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Stars Pick Your Songs Vol. 1: Musicians

May 18th, 2017 12 comments

What would happen if you had a party of famous people and let them play their favourite records? This mix has 20 musicians from a time span of 75 years choosing music “for you”, one song each.

In putting together this mix – which was tremendous fun to compile (and, I hope, is tremendous fun to listen to) – I drew from the thousands of episodes of BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs programme, which first aired in 1941 and is still going.

The programme’s format is simple: a well-known studio guest is interviewed and in the course of the often revealing conversation presents eight songs he or she would take to a desert island (to be played in the past on a wind-up grammophone and lately on a solar-powered record player). They then also choose a book and luxury item to take with them, but this won’t concern us here.

There are hundreds of recordings of Desert Island Discs available for download, and the record choices of every single “castaway” ever is listed as well. Which is where I drew the present selections from.

Of course, many songs have been listed several times; I ascribe them to only one guest. So here we have Yoko Ono choosing a Lennon song in 2007 which in 1982 was picked also by Paul McCartney. But McCartney will feature on a later mix with a different song choice.

There were other songs on this mix that were popular choices: Van Morrison’s Madame George is attributed here to Joan Armatrading. But it also was a choice of Joan Baez and Bruce Springsteen (both represented here with other songs), as well as by sculptor David Wynne and author Bernard Cornwell, neither of whom will feature in this series.

Some castaways have appeared more than once over the years; often they don’t repeat their song selections from previous appearances. But Petula Clark, who was cast away in 1982 and again in 1995, stuck with one of her choices: the Doobie Brothers’ What A Fool Believes. That song also featured in the selections of composer Marvin Hamlisch, footballer David Beckham, and the late UK comedian Victoria Wood.

The oldest song selection here is by Richard Tauber, the exiled German singer who in 1942 went for a Marlene Dietrich track from 1930, the oldest on this mix. His choice is followed by the youngest track on this mix, by Amy Winehouse, chosen in a show 65 years after Tauber by George Michael.

Tauber died in 1948, long before George Michael or Amy Winehouse were born. All three died fairly young. One castaway to feature here recently celebrated her 100th birthday: Vera Lynn. It’s her song-choice from 1951 that features here.

Lynn’s choice was a contemporary hit – and Edith Piaf song recorded just a year earlier – and many Desert Island Disc guests go for contemporary hits, maybe in a flash of excitement about a current favourite, maybe to show off how hip they are to the groovy music in the hit parades. I have mostly ignored those choices and picked songs which I suspect have been long-standing favourites by the respective celebs. But I have a suspicion that Brian Eno’s choice in 1991 of a 1950s track by gospel singer Dorothy Love Coates was the result of the Roxy Music musician having just bought her re-released albums, issued the same year.

And that’s the fun too: if one hasn’t heard the guest explain in the programme why they chose a particular song, we can ponder and imagine what that song means to them.

More mixes will follow, with actors choosing their songs as well as general celebrities and politicians & authors.

So, here’s the obvious question: what would be your eight Desert Island Disc? Tell me in the comments.

As always, this mix is time to fit on a standard CD-R, includes home-marooned covers. PW in comments.

1. David Bowie – Changes (1971 – Neil Tennant 2001)
2. The Band – Up On Cripple Creek (1969 – Emmylou Harris 2003)
3. Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman (1968 – Annie Lennox 2005)
4. George Jones – The Door (1974 – Randy Newman 2008)
5. Bob Dylan – My Back Pages (1964 – Bob Geldof 1992)
6. Colin Hay – Beautiful World (2000 – Kylie Minogue 2015)
7. Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes (1978 – Petula Clark 1982/1995)
8. Roberta Flack – I’m The One (1982 – Johnny Mathis 1987)
9. James Brown – Out Of Sight (1965 – Bruce Springsteen 2016)
10. Dorothy Love Coates – Lord, Don’t Forget About Me (1950s – Brian Eno 1991)
11. Muddy Waters – Got My Mojo Workin’ (1957 – John Lee Hooker 1995)
12. Sarah Vaughan – Deep Purple (1955 – Dizzy Gillespie 1979/Tony Bennett 1972)
13. Edith Piaf – Hymne à l’Amour (1950 – Vera Lynn 1951)
14. Marlene Dietrich – Falling In Love Again (1930 – Richard Tauber 1942)
15. Amy Winehouse – Love Is A Losing Game (2006 – George Michael 2007)
16. John Lennon – Beautiful Boy (1980 – Yoko Ono 2007)
17. Jackson Browne – Late For The Sky (1974 – Joan Baez 1993)
18. Damien Rice – Volcano (2002 – Ed Sheeran 2017)
19. Nick Drake – River Man (1970 – Paul Weller 2007)
20. Van Morrison – Madame George (1968 – Joan Armatrading 1989)

