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Covered with Soul Vol. 6

March 31st, 2011 8 comments

In the 6th volume of soul covers, we have the great Grady Tate’s interpretation of the Theme of M*A*S*H and versions of songs previously recorded by Gil Scott-Heron, Bob Dylan, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Elvis Presley, James Taylor, Righteous Brothers, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Joe South, Rolling Stones, Credence Clearwater Revival, James Brown, Cream, Peggy Lee, The Beatles, The Flamingos, Julie Andrews, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Billy Joel and Cat Stevens. Quite a mixed bag. This mix features a fair number of country songs remade as soul songs, showing how close the two genres are.

Some of the songs here get a thorough reworking here. Cat Stevens would not recognise his hippie-friendly Moonshadow in Labelle’s astonishing funky improv version. The Rotary Connection, featuring Minnie Riperton, take some liberties with Bob Dylan’s Like A Rollin’ Stone.

We have encountered some of the featured artists before. Among those we haven’t is Una Valli, South Africa’s queen of soul. Una certainly had a mighty voice and bagsful of soul. The irony, given her country of origin, is that Valli (who still performs) is white. I wrote about her recently on Star Maker Machine, in relation to her version of Yesterday (here).

Madeline Bell featured on Covered With Soul Vol 3. Her long career included stints in Blue Mink (of Melting Pot fame) and French disco group Space, and an appearance as backing singer at the Eurovision Song Contest. Well, a girl’s gotta work. And she still works, touring as a jazz singer from her domicile in Spain.

Alas, Marie ‘Queenie’ Lyons did not enjoy such a productive career. Her outstanding Soul Fever album, whence this version of Fever came, was her only LP. Until its re-release on CD in 2008, it was one of the great rare soul albums. Nobody, it seems, knows anything about whatever happened to Marie Lyons.

Likewise, Bill Brandon never had the great career he might have had. We’ve previously encountered Brandon in the second instalment of the Murder Songs series. He also recorded only one full album, released in 1977. Ten years later he quit the music business for good and became a truck driver. He now apparently runs a nightclub.

Another act with a solitary album were the Blossoms (who featured in Vol. 5), yet they had a rich history as a backing act, singing vocals behind the likes of Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Jan & Dean and Paul Anka. Formed in the 1950s, among their original members was Gloria Jones (original singer of Tainted Love and the woman who survived the car crash that killed Marc Bolan) and Merry Clayton. Darlene Love joined the band in the late 1950s, and she appears on the 1972 album, alongside Jean King and founder member Fanita James.

Junior Parker featured before (in Vol. 4) with his cover of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. Here he reappears with another Beatles track (and I have another one waiting). Parker was not really a soul singer but a bluesman, having started his career as a teenager in the 1940s backing Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf, and then playing in a Memphis band with B.B. King and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland (the latter, of course, also crossed over to soul at times). Parker’s trio of Beatles covers was his last: Parker died of a brain tumor on 18 November 1971 at just 39.

TRAKLISTING:
1. Grady Tate – Suicide Is Painless (Theme From M*A*S*H) (1974)
2. Brother To Brother – In The Bottle (1974)
3. Rotary Connection – Like A Rolling Stone (1967)
4. Bill Brandon – (Take Another Little) Piece Of My Heart (1972)
5. Dee Dee Warwick – Suspicious Minds (1971)
6. Blossoms – Fire And Rain (1972)
7. Al Green – Unchained Melody (1973)
8. Candi Staton – Stand By Your Man (1971)
9. Little Esther Phillips – Hello Walls (1964)
10. Joe Simon – Help Me Make It Through The Night (1973)
11. Lee Dorsey – Games People Play (1970)
12. Una Valli – Satisfaction (1968)
13. Billy Paul – Proud Mary (1970)
14. Stevie Wonder – Please, Please, Please (1967)
15. Brothers Unlimited – Spoonful (1970)
16. Marie ‘Queenie’ Lyons – Fever (1970)
17. Junior Parker – Lady Madonna (1971)
18. David Porter – I Only Have Eyes For You (1970)
19. Madeline Bell – Climb Ev’ry Mountain (1968)
20. Gene Chandler – Unforgettable (1970)
21. Margie Joseph – He’s Got A Way (1974)
22. Labelle – Moonshadow (1972)

