Bobby Vee (EP): Bobby Vee, London, 1960. Later copies retitled Bobby Vee No. 1
Once upon a time, way back in the 1960s, before The Beatles, male singers had names ending in Y. Billy, Tony, Tommy, Larry, Lonnie, Ronny, Ricky, Mickey, Marty, Charlie, Jimmy, Jackie, Jerry, Frankie, Eddie, Buddy, Barry, Harry, Kenny, Benny, Danny, Donny. There there was Willy, Dickie and Johnny (where is this going?). Then there was Bobby.
Bobby Vee is most often mentioned in rock history, because another Bobby, a certain Bobby Zimmerman played piano in his band for a short time in the Mid-west. It wasn’t for long, maybe just a couple of shows, but it was a seminal experience. In 2013, Bob Dylan played Suzie Baby at a concert in Minnesota with Bobby Vee in the audience. Dylan said:
I used to live here, and then I left. I’ve played with all kinds of people, everybody from Mick Jagger to Madonna And everybody in there in between. I’ve been on the stage with most of those people. But the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on the stage with, was a man who is here tonight, who used to sing a song called “Suzie Baby”. I want to say that Bobby Vee is actually here tonight. Maybe you can show your appreciation with just a round of applause. So, we’re gonna try to do this song, like I’ve done it with him before once or twice.
Young Robert Zimmerman was going under the stage name of Elston Gunn, and blagged the job claiming he had been backing Conway Twitty. He hadn’t.
So let’s start with the first single, Suzie Baby. Vee wrote it. His real name was Robert Velline, which is what he used as a composer and it was credited to Bobby Vee & The Shadows. He started out on his career the day the music died … February 3rd 1959, when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash in Iowa. Bobby Vee was just fifteen, and fronted a local band of schoolkids in Moorhead, Minnesota called The Shadows who filled in for Buddy Holly that night.
It wasn’t a hit in the UK, it wasn’t even released in the UK. Was that because of the group name The Shadows? The British Shadows would have been protective of their brand, especially after being forced to change their name from ‘The Drifters.’ He had that Buddy Holly-Adam Faith vibrato. I didn’t hear Suzie Baby until years later when it was added to compilations in Britain. The Holly / Faith connection is strong, as his second single was a cover of Adam Faith’s What Do You Want, a cover so faithful that he used the same arrangement as Adam Faith’s British hit.
Devil or Angel was his first British 45 and then appeared on his first album Bobby Vee Sings Your Favourites in 1960. That had covers of big hits … My Prayer, You Send Me, Mr Blue, Everyday. The album did not contain Suzie Baby.
I first noticed Bobby Vee with Rubber Ball, his first British hit (UK #4), early in 1961. Bobby always did bouncy material particularly well. I was fourteen, and the highlight of my life was youth club, so much so that I attended three of them, which was a chore because each one required church attendance at least once a month which took care of three quarters of my Sunday evenings for a while. Still it was ecumenical, as one was Methodist, another Church of England and a third Baptist. Then I had a Roman Catholic girlfriend and went to her youth club too, which took care of the fourth Sunday.
Teenage girls in 1961 really liked Bobby Vee. Maybe it was the baby face, maybe it was the neat and spotless sweaters, but they could tell he was the sort of boy who would never try to persuade them to do anything their mums wouldn’t have approved of. Generally, the lads I knew preferred Elvis, Cliff Richard, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, and tolerated rather than liked Bobby Vee. Bobby Vee was on the Liberty label, and in those days we would never have heard of his producer and arranger, Snuff Garrett.
While I would have been pre-rock snob dismissive of Bobby Vee at the time, the hit songs do what hit songs are supposed to do and recall the era so powerfully. I can still sing along with More Than I Can Say (UK #4) and How Many Tears (UK #10). More Than I Can Say … Woah-oh-yeah yeah, love you more than I say … was a strong candidate for the ten.
