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The Originals Vol. 31

August 28th, 2009 10 comments

Volume 31 and 160 songs covered now. Here we have the originals of the Piranhas’ Tom Hark, the Rolling Stones’ It’s All Over Now, Middle of the Road’s unjustly reviled Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Georgie Fame’s Yeh Yeh, and Donovan’s Universal Soldier (whose writer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, apparently was not the first to record it either). As always, many thanks to my friends who have helped me out with some of the songs featured here.

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Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes – Tom Hark (1956).mp3
The Piranhas – Tom Hark (1980).mp3
Mango Groove – Tom Hark (1996).mp3

eliasA staple these days on English football grounds, the impossibly catchy Tom Hark had its origins in South Africa. There was no Tom Hark: the song’s title was either a pun or more likely a sloppy mis-heard rendering of the word tomahawk, the axes gangs in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township used to carry.

Composer “Big Voice” Jack Lerole and his mates used to record in the pennywhistle-based kwela genre, though it was not yet known by that name — the contemporary term was marabi or pennywhistle jive. The word kwela is Zulu for “get up”, and as kwela-kwela also a township term for a police van (after the cops’ command “Kwela! Kwela!, meaning “climb in, climb in”), the unwelcome approach of which often was signalled by a lookout blowing his tin flute. Lerole, commonly known as Jake, learnt to play the pennywhistle as a little boy, observing the flautists from Scottish regiments that often played near Alexandra and which influenced a generation of pennywhistlers who adapted the complex techniques of flute-playing to the simple pennywhistle, thereby enhancing its versatility.

piranhasLerole and his bandmembers recorded under several names, mostly as Alexandra Black Mambazo (mambazo is zulu for axe — or tomahawk), but were signed by EMI in 1956 as Elias and His Zig Zag Jive Flutes; the Elias of the moniker being Lerole’s brother. Having recorded Tomahawk, or Tom Hark, EMI sold the rights to the song to British TV to serve as the theme for a series called The Killing Stone. On the back of that, the song became a British hit, reaching #2 in 1958. Lerole and his band received £6 for recording the song and not a red cent in royalties, even when the song became an international hit again in 1980 with an affectionate cover by the British ska band The Piranhas, whose frontman Bob Grover put lyrics to the song (“The whole things daft, I don’t know why, you have to laugh or else you cry”). On the single cover The Piranhas paid tribute to the original by emblazoning it with the word “kwela”.

After the Alexandra Black Mambazo split in 1963, Lerole enjoyed a fair career, though more as a gravelly baritone singer and saxophonist than as a pennywhistler, having followed the lead of pennywhistle king Spokes Mashiyane into the new mbaqanga style of music. He made a comeback in the ’80s as a member of the multi-racial group Mango Groove (which recorded Tom Hark with their own lyrics), on whose first hit, Dance Some More, Lerole provided his distinctive growling vocals. Before Mango Groove became famous in South Africa, he left the group. In 1998 he and the reformed Alex Black Mambazo were invited by South African-born Dave Matthews to perform with his group in the US. The band performed to international acclaim and total indifference in their home country. Leralo died in 2003 at the age of 63.

Also recorded by: Ted Heath (1958), Millie (1964), The Talksport Allstars (as We’re England, 2006)

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The Valentinos – It’s All Over Now (1964).mp3
The Rolling Stones – It’s All Over Now (1964).mp3

Molly Hatchet – It’s All Over Now (1979).mp3
valentinosWhen the Rolling Stones arrived in the US for their first tour, they met the legendary New York radio DJ Murray the K (or Murray the Kunt, as Keith Richards would dub him), who had a heavy hand in promoting the Beatles before and during their triumphant debut tour of the US a few months earlier. Murray suggested that the group might do well to record the latest single by Cleveland’s R&B group the Valentinos, which comprised the Womack brothers Bobby, Cecil, Harry, Friendly and Curtis.

It’s All Over Now was written by Bobby with his sister-in-law Shirley, but the publishing rights resided with Sam Cooke’s SAR Records. The Stones’ young manager Andrew Oldham obtained the rights to record it from SAR’s manager/accountant, Allen Klein (soon to become the Stones’ despised manager). Bobby Womack was furious, correctly anticipating that the rock version by these kids from England would sabotage any chance of the Valentino’s soul single becoming a hit. He later recalled his mentor Cooke comforting him, presciently assuring him that he’d now be a part of music history by dint of having written the Rolling Stones’ first US hit. A little later Womack found another upside: when he received the first royalties cheque, “it was huge”.

Within three weeks of Murray the K turning them on to It’s all Over Now, the Stones recorded the song during their sessions at Chicago’s Chess studio (where they allegedly encountered their hero Muddy Waters painting the ceiling), which also yielded Time Is On My Side, which will feature in this series later. It was released almost immediately. The Valentino’s version tanked at #94 in the US, while the Stones reached the top 20 and went to #1 in Britain.

Also recorded by: The Chambers Brothers (1965), Ian and the Zodiacs (1965), Johnny Rivers (1965), The Pupils (1966), Waylon Jennings (1968), The Bintangs (1969), Rod Stewart (1970), Ry Cooder (1974), Faces (1974), Catfish Hodge (1975), Johnny Winter (1976), Molly Hatchet (1979), Jimmy & The Mustangs (1984), John Anderson (1985), The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (1987), Charles et les Lulus (1991), Bobby Womack (1997), Southside Johnny (1997), Paper Parrot (1999), The Alarm Clocks (2000), The Patron Saints (2008) a.o.

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Lally Stott – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1970).mp3
Middle of the Road – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1971).mp3

lally_stottMy old friend Bono likes to tell the story of how seeing Middle of the Road performing Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep on Top of the Pops persuaded him that anyone, even little Paul Hewson, could become a pop star. It’s easy, even for Bono, to take a dig at a song called Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, of course. But I submit that, lyrics apart, it is a fine pop song.

