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Any Major Originals: The 1970s

November 15th, 2018 13 comments

 

This is the first mix of lesser-known originals of 1970s hits; truth be told, for the most part the hit versions were a marked improvement on the first versions. I do prefer Badfinger’s version of Without You and Billy Preston’s You Are So Beautiful to the more famous versions. But more interesting than the musical merits are some of the backstories. And few are as dramatic as that of Without You, a mega hit for first Harry Nilsson in 1972 and in the 1990s for Mariah Carey.

Without You

There is something dismal about the notion that a pop classic would be best-known among some people in its incarnation by Mariah Carey. Those with a more acute sense of pop history will have been dismissive of Carey’s calorific cover of Nilsson’s hit. But even Harry Nilsson applied a generous dose of schmaltz to his cover of the Badfinger original.

Without You apart, there is a chain of tragedy which links the Welsh band and Nilsson. Both acts had a Lennon connection (more tragedy here, of course). Badfinger were signed to the Beatles’ Apple label, on which Without You was released in 1970; Nilsson was a collaborator with and drinking buddy of Lennon’s. Nilsson died fairly young, so did two members of Badfinger — both of whom wrote Without You and committed suicide.

Singer Peter Ham killed himself in 1975 (in his suicide note he referred to their “heartless bastard” of a manager), and in 1983, Tom Evans hanged himself after an argument over royalties for the song with former colleague Joey Molland (who both had played on Lennon’s Imagine album and other ex-Beatles solo records).

Nilsson reportedly thought that Badfinger’s Without You had been a Beatles recording — indeed, the Rolling Stone touted Badfinger as the Beatles’ heirs. His version, turning a fairly rough mid-tempo rock song into an orchestral power ballad (at a time when such things were rare) became a massive hit in 1972; Carey’s version hit the charts just a week after Nilsson’s death in 1994. One may fear the worst for Ms Carey should the Nilsson curse strike her: apart from the sad story of Badfinger and Lennon’s death, both Mama Cass and Keith Moon died in Nilsson’s flat.

 

Fernando

ABBA famously did not cover versions; given the songwriting chops of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, they had no need to. But one of the group’s biggest hits was a cover of sorts: Fernando was originally recorded by Anni-Frid for her Swedish-language solo album Frida Ensam (which featured several cover versions, including Life On Mars and Wall Street Shuffle). Fernando, written by Benny and Björn with lyrics by ABBA manager Stig Anderson, was the LP’s lead single and proved very popular. In 1976 ABBA released an English version, with the theme changed from being a break-up song to the reminiscence of freedom fighters.

Video Killed The Radio Star

This slice of sci-fi flavoured nostalgia, inspired by a JG Ballard story, was co-written by Trevor Horn and Geoffrey Downes (then new members of prog-rock band Yes) with Bruce Woolley. So it seemed right that it should be recorded by the two parties — the Yes contingent and Woolley — in 1979. The latter got in there first, with his Camera Club. It is a breathless version with much energy and a quite nice guitar solo at the end, but none of the bombastic detail which made the Buggles’ synth-fiesta a huge hit.

The Buggles version is sometimes considered a bit naff, which does great injustice to a catchy song which does everything that is required of a very great pop song. The video of the Buggles version was the first ever to be played by MTV. But the Woolley version is all but forgotten.

Hanging On The Telephone

If it is not widely known that Blondie’s 1979 hit Hanging On The Telephone is a cover, then it probably is because the original performers, The Nerves, only ever released a (very good) four-track EP in 1976, which included the song. The Nerves — a trio comprising songwriter Jack Lee, Paul Collins (who’d later join The Beat) and Peter Case (later of the Plimsouls) — were a heavy-gigging LA-based rock band which despite their extremely brief recording career proved to be influential on the US punk scene. The members of Blondie surely have were aware of the song. A year after The Nerves split, Debbie Harry and pals picked up the song and enjoyed a huge worldwide hit with it.

 

Blame It On The Boogie

How many cover versions have been sung by the namesake of the original performer? Mick Jackson was a German-born English pop singer. His Blame It On The Boogie, which he also co-wrote, sounds like a presentable Leo Sayer number. The Jacksons changed little in the song’s structure — Mick’s original has all the touches we know well, such as the “sunshine, moonlight, good time, boogie” interlude — and yet they turned a pretty good song into a disco explosion of joy, presaging Michael’s Off The Wall a year and a bit later.

Mick Jackson actually wrote the song with Stevie Wonder in mind (and it’s easy to imagine how it might have sounded), but was persuaded by a German label to record it himself. When the freshly-minted record was played at a music festival in Cannes, a rep for the Jacksons — no doubt alerted by the performer’s name — secretly taped the song, flew it to the US and had the Jackson brothers record and release it in quick time, to release it before Mick could have a hit with it. With both singles out at the same time, the British press had some fun with the Jackson “Battle of the Boogie”. Mick’s single reached #15 in the UK and #61 in the US. The Jacksons’ version became the classic.

He Ain’t Heavy…

The Hollies’ guitarist Tony Hicks was desperately looking for a song to record when he was played a demo of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. The band decided to record it without great expectations, with Reg Dwight (who would become Elton John) on piano. Of course, it became a mega-hit and pop classic. But the Hollies were not the first to record it.

The song had already been released by Kelly Gordon in April 1969 — five months before the Hollies’ version — as a single and on his Defunked album (the single’s b-side was That’s Life, a song Gordon had co-written five years earlier, but had been recorded before and made famous by Frank Sinatra). The original of He Ain’t Heavy by Gordon, more active as a producer than a singer, is slower and more mournful. Based on his interpretation, the publishers thought it would be a good song for Joe Cocker to record. And it would have been, but Cocker turned the song down.

He Ain’t Heavy was written by Bobby Scott (who wrote A Taste Of Honey) and the older veteran lyricist Bob Russell (Little Green Apples), who was already ailing with cancer and died at 55 in February 1970, just after the song had become a worldwide hit.

There is much speculation as to the origin of the title; most commonly it is believed that the line was inspired by Father Edward Flannagan, the founder of Boys Town, who had adopted it as the organisation’s motto, reputedly after spotting a cartoon of a boy carrying another in a corporate publication named Louis Allis Messenger, that was captioned “He ain’t heavy Mister – he’s m’ brother!” It was not a new line; it had been used in literature and magazine articles before, and supposedly provided the punchline for a Native American folk story.

I Hear You Knocking

Smiley Lewis feature with another song when we visited the Elvis originals. Here he provided the original for an early ’70s hit. Lewis, a New Orleans musician nicknamed for his missing front teeth, recorded I Hear You Knocking in 1955. The song was written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King. The former was Fats Domino’s writing partner, and Fats naturally later recorded the song.

At a time when US radio and charts were subject to much racial segregation, Lewis’ record made little impact outside the black charts, where it peaked at #2, and Lewis’ career never really took off. Instead the song enjoyed commercial success in its version by Gale Storm in 1956. Lewis died of stomach cancer in 1966.

Four years later, he would be remembered by the Welsh singer Dave Edmunds, whose cover of I Hear You Knocking reached #1 in Britain and #4 in the US with slightly altered lyrics which namecheck Lewis, among others (including Huey Smith, who played on Lewis’ version). Edmunds himself hadn’t known the song until he produced a version of it for the young Shakin’ Stevens – a decade away from fame as a revivalist rock ‘n roller and Christmas #1 hunter. In fact, Edmunds almost didn’t record what would become his biggest hit. He had planned to find stardom with a cover of Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Work Together, but was scooped in that endeavour by Canned Heat (as we’ll see below). So he adapted the arrangement he had in mind for Let’s Work Together to create a truly original cover.

Let’s Stick Together
When Wilbert Harrison released Let’s Work Together in 1969, it was a slightly customised take on his 1961 song Let’s Stick Together. For all intents and purposes, it is the same song. Where “Stick Together” failed to make an impression, its reworked version was a minor US hit. Canned Heat, who were canny in their selection of obscure songs to cover, recorded their version soon after and scored a hit with it in 1970. To their credit, Canned Heat delayed the US release of the single to let Harrison’s single run its course first.

In 1976 Bryan Ferry took the song to #4 on the UK charts, having reverted to the original title, introduced some thumping saxophone and applied the suave working-class-boy-gone-posh vocals. Outside Roxy Music, everybody’s favourite fox-hunting Tory never did anything better. Thanks to Wilbert Harrison’s retitling, it is now evident which version – Canned Heat’s or Ferry’s – has inspired subsequent covers.

 

You Are So Beautiful

Few noises in mainstream pop history have been as disturbing as Joe Cocker’s croaked note at the end of that staple of soppy love songs, You Are So Beautiful. Some people might regard the song best crooned by Homer Simpson, but they are probably not familiar with Billy Preston’s rather good original.

The song was written by Preston and his songwriting partner Bruce Fisher, with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s uncredited lyrical contribution (Wilson would sing the song as an encore at Beach Boys gigs in the late ’70s and early ’80s). Preston’s version was recorded shortly before Cocker’s slower version in 1974. The former remained an album track, while Cocker’s version reached the US #5 in 1975 (but didn’t chart at all Britain).

Sailing

Written in 1972, the Rod Stewart hit Sailing was first recorded by the Sutherland Brothers. Having joined forces with the band Quiver, the brothers were also responsible for another possible inclusion in this series, Arms Of Mary, which readers of a certain vintage are more likely to associate with 1970s Chilliwack hit. The Sutherland Brothers’ version has an apt shanty feel, with the keyboard player especially having fun experimenting with his toy. Rod’s version is richer and warmer. The old soul lover recorded it, and the rest of the ludicrously cover-designed Atlantic Crossing, in that incubator of great soul music: Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Handbags And Gladrags

The word “gladrags” is deplorably underused in pop music. So we ought to give credit to former Manfred Mann singer Mike D’Abo for popularising it in music. D’Abo didn’t immediately release it, producing British singer Chris Farlowe’s recording of it in 1967. Farlowe had made it a bit of a career of covering Rolling Stones songs in particular; his rather good version of Out Of Time topped the UK charts in 1966, his only Top 30 hit. He didn’t do very well either with Handbags And Gladrags, which tanked at #33, great harmonica backing notwithstanding. In 1969, Rod Stewart – a shrewd operator when it comes to recording lesser known songs — recorded the track, arranged again by D’Abo himself. Released in 1970, it became a hit only two years later.

Strangely, the song has not been covered much. It made something of a comeback when it was used as the theme for the British version of The Office, produced by a session musician and writer of many TV themes, the late Big George Webley.

 

Early Morning Rain

Several artists had a bite of Early Morning Rain before the song’s writer, Gordon Lightfoot, released it (though he had already recorded it). First up were Lightfoot’s Canadian compatriots Ian & Sylvia, a folk duo discovered in 1962 by Bob Dylan’s future manager Albert Grossman, who’d also sign Lightfoot. The married twosome’s version, with a rather good bass break, appeared on their 1965 album named after Lightfoot’s song. It featured another song by the still mostly unknown Lightfoot, For Lovin’ Me, as well as the original version of Darcy Farrow.

Both Lightfoot songs recorded by Ian & Sylvia were soon covered by Peter, Paul & Mary, then by Judy Collins and by the Kingston Trio. In November 1965 it was also recorded on a demo by the Warlocks, who a month later would become the Grateful Dead, though their version would not be released till later.

Lightfoot finally released the song in January 1966, closing the A-side of his debut album, Lightfoot!, which had mostly been recorded already in December 1964.

Let Your Love Flow

That great hit of the summer of 1976, Let Your Love Flow, might have been a hit for Neil Diamond. Written by one of the lamé-jacketed star’s roadies, Larry E Williams, it was offered first to Diamond. He declined to record it (as did Johnny Rivers), which perhaps was just as well. Instead the song came to country/folk singer-songwriter Gene Cotton, who recorded it for his 1975 album For All The Young Writers.

While Cotton’s version went nowhere, Neil Diamond’s drummer suggested it to his friends David and Howard Bellamy, the country duo The Bellamy Brothers. Their recording became one of the biggest hits of the decade and gave the brothers’ their international breakthrough hit. In West Germany Let Your Love Flow topped the charts in summer 1976 for six weeks until it was knocked off by its German version, by Jürgen Drews.

Mandy

Barry Manilow appropriated other people’s songs by force of arrangement (and, obviously, commercial success). If we need proof of how much Bazza owned the songs he didn’t write, consider his giant hit Mandy. It was a cover of a ditty called Brandy by one Scott English, which was a #12 hit in Britain in 1971 (the tune was written by Richard Kerr, who wrote two other hits for Manilow, Looks Like We’ve Made It and Somewhere In The Night). Manilow’s renamed version was the first cover. None of the subsequent recordings are dedicated to Brandy. English’s version is not very good. To start with he couldn’t sing, and the production is slapdash. Manilow recorded it reluctantly, not yet sure about singing other people’s music. He slowed it down, gave it a lush arrangement, and we know how it ended.

 

I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing

The ending of the series Mad Men has Don Draper dream up the famous I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke ad campaign, which gave rise to the New Seekers’ hit I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing. Somehow, a little-known Australian squeezed in her version as the song’s original release.

In January 1971, Coca Cola were looking for ways to popularise its new slogan, “It’s the Real Thing”, which had replaced the classic “Things Go Better With Coke”. The company’s advertising agency, McCann-Erickson, brought together its creative director, Bill Backer, with songwriters Billy Davis (who had written for Motown) and Roger Cook, a member of Blue Mink. Cook already had a melody, a ditty called True Love And Apple Pie which he had written with his regular collaborator, Roger Greenway. The three wrote the words for the jingle overnight in a London hotel room, with the New Seekers in mind as its performers. As it turned out, the New Seekers thought the song was trite and not just a little silly (and that’s the New Seekers pronouncing on sentimentality).

