Archive

Archive for the ‘Elvis Presley’ Category

Any Major Elvis Covers

August 16th, 2017 9 comments

Where were you when you learned of Elvis’ death, 40 years ago on August 16? I was at a church summer camp. At 11 I didn’t really appreciate the importance of Elvis. To me, he was a name and face one just knew, like those of Charlie Chaplin or Bing Crosby — both of whom also died in 1977. But, as it so often is, the death of an icon kicked off a mania. Suddenly everybody was an Elvis fan, myself included.

A greatest hits type of double album was my introduction to Elvis. It had all the important stuff on it. Some months later I bought a four-album set of Elvis rock & roll stuff. I was blown away by it, and adopted I Want To Be Free as my nominal favourite Elvis song.

It took me longer to get into latter period Elvis, other than the usual suspects (Suspicious Minds, In The Ghetto etc), and only grudgingly came to appreciate some of Movie Elvis period output.

I have previously run two mixes of the originals of songs Elvis had hits with (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). To mark the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ death, here is a mix of artists covering Elvis songs. Almost all were Elvis originals; the three that aren’t — All Shook Up, Suspicious Minds, Burning Love —were rather obscure before Elvis recorded them. So no Hound Dog or Blues Suede Shoes here.

James Brown recorded his version of Love Me Tender after Elvis’ death, by way of tribute by what he says is one king to another. Humility was never JB’s strong suite. Of the soul covers here, his is not the best: that would be Candi Staton’s In The Ghetto.  And yet I was tempted to include the bizarre cover by Sammy Davis Jr that featured on The Ghetto Vol. 1.

Three covers here are by people who wrote the songs. Otis Backwell’s version of Return To Sender appeared on an album defiantly titled These Are My Songs. Dennis Linde’s recording of Burning Love sounds like it ought to have been a hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival. And Mac Davis took four years before he recorded the Elvis hit he had co-written, A Little Less Conversation.

Most songs here more or less follow the Elvis template, with some variations. So The Pogues’ version of Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do is reworked in the band’s customary Irish folk-punk sound, but the song retains its intregrity; likewise Albert King gives Jailhouse Rock a blistering blues treatment, but it’s still discernibly Jailhouse Rock. I suppose it might be difficult to immediately recognise Teddy Thompson’s wonderful version of I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone as the rock & roll track Elvis created, but that’s just clever arranging.

Two tracks, however, totally rework Elvis: John Cale’s Heartbreak Hotel has only passing acquaintance with the original. The Jeff Beck Group — with “Extraordinaire Rod Stewart”, as the sleeve notes have it, on vocals, backed by Beck, Ron Wood and Nicky Hopkins — stir into All Shook Up a heavy dosed of blues-rock. What, one may wonders, could have been had Elvis adopted that kind of sound in the late’60s. Poor “Colonel” Parker might have spontaneously combusted, leaving behind a pile of dust and a rock where his heart once was.

The benefit of listening to others sing Elvis is that one can understand the lyrics. Presley was a wonderful singer, but his diction was awful. I don’t think there’s a single up-tempo Elvis song which has not required me to innovate some alternative lyrics. So a good number of songs here have helped me disabused me of misheard lyrics. One of those was Devil In Disguise, thanks to candidates for inclusion which I rejected in favour of the one cover here that isn’t in English. It’s in Czech and performed by veteran crooner Karel Gott, “the Sinatra of the East”. It is, let’s say, interesting. I suspect Elvis might have approved as left the building.

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

1. Albert King – Jailhouse Rock (1969)
2. Roy Orbison – Mean Woman Blues (1963)
3. Buddy Holly – You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care) (1958)
4. Otis Blackwell – Return To Sender (1977)
5. Ry Cooder – Little Sister (1979)
6. Dillard & Clark – Don’t Be Cruel (1968)
7. Teddy Thompson – I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone (2007)
8. Mac Davis – A Little Less Conversation (1972)
9. Dennis Linde – Burning Love (1973)
10. Candi Staton – In The Ghetto (1972)
11. The Persuasions – Good Luck Charm (2003)
12. Chuck Jackson – (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear (1966)
13. James Brown – Love Me Tender (1978)
14. PJ Proby – If I Can Dream (2011)
15. Françoise Hardy – Loving You (1968)
16. Sandy Posey – Don’t (1973)
17. Chris Isaak – I Forgot To Remember To Forget (2011)
18. Fine Young Cannibals – Suspicious Minds (1986)
19. The Pogues – Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do (1990)
20. Bruce Springsteen – Viva Las Vegas (2003)
21. Wanda Jackson – Hard Headed Woman (1961)
22. Conway Twitty – Treat Me Nice (1961)
23. Bobby Stevens – Stuck On You (1960)
24. Robert Gordon with Link Wray – I Want To Be Free (1977)
25. Vince Eager – A Big Hunk O’Love (1972)
26. The Jeff Beck Group – All Shook Up (1968)
27. John Cale – Heartbreak Hotel (1975)
28. Karel Gott – Dábel tisíc tvárí má (Devil In Disguise) (2011)

GET IT!

More Mix-CD-Rs
More Elvis

Categories: Elvis Presley, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Elvis movies mix & quiz

August 10th, 2017 8 comments

What it says in the title… A mix of songs from Evis movie — one from each — and guess the Elvis movie from the synopsis. Clue: all the movies referred to in the quiz were made after Elvis served his fatherland. The answers are in the comments section (if some of the comments seem old, it’s because I first posted it in 2008). Not that I expect anybody but the greatest Elvis fan to know most of the answers; the fun resides in the questions. When Elvis went to Hollywood, he hoped to inherit James Dean’s mantle of rebellion. As these questions may suggest, he didn’t even inherit Bing Crosby’s mantle of casually whistling acquiescence.

1. Elvis is a singing heir to a pineapple plantation in Hawaii who becomes, as you do when the future holds a panama hat, a tour guide. He falls in love and sings 14 (count ’em) songs, including that ghastly tune ignorant people tend to call “Wise Man Say”.

2. Elvis is a singing swimming pool lifeguard who couldn’t cut it in the circus. He falls in love. With a bullfighter. Alas, it was not an edgy message movie fighting a culture of homophobia well ahead of its time. The bullfighter is — and the shrewd reader guessed it — a woman.

3. Elvis is a singing rodeo rider. Looking for gold, he falls in love and — don’t say you didn’t see that one coming — gets married to his lady love. Aaah!

4. Elvis is a singing racing driver working as a bus boy (which means, he clears tables, not speed through the streets in a doubledecker). He falls in love with a swimming instructor. And — spoiler alert — together they win a talent competition. Hurrah!

5. Elvis is a singing charter boat pilot in Hawaii who is torn between two girls. In the end (spoiler alert redux!) he goes — gulp — for the good girl.

6. Elvis is a singing bush pilot who takes care of a little Chinese kid. He then, yes, falls in love.

7. Elvis plays a non-singing (!) gunslinger come good. He fails to sing, but — phew — he does fall in love (else what movie would there be?). With a dance hall queen, as you do.

8. Elvis is a singing rodeo rider (again), but with an ethnic twist: he is of Native-American descent. This time, Elvis doesn’t so much fall in love but play the field, going for a mother and daughter combo. Off-screen Elvis preferred the teenage daughters; will he go for the MILF on-screen?

9. Elvis is, but of course, a singing racing driver who, plausibly enough, falls in love with a singing government agent in go-go boots. The story we all have to tell.

10. Elvis is a singing boxer who is supposed to take a fall. But he does fall. In love. With the love interest from movie (1).

11. Elvis is a navy frogman. Oh, but he is. And the kicker is, at night he sings in a nightclub. Oh, but he does. The unbelievable plot device here: Elvis fails to fall in love but goes treasure hunting instead. Will he find the treasure?

12. Elvis is a singing helicopter pilot. And guess where. No, really, please do take a wild stab in the dark. Why, he’s a singing helicopter pilot in Hawaii. But this movie is not like all the others in which Elvis is a singing action man who falls in love with a pretty girl while being pursued by the town harlot. Here he doesn’t fall in love with one or two women, but romances three, count ’em, of them.

13. Elvis is a singing racing car driver. Incredibly, the thing isn’t called Deja Fuckin’ Vu. Elvis again has three women to choose from, as he did in movie (12) which preceded this one (the 1960s morals had loosened, evidently). And they have some pretty ordinary jobs: drummer, self-help author, heiress…

14. Elvis is a singing heir, to a rich Texas oilman, who roughs it a bit as a waterski instructor (doing it fully clothed!). Among his clients is a woman who is looking for a rich husband. Oh, the hilarious complications that arise when Elvis falls in love. How will Elvis get out of this one?