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Intros Quiz – 1971 edition

March 28th, 2011 5 comments

After last month’s Valentine’s Day interruption, we continue on our five-yearly cycle of intros quizzes, revisiting 40 years ago: 1971 (the year that bastion of democracy Switzerland granted women the right to vote, Greenpeace was founded, the first Internet chat room apperared, the pocket calculator and soft contact lenses go on sale, Qatar gained indepedence from Britain, and a tsunami hit Japan, ). Which means that in the coming months we will, God willing, skip to 1976, then 1981, and so on. In between, I might do a couple of TV theme quizzes. Anybody up for TV theme intros quizzes?

Anyway, as always, twenty intros to hit songs from that year of 5-7 seconds in length. All were single releases and/or hits that year. Those fans of classic rock who have been following the cricket world cup might have been earwormed with number 8…

The answers will be posted in the comments section by Thursday (so please don’t post your answers). If the pesky number 18 (and, possible 10) bugs you, go to the Contact Me tab above to request the answers, or  better, message me on Facebook. If you’re not my FB friend, click here.

Intros Quiz – 1971 edition


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Step back to 1978 – Part 3

March 24th, 2011 10 comments

By the second half of 1978 I was clearly done with punk — much like the rest of the civilised world. Now the word was Grease, even if You’re The One That I Want became unbearably overplayed. Other than a really great roadtrip holiday, the latter part of 1978 seems to have been quite uneventful for me: I cannot remember anything interesting at all happening other than playing football in ankle-deep snow in winter.

John Paul Young – Love Is In The Air.mp3
I knew this track by the Australian singer who prompted two popes to adopt his name in 1978 for quite a while before the event I associate it most with: a summer holiday in what was then East-Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria. Love Is In The Air was on a K-Tel type sampler cassette we played ad nauseam on that road trip in a Volkswagen camper, mainly because we didn’t have much else with us by way of musical entertainment. The tape also included J.J. Cale’s Cocaine, Eric Clapton’s Lay Down Sally, and Eruption’s cover of I Can’t Stand The Rain. I think the latter might have followed Love Is In The Air, because when Young’s song ends, I expect to hear the opening synth notes from the Eruption number. It could be that we gave that tape away to an East German family we met in Prague, with whom we struck up a friendship that extended beyond the holiday (I met the daughter again last year, for the first time in 29 years). To East Germans, all forms of Western media were like golddust. On our later visits to our friends, I’d smuggle Bravo magazines over the border, and act that was regarded as quite audacious, indeed almost heroic.  Love Is In The Air was also the first song I ever sung at a karaoke.

Clout – Substitute.mp3
In this series I have reported on my barely pubescent crushes on Agnetha of ABBA and Debbie Harry of Blondie. They were joined by another blonde in the form of the Glenda Hyam, the keyboard player of South African girl group Clout. The thing is, I turned out have a greater preference for darker women (not that I am inclined to discriminate on the basis of excessive pheomelanin). Alas, Glenda soon left the group, to be replaced by two much less fanciable but more hirsute blokes (who would later joined Johnny Clegg in Juluka). The dudes, no less curly than the rest of Clout, turned up for the follow-up hit Save Me, which will feature in the course of this series. Substitute, a great unrequited love number, is a cover version of a song by the Righteous Brothers. If anyone has the original, I’d be most grateful to receive it.

Supermax – Love Machine.mp3
Austrian disco, long before Falco! Goodness, this played everywhere in Germany, and at the time I hated it. Now I actually like it. Imagine Pink Floyd going disco (in which case the lyrics, with gems like “I am a love machine in town, the best you can get 50 miles around”, would need to be read ironically). Long-haired, moustachoid Kurt Hauenstein’s band was multi-racial (though not as predominantly black as the single cover would lead us to believe), and as such it became the first international multi-racial band to tour South Africa in 1981. It was a thankless venture. The apartheid authorities were not exactly pleased at the racial mixing – just imagine the potential of miscegenation among these degenerate disco hippies! – especially since the Austrians were also playing in the “homeland” of Venda, which is so off the beaten track that it probably has not seen any international music acts since. And the international artistic community failed to see the humour in anybody touring apartheid South Africa, racial diversity notwithstanding. Even if just a few years earlier the likes of Percy Sledge and George Benson had done exactly that.

