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In Memoriam – July 2012

August 2nd, 2012 7 comments

Two Funk Brother died in July: first Maurice D Davis, who played trumpet on songs like Papa Was A Rolling Stone, and a couple of days later, on July 16, Bob Babbitt, who played the bass on Motown hits such as Tears Of A Clown, War, Just My Imagination; on soul classics like Midnight Train To Georgia and Band Of Gold. Also listen to his bass solo on Dennis Coffey’s 1972 hit Scorpio.

July 16 was a bad day for music. We lost Jon Lord, the great innovative organist of Deep Purple and Whitesnake. We also lost Kitty Wells, whose breakthrough as a country singer paved the way for female stars in that genre, such as Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Wells was already in her 30s and a mother of three when she became a star; the first female ever to top the country charts. Wells introduced feminist themes into country long before that was regarded as ordinary and articulated a female self-confidence that would become characteristic of many women who succeeded her.

Fritz Pauer, 68, Austrian jazz pianist, on July 1

Margot Werner, 74, Austrian-born chanson singer, suicide on July 1

Andy Griffiths, 86, actor and gospel singer, on July 3

Ben Kynard, 92, jazz saxophonist, on July 5
Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra – I’m Mindin’ My Business (And Baby, My Business Is You) (1946, on saxophone)

José Roberto Bertrami, 66, Brazilian pianist and keyboardist with jazz-funk Azymuth, on July 8
Azymuth – Fly Over The Horizon (1979)

Lionel Batiste, 81, jazz musician with the Tremè Brass Band, on July 8
Tremè Brass Band – The Old Rugged Cross (1993)

Zach Booher, 22, member of acoustic rock duo While We’re Up, in a car crash on July 8

Dennis Flemion, 57, member of indie-comic band The Frogs, member of Smashing Pumpkins live line-up 1996/97, drowned on July 9
The Frogs – Which One Of You Gave My Daughter The Dope (1996)

Edwin Duff, 84, Australian singer, on July 10

Maria Hawkins Cole, 89, jazz singer, widow of Nat King Cole, on July 10

Lol Coxhill, 79, English jazz saxophonist, on July 10

Perry Baggs, 50, drummer and singer with cowpunk group Jason & The Scorchers, on July 12

Maurice D Davis, 71, saxophonist and member of Motown backing-collective The Funk Brothers, on July 13
The Temptations – Papa Was A Rolling Stone (1972)
One Way – Cutie Pie (1982)

Bucky Adams, 75, Canadian jazz trumpeter, on July 13

Celeste Holm, 95, actress who occasionally sang (High Society, Oklahoma), on July 15
Frank Sinatra & Celeste Holm – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (1956)

Kitty Wells, 92, country legend, on July 16
Kitty Wells – I Don’t Claim To Be An Angel (1956)
Kitty Wells – Crying Time (1966)

Jon Lord, 71, composer and keyboardist of Deep Purple and Whitesnake, on July 16
Deep Purple – Child In Time (1972)
Whitesnake – Here I Go Again (1987)
Jon Lord with Frida Lyngstad – The Sun Will Shine Again (2004)

Bob Babbitt, 74, bass guitarist of backing bands The Funk Brothers (Motown) and MFSB (PIR), on July 16
Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered (1970)
Freda Payne – Band Of Gold (1970)
Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band – Scorpio (1971)

Ms. Melodie (Ramona Scott), 48, rapper, on July 18

Ossie Hibbert, 62, reggae keyboardist and producer, on July 19

Larry Hoppen, 61, singer and guitarist of soft-rock band Orleans, on July 24
Orleans – Dance With Me (1975, on lead vocals)

Sherman Hemsley, 74, jazz singer and keyboardist, actor (George Jefferson, Amen), on July 24

Big Walter Smith, 82, blues musician, on July 24

Don Bagley, 84, jazz bassist and composer, on July 26
June Christy & Stan Kenton – Easy Street (1951, on bass)

Tony Martin, 98, actor and singer, on July 27
Tony Martin & Fran Warren – I Said My Pajamas (And Put On My Pray’rs) (1949)

Darryl Cotton, 62, Australian singer with Zoot; Cotton Keays & Morris; and television host, on July 27

Geoffrey Hughes, 68, English actor, voice of Paul McCartney in Yellow Submarine, on July 27
The Beatles – Yellow Submarine In Pepperland (1968)

Bill Doss, 43, rock singer and guitarist with The Olivia Tremor Control, The Apples in Stereo; announced on July 31
The Olivia Tremor Control – Not Feeling Human (1999)

Lucio Quarantotto, 55, Italian songwriter and composer (Con te partirò), suicide on July 31

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In Memoriam – September 2011

October 3rd, 2011 4 comments

The headline death this past month was that at 75 of Sylvia Robinson, who featured on this blog before with her 1973 hit “Pillow Talk”, a song taught Donna Summer all she needed to know about pleasured moaning to a disco beat. But Robinson was much more important than that. As the founder of Sugar Hill Records, she produced and released the first ever rap hit (“Rappers’ Delight”). Robinson’s label also released what I still regard as the greatest rap record of all time, Grandmaster Flash’s monumental “The Message”.

Also notable is the death a day later of Marv Tarplin, who was something of a shadow member of Smokey Robinson’s Miracles: he was always listed as a member, but rarely pictured as one. Tarplin co-wrote many great songs with Smokey, including Tracks Of My Tears, Going To A Go-Go, Ain’t That Peculiar and I’ll Be Doggone (both for Marvin Gaye), and later Smokey solo hits like Being With You and Cruisin’, on many of which he played guitar (including that exquisite intro of Tracks Of My Tears).

Most probably, few will know Wardell Quezergue, but many have heard the music he arranged and/or produced on records by the Dixie Cups, King Floyd, Robert Parker, Jean Knight, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners, Dorothy Moore, Eddie Bo, Paul Simon, Neville Brothers, Dr John and Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. A New Orleans native, he lost almost everything in Hurricane Katrina.

In August we lost Pinetop Perkins; in September his long-time collaborater Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith passed away at 75, just over half a year after winning a Grammy for his work with the Legendary Blues Band (whom you might have spotted as John Lee Hooker’s backing band in The Blues Brothers).

The romantic in me was sad to learn of the death of Johnny Wright, who would have celebrated his 75th wedding anniversary with the country legend Kitty Wells in October 2012 (they got married on 30 October 1937!).

Wright wasn’t the month’s oldest music casualty; that was Wade Mainer, who had been recording music since 1936 and reached the age of 104. On the other hand, two musicians in their 20s departed: DJ Medhi, who died at 24 in a freak accident, and British electronica muscian Joel Devers, apparently of suicide at 25.

Suicide is also a suspected cause of the death of soul singer Vesta Williams. Bottles of prescription drugs were found with her body in a hotel room. And, to reiterate, I tend to mention suicides not to titilate: to my mind, few things are more tragic than suicide, and few deaths as stigmatised. By mentioning suicide, I hope to offer a little contribution towards its destigmatisation.

Fans of Beatles covers will note the death of collage artist Richard Hamilton, who designed the poster that appeared in the White Album, and that double LP’s cover (in as far as it was designed). A week later, Robert Whitaker died. He was The Beatles’ in-house photographer in the mid-’60s, and most famously took the butcher cover pic for the group’s 1966 US album release Yesterday And Today. The photo, which was intended to communicate that the Fab Four were just ordinary human beings of flesh and blood, caused a huge outcry among people who cheerfully defended the Vietnam war (possibly even Johnnie Wright), and was quickly pulled from circulation.