15. Elvis is an occasionally singing photographer of stylish advertisements and of nudie pics (nobody showed the Colonel that script, I bet) who experiences psychedelic trips involving people in dog costumes (actually, was Tom Parker at all awake?). Yup, there is a love interest, seeing as you ask.

16. Elvis is a singing US soldier who falls in love with a dancer and sings a German folk song to a puppet.

17. Elvis is a ghetto doctor who doesn’t sing an awful lot. But he falls in love. With a nun. Oh naughty Elvis. But how could he know of her profession when she is swanning about in civvies. No wimple warning. There isn’t even a happy ending: we never learn whether the nun, played by a TV legend, goes with Big El or with Big Al. No wonder this was the last Elvis movie (a couple of documentaries apart).

18. Elvis is a singing insurance salesman who moonlights as a lion tamer and falls in love with the circus clown’s daughter.

The movies were mostly terrible (and yet strangely alluring in a camp sort of way), and not infrequently so was the music. Still, there were some stomping numbers, few more so than Bossa Nova Baby (watch great the excerpt from Fun In Acapulco here) with its sample-worthy keyboard line. Written by the legendary Leiber & Stoller, who just a decade earlier had written Hound Dog and other rock ‘n’ roll classics, it was first recorded in 1962 by Tippie & the Clovers, whose version the song’s composers preferred over Elvis’. Why the bossa nova sounds Mexican and, in fact, nothing like a bossa nova is anybody’s guess.

Another Leiber & Stoller composition, one that hints at Elvis’ affection for gospel, is I Want To Be Free, from Jailhouse Rock. It has been an Elvis favourite of mine since I first heard it on 4-disc set of our boy’s rock ‘n’ roll recordings which I bought when I was 12. The version featured here is the one from the film, not that from the soundtrack (which, it must be said, is superior).

Elvis might have gone soft on us after returning from the army, but on his version of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say, he rocks out. From 1964’s Viva Las Vegas, it was the b-side of the excellent title track. And on G.I. Blues Evis even revisits Blue Suede Shoes. And here’s the thing: the cover of the first cover is note-for-note faithful, the arrangement is he same, but it lacks the ejaculatory power of the 1956 version. The army demonstably had emasculated Elvis.

From 1962′ Girls Girls Girls, Return To Sender sounds like it might have featured in a pre-army movie. In fact, it sounds like a good companion piece to King Creole. It was co-written by Otis Blackwell who had previously written All Shook Up, Don’t Be Cruel, Fever (all recorded by Elvis) as well as Jerry Lee Lewis Great Balls Of Fire. Look out for Blackwell’s own version of it on a mix next week.

For a perfect fusion of Cool Rock ‘n’ Roll Elvis and Cheesy Movie Elvis, one may turn to What A Wonderful Life from 1962’s Follow That Dream, in which Elvis plays the singing son of a vagabond heading down Florida way et cetera.

There was a period when the crapness of Elvis’ music coincided with the shittiness of his movies to create a sewerage of artlessness. I would locate that point at 1965/66. Some argue that Harum Scarum in 1965 was the nadir, and it is a perfectly defensible position; I propose that this was just a stop before the all-time low: Spinout in 1965. There are no redeeming songs at all from that wretched movie. But rules are rules and I had to include one from each film. So you have the pleasure to sample the misogynistic Smorgasbord wherein our hero narrates his philandering ways by way of comparing his conquests to Scandinavian fingerfood. It’s so bad, it really is bad.

Things improved shortly, though not without further humiliations. You Gotta Stop from the following film, Easy Come, Easy Go is a few steps up from his nordic epicurean adventure, and then we get Long Legged Girl (With the Short Dress On) from Double Trouble (you remember Double Trouble, don’t you?), which is a fine performance, poor lyrics notwithstanding. Not that it saved poor Elvis’ dignity. In the same movie he was made to sing Old McDonald Had A Farm. Apparently he stormed out of the studio upon being told that the King of Rock & Roll was required to sing that. But sing that he did, on record and in the movie. It is a pathetic spectacle.

But improve the things did. In 1967’s Clambake — another cinematic triumph —  Elvis sang Jerry Reed’s Guitar Man, getting deep into his country roots. On Stay Away, Joe (everybody remembers that) he reconnects with the blues, in a manner, with All I Need Is The Rain; and in 1968’s Live A Little, Love A Little, he hits on a career highlight with A Little Less Conversation (a song that returned him to the charts almost 40 years later).

As always, CD-R length, home ducktailed covers included. PW in comments.

1. We’re Gonna Move (Love Me Tender, 1956)
2. Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do (Loving You, 1957)
3. I Want To Be Free (Movie version) (Jailouse Rock, 1957)
4. Hard Headed Woman (King Creole, 1958)
5. Blue Suede Shoes (G.I. Blues, 1960)
6. Flaming Star (Flaming Star, 1960)
7. I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell (Wild In The Country, 1961)
8. No More (Blue Hawaii, 1961)
9. What A Wonderful Life (Follow That Dream, 1962)
10. I Got Lucky (Kid Gallahad, 1962)
11. Return To Sender (Girls, Girls, Girls, 1962)
12. They Remind Me Too Much Of You (It Happened At The World Fair, 1963)
13. Bossa Nova Baby (Fun In Acapulca, 1963)
14. Kissin’ Cousins (Kissin’ Cousins, 1964)
15. What’d I Say (Viva Las Vegas, 1964)
16. Wheels On My Heels (Roustabout, 1964)
17. The Meanest Girl In Town (Girl Happy, 1965)
18. Put The Blame On Me (Tickle Me, 1965)
19. So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise) (Harum Scarum, 1965)
20. A Dog’s Life (Frankie And Johnny, 1966)
21. Hard Luck (Paradise, Hawaii Style, 1966)
22. Smorgasbord (Spinout, 1966)
23. You Gotta Stop (Easy Come, Easy Go, 1967)
24. Long Legged Girl (With The Short Dress On) (Double Trouble, 1967)
25. Guitar Man (Clambake, 1967)
26. All I Needed Was The Rain (Stay Away, Joe, 1968)
27. Let Yourself Go (Speedway, 1968)
28. A Little Less Conversation (Live A Little, Love A Little, 1968)
29. Charro! (Charro!, 1969)
30. Clean Up Your Own Backyard (The Trouble With Girls, 1969)
31. Have A Happy (Change Of Habits, 1969)

GET IT!

More Mix-CD-Rs
More Elvis

Categories: Elvis Presley Tags:

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

GET IT!

More Originals

Categories: Elvis Presley, The Originals Tags:

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)

GET IT
PW as always

More Originals

 

 

 

Categories: Elvis Presley, Mix CD-Rs, The Originals Tags:

The Originals Vol. 21 – Elvis edition 4

April 10th, 2009 6 comments

This is the fourth and final Elvis special in the Originals series. That is 20 cover versions (plus Glenn Reves’ demo acetate of Heartbreak Hotel), out of some 250 cover versions Elvis recorded. Most of these are, however, relatively obscure or better known in previous versions. Featured here are six songs: Are You Lonesome Tonight, Crying In The Chapel, Suspicious Minds, The Wonder Of You, There Goes My Everything, and Burning Love.

————————————————-

Mark James – Suspicious Minds.mp3
(old file replaced by the album version as of December 17, 2009)
Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds.mp3

Elvis Presley’s artistic decline in the1960s is symbolised by the coincidence of his most derided movie, Clambake, opening at about the same time as the Beatles released their groundbreaking Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. 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, the soul table where Dusty Springfield cut her legendary Dusty in Memphis album.

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.

mark_jamesSuspicious 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. The latter was also a UK hit for the vile Jonathan King. BJ Thomas was in line to record Suspicious Minds before the song was given to Elvis — who 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). Thomas went on to have a big hit that year anyway with Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, and went on to record Suspicious Minds in 1970.

elvis_suspicious_mindsElvis would record four more songs written or co-written by James: Always On My Mind (written originally, as noted in Elvis edition 2, for Brenda Lee), Raised On A Rock, Moody Blue and Thomas’ It’s Only Love. James recorded none of these, but in 1968 he did record Suspicious Minds. Chips Moman had produced James’ version, and thereby created a handy template which he returned to when producing Elvis’ version. Improved by Elvis superb interpretation, the stirring backing vocals, and the tight Memphis Horns, the cover became Elvis’ definitive latter-period song. Two months before Suspicious Minds was released as a single in October 1969, Elvis resumed performing live on stage — for the first time in more than a decade. As if to create a poignant contrast, Elvis’ first performance in Vegas took place just two weeks before Woodstock. Almost invariably, Suspicious Minds would be Elvis’ closing song, later usually accompanied by extravagant karate moves.

