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Any Major Chuck Berry Covers

March 23rd, 2017 24 comments

Rock ‘n’ roll was invented when Marty McFly’s 1980s guitar solo of Johnny B Goode compels Marvin Berry to phone his cousin Chuck for inspiration for the new sound the latter was seeking. The obituaries for Chuck Berry noted his huge contribution to the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. Along with Ike Turner — another nasty individual who, like Berry, is best remembered only for his music — Chuck Berry is often cited as Exhibit A in the claim that rock ‘n’ roll is the white man having stolen the music of the black man.

The argument has merit in some ways — the many hit cover versions by white artists of tracks first recorded by black artists or the exploitation of black musicians by record companies in the ’50s being cases in point. But it doesn’t hold true for the development of rock ‘n’ roll as a musical genre, which from the start was subject to a broad sweep of influences and served as a broad church of musical styles.

And that finds concrete expression in Chuck Berry’s debut hit Maybelline, the record some regard as the birth of rock ‘n’ roll as a thing. And in a way it was: Maybelline was the first rock ‘n’ roll record performed by a black musician to break into the Billboard Top 10. Berry himself said that he had based Maybellene on country legend Bob Wills’ vocal version of the traditional fiddle number Ida Red, recorded in 1938. The foundation of Maybelline was country, but the building was rhythm and blues. In varying formulas, that was the architecture of rock ‘n’ roll. Of course, Wills’ Western Swing sound was itself a fusion — the white music we now call country incorporating black musical forms — which led Wills to claim that he did rock ‘n’ roll two decades before anyone, but that’s another story.

The idea that rock ‘n’ roll started as a “big bang”, ascribable to individuals, or a select groups of individuals, or even a particular point in time, is absurd. The genre, which itself is so diffuse, was the result of a relatively slow evolution. Music that sounded like rock ‘n’ roll was already made more than a decade before Maybelline or Rocket 88. Just listen to Buddy Jones’ Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama from 1939 on A History of Country Vol. 3: Pre-war years – 1937-41.

My proposition is that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t so much a musical genre than a social movement. And for that a series of big, small and tiny bangs were needed. Chuck Berry being the first black R&B musician to cross over into the Billboard charts was one such seismic moment. Rock Around The Clock and The Blackboard Jungle, Tutti Frutti, Elvis on Ed Sullivan, perhaps even the death of James Dean were others.

Chuck Berry, influencing some white kid in England…or Hill Valley.

So Chuck Berry of course does occupy a central place in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. And other than Elvis, a good case can be made that Berry most influenced the post-war kids who would lead the British invasion in the 1960s — though he was by no means the only one, so the equation that without Berry there’d have been no Beatles or Stones is poor arithmetic.

Unlike Elvis, Berry wrote his own songs, and this is the subject of this mix: 26 covers of tracks written by Chuck Berry between 1954 and 1970 (the mix is a result of me taking the bait from regular reader and radio presenter Martin). What is striking is how few black artists covered Chuck Berry. On this mix I count three. Three other shortlisted covers by black artists — Wilson Picket, Robert Cray and Aaron Neville — didn’t make the cut. Similarly, very few women covered Berry (which the old misogynist might have been pleased about). Which raises the question: Is Chuck Berry music the soundtrack of white maleness? Answers on a postcard, please.

Of my joint-favourite Berry songs, one is covered as one would expect it and as it has to be by the Beach Boys. The other, however, sounds nothing like the original. Taj Mahal does interesting things to Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, though I still prefer the original. I never had much of an opinion either way of Too Much Monkey Business, but Leon Russell’s version here is exquisite — one of the few instances where the cover of a Chuck Berry song is much better than the original.

My choice for the cover of Memphis, Tennessee was obvious — even if I still like Johnny Rivers’ take the best — and there was only ever one choice for Rock And Roll Music. I expect that here and there somebody will regret that I left out some song or other (I’m adding on four bonus tracks that very narrowly didn’t make it on to the CD-R), but one song that I was not going to leave out was the b-side for Maybelline, covered here by Trini Lopez — on the title of which Chuck is declaring his future intent.

Alas, I found no suitable cover of a Chuck Berry song by his lyrical heir, Bruce Springsteen. But I can recommend that, if you are Springsteen fan, you join in the fun with the crowd in Leipzig, Germany, in 2013 on You Can Never Tell, the Berry song that seems to have been written for Springsteen and his E Street Band.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-duckwalked covers. PW in comments.

