Bob Miranda is a singer/songwriter best known as a founding member of the ’60s pop vocal group, The Happenings. Between 1966 and 1968, he and the group had nine Billboard Hot 100 singles including their signature song, “See You in September.”
Spotlight Central recently caught up with Bob Miranda and asked him about his musical background, his rise to fame with The Happenings, and what he’s been up to these days.
Spotlight Central: We understand you’re from Paterson, NJ. Did you grow up in a musical family?
Bob Miranda: No, not really. I was born in Paterson and I lived in Totowa, but I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house next door where I was glued to the big old Philco radio. That’s how all the standards from the ’40s and the ’50s got ingrained in me.
Spotlight Central: What other kinds of music did you listen to growing up?
Bob Miranda: When I was really young, along with the standards, I listened to the big band sounds. And then when I was older — in the ’50s — I listened to Jocko Henderson, who was a late-night disc jockey. He played all the early doo-wop tunes, and I listened to him when I was in bed with my transistor radio. That’s how I got to know all those songs.
Spotlight Central: While you were growing up did you play any instruments?
Bob Miranda: I taught myself how to play guitar. As soon as I learned a few chords, I started writing, and I’ve been writing ever since, actually.
Spotlight Central: Can you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Bob Miranda: The first song I wrote, I think, was called “Caught in a Lie.” I was probably 15 or 16 years old when I wrote it.
Spotlight Central: In 1963, at a dance at St. Leo’s Church in East Paterson, NJ, you met three other singers where you started harmonizing doo wop songs together. What else can you tell us about that experience?
Bob Miranda: I had a friend, Ralph DiVito, who lived in Paterson, and I lived in Totowa — we both went to Central High School — and he said, “I’m going to a dance tonight at St. Leo’s. Would you want to come?” and I said, “Yeah.” So he and I went, and we met Tom Giuliano and Harry Arthur at the dance, in the bathroom, of course, where all the singers wound up. [Laughs] You forgot about all the girls — you forgot about everything — except singing, and our voices sounded great in the bathroom because of the echo.
So we sang a couple of doo-wop songs that we all knew and, wow, there was something special about the blend. They were both lead singers — Tom Giuliano and Harry Arthur. I was just a harmony person — you know, I was just singing “oohs” and “aahs” and background — but, after that, we decided to get together and take it more seriously, and that was the beginning of what we called The Four Graduates.
Spotlight Central: After you started The Four Graduates, you rehearsed for a few months, and then started working together mainly in the Catskills, right?
Bob Miranda: Yeah, we all had our own day jobs and we were now being managed by a schoolteacher, Chuck Rubin, and he got us these jobs up in the Catskills. They were at hotels, sometimes, but lots of them were at these places with small cabins.
Spotlight Central: What kinds of songs did you perform?
Bob Miranda: We did mostly standards, but we blended in some of the current rock and roll songs that were happening at the time. Remember, though: I was only singing, maybe, one or two leads in the whole show.
Spotlight Central: Because you had two other lead singers in the group?
Bob Miranda: Yeah, they were kind of seasoned, so to speak, and I was still a newcomer.
Spotlight Central: The Four Graduates signed a record deal with Laurie Records and had some regional hits including “Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” “Candy Queen,” and a song which you wrote called, “May I Have This Dance.” Was that the first song you ever wrote that was recorded?
Bob Miranda: Yeah, that was the first, but I also wrote the flip-side of “Candy Queen,” which was “A Boy in Love.”
Spotlight Central: So you had a few original songs out there?
Bob Miranda: Yeah, a couple, but they were regional hits; they really didn’t do much. But that experience led me to what was a career-changing move, and that was to quit my job that I had at a warehouse — which was flexible, where they’d let me out whenever I had a gig — and I went schlepping into New York every day until I found something in the music business, whether it was sweeping floors, or whatever, you know? And the only thing I found was at The Tokens’ office. They were producing Randy and the Rainbows, and The Chiffons, who had the song, “He’s So Fine,” at the time.
