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In Memoriam – November 2011

December 5th, 2011 4 comments

Everybody knows that Ringo Starr left Rory Storm and The Hurricanes to replace Pete Best in The Beatles. This month, Ringo’s replacement in the Hurricanes passed on at the age of 67. As a bandleader, Keef Hartley later played at Woodstock. He died on November 27.

It is not very well known that boxing legend Joe Frazier, my favourite fighter of all time, was also a bit of a soul singer. Some of his stuff cashed in on his boxing background; the song featured here is a straight soul number, and it’s pretty good.

In July we lost song-writer Jerry Ragovoy; this month his sometime writing partner Jimmy Norman died. They wrote Time Is On My Side together.

A bit of spookiness happened on Wednesday: On my way to work, The Soul Children’s All Day Preaching (featured HERE ) came on the iPod, and later at work I played the quite amazing  I’ll Be The Other Woman (feature HERE). A couple of days later I learned that the leader of The Soul Children, J Blackfoot had died on the same day.

It is a pity that most readers of this blog won’t understand the lyrics of Franz-Josef Degenhardt‘s Spiel nicht mit den Schmuddelkindern, an indictment of what Germans call the Spiessergesellschaft – the squares. As a child, the protagonist from a “better home” likes to play with the working class children (the “Schmuddelkinder” of the title), but is then forced to abandon them. The kids tease him for that, and “for revenge he got rich”, and disciplines his own son for playing with the lower classes. But I’m doing the song injustice: in one passage Degenhardt uses words that actually sound as harsh and bitter as the protagonist feels. The leftist singer, incidentally, was a cousin of a conservative cardinal in the Catholic Church.

Finally, Andrea True‘s fascinating journey from porn-star to disco queen came to an end.


Reese Palmer, 73, member of doo wop group The Marquees (with Marvin Gaye), backing singer for Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Billy Stewart, on October 27
The Marquees – Wyatt Earp (1957)
Chuck Berry – Back In The USA (1959, as backing singer)

Beryl Davis, 87, British big band singer and actress, on October 28
Arthur Young And Hatchett’s Swingtette – How Am I To Know (1940, as vocalist)
Jane Russell, Connie Haines, Beryl Davis, and Della Russell – Do Lord (1954)

Liz Anderson, 81, country singer-songwriter and mother of Lynn Anderson, on October 31
Merle Haggard – (My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers (1964, as songwriter)

Christiane Legrand, 81, French jazz singer, on November 1
Les Double Six – Ruby (1964)
Christiane Legrand – Maldonne (1968)

Cory Smoot, 34, guitarist of heavy metal  group Gwar, on November 3
Gordon Beck, 75, British jazz pianist and composer, on November 6
The Gordon Beck Quartet – Monday, Monday (1968)

Joe Frazier, 67, World Heavyweight Champion and part-time soul singer, on November 7
Joe Frazier – If You Go, Stay Gone (1971)

Andrea True, 68, porn actress-cum-disco star, on November 7
Andrea True Connection – More More More (1976)

Heavy D (Dwight Arrington Myers), 44, Jamaican-born American rapper and actor, on November 8
Heavy D – Is It Good To You (1991)

Jimmy Norman, 74, soul and jazz musician and songwriter, on November 8
Irma Thomas – Time Is On My Side (1964, as lyricist)
Bill Wells, 84, bluegrass musician, on November 8

Andy Tielman, 75, Dutch Indo-rock pioneer, on November 10
Andy Tielman – If I Only Had Time (2006)

Doyle Bramhall, 62, blues drummer and singer-songwriter, on November 12
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Dirty Pool (1983, as drummer)

Dixie Fasnacht, 101, New Orleans jazz singer, clarinetist and Bourbon Stret club owner, on September 13
Lee Pockriss, 87, songwriter (Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, Tracy), on September 14
Perry Como – Catch A Falling Star (1957)

Jackie Leven, 61, Scottish folk singer-songwriter, on November 14
Jackie Leven – Hotel Mini Bar (2010)

Franz-Josef Degenhardt, 79, German protest singer-songwriter, satirist and writer, on November 14
Franz-Josef Degenhardt – Spiel nicht mit den Schmuddelkindern (1965)

Laura Kennedy, bassist of punk-funk band Bush Tetras, on November 14
Bush Tetras – Too Many Creeps (1980)
Moogy Klingman, 61, keyboardist with prog-rock band Utopia, on November 15
Utopia – Set Me Free (1980, live)

Gary Garcia, 63, member of novelty duo Buckner & Garcia, on November 17
Buckner & Garcia – Pac-Man Fever (1982)

Paul Yandell, 76, country guitarist, on November 21

Paul Motian, 80, influential jazz drummer, on November 22
Bill Evans Trio – Autumn Leaves (1959)
Barry Llewellyn, 63, founding member of Jamaican ska/reggae group The Heptones, on November 23
The Heptones – Fattie Fattie (1966)

Ludwig Hirsch, 65, Austrian singer-songwriter, of suicide on November 24

Coco Robicheaux, 64, New Orleans blues musician, on November 25
Coco Robicheaux – Shake Down Here

Ross MacManus, 84, English musician and father of Elvis Costello, on November 25

Don DeVito, 72, producer of Bob Dylan in the mid- and late 1970s and record company exec, on November 25
Bob Dylan – Sara (1976, as producer)

Keef Hartley, 67, English blues drummer (with Toots Mayall a.o.) and bandleader, on November 27
Keef Hartley Band – Too Much Thinking (1969)

Thomas Roady, 62, drummer for Ricky Scaggs, James Brown, Art Garfunkel, Dixie Chicks, Lynyrd Synyrd a.o., on November 28
Vince Gill – What The Cowgirls Do (1994, as drummer)

Nelly Byl, 92, prolific Belgian songwriter, on November 30
The Gibson Brothers – Que Sera Mi Vida (1980, as songwriter)

J. Blackfoot, 65, soul singer, on November 30
The Soul Children –  I Want To Be Loved (1972)
J. Blackfoot – Taxi (1983)

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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

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?

More Copy Borrow Steal

Great moustaches in rock: Ferry and Dylan

August 20th, 2009 7 comments

ferry-moustache1

It’s true, we don’t normally think of Bryan Ferry’s upper lip as being follicularly ornamented. And if we did, we likely should want to banish the memory of the image into that remote password-protected folder buried in the operating system of our sub-conscious that produces what we hope to be infrequent nightmares. What was Bryan Ferry hoping to communicate with his ’tache? A vain man, he must have believed his ineffectual snotbreaker added a certain je ne parlez français pas to his extravagant elegance.

And who of us with the powers of beard growth have not fancied ourselves with a moustache? Maybe a thin Clark Gable number to exude the confidence of a particularly manly man’s man? Perhaps a robust Freddy Mercury, protruding macho-like from a luxuriant overbite? Maybe a Ron Jeremy porntache to camouflage the sleazy curl of the lip? Or go the whole hog and grow a Lemmy horseshoe for good luck, hoping it will evade the facial warts that lend character to a booze-worn face.

giorgio_MoroderSome men, after a few razor-free weeks, might have in the process of removing the growth experimented with various temporary beard styles. First the goatee (for the geography teacher or communist icon look). Then applying razor to chin to create the Lemmy, noting with some embarrassment that our sense of symmetry is stunted when it comes to the art of barberism. So the jowlmask goes, but slowly, piece by piece, because we need to pay brief homage to the droopy ’70s porn actor look as perfected by Italian producer Giorgio Moroder (pictured). Damn symmetry again.

And so we arrive at a probably uneven Mercury, tweaking here and there until we face the most abstruse question in all endeavours involving mucking around with overgrown stubble: shall the next step be the Clark Gable or the Hitler? If you are like me, you will pick the Hitler toothbrush look for pure comedy effect and “hilarious” photo opportunity (never to show that picture to anyone!). If you look like Clark Gable, you go for a Gable, naturally (after all, even Gable would have looked preposterous with a Hitler ’tache).

And so it must have happened that Bryan Ferry, fancying himself a worldly lady magnet, arrived at his adventurous pencil moustache. Three years earlier, in 1973, he had been crooning These Foolish Things, a song from the Gable era. It made perfect sense to our favourite foxhunting, Tory-voting glam-rocker. “It does look dashing, innit,” he might have said to his appreciative reflection as he poured another bottle of extra-virgin olive oil over his hair, cheerfully fortified by the certainty that his moustachial judgment would attract universal admiration.

ferry-moustache2

Alas, poor Ferry, for he was profoundly mistaken. From the moment the caterpillar whiskers made their public debut, they were derided as few moustaches ever had been. And how could it not be so? Sitting on Ferry’s face was not so much a moustache than a trail produced by an anorexic slug slithering along its ink-soaked ass in a state of tottery inebriation, holding on tenuously to the ridges of Ferry’s upper lip in an ultimately triumphant bid to stay on course. Bryan Ferry, so astute in matters sartorial chic, quickly realised that he looked like the mid-70s equivalent of a douchebag, and with steady hand applied the Wilkinson Sword to his lip.