1. Electric Light Orchestra – Roll Over Beethoven (1972)
2. The Beatles – Rock And Roll Music (1964)
3. The Rolling Stones – Come On (1963)
4. Elvis Presley – Memphis, Tennessee (1963)
5. Trini Lopez – Wee Wee Hours (1965)
6. Marty Robbins – Maybelline (1955)
7. Ernest Tubb – Thirty Days (To Come Back Home) (1955)
8. Linda Ronstadt – Back In The USA (1978)
9. Emmylou Harris – (You Can Never Tell) C’est La Vie (1977)
10. George Thorogood & The Destroyers – You Can’t Catch Me (1988)
11. Dave Edmunds – Dear Dad (1982)
12. The Animals – Around And Around (1964)
13. The Troggs – The Jaguar And The Thunderbird (1966)
14. The Beach Boys – School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell) (1980)
15. Slade – I’m A Rocker (1981)
16. Status Quo – Carol (1981)
17. Rod Stewart – Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller (1974)
18. David Bowie – Almost Grown (1972)
19. Juicy Lucy – Nadine (1969)
20. Humble Pie – No Money Down (1974)
21. Taj Mahal – Brown-Eyed Handsome Man (1975)
22. Leon Russell – Too Much Monkey Business (1992)
23. Dr. Feelgood – I’m Talking About You (1976)
24. Luther Johnson – Little Queenie (1975)
25. Jimi Hendrix – Johnny B. Goode (1970)
26. Redwing – Bye Bye Johnny (1972)
Bonus Tracks: Conway Twitty – Reelin’ And A Rockin’ (1961)
Ray Manzarek – Downbound Train (1974)
Carlos Santana – Havana Moon (1983)
Levon Helm – Back To Memphis (2011)

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Life In Vinyl 1985 – Vol. 1

March 16th, 2017 5 comments

life-in-vinyl-1985-vol-1

What a year in music 1985 was for me! And what a pity that in terms of quality and excitement in British pop, it was nowhere as great as that incredible stretch from 1979 to 1981. In fact, by 1985, the corporatisation of pop music had already set in, and it was going to get a boost from Live Aid, an event from which every single act that took part in it enjoyed increased record sales — except for poor Adam Ant.

And still, it was a great music year for me. I had just arrived in London the previous November, and took full advantage of the range of concerts on offer. In four weeks between January and February at the Hammersmith Odeon alone, I saw acts as diverse as Chaka Khan, Leonard Cohen and Meat Loaf. In summer I saw U2 (of whom I was a fan then, believe it or not) in three countries, and Bruce Springsteen at Wembley. The culmination was Live Aid, which, for all criticisms one may legitimately level at the event, was nevertheless a magical day. I made a mix of the best Live Aid moments a couple of years ago. It’s still available here.

But it wasn’t just the access to live shows that was so special, but also my engagement with the charts. Previously I would consume records that usually had already been made hits by people in other markets. Now I was one of the hit-making market. I’d study the charts, I’d look out for new acts and champion them. I’d study their chart progress. And when they had a hit, I’d delight in my utterly useless status of having been an early adopter. If they became mainstream eventually, I might superciliously pull the “I like their early stuff” line.covers-gallery_1Some of these early adopted singles became hits — such as Since Yesterday or Black Man Ray — and others didn’t. For example, I bought Prefab Sprout’s sublime When Love Comes Down in spring; it became a Top 30 only after it was re-released in November. The Blow Monkeys’ Wildflower, a song I adored, didn’t even hit the Top 75. Irish band In Tua Nua also didn’t have a UK hit, though they were quite big in Dublin, where they supported U2. I was going through a bit of an Irish phase at the time, what with U2 and having a big crush on a cute Dublin girl.

Needless to say, I spent idiotic amounts of money on music. I bought some pretty bad music in 1985/86, and lots of great music. And, as ever, some music might have been bad but still occupy a special place in my musical heart because they remind me of good times. And 1985 was good times.

This mix covers the first eight months of the year. My arbitrary division of the year is governed by the time I started a new job, which also signalled a new chapter in my life.covers-gallery_2As always, CD-R length, covers, PW in comments. What are your 1985 memories?

