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Step back to 1970

July 31st, 2009 8 comments

In the first part of this series, I looked back at songs that were hits before my musical consciousness awoke (other than Heintje’s run of classics in 1968). I had always loved records, but my awareness of pop started to really kick in 1970, when I was four. I cannot pinpoint it precisely, but two memories stick: a TV performance by the Schlager singer Katja Ebstein, possibly on the Hitparade show; the other lovingly studying the sleeve of an LP which featured El Condor Pasa. Read more…

Copy, borrow, steal: Rikki’s number & Sibelius’ swans

July 29th, 2009 12 comments

Few things at once delight and annoy the music fan as much as spotting a melody, a riff or a lyric lifted from another song. The delight resides in the act of knowing; the more obscure the source, the greater the pleasure. The irritation rests in the suspicion that an artist we admire has committed an act of plagiarism. How can one listen now to many Led Zeppelin classics knowing that Page and Plant didn’t just draw inspiration from other people’s composition, but irrefutably plagiarised artists they claimed to admire, and not give them a credit (except, belatedly, under the duress of legal action)?

Not all similarities in songs are plagiarism, of course. Some reference another piece of music with a knowing nod and a wink, as George Harrison did when he too inspiration from the Ed Hawkins Singers’ Oh Happy Day for My Sweet Lord (of course, we can’t sounds_like_teen_spiritknow to what extent he knowingly plagiarised the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine — see here for more on that). It is quite possible that more than one people might have had the same good idea (it might well be that somebody has written this exact sentence before me in a similar context). It is plausible that a melody, riff or hook heard a long time ago has worked itself into the composer’s subconscious, and thus internalised emerges as something original, or at least presumed original. When Paul McCartney woke up with the melody for Yesterday in his head, he asked anyone who’d listen whether it sounded familiar to them. It didn’t. McCartney was scrupulous in ascertaining that the idea was indeed his. Not everybody is.

Timothy English wrote a fascinating book on songs that copy, borrow and steal, titled Sounds Like Teen Spirit (Website and Buy), which inspires this new series. And I will liberally draw ideas from it (having been in contact with Timothy I know he won’t mind). And since this blog is named after a Steely Dan song from the Pretzel Logic album, it seems right that this new series should kick off with a song from that album. The second segment does not feature in Sounds Like Teen Spirit, the scope of which excluded reference to works from the world of classical music.

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Horace Silver – Song For My Father.mp3
Steely Dan – Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.mp3
Stevie Wonder – Don’t You Worry ’Bout A Thing.mp3

horace_silverYes, Steely Dan’s biggest hit borrows liberally. The opening keyboard riff that runs throughout the song was lifted was lifted from the title track of jazz legend Horace Silver’s 1964 album, released on Blue Note (and featuring Silver’s Cape Verde-born father on the cover). Silver was a pioneer of the percussive hard bop form of jazz, but Song For My Father, written after a visit to Brazil, has more of a funky bossa nova vibe.

Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker famously fused their jazz sensibilities with their rock direction, so it seems appropriate that their biggest hit, reaching #4 in the US, should have borrowed from a jazz classic. Evidently sampling a riff so faithfully, even from a piece regarded by many as a classic, did not qualify its creator for a co-writer credit: Horace Silver is not credited on Rikki Don’t Lose That Number. The titular Rikki, incidentally, may be the writer Rikki Ducornet, who claims that Fagen, whom she knew in college, once did giver her his number at a party (Fagen has not commented).

Had Silver sued Steely Dan, he probably would have won. Writers have secured credits for much less (and others have gotten away with much more!). He also might have succeeded in litigating against Stevie Wonder’s use of Song For My Father’s horn riff as an inspiration for the melody of 1973’s Don’t You Worry ’Bout A Thing.

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Sibelius – 5th Symphony 3rd Movement.mp3
The First Class – Beach Baby.mp3
Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday.mp3

first_classOnly nostalgists and one-hit wonder devotees might remember The First Class or Strawberry Switchblade. Beach Baby was The First Class’ only hit, in 1974. The First Class was one of the names under which British singer Tony Burrows and songwriters John Carter and Ken Lewis released some of their songs. While Beach Baby was The First Class’ only hit, Lewis and Carter were behind other one hit wonders. They were the Flowerpot Men, who had a solitary hit with Let’s Go To San Francisco in 1967, while Burrows fronted Edison Lighthouse, who had a massive hit in 1970 with Love Goes Where My Rosemary Goes, as well as with White Plains (My Baby Loves Lovin’) and Brotherhood Of Men before they hit the Eurovision trail. Carter had previously also enjoyed chart success as a founder-member of The Ivy League (Tossin’ And Turnin’).

strawberry_switchbladeStrawberry Switchblade, one of the few acts I ever caught live before they had a hit (The Housemartins and R.E.M. are the others; besides them, I was a jinx to every unknown act I saw), emerged from Glasgow’s punk scene to make some beautiful pop in the mid-‘80s, produced by John Deacon of Queen (so much for the punk revolution). Since Yesterday was released in November 1984, but hit the UK top 5 only in February 1985. They released only one LP and a couple of singles in Japan before splitting and disappearing.

Sibelius thinks about another pop riff.

Jean Sibelius contemplates creating another pop riff.

As the attentive reader may have worked out, both pop songs sample from Sibelius 5th symphony. The horn riff that opens Since Yesterday so gorgeously appeared a decade earlier in an interlude on Beach Baby (at 3:05) which unashamedly and deliberately recreates the sound of the Beach Boys, producing a rather good pastiche.

Jean Sibelius wrote his 5th Symphony in 1915 at the request of the Finnish government which wanted to mark the composer’s 50th birthday by declaring it a public holiday. It was revised twice, and it is the final revision from 1919 that is most commonly performed. Sibelius said the recurring horn motif which the two pop bands would adopt more than half a century later was inspired by the sound of swan calls. For both acts, the songs that used Sibelius’ swan call represented — and you know that I can never resist a criminally bad pun — their swansong.

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More Copy Borrow Steal

American Road Trip Vol. 9

July 27th, 2009 4 comments

Last time on our US road trip, we left Pittsburgh. From there, one might travel in any direction to reach places of interest to our purposes. I do think it is time we come to the capital.

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Washington, D.C.

chocolate_cityI note Marion Berry, the four-term mayor of Washington DC was arrested again this month, this time for stalking a girlfriend. No matter what Berry’s accomplishments as a mayor and councillor, how on earth does that man still enjoy the credibility to be re-elected? How does the electorate of Washington arrive at the conclusion that a crackhead with the powers of judgment of a lemming is best qualified to govern their affairs? This is a man who delivers pearls of wisdom like, “The laws in this city are clearly racist. All laws are racist. The law of gravity is racist” or “The brave men who died in Vietnam, more than 100% of which were black, were the ultimate sacrifice”? It’s like the great American public electing a former drug abuser with no brains to the presidency. Which, of course, could never happen (and, yes, I can hear you whisper the name Zuma). Chris Rock perhaps nailed it when he said about Barry’s re-election as mayor after i his crack conviction: “How did that happen? Smoked crack, got his job back! What was the other guy on heroin?”
Parliament – Chocolate City.mp3
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Baltimore, Maryland.mp3

Well, I sold my pick-up truckGP to take my woman where she used to be. We left our friends and Marion Barry back there in Washington. And I bought those one way tickets she had often begged me for, and they took us to the streets of Baltimore. Well, her heart was filled with gladness when she saw those city lights. She said: “The prettiest place on earth is Baltimore at night.” But I soon learned she loved those bright lights more than she loved me. Now I’m a going back on that same train that brought me here before while my baby walks the streets of Baltimore. On second thought, fuck it, let’s go to Philadelphia.
Gram Parsons – Streets Of Baltimore.mp3
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

tsopTo people who grew up in the ’90s, Philadelphia may be a movie about AIDS discrimination starring two insufferably smug, overrated actors. Or the hometown of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. To me, it evokes the sunny sounds of ’70s soul. The Philly sound. The O’Jays. The Three Degrees. The Delfonics. Billy Paul. Jean Carn. Blue Magic. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. The Intruders. The Trammps. Lou Rawls singing Lady Love. SalSoul and Gamble & Huff’s PIR.
M.F.S.B. – T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia).mp3
Dexys Midnight Runners – T.S.O.P.mp3

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Previously on American Road Trip

The Originals Vol. 29

July 24th, 2009 4 comments

By the end of this instalment of the lesser-known originals, we’ll have covered (as it were) the 150th song since the series started last October. And there are still so many songs to go… So here are Not Fade Away, The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), La Vie En Rose, China Girl and the extraordinary story of Just Walkin’ In The Rain.

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Buddy Holly and The Crickets – Not Fade Away.mp3
Rolling Stones – Not Fade Away.mp3

cricketsUnlike many artists in the early days of rock ’n’ roll, Buddy Holly and his Crickets were no overnight success. After being dropped by Decca records (not always the greatest judges of talent either side of the Atlantic) in late 1956, Holly and his newly formed Crickets struggled to find a distributor to market the songs they recorded at Norman Petty’s studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Eventually, That’ll Be The Day gave the group its first hit; before that, Holly kept writing future hits which would be billed either as Crickets or Buddy Holly records — purely a marketing ploy, for Holly saw himself as part of as collective. One of these songs recorded before fame came knocking in August 1957 was Not Fade Away (put down in May that year), which cheerfully plagiarised Bo Diddley’s seminal stop-start beat from his eponymous hit. Charlie Watts and Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham later bizarrely claimed that the Stones innovated on the Crickets’ original by introducing the Bo Diddley beat. Bill Wyman is more honest, saying that the Stones merely amplified it.

