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American Road Trip Vol. 6

April 28th, 2009 2 comments

We are on our way out of Alabama, having visited Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery, but there is one more stop before we see the lights of Georgia.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

While trawling through Alabama, we met our new friend Chris (himself on a road trip, with his lovely girlfriend, from Mobile to Birmingham) who has invited us to meet him in Tuscaloosa to catch some American Football shenanigans (I’ve always bristled at the idea of that sport being called “football” at the expense of the one that actually calls for the predominant use of feet). And so we go to Tuscaloosa to see the University of Alabama’s gridiron team, the Crimson Tide, beating seven shades of blue of tonight’s oppostion, Wake Forest University’s Demon Deacons. The appalling punster in me is amused to note that the habitual winners should be based in TuscaLOOSA.
Steely Dan – Deacon Blue.mp3
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Atlanta, Georgia

After our excursion into American sporting culture, we dump our 36-tonner truck which we picked up in Baton Rouge and avail ourselves of the great US Railway system, arriving at the station just in time at 23:55. It rains as we cross the state border. Eventually we arrive in Atlanta, city of the unaccountably popular and repulsive Gone With The Wind, carbonated syrup soda, AT&T and other mega-corporations which at present probably are engaged in doing their sums to see if they can qualify for a bailout. Strange to think that just 190 years ago the city was a Cherokee village called Standing Peachtree (hence the civil war Battle of Peachtree Creek and the name of Atlanta’s main street). The Cherokees apparently sold the village to The Man, who in turn forcibly removed them less than 20 years later. Nice.

Atlanta was, of course, an epicentre of the civil rights struggle which was led by a son of the city, Martin Luther King Jr. Atlanta tried to rise above the racism in the region, dubbing itself “the city too busy too hate” (which did not immunise it from hate crimes, racist and anti-semitic).
The B-52s – Love Shack.mp3
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Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Our foray into Georgia is brief, as we make our way north towards the Appalachians (travelling in, for the fun of it, a stagecoach). En route, we stop for a brew in a run-down saloon in Gatlinburg, in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The frost on our glasses has barely thawed when a fellow spontaneously starts a fight with an older man. The problem apparently arose over the older man giving the younger man, his son, a girl’s name. Turns out that the old boy had given his son such an awful name to toughen up the kid in his fatherless childhood – a ploy that seems to have had its desired effect, yet seems to have been a bad idea on every other count.

After the younger man has left to have his cut ear stitched, the old man snorts derisively: “I lef’ home when the kid was three and it sure felt good to be fancy free, tho’ I knew it wasn’t quite the fatherly thing to do. But that kid kept screamin’ and throwin’ up and pissin’ in his pants till I had enough, so just for revenge I went and named him Sue.” And it gets much worse, and funnier, thereafter. (Get Shel Silverstein’s original of A Boy Named Sue here)
Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue.mp3
Shel Silverstein – Father Of A Boy Named Sue.mp3

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One more stop before we cross the Appalachians into Kentucky on our way to Ohio.

Previously on American Road Trip

More somebody done somebody wrong songs

April 24th, 2009 5 comments

After the break-up comes the longing for a love lost or forfeited. Or so it seems with this bunch of singers.

B.J. Thomas – Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song (1975).mp3
bj-thomasWhen one wallows in misery, it is good to know that others are feeling just as badly. B.J. Thomas wants his sorrow over a break-up validated by knowing about the romantic distress of others; a union of broken hearts standing together in spiritual solidarity. B.J. is calling for that fraternity through the medium of song. So if he is still wallowing, this post might be just what he needs while he misses his baby. “So please play for me a sad melody, so sad that it makes everybody cry; a real hurtin’ song about a love that’s gone wrong, ’cause I don’t want to cry all alone.” Lyrics Morrissey would have killed for.
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Richard Hawley – Valentine (2007).mp3
valentineAlas, poor Richard Hawley. Earlier in this series he went to a popular hang-out in a futile bid to pull (here), and here his heart is so irreparably broken that he wants no company. He appears to outline the chain of events leading to this unhappy state. First he feels secure in the arms of the woman, then he sees “a warning in your eyes”. The chorus comes in with Hawley pleading not to receive gifts from what potential new love interests on February 14 because he’s still not over the one whose optomological alert he had so perceptively discerned.“Don’t need no valentines, no, no; don’t need no roses, ’cause it just takes me back in time…Now you’re not here” (and listen out for the way he sings “here anymore” in the third chorus).

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Rose Royce – Wishing On A Star (1977).mp3
rose_royce1Here the singer was responsible for the break-up and desperately regrets it by way of cliché: “I didn’t mean to hurt you, but I know that in the game of love you reap what you sow.” She is proposing a reconciliation, but seems to understand that this may be a hope to far. Still, she insistently and repeatedly articulates her petition: “And I wish on all the rainbows that I see; I wish on all the people we’ve ever been; and I’m hopin’ on all the days to come and days to go, and I’m hopin’ on days of lovin’ you. So I’m wishing on a star, to follow where you are.”

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Rosie Thomas – Since You’ve Been Around (2005).mp3
rosie_thomasIn the most beautiful and moving of all the beautiful and moving songs here, Rosie had been maltreated by love before, as we learn in the song’s punchline. Now the person who healed her damaged heart is gone too, pulling the rug from under Rosie’s feet. “I’m wandering, I’m crawling, I’m two steps away from falling –  I just can’t seem to get around. I’m heavy, I’m weary, I’m not thinking clearly. I just can’t seem to find solid ground since you’ve been around.”
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Kate Walsh – Don’t Break My Heart (2007).mp3

kate-walshAbout as beautiful as Rosie Thomas’ track, fellow songbird Kate Walsh’s song protests that the object of her desire should make himself scarce because just seeing him opens up still raw wounds. “I’ll fall again if I see your face again, my love, and I’ve done all my crying for you love.” So meeting him again, with his antics such as rolling his blue eyes at her, will break her heart all over again. She wants to forget him, because “I cannot be in matrimony with a dream of love”.
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Joseph Arthur – A Smile That Explodes (2004).mp3
jarthurIt has been a while since the woman left poor Joseph, and he is depressed. “The plants have died, my hair has grown from the thought of you coming home.” He gets by through the consumption of alcohol, which is never a good idea in his mental condition. And in between he writes her letters which “I won’t send, except for across the floor” (what a fantastic line). Now and then he dreams of happier times, with her in his arms, but then the image of bliss turns to abrupt dread with “a smile that explodes” — again, wonderful imagery — “I could never understand”.

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Smokey Robinson – Just To See Her (1987).mp3
smokeyIf B.J. Thomas had chosen to be more precise in his instruction, he may well have specified that he wanted a Smokey song to be played, because nobody does broken-heartedness the way Smokey Robinson does (even if here, the lyrics aren’t his). The tune is a cheerful, upbeat affair. Smokey sounds like he has no care in the world. But, as we know from past experience, in situations of heartache, Smokey pretends to be the life a party, putting on an out-of-place smile, masquerading outside while inside is heart is breaking. So the melody is deceiving us: Smokey is desperate to see his love again. “I would go anywhere. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do, just to see her again” and “hold her in my arms again, one more time”.

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Foo Fighters – Walking After You (live) (2006).mp3
dave_grohlWhile our other friends in this post have taken to despondency, dreaming, drinking, and descending into despair, Grohl is taking action before anything can happen. Anticipating that she is leaving him, he psyches himself into dumped mode and pledges to become a stalker. “I cannot be without you, matter of fact. I’m on your back”. Just to be sure she gets the sinister message he repeats: “I’m on your back.” And once more for creepy emphasis:“I’m on your back.” So, “if you walk out on me, I’m walking after you.” And with big Dave Grohl on her back, she won’t get very far.

