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The Originals Vol. 1

August 28th, 2008 11 comments

Inspired by a propitious confluence of a long discussion about cover versions we didn’t know where covers and a generous correspondent whom we’ll know as RH e-mailing me a bunch of rare originals of better known covers, we are now at the cusp of what will be a longish series. Any Major Notebook now includes two pages worth of almost 100 shortlisted songs that in their original form are lesser known than later versions. In some cases that reputation is entirely subjective. There will be people who think that the version of Lady Marmalade perpetrated by Christina Aguilera and pals was the original. But people of my generation will long have been familiar with LaBelle’s 1970s recording. Until a day ago, I thought that was the original, but RH has disabused me of my error. The real original of Lady Marmalade will feature later in this series. In a very few cases, I will not present the original, but the earliest version available (I will note these instances accordingly). And we’ll kick-off with a heavy-duty dose of 10 originals. Tell me which songs you were surprised to learn are in fact covers, and let me know whether you prefer the originals or later versions.

(All original songs re-uploaded on March 31, 2009)

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Leon Russell – This Masquerade.mp3
Carpenters – This Masquerade.mp3
It makes sense to start this series with the Carpenters, who made it a virtue of picking up relatively obscure songs, and re-arrange and appropriate them. Think of (They Long To Be) Close To You, which despite legions of competing covers has become the Carpenters’ signature song as much as Richard’s arrangement has become the best-known, indeed primary incarnation of that song. For another good example of Richard’s rearrangement genius, take This Masquerade. Covered only a year after it originally appeared on Leon Russell’s 1972 Carney album, it becomes quite a different animal in the Carpenters’ shop, doing away with the long movie-theme style intro. Oddly, both Russell and the Carpenters’ used the song on b-sides of inferior singles. George Benson’s 1976 Grammy-winning version from the Breezin’ album is also worth noting.
Also covered by: Carl Tjader, Sergio Mendez, Helen Reddy, Shirley Bassey, No Mercy, CoCo Lee, Nils Landgren a.o.
Best version: The Carpenters’s version has a flute and Karen’s voice, beating Benson into second place.

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Randy & the Rainbows – Denise.mp3
Blondie – Denis.mp3
Here’s one I didn’t know until a few days ago: Blondie’s 1977 burst of pop-punk was in fact a cover of a 1963 hit. For Randy & the Rainbows, Denise represented a brief flirtation with stardom. It 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. For Blondie, on the other hand, Denis was something of a break-through song, at least in Europe. The French verse in Denis was necessary to explain away the object of desire’s gender-change. Thanks to my friend John C for the original version.
Also covered by: nobody worth mentioning
Best version: The original is very nice indeed, but Blondie’s cover is just perfect pop.

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Bing Crosby – Try A Little Tenderness.mp3
Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness.mp3
My kind friend RH, who helped inspire this series, has made me aware of many originals that have surprised me. It was not news to me, however, that Try A Little Tenderness was in fact an old 1930s standard, when RV sent me this Bing Crosby version. And yet, of the many songs I have received from RH, I was particularly delighted with this one, because among its crooned renditions I had heard only versions by Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. It needn’t be pointed out that once Otis was through with the song, with the help of Booker T & the MGs and a production team that included Isaac Hayes, it bore only the vaguest semblance to the smooth and safe standard it once was. Redding didn’t want to record it, ostensibly because he did not want to compete with his hero Sam Cooke’s brief interpretation of the song on the Live At The Copa set. Incredibly Otis’ now iconic delivery was actually intended to screw the song up so much that it could not be released. Bing’s 1932 version is actually not the original, but the song’s first cover version following the Ray Noble Orchestra’s recording.
Also covered by: Mel Tormé, Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra, Jack Webb, Frankie Lane, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Nancy Wilson, Percy Sledge, Nina Simone, Three Dog Night, Etta James, Al Jarreau, Rod Stewart, The Commitments, Michael Fucking Bolton, Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner, Diane Schuur & BB King, Von Bondies, Michael Bublé a.o.
Best version: Otis.

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The Arrows – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.mp3
Joan Jett – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.mp3
The Arrows were a short-lived English band on the RAK label, which also gave us the likes of Smokie, Hot Chocolate and Racey, and so were produced by the semi-genius of ’70s pop, Mickey Most. After two hits – though not this song – and starring in a couple of brief TV series on British TV, they disappeared. Joan Jett also seemed to disappear after the break-up of The Runaways in the late ’70s, suddenly reappearing with the largely obscure I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which she had previously recorded with members of the Sex Pistols. Apparently Jett had known the song since 1976 when, while on tour with the Runaways, she saw the Arrows performing it on TV. Jett had another hit with another cover version, and that was her solo career over. The song found a new generation of admirers in 2001 with Britney Spears’ redundant cover.
Also covered by: Allan Merrill, Hayseed Dixie, Queens of Japan (no, me neither)
Best version: Jett gives it beery attitude.

