1950 and 1960s MUSIC GROUPS (S’s)
This post addresses the greatest of all-time singing groups and artists from the 1960s that have last names starting with S: Sagittarius, Shep and the Limelites, The Staple Singers, Sam and Dave, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, The Shangri-Las, The Shirelles, Simon and Garfunkel, Percy Sledge, Sly and the Family Stone and Sonny and Cher are included…
Sagittarius was an American sunshine pop studio group formed in the late-1960s, devised by the record producer and songwriter, Gary Usher.
Usher had been involved with music as a songwriter since the early 1960s (including writing lyrics for some of Brian Wilson’s earliest songs), and soon branched out into production work. After considerable success as a producer, he eventually became a staff producer for Columbia Records. It was at this position that, during 1967, he produced Chad & Jeremy. They had played him several songs, which he felt lacked any commercial potential. He had heard a demo around that time for a song called “My World Fell Down” (https://youtu.be/81skBnAAdcQ) (RQ 9) also recorded by the British pop group The Ivy League), and he played it for them, thinking that it was a sure-fire hit. They balked at the idea of covering the song, and Usher felt that he would do it himself.
He brought in Los Angeles session musicians, as well as drafting friends such as Beach Boystouring alumni Glen Campbell (who did the lead vocal on the track) and Bruce Johnston and singer-turned-producer Terry Melcher for vocals. He finished the recording by adding a musique concrète bridge. He presented it to Columbia executives under the group name Sagittarius, named after his astrological sun sign.
The single, reached number 70 in the Billboard Hot 100. When there was pressure from Columbia for the group to tour, it was revealed that a group did not exist. Usher did, however, start working on an album for Columbia under the Sagittarius name. Most of this work was done in conjunction with Curt Boettcher.
Usher had met Boettcher when he was working with a group that he led and produced called The Ballroom. They were signed to Warner Bros. Records, and they recorded an album which was not released at the time. Usher, however, was impressed enough by Boettcher’s talents that he utilized him as a songwriter, musician, and producer (two of the album’s tracks were the same recordings made for the unreleased Ballroom album, though they appeared in stereo) throughout the album.
Prior to releasing an album, another single appeared, with the song “Hotel Indiscreet” as the A-side. The B-sides for some of the Sagittarius singles consisted of instrumentalsthat Usher had originally recorded for another studio project. As was the case with “My World Fell Down”, the bridge featured an unrelated comedy bit by The Firesign Theatre, another Usher discovery, but unlike the previous single, it failed to chart.
In 1968, the Present Tense album was released. Because Clive Davis disliked the usage of musique concrete in the two singles, Usher removed these segments from the album versions. The album version of “My World Fell Down” featured a few bars of additional music between the first and second verses, that did not appear in the single version, and both were mixed in stereo for the album. The single “Another Time” written and sung by Curt Boettcher was released from the album and charted in some markets.
However, in 1969, Usher left his job at Columbia Records in order to start his own label, Together Records. Usher started work on another Sagittarius album, The Blue Marble, but this time, he contributed more as a musician, particularly as a vocalist. As he had done with the Byrds album The Notorious Byrd Brothers, Usher made extensive use of a Moog synthesizer throughout the record. Boettcher contributed lead vocals on two songs, “Will You Ever See Me” and a cover of the Beach Boys song “In My Room”, but his involvement was otherwise minimal. “In My Room” was issued as a single and became a minor hit, peaking at number 86 on the Hot 100. However, the album failed to chart. Several more non-album singles were released by Together Records, before the end of the label.
Shep and the Limelites was an American doo-wop trio of the early 1960s, composed of James “Shep” Sheppard (September 24, 1935 – January 24, 1970), Clarence Bassett (March 13, 1936 – January 25, 2005) and Charles Baskerville (July 6, 1936 – January 18, 1995). They are best known for their 1961 hit recording, “Daddy’s Home” (https://youtu.be/AIGla91-qmk) (RQ 10) co-written by Sheppard.
