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Any Major American Road Trip – 7

August 24th, 2017 5 comments

So finally we are reaching an end to our seven-part musical American Road Trip which began in Boston and took us via New York and Philly down to South Carolina, through the Deep South and Texas into the west via Arizona, up the coast of California, turning right via Las Vegas through the Mid-West, and leaving us in Akron, Ohio when we last stopped.

In this mix we are staying briefly in Ohio, at the university town of Kent to pay tribute to the students shot dead there in 1970. We then move into blue-collar Pennsylvania, an area that is said to have swung things Trump’s way last November. It’s safe to say that the men singing about life in Pittsburgh and Youngstown would not recommend voting for Trump, nor for the enemies of the working and middle classes that are leeching off the institutionalised corruption in Washington.

From Pittsburgh our journey covers destinations which one might describe as unsung, except this mix is proof that they, in fact, are sung: places like Wheeling, Roanoke, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Myrtle Beach. Revisiting South Carolina and, briefly, Georgia, we come to Florida, ending up right at the tip of The Keys, at Key West — as you will see on the back cover.

By then, we’ll have covered 119 towns in 153 songs. I hope you enjoyed the trip. Next Europe?

 

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

1. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Ohio (2004 – Kent, OH)
2. Bruce Springsteen – Youngstown (1995 – Youngstown, PA)
3. Pete Seeger – Pittsburgh Town (1957 – Pittsburgh, PA)
4. Billy Joel – The Ballad Of Billy The Kid (live) (1981 – Wheeling, WV)
5. Tim Rose – Roanoke (1969 – Roanoke, NC)
6. Chuck Berry – The Promised Land (1964 – Norfolk, VA)
7. Starbuck – Moonlight Feels Right (1976 – Chesapeake, VA)
8. Aimee Mann – Ghost World (2006 – Myrtle Beach, SC)
9. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland – Yolanda (1974 – Charleston, SC)
10. Lovin’ Spoonful – Jug Band Music (1966 – Savannah, GA)
11. Josh Turner – Jacksonville (2003, Jacksonville, FL)
12. John Hiatt – The Tiki Bar Is Open (2001 – Daytona Beach, FL)
13. Jimmy Buffett – Ballad Of Skip Wiley (1995 – Orlando & St Augustine, FL)
14. The Jayhawks – Tampa To Tulsa (2003 – Tampa, FL)
15. Drive-By Truckers – The Flying Wallendas (2010 – Sarasota, FL)
16. Elvis Presley – Fort Lauderdale Chamber Of Commerce (1965 – Fort Lauderdale, FL)
17. Sarah Vaughan – Moon Over Miami (1960 – Miami, FL)
18. Keith Whitley – Miami, My Amy (1985 – Miami, FL)
19. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Miami (1986 – Miami, FL)
20. Bertie Higgins – Key Largo (1982 – Key Largo, FL)
21. Shel Silverstein – The Great Conch Train Robbery (1980 – Key West, FL)

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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)

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Any Major Bob Dylan Covers Vol. 4

July 27th, 2017 7 comments

The first three volumes comprised covers of most of the better-known Dylan songs. This compilation, and the upcoming Vol. 5, enters the terrain of some lesser-known tracks (unless you’re a Dylanista, in which case there is no such thing as an obscure song).

This means that for many listeners, some of these cover versions serve as an introduction to Dylan songs they didn’t know; and for the Dylan fans, I hope there are some versions of the tracks they know which they hadn’t heard before.

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

1. George Thorogood and The Destroyers – Drifter’s Escape (2006)
2. Counting Crows – You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (2012)
3. Neko Case – Buckets Of Rain (2006)
4. Stan Ridgway – As I Went Out One Morning (1996)
5. Elvis Costello – Don’t Throw Your Love Away (2008)
6. Los Lobos – On A Night Like This (2003)
7. Yo La Tengo – 4th Time Around (2007)
8. Phoenix – Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands (2010)
9. The Dubliners with De Dannan – Boots Of Spanish Leather (1992)
10. The Neville Brothers – With God On Our Side (1989)
11. Patti LaBelle – Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine (1977)
12. The Persuasions – The Man In Me (1971)
13. The Faces – Wicked Messenger (1970)
14. The Leaves – Love Minus Zero (1965)
15. Jackie DeShannon – Walkin’ Down The Line (1963)
16. Jason and the Scorchers – Absolutely Sweet Marie (1984)
17. Gary U.S. Bonds – From A Buick 6 (1981)
18. Joe Cocker – Watching The River Flow (1978)
19. David Bowie – Trying To Get To Heaven (1999)
20. George Harrison – Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind (1970)