Tom Hibbert, 59, English music journalist (Smash Hits, Q), on August 28
Brothers Johnson – ‘Q’ (1977)

Orangie Hubbard, 77, rockabilly musician, on September 1

McKinley ‘Bug’ Williams, percussionist and founding member of Maze featuring Frankie Beverley, on September 3
Maze feat Frankie Beverly – The Look In Your Eyes (1980)

Ray Fisher, 70, Scottish folk singer, on September 5
Ray Fisher – Far Over The North (1965)

Albie Wycherley (aka Ed Trent/Jason Eddie), 68, frontman of The Centremen, client of Joe Meek and brother of Billy Fury, on September 5

Wardell Quezergue, 81, New Orleans bandleader of Royal Dukes of Rhythm, arranger and producer, on September 6
Robert Parker – Barefootin’ (1966, as producer)
Jean Knight – Mr Big Stuff (1970, as producer)

Eddie Marshall, 73, jazz drummer, on September 7

Graham Collier, 74, British jazz bassist and composer, on September 10
Graham Collier Sextet – Down Another Road (1969)

Wade Mainer, 104, bluegrass singer and banjo player, leader of The Sons of the Mountaineers, on September 12
Wade Mainer’s Mountaineers – Just One Way To The Pearly Gates (1936)

Don Wayne, 78, country songwriter, on September 12
Lefty Frizzell – Saginaw, Michigan (1964, as songwriter)

DJ Mehdi (Mehdi Favéris-Essadi), 34, French-Tunisian hip hop end electro musician/producer, on September 13
DJ Mehdi – Signatune (2007)

Richard Hamilton, 89, British artist (designed The Beatles’ White Album cover and poster), on September 13
The Beatles – Good Night (1968)

Wilma Lee Cooper, 90, country singer, on September 13
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper – Highway To Heaven (1974)

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, 75, blues musician (with Muddy Waters, Legendary Blues Band), on September 16
Bo Diddley – Diddy Wah Diddy (1955, on harmonica)
Legendary Blue Band – Blues Today (1992)

Cora Vaucaire, 93, French singer, on September 17
Cora Vaucaire – La complainte de la butte (1955)

Asnaqètch Wèrqu, 76, Ethiopian singer and actress, on September 17
Asnaqètch Wèrqu – Endègèna

Vesta Williams, 53, soul singer and actress, on September 20
Vesta Williams – Congratulations (1988)

Joel Dever, 25, multi-instrumentalist in English electro trio Battant, on September 20

Robert Whitaker, 71, photographer who took The Beatles’ famous butcher photo, on September 20
The Beatles – I’m Only Sleeping (1966)

John Du Cann, 66, singer and guitarist of British prog rock band Atomic Rooster, on September 21
Atomic Rooster – The Devil’s Answer (1971)

Jumpin’ Jack Neal, 80, bassist with Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps, on September 22
Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps – Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine) (1956)

John Larson, 61, trumpeter with The Ides of March, on September 22
The Ides Of March – Vehicle (1970)

Paul Kirby, 48, singer-songwriter and member of roots rock band The Cactus Brothers, on September 25
The Cactus Brothers – Big Train (1993)

Jessy Dixon, 73, gospel singer, on September 26
Jessy Dixon – I Won’t Bow Down (1985)

Harry Muskee, 70, Dutch blues singer, on September 26
Cuby + Blizzards – Window Of My Eyes (1968)

Johnnie Wright, 97, country singer (Johnnie & Jack), husband of Kitty Wells, on September 27
Johnnie Wright – Hello Vietnam (1965)

Johnny “Country” Mathis, 77, singer-songwriter, on September 27

Leonard Dillon, 68, member of Jamaican reggae group The Ethiopians, on September 28
The Ethiopians – Let It Be (1977)

Sylvia Robinson, 75, soul singer, producer and record label executive, on September 29
The Moments – Love On A Two-Way Street (1970, as producer)
Sylvia – Give Up In Vain (1973)
Sugarhill Gang – Rappers Delight (Extended 12″ version) (1979, as producer)

Marv Tarplin, 70, guitarist of The Miracles and songwriter, announced on September 30
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Tracks Of My Tears (1965)

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In Memoriam – May 2011

June 6th, 2011 4 comments

This series has noted a couple of hundred musicians’ deaths. Not many have caused me so much sadness as that of Gil Scott-Heron. Never mind that the man was a drug addict, and that he once wrote a homophobic song. He was a poet, and he set his poetry to glorious music. He was the Bob Dylan of the ghetto. I hope that with his dying breath, Scott-Heron appreciated the fact that astronauts were just then making a final journey and the US president has introcuded health care reform he was demanding in Whitey On The Moon).

As a soul fan, I noted with particular sadness the passing of jazz-funk guitarist Cornell Dupree, who played that opening riff of Aretha Franklin’s version of Respect, and also backed favourite acts like Bill Withers and Marlena Shaw.

We tend to mourn deaths by suicide, though that of Gramy-winning songwriter, screenplsy writer and director Joseph Brooks, who wrote the much-loathed You Light Up My Life, leaves us at best with mixed feelings: he killed himself while under indictment for a series of “casting couch” rapes (the details of which are nauseating). Not a very nice guy at all, it seems.


David Mason, 85, English trumpeter who played the piccolo solo on The Beatles’ Penny Lane, on April 29
The Beatles – Penny Lane (1967)

Hume Patton, 65, guitarist of Scottish psychedelic rock group The Poets, on April 30

Ernest ‘Shololo’ Mothle, 69, South African jazz bassist and percussionist, and session musician for Robert Hyatt, Hugh Masekela, Mike Oldfield, Jonas Gwangwa a.o., on May 2
Mike Oldfield – In Dulci Jubilo (1975) (as percussionist)

Odell Brown, 70, jazz/soul organist, arranger and songwriter, on May 3
Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (1982) (as co-writer)

Nigel Pickering, 81, rhythm guitarist and vocalist of Spanky and the Gang, on May 5
Spanky and Our Gang – Like To Get To Know You (1968)
John Walker, 67, founder of The Walker Brothers, on May 7
The Walker Brothers – Just For A Thrill (1966)

Big George Webley, 53, British composer and arranger of TV themes, including The Office (UK), and radio broadcaster, on May 7
Big George Webley (feat Fin) – Handbags and Gladrags (2001)

Johnny Albino, 93, Puerto Rican bolero singer, on May 7
Johnny Albino – 7 Notas de Amor

Cornell Dupree, 68, soul and jazz-funk guitarist, on May 8
Cornell Dupree – Teasin’ (1974)
Marlena Shaw – Time For Me To Go (1973) (as guitarist)

Dolores Fuller, 88, actress and songwriter for Elvis Presley a.o. (also cult director Ed Woods’ girlfriend, as portrayed in the movie), on May 9
Elvis Presley – Rock-A-Hula Baby (1961) (as composer)
John Carter, 65, producer, songwriter and A&R man, on May 10
Strawberry Alarm Clock – Incense and Peppermints (1967) (as writer)

Norma Zimmer, 87, “Champagne Lady” on The Lawrence Welk Show, backing singer for Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Perry Como a.o., on May 10

Zim Ngqawana, 51, South African jazz saxophonist, on May 10

Snooky Young, 92, jazz trumpeter with Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton a.o. and with The Band, on May 11
Count Basie Orchestra feat. Tony Bennett – Life Is A Song (1959)
The Band – Rag Mama Tag (1972)

Lloyd Knibb, 80, drummer of Jamaican ska band The Skatalites, on May 12
The Skatalites – Fidel Castro (1964)
Jack Richardson, 81, producer of Guess Who, Bob Seger, Rage Against The Machine a.o., on May 13
Bob Seger – Night Moves (1977) (as producer)

Bob Flanigan, 84, singer of The Four Freshmen, on May 15
The Four Freshmen – It’s A Blue World (1952)

M-Bone, 22, American rapper with Cali Swag District, killed in drive-by shooting on May 15
Cali Swag District – Where You Are (2010)

James ‘Curley’ Cook, 66, blues guitarist and founder member of Steve Miller Band, on May 16

Sean Dunphy, 73, Irish singer (the first to record in Nashville), on May 17
Kathy Kirby, 72, English ’60s pop singer, on May 19
Kathy Kirby – Dance On (1963)

Joseph Brooks, 73, songwriter (You Light Up My Life), suicide on May 22

Jeff Conaway, 60, actor (Kenickie in the movie Grease) and singer of 1960s ban The 3 1/2, on May 27

Gil Scott-Heron, 62, musician and poet, on May 27
Gil Scott-Heron – I Think I’ll Call It Morning (1971)
Gil Scott-Heron – Whitey On The Moon (1974)

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Curious Germany Vol. 3

February 9th, 2010 7 comments

In the previous instalments of Curious Germany we noted the tendency in the 1960s of artists re-recording their hits in European languages, particularly in German to cater for the mainland continent’s biggest market. Here are a few more German re-recordings, plus a Motown-goes-Schlager track, a most unexpected cover, pre-Schlager stardom Krautrock, a slightly strange Beatles cover, and another singing footballer.

