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In Memoriam – April 2012

May 2nd, 2012 4 comments

The name Andrew Love will probably mean little to most music fans; but as a leader of the Memphis Horns (with Wayne Jackson), everybody will know at least some tunes the tenor saxophonist played on. The Memphis Horns were part of Stax’s session crew, and they also recorded on Hi Records. You’ll know them from tracks such as Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together and Dusty Springfield’s Son Of A Preacher Man. They are believed to have played on something like fifty #1 singles! This year they received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, sadly an award that is now mentioned only as an aside.

The marquee death of the month probably was that of US TV icon Dick Clark, a man who in the music industry seems to have engendered respect more than affection. No doubt his American Bandstand show helped make rock & roll mainstream, and probably a bit more square. Clark acknowledged that, but defended it in 1985: “But I knew at the time that if we didn’t make the presentation to the older generation palatable, it could kill it.”

Finally, the collector of Bruce Springsteen curiosities might enjoy The Dictator’s Faster & Louder: he provides the count-in.

Jimmy Little, 75, Australian singer, on April 1

Barney McKenna, 72,  member of Irish folk group The Dubliners, on April 5
The Dubliners  & The Pogues – Rare Old Mountain Dew (1987)

Jim Marshall, 88, founder of Marshall amplifiers, on April 5

Cynthia Dall, 41, singer songwriter, on April 5
Cynthia Dall – Aaron Matthew (1996)

Jim Niven, keyboard player of Australian groups The Sports and The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, on April 9
The Sports – Who Listens To The Radio (1979)

José Guardiola, 81, Spanish crooner, on April 9

Richie Teeter, 61, drummer of The Dictators, on April 10
The Dictators – Faster & Louder (1978)

Hal McKusick, 87, American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist and flautist, on April 11
Dinah Washington – Someone’s Rocking My Dreamboat (1958, on alto saxophone)

Andrew Love, 70, half of the Memphis Horns, on April 12
Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness (1966)
Dusty Springfield – Son Of A Preacher Man (1969)
The Memphis Horns – What The Funk (1977)

Rodgers Grant, 76. jazz pianist, on April 12
Mongo Santamaria – Yeh-Yeh (1963, as co-writer and pianist)

Teddy Charles, 84, jazz vibraphonist, keyboardist and drummer, on April 16

Chris Gambles (aka Slip), 49, singer of English band Audio Rush, on April 16
Audio Rush – She’s Got Them Looks (2004)

Dick Clark, 82, legendary TV producer, on April 18
Chuck Berry – Sweet Little Sixteen (1958, American Bandstand reference)

Levon Helm, 71, singer, drummer and composer, member of The Band, on April 19
The Band – The Weight (1978)
Levon Helm – No Depression In Heaven (2011, recorded 2008, vocals by Sheryl Crow)

Greg Ham, 58, flautist and saxophonist of Men at Work, body found on April 19
Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now? (1981)

Bert Weedon, 91, English guitar pioneer and composer, on April 20
Bert Weedon – Guitar Boogie Shuffle (1959)

Duke Dawson, 83, blues drummer, on April 20

Joe Muranyi, 84, jazz clarinettist and producer, on April 20
The Village Stompers – Washington Square (1963)

Iküzöne, 46, bassist of Japanese rap group Dragon Ash, on April 21

Tom ‘Pops’ Carter, 92, blues musician, on April 22

Chris Ethridge, 65, bassist of The Flying Burrito Brothers, on April 23
The Flying Burrito Brothers – Lazy Day (1970)

Tommy Marth, 33, backing saxophonist with The Killers, suicide on April 23

Billy Bryans, 62, Canadian producer and drummer of the Parachute Club, on April 23
Parachute Club – Rise Up (1983)

Éric Charden, 69, French singer and songwriter, on April 29
Éric Charden –
Le monde est gris le monde est bleu (1967)

Kenny Roberts, 84, country singer, on April 29
Kenny Roberts – She Taught Me To Yodel (1965)

 

 

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“But I knew at the time that if we didn’t make the presentation to the older generation palatable, it could kill it.”

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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TV Themes: ’80s family shows

July 7th, 2011 2 comments

There aren’t many sitcoms about families on American TV anymore. It’s not like it was in the 1980s. Leaving aside the bizarre living arrangements of the dreadful Full House (for which Bob Saget has made ample reparations lately), the nuclear family or variations thereof ruled the ratings. There were Family Ties (hippie parents vs Reaganite kids), Growing Pains (vaguely creepy dad vs a bunch of kids nobody can really remember), and Who’s The Boss (Tony Danza vs humour), and a TV series starring Jason Bateman whose character’s mother had died. Whatever it was called, it was nothing like the next great family show that starred Bateman: Arrested Development.

Bateman’s sister Justine was the airhead daughter in Family Ties, in which Marty J McFox played a Republican who pitches his wits against his cartoon hippie parents. Usually it was more comforting than amusing; familial love always won out and every crisis – Alex disappoints the parents; the parents don’t trust the kids — ended with a metaphorical family hug. The show jumped the goldfish when the drippy father grew a midle-class beard. Family Ties really went past its sell-by date when the even drippier mother had a fourth baby. New babies in TV shows almost invariably signal the writers’ desperation, and for us provides the cue to switch off. So almost every viewer will have missed Courtney Cox’s stint as Alex’s girlfriend.

The show had more than its fair share of guest stars who’d become more famous: Tom Hanks, River Phoenix, Will Wheaton, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Christina Applegate and Crispin Clover, who’d later play Michael J Fox’s father in Back To The Future.

Family Ties‘ theme tune was as cheesy as the storylines, ending with the über-drippy “sha la la la”. Or, rather, the part which we heard was drippy. In the full version of Without Us, the duet by the marvellous Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis, the “sha la la la” signals a turn towards some serious slow-funk fusion, with a cool bassline and a saxophone backing which I presume to be by co-writer Tom Scott. The saxophonist’s writing partner was Jeff Barry, erstwhile husband of Ellen Greenwhich with whom he wrote such classics as Leader Of The Pack, Doo Wah Diddy, Be My Baby, Chapel Of Love and, as we saw in last week’s instalment of The Originals, Hanky Panky.

Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams – Without Us.mp3
Family Ties Theme.mp3


Another family show with a theme song sung by two well-known singers was Growing Pains, wherein we first witnessed the thespian gifts of a juvenile Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a permanently scowling “troubled but essentially good kid”. He thus stole the show from Ben, the bizarre looking son (not the evangelical militant nutcase Kirk Cameron; the other one).

The series started from a low base – it never was very good – and, the occasional clever gag notwithstanding, went on to justify the second part of its title. Of course, Growing Pains had the obligatory late baby that was supposed to rescue the show (and I don’t mean DiCaprio). It couldn’t. Nor could a succession of not yet famous guest stars that included Brad Pitt, Matthew Perry, Hilary Swank, Olivia d’Abo, Heather Graham and, best of all, Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis (who administered the weird-looking kid’s first kiss).

Growing Pains’ dad, Alan Thicke, had written a couple of sitcom themes himself – for Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts Of Life – but the father of pop singer Robin Thicke had nothing to do with the theme for his own show. That was written by John Bettis and Steve Dorff. You will have sung along to many of Bettis’ lyrics, especially if you like the Carpenters. He wrote the words to their Top Of The World, Only Yesterday, Goodbye to Love and Yesterday Once More, as well as for Madonna’s Crazy For You, Michael Jackson’s Human Nature and more. Steve Dorff has written mostly for country artists, but he also composed the themes of Murphy Brown and Murder She Wrote.

The Growing Pains theme, As Long As We Got Each Other, was first sung y BJ Thomas, then by BJ Thomas and serial-theme duetist Jennifer Warnes, then for one season (the fourth, in 1988/89) by BJ Thomas and Dusty Springfield, and later by some random singers.

B.J. Thomas & Dusty Springfield – As Long As We Got Each Other.mp3
Growing Pains Theme (BJ Thomas & Jennifer Warnes).mp3



Who’s The Boss had a couple of things which other family shows didn’t have. A saucy grandmother, for example. And an unconventional habitation arrangement. And in Alyssa Milano one of the few really good child actors. But it also had Tony Danza (are you also singing “Hold me closer…”).

When Who’s The Boss appeared, two of the actors had already been in big hit shows: Danza had been part of the dazzling ensemble of Taxi, saucy granny Mona’s  Katherine Helmond had been the mother in the brilliant S.O.A.P.. This did not mean, however, that Who’s The Boss would become a triumph of levity. The dynamics between Danza and Milano were at times interesting, and Mona had one or two moments. Mostly it was trite – and it eventually resorted to the baby option (though in this case the pitter patter was that of a virtually adopted five-year-old). Still, people watched.

