Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Frank Sinatra’

In Memoriam – July 2012

August 2nd, 2012 7 comments

Two Funk Brother died in July: first Maurice D Davis, who played trumpet on songs like Papa Was A Rolling Stone, and a couple of days later, on July 16, Bob Babbitt, who played the bass on Motown hits such as Tears Of A Clown, War, Just My Imagination; on soul classics like Midnight Train To Georgia and Band Of Gold. Also listen to his bass solo on Dennis Coffey’s 1972 hit Scorpio.

July 16 was a bad day for music. We lost Jon Lord, the great innovative organist of Deep Purple and Whitesnake. We also lost Kitty Wells, whose breakthrough as a country singer paved the way for female stars in that genre, such as Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Wells was already in her 30s and a mother of three when she became a star; the first female ever to top the country charts. Wells introduced feminist themes into country long before that was regarded as ordinary and articulated a female self-confidence that would become characteristic of many women who succeeded her.

Fritz Pauer, 68, Austrian jazz pianist, on July 1

Margot Werner, 74, Austrian-born chanson singer, suicide on July 1

Andy Griffiths, 86, actor and gospel singer, on July 3

Ben Kynard, 92, jazz saxophonist, on July 5
Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra – I’m Mindin’ My Business (And Baby, My Business Is You) (1946, on saxophone)

José Roberto Bertrami, 66, Brazilian pianist and keyboardist with jazz-funk Azymuth, on July 8
Azymuth – Fly Over The Horizon (1979)

Lionel Batiste, 81, jazz musician with the Tremè Brass Band, on July 8
Tremè Brass Band – The Old Rugged Cross (1993)

Zach Booher, 22, member of acoustic rock duo While We’re Up, in a car crash on July 8

Dennis Flemion, 57, member of indie-comic band The Frogs, member of Smashing Pumpkins live line-up 1996/97, drowned on July 9
The Frogs – Which One Of You Gave My Daughter The Dope (1996)

Edwin Duff, 84, Australian singer, on July 10

Maria Hawkins Cole, 89, jazz singer, widow of Nat King Cole, on July 10

Lol Coxhill, 79, English jazz saxophonist, on July 10

Perry Baggs, 50, drummer and singer with cowpunk group Jason & The Scorchers, on July 12

Maurice D Davis, 71, saxophonist and member of Motown backing-collective The Funk Brothers, on July 13
The Temptations – Papa Was A Rolling Stone (1972)
One Way – Cutie Pie (1982)

Bucky Adams, 75, Canadian jazz trumpeter, on July 13

Celeste Holm, 95, actress who occasionally sang (High Society, Oklahoma), on July 15
Frank Sinatra & Celeste Holm – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (1956)

Kitty Wells, 92, country legend, on July 16
Kitty Wells – I Don’t Claim To Be An Angel (1956)
Kitty Wells – Crying Time (1966)

Jon Lord, 71, composer and keyboardist of Deep Purple and Whitesnake, on July 16
Deep Purple – Child In Time (1972)
Whitesnake – Here I Go Again (1987)
Jon Lord with Frida Lyngstad – The Sun Will Shine Again (2004)

Bob Babbitt, 74, bass guitarist of backing bands The Funk Brothers (Motown) and MFSB (PIR), on July 16
Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered (1970)
Freda Payne – Band Of Gold (1970)
Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band – Scorpio (1971)

Ms. Melodie (Ramona Scott), 48, rapper, on July 18

Ossie Hibbert, 62, reggae keyboardist and producer, on July 19

Larry Hoppen, 61, singer and guitarist of soft-rock band Orleans, on July 24
Orleans – Dance With Me (1975, on lead vocals)

Sherman Hemsley, 74, jazz singer and keyboardist, actor (George Jefferson, Amen), on July 24

Big Walter Smith, 82, blues musician, on July 24

Don Bagley, 84, jazz bassist and composer, on July 26
June Christy & Stan Kenton – Easy Street (1951, on bass)

Tony Martin, 98, actor and singer, on July 27
Tony Martin & Fran Warren – I Said My Pajamas (And Put On My Pray’rs) (1949)

Darryl Cotton, 62, Australian singer with Zoot; Cotton Keays & Morris; and television host, on July 27

Geoffrey Hughes, 68, English actor, voice of Paul McCartney in Yellow Submarine, on July 27
The Beatles – Yellow Submarine In Pepperland (1968)

Bill Doss, 43, rock singer and guitarist with The Olivia Tremor Control, The Apples in Stereo; announced on July 31
The Olivia Tremor Control – Not Feeling Human (1999)

Lucio Quarantotto, 55, Italian songwriter and composer (Con te partirò), suicide on July 31

DOWNLOAD

 * * *

Previous In Memoriams

Keep up to date with dead pop stars on Facebook

Beatles Bizarre Vol. 2

May 19th, 2011 8 comments

Beatlemania coincided with a renaissance of novelty records, and so it is logical that many of these novelty records would concern themselves with The Beatles. Here is a batch of songs particularly about Ringo, as well as a recording Frank Sinatra made for Ringo’s wife Maureen, and a young Sissy Spacek totally going off John Lennon after being exposed to his luxuriant bouffant of pubic hair displayed on an album cover.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Rainbo (Sissy Spacek) – John, You Went Too Far This Time (1968).mp3
Before she became famous as an actress, including her singing role as country singer Loretta Lynn, Sissy Spacek tried to become a folk singer, releasing a solitary single under the trite moniker Rainbo (which she apparently disliked) before being fired by her label for not being a best-seller. The John whom Sissy Rainbow addresses on this breathtakingly bad record would be Mr Lennon, and his transgression would be letting it all hang out post-coitally on the cover of Two Virgins, his avant garde nonsense recorded with Yoko Ono, who also appears naked on the cover.

Sissy loves John and forgives him many things, but she is not one who would endorse exhibitions of public nudity – and in this particular instance I am inclined to concur with her, purely on aesthetic grounds. John and Yoko were not attractive naked people. But if Lennon went too far on a record sleeve, then Spacek (and the chaps who wrote this bizarre thing, John Marshall and Ronald Dulka) overstepped the boundaries of musical decency with that chorus, which supposedly was meant to evoke the Beatles sound. In 1983 Spacek released a full country album, titled Hangin’ Up My Heart. She was fully clothed on the cover.

.

Bonnie Jo Mason (Cher) – Ringo, I Love You (1964).mp3
Another future star recording Beatles-related material under a different name was Cher, who in 1964 sought to buy into the Zeitgeist by declaring her love for the drummer. Before her brief stint as Bonnie Jo Mason, Cherilyn Sarkasian sang backing vocals on classics such as The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, The Chiffons’ Da Doo Ron Ron and the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling – and it was the producer of those songs, Phil Spector, who co-wrote and produced Ringo, I Love You. Then she recorded as plain Cherilyn (a song called Dream Baby which your faithful correspondent recently featured on the Star Maker Machine blog) and in a duo as Cleo to Sonny Bono’s Caesar. Within just over a year of releasing Ringo, I Love You, Sonny and Cher were stars. The Ringo anthem was backed with an instrumental titled Beatles Blues, a deliberately bad song placed to deter DJs from ignoring the A-side, as they often did. The ploy backfired: apparently radio DJs were thrown by Bonnie Jo’s deep voice and refused to play what they thought was a gay declaration of affection for the Beatles drummer.

.

Ella Fitzgerald – Ringo Beat (1964).mp3
There were loads of Ringo-themed songs in the mid-’60s, apparently some 50 of them. They included The Rainbows’ My Ringo, Christine Hunter’s Santa, Bring Me Ringo, Treat Him Tender, Maureen by Angie & The Chicklettes, Al Fisher & Lou Marks’ Ringo Ringo Little Star, Three Blond Mice’s Ringo Bells, The Whippets’ Go Go Go With Ringo, Neil Sheppard’s You Can’t Go Far Without A Guitar (Unless You’re Ringo Starr), Ringo Did It by Veronica Lee, I Want To Kiss Ringo Goodbye by Penny Valentine, and Bingo Ringo by Daws Butler (who voiced Huckleberry Hound). Even Ella Fitzgerald got in on the act with Ringo Beat, a rather nice number written by Ella herself (one of her 27 compositions), which naturally features a “yeah yeah” reference and namechecks other contemporary popsters.

.

The Young World Singers – Ringo For President (1964).mp3
Released in August 1964, the Young World Singers in their cover of Rolf Harris’ song sought to offer an alternative to Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater in that year’s elections for US president, evidently oblivious to the rule that disqualifies those not born in the United States from standing as candidates. And since Ringo was a Kenyan Muslim… In any case, it is doubtful that Ringo, who has acknowledged his limitations in intellectual pursuits, would have been a great president (though the US voters elected a man of even less cerebral qualities to the presidency in 2004).

Of course, it wasn’t cleverness the Young World Singers and the others engaged in the Ringo For President campaign were looking for in their candidate: “He’s our candidate ’cause he makes us feel so great. We could talk about war out on the big dance floor. Oh my gee, oh my gingo…if I could vote, I’d vote for Ringo!” Asked at a press conference in August 1964 about the Ringo For President campaign, Starr admited: “I’m not sort of politically minded.” Asked whether he would appoint the other Beatles to his cabinet, the conversation descends into a typical Beatlesque farce, with George interjecting: “I could be the door”, and John nominating himself to serve as the cupboard.

.

Don Bowman – The Other Ringo (1966).mp3
In the early ‘60s, there was a popular cowboy hit titled Ringo, recorded by Bonanza star Lorne Green (the Cartwright patriarch), which Don Bowman parodied to coincide with the height of Beatlemania. Bowman notes the death of the old Ringo and the rise of the Beatle by the same name. He seems to be taken particularly with the length of Ringo’s hair. Bowman was a country singer, comedian, TV presenter and DJ who recorded this rather amusing novelty number for his 1966 LP titled Funny Way To Make An Album, which also included a song called Freddy Four Toes. Bowman clearly did not compromise his comedy with artistic credibility: other LPs were titled Fresh From The Funny Farm (1965), Recorded Almost Live (1966), Support Your Local Prison (1967) and Still Fighting Mental Health (1979).

