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Soundtrack of my Life: 1960s

July 17th, 2009 20 comments

Some readers may remember a series of posts in which I looked at songs that evoked particular times, the way music often does. That was two years ago, and for two years I’ve regretted not milking the concept more than I did. In my excitement, I rushed through the years, overlooking some essential songs. And, of course, I’ve rediscovered a few in the meantime. One I found a couple of weeks ago; the chorus had been a recurring, random earworm for more than three decades without revealing itself in a manner by which I could carry out the appropriate research in order to identify and acquire it. Around the same time, I stumbled upon a song I had entirely forgotten about. Hearing both beamed me back to 1971/72, when I was five years old.

That then, is the point of this revised series (I will probably recycle some blurb I wrote two years ago while pretending to ignore what I posted): to recreate, as the cliché goes, a soundtrack to my life consisting of the hits of the day. Be warned, some of the music will be utterly horrible, enjoyable only as an act of nostalgia, and even then not very much. There will be oddities that must be included because they were pivotal in my life, like my first idol, childstar Heintje, or my first single (an obscure soul song now regarded as a classic in its genre called… oh, OK, a terrible Schlager single). I will be brutally frank in acknowledging a record of bad taste in childhood, and of questionable record purchases as a young man in the 1980s (What’s The Color Of Money, anyone?). But I also know that there are many who will share these records of bad taste, the questionable purchases, and enjoy revisiting these — maybe even recalling the same songs with similar experiences.

This, then, is my musical autobiography. My interest in knowing the names of performers, other than the legend that is Heintje, began in 1970, when I was four. In this first installment we look at songs that were hits before then, but which remind me of my childhood, not necessarily of the time when they were hits (except for Heintje, of course).

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Heintje –Mama (1968).mp3
heintjeIt all begun with Heintje. I had opportunity last year to report on how I pretended to be an old-fashioned record player. I was about two. I’d run around with my left arm pointing up to resemble the metal spindle on which one would stack records, while my right hand would make semi-circular motions around the supposed spindle to indicate the record’s rotation, all the while lustily singing a song, usually by Dutch-born Heintje, who was huge in West-Germany in the 1960s. Shortly, I’d say “clack” — the next record dropping down the spindle — to begin a new song, invariably by Heintje. I was a fan of the boy who as Hein Simon would enjoy considerably diminished success once, hurrah!, his bollocks dropped.

Listening to Heintje today, it is difficult to see on what foundations of excellence his career was built. It was almost exclusively sentimental gunk, mostly addressed to his mother whom he repeatedly beseeched not to cry for his sake. And it was mainly mothers, their mothers, and two-year-old kids who dug Heintje’s oedipal stylings. And yet, anybody who was alive in West-Germany in the 1960s (or even early ’70s) before the onset of puberty will most likely be beamed back to their childhood on hearing his hits such as Mama or Heidschi Bumbeidschi, and few are the German families that did not have Heintje’s Christmas album, as essential to a true German 1970s Weihnachten as tinsel and Lebkuchen.

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Alexandra – Mein Freund der Baum (1968).mp3
alexandra-mein_freund_der_baumCLACK! Banal Schlager singers were a Pfennig-a-dozen in Germany. All the more tragic when a real chanteuse, the beautiful, husky voiced Alexandra perished in a car crash on 31 July 1969 at 27. I faintly remember my grandmother telling me that Alexandra was dead when footage of her appeared on the old monochrome television. I don’t know how old I was, but I certainly knew nothing of death. A year before Alexandra died, in 1968 when I was two, my great-uncle died. I have two flashes of vivid memory of him, but his absence didn’t trouble me. He’s dead, you say? Cool. Will he come visit tomorrow? But now I was affected by the gravity of what my grandmother was telling me about the pretty singer. Death seemed serious, shocking business. Maybe you didn’t even survive it.

