Tuesday, July 08, 2008

contender for best ROCKIN' car song . . . "Vehicle" by The Ides of March

(above) The Ides of March, promo photo, circa 1970.
note "Vehicle" sticker, promoting their hit song
(above and two below) Chicago-style versions of "Hullabaloo" or "American Bandstand"
featuring the Ides of March and spotlighting the horn section
(above) the tv show was titled "Something Else" and first broadcast in 1970

(above) Their first LP, but was the cover art in tune with the times?
The band thought it was pretty terrible art direction.
(above) Berwyn, IL's version of the Hollies
(above) promo in a Berwyn parking lot;
the Shon Dels would become the Ides of March

(above) the Rhino re-issue, with the color photo
(above) the Ides' famous brass section, in the studio today
(above) hometown Berwyn, IL's "The Spindle," now gone
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Jim Peterik (below, today, and back in the '70s) has been at the helm of the Ides of March for more than four decades. The band, from Berwyn, IL (west of Chicago), is very much active today and still is celebrated by its fans. The Ides are best known for their 1970 single (and the title of their first album), "Vehicle"--which will forever be a top contender for "best car song of all time," rivalling (as one example) Golden Earring's "Radar Love."
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Peterik formed his first band, the Renegades at age 13 with some fellow classmates at Berwyn's Piper [middle] school. Singer/guitarist Larry Millas asked Jim to join his band the Shy Lads, which covered Beatles songs. Soon they would change their name to the Shon Dels, whose idols apparently were the Hollies. During Peterik's senior year in high school, soon to be headed off to the University of Illinois, the Shon Dels expanded to include a full horn section, and adopted a new name based on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the Ides of March.The band signed with London Records' imprint Parrot Records and first charted with "You Wouldn't Listen" and "Roller Coaster" in the fall of 1966. Switching to Warner Bros., they burst onto the national stage with their single "Vehicle" which soared to number two on Billboard's pop chart on May 23, 1970 (and to number one on Billboard's rival, Cashbox), kept out of the top spot only by the Guess Who's "American Woman." And so began the saga of a classic road song, made forever popular by an enduring Midwestern band.
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"Vehicle" to this day is one of the songs most covered by similarly horn-driven rhythm-and-blues bands, but even more importantly by new generations of high school marching bands. "Vehicle" sounds like it might have come from the Ides' rival, Blood, Sweat & Tears, but no, it was always the Ides' very own trademark. You remember it, right? How could you not--it's run out every fall on just about every high school football field in America.
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"Hey, well, I'm the friendly stranger in the black sedan
Oh won't you hop inside my car?
I got pictures, candy, I'm a loveable man
And I can take you to the nearest star.
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"I'm your vehicle, baby
I'll take you anywhere you wanna go
I'm your vehicle,woman
By now I'm sure that you know
That I love ya (love ya)
Need ya (need ya)
I want ya, got to have you, child
Great God in heaven, you know I love you"
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That GREAT GOD IN HEAVEN is also a legendary musical punchline. It was most recently delivered with appropriate gravitas by Bo Bice, performing the song on "American Idol." Bice then released it as his first single, produced by the legendary Desmond Child with the participation of Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora and Paul Stanley of KISS.
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Here follows some of what's been said about the Ides, and about "Vehicle."
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Jim Peterik: "It does feel like yesterday that the Ides walked into Salerno's Pizza (our favorite hangout in Berwyn) after a gig and heard someone say that our record was just played on WLS [Chicago's longtime radio hitmaker]. We went, "oh, yeah, sure." Then, on the way home in our van, the song was played again . . . "new from the Ides of March . . . it's "Vehicle" . . . ba da ba ba dah!" A few minutes later we must have hit 70 miles an hour going down Cermak Road, the main street of our hometown, rushing to tell our folks. That extraordinary moment will live with me always."
