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Posts Tagged ‘Carpenters’

The Originals Vol. 32

September 18th, 2009 12 comments

This time we look at the Carpenters hit that began life as an ad for a bank and was first released by a man with a one-off moniker; the Righteous Brothers classic which Phil Spector saw fit to issue only as a b-side; Gram Parsons’ famous song that was first recorded by a country singer before the co-writer had the chance; The Platters hit that was first an instrumental; and the Manhattan Transfer hit that was first recorded by a husband and wife team. Many thanks to Dennis, Walter and RH for their help.

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Freddie Allen – We’ve Only Just Begun (1970).mp3
Carpenters – We’ve Only Just Begun (1970).mp3
Curtis Mayfield – We’ve Only Just Begun (1971).mp3

freddie_allenWe’ve Only Just Begun first made its appearance in 1970 in a TV commercial for a bank (video), whence it was picked up by Richard Carpenter to create the popular wedding staple. But before Richard and Karen got around to it, it was recorded a few months earlier by Freddie Allen, an actor who under his stage name Smokey Roberds was a member of ’60s California pop group The Parade, and later formed the duo Ian & Murray with fellow actor and Parade member Murray MacLeod.

As Roberds tells it, one day he heard the Crocker National Bank commercial on his car radio (presumably the ad transcended media platforms), and recognised in the tune the signature of his composer friend Roger Nichols, who had written the ad’s song with lyricist Paul Williams. He phoned Nichols, ascertained that he had indeed co-written it, and asked him to create a full-length version. Nichols and Williams did so, and Roberds intended to produce it for a band he had just signed to White Whale Records. The deal fell through, so Roberds decided to record the song himself, but couldn’t do so under his stage name for contractual reasons. Since he was born Fred Allen Roberds, his Christian names provided his new, temporary moniker (see interview here, though you’ll go blind reading it).

carpentersPaul Williams’ memory is slightly different: in his version, Nichols and he had added verses to subsequent updates of the advert, and completed a full version in case anyone wanted to record it. When Richard Carpenter heard the song in the commercial, he contacted Williams to ask if there was a full version, and Williams said there was — and he would have lied if there wasn’t. Perhaps that happened before Allen recorded it. (Full interview here)

The remarkable Williams, incidentally, sang the song in the ad and would later write Rainy Days And Mondays and I Won’t Last A Day Without You for the Carpenters (both with Nichols), as well as Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen, Kermit the Frog’s The Rainbow Connection and the Love Boat theme, among others.

Freddie Allen’s single, a likable country-pop affair, did well in California, but not nationally, which he attributed to promotion and distribution problems. Released a few months later, the Carpenters had their third hit with We’ve Only Just Begun, reaching #2 in the US.

Also recorded by: Perry Como (1970), Mark Lindsay (1970), Dionne Warwick (1970), Paul Williams (1971), Bill Medley (1971), Johnny Mathis (1971). Mark Lindsay (1971), Jerry Vale (1971), The Moments (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Claudine Longet (1971), The Wip (1971), Grant Green (1971), Barbra Streisand (recorded in 1971, released in 1991), Johnny Hartman (1972), Henry Mancini (1972), Reuben Wilson (1973), The Pacific Strings (1973), Jack Jones (1973), Ray Conniff (1986), Ferrante & Teicher (1992), Grant Lee Buffalo (1994), Richard Clayderman (1995), Stan Whitmire (2000), Bradley Joseph (2005), Peter Grant (2006)

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Bobby Bare – Streets Of Baltimore (1966).mp3
Tompall & The Glaser Brothers – Streets of Baltimore (1966).mp3
Gram Parsons – Streets Of Baltimore.mp3
Nanci Griffiths & John Prine – Streets Of Baltimore (1998).mp3
Evan Dando – Streets Of Baltimore (1998).mp3

tompall_glaserTompall Glaser was one of the original country Outlaws, along with the likes of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. With his brothers, he supported Johnny Cash on tour in the early 1960s before as Tompall & The Glaser Brothers they signed for MGM Records in 1966. The same year Tompall wrote Streets Of Baltimore, the sad story of a man who selflessly gives up everything, including his farm back in Tennessee, so as to fulfill his woman’s dream of living in Baltimore — with no happy ending, at not least for him.

Tompall’s cousin Dennis, who worked for him, told me in an e-mail that the original song had many more verses. “Harlan told me once that Tompall stopped by his office and gave him a copy of what he’s written, which was much longer than the final version. And said: ‘Here, fix it’. It sounds like something Tom would say.”

bobby_bareBut the Glasers didn’t recorded the song first; Bobby Bare got there first. Recorded in April 1966 (produced by Chet Atkins) his version was released as a single in June 1966; the Glasers’ was recorded in September. Bare went on to have hit with it, reaching #7 on the Country charts. The song became more famous in the wonderful version by Gram Parsons, which appeared on his 1973 GP album. Likewise, the 1998 duet by the magnificent Nanci Griffiths and the awesome John Prine is essential.

Dennis Glaser also said that the song has been mentioned in an American Literature textbook “as an example of songs that reflect actual life”.

Also recorded by: Capitol Showband (1967), Charley Pride (1969), Statler Brothers (1974), The Bats (1994), Tony Walsh (1999), Skik (as Grachten van Amsterdam, 2004), The Little Willies (2006)

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The Three Suns – Twilight Time (1944).mp3
Les Brown & his Orchestra – Twilight Time
(1945).mp3
Johnny Maddox and the Rhythmasters – Twilight Time (1953).mp3
The Platters – Twilight Time (1958).mp3

three_sunsThe Three Suns – brothers Al (guitar) and Morty Nevins (accordion) and cousin Artie Dunn (organ) – were an instrumental trio founded in the late 1930s in Philadelphia. Although not particularly well-known, they had a long career that lasted into the ’60s (albeit in latter years with competing entities going by the group’s name, including one with Don Kirshner who later invented the Monkees). Unusual orchestration notwithstanding – their Twilight Time sounds like carousel music — the Three Suns were sought-after performers who spawned imitation groups, including the Twilight Three. (More on The Three Suns here)

Not much seems to be known about the genesis of Twilight Time other than it becoming something of a signature tune for the group. They eventually recorded it in 1944. It had become so popular that songwriter Buck Ram put his evocative lyrics – “Heavenly shades of night are falling, it’s twilight time” – to the melody. The first cover version of the song was recorded in November 1944 by bandleader Les Brown, and released in early 1945. But it is unclear whether it featured vocals. Several sources, including not always reliable Wikipedia, say that Brown’s version features Doris Day, and therefore is the first vocal version of the song. I’ve not been able to find the song or even proof that Doris Day sang it. Featured here is the instrumental version Brown, released as the b-side to Sentimental Journey, the first recording of that standard which Doris did sing.

A recording I have of an old radio programme of the Armed Forces Radio Service, called Personal Album, features five Les Brown songs. Four of them are sung by Doris Day, but when announcing Twilight Time, the presenter says that Doris will “sit that one out”. So I doubt she ever recorded it with Brown, though she might have sung it on stage.

If Doris Day did not lend her vocals to Twilight Time, then the first recording to feature Buck Rams’ lyrics would probably be that released, also in 1945, by Jimmy Dorsey featuring Teddy Walters on the microphones, which appeared in the MGM movie Thrill Of A Romance. Alas, I have no recording of that version.

plattersTwilight Time had been recorded intermittently — including a rather nice ragtime version by Johnny Maddox and the Rhythmasters — by the time Ram signed the vocal group The Platters, for whom he co-wrote some of their biggest hits, such as Only You and The Great Pretender. By 1958 it had been almost two years since The Platters had enjoyed a Top 10 hit. Ram dug out Twilight Time and his protegés had their third US #1. The song also reached #3 in Britain, their highest chart placing there until Smoke Gets In Your Eyes topped the UK charts later that year.

Also recorded by: Roy Eldridge & His Orchestra (1944), Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Teddy Walters (1945), Johnny Maddox And The Rhythmasters (1953), Otto Brandenburg (1960), Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas (1965), Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs (1965), Gene Pitney (1970), P.J. Proby (1973), José Feliciano (1975), Carl Mann (1976), Dave (as 5 Uhr früh, 1980), Willie Nelson (1988), John Fahey (1992), John Davidson (1999), The Alley Cats (2000), Anne Murray (2004) a.o.

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Art and Dottie Todd – Chanson D’Amour (Song Of Love) (1958).mp3
Manhattan Transfer – Chanson D’Amour (1976).mp3

art_dottie_toddFew songs have irritated and fascinated me in such equal measures as Manhattan Transfer’s 1977 hit Chanson D’Amour, a UK #1. Their cover was ingratiatingly camp and absolutely ubiquitous, a middle-aged finger raised at punk. It is also a most insidious earworm. Almost two decades earlier, the Wayne Shanklin composition had been a US #6 hit for the husband and wife duo Art and Dottie Todd. The couple’s version competed in the charts with an alternative take by the Fontane Sisters. Ar and Dottie scored the bigger hit. It was also their only US hit. Chanson D’Amour didn’t chart in Britain, but the Todds had their solitary hit there with a different song, Broken Wings. So they ended up one-hit wonders on both sides of the Atlantic, but with different songs.

The Todds, who already had enjoyed a long career and even presented a radio show after getting married in 1941 (they met when accidentally booked into the same hotel room), proceeded to entertain in the lounges of Las Vegas for many years before their semi-retirement in 1980 to Hawaii, where they opened a supper club. Dottie died in 2000 at 87; Art followed her in 2007 at the age of 93. Somehow it seems right that this couple, who lived and worked together for six decades, should be remembered for a Song of Love.

Chanson D’Amour was resurrected in 1966 by easy listening merchants The Lettermen, who had a minor US hit with it. And a decade later, Manhattan Transfer recorded their cover, adding a French 1920s cabaret feel to the Todd’s template, which they followed quite faithfully.

Also recorded by: Also recorded by: The Fontane Sisters (1958), The Lettermen (1966), Gheorghe Zamfir (1974), Ray Conniff (1979), BZN (1981), André Rieu (2003), In-grid (2004) a.o.

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Todd Duncan – Unchained Melody (excerpt) (1955).mp3
Unchained Melody Mix (39MB):
Les Baxter – Unchained Melody (1955)
Al Hibbler – Unchained Melody (1955)
Roy Hamilton – Unchained Melody (1955)
Gene Vincent & his Blue Caps – Unchained Melody (1957)
Merri Gail – Unchained Melody (1960)
Vito and the Salutations – Unchained Melody (1963)
The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody (1965)
Boots Randolph – Unchained Melody (1967)
Elvis Presley – Unchained Melody (1977)
Kenny Rogers – Unchained Melody (1977)
Willie Nelson – Unchained Melody (1978)
U2 – Unchained Melody (1989)
Clarence Gatemouth Brown – Unchained Melody (1995)

todd_duncanIt takes something special to record a song that had been recorded many times and been a hit for various artists, and in the process appropriate it in the public consciousness. The Righteous Brothers did so with Unchained Melody, a song that made its public debut as a theme in the otherwise forgotten 1955 movie Unchained (hence the song’s cryptic title), sung on the soundtrack by the African-American singer Todd Duncan (pictured), the original Porgy in the 1935 production of Porgy & Bess, who died at 95 in 1998 (the last surviving original cast member, Anne Brown, who played Bess, died a few months ago at the age of 96). Duncan was also a professor of voice at Harvard. I’m afraid the poor quality clip I’m posting here is the best I could find (thanks to my friend Walter).

