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Copy Borrow Steal Vol. 4

May 18th, 2010 7 comments

In the fourth instalment of this series we’ll look at Chuck Berry’s hit that deliberately borrowed from a country tune, a song that made a four-stage transition from crooner standard to soul classic, and Bob Marley’s possibly unintended homage to a kids’ TV show. I should stress that I’m not suggesting plagiarism or other unethical actions by anybody (let’s save that for the inevitable mammoth Led Zep post).

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Dykes Magic City Trio – Ida Red (1927).mp3
Bob Wills
& his Texas Playboys – Ida Red (1938).mp3
Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys – Ida Red Likes The Boogie (1949).mp3
Chuck Berry – Maybellene (1955).mp3

Chuck Berry himself said that he based Maybellene, his debut record, on country musician Bob Wills’ vocal version of the traditional fiddle number Ida Red, recorded in 1938. Released on Chess in July 1955, Maybellene was a breakthrough song for the nascent rock & roll genre. Berry’s debut single was the first rock & roll record performed by a black musician to break the Billboard top 10 (those were pioneer days; bear in mind that Elvis was still a regional star and yet to sign with RCA).

Playing the piano at that session was Johnny Johnson, who had given Berry something of a break in 1952 when he let him join his Sir John Trio, and to whose prodigious drinking Berry’s later hit Johnny B. Goode was dedicated. One of the trio’s staple songs was a take on Ida Red, based on Wills’ 1938 recording. Berry, already brimming with charisma and showmanship, had taken that song to Chess in Chicago, and signed for the label as a solo artist. Pragmatically, Johnson and the third member of the trio, drummer Ebby Hardy, became members of Berry’s backing band. Now Leo Chess suggested that Ida Red be remodelled as a 12-bar blues, with different lyrics. Johnson reworked the arrangements, and Berry came up with the lyrics about the car and a girl, those rock & roll staples.

Bob Wills claimed that he played rock & roll decades before the genre was invented. He can’t have meant the sound itself, but the fusion of musical influences from across the racial divide, and the innovative use of instrumentation in the western swing sub-genre of country which Wills helped pioneer. On Ida Red, which preceded Wills breakthrough hit New San Antonio Rose by two years, Wills used drums, which were very unusual in country music (a term which wasn’t even known yet). The song, one of several riffing on the Ida Red character, had first been recorded  in 1924 by Fiddlin’ Powers & Family, and to greater public attention by the Dykes Magic City Trio in 1927. Wills put the tune to a 2/4 beat and gave the it new lyrics, which borrowed from a 1878 song called Sunday Night, written by Frederick W Root. In 1949, Wills revisited Ida Red with a sequel titled Ida Red Likes The Boogie.  Berry and Johnson may well have known that version, and one can imagine how it might have served to inspire Maybellene (just listen to the guitar), but it is the 1938 recording only which they have credited as the template for the song.

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Ruth Etting – Try A Little Tenderness (1933).mp3
Bing Crosby – Try A Little Tenderness (1933).mp3
Little Miss Cornshucks – Try A Little Tenderness (1952).mp3
Aretha Franklin – Try A Little Tenderness (1962).mp3
Sam Cooke – Medley-Try A Little Tenderness/(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons/ You Send Me (1964).mp3
Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness (1966).mp3

Before it became a soul standard, Try A Little Tenderness was a standard, first recorded by Ray Noble and his Orchestra in 1932, and a year later by Ruth Etting, then by Bing Crosby, and subsequently by vocalists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Jimmy Durante.  Otis Redding is being credited with reinventing the song as a soul tune, but his take was only the fourth (and final) stage of the tune’s evolution as a soul classic.

Before Otis, Sam Cooke recorded a fragment of the song as part of a rather lovely medley on his 1964 Sam Cooke At The Copa album. It was in fact that fragment which gave Stax executives the idea that Redding should cover it in 1966. Otis did so with great reluctance, not because he hated the song, but because he felt he could not measure up to his by now deceased hero Cooke. Produced by Isaac Hayes and backed by Booker T & the MGs, Redding did all he could to mess up the song so that it could not be released. He failed, and the song is now irrevocably his.