Bobby Vee No. 4 (EP). London 1961
Then we get to the major hit of Autumn 1961, Take Good Care Of My Baby. According to the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles it got to #3. This question comes up with 1960s charts. The Guinness version dominates, and was from Record Retailer the red and white industry chart pinned on the wall of record shops which was regarded as ‘conservative’. The BBC used Record Mirror at the time and it was #1 in that and in New Musical Express. It’s listed as a Wrecking Crew session.
The spoken start of Take Good Care of My Baby is cheesy:
My tears are falling … because you’ve taken her away
And though it really hurts me so
There’s something that I’ve got to say …
But when it went on the youth club Dansette record player, we all chanted along with it. You see what I mean? Bobby was a NICE BOY. He didn’t wait around at bus stops threatening to beat up a girl’s new boyfriend, he just wanted the new bloke to Take good care of my baby … don’t you ever make her blue. Not that he wrote it … it’s Goffin-King. The B-side was Bashful Bob. I think we’ll leave that one un-explored. It was from the LP Bobby Vee With Strings and Things.
Run To Him: Bobby Vee, London-American, December 1961 copy. UK #6
Run to Him: Bobby Vee, Liberty reissue copy on EMI, early 1962. Perversely, worth twice as much as a London copy. Nicer sleeve design?
Run To Him is of interest to collectors. The single was in the charts when Liberty (see Liberty) deserted Decca (who placed them on the London-American label) and switched to having their own imprint with EMI.
Bobby’s persona on disc was not successful in romance, but always so sweet about it. Run to Him (UK #6) stated: If you’ve found another guy who satisfies you more than I, run to him …
Then Please Don’t Ask About Barbara (UK #29) starts Please don’t ask about Barbara, don’t ask me if she’s found somebody new … OK, Bobby was a bit wet, I’ll admit it. My friend Ken’s girlfriend was called Barbara, and he was teased mercilessly every time it was played at youth club. (Ken and I were in our first group together). I don’t know why it stands out so strongly in my mind. Melodically, it’s not as catchy as Rubber Ball or More Than I Can Say. It wasn’t bouncy either, but somewhat mournful. Maybe it was the excitement of the new right blue Liberty sleeve. Until that point, Liberty had been released via Decca’s London label, but switched to EMI so as to get their own imprint. This was the second Bobby Vee release on Liberty UK, but the first to come out initially on the label.
Bobby was a glutton for punishment with the girls in 1962 as he went on to Sharing You (UK #10): Sharing you, I know I’m sharing you, I’m not the only one, who’s in your heart. Then we had A Forever Kind of Love (UK #13). He sings that my roving days are through so at last he’s found a girl who’s not running around with other guys.
Uh, oh … it didn’t work. The next single was entitled Punish Her. Right, Bobby gets assertive! It starts with his trademark semi-spoken warble … If she has wronged you, found someone new, but you feel it’s not over, here’s what you must do… Is Bobby is getting tough at last? No, his answer is Punish her, kill her with kindness, buy her red roses every day. If Bobby had had a word processor, as soon as he typed som … it would have completed it with somebody new.
Sincerely (EP): Bobby Vee, Liberty 1962
He was a bit of a wimp. Then came the next major hit The Night Has A Thousand Eyes in early 1963. (Guinness #3, Record Mirror #2). It was originally the B-side of Anonymous Phone Call. You won’t be surprised at the content of that one. The mystery voice starts Listen here, friend, your girl’s going out with some other guy … Know! Know! The girl is untrue, No, no, there’s somebody new. He can’t say it hadn’t happened before. Was that Bobby Vee’s appeal to teenage girls? He was assuring them that they could play the field, but there was always a loyal boyfriend with puppy-dog devotion?