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Any Major Whistle Vol. 1

July 17th, 2017 17 comments

Here I am recycling a mix on whistling in pop I posted in 2009. As a vigorous (and in-tune!) whistler, I appreciate the art of musical blowing of air. I presume that most of the whistling was perpetrated by the performers themselves, but there have been moments when an act has made use of session whistlers. For example, the fade out whistling on Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay (not featured here) is not Otis Redding’s lipwork; in fact, he berated the session whistler for being out of tune in the first take.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on to a standard CD-R.

1. Elvis Presley – A Whistling Tune (1962)
The perfect opener: it’s got the right title, it starts with a whistle, it’s Elvis (though I don’t know if it is him whistling). Elvis doesn’t strike me as the whistling type). Whistle-tastic moment: 0:01 Whistling right off the bat.

2. Roger Miller – England Swings (1965)
London was swinging, as TIME magazine established, so country singer Roger Miller imagined its swingingness. Oh yeah, the Bobby is on a leisurely beat. It’ll take Plod two years to work out that Mick and Keef are smoking naughty stuff in the privacy of their own home. Whistle-tastic moment: 0:01 From the top and returning throughout.

3. Johnnie Ray – Just Walking In The Rain (1956)
Poor old Johnnie Ray. Sounded sad upon the radio. He moved a million hearts in mono. Here he is crying, believe it or not. And, happily, whistling a catchy blow-air riff. Whistle-tastic moment: 0:01 Johnnie lets blow from the start before singing, just like our fathers.

4. Pat Boone – Love Letters In The Sand (1957)
Pat Boone was never very cool. But I can forgive him his reactionary pop posing for his whistle solo in Love Letters In The Sand, proudly wearing his Bing Crosbyness on his lips.  Whistle-tastic moment: 1:27  And all the girls play air whistle.

5. The Mamas & The Papas – Dream A Little Dream Of Me (1968)
If by 1968 anybody had a doubt who the star of the Mamas And the Papas was, here’s the proof: Cass gets a special intro. Glorious. Whistle-tastic moment: 2:58  Enough of the ad-libbing da-da-da-ing; give a little whistle.

6. Rilo Kiley – Ripchord (2004)
If there had been Indie rock in 1928, Ripchord (from the excellent More Adventurous album) would have been the hit. Whistle-tastic moment: 1:44  The whistling is not very good, and yet entirely charming.

7. Badly Drawn Boy – You Were Right (2002)
Why do some people not like Badly Drawn Boy? This is perhaps the wolly-hatted one’s best song, with great lyrics. I like his obliviousness to the deaths of stars, and his rejection of Madonna’s possible romantic designs on him.  Whistle-tastic moment: 4:03  The boy can whistle as well as Roger Whitaker (sorry, apartheid-boycott-busting fans; he won’t feature): a great 23 second solo.

bogartbacall

You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together, and blow.

8. Andrew Bird – Masterfade (2005)
It’s obvious a singer named Bird should make the whistle a regular element of his music. Happily, the whistling does not define Bird’s kicked-back indie sounds  Whistle-tastic moment: 1:39  Vibrato whistling!

9. Loose Fur – The Ruling Class (2006)
I’ve been told that the recurring whistling here is committed by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, for whom Loose Fur was a side-project and takes the vocals on this track. It’s a good riff.   Whistle-tastic moment: 0:09   Take care; the whistle riff might become a constant earworm.

10. The Lemonheads – If I Could Talk I’d Tell You (1996)
It took me a while to decide whether to use this version or Evan Dando’s solo live cut  (I love this song in either incarnation). Dando live is amusingly off-key on the first note of the whistle solo, an error I’ve tried hard to replicate. If I could talk I’d tell you why I went with the Lemonheads’ take (OK, put away your waterboard: it’s a question of sound quality).   Whistle-tastic moment: 1:53   One of the birds flying around Snow White’s head must have had some of the evil queen’s bad apples and turned up totally goofed at the Lemonheads’ recording studio.