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Should Have Been A UK Top 10 Hit – Vol. 3

May 11th, 2017 4 comments

 

Best hashtag ever? #sheeranalbumparty. I’m sure I was not alone in being dismayed when it turned out that the hashtag for Ed Sheeran’s new CD was just a gag made up by a journalist. The anal bum party marked the startling fact that the British singer — whom I regard as the ultimate in white bread — had 14 of the Top 15 hits in the UK charts in March.

It’s impossible to say how impressive that is, for the nature of the charts has changed completely. To me, there are no more charts, because there are no more single releases. But there was a time when the UK charts were like sport: I’d study them and would celebrate the success of a favourite record or take the success of a loathsome record as an affront to common decency. Often enough, the latter would prevail over the former.

And this is the third mix of songs that fall in the former category: singles that climbed up the UK charts without ever reaching the Top 10.

The strangest case of all of these is Blondie’s Union City Blue, which many Blondie fans would consider strongly for inclusion in their Top 5 of Blondie songs. It peaked at a disappointing #13, following five consecutive Top 4 singles , including two #1s, for Blondie. More than that, Union City Blue was followed by three consecutive chart-toppers and a #5 hit. And it’s not like Union City Blue was the fifth single of an album. In the UK, it was the second of three single releases from the Eat To The Beat LP. The first, Dreaming, reached #2; the third, Atomic, even #1. In fairness, there were many very good songs ahead of Union City Blue (see that week’s charts).

Likewise, A-ha’s quite excellent Manhattan Skyline followed six Top 10 hits, including the awful Cry Wolf, and was followed by two more. Manhattan Skyline reached only #13 in March 1987 (that #13 was unlucky for a lot of acts here). There were three soul tracks from the 1960s in the Top 10 that week, including numbers 1 and 2. And the rest doesn’t look intimidatingly brilliant: Freddie Mercury’s entertaining version of The Great Pretender, Boy George’s Everything I Own, Level 42’s Running In The Family, Crush On You by The Jets (no, me neither), Male Stripper by Man 2 Man meets Man Parrish, Live It Up by Mental As Anything, and  Curiosity Killed The Cat’s Down To Earth (which isn’t bad). Surely there was a place for Manhattan Skyline in the Top 10!

Poor Nick Heyward never enjoyed a solo Top 10 hit, after a run of four of them in 1981/82 with Haircut 100. At least two should have been Top 10 hits: Whistle Down The Wind and Blue Hat For A Blue Day, both from 1983. And in the case of the latter, which features here, we can claim a genuine grievance: while Heyward stalled at #14, novelty crapmeisters Black Lace moved into the Top 10 alongside The Rock Steady Crew.

Labi Siffre’s It Must Be Love stalled in the same position, in the first week of January 1972. It later was a Top 10 hit in the cover by Madness in 1981, but poor Labi — a quality guy in many ways — had to see his original struggle up to #14 (after two weeks at #16) while being outsold by Benny Hill’s grotesque Ernie The Fastest Milkman, Sleepy Shores by the Johnny Pearson Orchestra, The New Seekers’ I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,  Softly Whispering I Love You by the Congregation, and a couple of forgettable efforts by Cilla Black, Gilbert O’Sullivan and Elvis. What were you thinking, 1972’s Britain?