Redding apparently knew only Coke’s version (hence the abridged lyrics). Cooke in turn had decided to include Tenderness in his medley having heard the song on Aretha Franklin’s 1962 album The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin. As fine as an interpreter of songs as Franklin would become (and already was at the age of 20), her version — soul-inflected vocals backed with an easy listening string arrangement — seems to have drawn from that by the forgotten Little Miss Cornshucks, whose 1951 recording was the first to Try A Little Tenderness the R&B treatment.

Born Mildred Cummings in Dayton, Ohio, in 1923, Little Miss Cornshucks came to the notice of future Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun while performing in a Washington club during her 1943 US tour, where her stage appearance was based on the rural shtick her name suggests, wearing the shabby dress she would later sing about. She was the first artist he recorded, and thereby the impetus for what would eventually become Atlantic Records (on which Aretha Franklin would record, though in 1962 she was on Columbia). Little Miss Cornshucks broke through as a recording artist in the latter years of the 1940s, particularly with her signature song So Long. Soon her star faded. In 1952 she recorded on three different labels, including Columbia. Her version of Try A Little Tenderness, however, was released in late May on Coral, a subsidiary of Decca, for whom she had recorded So Long.  Little Miss Cornshucks soon drifted away, just as her imitator Miss Sharecropper started to find success on Atlantic as LaVerne Baker. She died in 1999. (Read the full story of Little Miss Cornshucks at the excellent No Depression archives)

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Banana Splits – The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana) (1968).mp3
Bob Marley – Buffalo Soldier (1980).mp3
This series was inspired by Timothy English’s books Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy), a collection of “stolen melodies, ripped-off riffs”. The book includes a number of surprising instances of soundalikes. One of the least expected is the connection between the theme song of a late 1960s US television kids’ show and a Bob Marley hit.

Buffalo Soldiers, a song about a regiment of black soldiers who fought in wars against Native Americans on the side of their oppressor, was recorded during the 1980 sessions for  Marley’s Uprising album (it was a posthumous hit in 1983 after inclusion on the Legend album). English writes that “in the middle, and again at the end of Buffalo Soldier, Marley breaks into a wordless note-for-note rendition of – of all things – the Banana Splits Theme.” He is referring to the woy-yoy-yoy ad lib, which does indeed sound exactly like the beginning and chorus of the theme song, written by Mark Barkan, who also wrote Manfred Mann’s Pretty Flamingo, and Richie Adams, both of whom also contributed to The Monkees and The Archies (other writers for the Banana Splits show included Gene Pitney, Al Kooper and Barry White).

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was a late ’60s kids’ TV show modelled loosely on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and The Monkees, with stuffed animals taking the parts of the musicians (yeah, I know). English alleges no plagiarism on Marley’s part, but speculates that a little known passage in the life of Robert Nesta Marley  might have implanted the relatively obscure TV theme — it just scraped into the Billboard top 100, peaking at #96 in February 1969 — in the great man’s head. Periodically, the pre-fame Marley would live with his mother Cedella in Wilmington, Delaware, working at the Chrysler assembly line. One such spell, with his kids in tow, was half a year from April to October 1969, just as the Banana Splits show was running on Saturday morning TV and its theme possibly received some residual radio airplay…

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More Copy Borrow Steal

Step back to 1971

August 14th, 2009 6 comments

When in the introduction for the 1970 instalment I said that I had become interested in music that year, by 1971 I was showing the first signs of the devotion to popular music which today finds expression on this blog. I attribute that to three events. Firstly, I began to catch a greater number of music programmes on TV, especially the ZDF Hitparade (about which more later) and Disco, presented by the rather absurd Illja Richter and featuring German and international acts. Secondly, for my fifth birthday in April I was presented with a portable record player (the type where the lid doubles as a speaker). Thirdly, I bought my first record. As always, inclusion of a song here does not imply my endorsement (especially not with all that Schlager dross in this lot; trust me, things will get better after 1977). Read more…

Any Major Love Mix 2009

February 10th, 2009 11 comments

Amid all the heartbreak and unrequited love (with lovelessness and death still to come) we are looking at this month, we need a respite from the gloomy tears and instead frolic in the calm waters of true love reciprocated — which in itself, as some of the lyrics here suggest, is a source of anxiety and uncertainty. And, well, perhaps some lucky person might need a decent mix for Valentine’s Day which does not include the unlovely horrors perpetrated by Chris DeBurgh, Jennifer Rush, Peabo Bryson, Céline Dion, Engelbert Humperdinck, Stevie Wonder and, of course, Michael Bublé – and who prefer to do without “edgy” comps featuring the love musings of Coldplay, U2, Avril Lavigne and James Blunt. As always, the mix is timed to fit on a CD-R. It might be a good alternative to an overpriced VD card (and if anybody tries that, please let me know if it was a good idea).

