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.
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
One 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.
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.
The 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.
Billy Joe Royal – Hush.mp3
Deep Purple – Hush.mp3
In 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)
Richard 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.
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.
Nick Lucas – Tip Toe Through The Tulips With Me.mp3
Tiny Tim – Tip Toe Through The Tulips.mp3
Whatever 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.
But 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.
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
Johnny 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.
Another 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.