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TV Themes: The Partridge Family

June 28th, 2012 24 comments

Forty years ago, it was one of the biggest TV shows in the world. Today The Partridge Family has a rather unfortunate and, I might add, unjustified reputation as tacky TV, but back then teenage girls swooned over the handsome David Cassidy, teenage boys looked in to perv at Susan Dey (and no doubt were delighted when the actress did a nude scene in the now forgotten 1978 film First Love), the moms could identify with mother Partridge Shirley Jones, of whom the dads surely approved as well, and little kids like myself followed with anticipation the adventures of Danny.

One would hesitate to call The Partridge Family a revolutionary show. To begin with, its concept borrowed from The Monkees; though, unlike that series, it was inspired by the real-life story of a family band called The Cowsills, who were still performing when The Partridge Family was at its peak.

But The Partridge Family occasionally captured and reflected a new Zeitgeist; it did so from the start, with its premise of (unexplained) single motherhood. In its first season, the show dealt with sexism (a bit clumsily but with good intentions). Better yet, in an episode starring Richard Pryor and Louis Gosset Jr as Detroit club owners who, due to a management mix-up, got the Partridge Family instead of The Temptations, the Black Panthers (though they are not called that) are portrayed sympathetically, with their local leaders inducting Danny as an honorary member. You almost expected Mom Partridge and Angela Davis to swap recipes.

There was some fine farce as well, for example the farce when, after a bureaucratic error, ten-year-old Danny is drafted into the army. Make no mistake, little Danny Bonaduce had excellent comedy timing.

Danny becomes an honorary Black Panther (though they are not called that) as Richard Pryor and Louis Gossett Jr look on

The show is now, inevitably, dated. But even now, watching it as an adult, it is still entertaining, mildly amusing and quite charming. There is also great fun in spotting the occasional celebrities and future stars making cameos. In the first episode, Johnny Cash introduces the Partridge Family on his show. At different times, three future Charlie’s Angels (Smith, Facett and Ladd) make an appearance. Others include a young Jodie Foster, Mark Hamill, Jackie Coogan, Slim Pickens and Dick Clark. Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz, played the Partridge kids’ grandfather.

The show’s music is usually disregarded as disposable TV pop. Indeed, if one already treated, say, the Carpenters with suspicion, then one would not give The Partridge Family, with a kid drummer and ginger Danny on bass, a fair shot. And that is unfortunate, because often the music was of fine standard.

Obviously, the drums were played by neither incarnation of little Chris (in the first season played by dark-haired, fright-eyed Jeremy Gelbwaks, thereafter by blond and blue-eyed Brian Forster), and Danny couldn’t play a note, as actor Bonaduce has cheerfully acknowledged. The songs were in fact recorded by the famous Wrecking Crew, the collective of elite studio musicians who, in various combinations, backed everybody from Nancy Sinatra to the Carpenters and the Mamas & the Papas to Simon & Garfunkel and many Phil Spector productions. Wrecking Crew members also appeared on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the uncompleted Smile albums.

The Wrecking Crew accompanied David Cassidy’s fine vocals and his real-life stepmother Shirley Jones’ harmonies (with the Dave Hicklin Singers) beautifully. And the songs, especially by 1971’s Season 2, were often outstanding, some in the style one would soon associate with Elton John. The album of that series, Sound Magazine, is excellent throughout, and should be regarded as a pop classic of the early 1970s.

The songs were produced by the man who wrote most of them, Wes Farrell. As a producer, Farrell ranks among the great hitmakers; he also won an Oscar for the score of the film Midnight Cowboy.

Farrell wrote the long-running theme of The Partridge Family, C’Mon Get Happy, which replaced the original theme. We have the theme from the pilot (ripped from video), as well as the wah-wah dominated opening sequence of the pilot, during which mother Partridge is driving that funky bus through Hollywood, leading up to Johnny Cash introducing the family band on his show.

Partridge Family – Opening sequence of pilot episode (1970).mp3
Partridge Family – Having A Ball (1970, theme of the Pilot Episode).mp3
The Partridge Family – C’mon Get Happy (1970)
The Partridge Family – I Think I Love You (1970)
The Partridge Family – Brown Eyes (1971)
The Partridge Family – Summer Days (1971)

Luke Skywalker and Laurie Partridge ponder the identity of their respective fathers.

