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Step back to 1980 – Part 1

September 28th, 2011 9 comments

The series now hits 1980, which was a pretty good year for pop music. Good enough to warrant four instalments, I think. It was the year in which I turned 14.

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Cheap Trick – Dream Police.mp3
This was the first record I bought in 1980. Cheap Trick probably were the first hair metal band. I didn’t really dig them very much, but I did like Dream Police, even if I had no idea what the song was about. It had a good guitar riff, a catchy chorus and some amusing sound effects. The term “dream police” has been used to describe a state on an LSD trip when the brain figures out that it’s not in charge anymore (or something like it; what the hell do I know about LSD trips?). But I think the lyrics are far better applied to describe a state of schizophrenia, with its paranoia and controlling inner voices.  The half-minute interlude at 2:50 certainly sounds like mental illness. Or, indeed, an alarming drugs trip.

Electric Light Orchestra – Confusion
And this was my second record of 1980. As with Cheap Trick, I’d never been much of an ELO fan. Don’t Bring Me Down changed that, and I liked Confusion even better (and perhaps still do; I prefer whichever of the two I’m presently hearing). Strangely, I didn’t buy the LP the songs were from. Later I discovered, as it were, that it’s a pretty good album. The purists don’t like it, I believe, because they thought that Jeff Lynne had sold ELO out to disco. Funny enough, disco often incorporated strings, which Lynne mostly dropped for the Discovery album. I’ll grant that Shine A Little Love and Last Train To London are a nod to disco, but for the most part it’s a wonderful pop album (Horace Wimple excepted).

Cherie & Marie Currie – Since You’ve Been Gone.mp3
In later 1979 and early 1980 there were two versions of the Russ Ballard-penned Since You Been Gone (or Since You’ve Been Gone, as some have rendered it. You can get Ballard’s original here). The excellent Rainbow version was the more successful, and apparently South African popsters Clout had a single of it out as well. I bought this single, by former Runaways singer Cherie Currie with her sister Marie (whom you will remember if you saw the recent biopic of the Runaways). I think the Curries’ cover can just about compete with the Rainbow record. I’m not sure why I bought this single though. In the face of compertition by Rainbow, who were huge in West Germany, it wasn’t a big hit. Perhaps I saw it on the Musikladen TV show on which the sisters appeared in December 1979; but if I liked it, I’d have bought it right then, not in January (somehow I always had money for a single). Perhaps I bought it on strength of Cherie Currie, seeing as I liked The Runaways back in the day. Maybe I just like the cover…

AC/DC – Touch Too Much.mp3
Bon Scott was my first rock death as a fan. Of course, people whose music I had known had died before. Elvis, of course. Marc Bolan of T. Rex. Keith Moon of The Who. I had known their music, but I wasn’t a fan at the time. However, when Bon Scott died on 19 February 1980, I was something of an AC/DC fan. When the others died, I had no interest in their next record, but I was very much looking forward to the next AC/DC record, with Bon Scott on vocals, maybe featuring as great a song as Ride On from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. When the next album came out, with undue haste later that year, I had mixed emotions. The songs – Hells Bells, title track Back In Black, and especially You Shook Me All Night Long – were great, but to my mind new singer Brian Johnson was a pale imitation of the great Scott. I still think he is. So I started 1980 mourning the death of a favourite singer. I’d end the year in mourning an even more favourite singer.

Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.mp3
Like Since You Been Gone, The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan was a cover version, in this case of Dr Hook and the Medicine Show’s original penned by Shel Silverstein. Marianne Faithfull’s version is beautifully arranged, and the melody is lovely, but it was, of course, that broken voice which raised the song to another level. At the time I hadn’t heard of Faithfull’s history with the Stones. When I did, I went off Mars chocolate bars for a bit. Faithfull insists that the story is an untruth spreads by the London narcs after they raided Keef’s Redlands mansion. The singer says she is far too prudish to do that. In her biography she wrote: “It’s a dirty old man’s fantasy… a cop’s idea of what people do on acid!” Anyway, at the age of 13, Faithfull seemed to me so ancient as probably being close to death’s door from natural causes (of course, her drug use might have killed her). She was only 33, four years younger than Lucy Jordan…

Kenny Rogers – Coward Of The County.mp3
I never bought the single, though the chorus was pretty catchy. But buying a country record? Not very likely. It’s a jaunty little number that rather cloaks the disturbing lyrics. You don’t get many pop hits about gang rape. And that’s what happens in the song to poor Becky at the hands of the ghastly Gatlin boys. Trouble is, Coward of the County’s dad was a bit of a troublemaker in his time and on his deathbed extracted from CotC an oath of rigorous pacifism, with Uncle Ken serving as a witness to the pledge. So what does a pacifist do when the Gatlin boys violate his girl? Ah, I shall not spoil the ending for you, but it does not involve a visit to the local police station followed by a judicial process. We are not told whether Coward ensured that Becky would receive appropriate counselling.

