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Archive for June, 2009

Great covers: Josh Rouse – 1972 (2002)

June 29th, 2009 4 comments

Josh Rouse marked his 30th birthday in 2002 with an album inspired by the year of his birth. It might easily have turned out as a pastiche of the worst clichés. Happily, it didn’t: the sound is contemporary. Rouse evokes rather than recreates what he imagines were the sounds of 1972. Imagine the concept as the subtle but essential spice in a delicious meal. The album borrows its influences wisely: James, a song about alcoholism, is a psychedelic soul workout, with Jim Hoke’s excellent jazz flute and Rouse’s falsetto positioning the song closest to 1972. Elsewhere, swirling strings and saxophone (also by Hoke), handclaps and Latin percussions serve as a marker for the ’70s influence being filtered through Rouse’s sound. Read more…

TV Themes: Welcome Back, Kotter

June 24th, 2009 7 comments

It took the crazy success of Saturday Night Fever and Grease to bring Welcome Back, Kotter to German TV, cashing in on cast member John Travolta’s rise to fame at about the same time as the series ended its five-season run on American TV in 1979. The happy upshot of this was that by the time the show had jumped the shark — after the third season — it was passé even in Germany.

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As Vinny Barbarino, Travolta played the nominal leader of a quartet of high school underachievers in whom teacher Gabe Kotter, returning to his inner-city alma mater, recognises much of his younger self. His hope is that these four doofuses will complete their schooling and become successes in life, much as Kotter did. The teaching profession is indeed a noble and very undervalued vocation, but is the uniform of brown curdoroy jackets with elbow patches really an aspirational objective? The Sweathogs, as the school’s gang of remedial students are known, were founded by Kotter himself, so he has much empathy for the youngsters.

welcome-back-kotter-castAn unlikely premise rooted in cliché, clearly. Except that the main characters were based on people Gabe Kaplan — Kotter in real life — knew at school, with the names changed (except that of Arnold Horshack, he with the bizarre laugh). The notion of academic redemption resonates with me. For a variety of reasons, my underachievements in school would have relegated me to the Sweathogs, if there had been such a group. Alas, I had no teacher like Mr Kotter, so I made it my business to excel at failure, to meet what I thought were my teachers’ low expectation and what I perceived to be their desire. Happily, I was able to climb out of that deep hole and eventually graduate from university.

The groovy theme song was written and sung by John Sebastian, who in the Mamas and the Papas’ song Creeque Alley sat in The Night Owl with Zal and Denny, passing round the hat. The three and Cass Elliott and Jim Hendricks were the Mugwumps. Denny and Cass went on to become a Papa and a Mama, while John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky formed the Lovin’ Spoonful (Hendricks disappeared from the scene). Sebastian’s theme song was a US #1 hit in 1976. The show itself, originally titled simply Kotter, was renamed in a nod to Sebastian’s chorus, which repeats the words “welcome back”.

More recently, Sebastian appeared on the Eels song Dusk: A Peach in the Orchard from the wonderful Blinking Lights and Other Revelations album. As for Gabe Kaplan, apparently he now works a commentator on televised poker. I’m sure the Sweathogs would approve.

John Sebastian – Welcome Back (Kotter)  (full version).mp3
John Sebastian – Welcome Back, Kotter  (title version).mp3

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And watch this great clip from the series, which also features James Woods as a preppy teacher.

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More TV Themes

Songs about fathers

June 21st, 2009 7 comments

fathers day beerI don’t really care much for Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day, mostly because I’ve had neither mother nor father since I was 18. Still, as a father I damn well expect to get breakfast in bed today. High hopes… Fathers’ Day, of course, does bring to mind my late father, who died suddenly when I was 11. It has occurred to me that I am now at the same age he was when I was born, the fifth of his six children. He doubtless was far more mature than I am now. He probably wouldn’t have written blogs about moustaches in pop and the twattery of Michael Fucking Bolton. But then, I didn’t fight in World War 2, my brother did not die in war, my father was not persecuted by the Nazis, and I’ve never been widowed. Of course he was more mature than I will ever be.

My father was not quite an absentee father, but he was away a lot. The little time he had free, he needed to share between relaxation and a little socialising, wife, and, lastly, children. When he spent time with us, he was very loving, but there never wasn’t enough of him. I’ve learned from my father to make career sacrifices so that I could be a constant presence in my son’s life.

For a few years after my father died, I had occasional dreams that it was all a hoax; that he faked his death and was now coming to fetch us. About a decade after he died, I dreamt about him. He was hugging me, and I could smell him, a scent I had long forgotten (and never thought of). That was the last of my hoax dreams. In fact, twenty years or so on, I don’t think he has ever appeared in my dreams again.

Here then a few song about fatherhood, inspired by a recent series on the subject on the fine Star Maker Machine blog.

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Everything But The Girl – The Night I Heard Caruso Sing.mp3idlewildNot so much a song about parental relations than one of despair and hope. Released on 1988’s Idlewild album, the singer notes that just where his father lives in Scotland, the military has set up a missile system. That persuades him that he does not want to be responsible for bringing a child into this ugly world. But then he comes across something of great beauty — a recording of early 20th century opera singer Enrico Caruso — and it changes his notion of fatherhood, about his unborn child and about being the child of a father. It is a very beautiful song from a desperately under-appreciated album.

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Cardigans – Don’t Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds).mp3
cardigans_segThis quite brilliant 2005 track is an indictment of a really shitty father who seems to have abandoned his family. The song drips with bitterness and anger and sarcasm and a healthy shot of self-pity. “Your autograph’s worthless so don’t send me letters, and don’t mail me cash ’cause your money is no good. What’s left in your mattress is holes that lack of love left, some hair from a horse and none of it is yours, man.” Somebody has Daddy Issues…

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Loudon Wainwright III – A Father And A Son.mp3
loudonLoudon’s children, Rufus and Martha, evidently are not great fans of his parenting style, as we’ll see in the next song. Here, Loudon addresses his teenage son, recalling his own difficult relationship with his father, suggesting that volatile filial interactions are hereditary. He’d rather not fight with his son: “I don’t know what all of this fighting is for; but we’re having us a teenage/middle-age war.” Presumably father and son don’t hold back when screaming at each other. And yet: “This thing between a father and a son — maybe it’s power and push and shove; maybe it’s hate…but probably it’s love.”

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Martha Wainwright – Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole.mp3
martha_wainwrightPerhaps Loudon can persuade his son, but daughter is disenchanted. He has clearly caused Martha (and, it seems, her mother) so much pain that the breakdown in their relationship is complete: “I will not pretend, I will not put on a smile, I will not say I’m all right for you…” And then the repeated outburst: “You bloody mother fucking asshole. Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole.” No breakfast in bed for Loudon on Fathers’ Day then?

