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The Originals Vol. 41

April 14th, 2011 6 comments

Following on from the post about rock & roll in A History of Country Vol. 8, here are three originals of rock & roll classics. Incidentally, I might have used in the past images from www.originalsproject.us, which I would have sourced elsewhere. Indeed, the image that accompanies the original for Blueberry Hill, which I found on another site, is from that brilliant site.

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Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye – Blueberry Hill (1940).mp3
Glenn Miller and his Orchestra – Blueberry Hill (1940).mp3
Gene Autry – Blueberry Hill (1941).mp3
Fats Domino – Blueberry Hill (1956).mp3
Vladimir Putin – Blueberry Hill (2010).mp3

Blueberry Hill is Fats Domino’s song, but before the rock & roll pioneer got his ivory-tinkling hands on it, it had been a cowboy song, a jazz track (by Gene Krupa, no less) and, in its first recording, a big band number – and those just in the year it was written: 1940.

If Blueberry Hill’s melody sounds a vaguely Italian, it’s because its writer, Vincent Rose, was a Sicilian who came to the US at the age of 17. He already was 60 when he wrote song (which also went by the Italian title, Loma de Cerezas), and died in 1944. The lyrics were written by Al Lewis and Larry Stock (the latter also wrote the lyrics for that great Dean Martin song, You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You).

It’s not entirely clear who was the first to record the song, but the first to release it, on 31 May 1940, was the Sammy Kaye Orchestra with Tommy Ryan on vocals. It appeared under the unwieldy name Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye, the band’s tagline. Four days later Krupa’s version was issued. But by then the version that would provide the song’s biggest hit, by Glenn Miller with Ray Eberle on vocals, was already in the can, having been recorded on 13 May. We might remember Eberle as the hapless singer whom Miller fired for arriving late to an engagement, as recounted in the entry for At Last in The Originals Vol. 40.

Sammy Kaye, something of an all-round entertainer, contributed a song to this blog before: Remember Pearl Harbor, which featured in Carson Robison’s’s version on A History Of Country Vol. 4. One may suppose that Sammy had reason to be rather annoyed at the Japanese: he was broadcasting on NBC radio when his programme was interrupted by the news of the bombing of the Hawaiian naval base on 7 December 1941.

In 1941, Blueberry Hill was sung by Gene Autry in the movie The Singing Hill (there are claims that Autry was the first to actually record the song). The song was never really forgotten – Louis Armstrong recorded it in 1949 but would have a hit with it only the next decade. But it became a million-seller only in 1956 with Fats Domino’s iconic, souped-up version.

As so often with cover versions that become classics, the idea to record it was an afterthought. When during a session in Los Angeles Domino ran out of songs, he suggested Blueberry Hill. Producer Dave Bartholomew needed to be convinced of the song; in the end his production sold 5 million copies worldwide and provided the template for many covers, including one by Elvis Presley. Domino might have had the great idea to record the song, but he was useless at remembering the correct lyrics. In the end, the engineer spliced together the correctly delivered lyrics from different takes.

In December 2010, Russian tsar Vladimir Putin, fresh from riding horses while exhibiting his toned, gratuitously bared torso and heroically shooting at unarmed whales, performed Blueberry Hill at a charity function in St Petersburg, with a spoken interlude and piano solo. The audience, which included a possibly smiling Goldie Hawn and a self-consciously jiving Kevin Costner, rewarded Mad Vlad’s karaoke with a standing ovation. It is unclear whether they did so in an act of fear or sycophancy. Apparently Putin learnt the song as part of the English studies he required to complete to qualify for an appointment in the KGB, the feared Soviet secret police. On evidence of his diction, we may no longer be surprised at the collapse of the Soviet empire. Putin, to his credit, acknowledged that he can’t sing, so music’s loss was Russian democracy’s dubious gain. For those who somehow can resist the lure of Putin on MP3, here’s the video, with much unrhythmic dancing to accompany the torturous singing (and, before anybody indignantly asks, I can sing the song better than Putin, though his English is probably superior to my Russian).