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In this series so far:
Love hurts
Unrequited love
Being in love
Longing for love
Heartbreak
Adultery
Death
Impossible Love
Love Songs Mix

South African pop for election day

April 22nd, 2009 8 comments

Today South Africans go to the polls to elect their new parliament, which in turn will elect the president. It’s a foregone conclusion that the African National Congress will win a majority; the only question is whether they will repeat their two-thirds plus majority of 1999 and 2004. Of interest will be also how the smaller parties, especially the ANC-breakaway Congress of the People will fare, and whether the ANC will lose, as expected, the regional government of the Western Cape (the province that includes Cape Town).

But I did the political thing on Monday. To mark the South African elections, let’s have some randomly chosen South African pop music. I covered the SA jazz angle a couple of months ago with this mix (did anyone like it?).

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Farryl Purkiss – Better Days.mp3
farryl_purkissAn appropriate title for today, even if the certain election of the misogynist homophobe Jacob Zuma is not a cause for extravagant optimism (though he can’t be much worse than Aids denialist, Mugabe-supporting Thabo Mbeki) . I’ve pushed the fare of Durban’s Farryl Purkiss in the past. This track, from his wonderful eponymously-titled 2006 album, is absolutely beautiful, in the singer-songwriter vein. He cites as an influence Elliott Smith, and at times sounds a lot like him, as well as the likes of Iron & Wine, Joe Purdy, Sufjan Stevens and Calexico. I have a hunch that Purkiss might have listened also to ’70s folkie Shawn Phillips (who, incidentally, now lives in South Africa) and the majestic Patty Griffin. I wrote about a Purkiss gig I saw in July 2007 (here), where I took the photo on the right; oddly, I have missed all his subsequent gigs in my area. Purkiss on MySpace.

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Josie Field – Every Now And Then.mp3
josie_fieldThe same year, the lovely Josie Field had a radio hit (singles aren’t widely sold in SA, so charts are based on radio airplay) with this excellent song. I’m waiting for Natalie Imbruglia or somebody like that to cover it. Her debut album apparently sold 7,000 copies, which in her genre in South Africa is a very respectable number. With figures like that, I don’t know why anyone with Field’s obvious talent would bother to release albums in South Africa. (Homepage)
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Bright Blue – Weeping.mp3
bright-blueA real South African classic from 1986 which I think had some influence on the anti-apartheid struggle by way of conscientising young white South Africans. The song is about apartheid-era president PW Botha’s antics and features the strains of the then-banned struggle hymn Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica. Strangely the state-owned radio stations played Weeping prodigiously. Songs had been banned for much less (a year previously, all Stevie Wonder music was banned from the airwaves after the singer dedicated his Grammy to Nelson Mandela).

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Juluka – Impi.mp3
julukaJuluka’s frontman Johnny Clegg — the “White Zulu” — did a great deal for the struggle by integrating himself into Zulu culture, with sincerity and respect for Zulu culture. His groups, first Juluka and then Savuka, where multi-racial at a time when that was virtually unheard of. I have seen many concerts by Clegg’s groups, including a fantastic one in London’s Kentish Town & Country Club. Invariably, these were incredibly energetic. As a live performer, Clegg was not far behind Springsteen. The highlight always 1981’s Impi, which would send the crowd wild, especially when Clegg did those high-kicking, floor-board shattering Zulu wardance moves.

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Brenda Fassie – Vuli Ndlela.mp3
brenda_fassieRecently a contestant in South Africa’s Idols show was favourably compared to the late Brenda Fassie. Such compliments are not offered lightly, not by sensible people. Fassie was a superstar, throughout Africa. People have compared her to Madonna (minus Fassie’s drug abuse, violence, lapses into madness, financial difficulties, lesbian affairs, and premature death). The comparison flatters Madonna. Fassie was a superstar but yet still one with the people, of the people. She showed that talent and charisma trumps vacant beauty. Vuli Ndlela was Fassie’s huge dance hit from 1998, an infectious number that by force of sheer energy compensates for some regrettable production values.

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Freshlyground – Castles In The Sky.mp3
freshlygroundDespite rumours of an impending break-up, Freshlygrounds remain South Africa’s most popular group. The multi-ethnic group transcends boundaries of race and genre. The group’s first hit, 2002’s Castles In The Sky, is a good example of veering between genres. This remixed version received the airplay; the original is a slightly African-inflected pop song which Everything But The Girl might have sung. The superior remix adds to it a House feel which turns the song into a slow-burning dance track. (Freshlyground homepage)

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Niki Daly – Is It An Ism Or Is It Art.mp3
nikidalyIn 1984, artist and author of children’s books Niki Daly had one of the more bizarre South African hits with this song, doubtless inspired by the likes of Bowie, Roxy Music, Gary Numan and Thomas Dolby. A great slice of mid-80s new wave. Like so much of great South African songs, it made no impression on the international charts. At least one of his books, Not So Fast, Songololo, is a children’s book classic. Many of the Capetonian’s books published in the 1980s promoted interracial relations, thereby helping to instil a mindset among those who were then children (and are now young adults) that colour ought not be a social barrier. Read more on Daly’s books.

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Andr̩ de Villiers РMemories.mp3
andre-de-villiers-017I have posted this before, and it proved a very popular song. When the link went dead, I received a few requests to please re-upload it. Memories, by a Cape Town-based songwriter of folk and gospel material, scored a lovely South African TV commercial for Volkswagen, perhaps my all-time favourite ad. I suppose it has special appeal for those who are experiencing the nostalgic musings that accompany middle-age. (André de Villiers’ homepage)

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Next week is the 15th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic election (obviously, racially exclusive elections should not be called democratic). If the above proves to be of any interest at all, I will mark that day with another eight randomly chosen South African songs. And if anyone has tried unsuccessfully to download the Mandela soundclips I posted last July, I’ve reuploaded them.

The Nazis and the funksters

April 20th, 2009 9 comments
The good AWB

The good AWB

A source of unceasing amusement for me is the coincidence that the acronym AWB, which music lovers will associate with the multi-racial funk group Average White Band, applies in South Africa to the white supremacist, neo-Nazi organisation known as the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement). Indeed, they were very much a band of average white men.

Their leader was (and in their entirely irrelevant form today, still is) one Eugene Terre’Blanche, a huge ex-cop who could articulate the aspirations of his fellow ultra-racists on strength of a certain charisma and a background in poetry. In the 1980s, he was a household name, believed to be a “force to be reckoned with”. His beef was that apartheid South Africa was just too left-wing and accommodating of blacks. Then it all fell apart for E.T., as he was dubbed. There were the bizarre revelations of gossip journalist Jani Allan, who had become fascinated by and smitten with Terre’Blanche. Among the defining revelations during a libel trial in London, following a documentary’s claim that she had had an affair with Terre’Blanche, was Allen’s description of Terre’Blanche’s tatty green underpants, holes and all. Then the equestrian “leier” (Afrikaans for leader; or Führer) fell off his horse during some public grandstanding. Later he served a three-year jail sentence for assaulting a petrol attendant. In between, his followers drove an armoured car through the glass façade of the building in which white and black leaders were meeting to negotiate a post-apartheid settlement. As we know, they did not succeed.

The bad AWB (note the logo in the background!)

The bad AWB (note the logo in the background!)

The extent of the AWB’s grand delusion became apparent a month before South Africa’s first inclusive democratic election in April 1994, when these clowns “invaded” the homeland of Bophuthatswana (where Sun City is located) in a bizarre act of resistance to the impending formal death of apartheid. They were not even invited by the homeland’s puppet leader Lucas Mangope who had been trying to put down a civil service mutiny and retain “independence” for his fiefdom, but who by now had fled. The whole thing went down live on TV. A convoy of AWB herberts coming to the aid of the Bophuthatswanan regime and army which didn’t want them.

At one point, three racist invaders were interviewed on TV, having been wounded by a soldier’s bullets. Slumped against the wheels of their blue Merc they explained, nervously, to the assembled journalists what they were doing in Bop. Something like 20 minutes later, they lay on the ground, shot dead at point blank range, in front of the hacks, by a homeland soldier whom they supposedly came to liberate from approaching freedom. Don’t feel too sorry for the hapless trio: just before they had been shooting at civilians and tossing grenades about. The AWB’s militia had already killed at least 37 people the previous day, mostly soldiers. They later claimed having killed a hundred soldiers during their incursion.

