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The Originals Vol. 14

January 21st, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Jerry Jeff Walker – Mr. Bojangles (1968).mp3
Bobby Cole – Mr. Bojangles (1968).mp3
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Mr. Bojangles (1971).mp3
Sammy Davis Jr – Mr. Bojangles (1972).mp3

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

The song was covered by several well known performers but became a hit only in 1971, when the Nitty Gritty Band took it the US #9, drawing from Walker’s folk arrangement. The best, and probably best-known, version was recorded a year later, drawing from the arrangement of Bobby Cole’s version (props to Ill Folks blog), which was in the lower reaches of the US charts at the same time as Walker’s. Cole added to the song the vaudeville sounds which evoked the tap-dancing ambience. It was that quality of Cole’s version from which Sammy Davis Jr seems to have drawn. Sammy was a hoofer himself, of course, so in his younger days would have known many characters such as Mr Bojangles, even in his family of entertainers. Sammy could identify with the song, and he delivers a beautiful performance, with the right mix of carefree spirit (the whistling) and drama which his protagonist projects. To some the line about the dog gone dying might be overwrought; I get goosebumps when I hear it.

Also recorded by: Rod McKuen (1968), Neil Diamond (1969), The Byrds (1969), Harry Nilsson (1969), Neil Diamond (1969), Lulu (1970), Harry Belafonte (1970), John Denver (1970), Ronnie Aldrich & his Two Pianos (1971), Nina Simone (1971), King Curtis (1971), Nancy Wilson (1971), David Bromberg (1972), John Holt (1973), Bob Dylan (1973), Esther Phillips (1986), Chet Atkins (1996), Edwyn Collins (1997), Steve Hall (1997), Whitney Houston (1998), Magna Carta (2000), Robbie Williams (2001), Jamie Cullum (2003), Luba Mason (2004), The Bentones (2005), Ray Quinn (2007) and loads of others for whom I have no years of recording: Frank Sinatra, Glenn Yarbrough, Arlo Guthrie, Frankie Laine, Elton John, Michael Bublé, and more.

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Pino Donaggio – Io che non vivo (senza te).mp3
Dusty Springfield – You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.mp3

pino-donaggioPino Donaggio is best known as a composer of the scores for films such as Don’t Look Now, Carrie and Dressed To Kill. But before that, he was a big pop star in Italy, having abandoned the classical training he received as a teenager (and which prepared him for his soundtrack career) for pop after performing with Paul Anka in the late 1950s.

He performed Io che non vivo (senza te), which he wrote with Vito Pallavicini, at the San Remo Festival in 1965 with the country singer Jody Miller. Dusty Springfield was there and then asked Vicki Wickham, producer of the British music TV show Ready Steady Go! and a songwriter, to set the song to English lyrics for her. Wickham asked Simon Napier-Bell (one-time manager of the Yardbirds, Marc Bolan and Wham!) to help her. Napier-Bell later remembered that they wrote the lyrics in a taxi. Springfield’s version (reportedly recorded in 47 takes) was released in 1966 and became one of her signature hits.

The original title means, roughly translated, “I, who cannot live without you”. My Italian being rusty, I have no idea how Donaggio riffed on that theme (EDIT: Paolo helps us out in the comments section). The English lyrics express the “If you love someone, let them go” motto. The intent of the lyrics may be the converse of the original (I don’t know, and nor did Napier-Bell), but the dramatic arrangement does not differ substantially — other than Dusty’s mighty, heartbroken vocals begging the object of her unrequited affection to decline her offer of romantic freedom.

Also recorded by: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (1966), John Davidson (1966), Carla Thomas (1966), Cher (1966), Vikki Carr (1966), Jackie De Shannon (1966), Connie Francis (1967), Matt Monro (1967), Bill Medley (1968), Kiki Dee (1970), Elvis Presley (1970), Guys & Dolls (1976), Helen Reddy (1981), Tanya Tucker (1981), Ferrante & Teicher (1992), Maureen McGovern (1992), Denise Welch (1995), Clarence Carter (1997), Brenda Lee (1998), Marti Jones (2000), Fire-Ball (2004), Jill Johnson (2007), John Barrowman (2008), Shelby Lynne (2008) a.o.