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The Beatles – Komm, gib’ mir Deine Hand.mp3
The Beatles – Sie liebt Dich.mp3

The Fabs recorded their first record in Germany. Backing Tony Sheridan on his Bert Kaempfert-produced LP, they sang on a couple of songs (Ain’t She Sweet and My Bonnie) and recorded a self-penned instrumental, Cry For A Shadow, on which George Harrison got a writing credit alongside John Lennon (it was intended to be a parody of The Shadows). And, of course, in St Pauli the boys really grew up. And yet, they did not seem to have much of a sentimental attachment to the country that gave them their first international break. A mini-tour of three cities — Munich, Essen and Hamburg — in 1966 was the extent of their concerts there (with typical teutonic subtlety, the sponsors, teen mag Bravo, called it a “Blitz” tour). And the Beatles really did not want to record any of their songs in German, or any other language.

The idea to do so originated with the group’s German label, Odeon, whose executives thought that German-language singles would sell even better than the orginals in their country. The Beatles resisted the instruction to record in German, going as far as not turning up to the booked session in the EMI Pathe Marconi studio in Paris in January 1964. A stern George Martin (who himself thought the idea was stupid) had to remindhis truant boys of their professional obligations before they gathered in the studio the following day, January 29. Komm gib mir eine Hand was quickly recorded to the backing track sent from London, but the instrumentation of the German She Loves You had to be re-recorded because the tape with the original track had been lost. It took 14 takes to record the song. Once they were done, with a little time to kill, the Beatles started work on a new song written by Paul called Can’t Buy Me Love.

The lyrics for the two German songs had been written by singer and TV personality Camillo Felgen under the pseudonym J. Nicolas. Two other non-Beatles are credited: one Montogue on Sie liebt Dich, and a H. Hellmer on the German version of I Want To Hold Your Hand. These credits have long puzzled Beatles historian. It appears that both Heinz Hellmer and Jean Montague (incorrectly spelled on the credits) were additional pseudonyms employed by Felgen, I would guess as a tax dodge.

These credits appeared on the German single release and the US album Something New, on which the German songs incongruously turned up. Subsequent releases, such as Beatles Rarities and Past Masters, credit only Lennon-McCartney.
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Cindy & Bert – Der Hund von Baskerville.mp3
We previously encountered husband-and-wife duo Cindy & Bert in the 1973 installment of the nostalgia series Stepping Back, with a typically horrible Schlager. The pair epitomised square. My grandmother thought Cindy & Bert were delightful. They reminded us of the nice young couple who rented the apartment on the top floor of her house and always paid the rent on time. So Oma would have been shocked to discover that Cindy & Bert’s catalogue included a cover version of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid (it need no pointing out that my grandmother would not have been a big Sabbath fan even if — especially if — she knew who they were). The cover photo of the 1970 single, which is not bad, is entirely misleading. Did I mention that Cindy & Bert were considered squares?
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Howard Carpendale – Du hast mich.mp3
Daisy Clan – Glory Be.mp3

In German Schlager history, Howard Carpendale wrote a particularly successful chapter. Unable to hack it in his home country South Africa as an Elvis impersonator, the former shotput champion moved to Germany, learned to speak the language with just enough of a touch of an accent (as I’ve noted before, German audiences really got off on foreign accents; in entertainment, not in shops, pubs or public transport), and became the leading romantic singer of the 1970s and ’80s Schlager scene, selling some 25 million records. None of those 25 million records soiled my collection, I am pleased to say, for I always thought he was a bit of a drip. His first breakthrough came with the standard Schlager Das Mädchen von Seite 1 (The girl from the front page). The flip side, however, was entire unschlagerish, a rocker called Du hast mich (You Have Me), a cover of the song Glory Be by German psychedelic rockers Daisy Clan which sounds like a heavy fuzz-guitared, organ-hammering Santana number. Thanks to my friend Sky, I can’t consider Carpendale as a drip any longer. The dude actually knew how to rock.

Glory Be was the b-side of Daisy Clan’s 1970 single Love Needs Love, apparently the group’s final English-language single (their final release in 1972 was appropriately titled Es geht vorrüber, which could be translated as “It passes on”). The Daisy Clan apparently were Schlager singer Michael Holm and songwriter Joachim Haider, going by the name of Alfie Khan. Holm had his first chart entry in 1962, but did not really break through until late 1969 with his version of the Sir Douglas Quintett’s Mendocino. It seems that his Schlager success put paid to his career as a psychedelic rock musician; Holm enjoyed a long string of Schlager hits (he featured HERE and HERE). Just to prove that not all Schlagersingers are naff fools with bad hair, Holm also collaborated with the eternally cool Giorgio Moroder in a project named, unappetisingly, Spinach. Holm has even been nominated for Grammys three times as part of the ambient music outfit Cusco.

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Dusty Springfield – Auf Dich nur wart’ immerzu.mp3
Like her contemporaries Petula Clark and Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield did a fair number of German recordings. Auf Dich nur wart’ ich ich immerzu (I’m always waiting for you only) was her German version of I Only Want To Be With You, released as a single in July 1964 with a German rendering of Wishin’ And Hopin’ as the b-side. Like most other songs transcribed from English to German, it was not a hit. It was quite usual for the original performer of a French or Italian song to score big successes with their German versions of these — singers such as Mireille Mathieu and Salvatore Adamo made a career of that — but English pop translations rarely impressed the record-buying public. I suspect the reason for that was two-fold. Firstly, pop sounds better in English, its own language; secondly, the German listener could differentiate between a Gilbert Bécaud’s heavy accent interpreting the lyrics and English-language singers not knowing what they were phonetically singing.
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Marvin Gaye – Wie schön das ist.mp3
Marvin Gaye – Sympatica

Motown had their stars record many versions of their songs in Spanish, Italian, French and German. Curious Germany Volume 2 included German covers by the Supremes and by the Temptations. Marvin chipped in with this take on How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). The vocals were usually sung from phonetic lyric sheets, and most international stars who recorded in German did not pay meticulous attention to the standards of their pronunciation. I have no idea whether Marvin Gaye was a polyglot or whether he just gave more of a shit, but he did a better job of it than most of his peers. Wie schön das ist was the b-side of a song Gaye recorded exclusively in German, Sympatica, which was written by Schlager composers Jonny Bartels (not to be confused with singer Johnny Bartel) and Kurt Feltz. So here we have one instance of Motown going Schlager, sort of.
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Katja Ebstein – A Hard Day’s Night.mp3
Katja Ebstein had a reputation as one of Germany’s more sophisticated Schlager stars. When she represented West Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980, her song was titled Theater. It got nowhere. Ten years earlier the singer born in Poland as Karin Witkiewicz did somewhat better, coming third with the rather good Wunder gibt es immer wieder, and repeating the trick the following year with the ecological number Diese Welt (see, it wasn’t only Marvin Gaye who was concerned). The international exposure helped her maintain an international career, recording in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, English and even Japanese.

Ebstein’s rather peculiar version of A Hard Day’s Night preceded her breakthrough by a year; she was still something of a leftist activist (she still is; in the 1980s she was arrested for taking part in a blockade of a US nuclear arms depot; in 2003 she demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq). Released in 1969 on the Katja album (the legend Twen on the cover advertises a youth magazine which promoted the LP), the Beatles cover was the set’s only English-language track. In her hands, the hard day was suffered not by her but by a unspecified him, and the whole shebang includes a strong hint of a Harrison-style eastern vibe.  File under “Interesting Beatles Covers”.

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Johnny Cash – Viel zu spät.mp3
Johnny Cash – Wo ist zu Hause, Mama.mp3

Cash’s 1965 German version of I Walk The Line also featured in the second volume of this series. In 1959, Cash recorded two other German versions of his songs, though neither was released until 1978. Viel zu spät (Much too late) is a take on the murder ballad I Got Stripes; Wo Ist Zu Hause, Mama (Where is home, mom) is the allemanic version of Five Feet High and Rising. Both, it seems, were intended to be released as a single, but I can find no record of their release. Cash’s relationship with Germany went back to the early 1950s, when he was stationed as a GI in Bavaria (it was a local girl who damaged his hearing when she stick a pencil in his ear). And it was there that Cash started to become serious about music.