The song was written by Alex North and Hy Zaret (whose mother knew him as William Starrat). The story goes that the young Hy, in an episode of unrequited love, had written the lyrics as a poem, which North set to music in 1936. The yet nameless song was offered to Bing Crosby, who turned it down. Thereafter it sat on the shelves until almost two decades later North was scoring Unchained, a prison drama, which in a small role featured the jazz legend Dexter Gordon, at the time jailed for heroin possession at the prison which served as the movie’s set. Unchained Melody received an Oscar nomination (Love Is A Many Splendored Thing won) — the first of 14 unsuccessful nominations for North, who eventually was given a lifetime achievement award.

ray hamiltonDuncan’s version went nowhere, but the song was a US top 10 hit for three artists in 1955: Les Baxter, in an instrumental version, and vocal interpretations by Al Hibbler and Roy Hamilton, with Hibbler’s becoming the best known version for the next decade. In June the same year,  singer Jimmy Young took the song to the top of the British charts, the first of four times the song was a UK #1 (the other chart-toppers were the Righteous Brothers, Robson & Jerome, and Gareth Gates).

Ten years later, the Righteous Brothers’ recorded it, produced by Bill Medley (though some dispute that) with Bobby Hatfield’s magnificent vocals, and released on Spector’s Philles label. With so many versions preceding the Righteous Brothers’ take, one can only speculate which one, if any, provided the primary inspiration. I would not be surprised to learn that Hatfield drew at least something from Gene Vincent’s vocals in the 1957 version, which oddly omits the chorus.

As so often, the classic started out as a b-side, in this case to the Gerry Goffin & Carole King song Hung On You, which Spector produced. To Spector’s chagrin, DJs flipped the record and Unchained Melody (which had no producer credit on the label) became the big hit, reaching #4 in the US.

righteous_brothersIn 1990 Unchained Melody enjoyed a massive revival thanks to the most famous scene in the film Ghost, featuring Patrick Swayze (R.I.P.) and Demi Moore playing with clay. The song went to #1 in Britain, and would have done likewise in the US had there not been two Righteous Brothers’ versions in the charts at the same time. The owners of the 1965 recording underestimated the demand for the song and failed to re-issue it in large quantity. Medley and Hatfield took the gap by recording a new version, which sold very well. Since the US charts are based on sales and airplay, the 1965 version charted in the Top 10 on strength of the latter, while the reformed Righteous Brothers reached the Top 20.

Unchained Melody represents another footnote in music history: it was the last (or second last, sources vary) song ever sung on stage by Elvis Presley. And fans of the Scorsese film GoodFellas may recognise the doo wop recording of the song by Vito and the Salutations.

Also recorded by: June Valli (1955), Jimmy Young (1955), Cab Calloway (1955), Chet Atkins (1955), The Crew Cuts (1955), Harry Belafonte (1957), Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps (1957), Ricky Nelson (1958), Andy Williams (1959), Earl Bostic (1959), Sam Cooke (1960), The Blackwells (1960), Ray Conniff (1960), The Browns (1960), Charlie Rich (1960), Merri Gail (1960), Marty Robbins (1961), Cliff Richard (1961), Floyd Cramer (1962), Duane Eddy (1962), Conway Twitty (1962), Steve Alaimo (1962), Les Chaussettes Noires (as Les enchaînés, 1962), The Lettermen (1962), Frank Ifield (1963), Vito & the Salutations (1963), Johnny De Little (1963), Matt Monro (1964), Anne Murray (1964), Bobby Vinton (1964), Brenda Holloway (1964), Sonny & Cher (1965), Dionne Warwick (1965), The Wailers (1966), Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles (1966), The Supremes (1966), The Englishmen (1967), The Caretakers (1967), Robert Gennari (1967), Igor Mann e I Gormanni (as Senza catene, 1968), Roy Orbison (1968), The Sweet Inspirations (1968), David Garrick (1968), Jimmy Scott (1969), The Platters (1969), Waylon Jennings (1970), The New Overlanders (1970), Dean Reed (1971), Blue Haze (1972), Al Green (1973), Donny Osmond (1973), James Last (1974), Bamses Venner (as En forunderlig melodi, 1975), Greyhound (1975), The Stylistics (1976), Kenny Rogers (1977), Paris Connection (1978), Willie Nelson (1978), Clem Curtis (1979), George Benson (1979), Heart (1980), Will Tura (as Oh My Love, 1980), Magazine 60 (1981), Gerry & The Pacemakers (1981), Joni Mitchell (1982), Bill Hurley (1982), Manhattan Transfer (1984), Leo Sayer (1985), U2 (1989), Maurice Jarre (1990), Ronnie McDowell (1991), Richard Clayderman (1992), Dread Zeppelin (1993), Captain & Tennille (1995), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Al Green (1995), Clarence Gatemouth Brown (1995), Robson & Jerome (1995), Melanie (1996), Günther Neefs (1997), LeAnn Rimes (1997), Joe Lyn Turner (1997), David Osborne (1998), Neil Diamond (1998), Mythos ‘n DJ Cosmo (1999), Gareth Gates (2002), Justin Guarini (2003), Marshall & Alexander (2003), Bruno Cuomo (2003), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Jan Keizer (2004), Il Divo (2005), Joseph Williams (2006), Barry Manilow (2006), Damien Leith (2006), David Phelps (2008), Johnny Hallyday & Joss Stone (2008), Carrie Underwood (2008) a.o.

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More Originals

The Originals Vol. 26

June 12th, 2009 21 comments

In this instalment, three songs featured are perhaps well known to some in their original form; one original (Galveston) is pretty obscure; and one song may not immediately ring bells until one hears it (German readers of a certain age will recognise it by another name). There are ten versions of Reason To Believe, one of the greatest songs ever written. I’ve posted Tim Hardin’s original separately and the nine cover versions in one file.

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Tim Hardin – Reason To Believe.mp3
Johnny Cash – Reason To Believe (1974)
(reupped)
NINE VERSIONS OF REASON TO BELIEVE
Bobby Darin – Reason To Believe (1966)
Scott McKenzie – Reason To Believe (1967)
Marianne Faithfull – Reason To Believe (1967)
The Dillards – Reason To Believe (1968)
Glen Campbell – Reason To Believe (1968)
Cher – Reason To Believe (1968)
Carpenters – Reason To Believe (1970)
Rod Stewart – Reason To Believe (1971)
Billy Bragg – Reason To Believe (live) (1989)
tim_hardin The mark of genius in a song resides in its adaptability. As the various covers featured here show, Reason To Believe (not to be confused with Bruce Springsteen’s song of the same title) is the sort of rare song into which artists can project their emotions, making it their own. The 1966 original by Tim Hardin, who wrote it, is suitably affecting, as befits a lyric of betrayal (the line “Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried; still I look to find a reason to believe” is heartbreaking). But in my view, the definitive interpretation of the song, one of my all-time favourites, is that by the Southern Californian country band The Dillards (1968), who inspired bands such as the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. It is perfect.

DARINReason To Believe was not a hit for Hardin. A gifted songwriter, he enjoyed his biggest hit with somebody else’s song, Bobby Darin’s twee Simple Song of Freedom, which Darin wrote in return for Hardin providing his big comeback hit If I Were A Carpenter. Darin, by then in his folk phase, also did a very credible version of Reason To Believe. Hardin’s story is tragic. As a marine in Vietnam in the early 1960s he discovered heroin and became addicted to the drug. Added to that, he suffered from terrible stagefright, which is not helpful when you are an entertainer. He died on 29 December 1980 from a heroin and morphine overdose. He was only 39.

The two best known versions arguably are those by Rod Stewart (1971) and the Carpenters (1970). Stewart is a fine interpreter of songs, and his take of Reason To Believe is entirely likable. Stewart’s take was released as a single a-side; in the event the flip side, Maggie Mae, became the big hit.

EDIT: The Johnny Cash version linked to above comes courtesy of Señor of the WTF? No, Seriously. WTF? blog.
Also recorded by: Bobby Darin (1966), Scott McKenzie (1967), Marianne Faithfull (1967), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1967), Rick Nelson (1967), David Hemmings (1967), Cher (1968), The Dillards (1968), The Youngbloods (1968), Glen Campbell (1968), Suzi Jane Hokom (1969), Brainbox (1969), The Wray Brothers Band (1969), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (1970), Andy Williams (1970), The Carpenters (1970), Rod Stewart (1971), Skeeter Davis (1972), Johan Verminnen (as Iemand als jij, 1989), Wilson Phillips (1990), Jackie DeShannon (1993), Don Williams (1995), Paul Weller (1995), Stina Nordenstam (1998), Ron Sexsmith (1999), Rod Stewart (2003), Vonda Shepard (2001) a.o.

Jimmy Driftwood – The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Horton – The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Les Humphries Singers – Mexico.mp3

jimmy_driftwood Oh, you probably do know the song. And if you don’t, you should. Originally a traditional folk song known as The 8th of January, it tells the story of a soldier fighting with Andrew Jackson’s army against the British in the 8 January 1815 battle of the title. It was first recorded in 1957 and released the following year by Jimmy Driftwood, a school teacher in Timbo, Arkansas. Born James Morris, he is said to have been one of the nicest guys in the folk music scene (not surprisingly, he was a collaborator with the great Alan Lomax). As a history teacher, Driftwood considered song to be a teaching device, and so in 1936 (or 1945, depending which sources you believe) he set the fiddle-based folk song to lyrics — there were no definitive words, only snippets of recurring phrases — to benefit his students. In the 1950s, Driftwood was signed by RCA, and eventually recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, with the label’s session man Chet Atkins on guitar. He later wrote another country classic, Tennessee Stud, which became a hit for Eddy Arnold and Johnny Cash (Tarantino fans will know it from the Jackie Brown soundtrack).

johnny_horton_new_orleansShortly after Driftwood recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, the doomed country star Johnny Horton did a cover which relied less on manic fiddling and dropped such radio-unfriendly words as “hell” and “damn”, and scored a big hit with it (he even changed the lyrics for the English market, turning the enemy “British” into random “rebels). Horton released several “historical records” (most famous among them, perhaps, Sink The Bismarck), though it would be unfair to reduce his influence on country music to that. A close friend of Johnny Cash’s, Horton died in a car crash in 1960, widowing his wife Billy Jean for the second time — she had been married to Hank Williams when the country legend died. Spookily, both Williams and Horton played their last concerts at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.

