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In Memoriam – May 2012

June 5th, 2012 4 comments

The Grim Reaper wreaked havoc in May. Robin Gibb, Donna Summer and Adam Yauch were the headliners, but there were also members of The Dillards and Crowded House who left us. Two blues and soul guitarists died: Charles Pitts, who played on so many of Isaac Hayes’ records (his guitar helped make The Theme of Shaft such an iconic track) and Pete Cosey, who played on many Chess records.

In April we lost Andrew Love, who was involved in creating the iconic intro for Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness. In May we lost another co-creator of a famous Otis intro: Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, who died at 70, provided the driving bass of I Can’t Turn You Loose. Fans of the Blues Brothers will know that intro; it’s played during the long introduction of the band as Jake and Elroy are trying to make to the stage. And on that stage was Donald “Duck” Dunn, the bassist with the white Afro and beard, appearing as himself. Check out the man’s discography.

We also lost Doc Watson, who did much to revive and keep alive the flame of traditional country and bluegrass at a time when the genre was tending towards the glossy pop sound.

First on the list this month is Jim McCrary, one of the rare non-musicians who warrant inclusion in this series. His contribution resides in album covers and rock photography. His LP cover portfolio includes Carole King’s Tapestry (and album cover which I will deal with in a couple of week’s time), the Carpenters’ Offering and Now And Then, The Flying Burrito Brothers’ Burrito Deluxe and The Flying Burrito Bros, and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs And Englishmen. He also took the famous series of photos of Gram Parson in the Nudie suit.

I had never heard of Masud Sadiki before, hut was saddened to hear of another young singer who saw no way out of depression but by committing suicide. The reggae singer from St Kitts leaves a wife and two young children, compounding the tragedy.  Two other mostly unknown musicians are included because they were killed in a shooting in a bar in which they frequently played, alongside three others.

Jim McCrary, 72, photographer of more than 300 LP covers, on April 29
Carole King – So Far Away (1971, live)

Charles Pitts, 65, soul guitarist for Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes a.o., on May 1
The Isley Brothers – It’s Your Thing (1969)
Isaac Hayes – Theme from Shaft (1973, live at Wattstax)

Lary Donn, 70, rockabilly singer, on May 1
Larry Donn – I’ll Never Forget You (1963)

Lloyd Brevett, 80, double bassist  of The Skatalites, on May 3
The Skatalites – Confucius (1966)

Edith Bliss, 52, Australian pop singer and TV presenter, on May 3

Bobby Thomas, 70, singer with the Vibranaires, Vibes, V-Eights and Orioles, on May 3

Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, 47, rapper with the Beastie Boys, on May 4
Beastie Boys – Pass The Mic (1992)
Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out (2004)

Mort Lindsey, 89, orchestra leader, pianist, composer and musical director, on May 4

Jose ‘Tonico’ Perez, 95, member of Brazilian duo Tonico e Tinoco, on May 5
Tonico e Tinoco – Chico Mineiro

‘Sweet Joe’ Russell, 72, singer with a capella group The Persuasions, on May 6
The Persuasions – The Whole World Is A Stage (1970)

Michael Burks, 54, blues and soul guitarist, singer and composer, on May 6
Michael Burks – Make It Rain (2001)

Ernest Warren, 78, doo wop tenor with The Spaniels, on May 7
The Spaniels – Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite (1954)

Everett Lilly, 87, half of bluegrass duo The Lilly Brothers, on May 8
The Lilly Brothers & Don Stover – Sinner, You’d Better Get Ready (1962)

Clive Welham, British drummer and early bandmate of Syd Barrett and Dave Gilmore, on May 9

Celso Chavez, 44, guitarist of alternative rock band Possum Dixon, on May 9

Bernardo Sassetti, 41, Portuguese jazz pianist and film composer, on May 10

Donald  ‘Duck’ Dunn, 70, bass guitarist on Stax, and with The Blues Brothers and Booker T. & the M.G.’s, on May 13
Otis Redding – I Can’t Turn You Loose (1965)
The Blues Brothers – She Caught The Katy (1980)
Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (1981)

Belita Woods, 63, soul singer, on May 14
Belita Woods – That’s When I’ll Stop Loving You (1970)

Doug Dillard, 75, bluegrass & country musician with The Dillards and Dillard & Clark, on May 16
The Dillards – Lemon Chimes (1965)
Dillard & Clark – Train Leaves Here This Mornin’ (1968)

