Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #62– Johnny Rivers: “Secret Agent Man” b/w “Memphis” – Liberty Silver Spotlight Series 45 XW-101 (C7/D7)
“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.
Johnny Rivers is a singer, songwriter, record producer and record label owner who is probably best known for the numerous live records he released featuring cover versions of popular songs recorded at The Whiskey A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California. He scored numerous hits during the ‘60s and ‘70s, including “Maybellene,” “The Midnight Special,” “Mountain Of Love,” “The Seventh Son,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?,” “Poor Side Of Town,” “Baby I Need Your Lovin’,” “Memphis” (the B-side of today’s jukebox classic) and today’s song, “Secret Agent Man.”
“Secret Agent Man” was written by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri for the American adaptation of the British TV spy show Danger Man. The song was picked up for use on American TV for the show Secret Agent which ran from 1964 through 1966. The original demo used the Danger Man title instead of Secret Agent Man.
The original studio incarnation of the song was one verse and the chorus, however once the song and the show gained in popularity, two more versus were written and added to the song. The full version of “Secret Agent Man” was recorded live at The Whiskey A Go-Go and released on the …And You Know You Wanna Dance album in 1966. Personnel on the album included Chuck Day on bass, Mickey Jones on drums, Larry Knechtel on organ, Joe Osborn on bass and guitar and Johnny Rivers on vocals and electric guitar. The song was later retouched in the studio before it was released as a single. The single climbed all the way to number three on the charts in 1966 and sold over one million copies. P.F. Sloan was responsible for the indelible guitar riff that drives the song.
Sloan: “Somebody thought I should do a full length instrumental of the song. So I did. Meanwhile the song was picked by CBS and Johnny Rivers recorded the quick 15-second song for the TV show. The Ventures, the genius guitar instrumental group, heard the demo and recorded and released the song way before Rivers even had a finished song. The publishers asked me to finish the song, Rivers recorded it, not one of his favorite songs back then, but he’s happier with it now.” (P.F. Sloan Website via Songfacts)
The song has been covered by the likes of Devo, Mel Tormé, Blotto, The Toasters, Agent Orange, Blues Traveler, Hank Williams Jr., Bruce Willis, Alvin & The Chipmunks, and dozens of punk bands who performed this song live on stage as part of their shows. The song has also been used to hawk everything from Wal-Mart to Chase Bank, and was also featured in the movies Repo Man, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.
The flip of today’s double A-sided single is Rivers’ recording of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” which was also recorded live at The Whiskey A Go-Go and featured on Rivers’ debut album the Johnny Rivers Live At The Whiskey A Go Go album. Rivers’ recording of “Memphis” climbed to the number two position of the charts in 1964 and also sold well over one million copies.
In 1966, Rivers’ launched his own record label called Soul City Records and signed The 5th Dimension who scored numerous hit records for the label. As the sixties faded, Rivers’ changed gears and began to record psychedelic music to keep up with the times. His Realization album was not a big hit, but is nevertheless well worth seeking out.
Rivers hit the charts again in the 1972 with “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” which climbed to number six and also sold over a million copies. He continues to perform and record to this day. If ever an artist deserved to be a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, Johnny Rivers is the man.
Growing up, “Secret Agent Man” was my son’s favorite song in the jukebox. When he was small he used to think the lyrics said “Secret Asian Man” and he’d run around the living room whenever it was played singing those lyrics as loud as he could. Today he’s 16 and proud to admit that he now knows better…