There is a crazy idea on the Internet that associates Horton with the revolting racist records of a fuckwitted spunkbucket going by the name of Rebel Johnny (such as the charming “I Hate Niggers”). I am at a loss to understand how such a confusion could arise and thereby smear the name of a great country star.

les_humphries_mexicoTwo other cover versions are notable. Also in 1959, skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan reached the UK #2 — but received no airplay on Aunty Beeb until he changed the word “ruddy” to “blooming”. The song was revived in 1972 by the Les Humphries Singers, a multi-ethnc and multi-national English-language ensemble of hippie demeanour that was very popular in West Germany with its Ed Hawkins Singer meets Hair shtick. Humphries, an Englishman, renamed the song Mexico (not a stretch; that country’s name appears in the original lyrics) and scored a massive hit with his outfit’s joyous rendition. Their performances, in English, captured the era’s exuberant spirit of social and sexual liberation. The trouble is, Humphries credited the song to himself, a brazen act of plagiarism. I have found no evidence that Humphries, who died in 2007 at 67, was ever sued for his blatant rip-off.
Also recorded by: Vaughn Monroe (1959), Eddy Arnold (1963), Harpers Bizarre (1968), Johnny Cash (1972), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1974), Buck Owens (1975), Bob Weir (1976), Bill Haley (1979)

Johnny O’Keefe – Wild One.mp3
Iggy Pop – Real Wild Child (Wild One).mp3

johnny_okeefe_wild_one Johnny O’Keefe was Australia’s first rock & roll star, notching up 30 hits in his country. Like Elvis, he was born in January 1935. He died just over a year after Elvis, of barbiturate poisoning. Often referred to by the title of his big hit, released in 1958, O’Keefe was the first Australian rock & roll star to tour the United States. But it was while Buddy Holly & the Crickets were touring Australia that the song came to traverse the Pacific. Crickets drummer Jerry Allison went on to record it under the name Ivan as Real Wild Child, enjoying a minor US hit with it.

It took almost three decades before O’Keefe’s song would reach the higher regions of the charts when Iggy Pop scored a UK Top 10 and US Top 30 hit with his David Bowie-produced track, as Real Wild Child (Wild One), in 1986. It isn’t clear which version inspired Mr Osterberg, but in 1982 Albert Lee recorded it under the same title.
Also recorded by: Jerry Lewis (1958; released in 1974), Jet Harris (1962), Billy Idol (1987), Christopher Otcasek (1989), Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1993), Lou Reed (1993), Status Quo (2003), Wakefield (2004), Everlife (2006)


Dave Edmunds – Queen Of Hearts.mp3
Juice Newton – Queen Of Hearts.mp3

dave_edmonds Here’s one of those songs that some might know better in its original version, and others as the hit cover. Queen Of Hearts was a UK #11 hit for Dave Edmunds — previously featured in this series for covering Smiley Lewis’ I Hear You Knocking — in 1979, and two years later a US #2 hit for the unlikely-named Juice Newton. She will return to this series soon when her other big hit of 1981, Angel Of The Morning. Newton earned a Grammy nomination for best country song for her version, and it was her remake that inspired the veteran French singer Sylvie Vartan, who once performed on a bill with the Beatles, to record her French take on the song (retitled Quand tu veux , or When You Want It). A couple of years earlier Newton had tried to have a hit with another British song, but her version of It’s A Heartache lost out in the US to that by Welsh rasper Bonnie Tyler. Later Newton enjoyed a #11 with Brenda Lee’s Break It To Me Gently.
Also recorded by: Rodney Crowell (1980), Sylvie Vartan (as Quand tu veux, 1981), The Shadows (1983), Lawrence Welk (1984), Ramshackle Daddies (2003), Melanie Laine (2005), Valentina (2007)

don_ho_galvestonDon Ho – Galveston.mp3
Glen Campbell – Galveston.mp3

Jimmy Webb sat on the beach of Galveston on the hurricane-plagued Gulf of Mexico when he wrote this song, which might appear to be about the Spanish-American war but was just as applicable to the Vietnam War, which in 1966 was starting to heat up (“While I watch the cannons flashing, I clean my gun and dream of Galveston” and “I’m so afraid of dying”). The composer subsequently said it was about the Vietnam War but at other times also denied it. Whatever Webb had in mind, its theme is universal about any soldier who’d rather be home than on the killing fields.

glen_campbell_galvestonWebb had previously written By The Time I Get To Phoenix (first recorded by Johnny Rivers), which Glen Campbell would have a hit with. He later wrote Wichita Lineman especially for Campbell. Galveston would complete the trinity of Webb hit songs for Campbell, who in 1974 recorded a whole album of Webb numbers. The original of Galveston was recorded by the relatively obscure Don Ho, a Hawaiian lounge singer and TV star who was known for appearing with red shades and died in 2007 aged 76. Campbell later said that, while in Hawaii, Ho turned him to Galveston. Campbell sped it up a bit to create his moving version. Apparently, after “giving” the song to Campbell, Ho would not sing it any more.
Also recorded by: Lawrence Welk (1969), Jim Nabors (1968), The Ventures (1969), Roger Williams (1969), Jimmy Webb (1971), The Lemonheads (1997), Of Montreal (2000), Joel Harrison with David Binney (2004)

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 18

March 13th, 2009 5 comments

Another batch of originals, looking at Homeward Bound, Hurting Each Other, Blame It On The Boogie, Istanbul (Not Constantinople) and Rose Garden.

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Chad & Jeremy – Homeward Bound.mp3
Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound (live).mp3

chadjeremyIn 1965, Chad & Jeremy were a popular English folk-rock duo when Jeremy Clyde met the songwriter of promising newcomers Simon & Garfunkel at a party for Bob Dylan. Paul Simon was delighted to be asked to play some of his songs for the folk star, and proceeded to play 18 tracks, many of them future classics. One song in particular, Homeward Bound, appealed to Jeremy, and he recorded it with Chad Stuart in London on 26 November 1965 (with Simon dropping in during the session). A few weeks later, in December, Simon & Garfunkel got around to recording their own version of the song which Paul Simon had started writing while stuck at Widnes station (or Dutton or Wigan, accounts vary) in northern England.

Chad & Jeremy considered Homeward Bound for a single release, but having got wind of Simon & Garfunkel considering the song as a follow-up to their hit The Sound Of Silence, they opted for a rocker titled Ballad Of A Teenage Failure. It turned out to be a ballad of a failure, teenage or not. Chad & Jeremy in the end released Homeward Bound in August 1966 on their Distant Shores album. Simon & Garfunkel had a #5 hit with it earlier that year. The Simon & Garfunkel version posted here is a live recording from the soundboard bootleg of their 1968 Hollywood Bowl concert.

Also recorded by: Mel Tormé (1966), Petula Clark (1966), Cher (1966), Richard Anthony (as Un autographe, SVP, 1966), The Quiet Five (1966), Jack Jones (1968), Glen Campbell (1968), Brenda Byers (1970), Buck Owens (1971), Jermaine Jackson (1972), Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (1983), The King’s Singers (1989)

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Jimmy Clanton – Hurting Each Other.mp3
Carpenters – Hurting Each Other.mp3

jimmy-clantonAs previously noted, the Carpenters had a way of appropriating songs first recorded by other people. In part, this owes to an astuteness in often picking songs that weren’t very well known. Once Richard Carpenter imprinted his imaginative arrangements and Karen her marvellous vocals on such a song, it almost invariably was theirs. And so it was with Hurting Each Other, which the siblings recorded in late 1971 (apparently a news segment filmed them putting down the backing vocal track). It appeared on their excellent 1972 album, A Song For You, and the single reached #2 on the US charts.

Hurting Each Other was written by Gary Geld and Peter Udell, whose songwriting credits also included Brian Hyland’s Sealed With A Kiss. The first recording of the song was released in 1965 by teen idol Jimmy Clanton, a white R&B singer from Baton Rouge who had a string of hits (including Neil Sedaka’s composition Venus In Blue Jeans) in what has been called “swamp pop” and then faded into the sort of obscurity that has nonetheless ensured a performing career that continues to this day, complemented by a line in radio DJing.

Also recorded by: Chad Allan & The Expressions ( who would become Guess Who,1965); Walker Brothers (1966), Ruby & The Romantics (1969), Peter Nero (1972), Percy Faith & His Orchestra (1972), Ray Conniff and The Singers (1972), Johnette Napolitano with Marc Moreland (1994), Stan Whitmire (2000)

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Mick Jackson – Blame It On The Boogie.mp3
The Jacksons – Blame It On The Boogie.mp3

Loo & Placido – Should I Stay Or Should I Boogie.mp3
mick-jacksonHow many cover versions have been sung by the namesake of the original performer? Mick Jackson was a German-born English pop singer. His Blame It On The Boogie, which he also co-wrote, sounds like a presentable Leo Sayer number. The Jacksons changed little in the song’s structure — Mick’s original has all the touches we know well, such as the “sunshine, moonlight, good time, boogie” interlude — and yet they turned a pretty good song into a disco explosion of joy, presaging Michael’s Off TheWall a year and a bit later.

Mick Jackson actually wrote the song with Stevie Wonder in mind (and it’s easy to imagine how it might have sounded), but was persuaded by a German label to record it himself. When the freshly minted record was played at a music festival in Cannes, a rep for the Jackson — no doubt alerted by the performer’s name — secretly taped the song, flew it to the US and had the Jackson brothers record and release it in quick time, to release it before Mick could have a hit with it. With both singles out at the same time, the British press had some fun with the Jackson “Battle of the Boogie”. Mick’s single reached #15 in the UK and #61 in the US. The Jacksons’ version became the classic.

The song made a comeback in South Africa in 2003 in a version by a 13-year-old Danish character called Jay-Kid. That version was used in Loo & Placido’s rather splendid 2005 mash-up with the Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go, titled Should I Stay Or Should I Boogie?

Also recorded by: Rita Pavone (1979), Big Fun (1989), Fat Boy Slim (as Blame It On The Baseline, 1989), Luis Miguel (as Será que no me amas, 1990), Dynamo’s Rhythm Aces (1999), Jay-Kid (2003), Captain Jack (2003), Marcia Hines (2006)

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The Four Lads – Istanbul (Not Constantinople).mp3
They Might Be Giants – Istanbul (Not Constantinople).mp3

the-four-lads-istanbulIt casts a reflection of some kind on They Might Be Giants that many people believe the novelty number Istanbul (Not Constantinople) to be their original. It is, in fact, an old swing number from the 1950s written — borrowing copiously from Putting On The Ritz — by Nat Simons and Jimmy Arnold, the latter frontman of Canadian singing quartet the Four Lads. The song was the group’s breakthrough hit in 1953, and they had enough of a career to enable a reconstituted version of the group to trawl the nostalgia circuit.

They Might Be Giants recorded their faster cover version in 1989, drawing from the klezmer style of secular Jewish music to get that Middle Eastern effect (hey, they are Americans…). One may assume that the song would cause some perplexity in Greece, where the Turkish city on the Bosphorus is referred to as Constantinople. (Thanks to Philip)

Also recorded by: The Radio Revellers (1953), Frankie Vaughan (1954), Caterina Valente (1954), Santo & Johnny (1962), Edmundo Ros (1953), Al Caiola (1962), Bette Midler (1977), The Residents (1987), The Sacados (1990), Mad Dodo (1992), Chris Potter & Kenny Werner (1994), Trevor Horn Orchestra (2003), Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers (2005), Ska Cubano (2006), Ayhan Sicimoğlu (2006)

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Joe South – Rose Garden.mp3
Lynn Anderson – Rose Garden.mp3

joe-southOnce upon a time, I hated the song as being representative of everything I loathed about country music. I still didn’t like it when I saw the light and embraced the genre, for Anderson’s hit record is rather naff. Then I heard Joe South’s version, and it became clear to me just how good a song it is. Alas, a few weeks ago I watched an audition for South Africa’s Idols show during which a spectacularly untalented woman performed the song she retitled “Ahr Burk Yurr Pahrrdynn”, singing it aggressively out of tune and with no regard to the correct lyrics. It is her tragicomic version which I now hear, alas, when I think of the song.