Middle of the Road, who thought of themselves more as a folk group than as the bubble gum pop combo they are usually remembered as, didn’t want to record the song. It had been a hit in Italy (with the subtitle Cirpi cirpi, cip cip) and Australia for its composer, Liverpudlian Lally (Harold) Stott, and even dented the US charts at #92, though the song had greater success there, reaching #20, in a version by Trinidad-born duo Mac and Katie Kissoon (the female sibling of whom later became a session singer for the likes of Van Morrison, Elton John, Eric Clapton and the Pet Shop Boys). Despite Stott’s success in Italy and Australia, his label, Philips, evidently had little confidence in the recording, so Stott farmed it out to the Middle of the Road, who had just abandoned their previous moniker, Los Caracas, to take up an engagement in Italy.

motrThe band recorded the song reluctantly at singer Sally Carr’s insistence. Bandleader Ken Andrews was initially dismissive: “We were as disgusted with the thought of recording it as most people were at the thought of buying it. But at the end of the day, we liked it.” Their version, produced by Giacomo Tosti, became a massive hit throughout Europe in early 1971 and was imported to Britain by holidaymakers. At first it seemed that the Kissoon’s version would be a hit there, but influential radio DJ Tony Blackburn championed the Middle of the Road version on his BBC breakfast show, and it eventually reached #1 in June ’71.

Stott went on to work with Middle of the Road, writing their hit Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum. He died in 1977 in an accident while riding his Harley-Davidson — said to have been bought with the royalties of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.

Also recorded by: Los 3 de Castilla (1971), Paul Mauriat (1971), Joe Harris (1971), The California Gold Rush (1971), Hajo (1971), The Jay Boys (1972), The Panda Peeple (1973), Little Angels (1973), Briard (1979), Lush (1990), Cartoons (2000), Mickie Krause (as Reiß die Hütte ab, 2003), The Poco Loco Gang (2005)

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Mongo Santamaría – Yeh-Yeh (1963).mp3
Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan – Yeh-Yeh (1963).mp3
Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames – Yeh Yeh (1964).mp3
Matt Bianco – Yeh Yeh (1985).mp3
yeh_yehWritten by jazz musicians Rodgers Grant (piano) and Laurdine “Pat” Patrick (saxophone), Yeh-Yeh was first recorded in 1963 by Afro-Cuban jazz percussionist Mongo Santamaría, whose band Grant and Patrick were members of at the time. Still an instrumental — though Santamaría’s single version includes what might be described as vocal ticks — it appeared on his Watermelon Man album. It soon came to the attention of jazz singer Jon Hendricks, one of the great purveyors of scat singing and a third of the ’50s trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Hendricks had a long line of instrumental songs to which he added lyrics, doing so most famously for an album of Count Basie standards. Hendricks recorded Yeh-Yeh with the trio, in which Yalande Bavan had by now replaced Annie Ross, for the At Newport ’63 live album.

English singer Georgie Fame (his moniker was an innovation of promoter Larry Parnes who at one point even briefly renamed the yet unknown Beatles) heard the Newport recording of Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan’s version, and incorporated into his Blue Flames’ live shows. At one point in 1964 Fame and his team were stuck for a new single. Somebody suggested Yeh Yeh.

georgie_fameFames’ manager at the time was nightclub owner Ronan O’Rahilly. His attempts to have Yeh Yeh played on the BBC and Radio Luxembourg were frustrated (reportedly on grounds that it sounded “too black”; the story that it was rejected for airplay because the stations played records only from EMI, Decca, Pye and Philips can be discounted since Yeh Yeh appeared on EMI’s Columbia label). Unable to get airplay, he became part of the group that set up the ship-based pirate station Radio Caroline in March 1964. Among its roster of DJs was the champion of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Tony Blackburn. Radio Caroline naturally gave Yeh Yeh (which O’Rahilly has claimed directly inspired the founding of the pirate station) heavy airplay. Without help from the conventional radio stations, it topped the UK charts in January 1965 (US #25), relieving the Beatles’ five-week occupancy of the top spot with the similarly upbeat I Feel Fine.

In 1985, British jazz-popsters Matt Bianco drew together their British lounge and Latin jazz influences to record a fine version of Yeh Yeh, which strays not too far from Fame’s take. It reached #15 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Dave “Baby” Cortez (1965), Danny Fisher (1965), Claude François (as Alors salut!, 1965), Matt Bianco (1985), The Aislers Set (2000), They Might Be Giants (2001)

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The Highwaymen – Universal Soldier (1963).mp3
Buffy Sainte-Marie – Universal Soldier (1964).mp3
Donovan – Universal Soldier (1965).mp3

highwaymen_universal_soldierEarly in the Vietnam War, Canadian folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie saw an injured soldier return from active duty and decided to write an anti-war song. It would become one of the most potent songs in the peace movement, even if her good advice to you and me evidently has not been taken. By her own account written in a Toronto café to impress a college professor, Buffy, then in her early 20s, sold the rights to Universal Soldier to a man she had just met in Greenwich Village’s Gaslight Café, for a dollar (the contract was written on a paper napkin). Two decades later she bought the rights back for $25,000. In the interim, she made it on the White House’s blacklist for her anti-Vietnam and Native American rights activities, spent five years on Sesame Street (on which she breastfed her child), in 1966 became the first singer to release a quadraphonic album (4.0 stereo) and apparently the first to release an album on the Internet (in 1991).

buffySainte-Marie released Universal Soldier on her 1964 debut album, It’s My Way. The previous year, it was recorded by folk-group The Highwaymen (not to be confused with the country supergroup), who enjoyed their commercial peak in 1960 with the hit version of Michael (Row The Boat Ashore). It’s not clear how the Highwaymen got to record Universal Soldier first; one may guess that they were given the song by Buffy’s new friend from the Gaslight Café. Released as a single and on the group’s penultimate album, March On Brothers, it was not a huge success. Of course, if one channelled Seeger and Guthrie, one did not expect to compete with the Beatles.

donovanAcclaimed though Sainte-Marie’s debut album was, the song’s big breakthrough came with the version by Scottish folkie Donovan, who released it in 1965 at the age of 19, having already two UK Top 10 hits with Catch The Wind and Colours. Young Mr Leitch’s softer version, which adopted Buffy’s arrangement (and using strange pronunciation of the name Dachau). Released as an EP in Britain, it topped the EP charts there and reached #14 in the singles charts.