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Gladys Knight & The Pips – Daddy Could Swear, I Declare.mp3
gknightAh, a father after my own heart. A man of my height (what do you mean “only” 5’7, Gladys) who knows how to swear and a short fuse. But he loved his children. This song, from 1973’s Neither One Of Us album, should resonate with adult children remembering their father through the medium of anecdote: “Ooh, my brothers and sisters still talk about how Daddy lost his temper that day. You see, he built a picket fence from the garage to the house. Well, Sam, tell me what I say, the same day the garbage man backed into the fence and the whole darn thing gave way. You should have been there…”

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Johnny Cash – Daddy Sang Bass.mp3
cash_stquentinThe family that sings together, stays together. Until somebody dies. Johnny Cash didn’t have a particularly happy family; his father blamed Johnny for the accidental death of his older brother. In this song, written by Carl Perkins, the family enjoys harmony, despite poverty. “Daddy sang bass, mama sang tenor. Me and little brother would join right in there.” Now, however, they’re all dead. Cash remembers the closeness and has the religious convictions to presume meeting them again in the afterlife: “Singing seems to help a troubled soul. One of these days, and it won’t be long, I’ll rejoin them in a song.” Cash died 34 years after recording the song at San Quentin jail.

The Originals Vol. 27

June 19th, 2009 7 comments

Sometimes it happens that an act which wrote a famous song has it recorded by others before they do. This can be because the composer was still a songwriter waiting to become well known (Kris Kristofferson or Leonard Cohen), or because the first performer was friendly with the star who wrote the song. We have seen a couple of such cases in this series before, with Barry McGuire recording the Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreaming and Chad & Jeremy’s doing Simon & Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound first (amusingly, DivShare indicates that the McGuire version has been downloaded 140,701 times. Yeah, right). In this instalment, all five songs were recorded by others before the writers recorded their more famous versions.

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New World Singers – Blowing In The Wind.mp3
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind (Gerde’s version, 1962).mp3

Bob Dylan – No More Auction Block (1962).mp3
Chad Mitchell Trio – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3
Peter, Paul & Mary – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3

Marlene Dietrich – Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind.mp3

Before he became almost instantly famous, Bob Dylan’s favoured hang-out in Greenwich Village was Gerde’s Folk City. In 1962 he took ten minutes to cobble together Blowin’ In The Wind, based on an old slave song called No More Auction Block, which he says he knew from the Cater Family’s version. Dylan’s recording of the song dates from October 1962, at the Gaslight Café.

gerde's

Also performing regularly at Gerde’s was the multi-racial folk group New World Singers. Delores Nixon, the black member, often sang No More Auction Block as part of the group’s repertoire. Dylan later recalled that he wrote Blowin’ In The Wind after spending the night with Delores (who told him that it was unethical to “borrow” the melody, even though many folkies used to do that). One day in April 1962, Dylan handed the lyrics of Blowin’ In The Wind to New World Singer Gil Turner, who hosted the Monday evening line-up. Turner was impressed and asked Dylan to teach him the song, so that he could perform it immediately. Turner introduced the song — “I’d like to sing a new song by one of our great songwriters. It’s hot of the pencil and here it goes.” The crowd went mad, and Dylan went home. After that, he would include Blowin’ In The Wind on his repertoire; his version featured here is an excellent bootleg from a gig at Gerde’s in late 1962, before he recorded it for his sophomore album and before anybody else released it.

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The timeline of recordings of Blowin’ In The Wind is a little confused. Some sources date the New World Singers’ recording to September 1963, four months after Dylan’s was released. That is patently wrong, however. The New World Singers’ version appeared on a compilation of “topical songs” called Broadside Ballads Vol. 1 which apparently was released on 1 January 1963 on Broadside Records, the recording arm of the folk magazine (you guessed it) Broadside, which was founded by Pete Seeger and printed the lyrics of the song in May 1962. The Chad Mitchell Trio, sometimes credited with recording the song first, released the song on their In Action LP in March 1963.

dietrich_antwort_windIn 1963, Blowin’ In The Wind became a massive hit, not for Dylan, but for Peter, Paul & Mary. Naturally the song has been covered copiously and esoterically. Perhaps the most unexpected recording is that by the German film legend Marlene Dietrich in 1964; her Burt Bacharach-orchestrated single, which is not at all bad (I do dig the groovy flute), was backed by another German take on a folk anthem, Where Have All The Flowers Gone. I owe the New World Singers file to my latest Originals friend Walter from Belgium, who has kindly set me up with 30-odd more songs for this series.

Also recorded by: Chad Mitchell Trio (1963), Kingston Trio (1963), Stan Getz (1963), Marie Laforêt (1963), The Breakaways (1963), Conny Vandenbos & René Frank (as Wie weet waar het begint, 1964), Stan Getz & João Gilberto (1964; b-side of The Girl From Ipanema), Richard Anthony (as Ecoute dans le vent, 1964), Eddy Arnold (1964), The Browns (1964), Sam Cooke (1964), Marianne Faithfull (1964), Lena Horne (1964), Lucille Starr & Bob Regan (1964), Nina & Frederik (1964), Chet Atkins (1965), Trini Lopez (1965), Cher (1965), The Mad Hatters (1965), Johnny Rivers (1965), Bobby Bare (1965), Jackie DeShannon (1965), The Silkie (1965), Blue Mood Four (1965), Marlene Dietrich (English version, 1966), John Davidson (1966), I Kings (as La risposta, 1966), Robert DeCormier Singers (1966), Peggy March (as Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind, 1966), The Sheffields (1966), Stevie Wonder (1966), Dionne Warwick (1966), Joan Baez (1967), Brother Jack McDuff (1967), Lou Donaldson (1967), Laurel Aitken (1967), O.V. Wright (1968), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), The Dixie Drifters (1968), The Hollies (1969), Stanley Turrentine feat. Shirley Scott (1969), The Travellers (1969), Edwin Hawkins Singers (1969), Diana Ross & The Supremes (1969), Bill Medley (1970), Johnny Nash (1970), Luigi Tenco (as La risposta è caduta nel vento, 1972), Brimstone (1973), Black Johnny & His Paradiso’s (1973), Trident (1975), Horst Jankowski und sein Rias-Tanzorchester (1977), Julie Felix (1992), Neil Young (1991), Barbara Dickson (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), Judy Collins (1994), The Hooters (1994), Hugues Aufray (as Dans le souffle du vent, 1995), Mina (2000), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2001), Emmerson Nogueira (2002), Peter Saltzman (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Loona (2004), Bobby Solo (2004), Jools Holland with Ruby Turner (2005), House of Fools (2005), Dolly Parton & Nickel Creek (2005), Nena (2007), Sylvie Vartan (as Dans le souffle du vent, 2007), Massimo Priviero (2007) a.o.

