Stars Pick Your Songs Vol. 1: Musicians

May 18th, 2017 12 comments

What would happen if you had a party of famous people and let them play their favourite records? This mix has 20 musicians from a time span of 75 years choosing music “for you”, one song each.

In putting together this mix – which was tremendous fun to compile (and, I hope, is tremendous fun to listen to) – I drew from the thousands of episodes of BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs programme, which first aired in 1941 and is still going.

The programme’s format is simple: a well-known studio guest is interviewed and in the course of the often revealing conversation presents eight songs he or she would take to a desert island (to be played in the past on a wind-up grammophone and lately on a solar-powered record player). They then also choose a book and luxury item to take with them, but this won’t concern us here.

There are hundreds of recordings of Desert Island Discs available for download, and the record choices of every single “castaway” ever is listed as well. Which is where I drew the present selections from.

Of course, many songs have been listed several times; I ascribe them to only one guest. So here we have Yoko Ono choosing a Lennon song in 2007 which in 1982 was picked also by Paul McCartney. But McCartney will feature on a later mix with a different song choice.

There were other songs on this mix that were popular choices: Van Morrison’s Madame George is attributed here to Joan Armatrading. But it also was a choice of Joan Baez and Bruce Springsteen (both represented here with other songs), as well as by sculptor David Wynne and author Bernard Cornwell, neither of whom will feature in this series.

Some castaways have appeared more than once over the years; often they don’t repeat their song selections from previous appearances. But Petula Clark, who was cast away in 1982 and again in 1995, stuck with one of her choices: the Doobie Brothers’ What A Fool Believes. That song also featured in the selections of composer Marvin Hamlisch, footballer David Beckham, and the late UK comedian Victoria Wood.

The oldest song selection here is by Richard Tauber, the exiled German singer who in 1942 went for a Marlene Dietrich track from 1930, the oldest on this mix. His choice is followed by the youngest track on this mix, by Amy Winehouse, chosen in a show 65 years after Tauber by George Michael.

Tauber died in 1948, long before George Michael or Amy Winehouse were born. All three died fairly young. One castaway to feature here recently celebrated her 100th birthday: Vera Lynn. It’s her song-choice from 1951 that features here.

Lynn’s choice was a contemporary hit – and Edith Piaf song recorded just a year earlier – and many Desert Island Disc guests go for contemporary hits, maybe in a flash of excitement about a current favourite, maybe to show off how hip they are to the groovy music in the hit parades. I have mostly ignored those choices and picked songs which I suspect have been long-standing favourites by the respective celebs. But I have a suspicion that Brian Eno’s choice in 1991 of a 1950s track by gospel singer Dorothy Love Coates was the result of the Roxy Music musician having just bought her re-released albums, issued the same year.

And that’s the fun too: if one hasn’t heard the guest explain in the programme why they chose a particular song, we can ponder and imagine what that song means to them.

More mixes will follow, with actors choosing their songs as well as general celebrities and politicians & authors.

So, here’s the obvious question: what would be your eight Desert Island Disc? Tell me in the comments.

As always, this mix is time to fit on a standard CD-R, includes home-marooned covers. PW in comments.

1. David Bowie – Changes (1971 – Neil Tennant 2001)
2. The Band – Up On Cripple Creek (1969 – Emmylou Harris 2003)
3. Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman (1968 – Annie Lennox 2005)
4. George Jones – The Door (1974 – Randy Newman 2008)
5. Bob Dylan – My Back Pages (1964 – Bob Geldof 1992)
6. Colin Hay – Beautiful World (2000 – Kylie Minogue 2015)
7. Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes (1978 – Petula Clark 1982/1995)
8. Roberta Flack – I’m The One (1982 – Johnny Mathis 1987)
9. James Brown – Out Of Sight (1965 – Bruce Springsteen 2016)
10. Dorothy Love Coates – Lord, Don’t Forget About Me (1950s – Brian Eno 1991)
11. Muddy Waters – Got My Mojo Workin’ (1957 – John Lee Hooker 1995)
12. Sarah Vaughan – Deep Purple (1955 – Dizzy Gillespie 1979/Tony Bennett 1972)
13. Edith Piaf – Hymne à l’Amour (1950 – Vera Lynn 1951)
14. Marlene Dietrich – Falling In Love Again (1930 – Richard Tauber 1942)
15. Amy Winehouse – Love Is A Losing Game (2006 – George Michael 2007)
16. John Lennon – Beautiful Boy (1980 – Yoko Ono 2007)
17. Jackson Browne – Late For The Sky (1974 – Joan Baez 1993)
18. Damien Rice – Volcano (2002 – Ed Sheeran 2017)
19. Nick Drake – River Man (1970 – Paul Weller 2007)
20. Van Morrison – Madame George (1968 – Joan Armatrading 1989)

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Should Have Been A UK Top 10 Hit – Vol. 3

May 11th, 2017 4 comments

 

Best hashtag ever? #sheeranalbumparty. I’m sure I was not alone in being dismayed when it turned out that the hashtag for Ed Sheeran’s new CD was just a gag made up by a journalist. The anal bum party marked the startling fact that the British singer — whom I regard as the ultimate in white bread — had 14 of the Top 15 hits in the UK charts in March.

It’s impossible to say how impressive that is, for the nature of the charts has changed completely. To me, there are no more charts, because there are no more single releases. But there was a time when the UK charts were like sport: I’d study them and would celebrate the success of a favourite record or take the success of a loathsome record as an affront to common decency. Often enough, the latter would prevail over the former.

And this is the third mix of songs that fall in the former category: singles that climbed up the UK charts without ever reaching the Top 10.

The strangest case of all of these is Blondie’s Union City Blue, which many Blondie fans would consider strongly for inclusion in their Top 5 of Blondie songs. It peaked at a disappointing #13, following five consecutive Top 4 singles , including two #1s, for Blondie. More than that, Union City Blue was followed by three consecutive chart-toppers and a #5 hit. And it’s not like Union City Blue was the fifth single of an album. In the UK, it was the second of three single releases from the Eat To The Beat LP. The first, Dreaming, reached #2; the third, Atomic, even #1. In fairness, there were many very good songs ahead of Union City Blue (see that week’s charts).

Likewise, A-ha’s quite excellent Manhattan Skyline followed six Top 10 hits, including the awful Cry Wolf, and was followed by two more. Manhattan Skyline reached only #13 in March 1987 (that #13 was unlucky for a lot of acts here). There were three soul tracks from the 1960s in the Top 10 that week, including numbers 1 and 2. And the rest doesn’t look intimidatingly brilliant: Freddie Mercury’s entertaining version of The Great Pretender, Boy George’s Everything I Own, Level 42’s Running In The Family, Crush On You by The Jets (no, me neither), Male Stripper by Man 2 Man meets Man Parrish, Live It Up by Mental As Anything, and  Curiosity Killed The Cat’s Down To Earth (which isn’t bad). Surely there was a place for Manhattan Skyline in the Top 10!

Poor Nick Heyward never enjoyed a solo Top 10 hit, after a run of four of them in 1981/82 with Haircut 100. At least two should have been Top 10 hits: Whistle Down The Wind and Blue Hat For A Blue Day, both from 1983. And in the case of the latter, which features here, we can claim a genuine grievance: while Heyward stalled at #14, novelty crapmeisters Black Lace moved into the Top 10 alongside The Rock Steady Crew.

Labi Siffre’s It Must Be Love stalled in the same position, in the first week of January 1972. It later was a Top 10 hit in the cover by Madness in 1981, but poor Labi — a quality guy in many ways — had to see his original struggle up to #14 (after two weeks at #16) while being outsold by Benny Hill’s grotesque Ernie The Fastest Milkman, Sleepy Shores by the Johnny Pearson Orchestra, The New Seekers’ I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,  Softly Whispering I Love You by the Congregation, and a couple of forgettable efforts by Cilla Black, Gilbert O’Sullivan and Elvis. What were you thinking, 1972’s Britain?

I could have sworn Murray Head’s One Night In Bangkok, from the musical Chess, was a Top 10 hit. Turns out, it peaked at #12 in December 1984. It was about to be overtaken by Nellie The Elephant by the Toy Dolls and by Black Lace (those fuckers again) and their revolting Do The Conga.

I’m not sure I am entirely convinced that Ester & Abi Ofarim deliciously nasty One More Dance should have been a top 10 hit. The folky arrangement for the English version of the song is awful, certainly in comparison to the German version, with which I grew up. In Britain the song, the follow-up single to chart-topper Cinderella Rockefella, reached  #13 in July 1968. There were some very good songs ahead of it.