.

Dick Lord – Like Ringo (1964).mp3
Don Bowman wasn’t the only one to make the connection between Lorne Greene’s hit and the Beatles drummer. Dick Lord was not a porn actor but a comedian, and  remains one today. At the time of recording Like Ringo, Dick Lord was a close friend of the great Bobby Darin. I the song, Dick Lord’s girlfriend is rather obsessed with the Beatles man, and Dick Lord’s exasperation at being rejected by the obsessed fan turns to ingenuity as he adopts the Ringo look. Eventually Dick Lord’s girlfriend returns to Dick Lord, informing him tearfully that her Ringo infatuation is over. A great punchline awaits, and I shall not spoil it.

.

The Bon Bons – What’s Wrong With Ringo? (1964).mp3
A persistent rumour has it that the Bon Bons were the Shangri-Las by another name. It is, alas, not true. What’s Wrong With Ringo was released before the Shangri-Las’ debut single, Remember (Walking In The Sand), was issued by Red Birds Records in September 1964. The Ringo song was released on the Coral label, the Decca subsidiary that had also issued records by Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline and The Vogues, but never had the Weiss and Ganser sisters under contract.The Ringo song was not the Bon Bons’ only release; also in 1964 Coral issued the follow-up single Everybody Wants My Boyfriend . Anyway, the question of the song’s title concerns the shortage of Beatles songs sung by Ringo. It seems the record-buying public did not share their concern, and so ignored this quite catchy girl-group record (which includes, of course, the “yeah yeah yeah yeah” thing).

.

Frank Sinatra – Maureen Is A Champ (1968).mp3
This tribute to Mrs Ringo is not only a great novelty item, but also something of a historical artefact: it’s the first record to be catalogued on the Beatles’ Apple label – its number being Apple 1 (Hey Jude was the first Apple release, but it wasn’t catalogued). Only a few copies, some say only one, of Maureen Is A Champ were made before the master tape was destroyed, because this was a private recording to mark Maureen’s 22nd birthday. Maureen was a big Sinatra fan, so a train of events was set in motion, apparently by Beatles business manager Peter Brown, which involved the great Sammy Cahn rewriting Lorenz Hart’s lyrics for The Lady Is A Tramp, and Frank Sinatra – who by that point was a Beatles fan (and covered several of their songs) – singing the reworked number, with Cahn on piano. We can assume that when Ringo presented his wife with that special record on 4 August 1968, she probably was quite pleased.

Beatles Bizarre Vol. 1
More Beatles stuff

The Originals Vol. 28 – Sinatra edition

July 10th, 2009 11 comments

Frank Sinatra was a supreme interpreter of music. Even in the later stages of his career, when the arrangements often transgressed the boundaries of good taste, Sinatra still knew how to appropriate a song. One may well think that he was essentially a cover artist — after all, he never wrote a song — and much of his catalogue consists of songs more famous in other artists’ hands. But many of Sinatra’s most famous songs were first recorded by him, and often written especially for him, particularly by Sammy Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The songs that were first recorded by others but became known as Sinatra standards are relatively few. About a dozen or so, by my count. This series has already examined My Way, New York New York and Something Stupid. Here are five other songs first recorded by others, some even had hits with them, but are now unmistakable linked with Sinatra.

* * *

Bert Kaempfert – Beddy Bye.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Strangers In The Night.mp3

beddy_byeThe melody for Strangers In The Night featured in a theme written by German composer and arranger Bert Kaempfert (who had also produced the Beatles’ first recordings on Tony Sheridan’s record) for the 1965 movie A Man Could Get Killed. The Strangers In The Night melody was adapted for or had been adapted from a recording of the song which Kaempfert wrote as Fremde in der Nacht (video) for Croatian singer Ivo Robić, who also sang it in Croatian (some say that Robić wrote it and gave it to Kaempfert because he latter was supposedly out on his luck; an unlikely notion). The sequence of events is confused: Robić released the song in 1966, the year after Kaempfert scored A Man Who Could Get Killed.

Set to English lyrics by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, Kaempfert was involved in arranging Strangers In The Night for Sinatra, who recorded it on 11 April 1966. Sinatra didn’t want to record the song that would give him one of his biggest hits — so big, he could not exclude the song he called “a piece of shit” from his concert setlist, much as he tried. Audiences loved the song, applauding wildly even when a bemused Sinatra asked: “You like this song?” At the same time, he also acknowledged that “it’s helped keep me in pizza”.

Strangers In The Night produced an appalling travesty: in the public imagination, the lazily scatted doobee-dobeedoo (that was Sinatra mocking the song, descending into a gibberish that really says “fuck you”) has become associated with Sinatra more than his wonderful phrasing, the timing of his interpretation and the precise diction (listen to any Sinatra song, and you’ll understand every word; when speaking, Sinatra’s elocution was less meticulous in his speech). Still, “the worst song I ever fucking heard” won Sinatra a pair of Grammys (The Beatles’ Michelle won Song of the Year).

strangers_in_the_nightStrangers In The Night is now often billed as Sinatra’s great comeback song. But just a year before, Sinatra was Grammy-awarded for a song which we shall review in a moment. So it might only by the standards of sales, not quality, that Strangers In The Night marked any kind of rebound. Even then, many of Sinatra’s most popular songs performed poorly in the charts. None of his singles between Hey Jealous Lover in 1957 and Strangers In The Night in 1966 topped the Billboard charts. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the 1957 chart topper, hardly a Sinatra classic, was his only Billboard #1 during the golden period on Capitol. And that other Sinatra behemoth, My Way (which he also despised) reached only #27. In short, Sinatra’s success could not be measured by sales or chart placings.

Apparently the ad lib inspired the name of cartoon hound Scooby Doo. Playing rhythm guitar on the song is Glen Campbell (a musical Zelig of the ’60s), about whom Sinatra, not rarely an asshole, enquired: “Who’s the fag guitarist over there?” When the English version became a hit, Sinatra’s first chart-topper in 11 years, composer Ralph Chicorel accused Kaempfert of plagiarising his song You Are My Love (the claim was settled, to Chicorel’s dissatisfaction, out of court). Kaempfert might have been an easy listening merchant, but he was no hack. Songs he wrote or co-wrote include Nat ‘King” Cole’s L-O-V-E and Al Martino’s Spanish Eyes.

Also recorded by: Johnny Dorelli (as Solo più che mai, 1966), Mel Tormé (1966), The Sandpipers (1966), Johnny Rivers (1966), Jack Jones (1966), Petula Clark (1966), John Davidson (1966), Jim Nabors (1966), Vikki Carr (1966), Connie Francis (1966), Sandy Posey (1966), Barbara McNair (1966), Peggy Lee (1966), Fred Bertelmann (as Fremde in der Nacht, 1966), Johnny Mathis (1967), Andy Williams (1967), José Feliciano (1967), Dalida (as Solo più che mai, 1967), Jimi Hendrix (as part of Wild Thing at the Monterrey Fesival, 1967), Line Renaud (as Étrangers dans la nuit, 1969), Violetta Villas (1970), The Ventures (1970), Teddy Harold & Jeremy (1974), Bette Midler (1976), Mina (1984), Babe (as Stranac usranac, 1994), Los Manolos (1991), Manuel (1998), The Supremes (unreleased until 1998), Michael Bublé (2000), Paul Kuhn (2003), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Cake (2005), Barry Manilow (2006), Dany Brillant (2007), Russell Watson (2007), Marc Almond (2007) a.o.

* * *

Virginia Bruce – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Ray Noble & his Orchestra with Al Bowlly – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Frank Sinatra – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
The Four Seasons – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3

born_to-danceSinatra was a marvellous interpreter of Cole Porter’s songs, and both of his solo versions of I‘ve Got You Under My Skin are superb (whereas his long-distance duet with Bono was embarrassing. “Don’t you know, Blue Eyes, you never can win” indeed.). The song was originally written for the 1936 MGM musical Born To Dance, in which Virginia Bruce vied with star Eleanor Powell for the affection of James Stewart. The film was the first to be entirely scored by Porter (and his first engagement for MGM), and featured another classic in the exquisite Easy to Love, crooned by Powell and, in an unusual singing role, Stewart.

The song was quickly covered by scores of crooners and orchestras, with Ray Noble and his Orchestra’s version, with the English singer Al Bowlly on vocals, scoring the biggest hit among various versions released in 1936. Two months earlier, in October, Hal Kemp and his Orchestra had a hit with it. Noble’s arrangement is superior, but Skinnay Ellis’ vocals, when they finally come in, are preferable. Bowlly met an untimely end in 1941 when the explosion of a Blitzkrieg bomb on London blew his bedroom door off its hinges, lethally smashing the crooner’s head (see the wonderful Another Nickel in the Machine blog for the full story).

swingin_loversSinatra first performed I’ve Got You Under My Skin as part of a medley with You’d Be So Easy To Love on radio in 1946 (some sources say 1943), but didn’t record it until 1956, with Nelson Riddle’s arrangement on the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers album (it is the version featured here; the built-up to the instrumental break is quite delicious). He re-recorded the song again in 1963, in full swing mode, on Sinatra’s Sinatra, an album of remakes of some of his favourite hits. In an international poll conducted in 1980, I’ve Got You Under My Skin was voted the most popular Sinatra song. In 1966 the song was a hit in the popified remake of the Four Seasons.