The song’s writers are credited as Charles Hardin (Holly’s Christian names) and Norman Petty, a result of the arbitrary designations which were supposed to let all Crickets members get a piece of royalty action. In reality, drummer Jerry Ivan Allison (on the left in the cover pic) had contributed significantly to the lyrics, while producer Petty had written nothing, but in any case took a writing credit for every Holly/Crickets song (and added his name to the writing credits of songs written by others for his charges, such as Sonny West and Bill Tilghman’s Oh Boy). In return, Allison would receive credit for songs to which he had contributed nothing, including Peggy Sue, to which he furnished little else but the name of his future wife.

Much as Elvis Presley inspired the American and British youth to seek musical fame, arguably the more profound influence on the future of rock ’n’ roll was that of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Chuck Berry and (certainly in the case of the Beatles) Carl Perkins. Unusually for the time, these acts wrote most of their own songs, inspiring the likes of Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards to do likewise. Holly, Perkins and Berry were also quite exceptional in that they played their own guitars, laying down solos which would be imitated by virtually every band that a few years later would “invade” America (think about Holly’s Peggy Sue solo). Indeed, Holly’s arrival in Britain coincided with the decline of skiffle, the musical form that involved guitars plus whatever you could find in the kitchen (especially washboards). Stuck with guitars and a dying genre, the likes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney sought a new muse. The guitar-wielding Buddy Holly provided just that. That’ll Be The Day was the song the Beatles (whose punning name was motivated by the Crickets) performed on their very first demo.

stones_not_fade_awayAnd it was the Crickets’ Not Fade Away, originally released as the b-side of Oh Boy, with which the Rolling Stones had their first cross-Atlantic hit. It is an amusing sidenote that the Crickets’ Not Fade Away unwittingly exercised a skiffle mentality: instead of drums, Jerry Allison beat out his rhythm on cardboard boxes, an idea borrowed from Buddy Knox’s hit Party Doll. It is said that on the Stones version, Phil Spector contributes to the recording by shaking a cognac bottle (“donated” by Gene Pitney) with a coin inside, doing the part Jagger does on stage with the maracas.

The Rolling Stones version, recorded in January 1964 and released in February, was the UK follow-up single to I Wanna Be Your Man — the song the Beatles donated to the Stones to help the London group break through — and their first US single (backed by I Wanna Be Your Man). Peaking at #3, it was their first UK Top10 hit. In the US it reached #48, a creditable placing for a foreign debut single and a basis from which the Stones could launch their career there.

Also recorded by: Bobby Fuller (1962), Dick and Dee Dee (1964), The Rolling Stones (1964), Dave Berry (1964), The Supremes, 1964), The Scorpions (Dutch band, 1964), The Beachers (1965), Corporate Image (1966), The Pupils (1966), The Why Four (1966), The End (1966), The Barracudas (1967), The Walflower Complextion (1967), Joe Pass (1967), Group Axis (1969), Grateful Dead (1971), Rush (1973), Everly Brothers (March 1973), Fumble (1974), Bo Diddley (1976), Sutherland Brothers & Quiver 91976), Steve Hillage (1977), Black Oak Arkansas (1977), Tanya Tucker (1978), Stephen Stills (1978), Eddy Mitchell (as Comment ça fait?, 1979), Joe Ely (1980), Mick Fleetwood (1981), Eric Hine (1981), The Knack (1982), Andy J. Forest & Snapshots (1982), Amiga Blues Band (1983), Happy Flowers (1987), The Purple Helmets (1988), The Razorbacks (1989), The Infidels (1989), Trout Fishing in America (1990), Peter Belli & De Nye Rivaler (1992), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1992), Foreigner (1993), Roy Rogers (1994), Dave Plaehn & Jeff Hino (1996), Mike and the Mellotones (1996), Hank Marvin (1996), Johnny Hallyday (as Je vais te secouer, 1996), John Entwistle (1997), Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez (1997), Sean Kennedy and the King Kats (1998), JGB (1998), Zydeco Flames (1998), James Taylor (1998), Darrel Higham (1999), Mike Berry (1999), The Jailbirds (1999), The End (1999), Status Quo (1999), Ned Sublette (1999), Jorma Kaukonen Band & Guests (1999), Michigan Mark DePree (2000), Lemmy & Friends (2000), Scott Ellison (2000), X (2001), The Pirates (2001), Cory Morrow (2001), Two Tons of Steel (2002), Jon Butcher Axis (2002), The Rocking Chairs (2002), Noel Redding (2004), The Head Cat (2006), David Kitt (2006), The Bees (2006), Sheryl Crow (2007) a.o.

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The Prisonaires – Just Walkin’ In The Rain.mp3
Johnnie Ray – Just Walkin’ In The Rain.mp3
The Prisonaires – Please Baby.mp3

prisonaires_sunNot many pop classics were written in jail. Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley were incarcerated in 1952 at the Tennessee State Penitentiary when a chance conversation about the wet weather — Bragg, the story goes, remarked to Riley as they were hanging out in the jail’s courtyard: “Here we are just walking in the rain, and wondering what the girls are doing” — inspired the song’s composition (unnervingly, the comment was made by a man who was serving a sentence for six counts of rape). Bragg wrote the song but was illiterate; burglar Riley’s contribution was committing it to paper.

The Prisonaires: rape, murder, manslaughter, larceny, sweet harmonies

The Prisonaires: rape, murder, manslaughter, larceny, sweet harmonies

Bragg was part of a gospel quintet at Tennessee State. His bandmates comprised two murderers, a fraudster and one convicted for manslaughter. Undesirable characters as they were, the Prisonaires had talent. They were discovered by a local radio producer, Joe Calloway, who recorded the group for a radio broadcast. A tape of the radio performance came to Sam Phillips, founder of the Sun Studio which a year later would introduce Elvis Presley to the public. Although not a big fan of the proto-doo wop style, he negotiated with the authorities to have the Prisonaires delivered, under heavy guard, to his Memphis studio to cut a record, Baby Please (posted above as a bonus), backed with Just Walkin’ In The Rain. The single was a big local hit, selling 50,000 copies. Thereafter they were allowed to tour, performing on occasion even for the state’s governor. The good times didn’t last long; by 1954 rock ’n’ roll was on the up, and Ink Spot type groups — especially if they were jailbirds — were falling by the wayside. In 1955 the Prisonaires disbanded. By 1959, Bragg’s was paroled, but was in and out of jail for the next ten years. He passed away in 2004 at 78, long after his former bandmates had died.

Johnnie_rayIn 1956, the most rueful of all ’50s singers, Johnnie Ray, recorded Just Walkin’ In The Rain, which despite the Prisonaires regional success was an obscure track. The original certainly was despondent, but the so-called Prince of Wails invested it with a different sense of mournfulness. In a word, his first-person protagonist is pathetic. Rat’s version, produced and whistled by Ray Conniff (he of serial easy listening crimes) and arranged by Mitch Miller (still alive at 98), was a massive hit, reaching #2 in the US and #1 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Judy Kileen (1956), Four Jacks (1957), Jim Reeves (1962), Shakin’ Stevens (1983), Eric Clapton (2001)

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Marianne Michel – La Vie en Rose.mp3
Edith Piaf – La Vie En Rose.mp3

Grace Jones – La Vie En Rose (full version).mp3
marianne_michelThis is one of those orginals which was recorded first by somebody other than the writer (and even then, the authorship is disputed). Piaf’s lyrics were put to music by Louis “Louiguy” Guglielmi (who also wrote the song known in English as Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White). For legal reasons, Piaf’s name could not be credited. At the time, that didn’t seem to matter much, since the composers failed to see much hit potential in the song — even if, in 1945 France, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, the notion of seeing life through rose-tinted glasses must have seemed particularly attractive. So the song, then titled Les Choses en Rose, was farmed out to Piaf’s friend, the singer Marianne Michel. It was Michel who proposed the title by which the song became world famous, albeit in Piaf’s 1946 recording.

The song became a chanson and easy listening staple until Grace Jones discofied it with her rather excellent vocals, a bossa nova beat and glittering production values in 1977 (as she did with other standards, such as Autumn Leaves and Send In The Clowns). It was a massive hit in Europe, though not in Britain until eight years after its original release.

Also recorded by: Werner Schmah & Walter Dobschinski und die Tanzkapelle des Berliner Rundfunks (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1948), Louis Armstrong (1950), Gene Ammons (1950), Tony Martin (1950), Michel Legrand and his Orchestra (1954), The Mantovani Orchestra (1958), Dean Martin (1962), Jacques Faber (1964), Dalida (1964), Tony Mottola (1965), Bobby Solo (1965), Peter Alexander (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1966), Josephine Baker (1968), Nana Mouskouri (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1973), Alain Goraguer (1976), Dalida (1976), Grace Jones (1977), Bette Midler (1977), Richard Clayderman (1979), Grand Orchestre Mario Robbiani (1981), Taco (1982), James Last And His Orchestra (1982), Franck Pourcel (1983), Diane Dufresne (1985), Michèle Torr (1987), Melissa Manchester (1989), D’Erlanger (1998), Trio Esperança (1992), Donna Summer (1993), Patricia Kaas (1993), Nicole de Monde (1994), Wendy Van Wanten (as Duizend regenbogen, 1995), Madeleine Peyroux (1996), Toots Thielemans & Diana Krall (1998), Jo Lemaire (1999), Manlio Sgalambro (2001), Romy Haag (2001), Bernard Peiffer (2001), Tony Bennett & k.d. lang (2002), Miguel Wiels (2002), Petula Clark (2002), Liane Foly (2003), Zazie (2003), Cyndi Lauper (2003), In-grid (2004), Dee Dee Bridgewater (2005), Montmartre (2006), Princess Erika (2006), Alfons Haider (2007), Belinda Carlisle (2007), Victoria Abril (November 2007), Suarez (2008) and lots more

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Merry Clayton – It’s In His Kiss.mp3
Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).mp3
merry_claytonSoul purists will have been quite scandalised by Cher’s version of the Shoop Shoop Song, declaring with considerable indignation that it does not measure up to Betty Everett’s original. While the assessment on respective quality is correct, we erred in ascribing originality to Everett. The first version was recorded by Merry Clayton and released in 1963, a few months before Everett’s version came out in December 1963 to give the singer her first Top 10 hit.

