The Olympics: The Official Record Album - Vinyl LP (Cut-Out)
Since their rise to national prominence in the early 1950's, vocal groups have assured an identity for themselves by establishing a constant in the lyrical content of their material. The Flamingos, for example, adapted the idyllic theme common to much of the balladry of the big band era into a group harmony format for the majority of their chart singles. And the Coasters enjoyed a long prolific career by espousing the social and political philosophies of songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
An exception to this rule was the Olympics, who balanced two lyrical precepts with equally satisfying results throughout a successful eight-year string of chart hits. Lead vocalist Walter Ward (whose highly distinctive style has oftimes been compared to that of Coasters front man, Cornell Gunther) formed the Olympics with first tenor Eddie Lewis, second tenor Charles Fizer and bass vocalist Melvin King in 1957, while Ward, Fizer and King were attending high school in Los Angles. The Group came to the attention of the nascent, Hollywood-based Demon label (recording home of Jody Reynolds of "Endless Sleep" fame). which simultaneously paired the group with group songwriters Fred Smith and Cliff Goldsmith. The songwriting team would in turn establish an identity for the Olympics in much the same way Leiber and Stoller did for the Coasters.
The first results of the Olympics/Smith- Goldsmith pairing came in June, 1958 with "Western Movies". Though lyrically nothing more than a lament about finding a relationship stymied by the interest of one of the principals of said relationship in cinematic re-creations of the adventures of various prominent cowboy figures of the nineteenth century, "Western Movies" blended some unusual sound effects (copied shortly thereafter by the Emblems in their “Bang Bang Shoot ‘Em Daddy") with Ward's ebullient delivery, resulting in the first of many hit singles the Olympics would enjoy during the course of the next eight years.
"Western Movies" also popularized a lyrical theme rarely heretofore attempted in rhythm and blues music: American folklore. Unlike their folk music counterparts, who treated the subject with reverence and great seriousness, the Olympics opted for a light-hearted, upbeat approach, hence allowing for a natural progression to a style more sympathetic to such positivism, and one that would compete with American folklore in the Olympics’ repertoire for equal time: dance music.
"Dance With The Teacher" was the Olympics’ second single, and their first to espouse the dance/party motif. its comparitively poor sales led the Olympics and the Smith-Goldsmith team to leave Demon for the fledgling Arvee label. Preferring to adhere to safe (yet aesthetically uncompromising) territory, the Olympics returned to folklore for their Arvee debut, "Private Eye" in September, 1959. “Private Eye" duplicated the chart success of "Western Movies", inspiring the group to sustain the momentum, which they did in 1960 with "Big Boy Pete".
However, radio began to show great interest in the flip side of "Private Eye". "(Baby) Hully Gully" was a party number in the vein of the earlier “Dance With The Teacher", and was attracting strong listener interest in major radio markets across the country. As a result, the record was flipped and "(Baby) Hully Gully" gave the Olympics their biggest hit to date.
"(Baby) Hully Gully" also gave the group confidence in their affections with dance material. Their beliefs were_ justified by subsequent chart triumphs for Arvee with “Shimmy Like Kate", "Dance By The Light Of The Moon", "The Twist" and "What'd l Say (Part 1)", interspersed with such lyrically clever folk tales as “Dooley” and "Little Pedro", both from the pens of Smith and Goldsmith.
The sucess of “(Babyl Hully Gully" bolstered Arvee's faith in the Olympics enough to release an album by the group. "Doin’ The Hully Gully" was issued in the latter months of 1959, and provided a healthy balance of material that reflected both facets of their lyrical personality, including "Dodge City", “The Slop", “Boo-Dee Green" and several of their hit singles. The overall positive nature of the material made the album both aesthetic and commercial sucess, giving Arvee the impetus to issue two additional albums by the group, “Dance By The Light Of The Moon” and "Party Time". Both enjoyed accolades similar to those enjoyed by their predecessor.
Arvee successes notwithstanding, the Olympics realized the limitations of a small label. The group sought greener pastures in Chess’ subsidiary Argo label, presenting Argo with “Peanut Butter" in 1962. Contractual obligations to Arvee forced Argo to issue the “Peanut Butter" single under the group name "Marathons". However, the stylistic similarity between “Peanut Butter" and the Olympics’ "(Baby) Hully Gully" made the Marathons’ true identity a poorly-kept secret. Legal litigations ensued, with Argo forced to re-issue “Peanut Butter" as by "The Olympics as the Marathons". Eager to capitalize on the success of "Peanut Butter", Arvee issued a previously unreleased Olympics track. "C. Percy Mercy Of Scotland Yard" under the Marathons name.
Wary of the problems that they faced at Arvee, the Olympics (along with Smith and Goldsmith) moved to the Tri-Disc label in 1963, where they remained for two years. Their stay at Tri-Disc earned them several hit singles, “Dancin' Holiday", "The Bounce", “Bounce Again" and "Broken Hip", all in the vein of their earlier dance/party material for Arvee. Tri-Disc also issued an Olympics album in 1963, the Fred Smith-produced "Do The Bounce”, which made up for brevity (under 25 minutes total playing time for eleven tracks) with an irresistible groove that enhanced the group's status as album artists.
