New Zealand’s rich musical past includes many songs that belong to us and are, in their recorded form, simply standards. New Zealanders young and old know these songs, radio plays them as gold classics and the videos, if they exist, are well watched online. These songs often define times and places in our history. Young bands reverently cover some of these, generation after generation. They both pervade and define our musical culture.
And yet, many of these songs are only borrowed – they are cover versions of songs written by others offshore. This is especially so for the songs we own from the 1960s, a decade where bigger record companies rarely let their acts perform their own compositions as singles. The songs covered were almost always obscure US or UK singles, which were somehow deemed to be worthier and hit-likely than our own songs. Upper Hutt band The Fourmyula (with an honourable mention to Larry’s Rebels) finally broke the down the barrier and had a string of huge hits with their own songs, thanks in a big part to a handful of progressive A&R men and producers at HMV in Wellington who increasingly understood the need to establish our own songs to advance the industry. From the late 1960s New Zealanders increasingly wrote the hits but, even then, in the 1970s and thereafter the charts featured covers and some major acts simply didn’t record originals, preferring to hunt out offshore demos or hits.
Ray Columbus & The Invaders ‘She’s a Mod’ (Zodiac, 1964)
This song is so much ours it has generated at least three covers by other New Zealand acts: The Terrorways, The Mint Chicks, and a 1988 No.1, ‘Mod Rap’ with Double J & Twice The T, with Ray. Written by a Mancunian, Terry Beal, for his band, The Senators, one suspects the New Zealand version(s) have provided him with a better income than the original, given that Ray Columbus and The Invaders’ version went to No.1 in Australia as well. The original was a fast disappearing flop but The Senators would have a more solid claim to history: their drummer John Bonham would go onto future fame and notoriety with Led Zeppelin. Ray sourced the song from an Australian publisher who thought it would suit the band – he was right. Terry Beal (whose surname was for some reason always given an extra ‘e’ in credits) passed away in March 2011.
Dinah Lee ‘Do The Blue Beat’ (Viking, 1964)
Written by New York professional songwriters Mark Barkan and Ben Raleigh as a quickie cash-in throwaway in the wake of the Mille Small smash ‘My Boy Lollipop’ and the bluebeat craze going around the world. It was first issued by the veteran Latin jazz vocalist Ray Rivera on RCA in 1964, perhaps an odd choice given the genre clash. It seems to have found its way to New Zealand via a publisher. The local version was quickly recorded in Auckland by Viking producer Ron Dalton and was an instant Australasian smash, and one that helped define Dinah Lee’s long and very successful career. A French version by Monty was called ‘Tchick Tchang’ and released the same year. Like the Rivera version, it was not a hit.
Ray Columbus And The Invaders ‘Till We Kissed’ (Zodiac, 1965)
The winning song of the first Loxene Golden Disc was penned by one of the famed Brill Building teams, Cynthia Weill and Barry Man. Titled ‘Where Have You Been All My Life?’ it first appeared on a single by the great R&B singer Arthur Alexander back in 1961. It was covered by the The Beatles in their Hamburg days, and they also recorded Alexander’s ‘Anna’ for their debut album, and ‘A Shot Of Rhythm & Blues’ and ‘Soldier of Love’ during their BBC sessions; The Rolling Stones honoured his ‘You Better Move On’ at Decca Studios in West Hampstead in late 1963. For some strange reason, not only is the Invaders’ version renamed, but has always had an incorrect writer’s credit, Sidney Gunter. Nobody is quite sure why.
The La De Da’s ‘How is The Air Up There’ (Zodiac, 1966)
Nothing says New Zealand rock and roll more than the searing Kevin Borich intro to this 1966 classic. Recorded at Zodiac’s Saratoga Avenue studio in Herne Bay by English expat engineer/producer John Hawkins – whose name appears on many raw classics of the era – and Eldred Stebbing, the song was written by two Americans, Artie Kornfeld and Steve Dubof. Both were accomplished songwriters with a very large number of US hits to their names, although Artie would perhaps become even more notorious/famous later in the decade when he put on a small festival with co-promoter Michael Lang they called Woodstock. The song was first recorded by The Changin' Times (an alias for the writers) in 1965 and shrewdly suggested to Eldred by Philips Records boss, John McCready. McCready then licensed it from Zodiac and gifted the recording to the ages. When Jordan Luck recorded it in 2009, he was covering the Herne Bay version, not the NYC one; in 2004 it was covered by Ted Brown and the Italians.
Larry’s Rebels ‘I Feel Good’ (Impact, 1966)
One of the killer New Zealand garage band singles of the 1960s, and one that has found an international audience in recent years thanks to various compilations. Produced by the band and manager Russell Clark, given its status it was surprisingly not a hit in New Zealand. ‘I Feel Good’ was written by the great New Orleans producer and master craftsman Allen Toussaint under his mother’s name, Naomi Neville, and first issued by Benny Spellman in 1965 as a B-side. From there it went to Australia where it was covered by Greg Anderson in early 1966. However, the version that Larry’s Rebels took theirs from was the August 1966 recording by The Artwoods, the English band whose claim to fame was their keyboard player, Jon Lord, who would go into Deep Purple. Oh, and Art Wood had a brother called Ron. The single was produced by Mike Vernon, one of the great British blues talent-spotters and a man who would soon bring the world Fleetwood Mac. The song was a hit all over again when Citizen Band covered the cover in 1978.