Also recorded by: Ross McManus (1970), BJ Thomas (1970), Waylon Jennings & Jessi Coulter (1970), Dee Dee Warwick (1971), The Heptones (1971), Del Reeves & Billie Jo Spears (1976), Johnny Farago (1978), Leo de Castro & Babylon (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Thelma Houston (1980), Candi Staton (1981), B.E.F. feat. Gary Glitter (1982), The Defects (1984), Fine Young Cannibals (1985; charting in the UK with a remix in 1986), Bobby Orlando (1988), Dwight Yoakam (1992), Phish (1996), Axelle Red (1997), Ligabue (as Ultimo tango a Memphis, 1997), True West (1998), Avail (1999), Wax (1999), Gareth Gates (2002), Helmut Lotti (2002), Big Fat Snake with TCB Band & Sweet Inspirations (2003), Pete Yorn (2003), Flemming Bamse Jørgensen (2007), Sakis Rouvas (2007), Dread Zeppelin (2008), Roch Voisine ( 2008), Colton Berry (2008), Ronan bloody Keating (2009), Miss Kittin & the Hacker (2009) a.o.

.

Darrell Glenn – Crying In The Chapel.mp3
The Orioles – Crying In The Chapel.mp3
Elvis Presley – Crying In The Chapel.mp3

elvis_chapelThe influence on Elvis’ early music by the sounds of Rhythm & Blues on the one hand and country music on the other — Arthur Crudup and Hank Snow — is well known. 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 — whose charmless sibling Ira once declined an approach by his fan Elvis, citing his reluctance to speak to the “white nigger”.

Gospel was not just a fancy, but 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 mis-named 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.

oriolesElvis’ 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.

Also recorded by: Rex Allen (1953), Lee Lawrence (1953), Art Lund (1953), Ella Fitzgerald (1953), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1953), Eddy Arnold (1953), Nelly Wijsbek (1953), Wolfgang Sauer (as Tränen in den Augen, 1954), Derrick & Patsy (1962), Little Richard (1963), Roy Hamilton (1963), Ellie Lavelle (1963), Santo & Johnny (1964), Adam Wade (1964), Bobby Solo (as La casa del Signore, 1965), The Starliners (1965), Hugo Winterhalter (1965), Chuck Jackson (1966), The Lettermen (1966), Staple Singers (1968), Don McLean (1974), Ronnie McDowell (1978), Allies (1989), Aaron Neville (1995), Hotel Hunger (1997), Helmut Lotti (2002), P.J. Proby (2002), Chris Clark (2005), Cagey Strings (as Tränen in den Augen, 2006), Flemming Bamse Jørgensen (2007) a.o.

.

Ray Peterson – The Wonder Of You.mp3
Elvis Presley – The Wonder Of You.mp3

raypApparently 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.

Also recorded by: Ronnie Hilton (1959), The Lettermen (1963), The Sandpipers (1969), Bobby Hatfield (1969), Jennifer Holliday (2003), Flemming Bamse Jørgensen (2007)

.

Ferlin Husky – There Goes My Everything.mp3
Elvis Presley – There Goes My Everything.mp3

ferlin_huskyThis song is probably most famous in its incarnation as Engelbert Humperdinck’s gaudy 1967 hit. In its original form, however, it is a country classic, written by Dallas Frazier. It was first recorded in 1965 and released the following year by that great purveyor of unintentionally funny songs and owner of the hickiest of hick accents, Ferlin Husky. His version was an album track; fellow country singer Jack Greene turned it into a hit in 1967. Elvis’ version, which appeared on the quite excellent 1971 Elvis Country album (after being a 1970 b-side of I Really Don’t Want To Know) and was a UK top 10 hit that year, certainly draws from the song’s country origins — though surely not from Husky’s original.

Also recorded by: Carl Belew (1967), Del Reeves (1967), Margie Singleton (1967), Bill Vaughn (1967), David Ables (1967), Col Joye (1968), James Burton & Ralph Mooney (1968), Charlie Walker (1968), Nana Mouskouri (as Mille raisons de vivre, 1971), Holmes Brothers (1993), Patty Loveless (2008) a.o.

.
Arthur Alexander – Burning Love.mp3
Elvis Presley – Burning Love.mp3
Dennis Linde – Burning Love.mp3

arthur_alexander_burning_loveElvis 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 (see Elvis edition 2), 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 recalls the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Also recorded by: Mother’s Finest (1977), Benny Scott (1983), Ronnie Spector (1987), I Love You (1989), Clouseau (as In vuur en vlam, 1992), Travis Tritt (1992), Batmobile (1993), Grant Lee Buffalo (1993), Melissa Etheridge (1994), Nina Forsberg (1997), Ghoti Hook (1998), Wynonna Judd (2003) a.o.

.

Vaughn Deleath – Are You Lonesome Tonight.mp3
Henry Burr – Are You Lonesome To-night.mp3
Carter Family – Are You Lonesome Tonight.mp3
Elvis Presley – Are You Lonesome Tonight (Laughing version).mp3

vaughn_deleathTom Parker got Elvis to sing this old standard because 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 first became a hit in the version by the improbably named Vaughn Deleath, “The Radio Girl”. Her take dates to June 13 (Hart’s was May 8). On August 5, 1927, the famed tenor Henry Burr put his voice to it. Many a crooner would follow, but some performers adapted the song to their genre. So it was with the Carter Family — the pioneers of country music who went on to produce June and Anita — whose quite lovely 1935 bluegrass version is barely recognisable, musically and even lyrically.

The song enjoyed a revival in the 1950s. It was the 1950 version by the 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). The saxophone is played by Boots Randolph, who later covered the song himself.

are_you_lonesome_tonightFeatured here is not the studio version which those who don’t already have it don’t really need. What they need is the laughing version from one of his 1969 Vegas gigs. The conventional story has it that Elvis, probably amphetamine-addled, was cracking up at the high-pitched singing of a backing singer (said to be Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother). An alternative story has it that after Elvis, as was his wont, “humorously” changed the lyrics from “Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there” to “Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair”, when he spotted a bald man in the audience, setting him off into a fit of laughter — and all the while the backing singer keeps going in a most gamely fashion.

Also recorded by: Al Jolson (1950), Blue Barron and his Orchestra (1950), Jaye P. Morgan (1959), Peter Alexander (as Bist du einsam heut’ nacht?, 1961), Frank Sinatra (1962), Helen Shapiro (1962), The Lettermen (1964), Michele (as Ti senti sola stasera, 1965), Dottie West (1972), Donnie Osmond (1973), Euson (1973), (as Er du langsom i nat, 1976), Johnny Farago (1976), Allison Durbin (1977), Merle Haggard (1977), Ral Donner (1979), Karen Casey (1980), Will Tura (as Ben je eenzaam vannacht , 1984), Peter Hofmann (1986), Robot (as Ti senti sola stasera, 1987), Mina (1989), Bryan Ferry (1992), 101 Strings (1993), Sammy “Sax” Mintzer (1997), Megan Mullally (1999), The Mavericks (1999), Helmut Lotti (2002), Anne Murray (2002), Barb Jungr (2005), Chris Botti with Paul Buchanan (2005), Cagey Strings (2006), Barry Manilow (2006) a.o.

.

More Originals

The Originals – Elvis edition 1
The Originals – Elvis edition 2
The Originals – Elvis edition 3

The Originals Vol. 16 – Elvis edition 3

January 30th, 2009 3 comments

In the third Elvis special in this series we look at the originals of That’s All Right  (1954), My Baby Left Me (1956), His Latest Flame (1961), Cant’ Help Falling In Love With You (1961) and Viva Las Vegas (1964) — though the last of these is not really an Elvis cover.

Charles Gilibert – Plaisir d’amour (1908).mp3
Elvis Presley – Can’t Help Falling In Love (1961).mp3

This is the song which ignorant callers to radio stations tend to request by the title “Wise Man Say” (and, if fortune likes to piss on you, in UB40’s ghastly incarnation). 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 whose sorry saga will feature in a future instalment in this series.

Charles Gilibert

Charles Gilibert

The melody of Can’t Help… 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. 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.

Also recorded by: Perry Como (1962), The Lettermen (1963), We Five (1965), Bobby Solo (as Te ne vai, 1967), Aphrodite’s Child (as I Want To Live, 1969), Andy Williams (1970), Al Martino (1970), Marty Robbins (1970), Bob Dylan (1973), The Stylistics (1976), Johnny Farago (1976), Shirley Bassey (1977), Baccara (1977), Ral Donner (1979), Klaus Nomi (1983), Corey Hart (1986), Lick the Tins (1986), David Keith with The T. Graham Brown Band (1988), The Triffids (1989), Hall & Oates (1990), Julio Iglesias (1990), Luka Bloom (1992), UB40 (1993), James Galway (1994), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Celine Dion (1995), Richard Marx (1995), David Thomas and Two Pale Boys (1997), Sammy “Sax” Mintzer (1997), Neil Diamond (1998), Nato Ghandi (1999), Hi-Standard (2001), Pearl Jam (2001), Eels (2001), A*Teens (2002), Anne Murray (2002), Erasure (2003), Tuck & Patti (2004), Michael Bublé (2004), Mägo de Oz (as Todo Irá Bien, 2004), Rick Astley (2005), Joseph Williams (2006), Andrea Bocelli (2006), Barry Manilow (2006), The Skank Agents (2008), Blackmore’s Night (2008), Ingrid Michaelson (2008) a.o.

