Any Major Originals: The 1970s

November 15th, 2018 3 comments

 

This is the first mix of lesser-known originals of 1970s hits; truth be told, for the most part the hit versions were a marked improvement on the first versions. I do prefer Badfinger’s version of Without You and Billy Preston’s You Are So Beautiful to the more famous versions. But more interesting than the musical merits are some of the backstories. And few are as dramatic as that of Without You, a mega hit for first Harry Nilsson in 1972 and in the 1990s for Mariah Carey.

Without You

There is something dismal about the notion that a pop classic would be best-known among some people in its incarnation by Mariah Carey. Those with a more acute sense of pop history will have been dismissive of Carey’s calorific cover of Nilsson’s hit. But even Harry Nilsson applied a generous dose of schmaltz to his cover of the Badfinger original.

Without You apart, there is a chain of tragedy which links the Welsh band and Nilsson. Both acts had a Lennon connection (more tragedy here, of course). Badfinger were signed to the Beatles’ Apple label, on which Without You was released in 1970; Nilsson was a collaborator with and drinking buddy of Lennon’s. Nilsson died fairly young, so did two members of Badfinger — both of whom wrote Without You and committed suicide.

Singer Peter Ham killed himself in 1975 (in his suicide note he referred to their “heartless bastard” of a manager), and in 1983, Tom Evans hanged himself after an argument over royalties for the song with former colleague Joey Molland (who both had played on Lennon’s Imagine album and other ex-Beatles solo records).

Nilsson reportedly thought that Badfinger’s Without You had been a Beatles recording — indeed, the Rolling Stone touted Badfinger as the Beatles’ heirs. His version, turning a fairly rough mid-tempo rock song into an orchestral power ballad (at a time when such things were rare) became a massive hit in 1972; Carey’s version hit the charts just a week after Nilsson’s death in 1994. One may fear the worst for Ms Carey should the Nilsson curse strike her: apart from the sad story of Badfinger and Lennon’s death, both Mama Cass and Keith Moon died in Nilsson’s flat.

 

Fernando

ABBA famously did not cover versions; given the songwriting chops of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, they had no need to. But one of the group’s biggest hits was a cover of sorts: Fernando was originally recorded by Anni-Frid for her Swedish-language solo album Frida Ensam (which featured several cover versions, including Life On Mars and Wall Street Shuffle). Fernando, written by Benny and Björn with lyrics by ABBA manager Stig Anderson, was the LP’s lead single and proved very popular. In 1976 ABBA released an English version, with the theme changed from being a break-up song to the reminiscence of freedom fighters.

Video Killed The Radio Star

This slice of sci-fi flavoured nostalgia, inspired by a JG Ballard story, was co-written by Trevor Horn and Geoffrey Downes (then new members of prog-rock band Yes) with Bruce Woolley. So it seemed right that it should be recorded by the two parties — the Yes contingent and Woolley — in 1979. The latter got in there first, with his Camera Club. It is a breathless version with much energy and a quite nice guitar solo at the end, but none of the bombastic detail which made the Buggles’ synth-fiesta a huge hit.

The Buggles version is sometimes considered a bit naff, which does great injustice to a catchy song which does everything that is required of a very great pop song. The video of the Buggles version was the first ever to be played by MTV. But the Woolley version is all but forgotten.

Hanging On The Telephone

If it is not widely known that Blondie’s 1979 hit Hanging On The Telephone is a cover, then it probably is because the original performers, The Nerves, only ever released a (very good) four-track EP in 1976, which included the song. The Nerves — a trio comprising songwriter Jack Lee, Paul Collins (who’d later join The Beat) and Peter Case (later of the Plimsouls) — were a heavy-gigging LA-based rock band which despite their extremely brief recording career proved to be influential on the US punk scene. The members of Blondie surely have were aware of the song. A year after The Nerves split, Debbie Harry and pals picked up the song and enjoyed a huge worldwide hit with it.

 

Blame It On The Boogie

How many cover versions have been sung by the namesake of the original performer? Mick Jackson was a German-born English pop singer. His Blame It On The Boogie, which he also co-wrote, sounds like a presentable Leo Sayer number. The Jacksons changed little in the song’s structure — Mick’s original has all the touches we know well, such as the “sunshine, moonlight, good time, boogie” interlude — and yet they turned a pretty good song into a disco explosion of joy, presaging Michael’s Off The Wall a year and a bit later.

Mick Jackson actually wrote the song with Stevie Wonder in mind (and it’s easy to imagine how it might have sounded), but was persuaded by a German label to record it himself. When the freshly-minted record was played at a music festival in Cannes, a rep for the Jacksons — no doubt alerted by the performer’s name — secretly taped the song, flew it to the US and had the Jackson brothers record and release it in quick time, to release it before Mick could have a hit with it. With both singles out at the same time, the British press had some fun with the Jackson “Battle of the Boogie”. Mick’s single reached #15 in the UK and #61 in the US. The Jacksons’ version became the classic.

He Ain’t Heavy…

The Hollies’ guitarist Tony Hicks was desperately looking for a song to record when he was played a demo of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. The band decided to record it without great expectations, with Reg Dwight (who would become Elton John) on piano. Of course, it became a mega-hit and pop classic. But the Hollies were not the first to record it.

The song had already been released by Kelly Gordon in April 1969 — five months before the Hollies’ version — as a single and on his Defunked album (the single’s b-side was That’s Life, a song Gordon had co-written five years earlier, but had been recorded before and made famous by Frank Sinatra). The original of He Ain’t Heavy by Gordon, more active as a producer than a singer, is slower and more mournful. Based on his interpretation, the publishers thought it would be a good song for Joe Cocker to record. And it would have been, but Cocker turned the song down.

He Ain’t Heavy was written by Bobby Scott (who wrote A Taste Of Honey) and the older veteran lyricist Bob Russell (Little Green Apples), who was already ailing with cancer and died at 55 in February 1970, just after the song had become a worldwide hit.

There is much speculation as to the origin of the title; most commonly it is believed that the line was inspired by Father Edward Flannagan, the founder of Boys Town, who had adopted it as the organisation’s motto, reputedly after spotting a cartoon of a boy carrying another in a corporate publication named Louis Allis Messenger, that was captioned “He ain’t heavy Mister – he’s m’ brother!” It was not a new line; it had been used in literature and magazine articles before, and supposedly provided the punchline for a Native American folk story.

I Hear You Knocking

Smiley Lewis feature with another song when we visited the Elvis originals. Here he provided the original for an early ’70s hit. Lewis, a New Orleans musician nicknamed for his missing front teeth, recorded I Hear You Knocking in 1955. The song was written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King. The former was Fats Domino’s writing partner, and Fats naturally later recorded the song.

At a time when US radio and charts were subject to much racial segregation, Lewis’ record made little impact outside the black charts, where it peaked at #2, and Lewis’ career never really took off. Instead the song enjoyed commercial success in its version by Gale Storm in 1956. Lewis died of stomach cancer in 1966.

Four years later, he would be remembered by the Welsh singer Dave Edmunds, whose cover of I Hear You Knocking reached #1 in Britain and #4 in the US with slightly altered lyrics which namecheck Lewis, among others (including Huey Smith, who played on Lewis’ version). Edmunds himself hadn’t known the song until he produced a version of it for the young Shakin’ Stevens – a decade away from fame as a revivalist rock ‘n roller and Christmas #1 hunter. In fact, Edmunds almost didn’t record what would become his biggest hit. He had planned to find stardom with a cover of Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Work Together, but was scooped in that endeavour by Canned Heat (as we’ll see below). So he adapted the arrangement he had in mind for Let’s Work Together to create a truly original cover.

Let’s Stick Together
When Wilbert Harrison released Let’s Work Together in 1969, it was a slightly customised take on his 1961 song Let’s Stick Together. For all intents and purposes, it is the same song. Where “Stick Together” failed to make an impression, its reworked version was a minor US hit. Canned Heat, who were canny in their selection of obscure songs to cover, recorded their version soon after and scored a hit with it in 1970. To their credit, Canned Heat delayed the US release of the single to let Harrison’s single run its course first.

In 1976 Bryan Ferry took the song to #4 on the UK charts, having reverted to the original title, introduced some thumping saxophone and applied the suave working-class-boy-gone-posh vocals. Outside Roxy Music, everybody’s favourite fox-hunting Tory never did anything better. Thanks to Wilbert Harrison’s retitling, it is now evident which version – Canned Heat’s or Ferry’s – has inspired subsequent covers.

 

You Are So Beautiful

Few noises in mainstream pop history have been as disturbing as Joe Cocker’s croaked note at the end of that staple of soppy love songs, You Are So Beautiful. Some people might regard the song best crooned by Homer Simpson, but they are probably not familiar with Billy Preston’s rather good original.

The song was written by Preston and his songwriting partner Bruce Fisher, with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s uncredited lyrical contribution (Wilson would sing the song as an encore at Beach Boys gigs in the late ’70s and early ’80s). Preston’s version was recorded shortly before Cocker’s slower version in 1974. The former remained an album track, while Cocker’s version reached the US #5 in 1975 (but didn’t chart at all Britain).

Sailing

Written in 1972, the Rod Stewart hit Sailing was first recorded by the Sutherland Brothers. Having joined forces with the band Quiver, the brothers were also responsible for another possible inclusion in this series, Arms Of Mary, which readers of a certain vintage are more likely to associate with Danny Wilson’s1988 hit (and others, perhaps, as a hit for Chilliwack in the ’70s). The Sutherland Brothers’ version has an apt shanty feel, with the keyboard player especially having fun experimenting with his toy. Rod’s version is richer and warmer. The old soul lover recorded it, and the rest of the ludicrously cover-designed Atlantic Crossing, in that incubator of great soul music: Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Handbags And Gladrags

The word “gladrags” is deplorably underused in pop music. So we ought to give credit to former Manfred Mann singer Mike D’Abo for popularising it in music. D’Abo didn’t immediately release it, producing British singer Chris Farlowe’s recording of it in 1967. Farlowe had made it a bit of a career of covering Rolling Stones songs in particular; his rather good version of Out Of Time topped the UK charts in 1966, his only Top 30 hit. He didn’t do very well either with Handbags And Gladrags, which tanked at #33, great harmonica backing notwithstanding. In 1969, Rod Stewart – a shrewd operator when it comes to recording lesser known songs — recorded the track, arranged again by D’Abo himself. Released in 1970, it became a hit only two years later.

Strangely, the song has not been covered much. It made something of a comeback when it was used as the theme for the British version of The Office, produced by a session musician and writer of many TV themes, the late Big George Webley.

 

Early Morning Rain

Several artists had a bite of Early Morning Rain before the song’s writer, Gordon Lightfoot, released it (though he had already recorded it). First up were Lightfoot’s Canadian compatriots Ian & Sylvia, a folk duo discovered in 1962 by Bob Dylan’s future manager Albert Grossman, who’d also sign Lightfoot. The married twosome’s version, with a rather good bass break, appeared on their 1965 album named after Lightfoot’s song. It featured another song by the still mostly unknown Lightfoot, For Lovin’ Me, as well as the original version of Darcy Farrow.