These events of 15 years ago come to mind as South Africa is preparing to go to the polls on April 22 in the country’s fourth democratic, to elect as president the reptilian Jacob Zuma — who thinks that having a post-coital shower is a useful method of Aids prevention and who has just succeeded in having corruption against him dropped. His election annoys me, as somebody who was active in the anti-apartheid struggle. Imagine how much it must vex Eugene Terre’Blanche.

And what better way to counter the racism of South Africa’s AWB with the funky music of Britain’s AWB. Three gloriously danceable disco tracks, a funk workout (Cut The Cake) and an Earth, Wind & Fire-esque ballad (A Love Of Your Own).

Average White Band – Atlantic Avenue (1979).mp3
Average White Band – Work To Do (1975).mp3
Average White Band – Let’s Go Around Again (1980).mp3
Average White Band – Cut The Cake (1975).mp3
Average White Band – A Love Of Your Own (1976).mp3

The Originals Vol. 22

April 17th, 2009 6 comments

With Elvis out of the way, we return to randomly selected lesser-known originals (or, in one case, near-original) of hits by The Animals, Rosemary Clooney (and Shakin’ Stevens), Captain & Tennille, Bob Seger and the Beach Boys. Please feel free to comment!

Ashley and Foster – Rising Sun Blues (1933).mp3
Georgia Turner – Rising Sun Blues (1937).mp3
Woody Guthrie – House Of The Rising Sun (1941).mp3
Leadbelly – In New Orleans (1944).mp3
Bob Dylan – House Of The Risin’ Sun (1962).mp3
The Animals – House Of The Rising Sun (1964).mp3
Orchester Günter Gollasch  -  Es steht ein Haus in New Orleans (1973).mp3
animalsThe moment Hilton Valentine’s distinctive guitar arpeggio kicks off House Of The Rising Sun, the song is instantly recognisable. It is now The Animals’ song, even though not wildly dissimilar previous versions by folkie Josh White, Nina Simone, and Bob Dylan preceded that by Eric Burdon and pals. Burdon has said that White’s version inspired the Animals’ version, but at other times he has credited the English folk singer Johnny Handle for the inspiration. Dylan, for his part, was miffed that people thought that he had covered the Animals’ version. Ironically, fellow folk-singer Dave Van Ronk has accused Dylan of “borrowing” his arrangement.

leadbellyThe song itself is an American folk song of uncertain date, adapted from an old English tune said to go back to the 17th century. It used different lyrics, though those credited to Georgia Turner and Bert Martin in the ’30s formed the early basis for the version we now know best. Turner’s version featured here was recorded by the great musicologist Alan Lomax in 1937, when she was 16. The oldest known recording, by Clarence Tom Ashley with Gwen Foster, dates back to 1933, using different lyrics. The song was recorded under alternative titles — blues legend Leadbelly went for the title In New Orleans — before House Of The Rising Sun stuck. By the time Josh White recorded it, the lyrics had been changed so much that the best-known version now excludes Turner and Martin from the songwriting credit.

Dylan has also claimed songwriting credit (no doubt to Van Ronk’s mirth), but the Animals’” version — recorded in one take — is credited to “traditional” with arrangement by keyboardist Alan Price. Apparently the record company ordered it was not possible to include all five members’ names on the single’s label, so Price’s went on by dint of alphabetical order, using the first names of the band’s members. It seems that Price has cheerfully collected the royalties without caring to share them with his four ex-friends.

The Animals have been accused of changing a prostitute’s lament (even Dylan sings it from her perspective) to a gambler’s cautionary tale to satisfy radio-friendly requirements. That may be so, but they were not the first to take the gambler’s position. Apparently Lonnie Donegan did so on his 1959 version, which might or might no have inspired Valentine’s guitar part.

The song has been so ubiquitous, it was even recorded in East Germany, by the Orchester Günter Gollasch. Under a regime where rock music was regarded as subversive, Gollasch must have been willing to take his chances. It is a quite excellent version.

Also recorded by: The Callahan Brothers (as Rounder’s Luck, 1934), Ray Acuff (1938), Woody Guthrie (1941), The Weavers (?), Glenn Yarbrough (1957), Lonnie Donegan (1959), Frankie Laine (as New Orleans, 1959), Miriam Makeba (1960), Joan Baez (1960), Nina Simone (1972), Johnny Hallyday (as Le pénitencier, 1964), The Supremes (1964), Marianne Faithfull (1964), Friedel Berlipp (1964), The Telstar’s (1964), Los Speakers (as La casa del sol naciente, 1965), The Brothers Four (1965), Waylon Jennings (1965), Jay and The Driving Wheels (1965), The Barbarians (1965), Marcellos Ferial (as La casa del sole, 1965), The Five Canadians (1966), Herbie Mann (1967), Trudy Pitts (1967), Ronnie Milsap (1967), Catherine McKinnon (1968), Tim Hardin (1969), Nat Stuckey (1969), Jimmy Powell (1969), Jimi Hendrix (1969), Oscar and the Majestics (1969), Mike Auldridge (1970), Frijid Pink (1970), Conway Twitty (1970), Geordie (1973), Idris Muhammad (1976), Hot R.S. (1977), Santa Esmeralda (1978), Alan Price (1980), Dolly Parton (1980), Skid Row (1981), Jan Walravens (1984), Adolescents (1987), Tangerine Dream (1988), Alejandra Guzmán (as La casa del sol naciente,1989), Tracy Chapman (1990), Theodis Ealey (1993), Don McMinn (1994), Sinéad O’Connor (1994), Peter, Paul and Mary with B.B. King (1995), Eric Burdon Brian Auger Band (1998), Don Angle (1999), 386 DX (2000), Blind Boys of Alabama (using the words of Amazing Grace, 2001), Toto (2002), Sarah Brooks with Joe Beck (2002), Muse (2002), Helmut Lotti (2003), Jet Jet Six (2003), Rock Nalle & The Yankees (2004) a.o.

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Stuart Hamblen – This Ole House.mp3
Rosemary Clooney – This Ole House.mp3
Shakin’ Stevens – This Ole House.mp3

stuart-hamblenThe story goes that in 1949 actor and cowboy-country singer Stuart Hamblen was hunting with John Wayne in a remote part of Texas when they happened upon an abandoned, crumbling hut, miles from the nearest road. Intrigued, they entered, finding the corpse of an old mountain man. Hamblen wrote the lyrics right there, on a sandwich bag. As a song about dying, Hamblen’s recording was upbeat yet poignant.

clooneyHamblen sang the song from the first person perspective. Rosemary Clooney in her 1954 hit version became a spectator to the man’s death, giving it a rather indecorous upbeat treatment. In Clooney’s version, it seems that the death of the man is a matter of gratification. The record-buying public didn’t mind: her version topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic (two concurrently released versions in Britain notwithstanding). In 1981 Welsh rock & roll revivalist Shakin’ Stevens (Shakey!) resurrected the dead man’s epitaph in similar bouncy fashion, also topping the UK charts.

hamblen-candidateAs for Stuart Hamblen, shortly after writing This Ole House he experienced a religious conversion at a Billy Graham rally, became a broadcaster of Christian material. Having lost as a Democrat congressional candidate in 1933, he ran as the Prohibition Party’s candidate for US president in 1952, picking up 72,949 sober votes.

Also recorded by: Alma Cogan (1954), Billie Anthony (1954), Rex Allen & Tex Williams (1954), The Statler Brothers (1966), Les Humphries Singers (1971), Billie Jo Spears (1981), The Brian Setzer Orchestra (1998), Bette Midler (2003), Wenche (2005), Brenda Lee with Dolly Parton (2007) a.o.