In the three years before Lynn Anderson got around to scoring a hit with it in 1971, Rose Garden had been recorded by a soul singer (Dobie Gray), another country singer (Glen Campbell) and three easy listening merchants (Ray Conniff, Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos, and Boots Randolph, under his almost real name Homer Louis Randolph III). For Joe South it was just an album track. He’d have a hit later with Games People Play, and wrote a couple of hits for Billie Joe Royal (Down in the Boondocks and Hush, which would become a Deep Purple classic), The Osmonds and Elvis.

Lynn Anderson almost did not record the song. Execs at her record company, Columbia, didn’t like it much and thought it inappropriate for a woman to sing a song which represents a male perspective (for example in the line “I could promise you things like big diamond rings”). As it happened, there was some spare time during a studio session, and the track was recorded. The label’s micro-managing head, Clive Davis, heard it and decided that it should be Anderson’s next single. It was a big hit in the US and Europe, and Anderson’s version remained the biggest selling recording by any female country artist until 1997.

Also recorded by: Dobie Gray (1969), Glen Campbell (1971), Homer Louis Randolph III (1971), Ray Conniff (1971), Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos (1971), Peter Horton (with German lyrics, 1971), Johnny Mathis (1971), Loretta Lynn (1971), New World (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Dottie West (1971), The Fevers (as Mar de Rosas, 1971), Claude François (as Je te demande pardon, 1971), Bakersfield California Brass (1972), k.d. lang (1986), Kon Kan (1989), Suicide Machines (2000), Tamra Rosanes (2002), Socks (2004), Martina McBride (2005), Southern Culture on the Skids (2007), Aldebert (as Je te demande pardon, 2008)



More Originals

The Originals Vol. 17

March 3rd, 2009 7 comments

Time for another round of Originals. Apologies for the relative scarcity of posts in the series. They are rather research-intensive, so one post of five songs can take up to 5-6 hours of work. Still, I enjoy writing these posts very much, so I’ll keep on going.
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Richard Chamberlain – They Long To Be Close To You.mp3
Dusty Springfield – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3
Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3

Isaac Hayes – (They Long To Be) Close To You (full).mp3
Jerry Butler & Brenda Lee Eager – Close To You (live).mp3
Gwen Guthrie – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3
Paul Weller – Close To You.mp3

richard-chamberlain-close-to-youThe Carpenters drew heavily from often not very well known songs, making them their own in the process. This was not so, however, with what is widely regarded at their signature tune. (They Long To Be) Close To You had been recorded a few times before the Carpenters got their turn in 1970.

It started out as a humble b-side to Richard Chamberlain’ (yes, the actor) 1963 single Blue Guitar. Within a year both Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield had recorded it, though Dusty’s version was not released until 1967, on her lovely Where Am I Going? LP.

Composer Burt Bacharach was not happy with either of the hitherto published versions when he offered the song to Herb Alpert, who had in 1968 recorded a rather good version of Bacharach’s This Guy’s In Love With You. Alpert, however, declined to do Close To You (apparently he didn’t like the line about sprinkling “moondust in your hair”), and gave the song to the Carpenters, who had released their debut LP on Alpert’s A&M label. An similarly hesitant Richard Carpenter and Alpert arranged the song — with the latter’s prominent trumpet track — and created aversion Bacharach was happy with.

carpenters1Close To You has been covered many times since. The genius of the song is that it can stand distinct treatments. It did not suffer from Isaac Hayes slowed down, psychedelic-soul 1971 take, nor from Jerry Butler & Brenda Lee Eager’s 1973 gospel-blues rendition (from the legendary Save The Children concert), nor from Gwen Guthrie’s wonderful upbeat, joyous soul interpretation in 1986. Even Paul Weller on his 2004 album of cover versions couldn’t mess it up. Indeed, I like his raspy-voiced version on which he struggles to keep in tune, but I seem to be in a minority here. Listen to it and tell me what you think. And, of course, it’s Homer and Marge’s wedding song (in the movie; regular viewers will recall several weddings).

Also recorded by: Dionne Warwick (1967), Gabor Szabo (1970), Johnny Mathis (1970), Perry Como (1970), Nancy Wilson (1970), Diana Ross (1970), Leon Spencer (1971), Frank Sinatra (1971), The Moments (1971), Claudine Longet (1971), Barbra Streisand & Burt Bacharach (1971, on Bacharach’s TV show), Cilla Black (1971), Eddy Arnold (1971), Richard Evans (1972), Errol Garner (1973), The Clams (1974), B.T. Express (1975), The Cranberries (1994), Richard Clayderman (1995), Yasuko Agawa (1996), Billy Baxter (1998), Marshall & Alexander (2003), Gerald Levert & Tamia (2003), Tuck & Patti (2004), Soulbob (2005), Rick Astley (2005), Herb Alpert (2005), Barry Manilow (2007), Mario Biondi & Duke Orchestra (2007), Steve Tyrell (2008), Tina Arena (2008) a.o.

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Anita Carter – Love’s Ring Of Fire.mp3
Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire.mp3

anita-carterAt the time when June Carter was falling heavily for Johnny Cash, she was regularly writing songs with fellow country singer Merle Kilgore (the first song they wrote together was titled Promised To John, recorded by Anita Carter with Hank Snow). As Kilgore recalled it, Ring Of Fire was born the day June spoke to him about her love for Cash. Later, seeking an idea for a song, June remembered a letter she had received from a friend going through a divorce which described love as “a burning ring of fire”. And thus a classic song title (which even appealed to the manufacturers of haemorrhoid ointment; Roseanne Cash blocked its use in an ad for such a product) was born. Or, if you choose to doubt Kilgore, the writers lifted it from an Elizabethan love poem (or maybe June’s friend got the line from that source).

The song essentially describes June’s feelings for Cash. But it was her sister Anita — reportedly a one-time girlfriend of Elvis Presley’s — who recorded it first, in November 1962. In fact, the song was only half-finished when Anita was ready to record it (June had led her to believe the song was already complete). June and Kilgore banged the rest together in ten minutes, fortuitously retaining the word “mire” from a provisional lyric.

cash-ring-of-fireCash liked the song when he heard Anita’s record (as he well should) and decided he would record it. Deferring to his future sister-in-law, he waited four months before recording his version. In the interim he had a dream about the song featuring Tijuana trumpets — possibly inspired by June’s comment about her having borrowed the song’s swirling sound from the music at a merry-go-round in Villa Acuna, Mexico. Shortened to Ring Of Fire, Cash’s version was a hit, his first since October 1958, this saving his about-to-be-cancelled recording contract with Columbia. And for years later, Kilgore was the best man at Johnny and June’s wedding.

As a postscript, Cash’s ex-wife Vivian claimed that June (or Kilgore) wrote the song, saying it was Johnny’s song about June’s vagina (or “bearded clam”). Attractive though the idea of the song as a metaphor for cunnilingus may be, Vivian’s claim is less than utterly persuasive.

Also recorded by: Roy Drusky (1964), Kitty Wells (1964), Jerry Lee Lewis (1965), Dave Dudley (1966), Tom Jones (1967), Lynn Anderson (1968), Eric Burdon & The Animals (1968), Tommy Cash (1969), Hank Williams Jr (1970), Ray Charles (1970), The Buckaroos (1971), Earl Scruggs & Linda Ronstadt (1972), Olivia Newton-John (1977), Blondie (1980), Wall of Voodoo (1980), Carlene Carter (1980), Dwight Yoakam (1986), Social Distortion (1990), Frank Zappa (1991), McPeak Brothers (1992), Dick Dale (1994), Martin Belmont (1995), Stop (1995), Bhundu Boys & Hank Wangford (1996), Elliot Humberto Kavee (1997), David Allan Coe (1998), The Caravans (1999), The Du-Tels (2001), Billy Burnette (2002), Michel Montecrossa (2003), James Carr (2003), Rachel Z (2004)
Bobby Solo ( 2004), Joaquin Phoenix (2005), The Regulars (2006), Leningrad Cowboys (2006), Lucy Kaplansky (2007), Elvis Costello (2007) a.o.

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Sir Mack Rice – Mustang Sally.mp3
Wilson Pickett – Mustang Sally.mp3

mack-riceMustang Sally is the karaoke number of blues and soul, thanks in large part to The Commitments spirited performance in the eponymous 1991 film. But it was in overuse before that: John Lee Hooker’s San Francisco blues club sported a sign on its stage warning: “No Mustang Sally”.

The song was written by the songwriter Bonnie “Sir Mack” Rice (who also wrote the soul classic Respect Yourself) as a bit of a gag on somebody’s desire for a Ford Mustang, calling it first “Mustang Mama”. Reportedly it was Aretha Franklin who suggested the renaming to Sally. Mack had a minor (and his only) hit with it in 1965; in late 1966 Wilson Pickett recorded his now legendary version — which almost died the moment it was finished. Apparently the tape snapped off the reel, fragmenting on the floor of the Muscle Shoals studio. The engineer, Tom Dowd, gathered the pieces and spliced them back together again. With that, he saved one of the great soul performances. Of course the great story of the broken tape ignores that Pickett could have simply recorded the thing again. Apparently the men from Desperate Housewives are singing it in the new series; have mercy…

Also recorded by: Chambers Brothers (1965), The Kingsmen (1966), Young Rascals (1966), Ken Boothe (1968), Mar-Keys (1969), Muddy Waters (1974), Maurice Williams (1975), Willie Mitchell (1977), Snooks Eaglin (1978), Rufus Thomas (1980), Magic Slim & the Teardrops (1983), Frank Frost (1988), Andy Taylor (1990), Buddy Guy (1991), The Outcasts (1993), John Clark (1993), Hiram Bullock (1994), Sam & Dave (1995), Vance Kelly (1998), Fiona Day (1999), Albert Collins (2000), Los Lobos (2000), Solomon Burke (2004) a.o.

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Lis Sørensen – Brændt.mp3
Ednaswap – Torn (acoustic version).mp3

Trine Rein – Torn.mp3
Natalie Imbruglia – Torn.mp3

lis-sorensenWhen Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn had its long run in the upper reaches of the British and US charts in 1997, word was that the song was a cover of the Norwegian hit by Trine Rein. The rumour was repeated so often that it became received wisdom. The truth is that it wasn’t even the first cover, or even the first Scandinavian version.

The song’s journey to hit-dom is a little complicated. The song was written by Ednaswap members Anne Preven and Scott Cutler in 1993. The same year it was recorded in Danish by Lis Sørensen as Brændt (I got her version from Danophile Whiteray of Echoes In The Wind), but by Ednaswap only in 1995. Still, those who overplayed the Norwegian angle aren’t entire wrong though: Imbruglia’s cover is a straight copy of Rein’s version, right down to the guitar solo. Ednaswap were a not very successful ’90s grunge band, who came by their name when singer Anne Preven had a nightmare about fronting a group by that name being booed off the stage. Well, with a name like that… Preven has become a songwriter, receiving an Oscar nomination for co-writing the song Listen from Dreamgirls.

