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Step back to 1980 – Part 4

April 26th, 2012 5 comments

I have a few specific memories of the final quarter of 1980, but one stands out, as it probably does for most western teenagers growing up in 1980. On 9 December the radio alarm clock went off. I was just rising when the announcer said that John Lennon had been shot dead while we were sleeping. On my turntable was the second LP from The Beatles 1967-70 collection, which I had listened to, for the first time in a long while, just the previous evening, when Lennon was still alive. That bitterly cold morning at school my fellow Beatles fan Thorsten and I were greeted by our more cynical mates with “congratulations” on the death of John Lennon. For Thorsten and me, and probably millions others, the next few months were our generation’s version of Beatlemania. I quickly completed my collection of Beatles LPs, buying a few on a post-Christmas holiday in Greece, and the US releases on Japanese pressings.

 

Robert Palmer – Johnny & Mary.mp3
I had been a bit of a Robert Palmer fan, so I was quite excited by Johnny & Mary, a song that bought into the nascent New Wave Zeitgeist, with its liberal use of the synth and Palmer’s cool lyrics. Remember that Visage, Human League and Ultravox had not yet had their synth-based hits; these would come in 1981. So Johnny And Mary sounded quite exciting at the time. Moreover, the song has no chorus, which was rare in 1980 (and still is), and the vocals are delivered in a laconic monotone, which was also unusual in pop. On strength of Johnny & Mary, Palmers Clues album made it on to my Christmas wishlist of LPs. And when I opened my gifts at Christmas, it was among them. Listening to it I had the sinking feeling one gets when the lead single is the only really good track on an LP. Palmer totally lost me a few years later with his Addicted To Love, a song with an over-praised sexist video which I still despise.

Kate Bush – Army Dreamers.mp3
Kate Bush’s Never For Ever album was also in that bunch of Christmas present LPs. I loved lead single Babooshka, with its sound of breaking glass that was created by a synthesizer, but I had real affection for Army Dreamers, a song that didn’t get as much attention as Babooshka. Of course, I had recorded both off the radio. I was politically engaged, and naturally opposed to all things military (I didn’t even like war movies), so an anti-martial song appealed to me, especially one with an unusual waltz tempo. I didn’t know the promo video for the song yet, but it seems to have made quite an impact at the time. It is indeed striking. That thing she does with her eyes is particularly good. (HERE)    *

Bots – Sieben Tage Lang.mp3
Bots was a Dutch folk-rock group of the left-wing protest song variety. Their Sieben Tage Lang was a hit, of sorts, in West Germany in 1980, a cover of their Dutch original from 1976 which in turn was based on the traditional Breton drinking song Son ar Chistr which in 1971 was a minor hit for the harpist Alan Stivell. The drum beat is martial, and the lyrics offer a vision of socialist revolution.

The German lyrics were co-written by the investigative journalist Günter Wallraff, who by reputation is Germany’s equivalent of Michael Moore, but without the populist polemic. Wallraff made a name for himself in the 1970s by infiltrating the mass-circulation Bild daily newspaper, a reactionary rag that trades in sensation, gossip, tits and sports. It would not be unfair to say that Bild’s ethics, at least in the 1970s and ’80s, were on the level of those now exposed in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire; perhaps even worse. The newspaper cheerfully destroyed lives with lies. It was widely called “das Lügenblatt” (the rag of lies). Wallraff exposed all that.

Co-writing the German lyrics with Wallraff was one Lerryn, the pseudonym of leftist songwriter and manager Dieter Dehm. After the reunification of Germany it was alleged that Dehm had reported to East Germany’s secret service, the Stasi, on the activities of another leftist songwriter, Wolf Biermann (stepfather of Nina Hagen), before the communist regime expelled Biermann from the GDR. Dehm denies having spied for the Stasi.