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Everly Brothers – Crying In The Rain.mp3
Cotton, Lloyd & Christian – Crying In The Rain.mp3
A-ha – Crying In The Rain.mp3

Before she was all dreamy and barefooted hippie cat lover, Carole King was a songwriter in the legendary Brill Building. One of the many hits she churned out was Crying In The Rain, with which the Everly Brothers scored a top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1961. It was periodically revived on the country circuit, but is best known to many as the A-ha hit from 1990 – and the many would include me. In between, it was recorded in 1976 by an obscure outfit called Cotton, Lloyd & Christian. I have no idea how their version landed up in my collection, but here it is, serving as a missing link between the versions by the Everly Bothers and A-ha.
Also covered by: Sweet Inspirations, Crystal Gayle, Tammy Wynette, Don Williams a.o.
Best version: A-ha, by a whisker

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Liza Minnelli – New York, New York.mp3
Frank Sinatra – New York New York.mp3
The Theme from New York, New York has so much become a Sinatra cliché, it is often forgotten that it came from a rather long and boring Scoresese film with Minnelli and Robert de Niro. In the film, Minelli’s version is a source of some melancholy viewing; Sinatra’s 1979 take, recorded two years after the film, gets parties going with the hackneyed high-kicks and provides any old drunk with an alternative to My Way on karaoke night. If proof was needed that Sinatra trumps Lucille 2, consider that the NY Yankees used to play the Sinatra version after winning, and Minnelli’s after a defeat. Minnelli objected to that, understandably, and gave the Yankees an ultimatum: “Play me also when you win, or not at all.” Now Sinatra gets played even when they lose.
Also covered by: Michael Fucking Bolton (imagine that!), Reel Big Fish, Cat Power a.o.
Best version: Frank’s version is A-Number One

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Four Seasons – Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye).mp3
Bay City Rollers – Bye Bye Baby.mp3
The Four Seasons will be occasional visitors in this series. At least those people who grew up in the 1970s will be more familiar with cover versions than the Four Seasons originals. Bye Bye Baby was written by band member Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe, making it to #12 in the US charts. A decade later the Bay City Rollers scored their biggest hit with their decent but inferior version. The story goes that the Bay City Rollers were oblivious of the Four Seasons orginal, choosing it because Stuart “Woody” Wood had the 1967 cover by the Symbols. I have no idea what the Symbols did with the song, but the BCR arrangement certainly owes nothing to the more sparse original.
Also covered by: Apart from the Symbols also by something called the Popguns
Best version: Always the Four Seasons

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Fleetwood Mac – Black Magic Woman.mp3
Santana – Back Magic Woman.mp3
From Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 debut album, 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 and clearly drug-induced vibe, but changed the arrangement significantly with a shot of Latin and hint of fusion, and borrowing from jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo’s Gypsy Queen. It became one of Santana’s signature tunes, while Fleetwood Mac had to remind audiences that the song was actually theirs. The vocals on the Santana version are by Greg Rolie, who later co-founded Journey. And the who is this Black Magic Woman? According to legend, it was a BMW of that colour which the non-materialist Green fancied.
Also covered by: Dennis Brown, Mina, the Go Getters
Best version: Santana’s, especially for the use of the congas

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Scott English – Brandy.mp3
Barry Manilow – Mandy.mp3
Although he is a talented songwriter, Barry Manilow is a bit like the Carpenters: he appropriated other people’s songs by force of arrangement (and, obviously, commercial success) – including a Carpenters song, which will feature in this series. 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 relucantly, not yet sure about singing other people’s music. He slowed it down, gave it a lush arrangement, and we know how it ended. Quite hilariously, Manilow is not popuar among some people in New Zealand who think that he stole the song from a local singer called Bunny Walters, who had a hit with Brandy in his home country while the actual songwriter’s version failed to dent the charts there.
Also covered by: Johnny Mathis, Starsound Orchestra, Helmut Lotti (urgh!), Westlife
Best version: Mandy trumps Brandy.

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Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.mp3
Roberta Flack – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.mp3
The first time ever you heard this song probably was by Roberta Flack, whose performance on her 1969 debut album was barely noticed until it was included in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film Play Misty For Me. Those who dig deeper will know that it was in fact written in the 1950s by folk legend Ewan MacColl, for Peggy Seeger with whom he was having an affair and who would become his third wife. For MacColl, the political troubadour, the song is a radical departure, supporting the notion that he didn’t just write it for inclusion in Peggy’s repertoire. Followers of the ’60s folk scene might have known the song before they heard the Flack version; it was a staple of the genre. The Kingston Trio even cleaned up the lyrics, changing the line “The first time ever I lay with you…” to “…held you near”. After the success of Flack’s intense, tender, sensual, touching and definitive version – which captures the experience of being with somebody you love better than any other song – there was an explosion of covers, with Elvis Presley’s bombastic version especially infuriating MacColl, who compared it to Romeo singing up at Juliet on the Post Office tower. It does seem that he did not take kindly to the intimacy of his song being spread widely and, indeed, corrupted. And Peggy Seeger never sang the song again after Ewan’s death
Also covered by: Smothers Brothers, Peter Paul & Mary, Harry Belafonte, Marianne Faithfull, Bert Jansch, Gordon Lightfoot, Shirley Bassey, Vicky Carr, Andy Williams, Engelbert Humperdinck, Johnny Mathis, The Temptations, Isaac Hayes, Timmy Thomas, The Chi-Lites, Mel Tormé, Barbara Dickson, Alsion Moyet, Aaron Neville, Julian Lloyd Webber, Lauryn Hill, Celine Dion, George Michael, Christy Moore, Stereophonics, Johnny Cash, Vanessa Williams, Leona Lewis a.o.
Best version: I’m waiting for Michael Fucking Bolton to do his version before I commit myself…
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McCain's double agent

August 26th, 2008 4 comments

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Pop and politics have a long tradition of mixing, but the relationship is not always a happy one. John Lennon’s hymn to hypocrisy stands as a totem for every song with a political or social message that would have been better served by banal lyrics about the whims of love found and lost. Of course, there are songs that did manage to capture the Zeitgeist: Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth springs to mind, or, more recently, Bright Eyes’ When The President Talks To God. On the other hand, musicians dabbling in politics can be embarrassing, even in the hands of the veterans. Even the poet laureate of black resistance, Gil Scott-Heron, exposed a lapse of wit when he referred to Ronald Reagan as “Ray-Gun” (do you see what he did there?).