I cannot think of many songs that sound as 1974 as Beach Baby by First Class does, nor many that sound as self-consciously summery. And it was a hit in the summer of 1974. Peaking at #13 in the middle of summer. Not in early summer, having ejaculated prematurely. Not at the end of summer, when everybody has had enough of beach babies. But in the middle of July. And again, it’s not like Beach Baby was up against hot competition. Sure, there was Rock Your Baby, The Six Teens and Band On The Run. And The Drifter’s Kissin’ In The Back Room had a nice seasonal vibe. But Beach Baby should have been a Top 10 hit. As it should’ve been all of the songs here.

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

1. Blondie – Union City Blue (1980  #13)
2. Split Enz – I Got You (1980  #12)
3. Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy – Icing On The Cake (1985  #14)
4. A-ha – Manhattan Skyline (1987  #13)
5. Wet Wet Wet – Temptation (1988  #12)
6. Jonathan Butler – Lies (1987  #14)
7. Sherrick – Just Call (1987  #23)
8. Delegation – Where Is The Love (We Used To Know) (1977  #22)
9. Labi Siffre – It Must Be Love (1971  #15)
10. First Class – Beach Baby (1974  #14)
11. Harpo – Movie Star (1976  #25)
12. Harley Quinne – New Orleans (1972  #19)
13. Chris Spedding – Motor Bikin’ (1975  #14)
14. Judas Priest – Breaking The Law (1980  #12)
15. Murray Head – One Night In Bankok (1984  #12)
16. Nick Heyward – Blue Hat For A Blue Day (1983  #14)
17. Suzanne Vega – Marlene On The Wall (1986  #21)
18. Sally Oldfield – Mirrors (1978  #19)
19. Kate Bush – Wow (1979  #14)
20. Donovan – Atlantis (1968  #23)
21. Esther & Abi Ofarim – One More Dance (1968  #13)

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In Memoriam – April 2017

May 4th, 2017 6 comments

Mr Tambourine Man is gone. Bob Dylan has cited folk music guitarist and percussionist Bruce Langhorne as the inspiration for the song which would become a huge hit for The Byrds (sorry, not LSD after all). Langhorne, who had lost three fingers on his right hand as a child, played his jingle-jangle electric guitar on the Dylan version of the track (he takes care of the counter-melody). When Langhorne wasn’t playing the guitar, he’d do percussions on a large Turkish frame drum, the tambourine whereof Dylan speaks. He worked with Dylan on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and Bringing It All Home. Notably, Langhorne also played the guitar solo on Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Langhorne was already a name on the folk scene when Dylan turned up. “I thought he was a terrible singer and a complete fake, and I thought he didn’t play harmonica that well,” he’d later recall. He was converted when he heard Dylan’s writing. Langhorne went on to write several movie scores, mostly for Peter Fonda films.

I don’t diiiig this: with Cuba Gooding Sr, another one of the great ’70s soul legends is gone. The singer with the Main Ingredient had a great voice, of course, but his phrasing was even greater. Gooding joined the band after original lead singer Donald McPherson died in 1971 of leukaemia. They’d already had some success with Spinning Around and Black Seeds Keep Growing, but with Gooding they broke through thanks to the hit Everybody Plays The Fool, on which Gooding spoke the intro (“so you’re sayin’ you’re even thinking of dying?”). They had another million-seller in 1974 with Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely, but a year later band member Tony Silvester left to pursue a solo career, and in 1977 Gooding followed suit. Neither could replicate the success they had with the band.

The name Cuba was what his parents called him. Apparently, Gooding’s Barbadian father Dudley was involved in black liberation politics in Cuba when his first wife was mortally wounded in an assassination. On her deathbed Dudley promised to name his first son after the island. Oh, and, yes, Cuba Gooding Sr was the dad of the actor Cuba Gooding Jr. No paternity tests were ever necessary to prove that.

It’s fair to say that by his inventions, Ikutaro Kakehashi changed music. The Japanese engineer, who has died at 87, developed the Roland keyboards and drum machines that gave the 1980s much of its sounds. They are still widely used today, especially the Roland TR-808 drum machine that has scored songs for artists from Marvin Gaye (Check it on Sexual Healing) to Pharell. Kakehashi began his career in the electronics store he set up as 23-year-old, in which he’d repair, among other things, organs. This led to his decision in the late 1950s to specialise in electronic musical instruments, which found its first culmination with the establishment of Ace Electronics where he developed his first electronic drum in 1964. Eight years later he founded the Roland Corporation. In 1983, he helped introduce the MIDI standard which, in the words of Wikipedia, “a technical standard that describes a protocol, digital interface and connectors and allows a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another”.

Thank Sylvia Moy for the career of Stevie Wonder. According to Berry Gordy, the child star Little Stevie was about to be dropped by the label after puberty changed the voice that had made Fingertips such a hit. It was Moy who persuaded Gordy to persist with Stevie, and who mentored the kid in the craft of songwriting — something he’d become pretty good at. For or with Stevie Wonder she co-wrote such classics as Uptight (Everything’s Alright), My Cherie Amour, Never Had a Dream Come True, I Was Made To Love Her, and Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day. With Holland-Dozier-Holland she wrote the Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart of Mine, and with Mickey Stevenson the Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston hit It Takes Two. Among the songs she wrote with Wonder (and frequent collaborator Hank Cosby) is 1966’s album track Sylvia. Soon Sylvia Moy would have to persuade Stevie to change the title of a track the singer wanted to dedicate to another girl’s name (I think it was Marsha). Moy suggested going French instead, and My Cherie Amour was born.

The early days of rock ‘n’ roll are replete with bizarre stories of violated ethics and protracted royalty battles. One such case concerned Rosie Hamlin, of Rosie and The Originals, who died at 71 on March 30 (her death was reported after the last In Memoriam was posted). As a teenager in San Diego, Rosie wrote a song about her boyfriend, titling it Angel Baby. She and her group recorded a master of the song in a private studio, and then persuaded the manager of a department store’s music section to play it. It proved popular and when a representative from Highland Records heard it, the group was signed — on condition that the songwriting credit would be changed to the eldest member of the group, David Ponci. Rosie agreed, unaware that she’d not collect royalties for what turned out to be a hit song which would be widely covered over many years. And, as always, what should have been fixed as a matter of honour instead turned into decades of protracted legal wrangling. Several singles followed, but Angel Baby remained Hamlin’s defining song. It was one of John Lennon’s favourites, even being covered during the recordings for his 1975 Rock and Roll LP. It was left off (it was eventually released on 1986’s Menlove Ave.), much to the fury of the publishing company that now owned the song — but that’s another story.

One day in September 1968, a 26-year-old Johnny Cash fan took his seat in a Fayetteville auditorium to see his hero perform a fund-raising concert for Republican gubernatorial candidate Winthrop Rockefeller. Due to flight cancellations, Cash found himself without a guitarist, so the fan, Bob Wooton, volunteered to fill in. He knew every line of every song, playing them perfectly. Within days, Cash invited Wooton to join his band. They’d go on to play together until 1997, though the most memorable performance came early: the gig at San Quentin State Prison in 1969 which has been elevated to cult status. Wooton also played the lead guitar on Bob Dylan’s 1969 remake of Girl from North Country, a duet with Cash. Wooton died on April 9 at the age of 75. Oh, and Winthrop Rockefeller, an anti-segregationist, won that 1968 election.

Of the three Jones Girls, the soul outfit that scored a few hits in the late 1970s and early ’80s, there’s now only one left after the death of Brenda Jones, killed by several cars as she was trying to cross a road. Valorie Jones died in 2001, leaving now only Shirley. The Detroit-born Jones Girls started out as a backing band, working with acts like Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Linda Clifford. They broke through in their own right with 1979’s excellent eponymous late-Philly soul debut album, and subsequently had hits with tracks like You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else and I Just Love The Man (on which Brenda sings a part solo). Shirley left the band in 1984 to pursue a solo career though there were reunion albums until Valorie’s death.

Strangely, I’d never really spend much time pondering what the J in the J. Geils Band stood for until the man who gave his name to the rock band died at the age of 71. Boringly, it’s John. He founded his band as a student in the late 1960s. Having released their debut in 1970, they traded in blues- and country rock, finding little sustained success though they did hit the charts occasionally (and their pretty good Cry One More Time was later covered by Gram Parson). Big success came when they switched to the kind of US new wave that would also work well for The Cars and The Tubes. Their biggest success was, of course, 1982’s Centrefold, an impossibly catchy and rather misogynist song, though the purists tend to cite Freeze-Frame as the better track. Within three years, the band split up, and Geils mostly retired from music to build up an automobile restoration business and to race cars.

