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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.

GET IT!

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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Any Major Springsteen Covers

April 27th, 2017 12 comments

 

When I was 14 I heard Hungry Heart on the radio. It was familiar and yet unlike any other sound I had heard. Looking back, I think it was the keyboards, which I still think are key to giving the E Street Band that distinctive sound (along with Max Weinstein’s booming drumming and, of course, Clarence’s sax). So I heard Hungry Heart and straight after school on a snowy day in February 1981 I rushed to town to find the new LP by this guy Springsteen. On my way home on the bus I could hardly wait to play it. As I held my new purchase, I liked the look of the face that filled the cover. This guy looked like a rock ‘n’ roll Al Pacino. Justice for all!

But before I could play the The River, I had an afternoon appointment with the optician who proceeded to shine a light into my eyes that virtually blinded me for a few hours. How auspicious that on the day my relationship with Bruce Springsteen began, I was blinded by the light.

I played sides 1 and 2 of The River to death. I rarely played the second disc. That first disc was perfect. With time I would become familiar with Bruce’s four previous albums, and come to regard Darkness On The Edge Of Town as one of the greatest LPs ever made. My loyalty to Springsteen began to waver in the 1990s, in as far as I didn’t rush out to buy every new album. But I have most of them.

So I was excited to read Springsteen’s autobiography. My biggest problem with it was the title. Could nobody come up with something less predictable than Born To Run? I like to think the title “Cars And Girls” would have been a great, even if very belated, riposte to the cutting Prefab Sprout song of that title from 1988. But that is my biggest gripe.

True, Bruce at times exceeds the waxing lyrical, and when he goes fan boy with CAPS LOCK switched on he sounds more like his fawning friend Bono than the poet laureate of a generation. But that’s minor quibbling. Born To Run is a welcome extension of the long prologues to songs in his concerts (usually The River). He is at once fully aware of his genius as he is also genuinely self-deprecating. Here is a man who knows his strengths and his limitations, and how to balance them. He knows his value and has no need for false modesty, even when he explains why he took the decision to be the boss of his backing band, the E Street Band. Incidentally, he says that he doesn’t like the nickname “The Boss”, much as Sinatra hated being called “Chairman of the Board”. I wonder what Bono calls Springsteen…

Born To Run mostly confirms that with Bruce, what you see is indeed what you get…mostly. I didn’t know about his battles with depression, and commend him for speaking about them with such honesty. I did know that Springsteen is a funny guy. Some of his songs are good comedy; take, for example, Sherry Darling. The book has some laugh-out-loud moments, such as when he describes his moves with Courtney Cox in the Dancing In The Dark video as “white-man boogaloo” and “dad dancing”.

Springsteen mentions a few memorable concerts he has played. To my delight, all three Springsteen gigs I have attended are included. His Wembley concert on 4 July 1985 might be the best of any act I have seen.

But I don’t want to write a book report on Born To Run, much as I recommend it. It rather serves as an intro to the mix I am presenting here: of covers of Springsteen songs. And it might seem easy to cover Springsteen. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band did so with Blinded By The Light. Patti Smith had a hit with Because The Night, and The Pointer Sisters with Fire. But Mann had his hit before Springsteen was famous, and our man hadn’t yet recorded the Smith or Pointer Sisters hits (the latter itself a cover of a record by Springsteen pal Robert Gordon, who sang it like Elvis might have).

It’s quite different covering Springsteen songs after Springsteen has recorded them, almost invariably producing the definitive version (differently to Bob Dylan). That is, I suppose, why so few dare to do that. It’s a risk, and it doesn’t always pay off. So, in absence of an abundance of any more quality choices, there most certainly will be no second mix of Springsteen covers.

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

1. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Born To Run (1984)
2. Nils Lofgren – Wreck On The Highway (1997)
3. The Band – Atlantic City (1993)
4. The Hollies – 4th Of July Asbury Park (Sandy) (1975)
5. Everything But The Girl – Tougher Than The Rest (1992)
6. Emmylou Harris – The Price You Pay (1981)
7. Cowboy Junkies – Thunder Road (2004)
8. Justin Townes Earle – Glory Days (2014)
9. John Wesley Harding – Jackson Cage (1997)
10. Raul Malo – Downbound Train (2000)
11. Patty Griffin – Stolen Car (2001)
12. Townes Van Zandt – Racing In The Streets (1992)
13. Richie Havens – Streets Of Philadelphia (1997)
14. Minnie Driver – Hungry Heart (2004)
15. Greg Kihn – For You (1977)
16. David Bowie – It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City (1989)
17. PJ Proby – I’m On Fire (1990)
18. Natalie Cole – Pink Cadillac (1987)
19. Big Daddy – Dancing In The Dark (1985)
20. The Flying Pickets – Factory (1984)

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Any Major American Road Trip – 6

April 20th, 2017 6 comments

 

It is high time we move on from beautiful St Louis, where we have been stuck since September (!) and begin our penultimate stage in the American Road Trip by going to Memphis. And we manage to do so without hitching a lift from Marc Cohn, much as I like his song.

