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Al Green Sings Covers

November 30th, 2017 6 comments

Sometimes the less you know about your favourite singers, the better. Who knew that Al Green, the soul legend, is not an all-round good egg, nor, indeed, an all-round bad egg. The good Reverend is one hell of a conflicted cat. And that conflicted soul makes for intriguing reading in Jimmy’s McDonough new, authoritative biography of Al Green, Soul Survivor (Da Capo Press, 2017). For fans of popular music, and especially of soul, the book is a treasure.

Obviously the focus is on Green, but to understand Green – in as far as the man can be even remotely understood – one must also know the context in which he has existed and recorded. So McDonough introduces a cast of co-stars and supporting actors along the way. There is, naturally, Albert Leorn Greene’s family, including his pimp brothers.

The cover of Jimmy McDonough’s absorbing Al Green bio Soul Survivor, published in August 2017 by Da Capo Press.

A substantial portion of Soul Survivor is devoted to Willie Mitchell and his Hi Records. As Green’s producer and his musical home in the singer’s pomp, Mitchell and Hi are key to the Green story. So are backing musicians like the Hodges brothers—Charles on organ, Leroy on bass, and, perhaps most importantly, Mabon “Teenie” on guitar—as well drummers Howard Grimes and Al Jackson Jr and the Memphis Horns (mainly Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love), and later people like Reuben Fairfax.

It’s fascinating to learn how Mitchell turned Green, who fancied himself as a soul growler, into that quiet singer into whose vocals you can disappear, as McDonough eloquently puts it. Mitchell and Al Jackson Jr wrote the melody for Let’s Stay Together; Al Green’s task was to write the lyrics. So he locked himself up in a studio room and wrote them in 15 minutes – starting one of the great love songs as a reflection on black politics… Green then wanted to sing the song in shouty southern soul style. Mitchell insisted he sing it all mellow. Green was very unhappy with that idea and sped off in his car, wheels all a-screeching. When he returned, he deliberately sang the song as relaxed and with as little emotion he could muster, just to spite Mitchell – who in turn said that this was exactly the sound he wanted. No more takes were needed; a new kind of soul singer was born that day. The Hi Records part of the Al Green story is a most welcome bonus in this book.

Along the way we also encounter people like Laura Lee, a great soul singer in her own right and Green’s on-off girlfriend. It’s Lee about whom Green wrote Tired Of Being Alone. That song also introduced the backing vocals of the Rhodes sisters, who surprisingly were country singers, with sax player Charles Chalmers (Sandra Rhodes also played rhythm guitar on How Do You Mend A Broken Heart). If you are surprised to learn that Al Green’s soulful backing singers on those great Hi records were white, you surely are not alone.

Who’s a pretty pimp? Al Green makes his Soul Train debut in 1971, singing Tired Of Being Alone while wearing gold boxer boots, black vinyl hot pants, magenta vinyl vest, a gold chain, a pink pimp hat at a jaunty angle, and a man-bag on his shoulders. Give him a cane and he could fit into a scene from The Deuce.

 

McDonough is insightful in examining Al Green’s records. Obviously a devoted fan, he speaks with authority even as he expresses strong opinions. One wants to play the songs he is writing about just to hear what he hears. But at other times his opinions can be intrusive, such as the reference to the “dreaded Chicago”. And much as I agree with McDonough on the Talking Heads’ awful cover of Take Me To The River – “Fuck the Talking Heads”, he opines – in a book like this it’s better to not to try and force the reader’s mind. And only the good Lord knows how McDonough arrives at his churlishly-expressed opinion that “clown-haired” Lyle Lovett lacks talent.

But that is a minor criticism. McDonough marshals his widely collated resources well, even if it becomes difficult at some points to keep track of who is who. The author hopes that his book will be the definitive biography on Al Green, and he wasn’t going to leave many gaps.

Soul Survivor has a few moments of great trivia. We learn that Take Me To The River co-writer Teeny Hodges reported that his biggest payday had come not from the Green or Talking Heads recordings of the song but from royalties earned via the song’s “performance” by the animatronic fish Big Mouth Billy Bass in The Sopranos. And among the more startling revelation is that Green apparently is a freemason, in an African-American wing of the secret society that has also included such luminaries as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Richard Pryor.

Take Me To The River payday: the animatronic fish Big Mouth Billy Bass in The Sopranos.

 

There is an alarming story about how a goon gangster broke Al’s arm when the singer didn’t want to perform. But don’t feel too bad for Green, who allegedly felt quite entitled to assault women. Which takes us to the 1974 suicide of Mary Woodson and her attack on him with boiling grits (Green tends to insist it was Cream of Wheat) that preceded it. McDonough cites a lot of research on the incident; all it shows is that the official verdict of suicide should be seen as inconclusive. While a lot points to Woodson’s death having been self-inflicted, there are some questions that likely will never be answered.

Woodson’s death might or might not have played a role in Green’s conversion – which took place, of all places, after a gig at Disneyland, the result of a bargain he said he had made with God in 1969. A substantial section of the book covers Green’s career as a pastor (he’s now a bishop, whatever that means in non-hierarchical church). As with everything, Green is a walking contradiction in that role. One moment given to evangelical zeal and Christian charity, the next driven by that nasty underside that always seems to reside beneath his surface. Green’s style of ministry seems to be always a bit or a lot unhinged.

The man who emerges in the pages of Soul Survivor is alone and lonely, one who attracts people easily with charm and kindness, and then always finds ways to repel them with appalling behaviour. His outsized ego perhaps makes Al Green the only suitable companion for Albert Leorn Greene. It ain’t easy being Green.