Also recorded by: Connie Boswell (1940), Russ Morgan And His Orchestra (1940), Kay Kyser and his Orchrstra (1941), Louis Armstrong (1949), Mose Allison (1957), Elvis Presley (1957), Ricky Nelson (1958), Pat Boone (1958), Duane Eddy (1959), Carl Mann (1959), Conway Twitty (1959), Andy Williams (1959), John Barry Orchestra (1960), Bill Black’s Combo (1960), Buster Brown (1960), Brenda Lee (1960), Bill Haley & His Comets (1960), Louis Armstrong All-Stars (1960), Chubby Checker (1961), Skeeter Davis (1961), Billy Vaughn Orchestra (1961), The Ramsey Lewis Trio (1962), The Lettermen (1962), Johnny Hallyday (1962), Bobby Vinton (1963), Hank Crawford and the Marty Paich Orchestra (1963), Cliff Richard and The Shadows (1963), Little Richard (1964), Soul Sisters (1964), Willie Mitchell (1966), San Remo Golden Strings (1966), The Loved Ones (1966), Everly Brothers (1967), Walker Brothers (1967), Caterina Valente (1968), Frank Valdor Sextett (1970), Loretta Lynn (1972), Jerry Lee Lewis (1973), Bert Kaempfert (1973), Ellen McIlwaine (1975), Billy ‘Crash’ Craddock (1977), Eddy Mitchell (as La colline de Blueberry Hill, 1977), Adriano Celentano (1977), The Beach Boys (1976), Jimmy Carl Black (1981), Mud (1982), Jah Wobble (1982), Link Wray (1982), Ricky King (1984), Yellowman (1987), Teresa Brewer & Friends (1991), Carol Sloane & Clark Terry (1997), Bruce Cockburn (1999), Tommy Kenter (2003), Jimmy Clanton (2006), Elton John (2007) a.o.

Hank Ballard & the Midnighters – The Twist (1959).mp3
Chubby Checker – The Twist (1960).mp3
The Drifters – What’cha Gonna Do? (1955).mp3

Dick Clark, the legendary TV presenter who played such a big role in the evolution of rock & roll, believes that The Twist was the genre’s most important song because it was the first rock & roll record that a whole generation could freely admit to liking, from teenagers in tight jeans to jewellery rattling socialites and celebrities ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Truman Capote (even Jackie Kennedy was said to have twisted in the White House). Indeed, so popular was The Twist – the song and the dance – that Chubby Checker topped the US charts twice with it, for a week in September  1960 and then for two weeks in January 1962, following an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Clark is a protagonist in the story of the song which was written by Hank Ballard, the frontman of the R&B group The Midnighters. Ballard – who was born John Henry Kendricks in Detroit but grew up in Alalabama – and his band had enjoyed a string of hits with raunchy singles with titles such as Get It and Sexy Ways; they were so bawdy that they were banned from the airwaves. The Twist, recorded on 11 November 1959, was only a b-side to a Henry Glover ballad titled Teardrops On Your Letter, much to Hank’s annoyance. The single reached #4 on the R&B charts, and #87 in the pop charts. The flip side, now so much more famous, also attracted some attention, reaching #16 on the R&B charts (US charts have comprised radio play as well as sales).

When in early 1960 Ballard’s single Finger Poppin’ Time was a top 10 hit, the record label, King, gave The Twist a commercial push, resulting in a pop hit that peaked at #26. Dick Clark became interested in featuring The Twist on American Bandstand show, which ran five days a week , apparently after the song received an enthusiastic response from the audience at a Baltimore TV show hosted by one Buddy Dean. In the event, it was performed on The Dick Clark Show on 6 August 1960 (though the first TV performance was on New York’s Clay Cole Show). But it wasn’t Hank Ballard and the Midnighters who performed on the programme.

It is not quite clear whether this was due to Ballard’s unavailability (which would be a vicious, er, twist of fate) or to Ballard’s raunchy reputation. Whatever the case, The Twist was recorded by Chubby Checker in July 1960 and performed by him on Clark’s show

Checker had recorded for Clark before. In fact, the man born Ernest Evans received his stage name from Clark’s wife. He was already nicknamed Chubby, but she gave him the surname by coining a pun on the name Fats Domino, whom Chubby had just impersonated (you get it: Chubby/Fats and Domino/Checkers). Clark chose Checker to sing The Twist because he sounded a bit like Ballard, and the cover sounded much like the original. . Ballard later said that when he first heard Checker’s version on the radio, he thought it was his own record playing (lending credence to the idea that Clark deliberately bypassed the writer and first performer of the song). The Twist and several Twist-themed follow-ups served to typecast Checker as a novelty song merchant.

The word “twist” was an old African-American term for dancing, though the silly moves of the early-’60s dance craze were Checker’s (who had seen young people improvising it to Ballard’s song). The word was used to denote dancing on Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters’ 1953 song Let the Boogie Woogie Roll (“and when she did the twist she bopped me to my soul”). McPhatter, considered by many the first real soul singer, was a huge influence on Ballard – so much so that Ballard borrowed liberally from The Drifters’ 1955 song What’cha Gonna Do? for his song Is Your Love For Real. And it was the song which Ballard proceeded to rework as The Twist.

Ballard, who died in 2003, reportedly was not resentful at being denied success with The Twist. One hopes that he received bountiful royalties from the song.

