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Any Major Chuck Berry Covers

March 23rd, 2017 23 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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Any Major Bob Dylan Covers Vol. 3

March 9th, 2017 9 comments

It has taken a while for Volume 3 of the Dylan covers to appear — longer than it took for Dylan to respond to the Nobel Literature committee. As it stands, there will be two more Dylan cover mixes after this.

The fun thing about compilations of Dylan covers is to play off the featured versions against the originals: which one is better than the other? In some cases it’s a difficult exercise because the respective versions have their own merits. How do you compare Dylan with Tina Turner?

But for me the surprise winner in this game is Mike Stanley, who turns one of my least favourite Dylan arrangements (and I know I’ll make many eternal enemies and absolutely no friends for thinking so), Subterranean Homesick Blues, into the great song it is. Stanley’s eponymous 1972 album featured the likes of Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, Joe Vitale and Patti Austin, but somehow he failed to make it really big in the mainstream. He is still recording, but is also a popular DJ in Ohio, and appeared as himself on The Drew Carey Show.

Of course, many Dylan songs are so quintessentially Dylan that they cannot be bettered, no matter how good the cover is. Like A Rolling Stone, covered here with imagination by Major Harris, is one such song. Check out the Song Swarm of it; there are many good attempts, but Dylan inhabits the song so much that everything else is just a copy. Frankie Valli doesn’t even try to give Queen Jane Approximately his own voice: he sings it like a Dylan parody.

Dylan recorded Queen Jane Approximately on the same day as Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, which features here in Gordon Lightfoot’s version (a face-off Dylan wins handily). Lightfoot scored a #3 hit with it Canada in 1965, shortly after the song appeared on Highway 61 Revisited. Bob Dylan is a great Lightfoot fan, having once said that when he heard a Lightfoot song, he wished “it would last forever”.

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

1. Randy Crawford – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (1989)
2. Major Harris – Like A Rolling Stone (1969)
3. Freddie King – Meet Me In The Morning (1975)
4. Blood, Sweat & Tears – Down In The Flood (1972)
5. Michael Stanley – Subterranean Homesick Blues (1972)
6. Indigo Girls – Tangled Up In Blue (1995)
7. Townes Van Zandt – Man Gave Names To All The Animals (1992)
8. Chris Whitley – Spanish Harlem Incident (2000)
9. Mary Lou Lord – You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (2002)
10. Cowboy Junkies – If You Gotta Go, Go Now (1992)
11. Moon Martin – Stuck Inside Of Mobile (With The Memphis Blues Again) (1993)
12. George Harrison – If Not For You (1970)
13. The Youngbloods – I Shall Be Released (1972)
14. Waylon Jennings – I Don’t Believe You (1970)
15. The Four Seasons – Queen Jane Approximately (1965)
16. Staple Singers – Masters Of War (1964)
17. Gordon Lightfoot – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (1965)
18. Tina Turner – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1974)
19. The O’Jays – Emotionally Yours (Gospel Version) (1981)
20. The Angels Of Light – I Pity The Poor Immigrant (2005)

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Any Major Bob Dylan Covers Vol. 2

December 1st, 2016 11 comments

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Only a few weeks after I posted the Any Major Dylan Covers Vol. 1 Mix, the Nobel committee announced the Bobster as this year’s literature laureate. Coincidence? I doubt it. The only logical conclusion we can draw is that the folks at Nobel HQ is Stockholm are keen readers of Any Major Dude With Half A Heart, and that my mix persuaded them to give Dylan the gong. Bob, it seems, does not really want the award, and he is unlikely to thank me for my part in his Nobel Prize award. If only I could please everybody…

Anyhow, the first mix attracted a fair number of comments. Some of them addressed one of the great debates in pop history: is Bob Dylan’s voice an instrument of art or is it a punishing aural assault? It’s the kind of question that provokes internecine warfare even between Dylan fans.

My view? I think Dylan’s voice is, in itself, quite unpleasant. In most other artists, that nasal whine might be considered objectively offensive — even Trump supporters, who enthusiastically embrace the objectively offensive, would find it offensive. His lower register on the country-flavoured albums — on songs like Lay Lady Lay and Just Like A Woman — is more tolerable, but you’d be hard-pressed call it beautiful.