And so to the mix. Whoopie Goldberg, in a rare moment of lucidity, said: “No one can cover Al Green.” It’s true: how many good covers of Al Green originals do you know? But Green is a superb interpreter of other people’s songs, most famously perhaps of The Bee Gee’s How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (an mind-blowing vocal performance, but don’t disregard Mitchell’s fine arrangement that sets the scene for those vocals). So here is a mix of Al Green singing other people’s songs. In the parentheses I cite the respective song’s most famous performer.

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

1. I’ve Never Found A Girl (1972 – Eddie Floyd)
2. I Can’t Get Next To You (1971 – The Temptations)
3. Drivin’ Wheel (1971 – Roosevelt Sykes/Junior Parker)
4. The Letter (1969 – The Box Tops)
5. Summertime (1969 – from ‘Porgy And Bess’)
6. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (1972 – The Bee Gees)
7. For The Good Times (1972 – Kris Kristofferson)
8. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (1973 – Hank Williams)
9. Funny How Time Slips Away (1973 – Jimmy Elledge/Joe Hinton)
10. I Stand Accused (1969 – Jerry Butler)
11. Unchained Melody (1973 – Righteous Brothers)
12. I Want To Hold Your Hand (1969 – The Beatles)
13. Oh, Pretty Woman (1972 – Roy Orbison)
14. Light My Fire (1971 – The Doors)
15. Together Again (1976 – Buck Owens)
16. Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home (1984 – Joe South)
17. People Get Ready (feat. Margie Joseph, 1981 – The Impressions)
18. A Change Is Gonna Come (live, 1994 – Sam Cooke)

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Any Major Freaks & Geeks

November 16th, 2017 10 comments

Every two or three years I make a pilgrimage to my set of 18 episodes of the short-lived TV series Freaks And Geeks. It is not only the greatest series ever to be cancelled after only one season, but one of the greatest TV series of all time. Almost every scene is a marvel.

To me, it completes the great American Schools Trilogy: The Wonder Years, Dazed And Confused; Freaks And Geeks. The first outlived its magnificence by about two or three seasons; the Linklater film absolutely needed no sequel; but Freaks And Geeks was put to death prematurely.

All three narratives about schooling succeeded because, though set in US schools with the culture that comes with it, the characters are almost universally recognisable. We’ve all met them, or some of them. Maybe we were them.

I went to school in Germany, where there no high school sports teams, and the sub-cultures were different. We had punks, poppers (New Romantic conservatives), rockers, Neo-Nazi skinheads… and mostly unaffiliated people. Not being much of a joiner I was among the unaffiliated. In Freaks And Geeks terms, I’d have been a “Freak” — though, like the Geeks, I loved Bill Murray and the movie Stripes (I even agree with Neal that the second half of that movie is best forgotten).

But whatever differences in the sub-cultures, I have known Wayne Arnold (who might as well have been modeled on my school nemesis, Marvin) and Paul Phyffer in The Wonder Years, Mitch Kramer and his two pals, Mike Newhouse and Tony Olson, Randall “Pink” Floyd, Fred O’Bannion and Don Dawson (another nemesis) in Dazed And Confused, and Sam Weir, Neal Schweiber, Bill Haverchuck (they were all my friends at some point), Alan White (bullies are all the same), Nick Andopolis and Ken Miller in Freaks And Geeks.

I’m on less safe ground identifying with girls, because if you’re a boy, your school domain is largely male. Still, I know Kim Kelly — the great Busy Philips in Freaks And Geeks —very well.

To me, Freaks And Geeks resonates in particular because in 1980/81, when the show is set, I was 14, the same age as the junior trio of Sam, Bill and Neal. While the cultural markers are different, these characters are my peers.

And so, if we can recognise the characters, or identify with them, then their experiences need not mirror ours exactly for us to be part of the story.

As in The Wonder Years and Dazed And Confused, the music is an important character in Freaks And Geeks (indeed, I did a mix of songs from The Wonder Years a few years ago; the mix has been re-upped). Here I cannot draw from the well of nostalgia. That American 1980/81 is not my 1980/81. And still, of the songs on this mix, which all featured on Freaks And Geeks, I owned six at the time (since you ask: Bowie, Seger, Billy Joel, Deep Purple, Supertramp, Jethro Tull).

As a bonus track I add “Lady L.”, the hackneyed love song Nick (Jason Segel) writes for Lindsay (Linda Cardellini), which has attained something of a cult status. The music-related scene that sticks with me, however, is the one where the Weir parents listen to The Who’s Squeeze Box to determine whether the British band’s concert is suitable for their teenage daughter.

The CD-R length rule required me to omit some worthy contenders; indeed, I expect to be hated for choosing Supertramp ahead of XTC (but I really don’t like No Language In Our Lungs) or Rush (whom I don’t really like, full stop). Maybe there’ll be a follow-up…

As ever, CD-R length, homeworked covers, PW in comments.

1. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Bad Reputation (1981)
2. Joe Jackson – I’m The Man (1979)
3. Warren Zevon – Poor, Poor Pitiful Me (1976)
4. Bob Seger – You’ll Accompany Me (1980)
5. Little River Band – Reminiscing (1978)
6. Billy Joel – Rosalinda’s Eyes (1978)
7. Kansas – Dust In The Wind (1978)
8. Jethro Tull – Aqualung (1971)
9. George Baker Selection – Little Green Bag (1969)
10. The Who – Squeeze Box (1975)
11. Deep Purple – Hush (1968)
12. Van Halen – Little Dreamer (1978)
13. Journey – Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’ (1979)
14. Styx – Renegade (1978)
15. David Bowie – Fashion (1980)
16. Supertramp – Take The Long Way (1979)
17. Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went Down To Georgia (1979)
18. Pure Prairie League – Amie (1972)
19. Grateful Dead – Ripple (1970)
20. Jason Segal – Lady L. (2000)

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Any Major Year

November 9th, 2017 11 comments

I was startled a little while ago while listening to Billy Joel’s Songs In The Attic album that its opening track about a post-apocalyptic USA is set in 2017. Things might be bad in real 2017, and the apocalypse might be a greater possibility now than it was just a couple of years ago, but the bridges of New York City are still standing.