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Willis Alan Ramsey – Muskrat Candlelight.mp3
America – Muskrat Love.mp3
Captain & Tennille – Muskrat Love.mp3

willis-alan-ramsey Popular music is not brimming over with songs about the romantic pursuits of rodents. Willis Alan Ramsey got his break as a 19-year-old in 1972 when he stayed in the same Austin, Texas hotel as Leon Russell and Gregg Allman. Precociously, he knocked on their doors, introduced himself, and impressed them so much that they invited him to record at their respective studios. Ramsey eventually signed for the Shelter Records label which Russell co-owned. He made only one album (recorded in five different studios), and then became a songwriter of some renown instead. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffett, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin. The most successful of the songs on his poorly selling, self-titled album was intended as a novelty number — how can a song about rodent porn be otherwise? — written in 15 minutes.

Ramsey’s Muskrat Candlelight was first covered in 1973 by soft-rockers America (who I consider to be hard done by in reputation on the back of the much reviled Horse With No Name – see HERE). Unaccountably, America changed the title to Muskrat Love, which is how husband and wife duo Captain & Tennille adopted it three years later for their US #4 hit.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems.

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Rodney Crowell – Shame On The Moon.mp3
Bob Seger – Shame On The Moon.mp3

rodney-crowell Many of our performers of lesser-known originals never hit the big time, especially when they wrote the successfully covered song (which goes some way to explaining why their originals aren’t better known). Rodney Crowell isn’t one of them. A successful country singer, especially in the alt-country genre headlined by Earle and Van Zandt, he is still churning out records. Among his country credentials is his former marriage to Roseanne Cash, and a recording (and reworking) with his ex-father-in-law of I Walk The Line. Some might include him in this series as progenitor of the Keith Urban hit Making Memories of Us. Not many would associate him with having written and first performed one of Bob Seger’s biggest hits.

Crowell’s version appeared on his self-titled 1981 LP, to no attention at all. A year later, Seger’s version reached the US #2. It features former Eagle Glenn Frey on the harmonies. It was also his only sizeable hit on the country charts.
Also recorded by: nobody else again, it seems.

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The Regents – Barbara-Ann.mp3
Beach Boys – Barbara Ann.mp3

barbara-annBarbara Ann became one of the Beach Boys’ biggest hits at the same time as the Beatles released Rubber Soul. For the Beatles, December 1965 was a new beginning; for the Beach Boys, Barbara-Ann bookmarked the end of their surf pop era, appearing on the covers album Beach Boys Party! (which included three versions of Beatles songs), as Brian Wilson was already preparing the massively influential Pet Sounds.

The Beach Boys didn’t want Barbara Ann to be a single release. Beach Boys Party! was an informal affair, a very laid back jam session recorded to fulfil a contractual obligation. The group, and whoever else was around, were playing whatever came to mind while they were getting drunk. At one point, Dean Torrence of surf-pop duo Jan & Dean, who had previously recorded Barbara Ann in 1962 and was recording in an adjacent studio, popped in. Torrence suggested the song and sang lead on the recording with Brian Wilson. Torrence left half an hour later, and was not credited on the album. Obviously, the light-hearted Barbara Ann, with its fluffed lines and subsequent laughter and with session drummer Hal Blaine on ashtrays — listen closely at 1:05 — did not quite meet the sophisticated production values which had already been evident on recent recordings, such as California Girls. And still, Barbara Ann reached the US #2.

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

Also recorded by: Jan & Dean (1962), The Who (1966), Martin Circus (as Marylène, 1975), Vince Vance & the Valiants (as Bomb Iran, 1979 — John McCain’s favourite), Red Squares (1989), Blind Guardian (1991), Travoltas (2003)
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More Originals

American Road Trip Vol. 5

April 13th, 2009 No comments

Before we proceed with our roadtrip, I wonder why all of a sudden there so many searches for Jenny Lewis (the wonderful singer of Rilo Kiley) coming to this blog.

And so, on our tour of the USA, we have left Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Jessica Alba’s one-time hometown of Biloxi and still travelling along the gulf coast, and not accompanied by the strains of Lynyrd Skynyrd, we enter Alabama.

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Mobile, Alabama

As recorded last time, we’re covering French Louisiana’s successive capitals in a reverse chronological order. Before Biloxi, before New Orleans, before Baton Rouge, the capital of the French colony was Mobile. With its long history and cosmopolitan location, this Alabama town does not conform to the outsider’s perception of Alabama as populated by truck-driving, straw-chewing hicks who’d sooner don white hoods and lynch people for failing to skip off the pavement at their approach than do an honest day’s work (hey, I didn’t create the prejudices). Mobile, population 200,000, has a symphony orchestra, opera company, ballet troupe, and several art museums. And it is the subject of a Dylan song.

Actually, it’s not. As I understand it, Mobile serves as a metaphor for Dylan’s folk sound with Memphis representing rock & roll (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins) and the electric blues of  Beale Street (B.B. King et al). The song, if it makes any sense at all, seems to reflect Dylan’s confusion about the reaction he received at the Newport Folk Frsrival after going electric.

Which brings us to Jerry Reed, whose Guitar Man could have slotted into various destinations on our journey. It is right that it should settle in Mobile, since that is where the Guitar Man gets his big gig at Big Jack’s. “So if you ever take a trip down to the ocean find yourself down round Mobile, well, make it on out to the club called Jack’s,” he advises. And where do we find the club? “Just follow that crowd of people, you’ll wind up out on his dance floor diggin’ the finest little five piece group up and down the Gulf of Mexico.” Oh yeah, we dig.
Bob Dylan – Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.mp3
Jerry Reed – Guitar Man.mp3

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Montgomery, Alabama

The Rosa Parks bus

The Rosa Parks bus

We leave the coast and move inland, to Montgomery. And here we enter historical Jim Crow and civil rights movement territory. Montgomery, a city of about 200,000, became famous for its pivotal position in the emerging civil rights movement. These included the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and, ten years later, the three Selma to Montgomery marches. The bus boycott was sparked, as we know, by Rosa Parks’ courageous defiance of bus segregation. The conventional wisdom that a tired Rosa plonked herself down on a seat reserved for whites is a myth; her action was conceived and intended to animate protest. To that effect, she had only two week’s earlier attended a Memphis workshop on civil disobedience. Parks was not a random tired worker, but a political activist who knew exactly what she was doing. I rather prefer the truth to the myth: the  story of African-Americans taking charge of the anti-racist movement to lay claim to their rights. The mythology of the tired woman — though doubtless a potent mobilising tool at the time — now might invite ideas that these self-evident rights were granted out of some sense of pity, and not fought for and earned the hard way. (Discuss in 700 words)

The second featured song here is not about Rosa Parks or civil rights, but about a woman who happens to live in Montgomery. Her life didn’t quite turn out the way she had envisaged; she is clearly depressed and is now looking for an escape (the reference to her as an angel flying from Montgomery might hint at suicide). This is John Prine at his empathising best.
John Prine – Angel From Montgomery.mp3

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Birmingham, Alabama

And from Rosa Parks’ home we travel to the city where Martin Luther King Jr once ministered. Like Montgomery, Alabama’s industrial centre and capital was a primary site of the civil rights struggle. It was from a Birmingham jail that MLK, incarcerated for taking part in a non-violent protest, wrote his famous letter. And Birmingham was the city of the notorious bombing of the birmingham_civil_rights16th Street Baptist church that killed for young girls (earning the city the moniker Bombingham), an act that still outrages.

The concerted non-violent protest campaign named Project C, in which 3,000 people were arrested and many more assaulted by police is credited with forcing the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By 1979, Birmingham elected an African-American mayor, Dr Richard Arrington Jr, which is not as dramatic as one might think since more than a three-quarter of the city’s population is black.

The featured song mentions Birmingham only by way of alliteration. It is Emmylou Harris’ lament for Gram Parsons, whose face to see again she would walk from Boulder, Colorado to Birmingham.
Emmylou Harris – Boulder To Birmingham.mp3

From Alabama we shall board the midnight train to Georgia.