True Love And Apple Pie was instead recorded by the little-known Susan Shirley and was  released in March 1971. It seems that the Coke jingle had already been flighted a month earlier on US radio, but to negative response. There seem to have been legal wrangling as a result of a version of the jingle Coca Cola had commissioned being in circulation. Shirley’s song certainly received little promotion.

Meanwhile, the McCann-Erickson agency devised a new way of promoting the jingle, deciding it needed visuals. The resulting TV commercial, filmed by the great Haskell Wexler, became an instant classic. The song, I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke, became so popular that radio DJs persuaded Davis to record it with adapted lyrics. Recorded by session singers without the branding, it was released under the name Hillside Singers, and started to climb the US charts when the New Seekers eventually consented to record it, minus the “it’s the real thing” tag. It became a massive hit, topping the UK charts in January 1972 and reaching #7 in the US.

 

Forever And Ever

The songwriting team of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter had provided several hits for the Bay City Rollers. In 1975 they thought they had another winner for the band, a track called For Ever And Ever. But the band, then at the height of Rollermania, thought the song was too light and wanted something rockier. While BCR recorded Money Honey, which reached #3 in the UK charts in November 1975, Martin and Coulter dumped the band and gave the song to anther studio-confected teen band, Kenny.

That outfit had already enjoyed a few big hits, written by Martin and Coulter, such as The Bump and Julie Ann. For Ever And Ever appeared unnoticed on their less than successful The Sound Of Super K LP. The songwriters knew a hit when they had one, and decided that with a better arrangement, the song would storm the charts. Enter Scottish teen band Slik, led by Midge Ure and produced your two songwriting friends. In that version, Forever And Ever reached #1 in January 1976, knocking ABBA’s Mamma Mia off the top spot.

By then Ure might not have been the lead singer of Slik. In 1975 Malcolm McLaren asked Ure to become the frontman of the Sex Pistols. Ure declined. Punk meant nothing to him.

 

1. John Fogerty – Rockin’ All Over The World (1975)
The Usurper: Status Quo (1977)
2. Mick Jackson – Blame It On The Boogie (1978)
The Usurper: The Jacksons (1978)
3. John Henry Kurtz – Drift Away (1972)
The Usurper: Dobie Gray (1972)
4. Badfinger – Without You (1970)
The Usurpers: Nilsson (1972), Mariah Carey (1993)
5. Chris Farlowe – Handbags And Gladrags (1967)
The Usurper: Rod Stewart (1969)
6. Billy Preston – You Are So Beautiful (1974)
The Usurper: Joe Cocker (1975)
7. Kelly Gordon – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969)
The Usurper: The Hollies (1969)
8. Sutherland Brothers – Sailing (1972)
The Usurper: Rod Stewart (1975)
9. Anni-Frid Lyngstad – Fernando (1975)
The Usurper: ABBA (1976)
10. Kenny – For Ever And Ever (1975)
The Usurper: Slik (1976)
11. The Nerves – Hanging On The Telephone (1976)
The Usurper: Blondie (1978)
12. Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club – Video Killed the Radio Star (1979)
The Usurper: The Buggles (1979)
13. Kristine Sparkle – Devil Woman (1974)
The Usurper: Cliff Richard (1976)
14. Gene Cotton – Let Your Flow (1975)
The Usurper: The Bellamy Brothers (1976)
15. Albert Hammond – When I Need You (1977)
The Usurper: Leo Sayer (1976)
16. Scott English – Brandy (1971)
The Usurper: Barry Manilow (1974, as Mandy)
17. Ian & Sylvia – Early Morning Rain (1965)
The Usurper: Gordon Lightfoot (1966)
18. The Attack – Hi Ho Silver Lining (1967)
The Usurper: Jeff Beck (1967/72)
19. Wilbert Harrison – Let’s Work Together (1969)
The Usurpers: Canned Heat (1970), Bryan Ferry (1976)
20. Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking (1955)
The Usurper: Dave Edmunds (1970)
21. The Rays – Daddy Cool (1957)
The Usurper: Darts (1977)
22. Susan Shirley – True Love And Apple Pie (1971)
The Usurper: New Seekers (1971, as I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing)
23. Anthony Newley – The Candy Man (1971)
The Usurper: Sammy Davis Jr (1972)

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The Originals: The Classics

September 20th, 2018 9 comments

Here’s a collection of lesser-known originals of stone-cold pop classics, and quite a bit of background information to most of them. In fact, I suggest you make yourself a good cup of coffee, settle back and be engrossed in the stories of some of the most famous songs in pop history.

 

Hey Joe

We kick off with a track whose genesis is disputed, with some claiming Hey Joe is an old traditional folk song. There seems to be wide consensus, however, that it was written in the early 1960s by a folk singer called Billy Roberts, who may well have borrowed from a 1950s country song by the same title written by Boudleaux Bryant. Something of a cult classic on LA’s live scene and reportedly propagated by David Crosby, Roberts’ song was eventually recorded by The Leaves (though some claim that the Surfaris recorded their version first, but released it after the Leaves’ version came out).

Where The Leaves rock out in a psychedelic fashion, Jimi Hendrix’s version’s, recorded in December 1966, is said to have been based on the slower folk-rock treatment by Tim Rose (who once was part of a folk trio including someone called Jim Hendricks, with Mama Cass Elliott), though Arthur Lee insisted it was the Love recording of September 1966 that inspired Hendrix. Whatever the case: the version here is the first to be released on record.

 

Wild Horses

A number of tracks here were originally released before the actual writers had hits with them. One of those is the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses, which was first released by The Flying Burrito Brothers. The Stones recorded it before the Flying Burrito Brothers did, but released it only after Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons’ band released it on their 1970 album, Burrito Deluxe. Wild Horses was written in 1969 (Keef says about his new-born son; Jagger denies that its re-written lyrics were about Marianne Faithfull) and recorded in December 1969 at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, the day after the group laid down Brown Sugar. Jamming in a country mood, Mick asked Keith to present a number in that genre, spurring his country-loving friend on by saying: “Come on, you must have hundreds”. Keith disappeared for a bit, and returned with a melody and words for the chorus. Mick filled in the lyrics for the verses, and the song was recorded (with Jim Dickinson standing it for Ian Stewart, who did not like playing minor chords) before the Stones packed up and left Memphis.

Earlier that year, the Stones had collaborated on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace Of Sin album; and as the curtain fell on the 1960s, the Burritos opened for the Stones at the notorious Altamont concert (according to some reports, it was during their performance that the Hells’ Angels started the first fight). Parsons was especially friendly with Keith Richard, whom he introduced to the treasury of country music. It is even said that the song was intended for Gram — probably a false rumour, yet it sounds more like a Parsons than a Stones song. Whether or not it was intended for Parsons, the Burritos were allowed to record Wild Horses, and release it before the Stones were able to (a delay forced by contractual reasons involving their “divorce” from Allen Klein) on 1971’s Sticky Fingers album.

 

My Sweet Lord

Billy Preston recorded and released My Sweet Lord before George Harrison did. Preston had at one point come to be regarded as the “Fifth Beatle”, thanks to his keyboard work which earned him a co-credit on the Get Back single. He had actually known the band since 1962, when he toured Britain with Little Richard, for whom the Beatles opened in Liverpool. Post-Beatles, Preston continued working with Harrison, who had brought him into the Let It Be sessions. Written in December 1969 in Copenhagen, My Sweet Lord song first appeared on Preston’s Encouraging Words album, a star-studded affair which included not only Harrison, but also Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richard on bass and Ginger Baker on drums.

The album also included Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (a song which the Beatles had considered of recording); almost a year later that song would provide the title of the triple-LP set. The All Things Must Pass album, produced by Phil Spector, also included George’s cover of his own My Sweet Lord. Preston’s version is much closer to Harrison’s original concept than the composer’s own take. In his defence during the My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine plagiarism case, Harrison said that he had been inspired not by early-’60s girlband pop, but by the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1969 hit Oh Happy Day. That influence is acutely apparent on Preston’s recording, but less so on Harrison’s chart-topper. Indeed, had Preston scored the big hit with it, not Harrison, it might have been Ed Hawkins initiating the plagiarism litigation.

 

California Dreamin’

John and Michelle Phillips wrote California Dreamin’ in 1963, suitably while living in New York, before forming The Mamas and The Papas and while John was still with a group called The New Journeymen. Fellow folkie Barry McGuire helped John and Michelle land a recording contract. In gratitude, they gave McGuire a song for his next album: California Dreamin’, which was recorded (with the now formed Mamas & Papas on backing vocals) in 1965, but was released only in 1966. It was supposed to be McGuire’s follow-up to Eve Of Destruction, but The Mamas and The Papas recorded the song themselves and released it as a single in 1965, initially to widespread indifference. Only when it started getting airplay on a Boston radio station did the song become a hit in early 1966. McGuire insists that the Mamas & Papas didn’t so much re-record the song as replace his voice with Denny Doherty’s and the harmonica solo with the flute. Listen to the two versions and judge for yourself.

 

Suzanne

Several of Leonard Cohen’s most famous songs were first recorded by folk warbless Judy Collins: Sisters Of Mercy; Bird On A Wire; Since You’ve Asked; Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye – and Suzanne. The song was born in Montréal, landmarks of which are described at length in the song. Cohen already had a chord pattern in place which he then married to a poem he had written about Suzanne Verdal — the beautiful wife of the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, a friend of Cohen’s — whom he fancied but, as the lyrics have it, touched only in his mind. One night in 1966, a year before Cohen released his debut album, he played the finished song over the telephone to his friend Judy Collins, who was already a star on the folk scene. Duly enchanted, Collins recorded the song for her In My Life album, which was released in November 1966.

 

Where You Lead

Kate Taylor was (and still is) the younger sister of singer-songwriter James Taylor. She was well-connected: on her debut album, Sister Kate, she had the backing of such luminaries as Linda Ronstadt, Merry Clayton, The Memphis Horns, various Wrecking Crew legends, her brother James – and Carole King. The great songwriter lent Taylor two songs which would appear on her great Tapestry album: Where You Lead and Home Again. Taylor’s LP came out in January 1971; Tapestry a month later. Taylor’s version of Home Again in included as a bonus.

 

Me And Bobby McGee

Kris Kristofferson wrote Me And Bobby McGee, but as it was with several of his classic songs, others it to record it first. Janis Joplin was the one to have the great hit with it, and Kenny Rogers & The First Edition recorded it before her. But the first version was recorded by Roger Miller in 1969. His was a mid-tempo country-pop number, rather bereft of emotional engagement, an entirely misjudged drumtrack and, in the carnivalesque “la la la” part some ill-advised ’60s horns and some background whooping. It didn’t set the world of music alight, making it to #12 in the country charts, and failing to dent the pop charts. KK got around to recording it, and a couple of country types mucked about with it over the following few months, before Janis Joplin – a former lover and friend of Kristofferson’s – decided it was really a blues-rock number. Recorded just a few days before her death, Joplin is initially restrained before launching into a climax of screams and groans, as was her wont.

 

Rhinestone Cowboy

Larry Weiss was a prolific songwriter. In the 1960s, he co-wrote hits such as Bend Me Shape Me, Hi Ho Silver Lining and Spooky Tooth’s Evil Woman. Sporadically he also recorded his own songs. One of these was Rhinestone Cowboy, inspired by a phrase he had overheard in a conversation. The song appeared on Weiss’ Black And Blue Suite album, and it was released as a single (at least in West Germany).

The story goes that Glen Campbell heard the song on the car radio as he was on his way to a meeting with his record company, and thought about suggesting to record it. But before he had the opportunity to do so, the record company presented their own bright idea: how about this Rhinestone Cowboy song by Larry Weiss. In the original version, Weiss sounds much like his old Brill Building chum Neil Diamond. Campbell made the song his own, with that soaring voice which expresses such a forfeit of hope. Released in May 1975, it went on to top the pop and country charts simultaneously, the first time that had been done since 1961.

In 1984, Weiss finally got a project he had been working on realised – a movie starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone. Its title: Rhinestone.

 

Mr Bojangles

There is no truth to the old chestnut that Mr Bojangles tells the story of the great Bill Robinson. Folk/country singer Jerry Jeff Walker, who wrote and first recorded the song, tells the story of being in a New Orleans holding cell for public disorderliness with, among others, a street dancer (a white one, because cells were segregated). These public performers were generically nicknamed Bojangles (after Robinson). This man told his tales of life and of his grief for his dead dog. Urged on by the other cellmates, he proceeded to give them a tap dance. In 1968, three years after the incident, Walker recorded the song about that experience. Mr Bojangles is by far his most famous contribution to popular music. The second-most important would be to inspire Townes van Zandt to start writing songs.

The song was covered by several well-known performers but became a hit only in 1971, when the Nitty Gritty Band took it the US #9, drawing from Walker’s folk arrangement. The best, and probably best-known, version was recorded a year later, by Sammy Davis Jr, drawing from a cover by Bobby Cole. Sammy was a hoofer himself, of course, so in his younger days would have known many characters such as Mr Bojangles, even in his family of entertainers. Sammy could identify with the song, and he delivered a beautiful performance, with the right mix of carefree spirit (the whistling) and drama which his protagonist projects.

 

Black Magic Woman

Released in 1968, Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman is “three minutes of sustain/reverb guitar with two exquisite solos from Peter [Green],” according to Mick Fleetwood. Carlos Santana covered it on 1970’s Abraxas album and retained its basic structure, but changed the arrangement significantly with a shot of Latin and hint of fusion. It became one of Santana’s signature tunes, while Fleetwood Mac had to remind audiences that the song was actually theirs. The Black Magic Woman was Green’s girlfriend Sandra Elsdon who refused to sleep with him – hence the line “don’t turn your back on me baby, you might just pick up my magic stick”.