Umberto Tozzi – Tu.mp3
A year earlier, Umberto Tozzi had enjoyed a big hit with Ti Amo. I liked that song very much. In 1978, Tozzi had a hit with Tu. By then I was wary of Italian balladeers whose schlock lent themselves to German covers by Schlager singers with an excess of blow-dried hair. Oddly, I don’t recall this being turned into a Schlager. Perhaps the absence of a chorus deterred the Schlager industry. Or perhaps they didn’t know how to translate “ba-badda-darm” into German. A year later, Tozzi released Gloria, which in 1984 became, much to my astonishment, a hit for Laura Branagan. I must confess that I do have a bit of a weakness for the Italian San Remo festival kind of songs.

Robert Palmer – Best Of Both Worlds.mp3
Much as I liked the song back then, it’s a bit of a mess, with its cod-Reggae beat and aggressively out-of-tune vocals. It was a fair hit in Europe, I think, but didn’t even dent the Top 75 in Britain. I think what I found most attractive about it are the minor notes 2:12 into the song. A year later Palmer had a bigger hit with Bad Case Of Loving You. At the bumper car rink at the local Rummel (as a travelling funfair is known in German) that year, the ticket-booth DJ held a name-the-artist competition when Bad Case Of Loving You came on. The prize was something like tokens for five free rides. Trouble was, I was already driving in a bumper car. To my frustration, nobody knew the answer, which I did. I called the answer out to my younger brother, but all I got in return was a deaf “heh?”. Of course, he wasn’t the idiot in that situation. I was. Obviously I should have abandoned my single ride in order to get five freebies – and the satisfaction of strutting to cash in my free rides knowing the answer to a tough question none of the assembled ignoramuses knew. File under “Regrets, I’ve had a few”.

Nina Hagen Band – TV-Glotzer.mp3
I must be honest: I don’t like Nina Hagen’s obnoxious vocals much. I bought this single (the cover of which seems to have been used for every Hagen release around that time) because it seemed the rebellious thing to do. There simply was very little of this kind of thing in German music at the time. The indictment of consumerism and the public’s passive, indeed mindless, acceptance of it appealed to my nascent leftist tendencies (translated lyrics are here). The consumerism must have been striking to Hagen, who had come from East-Germany only two years earlier after her singer stepfather, Wolf Biermann, was expelled by the communist regime. Backed by what would become the Neue Deutsche Welle band Spliff, TV Glotzer is a cover of The Tubes’ far superior White Punks On Dope.  So Hagen and especially TV Glotzer were hugely influential in the rise of the German new wave movement.

Status Quo – Again And Again.mp3
For the first three years of my record-buying career, I bought loads of Status Quo records. Then I went off them, righteously repudiating the Quo. By the time I was a young adult, I joined the consensus that they were rather ridiculous and easily spoofed cliché mongering two-chord wonders. What utter foolishness! What deprivation did I subject myself to? No good case can be made for Status Quo being rock & roll’s equivalent of Dietrich Buxtehude, but, damn it, for pure energy and fun it’s hard to beat songs like Again And Again. Denims on, strike pose standing with legs apart (position of mirror optional), engage air guitar, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with imaginary fellow guitarist rocking forward and backward, jump in the air with final chord, look in panic at doors and windows to ensure that they were shut…

Olivia Newton-John – A Little More Love.mp3
Livvy’s career was stuttering to a bit of a halt before her appearance in Grease. On strength of that movie I bought her Totally Hot album, which contained rather too much disco-pop and too little by way of quality ballads, such as the wonderful Hopelessly Devoted To You from Grease. It really set the scene for the later Physical, the opening chord for the ghastly ’80s. A Little More Love is one of those songs that suffers from a lack of direction. It’s not clear whether it’s supposed to be a West Coast rock number or a disco track. The pedestrian verses call to mind a b-side recorded under duress by Linda Ronstadt, but the glorious chorus sounds like it was written by the Bee Gees in their pomp, even though the song’s composer was John Farrar (who also wrote Hopelessly Devoted To You and You’re The One That I Want). As much as I hate Physical, I was pleased to see Newton-John appear on Glee last year; not as the sweet individual of her doubtless merited reputation, but as a bitch who outdoes the wonderfully ruthless Sue Sylvester.