Georg Danzer – Zehn kleine Fixer.mp3
I was a year late with this one, but what a good song it is. Danzer was an Austrian singer-songwriter – or Liedermacher (song-maker), as they say in German – who had a good reputation for producing accessible songs with sophisticated, sometimes funny and often socially conscious lyrics. He died of lung cancer in 2007 at the age of 50, having been a heavy smoker for years. In Zehn kleiner Fixer he sings about “ten little junkies” who die one by one. His tone is sardonic: while he shows little compassion for the junkies, but blames the ills of society for their condition.

Here’s my clumsy translation of the lyrics:

Ten little junkies sat in a boat. Ocean Desperation, homeport Death.One of them jumped overboard and sank like a stone. “Shit” was his final word; then there were only nine.

Nine little junkies; among them were girls. One was just 13, couldn’t break free.Went out on the corner, froze to death, then there were only eight.

Eight little junkies, one just out of jail. Parole officer let him down, no money for rehab, parents written off; he saw no other way out, then there were only seven.

Seven little junkies were so fed up with their lonely desert in the high-rise ghetto. One, they say, suffocated on wine and biscuits and indifference; then there were only six.

Six little junkies, one ended it with a golden fixall on the station toilet. Some tramp who found him took his shoes and socks, then there were only five.

Five little junkies, left all on their own, had neither hope nor money. One walked into a bank and “asked” the cashier who didn’t hesitate; then there were only four.

Four little junkies sat in a boat. Ocean Desperation, homeport Death. One reported a dealer to the police; when he was released again there were only three.

Three little junkies on the final tour; among them they had just one more fix. Oh, the heroin ran out and they capsized the boat.
Love was never their home, and now they were all dead.

Ten little junkies were now gone. Clearance sale, urban garbage, just lowly filth. But how long do we want to sweep them under the carpet? One day, when they rise again, they will strike back.

The Nolan Sisters – I’m In The Mood For Dancing.mp3
Now here’s a record I most definitely didn’t buy. I didn’t particularly like or dislike the song it was a hymn to my indifference. And yet the song stuck in my head for years. It was one of those earworms I found myself inexplicably singing at random moments. That kind of song. Some 11 years after this was a hit, I met my future wife. One day she randomly sang I’m In The Mood For Dancing. Then, a while later, she did so again. As it turned out, we had a shared permanent earworm of the random-singing variety (I don’t know the technical Greco-Latin terms for the phenomenon, I’m afraid). I’d like to say that I knew at that point that we would grow old together, but there were other, much better clues which did not involve the Nolan Sisters. Truth be told, I quite like the song now, in as far as inoffensive pop music from that era goes.

Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers.mp3
Peter Gabriel – Spiel ohne Grenzen.mp3

This was my 100th single. Now, that doesn’t mean it was the 100th single I had ever owned or bought. But when I bought it, it was the 100th single in my possession. Before that I had frequently swapped singles with friends (who exploited me; I gave away some really good records. So after that, I stopped trading). Others I had discarded for being too embarrassing to own, such as my Bay City Rollers records. But when I bought Games Without Frontiers in March 1980, it was single #100, a milestone. Within a year I would almost stop buying singles in favour of albums (though I’d rediscover the joy of the single when I lived in London in the mid-’80s).

Games Without Frontiers refers to an game show that was popular throughout Europe at the time in which village teams representing different countries were pitched against one another in bizarre action games, usually dressed in silly costumes. In French the show was called Jeux sans Frontiers and in German Spiele ohne Grenzen (both mean Games Without Frontiers); in England it was It’s A Knock-Out. Gabriel re-recorded his entire 1980 album, which also included the anti-apartheid song Biko, entirely in German. Hence the second file: the German version of Games Without Frontiers.

Tim Curry – I Do The Rock.mp3
When I bought this, I was blissfully unaware of that overhyped cult twaddle that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Indeed, I remained so until the late ’80s. So when Tim Curry visited a restaurant in London where I worked as a waiter in 1985, my excitement was based on my love for I Do The Rock. The 80-year-old owner of the restaurant, an old Australian whom we had nicknamed Mr Magoo, was dining on Table 15 at the same time, and somebody advised him that a celebrity was at Table 8. Mr Magoo moseyed over, stood before Mr Curry and his lovely companion, stared at them for a bit while pushing his rolled-up tongue back and forth through his fleshy and disconcertingly moist lips, as he habitually did, and then blurted out in an accusatory manner: “So, you’re famous!” Mr Curry responded gracefully that he was an indeed an ac-tor. Thus informed, Mr Magoo grunted, turned and waddled back to Table 15 to complete his meal.

