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In Memoriam – May 2012

June 5th, 2012 4 comments

The Grim Reaper wreaked havoc in May. Robin Gibb, Donna Summer and Adam Yauch were the headliners, but there were also members of The Dillards and Crowded House who left us. Two blues and soul guitarists died: Charles Pitts, who played on so many of Isaac Hayes’ records (his guitar helped make The Theme of Shaft such an iconic track) and Pete Cosey, who played on many Chess records.

In April we lost Andrew Love, who was involved in creating the iconic intro for Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness. In May we lost another co-creator of a famous Otis intro: Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, who died at 70, provided the driving bass of I Can’t Turn You Loose. Fans of the Blues Brothers will know that intro; it’s played during the long introduction of the band as Jake and Elroy are trying to make to the stage. And on that stage was Donald “Duck” Dunn, the bassist with the white Afro and beard, appearing as himself. Check out the man’s discography.

We also lost Doc Watson, who did much to revive and keep alive the flame of traditional country and bluegrass at a time when the genre was tending towards the glossy pop sound.

First on the list this month is Jim McCrary, one of the rare non-musicians who warrant inclusion in this series. His contribution resides in album covers and rock photography. His LP cover portfolio includes Carole King’s Tapestry (and album cover which I will deal with in a couple of week’s time), the Carpenters’ Offering and Now And Then, The Flying Burrito Brothers’ Burrito Deluxe and The Flying Burrito Bros, and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs And Englishmen. He also took the famous series of photos of Gram Parson in the Nudie suit.

I had never heard of Masud Sadiki before, hut was saddened to hear of another young singer who saw no way out of depression but by committing suicide. The reggae singer from St Kitts leaves a wife and two young children, compounding the tragedy.  Two other mostly unknown musicians are included because they were killed in a shooting in a bar in which they frequently played, alongside three others.

Jim McCrary, 72, photographer of more than 300 LP covers, on April 29
Carole King – So Far Away (1971, live)

Charles Pitts, 65, soul guitarist for Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes a.o., on May 1
The Isley Brothers – It’s Your Thing (1969)
Isaac Hayes – Theme from Shaft (1973, live at Wattstax)

Lary Donn, 70, rockabilly singer, on May 1
Larry Donn – I’ll Never Forget You (1963)

Lloyd Brevett, 80, double bassist  of The Skatalites, on May 3
The Skatalites – Confucius (1966)

Edith Bliss, 52, Australian pop singer and TV presenter, on May 3

Bobby Thomas, 70, singer with the Vibranaires, Vibes, V-Eights and Orioles, on May 3

Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, 47, rapper with the Beastie Boys, on May 4
Beastie Boys – Pass The Mic (1992)
Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out (2004)

Mort Lindsey, 89, orchestra leader, pianist, composer and musical director, on May 4

Jose ‘Tonico’ Perez, 95, member of Brazilian duo Tonico e Tinoco, on May 5
Tonico e Tinoco – Chico Mineiro

‘Sweet Joe’ Russell, 72, singer with a capella group The Persuasions, on May 6
The Persuasions – The Whole World Is A Stage (1970)

Michael Burks, 54, blues and soul guitarist, singer and composer, on May 6
Michael Burks – Make It Rain (2001)

Ernest Warren, 78, doo wop tenor with The Spaniels, on May 7
The Spaniels – Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite (1954)

Everett Lilly, 87, half of bluegrass duo The Lilly Brothers, on May 8
The Lilly Brothers & Don Stover – Sinner, You’d Better Get Ready (1962)

Clive Welham, British drummer and early bandmate of Syd Barrett and Dave Gilmore, on May 9

Celso Chavez, 44, guitarist of alternative rock band Possum Dixon, on May 9

Bernardo Sassetti, 41, Portuguese jazz pianist and film composer, on May 10

Donald  ‘Duck’ Dunn, 70, bass guitarist on Stax, and with The Blues Brothers and Booker T. & the M.G.’s, on May 13
Otis Redding – I Can’t Turn You Loose (1965)
The Blues Brothers – She Caught The Katy (1980)
Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (1981)

Belita Woods, 63, soul singer, on May 14
Belita Woods – That’s When I’ll Stop Loving You (1970)

Doug Dillard, 75, bluegrass & country musician with The Dillards and Dillard & Clark, on May 16
The Dillards – Lemon Chimes (1965)
Dillard & Clark – Train Leaves Here This Mornin’ (1968)