Billy Joel first released the song in 1976 — featured here is the vastly superior  live version released five years later — when 2017 was 41 years away. Recently I read an article that we might have a post-apocalypse by 2050, i.e. only around 30 years from now. The future isn’t as far off a place as we may think.

Some other songs here anticipate the future. Boz Scaggs, singing in 1977, is having a bad trip. “It’s like 1993 and it’s weird as hell to me…This spoof reality is just like outer space to me.” Boz, lad, 1993 is cool. You should see 2017 and the Evil Keystone Kops running the show now!

Maybe Prince knew something. He didn’t expect the world to last much beyond the new millennium, hence is invitation to party now like it is 1999.

The Temptations in 1971 are looking at 1990 without mentioning 1990. It starts off like they’re in 1970, 1990 and 2017 at the same time. “Well, we got trouble in the White House, poverty in the ghetto…Thousand of jobless people walking the streets, with no food or place to sleep. What will become of them, America?” And so on in that righteous vein — until they go all Fox News on us with a sickly barrage of patriotic stuff about “America! I ain’t ashamed to say that I love ya. There ain’t another place on Earth I’d rather be.” Not even a place where there are no crooks in government and there are no poor and no ghettos?

A whole lot of songs in this mix look back into the past, including a couple of songs about World War I, most hauntingly the Motörhead track — and John Cale’s song about what I suppose is sexual frustration loosely set during the Versailles treaty negotiations.

Al Stewart’s The Last Day Of June 1934, from an album of historical vignettes, takes as its centrepiece the Night of the Long Knives, during which Hitler wiped out internal Nazi opposition (weep not for the victims here). Stewart frames that event around French lovers unconcerned about such things and British intellectuals discussing war.

Randy Newman in 1974 sang about the risible political response to the Louisiana flood in 1927; he would need to change only a few words to turn it into Louisiana 2005 with Hurricane Katrina, or 2017 with Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.

Other songs take a very personal glance at the past. Randy Travis would like to fix a mistake he made in 1982 (four years earlier from the time of singing); Josh Rouse imagines the vibe in 1972, the year he was born.

And then there are a couple of songs that require little time travel. Swedish singer Hello Saferide welcomes the year 2006 with great scepticism — “January 1st and it’s already clear: It’s gonna be another shitty year” — and a hope that she’ll land that partner she seeks: “And on the top of the list there’s you. I’m going to be with you. I haven’t told you yet but I’m going to be with you.” I hope she got you.

Finally, The Barracudas in 1980 were nostalgically yearning for 1965. In today’s money that’s nostalgia for the year 2002. Suddenly I’m feeling so very fucking old…

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

1. Billy Joel – Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway) (1981)
2. Prince – 1999 (1983)
3. The Four Seasons – December ’63 (Oh What A Night) (1976)
4. Boz Scaggs – 1993 (1977)
5. New Order – 1963 (1987)
6. The Barracudas – (I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again (1980)
7. The Smashing Pumpkins – 1979 (1995)
8. Hello Saferide – 2006 (2006)
9. Josh Rouse – 1972 (2003)
10. Al Stewart – The Last Day of June 1934 (1973)
11. Ralph McTell – England 1914 (1969)
12. Motörhead – 1916 (1991)
13. John Cale – Paris 1919 (1973)
14. Harry Nilsson – 1941 (1967)
15. Randy Newman – Louisiana 1927 (1974)
16. Loudon Wainwright – 1994 (1995)
17. Randy Travis – 1982 (1986)
18. The Statler Brothers – The Class of 57 (1975)
19. Gil Scott-Heron – The Summer of ’42 (1975)
20. The Temptations – 1990 (1973)
21. Paul McCartney & Wings – Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five (1973)

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Any Major Halloween Vol. 4

October 27th, 2017 5 comments

Here is the fourth and most likely final Halloween mix. This lot aims to be a bit spooky for about half of it, and then a little more relaxed, but without going too much novelty, other than that great disco track and that bizarre closing track.

One of the tracks here is in itself slightly spooky: The Doors’ Ghost Song was recorded in 1978, eight years after singer John Morrison’s death. Morrison’s spoken vocals were unscored recordings of his poetry; in 1978 the rest of the band put music to those recordings. The present track has very much a late ’70s disco-influenced vibe. This is what the Doors might have been.

So, four mixes of Halloween, and I have managed without the Rocky Horror Show, and didn’t need to consider those other Halloween staples, Ghostbusters and Thriller — though I did use The Monster Mash in the Halloween in black white mix from last year.

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

1. John Carpenter – Halloween Main Theme (1978)
2. Florence And The Machine – My Boy Builds Coffins (2009)
3. Kate Bush – Watching You Without Me (1985)
4. Genesis – Home By The Sea (1983)
5. The Chameleons – Swamp Thing (1986)
6. The Fall – Lucifer Over Lancashire (1986)
7. Ween – Cold Blows The Wind (1997)
8. Team Ghost – Dead Film Star (2013)
9. Menomena – Ghostship (2007)
10. Danny Elfman – This Is Halloween (1993)
11. Steeleye Span – Allison Gross (1973)
12. Tom Waits – Big Joe And Phantom 309 (1975)
13. The Doors – Ghost Song (1978/1970)
14. Oingo Boingo – Dead Man’s Party (1985)
15. Blue Magic – Born On Halloween (1975)
16. Hot Blood – Soul Dracula (1976)
17. Five Man Electrical Band – Werewolf (1974)
18. Iron Butterfly – Real Fright (1969)
19. France Gall – Frankenstein (1972)
20. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross – Halloween Spooks (1961)
Bonus track: Jethro Tull – Flying Dutchman (1979)

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Any Major Halloween Vol. 1
Any Major Halloween Vol. 2
Any Major Halloween Vol. 3

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Stars Pick Your Songs Vol. 2: Actors

October 19th, 2017 4 comments

A few weeks ago we had the first volume of songs chosen by musicians on the long-running BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs. This time, the people who are choosing their music for your listening pleasure are from the world of film — almost all actors, with the exception of one director, the great Fred Zinnemann.