I could have sworn Murray Head’s One Night In Bangkok, from the musical Chess, was a Top 10 hit. Turns out, it peaked at #12 in December 1984. It was about to be overtaken by Nellie The Elephant by the Toy Dolls and by Black Lace (those fuckers again) and their revolting Do The Conga.

I’m not sure I am entirely convinced that Ester & Abi Ofarim deliciously nasty One More Dance should have been a top 10 hit. The folky arrangement for the English version of the song is awful, certainly in comparison to the German version, with which I grew up. In Britain the song, the follow-up single to chart-topper Cinderella Rockefella, reached  #13 in July 1968. There were some very good songs ahead of it.

I cannot think of many songs that sound as 1974 as Beach Baby by First Class does, nor many that sound as self-consciously summery. And it was a hit in the summer of 1974. Peaking at #13 in the middle of summer. Not in early summer, having ejaculated prematurely. Not at the end of summer, when everybody has had enough of beach babies. But in the middle of July. And again, it’s not like Beach Baby was up against hot competition. Sure, there was Rock Your Baby, The Six Teens and Band On The Run. And The Drifter’s Kissin’ In The Back Room had a nice seasonal vibe. But Beach Baby should have been a Top 10 hit. As it should’ve been all of the songs here.

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

1. Blondie – Union City Blue (1980  #13)
2. Split Enz – I Got You (1980  #12)
3. Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy – Icing On The Cake (1985  #14)
4. A-ha – Manhattan Skyline (1987  #13)
5. Wet Wet Wet – Temptation (1988  #12)
6. Jonathan Butler – Lies (1987  #14)
7. Sherrick – Just Call (1987  #23)
8. Delegation – Where Is The Love (We Used To Know) (1977  #22)
9. Labi Siffre – It Must Be Love (1971  #15)
10. First Class – Beach Baby (1974  #14)
11. Harpo – Movie Star (1976  #25)
12. Harley Quinne – New Orleans (1972  #19)
13. Chris Spedding – Motor Bikin’ (1975  #14)
14. Judas Priest – Breaking The Law (1980  #12)
15. Murray Head – One Night In Bankok (1984  #12)
16. Nick Heyward – Blue Hat For A Blue Day (1983  #14)
17. Suzanne Vega – Marlene On The Wall (1986  #21)
18. Sally Oldfield – Mirrors (1978  #19)
19. Kate Bush – Wow (1979  #14)
20. Donovan – Atlantis (1968  #23)
21. Esther & Abi Ofarim – One More Dance (1968  #13)

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In Memoriam – April 2017

May 4th, 2017 6 comments

Mr Tambourine Man is gone. Bob Dylan has cited folk music guitarist and percussionist Bruce Langhorne as the inspiration for the song which would become a huge hit for The Byrds (sorry, not LSD after all). Langhorne, who had lost three fingers on his right hand as a child, played his jingle-jangle electric guitar on the Dylan version of the track (he takes care of the counter-melody). When Langhorne wasn’t playing the guitar, he’d do percussions on a large Turkish frame drum, the tambourine whereof Dylan speaks. He worked with Dylan on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and Bringing It All Home. Notably, Langhorne also played the guitar solo on Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Langhorne was already a name on the folk scene when Dylan turned up. “I thought he was a terrible singer and a complete fake, and I thought he didn’t play harmonica that well,” he’d later recall. He was converted when he heard Dylan’s writing. Langhorne went on to write several movie scores, mostly for Peter Fonda films.

I don’t diiiig this: with Cuba Gooding Sr, another one of the great ’70s soul legends is gone. The singer with the Main Ingredient had a great voice, of course, but his phrasing was even greater. Gooding joined the band after original lead singer Donald McPherson died in 1971 of leukaemia. They’d already had some success with Spinning Around and Black Seeds Keep Growing, but with Gooding they broke through thanks to the hit Everybody Plays The Fool, on which Gooding spoke the intro (“so you’re sayin’ you’re even thinking of dying?”). They had another million-seller in 1974 with Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely, but a year later band member Tony Silvester left to pursue a solo career, and in 1977 Gooding followed suit. Neither could replicate the success they had with the band.