But the tone of his voice, however you perceive it, is not really important. Indeed, one can acquire a taste for it, just as people acquire a taste for things as revolting as tequila, broccoli or mayonnaise. What is important is how Bob Dylan uses that voice. At his best, Dylan doesn’t so much sing his songs as he inhabits them — and that is the mark of a great singer. In so many of his songs, his vocals not only drive the narrative, but they are a character in it.

That works best when Dylan has a stake in the songs he sings. There are very few singers who can spit venom quite as Dylan. In Hurricane, that anger is on the verge of boiling over; but this is not just anger. With his delivery, with the encunciation of single syllables, he also communicates an utter contempt for the system which he is singing about. The effect is devastating; no other singer could do Hurricane to such great effect as Dylan does it. What does it matter that his voice isn’t lovely? Likewise, the menacing derision for the subjects of his contempt which he conveys in his vocals on mean-spirited songs like Positively 4th Street, Ballad of A Thin Man or Like A Rolling Stone hits you in the gut. Not many singers can do that.

dylan1-photocopy

Dylan might have an ugly voice, but he has an extraordinary way of delivery — especially, as I’ve said, when he is invested in the words he is singing (which might explain why few of his covers of other people’s music are particularly outstanding). To be sure, there are also many Dylan songs which are immeasurably improved by cover versions.

One such song is All I Really Want To Do, from Dylan’s 1964 LP Another Side of Bob Dylan. I really like Dylan’s version, especially the idea of a songwriter laughing at his own lyrics. But in The Byrds’ version, a comprehensive reinvention, the song becomes a thing of special beauty. As does the lovely Every Grain Of Sand, which is okay when sung by Dylan, but sublime in Emmylou Harris’ treatment.

And this is the genius of Bob Dylan’s music: as it is with Beatles songs, they can be interpreted and reinvented them to good effect in so many ways. This second collection of Dylan covers testifies to this.

Incidentally, in the first post of Dylan covers I promised three mixes. Clearly, that is not enough. I’m up to five mixes now.

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

1. The Band – When I Paint My Masterpiece (1971)
2. The Byrds – All I Really Want To Do (1965)
3. Simon & Garfunkel – The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)
4. Nina Simone – Ballad of Hollis Brown (1965)
5. Sam Cooke – Blowin’ In The Wind (1964)
6. Solomon Burke – Maggie’s Farm (1965)
7. Billy Preston – She Belongs To Me (1969)
8. The Flying Burrito Brothers – To Ramona (1971)
9. The Hollies – I Want You (1969)
10. The Piccadilly Line – Visions Of Johanna (1967)
11. Arlo Guthrie – When The Ship Comes In (1972)
12. New Riders Of The Purple Sage – You Angel You (1974)
13. Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson – Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright (2015)
14. John Mellencamp – Farewell, Angelina (1999)
15. Steve Earle & Lucia Micarelli – One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below) (2012)
16. Everly Brothers – Abandoned Love (1985)
17. Thea Gilmore – I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine (2003)
18. Jennifer Warnes – Sign On The Window (1979)
19. Leon Russell – It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (1971)
20. Joan Baez – One Too Many Mornings (1968)
21. Caravelli Orchestra – Wigwam (1977)

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Any Major Cohen Covers

November 17th, 2016 20 comments

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At this year’s Emmy awards in September, some breathy, note-swallowing songstress sang Leonard Cohen’s magnificent though now overcooked Hallelujah over the section listing the year’s departed TV people. I don’t know why she sang that particular song, but it didn’t cross my mind that within a couple of months, Cohen himself would find inclusion on In Memoriam lists.

Cohen himself knew, though. And he checked out the day before Americans rejected notions of respect and decency. His death on November 7 was made public only four days later.

In April this year, Marianne Ihlen (née Jensen), Cohen’s muse who was immortalised in his song So Long Marianne, died. As Marianne lay dying of leukemia, Cohen wrote her a letter. In it he said: “Well, Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom … but now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

Now dab dry those most eyes, and take delight in this mix of covers of Leonard Cohen’s songs. It is a strange thing, but Cohen is not really widely covered, a few select songs aside. Often the same artists would return to the Cohen songbook. And yet, I think his songs are very coverable indeed, as this mix shows.