The Olympics’ accomplishments at Tri-Disc brought them to the attention of Warner Brothers Records, who recruited the group for their subsidiary Loma label early in 1965. Their first release at Loma came from veteran songwriting team of Rudy Clark and Alan Resnik. The song was "Good Lovin' an up- tempo raver in the Otis Redding/Wilson Pickett tradition. Though “Good Lovin"' lyrically eschewed the folklore or dance/party motifs that catapulted the Olympics to commercial prominence, its clever arrangement and characterisically exuberant lead vocals from Walter Ward earned the group another chart triumph.
Subsequent commercial failures at Loma with "Baby l‘m Yours" and the superb, Walter Ward-penned "I'm Comin’ Home" sent the Olympics label shopping again. Their next stop came early in ‘I966 at Mirwood, where Jackie Lee had earned a hit the previous year with "The Duck" and where their subsidiary Mira label would launch the careers of the Leaves and the Forum. The move proved to be a fruitful one, with the group scoring handsomely on the charts with "Mine Exclusively" and "Baby Do The Philly Dog" that same year. Mirwood also issued an Olympics album, “Something Old, Something New", which included their Mirwood hit singles and an update of "Western Movies" (interestingly enough, Arvee also reissued “Big Boy Pete '65", though the 1965 issue is the same recording as the 1960 original).
Sadly, the changing musical tides of the late 1960's and early 1970's caused the Olympics to fall from the limelight. Fortunately. their recording output did not cease. The group continued to release superb singles throughout the 1970's, including "Do You Like lt" on All- American and the excellent political commentary, "Don’t Get Down (On Yourself)" on California Gold in 1976, with Ward's voice as on-target as ever. The group continues to make sporadic personal appearances, highlighted by a triumphant performance at Disneyland in 1981, sharing the bill with Paul Revere and the Raiders and Bo Diddley..
Though not exactly major innovators, the Olympics inspired a number of cover versions with their material. “(Babv) Hully Gully" began a dance craze that resulted in several hit recordings loosely based upon the Olympics’ original. "Big Boy Pete" was re-cut for a b-side by Detroit's Tidal Waves in mid-1966. and was lyrically altered by the Kingsmen (protagonists of the dance/party movement in their own right) for their smash hit, “The Jolly Green Giant". And "Good Lovin" provided the Young Rascals with a gold record in the Spring of 1966, earning subsequent covers by the Dave Clark Five later that same year and by On The Air in 1984. The Olympics’ continued popularity can be attributed to a simple philosophy: positive, accessible lyrics over memorable, charismatic rhythm sections. It's hard to ask for anything more than that.
Article properties:The Olympics: The Official Record Album - Vinyl LP (Cut-Out)
|Olympics, The - The Official Record Album - Vinyl LP (Cut-Out) LP 1|
|01||Western Movies||The Olympics|
|02||The Bounce||The Olympics|
|04||Peanut Butter||The Olympics|
|05||Dance By The Light Of The Moon||The Olympics|
|06||Mine Exclusively||The Olympics|
|07||(Baby) Hully Gully||The Olympics|
|08||Good Lovin'||The Olympics|
|09||Big Boy Pete||The Olympics|
|10||Private Eye||The Olympics|
|11||Shimmy Like Kate||The Olympics|
|12||Workin' Hard||The Olympics|
|13||Little Pedro||The Olympics|
The Ward brothers sang gospel back home in Mississippi, and continued to sing together after they arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1950s. Walter Ward attended Centennial High School in Compton alongside his cousin, Eddy Lewis, who was also from Mississippi. They added Charles Fizer and Walter Hammond, and began recording in 1956 for Melatone Records. Very quickly, they discovered that there was another group called the Challengers and so, in the year of the Olympic Games, they became the Olympics. In 1958, the truly ubiquitous Jesse Belvin introduced them to John Criner and his wife, R&B singer Effie Smith.
Criner became their manager, and got them on Si Aronson and Joe Greene's Demon label (distributed by Liberty). One of Demon’s A&R men was Effie Smith’s son, Fred, who had co-written a song with fellow Demon A&R man, Cliff Goldsmith. Their song, Western Movies,was much in the style of Leiber and Stoller and was, of course, about the vogue for TV westerns. The session was held in garage studio of jazz bassist Ted Brinson, who worked on the session together with Irving Ashby on guitar, and Effie Smith on piano. It became an R&B hit (#7), a pop hit (#8), and an overseas hit (#12 in England). There were changes in personnel and changes in labels, and along the way they recorded the original version of (Baby) Hully Gully,that inspired the Marathons’ hit Peanut Butter.Then they revived Don & Dewey’s Big Boy Pete,which is generally reckoned to be the inspiration for Jim Croce’s hit Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.There were more dance craze records, more novelties, and a few more hits.
There was also an unfortunate moment when the Olympics’ career bisected history-in-the-making. On the way to a rehearsal, Charles Fizer was shot to death during the Watts riots of 1965. They soldiered on, making records until 1973, and there’s still a group called the Olympics making personal appearances out there somewhere.
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