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In Memoriam – August 2011

September 5th, 2011 6 comments

The two most notable deaths in August happened on the same day: the 22nd. I’ve already paid tribute to Nick Ashford (HERE); on the same day that great songwriter passed away, Jerry Leiber died. I don’t think it’s necessary to go into detail about the Leiber & Stoller story other than to say that they had a crucial impact on the development of rock & roll. Leiber was the lyricist, and as such got Elvis Presley to sing the great line in Jailhouse Rock: “Number 47 said to number 3,’You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see. I
sure would be delighted with your company, come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me.'”

Billy Grammer died at 85. Fans of The Originals will appreciate the song in this mix: Grammer’s I Wanna Go Home later became a hit for Bobby Bare as Detroit City. Grammer played at the rally during which the racist Alabama governor and presidential hopeful George Wallace was shot. Grammer apparently wept after the incident, suggesting that his views on race relations were less than entirely endearing.

Akiko Futaba, one of Japan’s most popular singers, had a lucky break in utter tragedy on 6 August 1945. Just as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the train she was travelling in entered a tunnel. The singer, who had started recording in 1936, lived to the age of 96.

In May, we lost Bob Flanigan of the pioneering vocal group The Four Freshmen; this month the last surviving member of the original line-up, Ross Barbour, died at the age of 82. Through many changes in the line-up, Flanigan and Barbour remained Freshmen until the latter’s retirement in 1977.

I don’t often include recored executives in the In Memoriam series, but there are two this month who qualfy. Rich Fitzgerald, who has died at 64, had a massive influence on pop music. In the 1970s he worked for RSO, with whom he helped spearheaded the massively-selling Saturday Night Fever and Grease soundtracks (and, later, that of Fame). After RSO, he ended up via a handful of record companies as vice-chairman of Warner Bros. Along the way, he helped give artists such as The Pretenders, Prince, Madonna and Green Day achieve their breakthrough.

Frank DiLeo was a executive at Epic Records where he nurtured the careers of acts like Meat Loaf, Luther Vandross, Gloria Estefan, Cyndi Lauper, REO Speedwagon and Quiet Riot, as well as the US success of The Clash and Culture Club. He was twice Michael Jackson’s manager, in the late 1980s and at the time of Jackson’s death. And he played Tuddy Cicero in GoodFellas, impressing as Paulie’s brother who executes Joe Pesci’s obnoxious Tommy character. He also appeared in Wayne’s World.

Finally, it’s not at all usual to include non-musicians on account of their being the subject of a song. But in the case of William ‘Stetson’ Kennedy I must make an exception. The human rights activist’s infiltration of the Ku Klax Klan helped bring down the racist organisation and made it his mission to expose racists. Woody Guthrie wrote a song named after Kennedy.

Trudy Stamper, 94, Grand Ole Opry artist relations manager and first female presenter on US radio, on July 30
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Grand Ole Opry Song (1972)
Grand Ole Opry Intro (Prince Albert Theme) (1940)

DeLois Barrett Campbell, 85, singer with gospel group The Barrett Sisters, on August 2

Andrew McDermott, 45, singer of English metal group Threshold, on August 3

Conrad Schnitzler, 74, German musician (Tangerine Dream, Kluster), on August 4

Marshall Grant, 83, country bassist (in the Tennessee Two/Three with Johnny Cash) and manager (Cash, Statler Brothers), on August 6
Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two – Cry Cry Cry (1955)
Leo Mattioli, 39, Argentine cumbia singer, on August 7
Leo Mattioli – Despues de ti (2006)

Joe Yamanaka, 64, Japanese rock singer, on August 7
Joe Yamanaka – Mama Do You Remember

Billy Grammer, 85, country singer-songwriter and guitarist, on August 10
Billy Grammer – I Wanna Go Home (1963)

Jani Lane (born John Kennedy Oswald), 47, frontman of US glam-metal band Warrant, on August 11
Warrant – Cherry Pie (1990)

Richard Turner, 27, British jazz trumpeter (Round House), on August 11
Rich Fitzgerald, 64, record executive, on August 15
Frankie Valli – Grease (1978)

Akiko Futaba, 96, Japanese singer, on August 16

Kampane, 33, New York rapper, murdered on August 16

Ross Barbour, 82, last original member of barbershop band The Four Freshmen,
The Four Freshmen – It Happened Once Before (1953), on August 20
Jerry Leiber, 78, legendary songwriter and producer, on August 22
Elvis Presley – I Want To Be Free (1957, as lyricist)
The Clovers – Love Potion Number 9 (1959, as lyricist and co-producer)
The Exciters – Tell Him (1962, as co-producer)
Donald Fagen – Ruby Baby (1982, as lyricist)

Nickolas Ashford, 70, soul singer, songwriter and producer as Ashford & Simpson, on August 22
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – You’re All I Need To Get By (1968, as songwriter)
Ashford & Simpson – Street Corner (1982)

Glen Croker, 77, singer and lead guitarist of honky tonk band The Hackberry Ramblers (joined in 1959), on August 23

Cephas Mashakada, 51, Zimbabwean sungura musician, on August 23
Esther Gordy Edwards, 91, Motown executive who lent brother Berry Gordy the money to start Motown, and founder of the Hitsville USA museum, on August 24
Rod Stewart – The Motown Song (1990)

Frank DiLeo, 63, music executive, ex-manager of Michael Jackson and actor (GoodFellas, Wayne’s World), on August 24

Laurie McAllister, 53, bassist in The Runaways (post-1978) and founder of The Orchids, on August 25

Liz Meyer, 59, US-born and Netherlands-based blugrass singer, on August 26

William Stetson Kennedy, 94, author who helped bring down the KKK and subject of a Woody Guthrie song, on August 27
Billy Bragg & Wilco – Stetson Kennedy (2000)
Johnny Giosa, 42, drummer of hard rock band BulletBoys, on August 28
BulletBoys – For The Love Of Money (1988)