The most covered song in the Cohen canon is 1984’s Hallelujah. Jeff Buckley’s version is the standard, of course, but I also like the two Shrek versions, John Cale’s in the film, and Rufus Wainwright’s on the soundtrack. Some versions are awful (apparently even Michael F. Bolton has molested the song). Here I’ve gone for Brandi Carlile’s lovely version — she is one of the finest contemporary singers — which was recorded live with The Seattle Symphony (the live album, Live at Benaroya Hall, is superb). Newsweek ranked it at #7 in its entertaining list of Top 60 versions of Hallelujah.

A few singers here are people with whom Cohen had close relationships. He was a mentor to Anjani Thomas and to some extent to Jennifer Warnes (they also wrote some songs together).  Judy Collins was his mentor. When Cohen was still a struggling poet-songwriter with no plans to become a singer, his fellow Canadian folkie recorded a couple of his compositions — and had a hit with Suzanne. I wrote about it in The Originals.

Cohen had some success with his latter albums, stepping in the gerontophile path smoothed by Johnny Cash. There is something about the wisdom of songs being delivered by a worn voice. Three Cohen songs are covered here by such worn voices; those of Johnny Cash, Marianne Faithful and Tom Jones. The latter nails his song especially.

I was going to run the second volume of the Bob Dylan covers this week, to follow up on the first mix. That will now have to wait.

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

1. Nick Cave – I’m Your Man (2006)
2. Pixies – I Can’t Forget (1991)
3. Joe Cocker – First We Take Manhattan (1999)
4. Lloyd Cole – Chelsea Hotel (1991)
5. Johnny Cash – Bird On A Wire (1994)
6. Roberta Flack – Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (1969)
7. Françoise Hardy – Suzanne (1970)
8. Bell + Arc – So Long, Marianne (1971)
9. Judy Collins – Famous Blue Raincoat (1971)
10. Pearls Before Swine – Seems So Long Ago, Nancy (1971)
11. Esther Ofarim – You Know Who I Am (1969)
12. Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris – Sisters Of Mercy (1999)
13. Brandi Carlile – Hallelujah (2011)
14. Harvey Milk – One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong (1996)
15. Anjani Thomas – Blue Alert (2006)
16. Tom Jones – Tower Of Song (2012)
17. Marianne Faithfull – Going Home (2014)
18. Jennifer Warnes – A Singer Must Die (1986)
Bonus track: Madeleine Peyroux – Dance Me To The End Of Love (2004)

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The Rod Temperton Collection

October 5th, 2016 6 comments

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The man who gave us such classics as Thriller, Rock With You, Off The Wall and Stomp has died, and I won’t wait till the next In Memoriam to pay tribute.

Rod Temperton died of cancer some time last week, about a week short of his 69th birthday, which would have been on Sunday. His death was announced only today (October 5).

English-born Temperton got his start as keyboardist and main songwriter of the British funk and soul group Heatwave. As the writer of hits like the dancefloor burners Groove Line and Boogie Nights, and soul burners like Always And Forever and Mindblowing Decisions, Temperton came to the attention of Quincy Jones.

Quincy quickly collaborated with Temperton on songs for Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall LP, for which the Brit wrote the title track, Rock With You and Burn This Disco Out. And not only did Temperton come up with music and lyrics, but also did the arrangements. On many of the songs he wrote, Temperton would arrange and often also produce.

He co-wrote the Brothers Johnson classic Stomp!, as well as a few other songs for the duo. Bassist Louis Johnson and Temperton often worked together on other projects; it is no coincidence that the Louis Johnson Collection which I put together on Johnson’s death in May 2015 and the present Rod Temperton Collection share many artists and even a few songs.

Temperton wrote the three best tracks on George Benson’s Give Me The Night album (the title track, Love X Love, and Off Broadway), and in 1982 contributed another title track to a classic LP: Michael Jackson’s Thriller, for which he also wrote Baby Be Mine and the frequently forgotten but surprisingly often covered (and sampled) The Lady In My Life.

Later he wrote songs like Yah Mo Be There and Sweet Freedom for Michael McDonald, and Baby Come To Me for Patti Austin. The former McDonald song and the Austin track are duets with James Ingram, who also turns up on Quincy Jones’ The Secret Garden (which surely must have been intended originally for Michael Jackson).