——————————

Del Shannon – His Latest Flame (1961).mp3
Mort Shuman – His Latest Flame (1961).mp3

Elvis Presley – His Latest Flame (1961).mp3
elvis-his-latest-flameWith it’s 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 these songs, His Latest Flame was not an original.

del-shannonThe song was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who wrote some 20 Elvis songs — including His Latest Flame’s b-side, Little Sister — 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. 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 “Hats Off To Larry” instead. His Latest Flame was released on the Runaway With Del Shannon LP in June. 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).

Also recorded by: Richard Anthony (1961), Ronnie McDowell (1978), The Residents (1989), El Vez (1992), Scorpions (1993), The Sun Gods (1999), Misfits (2003), Morrissey (as part of a medley, 2005)

pomus-shuman

Mort Shuman – Viva Las Vegas (1963).mp3
Elvis Presley – Viva Las Vegas (1964).mp3

elvis-viva-las-vegasDoc Pomus and Mort Shuman also wrote the title song for Elvis’ 1964 movie vehicle, the title of which presages the singer’s future image (just think of the nauseating cliché of rhinestone-jumpsuited Elvis impersonators with comedy shades administering nuptial vows in a tacky plastic chapel in Vegas, the image of Elvis which threatens to destroy our boy’s rich legacy). The song has become one of the most popular from Elvis’ fallow mid-’60s period. Oddly, initially it was only the b-side to the lead single, the cover of Ray Charles What’d I Say (MP3 here). Playing guitar on Viva Las Vegas was a little-known session musician named Glen Campbell. The Mort Shuman version is the demo version, so Viva Las Vegas is not really a cover.

In 2002, the city of Las Vegas approached Elvis Presley Enterprises, the behemoth that controls (or at least tries to control) all Elvis-related matters, with a view to using Viva Las Vegas as its official song. In a merry-go-round of idiocy, EPE demanded too high a fee, even though the copyrights for the song had reverted to the estates of Pomus and Shuman (who died within three months of one another in early 1991) in 1993. The city of Las Vegas apparently didn’t bother to check who actually owned the song and negotiate a deal with them. It might be, of course, that Vegas wanted to use Elvis’ voice, which EPE possibly do control. If so, then Vegas must take a very dim view of the talents on offer among its growing population of Cliché Elvis Impersonators.While Vegas did not get to adopt the song, it was used by the pharmaceutical company (which Elvis had supported so enthusiastically) Pfizer to flog Viagra — Viva Viagra!

Also recorded by: Ral Donner (1979), Dead Kennedys (1980), The Residents (1989), Nina Hagen (1989), Bruce Springsteen (1990), ZZ Top (1992), Shawn Colvin (1995), Big Johnson (1995), Boxer (1997), Ann-Margaret (as Viva Rock Vegas, 2000), Dread Zeppelin (2004), The Thrills (2004), The Grascals with Dolly Parton (2005), Los Derrumbes (2005), Jim Belushi & the Sacred Hearts (2005), Spinballs (2007) a.o.

——————————

Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – That’s All Right (1946).mp3
Elvis Presley – That’s All Right (Mama) (1954).mp3

arthur-crudup-thats-all-rightThis is the song that changed Rock ‘n’ 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 Allright, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s blues number from 1946. 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-thats-all-rightEleven days before the single was released on 19 July 1954, Memphis radio DJ Dewey Phillips played it seven times in a row by popular request. In an on air interview, he asked Elvis (whom, according to legend, he first called Elton Preston) which high school he had attended — a euphemistic way of clarifying for his listeners that Elvis was in fact white. Elvis has often been accused of hijacking black music, turning it white. If that was the effect, it was not Elvis’ plan. Here was a boy with a real affinity for R&B (as well as for gospel, country and the crooners). In 1956 he said: “The coloured folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin’ now, man, for more years than I know… I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel what old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”

Also recorded by: Marty Robbins (1954), Carl Perkins (1958), Blind Snooks Eaglin (1962), Scotty Moore (1964), Gram Parsons’ International Submarine Band (1968), Albert King (1970), Rod Stewart (1971), Jimmy Ellis (1972), Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn & Bill Vitt (1973), William Robertson (1977), Merle Haggard (1977), Ral Donner (1979), The Maines Brothers (1981), Ronnie Hawkins (1983), Paul McCartney (1988), Albert Lee (1991), Vince Gill (1992), Home Coockin’ (1997), Nikolaj Christensen (1997), Tyler Hilton (2005), Curtis Stigers (2005), Monster Klub (2007), Dread Zeppelin (2008)

——————————

Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – My Baby Left Me (1949).mp3
Elvis Presley – My Baby Left Me (1956).mp3

arthur-crudupElvis would record two more Crudup songs, My Baby Left Me and So Glad You’re Mine. If My Baby Left Me, which he recorded in 1949, sounds a lot like That’s Allright, it is because Crudup had a limited number of tunes which he adapted with new lyrics (usually also recycled). By coincidence, the man whose song set Elvis up with a career start at Sun Records had previously recorded for RCA (on their Bluebird subsidiary), the record company with which Elvis would break big. 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.

Elvis recorded My Baby Left Me in January 1956, during the same New York session which produced Blue Suede Shoes. It was released as the flip side of I Want You, I Need You, I Love You in May that year.

Also recorded by: Johnny Hallyday (as Tu me quittes, 1964), Dave Berry (1964), Scotty Moore (1964), Creedence Clearwater Revival (1970), Loggins & Messina (1975), Dave Edmunds (1977), Ronnie McDowell (1978), Geraint Watkins & The Dominators (1979), John Hammond (1982)

More Originals

The Originals  – Elvis edition 1
The Originals  – Elvis edition 2

The Originals Vol. 15 – Elvis edition 2

January 28th, 2009 3 comments

Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog.mp3
Freddie Bell & the Bellboys – Hound Dog.mp3
Elvis Presley – Hound Dog.mp3

RCA Studios, New York. Monday, 2 July 1956. Elvis turned up for his third and final recording session there to lay down the tracks for Hound Dog, Don’t Be Cruel and the ballad Any Way You Want Me. By now, Elvis had become confident enough to take charge of the session, for all intents and purposes acting as the producer. He had decided which songs to record, and would run through as many takes as necessary for the perfect recording. Occasionally, when a backing musician would make a mistake, he would sing a note out of key or commit another error, forcing another take. In the seven-hour session, 31 takes of Hound Dog were recorded (and 28 of Don’t Be Cruel). Elvis listened to them all, narrowed down the choices. Eventually, he settled for take 18 of Hound Dog (some sources say it was number 28).

elvis-hound-dogBefore the session, the story goes, RCA had procured the first recording of the Leiber/Stoller composition, Big Mama Thornton’s blues rendition. Everybody was aghast: they thought it was horrible, unable to comprehend why Elvis would want to record that, as Gordon Stoker of the vocal backing group The Jordanaires later recalled. Stoker and the other puzzled people in the studio obviously did not watch TV. A month before the recording session, Elvis had performed the song on The Milton Berle Show, more or less the way he was going to record it on 2 July (Video clip). DJ Fontana had already introduced the drum roll between the verses, and Scotty Moore the guitar solo. He performed the song again on TV the day before the recording session: the performance on the Steve Allen show (VIDEO) when, wearing a tuexedo, he had to sing the song to a bemused, top-hatted basset hound (Elvis was a good sport about it, at one point even laughing at the absurd set-up. Allen had a way of humiliating Elvis. Another time, he had Elvis playing an inarticulate hillbilly [!] in what by all accounts was a particularly tasteless sketch). The Berle performance, seen by a reported 40 million people, had created a storm of protest by the guardians of morality at Elvis’ “vulgarity” (just see his movements 2:04 into the video to understand why it might have been controversial in the mid-1950s). Could anybody really have been so oblivious as to regard Rainey’s record as a demo, as if Elvis had no idea what to do with the song?

freddie-bell-the-bellboysThe truth is that Elvis didn’t base his version on Big Mama Thornton at all, but on the cover by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, An Ital0-American band he had seen during his discouraging concert engagement in Vegas in April/May 1956. Having ascertained that Bell wouldn’t mind, Elvis quickly included Hound Dog in his setlist. He probably was aware of Thornton’s version, and perhaps heard some of the country covers that had been released. But Elvis’ Hound Dog is entirely a reworking of the Bellboys’, incorporating their sound and modified lyrics (“Cryin’ all the time” for “Snoopin’ round my door”, “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine” for  “You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more”), but happily dispensing with the lupine howls.

big-mama-thornton-hound-dogBell and his band enjoyed a mostly undistinguished recording career, with only one real hit, Giddy Up A Ding Dong (which was much bigger in Europe than it was in the US), also in 1956. Bell got no writing credit for Hound Dog. The writing credit remained entirely with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were still R&B-obsessed teenagers when they were commissioned by the producer Johnny Otis to write a song for Big Mama Thornton in 1952. They did so in 15 minutes (when the song became a million-seller for Elvis, Otis claimed co-authorship. He lost that case). Thornton’s recording became a #1 hit on the R&B charts in 1953 (Video). Her 12-bar blues inspired a plagiarised response song, which turned out to be the first ever record released by Sun Records, Sam Phillips’ label which would go on to produce Elvis.