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1. Donny Hathaway – A Song For You (1971)
You taught me precious secrets of the truth withholding nothing, you came out in front and I was hiding. But now I’m so much better and if my words don’t come together, listen to the melody, ’cause my love is in there hiding.

2. Carpenters – I Won’t Last A Day Without You (1972)
When there’s no gettin’ over that rainbow, when my smallest of dreams won’t come true, I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I won’t last a day without you.

3. Ben Kweller – Sundress (2006)
I don’t need a smile from a mannequin, I just want to hold you in my hands. I do everything you want me to…for you.

4. The Weepies – Happiness (2004)
Friday 13, lights go red, green, in a coffee shop. I’m giving you the look while someone else is fingering your wallet in my pocketbook. It’s a mean town, but I don’t care. Try and steal this! Can’t steal happiness.

5. Mindy Smith – Falling (2004)
When I’ve almost had enough, something about you draws me back again. When I’ve almost given up, something about you pulls me in. And we’re falling…

6. John Prine with Iris Dement – In Spite Of Ourselves (1999)
She thinks all my jokes are corny, convict movies make her horny. She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs, swears like a sailor when shaves her legs. She takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. I’m never gonna let her go.

7. Moldy Peaches – Anyone Else But You (2001)
Here is the church and here is the steeple, we sure are cute for two ugly people, I don’t see what anyone can see in anyone else but you.

8. Simone White – The Beep Beep Song (2007)
(Yeah, the one from the Audi commercial) Despite all the warnings I landed like a fallen star in your arms.

9. Curtis Mayfield – So In Love (1975)
This love affair is bigger than we two. Lose our faith and it will swallow you. Loving you is what I’ll always feel, never ever doing things against our will. Loving means, never require any kind of test … Ya got me so in love.

10. Aretha Franklin – Baby I Love You (1967)
If you want my lovin’, if you really do, don’t be afraid, baby. Just ask me, you know I’m gonna give it to you. Oh, and I do declare: I want to see you with it. Stretch out your arms, little boy, you’re gonna get it – ’cause I love you.

11. Ron Sexsmith – Never Give Up On You (2006)
I’d never give up on you because I know you’d do the same for me. Never give up on you because you take me as I am, how I’ll always be.

12. Mary Chapin Carpenter – Grow Old With Me (1999)
Grow old along with me. Two branches of one tree face the setting sun when the day is done. God bless our love. (Beautifully sung by Carpenter, the real poignancy of this song derives from its authorship: written and demoed by John Lennon shortly before his murder in December 1980, it first appeared on his posthumous Milk And Honey album)

13. Tom Waits – Falling Down (1988)
For she loves you for all that you are not …You forget all the roses, don’t come around on Sunday. She’s not gonna choose you for standing so tall; go on and take a swig of that poison and like it.

14. Alexi Murdoch – Love You More (2006)
Love you more than anyone. Love you more than anyone. Love you more in time to come. Love you more. (That’s the complete lyric…)

15. Finley Quaye – Dice (2003)
I was crying over you. I am smiling, I think of you. Misty morning and water falls, breathe in the air if you care, you compare, don’t say farewell. Nothing can compare to when you roll the dice and swear your love’s for me.

16. Dexys Midnight Runners – This Is What She’s Like (1985)
“Well how did all this happen?” “Just all at once really. The Italians have a word for it.” “What word what is it?” “A thunderbolt or something.” “What, you mean the Italian word for thunderbolt?” “Yeah, something like that. I don’t speak Italian myself you understand?” “No.” “But I knew a man who did. Well, that’s my story. The strongest thing I’ve ever seen.” (Single version)

17. The Cure – Lovesong (1989)
Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again. Whenever I’m alone with you , you make me feel like I am whole again. Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am young again. Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am fun again.

18. Jens Lekman – I Saw Her In The Anti-War Demonstration (2004)
And the skies were clear blue skies, and her eyes were clear blue eyes, and her thighs were about the same size as mine, and we were walking in the anti-war demonstration; it was a sweet sensation of love.