Written by Rudy Clark (whom we shall encounter again in this series) and produced by Jack Nietzsche, It’s in His Kiss was a flop for Clayton, then all of 15 years old. Indeed, Clayton never had a big hit of her own; the highest-charting one, at #48, came in 1987 with the song Yes from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Yet she was involved in many famous recordings, first as one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, then as Mick Jagger’s duet partner on Gimme Shelter, and as a backing vocalists on such songs as Lynyrd Skynrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and Tori Amos’ Cornflake Girl. She was also the original Acid Queen in The Who’s London production of their rock-opera Tommy.

betty_everettShortly after Clayton released It’s In His Kiss, Betty Everett recorded it very reluctantly, finding the song childish. Although credited to Everett alone, she as backed by a band called The Opals, effectively creating one of the supreme girl-group songs of the age. A month after Everett’s version was released on Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records, Warner Bros in LA issued a version of the song by Ramona King. To differentiate Everett’s version from King’s, Vee-Jay changed the title to The Shoop Shoop Song, after the catchy backing vocals.

In 1991, Cher’s version from the 1990 movie Mermaids introduced The Shoop Shoop Song to a new generation. While Everett’s version was a Top 10 hit in the US, but barely reached the Top 40 in the UK, now Cher’s version sold sluggishly in the US, but topped the UK charts, and was one of the biggest hits of 1991 throughout Europe as well as in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Also recorded by (under different titles): Aretha Franklin (1964), The Hollies (1964), Sandie Shaw (1964), The Searchers (1964), Linda Lewis (1975), Kate Taylor (1978), Nancy Boyd (1986), The Nylons (1996), Vonda Shepard (1998), The Neatbeats (1999), Bob Rivers (as It’s in His Piss, 2002), Lulu (2005)

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Iggy Pop – China Girl.mp3
David Bowie – China Girl.mp3
iggy_pop_idiotIggy and Bowie wrote China Girl together for the former’s 1977 album The Idiot, at a time when both stars dwelled in Berlin to wean themselves off heroin (Berlin seems an odd choice of refuge from smack, but nobody ever accused those two of being eminently sensible). Indeed, there is a good case that the song is about heroin, a drug sometimes referred to as China White, or about an opiate known as China Girl. The locale of composition also explains the swastika reference.

In 1983 Bowie revived the song, which in Iggy’s version made few waves, in his besuited Let’s Dance period, polishing it under Nile Rodger’s production, and frolicking to it in the Australian waves in the video. His co-star in the video is a New Zealand actress of Vietnamese extraction named Geeling Ng. Although they dated afterwards, according to Geeling, the popular rumours that they actually had sex in the video are, as one would expect, false. The video created further controversy surrounding — goodness, hold on to your drawers! — Bowie’s bared buttocks; later versions excised his arse.

Also recorded: Nick Cave (1978), Piggy Stardust (1998), James (1998), Trance to the Sun (1999), Moogue (2001), Pete Yorn (2002), Rhonda Harris (2003), Winter (2004), Anna Ternheim (2005), Silver (2005), Voltaire (2006)

More Originals

Soundtrack of my Life: 1960s

July 17th, 2009 20 comments

Some readers may remember a series of posts in which I looked at songs that evoked particular times, the way music often does. That was two years ago, and for two years I’ve regretted not milking the concept more than I did. In my excitement, I rushed through the years, overlooking some essential songs. And, of course, I’ve rediscovered a few in the meantime. One I found a couple of weeks ago; the chorus had been a recurring, random earworm for more than three decades without revealing itself in a manner by which I could carry out the appropriate research in order to identify and acquire it. Around the same time, I stumbled upon a song I had entirely forgotten about. Hearing both beamed me back to 1971/72, when I was five years old.

That then, is the point of this revised series (I will probably recycle some blurb I wrote two years ago while pretending to ignore what I posted): to recreate, as the cliché goes, a soundtrack to my life consisting of the hits of the day. Be warned, some of the music will be utterly horrible, enjoyable only as an act of nostalgia, and even then not very much. There will be oddities that must be included because they were pivotal in my life, like my first idol, childstar Heintje, or my first single (an obscure soul song now regarded as a classic in its genre called… oh, OK, a terrible Schlager single). I will be brutally frank in acknowledging a record of bad taste in childhood, and of questionable record purchases as a young man in the 1980s (What’s The Color Of Money, anyone?). But I also know that there are many who will share these records of bad taste, the questionable purchases, and enjoy revisiting these — maybe even recalling the same songs with similar experiences.

This, then, is my musical autobiography. My interest in knowing the names of performers, other than the legend that is Heintje, began in 1970, when I was four. In this first installment we look at songs that were hits before then, but which remind me of my childhood, not necessarily of the time when they were hits (except for Heintje, of course).

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Heintje –Mama (1968).mp3
heintjeIt all begun with Heintje. I had opportunity last year to report on how I pretended to be an old-fashioned record player. I was about two. I’d run around with my left arm pointing up to resemble the metal spindle on which one would stack records, while my right hand would make semi-circular motions around the supposed spindle to indicate the record’s rotation, all the while lustily singing a song, usually by Dutch-born Heintje, who was huge in West-Germany in the 1960s. Shortly, I’d say “clack” — the next record dropping down the spindle — to begin a new song, invariably by Heintje. I was a fan of the boy who as Hein Simon would enjoy considerably diminished success once, hurrah!, his bollocks dropped.

Listening to Heintje today, it is difficult to see on what foundations of excellence his career was built. It was almost exclusively sentimental gunk, mostly addressed to his mother whom he repeatedly beseeched not to cry for his sake. And it was mainly mothers, their mothers, and two-year-old kids who dug Heintje’s oedipal stylings. And yet, anybody who was alive in West-Germany in the 1960s (or even early ’70s) before the onset of puberty will most likely be beamed back to their childhood on hearing his hits such as Mama or Heidschi Bumbeidschi, and few are the German families that did not have Heintje’s Christmas album, as essential to a true German 1970s Weihnachten as tinsel and Lebkuchen.

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Alexandra – Mein Freund der Baum (1968).mp3
alexandra-mein_freund_der_baumCLACK! Banal Schlager singers were a Pfennig-a-dozen in Germany. All the more tragic when a real chanteuse, the beautiful, husky voiced Alexandra perished in a car crash on 31 July 1969 at 27. I faintly remember my grandmother telling me that Alexandra was dead when footage of her appeared on the old monochrome television. I don’t know how old I was, but I certainly knew nothing of death. A year before Alexandra died, in 1968 when I was two, my great-uncle died. I have two flashes of vivid memory of him, but his absence didn’t trouble me. He’s dead, you say? Cool. Will he come visit tomorrow? But now I was affected by the gravity of what my grandmother was telling me about the pretty singer. Death seemed serious, shocking business. Maybe you didn’t even survive it.

Quite likely, I would have recovered soon from notions of mortality, had it not been for the song that accompanied the footage of the dead Alexandra: a mournful, slightly eerie ode to a tree that was felled, with its theme of loss and anguish underscored by mournful, slightly eerie music. Knowing this person was dead freaked me out so much that for a couple of years I refused to watch reruns of shows or movies that featured people I knew to be dead (except Laurel and Hardy, probably because they were immortal. And The Little Rascals, who were kids and therefore not possibly dead). Forty years on, I regard Mein Freund der Baum has one of the era’s very few German songs of merit, one influenced by Alexandra’s contact with the French chansonniers of the day, such as Gilbert Bécaud and Salvatore Adamo (both huge in Germany).

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The Peels – Juanita Banana (1966).mp3
peels_juanita_bananaBeyond Heintje, my initial introduction to music rested on the singles my second-oldest sister played and my mother owned. My sister never let me look at her records, so I don’t recall much of them other than the green Odeon label records of the Beatles and a song in which a dog barked a melody on the red Telefunken label. My mother, on the other hand, kept her singles in an album with plastic sleeves to which I had unrestricted access, at least once I got my own record player for my fifth birthday. I don’t think that her single of the Peels’ great novelty hit from 1966 impressed me much until then. The record’s sleeve was by then missing, so the initial attraction was the label, with a karate figure which evoked my favourite ice lolly from our holidays in Denmark, the wrapper and name of which had some martial arts motif, possibly Kung Fu (it tasted of liquorice, and when I returned to Denmark in 1999, they were still selling it. It still tasted great). Once played, Juanita Banana became a firm favourite (the eponymous heroine Juanita Banana is singing Caro Nome from Verdi’s Rigoletto, incidentally). I confess, I still love it; it’s the best novelty hit of all time.
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Udo Jürgens – Siebzehn Jahr, Blondes Haar (1965).mp3
udo_jurgensUdo Jürgens is one of the most important German recording artists (he was born and grew up in Austria; his parents were, however, German). He wrote Matt Munro’s hit Walk Away, Shirley Bassey’s Reach For The Stars and Sammy Davis Jr’s concert-closer If I Never Sing Another Song, and has sold a reported 100 million records (he also collaborated with the tragic Alexandra, incidentally). More importantly, he was my youngest sister’s favourite singer before the moody Peter Maffay appeared on the scene in 1970. It was through that sister, ten years older than me, that I grew up on Jürgens hits such as Merci Chérie (a Eurovision Song Contest winner), the rousing and quite funny seduction song Es wird Nacht Senorita, and this sing-along hit about a blonde teenager. Now almost 75, Jürgens is apparently still performing, retaining his massive popularity.