Chuck Brown, 75, funk singer and musician, on May 16
Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers – Bustin’ Loose (1978)

Donna Summer, 63, disco and pop singer, on May 17
Donna Summer – Last Dance (1978)
Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer – No More Tears (Single Version, 1979)

Peter Jones, 45, drummer of Crowded House (1995-97), on May 18
Crowded House – Sister Madly (live, 1997)

Robin Gibb, 62, member of Bee Gees, on May 20
Bee Gees – Marley Purt Drive (1969)
Robin Gibb – Gone Gone Gone (1970)
Robin Gibb – Another Lonely Night In New York (1983)

Robert Nix, 67, drummer of the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Classics IV, on May 20
Atlanta Rhythm Section – So Into You (1976)

Carrie Smith, 70, blues and jazz singer, on May 20
Carrie Smith – Some Rainy Day (1983)

Eddie Blazonczyk Sr, 71, polka musician and founder of The Versatones, on May 21

Masud Sadiki, 37, reggae and calypso singer from St Kitts & Neves, suicide on May 21

Kuly Ral, 35, member of English-Asian group RDB, on May 23

Roy Wilson, 72, member of Jamaican duo Higgs and Wilson, on May 26.

Doc Watson, 89, bluegrass and folk musician, on May 29
Doc Watson – Talk About Suffering (1964)

Pete Cosey, 68, guitarist for Muddy Waters, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock a.o., on May 30
Muddy Waters – Tom Cat (1968)

Joe “Meshuguna Joe “ Albanese and Drew ‘Shmootzi the Clod ‘ Keriakedes, members of Seattle folk group God’s Favourite Breakfast, shot dead on May 3

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Whitney Houston uncovered

February 12th, 2012 5 comments

It was in a place called The Video Café in London’s West End that I first became aware of Whitney Houston. In 1985 the concept of a restaurant playing video promos of pop music on big screens was still so novel as to present a special gastronomic experience. So I heard, and saw, Whitney singing How Will I Know there. She wouldn’t bother the British charts for another few months when she topped the charts with her cover of Marilyn McCoo’s Saving All My Love.

We know the trajectory her career took, from superstardom to megastardom to megadivadom to trainwreck who couldn’t buy a comeback for love or money. Following her passing yesterday, she’ll have that comeback. The timing of her death, on the eve of the Grammys, guarantees it. What a way for a diva to go out (even if that will be of scant consolation to her grieving mother Cissy, her daughter, her family or friends)! The tributes are flooding in, as they tend to when somebody as famous as Whitney Houston dies. People who should know better declare Whitney Houston the “Queen of Pop”, her lack of success or accomplishment over the past decade or so notwithstanding. And even in her pomp, Madonna and Mariah Carey had more solid claims to that crown.

Simon Cowell, who has done more than most to molest and maim popular music, has proclaimed Houston the most influential artist ever, or hyperbolic words to that effect. He might have a point: Houston was in the vanguard of singers who pushed the ostentatious soul wailings so overcooked by people like Patti LaBelle into the mainstream (she was joined there by the even greater offenders in that unwelcome development, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men), replicated to nauseating effect by many who tried for Cowell’s talent shows. And, of course, many singers say they were inspired by Whitney Houston, and we must take their word for it.

Of course, Houston will be remembered rightly as a singer with a truly great voice, a woman of great beauty (which even in her drug phase was evident beneath the addict exterior), and as an artist who was ready to encourage young talents. She will be remembered as a diva and as a hitmaker. She will be remembered by some with emotions that are less than fond for her ubiquity in 1992/93, when her love-it-or-hate-it version of I Will Always Love You was impossible to bypass. And she will be remembered as a cautionary tale about the very real perils of drugs and marrying men who are known to be major douchebags. Eventually it will be remembered that for all her talent, voice and poise, Whitney Houston’s output didn’t quite justify the acclaim it is getting now.

Her song-choices and much of the production often failed to do her voice justice; for a soul singer, there was a tendency of technique trumping emotion (her song So Emotional is a good example of that). And when the production really let her voice soar, as it did on I Will Always Love You, it annoyed many and turned them conclusively against Whitney. So she leaves us with six albums, a couple of soundtracks, a few singles (such as the 1988 Olympics anthem One Moment In Time), and her spine-chilling performance of the US national anthem that provided the soundtrack to George Bush Sr’s Gulf War.