Also recorded by: Frances Langford with Jimmy Dorsey (1936), Shep Fields (1936), Hal Kemp & his Orchestra (1936), Eddy Duchin (1942), Erroll Garner (1945), Artie Shaw & his Orchestra (1946), Ginny Simms (1946), Frank Culley (1951), Eddie Fisher (1952), Stan Freberg (1952), Peggy Lee (1953), The Ravens (1954), Dinah Washington (1955), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Georgie Auld (1956), Jimmy Callaway (1956), Shirley Bassey (1957), Anita O’Day With Billy May & His Orchestra (1959), Perry Como (1959), Louis Prima & Keely Smith (1960), Dinah Shore (1960), The Miracles (1962), Danny Williams (1962), Julie London (1965), The Four Seasons (1966), Gloria Gaynor (1976), Hank Marvin (1977), Chris Connor (1978), Rosemary Clooney (1982), Julio Iglesias (1985), Babe (1985), Neneh Cherry (1990), Dionne Warwick (1990), Frank Sinatra & Bono (1993), Guy Marchand (1998), Diana Krall (1999), Jamie Cullum Trio (1999), Neil Diamond (2000), Patricia Paay (2000), Echo (2002), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Michael Bublé (2005), Danny Seward (2005), Steve Tyrell (2005), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Smokey Robinson (2006), John Pizzarelli with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (2006), Cídia e Dan (2008), Wilfried Van den Brande (2008) a.o.

* * *

Ethel Merman – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Frank Sinatra – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Ella Fitzgerald – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3

ethelTrust Cole Porter to identify in his lyrical witticisms a yet undiscovered matter of science. As we now know, the emotion of love triggers a neurochemical reaction. So when Porter has generations of singers crooning about getting a kick out of you (or whoever the object of unrequited desire is), he gets them to rhapsodise about the intoxicating effect of oxytocin. The first to do so was Ethel Merman, whose voice is most unlikely to give you oxytocin overload.

The song was originally written for an unproduced musical titled Stardust, but languished for three years until a reworked version was included in the 1934 musical Anything Goes. This was Porter in his list-song pomp. Here he enumerates all the things that fail to give him a dopamine rush (he doesn’t give a flying fuck about a flying fuck, long before air travel became widely accessible), while in You’re The Top, from the same musical, he goes metaphor-crazy in cataloging all the ways his true love is, well, the top. While his brief did not refer specifically to Merman performing these songs, Porter did have her diction in mind when he included the line “it would bore me terrifically too”, just so that she could roll those Rs (alas not on the present version, but note how Sinatra accentuates the F instead). That line, of course, makes reference to cocaine — not a kick-giver, apparently — which for the 1936 movie version was replaced, incongruously, by Spanish perfume (not French and not quite in the same kick-giving league as a Class A drug).

songs_for_young_loversSinatra recorded the song at least three times, in 1953, 1962 (featured on Monday) and on his Live In Paris album, also in 1962 but not released until 1994. The earlier version is a jazzy guitar-based number in which Sinatra, just climbing out of career slump, treats the song with a certain decorum. He sounds nonchalant about all these supposed stimulants but is still sad because she obviously does not adore him. The song and the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! album it came from marked Sinatra’s big comeback after a few years in the wilderness (partly due to his vocal cord haemorrhage in 1951 and his subsequent dumping by Columbia records), coinciding with his success on the big screen in From Here To Eternity. It was his first outing with Nelson Riddle, whom Sinatra had to be tricked into working with, Riddle’s recent success arranging Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Mona Lisa notwithstanding. It is said that in their long association, Sinatra rejected one eight of Riddle’s proposed arrangements.

ella_cole_porterThe big band swing recording from 1962 — when Sinatra was in his Rat Pack grandeur — has the singer brimming with hubris. Here her lack of adoration is not a big snag — using Sinatra terminology, she’s still a great broad. As for the cocaine: in the 1953 take he is blasé about cocaine; by 1962 he is instead left cold by the riffs of the bop-tight refrain. Ella Fitzgerald, in her utterly enchanting version (and do try to sing along to get an idea just how intricate her effortless vocals are), also refers to cocaine. Does Ethel Merman in her remake for the notorious 1979 disco album?

Also recorded by: George Hall (1934), Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra (1934), Bob Causer and his Cornellians (1934), The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (1934), Leo Reisman and his Orchestra (1935), Eddy Duchin (1942), Johnny Dankworth Seven (1953), Johnny Hartman (1956), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Shirley Bassey (1962), Anita O’Day with Billy May & his Orchestra (1959), Shirley Scott (1960), Nana Mouskouri (1962), Esquivel (1962), Sandie Shaw (1965), Dave Brubeck Quartet (1966), Alma Cogan (1967), Gary Shearston (1974), Anita O’Day (1975), Ira Sullivan (1979), Ethel Merman (1979), Rosemary Clooney (1982), Madeline Vergari (1984), Kim Criswell (1989), Jungle Brothers (1990), Dionne Warwick (1990), Tom Jones (1990), Tony Bennett (1991), Bobby Caldwell (1993), Diana Krall (1999), Lisa Ekdahl (1999), The Living End (2001), Dolly Parton (2001), Jamie Cullum (2003), Patrick Lindner & Thilo Wolf Big Band (2005), Steve Tyrell (2005), Leah Thys (2008), Lew Stone and His Band (2008), Patricia Barber (2008), Heike Makatsch (as Nichts haut mich um aber Du, 2009) a.o.

* * *

The Kingston Trio – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
Frank Sinatra – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
William Shatner – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3

kingston_trioWhen Michael Jackson was a 12-year-old, he appeared on Diana Ross’ TV show, delightfully performing It Was A Very Good Year in mock-inebriated ring-a-ding-dinging rat-packer mode before dumping a fur-clad La Ross (video). Little Mike was clearly in on the joke of a small boy taking off a rather world-weary sentimentalist. What a showboy he was, and how poignant to see this child, from whom childhood was taken, singing that when he was two years old, he was four years old.

The original was recorded in 1961 with suitable gravitas by the Kingston Trio, right down to two melancholy but not downbeat whistle solos. It was written in ten minutes by Ervin Drake, who at 90 is still alive, with the trio’s frontman Bob Shane, the band’s last surviving member, in mind.

septemberSinatra heard the Kingston Trio record on the radio and liked it so much that he insisted on recording it, which he did on 22 April 1965 for his wistful September Of My Years album, with an arrangement by Gordon Jenkins. About to turn 50, the lyrics seemed appropriate for Sinatra (who, of course, was not yet finished with the game of romance; the following year he married the lovely, very young Mia Farrow). Sinatra’s version earned him a Grammy for best vocal performance, a title which he would defend the next year with Strangers In The Night. So much for the latter being a big comeback. The author and songwriter Arnold Shaw observed in It Was A Very Good Year a new maturity in Sinatra’s voice: “The silken baritone of 1943 is now like torn velvet.”

shatnerWhere Bob Shane is gentle, and Sinatra is all sombre introspection, William Shatner’s bizarre remake from 1968 is absolute comedy gold. It’s not as demented as his Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, nor does it have a primal scream as the end of Mr Tambourine Man, but it is bizarrely entertaining nonetheless. Weeee’d ride in limousines, or their chauffeurs would drive…when I…was…thirty-five. And then the crazy harps!

Also recorded by: Modern Folk Quartet (1963), Lonnie Donegan (1963), Shawn Phillips (1964), The Turtles (1965), The Barron Knights (1965), Wes Montgomery (1965), Gabor Szabo (1966), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1966), Trudy Pitts (1967), Lou Rawls (1968), Ray Conniff & the Singers (1968), The Freedom Sounds feat Wayne Henderson (1969), Richie Havens (1973), Lee Hazlewood (1977), The Muppet Shiw (Statler and Waldorf, 1979), The Flaming Lips (1993), Homer Simpson (as It Was A Very Good Beer, 1993), Paul Young (1997), The Reverend Horton Heat (2000), Robbie Williams (in a troubling duet with Sinatra’s original vocals, 2001), Robert Charlebois (as C’était une très bonne année, 2003), Ray Charles with Willie Nelson (2004), Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (2006), Russell Watson (2007)

* * *

Kaye Ballard – In Other Words.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Fly Me To The Moon.mp3

kaye_ballardFor the first few years of its life, Fly Me To The Moon was known as In Other Words. The song was a staple of cabaret singer Felicia Sanders’ repertoire, but she didn’t record the song until 1959. The first recording of the Bart Howard composition was by Kaye Ballard, a Broadway star and later TV actress, in 1954. Her version is quite lovely; one wonders what Judy Garland in her prime might have done with it. The song was first titled Fly Me To The Moon on Johnny Mathis 1956 version.

Sinatra didn’t get around to putting down his take until 1964, on his record with Count Basie (reprised, as it were, on the 1966 live album with the great bandleader). Arranged by Quincy Jones, it became the definitive version. Examine the list of performers who recorded the song in the decade between its first appearance and Sinatra’s 1964 recording, and marvel at the idea that it isn’t a version by Mathis, Cole, Brenda Lee, Vaughan, Tormé or Jack Jones that you first think of, but Sinatra’s, as though he had given everybody else a headstart.

sinatraStill fresh in the collective memory, it enjoyed a second life at the time of the 1969 lunar explorations. Astronaut Gene Cernan, in pictures broadcast on TV, played the song on board of Apollo 10, whereby Fly Me To The Moon became one of the first pieces of music to be played in outer space. It is not true, as Quincy Jones has claimed, that the crew of Apollo 11, which actually flew to the moon, played the song after the lunar landing; Buzz Aldrin has denied the tale. Four decades later, South Korean cosmonaut Yi So-yeon reported having sung the song in space during her Soyuz TMA-12 Flight in April 2008.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1956), Chris Connor (1957), Frances Wayne (1957), Nancy Wilson (1959), Gloria Lynne (1959), Dion and the Belmonts (1960), Nat ‘King’ Cole (1961), The Barry Sisters (1961), Brenda Lee (1962), Joe Harnell (1962), Sarah Vaughan (1962), Mel Tormé (1962), Jack Jones (1962), Connie Francis (as Portami con te, 1962), Roy Haynes (1962), Tony Martin (1962), Dartmouth Injunaires (1962), Enoch Light & The Light Brigade (1963), Tony Mottola (1963), Julie London (1963), Earl Grant (1963), Perry Como (1963), Alma Cogan (1963), Laurindo Almeida & the Bossa Nova Allstars (1963), Helen O’Connell (1963), Dick Hyman (1963), Rita Reys (1963), The Downbeats (1963), The Demensions (1963), Patti Page (1964), Xavier Cugat (1964), Grady Martin and The Slewfoot Five (1964), Joan Shaw (1964), Matt Monro (1965), Howard Roberts Quartet (1965), Tony Bennett (1965), Doris Day (1965), Heidi Brühl (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 1965), Cliff Richard (1965), LaVern Baker (1965), Chris Montez (1966), Trini Lopez (1966), Bobby Darin (1966), Dudley Moore Trio (1966), Tante Emma (as Fremde in der Nacht, 1967). Wes Montgomery (1968), Bobby Womack (1968), Nicoletta (1968), Leslie Uggams (1969), Tom Jones (1969), Mitty Collier (1969),
Tony Bennett (1970), Oscar Peterson (1970), Mina (1972), Lyn Collins (1972), Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (1994), Paula West (1999), Boston Brass (2000), Utada Hikaru (2000), Diana Krall (2002), Günther Neefs (2002), Julien Clerc with Véronique Sanson (as olons vers la lune, 2003), Tom Gaebel (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 2003), Agnetha Fältskog (2004), Dany Brillant (2004), Matt Dusk (2004), Westlife (2004), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Steve Tyrell (2005), Bobby Taylor (2006), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Smokey Robinson (2006), Roger Cicero (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 2006), Ray Quinn (2007), Laura Fygi (as Volons vers la lune, 2008), Saw Loser (2008), Helmut Lotti (2008) a.o.