The simple concept of Desert Island Discs, which had remained unchanged since it first aired in 1942, is that the invited guest chooses eight songs he or she would take with them to a lonely island. In the course of often revealing interviews, they explain why they chose those songs. One guest, opera singer Joan Sutherland, chose eight records sung by herself.

It seems to me that the thespians have a better taste in music than the musicians — though my shortlist of songs picked by Politicians & Authors is even better.

Special props to Colin Firth for picking a great favourite of mine, and the venerable Deborah Kerr for choosing Gram Parsons. Marlene Dietrich in 1965 picked a couple of Burt Bacharach songs, which might be surprising — if one forgets that the German diva was at the time recording folk songs like Blowin’ In The Wind and Where Have All The Flowers Gone.

As a general rule I have excluded classical music from consideration, but will make a couple of exceptions. One is here, where Hugh Grant has selected a piece of classical music, from Verdi’s opera Nabucco, which I might list myself if ever I get an invite from the BBC.

Terence Stamp, meanwhile, chose my favourite Beatles song; in as far as one can have one such favourite. George Clooney picked a contender for my favourite Sinatra song. His interview is as good as one might expect. One of his selections was William Shatner’s absurd version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds — as an incentive to escape the desert island.

Gloria Swanson, a guest in 1981, picked a Mel Tormé song, which is always a recommendation. Her interview is one of the most enjoyable I’ve listened to, which is not surprising, since her autobiography is one of the best I’ve read.

A massive collection of Desert Island Discs episodes is available for download in the form of MP3 podcasts from the BBC website, with new ones added regularly. The songs are featured only as clips, for licensing reasons, but the interviews are really worth listening to — when you get tired of Any Major Mix-tapes.

I was delighted to read the lists of desert island discs which some readers offered. Please keep them coming in the comments. Maybe there will be enough to make a mix of them.

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

1. Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime (1980 – Tom Hanks, 2016)
2. Dar Williams – As Cool As I Am (2000 – Kathleen Turner, 2000)
3. Little Feat – Willin’ (1972 – Colin Firth, 2005)
4. Gram Parsons – She (1973 – Deborah Kerr, 1978)
5. Bob Seger – We’ve Got Tonight (1978 – Natalie Wood, 1980)
6. Randy Newman – Love Story (1968 – Patrick Stewart, 2005)
7. The Beatles – You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (1965 – Terence Stamp, 1987)
8. Sandie Shaw – Always Something There To Remind Me (1964 – Marlene Dietrich, 1965)
9. Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On (1973 – Tim Robbins, 2010)
10. Roy Ayers – Love Will Bring Us Back Together (1979 – Damien Lewis, 2014)
11. US3 – Cantaloop (1992 – Emma Thompson, 2010)
12. Bill Withers – Lovely Day (1977 – Whoopie Goldberg, 2009)
13. Brook Benton – Rainy Night in Georgia (1969 – John Malkovich, 2001)
14. Frank Sinatra – Nice n’ Easy (1960 – George Clooney, 2003)
15. Ella Fitzgerald – I’ve Got A Crush On You (1950 – James Stewart, 1983)
16. Mel Tormé – Wonderful One (1955 – Gloria Swanson, 1981)
17. Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam (1964 – Ian McKellen, 2003)
18. Cab Calloway – Minnie The Moocher (1931 – Fred Zinnemann, 1991)
19. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – My Journey To The Sky (1948 – Hugh Laurie, 2013)
20. London Symphony Orchestra – Va, pensiero (1970 – Hugh Grant, 1995)

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Any Major Schlager Covers Vol. 1

October 12th, 2017 9 comments

 

The germanised cover version was a staple of the Schlager scene. Often they were cash-ins of songs that were big hits in other countries — not just from the Anglophone world but also from other European countries, especially France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.

But not all German covers were cash-ins. Some were sophisticated and sincere interpretations by artists who in France would record under the rather more satisfying title “chanson”. These artists included the likes of Daliah Lavi, Katja Ebstein, Dunja Raiter and Joy Fleming, who are represented here. And others were reinterpreted in ways that gave the artist a break from recording grandmother-approved music. Some of these were filler album tracks. For example, former Les Humphries Singers member Jürgen Drews covered Hotel California, which features here, as he eas having a hit with Eddie Rabbitt’s Rocky Mountain Music (as Barfuss durch den Sommer).

The collection kicks off with Joy Fleming’s cover of Aretha Franklin’s version of R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And if there was one German singer qualified to sing soul, it was Fleming, a woman of big voice and big personality. In 1975 Fleming came third-last in the Eurovision Song Contest with a soul-touched song that deserved better, Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein. Fleming sadly died in September, after this mix had been compiled.

Former teen star Manuela gives us a version of Percy Sledge’s When A Man Loves A Woman. The title, which translates as When Night Falls In Harlem, is not promising, but her version turns out to be okay. The singer, who was something of Germany’s version of Connie Francis, resists the temptation to emote.

Also singing soul is Katja Ebstein with her 1972 take on Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay, which has a tasteful arrangement and is well interpreted. Ebstein also represented West-Germany in the Eurovision, coming third in 1970 with the excellent Wunder gibt es immer wieder, and again in 1971 (with the ecology song Diese Welt), and second in 1980 (backed by mimes, with Theater). A social-democrat, the now 72-year-old Ebstein is still an engaged social activist.