And if they watched, they heard the theme tune, with the catchy whistling sounds. There were several versions of the song composed by Robert Kraft and ex-Crusaders guitarist Larry Carlton (who played the guitar on the theme of Hill Street Blues and the solo on Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne). The first was sung by Larry Weiss, writer and original singer of Rhinestone Cowboy (see The Originals Vol. 5). Country singer Steve Wariner sung it during the show’s golden run, 1986-90.

Larry Weiss – Brand New Life (Who’s The Boss).mp3
Who’s The Boss (Steve Wariner).mp3

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More TV Themes

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The Originals Vol. 39

August 6th, 2010 7 comments

Here are five more lesser-known originals, covered in four entries: Wild Thing, Sunny, Angel Of The Morning, Under The Influence Of Love and It May Be Winter Outside. Incidentally, look at the tabs on top to find an alphabetical index of Originals that have featured so far, with links to the relevant posts.

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The Wild Ones – Wild Thing (1965).mp3
The Troggs – Wild Thing (1966).mp3
Senator Bobby – Wild Thing (1968)
Jimi Hendrix – Wild Thing.mp3
Marsha Hunt – Wild Thing (1971).mp3

One of rock’s most iconic songs was written by actor Jon Voight’s younger brother,  James Wesley, who took the name Chip Taylor. He had a prolific songwriting career before turning to recording records himself in 1971 as a country artist. The first version of Wild Thing, by the New York band The Wild Ones, was released in 1965. Headed by one Jordan Christopher, they are said to have been the houseband of what has been called New York’s first disco, The Office. Taylor wrote Wild Thing for them as a favour for A&R man Gerry Granagan.

It’s not very good, certainly not in comparison to The Troggs version, which replaced the Wild Ones’ whistle interlude with an ocarina solo (the ocarina is an ancient ceramic wind instrument). Taylor has recalled that he wrote the song in a few minutes (“the pauses and the hesitations are a result of not knowing what I was going to do next”) and had a low opinion of it. Likewise, The Troggs recorded it in 20 minutes, during the same session that produced their follow-up hit With A Girl Like You. They worked from Taylor’s demo, rather than the Wild Ones’ version.  Due to a licensing issue, The Troggs’ version of Wild Thing was released on two labels, Fontana and Atco. It is the only time a record has topped the US charts under the simultaneous banner of two labels.

Wild Thing was covered frequently after that. Jimi Hendrix famously set his guitar on fire at Monterey after playing his version of it. In 1968 the comedy troupe The Hardly Worthit Players released a version of Wild Thing being performed by “Bobby Kennedy”, with a producer giving him instructions. Robert F Kennedy was voiced by the comedian Bill Minkin (it’s a myth that it was Jon Voight). That novelty record  was one of the last releases by the Cameo-Parkway label, a noteworthy footnote in light of the next song. Marsha Hunt’s version featured on the Covered In Soul Vol 2 mix.

Also recorded by: The Capitols (1966), The Standells (1966), The Kingsmen (1966), Manfred Mann (1966), Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band (1967), The Memphis Three (1968), Fancy (1974), The Goodies (1976), The Runaways (1977), The Creatures (1981), The Meteors (1983), X (1984), Cold Chisel (1984), La Muerte (1984), Sister Carol (1986), Amanda Lear (1987), Unrest (1987), Sam Kinison with Jessica Hahn (1988), Cheap Trick (1992), Divinyls (1993), Stoned Age (1994), Hank Williams, Jr (1995), The Muppets (1995), Acid Drinkers (1995), Chip Taylor (1996), Popa Chubby (1996), Danny and the Nightmares (1999), Sky Sunlight Saxon (2008), Trash Cans (2010)

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Evie Sands – Angel Of The Morning (1967).mp3
Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts  – Angel Of The Morning (1968).mp3
P.P. Arnold – Angel Of The Morning (1968).mp3
Skeeter Davis  – Angel Of The Morning (1969).mp3
Nina Simone – Angel Of The Morning (1971).mp3
Juice Newton – Angel of the Morning (1981).mp3

The one-night stand anthem was also written by Chip Taylor (perhaps the angel of the morning was last night’s wild thing). Indeed, he told Mojo magazine in its September 2008 edition that Angel is Wild Thing slowed down: “I heard some guy playing Wild Thing real slow on a guitar. It sounded nice. So I did the same, lifting one of my fingers off a chord to create a suspension.” He also credited the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday for inspiration.

The song was first recorded in 1967 by New York singer-songwriter Evie Sands (pictured), for whom Taylor wrote several songs (he also wrote I Can’t Let Go for her; it became a hit for The Hollies). It was on its way to becoming a hit, with good radio airplay and 10,000 copies selling fast. Then the label, Cameo-Parkway (of the Bobby Kennedy novelty record above) went bankrupt, and Sands’ record sank. A few months later, Memphis producer Chips Moman picked up Angel Of The Morning (which in the interim had also been recorded by English singer Billie Davies) and had the unknown Merrilee Rush record it, backed by the same session crew that played with Elvis during his famous Memphis sessions that produced hits such as Suspicious Minds (itself a cover, as detailed in The Orignals Vol. 21). The Seattle-born singer had a massive hit with it, even receiving a Grammy nomination. It soon was covered prodigiously, with P.P. Arnold scoring a UK hit with it in 1968.

Angel Of The Morning was revived in 1981 by Juice Newton, who previously featured in The Originals Vol. 26 with her cover of Queen Of Hearts.  Her version sold a million copies in the US and reached #4 in the US charts. Like Rush, Newton was Grammy-nominated for her performance.

Also recorded by: Billie Davis (1967), Joya Landis (1968), Percy Faith (1968), Ray Conniff (1968), Liliane Saint Pierre (as Au revoir et à demain, 1968), I Profeti (as Gli occhi verdi dell’amore, 1968), Dusty Springfield (1969), Skeeter Davis (1969), Bettye Swann (1969), Connie Eaton (1970), Olivia Newton-John (1973), Merrilee Rush (re-recording, 1977), Guys n’ Dolls (1977), Mary Mason (as part of a medley, 1977), Thelma Jones (1978), Rita Remington (1978), Melba Montgomery (1978), Pat Kelly (1978), Elisabeth Andreassen (as En enda morgon, 1981), The Tremeloes (1987), Barnyard Slut (1993), Chip Taylor (1994), The Pretenders (1994), Ace Cannon (1994), Position (1997), Juice Newton (re-recording, 1998), Bonnie Tyler (1998), Thunderbugs (1999), Shaggy (as Angel, 2000), Maggie Reilly (2002), Blackman & The Butterfly (2003), The Shocker (2003), Chip Davis & Carrie Rodriguez (2006), Girlyman (2007), Jill Johnson (2007), Vagiant (2007), Gypsy Butterfly (2008), Barb Jungr (2008), Michelle (2008), Randy Crawford with Joe Sample (2008), Iván (as Angel de la mañana, 2009)

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Felice Taylor – It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart It’s Spring) (1967).mp3
Felice Taylor – I’m Under The Influence Of Love (1967).mp3
Love Unlimited – It May Be Winter Outside, But In My Heart It’s Spring (1973).mp3
Love Unlimited – Under The Influence Of Love (1973).mp3

Before becoming an icon of baby-making music, Barry White was something of an impresario. He discovered and produced the girl band Love Unlimited (which included White’s future wife Glodean James), whose success in 1972 set him off on his successful solo career. Just a decade or so earlier, White had been in jail for stealing the tyres of a Cadillac (he credited hearing Elvis Presley singing It’s Now Or Never for turning his life around). After leaving jail, he started to work in record production, mostly as an arranger. Among his early arrangement credits was Bob & Earl’s 1963 song Harlem Shuffle. By 1967, White worked for the Mustang label, owned by Rob Keane, the man who first signed Sam Cooke, Richie Valens and Frank Zappa. In that job, White wrote for Bobby Fuller (of I Fought The Law fame), Viola Wills and  a young soul singer named Felice Taylor.

Felice Taylor, born in 1948 in Richmond, California, had previously released a single as part of a trio with her sisters, The Sweets, and a solo single under the name Florian Taylor. White’s It May Be Winter Outside provided Taylor with her only US hit, reaching #42 in the pop charts. It is a rather lovely version that sounds a lot like a Supremes song (with a break stolen from the Four Tops’ Reach Out I’ll Be There). White also wrote and arranged Taylor’s I’m Under The Influence Of Love. The arrangement and Taylor’s vocals are inferior, and the single failed to make an impact. Taylor’s biggest success was with another White song, I Feel Love Comin’ On, a bubblegum pop number that reached #11 in the UK charts in late 1967.