The Funkadelic curse struck again in April: virtually every month, at least one person once connected with the Funkadelic/Parliament/Bootsy Collins collective dies. This month it was drummer Barry “Frosty” Smith, who once toured with Funkadelic. Smith had a varied career: he first had success with multi-instrumentalist Lee Michaels (drumming under the intentionally unwieldy moniker Bartholomew Eugene Smith-Frost, “to be sure I’d be seen on album covers”), then joined rock band Sweathog, whose song Hallelujah would be covered to great effect by Chi Coltrane. He then toured with a range of funk acts, which also included Sly & the Family Stone and Rare Earth, and later with roots-rocker Delbert McClinton. In the 1990s he returned to the charts with grunge act Soulhat, and backed various bands from Austin, Texas, where the Californian had made his home.

Just a few months before John Lennon’s murder, singer and political activist David Peel called in song for the ex-Beatle to be president. O’Neill used music as a vehicle for his activism, in the late 1960s to promote weed, then in the ’70s in the political domain, often shoulder-to-shoulder with Lennon (Peel appeared in 2006 film The U.S. vs. John Lennon), who produced Peel’s widely-banned 1972 album The Pope Smokes Dope.

One moment he was a prolific singer-songwriter with a good life, then Brazilian musician Belchior suddenly disappeared in 2007. For two years nothing was heard from the man. Few thought he had died, but rumours abounded about what he was doing. He had gone into hiding in Uruguay, said some. Or hiding on a beach in north-east Brazil. Or cooped up in a secret location to translate Dante’s Divine Comedy into Portuguese. He became the subject of discussion on Internet forums dedicated to solely to his whereabouts. In 2009 a Brazilian TV station tracked him down. The Uruguay theory proved correct: he now lived in a small village in San Gregorio de Polanco, resting, composing and contemplating life — and apparently leaving Dante well alone. He didn’t return to public life. On April 30 Belchior left for good.

 

Rosie Hamlin, 71, singer of Rosie and the Originals, on March 30
Rosie and the Originals – Angel Baby (1961, also as writer)

Elyse Steinman, guitarist of hard rock band Raging Slab, on March 30
Raging Slab – Anywhere But Here (1993)

Lonnie Brooks, 83, blues guitarist and singer, on April 1
Lonnie Brooks – I Want All My Money Back (1983)

Ikutaro Kakehashi, 87, Japanese developer of Roland keyboards, drum machines, on April 1

Brenda Jones, 62, singer with soul trio The Jones Girls, on April 3
McFadden & Whitehead – I Heard It In A Love Song (1980, on backing vocals)
The Jones Girls – I Just Love That Man (1980)
The Jones Girls – Nights Over Egypt (1981)

Andre ‘L.A. Dre’ Bolton, producer and keyboardist, on April 3
Michel’le – Something In My Heart (1989, on keyboards and as co-producer)

Paul O’Neill, 61, producer, songwriter and manager, on April 5
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Moonlight And Madness (2009, as producer)

David Peel, 73, singer and activist, on April 6
David Peel & The Super Apple Band – John Lennon For President (1980)

Ben Speer, 86, singer and pianist with southern gospel group Speer Family, on April 7

Keni Richards, 60, drummer of rock band Autograph, on April 8
Autograph – Turn Up The Radio (1984)

Kim Plainfield, 63, jazz drummer, on April 8

Bob Wootton, 75, country guitarist for Johnny Cash, on April 9
Johnny Cash – Wreck Of The Old 97 (1969, on guitar)
Johnny Cash – I Walk The Line (1969, on guitar)
Bob Dylan – Girl From The North Country (1969, on lead guitar)

Alan Henderson, 72, bassist of Northern Irish group Them, on April 9
Them – Here Comes The Night (1965)
Them – Mystic Eyes (1965)

Stan Robinson, 80, British jazz saxophonist and flautist, on April 9
Maynard Ferguson – Spinning Wheel (1972, on tenor saxophone)
Buzzcocks – What Do You Know (1980, on saxophone)

Banner Thomas, 63, bassist of rock group Molly Hatchet, on April 10
Molly Hatchet – Boogie No More (1979, also as co-writer)

Linda Hopkins, 92, actress and R&B/gospel/jazz singer, on April 10
Jackie Wilson & Linda Hopkins – Shake A Hand (1963)

Toby Smith, 46, keyboardist with British acid-jazz band Jamiroquai, on April 11
Jamiroquai – Alright (1996)

Scotty Miller, 65, drummer of disco band Instant Funk, on April 11
Instant Funk – I Got My Mind Made Up (1978)

J. Geils, 71, guitarist of The J. Geils Band, on April 11
J. Geils Band – Cry One More Time (1971)
J. Geils Band – Love Stinks (1980)

Mika Vainio, 53, member of Finnish electronic band Pan Sonic, on April 12

Barry ‘Frosty’ Smith, 71, drummer with rock bands Sweathog, Soulhat, on April 12
Lee Michaels – Who Could Want More (1969, on drums)
Sweathog – Hallelujah (1972)
Soulhat – Good To Be Gone (1994)

Tom Coyne, 62, mastering engineer (Rolling Stones, De La Soul, Beyoncé), on April 12

José Miguel Class, 78, Puerto Rican singer, on April 13

Bruce Langhorne, 78, folk guitarist and film score composer, on April 14
Bob Dylan – Mr. Tambourine Man (1965, countermelody on electric guitar)
Joan Baez – Farewell, Angelina (1965, on guitar)
Richie Havens – Just Above My Hobby Horse’s Head (1969, lead and acoustic guitar)

Sylvia Moy, 78, Motown songwriter, on April 15
Brenda Holloway – Hurt A Little Everyday (1966, as co-writer)
Dusty Springfield – Ain’t No Sun Since You’ve Been Gone (1968, as co-writer)
Stevie Wonder – Never Had a Dream Come True (1970, as co-writer)

Allan Holdsworth, 70, English guitarist and composer; member of Soft Machine, on April 15
Soft Machine – Land Of The Bag Snake (1975, also as writer)
Allan Holdsworth – City Nights (1989)

Matt Holt, 39, singer of heavy metal group Nothingface, on April 15

Pat Fitzpatrick, 60, keyboardist of Irish rock band Aslan, on April 19
Aslan – This Is (1986)

Dick Contino, 87, singer and accordionist, on April 19
Dick Contino – Lady Of Spain (1954)

Cuba Gooding Sr, 72, singer of soul legends The Main Ingredient, on April 20
The Main Ingredient – Everybody Plays The Fool (1972)
The Main Ingredient – Work To Do (1973)
Cuba Gooding – Hold On To What You Got (1978)

Jerry Adriani, 70, Brazilian singer and actor, on April 23

Calep Emphrey Jr, 67, drummer for B.B. King (1977-2009), on April 25
B.B. King – I’ll Survive (1998, on drums)

Zoe Realla, 32, rapper, murdered on April 28

Belchior, 70, Brazilian singer and composer, on April 30
Belchior – A Palo Seco (1974)

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Any Major Springsteen Covers

April 27th, 2017 12 comments

 

When I was 14 I heard Hungry Heart on the radio. It was familiar and yet unlike any other sound I had heard. Looking back, I think it was the keyboards, which I still think are key to giving the E Street Band that distinctive sound (along with Max Weinstein’s booming drumming and, of course, Clarence’s sax). So I heard Hungry Heart and straight after school on a snowy day in February 1981 I rushed to town to find the new LP by this guy Springsteen. On my way home on the bus I could hardly wait to play it. As I held my new purchase, I liked the look of the face that filled the cover. This guy looked like a rock ‘n’ roll Al Pacino. Justice for all!

But before I could play the The River, I had an afternoon appointment with the optician who proceeded to shine a light into my eyes that virtually blinded me for a few hours. How auspicious that on the day my relationship with Bruce Springsteen began, I was blinded by the light.

I played sides 1 and 2 of The River to death. I rarely played the second disc. That first disc was perfect. With time I would become familiar with Bruce’s four previous albums, and come to regard Darkness On The Edge Of Town as one of the greatest LPs ever made. My loyalty to Springsteen began to waver in the 1990s, in as far as I didn’t rush out to buy every new album. But I have most of them.