 

A Groovy Kind Of Love

A Groovy Kind Of Love was written in 20 minutes in 1965 by Carole Bayer Sager, barely 21, and 17-year-old Toni Wine. The song, one of the first to riff on the new buzzword “groovy”, was apparently based on the Rondo from Sonatina in G Major by Muzio Clementi. It was first recorded by the short-lived duo Diane & Annita — Diane Hall and Annita Ray. Annita had appeared alongside the likes of Fats Domino and Big Joe Turner in the rock ‘n’ roll movie Shake Rattle And Roll, in which she performed the song On A Saturday Night. The song was left off the soundtrack album. She met Diane Hall as a member of Ray Anthony’s Bookends. There is very little information about them as a duo, and rumours even had it that the Diane & Annita act was in fact Sager recording under a false name. In any case, the single didn’t go anywhere, nor did its second incarnation, a version by Patti LaBelle & the Bluebells, produced by the great Bertie Berns.

The English group The Mindbenders had enjoyed a US chart-topper with Game Of Love, but by mid-1965 they suddenly were without their frontman, Wayne Fontana, after he walked out in a middle of as concert. As luck would have it, the now Fontana-less band came to record A Groovy Kind Of Love, with future 10cc member Eric Stewart on lead vocals, and had a huge hit with it, reaching #2 both in the UK and US. It was the only real success the group would have before disbanding in 1968, by which time another future 10cc member, Graham Gouldman, had joined.

 

Ring Of Fire

At the time when June Carter was falling heavily for Johnny Cash, she was regularly writing songs with fellow country singer Merle Kilgore. As Kilgore recalled it, Ring Of Fire was born the day June spoke to him about her love for Cash. Later, seeking an idea for a song, June remembered a letter she had received from a friend going through a divorce which described love as “a burning ring of fire”. And thus a classic song title (which even appealed to the manufacturers of haemorrhoid ointment; Roseanne Cash blocked its use in an ad for such a product) was born. The song essentially describes June’s feelings for Cash. But it was her sister Anita Carter who recorded it first, in November 1962. In fact, the song was only half-finished when Anita was ready to record it. June and Kilgore banged the rest together in ten minutes, fortuitously retaining the word “mire” from a provisional lyric.

Cash liked the song when he heard Anita’s record (as he well should) and decided he would record it. Deferring to his future sister-in-law, he waited four months before recording his version. In the interim he had a dream about the song featuring Tijuana trumpets — possibly inspired by June’s comment about her having borrowed the song’s swirling sound from the music at a merry-go-round in Villa Acuna, Mexico. Shortened to Ring Of Fire, Cash’s version was a hit, his first since 1958, thus saving his about-to-be-cancelled recording contract with Columbia. Four years later, Kilgore was the best man at Johnny and June’s wedding.

 

The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan

Shel Silverstein was something of a Renaissance Man: a poet, childrens’ author, cartoonist, screenwriter and composer. In the latter incarnation, Silverstein wrote several hit songs, including A Boy Named Sue and The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. In 1971, Silverstein selected the yet unknown Dr Hook & the Medicine Show to appear on the soundtrack he wrote for the Dustin Hoffman film Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?. He proceeded to write the lyrics for many Dr Hook songs, including the notorious Sylvia’s Mother, Cover Of The Rolling Stone and Lucy Jordan. Dr Hook’s 1974 version of the latter made negligible impact, but Marianne Faithfull’s cover five years later became a big hit.

 

The Air That I Breathe

Albert Hammond composed The Air That I Breathe with frequent collaborator Mike Hazlewood and released it on his debut album in 1972. It starts of uncertainly, but mid-way through hits a strange stride. Perfect it is not, but certainly interesting. According to Hammond, it was written for a physically unattractive girl while Hazlewood came up with the title upon glimpsing LA’s smog. The song was then recorded by Phil Everly in 1973, but became a hit in the hands of the briefly resurgent Hollies a year later. Subsequently Hammond and Hazlewood received an unexpected songwriting credit on Radiohead’s Creep after the awful Thom Yorke stole from The Air That I Breathe for Creep.

 

Wild Thing

One of rock’s most iconic songs was written by actor Jon Voight’s younger brother, James Wesley, who took the name Chip Taylor. The first version of Wild Thing, by the New York band The Wild Ones, was released in 1965. Headed by one Jordan Christopher, they are said to have been the houseband of what has been called New York’s first disco, The Office. Taylor wrote Wild Thing for them as a favour to A&R man Gerry Granagan. It’s not very good at all, certainly not in comparison to The Troggs version, which replaced the Wild Ones’ whistle interlude with an ocarina solo (the ocarina is an ancient ceramic wind instrument).

Taylor has recalled that he wrote the song in a few minutes (“the pauses and the hesitations are a result of not knowing what I was going to do next”) and had a low opinion of it. Likewise, The Troggs recorded it in 20 minutes, during the same session that produced their follow-up hit With A Girl Like You. They worked from Taylor’s demo, rather than the Wild Ones’ version. Chip Taylor also wrote Angel Of The Morning, which featured in The Originals – The 1980s.

 

Black Betty

One of the hardest rocking hits of 1977 was Ram Jam’s blistering Black Betty, but it is an old African-American folk song favoured by labour gangs. The recording here is the oldest in existence, preceding the better-known one by Lead Belly (who often is credited with writing it) by six years. This is a 1933 field recording made by the musicologists John and Alan Lomax in 1933 of the convict James “Iron Head” Baker, then already 63, and backing band of prisoners at Central State Farm in Texas. The Ram Jam version wasn’t even the first rockified adaptation. In 1976, a year before the Ram Jam hit, it was recorded by an outfit called Starstruck, which included future Ram Jam member Bill Bartlett.

Civil right groups boycotted the song because it was thought it insulted black women. Anthropologists are undecided what exactly a “Black Betty”, perhaps a rifle, or a bottle of whiskey, or a whip (as Lead Belly claimed), or a penitentiary transfer wagon, or indeed a prostitute. In the Ram Jam lyrics Betty clearly is a woman, probably of African-American heritage, from Birmingham, Alabama.

 

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Nina Simone first recorded Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood in 1964 as a slow, soulful blues ballad, her voice so deep in places you’d think it was a man singing it. A year later The Animals took hold of it, and – as they had done with the traditional song House Of The Rising Sun – turned the number inside out, speeding it up, reintroducing the signature opening chords (which almost unnoticably appeared at the end of Simone’s version) and Alan Price’s glorious organ riff, and giving the soul-rock a bit of a flamenco sound. Twelve years later, in 1977, Leroy Gomez & Santa Esmeralda covered the Animals version, adding a touch of disco to the mix, to produce a dramatic and eminently danceable hit.

Denis

In 1978 Blondie enjoyed their breakthrough with a slice of power-pop new wave: Denis. It was a cover of a 1963 hit for for Randy & the Rainbows. Denise reached #10 on the Billboard charts, but after the follow-up barely scraped into the Top 100, that was it for the doo-woppers from Queens. The French verse in Blondie’s version was necessary to explain away the object of desire’s gender-change.

I Fought The Law

Thought by many to be an original Clash song, the more knowledgeable will refer to I Fought The Law as a Bobby Fuller Four song. But even that was a cover of the 1960 song by the Crickets, Buddy Holly’s erstwhile band. Written by Sonny Curtis, one can almost hear Holly sing it. In the event, the song made no great impact until Fuller’s 1964 recording. Fuller was found dead just as the single was becoming a hit (some say suicide, some allege foul play – few suicides involve beating one’s self up before imbibing petrol). The session drummer on the Fuller version, rumour has it, was a young Barry White. A generation later, it became something of a pub-punk classic as spat out by Strummer on the Clash version.

 

Barbara Ann

The Beach Boys never wanted Barbara Ann to be a single release; the LP it came from, Beach Boys Party!, was an informal jam session recorded to fulfil a contractual obligation. The group, and whoever else was around, were playing whatever came to mind while they were getting drunk. At one point, Dean Torrence of surf-pop duo Jan & Dean, who had previously recorded Barbara Ann in 1962 and was recording in an adjacent studio, popped in. Torrence suggested the song and sang lead on the recording with Brian Wilson. Torrence left half an hour later, and was not credited on the album. Obviously, the light-hearted Barbara Ann, with its fluffed lines and subsequent laughter and with session drummer Hal Blaine on ashtrays — listen closely at 1:05 — did not quite meet the sophisticated production values which had already been evident on recent recordings, such as California Girls. And still, Barbara Ann reached the US #2.

Barbara-Ann (it was originally hyphenated) had been a 1961 US #13 hit for The Regents, an American-Italian doo wop group from the Bronx. They went on to have only one more Top 30 hit, Runaround. Barbara-Ann had initially been recorded as a demo by The Regents in 1959. When they couldn’t land a record contract, the group folded. A couple of years later, a group called The Consorts, which included a Regents’ member’s younger brother, dug out the demo and played it at auditions. One record company, Cousins, liked Barbara-Ann and released it — but not by the Consorts, but the Regents’ version. The Regents hurriedly reunited, and the song quickly became a local and then a national hit.

 

El Condor Pasa

El Condor Pasa was a mammoth hit for Simon & Garfunkel in 1970, but by then the song was already 57 years old. Written in 1913 by the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles for a musical of the same name. Paul Simon hadn’t heard that, but a hit version by the Peruvian band Los Incas with whom had become friendly. Los Incas leader Jorge Milchberg told Simon that the melody was a traditional Andean folk song which he had arranged (and collected royalties for). It took an amicably resolved court case brought by Robles’ heirs to have the tune’s real composer credited.

 

The Lion Sleeps Tonight/Wimoweh

Finally, one of the most foul stories of songwriting theft: that of Mbube (the song known more widely as The Lion Sleeps Tonight or Wimoweh), with even the venerable Pete Seeger involved in the deceit; though he comes out of it a lot better than others.

The man who wrote and first recorded it, a South African musician named Solomon Linda, died virtually penniless, having been duped into selling the rights to the song for a pittance to the Italian-born South African record label owner Eric Gallo. Gallo pocketed the royalties of the prodigious South African sales, in return allowing Linda to work in his packing plant. Apart from performing on stage in South Africa, where he was a musical legend in the townships, Linda worked there until his death at 53 in 1962 — nine years after Seeger and the Weavers had a US #6 hit with it, and a year after The Tokens scored a huge hit with the song in a reworked version. No laws were broken in this deplorable story of plagiarism, but the rules of ethics and common decency certainly were.

Mbube was introduced to American music by Pete Seeger, who adapted a fairly faithful version of the song. Still, Seeger didn’t even transcribe the word “uyiMbube” properly, even though he had received a record of the song which had a label stating the title on it. Thus “uyiMbube” became “Wimoweh”.

Seeger later pleaded ignorance about the intricacies of music publishing, and, to his credit, deeply regretted not insisting firmly enough that Linda be given the songwriting credit. He had sent his initial arrangers’s fee of $1,000 to Linda and insisted that the song’s publishers, TRO, should keep sending royalties to the South African. Apparently they periodically did so, though Linda’s widow had little idea where the money — hardly riches (about $275 per quarter in the early ’90s) — came from. Some family members say the payments started only in the 1980s. Whatever the case, neither Linda nor Seeger were credited for the song now known as Wimoweh. The credit went to Paul Campbell, a pseudonym used by TRO owner Harry Richmond to copyright the many public-domain folk songs which TRO published.

The Tokens’ version took even greater liberties. But this time nobody could claim ignorance because Miriam Makeba, who grew up with the song, had released it in the US in 1960, a year before The Tokens’ version was created, as Mbube, or The Lion (mbube means lion). It is fair to say that George David Weiss, who rearranged the song for The Tokens, at their request, should not be denied his songwriter credit. Weiss dismantled and restructured the song, turning a very African song into an American novelty pop song. RCA and mafia associates producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore (we met those two charmers as co-writers of Can’t Help Falling In Love in part two the Elvis Originals) claimed co-writing credit and the rights to the song, deciding that Mbube was an old African folk song and therefore in the public domain. They might well have thought so in good faith, but a minimum of research would have established the facts, even before the age of Google. Or perhaps not: they pulled the same stunt with Miriam Makeba’s Click Song (the clicking is a distinctive sound in the Xhosa language), which the Tokens released as Bwanina. They got away with that, because Makeba’s number was based on an old folk song. Not so with The Lion Sleeps Tonight, to which Gallo, the record label owner from South Africa, had asserted his US rights in 1952 and then sold it to TRO. A whole lot of wheeling and dealing took place, with the upshot that the credit now included TRO’s fictitious Paul Campbell. Again, Linda was left out in the cold.

It was only at the beginning of the 2000s that Linda’s family took legal action, and that only after Richmond, Weiss and the mafia pals started to wrangle about the ownership to the song. Solomon Linda’s family eventually won a settlement which entitles them to future royalties and a lump sum for royalties going back to 1987, largely due to an extensive Rolling Stone exposé by South African one-book wonder novelist Rian Malan.

Here’s the kicker: Solomon Linda was quite delighted at the international success of his song; he didn’t realise that he should have received something for it — even if that something was just an acknowledgment that he wrote the song. Read the full story of Mbube.

 

As always, CD-R length, home-covered covers, PW in comments. And, yes, in some of these cases it is a bit harsh to refer to the artists who covered their own sings as usurpers, but, as any old hack will tell you, style is style.