Both Lightfoot songs recorded by Ian & Sylvia were soon covered by Peter, Paul & Mary, then by Judy Collins and by the Kingston Trio. In November 1965 it was also recorded on a demo by the Warlocks, who a month later would become the Grateful Dead, though their version would not be released till later.

Lightfoot finally released the song in January 1966, closing the A-side of his debut album, Lightfoot!, which had mostly been recorded already in December 1964.

Let Your Love Flow

That great hit of the summer of 1976, Let Your Love Flow, might have been a hit for Neil Diamond. Written by one of the lamé-jacketed star’s roadies, Larry E Williams, it was offered first to Diamond. He declined to record it (as did Johnny Rivers), which perhaps was just as well. Instead the song came to country/folk singer-songwriter Gene Cotton, who recorded it for his 1975 album For All The Young Writers.

While Cotton’s version went nowhere, Neil Diamond’s drummer suggested it to his friends David and Howard Bellamy, the country duo The Bellamy Brothers. Their recording became one of the biggest hits of the decade and gave the brothers’ their international breakthrough hit. In West Germany Let Your Love Flow topped the charts in summer 1976 for six weeks until it was knocked off by its German version, by Jürgen Drews.

Mandy

Barry Manilow appropriated other people’s songs by force of arrangement (and, obviously, commercial success). If we need proof of how much Bazza owned the songs he didn’t write, consider his giant hit Mandy. It was a cover of a ditty called Brandy by one Scott English, which was a #12 hit in Britain in 1971 (the tune was written by Richard Kerr, who wrote two other hits for Manilow, Looks Like We’ve Made It and Somewhere In The Night). Manilow’s renamed version was the first cover. None of the subsequent recordings are dedicated to Brandy. English’s version is not very good. To start with he couldn’t sing, and the production is slapdash. Manilow recorded it reluctantly, not yet sure about singing other people’s music. He slowed it down, gave it a lush arrangement, and we know how it ended.

 

I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing

The ending of the series Mad Men has Don Draper dream up the famous I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke ad campaign, which gave rise to the New Seekers’ hit I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing. Somehow, a little-known Australian squeezed in her version as the song’s original release.

In January 1971, Coca Cola were looking for ways to popularise its new slogan, “It’s the Real Thing”, which had replaced the classic “Things Go Better With Coke”. The company’s advertising agency, McCann-Erickson, brought together its creative director, Bill Backer, with songwriters Billy Davis (who had written for Motown) and Roger Cook, a member of Blue Mink. Cook already had a melody, a ditty called True Love And Apple Pie which he had written with his regular collaborator, Roger Greenway. The three wrote the words for the jingle overnight in a London hotel room, with the New Seekers in mind as its performers. As it turned out, the New Seekers thought the song was trite and not just a little silly (and that’s the New Seekers pronouncing on sentimentality).

True Love And Apple Pie was instead recorded by the little-known Susan Shirley and was  released in March 1971. It seems that the Coke jingle had already been flighted a month earlier on US radio, but to negative response. There seem to have been legal wrangling as a result of a version of the jingle Coca Cola had commissioned being in circulation. Shirley’s song certainly received little promotion.

Meanwhile, the McCann-Erickson agency devised a new way of promoting the jingle, deciding it needed visuals. The resulting TV commercial, filmed by the great Haskell Wexler, became an instant classic. The song, I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke, became so popular that radio DJs persuaded Davis to record it with adapted lyrics. Recorded by session singers without the branding, it was released under the name Hillside Singers, and started to climb the US charts when the New Seekers eventually consented to record it, minus the “it’s the real thing” tag. It became a massive hit, topping the UK charts in January 1972 and reaching #7 in the US.

 

Forever And Ever

The songwriting team of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter had provided several hits for the Bay City Rollers. In 1975 they thought they had another winner for the band, a track called For Ever And Ever. But the band, then at the height of Rollermania, thought the song was too light and wanted something rockier. While BCR recorded Money Honey, which reached #3 in the UK charts in November 1975, Martin and Coulter dumped the band and gave the song to anther studio-confected teen band, Kenny.

That outfit had already enjoyed a few big hits, written by Martin and Coulter, such as The Bump and Julie Ann. For Ever And Ever appeared unnoticed on their less than successful The Sound Of Super K LP. The songwriters knew a hit when they had one, and decided that with a better arrangement, the song would storm the charts. Enter Scottish teen band Slik, led by Midge Ure and produced your two songwriting friends. In that version, Forever And Ever reached #1 in January 1976, knocking ABBA’s Mamma Mia off the top spot.

By then Ure might not have been the lead singer of Slik. In 1975 Malcolm McLaren asked Ure to become the frontman of the Sex Pistols. Ure declined. Punk meant nothing to him.

 

1. John Fogerty – Rockin’ All Over The World (1975)
The Usurper: Status Quo (1977)
2. Mick Jackson – Blame It On The Boogie (1978)
The Usurper: The Jacksons (1978)
3. John Henry Kurtz – Drift Away (1972)
The Usurper: Dobie Gray (1972)
4. Badfinger – Without You (1970)
The Usurpers: Nilsson (1972), Mariah Carey (1993)
5. Chris Farlowe – Handbags And Gladrags (1967)
The Usurper: Rod Stewart (1969)
6. Billy Preston – You Are So Beautiful (1974)
The Usurper: Joe Cocker (1975)
7. Kelly Gordon – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969)
The Usurper: The Hollies (1969)
8. Sutherland Brothers – Sailing (1972)
The Usurper: Rod Stewart (1975)
9. Anni-Frid Lyngstad – Fernando (1975)
The Usurper: ABBA (1976)
10. Kenny – For Ever And Ever (1975)
The Usurper: Slik (1976)
11. The Nerves – Hanging On The Telephone (1976)
The Usurper: Blondie (1978)
12. Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club – Video Killed the Radio Star (1979)
The Usurper: The Buggles (1979)
13. Kristine Sparkle – Devil Woman (1974)
The Usurper: Cliff Richard (1976)
14. Gene Cotton – Let Your Flow (1975)
The Usurper: The Bellamy Brothers (1976)
15. Albert Hammond – When I Need You (1977)
The Usurper: Leo Sayer (1976)
16. Scott English – Brandy (1971)
The Usurper: Barry Manilow (1974, as Mandy)
17. Ian & Sylvia – Early Morning Rain (1965)
The Usurper: Gordon Lightfoot (1966)
18. The Attack – Hi Ho Silver Lining (1967)
The Usurper: Jeff Beck (1967/72)
19. Wilbert Harrison – Let’s Work Together (1969)
The Usurpers: Canned Heat (1970), Bryan Ferry (1976)
20. Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking (1955)
The Usurper: Dave Edmunds (1970)
21. The Rays – Daddy Cool (1957)
The Usurper: Darts (1977)
22. Susan Shirley – True Love And Apple Pie (1971)
The Usurper: New Seekers (1971, as I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing)
23. Anthony Newley – The Candy Man (1971)
The Usurper: Sammy Davis Jr (1972)

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Any Major Soul 1978

November 8th, 2018 2 comments

The Any Major Soul series is nearing the end of the 1970s, with this instalment covering the year 1978. Disco is in the air but not all soulsters got the memo. There are also the first signs of the supersmoothness of 1980s soul, but it’s not yet cloying.

In fact, Teddy Pendergrass might have been a pioneer of ’80s soul, but his brand of baby-making music is still a different animal to the missionary-positioned sounds of the likes of Luther Vandross. When Theodore promises to blow your mind, you know he’s not just bragging in the way of a 1984 jheri-curled 110-pounder with a stupid moustache. Teddy’s gonna steam up a refrigerator.

The sequence here has it that Pendergrass — the link between Philly soul and 1980s soul crooning — is followed by an act that still has 1973 in the back-mirror. Of course, Bloodstone would go on to become one of the great acts of the early 1980s.

On the other end of the spectrum we have a few acts that are on the disco train. But even the most dance-oriented album would have a few soulful ballads. Among the best of those, in my view, were Cheryl Lynn’s You’re The One, which featured on Any Major Soul 1978-79, and Odyssey’s If You’re Looking For A Way Out (on Any Major Soul 1980-81).

On this collection, an example of this is the track by Sassafras, a trio of women (not the hairy Welsh rock band of the early 1970s). They were produced by the Ingram family of session singers and musicians, and released on the label owned by our old pals Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti, the mafia associates we previously encountered in The Originals entries for Can’t Help Falling In Love and The Lion Sleeps Tonight. One of the three Sassafras, Vera Brown, went on to become the lead singer of the Ritchie Family.

 

Pacific Express, one of apartheid’s least favourite bands.

 

One act here is not from the US but from South Africa. Pacific Express were funk-rock and jazz-fusion legends in Cape Town before they became nationwide stars with Give A Little Love. At various times throughout the 1970s, unknown musicians went through the “Pacific Express School” to emerge as respected musicians in their own right. These include Jonathan Butler. As a group of people classified as “Coloured” by apartheid — people of mixed-race whose language was English and/or Afrikaans — Pacific Express regularly broke laws that aimed to prevent contact across the colour-lines. As a result, Pacific Express was frequently banned from the state broadcaster — including the video of Give A Little Love, just in case white people twigged that Coloureds were making great music and then sought to see them play live, with all the possibilities of miscegenation that would create. I’m not even joking.

Not featured on this mix is Earth, Wind & Fire, but a few acts here clearly borrow from Maurice White and pals. One of them is a new-fangled funk-soul kid from Minnesota called Prince. On his soul ballad here Prince owes more than a little to EWF, and to the many falsetto-singers of the decade.

Also borrowing from EWF are Mass Production, whose Slow Bump is about traffic safety in densely populated suburbs. The song actually sounds like an EWF track. On other tracks they operate more on the funk tracks of BT Express.

Breakwater was an eight-man outfit blended catchy funk with smooth fusion and soul harmonies — again recalling EWF. The Philadelphia band released only two albums, with their 1980 follow-up regarded as something of a funk classic (Daft Punk sampled from it).

The Patterson Twins also released only two albums: one in 1978 and the follow-up in 2006! They released several singles — some soul, some gospel — throughout the 1980s. Before 1978 they had recorded a series of singles as the Soul Twins.

Thelma Jones, featured here with a Sam Dees-penned track, also recorded her first album in 1978 and the follow-up in the 2000s. Jones released a series of singles between 1966 and ’68 — including the original of the Aretha Franklin song The House That Jack Built — then disappeared, due to being between labels, until 1976 when she enjoyed something of a comeback with Salty Tears (produced at Muscle Shoals). Her self-titled debut album, which featured Gwen Guthrie on backing vocals, is superb but unaccountably was a commercial flop.