Happily, Ferry failed to set a pervasive trend. Occasionally one popster or another would sport a pencil moustache (or, as Jimmy Buffett did, dream of growing one), perhaps in knowingly ironic homage to Ferry. Ron Mael, no doubt tormented by indecision in repeated experimental razor adventures, gave us both the Gable and the Hitler. But for the most part, Ferry abandoned a fashion before it could catch on. And then came Bob Dylan.

bob_dylan

What in the name of Errol Flynn is it that Dylan is sporting on his upper lip, and to what good purpose does it exist? Is Bob trying to create something even more revolting than his voice? Is that slither of sparse thatch intended to mimic quizzical eyebrows? Is he trying to be Zorro, defender of all virtue and avenger of widows and protector of virgins? Look like your creepy paedo uncle? Compensate for his inability to grow exorbitant Edwardian walrus whiskers by going for something similarly absurd? Simulate the motion of windscreen wipers on a drizzly afternoon as he snarls this way and that? Fail pitifully in his desperate bid to emulate fellow Wilbury George Harrison in the book of shit moustaches? Prepare for a career in stand-up comedy in which fun follicles compensate for the absence of jokes (it’s an old trick)?

Cisco Houston, allegedly inspiring a superannuated Bob Dylan

Cisco Houston, allegedly inspiring a superannuated Bob Dylan

Dylan fans have spent much mental energy contemplating the mystery of Dylan’s ’tache and its intrinsic profundity. One blogger in 2004 perhaps solved the mystery: Dylan is paying tribute to folk legend Cisco Houston, who bade this cruel world farewell just as young Bobby Zimmerman forsook the cold climes of Minnesota in favour of the hot scene of Greenwich Village’s folk cafés. If this is really so, then Dylan’s experiment in paying tribute through the medium of moustache is a bust. Should Dylan, a man in his 60s, be sincere in his desire to faithfully copy the stylings of his hero, he might want to consult Johnny Drama from the fine TV series Entourage, who revives the Cisco look with incontestable splendour.

Bob Dylan is a fan of Warren Smith’s rockabilly song Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache, recorded in 1957 for Sun Records. I won’t create a theory that it is that song which Dylan is paying tribute to (unless he drives a red Cadillac, in which case I claim credit for solving the great Dylan moustache mystery). I simply required a good reason to post that magnificent song.

And from Ferry, the musical equivalent of his moustache, a version of It’s My Party so boggling of mind that you may wonder whether Ferry had lost his when he passed it for inclusion on his 1973 album of covers, These Foolish Things. Ferry as the male Mrs Miller, with a wink and no mercy!

Giorgio Moroder, he of the porn moustache and rich line of disco production (Donna Summer!), released his From Here To Eternity album in 1977. With Kraftwerk, he is the co-inventor of the synthpop New Wave of the early 1980s, as the title track proves.

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Warren Smith – A Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache.mp3
Bob Dylan – Idiot Wind.mp3
Cisco Houston – Passing Through.mp3
Bryan Ferry – It’s My Party.mp3
Giorgio Moroder – From Here To Eternity.mp3

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Previous moustaches

The Originals Vol. 27

June 19th, 2009 7 comments

Sometimes it happens that an act which wrote a famous song has it recorded by others before they do. This can be because the composer was still a songwriter waiting to become well known (Kris Kristofferson or Leonard Cohen), or because the first performer was friendly with the star who wrote the song. We have seen a couple of such cases in this series before, with Barry McGuire recording the Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreaming and Chad & Jeremy’s doing Simon & Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound first (amusingly, DivShare indicates that the McGuire version has been downloaded 140,701 times. Yeah, right). In this instalment, all five songs were recorded by others before the writers recorded their more famous versions.

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New World Singers – Blowing In The Wind.mp3
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind (Gerde’s version, 1962).mp3

Bob Dylan – No More Auction Block (1962).mp3
Chad Mitchell Trio – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3
Peter, Paul & Mary – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3

Marlene Dietrich – Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind.mp3

Before he became almost instantly famous, Bob Dylan’s favoured hang-out in Greenwich Village was Gerde’s Folk City. In 1962 he took ten minutes to cobble together Blowin’ In The Wind, based on an old slave song called No More Auction Block, which he says he knew from the Cater Family’s version. Dylan’s recording of the song dates from October 1962, at the Gaslight Café.

gerde's

Also performing regularly at Gerde’s was the multi-racial folk group New World Singers. Delores Nixon, the black member, often sang No More Auction Block as part of the group’s repertoire. Dylan later recalled that he wrote Blowin’ In The Wind after spending the night with Delores (who told him that it was unethical to “borrow” the melody, even though many folkies used to do that). One day in April 1962, Dylan handed the lyrics of Blowin’ In The Wind to New World Singer Gil Turner, who hosted the Monday evening line-up. Turner was impressed and asked Dylan to teach him the song, so that he could perform it immediately. Turner introduced the song — “I’d like to sing a new song by one of our great songwriters. It’s hot of the pencil and here it goes.” The crowd went mad, and Dylan went home. After that, he would include Blowin’ In The Wind on his repertoire; his version featured here is an excellent bootleg from a gig at Gerde’s in late 1962, before he recorded it for his sophomore album and before anybody else released it.

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The timeline of recordings of Blowin’ In The Wind is a little confused. Some sources date the New World Singers’ recording to September 1963, four months after Dylan’s was released. That is patently wrong, however. The New World Singers’ version appeared on a compilation of “topical songs” called Broadside Ballads Vol. 1 which apparently was released on 1 January 1963 on Broadside Records, the recording arm of the folk magazine (you guessed it) Broadside, which was founded by Pete Seeger and printed the lyrics of the song in May 1962. The Chad Mitchell Trio, sometimes credited with recording the song first, released the song on their In Action LP in March 1963.

dietrich_antwort_windIn 1963, Blowin’ In The Wind became a massive hit, not for Dylan, but for Peter, Paul & Mary. Naturally the song has been covered copiously and esoterically. Perhaps the most unexpected recording is that by the German film legend Marlene Dietrich in 1964; her Burt Bacharach-orchestrated single, which is not at all bad (I do dig the groovy flute), was backed by another German take on a folk anthem, Where Have All The Flowers Gone. I owe the New World Singers file to my latest Originals friend Walter from Belgium, who has kindly set me up with 30-odd more songs for this series.

Also recorded by: Chad Mitchell Trio (1963), Kingston Trio (1963), Stan Getz (1963), Marie Laforêt (1963), The Breakaways (1963), Conny Vandenbos & René Frank (as Wie weet waar het begint, 1964), Stan Getz & João Gilberto (1964; b-side of The Girl From Ipanema), Richard Anthony (as Ecoute dans le vent, 1964), Eddy Arnold (1964), The Browns (1964), Sam Cooke (1964), Marianne Faithfull (1964), Lena Horne (1964), Lucille Starr & Bob Regan (1964), Nina & Frederik (1964), Chet Atkins (1965), Trini Lopez (1965), Cher (1965), The Mad Hatters (1965), Johnny Rivers (1965), Bobby Bare (1965), Jackie DeShannon (1965), The Silkie (1965), Blue Mood Four (1965), Marlene Dietrich (English version, 1966), John Davidson (1966), I Kings (as La risposta, 1966), Robert DeCormier Singers (1966), Peggy March (as Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind, 1966), The Sheffields (1966), Stevie Wonder (1966), Dionne Warwick (1966), Joan Baez (1967), Brother Jack McDuff (1967), Lou Donaldson (1967), Laurel Aitken (1967), O.V. Wright (1968), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), The Dixie Drifters (1968), The Hollies (1969), Stanley Turrentine feat. Shirley Scott (1969), The Travellers (1969), Edwin Hawkins Singers (1969), Diana Ross & The Supremes (1969), Bill Medley (1970), Johnny Nash (1970), Luigi Tenco (as La risposta è caduta nel vento, 1972), Brimstone (1973), Black Johnny & His Paradiso’s (1973), Trident (1975), Horst Jankowski und sein Rias-Tanzorchester (1977), Julie Felix (1992), Neil Young (1991), Barbara Dickson (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), Judy Collins (1994), The Hooters (1994), Hugues Aufray (as Dans le souffle du vent, 1995), Mina (2000), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2001), Emmerson Nogueira (2002), Peter Saltzman (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Loona (2004), Bobby Solo (2004), Jools Holland with Ruby Turner (2005), House of Fools (2005), Dolly Parton & Nickel Creek (2005), Nena (2007), Sylvie Vartan (as Dans le souffle du vent, 2007), Massimo Priviero (2007) a.o.

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Billy Preston – My Sweet Lord.mp3
George Harrison – My Sweet Lord.mp3

billy_prestonYes, of course, the Chiffons did it “originally”. And with that out of the way, Harrison wrote My Sweet Lord, which would become his biggest and most controversial hit, for Billy Preston. Preston had at one point come to be regarded as the “Fifth Beatle” thanks to his keyboard work which earned him a co-credit on the Get Back single. He had actually known the band since 1962, when he toured Britain with Little Richard, for whom the Beatles opened in Liverpool. Post-Beatles, Preston continued working with Harrison, who had brought him into the Let It Be sessions.