More Originals

More unrequited love songs

July 6th, 2009 10 comments

Unrequited love provides us with a rich mine of heartbreaking songs. So following from the first part on love that is unreciprocated, here are eight more takes of chances missed, emotions deferred, affections unexpressed and love rejected. And, fans of nagging pains in the guts rejoice, there’ll be a third instalment soon.

* * *

Scott Walker – Joanna.mp3
joannaScott had summer romance, and now the eponymous girl is gone and he is pining, living on memories — “You made the man a child again, so sweetly. He breathed your smile, lived in your eyes completely. And on his heart there’s still a trace of you” — and vain hope that they will be together again. She clearly has forgotten him, or wants to forget him. She might even have told him so (perhaps by the passive-aggressive method of ignoring his communications). Yet our lovelorn crooner is not ready to give up: “I love you, but nothing in this world could make you mine. Yet still in time…you may remember me and change your mind.”

.

The Cardigans – For What It’s Worth (acoustic version).mp3
Oh shit, she had a casual fling (the so-called “fuck buddy” or “friends with privileges” phenomenon) and fell in unreciprocated love. And then she let it slip: “A four-letter word got stuck in my head; the dirtiest word that I’ve ever said”. And it doesn’t start with F. More than that, “it’s making me feel alright.” Well, transiently perhaps, as she acknowledges in the qualifier to her confession of love: “For what it’s worth, I love you. And what is worse, I really do.” Evidently, the guy freaks out. So, having pledged (to herself) patience that he’ll come around, she later tries to entice him back into bed (“The four-letter word is out of my head”). And here’s where her confusion really sets in. Follow it: “For what it’s worth, I like you. And what is worse, I really do. Things have been worse, and we had fun, fun, fun till I said I love you. And what is worse, I really do.” No point resisting it; from here on in she repeats that great line: “For what it’s worth, I love you. And what is worse, I really do.”

.

Frank Sinatra – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
sinatra_kickRarely has unrequited love been as jaunty as in Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out Of You. Frank — and let’s not call him by the affectation “Francis”; our man was baptised Frank — goes to great lengths to tell us about the things that mean nothing to him. Champagne? Pah! Airborne sex? His idea of nothing to do. Cocaine? “I’m sure that if I took even one sniff it would bore me terrifically too” (as do Be Bop and, oddly, Spanish perfume). The only thing that gives him a kick is, to use Sinatra lingo, a “broad” who ob-vious-ly does not adore him. This is the swinging 1962 version; his 1953 take will run next Friday.

.

Matthew Sweet – Farther Down.mp3
“Into you so far the words go, so much clearer than you hear. Into you goes everything I know, no one else knows how I feel.” Without her, our man is in pain (happily, then, the sound is not of the emo variety). “Farther down, I’m desperate for you, where you never have to know. Farther down, I’m still without a clue; till something…takes my pain away.” Matthew doesn’t let us in on his pain-relief programme, but we can presume that it involves either alcohol and drugs. The trouble is, does she really want to hook up with a pissed junkie?

.

Vertical Horizon – Everything That You Want.mp3
Frienditis is the psoriasis of unrequited love. Here we have a guy who is in love with a girl who won’t stop blabbering on about the guy she is unrequited love with and how that dude is everything she wants and needs. Well, our man here (who in the movie version of the song would be played by Michael Cera) knows what she needs and should want. With a self-pitying flourish at the end, he echoes her prattle as he observes: “I am everything you want. I am everything you need. I am everything inside of you that you wish you could be [whatever that means]. I say all the right things at exactly the right time. But I mean nothing to you, and I don’t know why.” Hmmm, lack of self-confidence, perhaps?

.
Linda Ronstadt – Long, Long Time.mp3
ronstadtAnd frienditis from the female perspective. It seems that the guy is going away (relocating, or perhaps getting married), and Linda, on this song from 1970, is trying to get to grips with the door slamming shut on perennial hope. “I’ve done everything I know to try and make you mine, and I think I’m gonna love you for a long, long time.” Oh, she tried to show him how she felt as he was whoring around — making Linda blink back the tears — and he never noticed. So now she’ll be “living in the memory of a love that never was”.

.

Bright Eyes – Make A Plan To Love Me.mp3
Being in love is rubbish when the recipient of your affection is in love with the career. “You said you had your foot in the door; you buy and then you sell, you buy some more,” Oberst observes before bluntly requesting: “Make a plan to love me sometime soon”. He points out, quite reasonably, that life is shirt and success and money don‘t compensate for love. “Some things you lose you don’t get back, so just know what you have.” Because the love deal is on the table only for a limited time. “Life is too short to be a fool; I don’t owe you that.” So she’ll have to close the love deal, or — and he might be bluffing here — he’ll take his romantic trade elsewhere: “Do what you feel, whatever is cool. But I just have to ask [repeatedly!]: Will you make a plan to love me sometime soon?

.

Kenny Nolan – I Keep Dreamin’.mp3
kenny_nolanIn his 1976 hit, Kenny had the relationship all mapped out: barefoot walks on the beach, kids with “little smiles so warm and tender, looking up at us” et cetera. In absence of all that, he daydreams , presumably as one does in TV comedies where these fantasies are introduced by a harp riff (present here, of course) and soft edges. The kicker here is that Kenny is not in love with anybody other than the idea of romantic and domestic bliss. He is in unrequited love with love.

.

In this series so far:
Unrequited love
Love hurts

Being in love
Longing for love
Heartbreak
Adultery
Death
Impossible Love
Love Songs Mix
Somebody Done Somebody Wrong
Dumped & defiant

Twattery in Pop: Rush Limbaugh

July 3rd, 2009 6 comments

What, you may demand imploringly, connects sweaty, saliva-dispersing self-parodist Rush Limbaugh with the world of pop (of course there is no question as to what connects the putrescent pusbucket to twattery)? Has Rush recorded an album of his favourite Motown songs, adding his own twist to the lyrics; perhaps adapting Smokey Robinson & the Miracle’s hit named after Mickey Stephenson autobiographically to read Cheney’s Monkey? Has Limbaugh praised the humanitarian work of Bono, or the operatic stylings of Michael Fucking Bolton, or the art of Yoko Ono (well, obviously not, though he seems psychotic enough to own the complete canon of MFB’s artistry)? Was Rush perhaps ghastly to some of my favourite artists, such as the Weepies or the Carpenters?

Rush Limbaugh’s mind, yesterday.

Rush Limbaugh’s mind, yesterday.

No, on Wednesday Rush Limbaugh contrived to wind his fusilli mind into a palomar knot by virtually blaming Barack Obama for the death of Michael Jackson. Spunk-silo’s take on MJ’s death: “Jackson’s success, if you stop and think of it [amusingly Limbaugh listeners are being asked to THINK!] and this is going to really irritate some people, which I will enjoy doing — Jackson’s success paralleled the rebound of the United States under Ronaldus Magnus [that would be Ronald Reagan whose decomposed salad Sweat-wit is tossing]. Michael Jackson’s biggest successes, and as it turns out his final successes, real successes took place in the eighties. That was Billie Jean, Thriller and all this. I mean he was as weird as he could be [says Rush fucking Limbaugh!] but he was profoundly, because of his weirdness, an individual. He wasn’t a group member [except when he was, of course. Rush evidently couldn’t feel it]. He reached a level of success that may never be equalled. He flourished under Reagan [but his best record, the wildly successful Off The Wall, was a hit under Carter, pop fans]; he languished under Clinton-Bush; and died under Obama. Let’s hope the parallel does not continue.” (Full story here)

I actually don’t think that Limbaugh is as stupid as to believe the ignorant, noxious shit he is disgorging upon the public. His “hilarious” shtick is to try and wind up liberals with such associations. If it wasn’t a sideshow, there’d be no reason why he has not been committed to a caring institution for lobotomised patients. In fairness, he signals his pitiful intent when he says: “this is going to really irritate some people, which I will enjoy doing”. It isn’t really what Limbaugh is saying that is irritating “Them Liberals”; it’s the idea that there are some very dull-witted people who take him and his likes seriously.

I must concede though that the clammy wankmonster — who in older times would have made an accomplished ass-raping bishop of Bath and Wells — might be on to something. Think about all the great celebrity icons who have died. Almost all of them kicked the bucket on the watch of a Democratic president. Jimmy Carter’s reign was particularly grim: Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin… Bill Clinton has Frank Sinatra, Princess in the Wind and, er, Kurt Cobain to answer for. JFK died during the JFK presidency, as did Marilyn Monroe and Patsy Cline, while Jim Reeves crashed under LBJ. Lately only Johnny Cash, being Johnny Cash, bucked the trend. And there Madonna was happy that Obama was elected.