And so to this tribute to Rod Temperton of songs he wrote, or in some instances co-wrote. As always, it is timed to fit on a standard CD-R (without the bonus tracks), and includes hastily home-arranged covers. PW in comments.

1. Michael Jackson – Rock With You (1979)
2. Heatwave – Boogie Nights (1976)
3. Brothers Johnson – Light Up the Night (1979)
4. Herbie Hancock – Gettin’ To The Good Part (1982)
5. George Benson – Love X Love (1980)
6. Patti Austin & James Ingram – Baby Come To Me (1981)
7. Luther Vandross – Always And Forever (1994)
8. Anita Baker – Mystery (1986)
9. Lou Rawls – The Lady In My Life (1984)
10. Karen Carpenter – If We Try (1979/80)
11. Bob James – Sign Of The Times (1981)
12. Michael McDonald – Sweet Freedom (1986)
13. Mica Paris – You Put A Move On My Heart (1992)
14. Quincy Jones feat. Barry White, Al B. Sure, James Ingram, El Debarge – The Secret Garden (1989)
15. Randy Crawford – Give Me The Night (Chill Night Mix) (1995)
16. Geno Jordan – Thriller (1983)
17. Marcia Hines – Stomp (2006)
Bonus Tracks:
Michael Jackson – Off The Wall (1979)
Heatwave – Mind Blowing Decisions (1978)
Quincy Jones – Razzamatazz (1980)
Klymaxx – Man Size Love (1986)
Diane Schuur – Nobody Does Me (1991)

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Any Major Bob Dylan Covers Vol. 1

September 15th, 2016 20 comments

Any Major Dylan Covers Vol. 1

A few years ago a reader suggested that a mix of cover versions of sings by Bob Dylan might alleviate the discomfort many feel at hearing the great songwriter’s voice. As a fan of cover versions I was keen on the idea. So I created a Dylan covers folder and began collecting. Something like eight years later I’m ready to present a series of Any Major Dylan Covers.

This will be a series of three CD-R length collections — 62 songs plus three bonus tracks. As always, I set myself strict rules: no artist may feature twice, and no song may be repeated — except one, which will end the series.

Since these are supposed to be covers of Dylan songs, he must have released the songs first. That means that those tracks he wrote for others, or which others recorded before he released them, don’t qualify — except two, which I’ll address in a moment. A song like Blowin’ In The Wind might have been recorded first by others (Dylan historians have no consensus on that), but it is so essentially a Dylan song that it can’t be excluded.

Dylan never released Wanted Man before it was first recorded by Johnny Cash on the St Quentin live album. So it isn’t really a cover. But it broke my heart to consider not including a Dylan/Cash hybrid, so — in best Cash fashion — rules be damned. In the spoken intro Cash says he wrote the song with Dylan at the Cash home, but Dylan has the sole writing credit. Anyway, the great list-song writer has his lyrics performed by the great list-song singer.

The first volume kicks off with the best of all Dylan covers: Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower. Hendrix had received a pre-release acetate of Dylan’s recording, and his version was recorded only two months after Dylan’s. From there on it was Jimi’s song. Bob was cool about it. In the liner notes to his Biograph collection, he wrote: “Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way. I liked Hendrix’s record, and ever since he died, I’ve been doing it that way.”

But Dylan has also said that the version of any of his songs he treasures most is Elvis Presley’s 1966 interpretation of Tomorrow Is A Long Time, a song Dylan recorded in 1962 but didn’t release until 1971 as a live track from eight years earlier. So Elvis’ version isn’t really a Dylan cover, but rather of the folk singer Odetta’s recording.

But how great is Kris Kristofferson singing Quinn The Eskimo?

Which brings me to two acts who are notably excluded in this series: Odetta and Peter, Paul & Mary had a great reputation for singing Dylan songs (Odetta, in turn, was something of a mentor to the budding songwriter from Minnesota). Their exclusion was not deliberate: where I had candidate songs by them, there were others which were a better fit.

Mr Tambourine Man is covered here by Johnny Rivers — so I’ll leave you to wonder which Dylan cover by The Byrds will feature in this series? And what will we have Joan Baez singing? And whose version of Blowin’ In The Wind will feature?

The mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-busked covers. PW in comments (you are welcome to leave a message there).

1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – All Along The Watchtower (1968)
2. Merry Clayton – Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (1975)
3. Elvis Presley – Tomorrow Is A Long Time (1966)
4. Johnny Cash – Wanted Man (1969)
5. Hoyt Axton – Lay Lady Lay (1975)
6. Marshall Crenshaw – My Back Pages (1999)
7. Jeff Tweedy – Simple Twist Of Fate (2007)
8. Bruce Springsteen – Chimes Of Freedom (1988)
9. Kris Kristofferson – Quinn The Eskimo (2012)
10. Emmylou Harris – Every Grain Of Sand (1995)
11. The Pretenders – Forever Young (1994)
12. Richie Havens – Just Like A Woman (1968)
13. Them – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (1966)
14. The Grass Roots – Mr. Jones (Ballad Of A Thin Man) (1966)
15. Johnny Rivers – Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)
16. The Turtles – It Ain’t Me Babe (1965)
17. Stereophonics – Positively 4th Street (1999)
18. Eels – Girl From The North Country (2006)
19. Lloyd Cole – You’re A Big Girl Now (2001)
20. Josh Kelley – To Make You Feel My Love (2004)
21. Norah Jones – I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (2002)
Bonus track: Ani DiFranco – Hurricane (2000)

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Any Major Cole Porter

October 31st, 2013 9 comments

Any Major Cole Porter

Today something quite different: A collection of songs by Cole Porter; not covered with post-modern irony — as if many of Porter’s lyrics weren’t full enough of that already — but delivered straight by vocalists treating the songs as Porter envisaged them, with humour or emotion, or both.

The music is, of course, glorious, but it’s the lyrics that give the performers so much room for interpretation. I need not sell Porter’s wit, but it often is overlooked that among the endless bon mots and sharp turns of phrase, Porter was also a romantic poet.

“Why the gods above me, who must be in the know, think so little of me, they allow you to go….”

Of course, Porter denied being a poet of romance by way of his opening verse to “De-Lovely”:

At words poetic, I’m so pathetic
That I always have found it best,
Instead of getting ’em off my chest,
To let ’em rest unexpressed,
I hate parading my serenading
As I’ll probably miss a bar,
But if this ditty is not so pretty
At least it’ll tell you
How great you are.

Pure self-deprecation by a man who knew his worth, of course. Even when Porter’s lyrics were obsessive and creepy, they sounded rather sweet, as they did in “All Of You”:

I’d love to gain complete control of you
And handle even the heart and soul of you
So love, at least, a small percent of me, do
For I love all of you

So, here are 26 Cole Porter tracks, recorded between 1933 and 1965. Includes covers. PW in comments.

1. Cole Porter – You’re The Top (1935)
2. Anita O’Day – It’s De-Lovely (1959)
3. Benny Goodman Orchestra with Peggy Lee – Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love) (1941)
4. Billie Holliday – You’d Be So Easy To Love (1952)
5. Tony Bennett and Count Basie & his Orchestra – Anything Goes (1959)
6. Mel Tormé – All Of You (1956)
7. Sarah Vaughan – Ev’rytime We Say Goodbye (1961)
8. Lena Horne – What Is This Thing Called Love (1952)
9. Jo Stafford – Begin The Beguine (1950)
10. Ethel Ennis – Love For Sale (1955)
11. Eddie Fisher – So In Love (1955)
12. Julie London – I Love You (1965)
13. Frank Sinatra – You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To (1956)
14. Chris Connor and the Stan Kenton Orchestra – I Get A Kick Out Of You (1953)
15. Louis Prima and Keely Smith – I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1959)
16. Louis Armstrong and his All Stars with Velma Middleton – Don’t Fence Me In (1956)
17. Sammy Davis Jr – In The Still Of The Night (1961)
18. Ella Fitzgerald – Too Darn Hot (1956)
19. Dinah Washington – I Concentrate On You (1961)
20. Mabel Mercer – Ace In The Hole (1955)
21. Fred Astaire – Night And Day (1934)
22. Marlene Dietrich – You Do Something To Me (1957)
23. Bing Crosby – Just One Of Those Things (1945)
24. Ray Noble and his Orchestra with Al Bowlly – Experiment (1933)
25. Artie Shaw and his Orchestra with Helen Forrest – Do I Love You? (1939)
26. Carol Burnett – Blow, Gabriel, Blow (1960)

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Any Major Jimmy Webb Collection Vol. 2

July 18th, 2013 9 comments

The second mix of Jimmy Webb songs — you’ll find the first HERE — features several of the great songwriter’s lesser-known tunes. Some, of course, are well known, tracks such as Didn’t We (covered by Sinatra, featured here in Andy Williams’ version), Linda Ronstadt’s Easy For You To Say or If These Walls Could Speak. Many of the others are rarely heard today, but surely deserve an airing.