Her eponymously titled debut album from 1985 remains the stand-out in Houston’s catalogue. The power ballads are already there, as are the pop numbers, like the deliriously catchy How Will I Know. But the LP has a soul feel, especially when Whitney duets with Jermaine Jackson and Teddy Pendergrass (their Hold Me is just beautiful) and on tracks like You Give Good Love.

The sophomore album, titled with a singular lack of imagination Whitney, dispensed with the soul and recycled How Will I Know as I Wanna Dance With Somebody (both co-written by George Merrill, Shannon Rubicam and Michael Narada Walden) and All At Once as Didn’t We Almost Have It All (both co-written by Michael Masser), just with bigger productions, bigger synths or bigger orchestras. It is an album that has not aged well.

The third album, I’m Your Baby Tonight (1990), traded the Masser productions for those by LA Reid and Babyface, with Walden, Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross also chipping in. It was a patchy album, but Whitney regained some of the soul cred which she would promptly lose with The Bodyguard (1992), the soundtrack of the movie in which she acted poorly opposite Kevin Costner, the thespian version of Kenny G (who, predictably, features on the soundtrack). Houston contributed about half of the songs to the soundtrack, which is quite awful once her songs are done with. And even those are not great. Run To You is a sweet song and I Have Nothing is a showstopper type of affair which should go down well at drag clubs. But the horror was Whitney going rock on the dreadful Queen Of The Night, one of the very few songs on which she earned a writing credit.

A couple of other movies and associated soundtracks followed. Of those, The Preacher’s Wife (1997) is mediocre, but Houston’s three turns on the Babyface-produced soundtrack for Waiting To Exhale (1995), are good. A creditable fourth album in My Love Is Your Love (1998) followed – and nothing really worth recalling thereafter.

She had hits, and she even had some fine records, but this is not the strike rate of a legend. Her status as a legend is guaranteed by three other things: her voice, which touched and, yes, influenced many people; her poise, which never suggested, even in her drug-addled days, that she was anything less than a star (the Norma Desmond effect, if you will); and her death at a relatively young age, before her beauty went and before her voice disappeared entirely. She clearly was a troubled soul, far from the seemingly carefree young woman whom I saw in on the screen in The Video Café 27 years ago. May she rest in peace.

Over the next few days we will hear enough Whitney Houston material, and people singing Whitney Houston material in ways that may or may not be classifiable as tributes. So here are the originals of some of the songs Whitney Houston covered. The one non-original is All The Man That I Need, which Sister Sledge covered in 1982 from Linda Clifford’s 1981 original, with guest vocals by David Simmons, before Whitney recorded it in 1990. Their version is superior to Whitney’s. As are, in my view all the other originals, with the exception of Marilyn McCoo’s excellent Saving All My Love For You, which Whitney not only eclipsed but hit out of the park. Singing backing vocals on I’m Every Woman is a 15-year-old Whitney Houston…

Marilyn McCoo – Saving All My Love For You (1978).mp3
George Benson – The Greatest Love Of All (1977).mp3
Isley Brothers – For The Love Of You (1975).mp3
Sister Sledge – All The Man I Need (1982).mp3
Dolly Parton – I Will Always Love You (1974).mp3
Chaka Khan – I’m Every Woman (1978).mp3

 

The Originals Vol. 34 – Reworked hits

November 20th, 2009 8 comments

In this episode of The Originals we look at artists who had hits with covers of their own songs. It’s a fairly rare phenomenon in rock and soul that artists have bigger hits with re-recordings, though a number had bigger hits with live performances of studio tracks, such as Peter Frampton with Baby, I Love Your Way or Cheap Trick with I Want You To Want Me. It was of course pretty common with the interpreters of the standards, such as Frank Sinatra, whose swinging 1962 version of I Get a Kick Out Of You (featured HERE), for example is probably more famous than the more pensive 1953 original (featured HERE).

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The Isley Brothers – Who’s That Lady (1964).mp3
The Isley Brothers – That Lady Pt 1&2 (1973).mp3

ISLEYS64 The slice of funky soul from The Isley Brothers’ classic 1973 album 3+3 (named for the three original Isleys plus the three new members) was a cover of their 1964 recording, which had been inspired Curtis Mayfield’s band The Impressions. Released just before the Isleys signed for Motown, the original has a vague bossa nova beat with a jazzy brass backing, but is immediately recognisable as the song they recorded nine years later. The 1964 recording was a flop. The latter version, with reworked harmonies and without the brass, added Ernie’s distinctive guitar, Chris Jasper’s new-fangled synthethizer, Santanesque percussions, and the menacing interjection “Look, yeah, but don’t touch”. It became their first Top 10 hit in four years.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems.