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Billy Preston – My Sweet Lord.mp3
George Harrison – My Sweet Lord.mp3

billy_prestonYes, of course, the Chiffons did it “originally”. And with that out of the way, Harrison wrote My Sweet Lord, which would become his biggest and most controversial hit, for Billy Preston. Preston had at one point come to be regarded as the “Fifth Beatle” thanks to his keyboard work which earned him a co-credit on the Get Back single. He had actually known the band since 1962, when he toured Britain with Little Richard, for whom the Beatles opened in Liverpool. Post-Beatles, Preston continued working with Harrison, who had brought him into the Let It Be sessions.

Written in December 1969 in Copenhagen, My Sweet Lord song first appeared on Preston’s Encouraging Words album, a star-studded affair which included not only Harrison, but also Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richard on bass and Ginger Baker on drums. The album also included Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (a song which the Beatles had considered of recording); almost a year later that song would provide the title of the triple-LP set. The All Things Must Pass album, produced by Phil Spector, also included George’s cover of his own My Sweet Lord.

my_sweet_lordPreston’s version is much closer to Harrison’s original concept than the composer’s own take. In his defence during the My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine plagiarism case, Harrison said that he was inspired not by early-’60s girlband pop, but by the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1969 hit Oh Happy Day. That influence is acutely apparent on Preston’s recording, but less so on Harrison’s chart-topper. Indeed, had Preston scored the big hit with it, not Harrison, it might have been Ed Hawkins initiating the plagiarism litigation.

Also recorded by: Stu Phillips & The Hollyridge Strings (1971), Johnny Mathis (1971), Homer Louis Randolph III (1971), Peggy Lee (1971), Ray Conniff (1971), Monty Alexander & the Cyclones (1971), Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Eddy Arnold (1971), Edwin Starr (1971), Top of the Poppers (1971), Nina Simone (1972), Richie Havens (1972), The Violinaires (1973), Five Thirty (1990), Boy George (1992), Stacy Q (1997), George Harrison & Sam Brown (2000), David Young (2000), Emmerson Nogueira (2003), Bebe Winans (2003), Girlyman (2003), Joel Harrison (2005), Gary Christian & Desa Basshead (2008) a.o.

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Flying Burrito Brothers – Wild Horses.mp3
Rolling Stones – Wild Horses.mp3

burritoIt is difficult to say which one is the original, and which one the cover. The Stones recorded it before the Flying Burrito Brothers did, but released it only after Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons’ band released it on their 1970 album, Burrito Deluxe. Wild Horses was written in 1969 (Keef says about his new-born son; Jagger denies that its re-written lyrics were about Marianne Faithfull) and recorded in December 1969 at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, the day after the group laid down Brown Sugar. Jamming in a country mood, Mick asked Keith to present a number in that genre, spurring his country-loving friend on by saying: “Come on, you must have hundreds”. Keith disappeared for a bit, and returned with a melody and words for the chorus. Mick filled in the lyrics for the verses, and the song was recorded (with Jim Dickinson standing it for Ian Stewart, who did not like playing minor chords)  before the Stones packed up and left Memphis.

Earlier that year, the Stones had collaborated on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace Of Sin album; and as the curtain fell on the 1960s, the Burritos opened for the Stones at the notorious Altamont concert (according to some reports, it was during their performance that the Hells’ Angels started the first fight). Parsons was especially friendly with Keith Richard, whom he introduced to the treasury of country music. It is even said that the song was intended for Gram — probably a false rumour, yet it  sounds more like a Parsons than a Stones song. Whether or not it was intended for Parsons, the Burritos were allowed to record Wild Horses, and release it before the Stones were able to (for contractual reasons involving their “divorce” from Allen Klein) on 1971’s Sticky Fingers album.

Also recorded by: Labelle (1971), Leon Russell (1974), Melanie (1974), The Sundays (1992), Southside Johnny (1997), Otis Clay (1997), Blackhawk (1997), Old & In the Way (1997), Elliott Murphy with Olivier Durand (2000), Brent Truitt, Tim Crouch and Dennis Crouch (2000), The Rocking Chairs (2002), Leslie King (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Rachel Z (2004), Charlotte Martin (2004), Karen Souza (2005), Alicia Keys featuring Adam Levine (2005), Tre Lux (2006), Richard Marx with Jessica Andrews (2008) a.o.

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Judy Collins – Suzanne.mp3
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne.mp3
Françoise Hardy – Suzanne (English version).mp3

judy_collinsMany of Laughing Len’s most famous songs were first recorded by folk warbless Judy Collins: Sisters Of Mercy; Bird On A Wire; Since You’ve Asked; Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye — and Suzanne. The song was born in Montréal, landmarks of which are described at length in the song. Cohen already had a chord pattern in place which he then married to a poem he had written about one Suzanne Verdal — the beautiful wife of the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, a friend of Cohen’s — whom he fancied but, as the lyrics have it, touched only in his mind.

francoise_hardyOne night in 1966, a year before Cohen released his debut album, he played the finished song over the telephone to his friend Judy Collins, who was already a star on the folk scene. Duly enchanted, Collins recorded the song for her In My Life album, which was released in November 1966. A few months later, the English-born singer Noel Harrison and Josh White Jr both recorded it before the song’s writer got around to releasing it in December 1967. It is fair to say that Leonard Cohen owes much of his start in music to Judy Collins’ patronage. Apart from Cohen’s version, I really like Françoise Hardy’s (English-language) remake from 1970.

suzanne

Suzanne Verdal, the muse behind Cohen's song.

As for the subject of the song, she is now (or at least was fairly recently) living out of her car in California following a serious back injury sustained in a fall. In 1998, BBC4 interviewed her about the song; she comes across as charming — one can sense why Cohen might have been enchanted by her three decades earlier. The interview is a useful tool for deciphering the lyrics. The marine theme was inspired by the adjacent St Lawrence River, nearby was a Catholic church for sailors under the patronage of the Virgin Mary. Suzanne was a practising Catholic (hence the nautical Jesus allusions). And the tea…well, it was just tea, with pieces of fruit in it.