Fortunately, DJs flipped it, and he was riding so high … and Merseybeat had just arrived and was about to eradicate him … and many of the other ‘name ending in y’ singers … from the charts. Bobby is starting to get a tad suspicious of all these other guys and points out that everyone is watching. The melody is so obvious that it was annoying, but somehow marking the end of the pre-Beatles era it has a place in the ten. The LP The Night Has A Thousand Eyes with its covers continued Bobby’s predilection for cover versions … Go Away Little Girl, It Might As Well Rain Until September, Theme For A Dream. I have a copy, which I bought for 50p so as to get an EMI inner sleeve for a friend who had an autographed Please Please Me LP with a 1970s CBS inner sleeve. I advised using the correct 1963 EMI inner sleeve before auctioning it.
Bobby Vee: The Night Has A Thousand Eyes LP, Liberty 1962
The Night Has A Thousand Eyes also featured in the Just For Fun film, released in February 1963. Most artists were on Decca, so that’s the main LP release, but EMI released a Just For Fun EP on Liberty with Bobby Vee and The Crickets – on separate sides. I bought it. The other song from the film was All You’ve Got To Do Is Touch Me. Here’s the story. He needs to find someone new. After all, as he tells her, You went out with other guys and told a lot of lies. He adds I know you mean me no good, never treat me like you should. I begin to worry about this masochism and his penchant for girls who go out with other guys. It’s an absolute classic Bobby Vee theme and I assumed he wrote it, but it’s Pomus-Schuman. Possibly tailored for his style.
Bobby Vee’s only other UK chart entry was Charms / Bobby Tomorrow. The US lists the A side, the UK prefers the B-side (UK #21). It’s bouncier. ‘Tomorrow’ was what she’d say every time he asked her for a date.
Bobby Vee Meets The Crickets: US copy, 1963
For the UK you could almost leave him with the hits and abandon him back in 1963. But then there was the album Bobby Vee Meets The Crickets in 1962. It didn’t generate any hits, but a friend had the LP, I borrowed it and had it on replay for weeks. It’s become a cult classic. It was a collection of cover versions, and if you’d just played track one, Peggy Sue you’d dismiss it as a very faithful cover of Buddy Holly with Buddy’s old group. Then it takes off and the joy is hearing a small band, guitars, bass and drums instead of all those strings and things on his hits. Earl Palmer did the drum sessions. It’s a case of needing the CD too which adds ten tracks to the original twelve. The tracks which made it to the LP were the better-known covers, which makes the bonus tracks more interesting than the original LP. Nine bonus tracks were from the same late 1961 recording sessions, and then it adds Buddy Holly Medley, recorded in 1989.
They were well-acquainted. Jerry Allison played on Rubber Ball, and Sonny Curtis was a session guy on many of Bobby Vee’s singles.
Liberty had little faith in the concept, releasing the hit-studded A Bobby Vee Recording Session at the same time. They had forgotten the UK’s love of Buddy Holly and The Crickets, and the album soared to #2 in the UK chart. In America its highest placing was #42. Someday (When I’m Gone From You) is the best-known I was torn between that Little Queenie, The Girl Can’t Help It and The Girl of My Best Friend. I remember continually playing those three when I first had the album on loan. I wouldn’t say that Bobby Vee does the best version of any of the three, but they’re all very good, link in style and sound in his versions and are a great run of songs. I’d need all three together though.
The bonus tracks include Shanghaied, seemingly an atypical plinkety-plunk sea shanty, which might have been a good one for Bellowhead. But it’s not a sea shanty. Bobby Vee learned it from Webb Pierce, but the writers were Mel Tillis and Marijohn Wilkin. As with her Long Black Veil and PT Boat 109 we have a Marijohn Wilkin pastiche of a style.
Buddy Holly Medley from 1989 comprises What To Do, Crying Waiting Hoping and Learning The Game with The Crickets. Bobby’s voice has deepened, and he duets with later Cricket, Gordon Payne, so it no longer feels so much like cover versions.
Bobby Vee capitalised with the album I Remember Buddy Holly in 1963. Well-done covers, but pointless if you have the originals.
