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The Originals Vol. 43

August 11th, 2011 3 comments

In this instalment we look at the lesser known originals for five hits from the 1970s. Regular readers with exceptionally good memories might have a déjà vu movement: two of the songs I’ve done before. But I was not satisfied with one, and recently was sent by a kind soul a crucial sound file for the other.

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Johnny Bristol – Love Me For A Reason (1974).mp3
The Osmonds – Love Me For A Reason (1974).mp3

Johnny Bristol is probably best-remembered for his excellent mid-’70s soul hit Hang On In There Baby. We have encountered him previously in this series, in The Originals Vol. 37, as one of Johnny & Jackie who co-wrote and recorded the first version of Diana Ross and The Supremes’ Someday We’ll Be Together.

A producer of many Motown records and after 1973 for CBS (where he produced such acts as Randy Crawford, Boz Scaggs and Marlena Shaw), he resumed his recording career in 1974. Among the tracks on his rather good Hang On In There, Baby album was Love Me For A Reason, a song Bristol co-wrote with David Jones and Wade Bowen.

Bristol recorded on MGM records where the prolific producer and arranger Mike Curb ran he show. Curb was, it is fair to say, a man of uncompromising conservative opinion. He later became a Republican politician, but while at MGM, he fired a reported 18 acts from the label for using or supposedly promoting drugs. Among them were Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground.

One act in no danger of Curb’s axe was The Osmonds, the squeaky clean and impossibly toothy Mormon brothers who had produced a string of hits for MGM. Their version of Johnny Bristol’s hit became a US #10 pop hit in 1974 – their last. In Britain it topped the charts (and they’d have another top 5 hit there in 1975), inspiring a hugely successful cover version 20 years later by Boyzone, the Ronan Keating-led band that traded in unwelcome remakes of old hits.

Also recorded by: The Hiltonaires (1974), Boyzone (1994), Studio 99 (1999), As We Speak (1994), State Of The Heart (1996), Bruno Bertone (2000), Fabulous 5 (2003)

Gene Cotton – Let Your Flow (1975)
Bellamy Brothers – Let Your Flow (1976)

It might have been a hit for Neil Diamond. Written by one of the lamé-jacketed star’s roadies, Larry E Williams, it was offered first to Diamond. He declined to record it (as did Johnny Rivers), which perhaps was just as well. Instead the song came to country/folk singer-songwriter Gene Cotton, who recorded it for his 1975 album For All The Young Writers.

While Cotton’s version went nowhere, Neil Diamond’s drummer suggested it to his friends David and Howard Bellamy, the country duo The Bellamy Brothers. Their recording became one of the biggest hits of the decade and gave the brothers’ their international breakthrough hit. In West Germany Let Your Love Flow topped the charts in summer 1976 for six weeks until it was knocked off by its German version by Jürgen Drews, formerly of the Les Humphries Singers, which went by the peculiar title Ein Bett im Kornfeld (A bed in the wheat field).

Also recorded by: Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn (1976), Jürgen Drews (as Ein Bett im Kornfeld, 1976), Roy Etzel (1976), Les Humphries Singers And Orchestra (1976), Lynn Anderson (1977), Del Reeves & Billie Jo Spears (1977), Karel Gott (as Běž za svou láskou, 1978),Joan Baez (1979), John Holt (1982), Ray Charles (1983), Audrey Landers (1986), Solomon Burke (1993), Tom Jones (1998), John Davidson (1999), Dana Winner (2001), Jan Keizer (2001), Tamra Rosanes (2002), Dream Dance, Inc. (2005), Collin Raye (2005), Fenders (2006) a.o.

Art Reynolds Singers – Jesus Is Just Alright (1966)
The Byrds – Jesus Is Just All Right (1969)
The Doobie Brothers – Jesus Is Just All Right (1972)

In the 1970s there was a fashion of rock groups singing songs about Jesus. Perhaps it was a fashion inspired by the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. Or maybe some really were just into Jesus. So the Doobie Brothers, a band named after a synonym for a joint, had a hit with Jesus Is Just All Right in 1972.

The original of the song was recorded by the Art Reynolds Singers in 1966. It was written by the band’s leader, Arthur Reid Reynolds, apparently as a riposte to John Lennon’s “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” comment. Present at that recording session was Gene Parsons, the drummer of The Byrds, who introduced the song to his bandmates who in turn recorded it for their 1969 LP Ballad Of Easy Rider.

The Byrds’ version provided the template for the Doobie Brothers 1972 cover. The Doobies added a middle section to the original, with new, even more emphatically Christ-supporting lyric, sung by guitarist Pat Simmons: “Jesus, He’s my friend; Jesus, He’s my friend; He took me by the hand, far from this land; Jesus, He’s my friend.” Oddly enough, none of the Doobies were known to be Christians, but the Christians loved it, throwing Bibles on to the stage at Doobie Brothers gigs and making the One Way (up) handsigns.