Three years after Thornton’s hit, Stoller honeymooning on board of the sinking Andrea Doria. His life was spared (and, like Leiber, he is still with us), and returning to New York, he was greeted at the pier by Leiber with the news that Hound Dog had become a smash hit. “Mama Thornton?” Stoller asked. “No, some white kid named Elvis Presley,” replied Leiber. The songwriters, R&B purists, resented Elvis’ version. When, inevitably, they were commissioned to write for Elvis a year later, for the Jailhouse Rock film, they were not particularly happy. As a form of revenge, Leiber wrote for Elvis to sing the line in the title track: “you’re the cutest little jailbird I ever did see.” The prison in Jailhouse Rock was not co-ed. When they finally met Elvis, the songwriters realised that Elvis was a kindred spirit who genuinely shared their love for R&B, and they became good friends. Stoller even appeared in the film, as a piano player.

Elvis’ Hound Dog went on to sell 4 million copies in its first release in the US; it’s flip side, the wonderful Don’t Be Cruel, also reached #1. In Britain, the critics were not enthusiastic, even if Hound Dog became a big hit there too. The jazzheads at the venerable Melody Maker were particularly unimpressed. In an exceptionally scathing review, which described Hound Dog as being possessed by “sheer repulsiveness coupled with the monotony of incoherence”, Steve Race opined: “I fear for the country which ought to have the good taste and the good sense to reject music so decadent.” He had no advice as to how one might repel the Rock ‘n’ Roll tide, but with regard to Elvis, he rather deliciously offered to leave him  “with his ‘rectinbutter houn dogger’ and merely echo his last and only comprehensible line: ‘You ain’t no friend of mine’.”

Also recorded by: Billy Starr (1953), Tommy Duncan (1953), Eddie Hazelwood (1953), Jack Turner (1953), Cleve Jackson (1953), Gene Vincent (1956), Scotty Moore (1964), Everly Brothers (1965), The Easybeats (1967), Jimi Hendrix (1967), Nat Stuckey (1969), Ross McManus (1970), Albert King (1970), James Burton (1971), John Entwistle  (1973), Sha Na Na (1973), Johnny Farago (1977), Ral Donner (1979), Shakin’ Stevens (1983), Tales Of Terror (1984), The Residents (1989), Eric Clapton (1989), Züri West (as Souhung, 1990), Jeff Beck & Jed Leiber (1992), Marva Wright (1993), Bryan Adams (1994), Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express (1996), The Lord Lucan Quartet (1999), Jimmy Barnes (2000), Status Quo (2000), Etta James (2000), The Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio (2003), Robert Palmer (2003), Porterhouse Bob (2005), James Taylor (2008) a.o.

———————————

Tippie & the Clovers – Bossa Nova Baby.mp3 (new link)
Elvis Presley – Bossa Nova Baby.mp3

tippie-the-cloversAnother Leiber & Stoller composition, Bossa Nova Baby has been unjustly regarded by some as a bit of a displeasing 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 a 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 of 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.

Also recorded by: Cosmic Voodoo (2007)

——————————–

Jerry Reed – Guitar Man.mp3
Elvis Presley – Guitar Man.mp3

jerry-reedJerry 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. In 1968, Elvis also had a hit with Reed’s US Male, originally written in 1966. Reed, who died last August, had enjoyed some success as a songwriter before (such as Johnny Cash’s A thing called love) and later became a three-time Grammy winner, including one for his 1970 LP of duets with occasional Elvis associate Chet Atkins, and part-time movie actor, usually as a Burt Reynolds sidekick.

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.

Also recorded by: Bob Luman (1969), Jesus and Mary Chain (1990), Junior Brown (2001)

———————————

Bing Crosby – Blue Hawaii.mp3
Elvis Presley – Blue Hawaii.mp3

waikiki-weddingWe’ll take a look at the more famous hit from Elvis’ 1961 movie Blue Hawaii — one of his most popular and the one with his best-selling soundtrack — in the next Elvis Originals Special on Friday.

Blue Hawaii was written by Leo Robin & Ralph Rainger (who also wrote Bob Hope’s signature song Thank You For The Memory) for the 1937 movie Waikiki Wedding, starring Bing Crosby and Shirley Ross. Crosby recorded it for the movie and scored a #5 hit with it that year. Robin’s other great contribution to music was to author the Marilyn Monroe hit Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.

Also recorded by: Frank Sinatra (1958), Willie Nelson (1992), David Byrne (2008)

———————————

Brenda Lee – Always On My Mind.mp3
Elvis Presley – Always On My Mind.mp3

brenda-leeDepending on where you live and how old you are, this 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.

The song was co-written by the singer Mark James, who will feature in a future instalment of the Elvis Originals series with a song which also articulated Elvis’ marital emotions. Another co-writer was Wayne Carson (Thompson), who a few years earlier had written the ’60s classic The Letter, a hit for Elvis’ fellow Memphians the Box Tops.

Also recorded by: Willie Nelson (1982), Big Daddy (1985), David Hasselhoff (1985), Pet Shop Boys (1987), Alvin & the Chipmunks  (1988), The Starsound Orchestra (1992), James Galway (1994), David Axelrod (1995), Chris de Burgh (1995), Caroline Henderson (1997), Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson (1998), David Osborne (1998), James Last (1998), El Vez (1999), Willie Nelson, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora (2002), Anne Murray (2002), DJ QuickSilver presents Base Unique (2002), Jade Villalon (2002), B.B. King (2003), Fantasia Barrino  (2004), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2004), Ryan Adams and The Cardinals (2005), Julio Iglesias (2006 – what took him so long?), Michael Bublé (2007), Roch Voisine (2008) a.o.

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 13 – Elvis edition 1

January 8th, 2009 5 comments

After a three-months absence, The Originals are returning. I must admit to having been discouraged from continuing it after more than half of the previous instalments were DMCAed by Blogger. Happily, the deleted posts were all backed up and are available here. So we resume this series of the lesser known original songs of hits with the first of what may end up to be three or four Elvis Presley specials, the first of them timed to coincide with our man’s 74th birthday.

Roy Brown – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3
Wynonie Harris – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3

Elvis Presley – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3

Some say that Good Rockin’ Tonight was the proto Rock ‘n’ Roll record. Of course, any claim of inaugurating Rock ‘n’ 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. Another vital element in that evolution was the advent of Elvis Presley’s stardom. Good Rockin’ Tonight was his second single, following his cover of Arthur Crudup’s That’s Alright Mama. 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.

Also recorded by: Rick Nelson (1958), Pat Boone, James Brown, Shakin’ Stevens and The Sunsets (1972), Jerry Lee Lewis (1979), Gene Summers (1981), Contraband (1991), Paul McCartney (1991)

Carl Perkins – Blues Suede Shoes.mp3
Elvis Presley – Blues Suede Shoes.mp3

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 not built 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 labelmates Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

It was on one such tour in November 1955, in Gladewater, Texas, that Cash gave Perkins the idea for a song (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, 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.

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 labelmate 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.

Also recorded by: Roy Hall (1956), Boyd Bennett and His Rockets (1956), Cliff Richard and The Shadows (1959), Bill Haley and His Comets (1960), Conway Twitty (1960), Eddie Cochran (1962), Dave Clark Five (1965), Beacon Street Union (1968), John Lennon (1969), Ross McManus (1970), Albert King (1970), Johnny Halliday (1971), Jimi Hendrix (1972), Johnny Rivers (1973), Dean Reed (1976), Merle Haggard (1977), Ry Cooder (1982), Toy Dolls (1983), The Residents (1989), Lemmy & The Upsetters (1990), Medicine Head (1994), Agents & Scotty Moore & DJ Fontana (2001) a.o.