Like Ebstein, Israeli singer Daliah Lavi, who died this year, enjoyed mainstream success with music that transcended the clap-along fare of the Schlager scene. Her take on The Beatles’ Something is a proper, understated reinterpretation of the song, most of it spoken. Lavi had a powerful voice; she knew better than to let it loose here.

It’s probably a stretch to call Volker Lechtenbrink a Schlager star. He already had a long career as an actor when he recorded his well-received debut album in 1976, which consisted almost entirely of covers of Kris Kristofferson songs. As a KK afficionado I can confirm that he did the man’s songs no injustice. Hear his version of Sunday Morning, Coming Down to see if you agree.

Also starting out in acting was Croatian-born Dunja Raiter. In her musical career she was always was more chanteuse than Schlager singer. Her soulful version of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne bears that out. There was not much clapping-along to be had with that.

Given the poor production values of many German versions of international hits, one is entitled to expect awful things from Hoffmann & Hoffmann’s German take on The Boxer. The lads sing it well enough — neither will be mistaken for Art Garfunkel, though — and the arrangement stays clear of cliché and shortcuts.

Worse things might have happened to another ’60s classic here. Peter Haupt’s version of Monday Monday is not likely to displace the Mamas & the Papas’ original, with those gorgeous harmonies, in anyone’s affection, but he gives it his personality without disrespecting the song. Haupt never became famous and died in 1999 at 58.

Those who know the Schlager scene might suspect that I tagged on Nina & Mike with their version of In The Year 2525 as a bit of a joke. They were very much of the mind-killing rhythm-defying clap-along variety of Schlager (sample their hit Fahrende Musikanten as an example). But, Nina and Mike had higher aspirations than shitty Schlager music. Folk Music, not Volksmusik. In that they were much like their fellow husband-and-wife act Cindy & Bert, whose cover of Paranoid we encountered in Curious Germany.

That Curious Germany mix also included a bunch of songs sung in German by English-speaking artists. Two more feature here: Alma Cogan gives us her German take on Tennessee Waltz; Cliff Richard appears here with his German version of Power To All My Friends, his 1973 entry for the Eurovision (here he is just grateful for having friends; he doesn’t want to give Germans ideas about power). I once actually posted a whole mix of international stars singing their hits in Deutsch.

Another foreign Eurovision alumni, this one a winner, here is Dutch singer Cory Brokken, singing her very songbirdy version of Do You Know The Way To San José, which Bacharach would approve of. Here the coffee is hot in San José, presaging the liquid crimes that coffee chains like Starbucks (boo!) commit today. Brokken died last year, earning a backgrounder entry in In Memoriam thanks to her unusual career: from being a singer to becoming a lawyer in her 40s and then a judge — before making a showbiz comeback.

Also from far shores was Bill Ramsey, who was born in 1931 in Cincinnati. Stationed with the US Air Force in Germany in the 1950s he began to play on stage, and went on to have a career in Germany. Most of his early stuff was square, sometimes ingratiatingly so. With the advent of beat music, Ramsey found a new voice, which often delivered some clever lyrics in that genre. Here he is with an interesting version of Jimi Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary. A bit over a decade later, rock group Spliff seemed to borrow from Ramsey’s vocals on their hit Deja Vu.

Another artist who got his big break thanks to the US army was Gerhard Wendland — but in his case it was thanks to being a POW of the Americans after World War 2, through Berlin station RIAS. His first record actually already came out in 1943, under the mentorship of Franz Grothe, a full-on Nazi who unaccountably enjoyed a long career in West-Germany. In the 1950s Wendland, already in his 30s/40s, was one of the biggest singing stars in West-Germany. By the 1960s his star started to fade slowly; now in his 50s he was an anachronism. His Sweet Caroline is the worst of the lot here.

In the 1990s old Schlager music enjoyed a rehabilitation, along the lines of semi-ironic nostalgic cult, and few artists benefitted from the revival in reputations more than Marianne Rosenberg. The good girl from next-door started out as a performer of standard Schlager fare before in the mid-‘70s tapping into that new-fangled disco music. Her cover of Blondie’s Heart Of Glass belongs in that context. Rosenberg is one of the classic gay club favourites in Germany.

Rosenberg’s version of Heart Of Glass is not bad, nor is it particularly great. I do, however, like Christina Harrison’s rather faithful cover of ABBA’s S.O.S. The singer had previously released singles as Christina May. After her career, Christina became a practitioner of ayurveda (an Indian wellness approach) and an activist for Native American rights, having lived on a Lakota reservation. In 1990 she married old Beatles friend Klaus Voormann, the designer of the Revolver cover, with whom she still lives near Munich.

The most demented track here is Karel Gott’s take on the Stones’ Paint It Black. The Czechoslovakian singer with the presumptuous surname was better known for his clean-cut crooning; later he’d sing the theme song for an animated kids’ show about a bee. But here Karel, “The Sinatra of the East”, goes apeshit: the arrangement is Slavic gypsy, and the singer can barely contain his voice with arousal as he yelps and hits high notes for no good reason, and as the song climaxes, Gott lets out a devil-possessed scream. It’s bizarre and absolutely wonderful. You’d think a well-mannered crooner would have political views as bland as most of his music, but Gott was a committed supporter of his country’s communist regime — and apparently remained a communist even after the fall of the regime there.