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Previously on American Road Trip

The Originals Vol. 21 – Elvis edition 4

April 10th, 2009 6 comments

This is the fourth and final Elvis special in the Originals series. That is 20 cover versions (plus Glenn Reves’ demo acetate of Heartbreak Hotel), out of some 250 cover versions Elvis recorded. Most of these are, however, relatively obscure or better known in previous versions. Featured here are six songs: Are You Lonesome Tonight, Crying In The Chapel, Suspicious Minds, The Wonder Of You, There Goes My Everything, and Burning Love.

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Mark James – Suspicious Minds.mp3
(old file replaced by the album version as of December 17, 2009)
Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds.mp3

Elvis Presley’s artistic decline in the1960s is symbolised by the coincidence of his most derided movie, Clambake, opening at about the same time as the Beatles released their groundbreaking Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A year later, in 1968, Elvis’ live TV special marked the comeback of Elvis the Entertainer. Elvis the Recording Artist, however, had not had a #1 hit in seven years when in January 1969 he entered the famous American Sound Studios in Memphis, the soul table where Dusty Springfield cut her legendary Dusty in Memphis album.

At first the old soul music veterans at the studio were dubious about working with the washed-up ex-king of rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis soon had them convinced otherwise. Eight days into the session, on January 20, he recorded the Mac Davis-penned In The Ghetto; two days later Suspicious Minds, which by the end of 1969 would top the US charts.

mark_jamesSuspicious Minds was written by American Sound Studios in-house writer Mark James (whose real name was Francis Zambon), who also wrote hits such as It’s Only Love and Hooked On A Feeling for his friend, country singer BJ Thomas. The latter was also a UK hit for the vile Jonathan King. BJ Thomas was in line to record Suspicious Minds before the song was given to Elvis — who insisted on recording the song even when his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, threatened that he wouldn’t over the question of publishing rights (always an issue with Parker). Thomas went on to have a big hit that year anyway with Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, and went on to record Suspicious Minds in 1970.

elvis_suspicious_mindsElvis would record four more songs written or co-written by James: Always On My Mind (written originally, as noted in Elvis edition 2, for Brenda Lee), Raised On A Rock, Moody Blue and Thomas’ It’s Only Love. James recorded none of these, but in 1968 he did record Suspicious Minds. Chips Moman had produced James’ version, and thereby created a handy template which he returned to when producing Elvis’ version. Improved by Elvis superb interpretation, the stirring backing vocals, and the tight Memphis Horns, the cover became Elvis’ definitive latter-period song. Two months before Suspicious Minds was released as a single in October 1969, Elvis resumed performing live on stage — for the first time in more than a decade. As if to create a poignant contrast, Elvis’ first performance in Vegas took place just two weeks before Woodstock. Almost invariably, Suspicious Minds would be Elvis’ closing song, later usually accompanied by extravagant karate moves.

Also recorded by: Ross McManus (1970), BJ Thomas (1970), Waylon Jennings & Jessi Coulter (1970), Dee Dee Warwick (1971), The Heptones (1971), Del Reeves & Billie Jo Spears (1976), Johnny Farago (1978), Leo de Castro & Babylon (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Thelma Houston (1980), Candi Staton (1981), B.E.F. feat. Gary Glitter (1982), The Defects (1984), Fine Young Cannibals (1985; charting in the UK with a remix in 1986), Bobby Orlando (1988), Dwight Yoakam (1992), Phish (1996), Axelle Red (1997), Ligabue (as Ultimo tango a Memphis, 1997), True West (1998), Avail (1999), Wax (1999), Gareth Gates (2002), Helmut Lotti (2002), Big Fat Snake with TCB Band & Sweet Inspirations (2003), Pete Yorn (2003), Flemming Bamse Jørgensen (2007), Sakis Rouvas (2007), Dread Zeppelin (2008), Roch Voisine ( 2008), Colton Berry (2008), Ronan bloody Keating (2009), Miss Kittin & the Hacker (2009) a.o.

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Darrell Glenn – Crying In The Chapel.mp3
The Orioles – Crying In The Chapel.mp3
Elvis Presley – Crying In The Chapel.mp3

elvis_chapelThe influence on Elvis’ early music by the sounds of Rhythm & Blues on the one hand and country music on the other — Arthur Crudup and Hank Snow — is well known. A third profound influence was gospel. Here, too, Elvis drew from across the colour line. Often he was one of the few white faces at black church services (as a youth in Tupelo, he lived in a house designated for white families but located at the edge of a black township), but he also loved the white gospel/country sounds created by the likes of the Louvin Brothers — whose charmless sibling Ira once declined an approach by his fan Elvis, citing his reluctance to speak to the “white nigger”.

Gospel was not just a fancy, but the genre Elvis loved the most. In recording studios, he would warm up with gospel numbers. When he jammed with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in the Sun studio (Johnny Cash left before any of the mis-named Million Dollar Quartet session was recorded), much of the material consisted of sacred music. At the height of his hip-gyrating greatness, he recorded an EP of spirituals titled Peace In The Valley. And let’s not forget that the only three Grammies Elvis ever received were for gospel recordings.

oriolesElvis’ biggest gospel hit was Crying In The Chapel, which had been written in 1953 by Artie Glenn for his son Darrell, who performed it in the country genre. The same year, the R&B band Sonny Til & the Orioles — progenitors of the doo wop style of the late ’50s and the first of a succession of bird-themed bandnames — scored a #11 hit with the song (around the same time, a pop version by June Valli reached #4). It was the Orioles’ recording from which Elvis drew inspiration in his version, recorded shortly after he returned from the army in 1960. It was not released, at Tom Parker’s command, because Artie Glenn refused to share the rights to the song with the cut-throat publishing company of Elvis repertoire, Hill & Range. And with good reason, for the song continued to be a hit by several artists. Eventually Hill & Range secured the ownership. When Crying In The Chapel was eventually released in 1965, it was not only a US hit (his first top 10 single in two years), but also topped the UK charts.

Also recorded by: Rex Allen (1953), Lee Lawrence (1953), Art Lund (1953), Ella Fitzgerald (1953), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1953), Eddy Arnold (1953), Nelly Wijsbek (1953), Wolfgang Sauer (as Tränen in den Augen, 1954), Derrick & Patsy (1962), Little Richard (1963), Roy Hamilton (1963), Ellie Lavelle (1963), Santo & Johnny (1964), Adam Wade (1964), Bobby Solo (as La casa del Signore, 1965), The Starliners (1965), Hugo Winterhalter (1965), Chuck Jackson (1966), The Lettermen (1966), Staple Singers (1968), Don McLean (1974), Ronnie McDowell (1978), Allies (1989), Aaron Neville (1995), Hotel Hunger (1997), Helmut Lotti (2002), P.J. Proby (2002), Chris Clark (2005), Cagey Strings (as Tränen in den Augen, 2006), Flemming Bamse Jørgensen (2007) a.o.

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Ray Peterson – The Wonder Of You.mp3
Elvis Presley – The Wonder Of You.mp3

raypApparently written for Perry Como, The Wonder Of You was first recorded by Ray Peterson (he of Tell Laura I Love Her notoriety) in 1959, scoring a moderate hit with it. Peterson, who died in 2005, later liked to recount the story of how Elvis sought his permission to record the song. “He asked me if I would mind if he recorded The Wonder Of You. I said: ‘You don’t have to ask permission; you’re Elvis Presley.’ He said: ‘Yes, I do. You’re Ray Peterson.’” Not that Peterson owned the rights to the song, or was particularly famous for singing it.

Elvis recorded the song live on stage in Las Vegas on February 18, 1970. It was released as a single a couple of months later and was a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic, topping the UK charts for six weeks. It was also his last UK #1 during his lifetime.