Returning to Teddy Pendergrass, the singer of Chicago soul group Heaven And Earth, Dean Williams, shares many vocal mannerism with the great man. The group had some great tunes, and released four LPs between 1976 and 1981, but management issues and our old nemesis, poor promotion, prevented the group from making it big.

As ever, CD-R length, home-falsettoed covers, PW in comments.

1. Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. – I Got The Words, You Got The Music
2. Lenny Williams – Shoo Doo Fu Fu Ooh!
3. The Whispers – Olivia (Lost And Turned Out)
4. Pacific Express – Give A Little Love
5. Thelma Jones – Lonely Enough To Try Anything Now
6. Natalie Cole – Our Love
7. Heaven And Earth – Let’s Work It Out
8. Prince – Baby
9. Mass Production – Slow Bump
10. Breakwater – That’s Not What We Came Here For
11. Patterson Twins – Gonna Find A True Love
12. Denise LaSalle – Talkin’ Bout My Best Friend
13. Sassafras – I Gave You Love
14. Bobby Thurston – Na Na Na Na Baby
15. Roberta Flack – What A Woman Really Means
16. Teddy Pendergrass – Close The Door
17. Bloodstone – Throw A Little Bit Of Love My Way
18. Allen Toussaint – To Be With You
19. Leroy Hutson – They’ve Got Love
20. Al Green – Lo And Behold

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In Memoriam – October 2018

November 1st, 2018 7 comments

Last month’s In Memoriam included Charles Aznavour, who died in October, and this month’s round-up includes a singing actor who died in September. Confused? Read on.

The Studio Wizard

The Beatles benefitted richly from the genius of producer George Martin, but the man who put many of the studio tricks and effects in action was the wizard engineer Geoff Emerick, the sound engineer on several the Fab Four’s albums: Revolver (his first job as chief engineer was top work on Tomorrow Never Knows), Sgt Pepper’s and Abbey Road. As an assistant engineer, he was there right at the start, in the session that produced Love Me Do, and later during the recordings of songs like She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand. Emerick’s 2006 memoir Here, There and Everywhere provides a great insight into the production of that later trilogy of albums that saw The Beatles at their peak of creativity. He later engineered for Paul McCartney, on albums like Band On The Run, London Town, Tug Of War and Pipes Of Peace, as well as on several of the great America hits such as Lonely People, Sister Golden Hair, Tin Man and Daisy Jane. He also produced the original version of Without You by Badfinger, and worked as producer and/or engineer on records by the likes of The Zombies, Peter & Gordon, Climax Blues Band, Gino Vanelli, Robin Trower, Supertramp, Cheap Trick, Art Garfunkel, Elvis Costello, Ultravox, Nick Heyward, Big Country, Split Enz, Echo & The Bunnymen and Johnny Cash.

The Swamp Rocker

The title track of Willie Nelson’s 2017 album God’s Problem Child features Leon Russell, Tony Joe White and Jamey Johnson (the latter two wrote it as well). Of Nelson’s three collaborators, only Jamey Johnson is still alive. Tony Joe White, who has died at 75, is best-known for his composition of the Brook Benton hit Rainy Night In Georgia and the Elvis hit Polk Salad Annie. The latter title sounds a bit like a novelty number rather than the sweaty blues-rock workout (Polk Salad is, in fact, a rural vegetable stew. It sounds like a particularly strange dance). Elvis loved covering White’s songs; he also did a version of the wonderful I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby and 1973’s For Ol’ Times Sake. Dusty Springfield also covered his Willie & Laura Mae Jones. Later he wrote Steamy Windows for Tina Turner. Over almost 50 years, he regularly released new albums in swamp-rock genre that was also home to Leon Russell. His last album, Bad Mouthin’, came out on September 28.

The Mighty Wah

To his mom, he was known as Melvin Ragin, but to the world he was Wah Wah Watson, the man who plays that dirty funky guitar which converses with Dennis Edwards in the opening verse of The Temptations’ Papa Was A Rolling Stone. Or as the man who uses the pedal that gave him his nickname to seductive effect in that opening line of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. Or that funky groove on Rose Royce’s Car Wash… Wah Wah Watson/Melvin Ragin (the credits used both names interchangeably) played many times with Quincy Jones, also on Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album. Apart from the Motown roster of the 1970s, he played on hits like Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis’ You Don’t Have To Be A Star, and Peaches & Herb’s Reunited. He can be heard on records by the likes of Blondie, Billy Preston, Etta James, Boz Scaggs, The Main Ingredient, Barry White, John Lee Hooker, Bill Withers, Pointer Sisters, The Whispers, Webster Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, Albert King, Lenny Williams, Patrice Rushen, George Duke, Beach Boys,  Herbie Hancock, Bobby Womack,  Lisa Stansfield, Paula Abdul, Tony! Toni! Toné!, George Benson, Patti LaBelle, Vanessa Williams, El DeBarge, Chaka Khan, Jonathan Butler, Brian McKnight and many others…

The Sergeant

He slipped through the cracks last month, but I dare not leave out Al Matthews, lest he come back to shout at me. Movie fans will know Matthews as the cigar-chewing Sgt. Apone in Aliens, but some pop fans might remember him also as the singer of the 1975 UK Top 20 hit Fool. It was one of several singles he released, but the only to chart. He made an appearance with a rap on the hip hop mix of Linda Lewis’ 1984 dance hit Style/Class. In 1978, he was the first black disc jockey to join the BBC’s Radio 1. Thereafter, the Vietnam veteran began his acting career.

The Skiing Rapper

Dying for you art can come in different ways; for Canadian rapper Jon James it came in a daring video shoot. The artist, who as Jon McMurray had been a professional freestyle-skier before he turned to hip hop following a career-ending injury, was on the wing of an airborne Cessna, to be filmed while rapping. But his movement on the wing caused the pilot to lose control, throwing Jon off before he could activate his parachute. The plane landed safely, but for Jon there was no hope.

The 90-Year Career

Three years ago, at the age of 104, Elder Roma Wilson was still preaching and playing the harmonica, having become an ordained minister in a Pentecostal church in 1929. He died this month at 107. Wilson’s primary gig was to preach, with the musicianship a tool in that pursuit. Still, in 1995, when he was his 80s, he recorded an album; his only one in a career spanning nearly 90 years.

 

Al Matthews, 75, actor, singer and radio DJ, on Sept. 22
Al Matthews – Fool (1975)
Linda Lewis feat. Al Matthews – Class/Style (I’ve Got It) (Hip-Hop Mix) (1984, as rapper)

Charles Aznavour, 94, French singer and actor, on Oct. 1
Charles Aznavour – La Bohême (1965)

Jerry González, 69, bandleader and trumpeter, on Oct. 1
Jerry González & The Fort Apache Band – Earthdance (1991)

Stelvio Cipriani, 81, Italian film composer, on Oct. 1

Geoff Emerick, 72, English recording engineer, on Oct. 2
The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows (1966, as sound engineer)
America – Lonely People (1974, as sound engineer)
Nick Heyward – Blue Hat For A Blue Day (1983, as co-producer)
Elvis Costello And The Attractions – All This Useless Beauty (1996, as co-producer)

John Von Ohlen, 77, drummer of jazz group Blue Wisp Big Band, on Oct. 3

Hamiet Bluiett, 78, jazz saxophonist, on Oct. 4

Pete Philpot, 49, drummer of Australian metal band Manticore, on Oct. 4

Bernadette Carroll, 74, pop singer, on Oct. 5
Bernadette Carroll – Party Girl (1964)

Ed Kenney, 85, singer and actor, on Oct. 5
Ed Kenney – Like A God (1958)

Montserrat Caballé, 85, Spanish opera singer, on Oct. 6
Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballe – Barcelona (1987)

John Wicks, 65, singer of British power pop band The Records, on Oct. 7
The Records – Teenarama (1979)

Tim Chandler, 58, bassist with rock band Daniel Amos, on Oct. 8
Daniel Amos – Who’s Who Here? (2001)

Kenny ‘Waste’ Ahrens, singer with hardcore punk band Urban Waste, on Oct. 9

Gilbert ‘Toker’ Izquierdo, rapper with hip-hop group Brownside, on Oct. 10
Brownside – Rest In Peace (1999)

Theresa Hightower, 64, jazz singer, on Oct. 10

Duncan Johnson, 80, British DJ, on Oct. 11
Duncan Johnson – The Big Architect In The Sky (1968)

Carol Hall, 82, composer and lyricist, on Oct. 11
Carol Hall – Let Me Be Lucky This Time (1971)

Ghinwa, 30, Egyptian singer and actress, in car crash on Oct. 12

Andy Goessling, multi-instrumentalist with Americana band Railroad Earth, on Oct. 12
Railroad Earth – Take A Bow (2014)

Chuck Wilson, 70, jazz saxophonist, on Oct. 17

Oli Herbert, 44, guitarist of metal band All That Remains, on Oct. 17
All That Remains – The Thunder Rolls (2017)

Jon ‘Jon James’ McMurray, 34, Canadian rapper, on Oct. 20

Mighty Shadow, 77, Trinidadian calypso musician, on Oct. 23

Tony Joe White, 75, American singer-songwriter, on Oct. 24
Tony Joe White – Polk Salad Annie (1968)
Tony Joe White – Rainy Night In Georgia (1969)
Tony Joe White – On The Return To Muscle Shoals (1993)
Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child (2017, on guitar & co-writer)

Melvin ‘Wah Wah Watson’ Ragin, 67, session guitarist, on Oct. 24
The Temptations – Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone (1973, on guitar)
Michael Jackson – Get On The Floor (1979, on guitar)
Blondie – Live It Up (1980, on guitar)
El DeBarge – Heart, Mind & Soul (1994, on guitar)

Hip Hop Pantsula, 38, South African rapper, suicide on Oct. 24

Sonny Fortune, 79, American jazz saxophonist, on Oct. 25
Sonny Fortune – Afortunado (1979)

Elder Roma Wilson, 107, gospel singer and harmonica player, on Oct. 25
Elder Roma Wilson – Gonna Wait Till A Change Come (1995)

Baba Oje, 87, member of hip hop group Arrested Development, on Oct. 26
Arrested Development – Tennessee (1992)

Todd Youth, 47, metal guitarist with Murphy’s Law, Danzig a.o., on Oct. 27
Glen Campbell – These Days (2008, on guitar)

Ingo Insterburg, 84, German comedian-musician, on Oct. 27

Freddie Hart, 91, country musician and songwriter, on Oct. 27
Freddie Hart – Easy Loving (1970)

Fred Hess, 74, jazz saxophonist, on Oct. 27

Jimmy Farrar, 67, singer with Molly Hatchet, Gator Country, on Oct. 29
Molly Hatchet – Dead And Gone (1981, also as co-writer)

Young Greatness, 34, rapper, shot on Oct. 29
Young Greatness – Moolah (2015)

Rico J. Puno, 65, Filipino pop singer, on Oct. 30

Beverly McClellan, 49, singer and finalist in The Voice (2011), on Oct. 30

Hardy Fox, 73, co-founder and composer with avant-garde collective The Residents, on Oct. 30
The Residents – Bach Is Dead (1978)

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Any Major Murder Songs Vol. 1

October 25th, 2018 6 comments

 

The Halloween well is now dry, but you can still get your chills on with this delightful collection of songs about murder.

