The Top Song Of The Day 2013 -- and an exclusive interview with the artist who made it

1. "At the Hotel," Eunice Collins (Apr. 13)


I've been blogging for about a decade now, including each and every day for the last 643 straight, without any compensation at all (though Google AdSense tells me I got 23 bucks waiting for me). Some stretches it's been a chore to get something up. Sometimes I think I'm running more on continuity than actual inspiration. But then, every once in awhile, something happens on these pages -- like Colin Donald narrating '70s Australian Rock Week, or chatting with Diane Karageinakos -- that makes me feel extremely special and fortunate to be putting my name at the top-left corner of each page. This is one of those things.

The #1 Song Of The Day for, not just 2013, but the entire history of this feature is a solitary recording from 1974 called "At the Hotel," written and performed by Eunice Collins and released on Mod Art Records in Chicago. It was first featured on this blog on April 13. (BTW, want a coincidental freakout? The No. 1 SOTD of 2012, Nitro's "Freight Train," was also programmed on April 13, of 2012. Which is also my parents' wedding anniversary. Note to self: Program Moondog on 4/13/2014 and see what happens.)

I love "At the Hotel" because it came, to me at least, from nowhere. A one-shot single from a label that only existed for two years, from what I can find out. Everything about it is distinct: the slightly detuned guitar, the backing vocals mixed way up front, Collins' startling frankness and baiting of a lover who goes about his business like he's got a train to catch, its unassuming but steady groove. It's almost everything I shoot for when I'm trying to program SOTD for optimal performance: something that even I haven't heard before, that slipped through the cracks of commerce and notice, that comes from a place so personal and unique that I feel the need to put it out there, just to see what others think of it, or if it'll become one of their favorite songs. Love, that's what I do this whole thing for, hippie.

In the original post for "At the Hotel" I said that I couldn't find any information whatsoever on Eunice Collins, except what I found about Mod Art Records on Discogs and a couple of DJ sites. I passed it by and moved on. In the following weeks I noticed "At the Hotel" was getting a surprising amount of pageviews, and I had no idea why. This is partially explained in this post -- it turns out the cult of "At the Hotel" fans is a little bigger and a lot more fervent than I guessed at first.

On September 15 I got this comment on the page for "At the Hotel":
Eunice Denson
September 15, 2013 at 11:07 AM  
Paul: not motel but mo-tail. Lol. I am glad you like the song. Anything you want to know about me, just ask. Eunice Collins
You know what a dork I am: This made my day. I eventually got in touch with Eunice via email, and we set up a date to talk on the phone, which we did in November. By that time it was pretty clear "At the Hotel" would be No. 1 on the year-end countdown (though Black Sabbath closed the gap considerably in the last month), from a musician who doesn't even have so much as an archived headshot on the web. Serendipitously enough, we were going to have a chat. I don't care what game console you got for Christmas, this was more than enough fun for me.

This is a pretty straight transcript of our half-hour chat. Although I told Eunice that her song was "very popular" with readers and listeners of this blog, I made a point not to tell her how popular it was -- the most popular ever, bar none -- until the end of the conversation. I'm glad I did, 'cause it proved to be a great set-up line.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Eunice Collins:

-------

Eunice: Hello?

Paul: Hi, is this Eunice?

Eunice: Yeeeees, how are you?

Paul: I’m pretty good, how are you doing?

Eunice: I’m doing pretty good. How’s the weather?

Paul: Seattle – kinda grey and overcast. A little damp. Where are you?

Eunice: I’m in Illinois. We’re cold here, but it’s 80-something in Arizona, I’ll be there Saturday.

Paul: Do you live in Arizona now?

Eunice: I spend my winters in Arizona and my summers either traveling or in Illinois.

Paul: Are you in Chicago?

Eunice: I’m in a suburb right on the Indiana border.

Paul: South side.

Eunice: Yeah, south suburb.

Paul: Thanks for talking to me, I’m really thrilled to be talking to you.

Eunice: Why is that?

Paul: Well -- I’m going to wait and tell you at the end how popular this song has been on my blog, but it’s been really, really popular. It’s one of those things that I stumbled upon and liked so much that I put it on my blog, and other people liked it too.

Eunice: The YouTube video?

