Mention the name Kenny Young to a group of pop music enthusiasts and you're likely to get reactions such as, "Is that the same Kenny Young who wrote . . . ?" I've asked myself similar questions about this mysterious music legend, about whom there seems to be precious little available information. Undoubtedly, the reason for our collective disbelief is the fact that Kenny has been writing, co-writing, singing, producing and arranging music since the early '60s, and has ridden nearly every musical wave since then. From the early Brill Building days to the novelty records created under various aliases, the "toytown" sound of San Francisco Earthquake, the punk/pop of Yellow Dog and recent work in the dance/electronica genre, Kenny Young has been there . . . and done that. Perhaps I speak for many when I state that all of that variety and longevity in music from one person is a little unusual. The person who has had his songs recorded by such disparate artists as the Shirelles, Status Quo, the Brothers Four and '90s dance diva Betty Boo, recently took time to answer some questions about his varied body of work that touches five decades so far.


Brent Cash: Starting at the beginning, where were you born?

Kenny Young: Jerusalem.

BC: When did you realize that you were into music?

KY: At about 2 when I played piano on my upper lip with my fingers as I sucked on my thumb (really!).

BC: From the early '60s to the present time, hardly any of your songs sound similar or repetitious. They're almost as different as people are. Do you have a method of writing, or does it just happen as it chooses to happen?

KY: I have had many methods of writing thru the years. First choice has been idea first, then write a few lines and strum the guitar 'till the right sounding tune takes over, then go from there. Also a tune pops into my head and I fit a line that catches my fancy, etc. With a co-writer, I just have to hear a couple of chords I like, and I'm away with a melodic idea, or a few catchy lines.

BC: Was 'Don't Waste Your Arrows'/'Thumbin'' your first solo release, and how did you get hooked up with MGM?

KY: Actually, my first record was 'This Must Be The Place' under the name of Yale Hunter. I don't remember the label, nor the B-side, which may have been the A side. 'Don't Waste Your Arrows' and 'Thumbin'' were done after I met Artie Resnick at the Brill Building for the first time. He asked if I could sing, so I played him a demo of some songs. He said, "Perfect, come to the studio, and we'll cut a tune." Actually, I met Artie and Clint Ballard Jr. at an office where they rehearsed me for the songs. I signed some shitty contract and recorded for MGM . . . just like that. My first hit song and production was 'Please Don't Kiss Me Again' by the Charmettes, a Phil Spector-ish tune, which I'm surprised you missed. It was a hit in New York and in the 40s nationally in 1963. My friend Ron Oehl and I produced the record and managed the unmanageable group.

BC: You worked in the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway, for Bobby Darin's TM Music, correct? What were those days like? 'Under The Boardwalk' has been covered by many artists and written about numerous times, so I won't dwell on it. But did you have a feeling you'd helped write a song destined to be as well known as 'Happy Birthday To You' when it was done? Also, did you know Rudy Lewis from the Drifters, who was originally supposed to sing it before he passed away?

KY: Very flattering to suggest 'UTB' was as well known as 'Happy Birthday'. I didn't know Rudy. He died on the day of the recording session and Johnny Moore replaced him.

BC: You wrote many other songs with Art Resnick. What are your memories of working with him, and did you maybe get to hear him write 'Good Lovin'' with Rudy Clark during its creation?

KY: We are still buddies. I think I wasn't around to hear him write 'Good Lovin'' with Rudy, but we wrote lots and lots of songs, including 'King Of The Surfers', which had the same theme and melody as 'Leader Of The Pack'. Ironically, we got a girl called Ellie Greenwich to sing the demo. About four months later, 'Leader Of The Pack' came out. It's all in my book (not out yet)!

BC: There are a number of Resnick/Young songs on Diamond (Ronnie Dove, Kenneth Young and the English Muffins) as well as Kapp (the Charmettes, Charlie and Chan). Was there a connection to those labels?

KY: Artie and I used to do lots of joke records, just foolin' around, and people asked us to release them. So we did in many cases.

BC: I will get clobbered by girl group sound lovers if I don't ask you if you worked with or knew the artists who did songs of yours around this '64/'65 period: Bernadette Peters, who did 'And The Trouble With Me Is You' and 'We'll Start The Party Again', etc.

KY: Artie and I produced some of Bernadette's first singles. We almost had a hit with 'Wait Johnny For Me', to the tune of 'Pomp And Circumstance'. Shame on you, you shoulda known that!

BC: The Charmettes, who did 'He's A Wise Guy', 'What Is A Tear', etc.

