Michael Hepworth



HOLLYWOOD 9Perfect Music Today) 12/7/17/–Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment, is releasing Bang! The Bert Berns Story Official Soundtrack for the first time on vinyl as a two LP set on December 8. The collection is bookended by the Berns-penned and produced original Erma Franklin version of “Piece of My Heart” (first track on side 1) that was originally released on Bang’s Shout! subsidiary in 1967 and Big Brother & The Holding Company’s version, featuring Janis Joplin, (last track on side 4) that was released the following year by Columbia Records as part of the group’s Cheap Thrills album. The 18 selections between those offer an insight into the musical genius of Berns who was notable for having been a hit songwriter, wildly successful record producer and label chief whose work juxtaposed him not with only R&B greats but also pop artists, British Invasion acts and American rockers.  


His singular story is told in the documentary film that was just launched worldwide on Apple Music and iTunes where it immediately became the #1 documentary on the platform. The film which played the film festival circuit and was theatrically released earlier this year has garnered critical kudos which take into account its subject’s enduring musical legacy.  Glen Kenny’s New York Times review noted “If you love the music Berns made, you’ll love this movie; if you don’t, I feel for you…”  John Kruth, reviewing for the New York Observer, wrote, “ “Bang! is sure to stir your emotions and stick in your head for some time, just like one of Bert Berns’ classic records. Rolling Stone’s recent feature story noted “The film recounts the way Berns charged and hustled his way into the music business, shaping the sound and business of pop along the way… BANG! also serves as an unintentional eulogy for an era of pop that recedes into the history books.”

The film, directed by Brett Berns (Bert’s son) and Bob Sarles, has been named a “Must see” by Billboard while Glide noted it as “the new high-water mark for music documentaries.” Best Classic Bands calls it “A remarkable story of hustle and heartache.

The film chronicles the life and career of Berns, truly one of the most important songwriter and record producer from the sixties that you probably never heard of, despite his induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. His hits include Twist and Shout,” Hang On Sloopy,” Here Comes The Night” and the aforementioned Piece Of My Heart.” Berns helped launch the careers of Van Morrison and Neil Diamond and produced some of the most transcendent soul music ever made. Berns’ story is brought to the screen through interviews with those who knew him best and rare performance footage. Included in the film are interviews with Ronald Isley, Ben E. King, Solomon Burke, Van Morrison, Keith Richards and Paul McCartney. The film’s narration by Steven Van Zandt is based on Joel Selvin’s book Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues,

Bang! The Bert Berns Story Official Soundtrack  is another part of what The New York Times called “the Berns boomlet,” which began in 2014 with the acclaimed Joel Selvin biography Here Comes The Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues. The musical Piece of My Heart – The Bert Berns Story originally premiered Off-Broadway in 2014 and is currently preparing for a 2018 Broadway bow. 

In notes for the album, Brett Berns who was just two when his father died, writes, “This film is a gift to my father, the greatest man I never knew. It is his story, told by those who knew and loved him best — and through his music.”  Joel Selvin’s notes include “This selection of tracks from the film’s soundtrack is  meant to offer an audio counterpoint to the epic life story of the teenager doomed to die young of heart disease who blasted his way to the top of the New York rhythm and blues scene in the early 60s in no time after notching his first hit — “A Little Bit of Soap” by the Jarmels — as a $50-a-week song plugger for music publisher Robert Mellin Music in 1961. Within two years, he was living in a Manhattan penthouse, a fishbowl stuffed with royalty checks he was too busy to take to the bank.”

Bang! The Bert Berns Story  aannotated track listing

1. Piece of My Heart – Erma Franklin – the original version of the song written and produced by Berns was recorded by Aretha Franklin’s older sister for Bang’s Shout subsidiary in 1967, shortly before Berns’ death at age 38. It went Top 10 on the R&B chart.

2. A Little Bit of Soap – The Jarmels  – one of the earliest hits written by Berns, a crossover hit in 1961 for Laurie Records and established its writer as a force to be reckoned with in the business. It has been covered many times since.

3. Tell Him – The Exciters –the first Top 5 record written by Berns.  Produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it was released by United Artists in 1962.  It’s said that when Dusty Springfield heard the record she changed career directions.  Over the years it has been covered by Linda Ronstadt, Sonny and Cher and Kenny Loggins.

4. Twist and Shout – The Isley Brothers – written and produced by Berns, was originally recorded by The Top Notes whose Phil Spector-produced version did not chart.  The Isleys’ version, released on Scepter’s Wand subsidiary went to #2 on the R&B chart in 1962. The Beatles covered it the following year and reached #2 on the pop charts and became one of the band’s signature songs.  In the film, Paul McCartney says, “People thought we wrote it.”