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Nazz – Hello It’s Me (1968).mp3
Todd Rundgren – Hello It’s Me (1972).mp3

The Isley Brothers – Hello It’s Me (1974).mp3
NAZZ Before he became a guitar god, Rundgren was part of the Philadelphia garage rock band Nazz (not The Nazz, who went on to become the band Alice Cooper, before their singer appropriated that name for himself as a solo artist), whom their manager sought to promote as a teenybopper outfit. The name refers to comic-poet Lord Buckley’s poem “The Nazz”, a hip retelling of the Jesus story, but might also have been an allusion to the Yardbirds’ song The Nazz Are Blue.

Hello It’s Me, written by Rundgren, was released in 1968 as the b-side of the group’s debut single, Open Your Eyes. The single flopped, except in Boston where a local DJ flipped the single, giving Hello It’s Me local hit status. Rundgren resurrected the song for his 1972 double album Something/Anything?, on three sides of which he did everything — writing, playing, producing, engineering — himself. Hello It’s Me was on side 4, and features session musicians, a horn section (including Randy Brecker) and the backing vocals of Vicki Sue Robinson (who went on to record the original of Gloria Estefan’s1994 hit Turn The Beat Around). The second single from the album, it reached #5 in the US, still Rundgren’s biggest hit. He re-recorded it in 1997 easy listening style. The best version, however, is that by The Isley Brothers, on the 1974 Live It Up album.
Also recorded by: The Isley Brothers (1974), Lani Hall (1975), Groove Theory (1995), Gerald Levert (1999), Paul Giamatti (in the film Duets, 2000), Seiya Nakano (2002), John Legend (2005), Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs (2009)

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Frantic Elevators – Holding Back The Years (1982).mp3
Simply Red – Holding Back The Years (1985).mp3

Randy Crawford – Holding Back The Years (1995).mp3
Angie Stone – Holding Back The Years (2000).mp3

frantic_elevators Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years sounds like a cover version of an obscure ’60s soul number, and the versions by Randy Crawford and Angie Stone show how good a soul song it is. But it is, in fact, a Mick Hucknall composition. Before Hucknall became Simply Red (would you recognise any of the other interchangeable members in the street?), he was the lead singer of the Frantic Elevators, a punk group whose founding was inspired by the Sex Pistols’ 1976 Manchester gig. They stayed together for seven years of very limited success, releasing four non-charting singles and recording a Peel session. The last of the four singles, released in 1982, was Holding Back The Years, a song Hucknall had mostly written as a 17-year-old about his mother’s desertion when he was three (he added the chorus later). Their version is understated and almost morose, in a Joy Division sort of way. Although released independently, as the cut-and-paste artwork on the sleeve suggests, they had high hopes for the single. Ineffective distribution dashed those hopes.

In 1983, Hucknall left the Frantic Elevators and went on to found Simply Red (who before arriving at that name were called World Service, Red and the Dancing Dead, and Just Red). The first single, Money’s Too Tight To Mention — a cover version featured in The Originals Vol. 23— was an instant hit. The follow-up was a remake of Holding Back The Years, now rendered as a soul number, which was a worldwide smash, even topping the Billboard charts. I seem to recall that the single and LP versions had different mixes, but I have found no reference to it, and my copy of the single is long gone.
Also recorded by: James Galway (1994), Randy Crawford (1995), The Isley Brothers (1996), Gino Marinello Orchestra (1996), Craig Chaquico (1997), Jimmy Scott (1998), Another Level (1999), Angie Stone (2000), Emmerson Nogueira (2001), Erin Bode (2006), Etta James (2006), Umphrey’s McGee (2007), The Cooltrane Quartet (2007)

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Strontium 90/Sting – Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (1977).mp3
The Police – Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (1981).mp3

strontium Strictly-speaking this is not really a cover version, or even a song by Strontium 90, but a demo by the group’s member Sting, though it was eventually released in 1997 on the Strontium 90 retrospective of live and demo cuts, Police Academy. In its initial form, the unrequited love for stalkers anthem (Sting has a string of those) is an acoustic number which is actually pretty good. Strontium 90 consisted of the three future Police members — Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland — plus founder Mike Howlett, who went on to be a successful producer of many New Wave acts. So Howlett, through Strontium 90 introduced Andy Summers to Sting and Copeland, who had previously gigged together.