George Green, 59, songwriter (especially with John Cougar Mellencamp), on August 28
John Cougar – Hurts So Good (1982, as co-writer)

David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, 96, Delta blues guitarist and singer, on August 29
David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards – West Helena Blues (1988)

Alla Bayanova, 97, Russian singer, on August 30
Alla Bayanova – Wolga
Alla Bayanova – Romance Ya ehala domo

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(Mirror 1 Mirror 2)

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In Memoriam – May 2011

June 6th, 2011 4 comments

This series has noted a couple of hundred musicians’ deaths. Not many have caused me so much sadness as that of Gil Scott-Heron. Never mind that the man was a drug addict, and that he once wrote a homophobic song. He was a poet, and he set his poetry to glorious music. He was the Bob Dylan of the ghetto. I hope that with his dying breath, Scott-Heron appreciated the fact that astronauts were just then making a final journey and the US president has introcuded health care reform he was demanding in Whitey On The Moon).

As a soul fan, I noted with particular sadness the passing of jazz-funk guitarist Cornell Dupree, who played that opening riff of Aretha Franklin’s version of Respect, and also backed favourite acts like Bill Withers and Marlena Shaw.

We tend to mourn deaths by suicide, though that of Gramy-winning songwriter, screenplsy writer and director Joseph Brooks, who wrote the much-loathed You Light Up My Life, leaves us at best with mixed feelings: he killed himself while under indictment for a series of “casting couch” rapes (the details of which are nauseating). Not a very nice guy at all, it seems.


David Mason, 85, English trumpeter who played the piccolo solo on The Beatles’ Penny Lane, on April 29
The Beatles – Penny Lane (1967)

Hume Patton, 65, guitarist of Scottish psychedelic rock group The Poets, on April 30

Ernest ‘Shololo’ Mothle, 69, South African jazz bassist and percussionist, and session musician for Robert Hyatt, Hugh Masekela, Mike Oldfield, Jonas Gwangwa a.o., on May 2
Mike Oldfield – In Dulci Jubilo (1975) (as percussionist)

Odell Brown, 70, jazz/soul organist, arranger and songwriter, on May 3
Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (1982) (as co-writer)

Nigel Pickering, 81, rhythm guitarist and vocalist of Spanky and the Gang, on May 5
Spanky and Our Gang – Like To Get To Know You (1968)
John Walker, 67, founder of The Walker Brothers, on May 7
The Walker Brothers – Just For A Thrill (1966)

Big George Webley, 53, British composer and arranger of TV themes, including The Office (UK), and radio broadcaster, on May 7
Big George Webley (feat Fin) – Handbags and Gladrags (2001)

Johnny Albino, 93, Puerto Rican bolero singer, on May 7
Johnny Albino – 7 Notas de Amor

Cornell Dupree, 68, soul and jazz-funk guitarist, on May 8
Cornell Dupree – Teasin’ (1974)
Marlena Shaw – Time For Me To Go (1973) (as guitarist)

Dolores Fuller, 88, actress and songwriter for Elvis Presley a.o. (also cult director Ed Woods’ girlfriend, as portrayed in the movie), on May 9
Elvis Presley – Rock-A-Hula Baby (1961) (as composer)
John Carter, 65, producer, songwriter and A&R man, on May 10
Strawberry Alarm Clock – Incense and Peppermints (1967) (as writer)

Norma Zimmer, 87, “Champagne Lady” on The Lawrence Welk Show, backing singer for Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Perry Como a.o., on May 10

Zim Ngqawana, 51, South African jazz saxophonist, on May 10

Snooky Young, 92, jazz trumpeter with Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton a.o. and with The Band, on May 11
Count Basie Orchestra feat. Tony Bennett – Life Is A Song (1959)
The Band – Rag Mama Tag (1972)

Lloyd Knibb, 80, drummer of Jamaican ska band The Skatalites, on May 12
The Skatalites – Fidel Castro (1964)
Jack Richardson, 81, producer of Guess Who, Bob Seger, Rage Against The Machine a.o., on May 13
Bob Seger – Night Moves (1977) (as producer)

Bob Flanigan, 84, singer of The Four Freshmen, on May 15
The Four Freshmen – It’s A Blue World (1952)

M-Bone, 22, American rapper with Cali Swag District, killed in drive-by shooting on May 15
Cali Swag District – Where You Are (2010)

James ‘Curley’ Cook, 66, blues guitarist and founder member of Steve Miller Band, on May 16

Sean Dunphy, 73, Irish singer (the first to record in Nashville), on May 17
Kathy Kirby, 72, English ’60s pop singer, on May 19
Kathy Kirby – Dance On (1963)

Joseph Brooks, 73, songwriter (You Light Up My Life), suicide on May 22

Jeff Conaway, 60, actor (Kenickie in the movie Grease) and singer of 1960s ban The 3 1/2, on May 27

Gil Scott-Heron, 62, musician and poet, on May 27
Gil Scott-Heron – I Think I’ll Call It Morning (1971)
Gil Scott-Heron – Whitey On The Moon (1974)

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In Memoriam – July 2010

August 3rd, 2010 1 comment

The grim reaper evidently is a big football fan, stepping up his reaping only after the World Cup concluded (taking, however, the great South African saxophonist Robbie Jansen before its conclusion), but then with a vengeance. The most notable musician this month may be Harvey Fuqua, whose impact on music was mostly behind the scenes. Fittingly, Marvin Gaye on the last track of his last album paid tribute to his mentor. Just a short while after Big Star’s Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel died.

