Ever since the birth of rock ’n’ roll, songwriters have drawn inspiration from many sources. This includes everything from politics and poetry, to tragedy and triumph, even hurt, heartbreak and hope to controversy and current affairs, through to culture and classical composers. They’ve all provided food for thought for songwriters over the past sixty years.

Especially the music composed by the great classical composers. Many a time, the melody of a pop or rock song has been inspired by a classical composition. So much so, that nowadays. all the great classical composers have written their way into the musical history books. 

The music of Bach, Debussy, Grieg and Mozart, Prokofiev, Rossini, Schubert and Tchaikovsky has influenced, and often, provided inspiration for a songwriter. Especially when they’re struggling with that all important melody. Suddenly, they find the solution in classical music. Often, these songs were recorded by some of the biggest names in music. 

Among them, were Roy Orbison and Lesley Gore plus Harpers Bizarre, Jay and The Americans, Julie Rogers, Lesley Miller, Shorty Long, Sounds Incorporated, The Second City Sound and The Toys. They’re among the twenty-four artists that feature on Ace Records’ recently released compilation, Classical Gassers-Pop Gems Inspired By The Great Composers. These songs were all recorded during the sixties. However, even today songwriters are finding inspiration in classical music.

Opening Classical Gassers-Pop Gems Inspired By The Great Composers is Piltdown Rides Again, the 1960 single by The Piltdown Men. They were no ordinary group. Instead, they were an instrumental studio group, created by songwriter and musicians Ed Cobb and Lincoln Mayorga. 

They wrote Piltdown Rides Again with Howard Adelman. However, they were obviously inspired by Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture. Its influence is apparent from the opening bars, before a horn lead, rocking instrumental unfolds. When Piltdown Rides Again was released in Britain, it found favour with record buyers, and reached number fourteen. This was just the latest of a string of successful instrumental singles for The Piltdown Men on both sides of the Atlantic.

Jay and The Americans were founded in Belle Harbor, Queens, New York in 1960. Success came quickly for them, and by 1961 they were signed to United Artists. A year later, and Jay and The Americans’ star was in the ascendancy.

Not only did they released She Cried as a single in 1962, but it lent its name Jay and The Americans’ debut album. Dawning, which featured on the flip side of She Cried, featured on the album. Just like She Cried, Dawning was produced by Leiber and Stollr. They transform this Mark Barkan and Tony Powers composition, which had been inspired by Grieg’s Morning from the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1.The result was a delicious slice of perfect pop.

My Clair De Lune was the B-Side to Jay and The Americans’ 1963 single Only In America. It was penned and produced by Leiber and Stoller. They drew inspiration from Debussy’s 3rd Movement from Suite Bergmanasque. When the considerable talents of Leiber and Stoller, Debussy and Jay and The Americans were combined, the result was a tender, heartfelt ballad.

In August 1965, The Toys released A Lover’s Concerto as a single on Dynovoice Records. A Lover’s Concerto was a originally written and produced by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell. However, they had been inspired by J.S. Bach’s Minuet In G, so the great composer received a writing credit. That is only fair, as without this ‘contribution’, it wouldn’t be the same song. By that I mean, beautiful, memorable, melodic and truly timeless.

Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell also cowrote Attack which The Toys released as a single December 1965. Again, they’ve drawn inspiration from classical music. This time, it’s the March from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Just like A Lover’s Concerto, Attack is a memorable and urgent slice of sixties pop.

Fifty years ago, in 1966, Lesley Miller released Mountain Of Our Love on RCA Victor. It was penned by Malou René and inspired by Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1. No expense was spared it seems. An orchestra and backing singers accompany Lesley Miller, while a pounding, driving beat adds to the drama. Much of this drama comes courtesy of a vocal that’s a mixture of emotion and power. Alas, Mountain Of Our Love wasn’t a commercial success. However, it’s a welcome addition to Classical Gassers-Pop Gems Inspired By The Great Composers.

1962 saw Roy Orbison release his Crying album in many parts of the world. The album was released in North America, Europe, Scandinavia, Japan and Australia. In America, Crying was released in America. One of the songs on the album was She Wears My Ring. Originally, it was penned by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. They had been inspired by Serradell’s La Golondrina. Nowadays, they receive a co-credit on She Wears My Ring.  It was released as a single in South Africa and Australia. However,  She Wears My Ring was never released as a single in America, despite being an impassioned and emotive ballad from the Big O.