The song itself was one of thise that referenced the celebs of the day – from Solzhenitzin and Sadat to O.J. Simpson and Virginia Wade to Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Liza Minelli and Charlie’s Angels – and a few characters from the past, including Joe DiMaggio and former English cricket captain Colin Cowdrey. I Do The Rock also acquainted me with The Dakota as the New York residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a piece of information that would become relevant later in the year.

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More Stepping Back

A History of Country Vol. 12: 1969-71

September 22nd, 2011 14 comments

It was the age of the country songwriter, with people such as Harlan Howard (Heartaches By The Number), Hank Cochran (I Fall To Pieces), Roger Miller (Billy Bayou), Willie Nelson (Crazy), Mel Tillis (Detroit City), Tom T Hall (Harper Valley PTA) and the Bryants (Love Hurts) creating many classics. Some of them would become stars in their own right. None maybe more so than Kris Kristofferson, a man whose early biography reads like a far-fetched penny novel. Many of the songs he is known for were first recorded by others, sometimes several times. With the arguable exception of Me And Bobby McGee, Kristofferson eclipsed them all. One need just compare the Kristofferson version of For The Good Time with the song’s first incarnation as Ray Price’s hit. Read more…

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Covered with Soul Vol. 8

September 15th, 2011 5 comments

This is Volume 8 of Covered With Soul, and there is no end in sight (unless a lack of comments suggests there should be). Check out the re-interpretation of Wichita Lineman, Be My Baby, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Fever, Sunshine Superman and Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.

Perhaps the most radically reworked cover here is David Porter’s take on that old crooners’ favourite All The Way. It’s not how Sinatra sang it (he certainly had no harp in his version). But my favourite cover here might be Esther Phillips’ of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again Naturally. David Porter is, of course, better known as a songwriter. With Isaac Hayes he wrote such soul classics as Sam & Dave’s golden trinity of Soul Man, Hold On I’m Coming and When Something’s Wrong With My Baby, and Carla Thomas’ B-A-B-Y. He released four albums between 1970-73; All The Way appeared on the last of them.

The version of Wichita Lineman on this mix is particularly impressive in light of the age of the performers. Sunday’s Child were a trio of teenage girls who had been influenced by the Jackson 5. Mentored by Sammy Davis Jr, they released only one album, in 1970, which unjustifiably flopped. The youngest of the Portland trio went on to have some success. Renn Woods, then 13, recorded a few unsuccessful solo records, but had a long career in acting, most notably appearing in Hair (she sang Aquarius in the film) and as Fanta (the girl Kunta Kinte meets in Africa before his capture) in the TV series Roots. Also a one-off album released in 1970 is that of Hearts Of Stone – John Myers, Lindsey Griffin, Floyd Lawson, and Carl Cutler – who recorded on the Motown subsidiary VIP.

Still on 1970, Sharon Cash’s debut album, He Loves Within My Soul, is full of cover versions. Fever is the best of them; in fact, it’s as good as any cover of it this side of Peggy Lee’s. Cash released another album in 1973 before joining The Honey Cone in 1976.

The Ambassadors – another one-album outfit – were pioneers of Philly Soul by way of being among the earlier acts produced by Gamble-Huff. The CD re-release of the 1969 Soul Summit album includes a couple of live tracks which suggest The Ambassadors were great on stage.

The blurb on Lou Bond’s eponymous 1974 album suggests that the singer “is not to be categorized. He is like no other artist in the business. Past or present”. He certainly had an eclectic thing going on, rooted in soul and infused by folk and the great crooners. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On social consciousness vibe surely was an influence as well. Recording on Stax, there are echoes of labelmate Isaac Hayes in Bond’s music: four of the LP’s six songs are longer than six minutes. Unlike Ike’s albums, there is only one cover, the Carly Simon song featured here.

No doubt Al Jarreau felt validated in his vocal style by Lou Bond. The Milwaukee native signed his first recording contract, with Reprise, a year after Bond’s album was released. Jarreau had no plans to become a singer; having studied psychology, he was a rehabilitation counsellor. He was persuaded to take to the stage by friends who had heard him sing at private parties.

