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In Memoriam – March 2012

April 2nd, 2012 3 comments

The Grim Reaper took it relatively easy this month. The headline deaths were those of bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs and Robert B Sherman, who with his brother wrote Disney standards for films such as 101 Dalmations, The Jungle Book and Mary Poppins. The idea for Let’s Go Fly A Kite, from Mary Poppins, apparently was inspired by the Sherman brothers’ father, Al Sherman, who was a songwriter and hobby kitemaker.

But perhaps the most interesting lifestory to reach its end in March was that of Australian musician and AIDS activist Vince Lovegrove, who as a young man in the 1960s played in a group with Bon Scott, whom he is said to have introduced to AC/DC. He worked as a journalist and as a manager. His clients included the Divinyls, before they found international fame with I Touch Myself. Lovegrove resigned from management to care for his wife, Sue Sidewinder, and little son Troy who were HIV-infected. A 1987 documentary on their struggle, which premiered just a few weeks after Sue’s death, has been credited with doing much to overcome the false notion of AIDS as a “gay disease”. Troy died in 1993 at the age of eight, also just before a screening of a documentary about him. Lovegrove made international headlines when in a biography on INXS frontman Michael Hutchence he claimed that Paula Yates entrapped the singer with a pregnancy. A libel case was settled out of court.

Lucio Dalla, 68, Italian singer-songwriter and musician, on March 1
Josh Groban – Caruso (2003, as composer)

Ronnie Montrose, 64, guitarist of hard rock group Montrose and session musician (Van Morrison, Gary Wright a.o.), on March 3
Edgar Winter Group – Freeride (1972, as guitarist)

Frank Marocco, 81, accordionist, arranger and composer, on March 3
Frank Marocco Group – Just Friends (2002)

Robert B. Sherman, 86, Tin Pan Alley and Disney film songwriter, on March 5
Johnny Burnette – You’re Sixteen (1960)
Mary Poppins – Let’s Go Fly A Kite (1964)
The Jungle Book (Louis Prima) – I Wanna Be Like You (1966)

Joe Byrd, 78, jazz piano and bass player (brother of Charlie Byrd), on March 6
Joe Byrd Trio – Saw Your Old Lady (2001)

Jimmy Ellis, 74, singer of soul group The Trammps, on March 8
The Trammps – Penguin / Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart (1972)

Buddy ‘Bugs’ Henderson, 68, blues guitarist, on March 8

Terry Teene, 70, rockabilly singer and clown (creating a template for Ronald McDonald), on March 9

Michael Hossack, 65, drummer of The Doobie Brothers, on March 12
The Doobie Brothers – Rockin’ Down The Highway (1972)

Eddie King, 73, blues guitarist and singer, on March 13

Cedric Sharpley, 59, drummer for Gary Numan/Tubeway Army, on March 13

Karl Roy, 43, singer of Filipino rock bands P.O.T. and Kapatid, on March 13

Gary Cornell, 34, singer of Australian rock band Pyramid of the Coyote, on stage on March 18

Johnny McCauley, 86, Irish folk singer and songwriter, on March 22

Eric Lowen, 60, songwriter and member of Lowen & Navarro, on March 23
Pat Benatar – We Belong (1984, as co-writer)

Nick Noble, 85, country and easy listening singer, on March 24
Nick Noble – Moonlight Swim (1957)

Marion Marlowe, 83, singer and actress, on March 24
Marion Marlowe – Whither Thou Goest (1954)

Vince Lovegrove, 65, Australian musician, manager, journalist and Aids activist, in a car crash on March 24

Tom Wells, 70, television composer (Buffalo Bill, WKRP in Cincinnati, Open All Night), on March 26
Steve Carlisle – WKRP In Cincinnati (1978, full version  of the theme)

Earl Scruggs, 88, bluegrass banjo legend, on March 28
Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs  – Why Don’t You Tell Me So? (1949)
Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs-Like A Rolling Stone (1968)
Earl Scruggs – Honky Tonk Women (1971)

Jerry ‘Boogie’ McCain, 81, blues musician, on March 28
Jerry McCain – My Next Door Neighbor (1955)

Zoran Romic, guitarist with Australian rock group Chocolate Starfish, on March 31

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Copy Borrow Steal Vol. 5

March 8th, 2012 4 comments

I haven’t done a Copy Borrow Steal for ages. Inspired by Tim English’ fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy), it really is a very occasional series: this is the fifth article in two and a half years. In this instalment we’ll look at a Van Morrison hit that sounds a bit like a soul number from 1968/71; an early Elvis hit written almost a hundred years earlier; and a Led Zeppelin song that doesn’t draw inspiration from some blues singer, but from the Doobie Brothers.