As for Buffy, she went on to write Up Where We Belong, the hit for Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes from 1981’s An Officer And A Gentleman, with then-husband Jack Nitzsche. She released her first album in 13 years, Running For The Drum, internationally a few weeks ago.

Also recorded by: Glen Campbell (1965), Boudewijn de Groot (as De eeuwige soldaat, 1965), Hector (as Palkkasoturi, 1965), Claus (as Soldato universale,1966), The Roemans (1965), The Caravans (1965), Sheila (as Je t’aime, 1966), Judy Collins and Ethel Raim Dunson (1967), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), Picture (1970), Juliane Werding (as Der ewige Soldat, 1973), Lobo (1974), Eugene Chadbourne (1985), Christopher Franke (1992), Eric Andersen (2004) a.o.

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More Originals

Gone to the chapel: R.I.P. Ellie Greenwich

August 26th, 2009 8 comments
Ellie Greenwhich in 1967

Ellie Greenwhich in 1967

The astute observer of popular culture may have noticed that 2009 has been a pretty bad year for celebrity deaths. But none gave me a cold shiver upon learning of somebody’s passing (well, MJ’s was a bit of a surprise), until I learnt of Ellie Greewich’s death today.

For those who need reminding, she co-wrote with ex-husband Jeff Barry or Phil Spector classics such as  Be My Baby, Da Doo Ron Ron, River Deep Mountain High, Going To The Chapel, Leader Of The Pack, Doo Wah Diddy (The Exciters’ original can be found here), Hanky Panky, Baby I Love You, And Then He Kissed Me and more.

She recorded some of these in 1973. Be My Baby, Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home (Darlene Love) and I Can Hear Music (the Ronettes and the Beach Boys)  sound like Carpenters songs. Maybe I Know was a hit for Lesley Gore. (Thanks to the Hep Kat for giving me those tracks a while ago) .

Ellie Greenwich – Be My Baby.mp3
Ellie Greenwich – River Deep Mountain High.mp3
Ellie Greenwich – I Can Hear Music.mp3
Ellie Greenwich – Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home.mp3
Ellie Greenwich – Da Doo Ron Ron.mp3
Ellie Greenwich – Maybe I Know.mp3

Greenwich also discovered Neil Diamond, whom she went on to co-produce (she did backing vocals on songs such as Cherry Cherry and Kentucky Woman). Read more about Greenwich on her wikipedia page.

A legend and by all accounts a great human being. R.I.P.

Categories: In Memoriam Tags:

Any Major Soul 1972-73

August 25th, 2009 4 comments

I was delighted to see a comment from Jerry Plunk, lead singer and drummer of the Flying Embers, thanking me for including the group’s Westbound #9 in the Any Major Soul 1970/71 mix (and a comment from Jerry Lawson from the Persuasions, appreciating the inclusion of his group’s version of He Ain’t Heavy/You’ve Got A Friend in The Originals Vol. 30). I hope that this series of ’70s soul mixes will create some interest in acts and songs that are not as widely remembered as they ought to be. So this compilation excludes the most obvious picks for the years 1972/73, and includes what I hope are a few great new discoveries, or indeed re-discoveries. As before, it was a struggle to keep the mix down to the standard CD-R length. Read more…

Categories: 70s Soul, Any Major Soul Tags:

Great moustaches in rock: Ferry and Dylan

August 20th, 2009 7 comments

ferry-moustache1

It’s true, we don’t normally think of Bryan Ferry’s upper lip as being follicularly ornamented. And if we did, we likely should want to banish the memory of the image into that remote password-protected folder buried in the operating system of our sub-conscious that produces what we hope to be infrequent nightmares. What was Bryan Ferry hoping to communicate with his ’tache? A vain man, he must have believed his ineffectual snotbreaker added a certain je ne parlez français pas to his extravagant elegance.

And who of us with the powers of beard growth have not fancied ourselves with a moustache? Maybe a thin Clark Gable number to exude the confidence of a particularly manly man’s man? Perhaps a robust Freddy Mercury, protruding macho-like from a luxuriant overbite? Maybe a Ron Jeremy porntache to camouflage the sleazy curl of the lip? Or go the whole hog and grow a Lemmy horseshoe for good luck, hoping it will evade the facial warts that lend character to a booze-worn face.

giorgio_MoroderSome men, after a few razor-free weeks, might have in the process of removing the growth experimented with various temporary beard styles. First the goatee (for the geography teacher or communist icon look). Then applying razor to chin to create the Lemmy, noting with some embarrassment that our sense of symmetry is stunted when it comes to the art of barberism. So the jowlmask goes, but slowly, piece by piece, because we need to pay brief homage to the droopy ’70s porn actor look as perfected by Italian producer Giorgio Moroder (pictured). Damn symmetry again.

And so we arrive at a probably uneven Mercury, tweaking here and there until we face the most abstruse question in all endeavours involving mucking around with overgrown stubble: shall the next step be the Clark Gable or the Hitler? If you are like me, you will pick the Hitler toothbrush look for pure comedy effect and “hilarious” photo opportunity (never to show that picture to anyone!). If you look like Clark Gable, you go for a Gable, naturally (after all, even Gable would have looked preposterous with a Hitler ’tache).