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Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown (1967).mp3
manfred_mann_clownIn the course of moving between continents and leaving my record collection unattended while the vultures circled, I have lost almost all of my singles, but I still have this one, which I inherited from my mother. Of course a small kid will be attracted by the idea of a song about clowns, especially laughing ones (the kid need not be aware that the protagonist wanted to bang the wife of the clown). But two other things attracted me to the record: the cover, with a rather cute little girl, and the Fontana label, with the record company’s rather eccellent logo. As the Peels entry revealed, I had an interest in record labels as soon as my love affair with vinyl began. And the Fontana one appealed to me greatly. I loved all black labels, it seems. The song itself is brilliant; it features the flute and whistling!

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Chris Andrews – Pretty Belinda (1969).mp3
pretty_belindaAnother of my mother’s records, and I still own that one, too. It’s the intro wuith the trrumpets that grabbed me then. Andrews looks very English on the cover, yet this song didn’t even chart in his home country, where he’ll be remembered better for his 1965 hit Yesterday Man. Andrews main career was sing-writing (he’s still at it, apparently). He wrote loads of songs for Sandie Shaw — by virtue of which he is a bit of a hero — and Adam Faith, as well as the Mamas and the Papas I’ll Remember Tonight.

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Gilbert Bécaud – Nathalie (German version) (1965).mp3
becaud_nathalieFew things excited German record buyers of the ’60s and ’70s as a foreign accent and the sound of far-away lands. Few singers had thicker accents than Bécaud, and when he sang a Russian-inflected song with a Cosack-dance type interlude, the Germans loved it. My mother certainly did, because she bought the single. I loved the cover, with Monsieur 100,000 Volts suavely greeting us from his sportscar, no doubt on his way to make love to an unattainable ethnic beauty. The song’s storyline exploits every Russian cliché bar the appearance of a babooshka. Gilbert picks Nathalie up in Red Square, parties with her and her university friends in her residence, then has hot Soviet sex with her. Now he remembers Nathalie and expects to kiss her soft lips again one day. Oh Gilbert, poor, naïve Gilbert. After your sexcapades in Moscow, the KGB arrested Nathalie and her friends. She was last believed to be in Siberia. Thanks, Gilbert.

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Esther & Abi Ofarim – Noch Einen Tanz (1965).mp3
esther_abi_ofarimThis is the German version of the Israeli duo’s song One More Dance (another one of mother’s singles). And what a cruel song it is, covering the conversation between two illicit lovers as the woman’s rich husband is ailing at home. Esther and Abi are milking the black humour for all it’s worth, especially when Esther notes with absolute glee that her husband is ill and when Abi, as “Franz”, informs his lover with fake surprise that her husband has died. And all that backed with jovial yet sinister music. With my death phobia, I found the song unsettling yet somehow alluring.
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Al Martino – Spanish Eyes (1966).mp3
al_martinoLike many of the songs here, I can’t say exactly when this record (another of mother’s singles) entered my consciousness. I do remember that my six-years-older brother and I adapted the English lyrics to sing: “Du, sperr’ mich ein” (You, lock me up). Which suggests that my brother had not learnt English yet, as he would begin to do so at the age of 10, and that I could not read the cover. Which would date the consciousness-entry at about 1970. Spanish Eyes was written by Bert Kaempfert, whose composing chops we observed in the most recent Originals instalment in reference to his Strangers In The Night, and who first recorded the song as an instrumental titled Moon Over Naples. Martino, of course, played mafia-owned singer Johnny Fontane in The Godfather, on whose behalf a racehorse lost its head. It is said, with some justification, that Fontane was based on Frank Sinatra. Martino had himself mafia troubles, having to pay $75,000 (in 1953, when that was worth something like ten times as much in today’s money) to ensure the safety of his family and went into exile in Britain for five years.

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Freddy Quinn – Junge, Komm Bald Wieder (1962).mp3
freddyOld Fred, I hate to tell you, was not an Irish expat making it big in Germany. Freddy’s mother knew her boy as Manfred Nidl-Petz. You see the reason why Fred saw cause to change his name, as many other singers have done before and after him. He was one of the first, however, to adopt an English-sounding moniker. Following his example, ever Hans, Fritz and Heinrich would take an Anglophone name, such as Roy Black or Chris Roberts. Unlike Roy and Chris and their friends, Freddy had some connection to his new name: his father was Irish (perhaps even named Quinn).

Manfred’s reinvention didn’t end there. Although born in landlocked Austria, he made the musical sentiments of seafaring his stock and trade. That is akin to a New Yorker making a career out of being a professional hillbilly. Of course, nobody particularly cared that this Austrian was now a Northern German (the astute student of German political history will faintly remember another Austrian who became a German), and Freddy’s melancholy songs about the sea and homesickness — such as this featured piece of shit — were ubiquitous even years after they were hits.

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Jane Birkin with Serge Gainsbourg – Je t’aime moi non plus (vinyl).mp3
jane_birkinIn the official version, my first celeb crush was ABBA’s lovely Agnetha, but I suspect that before the lovely Agnetha, I fell for the lovely Jane Birkin. I loved looking at the sleeve of the single, which my mother somehow saw no need to withhold from me. Of course, I had no idea that Birkin was climaxing (I’ve read that it wasn’t faked; I like to think it wasn’t) in a sexual manner. I don’t know what exactly I thought she was doing (probably she had a nightmare, or a tummyache), but I certainly had no idea that there was such a thing as sex, and if I had, I wouldn’t have known what it sounded like. So my early childhood exposure to Je t’aime moi non plus had no corrupting influence on me. Not at that point anyway. I certainly liked the sound of the music. This vinyl rip isn’t my work — I downloaded it about ten years ago — but it captures the way I remember hearing it as a child perfectly. My mother’s single crackled just like that.

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More Stepping Back

Curious Germany

July 14th, 2009 6 comments

A reader of this blog has asked me to post some interesting German-language songs, recalling a German version of Abba’s Ring Ring I put up a while back. His request coincided with a phase in which I have been rummaging through my German music in preparation for a new series. So here is the first of two posts of random German pop curiosities.

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ABBA – Waterloo (German version) (1974).mp3
waterloo_deutschWaterloo was ABBA’s breakthrough hit after they won the Eurovision Song Contest with it on 6 April 1974. At the time, contestants at the contest had to perform their song in their native language, so Waterloo was initially presented in Swedish. Swedes had no history of achieving success in the English-speaking market, so ABBA’s determination to break that famine was quite audacious. For Swedish musicians hankering after international success, the market of aspiration was Germany, whose record buyers loved nothing more than foreigners molesting their language in heavy accents. ABBA had released records in German before Waterloo, so when the song won the Eurovision Song Contest, it was natural that a German version would be released. In fact, word is that the German version had already been recorded before the song contest.

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ABBA – Wer im Wartesaal der Liebe steht (1973).mp3
abba_germanOne of Abba’s pre-Waterloo singles released in German was Ring Ring (as Bjorn Benny Anna Frida…BBAF?), which would become a big hit when it was re-released. ABBA certainly had some designs on the lucrative German market. Before joining the group, Agnetha had even tried, and failed, to become a Schlager star. And the Schlager — the German brand of pop marked by banal and/or sentimental music and lyrics — was a significant influence on ABBA, one which would manifest itself even in later years. In the beginning, the Schlager influence was particularly striking. Songs like Hasta Manana or I Do I Do I Do I Do were in essence Schlager songs. Both were bigger hits in Germany than they were in Britain (where the former wasn’t even released as a single).

Wer im Wartesaal der Liebe steht (He who stands in the waiting room of love) emphaticallyis a Schlager number. The b-side of the 1973 German version of Ring Ring, it is quite awful. Björn takes over lead vocals, proving why that was never a good idea, to spout forth hackneyed lyrics to a track that suggests nothing of the pop genius the group would exhibit just a year later. A pop curiosity rather than a manifestation of early genius.

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Max Schmeling – Das Herz eines Boxers (1936).mp3
schmelingSchmeling was a German heavyweight world champion who, after controversially losing that crown, proceeded to sensationally knocked out the great Joe Louis in 1936, before receiving a thrashing in the return bout two years later. His sporting exploits, as well as his gregarious and philanthropic character, secured him life-long German celebrity status until his death at 99 in 2005. His victory over the Black Bomber confirmed to the Nazis the supposed superiority of the Aryan race, and Schmeling — not an enthusiastic Nazi himself and not a party member, but also not immune from enjoying the benefits of hobnobbing with them — was celebrated accordingly. When he lost the return fight, the Nazis quickly dropped him. They might have done so even more forcefully had they known that Schmeling was involved in smuggling two Jewish children to safety in 1938.

After winning his 1936 bout, Schmeling did what many celebs have done since: make a record, in this case a belated inclusion in the apparently woeful film Liebe im Ring (in which Schmeling appeared nude in a shower scene and prepared to fight a black boxer named…Ali!). The trouble was, Schmeling had no singing or even musical ability whatsoever. So he spoke his part of the song, with co-stars Hugo Fischer-Köppe and Kurt Gerron doing singing duties. So Das Herz eines Boxers (The heart of a boxer) may be the first rap song.

As for Joe Louis, the two fighters remained life-long friends. While Schmeling became a very wealthy man post- war after taking over the German Coca-Cola franchise, Louis fell on hard times. Schmeling supported Louis financially, and was a pallbearer at his funeral.

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Fehlfarben – (Ein Jahr) Es geht voran (1980).mp3
fehlfarbenQuite suddenly in 1980, a new genre revolutionised German music. The Schlager, so dominant in the 1970s, had become a tired form enlivened only by an onslaught of regrettable novelty songs (none more so than a comedy remake of You’re The One That I Want). Now it became supplanted by post-punk artists with attitude singing about burning schools, social alienation, prostitution, not paying one’s busfare and so on, set to synth-pop and punk rock. Among the first acts to hit were Hagen’s Extrabreit (friends of the red balloon allegorising Nena), Berlin’s Ideal, Cologne’s Zeltinger Band, and Düsseldorf’s D.A.F. and Fehlfarben. Many of the acts of what was dubbed Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave) were one-hit wonders. So it was with Fehlfarben, who didn’t even like their only hit. It’s difficult to see what’s not to like: it’s a rousing, chantable chorus backed by some serious funk grooves that cut into the New Wave sensibility.