Also recorded by: Off By One (2002)

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Marion Harris – I Ain’t Got Nobody.mp3
Ted Lewis – Just A Gigolo.mp3
Louis Prima – Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody.mp3

marion-harrisBased on his early ’50s stage act, Louis Prima craftily took two songs and seamlessly turned them into one. Just A Gigolo, the first part of the song, is based on the 1929 Austrian hit by Richard Tauber, originally known as Schöner Gigolo, Armer Gigolo (Beautiful Gigolo, Poor Gigolo – as in the 1978 movie in which Marlene Dietrich sings the song), which tells the story of a soldier who ditches his uniform to become a “dancer-for-hire” after World War I. In the interim, the song has become a German big band standard. Soon after it was released in Austria, it crossed the Atlantic. The translated lyrics, by one Irving Caesar, moved the action to Paris and eliminated the social commentary on post-war Austria. It was first recorded in the US by French singer Irene Bordoni. Ted Lewis’ 1931 is the oldest of the German-language versions I could come by, thanks to One Hep Kat.

Prima brings the gigolo’s fatalism (“When the end comes I know, they’ll say ‘just a gigolo’ as life goes on without me”) to the obvious conclusion in the second part, in which the gigolo laments his loneliness via I Ain’t Got Nobody. The song was written, as I Ain’t Got Nobody Much, by Spencer Williams (who also wrote Basin Street Blues) in around 1915, and was first recorded in 1917 by Marion Harris (1896-1944), providing her biggest hit (sorry about the low bit-rate of the MP3). By the time Prima got around to merging it with Just A Gigolo in his 1956 debut album, The Wildest!, it had become a standard. Prima’s audacity in taking two standards and presenting them as one song is matched by his genius in creating from a medley a single version which in itself is now a standard, one that towers over the other two.

Also recorded by: (Just A Gigolo): Louis Armstrong, Leo Reisman, Bing Crosby (his first hit), Leo Reisman And His Orchestra, Jack Hylton, Billy Ternent, Jaye P Morgan, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich a.o. (I Ain’t Got Nobody): Bing Crosby, Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, Wingy Manone, Chick Webb, Emmett Miller, Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, Coleman Hawkins, Rosemary Clooney a.o. (Prima medley): Village People, David Lee Roth, Alex Harvey, Lou Bega a.o.

More Originals

Any Major Love Mix 2009

February 10th, 2009 11 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More songs about love

The Originals Vol. 5

September 19th, 2008 8 comments

Delaney & Bonnie – Groupie (Superstar)
Carpenters – Superstar.mp3
Luther Vandross – Superstar.mp3
Sonic Youth – Superstar.mp3
The genius of the Carpenters resided with their ability, through Richards’s arrangements and Karen’s emotional investment, to make other people’s songs totally theirs. In the case of Superstar, they not only took the song, but also usurped its meaning. Sung by Karen Carpenter it no longer is the groupie’s lament it was written as. Indeed, in its first incarnation, by Delaney & Bonnie in 1969, the song was titled Groupie (Superstar), and included more explicit lyrics (“I can hardly wait to sleep with you” became “…be with you”). Released as a b-side, the song was written by the original performers with Leon Russell, and Eric Clapton featured on the recording. A few months later, former Delaney & Bonnie backing singer Rita Coolidge recorded it. According to Leon Russell, she had come up with the concept for it and Delaney Bramlett said she had helped with the harmonies. But it was Bette Midler’s performance of the song on the Tonight Show in August 1970 that alerted Richard Carpenter, who hadn’t heard the song before, to it. It is said that Karen’s first take, read from a napkin, is that which made it on to the record. In 1983 Luther Vandross recorded a quite beautiful epic version of Superstar; while a whole new generation was introduced to the song through Sonic Youth’s 1994 cover which forms part of a plotline in Juno.
Also recorded by: Cher (1970), Vikki Carr (1971), Colleen Hewett (1971), Bette Midler (1972), George Shearing Quintet (1974), Woody Herman (1975), The Shadows (1977), Elkie Brooks (1981), Richard Clayderman (1995), Dogstar (Keanu Reeves’ group, in 2000), Ruben Studdard (2003), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2004), Usher (2005) a.o.
Best version: I’m sure Richard Clayderman’s version fucking rocks, but Karen Carpenter could sing the Horst Wessel Lied and bring a tear to my eye, so – with apologies to the late Luther Vandross – it must be the Carpenters version.

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Betty Hutton – Blow A Fuse.mp3
Bjork – It’s Oh So Quiet.mp3
That Bjork, she is a bit mad, isn’t she? How crazy is It’s Oh So Quiet (the only one of her post Sugarcubes songs I actually like)? Only Bjork, eh? Actually, Betty Hutton’s 1951 original English version of the song, titled Blow A Fuse, is no less maniacal than Bjork’s 1995 cover. It’s fair to say that back in the day Hutton was a bit of a cook in her own right; her goofy performance in the musical Annie Get Your Gun (with which you apparently can’t get a man) testifies to a certain lack of restraint which is very much on exhibition on Blow A Fuse. The song was itself a cover of a 1948 German number by jazz musician Horst Winter, who knew it as Und jetzt ist es still (And now it’s quiet).
Also recorded by: Lisa Ekdahl (1997), Noise For Pretend, Lucy Woodward (2005)
Best version: The arrangement on Bjork’s version is superior.

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Pete Seeger – Turn! Turn! Turn!.mp3
The Byrds – Turn! Turn! Turn!.mp3
For all their songwriting genius, the Byrds were something of an über-cover band. Few acts did Dylan as well as the Byrds did. Some songs they made totally their own. One of these was Turn! Turn! Turn!, a staple of ’60s compilation written by Pete Seeger (co-written, really: the lyrics are almost entirely lifted from the Book of Ecclesiastes). Before Seeger got around to record it in 1962, a folk outfit called the Limelighters put it out under the title To Everything There Is A Season. The first post-Seeger cover was by – you guessed it – Marlene Dietrich as Für alles kommt die Zeit during the actress’ folk phase which also saw her record German versions of Blowin’ In The Wind and Where Have All The Flowers Gone. The same year, 1963, Judy Collins also issued a version, arranged by Roger McGuinn, then still Jim McGuinn, who had played on the Limelighters recording. After Collins’ version, McGuinn (still called Jim) co-founded the Byrds, for whom Turn! Turn! Turn!, released in October 1965, became their second hit. Jim turned turned turned into Roger in 1968.
Also recorded by: Jan & Dean (1965), The Lettermen (1966), The Seekers (1966), Mary Hopkins (1968), Nina Simone (1969), Dolly Parton (1984), Lou Rawls (1998), Bruce Cockburn (1998), Sister Janet Mead (1999), Wilson Phillips (2004) a.o.
Best version: The Byrds’ version was put to perfect use on The Wonder Years, one of my all-time favourite TV shows (the grumpy Dad was just incredible, and the annoying older brother was perfectly written).

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Racey – Kitty.mp3
Toni Basil – Mickey.mp3
I have been told that there is a practice in the cinema of pornography whereby seasoned thespians of the genre dress up in schoolgirl uniforms (temporarily, one should think) and pigtails and pass themselves off as teenagers. So it was with the video for Toni Basil’s 1982 hit Mickey, in which the 39-year-old dressed up as a teenage girl, doing an energetic routine approximating cheerleading. But if Stockard Channing could pass as a high school student in Grease… Mickey was unaccountably popular – it’s a pretty awful song, actually – eclipsing the original by British faux greasers Racey, who recorded on the RKA label. Their 1979 original version of the song was called Kitty, written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (who also wrote hits for the likes of Sweet, Smokie and Suzi Quatro). It was not a hit, and neither Toni Basil nor her record company evidently thought much of it when she recorded it soon after, also in 1979. For two years it languished in the reject tray before some bright spark decided to inflict the number on us, against Basil’s misgivings. In my view, they should have listened to the singer.
Also recorded by: Weird Al Yankovich did a version called Rickey, which I’m sure split sides coast to coast. And B*witched also did a version, which can’t have been great.
Best version: The Racey song is actually not bad.

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The Originals Vol. 1

August 28th, 2008 11 comments

Inspired by a propitious confluence of a long discussion about cover versions we didn’t know where covers and a generous correspondent whom we’ll know as RH e-mailing me a bunch of rare originals of better known covers, we are now at the cusp of what will be a longish series. Any Major Notebook now includes two pages worth of almost 100 shortlisted songs that in their original form are lesser known than later versions. In some cases that reputation is entirely subjective. There will be people who think that the version of Lady Marmalade perpetrated by Christina Aguilera and pals was the original. But people of my generation will long have been familiar with LaBelle’s 1970s recording. Until a day ago, I thought that was the original, but RH has disabused me of my error. The real original of Lady Marmalade will feature later in this series. In a very few cases, I will not present the original, but the earliest version available (I will note these instances accordingly). And we’ll kick-off with a heavy-duty dose of 10 originals. Tell me which songs you were surprised to learn are in fact covers, and let me know whether you prefer the originals or later versions.

(All original songs re-uploaded on March 31, 2009)

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Leon Russell – This Masquerade.mp3
Carpenters – This Masquerade.mp3
It makes sense to start this series with the Carpenters, who made it a virtue of picking up relatively obscure songs, and re-arrange and appropriate them. Think of (They Long To Be) Close To You, which despite legions of competing covers has become the Carpenters’ signature song as much as Richard’s arrangement has become the best-known, indeed primary incarnation of that song. For another good example of Richard’s rearrangement genius, take This Masquerade. Covered only a year after it originally appeared on Leon Russell’s 1972 Carney album, it becomes quite a different animal in the Carpenters’ shop, doing away with the long movie-theme style intro. Oddly, both Russell and the Carpenters’ used the song on b-sides of inferior singles. George Benson’s 1976 Grammy-winning version from the Breezin’ album is also worth noting.
Also covered by: Carl Tjader, Sergio Mendez, Helen Reddy, Shirley Bassey, No Mercy, CoCo Lee, Nils Landgren a.o.
Best version: The Carpenters’s version has a flute and Karen’s voice, beating Benson into second place.

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Randy & the Rainbows – Denise.mp3
Blondie – Denis.mp3
Here’s one I didn’t know until a few days ago: Blondie’s 1977 burst of pop-punk was in fact a cover of a 1963 hit. For Randy & the Rainbows, Denise represented a brief flirtation with stardom. It reached #10 on the Billboard charts, but after the follow-up barely scraped into the Top 100, that was it for the doo-woppers from Queens. For Blondie, on the other hand, Denis was something of a break-through song, at least in Europe. The French verse in Denis was necessary to explain away the object of desire’s gender-change. Thanks to my friend John C for the original version.
Also covered by: nobody worth mentioning
Best version: The original is very nice indeed, but Blondie’s cover is just perfect pop.

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Bing Crosby – Try A Little Tenderness.mp3
Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness.mp3
My kind friend RH, who helped inspire this series, has made me aware of many originals that have surprised me. It was not news to me, however, that Try A Little Tenderness was in fact an old 1930s standard, when RV sent me this Bing Crosby version. And yet, of the many songs I have received from RH, I was particularly delighted with this one, because among its crooned renditions I had heard only versions by Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. It needn’t be pointed out that once Otis was through with the song, with the help of Booker T & the MGs and a production team that included Isaac Hayes, it bore only the vaguest semblance to the smooth and safe standard it once was. Redding didn’t want to record it, ostensibly because he did not want to compete with his hero Sam Cooke’s brief interpretation of the song on the Live At The Copa set. Incredibly Otis’ now iconic delivery was actually intended to screw the song up so much that it could not be released. Bing’s 1932 version is actually not the original, but the song’s first cover version following the Ray Noble Orchestra’s recording.
Also covered by: Mel Tormé, Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra, Jack Webb, Frankie Lane, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Nancy Wilson, Percy Sledge, Nina Simone, Three Dog Night, Etta James, Al Jarreau, Rod Stewart, The Commitments, Michael Fucking Bolton, Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner, Diane Schuur & BB King, Von Bondies, Michael Bublé a.o.
Best version: Otis.