1. The Leaves – Hey Joe, Where Are You Going (1966)
The Usurper: Jimi Hendrix (1966)
2. Fleetwood Mac – Black Magic Woman (1968)
The Usurper: Santana (1970)
3. Barry McGuire – California Dreaming (1965)
The Usurper: The Mamas and The Papas (1966)
4. Flying Burrito Brothers – Wild Horses (1970)
The Usurper: The Rolling Stones (1971)
5. Jerry Jeff Walker – Mr. Bojangles (1968)
The Usurper: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1970)
6. Larry Weiss – Rhinestone Cowboy (1974)
The Usurper: Glen Campbell (1975)
7. Roger Miller – Me And Bobby McGee (1969)
The Usurper: Janis Joplin (1970)
8. Anita Carter – (Love’s) Ring Of Fire (1963)
The Usurper: Johnny Cash (1963)
9. Kate Taylor – Where You Lead (1971)
The Usurper: Carole King (1971)
10. Judy Collins – Suzanne (1966)
The Usurper: Leonard Cohen (1967)
11. Diane & Annita – A Groovy Kind Of Love (1965)
The Usurpers: The Mindbenders (1965), Phil Collins (1988)
12. Billy Preston – My Sweet Lord (1970)
The Usurper: George Harrison (1970)
13. Albert Hammond – The Air That I Breathe (1972)
The Usurper: The Hollies (1974)
14. Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show – Ballad Of Lucy Jordan (1973)
The Usurper: Marianne Faithfull (1979)
15. Nina Simone – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (1964)
The Usurpers: The Animals (1964), Santa Esmeralda (1977)
16. Kai Winding with Vocal Group – Time Is On My Side (1963)
The Usurper: The Rolling Stones (1964)
17. Dee Dee Warwick – You’re No Good (1963)
The Usurpers: Swinging Blue Jeans (1964), Linda Ronstadt (1974)
18. The Regents – Barbara-Ann (1961)
The Usurper: The Beach Boys (1965)
19. Randy and the Rainbows – Denise (1963)
The Usurper: Blondie (1978)
20. Crickets – I Fought The Law (1959)
The Usurper: Bobby Fuller Four (1966), The Clash (1979)
21. The Wild Ones – Wild Thing (1965)
The Usurper: The Troggs (1966)
22. Ann Cole with The Suburbans and Orchestra – Got My Mojo Working (1957)
The Usurper: Muddy Waters (1957)
23. Roy Hawkins – The Thrill Is Gone (1951)
The Usurper: B.B. King (1970)
24. James Iron Head Baker & Group – Black Betty (1933)
The Usurpers: Lead Belly (1939), Ram Jam (1977)
25. Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds – Mbube (1939)
The Usurpers: The Weavers (as Wimoweh, 1957), The Tokens (as The Lion Sleeps Tonight, 1961)
26. Edric Connor and The Caribbeans – Day Dah Light (1952)
The Usurper: Harry Belafonte (as The Banana Boat Song, 1956)
27. Orquesta del Zoológico – El Cóndor Pasa (1917)
The Usurper: Simon & Garfunkel (1970)

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Any Major Originals: The 1980s

August 9th, 2018 7 comments

Some years ago I ran a long series on the lesser-known originals of big hits. Here we continue a series of mixes that bring many of those originals together, by themes. Previously we’ve had the originals of Burt Bacharach songs, Christmas classics, Elvis Presley (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). Here are the originals of hits from the 1980s.

One act could have featured twice here: early ‘70s soul group The Persuaders feature here with their quite nice original of Some Guys Have All The Luck, with the famous cover a cautionary tale of what can happen to a perfectly good song when you add ‘80s synths, cocaine and Rod Stewart to it. Not featured is A Thin Line Between over And Hate, later a hit for the Pretenders. But another original of a Pretenders hit features here, the Kinks’ 1964 song Stop Your Sobbing. At this point I notice that the first three tracks on this mix were originally sung by men and covered to commercial success by women.

Perhaps the most famous of these originals is Gloria Jones’ 1965 b-side Tainted Love; a soul track (often falsely said to be a Tamla Motown record) that became a synth classic. It came to the UK by way of England’s Northern Soul scene which thrives on obscure ‘60s soul tracks. Before Tainted Love became a hit, Gloria Jones attained some pop history fame: she was Marc Bolan’s girlfriend and passenger when he was killed in a car crash in 1977.

A couple of tracks here may, to some, be better known in the original. The Labi Siffre original of It Must Be Love is hardly obscure. Still, it is the 1981 Madness cover that was the bigger hit and gets the wider airplay. Madness reached the UK #4 with the song; in 1971, Siffre (one of the first openly gay singers in pop) reached #14 with it. Rather endearingly, Siffre made a cameo appearance in the video for the Madness single (he is a violin player).

Likewise, when teenage singer Tiffany scored her 1987 debut hit I Think We’re Alone Now by performing it at malls, the kids’ parents (seen in the video looking on bemusedly at Tiffany’s exploits) probably recognised the song as Tommy James & the Shondells’ 1967 US #4 hit. And while Tiffany topped the UK charts with her version, the original didn’t chart there. Curiously, Tiffany’s cover was followed at US #1 by another Tommy James cover, Mony Mony by Billy Idol.

Certainly in Europe, the Laura Branigan hit Gloria was better known in Umberto Tozzi’s Italian original from 1978. Branigan had another big hit with an Italian hit: 1984’s Self Control was a Euro hit the same year for RAF.

Some originals were written or co-written by the artist who’d have the hit with them. C’est La Vie, first recorded by soul singer Beau Williams, was co-written by Robbie Nevil who’d have a hit with it in 1986 (followers of the Any Major Soul series may remember Williams as the singer of the slightly overwrought ballad Elvina).

China Girl, a hit for David Bowie in 1983, was originally recorded by Iggy Pop, who co-wrote it with Bowie, in 1977 at a time when both stars dwelled in Berlin to wean themselves off heroin. Indeed, there is a good case to be made that the song is about heroin, a drug sometimes referred to as China White, or about an opiate known as China Girl. In 1983 Bowie revived the song, which in Iggy’s version made few waves, in his besuited Let’s Dance period, polishing it under Nile Rodger’s production, and frolicking to it in the Australian waves in the video.

The Arrows were a short-lived English band on the RAK label, which also gave us the likes of Smokie, Hot Chocolate and Racey (who also feature here), and so were produced by the genius of ‘70s pop, Mickey Most. After two hits – though not this song – the Arrows disappeared. Joan Jett also seemed to disappear after the break-up of The Runaways in the late ‘70s, suddenly reappearing in 1982 with the largely obscure I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which she had previously recorded with members of the Sex Pistols. Apparently Jett had known the song since 1976 when, while on tour with the Runaways, she saw the Arrows performing it on TV.

Racey, mentioned above, were the original perpetrators of Toni Basil’s Mickey, though they sang about Kitty. The song was written by RAK’s Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. It was not a hit, and neither Toni Basil nor her record company evidently thought much of it when she recorded it soon after, also in 1979. For two years it languished in the reject tray before some bright spark decided to inflict the number on us, against Basil’s misgivings. They should have listened to the singer.

Some performers of lesser-known originals just had rotten luck. Take Evie Sands, the first singer to record the one-night stand anthem Angel Of The Morning, in 1967. It was on its way to becoming a hit, with good radio airplay and 10,000 copies selling fast. Then the label, Cameo-Parkway, went bankrupt, and Sands’ record sank. A few months later, Memphis producer Chips Moman picked up Angel Of The Morning (which in the interim had also been recorded by English singer Billie Davies) and had the unknown Merrilee Rush record it, backed by the same session crew that played with Elvis during his famous Memphis sessions that produced hits such as Suspicious Minds (itself a cover, as detailed in Elvis Originals Vol. 2). The Seattle-born singer had a massive hit with it, even receiving a Grammy nomination. It soon was covered prodigiously, with P.P. Arnold scoring a UK hit with it in 1968, and Juice Newton has a mega-hit with her 1981 cover (hence the song’s inclusion here). Happily, Sands went on to enjoy some success later.

Around the same time Juice Newton had a hit with Angel Of The Morning, Kim Carnes topped charts with Bette Davis Eyes, for which the song’s subject went out of her way to thank first Carnes and then the songwriters for introducing her to a whole new generation of kids and giving her cool status among her grandchildren. But the first version of it was recorded by Jackie DeShannon, who was not just a fine singer but also a songwriter. She co-wrote Bette Davis Eyes with Donna Weiss, and recorded it in 1975 in a country-boogie woogie style. Her version attracted little attention, but six years later Carnes’ cover became one of the biggest hits in US chart history. As for the titular eyes which warranted a song, apparently they were the product of a thyroid condition Davis suffered.

Produced by Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra, Got My Mind Set On was a cover version that in 1987 gave George Harrison his first big hit since the nostalgic All Those Years Ago six years earlier. With Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, Harrison and Lynne went on to form the Traveling Wilburys. It is no accident that Harrison’s US#1 and UK#2 hit sounds a lot like a Wilburys song.

Got My Mind Set On you was originally recorded at roughly the same time as the Beatles began their ascent. Indeed, Harrison discovered the song at that time when he bought James Ray’s LP during a holiday to visit his sister in the US in September 1963. R&B singer Ray James was remembered mostly for only one song, and it wasn’t the song Harrison resurrected 25 years later, but If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody, which reached #22 in the Billboard charts. Alas, he struggled to have more hits. James Ray died in 1964, reportedly of a drug overdose. Featured here is the longer album version of I’ve Got My Mind Set On You, on which Ray was backed by the Hutch Davie Orchestra, which Harrison would have heard on the LP he bought (and which is a lot better than his cover). The single version apparently was brutally truncated.

Money’s Too Tight To Mention was Simply Red’s breakthrough hit in the summer of 1985, creating what seemed to be a fresh take on an old soul number. It was, in fact, a cover of a song barely three years old (the Reaganomics reference, of course, hints at that). But even in its original form by the Valentine Brothers, the track sounds like a ’60s throwback, musically and lyrically. The narrative borrows from down-on-luck numbers such as Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come (absent the trace of optimism), and musically you can imagine Otis Redding singing it. Simply Red’s take is not wildly different from the funkier Valentine Brothers’ version. And the iconic exclamation, “Cut-back!” is there in the original. The Valentine Brothers, a duo from Ohio (one of whom, Billy, had been a member of jazz trio Young-Holt Unlimited), never enjoyed much success, their career fizzling out after a couple of albums.

It has never been much of a secret that Chaka Khan’s big 1984 hit I Feel For You was written by Prince, but the composer’s version is not very well known. And, frankly, it isn’t quite as good as Chaka’s (which coincidentally was a hit at the height of Prince’s fame and success on the back of Purple Rain). Prince, on his eponymous sophomore album, sings it with his falsetto, backed by a synth which in 1979 must have seemed cutting edge but now sounds terribly dated. It’s not bad, but the Arif Mardin arrangement for Chaka Khan, with Melle Mel’s rap – which surely did a lot to popularise rap in the mainstream, and which Chaka did not like – is richer, funkier, more fun.

South African-born Mutt Lange has had an excessively long string as a producer and songwriter who gave us the great (AC/DC’s Back In Black), the bad (Bryan Adam’s Everything I Do…) and the ugly (something by Michael Bolton). Before he hit the big time, he was the songwriter and singer of a UK-based band named Supercharge. One of the songs Mutt sang in 1979 was reworked three years later to become Huey Lewis’ Do You Believe In Love.

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

1. Arrows – I Love Rock ‘n Roll (1975)
The Usurper: Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (1982)
2. Kinks – Stop Your Sobbing (1964)
The Usurper: Pretenders (1979)
3. Tommy James & The Shondells – I Think We’re Alone Now (1967)
The Usurper: Tiffany (1987)
4. James Ray – Got My Mind Set On You (Parts 1 & 2) (1963)
The Usurper: George Harrison (1987)
5. Gloria Jones – Tainted Love (1965)
The Usurper: Soft Cell (1981)
6. The Persuaders – Some Guys Have All The Luck (1974)
The Usurpers: Robert Palmer (1982), Rod Stewart (1984)
7. Labi Siffre – It Must Be Love (1971)
The Usurper: Madness (1981)
8. Evie Sands – Angel Of The Morning (1967)
The Usurpers: Merrilee Rush (1968), Juice Newton (1981)
9. Jackie DeShannon – Bette Davis Eyes (1975)
The Usurper: Kim Carnes (1981)
10. i-Ten – Alone (1983)
The Usurper: Heart (1987)
11. Supercharge – We Both Believe In Love (1979)
The Usurper: Huey Lewis & the News (1982, as Do You Believe In Love)
12. Umberto Tozzi – Gloria (1979)
The Usurper: Laura Branigan (1982)
13. Iggy Pop – China Girl (1977)
The Usurper: David Bowie (1983)
14. The Reaction – Talk Talk Talk Talk (1977)
The Usurper: Talk Talk (1982, as Talk Talk)
15. Racey – Kitty (1979)
The Usurper: Toni Basil (1982, as Mickey)
16. Jules Shear – If She Knew What She Wants (1985)
The Usurper: The Bangles (1986)
17. Prince – I Feel For You (1979)
The Usurper: Chaka Khan (1984)
18. Valentine Brothers – Money’s Too Tight To Mention (1982)
The Usurper: Simply Red (1985)
19. Otis Clay – The Only Way Is Up (1982)
The Usurper: Yazz and the Plastic Population (1988)
20. Beau Williams – Cést La Vie (1984)
The Usurper: Robbie Nevil (1986)
21. The Crickets – More Than I Can Say (1960)
The Usurper: Leo Sayer (1980)
22. Sam & Dave – I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down (1967)
The Usurper: Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1980)
23. The Paragons – The Tide Is High (1967)
The Usurper: Blondie (1980)

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The Originals – Elvis Presley Vol. 2

April 30th, 2015 7 comments

The first part of the Elvis Originals covered (as it were) the Rock & Roll years and early post-GI period. Here we have the originals of songs Elvis covered in the 1960s and ’70s.