A couple of session musicians who played on rock classics passed on. I usually don’t include technical staff other than influential producers. But as a sound engineer Bill Porter shaped the Nashville sound. We all know songs that he has produced (many have featured on this blog), including classics by the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Skeeter Davis, Hank Locklin, and Jim Reeves. Also passing on is the relatively obscure funk and soul singer Melvin Bliss, whose 1973 b-side Synthetic Substitution became a staple hip hop sample (for a list, see here)

But the most tragic death came towards the end of the month when the jazz drummer Chris Dagley — who also was a session man (as featured on jazz singer’s Claire Martin’s latest album) — died in a motorbike accident on the way home from playing a gig at London’s famous Ronnie Scott’s. He leaves behind his wife and three kids.

Tracks listed for each entry are on the compilation linked to at the end of this post.

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Ilene Woods, 81, American singer and actress, on Juy 1
Ilene Woods – Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo (from Cinderella, 1950)

Harvey Fuqua, 80, singer with The Moonglows and record producer, on July 6
Harvey & The Moonglows – Ten Commandments Of Love (1959)
Marvin Gaye – My Love Is Waiting (1982)

Bill Porter, 79, hugely influential rock & roll and country sound engineer, on July 7
Bobby Bare – 500 Miles Away From Home (1963)
Skeeter Davis – I Can’t Stay Mad At You (1963)
Elvis Presley – (You’re The) Devil In Disguise (1963)

Robbie Jansen, 60, South African jazz saxophonist and singer, on July 7
Robbie Jansen – Praise My Soul (1998)
Tony Schilder Trio – Give Her Back To Me (1995)

More Robbie Jansen here

Sugar Minott, 54, reggae singer, on July 10
Sugar Minott – Good Thing Going (1981)

Walter Hawkins, 61, gospel singer, on July 11
Walter Hawkins – For My Good (1998)

Tuli Kupferberg, 86, poet, cartoonist and musician with folk-group The Fugs, on July 12
The Fugs – The Garden Is Open (1968)

Paulo Moura, 77, Brazilian saxophonist and clarinetist, on July 12
Paulo Moura & Os Batutas – Lamentos (1996)

Olga Guillot, 87, Cuban “Queen of Bolero”, on July 13
Olga Guillot – Sabor a mi

Gene Ludwig, 72, jazz organist, on July 14
Gene Ludwig – Blue Flame (1966)

Hank Cochran, 74, country music singer-songwriter and duo partner of Eddie Cochran, on July 15
Cochran Brothers – Slowdown (1956)
Wanda Jackson – I Fall To Pieces (1988)

Yandé Codou Sène, 78, Senegalese singer, on July 15
Yandé Codou Sène & Youssou N’Dour – Sama Guent Guii (1995)

Carlos Torres Vila, 63, Argentinian folk singer, on July 16
Carlos Torres Vila – Que Pasa Entre Los Dos (1976)

Fred Carter Jr., 76, guitarist (e.g. on The Boxer and bass on Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay), songwriter and producer, on July 17
Marty Robbins – El Paso (1959)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer (1970)

Andy Hummel, 59, founder member of Big Star, on July 19
Big Star – My Life Is Right (1972)

Phillip Walker, 73, blues musician, on July 22
Phillip Walker – Hello My Darling

Harry Beckett, 75, British trumpeter, on July 22
Harry Beckett – Ultimate Tribute (2009)

Al Goodman, 63, singer with The Moments and Ray, Goodman & Brown, on July 26
The Moments – Love On A Two-Way Street (1970)
Ray Goodman Brown – Special Lady (1979)

Melvin Bliss, 75, soul singer, on July 26
Melvin Bliss – Synthetic Substitution (1973)

Bice, 37, Japanese singer-songwriter and producer, on July 26
Bice – An Apple A Day (2001)

Ben Keith, 73, country/folk/rock musician and producer, on July 27
Neil Young – Are You Ready For The Country? (1972)

Chris Dagley, 38, English jazz drummer, on July 28
Claire Martin – Everybody Today Is Turning On (2009)

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Curious Germany Vol. 3

February 9th, 2010 7 comments

In the previous instalments of Curious Germany we noted the tendency in the 1960s of artists re-recording their hits in European languages, particularly in German to cater for the mainland continent’s biggest market. Here are a few more German re-recordings, plus a Motown-goes-Schlager track, a most unexpected cover, pre-Schlager stardom Krautrock, a slightly strange Beatles cover, and another singing footballer.

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The Beatles – Komm, gib’ mir Deine Hand.mp3
The Beatles – Sie liebt Dich.mp3

The Fabs recorded their first record in Germany. Backing Tony Sheridan on his Bert Kaempfert-produced LP, they sang on a couple of songs (Ain’t She Sweet and My Bonnie) and recorded a self-penned instrumental, Cry For A Shadow, on which George Harrison got a writing credit alongside John Lennon (it was intended to be a parody of The Shadows). And, of course, in St Pauli the boys really grew up. And yet, they did not seem to have much of a sentimental attachment to the country that gave them their first international break. A mini-tour of three cities — Munich, Essen and Hamburg — in 1966 was the extent of their concerts there (with typical teutonic subtlety, the sponsors, teen mag Bravo, called it a “Blitz” tour). And the Beatles really did not want to record any of their songs in German, or any other language.

The idea to do so originated with the group’s German label, Odeon, whose executives thought that German-language singles would sell even better than the orginals in their country. The Beatles resisted the instruction to record in German, going as far as not turning up to the booked session in the EMI Pathe Marconi studio in Paris in January 1964. A stern George Martin (who himself thought the idea was stupid) had to remindhis truant boys of their professional obligations before they gathered in the studio the following day, January 29. Komm gib mir eine Hand was quickly recorded to the backing track sent from London, but the instrumentation of the German She Loves You had to be re-recorded because the tape with the original track had been lost. It took 14 takes to record the song. Once they were done, with a little time to kill, the Beatles started work on a new song written by Paul called Can’t Buy Me Love.

