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Any Major Halloween Mix 1

October 26th, 2009 9 comments

halloween2This is the first of two Halloween mixes I’ll be posting this week. The present mix, timed to fit on standard CD-R, is supposed to comprise vaguely creepy or eerie music. The kind of stuff that might  freak out Bart, Lisa and Milhouse in their treehouse. Ghosts, spooks, witches, devils, murderers, weird people (like the coffin-building boy in Florence and the Machine’s excellent song), voodoo and so on. Marie Floating Over The Backyard apparently still scares Any Minor Dude’s friend, two years after he first heard it.

The second mix, which will go up mid-week, will be a bit more lighthearted, and even without the overcooked Monster Mash and Rocky Horror Picture Show.

TRACKLISTING
1. The Go! Team – Phantom Broadcast (2005)
2. The Never – The Witch (2006)
3. Dr John – Gris Gris Gumbo Ya Ya (1968)
4. Jim Stafford - Swamp Witch Hattie (Back Of The Black Bayou) (1973)
5. Alan Price Set - I Put A Spell On You (1966)
6. Tony Joe White – They Caught The Devil And Put Him In Jail In Eudora, Arkansas (1971)
7. Donovan - Wild Witch Lady (1973)
8. Fleetwood Mac - The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) (1970)
9. Eels - Marie Floating Over The Backyard (2005)
10. Violent Femmes – Country Death Song (1984)
11. Florence And The Machine – My Boy Builds Coffins (2009)
12. Godley & Creme - Under Your Thumb (1981)
13. Alan Parsons Project – Raven (1976)
14. The Box Tops – I Must Be The Devil (1969)
15. Sidney Hemphill – Devil’s Dream (ca 1942)
16. Howlin’ Wolf - Evil (Is Going On) (1954)
17. Louvin Brothers – Mary Of The Wild Moor (1956)
18. Squirrel Nut Zippers – Hell (1996)
19. Mazzy Starr – Taste Of Blood (1990)
20. Imogen Heap - Getting Scared (1998)
21. Iron Butterfly - Real Fright (1970)

DOWNLOAD (new working link)

I have a good few songs left over for a mix next Halloween. But there are two ghostly soldier songs I’ll want to add to this lot, one as an antidote to Warren Zevon’s more ubiquitous Halloween song:
Warren Zevon – Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.mp3
Stan Ridgway – Camouflage.mp3

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More mixes

The Originals Vol. 1

August 28th, 2008 11 comments

Inspired by a propitious confluence of a long discussion about cover versions we didn’t know where covers and a generous correspondent whom we’ll know as RH e-mailing me a bunch of rare originals of better known covers, we are now at the cusp of what will be a longish series. Any Major Notebook now includes two pages worth of almost 100 shortlisted songs that in their original form are lesser known than later versions. In some cases that reputation is entirely subjective. There will be people who think that the version of Lady Marmalade perpetrated by Christina Aguilera and pals was the original. But people of my generation will long have been familiar with LaBelle’s 1970s recording. Until a day ago, I thought that was the original, but RH has disabused me of my error. The real original of Lady Marmalade will feature later in this series. In a very few cases, I will not present the original, but the earliest version available (I will note these instances accordingly). And we’ll kick-off with a heavy-duty dose of 10 originals. Tell me which songs you were surprised to learn are in fact covers, and let me know whether you prefer the originals or later versions.

(All original songs re-uploaded on March 31, 2009)

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Leon Russell – This Masquerade.mp3
Carpenters – This Masquerade.mp3
It makes sense to start this series with the Carpenters, who made it a virtue of picking up relatively obscure songs, and re-arrange and appropriate them. Think of (They Long To Be) Close To You, which despite legions of competing covers has become the Carpenters’ signature song as much as Richard’s arrangement has become the best-known, indeed primary incarnation of that song. For another good example of Richard’s rearrangement genius, take This Masquerade. Covered only a year after it originally appeared on Leon Russell’s 1972 Carney album, it becomes quite a different animal in the Carpenters’ shop, doing away with the long movie-theme style intro. Oddly, both Russell and the Carpenters’ used the song on b-sides of inferior singles. George Benson’s 1976 Grammy-winning version from the Breezin’ album is also worth noting.
Also covered by: Carl Tjader, Sergio Mendez, Helen Reddy, Shirley Bassey, No Mercy, CoCo Lee, Nils Landgren a.o.
Best version: The Carpenters’s version has a flute and Karen’s voice, beating Benson into second place.

