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Any Major Steely Dan Covers

September 3rd, 2017 10 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Any Major Bob Dylan Covers Vol. 4

July 27th, 2017 7 comments

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

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

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

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

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Any Major 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 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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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 7 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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