Also recorded by: The Underground Sunshine (1970), 1776 (1970), Sister Kate Taylor (1971), Ronnie Dyson (1972), Exile (1973), DC Talk (1992), Shelagh McDonald (2005), Robert Randolph & The Family Band feat Eric Clapton (2006), Eric McFadden (2010)

Jim Weatherly – Midnight Plain To Houston (1972)
Cissy Houston  – Midnight Train To Georgia (1973)
Gladys Knight & the Pips – Midnight Train To Georgia (1973)
Neil Diamond – Midnight Train To Georgia (2010)

In 1972 former All-American quarterback Jim Weatherly released a country song that told of a girl whose fading dream of stardom in Los Angeles led not to a life of waitressing or pornography, but ended on a plane back to her home in Texas. In fact, Weatherley initially wanted his protagonist’s dreams shattered in Nashville, for his genre was country music.

The choice of Houston as the failed star’s home was inspired, according to Weatherley, by the actress Farrah Fawcett, who at the time was more famous for dating Lee Majors than her thespian accomplishments. “One day I called Lee and Farrah answered the phone,” Weatherly later told songfacts.com. “We were just talking and she said she was packing. She was gonna take the midnight plane to Houston to visit her folks. So, it just stayed with me. After I got off the phone, I sat down and wrote the song probably in about 30 to 45 minutes.”

Some months later, the Janus label sought permission to record the song with Cissy Houston, but asked whether they could adapt the lyrics to make the destination Georgia (seeing as Ms Houston going to Houston might seem a bit awkward). Weatherly accepted that, as well as a change in the mode of transport.

Whitney’s mom’s lovely performance became a minor hit in 1973. Gladys Knight heard it and decided to record it with her Pips. Houston’s endearing version might have been the template, but Knights’ cover demonstrates the genius of the sometimes unjustly ridiculed Pips. What would Gladys Knight’s interpretation be without the interplay with and interjections by her backing singers: “A superstar, well he didn’t get far”, “I know you will”, “Gotta go, gonna board the midnight train…” and, of course, the choo-choo “Hoo hoo”s?

It was fortuitous that Georgia was also Knight’s homestate. The song also sparked a collaboration with Weatherley with whose songs Knight populated the Imagination album on which Midnight Train appears.

Also recorded by: Ferrante & Teicher (1974), Connie Eaton (1974), Lynn Anderson (1982), Indigo Girls (1995), Sandra Bernhard (1998), Renee Geyer (2003), Jasmine Trias (2004), Paris Bennett (2006), Human Nature (2006), Joan Osborne (2007), Emma Wood (2009), Neil Diamond (2010), Sandrine (2010) a.o.

Larry Weiss – Rhinestone Cowboy (1974)
Glen Campbell – Rhinestone Cowboy (1975)

Larry Weiss was, and still is, a prolific songwriter (we read about him recently as one of the singers of the theme of Who’s The Boss). In the 1960s, he co-wrote hits such as Bend Me Shape Me, Hi Ho Silver Lining and Spooky Tooth’s Evil Woman. Sporadically he also recorded his own songs. One of these was Rhinestone Cowboy, inspired by a phrase he had overheard in a conversation. The song appeared on Weiss’ Black And Blue Suite album, and it was released as a single (at least in West Germany).

The story goes that Glen Campbell heard the song on the car radio as he was on his way to a meeting with his record company, and thought about suggesting to record it. But before he had the opportunity to do so, the record company presented their own bright idea: how about this Rhinestone Cowboy song by Larry Weiss.

In the original version, Weiss sounds much like his old Brill Building chum Neil Diamond. Campbell made the song his own, with that soaring voice which expresses such a forfeit of hope. Released in May 1975, it went on to top the pop and country charts simultaneously, the first time that had been done since 1961.

In 1984, Weiss finally got a project he had been working on realised – a movie starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone. Its title: Rhinestone.

Also recorded by: Slim Whitman (1976), Bert Kaempfert (1976), Charley Pride (1977), Tony Christie (1978), White Town (1997), David Hasselhoff (2004), Jan Keizer (2004) a.o.

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The Originals Vol. 37

April 20th, 2010 6 comments

Almost all of the previous 36 instalments of The Originals consisted of five songs each. The inaugural post had ten tracks, one (or was it two?) had six. Which makes for 186 tracks that have been, well, covered. Truth be told, researching five songs at a time has been so much a burden on my time that at times I’ve not been motivated to start a new post. Maybe by reducing the number to three I’ll update this series more enthusiastically in future. I still have many lesser-known originals to write about.