Paul Simon – Late In The Evening (YouTube live clip)
Paul Simon’s One Trick Pony LP was another Christmas present LP which I had wanted on strength of a great lead single and never really enjoyed. Which means that the album title is quite ironic itself — it had only one trick. Ah, but what a trick. It has a casual drug reference, which didn’t get the song banned! The fantastic Latin horn part was arranged by Dave Grusin, who did the instrumental score for the soundtrack for The Graduate, which Simon & Garfunkel had significantly contributed to.  And check out the exquisite drumming by Steve Gadd. Then there are the masterful percussions of Ralph MacDonald, who died in December, and the guitar work of the late Eric Gale. And on backing vocals is Lani Groves, who sang the opening verse of Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life with Jim Gilstrap. (The MP3 file was found and zapped before the post was even up. Hence the YouTube clip.)

Air Supply – All Out Of Love.mp3
I always stress that in this series, the songs are chosen because they have the power to transport me back to the time when they came out, not because I endorse them. This one can in an instance recreate in me that nagging teenage feeling in the stomach, the desire for romance, and the smell of my bedroom. I don’t really want to endorse the song; on the contrary, I want to hate it as the spineless power ballad it really is. And still – and I don’t know if it is the nostalgia for an unhappy youth or my advancing age – listening to it as I’m writing this, I rather enjoy it. So much so, that I’ll play it again. But then, I have previously publicly defended Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now, an act that has earned me some derision, so I might as well confess my (no longer) secret affection for wimpy power ballads.

Karat – Über sieben Brücken mußt du gehn.mp3
On my family’s periodic visits to East Germany, I would try and satisfy my record-buying impulse by purchasing albums by local rock bands. It was also a good way of spending East German marks, which was quite challenge in a country which did not go in for quality consumer goods. You couldn’t even buy a replica Dynamo Dresden football shirt (just as you couldn’t buy a Dukla Prague away shirt in Czechoslovakia; though you could do so from western mail order companies). And that’s how I came to own LPs by the likes of City and the Puhdys. I never really listened to them. But the biggest East German band, Karat, had passed me by until they suddenly had a hit in West Germany with Über sieben Brücken mußt du gehn (You’ll have to cross seven bridges). The rather lovely prog-rock ballad, originally released in East Germany in 1978, was covered by Peter Maffay, one of West Germany’s biggest stars who styled himself (and still does) as a bit of an outlaw. Maffay had the bigger hit with it, but in the slipstream of his version’s success, Karat’s original received much radio airplay (by East German law they were not allowed to appear on West German TV). I preferred the Karat version.

David Bowie – Up The Hill Backwards.mp3
Here’s another Christmas present album, which made my wishlist on strength of Ashes To Ashes and the even more fabulous Fashion. Unlike the LPs by Palmer and Simon, I liked the Scary Monsters LP a lot, and I particularly loved Up The Hill Backwards with its anthemic vocals, Robert Fripp’s crazy guitars and the staccato drumming. Bruce Springsteen’s piano man Roy Bittan did ivory tinkling duty here, as he did on Ashes To Ashes and Teenage Wildlife, and the album’s co-producer, Tony Visconti played the acoustic guitar. Up The Hill Backwards was released as the album’s fourth single in Britain. It stalled at #32, not entirely surprisingly, because it is not really commercial.

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More Stepping Back

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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. 34 – Reworked hits

November 20th, 2009 8 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heads and senses

November 2nd, 2009 1 comment

iris

Very occasionally a group of people get together on the Touchedmix blog and post mixes on a particular theme. Last week, the theme was HEADS, with their features and their functions. I thought readers of this little corner of the music blogosphere might be interested in the two mixes I banged together.