To many, Memphis means Elvis, but I’ll leave him on the sidelines, too (other than by lyrical reference in the opening track). And still I was left with a broad choice of songs about Memphis — I should make a mix of Memphis songs at some point —which is only right, since Memphis is central to so many musical genres. One day I want to go there in real life…

Most of the songs here speak for themselves and have my endorsement. One, however, requires an explanation by way of caveat: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ I Care About Detroit was a civic exercise to calm racial tension a year after the 1967 riots and following the uprising that followed the murder of Martin Luther King (in the city where this mix kicks off).

Written by Jimmy Clark and Jack Combs — the former presumably was the Detroit soul singer; I have no idea who Combs was — the lyrics might as well have been written by Governor George Romney. Smokey was a bit of a stooge for agreeing to this exercise. Much as he declares his loyalty to his home city, Smokey soon joined Berry Gordy in upping sticks for sunny LA. The single had only one side — maybe the city was still waiting for Gil Scott-Heron’s song; maybe it was Gordy’s silent protest at the awfulness of the record.

One song here featured on the Right-Wing Pop for Bullshit Mountain mix I posted in happier times. The Pretender’s My City Was Gone, here to represent Akron, is not a right-wing song, of course. Quite the opposite. But it was hijacked, without permission, by the demagogue Rush Limbaugh (who, as it turns out, was not as harmless as those who tolerated his hate-filled propaganda claimed) for the theme of his radio show. In the end, Chrissie Hynde allowed its use because Limbaugh backed an animal rights cause. As I noted in the notes for the right-wing rock mix, Limbaugh has bragged about subverting the liberal Pretenders song, much like a misogynist who brags about having had sex with a woman he despises with the sole objective of defiling her.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and includes covers and a route-map (more detailed than the one above). PW in comments.
1. Bobby Charles with Delbert McClinton – Last Train To Memphis (2003 – Memphis, TN)
2. Nat ‘King’ Cole – Beale Street Blues (1963 – Memphis, TN)
3. Little Feat – Dixie Chicken (1973 – Memphis, TN)
4. Justin Townes Earle – Memphis In The Rain (2012 – Memphis, TN)
5. Johnny Cash & June Carter – Jackson (1967 – Jackson, TN)
6. Kris Kristofferson – To Beat The Devil (1970 – Nashville, TN)
7. Waylon Jennings – Nashville Bum (1966 – Nashville, TN)
8. Louis Armstrong & Bessie Smith – Nashville Women’s Blues (1925 – Nashville, TN)
9. The Andrews Sisters – Chattanooga Choo Choo (1942 – Chattanooga, TN)
10. Shel Silverstein – Boy Named Sue (1968 – Gatlinburg, TN)
11. The Louvin Brothers – Knoxville Girl (1956 – Knoxville, TN)
12. Leon Redbone – Big Bad Bill (1978 – Louisville, KY)
13. Aimee Mann – Ballantines (2007 – Lexington, KY)
14. Steve Carlisle – WKRP In Cincinnati (1978 – Cincinnati, OH)
15. Randy Newman – Dayton, Ohio 1903 (1978 – Dayton, OH)
16. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson – We Almost Lost Detroit (1977 – Detroit, MI)
17. The Kane Gang – Motortown (1987 – Detroit, MI)
18. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – I Care About Detroit (1968 – Detroit, MI)
19. Simon & Garfunkel – America (1968 – Saginaw, MI)
20. Sufjan Stevens – Flint (For The Unemployed And Underpaid) (2003 – Flint, MI)
21. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Prison Song (1974 – Ann Arbor, MI)
22. Ian Hunter – Cleveland Rocks (1979 – Cleveland, OH)
23. The Pretenders – My City Was Gone (1982 – Akron, OH)

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Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 2

April 6th, 2017 2 comments

The first Protest Soul mix, posted to coincide with the inauguration of Honest Donald in January, seems to have been quite popular. More than that, I hope it brought some kind of relief from the anguish of seeing that sphinctermouthed spluttermachine being heaved into the presidency — and seeing him wreaking his revenge on common decency without having received a clear mandate.