And so it must have happened that Bryan Ferry, fancying himself a worldly lady magnet, arrived at his adventurous pencil moustache. Three years earlier, in 1973, he had been crooning These Foolish Things, a song from the Gable era. It made perfect sense to our favourite foxhunting, Tory-voting glam-rocker. “It does look dashing, innit,” he might have said to his appreciative reflection as he poured another bottle of extra-virgin olive oil over his hair, cheerfully fortified by the certainty that his moustachial judgment would attract universal admiration.

ferry-moustache2

Alas, poor Ferry, for he was profoundly mistaken. From the moment the caterpillar whiskers made their public debut, they were derided as few moustaches ever had been. And how could it not be so? Sitting on Ferry’s face was not so much a moustache than a trail produced by an anorexic slug slithering along its ink-soaked ass in a state of tottery inebriation, holding on tenuously to the ridges of Ferry’s upper lip in an ultimately triumphant bid to stay on course. Bryan Ferry, so astute in matters sartorial chic, quickly realised that he looked like the mid-70s equivalent of a douchebag, and with steady hand applied the Wilkinson Sword to his lip.

Happily, Ferry failed to set a pervasive trend. Occasionally one popster or another would sport a pencil moustache (or, as Jimmy Buffett did, dream of growing one), perhaps in knowingly ironic homage to Ferry. Ron Mael, no doubt tormented by indecision in repeated experimental razor adventures, gave us both the Gable and the Hitler. But for the most part, Ferry abandoned a fashion before it could catch on. And then came Bob Dylan.

bob_dylan

What in the name of Errol Flynn is it that Dylan is sporting on his upper lip, and to what good purpose does it exist? Is Bob trying to create something even more revolting than his voice? Is that slither of sparse thatch intended to mimic quizzical eyebrows? Is he trying to be Zorro, defender of all virtue and avenger of widows and protector of virgins? Look like your creepy paedo uncle? Compensate for his inability to grow exorbitant Edwardian walrus whiskers by going for something similarly absurd? Simulate the motion of windscreen wipers on a drizzly afternoon as he snarls this way and that? Fail pitifully in his desperate bid to emulate fellow Wilbury George Harrison in the book of shit moustaches? Prepare for a career in stand-up comedy in which fun follicles compensate for the absence of jokes (it’s an old trick)?

Cisco Houston, allegedly inspiring a superannuated Bob Dylan

Cisco Houston, allegedly inspiring a superannuated Bob Dylan

Dylan fans have spent much mental energy contemplating the mystery of Dylan’s ’tache and its intrinsic profundity. One blogger in 2004 perhaps solved the mystery: Dylan is paying tribute to folk legend Cisco Houston, who bade this cruel world farewell just as young Bobby Zimmerman forsook the cold climes of Minnesota in favour of the hot scene of Greenwich Village’s folk cafés. If this is really so, then Dylan’s experiment in paying tribute through the medium of moustache is a bust. Should Dylan, a man in his 60s, be sincere in his desire to faithfully copy the stylings of his hero, he might want to consult Johnny Drama from the fine TV series Entourage, who revives the Cisco look with incontestable splendour.

Bob Dylan is a fan of Warren Smith’s rockabilly song Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache, recorded in 1957 for Sun Records. I won’t create a theory that it is that song which Dylan is paying tribute to (unless he drives a red Cadillac, in which case I claim credit for solving the great Dylan moustache mystery). I simply required a good reason to post that magnificent song.

And from Ferry, the musical equivalent of his moustache, a version of It’s My Party so boggling of mind that you may wonder whether Ferry had lost his when he passed it for inclusion on his 1973 album of covers, These Foolish Things. Ferry as the male Mrs Miller, with a wink and no mercy!

Giorgio Moroder, he of the porn moustache and rich line of disco production (Donna Summer!), released his From Here To Eternity album in 1977. With Kraftwerk, he is the co-inventor of the synthpop New Wave of the early 1980s, as the title track proves.

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Warren Smith – A Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache.mp3
Bob Dylan – Idiot Wind.mp3
Cisco Houston – Passing Through.mp3
Bryan Ferry – It’s My Party.mp3
Giorgio Moroder – From Here To Eternity.mp3

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Previous moustaches

Great covers: Satan Is Real (1960)

August 18th, 2009 5 comments

satan_is_real

The Satan Is Real album cover routinely is included in lists of “worst ever covers”, alongside Millie Jackson fighting constipation, Orleans getting closer than close, and dirty old John Bult parking his cigarette as he seduces Julie on her 16th birthday. Of course the Satan Is Real cover is a bit naff — the dentally disadvantaged Evil One at the back is not very convincing, never mind real. And yet, I think it’s a fabulous cover. Read more…

Step back to 1971

August 14th, 2009 6 comments

When in the introduction for the 1970 instalment I said that I had become interested in music that year, by 1971 I was showing the first signs of the devotion to popular music which today finds expression on this blog. I attribute that to three events. Firstly, I began to catch a greater number of music programmes on TV, especially the ZDF Hitparade (about which more later) and Disco, presented by the rather absurd Illja Richter and featuring German and international acts. Secondly, for my fifth birthday in April I was presented with a portable record player (the type where the lid doubles as a speaker). Thirdly, I bought my first record. As always, inclusion of a song here does not imply my endorsement (especially not with all that Schlager dross in this lot; trust me, things will get better after 1977). Read more…

Dust, Crackle and Pop: Vinyl cuts

August 12th, 2009 5 comments

Today, August 12, is International Vinyl Record Day. To mark the event, here are a few songs I’ve ripped from my LPs lately. I have old LPs stashed all over the house. Most of them – almost all of them – have not been played in more than a decade, some in more than two decades. None was played after my son, then three or four years old, broke the stylus on my Technics turntable. It has been great playing some of these old records again, and in some cases painful as I realise that the music wasn’t as great as my memory had deceived me to think. These songs here did not disappoint. Happy Vinyl Record Day.