Sounds Incorporated arranged and recorded Hall Of The Mountain King in 1965. It was based Grieg’s Morning from the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1. Later in 1965, Hall Of The Mountain King was released as a single. However, they weren’t the only group to record Hall Of The Mountain King. Eight years later, Electric Light Orchestra recorded Hall Of The Mountain King for their 1973 On The Third Day.

My Hero was based upon Oscar Strauss’ operetta The Chocolate Soldier. It had been originally recorded Deanna Durbin. Then in November 1967, Renee St Clair released My Hero as a single on the Jubilee label. Renee St Clair’s version was very different to what had gone before. The tempo was quicker, and a pounding beat drove the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Renee St Clair through herself into this irresistible slice of pop.

Back in 1967, Gary Brooker and Keith Reed had penned a new song, A Whiter Shade Of Pale. The song had been inspired by Bach’s Air from Orchestra Suite in D, and became Procol Harum’s debut single. When it was released on 12th May 1967 , Gary Brooker and Keith Reed’s lives were transformed. A Whiter Shade Of Pale sold ten million copies; reached number one in eleven countries, and even today, is a favourite of radio stations. For Gary Brooker and Keith Reed, A Whiter Shade Of Pale has provided them with a pension plan. Especially, as many artists have covered, and continue to cover the song.

This includes Shorty Long in August 1969. His version was released on the Soul label, and is the best cover of A Whiter Shade Of Pale. It’s soulful, with a heartfelt vocal. Shorty Long even briefly vamps, adding the soulfulness and beauty of a classic song.

For their debut single, The Mindbenders chose Carole Bayer and Toni Wine’s Groovy Kind Of Love, which had been inspired by Clementi’s Rondo from Sonatina In G. When Groovy Kind Of Love was recorded by The Mindbenders it became a beautiful, hopeful ballad. It was released on on Fontana in 1965, and reached number two in Britain and America. Not only was  Groovy Kind Of Love The Mindbenders’ finest hour, but it’s a song that became a pop classic.

Closing Classical Gassers-Pop Gems Inspired By The Great Composers is Sabre Dance by Love Sculpture. They were a Welsh rock band who featured Dave Edmunds. Love Sculpture’s roots were in blues and rockabilly. By 1968, they were a hard rocking trio who had signed to Parlophone. 

One of the singles Love Sculpture released during 1968 was Sabre Dance. It’s from Khachaturion’s Gayaneh Ballet, and was arranged by Dave Edmunds. In his hands, Sabre Dance is totally transformed. Urgency and energy are injected into the track, as the rhythm section power the arrangement along, Meanwhile, Dave Edmunds delivers a masterclass on guitar. When Love Sculpture released their sophomore album Blues and Feelings in 1969, Sabre Dance close the album. It also closes Classical Gassers-Pop Gems Inspired By The Great Composers, and is a case of keeping the best until last.

Love Sculpture’s 1968 single Sabre Dance was a truly memorable way to close Classical Gassers-Pop Gems Inspired By The Great Composers. It’s one of twenty-four tracks on this new Ace Records compilation. They’re a reminder of just how important a part classical composers have had in pop and rock music. 

The great classical composers, including Bach, Debussy, Grieg and Mozart, Prokofiev, Rossini, Schubert and Tchaikovsky have provided inspiration for many an aspiring or established songwriter. Sometimes, they aren’t consciously inspired by a classical composer. That only becomes apparent later, and can prove an expensive mistake.

There’s been several cases where songwriters have been forced to give a credit to a classical composer. This can prove an expensive. Especially if the song has been a million seller that’s topped the charts. Suddenly, the songwriter or songwriters can be losing a large part of their income. However, their song wouldn’t have been as successful without the influence of Bach or Debussy. That is apparent throughout Classical Gassers-Pop Gems Inspired By The Great Composers.

It’s an interesting and eclectic selection songs. Familiar faces and new names site side-by-side. So do singles, B-Sides and album tracks. Some of these songs are pop classics, while many are heard regularly on the radio. Others fall into the category of hidden gems. However, each and every song on Classical Gassers-Pop Gems Inspired By The Great Composers is a reminder of the influence classical composers have had in modern music; and is also a reminder of one of the most important decades in the history of music, the sixties.






















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