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The Strangeloves – I Want Candy.mp3
Bow Wow Wow – I Want Candy.mp3

strangelovesI Want Candy originally was a Bo Diddley-inspired 1965 US #11 hit for the Strangeloves, a joke project of songwriter/producers Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer (the latter would go on to produce the likes of Blondie and the Go-Go’s, and co-founded the Sire label on which Madonna launched her career). The conceit was that the Strangeloves were Australian brothers who had made a fortune by crossbreeding a new type of sheep, named after Gottehrer. The gag did not acquire much public traction, but it did present a problem when I Want Candy’s success imposed the demand for live performances by the Strangeloves. The three producers solved the problem by putting together a band of session musicians. Their adventures on the road will form part of the story in the next entry.

The touring versions of the Strangeloves were artificially put together, as were Bow Wow Wow 15 years later, albeit with much more of a plan. After he had finished managing the punk version of the Spice Girls, Malcolm McLaren went on to inspire Adam Ant & the Ants to success, and just as the group got there, stole the Ants from Adam to form a new group, Bow Wow Wow, in 1980. Ever mindful of the gimmick imperative, he found a precocious 14-year-old girl to front the band, Burmese-born Annabella Lwin (born Myint Myint Aye, which allegedly means High High Cool — my Burmese is as rusty as my Italian).

Lwin was not shy to flaunt her sexuality, appearing nude on the cover of the group’s debut album, simply titled See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over Go Ape Crazy. The now15-year-old’s parents were so outraged that they threatened to institute legal action against McLaren. Evidently Malcolm got the girl’s parents around to his point of view: the single cover for I Want Candy depicted Annabella again in a state of some undress. McLaren, incidentally, had considered a second singer to partner Lwin, but the artist he had in mind, going by the name Lieutenant Lush, was considered to wild. The disorderly vocalist went on to find success as Boy George.

bow-wow-wow

Bow Wow Wow’s 1982 version of I Want Candy was produced by Kenny Laguna, who at the time was scoring big with singers such as Joan Jett and Kenny Loggins. The story goes that Laguna had the band already in the Florida studio to record the song when he realised that he had no recording, no lyrics and no songsheet for it. So he got in touch with Richard Gottehrer (at the time in a studio recording another cover version, the Go-Go’s Vacation) who taught him the song over the telephone. Gottehrer also had to persuade Laguna that the guitar hook was an integral part of the song. Bow Wow Wow were not pleased with what they considered a bubble gum song. Still, it was their only hit, reaching #9 in the UK. It was only a minor hit in the US. Yet, strong rotation on MTV ensured its status as an ’80s classic.

Also recorded by: Brian Poole And The Tremeloes (1965), The Bishops (1978), The Bouncing Souls (1994), Chrome (1995), Candy Girls (1996), Black Metal Box (1997), Aaron Carter (1998), Good Charlotte (2001), Melanie C (2007)

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The Vibrations – My Girl Sloopy.mp3
The McCoys – Hang On Sloopy.mp3

The Debs – Sloopy’s Gonna Hang On.mp3
vibrationsEarlier in the series, The McCoys featured with their original of Sorrow, famously covered by David Bowie. Oddly enough, the group’s 1965 signature hit, Hang On Sloopy, was a cover version, of the Vibrations’ 1964 US top 30 hit My Girl Sloopy, written by the legendary Bert Berns (who also had an association with the Strangeloves) and Wes Farrell. The Vibrations were a soul group from Los Angeles which kept going well into the 1970s; one if their members, Ricky Owens, even joined the Temptations very briefly. Several of their songs are Northern Soul classics (which basically means that they were so unsuccessful that the records are rare).