11. Tenpole Tudor – Wünderbar (1981)
The indiscriminate use of the umlaut notwithstanding, this is still a great song – I’d have thought that 28 years on it would be vaguely embarrassing. Not so, I’m jiving to it as I write.  Whistle-tastic moment: 1:38   An extended group whistle solo. Wonderful.

12. XTC – Generals And Majors (1980)
Post-punk new wave was not a fertile soil for the art of whistling. Except if you were XTC, who rocked the whistle more than once. Whistle-tastic moment: 0:41  The whistle interlude sets the scene for tempo change (listening closely, is it the synth whistling?).

13. Dexys Midnight Runners – Until I Believe In My Soul (7:01)
I held this one over from the flute series. If I was planning a series of fake laughing in pop – and I am not – or one about irritated mumbling interludes in music (ditto), this would be a contender too. Whistle-tastic moment: 5:05 After lots of emotional build-up, the song goes silent for a second; then Rowland whistles reassuringly to introduce the fiddle-backed mumblinations that precede the repeated YESes.

14. Eels – I Like Birds (live) (2006)
E insists that the song is about his appreciation of our feathered friends. The feeder for you to perch on is…for birds?  Whistle-tastic moment: 0:37  The whistle represents a bird.

15. Jens Lekman – A Man Walks Into A Bar (2005)
Oh Jens, you’re so ironic. The memories of a childhood amateur comedienne makes you sad, years after. Just beautiful.  Whistle-tastic moment: 0:54  The whistle interlude allows us to reflect on Lekman’s irony and wallow in his melancholy. And he repeats the trick. And gives us a harmonica solo to boot.

16. Josh Rouse – Quiet Town (2007)
Josh Rouse left Nashville, found love and settled in a quiet town in Spain which sounds like a relaxing place, with much leisure and contentment. And what do you do when you’re leisurely contented? Why, you whistle, contentedly.  Whistle-tastic moment: 1:13  Josh is leisurely contented.

17. John Lennon – Nobody Loves You When You’re Down (1975)
It may seem impossible to imagine, but John Lennon had moments of self-pity. Oh yes, but he did. Rarely in his solo career did the self-pity serve him better than on this bitter song, extracting from Lennon fine, understated vocals.  Whistle-tastic moment: 4:27  John goes into resigned  “oh fuck it” whistling mode, repeating his party trick from Jealous Guy..

18. Shawn Phillips – Steel Eyes (1971)
Phillips is an unjustly ignored long-hair folk merchant now living in South Africa. Steel Eyes comes from the wonderful Second Contribution album (worth looking up just for the title of the opening track).  Whistle-tastic moment:2:12   You think the song is over; then, after a three-second silence, Phillips gives it a whistle interlude. Forty seconds later, it ends. But it doesn’t; he starts again. Oh how you tease, Shawn.

19. Sun City Girls – The Shining Path (1990)
And today’s prize question: Which famous melody are the unfeminine Sun City Girls ripping off here? And what on earth are they singing?  Whistle-tastic moment: 0:01  Unlike your average spaghetti western, Sun City Girls don’t let you wait long for whistle action.

20. The Beach Boys – Disney Girls (1957) (1971)
The moment the Beach Boys, led here by Bruce Johnstone, turned into Paul McCartney. It has whistling and flute. Gorgeous.  Whistle-tastic moment: 3:47   The whistling comes in randomly at the end.

21. Paul Simon – Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard (1971)
Paul Simon once said he didn’t really know what Mama saw. Still, it seems obvious that an act of a sexual nature was observed. But let’s put to rest the idea that Rosie was the leading administrator of favours to matters phallic because she was the queen of something sharing the name with a cigar – Corona is a New York neighbourhood. Whistle-tastic moment: 1:12   Simon lets blow. Good job. Bad pun.

22. Danyel Gérard – Butterfly (French version) (1971)
I’ve posted the German version of this before, and I shall do so again. The German, English and French versions all have the whistling interlude. The song? Yeah, it is cheesy. And quite wonderful.  Whistle-tastic moment: 3:17   After establishing a sing-along party atmosphere, our floppy-hatted friend wistfully (look, Ma, no puns) whistles the song out.

23. Richard Cheese – Creep (2006)
It’s so mother-fucking special.  Whistle-tastic moment: 1:07  Cheese announces it: WHISTLE SOLO!.