Quite likely, I would have recovered soon from notions of mortality, had it not been for the song that accompanied the footage of the dead Alexandra: a mournful, slightly eerie ode to a tree that was felled, with its theme of loss and anguish underscored by mournful, slightly eerie music. Knowing this person was dead freaked me out so much that for a couple of years I refused to watch reruns of shows or movies that featured people I knew to be dead (except Laurel and Hardy, probably because they were immortal. And The Little Rascals, who were kids and therefore not possibly dead). Forty years on, I regard Mein Freund der Baum has one of the era’s very few German songs of merit, one influenced by Alexandra’s contact with the French chansonniers of the day, such as Gilbert Bécaud and Salvatore Adamo (both huge in Germany).

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The Peels – Juanita Banana (1966).mp3
peels_juanita_bananaBeyond Heintje, my initial introduction to music rested on the singles my second-oldest sister played and my mother owned. My sister never let me look at her records, so I don’t recall much of them other than the green Odeon label records of the Beatles and a song in which a dog barked a melody on the red Telefunken label. My mother, on the other hand, kept her singles in an album with plastic sleeves to which I had unrestricted access, at least once I got my own record player for my fifth birthday. I don’t think that her single of the Peels’ great novelty hit from 1966 impressed me much until then. The record’s sleeve was by then missing, so the initial attraction was the label, with a karate figure which evoked my favourite ice lolly from our holidays in Denmark, the wrapper and name of which had some martial arts motif, possibly Kung Fu (it tasted of liquorice, and when I returned to Denmark in 1999, they were still selling it. It still tasted great). Once played, Juanita Banana became a firm favourite (the eponymous heroine Juanita Banana is singing Caro Nome from Verdi’s Rigoletto, incidentally). I confess, I still love it; it’s the best novelty hit of all time.
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Udo Jürgens – Siebzehn Jahr, Blondes Haar (1965).mp3
udo_jurgensUdo Jürgens is one of the most important German recording artists (he was born and grew up in Austria; his parents were, however, German). He wrote Matt Munro’s hit Walk Away, Shirley Bassey’s Reach For The Stars and Sammy Davis Jr’s concert-closer If I Never Sing Another Song, and has sold a reported 100 million records (he also collaborated with the tragic Alexandra, incidentally). More importantly, he was my youngest sister’s favourite singer before the moody Peter Maffay appeared on the scene in 1970. It was through that sister, ten years older than me, that I grew up on Jürgens hits such as Merci Chérie (a Eurovision Song Contest winner), the rousing and quite funny seduction song Es wird Nacht Senorita, and this sing-along hit about a blonde teenager. Now almost 75, Jürgens is apparently still performing, retaining his massive popularity.

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Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown (1967).mp3
manfred_mann_clownIn the course of moving between continents and leaving my record collection unattended while the vultures circled, I have lost almost all of my singles, but I still have this one, which I inherited from my mother. Of course a small kid will be attracted by the idea of a song about clowns, especially laughing ones (the kid need not be aware that the protagonist wanted to bang the wife of the clown). But two other things attracted me to the record: the cover, with a rather cute little girl, and the Fontana label, with the record company’s rather eccellent logo. As the Peels entry revealed, I had an interest in record labels as soon as my love affair with vinyl began. And the Fontana one appealed to me greatly. I loved all black labels, it seems. The song itself is brilliant; it features the flute and whistling!

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Chris Andrews – Pretty Belinda (1969).mp3
pretty_belindaAnother of my mother’s records, and I still own that one, too. It’s the intro wuith the trrumpets that grabbed me then. Andrews looks very English on the cover, yet this song didn’t even chart in his home country, where he’ll be remembered better for his 1965 hit Yesterday Man. Andrews main career was sing-writing (he’s still at it, apparently). He wrote loads of songs for Sandie Shaw — by virtue of which he is a bit of a hero — and Adam Faith, as well as the Mamas and the Papas I’ll Remember Tonight.