Staple Singers. 1948-1994
An American gospel, soul and rock group from Chicago. Roebuck “Pops” Staples (born in Drew, Mississippi) formed the group with his children Cleotha, Pervis, Mavis, and Yvonne. They are best known for their songs: “Respect Yourself, I’ll Take You There, If You’re Ready Come Go With Me and Lets Do It Again.” Their first public appearance was in the Mount Zion Church on Chicago. starting in 1952, they began recording with: “Uncloudy Day” and Will the Circle Be Unbroken” which were best sellers. In 1967, they moved toward mainstream audiences with:
“Why Am I Treated So Bad” (https://youtu.be/5QtDABK3m-U) (RQ 7)
“For What It’s Worth” (https://youtu.be/H3g2_5atEh0). (RQ 5)
In early 1971 they moved toward the funk and soul direction:
“Heavy Makes You Happy” (https://youtu.be/RcFvyp8SlLA) (RQ 4)
“Respect Yourself” (https://youtu.be/-1pYKdqD1ls) (RQ 9) Charted to No2.
Both records sold more than a million copies and were certified gold. Spike Lee used the record in his movie Crooklyn (in 1994). In 1972, “I’ll Take You There” (https://youtu.be/Qsl4A9hZEto) (RQ 10) topped the charts. Then in 1973, “If You’re Ready Come Go With Me,” (https://youtu.be/_pUSe3zmd_Y) (RQ 8) reached No1 in the R&B charts and No9 on the Billboard chart. They went bankrupt in 1975, but still released “Let’s Do It Again” (https://youtu.be/NIS4P8xbPtg) (RQ 8). It was their second No1 hit. They were elected into the HOF in 1999 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sam & Dave. 1961-81
The singers are originally from Miami, Florida. The tenor voice was Sam Moore and the baritone Dave Prater. Sam & Dave were HOF inductees in the Rock and Roll, Vocal Group, the Memphis Music, and Rhythm & Blues associations. Their recordings won multiple Grammys and gold records and were considered to be the most successful soul duo of their time (1961-81). Their “call-and-response” top recordings included:
“Soul Man” (https://youtu.be/pYh-LwbUwoQ) (RQ 8)
“Hold On I’m Comin” (https://youtu.be/AREppyQf5uw) (RQ 10)
“You Don’t Know Like I Know” (https://youtu.be/KJulwIdx9BM) (RQ 6)
“I Thank You” (https://youtu.be/OLKiyo48VJI) (RQ 10+)
“When Something is Wrong with My Baby” (https://youtu.be/N3maCEAKZ0s) (RQ 7)
“Wrap It Up” (https://youtu.be/EcyTB4GIKg4) (RQ 8)
Overall they had 10 consecutive Top20 singles and three consecutive Top10 LPs. They helped pave the way for the acceptance of soul music by white pop audiences. “Soul Man” (https://youtu.be/1cSyZY1dBpI) (RQ 8) was a No1 pop hit and was recognized by the Grammy Hall of Fame as being the most influential song over a 50 year time period. It was also featured in the movie “Soul Men” in 2008. Nicknamed “Double Dynamite” for their gritty, gospel-infused performances. The pair were known to have a tumultuous relationship and did not speak to each other off stage for 13 of their 20 performing years!
Moore had continuing issues with Prater (drug use, touring fatigue, and having a desire to do his own thing) that ultimately led to their breakup. In 1970-71, Moore toured on his own at which time he married Joyce McRae. Joyce helped him through this difficult time in a lengthly battle with drug addition.
Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs 1961-present
Domingo “Sam” Samudio, was from Dallas, Texas. He began performing (singing and learned to play the guitar) in the second grade. After high school, he joined the Navy snd spent six years in Panama. After being discharged, he enrolled at the University of Texas-Arlington where he studied voice for two years before dropping out. Immediately afterward he became a carny (worked at a carnival).
In 1961, Sam formed the Pharaohs, the name inspired from the costumes worn in Yul Brynner’s portrayal of a pharaoh in the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments.
In late 1964, they recorded the first and greatest hit: “Wooly Bully” (https://youtu.be/uE_MpQhgtQ8) (RQ 8). The recording ended up selling three million copies, made No2 on the chart and was awarded a gold disc. The recording lingered on the Top40 charts for 18 weeks, the most for any single in 1965.