It’s quite surprising how many sings about murder there are, mostly from the perspective of the killer. In the case of Pat Hare, almost literally.

In 1954, blues guitarist Pat Hare (born Auburn Hare!) sang a song — a cover of a 1940s song by Dorothy Clayton —  in which he vowed to kill his woman: “Yes, I’m gonna murder my baby — yeah, I’m tellin’ the truth now — ‘cause she don’t do nothin’ but cheat and lie.” Eight years later, Hare had just finished a stint as a guitarist in Muddy Waters’ group when he shot dead his girlfriend and a policeman in Minneapolis. Hare was convicted of the murder and died in jail in 1980 at the age of 49.

Many of the murder ballads are folk songs that have been covered many times. A few of the tracks here are also covers, such as country-soul singer Andre Williams reworking of Johnny Paycheck’s song. The weirdest of them, though, has to be Olivia Newton-John singing about murdering her boyfriend.

There are longer discussions on some of the featured songs, and others that will feature, in the eight parts of the Murder Ballads series.

Just to be clear, this mix does not promote murder. Don’t kill, kids.

As ever, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-CSIed covers. PW in comments.

  1. R. Dean Taylor – Indiana Wants Me (1970)
    The Vic: A man needed dyin’ for what he said about you
  2. Sting – I Hung My Head (1996)
    The Vic: The lone rider
  3. Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues (1969)
    The Vic: A man in Reno
  4. Porter Wagoner – The Cold Hard Facts Of Life (1967)
    The Vic: The folks who taught Porter the cold, hard facts of life
  5. Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger (1975)
    The Vic: The yellow-haired lady
  6. Jim & Jesse – Knoxville Girl (1976)
    The Vic: A little girl in Knoxville
  7. The Everly Brothers – Down In The Willow Garden (1958)
    The Vic: Rose Connolly
  8. Olivia Newton-John – Banks Of The Ohio (1971)
    The Vic: Livvy’s marriage-shy boyfriend (and you see his point)
  9. The Band – Long Black Veil (1968)
    The Vic: “Someone”
  10. The Grateful Dead – Stagger Lee (1978)
    The Vic: Billy, a gambler
  11. Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue – Where The Wild Roses Grow (1997)
    The Vic: Elisa Day
  12. Elvis Costello – Psycho (1981)
    The Vics: His ex, Jackie White, Betty Clark, Momma…and Johnny’s puppy, too
  13. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska (1982)
    The Vics: Everything in his path
  14. Andre Williams – Pardon Me (I’ve Got Someone To Kill) (2000)
    The Vic: Her and his love rival
  15. Lyle Lovett – L.A. County (1987)
    The Vics: The bride and the groom
  16. Bill Brandon – Rainbow Road (1976)
    The Vic: A man with a knife (so it’s self-defence, your honor)
  17. Dixie Nightingales – Assassination (1965)
    The Vic: The President
  18. Elton John – The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1973)
    The Vic: Danny Bailey, a gangster, in cold blood
  19. The Buoys – Timothy (1971)
    The Vic: Timothy (because of hunger)
  20. Tony Christie – I Did What I Did For Maria (1971)
    The Vic: Maria’s murderer
  21. Conway Twitty – Ain’t It Sad To Stand And Watch Love Die (1968)
    The Vic: An unfaithful wife
  22. Johnny Darrell – River Bottom (1969)
    The Vic: “That pretty gal of mine”
  23. Clyde Arnold – Black Smoke And Blue Tears (1961)
    The Vic: The gambler
  24. Pat Hare – I’m Gonna Kill My Baby (1954)
    The Vic: In the song, Pat’s baby. In real life, later, the same.

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Any Major ABC: 1960s

October 18th, 2018 8 comments

 

No other decade offers as much fun in the task of compiling music as the 1960s. Indeed, the idea for the concept of this series — whereby we go through a decade through the medium of the alphabet, from A-Z, each letter geting a song — was prompted by the first song on this mix. One morning on my way to work I heard Amen Corner’s If Paradise Was Half As Nice, and I thought: “How would I accommodate this in a standard CD-R mix with home-made covers; PW in comments”?

This is the result: a jukebox of 1960s joy, completed by a suggestion from reader rntcj (try saying that when you’re drunk) who filled the X-shaped gap. Reader Randy T. has been helpful with filling gaps in other decades; so before I die, I seek to cover the ABCs from the 1940s to the 2000s..

For the most part, the song choices are a bit random. How do you choose between Mamas & Papas, Monkees, Marvin Gaye, Manfred Mann, Marvelettes, Moody Blues, Martha Reeves, McCoys or Mindbenders? There were some difficult choices, often made of the spur-of-the-moment variety. And after sampling a lot of favourites along the way.

And then which Mamas & Papas song? Well, the one featured has always intrigued me: as a declaration of sexual liberation by women in the 1960s, Go Where You Wanna Go must have seemed revolutionary. But there is also the payback of John Philips, who had his wife sing about her affair with songwriter Russ Titelman (other stories suggest that it was about Philips’ affair with Papas singer Denny Doherty). John Philips had a habit of doing that sort of thing to his bandmates.

I’m still looking for a good entry for the letter Y in the 1940s mix. And any bright ideas for an X for the 2000s?

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-twisted covers. PW in comments.

Amen Corner – (If Paradise Was) Half As Nice (1968)
Bar-Kays – Soul Finger (1967)
Chris Andrews – Pretty Belinda (1969)
Doris Days – Move Over Darling (1963)
Equals – Soul Groovin’ (1968)
Foundations – Baby Now That I’ve Found You (1967)
Gene Chandler – Duke of Earl (1962)
Hollies – Bus Stop (1966)
Impressions – It’s Alright (1963)
Jay & the Americans – Come A Little Bit Closer (1964)
Kinks – Dandy (1966)
Lemon Pipers – Green Tambourine (1968)
Mamas & The Papas – Go Where You Wanna Go (1966)
Nancy Sinatra – The City Never Sleeps At Night (1965)
Otis Redding & Carla Thomas – Bring It On Home To Me (1967)
Procol Harum – Homburg (1967)
Quicksilver Messenger Service – Dino’s Song (1968)
Ronettes – (The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up (1964)
Supremes – The Happening (1967)
Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual (1965)
Unit 4 + 2 – Concrete And Clay (1965)
Velvelettes – He Was Really Saying Somethin’ (1964)
Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore (1966)
X-Cellents – Hey Little Willie (1965)
Young Rascals – Lonely Too Long (1967)
Zombies – She’s Not There (1964)

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Any Major Women Vol. 1

October 10th, 2018 3 comments

This a tribute to all the girls I’ve known before. And here I want to be clear that I’m talking about women who have been in my life in some way or another — as family, friends, loves or, yes, lovers.

The lyrics of the songs applied to their names obviously don’t necessarily reflect my relationship with or feelings about the women in question. So there’s nothing to be inferred from the song choices. And there are enough women to justify a two-volume set.

As always, CD-R length, home-made covers, PW in comments.

1. Liz Phair – Girls’ Room (Tracey & Tricia, 1998)
2. Ben Kweller – On Her Own (Alexandra, 2009)
3. Foo Fighters – What If I Do (Caroline, 2005)
4. Thunder – Carol Ann (2008)
5. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Michelle (1978)
6. Status Quo – Elizabeth Dreams (1968)
7. Velvet Underground – Stephanie Says (1968)
8. Simon & Garfunkel – For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her (1969)
9. Paul McCartney – The Lovely Linda (1970)
10. The Magnetic Fields – Abigail, Belle Of Kilronan (1999)
11. The Icicle Works – Melanie Still Hurts (1990)
12. Ben Folds – Carrying Cathy (2001)
13. James Morrison – Dream On Hayley (2009)
14. Tony Schilder Trio – Madeleine (1985)
15. R.B. Greaves – Take A Letter Maria (1969)
16. Al Stewart – Almost Lucy (1978)
17. 10cc – I’m Mandy Fly Me (1976)
18. Bruce Springsteen – I’ll Work For Your Love (Theresa, 2007)
19. Missy Higgins – Angela (2007)
20. Bright Eyes – Blue Angels Air Show (Claire, 2006)
21. Rufus Wainwright – Natasha (2003)
22. The Rolling Stones – Lady Jane (1966)
23. Donovan – Sweet Beverley (1968)

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In Memoriam – September 2018

October 4th, 2018 5 comments

 

I’m not a friend of big-name deaths at the beginning of the month, before I can even post the previous month’s music deads and their songs. The death of Charles Aznavour at 94 on October 1 creates a dilemma: do I wait until the next In Memoriam — which will come out more than four weeks after he died — or do I include him in September’s lot? In this instance, I’ve opted for the latter.

It’s quite a thought that when Charles Aznavour had a hit in 1974 with She, he was already 50. The man born to Armenian partents in Paris as Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian had enjoyed a long career before that already. He was a child-actor at nine, and performed in Parisian clubs by the mid-1940s. The break came in 1946 when he was discovered by Edith Piaf. His career would last for another 72 years, with his last concert having been on September 18 in Osaka, Japan, as part of a world tour. In September 28 he still appeared on French TV.

Jefferson Airplane’s primary founder and one of its three lead singers Marty Balin has departed; now it’s only Grace Slick left. It was Balin who got knocked unconscious by the Hell’s Angels on stage at the notorious Altamont concert in December 1969. Less than a year later, his friend Janis Joplin died. Spooked by that, in April 1971 the relatively clean-living Balin exited Jefferson Airplane. He joined the Airplane off-shoot Jefferson Starship in 1975, singing lead on several of their hits, but jumped ship again in 1978, shortly after Slick had left the band. He went on to have a few Top 10 hits as a solo artist in the 1980s.

With the death of bassist Max Bennett, we have lost another member of the Wrecking Crew, the informal collective of session players who played on so many records made in LA in the 1960s and ‘70s. Bennett was particularly prolific on records by The Monkees and the Partridge Family, and later by Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, but at around the same time as he was plucking strings for TV pop groups, he was also part of Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats project (despite not really liking or understanding avant garde music). Before being a pop sideman, Bennett was a jazz sideman. After returning from fighting in the Korean War, he backed acts like Stan Kenton, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, Nelson Riddle and Ella Fitzgerald. He also released as series of jazz LPs under his own name in the 1950s. In the 1970s Bennett returned to jazz, but now in the form of fusion, as a member of the L.A. Express alongside Tom Scott, Larry Carlton, John Guerin and Joe Sample.