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The Arrows – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.mp3
Joan Jett – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.mp3
The Arrows were a short-lived English band on the RAK label, which also gave us the likes of Smokie, Hot Chocolate and Racey, and so were produced by the semi-genius of ’70s pop, Mickey Most. After two hits – though not this song – and starring in a couple of brief TV series on British TV, they disappeared. Joan Jett also seemed to disappear after the break-up of The Runaways in the late ’70s, suddenly reappearing with the largely obscure I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which she had previously recorded with members of the Sex Pistols. Apparently Jett had known the song since 1976 when, while on tour with the Runaways, she saw the Arrows performing it on TV. Jett had another hit with another cover version, and that was her solo career over. The song found a new generation of admirers in 2001 with Britney Spears’ redundant cover.
Also covered by: Allan Merrill, Hayseed Dixie, Queens of Japan (no, me neither)
Best version: Jett gives it beery attitude.

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Everly Brothers – Crying In The Rain.mp3
Cotton, Lloyd & Christian – Crying In The Rain.mp3
A-ha – Crying In The Rain.mp3

Before she was all dreamy and barefooted hippie cat lover, Carole King was a songwriter in the legendary Brill Building. One of the many hits she churned out was Crying In The Rain, with which the Everly Brothers scored a top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1961. It was periodically revived on the country circuit, but is best known to many as the A-ha hit from 1990 – and the many would include me. In between, it was recorded in 1976 by an obscure outfit called Cotton, Lloyd & Christian. I have no idea how their version landed up in my collection, but here it is, serving as a missing link between the versions by the Everly Bothers and A-ha.
Also covered by: Sweet Inspirations, Crystal Gayle, Tammy Wynette, Don Williams a.o.
Best version: A-ha, by a whisker

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Liza Minnelli – New York, New York.mp3
Frank Sinatra – New York New York.mp3
The Theme from New York, New York has so much become a Sinatra cliché, it is often forgotten that it came from a rather long and boring Scoresese film with Minnelli and Robert de Niro. In the film, Minelli’s version is a source of some melancholy viewing; Sinatra’s 1979 take, recorded two years after the film, gets parties going with the hackneyed high-kicks and provides any old drunk with an alternative to My Way on karaoke night. If proof was needed that Sinatra trumps Lucille 2, consider that the NY Yankees used to play the Sinatra version after winning, and Minnelli’s after a defeat. Minnelli objected to that, understandably, and gave the Yankees an ultimatum: “Play me also when you win, or not at all.” Now Sinatra gets played even when they lose.
Also covered by: Michael Fucking Bolton (imagine that!), Reel Big Fish, Cat Power a.o.
Best version: Frank’s version is A-Number One

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Four Seasons – Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye).mp3
Bay City Rollers – Bye Bye Baby.mp3
The Four Seasons will be occasional visitors in this series. At least those people who grew up in the 1970s will be more familiar with cover versions than the Four Seasons originals. Bye Bye Baby was written by band member Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe, making it to #12 in the US charts. A decade later the Bay City Rollers scored their biggest hit with their decent but inferior version. The story goes that the Bay City Rollers were oblivious of the Four Seasons orginal, choosing it because Stuart “Woody” Wood had the 1967 cover by the Symbols. I have no idea what the Symbols did with the song, but the BCR arrangement certainly owes nothing to the more sparse original.
Also covered by: Apart from the Symbols also by something called the Popguns
Best version: Always the Four Seasons

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Fleetwood Mac – Black Magic Woman.mp3
Santana – Back Magic Woman.mp3
From Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 debut album, Black magic Woman is “three minutes of sustain/reverb guitar with two exquisite solos from Peter [Green],” according to Mick Fleetwood. Carlos Santana covered it on 1970’s Abraxas album and retained its basic structure and clearly drug-induced vibe, but changed the arrangement significantly with a shot of Latin and hint of fusion, and borrowing from jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo’s Gypsy Queen. It became one of Santana’s signature tunes, while Fleetwood Mac had to remind audiences that the song was actually theirs. The vocals on the Santana version are by Greg Rolie, who later co-founded Journey. And the who is this Black Magic Woman? According to legend, it was a BMW of that colour which the non-materialist Green fancied.
Also covered by: Dennis Brown, Mina, the Go Getters
Best version: Santana’s, especially for the use of the congas

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Scott English – Brandy.mp3
Barry Manilow – Mandy.mp3
Although he is a talented songwriter, Barry Manilow is a bit like the Carpenters: he appropriated other people’s songs by force of arrangement (and, obviously, commercial success) – including a Carpenters song, which will feature in this series. If we need proof of how much Bazza owned the songs he didn’t write, consider his giant hit Mandy. It was a cover of a ditty called Brandy by one Scott English, which was a #12 hit in Britain in 1971 (the tune was written by Richard Kerr, who wrote two other hits for Manilow, Looks Like We’ve Made It and Somewhere In The Night). Manilow’s renamed version was the first cover. None of the subsequent recordings are dedicated to Brandy. English’s version is not very good. To start with he couldn’t sing, and the production is slapdash. Manilow recorded it relucantly, not yet sure about singing other people’s music. He slowed it down, gave it a lush arrangement, and we know how it ended. Quite hilariously, Manilow is not popuar among some people in New Zealand who think that he stole the song from a local singer called Bunny Walters, who had a hit with Brandy in his home country while the actual songwriter’s version failed to dent the charts there.
Also covered by: Johnny Mathis, Starsound Orchestra, Helmut Lotti (urgh!), Westlife
Best version: Mandy trumps Brandy.

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Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.mp3
Roberta Flack – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.mp3
The first time ever you heard this song probably was by Roberta Flack, whose performance on her 1969 debut album was barely noticed until it was included in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film Play Misty For Me. Those who dig deeper will know that it was in fact written in the 1950s by folk legend Ewan MacColl, for Peggy Seeger with whom he was having an affair and who would become his third wife. For MacColl, the political troubadour, the song is a radical departure, supporting the notion that he didn’t just write it for inclusion in Peggy’s repertoire. Followers of the ’60s folk scene might have known the song before they heard the Flack version; it was a staple of the genre. The Kingston Trio even cleaned up the lyrics, changing the line “The first time ever I lay with you…” to “…held you near”. After the success of Flack’s intense, tender, sensual, touching and definitive version – which captures the experience of being with somebody you love better than any other song – there was an explosion of covers, with Elvis Presley’s bombastic version especially infuriating MacColl, who compared it to Romeo singing up at Juliet on the Post Office tower. It does seem that he did not take kindly to the intimacy of his song being spread widely and, indeed, corrupted. And Peggy Seeger never sang the song again after Ewan’s death
Also covered by: Smothers Brothers, Peter Paul & Mary, Harry Belafonte, Marianne Faithfull, Bert Jansch, Gordon Lightfoot, Shirley Bassey, Vicky Carr, Andy Williams, Engelbert Humperdinck, Johnny Mathis, The Temptations, Isaac Hayes, Timmy Thomas, The Chi-Lites, Mel Tormé, Barbara Dickson, Alsion Moyet, Aaron Neville, Julian Lloyd Webber, Lauryn Hill, Celine Dion, George Michael, Christy Moore, Stereophonics, Johnny Cash, Vanessa Williams, Leona Lewis a.o.
Best version: I’m waiting for Michael Fucking Bolton to do his version before I commit myself…
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Albums of the Year: 1972

June 20th, 2008 No comments

In September 1972 I started school, so I didn’t know any of these albums at the time (in contrast to many of the hit singles of that year). Over time, music from all eras has accumulated in my collection, making it possible to compile top 10s for almost every year (though I would struggle to do so for some years in the ’90s). For 1972, it could have been a top 20 of albums I genuinely love. I have chosen my top 10, leaving behind great albums by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Kris Kristofferson, Al Green, Neil Young, The Spinners, Billy Paul, Neil Diamond, the O’Jays, Bobby Womack, Nilsson, the Crusaders, and Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack. As always, this is not a list of the year’s “best” releases, but my subjective choice of ten most favourite albums (which tomorrow might well read differently).

1. David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust …
I believe this was the first album from 1972 I ever bought, around 1979. I think it was hearing Starman which persuaded me to buy it. So Ziggy Stardust sits at number 1 as much for nostalgic reasons as it does for my actual enjoyment of it (and it remains my favourite Bowie album by a mile). Oh, but it is all pure gold from the moment the stylus/laser/WinAmp-start-button hits on Five Years. The b-side starts off with two relatively underwhelming tracks (I actually really dislike Lady Stardust), but I challenge you to point me to an album that closes with three songs as mind-bogglingly brilliant as those on Ziggy Stardust: Mick Ronson’s fantastic opening riff of Ziggy Stardust, the mania of Suffragette City (“Oh, wam bam, thank you ma’m”), the resigned drama and possible redemption of Rock ’n Roll Suicide. Ziggy Stardust is, obviously, a concept album, with Bowie going as far as personifying the fictional Ziggy, giving him life (and making peole mourn for Ziggy when Dave dumped the costume). The concept’s execution is genius. The threads of the concept are neither too tightly woven, nor too loosely. The album provides a coherent narrative – giving listeners ample room to flesh out the story in their own minds – and yet every song can be taken out of the context of the story, and make sense on its own.
David Bowie – Starman.mp3
David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (demo).mp3



2. Donny Hathaway – Live
Alas, Donny Hathaway. If popular music had patron saints in the ways of the Catholic Church, Hathaway could be the patron saint for depressives. Depression – clinical depression, the kind one cannot “snap out of”, as some idiots like to suggest to those suffering from it – killed Donny’s promising career, and ultimately, in January 1979, the man himself (if one discounts the speculation about foul play). Hathaway was a gifted songwriter and a brilliant interpreter of other people’s songs. Here, only two songs are co-written by Hathaway; the rest are covers, but he makes them his own. Opener What’s Going On very nearly eclipses Marvin Gaye’s original, and Lennon’s Jealous Guy (like What’s Going On then just released) ought to have dissuaded Bryan Ferry from crooning it after Lennon’s murder. Hathaway was among the slew of early ’70s soul singers who gave articulation to life in the ghetto. On this set, there are two songs featuring the word: the affecting Little Ghetto Boy, and The Ghetto, a Latino-funk workout that at more than 12 minutes doubles its original running time on Donny’s impressive 1970 debut, Everything Is Everything. Live is worth getting just for that rendition, which has the crowd going absolutely crazy (and which Justin Timberlake definitely has heard before). After the sweaty funk explosion of The Ghetto, Hathaway slows things down a bit, creating a kind of warm intimacy which rarely translates from the stage on to record. I might have included in this post Hathaway’s album of duets with Roberta Flack as well; instead I’ll recycle the best song from that LP.
Donny Hathaway – The Ghetto.mp3
Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack – Be Real Black For Me.mp3