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Great Covers: Tapestry (1971)

June 21st, 2012 10 comments

It is one of the defining LPs of the early 1970s, and for me one of the go-to albums, perhaps the go-to album, if I do not know what else to play.

By the time Carole King released Tapestry she already was a veteran in the music business, having been a teenage songwriter for Aldon Music at 1650 Broadway (and the subject of Neil Sedaka’s hit Oh Carol; she responded with an answer record titled Oh Neil). She was 18 when she had her first #1 as a songwriter, with The Shirelles’ version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow in 1961. In the ten years between that and the release of Tapestry she had a prolific songwriting career, but as a recording artist she had only a minor hit with It Might As Well Rain Till September. Her uneven 1970 debut album, Writer, was a commercial disappointment; it has many bright spots, but cannot nearly compare with the sublime perfection of Tapestry.

So when Tapestry became a critical triumph and a mammoth hit after its release in February 1971, topping the US album charts for 15 weeks, it was something of a surprise.

Jim McCrary in 1978

The cover photo was taken by Jim McCrary – who died on April 29 – in the living room of her house at 8815 Appian Way in Laurel Canyon (McCrary’s website says it was at Wonderland Avenue; he also took the photo of the cover for Music, the location of which he identified as being on Appian Way). At first sight it is an unremarkable shot. A woman in her late 20s sits on a windowsill. The photo is in soft focus. And yet, the image is compelling. Viewing it feels like an intrusion into an intimate moment, a woman feeling at peace in her domain. Her bare feet suggest that we are not really invited into this domestic scene; if we came knocking at her door, she might put on footwear and her serene body language might change. And the cat would scram and hide.

The feline, who went by the name of Telemachus, was not there by accident, as it would appear. It may spoil the enjoyment of the cover a little to know that the tabby was a spontaneously employed prop. McCrary later recalled seeing Telemachus sleeping on his pillow across the room. Recalling a Kodak survey which revealed that after children, cats were the most popular photo subject, he asked King whether he could use the cat in a photo. “I saw a cat, and I wanted to get something good,” he remembered. Having ascertained that the cat was tame, he carried Telemachus on his pillow to the window ledge. He managed to take three photos before the cat, no doubt annoyed at having been awoken, had enough and made tracks. But McCrary had the perfect shot: the barefoot Carole with sunlight filtering upon her, holding a tapestry that she was busy creating, and her cat sitting in front of her, as if guarding the singer.

A remastered version of Tapestry was re-released in 2008 with a bonus CD featuring all but one of the tracks of the album in live versions, recorded between 1973 and 1976. It is highly recommended. The back-cover of it (pictured above) features another photo from the McCrary session. For more photos of Carole King and others by the late Jim McCreary see www.jimmccrary.com.

Here’s a mix of cover versions of the songs of Tapestry, with an appearance by Carole King from that bonus CD, in their original tracklisting order. Given my bias for soul covers, many of them are of that genre. Most were recorded soon after the release of Tapestry. One of the exceptions is the cover of Way Over Yonder by David Roe, a  New Orleans street musician (see royalrounders.com). Fans of The Originals will be interested in Kate Taylor’s version of Home Again, which was released shortly before Tapestry came out. Finally, the vocals on the Quincy Jones version of Smackwater Jack are by, unusually, Quincy himself.

TRACKLISTING
1. Carole King – I Feel The Earth Move (live) (1973)
2. Marlena Shaw – So Far Away (1972)
3. Mike James Kirkland – It’s Too Late (1972)
4. Kate Taylor – Home Again (1971)
5. Barbra Streisand – Beautiful (1971)
6. David Roe – Way Over Yonder (2004)
7. Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – You’ve Got A Friend (1972)
8. Faith Hill – Where You Lead (1995)
9. Zulema – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (1972)
10. Quincy Jones – Smackwater Jack (1971)
11. Jackie & Roy – Tapestry (1972)
12. Laura Nyro & Labelle – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Live) (1971)
BONUS TRACK: The Isley Brothers – It’s Too Late (1972)

GET IT!