He was obviously famous for his movies and his moustache, and perhaps also for posing nude in Playgirl, but less well-known is Burt Reynold’s brief career as a singer. In 1973 he released an album of country music titled Ask Me What I Am (well, not much of a singer, to be honest). 1980 saw the release of a follow-up single, Let’s Do Something Cheap And Superficial, which was aptly titled since it came from the sequel to Smokey And The Bandit.

Chas Hodges was best known as half of the London duo Chas & Dave, who enjoyed their biggest success with novelty knees-up folk-rock type numbers. But he was also a serious musician, starting his career as a session bassist for Joe Meek. In the early 1970s Hodges was a member of Heads Hands & Feet, alongside guitarist Albert Lee. In the ‘70s he also did session work on guitar, often with Dave Peacock, the Dave in what would become Chas & Dave. Hodges and Peacock created the riff in Labi Siffre’s I Got The…, which Eminem later sampled for My Name Is. Then they became the “Rockney” pub favourites and Tottenham Hotspur cheerleaders (so condolences to my friend Jeremy Simmonds, author of The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars and a Spurs fan, are in order).

With the death of Donald McGuire, all four members of the 1950s vocal group The Hilltoppers are now gone. The group, initially a trio from Kentucky, has been largely forgotten, but in the 1950s they scored as few huge US hits, including the million-seller PS I Love You. Another claim to fame is that from their ranks emerged the future bandleader Billy Vaughn.

Not really a music death, and yet very much so: Peggy Sue Perron of the Buddy Holly song has died at 78. Originally Holly was going name the song Cindy Lou, after his niece. But drummer Jerry Allison petitioned his friend to change the name in order to impress his girl, Peggy Sue, who had just broken up with him. It worked: Jerry and Peggy Sue went on to get married in 1958 (just before his death, Holly wrote and denied a song called Peggy Sue Got Married, which was released posthumously). They divorced, and Peggy Sue moved to California, got married again, and had kids.

 

Tony Camillo, producer and arranger, on Aug. 29
Gladys Knight & the Pips – Midnight Train To Georgia (1973, as producer)

Randy Weston, 92, jazz pianist and composer, on Sept. 1
Randy Weston Trio – Zulu (1955)

Conway Savage, 58, Australian keyboardist, on Sept. 2
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Willow Garden (1996, on vocals and keyboard)

Rene Garcia, 66, guitarist of Filipino pop band Hotdog, on Sept. 2

Katyna Ranieri, 93, Italian singer and actress, on Sept. 3
Katyna Ranieri – Oh My Love (1971)

Elisa Serna, 75, Spanish protest singer-songwriter, on Sept. 4

Don Gardner, 87, soul singer, on Sept. 4
Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford – I Need Your Loving (1962)

Richard Bateman, 50, bass player of thrash metal band Nasty Savage, on Sept. 5

Burt Reynolds, 82, actor and occasional singer, on Sept. 6
Burt Reynolds – I Like Having You Around (1973)
Burt Reynolds – Let’s Do Something Cheap And Superficial (1980)

Wilson Moreira, 81, Brazilian samba singer and songwriter, on Sept. 6

Donald McGuire, 86, singer with vocal group The Hilltoppers, on Sept. 7
The Hilltoppers – Trying (1952)
The Hilltoppers – The Joker (1957)

Mac Miller, 26, rapper and producer, on Sept. 7

Mr. Catra, 49, Brazilian funk singer, on Sept. 9
Mr. Catra – Vacilão (2015)

Johnny Strike, 70, guitarist and singer of US punk band Crime, on Sept. 10
Crime – Murder By Guitar (1977)

Erich Kleinschuster, 88, Austrian trombonist and bandleader, on Sept. 12

Rachid Taha, 59, Algerian singer of French band Carte de Séjour, on Sept. 12
Carte de Séjour – Douce France (1987)

Marin Mazzie, 57, musical actress and singer, on Sept. 13

Max Bennett, 90, Wrecking Crew and jazz bassist, on Sept. 14
Max Bennett – Max Is The Factor (1957)
The Monkees – Porpoise Song (1968)
Tom Scott & The L.A. Express – Sneakin’ In The Back (1974)
Joni Mitchell – The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975, on bass)

Anneke Grönloh, 76, Dutch singer, on Sept. 14
Anneke Grönloh – Brandend Zand (1962)

Maartin Allcock, 61, English multi-instrumentalist and producer, on Sept. 16
Fairport Convention – Meet On The Ledge (1987, as member on lead guitar)

Big Jay McNeely, 91, R&B saxophonist, on Sept. 16
Big Jay McNeely – There Is Something On Your Mind (1957)

Wesley Tinglin, 75, singer with Jamaican reggae group The Viceroys, on Sept. 18
The Viceroys – Slogan On The Wall (1977)

Felton Pruett, 89, country slide guitarist, on Sept 19

Joseph Hookim, 76, Jamaican reggae/ska producer, on Sept. 20
The Mighty Diamonds – Right Time (1976, as producer & co-writer)

Chas Hodges, 74, half of English duo Chas & Dave, on Sept. 22
Heads Hands & Feet – Song For Suzie (1971, as member)
Labi Siffre – I Got The… (1975, on guitar)
Chas & Dave – Ain’t No Pleasing You (1982)

Dale Barclay, 32, singer of Scottish rock band Amazing Snakeheads, on Sept. 25

Marty Balin, 76, co-lead singer of Jefferson Airplane/Starship, on Sept. 27
Jefferson Airplane – Comin’ Back To Me (1967, also as writer)
Jefferson Starship – Miracles (1975, also as writer)
Marty Balin – Hearts (1981)

Sam Spoons, drummer of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, on Sept. 27
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – Alley Oop (1966)

Michael Weiley, 58, guitarist of Australian rock band Spy vs Spy, on Sept. 29
V. Spy v. Spy – Don’t Tear It Down (1986)

Otis Rush, 84, blues guitarist and singer, on Sept. 29
Otis Rush – I Can´t Quit You Baby (1956)

James ‘Big Jim’ Wright, 52, R&B musician and producer, on Sept. 29
Janet Jackson – I Get Lonely (1997, as arranger and co-writer)
Mary J. Blige – No More Drama (2001, on organ & backing vocals)

Kim Larsen, 72, singer and guitarist of Danish rock band Gasolin’, on Sept. 30
Gasolin’ – Holy Jean (1973)

Angela Maria, 89, Brazilian singer and actress, on Sept. 30
Ângela Maria – Sempre Tu (1955)

Charles Aznavour, 94, French-Armenian singer, on Oct. 1
Charles Aznavour – Sur ma vie (1955)
Charles Aznavour – Les Enfants De La Guerre (1966)
Charles Aznavour – She (1974)

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Any Major Friends Vol. 1

September 27th, 2018 9 comments

 

 

Next week it will be exactly 30 years since I met a new group of friends; it was an encounter that by the ways of domino effect changed my life in almost every way. It’s impossible to know what directions my life’s GPS might have taken me on. I might be richer or poorer, single or married or divorced; perhaps in another profession, maybe in another country. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I am the person today because 30 years ago I unwittingly took a random road at one of life’s many seemingly inconspicuous crossroads, and not a person I might have been had I taken another way. I’m pleased I met these people, and grateful for all that happened because of it. It was through the series of events that followed that chance encounter 30 years ago — caused by a snap decision to go somewhere — that I met my future wife, who is now my best friend.

I’m grateful for all friends I have had over my life. Some of them have gone their own ways; a few are out of my life forever; others live elsewhere; others yet I see every few years. Others I see regularly on Facebook and less in real life. And a couple are still present in my life. But all have a place in my heart, as people I love and/or as people who accompanied me in great or difficult times.

There are also friends one makes on the Internet. In fact, some of my most reliable friends are people I have met on Internet forums (a couple of them have become good family friends); others I had met before good friendships developed through the medium of social media.

And many childhood friends I have rediscovered on Facebook, or they found me. Since I live on a different continent now, it is a joy to reconnect with them.

 

 

As the song says, “Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes”, and so it is with friendships. Some you keep, most you lose. And you keep making new friends. Where once there was a group of friends that always stuck together, one’s circles of friends and acquaintances become increasingly dispersed. Lucky are those cliques that grow old together.

And all that doesn’t even consider the question what exactly a “friend” is. I won’t even attempt to define “friendship”. We’ll all have our own definitions, based on our particular experience of friendship. I hope all of us have at least a few friends.

And if we do, perhaps this mix of songs about friendship serves to express that relationship. Some of the tracks here are declarations of friendship, with the offer of steadfast solidarity (two separate numbers here offer to “lean on me”). Others recall with some nostalgia high jinx from ages past, or speak about reconnecting. Though one imagines that the narrative of Michelle Shocked’s Anchorage might be moot in the age of Facebook, when people I’ve not seen in years know more about my life than old friends who eschew social media.

I have deliberately excluded tracks which I could devote to my very best friend: my wife. No romantic stuff here (other than the Hello Saferide song, which is a bit When Harry Met Sally in mid-movie), so you can happily dedicate the whole mix to your best platonic friend. And to your favourite toy, in the case of the closing song.

So, here’s to all my friends on a mix that is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-palled covers.

1. Gary Portnoy – Where Everybody Knows Your Name (1983)
2. Garth Brooks – Friends In Low Places (1990)
3. Rolling Stones – Waiting On A Friend (1981)
4. The Jam – Thick As Thieves (1979)
5. Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town (1976)
6. The Beatles – Two Of Us (1970)
7. Bill Withers – Lean On Me (live) (1973)
8. The Undisputed Truth – With a Little Help From My Friends (1973)
9. The Housemartins – Lean On Me (1986)
10. Johnny Cash – Bridge Over Troubled Waters (2002)
11. Natalie Merchant – Kind & Generous (1998)
12. Tim McGraw – My Old Friend (2004)
13. Bob Evans – Me & My Friend (2006)
14. Hello Saferide – My Best Friend (2005)
15. Michelle Shocked – Anchorage (1988)
16. Minnie Riperton – It’s So Nice (To See Old Friends) (1974)
17. Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – You’ve Got A Friend (1972)
18. Simon & Garfunkel – Old Friends (1968)
19. Randy Travis – Heroes And Friends (1990)
20. Kim Richey – Hello Old Friend (1999)
21. Pat Lundy – Friend Of Mine (I Wanna Thank You So Much) (1973)
22. Ernie – Rubber Duckie (1970)

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The Originals: The Classics

September 20th, 2018 8 comments

Here’s a collection of lesser-known originals of stone-cold pop classics, and quite a bit of background information to most of them. In fact, I suggest you make yourself a good cup of coffee, settle back and be engrossed in the stories of some of the most famous songs in pop history.