Bonus: Mrs Miller – Downtown (1966)
You have to love Mrs Miller: she was deadly serious about her singing, yet she knew that to everyone else it was amusing. Hear Mrs Miller fluff her line, get flustered, and then gamely catches herself to take us to perhaps the most disturbing whistle solos in the history of popular music — after which she fluffs the lyrics some more.  Whistle-tastic moment: 1:07  Mrs Miller is so stoked about her whistling chops that she gives us an encore.

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Any Major Beach Vol. 2

July 13th, 2017 2 comments

It’s the middle of summer for most people who read this blog (though not for us poor southern hemisphereans), so it’s a good time to for summer music. For those of us in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or the colder parts of South America, there is always the Winter mix.

The four-part summer songs series finished a while ago, but last year I returned to the theme with a special focus on the subject of the beach. So this is the second mix on that theme.

The theme was suggested a while ago by reader Rob, who suggested the inclusion of The Drifters’ On The Boardwalk. The Drifters featured last time, but this mix includes a cover version of it by the never less than cheerful John Mellencamp. Here I again allow the Beach Boys an exemption from my one-artist-per-theme rule — if only to offset some of the less light-hearted songs on this mix.

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

And don’t forget to wear a sunhat.

1. First Class – Beach Baby (1974)
2. The 5th Dimension – On The Beach (In The Summertime) (1970)
3. Françoise Hardy – Sunshine (1970)
4. Glen Campbell – Galveston (1969)
5. Three Dog Night – Yellow Beach Umbrella (1976)
6. Michael Franks – Blue Pacific (1990)
7. Colin Hay – Beautiful World (2000)
8. Blake Shelton – Some Beach (2010)
9. George Strait – Marina Del Rey (1982)
10. Natalie Merchant – Maggie And Milly And Molly And May (2010)
11. The Pogues – House Of The Gods (1990)
12. John Mellencamp – Under The Boardwalk (1985)
13. Brenda Lee – White Silver Sands (1962)
14. The Brothers Four – Marianne (1960)
15. Frank Sinatra – Sand And Sea (1966)
16. Elvis Presley – Never Ending (1964)
17. The Who – Bell Boy (1973)
18. The Beach Boys – The Girls On The Beach (1974)
19. Brian Eno – On Some Faraway Beach (1974)
20. Diana King – Summer Breezin’ (2002)
21. The Bloodhound Gang – Screwing You On A Beach At Night (2007)

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Any Major Summer
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Michael Jackson Backing Vocals Collection

June 29th, 2017 3 comments

On Sunday it was eight years since Michael Jackson died. To mark that anniversary, here’s a mix of songs on which MJ sang backing vocals in the 1970s and ‘80s — and a bit of background on those songs.

Right off the bat, I break the promise of the title, for on Paul McCartney’s The Man, from 1983, he is credited as Macca’s duet partner. Say Say Say was the big hit, but I rather prefer this song, which was only an album track. Both collaborations were produced by George Martin, bringing together a triple-threat of genius — albeit without creating a work of genius.

Another meeting of geniuses that doesn’t quite live up to its billing is that of Jackson, Burt Bacharach and his future wife, Carole Bayer Sager (with Jim Keltner on drums). Just Friends was written by Bacharach and Bayer Sager, and was co-produced by Burt and Michael, with the latter also contributing vocals.

Of course, Michael helped the siblings with his vocals. Here he does so very early in his career on Jermaine’s That’s How Love Goes; and on La Toya’s quite strange 1980 disco groover Night Time Lover, co-written with MJ, which halfway through turns into a Latin jam before it becomes a disco groover in the vein of Off The Wall again. Michael also featured on Janet’s 1984 track Don’t Stand Another Chance, which is too awful to feature here.

Michael was also generous in helping people who had played for him. One such people was session keyboard/synth player Bill Wolfer, who did tinkle the keys on Billie Jean, Beat It and Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. MJ repaid the favour by contributing backing vocals to two tracks on Wolfer’s debut album, the featured So Shy and a cover of Papa Was A Rolling Stone.

Wolfer reappears on the synth on very next track, Diana Ross’ Muscles, which Jackson wrote, produced and sings back-up on. Wolfer also played for Stevie Wonder on Hotter Than July, though, alas, not on All I Do, on which MJ did backing vocals. Six years earlier, Michael also appeared on backing vocals on Stevie’s You Haven’t Done Nothing.

Michael Jackson and the ubiquitous Greg Phillinganes.