Paul: Yeah.

Eunice: See, I don’t know who posted it on YouTube. I just happened to look at Oprah’s show once where this guy had Google’d his name, and he found all these people with his name and did a book. He went and visited every one and talked to him, and he did a book about it. So I said, “That sounds cool,” so I Google’d my name. I didn’t expect to find it. There was the record, and I don’t know how I got there or who put it there. But they said that it has become a “collector’s item.”

Paul: I’ve seen three different YouTube posts that feature it. I’m not sure how I came upon it. I think I was looking for '60s and ‘70s R&B records, which is the kind of music that I listen to a lot. I don’t remember how it came up, but it did. I listened to it, and thought it was an interesting song. Everyone lives on the internet somewhere, I guess.

Eunice: Yeah, I guess so (laughs). But I responded to you because you said you weren’t able to find any Eunice Collins information or something. So if there’s anything you want to know about me, just ask me! (laughs)

Paul: Where are you from originally?

Eunice: Chicago, South side.

Paul: What was your upbringing like? I don’t want to ask your age because that’s impolite…

Eunice: I had to be really young to have that song out in 1974. Matter of fact, I was already married and a mother. I knew my husband since I was 15 years old. I have a 45-year-old daughter.

Paul: Really?

Eunice: Really! She was born in ’68. I didn’t know what would come first, my eighteenth birthday or my child. My birthday came first. So she’s 45 now. I’m in my 60’s now.

Paul: As you were growing up, were you involved in music as a kid?

Eunice: I wasn’t necessarily involved in it when I was a little kid, but I sang every day and all day. I started working in a record shop when I was ten years old. I didn’t get paid, I just wanted to hear the music. I know every song from the era. Periodically (the store manager) would reward me with a record.

Paul: Who were some of your favorite artists when you were a kid?

Eunice: Mostly Motown. I listened to Memphis music, Carla Thomas. Later on there was Philly music, Chicago music… pretty much soul. But my favorite music really – most people don’t know because I’m black – is country. I love Garth Brooks and George Strait. Those are my two favorite country artists.

Paul: That doesn’t surprise me too much. There’s a whole lot of crossover between African-American and country music when you really look into it.

Eunice: Exactly. When I was younger country was all we heard on the radio. It wasn’t until the ‘60s that they came up with a station that played black music.

Paul: What was the music scene like in Chicago at that time? A lot of people know about soul in Detroit and Memphis and Philadelphia, but with Chicago they mainly talk about the blues. What was the R&B scene like?

Eunice: Chicago pretty much was about the blues, but we also had R&B. We had Denise LaSalle, Koko Taylor. I even sang blues on stage. I would put together blues medleys. Most of the R&B came from Motown.

Paul: What can you tell me about Mod Art Records, the company who put out “At the Hotel”?

Eunice: I don’t have a clue about Mod Art Records. I’m a roller skater, and Mod Art was on the corner of the roller skating rink. I parked my car around there one day, and there was a studio. I just walked in one day and we talked. He asked me if I sang and I said, “Yeah.” Did I have any music? “Yeah, I have a whole notebook full of lyrics and music.” He said, “Well, let me look at it.”

I showed it to him, he thumbed through it. He liked “What’s Your Hurry Baby” – that was the name of the song. He changed it to “At the Hotel.” He said, “We’re gonna record this tomorrow, will you come back?” I said, “Sure.” I came back.

Paul: What was this gentleman’s name?

Eunice: (pause) Well, I’ve been told that his name was Chuck Sibit. But I did not remember that. I’ve been told that in recent years, like a year or so ago. Someone who tracked me down and asked me if I was the one that sang “At the Hotel.” He’s the one that gave me the background. He told me it was Chuck Sibit. I just remembered the guy, I remember his face.

Paul: You just walk into this studio with a bunch of original lyrics and the next day you’re recording it – how did that feel? What did you think?

Eunice: It really didn’t feel – it wasn’t exciting or anything. He just said, “We’re gonna record this tomorrow, will you come back?” There were some girls he wanted to do background for me. But when I got there, they refused to do background because they said they were the ones who were supposed to be recording. So I told these guys, “You. You. You. This is what I want you to sing.” That’s how it was. It wasn’t anything exciting. We did it in one take. And I went home.