The lyrics for the two German songs had been written by singer and TV personality Camillo Felgen under the pseudonym J. Nicolas. Two other non-Beatles are credited: one Montogue on Sie liebt Dich, and a H. Hellmer on the German version of I Want To Hold Your Hand. These credits have long puzzled Beatles historian. It appears that both Heinz Hellmer and Jean Montague (incorrectly spelled on the credits) were additional pseudonyms employed by Felgen, I would guess as a tax dodge.

These credits appeared on the German single release and the US album Something New, on which the German songs incongruously turned up. Subsequent releases, such as Beatles Rarities and Past Masters, credit only Lennon-McCartney.
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Cindy & Bert – Der Hund von Baskerville.mp3
We previously encountered husband-and-wife duo Cindy & Bert in the 1973 installment of the nostalgia series Stepping Back, with a typically horrible Schlager. The pair epitomised square. My grandmother thought Cindy & Bert were delightful. They reminded us of the nice young couple who rented the apartment on the top floor of her house and always paid the rent on time. So Oma would have been shocked to discover that Cindy & Bert’s catalogue included a cover version of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid (it need no pointing out that my grandmother would not have been a big Sabbath fan even if — especially if — she knew who they were). The cover photo of the 1970 single, which is not bad, is entirely misleading. Did I mention that Cindy & Bert were considered squares?
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Howard Carpendale – Du hast mich.mp3
Daisy Clan – Glory Be.mp3

In German Schlager history, Howard Carpendale wrote a particularly successful chapter. Unable to hack it in his home country South Africa as an Elvis impersonator, the former shotput champion moved to Germany, learned to speak the language with just enough of a touch of an accent (as I’ve noted before, German audiences really got off on foreign accents; in entertainment, not in shops, pubs or public transport), and became the leading romantic singer of the 1970s and ’80s Schlager scene, selling some 25 million records. None of those 25 million records soiled my collection, I am pleased to say, for I always thought he was a bit of a drip. His first breakthrough came with the standard Schlager Das Mädchen von Seite 1 (The girl from the front page). The flip side, however, was entire unschlagerish, a rocker called Du hast mich (You Have Me), a cover of the song Glory Be by German psychedelic rockers Daisy Clan which sounds like a heavy fuzz-guitared, organ-hammering Santana number. Thanks to my friend Sky, I can’t consider Carpendale as a drip any longer. The dude actually knew how to rock.

Glory Be was the b-side of Daisy Clan’s 1970 single Love Needs Love, apparently the group’s final English-language single (their final release in 1972 was appropriately titled Es geht vorrüber, which could be translated as “It passes on”). The Daisy Clan apparently were Schlager singer Michael Holm and songwriter Joachim Haider, going by the name of Alfie Khan. Holm had his first chart entry in 1962, but did not really break through until late 1969 with his version of the Sir Douglas Quintett’s Mendocino. It seems that his Schlager success put paid to his career as a psychedelic rock musician; Holm enjoyed a long string of Schlager hits (he featured HERE and HERE). Just to prove that not all Schlagersingers are naff fools with bad hair, Holm also collaborated with the eternally cool Giorgio Moroder in a project named, unappetisingly, Spinach. Holm has even been nominated for Grammys three times as part of the ambient music outfit Cusco.

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Dusty Springfield – Auf Dich nur wart’ immerzu.mp3
Like her contemporaries Petula Clark and Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield did a fair number of German recordings. Auf Dich nur wart’ ich ich immerzu (I’m always waiting for you only) was her German version of I Only Want To Be With You, released as a single in July 1964 with a German rendering of Wishin’ And Hopin’ as the b-side. Like most other songs transcribed from English to German, it was not a hit. It was quite usual for the original performer of a French or Italian song to score big successes with their German versions of these — singers such as Mireille Mathieu and Salvatore Adamo made a career of that — but English pop translations rarely impressed the record-buying public. I suspect the reason for that was two-fold. Firstly, pop sounds better in English, its own language; secondly, the German listener could differentiate between a Gilbert Bécaud’s heavy accent interpreting the lyrics and English-language singers not knowing what they were phonetically singing.
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Marvin Gaye – Wie schön das ist.mp3
Marvin Gaye – Sympatica

Motown had their stars record many versions of their songs in Spanish, Italian, French and German. Curious Germany Volume 2 included German covers by the Supremes and by the Temptations. Marvin chipped in with this take on How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). The vocals were usually sung from phonetic lyric sheets, and most international stars who recorded in German did not pay meticulous attention to the standards of their pronunciation. I have no idea whether Marvin Gaye was a polyglot or whether he just gave more of a shit, but he did a better job of it than most of his peers. Wie schön das ist was the b-side of a song Gaye recorded exclusively in German, Sympatica, which was written by Schlager composers Jonny Bartels (not to be confused with singer Johnny Bartel) and Kurt Feltz. So here we have one instance of Motown going Schlager, sort of.
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Katja Ebstein – A Hard Day’s Night.mp3
Katja Ebstein had a reputation as one of Germany’s more sophisticated Schlager stars. When she represented West Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980, her song was titled Theater. It got nowhere. Ten years earlier the singer born in Poland as Karin Witkiewicz did somewhat better, coming third with the rather good Wunder gibt es immer wieder, and repeating the trick the following year with the ecological number Diese Welt (see, it wasn’t only Marvin Gaye who was concerned). The international exposure helped her maintain an international career, recording in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, English and even Japanese.

Ebstein’s rather peculiar version of A Hard Day’s Night preceded her breakthrough by a year; she was still something of a leftist activist (she still is; in the 1980s she was arrested for taking part in a blockade of a US nuclear arms depot; in 2003 she demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq). Released in 1969 on the Katja album (the legend Twen on the cover advertises a youth magazine which promoted the LP), the Beatles cover was the set’s only English-language track. In her hands, the hard day was suffered not by her but by a unspecified him, and the whole shebang includes a strong hint of a Harrison-style eastern vibe.  File under “Interesting Beatles Covers”.