So I was excited to read Springsteen’s autobiography. My biggest problem with it was the title. Could nobody come up with something less predictable than Born To Run? I like to think the title “Cars And Girls” would have been a great, even if very belated, riposte to the cutting Prefab Sprout song of that title from 1988. But that is my biggest gripe.

True, Bruce at times exceeds the waxing lyrical, and when he goes fan boy with CAPS LOCK switched on he sounds more like his fawning friend Bono than the poet laureate of a generation. But that’s minor quibbling. Born To Run is a welcome extension of the long prologues to songs in his concerts (usually The River). He is at once fully aware of his genius as he is also genuinely self-deprecating. Here is a man who knows his strengths and his limitations, and how to balance them. He knows his value and has no need for false modesty, even when he explains why he took the decision to be the boss of his backing band, the E Street Band. Incidentally, he says that he doesn’t like the nickname “The Boss”, much as Sinatra hated being called “Chairman of the Board”. I wonder what Bono calls Springsteen…

Born To Run mostly confirms that with Bruce, what you see is indeed what you get…mostly. I didn’t know about his battles with depression, and commend him for speaking about them with such honesty. I did know that Springsteen is a funny guy. Some of his songs are good comedy; take, for example, Sherry Darling. The book has some laugh-out-loud moments, such as when he describes his moves with Courtney Cox in the Dancing In The Dark video as “white-man boogaloo” and “dad dancing”.

Springsteen mentions a few memorable concerts he has played. To my delight, all three Springsteen gigs I have attended are included. His Wembley concert on 4 July 1985 might be the best of any act I have seen.

But I don’t want to write a book report on Born To Run, much as I recommend it. It rather serves as an intro to the mix I am presenting here: of covers of Springsteen songs. And it might seem easy to cover Springsteen. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band did so with Blinded By The Light. Patti Smith had a hit with Because The Night, and The Pointer Sisters with Fire. But Mann had his hit before Springsteen was famous, and our man hadn’t yet recorded the Smith or Pointer Sisters hits (the latter itself a cover of a record by Springsteen pal Robert Gordon, who sang it like Elvis might have).

It’s quite different covering Springsteen songs after Springsteen has recorded them, almost invariably producing the definitive version (differently to Bob Dylan). That is, I suppose, why so few dare to do that. It’s a risk, and it doesn’t always pay off. So, in absence of an abundance of any more quality choices, there most certainly will be no second mix of Springsteen covers.

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

1. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Born To Run (1984)
2. Nils Lofgren – Wreck On The Highway (1997)
3. The Band – Atlantic City (1993)
4. The Hollies – 4th Of July Asbury Park (Sandy) (1975)
5. Everything But The Girl – Tougher Than The Rest (1992)
6. Emmylou Harris – The Price You Pay (1981)
7. Cowboy Junkies – Thunder Road (2004)
8. Justin Townes Earle – Glory Days (2014)
9. John Wesley Harding – Jackson Cage (1997)
10. Raul Malo – Downbound Train (2000)
11. Patty Griffin – Stolen Car (2001)
12. Townes Van Zandt – Racing In The Streets (1992)
13. Richie Havens – Streets Of Philadelphia (1997)
14. Minnie Driver – Hungry Heart (2004)
15. Greg Kihn – For You (1977)
16. David Bowie – It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City (1989)
17. PJ Proby – I’m On Fire (1990)
18. Natalie Cole – Pink Cadillac (1987)
19. Big Daddy – Dancing In The Dark (1985)
20. The Flying Pickets – Factory (1984)

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Any Major American Road Trip – 6

April 20th, 2017 6 comments

 

It is high time we move on from beautiful St Louis, where we have been stuck since September (!) and begin our penultimate stage in the American Road Trip by going to Memphis. And we manage to do so without hitching a lift from Marc Cohn, much as I like his song.

To many, Memphis means Elvis, but I’ll leave him on the sidelines, too (other than by lyrical reference in the opening track). And still I was left with a broad choice of songs about Memphis — I should make a mix of Memphis songs at some point —which is only right, since Memphis is central to so many musical genres. One day I want to go there in real life…

Most of the songs here speak for themselves and have my endorsement. One, however, requires an explanation by way of caveat: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ I Care About Detroit was a civic exercise to calm racial tension a year after the 1967 riots and following the uprising that followed the murder of Martin Luther King (in the city where this mix kicks off).

Written by Jimmy Clark and Jack Combs — the former presumably was the Detroit soul singer; I have no idea who Combs was — the lyrics might as well have been written by Governor George Romney. Smokey was a bit of a stooge for agreeing to this exercise. Much as he declares his loyalty to his home city, Smokey soon joined Berry Gordy in upping sticks for sunny LA. The single had only one side — maybe the city was still waiting for Gil Scott-Heron’s song; maybe it was Gordy’s silent protest at the awfulness of the record.

One song here featured on the Right-Wing Pop for Bullshit Mountain mix I posted in happier times. The Pretender’s My City Was Gone, here to represent Akron, is not a right-wing song, of course. Quite the opposite. But it was hijacked, without permission, by the demagogue Rush Limbaugh (who, as it turns out, was not as harmless as those who tolerated his hate-filled propaganda claimed) for the theme of his radio show. In the end, Chrissie Hynde allowed its use because Limbaugh backed an animal rights cause. As I noted in the notes for the right-wing rock mix, Limbaugh has bragged about subverting the liberal Pretenders song, much like a misogynist who brags about having had sex with a woman he despises with the sole objective of defiling her.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and includes covers and a route-map (more detailed than the one above). PW in comments.
1. Bobby Charles with Delbert McClinton – Last Train To Memphis (2003 – Memphis, TN)
2. Nat ‘King’ Cole – Beale Street Blues (1963 – Memphis, TN)
3. Little Feat – Dixie Chicken (1973 – Memphis, TN)
4. Justin Townes Earle – Memphis In The Rain (2012 – Memphis, TN)
5. Johnny Cash & June Carter – Jackson (1967 – Jackson, TN)
6. Kris Kristofferson – To Beat The Devil (1970 – Nashville, TN)
7. Waylon Jennings – Nashville Bum (1966 – Nashville, TN)
8. Louis Armstrong & Bessie Smith – Nashville Women’s Blues (1925 – Nashville, TN)
9. The Andrews Sisters – Chattanooga Choo Choo (1942 – Chattanooga, TN)
10. Shel Silverstein – Boy Named Sue (1968 – Gatlinburg, TN)
11. The Louvin Brothers – Knoxville Girl (1956 – Knoxville, TN)
12. Leon Redbone – Big Bad Bill (1978 – Louisville, KY)
13. Aimee Mann – Ballantines (2007 – Lexington, KY)
14. Steve Carlisle – WKRP In Cincinnati (1978 – Cincinnati, OH)
15. Randy Newman – Dayton, Ohio 1903 (1978 – Dayton, OH)
16. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson – We Almost Lost Detroit (1977 – Detroit, MI)
17. The Kane Gang – Motortown (1987 – Detroit, MI)
18. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – I Care About Detroit (1968 – Detroit, MI)
19. Simon & Garfunkel – America (1968 – Saginaw, MI)
20. Sufjan Stevens – Flint (For The Unemployed And Underpaid) (2003 – Flint, MI)
21. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Prison Song (1974 – Ann Arbor, MI)
22. Ian Hunter – Cleveland Rocks (1979 – Cleveland, OH)
23. The Pretenders – My City Was Gone (1982 – Akron, OH)

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Previously on American Road Trip

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Any Major Decade: Best of Saved!

April 13th, 2017 9 comments

Over the past years it has become a tradition to for me to post a mix of songs about the Christian faith in the week before Easter. Predictably, they tend to be the least popular of mixes, by number of downloads (those who DL them tend to give great feedback).

I don’t now know whether it is because the subject matter is of no interest to some people, or because readers think I’m going all-born Christian Rock on their sorry asses. If it’s a case of the former: it’s about the music, not about conversion! Some of the best music has been about religious faith, from Bach to Mary Lou Williams to the Carter Family. And if it’s a case of the latter, you might not have followed this blog carefully. The music on the SAVED! mixes is great.

Unlike a lot of Christian Rock, what we get when artists in popular music address religious themes is absolute authenticity. That is true for the gospel singers of the 1940s and 1950s, who were as sure influential on the rise of rock & roll, as a musical form, as was R&B and country. Take Sister Rosetta Tharpe or Brother Joe May out of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard, and you remove an essential ingredient in their music.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Take away gospel, and rock & roll is a different thing.