3. Carpenters – A Song For You
Sometimes one has favourite albums on the basis of one side only. Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic is one of them; A Song For You is another. Look at the tacklisting of the a-side: A Song For You, Top Of The World, Hurting Each Other, It’s Gonna Take Some Time, Goodbye To Love. That is one side of pure greatest hits material (actually, I think most or all did appear on the Carpenters’ singles album a year later). With an side 1 like that, one need not flip the record over. Unlike Pretzel Logic, however, the flipside is very good, with the lovely I Won’t Last A Day Without You and the sweetly forlorn Road Ode standing out. All that is undermined by Richard’s lithping interludes. Still, it’s the first side one always returns to, immersed in the sweet sounds until the siblings announce the bathroom break. Perhaps that is so because these songs are so well known. One looks forward to the little touches: the lovely rendition of Leon Russell’s title track (done better, incidentally, by Donny Hathaway) with its saxophone solo; the pain in Karen’s phrasing in Hurting Each Other (“tearing-each-other-apaaart”), the fuzz guitar solo in Goodbye To Love; the admirable flute solo (yay!) on It’s Going To Take Some Time. Get three of the songs from this album and more Carpenters stuff (plus Hathaway’s version of Song For You) here.
Carpenters – It’s Going To Take Some Time.mp3

4. Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill
The eagle-eyed music experts among readers of this blog might have sensed that I have an affinity for Steely Dan, but that affinity finds full expression only periodically. I must be in the right mood to hear their music; exposed to it in the wrong mood, and I might even resent them. Can’t Buy A Thrill is the only Dan album I can listen to at any time (I suspect my trouble with the Dan has partly to do with Fagen’s voice, which I sometimes love and at other times cannot stand; on this album Donald shares the lead vocals with the soon-ousted David Palmer). Fagen and Becker’s debut is their most accessible album, and as such is often recommended as an entry point to the Steely Dan canon. I’d rather expose the Dan novice to the first side of Pretzel Logic or The Royal Scam, because Can’t Buy A Thrill might set up false expectations. This album is a compilation of what would become the jazz-tinged Dan sound (Do It Again, Kings, Fire In The Hole, Turn That Heartbeat Over Again) and West Coast rock (Reelin’ In The Years, Dirty Work), which would soon be abandoned. Some tracks fall right between these styles: the fantastic Only A Fool Would Say That, Midnite Cruiser, Change Of The Guard, Brooklyn (the latter brilliantly lacing the soft-rock with hints country, jazz and soul). Or maybe the nascent Dan fan should be introduced to the band with Can’t Buy A Thrill. It is an astonishing debut album, inventive and self-assured, packed with instant classics. From here, it must be a joy to discover how the sound developed.
Steely Dan – Brooklyn.mp3
Steely Dan – Reelin’ In The Years.mp3

5. John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
I suspect that not many people bought both Steely Dan (or Hathaway or Steely Dan) and John Denver in 1972. To be honest, John Denver is a recent discovery for me. To me, he always was the corny muppet with the blond hair and round glasses singing granny-friendly music. Then the great Echoes In The Wind blog posted Denver’s 1970 Whose Garden Was This album. When Whiteray bigs up the unexpected, I’m willing to listen. To cut a long story short, I’ve fallen for John Denver’s early-period music, and none more so than Rocky Mountain High, with its title track which demands the use of the cliché “achingly beautiful” (which I won’t use) and the equally lovely Goodbye Again. I know that Darcy Farrow is a cover version (Denver did a lot of those), but I don’t think I’ve ever heard an version other than Denver’s. In his hands it is just fine (though I can imagine a rougher country singer doing great things with the song). The guitar instrumental that starts the Season Suite has the approval of guitar-playing Any Minor Dude. The biggest surprise on the album is Denver’s take on the Beatles’ Mother’s Nature Son. Denver recorded a fair number of Beatles songs; some of these interpretations are OK, a few less so. His version of Mother Nature’s Son, in my view, is better than the original; something I say about very few covers of Beatles songs. Alas, the album also includes the track which anticipates Denver’s descent into muppetdom: the sickly For Baby (For Bobbie), which features – for fuck’s sake – a children’s choir.
John Denver – Rocky Mountain High.mp3

6. Curtis Mayfield – Superfly
It’s a shame that the cinema of the early ’70s which recorded the African-American experience and were soundtracked by some kick-ass hot funk have been lumped together as “blaxploitation”, acquiring a hackneyed reputation. In that regrettable calculation, Shaft, a good movie which traded in cliché, equals Superfly, which was more social critique than action (the karate chops were really a nod to crowdpleasing). Both, of course, had classic funk tracks as their theme – but only one was remade with the oh-so-fucking-too-cool-for-skool goon Samuel Jackson in the lead (I don’t like Samuel Jackson much, as you might have gathered). Mayfield’s soundtrack played a starring role in Superfly; rarely has a film theme been so tightly integrated into a movie. Where the movie is ambivalent about the pushermen – blaming society, not personal ethics, for their nasty trade – Curtis’ lyrics betray little sympathy for the eponymous dealer, while at the same time not moralising either. Indeed, No Thing On Me (in my view the album’s best track) repudiates the need for drugs, “my life’s a natural high, the man can’t put no thing on me” (sure is funky). And this was the strength of Mayfield’s social lyrics: the recurring notion of empowering one’s self to effect change or to escape destruction. Sometimes Mayfield would spell out what needed to be changed, or what self-destructive threats were present (here, for example, on the cautionary Freddie’s Dead). Crucially, Mayfield did neither sermonise nor, unlike Marvin Gaye, come over all hippie. Superfly, movie and soundtrack, has been cited as being hugely influential on Gangsta Rap. If that is true, then it is regrettable that this influence did not extend to the incorporation of Curtis Mayfield’s thoughtful methods of observation and engagement.
Curtis Mayfield – No Thing On Me (Cocaine Song).mp3

7. Big Star – #1 Record

Rarely has an LP been as spectacularly misnamed as this. #1 Record was a flop when it was released, mainly due to poor promotion by the record company. Perhaps Big Star’s mature power pop simply was not of its time — it was the day of the Partridge Family, Fat Elvis, prog rockers and folk singers. Indeed, much of #1 Record could well have been recorded by Indie acts in the ’90s – or even the day before yesterday. Big Star would break up after another album and only then attained cult status. Their influence on later acts is evident. I would not be shocked to read a customer review on Amazon.com, applying the lazy (and often inaccurate) “if you like the Lemonheads, you’ll definitely like this” routine. But, guess what, I do like the Lemonheads and I like Big Star (and, of course, Evan Dando covered Big Star on the Empire Records soundtrack). There is no poor track on #1 Record, but, truth be told, also few essential classics. There is, however, one song every human being should know and fall in love with irredeemably: The Ballad Of El Goodo, with its marvellous chorus: “There ain’t no one goin’ to turn me around”.
Big Star – The Ballad Of El Goodo.mp3

8. Nick Drake – Pink Moon
Nick Drake is the John Kennedy Toole of music. Like the author’s masterpiece Confederacy Of Dunces, Drake’s three beautiful albums found no audience during their creator’s lifetime. Only after their respective suicides did Toole’s book and Drake’s music find success and cult status. Pink Moon was Drake’s final album before his 1974 suicide (often attributed to depression linked to his commercial failure; perhaps Drake can co-chair the patronage I have already assigned to Donny Hathaway). Drake recorded the album in two sessions lasting two hours each. This, and the album’s sparseness (symbolised by almost half the song titles being single words; no title is longer than four words), lend Pink Moon an immediacy; yet it is in many ways less accessible than Drake’s two previous LPs. It’s necessary to listen to Pink Moon several times before the depth of the album’s sad beauty reveals itself fully. It is not quite a masterpiece, but despite its flaws it becomes easy to love thanks to Drake’s gentle voice and his quite excellent guitar work.
Nick Drake – Pink Moon.mp3

9. Van Morrison – Saint Dominic’s Preview
St Dominic’s Preview is not my favourite Morrison album by any stretch; when in the mood for some Van, I’m more likely to put on Moondance or Tupelo Honey. But when I do play it, I’m invariably delighted with it. Saint Dominic’s is not packed with hits; only Jackie Wilson Said is well-known. All the more the joy at hearing Morrison material that has not been overplayed (and, hell, I have come to hate Brown Eyed Girl by now). The long, intense Listen To The Lion is the album’s centrepiece. A one point Van’s goes for a bizarre impression of a stoned lion doing an imitation of an inebriated buffoon’s insensitive mimicking of a gibbering idiot. It is strangely captivating. The listener who sits through all that (or makes use of the skip button/playlist editor) will be rewarded with a great double-whammy of songs which should have been huge: the great country-blues-rock title track and the very lovely Redwood Tree.
Van Morrison – Saint Dominic’s Preview.mp3

10. Lou Reed – Transformer
I am not a particularly big fan of Lou Reed (I don’t get him much of the time), but there is one recording of his which is something like my musical Rosebud: a live performance at New York’s Bottom Line Club which was broadcast in full on northern Germany’s NDR2 radio in about 1980, and which I taped. I don’t think it’s the gig immortalised on the much-maligned Take No Prisoner album; the broadcast concert actually sounded great. Or perhaps I just remember it being so. And why am I mentioning it here when I’m supposed to discuss Transformer? Well, it’s here for the big tracks: Take A Walk On The Wild Side, Perfect Day, Vicious (a rather shameless rip-off of Wild Thing), Andy’s Chest, and especially the glorious Satellite Of Love. These more than compensate for the guff on the album, of which there is quite a bit. Since Ziggy Stardust tops this list, it seems necessary to mention that Transformer was produced by David Bowie and features Mick Ronson on guitar.
Lou Reed – Satellite Of Love.mp3

Love Songs For Every Situation: Bitterness

February 28th, 2008 3 comments

Disappointment in love — a relationship that ended, unrequited love, even a relationship that couldn’t be — can turn to resentment. Love turning into hate can be a coping mechanism. It can be levelled at the ex- or putative partner, or at the whole notion of love in general. Such bitterness may be transient or it may abide, turning the brokenhearted into a fleeting wreck or into an enduring cynic. The songs in this post address the bitterness experienced by those fucked over by cupid.

Bright Eyes – A Perfect Sonnet.mp3
Conor Oberst has been dumped and he is bitter. Listen to his delivery: agitated at first, then rather livid, and all that in quivering pain. He yearns for love and resents those who have it: ” But I believe that lovers should be tied together and thrown into the ocean in the worst of weather, and left there to drown in their innocence”, and then, even better: ” I believe that lovers should be chained together and thrown into a fire with their songs and letters, and left there to burn in their arrogance.” But you cannot stay that embittered forever, and in the song’s surprising denouement, Oberst discovers just that. A fantastic song which shows that the premature and inaccurate hype about Oberst as the “new Dylan” was not entirely without merit.

Ben Folds Five – Selfless Cold and Composed.mp3
Ben Folds has written what I consider to be the best love song of all time (oh yes), “The Luckiest”. Yet, Ben is much better doing embittered. Take “Trusted”, where he does terrible things to her in her dreams, “Landed”, where the reign of the telephone tsar comes down, or the obvious “Song For The Dumped”. Here Ben seeks acrimony in a relationship that is ending when all he gets is sterile rejection. He wants to break plates, and she just smiles “like a bank teller, blankly telling me: ‘have a nice life’.” He wants confrontation, demanding that she invest some emotion into the breakup: “You’ve done me no favour to call and be nice, telling me I can take anything I like. You don’t owe me to be so polite. You’ve done no wrong…and you’ve done no wrong — Get out of my sight.” And all that to a cool, understated melody!

