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Curious Germany Vol. 4

January 12th, 2012 1 comment

We haven’t had German curiosities for a while. Well, here are some: Marlene Dietrich singing a folk anthem, Bowie going to Berlin,  a Schlager icon rocking out for peace, a short-haired teen doing Be My Baby, Chubby Checker twisten in Deutsch,  and a politician getting remixed.

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Marlene Dietrich – Sag’ mir wo die Blumen sind (1962).mp3
The Springfields – Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind (1963).mp3

While Mae West was singing Light My Fire in the 1960s (see HERE), Marlene Dietrich became a bit of a folkie with her German versions of Blowin’ In The Wind, retitled in German Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind (HERE), and this cover of Pete Seeger’s 1955 anti-war anthem Where Have All The Flowers Gone.  The German version, with the lyrics by the author Max Colpet (who, among other things, wrote five scripts for Billy Wilder films) , has been recorded many times, even by Joan Baez; Dietrich’s was the first. In 1963, The Springfields, featuring Dusty Springfield, issued a rather lovely folk recording of that and other German-language songs.

Seeger has praised Sag’ mir wo die Blumen sind as being better than his original lyrics. Dietrich also recorded the English version of the song, as well as a French adaptation (titled Où vont les fleurs?).

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David Bowie – Helden (1977).mp3
Bowie lately hit the retirement age of 65, prompting many to lament the curious notion that Ziggy Stardust can now travel on a pensioner travelcard. When Bowie recorded Heroes, he was long past the Ziggy deal. It was his Berlin period during which he fused the cultures of the Weimar Republic cabarets, Krautrock and Kraftwerk, and the local junkie scene. It’s very nice that David Bowie sought to pay tribute to the city that served as his muse by recording in German, but since he lived and recorded there, one might quibble that he could have taken better care with his pronunciations. As it turns out, he put as much effort in enunciating German words correctly as English football commentators take care to pronounce the names of German (or any non-Latinate) football players.

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Udo Jürgens – Peace Now (1970).mp3
Here’s one in English, by Udo Jürgens, the Austrian-born Swiss national who enjoyed immense success in West Germany, the place of his parents’ birth. Jürgens provided one of my earliest musical memories since my sister was a big fan of the man in the late 1960s (see HERE). I still think that Siebzehn Jahr Blondes Haar and the funny Es Wird Nacht Senorita are superior Schlager moments; if more songs of that genre were as good as those, nobody would have cause to laugh at German music.  Jürgens also wrote hits for Matt Munro, Sammy Davis Jr and Shirley Bassey.

Peace Now was the rocking English-language b-side of a German single titled Deine Einsamkeit, released in October 1970. It’s actually pretty good, in a dated sort of way that draws from rock, funk and gospel. Udo, exhibiting a rather lilting German accent, buys into the Zeitgeist as he sings: “Everybody is talkin’ ’bout peace in the world, but everytime I hear a hungry baby cry I ask: Peace, now show me your face.”

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Suzanne Doucet – Sei mein Baby (1964).mp3
It’s quite interesting that in the 1960s, a female singer’s image could be defined by her short hair. So it was with Suzanne Doucet. Born in 1944 in the university town of Tübingen to a family of thespians and artists, she was briefly a Schlager star while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, as you do. Later she appeared with Donna Summer in the German version of the musical Godspell. Then she married an American, moved to the US and became a leading New Age musician, a field in which she remains active (so it’s important to know that she was born with the sun in Virgo, Aquarius rising, and Saggitarius moon – whatever that means).

Sei mein Baby is a lovely bilingual cover of The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, and appeared on the b-side of Doucet’s first hit single, Das geht doch keinen etwas an (That is nobody’s business).

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Chubby Checker – Der Twist Beginnt (1962).mp3
I got this German version of Chubby Checker’s Let’s Twist Again  courtesy of reader Ton, who certainly would agree with me that Chubby did not put much effort into his translations. “Sei nicht so lazy”, indeed. In fact, Chubby sounds a bit like a cliché Wehrmacht soldier in a 1960s war movie, right down to the way he enunciates the affirmative word “Ja”. You can almost hear it: “Ve hef vays of making you tvist.” At least the backing track is new, which makes this a proper cover version of Checker’s own original. He compiled a fairly impressive catalogue of German-language records, with titles such as Twist doch mal mit mir, Autobahn-Baby, Holla Hi Holla Ho and Troola-Troola-Troola-La. But he proably recorded loads in other languages, as his LP Twistin’ Around The World suggests.