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OVER MY HEAD MIX
1. Aztec Camera – Head Is Happy (Heart’s Insane) (1985)
2. Crowded House – Pineapple Head (live) (1996/2006)
3. Johnny Cash – Mean Eyed Cat (1996)
4. The Dillards – I’ve Just Seen A Face (1968)
5. The Holmes Brothers – Smiling Face Hiding A Weeping Heart (2006)
6. Paul Anka – Eyes Without A Face (2006)
7. The Undisputed Truth – Smiling Faces Sometimes (1971)
8. Justine Washington – I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face (1964)
9. The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes For You (1959)
10. Mississippi Sheikhs – I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes For You (1938)
11. Robert Mitchum – Mama Looka Boo Boo (Shut Your Mouth-Go Away) (1958)
12. Emile Ford & the Checkmates – Them There Eyes (1960)
13. Lewis Taylor – Blue Eyes (2000)
14. Andrew Bird – A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left (2005)
15. Nada Surf – The Way You Wear Your Head (2002)
16. The Sweet – The Lies In Your Eyes (1975)
17. Ben Folds – Doctor My Eyes (2002)
18. Josh Ritter – One More Mouth (2006)
19. Kaki King – Saving Days In A Frozen Head (2008)
20. The Lilac Time – The Darkness Of Her Eyes (1991)
21. Thomas Dybdahl – Pale Green Eyes (2009)
22. Ryan Adams – Halloweenhead (2007)
23. The Cardigans – Give Me Your Eyes (2005)

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Justine Washington is better known as Baby Washington; this is the original version of the song covered to good effect by Dusty Springfield.

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SENSES WORKING OVERTIME MIX
1. David Bowie – Can You Hear Me (1975)
2. Tim Buckley – I Can’t See You (1966)
3. Herman Düne – I Wish That I Could See You Soon (2006)
4. Devics – If We Cannot See (2006)
5. Richard Hawley – Can You Hear The Rain, Love (2001)
6. Scott Walker – You’re Gonna Hear From Me (1967)
7. The Righteous Brothers – See That Girl (1965)
8. Chris Montez – The More I See You (1966)
9. Cass Elliot – I’ll Be Seeing You (1973)
10. Blind Boy Fuller – What’s That Smells Like Fish (1938)
11. Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking (1955)
12. The Supremes – I Hear A Symphony (1965)
13. Jim Messina – Seeing You (For The First Time) (1979)
14. Baby Huey – Listen To Me (1971)
15. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Taste Of Cindy (1985)
16. K’s Choice – A Sound That Only You Can Hear (1995)
17. Mull Historical Society – Watching Xanadu (2001)
18. Ron Sexsmith & Don Kerr – Listen (2005)
19. Rosanne Cash – I Was Watching You (2006)
20. The Magic Numbers – I See You, You See Me (2005)
21. Paul Anka – Smells Like Teen Spirit (2005)

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The Originals Vol. 29

July 24th, 2009 4 comments

By the end of this instalment of the lesser-known originals, we’ll have covered (as it were) the 150th song since the series started last October. And there are still so many songs to go… So here are Not Fade Away, The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), La Vie En Rose, China Girl and the extraordinary story of Just Walkin’ In The Rain.

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Buddy Holly and The Crickets – Not Fade Away.mp3
Rolling Stones – Not Fade Away.mp3

cricketsUnlike many artists in the early days of rock ’n’ roll, Buddy Holly and his Crickets were no overnight success. After being dropped by Decca records (not always the greatest judges of talent either side of the Atlantic) in late 1956, Holly and his newly formed Crickets struggled to find a distributor to market the songs they recorded at Norman Petty’s studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Eventually, That’ll Be The Day gave the group its first hit; before that, Holly kept writing future hits which would be billed either as Crickets or Buddy Holly records — purely a marketing ploy, for Holly saw himself as part of as collective. One of these songs recorded before fame came knocking in August 1957 was Not Fade Away (put down in May that year), which cheerfully plagiarised Bo Diddley’s seminal stop-start beat from his eponymous hit. Charlie Watts and Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham later bizarrely claimed that the Stones innovated on the Crickets’ original by introducing the Bo Diddley beat. Bill Wyman is more honest, saying that the Stones merely amplified it.