Howlett remembered things this way: “I first saw Sting play live in a room above a pub in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England in the summer of ’76. The band was Last Exit, sounding a bit like Weather Report with vocals. Sting soon moved to London following his best chance instinct. I had just quit my group Gong and was working on material for my own project. I asked sting to sing on the demos I was recording. Meanwhile I’d bumped into Andy Summers at a party in January ’77. He’d been out of the scene for a couple of years studying classical guitar. When I asked him to play on my demo, he was glad to do something new. I needed a drummer. Sting had met Stewart Copeland, he’d bring him along. So that’s how it happened. We all met in a studio called Virtual Earth around February 1977. This was the first time Sting, Andy and Stewart played together.”
Also recorded by: The Surffreakers (1992), The Shadows (1990), Shawn Colvin (as Every Little Thing (He) Does Is Magic, 1994), Chaka Demus & Pliers (1997), Flying Pickets (1998), Soraya (as Todo lo que él hace, 1998), Lee Ritenour (2002), Emmerson Nogueira (2002), Melissa Ellen (2004), Anadivine (2005), Ra (2005), John Barrowman (2007), Ali Campbell (2008)

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The Beatles – Across The Universe (1969).mp3
The Beatles – Across The Universe (1970).mp3
David Bowie – Across The Universe (1975).mp3

This may well be the least surprising inclusion in the entire series of The Originals — or perhaps the most, since the latter version is really a remix of the first. The famous version, of course is that on the Let It Be album and the blue 1967-70 compilation. It was recorded long before the other tracks of Let It Be.

our world In early February 1968, the Beatles were in the Abbey Road studios to produce a single they would released while they went off to hang with the Maharishi in India. That single turned out to be Paul’s Lady Madonna (the same session also produced the b-side, George’s The Inner Light, and John’s Hey Bulldog, which would appear on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack). John’s contribution to the quest for a new single was Across The Universe, whose lyric “words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup” he said came to him when his then-wife Cynthia was babbling about something he took no interest in. The arrangement for the song was problematic, however. John did not think that Paul was getting the backing falsetto right, so Paul brought in two female fans who were standing outside the studio, Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease, to sing backing vocals instead. They did not turn professional, and the recording shows why. John later voiced his suspicion that Paul intentionally sabotaged many of his songs — citing also the violence McCartney did to, erm, Strawberry Fields — though he also admitted that his own vocals on Across The Universe were poor (and he couldn’t blame Paul for that).

Rejected for the single, Across The Universe was not considered for the White Album, apparently because John had become disillusioned with the whole transcendental meditation lark which the song had latched on to. Somehow, however, comedian Spike Milligan heard the song, and suggested that Across The Universe would be a great number for the charity album he was compiling for the World Wildlife Fund. The Beatles agreed to let him have it, with appropriate bird noises added to the mix. The LP’s title, No One’s Gonna Change Our World, was adapted from a recurring line in the song, which opened the set. The album, which also featured the likes of Lulu, Cliff Richard, the Bee Gees, Cilla Black and The Hollies, was eventually released on December 12, 1969.

By then Lennon had rediscovered his affection for the song, which he always regarded as one of the best he had ever written, and decided to rework it for the Get Back sessions, which became the Let It Be album. It was not re-recorded for the album, though the Let It Be film shows the Beatles rehearsing it (on the strength of which it was included on the LP). The new version was the work of engineering. The 1968 track was first remixed in early 1970 by Glyn Johns, who dumped the girls and birds, then Phil Spector mixed it in March/April 1970, slowing it down and adding the orchestra, to create the version we know best.

In January 2008, NASA beamed the song into space, in the direction of the North Star, Polaris. It will take the song another 429 years too get there. The cover version by David Bowie comes from the Young Americans album, and features Lennon on guitar.
Also recorded by: Cilla Black (1970), Lightsmyth (1970), Christine Roberts (1970), David Bowie (1975), Vadim Brodsky (1986), Laibach (1988), The Family Cat (1991), Holly Johnson (1991), 10cc (1993), Joemy Wilson (1993), Göran Söllscher (1995), Elliot Humberto Kavee (1997), Aine Minogue (1997), Fiona Apple (1998), Sloan Wainwright (1998), Paul Schwartz (1998), Lana Lane (1998), 46bliss (1999), Geoff Keezer (2000), Jane Duboc (2001), Texas (2001), Jason Falkner (2001), Rufus Wainwright (2002), Afterhours + Verdena (2003), Allon (2004), Emmerson Nogueira (2004), Beatlejazz (2005), Barbara Dickson (2006), Emmanuel Santarromana (2006), Jim Sturgess (2007), Michael Johns (2008) a.o.