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Randy & the Rainbows – Denise.mp3
Blondie – Denis.mp3
Here’s one I didn’t know until a few days ago: Blondie’s 1977 burst of pop-punk was in fact a cover of a 1963 hit. For Randy & the Rainbows, Denise represented a brief flirtation with stardom. It reached #10 on the Billboard charts, but after the follow-up barely scraped into the Top 100, that was it for the doo-woppers from Queens. For Blondie, on the other hand, Denis was something of a break-through song, at least in Europe. The French verse in Denis was necessary to explain away the object of desire’s gender-change. Thanks to my friend John C for the original version.
Also covered by: nobody worth mentioning
Best version: The original is very nice indeed, but Blondie’s cover is just perfect pop.

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Bing Crosby – Try A Little Tenderness.mp3
Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness.mp3
My kind friend RH, who helped inspire this series, has made me aware of many originals that have surprised me. It was not news to me, however, that Try A Little Tenderness was in fact an old 1930s standard, when RV sent me this Bing Crosby version. And yet, of the many songs I have received from RH, I was particularly delighted with this one, because among its crooned renditions I had heard only versions by Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. It needn’t be pointed out that once Otis was through with the song, with the help of Booker T & the MGs and a production team that included Isaac Hayes, it bore only the vaguest semblance to the smooth and safe standard it once was. Redding didn’t want to record it, ostensibly because he did not want to compete with his hero Sam Cooke’s brief interpretation of the song on the Live At The Copa set. Incredibly Otis’ now iconic delivery was actually intended to screw the song up so much that it could not be released. Bing’s 1932 version is actually not the original, but the song’s first cover version following the Ray Noble Orchestra’s recording.
Also covered by: Mel Tormé, Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra, Jack Webb, Frankie Lane, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Nancy Wilson, Percy Sledge, Nina Simone, Three Dog Night, Etta James, Al Jarreau, Rod Stewart, The Commitments, Michael Fucking Bolton, Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner, Diane Schuur & BB King, Von Bondies, Michael Bublé a.o.
Best version: Otis.

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The Arrows – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.mp3
Joan Jett – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.mp3
The Arrows were a short-lived English band on the RAK label, which also gave us the likes of Smokie, Hot Chocolate and Racey, and so were produced by the semi-genius of ’70s pop, Mickey Most. After two hits – though not this song – and starring in a couple of brief TV series on British TV, they disappeared. Joan Jett also seemed to disappear after the break-up of The Runaways in the late ’70s, suddenly reappearing with the largely obscure I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which she had previously recorded with members of the Sex Pistols. Apparently Jett had known the song since 1976 when, while on tour with the Runaways, she saw the Arrows performing it on TV. Jett had another hit with another cover version, and that was her solo career over. The song found a new generation of admirers in 2001 with Britney Spears’ redundant cover.
Also covered by: Allan Merrill, Hayseed Dixie, Queens of Japan (no, me neither)
Best version: Jett gives it beery attitude.

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Everly Brothers – Crying In The Rain.mp3
Cotton, Lloyd & Christian – Crying In The Rain.mp3
A-ha – Crying In The Rain.mp3

Before she was all dreamy and barefooted hippie cat lover, Carole King was a songwriter in the legendary Brill Building. One of the many hits she churned out was Crying In The Rain, with which the Everly Brothers scored a top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1961. It was periodically revived on the country circuit, but is best known to many as the A-ha hit from 1990 – and the many would include me. In between, it was recorded in 1976 by an obscure outfit called Cotton, Lloyd & Christian. I have no idea how their version landed up in my collection, but here it is, serving as a missing link between the versions by the Everly Bothers and A-ha.
Also covered by: Sweet Inspirations, Crystal Gayle, Tammy Wynette, Don Williams a.o.
Best version: A-ha, by a whisker

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Liza Minnelli – New York, New York.mp3
Frank Sinatra – New York New York.mp3
The Theme from New York, New York has so much become a Sinatra cliché, it is often forgotten that it came from a rather long and boring Scoresese film with Minnelli and Robert de Niro. In the film, Minelli’s version is a source of some melancholy viewing; Sinatra’s 1979 take, recorded two years after the film, gets parties going with the hackneyed high-kicks and provides any old drunk with an alternative to My Way on karaoke night. If proof was needed that Sinatra trumps Lucille 2, consider that the NY Yankees used to play the Sinatra version after winning, and Minnelli’s after a defeat. Minnelli objected to that, understandably, and gave the Yankees an ultimatum: “Play me also when you win, or not at all.” Now Sinatra gets played even when they lose.
Also covered by: Michael Fucking Bolton (imagine that!), Reel Big Fish, Cat Power a.o.
Best version: Frank’s version is A-Number One