The song’s writers are credited as Charles Hardin (Holly’s Christian names) and Norman Petty, a result of the arbitrary designations which were supposed to let all Crickets members get a piece of royalty action. In reality, drummer Jerry Ivan Allison (on the left in the cover pic) had contributed significantly to the lyrics, while producer Petty had written nothing, but in any case took a writing credit for every Holly/Crickets song (and added his name to the writing credits of songs written by others for his charges, such as Sonny West and Bill Tilghman’s Oh Boy). In return, Allison would receive credit for songs to which he had contributed nothing, including Peggy Sue, to which he furnished little else but the name of his future wife.

Much as Elvis Presley inspired the American and British youth to seek musical fame, arguably the more profound influence on the future of rock ’n’ roll was that of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Chuck Berry and (certainly in the case of the Beatles) Carl Perkins. Unusually for the time, these acts wrote most of their own songs, inspiring the likes of Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards to do likewise. Holly, Perkins and Berry were also quite exceptional in that they played their own guitars, laying down solos which would be imitated by virtually every band that a few years later would “invade” America (think about Holly’s Peggy Sue solo). Indeed, Holly’s arrival in Britain coincided with the decline of skiffle, the musical form that involved guitars plus whatever you could find in the kitchen (especially washboards). Stuck with guitars and a dying genre, the likes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney sought a new muse. The guitar-wielding Buddy Holly provided just that. That’ll Be The Day was the song the Beatles (whose punning name was motivated by the Crickets) performed on their very first demo.

stones_not_fade_awayAnd it was the Crickets’ Not Fade Away, originally released as the b-side of Oh Boy, with which the Rolling Stones had their first cross-Atlantic hit. It is an amusing sidenote that the Crickets’ Not Fade Away unwittingly exercised a skiffle mentality: instead of drums, Jerry Allison beat out his rhythm on cardboard boxes, an idea borrowed from Buddy Knox’s hit Party Doll. It is said that on the Stones version, Phil Spector contributes to the recording by shaking a cognac bottle (“donated” by Gene Pitney) with a coin inside, doing the part Jagger does on stage with the maracas.

The Rolling Stones version, recorded in January 1964 and released in February, was the UK follow-up single to I Wanna Be Your Man — the song the Beatles donated to the Stones to help the London group break through — and their first US single (backed by I Wanna Be Your Man). Peaking at #3, it was their first UK Top10 hit. In the US it reached #48, a creditable placing for a foreign debut single and a basis from which the Stones could launch their career there.

Also recorded by: Bobby Fuller (1962), Dick and Dee Dee (1964), The Rolling Stones (1964), Dave Berry (1964), The Supremes, 1964), The Scorpions (Dutch band, 1964), The Beachers (1965), Corporate Image (1966), The Pupils (1966), The Why Four (1966), The End (1966), The Barracudas (1967), The Walflower Complextion (1967), Joe Pass (1967), Group Axis (1969), Grateful Dead (1971), Rush (1973), Everly Brothers (March 1973), Fumble (1974), Bo Diddley (1976), Sutherland Brothers & Quiver 91976), Steve Hillage (1977), Black Oak Arkansas (1977), Tanya Tucker (1978), Stephen Stills (1978), Eddy Mitchell (as Comment ça fait?, 1979), Joe Ely (1980), Mick Fleetwood (1981), Eric Hine (1981), The Knack (1982), Andy J. Forest & Snapshots (1982), Amiga Blues Band (1983), Happy Flowers (1987), The Purple Helmets (1988), The Razorbacks (1989), The Infidels (1989), Trout Fishing in America (1990), Peter Belli & De Nye Rivaler (1992), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1992), Foreigner (1993), Roy Rogers (1994), Dave Plaehn & Jeff Hino (1996), Mike and the Mellotones (1996), Hank Marvin (1996), Johnny Hallyday (as Je vais te secouer, 1996), John Entwistle (1997), Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez (1997), Sean Kennedy and the King Kats (1998), JGB (1998), Zydeco Flames (1998), James Taylor (1998), Darrel Higham (1999), Mike Berry (1999), The Jailbirds (1999), The End (1999), Status Quo (1999), Ned Sublette (1999), Jorma Kaukonen Band & Guests (1999), Michigan Mark DePree (2000), Lemmy & Friends (2000), Scott Ellison (2000), X (2001), The Pirates (2001), Cory Morrow (2001), Two Tons of Steel (2002), Jon Butcher Axis (2002), The Rocking Chairs (2002), Noel Redding (2004), The Head Cat (2006), David Kitt (2006), The Bees (2006), Sheryl Crow (2007) a.o.

