Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Bryan Ferry’

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.

.

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

.

Previous moustaches

The Originals Vol. 11

October 22nd, 2008 1 comment

Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter 23.mp3
Brothers Johnson – Strawberrry Letter 23.mp3
Quentin Tarantino had a good line in compiling soundtracks. Among the nearly forgotten numbers he resurrected was the Brothers Johnson’s catchy Strawberry Letter 23. I loathe the use of it in Jackie Brown though – scoring a vicious scene with a cute song is so Clockwork Orange. The soundtrack for Jackie Brown surely sold very well. All the more the pity that the author and original performer of the song is now reportedly eking out a decaying existence in Oakland. Shuggie Otis, a gifted guitarist, indeed multi-instrumentalist, and son of R&B legend John Otis (Shuggie’s real name is John Otis Jr), released his ode of appreciation for the 22th love letter on strawberry-scented paper in 1971. The song was intended to represent a response to letter 22, hence the numbering. Six years after Otis recorded the track, Brothers Johnson recorded it in a more upbeat mood, produced by Quincy Jones (who, happily, amplified the opening hook) with Lee Ritenour taking over the guitar solo duties so integral to the song.
Also recorded by: Tevin Campbell (1991)
Best version: Much as I like the brothers’ take.and without wishing to come over all purist, I prefer Otis’ original. The clarity of his less lushly produced instrumental part can do your head in.

Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking.mp3
Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking.mp3
Smiley Lewis will feature again with another song when we visit the Elvis originals. Here he provided the original for an early ’70s hit. Lewis, a New Orleans musician nicknamed for his missing front teeth, recorded I Hear You Knocking in 1955. The song was written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King, and the former was Fats Domino’s writing partner. Fats naturally later recorded the song. At a time when US radio and charts were subject to much racial segregation, Lewis’ record made little impact outside the black charts, where it peaked at #2, and Lewis’ career never really took off. Instead the song enjoyed commercial success in its version by Gale Storm in 1956. Lewis died of stomach cancer in 1966.

Four years later, he would be remembered by the Welsh singer Dave Edmunds, whose cover of I Hear You Knocking reached #1 in Britain and #4 in the US with slightly altered lyrics which name checked Lewis, among others (including Huey Smith, who played on Lewis’ version). Edmunds himself hadn’t known the song until he produced a version of it for the young Shakin’ Stevens – a decade away from fame as a revivalist rock ‘n roller and Christmas #1 hunter. In fact, Edmunds almost didn’t record what would become his biggest hit. He had planned to find stardom with a cover of Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Work Together, but was scooped in that endeavour by Canned Heat (as we’ll see below). So he adapted the arrangement he had in mind for Let’s Work Together to create a truly original cover.
Also recorded by: Fats Domino (1955 & 1961), Jill Day (1956), Gale Storm (1956), Connie Francis (1959), Shakin’ Stevens (1970), Andy Fairweather-Low (1976), Kingfish (1976), Orion (1979), The Fabulous Thunderbirds (1981), Rocking Dopsie & the Cajun Twisters (1988), Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1991), Quicksilver Messenger Service (1991), Bart Herman (1993), Alvin Lee (1994), Yockamo All-Stars (1998), Tom Principato (2003) a.o.
Best version: I do like the original better than Edmunds’, but I suspect that Fats Domino would trump either.

Wilbert Harrison – Let’s Work Together.mp3
Canned Heat – Let’s Work Together.mp3
Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together.mp3
When Wilbert Harrison released Let’s Work Together in 1969, it was a slightly customised take on his 1961 song Let’s Stick Together. For all intents and purposes, it is the same song. Where “Stick Together” failed to make an impression, its reworked version was a minor US hit. Canned Heat, who were canny in their selection of obscure songs to cover, recorded their version soon after and scored a hit with it in 1970 (the same year their hitherto unreleased album produced by John Otis – Shuggie’s dad – was released). To their credit, Canned Heat delayed the US release of the single to let Harrison’s single run its course first. In 1976 Bryan Ferry took the song to #4 on the UK charts, having reverted to the original title, introduced some thumping saxophone and applied the suave working-class-boy-gone-posh vocals. Outside Roxy Music, everybody’s favourite fox-hunting Tory never did anything better. Thanks to Wilbert Harrison’s retitling, it is now evident which version – Canned Heat’s or Ferry’s – has inspired subsequent covers.
Also recorded by: Climax Blues Band (Work, 1973), Raful Neal (Work, 1987), Bob Dylan (Stick, 1988), Dwight Yoakam (Work, 1990), Status Quo (Work, 1991), George Thorogood & The Destroyers (Work, 1995), Francine Reed (Work, 1996), Paper Parrot (Stick, 1999), Kt Tunstall (Stick, 2007)
Best version: Thanks to the sax, Ferry’s. Marginally.