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Four Seasons – Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye).mp3
Bay City Rollers – Bye Bye Baby.mp3
The Four Seasons will be occasional visitors in this series. At least those people who grew up in the 1970s will be more familiar with cover versions than the Four Seasons originals. Bye Bye Baby was written by band member Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe, making it to #12 in the US charts. A decade later the Bay City Rollers scored their biggest hit with their decent but inferior version. The story goes that the Bay City Rollers were oblivious of the Four Seasons orginal, choosing it because Stuart “Woody” Wood had the 1967 cover by the Symbols. I have no idea what the Symbols did with the song, but the BCR arrangement certainly owes nothing to the more sparse original.
Also covered by: Apart from the Symbols also by something called the Popguns
Best version: Always the Four Seasons

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Fleetwood Mac – Black Magic Woman.mp3
Santana – Back Magic Woman.mp3
From Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 debut album, Black magic Woman is “three minutes of sustain/reverb guitar with two exquisite solos from Peter [Green],” according to Mick Fleetwood. Carlos Santana covered it on 1970′s Abraxas album and retained its basic structure and clearly drug-induced vibe, but changed the arrangement significantly with a shot of Latin and hint of fusion, and borrowing from jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo’s Gypsy Queen. It became one of Santana’s signature tunes, while Fleetwood Mac had to remind audiences that the song was actually theirs. The vocals on the Santana version are by Greg Rolie, who later co-founded Journey. And the who is this Black Magic Woman? According to legend, it was a BMW of that colour which the non-materialist Green fancied.
Also covered by: Dennis Brown, Mina, the Go Getters
Best version: Santana’s, especially for the use of the congas

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Scott English – Brandy.mp3
Barry Manilow – Mandy.mp3
Although he is a talented songwriter, Barry Manilow is a bit like the Carpenters: he appropriated other people’s songs by force of arrangement (and, obviously, commercial success) – including a Carpenters song, which will feature in this series. If we need proof of how much Bazza owned the songs he didn’t write, consider his giant hit Mandy. It was a cover of a ditty called Brandy by one Scott English, which was a #12 hit in Britain in 1971 (the tune was written by Richard Kerr, who wrote two other hits for Manilow, Looks Like We’ve Made It and Somewhere In The Night). Manilow’s renamed version was the first cover. None of the subsequent recordings are dedicated to Brandy. English’s version is not very good. To start with he couldn’t sing, and the production is slapdash. Manilow recorded it relucantly, not yet sure about singing other people’s music. He slowed it down, gave it a lush arrangement, and we know how it ended. Quite hilariously, Manilow is not popuar among some people in New Zealand who think that he stole the song from a local singer called Bunny Walters, who had a hit with Brandy in his home country while the actual songwriter’s version failed to dent the charts there.
Also covered by: Johnny Mathis, Starsound Orchestra, Helmut Lotti (urgh!), Westlife
Best version: Mandy trumps Brandy.

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Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.mp3
Roberta Flack – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.mp3
The first time ever you heard this song probably was by Roberta Flack, whose performance on her 1969 debut album was barely noticed until it was included in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film Play Misty For Me. Those who dig deeper will know that it was in fact written in the 1950s by folk legend Ewan MacColl, for Peggy Seeger with whom he was having an affair and who would become his third wife. For MacColl, the political troubadour, the song is a radical departure, supporting the notion that he didn’t just write it for inclusion in Peggy’s repertoire. Followers of the ’60s folk scene might have known the song before they heard the Flack version; it was a staple of the genre. The Kingston Trio even cleaned up the lyrics, changing the line “The first time ever I lay with you…” to “…held you near”. After the success of Flack’s intense, tender, sensual, touching and definitive version – which captures the experience of being with somebody you love better than any other song – there was an explosion of covers, with Elvis Presley’s bombastic version especially infuriating MacColl, who compared it to Romeo singing up at Juliet on the Post Office tower. It does seem that he did not take kindly to the intimacy of his song being spread widely and, indeed, corrupted. And Peggy Seeger never sang the song again after Ewan’s death
Also covered by: Smothers Brothers, Peter Paul & Mary, Harry Belafonte, Marianne Faithfull, Bert Jansch, Gordon Lightfoot, Shirley Bassey, Vicky Carr, Andy Williams, Engelbert Humperdinck, Johnny Mathis, The Temptations, Isaac Hayes, Timmy Thomas, The Chi-Lites, Mel Tormé, Barbara Dickson, Alsion Moyet, Aaron Neville, Julian Lloyd Webber, Lauryn Hill, Celine Dion, George Michael, Christy Moore, Stereophonics, Johnny Cash, Vanessa Williams, Leona Lewis a.o.
Best version: I’m waiting for Michael Fucking Bolton to do his version before I commit myself…
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Love Songs For Every Situation: Love ends

February 13th, 2008 3 comments

And after love comes the break-up. We’ll deal with the long-term effects of that later. For now, let’s get caught in the moment of the break-up.