1. Amii Stewart – Friends
2. Blow Monkeys – Wildflower
3. Killing Joke – Love Like Blood
4. Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday
5. Colourfield – Thinking Of You
6. Tears For Fears – Head Over Heels
7. China Crisis – Black Man Ray
8. The Alarm – Absolute Reality
9. Prefab Sprout – When Love Breaks Down
10. Marillion – Kayleigh
11. Madonna – Crazy For You
12. Depeche Mode – Shake The Disease
13. U2 – Bad (Live)
14. Ramones – Bonzo Goes To Bitburg
15. Style Council – Walls Come Tumbling Down
16. In Tua Nua – Somebody To Love
17. Redskins – Bring It Down (This Insane Thing)
18. Bruce Springsteen – I’m On Fire
19. Eurythmics – There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)

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Any Major Bob Dylan Covers Vol. 3

March 9th, 2017 9 comments

It has taken a while for Volume 3 of the Dylan covers to appear — longer than it took for Dylan to respond to the Nobel Literature committee. As it stands, there will be two more Dylan cover mixes after this.

The fun thing about compilations of Dylan covers is to play off the featured versions against the originals: which one is better than the other? In some cases it’s a difficult exercise because the respective versions have their own merits. How do you compare Dylan with Tina Turner?

But for me the surprise winner in this game is Mike Stanley, who turns one of my least favourite Dylan arrangements (and I know I’ll make many eternal enemies and absolutely no friends for thinking so), Subterranean Homesick Blues, into the great song it is. Stanley’s eponymous 1972 album featured the likes of Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, Joe Vitale and Patti Austin, but somehow he failed to make it really big in the mainstream. He is still recording, but is also a popular DJ in Ohio, and appeared as himself on The Drew Carey Show.

Of course, many Dylan songs are so quintessentially Dylan that they cannot be bettered, no matter how good the cover is. Like A Rolling Stone, covered here with imagination by Major Harris, is one such song. Check out the Song Swarm of it; there are many good attempts, but Dylan inhabits the song so much that everything else is just a copy. Frankie Valli doesn’t even try to give Queen Jane Approximately his own voice: he sings it like a Dylan parody.

Dylan recorded Queen Jane Approximately on the same day as Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, which features here in Gordon Lightfoot’s version (a face-off Dylan wins handily). Lightfoot scored a #3 hit with it Canada in 1965, shortly after the song appeared on Highway 61 Revisited. Bob Dylan is a great Lightfoot fan, having once said that when he heard a Lightfoot song, he wished “it would last forever”.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-strummed covers. PW in comments.

1. Randy Crawford – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (1989)
2. Major Harris – Like A Rolling Stone (1969)
3. Freddie King – Meet Me In The Morning (1975)
4. Blood, Sweat & Tears – Down In The Flood (1972)
5. Michael Stanley – Subterranean Homesick Blues (1972)
6. Indigo Girls – Tangled Up In Blue (1995)
7. Townes Van Zandt – Man Gave Names To All The Animals (1992)
8. Chris Whitley – Spanish Harlem Incident (2000)
9. Mary Lou Lord – You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (2002)
10. Cowboy Junkies – If You Gotta Go, Go Now (1992)
11. Moon Martin – Stuck Inside Of Mobile (With The Memphis Blues Again) (1993)
12. George Harrison – If Not For You (1970)
13. The Youngbloods – I Shall Be Released (1972)
14. Waylon Jennings – I Don’t Believe You (1970)
15. The Four Seasons – Queen Jane Approximately (1965)
16. Staple Singers – Masters Of War (1964)
17. Gordon Lightfoot – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (1965)
18. Tina Turner – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1974)
19. The O’Jays – Emotionally Yours (Gospel Version) (1981)
20. The Angels Of Light – I Pity The Poor Immigrant (2005)

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In Memoriam – February 2017

March 2nd, 2017 4 comments

When the 2017 In Memoriam round-up is written in December, I will record the death of Al Jarreau as one of the more cheerless of the year. I admit it: the man recorded some really bland stuff in his time. But when he was good… oh, how sublime he was! Plus, he was a genuinely nice man when I briefly met him during my short stint as an entertainment journalist. A couple of weeks before his death, Al Jarreau featured on the Any Major Favourites 2016 Vol. 2 mix; in 2016, he appeared on five mixes. Jarreau’s end came quite suddenly: he had been booked to tour when he fell ill recently, forcing him to announce his retirement. A couple of days later, the great voice was silenced forever.