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Categories: Album cover art, Covers Mixes, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Step back to 1981 – Part 1

June 14th, 2012 7 comments

For me the first few months of 1981 was dominated by Beatles, John Lennon, more Beatles, more Lennon, more Beatles, a bit of other solo Beatles and more Lennon, and a touch of Bruce Springsteen. Of course, Lennon had just been murdered, and if I was a bit of a Beatles fan with quite a few albums before that, I now bought all the British and US releases, plus all Lennon solo albums, including the Wedding Album with all the paraphernalia. Many of them were Japanese pressings. Over the years my collection became decimated by theft. The Wedding Album and Two Virgins are gone, as are all US releases (except Something New), and the Magical Mystery Tour gatefold with booklet…

 

John Lennon – Watching The Wheels.mp3
The songs that dominated the airwaves were Woman and Imagine. The latter has become so ubiquitous that it now is timeless; the former was so overplayed, I am still sick of it. Watching The Wheels , on the other hand, still takes me back to early 1981. It was quite sad: John Lennon, the professional troubled soul, had finally found contentment – and then the revolting Mark Chapman murdered him. I think Watching The Wheels is a little underrated in the Lennon canon; perhaps it’s not a classic, but it’s a very good song, the kind that makes one wonder what sort of music Lennon might have churned out had he lived. My guess is that by 1988 everybody would have been thoroughly sick of him until his comeback, appearing on stage with Oasis at the Reading Festival, rehabilitated his reputation with cover features in Q and Rolling Stone, and a big appearance at the Grammys, duetting with Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt and Seal, followed by – oh, classic TV moment – a bluesy medley Beatles and Stones hits with Mick & Keef.

Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind.mp3
I had been aware of Bruce Springsteen, of course, but I had not really listened to his music. In February 1981 I heard Hungry Heart on the radio, and on strength of that I bought The River, which had been released in October 1980. It helped that Springsteen looked very cool, much like Al Pacino, on the cover. I was hooked with the first song of the first side, The Ties That Bind. In fact, the first two sides of the double album, so upbeat and joyous, were enough for me. I almost never listened to the other two sides; in fact, even as I love Point Blank and Drive All Night, some of the songs remain unknown to me even now. And I cannot abide by Cadillac Ranch. Above all, the album reminds me of being half-blinded for several hours after the optician shone a bright light into my eyes, just after I had bought the record. Coming home, I had to unwrap the record and place it on the turntable mostly by touch.

The Look – I Am The Beat.mp3
I might have been on a massive Beatles and Springsteen trip, but I still loved the British post-punk stuff. I Am The Beat was one of the very few singles I bought in 1981 – indeed, I’m struggling to think of any non-Beatles related singles I bought that year, though I’m sure there must some. But by then I was very much an LP-buying teenager of 14-going-on-15. The singer of The Look, Johnny Whetstone, had a strange accent: “I’m in demond”! It was the band’s only hit, reaching #6 in the UK in February 1981, and by 1983 The Look broke up. Apparently they reformed a few years ago and released an album titled Pop Yowlin’ which got some good reviews.

Kim Wilde – Kids in America.mp3
Half a year earlier I would have loved Kids In America. I would have bought the single, and put up a poster of the lovely Ms Wilde. But with my Beatles/Lennon and Springsteen obsession I had very limited time for anything else. I heard Kids In America on the radio and saw Kim Wilde perform it on TV, but against Revolver and the White Album, or indeed The River, it was aural wallpaper. The good news was that my classmate Stefan, who had been a great Beatles fan, became so obsessed with Kim Wilde and the burgeoning Neue Deutsche Welle genre that he offloaded his excellent collection of Beatles posters and newspaper cuttings to me. And for that I have to thank Ms Wilde and the next act.

Ideal – Blaue Augen.mp3
Before 1980, German popular music consisted of the Schlager genre, which was becoming increasingly novelty-based when it didn’t exceed previous levels of banality; the Liedermacher (singer-songwriter) genre of angry lefty-wingers and non-conformists; and a clutch of individualists such as anti-establishment rocker Udo Lindenberg, who had long hair and a cultivated impertinence, former actor Marius Müller-Westernhagen, who specialised in mostly sneering lyrics for beer drinkers in leather jackets, and a few punk outfits such the Zeltinger Band. All that changed in the early 1980s with the emergence of the Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW, meaning New German Wave).