5. Cry Baby – Garnet Mimms & The Enchanters – Co-written and co-produced by Berns with Jerry Ragovoy, the record was released on United Artists in 1963 and went to #1 on the R&B chart and #4 on the Hot 100.  Its gospel-inflected mid-song narration is notable and innovative.

6. Show Me Your Monkey – Kenny Hamber  – While it didn’t chart, this track was written and produced by Berns and released on the Atlantic-distributed De Jac label.  It underscores the strong Latin influence heard in many of Berns’ productions.

7. Baby, Please Don’t Go – Them – produced by Berns when he went to London in 1964 to work with British artists.  The record, released by (British) Decca went to #10 in the UK with lead vocals provided by a 19-year-old Van Morrison.  Jimmy Page, then a session player, provided the rhythm guitar parts.

8. You May Be Holding My Baby – The Pussycats – Written and produced by Berns in 1964 and released on his own (pre-Bang) Keetch label, named after his pet Siamese cat.  It represents intention, later fulfilled with Bang, to control his own destiny as songwriter, producer and label chief.

9. Everybody Needs Somebody to Love  – Solomon Burke  – Berns co-wrote (with Jerry Wexler and Burke) the song and produced it for Atlantic’s soul standard-bearer in 1964.  Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones and The Blues Brothers successfully covered it thereafter.

10. Here Comes The Night – Them – A classic, written by Berns that was earlier recorded by Lulu.  The version by Them (featuring Van Morrison) was released in 1965, going to #2 in the UK and hitting the US Top 25.  Jimmy Page participated in the sessions for the song that has become a standard over the years.

11. I Want Candy – The Strangeloves  – Released on Bang in 1965, the song’s title is derived from Terry Southern’s risqué bestseller Candy.   It was written by Berns and the band’s Richard Gottherer, Bob Feldman and Jerry Goldstein. The record went to #11 and has since been successfully covered by Bow Wow Wow whose 1982 version has become an enduring new wave classic

12. Are You Lonely For Me Baby – Freddie Scott   – Released on Shout and written and produced by Berns, it went to #1 on the R&B chart the year of Berns’ death (1967) and stayed there for four weeks.  Back up vocals were performed by Cissy Houston and the Sweet Inspirations. It has been covered by artists ranging from Al Green, Otis Redding & Carla Thomas to the Grateful Dead and Steve Marriott.

13. Mr. Success – Bobby Harris – was one of the first releases on Shout, an obscure B-side to an even more obscure song called “Sticky Sticky.”   The strong influence of Berns’ idol Sam Cooke is on display in the lead vocal performance.  It never charted, but remains an important example of the autobiographical nature of Berns’ work as the stress of his success accumulated to take his life within a year of the Bobby Harris session that included Cissy Houston and the Sweet Inspirations on background vocals.  

14. Chick-A-Boom – Van Morrison – was the artist’s debut solo single and released on Bang in 1967.  Co-written by Berns and the artist, it highlights Latin cadences so favored by Berns throughout his career.

15. Hang On Sloopy – The McCoys – Released on Bang in 1965, it went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Top 100.  It was co-written by Berns (with Wes Farrell) and originally recorded as “My Girl Sloopy” by the Vibrations.  The McCoys’ mega-hit was produced by Feldman, Goldstein and Gottherer (a/k/a The Strangeloves). The song has gone on to become a staple of the Ohio State University’s marching band which has performed the song at OSU football games for more than 50 years.  The official website of OSU’s athletics department is “Hang On Sloopy.”

16. Cry To Me – Freddie Scott – Written by Berns and first recorded by Solomon Burke on Atlantic in 1961, it was released on Shout! in 1967. 

17. Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison – the artist’s signature song was a Bang single that established Morrison and is offered here in its original stereo mix. It hit the top 10 in 1967 and has been re-recorded by Morrison many times over the years.

18. Am I Grooving You – Freddie Scott – written and produced by Berns and released on Shout, it hit the charts in 1967 and was the follow up to Scott’s “Cry To Me.”

19. Heart Be Still – Lorraine Ellison – masterpiece of symphonic soul, it was written and produced by Berns and Jerry Ragovoy.  It was Berns’ idea to take the gospel classic “Peace Be Still” and turn it into a love song. It was one of the very last productions before Berns’ untimely death on the penultimate day of 1967.

20. Piece of My Heart– Big Brother & The Holding Company – a cover of the Erma Franklin song featuring Janis Joplin’s lead vocal, it’s the best-known and most successful version, recorded and released in 1968; Berns never got to hear it.


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