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William Bell – I Forgot To Be Your Lover (1971).mp3
Billy Idol – To Be A Lover (1986).mp3
Van Morrison – Have I Told You Lately  (1989 — YouTube)

When Van Morrison wrote Have I Told You Lately, the committed and exceptionally gruff Christian was addressing God. Four years later, Rod Stewart donned his lounge lizard suit and turned it into the soup of mush  that now serves as one of a trinity of über-love songs which grooms croon to their wives (the others are Joe Cocker’s version of You Are So Beautiful and Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight).

Have I Told You Lately is utterly gorgeous, and very much a Van Morrison song, and therefore best heard in the version by one of the greatest songwriters of any generation. So I feel almost sorry to point out that the very line that gives the song its title is almost identical to the opening line of William Bell’s I Forgot To Be Your Lover, in melody and lyrics.

Far be it for me to accuse Morrison of plagiarism, or even deliberately copying somebody else’s melody. Morrison could even plausibly claim never to have heard the William Bell and Booker T Jones composition, which was a hit for Bell in 1968 and then was re-recorded for the soul singer’s 1971 album Wow… (it’s the slightly longer 1971 version featured here, because it is the more uncanny-sounding one).

Perhaps Van Morrison, a soul fan who described himself as a soul singer, heard it and forgot about it. Maybe it resided in the deeper recesses of his subconscious iPod, a forgotten but not erased memory, jogged perhaps by Billy Idol’s 1986 cover of  I Forgot To Be Your Lover, then retitled To Be A Lover (though Idol probably covered the George Faith version of 1977). Whatever the case, the similarity of the opening of Bell’s song and that of Morrison’s is striking.

Van Morrison doesn’t like his songs posted on blogs, so you’ll have to forgive its absence here.

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Frances Farmer – Aura Lea (1936)
Shelton Brothers – Aura Lee (1938)
Elvis Presley – Love Me Tender (1956)

Look at the label for Love Me Tender, Elvis’ first ballad to be released as a single, and you’ll find the writing credits as listing singer’s name and that of one Vera Matson — and neither had any hand in writing the title song of Elvis’ debut movie. The melody was in fact written in 1861 by an English-born chap called George R Poulton (1828-67) for the song Aura Lee, which would become a hit during the US civil war (a time in which the film Love Me Tender is set). It was popular with soldiers from both sides; so much so, it is said, that enemies by day would sing the song together across their positions at night.

Aura Lee made a comeback (as Aura Lea) in 1936 when it featured in the film Come And Get It, in which it is sung by the tragic Frances Farmer.

By the 1950s, Aura Lee was in the public domain, and with copyright out of the way, the Oscar-winning film composer and arranger Ken Darby (The King And I, Porgy & Bess, South Pacific — all as co-arranger – How The West Was Won) was commissioned to write new lyrics for what would be Love Me Tender. When the songwriting credits were assigned, Poulton’s name was missing. Elvis received his customary co-writing credit, and Darby ceded his rightful credit to his wife Vera Matson. The reason for that related to the distribution of royalties, but Darby had an even better explanation: “Because she didn’t write it either.”

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The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Running (1973)
Robert Johnson – Terraplane Blues (1937)
Led Zeppelin – Trampled Underfoot (1975)
In Sounds Like Teen Spirit, Tim English fingers just a few songs by Led Zeppelin which one might say benefitted from an overzealous spirit of drawing inspiration from the work of others. Some blues musicians successfully sued Led Zep for plagiarising their work; many others have provided the basis for songs by the hoary old rockers but have not been credited; and sometimes they even needn’t be.

By the band’s own admission, the lyrics for Trampled Underfoot, a stomper from 1975’s Physical Grafitti album, drew inspiration from Robert Johnson’s 1937 hit Terraplane Blues, and drummer John Paul Jones has said that he borrowed the beat from Stevie Wonder’s Superstition.