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Tony Schilder – Madeleine.mp3
tony_schilder Tony Schilder is now retired, but in his day he was a keyboard maestro in the field of South African jazz-fusion. His trio regularly featured guest artists, of whom the internationally best known is Jonathan Butler. Schilder’s trio was the houseband of the Montreal nightclub in Cape Town’s Manenberg (which lent its name, inaccurately spelt, to Dollar Brand’s jazz opus), an impoverished, gang-riddled township established by the apartheid regime for South Africans classified as “Coloured” (that is, people of mixed race). In that community’s vibrant nightclub scene, Montreal was the place to be in the 1980s. It had style and Cape Town’s great artists would regularly appear there, such as frequent Schilder collaborator Robbie Jansen (a gifted saxophonist and vocalists, whose unrecorded version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is the best I’ve heard) or Dougie Schrikker, “the Frank Sinatra of the Cape Flats”.

The cheerful Madeleine (such a beautiful name) was the highlight in Schilder’s sets; it’s opening keyboard bar alerting the serious jazz dancers (and by this I mean Cape Town jazz-dancing, which is a sexier version of ballroom styles) to take to the dancefloor. Strangely Madeleine didn’t appear on his CD of re-recorded classics released in 1995. The 1985 LP it came from, Introducing the Music of Tony Schilder, has never been released on CD, to my knowledge. The song features Danny Butler on vocals, and his brother Jonathan on guitar (and check out his great solo).

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The Four Tops & The Supremes – Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand).mp3
four_tops_supremes The famous version, of course, is that by Diana Ross, her first solo single after splitting from the Supremes. Shortly after La Ross recorded the Ashford & Simpson composition in 1970, the Supremes (now fronted by Jean Terrell) recorded it with the Four Tops, creating a more joyous version than Diana’s, which was lovely but not particularly soulful in arrangement or vocal delivery. I will be honest and admit that I had forgotten I even had this until last weekend, when I ripped most of the tracks featured here. It’s on a collection of soul tracks released in 1974 which I picked up cheaply some 20 years ago in a second-hand shop. Whatever I paid for it, this song alone made it a bargain.

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The Mystics – Hushabye.mp3
MYSTICS American readers of a certain age may well remember this: Hushabye was the song with which the legendary DJ Alan Freed closed his televised Big Beat Show. Written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, it was released in 1959 by the New York doo wop group The Mystics, Italian-Americans from Bensonhurst. A year after Hushabye was released, a young Paul Simon (then calling himself Jerry Landis) joined as lead singer, albeit only very briefly.

The Mystics were supposed to be given Pomus/Shuman’s A Teenager In Love, which in the event was recorded to great commercial success by Dion & the Belmonts. The record label, Laurie Records, were not too pleased, it seems, and ordered the songwriters to come up with a new tune for The Mystics. The next day, Hushabye was ready. It became a #20 hit in summer 1959. Five years later, the Beach Boys recorded a cover for their All Summer Long album.

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The Crusaders – So Far Away (live).mp3
crusaders Jazz legends The Crusaders covered Carole King’s So Far Away twice. The studio version is nice; the live take, from 1974’s Scratch: Live At The Roxy, is brilliant. It’s warm and cool, exciting and relaxing. And it sounds barely like the original tune. At 1:54 trombonist Wayne Henderson begins a note which he holds continuously for a minute, driving the crowd mad with concern for his safety (one member shouts “stop!”) before Sample, Hooper, Felder, Carlton and Popwell resume to finish the song off in a rhapsodic orgasm.

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Mungo Jerry – Have A Whiff On Me.mp3
mungo_jerry A typically exuberant Mungo Jerry number with its boogie woogie piano, improvised instrument, percussive oral noises and Ray Dorset’s obligatory scat and exclamation of “all right, all right, all right”. Most of Mungo Jerry’s tracks sounded like they were remakes of old songs, but few actually were. Have A Whiff On Me is an exception; it was an old blues song which the folk/blues historians John and Alan Lomax picked up from James “Ironhead” Baker (he of Black Betty original obscurity) and Lead Belly, then titled Take A Whiff On Me. It was recorded subsequently by folk singers such as Woody Gutrie, Cisco Houston and, in 1970, by the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. A “whiff” is slang for cocaine, and the song is alternatively known as Cocaine Habit Blues.

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Misty In Roots – Own Them Control Them.mp3
misty_in_roots The regular reader will have noticed that this blog features very little by way of reggae (one Peter Tosh track, and one by Freddie McGregor in 321 posts). For a brief time in the mid-‘80s I was into reggae, absorbed a lot of it, and then got bored with it. During that fleeting flirtation, I bought the 12” of Own Them Control Them by the London band Misty In Roots. It was not a hit – none of the group’s single bothered the UK Top 75 – and I hadn’t heard it for a very long time. When I did, it did remind me why I bought the record in first place: it’s very good indeed.

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Christopher Plummer & Phillip Glasser – Never Say Never.mp3
american_tail Before Disney had their massive resurgence following 1989’s A Little Mermaid, the studio had lost its mojo It took Universal with the Steven Spielberg produced An American Tail in 1986 to show Disney the way to make great animated films again (even if some of them were too saccharine for my taste). The adventures of the immigrant mouse Fievel were charming, certainly in the first film. Children in film can be very endearing or very annoying. Phillip Glasser, barely eight-years-old at the time, voiced Fievel beautifully. His reprimand to Plummer’s French Statue-of-Liberty-building pidgeon for using the word “never” is very cute without being too sugary.

The song, an old-style production number by James Horner which classic Disney would have been proud of, was set early in the movie. Fievel has arrived in America but had lost his family, with whom he was immigrating from Russia (on the false premise that there are no cats there). Henri the pidgeon encourages Fievel not to give up. And, — ***SPOILER ALERT*** — you’d never guess it, but Fievel actually does find his family. Phew!