Al Stewart – Song On The Radio.mp3
I had ended 1977 by buying singles by Harpo and The Runaways. I ended the following year by buying an Al Stewart album. I was staying with family friends in another city for a week or so over New Year’s Eve. They were quite different from my family. To begin with, they were communists. Not communists of the variety that had beards (even the men), carried Mao’s pocketbook and a displayed velvet poster of Che Guevara. These were proper activists, registered members of the German Communist Party, the DKP, and as critical of the corruption of communism in the East as they were of the capitalist society in the West. Communists of the ilk of Nina Hagen’s stepfather Biermann. I never adopted their politics, but I was influenced by them to see the word in a different way. So I was with them when I bought Al Stewart’s Time Passages album. When I asked them to play it, they appeared less than keen; much as I would feel if a 12-year-old asked me to put on their latest favourite record by what I would presume to be an autotuned muppet or derivative emo goon. When they finally relented, they liked what they heard and even asked if they could tape the LP (buying it would just have given profits to owners of the means of production, of course). I felt great validation that adults of intellectual character would like the music I bought.

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Murder Songs Vol. 6

March 17th, 2011 3 comments

Last time in Murder Songs we visited the scenes of three real-life crimes, and today we return to two real crime scenes and to one epochal trial.

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Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam (1964).mp3
This is Nina Simone at her best: an intensely angry protest song in the style not of a mournful blues, as one might expect from the angry title, but delivered as a cabaret tune (“The show hasn’t been written for it yet”, she sardonically notes midway through), recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1963, and released a year later. She sets her stall out early: “The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam, and I mean every word of it.”

It is a reaction to the murder in Mississippi of civil rights activist Medgar Evers on 12 June 1963 (his murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, was convicted of his crime only 30 years later; the racist murderer died in jail in 2001). Simone also alludes to the racist church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four girls. The lyrics get angrier and Simone is disillusioned: “Oh but this whole country is full of lies. You’re all gonna die and die like flies. I don’t trust you anymore. You keep on saying, ‘Go slow! Go slow!’” Ah, the privileged pleading for patience by those whom they oppress. Nina she is rightly impatient: “You don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality!” In the event, the public outrage over Medgar Evers’ murder – articulated by Simone in this song – hurried along the process of some semblance of equal rights.

Mississippi Goddam was released as a single, Simone’s first on the Phillips label. To the shock of absolutely nobody, it was banned in much of the South, ostensibly because of its supposedly blaspemous title.

Leadbelly – Duncan And Brady (1947).mp3
A sheriff walks into a bar. He tells the barman that he is under arrest. The barman pulls his .44, shoots the law enforcement officer repeatedly. But it’s okay, because the cop was corrupt (“on the job too long”) .

The song was first recorded in 1929 by Wilmer Watts & Lonely Eagles from North Carolina. It is based on the shooting of the patrolman James Brady in a St Louis bar on 6 October 1880.It’s unclear when exactly the song was written. The reference to the electric car in the lyrics used in most versions provides a clue. In 1895, the New York financier Diamond Jim Brady received quite a bit of press coverage for using an electric buggy, the first time a car was used in Manhattan. A year earlier, as we will see, the James Brady killing case had come to a close. It is plausible that the ‘lectric car reference was a contemporary gag by the lyricist, playing on the shared name of the St Louis victim and the New York businessman.