Valid questions may be asked about the efforts by Bob Geldof and Bono to heal the world and make it a better place for you and for me and the entire human race (there are people dying!). It can be said that they conscientise people who otherwise might be indifferent to African famines or international debt, which is commendable. But what is accomplished by these self-important bozos, with their trademark wild hair and blue shades, in the corridors of power? Since when do kings beckon the counsel of their court jesters? The truth is, George W Bush enjoys being felated by Geldof in Time magazine, and he imagines that posing with Bono gives him some sort of street cred.

In general, it is preferable that pop stars just shut up about politics, unless their gig is political or they know how to steer clear from sanctimony. Which would have been good advice for the ghastly Madonna, whom I might suspect of being a double agent for John McCain if it wasn’t so apparent that she is just another narcissistic moron. At a recent live concert she treated her audience to a PowerPoint presentation depicting John McCain alongside Robert Mugabe and, but of course, Adolf Hitler. And another sequence ranked Barack Obama alongside the Mahatma Gandhi, Al Gore and (please excuse me while puke) John Lennon.

The mad prune thought she was doing Obama a favour? Did she phone Obama first? “Yo, Barack me old mucker, Madge ’ere. Listen, mate, I want to do something for you, innit? What can I do, pip pip old chum what?” Chances are that Barack would not have asked to be compared to Al Gore – who in 2000 failed to beat the pair that does warrant depiction alongside Mugabe and even Hitler – even less so to Lennon. And he would have pointed out that McCain is many things, but no Hitler.

Madonna certainly didn’t help her favoured candidate, her egomaniacal delusions notwithstanding. American voters might take their political advice from fat, sweaty bigots on the radio, but they are not going to listen to a woman who once published a book presenting herself with what I hope was fake ejaculate on her face. You don’t see Ron Jeremy campaigning for McCain, under the slogan McCain: A change is gonna cum, because that just is not helpful. Indeed, McCain has more in common with the Ron Jeremys of the world than he has with the Führer. Not in that I suppose McCain to be a prodigious sex machine who has been batting consistently above his league, but because McCain is a nasty misogynist who has publicly and loudly called his wife a “cunt” (a much worse insult in America than it is in Britain). “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt,” that charming man told his wife. It is here, not in hysterical references to Hitler, that Madonna might have fruitfully attacked McCain as an objectionable women-hater who’d probably call your mother “a cunt” too.

And then there is American Dream, that overextended Obama jingle by former Eurythmic Dave Stewart, a man whose proximity makes the virtue of relevance cower whimperingly in a corner. The song is awesomely bad (it might be OK if used to advertise fabric softener though), the video even more so. All that’s missing is Bono glaring with determined earnestness from behind his blue shades. Instead we have the usually likeable Forrest Whitacker over-emoting, smugmeister Denzel Washington smirking, Whoopie Goldberg gurning, and assorted pop stars and other self-congratulatory celebrities of varying legacies posing and leaping about in joy of the Second Coming, until the whole brew of cliché boils over with footage of Martin Luther King Jr making a speech (and guess which one). The deplorable irony resides in the video’s intrinsic racism. MLK because, as the eagle-eyed reader may have spotted, Obama is black. Don’t they know that Obama’s reference point is not really MLK, but JFK ’60, or perhaps RFK ’68?

If celebs want to express themselves politically, then at least their efforts should be helpful. Unlike Madonna’s slideshow and Stewart’s song, it should be intelligent and strategic, or at least witty or thoughtful. Preaching to the choir (insert your own Mama Don’t Preach joke here) can be a useful mobilising strategy. But Barack Obama needs no help there. Where Obama does need help is in swinging undecided voters his way. McCain’s policies and personality offer many points for attack; comparing him to Hitler serves only to insult and alienate those who are still thinking about voting for him.

And with all that in mind, here are a few politically-themed songs. Most bizarre of them is the effort by Linda Polley who claims that the spirit of John Lennon is channeling right-wing messages from the grave through her. Toby Keith’s reactionary kick-ass song is actually not too bad as far as the music goes, but the lyrics are, of course, gobsmackingly horrible – I was surprised to hear that our man claims to be a Democrat (please, no slideshows at his gigs!). JFK of course did not make records – this is from a record of his early presidential speeches set to music.

In the left corner:
Bright Eyes – When The President Talks To God (live).mp3
John F. Kennedy – The Ask Not Waltz.mp3
The Redskins – Keep On Keepin’ On.mp3*

In the right corner:
John Lennon (via Linda Polley) – Vote Republican.mp3
Toby Keith – Courtesy of The Red, White, And Blue.mp3 .

And for Taylor Parkes’ fantastic collection of Right-Wing Rock (whence I borrowed the Linda Polley thing), go HERE
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Great Moustaches in Rock: Dr Hook

August 21st, 2008 6 comments



Dr Hook once punned with prurient poise: “When you’re in love with a beautiful woman, it’s hard”. It is difficult to imagine that said beautiful woman would find it easy to relieve that rigidity when confronted with the explosion of ill-advised whiskers which served to detract from the occasional eyepatch and a calvary of tonsorial catastrophes. I suspect that even the promise of pants that get up and dance wouldn’t do the trick (or would it? Perhaps this blog’s four female readers can enlighten us).

The gala of lip thatch that was Dr Hook and the Medicine Show had a strange way with women. On Sylvia’s Mother, the Doctor (well, there is no Dr Hook, but in that agricultural festival of labiae hirsutus it might have been anyone) sobs as he begs the polite but impervious Mrs Apricot to put Sylvia on the phone. Contrary to popular interpretation, which sees Mrs Apricot as a malevolent trespasser in the affairs of the good but desolate Doctor and his oblivious subject of affection, I think she is being kind as she neglects to remind him of the restraining order which Sylvia – about to get happily married with a man whose weekly cuisine is not trapped on his upper lip – had taken out against her stalker. All ends happily, however, when we learn that the song was in fact a lampoon. Hurrah!