By the early 1970s Taylor had ceased to record. In 1973 Love Unlimited recorded totally reworked, luscious versions of It May Be Winter Outside and (title shortened) Under The Influence Of Love for the sophomore album. Both were released as singles, with Winter reaching #11 in the UK charts.

Also recorded by: (Under The Influence) Lori Hampton (1968), Kylie Minogue (2000)

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Mieko Hirota – Sunny (1965).mp3
Chris Montez – Sunny (1966).mp3
Bobby Hebb – Sunny (1966).mp3
Dusty Springfield – Sunny (1967).mp3
Johnny Rivers –  Sunny (1967).mp3
Stevie Wonder – Sunny (1968).mp3
Boney M. – Sunny (1976).mp3

Bobby Hebb died on Tuesday, August 3 at the age of 72. The man had a quite remarkable early life. Born to blind parents, both musicians, Nashville-born Robert Von Hebb progressed from being a child musician to becoming  one of the earlier musicians to play at the Grand Ole Opry, as part of Ray Acuff’s band. In the early 1960s Hebb even had a minor hit with a country standard recorded by Acuff, among others, Night Train To Memphis. Subsequently, afer the success of Sunny, he headlined the 1966 Beatles tour.

The genesis for Sunny was in a dual tragedy: the assassination of John F Kennedy and soon after  the fatal stabbing in a mugging of Hebb’s older brother Harold, with whom he had performed in childhood. The song was a conscious statement of meeting the trauma of these events with a defiantly positive disposition. In 2007, he told the Assiociated Press about writing Sunny: “I was intoxicated. I came home and started playing the guitar. I looked up and saw what looked like a purple sky. I started writing because I’d never seen that before.”

Still, it would be almost three years before Hebb would release the song himself. It was first recorded by the Japanese singer Mieko “Miko” Hirota who made her debut in her home country in 1962 with a cover of Connie Francis’ Vacation. Within three years, the by now 18-year-old singer became the first Japanese artist to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival (the line-up of which included Frank Sinatra), having just recently discovered her talent for the genre thanks to a chance meeting with American jazz promoter  George Wein. The same year, in October 1965, she was the first of many to release Sunny, scoring a hit with it in Japan with her rather lovely jazzy version. By the time Hebb got around to releasing it, apparently having recorded it as an after-thought at the end of a session, there already were a few versions, including Chris Montez’s featured here. Hebb’s rightly became the definitive and most successful version, though Boney M scored a huge hit with it in Europe ten years later.

Also recorded by: John Schroeder Orchestra (1966), Cher (1966), Chris Montez (1966), Del Shannon (1966), Dave Pike (1966), Georgie Fame (1966), The Young-Holt Trio (1966), Roger Williams (1966), Richard Anthiny (1966), James Darren (1967), Horacio Malvicino (1967), Billy Preston (1967), Herbie Mann & Tamiko Jones (1967), Johnny Mathis (1967), Andy Williams (1967), Sam Baker (1967), John Davidson (1967), The Amazing Dancing Band (1967), Jackie Trent (1967), Booker T. & The M.G.’s (1967), Gordon Beck (1967), Joe Torres (1967), Nancy Wilson (1967), Dusty Springfield (1967), The Ventures (1967), Shirley Bassey (1968), Eddy Arnold (1968), Leonard Nimoy (1968), Frankie Valli (1968), José Feliciano (1968), Bill Cosby (1968), Mary Wells (1968), Frank Sinatra & Duke Ellington (1968), Paul Mauriat (1968), Gary Lewis & the Playboys (1968), Stevie Wonder (1968), Ray Conniff (1968), George Nenson (1968),  The Head Shop (1969), Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (1969), The Electric Flag (1969), Classics IV (1969), Ray Nance (1969), The Lettermen (1969), Ella Fitzgerald (1970), Del Shannon (1971), Pat Martino (1972), Bobby Hebb (as Sunny ’76, 1975), Hampton Hawes (1976), Boney M. (1976), Stanley Jordan (1987), Cosmoalpha (1994), Günther Neefs (1997), Ottottrio (1998), Kazuo Yashiro Trio (2000), Clementine (2000), Twinset (2003), Christophe Willem (2006), Michael Sagmeister (2006), Dwight Adams (2007), Cris Barber (2008), Giuliano Palma & the Bluebeaters (2009) a.o.

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The Originals Vol. 36

February 19th, 2010 7 comments

After a couple of Original specials — Beatles and Reworked Hits — we return to the usual random selection of five lesser known originals: the Bacharach/David song I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, the seriously great Super Duper Love (which became a hit for Joss Stone), Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain, rock & roll classic See You Later Alligator, and the story of the Coke jingle that first was another song and then a megaghit which most of us might have preferred to have been taught.

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Tommy Hunt – I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (1962).mp3
Dusty Springfield – I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (1964).mp3
Dionne Warwick – I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (1966).mp3
Isaac Hayes – I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (1970).mp3

One should think that a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, arranged and conducted by Bacharach and produced by the legendary Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller would become a big hit. Alas, R&B singer Tommy Hunt’s version, released on the Scepter label as a b-side to And I Never Knew and as the title track of Hunt’s 1962 album, went mostly unnoticed. Tommy Hunt a former member of The Flamingos (of I Only Have Eyes For You fame), never achieved the breakthrough, but he was very popular on Britain’s Northern Soul scene, and performed on the circuit as late as the 1990s. Scepter tried their luck with the song a second time in 1965 with a version by Big Maybelle, which used the same backing track as Hunt’s. It went nowhere.

In 1964, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself provided Dusty Springfield with her second top 10 hit , while in the US Dionne Warwick — the great performer of the Bacharach/David songbook — had a US hit with it in 1966, also on the Specter label.

Also recorded by: Big Maybelle (1964), Jill Jackson (1964), Sheila (as Oui, il faut croire, 1964), Joan Baxter (1964), Chris Farlowe (1966), Chuck Jackson (1966), Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1966, released in 2002), Brook Benton (1969), Isaac Hayes (1970), Gary Puckett (1970), Cissy Houston (1970), The Dells (1972), Marcia Hines (1976), Demis Roussos (1978), Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1978), The Photos (1980), Linda Ronstadt (1993),Linda Ronstadt (1994), Bloom (1997), Nicky Holland (1997), The Earthmen (1998), Sonia (2000), The White Stripes (2003), Steve Tyrell (2003), Trijntje Oosterhuis (2007), Tina Arena (2007), Jimmy Somerville (2009) a.o.

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Sugar Billy – Super Duper Love (1975).mp3
Joss Stone – Super Duper Love (2003).mp3

Not much is known about Sugar Billy, who was known to his mom as William Garner. Apparently a producer of some sort before he released what seems to be his sole album, also called Super Duper Love, on Fast Track Records in 1975, he then promptly faded into obscurity. It’s a pity, because the LP is quite wonderful (though some of it must have seemed a little outdated even by 1975), and the cover is one of the sexiest I can think of. Super Duper Love was the album’s lead single, released in 1974. It didn’t dent the charts. I don’t even know whether Billy, who is also playing the great guitar on the track, is still alive, though it seems that he eventually retired from the music industry and worked as a builder.

Joss Stone launched her career as a 16-year-old in 2003 on the back of her version of Super Duper Love (and a regrettable cover of the White Stripes’ Fell In Love With A Girl) in 2003. It was an inspired choice: a catchy tune which only few people knew, and poppy enough that it did not require her to imitate soul singing. It has a pleasant ’70s soul vibe — as it should have, since several ’70s soul legends appear on it, such as Timmy Thomas (on keyboards) and Betty Wright (as co-producer and on backing vocals). I hope that Sugar Billy did okay on the royalties. If Super Duper Love had been representative of the Joss Stone sound, I’d have been quite content. Alas, the white teenage girl from suburban Brittania was hyped as some sort of mystic incarnation of a soul mother from the deepest south, which clearly she was not. The Grammys loved it, of course, though that is rarely a token of artistic credibility. The girl didn’t know better, but she paved the way for a flood of entirely redundant British white soulstresses.

Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems

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Ian & Sylvia – Early Morning Rain (1965).mp3
Gordon Lightfoot – Early Morning Rain (1966).mp3
Paul Weller – Early Morning Rain (2004).mp3
Richard Hawley – Early Morning Rain (2009).mp3

Several artists had a bite of Early Morning Rain before the song’s writer, Gordon Lightfoot, released it (though he had already recorded it). First up were Lightfoot’s Canadian compatriots Ian & Sylvia, a folk duo discovered in 1962 by Bob Dylan’s future manager Albert Grossman, who’d also sign Lightfoot. The married twosome’s version, with a rather good bass break, appeared on their 1965 album named after Lightfoot’s song. It featured another song by the still mostly unknown Lightfoot, For Lovin’ Me, as well as the original version of Darcy Farrow.

