Do you know whatever happened to Burton Cummings, the lead singer of the Guess Who? I always thought he had one of the best and most thrilling voices of the ’70s.
Burton Cummings was born in 1947 in Winnipeg, Canada. As a 19-year-old, he joined the Guess Who as a keyboardist and singer. The band had six top 10 hits in 1969 and 1970 including “These Eyes,” “No Sugar Tonight,” “No Time,” and the No. 1 “American Woman.” In 1975, Cummings started a solo career and released seven albums from 1976 to 1997. During the ’90s, he also played in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. He is still very much alive and continuing to perform and record. In 2002, he played keyboards on “Go Wrong,” a song by the Canadian group Pop Cherry. In 2008, he released “Above the Ground,” his first solo album of all original songs. He followed that up in 2012 with a live solo album recorded at the famed Massey Hall in Toronto. As well-respected as Cummings is in the music industry as a whole, he is considered to be among Canada’s greatest musicians. He has been inducted into just about every Canadian music hall of fame, including the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame, Canada’s Walk of Fame, and the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. He is a recipient of the Order of Canada, the Order of Manitoba, the Governor-General’s Performance Arts Award, and several awards for over 1 million airplays of his songs.
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I remember when I was young my father took my sister and me to a small record shop in Wallace, N.C., and we got to pick out a 45-record. I remember my sister got “North to Alaska.” The only thing that I can remember about my record was the line “I'm a bee, an evil Bumblebee.” Do you know the name of the record that I am talking about?
The record you bought was “Bumble Bee.” The chorus, which you almost remembered correctly, was “Sho-wee, you hurt me like a bee, a bumble bee, an evil bumble bee.” Written by Lavern Baker and Leroy Fullylove, the song was recorded by many artists during the ’60s. The record you bought was probably the original version by Lavern baker. It reached No. 46 on the pop charts in 1960, the same year that Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska” reached No. 4. In 1965, the Searchers reached No. 21 with their version of “Bumble Bee.”
I’ve always thought that the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville” was a copy of the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” Did the Beatles ever take legal action regarding the song?
As the story goes, Bobby Hart, who co-wrote “Last Train to Clarksville” with Tommy Boyce, turned on his radio one day in 1966 and heard the last few seconds of “Paperback Writer.” He mistook the words during the song’s fadeout, thinking they were “take the last train” instead of “paperback writer.” When he heard the song again in its entirety, he realized his mistake and the fact that the song does not mention a train. So Hart took the imagined “take the last train” phrase and created “Last Train to Clarksville.” The song reached No. 1 in November 1966, just four months after “Paperback Writer” reached the top spot. Despite the song’s similarities, no legal action was pursued.
What’s the name of that song? Where are they now? What does that lyric mean? Send your questions about songs, albums, and the musicians who make them to MusicOnTheRecord@gmail.com. Bradford Brady and John Maron are freelance music writers based in Raleigh, N.C.