More Originals

Any Major 60s Soul Vol. 2

June 5th, 2009 5 comments

60s_soulHere is the second volume of ’60s soul tracks. Some of these songs are pretty well-known, but many others are hidden or forgotten gem. Eddie Holland’s track is as much a gem as it is a historical curiosity; it’s one of the few records he released on Motown before Berry Gordy decided that Eddie, with Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, should work exclusively as one of the label’s in-house writer/producer teams, in particular for the Supremes and the Four Tops . Read more…

The Originals Vol. 25 – Beatles edition 1

May 29th, 2009 12 comments

Among the many potent influences the Beatles had on pop music, their part in advancing the importance of albums was crucial. Before the Beatles, pop albums — be it rock & roll or easy listening — were promotional tools for hit singles, populated by fillers. Serious albums served jazz and musical soundtracks. Of course there were very good albums before the Beatles (Elvis had at least three before Uncle Sam grabbed him, and Sinatra introduced the concept album), but LPs such as Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s, or even A Hard Day’s Night before those, helped establish the album as the more serious form of artistic (and commercial) expression.

With that in mind, it is easy to forget that three of the Beatles’ first four albums were topped up with fillers, many of them cover versions (which is quite ironic since the Beatles went on to become the most covered band ever). Some of these are better known in their original versions; the Little Richard and Chuck Berry compositions and Motown classics, for example. Some are generic classics (A Taste Of Honey; Till There Was You), and some are fairly obscure, or would become so. In this sub-series of The Originals, we look at the latter two categories in the first of a three-part sub-series, which includes a few rarities. (EDIT: The Cookies’ link is now fixed, and thespian misidentification removed.)

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The Top Notes – Twist And Shout.mp3
The Isley Brothers – Twist And Shout.mp3
top-notes_twist_and_shout The Beatles – Twist And Shout.mp3
Mae West – Twist And Shout.mp3
Twist And Shout is probably the most famous cover by the Beatles, and is most commonly associated with them. And rightly so: their take is rock & roll perfection. It was based on the 1962 cover by the Isley Brothers, who introduced the rythm guitar riff (which borrows heavily from Richie Valens’ La Bamba) and the “ah-ah-ah” harmonies, to which the Beatles added the Little Richardesque “woo”.

The song was written by the legendary Bert Berns (sometimes credited to his pseudonym Bert Russell) with Phil Medley. Berns has featured in this series before as the author of songs such as I Hang On Sloopy and Here Comes The Night, and he will feature again if I can find Garnet Mimms’s Piece Of My Heart.

isley_twistBerns gave Twist And Shout to The Top Notes — a Philadelphia R&B group which might have been forgotten entirely otherwise — whose recording was produced by a very young Phil Spector. The result did not please Berns, who accused Spector of “fucking it up”. He was a bit harsh on young Phil; the Top Notes’ version is not bad, but Berns had hoped for something a more energetic. So he took the song to the reluctant Isley Brothers’, who had scored a hit two years earlier with the driving Shout, which had the kind of sound Berns imagined for his song. Their Twist And Shout, which Berns produced, became a US #17 hit, and so came to the attention of the Beatles, whose version upped the tempo to produce a joyously frenetic and, indeed, orgasmic version.

beatles_twist_and_shoutIt was the last song to be recorded after a marathon 12-hour session which saw ten tracks put down for the Please Please Me album, on 11 February 1963. Lennon had been ill with a cold — towards the end of the song, if you listen closely, you can hear Lennon cough — and his voice was already hoarse, soothed by milk and throat lozenges. The first take demolished Lennon’s voice; a second take was recorded but, according to producer George Martin, Lennon’s voice was by then gone (and George Harrison’s hands bleeding). That first take captured one of the great vocal performances in rock & roll — by a singer who, according to Martin, did not like his own voice, begging the producer to modify it on the recordings. Martin would later recall Lennon asking him repeatedly: “Do something with my voice. Put something on it. Smother it with tomato ketchup. Make it different.” In time, Lennon became adept at using his voice in different ways.