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George Fenton – The Funeral (Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika).mp3
cry_freedom We started with a bit of South African music, and here we wrap up with the greatest ever South African song which in a truncated form and combined in a medley with the old apartheid-era anthem Die Stem is part of South Africa’s current national anthem. To this day, I refuse to sing the apartheid-anthem portion, an act of recalcitrance which many South Africans with much greater grievances than I can lay claim to evidently do not share, for they sing it with gusto.

This recording is from the 1987 film Cry Freedom, in which Denzil Washington played the murdered anti-apartheid leader Steve Biko. Biko represented the radical Black Consciousness Movement, which held that liberation must come from black people and not through the mediation of whites. This placed him closer to the Pan African Congress, a breakaway from the African National Congress of Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela. That’s why this version of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika includes parts of the anthem which the ANC (and, in the ‘80s, its internal federation, the United Democratic Front) excluded. Written by a Methodist school teacher named Enoch Sontonga in 1897, it was originally a Christian hymn – the title means God Save Africa – before in 1927 one Samuel Mqhayi added further verses to it.

The version here, scoring Biko’s funeral on 25 September 1977, is dramatically orchestrated by George Fenton, starting off with a solo by Thuli Dumakude, with the choir directed by the great Jonas Gwangwa. It is real goosepimple stuff.

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On International Vinyl Record Day, don’t forget to visit those blogs which heroically keep the memory of crackling, dusty vinyl alive. These include AM Then FM, The Hits Just Keep On Coming, The Vinyl District, Great Vinyl Meltdown, Dusty Sevens, Funky16Corners, Dust And Grooves, and Dr Forrest’s Cheese Factory for the truly weird stuff (apologies to the fine vinyl blogs that I have neglected to mention).

Killing me softly again…

August 9th, 2009 8 comments

The item on Killing Me Softly With His Song in The Originals Vol. 30, posted on Friday, restated the most commonly repeated story about the genesis of the song; that is, original singer Lori Lieberman had written a poem about seeing Don McLean in concert, which lyricist Norman Gimbel adapted to form the lyrics for the song. Lieberman has repeated the story in interviews, but Norman Gimbel dismisses it. He contacted me to set the record straight. Here then are Gimbel’s verbatim recollection of how the lyrics for Killing Me Softly, which were accompanied by Charles Fox’s melody, came to be:

gimbel

Norman Gimbel, co-writer of Killing Me Softly With His Song

“Famed composer Lalo Shifrin (Mission Impossible theme) and I were writing some songs for one of his films. We discussed writing a full musical for the theater together.  He suggested a particular novel that I read as source material.  In the book the author described his character as walking into a bar and having a drink and listening to the piano player who was killing him softly with his blues.  I made note of the line in my ‘idea book’ and years later, after Charles Fox and got a recording deal for Ms. Leiberman at Capitol Records,  had to write 10 songs for her first album.  I retrieved the line and changed the word ‘blues’ to to ‘song’.”

It is fair to say that Gimbel is none too pleased with Lori Lieberman’s version.

Gimbel’s career has been impressive. A member of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame since 1984, he wrote the English lyrics for Girl From Ipanema and Sway (Dean Martin), co-wrote the songs for two Broadway hits (Whoop-Up and Conquering Hero)  and several songs for movies, working with the likes of Shifrin, Bill Conti, Elmer Bernstein, Dave Grusin, Quincy Jones, Michel Columbier, Pat Williams, Maurice Jarre and so on. Among these movie composers was Charles Fox, with whom Gimbel went on to form a productive partnership.

With Fox he wrote a series of TV themes, including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Paper Chase, Wonder Woman, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and Angie. They won an Emmy for their theme for the 1970 film version of the children’s series H.R. Pufnstuf.  He won a Best Original Song Oscar, after two previous nominations,  in 1980 for “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae, with music by David Shire, and at 81 remains active in songwriting today.

His songs have been recorded by some of the most accomplished singers in pop. It’s fair to presume that few singers have managed to create as bad versions of them as did German Helge Schneider with his 2007 teutonic remake of Killing Me Softly With His Song. He is a comedian but also a musician; it’s impossible to tell whether or not he is having us on. File under “Worst cover recordings ever”.

Helge Schneider – Killing Me Softly

The Originals Vol. 30

August 7th, 2009 8 comments

In this instalment in the series of the lesser known originals, we look at Killing Me Softly With His Song, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, Evil Ways, (Ghost) Riders In The Sky, and I Wanna Be Loved, an obscure ’70s soul song covered a decade later by Elvis Costello. A vote of thanks to my friends Walter, RH and Mark for feeding me some of the music featured here (the latter a very long time ago).

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Kelly Gordon – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969).mp3
The Hollies – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969).mp3
The Persuasions – He Ain’t Heavy/You’ve Got A Friend (1971).mp3
Donny Hathaway – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1972).mp3
The Housemartins – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1986).mp3

kelly_gordonThe Hollies’ guitarist Tony Hicks was desperately looking for a song to record when he was played a demo of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. The band decided to record it without great expectations, with Reg Dwight (who would become Elton John) on piano. Of course, it became a mega-hit and pop classic. But the Hollies were not the first to record it. The song had already been released by Kelly Gordon in April 1969 — five months before the Hollies’ version — as a single and on his Defunked album (the single’s b-side was That’s Life, a song Gordon had co-written five years earlier, but had been recorded before and made famous by Frank Sinatra). The original of He Ain’t Heavy by Gordon, more active as a producer than a singer, is slower and more mournful. Based on his interpretation, the publishers thought it would be a good song for Joe Cocker to record. And it would have been, but Cocker turned the song down.