Indeed, our follically extravagant friends had a great line in satirical songs. Which is as much as you’d expect from a band which featured a Bill Bryson look-alike. Cover Of The Rolling Stone (or Cover Of The Radio Times, as it was retitled in Britain to ensure BBC airplay!) – written by the poet Shel Silverstein, who also wrote Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue – set the template for the quirky self-deprecation now volunteered by the likes of Ben Folds, Barenaked Ladies or Weezer, with the asides from the other ’tache merchants particularly droll (“I want to be on the cover of the Rolling Stone” sings the Doctor, “That’s a very, very good idea” a drawling sidekick commends). Of course, our bewhiskered heroes did make it to the cover of the Rolling Stone, albeit in diminished numbers. And even then, with uncharacteristic concern for public health, the magazine opted to represent Dr Hook by way of cartoon lest the sight of the real thing on newstands across the United States unleash mass gagging – and I don’t mean humour breaking out on the streets of America.

Apart from a commentary on rock ‘n roll’s hedonism, the whimsical conceit of the song was that Dr Hook and the Medicine Show looked nothing like a popular rock band. To this day it seem inexplicable that Dr Hook successfully circumvented the strictly enforced law that at least on member of a rock band must not be pig ugly (the law was lifted only in 1977 to allow Genesis entry into the USA after the departure of Peter Gabriel). They might have looked like a clump of hip-in-their-own-minds school teachers – English and Geography, probably – but they also looked as though excess consumption of the green stuff had left its deleterious mark. Dr Hook sang about that in I Got Stoned And I Missed It. Among the memories gone astray is having had sex with a virgin (yeah, right!). So it is an anti-drug song – the type your cool English/Geography teacher might introduce to illustrate the hazards of narcotics.

Over the time, Dr Hook lost their extended moniker and their lyrical quirk – puns about being hard aside – but created some decent if ingratiating pop. A few treacly MOR ballads aside, When You’re In Love… is perhaps as close to disco country music ever got (or vice versa), and the toe-tapper Sexy Eyes could have been sung by Olivia Newton-John, Luther Vandross or Linda Ronstadt – but none of whom have ever found acclaim for the poetic stylings of their lip growth.

Dr Hook – When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman.mp3
Dr Hook – Sexy Eyes.mp3
Dr Hook – You Make My Pants Want To Get Up And Dance.mp3
Dr Hook & the Medicine Show – Cover Of The Rolling Stone.mp3
Dr Hook & the Medicine Show – Sylvia’s Mother.mp3

More great moustaches

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The Sound Of Africa Mix Vol. 2

August 18th, 2008 3 comments

This is the second volume of The Sound of Africa, a mix of relatively new music from Africa and a few classics, compiled for this blog.

Some of these artists have acquired some recognition in the West: Baaba Maal, Fela Kuti, King Sunny Adé, Ali Farka Touré and Manu Dibango may not be household names, but they are join the non-featured likes of Johnny Clegg and some of the acts featured on the first volume among the celebrated representatives of African music. Others, such as Angelique Kidjo and South Africa’s Judith Sephuma have likewise found some international recognition. The keen Africa watcher will know Franco & OK Jazz, the oldest performers on either set – the song here comes from the mid-50s.

The versatile, late Brenda Fassie was so much a superstar in Africa, she had no need to look to Europe for greater fame. Her supposed rival for the crown of South Africa’s biggest female star, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, has lived a less rock ‘n roll life; she too is hugely popular throughout Africa. Brenda and Yvonne’s compatriots Bayete were quite big in their country – I saw them in concert very often (as I have Ringo Madlingozi, mostly with his fantastic ‘80s band Peto) – but just as they threatened to break big, frontman Jabu Khanyile died. Women are better represented here than on the first mix: besides Brenda, Yvonne and Angelique, Mali’s Oumou Sangare and Algeria’s Souad Massi represent.

So, which country can claim the crown of Africa’s musical capital? In my view it’s a four-way tie between Mali, Senegal, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Zaire). And my favourite African artist? That would be a toss-up between Khadja Nin and Ismael Lo.

1. Baaba Maal – Mbaye (Senegal)
2. Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa (Cameroon)
3. Fela Kuti – Yellow Fever (Nigeria)
4. King Sunny Adé – Ma Jaiye Oni (Nigeria)
5. Brenda Fassie – Shikhebe Shamago (South Africa)
6. Manecas Costa – Ermons De Terra (Guinea Bissau)
7. Ali Farka Touré with Ry Cooder – Soukora (Mali)
8. Bayete – Mmaolo-We (South Africa)
9. Jean Bosco Mwenda – Tambala Moja (DR Congo)
10. Diogal – Samba Alla (Senegal)
11. Ringo Madlingozi – Sondela (South Africa)
12. Angelique Kidjo – Babalao (Benin)
13. Oumou Sangare – Ah Ndiya (Mali)
14. Souad Massi – Yawlidi (Algeria)
15. Yvonne Chaka Chaka – Makoti (South Africa)
16. Franco and OK Jazz – On Entre OK, On Sort KO (Congo)
17. Mose ‘Fan Fan’ – Lwambo (DR Congo)

DOWNLOAD

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Clack, Crackle & Pop: The Vinyl Days

August 12th, 2008 9 comments

If you belong to a certain generation, you will be familiar with the old music consoles featuring a radio tuner (in Germany with bands indicating exotic places such as Hilversum, Dubrovnik and Königsberg) and a record player with a spindle on which you’d stack up to ten records which would drop on to the turntable when the previous platter was finished. A bit like a pre-historic WinAmp playlist. I was such a record player.