Mr Lee Grant ‘Thanks To You’ (HMV, 1967)
Bogdan Kominowski, to use his real name, was already a star when he released this single in September 1967. His previous single, ‘Opportunity’ (written by US songwriters Warren Joyner, Bobby Hart and John Marascalco for soulman Walter Jackson in 1963) had already been a No.1 smash and he was causing teen frenzies nationwide. However it is ‘Thanks To You’ that will always be Lee’s premier calling card, thanks to the TV show C’mon; the song’s perfectly dramatic, nagging Howard Gable production; and its deserved prize as the 1967 Loxene Golden Disc Award winner. The (non-hit) original was released a few months earlier by Canadian singer Bobby Hanna on British Decca and was penned by Les Vandyke, who found earlier UK success with Adam Faith and ex-Shadows Jet Harris & Tony Meehan. After the success of Mr. Lee Grant’s song, His Master’s Voice (NZ) Ltd. released two other singles by Hanna in 1968 – neither made any impact.
The Underdogs ‘Sitting In The Rain’ (Zodiac, 1967)
Few New Zealanders don’t know – and equally love – this softly-psychedelic blues classic which can reasonably be called a New Zealand standard now. It gets radio and TV exposure continually, partially because of Chris Bourn’s video, filmed near Palmerston North on a grey day, thanks to the Dutch sponsors of the Loxene Golden Disc show who paid for the video. The Underdogs’ recording has featured on more than a few compilations over the years. But equally few probably know where it came from. Written and recorded in late 1966 by John Mayall with his Bluesbreakers during the sessions for the Hard Road album (it would not appear on that until the 2000s reissue), it was issued as a single only in January 1967 and featured guitarist Peter Green, who would soon found Fleetwood Mac. The New Zealand version by The Underdogs – like The La De Da’s with ‘How is The Air Up There’ – was recorded and produced by John Hawkins and Eldred Stebbing in Zodiac’s Herne Bay studio.
Allison Durbin ‘I Have Loved Me A Man’ (HMV, 1968)
Allison Durbin’s smash is often regarded as the biggest-selling New Zealand artist single, with well over 80,000 copies sold according to the very reliable former HMV/EMI exec Bruce Ward. Written by Janice Weaver, the original, offshore, version is the 1967 classic by US jazz vocalist Morgana King. Allison’s album of the same name is chock full of other killer covers, not least Charles Blackwell’s ‘Don't Come Any Closer’ and Neil Sedaka’s ‘Workin’ On A Groovy Thing’. Weaver left music some years back but still proudly mentions Allison’s timeless version on her social media profile.
The Avengers ‘Love, Hate, Revenge’ (HMV, 1968)
The Wellington band’s 1968 smash was written by US songwriters Ritchie Adams and Irwin Levine and first released by the long-established doo-wop group The Del-Satins as ‘Love, Hate, Revenge (If I Want You To Cry)’ in January 1967. It largely disappeared without trace. The Avengers took their version from the later cover by Episode Six, a British group that included Ian Gillan, Roger Glover (Deep Purple) and John Gustafson (Roxy Music) in their lineup. Their version also seems not to have troubled the charts and it would require HMV producer Nick Karavias, who discovered the song, and the Wellington band to turn it into the hit it always had the potential to be. It peaked at No.2 in August 1968, giving The Avengers their biggest hit and a song that, like all on this page, has become forever ours. Levine would go on to pen ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ whilst Adams gave us ‘Tossin' And Turnin'’ and the joys of The Banana Splits’ ‘The Tra La La Song’ and The Archies’ ‘Sugar Sugar’.
Shane ‘Saint Paul’ (HMV, 1969)
In the 1970s Grand Funk Railroad sold many thousands of records in New Zealand. While this wasn’t by them, it was almost the next best thing, being originally penned and released by the shady svengali who managed that band, Terry Knight. Before Knight went solo, he and two future Railroaders were in the Cleveland band Terry Knight and The Pack. ‘Saint Paul’ was a 1969 single by him and arguably grew out of the ‘Paul is dead’ furore that erupted that year – either a cash-in by Knight or a contributing factor to the fuss, nobody is quite sure which. Either way, the use of Lennon-McCartney songs in ‘Saint Paul’ meant the Fabs sued and thereafter picked up the publishing. Knight’s version was not a hit, which made it very attractive to HMV’s Peter Dawkins, who was always able to hear an overlooked international hit. He was right. Shane’s third album, Straight Straight Straight (1971) was all original songs.