But Limbaugh’s theory of Democratic culpability in celebrity mortality does fall flat. Consider the victims of the Nixon presidency: Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Parsons and Elliott. Of those, only Cass died a natural death (and even that is disputed by ham sandwich conspiracists). Makes you think, no?

In the case of Michael Jackson, however, I am disinclined to indict Obama. More likely, on the morning of Thursday, 25 June, MJ found his transistor radio had been mistuned. As he surfed the dial he stumbled upon the depraved sound of Rush Limbaugh vomiting his bigotry all over the airwaves, and decided that he could no longer live in a world where that anal itch on humanity — and his idiot listeners — are allowed to exist. And here’s the kicker: my theory makes a zillion times more sense than any of Limbaugh’s deranged splutterings.

*   *   *

And to celebrate dead celebs:

Frank Sinatra – High Hopes With John Kennedy (1960).mp3
Marilyn Monroe – Happy Birthday, Mr President (1962).mp3
Patsy Cline – I Fall To Pieces (1961).mp3
Michael Jackson – Ain’t No Sunshine (1972).mp3
Cass Elliott – I’m Coming To The Best Part Of My Life (1973).mp3
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel (Alternate Take 5) (1956).mp3
Jimi Hendrix – Star Sprangled Banner (1969).mp3
Gram Parsons – Big Mouth Blues (1973).mp3

.
More Twattery in Pop

Any Major Awards 2008

December 30th, 2008 18 comments

Last year I inaugurated the highly prestigious and sought-after The Major Dude Awards, recognising musicians and bloggers for their sterling that year. Alicia Keys’ people were so excited, they told DivShare to delete the album track I posted. Oh, the days of innocence when The Man just had links deleted…

I’ve already posted my Top 20 albums of the year, so I’ll dump the music section (after all, Dave Grohl never acknowledged winning the Rock Album of 2007 Major Dude award), and concentrate on my fellow bloggers instead. With song dedication, some of which may be obvious, others are inspired by private observation (for example, I discovered one blog onTotally Fuzzy through a post on old German music).

This year, I’ve modified the categories a bit, and skipped the nominations process. To be truthful, I almost didn’t do this awards post because I feel guilty about not mentioning so many of the fine blogs which have provided me with so much enjoyment, entertainment and education. If your blog didn’t win its category, be assured it probably came a close second. I’ve decided to disqualify last year’s winners from consideration; all of them (well, those still active) are still among my favourite reads. And Whiteray from Echoes In The Wind remains something of a legend among music bloggers. The doyen…

And now, ladies and gentlemen, presenting the first award of the night is recording superstar Barbra Steisand and football legend Pat Crerand.

—   —   —

Album blogs:
Most album blogs just upload a CD or twelve without comment, and you download it. I have no problem with that; some of these blogs offer extraordinary and tough-to-find material. I am grateful for their existence and the efforts made. Other blogs offer commentary and/or reviews, and that extra input is the difference between a good take-away and a good eatery. The winner then is like a restaurant run by a TV chef (but not that hateful Ramsey guy). It goes the extra mile of offering highly educational mixes with commentary, often presented in form of a series. Almost like a university course.
And the winner is: ZAKKORAMA

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Hans Albers – Auf der Reeperbahn.mp3

—   —   —

Singles blogs:
Oh, the choices. I said I wasn’t going to single out any particular non-awardee, then made a list of blogs that merit an honorary mention, and then dropped the idea when that list ran to a dozen or so names. I’ll single out Fusion 45 for uploading Rodriguez’s I Wonder especially for me. But the winner merits the award for his astonishingly prolific rate of posts (551 in seven months!) with intelligent commentary, imagination and a wide range of subjects.
And the winner is: SibLINGSHOT ON THE BLEACHERS

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Sandy Bull – Memphis, Tennessee.mp3

—   —   —

Comedy blogs:
There aren’t very many of those around, so nominations were limited. But the winner is one of the most impressive blogs in any category, the sort of blog that is manically updated every 12 seconds with material that makes you wonder: where do they get that kind of stuff from? And who listens to that? Well, quite a few people, evidently. I mean, who wouldn’t want to check out the music that goes with the album covers depicted on the many “the worst cover art of all time” websites. This is a blog where the wonderfully bizarre lives.
And the winner is: DR FORREST’S CHEEZE FACTORY

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Mrs Miller – Downtown.mp3

—   —   —

Music blogs:
This is a deliberately vague category. Here I’d like to honour a blog which provides me with a musical education. Echoes In The Wind, a winner last year, is one such blog, AM Then FM is another (great new post on Bobby Gentry). This year, the gong goes to a quite new blog which is superbly written, highly erudite and features music I often have never even heard of. I am always in awe when I visit. Should you require illustration of just how brilliant the blog is, perhaps this post on the various versions of Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night might help make my case.
And the winner is: THE GENTLEBEAR

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Frank Sinatra & Celeste Holm – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.mp3

—   —   —

Mixed media blogs:
Another new category, to cover blogs that post music, but only incidentally. The winner is always among the first blogs I open when I trawl through my bookmarks. As I noted here a few weeks ago, the winning blog also influenced me in a small way. The concept is simple: photographs, mostly of buildings, and a song that in some way relates to the photo. It works beautifully. The photos provide a glimpse of intriguing sights which most of us probably would not even notice, and the songs are selected with care and knowledge from what must be an impressive collection.
And the winner is: ALL EYES AND EARS

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Loudon Wainwright III – The Picture.mp3

—   —   —

Non-MP3 blogs – Music:
I was considering sharing this award three-ways. MyHmphs – the name is an exasperated play on the title of possibly the worst song ever recorded – is well written and presented, offering views which I almost invariably agree with. It’s a nice blog to hang out at. Uncle E is busier, investing much humour in his writing (the fake biographies of rock acts are very good indeed). Both are among my favourite blogs; so much so that when MyHmphs went on a bit of a hiatus, I hassled him to get back to posting. But the winner snags the award for his depth of writing, over a long period of time, with excellent CD reviews and some innovative ideas, such as analyses of big acts’ least respected albums.
And the winner is: 3 MINUTES, 49 SECONDS

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Pixies – Where Is My Mind.mp3

—   —   —

Non-MP3 blogs – General:
This year, I spent much time on some fantastic blogs dealing with the US election, and I always get a kick of Stay-At-Home Indie Pop’s all to sporadic posts, and a few other blogs dealing with, well, life and culture. But the best non-music blog takes as its focus a subject dear to my heart: sex. The winning blog discusses the subject from a male point of view. Where many such blogs might go all blokey and investigate such pressing matters such as readers would prefer to shag Jessica Alba or Halle Berry, or how to obtain your partner’s consent to engage in anal sex, the winning entry (dyswidt) takes a much more integrated approach. Subjects range from the art of flirting to frienditis — when the object of your desire sees you as just a friend (argh!) — to Nottingham’s Mr Sex’s reviews of sex toys for men, plus a column where women can find out just what the guys are thinking. The blog treats sex with respect, and it does so with a massive dose of sharp humour. Best of all, the comments section is essential reading. I can’t wait for the book of the blog!
And the winner is: TODGER TALK

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (Extended Version).mp3

—   —   —

And, as last year, a huge, massive round of thanks to the wonderful people of Totally Fuzzy, the most important music-related blog of them all.

Having dished out praise, I want some myself (now, how does one insert an appropriate winking emoticon into a post?). Well, I’d be interested to know from the regular readers of this blog — all four of them — what they have enjoyed here this year, where they thought I wasted their time, and where I simply annoyed them. Feedback is always welcome; now seems a good time to solicit it. The comments section is free.

A couple of words on some of the songs: Sandy Bull’s Memphis, Tennessee is a marathon mind-fuck instrumental the recording of which in 1965 might have involved the consumption of mind-altering drugs. Hans Albers’ song is a German classic from the 1930s, pretty much the anthem of German drunkards everywhere (incidentally, English-speakers, Reeperbahn is not pronounced Rieperbahn. Listen to Albers pronounce it). I dont know if Mrs Miller requires introduction. If she does, Downtown is a good place to start. Note the great part when she gets the lyrics in a twist but, flustered or not, troops on like the trooper she was. And the whistling part is one of the most legendary in pop music.

And with that, a Happy New Year to all. May 2009 bring lots of love, happiness, peace and health in the order of your preference.

The Originals Vol. 7

September 28th, 2008 3 comments

Sutherland Brothers – Sailing.mp3
Rod Stewart – Sailing.mp3
Our friend RH has supplied me with scores of lesser known originals. The biggest surprise of these perhaps was that Rod Stewart’s Sailing was in fact a cover version. Written in 1972, it was first recorded by the Sutherland Brothers. Having joined forces with the band Quiver, the brothers were also responsible for another possible inclusion in this series, Arms Of Mary, which readers of a certain vintage are more likely to associate with Danny Wilson’s1988 hit (and others, perhaps, as a hit for Chilliwack in the ’70s). The Sutherland Brothers’ version has a apposite shanty feel, with the keyboard player especially having fun experimenting with his toy. Rod’s version is richer and warmer. The old soul lover recorded it, and the rest of the ludicrously cover-designed Atlantic Crossing, in that incubator of great soul music: Muscle Shoals, Alabama. As I mentioned in my Pissing Off The Taste Police With Rod Stewart post last week, I’ve had an emotional attachment to Rod’s Sailing ever since it facilitated my first slow dance as an 11-year-old, so I instinctively love the song. Frankly, I can think of no good reason, other than its overexposure, why Rod’s Sailing seems to be so widely reviled.
Also recorded by: Joe Dassin (as Ma Musique, 1975), Robin Trower (1976), Joan Baez (1977), The Shadows (1981), Richard Clayderman (1988), Rock Against Repatriation (1990), The Gary Tesca Orchestra (1995), Khadja Nin (1998), Stina Nordenstam (1998), Smokie (2001), fucking Helmut Lotti (2003) a.o.
Best version: Holding the lovely Antje in my arms to the sounds of Rod Stewart singing Sailing…what do you think?