Also recorded by: Noel Harrison (1967), Josh White Jr (1968), Pearls Before Swine (1968), Catherine McKinnon (1968), Genesis (a US band, 1968), Graeme Allwright (1968), Françoise Hardy (1970), (in French, 1968), Jack Jones (1968), Harry Belafonte (1969), Herman van Veen (in Dutch and German, 1969), Nina Simone (1969), John Davidson (1969), George Hamilton IV (1969), Gary McFarland (1969), Fairport Convention (1969), Françoise Hardy (in English, 1970), Nancy Wilson (1970), Joan Baez (on four occasions, first in 1971), Neil Diamond (1971), Anni-Frid Lyngstad (1971), Fabrizio De André (1972), Roberta Flack (1973), Mia Martini (1983), The Flying Lizards (1984), Geoffrey Oryema (1991), Bomb (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), The Parasites (1993), Peter Gabriel (1995), Dianne Reeves (1999), Barb Jungr (1999), Kevin Parent (2001), Nana Mouskouri (2002), Denison Witmer (2003), Andrea Parodi e Bocephus King (2003), Marti Pellow (2003), René Marie (2003), Perla Batalla (2005), Aga Zaryan (2006), Sylvie Vartan (2007), Aretha Franklin (in the ’60s, released in 2007), Alain Bashung (2008), Gaetane Abrial (2008), James Taylor (2008) a.o.

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Ray Stevens – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.mp3
Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.mp3
Johnny Cash – Sunday Morning Coming Down.mp3

ray_stevensKris Kristofferson is country music’s Cinderella. Although from a distinguished military family and highly educated, by the mid-’60s he was a janitor for Columbia Records in Nashville, writing his songs literally in the basement. His bosses even warned him not to pitch his songs to the label’s recording stars, or he’d be fired. One day, Kristofferson broke that rule. Double-shifting as a helicopter pilot, he collared Johnny Cash on the building’s helipad (some say he landed a chopper in Cash’s garden) to present him with Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down. Cash was impressed with the song, and made sure that Kristofferson would not be fired. He did not, however, record his songs — yet. Still, soon Kristofferson’s songs — such Me And Bobby McGee (which already featured in this series), Help Me Make It Through The Night, From The Bottle To The Bottom — were recorded by a variety of country artists. Eventually Kristofferson was rewarded with a recording contract; his big career breakthrough came when Cash introduced him at the Newport Folk Festival.

johnny_cash_showStrangely, Cash was not the first to record Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down. Ray Stevens, a country singer who frequently dabbled in novelty songs, recorded it in 1969, scoring a minor hit on the country charts. Cash had the bigger hit with his 1970 version, which corrected the colloquial spelling. Cash resisted pressure to change the line “wishing Lord that I was stoned” to “…I was home” in deference to the song’s writer; he however had the kid playing with, not cussing at, the can that he was kicking.

Johnny Cash was a marvellous interpreter of songs, but his take Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, fine though it is, does not stand up to Kristofferson’s version, which was also released in 1970. Indeed, it recently occurred to me that, if I was forced to choose, I would list KK’s version of Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down as my all-time favourite song.

Also recorded by: Sammi Smith (1970), Hank Ballard (1970), R. Dean Taylor (1970), Vikki Carr (1970), Lynn Anderson (1971), John Mogensen (as Søndag morgen,1971), Hank Snow (1971), Bobby Bare (1974), Frankie Laine (1978), Louis Neefs (as Zondagmiddag, 1979), Johnny Paycheck (1980), Shawn Mullins (1998), David Allan Coe (1998), Crooked Fingers (2002), Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-press (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006), Trace Adkins (2006), Ernie Thacker (2009) a.o.

More Originals

Twattery in Pop: Yoko Ono and Mojo

June 17th, 2009 20 comments

yoko onoI like Mojo magazine a lot. But I like it just a little less now that it has awarded Yoko Ono a fucking Lifetime Achievement award.

Let me set the record straight even before it bends. As a Beatles fan, I don’t blame Yoko for breaking up the band. In my fairly extensive reading of Beatles history, I have found little that portrays Yoko as an active agent in the Fabs’ demise. The conventional wisdom that Yoko was to blame has its roots not in her conduct, but in an unpleasant combination of xenophobia, misogyny and perhaps societies’ obsession with beauty. No, Yoko didn’t break up the Beatles; growing up did.

I find no cause to object on principle to Yoko Ono on grounds of her idiosyncratic style of singing. God knows, pop has awarded stardom to some gravely untalented charlatans whose baneful carolling nevertheless penetrated the airwaves (Michael Fucking Bolton, for one). Yoko’s atonal primal screams have rarely troubled radio playlists, so the adroit listener has always enjoyed the privilege of avoiding exposure to her stylings.

Likewise, I have no problem with Yoko’s brand of art (if art indeed it is). Apparently she had always relied on the patronage of older men in publicising her art. One artwork succeeded in landing her a younger, glamorous and talented man who loved her, and she him. It’s a fairytale that ended too soon. It is immaterial that the artwork which a possibly drug-addled John Lennon found so appealing involved a ladder and a card that said “yes”. Some people see art in images of the Virgin Mary created from elephant dung, some climb letters and find reward in monosyllabic non-sequiturs. That’s why art is subjective. I don’t need to understand it to be indifferent to it.

season_of_glassAnd yet, Yoko joins the league of extraordinary twattery in pop. Even so, I induct her reluctantly. I don’t want to be the guy to beat up on a grieving widow, even as she has built an industry on that grief. Her professional widowhood opens doors that would otherwise remain shut. The cover picture of her Season Of Glass LP, released with undue haste in June 1981, was troubling not for the image of Lennon’s blood-stained glasses, but for the intrinsic crass, morbid sensationalism in depicting them. One may be inclined to defend it as an artwork that speaks of the horror she had experienced. To me, it marked Yoko’s public transition from genuinely grieving wife to attention-seeking widow. By presenting us with the grisly image, she made her grief public and, alas, commercial.

Even after 28 years, her husband’s murder must be a horrible pain to bear, but Yoko Ono is marketing — exploiting — her widowhood a little too publicly and cynically, exemplified by that “John would say…” shtick, as if Lennon was a sage-like Confucius rather than a complex man with some serious limitations. No matter how swell Yoko thought her husband was, it is nauseating. It perpetuates the false notion that Lennon had special insights into the human condition. Like, he invented peace, brother man! One might expect evangelical Lennonians to sport wristbands enquiring WWJS (What Would John Say). The canonisation of John Lennon is a lie. The man was a fine pop musician, one of the greatest. But he was not a man to emulate. He was naïve to the point of fatuity, and he was a hypocrite. Imagine no possession – except a white Rolls Royce, a rural mansion with a white grand piano…you get the picture. Woman is the “nigger” of the world? Er, no, the “niggers” of the world would be the people you refer to as “niggers”, John. You are the walrus, googoogoojoo? Yup, that’s your level right there, Lennon. Even the serial perpetrator of Twattery in Film, Richard Gere, worked that one out when he quoted that line as representative of Lennon in the 1990 Grammy Awards (a rich source of future Twats in Pop).