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The Prisonaires – Just Walkin’ In The Rain.mp3
Johnnie Ray – Just Walkin’ In The Rain.mp3
The Prisonaires – Please Baby.mp3

prisonaires_sunNot many pop classics were written in jail. Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley were incarcerated in 1952 at the Tennessee State Penitentiary when a chance conversation about the wet weather — Bragg, the story goes, remarked to Riley as they were hanging out in the jail’s courtyard: “Here we are just walking in the rain, and wondering what the girls are doing” — inspired the song’s composition (unnervingly, the comment was made by a man who was serving a sentence for six counts of rape). Bragg wrote the song but was illiterate; burglar Riley’s contribution was committing it to paper.

The Prisonaires: rape, murder, manslaughter, larceny, sweet harmonies

The Prisonaires: rape, murder, manslaughter, larceny, sweet harmonies

Bragg was part of a gospel quintet at Tennessee State. His bandmates comprised two murderers, a fraudster and one convicted for manslaughter. Undesirable characters as they were, the Prisonaires had talent. They were discovered by a local radio producer, Joe Calloway, who recorded the group for a radio broadcast. A tape of the radio performance came to Sam Phillips, founder of the Sun Studio which a year later would introduce Elvis Presley to the public. Although not a big fan of the proto-doo wop style, he negotiated with the authorities to have the Prisonaires delivered, under heavy guard, to his Memphis studio to cut a record, Baby Please (posted above as a bonus), backed with Just Walkin’ In The Rain. The single was a big local hit, selling 50,000 copies. Thereafter they were allowed to tour, performing on occasion even for the state’s governor. The good times didn’t last long; by 1954 rock ’n’ roll was on the up, and Ink Spot type groups — especially if they were jailbirds — were falling by the wayside. In 1955 the Prisonaires disbanded. By 1959, Bragg’s was paroled, but was in and out of jail for the next ten years. He passed away in 2004 at 78, long after his former bandmates had died.

Johnnie_rayIn 1956, the most rueful of all ’50s singers, Johnnie Ray, recorded Just Walkin’ In The Rain, which despite the Prisonaires regional success was an obscure track. The original certainly was despondent, but the so-called Prince of Wails invested it with a different sense of mournfulness. In a word, his first-person protagonist is pathetic. Rat’s version, produced and whistled by Ray Conniff (he of serial easy listening crimes) and arranged by Mitch Miller (still alive at 98), was a massive hit, reaching #2 in the US and #1 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Judy Kileen (1956), Four Jacks (1957), Jim Reeves (1962), Shakin’ Stevens (1983), Eric Clapton (2001)

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Marianne Michel – La Vie en Rose.mp3
Edith Piaf – La Vie En Rose.mp3

Grace Jones – La Vie En Rose (full version).mp3
marianne_michelThis is one of those orginals which was recorded first by somebody other than the writer (and even then, the authorship is disputed). Piaf’s lyrics were put to music by Louis “Louiguy” Guglielmi (who also wrote the song known in English as Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White). For legal reasons, Piaf’s name could not be credited. At the time, that didn’t seem to matter much, since the composers failed to see much hit potential in the song — even if, in 1945 France, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, the notion of seeing life through rose-tinted glasses must have seemed particularly attractive. So the song, then titled Les Choses en Rose, was farmed out to Piaf’s friend, the singer Marianne Michel. It was Michel who proposed the title by which the song became world famous, albeit in Piaf’s 1946 recording.