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Radi Radenkovic – Bin i Radi bin i König.mp3
Here’s an example of an idiosyncratic accent helping to create celebrity on the football pitch and in the pop charts. Yugoslav Petar “Radi” Radenkovic was the goalkeeper for the München 1860 football team, which won the German championship in 1966 (the last team playing in blue shirts to do so). The goalkeeper was something of a humorous character on the pitch who had the entertaining tendency to run outside his penalty area to dribble around opponents., He was hugely popular. As one does, he recorded a single to celebrate his celebrity. This frankly quite awful ditty fuses Radenkovic’s guttural Serbian accent with the thick Bavarian dialect which has the rest of Germany (or Prussia, as a Bavarian might counter) amused at its sheer yokelness. The song — literally: “Am I Radi am I king” — does little to suggest that Radenkovic’s parents were in fact fairly successful musicians.

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The Originals Vol. 35 – Beatles edition 2

January 22nd, 2010 8 comments

Last April — ten editions of The Originals ago — we looked at the first of three batches of originals covered by the Beatles. Here we revisit two tracks each from the debut Please Please Me (Anna, Boys) and 1964’s Beatles For Sale (Words Of Love, Mr Moonlight), as well as With The Beatles‘ Devil In His Heart.

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Arthur Alexander – Anna (Go To Him) (1962).mp3
The Beatles – Anna (Go To Him) (1963).mp3

Few artists will have had their original songs covered by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley. Arthur Alexander did. We already observed that Elvis covered Burning Love (though Alexander didn’t write that one), Dylan covered Sally Sue Brown (in 1988), the Stones covered his You Better Move On (in 1964), and the Beatles his song Anna on their debut album. The Fabs also used to perform three other Alexander songs in concert. Not bad for a soul singer who died in relative obscurity in 1993, aged only 53. Some people even suggest that Alexander influenced John Lennon’s vocal style. McCartney in a 1987 interview said that in those early days, the group wanted to be like Arthur Alexander.

Alexander’s far superior version of Anna was not a big hit, even as it featured the great country pianist Floyd Cramer, whose keyboard riffs Harrison replicates on guitar. It did make the R&B Top 10, but stalled at #68 in the Billboard charts. Released in September 1962, the Beatles — clearly already fans — soon included it in their concert repertoire, and eventually recorded it in three takes on February 11, 1963, just over five weeks before their debut album was released. That day, the band recorded 10 of the album’s 14 songs, culminating with Twist And Shout (featured in the first Beatles edition of The Originals), on which Lennon’s vocals are famously shot from a long day’s session and a cold. On Anna, Lennon’s voice is noticeably enduring the effects of his malaise. Strangely, once it had been committed to record, Anna was dropped from the concert setlists. Note by the way that neither Alexander nor the Beatles actually urge Anna to go to him.

A promo single of the Beatles’ version of Anna (backed with Ask Me Why) issued by the US label Vee Jay is said to be the rarest Beatles record, with only four copies known to exist. Vee Jay changed their mind about releasing Anna, going instead for Twist And Shout, since that was going to be performed on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Also recorded by: Vern Rogers (1964), The Tams (1964), George Martin (1966), Humble Pie (1974), Kursaal Flyers (1977), Jack Denton (1989), Roger McGuinn (1994), L.A. Workshop with New Yorker (1995), Alan Merrill (2003)

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The Donays – Devil In His Heart (1962).mp3
The Beatles – Devil In Her Heart (1963).mp3

Devil In His Heart appeared on the With The Beatles album, but had been part of the group’s concert repertoire in 1962/63. The Beatles recorded it on July 18, 1963, two days after recording it for the BBC show Pop Go The Beatles. The group came upon the song when they had heard it in Brian Epstein’s NEMS record store in Liverpool. George Harrison, who sings lead vocals on the cover, later recalled: “Brian [Epstein] had had a policy at NEMS [record store] of buying at least one copy of every record that was released. Consequently he had records that weren’t hits in Britain, weren’t even hits in America. Before we were going to a gig, we’d meet in the record store, after it had shut, and we’d search the racks like ferrets to see what new ones were there…Devil In Her Heart and Barrett Strong’s Money were records that we’d picked up and played in the shop and thought were interesting.”

Unlike other the other R&B acts covered on that album, the Donays — Yvonne, Janice, Michelle, Gwen — were not and never would be well known. Devil In His Heart was the Detroit girl-group’s only single, and it made no notable impact at all, though the flip-side, Bad Boy, received some local airplay. Devil In His Heart was first released by Detroit’s Correc-tone Records, which also had an unknown Wilson Picket on its books. The New York label Brent picked up the national license for the single, and through Brent’s arrangement with the British Oriole label the record ended up in Epstein’s Liverpool store.

But it was not the lack of commercial success that forced the group’s demise, but their mothers. “The mothers wanted the girls to go to college,” Yvonne would recall. “Michelle’s mother was leery about the music world, so they dropped out.” Yvonne carried on recording for Correc-tone for three more singles, as Yvonne Vernee, but without great commercial success. She later became a member of the Motown group The Elgins to tour Britain in 1971 after the band had a belated hit there with their 1967 sing Heaven Must Have Sent You.

Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems.

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Buddy Holly – Words Of Love (1957).mp3
The Diamonds – Words Of Love (1957).mp3
The Beatles – Words Of Love (1964).mp3

The influence of Buddy Holly on The Beatles (and virtually every act of the British Invasion) is evident. It was a Holly song, That’ll Be The Day, which The Quarrymen performed on that famous acetate, and the name “Beatles” was inspired as a riff on the insect name of Buddy’s band, the Crickets. Yet, the Beatles recorded only one Holly song, the rather minor Words Of Love, which in Holly’s version was released as a single in Britain, but failed to dent the charts there.

Holly recorded Words Of Love on his own, putting each individual part (including his harmonies) to tape and then overdubbing them, apparently the first time that production method was used by a major artist. It was not a hit for Holly in the US either. Instead it was recorded by The Diamonds, also in 1957, who enjoyed a #13 hit with it. The Diamonds, a Canadian group, were mostly used to score hits from cover versions of songs originally performed by black acts. Their version of Words Of Love was, well, different.

The Beatles’ lovely version, far superior to Buddy’s (never mind The Diamonds’) appeared on Beatles For Sale, having been recorded on October 18, with John and George harmonising on the vocals (sources differ on that; others say it’s Paul, not George), sounding not unlike the Everly Brothers. Paul, the big Holly fan, later recorded his own cover version of the song.

Also recorded by: Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs (1964), Mike Berry (1999), Jeremy Jay (2009), Jessica Lea Mayfield (2009)

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The Shirelles – Boys (1960).mp3
The Beatles – Boys (1963).mp3

Boys was one of two Shirelles songs on Please, Please Me. Co-written by Luther Dixon, who produced the Shirelles on the Specter label, Boys was released in 1960 as the b-side of the group’s big hit Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Dixon had enjoyed some success as a songwriter, notably The Crests’ 1958 hit Sixteen Candles. The other co-writer, a white boy named Wes Farrell, would go on to greater things yet. He co-wrote Hang On Sloopy with the legendary Bert Berns, was the force behind Tony Orlando’s Dawn (named after Farrell’s daughter) and the Partridge Family, and founded Bell Records, which would later, after he sold it, become Arista.

It was recorded in one take during the mammoth February 11, 1963 session, just after Anna and before Chains (which featured in the first part of originals of Beatles covers). The other Shirelles song on the album was the better known Burt Bacharach composition Baby It’s You. While Lennon sang the latter, Boys introduced Ringo’s vocal stylings to the public. In the Beatles’ hands, the R&B number becomes a rocking scorcher in which the backing vocals eclipse Ringo’s voice, which delivered suitably tweaked lyrics.

Boys had been popular on Liverpool’s live circuit. The Beatles performed it in the Cavern Club, where it was the token number to be sung by drummer Pete Best. After Best was sacked, it became Ringo’s song. But it already was before then: as the drummer with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes he would often sing it in concerts, sometimes even duetting the song with the young Cilla Black, who would later become a star herself.

Also recorded by: The Flamin’ Groovies (1979), Mata Hari (1988), Jools Holland & Ringo Starr (2003)

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Dr Feelgood and the Interns – Mr Moonlight (1962).mp3
The Beatles – Mr Moonlight (1964).mp3

Many Beatles fans point to Mr Moonlight as the group’s worst recording (presumably ignoring the arcane stuff like Revolution #9 or Within You, Without You). It is indeed doubtful that Mr Moonlight has ever featured on a great number Top 10 lists of Beatles songs. But it isn’t really that bad (this guy makes his case persuasively).