I promised in the entry for I Want Candy that the story of the Strangeloves would have a sequel. Our three producer heroes were on tour, shadowing the session musicians playing their songs, when they decided My Girl Sloopy should be the follow-up to I Want Candy. The Dave Clark Five, on tour with the Strangeloves, got wind of it, and said they’d record Sloopy too. So the Strangelove trio, afraid that the Dave Clark Five might have a hit with the song before they could release theirs, acted fast to scoop the English group. They recruited an unknown group based in Dayton, Ohio, called Rick and the Raiders, renamed them The McCoys, and in quick time released the retitled Hang On Sloopy.

But it wasn’t all the McCoys playing on the single, only singer Rick Zehringer (later Derringer) performed on it — his vocals having been overlaid on the version already recorded by the Strangeloves, and a guitar solo added to it. The single was a massive hit, reaching the US #1. In 1985 it was adopted as the official rock song of Ohio (honestly). And, for the hell of it, there’s also the answer song by The Debs. Oh, and the Sloopy of the title is jazz singer Dorothy Sloop.

Also recorded by: The Invictas (1965), Quincy Jones (1965), Little Caesar & The Consuls (1965), The Newbeats (1965), The Yardbirds (1965), Jan & Dean (1965), The Eliminators (1966), The Raves (1966), The Wailers (1966), Ramsey Lewis Trio (1966), The Phantoms (1966), The Supremes (1966), The Fevers (1966), Count Basie & his Orchestra (1968), The Lettermen (1970), Ramsey Lewis (1973), Skid Row (1976), BAP (1980, in the Cologne dialect Kölsch), Daddy Memphis (1998), Aaron Carter (2000), Die Toten Hosen (2000), Saving Jane (2006)

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don-gibsonDon Gibson – I Can’t Stop Loving You.mp3
Ray Charles – I Can’t Stop Loving You.mp3

It is a mark of Ray Charles’ genius that he, the Father of Soul, took a country song to the US #1, still sounding like a country song. It is fair to say that sometimes there is a pretty thin line between southern soul and country. Brook Benton is perhaps the best example of a soul singer casually entering country territory. Indeed, it is that cross-germination of white country and black R&B which helped give rise to Rock & Roll, a musical form of racial integration which anticipated the intensification of the civil rights struggle. But that is a debate for another day, unhelpfully dealt with in 35 words.

raycharlesWhen Ray Charles released his seminal Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (in 1962, at the height of the civil rights struggle), he let it be known that country music has soul — an elementary truth which the haters of the genre have too easily ignored. Don Gibson, hardly the prototype for sweaty, sexy party music, had soul. You can hear it on his 1958 original of I Can’t Stop Loving You, one of 150 country songs shortlisted for the Ray Charles LP. If anything, Ray Charles (and arranger Sid Feller) added Nashville schmaltz to the song. Indeed, it is the one song on the album that is still recognisably a country number. This wasn’t Charles’ first foray into country. A few years earlier he had recorded Hank Snow’s I’m Movin’ On.

Gibson recorded I Can’t Stop Loving You during the same December 1957 session that produced the great country classic, Oh Lonesome Me (which Johnny Cash later covered to great effect, and one of the few covers Neil Young ever recorded). I Can’t Stop… was the b-side to Oh Lonesome Me, a US top 10 hit. Before Ray Charles got hold of it, the song had already been covered several times, including a version by Roy Orbison. Indeed, at the same time the song was a b-side for Gibson, Kitty Wells had a big hit with it in the country charts.