I cannot remember exactly how old I was. Probably two years old. But I remember it. My shtick was to run around with my left arm pointing up with an outstretched index finger as my right hand made half-circular motions around the left index finger. All that was accompanied by soulful singing, usually songs by child star Heintje. Suddenly the singing would stop, I’d say “clack”, and begin singing a different song. Usually by, yes, Heintje. My first idol, was Heintje.

Today I continue to be a source of recorded music. If my friends have a party, I bring the music. If they are looking for something new to hear, I’m the man. And, seeing as you are here, each song I post signals the clack of a record dropping from my index finger, with the link being my right hand rotating the record, and the click of the mouse the soundeffect.

I have four older siblings, the youngest of whom is six years older than I am, and my mother was a young 21 when I was born (I need not point out that the elder siblings originated from my widowed father’s first marriage). Records were everywhere in our house. My siblings introduced my to all kinds of German Schlager music (the youngest of my sisters loved Udo Jürgens before falling for Peter Maffay), the Beatles, David Cassidy, and later Jethro Tull… My mother, although her first love was classical music, had a singles collection, too. And I loved singles. So it was on my fifth birthday that I became the proud owner of a compact record player, the box-type where the lid doubles as the speaker. I commandeered my mother’s singles collection, kept in an album with plastic sleeves for the purposes of prudent storage. Manfred Mann’s Ha! Ha! Said The Clown, Chris Andrew’s Pretty Belinda, the Archies’ Sugar Sugar, Al Martino’s Spanish Eyes (not knowing English, we sang: “Du, sperr’ mich ein”), Trini Lopez singing America from West Side Story, Gilbert Becaud’s Russian-flavoured Nathalie, The Peels’ Juanita Banana – and Jane Birkin’s Je ‘taime non plus. I loved the keyboard line but felt sorry for the girl who apparently was suffering a nightmare.

My grandmother, at whose nearby house I’d spent half of my childhood, also had records. None of these were as cool as Al Martino, of course. Still, I loved playing records, even if the music I played meant nothing to me and my life. I loved her classy shiny music box with the mirrored liquor cabinet which smelt of brandy. I’d choose the records according to the aesthetics of the record label. My favourite was a dramatic ’50s design in orange with a logo which looked vaguely like an exploding star. It was a recording of a Montenegro Choir performing the Hebrew Slave Chorus from Verdi’s Nabucco. It remains one of my favourite pieces of music.

In my second-oldest sister’s flat, I became a fan of the Beatles, without knowing it. I liked the music on the green Capitol label, especially Paperback Writer and, with deplorable predictability, Ob-ladi-Ob-lada (though that was on the Apple label, I think). I also liked the one with the red label, which was a song with the barking dog barking to a tune. Of my mother’s singles, I liked The Peels’ Juanita Banana primarily because of the karate label. It reminded my of my favourite ice lolly in Denmark, where we’d holiday, called (I think) Kung Fu. In 1999 I had the opportunity to sample the same liquorice-flavoured ice-lolly. It remains my all-time favourite ice-lolly, and I still can’t tell martial arts apart.

My grandmother must have been a big music fan in her time. By the time I was four or five (and she 75), I think she wanted to live her hipness through me. Perhaps she felt it lacking in dignity to rummage through the singles shelves. So when we’d visit the record section of the local Karstadt department store, she would strongly recommend a single I should pick for purchase. Invariably it would be something by the evil Heino, or perhaps by the delusionarily-monikered Czech crooner Karel Gott. Just before I turned six, I finally bought my first deliberately and self-chosen record. It was no less ghastly than Oma’s Heino grooves, but it was my choice: Roy Black & Anita’s Schön ist es auf der Welt zu sein. I suppressed the memory of that purchase for 35 years. The purchase signalled the start of a frenzied, Oma-sponsored acquisition of a fairly-sized record collection which would include such luminaries as Vicky Leandros, Mireille Mathieu, Roberto Blanco and Freddy Breck. For my fix of English music – the Sweet’s Poppa Joe! – I had to go home to Mom’s plastic sleeve album. By the time I was eight, I had worked out that the German Schlager was terminably uncool. I stopped buying German records – and, for a while, any at all. The fever struck again before too long, thanks to the Bay City Rollers (cutting edge cool I was not).

1977, the year I turned 11, was made of vinyl. A single soundtracked the death of my father (Don’t Cry For Me Argentina by Julie Convington), my first love (Rod Stewart’s Sailing), my first crazy record-buying spree at the huge Saturn store in Cologne, at the time Europe’s biggest record shop (Kenny Rogers’ Lucille). And then there was a life-changing song, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I had started to learn English in school only a year previously, so I relied on a monthly song lyrics booklet to provide the lyrics of popular songs. A single word in one particular hit bothered me: esitayshon. I looked it up in the songbook for the correct spelling (“hesitation”, apparently), and then consulted my English-German dictionary. It felt fantastic having learned a word like “hesitation”, which even in its German form did not form part of my daily vocabulary. This was the beginning with my ongoing love affair with the English language, thanks to a heavily-accented Spanish duo’s hit, Yes Sir, I Can Boogie (an celebration of dancing skills, I believe). Within a few months, my record purchases would focus on more sophisticated music. The Stranglers thus taught me the word “sleazy”. A couple of years later, I would subscribe to an English football magazine, Match Weekly, to enrich and polish my English vocab.

Your presence here, having persisted with my rambling memoirs of vinyl, suggests that you may well have an appreciation for this blog, hopefully taking some pleasure from both the writing and the music. If so, you may give credit for that to Baccara, Heintje and record players that used to go CLACK!