English has spotted another influence: the verses of The Doobie Brothers’ 1973 hit Long Train Running, saying it “betrays obvious melodic, rhythmic and even lyrical similarities” to the Doobies’ track. He does not allege plagiarism (and that is always refreshing when discussing Led Zep songs), but speculates that the band probably heard Long Train Running during their 1973 tour of the US, which coincided with the Doobie songs’ residence in the charts.

Whether Tim has a point, you decide.

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The Originals Vol. 43

August 11th, 2011 3 comments

In this instalment we look at the lesser known originals for five hits from the 1970s. Regular readers with exceptionally good memories might have a déjà vu movement: two of the songs I’ve done before. But I was not satisfied with one, and recently was sent by a kind soul a crucial sound file for the other.

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Johnny Bristol – Love Me For A Reason (1974).mp3
The Osmonds – Love Me For A Reason (1974).mp3

Johnny Bristol is probably best-remembered for his excellent mid-’70s soul hit Hang On In There Baby. We have encountered him previously in this series, in The Originals Vol. 37, as one of Johnny & Jackie who co-wrote and recorded the first version of Diana Ross and The Supremes’ Someday We’ll Be Together.

A producer of many Motown records and after 1973 for CBS (where he produced such acts as Randy Crawford, Boz Scaggs and Marlena Shaw), he resumed his recording career in 1974. Among the tracks on his rather good Hang On In There, Baby album was Love Me For A Reason, a song Bristol co-wrote with David Jones and Wade Bowen.

Bristol recorded on MGM records where the prolific producer and arranger Mike Curb ran he show. Curb was, it is fair to say, a man of uncompromising conservative opinion. He later became a Republican politician, but while at MGM, he fired a reported 18 acts from the label for using or supposedly promoting drugs. Among them were Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground.

One act in no danger of Curb’s axe was The Osmonds, the squeaky clean and impossibly toothy Mormon brothers who had produced a string of hits for MGM. Their version of Johnny Bristol’s hit became a US #10 pop hit in 1974 – their last. In Britain it topped the charts (and they’d have another top 5 hit there in 1975), inspiring a hugely successful cover version 20 years later by Boyzone, the Ronan Keating-led band that traded in unwelcome remakes of old hits.

Also recorded by: The Hiltonaires (1974), Boyzone (1994), Studio 99 (1999), As We Speak (1994), State Of The Heart (1996), Bruno Bertone (2000), Fabulous 5 (2003)

Gene Cotton – Let Your Flow (1975)
Bellamy Brothers – Let Your Flow (1976)

It might have been a hit for Neil Diamond. Written by one of the lamé-jacketed star’s roadies, Larry E Williams, it was offered first to Diamond. He declined to record it (as did Johnny Rivers), which perhaps was just as well. Instead the song came to country/folk singer-songwriter Gene Cotton, who recorded it for his 1975 album For All The Young Writers.

While Cotton’s version went nowhere, Neil Diamond’s drummer suggested it to his friends David and Howard Bellamy, the country duo The Bellamy Brothers. Their recording became one of the biggest hits of the decade and gave the brothers’ their international breakthrough hit. In West Germany Let Your Love Flow topped the charts in summer 1976 for six weeks until it was knocked off by its German version by Jürgen Drews, formerly of the Les Humphries Singers, which went by the peculiar title Ein Bett im Kornfeld (A bed in the wheat field).

Also recorded by: Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn (1976), Jürgen Drews (as Ein Bett im Kornfeld, 1976), Roy Etzel (1976), Les Humphries Singers And Orchestra (1976), Lynn Anderson (1977), Del Reeves & Billie Jo Spears (1977), Karel Gott (as Běž za svou láskou, 1978),Joan Baez (1979), John Holt (1982), Ray Charles (1983), Audrey Landers (1986), Solomon Burke (1993), Tom Jones (1998), John Davidson (1999), Dana Winner (2001), Jan Keizer (2001), Tamra Rosanes (2002), Dream Dance, Inc. (2005), Collin Raye (2005), Fenders (2006) a.o.

Art Reynolds Singers – Jesus Is Just Alright (1966)
The Byrds – Jesus Is Just All Right (1969)
The Doobie Brothers – Jesus Is Just All Right (1972)

In the 1970s there was a fashion of rock groups singing songs about Jesus. Perhaps it was a fashion inspired by the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. Or maybe some really were just into Jesus. So the Doobie Brothers, a band named after a synonym for a joint, had a hit with Jesus Is Just All Right in 1972.