Written in December 1969 in Copenhagen, My Sweet Lord song first appeared on Preston’s Encouraging Words album, a star-studded affair which included not only Harrison, but also Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richard on bass and Ginger Baker on drums. The album also included Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (a song which the Beatles had considered of recording); almost a year later that song would provide the title of the triple-LP set. The All Things Must Pass album, produced by Phil Spector, also included George’s cover of his own My Sweet Lord.

my_sweet_lordPreston’s version is much closer to Harrison’s original concept than the composer’s own take. In his defence during the My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine plagiarism case, Harrison said that he was inspired not by early-’60s girlband pop, but by the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1969 hit Oh Happy Day. That influence is acutely apparent on Preston’s recording, but less so on Harrison’s chart-topper. Indeed, had Preston scored the big hit with it, not Harrison, it might have been Ed Hawkins initiating the plagiarism litigation.

Also recorded by: Stu Phillips & The Hollyridge Strings (1971), Johnny Mathis (1971), Homer Louis Randolph III (1971), Peggy Lee (1971), Ray Conniff (1971), Monty Alexander & the Cyclones (1971), Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Eddy Arnold (1971), Edwin Starr (1971), Top of the Poppers (1971), Nina Simone (1972), Richie Havens (1972), The Violinaires (1973), Five Thirty (1990), Boy George (1992), Stacy Q (1997), George Harrison & Sam Brown (2000), David Young (2000), Emmerson Nogueira (2003), Bebe Winans (2003), Girlyman (2003), Joel Harrison (2005), Gary Christian & Desa Basshead (2008) a.o.

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Flying Burrito Brothers – Wild Horses.mp3
Rolling Stones – Wild Horses.mp3

burritoIt is difficult to say which one is the original, and which one the cover. The Stones recorded it before the Flying Burrito Brothers did, but released it only after Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons’ band released it on their 1970 album, Burrito Deluxe. Wild Horses was written in 1969 (Keef says about his new-born son; Jagger denies that its re-written lyrics were about Marianne Faithfull) and recorded in December 1969 at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, the day after the group laid down Brown Sugar. Jamming in a country mood, Mick asked Keith to present a number in that genre, spurring his country-loving friend on by saying: “Come on, you must have hundreds”. Keith disappeared for a bit, and returned with a melody and words for the chorus. Mick filled in the lyrics for the verses, and the song was recorded (with Jim Dickinson standing it for Ian Stewart, who did not like playing minor chords)  before the Stones packed up and left Memphis.

Earlier that year, the Stones had collaborated on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace Of Sin album; and as the curtain fell on the 1960s, the Burritos opened for the Stones at the notorious Altamont concert (according to some reports, it was during their performance that the Hells’ Angels started the first fight). Parsons was especially friendly with Keith Richard, whom he introduced to the treasury of country music. It is even said that the song was intended for Gram — probably a false rumour, yet it  sounds more like a Parsons than a Stones song. Whether or not it was intended for Parsons, the Burritos were allowed to record Wild Horses, and release it before the Stones were able to (for contractual reasons involving their “divorce” from Allen Klein) on 1971’s Sticky Fingers album.

Also recorded by: Labelle (1971), Leon Russell (1974), Melanie (1974), The Sundays (1992), Southside Johnny (1997), Otis Clay (1997), Blackhawk (1997), Old & In the Way (1997), Elliott Murphy with Olivier Durand (2000), Brent Truitt, Tim Crouch and Dennis Crouch (2000), The Rocking Chairs (2002), Leslie King (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Rachel Z (2004), Charlotte Martin (2004), Karen Souza (2005), Alicia Keys featuring Adam Levine (2005), Tre Lux (2006), Richard Marx with Jessica Andrews (2008) a.o.

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Judy Collins – Suzanne.mp3
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne.mp3
Françoise Hardy – Suzanne (English version).mp3

judy_collinsMany of Laughing Len’s most famous songs were first recorded by folk warbless Judy Collins: Sisters Of Mercy; Bird On A Wire; Since You’ve Asked; Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye — and Suzanne. The song was born in Montréal, landmarks of which are described at length in the song. Cohen already had a chord pattern in place which he then married to a poem he had written about one Suzanne Verdal — the beautiful wife of the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, a friend of Cohen’s — whom he fancied but, as the lyrics have it, touched only in his mind.

francoise_hardyOne night in 1966, a year before Cohen released his debut album, he played the finished song over the telephone to his friend Judy Collins, who was already a star on the folk scene. Duly enchanted, Collins recorded the song for her In My Life album, which was released in November 1966. A few months later, the English-born singer Noel Harrison and Josh White Jr both recorded it before the song’s writer got around to releasing it in December 1967. It is fair to say that Leonard Cohen owes much of his start in music to Judy Collins’ patronage. Apart from Cohen’s version, I really like Françoise Hardy’s (English-language) remake from 1970.

suzanne

Suzanne Verdal, the muse behind Cohen's song.

As for the subject of the song, she is now (or at least was fairly recently) living out of her car in California following a serious back injury sustained in a fall. In 1998, BBC4 interviewed her about the song; she comes across as charming — one can sense why Cohen might have been enchanted by her three decades earlier. The interview is a useful tool for deciphering the lyrics. The marine theme was inspired by the adjacent St Lawrence River, nearby was a Catholic church for sailors under the patronage of the Virgin Mary. Suzanne was a practising Catholic (hence the nautical Jesus allusions). And the tea…well, it was just tea, with pieces of fruit in it.

Also recorded by: Noel Harrison (1967), Josh White Jr (1968), Pearls Before Swine (1968), Catherine McKinnon (1968), Genesis (a US band, 1968), Graeme Allwright (1968), Françoise Hardy (1970), (in French, 1968), Jack Jones (1968), Harry Belafonte (1969), Herman van Veen (in Dutch and German, 1969), Nina Simone (1969), John Davidson (1969), George Hamilton IV (1969), Gary McFarland (1969), Fairport Convention (1969), Françoise Hardy (in English, 1970), Nancy Wilson (1970), Joan Baez (on four occasions, first in 1971), Neil Diamond (1971), Anni-Frid Lyngstad (1971), Fabrizio De André (1972), Roberta Flack (1973), Mia Martini (1983), The Flying Lizards (1984), Geoffrey Oryema (1991), Bomb (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), The Parasites (1993), Peter Gabriel (1995), Dianne Reeves (1999), Barb Jungr (1999), Kevin Parent (2001), Nana Mouskouri (2002), Denison Witmer (2003), Andrea Parodi e Bocephus King (2003), Marti Pellow (2003), René Marie (2003), Perla Batalla (2005), Aga Zaryan (2006), Sylvie Vartan (2007), Aretha Franklin (in the ’60s, released in 2007), Alain Bashung (2008), Gaetane Abrial (2008), James Taylor (2008) a.o.

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Ray Stevens – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.mp3
Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.mp3
Johnny Cash – Sunday Morning Coming Down.mp3

ray_stevensKris Kristofferson is country music’s Cinderella. Although from a distinguished military family and highly educated, by the mid-’60s he was a janitor for Columbia Records in Nashville, writing his songs literally in the basement. His bosses even warned him not to pitch his songs to the label’s recording stars, or he’d be fired. One day, Kristofferson broke that rule. Double-shifting as a helicopter pilot, he collared Johnny Cash on the building’s helipad (some say he landed a chopper in Cash’s garden) to present him with Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down. Cash was impressed with the song, and made sure that Kristofferson would not be fired. He did not, however, record his songs — yet. Still, soon Kristofferson’s songs — such Me And Bobby McGee (which already featured in this series), Help Me Make It Through The Night, From The Bottle To The Bottom — were recorded by a variety of country artists. Eventually Kristofferson was rewarded with a recording contract; his big career breakthrough came when Cash introduced him at the Newport Folk Festival.

johnny_cash_showStrangely, Cash was not the first to record Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down. Ray Stevens, a country singer who frequently dabbled in novelty songs, recorded it in 1969, scoring a minor hit on the country charts. Cash had the bigger hit with his 1970 version, which corrected the colloquial spelling. Cash resisted pressure to change the line “wishing Lord that I was stoned” to “…I was home” in deference to the song’s writer; he however had the kid playing with, not cussing at, the can that he was kicking.

Johnny Cash was a marvellous interpreter of songs, but his take Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, fine though it is, does not stand up to Kristofferson’s version, which was also released in 1970. Indeed, it recently occurred to me that, if I was forced to choose, I would list KK’s version of Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down as my all-time favourite song.

Also recorded by: Sammi Smith (1970), Hank Ballard (1970), R. Dean Taylor (1970), Vikki Carr (1970), Lynn Anderson (1971), John Mogensen (as Søndag morgen,1971), Hank Snow (1971), Bobby Bare (1974), Frankie Laine (1978), Louis Neefs (as Zondagmiddag, 1979), Johnny Paycheck (1980), Shawn Mullins (1998), David Allan Coe (1998), Crooked Fingers (2002), Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-press (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006), Trace Adkins (2006), Ernie Thacker (2009) a.o.