 

The same goes for soul. The soul singers who modelled themselves after Sam Cooke drew their inspiration not from the crossover crooning in the mould of Twisting The Night Away of You Send Me. They modelled themselves on Gospel Sam. And perhaps the terminology of gospel needs to be redefined, if by that term most people think of massed choirs in flowing robes.

We have no flowing robes here, though there is a place for that too. We have soul singers, though. There was a time when soul singers recorded songs about their faith as a matter of course. They did so, the sequencing of these songs on the LPs suggests, not as a calculated nod to the folks who like that kind of thing, but because it was naturally part of their lives.

Then you get the surprise performances. Nick Cave has sung a few songs of religious content; The Mercy Seat, so incredibly covered by Johnny Cash, is one such song. Here we have Cave singing almost hymn-like about Jesus Christ in a most unexpected way. Cave is not a religious man of the traditional sort, unlike Alison Krauss, who has the voice of an angel (in as far as I am competent to make such comparisons, given my absence of exposure to choirs of cloud-sitting, winged angels). Oh, but when she sings A Living Prayer, even the most hardened atheist must get an idea of what it must be like to be in the presence of God. The same goes for the wonderful Mindy Smith.

 

Angels, plotting their next massacre.

 

Talking of angels, in the 1942 Nazi propaganda film Die große Liebe (The Great Love), the big Swedish star Zarah Leander had a showstopper song called Ich weiß es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh’n (I know one day there will be a miracle), the video of which is HERE. The big production required a choir of angels, stacked together like a big cake. Trouble was, the producers could not get together a plausible cast of angels that could match Leander’s extraordinary height. So they turned to casting agency Stormtroopers, dressed up a group of elite SS soldiers in ways that the producers of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert would reject as being too camp, and stacked them up like a singing cake before they were let loose again in their day job of killing for the hell of it, using guns and, unlike their colleagues in occupied Poland, not poison gas. Sean Spicer, the SS of the media room, would approve. Read more about it HERE.

This mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R. Alas, the folder that contained the home-made covers was on an external (as opposed to eternal) harddrive that has suddenly died; so the devil was in the works…  PW in comments.

Happy Easter, and, if that is not your thing, Happy Chocolate Day.

1. Rance Allen Group – There’s Gonna Be A Showdown (1972)
2. The Relatives – Leave Something Worthwhile (1970s)
3. Honey Cone – Sunday Morning People (1971)
4. Soul Children – All Day Preachin’ (1972)
5. Elvis Presley – Run On (1967)
6. Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers – Wonderful (1959)
7. Brother Joe May – When The Lord Gets Ready (1959)
8. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – This Train (1943)
9. Marie Knight – What Could I Do (1947)
10. Spirit Of Memphis – Atomic Telephone (1952)
11. Lula Reed – Just Whisper (1954)
12. Deep River Boys – I’m Tramping (1946)
13. Carter Family – Can The Circle Be Unbroken (Bye And Bye) (1935)
14. Natalie Merchant with Karen Paris – When They Ring The Golden Bells (1998)
15. Wilco – Airline To Heaven (2005)
16. Tom Waits – Come Up To The House (1999)
17. Pops Staples – Hope In A Hopeless World (1994)
18. Steve Earle – God Is God (2011)
19. Mindy Smith – Come To Jesus (2004)
20. Alison Krauss – A Living Prayer (2004)
21. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Bless His Ever Loving Heart (2005)
22. The Chambers Brothers – Travel On My Way (1970)
23. The Glass House – Touch Me Jesus (1971)
24. Loleatta Holloway – H.E.L.P. M.E. M.Y. L.O.R.D. (1975)

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Previous SAVED! mixes
Saved! Vol. 1 (Elvis Presley, Carter Family, LaVern Baker, Marvin Gaye…)
Saved! Vol. 2: Soul edition (Curtis Mayfield, The Supremes, The Trammps,  Jerry Butler…)
Saved! Vol. 3 (Prefab Sprout,  Wilco, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Lyle Lovett…)
Saved! Vol. 4 (Sam Cooke, Dixie Hummingbirds, Dinah Washington, Jerry Lee Lewis…)
Saved! Vol. 5 (Donny Hathaway, Holmes Brothers,  Steve Earle, The Bar-Kays…)
Saved! Vol. 6: Angels edition (Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Rilo Kiley, Kris Kristofferson…)
Saved! Vol. 7: Soul edition (Earth, Wind & Fire, Billy Preston, Al Jarreau, Marlena Shaw, Al Green….)

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Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 2

April 6th, 2017 2 comments

The first Protest Soul mix, posted to coincide with the inauguration of Honest Donald in January, seems to have been quite popular. More than that, I hope it brought some kind of relief from the anguish of seeing that sphinctermouthed spluttermachine being heaved into the presidency — and seeing him wreaking his revenge on common decency without having received a clear mandate.

More should be made of this: Trump lost the popular vote, so his mandate is not unambiguous. He won the presidency legitimately, and therefore occupies his office and nominally exercises its authority legitimately — but his mandate is tainted by having been invested in him against the will of the people. So when he drains the swamp and fills it with sewerage, he is doing so without a clear mandate. The question, again and again and again, should be: “What mandate do you have to do what you do without a majority of the popular vote?” Trump has no answer to that; he knows his mandate is mandate is tainted. That’s why he lies about the supposed voter fraud. So say it loud and say it clear: “President Trump, on whose mandate are you acting?”

But this mix is not about Sphinctermouth. I’m posting it to coincide with the 49th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The songs here were released in a range of within a year of MLK’s murder to eight years after.

As with the first mix, this is collection of soul songs that make an appeal for social justice, for racial equality and harmony, for black consciousness, or for political activism — some deal with one or two of these issues, some with all of them. There is no party-line, and the sentiments of some songs may clash with those of others. Together, they reflect a conversation in the black politics of the time, even if not comprehensively so — the Black Panthers don’t have an equal voice. These mixes are good companion pieces to the Songs About The Ghetto Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 mixes.

Some of the artists here are well-known for having articulated voices in that conversation — Gil Scott-Heron, Curtis Mayfield, Staple Singers, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye (featuring here with a performance from 1973’s Save The Children concert) — but one who is not widely-known is Bama The Village Poet. Seek out his songs — one, the astonishing I Got Soul, featured on the Bernard Purdie Collection Vol. 1.

As far as I know, his 1972 Ghettoes Of The Mind album on Chess was his only release. It featured Purdie on drums, Richard Tee on keyboards, Gordon Edwards on bass and Cornell Dupree on guitar. All I know of him is that he was born as George McCord in Birmingham, Alabama (hence, I suspect, the name Bama). Bama’s incisive poetry deals with issues that remain relevant today, but even if one doesn’t dig the black consciousness vibe, the music is magnificent.

I’m adding a bonus track, a funky and much-sampled groove from 1973 by The Honey Drippers who are calling to “Impeach The President”. I’d love to see Trump impeached and, if there is justice, jailed for whatever huckster stuff it is that will get him impeached. But as a pragmatist, I’m not so sure that it is such as good idea. Mike Pence is pretty bad news in his own right. Impeach them both — and clear out the Democratic Party of their lobbyist-beholden, strategy-bereft, courage-eschewing, compromise-making, backbone-lacking deadwood so that the sewerage that holds control of the White House, Senate and Congress can be flushed out.

Fight the Power!

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-fist-raised covers. PW in comments. And feel free to comment, even Trump supporters who provided us with some good laughs in the comments to the last mix.

1. Eddie Floyd – People, Get It Together (1969)
2. Segments Of Time – Song To The System (1972)
3. Marlena Shaw – Woman Of The Ghetto (1969)
4. The Staple Singers – This Old Town (People In This Town) (1971)
5. Brothers Unlimited – A Change Is Gonna Come (1970)
6. The Four Tops – Right On Brother (1974)
7. Funkadelic – If You Don’t Like The Effects, Don’t Produce The Cause (1972)
8. Candi Staton – Clean Up America (1974)
9. Lyn Collins – People Make The World A Better Place (1975)
10. Change Of Pace – People (1971)
11. The Dells – Freedom Means (1971)
12. Bama The Village Poet – Welfare Slave (1972)
13. Lim Taylor – The World’s In A Bad Situation (1974)
14. Johnny Taylor – I Am Somebody (1970)
15. Brother To Brother – Hey, What’s That You Say (1974)
16. Gil Scott-Heron – Whitey On The Moon (1974)
17. Stevie Wonder – You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (1974)
18. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (live) (1973)
19. Curtis Mayfield – Miss Black America (1970)
20. Sounds Of The City Experience – Babylon (1976)
Bonus Track: The Honey Drippers – Impeach The President (1973)

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Any Major Soul: 1960s
Any Major Soul: 1970s
Covered With Soul
Mix CD-R

 

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In Memoriam – March 2017

April 4th, 2017 4 comments

The headline death of the month was, obviously, that of Chuck Berry, who died at the age of 90 years. I’ve had my say on his musical legacy in the Any Major Chuck Berry Covers post. I could write about how Berry’s character was on the side of those you’d be best advised to avoid. One could have long discussion about the point at which one ceases to separate a man’s dark personality from his musical genius — is Chuck Berry a better man than, say, Gary Glitter? But let’s leave all that with just one observation: To celebrate an artist’s music and its impact must not mean that we lionise a deeply flawed man.