Mr Moonlight appeared on Beatles For Sale, the hotchpotch album released in late 1964 that among some strong original material featured a number of random covers. It may seem that Mr Moonlight was one of those peculiar obscurities the Fabs often dug out — note how many b-sides and non-hits they covered — but the song was in fact quite popular at the time. Other bands obviously did the same as the Beatles did. It had been covered by The Hollies in January 1964, and in 1963 by the Merseybeats. Mr Moonlight had also been a Beatles concert staple for a while (going as far back as 1962; it appears on the Live At The Star Club, Hamburg album) , so there are some who suggest that the Hollies and Merseybeats “borrowed” the song from the Beatles.

The song was written by one Roy Lee Johnson, and first recorded in 1962 by the blues pianist Piano Red (Willie Perryman) as a b-side to his single Dr Feelgood, the title of which had become his stage name, and would later be adopted by the British rock band of that name (though they probably picked up the moniker from a cover version by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates). Piano Red, an albino performer who had made his first recording in 1936, was the first blues musician to break into the Billboard pop charts, and as a radio DJ in Atlanta in the 1950s featured a young James Brown on his show. Piano Red’s excursion as Dr Feelgood, a moniker he employed as a DJ, was brief and did little to benefit his career. His career later recovered, with Piano Red appearing on the jazz circuit. He even performed at the inauguration of the German chancellor Helmut Schmidt before dying if cancer in 1985 at the age of 73.

Also recorded by: The Merseybeats (1963), The Hollies (1964)

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More Originals

Beatles bizarre

December 18th, 2009 10 comments

There are several blogs that offer any number of Beatles rarities; for Beatles fans like myself suffering under the dictate of arbitrary and cruel bandwidth limits, there is a need to be selective. So I don’t downloaded from them. And yet, I have accumulated a fair bit of Beatles curiosities, some of them actually entertaining. Here are some of them.
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The Beatles – Christmas Single 1965.mp3
The Beatles – Christmas Single 1968.mp3
The Beatles – Christmas Time (Is Here Again).mp3

Starting in 1963, the Beatles issued annual Christmas flexi discs exclusively to members of their official fan clubs. Besides sincere Christmas greetings, these consisted of a whole lot of free-associating riffing by our four friends, singing a bit in a humorous vein (the group rendition of Yesterday in 1965 is amusingly off-key), Lennon delivering his poetry, and the enactments of gags that showed the influence of The Goons on the Fabs. Some of it, such as the 1966 single, is impenetrable unless one appreciates The Goons (which I don’t).

The 1968 (notable for Tiny Tim doing violence to Nowhere Man) and 1969 singles were recorded separately, unlike all the previous offerings. The 1969 single was issued at a time when the group had virtually split already, even if the dissolution became official only on April 10, 1974. It features a giggly Yoko “interviewing” John (who always seemed to enjoy making these singles the most) and John looking forward to the 1970s (Yoko optimistically predicts that there’ll be “peace and freedom” in the new decade, John evidently takes a more cynical view), Paul is singing This Is To Wish You A Merry, Merry Christmas, George pops up briefly to deliver a quick greeting, and Ringo appears only to promote his movie The Magic Christian.

Christmas Time (Is Here Again) is a Beatles composition — all four share the writing credit — released on the 1967 single. There it goes on for more than six minutes. The version here is the shortened version that appeared on the b-side of Free As A Bird.

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Nilsson – You Can’t Do That.mp3
Recorded for his 1967 debut album Pandemonium Shadow Show, Harry Nilsson covered the b-side of Can’t Buy Me Love, and worked in references — lyrical or musical — to 20 other Beatles songs (the LP also included a cover of She’s Leaving Home). Indeed, in the beginning it isn’t entirely clear which Beatles song he is actually covering (unless, of course, one knows the title). John Lennon was a particularly big fan of Nilsson’s album. The mutual appreciation developed into one of pop’s most famous friendships.

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Mystery Tour – Ballad Of Paul.mp3
Terry Knight – Saint Paul.mp3

The initial Paul Is Dead rumour preceded the release of Abbey Road by a week. The album’s cover “confirmed” that Macca was indeed dead, but the story began with an error-filled student newspaper article publishd on 18 September 1969 by one Tim Harper for the Drake University’s Times-Delphic. From Harper’s fertile imagination sprang a wild conspiracy theory which caused quite a hysteria. There is an 8-CD series of radio recordings covering in detail the reaction to Paul’s death. The moderately talented Mystery Tour (yes, Mystery Tour) explained why the evidence of Paul’ death, with reference to the Abbey Road cover, of course (apparently left-handers are incapable of smoking with their right hand). We also learn that “John Lennon is a holy man”, who “provided lots of clues” as to the conspiracy of Paul’s death and its cover-up. This site has all the answers: it was them Rolling Stones wot dun Paul in, Constable.

Record producer and general music pusher Terry Knight’s single came out before the Paul Is Dead hoax started. He had met the Beatles at a fraught time during the White Album sessions in 1968. Convinced that the Beatles would break up soon, he wrote Saint Paul. His single was released in May 1969, before Harper’s article. Once the rumour had gathered pace, however, Knight’s single was presented as an obituary to Paul, feeding the rumour mill further. Knight himself became the subject of obituaries when he was murdered in 2004 while protecting his daughter from a clearly unsuitable boyfriend.

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May West – Day Tripper.mp3
We’ve had Mae West warbling Twist And Shout (HERE). So how might the septegenarian top that? Why, by doing Day Tripper, of course. Her interpretation, as it turned out, was unnecessary, because time has shown the Beatles’ original to be quite adequate, even without the sub-Jimi Hendrix antics at 1:13, which morph into a Chuck Berry-lite solo, and Ms West’s seductive moanings. Still, if Liza Minelli as Lucille 2 planned to record an album of Beatles covers, she’ll have a perfect reference point.

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Mrs Miller – A Hard Day’s Night.mp3
Peter Sellers – A Hard Day’s Night.mp3
Goldie Hawn – A Hard Day’s Night.mp3

Bless Mrs Miller. She was serious and entirely unironic about her singing, but also possessed the self-awareness to know that she was a bit of a joke. She did her limited best, and was aware that there was no consensual admiration of her singing chops. Though she never intended to create comedy— she was motivated to disseminate her art widely as a way of inspiring others — she knew that her cult status was based on listeners deriving amusement from her stylings. Her version of Hard Day’s Night is notable for her lapses in timing and the aggressive licence she takes with reaching the right notes.

Peter Sellers — a Goon Show alumni, of course — released a series of comedy versions of Beatles songs, some funnier than others. His Dr Strangelove take on She Loves You is inspired (and will feature at a later point with more Beatles curiosities). Sellers performs A Hard Day’s Night in the manner of Laurence Olivier as Shakespeare’s Richard III. Released as a single in late 1965 (backed with his take on Help, which will also feature at some point), it reached #14 in the British charts in early 1966.

In 1998, Beatles producer George Martin recorded reimagined versions of songs by his former charges, with a roster of guest vocalists taking turns to perform singing duties. Some of these invitees were not terrible good ideas, least of the insufferable Robin Williams (who admirably managed to go a few minutes without turning into a gay hairdresser). Another of these questionable ideas was to ask a giggly Goldie Hawn to sing A Hard Day’s Night, to a smoothy swinging backing track, on which she plays the piano. She feels “okey dokey”. The listener, when hearing Goldie’s vocals, probably less so.

The Originals Vol. 34 – Reworked hits

November 20th, 2009 8 comments

In this episode of The Originals we look at artists who had hits with covers of their own songs. It’s a fairly rare phenomenon in rock and soul that artists have bigger hits with re-recordings, though a number had bigger hits with live performances of studio tracks, such as Peter Frampton with Baby, I Love Your Way or Cheap Trick with I Want You To Want Me. It was of course pretty common with the interpreters of the standards, such as Frank Sinatra, whose swinging 1962 version of I Get a Kick Out Of You (featured HERE), for example is probably more famous than the more pensive 1953 original (featured HERE).