I’m no expert on hip hop, but the bassline of the Fehlfarben song reminds me a lot of that in Grandmaster Flash’s White Lines, released in 1983. Flash’s bassline is credited to Liquid Liquid’s song Cavern, which was also released in 1983. I’d love to claim that a Neue Deutsche Welle song invented a fantastic bassline picked up by a rap legend for a true hip hop classic. But I won’t — I suspect Fehlfarben borrowed it themselves. But from where?

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Peter Schilling – Major Tom (1983).mp3
major_tomOne of this blog’s Facebook friends recently posted the video of the English version of Peter Schilling’s international 1984 hit. Here is the German original, a big hit there in 1983. As the title suggests, the song provides an alternative narrative to David Bowie’s two songs about the ill-fated astronaut, Space Oddity and Ashes To Ashes. The latter outed Major Tom as a junkie. Schilling’s lyrics can be read (and probably are intended) as a junkie parable. After his hit, Schilling stuck around for a few years, unable to follow up his international success (#1 in Canada!). In 1990 he suffered what is described as burn-out. In 1995, he formed an outfit called Space Pilots (you can spot a pattern here) which recorded one record, Trip To Orion, which became a big hit in the only market where obscurities can become hits and yet remain resolutely obscure: Japan.

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Die Toten Hosen – Bayern (2000).mp3
bayernThere is a need to adapt this song into English, retitled Real. The Bayern of the title refer to Germany’s most successful football club, FC Bayern München, whom non-fans regard, with no exaggeration, as a cancer in the body of German football. So the alternative rock band Die Toten Hosen (The Dead Trousers) composed a very catchy number explaining how, if they were “super-talented” footballers, they would never sign a contract with that club because such an act would be thoroughly corrupting. At one point the singer demands to know: “What kind of parents must one have to be so stupid as to sign for that shit club?”

In the current climate, football fans might need to have such sentiments expressed in popular music in relation to the poisonous Spanish giants Real Madrid, who have spent crazy money in a bid to built the sport’s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. Those who have played football manager games will have been tempted to build their own team, by means of employing cheating strategies, of the world’s (or game’s) most highly rated players. That is what Real Madrid are doing, building up unbelievable debt which they know Spanish banks will not call in, thereby giving themselves a massive advantage even over other clubs that operate under heavy debt. The sooner the football bubble bursts, the better (but only after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, please). And if that puts my favourite team against the wall, then that would not be a bad thing either.

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Peter Gabriel – Spiel ohne Grenzen (1980).mp3
spiel_ohne_grenzenSpiele ohne Grenzen was a Europe-wide TV show, known in Britain as It’s A Knock-Out and in French as Jeux sans Frontiers, in which residents of small towns would engage in silly competitive games involving teamwork, such as carrying on stilts logs of wood over a gelatine net above a melted-marshmallow moat while their opponents try to knock them off with flares in the shape of rubber ducks. The winners of these inane games would then qualify to pit themselves against their counterparts from other countries. It’s fair to say that Peter Gabriel was not a fan; in his hit song Games Without Frontiers he compared the whole thing to warfare. Oh, but if only international disputes could be settled by childish games played by rubber duck wielding soldiers dressed like the Vatican’s Swiss Guards.

Gabriel re-recorded his self-titled 1980 album (they all were, this one was nicknamed Melt) that featured Games Without Frontiers and Biko in German, titled A German Album. Spiel ohne Grenzen, the German version of the former track was even released as a single, using an alternative mix It was the English version that was the hit in Germany — and my 100th single (excluding all the Schlager stuff of which I had long divested myself). It didn’t help that Gabriel obviously wasn’t at all fluent in German: his delivery sounds as if he is trying, not very hard, to sing the lyrics off phonetic cue cards, degenerating into moments of apparent gibberish.

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Zeltinger Band – Müngersdorfer Stadion (1979).mp3
Bläck Föös – Drink doch eine met (1973).mp3
BAP – Kristallnacht (1982).mp3

Every region in Germany has its own dialect, often incomprehensible even to other Germans. A handful of these dialects are unique to cities. Kölsch, the dialect of Cologne, is one of these. Strangely, it was that dialect more than any other which provided the language for many hit records in the 1970s and ’80s. It started in the mid-’70s with the folk trio Bläck Föös (which means “bare feet”), which sang only in Kölsch, though they did take care to be understood by anyone living outside Cologne. Then there was the carnival act Die Höhner, who are best left ignored.

zeltingerIn their wake came two rock bands: the Zeltinger Band, a punk outfit fronted by what may be Germany’s first openly gay singer (and one who, by his bruising appearance, challenged the stereotype of common imagination — see this video), and BAP, Germany’s answer to Bruce Springsteen. Neither cared whether they could be understood: learn Kölsch or fuck off, their message seemed to be. BAP became Germany’s biggest band for a while, based in no small part on their electrifying concerts. Zeltinger were of a punk mindset; Müngersdorfer Stadion (the swimming baths in Cologne, not the football stadium) is a cover of the Ramones’ Rockaway Beach, advising that fares on public transport are dodgable.

blackfoosThe Bläck Föös song (roughly translated as “Have a drink with us”) in the group’s folksy manner, tells the story of an indigent old man standing at the door to a local bar, lacking the funds to have a drink. In the Bläck Föös’ notion of their hometown, no Kölner would tolerate such a sad situation, and inevitably he is invited to join a group of drinkers, on their tab, with the admonition to drop his bashfulness about drinking off other people. A great social attribute of the city’s people, you will agree. Well, I’ve lived in Cologne (briefly) and tested the theory. Fuck all social interaction, never mind fee beer.

bapBAP’s song shows the group at its worthiest. Never shy to make a social point, the sing title is self-explanatory. Musically it is pretty good, building up slowly before it explodes in righteous anger. Frontman Wolfgang Niedecken, who wrote the song, has explained that it does not address only Germany’s terrible history, but the ever-present danger of “petite bourgeois fascism” — what he means is ideology underpinned by bigotry — which he says can erupt suddenly at any given time in the face of public indifference. It features a bizarre line about Zorro not coming to the rescue, but shrugging his shoulder, saying “so what” and at best pissing a Z into the snow.

The Originals Vol. 28 – Sinatra edition

July 10th, 2009 11 comments

Frank Sinatra was a supreme interpreter of music. Even in the later stages of his career, when the arrangements often transgressed the boundaries of good taste, Sinatra still knew how to appropriate a song. One may well think that he was essentially a cover artist — after all, he never wrote a song — and much of his catalogue consists of songs more famous in other artists’ hands. But many of Sinatra’s most famous songs were first recorded by him, and often written especially for him, particularly by Sammy Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The songs that were first recorded by others but became known as Sinatra standards are relatively few. About a dozen or so, by my count. This series has already examined My Way, New York New York and Something Stupid. Here are five other songs first recorded by others, some even had hits with them, but are now unmistakable linked with Sinatra.

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Bert Kaempfert – Beddy Bye.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Strangers In The Night.mp3

beddy_byeThe melody for Strangers In The Night featured in a theme written by German composer and arranger Bert Kaempfert (who had also produced the Beatles’ first recordings on Tony Sheridan’s record) for the 1965 movie A Man Could Get Killed. The Strangers In The Night melody was adapted for or had been adapted from a recording of the song which Kaempfert wrote as Fremde in der Nacht (video) for Croatian singer Ivo Robić, who also sang it in Croatian (some say that Robić wrote it and gave it to Kaempfert because he latter was supposedly out on his luck; an unlikely notion). The sequence of events is confused: Robić released the song in 1966, the year after Kaempfert scored A Man Who Could Get Killed.

Set to English lyrics by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, Kaempfert was involved in arranging Strangers In The Night for Sinatra, who recorded it on 11 April 1966. Sinatra didn’t want to record the song that would give him one of his biggest hits — so big, he could not exclude the song he called “a piece of shit” from his concert setlist, much as he tried. Audiences loved the song, applauding wildly even when a bemused Sinatra asked: “You like this song?” At the same time, he also acknowledged that “it’s helped keep me in pizza”.

Strangers In The Night produced an appalling travesty: in the public imagination, the lazily scatted doobee-dobeedoo (that was Sinatra mocking the song, descending into a gibberish that really says “fuck you”) has become associated with Sinatra more than his wonderful phrasing, the timing of his interpretation and the precise diction (listen to any Sinatra song, and you’ll understand every word; when speaking, Sinatra’s elocution was less meticulous in his speech). Still, “the worst song I ever fucking heard” won Sinatra a pair of Grammys (The Beatles’ Michelle won Song of the Year).

strangers_in_the_nightStrangers In The Night is now often billed as Sinatra’s great comeback song. But just a year before, Sinatra was Grammy-awarded for a song which we shall review in a moment. So it might only by the standards of sales, not quality, that Strangers In The Night marked any kind of rebound. Even then, many of Sinatra’s most popular songs performed poorly in the charts. None of his singles between Hey Jealous Lover in 1957 and Strangers In The Night in 1966 topped the Billboard charts. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the 1957 chart topper, hardly a Sinatra classic, was his only Billboard #1 during the golden period on Capitol. And that other Sinatra behemoth, My Way (which he also despised) reached only #27. In short, Sinatra’s success could not be measured by sales or chart placings.

Apparently the ad lib inspired the name of cartoon hound Scooby Doo. Playing rhythm guitar on the song is Glen Campbell (a musical Zelig of the ’60s), about whom Sinatra, not rarely an asshole, enquired: “Who’s the fag guitarist over there?” When the English version became a hit, Sinatra’s first chart-topper in 11 years, composer Ralph Chicorel accused Kaempfert of plagiarising his song You Are My Love (the claim was settled, to Chicorel’s dissatisfaction, out of court). Kaempfert might have been an easy listening merchant, but he was no hack. Songs he wrote or co-wrote include Nat ‘King” Cole’s L-O-V-E and Al Martino’s Spanish Eyes.