Of course, the benefit of doubt must go to the idea that Gere is just a very stupid man who thinks that “googoogoojoo” represents a some kind of profundity that might make us all better people. If so — and, oh, let’s stop fooling around and acknowledge that it indeed is so —then the blame must be directed in large part at Yoko Ono’s myth-building. “As John would say…” We ought not give a fuck what John would say, whether through the medium of Yoko Ono or that of Linda Polley, a nasal right-wingnut with a toy keyboard who channels inarticulate reactionary messages from the beyond by Lennon and commits them to record.

mojomokoBut Mojo did not award Yoko Ono for her connection to Lennon, but for her indelible influence on music (even if without that relationship, very few would have been at threat of Yoko’s influence). Backed by the apparently deranged twosome of Mark Ronson and Johnny Marr, Mojo editor Phil Alexander gushed: “She may have been married to one of the most famous men in the world, but she also helped change music as we know it in her own right. First, by introducing avant-garde sensibilities to her husband but, just as significantly, by continuing to push the boundaries of what was deemed the norm way after that.” Fuck, I missed that. I thought Yoko’s musical style was portrayed with much accuracy in the classic “Beat Alls” episode of The Powerpuff Girls. It may well be that Ono has influenced some musicians, including her husband (whose successful songs were largely untainted by Yoko’s avant-garde); but even then, that influence has not been pervasive. Had there been no Yoko Ono, music would not be different.

Truth is, Marr, Ronson and Mojo have elevated a mediocre musical artist not on merit, but because of a revisionist “cool”. The elevation of Yoko Ono’s supposed musical genius is as pretentious as her art. By Mojo’s logic, Hazel O’Connor should feel aggrieved should the magazine fail to honour her, who has been more influential than Yoko — and actually had at least two good songs (Yoko’s one really good song, Walking On Thin Ice, is marred by some frightening simian shrieking).

And then there is the saga of Yoko Ono’s dispute with Paul McCartney over the order of songwriting credits on Beatles records, an episode that did not reflect well on either. The billing dispute hit overdrive in the late ’90s, when McCartney sought to reverse the traditional Lennon/McCartney on songs which he wrote by himself, but it first surfaced as early as 1976. When the credit for five Beatles songs on the Wings Over America live album was reversed, Yoko publicly objected. All five were written with no or very little input from Lennon. Yoko would have known, first-hand, that John had nothing to do with The Long And Winding Road, and even hated the song.

More than two decades later, Paul wanted the reverse credit for Yesterday — a song John was not involved in writing or recording. Yoko feigned outrage at the supposed desecration of St John’s memory. When Paul released another live album in 2002 on which the credits were reversed, Yoko was considering legal action, with her camp saying that McCartney was trying “to rewrite history”. In a way McCartney was trying to do just that: to clarify the true authorship of songs Lennon had no involvement in. The associated ego-trippery is irrelevant; he had a point. In the event, Yoko did not sue, and in 2005 McCartney let the matter drop, declaring it unimportant. Nonetheless, it does rankle that she insisted, with a singular lack of spirit of magnanimity, that “a deal is a deal” — even though that deal was verbal, struck long before she met John, involving songs she had nothing to do with. No matter how difficult her historic relationship with Paul, that is robust twattery. What would John say?

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Barenaked Ladies – Be My Yoko Ono (1992).mp3
Dar Williams – I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono (2000).mp3
John Lennon (via Linda Polley) – Hussein’s Butt Song.mp3
John Lennon (via Linda Polley) – Vote Republican.mp3

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More Twattery in Pop

American Road Trip Vol. 8

June 15th, 2009 4 comments

On the last leg of our American Road Trip, we had entered Ohio by way of Cincinnati. We have one more destinations in that state before we turn east, but we shall return to the northern parts of Ohio when we go west.

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Columbus, Ohio

champion ave

And here is where I take up Dane’s invitation for a cup of coffee (and while she is in the kitchen brewing it, I quickly borrow from her the song that will feature here). Dane is the exquisitely talented photographer whose blog All Eyes And Ears has inspired me to become ever more aware of the beauty in mundane things. Dane’s photos are all taken in Ohio, not a place you’d most immediately associate with photogenic qualities (see the great photo above, taken in Columbus). But Dane’s work persuasively argues that a rusty letterbox or disused signage can be as captivating as a Hawaiian sunset.

Anyway, Columbus. It’s Ohio’s biggest city and the state’s capital, with a population of 770,000. It is also smack-bang in the middle of the USA; according to Wikipedia, half of all US residents live within 550 miles (890 km) of Columbus. So why isn’t Columbus more famous than Cincinnati or any number of smaller US cities (such as, say, San Francisco)? Well, frankly, its history is a bit ordinary, and the city’s contribution to modern culture…well, there is Dane’s blog! OK, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk was born in Columbus, Dwight Yoakam grew up there, Rascal Flatts were founded there, and the sitcom Family Ties was set there. On the downside, Prescott Bush – the patriarch of the evil clan that gave us the two Georges – was also born in Columbus. Dane, the coffee was excellent, but we must be on our way…Goodbye Columbus, it’s a lucky day for walkin’ a new road.
The Association – Goodbye Columbus.mp3

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Wheeling, West Virginia

Wheeling is on the Ohio river in Ohio County. So it makes perfect sense that this city of 31,000 should be in West Virginia. And Wheeling doesn’t just happen to be in West Virginia; it virtually founded the state. It was in Wheeling that those Virginians who did not want to secede with the slave-owning states from the Union instead seceded from Virginia. The good people of Wheeling were a bit upset with The West Wing a few years ago when the would-be assassins of President Bartlett (well, of Charlie and Zoey) were identified as having bought their weapons in Wheeling. Well, they had to buy them from somewhere.

songs_in_the_atticIn his song Billy The Kid (the version featured here is the excellent live recording from Songs In The Attic), Billy Joel has the eponymous character born in Wheeling, West Virginia. You don’t want Billy Joel teach your children history, because Henry McCarty (or William Bonney, if you must) was born in New York City, and was shot dead by the horrible Pat Garrett, not hanged and buried on a hill that bears his name. Still, cracking song.
Billy Joel – Billy The Kid (live).mp3