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Karl Schiller – High.mp3
Karl Schiller was West Germany’s economic minister from 1966-72. He did not record this track. High appeared on one of four LPs of politicians’ speeches set to far out music by Volker Kühn and Roland Schneider (featuring jazz-rock guitar maestro Volker Kriegel) . Schiller’s speech was economic babble laced with contemporary lingo about drugs, being high and blow-ups. Schiller had a rather colourful political career. In 1937, at the age of 26, he joined the Nazi party, but after the war he joined the left-of-centre Social Democratic Party (SPD). He left them in 1972 when he clashed with Chancellor Willy Brandt (possibly Germany’s greatest politician and a co-star on Kühn and Schneider’s Pol(H)itparade LP) over economic policy, and collaborated with. Eight years later he re-joined the SPD. He died in 1994.

More Curious Germany

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The Originals Vol. 41

April 14th, 2011 6 comments

Following on from the post about rock & roll in A History of Country Vol. 8, here are three originals of rock & roll classics. Incidentally, I might have used in the past images from www.originalsproject.us, which I would have sourced elsewhere. Indeed, the image that accompanies the original for Blueberry Hill, which I found on another site, is from that brilliant site.

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Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye – Blueberry Hill (1940).mp3
Glenn Miller and his Orchestra – Blueberry Hill (1940).mp3
Gene Autry – Blueberry Hill (1941).mp3
Fats Domino – Blueberry Hill (1956).mp3
Vladimir Putin – Blueberry Hill (2010).mp3

Blueberry Hill is Fats Domino’s song, but before the rock & roll pioneer got his ivory-tinkling hands on it, it had been a cowboy song, a jazz track (by Gene Krupa, no less) and, in its first recording, a big band number – and those just in the year it was written: 1940.

If Blueberry Hill’s melody sounds a vaguely Italian, it’s because its writer, Vincent Rose, was a Sicilian who came to the US at the age of 17. He already was 60 when he wrote song (which also went by the Italian title, Loma de Cerezas), and died in 1944. The lyrics were written by Al Lewis and Larry Stock (the latter also wrote the lyrics for that great Dean Martin song, You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You).

It’s not entirely clear who was the first to record the song, but the first to release it, on 31 May 1940, was the Sammy Kaye Orchestra with Tommy Ryan on vocals. It appeared under the unwieldy name Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye, the band’s tagline. Four days later Krupa’s version was issued. But by then the version that would provide the song’s biggest hit, by Glenn Miller with Ray Eberle on vocals, was already in the can, having been recorded on 13 May. We might remember Eberle as the hapless singer whom Miller fired for arriving late to an engagement, as recounted in the entry for At Last in The Originals Vol. 40.

Sammy Kaye, something of an all-round entertainer, contributed a song to this blog before: Remember Pearl Harbor, which featured in Carson Robison’s’s version on A History Of Country Vol. 4. One may suppose that Sammy had reason to be rather annoyed at the Japanese: he was broadcasting on NBC radio when his programme was interrupted by the news of the bombing of the Hawaiian naval base on 7 December 1941.

In 1941, Blueberry Hill was sung by Gene Autry in the movie The Singing Hill (there are claims that Autry was the first to actually record the song). The song was never really forgotten – Louis Armstrong recorded it in 1949 but would have a hit with it only the next decade. But it became a million-seller only in 1956 with Fats Domino’s iconic, souped-up version.

As so often with cover versions that become classics, the idea to record it was an afterthought. When during a session in Los Angeles Domino ran out of songs, he suggested Blueberry Hill. Producer Dave Bartholomew needed to be convinced of the song; in the end his production sold 5 million copies worldwide and provided the template for many covers, including one by Elvis Presley. Domino might have had the great idea to record the song, but he was useless at remembering the correct lyrics. In the end, the engineer spliced together the correctly delivered lyrics from different takes.

In December 2010, Russian tsar Vladimir Putin, fresh from riding horses while exhibiting his toned, gratuitously bared torso and heroically shooting at unarmed whales, performed Blueberry Hill at a charity function in St Petersburg, with a spoken interlude and piano solo. The audience, which included a possibly smiling Goldie Hawn and a self-consciously jiving Kevin Costner, rewarded Mad Vlad’s karaoke with a standing ovation. It is unclear whether they did so in an act of fear or sycophancy. Apparently Putin learnt the song as part of the English studies he required to complete to qualify for an appointment in the KGB, the feared Soviet secret police. On evidence of his diction, we may no longer be surprised at the collapse of the Soviet empire. Putin, to his credit, acknowledged that he can’t sing, so music’s loss was Russian democracy’s dubious gain. For those who somehow can resist the lure of Putin on MP3, here’s the video, with much unrhythmic dancing to accompany the torturous singing (and, before anybody indignantly asks, I can sing the song better than Putin, though his English is probably superior to my Russian).