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Johnny Cash – Viel zu spät.mp3
Johnny Cash – Wo ist zu Hause, Mama.mp3

Cash’s 1965 German version of I Walk The Line also featured in the second volume of this series. In 1959, Cash recorded two other German versions of his songs, though neither was released until 1978. Viel zu spät (Much too late) is a take on the murder ballad I Got Stripes; Wo Ist Zu Hause, Mama (Where is home, mom) is the allemanic version of Five Feet High and Rising. Both, it seems, were intended to be released as a single, but I can find no record of their release. Cash’s relationship with Germany went back to the early 1950s, when he was stationed as a GI in Bavaria (it was a local girl who damaged his hearing when she stick a pencil in his ear). And it was there that Cash started to become serious about music.

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Radi Radenkovic – Bin i Radi bin i König.mp3
Here’s an example of an idiosyncratic accent helping to create celebrity on the football pitch and in the pop charts. Yugoslav Petar “Radi” Radenkovic was the goalkeeper for the München 1860 football team, which won the German championship in 1966 (the last team playing in blue shirts to do so). The goalkeeper was something of a humorous character on the pitch who had the entertaining tendency to run outside his penalty area to dribble around opponents., He was hugely popular. As one does, he recorded a single to celebrate his celebrity. This frankly quite awful ditty fuses Radenkovic’s guttural Serbian accent with the thick Bavarian dialect which has the rest of Germany (or Prussia, as a Bavarian might counter) amused at its sheer yokelness. The song — literally: “Am I Radi am I king” — does little to suggest that Radenkovic’s parents were in fact fairly successful musicians.

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In Memoriam Vol. 2

December 27th, 2009 8 comments

Here is the second part of musicians who died in 2009. Part 3 will follow early in the new year. I make no claims of having arrived at a complete and exhaustive list of musicians who left us the past year. Some I didn’t include because their names or output is unfamiliar to me, or just not my scene; and a few I left out because I have no music by them, and could not find any.

Finally, in response to an e-mail, the photo gallery follows the order in which people are listed. So Dave Dee is on the top left, Uriel Jones next to him, MJ (listed third) left second from top and so on.

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Dave Dee, 67, of ’60s hit group Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, on January 9
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – The Legend Of Xanadu (1968)

Uriel Jones, 74, drummer of Motown backing band collective The Funk Brothers, who played on songs such as Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Trough The Grapevine, The Temptations’ Cloud Nine, and the song below, on March 24.
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (1967)

Michael Jackson, 50, pop singer and former childstar with the Jackson 5 (the b-side of whose 1971 hit I’ll Be There features here), on June 25
Jackson Five – One More Chance (1971)

Bob Bogle, 75, member of surf rock band The Ventures, on June 14
The Ventures – Scat In The Dark (1970)

Billy Powell, 59, Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist, on January 28
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Simple Man (1973)

Ron Asheton, 60, guitarist of The Stooges, found dead on January 6
The Stooges – I Wanna Be Your Dog (1969)

Lux Interior, 62, frontman of punk legends The Cramps, on February 4
The Cramps – Human Fly (1978)

Johnny Jones, 73, leader of The King Casuals, alma mater of Jimi Hendrix, on October 14
Johnny Jones & the King Casuals – Purple Haze (1968)

Jim Dickinson, 67, R&B singer with The Jesters, pianist (on songs such as the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses) and producer, on August 15
The Jesters – Cadillac Man (1966)

Clinton Ford, 77, English skiffle and country singer, on October 21
Clinton Ford – Huggin’ And A Chalkin’ (1962)

Al Alberts, 87, member of the Four Aces, on November 27
Four Aces – Love Is A Many Splendored Thing (1955)

Hank Locklin, 91, country legend, on March 8
Hank Locklin – Send Me The Pillow You Dream On (1960)

Liam Clancy, 74, last surviving member of the hugely influential folk group The Clancy Brothers, on December4.
The Clancy Brothers – The Leaving Of Liverpool (1964)

Mike Seeger, 75, folk singer, brother of Peggy and half-brother of Pete, on August 7
Mike Seeger & Paul Brown – Way Down In North Carolina (1996)

Chris Feinstein, 42, bassist of alt.country band The Cardinals, on December 14
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Follow The Lights (2007)

Jeff Hanson, 31, high-voiced singer-songwriter, on June 5
Jeff Hanson – Now We Know (2005)

Rudy Cain, 63, singer and founder of The Delfonics and Blue Magic, on April 9
The Delfonics – Ready Or Not Here I Come (1968)

Fayette Pinkney, 61, member of The Three Degrees, on June 27
Three Degrees – Dirty Old Man (1973)

Eric Woolfson, 64, Alan Parsons’ sidekick in the Project who took lead vocals on the group’s biggest hit, Eye In The Sky, on December 2
The Alan Parsons Project – Sirius/Eye In The Sky (1982)

Jack Rose, 38, virtuoso guitarist, on December 5
Jack Rose – Kensington Blues (2005)

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In Memoriam Vol. 2

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Any Major Awards 2008

December 30th, 2008 18 comments

Last year I inaugurated the highly prestigious and sought-after The Major Dude Awards, recognising musicians and bloggers for their sterling that year. Alicia Keys’ people were so excited, they told DivShare to delete the album track I posted. Oh, the days of innocence when The Man just had links deleted…

I’ve already posted my Top 20 albums of the year, so I’ll dump the music section (after all, Dave Grohl never acknowledged winning the Rock Album of 2007 Major Dude award), and concentrate on my fellow bloggers instead. With song dedication, some of which may be obvious, others are inspired by private observation (for example, I discovered one blog onTotally Fuzzy through a post on old German music).