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Here’s why I love US geography: Wheeling, West Virginia is in Ohio County (and, if Family Ties is to be believed, kids from Columbus take trips there because of a lower legal drinking age), and is considered part of the Pittsburgh Tri-State region, which seems to be headquartered in the Pennsylvanian city. Pittsburgh has become almost synonymous with industrial decay, especially its steelworks. Yet, Bruce Springsteen managed to write only one song about the city. Apparently, the city has been able to revive itself since the dark days of the 1970s, and offers all kinds white collar services now. And it has been ranked the United States’ tenth cleanest city, so screw you, steel.. There’ll be some fun to be had when the G20 summit is held there in September.

lemonheadsApart from the occasional shout-out in lists of US cities, Pittsburgh has inspired little by way of songwriting (certainly as far as my collection goes) – so little that a few years ago a radio station invited local musicians to submit their songs about the city. In the spirit of that dearth, I offer a 2006 song by the Lemonheads (whose newly released album of covers is said to be less than fantastic) which bears the title of the city and proceeds to make no mention of it. And a song from 1970s folk singer Sammy Walker’s Misfit Scarecrow album from last year.
The Lemonheads – Pittsburgh.mp3
Sammy Walker – A Cold Pittsburgh Morning.mp3

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Previously on American Road Trip

The Originals Vol. 26

June 12th, 2009 21 comments

In this instalment, three songs featured are perhaps well known to some in their original form; one original (Galveston) is pretty obscure; and one song may not immediately ring bells until one hears it (German readers of a certain age will recognise it by another name). There are ten versions of Reason To Believe, one of the greatest songs ever written. I’ve posted Tim Hardin’s original separately and the nine cover versions in one file.

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Tim Hardin – Reason To Believe.mp3
Johnny Cash – Reason To Believe (1974)
(reupped)
NINE VERSIONS OF REASON TO BELIEVE
Bobby Darin – Reason To Believe (1966)
Scott McKenzie – Reason To Believe (1967)
Marianne Faithfull – Reason To Believe (1967)
The Dillards – Reason To Believe (1968)
Glen Campbell – Reason To Believe (1968)
Cher – Reason To Believe (1968)
Carpenters – Reason To Believe (1970)
Rod Stewart – Reason To Believe (1971)
Billy Bragg – Reason To Believe (live) (1989)
tim_hardin The mark of genius in a song resides in its adaptability. As the various covers featured here show, Reason To Believe (not to be confused with Bruce Springsteen’s song of the same title) is the sort of rare song into which artists can project their emotions, making it their own. The 1966 original by Tim Hardin, who wrote it, is suitably affecting, as befits a lyric of betrayal (the line “Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried; still I look to find a reason to believe” is heartbreaking). But in my view, the definitive interpretation of the song, one of my all-time favourites, is that by the Southern Californian country band The Dillards (1968), who inspired bands such as the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. It is perfect.

DARINReason To Believe was not a hit for Hardin. A gifted songwriter, he enjoyed his biggest hit with somebody else’s song, Bobby Darin’s twee Simple Song of Freedom, which Darin wrote in return for Hardin providing his big comeback hit If I Were A Carpenter. Darin, by then in his folk phase, also did a very credible version of Reason To Believe. Hardin’s story is tragic. As a marine in Vietnam in the early 1960s he discovered heroin and became addicted to the drug. Added to that, he suffered from terrible stagefright, which is not helpful when you are an entertainer. He died on 29 December 1980 from a heroin and morphine overdose. He was only 39.

The two best known versions arguably are those by Rod Stewart (1971) and the Carpenters (1970). Stewart is a fine interpreter of songs, and his take of Reason To Believe is entirely likable. Stewart’s take was released as a single a-side; in the event the flip side, Maggie Mae, became the big hit.

EDIT: The Johnny Cash version linked to above comes courtesy of Señor of the WTF? No, Seriously. WTF? blog.
Also recorded by: Bobby Darin (1966), Scott McKenzie (1967), Marianne Faithfull (1967), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1967), Rick Nelson (1967), David Hemmings (1967), Cher (1968), The Dillards (1968), The Youngbloods (1968), Glen Campbell (1968), Suzi Jane Hokom (1969), Brainbox (1969), The Wray Brothers Band (1969), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (1970), Andy Williams (1970), The Carpenters (1970), Rod Stewart (1971), Skeeter Davis (1972), Johan Verminnen (as Iemand als jij, 1989), Wilson Phillips (1990), Jackie DeShannon (1993), Don Williams (1995), Paul Weller (1995), Stina Nordenstam (1998), Ron Sexsmith (1999), Rod Stewart (2003), Vonda Shepard (2001) a.o.

Jimmy Driftwood – The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Horton – The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Les Humphries Singers – Mexico.mp3

jimmy_driftwood Oh, you probably do know the song. And if you don’t, you should. Originally a traditional folk song known as The 8th of January, it tells the story of a soldier fighting with Andrew Jackson’s army against the British in the 8 January 1815 battle of the title. It was first recorded in 1957 and released the following year by Jimmy Driftwood, a school teacher in Timbo, Arkansas. Born James Morris, he is said to have been one of the nicest guys in the folk music scene (not surprisingly, he was a collaborator with the great Alan Lomax). As a history teacher, Driftwood considered song to be a teaching device, and so in 1936 (or 1945, depending which sources you believe) he set the fiddle-based folk song to lyrics — there were no definitive words, only snippets of recurring phrases — to benefit his students. In the 1950s, Driftwood was signed by RCA, and eventually recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, with the label’s session man Chet Atkins on guitar. He later wrote another country classic, Tennessee Stud, which became a hit for Eddy Arnold and Johnny Cash (Tarantino fans will know it from the Jackie Brown soundtrack).

johnny_horton_new_orleansShortly after Driftwood recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, the doomed country star Johnny Horton did a cover which relied less on manic fiddling and dropped such radio-unfriendly words as “hell” and “damn”, and scored a big hit with it (he even changed the lyrics for the English market, turning the enemy “British” into random “rebels). Horton released several “historical records” (most famous among them, perhaps, Sink The Bismarck), though it would be unfair to reduce his influence on country music to that. A close friend of Johnny Cash’s, Horton died in a car crash in 1960, widowing his wife Billy Jean for the second time — she had been married to Hank Williams when the country legend died. Spookily, both Williams and Horton played their last concerts at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.

