4 Versions of ‘Thirteen Women’
A couple of weeks ago, I was researching a Little Richard song, studiously following various links, when, like a dog spotting a squirrel, one band name caught my eye: The Renegades.
I had never heard of them before.
A photo showed the quartet in American Civil War era calvary uniforms on stage and with hair extremely long for the mid-sixties.
Their cover of Little Richard’s ‘Lucille’ was good, but honestly, nothing special.
The automated playlist offered another song by them, ‘Thirteen Women’; intrigued by the title, I clicked on it and there I went again, falling head first down the rabbit hole.
The first thing that I discovered was that the number was not an original, but was rather a cover of a Bill Haley and His Comets record. Further research revealed that Haley’s was a “cleaned up” version of a song that had been released only two months earlier.
The original was written and recorded by James Edward “Dickie” Thompson. Thompson was a jazz and R & B guitarist and singer who began working in New York City’s jazz clubs in the late forties. He appears to have had a couple of records released in 1946 and had nothing else released under his own name until ‘Thirteen Women and One Man’ came out on the Herald label in 1954.
Interestingly, session ace Mickey Baker was brought in to play guitar on the number* and well as it’s equally strong B-side, ‘I’m Innocent’. Both songs appear to have been a little too “forward” in terms of subject matter for their time and garnered little airplay.
Legendary record producer / label owner (Commodore) Milt Gabler, working for Decca Records, heard the song and had Haley and his band record it at their first session for the label, which also featured a ‘(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock’**.
Gabler changed the arrangement of Thompson’s song but more importantly, he bookended the number with verses indicating that the song was just a dream, which was mild compared to the bleach job that Big Joe Turner’s ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ (possibly recorded at the same session) underwent to make it safe for consumption by white listeners.
Bill Haley and his Comets – Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOSGEEswmqQ
Interestingly, the number was next covered by female singers, with a title change to ‘Thirteen Men’. The version found on Mis Ann-Margret’s 1962 LP “The Vivacious One”, orchestrated by H.B Barnum is an enjoyable “pop-jazz” number, albeit very much of its time.
Bill Haley’s recording was released in England, back in 1955 and it would be interesting to know how The Renegades came to record the number.
Formed in the early sixties in Perry Barr, Birmingham, England, they recorded a “unique” arrangement of Fran Liszt’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsody’ (titled ‘Hungarian Mod’) for release on an LP sampler of local groups titled “Brum Beat” in 1964.
That year, they toured Norway and were such a hit that they stayed for seven weeks. They released a single there that year, ‘Cadillac’ (though they claimed the writing credit, it was cover of Vince Taylor and His Playboys’ 1959 ‘Brand New Cadillac’) where it went to Number 2 on the charts. They soon made Norway their base.
Later in the decade, they also found success in Italy, recording a number of singles in Italian.
Admittedly, their other numbers don’t have the same frenetic energy of this number, (obviously helped by the slightly surreal imagery accompanying promo film)
The Renegades – Thirteen Women – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu2pKXSIzr4
A month later, Australian singer Marty Rhone backed by The Soul Agents, released a version of the song with yet another new arrangement, this one focused more on the guitar of Soul Agent, John Green.
Like The Renegades, they use the rewritten opening stanza of Haley’s version, but conclude with the verse used in Ann-Margert’s recording!
Marty Rhone and His Soul Agents – Thirteen Women – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2pXRvLbVKk
The other recordings referenced can all be found on YouTube.
*For any who are interested in what Thompson’s playing, a left-hander who played the guitar upside down, sounded like, he takes a solo on this number, from the LP “Wild Bill Davis – Live at Count Basie’s” (RCA 1966)
Wild Bill Davis – Impulsion – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlXrbZfi6Tw
From the LP “Live at Count Basie’s” (RCA 1966)
**‘Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)’ was the released as the A-side of Haley’s Decca label debut, with ‘(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock’ as the B-side. The single was reissued in 1955 with the sides reversed after the B-side was played over the titles of the movie “Blackboard Jungle”.