Any Major Jimmy Webb Collection 2

Some of the artists here have also been mostly forgotten, which is a pity. Peggy Lipton, also known as Peggy Jones, might be better remembered as Quincy Jones’ beautiful wife or as a TV actress (The Mod Squad, Twin Peaks) or as the mother of actress Rashida Jones (The Office, Parks & Recreation) than as a singer. But as a recording artist she bothered the Billboard charts on three occasions, though not with Webb’s gorgeous Red Clay Country Line.

Also known from TV, Connie Stevens previously featured on the Bacharach: The Lesser Known Songbook mix. She is best known for her part in the detective series Hawaiian Eye (1959-62) — and for once dating Elvis. Around the time of the TV series she also had a couple of US Top 5 singles, though neither are regarded as classics, even within the genre of novelty music. Like Peggy Lipton, Stevens has two acting daughters: Joely Fisher (from Ellen) and Tricia Leigh Fisher.

We’ve had a couple of occasions when the sisters Franklin — Aretha, Erma and Carolyn — featured in some combination or other on CD-R mixes. Here we have the sisters Kunkel doing songs by Jimmy Webb: Leah Kunkel in 1980, and her sister, whom we know better as Cass Elliot, in 1972. Born Leah Cohen (Kunkel was from her marriage to drummer Russ Kunkel), the younger sister had little commercial success, despite being championed by Art Garfunkel.  She recorded only two albums; Never Gonna Lose My Dream Of Love Again is from the second LP, I Run With Trouble.

Despite their name, the Strawberry Children didn’t seem to have been siblings. In fact, there is little information available about them. Love Years Coming was recorded on the Soul City label, owned by Johnny Rivers, an early Webb patron who first recorded By The Time I Get To Phoenix and features here with a recording of a Webb song from 1974. Love Years Coming was a very minor hit, and the fruity kids disappeared after releasing this one single late in the summer of 1967.

That summer possibly influenced the moniker chosen by The Love Generation, an outfit that recorded from 1967-69. After breaking up, the core of the group morphed into The Going Thing, which recorded music for Ford commercials. They also provided backing vocals for artists like former Paul Revere & The Raiders singer Mark Lindsay, who also features on this mix. The band’s leaders, brothers John and Tom Bähler, were also part of the loose conglomerate of session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew.  Tom served as associate producer and arranger of many projects led by Peggy Lipton’s ex-husband Quincy Jones, including work on Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall (for which he also wrote She’s Out Of My Life) and Thriller albums, and the mega-charity hit We Are The World.

As for Webb’s brilliant song P.F. Sloan, the meaning has been a bit confused. In this interview (scroll halfway down) Webb tries to explain it. Oh, and only one act features on both mixes…

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R. Home-compose covers are included.

1. Jimmy Webb – P. F. Sloan (1970)
2. The 5th Dimension – Never Gonna Be The Same (1967)
3. Dusty Springfield – Mixed Up Girl (1972)
4. Strawberry Children – Love Years Coming (1967)
5. The Love Generation – Montage (1968)
6. Peggy Lipton – Red Clay Country Line (1969)
7. Cass Elliot – Saturday Suit (1972)
8. Mark Lindsay – First Hymn From Grand Terrace (1970)
9. The Vogues – Turn Around, Look At Me (1968)
10. Connie Stevens – 5:30 Plane (1970)
11. Jackie Trent – Everybody Gets To Go To The Moon (1971)
12. Everly Brothers – She Never Smiles Anymore (1967)
13. Johnny Rivers – See You Then (1974)
14. Nancy Wilson – This Time Last Summer (1975)
15. Leah Kunkel – Never Gonna Lose My Dream Of Love Again (1980)
16. Glen Campbell – If These Walls Could Speak (1988)
17. The Highwaymen – Highwayman (1985)
18. Linda Ronstadt – Easy For You To Say (1982)
19. Arlo Guthrie – Oklahoma Nights (1981)
20. Richard Harris – A Tramp Shining (1972)
21. Ray Charles – I Keep It Hid (1970)
22. Andy Williams – Didn’t We (1969)
23. Günter Kallmann Chorus – Where’s The Playground, Susie (1969)
24. Barbra Streisand – Little Tin Soldier (1969)