Also recorded by: Paul Rich (1961), Duane Eddy (1962), Keely Smith (1962), Patti Page (1962), The Miracles (1963), James Brown (1974), Klaus Nomi (1981), The Fat Boys With Chubby Checker (1988), The Radiators (1992), Dan Baird and The Sofa Kings (2001)

Sonny West – Rave On (1957).mp3
Buddy Holly – Rave On (1958).mp3
M. Ward feat Zooey Deschanel – Rave On (2009).mp3


Sonny West – All My Love (Oh Boy) (1957).mp3
Buddy Holly and the Crickets – Oh Boy (1957).mp3

Buddy Holly wrote several stone-cold rock & roll classics, but two of his bigger hits were not by his hand. Both, Oh Boy and Rave On were written by rockabilly singer Sonny West with Bill Tilghman. The eagle-eyed reader will have spotted on the record label illustration a third name on the credit: Norman Petty. The rather eccentric Petty was the manager and producer of both West and Holly. He had very little to do with writing either song (though he did impose his unfortunate piano solo on Holly’s version of Rave On), but attached his name to the credits nonetheless.

Before landing up with Petty (whose dealings with Holly were not at all happy), the teenage Sonny West had tried to sign with Sun Records in Memphis, but was rejected. Staying with his sister near Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas, West looked around for other opportunities to make it as a musician, and eventually found one with Petty in his remote studios in Clovis. He recorded one song with Petty before he bumped into Bill Tilghman, who proposed collaborating on songs for which he already had some basic lyrics.

When West presented Oh Boy to Petty, the manager declined to have the writer record it for release (a demo was recorded in February 1957, but remained unreleased until 2002, when it appeared on West’s Sweet Rockin’ Rock-Ola Ruby album). Instead, Petty gave the song instead to Buddy Holly and the Crickets, who with some lyrical tweaks cut it between 29 June and 1 July 1957. West reported being a little bitter about it, because he had written the song for himself, not for Holly.

His happiness was not improved by the recording of the other song he wrote with Tilghman. Petty had organised a contract with Atlantic, which would release many great records, but Rave On wasn’t one of them. Petty initially refused to produce what he described as a “hillbilly song”, but eventually it was cut in November 1957 with a backing band from Dallas called The Big Boys, also clients of Petty’s. West didn’t like the result, and the single went nowhere.  However, he approved of the way Holly recorded it, in New York in January 1958.

Sonny West, an inductee into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame, continues to perform and record today. (Read more about West’s memories, and his friendship with the young Waylon Jennings, in his interview with journalist Graham Lees).

Also recorded by: Terry Farlan (1969), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1970), John Smith & The New Sound (1970), Steeleye Span (1971), Fumble (1972), Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen (1973), Showaddywaddy (1975), Mike Berry (1976), Denny Laine (1977), The Real Kids (1977), Delta-Cross Band (1979), Half Japanese (1980), Rick Nelson (1981), Wanda Jackson (1982), John Mellencamp (1988), Red River (1989), Connie Francis (1996), Hank Marvin (1996), Blumentopf (1999), Stompin’ Bird (1999), Marshall Crenshaw (2000), Status Quo (2000), Orange Black (2002), Sue Moreno (2002), P.J. Proby (2003), The Crickets with Phil & Jason Everly (2004), M. Ward & Zooey Deschanel (2009) a.o.

More Originals

Albums of the Year: 2009

December 22nd, 2009 7 comments

You can finally exhale: here are my top 20 albums of 2009. Apart from the two top spots, the order is rather random. Ask me in ten minutes’ time, and Grizzly Bear or M. Ward might sit at number 3 and 4. I’ve put sample tracks of each album on a mix; the song titles appear at the end each abstract.

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1. Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter
I didn’t expect Hawley to top his majestic 2005 album Coles Corner. A profoundly soulful pop symphony with accomplished and unusual instrumentation, Truelove’s Gutter may very well be the best album of the decade.
(Open Up Your Door) Homepage

2. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses
Kweller at last finds his sound (changing horses?) with an outstanding country album that provides an antidote to the corporate side of the genre. An absolute joy.
(Gypsy Rose) Homepage

3. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
Wilco are incapable of releasing a bad album. The eponymous album will probably not go down in the band’s history as a classic, but it’s solid quality.
(You And I) Homepage

4. Brandi Carlile – Give Up The Ghost
It took me a few listens to realise just how good an album this Rick Rubin-produced effort is. Stay-At-Home Indie Pop put it better than I could: “Anthemic, brash, cool… the abc of Brandi, and I could go on to devilish, euphoric, fresh but fragile, and beyond (to gargantuan, hoarse-heavenly, incandescent), but all I want to really do is pathetically declare my love.” But will you still do so when Brandi gets that first clutch of Grammys, Indie-Pop? See if you can guess, without googling, with whom Carlile duets on Caroline.
(Caroline) Homepage

5. Farryl Purkiss – Fruitbats & Crows
The South African singer-songwriter dude returns three years after his excellent full debut with rockier effort. Purkiss draws his influences widely but manages to create his own coherent, late night sound.
(Seraphine) Homepage