Both Lightfoot songs recorded by Ian & Sylvia were soon covered by Peter, Paul & Mary, who released Early Morning Rain as a single in late 1965, by Judy Collins and by the Kingston Trio. In November 1965 it was also recorded on a demo by the Warlocks, who a month later would become the Grateful Dead, though their version would not be released till later (listen to the full Warlocks session here). Peter, Paul & Mary’s single release tanked, but a 1966 version by George Hamilton IV reached the top 10 of the country charts (he also had success with another Lightfoot song, Steel Rail Blues).

By then, Lightfoot had finally released the song, closing the A-side of his debut album, Lightfoot!, which came out in January 1966 but had mostly been recorded in December 1964. The songwriter, incidentally, had spent a year in Britain presenting the BBC’s Country & Western Show (among his viewers very likely was country fan Keith Richards).

Also recorded by: Peter, Paul & Mary (1965), Judy Collins (1965), Kingstion Trio (1965), Chad & Jeremy (1966), Bobby Bare (1966), Carolyn Hester (1966), The Settlers (1966) ,Joe Dassin (as Dans la brume du matin, 1966), Julie Felix (1967), The What’s New (1967), Bob Dylan (1970), Pendulum (1971), Elvis Presley (1972), Jerry Lee Lewis (1973), Eddy Mitchell (as Chaque matin il se lève, 1974), Moose (1992), Bill Staines (1995), Tony Rice (1996),Grateful Dead (1965, released in 2001),Eva Cassidy (released in 2002), Raul Malo (2004), Richard Hawley (2009) a.o.

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Bobby Charles – Later Alligator (1955).mp3
Bill Haley and his Comets – See You Later Alligator (1956).mp3

We previously looked at Haley’s Rock Around The Clock (first recorded by Sonny Dae & his Knights; see The Originals Vol. 11). See You Later Alligator, the final of Haley’s trilogy of million-sellers, was a cover of Bobby Charles’ Cajun blues number. Born Robert Charles Guidry in Louisiana, Charles (who died in January) recorded the song as Later Alligator in 1955 at the age of 17. It was released in November 1955 without making much of a commercial impact. His hero, Fats Domino, also recorded a couple of his songs, first Before I Grow Too Old and in 1960 the hit Walking To New Orleans. Charles also wrote (I Don’t Know Why) But I Do for Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, and played Down South in New Orleans at The Band’s farewell concert (it appears on the 4-disc set of The Last Watltz but, alas, not in the film). That Band song wasn’t his, but he co-wrote Small Town Talk with Rick Danko.

Haley recorded See You Later Alligator on December 12, 1955, apparently allowing his drummer Ralph Jones to play on it, instead of the customary random session musician. Released in January 1956, Haley’s version sold more than a million copies, but reached only #6 in the Billboard charts.

Contrary to popular perception, the catchphrase “See you later, alligator” with the response “in a while, crocodile” was not coined by the song, neither in Bobby Charles’ nor Bill Haley’s version. It was an old turn of phrase, used by the jazz set already in the 1930s, along the same lines as “What’s the story, morning glory?”, ”What’s your song, King Kong?” and “What’s the plan, Charlie Chan?”. It was, however, due to Haley’s hit that the phrase spread more widely throughout he US and internationally.

Also recorded by: Roy Hall (1956), Freddie and the Dreamers (1964), Millie Small (1965), Mud (as part of a medley, 1974), Rock House (1974), Orion (1980), Ricky King (1984), Dr. Feelgood (1986), Zachary Richard (1990)

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Susan Shirley – True Love And Apple Pie (1971).mp3
Coca Cola commercial – I’d Like To But The World A Coke (1971).mp3
The Hillside Singers – I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (1971).mp3
The New Seekers – I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (1971).mp3

The contribution of advertising to the origination of pop hits is scarce. There was We’ve Only Just Begun (discussed here) and, well, I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing, whose original function was to peddle Coca Cola. And somehow, a little-known Australian squeezed in her version as the song’s original release.

In January 1971, Coca Cola were looking for ways to popularise its new slogan, “It’s the Real Thing”, which had replaced the classic “Things Go Better With Coke”. The company’s advertising agency, McCann-Erickson, brought together its creative director, Bill Backer, with songwriters Billy Davis (who had written for Motown) and Roger Cook, a member of Blue Mink. Cook already had a melody, a ditty called True Love And Apple Pie which he had written with his regular collaborator, Roger Greenway. The Cook/Greenway partnership was prolific over the years, including hits such as Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart, Melting Pot and Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress. The three wrote the words for the jingle overnight in a London hotel room, with the New Seekers in mind as its performers. As it turned out, the New Seekers thought the song was trite and not just a little silly (and that’s the New Seekers pronouncing on sentimentality).

True Love And Apple Pie and was released in March 1971, produced by Greenway and with Davis credited as a co-writer. It seems that the Coke jingle had already been flighted a month earlier on US radio, albeit to negative response. There seem to have been legal wrangling as a result of a version of the jingle Coca Cola had commissioned being in circulation. Shirley’s song certainly received little promotion.

Meanwhile, the McCann-Erickson agency devised a new way to promote the jingle, deciding it needed visuals. The resulting TV commercial (video), filmed by the great Haskell Wexler, became an instant classic. The song, I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke, became so popular that radio DJs persuaded Davis to record it with adapted lyrics. Recorded by session singers without the branding, it was released under the name Hillside Singers, and started to climb the US charts when the New Seekers eventually consented to record it, minus the “it’s the real thing” tag. It became a massive hit, topping the UK charts in January 1972 and reaching #7 in the US.

Unbelievable though it may sound, those creators of entirely original music, Oasis, were sued for plagiarising from I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing, lyrics and music, for their song Shakermaker. The original opening line went: “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.” How did the monobrowed twits expect to get away with that?

Also recorded by: Ray Conniff (1971), The Edwin Hawkins Singers (1972), The Congregation (1972),Jim Nabors (1972), Chet Atkins (1972), St. Tropez Singers (as Endnu er jorden grøn, 1972), Klaus Wunderlich (1972), Peter Dennler (1982), Jevetta Steele (1990), No Way Sis (1996), Lea Salonga (1997), Demi Holborn (2002), Bobby Bare Jr’s Young Criminals’ Starvation League (2003), Eve Graham (2005) a.o.

More Originals

Curious Germany Vol. 3

February 9th, 2010 7 comments

In the previous instalments of Curious Germany we noted the tendency in the 1960s of artists re-recording their hits in European languages, particularly in German to cater for the mainland continent’s biggest market. Here are a few more German re-recordings, plus a Motown-goes-Schlager track, a most unexpected cover, pre-Schlager stardom Krautrock, a slightly strange Beatles cover, and another singing footballer.

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The Beatles – Komm, gib’ mir Deine Hand.mp3
The Beatles – Sie liebt Dich.mp3

The Fabs recorded their first record in Germany. Backing Tony Sheridan on his Bert Kaempfert-produced LP, they sang on a couple of songs (Ain’t She Sweet and My Bonnie) and recorded a self-penned instrumental, Cry For A Shadow, on which George Harrison got a writing credit alongside John Lennon (it was intended to be a parody of The Shadows). And, of course, in St Pauli the boys really grew up. And yet, they did not seem to have much of a sentimental attachment to the country that gave them their first international break. A mini-tour of three cities — Munich, Essen and Hamburg — in 1966 was the extent of their concerts there (with typical teutonic subtlety, the sponsors, teen mag Bravo, called it a “Blitz” tour). And the Beatles really did not want to record any of their songs in German, or any other language.

The idea to do so originated with the group’s German label, Odeon, whose executives thought that German-language singles would sell even better than the orginals in their country. The Beatles resisted the instruction to record in German, going as far as not turning up to the booked session in the EMI Pathe Marconi studio in Paris in January 1964. A stern George Martin (who himself thought the idea was stupid) had to remindhis truant boys of their professional obligations before they gathered in the studio the following day, January 29. Komm gib mir eine Hand was quickly recorded to the backing track sent from London, but the instrumentation of the German She Loves You had to be re-recorded because the tape with the original track had been lost. It took 14 takes to record the song. Once they were done, with a little time to kill, the Beatles started work on a new song written by Paul called Can’t Buy Me Love.

The lyrics for the two German songs had been written by singer and TV personality Camillo Felgen under the pseudonym J. Nicolas. Two other non-Beatles are credited: one Montogue on Sie liebt Dich, and a H. Hellmer on the German version of I Want To Hold Your Hand. These credits have long puzzled Beatles historian. It appears that both Heinz Hellmer and Jean Montague (incorrectly spelled on the credits) were additional pseudonyms employed by Felgen, I would guess as a tax dodge.