I felt one other death this month more than that of Berry’s. If I was to reduce the production style of Tommy LiPuma to one word, it would be “warmth”. Or, as in the title of an Al Jarreau album he produced, “glow”. There is such enormous intimacy in the recordings LiPuma produced for acts like George Benson, Michael Franks, Randy Crawford and Jarreau. It found perfect expression in that spectacular a-side of the 1982 Casino Lights album, of Jarreau and Crawford singing four cover songs live at the Montreaux festival. I post songs from it at every opportunity, as I did last month to mark Jarreau’s death (in fact, the first three of the songs posted in tribute to the singer were LiPuma productions). Before all that, in the 1960s, LiPuma produced on A&M records, including The Sandpipers’ megahit Guantanamera and records for the likes of Claudine Longet and Chris Montez. In 1968 he founded a record company, Blue Thump, which would have on its roster such acts as Hugh Masekela, Ike & Tina Turner, The Crusaders, The Pointer Sisters, Phil Upchurch, Gerry Rafferty, Dave Mason and Gabor Szabo.

As a freelancer he produced the soundtrack for Barbra Streisand’s The Way We Were, including the title song, and soon after signed on as staff producer for Warner Bros. He won his first Grammy for George Benson’s version of This Masquerade, from the Breezin’ album, the title track of which he had first produced with Gabor Szabo and Bobby Womack. In 1977 he became Warner’s vice-president for jazz and progressive music. He produced almost everything by Benson (other than the Quincy Jones-produced Give Me The Night), most of Randy Crawford’s and Al Jarreau’s output. Others he produced in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s included Michael Franks, Brenda Russell, Anita Baker, Peabo Bryson, Patti Austin, Joe Sample, David Sanborn, Bob James, Miles Davis, Earl Klugh, Yellowjackets, Deodato, Larsen-Feiten Band (including Who’ll Be The Fool Tonight), Randy Newman, Rubén Blades, Stephen Bishop, and Dr. John, as well as tracks for British bands Aztec Camera and Everything But The Girl. Later, working for GPR/Verve, he nurtured the career of Diane Krall while also producing for Natalie Cole, Michael Bublé, Queen Latifah, Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney, Gladys Knight and, again, Streisand.

Of the four Sledge sisters, youngest Kathy stood out as the most charismatic, and Debbie as the most distinctive-looking. Joni Sledge, the first of the four to pass away, turned out to be the creative one: she earned a Grammy nomination for her production of the band’s 1997 album African Eyes. With Kathy leaving in 1989 and Kim, an ordained minister, dropping in and out, Joni and Debbie were the only constant members of Sister Sledge, who started their career in 1971. They first earned international notice in the mid-1970s, and exploded huge in the disco era with Nile Rodgers-produced hits like We Are Family, The Greatest Dancer and, best of them, Thinking Of You.

You may have heard the voice of Valerie Carter, who has died at 64, backing up acts like James Taylor, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt, Christopher Cross, Little Feat, Nicolette Larsson, Kenny Loggins, Jackson Browne, Aaron Neville, Outlaws, Rod Stewart, Diana Ross, Lyle Lovett or Shawn Colvin. You might have heard her compositions for Judy Collins, Jackson Browne, Brothers Johnson or Earth, Wind & Fire. Or you might have heard songs from her albums with Howdy Moon or her three solo studio and one live albums. A couple of times she also featured in the Not Feeling Guilty series.

Few songs give me as much joy to croon along to as The Foundations’ Baby Now That I’ve Found You, the vocalist of which, Clem Curtis, has died. Born in Trinidad, Curtis came to London and followed an usual career path: from interior designer to boxer to singer in a mixed-race soul group. He sang on one of the band’s two big hit; by the time The Foundations had a hit with Build Me Up Buttercup, Curtis had left the band because of frustration with what he saw as lax commitment by his bandmates. He went to the US to play on the club circuit, and with the Righteous Brothers in Vegas. Despite good reviews the move didn’t work out and he returned to Britain to relaunch The Foundations.

Last month we lost the jazz musician and producer David Axelrod; this month we lost the trumpeter on many of the records made and produced by Axelrod, Tony Terran. But Terran’s career preceded those collaborations. Just 20 years old, he joined Desi Arnaz’s band in 1946, and was the last surviving member of the incarnation that featured on the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. Later Terran was sought after as a session man on many jazz and big band records, and was also a member of the Wrecking Crew, the informal band of LA session musicians that played on countless pop classics in the 1960s and ‘70s. He backed he likes of Sam Cooke, Elvis (on Fun In Acapulco), Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, The Monkees, Bob Dylan (on Self-Portrait), Neil Diamond (on Jonathan Livingston Seagull), Bonnie Raitt, Maxine Weldon, The Sandpipers, PJ Proby, Four Tops, Fifth Dimension, Randy Newman, Tina Turner, Nilsson, Tim Buckley, Tom Waits, Linda Ronstadt, Madonna and many others. He was also present on many TV and film scores and themes including, on TV, The Brady Bunch, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart, Happy Days, The Carol Burnett Show, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Cheers, L.A. Law, The Simpsons, and on film the first three Rocky The Karate Kid movies, Dirty Harry, All the President’s Men, Saturday Night Fever, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Grease, The Right Stuff, An Officer and a Gentleman, Ghostbusters and Field of Dreams.

One moment you’re the bass player on some of pop’s greatest hits; the next you change track to be a ukelele player with special emphasis on Hawaiian music. That’s how it went with Lyle Ritz. Another Wrecking Crew alumni, like Tony Terran he played on many of the hits produced by Phil Spector, for the Beach Boys (including most of Pet Sounds), Sonny & Cher, The Monkees, Ray Charles, Herb Alpert, Randy Newman (who worked with at least three of this month’s dead), Linda Ronstadt, Nilsson, Warren Zevon, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and others. He also played bass on the theme tunes for Kojak, The Rockford Files and Name That Tune. Then he chucked all that in to return to his first love: the ukulele. Before becoming a legendary bass player, he had recorded some ukulele jazz albums on Verve. And the ukulele Steve Martin plays in 1979’s The Jerk? That was Ritz. But he went full-ukelele jacket in 1984. In 2007 he was inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has lost his quasi-father-in-law with the death of ex-Boston drummer Sib Hashian, who died at 67 while performing on a cruise ship (Johnson’s partner is Sib’s daughter, the musician Lauren Hashian). Sib played on the first two Boston albums, having replaced Jim Masdea, for whom he had to clear his stool in 1986 during the recording of Third Stage. Apparently Epic Records had forced Masdea’s departure after he had played on the demos for the first album, on which Hashian played the arrangement of the man he had replaced, including that of More Than A Feeling. I’ve been unable to confirm whether it was Hashian or Masdea playing on 1986’s Amanda, which was first laid down in 1980.Currently running on TV is a pretty decent drama series on the early days of Sun Records. Alas it makes no reference to blues singer and harmonica player James Cotton, who as a teenager cut a couple of records with Sam Philips’ label (I think it’s the great blues guitarist Pat Hare playing the solo on the featured song). Before that he had been backing Howlin’ Wolf on harmonica; later he did the same for other blues legends such as Muddy Waters (including his legendary 1977 album Hard Again), Little Walter, Otis Spann, Big Mama Thornton and Koko Taylor (let’s not mention his bills-paying gig with Steven Seagal). He also recorded for rock acts such as the Steve Miller Band and Johnny Winters, and toured with Janis Joplin. And all the while he kept releasing his own records, solo or as part of the James Cotton Blues Band. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2006.

Japanese musicians who enjoy international success tend to come from the world of jazz, but briefly in the 1960s, beat group The Spiders gained enough attention to merit tours of Europe and the USA. In Japan they were massive, having a string of hit singles in the 1960s and early ‘70s, and following in the footsteps of The Beatles by appearing in films. Founder, singer and guitarist Hiroshi ‘Monsieur’ Kamayatsu died on the first day of the month at 78 from pancreatic cancer.