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Gilbert Bécaud – Nathalie (German version) (1965).mp3
becaud_nathalieFew things excited German record buyers of the ’60s and ’70s as a foreign accent and the sound of far-away lands. Few singers had thicker accents than Bécaud, and when he sang a Russian-inflected song with a Cosack-dance type interlude, the Germans loved it. My mother certainly did, because she bought the single. I loved the cover, with Monsieur 100,000 Volts suavely greeting us from his sportscar, no doubt on his way to make love to an unattainable ethnic beauty. The song’s storyline exploits every Russian cliché bar the appearance of a babooshka. Gilbert picks Nathalie up in Red Square, parties with her and her university friends in her residence, then has hot Soviet sex with her. Now he remembers Nathalie and expects to kiss her soft lips again one day. Oh Gilbert, poor, naïve Gilbert. After your sexcapades in Moscow, the KGB arrested Nathalie and her friends. She was last believed to be in Siberia. Thanks, Gilbert.

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Esther & Abi Ofarim – Noch Einen Tanz (1965).mp3
esther_abi_ofarimThis is the German version of the Israeli duo’s song One More Dance (another one of mother’s singles). And what a cruel song it is, covering the conversation between two illicit lovers as the woman’s rich husband is ailing at home. Esther and Abi are milking the black humour for all it’s worth, especially when Esther notes with absolute glee that her husband is ill and when Abi, as “Franz”, informs his lover with fake surprise that her husband has died. And all that backed with jovial yet sinister music. With my death phobia, I found the song unsettling yet somehow alluring.
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Al Martino – Spanish Eyes (1966).mp3
al_martinoLike many of the songs here, I can’t say exactly when this record (another of mother’s singles) entered my consciousness. I do remember that my six-years-older brother and I adapted the English lyrics to sing: “Du, sperr’ mich ein” (You, lock me up). Which suggests that my brother had not learnt English yet, as he would begin to do so at the age of 10, and that I could not read the cover. Which would date the consciousness-entry at about 1970. Spanish Eyes was written by Bert Kaempfert, whose composing chops we observed in the most recent Originals instalment in reference to his Strangers In The Night, and who first recorded the song as an instrumental titled Moon Over Naples. Martino, of course, played mafia-owned singer Johnny Fontane in The Godfather, on whose behalf a racehorse lost its head. It is said, with some justification, that Fontane was based on Frank Sinatra. Martino had himself mafia troubles, having to pay $75,000 (in 1953, when that was worth something like ten times as much in today’s money) to ensure the safety of his family and went into exile in Britain for five years.

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Freddy Quinn – Junge, Komm Bald Wieder (1962).mp3
freddyOld Fred, I hate to tell you, was not an Irish expat making it big in Germany. Freddy’s mother knew her boy as Manfred Nidl-Petz. You see the reason why Fred saw cause to change his name, as many other singers have done before and after him. He was one of the first, however, to adopt an English-sounding moniker. Following his example, ever Hans, Fritz and Heinrich would take an Anglophone name, such as Roy Black or Chris Roberts. Unlike Roy and Chris and their friends, Freddy had some connection to his new name: his father was Irish (perhaps even named Quinn).

Manfred’s reinvention didn’t end there. Although born in landlocked Austria, he made the musical sentiments of seafaring his stock and trade. That is akin to a New Yorker making a career out of being a professional hillbilly. Of course, nobody particularly cared that this Austrian was now a Northern German (the astute student of German political history will faintly remember another Austrian who became a German), and Freddy’s melancholy songs about the sea and homesickness — such as this featured piece of shit — were ubiquitous even years after they were hits.

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Jane Birkin with Serge Gainsbourg – Je t’aime moi non plus (vinyl).mp3
jane_birkinIn the official version, my first celeb crush was ABBA’s lovely Agnetha, but I suspect that before the lovely Agnetha, I fell for the lovely Jane Birkin. I loved looking at the sleeve of the single, which my mother somehow saw no need to withhold from me. Of course, I had no idea that Birkin was climaxing (I’ve read that it wasn’t faked; I like to think it wasn’t) in a sexual manner. I don’t know what exactly I thought she was doing (probably she had a nightmare, or a tummyache), but I certainly had no idea that there was such a thing as sex, and if I had, I wouldn’t have known what it sounded like. So my early childhood exposure to Je t’aime moi non plus had no corrupting influence on me. Not at that point anyway. I certainly liked the sound of the music. This vinyl rip isn’t my work — I downloaded it about ten years ago — but it captures the way I remember hearing it as a child perfectly. My mother’s single crackled just like that.