Their next two releases were moderately successful: “Ju Ju Hand (https://youtu.be/ZDQfDdBUmbc) (RQ 4) and “Ring Dang Doo” (https://youtu.be/Xt6QnGxBeLw) (RQ 5). Late in 1965 the band had a financial dispute and formed a new group. This new set of band members recorded a new successful record: “Li’l Red Riding Hood” (https://youtu.be/_FA85RO89HA) (RQ 8). In August of 1966, the recording peaked at No2 for two weeks. The group produced a series of four “novelty tunes” after Riding Hood that didn’t go anywhere.
Shangri-Las, The. 1963-1989
From NYC. Formed in Andrew Jackson High School in Queens in 1963. Two sets of sisters were the initial members of the group: Mary and Betty Weiss and twins Margie and Mary Ann Ganser. After doing a variety and teen hops, their first recording was done in December of 1963: “Simon Says” (https://youtu.be/QevN976qdLs) (RQ 4).
They also recorded:
”Wishing Well” (https://youtu.be/j6GqbTnE2y8). (RQ 6)
“Hate to Say I Told You So” (https://youtu.be/wsq0KA4DQ_o) (RQ 3)
At first the girls performed without a name, but when they signed their first deal they began calling themselves the Shangri-Las (after a restaurant in Queens, NY). The girls shared the lead singing roles in their songs. Betty sang lead for:
“Shout” (https://youtu.be/thEKxFNCuT4) (RQ 7)
“Twist and Shout” (https://youtu.be/lWpvIXirfzc) (RQ 6)
“Wishing Well” (https://youtu.be/EAMntpFb7Is). (RQ 7)
Mary took the lead for “Maybe.” (https://youtu.be/4YZjYgdAOME) (RQ 5)
In April 1964, the girls were still teenagers (Mary 15, Betty 17). They had their first hit: “Remember Walking in the Sand” (https://youtu.be/V5YxtweUxrA). It charted No5 in the U.S. Before the final recording was produced. Billy Joel (an unknown at the time) was working as a session musician played in the demo of the song. Their record producer, George Morton, featured lavish productions.
This proved to be the case for their second recording: “Leader of the Pack” (https://youtu.be/5Ge8_6rtQvs) (RQ 9). It reached No1 on the charts. Heavy orchestration and sound effects were used including roaring motorcycles and breaking glass.
The sudden success that the girls were experiencing caused them to leave their high school. By the end of 1964 the group was established touring with the likes of: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Drifters, James Brown, Hermans Hermits, Del Shannon and others. They also did college dates with bands like The Young Rascals and the Animals. In 1966, two releases failed to crack the Top50 in the U.S. But the group remained popular in England and Japan. However, Mary left the group which was the beginning of the end of the group.
Shannon, Del 1934-90
His name at birth was: Charles Weedon Westover. He was an American rock/country singer and songwriter who played the guitar. He was best known for his No1 hit: “Runaway” (https://youtu.be/0S13mP_pfEc). (RQ 8).
He was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and grew up in nearby Coopersville. In 1954, he was drafted into the army and, while in Germany, played guitar in a band called “The Cool Flames.” After his discharge, he returned to Battle Creek, MI and worked selling carpet and drove a truck for a furniture factory. On evenings and weekends he played part time rhythm guitar for the local group The Moonlight Ramblers led by singer Doug DeMott.
In 1958 DeMott was fired for drunkenness and Westover took over as lead singer. He gave himself the stage name of Charlie Johnson and renamed the band “Big Little Band Show.” In early 1959 he added keyboarder Max Crook who also played the musitron (his own invention which was like an early synthesizer). The group took some early recordings to Ollie McLaughlin, an Ann Arbor disc jockey. McLaughlin took their demos to Harry Balk of Talent Artists in Detroit.
In July of 1960, Westover and Crook signed to be composers and recording artists for BigTop Records. Balk suggested another new name. They came up with Del Shannon which was derived from a wrestler’s pseudonym (Mark Shannon) and Del from his favorite car (a Cadillac Coupe de Ville).
They began by flying to NYC, but found their initial recording sessions were not successful. Then they re-recorded one of their earlier songs “Little Runaway” using their musitron. In January of 1961 they made a recording called “Runaway” which reached No1 on the charts.