19. Kacy Crowley – Kind Of Perfect (2004)
The last few years have been much harder than we ever thought they’d be. I know you hate it when I say I’m sorry, but I’m sorry. There was never a point in our love that I didn’t love you; not a point in our love. I always did, I always will, I always do, love you still, I always would, how could I not? Just look at us baby, we’re kind of perfect.

20. Joshua Radin – The Fear You Won’t Fall (2007)
I know you’re scared that I’ll soon be over it. That’s part of it all, part of the beauty of falling in love with you is the fear you won’t fall.

21. Nina Kinert – Through Your Eyes (2004)
All the time I stood here holding dandylions and chocolate for you. Tumbleweeds and fireworks go by. It’s hard to keep them still for you to see, nut you know that I try. I want to see you watching what I see, now that you’re mine, through your eyes.

22. Sarah Bettens – Grey (2005)
Will you be my everything? Maybe just this time we can really think that I am yours and you are mine; I am yours and you are mine…

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More songs about love

Revisiting ’60s Soul

November 29th, 2008 11 comments
I don’t think I’ve so much fun putting together an Any Major Mix as I had with this one. So much great music to choose from, so much great music I hadn’t played in a while. As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R.

This mix is not a representative overview of ’60s soul. Some essential artists are not represented here: Sam Cooke, James Brown, Temptations, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield (well, he is very much present on Major Lance’s deceptively titled track. And the Five Stairsteps, with a song released four years before their famous Ooh Ooh Child, evidently have heard a Curtis song or two before). There are some well-known tracks on here – hopefully not too obvious, though – complementing some less famous tracks. Perhaps some songs will provide surprises. Dionne Warwick takes time out from bacharaching to provide a nearly camp girl-band type song. Johnny Adams gives Release Me, most famous in its Engelbert Humperdinck rancid cheese version, the soul treatment, showing that this is in fact a great song. Read more…

Any Major Groove Mix

November 3rd, 2008 2 comments

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Think about it: if a song title riffs on the theme of grooviness – as a noun, verb or adjective – it is almost certain to be an affirming, cheerful tune and lyric. So as most friends of this blog are entering the dark, depressing days of winter I thought they might need some groovy, sunny cheer…

This mix covers several genres – pop, soul, funk, indie. Much of the material here is old, though there are two recently released songs: Rio En Medio’s great a cappella cover of Earth, Wind & Fires’ Let’s Groove, and Swedish indie-pop outfit Billie The Vision & the Dancers fine opener of their latest album. One song features twice: the Young Rascals’ carefree Groovin’ and Aretha Franklin’s quite different cover.

Ask me which songs I dig the most, and I’d have to decide between those by Gene Chandler, P.P. Arnold, Alan Price and the Mamas and the Papas. Or the Equals. Or Mr Bloe (best pop instrumental ever?). Or… oh, listen to it and find your own favourites.

1. Mr. Bloe – Groovin’ With Mr Bloe
2. Young Rascals – Groovin’
3. The Equals – Soul Groovin’
4. The 5th Dimension – Working On A Groovy Thing
5. Letta Mbulu – What’s Wrong With Groovin’
6. Bobby Wells – Let’s Copp A Groove
7. Archie Bell & The Drells – Let’s Groove
8. Gene Chandler – Groovy Situation
9. Simon & Garfunkel – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (live)
10. PP Arnold – (If You Think You’re) Groovy
11. The Mamas and the Papas – Somebody Groovy
12. Alan Price – Groovy Times
13. Average White Band – Groovin’ The Night Away
14. Heatwave – Groove Line
15. Harvey Mason – Groovin’ You
16. Rodney Franklin – The Groove
17. Lou Rawls – Groovy People
18. Aretha Franklin – Groovin’
19. The Mindbenders – Groovy Kind Of Love
20. Rio En Medio – Let’s Groove
21. Billie The Vision And The Dancers – Groovy
22. Ace Frehley – New York Groove
23. The Smithereens – Groovy Tuesday
24. Ciccone Youth – Into The Groovey
25. Raquel Welch – I’m Ready To Groove

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If you liked the Billie The Vision & the Dancers song, you can download the whole album (and previous albums) on their website, and set your own price, or none (“If you want to download our songs there are two ways to do it. Either you can afford to pay us, or, if you are just as poor as we are, you can download it for free. We appreciate both choices!” Aren’t they just lovely people?).