A Lover's Concerto

New York-based songwriters Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell had a solid connection with Bob Crewe and his hottest clients, The 4 Seasons. Bob and Sandy composed the group's big 1964 hit "Dawn (Go Away)" and Denny came on board several months later. Bob's "female Seasons" project was then a three-man collaboration: The Rag Dolls (their name taken straight from another of the 4 Seasons' best-known hits) had two singles penned by the trio, "Society Girl" and "Dusty," that were regional, mostly east coast, hits. Barbara Lewis and Diane Renay recorded songs by the triple-threat writing team before Crewe got busy setting up his DynoVoice (originally DynoVox) and New Voice record labels. The first of many successes for the Linzer-Randell team was inspired by (and featured the basic melody of) "Minuet in G Major" by Johann Sebastian Bach (which, while not definitively determined, has since been credited to Christian Petzold who, like Bach, was a composer of German origin active in the early decades of the 18th century). The title, "A Lover's Concerto," didn't appear anywhere in the song's lyrics and it didn't matter; it was a million seller for a new Crewe girl group, The Toys, in the fall of 1965.

Barbara Parritt was from Wilmington, in the southern part of North Carolina, and Barbara Harris hailed from Elizabeth City, in the northern part of the state. By the time they were high school age in the late 1950s, both girls' families were living in the Jamaica section of Queens, New York, where they sang with friends and acquaintances including Dottie Berry, Betty Stokes, Betty Blocker and June Montiero. By 1963 they'd been pared down to Parritt, Harris, Stokes and Montiero and called themselves The Charlettes, a name representative of the Carolina connection shared by the two Barbaras. Promoter Vince Marc caught the quartet on the talent show circuit and became their manager; they often headed into Manhattan to linger in the lobby of the building at 1650 Broadway (up the block and across the street from the Brill Building), where a number of record companies and publishing firms had offices, singing for anyone who would listen. A single, "The Fight's Not Over," with a Barbara Parritt lead vocal, appeared on the Angie label, but nearly everyone blinked and missed it.

Betty left the group and the remaining trio found work as studio vocalists; first, they backed Barbara Chandler (Vince's girlfriend) on her summer '64 single for Kapp, "It Hurts to Be Sixteen," produced by Alan Lorber, then they played a more prominent role behind Diane Renay on "Watch Out, Sally!" and "I Had a Dream," both Crewe-Linzer-Randell tunes. Crewe was impressed and signed them to DynoVoice while Vince Marc rechristened them The Toys, taking flak from the girls for the frivolous, childlike name. Sandy and Denny decided Barbara Harris's voice was more suited to the romantic lyrics of "A Lover's Concerto" ('How gentle is the rain that falls softly on the meadow...birds high up in the trees serenade the flowers with their melody...') and the change permanently pigeonholed Parritt in the Flo Ballard role of secondary vocalist after the single became a runaway smash. An August '65 release, it climbed to number two on Billboard's Hot 100 by the end of October but couldn't beat The Beatles ("Yesterday") or Stones ("Get Off of My Cloud"), though on the Cash Box Top 100 the Toys slipped past the pride of Liverpool and topped the chart.

June Montiero, Barbara Harris, Barbara Parritt

Linzer and Randell were on a roll; "Let's Hang On" by the 4 Seasons (one more collaboration with boss Bob Crewe) joined the Toys in the top ten in November. Vince Marc quickly set up a series of nightclub dates throughout Europe (the song had also been a hit in England), leaving Crewe and company on hold, anxious to get a follow-up single and album recorded. A few weeks later Barbara, June and Barbara were hustled into the studio with conductor Charles Calello (who'd done the arrangement on "Lover's Concerto") standing at the ready; another classically-inscribed number, "Attack" (its opening riff taken straight off Peter Tchaikovsky's 1892 "Nutcracker") was the result, a top 20 hit in January 66. The trio lip-synced the hit in It's a Bikini World, a low budget comedy starring Deborah Walley and Tommy Kirk that also featured The Animals, The Gentrys and The Castaways each doing one of their hits; the alternative "beach party" flick didn't have a run in theaters until more than a year later.

"A Lover's Concerto" had a life beyond the Toys' late-1965 hit; in April '66, Sarah Vaughan's cover of the song came on strong in the Easy Listening market, a top ten hit on that format's chart, while Elva Miller, recording for Capitol as Mrs. Miller, an off-key, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard novelty singer (perhaps the most popular act in her narrow category since Florence Foster Jenkins had music fans plugging their ears in the early '40s), reached the charts with her version. Sandy and Denny cheerfully pocketed the extra greenbacks from these bonus recordings....not that they needed it. The longtime songwriting partners penned even more top sellers for the 4 Seasons and lead singer Frankie Valli's solo side career, in addition to notable hits by ? and the Mysterians ("Can't Get Enough of You, Baby"), Jay and the Techniques ("Keep the Ball Rollin'"), disco act Odyssey ("Native New Yorker") and others.

The trio from Queens, on the other hand, had an expiration date that passed too soon. "May My Heart Be Cast Into Stone" continued the romantic formula while "Silver Spoon" borrowed liberally from the middle section of Ludwig van Beethoven's 1798 classic "Sonata Pathetique"...and is that the horn part from Leon Jessel's "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" I hear at the beginning of "Baby Toys"? Nope, sure isn't...but there is a similarity! Vince Marc, figuring the symphonic Linzer-Randell gimmickry had run its course, contacted Alan Lorber and got his act signed to Philips Records; two singles under Lorber's production included "My Love Sonata," a nice showcase for the trio's impressive vocals, but a predictable "classic" nonetheless.

A two-disc stint at Musicor in 1968 yielded "You Got it Baby," a more dance-oriented departure, and an uptempo remake of the 1962 Brian Hyland hit "Sealed With a Kiss," which actually appeared on the national charts but wound up on the losing end of a head-to-head competition with a watered-down version by Gary Lewis and the Playboys (that even Lewis has said he didn't like). The group split up soon afterwards and took on different individual challenges: mainly, getting married and raising families. Barbara Harris has done some recording over the years and at one point made the rounds as The Toys with new backing singers. The original trio is still fondly remembered by millions of fans; June Montiero and Barbara Parritt have reunited with Harris on a couple of occasions and may do so again...but don't blink, or you might miss them.

- Michael Jack Kirby


A Lover's Concerto