Kris Kristofferson – For The Good Times.mp3
Few songs are as much in the moment as this: Kris is proposing break-up sex to celebrate what must have been a great relationship, and to signify that the split is amicable (“There’s no need to watch the bridges that we’re burning”). There is still some love there (it is unclear who actually wants to leave). There is much tenderness in the chorus: “Lay your head upon my pillow.Hold your warm and tender body close to mine. Hear the whisper of the raindrops, blowin’ soft against the window,and make believe you love me one more time…for the good times.”

Crowded House – Better Be Home Soon (live).mp3
Interpreting Crowded House lyrics can be a precarious past-time. I read those for “Better Be Home Soon” (here a live version from the Farewell To The World album) as a desperate plea to save a relationship. Perhaps the couple has already separated, or one partner is playing away, or (as I read it) the couple is experiencing a great personal distance, but the protagonist is asking to fix a relationship that is dying. The effort must come from both sides: “So don’t say no, don’t say nothing’s wrong, cause when you get back home, maybe I’ll be gone.” This is a great song to play on guitar. For the tabs check out the Guitariotabs blog whence I borrowed this file from.

Missy Higgins – Ten Days.mp3
A relationship is certainly dying in this song, by another Australian artist, but not so much because the love has been extinguished, but as the effect of long-distance (“so tell me, did you really think…I had gone when you couldn’t see me anymore?”). Missy is “cutting the ropes”, even though “you’re still the only one that feels like home”.

Powderfinger – Wishing On The Same Moon.mp3
More Aussie heartbreak in this slow-rock song from last year’s Dream Days at the Hotel Existence album. The dude is still totally in love, but has been left. He’s not bitter yet (that’ll be dealt with in later posts); in fact “whenever you set free your devil smile on me, I melt”. The poor guy knows it’s over, and is now reduced to begging: “I’m calling out for you, pleading for your love. You’re falling from my view and there’s nothing I can do.” So, what does one do when one cannot be with one’s love? Why, look up at the stars and the moon, of course. That’s what they are there for, it’s what he and she can share: “I’m waiting in the afternoon for the sun to sink and let the night back in. It’s when I feel close to you, when the stars they swoon and bring their night time bloom.”

Prefab Sprout – When Love Breaks Down.mp3
An obvious break-up song from the great 1985 Steve McQueen album. There isn’t much drama in this split; the relationship is fizzling out, the inevitable being delayed to avoid the pain. They don’t see each other much, so “absence makes the heart lose weight, till love breaks down, love breaks down.” So, what will it be like when he’s single again? Paddy’ take: “When love breaks down, you join the wrecks who leave their hearts for easy sex.”

Carole King – It’s Too Late.mp3
Another song about love fading undramatically. “It used to be so easy living here with you. You were light and breezy and I knew just what to do. Now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool” — that is such a brutal realisation. It’s over, but it is reciprocal: “There’ll be good times again for me and you, but we just can’t stay together, can’t you feel it too? Still I’m glad for what we had and how I once loved you.” They’ll have their memories, and they’ll be good.

Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way.mp3
A classic in the genre, this track, from the 1977 Rumous album, was Lindsay Buckingham’s “fuck off” letter to Stevie Nicks. He wants to give her his world, but “how can I when you won’t take it from me”. Much has been made of the line: “Packing up, shacking up is all you wanna do”. Either Stevie was cheating (which she denies), or it refers to the rejected wedding proposal. Mick Fleetwood’s furious drumming and Buckingham’s angry guitar solo help to underscore the acidity of the lyrics.

Abba – The Winner Takes It All.mp3
Another song about band members splitting. Everything that has been said in praise of this song is true. Agnetha’s vocals are drenched in the pain of her own separation from Bjorn, who said he wrote it with a bottle of whisky as a companion. “I was in your arms, thinking I belonged there. I figured it made sense, building me a fence. Building me a home, thinking I’d be strong there, but I was a fool, playing by the rules.” The disillusionment of love, and trust, broken. The dude goes on to somebody else, (“but tell me, does she kiss like I used to kiss you?”). In this split someone is going on with life, the other feels foolish, desperate, frustrated and lonely.

Earth, Wind & Fire – After The Love Has Gone.mp3*
A marriage is blowing up after several good years, and our man can’t understand why. “We knew love would last. Every night, something right would invite us to begin the day.” Then things went awry. “Something happened along the way, what used to be happy was sad…” Words and melody combine to express an inner drama in the singer’s bid to make sense of it all (seeing as it’s Maurice White singing here, maybe a clue is in his sexual selfishness as revealed in yesterday’s post).

