PLEDGE WEEK: “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis
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This episode is part of Pledge Week 2022. Every day this week, I'll be posting old Patreon bonus episodes of the podcast which will have this short intro. These are short, ten- to twenty-minute bonus podcasts which get posted to Patreon for my paying backers every time I post a new main episode -- there are well over a hundred of these in the archive now. If you like the sound of these episodes, then go to and subscribe for as little as a dollar a month or ten dollars a year to get access to all those bonus episodes, plus new ones as they appear. Click below for the transcript Transcript Today we're going to take a look at someone who had two big hits, one of which has entered into American pop culture to a ludicrous extent -- long before I ever heard the song I was familiar with references to it in everything from the Simpsons to Stephen King books -- and the other of which is known all over the world, but about whom there's almost no available information, outside the liner notes to one CD. We're going to look at Shirley Ellis, and at "The Name Game": [Excerpt: Shirley Ellis, "The Name Game"] When I say there's almost no available information about Shirley Ellis, I mean it. Normally, with someone who had a couple of major hits in the mid-sixties, there's at least a couple of fan pages out there, but other than a more-perfunctory-than-usual page on Spectropop, there's basically nothing about Shirley Ellis, possibly because unlike most of her contemporaries, even though she lived until 2005 she never hit the nostalgia circuit. The information that is out there is contradictory as well. Some sources have her being born in 1941, while others place her birth much further back, in 1929. I suspect the latter date is more accurate, and that she trimmed a few years off her age when she became a star. Pretty much all the information I'm using here comes from the liner notes of the one CD currently in print from a legitimate source of Ellis' work, and that CD also has a problem which will affect this episode. Ellis released two albums, "In Action" and "The Name Game", which had nine tracks in common. On "In Action", they were overdubbed with crowd noises, more or less at random, to make them sound like they were live recordings, while "The Name Game" had the unadorned studio recordings. Unfortunately, the CD I'm using, for some unfathomable reason, chose to use the fake-live versions, and so that's what I've been forced to excerpt. Ellis grew up in the Bronx, in a family with roots in the West Indies, and started out as many young singers did, winning the talent contest at the Harlem Apollo. But her initial success came as a songwriter, when she wrote a couple of songs for the Sh-Booms -- the group who had formerly been known as the Chords before legal problems led them to rename themselves after their biggest hit: [Excerpt: The Sh-Booms -- "Pretty Wild"] She also wrote "One Two, I Love You" for the Heartbreakers, which pointed the way to the kind of novelty song based around counting and clapping rhymes with which she would have her biggest hits: [Excerpt: The Heartbreakers, "One Two, I Love You"] But while she'd had these minor successes as a songwriter, it wasn't until she teamed up with a more successful writer that she started to make the records for which she was remembered. Ellis was introduced by her husband's cousin to Lincoln Chase, who became her manager, record producer, and writing partner. Chase had already written a number of hits on his own, including "Such a Night" for Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters: [Excerpt: The Drifters, "Such a Night"] which had also been a hit for Johnnie Ray, and "Jim Dandy" for LaVern Baker: [Excerpt: LaVern Baker, "Jim Dandy"] As well as songs for Big Maybelle, Ruth Brown and others. Chase and Ellis spent a couple of years releasing unsuccessful singles under Ellis' full married name, Shirley Elliston, before releasing "The Real Nitty Gritty". B
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