The song became a chanson and easy listening staple until Grace Jones discofied it with her rather excellent vocals, a bossa nova beat and glittering production values in 1977 (as she did with other standards, such as Autumn Leaves and Send In The Clowns). It was a massive hit in Europe, though not in Britain until eight years after its original release.

Also recorded by: Werner Schmah & Walter Dobschinski und die Tanzkapelle des Berliner Rundfunks (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1948), Louis Armstrong (1950), Gene Ammons (1950), Tony Martin (1950), Michel Legrand and his Orchestra (1954), The Mantovani Orchestra (1958), Dean Martin (1962), Jacques Faber (1964), Dalida (1964), Tony Mottola (1965), Bobby Solo (1965), Peter Alexander (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1966), Josephine Baker (1968), Nana Mouskouri (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1973), Alain Goraguer (1976), Dalida (1976), Grace Jones (1977), Bette Midler (1977), Richard Clayderman (1979), Grand Orchestre Mario Robbiani (1981), Taco (1982), James Last And His Orchestra (1982), Franck Pourcel (1983), Diane Dufresne (1985), Michèle Torr (1987), Melissa Manchester (1989), D’Erlanger (1998), Trio Esperança (1992), Donna Summer (1993), Patricia Kaas (1993), Nicole de Monde (1994), Wendy Van Wanten (as Duizend regenbogen, 1995), Madeleine Peyroux (1996), Toots Thielemans & Diana Krall (1998), Jo Lemaire (1999), Manlio Sgalambro (2001), Romy Haag (2001), Bernard Peiffer (2001), Tony Bennett & k.d. lang (2002), Miguel Wiels (2002), Petula Clark (2002), Liane Foly (2003), Zazie (2003), Cyndi Lauper (2003), In-grid (2004), Dee Dee Bridgewater (2005), Montmartre (2006), Princess Erika (2006), Alfons Haider (2007), Belinda Carlisle (2007), Victoria Abril (November 2007), Suarez (2008) and lots more

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Merry Clayton – It’s In His Kiss.mp3
Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).mp3
merry_claytonSoul purists will have been quite scandalised by Cher’s version of the Shoop Shoop Song, declaring with considerable indignation that it does not measure up to Betty Everett’s original. While the assessment on respective quality is correct, we erred in ascribing originality to Everett. The first version was recorded by Merry Clayton and released in 1963, a few months before Everett’s version came out in December 1963 to give the singer her first Top 10 hit.

Written by Rudy Clark (whom we shall encounter again in this series) and produced by Jack Nietzsche, It’s in His Kiss was a flop for Clayton, then all of 15 years old. Indeed, Clayton never had a big hit of her own; the highest-charting one, at #48, came in 1987 with the song Yes from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Yet she was involved in many famous recordings, first as one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, then as Mick Jagger’s duet partner on Gimme Shelter, and as a backing vocalists on such songs as Lynyrd Skynrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and Tori Amos’ Cornflake Girl. She was also the original Acid Queen in The Who’s London production of their rock-opera Tommy.

betty_everettShortly after Clayton released It’s In His Kiss, Betty Everett recorded it very reluctantly, finding the song childish. Although credited to Everett alone, she as backed by a band called The Opals, effectively creating one of the supreme girl-group songs of the age. A month after Everett’s version was released on Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records, Warner Bros in LA issued a version of the song by Ramona King. To differentiate Everett’s version from King’s, Vee-Jay changed the title to The Shoop Shoop Song, after the catchy backing vocals.