Finally, Kellee Patterson was a beauty queen before she became a soul recording artist (signing to a jazz label!). Coming from the Jackson’s hometown of Gary, she was the first black Miss Indiana. As a child, she had competed in talent contests, often on the same bill as the Jackson 5. By 16, she recorded the first of four LPs. Her version of You Are So Beautiful comes from the second album, titled Kellee (from which we might hear more yet in this series), after which she turned to disco, with some success. She is still performing today.

TRACKLISTING
1. Labelle – Won’t Get Fooled Again (1972)
2. Martha Reeves – Wild Night (1974)
3. Sunday’s Child – Wichita Lineman (1970)
4. Merry Clayton – Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (1975)
5. Margie Joseph – My Love (1974)
6. Hearts Of Stone – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1970)
7. Maxine Weldon – Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (1971)
8. Chairmen Of The Board – Only Love Can Break A Heart (1974)
9. James Brown – Spinning Wheel Part 1 (1971)
10. Sharon Cash – Fever (1970)
11. Melba Moore – Sunshine Superman (1975)
12. Marsha Hunt – Long Black Veil (1971)
13. Cissy Houston – Be My Baby (1969)
14. The Ambassadors – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (1971)
15. Diana Ross – Something (1971)
16. David Porter – All The Way (1973)
17. Esther Phillips – Alone Again (Naturally) (1972)
18. The Sweet Inspirations – Let It Be Me (1967)
19. Lou Bond – That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be (1974)
20. Al Jarreau – Fire and Rain (1976)
21. Kellee Patterson – You Are So Beautiful (1975)

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Intros Quiz – 1981 edition

September 8th, 2011 6 comments

We continue on our five-yearly cycle of intros quizzes, revisiting 30 years ago: 1981.

It was the year of failed assassination attempts on Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, and a successful one on Anwar Sadat. The word “Internet” was first used and Microsoft introduced MS-DOS. Prince Charles married Diana Spencer and they lived happily ever after. In Poland, the Solidarity trade union took on the might of the communist state. In Northern Ireland the IRA’s Bobby Sand died while on hunger strike, while in London, Liverpool and Manchester riots broke out. Scientists discovered the AIDS virus. And – here’s one to make those of us who remember 1981 well feel really old – Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were born.

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 (and if you think #17 sounds more than a lot like the intro to Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark, you are not the only one). The answers will be posted in the comments section by Monday (so please don’t post your answers). If the pesky number 15 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 – 1981 edition

By the way, seeing as we are having a cover of Smash Hits from July 1981 in this post (yes, Depeche Mode once were young), I must mention the great work Brian McCloskey – a pale skinny Irish transvestite with great hair, apparently – is doing on his Like Punk Never Happened blog. The great man is meticulously scanning every page of successive editions of the great UK music magazine, and publishes them on his blog on the 30th anniversary of publication, so that you and I can go on a nostalgia trip. It’s one of the great things about the Internet (now, if only someone would do the same with Germany’s Bravo magazines from the 1970s!)

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In Memoriam – August 2011

September 5th, 2011 6 comments

The two most notable deaths in August happened on the same day: the 22nd. I’ve already paid tribute to Nick Ashford (HERE); on the same day that great songwriter passed away, Jerry Leiber died. I don’t think it’s necessary to go into detail about the Leiber & Stoller story other than to say that they had a crucial impact on the development of rock & roll. Leiber was the lyricist, and as such got Elvis Presley to sing the great line in Jailhouse Rock: “Number 47 said to number 3,’You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see. I
sure would be delighted with your company, come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me.'”

Billy Grammer died at 85. Fans of The Originals will appreciate the song in this mix: Grammer’s I Wanna Go Home later became a hit for Bobby Bare as Detroit City. Grammer played at the rally during which the racist Alabama governor and presidential hopeful George Wallace was shot. Grammer apparently wept after the incident, suggesting that his views on race relations were less than entirely endearing.

Akiko Futaba, one of Japan’s most popular singers, had a lucky break in utter tragedy on 6 August 1945. Just as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the train she was travelling in entered a tunnel. The singer, who had started recording in 1936, lived to the age of 96.

In May, we lost Bob Flanigan of the pioneering vocal group The Four Freshmen; this month the last surviving member of the original line-up, Ross Barbour, died at the age of 82. Through many changes in the line-up, Flanigan and Barbour remained Freshmen until the latter’s retirement in 1977.

I don’t often include recored executives in the In Memoriam series, but there are two this month who qualfy. Rich Fitzgerald, who has died at 64, had a massive influence on pop music. In the 1970s he worked for RSO, with whom he helped spearheaded the massively-selling Saturday Night Fever and Grease soundtracks (and, later, that of Fame). After RSO, he ended up via a handful of record companies as vice-chairman of Warner Bros. Along the way, he helped give artists such as The Pretenders, Prince, Madonna and Green Day achieve their breakthrough.