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The Isley Brothers – Who’s That Lady (1964).mp3
The Isley Brothers – That Lady Pt 1&2 (1973).mp3

ISLEYS64 The slice of funky soul from The Isley Brothers’ classic 1973 album 3+3 (named for the three original Isleys plus the three new members) was a cover of their 1964 recording, which had been inspired Curtis Mayfield’s band The Impressions. Released just before the Isleys signed for Motown, the original has a vague bossa nova beat with a jazzy brass backing, but is immediately recognisable as the song they recorded nine years later. The 1964 recording was a flop. The latter version, with reworked harmonies and without the brass, added Ernie’s distinctive guitar, Chris Jasper’s new-fangled synthethizer, Santanesque percussions, and the menacing interjection “Look, yeah, but don’t touch”. It became their first Top 10 hit in four years.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems.

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Nazz – Hello It’s Me (1968).mp3
Todd Rundgren – Hello It’s Me (1972).mp3

The Isley Brothers – Hello It’s Me (1974).mp3
NAZZ Before he became a guitar god, Rundgren was part of the Philadelphia garage rock band Nazz (not The Nazz, who went on to become the band Alice Cooper, before their singer appropriated that name for himself as a solo artist), whom their manager sought to promote as a teenybopper outfit. The name refers to comic-poet Lord Buckley’s poem “The Nazz”, a hip retelling of the Jesus story, but might also have been an allusion to the Yardbirds’ song The Nazz Are Blue.

Hello It’s Me, written by Rundgren, was released in 1968 as the b-side of the group’s debut single, Open Your Eyes. The single flopped, except in Boston where a local DJ flipped the single, giving Hello It’s Me local hit status. Rundgren resurrected the song for his 1972 double album Something/Anything?, on three sides of which he did everything — writing, playing, producing, engineering — himself. Hello It’s Me was on side 4, and features session musicians, a horn section (including Randy Brecker) and the backing vocals of Vicki Sue Robinson (who went on to record the original of Gloria Estefan’s1994 hit Turn The Beat Around). The second single from the album, it reached #5 in the US, still Rundgren’s biggest hit. He re-recorded it in 1997 easy listening style. The best version, however, is that by The Isley Brothers, on the 1974 Live It Up album.
Also recorded by: The Isley Brothers (1974), Lani Hall (1975), Groove Theory (1995), Gerald Levert (1999), Paul Giamatti (in the film Duets, 2000), Seiya Nakano (2002), John Legend (2005), Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs (2009)

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Frantic Elevators – Holding Back The Years (1982).mp3
Simply Red – Holding Back The Years (1985).mp3

Randy Crawford – Holding Back The Years (1995).mp3
Angie Stone – Holding Back The Years (2000).mp3

frantic_elevators Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years sounds like a cover version of an obscure ’60s soul number, and the versions by Randy Crawford and Angie Stone show how good a soul song it is. But it is, in fact, a Mick Hucknall composition. Before Hucknall became Simply Red (would you recognise any of the other interchangeable members in the street?), he was the lead singer of the Frantic Elevators, a punk group whose founding was inspired by the Sex Pistols’ 1976 Manchester gig. They stayed together for seven years of very limited success, releasing four non-charting singles and recording a Peel session. The last of the four singles, released in 1982, was Holding Back The Years, a song Hucknall had mostly written as a 17-year-old about his mother’s desertion when he was three (he added the chorus later). Their version is understated and almost morose, in a Joy Division sort of way. Although released independently, as the cut-and-paste artwork on the sleeve suggests, they had high hopes for the single. Ineffective distribution dashed those hopes.

In 1983, Hucknall left the Frantic Elevators and went on to found Simply Red (who before arriving at that name were called World Service, Red and the Dancing Dead, and Just Red). The first single, Money’s Too Tight To Mention — a cover version featured in The Originals Vol. 23— was an instant hit. The follow-up was a remake of Holding Back The Years, now rendered as a soul number, which was a worldwide smash, even topping the Billboard charts. I seem to recall that the single and LP versions had different mixes, but I have found no reference to it, and my copy of the single is long gone.
Also recorded by: James Galway (1994), Randy Crawford (1995), The Isley Brothers (1996), Gino Marinello Orchestra (1996), Craig Chaquico (1997), Jimmy Scott (1998), Another Level (1999), Angie Stone (2000), Emmerson Nogueira (2001), Erin Bode (2006), Etta James (2006), Umphrey’s McGee (2007), The Cooltrane Quartet (2007)

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Strontium 90/Sting – Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (1977).mp3
The Police – Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (1981).mp3

strontium Strictly-speaking this is not really a cover version, or even a song by Strontium 90, but a demo by the group’s member Sting, though it was eventually released in 1997 on the Strontium 90 retrospective of live and demo cuts, Police Academy. In its initial form, the unrequited love for stalkers anthem (Sting has a string of those) is an acoustic number which is actually pretty good. Strontium 90 consisted of the three future Police members — Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland — plus founder Mike Howlett, who went on to be a successful producer of many New Wave acts. So Howlett, through Strontium 90 introduced Andy Summers to Sting and Copeland, who had previously gigged together.

Howlett remembered things this way: “I first saw Sting play live in a room above a pub in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England in the summer of ’76. The band was Last Exit, sounding a bit like Weather Report with vocals. Sting soon moved to London following his best chance instinct. I had just quit my group Gong and was working on material for my own project. I asked sting to sing on the demos I was recording. Meanwhile I’d bumped into Andy Summers at a party in January ’77. He’d been out of the scene for a couple of years studying classical guitar. When I asked him to play on my demo, he was glad to do something new. I needed a drummer. Sting had met Stewart Copeland, he’d bring him along. So that’s how it happened. We all met in a studio called Virtual Earth around February 1977. This was the first time Sting, Andy and Stewart played together.”
Also recorded by: The Surffreakers (1992), The Shadows (1990), Shawn Colvin (as Every Little Thing (He) Does Is Magic, 1994), Chaka Demus & Pliers (1997), Flying Pickets (1998), Soraya (as Todo lo que él hace, 1998), Lee Ritenour (2002), Emmerson Nogueira (2002), Melissa Ellen (2004), Anadivine (2005), Ra (2005), John Barrowman (2007), Ali Campbell (2008)

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The Beatles – Across The Universe (1969).mp3
The Beatles – Across The Universe (1970).mp3
David Bowie – Across The Universe (1975).mp3

This may well be the least surprising inclusion in the entire series of The Originals — or perhaps the most, since the latter version is really a remix of the first. The famous version, of course is that on the Let It Be album and the blue 1967-70 compilation. It was recorded long before the other tracks of Let It Be.

our world In early February 1968, the Beatles were in the Abbey Road studios to produce a single they would released while they went off to hang with the Maharishi in India. That single turned out to be Paul’s Lady Madonna (the same session also produced the b-side, George’s The Inner Light, and John’s Hey Bulldog, which would appear on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack). John’s contribution to the quest for a new single was Across The Universe, whose lyric “words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup” he said came to him when his then-wife Cynthia was babbling about something he took no interest in. The arrangement for the song was problematic, however. John did not think that Paul was getting the backing falsetto right, so Paul brought in two female fans who were standing outside the studio, Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease, to sing backing vocals instead. They did not turn professional, and the recording shows why. John later voiced his suspicion that Paul intentionally sabotaged many of his songs — citing also the violence McCartney did to, erm, Strawberry Fields — though he also admitted that his own vocals on Across The Universe were poor (and he couldn’t blame Paul for that).

Rejected for the single, Across The Universe was not considered for the White Album, apparently because John had become disillusioned with the whole transcendental meditation lark which the song had latched on to. Somehow, however, comedian Spike Milligan heard the song, and suggested that Across The Universe would be a great number for the charity album he was compiling for the World Wildlife Fund. The Beatles agreed to let him have it, with appropriate bird noises added to the mix. The LP’s title, No One’s Gonna Change Our World, was adapted from a recurring line in the song, which opened the set. The album, which also featured the likes of Lulu, Cliff Richard, the Bee Gees, Cilla Black and The Hollies, was eventually released on December 12, 1969.

By then Lennon had rediscovered his affection for the song, which he always regarded as one of the best he had ever written, and decided to rework it for the Get Back sessions, which became the Let It Be album. It was not re-recorded for the album, though the Let It Be film shows the Beatles rehearsing it (on the strength of which it was included on the LP). The new version was the work of engineering. The 1968 track was first remixed in early 1970 by Glyn Johns, who dumped the girls and birds, then Phil Spector mixed it in March/April 1970, slowing it down and adding the orchestra, to create the version we know best.