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Any Major Jimmy Webb Collection Vol. 1

May 30th, 2013 22 comments

Mention in conversation with pop music aficionados the name Jimmy Webb, and you will likely be met with approval for bringing up a respected yet generally underrated songwriter.

Any Major Jimmy Webb Collection 1

Of course, his quintet of stone-cold, indisputable classics — “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston”, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, “MacArthur Park” and “Up Up And Away” — are well known, but many other Webb compositions are not as ubiquitous as they may deserve to be. Listen to this lot of songs and decide for yourself whether Webb’s music, beyond the quintet of classics, merits greater currency than it presently enjoys (the fact of this compilations would suggest that in my view it does).

Choosing the right version, and deciding which songs to leave off this mix, was desperately difficult. One omission is a little comical: I decided to do a Webb cover mix when I heard Rumer’s lovely version of the glorious “P.F. Sloan” — and I realised only after I had completed the cover art that I had neglected to include the song. Well, if this mix goes down well, there will be a Volume 2.

One of the songs which I really had trouble to decide which version to opt for was “Do What You Gotta Do”. Nina Simone’s version is glorious, as is Roberta Flack’s. The latter was already on the list (with See You Then); in the event the Four Tops won out by virtue of their version having been the first I had known of the song, and having loved it ever since the 1980s.

Among the great songs missing from this mix are “Didn’t We”, “If These Walls Could Speak”, “I Keep It Hid” and “A Tramp Shining”. Still, I managed to include the song with one of the weirdest song titles in the canon of pop: “Himmler’s Ring”, recorded by Little Feat’s late lead singer Lowell George in 1979.

Jimmy Webb, still only 66, is touring this year (see HERE). In 2011 released an album, Cottonwood Farm, which he recorded with his five sons (including Christiaan, of our track 2 here) and the son of Glen Campbell, the singer who inspired the teenager Webb to become a songwriter and who made hits of “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”.

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

1. O.C. Smith – Wichita Lineman (1969)
2. Glen Campbell – Christiaan No (1976)
3. Scott Walker – All My Love’s Laughter (1973)
4. Four Tops – Do What You Gotta Do (1969)
5. Dee Dee Warwick – If This Was The Last Song (1970)
6. Thelma Houston – Pocketful Of Keys (1969)
7. Brooklyn Bridge – Worst That Could Happen (1969)
8. A.J. Marshall – By The Time I Get To Phoenix (1969)
9. Julie Rogers – Which Way To Nowhere (1969)
10. Art Garfunkel – All I Know (1973)
11. Joe Cocker – It’s A Sin (When You Love Somebody) (1974)
12. Roberta Flack – See You Then (1971)
13. Jimmy Webb – Galveston (1993)
14. Judy Collins – The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (1990)
15. Ian Matthews – Met Her On A Plane (1974)
16. Harry Nilsson – Life Line (1971, writtenm by Nilsson, covered by Webb)
17. Chuck Jackson – Honey Come Back (1969)
18. The Supremes – Cheap Lovin’ (1972)
19. Nancy Sinatra – Up, Up And Away (1967)
20. B.J. Thomas – If You Must Leave My Life (1969)
21. The 5th Dimension – Rosecrans Boulevard (1967)
22. Waylon Jennings and The Kimberlys – MacArthur Park (1969)
23. Lowell George – Himmler’s Ring (1979)

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The Burt Bacharach Mix

September 2nd, 2012 12 comments

To mark Saturday’s passing at the age of 91 of Hal David, lyricist of all those great songs composed by Burt Bacharach in the 1960s, I am reposting this mix, originally from 11 May 2008. Last year I posted a Covered With Soul mix of Bacharach/David songs to mark Hal’s 90th birthday; that link has been updated.