Glen Reeves – Heartbreak Hotel.mp3
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel.mp3

Elvis’ national breakthrough hit was written by Thomas Durden and Mae Boren Axton (school teacher, mother of Hoyt Axton, some-time associate of “Colonel” Tom Parker, manager of Hank Snow and “Queen Mother of Nashville”), with Elvis specifically in mind. Durden got the idea for the song when he read about a Florida man whose suicide note ended with the elegiac line: “I walk a lonely street.” Durden and Axton had asked their friend Glen Reeves to help write the song. Reeves declined but did record the demo in what he believed to be Elvis’ style. Presented with the demo, Elvis insisted that this should be his first single for RCA (the deal with whom Axton had mediated).

Elvis’ version (which featured Chet Atkins on guitar) is structurally little different from Reeve’s demo, and even the vocals don’t depart much from Reeve’s template. Still, Presley received an utterly undeserved co-writer credit, apparently at the insistence of Parker as a reward for recording the song in first place. One has to admire that bastard’s nerve. Durden defended the added credit by saying that Presley’s take changed the song substantially from the original. Mr Durden clearly was a more gracious individual than most of us.

Also recorded by: Stan Freberg (1956), Connie Francis (1959), Conway Twitty (1960), Scotty Moore (1964), Buddy Love (1964), Sha Na Na (1969), Albert King (1970), Ross McManus (1970), Frijid Pink (October 1970), Delaney Bramlett (1971), Johnny Halliday (1974), John Cale (1974), The James Gang (1975), Johnny Farago (1976), Suzi Quatro (1977), Merle Haggard (1977), Tanya Tucker (1978), Ronnie McDowell (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Willie and Leon (1979), The Vandals (1982), The Residents (1989), The Chipmunks (1990), Dread Zeppelin (1990), Neil Diamond & Kim Carnes (1992), Billy Joel (1992), Lynyrd Skynyrd (1994), El Vez (1999), Lemmy & Friends (2000), Helmut Lotti (2002) a.o.

Smiley Lewis – One Night Of Sin.mp3
Elvis Presley – One Night.mp3

The dentally-challenged Smiley Lewis (who featured earlier in this series with I Hear You Knocking) was an influential R&B singer who never accomplished legendary status. And then Elvis even emasculated his R&B hit about the attraction of a desperate one-night stand. Where Smiley in 1956 asked for one night of sin, Elvis a year later went for the more ambiguous and less sexual “one night with you” (which might, for all we care, be spent holding hands). Elvis also recorded a version with the original lyrics, which went unreleased until a few years ago, when it appeared on a box set.

Lewis’ version was a hit on the R&B charts, but failed to crack the pop charts. Written by Dave Bartholomew and Dave King, One Night was among the many Elvis songs which his label, RCA, held over for release while he was in the army. It finally came out in 1958, as a double A-side with I Got Stung, and reached #2 on the US charts, and in 1959 #1 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Fats Domino (1961), Johnny Farago (1967), Albert King (1970), Jackie Brown (1971), Tami Lynn (1971), Shakin’ Stevens and The Sunsets (1972), Fancy (1974), Mud (1975), Ronnie McDowell (1978), José Feliciano (1983), Joe Cocker (1989), Billy Ray Cyrus (1994), Helmut Lotti (2002)

Hank Snow – (Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I.mp3
Elvis Presley – A Fool Such As I.mp3

Canadian-born country icon Hank Snow can be described as one of the most significant men in Elvis’ career. As a youngster, Elvis was a big fan of country’s two big Hanks — Williams and Snow. Their music influenced the young Presley, who did regard himself as a country singer, with pretensions towards white gospel, before the term Rock ‘n’ Roll gained currency (which did not prevent the wife-beating gospel singer Ira Louvain from calling an initially admiring Elvis to his face a “white nigger”, or a variation thereof).

It was Snow who gave Elvis a supporting slot at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, the mecca of country music. And it was Snow who cultivated Elvis when Tom Parker wanted to sign the young singer. Indeed, the clean-cut Snow persuaded Elvis’ mother, Gladys, that her son would be well looked after under a new management which would include his tutorship. Driving home after the decisive meeting, a pleased Snow mentioned to Parker that they would earn good money from managing Elvis. With the ink on the contract barely dry, Parker instructed Snow to read it: it made no mention of Snow whatsoever. The “Colonel” had pulled his first vicious trick as Elvis’ manager.

The Elvis cover of Snow’s 1952 song A Fool Such As I (which Snow co-wrote with Bill Trader and first appeared as a single b-side), was released in March 1959 and was a US #2 and UK #1 hit. While Jo Stafford enjoyed a hit with it a year after Snow’s recording, it is most probable that Elvis was inspired by Snow’s more mournful (and, it must be said, superior) version.

Also recorded by: Jo Stafford (1953), Tommy Edwards (1953), The Bell Susters (1953), The Robins (1953), Eddy Arnold (1956), Bill Haley and His Comets (1959), Jim Reeves (1959), Petula Clark (1960), Doris Day (1963), Davy Kaye (1964), Bob Dylan (1967 & 1969, released in 1973), Rodney Crowell (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Peabo Bryson (1981), The Residents (1989), Bailie & the Boys (1990), Don Walsere (1998), Anne Murray (2002), Raul Malo (2007), Batmobile (2007), Josh Ritter (2008) a.o.

More Originals

Perfect Pop – Vol. 8

May 9th, 2008 3 comments

Here are a few more perfect pop records which brings the number of featured songs up up to 100 (by my rough count).

Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.mp3
This song has been covered a zillion times and by some of the finest singers ever to commit their voices to record (Sinatra, Fitzgerald). And every one of these covers has failed to translate the sweet vitality of the original. It is a shame that this gem of a song has become a muzak staple; few major songs have been as poorly understood at this one. Written when Stevie was just 20, this mid-tempo samba number seems unassuming, until you listen to Stevie’s vocal inflections and, even more carefully, the deceptively simple arrangement. This song needs no big orchestration to fix its simplicity; indeed, strings or a big band treatment poison its sweet intimacy. And this is the key: it is a loveletter, not an epic declaration. Give it an orchestra, and the sentiment is varnished with cliché. All Stevie needs is keyboard, bass, drums and percussions. And the joyous exuberance of his voice (with the help of Jim Gilstrap and Lani Groves, who sing the first verse; listen to it over earphones). Stevie sounds like he is in love, because he is: with Gloria Barley, who sings backing vocals here. And isn’t that lovely?
Best bit: “Mmm-mmm-hmmm-mmm (2:22)

Frankie Valli – Can’t Take My Eyes Of You.mp3
The Four Seasons had a number of great pop songs, but Valli’s finest moment came as a solo performer, albeit with the help of his old pals Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, who wrote this song. Can’t Take My Eyes Of You begins as a mid-tempo ballad, unremarkable except for Valli’s beautiful phrasing, frequently lagging half a note behind the beat, enunciating some vowels as if to provide an off-beat percussion. Suddenly staccato notes signal a change in tempo; jolly strings (not unlike those used on many disco records a decade later) suggest that Frankie is going to get quite excited now. And then Valli launches into a giddy chorus. He’s in love all right, but our fears that it may not be reciprocal, hinted at in the first verse (“but if you feel like I feel…”, “You’d be like heaven to touch”) are realised as the chorus tails off, and Frankie gently, anxiously asks: “let me love you”. We return to the mid-tempo verse, and are quite aware of Frankie’s doubts and that the giddiness (thanking God he’s alive) may just be the oxytocin talking.
Best bit: The way Frankie chews the final vowel in touch (2:17)

Jens Lekman – Your Are The Light.mp3
Among indie-pop fans, the Swede Jens Lekman is a semi-deity. He writes catchy, quirky tunes. His lyrics are invariably hugely entertaining, sometimes touching, sometimes off-beat. You Are The Light has a great tune, introduced by a Earth, Wind & Fire-ish clarion call and supported by a beat that seems just a little too fast for the song. The chorus is proper singalong stuff. The melody and arrangement, with its occasional blasts of horn now and harmonica there, are hugely attractive. But it is the lyrics that captivate. In the opening verse, he uses his one phone call from jail to dedicate a song to his girl (who landed him in this predicament in first place) on the radio. Later the cops are “sad” because they can’t prove his act of delinquency. This song has much by way of completely likable charm — which sets it apart from much of contemporary pop.
Best bit: The horn intro (0:01)