In 1991, Cher’s version from the 1990 movie Mermaids introduced The Shoop Shoop Song to a new generation. While Everett’s version was a Top 10 hit in the US, but barely reached the Top 40 in the UK, now Cher’s version sold sluggishly in the US, but topped the UK charts, and was one of the biggest hits of 1991 throughout Europe as well as in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Also recorded by (under different titles): Aretha Franklin (1964), The Hollies (1964), Sandie Shaw (1964), The Searchers (1964), Linda Lewis (1975), Kate Taylor (1978), Nancy Boyd (1986), The Nylons (1996), Vonda Shepard (1998), The Neatbeats (1999), Bob Rivers (as It’s in His Piss, 2002), Lulu (2005)

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Iggy Pop – China Girl.mp3
David Bowie – China Girl.mp3
iggy_pop_idiotIggy and Bowie wrote China Girl together for the former’s 1977 album The Idiot, at a time when both stars dwelled in Berlin to wean themselves off heroin (Berlin seems an odd choice of refuge from smack, but nobody ever accused those two of being eminently sensible). Indeed, there is a good case that the song is about heroin, a drug sometimes referred to as China White, or about an opiate known as China Girl. The locale of composition also explains the swastika reference.

In 1983 Bowie revived the song, which in Iggy’s version made few waves, in his besuited Let’s Dance period, polishing it under Nile Rodger’s production, and frolicking to it in the Australian waves in the video. His co-star in the video is a New Zealand actress of Vietnamese extraction named Geeling Ng. Although they dated afterwards, according to Geeling, the popular rumours that they actually had sex in the video are, as one would expect, false. The video created further controversy surrounding — goodness, hold on to your drawers! — Bowie’s bared buttocks; later versions excised his arse.

Also recorded: Nick Cave (1978), Piggy Stardust (1998), James (1998), Trance to the Sun (1999), Moogue (2001), Pete Yorn (2002), Rhonda Harris (2003), Winter (2004), Anna Ternheim (2005), Silver (2005), Voltaire (2006)

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 4

September 15th, 2008 1 comment

Everly Brothers – Love Hurts.mp3
Roy Orbison – Love Hurts.mp3
Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
Nazareth – Love Hurts.mp3
Don McLean – Love Hurts.mp3
Paul Young & the Q-Tips – Love Hurts.mp3
Monsieur Mono & Mara Tremblay – Love Hurts (direct DL)
It is possibly the greatest songs ever written from the perspective of heartbreak, with some gloriously bitter metaphors, and yet it took a long time to become a proper hit – and then in one of its worse incarnations. Love Hurts was written by Boudleaux Bryant who co-wrote several Everly Brothers hits. Love Hurts, however, was only an album track on the siblings’ 1960 LP A Date With The Everly Brothers. In 1965, they recorded a more upbeat version, but their mid-tempo 1960 rendition was sufficiently mournful for Roy Orbison to cover it tremulously the following year, releasing it as a b-side. Thereafter, the song remained dormant for 13 years, until Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris delivered the definitive version. Their sweet harmonies are drenched in the hot blood of a broken heart, Parsons perfecting the art of spitting his bile with tender vulnerability.

A year later, the song finally became a hit, in the misplaced hands of hard rockers Nazareth whose singer sounds mortified at having to sing these intimate lyrics. It sounds like he lost a bet at karaoke night. More covers followed soon after, but it was Don McLean in 1981 who returned the song the sensibilities of the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, probably aware that an imitation of Gram Parsons’ take was impossible. One of the more interesting propositions, the same year, was Paul Young recording the song with the Q-Tips before going solo. One can imagine how well this underrated singer (who did much to feed the dim views of his artistry) might have interpreted the song. In the event, it is a rendition of curious interest rather than a competitor, sounding more like an Ultravox arrangement than a soulful lament. He apparently re-recorded it in 1993, hopefully nailing it the second time around…
A late addition, thanks to L’Homme Scalp, is a rather lovely 2005 French version of the song.
Also recorded by: Cher, Jim Capaldi, Jennifer Warnes, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Bad Romance, Kim Deal and Bob Pollard, Corey Hart, Barbara Dickson, Little Milton and Lucinda Williams, Robin Gibb, Pat Boone, Emmylou Harris, Stina Nordenstam, Sinéad O’Connor, Rod Stewart, Paul Noonan & Lisa Hannigan, Clare Teal a.o.
Best version: Parsons’ version is one of my all-time favourite song…