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 24

May 8th, 2009 14 comments

We have a bit of a bumper edition here, with ten quite distinct and all lovely versions of Let It Be Me, four of City Of New Orleans, plus It Must Be Love, My Baby Just Cares For Me and Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town. Special thanks to our old friend RH and our new friend Walter for their contributions. I would be interested to know which version of Let It Be Me is the most liked.

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Labi Siffre – It Must Be Love.mp3
Madness – It Must Be Love.mp3

siffre_it_must_be_lovePerhaps I’m stretching the concept of this series a little here; some may well say that they know the Labi Siffre original better than the remake. Still, it is the 1981 Madness cover that was the bigger hit and gets the wider airplay. In my view, their version is better than Siffre’s, though I fully expect to receive dissenting comment calling into question the intactness of my mental faculties (or, indeed, refer to my complete madness). Madness reached the UK #4 with the song; in 1971, Siffre (one of the first openly gay singers in pop) reached #14 with it. Rather endearingly, Siffre made a cameo appearance in the video for the Madness single (he is a violin player).

Siffre periodically retired from the music industry. He most propitiously returned in 1987 when he released his anti-apartheid song Something Inside (So Strong), which has been frequently covered, and then proceeded to co-write most of Jonathan Butler’s fine 1990 album Heal Our Land, which in part was a love letter to South Africa at a time when it had become clear that apartheid was dead.

Also recorded by: Marian Montgomery (1972), Lyn Paul (1975), Jasper Steverlinck (2004), Jeroen van der Boom (2006), Paolo Nutini (2007)

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Mel Tillis – Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town) (1967).mp3
Waylon Jennings – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1967).mp3
Kenny Rogers & First Edition – Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town.mp3

Mel Tillis – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1976).mp3

tillisA Korean war veteran comes home from doing his “patriotic chore” without his legs and his beloved wife treats him like dirt and goes cheating on him. Much as it may sound like a country music cliché, songwriter Mel Tillis, who released the song in January 1967, said he based the lyrics on a couple in his neighbourhood, with the man having been wounded in Germany in Word War 2, not in Korea. Tillis spared us the bitter end of the story: The ex-GI killed his straying wife and then himself. Though the protagonist of the song imagines putting Ruby into the ground, he has no concrete plans to kill her.

EDIT: Tillis was the first to release the song, but Waylon Jennings actually recorded it three months before Tillis did, in September 1966. Jennings’ version, however, did not get released until August 1967.

The song had been recorded a couple of times before Kenny Rogers decided it would serve to move his group, the First Edition, closer to the country scene. He and the group recorded the song in one take. It became a hit in 1969 (at the height of the Vietnam War), reaching #6 in the US and #2 in the UK. For Rogers it became a signature tune which he would record twice more, in 1977 and 1990. Apparently Rogers likes to send the song up in concerts; it seems to have become a bit of a gag, with the not very humorous Right Said Fred honouring it with a cover version. Personally, I fail to see the capricious angle.

And thanks to commenter Phillip:
Walter Brennan – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.mp3 (direct DL via AprilWinchell.com)

Also recorded by: Johnny Darrell (1967), The Statler Brothers (1967), Red Sovine (1969), Dale Hawkins (1969), Peter Law & The New Pacific (1969), Leonard Nimoy (1970),  Carl Perkins (1974), Gary Holton & Casino Steel (1980), Sort Sol (1985), The Gorehounds (as Ruby, 1989), Right Said Fred (1996), Cake (2005), The Killers (2007) a.o.

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Steve Goodman – City Of New Orleans.mp3
Arlo Guthrie – City Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Cash – City Of New Orleans.mp3

Willie Nelson – City Of New Orleans.mp3

steve_goodmanThroughout this series there have been songs that in their original form were far superior to the versions that made them famous. Great though Guthrie’s version (and Willie Nelson’s) is, City Of New Orleans is one such song. Goodman wrote it after travelling on the eponymous train which was about to be decommissioned, recording faithfully what he saw. The song helped to reprieve the line. Having been discovered by Kris Kristofferson, who introduced him to Paul Anka, Goodman recorded the song in 1971. One night in a Chicago bar he approached Arlo Guthrie with a view to introducing the song to Woody’s son. Arlo was not really interested in hearing another songwriter trying to peddle a song, but on condition that Goodman buy him a beer, he mustered some patience. Later he would recall it as “one of the longest, most enjoyable beers I ever had”. The meeting would provide him with his biggest hit, released in 1972. Johnny Cash, no stranger to the subject matter of trains, released his take in 1973.

arlo_guthrieGuthrie changed some of the lyrics: Goodman’s “passing towns” became “passing trains”, the “magic carpet made of steam” was now made of steel, “the rhythm of the rails is all they dream” was now felt. Goodman didn’t seem to mind; he and Guthrie remained good friends until the former’s premature death at 36 in 1984 from leukaemia, the disease he had been diagnosed with in 1969. He won a posthumous Grammy for the song on strength of Willie Nelson’s 1984 version. Read the quite dramatic story of The City of New Orleans train here, and more about Steve Goodman here.

Also recorded by: John Denver (1971), Chet Atkins (1973), The Seldom Scene (1973), Joe Dassin (as Salut les amoureux, 1973), Sammi Smith (1973), Hank Snow (1973), Johnny Cash & June Carter (1973), Henson Cargill (1973), Ted Egan (1973), Hopeton Lewis (1973), Jerry Reed (1974), Johnny Cash (1975), Judy Collins (1975), Rudi Carrell (as Wann wird’s mal wieder richtig Sommer, 1975), Yoram Gaon (as Shalom Lach Eretz Nehederet, 1977), Louise Féron & Jérôme Soligny (as Salut les amoureux, 1993), Randy Scruggs (1998), Maarten Cox (as ‘t Is weer voorbij, die mooie zomer, 2005), Beth Kinderman (2006), Discharger (2006), Lizzie West & the White Buffalo (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2007) a.o.

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Ted Weems & his Orchestra – My Baby Just Cares For Me.mp3
Nina Simone – My Baby Just Cares For Me.mp3

weemsWritten by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn for the 1928 musical Whoopee (not to be confused with the rubbish actress going by a similar name), My Baby Just Cares For Me was recorded by a host of artists in the following few years. Ted Weems’ was not the first, but certainly among the earliest recordings. His take shows just how great an interpreter of songs Nina Simone was. She recorded it in 1958. It was not her most famous number, much less her signature tune, really becoming well-known when it featured in a British TV commercial for Chanel No. 5.

The bandleader Ted Weems was a star by the time he released his version of My Baby Just Cares For Me in July 1930, having had previous hits with Somebody Stole My Gal (1924), Piccolo Pete, and The Man from the South (1928), and later with Heartaches, which he recorded in 1933. At around that time he became even more famous thanks to a regular spot on Jack Benny’s hugely popular radio show. His band broke up with World War 2, and was reformed briefly in the early ’50s. Weems toured until 1953 when he became a DJ in Memphis and then a hotel manager. Weems died in 1963 at the age of 62. Take a look at this great video of Weems and a chorus line of flappers.

Also recorded by: Ethel Shutta (1930), Ted Fiorito & his Orchestra (1930), Mel Tormé (1947), Nat ‘King’ Cole (1949), The Hi-Lo’s (1954), Tony Bennett (1955), Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads (1955), Tommy Dorsey (1958), Tab Hunter (1958), Mary Wells (1965), Frank Sinatra (1966), Cornell Campbell (1973), Alex Chilton (1994), George Michael (1999), Julie Budd (2000), Natalie Cole (2002), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Laura Fedele (2005), Jaqui Naylor (2006), Amanda Lear (2006) a.o.

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Gilbert Bécaud – Je t’appartiens (1955).mp3
Jill Corey
– Let It Be Me (1957)
Everly Brothers – Let It Be Me (1960)
Betty Everett & Jerry Butler – Let It Be Me (1964)
Skeeter Davis & Bobby Bare – Let It Be Me (1965)
Peaches & Herb – Let It Be Me (ca 1967)
Glen Campbell & Bobbie Gentry – Let It Be Me (1968)
Bob Dylan – Let It Be Me (1970)
Roberta Flack – Let It Be Me (1970)
Rosie Thomas – Let It Be Me (2005)
All nine cover versions in one file here

becaud-jappertiensLet It Be Me is one of those pop standards that cannot be ascribed to any one particular artist. Most commonly, it might be considered an Everly Brothers song. To me, it is Betty Everett & Jerry Butler’s song; perhaps the most gorgeous version. Some may have heard it for the first time in its vulnerable interpretation by the wonderful Rosie Thomas, duetting with Ed Hardcourt. Not many will think of it as a French song, co-written and first released by the brilliant Gilbert Bécaud as Je t’appartiens (I belong to you) in 1955.