The real story goes like this: Patrolman Brady entered the Charles Starkes Saloon, ostensibly to intervene in a bar brawl. Shots were fired (possibly a reaction to common police harassment of African-Amerian bar patrons), fatally injuring Brady. One Harry Duncan was accused of the shooting and, after much legal wrangling that reached the Supreme Court (Duncan’s lawyer, Walter Moran Farmer, thus became the first African-American to argue before the Supreme Court) was executed for the murder of Brady in 1894. Duncan, however, always insisted that it was the saloon’s eponymous owner who fired the fatal shot. Starkes, it is said, confessed on his deathbed to having been the shooter.

Starkes’ saloon was located in an area of St Louis that gave rise to two even more famous murder songs. The Stagger Lee story happened across the road; the murder in Frankie And Johnny a couple of blocks away.

Bill Cox – The Trial Of Bruno Richard Hauptmann Part 1 (1935).mp3
Bill Cox – The Trial Of Bruno Richard Hauptmann Part 2 (1935).mp3

It was the trial of the decade: the German immigrant Hauptmann who was accused and found guilty of kidnapping and killing the infant son of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh in 1932. There are those who believe that Hauptmann was unjustly convicted of the crime, for which he was executed. Indeed, the case for Hauptmann having been framed has been enthusiastically pursued in several books and TV documentaries. Even the New York governor who denied Hauptmann a pardon at the time had his doubts, and the evidence certainly is not more than circumstantial (though the body of circumstantial evidence is not negligible). Guilty or not, Hauptmann was not a nice guy. He had been a petty criminal in Germany before his illegal immigration to the US. Lindbergh was not a great guy either, as it turned out. He lost a big slice of public sympathy when he turned out to be an avid Nazi sympathiser.

But Bill Cox (pictured) – a singer, songwriter and noted harmonica player  – did not know yet about Lindbergh’s dark side. And if he did, it didn’t matter much, because his gig is to tell the story of the trial, in two parts, right down to the piece of evidence involving gold certificates paid by Lindbergh as part of the ransom to the kidnapper.

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Origleenals: Songs that Glee borrowed

March 14th, 2011 3 comments

“What, the show for kids?” my colleague, the one with an extravagant collection of adidas tracksuit jackets, replied when I asked if she watched Glee. It’s a frequent mistake to confuse Glee with High School Musical, and therefore to presume that the interpretations of the songs covered on Glee must be intrinsically inferior to their originals. Fact is, in several cases the Glee versions are equal to their originals, and sometimes they exceed the high bars set by the versions they draw from.

The best example of this is Glee’s cover of the Bacharach/David medley One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home, originally a quite stunning duet of Barbra Steisand with herself on the 1971 Barbra Joan Streisand album. On Glee, the utterly wonderful Kristin Chinoweth and Matthew Morrison (as teacher Will Shuester) improve on Streisand’s template, with Chinoweth’s strong and vulnerable voice leading and Morrison shining with is restraint. It is one of the best pieces of musical television I have seen. See it here.

Glee is about the music; the drama is generally incidental. The action is set in McKinley High School in Ohio, and it’s not a stretch to presume that Glee draws some of its dramatic inspiration from the sadly short-lived but excellent series Freaks And Geeks, which was also set in an Ohio school named McKinley High. Glee’s dramatic narrative is not always a vapid device used to propel the narrative from song to song. Some episodes are very much plot-driven. The “hey kids, let’s put on a show” contrivance of the MGM musicals (which the producers clearly love) and periodic  use of soap opera mechanisms may be used liberally, but Glee does deal with real issues, aiming to raise consciousness.

When the show succeeds in that – the record is patchy – it does so extremely well, especially in addressing subjects such as bullying, homophobia and prejudice. The character of Kurt, played by the superlative Chris Colfer, is a vehicle by which to explore homosexuality. The female football coach, unkindly but descriptively named Shannon Beiste (pronounced “beast”, played beautifully by Dort-Marie Jones), is being excluded, socially and romantically, because of her size and looks. A scene in which Will Shuester gives Beiste her first kiss is as tender as anything one will see on TV.

Other times, the treatment of issue-lines is on the heavy-handed side. Artie’s disability more often than not is a plot device (whatever happened to the walking gadget from the Christmas episode), and the recent sex-ed episode was as ambitious as it was shallow (and Gwyneth Paltrow has a way of going from adorable to annoying in double time).  Such moments are often saved by great song selections, such as Stevie Nicks’ Landslide to articulate and instance of unrequited (bisexual) love.