At about the same time as the Beatles’ version of Twist And Shout came out, another one was released by Brian Poole & the Tremeloes — the band Decca signed instead of the Beatles. For pure novelty value, Mae West’s remake is…interesting. Imagine a masochist cat enjoying an orgasm while being tortured.
Also recorded by: Booker T. & The M.G.’s (1962), The Searchers (1963), Ricky Gianco (1963), Brian Poole And The Tremeloes (1963), The Miracles (1963), Buddy Morrow and his Orchestra (1964), The Shangri-Las (1964), The Iguanas (1964), The Chipmunks (1964), Jack Nitzsche and his Orchestra (1964), Bob Hammer Band (1964), Del Shannon (1964), The Kingsmen (1964), Ike and Tina Turner (1965), Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs (1965), The Mamas and the Papas (a slowed down version, 1967), Tom Jones (1969), Chuck Berry (1969), The Who (1982), Rodney Dangerfield (for Back To School, 1986), Salt ‘n’ Pepa (1988), Los fabulosos Cadillacs (as Twist y gritos, 1988), Alejandra Guzmán (as Twist y gritos, 1989), Chaka Demus & Pliers (1993), Samantha Miller (1994), Mr. Al (1997), The Punkles (1998), Matmatah (2000), The Orchestra (2001), Liquido (2002), Dee Dee Ramone ( 2004), Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (bootleg, 2005), The Drawbacks (2009)

The Cookies – Chains.mp3
The Everly Brothers – Chains.mp3
The Beatles – Chains.mp3

cookies_chainsAnother US #17 hit found its way on the Please Please Me album, recorded during the same session that produced Twist And Shout and the next song. The Cookies at the time were Little Eva’s back-up singers (and, later, Ray Charles’) who occasionally released singles themselves. Apart from the Top 20 success of Chains, they had a top 10 hit with Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby). The Cookies recently featured on this blog (here) and one of the Cookies will reappear later in this series as the original singer of a Herman’s Hermits song.

Chains was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Soon after the Cookies had their hit, the Beatles (and other Merseyside bands) included it in their concert repertoire. On Please Please Me, it is one of two songs that feature George Harrison on vocals (the other is the Lennon-McCartney composition Do You Want To Know A Secret), with John taking over the lead guitar and Harrison on rhythm guitar.

The Everly Brothers’ version is possibly the best of the lot, but went unreleased until 1984.
Also recorded by: Sylvie Vartan (1963), Jack Nitzsche and his Orchestra (1964), Carole King (1980), Kaleo O Kalani (1995), Beatlejazz (2005)

Billy Dee Williams – A Taste Of Honey.mp3
The Beatles – A Taste Of Honey.mp3

billy_dee_williamsA Taste Of Honey was the title of a 1958 British kitchen-sink play by Shelagh Delaney (whose picture appeared on the single sleeve of The Smith’s Girlfriend In A Coma). The play was adapted in 1960 for Broadway, with the addition of incidental music. The song that became known as A Taste Of Honey provided a recurring theme. Among the cast of the Broadway production was Billy Dee Williams . Williams recorded the tune set to lyrics in 1960, failing to generate pop music’s crowning moment. Two years later, crooner Lenny Welch recorded the song (some source mistakenly claim that this was the first vocal version). It was Welch’s version which Paul McCartney was familiar with when the Beatles included it in their live repertoire, and then on their debut album, on which McCartney duetted with himself.

The song really has two lives: the vocal version and the instrumental one most famous in its incarnation by Herb Alpert (recently posted here).
Also recorded by: Bobby Scott (1960), Martin Denny (1962), Victor Feldman Quartet (1962), Acker Bilk (1963), Quincy Jones (1963), Barbra Streisand (1963), Paul Desmind (1963), The Hollyridge Strings (1964), Tony Bennett (1964), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1965), Bobby Darin (1965), Trini Lopez (1965), John Davidson (1966), Johnny Mathis (1966), Johnny Rivers (1966), Esther Phillips (1966), Tom Jones (1966), Chet Atkins (1967), Chris Montez (1967), I Giganti (as In paese è festa, 1967), The Hassles (1967), Shango (1969), Robert William Scott (1970), The Supremes & the Four Tops (1970), Ray Conniff (1971), Joshua Breakstone Quartet (1991), Vincent Gallo (1998), Lizz Wright (2005)

Barbara Cook & Robert Preston – Till There Was You.mp3
The Beatles – Till There Was You (Decca audition).mp3
The Beatles – Till There Was You.mp3

music_manWhether or not one would regard this as a lesser-known original depends on one’s interest in showtunes. The Broadway afficionado will know Till There Was You as the song that ends Act 2 in the 1957 musical The Music Man, as the librarian (Barbara Cook) addresses the professor (Robert Preston). The soundtrack of the stage musical — it was made into a movie in 1962 — was one of the biggest US sellers of the 1950s, as many musicals were in the days before pop LPs (which, as noted, the Beatles helped usher in).