Also recorded by: Connie Boswell (1940), Russ Morgan And His Orchestra (1940), Kay Kyser and his Orchrstra (1941), Louis Armstrong (1949), Mose Allison (1957), Elvis Presley (1957), Ricky Nelson (1958), Pat Boone (1958), Duane Eddy (1959), Carl Mann (1959), Conway Twitty (1959), Andy Williams (1959), John Barry Orchestra (1960), Bill Black’s Combo (1960), Buster Brown (1960), Brenda Lee (1960), Bill Haley & His Comets (1960), Louis Armstrong All-Stars (1960), Chubby Checker (1961), Skeeter Davis (1961), Billy Vaughn Orchestra (1961), The Ramsey Lewis Trio (1962), The Lettermen (1962), Johnny Hallyday (1962), Bobby Vinton (1963), Hank Crawford and the Marty Paich Orchestra (1963), Cliff Richard and The Shadows (1963), Little Richard (1964), Soul Sisters (1964), Willie Mitchell (1966), San Remo Golden Strings (1966), The Loved Ones (1966), Everly Brothers (1967), Walker Brothers (1967), Caterina Valente (1968), Frank Valdor Sextett (1970), Loretta Lynn (1972), Jerry Lee Lewis (1973), Bert Kaempfert (1973), Ellen McIlwaine (1975), Billy ‘Crash’ Craddock (1977), Eddy Mitchell (as La colline de Blueberry Hill, 1977), Adriano Celentano (1977), The Beach Boys (1976), Jimmy Carl Black (1981), Mud (1982), Jah Wobble (1982), Link Wray (1982), Ricky King (1984), Yellowman (1987), Teresa Brewer & Friends (1991), Carol Sloane & Clark Terry (1997), Bruce Cockburn (1999), Tommy Kenter (2003), Jimmy Clanton (2006), Elton John (2007) a.o.

Hank Ballard & the Midnighters – The Twist (1959).mp3
Chubby Checker – The Twist (1960).mp3
The Drifters – What’cha Gonna Do? (1955).mp3

Dick Clark, the legendary TV presenter who played such a big role in the evolution of rock & roll, believes that The Twist was the genre’s most important song because it was the first rock & roll record that a whole generation could freely admit to liking, from teenagers in tight jeans to jewellery rattling socialites and celebrities ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Truman Capote (even Jackie Kennedy was said to have twisted in the White House). Indeed, so popular was The Twist – the song and the dance – that Chubby Checker topped the US charts twice with it, for a week in September  1960 and then for two weeks in January 1962, following an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Clark is a protagonist in the story of the song which was written by Hank Ballard, the frontman of the R&B group The Midnighters. Ballard – who was born John Henry Kendricks in Detroit but grew up in Alalabama – and his band had enjoyed a string of hits with raunchy singles with titles such as Get It and Sexy Ways; they were so bawdy that they were banned from the airwaves. The Twist, recorded on 11 November 1959, was only a b-side to a Henry Glover ballad titled Teardrops On Your Letter, much to Hank’s annoyance. The single reached #4 on the R&B charts, and #87 in the pop charts. The flip side, now so much more famous, also attracted some attention, reaching #16 on the R&B charts (US charts have comprised radio play as well as sales).

When in early 1960 Ballard’s single Finger Poppin’ Time was a top 10 hit, the record label, King, gave The Twist a commercial push, resulting in a pop hit that peaked at #26. Dick Clark became interested in featuring The Twist on American Bandstand show, which ran five days a week , apparently after the song received an enthusiastic response from the audience at a Baltimore TV show hosted by one Buddy Dean. In the event, it was performed on The Dick Clark Show on 6 August 1960 (though the first TV performance was on New York’s Clay Cole Show). But it wasn’t Hank Ballard and the Midnighters who performed on the programme.