As John Lennon’s childhood friend and bandmate in The Quarrymen, Pete Shotton remained on The Beatles scene, occasionally adding moments that have become part of pop history. One might wonder whether the other Quarrymen — Lennon’s group which McCartney would join — ever thought about what might have been had Lennon stuck with them to form The Beatles. Not Shotton, the washboard player who had his instrument smashed over his head by Lennon when he announced that he didn’t want to play music anymore. As part of the broader Beatles encourage, Shotton ended up working for Apple but left when Yoko arrived on the scene. He went on to become a successful businessman, starting the Fatty Arbuckle’s chain of restaurants in Britain.

It’s not normal to feature photographers in this music In Memoriam, but Don Hunstein merits an exception, alone for his photographs of Bob Dylan with his then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo that became immortal on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Hunstein had joined Columbia Records as in-house photographer in 1955 and stayed with the label until 1986, which have him access to many jazz, rock and soul legends, for cover shoots and candid shots of greats such as Johnny Cash, Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis (including the cover of his Nefertiti album), Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, Theolonius Monk, Tony Bennett, Glenn Gould, Aretha Franklin, Simon & Garfunkel, Loretta Lynn, Janis Joplin, Billy Joel and Stevie Ray Vaughan working on their craft. He became so friendly with his subjects that some invited him to spend time with them privately. One of them was Dylan: the photos of Bob and Suze were more spontaneous observations rather than carefully planned staged shoots. See some of Hunstein’s photos at www.donhunstein.com

Ric Marlow, 91, songwriter and actor, on Feb. 28
Billy Dee Williams – A Taste Of Honey (1960, as co-writer)
Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – A Taste Of Honey (1965, as co-writer)

Leone di Lernia, 78, Italian singer, composer and radio personality, on Feb. 28

Hiroshi ‘Monsieur’ Kamayatsu, 78, singer-guitarist for Japanese rock band The Spiders, on March 1
The Spiders – Kaze Ga Naiteriru (1967)

Wally Pikal, 90, one-man vaudeville musician, on March 1

Lyle Ritz, 87, bassist and ukulelist, on March 3
Beach Boys – Caroline No (1966, on ukulele)
Harry Nilsson – Without Her (1967, on bass)
Lyle Ritz – I’m Old Fashioned (2006)

Misha Mengelberg, 81, Dutch jazz pianist, composer, on March 3

Tommy Page, 46, singer-songwriter, record label executive, on March 3
Tommy Page – I’ll Be Your Everything (1990)

Valerie Carter, 64, singer-songwriter, on March 4
Little Feat – Long Distance Love (1975, on backing vocals)
Valerie Carter – Ooh Child (1977)
Earth, Wind & Fire – Turn It Into Something Good (1980, as writer)

Edi Fitzroy, 62, Jamaican reggae singer, on March 4
Edi Fitzroy – Princess Black (1982)

Lars Diedricson, 55, Swedish singer-songwriter, on March 6
Take Me To Your Heaven – Charlotte Nilsson (1999, as co-writer; winner of Eurovision 1999)

Robbie Hoddinott, 62, guitarist of country-rock band Kingfish, on March 6
Kingfish – Feels So Good (1978)

Dave Valentin, 64, Puerto Rican jazz flautist, on March 8
Lee Ritenour – Etude (1978, on flute with Ray Beckenstein & Eddie Daniels)
Dave Valentin – I Want To Be Where You Are (1978)

Tony Lorenzo, 30, guitarist with death metal band Sons of Azrael, on March 9

Joni Sledge, 60, singer with Sister Sledge, on March 10
Sister Sledge – Love Don’t You Go Through No Changes On Me (1974)
Sister Sledge – Thinking Of You (1979)
Sister Sledge – Walking In The Light (1997, also as producer)

Don Warden, 87, country steel guitarist, manager of Dolly Parton, on March 11
Moe Bandy – Here I Am, I’m Drunk Again (1976, as co-writer)

Evan Johns, 60, singer-guitarist of H-Bombs, LeRoi Brothers, on March 11
LeRoi Brothers – Ballad Of LeRoi Brothers (1986)

Robert ‘P-Nut’ Johnson, 70, singer with Paliament-Funkadelic, on March 12
Bootsy’s Rubber Band – The Pinocchio Theory (1977, on tenor/falsetto vocals)

Joey Alves, 63, lead guitarist of hard rock band Y&T, on March 12
Y&T – Lipstick And Leather (1984)

John Lever, 55, drummer of British rock band The Chameleons, on March 13
The Chameleons – Singing Rule Britannia (While The Walls Close In) (1985)

Maxx Kidd, 75, pioneering go-go singer and producer, on March 13

Tommy LiPuma, 80, legendary record producer, on March 13
Claudine Longet – Walk In The Park (1968; as producer and as “Harold”)
George Benson – This Masquerade (1976, as producer)
Al Jarreau & Randy Crawford – Who’s Right, Who’s Wrong (1982, as producer)
Bob James & David Sanborn – Maputo (1986, as producer)
Aztec Camera – How Men Are (1988)

Phil Garland, 75, New Zealand folk musician, on March 14

James Cotton, 81, blues singer, harmonica player, on March 15
James Cotton – My Baby (1954)
Muddy Waters – The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll (1977, on harp)
James Cotton feat. Ruthie Foster – Wrapped Around My Heart (2013)

Chuck Berry, 90, rock ‘n’ roll legend, on March 18
Chuck Berry – Maybellene (1955)
Chuck Berry – Brown Eyed Handsome Man (1956)
Chuck Berry – Come On (1963)
Chuck Berry – Night Beat (1965)

Don Hunstein, 88, photographer, on March 18

Tony Terran, 90, trumpeter and session musician, on March 20
Sam Cooke – Shake (1965)
Tony Terran – Over The Rainbow (1968)
Tony Terran – Theme of ‘The Magician’ (1973, on piccolo trumpet)

Roy Fisher, 86, English poet and jazz pianist, on March 21

Chuck Barris, 87, TV personality and songwriter, on March 21
Freddy Cannon – Palisades Park (1962, as writer)

Sib Hashian, 67, drummer of rock band Boston, on March 22
Boston – More Than A Feeling (1976)
Boston – Feelin’ Satisfied (1978)

Sven-Erik Magnusson, 74, singer of Swedish danc e band Sven-Ingvars, on March 22

Peter Shotton, 75, washboardist with The Quarrymen, on March 22
The Quarrymen – That’ll Be The Day (1958)

Vincent Falcone, 79, pianist, conductor (also for Frank Sinatra), on March 24

Avo Uvezian, 91, Lebanese-born jazz pianist, on March 24
Avo Uvezian – Armenia (2004)

Jimmy Dotson, 82, blues musician, on March 26

Alessandro Alessandroni, 92, Italian composer, conductor and guitarist, on March 26
Ennio Morricone – For A Few Dollars More (1965, on guitar, whistling, conductor of chorus)

Clem Curtis, 76, Trinidadian-born singer of British soul group The Foundations, on March 27
The Foundations – Baby, Now That I’ve Found You (1967, on lead vocals)
Clem Curtis – Point Of No Return (1972)

Edward Grimes, 43, drummer of rock groups Rachel’s, Shipping News, on March 27

Arthur Blythe, 76, jazz saxophonist and composer, on March 27
Arthur Blythe – Caravan (1978)

Aldo Guibovich, 64, singer with Peruvian Latin pop band Los Pasteles Verdes, on March 28
Los Pasteles Verdes – Fumando Espero (1973)

Terry Fischer Siegel , 70, pop and jazz singer, on March 28
The Murmaids – Popsicles And Icicle (1963)

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Any Major Decade: Favourites Vol. 2

March 30th, 2017 12 comments

 

Thank you, all you lovely people, for your kind comments on the first Any Major Decade mix, which marked this site’s 10th birthday. It was so good to read how this site has made a difference to a number of people— some in ways that are incidental, a few more profoundly.

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One bit of feedback that I treasure precedes that post by quite a while. Regular commenter Johnny Diego reported back to me that he had made CDs the mixes of the Germany’s Hitparade 1930-37 and Germany’s Hitparade 1938-45 to surprise his aged German mother, who came to the US in 1949, with these compilations of songs from her young days. She received these waves of nostalgia with tears — of joy and, I’m sure, also of memories. Johnny’s feedback, and his words of appreciation, touched me deeply as well.