I wonder how David Axelrod will be better remembered: as an innovative jazz musician who wrote a jazz Mass (as did fellow jazz greats Mary Lou Williams and Dave Brubeck) performed by The Electric Prunes, or as the producer in the 1960s of acts like Lou Rawls, Cannonball Adderley, Letta Mbulu and Kay Starr, or as the creator of countless samples used in hip-hop tracks? Either way, the man had a genius for fusing jazz, soul, funk, rock, classical, religious and avant garde influences, sometimes in ways that produced great hits, and at other times in ways that were too eccentric for popular consumption. On the featured track, 1968’s Holy Thursday, check out Earl Palmer’s masterful drumming.

And talking of which: the Funky Drummer is dead. As one of James Brown’s two drummer, with Jab’o Starks, Clyde Stubblefield was the gold standard in funk drumming, on tracks like Sex Machine, Say It Loud – I’m Black And Proud, Hot Popcorn and, of course, the endlessly sampled  Funky Drummer. He left the J.B.s in 1971 and continued to play on the club circuit in Madison, releasing his solo debut only in 1997. In his latter years, Stubblefield suffered from kidney disease; since he had no health insurance in those pre-Obamacare days, fan Prince supported him in paying his medical bills. In the end, kidney failure killed Stubblefield, ten months after the death of Prince.

Another funk legend fell, in January, though his death was reported only in February: Ohio Players keyboardist, vocalist and producer Walter “Junie” Morrison. In his short tenure in the Ohio Players, from 1970-74, Morrison was involved in the group’s greatest hits, including the much-sampled Funky Worm, which he mostly wrote and arranged. After a brief spell as a solo artist, Junie joined the Parliament-Funkadelic collective as musical director, shaping the P-Funk sound at the height of its popularity (De La Soul fans will know the sample from the featured track). He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as part of Parliament-Funkadelic in 1997.

Last Thursday I was listening to the Playboy mix as I re-upped it by request. One of the songs playing was Leon Ware’s 1976 song Body Heat. A couple of hours later I saw that Ware had died that day. Ware was less known as a soul singer than he was for his writing and, to a lesser extent, producing (Marvin Gaye, Al Wilson, G.C. Cameron, Syreeta, Melissa Manchester, Con Funk Shon, Mica Paris, Maxwell among others). Just look at some of the great tracks he (co-) wrote: Marvin Gaye’s I Want You and After The Dance, Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Were You Are, Minnie Riperton’s Inside My Love, Jermaine Jackson’s If I Were Your Woman, The Main Ingredient’s Rolling Down A Mountainside, The Four Tops’ Just Seven Numbers, Isley Brothers’ Got To Have You Back, Odyssey’s I Can’t Keep Holding Back My Love, Average White Band’s If I Ever Lose This Heaven (which he originally sang with Minnie Riperton, with Al Jarreau backing them, for Quincy Jones), Bobby Womack’s Git It, Parliament’s Fantasy Is Reality… and later Zhané’s grooving Hey Mr DJ, Maxwell’s Sumthin’ Sumthin’, Lulu’s Independence, John Legend’s So High, and El DeBarge’s Heart, Mind & Soul. On last year’s Saved! Vol. 7 mix, the Leon Ware track precedes Al Jarreau’s. Do we have to worry about Marlena Shaw now?

From Cliff Richard, The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons and The Mamas & the Papas to John Lennon, T. Rex, Bette Middler and the Ramones, the 1958 hit Do You Wanna Dance has been covered prodigiously. The song’s writer and original singer, Bobby Freeman, died on January 28. He had a Top 5 US hit with it, but follow-up singles charted only moderately. He returned briefly to the higher reaches of the charts in 1964 with C’mon And Swim, which was co-written by the 20-year-old Sly Stone.

As Australia’s first wild “rock chick”, at a time when “chicks” weren’t supposed to be rock, Carol Lloyd blazed a trail for the likes of The Divinyls’ Chrissy Amphlett to touch herself. Lloyd was not only a pioneer in the field of music, but also in the area of LGBQT rights. In 2013 she was given a few months to live after being diagnosed with interstitial pulmonary fibrosis. Defiantly, she lived on for more than three years until death caught up with her at the age of 68.

Carol Lloyd was never destined to become a woman of the cloth, unlike British singer-songwriter Peter Skellern, who died four days after her. Skellern had one big hit, 1972’s You’re A Lady, which was covered throughout Europe. It remained his biggest hit, though British TV audiences also got to know his voice from the series the 1973 series Billy Liar. More lately, Skellern had written choral music. In October last year he was ordained a priest in the Church of England, just after it became known that he was suffering from a terminal brain tumor.