Frank DiLeo was a executive at Epic Records where he nurtured the careers of acts like Meat Loaf, Luther Vandross, Gloria Estefan, Cyndi Lauper, REO Speedwagon and Quiet Riot, as well as the US success of The Clash and Culture Club. He was twice Michael Jackson’s manager, in the late 1980s and at the time of Jackson’s death. And he played Tuddy Cicero in GoodFellas, impressing as Paulie’s brother who executes Joe Pesci’s obnoxious Tommy character. He also appeared in Wayne’s World.

Finally, it’s not at all usual to include non-musicians on account of their being the subject of a song. But in the case of William ‘Stetson’ Kennedy I must make an exception. The human rights activist’s infiltration of the Ku Klax Klan helped bring down the racist organisation and made it his mission to expose racists. Woody Guthrie wrote a song named after Kennedy.

Trudy Stamper, 94, Grand Ole Opry artist relations manager and first female presenter on US radio, on July 30
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Grand Ole Opry Song (1972)
Grand Ole Opry Intro (Prince Albert Theme) (1940)

DeLois Barrett Campbell, 85, singer with gospel group The Barrett Sisters, on August 2

Andrew McDermott, 45, singer of English metal group Threshold, on August 3

Conrad Schnitzler, 74, German musician (Tangerine Dream, Kluster), on August 4

Marshall Grant, 83, country bassist (in the Tennessee Two/Three with Johnny Cash) and manager (Cash, Statler Brothers), on August 6
Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two – Cry Cry Cry (1955)
Leo Mattioli, 39, Argentine cumbia singer, on August 7
Leo Mattioli – Despues de ti (2006)

Joe Yamanaka, 64, Japanese rock singer, on August 7
Joe Yamanaka – Mama Do You Remember

Billy Grammer, 85, country singer-songwriter and guitarist, on August 10
Billy Grammer – I Wanna Go Home (1963)

Jani Lane (born John Kennedy Oswald), 47, frontman of US glam-metal band Warrant, on August 11
Warrant – Cherry Pie (1990)

Richard Turner, 27, British jazz trumpeter (Round House), on August 11
Rich Fitzgerald, 64, record executive, on August 15
Frankie Valli – Grease (1978)

Akiko Futaba, 96, Japanese singer, on August 16

Kampane, 33, New York rapper, murdered on August 16

Ross Barbour, 82, last original member of barbershop band The Four Freshmen,
The Four Freshmen – It Happened Once Before (1953), on August 20
Jerry Leiber, 78, legendary songwriter and producer, on August 22
Elvis Presley – I Want To Be Free (1957, as lyricist)
The Clovers – Love Potion Number 9 (1959, as lyricist and co-producer)
The Exciters – Tell Him (1962, as co-producer)
Donald Fagen – Ruby Baby (1982, as lyricist)

Nickolas Ashford, 70, soul singer, songwriter and producer as Ashford & Simpson, on August 22
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – You’re All I Need To Get By (1968, as songwriter)
Ashford & Simpson – Street Corner (1982)

Glen Croker, 77, singer and lead guitarist of honky tonk band The Hackberry Ramblers (joined in 1959), on August 23

Cephas Mashakada, 51, Zimbabwean sungura musician, on August 23
Esther Gordy Edwards, 91, Motown executive who lent brother Berry Gordy the money to start Motown, and founder of the Hitsville USA museum, on August 24
Rod Stewart – The Motown Song (1990)

Frank DiLeo, 63, music executive, ex-manager of Michael Jackson and actor (GoodFellas, Wayne’s World), on August 24

Laurie McAllister, 53, bassist in The Runaways (post-1978) and founder of The Orchids, on August 25

Liz Meyer, 59, US-born and Netherlands-based blugrass singer, on August 26

William Stetson Kennedy, 94, author who helped bring down the KKK and subject of a Woody Guthrie song, on August 27
Billy Bragg & Wilco – Stetson Kennedy (2000)
Johnny Giosa, 42, drummer of hard rock band BulletBoys, on August 28
BulletBoys – For The Love Of Money (1988)

George Green, 59, songwriter (especially with John Cougar Mellencamp), on August 28
John Cougar – Hurts So Good (1982, as co-writer)

David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, 96, Delta blues guitarist and singer, on August 29
David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards – West Helena Blues (1988)

Alla Bayanova, 97, Russian singer, on August 30
Alla Bayanova – Wolga
Alla Bayanova – Romance Ya ehala domo

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