Also recorded by: Kitty Wells (1958), Roy Orbison (1960), Rex Allen (1961), Rick Nelson (1961), Tab Hunter (1962), John Foster (as Non finirò d’amarti, 1962), Connie Francis (1962), Bobby Sitting & the Twistin’ Guy’s (1962), Hank Locklin (1962), Grant Green (1962), The Ventures (1963), Count Basie (1963), Peggy Lee (1963), Paul Anka (1963), Webb Pierce (1963), Ferlin Husky (1963), Floyd Cramer (1964), Faron Young (1964), Jim Reeves (1964), Jean Shepard (1964), Nancy Wilson (1964), Chet Atkins & Hank Snow (1964), Frank Sinatra & Count Basie (1964), Dinah Shore (1965), Tom Jones (1965), Gene Pitney (1965), George Semper (1966), Tennessee Ernie Ford (1966), Bettye Swann (1967), Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers (1968), Jimmy Dean (January 1968), Long John Baldry (1968), Jerry Lee Lewis (1969, as a blues), Elvis Presley (1969), Jim Nabors (1970), Eddy Arnold (1971), Charlie McCoy (1972), Conway Twitty (1972), Sammi Smith (1977), Jerry Lee Lewis (1979, as a country song), Van Morrison (1991), Arlen Roth (1993), Diane Schuur & B.B. King (1994), Anne Murray (2002), John Scofield (2005), Mica Paris (2005), Martina McBride (2005) a.o.

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  1. January 21st, 2009 at 01:19 | #1

    Nina Simone’s version of Bojangles is the one that gets me; there’s a moment where her voice breaks that just does it everytime.

  2. January 21st, 2009 at 02:27 | #2

    “In 1985 it was adopted as the official rock song of Ohio (honestly).”

    Oh yes indeed, sir. We Buckeyes take that song pretty seriously.

    Love all the backstory on Bow Wow Wow – what a strange, crazy, pure 1980’s story.

  3. January 21st, 2009 at 15:46 | #3

    I remember being a kid and watching Sammy perform “Mr. Bojangles” on some variety show. Love this song and thanks for the history behind it.

  4. January 21st, 2009 at 17:08 | #4

    “[. . .] the cover of the group’s debut album, simply titled See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over Go Ape Crazy.”

    Wow. That’s my new favourite name for an album ever. Gotta love anything that encourages me to go “ape crazy”.

    And every time I heard “Hang On Sloopy” it occurred to me to wonder who would name their daughter Sloopy. But I would never remember to wonder about this when I was in front of a computer. So thanks for solving that problem for me. :D

  5. dickvandyke
    January 21st, 2009 at 21:15 | #5

    Fascinating stuff dude – as usual. Thank you.

  6. S.
    January 21st, 2009 at 21:53 | #6

    thrilling, especially the entry about sloopy, thanks

  7. January 24th, 2009 at 05:17 | #7

    On the topic of Originals, I love Dancing Days by Led Zeppelin but the version by the Stone Temple Pilots tops it. What do you think Dude?

  8. January 25th, 2009 at 16:20 | #8

    Hi Dude, the Italian version of ‘You don’t have to say you love me’ is about a man who realizes his woman has grown colder and bored of their relationship.

    The refrain says ‘how am I, who cannot live more than an hour without you, supposed to live my whole life without you; you’re mine, you’re mine, nothing will ever divide us’.

    I guess it could be seen as a ‘prequel’ to the English version :)

  9. January 25th, 2009 at 16:50 | #9

    Grazie mille, Paolo.

  10. January 29th, 2009 at 22:15 | #10

    Love your blog.
    It is so hard to find great info like this. If you got time, be sure to check out my music production blog http://www.producertoday.com
    Best,
    Johnny

  11. Tom
    January 20th, 2015 at 08:26 | #11

    I realize that this comment is 6 years late! But for those of us that only discovered this great website recently (OK, today), I’d like to pass on a reference to Jerry’s best recording of “Mr Bojangles.” It appears on his 1969 Atco recording Five Years Gone, and was recorded in 1967 on Bob Fass’ WBAI radio show, with David Bromberg on lead guitar. Legend has it ole Jerry was pretty drunk that night…

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