They immediately recorded two more songs:
“Hats Off to Larry” (https://youtu.be/Xk_FR3341bA) (RQ 7). Reached No5 on the charts
“So Long Baby” (https://youtu.be/03bunhSRoUc) (RQ 6)
Then in 1962 they recorded:
“Little Town Flirt” (https://youtu.be/qQLQp8drUf4) (RQ 9). Charted to No12 in 1963.
After these songs Shannon began losing his popularity in the U.S., but not in the UK. He was the first artist to record a Beatles cover version song of their “From Me To You” (https://youtu.be/nzoRrWB0xSY) (RQ 4).
In August if 1963 his relationships soured with Bigtop so he tried writing two more songs under two of his own new labels: Berlee snd Amy. Their recordings were:
“Sue’s Gotta Be Mine” (https://youtu.be/J0H5D_A-39k) (RQ 5)
“That’s the Way Love Is” (https://youtu.be/r9u4SW2IfIw) (RQ 6)
Neither recording did very well. He returned to the charts with four hits in 1964:
“Handy Man” (https://youtu.be/nm2svFSCXfY) (RQ 8)
“Do You Wanna Dance” (https://youtu.be/GKwB31bfSJU) (RQ 7)
“Keep Searchin” (https://youtu.be/VYJvoDJCW0A) (RQ 6)
“Stranger in Town” (https://youtu.be/B7UD2ObBCOY) (RQ 5)
In late 1964, he produced a demo recording session for a young Bob Seger, who later on became famous. Also he recorded an album with his idol Hank Williams music called: “Del Shannon sings Hank Williams” “Your Cheatin Heart” (https://youtu.be/DnWohbtj4XE) (RQ 10).
In 1966, Shannon revived some old popular tunes:
“The Big Hurt” (https://youtu.be/Ri31O46iHcU) (RQ 8)
“Under My Thumb” (https://youtu.be/Djkm-0ZFKIY) (RQ 9)
“I Go to Pieces” (https://youtu.be/_l8z_JfCWtw) (RQ 7)
In 1967-68 he recorded an album with two uncharted singles: “Thinkin It Over and Gemini.” At this point Shannon turned his focus to working with other artists. He discovered country singer Johnny Carver who went on to record 20 hit songs. Then he also discovered the band Smith and arranged their hit “Baby It’s You.” In 1970 he produced Bryan Highland’s million dollar hit: “Gypsy Woman” (https://youtu.be/StC5lwA2snM) (RQ 9). His career faltered in the late 70s and 80s.
Shirelles, The 1957-82
In the 1960s, this all girl group gained popularity with their rhythm and blues, doo-wop and soul music style. They were from Passiac, New Jersey (about twenty miles west of the Bronx, NY). The girls were schoolmates: Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie Harris and Beverly Lee.
They got their start in 1957, where at their high school, they did a talent show and sang their first single: “Met Him on a Sunday” (https://youtu.be/Q0D_qkha5wU) (RQ 7).
Soon afterward, working with Luther Dixon, they rose to fame with: “Tonight’s the Night” (https://youtu.be/n0-W7Uiic5o) (RQ 8). A classmate referred them to Florence Greenberg, the owner of Tiara Records (who recorded their songs). Subsequently, they recorded seven Top 20 hits.
Some of the tracking records included:
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (https://youtu.be/cbxxkwBQk_o) (RQ 10+)
“Dedicated to the One I Love” (https://youtu.be/6LS3k1XraXw) (RQ 10)
“Momma Said” (https://youtu.be/ns1exm8Y5r4). (RQ 10+)
“Baby Its You” (https://youtu.be/8clnxViHdp8). (RQ 8)
“Soldier Boy” (https://youtu.be/1NYw83uAQig). (RQ 7)
“Boys” (https://youtu.be/JnIhCCVmLEs) (RQ 9)
They were described as having a naive schoolgirl sound using strings and baiao (i.e. Native Brazillion music using a syncopated double meter based rhythm around the pulse of the zabumba, a flat, double-headed bass drum played with a mallet in one hand and a stick in the other, each striking the opposite head of the drum for alternating high and low notes).