Chuck Brown, 75, funk singer and musician, on May 16
Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers – Bustin’ Loose (1978)

Donna Summer, 63, disco and pop singer, on May 17
Donna Summer – Last Dance (1978)
Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer – No More Tears (Single Version, 1979)

Peter Jones, 45, drummer of Crowded House (1995-97), on May 18
Crowded House – Sister Madly (live, 1997)

Robin Gibb, 62, member of Bee Gees, on May 20
Bee Gees – Marley Purt Drive (1969)
Robin Gibb – Gone Gone Gone (1970)
Robin Gibb – Another Lonely Night In New York (1983)

Robert Nix, 67, drummer of the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Classics IV, on May 20
Atlanta Rhythm Section – So Into You (1976)

Carrie Smith, 70, blues and jazz singer, on May 20
Carrie Smith – Some Rainy Day (1983)

Eddie Blazonczyk Sr, 71, polka musician and founder of The Versatones, on May 21

Masud Sadiki, 37, reggae and calypso singer from St Kitts & Neves, suicide on May 21

Kuly Ral, 35, member of English-Asian group RDB, on May 23

Roy Wilson, 72, member of Jamaican duo Higgs and Wilson, on May 26.

Doc Watson, 89, bluegrass and folk musician, on May 29
Doc Watson – Talk About Suffering (1964)

Pete Cosey, 68, guitarist for Muddy Waters, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock a.o., on May 30
Muddy Waters – Tom Cat (1968)

Joe “Meshuguna Joe “ Albanese and Drew ‘Shmootzi the Clod ‘ Keriakedes, members of Seattle folk group God’s Favourite Breakfast, shot dead on May 3

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Step back to 1979 – Part 2

July 21st, 2011 9 comments

In the second part of three in which I revisit songs from 1979 that have the power to transport me back to the day, we’ll go back to the summer of that year. We had just moved into a new house which my mother, a woman of excellent taste and artistic flair, turned into a place that exuded both sophistication and warmth. And my younger brother and I attended the last of three summer camps run by the local church parish. As always, I take no responsibility for the quality of the songs featured.

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Lene Lovich  – Lucky Number.mp3
This was quite unlike anything I had heard before. Lene Lovich was a bit like an anglophone Nina Hagen, without all that which makes Hagen so unattractive (and, looking it up, I’ve just learned that Hagen covered Lucky Number). I remember hearing a radio interview with John Lennon around that time in which the semi-retired pop master mentioned a few acts he found interesting. Among them was “Lene Loverich”. I thought Lennon was a bit of a senile git for not knowing her proper name. But he was very old by then, almost 39. My stepfather, four years younger, didn’t even know any of the acts I liked (except for Bob Seger, whose music I introduced stepfather to). Lovich eventually gave rise to Toyah and Hazel O’Connor. You decide whether that was a good thing or not.

Art Garfunkel – Bright Eyes (Video)
This was the theme from the animated film that made everyone cry but me, Watership Down. The reason I didn’t cry is that I have never seen it, deterred from doing so by tales of people crying. The song sounds appropriately sad but tinged with a surge of hopefulness, which I understand ties in with the scene in the film it scores. At the time I thought it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. Actually, I still think it is beautiful, though I have heard a great many contenders for the title since. Bright Eyes and I Don’t Like Mondays (which I won’t feature as the Boomtown Rats will be included in the third part) were my anthems for the summer of 1979. [Link removed by Mediafire]

Amii Stewart – Knock On Wood.mp3
What did I know of the old soul masters then? This is one of the great cover versions, an explosion of disco joy, co-produced by Simon May, who wrote the theme of the BBC soapie Eastenders. And then there was the cover. I had seen exotic before, but Amii Stewart was something quite beyond that; she was flamboyantly beautiful while wearing silly headgear which only the spawn of royal bottom feeders would not reject as too daft. Knock On Wood was a massive hit almost everywhere, but strangely not in West Germany, where it stalled at #13. Amii Stewart is the step-sister of HiNRG queen Miquel Brown (whose Close To Perfection is an old favourite of mine) and thereby aunt of 1980s disco starlet Sinitta, she of much cuteness and modest artistry.