This year, I’ve modified the categories a bit, and skipped the nominations process. To be truthful, I almost didn’t do this awards post because I feel guilty about not mentioning so many of the fine blogs which have provided me with so much enjoyment, entertainment and education. If your blog didn’t win its category, be assured it probably came a close second. I’ve decided to disqualify last year’s winners from consideration; all of them (well, those still active) are still among my favourite reads. And Whiteray from Echoes In The Wind remains something of a legend among music bloggers. The doyen…

And now, ladies and gentlemen, presenting the first award of the night is recording superstar Barbra Steisand and football legend Pat Crerand.

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Album blogs:
Most album blogs just upload a CD or twelve without comment, and you download it. I have no problem with that; some of these blogs offer extraordinary and tough-to-find material. I am grateful for their existence and the efforts made. Other blogs offer commentary and/or reviews, and that extra input is the difference between a good take-away and a good eatery. The winner then is like a restaurant run by a TV chef (but not that hateful Ramsey guy). It goes the extra mile of offering highly educational mixes with commentary, often presented in form of a series. Almost like a university course.
And the winner is: ZAKKORAMA

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Hans Albers – Auf der Reeperbahn.mp3

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Singles blogs:
Oh, the choices. I said I wasn’t going to single out any particular non-awardee, then made a list of blogs that merit an honorary mention, and then dropped the idea when that list ran to a dozen or so names. I’ll single out Fusion 45 for uploading Rodriguez’s I Wonder especially for me. But the winner merits the award for his astonishingly prolific rate of posts (551 in seven months!) with intelligent commentary, imagination and a wide range of subjects.
And the winner is: SibLINGSHOT ON THE BLEACHERS

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Sandy Bull – Memphis, Tennessee.mp3

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Comedy blogs:
There aren’t very many of those around, so nominations were limited. But the winner is one of the most impressive blogs in any category, the sort of blog that is manically updated every 12 seconds with material that makes you wonder: where do they get that kind of stuff from? And who listens to that? Well, quite a few people, evidently. I mean, who wouldn’t want to check out the music that goes with the album covers depicted on the many “the worst cover art of all time” websites. This is a blog where the wonderfully bizarre lives.
And the winner is: DR FORREST’S CHEEZE FACTORY

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Mrs Miller – Downtown.mp3

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Music blogs:
This is a deliberately vague category. Here I’d like to honour a blog which provides me with a musical education. Echoes In The Wind, a winner last year, is one such blog, AM Then FM is another (great new post on Bobby Gentry). This year, the gong goes to a quite new blog which is superbly written, highly erudite and features music I often have never even heard of. I am always in awe when I visit. Should you require illustration of just how brilliant the blog is, perhaps this post on the various versions of Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night might help make my case.
And the winner is: THE GENTLEBEAR

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Frank Sinatra & Celeste Holm – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.mp3

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Mixed media blogs:
Another new category, to cover blogs that post music, but only incidentally. The winner is always among the first blogs I open when I trawl through my bookmarks. As I noted here a few weeks ago, the winning blog also influenced me in a small way. The concept is simple: photographs, mostly of buildings, and a song that in some way relates to the photo. It works beautifully. The photos provide a glimpse of intriguing sights which most of us probably would not even notice, and the songs are selected with care and knowledge from what must be an impressive collection.
And the winner is: ALL EYES AND EARS

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Loudon Wainwright III – The Picture.mp3

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Non-MP3 blogs – Music:
I was considering sharing this award three-ways. MyHmphs – the name is an exasperated play on the title of possibly the worst song ever recorded – is well written and presented, offering views which I almost invariably agree with. It’s a nice blog to hang out at. Uncle E is busier, investing much humour in his writing (the fake biographies of rock acts are very good indeed). Both are among my favourite blogs; so much so that when MyHmphs went on a bit of a hiatus, I hassled him to get back to posting. But the winner snags the award for his depth of writing, over a long period of time, with excellent CD reviews and some innovative ideas, such as analyses of big acts’ least respected albums.
And the winner is: 3 MINUTES, 49 SECONDS

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Pixies – Where Is My Mind.mp3

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Non-MP3 blogs – General:
This year, I spent much time on some fantastic blogs dealing with the US election, and I always get a kick of Stay-At-Home Indie Pop’s all to sporadic posts, and a few other blogs dealing with, well, life and culture. But the best non-music blog takes as its focus a subject dear to my heart: sex. The winning blog discusses the subject from a male point of view. Where many such blogs might go all blokey and investigate such pressing matters such as readers would prefer to shag Jessica Alba or Halle Berry, or how to obtain your partner’s consent to engage in anal sex, the winning entry (dyswidt) takes a much more integrated approach. Subjects range from the art of flirting to frienditis — when the object of your desire sees you as just a friend (argh!) — to Nottingham’s Mr Sex’s reviews of sex toys for men, plus a column where women can find out just what the guys are thinking. The blog treats sex with respect, and it does so with a massive dose of sharp humour. Best of all, the comments section is essential reading. I can’t wait for the book of the blog!
And the winner is: TODGER TALK

Performing tonight in honour of the winner is:
Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (Extended Version).mp3

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And, as last year, a huge, massive round of thanks to the wonderful people of Totally Fuzzy, the most important music-related blog of them all.

Having dished out praise, I want some myself (now, how does one insert an appropriate winking emoticon into a post?). Well, I’d be interested to know from the regular readers of this blog — all four of them — what they have enjoyed here this year, where they thought I wasted their time, and where I simply annoyed them. Feedback is always welcome; now seems a good time to solicit it. The comments section is free.

A couple of words on some of the songs: Sandy Bull’s Memphis, Tennessee is a marathon mind-fuck instrumental the recording of which in 1965 might have involved the consumption of mind-altering drugs. Hans Albers’ song is a German classic from the 1930s, pretty much the anthem of German drunkards everywhere (incidentally, English-speakers, Reeperbahn is not pronounced Rieperbahn. Listen to Albers pronounce it). I dont know if Mrs Miller requires introduction. If she does, Downtown is a good place to start. Note the great part when she gets the lyrics in a twist but, flustered or not, troops on like the trooper she was. And the whistling part is one of the most legendary in pop music.