In January 2008, NASA beamed the song into space, in the direction of the North Star, Polaris. It will take the song another 429 years too get there. The cover version by David Bowie comes from the Young Americans album, and features Lennon on guitar.
Also recorded by: Cilla Black (1970), Lightsmyth (1970), Christine Roberts (1970), David Bowie (1975), Vadim Brodsky (1986), Laibach (1988), The Family Cat (1991), Holly Johnson (1991), 10cc (1993), Joemy Wilson (1993), Göran Söllscher (1995), Elliot Humberto Kavee (1997), Aine Minogue (1997), Fiona Apple (1998), Sloan Wainwright (1998), Paul Schwartz (1998), Lana Lane (1998), 46bliss (1999), Geoff Keezer (2000), Jane Duboc (2001), Texas (2001), Jason Falkner (2001), Rufus Wainwright (2002), Afterhours + Verdena (2003), Allon (2004), Emmerson Nogueira (2004), Beatlejazz (2005), Barbara Dickson (2006), Emmanuel Santarromana (2006), Jim Sturgess (2007), Michael Johns (2008) a.o.

More Originals

Copy Borrow Steal Vol. 3

November 13th, 2009 14 comments

Did the Beatles borrow from a 1956 jazz hit before their song was shamelessly copied by a 1990s alternative group? How did Rod Stewart get around a plagiarism lawsuit? Does Seal’s mega-hit Kiss From A Rose borrow from Natalie Cole? Did Keith Richards and Mick Jagger really never hear k.d. lang’s Constant Craving? Why am I writing the intro in question format? Could it be because the Copy Borrow Steal posts are not intended to directly accuse songwriters of plagiarism (except when they do)? Shall we proceed to the meat of the post?

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Jorge Ben – Taj Mahal (1976).mp3
Bob Dylan – One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) (1966).mp3
Rod Stewart – Do Ya Think I’m Sexy (1978).mp3
Steve Dahl – Do You Think I’m Disco
(1979).mp3
jorge benIt didn’t go down well when Rod the Mod donned the leopard-print spandex tights and satin shirt to cash in on the disco boom. His fans were appalled, the disco purists even more so, and the disco haters went into overdrive. Radio jock Steve Dahl was prompted to organise the despicable record burning at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in part because of Rod’s single (for my views on Comiskey, go here). Dahl later released the non-genius spoof Do You Think I’m Disco. In the outrage, few noticed that the chorus of Rod’s song (and, for that matter, Dahl’s) was lifted almost wholesale from Brazilian jazz maestro Jorge Ben’s samba-funk workout Taj Mahal, which he has recorded at least three times since its first appearance in 1972 (featured here is the 1976 version).

rodDo Ya Think I’m Sexy was written by Stewart with his drummer, Carmine Appice. But clearly, it was largely plagiarised, so Jorge Ben threatened to sue. Rod deftly outmanoeuvred him, and Ben (who also wrote the bossa nova standard Mais Que Nada) saw no profit from it. Stewart grandly announced that future royalties of his ripped-off track would go to UNICEF, at whose proto-Live Aid show he sang “his” song. Ben — now known as Jorge Ben Jor, after somehow royalties due to him were paid to George Benson — later complained that UNICEF never even contacted him about the agreement. He was not happy about having been ripped off, but would have been fine with his melody being lifted if only Stewart and Appice had asked him.

Da Ya Think also lifts that synth hook from Bobby Womack’s 1975 track (If You Want My Love) Put Something Down On It. The Can-Smashing Robot blog, however, believes to have spotted another subtle rip-off: Al Kooper’s organ hook at 2:59 in Bob Dylan’s One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later). You decide. But as you do, think about this: Dylan’s track appeared on Blonde On Blonde; Stewart’s on Blondes Have More Fun. Coincidence?

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Humphrey Lyttleton – Bad Penny Blues (1956).mp3
The Beatles – Lady Madonna (1967).mp3
Sublime – What I Got (1996).mp3

lytteltonThe piano riff of Humphrey Lyttleton’s Bad Penny Blues, played by Johnny Parker, allegedly inspired Paul McCartney ivory-tinkling on Lady Madonna. Engineered by the legendary Joe Meek (who should have received the producer credit), it was the first British jazz number to reach the UK Top 20. Lyttleton, a jazz traditionalist, did not like the song on account of Meek’s innovations.

The aristocratic Lyttleton, who died in April last year, was a colourful character. Apart from playing jazz, he was also a cartoonist for the Daily Mail (which at the time evidently still employed left-leaning characters). At school, he played in a band with the journalist Ludovic Kennedy, who died last month. The trumpet was his constant companion, it seems. During the war, he reportedly landed on Salerno beach during Operation Avalanche with gun in one hand and trumpet in the other. On VE Day, the BBC filmed him celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany sitting in a wheelbarrow playing his trumpet. For 40 years he presented a jazz programme on BBC radio, retiring the month before his death. He also appeared on the BBC radio comedy quiz show I’m Sorry, I Haven’t Got A Clue; one of his replacement after his death was the magnificent Stephen Fry. And in 2001, he contributed to Radiohead’s Life In A Glasshouse.

To spoil a good story, McCartney says that the piano on Lady Madonna was in fact inspired by Fats Domino, whose vocal style he also tried to replicate. And, in fairness, I can’t hear much similarity between Lyttleton’s and McCartney’s songs.

There is, however, more than just a little similarity between Lady Madonna and alternative rock outfit Sublime’s 1997 hit What You Got. The latter’s first verse melody is almost identical to that of the Beatles’ song. Apparently the Sublime song, released after lead singer Bradley Nowell’s death, was based on a song by called Loving by Jamaican dancehall singer Half Pint. He gets a writer’s credit; McCartney doesn’t.

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Natalie Cole – Our Love (1978).mp3
Seal – Kiss From A Rose (1995).mp3

natalie_coleYou’ll have to make your own mind up about this: to me, the piano intro of Natalie Cole’s 1978 song Our Love sounds suspiciously like the scatted intro of Seal’s 1995 hit Kiss From A Rose (a song I can’t say I’m particularly partial to, though I’ll allow that Seal’s vocal performance is pretty good).

Natalie Cole’s song was written by Chuck Jackson & Marvin Yancy, and covered in 1997 by Mary J Blige, though I don’t remember her version at all. Cole’s version was a US #10 hit; Seal’s, written for the Batman Forever soundtrack by Seal and Trevor Horn, topped the US charts.

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k.d. lang – Constant Craving (1992).mp3
Rolling Stones – Anybody Seen My Baby (1997).mp3

kdlangOne of my favourite passages in Timothy English’s fascinating book on songs that have copied, borrowed or stolen, Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy) concerns the Rolling Stones’ Anybody Seen My Baby from the mostly mediocre Bridges To Babylon album. It’s 1997 and Keef is playing the soon-to-be-release album to his daughter and her friends. As the chorus of Anybody Seen My Baby begins, the girls launch into the chorus of k.d. lang’s Constant Craving. Richards and Jagger denied having consciously heard lang’s mammoth hit of 1992 (nor, as English pointedly notes, did the producer, engineer, session musicians or record company honchos, it seems).

However, by the time Ms Richards and pals had alerted Keef to the potential plagiarism, the marketing machine for Bridges To Babylon was already in overdrive, and the track could not be pulled. The pragmatic, and honourable, solution was to add Lang and her co-writer, Ben Mink, to the writing credit. As for Richards, he later told CNN: “If you’re a songwriter, it can happen. You know, it’s what goes in may well come out.”

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More Copy Borrow Steal

Great covers – Beatles

September 29th, 2009 12 comments

As a Beatles fan, I would be quite happy to display all their album covers on my wall, if decorating my humble abode with LP sleeves was my thing (the putative notion of such interior design innovation, of course, being the premise for this series). I imagine the Beatles would appreciate the pun in my song selection: Beatles songs sung by others… Read more…

Copy Borrow Steal: Beatles edition

September 4th, 2009 10 comments

In this series, of which this is the second instalment, I am to a large extent guided by Tim English’ fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy), which inspired it in the first place. It must be stressed that I am not necessarily imputing unethical behaviour on part of those who created music that sounds like somebody else’s. A reader calling himself Fudge, in his comment to the first post, explained the legal case for plagiarism: “In terms of songwriting, lawmakers decided that melody and chord structure are the basis of the song (in terms of pop music anyway) and therefore those parts are the most protected. I think the term is ‘interpolate’. That’s why The Jam can ‘borrow’ “Taxman” for “Start!” and not get sued, or Steely Dan can nip Horace Silver’s cool bass line.”