These credits appeared on the German single release and the US album Something New, on which the German songs incongruously turned up. Subsequent releases, such as Beatles Rarities and Past Masters, credit only Lennon-McCartney.
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Cindy & Bert – Der Hund von Baskerville.mp3
We previously encountered husband-and-wife duo Cindy & Bert in the 1973 installment of the nostalgia series Stepping Back, with a typically horrible Schlager. The pair epitomised square. My grandmother thought Cindy & Bert were delightful. They reminded us of the nice young couple who rented the apartment on the top floor of her house and always paid the rent on time. So Oma would have been shocked to discover that Cindy & Bert’s catalogue included a cover version of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid (it need no pointing out that my grandmother would not have been a big Sabbath fan even if — especially if — she knew who they were). The cover photo of the 1970 single, which is not bad, is entirely misleading. Did I mention that Cindy & Bert were considered squares?
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Howard Carpendale – Du hast mich.mp3
Daisy Clan – Glory Be.mp3

In German Schlager history, Howard Carpendale wrote a particularly successful chapter. Unable to hack it in his home country South Africa as an Elvis impersonator, the former shotput champion moved to Germany, learned to speak the language with just enough of a touch of an accent (as I’ve noted before, German audiences really got off on foreign accents; in entertainment, not in shops, pubs or public transport), and became the leading romantic singer of the 1970s and ’80s Schlager scene, selling some 25 million records. None of those 25 million records soiled my collection, I am pleased to say, for I always thought he was a bit of a drip. His first breakthrough came with the standard Schlager Das Mädchen von Seite 1 (The girl from the front page). The flip side, however, was entire unschlagerish, a rocker called Du hast mich (You Have Me), a cover of the song Glory Be by German psychedelic rockers Daisy Clan which sounds like a heavy fuzz-guitared, organ-hammering Santana number. Thanks to my friend Sky, I can’t consider Carpendale as a drip any longer. The dude actually knew how to rock.

Glory Be was the b-side of Daisy Clan’s 1970 single Love Needs Love, apparently the group’s final English-language single (their final release in 1972 was appropriately titled Es geht vorrüber, which could be translated as “It passes on”). The Daisy Clan apparently were Schlager singer Michael Holm and songwriter Joachim Haider, going by the name of Alfie Khan. Holm had his first chart entry in 1962, but did not really break through until late 1969 with his version of the Sir Douglas Quintett’s Mendocino. It seems that his Schlager success put paid to his career as a psychedelic rock musician; Holm enjoyed a long string of Schlager hits (he featured HERE and HERE). Just to prove that not all Schlagersingers are naff fools with bad hair, Holm also collaborated with the eternally cool Giorgio Moroder in a project named, unappetisingly, Spinach. Holm has even been nominated for Grammys three times as part of the ambient music outfit Cusco.

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Dusty Springfield – Auf Dich nur wart’ immerzu.mp3
Like her contemporaries Petula Clark and Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield did a fair number of German recordings. Auf Dich nur wart’ ich ich immerzu (I’m always waiting for you only) was her German version of I Only Want To Be With You, released as a single in July 1964 with a German rendering of Wishin’ And Hopin’ as the b-side. Like most other songs transcribed from English to German, it was not a hit. It was quite usual for the original performer of a French or Italian song to score big successes with their German versions of these — singers such as Mireille Mathieu and Salvatore Adamo made a career of that — but English pop translations rarely impressed the record-buying public. I suspect the reason for that was two-fold. Firstly, pop sounds better in English, its own language; secondly, the German listener could differentiate between a Gilbert Bécaud’s heavy accent interpreting the lyrics and English-language singers not knowing what they were phonetically singing.
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Marvin Gaye – Wie schön das ist.mp3
Marvin Gaye – Sympatica

Motown had their stars record many versions of their songs in Spanish, Italian, French and German. Curious Germany Volume 2 included German covers by the Supremes and by the Temptations. Marvin chipped in with this take on How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). The vocals were usually sung from phonetic lyric sheets, and most international stars who recorded in German did not pay meticulous attention to the standards of their pronunciation. I have no idea whether Marvin Gaye was a polyglot or whether he just gave more of a shit, but he did a better job of it than most of his peers. Wie schön das ist was the b-side of a song Gaye recorded exclusively in German, Sympatica, which was written by Schlager composers Jonny Bartels (not to be confused with singer Johnny Bartel) and Kurt Feltz. So here we have one instance of Motown going Schlager, sort of.
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Katja Ebstein – A Hard Day’s Night.mp3
Katja Ebstein had a reputation as one of Germany’s more sophisticated Schlager stars. When she represented West Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980, her song was titled Theater. It got nowhere. Ten years earlier the singer born in Poland as Karin Witkiewicz did somewhat better, coming third with the rather good Wunder gibt es immer wieder, and repeating the trick the following year with the ecological number Diese Welt (see, it wasn’t only Marvin Gaye who was concerned). The international exposure helped her maintain an international career, recording in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, English and even Japanese.

Ebstein’s rather peculiar version of A Hard Day’s Night preceded her breakthrough by a year; she was still something of a leftist activist (she still is; in the 1980s she was arrested for taking part in a blockade of a US nuclear arms depot; in 2003 she demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq). Released in 1969 on the Katja album (the legend Twen on the cover advertises a youth magazine which promoted the LP), the Beatles cover was the set’s only English-language track. In her hands, the hard day was suffered not by her but by a unspecified him, and the whole shebang includes a strong hint of a Harrison-style eastern vibe.  File under “Interesting Beatles Covers”.

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Johnny Cash – Viel zu spät.mp3
Johnny Cash – Wo ist zu Hause, Mama.mp3

Cash’s 1965 German version of I Walk The Line also featured in the second volume of this series. In 1959, Cash recorded two other German versions of his songs, though neither was released until 1978. Viel zu spät (Much too late) is a take on the murder ballad I Got Stripes; Wo Ist Zu Hause, Mama (Where is home, mom) is the allemanic version of Five Feet High and Rising. Both, it seems, were intended to be released as a single, but I can find no record of their release. Cash’s relationship with Germany went back to the early 1950s, when he was stationed as a GI in Bavaria (it was a local girl who damaged his hearing when she stick a pencil in his ear). And it was there that Cash started to become serious about music.

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Radi Radenkovic – Bin i Radi bin i König.mp3
Here’s an example of an idiosyncratic accent helping to create celebrity on the football pitch and in the pop charts. Yugoslav Petar “Radi” Radenkovic was the goalkeeper for the München 1860 football team, which won the German championship in 1966 (the last team playing in blue shirts to do so). The goalkeeper was something of a humorous character on the pitch who had the entertaining tendency to run outside his penalty area to dribble around opponents., He was hugely popular. As one does, he recorded a single to celebrate his celebrity. This frankly quite awful ditty fuses Radenkovic’s guttural Serbian accent with the thick Bavarian dialect which has the rest of Germany (or Prussia, as a Bavarian might counter) amused at its sheer yokelness. The song — literally: “Am I Radi am I king” — does little to suggest that Radenkovic’s parents were in fact fairly successful musicians.

More Curious German

The Originals Vol. 17

March 3rd, 2009 7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also recorded by: Off By One (2002)

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

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

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

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

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 14

January 21st, 2009 11 comments

Jerry Jeff Walker – Mr. Bojangles (1968).mp3
Bobby Cole – Mr. Bojangles (1968).mp3
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Mr. Bojangles (1971).mp3
Sammy Davis Jr – Mr. Bojangles (1972).mp3

jerry-jeff-walkerThere is no truth to the old chestnut that Mr Bojangles tells the story of the great Bill Robinson. Folk/country singer Jerry Jeff Walker, who wrote and first recorded the song, tells the story of being in a New Orleans holding cell for public disorderliness with, among others, a street dancer (a white one, because cells were segregated). These public performers were generically nicknamed Bojangles (after Robinson). This man told his tales of life and of his grief for his dog. Urged on by the other cellmates, he proceeded to give them a tap dance. In 1968, three years after the incident, Walker recorded the song about that experience. Mr Bojangles is by far his most famous contribution to popular music. The second-most important would be to inspire Townes van Zandt to start writing songs.

The song was covered by several well known performers but became a hit only in 1971, when the Nitty Gritty Band took it the US #9, drawing from Walker’s folk arrangement. The best, and probably best-known, version was recorded a year later, drawing from the arrangement of Bobby Cole’s version (props to Ill Folks blog), which was in the lower reaches of the US charts at the same time as Walker’s. Cole added to the song the vaudeville sounds which evoked the tap-dancing ambience. It was that quality of Cole’s version from which Sammy Davis Jr seems to have drawn. Sammy was a hoofer himself, of course, so in his younger days would have known many characters such as Mr Bojangles, even in his family of entertainers. Sammy could identify with the song, and he delivers a beautiful performance, with the right mix of carefree spirit (the whistling) and drama which his protagonist projects. To some the line about the dog gone dying might be overwrought; I get goosebumps when I hear it.