More should be made of this: Trump lost the popular vote, so his mandate is not unambiguous. He won the presidency legitimately, and therefore occupies his office and nominally exercises its authority legitimately — but his mandate is tainted by having been invested in him against the will of the people. So when he drains the swamp and fills it with sewerage, he is doing so without a clear mandate. The question, again and again and again, should be: “What mandate do you have to do what you do without a majority of the popular vote?” Trump has no answer to that; he knows his mandate is mandate is tainted. That’s why he lies about the supposed voter fraud. So say it loud and say it clear: “President Trump, on whose mandate are you acting?”

But this mix is not about Sphinctermouth. I’m posting it to coincide with the 49th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The songs here were released in a range of within a year of MLK’s murder to eight years after.

As with the first mix, this is collection of soul songs that make an appeal for social justice, for racial equality and harmony, for black consciousness, or for political activism — some deal with one or two of these issues, some with all of them. There is no party-line, and the sentiments of some songs may clash with those of others. Together, they reflect a conversation in the black politics of the time, even if not comprehensively so — the Black Panthers don’t have an equal voice. These mixes are good companion pieces to the Songs About The Ghetto Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 mixes.

Some of the artists here are well-known for having articulated voices in that conversation — Gil Scott-Heron, Curtis Mayfield, Staple Singers, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye (featuring here with a performance from 1973’s Save The Children concert) — but one who is not widely-known is Bama The Village Poet. Seek out his songs — one, the astonishing I Got Soul, featured on the Bernard Purdie Collection Vol. 1.

As far as I know, his 1972 Ghettoes Of The Mind album on Chess was his only release. It featured Purdie on drums, Richard Tee on keyboards, Gordon Edwards on bass and Cornell Dupree on guitar. All I know of him is that he was born as George McCord in Birmingham, Alabama (hence, I suspect, the name Bama). Bama’s incisive poetry deals with issues that remain relevant today, but even if one doesn’t dig the black consciousness vibe, the music is magnificent.

I’m adding a bonus track, a funky and much-sampled groove from 1973 by The Honey Drippers who are calling to “Impeach The President”. I’d love to see Trump impeached and, if there is justice, jailed for whatever huckster stuff it is that will get him impeached. But as a pragmatist, I’m not so sure that it is such as good idea. Mike Pence is pretty bad news in his own right. Impeach them both — and clear out the Democratic Party of their lobbyist-beholden, strategy-bereft, courage-eschewing, compromise-making, backbone-lacking deadwood so that the sewerage that holds control of the White House, Senate and Congress can be flushed out.

Fight the Power!

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-fist-raised covers. PW in comments. And feel free to comment, even Trump supporters who provided us with some good laughs in the comments to the last mix.

1. Eddie Floyd – People, Get It Together (1969)
2. Segments Of Time – Song To The System (1972)
3. Marlena Shaw – Woman Of The Ghetto (1969)
4. The Staple Singers – This Old Town (People In This Town) (1971)
5. Brothers Unlimited – A Change Is Gonna Come (1970)
6. The Four Tops – Right On Brother (1974)
7. Funkadelic – If You Don’t Like The Effects, Don’t Produce The Cause (1972)
8. Candi Staton – Clean Up America (1974)
9. Lyn Collins – People Make The World A Better Place (1975)
10. Change Of Pace – People (1971)
11. The Dells – Freedom Means (1971)
12. Bama The Village Poet – Welfare Slave (1972)
13. Lim Taylor – The World’s In A Bad Situation (1974)
14. Johnny Taylor – I Am Somebody (1970)
15. Brother To Brother – Hey, What’s That You Say (1974)
16. Gil Scott-Heron – Whitey On The Moon (1974)
17. Stevie Wonder – You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (1974)
18. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (live) (1973)
19. Curtis Mayfield – Miss Black America (1970)
20. Sounds Of The City Experience – Babylon (1976)
Bonus Track: The Honey Drippers – Impeach The President (1973)

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Any Major Soul: 1960s
Any Major Soul: 1970s
Covered With Soul
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Any Major Decade: Favourites Vol. 2

March 30th, 2017 12 comments

 

Thank you, all you lovely people, for your kind comments on the first Any Major Decade mix, which marked this site’s 10th birthday. It was so good to read how this site has made a difference to a number of people— some in ways that are incidental, a few more profoundly.

covers-gallery-2

One bit of feedback that I treasure precedes that post by quite a while. Regular commenter Johnny Diego reported back to me that he had made CDs the mixes of the Germany’s Hitparade 1930-37 and Germany’s Hitparade 1938-45 to surprise his aged German mother, who came to the US in 1949, with these compilations of songs from her young days. She received these waves of nostalgia with tears — of joy and, I’m sure, also of memories. Johnny’s feedback, and his words of appreciation, touched me deeply as well.