And so to the music: The first lot of these songs are new uploads, the rest is recycled from the Time Travel 1970s series.

Heintje – Mama.mp3
Trini Lopez – A-me-ri-ca.mp3
Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg – Je t’aime moi non plus.mp3
Al Martino – Spanish Eyes.mp3
Udo Jürgens – Merci Cheri
The Beatles – Paperback Writer.mp3
Vicky Leandros – Ich hab’ die Liebe gesehen.mp3

The Peels – Juanita Banana.mp3
Gilbert Bécaud – Nathalie (French version).mp3
Chris Andrews – Pretty Belinda.mp3
Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3
Roy Black & Anita – Schön ist es auf der Welt zu sein.mp3
Sweet – Poppa Joe.mp3 David Cassidy – Daydreamer.mp3
Rod Stewart – Sailing.mp3
Baccara – Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.mp3
Julie Covington – Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.mp3
Kenny Rogers – Lucille.mp3

This post was written in celebration of VINYL RECORD DAY on August 12, marking the 131st anniversary of the the invention of the phonograph. Visit The Hits Just Keep On Coming for an index of more articles written especially for Vinyl Day.

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Isaac Hayes : He’s a dead mutha…

August 11th, 2008 3 comments

…shut your mouth.

To mark Isaac Hayes’ death on August 10 ten days short of his 66th birthday, here is a mix I’ve called Hot Buttered Symphonies, a selection of some of those epics, mostly cover versions, Hayes produced in the early parts of his career, from 1969 to 1973.

He is best known, of course, for the Theme from Shaft, a funk masterpiece which provided the pun in this post’s title. It would be an injustice if the man was to be reduced to the cartoon cool of Shaft, the kind of black grooviness which lets white people think that Samuel L Jackson is a proprietor of übercoolness (that would be white people like Quentin Tarantino). Make no mistake, Ike was as cool as an arctic refrigerator salesman waiting for winter, but that transcended the notions of blaxploitations. It was cool that the man shaved his head when the Afro was fashionable; his baritone was cool; it was cool how he introduces the live version of The Look Of Love with the words: “We’re dealing with love now on a more personal basis”; it was cool that on his first recording as a session musician, he helped lift Otis Redding’s version of Try A Little Tenderness with his brilliant keyboard arrangements; it was cool that he’d take white bread songs and turned them into soul classics – while borrowing liberally from psychedelic rock. Hayes was an innovator, being to soul, at last for some time, what Miles Davis was to jazz (for a long time).

In his later years, Hayes forfeited some cool factor with his Scientology capers. But this is not how we should remember him. Nor should he be remembered as the chef with black, salty balls. He should be remembered as the Black Moses who launched a line of bona fide classics by fulfilling the promise made in the title of his second album: the creation of Hot Buttered Soul.

Hayes was a gifted songwriter (he co-wrote such soul classics as Sam & Dave’s Soul Man and Hold On I’m Coming). That talent would infuse his cover versions for which, by rights, he deserved a co-author credit. Hayes would take a Bacharach/David composition, a Beatles track or a country number on a long-haul journey. He’d strip the song of much which previous interpreters had invested in them, give them the essence of his own signature, and then bang them out of their original shape beyond recognition before returning to the original theme. On songs like Something and Walk On By, he went on psychedelic trips which could make familiar to the temperate listener the effects of a drug-induced high. On other songs, such as Jerry Butler’s sweet and sad I Stand Accused, Ike launches into a long monologue about unrequited love, by the time he hits the song with his wonderful baritone, your heart is almost bled out.

As usual, the mix should fit on a standard CD-R. I had to omit an essential track in the 18-minutes work-out By The Time I Get To Phoenix; I’m posting it separately. There are more epics worth checking out (his version of Never Can Say Goodbye especially).

1. (They Long To Be) Close To You (9:06)
2. The Look Of Love (11:11)
3. I Stand Accused (11:32)
4. Walk On By (12:04)
5. Something (11:41)
6. I’m Gonna Make It (11:11)
7. One Big Unhappy Family (5:48)
8. Hyperbolicsyllablicsesquedalymistic (7:29)

DOWNLOAD Hot Buttered Symphonies

Categories: 70s Soul, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Pissing off the Taste Police with Counting Crows

August 8th, 2008 9 comments

The Taste Police does not seem to have a cohesive position on Counting Crows (the lack of a “the” in their name is an irritant). But the groundswell seems to suggest that “loathsome” is an adjective which would accurately capture the mood in some platoons.

The notion of Counting Crows being the subject with which I aim to piss off the Taste Police will have tipped off the attentive reader that I do not share that sentiment. In fact, I am very sorry that I missed their concert in my hometown a couple of months ago, and I am very jealous of my Kevin Pietersen-fancying friend in London, who will see her favourite band and the deifiable Ben Folds on one bill in December (at this point, you may construct your own gag involving the timing of the gig and the word “long”).

Nevertheless, I can understand why some people might not like Counting Crows. Singer Adam Duritz – the only Counting Crow who actually has a name – looks, well, not well. My desire to see Counting Crows live is diminished by the notion of actually exposing my eyes to the sight of Sideshow Bob (I do respect the arithmetical blackbirds for depriving us of their likeness on successive album covers). Aggravating matters is the knowledge of Sideshow Bob allegedly having slept with three quarters of the leading cast of Friends. I like Friends. I do not like the idea of these nice people bumpin’ ‘n grindin’ with Mr Robert Underdunk Terwilliger. Eugh, I believe, is the contemporary technical term to express one’s nausea at such a disgusting image. Especially if one were to imagine Duritz at the point of climax doing that horrible “yeeeeah!” from the end of the otherwise great Rain King (the regular reader will know that I limit my celebrity sex fantasies to scenes involving Rutting Mick Hucknall). And then there was the ill-advised cover of Joni Mitchell’s Yellow Big Taxi, which seems to be something of an Exhibit A in the case against Counting Crows.