He pressed the records and gave me some. He told me he was moving to California. He kept giving me record sheets. Years ago they used to have record sheets that – I don’t know if you even remember record sheets – to tell you where your song was on the list, like No. 25? On the radio.

Paul: Like rotation lists, playlists.

Eunice: Well, no, not playlists, that’s your era. (laughter)

Paul: What they were playing more heavily on the radio.

Eunice: Yeah. So he gave me what I knew to be imitation sheets, trying to tell me that the song was this number, and it was this number. I hadn’t ever heard it on radio. If it was really up to Number Ten, I would have heard it on the radio. I knew that he was just joking with me. Anyway, he told me he was leaving, going to California to try to make it there. And that was it. I never had a contract, never got any money. That was just it.

Paul: Not to get too personal, but where did you get the idea for “At the Hotel”?

Eunice: My oldest brother would come in every night, wake me up with food. “Do you want barbecue, do you want shrimp?” I would get up, and we would sit at the dining room table and talk. He would tell me things like, “Yeeeeah, I was at the ho-tail gettin’ mo’ tail” (laughter). The girl would say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, let me take my drawers off,” and he would say, “I’m through.” (laughter) I was very young at the time. But those things he would say stuck in my head, and that’s really where the song came from.

Paul: Was he telling the truth?

Eunice: I think he liked to make me laugh. He still does. He likes to tell jokes. These were his jokes. And I wrote a song about it. (laughs) No mystery, that’s all it was.

Paul: Your singing on it is very… sensual.

Eunice: Is it?

Paul: I think so. It’s like a challenge. It’s a very confident woman singing that song.

Eunice: Well, I was a married woman. I was 23 years old at the time. As I said, I’d known my husband since 15. Maybe I sound like a confident woman. I was in college at the time. I would write a lot of songs. I would sing a lot. I sang across Illinois. Sang at McCormick Place in Chicago. I sang at a couple really nice venues. But mostly little places. Where they say you pay your dues at.

Paul: What did your husband think about the song?

Eunice: You know, we never discussed it. Because it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t a big deal to me, not to him. It was something we never heard on the radio, so of course we couldn’t get excited about it. We never heard it played.

It was shocking to me, forty years later, there’s so much interest in it that I never got in the beginning. And that it sampled was for Lion Babe’s “Treat Me Like Fire.” That was amazing to me that it’s become that popular. I was told that it’s been played for years in mixes and everything else in Europe. I didn’t know.

Paul: I think I’ve seen it on a couple mixtapes. Have you talked to anybody else who’s rediscovered this song since it’s found life on the internet?

Eunice: “Life on the internet” (laughs). Yeah, I talked to a couple people. One I can’t remember his name right now, I have his name in my computer. Then I talked to – not personally, but over the internet, to a guy named Jon Oliver.

Paul: The British guy?

Eunice: Yeah, I think he is. [Note: He’s not, he’s a DJ from NYC. At first I thought she was talking about the British John Oliver, formerly of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. – Ed.]

I’ve talked to people from the UK who have contacted me. Then there’s a guy in California who took the song and put it on a CD with a bunch of other songs. His name is Eothen something. He has a record company, he says. [Note: His name is Eothen Alapatt, and his label’s called Now Again, based in the Los Feliz area of L.A. – Ed.] The CD is Loving On the Flip Side. That’s out there. Then I saw it out there on somebody else’s CD, who never even contacted me or anything.

Paul: Have they paid you?

Eunice: No.

Paul: They should… well, I guess I should be paying you too. (laughter)

Eunice: I’ll accept your check! (laughter)

Paul: Did you ever record anything else after “At the Hotel”?

Eunice: I did record something else, but it’s not something that’s out. I was in college, and my work-study job was to sing. I sang with the band. We traveled. There were other people who wanted me to sing with them, so I did. I would travel and go on the road with some bands. That’s pretty much it. There were a lot of my band members who went out and worked with other groups like Earth, Wind & Fire and people like that. At first a lot of band members thought that they were going to get rich and famous, and then reality set in and we all had to go get jobs. (laughter)

Paul: I know that one.

Eunice: Yeah. That’s pretty much it.

Paul: What college were you attending?