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More Stepping Back

The Originals Vol. 19

March 23rd, 2009 3 comments

In the 19th instalment of The Originals, we look at ’60s classic Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, Joe Cocker’s chestnut You Are So Beautiful, a couple of legendary Motown his and the sorry tale of the Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony.

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The Exciters – Do-Wah-Diddy.mp3
Manfred Mann – Do Wah Diddy Diddy.mp3

excitersIt was a huge hit for the unlikeliest pop star ever to emerge from Johannesburg (yeah, I know, Mr Lubowitz’s stage name applied to the whole band). But a year before that, in 1963, it was recorded, minus a diddy, by a soul girl group which never enjoyed as much success as it deserved. The Exciters are remembered mainly for their single big hit, the Bert Berns composition Tell Him.

Do-Wah-Diddy was written by Brill Building hitmakers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who wrote many girl group hits such as Be My Baby, Baby, I Love You, And Then He Kissed Me, Da Doo Ron Ron, and River Deep Mountain High (Greenwich also co-wrote the Exciters’ other hit, He’s Got The Power, and – incidentally – discovered Neil Diamond).

The song made a comeback of sorts when Bill Murray and Harold Ramis sang it in a marching scene from Stripes (1981), the first half of which was very funny. Earlier in the film, Ramis uses another Barry & Greenwich composition, Da Doo Ron Ron to good comedic effect.

Also recorded by: Sheila (as Vous les copains, je ne vous oublierai jamais, 1964), Jan & Dean (1965), A la Carte (1980), Silicon Teens (1980), Showaddywaddy (1980), The Dolly Dots (1982), Neil Diamond (1993), Mr. Al (1997), Murry Lachlan Young (1997), DJ Ötzi (2001)

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Undisputed Truth – Papa Was A Rolling Stone.mp3
Temptations – Papa Was A Rolling Stone (full version).mp3
Temptations – War.mp3
Edwin Starr  – War.mp3

papa-was-a-rolling-stoneIn Motown’s happy family it was common that the same songs would be recorded by different artists. Sometimes, that custom would result in two chart-toppers within a year, as in the case of I Heard It Through The Grapevine (see Volume 2). In other cases, one version would become legendary, and the other virtually forgotten. So it is with Papa Was A Rolling Stone and War, both muscular soul-funk tunes written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.

The Undisputed Truth, who may be remembered for their hit Smiling Faces Sometimes (which was originally recorded by the Temptations), recorded Papa Was A Rolling Stone as a single release in 1971. It did not perform spectacularly well, peaking at #63 in the US charts. A year later, Whitfield gave the song to the Temptations when he produced their 1972 All Directions album, on which it appeared as a 12-minute workout. The shortened single version went on to top the US charts.

The song dated the death of the deplorable Papa to “the third of September”, which happened to be the date Temptations singer Dennis Edward’s father died. Edwards was allocated that line, leading him to suspect that Whitfield had written the line knowing of that particular detail. Whitfield denied that (as he well might), but nevertheless exploited Edward’s anger about it by having him sing the line in repeated takes until the singer sounded very irate indeed. For his troubles, by the Temptations dismissed Whitfield as their producer. The group would never recorded anything better than Whitfield’s epics. And when Whitfield (who died last year) eventually left Motown, the Undisputed Truth followed him.

psychedelic-shackWhile the Temptations scored with the Undisputed Truth’s song, Edwin Starr had a hit with a Temps song, War. The anti-Vietnam protest song appeared originally on the Temptations 1970 Psychedelic Shack album. By popular request, Motown decided to release it as a single, but not by the Temptations, because the label did not want to associate its big stars with political causes. Indeed, the Temptations themselves were apprehensive about offending some of their fans (though exactly why anybody who would dig the drug-friendly psychedelic grooves of early-’70s Temptations might be offended by an anti-war sentiment is a mystery). So Motown gave the song to a relative unknown who two years earlier had enjoyed his solitary hit. Edwin Starr’s anthemic, fist-raising version was far more fierce and furious than that of Temptations. Catching the zeitgeist, Starr’s War was a US #1 hit. And guess who appears on the backing track? The Undisputed Truth.