Sonny Dae & His Knights – Rock Around The Clock.mp3
Hank Williams – Move It On Over.mp3
Bill Haley & his Comets – Rock Around The Clock.mp3
It is indisputable that Bill Haley was a key figure in converting rock ’n roll into the mainstream – or, if we prefer to stray from euphemistic rationalisation, make a black genre infused with some country sensibility palatable to white audiences (so that’s a doctoral thesis delivered in 13 glib words). The notion of Haley as the father of rock ’n roll is about as plausible as describing the Bee Gees as the “Kings of Disco”. Rock Around The Clock most certainly wasn’t the first rock ’n roll single either (on the original label it is categorised as a foxtrot), or even Haley’s first rock ’n roll song. It was the first rock ’n roll #1 hit, though, and the song’s pivotal influence is undeniable, even if it ripped off a 1947 hit, Hank Williams’ Move It On Over (which Chuck Berry also seems to have borrowed from for Roll Over Beethoven).

Rock Around The Clock was written for Haley, but due to various complications involving a feud between record company and authors, it was recorded first by Sonny Dae and His Knights, an Italian-American band, released on a label co-owned by Haley. The original version – quite distinct from the more famous version – made no impression, and there is no evidence that Haley referred to it in his interpretation – indeed Haley and his Comets played it frequently on stage before recording it. Haley’s Rock Around The Clock (recorded on 12 April 1954 as Sammy Davis Jr sat outside the studio awaiting his turn to record) features one of the great guitar solos of the era, by session musician Benny Cedrone. Alas, Cedrone didn’t live to see his work become a seminal moment in music history – he died on 17 June 1954 in a fall, three days short of his 34rd birthday. Perhaps Cedrone might be regarded as the first rock ’n roll death. Which would give the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame two reasons to admit him.
Also recorded by: Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor and Alan Freed’s Rock ‘n Roll Band and The Modernaires (1956), Eddie Cochran and Gary Lambert (1956), Royale Orchestra (1956), Noe Fajardo (1956), Macky Kasper (1956), Renato Carosone (1956), Max Greger Orchestra (1956), Pat Boone (1957), Marimba Chiapas (1957), Winifred Atwell (1957), Isley Brothers (1959), Ray Martin Marching Band (1961), Meyer Davis Orchestra (1961), Sandy Nelson (1962), The Platters (1962), Frank Zappa (1964), Peter Kraus (1964), Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (1964), Mike Rios (1965), Bill Haley (1968), The Troublemakers (1968), Wild Angels (1970), Mae West (1972), Tritons (1973), Sha Na Na (1973), Harry Nilsson (1974), Peter Horton (1976), Jack Scott (1979), Telex (1979), Sex Pistols (1979), Les Humphries Singers (1982), The Housemartins (1986), Ty Tender (1987), Smurfarna (1993), Starlite Orchestra (1995), Ernie from Sesame Street (1999) and a few thousand others.
Best version: Haley’s. The guitar, the drums!

Johnny Darrell – Green Green Grass Of Home.mp3
Porter Wagoner – Green, Green Grass Of Home.mp3
Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass Of Home.mp3
I make no secret of it: I think Tom Jones is a hack. I’ll cheerfully concede that his delivery on Bacharach’s What’s New Pussycat is amusingly over the top, and It’s Not Unusual is a fine song sung well. But look at what Jones did to Green Green Grass Of Home. He robbed it of its pathos and lent it as much depth as his contemporary panty recipient Engelbert Humperdinck invested in his material. The spoken bit is droll, but inappropriately delivered to the point of creating a template for generations of hammy karaoke singers. And the cheesy backing vocals. Much better then to return to the song’s roots in country music.

Written by Claude “Curly” Putman Jr, it was first recorded by Johnny Darrell, the ill-fated associate of the Outlaw Country movement which also included the likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. In other words, country music that was cool. Darrell’s 1965 version failed to make much of a splash, but Porter Wagoner – who was cool but dressed like an overdone Nashville cliché – did gain some attention with his recording made in June 1965. Both versions communicate empathy with the protagonist, a dead man walking awakening from a dream of being reunited in freedom with the scenes of his childhood but in fact is awaiting his execution in the presence of the “sad old padre” (not “peartree” or “partridge”).

Jones was introduced to the song through Jerry Lee Lewis’ version, also a country affair recorded a few months after Wagoner, and proceeded to turn it into hackneyed easy listening, selling more than a million records of it in 1966. Who said pop was fair?
Also recorded by: Bobby Bare (1965), Jerry Lee Lewis (1965), Leonardo (L’erba verde di casa mia, 1966), Conway Twitty (1966), The Statler Brothers (1967), Dean Martin (1967), Hootenanny Singers (as En sång en gång för längese’n, 1967), Jan Malmsjö (as En sång en gång för längese’n, 1967), Agnaldo Timóteo (as Os Verdes Campos da Minha Terra, 1967), Dallas Frazier (1967), Trini Lopez (1968), Skitch Henderson (1968), Merle Haggard and The Strangers (1968), Belmonte and Amaraí (as Os Verdes Campos da Minha Terra, 1968), Joan Baez (1969), Stompin’ Tom Connors (1971), The Fatback Band (1972), The Flying Burrito Brothers (1973), Elvis Presley (1975), Kenny Rogers (1977), John Otway (1980), Jetsurfers (2000)
Best version: I am most partial to Porter Wagoner’s interpretation, which Jones might have consulted concerning the spoken bit.

More Originals