Paul McCartney was not a big follower of Broadway as a young man; he was introduced to the song via Peggy Lee’s 1961 version, courtesy of a cousin. He later claimed to have been unaware until much later that the song originated from a musical. It was a firm fixture in the Beatles’ concert playlist, even during their second stint in Hamburg. They also played it at the unsuccessful Decca audition (the audition tapes, incidentally, show that poor Dick Rowe did not suffer a terrible lapse in judgment. The Beatles were pretty poor).

till there was you Having recorded it for their sophomore album, With The Beatles, the group played Till There Was You at the Royal Variety Performance, apparently giving the Queen Mother much pleasure. The old bat probably frowned soon after at Lennon’s exhortation for jewellery rattling (he had planned to say “rattle your fucking jewellery”, but wisely though disappointingly chickened out), and possibly did not dance on top of her seat to the next song, Twist And Shout.
Also recorded by: Anita Bryant (1959), Chet Atkins (1960), Joni James (1960), Peggy Lee (1961), Valjean (1962), Nana Mouskouri (1962), Thomas Allen & Valerie Masterson (1995), Innovations (1998), Patti Austin (1999), Maye Cavallaro & Mimi Fox (2003), Rod Stewart (2003), The Smithereens (2007), Cassandra Wilson (2008)

Buck Owens – Act Naturally.mp3
The Beatles – Act Naturally.mp3

buck_owensAppearing on Help!, Act Naturally was the Beatles’ final cover version, if one ignores Let It Be’s Maggie May. The other remake on Help!, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, had been recorded a month earlier. So we mark 17 June 1965 as the day the Beatles became an exclusively original band.

Act Naturally was a nod to Ringo’s fine performance in A Hard Day’s Night (and, indeed, in Help!), though the lyrics have less to do with impending stardom than with the feeling of rejection. It probably also cemented the public notion of Ringo as the cute, guileless and slightly retarded Beatle. It’s an image that would contribute to an entirely unjust diminution of Ringo’s reputation as a drummer.

Act Naturally was first recorded in 1963 by country singer Buck Owens, an influential figure in popular music as a progenitor, alongside Merle Haggard, of Bakersfield country, the Southern California sub-genre that gave rise to Gram Parsons (and the influence he brought to the Byrds) and later the likes of Dwight Yoakam, who recorded with Owens, and Brad Paisley. In 1989, almost exactly 24 years after the Beatles version was put down, Ringo and Owens — who had quite similar voices — recorded Act Naturally together.
Also recorded by: Loretta Lynn (1963), Brian Hyland (1964), Kitty Wells (1964), Betty Willis (1965), Hank Locklin (1965), Jody Miller (1966), The Hollyridge Strings (1967), Charley Pride (1967), The Cowsills (1969), The Youngbloods (1971), George Jones (1987), Daniel O’Donnell (1988), Buck Owens & Ringo Starr (1989), Moe Bandy (1997), Phil and the Frantics (1999), Johnny Russell (who wrote the song, 2000), Bobby Osborne (2000), Tamra Rosanes (2002)

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…

80s Soul: The redemption – Vol.1

October 8th, 2008 5 comments
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After the glorious era of the ’60s and ’70s, soul music found itself in a bit of a rut in the ’80s, and has never recovered from it. Where in the golden age the public standard bearers of soul were the likes of Aretha Franklin and Al Green, in the ’80s it was Whitney Houston and Lionel Richie. I am referring to popular perception, of course. Still, the soul giant of the 1980s was Luther Vandross; rather a step down from Al, Ike, Marvin or Curtis (soul singers are always referred to by their first names). Much of ’80s soul was too smooth to be sexual, even as the lyrics promised total sexual gratification, or your money back. The more the singers sang about makin’ lurve to you awawawawall nighyeet, the more sexless the genre became. Things were called soul that weren’t much soulful. Like Whitney Houston, like Lionel Richie (though both made some excellent soul records). Read more…

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