Before the Internet, home studios and alternative rock culture, the only way to become a nationally-famous musician was to devote your life completely to music. You could play nightclubs and high school dances in hopes of getting discovered, or you could work within the system as a session player or songwriter for other musicians, biding time till you got offered a bite at the apple. If you really needed a day job, you might turn to driving trucks, painting houses, flipping hamburgers – work that was easy to get and easy to quit when your break finally came around. It might take you longer, but you’d be fine as long as you weren’t too tied down. What you couldn’t have was a career.
The members of The Essex not only had careers, they had perhaps the least-forgiving employer imaginable: Uncle Sam. They were Marines stationed in North Carolina who decided to try their luck with a singing group. “Easier Said Than Done,” a B-side they rush-recorded as a favor to a fellow Marine songwriter, became a surprise #1 hit. The group was flooded with offers for tours and TV appearances, but military obligations impeded their taking advantage of their hit. Follow-up single “A Walkin’ Miracle” went Top 20, but with little promotional activity – and with one of the members now stationed in Okinawa – The Essex faded from the charts.
Yet while the military may have prevented the group from becoming stars, it also inspired one of the song’s most memorable elements. Aspiring songwriter William Linton, assigned to work in the communications department at Camp LeJeune, borrowed the clacking rhythm of Teletype machines to form the basis of “Easier Said Than Done.” What is otherwise a typical pop song of the era becomes instantly memorable, thanks to the syncopated beat and busy bassline. Which isn’t to say that Linton is solely responsible for the record’s success. Anita Humes’s clear, confident lead vocals recall a flirtier Darlene Love; a guy who’d make her “timid and shy” must be something special. The men of The Essex also make an impression via the unusual emphasis on the baritone/bass. Whether a conscious decision or (more likely) a miking accident from a rushed studio session, the cavernous boom of the vocals plays off Humes’s girlishness while accenting the record’s distinctive rhythm section.
Would The Essex continued to have hits if the group members weren’t tied down by their military commitments? “A Walkin’ Miracle,” an explicit rewrite of “Easier Said Than Done,” suggests perhaps not. Still, with full attention devoted to the music, The Essex might have been able to generate some staying power. Yet, without the Marines, there would have been no group and no “Easier Said Than Done.” So while the pop music rule may be that careers interfere with success, The Essex prove that sometimes careers can create it as well. 7
Hit #1 on July 6, 1963; total of 2 weeks at #1
93 of 976 #1’s reviewed; 9.53% through the Hot 100