It was not the biggest hit for Bécaud (born François Silly), but it has been prodigiously covered. It took two years to cross the Atlantic, when Jill Corey – the youngest singer ever to headline at the Copacabana — recorded the first English-translation version. It was not a big hit, barely scratching the Top 60. It did become a hit with the Everly Brothers’ in 1960, their first recording made outside Nashville — it was made in New York — and their first to incorporate strings in the arrangement. Let It Be Me became a hit again in 1964 for Butler & Everett, in 1969 for Glenn Campbell & Bobby Gentry, and in 1982 for Willie Nelson. Bob Dylan recorded it twice; featured here is the first of these, which appeared on his 1970’s Self Portrait album. The same year Roberta Flack gave the song a whole new treatment on her second album. I am also partial to the version by the delightfully named Skeeter Davis with outlaw country pioneer Bobby Bare, which includes aspoken bit by Skeeter, as was her wont.

Also recorded by: The Blue Diamonds (1960), Chet Atkins (1961), The Lettermen (1962), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1962), Andy Williams & Claudine Longet (1964), Sonny & Cher (1965), Brenda Lee (1965), Molly Bee (1965), The Shadows (1965), Barbara Lewis (1966), The Escorts (1966), Nancy Sinatra (1966), Arthur Prysock (1966), Chuck Jackson & Maxine Brown (1967), The Sweet Inspirations (1967), Sam & Dave (1967), Claudine Longet (1968), Earl Grant (1968), Petula Clark (1969), The Delfonics (1969), Jim Ed Brown (1969), Tom Jones (1969), Connie Smith & Nat Stuckey (1969), Roberta Flack (1970), Elvis Presley (1970), Bob Dylan (1970), Nancy Wilson (1971), New Trolls (1973), The Pointer Sisters (1974), Demis Roussos (1974), Nina Simone (1974), Mary McCaslin (1974), Melanie (1978), Kenny Rogers & Dottie West (1979),Jay & the Americans (1980), Bob Dylan (again, 1981), Willie Nelson (1982), David Hasselhoff (1984), Collin Raye (1992), Marc Jordan (1999), Nnenna Freelon feat Kirk Whalum (2000), Justin (2000), Lauro Nyro (2001), Anne Murray & Vince Gill (2002), Mike Andersen (2003), The Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio ( 2003), Paul Weller (2004),Pajo (2006), Frankie Valli (2007), Charlie Daniels Band with Brenda Lee (2007), Roch Voisine (2008), Jason Donovan (2008) a.o.

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More Originals

The Originals Vol. 22

April 17th, 2009 6 comments

With Elvis out of the way, we return to randomly selected lesser-known originals (or, in one case, near-original) of hits by The Animals, Rosemary Clooney (and Shakin’ Stevens), Captain & Tennille, Bob Seger and the Beach Boys. Please feel free to comment!

Ashley and Foster – Rising Sun Blues (1933).mp3
Georgia Turner – Rising Sun Blues (1937).mp3
Woody Guthrie – House Of The Rising Sun (1941).mp3
Leadbelly – In New Orleans (1944).mp3
Bob Dylan – House Of The Risin’ Sun (1962).mp3
The Animals – House Of The Rising Sun (1964).mp3
Orchester Günter Gollasch  –  Es steht ein Haus in New Orleans (1973).mp3
animalsThe moment Hilton Valentine’s distinctive guitar arpeggio kicks off House Of The Rising Sun, the song is instantly recognisable. It is now The Animals’ song, even though not wildly dissimilar previous versions by folkie Josh White, Nina Simone, and Bob Dylan preceded that by Eric Burdon and pals. Burdon has said that White’s version inspired the Animals’ version, but at other times he has credited the English folk singer Johnny Handle for the inspiration. Dylan, for his part, was miffed that people thought that he had covered the Animals’ version. Ironically, fellow folk-singer Dave Van Ronk has accused Dylan of “borrowing” his arrangement.

leadbellyThe song itself is an American folk song of uncertain date, adapted from an old English tune said to go back to the 17th century. It used different lyrics, though those credited to Georgia Turner and Bert Martin in the ’30s formed the early basis for the version we now know best. Turner’s version featured here was recorded by the great musicologist Alan Lomax in 1937, when she was 16. The oldest known recording, by Clarence Tom Ashley with Gwen Foster, dates back to 1933, using different lyrics. The song was recorded under alternative titles — blues legend Leadbelly went for the title In New Orleans — before House Of The Rising Sun stuck. By the time Josh White recorded it, the lyrics had been changed so much that the best-known version now excludes Turner and Martin from the songwriting credit.

Dylan has also claimed songwriting credit (no doubt to Van Ronk’s mirth), but the Animals’” version — recorded in one take — is credited to “traditional” with arrangement by keyboardist Alan Price. Apparently the record company ordered it was not possible to include all five members’ names on the single’s label, so Price’s went on by dint of alphabetical order, using the first names of the band’s members. It seems that Price has cheerfully collected the royalties without caring to share them with his four ex-friends.

The Animals have been accused of changing a prostitute’s lament (even Dylan sings it from her perspective) to a gambler’s cautionary tale to satisfy radio-friendly requirements. That may be so, but they were not the first to take the gambler’s position. Apparently Lonnie Donegan did so on his 1959 version, which might or might no have inspired Valentine’s guitar part.

The song has been so ubiquitous, it was even recorded in East Germany, by the Orchester Günter Gollasch. Under a regime where rock music was regarded as subversive, Gollasch must have been willing to take his chances. It is a quite excellent version.

Also recorded by: The Callahan Brothers (as Rounder’s Luck, 1934), Ray Acuff (1938), Woody Guthrie (1941), The Weavers (?), Glenn Yarbrough (1957), Lonnie Donegan (1959), Frankie Laine (as New Orleans, 1959), Miriam Makeba (1960), Joan Baez (1960), Nina Simone (1972), Johnny Hallyday (as Le pénitencier, 1964), The Supremes (1964), Marianne Faithfull (1964), Friedel Berlipp (1964), The Telstar’s (1964), Los Speakers (as La casa del sol naciente, 1965), The Brothers Four (1965), Waylon Jennings (1965), Jay and The Driving Wheels (1965), The Barbarians (1965), Marcellos Ferial (as La casa del sole, 1965), The Five Canadians (1966), Herbie Mann (1967), Trudy Pitts (1967), Ronnie Milsap (1967), Catherine McKinnon (1968), Tim Hardin (1969), Nat Stuckey (1969), Jimmy Powell (1969), Jimi Hendrix (1969), Oscar and the Majestics (1969), Mike Auldridge (1970), Frijid Pink (1970), Conway Twitty (1970), Geordie (1973), Idris Muhammad (1976), Hot R.S. (1977), Santa Esmeralda (1978), Alan Price (1980), Dolly Parton (1980), Skid Row (1981), Jan Walravens (1984), Adolescents (1987), Tangerine Dream (1988), Alejandra Guzmán (as La casa del sol naciente,1989), Tracy Chapman (1990), Theodis Ealey (1993), Don McMinn (1994), Sinéad O’Connor (1994), Peter, Paul and Mary with B.B. King (1995), Eric Burdon Brian Auger Band (1998), Don Angle (1999), 386 DX (2000), Blind Boys of Alabama (using the words of Amazing Grace, 2001), Toto (2002), Sarah Brooks with Joe Beck (2002), Muse (2002), Helmut Lotti (2003), Jet Jet Six (2003), Rock Nalle & The Yankees (2004) a.o.

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Stuart Hamblen – This Ole House.mp3
Rosemary Clooney – This Ole House.mp3
Shakin’ Stevens – This Ole House.mp3

stuart-hamblenThe story goes that in 1949 actor and cowboy-country singer Stuart Hamblen was hunting with John Wayne in a remote part of Texas when they happened upon an abandoned, crumbling hut, miles from the nearest road. Intrigued, they entered, finding the corpse of an old mountain man. Hamblen wrote the lyrics right there, on a sandwich bag. As a song about dying, Hamblen’s recording was upbeat yet poignant.

clooneyHamblen sang the song from the first person perspective. Rosemary Clooney in her 1954 hit version became a spectator to the man’s death, giving it a rather indecorous upbeat treatment. In Clooney’s version, it seems that the death of the man is a matter of gratification. The record-buying public didn’t mind: her version topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic (two concurrently released versions in Britain notwithstanding). In 1981 Welsh rock & roll revivalist Shakin’ Stevens (Shakey!) resurrected the dead man’s epitaph in similar bouncy fashion, also topping the UK charts.

hamblen-candidateAs for Stuart Hamblen, shortly after writing This Ole House he experienced a religious conversion at a Billy Graham rally, became a broadcaster of Christian material. Having lost as a Democrat congressional candidate in 1933, he ran as the Prohibition Party’s candidate for US president in 1952, picking up 72,949 sober votes.

Also recorded by: Alma Cogan (1954), Billie Anthony (1954), Rex Allen & Tex Williams (1954), The Statler Brothers (1966), Les Humphries Singers (1971), Billie Jo Spears (1981), The Brian Setzer Orchestra (1998), Bette Midler (2003), Wenche (2005), Brenda Lee with Dolly Parton (2007) a.o.