KY: As I said, 'Please Don't Kiss Me Again' was the hit. Also, '(Preacher Man) Stop the Wedding', which became an anthem in Brazil by some megastar there!

BC: The Johnson Sisters, who did 'Devil In The Dark' and 'Tough Lookin' Guy'.

KY: We didn't know them gals . . . just wrote the toonz.

BC: Getting back to Diamond Records for a second, how did 'Mrs. Green's Ugly Daughter' come about?

KY: Just a take off on 'Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter' . . . something Artie and I used to do when we didn't have something better to do.


BC: Moving deeper into the '60s, the Seagulls made some great singles for Date Records. With all due respect to the Hermits and Mickie Most, 'Don't Go Out Into The Rain' by this group outdoes Peter Noone & Co. In my opinion, the "whole tone" scale on the vibes is a master touch of arranging. Now, this was you, June Winter and Ken Sonn (same guy as Ken Sonenberg who co-wrote 'Charlie No One'?), correct?

KY: Yup! We had a minor hit with this in Florida, so we did a mini promo tour there. Thank you, I agree, ours was the better version.

BC: 'Just A Little Bit Better' was a #7 US hit for Herman's Hermits. Am I way off in thinking that could've been a hit for Buddy Holly had he lived? I also think Dwight Yoakam could do a great version too.

KY: That's because I liked Buddy Holly a lot and imitated him on the track I did, which was a B-side to 'Everybody Laughed' on a label I can't recall.

BC: What was the line-up of the Squirrels ('Who's The Bird') also making records around this time?

KY: The line-up was me and me, I think, and a couple of session musicians. I worked with a guy called Vinnie Rogers, an amazing guitarist. He died tragically, like Michael Hutchence.

BC: Could 'Su Su', recorded by San Francisco Earthquake, be the attractive older sister of (Phil Collins') 'Sussudio'? This group made several 45s for Smash. Who was in the group?

KY: I was the San Francisco Earthquake . . . another pseudonym, along with Blue Yogurt and a few others that will spring to mind.

BC: San Francisco Earthquake's singles capture the zeitgeist of that era, with the light, dreamy imagery. But to me, 'March Of The Jingle Jangle People' and 'Fairy Tales Can Come True' almost have an ominous feel in the music, with the minor keys, etc. If you can remember them, what's your take on these songs?

KY: I was experimenting with hallucinogens, probably.

BC: Around this time, Reparata and the Delrons cut 'Hold The Night' (also done by SF Earthquake) along with others of yours. They had a sizable hit with 'Captain Of Your Ship'. What are your experiences with them?

KY: If they had been more attractive there could have been a decent career there. They were responsible for me moving to England. I accompanied them to Top Of The Pops, the legendary show that's been on UK TV since the beginning of time 'till now. Later, I attended the reception for their hit single 'Captain Of Your Ship', along with John Lennon and Ringo at the Revolution Club in London. I met half the Beatles at our own reception . . . so there!! I later decided to stay in London, having met some of the mini-skirted lovelies who tempted me with their charms and parts of their bodies that were barely covered . . . but that's not what I'm here for . . . sorry.

BC: How did you come to produce Methuselah who later became Amazing Blondel?

KY: Just one of many productions I was asked to do for some sharp production companies, along with the Searchers ('Umbrella Man', 'Somebody Shot The Lollypop Man'), the Fortunes ('Cool It'), Hopscotch, aka the Average White Band . . . you see, you skipped a few.

BC: And now onto Clodagh Rodgers. The three albums you did with her are great. I must mention here that 'Biljo' is my favorite thing you've ever done - catchy and rockin'. The bridge, or middle eight, is mind-blowing - such a sneaky key change, followed by another key change, and one of the trickiest intros ever? Who could guess where it will end up upon first hearing it? One of my favorite all-time records by anyone. What were the sessions like? They sounded like fun, with the studio chat left on the first, self-titled LP.

KY: Gonna have to listen to that again . . . mmmmm.

BC: There was a 45 around this time, produced and by Van McCoy ('LeaveThem Young Girls Alone'/'Ain't It Funny What Love Can Do') that is credited to Kenny Young. It sounds like this is a different person. Can you put an end to the confusion?

KY: Kenny Young was a guy called Kenny Shepherd, I believe. He liked my name and nicked it. What can I say?

BC: As the '60s end and we get into the '70s, you had several versions of 'Arizona' recorded, but Mark Lindsay claimed the gold in the US with it. 'Silverbird' did well by him also. Your feelings on those?

