonderful and fascinating details on Mark Evanier’s website, back to the song he mentioned, Denise, by Randy and the Rainbows.  I looked it up on YouTube and found several copies.  It is a traditional doo-wop song and it was one of the last big hits of the doo-wop era, which died soon after the arrival of The Beatles in America, when music tastes changed dramatically.  For a few more details of the song and Randy and the Rainbows see the post on Joe Troiano’s blog which has a great collection of almost forgotten music information, including a recent interview with Randy Safuto from the related JoeT’s Soda Shop radio show on Oldiesplus.net

Amazingly some of the original Randy and the Rainbows are still singing – here are two websites dedicated to keeping their fans updated of their news:  http://www.randyandtherainbows.com/index.html  and http://www.randyandtherainbowssafuto.com/

I used to listen to a lot of songs from this era from the mid- 1970s until the early 1980s, when radio shows dedicated to playing songs like this became popular on the BBC and local commercial stations too.  For many years I also collected original singles from that era too.  I enjoyed listening to much of the music from that generation just before my own, from simpler times and more innocent days.

Listening to the original version of Denise I immediate recognised the tune and lyrics, but the first time I had heard that song it was in an adapted and updated form.  The version I heard in 1978, when it was released as a single in the UK, had the title Denis (pronounced Denee), and the singer was a woman.  Debbie Harry, the lead singer of the pop/punk band Blondie, burst onto the UK pop scene with her unique raunchy, slightly aggressive style, that soon become very popular.

This version of the song, with her improvised lyrics in pidgin-French were excitingly different at the time.   Blondie performing this on Top of the Pops certainly got a lot of attention, and the even more raunchy video wasn’t shown on UK TV screens until much later.  They were prevented from having a blockbuster no.1 record with their first European single, by the equally sensational Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush and then the massively popular Matchstalkmen and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs by Brian & Michael.

Denis topped out at no.2 in the charts for four weeks, before falling back down, but it had successfully launched Blondie onto the UK music scene, where they enjoyed much success in the following years.  The contrast between the two versions of essentially the same song is a great example of how much music and attitudes changed between 1963 and 1977, when the two songs were recorded, and yet I enjoy both versions, which I suppose says something about the quality of the original songwriting by Neil Levenson, as well as my eclectic taste in music.

Memory

In preparing my next post I thought of the title without any problem at all, as memories and cats are forever linked in my mind, by this song.  I believe I first heard it sung by Elaine Paige on a late night preview of the musical Cats on BBC2 in 1981.  It was many years before I saw the musical performed on stage, but it was just as magical as when I first heard it 30 years before.  A mixture of poignant, melancholy and hope combine to make it timeless and wonderful – Elaine Paige singing this, incomparable!

Eurovison Song Contest

Official-Logo-ESC-1956It is only right that I start this post with a confession – I LOVE the Eurovison Song Contest!  There I’ve said it – so if you don’t enjoy crazy fools jigging about on stage singing songs in many languages, bi-lingual presenters, not to mention the UK coming near to last for many years, then you may wish to look away now. 😉  For overseas visitors, particularly from the USA, Canada or elsewhere in the world, where you may not have seen this event on TV, you may find this post totally baffling.  Read on about this European eccentricity and you will either be intrigued or be appalled, possibly both!

Over the years, since I can first recall watching this annual event in 1972, there have also been some memorable nights of entertainment, some winners who went on to have incredible success and quite a few who were never heard of again!  The UK coverage on TV for many, many years has been complimented by the live commentary of two Irish born presenters, Terry Wogan for several decades and more recently Graham Norton.  Both have managed to tread that fine line between between seeing it all as a lot of fun whilst mentioning some of the things that have undermined the contest, blatant voting within ethnic and politic blocks and a fair sprinkling of incredibly terrible songs every year.  In fact, part of the reason I watch it is to see which country has the most ridiculous song this year!

Marcel Bezençon  of the European Broadcasting Union is credited with proposing an international song contest in 1955.  The idea was based on the popular Sanremo Music Festival in Italy, but with a few important differences.  In the early Sanremo contest, from 1951, songs were sung twice by different individuals or groups, first by Italian artists and then by foreign guest singers, the song was then judged, rather than the song and performance being judged together.  The Sanremo Music Festival is still held every year, and has often been used to pick out the Italian entry for Eurovison and has also launched the international careers of several popular singers, like Andrea Bocelli.

Eurovision 1956

In 1956 it was almost too ambitious a project to link up the fledgling TV stations of Europe in a live TV show.  It stretched the limits of the technology of the day and remains a massive technological achievement.  Now it is also streamed live on the internet and broadcast in many countries beyond the European boundaries.  Whilst the TV technology was an integral part of the whole idea from the first contest in 1956, most people who were interested in the contest tuned in to the radio broadcast – TV ownership was not widespread enough for everyone to watch it live as they do now.  In fact I can recall listening to the show on the radio in the 1970s too, so perhaps it was in a year when our TV had broken down in that week.

The Eurovison Song Contest has always just had the one performance of the song by an individual or group and that song and performance are judged by panels of jurors from the competing countries,  In much more recent times some countries have introduced phone voting in a similar way to many live TV talent shows, but telephone votes cannot be cast for the country from which the call is made, only for any of the other countries entries. There were only 7 competing countries in the first contest, held in Switzerland in 1956 and there were no questions about the motives behind the way the votes were cast as it was a secret jury decision and the winner, Switzerland, was just announced.  From 1957-1987 a physical scoreboard was used to display the points awarded by the various national juries.  Since then various electronic display boards and onscreen graphics have been used.