Jacques Dutronc – Et Moi Et Moi Et Moi.mp3
Mungo Jerry – Alright Alright Alright.mp3
This one is a bit of a contentious inclusion. Mungo Jerry didn’t so much cover Jacques Dutronc’s song as re-write it. There are songs billed as original compositions that bear a greater resemblance to another song than Alright Alright Alright does to Et Moi Et Moi Et Moi. Both are first-rate songs. Dutronc’s 1964 hit anticipates Plastic Bertand by 14 years and probably is more punk than the Belgian ever was. Mungo Jerry are often remembered as a bit of a novelty act or – worse and inaccurately– as a one-hit wonder. Fine songs, every bit the equal of In The Summertime, such as Lady Rose or Baby Jump, are often forgotten. Summertime’s b-side, Mighty Man, should be regarded as a classic, if only for singer Ray Dorset’s ad libbing sound effects. As for Dutronc, the man married Francoise Hardy. He is a lucky man.
Also recorded by: Nobody I’ve heard of.
Best version: Oh, they’re both so different… At a push, Mungo Jerry’s for the way Dorset sings “Awride awride awridaridaride”. And the Boo-pee-doop-doops.

Tommy James & The Shondells – I Think We’re Alone Now.mp3
Tiffany – I Think We’re Alone Now.mp3
Teenage singer Tiffany scored her 1987 debut hit I Think We’re Alone Now by performing it at malls. One wonders if the kids’ parents, seen in the video looking on bemusedly at Tiffany’s exploits, recognised the song as Tommy James & the Shondells’ 1967 US #4 hit (apparently described by Lester Bangs as “the bubblegum apotheosis”). Curiously, Tiffany’s cover was followed at the US #1 by another Tommy James cover, Mony Mony by Billy Idol. And before that, Joan Jett had a hit with a cover of Tommy James’ Crimson And Clover. Tiffany at 16 was the youngest female singer to top the US charts.
Also recorded by: The Rubinoos (1977), Lene Lovich (1978), “Weird Al” Yankovic (1988, as, “hilariously”, I Think I’m a Clone Now), Kanda (2003), Girls Aloud (2006), The Birthday Massacre (2008) a.o.
Best version: I used to loathe Tiffany’s version on principle but rather like it now. Still, Tommy James’ original is far superior.

Carson & Gaile – Something Stupid.mp3
Frank & Nancy Sinatra – Something Stupid.mp3
Sung by Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy, Something Stupid is just a little less creepy than Natalie Cole duetting with her long-dead father (I note that she’s at it again). Lee Hazlewood, who produced it, recalled that he phoned Frank to tell him that he was going to duet the song with Nancy if Frank wasn’t. It seems that in the mid-’60s people were not freaked out by such things yet, so Frank called dibs on hisdaughter. And you can’t really argue with the result: it’s a lovely easy listening production. It had been recorded by several artists in the months between its first recording in early 1967 by the song’s composer C. Carson Parks with Gaile and the Sinatras’ production in September that year (including a version by Marvin Gaye with Tammi Terrell in August). But it is Frank and Nancy’s version that is remembered. Carson & Gaile’s original recording – posted here courtesy of our man RH – isn’t wildly different; it has the acoustic guitars and tempo of the Frank ‘n Nancy production. Come to think of it, there isn’t much one can do it, as Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman showed when they returned the song to the UK #1 in 2001.
Also recorded by: The Amazing Dancing Band (1967), Ray Conniff (1967), Sacha Distel & Joanna Shimkus (as Ces mots stupides, 1967), Tino Rossi (as Ces mots stupides, 1967), Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (1967), Tammy Wynette & David Houston (1967), Andy Williams (1967), Artie Butler (1968), Ali & Kibibi Campbell (1995), Lu Campbell (1998), Dana Winner & Jan Decleir (1998), The Mavericks with Trisha Yearwood (2001), Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman (2001), Steve & Lauryn Tyrell (2005) a.o.
Best version: Sideshow Bob and Selma Bouvier

The Leaves – Hey Joe, Where Are You Going.mp3
Love – Hey Joe.mp3
Tim Rose – Hey Joe (You Shot Your Woman Down).mp3
Jimi Hendrix – Hey Joe.mp3
The genesis of Hey Joe is disputed, with some claiming it is an old traditional folk song. There seems to be wide consensus, however, that it was written in the early 1960s by a folk singer called Billy Roberts, who may well have borrowed from a 1950s country song by the same title written by Boudleaux Bryant. Something of a cult classic on LA’s live scene and reportedly propagated by David Crosby, Roberts’ song was eventually recorded by The Leaves (though some claim that the Surfaris recorded their version first, but released it after the Leaves’ version came out). Where The Leaves rock out in a psychedelic fashion, Jimi’s version’s, recorded in December 1966, is said to have been based on the slower folk-rock treatment by Tim Rose (who once was part of a folk trio including someone called Jim Hendricks, as well as Mama Cass Elliott), though Arthur Lee insisted it was the Love recording of September 1966 that inspired Hendrix (which with the Leaves’ version shares a riff very reminiscent of the Searchers’ Needles And Pins). Whatever the stimulant – Rose’s vocals certainly seem not to dissimilar to Jimi’s interpretation, and also compare the drumming – it turned out to be a claustrophobic affair which communicated the intensity of the lyrics: friends discussing a murder of passion.
Also recorded by: Swamp Rats (1966), The Cryan’ Shames (1966), The Surfaris (1966), The Standells (1966), The Byrds (1966), Love (1966), The Shadows of Knight (October 1966), The Music Machine (1966), Cher (1967), Tim Rose (1967), Johnny Hallyday (1967), Marto (1967), Johnny Rivers (1968), Marmalade (1968), The Mothers of Invention (as a satire titled Flower Punk in 1968), King Curtis (1968), Deep Purple (1968), Wilson Pickett (1969), Fever Tree (1970), Les Humphries Singers (1971), Roy Buchanan (1973), Patti Smith (1974), Alvin Lee (1979), “Weird Al” Yankovic (1984), Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (1986), Seal (1991), The Offspring (1991), Willy DeVille (1992), Buckwheat Zydeco (1992), Paul Gilbert (1992), Reddog (1992), Eddie Murphy (1993), Band of Joy (1996), The Hamsters (1996), Helge & The Firefuckers (1999), Medeski, Martin and Wood (2000), Roy Mette (2001), Popa Chubby (2001), Robert Plant (2002), Cassie Steele (2005), Gabe Dixon Band (2005) a.o.
Best version: Gotta be Jimi Hendrix’s

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)

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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

.

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

.

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

.

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

.

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.

.

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…
.

Albums of the Years 1960-65

November 15th, 2007 2 comments

Continuing the series of albums of the year, I am condensing the years of the ’60s prior to that of my birth. It was not a time for albums yet, at least not in pop. There were classic jazz albums, such as Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, an essential album of the decade with which I have never been able to close a friendship. In the ’60s the great Sinatra left Capitol and Nelson Riddle to become a crooner for the people following him into middle-age. There was one final great Capitol album, some goofing with the Rat Pack, then straight into bloated easy listening territory. Sinatra became so bland, he made Engelbert Humperdinck seem like the muse for the New York Dolls.

But the early ’60s also saw the rise of the Beatles as a pop band which could churn out good albums at an alarming rate. Consider that between the ropey debut of Please, Please Me to Rubber Soul, not quite three years passed. Only two years after Rubber Soul came the ludicrously influential Sgt Peppers. Two years later, the Beatles were finished. Such a rich body of work and astonishing artistic growth in seven years. Think about it: an act starting out in 2000 and breaking up about now, leaving behind a legacy like that. No wonder the Beatles are represented in this top 10 three times, with some consideration for two of the remaining three albums.

As ever, my top 10s are also not representative of the “best” albums of the year. Some are, but others will be included simply because I like them, knowing well that they are not as innovative or influential as others I have listed.

1. The Beatles – Help (1965)
On Sunday I bought the new DVD set. The movie looks and sounds great. Its cinematic merits aside (it is a bit ropey), Help! the film is a fascinating time capsule, coming after The Goons and before Monty Python. Add to that the Fab Four in action, and the songs, and it is a richly rewarding DVD, at least for the Beatles fan. And the album is my favourite Beatles set of all.

Help was the culmination of the Beatles’ innocent period, before lyrics started to acquire deeper meanings; before musical innovation became a hallmark of Beatles albums; before George Harrison was given the opportunity to express himself. Notable is the Dylan influence on both Lennon and McCartney — on “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” (my all-time favourite Beatles song, by John) and on the country-flavoured “I’ve Just Seen A Face” (Paul). “Ticket To Ride” and the title track hint at the leap the group would make just a few months later with Rubber Soul. For now, though, the songs were mostly still uncomplicated and sometimes even a bit goofy (”You’re Going To Lose That Girl”, “Another Girl”, Ringo’s cover of Buck Owen’s “Act Naturally”).