And with that, a Happy New Year to all. May 2009 bring lots of love, happiness, peace and health in the order of your preference.

More '80s Soul

November 14th, 2008 7 comments

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Following on from last month’s post of ’80s soul, here’s a mix – as always timed to fit on a standard CD-R – of 18 of my favourite songs from the genre. I’ve tried to make it more or less representative: the old style soul singers getting their ’80s groove on (Mayfield, Womack), the soul funksters (Mtume, Tashan), the smooth stuff (Wilde, Osborne), the fusion influence (Flack, Benson, Upchurch), Jam & Lewis productions (Windjammer, Atlantic Starr), adult-oriented soul (Jackson & Moore, Womack & Womack)… There will be at least one more ’80s soul mix, so glaring omissions – Luther! – will be corrected. Read more…

The Originals Vol. 2

September 2nd, 2008 No comments

Roger Miller – Me And Bobby McGee.mp3
Kenny Rogers & The First Edition – Me And Bobby McGee.mp3
Kris Kristofferson – Me And Bobby McGee.mp3
Janis Joplin – Me And Bobby McGee.mp3

first-editionIt is odd when a legend of popular music ends up covering his own song. So it is with Kris Kristofferson who was commissioned to write Me And Bobby McGee by a record label boss.

The song’s first version was recorded by Roger Miller in 1969. His was a mid-tempo country-pop number, rather bereft of emotional engagement, an entirely misjudged drumtrack and, in the carnivalesque “la la la” part some ill-advised ’60s horns and some background whooping. It failed to set the world of music alight, making it to #12 in the country charts, and failing to dent the pop charts. Things could only get better. The next version was by the First Edition, featuring Kenny Rogers, who even in 1969 looked like your middle-aged uncle. If one doesn’t know that version, one can imagine Rogers performing the song in his languid way, the gravelly baritone drawing out all the gravitas of the lyrics. But imagination can be treacherous: the treatment here is light and quirky and much faster than one might think. A bit like Miller’s original.

The following year Kristofferson finally recorded it himself. Introducing a live version of it, KK seems unsure whether it is a country song or not, deciding that if it sounds like it is, then it must be. A couple of country types mucked about with it over the following few months, before Janis Joplin – a former lover and friend of KK’s – decided it was really a blues-rock number. Recorded just a few days before her death, Joplin is initially restrained before launching into a climax of screams and groans, as was her wont. Her take is not lacking in poignancy, especially given the circumstances, and many would regard hers as the definitive version, but – as with much of Joplin’s output – I distrust the notion that histrionics necessarily express true emotion. Indeed, Me And Bobby McGee is a country song; it tells a story whose narration requires no excessive emoting (especially if, as Willie Nelson claims, Bobby McGee is actually a guitar). In the space of three years, the song would be recorded 15 times.
Also covered by: Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Gordon Lightfoot, Bill Haley, Dottie West, Loretta Lynn, Grateful Dead, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam The Sham, Olivia Newton-John, Charlie McCoy, The Statler Brothers, Lonnie Donegan, Gianna Nannini, Skid Row, Willie Nelson, LeeAnn Rimes, Anne Murray, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Alison Crowe, Dolly Parton & Kris Kristofferson, Arlo Guthrie a.o.
Best version: Kris Kristofferson nails his own song by delivering a tender, sadly resigned narrative of loss and freedom.

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Kingston Trio – Sloop John B.mp3
Beach Boys – Sloop John B.mp3
kingston-singersOne of the biggest Beach Boys hits was in fact an old Caribbean sea shanty about the ship John B which was sunk in a Barbados harbour in 1900. Borrowing from a 1935 recording titled Histe Up the John B. Sail, folk pioneers the Weavers first recorded it 1950 as The Wreck of the John B. But it wasn’t that version from which the Beach Boys borrowed their tune, but the 1958 take by clean-cut, stripey-shirted folk singers the Kingston Trio, who were the first to record the song under its now established title. The Kingston Trio’s version has an appropriate calypso lilt, giving it a lightness that invites a spot of finger-snapping.

One’s digits are safe from being used as a rhythm section in the hands of the Beach Boys, equally famous for their striped shirts (Pendeltones, fashion fans) before adopting the excessively hirsute line of appearance. Al Jardine suggested the song to Brian Wilson on to the song. Legend has it that Brian didn’t know the song, a myth peddled by Wilson himself. The great Kingston Trio fan Wilson of course knew the song — there reportedly are tapes of a young Brian singing the tune with high school friends.

Wilson was initially reluctant to adapt Sloop John B., but eventually mapped out the complex arrangement within a day, one which made the Kingston Trio’s attractive version seem very dull indeed. Its recording and single release preceded the recording of Pet Sounds by a while; which might explain the misguided resistance to Sloop John C by many fans of the album – because it feels out of place on an otherwise coherent set. It was included at the urging of the Beach Boys’ record company, Capitol, who apparently could not see much by way of hit singles on the groundbreaking album, other than the traditional Beach Boys sound of opener Wouldn’t It Be Nice. Sloop may be a cover version, but it is as autobiographical of Brian Wilson — then under the thumb of his Dad-from-hell Murry and the hectoring Mike Love (who did not dig the Pet Shop vibe at all), and quickly disappearing into the world of drugs — as any track on the album. The line “this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on” reflects the mind of the tortured artist; the desperation in the line “I want to go home; please let me go home” anticipates the growing frustration and alienation of Wilson, the genius who was being told how to arrange his music by the musical hack Murry and pressured to keep writing about surfing, girls and cars by cousin Mike — a conflict that came to a head with the aborted Smile album.
Also covered by: Lonnie Donegan (as I Want To Go Home), Tom Fogerty, Roger Whittaker, Johnny Cash, Jimmie Rodgers, Dick Dale, Relient K, Okkervil River a.o.
Best version: You can’t get passed the harmonies of Brian Wilson’s arrangement, even though vocals include the loathsome Mike Love.