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

1. Joy Fleming – Geld (1975 – Respect)
2. Mary Roos – Die Liebe kommt leis’ (1972 – You Can’t Hurry Love)
3. Corry Brokken – Heiß ist der Kaffee (1968 – Do You Know The Way To San José)
4. Monica – Bang Bang (1966 – Bang Bang)
5. Karel Gott – Rot und schwarz (1969 – Paint It Black)
6. Bill Ramsey – Der Wind ruft Mary (1971 – The Wind Cries Mary)
7. Daliah Lavi – Manchmal (1971 – Something)
8. Katja Ebstein – Der Mann am Meer (1972 – Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay)
9. Manuela – Wenn es Nacht wird in Harlem (1967 – When A Man Loves A Woman)
10. Dunja Rajter – Susann (1969 – Suzanne)
11. Hoffmann & Hoffmann – Der Boxer (1977 – The Boxer)
12. Volker Lechtenbrink – Sonntag Morgen (1976 – Sunday Morning, Coming Down)
13. Hans Hass Jr – American Pie (1972 – American Pie)
14. Jürgen Drews – Hotel California (1977 – Hotel California)
15. Olivia Molina – Aber wie (1972 – Let It Be)
16. Gerhard Wendland – Sweet Caroline (1970 – Sweet Caroline)
17. Christina Harrison – S.O.S. (1975 – S.O.S.)
18. Marianne Rosenberg – Herz aus Glas (1979 – Heart Of Glass)
19. Cliff Richard – Gut daß es Freunde gibt (1973 – Power To All Our Friends)
20. Alma Cogan – Tennessee Waltz (1964 – Tennessee Waltz)
21. Eileen – Die Stiefel sind zum wandern (1966 – These Boots Are Made For Walking)
22. Peter Haupt – Monday Monday, was bringst Du mir (1966 – Monday Monday)
23. Nina & Mike – Was wird sein in sieben Jahren (1972 – In The Year 2525)

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Not Feeling Guilty Mix Vol. 8

September 28th, 2017 3 comments

Here is the eighth Not Feeling Guilty mix — and about time, too. The last one was in October, since when Valerie Carter, featured here on track 9, has died.

I don’t think there any acts left to introduce in this lot. The famous ones you know, and the not famous ones I’ve written about before.

So, everything is self-explanatory and you know how it works: CD-R length, home-crafted covers, PW in comments.

1. Steely Dan – FM (1978)
2. Doobie Brothers – Minute By Minute (1978)
3. Gary Wright – Love Is Alive (1975)
4. Boz Scaggs – It’s Over (1976)
5. Bill LaBounty – Comin’ Back (1982)
6. Robbie Dupree – Brooklyn Girls (1981)
7. Ambrosia – If Heaven Could Find Me (1978)
8. David Roberts – Boys Of Autumn (1982)
9. Valerie Carter – Lady In The Dark (1978)
10. Rupert Holmes – Let’s Get Crazy Tonight (1978)
11. Dr. Hook – Sexy Eyes (1979)
12. Paulinho Da Costa with Bill Champlin – Seeing Is Believing (1979)
13. Pages – Who’s Right, Who’s Wrong (1979)
14. Paul Davis – ’65 Love Affair (1981)
15. Lauren Wood – Work On It (1981)
16. Orleans – Love Takes Time (1979)
17. Jim Photoglo – More To Love (1981)
18. Player – Let Me Down Easy (1978)
19. Atlanta Rhythm Section – Imaginary Lover (1978)
20. Christopher Cross – The Light Is On (1979)

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Not Feeling Guilty Mix 1
Not Feeling Guilty Mix 2
Not Feeling Guilty Mix 3
Not Feeling Guilty Mix 4
Not Feeling Guilty Mix 5
Not Feeling Guilty Vol. 6
Not Feeling Guilty Vol. 7

Bacharach & David Songbook Vol. 1

September 21st, 2017 9 comments

It is probably redundant to deliberate at length about Burt Bacharach’s massive influence, other than to point out how incongruous it is that there were times when it was seen as somehow uncool to dig Bacharach’s music. That, to me, is the equivalent of coffee being declared socially unacceptable. Still, a few words seem necessary.

Bacharach and lyricist Hal David probably were the most prolific Brill Building partnership; if others exceeded their output, then certainly not with as much success. And consider some of these Brill alumni: Goffin & King, Mann & Weil, Leiber & Stoller, Sedaka & Greenfield, Barry & Greenwich, Neil Diamond, Laura Nyro… The pair scored their first major hit soon after taking over a cubicle in the Brill Building in 1957: Perry Como’s Magic Moments. Over the next few years they scored a series of minor hits, many of which featured on the Bacharach: The Lesser Known Songbook mix.

The breakthrough arguably was meeting Dionne Warwick in 1961, who would become something of a muse for the songwriters. Warwick’s initial task was to sing on the demo recordings of songs destined for others. Warwick’s interpretations, however, were usually quite perfect. And so many songs came to be written with Dionne in mind. Some of these Warwick would be the first to record, others would be given to other artists first, to be covered later by Warwick (who had 22 US Top 40 hits with Bacharach/David songs). The triumvirate fell apart in the early 1970s amid a flurry of lawsuits.

By the 1970s the Bacharach style became unfashionable, incongruously labelled as easy listening fare. But it wasn’t: many Bacharach songs are best heard as soul songs, as the Covered With Soul Bacharach/David mix proved.

Soul singer Lou Johnson recorded several Bacharach/David songs before they became hits, though Kentucky Bluebird (later a Warwick hit as Message To Michael) was recorded by fellow soulster Jerry Butler a year earlier. Lyn Collins in her 1974 recording (featured here in the superior single version) proves further that many Bacharach songs are really soul songs, as do Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes, who had a way of transforming Bacharach songs into acid trips, though the present live version of The Look Of Love is a straight take on the song. Luther Vandross also was an outstanding interpreter of Bacharach, as he shows here on the slooowed down version of Anyone Who Had A Heart.

But outside soul and a few pop visionaries, Bacharach was considered uncool for a long time. When Frankie Goes To Hollywood singer Holly Johnson in the mid-’80s wanted to record a version of (Do You Know The Way To) San José, his laddish colleagues vociferously opposed the idea. In the event, they did record it, — perhaps because they could play Born To Run in return — and their version is quite lovely, if a bit wedding bandish. Arguably this was a significant step towards the rehabilitation of Bacharach which was complete by the late ’90s, with even the likes of Oasis’ chief plagiarist Gallagher paying tribute to Bacharach.