Another keyboardist with a Jackson/Wonder connection was Greg Phillinganes, featuring here with a 1984 number co-written by MJ that sounds very much of its time. Phillinganes was discovered by Wonder through an introduction by the legendary session drummer Ricky Lawson (whose works were featured in two retrospectives: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). Through Wonder Phillinganes became the musical director first of The Jacksons, starting in 1978, and remained in that gig for much of Michael’s career.

Phillinganes also played on Donna Summer’s eponymous 1982 album produced by Quincy Jones, including on State Of Independence, which features here, for which Jones assembled an impressive array of backing vocalists, including Lionel Richie, Dionne Warwick, Brenda Russell, Christopher Cross, Dyan Cannon, James Ingram, Kenny Loggins, Stevie Wonder and, of course, Michael Jackson (not all of them were credited). Quincy later claimed that recording this song laid the foundations for his production of We Are The World three years later.

Quincy Jones, of course, would often bring a galaxy of stars together for his albums. On the title track of 1981’s The Dude album, he has Michael Jackson plus Syretta Wright, Jim Gilstrap and LaLomie Washburn backing James Ingram on lead vocals. Stevie Wonder is on the synth, Louis Johnson is on bass, and you’ll never guess who’s on the electric piano…

MJ and QJ

And talking of Louis Johnson — himself the subject of a retrospective here — Quincy also produced The Brothers Johnson’s Light Up The Night album (which featured the hit Stomp, on which our friend Greg Phillinganes played the synth). Michael Jackson co-wrote This Had To Be with the Johnson brothers; so he sang on it, too.

As it sometimes happens, recording an album in a studio next to a big star can create moments of serendipity. This is not to say that Dave Mason wasn’t a star, but his career was on a downward trajectory when he recorded his Old Crest On A New Wave album, while MJ’s was very much on the up. Next door The Jacksons were recording their Triumph album (the one with Can You Feel It, which also featured Greg Phillinganes). For his song Save Me, Mason needed a high-pitched voice, and next door there was just the right guy…

Something similar happened with Joe ‘King’ Carrasco & The Crowns, who were recording in one room of Studio 55 on 5555 Melrose in L.A. in 1981. Michael Jackson was in the other room, and when the Tex Mex band had the bright idea of asking MJ to sing backing vocals on one of their songs, a rather poor faux-reggae number, the future mega deferentially agreed. He wasn’t credited; given the song, he probably didn’t want to be. Read the full story.

Michael Jackson and Joe ‘King’ Carrasco at one of the more unlikely sessions collaborations in 1981.

Jackson was the kind of guy you just had to ask. Kenny Loggins did that in 1979, before Jackson hit the really big time with the Off The Wall album. “I was at a benefit that Michael was at, and I asked him if he would like to sing on the record,” Loggins later recalled. “He said yeah…He was available, he wanted to do it, he was a fan.” Loggins later realised that Who’s Right Who’s Wrong wasn’t the right song on which to use MJ’s vocals. “Had I really thought it through, I should have probably recorded something up-tempo with him. I kick myself and think that was a waste of his talent. Great tune and everything, but just not the right tune for Michael Jackson to be singing on.” True.

There’s something a little weird about the Minnie Riperton track. After Riperton’s untimely death in 1979, her husband passed vocal tracks the great singer had recorded to Quincy Jones who then roped in an array of great musicians to record arrangements or contribute vocals for what would become the 1980 album Love Lives Forever. For I’m In Love Again, Quincy got in Michael Jackson to duet with the late Minnie (Hubert Laws features on flute).

The most famous MJ backing vocal probably is that which turned Rockwell’s mildly interesting Somebody’s Watching Me into one of the great hits of 1984. Michael, a childhood friend of the singer born Kennedy William Gordy, sang the catchy chorus, leaving the boring verses to Rockwell, who was Motown owner Berry Gordy’s son. At the time Rockwell was estranged from Gordy and was living with his mother, the great Ray “Miss Ray” Singleton (who died last year). It was Singleton who produced the song and played it for her ex-husband. Gordy was not impressed and disinclined to release it — until he heard the chorus with that familiar voice.

I don’t know if MJ sang on soul diva Jennifer Holliday’s You’re The One; he co-wrote the song and produced it. And, my goodness, it almost sounds like he is singing it as well. I think the whispered line “You’re the one” is Michael’s voice. Guitar on the track is by Earl Klugh.