Also recorded by: (Papa Was A Rolling Stone): David Lindley & El Rayo-X (1988), Was (Not Was) (1990), The Lovemongers (1992), George Michael & Queen (1993), Isaac Hayes & Soul II Soul (1996), 4 the Cause (1998), Lisa Fischer & Chris Botti (2003), Gilbert Montagné (2006).
(War) D.O.A. (1982), The Jam (1982), Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1984), Tom Jones (1985), Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street band (1986), Mace (1976), Laibach (1994), Hexenhaus (1997), The BB Band (1999), Joan Osborne (2002), Gilbert Montagné (2006), Boyz II Men (2007), Maria Muldaur (2008)

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Billy Preston – You Are So Beautiful.mp3
Joe Cocker – You Are So Beautiful.mp3

billy-prestonFew noises in mainstream pop history have been as disturbing as Joe Cocker’s croaked note at the end of that staple of soppy love songs, You Are So Beautiful. Some people might regard the song best crooned by Homer Simpson, but they are probably not familiar with Billy Preston’s rather good original. The song was written by Preston and his songwriting partner Bruce Fisher, with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s uncredited lyrical contribution  (Wilson would sing the song as an encore at Beach Boys gigs in the late ’70s and early ’80s). Preston’s version was recorded shortly before Cocker’s slower version in 1974. The former remained an album track, while Cocker’s version reached the US #5 in 1975 (but didn’t chart at all Britain).

Also recorded by: John Davidson (1976), Tanya Tucker (1977), Bonnie Tyler (1992), Babyface (1993), Kenny Rogers (1994), Captain & Tennille (1995), Al Green (2005), Sam Moore with Billy Preston, Zucchero, Eric Clapton & Robert Randolph (2006), Diana Ross (2006), Carnie Wilson (2006), Westlife (2006), Kenny Rankin (2007), Donny Osmond (2007) a.o.
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Andrew Oldham Orchestra – The Last Time.mp3
The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony.mp3

andrew-oldham-orchestraOf course, this is not so much the story of an orignal and its cover as the unhappy tale of a sample and greed — all revolving around a loop in the Verve song that was lifted from Andrew Look Oldham’s 1966 instrumental adaptation of the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time. Oldham was not only a musician, but also the manager of the Stones in their early pomp. He sold his contract to Allen Klein – has there ever been a more lawyerly name in rock? – in 1966. By 1997, when the Verve’s Urban Hymns album came out, Klein controlled the Stones’ 1960s back catalogue.

The Verve had actually secured permission to use the sample, but when Klein heard an advance copy of the song, he threatened to sue, claiming that the us of the sample exceeded what had been agreed on. The band and publishers settled on a 50/50 royalties split. As the album hit the shops, Klein reneged on the agreement and demanded 100%, successfully so, because by now the album could not be pulled from the shelves. The out-of-court settlement was a defeat for the Verve – and, to some extent, for Oldham. All royalties were ceded, and the songwriting credit went to Jagger & Richards, even though their version of The Last Time had no significant influence on Bitter Sweet Symphony. The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft, who wrote the song, later commented caustically: “This is the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years.”

verve-bitter-sweet-symphonyIt can be argued that Jagger and Richards didn’t even write the song from which Ashcroft didn’t sample; The Last Time was based (or ripped off, if you are feeling less than overly charitable) on a 1950s recording by the Staple Singers of almost exactly the same title, This May Be The Last Time. It’s a shame the Staple Singers didn’t think to sue… And just to turn this sorry tale into a real farce, when Bitter Sweet Symphony was nominated for two Grammys, the credit went to Jagger and Richards as writers and the Andrew Oldham Orchestra as artists.