Also recorded by: Ronnie Hilton (1959), The Lettermen (1963), The Sandpipers (1969), Bobby Hatfield (1969), Jennifer Holliday (2003), Flemming Bamse Jørgensen (2007)

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Ferlin Husky – There Goes My Everything.mp3
Elvis Presley – There Goes My Everything.mp3

ferlin_huskyThis song is probably most famous in its incarnation as Engelbert Humperdinck’s gaudy 1967 hit. In its original form, however, it is a country classic, written by Dallas Frazier. It was first recorded in 1965 and released the following year by that great purveyor of unintentionally funny songs and owner of the hickiest of hick accents, Ferlin Husky. His version was an album track; fellow country singer Jack Greene turned it into a hit in 1967. Elvis’ version, which appeared on the quite excellent 1971 Elvis Country album (after being a 1970 b-side of I Really Don’t Want To Know) and was a UK top 10 hit that year, certainly draws from the song’s country origins — though surely not from Husky’s original.

Also recorded by: Carl Belew (1967), Del Reeves (1967), Margie Singleton (1967), Bill Vaughn (1967), David Ables (1967), Col Joye (1968), James Burton & Ralph Mooney (1968), Charlie Walker (1968), Nana Mouskouri (as Mille raisons de vivre, 1971), Holmes Brothers (1993), Patty Loveless (2008) a.o.

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Arthur Alexander – Burning Love.mp3
Elvis Presley – Burning Love.mp3
Dennis Linde – Burning Love.mp3

arthur_alexander_burning_loveElvis did not particularly like Burning Love; if he didn’t record it under protest, he certainly was not going to spend much time on it. Where 16 years earlier he’d spend 30-odd takes on the spontaneous sounding Hound Dog (see Elvis edition 2), he recorded Burning Love in only six takes. The production values were pretty poor: Elvis’ voice sounds tinny, but not for lack of trying. But listen to the drumming! Strange then that this slack recording scored big in the US (#2 on Billboard; the final top 10 hit in his lifetime) and UK (#7).

A year previously, in 1971, the soul singer Arthur Alexander (whom we will meet again when we turn to originals of Beatles songs) recorded Burning Love, releasing it in January 1972, two months before Elvis recorded it. A fine recording in the southern soul tradition, it made no impact. The song’s writer, Dennis Linde, recorded it in 1973 — his version recalls the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Also recorded by: Mother’s Finest (1977), Benny Scott (1983), Ronnie Spector (1987), I Love You (1989), Clouseau (as In vuur en vlam, 1992), Travis Tritt (1992), Batmobile (1993), Grant Lee Buffalo (1993), Melissa Etheridge (1994), Nina Forsberg (1997), Ghoti Hook (1998), Wynonna Judd (2003) a.o.

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Vaughn Deleath – Are You Lonesome Tonight.mp3
Henry Burr – Are You Lonesome To-night.mp3
Carter Family – Are You Lonesome Tonight.mp3
Elvis Presley – Are You Lonesome Tonight (Laughing version).mp3

vaughn_deleathTom Parker got Elvis to sing this old standard because it was a favourite of his wife, Mrs Marie (!) Parker, in its 1940s version by country star Gene Austin. Written by Tin Pan Alley residents Lou Handman and Roy Turk in 1926, it was recorded by a swathe of artists in 1927. The first of these versions, by Ned Jakobs, was not released, so the honour of first released recording goes to one Charles Hart. The song first became a hit in the version by the improbably named Vaughn Deleath, “The Radio Girl”. Her take dates to June 13 (Hart’s was May 8). On August 5, 1927, the famed tenor Henry Burr put his voice to it. Many a crooner would follow, but some performers adapted the song to their genre. So it was with the Carter Family — the pioneers of country music who went on to produce June and Anita — whose quite lovely 1935 bluegrass version is barely recognisable, musically and even lyrically.

The song enjoyed a revival in the 1950s. It was the 1950 version by the Blue Barron and his Orchestra which served as the basis for Elvis’ take on Are You Lonesome Tonight, with Al Jolson’s version of the same year inspiring the spoken part, which borrows from Shakespeare’s As You Like It (“All the world’s a stage” etc). The saxophone is played by Boots Randolph, who later covered the song himself.

are_you_lonesome_tonightFeatured here is not the studio version which those who don’t already have it don’t really need. What they need is the laughing version from one of his 1969 Vegas gigs. The conventional story has it that Elvis, probably amphetamine-addled, was cracking up at the high-pitched singing of a backing singer (said to be Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother). An alternative story has it that after Elvis, as was his wont, “humorously” changed the lyrics from “Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there” to “Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair”, when he spotted a bald man in the audience, setting him off into a fit of laughter — and all the while the backing singer keeps going in a most gamely fashion.

Also recorded by: Al Jolson (1950), Blue Barron and his Orchestra (1950), Jaye P. Morgan (1959), Peter Alexander (as Bist du einsam heut’ nacht?, 1961), Frank Sinatra (1962), Helen Shapiro (1962), The Lettermen (1964), Michele (as Ti senti sola stasera, 1965), Dottie West (1972), Donnie Osmond (1973), Euson (1973), (as Er du langsom i nat, 1976), Johnny Farago (1976), Allison Durbin (1977), Merle Haggard (1977), Ral Donner (1979), Karen Casey (1980), Will Tura (as Ben je eenzaam vannacht , 1984), Peter Hofmann (1986), Robot (as Ti senti sola stasera, 1987), Mina (1989), Bryan Ferry (1992), 101 Strings (1993), Sammy “Sax” Mintzer (1997), Megan Mullally (1999), The Mavericks (1999), Helmut Lotti (2002), Anne Murray (2002), Barb Jungr (2005), Chris Botti with Paul Buchanan (2005), Cagey Strings (2006), Barry Manilow (2006) a.o.

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More Originals

The Originals – Elvis edition 1
The Originals – Elvis edition 2
The Originals – Elvis edition 3

American Road Trip Vol. 4

April 8th, 2009 No comments

On the last leg of our US tour we visited Elvis’ cities: Memphis and Tupelo. We now enter the territory where Elvis tasted much success before he broke nationwide: Louisiana. In a strange turn of events, Elvis appeared first at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, to little acclaim, supporting Hank Snow. Shortly after Elvis became a weekly regular on the Louisiana Hayride, based in Shreveport, Louisiana, whence many country legends (Hank Williams among them) moved to Nashville. Alas, we will have no time or song to make a turn to Shreveport, but we’ll visit two cities in the state.

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Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I was entirely oblivious to a place called Baton Rouge until, as a young man, I read John Kennedy Toole’s wonderful novel, Confederacy of Dunces, which mentions the city. I loved the name. But we have no time to hang aorund in the state capital of Louisiana, so we move on to the city in which Confederacy of Dunces is set. As we set off in our eight-wheel truck (the beauty of this journey is that we can travel by any mode of transport of our fancy) we spot a pretty hitchhiker. We stop and let her (Bobby by name, as it turns out) and the suddenly appearing boyfriend in — and just in time, too, because it looks like rain, and the poor fellow looks as faded as his jeans. The whole way down to New Orleans we exhaust our song repertoire, with Bobby’s handclaps and the windscreen wiper keeping the rhythm.
Kris Kristofferson – Bobby McGee.mp3

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New Orleans, Louisiana

The city of legends has popularised the idea of Mardi Gras, which idiots around the world have a way of scheduling all year round (it is, of course, the carnival before the season of Lent). More lately, New Orleans has become a symbol of George W Bush’s callous incompetence. There are hundreds of songs about New Orleans — perhaps only New York among jock-a-moUS cities has been the subject of lyrics more frequently — so the challenge here was to identify three top tunes that mention in the title neither the city nor its state, nor Mardi Gras, nor Bourbon Street nor the Latin Quarter (though one does so partly), nor houses of rising suns. So here we entertain ourselves with a trio of songs about a parade confrontation between “tribes” of African-American Mardi gras reveller; a love song for a prostitute (Steely Dan rocking the pedal steel!); and the tale of a hoofer (the version here was not featured in my recent Bojangles line up). The first of these songs became famous in the version by the Dixie Cups, renamed Iko Iko; this is the 1953 original by Sugar Boy Crawford, who co-wrote it with Lloyd Price.
Sugar Boy Crawford & his Cane Cutters – Jock-A-Mo (Iko Iko).mp3
Steely Dan -Pearl Of The Quarter.mp3
Nina Simone – Mr Bojangles.mp3