I went up there and played a few songs for Hank Medress, who was one of The Tokens, and the next day he called me and said he wanted to sign me up as a staff writer. So I signed a five-year contract for a staff writing position with Bright Tunes Music, which was The Tokens’ publishing company.
Spotlight Central: While working there, you wrote a song for Gerry and the Pacemakers called “Girl on a Swing,” which went on to become the title song for one of their albums. What was the inspiration behind that song, and do you remember writing it?
Bob Miranda: I do. It’s one of the few songs I wrote without an instrument. I remember I saw a painting in a museum of a girl on a swing and it inspired me. And I remember writing that song, too — it took about two and a half hours as I was Simonizing my car [laughs]; then I went back home and figured out the chords. But it was unusual. There have only been a couple of songs I wrote like that; most of the time it’s been with a guitar or with keyboards.
Spotlight Central: In 1965, The Tokens and Jubilee Records formed a new record company, B.T. Puppy Records. The company was looking for artists, so you brought in your group, The Four Graduates, to audition, and they signed you to a contract. Around this time, however, you changed the group’s name to The Happenings. How come?
Bob Miranda: The Tokens were looking for artists. They only had themselves on their new label, B.T. Puppy, so I brought in my group, The Four Graduates. We auditioned. They loved us — we sounded a little like them, with the falsetto — and they signed us to a five-year deal. But they kind of thought that the name was dated, and I agreed, you know? It was a lot like The Four Freshmen, and other names like that.
So we said, “We’ll come up with a list of names and choose one,” and the four of us got together and came up with a list. I can only remember a couple of the names on the list — one was The Bitter Lemons, and I think another one was The Corduroys. But at the time, “What’s happening?” was a phrase that was just coming out. So I said, “That should be one of the things on the list: The Happenings.” I liked it, and the other guys liked it — and it turned out to be the one we all liked most of all.
Spotlight Central: The Happenings’ first recording session produced “Girls on the Go,” which was an enormous hit — if you lived in Springfield, Massachusetts…
Bob Miranda: [Laughs] You did your homework!
Spotlight Central: [Laughs] We try! But that song led to another recording session. On that second session, you recorded some original songs plus “See You in September,” which had been a 1959 hit for The Tempos. Did you know anything at all about the writers who created that song?
Bob Miranda: I never met them, but Sid Wayne and Sherman Edwards wrote “See You in September.” They did a lot of Broadway stuff. In fact, they wrote the standard, “It’s Impossible.” “See You in September,” however, was more of an experiment with them, I think, into more of a commercial field.
I loved the song — we all always loved the song — and it was suggested by Mickey Eichner at Jubilee who said, “Why don’t you guys try ‘See You in September’?” and we said, “Sure, we know the song,” and so we did. We brought it into the woodshed and broke it all down — stripped it down and saved all the good parts — the music, the lyrics. We added a whole bunch of vocal hooks and changed the tempo to a Motown feel, which was a new feel for us — and it kind of set the stage for a whole formula for us: take a proven hit that’s a great song and strip it down, change it, and make it your own with the vocal hooks, etc. — and that’s really what we did.
Spotlight Central: “See You in September” was released in April, 1966. Do you feel that its ultimate success had something to do with the fact that it was released in the late spring going into summer?
Bob Miranda: I think when it was released definitely had something to do with it. It was all planned by Jubilee. They said, “Look, we’ll release it a month before the summer so it gives it a chance to peak in June. That’ll give us a chance to get it played and known and out there,” so the timing was perfect.
And what the song said was perfect, too. I think that’s what has to happen with a hit. It’s like an eclipse. Everything has to be perfect — the promoting of it, getting it played, the song itself, and everything else that goes along with it — everything has to be just right, and it was with that song.
Spotlight Central: “See You in September” became The Happenings’ first million seller and an international hit. Can you remember the first time you heard it played on the radio?
