Guest Post No. 4: Mike O’ Neill

Actor (“Trailer Park Boys”), writer (“Moving Day”) and bass player/songwriter/singer Mike O’ Neill has been my touring buddy for lots of years as a member of the incomparable Inbreds. Mike is both hilarious and smart, and a great storyteller, but, as a singer and songwriter, there are few in Canada who are as cutlass-sharp. Mike’s solo albums are fabulous and The Inbreds’ are fabulouser. I’ve lost my mind to “Prince,” bawled my eyes out to “Any Sense of Time” and raged to “North Window,” screaming “Does it get you down?” out the back door to make myself feel better (you should look up all of these songs before you look up the song in this post). Like me, Mike is a jukebox owner, and he helped guide me before I bought mine, so I owe him. Here he is writing about one of his platters, “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons, released in 1962 on Laurie Records.

The first thing we hear are the background singers, comprised of fourteen year old Judy Craig and thirteen year olds Patricia Bennett and Barbara Lee. They sing “doo-lang doo-lang” over 8 bars of bass and drums until Sylvia Peterson, the lead vocalist, enters. Originally the “doo-lang” part came in later, but an engineer by the unlikely name of Johnny Cue suggested that the song begin with the vocal hook, perhaps inspired by the arrangement of “Only The Lonely (Know The Way I Feel).” The four Chiffons continue to sing over this sparse backing track until the 20 second mark, when a guitar comes in. Once this happens, something is fairly out of tune and it’s hard to say what, but it works. The second verse is the same as the first but, this time, we hear claves and organ, possibly played by Neil Sedaka. The song was produced and backed by his band The Tokens and it sounds remarkably like Sedaka singing a Sedaka tune, but it isn’t. It was written by Ronnie Mack, a promising song writer who died of cancer when he was only 23. He lived long enough to see his song reach number one. The story goes that, once it did, he got his sisters and mother to lie down in bed, and he dumped a suitcase of money on them. Issued on Laurie Records, it became the first number one (March 1963) for a vocal group to be produced by another vocal group.

Gary Chester was chosen as session drummer. He has some long drum fill breaks that are very groovy and remind me of the drumming on Donovan’s  “Sunshine Superman”. Gary’s other work included “Brown Eyed Girl”, “My Boyfriend’s Back” and a bunch of the Bacharach catalogue. One of my favourite things on the recording is the bass. I’m pretty sure it’s a stand up. There is a “thump” quality like the sound on “Stand By Me”: a huge sound. It also plays different patterns; the intro has a unique rhythm that is different from the rhythms in the verses and the bridge. Another thing I love on this recording is how the instruments interact with the room. You can hear the snare slap off of the wall. You can hear the size of the bass.

Lyrical highlights are:

But then I know he can’t shy

(Do-lang-do-lang-do-lang)

He can’t shy away forever

(Do-lang-do-lang-do-lang)

I like this because an idea is restated/completed by the second line.

And there’s this one in the bridge:

Sooner or later

(Oh yeah)

I hope it’s not later

(Oh yeah)

Here the rhyming of “later” and “later” is allowed because it’s funny.

It’s all over in one minute and fifty seconds. I probably never would have connected with this song if it hadn’t come installed in my 1976 Rockola Princess jukebox. Dynamically, this song beats all the others I have, including “Heart Of Glass” by Blondie.

I’ll never tire of it.

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