In 1963, their single: “Foolish Little Girl” (https://youtu.be/8zAX5StHD6A) (RQ 8) reached the Top10. Their acceptance by both black and white audiences was new to the era. Unfortunately, the ladies learned that the trust, supposedly created by Greenberg where their royalties were to held in a safe place, did not exist! This caused a series of lawsuits and a disbanding of the group. In 1996, they were inducted into the HOF.
Simon & Garfunkel. 1956-70.
From Queens, NY. The duet’s names were: Paul Simon (singer-songwriter) and Art Garfunkel (singer). They met in grade school where they learned how to harmonize. In 1957, they created their first song: “Hey Schoolgirl” (https://youtu.be/Bsqt5jXFkYU) (RQ 5) as they were doing their best sounding like their favorite band, The Everly Brothers (under the group name of: Tom and Jerry).
In 1963, they were signed by Columbia Records as Simon and Garfunkel. Their first recording was: “Wednesday Morning, 3am” (https://youtu.be/gzmgJ_ZOqrE) (RQ 8). The record sold poorly so the group disbanded.
However, in June of 1965, they regrouped and recorded “Sounds of Silence.” (https://youtu.be/4fWyzwo1xg0) (RQ 10). The record charted No1 and was a smash hit on U. S. radio. They were one of the best selling groups in the 1960s.
Their biggest hits were:
“The Sound of Silence” (1965) see above
“Mrs. Robinson” – 1968 – (https://youtu.be/9C1BCAgu2I8) (RQ 10+)
“The Boxer” – 1969 – (https://youtu.be/l3LFML_pxlY) (RQ 10)
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” – 1970 – (https://youtu.be/WrcwRt6J32o) (RQ 10). Reached No1 on Charts worldwide.
Sledge, Percy 1941-2015
Was an American soul, R&B and gospel singer. Was born in Lighten, Alabama (located about 100 miles northwest of Birmingham).
His most remembered and best song was: “When a Man Loves a Woman.” (https://youtu.be/dsQriJbxYBU) (RQ 10+). It was No1 on all the charts in 1966 and was awarded a million-selling gold disc. Sledge said he was motivated to write the song when his girlfriend left him after losing his job.
In the early sixties he worked as an orderly at Colbert County Hospital in Sheffield, Alabama. He worked weekdays at the hospital and toured on weekends in the SE part of the U.S. He met record producer Quinn Ivy during the mid-sixties. His emotional, soulful singing style was a perfect fit for the series of ballads produced by Ivy.
He followed up with these recordings:
“Warm and Tender Love” (https://youtu.be/v9aMcBs7hyk) (RQ 8)
“Take Time to Know Her” (https://youtu.be/vFxnUMdQsPw). (RQ 6)
“Love Me Tender” (https://youtu.be/wn5K-phiBzo) (RQ 7)
“Cover Me” (https://youtu.be/1lE0oGYXUwY) (RQ 7)
Then, in the early 1970s, he produced two more big hits:
“I’ll Be Your Everything” (https://youtu.be/rwzSmMtDTZM) (RQ 9)
“Sunshine” (https://youtu.be/PM3qYR_xBZI) (RQ 8)
He became an international concert favorite including averaging more than 100 concerts per year in South Africa. He continued into the 90s producing the album “Blue Night” which received a Grammy nomination for Contemporary Blues. Next, in 2004, he recorded a live album with his band Sunset Drive called “Percy Sledge and Sunset Drive – Live in Virginia.” In 2007, he was inducted into the Louisiana HOF, His last tour was with Cliff Richard’s “Soulicious” tour in 2011 where he performed “ I’m Your Puppet” (https://youtu.be/yQBpfziG1Xo) (RQ 4).
Sly & The Family Stone 1966-83
The group was from SanFrancisco. They represented a combination of funk, soul, rock and psychedelic music. It’s makeup was: led by Sly Stone (Singer, songwriter, producer that played multiple instruments), his brother Freddie (singer & guitarist), his sister Rose (singer and keyboard), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet), Gregg Errico (drummer), Jerry Martini (saxophone), and Larry Graham (bass).
