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In Memoriam – February 2012

March 1st, 2012 3 comments

The month opened with a headline death, followed by another towards the middle of the month, and ended with a third headline departure: I wrote about Don Cornelius and Whitney Houston; Davy Jones of The Monkees is honoured here with two tracks: his I Want To Be Free from The Monkees’ debut album, and the Italian version of the Theme From The Monkees.

We rarely feature band managers, but Jon McIntire merits an exception. The Grateful Dead manager initiated the band’s cult by putting a notice into the sleeve of the band’s 1971 Skull and Roses album. It said: “Dead Freaks Unite! Who are you? Where are you? How are you? Send us your name and address and we’ll keep you informed.” The proto-Facebook Group scheme obviously worked. McIntire also managed country-rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage.

You may not know his name, but Billy Strange was responsible for some of the finest moments in pop music. A songwriter, guitarist and arranger, he played guitar on several Beach Boys songs, including on the Pet Sounds album, and arranged many of Nancy Sinatra’s songs, including her creepy duet with Frank Sr. He played the guitar on her Bang Bang, and the horns at the end of These Boots Are Made For Walking were his ideas (and I have a great post about that song lined up).

Mike Melvoin’s name might not be well-known either, at least outside jazz circles, but his piano work will have been heard by everybody who reads this blog: it features on the Jackson 5’s ABC, on the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations and on tracks on Pet Sounds (that album again!), on Natalie Cole’s duet with her father, Unforgettable, subtly in the background on Streisand’s Evergreen, on John Lennon’s cover of Stand By Me, on Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman, on Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life, and on We Are The World… On top of that, he sired musicians Wendy Melvoin (of Wendy & Lisa), the late Jonathan Melvoin (Smashing Pumpkins) and Susannah Melvoin.

And talking of departed family members, soul singer David Peaston was 1960s soul singer Fontella Bass’ brother.


Don Cornelius, 75, host and producer of Soul Train, suicide on February 1
MFSB – TSOP (1974)

Mike Kelley, 57, artist and member of punk band Destroy All Monsters, suicide on February 1

David Peaston, 54, soul singer, on February 1
David Peaston – When I Remember (1991)

Phil Brown, 58, bassist for UK power pop band The Records, on February 2

Wando, 66, Brazilian composer and singer,on February 8
Wando – Moça (1976)

Luis Alberto Spinetta, 62, musician and one of the “Fathers of Argentine Rock”, on February 8

Jimmy Sabater Sr, 75, Puerto Rica-born Latin music singer and tambales player, on February 8
Jimmy Sabater – Bomba carambomba

Joe Moretti, 73, British session guitarist (It’s Not Unusual, Brand New Cadillac), on February 9
Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – Shakin’ All Over (1960, as lead guitarist)

Whitney Houston, 48, soul and pop singer, on February 11
Whitney Houston – Star-Spangled Banner
Georgia Mass Choir & Whitney Houston – I Go To The Rock (1996)

Russell Arms, 92, singer and actor, on February 13
Russell Arms – Cinco Robles (Five Oaks) (1957)

Jodie Christian, 80, bebop and free jazz pianist, on February 13

Dory Previn, 86, singer-songwriter and lyricist (Valley of the Dolls, Last Tango in Paris), on February 14
Dionne Warwick – Valley Of The Dolls (1968, as lyricist)
The Sandpipers – Come Saturday Morning (1970, as lyricist)

Betty Barnes (Vivian Jeanette Worden), rockabilly singer, on February 14

Clive Shakespeare, 62, guitarist of Australian pop group Sherbet and record producer, on February 15
Sherbet – Summer Love (1975)

Luke Brandon, 87, country singer, guitarist and producer (for Bobby Bare a.o.), on February 15

Jon McIntire, 70, manager of the Grateful Dead, on February 16
The Grateful Dead – Mama Tried (Live, 1976)

Michael Davis, 68, bassist and singer of MC5, Destroy All Monsters a.o., on February 17
MC5 – It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World (1970)

Enrique Sierra, 54, member of Spanish 1980s rock band Radio Futura, on February 17

Joe Thompson, 93, African-American old-time music and bluegrass fiddler, on February 20