Also recorded by: Rod McKuen (1968), Neil Diamond (1969), The Byrds (1969), Harry Nilsson (1969), Neil Diamond (1969), Lulu (1970), Harry Belafonte (1970), John Denver (1970), Ronnie Aldrich & his Two Pianos (1971), Nina Simone (1971), King Curtis (1971), Nancy Wilson (1971), David Bromberg (1972), John Holt (1973), Bob Dylan (1973), Esther Phillips (1986), Chet Atkins (1996), Edwyn Collins (1997), Steve Hall (1997), Whitney Houston (1998), Magna Carta (2000), Robbie Williams (2001), Jamie Cullum (2003), Luba Mason (2004), The Bentones (2005), Ray Quinn (2007) and loads of others for whom I have no years of recording: Frank Sinatra, Glenn Yarbrough, Arlo Guthrie, Frankie Laine, Elton John, Michael Bublé, and more.

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Pino Donaggio – Io che non vivo (senza te).mp3
Dusty Springfield – You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.mp3

pino-donaggioPino Donaggio is best known as a composer of the scores for films such as Don’t Look Now, Carrie and Dressed To Kill. But before that, he was a big pop star in Italy, having abandoned the classical training he received as a teenager (and which prepared him for his soundtrack career) for pop after performing with Paul Anka in the late 1950s.

He performed Io che non vivo (senza te), which he wrote with Vito Pallavicini, at the San Remo Festival in 1965 with the country singer Jody Miller. Dusty Springfield was there and then asked Vicki Wickham, producer of the British music TV show Ready Steady Go! and a songwriter, to set the song to English lyrics for her. Wickham asked Simon Napier-Bell (one-time manager of the Yardbirds, Marc Bolan and Wham!) to help her. Napier-Bell later remembered that they wrote the lyrics in a taxi. Springfield’s version (reportedly recorded in 47 takes) was released in 1966 and became one of her signature hits.

The original title means, roughly translated, “I, who cannot live without you”. My Italian being rusty, I have no idea how Donaggio riffed on that theme (EDIT: Paolo helps us out in the comments section). The English lyrics express the “If you love someone, let them go” motto. The intent of the lyrics may be the converse of the original (I don’t know, and nor did Napier-Bell), but the dramatic arrangement does not differ substantially — other than Dusty’s mighty, heartbroken vocals begging the object of her unrequited affection to decline her offer of romantic freedom.

Also recorded by: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (1966), John Davidson (1966), Carla Thomas (1966), Cher (1966), Vikki Carr (1966), Jackie De Shannon (1966), Connie Francis (1967), Matt Monro (1967), Bill Medley (1968), Kiki Dee (1970), Elvis Presley (1970), Guys & Dolls (1976), Helen Reddy (1981), Tanya Tucker (1981), Ferrante & Teicher (1992), Maureen McGovern (1992), Denise Welch (1995), Clarence Carter (1997), Brenda Lee (1998), Marti Jones (2000), Fire-Ball (2004), Jill Johnson (2007), John Barrowman (2008), Shelby Lynne (2008) a.o.

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The Strangeloves – I Want Candy.mp3
Bow Wow Wow – I Want Candy.mp3

strangelovesI Want Candy originally was a Bo Diddley-inspired 1965 US #11 hit for the Strangeloves, a joke project of songwriter/producers Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer (the latter would go on to produce the likes of Blondie and the Go-Go’s, and co-founded the Sire label on which Madonna launched her career). The conceit was that the Strangeloves were Australian brothers who had made a fortune by crossbreeding a new type of sheep, named after Gottehrer. The gag did not acquire much public traction, but it did present a problem when I Want Candy’s success imposed the demand for live performances by the Strangeloves. The three producers solved the problem by putting together a band of session musicians. Their adventures on the road will form part of the story in the next entry.

The touring versions of the Strangeloves were artificially put together, as were Bow Wow Wow 15 years later, albeit with much more of a plan. After he had finished managing the punk version of the Spice Girls, Malcolm McLaren went on to inspire Adam Ant & the Ants to success, and just as the group got there, stole the Ants from Adam to form a new group, Bow Wow Wow, in 1980. Ever mindful of the gimmick imperative, he found a precocious 14-year-old girl to front the band, Burmese-born Annabella Lwin (born Myint Myint Aye, which allegedly means High High Cool — my Burmese is as rusty as my Italian).

Lwin was not shy to flaunt her sexuality, appearing nude on the cover of the group’s debut album, simply titled See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over Go Ape Crazy. The now15-year-old’s parents were so outraged that they threatened to institute legal action against McLaren. Evidently Malcolm got the girl’s parents around to his point of view: the single cover for I Want Candy depicted Annabella again in a state of some undress. McLaren, incidentally, had considered a second singer to partner Lwin, but the artist he had in mind, going by the name Lieutenant Lush, was considered to wild. The disorderly vocalist went on to find success as Boy George.

bow-wow-wow

Bow Wow Wow’s 1982 version of I Want Candy was produced by Kenny Laguna, who at the time was scoring big with singers such as Joan Jett and Kenny Loggins. The story goes that Laguna had the band already in the Florida studio to record the song when he realised that he had no recording, no lyrics and no songsheet for it. So he got in touch with Richard Gottehrer (at the time in a studio recording another cover version, the Go-Go’s Vacation) who taught him the song over the telephone. Gottehrer also had to persuade Laguna that the guitar hook was an integral part of the song. Bow Wow Wow were not pleased with what they considered a bubble gum song. Still, it was their only hit, reaching #9 in the UK. It was only a minor hit in the US. Yet, strong rotation on MTV ensured its status as an ’80s classic.

Also recorded by: Brian Poole And The Tremeloes (1965), The Bishops (1978), The Bouncing Souls (1994), Chrome (1995), Candy Girls (1996), Black Metal Box (1997), Aaron Carter (1998), Good Charlotte (2001), Melanie C (2007)

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The Vibrations – My Girl Sloopy.mp3
The McCoys – Hang On Sloopy.mp3

The Debs – Sloopy’s Gonna Hang On.mp3
vibrationsEarlier in the series, The McCoys featured with their original of Sorrow, famously covered by David Bowie. Oddly enough, the group’s 1965 signature hit, Hang On Sloopy, was a cover version, of the Vibrations’ 1964 US top 30 hit My Girl Sloopy, written by the legendary Bert Berns (who also had an association with the Strangeloves) and Wes Farrell. The Vibrations were a soul group from Los Angeles which kept going well into the 1970s; one if their members, Ricky Owens, even joined the Temptations very briefly. Several of their songs are Northern Soul classics (which basically means that they were so unsuccessful that the records are rare).

I promised in the entry for I Want Candy that the story of the Strangeloves would have a sequel. Our three producer heroes were on tour, shadowing the session musicians playing their songs, when they decided My Girl Sloopy should be the follow-up to I Want Candy. The Dave Clark Five, on tour with the Strangeloves, got wind of it, and said they’d record Sloopy too. So the Strangelove trio, afraid that the Dave Clark Five might have a hit with the song before they could release theirs, acted fast to scoop the English group. They recruited an unknown group based in Dayton, Ohio, called Rick and the Raiders, renamed them The McCoys, and in quick time released the retitled Hang On Sloopy.

But it wasn’t all the McCoys playing on the single, only singer Rick Zehringer (later Derringer) performed on it — his vocals having been overlaid on the version already recorded by the Strangeloves, and a guitar solo added to it. The single was a massive hit, reaching the US #1. In 1985 it was adopted as the official rock song of Ohio (honestly). And, for the hell of it, there’s also the answer song by The Debs. Oh, and the Sloopy of the title is jazz singer Dorothy Sloop.