The name Cuba was what his parents called him. Apparently, Gooding’s Barbadian father Dudley was involved in black liberation politics in Cuba when his first wife was mortally wounded in an assassination. On her deathbed Dudley promised to name his first son after the island. Oh, and, yes, Cuba Gooding Sr was the dad of the actor Cuba Gooding Jr. No paternity tests were ever necessary to prove that.

It’s fair to say that by his inventions, Ikutaro Kakehashi changed music. The Japanese engineer, who has died at 87, developed the Roland keyboards and drum machines that gave the 1980s much of its sounds. They are still widely used today, especially the Roland TR-808 drum machine that has scored songs for artists from Marvin Gaye (Check it on Sexual Healing) to Pharell. Kakehashi began his career in the electronics store he set up as 23-year-old, in which he’d repair, among other things, organs. This led to his decision in the late 1950s to specialise in electronic musical instruments, which found its first culmination with the establishment of Ace Electronics where he developed his first electronic drum in 1964. Eight years later he founded the Roland Corporation. In 1983, he helped introduce the MIDI standard which, in the words of Wikipedia, “a technical standard that describes a protocol, digital interface and connectors and allows a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another”.

Thank Sylvia Moy for the career of Stevie Wonder. According to Berry Gordy, the child star Little Stevie was about to be dropped by the label after puberty changed the voice that had made Fingertips such a hit. It was Moy who persuaded Gordy to persist with Stevie, and who mentored the kid in the craft of songwriting — something he’d become pretty good at. For or with Stevie Wonder she co-wrote such classics as Uptight (Everything’s Alright), My Cherie Amour, Never Had a Dream Come True, I Was Made To Love Her, and Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day. With Holland-Dozier-Holland she wrote the Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart of Mine, and with Mickey Stevenson the Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston hit It Takes Two. Among the songs she wrote with Wonder (and frequent collaborator Hank Cosby) is 1966’s album track Sylvia. Soon Sylvia Moy would have to persuade Stevie to change the title of a track the singer wanted to dedicate to another girl’s name (I think it was Marsha). Moy suggested going French instead, and My Cherie Amour was born.

The early days of rock ‘n’ roll are replete with bizarre stories of violated ethics and protracted royalty battles. One such case concerned Rosie Hamlin, of Rosie and The Originals, who died at 71 on March 30 (her death was reported after the last In Memoriam was posted). As a teenager in San Diego, Rosie wrote a song about her boyfriend, titling it Angel Baby. She and her group recorded a master of the song in a private studio, and then persuaded the manager of a department store’s music section to play it. It proved popular and when a representative from Highland Records heard it, the group was signed — on condition that the songwriting credit would be changed to the eldest member of the group, David Ponci. Rosie agreed, unaware that she’d not collect royalties for what turned out to be a hit song which would be widely covered over many years. And, as always, what should have been fixed as a matter of honour instead turned into decades of protracted legal wrangling. Several singles followed, but Angel Baby remained Hamlin’s defining song. It was one of John Lennon’s favourites, even being covered during the recordings for his 1975 Rock and Roll LP. It was left off (it was eventually released on 1986’s Menlove Ave.), much to the fury of the publishing company that now owned the song — but that’s another story.

One day in September 1968, a 26-year-old Johnny Cash fan took his seat in a Fayetteville auditorium to see his hero perform a fund-raising concert for Republican gubernatorial candidate Winthrop Rockefeller. Due to flight cancellations, Cash found himself without a guitarist, so the fan, Bob Wooton, volunteered to fill in. He knew every line of every song, playing them perfectly. Within days, Cash invited Wooton to join his band. They’d go on to play together until 1997, though the most memorable performance came early: the gig at San Quentin State Prison in 1969 which has been elevated to cult status. Wooton also played the lead guitar on Bob Dylan’s 1969 remake of Girl from North Country, a duet with Cash. Wooton died on April 9 at the age of 75. Oh, and Winthrop Rockefeller, an anti-segregationist, won that 1968 election.