Also recorded by: Johnny Dorelli (as Solo più che mai, 1966), Mel Tormé (1966), The Sandpipers (1966), Johnny Rivers (1966), Jack Jones (1966), Petula Clark (1966), John Davidson (1966), Jim Nabors (1966), Vikki Carr (1966), Connie Francis (1966), Sandy Posey (1966), Barbara McNair (1966), Peggy Lee (1966), Fred Bertelmann (as Fremde in der Nacht, 1966), Johnny Mathis (1967), Andy Williams (1967), José Feliciano (1967), Dalida (as Solo più che mai, 1967), Jimi Hendrix (as part of Wild Thing at the Monterrey Fesival, 1967), Line Renaud (as Étrangers dans la nuit, 1969), Violetta Villas (1970), The Ventures (1970), Teddy Harold & Jeremy (1974), Bette Midler (1976), Mina (1984), Babe (as Stranac usranac, 1994), Los Manolos (1991), Manuel (1998), The Supremes (unreleased until 1998), Michael Bublé (2000), Paul Kuhn (2003), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Cake (2005), Barry Manilow (2006), Dany Brillant (2007), Russell Watson (2007), Marc Almond (2007) a.o.

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Virginia Bruce – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Ray Noble & his Orchestra with Al Bowlly – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Frank Sinatra – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
The Four Seasons – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3

born_to-danceSinatra was a marvellous interpreter of Cole Porter’s songs, and both of his solo versions of I‘ve Got You Under My Skin are superb (whereas his long-distance duet with Bono was embarrassing. “Don’t you know, Blue Eyes, you never can win” indeed.). The song was originally written for the 1936 MGM musical Born To Dance, in which Virginia Bruce vied with star Eleanor Powell for the affection of James Stewart. The film was the first to be entirely scored by Porter (and his first engagement for MGM), and featured another classic in the exquisite Easy to Love, crooned by Powell and, in an unusual singing role, Stewart.

The song was quickly covered by scores of crooners and orchestras, with Ray Noble and his Orchestra’s version, with the English singer Al Bowlly on vocals, scoring the biggest hit among various versions released in 1936. Two months earlier, in October, Hal Kemp and his Orchestra had a hit with it. Noble’s arrangement is superior, but Skinnay Ellis’ vocals, when they finally come in, are preferable. Bowlly met an untimely end in 1941 when the explosion of a Blitzkrieg bomb on London blew his bedroom door off its hinges, lethally smashing the crooner’s head (see the wonderful Another Nickel in the Machine blog for the full story).

swingin_loversSinatra first performed I’ve Got You Under My Skin as part of a medley with You’d Be So Easy To Love on radio in 1946 (some sources say 1943), but didn’t record it until 1956, with Nelson Riddle’s arrangement on the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers album (it is the version featured here; the built-up to the instrumental break is quite delicious). He re-recorded the song again in 1963, in full swing mode, on Sinatra’s Sinatra, an album of remakes of some of his favourite hits. In an international poll conducted in 1980, I’ve Got You Under My Skin was voted the most popular Sinatra song. In 1966 the song was a hit in the popified remake of the Four Seasons.

Also recorded by: Frances Langford with Jimmy Dorsey (1936), Shep Fields (1936), Hal Kemp & his Orchestra (1936), Eddy Duchin (1942), Erroll Garner (1945), Artie Shaw & his Orchestra (1946), Ginny Simms (1946), Frank Culley (1951), Eddie Fisher (1952), Stan Freberg (1952), Peggy Lee (1953), The Ravens (1954), Dinah Washington (1955), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Georgie Auld (1956), Jimmy Callaway (1956), Shirley Bassey (1957), Anita O’Day With Billy May & His Orchestra (1959), Perry Como (1959), Louis Prima & Keely Smith (1960), Dinah Shore (1960), The Miracles (1962), Danny Williams (1962), Julie London (1965), The Four Seasons (1966), Gloria Gaynor (1976), Hank Marvin (1977), Chris Connor (1978), Rosemary Clooney (1982), Julio Iglesias (1985), Babe (1985), Neneh Cherry (1990), Dionne Warwick (1990), Frank Sinatra & Bono (1993), Guy Marchand (1998), Diana Krall (1999), Jamie Cullum Trio (1999), Neil Diamond (2000), Patricia Paay (2000), Echo (2002), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Michael Bublé (2005), Danny Seward (2005), Steve Tyrell (2005), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Smokey Robinson (2006), John Pizzarelli with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (2006), Cídia e Dan (2008), Wilfried Van den Brande (2008) a.o.

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Ethel Merman – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Frank Sinatra – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Ella Fitzgerald – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3

ethelTrust Cole Porter to identify in his lyrical witticisms a yet undiscovered matter of science. As we now know, the emotion of love triggers a neurochemical reaction. So when Porter has generations of singers crooning about getting a kick out of you (or whoever the object of unrequited desire is), he gets them to rhapsodise about the intoxicating effect of oxytocin. The first to do so was Ethel Merman, whose voice is most unlikely to give you oxytocin overload.

The song was originally written for an unproduced musical titled Stardust, but languished for three years until a reworked version was included in the 1934 musical Anything Goes. This was Porter in his list-song pomp. Here he enumerates all the things that fail to give him a dopamine rush (he doesn’t give a flying fuck about a flying fuck, long before air travel became widely accessible), while in You’re The Top, from the same musical, he goes metaphor-crazy in cataloging all the ways his true love is, well, the top. While his brief did not refer specifically to Merman performing these songs, Porter did have her diction in mind when he included the line “it would bore me terrifically too”, just so that she could roll those Rs (alas not on the present version, but note how Sinatra accentuates the F instead). That line, of course, makes reference to cocaine — not a kick-giver, apparently — which for the 1936 movie version was replaced, incongruously, by Spanish perfume (not French and not quite in the same kick-giving league as a Class A drug).

songs_for_young_loversSinatra recorded the song at least three times, in 1953, 1962 (featured on Monday) and on his Live In Paris album, also in 1962 but not released until 1994. The earlier version is a jazzy guitar-based number in which Sinatra, just climbing out of career slump, treats the song with a certain decorum. He sounds nonchalant about all these supposed stimulants but is still sad because she obviously does not adore him. The song and the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! album it came from marked Sinatra’s big comeback after a few years in the wilderness (partly due to his vocal cord haemorrhage in 1951 and his subsequent dumping by Columbia records), coinciding with his success on the big screen in From Here To Eternity. It was his first outing with Nelson Riddle, whom Sinatra had to be tricked into working with, Riddle’s recent success arranging Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Mona Lisa notwithstanding. It is said that in their long association, Sinatra rejected one eight of Riddle’s proposed arrangements.

ella_cole_porterThe big band swing recording from 1962 — when Sinatra was in his Rat Pack grandeur — has the singer brimming with hubris. Here her lack of adoration is not a big snag — using Sinatra terminology, she’s still a great broad. As for the cocaine: in the 1953 take he is blasé about cocaine; by 1962 he is instead left cold by the riffs of the bop-tight refrain. Ella Fitzgerald, in her utterly enchanting version (and do try to sing along to get an idea just how intricate her effortless vocals are), also refers to cocaine. Does Ethel Merman in her remake for the notorious 1979 disco album?

Also recorded by: George Hall (1934), Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra (1934), Bob Causer and his Cornellians (1934), The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (1934), Leo Reisman and his Orchestra (1935), Eddy Duchin (1942), Johnny Dankworth Seven (1953), Johnny Hartman (1956), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Shirley Bassey (1962), Anita O’Day with Billy May & his Orchestra (1959), Shirley Scott (1960), Nana Mouskouri (1962), Esquivel (1962), Sandie Shaw (1965), Dave Brubeck Quartet (1966), Alma Cogan (1967), Gary Shearston (1974), Anita O’Day (1975), Ira Sullivan (1979), Ethel Merman (1979), Rosemary Clooney (1982), Madeline Vergari (1984), Kim Criswell (1989), Jungle Brothers (1990), Dionne Warwick (1990), Tom Jones (1990), Tony Bennett (1991), Bobby Caldwell (1993), Diana Krall (1999), Lisa Ekdahl (1999), The Living End (2001), Dolly Parton (2001), Jamie Cullum (2003), Patrick Lindner & Thilo Wolf Big Band (2005), Steve Tyrell (2005), Leah Thys (2008), Lew Stone and His Band (2008), Patricia Barber (2008), Heike Makatsch (as Nichts haut mich um aber Du, 2009) a.o.

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The Kingston Trio – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
Frank Sinatra – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
William Shatner – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3

kingston_trioWhen Michael Jackson was a 12-year-old, he appeared on Diana Ross’ TV show, delightfully performing It Was A Very Good Year in mock-inebriated ring-a-ding-dinging rat-packer mode before dumping a fur-clad La Ross (video). Little Mike was clearly in on the joke of a small boy taking off a rather world-weary sentimentalist. What a showboy he was, and how poignant to see this child, from whom childhood was taken, singing that when he was two years old, he was four years old.