Also recorded by: The Invictas (1965), Quincy Jones (1965), Little Caesar & The Consuls (1965), The Newbeats (1965), The Yardbirds (1965), Jan & Dean (1965), The Eliminators (1966), The Raves (1966), The Wailers (1966), Ramsey Lewis Trio (1966), The Phantoms (1966), The Supremes (1966), The Fevers (1966), Count Basie & his Orchestra (1968), The Lettermen (1970), Ramsey Lewis (1973), Skid Row (1976), BAP (1980, in the Cologne dialect Kölsch), Daddy Memphis (1998), Aaron Carter (2000), Die Toten Hosen (2000), Saving Jane (2006)

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don-gibsonDon Gibson – I Can’t Stop Loving You.mp3
Ray Charles – I Can’t Stop Loving You.mp3

It is a mark of Ray Charles’ genius that he, the Father of Soul, took a country song to the US #1, still sounding like a country song. It is fair to say that sometimes there is a pretty thin line between southern soul and country. Brook Benton is perhaps the best example of a soul singer casually entering country territory. Indeed, it is that cross-germination of white country and black R&B which helped give rise to Rock & Roll, a musical form of racial integration which anticipated the intensification of the civil rights struggle. But that is a debate for another day, unhelpfully dealt with in 35 words.

raycharlesWhen Ray Charles released his seminal Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (in 1962, at the height of the civil rights struggle), he let it be known that country music has soul — an elementary truth which the haters of the genre have too easily ignored. Don Gibson, hardly the prototype for sweaty, sexy party music, had soul. You can hear it on his 1958 original of I Can’t Stop Loving You, one of 150 country songs shortlisted for the Ray Charles LP. If anything, Ray Charles (and arranger Sid Feller) added Nashville schmaltz to the song. Indeed, it is the one song on the album that is still recognisably a country number. This wasn’t Charles’ first foray into country. A few years earlier he had recorded Hank Snow’s I’m Movin’ On.

Gibson recorded I Can’t Stop Loving You during the same December 1957 session that produced the great country classic, Oh Lonesome Me (which Johnny Cash later covered to great effect, and one of the few covers Neil Young ever recorded). I Can’t Stop… was the b-side to Oh Lonesome Me, a US top 10 hit. Before Ray Charles got hold of it, the song had already been covered several times, including a version by Roy Orbison. Indeed, at the same time the song was a b-side for Gibson, Kitty Wells had a big hit with it in the country charts.

Also recorded by: Kitty Wells (1958), Roy Orbison (1960), Rex Allen (1961), Rick Nelson (1961), Tab Hunter (1962), John Foster (as Non finirò d’amarti, 1962), Connie Francis (1962), Bobby Sitting & the Twistin’ Guy’s (1962), Hank Locklin (1962), Grant Green (1962), The Ventures (1963), Count Basie (1963), Peggy Lee (1963), Paul Anka (1963), Webb Pierce (1963), Ferlin Husky (1963), Floyd Cramer (1964), Faron Young (1964), Jim Reeves (1964), Jean Shepard (1964), Nancy Wilson (1964), Chet Atkins & Hank Snow (1964), Frank Sinatra & Count Basie (1964), Dinah Shore (1965), Tom Jones (1965), Gene Pitney (1965), George Semper (1966), Tennessee Ernie Ford (1966), Bettye Swann (1967), Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers (1968), Jimmy Dean (January 1968), Long John Baldry (1968), Jerry Lee Lewis (1969, as a blues), Elvis Presley (1969), Jim Nabors (1970), Eddy Arnold (1971), Charlie McCoy (1972), Conway Twitty (1972), Sammi Smith (1977), Jerry Lee Lewis (1979, as a country song), Van Morrison (1991), Arlen Roth (1993), Diane Schuur & B.B. King (1994), Anne Murray (2002), John Scofield (2005), Mica Paris (2005), Martina McBride (2005) a.o.

More Originals

Perfect Pop – Vol. 3

April 4th, 2008 9 comments

The inquiry into what makes perfect pop perfect continues. My pal Andy thinks: “I think ‘perfect pop’ can’t be too alternative. It has to be very mainstream, on top of everything else. And probably fairly breezy. Populist and lightweight.” Somebody else suggested: “Perfect pop should feel timeless yet completely of its time as well, creating a wonderful paradox.” Another Andy also considered the question of timelessness: “Timelessness shouldn’t be consciously striven for. One of the qualities of great pop music is its ephemerality, and I think that pop music that doesn’t embrace that is lacking in a certain something. Of course, timelessness is what allows us to relate to music of different eras, and we do so very strongly, but it’s best when it’s an accident or a result of the quality of the song or performance, rather than a conscious striving for posterity by the creator.” And this suggestion pretty much sums it up: “The definition of a perfect pop song is simply a song which nothing could be added or taken away to improve it.”

Or consider this: there once was a review which praised a single along the lines of “great lyrics, great chords, two fine singers, great musicianship and the best production money can buy”. Of course, even with all these ingredients, the result can still be imperfect. But that is why perfection in pop is a relatively rare thing. Incidentally, the single thus reviewed was “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” by Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams.

And then there is the Paul Morley theory, mentioned in comments last time by Planet Mondo, that a good pop song is truly great when you can imagine Elvis singing it.

Dusty Springfield – I Only Want To Be With You.mp3
If I had to compile a shortlist for a top 10 of Perfect Pop, I Only Want To Be With You would be an automatic choice. It has been covered several times (Jackie DeShannon’s version was the first song ever to be performed on Top Of The Pops), and it is nearly impossible to mess it up. The Bay City Rollers did a particularly good version of it in the mid-70s, but Dusty’s rendition hits perfection on every single level. It is so good, I cannot decide what to choose as the “best bit”.
Best bit: The strings first come in, almost unnoticed (0:50)

The Style Council – Speak Like A Child.mp3*
It may not be an indispensable ingredient in perfect pop, but it helps when a song can communicate pure joy, as does Speak Like A Child. Try to feel miserable when listening to it. Unless you have genuine cause for unhappiness, it must cheer you up. Paul Weller has written quite a few great pop songs, but none reach the pop perfection of this.
Best bit: Talbot’s keyboard solo kicks in (1:38)

Cliff Richard – We Don’t Talk Anymore.mp3
I am a magnanimous observer of music. I never liked Cliff Richard (not unlike Whiteray, whom I’ll mention again later), and I particularly despised this song when it was on never-ending rotation on German radio in 1979 — and yet I acknowledge the perfection of this track. Not too long ago, I played the song to see whether it could still induce the same reaction of physical illness it did when I was 13. The memories it invoked did indeed do so, but I also had to accept what, deep down, I knew even then: this is a brilliant pop song.
Best bit: “Taaaalk anymore, anymooooore” (3:14)

Johnny Cash – Ring Of Fire (live).mp3
This is what you get when three forces of inspiration collide. June Carter’s beautiful lyrics, Merle Kilgore melody, and Johnny Cash’s mariachi treatment. This song is a good example of the “add nothing, take nothing away” theory of perfect pop. Apparently a haemorrhoid ointment manufacturer wanted to use Ring Of Fire for a commercial. Regretably, Roseanne Cash refused to give permission. This version is from the Live In St Quentin album, where it resides as a previously unreleased bonus track on the re-released CD.
Best bit: “…oooh, but the fire went wild.”

Bay City Rollers – Saturday Night.mp3
Thanks to ’70s nostalgia, the Bay City Rollers are not judged by their too short, tartaned trousers, but by the often wonderful pop they produced (or was produced in their name). So giddy retrospectives of ’70s pop will dig out Bye Bye Baby as representative of BCR’s musical contribution to the era, with the more forensic compiler opting for I Only Wanna Be With You (both cover versions). It is unfortunate that those songs when BCR achieved did actually pop perfection, or at least came close to it, tend to be ignored. Of these, Yesterday’s Hero and the superb You Made Me Believe In Magic (download link here) were released at the arse-end of BCR’s career, and made no impact on the charts and thus on he public’s consciousness. Saturday Night was a hit before BCR really hit their stride in the mid-70s, and so somehow tends to slip through the cracks too, which is entirely regrettable.
Best Bit: S-S-S-Saturday Naa-aaaight (0:57)

Hanson – Mmm Bop.mp3
I suspect that most people were like me: they hated the song because of the performers (and, possibly, its title). And just look at the Hanson brothers: precocious kids whose mugs would qualify for plastering all over pre-pubescent girls’ bedroom walls regardless of their musical merits. The same reasons why few people then proclaimed the Osmonds’ Crazy Horse the work of genius it really is, and the same reason why BCR were laughed at despite headlining some great pop. With the passage of time, knowing that the pre-pubescent girls are now young adults and that even the drummer’s balls will have dropped by now, Mmm Bop has been critically rehabilitated, to the point of a consensus that it really is a brilliant pop tune.
Best bit: The insistent chorus throughout the song.

Nena – 99 Luftballons.mp3*
When I posted this last July, I actually used the words “perfect pop” to describe 99 Luftballons. In fact, it is so perfect, that the German original topped the US charts (whereas in Britain the less satisfactory English version was a hit. Here German actually sounds better than English in a pop song). The US is not generally known for its expanding worldview which embraces different cultures. For most Americans, communication with non-English speakers tends to take the form of raising one’s voice and speaking slower (American readers of this blog excluded, of course). So the US pop consumers of 1984 bought into Nena’s hit purely on strength of it being a great pop tune.
Best bit: The song kicks in with a machine gun guitar after the slow rhythmic build-up.