Elvis Presley’s artistic decline in the1960s is symbolised by the coincidence of his most derided movie, Clambake, which opened at about the same time as The Beatles released their groundbreaking Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP. A year later, in 1968, Elvis’ live TV special marked the comeback of Elvis the Entertainer. Elvis the Recording Artist, however, had not had a #1 hit in seven years when in January 1969 he entered the famous American Sound Studios in Memphis.

suspicious-mind

At first the old soul music veterans at the studio were dubious about working with the washed-up ex-king of rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis soon had them convinced otherwise. Eight days into the session, on January 20, he recorded the Mac Davis-penned In The Ghetto; two days later Suspicious Minds, which by the end of 1969 would top the US charts.

Suspicious Minds was written by American Sound Studios in-house writer Mark James (whose real name was Francis Zambon), who also wrote hits such as It’s Only Love and Hooked On A Feeling for his friend, country singer BJ Thomas. And it was BJ Thomas was in line to record Suspicious Minds, which James had already released on record to no commercial success, before the song was given to Presley. Elvis insisted on recording the song even when his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, threatened that he wouldn’t over the question of publishing rights (always an issue with Parker).

Elvis would record four more songs written or co-written by James: Always On My Mind, Raised On A Rock, Moody Blue (which James released in 1975) and It’s Only Love. Chips Moman produced James’ 1968 version of Suspicious Minds, thereby creating a handy template which he returned to when producing Elvis’ version.

 

brenda-lee

Depending on where you live and how old you are, Always On My Mind may be Elvis’ song or Willie Nelson’s, or perhaps the Pet Shop Boys’ (who had a hit with it in late 1987 after earlier performing it on a TV special to mark the 10th anniversary of Elvis’ death). Originally it was Brenda Lee’s, released in May 1972. It was not a big hit for her, reaching only #45 in the country charts. Somehow Elvis heard it and found the lyrics expressed his emotions at a time when the marriage to Priscilla was collapsing. He recorded it later in 1972. Released as the b-side to the top 20 hit Separate Ways, Always On My Mind was a #16 hit in the country charts. In the UK, however it was a top 10 hit, and became better know in Europe than in the US.

 

jerry-reed

Another artist whose songs Elvis loved to cover was Jerry Reed, featured here with Guitar Man and US Male, originally released by Reed in 1966 and covered by Elvis two years later. Jerry Reed was a country singer who toiled for a dozen years before scoring a hit in 1967 with Tupelo Mississippi Flash — a song about Elvis. The same year Elvis chose to record Reed’s Guitar Man (the composer is listed as Jerry Hubbard, the singer’s real surname), and Reed played guitar on it. For Elvis, Guitar Man was a redemption of sorts after the degradation of Clambake. His performance of the song at the Elvis ’68 Comeback Special is one of the best moments of the show.

 

bossa-nova-baby

The writers most associated with Elvis are Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller. Their Bossa Nova Baby has been unjustly regarded by some as a novelty number from an Elvis movie (1963’s Fun In Acapulco). Even Elvis is said to have been embarrassed by it. If so, he had no cause: it may not be a bossa nova — it’s too fast for that — but it has an infectious tune and a genius keyboard riff which begs to be sampled widely. Perhaps it was the lyrics which had Elvis allegedly shamefaced, but the lines “she said, ‘Drink, drink, drink/Oh, fiddle-de-dink/I can dance with a drink in my hand’” are not much worse than some of the doggerel our man was forced to croon in his movie career as singing racing driver/pineapple heir/bus conductor. Or perhaps Elvis was embarrassed by the idea of including a notional bossa nova number in a movie set in Mexico.

Tippie & the Clovers, who were signed to Leiber and Stoller’s Tiger label, recorded it first in 1962 to cash in on the bossa nova craze. Apparently the composer’s preferred the Clovers’ version over Elvis’. These were the same Clovers, incidentally, who had scored a #23 hit with Love Potion No. 9 (also written by Leiber & Stoller and later covered to greater chart effect by the Searchers) on Atlantic in 1959.

 

crying-in-the-chapel

Elvis was greatly influenced by the sounds of Rhythm & Blues on the one hand and country music on the other — Arthur Crudup and Hank Snow. A third profound influence was gospel. Here, too, Elvis drew from across the colour line. Often he was one of the few white faces at black church services (as a youth in Tupelo, he lived in a house designated for white families but located at the edge of a black township), but he also loved the white gospel-country sounds created by the likes of the Louvin Brothers, whom he once regarded as his favourite act.

Indeed, gospel was the genre Elvis loved the most. In recording studios, he would warm up with gospel numbers. When he jammed with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in the Sun studio (Johnny Cash left before any of the misnamed Million Dollar Quartet session was recorded), much of the material consisted of sacred music. At the height of his hip-gyrating greatness, he recorded an EP of spirituals titled Peace In The Valley. And let’s not forget that the only three Grammies Elvis ever received were for gospel recordings.

Elvis’ biggest gospel hit was Crying In The Chapel, which had been written in 1953 by Artie Glenn for his son Darrell, who performed it in the country genre. The same year, the R&B band Sonny Til & the Orioles — progenitors of the doo wop style of the late ’50s and the first of a succession of bird-themed bandnames — scored a #11 hit with the song (around the same time, a pop version by June Valli reached #4). It was the Orioles’ recording from which Elvis drew inspiration in his version, recorded shortly after he returned from the army in 1960. It was not released, at Tom Parker’s command, because Artie Glenn refused to share the rights to the song with the cut-throat publishing company of Elvis repertoire, Hill & Range. And with good reason, for the song continued to be a hit by several artists. Eventually Hill & Range secured the ownership. When Crying In The Chapel was eventually released in 1965, it was not only a US hit (his first top 10 single in two years), but also topped the UK charts.

 

wonder-of-you

Apparently written for Perry Como, The Wonder Of You was first recorded by Ray Peterson (he of Tell Laura I Love Her notoriety) in 1959, scoring a moderate hit with it. Peterson, who died in 2005, later liked to recount the story of how Elvis sought his permission to record the song. “He asked me if I would mind if he recorded The Wonder Of You. I said: ‘You don’t have to ask permission; you’re Elvis Presley.’ He said: ‘Yes, I do. You’re Ray Peterson.’” Not that Peterson owned the rights to the song, or was particularly famous for singing it.

Elvis recorded the song live on stage in Las Vegas on February 18, 1970. It was released as a single a couple of months later and was a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic, topping the UK charts for six weeks. It was also his last UK #1 during his lifetime.

 

burning-love

Elvis did not particularly like Burning Love; if he didn’t record it under protest, he certainly was not going to spend much time on it. Where 16 years earlier he’d spend 30-odd takes on the spontaneous sounding Hound Dog, he recorded Burning Love in only six takes. The production values were pretty poor: Elvis’ voice sounds tinny, but not for lack of trying. But listen to the drumming! Strange then that this slack recording scored big in the US (#2 on Billboard; the final top 10 hit in his lifetime) and UK (#7).

A year previously, in 1971, the soul singer Arthur Alexander (whom we will meet again when we turn to originals of Beatles songs) recorded Burning Love, releasing it in January 1972, two months before Elvis recorded it. A fine recording in the southern soul tradition, it made no impact. The song’s writer, Dennis Linde, recorded it in 1973 — his version, included here, recalls the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

 

shannon-runaway

With its Bo Diddley-inspired guitar riff and flamenco-meets-rock ‘n’ roll feel, 1961’s (Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame served as a welcome, albeit temporary, break from Elvis’ succession of easy listening fare such as It’s Now Or Never, Surrender and Are You Lonesome Tonight (though within a few months, he’d top the charts with another standard ballad, Can’t Help Falling In Love). Like all these songs, His Latest Flame was not an original.

The song was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who wrote some 20 Elvis songs — including Viva Las Vegas, their demo of which is included here — as well as hits for acts such as The Drifters (Save The Last Dance For Me) and Dion (Teenager In Love). Although reportedly written specifically for Elvis, His Latest Flame was first offered to Bobby Vee, who turned it down. Instead Del Shannon recorded the song in May 1961, with a view to releasing it as a follow-up single for his big hit Runaway. In the event, he decided to run with the non-classic Hats Off To Larry instead. His Latest Flame was released on the Runaway With Del Shannon LP in June ’61. The same month Elvis recorded his version, which was released in the US in August. Due to the arcane method of compiling the US charts, the His Latest Flame peaked at #4 and its flip side, Little Sister (another Pomus/Shuman composition) at #5. It topped the charts in Britain.

Shuman tended to tout his co-composition by way of demos on which he sang himself. The demo for His Latest Name is much closer to Elvis’version than Shannon’s, a less smooth, more soulful interpretation which has something of a mariachi band feel, using brass to accentuate the Diddley-style riff (which the Smiths famously sampled 24 years later on Rusholme Ruffians).

 

rockahulababy

It’s Now Or Never and Surender were based on old Italian songs; Can’t Help Falling In Love on an old French melody. This is the song which ignorant callers to radio stations tend to request by the title “Wise Man Say”. The fictitious title is not entirely off the mark: the lyrics were co-written by a pair of alleged mafia associates, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, with George David Weiss. Peretti and Creatore were partners with mafioso Mo Levy in the Roulette record label (named after the game that “Colonel” Tom Parker was addicted to), which the FBI identified as a source of revenue for the Genovese crime family. The trio also wrote the lyrics for The Lion Sleeps Tonight, a song stolen from South African musician Solomon Linda.

The melody of Can’t Help Falling In Love borrows from the old French love song Plaisir d’amour, composed in 1785 by Johann Paul Aegidius Martini. It was first recorded in 1902 by Monsieur Fernand (real name Emilio de Gogorza), and subsequently by a zillion others, including in 1908 by the baritone Charles Gilibert (1866-1910). It may be a little more accurate to describe Can’t Help Falling In Love as an adaptation rather than as a cover. While the similarities are sufficiently evident to mark Plaisir d’amour as the basis for the song, it certainly has been innovated on.

The song was adapted in 1961 for Elvis’ Blue Hawaii movie (the title track was a cover of a Bing Crosby song, of all things). Reportedly, neither the film’s producers nor Elvis’ label, RCA, liked the song much. Elvis, however, insisted on recording it. Elvis often was his best A&R man, and so it was here. The song was initially released as the b-side of Rock-A-Hula Baby (you do know how that one goes, no?). In the event, Can’t Help became the big hit, reaching #2 in the US and #1 in the UK. It also became a signature song for Elvis who would invariably include it in his concerts. Indeed, it was the last song he performed live on stage in Indianapolis on 26 June 1977, Elvis’ final concert.

 

The last five tracks in the mix are demo versions recorded by the songs’ composers. And in the case of A Little Less Conversation, Elvis was the progenitor for the later version which became a hit in 2002 under the Elvis vs JXL moniker.

1. Del Shannon – His Latest Flame (1961)
2. Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters – Such A Night (1956)
3. The Coasters – Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)
4. Tippie & the Clovers – Bossa Nova Baby (1962)
5. Jerry Reed – Guitar Man (1967)
6. Mark James – Suspicious Minds (1968)
7. Arthur Alexander – Burning Love (1972)
8. Tony Joe White – I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby (1972)
9. Jerry Reed – U.S. Male (1966)
10. Wynn Stewart – Long Black Limousine (1958)
11. Brenda Lee – Always On My Mind (1972)
12. Ferlin Husky – There Goes My Everything (1966)
13. Ray Peterson – The Wonder Of You (1959)
14. Micky Newbury – An American Trilogy (1971)
15. Tony Joe White – Polk Salad Annie (1968)
16. Mark James – Moody Blue (1975)
17. Buffy Sainte-Marie – Until It’s Time For You To Go (1965)
18. Les Paul & Mary Ford – I Really Don’t Want To Know (1954)
19. Darrell Glenn – Crying In The Chapel (1953)
20. Bing Crosby – Blue Hawaii (1937)
21. Charles Gilibert – Plaisir d’amour (1908)
22. Elvis Presley – A Little Less Conversation (1968)
23. Laying Maetine Jr. – Way Down (1976)
24. Mort Shuman – His Latest Flame
25. Mort Shuman – Viva Las Vegas
26. Bill Giant – Devil In Disguise
27. Dennis Linde – Burning Love

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The Originals – Elvis Presley Vol. 1

January 8th, 2015 9 comments

On 8 January Elvis would have turned 80. Let that sink in. And when you bump into an 80-year-old man today…that could be Elvis now!

To mark Elvis’ birthday, here’s the first of two mixes of original versions of famous Elvis songs, this one covering Elvis’ output up to 1960. Four are actually not really originals: the last three are demos which were presented to Presley (and the Elvis recordings show just how great an interpreter of song he was). And Aura Lee was reworked as Love Me Tender; it was an old song first copyrighted in 1861. It was sung by Frances Farmer in the 1936 movie Come and Get It!, but wasn’t released on record.

Then there’s Hound Dog, featured twice: in Big Mama Thornton’s original recording of the song, and the version on which Elvis based his, by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, an Italo-American band he had seen during his discouraging concert engagement in Vegas in April/May 1956. Between Thornton and Presley the song had been brutalised in a series of covers which dismantled the original lyrics and added doggerel to it (such as the rabbit line) to become the nonsense we know today.

Freddie Bell & the Bellboys, on whose rendition of Hound Dog Elvis based his.

Freddie Bell & the Bellboys, on whose rendition of Hound Dog Elvis based his.