The original was recorded in 1961 with suitable gravitas by the Kingston Trio, right down to two melancholy but not downbeat whistle solos. It was written in ten minutes by Ervin Drake, who at 90 is still alive, with the trio’s frontman Bob Shane, the band’s last surviving member, in mind.

septemberSinatra heard the Kingston Trio record on the radio and liked it so much that he insisted on recording it, which he did on 22 April 1965 for his wistful September Of My Years album, with an arrangement by Gordon Jenkins. About to turn 50, the lyrics seemed appropriate for Sinatra (who, of course, was not yet finished with the game of romance; the following year he married the lovely, very young Mia Farrow). Sinatra’s version earned him a Grammy for best vocal performance, a title which he would defend the next year with Strangers In The Night. So much for the latter being a big comeback. The author and songwriter Arnold Shaw observed in It Was A Very Good Year a new maturity in Sinatra’s voice: “The silken baritone of 1943 is now like torn velvet.”

shatnerWhere Bob Shane is gentle, and Sinatra is all sombre introspection, William Shatner’s bizarre remake from 1968 is absolute comedy gold. It’s not as demented as his Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, nor does it have a primal scream as the end of Mr Tambourine Man, but it is bizarrely entertaining nonetheless. Weeee’d ride in limousines, or their chauffeurs would drive…when I…was…thirty-five. And then the crazy harps!

Also recorded by: Modern Folk Quartet (1963), Lonnie Donegan (1963), Shawn Phillips (1964), The Turtles (1965), The Barron Knights (1965), Wes Montgomery (1965), Gabor Szabo (1966), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1966), Trudy Pitts (1967), Lou Rawls (1968), Ray Conniff & the Singers (1968), The Freedom Sounds feat Wayne Henderson (1969), Richie Havens (1973), Lee Hazlewood (1977), The Muppet Shiw (Statler and Waldorf, 1979), The Flaming Lips (1993), Homer Simpson (as It Was A Very Good Beer, 1993), Paul Young (1997), The Reverend Horton Heat (2000), Robbie Williams (in a troubling duet with Sinatra’s original vocals, 2001), Robert Charlebois (as C’était une très bonne année, 2003), Ray Charles with Willie Nelson (2004), Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (2006), Russell Watson (2007)

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Kaye Ballard – In Other Words.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Fly Me To The Moon.mp3

kaye_ballardFor the first few years of its life, Fly Me To The Moon was known as In Other Words. The song was a staple of cabaret singer Felicia Sanders’ repertoire, but she didn’t record the song until 1959. The first recording of the Bart Howard composition was by Kaye Ballard, a Broadway star and later TV actress, in 1954. Her version is quite lovely; one wonders what Judy Garland in her prime might have done with it. The song was first titled Fly Me To The Moon on Johnny Mathis 1956 version.

Sinatra didn’t get around to putting down his take until 1964, on his record with Count Basie (reprised, as it were, on the 1966 live album with the great bandleader). Arranged by Quincy Jones, it became the definitive version. Examine the list of performers who recorded the song in the decade between its first appearance and Sinatra’s 1964 recording, and marvel at the idea that it isn’t a version by Mathis, Cole, Brenda Lee, Vaughan, Tormé or Jack Jones that you first think of, but Sinatra’s, as though he had given everybody else a headstart.

sinatraStill fresh in the collective memory, it enjoyed a second life at the time of the 1969 lunar explorations. Astronaut Gene Cernan, in pictures broadcast on TV, played the song on board of Apollo 10, whereby Fly Me To The Moon became one of the first pieces of music to be played in outer space. It is not true, as Quincy Jones has claimed, that the crew of Apollo 11, which actually flew to the moon, played the song after the lunar landing; Buzz Aldrin has denied the tale. Four decades later, South Korean cosmonaut Yi So-yeon reported having sung the song in space during her Soyuz TMA-12 Flight in April 2008.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1956), Chris Connor (1957), Frances Wayne (1957), Nancy Wilson (1959), Gloria Lynne (1959), Dion and the Belmonts (1960), Nat ‘King’ Cole (1961), The Barry Sisters (1961), Brenda Lee (1962), Joe Harnell (1962), Sarah Vaughan (1962), Mel Tormé (1962), Jack Jones (1962), Connie Francis (as Portami con te, 1962), Roy Haynes (1962), Tony Martin (1962), Dartmouth Injunaires (1962), Enoch Light & The Light Brigade (1963), Tony Mottola (1963), Julie London (1963), Earl Grant (1963), Perry Como (1963), Alma Cogan (1963), Laurindo Almeida & the Bossa Nova Allstars (1963), Helen O’Connell (1963), Dick Hyman (1963), Rita Reys (1963), The Downbeats (1963), The Demensions (1963), Patti Page (1964), Xavier Cugat (1964), Grady Martin and The Slewfoot Five (1964), Joan Shaw (1964), Matt Monro (1965), Howard Roberts Quartet (1965), Tony Bennett (1965), Doris Day (1965), Heidi Brühl (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 1965), Cliff Richard (1965), LaVern Baker (1965), Chris Montez (1966), Trini Lopez (1966), Bobby Darin (1966), Dudley Moore Trio (1966), Tante Emma (as Fremde in der Nacht, 1967). Wes Montgomery (1968), Bobby Womack (1968), Nicoletta (1968), Leslie Uggams (1969), Tom Jones (1969), Mitty Collier (1969),
Tony Bennett (1970), Oscar Peterson (1970), Mina (1972), Lyn Collins (1972), Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (1994), Paula West (1999), Boston Brass (2000), Utada Hikaru (2000), Diana Krall (2002), Günther Neefs (2002), Julien Clerc with Véronique Sanson (as olons vers la lune, 2003), Tom Gaebel (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 2003), Agnetha Fältskog (2004), Dany Brillant (2004), Matt Dusk (2004), Westlife (2004), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Steve Tyrell (2005), Bobby Taylor (2006), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Smokey Robinson (2006), Roger Cicero (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 2006), Ray Quinn (2007), Laura Fygi (as Volons vers la lune, 2008), Saw Loser (2008), Helmut Lotti (2008) a.o.

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TV Themes: The Golden Girls

July 8th, 2009 14 comments

You can imagine the initial pitch for The Golden Girls: “It’s like the Brady Bunch only they are 60 years older and without the boys.” It is quite amazing that any network bit. It took a great deal of courage, I think, to commission a show about four widowed or divorced women of a certain age (and then some). Not only that, but they still had S-E-X! As we know, the gamble paid off, and a sometimes very good sitcom was born. Of course, sometimes it was also very bad, especially when romantic liaisons interfered with the lives of our four heroines (hello, Witness Protection Guy). Or when the gay brother storyline impaled itself on the fence upon which it perched so delicately in a bid not to unambiguously condemn homophobia.

GoldenGirls

Still, generally the set-up worked well, through a finely aligned division of idiosyncrasies. Dorothy did the sarcastic, reasonable duty. Her mother Sophia was responsible for mad-cappery (often involving the hilarity of a 119-year-old woman having a libido); Blanche was in charge of general promiscuity (what would Big Daddy – or Beurg Durddy, I could never be sure – have thought of that?), and Rose headed the stupid department. And didn’t Betty White play the latter role well, never showing much frustration at her character exhibiting the erudition and cynicism of Big Bird after a few joints? Of course, she would have had little cause for complaint: she was tagged orginally to play Blanche, and Rue McClanahan (who had appeared with Bea Arthur in the latter’s hit show Maude) was supposed to be Rose. Fortuitously, the actresses swapped roles, to good effect.

So distinct in temperament were these women, they shouldn’t have survived living together in the same house. But they did and every episode ended with a group hug, literal or otherwise – unless a few minor chords in the soundtrack alerted us that the huggery would be deferred for a cliffhanger.

The Golden Girls eventually did split when the marvellous Bea Arthur – whose recent death at 86 set off an epidemic of celebrity croaking – left the show. With Dorothy married, the remaining golden girls vacated Blanche’s splendid house, for reasons I don’t care to remember, and took over a hotel instead. Alas, they forgot to pack the humour and charm of the original series. The Golden Palace starred a yet unknown Don Cheadle, playing the straight man to all manner of superannuated capers; the lack of comedy this afforded him happily directed him towards more dramatic roles, rather than trapping him in a Martin Lawrence career arc. Cheadle is one of the finest actors in Hollywood today. As for the show, it was dismal and got cancelled after only one season.

cheadle

The future Buck Swope gurns his way through The Golden Palace.

Just as The Golden Girls could be at once charming and feckless, so was the show’s theme song. Written and released by Andrew Gold when the Golden Girls were still nubile — well, in 1978, as Gold’s follicular adventures on the Dutch single cover below clearly suggests — it had enjoyed some US chart success, reaching #25, though Gold is better remembered (though not necessarily fondly) for his hit of the same year, Never Let Her Slip Away, and for Lonely Boy, a hit in 1977.

andrew goldGold came from a family of musical pedigree: his father was movie composer Ernest Gold (whose credits include the soundtrack of Exodus); his mother was Marni Nixon. Nixon’s name or face might not be well-known, but her voice certainly is: she dubbed the singing for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, for Deborah Kerr in The King And I, and for Natalie Wood in West Side Story (unlike any of them, Nixon is still alive). And she was the angelic voices in Ingrid Bergman’s Joan Of Arc.

Gold later became one half of the ’80s duo Wax, with Graham Gouldman of 10cc (Bridge To Your Heart, anyone?). But none of this is as impressive as this: Andrew Gold’s is the first human voice to have been heard — in as far as any Martians were listening — on Mars when in 1996 when his rendition of the theme of Mad About You served as wake-up call song for the Pathfinder probe, presumably chosen because of its title: Final Frontier (NASA obviously aren’t great Donald Fagen fans).

As Golden Girls fans will recall, it wasn’t Gold that sang the theme song: the female singer bragging about bringing the biggest gift with attached card was one Cynthia Fee.

Andrew Gold – Thank You For Being A Friend.mp3
Theme from the Golden Girls.mp3


And, finally, a free Golden Girls theme song for the first caller who can identify the Elvis impersonator in white at the back from a Golden Girls episode entitled “Sophia’s Wedding” in 1988:

qtelvis

EDIT: Reader James got the answer. So as not to spoil it, I won’t give it here; see the comments section. And here’s Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley as a girl scout in an episode from 1987 (she also appeared in a 1989 episode of Roseanne)

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More unrequited love songs

July 6th, 2009 10 comments

Unrequited love provides us with a rich mine of heartbreaking songs. So following from the first part on love that is unreciprocated, here are eight more takes of chances missed, emotions deferred, affections unexpressed and love rejected. And, fans of nagging pains in the guts rejoice, there’ll be a third instalment soon.