But if that is Exhibit A, then the case for the prosecution seems shaky at best. So we’d have Duritz’s displeasing physiognomy and coiffure, a shoddy cover, and an unmerited association with outfits like the deplorably bland Dave Matthews Band and Hootie & the fucking Blowfish (one thing Counting Crows certainly are not is bland; though, alas, they have performed with the ghastly DMB). And Duritz banging Courtney Cox, of course. Not enough, I submit, for a conviction in the court of pop opinion.

Dislike their music, if you like, even be indifferent to it. You dig or you don’t. But one cannot, ahem, discount the band entirely (and, I know, crow about it). Here’s what I like about Counting Crows: the lyrics are very good much of the time (at least when you can decode them); the melodies are usually pleasing; the nameless Crows are making good on their god-given musical talent by creating engaging arrangements; and Duritz can interpret a song lyric (and then some). It helps their cause, in my book, that the group is heavily influenced by The Band and Van Morrison (whose bad habits, like repeating a line over and over in a nauseating manner, Duritz has picked up; cf. The “How Do You Do”s in the mediocre Ghost Train).

I like the Counting Crows (yeah, grammar eventually has to crush their pretensions). I don’t like the idea of listening to a whole album, except, perhaps the New Amsterdam live set which was released in 2006, because I find Duritz’s anxious emoting overbearing after a while. Give us a joke, Adam, as you did on the debut with the song about your penis; if Mr Jones actually was about that. Come to think of it (and isn’t that clause a sure sign that the writer has abandoned all pretense of actually revising and editing his text), the debut album, August And Everything After, is quite extraordinary, Ghost Train apart. It is a concept album charting the cycle of love: wanting love, falling in love, pursuing love, being in love, hanging on to love, dying love, and the regret of a fucked-over heart. A simple concept which was superbly executed. I do think that Exhibit A for the defence trumps Big Yellow Taxi as sung by Sideshow Bob.

A couple of words about the songs posted below: the first two are from the excellent New Amsterdam live album (Holiday In Spain especially is quite brilliant); the gorgeously pained Goodnight Elisabeth from 1996’s Recovering The Satellites; Perfect Blue Buildings from 1993’s August And Everything After; When I Dream Of Michelangelo from the mostly disappointing new album, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings; and the version of A Long December is a high-quality bootleg recording featuring Ben Folds (who was namechecked in their song Monkey from Recovering The Satellite).

Counting Crows – Holiday In Spain (live).mp3
Counting Crows – Richard Manuel Is Dead (If I Could Give All My Love) (live).mp3
Counting Crows – Goodnight Elisabeth.mp3
Counting Crows – When I Dream Of Michelangelo.mp3
Counting Crows – Perfect Blue Buildings.mp3
Counting Crows & Ben Folds – A Long December (live).mp3

Previously on Pissing off the Taste Police:
Simply Red
John Denver
Barry Manilow
Lionel Richie
The Carpenters
Billy Joel
Neil Diamond
America
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The Sound Of Africa Mix Vol. 1

August 5th, 2008 5 comments
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It is peculiar that even in South Africa, music from Africa commands its own section. Even rock acts from South Africa are liable to be relegated to the South Africa section, not in the (much bigger and more prominent) Rock shelves. Music retailers are idiots.

So, straight from the Africa section, this mix of music from the continent. When I compiled it, I had two constituencies in mind: those for whom such a mix might serve as an introduction to the wonderfully diverse yet synchronous sound of Africa, and those who already have an appreciation for it and might look for some new stuff. The former category of people is well-served, I think, with a very accessible selection. I hope the latter group might find a few tracks they had not previously heard.

While this mix is a sound of Africa, it cannot be ignored that in urban areas one is as likely, perhaps more likely, to hear the strains of American R&B or hip hop, or local music drawing their influence from these genres. In some cases, such as South Africa’s hugely popular kwaito, R&B and rap fused with local musical forms to create a sound which is distinctly indigenous. As an example, take Mandoza’s Nkalakatha (download). This mix does mostly exclude such musical forms – mainly, I must admit, because I’m not very well versed in that regard to create a representative mix.

Of course, many of these songs embrace Western influences. The guitar on Thomas Mapfumo’s Set The People Free owes something to Santana; Hugh Masekela is a jazz musician; Koffi Olomidé freely draws from pop and R&B, without compromising his African traditions; Cesaria Evoria’s Cape Verdan tradition is influenced by Latin sounds of Portugal and Brazil, and so on.

Some of these artists have remarkable stories. During the liberation war against Rhodesia’s racist regime, Thomas Mapfumo was the poet laureate for the armed struggle which would culminate in the birth of Zimbabwe in 1980. But by the mid-90s, the one-time supporter of Robert Mugabe became disillusioned with the tyrant, and made his opposition known. He now lives in exile in the US.

Salif Keita comes from a royal line which should have ruled out a career in music. But as an albino, he was ostracised by his family, and here he shares a mix with a man of the griot underclass, Mory Kanté, who was born in Guinea but grew up in Mali. Papa Wemba, who was a local chief in what was the Zaïre (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), was jailed a few years ago in France for smuggling illegal immigrants into Europe.

Algeria’s Khaled faced death threats from Islamic fundamentalists who objected to his progressive lyrics; they also issued death threats to other popular Algerian musicians, and proceeded to murder one. And South Africa’s Fortune Xaba, a saxophonist, won the country’s Road To Fame talent competition (which actually frequently realised its premise by producing gifted performers) in 1996, had a brief career in which he released two albums, and suddenly died in 2003.