 

This collection of songs proves one thing: Elvis didn’t just, as the popular narrative has it, “steal” black music and made it big on its back. Elvis certainly was a big fan of the various strands of what we now call R&B, and no doubt was heavily influenced by it. But he also drew much from country music, as well as from gospel. Indeed, his first public performance was as a ten-year-old at a talent show in his hometown Tupelo, where he performed Old Shep, a hit from 1941 by Red Foley (he had first recorded it in 1935, about his German shepherd  Hoover, who had been poisoned by a neighbour). Elvis first stage performances were on the country circuit, especially on the Louisiana Hayride. And it was through country star Hank Snow that he met the ghastly “Colonel” Parker.

Elvis’ first hit was, of course, a cover of a blues tune, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s That’s All Right Mama. It’s the song that changed Rock & Roll forever. Young Elvis was in the Sun studios in Memphis, auditioning for the legendary Sam Phillips (in other accounts the story is set, more credibly, during the first recording session). Elvis, the story goes, was failing the audition, having crooned one ballad after another in Dean Martin mode. It was not the sound Phillips was looking for.

During a break (or at the end of the session), Elvis starting goofing around with his guitar, singing That’s All Right. Session musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black joined in. Sam Phillips later recalled: “The door to the control room was open, the mics were on, Scotty was in the process of packing up his guitar, I think Bill had already thrown his old bass down — he didn’t even have a cover for it — and the session was, to all intents and purposes, over. Then Elvis struck up on just his rhythm guitar, ‘That’s all right, mama..,’ and I mean he got my attention immediately. It could have been that it wouldn’t have sold ten copies, but that was what I was looking for!”

Elvis later also covered Crudup’s very similar My Baby Left Me. Crudup fought for the rest of his life to receive due royalties, making his living as a bootlegger and field labourer. In 1971 an agreement for $60,000 was agreed with Melrose Publishers, who proceeded to blankly refuse paying up. Crudup died penniless in 1974 at the age of 68.

Arthur Crudup, from whom Elvis covered two songs.

Arthur Crudup, from whom Elvis covered two songs.

 

Some say that Good Rockin’ Tonight was the proto Rock & Roll record. Of course, any claim of inaugurating Rock & Roll is impossible to validate because the genre was the result of a musical evolution (and it is still evolving). What can be said is that the song, and most certainly Wynonie Harris’ 1948 cover, was influential in that evolution. Good Rockin’ Tonight was Elvis’ second single. So it is faintly ironic that Presley’s version draws more from Brown’s 1947 jump blues original (deleting, however, the by then outdated litany of R&B figures) than from Harris’ R&B cover.

It was not the most popular of Elvis’ early tunes; his still mostly country audience was still unsure about the influence of what was then called “race music” on the future legend’s sound. In those embryonic days of Elvis’ stardom, his most popular song seemed to be the flip side of That’s Alright, Blue Moon Of Kentucky.

It is difficult to pinpoint at which point Elvis became a superstar, or with which hit. He was a local star as soon as his debut single hit the Memphis airwaves, and a regional star soon after. Arguably, his nascent stardom was built not so much on hit recordings than on his incendiary performances delivered on intensive tours. On these tours, he often shared a bill with his Sun label mates Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

It was on one such tour in November 1955, in Gladewater, Texas, that Cash gave Perkins the idea for Blues Suede Shoes (in return for Perkins inspiring the title for Cash’s future hit I Walk The Line), based on a catchphrase by one C.V. White, an African-American GI Cash had served with in West Germany. White, the story as told by one of Cash’s GI friends goes, was about to go out for the weekend when another soldier accidentally trod on White’s black army issue shoes, whereupon White exclaimed: “I don’t care what you do with my Fräulein or what you do with whatever, but don’t step on my blues suede shoes.” The joke, obviously, was that White was not actually wearing such shoes (which, in any case, where not in fashion), but regulation issue army shoes.

Soon after he heard that story, Perkins was at a dance when he saw a young man being visibly upset with his pretty date for stepping on his, you guessed it, blue suede shoes. Sufficiently inspired, he immediately wrote the lyrics on a paper potato sack, giving birth to one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s great classics.

Million Dollar Quartet: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Three of them play a role in the story of Blue Suede Shoes. Lewis later also covered it, and Cash played it on stage.

Million Dollar Quartet: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Three of them play a role in the story of Blue Suede Shoes. Lewis later also covered it, and Cash played it on stage.

 

It may have been the first true crossover record; it certainly was the first to chart simultaneously in the pop, country and R&B charts, in early 1956. As the song was rising in the charts, Perkins was laid low by a serious car crash on the way to performing his hit on the Ed Sullivan Show. While he was recuperating, he heard former Sun colleague Elvis announcing on the Milton Berle Show that his next single would be Blues Suede Shoes, which he proceeded to perform, as he would twice more before releasing the single. Although Perkins was unable to promote the song further, it went on to sell more than a million copies.

By arrangement, Elvis waited until Perkins’ version had peaked. Released so soon after Perkins’ hit, Elvis’ version reached no higher than #20 on the charts. Yet, public consciousness associates the song more closely with Elvis than with its author, possibly because he performed it several times on television, and riffed on the footwear in a few skits on these shows.

Perkins, whose career or health never really recovered from the car crash, was philosophical about Elvis scoring the more lasting hit, saying that Presley had the image and the looks, and he did not. He surely was less placid about not receiving writer’s royalties until a court found in his favour in 1977.

Arguably Elvis the Rock & Roller died in 1960 when, having returned from the army, he recorded crooners’ material such as It’s Now Or Never and Are You Lonesome Tonight. The latter was recorded at the behest of Tom Parker as it was a favourite of his wife, Mrs Marie Parker, in its 1940s version by country star Gene Austin. Written by Tin Pan Alley residents Lou Handman and Roy Turk in 1926, it was recorded by a swathe of artists in 1927. The first of these versions, by Ned Jakobs, was not released, so the honour of first released recording goes to one Charles Hart.

The song enjoyed a revival in the 1950s. It was the 1950 version by Blue Barron and his Orchestra which served as the basis for Elvis’ take on Are You Lonesome Tonight, with Al Jolson’s version of the same year inspiring the spoken part, which borrows from Shakespeare’s As You Like It (“All the world’s a stage” etc).

1. Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – That’s All Right (1947)
2. Roy Brown – Good Rockin’ Tonight (1947)
3. Smiley Lewis – One Night Of Sin (1956)
4. Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog (1953)
5. Freddie Bell & the Bellboys – Hound Dog (1956)
6. Carl Perkins – Blue Suede Shoes (1956)
7. Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – My Baby Left Me (1950)
8. Little Junior & the Blue Flames – Mystery Train (1953)
9. Eddie Riff – Ain’t That Loving You Baby (1956)
10. Chuck Wills – I Feel So Bad (1954)
11. Shep Fields Rippling Rhythm – That’s When Your Heartaches Begin (1937)
12. Charles Hart – Are You Lonesome Tonight (1927)
13. Frances Farmer – Aura Lea (1936)
14. Flying Clouds Of Detroit – Peace In The Valley (1947)
15. Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys – Blue Moon Of Kentucky (1947)
16. Red Foley – Old Shep (1941)
17. Wiley Walker & Gene Sullivan – When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again (1941)
18. Hank Snow – Now And Then There’s A Fool Such As I (1952)
19. Willy & Ruth – Love Me (1954)
20. Bernard Hardison – Too Much (1956)
21. Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters – Such A Night (1954)
22. Glen Reeves – Heartbreak Hotel (1955)
23. Otis Blackwell – Teddy Bear (1956)
24. Otis Blackwell – All Shook Up (1956)

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The Christmas Originals

November 28th, 2013 14 comments

The Christmas Originals

We hear them in dozens of different versions, in the malls and on mixes offered by bloggers. The secular Christmas carols feature on the latest seasonal CD, perhaps recorded because of contractual obligations, perhaps because these things sell. And with the versions of these Christmas songs seemingly multiplying every season, it becomes almost immaterial who sang them first. Except for this blog. So here are 21 originals of famous Christmas songs.

The origins of the first two are pretty well-known, but the popular versions of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and Nat ‘King’ Cole’s The Christmas Song are later recordings. Featured on this mix are Bing’s recording of the song in the 1942 film Holiday Inn; Cole’s is from the 1940s (not quite the first version, I think, but a live recording by the King Cole Trio nonetheless). Both songs, incidentally, were written in hot weather, as was, of course, Sammy Cahn and July Styne’s Let It Snow!, written in July 1945, and Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride.

Crosby and Reynolds practise singing what would become the biggest hit ever in the film Holiday Inn.

Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds (channeling Martha Mears) practise singing what would become the biggest hit ever in the 1942 film Holiday Inn.

 

Bing actually performed White Christmas earlier than in the film, on his The Kraft Music Hall radio show on Christmas Day 1941. He recorded it in May 1942; this recording, included here as a bonus track, was issued in July that year to coincide with the release of Holiday Inn. In the film Crosby’s character teaches the song to Marjorie Reynolds’ character, whose voice was dubbed by Martha Mears. Mears also dubbed the singing for the likes of Rita Haworth, Claudette Colbert, Loretta Young, Hedy Lamarr, Veronica Lake and Lucille Ball.

Bing was a Christmas song specialist. He also recorded the first version of I’ll Be Home For Christmas (written from the perspective of a World War 2 soldier, hence the final line), and he was the first to release Silver Bells on record. Actually, the song — originally intended to be called “Tinkle Bells” — was first performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell during the filming of The Lemon Drop Kid in summer 1950. But the film wasn’t released until March 1951. In the interim Bing and Carol Richards recorded Silver Bells in October 1950. Owing to the success of that recording, Hope and Maxwell refilmed a more refined version of the song.

Some songs here are older than one might think, such as Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, first recorded in 1934, or Winter Wonderland (also 1934); others are much younger than one might expect, such as Little Drummer Boy (1955), Holly Jolly Christmas (1964) and Do You Hear What I Hear (1962).

You might associate If Every Day Was Like Christmas with Elvis, who released it as a single in 1966. The year before, it was written and recorded by his close friend and bodyguard Red West, under the name Bobby West. He fell out with Elvis shortly before The King’s death in 1977, after West wrote a revealing book titled Elvis, What Happened?. Elvis fans still haven’t forgiven the man.

When A Child Is Born was a huge Christmas hit for Johnny Mathis in 1976, but it was originally a secular pop song. The melody, titled “Soleado” was composed in 1972 by Ciro Dammicco for the Daniel Sentacruz Ensemble (included as a bonus track). With lyrics added, German Schlager singer Michael Holm had a massive hit with it in 1974 under the title “Tränen lügen nicht” (Tears don’t lie). At the same, Holm recorded an English version of it, with its Christmas-themed lyrics by Fred Jay — two years before Mathis did.

One inclusion here is not a full track, but features briefly in a trailer for a TV movie of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. Mistletoe And Wine was a Cliff Richard UK #1 in 1988. It was originally performed in 1976 in the musical Scraps, based on the Andersen tale. In 1986 the play was filmed for TV, now under Andersen’s title, starring Roger Daltrey and Twiggy, who sings it in character as a Victorian prostitute. For Cliff Richard’s version, the lyrics were altered to reflect the singer’s brand of Christianity.

By far the oldest of all recordings here is that of Jingle Bells, which forms part of a skit recorded in 1898. By then it was already a classic, by way of sheet music, having been first published in 1857. Originally it was intended as a song for Thanksgiving.

 

1. Bing Crosby & Martha Mears – White Christmas (from the film Holiday Inn, 1942)
2. King Cole Trio – The Christmas Song (1946)
3. Vaughn Monroe – Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (1946)
4. Gene Autry – Here Comes Santa Claus (1947)
5. Boston Pops Orchestra – Sleigh Ride (1948)
6. Bobby Helms – Jingle Bell Rock (1957)
7. Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby (1953)
8. Bing Crosby – I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1943)
9. The Trapp Family Singers – Carol Of The Drum (Little Drummer Boy, 1955)
10. Michael Holm – When A Child Is Born (1974)
11. Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (1963)
12. Bobby West – If Every Day Was Like Christmas (1965)
13. Harry Simeone Chorale – Do You Hear What I Hear (1962)
14. Bing Crosby & Carol Richards – Silver Bells (1950)
15. Richard Himber and his Orchestra – Winter Wonderland (1934)
16. Harry Reser and his Orchestra – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1934)
17. Gene Autry – Frosty The Snowman (1950)
18. Jimmy Boyd – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1952)
20. Edison Male Quartette – Sleigh Ride Party/Jingle Bells (1898)
21. Twiggy – Mistletoe And Wine (excerpt from The Little Matchgirl trailer, 1986)
Bonus: Bing Crosby with Ken Darby Singers – White Christmas (1942)
Daniel Sentacruz Ensemble – Soleado (1974)

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The Originals – Bacharach Edition

February 21st, 2013 9 comments

Often Burt Bacharach had a lucky hand in producing the best known version of his compositions at the first attempt — and after 1963, he usually was the de facto producer and arranger of his songs’ first (and sometimes subsequent) recordings, even when others would get the credit.

So songs like Only Love Can Break A Heart, What’s New, Pussycat, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head and This Guy’s In Love are best known in their original versions by Gene Pitney, Tom Jones, B.J. Thomas and Herb Alpert respectively. And, of course, there are all the Dionne Warwick hits, such as Walk On By, Do You Know The Way To San José or Promises Promises which have been covered often but never eclipsed. The one Warwick/Bacharach hit that provides the rule-proving exception is I Say a Little Prayer, a US #10 hit for Aretha Franklin in 1968, two years after it reached #4 for Warwick.