Bacharach had made something of a comeback with a few hits in the 1980s, co-written with wife Carole Bayer Sager, such as Arthur’s Theme, On My Own and Dionne Warwick’s comeback saccharine hit That’s What Friends Are For (as so often with Bacharach and Warwick, it had been previously recorded, by Rod Stewart for the soundtrack of 1982’s Nightshift).

Bacharach went back to his roots, in a way, when he composed, with occasional collaborator Elvis Costello, the song God Give Me Strength for the 1996 film Grace Of My Heart, which was loosely based on Brill alumni Carole King. Bacharach’s 1998 album with Elvis Costello, Painted From Memory, was a patchy effort, as was his 2005 solo album, At This Time. Much better was their lovely retro reworking of I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.

Burt’s unusual surname is German; there is a town called Bacharach in the Rhineland.

 

Bacharach’s melodies and arrangements are, obviously, exquisite. They also work well as instrumentals. But the lyrics of Hal David, who died in 2012, elevate these songs. David brought an old-school approach to lyrics to what was then modern pop. It is not only the elegance and poetic wordsmithery that sets David apart from most of his contemporaries, but also the rhythm of the words. In both regards, David was the equal of any lyricist that came before him, bar Cole Porter.

I think that Cole Porter would have killed for a line like this: “What do you get when you kiss a girl? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia. After you do she’ll never phone ya…” Hal David’s lyrics capture universal emotions with great perception and imagination. A couple of lyrics — Wives And Lovers, Wishin’ And Hopin’ — are rather of their time and awfully sexist, at least by our standards today. Both will feature on Vol. 2. But these are exceptions. Few lyricists have communicated heartbreak quite as close to the nerve as David; just listen to One Less Bell To Answer.

So it is right that this mix bears both names, Bacharach and David, even if the eagle-eyed pedant will point out that not every song here features the lyrics of Hal David. One song on this mix, Any Day Now, has Bob Hilliard’s words, sung by Elvis Presley. At least one other Hilliard song (Tower Of Strength) will be on the second Bacharach/David mix.

On this mix I am not experimenting: every one of these version is a favourite; most of them are the definitive interpretations. Still, I have imposed my usual rule: no artist is going to appear twice on a mix. A few will appear twice over the two mixes; certainly the muse Dionne Warwick.

The showstopper here is Barbra Streisand’s duet of herself with a mash-up of One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home, which was covered to great effect in 2010 on the TV show Glee by Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Morrison.

As ever CD-R length, home-made covers, PW in comments.

1. Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You (1970)
2. B.J. Thomas – Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (1969)
3. Herb Alpert – This Guy’s In Love With You (1968)
4. Sandie Shaw – (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me (1964)
5. Dusty Springfield – I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (1964)
6. Jackie DeShannon – What The World Needs Now Is Love (1965)
7. Dionne Warwick – Walk On By (1964)
8. Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach – I’ll Never Fall In Love Again (2000)
9. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – San José (1984)
10. Luther Vandross – Anyone Who Had A Heart (1986)
11. Barbra Streisand – One Less Bell To Answer-A House Is Not A Home (1971)
12. Isaac Hayes – The Look Of Love (live) (1973)
13. Lyn Collins – Don’t Make Me Over (1975)
14. Aretha Franklin – I Say A Little Prayer (1968)
15. The Sweet Inspirations – Reach Out For Me (1967)
16. The Stylistics – You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart) (1972)
17. Lou Johnson – Kentucky Bluebird (Message To Martha) (1964)
18. Jimmy Radcliffe – There Goes The Forgotten Man (1962)
19. Walker Brothers – Make It Easy On Yourself (1966)
20. Gene Pitney – Only Love Can Break A Heart (1963)
21. Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas – Trains And Boats And Planes (1965)
22. Elvis Presley – Any Day Now (1969)
23. Trini Lopez – Made In Paris (1965)

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More Bacharach:
Bacharach: The Lesser Known Songbook
The Originals: Bacharach Edition
Covered With Soul Vol. 7: Bacharach/David Edition

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Any Major Steely Dan Covers

September 3rd, 2017 10 comments

The death today of Steely Dan’s equal half, Walter Becker, merits a tribute to the band, especially on a site titled Any Major Dude With Half A Heart.

Steely Dan is the kind of band that invites strong opinions. Their music is not very soulful but expertly executed, using some of the finest session players of their time. For some it’s too cold; others can bathe in glow of the music’s brilliance. I can see why one might not be touched by the music, even finding it too clever, too self-consciously sophisticated. It’s a fair criticism, even if I don’t share in it. But the musicianship and the innovation deserve admiration. Much of it was Walter Becker’s work.

After starting out as a conventional rock group, Steely Dan soon became the two-some of Becker and Donald Fagan, surrounding themselves with a collective of top session musicians. Almost all the drummers that have featured in the Session Players series have played with Steely Dan: Bernard Purdie, Steve Gadd, Hal Blaine, Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Ricky Lawson

Fagan was pretty much the frontman, taking the lead vocals. Becker’s primary job was to see to the intricate arrangements, with those complex rhythm tracks and finely tuned harmonies.

And that is where the critics of Steely Dan might do well to listen with new ears. I think they’ll find many surprises in most tracks.

And now, having bigged up the arrangements, I’m presenting a collection of cover versions.

It is not easy to do covers of songs that rely on intricate arrangements, and only very few Dan songs have been covered any significant number of times. This is what Steely Dan share with ABBA. But where the versions on the ABBA covers mix mostly required reinvention to be any good, Steely Dan songs can be covered fairly straight and still be good.

