In the vast world of music – or at least in the portion that exists between my ears – there’s a type of song that I call a “bell-ringer”. You know the kind I mean — songs that you can’t identify at first, but that definitely ring a bell. Everyone has them but might call them something else, such as “songs that make me scratch my head”, but you’re welcome to use my term, royalty-free.
In my case, I even take the process a step beyond ordinary bell-ringers. I also have deluxe bell-ringers, which I define as those songs that not only sound familiar and catch my attention, but do so in a way that causes me to dig deeper into the artists and their music, often becoming a fan.
A deluxe bell-ringer would certainly describe a song that I rediscovered a long time after it first hit the pop charts in 1969. The group that recorded it was fairly new at that time, and I don’t remember paying them a lot of attention, but when I heard it again years later I realized that this was good stuff. It was “Going Up The Country,” and of course the band was Canned Heat.
Formed by immensely talented blues fanatics Bob Hite and Alan Wilson, the band burst onto the music scene of the day with their explosive brand of blues, and for a while seemed to be everywhere, including both Monterey and Woodstock. Their live shows were a hit with crowds at every performance.
Their popularity also began to show up with continually increasing record sales. Their first song to hit the Billboard charts was 1968’s “On The Road Again,” which did well, followed by “Going Up The Country,” their biggest hit (and what turned out to be my deluxe bell-ringer).
They had other charted songs, including an outstanding version of Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together,” but problems began to plague the group, starting with the mysterious death of the talented Wilson in 1970. Hite and the others continued performing through the decade and beyond, until Hite’s own death from heart failure in 1981.
In the years since, surviving band members and various sidemen have continued performing and recording with some success, but in retrospect it seems to me that the original group in their day was something very special. Wish I’d paid more attention at the time…