Perhaps because Help was recorded just as the Beatles became musically more adventurous, but before such innovation turned up some aberrations, it is their most perfect pop album. Even the inappropriate Dizzy Miss Lizzy, a throwback to the first three albums that should have been replaced by I’m Down (b-side to the single release of Help), cannot detract from the album’s perfection — positioned, as it is, at the end of the album, one can just switch it off.
The Beatles – You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.mp3
The Beatles – You’re Gonna Lose That Girl.mp3
The Beatles – I’ve Just Seen A Face.mp3

2. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
In preparation for this post, I listened to the three Beatles albums under review. I was going to rank Rubber Soul higher, but was reminded that there was more guff on that album than there is on the Beatles’ first soundtrack album. Somehow, my respect for Beatles albums tends to be based on the quality not of the singles but that of the tracks that were neither singles nor included on the 1973 red and blue compilations (a question of overfamiliarity, probably). And the album tracks on A Hard Day’s Night are just great: Anytime At All (how was that never a single?), I’ll Cry Instead, If I Fell, I’ll Be back. The singles/red album numbers – the title track, Things We Said Today, I Should Have Known Better, Can’t Buy Me Love – are outstanding as well. Oh, and the movie was really good as well (“He’s such a clean old man”).
The Beatles – Anytime At All.mp3

3. Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
The soundtrack to the Peanuts Christmas special. It is a sublime film and a sublime record. Both are immensely comforting, I find. This might be the only jazz album which people who hate jazz can love, and which jazz lovers can forgive for being loved by jazz novices. Nominally it is a Christmas album. If one is familiar with the Peanuts film, it will evoke Christmas. If not, it might well do so anyway, but it works at any time of the year. Listen to O Tannenbaum, a cool bass and piano driven version of the quintessential German yuletide song (Silent Night is Austrian, don’t you know?): it extends far beyond the Christmas spirit and fir trees. And yet, if you want it to be about Christmas, it can and will be. Even the 4 minute version of the Peanuts theme song (properly titled Linus And Lucy).
Vince Guaraldi Trio – O Tannenbaum.mp3

4. Miles Davis – Sketches Of Spain (1960)
First off, I love the album cover. But if that were enough to qualify, Herb Alpert would be included in this post. Sketches Of Spain delivers what it promises: Davis interpreting Spanish music. Rodrigo’s classical Spanish guitar piece Concierto De Aranjuez gets the trumpet treatment, with Gil Evans’ luscious, deeply affecting arrangement producing 12 minutes and 43 seconds of utter bliss. I have said it before, to appreciate Miles Davis’ powers of innovation, one must look to his subtle works, certainly not to the jazz fusion wankery of Witches Brew. On Sketches Of Spain, things sway gently one moment, next a jolt as the tune segues into a film noir mood before it regains its whispering, ominous beauty. It is indeed a sad album, perhaps the saddest instrumental album I know besides Morricone’s wonderful soundtrack of Once Upon A Time In America. It is a rare and special thing when being a passive participant to such sadness can make one glad to be alive. Listen to this track, and, for the sake of experiment, cue your favourite upbeat pop song to follow it. My bet is that you will resent the pop song for crashing in on the afterglow of the emotion Davis has created.
Miles Davis – Concierto De Aranjuez.mp3

5. The Beatles – Rubber Soul (1965)
Never mind Revolver, it was Rubber Soul that represented the quantum leap in the Beatles’ artistic trajectory. Suddenly all kinds of strange instruments – especially George’s sitar – crept into the music, and the lyrics became increasingly surreal and, at times, cynical. Lennon seemed to be a bitter chap at that point. Run For Your Life, even by his own admission, is a nasty song, and Drive My Car is far from the polite tone of previous records (though Another Girl on Help is pretty mercenary). Some of the generic lyrics are still evident on the songs by Paul and George; it is John who first breaks out of the easy-going ghetto. Two songs stand out: the nostalgic In My Life, which seems to have been written by a man twice Lennon’s age, and Girl, which fuses a beautiful melody with much exasperated bitterness. The latter also has the best single sound on the album: the sharp intake of air through closed teeth, which serves to emphasise the protagonist’s frustration. The counterpoint is McCartney’s Michelle, an atrocious song which the greasepot crooners quickly latched on to as they had done with Yesterday and would do with Something. But where Yesterday is a brilliant song (spoiled by overexposure) and Something is sublime, Michelle is just horrible.
The Beatles – Girl.mp3

6. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto (1964)
When I picked this album up in a charity thrift shop in the ’80s, I had no idea what a classic I was buying. To be honest, I had no idea who Gilberto was, only a vague idea about Getz, bossa nova was a mystery to me, and I regarded The Girl From Ipanema as a cheesy elevator muzak tune which punk forgot to kill. I bought the album solely because I liked the cover. I need not explain what happened when I played the record, at least not to those who love it as I do. This is a late-night, kick-back record, intimate and warm. It is a great lovemaking record, I imagine (I’ve never thought of testdriving it for that purpose). Astrud Gilberto may not be the greatest singer of all time (she was roped in only because she could sing in English), but her relaxed and cute voice, when it appears, provides the varnish to Getz’s cool sax, Joao’s warm vocals and Jobim’s astounding compositions.
Getz/Gilberto – The Girl From Ipanema.mp3

7. Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
I am not a Dylanisto. To me, not every Dylan album is a masterpiece, even as I have most of the older ones. This one, however, is superb, with the relative sparseness of the music (in contrast to Highway 61 Revisited anyway) all the more emphasising Dylan’s poetry. There are some songs one may happily overlook when compiling the definitive Dylan anthology (Down The Highway!), and the inclusion of two self-referencing songs smacks of egotism. But when Freewheelin’ hits, it hits so well. The hits are obvious – Blowin’ In The Wind, A Hard Rain’s…, Don’t Tink Twice… – but lesser known tracks like Corrina Corrina, Girl From The North Country and the quite funny I Shall Be Free are very good indeed. The surprise track is Talking World War III Blues, a song that engrosses the listener with its sermonising and satirising storytelling – despite the unappealing title, Dylan’s terrible vocals and the overbearing harmonica. I suppose the astute Dylan fan might wonder why, if I like that, I am not a Dylanista. It just ain’t me, babe.
Bob Dylan – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.mp3

8. Otis Redding – Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965)
It is tantalising to imagine what might have become of Otis Redding had he not died in a plane crash in 1968. Would he have adapted to the smoother sounds of ’70s soul? Would he have dabbled in disco? Might the future of soul music been shaped along a different path by this great singer’s influence? Or would he have gone the way of many of his contemporaries, into oblivion and largely excised from public consciousness until the ’60s soul revival of the ’80s (Londoners may well recall the Friday night club at the Kentish Town & Country Club, the Locomotion). The question I’m really posing is this: is Otis Redding a legend because of his music, or because of his dramatic death when he was in his prime? On the evidence of this album (the title and cover of which suggests that Otis was a country singer dabbling in soul as Ray Charles did in country), I’m inclined to think that Redding is a legend because he is. Redding took the Stones’ Satisfaction, and replaced Jagger’s great insolent vocals with mature emotion (the story goes that Otis had never heard the song before recording it). There is Respect, the original, done so in such a unique way that Aretha Franklin could take the song and shape it in her own image. There is the Temptations’ My Girl, no longer a cute spark of sunlight, but deflowered by the soulman. Redding even manages to nearly match Sam Cooke’s soaring A Change Is Gonna Come. But the highlight is I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, which Redding co-wrote with the great Jerry Butler (a song Isaac Hayes should have covered in a 15-minute epic). Redding’s performance of it at the Monterrey festival shortly before the plane crash is even more fantastic. And so I’m offering that live version rather than the one on the album.
Otis Redding – I’ve Been Loving You (live in Monterrey).mp3

9. Frank Sinatra – Nice ‘n’ Easy (1960)
This album (which I bought at the same charity shop as the Getz/Gilberto LP) marked the beginning of the end of Sinatra’s glorious Capitol/Nelson Riddle era. A few albums on the label followed, but the decline was beginning to set in amid a rapidly changing musical landscape. The besuited swing stars of the ’50s were beginning to fade, and a new batch of groovily clad and chesthaired poseurs like Humperdinck and Tom Jones were taking their place. All the more the pity. The killer track on this album is the title song, with the great spoken line, “Like the man said, one more time”, symbolising the last great hurrah of Sinatra’s credibility, just one album before he recorded Old Mac Donald, for crying out loud. But while the title track swings , the rest of the album is Sinatra in relaxed balladeering mood. It might have been false advertising, but the listener is not being cheated. Tracks like I Got A Crush On You, That Old Feeling and Try A Little Tenderness (just a few years before Otis Redding totally revamped and appropriated the song) showcase Sinatra’s capacity for investing himself into a song, before he descended into the greasepit of covering Yesterday and Something for our mothers’ uncles.
Frank Sinatra – Nice ‘n’ Easy.mp3

10. The Rat Pack – Live At The Sands (1963)
I am cheating now. This album was released only in 2001, presumably to cash in on the Rat Pack retro hype inspired by the remake of Ocean’s 11 and fed off by the likes of Robbie Williams trying to capture some of the cool. Oh, but the Rat Pack dudes were cool (it was Humphrey Bogart, of course, who founded the original Rat Pack, of which Sinatra was not a member). At least on stage they were cool. This collection captures the three principal members, the vocalists, on a great night. The banter is very amusing (though by today’s standards definitely not politically correct), with zinging teasing taken in good spirits and reciprocated. I have appropriated Sammy’s line: “…and these are the best friends I have”. Sammy Davis Jr certainly has his wits about him when he tells Dean Martin during a set of impressions to “be nice…or I’ll do Jerry [Lewis]”, with whom Martin was famously feuding. Sammy’s impersonations are great – especially that of Dino (“just having a little bit of fun folks”). It takes guts to impersonate somebody while that somebody is watching you. The vocal performances on the album are fine, but it is not enjoyable for that primarily; as Dino tells the audience: “if you want serious, buy a album”. It is just great fun, with three witty pallies riffing off one another. I was sad to note that Joey Bishop, the comedian of the Rat Pack, died last month at 89.
Sammy Davis Jr. – All The Way (impressions).mp3

Albums of the Year: 1950s

October 30th, 2007 3 comments

A new series of (more) old music. In an anorak-y moment, I decided to identify my top 10 favourite albums of all time. Variables such as subjective affection and objective quality aside, the challenge with such a venture is to not forget any contenders. So I sorted through my fairly extensive music collection, including stored away vinyl LPs, taking notes for my shortlist. But lots of old favourites have been lost in one way or another: so I trawled lists of album releases for each year on t’Interweb. And thus was born the entirely unoriginal idea of posting my top 10 favourite albums year-by-year on this blog. My monthly 3GB bandwidth limit would not allow me to post full albums, so we’ll have to make do with one or two songs per album.