There is a crazy idea on the Internet that associates Horton with the revolting racist records of a fuckwitted spunkbucket going by the name of Rebel Johnny (such as the charming “I Hate Niggers”). I am at a loss to understand how such a confusion could arise and thereby smear the name of a great country star.

les_humphries_mexicoTwo other cover versions are notable. Also in 1959, skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan reached the UK #2 — but received no airplay on Aunty Beeb until he changed the word “ruddy” to “blooming”. The song was revived in 1972 by the Les Humphries Singers, a multi-ethnc and multi-national English-language ensemble of hippie demeanour that was very popular in West Germany with its Ed Hawkins Singer meets Hair shtick. Humphries, an Englishman, renamed the song Mexico (not a stretch; that country’s name appears in the original lyrics) and scored a massive hit with his outfit’s joyous rendition. Their performances, in English, captured the era’s exuberant spirit of social and sexual liberation. The trouble is, Humphries credited the song to himself, a brazen act of plagiarism. I have found no evidence that Humphries, who died in 2007 at 67, was ever sued for his blatant rip-off.
Also recorded by: Vaughn Monroe (1959), Eddy Arnold (1963), Harpers Bizarre (1968), Johnny Cash (1972), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1974), Buck Owens (1975), Bob Weir (1976), Bill Haley (1979)

Johnny O’Keefe – Wild One.mp3
Iggy Pop – Real Wild Child (Wild One).mp3

johnny_okeefe_wild_one Johnny O’Keefe was Australia’s first rock & roll star, notching up 30 hits in his country. Like Elvis, he was born in January 1935. He died just over a year after Elvis, of barbiturate poisoning. Often referred to by the title of his big hit, released in 1958, O’Keefe was the first Australian rock & roll star to tour the United States. But it was while Buddy Holly & the Crickets were touring Australia that the song came to traverse the Pacific. Crickets drummer Jerry Allison went on to record it under the name Ivan as Real Wild Child, enjoying a minor US hit with it.

It took almost three decades before O’Keefe’s song would reach the higher regions of the charts when Iggy Pop scored a UK Top 10 and US Top 30 hit with his David Bowie-produced track, as Real Wild Child (Wild One), in 1986. It isn’t clear which version inspired Mr Osterberg, but in 1982 Albert Lee recorded it under the same title.
Also recorded by: Jerry Lewis (1958; released in 1974), Jet Harris (1962), Billy Idol (1987), Christopher Otcasek (1989), Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1993), Lou Reed (1993), Status Quo (2003), Wakefield (2004), Everlife (2006)


Dave Edmunds – Queen Of Hearts.mp3
Juice Newton – Queen Of Hearts.mp3

dave_edmonds Here’s one of those songs that some might know better in its original version, and others as the hit cover. Queen Of Hearts was a UK #11 hit for Dave Edmunds — previously featured in this series for covering Smiley Lewis’ I Hear You Knocking — in 1979, and two years later a US #2 hit for the unlikely-named Juice Newton. She will return to this series soon when her other big hit of 1981, Angel Of The Morning. Newton earned a Grammy nomination for best country song for her version, and it was her remake that inspired the veteran French singer Sylvie Vartan, who once performed on a bill with the Beatles, to record her French take on the song (retitled Quand tu veux , or When You Want It). A couple of years earlier Newton had tried to have a hit with another British song, but her version of It’s A Heartache lost out in the US to that by Welsh rasper Bonnie Tyler. Later Newton enjoyed a #11 with Brenda Lee’s Break It To Me Gently.
Also recorded by: Rodney Crowell (1980), Sylvie Vartan (as Quand tu veux, 1981), The Shadows (1983), Lawrence Welk (1984), Ramshackle Daddies (2003), Melanie Laine (2005), Valentina (2007)

don_ho_galvestonDon Ho – Galveston.mp3
Glen Campbell – Galveston.mp3

Jimmy Webb sat on the beach of Galveston on the hurricane-plagued Gulf of Mexico when he wrote this song, which might appear to be about the Spanish-American war but was just as applicable to the Vietnam War, which in 1966 was starting to heat up (“While I watch the cannons flashing, I clean my gun and dream of Galveston” and “I’m so afraid of dying”). The composer subsequently said it was about the Vietnam War but at other times also denied it. Whatever Webb had in mind, its theme is universal about any soldier who’d rather be home than on the killing fields.

glen_campbell_galvestonWebb had previously written By The Time I Get To Phoenix (first recorded by Johnny Rivers), which Glen Campbell would have a hit with. He later wrote Wichita Lineman especially for Campbell. Galveston would complete the trinity of Webb hit songs for Campbell, who in 1974 recorded a whole album of Webb numbers. The original of Galveston was recorded by the relatively obscure Don Ho, a Hawaiian lounge singer and TV star who was known for appearing with red shades and died in 2007 aged 76. Campbell later said that, while in Hawaii, Ho turned him to Galveston. Campbell sped it up a bit to create his moving version. Apparently, after “giving” the song to Campbell, Ho would not sing it any more.
Also recorded by: Lawrence Welk (1969), Jim Nabors (1968), The Ventures (1969), Roger Williams (1969), Jimmy Webb (1971), The Lemonheads (1997), Of Montreal (2000), Joel Harrison with David Binney (2004)

More Originals

Twattery in Pop: Michael F. Bolton

June 9th, 2009 20 comments

You are right: Michael Fucking Bolton (as his mother doubtless calls him) is far too easy a target. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be marked out for rank twattery in pop.

For all I know, Bolton is a very nice man. After all, he has given the proceeds of some recording to a children’s charity in Britain. He probably is no Dick Cheney, no matter what his mother calls him (actually, she’d probably call him by his real name, Michael Fucking Bolotin). So I could forgive the chap many things.

And that was a GOOD hair day

And that was a good hair day

I could forgive him his hit How Am I Supposed To Love Without You. It’s not a bad song (not very good either, but not hatefully bad), and his vocal performance on it is not infinitely objectionable, if one is willing to pardon the “soulful” overemoting which comes naturally if one has been exposed to the oeuvre of Patti LaBelle (he once sang with her about the absence of sex in their lives). I can forgive Bolton his mediocre voice, and indeed hold in some regard many singers who have overcome the handicap of even more revolting voices (hello there, Mr Dylan; good morning Mr Waits). Perhaps there is a legitimate market for singers who can successfully emulate the pained groans that emerge from many a toilet occupied by wailing men afflicted with painful constipation.