And then there was the time Michael Jackson went country. Kenny Rogers in his 1981 album track Goin’ Back To Alabama features on backing vocals not only MJ but also one Lionel B. Richie Jr., who wrote and produced this (unmistakably so) and several other songs on the album it comes from.

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

1. Paul McCartney feat. Michael Jackson – The Man (1983)
2. Stevie Wonder – All I Do (1980)
3. Quincy Jones – The Dude (1981)
4. Kenny Loggins – Who’s Right, Who’s Wrong (1979)
5. Dave Mason – Save Me (1980)
6. La Toya Jackson – Night Time Lover (1980)
7. Brothers Johnson – This Had To Be (1980)
8. Bill Wolfer – So Shy (1982)
9. Diana Ross – Muscles (1982)
10. Jermaine Jackson – That’s How Love Goes (1972)
11. Kenny Rogers – Goin’ Back To Alabama (1981)
12. Carole Bayer Sager – Just Friends (1981)
13. Jennifer Holliday – You’re The One (1984)
14. Minnie Riperton – I’m In Love Again (1980)
15. Donna Summer – State Of Independence (1982)
16. Rockwell – Somebody’s Watching Me (1984)
17. Greg Phillinganes – Behind The Mask (Who Do You Know) (1984)
18. Joe ‘King’ Carrasco – Don’t Let A Woman (Make A Fool Out Of You) (1982)

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Previous session musicians’ collection:
The Steve Gadd Collection Vol. 1
The Steve Gadd Collection Vol. 2
The Steve Gadd Collection Vol. 3
The Bernard Purdie Collection Vol. 1

The Bernard Purdie Collection Vol. 2
The Ricky Lawson Collection Vol. 1
The Ricky Lawson Collection Vol. 2
The Jim Gordon Collection Vol. 1
The Jim Gordon Collection Vol. 2
The Hal Blaine Collection Vol. 1
The Hal Blaine Collection Vol. 2
The Bobby Keys Collection
The Louis Johnson Collection
The Bobby Graham Collection
The Jim Keltner Collection Vol. 1
The Jim Keltner Collection Vol. 2
The Ringo Starr Collection

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Any Major Night Vol. 2

June 1st, 2017 4 comments

Any Major Night Vol. 2

Having played the megabytes out of the first Any Major Night mix — as I did with the Any Major Morning mixes (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 ) — it is time to go nocturnal again.

Regular readers will know my aversion to featuring artists more than once in a themed series, but like there was an exception in the Any Major Summer series for The Beach Boys, so must there be one for the habitually night-dwelling Bruce Springsteen. He was on Volume 1, and here he is twice: on his own and as the writer of Patti Smith’s 1978 hit.

Elvis Presley could feature here, but as last time I ran the original of his hit One Night, here I am including the original of Such A Night. Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters’ version, released in January 1954, was a hit on the R&B charts. Johnny Ray cleaned it up for the white folks and topped the charts with his version.

Charles Brown’s blues classic Black Night, on the other hand, features here in a cover version by Arthur Alexander, an artist who was at home in soul, blues and country. He was the first singer to record Elvis’ hit Burnin’ Love, and his song Anna was covered by The Beatles, who close this collection.

As always, this mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-moonlit covers. PW the same as always.

1. The Boomtown Rats – When The Night Comes (1979)
2. Patti Smith – Because The Night (1978)
3. Steely Dan – Night By Night (1974)
4. The Pogues – A Rainy Night In Soho (1986)
5. The Cure – A Night Like This (1985)
6. Josh Rouse – It’s The Nighttime (2005)
7. Keni Stevens – Night Moves (A Dark Secret) (1987)
8. Bill Withers – I Want To Spend The Night (1977)
9. Freddie North – Rainy Night in Georgia (1975)
10. Mitty Collier – I Had A Talk With My Man Last Night (1964)
11. Anna King – Night Time Is The Right Time (1964)
12. Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters – Such A Night (1954)
13. Betty Everett – June Night (1964)
14. Arthur Alexander – Black Night (1964)
15. Them – Here Comes The Night (1965)
16. Sandie Shaw – Till The Night Begins To Die (1964)
17. Bob Dylan – One More Night (1969)
18. Dylan LeBlanc – Tuesday Night Rain (2010)
19. Joe Ely – Every Night About This Time (19982)
20. Bruce Springsteen – Drive All Night (1980)
21. The Beatles – Good Night (1968)

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Any Major Flute Vol. 4

May 25th, 2017 12 comments

This is the fourth flute mix. When I first posted these eight years ago, I declared myself officially fluted out. But I think there should be at least a fifth mix. I bend my one-artist-per-series rule a bit: the Carpenters, Gil-Scott-Heron and The Beatles are allowed to reflute on this compilation.