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Willis Alan Ramsey – Muskrat Candlelight.mp3
America – Muskrat Love.mp3
Captain & Tennille – Muskrat Love.mp3

willis-alan-ramsey Popular music is not brimming over with songs about the romantic pursuits of rodents. Willis Alan Ramsey got his break as a 19-year-old in 1972 when he stayed in the same Austin, Texas hotel as Leon Russell and Gregg Allman. Precociously, he knocked on their doors, introduced himself, and impressed them so much that they invited him to record at their respective studios. Ramsey eventually signed for the Shelter Records label which Russell co-owned. He made only one album (recorded in five different studios), and then became a songwriter of some renown instead. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffett, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin. The most successful of the songs on his poorly selling, self-titled album was intended as a novelty number — how can a song about rodent porn be otherwise? — written in 15 minutes.

Ramsey’s Muskrat Candlelight was first covered in 1973 by soft-rockers America (who I consider to be hard done by in reputation on the back of the much reviled Horse With No Name – see HERE). Unaccountably, America changed the title to Muskrat Love, which is how husband and wife duo Captain & Tennille adopted it three years later for their US #4 hit.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems.

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Rodney Crowell – Shame On The Moon.mp3
Bob Seger – Shame On The Moon.mp3

rodney-crowell Many of our performers of lesser-known originals never hit the big time, especially when they wrote the successfully covered song (which goes some way to explaining why their originals aren’t better known). Rodney Crowell isn’t one of them. A successful country singer, especially in the alt-country genre headlined by Earle and Van Zandt, he is still churning out records. Among his country credentials is his former marriage to Roseanne Cash, and a recording (and reworking) with his ex-father-in-law of I Walk The Line. Some might include him in this series as progenitor of the Keith Urban hit Making Memories of Us. Not many would associate him with having written and first performed one of Bob Seger’s biggest hits.

Crowell’s version appeared on his self-titled 1981 LP, to no attention at all. A year later, Seger’s version reached the US #2. It features former Eagle Glenn Frey on the harmonies. It was also his only sizeable hit on the country charts.
Also recorded by: nobody else again, it seems.

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The Regents – Barbara-Ann.mp3
Beach Boys – Barbara Ann.mp3

barbara-annBarbara Ann became one of the Beach Boys’ biggest hits at the same time as the Beatles released Rubber Soul. For the Beatles, December 1965 was a new beginning; for the Beach Boys, Barbara-Ann bookmarked the end of their surf pop era, appearing on the covers album Beach Boys Party! (which included three versions of Beatles songs), as Brian Wilson was already preparing the massively influential Pet Sounds.

The Beach Boys didn’t want Barbara Ann to be a single release. Beach Boys Party! was an informal affair, a very laid back jam session recorded to fulfil a contractual obligation. The group, and whoever else was around, were playing whatever came to mind while they were getting drunk. At one point, Dean Torrence of surf-pop duo Jan & Dean, who had previously recorded Barbara Ann in 1962 and was recording in an adjacent studio, popped in. Torrence suggested the song and sang lead on the recording with Brian Wilson. Torrence left half an hour later, and was not credited on the album. Obviously, the light-hearted Barbara Ann, with its fluffed lines and subsequent laughter and with session drummer Hal Blaine on ashtrays — listen closely at 1:05 — did not quite meet the sophisticated production values which had already been evident on recent recordings, such as California Girls. And still, Barbara Ann reached the US #2.

regentsBarbara-Ann (it was originally hyphenated) had been a 1961 US #13 hit for The Regents, an American-Italian doo wop group from the Bronx. They went on to have only one more Top 30 hit, Runaround. Barbara-Ann — written by bandmember Chuck Fassert’s brother Fred for their eponymous sister —had been recorded as a demo by The Regents in 1959. When they couldn’t land a record contract, the group folded. A couple of years later, a group called The Consorts, which included a Regents’ member’s younger brother, dug out the demo and played it at auditions. One record company, Cousins, liked Barbara-Ann and released it — but not by the Consorts, but the Regents’ version. The Regents hurriedly reunited, and the song quickly became a local and then a national hit.

Also recorded by: Jan & Dean (1962), The Who (1966), Martin Circus (as Marylène, 1975), Vince Vance & the Valiants (as Bomb Iran, 1979 — John McCain’s favourite), Red Squares (1989), Blind Guardian (1991), Travoltas (2003)
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More Originals

American Road Trip Vol. 5

April 13th, 2009 No comments

Before we proceed with our roadtrip, I wonder why all of a sudden there so many searches for Jenny Lewis (the wonderful singer of Rilo Kiley) coming to this blog.

And so, on our tour of the USA, we have left Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Jessica Alba’s one-time hometown of Biloxi and still travelling along the gulf coast, and not accompanied by the strains of Lynyrd Skynyrd, we enter Alabama.

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Mobile, Alabama

As recorded last time, we’re covering French Louisiana’s successive capitals in a reverse chronological order. Before Biloxi, before New Orleans, before Baton Rouge, the capital of the French colony was Mobile. With its long history and cosmopolitan location, this Alabama town does not conform to the outsider’s perception of Alabama as populated by truck-driving, straw-chewing hicks who’d sooner don white hoods and lynch people for failing to skip off the pavement at their approach than do an honest day’s work (hey, I didn’t create the prejudices). Mobile, population 200,000, has a symphony orchestra, opera company, ballet troupe, and several art museums. And it is the subject of a Dylan song.

Actually, it’s not. As I understand it, Mobile serves as a metaphor for Dylan’s folk sound with Memphis representing rock & roll (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins) and the electric blues of  Beale Street (B.B. King et al). The song, if it makes any sense at all, seems to reflect Dylan’s confusion about the reaction he received at the Newport Folk Frsrival after going electric.

Which brings us to Jerry Reed, whose Guitar Man could have slotted into various destinations on our journey. It is right that it should settle in Mobile, since that is where the Guitar Man gets his big gig at Big Jack’s. “So if you ever take a trip down to the ocean find yourself down round Mobile, well, make it on out to the club called Jack’s,” he advises. And where do we find the club? “Just follow that crowd of people, you’ll wind up out on his dance floor diggin’ the finest little five piece group up and down the Gulf of Mexico.” Oh yeah, we dig.
Bob Dylan – Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.mp3
Jerry Reed – Guitar Man.mp3

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Montgomery, Alabama

The Rosa Parks bus

The Rosa Parks bus

We leave the coast and move inland, to Montgomery. And here we enter historical Jim Crow and civil rights movement territory. Montgomery, a city of about 200,000, became famous for its pivotal position in the emerging civil rights movement. These included the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and, ten years later, the three Selma to Montgomery marches. The bus boycott was sparked, as we know, by Rosa Parks’ courageous defiance of bus segregation. The conventional wisdom that a tired Rosa plonked herself down on a seat reserved for whites is a myth; her action was conceived and intended to animate protest. To that effect, she had only two week’s earlier attended a Memphis workshop on civil disobedience. Parks was not a random tired worker, but a political activist who knew exactly what she was doing. I rather prefer the truth to the myth: the  story of African-Americans taking charge of the anti-racist movement to lay claim to their rights. The mythology of the tired woman — though doubtless a potent mobilising tool at the time — now might invite ideas that these self-evident rights were granted out of some sense of pity, and not fought for and earned the hard way. (Discuss in 700 words)

The second featured song here is not about Rosa Parks or civil rights, but about a woman who happens to live in Montgomery. Her life didn’t quite turn out the way she had envisaged; she is clearly depressed and is now looking for an escape (the reference to her as an angel flying from Montgomery might hint at suicide). This is John Prine at his empathising best.
John Prine – Angel From Montgomery.mp3

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Birmingham, Alabama

And from Rosa Parks’ home we travel to the city where Martin Luther King Jr once ministered. Like Montgomery, Alabama’s industrial centre and capital was a primary site of the civil rights struggle. It was from a Birmingham jail that MLK, incarcerated for taking part in a non-violent protest, wrote his famous letter. And Birmingham was the city of the notorious bombing of the birmingham_civil_rights16th Street Baptist church that killed for young girls (earning the city the moniker Bombingham), an act that still outrages.

The concerted non-violent protest campaign named Project C, in which 3,000 people were arrested and many more assaulted by police is credited with forcing the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By 1979, Birmingham elected an African-American mayor, Dr Richard Arrington Jr, which is not as dramatic as one might think since more than a three-quarter of the city’s population is black.

The featured song mentions Birmingham only by way of alliteration. It is Emmylou Harris’ lament for Gram Parsons, whose face to see again she would walk from Boulder, Colorado to Birmingham.
Emmylou Harris – Boulder To Birmingham.mp3

From Alabama we shall board the midnight train to Georgia.

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Previously on American Road Trip

Love hurts

February 4th, 2009 7 comments

The alert consumer of mindless advertising will have noticed that the marketing industry has officially declared February the month of love by dint of Valentine’s Day falling smack bang in the middle of it. So, this month we’ll run through the emotions produced by love (as we did last year), including the joys of being happily in love but much more the utter torment of not being happily in love. Let’s kick things off with just how horrible love is.