1963 also brought Bobby Vee Meets The Ventures. They had toured together, perhaps for promoters who liked alphabetical proximity. I’m not fond of The Ventures who could pick their way through anything from folk to psychedelia (their Strawberry Fields Forever is a hoot) to soul to disco. Name a genre, they’d pick out the tune, a note at a time. I bought the LP a few years back. There was a pristine signed Bobby Vee Meets The Crickets which I wanted as I only had it on CD, and the stall holder was selling them as a pair, both having been autographed by Bobby Vee in 1993. The track list isn’t promising … Good Night Irene, I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter. It contained two Bobby Vee original compositions, What Else Is New and This Is Where Our Friendship Ends. By the way, the friendship ended when his friend gave himself away by kissing my girl today. What Else is New has a lilting ballad pace which suits him, as does the lyric Beside the boy who is standing with you, what else is new?
Goodnight Irene is taken at ultra high speed and altered a lot. It’s like a joke version, but the joke was unintentional. Walk Right Back? Don’t go anywhere near The Everly Brothers unless you have an angle. One voice doesn’t do it. He ventures (sorry) into some unexpected territory, like Jimmie Rogers 1954 hit Honeycomb. Then Pretty Girls Everywhere is a raucous voice and moving into fifties rock in Eddie Cochran style. The same voice is used in Sit Right Down & Write Myself A Letter. The choppy guitar chords background then one note solo doesn’t work with the song. Linda Lu is the Ray Sharpe classic, but while he does a good rock vocal, we remember that Duane Eddy and Al Casey played guitar on the original. Candy Man is the Roy Orbison song, and my first thought was that this faster version was inspired by England’s charts – Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, but in fact Bobby Vee’s version is earlier, so maybe Brian Poole was the one following.
However, this is Bobby Vee without the strings and horns, and a small band. He is trying to sound tougher vocally, and with Merseybeat on the way, the simplicity of two guitars, bass and drums seemed the way to go, and he sticks to it.
Bobby Vee Sings The New Sounds from England came in 1964. She Loves You and From Me To You were deeply misguided choices of songs to cover at that point in time. Brenda Lee tried to do the same, her excuse being a shift of person to He Loves You. The idea was Snuff Garrett’s – to get there before the originals hit the charts, but they were too late. Both Vee covers sound very much like the Embassy label cover versions from Woolworths in the UK, perhaps not as good. It’s a total exact copy right down to the oohs. OK, one difference cheesy organ (Farfisa?) replaces harmonica. Except it’s Bobby Vee, not The Beatles.
Then Brown-Eyed Handsome Man may have been written by Chuck Berry, but the UK hit version was by Buddy Holly, so more of the same. I bought the album secondhand a few years ago, partly out of curiosity, but mainly because he covers You Can’t Lie To A Liar. The Ketty Lester version was an all-time favourite, and I like the song so much that anyone doing it is welcome. Not that it’s very good. Or even mediocre.
Four of the tracks were Bobby Vee originals (sic) in what he hoped was a Swinging England style … I’ll Make You Mine (the start rips off From Me To You) with Beatle oohs. Then Don’t You Believe Them, Ginger and Any Other Girl. He had listened to a lot of Merseybeat. Any Other Girl is a rampant attempt to re-write Please Please Me. Then he covers Pomus-Schuman’s Suspicion. Very British? It’s an appalling album.
Bobby Vee Live! On Tour was the obligatory ‘live’ album. It wasn’t, of course. It was recorded in a Los Angeles studio with a tiny audience with crowd noises from a baseball game. However, the backing band was very good indeed, probably The Wrecking Crew. He covers Every Day I Have To Cry and Roy Brown’s classic Let The Four Winds Blow – this version was later the B-side of Come Back When You Grow Up. The fake crowd noise kills it though. The producer turns the volume of screaming up to 11 for his own songs, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, and the medley of Take Good Care Of My Baby / Run To Him. The covers run on … Weekend (Eddie Cochran), Hey Little Girl (Dee Clark), Sea Cruise (Frankie Ford), Shop Around (The Miracles), You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby and Things (both after Bobby Darin). It’ll Be Me (as done by Cliff Richard in the UK). I like the added horns and chorus on Weekend very much, but sorry the scream track destroys it.