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Biloxi, Mississippi

Biloxi, pop. 50,000, is another one of those obscure American towns which gained some fame due to American cultural hegemony, thanks to a rather endearing movie featuring Matthew Broderick and Christopher Walken, and earlier to Goldie Hawn’s Private Benjamin. Biloxi is well-known also as a casino resort and as the one-time abode of the beautiful Jessica Alba. And now Biloxi attains great fame thanks to Any Major Dude, who’s not even American. More recently, of course, Biloxi was frequently mentioned in association with Hurricane Katrina. So, here we are in Biloxi on the Gulf of Mexico and meet a middle-aged fellow with his young girlfriend. He came from Houston, just left is family behind. Sometimes he goes back to see his family. It doesn’t sound like they are very impressed with him. But our new friend seems to have no regrets. Or does he?
Jack Ingram – Biloxi (live).mp3

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We will leave the former capital of French Louisiana, known then as Bilocci, for the town that had that honour before. Before Biloxi we had visited the city especially built as a capital to succeed it, La Nouvelle-Orléans. The French decided that New Orleans would be safer from hurricanes and flooding… And our next stop will be the city which was the French colony’s first capital.

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Previously on American Road Trip

The Originals Vol. 20

April 3rd, 2009 6 comments

I failed to realise that the 19th instalment of The Originals last week marked the 100th song to be, erm, covered in the series (remember, the first part included ten songs, part 2 featured six). Since it can be argued that the story of Bitter Sweet Symphony wasn’t really a tale of an original and its cover, we enter the second century of the series with a South African song with a most remarkable history (and pardon the length of the entry; it’s worth reading anyhow, I hope), as well as the originals of the Kingsmen‘s Louie Louie, Glen Campbell‘s By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Deep Purple‘s Hush and the bizarre Tiny Tim‘s Tip Toe Through The Tulips.

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Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds – Mbube.mp3
The Weavers – Wimoweh.mp3
Miriam Makeba – The Lion Song (Mbube).mp3
The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight.mp3
Pete Seeger – Wimoweh (live).mp3
Soweto Gospel Choir – Mbube.mp3

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

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

solomon_linda1

Solomon Linda

Mbube was introduced to American music by Pete Seeger, who adapted a fairly faithful version of the song. Still, Seeger didn’t even transcribe the word “uyiMbube” properly, even though he had received a record of the song (from the great music historian Alan Lomax), which had a label stating the title on it. And surely it should have been possible to research a song which sold a 100,000 copies in South Africa, especially if Alan Lomax is your friend, in such a way as not to render “uyiMbube” as “wimoweh”.

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

tokensThe Tokens’ version took even greater liberties. But this time nobody could claim ignorance because Miriam Makeba, who grew up with the song, released it in the US in 1960, a year before The Tokens’ version was created, as Mbube, or The Lion (mbube means lion). It is fair to say that George David Weiss, who rearranged the song for The Tokens, at their request, should not be denied his songwriter credit (that would be the same Weiss who co-wrote Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling In Love with mafia associates and RCA producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore ). Weiss dismantled and restructured the song, turning a very African song into an American novelty pop song. As so often, the future classic was first relegated to the b-side; a disc jockey, not impressed with the a-side, flipped over the single and so created a massive hit.

Peretti and Creatore claimed co-writing credit and the rights to the song, deciding that Mbube was an old African folk song and therefore in the public domain. They might well have thought so in good faith, but a minimum of research would have established the facts, even before the age of Google. Or perhaps not: they pulled the same stunt with Miriam Makeba’s Click Song (the clicking is a distinctive sound in the Xhosa language), which the Tokens released as Bwanina. They got away with that, because Makeba’s number was based on an old folk song. Not so with The Lion Sleeps Tonight, to which Gallo, the record label owner from South Africa, had asserted his US rights in 1952 and then sold it to TRO. A whole lot of wheeling and dealing took place, with the upshot that the credit now included TRO’s fictitious Paul Campbell. Again, Linda was left out in the cold.

It was only at the beginning of the present decade that Linda’s family took legal action, and that only after Richmond, Weiss and the mafia pals started to wrangle about the ownership to the song. Solomon Linda’s family eventually won a settlement which entitles them to future royalties and a lump sum for royalties going back to 1987, largely due to an extensive Rolling Stone exposé by South African one-book wonder novelist Rian Malan. By some estimates, Mbube/Wimoweh/The Lion Sleeps Tonight has accrued royalties in the region of $15 million. Linda’s family initially sued Disney for $1.5 million for the song’s use in The Lion King – happily they are now due royalties from other versions. Malan and the family’s lawyers are still trying to find versions of the song against which to claim royalties.

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

Read the full story of Mbube.
Also recorded by: Karl Denver (1962), Henri Salvador (as Le lion est mort ce soir, 1962), Roger Whittaker (1967), The New Christy Minstrels (1965), Eric Donaldson (1971), Robert John (1972), Dave Newman (1972), Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus (as Rise Jah Jah Children, 1974), Brian Eno (1975), Flying Pickets (1980), Roboterwerke (1981), Tight Fit (1981), The Nylons (1982), Hotline (1984), Sandra Bernhard (1988), They Might Be Giants with Laura Cantrell (as The Guitar [The Lion Sleeps Tonight], 1990), R.E.M. (as The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, 1993), Nanci Griffith (1993), Lebo M (1994), Steve Forbert (1994), *NSYNC (1997), Helmut Lotti (2000), Laurie Berkner (2000) a.o.

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Billy Joe Royal – Hush.mp3
Deep Purple – Hush.mp3

bj-royalIn Volume 19 we looked at Joe South’s original of Rose Garden. South enjoyed chart success himself with Games People Play, and wrote a couple of hits for Billy Joe Royal, including Royal’s signature hit Down In The Boondocks (1965, originally intended for Gene Pitney) and Hush (1967). Royal — it is his real name — had a country background, though one influenced by the soul stylings of Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. He performed with the country singer likes of Jerry Reed and George Stevens, but aimed for a pop audience. For a while he succeeded, but when his pop star waned, he successfully crossed back into traditional country. His final pop charts entry, a 1978 version of Under The Boardwalk which peaked at #82, was followed in 1985 by his first country charts entry (Burned Like A Rocket, #10).

Hush was not a big hit for Royal, peaking at #52. But it became the first hit for hairy hard rock legends Deep Purple, in 1968 — even though initially nitially the group was not really interested in the song. Since then, Hush has been recorded in various styles, most of them taking as their template Deep Purple’s version rather than Royal’s gospel-tinged original which evokes the source of South’s inspiration for the song: a spiritual which included the line “Hush, I thought I heard Jesus calling my name.”

Also recorded by: Johnny Hallyday (as Mal, 1967), I Colours (1968), Merrilee Rush & Turnabouts (1968), The Love Affair (1968), Jimmy Frey (1969), Funky Junction (1973), Deep Purple (1985), Milli Vanilli (1988), Killdozer (1989), Gotthard (1992), Kula Shaker (1997)

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richard-berryRichard Berry & The Pharoahs – Louie Louie.mp3
The Kingsmen – Louie Louie.mp3

There are people who like to designate the Kingsmen’s 1963 version of Louie Louie as the first ever punk song. One can see why: it’s production is shambolic, the drummer is rumoured to be swearing in the background, the singer’s diction is non-existence, the modified lyrics were investigated by the FBI for lewdness (the feds found nothing incriminating, not even the line which may or may not have been changed from “it won’t be long me see me love to “stick my finger up the hole of love”), and by the time the song became a hit – after a Boston DJ played in a “worst songs ever” type segment — the band had broken up and toured in two incarnations.

louie-louie

Originally it was a regional hit in 1957 for an R&B singer named Richard Berry, who took inspiration from his namesake Chuck and West Indian music. In essence, it’s a calypso number of a sailor telling the eponymous barman about the girl he loves. It was originally released as a b-side, but quickly gained popularity on the West Coast. It sold 40,000 copies, but after a series of flops Berry momentarily retired from the recording business, selling the rights to Louie Louie for $750. In the meantime, bands continued to include the song in their repertoire. It was a 1961 version by Rockin’ Robin Roberts & the Fabulous Wailers which provided the Kingsmen with the prototype for their cover.