I must say, I think the posts that came with those mixes — the extensive linernotes, so to speak — are among the best I have produced.

I was pleased to learn from the more recent comments that there are people who appreciate the CD-R length of the mixes and that some actually print out the covers. I play these mixes off my smartphone, so I have no use for the covers. I make them for the fun of it, in the hope that one or the other reader has use for them. So knowing that they are being used is great.

I will post more of these Any Major Decade mixes over the next few months. The songs included in the first two come from what I have selected as my Top 40 Any Major Mixes; thereafter I’ll compile them more randomly, as the mood grabs me.

Thank you all for sticking around. And please keep the comments coming.

This mix is, as always, timed to fit on a standard CD-R. I’ve not made covers for it. PW in comments.

1. The Chi-Lites – Give More Power To The People (1970)
Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 1
2. Honey Cone – Stick-Up (1971)
Any Major Soul 1970/71
3. Young Rascals – Groovin’ (1967)
Any Major Summer Vol. 1
4. The Byrds – All I Really Want To Do (1065)
Any Major Dylan Covers Vol. 2
5. Peggy Lipton – Red Clay Country Line (1969)
Any Major Jimmy Webb Collection Vol. 2
6. Richie Havens – Handsome Johnny (1967)
Songs About Vietnam Vol. 1
7. Big Star – Watch The Sunrise (1972)
Any Major Morning Vol. 2
8. Steve Earle – N.Y.C. (1997)
Any Major Road Vol. 2
9. Counting Crows – Richard Manuel Is Dead (live, 2006)
Any Major American Road Trip – Stage 4 (California)
10. Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar (2010)
Any Major TV Themes Vol. 2
11. Marlena Shaw – So Far Away (1972)
Covered With Tapestry
12. Carolyn Franklin – Soul Man (1976)
Saved Vol. 2
13. Kenny Loggins – Heart To Heart (1982)
Not Feeling Guilty Vol. 3
14. Little River Band – Home On Monday (1977)
Any Major Telephone Vol. 1
15. Kris Kristofferson – Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again) (1971)
Any Major Flute Vol. 3
16. Deb Talan – Cherry Trees (2001)
Any Major Love Vol. 1
17. Ben Folds – Gracie (2004)
Any Major Fathers Vol. 1
18. Bobby Darin – Sunday In New York (1964)
NYC – Any Major Mix Vol. 1
19. Mel Tormé – All Of You (1956)
Any Major Cole Porter
20. Edith Piaf – Notre-Dame de Paris (1952)
Any Major Paris in Black & White

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Any Major Chuck Berry Covers

March 23rd, 2017 26 comments

Rock ‘n’ roll was invented when Marty McFly’s 1980s guitar solo of Johnny B Goode compels Marvin Berry to phone his cousin Chuck for inspiration for the new sound the latter was seeking. The obituaries for Chuck Berry noted his huge contribution to the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. Along with Ike Turner — another nasty individual who, like Berry, is best remembered only for his music — Chuck Berry is often cited as Exhibit A in the claim that rock ‘n’ roll is the white man having stolen the music of the black man.

The argument has merit in some ways — the many hit cover versions by white artists of tracks first recorded by black artists or the exploitation of black musicians by record companies in the ’50s being cases in point. But it doesn’t hold true for the development of rock ‘n’ roll as a musical genre, which from the start was subject to a broad sweep of influences and served as a broad church of musical styles.

And that finds concrete expression in Chuck Berry’s debut hit Maybelline, the record some regard as the birth of rock ‘n’ roll as a thing. And in a way it was: Maybelline was the first rock ‘n’ roll record performed by a black musician to break into the Billboard Top 10. Berry himself said that he had based Maybellene on country legend Bob Wills’ vocal version of the traditional fiddle number Ida Red, recorded in 1938. The foundation of Maybelline was country, but the building was rhythm and blues. In varying formulas, that was the architecture of rock ‘n’ roll. Of course, Wills’ Western Swing sound was itself a fusion — the white music we now call country incorporating black musical forms — which led Wills to claim that he did rock ‘n’ roll two decades before anyone, but that’s another story.

The idea that rock ‘n’ roll started as a “big bang”, ascribable to individuals, or a select groups of individuals, or even a particular point in time, is absurd. The genre, which itself is so diffuse, was the result of a relatively slow evolution. Music that sounded like rock ‘n’ roll was already made more than a decade before Maybelline or Rocket 88. Just listen to Buddy Jones’ Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama from 1939 on A History of Country Vol. 3: Pre-war years – 1937-41.

My proposition is that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t so much a musical genre than a social movement. And for that a series of big, small and tiny bangs were needed. Chuck Berry being the first black R&B musician to cross over into the Billboard charts was one such seismic moment. Rock Around The Clock and The Blackboard Jungle, Tutti Frutti, Elvis on Ed Sullivan, perhaps even the death of James Dean were others.

Chuck Berry, influencing some white kid in England…or Hill Valley.

So Chuck Berry of course does occupy a central place in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. And other than Elvis, a good case can be made that Berry most influenced the post-war kids who would lead the British invasion in the 1960s — though he was by no means the only one, so the equation that without Berry there’d have been no Beatles or Stones is poor arithmetic.

Unlike Elvis, Berry wrote his own songs, and this is the subject of this mix: 26 covers of tracks written by Chuck Berry between 1954 and 1970 (the mix is a result of me taking the bait from regular reader and radio presenter Martin). What is striking is how few black artists covered Chuck Berry. On this mix I count three. Three other shortlisted covers by black artists — Wilson Picket, Robert Cray and Aaron Neville — didn’t make the cut. Similarly, very few women covered Berry (which the old misogynist might have been pleased about). Which raises the question: Is Chuck Berry music the soundtrack of white maleness? Answers on a postcard, please.

Of my joint-favourite Berry songs, one is covered as one would expect it and as it has to be by the Beach Boys. The other, however, sounds nothing like the original. Taj Mahal does interesting things to Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, though I still prefer the original. I never had much of an opinion either way of Too Much Monkey Business, but Leon Russell’s version here is exquisite — one of the few instances where the cover of a Chuck Berry song is much better than the original.

My choice for the cover of Memphis, Tennessee was obvious — even if I still like Johnny Rivers’ take the best — and there was only ever one choice for Rock And Roll Music. I expect that here and there somebody will regret that I left out some song or other (I’m adding on four bonus tracks that very narrowly didn’t make it on to the CD-R), but one song that I was not going to leave out was the b-side for Maybelline, covered here by Trini Lopez — on the title of which Chuck is declaring his future intent.

Alas, I found no suitable cover of a Chuck Berry song by his lyrical heir, Bruce Springsteen. But I can recommend that, if you are Springsteen fan, you join in the fun with the crowd in Leipzig, Germany, in 2013 on You Can Never Tell, the Berry song that seems to have been written for Springsteen and his E Street Band.

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

1. Electric Light Orchestra – Roll Over Beethoven (1972)
2. The Beatles – Rock And Roll Music (1964)
3. The Rolling Stones – Come On (1963)
4. Elvis Presley – Memphis, Tennessee (1963)
5. Trini Lopez – Wee Wee Hours (1965)
6. Marty Robbins – Maybelline (1955)
7. Ernest Tubb – Thirty Days (To Come Back Home) (1955)
8. Linda Ronstadt – Back In The USA (1978)
9. Emmylou Harris – (You Can Never Tell) C’est La Vie (1977)
10. George Thorogood & The Destroyers – You Can’t Catch Me (1988)
11. Dave Edmunds – Dear Dad (1982)
12. The Animals – Around And Around (1964)
13. The Troggs – The Jaguar And The Thunderbird (1966)
14. The Beach Boys – School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell) (1980)
15. Slade – I’m A Rocker (1981)
16. Status Quo – Carol (1981)
17. Rod Stewart – Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller (1974)
18. David Bowie – Almost Grown (1972)
19. Juicy Lucy – Nadine (1969)
20. Humble Pie – No Money Down (1974)
21. Taj Mahal – Brown-Eyed Handsome Man (1975)
22. Leon Russell – Too Much Monkey Business (1992)
23. Dr. Feelgood – I’m Talking About You (1976)
24. Luther Johnson – Little Queenie (1975)
25. Jimi Hendrix – Johnny B. Goode (1970)
26. Redwing – Bye Bye Johnny (1972)
Bonus Tracks: Conway Twitty – Reelin’ And A Rockin’ (1961)
Ray Manzarek – Downbound Train (1974)
Carlos Santana – Havana Moon (1983)
Levon Helm – Back To Memphis (2011)

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