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Jim Peterik: "When we started 40 years ago, it was just friends wanting to get together to make music. We were fans, first and foremost--fans of the Ventures, the Beatles, the Dave Clark 5, the Hollies, the Zombies. And, ourselves, we were great friends going all the way back to Cub Scouts, for some of us. We also found benefits in our popularity status with the Morton West High School girls. That never hurts your motivation. No grand design, no master plan, we just had the spirit of 'Hey, if we record this song we just wrote, maybe we can sell it after the sock hop, after the basketball game.' One thing just led to another. And it's still evolving."
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Jim Peterik: "The first LP I ever bought on my own was Meet the Beatles.I bought many 45s prior to this, like "Shortening Bread," "Walk, Don't Run," and "I've Had It." But when the Beatles came along, they left everyone in the dust. I saved my money and went down to the Cermak Plaza Record Store (the big record store in our hometown of Berwyn) and plunked down my cash. Then, all I did in my spare time was wear the grooves off that record!"
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Jim Peterik: "[The first big concert in our lives] was the Beatles at Comiskey Park. Not a bad place to start your career as a fan! I remember being overwhelmed by the spectacle of it all--the screams, the teeming crowd . . . and the Beatles. They were amazing. I remember tears welling up in my eyes when they hit that three-part harmony in "Baby's in Black."
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"Chroniclers of popular-music history can be forgiven for confusing "Vehicle," the one Top 40 national hit by the hard-driving, horn-driven Ides of March, with any number of vehicles by the hard-driving, horn-driven Blood, Sweat & Tears. The Ides' song just missed the top of the Billboard Pop chart in 1970, when BS&T was in the middle of its Top 40 hot streak.
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"Jim Peterik, the Ides' singer, songwriter, lead guitarist, and frontman, was only 19 years old when he sang the hell out of "Vehicle." Imitation--at that time, anyway--was the sincerest form of flattery. "We got religion when we went down to the Kinetic Playground in Chicago and saw BS&T," Peterik says. "We were real hip to their first album, with Al Kooper, and by the time we saw 'em they had David Clayton-Thomas. And they blew us away. I wasn't trying to sing like David on "Vehicle," but I guess I did. He wanted to sing like Ray Charles, and I wanted to sing like David Clayton-Thomas. And so on down the food chain."
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"In 1966, the Shon Dels were discovered by Parrot Records, which had only one rock act anybody could think of, the Zombies. The band's debut was "You Wouldn't Listen," written during an all-night sleepover on Peterik's 15th birthday. Tommy James & the Shondells were starting to head up the charts, leaving Parrot's newly minted teen act in a quandary. "Our record was just ready to come out, and we had to scramble for a new name," Peterik recalls. "We all were reading Julius Caesar in high school at the time. Bob Bergland came across "Beware the Ides of March." It sounded like the name to me."
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"By 1968, the Ides were regularly playing James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, and Arthur Conley covers in their sock-hop shows, so the decision was made to add horns. Enter more school chums, Chuck Soumar (trumpet) and John Larson (trumpet and flugelhorn). Bergland began to play saxophone on stage. Local promoters Bob Destocki and Frank Rand caught the Ides' act when they were opening a show for Neil Diamond, and after a little negotiation, they took over management and started promising big things. Destocki was also a regional promotion man for Warner Bros. Records and through his contacts he got the Ides a four-song demo deal with the label.
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""We put "Vehicle" last on the demo," Peterik recalled. "We didn't really value that song. The first three songs we thought were the ones. We sent them to the label and they went, "Are you kidding me. The fourth song is the smash." Peterik had written the sexually charged "Vehicle" as a joke. "I got the idea from one of thos anti-drug pamphlets they distributed in school. The song was intended to be very tongue-in-cheek."
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""You gotta realize, at the time "Vehicle" was released, we were all 18-19 years old," says Peterik. "We were a harmony band with horns at that point, still looking for a sound. Most people have their formative years in private, because they're under the radar. Here we were--definitely big time, front and center, on the radar--and we weren't certain, still, who we were. Sure, you can hear BS&T's influence, but there's also Creedence in us. The Ides ultimately are the way our voices blend, the way we play together, so if there was a palette of influences on us, it was our palette."