So here are Bacharach songs which may be better known — and, in some cases, definitely are — in later versions. In many of these cases, geography is the key. For example, in the US, The Story Of My Life from 1957 will be associated with Marty Robbins, but in Britain it was a #1 hit for Michael Holliday. The same may apply to Anyone Who Had A Heart, which in Britain is Cilla Black’s song rather than Dionne’s (and, depending on generation, to some it is Luther Vandross’ song). The Story Of My Life was, incidentally, the first collaboration between Bacharach and Hal David to become a hit, years before they started to work together regularly and, for a time, exclusively. It went #1 Country, #15 Pop and reached #2 in Australia.

A few songs were bigger hits than their better-known covers. For example, The Shirelles had a US #8 hit with Baby It’s You in 1962, but The Beatles’ version enjoys greater familiarity by force of album sales.

Other songs were not hits until later. Keely Smith’s One Less Bell To Answer sank without a trace until The 5th Dimension had a hit with it three years later. I’ll Never Fall In Love Again might have been familiar to those who knew the soundtrack for the 1968 musical Promises, Promises (for which Jerry Orbach — yes, Lennie Briscoe from Law & Order — won a Tony Award. British fans will know it better as Bobbie Gentry’s hit, or in Dionne’s version, and younger generations might think of it as Elvis Costello’s song from the Austin Powers 2  movie.

I would guess that Bacharach probably was happy enough with most hit covers of his songs (though I wonder what he made of The Stranglers and Naked Eyes covers of his tunes); one which he apparently really dislikes is Love’s 1966 rock classic version of Manfred Mann’s My Little Red Book, which was written for the film What’s New, Pussycat.

Two more recent songs postscript this collection, both from movie soundtracks. Rod Stewart’s version of That’s What Friends Are For appeared on the soundtrack of the Michael Keaton vehicle Nightshift (1982) before it was revived by Dionne Warwick and her pals. Siedah Garrett’s Everchanging Times featured in the 1987 Diane Keaton flick Baby Boom before Aretha Franklin & Michael McDonald covered it to good effect in 1992.

Not all the songs here are Bacharach/David compositions. Tower Of Strength and Any Day Now were written with Bob Hilliard; Baby It’s You with Mack David (Hal’s brother) and Luther Dixon, and the two 1980s songs with Carol Bayer-Sager.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-made covers. PW in comments (and, yes, passwords are necessary).

TRACKLISTING (cover versions in brackets):
1. Marty Robbins – The Story Of My Life (1958 — Michael Holliday 1958; Gary Miller, 1958)
2. Gene McDaniels – Tower Of Strength (1961 — Frankie Vaughan, 1961)
3. Jerry Butler – Make It Easy On Yourself (1962  — Walker Brothers, 1965)
4. Chuck Jackson – Any Day Now (1962 — Elvis Presley, 1969, Ronnie Milsap, 1978)
5. The Shirelles – Baby, It’s You (1962 — The Beatles, 1963; Smith, 1969)
6. Tommy Hunt – I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (1962 – Dusty Springfield 1964; Dionne Warwick, 1966)
7. The Fairmount Singers – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962 — Gene Pitney, 1962)
8. Gene McDaniels – Another Tear Falls (1962 — Walker Brothers, 1966)
9. Dionne Warwick – Wishin’ And Hopin’ (1963; Dusty Springfield, 1964; Merseybeats, 1964)
10. Lou Johnson – Reach Out For Me (1963 — Dionne Warwick, 1964)
11. Jerry Butler – Message To Martha (1963 — Adam Faith, 1964; Dionne Warwick, 1966)
12. Dionne Warwick – Anyone Who Had A Heart (1963 — Cilla Black, 1964)
13. Richard Chamberlain – (They Long To Be) Close To You (1964 — Carpenters, 1970)
14. Brook Benton – A House Is Not A Home (1964 — Dionne Warwick, 1964; Luther Vandross, 1981)
15. Lou Johnson – (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me (1964 — Sandie Shaw, 1964; Naked Eyes, 1982)
16. Burt Bacharach – Trains And Boats And Planes (1965 — Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, 1965)
17. Dionne Warwick – You’ll Never Get To Heaven (1964 — The Stylistics, 1976)
18. Manfred Mann – My Little Red Book (1965 — Love, 1966)
19. Dusty Springfield – The Look Of Love (1967 — Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66, 1968)
20. Keely Smith – One Less Bell To Answer (1967 — The 5th Dimension, 1970)
21. Jill O’Hara & Jerry Orbach – I’ll Never Fall In Love Again (1968 — Bobbie Gentry, 1969; Dionne Warwick, 1970)
22. Rod Stewart – That’s What Friends Are For (1982 — Dionne Warwick & Friends, 1986)
23. Siedah Garrett – Everchanging Times (1987 — Aretha Franklin & Michael McDonald, 1992)

HERE

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More Bacharach:
Burt Bacharach Mix
Covered With Soul – Bacharach/David edition

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The Originals Vol. 44

October 20th, 2011 2 comments

In this instalment of The Originals, we look at the provenance of one of the biggest hit of 1978, the triumphal comeback of a Bacharach/David song that flopped at its first attempt, and the original version of a Marilyn Monroe signature tune. Remember, you can look up the originals covered so far in The Originals Index.

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The Righteous Brothers – Substitute (1975)
Gloria Gaynor – Substitute (1978)
Clout – Substitute (1978)

In 1978, the five-piece South African girl-band Clout scored a surprise hit with a cover of an unsuccessful single from the unremarkable 1975 Righteous Brothers LP The Sons of Mrs. Righteous. It’s fair to say that the Righteous Brothers’ version of the unrequited love anthem lacks the euphoric verve of the Clout version.

It is said that the members of Clout didn’t play on Substitute (though I recall drummer Ingie Herbst telling a German interviewer in 1978 that she prefers to hit the drums with the thick end of the stick), but the South African rock band Circus, who were paid the princely sum of 34 Rand  – worth about £30 in 1978 money – for their efforts.

Clout’s version  was released in South Africa in November 1977. Within a few months it was topping the charts in countries such as Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the Netherlands, and spent three weeks at #2 in Britain (held off by You’re The One That I Want, despite shifting half a million copies).

In December that year, Gloria Gaynor released her version of the song on her Love Tracks album. In fact, Gaynor’s record company, Polydor, initially released Substitute as a lead single in November 1978. Presumably because of the success of the Clout single, Polydor flipped the single a month later, with the original b-side becoming the a-side. The song’s name was I Will Survive.

Clout, by then without keyboard player Glenda Hyam, went on to have another European hit in early 1979 with Save Me (featured HERE), a cover of Clodagh Rogers song.

Also recorded by: Peaches (1978), Sylvie Vartan (as Solitude, 1978), Izabella Scorupco (1990) 

Keely Smith – One Less Bell To Answer (1967)
The 5th Dimension – One Less Bell To Answer (1970)
Barbra Streisand – One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home (1971)
Kristin Chinoweth & Matthew Morrison – One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home (2009)
Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote One Less Bell To Answer for Keely Smith. Smith had a few years earlier divorced her long-time singing partner Louis Prima, so a song about marital separation seemed to be suitable. Alas, Smith’s version – with its recognisable Bacharach arrangement – went nowhere.

As so often with Bacharach/David compositions, the song was eventually rediscovered by others and made into a hit. In January 1970, The 5th Dimension recorded it for their Portrait album. The single reached #2 in the US, its popularity no doubt helped by the group singing it on the TV series It Takes A Thief, starring Robert Wagner.

The lead vocals were performed by Marilyn McCoo, who in 1969 married bandmate Billy Davis Jr. They have been together ever since.

One Less Bell To Answer has been covered many times since. The most spectacular version is that of Barbra Steisand, who dueted with herself on a medley of One Less Bell To Answer and A House Is Not A Home, another Bacharach/David song, which appeared on her 1971 album Barbra Joan Streisand. Streisand’s phrasing in that recording in places echoes that of Keely Smith’s original.

Almost four decades later, Streisand’s version served as a template for an outstanding showstopping duet on the TV series Glee, performed by the wonderful Kristin Chinoweth with Matthew Morrison, who plays the teacher Will Shuester.

Also recorded by: The Dells (1971), Gladys Knight & The Pips (1971), Vikki Carr (1971), Burt Bacharach (with Close To You, 1971), Living Brass (1971), Dionne Warwick (1972), Shirley Bassey (1972), Rita Reys (1973), Irina Milan (1974), Karen Logan (1987), Stanley Jordan (1987), Pearly Gates (1989), Mari Nakamoto (1993), The Starlite Orchestra (1995), McCoy Tyner Trio (1997), Marie McAuliffe’s ArKsextet  (1998), Lucie Silvas (2002), Vanessa Williams (2005), Michael Ball (2007), Trijntje Oosterhuis (2007), Steve Tyrell (2008), Patty Ascher (2010) a.o.

Helen Kane – I Wanna Be Loved by You (1928)
Marilyn Monroe – I Wanna Be Loved by You (1959)

Three decades before Marilyn Monroe had men getting hot under the collar by going boop-boop-de-boop, Helen Kane became a star by doing that ad lib and variations thereof. Kane might have inspired the cartoon character Betty Boop, who was born in 1930. Her lawsuit, which claimed just that, was dismissed. But compare pictures of Kane with those of Betty Boop, and consider Kane’s trademark scatting, and it seems that Kane might have had a case.

Kane said that the scat ad libs came to her by accident: “I just put it in at one of the rehearsals, a sort of interlude. It’s hard to explain – I haven’t explained it to myself yet. It’s like vo-de-o-do, Crosby with boo-boo-boo, and Durante with cha-cha-cha.”

Born in 1904 to German and Irish parents in the Bronx, Kane got her break in theatre in 1927. A year later, she appeared in the Oscar Hammerstein production Good Boy, which included I Wanna Be Loved By You, written by Herbert Stothart and Harry Ruby, with lyrics by Bert Kalmar. The song, and others with titles such as I Taut I Taw A Puddy Tat, helped make Kane a singing sensation.

Her popularity was brief but immense, giving rise to the production of such novelty items as Helen Kane dolls. But by the early 1930s, the flapper culture had become passé, and Kane’s career entered a two-decade hiatus. She re-appeared with the advent of television, and made her final public appearance on Ed Sullivan’s show in March 1965. She died of breast cancer a year and a half later, at the age of 62.

The record of I Wanna Be Loved By You was released in September 1928. It was revived in 1959 by Marilyn Monroe in the Billy Wilder film Some Like It Hot, which was set in 1929 and in which Monroe’s character is named, surely not coincidentally, Sugar Kane.

Also recorded by: Grace Johnston (1928), Annette Hanshaw (1928), Dan Ritchie and His Orchestra (1929), Ben Selvin (1929), Eydie Gormé (1958), Adolph Deutsch (1959), Marty Wilde (1960), Kay Barry (1961), Skeeter Davis (1965), Matadorerne (1967), Claudja Barry  (1978), Bibi Andersen (1981), Sinéad O’Connor (1992), Alana (2008), Pepe Lienhard Big Band (2009) , Pizzicato One feat. Wouter Hamel (2011) a.o.

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The Originals Vol. 43

August 11th, 2011 3 comments

In this instalment we look at the lesser known originals for five hits from the 1970s. Regular readers with exceptionally good memories might have a déjà vu movement: two of the songs I’ve done before. But I was not satisfied with one, and recently was sent by a kind soul a crucial sound file for the other.

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Johnny Bristol – Love Me For A Reason (1974).mp3
The Osmonds – Love Me For A Reason (1974).mp3

Johnny Bristol is probably best-remembered for his excellent mid-’70s soul hit Hang On In There Baby. We have encountered him previously in this series, in The Originals Vol. 37, as one of Johnny & Jackie who co-wrote and recorded the first version of Diana Ross and The Supremes’ Someday We’ll Be Together.

A producer of many Motown records and after 1973 for CBS (where he produced such acts as Randy Crawford, Boz Scaggs and Marlena Shaw), he resumed his recording career in 1974. Among the tracks on his rather good Hang On In There, Baby album was Love Me For A Reason, a song Bristol co-wrote with David Jones and Wade Bowen.

Bristol recorded on MGM records where the prolific producer and arranger Mike Curb ran he show. Curb was, it is fair to say, a man of uncompromising conservative opinion. He later became a Republican politician, but while at MGM, he fired a reported 18 acts from the label for using or supposedly promoting drugs. Among them were Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground.

One act in no danger of Curb’s axe was The Osmonds, the squeaky clean and impossibly toothy Mormon brothers who had produced a string of hits for MGM. Their version of Johnny Bristol’s hit became a US #10 pop hit in 1974 – their last. In Britain it topped the charts (and they’d have another top 5 hit there in 1975), inspiring a hugely successful cover version 20 years later by Boyzone, the Ronan Keating-led band that traded in unwelcome remakes of old hits.

Also recorded by: The Hiltonaires (1974), Boyzone (1994), Studio 99 (1999), As We Speak (1994), State Of The Heart (1996), Bruno Bertone (2000), Fabulous 5 (2003)

Gene Cotton – Let Your Flow (1975)
Bellamy Brothers – Let Your Flow (1976)

It might have been a hit for Neil Diamond. Written by one of the lamé-jacketed star’s roadies, Larry E Williams, it was offered first to Diamond. He declined to record it (as did Johnny Rivers), which perhaps was just as well. Instead the song came to country/folk singer-songwriter Gene Cotton, who recorded it for his 1975 album For All The Young Writers.

While Cotton’s version went nowhere, Neil Diamond’s drummer suggested it to his friends David and Howard Bellamy, the country duo The Bellamy Brothers. Their recording became one of the biggest hits of the decade and gave the brothers’ their international breakthrough hit. In West Germany Let Your Love Flow topped the charts in summer 1976 for six weeks until it was knocked off by its German version by Jürgen Drews, formerly of the Les Humphries Singers, which went by the peculiar title Ein Bett im Kornfeld (A bed in the wheat field).