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Scott Walker – Joanna.mp3
joannaScott had summer romance, and now the eponymous girl is gone and he is pining, living on memories — “You made the man a child again, so sweetly. He breathed your smile, lived in your eyes completely. And on his heart there’s still a trace of you” — and vain hope that they will be together again. She clearly has forgotten him, or wants to forget him. She might even have told him so (perhaps by the passive-aggressive method of ignoring his communications). Yet our lovelorn crooner is not ready to give up: “I love you, but nothing in this world could make you mine. Yet still in time…you may remember me and change your mind.”

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The Cardigans – For What It’s Worth (acoustic version).mp3
Oh shit, she had a casual fling (the so-called “fuck buddy” or “friends with privileges” phenomenon) and fell in unreciprocated love. And then she let it slip: “A four-letter word got stuck in my head; the dirtiest word that I’ve ever said”. And it doesn’t start with F. More than that, “it’s making me feel alright.” Well, transiently perhaps, as she acknowledges in the qualifier to her confession of love: “For what it’s worth, I love you. And what is worse, I really do.” Evidently, the guy freaks out. So, having pledged (to herself) patience that he’ll come around, she later tries to entice him back into bed (“The four-letter word is out of my head”). And here’s where her confusion really sets in. Follow it: “For what it’s worth, I like you. And what is worse, I really do. Things have been worse, and we had fun, fun, fun till I said I love you. And what is worse, I really do.” No point resisting it; from here on in she repeats that great line: “For what it’s worth, I love you. And what is worse, I really do.”

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Frank Sinatra – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
sinatra_kickRarely has unrequited love been as jaunty as in Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out Of You. Frank — and let’s not call him by the affectation “Francis”; our man was baptised Frank — goes to great lengths to tell us about the things that mean nothing to him. Champagne? Pah! Airborne sex? His idea of nothing to do. Cocaine? “I’m sure that if I took even one sniff it would bore me terrifically too” (as do Be Bop and, oddly, Spanish perfume). The only thing that gives him a kick is, to use Sinatra lingo, a “broad” who ob-vious-ly does not adore him. This is the swinging 1962 version; his 1953 take will run next Friday.

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Matthew Sweet – Farther Down.mp3
“Into you so far the words go, so much clearer than you hear. Into you goes everything I know, no one else knows how I feel.” Without her, our man is in pain (happily, then, the sound is not of the emo variety). “Farther down, I’m desperate for you, where you never have to know. Farther down, I’m still without a clue; till something…takes my pain away.” Matthew doesn’t let us in on his pain-relief programme, but we can presume that it involves either alcohol and drugs. The trouble is, does she really want to hook up with a pissed junkie?

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Vertical Horizon – Everything That You Want.mp3
Frienditis is the psoriasis of unrequited love. Here we have a guy who is in love with a girl who won’t stop blabbering on about the guy she is unrequited love with and how that dude is everything she wants and needs. Well, our man here (who in the movie version of the song would be played by Michael Cera) knows what she needs and should want. With a self-pitying flourish at the end, he echoes her prattle as he observes: “I am everything you want. I am everything you need. I am everything inside of you that you wish you could be [whatever that means]. I say all the right things at exactly the right time. But I mean nothing to you, and I don’t know why.” Hmmm, lack of self-confidence, perhaps?

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Linda Ronstadt – Long, Long Time.mp3
ronstadtAnd frienditis from the female perspective. It seems that the guy is going away (relocating, or perhaps getting married), and Linda, on this song from 1970, is trying to get to grips with the door slamming shut on perennial hope. “I’ve done everything I know to try and make you mine, and I think I’m gonna love you for a long, long time.” Oh, she tried to show him how she felt as he was whoring around — making Linda blink back the tears — and he never noticed. So now she’ll be “living in the memory of a love that never was”.

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Bright Eyes – Make A Plan To Love Me.mp3
Being in love is rubbish when the recipient of your affection is in love with the career. “You said you had your foot in the door; you buy and then you sell, you buy some more,” Oberst observes before bluntly requesting: “Make a plan to love me sometime soon”. He points out, quite reasonably, that life is shirt and success and money don‘t compensate for love. “Some things you lose you don’t get back, so just know what you have.” Because the love deal is on the table only for a limited time. “Life is too short to be a fool; I don’t owe you that.” So she’ll have to close the love deal, or — and he might be bluffing here — he’ll take his romantic trade elsewhere: “Do what you feel, whatever is cool. But I just have to ask [repeatedly!]: Will you make a plan to love me sometime soon?

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Kenny Nolan – I Keep Dreamin’.mp3
kenny_nolanIn his 1976 hit, Kenny had the relationship all mapped out: barefoot walks on the beach, kids with “little smiles so warm and tender, looking up at us” et cetera. In absence of all that, he daydreams , presumably as one does in TV comedies where these fantasies are introduced by a harp riff (present here, of course) and soft edges. The kicker here is that Kenny is not in love with anybody other than the idea of romantic and domestic bliss. He is in unrequited love with love.

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In this series so far:
Unrequited love
Love hurts

Being in love
Longing for love
Heartbreak
Adultery
Death
Impossible Love
Love Songs Mix
Somebody Done Somebody Wrong
Dumped & defiant

Twattery in Pop: Rush Limbaugh

July 3rd, 2009 6 comments

What, you may demand imploringly, connects sweaty, saliva-dispersing self-parodist Rush Limbaugh with the world of pop (of course there is no question as to what connects the putrescent pusbucket to twattery)? Has Rush recorded an album of his favourite Motown songs, adding his own twist to the lyrics; perhaps adapting Smokey Robinson & the Miracle’s hit named after Mickey Stephenson autobiographically to read Cheney’s Monkey? Has Limbaugh praised the humanitarian work of Bono, or the operatic stylings of Michael Fucking Bolton, or the art of Yoko Ono (well, obviously not, though he seems psychotic enough to own the complete canon of MFB’s artistry)? Was Rush perhaps ghastly to some of my favourite artists, such as the Weepies or the Carpenters?

Rush Limbaugh’s mind, yesterday.

Rush Limbaugh’s mind, yesterday.

No, on Wednesday Rush Limbaugh contrived to wind his fusilli mind into a palomar knot by virtually blaming Barack Obama for the death of Michael Jackson. Spunk-silo’s take on MJ’s death: “Jackson’s success, if you stop and think of it [amusingly Limbaugh listeners are being asked to THINK!] and this is going to really irritate some people, which I will enjoy doing — Jackson’s success paralleled the rebound of the United States under Ronaldus Magnus [that would be Ronald Reagan whose decomposed salad Sweat-wit is tossing]. Michael Jackson’s biggest successes, and as it turns out his final successes, real successes took place in the eighties. That was Billie Jean, Thriller and all this. I mean he was as weird as he could be [says Rush fucking Limbaugh!] but he was profoundly, because of his weirdness, an individual. He wasn’t a group member [except when he was, of course. Rush evidently couldn’t feel it]. He reached a level of success that may never be equalled. He flourished under Reagan [but his best record, the wildly successful Off The Wall, was a hit under Carter, pop fans]; he languished under Clinton-Bush; and died under Obama. Let’s hope the parallel does not continue.” (Full story here)

I actually don’t think that Limbaugh is as stupid as to believe the ignorant, noxious shit he is disgorging upon the public. His “hilarious” shtick is to try and wind up liberals with such associations. If it wasn’t a sideshow, there’d be no reason why he has not been committed to a caring institution for lobotomised patients. In fairness, he signals his pitiful intent when he says: “this is going to really irritate some people, which I will enjoy doing”. It isn’t really what Limbaugh is saying that is irritating “Them Liberals”; it’s the idea that there are some very dull-witted people who take him and his likes seriously.

I must concede though that the clammy wankmonster — who in older times would have made an accomplished ass-raping bishop of Bath and Wells — might be on to something. Think about all the great celebrity icons who have died. Almost all of them kicked the bucket on the watch of a Democratic president. Jimmy Carter’s reign was particularly grim: Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin… Bill Clinton has Frank Sinatra, Princess in the Wind and, er, Kurt Cobain to answer for. JFK died during the JFK presidency, as did Marilyn Monroe and Patsy Cline, while Jim Reeves crashed under LBJ. Lately only Johnny Cash, being Johnny Cash, bucked the trend. And there Madonna was happy that Obama was elected.

But Limbaugh’s theory of Democratic culpability in celebrity mortality does fall flat. Consider the victims of the Nixon presidency: Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Parsons and Elliott. Of those, only Cass died a natural death (and even that is disputed by ham sandwich conspiracists). Makes you think, no?

In the case of Michael Jackson, however, I am disinclined to indict Obama. More likely, on the morning of Thursday, 25 June, MJ found his transistor radio had been mistuned. As he surfed the dial he stumbled upon the depraved sound of Rush Limbaugh vomiting his bigotry all over the airwaves, and decided that he could no longer live in a world where that anal itch on humanity — and his idiot listeners — are allowed to exist. And here’s the kicker: my theory makes a zillion times more sense than any of Limbaugh’s deranged splutterings.

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And to celebrate dead celebs:

Frank Sinatra – High Hopes With John Kennedy (1960).mp3
Marilyn Monroe – Happy Birthday, Mr President (1962).mp3
Patsy Cline – I Fall To Pieces (1961).mp3
Michael Jackson – Ain’t No Sunshine (1972).mp3
Cass Elliott – I’m Coming To The Best Part Of My Life (1973).mp3
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel (Alternate Take 5) (1956).mp3
Jimi Hendrix – Star Sprangled Banner (1969).mp3
Gram Parsons – Big Mouth Blues (1973).mp3

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