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"The Ides spent most of 1970 on the road, opening for the likes of Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin. Peterik has been telling this story for years: "We were on a bill that included Iron Butterfly, the Youngbloods, Ides of March, and Led Zeppelin . . . in Winnipeg, Canada. And it was our night, that's all I can tell you. Zeppelin had an off night, we had an on night, and the next day's entertainment headlines said, "Ides of March steal the show." We did our 20-minute version of "Eleanor Rigby," and brought down the house." Years later, the Guess Who's Randy Bachman ran into Peterik at a Nashville trade show, and said, among other things, that he'd been in that audience in Winnipeg, and that the Ides really had smoked Zeppelin. Peterik says, "I said to Randy, 'then it was real! I didn't dream it!'"
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"They were often mistaken for Chicago, or Blood, Sweat & Tears (and they still are). But Chicago-based garage band Ides of March added their new horn section to this song, and wham, they had a monster hit for Warner Bros. This song had more hooks than a Hellraiser movie, from the unmistakable horn motif to the driving rhythm guitars. Right in the middle, there was what we all called the "cheesy guitar solo," but looking back at it, I can name about 100 worse solos than this one. And get a load of that album cover--what's that about? But you gotta say, "Vehicle," the song, still exudes a ridiculous amount of cool.
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"Notable geek trivia about "Vehicle:" songwriter and guitaris Jim Peterik went on to form the '80s rock group Survivor and wrote most of their hits, like "Eye of the Tiger." And Peterik has a great website where he has a two-part article explaining how he wrote "Vehicle." I also found this totally wild, completely obscure early video [ed's note: a still shown above] of the Ides lip-syncing their way through "Vehicle" (dig the clothes and the light blue kerchief around Peterik's neck. It's also worth noting that if you go onto YouTube, it's amazing how many videos there are of marching bands covering this song."
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from Richie Unterberger's liner notes for the Ides' LP re-issue, at http://www.richieunterberger.com/:
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"When the Ides' song "Vehicle" roared up to #2 in the spring of 1970, it might have seemed to most of North America that the band had come out of nowhere, so swift and sudden was the single's rise up the charts. In fact, the group had been recording and performing since the mid-'60s, putting in years of honing their craft in both the studio and at Chicago-area gigs before the big payoff. The horn-driven soul-rock of "Vehicle" might have been what first caught the ears of many listeners, but the band's extensive experience in all forms of rock music was reflected in the Vehicle album itself, whose diverse material also encompassed folk-rock and included extended progressive workouts."
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"Obviously BS&T was a big influence on the Ides, but what many people don't know is this: "I actually brought BS&T a tape of "Vehicle,"" said Jim Peterik. "It was a little demo tape of the song, a kind of rehearsal tape, to see if they were interested in recording it. I don't think they listened to it until after the song made it to the top. But I ran into BS&T's Steve Katz in an airport, and he told me, "Yeah, should have listened to that song.""
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"In keeping with part of its musical inspiration, a lot of literal blood, sweat, and tears went into the recording of "Vehicle." I didn't know it at the time, but I was doing a spot-on David Clayton-Thomas imitation," admits Peterik. "I mean people in the studio said it was scary. I thought that was it--that first take--that was the take. And [engineer] Frank Rand said, "Peterik, would you stop trying to be David Clayton-Thomas and just be Peterik?" I go, "I am, I am." He says, "Just do it again." So I did a real pissed-off take, and that was, of course, the money take." As the backing vocals were being recorded, fourteen seconds were accidentally erased from the master tape, by the second engineer. Fortunately, creative editing saved the day when fourteen seconds were inserted from take one to replace the missing snippet."
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"The Ides were not wholly pleased with the LP artwork Warners chose for Vehicle. "I think I can speak for the band saying we were pretty appalled by the cover art. It was one of those moments where [we were told[, "okay, here's the artwork." It was kind of a Spinal Tap moment, with all of us looking at this naked baby doll in the grass. This was courtesy of Warners' crack graphics staff."