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Gladys Knight & The Pips – I Heard It Through The Grapevine.mp3
Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through The Grapevine.mp3
gladys-knightGladys Knight believes she has good reason to be pissed off. There Gladys and her Pips had delivered an excellent dance number with I Heard It Through The Grapevine, scoring a US #2 hit in 1967, and Motown’s best-selling single up to then. And yet, a fair number of readers will be surprised to know that the song was in fact not a Marvin Gaye original. One has to feel for poor Gladys, but Marvin’s version is flawless in every way. Released a year after Gladys’ hit, it was at first just as an album filler. Marvin appropriated the song, investing himself into it so much that nobody can conceive of it as anything other than a Marvin Gaye number. Look at the list covers: would you really need to hear any of them in any way other than out of curiosity?

If you feel jaded by the song, as I once did, sit down and listen to it carefully again; I still find little surprises with every airing. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, several Motown stars – including Marvin Gaye as well as Smokey Robinson and the Isley Brothers – tested for the song before Gladys Knight’s version was approved for release. If she had not been upstaged by Marvin (whose single release pipped, as it were, her Motown sales record), her version, not Marvin’s, would feature prominently on all those Motown compilations. Instead it is a neglected stepchild, a point of trivia. It deserves better, but how can it compete against one of pop music’s rare moments of absolute genius?
Also covered by: Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers, King Curtis, The Miracles, The Temptations, The Chi-Lites, Ike & Tina Turner, Young-Holt Unlimited, Ella Fitzgerald, The Undisputed Truth, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Earl Klugh, Average White Band, Joe Cocker, The Slits, The Flying Pickets, Ben Harper, Emmerson Nogueira, Michael McDonald, Kaiser Chiefs a.o.
Best version: I have made my case and hereby close it.

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The Nerves – Hanging On The Telephone.mp3
Blondie – Hanging On The Telephone.mp3
the-nervesIf it is not widely known that Blondie’s 1979 hit Hanging On The Telephone is a cover, then it probably is because the original performers, The Nerves, only ever released a four-track EP in 1976, which included the song. And having obtained it recently, I think it’s a very fine EP it is, too. The Nerves – a trio comprising songwriter Jack Lee, Paul Collins (who’d later join The Beat) and Peter Case (later of the Plimsouls) – were a heavy-gigging LA-based rock band which despite their extremely recording career proved to be influential on the US punk scene. The members of Blondie surely have were aware of the song. A year after The Nerves split, Debbie Harry and pals picked up the song and enjoyed a huge worldwide hit with it. The original hasn’t aged much: it reminds me of the Von Bondies or The Killers.
Also covered by: Mephisto Waltz, Scheer, L7, Germ Attack, Johnny Panic, Cat Power, Def Leppard, Girls Aloud
Best version: Much as I love Blondie, The Nerves’s original is superior. Though I’d like to hear Cat Power’s take.

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Bruce Woolley – Video Killed the Radio Star.mp3
The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star.mp3
bruce-woolleyThis slice of sci-fi flavoured nostalgia, inspired by a JG Ballard story, was co-written by Trevor Horn and Geoffrey Downes (then new members of horrible prog-rock band Yes) with Bruce Woolley. So it seemed right that it should be recorded by the two parties – the Yes contingent and Woolley – in 1979. The latter got in there first, with his Camera Club. It is a breathless version with much energy and a quite nice guitar solo at the end, but none of the bombastic detail which made the Buggles’ synth-fiesta a huge hit. The Buggles version is sometimes considered a bit naff, which does great injustice to a catchy song which does everything that is required of a very great pop song. The video of the Buggles version was the first ever to be played by MTV. But the Woolley version is all but forgotten.
Also covered by: Ben Folds Five, The Presidents of the United States of America, Erasure, Jimmy Pops, Rocket K, The Feeling
Best version: The Buggles single is one of my favourite singles of the 1970s…

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James ‘Ironhead’ Baker & Group – Black Betty.mp3
Ram Jam – Black Betty.mp3
james-bakerMy latest greatest chum RH sent me this me. Black Betty is an old African-American folk song favoured by labour gangs. The recording here is the oldest in existence, preceding that by Lead Belly, who often is credited with writing it, by six years. Indeed, it probably dates back to the 19th century. This is a 1933 field recording made by the musicologists John and Alan Lomax in 1933 of the convict James “Ironhead” Baker and backing band of prisoners at Central State Farm in Texas. The Ram Jam version wasn’t even the first rockified adaptation. In 1976, a year before the Ram Jam hit, it was recorded by an outfit called Starstruck, which included future Ram Jam member Bill Bartlett.

Civil right groups boycotted the song because it was thought it insulted black women. Anthropologists are undecided what exactly a “Black Betty”, perhaps a rifle, or a bottle of whiskey, or a whip (as Lead Belly claimed), or a penitentiary transfer wagon, or indeed a prostitute. In the Ram Jam lyrics Betty clearly is a woman, probably of African-American heritage (from Birmingham, Alabama). But it’s difficult to see how they are offensive.
Also covered by: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (going back to the song’s roots as an a cappella blues), Mina, Tom Jones, Spiderbait (#1 in Australia in 2004, non-antipodean fact fans) a.o.
Best version: Oh, I bet ole’ Ironhead would have loved to kick ass with the song as Ram Jam did.

More Originals

The Locomotion: 60s Soul – Vol. 2

December 6th, 2007 6 comments

Is everybody else feeling Christmas song overload in blogworld this year? If so, then for a bit of respite some more ’60s soul. Read more…