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Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
I know, I included Love Hurts in last year’s series, and more recently in The Originals. It is the finest recording of one of the finest songs ever written. Gram has been burnt by love (which, as he tells it, is like a hot stove) and now it’s payback time. Love, he accuses, “is just a lie, made to make you blue”, which evokes the notion of an elaborate conspiracy theory involving The Man and the Illuminati reptiles hatching devious plans to break hearts worldwide. Gram has no time for the idiots who buy into the myth of love. “Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness. Some fools fool themselves I guess, but they’re not fooling me. I know it isn’t true.” And yet, we suspect that it is Gram who’s fooling himself: just listen to the way Gram and Emmylou sing the word “togetherness” with such hopeful yearning.

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J. Geils Band – Love Stinks.mp3
Gram and Em have had their emotions bulldozed, yet their cynicism is diluted by the tenderness with which they try to paper over the cracks in their hearts. J Geils and friends, on the other hand, give up on love altogether, with bullish defiantly and utter immaturity, as the title immediately suggests. They sound a clarion warning: love’s a devious bastard (as you might have suspected once you learnt aboiut the Illuminatis involvement). “Love’s gonna find you… You’ll hear it call, your heart will fall, then love will fly. It’s gonna soar. I don’t care for any Casanova thing; all I can say is LOVE STINKS.” To which they might add: nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah! (Which might take us to the chorus of Centrefold.)

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John Prine – All The Best.mp3
Passive-aggressive is a pretty good response to being hurt by someone – at least in song. John Prine provides a template for how it’s done: “I wish you love and happiness, I guess I wish you all the best,” which is very magnanimous indeed. Oh, but here comes the sting: “I wish you don’t do like I do, and ever fall in love with someone like you.” We’ll dispense with the awkward rhyme that follows before we arrive at the smackdown:  “But kids…can only guess how hard it is to wish you happiness.” Isn’t that bitter? Prine isn’t quite as self-pitying as Gram or cynical as Geils, but he is abundantly resentful of love nonetheless: “I guess that love is like a Christmas card. You decorate a tree, you throw it in the yard. It decays and dies and the snowmen melt. Well, I once knew love, I knew how love felt.”

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Velvet Underground – Who Loves The Sun.mp3
After Prine’s Christmas metaphor, we join the Velvet Underground jaunty weather centre of broken hearts: “Who loves the sun? Who cares that it makes plants grow? Who cares what it does — since you broke my heart?” They follow that with similar riffs on wind and rain. Says it all, really. Ba-ba-ba-ba indeed.

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Skeeter Davis  – The End Of The World.mp3
This series will visit the home for break-up songs a couple of times, but few of those that will feature pack as much pain in one song as Skeeter’s lamentation for a love lost. Best of all, this 1961 country hit has a spoken bit. Skeeter tries to make sense of a world unchanged despite the seismic transformation in her life after her boyfriend or husband left her (she sounds like a 16-year-old, but was 31 when this song, remarkably a top 10 hit on the R&B charts, was recorded). “Why do the birds go on singing? Why do the stars glow above? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? It ended when I lost your love.” Those who have experienced real heartbreak — not a crushed crush, but the whole damn gig — may empathise with the repeated verse: “Why does my heart go on beating? Why do these eyes of mine cry? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world. It ended when you said goodbye.”

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Bob Dylan – If You See Her, Say Hello.mp3
Bob is rebounding from a break-up – or so he tries to pretend as he tells his friend to send his regards to the ex. “Say for me that I’m all right, though things get kind of slow. She might think that I’ve forgotten her, don’t tell her it isn’t so.” Oh, but he hasn’t forgotten her at all, “she still lives inside of me”. At social gatherings he still hears her name and it’s all he can do to block the pain. He suffers unhappy love’s equivalent of Chinese water torture: “I replay the past. I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast.” And then there remains that cancerous glimmer of hope which won’t let you bury the painful love as Bob asks his pal: “If she’s passin’ back this way, I’m not that hard to find. Tell her she can look me up if she’s got the time.” Way to get over her, dude.

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Angie Stone – No More Rain (In This Cloud).mp3
Smokey Robinson asked the girl to look at his face to see just how broken his heart is. Thirty-odd years on, retro soul singer Angie Stone namechecks Tracks Of My Tears in 1999’s gorgeous No More Rain as she explains: “There’s no hiding place when someone has hurt you. It’s written on your face, and it reads: ‘Broken spirit, lost and confused. Empty, scared, used and abused, a fool’.” She goes on to berate her tormentor, but the song isn’t really about him; it’s about the process of healing from the pain he inflicted. Angie still feels pain, but it’s really a song of comfort and hope. After all the emotional turmoil, at some point the tears will dry up. “My sunshine has come, and I’m all cried out. And there’s no more rain in this cloud.” Take note, Gram and Geils, there is life after love.

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The Delgados – All You Need Is Hate.mp3
If Angie’s zen recovery doesn’t work for you, some anger might. Here, Scottish exponents of Indie pop The Delgados are your friend as they subvert several musical clichés about love. And it’s not just romantic love they don’t need. All love is dead, all you need is a heart of stone — or not, because hate is really a very visceral emotion. So the song should really say: All you need is indifference, and you shouldn’t care about that either. But it doesn’t. “Charity, a joke that friendly cities think that we believe … Everlasting hate, feel it in the people where it’s warm and great  … Hate is all around, find it in your heart in every waking sound; on your way to school, work or church you’ll find that it’s the only rule and so on. Obviously they’re taking the piss. “Come on hate yourself; everyone here does, so just enjoy yourself.” Poor Gram Parsons would probably agree with that.

Last year’s season of songs about love

Albums of the Years 1960-65

November 15th, 2007 2 comments

Continuing the series of albums of the year, I am condensing the years of the ’60s prior to that of my birth. It was not a time for albums yet, at least not in pop. There were classic jazz albums, such as Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, an essential album of the decade with which I have never been able to close a friendship. In the ’60s the great Sinatra left Capitol and Nelson Riddle to become a crooner for the people following him into middle-age. There was one final great Capitol album, some goofing with the Rat Pack, then straight into bloated easy listening territory. Sinatra became so bland, he made Engelbert Humperdinck seem like the muse for the New York Dolls.

But the early ’60s also saw the rise of the Beatles as a pop band which could churn out good albums at an alarming rate. Consider that between the ropey debut of Please, Please Me to Rubber Soul, not quite three years passed. Only two years after Rubber Soul came the ludicrously influential Sgt Peppers. Two years later, the Beatles were finished. Such a rich body of work and astonishing artistic growth in seven years. Think about it: an act starting out in 2000 and breaking up about now, leaving behind a legacy like that. No wonder the Beatles are represented in this top 10 three times, with some consideration for two of the remaining three albums.

As ever, my top 10s are also not representative of the “best” albums of the year. Some are, but others will be included simply because I like them, knowing well that they are not as innovative or influential as others I have listed.

1. The Beatles – Help (1965)
On Sunday I bought the new DVD set. The movie looks and sounds great. Its cinematic merits aside (it is a bit ropey), Help! the film is a fascinating time capsule, coming after The Goons and before Monty Python. Add to that the Fab Four in action, and the songs, and it is a richly rewarding DVD, at least for the Beatles fan. And the album is my favourite Beatles set of all.

Help was the culmination of the Beatles’ innocent period, before lyrics started to acquire deeper meanings; before musical innovation became a hallmark of Beatles albums; before George Harrison was given the opportunity to express himself. Notable is the Dylan influence on both Lennon and McCartney — on “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” (my all-time favourite Beatles song, by John) and on the country-flavoured “I’ve Just Seen A Face” (Paul). “Ticket To Ride” and the title track hint at the leap the group would make just a few months later with Rubber Soul. For now, though, the songs were mostly still uncomplicated and sometimes even a bit goofy (”You’re Going To Lose That Girl”, “Another Girl”, Ringo’s cover of Buck Owen’s “Act Naturally”).