 

Hey Joe

We kick off with a track whose genesis is disputed, with some claiming Hey Joe is an old traditional folk song. There seems to be wide consensus, however, that it was written in the early 1960s by a folk singer called Billy Roberts, who may well have borrowed from a 1950s country song by the same title written by Boudleaux Bryant. Something of a cult classic on LA’s live scene and reportedly propagated by David Crosby, Roberts’ song was eventually recorded by The Leaves (though some claim that the Surfaris recorded their version first, but released it after the Leaves’ version came out).

Where The Leaves rock out in a psychedelic fashion, Jimi Hendrix’s version’s, recorded in December 1966, is said to have been based on the slower folk-rock treatment by Tim Rose (who once was part of a folk trio including someone called Jim Hendricks, with Mama Cass Elliott), though Arthur Lee insisted it was the Love recording of September 1966 that inspired Hendrix. Whatever the case: the version here is the first to be released on record.

 

Wild Horses

A number of tracks here were originally released before the actual writers had hits with them. One of those is the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses, which was first released by The Flying Burrito Brothers. The Stones recorded it before the Flying Burrito Brothers did, but released it only after Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons’ band released it on their 1970 album, Burrito Deluxe. Wild Horses was written in 1969 (Keef says about his new-born son; Jagger denies that its re-written lyrics were about Marianne Faithfull) and recorded in December 1969 at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, the day after the group laid down Brown Sugar. Jamming in a country mood, Mick asked Keith to present a number in that genre, spurring his country-loving friend on by saying: “Come on, you must have hundreds”. Keith disappeared for a bit, and returned with a melody and words for the chorus. Mick filled in the lyrics for the verses, and the song was recorded (with Jim Dickinson standing it for Ian Stewart, who did not like playing minor chords) before the Stones packed up and left Memphis.

Earlier that year, the Stones had collaborated on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace Of Sin album; and as the curtain fell on the 1960s, the Burritos opened for the Stones at the notorious Altamont concert (according to some reports, it was during their performance that the Hells’ Angels started the first fight). Parsons was especially friendly with Keith Richard, whom he introduced to the treasury of country music. It is even said that the song was intended for Gram — probably a false rumour, yet it sounds more like a Parsons than a Stones song. Whether or not it was intended for Parsons, the Burritos were allowed to record Wild Horses, and release it before the Stones were able to (a delay forced by contractual reasons involving their “divorce” from Allen Klein) on 1971’s Sticky Fingers album.

 

My Sweet Lord

Billy Preston recorded and released My Sweet Lord before George Harrison did. Preston had at one point come to be regarded as the “Fifth Beatle”, thanks to his keyboard work which earned him a co-credit on the Get Back single. He had actually known the band since 1962, when he toured Britain with Little Richard, for whom the Beatles opened in Liverpool. Post-Beatles, Preston continued working with Harrison, who had brought him into the Let It Be sessions. Written in December 1969 in Copenhagen, My Sweet Lord song first appeared on Preston’s Encouraging Words album, a star-studded affair which included not only Harrison, but also Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richard on bass and Ginger Baker on drums.

The album also included Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (a song which the Beatles had considered of recording); almost a year later that song would provide the title of the triple-LP set. The All Things Must Pass album, produced by Phil Spector, also included George’s cover of his own My Sweet Lord. Preston’s version is much closer to Harrison’s original concept than the composer’s own take. In his defence during the My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine plagiarism case, Harrison said that he had been inspired not by early-’60s girlband pop, but by the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1969 hit Oh Happy Day. That influence is acutely apparent on Preston’s recording, but less so on Harrison’s chart-topper. Indeed, had Preston scored the big hit with it, not Harrison, it might have been Ed Hawkins initiating the plagiarism litigation.

 

California Dreamin’

John and Michelle Phillips wrote California Dreamin’ in 1963, suitably while living in New York, before forming The Mamas and The Papas and while John was still with a group called The New Journeymen. Fellow folkie Barry McGuire helped John and Michelle land a recording contract. In gratitude, they gave McGuire a song for his next album: California Dreamin’, which was recorded (with the now formed Mamas & Papas on backing vocals) in 1965, but was released only in 1966. It was supposed to be McGuire’s follow-up to Eve Of Destruction, but The Mamas and The Papas recorded the song themselves and released it as a single in 1965, initially to widespread indifference. Only when it started getting airplay on a Boston radio station did the song become a hit in early 1966. McGuire insists that the Mamas & Papas didn’t so much re-record the song as replace his voice with Denny Doherty’s and the harmonica solo with the flute. Listen to the two versions and judge for yourself.

 

Suzanne

Several of Leonard Cohen’s most famous songs were first recorded by folk warbless Judy Collins: Sisters Of Mercy; Bird On A Wire; Since You’ve Asked; Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye – and Suzanne. The song was born in Montréal, landmarks of which are described at length in the song. Cohen already had a chord pattern in place which he then married to a poem he had written about Suzanne Verdal — the beautiful wife of the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, a friend of Cohen’s — whom he fancied but, as the lyrics have it, touched only in his mind. One night in 1966, a year before Cohen released his debut album, he played the finished song over the telephone to his friend Judy Collins, who was already a star on the folk scene. Duly enchanted, Collins recorded the song for her In My Life album, which was released in November 1966.

 

Where You Lead

Kate Taylor was (and still is) the younger sister of singer-songwriter James Taylor. She was well-connected: on her debut album, Sister Kate, she had the backing of such luminaries as Linda Ronstadt, Merry Clayton, The Memphis Horns, various Wrecking Crew legends, her brother James – and Carole King. The great songwriter lent Taylor two songs which would appear on her great Tapestry album: Where You Lead and Home Again. Taylor’s LP came out in January 1971; Tapestry a month later. Taylor’s version of Home Again in included as a bonus.

 

Me And Bobby McGee

Kris Kristofferson wrote Me And Bobby McGee, but as it was with several of his classic songs, others it to record it first. Janis Joplin was the one to have the great hit with it, and Kenny Rogers & The First Edition recorded it before her. But the first version was recorded by Roger Miller in 1969. His was a mid-tempo country-pop number, rather bereft of emotional engagement, an entirely misjudged drumtrack and, in the carnivalesque “la la la” part some ill-advised ’60s horns and some background whooping. It didn’t set the world of music alight, making it to #12 in the country charts, and failing to dent the pop charts. KK got around to recording it, and a couple of country types mucked about with it over the following few months, before Janis Joplin – a former lover and friend of Kristofferson’s – decided it was really a blues-rock number. Recorded just a few days before her death, Joplin is initially restrained before launching into a climax of screams and groans, as was her wont.

 

Rhinestone Cowboy

Larry Weiss was a prolific songwriter. In the 1960s, he co-wrote hits such as Bend Me Shape Me, Hi Ho Silver Lining and Spooky Tooth’s Evil Woman. Sporadically he also recorded his own songs. One of these was Rhinestone Cowboy, inspired by a phrase he had overheard in a conversation. The song appeared on Weiss’ Black And Blue Suite album, and it was released as a single (at least in West Germany).

The story goes that Glen Campbell heard the song on the car radio as he was on his way to a meeting with his record company, and thought about suggesting to record it. But before he had the opportunity to do so, the record company presented their own bright idea: how about this Rhinestone Cowboy song by Larry Weiss. In the original version, Weiss sounds much like his old Brill Building chum Neil Diamond. Campbell made the song his own, with that soaring voice which expresses such a forfeit of hope. Released in May 1975, it went on to top the pop and country charts simultaneously, the first time that had been done since 1961.

In 1984, Weiss finally got a project he had been working on realised – a movie starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone. Its title: Rhinestone.

 

Mr Bojangles

There is no truth to the old chestnut that Mr Bojangles tells the story of the great Bill Robinson. Folk/country singer Jerry Jeff Walker, who wrote and first recorded the song, tells the story of being in a New Orleans holding cell for public disorderliness with, among others, a street dancer (a white one, because cells were segregated). These public performers were generically nicknamed Bojangles (after Robinson). This man told his tales of life and of his grief for his dead dog. Urged on by the other cellmates, he proceeded to give them a tap dance. In 1968, three years after the incident, Walker recorded the song about that experience. Mr Bojangles is by far his most famous contribution to popular music. The second-most important would be to inspire Townes van Zandt to start writing songs.

The song was covered by several well-known performers but became a hit only in 1971, when the Nitty Gritty Band took it the US #9, drawing from Walker’s folk arrangement. The best, and probably best-known, version was recorded a year later, by Sammy Davis Jr, drawing from a cover by Bobby Cole. Sammy was a hoofer himself, of course, so in his younger days would have known many characters such as Mr Bojangles, even in his family of entertainers. Sammy could identify with the song, and he delivered a beautiful performance, with the right mix of carefree spirit (the whistling) and drama which his protagonist projects.

 

Black Magic Woman

Released in 1968, Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman is “three minutes of sustain/reverb guitar with two exquisite solos from Peter [Green],” according to Mick Fleetwood. Carlos Santana covered it on 1970’s Abraxas album and retained its basic structure, but changed the arrangement significantly with a shot of Latin and hint of fusion. It became one of Santana’s signature tunes, while Fleetwood Mac had to remind audiences that the song was actually theirs. The Black Magic Woman was Green’s girlfriend Sandra Elsdon who refused to sleep with him – hence the line “don’t turn your back on me baby, you might just pick up my magic stick”.

 

A Groovy Kind Of Love

A Groovy Kind Of Love was written in 20 minutes in 1965 by Carole Bayer Sager, barely 21, and 17-year-old Toni Wine. The song, one of the first to riff on the new buzzword “groovy”, was apparently based on the Rondo from Sonatina in G Major by Muzio Clementi. It was first recorded by the short-lived duo Diane & Annita — Diane Hall and Annita Ray. Annita had appeared alongside the likes of Fats Domino and Big Joe Turner in the rock ‘n’ roll movie Shake Rattle And Roll, in which she performed the song On A Saturday Night. The song was left off the soundtrack album. She met Diane Hall as a member of Ray Anthony’s Bookends. There is very little information about them as a duo, and rumours even had it that the Diane & Annita act was in fact Sager recording under a false name. In any case, the single didn’t go anywhere, nor did its second incarnation, a version by Patti LaBelle & the Bluebells, produced by the great Bertie Berns.

The English group The Mindbenders had enjoyed a US chart-topper with Game Of Love, but by mid-1965 they suddenly were without their frontman, Wayne Fontana, after he walked out in a middle of as concert. As luck would have it, the now Fontana-less band came to record A Groovy Kind Of Love, with future 10cc member Eric Stewart on lead vocals, and had a huge hit with it, reaching #2 both in the UK and US. It was the only real success the group would have before disbanding in 1968, by which time another future 10cc member, Graham Gouldman, had joined.