Kiss – I Was Made For Loving You.mp3
By 1979 everybody seemed to buy into that disco thing. In retrospect it shouldn’t be surprising that a rock group whose members liked to wear chest-hair revealing leather outfits and wore far too much make-up should have dabbled in a genre that owed much to its evolution to the gay scene. But those were the days when fans of Freddie Mercury would be glad to resort to violence in defence of their hero’s honour should one have questioned the Queen singer’s uncompromising heterosexuality. Anyway, so in 1979 Kiss went disco in a bid to revive their flagging career. And it provided them their first UK chart entry (albeit peaking at only #50) and for me a birthday present for my little brother.

Gibson Brothers – Cuba.mp3
Cuba provides a specific if slightly hazy memory involving a fair we visited after a boring afternoon at an old man’s garden allotment. I remember being bored at the fair, and how the Gibson Brother’s epic disco number lifted my flagging spirits. It is, of course, a most banal memory, as the reader will have noted already with a zeal that is almost rude. The point though is that sometimes music sticks with us not because of a significant event or constant exposure over a period of time, but because it just does. And Cuba still has the capacity to lift my spirits, though not as much as their next hit single, the brilliant Que Sera Mi Vida.

Kevin Keegan – Head Over Heels In Love.mp3
American readers won’t know what to do with this, but German and British readers will luv it, just luv it. Kevin Keegan was a famous English football player (the football played with feet, not the one with the shoulderpads) who in 1977 transferred from Liverpool to the German club SV Hamburg. In 1979, he helped Hamburg win the German championship and was the country’s biggest football star. So Mighty Mouse, as he was known, crowned his sporting accomplishment by recording a single with Smokie, and it sounds just like the horrors that group used to perpetrate at the time. To Keegan’s credit, he could hold a tune better than he could hold a lead, as fans of Newcastle United would later discover. Here is a video of King Kev violating a poor woman as he sings his song in the Saturday night sports show Das Aktuelle Sportstudio, having been flown in from Bielefeld after Hamburg’s game there on 2 June 1979.

Donna Summer – Hot Stuff.mp3
If Kiss could go disco, then Donna Summer could go rock. And I’d say that Donna rocked harder on Hot Stuff than Kiss ever did. The song reminds me in particular of the summer camp that my brother and I went on. The previous one we went had been a great experience. It had a wonderful group and I had my slow-dance with my first love, having shoulder-charged my beastly rival out of the way on the dancefloor (see the entry for Sailing in Step Back to 1977  Part 1). This time, the crowd was less lovely and some were absolute assholes. I had taken some records along for the “dance evening”; when I discovered that some had been stolen from my suitcase, the camp leaders took no interest in the violation of the seventh Commandment, perhaps being too busy worshipping craven images. We never went on another camp again.

Umberto Tozzi – Gloria.mp3
When Laura Branigan had a huge hit with her English version of Gloria in 1984, I was quite annoyed. It’s Umberto Tozzi’s song. It has been covered many times in many languages, but in Tozzi’s synth-driven original it smells of sunshine and Pizza Margharita. Gloria was huge in the German summer of 1979; I didn’t buy the record, but welcomed hearing it in the background to provide the soundtrack for that rather dull summer. Where Branigan’s lyrics observe someone alled Gloria, Tozzi sings a love song to the eponymous woman. “Monkey to malaria,” as Tozzi so memorably sings.

Cliff Richard – We Don’t Talk Anymore.mp3
The song German radio played to death. Apart from the fact that I have always resented the stardom of that feckless Cliff Richard, this was an insidious tune. Where some songs are earworms, this was an eartumor. But if I listen to the song with as much detachment and objectivity as I can muster, I must admit that it is a very good pop song. I must concede that the “Taaaalk anymore, anymooooore” bit at 3:14 is fantastic. It seems at least 5 million people worldwide agreed: that’s how many copies the single sold. In West Germany it topped the charts for five weeks, but it felt like it did for half a year.

The Knack – My Sharona.mp3
Incredibly, the Knack were hyped as “The New Beatles” (part 85) when this came out. They had a couple of decent songs, but their quick return to obscurity cannot be described as an injustice. Still, “My Sharona” totally rocks, from the staccato guitar riff and vocal delivery to the “woooooo”s. And the cover of the single rocked even more, at least for a 13-year-old lad, depicting a gorgeous brunette in a vest with protruding nipples (gasp!). And, I didn’t know at the time, it was the Sharona of the title herself. Sharona Alperin was at the time Knack frontman Doug Fieger’s 17-year-old girlfriend. To German ears, the band’s name was a cause for mirth. Knack means pop (as in a popping sound), with the best variant being the adjective beknackt, which loosely translated means “off his rocker”, or Knackwurst, the sausage named after the popping sound it makes when you bite into it.