6. Elvis Perkins – Elvis Perkins In Dearland
Here’s what I wrote earlier this year: Imagine Dylan as an indie artist, but with an appealing voice. There is a bit of an experimental edge to it, which in the wrong mood can be annoying, but exhilarating in the right mood.
(Doomsday) MySpace

7. Prefab Sprout – Let’s Change The World With Music
Released 17 years after it was actually recorded, this is supposed to be Paddy McAloon’s lost masterpiece. It’s not a masterpiece, but a damn good, and very accessible album, on which McAloon is on a bit of a God trip.
(Last Of The Great Romantics) MySpace

8. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Pitchfork calls the New Pornographer “a force of nature”. Hackneyed turns of phrases, even when they intend to pun on an album title, sometimes are just the most appropriate. Case is so much a force of nature that listening to the album can leave the listener exhausted.
(People Got A Lotta Nerve) Homepage

9. Monsters of Folk – Homework
I should love this. Two Bright Eyes guys, M. Ward and the singer of My Morning Jacket, and a batch of very good songs. It’s a fine album, and yet it fills me with a sense of unease, the same vibe I got from the Travelin’ Wilburys (and one song here sounds like a Wilburys track!). And yet, I keep returning to Homework
(Man Named Truth) Homepage

10. Peasant – On The Ground
This deserved more of a buzz. Nicely crafted guy-with-guitar stuff that recalls Joshua Radin and, yeah, Elliot Smith, with a bit of Simon & Garfunkel. A lovely cool-down album.
(Fine Is Fine) MySpace

11. Eels – Hombre Lobo
E offers nothing much new here, but, hey, it’s an Eels album, and does everything you want an Eels album to do. That’s enough for me.
(That Look You Give That Guy) Homepage

12. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Beguiling and frequently surprising. It’s an aural extravaganza. Now, which Ben Folds does Two Weeks borrow its riff from?
(Two Weeks) MySpace

13. Mindy Smith – Stupid Love
Indie-Pop may be in love with Brandi Carlile; I declare my (admittedly promiscuous) love for the likewise deceptively named Mindy Smith. Stupid Love, it must be said, is not as breathtaking an album as Mindy’s debut, One Moment More, but it has Mindy’s beautiful voice and pleasant enough songs.
(What Went Wrong) Homepage

14. Bob Evans – Goodnight Bull Creek
I’m a great fan of Evans’ 2006 sophomore album, Suburban Songs. Like that set, Goodnight Bull Creek was recorded in Nashville. Creek lacks the immediately catchy songs of the previous album, but has a much richer, textured production.
(Brother, O Brother) Homepage

15. Jason Paul Johnston – Willows Motel
Solid country, recalling Prine rather than Twitty. And just when I think Johnstone has settled into predictable country mode, he pulls something that makes me think, “What the fuck was that?”
(She’s A Friend) MySpace

16. Marissa Nadler – Little Hells
Again, to quote myself: I am not acquainted with Nadler’s previous effort; apparently it is gloomier than Little Hells. Well, this one isn’t a courtjesters’ convention of heedless madcappery either. It is, however, a beautiful, hypnotic album which draws much of its inspiration from medieval, cloistered sounds.
(Rosary) Homepage.

17. M. Ward – Hold Time
Here Ward draws from the heritage of country and soul, from the Beach Boys and from Spector — the choice of two covers affirm the retro vibe: an excellent cover of Buddy Holly’s Rave On, a less than brilliant rendition of Hank Williams’ Oh Lonesome Me (featuring Hank Sr’s namesake Lucinda). The production is polished, the sound a lot more mainstream than previous albums
(Rave On) Homepage

18. Loney, Dear – Dear John
Our Swedish homestudio-bound genius returns with another magical multi-layered chamber-pop epic which is at once orchestral and, largely thanks to the man’s voice, intimate.
(Airport Surroundings) Homepage

19. Micah P Hinson – All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers
I am not a big fan over covers albums. Usually they are self-conscious about doing something “different” with a song, or issue redundant carbon copies. Cover albums work when the performer is idiosyncratic, so unique that he or she need not try to make a song sound differently. Johnny Cash pulled it off; and for the most part Hinson does so here, where he takes on the likes of Sinatra (My Way, the ambitious fucker!), Leadbelly, Holly, Dylan, Beatles and John Denver, armed mostly only with his trusty guitar and croaking voice.
(This Old Guitar) Homepage

20. Laura Gibson – Beasts of Seasons
Pitchfork nailed it when their reviewer called the singer-songwriter  Gibson’s music as “far better suited to a fireplace and a cup of warm apple cider than to your local Starbucks”. Beasts of Seasons is bleak and beautiful.
(Funeral Song) MySpace

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