Until 1981 NDW was an underground phenomenon, led by groups like Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF) and Mittagspause. It was not  so much a musical genre as a label for post-punk and New Wave bands. In early 1981, NDW exploded into the mainstream, and Berlin-based band Ideal’s Blaue Augen, more post-punk than New Wave, was one of the pivots. Quite incredibly, Ideal had made their breakthrough as a support act at a Berlin open-air gig for prog-rockers Barclay James Harvest. Even more incredibly, and I hadn’t known this until I looked it up for this piece, it took until 1982 for Blaue Augen, first released on LP in November 1980 and as a single in early 1981, to become a hit.

Visage – Mind Of A Toy.mp3
At around the same time, the New Romantic thing was starting to get traction. It had been brewing for a while, with Gary Numan as a spearhead, but now the Bowie-influenced synth-based pop music was becoming quite ubiquitous, with Ultravox, the Human League and Duran Duran breaking through. Visage were heralds of the movement, first with their hit Fade To Grey, which was quickly followed up with Mind Of A Toy. The brilliant video for the latter was directed by Godley & Creme. Visage was fronted by eccentric nightclub owner Steve Strange, but the lead vocals on Mind Of A Toy are by Ultravox’s Midge Ure, with Ultravox’s Billy Currie on keyboards, and Rusty Egan on drums.

Yoko Ono – Walking On Thin Ice.mp3
Walking On Thin Ice was the song John Lennon and Yoko Ono were working on that 8 December, before Chapman shot Lennon dead outside the Dakota, apparently while John was holding the master tape of the song. It is easily Ono’s best song, a disco number with a new wave sensibility (or vice versa).  Lennon played the lead guitar on the song. I bought the single as an act of loyalty to Lennon, and quite liked it. Not everybody did, it seems. Despite widespread sympathy for Ono just a couple of months after the murder, the single stalled at #58 in the US and at #35 in Britain. Presumably Yoko’s monkey-like chants put off the average record buyer; in this context I quite like it (and, as I’ve stated before, I don’t bow to the musical genius of Yoko Ono).  Later remixes by the Pet Shop Boys and others managed to revive the song on the dancefloors.

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In Memoriam – May 2012

June 5th, 2012 4 comments

The Grim Reaper wreaked havoc in May. Robin Gibb, Donna Summer and Adam Yauch were the headliners, but there were also members of The Dillards and Crowded House who left us. Two blues and soul guitarists died: Charles Pitts, who played on so many of Isaac Hayes’ records (his guitar helped make The Theme of Shaft such an iconic track) and Pete Cosey, who played on many Chess records.

In April we lost Andrew Love, who was involved in creating the iconic intro for Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness. In May we lost another co-creator of a famous Otis intro: Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, who died at 70, provided the driving bass of I Can’t Turn You Loose. Fans of the Blues Brothers will know that intro; it’s played during the long introduction of the band as Jake and Elroy are trying to make to the stage. And on that stage was Donald “Duck” Dunn, the bassist with the white Afro and beard, appearing as himself. Check out the man’s discography.

We also lost Doc Watson, who did much to revive and keep alive the flame of traditional country and bluegrass at a time when the genre was tending towards the glossy pop sound.

First on the list this month is Jim McCrary, one of the rare non-musicians who warrant inclusion in this series. His contribution resides in album covers and rock photography. His LP cover portfolio includes Carole King’s Tapestry (and album cover which I will deal with in a couple of week’s time), the Carpenters’ Offering and Now And Then, The Flying Burrito Brothers’ Burrito Deluxe and The Flying Burrito Bros, and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs And Englishmen. He also took the famous series of photos of Gram Parson in the Nudie suit.

I had never heard of Masud Sadiki before, hut was saddened to hear of another young singer who saw no way out of depression but by committing suicide. The reggae singer from St Kitts leaves a wife and two young children, compounding the tragedy.  Two other mostly unknown musicians are included because they were killed in a shooting in a bar in which they frequently played, alongside three others.