Matt Monro – We’re Gonna Change The World.mp3
If Barack Obama was into the British crooners of the ’60s and ’70s, he might well have adopted this as his campaign anthem. Monro, whom Sinatra described as the only British singer, might have been an easy listening merchant, but this song has a socially conscious edge which was not usually reflected in the genre, even in the late ’60s (the song itself was released in 1970). The song tells of three women, two of them going on a protest march, presumably for peace, while another sees the demonstration but doesn’t join. In the punchline, the non-joiner is a war widow, crying in her office over her dead husband. Monro’s chorus suggests that her option is the wrong one as he calls, as if from within the throng of marchers: “So, come with us, run with us! We’re gonna change the world. You’ll be amazed, so full of praise, when we’ve rearranged your world. We’re gonna change your world.” And don’t these words sum up the message Obama has been trying to sell? Add to that a wonderfully jaunty tune – try not be lifted by it – and Monro’s enthusiastic vocals, and you have a perfect campaign pop song.
Best bit: Monro nearly shouts the word “run” in his call to action (2:54)

Elvis Presley – Hound Dog.mp3
Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog.mp3
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote Hound Dog as teenagers for Big Mama Thornton, apparently in ten minutes. Meditate on that for a minute. A couple of teenagers write what will become a timeless classic for an intimidating blues singer, and do the job in ten minutes. The way Thornton sings it is the way the composers conceived it. Hound Dog became a local hit, and inspired a plagiarised response song, which turned out to be the first ever record released by Sun Records, Sam Phillips’ label which would go on to produce Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and, of course, Elvis Presley. It took Elvis a few years to get around to Hound Dog, which 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. In the 31rd take we know today, Elvis made no attempt to sing the lyrics, symbolised by the way he chews up the pronunciation of the title. He shouts and sneers through the song with his band rocking to the beat of the handclaps, while the Jordannaires gamely try to instill some civility over the raucous guitar solo. Guitarist Scotty Moore’s final chords are a breath of post-orgasmic release. It seems clear while Hound Dog threatened the USA’s repressed sexual morality: Elvis is fingering America’s daughters right there.
Best bit: Drum roll, Elvis groans something, and a guitar chord closes the song (2:09)

Sex Pistols – Pretty Vacant.mp3
The Sex Pistols were the poster boys for the British punk revolution; more than their music, it was their exploits and, more to the point, their image that made Middle England nervous. They swore on TV; they insulted Her Majesty with a song that was banned from radio and yet reached #2 on the UK charts (some have smelled a conspiracy to keep the Pistols off #1, to the benefit of Rod Stewart’s I Don’t Want To Talk About It); they used a naughty word in their album title (it was later established in court that “bollocks” is a non-vulgar Olde English word) . And now hear how Johnny Rotten supposedly pronounces the second syllable of the title’s second word. Ooooh, the threat. Ooooh, the publicity! The Sex Pistols invented punk as much as Elvis invented rock & roll. In many ways, they were the Spice Girls of their day: a phenomenon managed by a clever svengali, whose music was secondary to the image. That’s why Glenn Matlock, the really talented one, could be replaced by a disorientated thug who’d become the most pathetic junkie in rock history. It was all about presentation. But that also glosses over the music. While the primary sales pitch was the image, the product – the music – was very good too. For all the punk posturing, the Sex Pistols had some fine pop tunes. Other than John Lydon’s hysterically sneering delivery and the nature of the lyrics he sneered, there was little revolutionary about the Pisxtols’ music. Never Mind The Bollocks, a very well produced LP, was a harder-edged, faster version of glam rock, with an additional debt to the likes of the Kinks. Of the handful of hits, Pretty Vacant has was the best pop song. Shook your head at the glam reference? Matlock said the riff was based on Abba’s S.O.S.
Best bit: “And we don’t caaaaaaaahre” (1:44)

Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination.mp3
The Human League’s Dare probably was the most perfect pop album of its era. But when I pondered which Human League song to feature, I kept coming back to Fascination, which was a single release only. An EP featuring to mixes of Fascination came out later (it also included the excellent preceding single, Mirror Man). Fascination kicks off proper with the swirling, horn-like synth hook which runs through the song and, in the intro, instructs the listeners to get on their feet and dance. The band members take turns singing lines, including even guitarist/keyoardist Jo Callis.
Best bit: “…and so the conversation turned, until the sun went down” (1:00)

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit.mp3
Paul Anka – Smells Like Teen Spirit.mp3*
Cobain’s Pixies moment (he admitted consciously copying them) sounds as much as the uncles of grunge as it sounds like an angry glam rock song. Cobain tried to write a pop song, and succeeded. Tori Amos might have fucked it up, but when Paul Anka covered it as a big band swing number in 2005, the pop sensibilities of Teen Spirit revealed themselves from beneath the grime of discontent. The anthem of non-conformity had, by dint of its over-exposure on MTV and radio, acquired the status of conformity; much of what came after – all the “feel my pain” emo gubbins – was no more non-conformist than the industry and its hit machines Teen Spirit was railing against. Anka stripped the song of its suburban rebellion sheen, turned it into a swing song, and perpetrated an act of subversion one hopes Cobain would have approved of: turning on its head the conformity of Nirvana’s own followers. It may not be the best Nirvana song, but it certainly is their best pop song.
Best bit: Apologies for being boring, but it’s the “yay” bits (1:31)

More Perfect Pop

Perfect Pop – Vol. 6 ('60s special)

April 28th, 2008 6 comments

Looking over my shortlist for the Perfect Pop series, I realised that the ’60s column was much longer than that of other decades. I guess that pop might have been more perfect in the 1960s than in other decades because it had developed from the raw sounds of early rock & roll, but had not yet acquired that body of experience with which to complicate pop through technical innovation. That’s why Sgt Pepper’s, with all its inventive experimentations, was seen as such a revolutionary milestone in 1967: nobody had heard anything like it before. Today it sounds rather ordinary. Of course, it’s all good to have complex pop, but for the purpose of this series, complexity tends to be an obstacle to pop perfection (though not all songs featured are lacking in innovation or technical complexity). So to even out the shortlist, here is the first of two special 1960s editions of Perfect Pop.

The Animals – The House Of The Rising Sun.mp3
This song has one of the must recognisable intros in pop history, and from there on barely lets up on its brilliance. Apart from Hilton Valentine’s iconic guitar, Alan Price drives his organ like a Ferrari through the desert, and Eric Burdon moans and groans in best white blues-singer fashion, thereby helping to set a trend which would bring mixed blessings to popular music. Amazingly, the whole thing took just 15 minutes to record. The House Of The Rising Sun (which was a new Orleans brothel) was an old song going back at least to the 1920s, possibly much earlier. Based on an English folk-song, it had become an African-American folk song and was later recorded by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Nina Simone and Bob Dylan (on his debut) before the Animals virtually appropriated it in 1964, changing the lyrics slightly.
Best bit: Price’s organ solo really kicks in (1:54)

Johnny Kidd & the Pirates – Shakin’ All Over.mp3
Listen to this as part of a non-chronological ’60s compilations, and you might not realise that this song was released in 1960. In sound and look, Johnny Kidd and his timber-shivering pals were prophetic, helping to provide the template for ’60s pop at the birth of the decade in which rock & roll and pop, all still very young, defined themselves. This is the sound on which the Searchers, the Dave Clark Five, even the Beatles, would build. It is quite likely that Johnny Kidd would have faded into obscurity. In the event, we do not know, because Johnny died in a 1966 car crash, two years after the Swinging Blue Jeans scored a hit with it in Britain, and a year after the Guess Who did likewise in the US — and two years after his last Top 40 hit in Britain. Shakin’ All Over later became something of a signature rune for the Who.
Best bit: The drum flourish preceding the guitar solo (1:21)

Amen Corner – (If Paradise Was) Half As Nice.mp3
If in paradise they play music only half as nice as this, I’d be more or less okay, I think. I first heard this song covered by a ’70s group called the Rosetta Stone, led by former Bay City Rollers member Ian Mitchell (whose stint was turbulent and brief) and an enthusiastic exponents of ’60s covers. I loved their version, but have no idea whether it was any good when held up against the Amen Corner’s version, which itself was a cover of an Italian song written by Lucio Battisti for popstress Patty Pravo. The arrangement of the Welsh group’s rendition is just lovely though (if you can handle your music with more than one spoonful of sugar, I suppose). Especially the horn (French? Flugel?).
Best bit: “Oh yes I’d rather have you” (1:26)

Robert Knight – Love On A Mountain Top.mp3
Some readers might raise two pertinent questions about the inclusion of Love On A Mountain in a ’60s special of Perfect Pop; neither should relate to the indisputable perfection of this fine tune. Firstly, why didn’t I choose Knight’s original of Everlasting Love? Secondly, what is a hit from 1973/74 doing here? I would have chosen Knight’s Everlasting Love (and I won’t feature the unsatisfactory cover by the Love Affair), but my MP3 of the song is damaged. Yes, my selections hang on such arbitrary threads. In fact, I like Love On A Mountain Top better; it is such a happy, sunshiney song. The song was a hit in Britain and Europe in the mid-’70s, but its first single release was in 1968.
Best bit: The instrumental break (1:29)

Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline.mp3*
Another ’60s release which found UK chart success in the ’70s. Sweet Caroline was released in the US in September 1969. According to Neil Diamond, it was inspired by a photo of Caroline Kennedy, who was 11 at the time. Which strikes me as slightly creepy. Nonetheless, it is a great ytackby a great songwriter. The distinctive intro and verse are pretty good, but it is the build-up to the roaring, rousing chorus which really elevates this song. One cannot help but sing along to it, which is a sign of its pop perfection.
Best bit: Neil’s hard Ts when he sings:” “Warm touching warm, reaching out, touching me, touching you” (1:56)

Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).mp3
Everything that was sweet and engaging in Everett’s version became horrible and cynical in Cher’s awful and tragically now better known cover from that abominable Mermaids movie. Cher’s cover (and Cher in general) pissed me off so much, I cannot even bring myself to include Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe in this series, even though it probably is a perfect pop record. Betty’s 1963 version, in the vein of the girl groups so popular at the time (Chiffons, Shirelles, Ronettes et al), became a hit in the US in 1964. It flopped in Britain, where Cher’s cover topped the charts almost three decades later. Conversely, in the US, Cher’s version was only a minor hit.
Best bit: The instrumental bridge (1:17)

The Kinks – You Really Got Me.mp3
Those who think that punk in the late ’70s offered anything original musically, or indeed culturally, might like to revisit some of the sneering, middle-finger raising acts of the ’60s. As Paul Weller, who hooked his mod ways on the punk star, surely knew, the Kinks were a lot more punk than the Sex Pistols. Don’t misunderstand, I love Never Mind The Bollocks as much as any amateur anarchist, but the Sex Pistols really were just as manufactured an act as were the Spice Girls. On You Really Got Me, Ray Davies sneers as much as Johnny Rotten ever did. The distorted rhythm guitar (an effect produced by slicing the amp) is pure punk. Contrary to persistent rumour, Jimmy Page definitely did not play on Your Really Got Me, but a random session musician by the name of Jon Lord, later of Deep Purple, tinkled the ivories.
Best bit: Ray shouts in Dave’s guitar solo (1:17)

Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual.mp3
I don’t like Tom Jones much, and that Sex Bomb song was a disgrace to all that is good about music. But, my goodness, It’s Not Unusual is just perfect. Even Jones’ vocals. Especially Jones’ vocals. I submit that the ad libbing in the fade out represents one of the great yodels in pop music. Ever. I have heard that on this song, Jimmy Page does play the guitar, coming in at 1:19. Regular viewers of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air (well, somebody must have watched it!) will recall that It’s Not Unusual was Carlton’s favourite dance number.
Best bit: “…to find that I’m in love with you, wow-oh-wow etc” (1:44)

Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice.mp3
Selecting a Beach Boys song for this series was problematic. While I see why, say, Surfin’ USA or Help Me Rhonda might be more qualified choices, I don’t like them much. It’s the Mike Love factor. Wouldn’t It Be Nice, like Good Vibration and God Only Knows (both considered), has those innovative Brian Wilson touches which ought to have elevated Pet Sounds in reputation above Revolver or Sgt Pepper’s. Wouldn’t It Be Nice is sung by Brian Wilson, with the hateful Love performing vocal duties only on the bridge. Mike Love apparently sought to take legal action against Brian Wilson over the latter’s wonderful Smile album for bringing the Beach Boys’ legacy into disrepute. The last song performed by the Love-led Beach Boys? Santa Goes To Kokomo (thanks to Mr Parkes for that bit of info).
Best bit: I might have picked the bridge, but, you know, fuck Mike Love. The intro (0:01)

Dionne Warwick – Do You Know The Way To San José.mp3
The body of Dionne Warwick’s interpretations of Burt Bacharach’s music is rich in absolute delights. Among so many highpoints, two songs stand out: Walk On By and San José. The latter makes you feel good, from the brief bass notes that introduce the song to bosa nova sound to the wow-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wowowos that accompany Dionne’s insistence that she does have a large circle of sidekicks in San José. It’s a song for driving along a deserted coastal road with the roof down. As so often, the singer didn’t like the song when asked to record it. Frankie Goes To Hollywood covered it 16 years later, at a time when Bacharach was widely dismissed as a passé easy listening merchant. Whether or not that cover was supposed to be “ironic”, it introduced a whole new generation to the genius of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Best bit: The way Dionne accentuates the word back (2:33)


Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3
*
Yes, I know. Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. Or even Pretty Flamingo. Contenders they were, but this lesser remembered song is absolutely flawless. And it has flutes in it, which the really attentive and loyal reader of this blog will know seals a deal for me automatically. This track has a even greater energythan Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. The drumming is quite outstanding, and the punchline at the end of the song is just great. On top of that, my mother had the single of this, and as a small boy I played it very often. So Ha! Ha! Said The Clown is one of the songs responsible for turning me on to pop music. Hell, without it, you might not be reading this post right now.
Best bit: The whistling bit (1:17)

Drafi Deutscher – Marmor Stein und Eisen.mp3
Much as I enjoy submerging myself in the nostalgia for my childhood, I must insist that the German Schlager was a horrible musical genre; deeply conservative music for deeply conservative people dressed up in just so much supposed cool as to make it acceptable to the youth. Part of that faux-cool was a tendency of Schlager singers to assume an Anglo-sounding name. So Gerd Höllerich became Roy Black, Christian Klusacek (perhaps understandably) became Chris Roberts, Jutta and Norbert became Cindy & Bert (who came last in the Eurovision Song Contest which Abba won), Franz Eugen Helmuth Manfred Nidl-Petz became Freddy Quinn, and so on. Drafi Deutscher admirably didn’t anglicise his name, but went by his real surname, which means German. Oddly then, he sang with a heavy foreign accent, perhaps owing to his Hungarian background. His big hit, in 1965, was Marmor, Stein und Eisen (marble, rock and iron), which can all break, but not the love he and the addressee of the song shared, as the catchy chorus informs us. The song is more beat than Schlager.
Best bit: Drafi goes heavy metal rockabilly (1:15)

Elvis Presley – (You’re The) Devil In Disguise.mp3
Last time I posted Perfect Pop, I had a brief lapse in judgment when I forgot that there are four Elvises: pre-GI Elvis, movie-Elvis, post-comeback Elvis, and the drug-addled bloaterino we need not concern ourselves with much. From Elvis middle-period, Devil In Disguise seems to me an obvious choice for inclusion. This 1963 track saw the first two Elvis phases coalesce. On the verses, we have Elvis in beach trunks contemplating the script for his 17th movie in which he’ll be a racing driver/cowboy/trapeze artist/big-hearted hooker. He’s in well-behavedly in crooner mode, and very good at it. But when the chorus comes in, our boy remembers his pink shirted, pelvis-swivelling ways, and lets go a bit. Add to that the sharp guitar solo with those rapid quick handclaps, and you have true pop perfection.
Best Bit: The devil speaks! (2:07)

Simon & Garfunkel – A Hazy Shade of Winter.mp3
I considered I Am A Rock. Mrs Robinson (a song I don’t like much) and The Boxer (if only to mention that the banging sound was created by recording a filing cabinet thrown down an elevator shaft). What clinches it for A Hazy Shade Of Winter as a perfect pop song is its sense of urgency. Mostly the erstwhile Tom & Jerry did the languid folk-pop thing, but this song drives quite hard. The Bangles covered it in 1989 and scored a hit with it. I cannot say that I particularly liked that cover, but it shows that the song has a certain timelessness. The 1966 single release was backed with For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, one of S&G’s most beautiful songs. Strangely, A Hazy Shade Of Winter appeared on an LP only a year and a half later, on Bookends.
Best bit: The song ends abruptly with an exhalation of breath (2:16)

Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.mp3
Few people are going to feature twice in this series, but Bill Medley does. Thanks to Ghost, Unchained Melody has become the Righteous Brothers signature song, but You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (itself revived in a movie of that era, Top Gun) has all the drama and soulfulness which Unchained Melody lacks. Intitially singing so low as to raise questions about whether the single was being played at 33rpm, at some points Medley almost sounds like Levi Stubbs (indeed, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was supposedly inspired by the Four Tops’ Baby I Need Your Lovin’), while Bobby Hatfield has little to do. The story goes that Hatfield was rather annoyed about that, asking producer Phil Spector what he was supposed to do until he came into the song. Spector reportedly replied: “You can take the money to the bank:”
Best bit: Medley and Hatfield’s interplay: “Baby!” “Baby!” (2:34)

More Perfect Pop