 

Ring Of Fire

At the time when June Carter was falling heavily for Johnny Cash, she was regularly writing songs with fellow country singer Merle Kilgore. As Kilgore recalled it, Ring Of Fire was born the day June spoke to him about her love for Cash. Later, seeking an idea for a song, June remembered a letter she had received from a friend going through a divorce which described love as “a burning ring of fire”. And thus a classic song title (which even appealed to the manufacturers of haemorrhoid ointment; Roseanne Cash blocked its use in an ad for such a product) was born. The song essentially describes June’s feelings for Cash. But it was her sister Anita Carter who recorded it first, in November 1962. In fact, the song was only half-finished when Anita was ready to record it. June and Kilgore banged the rest together in ten minutes, fortuitously retaining the word “mire” from a provisional lyric.

Cash liked the song when he heard Anita’s record (as he well should) and decided he would record it. Deferring to his future sister-in-law, he waited four months before recording his version. In the interim he had a dream about the song featuring Tijuana trumpets — possibly inspired by June’s comment about her having borrowed the song’s swirling sound from the music at a merry-go-round in Villa Acuna, Mexico. Shortened to Ring Of Fire, Cash’s version was a hit, his first since 1958, thus saving his about-to-be-cancelled recording contract with Columbia. Four years later, Kilgore was the best man at Johnny and June’s wedding.

 

The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan

Shel Silverstein was something of a Renaissance Man: a poet, childrens’ author, cartoonist, screenwriter and composer. In the latter incarnation, Silverstein wrote several hit songs, including A Boy Named Sue and The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. In 1971, Silverstein selected the yet unknown Dr Hook & the Medicine Show to appear on the soundtrack he wrote for the Dustin Hoffman film Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?. He proceeded to write the lyrics for many Dr Hook songs, including the notorious Sylvia’s Mother, Cover Of The Rolling Stone and Lucy Jordan. Dr Hook’s 1974 version of the latter made negligible impact, but Marianne Faithfull’s cover five years later became a big hit.

 

The Air That I Breathe

Albert Hammond composed The Air That I Breathe with frequent collaborator Mike Hazlewood and released it on his debut album in 1972. It starts of uncertainly, but mid-way through hits a strange stride. Perfect it is not, but certainly interesting. According to Hammond, it was written for a physically unattractive girl while Hazlewood came up with the title upon glimpsing LA’s smog. The song was then recorded by Phil Everly in 1973, but became a hit in the hands of the briefly resurgent Hollies a year later. Subsequently Hammond and Hazlewood received an unexpected songwriting credit on Radiohead’s Creep after the awful Thom Yorke stole from The Air That I Breathe for Creep.

 

Wild Thing

One of rock’s most iconic songs was written by actor Jon Voight’s younger brother, James Wesley, who took the name Chip Taylor. The first version of Wild Thing, by the New York band The Wild Ones, was released in 1965. Headed by one Jordan Christopher, they are said to have been the houseband of what has been called New York’s first disco, The Office. Taylor wrote Wild Thing for them as a favour to A&R man Gerry Granagan. It’s not very good at all, certainly not in comparison to The Troggs version, which replaced the Wild Ones’ whistle interlude with an ocarina solo (the ocarina is an ancient ceramic wind instrument).

Taylor has recalled that he wrote the song in a few minutes (“the pauses and the hesitations are a result of not knowing what I was going to do next”) and had a low opinion of it. Likewise, The Troggs recorded it in 20 minutes, during the same session that produced their follow-up hit With A Girl Like You. They worked from Taylor’s demo, rather than the Wild Ones’ version. Chip Taylor also wrote Angel Of The Morning, which featured in The Originals – The 1980s.

 

Black Betty

One of the hardest rocking hits of 1977 was Ram Jam’s blistering Black Betty, but it is an old African-American folk song favoured by labour gangs. The recording here is the oldest in existence, preceding the better-known one by Lead Belly (who often is credited with writing it) by six years. This is a 1933 field recording made by the musicologists John and Alan Lomax in 1933 of the convict James “Iron Head” Baker, then already 63, and backing band of prisoners at Central State Farm in Texas. The Ram Jam version wasn’t even the first rockified adaptation. In 1976, a year before the Ram Jam hit, it was recorded by an outfit called Starstruck, which included future Ram Jam member Bill Bartlett.

Civil right groups boycotted the song because it was thought it insulted black women. Anthropologists are undecided what exactly a “Black Betty”, perhaps a rifle, or a bottle of whiskey, or a whip (as Lead Belly claimed), or a penitentiary transfer wagon, or indeed a prostitute. In the Ram Jam lyrics Betty clearly is a woman, probably of African-American heritage, from Birmingham, Alabama.

 

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Nina Simone first recorded Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood in 1964 as a slow, soulful blues ballad, her voice so deep in places you’d think it was a man singing it. A year later The Animals took hold of it, and – as they had done with the traditional song House Of The Rising Sun – turned the number inside out, speeding it up, reintroducing the signature opening chords (which almost unnoticably appeared at the end of Simone’s version) and Alan Price’s glorious organ riff, and giving the soul-rock a bit of a flamenco sound. Twelve years later, in 1977, Leroy Gomez & Santa Esmeralda covered the Animals version, adding a touch of disco to the mix, to produce a dramatic and eminently danceable hit.

Denis

In 1978 Blondie enjoyed their breakthrough with a slice of power-pop new wave: Denis. It was a cover of a 1963 hit for for Randy & the Rainbows. Denise reached #10 on the Billboard charts, but after the follow-up barely scraped into the Top 100, that was it for the doo-woppers from Queens. The French verse in Blondie’s version was necessary to explain away the object of desire’s gender-change.

I Fought The Law

Thought by many to be an original Clash song, the more knowledgeable will refer to I Fought The Law as a Bobby Fuller Four song. But even that was a cover of the 1960 song by the Crickets, Buddy Holly’s erstwhile band. Written by Sonny Curtis, one can almost hear Holly sing it. In the event, the song made no great impact until Fuller’s 1964 recording. Fuller was found dead just as the single was becoming a hit (some say suicide, some allege foul play – few suicides involve beating one’s self up before imbibing petrol). The session drummer on the Fuller version, rumour has it, was a young Barry White. A generation later, it became something of a pub-punk classic as spat out by Strummer on the Clash version.

 

Barbara Ann

The Beach Boys never wanted Barbara Ann to be a single release; the LP it came from, Beach Boys Party!, was an informal jam session recorded to fulfil a contractual obligation. The group, and whoever else was around, were playing whatever came to mind while they were getting drunk. At one point, Dean Torrence of surf-pop duo Jan & Dean, who had previously recorded Barbara Ann in 1962 and was recording in an adjacent studio, popped in. Torrence suggested the song and sang lead on the recording with Brian Wilson. Torrence left half an hour later, and was not credited on the album. Obviously, the light-hearted Barbara Ann, with its fluffed lines and subsequent laughter and with session drummer Hal Blaine on ashtrays — listen closely at 1:05 — did not quite meet the sophisticated production values which had already been evident on recent recordings, such as California Girls. And still, Barbara Ann reached the US #2.

Barbara-Ann (it was originally hyphenated) had been a 1961 US #13 hit for The Regents, an American-Italian doo wop group from the Bronx. They went on to have only one more Top 30 hit, Runaround. Barbara-Ann had initially been recorded as a demo by The Regents in 1959. When they couldn’t land a record contract, the group folded. A couple of years later, a group called The Consorts, which included a Regents’ member’s younger brother, dug out the demo and played it at auditions. One record company, Cousins, liked Barbara-Ann and released it — but not by the Consorts, but the Regents’ version. The Regents hurriedly reunited, and the song quickly became a local and then a national hit.

 

El Condor Pasa

El Condor Pasa was a mammoth hit for Simon & Garfunkel in 1970, but by then the song was already 57 years old. Written in 1913 by the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles for a musical of the same name. Paul Simon hadn’t heard that, but a hit version by the Peruvian band Los Incas with whom had become friendly. Los Incas leader Jorge Milchberg told Simon that the melody was a traditional Andean folk song which he had arranged (and collected royalties for). It took an amicably resolved court case brought by Robles’ heirs to have the tune’s real composer credited.

 

The Lion Sleeps Tonight/Wimoweh

Finally, one of the most foul stories of songwriting theft: that of Mbube (the song known more widely as The Lion Sleeps Tonight or Wimoweh), with even the venerable Pete Seeger involved in the deceit; though he comes out of it a lot better than others.

The man who wrote and first recorded it, a South African musician named Solomon Linda, died virtually penniless, having been duped into selling the rights to the song for a pittance to the Italian-born South African record label owner Eric Gallo. Gallo pocketed the royalties of the prodigious South African sales, in return allowing Linda to work in his packing plant. Apart from performing on stage in South Africa, where he was a musical legend in the townships, Linda worked there until his death at 53 in 1962 — nine years after Seeger and the Weavers had a US #6 hit with it, and a year after The Tokens scored a huge hit with the song in a reworked version. No laws were broken in this deplorable story of plagiarism, but the rules of ethics and common decency certainly were.

Mbube was introduced to American music by Pete Seeger, who adapted a fairly faithful version of the song. Still, Seeger didn’t even transcribe the word “uyiMbube” properly, even though he had received a record of the song which had a label stating the title on it. Thus “uyiMbube” became “Wimoweh”.

Seeger later pleaded ignorance about the intricacies of music publishing, and, to his credit, deeply regretted not insisting firmly enough that Linda be given the songwriting credit. He had sent his initial arrangers’s fee of $1,000 to Linda and insisted that the song’s publishers, TRO, should keep sending royalties to the South African. Apparently they periodically did so, though Linda’s widow had little idea where the money — hardly riches (about $275 per quarter in the early ’90s) — came from. Some family members say the payments started only in the 1980s. Whatever the case, neither Linda nor Seeger were credited for the song now known as Wimoweh. The credit went to Paul Campbell, a pseudonym used by TRO owner Harry Richmond to copyright the many public-domain folk songs which TRO published.

The Tokens’ version took even greater liberties. But this time nobody could claim ignorance because Miriam Makeba, who grew up with the song, had released it in the US in 1960, a year before The Tokens’ version was created, as Mbube, or The Lion (mbube means lion). It is fair to say that George David Weiss, who rearranged the song for The Tokens, at their request, should not be denied his songwriter credit. Weiss dismantled and restructured the song, turning a very African song into an American novelty pop song. RCA and mafia associates producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore (we met those two charmers as co-writers of Can’t Help Falling In Love in part two the Elvis Originals) claimed co-writing credit and the rights to the song, deciding that Mbube was an old African folk song and therefore in the public domain. They might well have thought so in good faith, but a minimum of research would have established the facts, even before the age of Google. Or perhaps not: they pulled the same stunt with Miriam Makeba’s Click Song (the clicking is a distinctive sound in the Xhosa language), which the Tokens released as Bwanina. They got away with that, because Makeba’s number was based on an old folk song. Not so with The Lion Sleeps Tonight, to which Gallo, the record label owner from South Africa, had asserted his US rights in 1952 and then sold it to TRO. A whole lot of wheeling and dealing took place, with the upshot that the credit now included TRO’s fictitious Paul Campbell. Again, Linda was left out in the cold.