Blondie – Denis.mp3*
Any number of Blondie songs might qualify for inclusion in this series, but Denis has that extra bit of brevity, energy and lots of likable little touches. Still unaffected by the disco wave, when Denis came out in early 1978, Blondie were still a band audibly rooted in NYC’s new wave scene, albeit with a distinctive pop bend. Denis still had the edginess of the wonderful debut single, X-Offender (download link here). Soon Blondie would pander to the Top 10 with faux-disco (Heart If Glass; Atomic) and cod-reggae (The Tide Is High). It wasn’t bad, but Blondie were never better than they were on those first two albums.
Best bit: Debby does Dalles, in French.

Britney Spears – Toxic (Clap Ya Hands remix).mp3
Jim Irvin, whose reference to “perfect pop” in The Word magazine inspired this series, used Toxic as one of three examples to illustrate what is perfect pop. He is entirely correct; this is a catchy bastard of a song. Forget all about the hype, degrees of undress and the scandals which have made Britney Spears more famous for being famous than for her artistry. Spears is just the vehicle by which the rich, inspired arrangement of a fine song reach us. I might be unfair on Spears, who delivers a good vocal performance, but Toxic could have been recorded by any number of female singers with no detriment to the final product — even if it was written specifically for Britney. The star of Toxic is really the production team, Bloodshy & Advant. Can’t imagine Elvis singing it, though.
Best bit: The intermittent guitar riff.

The Undertones – Teenage Kicks.mp3
The point when bubblegum pop met punk. And yet, its spiritual heart really resides in the ’60s. Strip down the loud guitars, maybe slow it down just a little, amplify the handclaps, and you have a chart-topper ca. 1965. Teenage Kicks was played at the funeral of John Peel, who had championed the song, and the line “teenage dreams so hard to beat” is engraved on his tombstone. How utterly appropriate.
Best bit: Two drum beats, and the guitar hits (0:01)

Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.mp3
This was #1 in Britain on 6 April, 42 years years ago (I remember that because I was born that day; I think my German #1 is a Stones song). That is why I’ve held back its inclusion for this installment of the series until today. And, my oh my, what a fantastic pop song this is! The tune is exquisite, the production mighty, the vocals are…oh, use whatever hyperbole does it for you. But the drumming tops it. Listen to it. The drums and percussions are totally bossing the song.
Best bit: The drums set up and emphasise the line “When you’re without love…” (2:18)

The Association – Cherish.mp3
This 1966 hit is a nomination by Whiteray, proprietor of the excellent Echoes in the Wind blog, who rates it has perhaps his favourite pop single of all time. It is indeed an astonishing song (with fantastic lyrics), but I’m not convinced it is perfect pop. Which demonstrates the bleedin’ obvious: perfection in pop is an entirely subjective thing. We may agree in great numbers that a song is perfect, even achieve near-consensus. We may even share our reasons as to why it is perfect. But play the next song, and I might rave about it and you’ll shrug your shoulders (or, later, come around to my way of thinking). And that is why talking about music is so great.
Best bit: “And I do…” (2:56)

Perfect Pop – Vol.1
Hall & Oates, Sweet, Jesus & Mary Chain, Turtles, Guildo Horn, Big Bopper, Buggles, Kylie Minogue, Abba, Pet Shop Boys, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Temptations, ABC, Smiths, Kingsmen, Strawberry Switchblade, David Essex, Rainbow, Wham!, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

More Perfect Pop

1987

July 26th, 2007 3 comments

In January I returned from a long holiday in sunny South Africa to freezing London. Soon I felt that I had had enough of London. When my best friend, Paul, moved to the US, I decided to return to SA, to reunite with my brother. And so in early September I did, got myself a job co-running the Room Service department at a 5-star hotel, and instantly regretted leaving London. So it was a shitty year. Musically, it wasn’t particularly great either.

Blow Monkeys – It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way.mp3
I loved “Diggin’ Your Scene” the year before, but could not muster much enthusiasm for this song when it climbed the charts. Yet there it was on the radio whenever I put the thing on. It reminds me of cold, cold London, and having too little money to put on the gas heater. In the interim I have come to enjoy this song; it needs warm weather to be enjoyed.

A-ha – Manhattan Skyline.mp3
I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about A-ha, but this is a hell of a fine song. It reminds me a bit of the Beatles’ occasional strategy of banging together two quite distinct, uncompleted compositions into one song. This one starts of slowly before launching into a heavy rock (by A-ha’s standards) chorus, which the normally clear-voiced Morten Harket pulls off well.

Sly & Robbie – Boops.mp3
Robbie Williams sampled from “Boops” for his horrible “Rudebox” song. It pains me to think that a generation of people will grow up thinking that Williams created the only thing that is good about “Rudebox”. “Boops” has cool written all over it.

Terence Trent D’Arby – If You Let Me Stay.mp3
The superstar that never was, undone by his own preciousness. This, his debut single, was the only modern song to be played at the Locomotion, the Friday night old soul club at the old Kentish Town & Country Club, before it was even released. I suspect the Trout, who lived in Kentish Town, knew the DJ. It got the crowds on the floor, too.

Paul Johnson – When Love Comes Calling.mp3
A prodigy of UK soul-funkster Junior Giscombe (“Mama Used To Say”), Paul Johnson was a fine soul singer who could hit ridiculously high notes. He never enjoyed great success, which is a pity. This song has a happy vibe, and Johnson’s voice soars. Check out the long falsetto note when he sings “I’m masquerading” before launching straight into the chorus. An utter joy. (Previously uploaded)

Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Asimbonanga.mp3
In early ’87, Savuka played at the Kentish Town & Country Club. The place was packed, mostly with white expatriate South Africans, not all of them visibly of the anti-apartheid activist persuasion. So a Clegg gig in London was exactly like a Clegg gig in Jo’burg or Durban. This is an incredibly moving anti-apartheid song, with its litany of martyred activists (Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge, Neil Aggett) and its lament that we haven’t seen Nelson Mandela. Less than three years later we would (see here).

Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This.mp3
Perhaps the single of the year. You had to admire the Pet Shop Boys for reintroducing the great Dusty Springfield from the over-the-hill circuit.

Black – Wonderful Life.mp3
The song that scores my departure from London. Recently I saw that lovely monochrome video again (look out for that superb shot of the rollercoaster at 1:23); it evoked a time and two places. I still like this strangely wistful song a lot, and the album, also called Wonderful Life, is quite excellent.

Prince – Starfish And Coffee.mp3
Just an album track from Sign ‘O The Times. I find that inexplicable, seeing that the crap “U Got The Look” was a single. This is one of Prince’s finest songs, with suitably weird lyrics, a great tune and a kick-ass singalong chorus. As for the alarm clock kicking off the song: inspired. Is Cynthia’s breakfast menu code for something? (Previously uploaded)

Bananarama – Love In The First Degree.mp3
It’s kitsch. It’s Stock Aitken Waterman. It’s 1987.

LL Cool J – I Need Love.mp3
I dig the tune, but the lyrics are hilarious. James promises to be a good boy if only somebody would love him truly. Aaah. But why on earth would J loo for the girl he’ll love in his closet or under his rug? I had a video recording of LL Cool J performing this live on the short-lived US version of Top Of The Pops; all the girlies wanted to be soft as a pillow for the man who’d be as hard as steel. And I bet LL Cool J was communicating to his posse which of these girls he’d use and dispose of that night (that is presuming that all these rumours about Cool J aren’t true).

Smokey Robinson – Just To See Her.mp3
A nice little soul song which gets the old toes tapping and the shoulders rocking. A rather more convincing plea for love than LL Cool J’s, and a persuasive demonstration that the great Smokey had not lost his musical mojo even after a quarter of a century of writing and recording.

Bright Blue – Weeping.mp3
A South African classic (recently inexplicably battered and assaulted by the horrid Josh Groban) by a decent rock group that could never reproduce the magic of this song. Strangely, it received strong airplay on radio stations owned by the apartheid state, for its lyrics are directed at PW Botha and his murderous chums. And so it came about that state-owned radio got to play the strains of “Nkosi Sikeli’ iAfrica” (then the anthem of the banned ANC and now the first half of South Africa’s cobbled-together compromise national anthem). I suspect a couple of DJs took great pleasure in doing so. More on Bright Blue and “Weeping” here.

Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes – I’ve Had The Time Of My Life.mp3
This is a fantastic pop song. It has it all: you can dance to it (dirty or otherwise), you can sing along to it loudly, it has great moments like the bang as the saxophone solo begins, and the dramatically cascading notes building up to a crescendo before Medley summarises softly just how good a time he has had, leading to the celebratory climax. The song structure in fact captures the rhythm of sexual intercourse, with the subtle changes of pace and two distinct orgasms (you didn’t see that coming, did you?).