The number of competing countries grew to 18, by 1965 and 17 or 18 countries competed in most contests throughout the 1960s and 70s.  During the 1980s and 90s the entrants increased to 25 for many years before a rapid expansion of numbers in 2004.  Now there are two stages to the contest, with two semi-final rounds where new entrant nations or ones that scored badly in previous years have to compete to even be in the final, which is now between 26 competitor nations.  As the numbers have grown and different scoring methods have been tried there have been various controversies about the results with nations threatening to boycott future contests when unhappy with the outcome.  It can all get a bit heated with various rivalries surfacing from below the apparently smooth calm surface of international togetherness!  Again for me this is also part of the fun of the event.

Another fun feature is the television link ups to receive the scores from each country, as every year there are always a few attempts to use the very brief moment in the spotlight to be noticed on the international stage.  Unfortunately some of the attempts to look great are seriously misjudged and end up looking like a really bad YouTube video by a nerdy teenager, and their moment of fame turns to disaster, bringing embarrassment on individual and their home nation!  The scoring section of the contest is the most tedious, but as it reaches the conclusion the tension mounts as to which of the top 2 or 3 songs has won.  A lot is at stake, not just for the song writer and performers, but for their country too, as the country of the winning entry get to host the contest the following year.  This is often seized as a major opportunity to promote the host country and city with lavish travel videos in little clips throughout the contest, shown before each competing song.  It has also been rumoured though that some small nations have tried to ensure that they don’t win, for fear of the costs of hosting the contest bankrupting the host TV company.

Watching the contest for the first time I am sure many people are completely baffled by all of the nuances of national rivalries, but they may also be baffled how some nations think they are going to win with bizarre costumes, strange performers and crazy novelty songs.  This is made all the more strange by some extremely good entries each year, that are serious, meaningful songs, sung by individuals or groups with great talent and charisma.  An early favourite for me, although I only heard it a few years later was 1964 winner from Italy, Gigliola Cinquetti  – Non ho’ l’etá, a song that still sounds great now.  The video below is the radio audio, with some video and stills mixed, as the original video was lost.

The first UK winner was Sandy Shaw with Puppet on a String, in 1967.  As you can see in the video below, there was a slight technical hitch with her mic not working for the first few seconds of the song and she famously performed barefoot!  Sandy continues to sing and entertain and has a great website.

Lulu’s Boom Bang-a-bang was a joint winner in 1969, when unclear voting rules left 4 nations tied for first place and no way to decide who had won.  Despite that controversy, that led to threats to boycott future contest by several nations, it is an iconic TV clip, in colour!  Again she remains a popular figure in UK music and entertainment, her official website is here.

A group that went on to have the most successful career after winning Eurovision were ABBA’s the winning song Waterloo (1974).  They were a slightly strange blend of glam rock styling, folk lyrics and pop harmonies, but it all worked and they remain very popular as an historic group.  As individuals each has enjoyed successful careers in many aspects of music.  Their songs of the 70s and 80s were turned into a stage musical in 1999 that has had sell out tours around the world and a successful conversion to film too.  Now they even have a museum dedicated to them, for more info on that visit here.  Many individuals or groups competing in Eurovision each year dream of emulating the success of ABBA, but to do so they need to have some incredible talent and the luck of catching the public mood and imagination of the era.

For me one of the most outstanding and unusual winners was in 1995, a classical style duo known as Secret Garden, along with a beautiful singer, Gunnhild Tvinnereim and Swedish nyckelharpist Åsa Jinder,  performed the haunting piece Nocturne.  Secret Garden are Fionnuala Sherry originally from Ireland and Rolf Løvland, from Norway.  Secret Garden have continued to make haunting beautiful music enjoyed by many people, despite not being a major commercial success story.  They have an official website that is very good and their own YouTube channel too.

Finally, after all the modern sounds, bright colours and flashing lights, here is a reminder of how simply it all started out with the 1956 winner Lys Assia – Refrain.  She also continues to record and perform and her official website is here.

For details of Eurovision 2013 visit the official websiteMy prediction for the winner tonight is Denmark, Emmelie de Forest – Only Teardrops.  I also really like Anouk – Birds, The Netherlands entry.  Sadly while the UK song Believe in Me by Bonnie Tyler is better than some recent years it is no match for most of the other entries and doomed to fail again.

Update: The winner – Only Teardrops (my first correct prediction of the winner for many years!)

This year’s most ridiculous entry (in my opinion)  Cezar Ouatu – It’s My Life (Romania)

Scooby Doo, Where Are You?

This is the original intro for the first episode of the first series of Scooby Doo shown on the CBS network in the USA in 1969.  They introduced the song theme on the end of the debut episode and at the beginning of the rest of the series.  (I had read that this theme without a song was deemed too scary, but it seems that was another of the ‘too scary’ rumours that surround the development of Scooby Doo.  (See comment below from a contributor to the Wikipedia article on Scooby Doo.)

This is the early intro for Scooby Doo, Where Are You? with full song.  It wasn’t the only version as later series altered the clips used and there were many later reinventions of the show as each generation of children have discovered Scooby Doo, in this and other forms.  Just don’t mention Scrappy to fans of the original series!

The Archies – Feeling So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y D.O.O.)

This was another big hit for The Archies, particularly in the USA.   But did it influence the choice of name of the famous TV show Scooby Doo?  Mark Evanier, a writer on many animations series, including Scooby Doo, has commented, on June 10th, 2002, that Denise by Randy and the Rainbows(1963) might have influenced the choice of name.  It seems likely that at minimum it influenced this song by The Archies.  For more details on the origins of a Scooby Doo see my post The Mysteries Five.