He Ain’t Heavy was written by Bobby Scott (who wrote A Taste Of Honey) and the older veteran lyricist Bob Russell (Little Green Apples), who was already ailing with cancer and died at 55 in February 1970, just after the song had become a worldwide hit. There is much speculation as to the origin of the title; most commonly it is believed that the line was inspired by Father Edward Flannagan, the founder of Boys Town, who had adopted it as the organisation’s motto, reputedly after spotting a cartoon of a boy carrying another in a corporate publication named Louis Allis Messenger, that was captioned “He ain’t heavy Mister – he’s m’ brother!” It was not a new line; it had been used in literature and magazine articles before, and supposedly provided the punchline for a Native American folk story.

persuasionsThere have been many covers of the song. I have several favourites. Donny Hathaway’s soul interpretation tops the Hollies’ pop version. Then there are two fine a cappella versions. There are three such recordings by the Housemartins are in circulation: on the compilation Now That’s What I Call Quite Good, as a bonus track on the London 0 Hull 4 CD, and unofficially on the 1986 BBC Saturday Live sessions. It is the latter featured here. It might very well have been inspired by the magnificent version released in 1971 by the a cappella band The Persuasions, who recorded it as part of a medley with You’ve Got A Friend — which the Housemartins also recorded a cappella. (Edit: See the message by former Persuasions frontman Jerry Lawson in the comments section.)

Also recorded by: Neil Diamond (1970), I Ribelli (as Il vento non sa leggere, 1970), The Ruffin Brothers (1970), The Osmonds (1971 & 1975), Glen Campbell (1971), Ramsey Lewis (1971), Cher (1971), Donny Hathaway (1971), Gladys Knight & The Pips (1971), Melba Moore (1971), Johnny Mathis (1972), Brotherhood of Man (1974), Olivia Newton-John (1975), The Housemartins (1985/86), Al Green (1987), Bill Medley (1988), Gotthard (1996), Rufus Wainwright (2001), Helmut Lotti (2003), Pentti Hietanen (2005), Barry Manilow (2007) a.o.

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Lori Lieberman – Killing Me Softly With His Song (1972).mp3
Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song (1973).mp3

lori_lieberman(Text has been edited since it was first posted)

There are two stories describing the genesis of Killing Me Softly With HIs Song. The more widely-spread story has folk-singer Lori Lieberman so moved by Don McLean’s live performance of the song Empty Chairs that she wrote a poem about, calling it Killing Me Softly With His Blues. The composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, who were taking time out from their impressive TV theme production line (Happy Days!) to write songs for Lieberman’s self-titled debut album, used her poem as the basis for the song which she would be the first to record in 1971, releasing it the following year.

Or so Lieberman says. Norman Gimbel’s recollection is very different, though much less known. In an e-mail to this blog (which will go up fully reproduced on Sunday), he explained how it was a book he was referred to years earlier by composer Lalo Shifre that featured the line “Killing Me Softly With His Blues” (the title of the poem Lieberman says she wrote). He like the idea and stored it away for a few years until he needed lyrics for the Lieberman album which he and Fox were writing, changing the word “blues” to “song”.

flackAlthough Lieberman didn’t score a big hit with the song, Flack stumbled upon it in 1972 while in air. After reading about Lieberman in the TWA airline magazine and her interest piqued by the title of the song, she tuned into the song on the in-flight radio, and decided to record it herself. Over a period of three months, Flack experimented with and rearranged the song, changing the chord structure, adding the soaring ad libs and ending the song on a major chord where Lieberman did with a minor. Her remake made an immediate impression, topping the US charts for four weeks and reaching #6 in Britain. Her version won Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance.

Almost a quarter of a century later, in 1996, Killing Me Softly – its full title by now routinely castrated – made an unwelcome return to the album charts in the form of the Fugees’ cover (it wasn’t released as a single so as to boost album sales). Lauryn Hill’s vocals are fine, though the hip hop arrangement negates the confessional intimacy of Flack’s, or indeed Lieberman’s, version. And that would be adequate; the mood of a lyric often is disengaged from a song’s sound to little detriment (think of all the great upbeat numbers with morose lyrics). Besides, the Fugees had conceived of the song as an anti-drug anthem with the revised title Killing Him Softly, a plan that was abandoned when they were denied permission for such modification. The whole exercise becomes something of a prank thanks to Wyclef Jean’s repeated intonation of “one time” and “two time”, as though he was auditioning for the role of parody DJ on Sesame Street. No matter how affecting Hill’s vocals, Wycount von Count’s antics render the Fugees’ version one of the most deplorable covers in pop.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1973), Rusty Bryant (1973), Tim Weisberg (1973), Perry Como (1973), Bobby Goldsboro (1973), John Holt (1973), Anne Murray (1973), The Ventures (1973), Shirley Bassey (1973), Woody Herman (1973), Katja Ebstein (as Das Lied meines Lebens, 1973), Vikki Carr (1973), Lynn Anderson (1973), Rune Gustafsson (1973), Lill Lindfors (as Sången han sjöng var min egen, 1973), Marcella Bella, Lara Saint Paul, Ornella Vanoni (all as Mi fa morire cantando, 1973), Andy Williams (1974), Mike Auldridge (1974), Charlie Byrd (1974), Petula Clark (1974), Engelbert Humperdinck (1974), Ferrante & Teicher (1974), George Shearing Quintet (1974), Charles Fox (1975), Hampton Hawes (1976), Cleo Laine & John Williams (1976), Mina (1985), Lance Hayward (1987), Al B. Sure! (1988), Donald Brown (1989), Casal (as Tal como soy, 1989), Linda Imperial (1991), Yta Farrow (1991), Joanna (as Morrendo de amo, 1991), Luther Vandross (1994), Ron Sanfilippo (1994), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Mahogany (1996), The Fugees (1996), Victoria Abril (1998), Joe Augustine (1998), Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers (1998), The BB Band (1999), Anthony Arizaga (2000), Hank Marvin (2002), Eric Hansen (2002), Kimberly Caldwell (2003), Raymond Jones (2004), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (2005), Omara Portuondo (as Matándome suavemente, 2006), Helge Schneider (2007), a.o.