 

Walter ‘Junie’ Morrison, 62, musician with Ohio Players, Parliament-Funkadelic, on Jan. 21
Ohio Players – Funky Worm (1972)
Funkadelic – (Not Just) Knee Deep (1979)

Bobby Freeman, 76, R&B singer and songwriter, on Jan. 28
Bobby Freeman – Do You Wanna Dance (1958)
Bobby Freeman – C’mon And Swim (1964)

Deke Leonard, 72, guitarist with Welsh prog rock band Man, on Jan. 31
Man – Daughter Of The Fireplace (live, 1972, also as writer)

Carsten ‘Beethoven’ Mohren, 54, keyboardist of East-German rock band Rockhaus, on Jan. 31
Rockhaus – Bleib cool (1987)

Robert Dahlqvist, 40, Swedish rock singer and guitarist with The Hellacopters, on Feb. 3

Steve Lang, 67, bassist of Canadian rock band April Wine, on Feb. 4
April Wine – I Like To Rock (1979)

Noel Simms, 82, Jamaican reggae percussionist and singer, on Feb. 4

David Axelrod, 83, Jazz and R&B arranger, composer and producer, on Feb. 5
Cannonball Adderley – Mercy,Mercy,Mercy (1966, as producer)
Lou Rawls – Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing (1966, as producer)
David Axelrod – Holy Thursday (1968)

Sonny Geraci, 70, singer with rock bands The Outsiders, Climax, on Feb. 5
Climax – Precious And Few (1971)

Svend Asmussen, 100, Danish jazz violinist, on Feb. 7
Svend Asmussen Quartet – A Pretty Girl (1978)

Tony Davis, 86, singer with British folk group The Spinners, on Feb. 10
The Spinners – In My Liverpool Home (1964)

Al Jarreau, 76, jazz and soul singer, on Feb. 12
Al Jarreau – Your Song (1976)
Al Jarreau & Randy Crawford – Sure Enough (1982)
Al Jarreau – Teach Me Tonight (1985)
Al Jarreau – So Good (1988)

Barbara Carroll, 92, American jazz pianist, on Feb. 12
Barbara Carroll – Mame (live, 1967)

Damian, 52, British pop singer, on Feb. 12

Robert Fisher, 59, leader of Americana collective Willard Grant Conspiracy, on Feb. 12
Willard Grant Conspiracy – Fare Thee Well (2003)

Carol Lloyd, 68, Australian rock singer, on Feb. 13
Railroad Gin – A Matter Of Time (1974)

E-Dubble, 34, rapper and record label founder, on Feb. 15

Peter Skellern, 69, English singer-songwriter, on Feb. 17
Peter Skellern – You’re A Lady (1972)

David Yorko, 73, guitarist for Johnny & the Hurricanes, on Feb. 17
Johnny & The Hurricanes – Red River Rock (1959)

Clyde Stubblefield, 73, drummer with James Brown, on Feb. 18
James Brown – Say It Loud – I’m Black And Proud (1968)
James Brown – Funky Drummer (1970, on drums)
Clyde Stubblefield – The Revenge Of The Funky Drummer (1997)

Larry Coryell, 73, jazz-fusion guitarist, on Feb. 19
Larry Coryell – Yesterdays (1990)

Ilene Berns, 73, record label executive, widow of Bert Berns, on Feb. 20

Leon Ware, 77, soul singer, songwriter, producer, on Feb. 23
Leon Ware – I Know How It Feels (1972)
Michael Jackson – I Wanna Be Where You Are (1972, as writer)
Quincy Jones feat. Leon Ware & Minnie Riperton- If I Ever Lose This Heaven (1974, also as writer)
Minnie Riperton – Inside My Love (1975, as writer)
El DeBarge – Heart, Mind & Soul (1994)
Zhané – Hey Mister DJ (1994, as writer)

Horace Parlan, 86, jazz pianist, on Feb. 23
Horace Parlan – On Green Dolphin Street (1960)

Fumio Karashima, 68, Japanese jazz pianist, on Feb. 24

Don Markham, 85, saxophonist/trumpeter of Merle Haggard’s  Strangers, on Feb. 24

Rick Chavez, guitarist of metal band Drive, on Feb. 25

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