One version here is not good. Donny and Marie Osmond singing Reelin’ In The Years as the opening production of their show on 13 January 1978. Having done their job on the song, the toothy siblings hand over to the easy listening choir that scores an ice-skating routine, complete with high kicks. It is quite a show; take a look at it! Strangely, even though Reelin’ In The Years is pretty much the simplest, most straight-forward Steely Dan track, I’ve not heard a cover of which that I really liked.

And with that, here’s to the legacy of the great Walter Becker. May he rest in peace.

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

1. Wilco – Any Major Dude Will Tell You (2000)
2. Ben Folds Five – Barrytown (2000)
3. Nathan Haines with Damon Albarn – F.M. (2003)
4. Turin Brakes – Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (2011)
5. Minutemen – Dr. Wu (1984)
6. Rickie Lee Jones – Show Biz Kids (2000)
7. Atlanta Rhythm Section – Hey Nineteen (2011)
8. Michael McDonald with Donald Fagen – Pretzel Logic (1991)
9. Waylon Jennings – Do It Again (1980)
10. José Feliciano – Dirty Work (1974)
11. Poco – Dallas (1975)
12. Snake Davis Band – Deacon Blues (2016)
13. David Garfield – Josie (2003)
14. Sara Isaksson & Rebecka Törnqvist – Fire In The Hole (2006)
15. Ivy – Only A Fool Would Say That (2000)
16. Zo! feat. Phonte and Sy Smith – Black Cow (2011)
17. Toto – Bodhisattva (2002)
18. Woody Herman Band – Aja (1978)
19. Donny & Marie Osmond – Reelin’ In The Years (1978)

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Any Major Jones

August 31st, 2017 8 comments

No surname, surely, appears in pop songs more frequently than Jones. So it seems appropriate to issue a mix or two (or even three; I have enough songs for that) of songs referring to somebody called Jones. And I’ve so far excluded songs that use the name Jones as a noun (such as Love Jones), never mind as a verb (jonesing).

That John D. Loudermilk song sounds a lot like a later track, possibly by the Bee Gees, a real potential case for Copy Borrow Steal. Who can out me out of my misery and tell me which song I hear in this track?

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

1. Frank Sinatra – Have You Met Miss Jones (1961)
What the Jones? Well, he has met her and now Miss Jones is stuck with him forever, poor girl.

2. Amy Winehouse – Me And Mr. Jones (2006)
What the Jones? What kind of fuckery indeed is this with Mr Jones?

3. Kool & the Gang – Jones vs Jones (1980)
What the Jones? It got too hot, now it’s the end between him and her.

4. Billy Paul – Me And Mrs. Jones (1972)
What the Jones? They have, as you probably know, got a thing going on…

5. Dusty Springfield – Willie & Laura Mae Jones (1969)
What the Jones? A song about he temporary condition of racial harmony, but that was another place and another time…

6. Small Faces – Lazy Sunday (1968)
What the Jones? “Cor blimey, hello Mrs Jones, how’s your old Bert’s lumbago?”

7. John D. Loudermilk – Angela Jones (1962)
What the Jones? He’ll carry her books home if she’ll just give him one little Doot’n do doo.

8. Bee Gees – New York Mining Disaster 1941 (1967)
What the Jones? The logic of asking Mr Jones lots of questions and then telling him to answer at a volume nobody can hear lest he cause a landslide…

9. Bob Dylan – Ballad Of A Thin Man (1965)
What the Jones? Mr Jones the journalist has no clue. Or Bob’s just being an asshole.

10. Ben Folds – Fred Jones Part 2 (live, 2005)
What the Jones? Ben Folds witnesses the retirement of a veteran newspaper man (not Bob’s hack, though), and anticipates the manufactured decimation of the traditional newsroom by profiteering enemies of professional journalism.

11. Counting Crows – Mr. Jones (1993)
What the Jones? Mr J is Sideshow Bob’s partner in perving at women.

12. The Jam – Smithers Jones (1979)
What the Jones? Smithers Jones the conformist, like his cousin Fred, gets shafted by the capitalist exploiter.

13. Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Brown To Blue (1981)
What the Jones? Another divorce knees-up. She’ll become Mrs Jones and he’ll be blue.

14. Porter Wagoner – The First Mrs. Jones (1967)
What the Jones? A pretty melody for a very disturbing murder song, with a hell of a scary punchline.

15. Bobby Bare – Mrs. Jones, Your Daughter Cried All Night (1970)
What the Jones? Bobby met Miss Jones, and Mrs Jones didn’t approve.

16. Claudia Lennear – Casey Jones (1973)
What the Jones? There are many songs about John Luther “Casey” Jones was a railroad engineer who was killed in an accident in 1900, becoming a hero for saving many lives in the process. Lennear’s version is that by Furry Lewis, written in 1928.

17. Jerry Butler – Tammy Jones (1970)
What the Jones? Jerry wants to elope with Tammy from their gossiping town. Hmmm, Tammy Wynette was married to George Jones at the time. No wonder the town was gossiping…

18. Flaming Ember – Westbound #9 (1970)
What the Jones? The Reverend Jones preaches in a town of hypocrites. Time to get out on the Westbound #9.

19. The Supremes – Nathan Jones (1971)
What the Jones? Nathan upped and left and broke The Supremes’ heart. Well, here’s hoping Nathan ended up like the idiot who ghosted his girlfriend who turned out to be his boss ten years later.

20. The 5th Dimension – Black Patch (1972)
What the Jones? Jones got his mean streak from the gutter, got his kindness from God. If he didn’t get the invite, the former would probably emerge.

21. Scott Engel – Mr. Jones (1961)
What the Jones? The future Scott Walker wants to make Mrs Jones’ daughter the future Mrs Engel.

22. Dr. John – Save The Bones For Henry Jones (2006)
What the Jones? Originally from 1953, is this the first song about vegetarianism?

23. Roberta Flack – Sunday And Sister Jones (1971)
What the Jones? Reverend Jones dies and Sister Jones doesn’t hang about.

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