KY: 'Arizona' was originally a B-side of a single I did for CBS and became a top 5 hit. 'Silverbird' was the follow-up and was used in a few commercials, including United Airlines and Yamaha. Also, Jay-Z used a sample of my version of 'Arizona' on a bonus track on his second album. The track was 'Cru Love' and I got 50% credit as a writer. So I co wrote with Jay-Z. Howz 'bout dat?

BC: Now, we get the first Kenny Young solo LPs in the early '70s. A lot of people dig these records and the Happenings did a version of 'Me Without You'.

KY: I did two albums for Warner Brothers. They wanted me to tour and become James Taylor. I said, "Thanx, I ain't that good."

BC: I noticed that this period has some short, sweet songs that end the sides of these LPs - 'Nayli, Nayli' by Clodagh, 'But I Love My Car' and 'Blue Man Serenade' by you and, jumping the gun a little, 'The More' by Fox. My copy of 'Last Stage For Silver World' has no musician credits, but rumour has it that a Susan Trayner sings some vocals on it. She would become Noosha Fox, correct?

KY: Correct, my man. Noosha Fox was once and still is more than ever Susan Trayner.

BC: Fox made several records. Some people seem to prefer 'Blue Hotel'; some 'Tails Of Illusion'. I think the eponymous debut album is stunning from start to finish, with a rare cover song in the form of 'Love Letters'. It's a perfectly balanced work that's hard to categorize. It seems to pre-date the Kate Bush sound, but has the playfulness of Abba. Are you proud of that record?

KY: I was and still am. It was recently re-released in UK. Kate Bush said in an interview that Fox were a great influence on her early work.

BC: As the '70s faded into the '80s, how could someone be in a punk/pop outfit (Yellow Dog) and soon after have a composition be nominated for an R&B Grammy? Tell us about 'Ai No Corrida', recorded by some guy named Quincy Jones.

KY: I don't know, you seem to know a lot, you tell me.

BC: Back on the 'Clever Dogs Chase The Sun' LP, you wrote 'But I Love My Car' - a very tastefully expressed ecological theme. In the '90s you helped found the Earth Love Fund. 'Spirit Of The Forest' has a vocal lineup of artists that is staggering. How long did it take to pull that Herculean task together?

KY: You are pretty knowledgeable, I must say. This was a very important part of my life. I had a strong feeling about the planet's degrading environment, so I did something rather than sit on my ass. I started ELF with some co-musicians after an album we recorded for A&M, 'Transmissions' by Gentlemen without Weapons, which had only digital samples of animals and nature. We turned those sounds into melodic songs. We used the voices of John Hurt, Zulu singers, myself and a few great backing vocalists. Our brief was NO musical instruments - only nature sounds. Check it out sometime. The artwork is by Pink Floyd's creative artist Storm Thorgerson. He also did our video. ELF was a ten-year thing for me. Lots of good work came out of that.

BC: Lest anybody think you're taking it easy in the 2000s, Face On Mars had a Top 5 European dance hit with your song 'The Bug' and 'Come Back And Shake Me' by Clodagh Rodgers has been featured on the TV show Malcolm In The Middle, correct?

KY: Also, Queer As Folk and a few other TV shows - good work, Brent!

BC: Going back over your career, can you give me some of your memories of these some of your various former co-writers: Estelle Levitt?

KY: Lovely gal. She went a bit funny but is getting herself together, I'm told.

BC: Scott English?

KY: Still a great friend. Just wrote a song with him yesterday!!

BC: Artie Wayne?

KY: He's another strange one. What did we write together?

BC: Ben Yardley?

KY: Alias Estelle Levitt - the secret is out!

BC: And, I assume a good friend, Herbie Armstrong?

KY: One of my best mates. Good ol' Herbie. We did lots of things together - many memories!!

BC: Seagulls, Squirrels, Kangaroo Music, Yellow Dogs, Clever Dogs, Patient Tigers: are you an animal lover, or what?

KY: You noticed!

BC: What would some of your all-time favorite or Desert Island Discs be?

KY: Ten copies of 'Sagina Te Ribena' by some mysterious Indian bloke. Maybe tomorrow I'll change my mind.

BC: Who in the world would you liked to have worked with or met?

KY: Would have liked to write with David Byrne and Brian Eno, and maybe do a rap record with Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Otherwise, I'm quite content.

Kenny Young in 1963

and today

Sources, helpers and inspiration: BMI, ASCAP, S'pop Forum Archives, The Musician's Olympus, Limestone Lounge, Lost Jukebox, Jangle Radio, Jacqueline Kroft, Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, John Alford and Rob Silva.

Presented by Mick Patrick and Phil Chapman