Also recorded by: Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn (1976), Jürgen Drews (as Ein Bett im Kornfeld, 1976), Roy Etzel (1976), Les Humphries Singers And Orchestra (1976), Lynn Anderson (1977), Del Reeves & Billie Jo Spears (1977), Karel Gott (as Běž za svou láskou, 1978),Joan Baez (1979), John Holt (1982), Ray Charles (1983), Audrey Landers (1986), Solomon Burke (1993), Tom Jones (1998), John Davidson (1999), Dana Winner (2001), Jan Keizer (2001), Tamra Rosanes (2002), Dream Dance, Inc. (2005), Collin Raye (2005), Fenders (2006) a.o.

Art Reynolds Singers – Jesus Is Just Alright (1966)
The Byrds – Jesus Is Just All Right (1969)
The Doobie Brothers – Jesus Is Just All Right (1972)

In the 1970s there was a fashion of rock groups singing songs about Jesus. Perhaps it was a fashion inspired by the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. Or maybe some really were just into Jesus. So the Doobie Brothers, a band named after a synonym for a joint, had a hit with Jesus Is Just All Right in 1972.

The original of the song was recorded by the Art Reynolds Singers in 1966. It was written by the band’s leader, Arthur Reid Reynolds, apparently as a riposte to John Lennon’s “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” comment. Present at that recording session was Gene Parsons, the drummer of The Byrds, who introduced the song to his bandmates who in turn recorded it for their 1969 LP Ballad Of Easy Rider.

The Byrds’ version provided the template for the Doobie Brothers 1972 cover. The Doobies added a middle section to the original, with new, even more emphatically Christ-supporting lyric, sung by guitarist Pat Simmons: “Jesus, He’s my friend; Jesus, He’s my friend; He took me by the hand, far from this land; Jesus, He’s my friend.” Oddly enough, none of the Doobies were known to be Christians, but the Christians loved it, throwing Bibles on to the stage at Doobie Brothers gigs and making the One Way (up) handsigns.

Also recorded by: The Underground Sunshine (1970), 1776 (1970), Sister Kate Taylor (1971), Ronnie Dyson (1972), Exile (1973), DC Talk (1992), Shelagh McDonald (2005), Robert Randolph & The Family Band feat Eric Clapton (2006), Eric McFadden (2010)

Jim Weatherly – Midnight Plain To Houston (1972)
Cissy Houston  – Midnight Train To Georgia (1973)
Gladys Knight & the Pips – Midnight Train To Georgia (1973)
Neil Diamond – Midnight Train To Georgia (2010)

In 1972 former All-American quarterback Jim Weatherly released a country song that told of a girl whose fading dream of stardom in Los Angeles led not to a life of waitressing or pornography, but ended on a plane back to her home in Texas. In fact, Weatherley initially wanted his protagonist’s dreams shattered in Nashville, for his genre was country music.

The choice of Houston as the failed star’s home was inspired, according to Weatherley, by the actress Farrah Fawcett, who at the time was more famous for dating Lee Majors than her thespian accomplishments. “One day I called Lee and Farrah answered the phone,” Weatherly later told songfacts.com. “We were just talking and she said she was packing. She was gonna take the midnight plane to Houston to visit her folks. So, it just stayed with me. After I got off the phone, I sat down and wrote the song probably in about 30 to 45 minutes.”

Some months later, the Janus label sought permission to record the song with Cissy Houston, but asked whether they could adapt the lyrics to make the destination Georgia (seeing as Ms Houston going to Houston might seem a bit awkward). Weatherly accepted that, as well as a change in the mode of transport.

Whitney’s mom’s lovely performance became a minor hit in 1973. Gladys Knight heard it and decided to record it with her Pips. Houston’s endearing version might have been the template, but Knights’ cover demonstrates the genius of the sometimes unjustly ridiculed Pips. What would Gladys Knight’s interpretation be without the interplay with and interjections by her backing singers: “A superstar, well he didn’t get far”, “I know you will”, “Gotta go, gonna board the midnight train…” and, of course, the choo-choo “Hoo hoo”s?

It was fortuitous that Georgia was also Knight’s homestate. The song also sparked a collaboration with Weatherley with whose songs Knight populated the Imagination album on which Midnight Train appears.

Also recorded by: Ferrante & Teicher (1974), Connie Eaton (1974), Lynn Anderson (1982), Indigo Girls (1995), Sandra Bernhard (1998), Renee Geyer (2003), Jasmine Trias (2004), Paris Bennett (2006), Human Nature (2006), Joan Osborne (2007), Emma Wood (2009), Neil Diamond (2010), Sandrine (2010) a.o.

Larry Weiss – Rhinestone Cowboy (1974)
Glen Campbell – Rhinestone Cowboy (1975)

Larry Weiss was, and still is, a prolific songwriter (we read about him recently as one of the singers of the theme of Who’s The Boss). In the 1960s, he co-wrote hits such as Bend Me Shape Me, Hi Ho Silver Lining and Spooky Tooth’s Evil Woman. Sporadically he also recorded his own songs. One of these was Rhinestone Cowboy, inspired by a phrase he had overheard in a conversation. The song appeared on Weiss’ Black And Blue Suite album, and it was released as a single (at least in West Germany).

The story goes that Glen Campbell heard the song on the car radio as he was on his way to a meeting with his record company, and thought about suggesting to record it. But before he had the opportunity to do so, the record company presented their own bright idea: how about this Rhinestone Cowboy song by Larry Weiss.

In the original version, Weiss sounds much like his old Brill Building chum Neil Diamond. Campbell made the song his own, with that soaring voice which expresses such a forfeit of hope. Released in May 1975, it went on to top the pop and country charts simultaneously, the first time that had been done since 1961.

In 1984, Weiss finally got a project he had been working on realised – a movie starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone. Its title: Rhinestone.

Also recorded by: Slim Whitman (1976), Bert Kaempfert (1976), Charley Pride (1977), Tony Christie (1978), White Town (1997), David Hasselhoff (2004), Jan Keizer (2004) a.o.

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The Originals Vol. 42

June 29th, 2011 2 comments

In the 42nd instalment of The Originals we’ll revisit the originals of three huge hits, two US  #1s and one chart-topper in Britain, from the mid-’60s. Remember: if you are looking for particular songs that have been covered in this series, visit the index of The Originals.

Earl-Jean – I’m Into Something Good.mp3
Herman’s Hermits – I’m Into Something Good.mp3
Lady Lee – I’m Into Something Good.mp3

In the late 1950s Ethel “Earl-Jean” McCrea was a member of the R&B girl group The Cookies, which was absorbed into Ray Charles’ backing band, The Raelettes. Only Earl-Jean didn’t join the backing singer gig, instead becoming part of a new incarnation of The Cookies, which featured before in this series as the original act to record The Beatles’ Chains (see The Originals Vol. 25). We also met The Cookies as the first act to record On Broadway, though their version was not released (see The Originals Vol. 33).

As noted in the entry for On Broadway, The Cookies did much demo work for Carole King and Gerry Goffin at Aldon Music (which in the shorthand of music history tends to be conflated with the Brill Building down the road). They also did backing vocals on pop songs such as Little Eva’s The Loco-motion (it was through Earl-Jean’s recommendation that King and Goffin employed Little Eva as a babysitter), Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up Is Hard To Do and Mel Tormé’s Comin’ Home Baby. Along the way, they had a top ten hit with Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby.

Earl-Jean left The Cookies in 1964 to try for a solo career, and it was King and Goffin who wrote her first (and only) solo hit: I’m Into Something Good, released on Colpix Records. It did a creditable job, climbing to #38 in the Billboard charts. Alas, her follow-up single, Randy, didn’t do as well, and when in 1966 Colpix folded, her solo career was over.

In Britain, the record producer Mickey Most – fresh from discovering The Animals – had heard I’m Into Something Good, and decided it was a perfect vehicle for his new protéges, Herman’s Hermits. Fronted by Peter Noone, a Mancunian with an All-American smile, the other Hermits were allowed to play on some songs, while on others session musicians did the job. Nobody seems to agree about who played on I’m Into Something Good; it is possible that any, all or none of Nicky Hopkins (the Rolling Stones’ keyboard man from 1967-76), Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (later of Led Zeppelin) played on it. Band member Barry Whitwam insists the band did the duties; Noone and Most said they didn’t (though possibly in a fit of pique over contractual wrangles).  It does seem that the song was arranged by Hermits guitarist Dereck Leckenby, which would suggest that he would have had the bandmembers perform on it.

Whoever played on it, the single became a UK #1 hit in September 1964, and then went on to reach #13 in the US, ringing in a golden period for Herman’s Hermits, who remarkably became the best-selling act in the United States in 1965, ahead of even The Beatles.

Also in 1964, Billy Fury’s girlfriend Lady Lee, a character with a quite fascinating lifestory, recorded I’m Into Something Good. Later she and Fury split and in 1969 Lee married British DJ Kenny Everett.

Also recorded by: Lady Lee (1964), Don Devil and the Drifters  (1964), Sir Henry and His Butlers (1966) Donny Osmond (1971), The Machines (1982), Peter Noone (1988), The Stool Pigeons (1996), Dave Cloud (1999), The Langley Schools Music Project (2001), The Bird And The Bees (2010) a.o.

Nella Dodds – Come See About Me (1964).mp3
The Supremes – Come See About Me (1964).mp3

This is one of those records where the earlier recording was released later (another instance of that, which I was made aware of only recently, concerns Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town; an edit and new file are now up on The Originals Vol. 24). In keeping with the methodology of this series, we go primarily by release date. And here, it seems, Nella Dodds narrowly scooped The Supremes.

Come See About Me was written by Motown’s hugely successful songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, and The Supremes recorded it on 13 July 1964, backed by The Funk Brothers. Somehow the song had come into the hands of the people at Wand Records in New York, who had their singer Nella Dodds record it. While The Supremes were still riding high in the charts with Baby Love, their second chart-topper in a row, Wand put out Dodds’ version, a pleasant affair which nonetheless cannot compare to the exquisite vigor of the Supremes’ version.

Although Dodds recorded for a New York label, she was a pioneer of Philadelphia soul – Kenneth Gamble, future Philly soul supremo, and Jimmy Bishop, who would discover many Philly soul acts, appeared on Dodds’ Wand recordings. Gamble later co-wrote a hit which The Supemes would cover with The Temptations (and which will still feature in this series).

Motown were alarmed when they learned that Dodds’ record had been issued, and rush-released The Supremes’ recording. Dodds’ version stalled at #74, and she would never have a breakthrough hit. For The Supremes, Come See About Me became the third in a golden run of five #1 hits.

Also recorded by: Choker Campbell  (1964), Gene Barge (1965), The Newbeats (1965), Barbara Mason (1965), Jr. Walker  (1967), Mitch Ryder (1968), Bonnie Pointer (1979), Tracy Nelson (1980), Neil Sedaka (1984), Shakin’ Stevens (1987), Afghan Whigs (1992), The Originals (1998), Freda Payne (2001), James Taylor Quartet (2007) a.o.

The Raindrops – Hanky Panky (1963).mp3
The Summits – Hanky Panky (1963).mp3
Tommy James and the Shondells – Hanky Panky (1966).mp3

Among the inhabitants of cubicles with pianos at the Brill Building in New York were Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry, who together wrote so many of the songs we now associate with Phil Spector’s girl groups. While writing music was their bread and butter, they also wanted to record. Greenwich had already done so in the late ’50s, as Ellie Gaye, and while writing hits in the early ’60s, she also sang on demos for Brill compositions.

In 1963, Greenwich and Barry recorded a demo of a song called What A Guy. It was intended for a doo-wop group called The Sensations, but the band’s label, Jubilee, was so impressed with demo’s girl-band style (which was in fact Greenwich’s multi-tracked voice, with Barry providing bass voice) that they decided to release it, in the name of the songwriters’ band, The Raindrops. Trouble was that Greenwich and Barry had no song for the flip-side, so they thrashed out Hanky Panky in the space of 20 minutes. They were not particularly satisfied with the song, and when a group called The Summits released it soon after as the b-side of He’s An Angel (or it might have been released before What A Guy came out; it’s unclear), it didn’t do brisk business either.

And yet, the song had become popular among garage rock live bands, including one called The Spinners (not the soul band), from whom the teenage musician Tommy Jackson heard it. He recorded it with his band, The Shondells, in 1964 at a radio station in Michigan. It was a local hit, but Tommy decided to break up his band and complete his schooling. The following year he was contacted by a Pittsburgh DJ who had discovered the record and now wanted Tommy and his Shondells to perform it on air. He hurriedly put together a new line-up of Shondells, and changed his name to Tommy James. He then sold the 1964 master to Roulette Records, which released it without remixing, never mind re-recording it. The single went to #1 in July 1966. James later explained in a Billboard interview: “I don’t think anybody can record a song that bad and make it sound good. It had to sound amateurish like that.”

There is a great story of how the small New York-based Roulette label got to release Hanky Panky. It seems that a whole gang of labels, some of them majors, wanted to buy the record. Suddenly, one after another, they withdrew their offers, much to Tommy James’ surprised dismay. In the end Jerry Wexler of Atlantic told the singer, still a teenager, what was going on: Roulette’s Morris Levy (on whom The Soprano’s Hesch Rabkin is based) had called all rival labels telling them that Hanky Panky belonged to him. Intimidated, the rivals bought the bluff, and James had to go with Levy.

Also Recorded By: The Junior Mance Trio (1965), Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (1966), The Outsiders (1966), The Wallflower Complexion (1966), The Ventures (1966), Neil Diamond (1966), , Joan Jett and The Blackhearts (1981), Link Protrudi and the Jaymen (1987), Ellie Greenwich (1999), The Cramps (2004), The Freedoms (2004), Los Hitters (2005) a.o.

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