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from reviews at http://www.amazon.com/
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Mitchell S. Steven: "Bo Bice really blew me away when he sang "Vehicle." I hear the original almost weekly on varous rock oldies shows, always loved the song, and I thought Bo would be perfect for it on American Idol. To my ultimate surprise, that's what he came out blowing. I was so happy and impressed and shocked, because I'd just told a co-worker, a week before, that I knew of a song Bo should try. He also ended the song on a different note from the original, and it was a GREAT ending note too."
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Jeffrey Ellmann: "The album finally went gold in April, 1971. The Ides are one of the most overlooked groups in history. If you ever have a chance to catch one of their live performances, do so . . . you will come back for more. They do not forget about their fans."
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Raul Velez: "It's still one of my all-time favorite albums. You know, the title track, "Vehicle," was widely used for General Motors car commercials at one point."
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The LP, Vehicle, reached #55 nationally. The band opened for many acts throughout 1970, including Jimi Hendrix. The Ides were also among the participants in the legendary "Festival Express" train tour across Canada (featuring the Grateful Dead, among many others), documented in a 2003 film, although the Ides were not featured in the film. In 1990, the Ides' hometown of Berwyn offered to have the re-united group headline their "Summerfest." The concert was attended by over 20,000 and the Ides returned from a long hiatus to regular live performances.
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Tessiree: "I remember being gobsmacked at seeing Sammy Davis, Jr. singing "Vehicle" on Johnny Carson.
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Vid0385: "This was the song in the movie Lockup, starring Sylvester Stallone, where they fix up the old Mustang."
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Oppieoops: "Probably the coolest song ever written and performed. High school bands perform it even today. Can't keep an awesome song down!"
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Big FatFairy1970: "Wow, I had always thought those guys were Black."
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Torres1009: "I was driving in Los Angeles listening to this song, doing 95, and got pulled over by the CHP."
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hiznibz: "I first heard "Vehicle" on Stuart Hendry's show on Radio Luxembourg, and thought it was Chicago. My best friend heard it there too, and he thought it was Blood, Sweat & Tears. But it was the Ides of March! A true classic."
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majerseyboy: "Good God!! The song hasn't lost a thing since it came out in 1970. There are not many songs you can say that about."
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Many thanks to Rockford, IL's Darrel Burnett for reminding me to blog about "Vehicle." And I commend everyone to take in a current Ides concert. You can read about their current activities at http://www.theidesofmarch.com/. Their modern-day version of "Vehicle" can be enjoyed at http://youtube.com/watch?v=_EBMo8xHGNs. And, when in Chicago, tune in to Bob Stroud on WDRV-FM (97.1), 'cause he's one of the Ides' great champions.
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Last but not least, these notes about Berwyn (from Wikipedia):
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"Berwyn (was) notable for the sculpture Spindle [pictured above], created by artist Dustin Shuler, and originally located in the Cermak Plaza shopping center with other works of art. This spindle was shown in the movie Wayne's World. Spindle was demolished an scrapped on the night of May 2, 2008 to make way for a new Walgreens pharmacy store.
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"In the 1950s and '60s, Berwyn had a large Czechoslovakian population, and to celebrate their heritage, the Houby Day Parade was first organized in 1968. It coincides with the Fall mushroom harvest. Ogden Avenue in Berwyn is part of the historic Route 66, and an annual Vintage Car Show has been taking place there since 1990. The avenue, from Ridgeland to Oak Park, is shut down, and thousands of gearheads and car enthusiasts come out to celebrate the spirit of Route 66. More recently, Berwyn has begun to host an annual art-car parade called Cartopia. Art-car artists from all over the country have met (until recently) under the giant car spindle sculpture.
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Some members of the rock band Styx lived in Berwyn at least once in their lives.

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Peterik's band was astounding! I remeber I could move my hips side by side for complete hours. I really enjoyed its music.

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