Bob Miranda: I can remember I was in the New Jersey National Guard at the time. I was up at Fort Drum by Watertown, NY for two weeks, and when I was there, some of the other guys were saying, “Hey, I think I heard your song on the radio!” and I said, “Nah — it can’t be!” But it was being played up there — not on any of the big stations but on the small stations.
It wasn’t until we had a job in Washington, D.C., and the whole group was driving down to D.C. to the job, when we heard it for the first time on WABC — a 50,000 watt station. Back then, WABC radio was “it!” We heard it — and we had to pull over! We all got out of the car and started hugging each other. [Laughs] It’s just almost an out-of-body experience to hear yourself on the radio the very first time!
Spotlight Central: That’s awesome! And with the success of “See You in September,” The Happenings started touring as headliners. At some shows, Rich Little and Joan Rivers were your opening acts, and you played colleges, nightclubs, and Las Vegas venues where you shared the stage with artists like John Denver, The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, and more. Do you recall any special shows you performed during this time period?
Bob Miranda: Well, John Denver was a good friend. After he wrote “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” for Peter, Paul and Mary, he used to open for us, and he was a dear friend.
But I think one of the most special performances we did was with The Beach Boys. I always loved The Beach Boys — along with The Four Freshmen and The Hi-Lo’s — so to get to play with them was a kick. We did a week or ten days of shows with them, and we got to know Carl Wilson pretty well. One night, Carl called me over and said, “Are you doing anything after the show?” I said, “I’m not doing anything, no,” so he said, “Why don’t you come over to my room and I’ll play you something?” and I said, “It would be an honor.”
So when we got back to the hotel, I went to his room, and he had this big TEAC reel-to-reel set up in the room, and he said, “This is something we’re thinking of releasing. It’s a rough mix, but what do you think about it?” Then he played me “Good Vibrations” — and I just fell on the floor! [Laughs] I said, “Oh, my God! I can’t believe this! If that isn’t a #1 record I don’t know what is!”
Spotlight Central: Unbelievable! But getting back to your own hits: “Go Away Little Girl” had been a hit for Steve Lawrence, and then The Happenings covered it and it became your next hit. Where did you get the idea to record that song?
Bob Miranda: From Carole King, directly from her mouth.
Spotlight Central: Wow!
Bob Miranda: Yeah, she used to come up to The Tokens’ office and play her songs hoping they would produce them with their artists. So she came up one day. At the time, we already had “See You in September,” so she was fishing for a follow-up. She played some of her originals and we weren’t in love with them, so she said, “What about ‘Go Away Little Girl?’” I said, “Well, yeah, but Steve Lawrence already had a huge hit with that,” and she said, “Yeah, but if you put The Happenings’ spin to it, it’d be like a new song.”
So we did exactly what we did with “See You in September.” We upped the tempo, we put the vocal hooks in — [sings] “Won’t you go away little girl,” “Wish you wouldn’t stay” — all that stuff we added to the song to make it our own. It was a good follow-up, and it was her idea.
Spotlight Central: After a few singles which didn’t become hits — including a ballad rendition of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and a new version of Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” — you decided to remake the Gershwin classic, “I Got Rhythm.” Why did you pick that song, and what was your idea for updating it?
Bob Miranda: We weren’t specifically looking for a Gershwin song, but we wanted to go back further to find standards for hits, thinking that kids would never have heard those songs. We were going through fake books with standards and stuff and “I Got Rhythm” came up as a suggestion. I said, “This could work! It’s simple, and listen to the words: ‘I’ve got music/I’ve got my girl/Who could ask for anything more?’”
I changed the words on the second verse, and I wrote an intro — the “In this fast and troubled world” part. And, again, we added all the vocal hooks — “dip-dip-dips,” and all those things — which took it light years away from the Ethel Merman version.
And I can remember sitting in the studio with Jay Siegel of The Tokens listening to the playback of the final mix. We looked at each other and Jay Siegel said to me — exactly word for word — what I said about “Good Vibrations” to Carl Wilson. He said, “If that isn’t a #1 record, I don’t know what is!”