I could forgive Bolton for working with Kenny G; Mr G seems a perfectly pleasant man who makes music so bland, it would be admirable only as a novelty if he actually were a poodle. I could forgive Bolton for allegedly plagiarising the Isley Brothers’ Love Is a Wonderful Thing (unlike the judge in the court case, Tim English in his fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit reluctantly lets Bolton off the hook). I could even forgive Bolton for that hair, because it happily never gained fashionable ubiquity outside parts of central Europe (and, frankly, to hate somebody on hairstyling grounds alone is just stupid).

What I cannot forgive Michael Fucking Bolton for is his serial rape of other people’s music. I’m down with white MOR artists trying their hand at a little soul music. I won’t necessarily listen to it, but, hey, if you need to do that to express yourself artistically, rock on. But, for the sake of all that is good and holy, don’t fucking release your cut-rate karaoke ejaculations as singles designed for radio airplay! And don’t make albums consisting of sodomised versions of such classics as Reach Out I’ll Be There and Georgia On My Mind, cleverly issued to coincide with the revival of ’60s soul two decades ago.

For some impenetrable reason, many people seemed to think that Michael Fucking Bolton had soul, man. That would be true only if one were to rank the jazz stylings of Kenny G on a level with Joe Sample or Joe Zawinul. A studied groan and a calculated scream do not make a soul singer. The obvious question I would pose to those who spend money, time and precious electricity on listening to Bolton’s soul renderings – and any album of soul covers – is this: why should one listen to pantomine renditions of Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay when Otis Reddings’ original is so easily obtainable? The success of Bolton’s soul covers has had a deplorable effect: it lowered the expectation of what soul should sound like — even among singers who came through the soul tradition. For that you may thank the idiots who awarded Bolton a Grammy for his stool-wrenching cover of When A Man Loves A Woman.

Having stained soul music with his vocal spunk, Bolton turned his malfeasant application to opera. Really. Bolton’s talents may be charitably described as being open to dispute, but nobody can disclaim his cunning knack for spotting a bandwagon. So it was at the height of the Pavarotti and Three Tenors hype that Michael Fucking Bolton recorded an album of opera tunes, with Nessun Dorma as the showpiece, naturally. Because the world would rather have pavarotten Bolton sing Nessun Dorma than Pavarotti. How much more can an ego be inflated before it bursts, pouring forth an erupting volcano’s worth of self-regarding miasma?

opera_singing_twatTouchingly, Bolton gushed about his epic opus: “I hope you will feel the rapture of this classic, timeless music created for all of us to enjoy [even when you sing it, fuckface?]. And I hope you will join me in sharing what has become — and remained until now — my secret love, my secret passion.” I share his now no longer concealed passion, but that does not incite me to broadcast to the world my aggressively tuneless bathroom antics involving the subject matter of Spanish hairdressers and weeping clowns.

More recently, Bolton decided that the world does not really need Frank Sinatra when it can have Michael Fucking Bolton. So he recorded an album of standards which Sinatra once sang. And he called it Bolton Swings Sinatra. If I had the fortitude to listen to it, I might propose that it be retitled Bolton Swings A Dead Horse. Or Bolton Swings From A Ceiling Fan As He Lubelessly Defiles Sinatra. There are 200,000 people in the United States who bought that album. If after the electoral triumph of George W Bush in 2004 and the grotesquery of Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin in 2008 there still exists any doubt about the compulsory disenfranchisement of stupid people, Michael Fucking Bolton has provided us with a most persuasive argument. And for that service to mankind, we ought to thank him.

Some songs raped by Michael Fucking Bolton:
Bill Withers – Lean On Me (live).mp3*
Dobie Gray – Drift Away.mp3
Ann Peebles – I Can’t Stand The Rain.mp3
Al Green – Let’s Stay Together.mp3
Luciano Pavarotti – Nessun Dorma.mp3

* From the great Save The Children concert recorded in 1972. Hear how Withers mis-hits the first note!

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More Twattery in Pop

Any Major 60s Soul Vol. 2

June 5th, 2009 5 comments

60s_soulHere is the second volume of ’60s soul tracks. Some of these songs are pretty well-known, but many others are hidden or forgotten gem. Eddie Holland’s track is as much a gem as it is a historical curiosity; it’s one of the few records he released on Motown before Berry Gordy decided that Eddie, with Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, should work exclusively as one of the label’s in-house writer/producer teams, in particular for the Supremes and the Four Tops . Read more…

TV Themes: Hill Street Blues

June 3rd, 2009 7 comments

During the recent Social Living Top 5 craze on Facebook (are you my friend yet. If not, click here), I was confronted with the urge to list my five all-time favourite TV series. Topping my list was Hill Street Blues — not because it is intrinsically superior to my other all-time favourite TV dramas, such as The West Wing or Homicide: Life On The Streets, but because it was the first TV show other than Sesame Street I truly, deeply loved.

hillstreetbluestitle

From the moment the female CB radio voice would dispatch the cops from the Hill Street precinct to another venue of malfeasance to the last note of Mike Post’s beautiful theme, I’d be mesmerised by the chaos and overlapping storylines.

Hill Street Blues did not invent the ensemble TV series, but it invested into the characters multi-dimensional complexity. Detective Neal Washington was my favourite character, but the most interesting of the lot was his partner J.D. LaRue (played by the late Kiel Martin), a man whose best attempts at being virtuous were undercut by his human frailties. Before Hill Street Blues, the viewer was not meant to root for flawed characters. But I rooted for LaRue.

Hill Street Blues could shock us, not only with its harsh depiction of the realities of urban decay, but also by the use of severe dramatic devices. When Joe Coffey (played by Ed Marinaro) died in the line of duty mid-series, it came as a sharp shock to the viewer. It was as unexpected to us as it was to the characters to whom we had grown close.

Every show has its moral centre. Hill Street Blues had several moral centres, all of them in some way or other flawed. Sometimes there would be conflicting moral centres — often embodied by the lovers, Captain Frank Furillo and public defender Joyce Davenport. Furillo was not as complex as most of his underlings. He was a leader because he knew what he stood for. Of all TV characters, he reminds me of my father, not physically but in his exacting but essentially kind demeanour, honour and pragmatism.

The Hill Street Blues theme is also one of my all-time favourite title tunes. It was written by Mike Post, who scored several other Steven Bochco shows, including L.A. Law, NYPD Blue and the criminally underrated Murder One. He also wrote such great themes as those for the wonderful Quantum Leap, Magnum PI, Law & Order, The Rockford Files, CHiPS and Doogie Howser, MD. The distinctive guitar on the Hill Street Blues theme is by fusion musician and one-time Crusaders member Larry Carlton, who played the solo on Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne.

Mike Post – Hill Street Blues Theme (full version).mp3
Mike Post – Hill Street Blues Theme (title version).mp3