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Happy birthday, Burt Bacharach. The great man turns 80 on May 12. To celebrate, here is a mix CD-R of songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (right).

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

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

The breakthrough arguably was meeting Dionne Warwick in 1961, who would become something of a muse for the songwriters. Warwick was to act as a demo artist on new songs which would then be given to others. Warwick’s interpretations, however, were usually quite perfect. And so many songs were written with Dionne in mind. Some of these Warwick be the first to record, others would be given to other artists first, to be covered later by Warwick (who had 22 US Top 40 hits with Bacharach/David songs). The triumvirate fell apart in the early ‘70s amid a flurry of lawsuits.

Soon the Bacharach style became unfashionable, incongruously labelled as an easy listening merchant. That he wasn’t: many Bacharach songs are best heard as soul songs. Still, when Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s singer Holly Johnson wanted to record a version of (Do You Know The Way To) San José, his laddish colleagues vociferously opposed the idea. In the event, they did record it, and their version is quite lovely. Arguably this was a significant step towards the rehabilitation of Bacharach which was complete by the late 90s, with even the likes of Oasis’ chief plagiarist Gallagher (Liam? Noel? I can never tell them apart. The one with the mono-brow) paying tribute to Bacharach.

Bacharach had made something of a comeback with a few hits in the 1980s, co-written with wife Carole Bayer Sager, such as Arthur’s Theme, On My Own and Dionne Warwick’s comeback saccharine hit That’s What Friends Are For (as so often with Bacharach and Warwick, it had been previously recorded, by Rod Stewart for the soundtrack of 1982’s Nightshift). Bacharach went back to his roots, in a way, when he composed, with occasional collaborator Elvis Costello, the song God Give Me Strength for the 1996 film Grace Of My Heart, which was loosely based on Brill alumni Carle King. Bacharach’s 1998 album with Elvis Costello, Painted From Memory, was a patchy effort, as was his 2005 solo album, At This Time.

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

On this mix-tape (timed to fit on a CD-R) I have tried to mix well-known versions with some that are less famous. Soul singer Lou Johnson recorded several Bacharach songs before they became hits, though Kentucky Bluebird (later a Warwick hit as Message To Michael) was recorded by fellow soulster Jerry Butler a year earlier. Lyn Collins in her 1974 recording proves further that many Bacharach songs are really soul songs, as do Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes (of course, Warwick’s version of Don’t Make Me Over left no doubt about its place in soul history). Although absent from this set, Luther Vandross also was an outstanding interpreter of Bacharch.

While most of Hal David’s lyrics capture universal emotions with great perception and imagination, a few were shockingly sexist, at least by our standards today. I have deliberately appended the two worst offenders (one always sung by women) at the end.

1. Burt Bacharach – Alfie (1966)
2. The Shirelles – Baby, It’s You (1962)
3. Dionne Warwick – Walk On By (1964)
4. Dusty Springfield – I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (1964)
5. Cilla Black – Anyone Who Had A Heart (1964)
6. Jackie DeShannon – What The World Needs Now Is Love (1968)
7. Aretha Franklin – I Say A Little Prayer (1968)
8. Lyn Collins – Don’t Make Me Over (1974)
9. Herb Alpert – This Guy’s In Love With You (1968)
10. Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach – I’ll Never Fall In Love Again (2000)
11. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – San José (The Way) (1984)
12. Sandie Shaw – Always Something There To Remind Me (1964)
13. Nancy Wilson – Reach Out For Me (1965)
14. Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You (1970)
15. B.J. Thomas – Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (1969)
16. Walker Brothers – Make It Easy On Yourself (1966)
17. Gene Pitney – Only Love Can Break A Heart (1963)
18. Lou Johnson – Kentucky Bluebird (Message To Martha) (1964)
19. Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas – Trains And Boats And Planes (1965)
20. The 5th Dimension – One Less Bell To Answer (1970)
21. The Stylistics – You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart) (1971)
22. Isaac Hayes – The Look Of Love (live) (1973)
23. Brook Benton – A House Is Not A Home (1963)
24. Jack Jones – Wives And Lovers (1963)
25. Ani DiFranco – Wishin’ And Hopin’ (1997)

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