ELO – Don’t Bring Me Down.mp3
I know that opinion is deeply divided about this song. ELO purists tend to disown it, normal pop fans love it. Don’t Bring Me Down has that great guitar, the drum loop, and that strange word that Lynne sings which sounds like “Bruce” (it is, if you listen carefully or read the LP linernotes, grooooss, which means nothing). Trivia fans will be interested to note that this was the first ELO single not to feature strings, apparently. Don’t Bring Me Down also reminds me of marshmallow mice I liked eating at the time, 20 Pfennig from the kiosk down the road.

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More Stepping Back

Perfect Pop – Vol. 4

April 10th, 2008 5 comments

And on to the fourth part in our quest for Perfect Pop. I am very grateful for the many comments; I really appreciate the views, ideas, nominations and feedback (and feel greatly encouraged by the many kind words). So, here are ten more perfect pop songs, presented with the usual caveat that this exercise is entirely subjective.

The Monkees – Daydream Believer.mp3
It took me four posts in this series to decide which of three Monkees songs was the most perfect. To be truthful, I still don’t really know. But after discounting Last Train To Clarksville (which is on my Teen Dreams mix), it was between Daydream Believer and I’m A Believer. The attentive reader will have picked up which one I have gone for. It’s Davy Jones’ slightly nasal vocals, the joyous chorus and all the unexpected little touches in the arrangement — especially the ringing alarm clock before the first chorus and the piccolo before the fade out. John Stewart, who wrote this song, died of a stroke in January this year. A fascinating character in his own right, the former member of the Kingston Trio and early collaborator with John Denver was the US Democratic Party’s official songwriter during the Robert Kennedy campaign. He continued making music right up to his death.
Best bit: “…what can it mean-eh…” (0:51)

Donna Summer – Last Dance.mp3
Among the comments to the last Perfect Pop post was a nomination for Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. With its brain-poking synth line and Donna’s sexually charged vocals, it is indeed a contender. But my preference would be for the similar Love To Love You Baby or to the rather different Last Dance. I’ll opt for the latter on strength of its more complete pop sensibility. It starts off as a ballad as Donna announces sadly that this might be the end. It may well be so, but, you know, screw this, if this should really be the last dance, let’s party. 1:20 minutes into the song, the song picks up its glorious vibe. A fantastic track written for the 1978 disco film Thank God It’s Friday, we must forgive its reception of an Oscar for Best Song, often an accolade for crap.
Best bit: “So let’s dance that last dance…” (4:32)

Take That – Back For Good.mp3
The critics agree, Back For Good flies the flag for pop perfection. They are right, of course, though I wonder whether they would still rate the song so highly if the unjustly vilified Wet Wet Wet has released it. Listen to it, Back For Good sounds like it comes straight off Popped In, Souled Out, right down to Gary Barlow doing a perfect simulation of Marti Pellow’s phrasing. Within a year of this reaching number 1 in Britain, Take That took off, with Robbie Williams becoming an international icon of gurning (except in the US), while Barlow released at least one other song that pisses over anything Williams has ever done, titled Wondering.
Best bit: You can’t hear Robbie Williams. Oh, OK, Barlow and the other guys harmonise (2:36)

Wet Wet Wet – Angel Eyes.mp3
If the critics can have Back For Good, then I’ll have Angel Eyes. Listen to Popped In, Souled Out, the Clydebank foursome’s 1987 debut album. It’s two sides of excellent pop music, borrowing from soul without the conceit of actually them actually being soul men (that came with their release of a Memphis sessions album soon after, which was not really bad but entirely redundant). Popped In had a few tracks nearing perfection. I really like Temptation, a very underrated song. But the highpoint comes towards the end of the first side. Angel Eyes makes some of the best use of strings in pop, while Marti Pellow’s vocal gymnastics underscore the utter joyousness of the song (here’s a link to the lyrics, you might need it).
Best bit: Marti Pellow burps (0:23)