It was only at the beginning of the 2000s that Linda’s family took legal action, and that only after Richmond, Weiss and the mafia pals started to wrangle about the ownership to the song. Solomon Linda’s family eventually won a settlement which entitles them to future royalties and a lump sum for royalties going back to 1987, largely due to an extensive Rolling Stone exposé by South African one-book wonder novelist Rian Malan.

Here’s the kicker: Solomon Linda was quite delighted at the international success of his song; he didn’t realise that he should have received something for it — even if that something was just an acknowledgment that he wrote the song. Read the full story of Mbube.

 

As always, CD-R length, home-covered covers, PW in comments. And, yes, in some of these cases it is a bit harsh to refer to the artists who covered their own sings as usurpers, but, as any old hack will tell you, style is style.

1. The Leaves – Hey Joe, Where Are You Going (1966)
The Usurper: Jimi Hendrix (1966)
2. Fleetwood Mac – Black Magic Woman (1968)
The Usurper: Santana (1970)
3. Barry McGuire – California Dreaming (1965)
The Usurper: The Mamas and The Papas (1966)
4. Flying Burrito Brothers – Wild Horses (1970)
The Usurper: The Rolling Stones (1971)
5. Jerry Jeff Walker – Mr. Bojangles (1968)
The Usurper: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1970)
6. Larry Weiss – Rhinestone Cowboy (1974)
The Usurper: Glen Campbell (1975)
7. Roger Miller – Me And Bobby McGee (1969)
The Usurper: Janis Joplin (1970)
8. Anita Carter – (Love’s) Ring Of Fire (1963)
The Usurper: Johnny Cash (1963)
9. Kate Taylor – Where You Lead (1971)
The Usurper: Carole King (1971)
10. Judy Collins – Suzanne (1966)
The Usurper: Leonard Cohen (1967)
11. Diane & Annita – A Groovy Kind Of Love (1965)
The Usurpers: The Mindbenders (1965), Phil Collins (1988)
12. Billy Preston – My Sweet Lord (1970)
The Usurper: George Harrison (1970)
13. Albert Hammond – The Air That I Breathe (1972)
The Usurper: The Hollies (1974)
14. Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show – Ballad Of Lucy Jordan (1973)
The Usurper: Marianne Faithfull (1979)
15. Nina Simone – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (1964)
The Usurpers: The Animals (1964), Santa Esmeralda (1977)
16. Kai Winding with Vocal Group – Time Is On My Side (1963)
The Usurper: The Rolling Stones (1964)
17. Dee Dee Warwick – You’re No Good (1963)
The Usurpers: Swinging Blue Jeans (1964), Linda Ronstadt (1974)
18. The Regents – Barbara-Ann (1961)
The Usurper: The Beach Boys (1965)
19. Randy and the Rainbows – Denise (1963)
The Usurper: Blondie (1978)
20. Crickets – I Fought The Law (1959)
The Usurper: Bobby Fuller Four (1966), The Clash (1979)
21. The Wild Ones – Wild Thing (1965)
The Usurper: The Troggs (1966)
22. Ann Cole with The Suburbans and Orchestra – Got My Mojo Working (1957)
The Usurper: Muddy Waters (1957)
23. Roy Hawkins – The Thrill Is Gone (1951)
The Usurper: B.B. King (1970)
24. James Iron Head Baker & Group – Black Betty (1933)
The Usurpers: Lead Belly (1939), Ram Jam (1977)
25. Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds – Mbube (1939)
The Usurpers: The Weavers (as Wimoweh, 1957), The Tokens (as The Lion Sleeps Tonight, 1961)
26. Edric Connor and The Caribbeans – Day Dah Light (1952)
The Usurper: Harry Belafonte (as The Banana Boat Song, 1956)
27. Orquesta del Zoológico – El Cóndor Pasa (1917)
The Usurper: Simon & Garfunkel (1970)

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NYC – Any Major Mix Vol. 2

September 11th, 2018 7 comments

 

 

This is Volume 2 of the New York mixes, though it is really the third, after the first mix and the New York in Black & White collection.

The photo on the cover comes from a beautiful series of colour photos of New York in the 1940s from the Charles W Cushman collection.

As ever, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and, as mentioned above, includes home-bronxed covers. PW in comments, where you are invited to say hello.

1. Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Jules Munchin – New York, New York (excerpt) (1949)
NYC hook: It’s our three sailor friends’ first time in New York, and having just arrived on shore leave (happily in New York, not in LA where they might have gone on to beat up Mexicans), they already presume it to be “a helluva town” because “the Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down”. Additionally, “the people ride in a hole in the ground” (as they do in many other cities, so big deal, chums).

2. Frank Sinatra & Tony Bennett – New York New York (1994)
NYC hook: Let’s face it, our boy from Hoboken was a promiscuous man when it came to American cities. Chicago? His kind of town! L.A.? It’s a lady he can’t say goodbye to. Las Vegas? He made it! And New York? Well, more of a challenge than a love affair; it seems. By the way, the song needs no high-kicks, party goers.

3. Theme – Seinfeld (1989)
NYC hook: Would Seinfeld have worked had it been set anywhere else? Nah!

4. Klaatu – Sub-Rosa Subway (1976)
NYC hook: The song that caused speculation about a clandestine Beatles reunion. Alas, it was just a bunch of Canadians with a funny name singing about Alfred Beach, the man who built America’s first subway in New York, based on the London Underground. (More on Beach)

5. NRBQ – Boys In The City (1972)
NYC hook: You might leave New York for the country, but you’ll still sing about “the trees in the Park”.

6. Harry Nilsson – I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City (1969)
NYC hook: New York as the new Jerusalem instead of its usual role as a fetid Babylon. So Harry makes his pilgrimage to the city permanent, leaving all his sorrows behind. Same year, he soundtracked Hoffman and Voight’s exit from bad, bad NYC.

7. John Lennon – New York City (1972)
NYC hook: The Statue of Liberty told Lennon to come. Come to the city where he would be murdered…

8. Kevin Devine – Brooklyn Boy (2006)
NYC hook: The eponymous lad is doing coke on his birthday, prompting Kev — rarely a herald of rampant cheer — to launch into an apocalypso.

9. Ian Hunter – Central Park N West (1981)
NYC hook: Hunter obviously hates living in stinky, crime-ridden, burning New York City. Except he doesn’t: “You’ve got to be crazy to live in the city, and New York city’s the best.”

10. Donavan Frankenreiter – Spanish Harlem Incident (2007)
NYC hook: A rather decent cover of Dylan’s 1964 song about having steamy, casual interracial sex.

11. Bobby Womack – Across 110th Street (1972)
NYC hook: 110th Street is the street that divides Harlem and Manhattan. Bob is not painting a pretty picture of what lies at the other side of Manhattan: pimps and hookers, pushers and junkies jostling on the streets of “the capital of every ghetto town”.

12. Billy Joel – New York State Of Mind (1976)
NYC hook: The New Yorker might leave the city for Miami Beach or for Hollywood, but if they are anything like Bronx-born, Long Island-raised Billiam, they’ll miss the New York Times and Daily News (but not the Post, it seems) so much, they’ll feel compelled to return.

13. Ella Fitzgerald – Manhattan (1956)
NYC hook: On his wonderful radio show, Bob Dylan described the Rodgers & Hart song as a love letter to New York City. Who knew that Zimmerman had a way with words? Ella is full of giddy tenderness as she provides us with a partial road map of the city. Are pushcarts still gliding gently on Mott Street?

14. Hem – Great Houses Of New York (live) (2006)
NYC hook: Native New Yorkers Hem don’t need to mention the city in a song that incorporates its name in the title to prove that it’s set there. It suffices to refer to NYC’s winter climate as a metaphor for a dying relationship, a recurring theme in Hem’s beautiful songs.

15. The Mamas & The Papas – Twelve-Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon) (1968)
NYC hook: The Mamas and the Papas lived in New York before moving to Hawaii and then to California. It seems fair to say that they didn’t dig New York — “every thing there was dark and dirty “ — and this is their fuck-you note to the city. Most likely, the Daily News won’t be enough to lure them back.

16. Odyssey – Native New Yorker (1977)
NYC hook: Two decades before Carrie Bradshaw in Sex And The City made her, erm, acute observations about the politics of sex, Odyssey had it already figured out: “No one opens the door for a native New Yorker.” So, like, take charge of your life yourself, girl!

17. Elkow Bones & The Racketeers – A Night In New York (1983)
NYC hook: A sadly ignored club gem whose horns sounds like New York traffic to me. Delicious.

18. Nicole with Timmy Thomas – New York Eyes (1985)
NYC hook: What in the name of all that’s ophthalmological are these New York Eyes that have short-lived soul starlet Nicole attracted to ’70s soulster Timmy Thomas (who I presume provides the groovy keyboard here)? Whatever they are, reciprocally gazing at Nicole’s NY eyes, they make Timmy feel good inside.

19. Beastie Boys – An Open Letter To NYC (2005)
NYC hook: And it’s another love letter: “Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten, from the Battery to the top of Manhattan. Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin, black, white — New York you make it happen.”

20. LL Cool J feat. Leshaun Williams – Doin’ It (1995)
NYC hook: Six people are credited with writing this droll ode to physical intimacy. None of them have sought to distance themselves from this lyrical gem which surely provides all the required evidence to support the notion that ladies really can’t help themselves but love NCIS agent Cool James. Mr Todd  rattles off the specials on today’s hum menu: “It’s the first time together and I’m feeling kinda horny, conventional methods of makin’ love kinda bore me. I wanna knock your block off, get my rocks off, blow your socks off, make sure your G-spot’s soft” (you get hard G-spots? And, more importantly, how do you get away rhyming “off” with “soft”?). With Cool James, sex is a matter of territorial chauvinism, not unlike the so-called World Series. He points out that he represents Queens, whose residents may well jostle for prime bedside seats, the better to cheer on their local stud muffin. Cool James’ hopefully softly G-spotted friend was raised “out Brooklyn”, where she learnt to yearn for a “Big Daddy” who might “pull my hair and spank me from the back” and finish off with some “candy rain”. Just as the contender from Queens might, if his dick is as big as his braggadocio. Yuk!

21. Jay-Z feat Alicia Keys – Empire State Of Mind (2009)
NYC hook: The national anthem of NYC for the millennial generation.

22. Ben Folds – Rock This Bitch (NYC version) (2004)
NYC hook: Some “motherfucker in Chicago” once shouted out “rock this bitch” at a Ben Folds gig, giving rise to a tradition whereby Folds (evidently reluctantly) improvises a new “Rock This Bitch” version on the spot. As he did in this recording from the 2004 Summerstage concert. “R.O.C.K. with your C.O.C.K. out, in N.Y.C.”

GET IT!

More New York songs

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Beach#Subway