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Cowboy Copas – Tennessee Waltz (1948).mp3
Pee Wee King – Tennessee Waltz (1948).mp3
Patti Page – Tennessee Waltz (1950).mp3
Les Paul & Mary Ford – Tennessee Waltz (1951).mp3
Sam Cooke – Tennessee Waltz (1964).mp3

On a Friday night in 1946, country singer and accordionist Pee Wee King (who was born by the decidedly un-country name Julius Kuczynski in Milwaukee) was driving with Redd Stewart, fiddler and singer with King’s Golden West Cowboys, to Nashville when the radio played bluegrass legend Bill Monroe’s Kentucky Waltz. Wondering why nobody ever dedicated a waltz to Tennessee — home to country music capital Nashville, after all — they decided to relieve the boredom of the long drive by writing one, setting lyrics, written on a matchbox, to an instrumental they had been playing in concerts, the No Name Waltz.

One might think that Pee Wee King’s version, with Stewart on vocals, would be the first to be recorded. However, he was scooped by Cowboy Copas, who would perish on the plane that killed Patsy Cline (one of the many who later covered Tennessee Waltz). Lloyd Copas had been a singer with Pee Wee King’s band in the early 1940s, succeeding Eddy Arnold. It may be that Pee Wee first gave the song to his old frontman, who made a recording of it in April 1947 for (ironically) King Records in Cincinnatti, and another in June that year. It is most likely the latter recording that was released in March 1948 and became a #3 country hit. Pee Wee King recorded his version in December 1947. Also released in early 1948, it also peaked at #3, but at half a million copies sold more than Copas’ take.

By 1950, Tennessee Waltz had become something of a country classic, and even jazz singer Anita O’Day had covered it, when it became a mammoth crossover hit for Patti Page, whose version remains the best known. It topped the pop, country and R&B charts simultaneously, a unique feat. As so often, the big hit was first a b-side, in this case to the less than immortal Boogie Woogie Santa Claus. For a b-side, much effort went into the production, which used a rudimentary form of vocal overdubbing to go with the backing track by the Jack Rael Orchestra. An acetate was recorded of Page singing the song, and this would be played into one microphone while Page sang into a second microphone. Page’s version of her dad’s favourite song went on to sell 6 million copies.

Tennessee Waltz was awarded BMI’s 3,000,000 Airplay Award in 2004. Only five other songs have achieved that honour.

Also recorded by: Roy Acuff (1949), Jo Stafford (1950), Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (1950), John ‘Schoolboy’ Porter (1950), Stick McGhee (1950), Anita O’Day (1951), Spike Jones (1951), The Fontane Sisters (1951), Eddy Arnold (1956), Floyd Cramer (as part of a medley, 1957), The Louvin Brothers (1958), Bill Vaughn (1958), Faron Young (1959), Connie Francis (1959), Chet Atkins (1959), Bobby Comstock & The Counts (1959), Jerry Fuller (1959), Four Jacks (1960), Red Hewitt & the Buccaneers (1960), Tennessee Ernie Ford (1960), Grady Martin and The Slewfoot Five (1960), Kitty Wells (1960), Gus Backus (1960), Don Robertson (1961), Webb Pierce (1962), Homer & Jethro (1962), Pat Boone (1962), The Violents (1962), Alma Cogan (1964), Anna King (1964), Sam Cooke (1964), Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas (1965), Chet Atkins (1966), Slim Whitman (1966), Manfred Mann (1966), Ernest Tubb (1966), Ray Brown & the Whispers (1966), Otis Redding (1966), Richard “Groove” Holmes and the Super Soul Big Band (1967), Chuck Jackson & Maxine Brown (1967), Johnny Jones (1968), American Soul Train (1968), Dottie West (1968), Sue Thompson (1969), Leon Haywood (1969), Ferlin Husky (1969), Don Gibson (1969), Napoleon Jr (1969), Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass (1970), Lou Donaldson (1970), Bobbi Martin (1971), David Bromberg (1972), American Spring (1972), Boots Randolph (1974), Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass (1976), Pete Tex (1976), Gitte (1977), Anne Murray (1978), Tielman Brothers (1979), Lacy J. Dalton (1980), Emmylou Harris (1981), Billie Jo Spears (1981), James Brown (1983), Willie Nelson & Hank Williams (1984), Audrey Landers (1986), George Adams (1989), Holly Cole Trio (1993), Tom Jones with the Chieftans (1995), Richard Hindman Trio (1995), Sally Timms (1997), Linda Martin (1998), James Last (1998), Sarah Harmer & Jason Euringer (1999), Sam Moore (2002), André Rieu (2002), Joel Harrison feat. Norah Jones (2002), Eva Cassidy (released in 2002), Joel Harrison (2003), Leonard Cohen (2004), Herb Alpert (2005), Hem (2006), Pete Molinari (2009), Isabelle Boulay (2009) a.o.

