I just found out that Gene Thomas, of Gene and Debbe has passed away at the age of 74.
Thomas had a long career before – and after – Gene and Debbe.
‘Playboy’ is one of my all-time favorite country pop records (originally posted here in 2008), so I thought I’d repost it in his memory.
I hope you dig it.
Gene & Debbe
Listen/Download – Gene and Debbe – Playboy
Today’s selection is one of those tracks from what I like to refer to as the Second 20, i.e. the tunes that were Top 40 radio hits in their time, but never really broke through the Top 20 in a significant way. As a result, and thanks in large part to the hegemony of homogenized “oldies” radio, they are all but forgotten by all those who didn’t have their ears glued to the radio when they were first released.
Back in the day, probably 15 or so years ago one of the local FM stations suddenly spent an entire weekend playing nothing but ’96 Tears’ by Question Mark & the Mysterians, punctuated only by the sounds of hammers and saws (really). As it turns out, they were undergoing yet another format change (having been country and Top 40 in the past).
Once Monday arrived, naturally curious I tuned to the station and discovered that they were now working a syndicated oldies format, which seemed (due to the kind of unusual things that were thrown into the mix with the same 40 or 50 songs you hear on every oldies station) to have originated somewhere in the South.
I spent a lot of time listening to the station, and appreciated hearing a lot of unusual cuts, as well as several tunes that were new to me.
One of these was today’s selection.
The first time I heard ‘Playboy’, I was sensing a little bit of a Nino Tempo/April Stevens mixed with Sonny & Cher vibe, but knew that it was neither of those duos. As is often the case, I followed up with some research and discovered that the performers were Gene & Debbe.
Despite spending most of my waking hours since the age of 12 listening to and/or reading about music, I had NEVER heard of Gene & Debbe. When I started to dig – eventually picking up a copy of their LP ‘Hear and Now’ – I discovered that Gene & Debbe were another one of those examples of an artist who hovered around the charts for a few years, hit it big once and then promptly dropped out of sight.
Gene, was Gene Thomas, a singer/songwriter who recorded a number of unsuccessful 45s during the early 60’s only to retire from performing and concentrate on a career as a Nashville-based tunesmith. He formed a duo with Debbe Nevills (or Neville, depending on the source) in 1965, and they began recording for the TRX label in 1967.
They released a couple of 45s that grazed the charts, finally hitting the Top 40 with ‘Playboy’ in 1968.
‘Playboy’ is great example of the kind of pop records that were coming out of the country music capital in the 60’s, that had a perfect mix of pop and the Countrypolitan sound to get them on both charts, but not enough of either sound to limit their appeal to either audience (a la efforts by the like of the Everly Brothers and Rick Nelson from the same period).
Interestingly enough, ‘Playboy’ was a big enough hit to inspire rip-offs. During my most recent dig I picked up a 2-EP ‘Pickwick’ style set of pop and soul covers(no artists credited) that included – alongside covers of ‘Tighten Up’ and ‘Mony Mony’ – a version of ‘Playboy’.
That said, I hope you dig the tune, and I’ll see you next week with a new mix.