It is said that Louie Louie has been covered at least 1,500 times. It has also woven itself into the fabric of American culture, having been referenced in several movies, as diverse as Animal House and Mr Holland’s Opus. In the terribly underrated 1990 roadtrip film Coupe de Ville, three brothers (including a young Patrick Dempsey) have an impassioned debate about whether Louie Louie is a sea shanty or a song about sex.

Also recorded by: Rockin’ Robin Roberts (1961), Paul Revere & The Raiders (1963), Beach Boys (1963), The Kinks (1964), Joske Harry’s & The King Creoles (1964), Otis Redding (1964), The Invictas (1965), Jan & Dean (1965), The Ventures (1965), The Sandpipers (1966), Swamp Rats (1966), The Ad-Libs (1966), The Sonics (1966), The Troggs (1966), Friar Tuck (1967), The Tams (1968), Toots and the Maytals (1972), Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids (1973), Skid Row (1976), The Flamin’ Groovies (1977), The Clash (live bootleg, 1977), The Kids (1980), Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1981), Barry White (1981), Stanley Clarke & George Duke (1981), Maureen Tucker (1981), Black Flag (1981), Motörhead (1984), Lyres (1987), The Fat Boys (1988), The Purple Helmets (1988), Young MC (1990), Massimo Riva (as Lui Luigi, 1992), Pow Wow (1992), The Outcasts (1993), Iggy Pop (1993), Robert Plant (1993), The Queers (1994), The Stingray (1996), The Alarm Clocks (2000), Mazeffect (2003), Angel Corpus Christi (2005) a.o.

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Nick Lucas – Tip Toe Through The Tulips With Me.mp3
Tiny Tim – Tip Toe Through The Tulips.mp3

nick_lucasWhatever mind-altering substance it was that possessed the record buying public to turn Tiny Tim’s bizarre rendition of Tip-Toe Through The Tulips into an international hit, I want some. Usually a baritone, Tiny Tim sang the old standard in a bizarre falsetto which he had “discovered” by accident when singing along to a song on the radio as a young man in the early ’50s. Somehow he built up a loyal cult following with that falsetto shtick, ultimately leading to his novelty hit (possibly aided by his cryranoesque physiognomy) following its performance on the comedy variety show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

tiny_timBut Tiny Tim, known to his mother as Herbert Khaury, was more than a bit of a court jester. In his real life, which ended in 1996 at the age of 64, he was a serious student of American music history. He didn’t do Tip-Toe as a parody but as a tribute to the song’s original performer, Nick Lucas. Indeed, Lucas sang it at Khoury’s 1969 wedding to one Miss Vicky on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show (Video of Tiny Tim and Miss Vicky crooning on the show).

Nick Lucas, known in his prime as “The Crooning Troubadour” and later as “the grandfather of the jazz guitar”, topped the charts with the song — written in 1926 by Joe Burke and Al Dubin — for ten weeks in 1929 on the back of its inclusion in the early colour film Gold Diggers Of Broadway (video).

Also recorded by: Jean Goldkette (1929), Johnny Marvin (1929), Roy Fox (1929) a.o.

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Johnny Rivers – By The Time I Get To Phoenix.mp3
Glen Campbell – By The Time I Get To Phoenix.mp3
Isaac Hayes – By The Time I Get To Phoenix (full ).mp3

jriversJohnny Rivers is mostly remembered as the ’60s exponent of rather good rock & roll covers, especially on his Live At The Whiskey A Go Go LP. He was also the owner of the record label which released the music of The 5th Dimension. In that capacity, Rivers gave the budding songwriter Jimmy Webb his first big break, having The 5th Dimension record Webb’s song Up, Up And Away and thereby giving Webb (and the group and the label) a first big hit in 1967. By The Time I Get To Phoenix is another Webb composition, and this one Rivers recorded himself first for his Changes album in 1966 (when Webb was only 19!).

Rivers’ version made no impact, nor did a cover by Pat Boone. The guitarist on Boone’s version, however, picked up on the song and released it in 1967. Glen Campbell scored a massive hit with the song, even winning two Grammies for it. In quick succession, Campbell completed a trilogy of geographically-themed songs by Webb, with the gorgeous Wichita Lineman (written especially for Campbell) and the similarly wonderful Galveston.

isaac_hayes_hbsAnother seasoned session musician took Phoenix into a completely different direction (if you will pardon the unintended pun). Isaac Hayes had heard the song, and decided to perform it as the Bar-Keys’ guest performer at Memphis’ Tiki Club, a soul venue. He started with a spontaneous spoken prologue, explaining in some detail why this man is on his unlikely journey. At first the patrons weren’t sure what Hayes was doing rapping over a repetitive chord loop. After a while, according to Hayes, they started to listen. At the end of the song, he said, there was not a dry eye in the house (“I’m gonna moan now…”). As it appeared on Ike’s 1968 Hot Buttered Soul album, the thing went on for 18 glorious minutes.

Also recorded by: Pat Boone (1967), Floyd Cramer (1967), Vikki Carr (1968), Roger Miller (1968), Andy Williams (1968), Eddy Arnold (1968), Conway Twitty (1968), Marty Robbins (1968), The Lettermen (1968), David Houston (1968), Tony Mottola (1968), Al Wilson (1968), The Main Attraction (1968), King Curtis (1968), Jack Jones (1968), Julius Wechter & Baja Marimba Band (1968), Ace Cannon (1968), Harry Belafonte (1968), Jack Greene (1968), Jim Nabors (1968), John Davidson (1968), Four Tops (1968),  Ray Conniff (1968), Frankie Valli (1968), Larry Carlton (1968), Johnny Mathis (1968), Frank Sinatra (1968), Dean Martin (1968), The Intruders (1968), Bobby Goldsboro (1968), Ray Price (1968), Engelbert Humperdinck (1968), Claude François (as Le temps que j’arrive à Marseille, 1969), A.J. Marshall (1969), Mantovani (1969), José Feliciano (1969), Nat Stuckey (1969), The Mad Lads (1969), William Bell (1969), Young-Holt Unlimited (1969), Erma Franklin (1969), Dorothy Ashby (1969), Nancy Wilson (1969), Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy (1970), Winston Francis (1970), Mongo Santamaría (1970), The Ventures (1970), Wanda Jackson (1970), Fabulous Souls (1971), The Wip (1971), New York City (1973), The Escorts (1973), Susannah McCorkle (1986), Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (1986), Eric Miller & His Orchestra (1991), Reba McIntyre (1995), Jimmy Webb (1996), Detroit Underground (1997), Heather Myles (2002), Thelma Houston (2007), Maureen McGovern (2008) a.o.

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More Originals

Intros Quiz – 1979 edition

April 1st, 2009 4 comments

1979-radioAt this point in our series of 5-year cycle intros quizzes we enter the era by when I had become a serious consumer of records. Of the 20 songs featured in this quiz — all released as singles in 1979 (though some may have been hits in early 1980 or appeared on LPs in 1978) —  I had half on 7″ singles, two more on LP and almost all of the others on tape — but not number 12, which I despised at the time.

As always, each of the 20 intros is 5-7 seconds in length. I will post the answers in the comments section by Monday. If that pesky number 4 bothers you too much to wait, e-mail me or message me on Facebook (to become my friend, click here), and I’ll send you the answers..

Intros Quiz – 1979 edition

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