And then there is Jane Lynch as adidas obsessive evilton Sue Sylvester, who gets the show’s best lines, and shows a massive dose of humanity when she interacts with her sister, who has Down’s syndrome. If there was no other reason to watch Glee, Jane Lynch would provide a most persuasive argument to do so anyway.

Still, Glee is mostly about the music, so here is a compilation of 21 songs that have been covered on Glee. Some of them are not originals, but covers from which the Glee versions drew (such as Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s ukulele-driven version of Over The Rainbow or  Sammy Davis Jr’s version of The Lady Is A Tramp). Others are versions I thought readers might enjoy, such as the Stones’ live version of You Can’t Always Get What You Want from 1969’s The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus show, the late Ronnie James Dio’s cover of Aerosmith’s Dream On, and Bobby Darin’s take on Don’t Rain On My Parade, which in Lea Michele’s rendition obviously draws from Streisand. Also included is Streisand’s duet with Judy Garland on the latter’s TV show in 1963, which was pivotal in setting Streisand on the path to superstardom (of course, she would have made it anyway).

The mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R. To look up when the songs were performed on Glee and by whom, look here for Series 1 and Series 2 (episodes are below in brackets behind the years). PW in comments.

TRACKLISTING:
1. Journey – Any Way You Want It (1980) (22/1)
2. The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want (live) (1969) (13/1)
3. Ike & Tina Turner – River Deep, Mountain High (1966) (4/2)
4. Parliament – Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker) (1975) (21/1)
5. Rufus and Chaka Khan – Tell Me Something Good (live) (1983) (21/1)
6. Bill Withers – Lean On Me (live) (1972) (10/1)
7. Barbra Streisand – One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home (1971) (16/1)
8. Bobby Darin – Don’t Rain On My Parade (1966) (13/1)
9. Dean Martin – Sway (Quien sera) (1954) (8/2)
10. Julie Andrews – Le Jazz Hot (1982) (4/2)
11. Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer – Baby, It’s Cold Outside (1949) (10/2)
12. Sammy Davis Jr. – The Lady Is A Tramp (live) (1963) (18/1)
13. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – Over The Rainbow (2006) (22/1)
14. The Pretenders – I’ll Stand By You (1994) (10/1)
15. Fleetwood Mac – Landslide (1975)  (15/2)
16. Ronnie James Dio & Yngwie Malmsteen – Dream On (1999) (19/1)
17. Kiss – Beth (1976) (20/1)
18. John Denver – Leaving On A Jet Plane (1969) (1/1)
19. Dionne Warwick – Don’t Make Me Over (1962) (11/1)
20. Diana Ross – Home (1978) (16/1)
21. Judy Garland & Barbra Streisand – Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again (1963) (4/2)
BONUS TRACK: George Thorogood & the Destroyers – One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer (1977) (14/2)

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A History of Country Vol. 8: 1954-56

March 9th, 2011 8 comments

Some years ago, the brains at Rolling Stone grappled to identify the first ever rock & roll record. In the final face-off, they picked Elvis Presley’s debut single That’s All Right, a cover of R&B singer Arthur Crudup’s song, over Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock (itself a cover, though the song was actually written for the former western swing singer).

It is, of course, a fruitless mission to identify a “first” rock & roll song, because the genre is a jumble of diverse influences that convened, not always simultaneously, in an untidy evolution. One might as well seek to pinpoint the first piece of classical music or identify the inventor of the wheel. There is no single originator; there cannot be, because rock & roll is not a recipe consisting of essential ingredients. The genre has always been diffuse, subject to a broad sweep of influences. Read more…

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In Memoriam – February 2011

March 4th, 2011 7 comments

Here are February’s additions to the celestial chorus.There are a couple of people who died far too young: Clare Amory (35), Canadian folk-singer Diane Izzo (43), English punk singer Phil Vane (46) and grunge pioneer Rick Kulwicki (49) all died of natural causes. Argentinian musician Sergio Embrioni took his own life, and that of 33-year-old harmonica-plating rapper was cut short in an apparent murder.