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Jacques Brel – Le Moribond.mp3
Rod McKuen – Seasons In The Sun.mp3

Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun.mp3
I might do my reputation no good at all when I confess that I can’t understand the vitriol levelled against Terry Jacks’ 1974 hit. Yes, it’s sentimental and drenched in syrup, but it hardly is the only offender among its contemporaries in that respect. Cheesy though it may be, it is difficult to denounce a song that originated in the mighty catalogue of the unassailable Jacques Brel. The Belgian king of the vivant recorded the song as Le Moribund in 1961. In Brel’s version, and in poet Rod McKuen’s translation, the cause of the impending death could be natural but well might be a suicide note (there are strong hints that the singer’s wife had an extramarital affair). The English version was soon recorded by the Kingston Singers, and later by the Beach Boys. The latter’s version was not completed or released, but featured among its session musicians Terry Jacks (who, some accounts suggest, introduced the Beach Boys to the song). The Canadian-born singer changed the lyrics, introducing Michelle, his little one, into the proceedings and lightened the tone of the song considerably. The comparative cheerfulness of his version seems to eliminate the notion of suicide; unlike Brel or McKuen, Jacks sounds like a man who has made peace with his mortality.
Also recorded by: The Fortunes, Nana Mouskouri, Nirvana (you won’t see that sequence too often), Bad Religion, Black Box Recorder, Pearls Before Swine, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Westlife a.o.
Best version: I really like McKuen’s version, which I received from our friend RH

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Dee Dee Warwick – You’re No Good.mp3

Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good.mp3
Linda Ronstadt’s big country-rock hit of 1974 started life as a ’60s soul number. Written by the British songwriter Clint Ballard Jr, it was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne’s younger sister, in 1963. The same year Betty Everett (of Shoop Shoop Song fame) scored a minor hit with it. Ronstadt took the song out of its R&B context altogether, creating a new template on which future covers would be based. That is probably a sign of a really good cover artist: the ability of appropriating a song, changing it so much that it really will feel like a different song. These two versions are a great example of that attribute.
Also recorded by: Swinging Blue Jeans, José Feliciano, Van Halen, Elvis Costello, Wilson Phillips, Lulu, Jill Johnson a.o.
Best version: Ronstadt’s, probably.

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The McCoys – Sorrow.mp3
David Bowie – Sorrow.mp3
Speaking of covers, it is a vaguely amusing coincidence that albums of cover versions by David Bowie and Bryan Ferry – icons of cool both at the time – entered the British charts on the same day in November 1973. Proof, if any was needed, that the covers project is not a recent phenomenon in pop music. David Bowie scored only one hit from the Pin Ups album, Sorrow, which had been made popular in the UK seven years earlier by the Merseys. The original version of it, however, was by the McCoys, the US group better known for their big hit Hang On Sloopy, which also provided the title for the 1965 album which featured Sorrow.
Also recorded by: Status Quo, Tribal Underground, Powderfinger
Best version: Bowie’s shades it.

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Sting – I Hung My Head
Johnny Cash – I Hung My Head.mp3
Who would have thought that Sting could write a really excellent country song. Of course, Sting’s original of I Hung My Head is only notionally country – the arrangement could be by somebody like Tim McGraw, whose country music often is infused with rock music. It’s not a bad version at all, and I say so as somebody who generally holds old Gordon in less than high esteem. But it took Johnny Cash on his landmark 2002 album American IV: The Man Comes Around to give the song the country spin it really requires. Where in Sting’s version, the spine-tingling story drowns in overproduction, Cash slows it down and delivers it as if he had sung it as a bluegrass number since he was a little boy.
Also recorded by: Blue Highway
Best version: Cash, of course

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