The original of the song was recorded by the Art Reynolds Singers in 1966. It was written by the band’s leader, Arthur Reid Reynolds, apparently as a riposte to John Lennon’s “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” comment. Present at that recording session was Gene Parsons, the drummer of The Byrds, who introduced the song to his bandmates who in turn recorded it for their 1969 LP Ballad Of Easy Rider.

The Byrds’ version provided the template for the Doobie Brothers 1972 cover. The Doobies added a middle section to the original, with new, even more emphatically Christ-supporting lyric, sung by guitarist Pat Simmons: “Jesus, He’s my friend; Jesus, He’s my friend; He took me by the hand, far from this land; Jesus, He’s my friend.” Oddly enough, none of the Doobies were known to be Christians, but the Christians loved it, throwing Bibles on to the stage at Doobie Brothers gigs and making the One Way (up) handsigns.

Also recorded by: The Underground Sunshine (1970), 1776 (1970), Sister Kate Taylor (1971), Ronnie Dyson (1972), Exile (1973), DC Talk (1992), Shelagh McDonald (2005), Robert Randolph & The Family Band feat Eric Clapton (2006), Eric McFadden (2010)

Jim Weatherly – Midnight Plain To Houston (1972)
Cissy Houston  – Midnight Train To Georgia (1973)
Gladys Knight & the Pips – Midnight Train To Georgia (1973)
Neil Diamond – Midnight Train To Georgia (2010)

In 1972 former All-American quarterback Jim Weatherly released a country song that told of a girl whose fading dream of stardom in Los Angeles led not to a life of waitressing or pornography, but ended on a plane back to her home in Texas. In fact, Weatherley initially wanted his protagonist’s dreams shattered in Nashville, for his genre was country music.

The choice of Houston as the failed star’s home was inspired, according to Weatherley, by the actress Farrah Fawcett, who at the time was more famous for dating Lee Majors than her thespian accomplishments. “One day I called Lee and Farrah answered the phone,” Weatherly later told songfacts.com. “We were just talking and she said she was packing. She was gonna take the midnight plane to Houston to visit her folks. So, it just stayed with me. After I got off the phone, I sat down and wrote the song probably in about 30 to 45 minutes.”

Some months later, the Janus label sought permission to record the song with Cissy Houston, but asked whether they could adapt the lyrics to make the destination Georgia (seeing as Ms Houston going to Houston might seem a bit awkward). Weatherly accepted that, as well as a change in the mode of transport.

Whitney’s mom’s lovely performance became a minor hit in 1973. Gladys Knight heard it and decided to record it with her Pips. Houston’s endearing version might have been the template, but Knights’ cover demonstrates the genius of the sometimes unjustly ridiculed Pips. What would Gladys Knight’s interpretation be without the interplay with and interjections by her backing singers: “A superstar, well he didn’t get far”, “I know you will”, “Gotta go, gonna board the midnight train…” and, of course, the choo-choo “Hoo hoo”s?

It was fortuitous that Georgia was also Knight’s homestate. The song also sparked a collaboration with Weatherley with whose songs Knight populated the Imagination album on which Midnight Train appears.

Also recorded by: Ferrante & Teicher (1974), Connie Eaton (1974), Lynn Anderson (1982), Indigo Girls (1995), Sandra Bernhard (1998), Renee Geyer (2003), Jasmine Trias (2004), Paris Bennett (2006), Human Nature (2006), Joan Osborne (2007), Emma Wood (2009), Neil Diamond (2010), Sandrine (2010) a.o.

Larry Weiss – Rhinestone Cowboy (1974)
Glen Campbell – Rhinestone Cowboy (1975)

Larry Weiss was, and still is, a prolific songwriter (we read about him recently as one of the singers of the theme of Who’s The Boss). In the 1960s, he co-wrote hits such as Bend Me Shape Me, Hi Ho Silver Lining and Spooky Tooth’s Evil Woman. Sporadically he also recorded his own songs. One of these was Rhinestone Cowboy, inspired by a phrase he had overheard in a conversation. The song appeared on Weiss’ Black And Blue Suite album, and it was released as a single (at least in West Germany).