From a personal point of view, I was saddened by the death of Gary Moore, whose Still Got The Blues (For You) is something of a “our song” for Any Major Wife and myself, and by that of the underrated soul man and enthusiastic propagandist for the benefits of cunnilingus, Marvin Sease. I was also strangely saddened to learn of the death of Peter Alexander, an ubiquitous figure on TV when I was a child in Germany who was the epitome of the Germanic square. I don’t necessarily admire his artistic legacy, but his death reepresents the departure of another link to my childhood.

Among the musician deaths, one might list the artist and illustrator Suze Rotolo, ex-girlfriend of Bob Dylan who was pictured with Zimmerman on the cover of the The Freewheeling Bob Dylan LP.She died on February 24 at 67.

As always, songs listed below the entries are collated in one downloadable file.

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Tony Levin, 71, British jazz drummer, on February 3.

Gary Moore, 58, rock guitarist with Thin Lizzy and singer, on February 6.
Gary Moore – Still Got The Blues (For You) (1990)

Marvin Sease, 64, soul singer, on February 8
Marvin Sease – I Gotta Clean Up (2001)

Joan Bonham, 81, member of The Zimmers, mother of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, on February 9
The Zimmers – My Generation (2007)

Bad News Brown, 33, Haitian-born Canadian rapper and harmonican player, murdered on February 11
Bad News Brown – Reign (2009)

Peter Alexander, 84, bestselling Austrian Schlager singer, on February 12
Peter Alexander – Die kleine Kneipe (1976)

George Shearing, 91, jazz pianist, on February 14
Nat ‘King’ Cole & George Shearing – Let There Be Love (1962)

Rick Kulwicki, 49, guitarist of grunge band The Fluid, on February 15

Sergio Embrioni, 50, guitarist of Argentinian rock band Enanitos Verdes, of suicide on February 17
Enanitos Verdes – Lamento Boliviano (1994)

Phil Vane, 46, singer with punk band Extreme Noise Terror, on February 17
Extreme Noise Terror – Pray To Be Saved (1991)

Terry Clements, 63, guitarist on most of Gordon Lightfoot’s hits, on February 20
Gordon Lightfoot –  The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald (1976)

Harrell ‘Buddy’ Jones, 70, country and rock & roll drummer, songwriter and manager of Leon Russell, on February 20

Rudy Robbins, 77, country singer with The Spirit of Texas and stuntman, on February 21

Enoch Sullivan, 73, founder of bluegrass group The Sullivan Family, on February 23

Jens Winther, 50, Danish jazz trumpet player, on February 24

Eddie Serrato, 65, drummer of Question Mark & the Mysterians, on February 24
Question Mark and the Mysterians – Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby (1967)

Clare Amory, 35, drummer of New York noise-improv band Excepter, on February 25
Excepter – Kill People (2008)

Diane Izzo, 43, folk singer, on February 25
Diane Izzo – Horse Of Diana (1999)

Mark Tulin, 62, bass player of garage-pioneers The Electric Prunes, on February 26
The Electric Prunes – I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) (1966)

Eddie Kirkland, 88, American blues guitarist, in a car crash on February 27.
Eddie Kirkland – Have Mercy On Me (1962)

A. Frank Willis, 60, Canadian folk singer and comedian, on February 27
A. Frank Willis – Dirty Old Town

DOWNLOAD IN MEMORIAM – FEBRUARY 2011

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Great covers: Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978)

March 1st, 2011 6 comments

For many years 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town, in my view Bruce Springsteen’s greatest album, was rather underrated. The trouble might have been that it produced no hit single, and nothing as exuberant as Born To Run on the preceding album of the same name or Hungry Hearts on 1980’s The River. The album’s title suggests an existential sense of alienation, a loss of hope and a ferocious anger, which is reflected in the songs, in their sound and in their words. The hope of Thunder Road on Born To Run gives way to the despondent resignation of Racing In The Streets on Darkness. The guitar-driven elation of Born To Run here becomes the guitar-driven anger of Candy’s Room or Adam Raised A Cain.