Jim McCrary, 72, photographer of more than 300 LP covers, on April 29
Carole King – So Far Away (1971, live)

Charles Pitts, 65, soul guitarist for Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes a.o., on May 1
The Isley Brothers – It’s Your Thing (1969)
Isaac Hayes – Theme from Shaft (1973, live at Wattstax)

Lary Donn, 70, rockabilly singer, on May 1
Larry Donn – I’ll Never Forget You (1963)

Lloyd Brevett, 80, double bassist  of The Skatalites, on May 3
The Skatalites – Confucius (1966)

Edith Bliss, 52, Australian pop singer and TV presenter, on May 3

Bobby Thomas, 70, singer with the Vibranaires, Vibes, V-Eights and Orioles, on May 3

Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, 47, rapper with the Beastie Boys, on May 4
Beastie Boys – Pass The Mic (1992)
Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out (2004)

Mort Lindsey, 89, orchestra leader, pianist, composer and musical director, on May 4

Jose ‘Tonico’ Perez, 95, member of Brazilian duo Tonico e Tinoco, on May 5
Tonico e Tinoco – Chico Mineiro

‘Sweet Joe’ Russell, 72, singer with a capella group The Persuasions, on May 6
The Persuasions – The Whole World Is A Stage (1970)

Michael Burks, 54, blues and soul guitarist, singer and composer, on May 6
Michael Burks – Make It Rain (2001)

Ernest Warren, 78, doo wop tenor with The Spaniels, on May 7
The Spaniels – Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite (1954)

Everett Lilly, 87, half of bluegrass duo The Lilly Brothers, on May 8
The Lilly Brothers & Don Stover – Sinner, You’d Better Get Ready (1962)

Clive Welham, British drummer and early bandmate of Syd Barrett and Dave Gilmore, on May 9

Celso Chavez, 44, guitarist of alternative rock band Possum Dixon, on May 9

Bernardo Sassetti, 41, Portuguese jazz pianist and film composer, on May 10

Donald  ‘Duck’ Dunn, 70, bass guitarist on Stax, and with The Blues Brothers and Booker T. & the M.G.’s, on May 13
Otis Redding – I Can’t Turn You Loose (1965)
The Blues Brothers – She Caught The Katy (1980)
Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (1981)

Belita Woods, 63, soul singer, on May 14
Belita Woods – That’s When I’ll Stop Loving You (1970)

Doug Dillard, 75, bluegrass & country musician with The Dillards and Dillard & Clark, on May 16
The Dillards – Lemon Chimes (1965)
Dillard & Clark – Train Leaves Here This Mornin’ (1968)

Chuck Brown, 75, funk singer and musician, on May 16
Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers – Bustin’ Loose (1978)

Donna Summer, 63, disco and pop singer, on May 17
Donna Summer – Last Dance (1978)
Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer – No More Tears (Single Version, 1979)

Peter Jones, 45, drummer of Crowded House (1995-97), on May 18
Crowded House – Sister Madly (live, 1997)

Robin Gibb, 62, member of Bee Gees, on May 20
Bee Gees – Marley Purt Drive (1969)
Robin Gibb – Gone Gone Gone (1970)
Robin Gibb – Another Lonely Night In New York (1983)

Robert Nix, 67, drummer of the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Classics IV, on May 20
Atlanta Rhythm Section – So Into You (1976)

Carrie Smith, 70, blues and jazz singer, on May 20
Carrie Smith – Some Rainy Day (1983)

Eddie Blazonczyk Sr, 71, polka musician and founder of The Versatones, on May 21

Masud Sadiki, 37, reggae and calypso singer from St Kitts & Neves, suicide on May 21

Kuly Ral, 35, member of English-Asian group RDB, on May 23

Roy Wilson, 72, member of Jamaican duo Higgs and Wilson, on May 26.

Doc Watson, 89, bluegrass and folk musician, on May 29
Doc Watson – Talk About Suffering (1964)

Pete Cosey, 68, guitarist for Muddy Waters, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock a.o., on May 30
Muddy Waters – Tom Cat (1968)

Joe “Meshuguna Joe “ Albanese and Drew ‘Shmootzi the Clod ‘ Keriakedes, members of Seattle folk group God’s Favourite Breakfast, shot dead on May 3

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