It was the first American group to have been racially integrated. Starting in 1968, they recorded a string of Top10 Billboard hits including:
“Dance to the Music” (https://youtu.be/Jn2PNlhvy8E) (RQ 10+)
“Everyday People” (https://youtu.be/YUUhDoCx8zc) (RQ 10)
“Thank You” (https://youtu.be/N5BP2KlPD4U) (RQ 8)
“Stand” (https://youtu.be/Q49vjFN6Fsw) (RQ 9)
In 1971-73, they moved toward a darker and less commercial sound such as: “There’s a Riot Going On and Fresh.” These songs failed to chart. By 1975, drug problems led to a dissolution of the group.
They were inducted into the Rock and Roll HOF in 1993. One odd incident happened at the final public appearance for Sly at the 2006 Grammy Award Show…three minutes into singing “I Want to Take You Higher” (https://youtu.be/BqWQzOzK3kw) (RQ 9) he waved and exited the stage leaving his band to finish the song!
Sonny (1935-1998) & Cher 1946-present
The married duet were Salvatore (Sonny) Bono and Cherilyn Sarkisian (Cher for short). Sonny was born in Detroit, Michigan and Cher was born in El Centro, California. They met in a LA coffee shop when Cher was only 16 (Sonny was 27).
In 1964, the duo began recording together:
“Caesar and Cleo” (https://youtu.be/UWPt0OLyYMY)
They started their careers as R&B backing singers for record producer Phil Spector in the mid-sixties. Cher then was a session singer backing up the Ronette’s “Be My Baby,” the Righteous Brother’s: “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” and Darlene Love’s “A Fine, Fine Boy.” Their early recordings were:
“The Letter” (https://youtu.be/5OTyKI9tFOU) (RQ 7)
“Do You Wanna Dance” (https://youtu.be/wxXuUcb7zIw) (RQ 8)
“Love is Strange” (https://youtu.be/Nbtzp7EjRXM) (RQ 8)
These recordings received very little attention. In September of 1964, they released “Baby Don’t Go” (https://youtu.be/BjHSOzVU5j0) (RQ 9) which became their first regional hit. In the summer of 1965, they then released their first album: “Look At Us.”
The album included “I Got You Babe” (https://youtu.be/BERd61bDY7k) (RQ 10) which eventually peaked on the charts at No2.
In the same timeframe, they regularly appeared on ten of the most popular tv entertainment shows including the Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand, etc.
They also appeared as themselves in the movie: “Wild on the Beach” singing “Its Gonna Rain” (https://youtu.be/YNRJHFKJidU) (RQ 6) They produced their second studio album in April of 1966 called: “The Wondrous World of Sonny and Cher” “Summertime” (https://youtu.be/qAtprpOmt9o) (RQ 9). It peaked on the charts at No34. They setup concert tours around the world that were sold out.
In the late 60s, Cher released some popular singles including: “Bang Bang” (https://youtu.be/i-wk7-pRqCo) (RQ 10).
In 1967, they released their third album called: “In Case You’re in Love.” Within the album, it contained two hit singles:
“The Beat Goes On” (https://youtu.be/to0irFedGqc) (RQ 9). No6 on the charts
“Little Man” (https://youtu.be/c2llgxeRCnY) (RQ 10) No21 in the U.S. and No1 in five European countries.
While their success in recording/touring started to dry up in the late 60s, they celebrated the birth of their child (Chasity Sun Bono) on March 4, 1969. Shortly after Chastity was born, the couple was officially married.
They did record two songs in conjunction with their tv show “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” They were:
“All I Ever Need is You” (https://youtu.be/HK9hNj29gb0) (RQ 10+)
“A Cowboy’s Work is Never Done” (https://youtu.be/qHfAaG34H30) (RQ 10)
The couple was divorced on June 6, 1975. They did temporarily try to unite in 1976, but it failed. After 1978, Sonny ultimately managed to be elected into the U.S. House of Representatives. Sonny ended up dying from hitting a tree while skiing on January 5, 1998 at the Heavenly Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe. Cher has become a Grammy Award, winning solo singer and a Academy Award winning actress. Even today (2020) she is still touring and putting on fabulous shows at 74! My wife and I witnessed her show in Nashville in 2018. She looked great, danced well and her voice was outstanding at 72 years old! At the end of the three hour show she said, “What is your Grandma doing tonight?”