The Nashville Teens
Sorry for the crappy pic. I couldn’t get a good shot of this one…
Listen – Nashville Teens – Find My Way Back Home – MP3
Listen – The Choir – I’m Going Home – MP3
I hope everyone had a most excellent weekend.
A while back, I posted ‘It’s Cold Outside’ by the Choir, a great slice of mid-60s Ohio garage pop. When I posted that, I digi-ma-tized that record’s flipside, knowing that I’d want to feature it sometime in the future. ‘I’m Going Home’ was the first tune I ever heard by the Choir, and the reason I bought the 45 in the first place.
Not long after I posted ‘It’s Cold Outside’ I got a note from Mack over at the excellent Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye blog suggesting I check out a certain tune by the Nashville Teens (and very graciously including a link) called ‘Find My Way Back Home’. After pulling down the ones and zeros, and having my mind blown by a truly amazing record that I’d never heard before, I realized that it also happened to be the song that the Choir, ermmmm “borrowed” to create ‘I’m Going Home’. I set out to get myself a copy.
I’m always on the lookout for stories like this, and this one had a couple of interesting by-products. First and foremost, it drew me into the discography of the Nashville Teens, a group I previously only knew via their hit version of JD Loudermilk’s ‘Tobacco Road’. Second, I’m always amazed when a group, only a year or two removed from the source material, chooses to “adapt” (an extremely charitable characterization of what’s going on here) that song and recast it as a creation of their own – I’m looking at you Led Zeppelin . Third, I was very pleased (and surprised) to discover that ‘Find My Way Back Home’ was co-written by none other than one of my favorite soul artists, Lou Courtney, under his real name Louis Pegues (or Peques depending on the source)*.
That said, it’s impossible to listen to the Nashville Teens charge through ‘Find My Way Back Home’ – in my opinion a far superior record – and not realize that Denny Klawson of the Choir was taking liberties by claiming authorship of ‘I’m Going Home’, which was little more than a loose recasting of the other song (you can hear both above).
I first discovered ‘I’m Going Home’ via a cover on the first Chesterfield Kings album. I picked up the Choir single a few years later (circa 1985). I always dug the loose, garagey swagger of the Choir tune, with the repeated ‘Yeah Yeah’s and the harmonica solo. The Choir record is cool, but I can’t imagine anyone hearing the combination of piano and distorted guitars, along with the much more aggressive tempo of ‘Find My Way Back Home’ and coming away from the comparison with anything but a diminished opinion of the Choir. The Nashville Teens record is about fifteen steps higher on the punk scale.
I realize that to most people, this would be considered something of a non-issue. Very few people that weren’t listening to these records when they came out – other that the collectorati – probably care much about an issue like this.
But I do, so bear with me.
The reason I write about music, is that I see a fabric of musical and cultural history that is largely neglected. The modus operandi here is first and foremost to expose you to music that you may not have heard, in the hope that you’ll take these posts as a jumping off point for exploration of your own. This isn’t so much an alternative history, as an unreported one.
There’s very little new music coming out today that interests me, yet I’ve been looking backwards for decades and I’m still discovering new and interesting music, and within that music cultural and historical tangents that bring to life untold stories. When it comes to light that a band like the Choir basically ripped off a band like the Nashville Teens, while it might not matter to many, I see it as part of a continuum, especially in the mid-1960s. While most British Invasion bands were worshipping at the altar of Chess blues and R&B, and transmitting that particular lost signal back to the country of origin, you had groups like the Animals taking a song of long standing, ‘House of the Rising Sun’ (albeit a ‘traditional’ tune) and putting Alan Price’s name on as if he had written it; a particularly bold move considering that Bob Dylan (among others) had recorded the song on his debut LP only a few years before.
While many of the UK acts gave credit where credit was due, a few years on saw the rise of Led Zeppelin, who raided the storehouses of Chicago and Delta blues, carrying away any number of songs that they would soon claim were their own. There are those who would take these actions and try to place them in the “blues tradition”, i.e. old timey bluesmen borrowing, redeveloping and putting their own stamp on existing material, but what these apologists forget (or willingly overlook) is that there is a huge difference between itinerant bluesmen, traveling from juke to juke, recording sporadically (and usually being rewarded as if doing piece-work), and modern day rockers creating in an environment of copyright, where they would be rewarded over and over again (via royalties) for their music.
How the Choir figured they could get away with taking the Nashville Teens tune isn’t too much of a mystery. ‘Find My Way Back Home’ was the group’s last charting record (only in a few regional markets, one of which was Detroit where it was a Top 40 hit (in early 1965), well within earshot of the Choir in their home base of Cleveland, Ohio). By the time ‘I’m Going Home’ was released in 1967, the Nashville Teens (at least in the US) were pretty much of a dead issue, and ‘Find My Way Back Home’ was lost in the huge wave of pop music that hit the radio in the ensuing two years. I’m sure someone in Ohio/Michigan** probably realized that ‘I’m Going Home’ had been lifted from the earlier record, but it seems likely – as a b-side – that it passed unnoticed by the larger audience, even though ‘It’s Cold Outside’ was a substantial regional hit
In the end, all that matters (since I can’t imagine anyone made a ton of cash off of either record) is that ‘Find My Way Back Home’ is now on my (and your) radar. I’m not getting rid of my Choir 45, but I can assure you that the Nashville Teens record will henceforth be my spin of choice.
I hope you dig the tune, and I’ll be back later in the week.
*Oddly enough, Courtney also co-wrote ‘Do the Freddie’ for Freddie & the Dreamers
**No doubt the president (and sole member) of the Detroit chapter of the Nashville Teens fan club