Amii Stewart – Knock On Wood.mp3*
If disco ever created anything like Phil Spector’s fabled Wall of Sound, then it reached its defining moment with Amii Stewart’s explosive cover of Eddie Floyd’s 1966 hit (covered also by David Bowie during his mid-70s soul period). The sleeve of the single hinted at this version’s gay disco influence — remember that disco was a broad church which brought together the dance music of gay clubs, Euro synth and the funk, with the former two in particular often coalescing. Released in late 1978, at the peak of disco fever, Knock On Wood dispensed with the customary 4/4 disco beat. The brief HiNRG craze set in five years later, but Knock On Wood set the template. Action-packed with sound effects such as thunder and lightning, plus old-style soul horns, an insistent synth line, brutal drumming and Amii’s aerobatic vocals, Knock On Wood leaves you exhausted.
Best bit: Amii hits a high note to the backdrop of thundering drums and the backing vocals contemplating DIY (2:04)

Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger.mp3
It is fashionable to take a diminishing view of Oasis (not for too much longer, however: the ’90s revival is about to go into full swing); when it comes critical acceptance, it seems Blur and Pulp have won the Britpop war agaginst the monobrowed oafs. But, my goodness, neither Blur nor Pulp ever created so persuasive a trio of pop masterpieces as Don’t Look Back In Anger, Champagne Supernova and Wonderwall. I’ve often wondered why the rousing chorus for the former has never been used on English football terraces. It seems perfect.
Best bit: The drum bit (3:36)

OMD – If You Leave.mp3*
A couple of years ago my nephews became enthused by Nada Surf’s creditable cover version of If You Leave, which appeared on The O.C. (during one of the series’ best scenes: Seth and the gorgeous Anna at the airport). I don’t think it is possible to mess this song up. Andrew McCluskey might not have been a great singer (and certainly not a good dancer!), but his performance here is quite lovely, gently manic. By the time If You Leave came out in early 1986, OMD’s stock in Britain was very low, and the single flopped (my purchase of the 12″ single notwithstanding). In the US, however, it was a big hit, largely on strength of its appearance in Pretty In Pink.
Best bit: “Don’t look baaaack” (4:06)

Hues Corporation – Rock The Boat.mp3*
One of the proto-disco hits, Rock The Boat was a chart topper in the US in 1974. It is an infectiously joyous song, and a tune which can turn your low mood when you hear. Alone for that, it qualifies for the perfect pop label. If that fantastic piano does not do so anyway. The story behind the group’s name should make you want to champion the Hues Corporation. The band originally wanted to be called The Children of Howard Hughes, with a strong dose of irony since Howard was not known for his enlightened views on race relations. The record company, mindful of the billionaire’s ire, vetoed the name but could not rightfully object to the group’s alternative: the punning Hues Corporation. Reportedly old Howard was rather pissed off at that, though his absence from New York City’s disco nightlife has been attributed to alternative reasons.
Best bit: “We’ll be sailing with a cargo full of…love and devotion” (0:55)

Slade – Cum On Feel The Noize.mp3
A good argument can be made that the richest mine of perfection in pop can be located in glam rock and its non-identical twin, bubblegum pop (glam is really amplified bubblegum, with louder guitars and faster drums. And funnier clothes). If that is so — and I’m not inclined to demolish a theory which I have just constructed myself — then Cum On Feel The Noize is in close proximity of pop’s absolute peak by dint of it being one of the best glam rock tunes. This track makes you want to shout along, punch the air and, indeed, feel the noize, no matter how old you are. And isn’t that ability to engage the listener a sign of pop perfection?
Best bit: Obviously, “Baby, baby, baybeah” (0:01)

The Foundations – Baby Now That I’ve Found You.mp3
This Motown-ish track by the interracial and intergenerational British soul outfit just shades the more famous Build Me Up Buttercup. Great vocals by Clem Curtis (which are reminiscent of the Temptations’ David Ruffin), great backing vocals, fine drumming, and a melancholy in the tune which complements beautifully the anxiety of the lyrics. Note how, after the intro, the song launches straight into the anxious chorus: the mood lifts when the singer remembers their first meeting, but soon we feel the fear brought on by his realisation that she doesn’t need him. In sound, delivery, mood and structure, this is the greatest Temptations song the Temps never sang.
Best bit: The “ba-da-ba-da” backing vocals (0:26)

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