Perhaps because Help was recorded just as the Beatles became musically more adventurous, but before such innovation turned up some aberrations, it is their most perfect pop album. Even the inappropriate Dizzy Miss Lizzy, a throwback to the first three albums that should have been replaced by I’m Down (b-side to the single release of Help), cannot detract from the album’s perfection — positioned, as it is, at the end of the album, one can just switch it off.
The Beatles – You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.mp3
The Beatles – You’re Gonna Lose That Girl.mp3
The Beatles – I’ve Just Seen A Face.mp3

2. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
In preparation for this post, I listened to the three Beatles albums under review. I was going to rank Rubber Soul higher, but was reminded that there was more guff on that album than there is on the Beatles’ first soundtrack album. Somehow, my respect for Beatles albums tends to be based on the quality not of the singles but that of the tracks that were neither singles nor included on the 1973 red and blue compilations (a question of overfamiliarity, probably). And the album tracks on A Hard Day’s Night are just great: Anytime At All (how was that never a single?), I’ll Cry Instead, If I Fell, I’ll Be back. The singles/red album numbers – the title track, Things We Said Today, I Should Have Known Better, Can’t Buy Me Love – are outstanding as well. Oh, and the movie was really good as well (“He’s such a clean old man”).
The Beatles – Anytime At All.mp3

3. Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
The soundtrack to the Peanuts Christmas special. It is a sublime film and a sublime record. Both are immensely comforting, I find. This might be the only jazz album which people who hate jazz can love, and which jazz lovers can forgive for being loved by jazz novices. Nominally it is a Christmas album. If one is familiar with the Peanuts film, it will evoke Christmas. If not, it might well do so anyway, but it works at any time of the year. Listen to O Tannenbaum, a cool bass and piano driven version of the quintessential German yuletide song (Silent Night is Austrian, don’t you know?): it extends far beyond the Christmas spirit and fir trees. And yet, if you want it to be about Christmas, it can and will be. Even the 4 minute version of the Peanuts theme song (properly titled Linus And Lucy).
Vince Guaraldi Trio – O Tannenbaum.mp3

4. Miles Davis – Sketches Of Spain (1960)
First off, I love the album cover. But if that were enough to qualify, Herb Alpert would be included in this post. Sketches Of Spain delivers what it promises: Davis interpreting Spanish music. Rodrigo’s classical Spanish guitar piece Concierto De Aranjuez gets the trumpet treatment, with Gil Evans’ luscious, deeply affecting arrangement producing 12 minutes and 43 seconds of utter bliss. I have said it before, to appreciate Miles Davis’ powers of innovation, one must look to his subtle works, certainly not to the jazz fusion wankery of Witches Brew. On Sketches Of Spain, things sway gently one moment, next a jolt as the tune segues into a film noir mood before it regains its whispering, ominous beauty. It is indeed a sad album, perhaps the saddest instrumental album I know besides Morricone’s wonderful soundtrack of Once Upon A Time In America. It is a rare and special thing when being a passive participant to such sadness can make one glad to be alive. Listen to this track, and, for the sake of experiment, cue your favourite upbeat pop song to follow it. My bet is that you will resent the pop song for crashing in on the afterglow of the emotion Davis has created.
Miles Davis – Concierto De Aranjuez.mp3

5. The Beatles – Rubber Soul (1965)
Never mind Revolver, it was Rubber Soul that represented the quantum leap in the Beatles’ artistic trajectory. Suddenly all kinds of strange instruments – especially George’s sitar – crept into the music, and the lyrics became increasingly surreal and, at times, cynical. Lennon seemed to be a bitter chap at that point. Run For Your Life, even by his own admission, is a nasty song, and Drive My Car is far from the polite tone of previous records (though Another Girl on Help is pretty mercenary). Some of the generic lyrics are still evident on the songs by Paul and George; it is John who first breaks out of the easy-going ghetto. Two songs stand out: the nostalgic In My Life, which seems to have been written by a man twice Lennon’s age, and Girl, which fuses a beautiful melody with much exasperated bitterness. The latter also has the best single sound on the album: the sharp intake of air through closed teeth, which serves to emphasise the protagonist’s frustration. The counterpoint is McCartney’s Michelle, an atrocious song which the greasepot crooners quickly latched on to as they had done with Yesterday and would do with Something. But where Yesterday is a brilliant song (spoiled by overexposure) and Something is sublime, Michelle is just horrible.
The Beatles – Girl.mp3

6. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto (1964)
When I picked this album up in a charity thrift shop in the ’80s, I had no idea what a classic I was buying. To be honest, I had no idea who Gilberto was, only a vague idea about Getz, bossa nova was a mystery to me, and I regarded The Girl From Ipanema as a cheesy elevator muzak tune which punk forgot to kill. I bought the album solely because I liked the cover. I need not explain what happened when I played the record, at least not to those who love it as I do. This is a late-night, kick-back record, intimate and warm. It is a great lovemaking record, I imagine (I’ve never thought of testdriving it for that purpose). Astrud Gilberto may not be the greatest singer of all time (she was roped in only because she could sing in English), but her relaxed and cute voice, when it appears, provides the varnish to Getz’s cool sax, Joao’s warm vocals and Jobim’s astounding compositions.
Getz/Gilberto – The Girl From Ipanema.mp3

7. Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
I am not a Dylanisto. To me, not every Dylan album is a masterpiece, even as I have most of the older ones. This one, however, is superb, with the relative sparseness of the music (in contrast to Highway 61 Revisited anyway) all the more emphasising Dylan’s poetry. There are some songs one may happily overlook when compiling the definitive Dylan anthology (Down The Highway!), and the inclusion of two self-referencing songs smacks of egotism. But when Freewheelin’ hits, it hits so well. The hits are obvious – Blowin’ In The Wind, A Hard Rain’s…, Don’t Tink Twice… – but lesser known tracks like Corrina Corrina, Girl From The North Country and the quite funny I Shall Be Free are very good indeed. The surprise track is Talking World War III Blues, a song that engrosses the listener with its sermonising and satirising storytelling – despite the unappealing title, Dylan’s terrible vocals and the overbearing harmonica. I suppose the astute Dylan fan might wonder why, if I like that, I am not a Dylanista. It just ain’t me, babe.
Bob Dylan – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.mp3

8. Otis Redding – Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965)
It is tantalising to imagine what might have become of Otis Redding had he not died in a plane crash in 1968. Would he have adapted to the smoother sounds of ’70s soul? Would he have dabbled in disco? Might the future of soul music been shaped along a different path by this great singer’s influence? Or would he have gone the way of many of his contemporaries, into oblivion and largely excised from public consciousness until the ’60s soul revival of the ’80s (Londoners may well recall the Friday night club at the Kentish Town & Country Club, the Locomotion). The question I’m really posing is this: is Otis Redding a legend because of his music, or because of his dramatic death when he was in his prime? On the evidence of this album (the title and cover of which suggests that Otis was a country singer dabbling in soul as Ray Charles did in country), I’m inclined to think that Redding is a legend because he is. Redding took the Stones’ Satisfaction, and replaced Jagger’s great insolent vocals with mature emotion (the story goes that Otis had never heard the song before recording it). There is Respect, the original, done so in such a unique way that Aretha Franklin could take the song and shape it in her own image. There is the Temptations’ My Girl, no longer a cute spark of sunlight, but deflowered by the soulman. Redding even manages to nearly match Sam Cooke’s soaring A Change Is Gonna Come. But the highlight is I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, which Redding co-wrote with the great Jerry Butler (a song Isaac Hayes should have covered in a 15-minute epic). Redding’s performance of it at the Monterrey festival shortly before the plane crash is even more fantastic. And so I’m offering that live version rather than the one on the album.
Otis Redding – I’ve Been Loving You (live in Monterrey).mp3

9. Frank Sinatra – Nice ‘n’ Easy (1960)
This album (which I bought at the same charity shop as the Getz/Gilberto LP) marked the beginning of the end of Sinatra’s glorious Capitol/Nelson Riddle era. A few albums on the label followed, but the decline was beginning to set in amid a rapidly changing musical landscape. The besuited swing stars of the ’50s were beginning to fade, and a new batch of groovily clad and chesthaired poseurs like Humperdinck and Tom Jones were taking their place. All the more the pity. The killer track on this album is the title song, with the great spoken line, “Like the man said, one more time”, symbolising the last great hurrah of Sinatra’s credibility, just one album before he recorded Old Mac Donald, for crying out loud. But while the title track swings , the rest of the album is Sinatra in relaxed balladeering mood. It might have been false advertising, but the listener is not being cheated. Tracks like I Got A Crush On You, That Old Feeling and Try A Little Tenderness (just a few years before Otis Redding totally revamped and appropriated the song) showcase Sinatra’s capacity for investing himself into a song, before he descended into the greasepit of covering Yesterday and Something for our mothers’ uncles.
Frank Sinatra – Nice ‘n’ Easy.mp3

10. The Rat Pack – Live At The Sands (1963)
I am cheating now. This album was released only in 2001, presumably to cash in on the Rat Pack retro hype inspired by the remake of Ocean’s 11 and fed off by the likes of Robbie Williams trying to capture some of the cool. Oh, but the Rat Pack dudes were cool (it was Humphrey Bogart, of course, who founded the original Rat Pack, of which Sinatra was not a member). At least on stage they were cool. This collection captures the three principal members, the vocalists, on a great night. The banter is very amusing (though by today’s standards definitely not politically correct), with zinging teasing taken in good spirits and reciprocated. I have appropriated Sammy’s line: “…and these are the best friends I have”. Sammy Davis Jr certainly has his wits about him when he tells Dean Martin during a set of impressions to “be nice…or I’ll do Jerry [Lewis]”, with whom Martin was famously feuding. Sammy’s impersonations are great – especially that of Dino (“just having a little bit of fun folks”). It takes guts to impersonate somebody while that somebody is watching you. The vocal performances on the album are fine, but it is not enjoyable for that primarily; as Dino tells the audience: “if you want serious, buy a album”. It is just great fun, with three witty pallies riffing off one another. I was sad to note that Joey Bishop, the comedian of the Rat Pack, died last month at 89.
Sammy Davis Jr. – All The Way (impressions).mp3