Odyssey – If You’re Looking For A Way Out.mp3
This is the saddest song among all these sad songs. A ballad from the funkster’s 1980 Hang Together album, the singer knows her man’s love has died, and puts the ball into his court. “Tell me I’m wrong”, but if she isn’t, “if you’re looking for a way out, I won’t stand here in your way”. Dude needs telling. She knows he cares: “Ain’t that just like you to worry about me. But we promised to be honest with each other for all eternity.” But she also knows that his love is gone: “Your kisses taste the same, but it’s just a sweet disguise.” Are you feeling tears coming on yet? Try this for size then: “Don’t look at the tears that I’m crying, they’ll only make you wanna stay. Don’t kiss me again, ’cause I’m dying to keep you from running away.” So what does the guy do when he is told: “Better tell me what’s in you heart. Oh baby now stop pretending, stop pretending, stop pretending”? He might be ready to tell her what’s in his heart, but then she adds: “Don’t you know I’ll always love you.” Checkmate.

In the middle of the road: Part 5

November 8th, 2007 5 comments

Big middle of the road update to nearly conclude the series. I still have a handful of suitable tracks in my back pocket, but I think five installments should do for now. I’ll post the others when I can think of something nice to say about Jackson Browne.

Stevie Nicks – Edge Of Seventeen.mp3
Cocaine Rock at its cokest (I take it everybody knows the stories about Nicks’ alleged methods of coke ingestion). A song about the death of Stevie’s uncle in Phoenix, and that of John Lennon, the nervous riff was an obvious sampling choice for that other deeply affecting song about the vagaries of the inevitable mortality that comes to all living things: Destiny’s Child “Bootylicious”. The thing I like best about this song is the clashing cymbals throughout.

Climax Blues Band – Couldn’t Get It Right.mp3
Lyrically, this song — about life on the road — is unremarkable. Musically, it has classic written all over it. The vocals in particular are quite special, with two-octave dual voices and the rest of the sextet joining in the harmonies. So, yeah, one to croon along to.

Gino Vanelli – I Just Want To Stop.mp3
Here’s a bit of trivia: Gino Vanelli was the first white singer to appear on Soul Train. The Canadian veered between creating fusion and straight soul-infused rock which was similar to the sound of the great Boz Scaggs. This soaring ballad, from 1978′s excellent Brother To Brother album, falls in the latter genre. You just have to dig the saxophone solo, but what I really like is the short pause when our man sings the title’s line (for example at 2:04), with the drum beat virtually accentuating the letter p in the word “stop”.

Larsen-Feiten Band – Who Will Be The Fool Tonight.mp3
Neil Larsen and Buzz Feiten were better known as session musicians, highly respected in jazz fusion circles especially, than as recording artists in their own rights. As far as I know, they released only one album, whence came this pretty funky track. Guitar and bass guitar enthusiasts may recognise Buzz’s name from the tuning system he invented.

Loggins & Messina – Danny’s Song.mp3
As I mentioned a couple of episodes ago, Jim Messina is generally regarded as the second banana in this duo, unfairly so. Fact is that Messina — a sound engineer, former drummer of Buffalo Springfield and then of Poco (which he co-founded) — was brought in to help out the budding talent Kenny Loggins, who was struggling getting his debut album together. One thing leading to another, the two decided to form a duo. The best work on the Sittin’ In, from which “Danny’s Song” comes, album is Messina’s. This ballad, a Loggins composition, is the sweetest song, though. Dude is newly-wed and sings about all the bliss and chains of love and there being a family where there once was none et cetera. On my mix-CD in the car, I follow “Danny’s Song” with Gram Parsons’ version of “Love Hurts”, just to remind myself that “Danny” is just a dreamy idealist whose heart is bound to be broken when Mrs Danny goes fogelberging elsewhere.

Hall & Oates – Rich Girl.mp3
How incomplete this series would be without a bit of Hall & Oates. Amid the collective memory of Hall’s mullet and Oates’ moustache, it’s easily forgotten just how good they were back in the day. The trilogy of “Rich Girl”, “Sara Smile” and “She’s Gone” should dispel any notions of our two friends being as naff as their hair suggests. Of these three tracks, I used to like “She’s Gone” the best, until I saw the mindbogglingly, hilariously bad video (even for its time). Instead, here’s “Rich Girl”, which Hall intended as a jibe at an ex-boyfriend of his then girlfriend (the Sara of the smile). Hall’s vocal performance here is quite excellent.

Poco – A Good Feelin’ To Know.mp3
Ah, the harmonies of West Coast country-rock, a genre Poco helped invent. I love the chord changes, and check out the drumming. It seems nobody told the drummer that this was supposed to be a mid-tempo wind-in-the-hair kind of number, because he plays this as a hard rock song. And it works very well, giving the song a bit of edge. Along with Jim Messina, a founding member of Poco was Randy Meisner. He left the group in 1969, unhappy with the musical direction it was taking, presumably the country rock thing. So who did Meisner find fortune and fame with? The Eagles. Of course. Meisner was replaced by Timothy B Schmitt. And when Meisner left the Eagles, guess who replaced him there.

Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat.mp3
More trivia: Al Stewart was the first singer to commit the f-word as part the lyrics of a recorded song, the line “Love being more than a fuck” on “Love Chronicles” in 1969. Soon after, Jefferson Starship used the word “motherfucker”, the first intentional use of an expletive on record (disregarding swearing in the background, as the drummer in the beginning of “Louie Louie”). Anyway, so much for the idea of Al being a little prissy. Fair enough, he did very little to advance the punk revolution, and his music was mild-mannered. It was consistently beautiful though, and at times quite at odds with the lyrics. And any song that references the great Peter Lorre deserves my vote. Though I prefer the Time Passages album, this song is rightly regarded as Stewart’s masterpiece.

Elvin Bishop – Fooled Around And Fell In Love.mp3
He was through about a million girls??? Not disputing Elvin’s charm, sex appeal and stamina here, but I think he’s not levelling with us. Usually the guys who count their conquests in six figures or more actually are still virgins. Anyway, Elvin Bishop doesn’t really sing this. The blues guitarist handed the vocal duties for this West Coast pub song to Mickey Thomas, the singer in Bishop’s band. This is one of those songs you crank up the volume for and sing along to, possibly aggressively out of tune.

Elkie Brooks – Fool If You Think It’s Over.mp3
You wouldn’t guess it, but Elkie Brooks is one of the most successful female British singers of all time. To be honest, I can think of only three songs by her which I’d recognise: “Pearl’s A Singer”, “Only A Fool” and this one. Oh, but the Chris Rea-penned “Fool” is a fine song, with its rich orchestration and gently swinging chorus.

Journey – Who’s Crying Now.mp3
Great keyboard intro, enter Steve Perry, set the song up for the sing-along chorus. Perfect. Randy Crawford covered this song to great effect (Randy Crawford covers any song to great effect). The story has it that guitarist Neal Schon disliked this song so much that, when called to play a guitar solo at the end, he cobbled together what he thought was the most hackneyed bit of guitar wankery, hoping it would offend enough for excision. As it turned out, the other band members liked it so much that it was retained. With Journey you want a bit of cliché CocRock, so the solo is absolutely perfect.

Bad Company – Feel Like Makin’ Love.mp3
Don’t let the torture that moron Kid Rick inflicted upon this great song undermine your enjoyment of it. In its original incarnation, it is near-perfect. I starts out as a West Coast track of the sort the Eagles would have been proud of — remarkable in itself, since Bad Company was an English blues-rock band. Suddenly, as the chorus approaches, the heavy rock guitars kick in, and Paul Rodgers (him of Free) repeatedly roars out the song’s title, before it goes all Eagles again. Marvellous stuff for the long road. The song is from the band’s second album, titled Straight Shooter, the sort of cliché used by people who claim to have fogelberged about a million women.

Andy Gibb – I Just Want To Be Your Everything.mp3
Admittedly, including this song in this series is a bit of a stretch. It’s really a pop song — and one of the finest of the ’70s. Andy’s career, if not his entire life, suffered from living in the shadows of his older brothers (hence the dancing, ho ho). His career certainly was not helped by the reputation the Bee Gees earned when they became the supposed “Kings of Disco”: those who liked the Bee Gees’ disco stuff regarded Andy as Bee Gees Lite; those who hated it would not give Andy a fair shot. Yet, “I Just Want To Be Your Everything” is an exquisite song which swings beautifully and evokes sunshine. A very happy song from a very unhappy man.

Steve Miller Band – The Joker.mp3 (link fixed)
Can one still sing along to this song without launching into a Homer Simpson parody? Recorded in 1973 (it really doesn’t sound as old as that), it is as self-referencing a song as they come. Other Steve Miller Songs were called “Enter Maurice”, “Space Cowboy” and, of course, “Gangster Of Love”. The song caused a bit of a mystery over the lyric “the pompatus of love”. the mystery is solved here. Listen to “The Joker”, and then play “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors to hear a most shameless rip-off.
Homer Simpson – The Joker.mp3

In the middle of the road: Part 4

November 1st, 2007 4 comments

And more songs from the middle of the road, West Coast, yacht club and so on. Hold on before cutting your AOR Mix CD-R — the final installment of the series (for the time being) will run next week.

Average White Band – Atlantic Avenue.mp3
It has always tickled me that the Average White Band is known by the acronym AWB, which it shares with the South African white supremacist Nazi movement, the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging — which doubtlessly would not approve of the band’s multi-racialism or black music influence. “Atlantic Avenue”, from 1979′s excellent Feel No Fret, is a great driving song (preferable over a member of the racist AWB), with its fantastic bassline, horn section, percussions and whistles. The vocals are great for singing along, especially the ad libbed “Oh-ooh-woah-oh-woh-woh-wouooh” before the backing singers repeat the sing title in falsetto.