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Burl Ives – Riders In The Sky (1949).mp3
Vaughn Monroe – Riders In The Sky (1949).mp3
Peggy Lee – Riders In The Sky (A Cowboy Legend) (1949).mp3
The Ventures – Ghost Riders In The Sky (1961).mp3
Deborah Harry – Riders In The Sky (1998).mp3

burl_ivesRiders In The Sky, sometimes known as Ghost Riders In The Sky, is one of those standards which is famous mostly for being famous. It has been recorded many times, and most people know at least its melody (I knew it first in the The Ventures’ 1961 guitar-driven instrumental version), but there seems to be no artist to whom the song is universally and specifically attached.

The song was written in 1948 by Stan Jones, a California forest ranger by trade who wrote western music as a sideline, also contributing music to film classics such as The Searchers and Rio Bravo. Riders In The Sky was first recorded in February 1949 by Burl Ives, still to be outed as a supposed communist fellow traveller and a few years from becoming friends with the McCarthyist defenders of freedom. Two months after Ives, Vaughn Monroe recorded it with his orchestra, and scored an international hit with it. The same year, Gene Autry sang it in a film, also titled Riders In The Sky, and Peggy Lee did a version, adding the parenthetical “A Cowboy Legend” to the title. The song made a comeback in the British charts in 1980 with the instrumental take by The Shadows, covering ground previously traversed by The Ventures and Dick Dale. And in 1998, Deborah Harry, formerly of Blondie, issued her electronica version.

Also recorded by: Bing Crosby (1949), Peggy Lee (1949), Gene Autry (1949), Spike Jones (1949), Eddy Arnold (1959), The Ramrods (1961), The Ventures (1961), Dick Dale (1963), Frank Ifield (1963), Frankie Laine (1963), Lorne Greene (1964), Duane Eddy (1966), The Englishmen (1967), Tom Jones (1967), Elvis Presley (live, 1970), Dennis Stoner (1971), Mary McCaslin (1975), Riders in the Sky 91979), Johnny Cash (1979), The Shadows (1979), Outlaws (1980), Fred Penner (1980), Milton Nascimento (1981), Marty Robbins (1984), The Trashmen (1990), R.E.M. (as Ghost Reindeer in the Sky, 1990), Michael Martin Murphey (1993), Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson (1998), Deborah Harry (1998), Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman and The Blues Brothers Band (1998), Ned Sublette (1999), Concrete Blonde (2004), Peter Pan Speedrock (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006), Die Apokalyptischen Reiter (2006), Spiderbait (2007), Dezperadoz (2008), Children of Bodom (2008) a.o.

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Teacher’s Edition – I Wanna Be Loved (1973).mp3
Elvis Costello – I Wanna Be Loved (1984).mp3

teachers_editionFor a prolific songwriter, Elvis Costello has covered songs widely. His best known cover perhaps is George Jones’ A Good Year For The Roses, itself a country classic. I Wanna Be Loved, a Costello single in 1984 which appeared on the otherwise underwhelming Goodbye Cruel World album (and features Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside on backing vocals), was plucked from obscurity. That’s what Costello said, and he was not exaggerating. I have been able to find nothing about Teacher’s Edition or about Farnell Jenkins, who wrote the song, except that it was released in on the Memphis-based Hi Records (which counted Al Green, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright among its roster) in1973 as a b-side to a song titled It Helps To Make You Strong, and enjoyed popularity in the Northern Soul set. Jenkins, now 67, now seems to be a Chicago-based writer of Gospel songs.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems

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Willie Bobo – Evil Ways (1967).mp3
bobo Santana – Evil Ways (1969).mp3
This month, you may hear it incidentally mentioned, marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. For Santana, the festival was the great break-out moment. Within a few months of Woodstock, the group had a hit with Evil Ways, the first of a string of covers by Carlos and his shifting band of chums. Evil Ways was recorded first by Latin jazz percussionist Willie Bobo, who would later collaborate with Santana. It was written by Bobo’s guitarist Sonny Henry, who is also doing vocal duty. Bobo died young, in 1983 at 49 of cancer. His son, Eric Bobo (the family name is actually Correa), also became a percussionist, with Cypress Hill.

evil_waysThe vocals (and the organ solo) on the Santana version are by the band’s co-founder Gregg Rolie, whose keyboards and vocals were also so integral to Santana’s version of Black Magic Woman (featured in Vol. 1). Rolie proceeded to co-found Journey with former Santana bandmate Neal Schon. In Journey, Rolie was initially lead vocalist, but ceded frontman duties when Steve Perry joined.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1970), Cal Tjader (1971), Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles (1972)

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In The Originals Vol. 22 we looked at The House Of The Rising Sun. In the interim, our friend Walter has sent me the first known recording of the song, by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster, recorded in 1933. I have added it to the original article, and post it below:

Ashley and Foster – Rising Sun Blues.mp3

Those interested in more versions of the song will be well served by this post on the fascinating Merlin in Rags blog, which specialises in old folk and blues.

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More Originals


Any Major Soul 1970-71

August 5th, 2009 11 comments

 

Some people will reel in disbelief and perhaps go on by shouting out the first names of assorted soul deities as I proclaim: The 1970s were the golden age of soul music. Of course, ’60s soul was fantastic, as the two volumes of Any Major’60s Soul compilations proved. But by the late 1960s and early ’70s soul had acquired such a breadth of variety which the still nascent form of the previous decade did not have, by force of progress. The soul shouters were giving way to smooth guys, often singing in falsetto, and the Muscle Shoal horns went out and the string arrangements came in. And Motown and Stax had lost their way. As smooth as ’70s often was, however, it still retained depth. For the first half of the decade at least, soul produced some of the most gorgeous sounds ever in music. Read more…

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