As ever, CD-R length, flutilicious covers, PW same as always..

1. Carpenters – This Masquerade (1973)
Flute moment: 2:40  The flute is there right at the beginning, stays with us, and then, at 2:40, takes charge with a hard-rocking solo. Leon Russell’s original also has some flute, but nothing on this, one of the great flute tracks in pop.

2. Julie London – Light My Fire (1969)
Flute moment: 0:01  The only song featured twice, though quite a few might also have qualified. The flute sets Julie up to do with the song what the Doors couldn’t — make it as seductive as the words suggest. Go on, kiss somebody while the solo (starting at 1:58) plays.

3. Roberta Flack & Quincy Jones – On A Clear Day/Killer Joe (1973)
Flute moment: 5:04   Sammy Davis Jr introduces Roberta and Quincy at the Save The Children concert. Flack sings On A Clear Day better than Streisand ever did, and when Quincy’s Killer Joe comes in, the medley rocks. In between, there’s a one-minute flute solo.

4. Gil Scott-Heron – The Bottle (1975)
Flute moment: 2:49   Brian Jackson’s flute in Scott-Heron’s songs are the sound of the ’70s ghetto and blaxploitation. Introducing the solo, Gil calls on Stick to “hit me one more time”. Funny that the Poet Laureate of the ghetto, the English popsters and the whitebread siblings should share the honour of being featured twice in this series.

5. P.P. Arnold – It’ll Never Happen Again (1968)
Flute moment: 0:15  Vastly underrated soul singer, who should have been given the entire Bacharach catalogue to sing. The flute accompanies us throughout this gorgeous song.

6. The Beatles – The Fool On The Hill (1967)
Flute moment: 2:43  Flute AND recorder, Paul? Well, it works.

7. Gilbert Bécaud – Nathalie (1965)
Flute moment: 0:19   C’est la flute.

8. Cat Stevens – Katmandu (1970)
Flute moment: 1:43  Flute interlude by Peter Gabriel, fact fans.

9. The Four Tops – Still Water (Love) (1970)
Flute moment: There is none. The flute is floating in the background. I included the song only because it is so lovely.

10. Fantastic Four – I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love (1967)
Flute moment: 0:09   There is, however, flute on this 1967 soul track, which sounds a lot like a Four Tops song. Again, the flute gets no centrestage time, but among the backing instrumentation, it stands out.

11. Left Banke – Walk Away Renee (1966)
Flute moment: 1:22  On my first draft of this playlist, I unconsciously paired the Left Banke with the Four Tops, who covered Walk Away Renee to fine effect.

12. Boz Scaggs – Lowdown (1976)
Flute moment: 0:18  The song has a funky bassline, a great guitar part, and a fantastic flute riff which bosses the tune and occasionally heckles poor Boz…

13. Nicolette Larson – Lotta Love (1978)
Flute moment: 1:35  The flute solo takes us to the bridge.

14. Smokey Robinson – Quiet Storm (1975)
Flute moment: 1:52  The song that started a genre which provided the soundtrack for the conception of millions of babies. When Smokey commands: “Blow baby!”, he presumably means the flute.

15. Neil Sedaka – Bad Blood (1975)
Flute moment: 0:40  A pretty mediocre song is redeemed by a bit of fine flute.

16. The Blues Project – Flute Thing (1966)
Flute moment: the whole song. Well, it does take nine seconds for the flute to start.  It is so flutish, the band needed no better title than Flute Thing.

17. Genesis – Get ’Em Out by Friday (1972)
Flute moment: 1:59  It starts off terribly prog-rockish. But it gets bearably pleasant when the flute comes in to accompany Peter
Gabriel (who presumably is not playing the flute at the same time). Then, after two minutes it becomes proggish again, and when the song slows down next, no flute! I blame Phil Collins, the bald man’s Bono. Happily, the flute returns at 4:57, for more than a minute.

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Any Major Flute Vol. 1
Any Major Flute Vol. 2
Any Major Flute Vol. 3

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Stars Pick Your Songs Vol. 1: Musicians

May 18th, 2017 12 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 11th, 2017 4 comments

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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