The singles weren’t great. Hickory, Dick and Doc came in 1964. The title says it all.
1965 saw him trying a Righteous Brothers style on Run Like The Devil, but honestly he didn’t have the pipes for it. High Coin had a nice rhythm track and clapping, but the song sounded like a reject from a weaker Elvis movie.
As 1966 started, Bobby Vee seemed to be following a well-trodden route into full on Jim Reeves style country & western with A Girl I Used To Know / Gone. The latter in particular is awful.
Throughout his career so far, Bobby Vee demonstrated that he listened to a wide range of popular music, and he loved covering favourites. It’s very old school in approach. You have a couple of originals and pad out albums with covers. Maybe he was aware that his own writing was stuck in a particular groove.
The other -y names were changing. Bobby Darin was growing his hair and calling himself Bob. Ricky Nelson was dropping the -y too and calling himself Rick. It was fashionable to add your band too, so the next album, Look At Me Girl was credited to Bobby Vee and The Strangers. Of course he had covers … Summer In The City, Sunny, Sweet Pea. It was a change of direction and a serious shot at a new comeback, and it was following a breezy sunshine pop bouncy style. Look At Me Girl the title track, is the single. It was originally the B-side of Butterfly a very Beach Boys influenced song.
Around the same time, Bobby Vee covered Here Today from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album. It’s as Beach Boys soundalike as his Buddy Holly excursions were soundalike. As such it was a beautifully-realized cover of a great song, and stands out, but it’s eventually as pointless an exercise as his Beatles covers. It was a B-side to Before You Go possibly an error as he might have managed to nick a hit with Here Today in the absence of a Beach Boys single release.
Come Back When You Grow Up: Bobby Vee, Liberty 1967
Come Back When You Grow Up was a major comeback (sorry again) in 1967, and was a massive US hit (#3). It was the title track of an album. It was my very first choice here … top of the Toppermost. I have no idea how I heard it as it dived to nothing in Britain, but I always loved the lilting feel, which related to soft psych stuff … the whole album fits in with 5thDimension, Mamas and Papas, Sandpipers, Association. Come Back When You Grow Upwas written by Martha Sharp and again credited to Bobby Vee & The Strangers. Martha Sharp wrote Single Girl and Born A Woman for Sandy Posey. On the album, The Strangers provide elaborate backing vocals throughout, and were The Johnny Mann Singers, who were on his early 60s hits. Before You Go was written by Leon Russell, which gives a clue to the LA players on the album (and the next). The Wrecking Crew. They list Bobby Vee as a regular session, and Hal Blaine lists the hit single among his many Top Ten records.
You’re A Big Girl Now is his own composition, and sounds just like The Beach Boys of the same era. Get The Message has truly marvellous trumpet (or flugelhorn?). You Can Count On Me sounds soft soul, pointing the way to the next album. Throughout the rhythm section is rock solid.
Beautiful People was the follow-up single to Come Back When You Grow Up with sweet la-la-la-la female chorus, and it’s at the poppermost end of pop, but you can hear what a great session band is on there and it’s ridiculously catchy. It was a lesser hit, but still got in the US Top Forty (just). It was a quick attempt to cover a regional hit by Kenny O’Dell who’d composed it. One wonders again why he chose to cover it. Was it in the hope of sneaking the chart hit? In the end they shared honours equally … Vee US #37, O’Dell US #38. I’d feel guilty choosing Bobby Vee’s version because it followed so closely down to the guitar figure, but then he did have the Wrecking Crew and O’Dell’s voice has a country edge where the song is pure pop.
I May Be Gone was the B-side of Beautiful People. It has a spooky start, with an urgent verse, burbling bass guitar, excellent organ, and again a Brian Wilson influenced chorus. It’s a very good two-sided record, but as Bobby Vee wrote I May Be Gone it gets the pick.
