Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Gwen Guthrie’

The Originals Vol. 17

March 3rd, 2009 7 comments

Time for another round of Originals. Apologies for the relative scarcity of posts in the series. They are rather research-intensive, so one post of five songs can take up to 5-6 hours of work. Still, I enjoy writing these posts very much, so I’ll keep on going.
.

Richard Chamberlain – They Long To Be Close To You.mp3
Dusty Springfield – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3
Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

Also recorded by: Off By One (2002)

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

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

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

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

More Originals

Yet more '80s soul

November 20th, 2008 5 comments

I’m not sure whether it is due to popular demand after last week’s compilation, but here is a second ’80s soul mix, with a third and final installment in the works. The first mix was an attempt to create a fairly representative cross-section of the genre. This mix is less self-conscious about that. What we have here, then, are some of my favourite soul tracks from that comparatively barren decade. As in any compilation of favourites, the measure of quality may be secondary to the compiler’s emotional connection to a song. Is Smokey’s Just To See Her any good? I don’t rightly know. It may not be a better song than Being With You. But much as I like Being With You, it does not transport me back to a particular time. Play Just To See Her, however, and I smell the girl’s hair, taste the vegetarian gunk I used to eat, feel the anticipation of going to the club and the anxiety of missing my friends in London. And so it is with many songs in this mix (especially Pendergrass’ wonderfully Marvin-esque Joy). Read more…

Pissing off the Taste Police with Carpenters

October 6th, 2007 5 comments

OK, I’m cheating a bit. There are factions of the Taste Police who adore Karen & Richard’s music. Read this post as pissing off those branches of the Taste Police who would prosecute their Carpenters-loving colleagues.

It is a little odd that the same members of the Taste Police who will defend the Carpenters are quite prepared to heap scorn on far edgier acts — for lacking edge. Let’s face it, you can’t really screw to the Carpenters (“Song For You” and “This Masquerade” being exceptions), they were mostly a cover act, and fans of the Carpenters are likely to like James Blunt as well. And many Carpenters song were utter crap. But when the Carpenters were great, they were indeed great. Richard’s arrangements could be exquisite. Perhaps the Taste Police forgives that. But Richard Carpenter, surely, is the least rock ‘n roll man ever to have worn the pop mantle. All I’m left with is Karen Carpenter: one of the finest vocalists in pop ever, blessed with an astonishingly beautiful and versatile voice.

Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3
This Bacharach-David composition was the Carpenters break-through hit, and the best-known version of the song, which has been recorded by artists as diverse as Dionne Warwick, Isaac Hayes (whose symphonic version is incredible), the Cranberries and the Barenaked Ladies (the late Gwen Guthrie recorded a lovely upbeat version of it in 1986). The Carpenters were discovered by Herb Alpert and signed to his A&M label; it was Alpert who suggested they record “Close To You”, and it sounds like he is playing on it too.
Gwen Guthrie – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3

Carpenters – Superstar.mp3
Oh, Karen’s plaintive, yearning voice on this can move you to tears. Another Taste Police target, Luther Vandross later took this song, stirred in some Stevie Wonder, and created a 9-minute epic which should be regarded as one of the great cover versions of any song. I’m not quite sure how a song written from the perspective of a groupie (begging the question of why it wasn’t used in Almost Famous) came to become a big hit for the wholesome Carpenters. No doubt, they knew what the song was about; they even toned down the lyrics in one instance. A host of other artists recorded “Superstar” in the two years between its composition and the Carpenters’ hit version, including Rita Coolidge and Bette Middler, whose TV performance of the song alerted Richard to it.
Luther Vandross – Superstar/Until You Come Back To Me.mp3

Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays.mp3
This might be my favourite Carpenters song. Its undramatically but touchingly describes the condition of depression, with the promise of finding refuge and comfort from melancholy from “the one who loves me”. Karen invests much emotion into her delivery; presumably this was a song she could identify with more than the one written from a groupie’s perspective. I’m with Karen on Mondays being a bit of a downer, but rainy days cheer me up. As does this sad but hopeful song.

Carpenters – Goodbye To Love.mp3
This song breaks my heart. What fatalistic lyrics (” And all I know of love is how to live without it”) delivered with such a range of emotion. But it’s not the sad lyrics and Karen’s vocals that get me as much as that fuzzy guitar solo which captures the entire sentiment of the song. It’s a guitar solo that reaches inside me and wrenches my guts. Never mind “Rainy Days”, I think this is my favourite Carpenters song.

Carpenters – Hurting Each Other.mp3
A cover of a fairly obscure ’60s track. As this song begins, Karen sounds bit like Dusty Springfield. At 0:38, the chorus kicks in and it’s pure Carpenters. Richard’s arrangement is wonderful, making it sound like a Bacharach song. The climax at 2:13 is possibly the finest Carpenters moment: Karen’s phrasing of the lines, ” Making each other cry, breaking each other’s heart, tearing each other apart”, with her emphasis on the words “each other” as the strings go all soul on us…phew!

Carpenters – A Song For You.mp3
“A Song For You” was the title track for their best album by far, released in 1972 (it also featured the previous two songs). Karen’s vocals are incredibly intricate and emotionally beautifully judged, a real masterclass of singing (which Christina Aguilera might have taken note of on her attempt of a cover). I love the way Karen sings the word “better”. It seems difficult to top this version, but Donny Hathaway’s version, recorded a year earlier, is even better. Imagine Donny and Karen had lived to record it as a duet (hmmmm, Karen, dead; Gwen, dead; Luther, dead; Donny, dead…)!
Donny Hathaway – A Song For You.mp3

Carpenters – This Masquerade.mp3
If a song has a flute in it, I’m almost certain to love it. And “This Masquerade” has some of the best flute in pop. Like “A Song For You”, it was written by Leon Russell. George Benson’s version, from Breezin, is better known. Good as it is, the Carpenters’ take pisses all over it. Another intricate vocal performance, a wonderful jazzy arrangement — and Richard rocks a lovely piano solo, just before the first flute solo. Amazingly, this was only the b-side to the appalling cover of the Marvelettes‘ “Please Mr Postman” (the one with the Disneyland promo). And here’s a key as to why some members of the Taste Police still disregard the Carpenters’ genius: many of the great moments are obscured by the rubbish that was released to score hits.

The Carpenters – There’s A Kind Of Hush.mp3
And this is the sort of song I blame for that. The arrangement is cheesy and shoddy, the melody is pretty but lacking in substance, and the lyrics are so generic as to give Karen nothing to do with them. Of all the rubbish Carpenters songs, it’s not even remotely the worst. To his credit, Richard is unhappy with his reworking of the Herman’s Hermits hit, especially the use of the synth. (Previously uploaded on the Time Travel: 1976 post)