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More Originals

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)

More Perfect Pop

Music for Bloggers Vol.4

January 8th, 2008 5 comments

After some months without, here’s more love for blogs I enjoy. As always, if your blog isn’t featured, but you think it should be, there will be more music for bloggers. I like an awful lot of blogs. Please open the links (in the red headings) by right-clicking and opening a new window or tab; I’d hate to lose you. In each entry, the first dedicated song is a new upload, the second has been posted here previously (except in the bit for Sunset Over Slawit, who gets two fresh tunes).

Popdose
Many mourned the sudden death at the hands of moronic interfereniks of the much beloved jefitoblog. Good news is, Jeff is back and has roped in a few skilled pals to create an Internet culture magazine called Popdose (among these pals is John Hughes, who used to write the excellent Lost in the ’80s blog). Popdose runs articles on music, film & TV, current events and more, and represents a welcome addition to my bookmarks. There are loads of fine MP3s, and best of all, Jefito still presents his weekly mix tape. Hooray!
Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town.mp3
Clout – Substitute.mp3

Todger Talk
Men tend to talk about sex like they might talk about automotive mechanics. But would you ask your mates for advice if you had blood gushing out of your fractured penis? It was that experience (hilariously related) which moved “Nottingham’s Mr Sex” to start up a blog, with two qualified colleagues, which will dispense sound, valuable advice on sex and relationships specifically to men. But don’t expect condescending earnesty or laddish phwoarisms (it will be in the dictionary one day, you’ll see). If the first couple of posts are an indicator, the serious subject matter (you don’t think sex is fun, do you?) will be interlaced with a healthy dose of humour. And to get you in the mood, this horny soul classic from the ’70s, followed by Serge’s seduction technique.
Sylvia – Pillow Talk.mp3
Serge Gainsbourg – Cargo Culte.mp3

Holy Goof
Another fairly new site, Holy Goof is an absolute treasure trove of comedy albums from the ’60s up to last year (some ripped audio from DVD), with perceptive commentary. And, best of all, everything’s available on Sharebee, which serves those of us who are excluded by Rapidshare and Megaupload. Get your Chris Rock, Eddie Izzard, Woody Allen, David Cross, Tom Lehrer, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, Billy Connolly, Ellen Degeneris, Albert Brooks, Richard Pryor, Bill Maher, Dave Attell, Paul F Tompkins, George Carlin, Kathy Griffin, Denis Leary, Patton Oswalt, Steve Martin, Sara Silverman and a shitload more (even the deathly unamusing Robin Williams, if you must) at the Holy Goof.
Dave Davis – Death A Clown.mp3
Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3

Echoes In The Wind
One of the Major Dude winners in the music blogs category last month. Some might have chosen a blog that features obscure, cutting edge artists or provide acute and learned reviews. There are many such blogs I like to visit. Echoes In The Wind isn’t such a blog. Whiteray writes from his own, seemingly vast personal experience. Reading his blog is like enjoying a visit from an erudite friend who, over a few bottles of good dark beer (or, in my case, a pot of coffee and a pack of smokes) shares his stories, and of himself. Whiteray’s music selection is almost exclusively and unsentimentally nostalgic, sometimes featuring stuff that is obscure and surprising, and occasionally exceedingly rare. It was Whiteray who had me give John Denver a chance when he uploaded Whose Garden Was This, a long-forgotten but rather lovely 1970s album by the man whom I had dismissed as a bit of a grinning muppet (which at one point he had actually become). Early in his career, Denver might not have been cool, but he was pretty good. Check out “Sunshine On My Shoulders” from 1971’s gorgeous Poems, Prayers & Promises, and imagine it, if you need to, being sung by somebody else, without prejudice. The second song is a lovely slice of sentimentality by a South African artist. If you like Whiteray’s stuff, you should like this.
John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulder.mp3
André de Villiers – Memories.mp3