Before I get bombarded with complaints about notable omissions: I can rank only those albums I actually know. Many artists are represented in my collection by way of compilations. So I can’t list artists of whom I might have a best of double CD sampler and a few individual tracks I have downloaded. My top 10s are also not representative of the “best” albums of the year. Some are, but others will be included simply because I like them, knowing well that they are not as innovative or influential as others I have listed.

I’ll kick off with the 1950s in one post. I have a fair amount of ’50s music, but very few albums. I think my list reflects that. I’ll also deal with the ’60s up to the year of my birth in one post. Thereafter, we’ll go year by year.

1. Frank Sinatra – Songs For Swingin’ Lovers (1956)
This is really Sinatra’s Pet Sounds, the album everybody points to as the definitive Sinatra album (until, in ten years time, the style authorities spot another definitive Sinatra album). I am unsure whether there is such a thing as a “definitive” Sinatra album. If there is, then Songs For Swinging Lovers is as good a pick as any. The concept is obvious, and with the theme being love, Francis is at his most exuberant. Our man did dejected better than most, but Sinatra in love was always great fun. This album also offers much evidence for all that talk about Sinatra’s phrasing. Just listen to You Make Me Feel So Young and imagine how less brilliant singers have interpreted the song.
Frank Sinatra – You Make Me Feel So Young.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Pennies From Heaven.mp3

2. Various – Singin’ In The Rain soundtrack (1952)
If I had to choose one DVD to take with me to exile on a desert island, I might very well pick Singin’ In The Rain. It is the perfect movie (except the ballet sequence is a touch too long. Still, Syd Charisse’s legs….mmmmm). The songs, a hotchpotch of numbers that had long ago appeared elsewhere (and in one case is a shameless rip-off of Cole Porter), range from the sublime — the title track or Good Morning — to standard crooning — You Are My Lucky Star (nonetheless a song I cannot help but croon along to). The orchestral score is very good indeed, but in the company of these exuberant songs, it is somehow intrusive. Stripped down to the show tunes, the album captures the energy of the movie, which is all you can ask from a soundtrack.
Gene Kelly – Singin’ In The Rain.mp3
Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor & Debbie Reynolds – Good Morning.mp3

3. Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (1959)
Ah, I know what you’re thinking: this is Any Major Token Jazz Album. In a way, that would be correct. I used to listen to jazz a lot (mostly fusion of the Grover Washington Jr and Eric Gale variety, though), and now I rarely do. If I feel moved to play some jazz, Kind Of Blue-era Miles Davis is the guy I turn to. The kicker is: when I used to listen to jazz a lot, I rarely listened to Davis (whose Witch’s Brew-era fusion stuff actually turned me off his music), and never to Kind Of Blue, which I didn’t even own. So where to many people Kind Of Blue serves as an introduction to jazz, to me it is a late discovery. And a very happy one. It is the kind of album that you can relax to — a reading album — as well as listen to for those brilliant twists and turns. And don’t let anyone sell that revisionist nonsense about Kind Of Blue lacking innovation, a notion that can be bought only if one thinks that innovation must equal excessive wankery. For that, there are plenty of other Davis albums.
Miles Davis – So What.mp3

4. Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (1956)
This was part of a series of Ella Fitzgerald’s songbook albums. Previously, she had recorded sets of compositions by George Gershwin, later she gave the songbook treatment to such canons as those of Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Rogers & Hart and the Gershwins again. Her tribute to Cole Porter is the most popular, and rightly so. Much of it has to do with the quality of Cole Porter’s songs: the wonderful lyrical and musical wit of songs such as I Get A Kick Out Of You, the sweet romance of Do I Love You, the articulation of a desperate heart on Night And Day… I could listen to Porter all day, even if his songs are being performed by Alanis Morrissette and Robbie Williams, as on the De-Lovely soundtrack. Happily, that is not necessary — though the soundtrack’s version of Night And Day is quite wonderful — because Ms Fitzgerald has applied her musical stylings to the Porter catalogue. While none of the versions are necessarily the best available interpretations, Fitzgerald sustains a high measure of quality throughout, a consistency which few other singers working with the same material have matched — even Sinatra, at his best a great interpreter of Porter’s music, could get patchy.
Ella Fitzgerald – It’s De-Lovely.mp3

5. Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning (1955)
During his Capitol years, Sinatra was apt to produce concept albums. Songs For Swingin’ Lovers was all about being in love, Come Fly With Me (1958) was a collection of travel-related songs, Only The Lonely (1959) was drenched in self-pity. Likewise, In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning paints a mood in line with the album title. Our man is in a reflective mood here, maybe after a solitary night of propping up a bar. Perhaps he is sharing his reflections with the bartender. Life isn’t necessarily bad, but is it really good? This isn’t an outpouring of self-pity, it is introspective. Few of this album’s songs rank among Sinatra’s biggest hits; you’ll find none of them on your average karaoke mix. This is an advantage: as you listen, you don’t wait for the big hits, but buy into the mood of the album, and join Francis in his introspections.
Frank Sinatra – What Is This Thing Called Love.mp3

6. Elvis Presley – Loving You (1957)
By 1957, Elvis was in his pomp. On his third proper album, he was still rockin’ and rollin’, but had also acquired a sense of musical subtlety. His cover of Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” might have been a disaster if approached as a rock ‘n roll song. Elvis didn’t, and it isn’t. On “Teddy Bear” (with the excellent backing vocals by the Jordanaires), Elvis’ pleading sounds sincere, the silliness of the lyrics notwithstanding. In this way, the vocals are presaging the rock-pop of the Beatles rather than organic roots of rock, which find expression in songs such as Party and Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do. By now, our boy also had learned how to sing slow songs — not the crooning he’d later subject us to, but the sort of soulful, country-inflected music that let him casually show off his great voice, as on the title track. Elvis would still make a few good albums before going to Germany to do his duty to Uncle Sam, screw underage girls, and return as the Colonel’s cashcow by appearing in a long succession of astonishingly banal movies. Albums like Loving You (itself a soundtrack) remind us of how great Elvis really was before his descend into gimpdom.
Elvis Presley – Loving You.mp3
Elvis Presley – (Let Me Be ) Your Teddy Bear.mp3

7. Miles Davis – Porgy & Bess (1958)
Miles Davis was an objectionable human being. Scarred by his experiences, perhaps, but not admirable in any way but in his artistry. And it was here that Davis (unlike many, I will not refer to the man by his first name as if he was a pseudo-chum; I’d probably not have wanted to be his friend) revealed the beauty inherent in most people, even the obnoxious kind. That beauty rarely shone brighter than on his interpretation of Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, a sensitive, almost tender take, aided by Gil Evans’ wonderful orchestration. Take “Prayer”, a song that passed me by entirely on the soundtrack LP my mother used to own. In the hands of Davis and Evans, it gently lures you into its depth, so much so that it comes as a something of a jolt when the thing ends. The standard number of Porgy & Bess, of course, is Summertime. It’s a song that invites, almost demands vocal stylings — it’s hardly possible to screw up singing it. All the more credit to Davis and Evans as they deliver a most evocative interpretation without recourse to the human voice.
Miles Davis – Summertime.mp3

8. Various – High Society soundtrack (1956)
The late ’40s and ’50s were the golden age of MGM musicals. High Society, the musical remake of the great Katherine Hepburn vehicle The Philadelphia Story (1940), did not represent the zenith of the genre. Bing Crosby was nothing on Cary Grant, and Sinatra (an otherwise fine actor) no match for the performance by James Stewart in the original. High Society is to be enjoyed purely for Cole Porter’s incredible songs: Crosby’s languid energy of Now You Has Jazz with Louis Armstrong, Crosby crooning with Grace Kelly about True Love, Sinatra and the wonderful Celeste Holm being sardonically envious about obscene wealth. And then there is the set’s absolute high point: Frank & Bing slaying each other with wit in Well Did You Evah, a duel of two iconic crooners in which neither manages to upstage the other even as they raise the stakes, culminating in that wonderful pay-off line by Sinatra: “Don’t dig that kind of crooning, chum”. Swellegant indeed.
Bing Crosby & Frank Sinatra – Well, Did You Evah.mp3

9. Various – An American In Paris (1951)
The film was not as good as Singin’ In The Rain, except for a few stunning setpieces (the charming street scene of I Got Rhythm, the big production of Stairway To Paradise, the lovely painting montage), but it was this Gene Kelly musical that won an Oscar. Arguably, the majesty of Gershwin’s eponymous symphony contributed to what the Academy might have mistaken for sophistication. It is the combination of Gershwin and the memorable set-piece songs — I Got Rhythm is so infectious, one needs self-control not to copy Kelly’s “aeroplane!” move — that create a hugely appealing album. The musical light-heartedness of songs like ‘s Wonderful provide the cream on the strawberries of Gershwin’s score. Or something.
Gene Kelly & Georges Guetary – ‘s Wonderful.mp3

10. Various – Gigi soundtrack (1958)
The last great MGM musical in the old tradition, Gigi came at a time when the genre was slowly dying. The film itself is a cutting satire on gender and class relations, cushioned of course by the obligatory Tinseltown glamour and conventional resolution. The music is key to the masking of the brutal commentary. Charming old Maurice Chevalier croons about little girls (as one could in those days without being considered a paedophile), the old Vichy collaborator and Louis Jourdan discuss the latter’s sense of disillusionment in It’s A Bore (Gaston, it would appear, was a depressive. Did Collette intend that?), and then there is the sweeping, montage-like title track. To me, the highlight of the film and soundtrack is the aging Chevalier and Hermione Gingold nostalgically recounting a date they had many, many years before. Chevalier misremembers with grand charm every detail (“You wore a gown of gold”), and Gingold corrects him (“I was all in blue”) before tenderly “acknowledging” that the old coot’s memory is indeed accurate. Gingold then recalls what a stud muffin the old man used to be, Chevalier responds with self-satisfaction: “Ah yes, I remember it well”, because that he actually has not forgotten. It is at once very funny and very touching. As a film and as a collection of music, Gigi eclipses that other Lerner & Loewe work, My Fair Lady.
Maurice Chevalier & Hermione Gingold – I Remember It Well (Gigi).mp3