I will also include a few songs where similarity has been suggested, but I can’t see it. You shall be the judge. Let me know what you think.

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Nat ‘King’ Cole – Answer Me My Love (1961).mp3
Ray Charles – Georgia On My Mind (1960).mp3
The Beatles – Yesterday (live in Blackpool) (1965).mp3
nat_king_coleIn my introduction to the first instalment, I cited Paul McCartney’s concern that he unconsciously plagiarised (the technical term for that is cryptomnesia) Yesterday as an example of a songwriter’s scruples. In his comment to the post, Mick alerted me to a suggestion in 2003 by British musicologists that Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Answer Me My Love from 1953 — available here in a 1961 re-recording — inspired McCartney on a sub-conscious level (and kindly uploaded the song as well).

The case here rests on a line in Cole’s song which does bear some resemblance lyrically and in its phrasing. Cole sings: “Yesterday, I believed that love was here to stay, won’t you tell me where I’ve gone astray” (0:38). McCartney’s line goes: “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now I need a place to hide away.” The musicologists suggested that McCartney must have been aware of the Cole song but kindly allowed that the influence was subliminal.

Paul and John in Blackpool, 1965

Paul and John in Blackpool, 1965

To my mind, this is hardly a case of Byron stealing from Shelley. It is not the most unlikely coincidence when two lyricist 12 years apart arrive at similar rhymes to the word “yesterday”. The phrasing charge doesn’t stick either. Yesterday was floating around with nonsense lyrics (“Scambled eggs, oh my darling you have lovely legs”) until McCartney eventually wrote the lyrics while in Portugal. He could not really phrase the lyrics in many other ways over the existing melody. Others have suggested that he borrowed the structure and chord progression from Ray Charles’ version of Georgia On My Mind. I don’t quite see that. So in more than 40 years, the best theories to support the notion that the most famous pop song of all time was influenced by other songs concern a generic rhyme and a song that sounds nothing like Yesterday. Members of the jury, there is no case.

Instead, enjoy this live performance of Yesterday, recorded at the Blackpool Night Out, with George Harrison’s introduction, “For Paul McCartney of Liverpool, opportunity knocks”, and Lennon’s attribution of the performance to Ringo at the end.

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Freddie Lennon – That’s My Life (My Love And My Home) (1965).mp3
Freddie Lennon – The Next Time You Feel Important.mp3
John Lennon – Imagine (1971).mp3

freddie_lennonIn early 1940 Alfred Lennon impregnated Julia and soon left her with little John Winston who’d barely hear of his seafaring father again. Alfred predictably turned up when the Beatles became successful. A reunion with his son was icy — funny enough, John was not impressed with the old man’s sudden paternal interest. Still, John later bought the old man a cottage. In the interim, Alfred tried to cash in by recording a self-justifying single, a precursor for My Way in many ways (in a “I’m a good bloke, ain’t I? I just like the sea more than my offspring” fashion). To John, the single was a running joke; he’d play it as a gag for his friends.

Tim English in his book suggests that John might have been unconsciously influenced by his father’s novelty record when he wrote Imagine. English refers to the stately tone of both songs, which in itself is no smoking gun. More crucially, he points to the similarity in the chord progression in the verses. These are not terribly complex or unusual, but the similarity is recognisable. Still, even if John was not in any way influenced, it is a delicious irony that John Lennon’s hypocritical hymn to idealism bears a resemblance to his father’s ridiculous novelty record. As a bonus, I’m including the b-side to Freddie’s single as well (it’s pretty awful).

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The Hollies – Stewball (1966).mp3
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Merry X-Mas (War Is Over) (1971).mp3

holliesWe might acquit John from nicking chords from his Dad, but his Christmas standard will have the jury wanting exonerating evidence before it can acquit. Stewball, an American folk song adapted from a British ballad about an 18th century racehorse, had been recorded many times before Lennon wrote Merry X-Mas. The folk-influenced Lennon might have been familiar with the versions by Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, Peter Paul & Mary or Joan Baez. It is likely too that he knew the Hollies’ version, which appeared on their 1966 album Would You Believe?. Their version sounds close to Lennon’s song in arrangement, apart from the distinct melodic similarity.

Did John directly plagiarise? Well, Stewball came from a folk tradition in which melodies were routinely recycled and adapted with new lyrics. Bob Dylan did that with Blowin’ In The Wind (see here) sounding more than just suspiciously like No More Auction Block. If we want to get Lennon off the charge on a technicality, at least we have recourse to a defence based on precedent.

merry_xmasEnglish refers to another inspiration, acknowledged by Lennon: the arrangement, by Phil Spector, was lifted from a song Spector and George Harrison had produced for Ronnie Spector, titled Try Some Buy Some (later recorded by Harrison). Apparently the song was so bad, Ronnie thought her husband and George were joking when presenting her with it. Harrison later put another arrangement from the Ronnie sessions (which she did not record) to his hit song You.

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The Beatles – Norwegian Wood (Take 1) (1965).mp3
Bob Dylan – 4th Time Around (1966).mp3

rubber_soulIn his book, English writes that John Lennon almost had a fit when he heard 4th Time Around on Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde album: it ripped off Norwegian Wood, which the Beatles had released a little earlier on Rubber Soul. One can understand Lennon’s point: listen to 4th Time Around a few times, and latest by the third time around the similarities become glaring, especially two-thirds of the way through, and not only in subject matter.

Of course, Dylan had influenced Lennon profoundly. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away is John’s musical homage to acoustic Dylan. It’s fair to say that without the Dylan influence, John would not have written something like Norwegian Wood. Posted here is the first take of Norwegian Wood, recorded nine days before the version which made it on to the album. Some people prefer this take.

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The Byrds – Bells Of Rhymney (1965).mp3
The Beatles – If I Needed Someone (1965).mp3

byrdsAnd if Dylan ripped off Norwegian Wood, the Beatles borrowed and adapted the jangling guitar intro of the Byrds’ version of Pete Seeger’s Bells Of Rhymney for If I Needed Someone. Still with Dylan in mind, it is of interest to note that he was influenced to go electric by the Byrds and the Beatles. And just to add to the mix, the Byrds’ Gene Clark was moved by She Loves You to abandon the straight folk of the New Christy Minstrels, and instead co-found the Byrds, who borrowed further from the Beatles to get their guitar- and harmony-based sound (Tim English notes that Roger McGuinn bought his essential 12-string Rickenbacker after seeing Harrison use one in A Hard Day’s Night).

Harrison cheerfully admitted, in public and to the Byrds, that he had copied the intro to If I Needed Someone from the Byrds’ song, which had just been released when the Beatles recorded Rubber Soul.

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The Beatles – Taxman (alternative take) (1966).mp3
The Jam – Start! (1980).mp3

taxmanThis is the rip-off every fan of English music immediately thinks off. As Fudge said, copying a riff does not constitute legal plagiarism. Here The Jam lifted the guitar and bass riff from Harrison’s rather mean-spirited complaint about having to pay taxes (which, admittedly, were punitive in Britain). The guitar and bass parts in Taxman, incidentally, were played by McCartney. Harrison took over Lennon’s rhythm guitar, and John (who contributed the bipartisan falsetto “Ah ha Mr Wilson; Ah ha Mr Heath”, replaced in the take featured here with the line “Anybody got a bit of money”) did tambourine and backing vocals duty. Start! Was The Jam’s second UK #1 hit after Going Underground.

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Ringo Starr – Back Off Boogaloo (1972).mp3
Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out (2004).mp3

boogalooRingo Starr wrote his hit after having a dinner with T. Rex’s Marc Bolan who repeatedly used the word “boogaloo” (I am happy to dismiss the story that Boogaloo was Ringo’s nickname for Paul McCartney, who was engaged in legal action with the other Beatles at the time). The song was produced by George Harrison and was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Glaswegians Franz Ferdinand appeared on the scene in 2004 with Take Me Out, supported by a superb video. Take Me Out sounded a bit like a mash of several unfinished songs. It was Libertines singer and celebrity junkie Pete Doherty who, in an unfamiliar moment of lucidity, accused Franz Ferdinand of copying the riff and song structure of Ringo’s song. Apart from Boogaloo’s riff, the “I know I won’t be leaving here” bridge certainly bears a close resemblance. Theft or not? What do you think?

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