Sunset Over Slawit
Much as Whiteray is a regular visitor to my monitor, so is Rol Hirst, another blogger with whose prose I feel instantly comfortable. Rol’s blog does not offer conspiracy theories, profound sociological analysis, political polemic or comedy writing (though he knows how to turn a witty phrase when circumstances demand it). There are fine blogs that offer these, sometimes all in one, and I appreciate these. Rol’s blog appeals on a different level. It succeeds in making you feel that he is a friend sharing his engaging thoughts with you (even though you’ve never met him); his writings suggest that he is a really nice guy… Conveying one’s {perceived) personality in such a persuasive way is a skill not many writers have.
Iron & Wine – Sunset Soon Forgotten.mp3
Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown.mp3

The Hits Just Keep On Coming
A self-confessed angry ex-radio DJ lets rip on his blog, which he presents as a music station of sorts. The concept works very well. JB apparently still presents a weekly radio show. If it is anything like his well-written blog with such judiciously selected music, it should be required listening wherever it is broadcast. The One Day In Your Life feature is especially good, a time travelling blitz. And I wholeheartedly agree with JB about how the Hype Machine aggregator has become less inviting since the redesign, which I think has a terribly cluttered corporate feel now. Like JB, I very rarely venture there any longer. For JB, a great 1995 song from alt.country-rock supergroup Golden Smog, and a fine track by one of the underrated songbirds.
Golden Smog – Radio King.mp3
Kathleen Edwards – Another Song The Radio Won’t Like.mp3

The Ghost of Elecricity
In my lists of links, The Ghost of Electricity is filed in the non-music section, which isn’t strictly accurate, because it does feature MP3s. It would also not be strictly accurate to file Davy H’s site among the music bloggers, because his subject matter isn’t always music. Rather, the music Davy posts often is intended to illustrate his entertaining and frequently insightful ruminations on any given subject. Much in the same way as the songs dedicated to the bloggers in this series fulfill an ancillary function. Wherever one may want to file The Ghost of Electricity, it’s a bloody good read with some fine music (check out the funk here).
The Strokes – Electricityscape.mp3
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Davy’s On The Road Again.mp3

Guitariotabs
Two and a half years ago my son, then 10, decided he wanted to learn to play the guitar. After securing a firm commitment from him, we enrolled him with a first-class tutor, a former session musician for South African blues-rock legend Robin Auld, who continues to verse him in the technically correct mechanics of string plucking (or whatever). Occasionally Michael visits sites offering guitar tabs, and sometimes finds that the authors have failed in providing scrupulously correct tabs. So he decided to set up his own tabs blog, with relevant MP3 files and links to the lyrics as an added service. The lazy sod hasn’t updated it in a while — apparently it’s not a simple task to write tabs, and time consuming as well. Still, I’m immensely proud of my boy, now 13. So visit his blog. In the meantime, here’s something by the wonderful guitarist Kaki King, who featured on the new Foo Fighters album, and the Beatles song Michael announced he really liked when he got into the Help! album, and which happens to be my all-time favourite Beatles tune.
Kaki King – Happy As A Dead Pig In The Sunshine.mp3
The Beatles – You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.mp3

Previously featured:
Music For Bloggers Vol. 1: Totally Fuzzy, Not Rock On, Serenity Now (RIP), Stay At Home Indie Pop, The Late Greats, Tsururadio, 200percent, Jefitoblog (RIP), Television Without Pity, Michael’s World
Music For Bloggers Vol. 2: Fullundie, Mr Agreeable, Greatest Films, Peanut’s Playground, Just Good Tunes, Csíkszereda Musings, Mulberry Panda, The Black Hole, Secret Love, Hot Chicks With Douchebags
Music For Bloggers Vol. 3: Girl On A Train, Maybe We Ain’t That Young Anymore, Earbleedingcountry, Spangly Princess, Ill Folks, Deacon Blues, One-Man Publisher, CD Rated