The story goes that Glen Campbell heard the song on the car radio as he was on his way to a meeting with his record company, and thought about suggesting to record it. But before he had the opportunity to do so, the record company presented their own bright idea: how about this Rhinestone Cowboy song by Larry Weiss.

In the original version, Weiss sounds much like his old Brill Building chum Neil Diamond. Campbell made the song his own, with that soaring voice which expresses such a forfeit of hope. Released in May 1975, it went on to top the pop and country charts simultaneously, the first time that had been done since 1961.

In 1984, Weiss finally got a project he had been working on realised – a movie starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone. Its title: Rhinestone.

Also recorded by: Slim Whitman (1976), Bert Kaempfert (1976), Charley Pride (1977), Tony Christie (1978), White Town (1997), David Hasselhoff (2004), Jan Keizer (2004) a.o.

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In the middle of the road: Part 1

October 12th, 2007 3 comments

I suppose one might label the songs that will populate this series as “Guilty Pleasures”. I have used the term myself, but actually object to the notion that one should feel embarrassed about enjoying music, even if our friends from the Taste Police might not approve of it. Far better than conceding a “delicious embarrassment” at enjoying the mid-tempo sounds of Boston or the Doobie Brothers, one should acknowledge that this is damn good stuff best played on the long road with the windows down as the wind blows through one’s hair. Embarrassment is for losers.

Player – Baby Come Back.mp3
The song which inspired this series. The chorus is utter genius, and listen to the bassline and that distinctive guitar part. But the best moment comes at 2:35 when the backing singer hits the falsetto in echo of the vocalist’s “nothing left for me”.

Nicolette Larson – Lotta Love.mp3
This song was written by the Ronald Reagan endorsing whiner Neil Young. I don’t remember him singing it, but it probably sucks (you may have noted that I’m not a huge admirer of Mr Young). In the hands of Nicolette Larson, however, it is a wonderful cruising song (I’m talking automobiles here, folks). It has a flute in it, which is all I ask of a song. Hell, Boney M could have placed a flute in “Hooray! Hooray! It’s A Holi-Holiday”, and I’d be uploading the bastard in tribute as we speak. Happily, Boney M didn’t and I don’t. Instead, this slice of MOR heaven from 1978. Nicolette Larson never enjoyed a great career, and died on 1997 at the age of 45.

Boston – More Than A Feeling.mp3
That riff surely is one of the most famous in rock history (are that handclaps in the background?). Amazingly, this was recorded in a home studio. Brad Delp’s soaring vocals as he sings “I see my Mary-Ann walking away” just before the guitar solo, at 2:18, the “slipped away” line (3:30) and then the long note at the end are quite stunning. Sadly Delp died earlier this year.

Ambrosia – Biggest Part Of Me.mp3
One of my happy songs. It is also one hell of a great love song. Another track with great vocals, and excellent harmonising. In fact, when a capella outfit Take 6 covered “Biggest Part Of Me” (changing the lyrics to turn it into a gospel number), they lifted the harmonies almost faithfully from the original.

Steely Dan – Reelin’ In The Years.mp3
The earliest song in the series, from 1972, kicks off with a killer guitar solo, races through the first verse, and then rocks a glorious sing-along solo. The piano on the track is quite wonderful.

Rupert Holmes – Him.mp3
If any song in this series could justify the “Guilty Pleasure” label, it is this. The lyrics are remarkably poor (“three is one too many of us”), and that opening gambit about cigarette brands is hilariously bad — but, by Jove, this song insidiously lodges itself into the listener’s ear. By the time Rupert launches into the “ooooh-hooo-hooo”, one involuntarily hooooos along.

Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes.mp3
Michael McDonald is not exactly the poster boy for hipness, and that dreary “On My Own” hit with Patti LaBelle didn’t help to compensate for the man’s rock dad beard. But the dude can sing. On “What A Fool Believes”, with its driving keyboard hook, McDonald delivers a vocal masterclass.

Bill LaBounty – Livin’ It Up.mp3
A lost classic. Bill LaBounty’s1982 track bounces gently along to a catchy keyboard groove until that wonderful chorus comes in, and one simply has to sing along with it. The lyrics are pure pathos, but, hey, who has not put on a facade of happiness to mask a broken heart?

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