Spotlight Central: “I Got Rhythm” went on to become a million-seller in 1967. In the meantime, The Happenings appeared on all of the most popular TV shows including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Merv Griffin Show, and more. Do you have any special memories of any of these performances?
Bob Miranda: A lot of times when we were on The Tonight Show, it was Johnny Carson’s night off. He had substitute hosts — Joan Rivers, Orson Bean, Alan King — who used to fill in for him. And those were the times we would get on the show because Johnny Carson hated rock and roll — you never heard The Stones, you never heard The Doors — you never heard anybody like that on the Carson show when he was there!
So I do have some fond memories about being on The Tonight Show, but one of them was not so fond. One time, we did “I Got Rhythm” on the show. Back then, television wasn’t as sophisticated — with the monitoring systems and things they had — compared to how things are now. When we performed, we used the house band and played our instruments as well, and since we had four vocalists, they set up four microphones for us.
They taped the show — they used to tape it around 7pm, and then you could go back home and watch it at 11:30 when it came on — and when I went back home that night and listened to it, two of the microphones were not even on! Thank God, the lead mic was on, however, so at least you could hear me and one harmony singer happening back there. But it was crushing — honest to God! I had called all my friends and said, “You gotta watch! You gotta watch!”
Spotlight Central: And it sounded more like a duo rather than a quartet!
Bob Miranda: Yeah!
Spotlight Central: Over the years, The Happenings toured all over the United States, Europe, and South America and, over a half-century later, the group is still going strong. Since there have been very few concerts going on lately, however, what have you been up to?
Bob Miranda: I’m doing some video stuff — I did a virtual show in May or June — and I have another one planned for New Year’s Eve, where I’ll be doing five or six songs. It’s really hard for promoters right now — everybody’s fishing for a way to do music virtually. It’s kind of unusual — it’s like new ground, where nobody knows what the heck to do, so they’re trying different things.
But I’ve done some video stuff for Facebook — things like that. In addition to performing with the group, I usually do solo work, myself. And even that — at least, here in California — isn’t happening. I just don’t know how safe it would be to take off my mask and sing and stuff like that, so I haven’t been performing, but I am still writing.
Spotlight Central: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Bob Miranda: Yeah. Actually, I wanted to share a short story with you about a place where The Happenings used to work in New Hampshire. It was called Giovanni’s Restaurant. It was a big restaurant in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, and we used to work there quite a bit. They loved us there and we loved them.
One time, we showed up and they had a new marquee outside. Later, we were doing our soundcheck and the owner came up to me and said, “We’ve got this new marquee and we want to put something up there, but I don’t think we have room to list all your hits, so what do you think we should say?” I said, “Why don’t you just put ‘The Happenings sing their million sellers,’ and he said, “Oh, that’s good!” and he assigned this task to his teenage nephew to put the message up on the marquee.
We left and we went back to the hotel. As we were driving back up to the club, we saw the marquee, and it said on the marquee, “The Happenings sing in a million cellars.”
Spotlight Central: [Laughs] Oh brother!
Bob Miranda: We just couldn’t stop laughing! “The Happenings sing in a million cellars!” I wonder how they knew?
Spotlight Central: Well, we’d look forward to seeing you perform in any cellar!
Bob Miranda: [Laughs] Yeah! And what I’d like to end with is — getting back to “See You in September” — it’s such a special song. It’s probably our biggest selling record but, also, so many veterans are attached to that song because of what was happening when it came out and what it said. I get so many veterans’ emails on our website — in addition to comments in person after we do shows, where so many veterans will come up to us and say, “‘See You in September’ is not just this sweet summer song to us. It meant a lot, and it gave us hope that we might get back.”
And when I talk about this [voice cracks], I get choked up, for crying out loud. To think that something like that could have such an effect on so many people — and it still does! But I just think our veterans are so under appreciated and overlooked at times, I just think they need to be in our thoughts and prayers more often, so God bless all the veterans out there!
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