Eunice: When I did that song I was attending Malcolm X Junior College in Chicago.

Paul: In general, what’s happened in your life since “At the Hotel” came out?

Eunice: What do you mean since it came out, since this new surge?

Paul: Just general life story.

Eunice: I continued to be with my husband, raise my family, go to work, earn a living, going to business. I didn’t even know the song was being listened to – I had no clue until maybe two years ago. We don’t even have a copy of the record at all. We don’t see it. The only thing we’ve seen it on is YouTube.

Paul: Someone’s gotta have it.

Eunice: I saw it for sale, but they wanted $500. It’s been going for $500, $600, $700. I can’t afford my own song! (laughter) I saw a posting once that said they paid 700 pounds for this record. I thought he was saying seven pounds. Then I went on eBay and it was on there for $500. I can’t do anything about it, if you have a record you can sell it to whoever you want. And you don’t have to pay the artist for that. They’ve been selling it all over for a lot of money.

Paul: When you found out that people were listening to it today, how did you feel about that?

Eunice: I was just curious as to why. That’s one of the first things I asked you: “Why?” Remember?

Paul: Oh yeah.

Eunice: So I’m curious. People are curious about me, I’m also curious about them. I’m curious as to what is it about this song that people are actually liking. Maybe you can answer that question. What is it that you like about it?

Paul: For one thing, I like that it was really simply recorded. There’s just bass, guitar and drums and some backup vocals. It was really intimate because of that. Also, like I said, there’s a lot of confidence in your voice and it sounded like it was turning the tables on a lot of men at the time who – well, they still do this, I guess (laughter) – who are talking about how much they get, how virile they are. Then this song turns the tables on that. “What’s your hurry?”

Eunice: “Can I demonstrate to you what to do, to satisfy me?” (laughter)

Paul: Like I said, it was a challenge. I liked how that storyline plays out. I think it might scare a few guys. I liked it a lot. Apparently everybody else does too.

Eunice: “Scare a few guys…” ‘cause what? They’re not sixty-minute men? (laughter)

Paul: You might have to do a longer remix of the song just to make sure you get those sixty-minute men! (more laughter)

Eunice: I think Jillian (of Lion Babe) did a really good job with “Treat Me Like Fire.” I barely knew that that was my song until I listened to it really good. “Wait a minute, that’s me in the background! Yeah!” I think they did a really good job.

She thinks I’m saying “into the pain.” But I’m saying “out of the fire, into the pan.” That’s an old saying. But she thinks it’s “into the pain.” People love her song, too. She’s had way over a million hits, but it hasn’t gone mainstream yet. I haven’t heard it yet on the radio either.

Another thing: I don’t know what genre I would actually fall under. The song’s so unique. Jillian’s song is unique. I don’t know what genre she would fall under. I tried to find if her song was being sold, and it asked what genre, and I couldn’t figure out what genre her song is. I couldn’t figure out what genre my song is. Some people say it’s soul. But if tried to look at soul songs, it’s really not soul. It’s unique in its own right. That’s how I feel about it.

Paul: You don’t have to call it anything, it exists on its own terms.

Eunice: Yeah, ‘cause it’s not any of those things. So… were you challenged by it? Did it scare you? (laughs) Did you talk to your lady or your wife about it?

Paul: Well, she’s here right now… um… I… she’s not coming to the phone.

Eunice: There’s a guy from the UK who called me. He said at first he didn’t get it, but his wife got it immediately. (laughter)

Paul: Well, I’ve got three children… so if that answers your question… (laughter)

Eunice: Tell your wife I said hello. And I know she got it. (laughter) Women, we get it.

Paul: I’ll have to ask her. Well, last thing… I told you I’d tell you exactly how popular this song is on my blog. I’ve been doing Song Of The Day for a little over a year and a half, about 600 songs. This is not a lie: It’s the most popular song ever on Song Of The Day.

(pause)

Eunice: You’re kidding.

Paul: I’m not kidding.

(longer pause)

Eunice: Maybe I should start getting paid for this song. (loud laughter)



Thanks to all of you for finding, patronizing and coming back to this blog for another year. I think I'll just keep going if that's okay with you. Eunice would probably insist upon it. I like our chances in '14.

Happy New Year.
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