I must say, I think the posts that came with those mixes — the extensive linernotes, so to speak — are among the best I have produced.

I was pleased to learn from the more recent comments that there are people who appreciate the CD-R length of the mixes and that some actually print out the covers. I play these mixes off my smartphone, so I have no use for the covers. I make them for the fun of it, in the hope that one or the other reader has use for them. So knowing that they are being used is great.

I will post more of these Any Major Decade mixes over the next few months. The songs included in the first two come from what I have selected as my Top 40 Any Major Mixes; thereafter I’ll compile them more randomly, as the mood grabs me.

Thank you all for sticking around. And please keep the comments coming.

This mix is, as always, timed to fit on a standard CD-R. I’ve not made covers for it. PW in comments.

1. The Chi-Lites – Give More Power To The People (1970)
Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 1
2. Honey Cone – Stick-Up (1971)
Any Major Soul 1970/71
3. Young Rascals – Groovin’ (1967)
Any Major Summer Vol. 1
4. The Byrds – All I Really Want To Do (1065)
Any Major Dylan Covers Vol. 2
5. Peggy Lipton – Red Clay Country Line (1969)
Any Major Jimmy Webb Collection Vol. 2
6. Richie Havens – Handsome Johnny (1967)
Songs About Vietnam Vol. 1
7. Big Star – Watch The Sunrise (1972)
Any Major Morning Vol. 2
8. Steve Earle – N.Y.C. (1997)
Any Major Road Vol. 2
9. Counting Crows – Richard Manuel Is Dead (live, 2006)
Any Major American Road Trip – Stage 4 (California)
10. Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar (2010)
Any Major TV Themes Vol. 2
11. Marlena Shaw – So Far Away (1972)
Covered With Tapestry
12. Carolyn Franklin – Soul Man (1976)
Saved Vol. 2
13. Kenny Loggins – Heart To Heart (1982)
Not Feeling Guilty Vol. 3
14. Little River Band – Home On Monday (1977)
Any Major Telephone Vol. 1
15. Kris Kristofferson – Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again) (1971)
Any Major Flute Vol. 3
16. Deb Talan – Cherry Trees (2001)
Any Major Love Vol. 1
17. Ben Folds – Gracie (2004)
Any Major Fathers Vol. 1
18. Bobby Darin – Sunday In New York (1964)
NYC – Any Major Mix Vol. 1
19. Mel Tormé – All Of You (1956)
Any Major Cole Porter
20. Edith Piaf – Notre-Dame de Paris (1952)
Any Major Paris in Black & White

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Any Major Chuck Berry Covers

March 23rd, 2017 26 comments

Rock ‘n’ roll was invented when Marty McFly’s 1980s guitar solo of Johnny B Goode compels Marvin Berry to phone his cousin Chuck for inspiration for the new sound the latter was seeking. The obituaries for Chuck Berry noted his huge contribution to the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. Along with Ike Turner — another nasty individual who, like Berry, is best remembered only for his music — Chuck Berry is often cited as Exhibit A in the claim that rock ‘n’ roll is the white man having stolen the music of the black man.

The argument has merit in some ways — the many hit cover versions by white artists of tracks first recorded by black artists or the exploitation of black musicians by record companies in the ’50s being cases in point. But it doesn’t hold true for the development of rock ‘n’ roll as a musical genre, which from the start was subject to a broad sweep of influences and served as a broad church of musical styles.

And that finds concrete expression in Chuck Berry’s debut hit Maybelline, the record some regard as the birth of rock ‘n’ roll as a thing. And in a way it was: Maybelline was the first rock ‘n’ roll record performed by a black musician to break into the Billboard Top 10. Berry himself said that he had based Maybellene on country legend Bob Wills’ vocal version of the traditional fiddle number Ida Red, recorded in 1938. The foundation of Maybelline was country, but the building was rhythm and blues. In varying formulas, that was the architecture of rock ‘n’ roll. Of course, Wills’ Western Swing sound was itself a fusion — the white music we now call country incorporating black musical forms — which led Wills to claim that he did rock ‘n’ roll two decades before anyone, but that’s another story.