Of the three Jones Girls, the soul outfit that scored a few hits in the late 1970s and early ’80s, there’s now only one left after the death of Brenda Jones, killed by several cars as she was trying to cross a road. Valorie Jones died in 2001, leaving now only Shirley. The Detroit-born Jones Girls started out as a backing band, working with acts like Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Linda Clifford. They broke through in their own right with 1979’s excellent eponymous late-Philly soul debut album, and subsequently had hits with tracks like You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else and I Just Love The Man (on which Brenda sings a part solo). Shirley left the band in 1984 to pursue a solo career though there were reunion albums until Valorie’s death.

Strangely, I’d never really spend much time pondering what the J in the J. Geils Band stood for until the man who gave his name to the rock band died at the age of 71. Boringly, it’s John. He founded his band as a student in the late 1960s. Having released their debut in 1970, they traded in blues- and country rock, finding little sustained success though they did hit the charts occasionally (and their pretty good Cry One More Time was later covered by Gram Parson). Big success came when they switched to the kind of US new wave that would also work well for The Cars and The Tubes. Their biggest success was, of course, 1982’s Centrefold, an impossibly catchy and rather misogynist song, though the purists tend to cite Freeze-Frame as the better track. Within three years, the band split up, and Geils mostly retired from music to build up an automobile restoration business and to race cars.

The Funkadelic curse struck again in April: virtually every month, at least one person once connected with the Funkadelic/Parliament/Bootsy Collins collective dies. This month it was drummer Barry “Frosty” Smith, who once toured with Funkadelic. Smith had a varied career: he first had success with multi-instrumentalist Lee Michaels (drumming under the intentionally unwieldy moniker Bartholomew Eugene Smith-Frost, “to be sure I’d be seen on album covers”), then joined rock band Sweathog, whose song Hallelujah would be covered to great effect by Chi Coltrane. He then toured with a range of funk acts, which also included Sly & the Family Stone and Rare Earth, and later with roots-rocker Delbert McClinton. In the 1990s he returned to the charts with grunge act Soulhat, and backed various bands from Austin, Texas, where the Californian had made his home.

Just a few months before John Lennon’s murder, singer and political activist David Peel called in song for the ex-Beatle to be president. O’Neill used music as a vehicle for his activism, in the late 1960s to promote weed, then in the ’70s in the political domain, often shoulder-to-shoulder with Lennon (Peel appeared in 2006 film The U.S. vs. John Lennon), who produced Peel’s widely-banned 1972 album The Pope Smokes Dope.

One moment he was a prolific singer-songwriter with a good life, then Brazilian musician Belchior suddenly disappeared in 2007. For two years nothing was heard from the man. Few thought he had died, but rumours abounded about what he was doing. He had gone into hiding in Uruguay, said some. Or hiding on a beach in north-east Brazil. Or cooped up in a secret location to translate Dante’s Divine Comedy into Portuguese. He became the subject of discussion on Internet forums dedicated to solely to his whereabouts. In 2009 a Brazilian TV station tracked him down. The Uruguay theory proved correct: he now lived in a small village in San Gregorio de Polanco, resting, composing and contemplating life — and apparently leaving Dante well alone. He didn’t return to public life. On April 30 Belchior left for good.

 

Rosie Hamlin, 71, singer of Rosie and the Originals, on March 30
Rosie and the Originals – Angel Baby (1961, also as writer)

Elyse Steinman, guitarist of hard rock band Raging Slab, on March 30
Raging Slab – Anywhere But Here (1993)

Lonnie Brooks, 83, blues guitarist and singer, on April 1
Lonnie Brooks – I Want All My Money Back (1983)

Ikutaro Kakehashi, 87, Japanese developer of Roland keyboards, drum machines, on April 1

Brenda Jones, 62, singer with soul trio The Jones Girls, on April 3
McFadden & Whitehead – I Heard It In A Love Song (1980, on backing vocals)
The Jones Girls – I Just Love That Man (1980)
The Jones Girls – Nights Over Egypt (1981)

Andre ‘L.A. Dre’ Bolton, producer and keyboardist, on April 3
Michel’le – Something In My Heart (1989, on keyboards and as co-producer)

Paul O’Neill, 61, producer, songwriter and manager, on April 5
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Moonlight And Madness (2009, as producer)