Michael McDonald – I Keep Forgetting.mp3
Jens Lekman might remember Warren G and the sweet summer of 1993 (though I think it was in ’94); I remember Michael McDonald and the slightly crappy summer of 1982. Warren G and Nate Dogg pulled a masterstroke by sampling “I Keep Forgetting” on their “Regulate”, but the McDonald song remains superior, thanks to the man’s distinctive voice. The song is a cover of a Leiber & Stoller R&B composition, but McDonald very much makes it his own. The highpoint is his impassioned interpretation of the line “everytime you’re near”, which to me sounds influenced by the vocal stylings of the Four Tops’ Levy Stubbs.

Bob Seger – Against The Wind.mp3
Bob is one of the AOR gods, and “Against The Wind” shows why. The lovely keyboard solo at 2:45 with those great guitar chords, the lyrics about lost time…it’s quite perfect. And that line, “wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” is simply fantastic. To me, this song is a companion piece to Springsteen’s “The River”.

Dan Fogelberg – Longer.mp3
Every AOR collection needs a couple of ballads. It might be Loggins & Messina’s “Danny’s Song” (perhaps next week). Or it could be “Longer” by the man with the rock ‘n rollest of names (there must be colleges where “fogelberging” was a euphemism for acts possibly banned in 23 states). Oh, but “Longer” is a very pretty song, with the little horn solo (is it a flugelhorn?) and the promise of everlasting love. Awwww!

Kansas – Carry On Wayward Son.mp3
I’ll be honest, I have no idea what the good gentlemen of Kansas looked like back in their day, but I should be very disappointed should I find out that there was even just a hint of hirsute deficiency. This is hair rock v1.0 — and much better than the coked up gimps in spandex tights who peddled their comedian music in v2.0 (yes, New Jersey hairspray goon, I mean you). “Carry On Wayward Son” has it all: the West Coast country-rock, the CocRock which anticipated the advent of Journey and Boston, folkish harmonies, the prog guitar solo which just demands that the listener go seriously crazy on that air guitar’s sorry ass…

America – Lonely People.mp3
America’s SoCal country rock is essential for the road (or the yacht, if one seeks to perpetuate the useless cliché). “Lonely People” has that wonderful moment just before the harmonica solo kicks as one the Americans issues the instruction: “Hit it”. I’ve uploaded it before. If you missed it the first time around, there’s more America here.

Linda Ronstadt – It’s So Easy.mp3
The queen of AOR returns with an upbeat country-rock number to offset the heaviness of our possibly very hirsute friends from Kansas. Ronstadt succeeded in translating her country roots into rock (as did the likes of the Eagles and Gram Parsons), thus helping diminish the stereotypes of country being by definition uncool — a definition informed by the caricature of yee-hawing good ole boys who bang their big-haired cousins on pooltables and cry when their doggy gone died. For that, thank you, Ms Ronstadt. Trivia fact: with “It’s So Easy” and “Blue Bayou”, Ronstadt was the first artist since the Beatles to have two simultaneous US top 5 hits.

Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way.mp3
The song for when “Longer” has run its course and you want to go folgelberging elsewhere. Apparently written by Lindsey Buckingham to Stevie Nicks (whom I’d have joyfully fogelberged back in the day) as a break-up song. His guitar solo and the harmonies are quite brilliant. The whole Rumours album is brilliant, in fact.

More Middle of the Road

The Songbirds: Vol 5

October 21st, 2007 5 comments

After a hiatus, here’s a new instalment of The Songbirds. Given the name of this series, it seems odd that I’ve never thought of uploading the song that gave inspired title. So here, in its original incarnation and as covered by a previous Songbird nominee:
Fleetwood Mac – Songbird.mp3
Rosie Thomas – Songbird.mp3

Kate Earl
I really hope Kate Earl‘s fine 2005 debut Fate Is the Hunter will not be the final offering by this engaging Alaskan LA-based songbird. Critics tend to compare Earl with Fiona Apple, without the neurosis. Not being a great fan of Apple, I am inclined to differ. Though vocally they are not dissimilar, Earl plays with different genres, from guitar-folk to piano-driven ballads to what one might call folk-torchsong and folk-blues. Joni Mitchell and Carole King are obvious influences. “Cry Sometimes” is a slowed-down AOR number of the kind those who like the interminably dull Norah Jones ought to hear just to realise just how deficient Jones’ music is. The critics point to the fine “Hero” as the stand-out track on Fate Is the Hunter. I recommend that the reader seeks it out immediately after being acquainted with the songs below. “Sweet Sixteen” is a torchsong-type number which innovatively samples some old shellac record tune.
Kate Earl – Cry Sometimes.mp3
Kate Earl – Sweet Sixteen.mp3