Billy Strange, 81, songwriter (Limbo Rock), guitarist (for Beach Boys a.o.)and music arranger, on February 22
Nancy Sinatra – Bang Bang (1966, as guitarist and arranger)
Elvis Presley – A Little Less Conversation (1968, as co-writer)

Christopher Reimer, 26, guitarist of Canadian art rock band Women, on February 21

Mike Melvoin, 74, pianist and composer, session man for Szabo Gabor, Tom Waits a.o, on February 22
Mike Melvoin & Plastic Cow – One Man, One Volt
Barbra Streisand – Evergreen (1977, as pianist)

Koji Kita, 63, member of Japanese pop band Four Leaves, on February 22

Pery Ribeiro, 74, Brazilian bossa nova and jazz singer, on February 24

Louisiana Red, 79, blues musician, on February 25
Louisiana Red – Valerie (2005)

Red Holloway, 84, jazz saxophonist (with John Mayall, Brother Jack McDuff, Etta James), on February 25
Jack McDuff – A Real Goodun’ (1965, as saxophonist)

Dee Cernile, 46, guitarist with Canadian rock band Sven Gali, on February 25

Ray Lamere (Sugar Ray), 82,Big Band leader, singer and double bass player, on February 25

Hazy Osterwald, 90, Swiss big band leader, on February 26
Hazy Osterwald Sextett – The Call

Davy Jones, 66, actor and member of The Monkees, on February 29
The Monkees – I Wanna Be Free (1966)
The Monkees – Tema Dei Monkees (ca 1966)

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In Memoriam – January 2010

February 3rd, 2010 3 comments

Having rounded up most of the deaths of musicians in 2009, I’ll start to do so monthly as of now. I won’t include everybody who has died. So jazz drummer Ed Thigpen, who died on 13 January at 79, doesn’t feature because I have no music by him. Others won’t feature because their genre is meaningless to me (death metal, for ironic example). And a few will surely slip under my radar, though probably fewer than the numbers ignored by the Grammys. I will include only musicians; songwriters, producers, managers, label bosses and so on are excluded unless they also recorded, as is the case with the man who heads this month’s list and was all these things. The Grim Reaper certainly had a productive month in January…

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Willie Mitchell, 81, soul/jazz musician, producer, boss of Hi Records, on January 5.
Willie Mitchell – Mercy Mercy Mercy

Robert ‘Squirrel’ Lester, 67, second tenor in ’70s soul group The Chi-Lites, on January 22
The Chi-Lites – Stoned Out Of My Mind

Sandra Wright, 61, gospel, blues and soul singer, on January 11.
Canned Soul – Unbelievable

Teddy Pendergrass, 59, soul singer, on January 13
Teddy Pendergrass – It Don’t Hurt Now

Mano Solo, 46, French singer, on January 10
Mano Solo – Je Suis Venu Vous Voir

Lhasa De Sela, 37, American-born cross-genre singer, on January 1.
Lhasa De Sela – El Desierto

Alistair Hulett, 58, Scottish-born and Australia-based socialist folk singer, on January 28.
Alistair Hulett – L’Internationale

Kate McGarrigle, 63, Canadian folk singer, on January 18.
Kate & Anna McGarrigle – I’m Losing You

Carl Smith, 82, country singer and songwriter and ex-husband of June Carter, on January 16.
Carl Smith – Air Mail To Heaven

Bobby Charles, 71, songwriter and country/rockabilly singer, on January 14.
Bobby Charles – Time Will Tell

Shirley Cadell, 78, country singer and ex-wife of Willie Nelson, on January January 27.
Shirley Cadell and the Aristocrats – The Big Bounce

Mick Green, 65, English guitarist with Johnny Kidd and Billy J Kramer, on January 11
Johnny Kidd and the Pirates – Shakin’ All Over

Jay Reatard, 29, American punk musician, on January 13
Jay Reatard – It Ain’t Gonna Save Me

Gregory Slay, 40, drummer of alt-rock band Remy Zero, on January 1.
Remy Zero – Save Me

Pauly Fuemana, 40, singer of New Zealand band OMC, on January 31.
OMC – How Bizarre

Young Cliff, member of rap kreyole group Barrikad Crew, in Haiti’s earthquake on January 12.
Barikad Crew – Toup pou yo