David Peel, 73, singer and activist, on April 6
David Peel & The Super Apple Band – John Lennon For President (1980)

Ben Speer, 86, singer and pianist with southern gospel group Speer Family, on April 7

Keni Richards, 60, drummer of rock band Autograph, on April 8
Autograph – Turn Up The Radio (1984)

Kim Plainfield, 63, jazz drummer, on April 8

Bob Wootton, 75, country guitarist for Johnny Cash, on April 9
Johnny Cash – Wreck Of The Old 97 (1969, on guitar)
Johnny Cash – I Walk The Line (1969, on guitar)
Bob Dylan – Girl From The North Country (1969, on lead guitar)

Alan Henderson, 72, bassist of Northern Irish group Them, on April 9
Them – Here Comes The Night (1965)
Them – Mystic Eyes (1965)

Stan Robinson, 80, British jazz saxophonist and flautist, on April 9
Maynard Ferguson – Spinning Wheel (1972, on tenor saxophone)
Buzzcocks – What Do You Know (1980, on saxophone)

Banner Thomas, 63, bassist of rock group Molly Hatchet, on April 10
Molly Hatchet – Boogie No More (1979, also as co-writer)

Linda Hopkins, 92, actress and R&B/gospel/jazz singer, on April 10
Jackie Wilson & Linda Hopkins – Shake A Hand (1963)

Toby Smith, 46, keyboardist with British acid-jazz band Jamiroquai, on April 11
Jamiroquai – Alright (1996)

Scotty Miller, 65, drummer of disco band Instant Funk, on April 11
Instant Funk – I Got My Mind Made Up (1978)

J. Geils, 71, guitarist of The J. Geils Band, on April 11
J. Geils Band – Cry One More Time (1971)
J. Geils Band – Love Stinks (1980)

Mika Vainio, 53, member of Finnish electronic band Pan Sonic, on April 12

Barry ‘Frosty’ Smith, 71, drummer with rock bands Sweathog, Soulhat, on April 12
Lee Michaels – Who Could Want More (1969, on drums)
Sweathog – Hallelujah (1972)
Soulhat – Good To Be Gone (1994)

Tom Coyne, 62, mastering engineer (Rolling Stones, De La Soul, Beyoncé), on April 12

José Miguel Class, 78, Puerto Rican singer, on April 13

Bruce Langhorne, 78, folk guitarist and film score composer, on April 14
Bob Dylan – Mr. Tambourine Man (1965, countermelody on electric guitar)
Joan Baez – Farewell, Angelina (1965, on guitar)
Richie Havens – Just Above My Hobby Horse’s Head (1969, lead and acoustic guitar)

Sylvia Moy, 78, Motown songwriter, on April 15
Brenda Holloway – Hurt A Little Everyday (1966, as co-writer)
Dusty Springfield – Ain’t No Sun Since You’ve Been Gone (1968, as co-writer)
Stevie Wonder – Never Had a Dream Come True (1970, as co-writer)

Allan Holdsworth, 70, English guitarist and composer; member of Soft Machine, on April 15
Soft Machine – Land Of The Bag Snake (1975, also as writer)
Allan Holdsworth – City Nights (1989)

Matt Holt, 39, singer of heavy metal group Nothingface, on April 15

Pat Fitzpatrick, 60, keyboardist of Irish rock band Aslan, on April 19
Aslan – This Is (1986)

Dick Contino, 87, singer and accordionist, on April 19
Dick Contino – Lady Of Spain (1954)

Cuba Gooding Sr, 72, singer of soul legends The Main Ingredient, on April 20
The Main Ingredient – Everybody Plays The Fool (1972)
The Main Ingredient – Work To Do (1973)
Cuba Gooding – Hold On To What You Got (1978)

Jerry Adriani, 70, Brazilian singer and actor, on April 23

Calep Emphrey Jr, 67, drummer for B.B. King (1977-2009), on April 25
B.B. King – I’ll Survive (1998, on drums)

Zoe Realla, 32, rapper, murdered on April 28

Belchior, 70, Brazilian singer and composer, on April 30
Belchior – A Palo Seco (1974)

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