Jill Sobule
Jill Sobule has been around for a long while, but has only ever had one proper hit, 1995′s “I Kissed A Girl”. Audiences presumably looked for more of the same, in the Lisa Loeb mould, and lost interest when Sobule did not pander to expectations. And so Lisa, not Jill, became a bit of a star (not that I’d begrudge the bespectacled one her success). Sobule is a storyteller who dips her lyrics in liberal amounts of irony. Some of her music is quite brilliant, but the real attraction resides in her lyrics, and the delivery thereof. I’ve mentioned this line from “One Of These Days” before: “One of these days I’m gonna touch the sky, like that awful song ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, [pause for effect] I believe I can fly.” The song comes from 2000′s Pink Pearl album, which also features the Bacharach-as-produced-by-Spector style “Rainy Day Parade”, a song about depression and loss. Get the stunning “Lucy At The Gym” and CD-quality live MP3s on the regularly updated download section of Jill’s excellent homepage.
Jill Sobule – Rainy Day Parade.mp3
Jill Sobule – I Kissed A Girl.mp3
Jill Sobule – One Of These Days.mp3

Colbie Caillat
One of the success stories of musicians bypassing the A&R goons via the Internet to find recognition and, in this case, commercial benefit, Colbie Caillat has found favour among bloggers and MySpace trawlers alike. The thing is, purely on paper Caillat’s debut album should not deserve such favour. Its title is Coco, her childhood nickname for crying out loud. The lyrics are cute and sweet, but not particularly poetic. Her sound is breezy and sunny, almost begging comparison to boring old Jack Johnson (who, in fairness, is one of the host of influences Colbie — or her PR — lists on her My Space page). On top of all that, Colbie is very pretty, looking nothing like a grungy or introspective folk chick (all this recalls the case of Tristan Prettyman, whose new album is out in February — hurrah! — and whom I featured in The Songbirds Vol 3) . And yet! And yet, Coco is one of the most appealing albums of the year. We need music for all moods; Caillat provides the soundtrack for happy moods, a bit like early Rickie Lee Jones. If there is a sound that can replicate the feeling of just having falling in reciprocal love, this is it.
Colbie Caillat – Realize.mp3
Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire.mp3

Kate Walsh
Another singer who created a buzz on the Internet, rather than thanks to conventional promotion methods, Kate Walsh channels the spirit of Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell. Her home-recorded album is intimate, touching and immediately engaging. It is a quiet album — basically a girl and her guitar — but also one thickly layered with credible emotion and exquisite melodies. Tim’s House has accomplished a respectable amount of attention, acclaim and some commercial success through innovative marketing on iTunes Store. But there is more to the album than that. I’ll stick my neck out and predict, hopefully without undue hyperbole, that in some time to come, it will be recognised as a minor classic in the Songbird genre.
Kate Walsh – Don’t Break My Heart.mp3
Kate Walsh – Is This It.mp3 (previously uploaded)
Kate Walsh – Talk Of The Town.mp3 (previously uploaded)

Shawn Colvin
I have been debating wit

h myself whether to include Shawn Colvin in this series, having focused on female singers who have not received much wider exposure or, as in the cases of Rickie Lee Jones and Suzanne Vega, whose new album merited mention. Colvin also released a new album late last year, These Four Walls, which also went rather unnoticed. A pleasant affair, it had a couple of notable songs (“So Good To See You” being particularly good). Colvin’s back catalogue includes some gems, handily compiled on 2004′s Polaroid album. But what I really like about Colvin is that she voiced a character in The Simpsons (the Christian rock singer whom Ned Flanders fancied) and appeared on The Larry Sanders Show. Which is pretty cool. Colvin was also the unfortunate singer whose Grammys acceptance speech (for Song of the Year “Sunny Came Home”) was hijacked by Ol’ Dirty Bastard who expressed his justifiable disappointment at losing a nomination to the revolting Puff Daddy, sartorial stylings notwithstanding, and how Wu Tang is all about the children.
Shawn Colvin – So Good To See You.mp3
Shawn Colvin – Never Saw Blue Like That.mp3

The Songbirds Vol 1: Rickie Lee Jones, Mindy Smith, Michelle Featherstone, Missy Higgins, A Fine Frenzy
The Songbirds Vol 2: Harris Tweed, Brandi Carlile, Hello Saferide, Sarah Borges, Suzanne Vega
The Songbirds Vol 3: Rosie Thomas, Catherine Feeney, Sarah Bettens, Kathleen Edwards, Tristan Prettyman
The Songbirds Vol 4:
Deb Talan, Brooke Fraser, Emiliana Torrini, Maria Taylor, Jenny Lewis

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