Hello Saferide – Valentine’s Day.mp3
What better day to execute a break-up with somebody who doesn’t love you back than on Valentine’s Day? Annika Norlin (Hello Saferide’s real name) is going to give him fish fingers, if they really must have a Valentine’s dinner. But much rather she’d dine with “the coolest girl” (which would be herself) and then go to a club and “find a kid who’s ready to play” — a statement of contempt, of course, not of promiscuity. “Got a feeling this is going to be Valentine’s year. Roses are red and violets are blue, sugar is sweet and I’m leaving you.” Goodbye, chump.

The Smiths – How Soon Is Now (Peel session).mp3
Early ’70s folk-rockers America had a song for all the lonely people who thought that love had passed them by. Morrissey upped the ante by telling us how it actually feels to be young and abandoned by love. Shyness (of a criminally vulgar kind, naturally) is the problem here, of course. So anyone afflicted by that condition will find instant empathy with Mozzer’s experience: “There’s a club, if you’d like to go. You could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry and you want to die.” But here’s the upside of your situation, my despairing friend: if you remain single, your heart won’t be broken. Be glad and of good cheer for that.

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (live).mp3
Buckley appropriated Cheerful Len’s song on his Grace album, to the point that it is now fully Buckley’s, with Jeff’s tweaked lyrics now more well-known than those of Cohen’s original (even though I prefer Len’s holy ghost to Jeff’s dove). This version is a live recording from the Olympia in Paris, released posthumously in 2001. Some might claim that “Hallelujah” is a love song. To me, it evokes betrayal and pain. “She broke your throne and she cut your hair” (degradation and emasculation), and yet the singer assented to his, voicing a feeble hallelujah, a response that suggests unconditional adoration. That worship turned sour, the relationship became conditional, and one dumped the other. So the singer concludes: “All I’ve ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you. And it’s not a cry that you hear at night, it’s not somebody who’s seen the light — it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”. Cynical.

Chris Isaak – Wicked Game.mp3
Mr Isaak has a genuine grievance: somebody cruelly led him on (or so he claims) to believe real love was on its way, and then yanked the carpet from under his feet. “What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way. What a wicked thing to do, to let me dream of you. What a wicked thing to say, you never felt this way. What a wicked thing you do, to make me dream of you.” Damn, this is brutal.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain.mp3
This song merits inclusion for providing the greatest insult in music history: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”. Oh, and it is about Warren Beattie.

Colin Hay – I Don’t Need You Anymore.mp3
A song from Hay’s 1987 solo debut album, the title pretty much gives away the gist of the song. The woman who broke his heart wants him back. He isn’t falling for that: “When first I knew you’d gone, the wind grew colder. But after the pain had gone I felt much older [crap rhyme, but bear with him]. You had my very soul and my completeness, and now I find you here. You leave me speechless.” So, no, she may not sleep on his floor.

Nils Landgren – I Will Survive.mp3
Along the same tack, a lovely, jazzy cover version of Gloria Gaynor’s great counter rejection song. Everybody surely knows the lyrics from disco night, but this verse cheers me up no end: “It took all the strength I had not to fall apart, kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart. And I spent oh so many nights just feeling sorry for myself. I used to cry, but now I hold my head up high. And you see me, somebody new, I’m not that chained up little person still in love with you. And so you feel like dropping in and just expect me to be free! Now I’m saving all my lovin’ for someone who’s loving me.”

Etta James – Cry Me A River.mp3
And to compete the trilogy of scorning people who broke your heart — and what response could be more bitter than that — Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me A River” (not to be confused with Justin Timberlake’s musical assault with intent on Britney Spears), performed here by the great Etta James. And what an ass Etta is rejecting here: an idiot who thought love was “too plebeian”? Well, the sorry intellectual fraud doesn’t object to being plebe now that he wants to win back the woman whose tears over him have just dried. But no go, Joe. “Now you say you’re lonely; you cried the long night through. Well, you can cry me a river, cry me a river — I cried a river over you.”

Carpenters – Goodbye To Love.mp3
Can one be gently embittered? If so, then Karen Carpenter shows us how. She does not blame the concept of love for her disillusionment, nor the people who didn’t want her. She has just decided that she is giving up on it. “All the years of useless search have finally reached an end. Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend. From this day love is forgotten…I’ll go on as best I can.” A decidedly self-pitying disposition which may well stand in her way when, as she hopes, “there may come a time when I will see that I’ve been wrong”. Anyway, never mind her, but check out that guitar solo…

Inara George – Fools In Love.mp3
Joe Jackson has a way of being bitter about love, as he was in this song, covered by the wonderful Inara George (a half of The Bird And The Bee) on this fine acoustic version. It’s a cynical song about how people in love are “pathetic” creatures. “Fools in love gently hold each other’s hands forever. Fools in love gently tear each other limb from limb.” So with that attitude it seems rather inopportune that “this fool’s in love again”.

Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3*
I referenced this song in the second part of this series; it seems the prefect song to end it with. Originally recorded by the Everly Brothers and covered by many artists, Gram Parsons’ version is the best, capturing the disillusionment of love persuasively. Emmylou’s harmonies, so beautiful that you want to fall in love with her, serve to emphasise Parsons’ melancholy. Our man takes a dim view of love: it has pissed on him and burnt him, it has depressed him: “Love is like a cloud, holds a lot of rain… love is like a stove, burns you when it’s hot.” Love sucks so much that it is a myth: “Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness [Gram and Emmylou sing that word, heartbreakingly, as though that is what they really want anyway]. Some fools fool themselves I guess, but they’re not fooling me. I know it isn’t true, know it isn’t true. Love is just a lie made to make you blue.” Oh yes, love does indeed hurt.

And on that cheerful note, we conclude this series. Phew!

Pissing off the Taste Police with Carpenters

October 6th, 2007 5 comments

OK, I’m cheating a bit. There are factions of the Taste Police who adore Karen & Richard’s music. Read this post as pissing off those branches of the Taste Police who would prosecute their Carpenters-loving colleagues.

It is a little odd that the same members of the Taste Police who will defend the Carpenters are quite prepared to heap scorn on far edgier acts — for lacking edge. Let’s face it, you can’t really screw to the Carpenters (“Song For You” and “This Masquerade” being exceptions), they were mostly a cover act, and fans of the Carpenters are likely to like James Blunt as well. And many Carpenters song were utter crap. But when the Carpenters were great, they were indeed great. Richard’s arrangements could be exquisite. Perhaps the Taste Police forgives that. But Richard Carpenter, surely, is the least rock ‘n roll man ever to have worn the pop mantle. All I’m left with is Karen Carpenter: one of the finest vocalists in pop ever, blessed with an astonishingly beautiful and versatile voice.

Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3
This Bacharach-David composition was the Carpenters break-through hit, and the best-known version of the song, which has been recorded by artists as diverse as Dionne Warwick, Isaac Hayes (whose symphonic version is incredible), the Cranberries and the Barenaked Ladies (the late Gwen Guthrie recorded a lovely upbeat version of it in 1986). The Carpenters were discovered by Herb Alpert and signed to his A&M label; it was Alpert who suggested they record “Close To You”, and it sounds like he is playing on it too.
Gwen Guthrie – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3

Carpenters – Superstar.mp3
Oh, Karen’s plaintive, yearning voice on this can move you to tears. Another Taste Police target, Luther Vandross later took this song, stirred in some Stevie Wonder, and created a 9-minute epic which should be regarded as one of the great cover versions of any song. I’m not quite sure how a song written from the perspective of a groupie (begging the question of why it wasn’t used in Almost Famous) came to become a big hit for the wholesome Carpenters. No doubt, they knew what the song was about; they even toned down the lyrics in one instance. A host of other artists recorded “Superstar” in the two years between its composition and the Carpenters’ hit version, including Rita Coolidge and Bette Middler, whose TV performance of the song alerted Richard to it.
Luther Vandross – Superstar/Until You Come Back To Me.mp3

Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays.mp3
This might be my favourite Carpenters song. Its undramatically but touchingly describes the condition of depression, with the promise of finding refuge and comfort from melancholy from “the one who loves me”. Karen invests much emotion into her delivery; presumably this was a song she could identify with more than the one written from a groupie’s perspective. I’m with Karen on Mondays being a bit of a downer, but rainy days cheer me up. As does this sad but hopeful song.

Carpenters – Goodbye To Love.mp3
This song breaks my heart. What fatalistic lyrics (” And all I know of love is how to live without it”) delivered with such a range of emotion. But it’s not the sad lyrics and Karen’s vocals that get me as much as that fuzzy guitar solo which captures the entire sentiment of the song. It’s a guitar solo that reaches inside me and wrenches my guts. Never mind “Rainy Days”, I think this is my favourite Carpenters song.

Carpenters – Hurting Each Other.mp3
A cover of a fairly obscure ’60s track. As this song begins, Karen sounds bit like Dusty Springfield. At 0:38, the chorus kicks in and it’s pure Carpenters. Richard’s arrangement is wonderful, making it sound like a Bacharach song. The climax at 2:13 is possibly the finest Carpenters moment: Karen’s phrasing of the lines, ” Making each other cry, breaking each other’s heart, tearing each other apart”, with her emphasis on the words “each other” as the strings go all soul on us…phew!

Carpenters – A Song For You.mp3
“A Song For You” was the title track for their best album by far, released in 1972 (it also featured the previous two songs). Karen’s vocals are incredibly intricate and emotionally beautifully judged, a real masterclass of singing (which Christina Aguilera might have taken note of on her attempt of a cover). I love the way Karen sings the word “better”. It seems difficult to top this version, but Donny Hathaway’s version, recorded a year earlier, is even better. Imagine Donny and Karen had lived to record it as a duet (hmmmm, Karen, dead; Gwen, dead; Luther, dead; Donny, dead…)!
Donny Hathaway – A Song For You.mp3

Carpenters – This Masquerade.mp3
If a song has a flute in it, I’m almost certain to love it. And “This Masquerade” has some of the best flute in pop. Like “A Song For You”, it was written by Leon Russell. George Benson’s version, from Breezin, is better known. Good as it is, the Carpenters’ take pisses all over it. Another intricate vocal performance, a wonderful jazzy arrangement — and Richard rocks a lovely piano solo, just before the first flute solo. Amazingly, this was only the b-side to the appalling cover of the Marvelettes‘ “Please Mr Postman” (the one with the Disneyland promo). And here’s a key as to why some members of the Taste Police still disregard the Carpenters’ genius: many of the great moments are obscured by the rubbish that was released to score hits.

The Carpenters – There’s A Kind Of Hush.mp3
And this is the sort of song I blame for that. The arrangement is cheesy and shoddy, the melody is pretty but lacking in substance, and the lyrics are so generic as to give Karen nothing to do with them. Of all the rubbish Carpenters songs, it’s not even remotely the worst. To his credit, Richard is unhappy with his reworking of the Herman’s Hermits hit, especially the use of the synth. (Previously uploaded on the Time Travel: 1976 post)