The next single was My Girl / Hey Girl as a medley. You need a lot of nerve to cover My Girl – without going into vocals, you have the choice of covering Duck Dunn on bass backing Otis Redding or James Jamerson backing The Temptations. Vee probably had Joe Osborne on bass and Hal Blaine on drums, so he can get away with it. Adding the Goffin-King Hey Girl(as recorded by Freddie Scott) in a medley worked.
Bobby Vee: Do What You Gotta Do, 1967 LP, Liberty
Bobby Vee still retained that ear for great covers. His next move was the album Do What You Gotta Do. I found the album recently and was perplexed at the psychedelic script surrounding Bobby Vee in an immaculate white polo neck sweater. Then the principle tracks were Tamla-Motown covers … I Can’t Help Myself, It’s The Same Old Song (Four Tops), Beauty’s Only Skin Deep (Temptations), That’s What Love Is Made Of, I Like It Like That, Can You Love A Poor Boy? (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles), Stubborn Kind of Fellow (Marvin Gaye). Cover who you like, but you’re competing with The Funk Brothers session band. On the other hand, The Wrecking Crew in LA were as good as anyone, though far wider and more eclectic in style. He redid Run Like The Devil from a few years earlier, and there’s just one original, Thank You.
The title track Do What You Gotta Do is a Jimmy Webb song. A fabulous arrangement … the guitar on all these later tracks is outstanding. But this has the lot – soaring brass, prominent bass guitar. I listened assuming Bobby Vee had written it, because the years have been passed but still the girl is the same:
It’s my own fault for what happens to my heart
You see I’ve always known you’d go
But you just do what you gotta do My wild sweet love
Though it may mean I’ll never kiss your sweet lips again
Pay that no mind Just find that dappled dream of yours
I think it’s the best version of the song. That’s a major statement when Bobby Vee is competing with the original and then recent hit by Al Wilson, and a Four Tops cover. I listened to the three versions side by side several times. They all have great accompaniment, but the soul singers take it as ultra-dramatic and powerfully emotive. Bobby Vee takes it as more “normal” if you like and the sentiment is one he stuck to consistently.
I Like It Like That is the 1964 Smokey Robinson & Marv Tarplin song for The Miracles, not the better-known Chris Kenner song. Immaculate backing, great female chorus and of course Bobby Vee can do a “light soul voice” (though would be deeply troubled by a deep raucous one!)
I’m always reluctant to dismiss an artist that far back in time. Mainly from this point in time I had to rely on Bobby Vee: The Singles Collection Disc 3.
There are still good songs. Sweet Sweetheart in 1969 was the Goffin-King song with loud country-rock strumming acoustic guitars, so veering to Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band. The best-ever version is on Carole King’s own Writer LP in 1970 … an album that also has No Easy Way Down, Goin’ Back, I Can’t Hear You No More and Up On The Roof. Nevertheless, Bobby Vee did it very well.
He wrote Rock & Roll Music and You in 1970 which is just Chuck Berry style with more elaborate backing.
Goffin-King had been good to him, and he reprised Take Good Care of My Baby in a new acoustic version in 1972, slowed down and countrified. It’s very pleasant. That’s not praise.
Revisiting past glory continued with a cover of Buddy Holly’s Well-All right in 1977, taken faster than Blind Faith’s version. Good band … but that’s true on everything he ever did.
Bobby Vee moved back to Minnesota in the 1980s, and continued to run a studio, play at festivals and tour from time to time. He died of Alzheimer’s in 2016.
Bobby Vee – UK charts
- Rubber Ball, 1961, London, #4
- More Than I Can Say / Stayin’ In, London, 1961 #4
- How Many Tears? London, 1961 #10
- Take Good Care of My Baby, London, 1961, #1 / #3
- Run To Him, London / Liberty, 1961, #6
- Please Don’t Ask About Barbara, Liberty, 1962, #29
- Sharing You, Liberty, 1962, #10
- A Forever Kind of Love, 1962, Liberty #13
- The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, Liberty, 1963, #3 / #1
- Bobby Tomorrow, Liberty, 1963 #21