In the publicity blurb for the recent release of the de luxe CD/DVD set of Darkness, Springsteen describes the album has his “samurai” record. I think of it as his Scorsese album. Mean Streets, the name of Martin Scorsese’s 1973 film, might have been a great alternative title for Springsteen’s only Carter-era LP. The cover complements the feel of the album perfectly. A tired-looking Bruce stands in what looks like a rather dreary apartment. His dishevelled hair calls to mind Al Pacino in Serpico, his penetrating stare Robert de Niro’s. One almost expects John Cazale to lurk behind the closed blinds, ready to embark on some ill-fated adventure or other (alas, that wonderful actor died on 12 March 1978, exactly a week before the completion of the recordings for Darkness , which begun in October 1977).

Rarely does an album cover condense in one simple photo the whole direction of an album. Photographer Frank Stefanko’s iconic photo of Springsteen did just that – without having heard the songs or knowing what they were about.

Stefanko, who also shot the cover of 1980’s The River, met Springsteen through Patti Smith, who had a big hit in 1978 with Because The Night, one of the many songs Springsteen had recorded for Darkness and then rejected. It was the beginning of a friendship that has survived the intervening three decades. In an interview with the Internet magazine Pitchfork, Stefanko recalls doing a test shoot at his home in Haddonfield, New Jersey.  More shoots followed, but it was that initial session that generated the cover art for Darkness.

Stefanko told Pitchfork that “the original shoot was just done with my perception of how I thought he wanted to look or how I wanted him to look […] From what I understand, when he looked at the photograph he said, ‘That’s the person that I’m writing about. That’s the person that is the Darkness on the Edge of Town character and that’s what I want on my cover.”

Springsteen recalled the shoot in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian: “He [Stefanko] was a guy who’d worked in a meat-packing plant in south Jersey. He got the 13-year-old kid from next door to hold a light. He borrowed a camera. I don’t know if he even had a camera! But when I saw the picture I said, ‘That’s the guy in the songs.’ I wanted the part of me that’s still that guy to be on the cover. Frank stripped away all your celebrity and left you with your essence. That’s what that record was about.”

In fact, Stefanko, who in 1978 was 32, had owned a camera since he was seven years old, and had been taking photos on a serious basis since the 1960s.

The Darkness photos may seem casual, snapshots taken on the fly. They were, in fact, the product of a long shoot. On the picture used for the cover, Springsteen wears a white t-shirt. On other photos taken during the same session, he wears a black shirt, and then a hideous purple paisley shirt with the leather jacket he wears on the front cover.

“We were trying to recreate these middle America, working class families; guys that were looking for redemption. It could have been done in the 70s or 50s or even the 40s. The idea was that these people transcended time or space,” Stefanko told Pitchfork. “But we were trying to get something to look like an old Kodacolor snapshot. There were a lot of black and white photographs taken in those sessions too which were very striking in their own right. But the idea of this color photograph that could have been a snapshot in somebody’s drawer worked for the album.”

From all that we learn that Stefanko had pretty awful taste in wallpaper in 1978. The new owners of the house took the right decision to paper over it, but neglected to sell scraps of it, thereby missing one of the great opportunities for profiteering from a photographer’s ugly wallpaper.

Read the full interview here.

Last November the great Cover Me blog produced a fantastic collection comprising covers of all songs of Darkness. Visit it here, and marvel at the collection from which I’ve borrowed the 2005 version of the title track by indie band The Winter Blanket, which is very reminiscent of Iron & Wine. Mary Lou Ford’s version is from a very good bootleg recording made at a gig in Moorestown, New Jersey on 8 February 2003. Mary McKee’s version of Candy’s Room is also a live recording, from her 14 May 2003 gig in Stockholm, Sweden. Because The Night, the song Springsteen rejected and gave to Patti Smith, is here in the version from the 1975-85 live collection.


Mary Lou Ford – Racing In The Streets.mp3
The Winter Blanket – Darkness On The Edge Of Town.mp3
Maria McKee – Candy’s Room.mp3
Bruce Springsteen – Because The Night.mp3

Previous great covers