The idea that rock ‘n’ roll started as a “big bang”, ascribable to individuals, or a select groups of individuals, or even a particular point in time, is absurd. The genre, which itself is so diffuse, was the result of a relatively slow evolution. Music that sounded like rock ‘n’ roll was already made more than a decade before Maybelline or Rocket 88. Just listen to Buddy Jones’ Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama from 1939 on A History of Country Vol. 3: Pre-war years – 1937-41.

My proposition is that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t so much a musical genre than a social movement. And for that a series of big, small and tiny bangs were needed. Chuck Berry being the first black R&B musician to cross over into the Billboard charts was one such seismic moment. Rock Around The Clock and The Blackboard Jungle, Tutti Frutti, Elvis on Ed Sullivan, perhaps even the death of James Dean were others.

Chuck Berry, influencing some white kid in England…or Hill Valley.

So Chuck Berry of course does occupy a central place in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. And other than Elvis, a good case can be made that Berry most influenced the post-war kids who would lead the British invasion in the 1960s — though he was by no means the only one, so the equation that without Berry there’d have been no Beatles or Stones is poor arithmetic.

Unlike Elvis, Berry wrote his own songs, and this is the subject of this mix: 26 covers of tracks written by Chuck Berry between 1954 and 1970 (the mix is a result of me taking the bait from regular reader and radio presenter Martin). What is striking is how few black artists covered Chuck Berry. On this mix I count three. Three other shortlisted covers by black artists — Wilson Picket, Robert Cray and Aaron Neville — didn’t make the cut. Similarly, very few women covered Berry (which the old misogynist might have been pleased about). Which raises the question: Is Chuck Berry music the soundtrack of white maleness? Answers on a postcard, please.

Of my joint-favourite Berry songs, one is covered as one would expect it and as it has to be by the Beach Boys. The other, however, sounds nothing like the original. Taj Mahal does interesting things to Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, though I still prefer the original. I never had much of an opinion either way of Too Much Monkey Business, but Leon Russell’s version here is exquisite — one of the few instances where the cover of a Chuck Berry song is much better than the original.

My choice for the cover of Memphis, Tennessee was obvious — even if I still like Johnny Rivers’ take the best — and there was only ever one choice for Rock And Roll Music. I expect that here and there somebody will regret that I left out some song or other (I’m adding on four bonus tracks that very narrowly didn’t make it on to the CD-R), but one song that I was not going to leave out was the b-side for Maybelline, covered here by Trini Lopez — on the title of which Chuck is declaring his future intent.

Alas, I found no suitable cover of a Chuck Berry song by his lyrical heir, Bruce Springsteen. But I can recommend that, if you are Springsteen fan, you join in the fun with the crowd in Leipzig, Germany, in 2013 on You Can Never Tell, the Berry song that seems to have been written for Springsteen and his E Street Band.

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

1. Electric Light Orchestra – Roll Over Beethoven (1972)
2. The Beatles – Rock And Roll Music (1964)
3. The Rolling Stones – Come On (1963)
4. Elvis Presley – Memphis, Tennessee (1963)
5. Trini Lopez – Wee Wee Hours (1965)
6. Marty Robbins – Maybelline (1955)
7. Ernest Tubb – Thirty Days (To Come Back Home) (1955)
8. Linda Ronstadt – Back In The USA (1978)
9. Emmylou Harris – (You Can Never Tell) C’est La Vie (1977)
10. George Thorogood & The Destroyers – You Can’t Catch Me (1988)
11. Dave Edmunds – Dear Dad (1982)
12. The Animals – Around And Around (1964)
13. The Troggs – The Jaguar And The Thunderbird (1966)
14. The Beach Boys – School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell) (1980)
15. Slade – I’m A Rocker (1981)
16. Status Quo – Carol (1981)
17. Rod Stewart – Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller (1974)
18. David Bowie – Almost Grown (1972)
19. Juicy Lucy – Nadine (1969)
20. Humble Pie – No Money Down (1974)
21. Taj Mahal – Brown-Eyed Handsome Man (1975)
22. Leon Russell – Too Much Monkey Business (1992)
23. Dr. Feelgood – I’m Talking About You (1976)
24. Luther Johnson – Little Queenie (1975)
25. Jimi Hendrix – Johnny B. Goode (1970)
26. Redwing – Bye Bye Johnny (1972)
Bonus Tracks: Conway Twitty – Reelin’ And A Rockin’ (1961)
Ray Manzarek – Downbound Train (1974)
Carlos Santana – Havana Moon (1983)
Levon Helm – Back To Memphis (2011)

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