Yabby You, 63, reggae singer and producer, on January 12.
Yabby You – Zion Gate

Lyn Taitt, 75, influential reggae guitarist, on January 20
Lyn Taitt and the Jets – Unity

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Perfect Pop – Vol. 6 ('60s special)

April 28th, 2008 6 comments

Looking over my shortlist for the Perfect Pop series, I realised that the ’60s column was much longer than that of other decades. I guess that pop might have been more perfect in the 1960s than in other decades because it had developed from the raw sounds of early rock & roll, but had not yet acquired that body of experience with which to complicate pop through technical innovation. That’s why Sgt Pepper’s, with all its inventive experimentations, was seen as such a revolutionary milestone in 1967: nobody had heard anything like it before. Today it sounds rather ordinary. Of course, it’s all good to have complex pop, but for the purpose of this series, complexity tends to be an obstacle to pop perfection (though not all songs featured are lacking in innovation or technical complexity). So to even out the shortlist, here is the first of two special 1960s editions of Perfect Pop.

The Animals – The House Of The Rising Sun.mp3
This song has one of the must recognisable intros in pop history, and from there on barely lets up on its brilliance. Apart from Hilton Valentine’s iconic guitar, Alan Price drives his organ like a Ferrari through the desert, and Eric Burdon moans and groans in best white blues-singer fashion, thereby helping to set a trend which would bring mixed blessings to popular music. Amazingly, the whole thing took just 15 minutes to record. The House Of The Rising Sun (which was a new Orleans brothel) was an old song going back at least to the 1920s, possibly much earlier. Based on an English folk-song, it had become an African-American folk song and was later recorded by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Nina Simone and Bob Dylan (on his debut) before the Animals virtually appropriated it in 1964, changing the lyrics slightly.
Best bit: Price’s organ solo really kicks in (1:54)

Johnny Kidd & the Pirates – Shakin’ All Over.mp3
Listen to this as part of a non-chronological ’60s compilations, and you might not realise that this song was released in 1960. In sound and look, Johnny Kidd and his timber-shivering pals were prophetic, helping to provide the template for ’60s pop at the birth of the decade in which rock & roll and pop, all still very young, defined themselves. This is the sound on which the Searchers, the Dave Clark Five, even the Beatles, would build. It is quite likely that Johnny Kidd would have faded into obscurity. In the event, we do not know, because Johnny died in a 1966 car crash, two years after the Swinging Blue Jeans scored a hit with it in Britain, and a year after the Guess Who did likewise in the US — and two years after his last Top 40 hit in Britain. Shakin’ All Over later became something of a signature rune for the Who.
Best bit: The drum flourish preceding the guitar solo (1:21)

Amen Corner – (If Paradise Was) Half As Nice.mp3
If in paradise they play music only half as nice as this, I’d be more or less okay, I think. I first heard this song covered by a ’70s group called the Rosetta Stone, led by former Bay City Rollers member Ian Mitchell (whose stint was turbulent and brief) and an enthusiastic exponents of ’60s covers. I loved their version, but have no idea whether it was any good when held up against the Amen Corner’s version, which itself was a cover of an Italian song written by Lucio Battisti for popstress Patty Pravo. The arrangement of the Welsh group’s rendition is just lovely though (if you can handle your music with more than one spoonful of sugar, I suppose). Especially the horn (French? Flugel?).
Best bit: “Oh yes I’d rather have you” (1:26)

Robert Knight – Love On A Mountain Top.mp3
Some readers might raise two pertinent questions about the inclusion of Love On A Mountain in a ’60s special of Perfect Pop; neither should relate to the indisputable perfection of this fine tune. Firstly, why didn’t I choose Knight’s original of Everlasting Love? Secondly, what is a hit from 1973/74 doing here? I would have chosen Knight’s Everlasting Love (and I won’t feature the unsatisfactory cover by the Love Affair), but my MP3 of the song is damaged. Yes, my selections hang on such arbitrary threads. In fact, I like Love On A Mountain Top better; it is such a happy, sunshiney song. The song was a hit in Britain and Europe in the mid-’70s, but its first single release was in 1968.
Best bit: The instrumental break (1:29)

Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline.mp3*
Another ’60s release which found UK chart success in the ’70s. Sweet Caroline was released in the US in September 1969. According to Neil Diamond, it was inspired by a photo of Caroline Kennedy, who was 11 at the time. Which strikes me as slightly creepy. Nonetheless, it is a great ytackby a great songwriter. The distinctive intro and verse are pretty good, but it is the build-up to the roaring, rousing chorus which really elevates this song. One cannot help but sing along to it, which is a sign of its pop perfection.
Best bit: Neil’s hard Ts when he sings:” “Warm touching warm, reaching out, touching me, touching you” (1:56)

Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).mp3
Everything that was sweet and engaging in Everett’s version became horrible and cynical in Cher’s awful and tragically now better known cover from that abominable Mermaids movie. Cher’s cover (and Cher in general) pissed me off so much, I cannot even bring myself to include Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe in this series, even though it probably is a perfect pop record. Betty’s 1963 version, in the vein of the girl groups so popular at the time (Chiffons, Shirelles, Ronettes et al), became a hit in the US in 1964. It flopped in Britain, where Cher’s cover topped the charts almost three decades later. Conversely, in the US, Cher’s version was only a minor hit.
Best bit: The instrumental bridge (1:17)

The Kinks – You Really Got Me.mp3
Those who think that punk in the late ’70s offered anything original musically, or indeed culturally, might like to revisit some of the sneering, middle-finger raising acts of the ’60s. As Paul Weller, who hooked his mod ways on the punk star, surely knew, the Kinks were a lot more punk than the Sex Pistols. Don’t misunderstand, I love Never Mind The Bollocks as much as any amateur anarchist, but the Sex Pistols really were just as manufactured an act as were the Spice Girls. On You Really Got Me, Ray Davies sneers as much as Johnny Rotten ever did. The distorted rhythm guitar (an effect produced by slicing the amp) is pure punk. Contrary to persistent rumour, Jimmy Page definitely did not play on Your Really Got Me, but a random session musician by the name of Jon Lord, later of Deep Purple, tinkled the ivories.
Best bit: Ray shouts in Dave’s guitar solo (1:17)

Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual.mp3
I don’t like Tom Jones much, and that Sex Bomb song was a disgrace to all that is good about music. But, my goodness, It’s Not Unusual is just perfect. Even Jones’ vocals. Especially Jones’ vocals. I submit that the ad libbing in the fade out represents one of the great yodels in pop music. Ever. I have heard that on this song, Jimmy Page does play the guitar, coming in at 1:19. Regular viewers of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air (well, somebody must have watched it!) will recall that It’s Not Unusual was Carlton’s favourite dance number.
Best bit: “…to find that I’m in love with you, wow-oh-wow etc” (1:44)

Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice.mp3
Selecting a Beach Boys song for this series was problematic. While I see why, say, Surfin’ USA or Help Me Rhonda might be more qualified choices, I don’t like them much. It’s the Mike Love factor. Wouldn’t It Be Nice, like Good Vibration and God Only Knows (both considered), has those innovative Brian Wilson touches which ought to have elevated Pet Sounds in reputation above Revolver or Sgt Pepper’s. Wouldn’t It Be Nice is sung by Brian Wilson, with the hateful Love performing vocal duties only on the bridge. Mike Love apparently sought to take legal action against Brian Wilson over the latter’s wonderful Smile album for bringing the Beach Boys’ legacy into disrepute. The last song performed by the Love-led Beach Boys? Santa Goes To Kokomo (thanks to Mr Parkes for that bit of info).
Best bit: I might have picked the bridge, but, you know, fuck Mike Love. The intro (0:01)

Dionne Warwick – Do You Know The Way To San José.mp3
The body of Dionne Warwick’s interpretations of Burt Bacharach’s music is rich in absolute delights. Among so many highpoints, two songs stand out: Walk On By and San José. The latter makes you feel good, from the brief bass notes that introduce the song to bosa nova sound to the wow-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wowowos that accompany Dionne’s insistence that she does have a large circle of sidekicks in San José. It’s a song for driving along a deserted coastal road with the roof down. As so often, the singer didn’t like the song when asked to record it. Frankie Goes To Hollywood covered it 16 years later, at a time when Bacharach was widely dismissed as a passé easy listening merchant. Whether or not that cover was supposed to be “ironic”, it introduced a whole new generation to the genius of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Best bit: The way Dionne accentuates the word back (2:33)


Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3
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Yes, I know. Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. Or even Pretty Flamingo. Contenders they were, but this lesser remembered song is absolutely flawless. And it has flutes in it, which the really attentive and loyal reader of this blog will know seals a deal for me automatically. This track has a even greater energythan Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. The drumming is quite outstanding, and the punchline at the end of the song is just great. On top of that, my mother had the single of this, and as a small boy I played it very often. So Ha! Ha! Said The Clown is one of the songs responsible for turning me on to pop music. Hell, without it, you might not be reading this post right now.
Best bit: The whistling bit (1:17)

Drafi Deutscher – Marmor Stein und Eisen.mp3
Much as I enjoy submerging myself in the nostalgia for my childhood, I must insist that the German Schlager was a horrible musical genre; deeply conservative music for deeply conservative people dressed up in just so much supposed cool as to make it acceptable to the youth. Part of that faux-cool was a tendency of Schlager singers to assume an Anglo-sounding name. So Gerd Höllerich became Roy Black, Christian Klusacek (perhaps understandably) became Chris Roberts, Jutta and Norbert became Cindy & Bert (who came last in the Eurovision Song Contest which Abba won), Franz Eugen Helmuth Manfred Nidl-Petz became Freddy Quinn, and so on. Drafi Deutscher admirably didn’t anglicise his name, but went by his real surname, which means German. Oddly then, he sang with a heavy foreign accent, perhaps owing to his Hungarian background. His big hit, in 1965, was Marmor, Stein und Eisen (marble, rock and iron), which can all break, but not the love he and the addressee of the song shared, as the catchy chorus informs us. The song is more beat than Schlager.
Best bit: Drafi goes heavy metal rockabilly (1:15)

Elvis Presley – (You’re The) Devil In Disguise.mp3
Last time I posted Perfect Pop, I had a brief lapse in judgment when I forgot that there are four Elvises: pre-GI Elvis, movie-Elvis, post-comeback Elvis, and the drug-addled bloaterino we need not concern ourselves with much. From Elvis middle-period, Devil In Disguise seems to me an obvious choice for inclusion. This 1963 track saw the first two Elvis phases coalesce. On the verses, we have Elvis in beach trunks contemplating the script for his 17th movie in which he’ll be a racing driver/cowboy/trapeze artist/big-hearted hooker. He’s in well-behavedly in crooner mode, and very good at it. But when the chorus comes in, our boy remembers his pink shirted, pelvis-swivelling ways, and lets go a bit. Add to that the sharp guitar solo with those rapid quick handclaps, and you have true pop perfection.
Best Bit: The devil speaks! (2:07)

Simon & Garfunkel – A Hazy Shade of Winter.mp3
I considered I Am A Rock. Mrs Robinson (a song I don’t like much) and The Boxer (if only to mention that the banging sound was created by recording a filing cabinet thrown down an elevator shaft). What clinches it for A Hazy Shade Of Winter as a perfect pop song is its sense of urgency. Mostly the erstwhile Tom & Jerry did the languid folk-pop thing, but this song drives quite hard. The Bangles covered it in 1989 and scored a hit with it. I cannot say that I particularly liked that cover, but it shows that the song has a certain timelessness. The 1966 single release was backed with For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, one of S&G’s most beautiful songs. Strangely, A Hazy Shade Of Winter appeared on an LP only a year and a half later, on Bookends.
Best bit: The song ends abruptly with an exhalation of breath (2:16)

Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.mp3
Few people are going to feature twice in this series, but Bill Medley does. Thanks to Ghost, Unchained Melody has become the Righteous Brothers signature song, but You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (itself revived in a movie of that era, Top Gun) has all the drama and soulfulness which Unchained Melody lacks. Intitially singing so low as to raise questions about whether the single was being played at 33rpm, at some points Medley almost sounds like Levi Stubbs (indeed, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was supposedly inspired by the Four Tops’ Baby I Need Your Lovin’), while Bobby Hatfield has little to do. The story goes that Hatfield was rather annoyed about that, asking producer Phil Spector what he was supposed to do until he came into the song. Spector reportedly replied: “You can take the money to the bank:”
Best bit: Medley and Hatfield’s interplay: “Baby!” “Baby!” (2:34)

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