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Johnny & Jackey – Someday We’ll Be Together (1961).mp3
Diana Ross and the Supremes – Someday We’ll Be Together (1969).mp3
Frederick Knight – Someday We’ll Be Together (1973).mp3

The Supremes’ sentimental farewell song with Diana Ross proved less than prescient (if we disregard the awkward performance of it on 1983’s Motown 25th anniversary show), and La Ross probably never thought that she “made a big mistake” by leaving.

The song was originally recorded in 1961 by the R&B duo Johnny & Jackie, in a Drifters-style arrangement. The Johnny half of the Detroit duo was Johnny Bristol, and Jackey was his singing and songwriting partner — and ex-air force compadre — Jackey Beavers. They co-wrote Someday We’ll Be Together with the great Harvey Fuqua, on whose Tri-Phi label the single appeared. It was not a big hit, and after several years of trying, Bristol and Beavers went their separate ways, with Jackey signing for Chess Records.

Bristol went on to become a noted producer on Motown, working with Fuqua on songs such as Marvin Gaye’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and David Ruffin’s My Whole World Ended. Bristol had the distinction of producing the final singles by both the Supremes and the Miracles before their headliners departed. That means, of course, that Bristol produced the song which he had co-written and first recorded for Diana Ross and the Supremes. The other Supremes didn’t actually appear on it (which makes the decision to play Some Day We’ll Be Together at Florence Ballard’s funeral seem quite odd). Bristol had intended the song for Jr Walker and the All Stars, for whom he had already written the hit What Does It Take (To Make You Love Me). He had laid down the arrangement and backing vocals, by Maxine and Julia Waters, when Gordy decided that this would be the song with which to launch Diana’s solo career. On reflection, probably because of the title, he instead issued it as a farewell song for Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The male voice on the song is Bristol’s. Not satisfied with Ross’ performance, he harmonised with her, ad libbing encouragements. The sound engineer accidentally captured these, and the since it sounded good, it was decided to keep them in. Diana Ross & the Backing Singers’ single topped the US charts (perhaps fittingly, the last chart-topper of the ’60s) , which meant that Berry Gordy, who was intent on having the Ross-led Supremes go out with a #1, could release Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hands) as Diana’s solo debut.

Johnny Bristol, who died in 2004, continued producing after leaving Motown (he lent Boz Scaggs that blue-eyed soul inflection), and had some success as a singer, most notably with the 1974 hit Hang On In There Baby. He also wrote and recorded the first version of the Osmonds’ hit Love Me For A Reason, which will feature later in this series.

Frederick Knight’s 1973 version slows down the song and gives it a proper southern soul treatment. It was not a hit, but it may be the best version of the song (by the man who went on to write Anita Bell’s disco classic Ring My Bell).

Also recorded by: Boogaloo Joe Jones (1970), Brenda & the Tabulations (1970), Shirley Scott (1970), The Marvelettes (1970), Bobby Darin (1971), Bill Anderson & Jan Howard (1972), Dionne Warwicke (1972), Frederick Knight (1973), The Pointer Sisters (1982), Lorrie Morgan (1983), Jimmy Somerville (1995), LaToya Jackson (1995), Vonda Shepard (1999)


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Bolland – You’re In The Army Now (1983).mp3
Status Quo – In The Army Now (1986).mp3

The year 1986 was lucrative for the brothers Bolland, Rob and Ferdi. First their song Rock Me Amadeus, performed by the Austrian cult singer Falco, topped the UK charts (having been a huge hit in Europe the previous year), and then Status Quo hit the top 10 with their cover of the brothers’ 1981 song In The Army Now.

Born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (in the same region that gave the world the entirely unneccesary Dave Matthews), the Bolland brothers had emigrated to the Netherlands, and started their recording career in 1972 as a folk-rock duo along the lines of Simon & Garfunkel. When that genre became passé, they hooked into the electronic sounds of the late 1970s. In The Army Now was a big hit in South Africa, where conscription applied to only white men, many of whom were sent to fight in the war with Angola, apartheid’s Vietnam. The single did only moderately well elsewhere, and the Bolland brothers became record producers, counting among their clients Falco, Amii Stewart, Samantha Fox, Suzi Quatro and Dana International.

Meanwhile, Status Quo’s Francis Rossi had heard In The Army Now on the radio while driving in Germany, and proposed it to his band, which by now had lost bassist Alan Lancaster and drummer John Coughlan. The song took the Quo to #2 in Britain.

Also recorded by: Laibach (1994), Les Enfoirés (as Ici les Enfoirés, 2009)

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