If this mix proves popular, I have another one lined up. Let me know what you think. As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R.

1. Mory Kanté – Yeke Yeke (Guinea/Mali)
2. Cesária Évora – Nho Antone Escade (Cape Verde)
3. Touré Kunda – Wadini (Senegal)
4. Salif Keita – N B’I Fe (Mali)
5. Ismaël Lo – Tajabone (Senegal)
6. Fortune Xaba – Mi Fe Le Wa Kuti (South Africa)
7. Papa Wemba – Le Voyageur (DR Congo)
8. Khadja Nin – Mama Lusiya (Burundi)
9. Kampi Moto & George Phiri – Maio Maio (Zambia/Malawi/South Africa)
10. Habib Koité & Bamada – Wassiyé (Mali)
11. Hugh Masekela – Happy Mama (South Africa)
12. Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited – Set the People Free (Zimbabwe)
13. Remmy Ongala – Inchi Vetu (Our Country) (Tanzania)
14. Youssou N’Dour – Mame Bamba (Senegal)
15. Koffi Olomidé feat Coumba Gawlo – Si Si Si (DRCongo)
16. Khaled – Aicha (Algeria)
17. Tarika – Aretina (Madagacar)

DOWNLOAD

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Categories: Mix CD-Rs Tags: ,

Intros Quiz – 1998 edition

August 3rd, 2008 3 comments

Compiling this intros quiz, the sad realisation that these songs are ten years old gave me a mighty jolt. Anyway, as always, this file contains 20 intros of 5-7 seconds in length, of hits or otherwise well-known songs, this time from 1998. I’ve checked that all were singles released that year; all were hits in either the US or UK or both, most of them were very big hits. There are more vocals on these intros than usual, which might give a clue here and there.

As always, if that number 17 is driving you nuts, please feel free to e-mail me for the answers (or e-mail just to say hello). I’ll put up the answers in the comments section by Wednesday.

Intros Quiz – 1998 edition.mp3

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Categories: Intros Quiz Tags:

Have Song, Will Sing Vol. 2 – Songbirds

August 1st, 2008 1 comment

The term singer-songwriter has acquired a bad reputation, unjustly so. As I’ve said before, the genre is in its best state since the days of Joni Mitchell and her contemporaries. The critics, it seems, seem to conflate the rich diversity of artists thus categorised with a glut of performers who have found mainstream success, but who are not actually representatives of the genre. They are not representative because, as this collection (and the first one I posted earlier this week) may show. So in these collections do not expect a legion of Jack Johnson and Norah Jones clones.

Sure, some may be influenced by these, but the current crop of singer-songwriters draw their influences widely: Rosie Thomas, Kate Walsh and the Weepies’ Deb Talan from folk or “Americana”, Brandi Carlile from rock; Ingrid Michaelson, Laura Veirs, Kimya Dawson and Hello Saferide from different strands of indie; Mindy Smith and Charlotte Kendrick from (alt.)country, Missy Higgins from pop; Maria Taylor from everything. And so on.

The women on this mix may be called “Songirds” (a term I had not seen used when I called my series that last year, but which seems to have currency; it is a good and obvious description). These Songbirds come mostly from the US, but other countries are represented: England (Kate Walsh), Sweden (Hello Saferide), Belgium (Sarah Bettens; the female part of K’s Choice), South Africa (the gorgeous Josie Field), Iceland (Emiliana Torrini), Australia (Missy Higgins). Catherine Feeny was born in the US and moved to England; Michelle Featherstone (who, scandalously, has no record contract) went the other way.

TRACKLISTING
1. Laura Veirs – Pink Light (from Saltbreaker, 2007)
2. Ingrid Michaelson – Breakable (from Girls And Boys, 2006)
3. Brandi Carlile – Late Morning Lullaby (from The Story, 2007)
4. Dar Williams – Farewell To The Old Me (from The Beauty Of The Rain, 2003)
5. Catherine Feeny – Mr. Blue (from Hurricane Glass, 2006)
6. Charlotte Kendrick – Thank You (from North Of New York, 2007)
7. Mindy Smith – Falling (from One More Moment, 2004)
8. Rosie Thomas – Since You’ve Been Around (from If Songs Could Be Held, 2005)
9. Kim Richey – The Absence Of Your Company (from Chinese Boxes, 2007)
10. Missy Higgins – Warm Whispers (from On A Clear Night, 2007)
11. Hello Saferide – The Quiz (from Would You Let Me Play This EP 10 Times A Day?, 2006)
12. Deb Talan – Cherry Trees (from Live at WERS Studio, 2001)
13. Maria Taylor – Two of Those Two (from 11:11, 2005)
14. Kate Walsh – Don’t Break My Heart (from Tim’s House, 2007)
15. Michelle Featherstone – Coffee & Cigarettes (from Fallen Down, 2006)
16. A Fine Frenzy – Come On Come Out (from One Cell In The Sea, 2007)
17. Laura Gibson – Hands In Pockets (from If You Come To Greet Me, 2006)
18. Sarah Bettens – Follow Me (from Scream, 2006)
19. Josie Field – Every Now And Then (from Mercury, 2006)
20. Kathleen Edwards – Scared At Night (from Asking For Flowers, 2008)
21. Emiliana Torrini – Next Time Around (from Fisherman’s Woman, 2004)
22. Gemma Hayes – Evening Sun (from 4.35 AM EP, 2001)
23. Kimya Dawson – Loose Lips (from Remember That I Love You, 2006)

DOWNLOAD

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