It is not quite clear whether this was due to Ballard’s unavailability (which would be a vicious, er, twist of fate) or to Ballard’s raunchy reputation. Whatever the case, The Twist was recorded by Chubby Checker in July 1960 and performed by him on Clark’s show

Checker had recorded for Clark before. In fact, the man born Ernest Evans received his stage name from Clark’s wife. He was already nicknamed Chubby, but she gave him the surname by coining a pun on the name Fats Domino, whom Chubby had just impersonated (you get it: Chubby/Fats and Domino/Checkers). Clark chose Checker to sing The Twist because he sounded a bit like Ballard, and the cover sounded much like the original. . Ballard later said that when he first heard Checker’s version on the radio, he thought it was his own record playing (lending credence to the idea that Clark deliberately bypassed the writer and first performer of the song). The Twist and several Twist-themed follow-ups served to typecast Checker as a novelty song merchant.

The word “twist” was an old African-American term for dancing, though the silly moves of the early-’60s dance craze were Checker’s (who had seen young people improvising it to Ballard’s song). The word was used to denote dancing on Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters’ 1953 song Let the Boogie Woogie Roll (“and when she did the twist she bopped me to my soul”). McPhatter, considered by many the first real soul singer, was a huge influence on Ballard – so much so that Ballard borrowed liberally from The Drifters’ 1955 song What’cha Gonna Do? for his song Is Your Love For Real. And it was the song which Ballard proceeded to rework as The Twist.

Ballard, who died in 2003, reportedly was not resentful at being denied success with The Twist. One hopes that he received bountiful royalties from the song.

Also recorded by: Paul Rich (1961), Duane Eddy (1962), Keely Smith (1962), Patti Page (1962), The Miracles (1963), James Brown (1974), Klaus Nomi (1981), The Fat Boys With Chubby Checker (1988), The Radiators (1992), Dan Baird and The Sofa Kings (2001)

Sonny West – Rave On (1957).mp3
Buddy Holly – Rave On (1958).mp3
M. Ward feat Zooey Deschanel – Rave On (2009).mp3


Sonny West – All My Love (Oh Boy) (1957).mp3
Buddy Holly and the Crickets – Oh Boy (1957).mp3

Buddy Holly wrote several stone-cold rock & roll classics, but two of his bigger hits were not by his hand. Both, Oh Boy and Rave On were written by rockabilly singer Sonny West with Bill Tilghman. The eagle-eyed reader will have spotted on the record label illustration a third name on the credit: Norman Petty. The rather eccentric Petty was the manager and producer of both West and Holly. He had very little to do with writing either song (though he did impose his unfortunate piano solo on Holly’s version of Rave On), but attached his name to the credits nonetheless.

Before landing up with Petty (whose dealings with Holly were not at all happy), the teenage Sonny West had tried to sign with Sun Records in Memphis, but was rejected. Staying with his sister near Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas, West looked around for other opportunities to make it as a musician, and eventually found one with Petty in his remote studios in Clovis. He recorded one song with Petty before he bumped into Bill Tilghman, who proposed collaborating on songs for which he already had some basic lyrics.

When West presented Oh Boy to Petty, the manager declined to have the writer record it for release (a demo was recorded in February 1957, but remained unreleased until 2002, when it appeared on West’s Sweet Rockin’ Rock-Ola Ruby album). Instead, Petty gave the song instead to Buddy Holly and the Crickets, who with some lyrical tweaks cut it between 29 June and 1 July 1957. West reported being a little bitter about it, because he had written the song for himself, not for Holly.

His happiness was not improved by the recording of the other song he wrote with Tilghman. Petty had organised a contract with Atlantic, which would release many great records, but Rave On wasn’t one of them. Petty initially refused to produce what he described as a “hillbilly song”, but eventually it was cut in November 1957 with a backing band from Dallas called The Big Boys, also clients of Petty’s. West didn’t like the result, and the single went nowhere.  However, he approved of the way Holly recorded it, in New York in January 1958.

Sonny West, an inductee into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame, continues to perform and record today. (Read more about West’s memories, and his friendship with the young Waylon Jennings, in his interview with journalist Graham Lees).

Also recorded by: Terry Farlan (1969), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1970), John Smith & The New Sound (1970), Steeleye Span (1971), Fumble (1972), Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen (1973), Showaddywaddy (1975), Mike Berry (1976), Denny Laine (1977), The Real Kids (1977), Delta-Cross Band (1979), Half Japanese (1980), Rick Nelson (1981), Wanda Jackson (1982), John Mellencamp (1988), Red River (1989), Connie Francis (1996), Hank Marvin (1996), Blumentopf (1999), Stompin’ Bird (1999), Marshall Crenshaw (2000), Status Quo (2000), Orange Black (2002), Sue Moreno (2002), P.J. Proby (2003), The Crickets with Phil & Jason Everly (2004), M. Ward & Zooey Deschanel (2009) a.o.

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