Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Nina Simone’

Murder Songs Vol. 6

March 17th, 2011 3 comments

Last time in Murder Songs we visited the scenes of three real-life crimes, and today we return to two real crime scenes and to one epochal trial.

*     *     *

Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam (1964).mp3
This is Nina Simone at her best: an intensely angry protest song in the style not of a mournful blues, as one might expect from the angry title, but delivered as a cabaret tune (“The show hasn’t been written for it yet”, she sardonically notes midway through), recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1963, and released a year later. She sets her stall out early: “The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam, and I mean every word of it.”

It is a reaction to the murder in Mississippi of civil rights activist Medgar Evers on 12 June 1963 (his murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, was convicted of his crime only 30 years later; the racist murderer died in jail in 2001). Simone also alludes to the racist church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four girls. The lyrics get angrier and Simone is disillusioned: “Oh but this whole country is full of lies. You’re all gonna die and die like flies. I don’t trust you anymore. You keep on saying, ‘Go slow! Go slow!’” Ah, the privileged pleading for patience by those whom they oppress. Nina she is rightly impatient: “You don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality!” In the event, the public outrage over Medgar Evers’ murder – articulated by Simone in this song – hurried along the process of some semblance of equal rights.

Mississippi Goddam was released as a single, Simone’s first on the Phillips label. To the shock of absolutely nobody, it was banned in much of the South, ostensibly because of its supposedly blaspemous title.

Leadbelly – Duncan And Brady (1947).mp3
A sheriff walks into a bar. He tells the barman that he is under arrest. The barman pulls his .44, shoots the law enforcement officer repeatedly. But it’s okay, because the cop was corrupt (“on the job too long”) .

The song was first recorded in 1929 by Wilmer Watts & Lonely Eagles from North Carolina. It is based on the shooting of the patrolman James Brady in a St Louis bar on 6 October 1880.It’s unclear when exactly the song was written. The reference to the electric car in the lyrics used in most versions provides a clue. In 1895, the New York financier Diamond Jim Brady received quite a bit of press coverage for using an electric buggy, the first time a car was used in Manhattan. A year earlier, as we will see, the James Brady killing case had come to a close. It is plausible that the ‘lectric car reference was a contemporary gag by the lyricist, playing on the shared name of the St Louis victim and the New York businessman.

The real story goes like this: Patrolman Brady entered the Charles Starkes Saloon, ostensibly to intervene in a bar brawl. Shots were fired (possibly a reaction to common police harassment of African-Amerian bar patrons), fatally injuring Brady. One Harry Duncan was accused of the shooting and, after much legal wrangling that reached the Supreme Court (Duncan’s lawyer, Walter Moran Farmer, thus became the first African-American to argue before the Supreme Court) was executed for the murder of Brady in 1894. Duncan, however, always insisted that it was the saloon’s eponymous owner who fired the fatal shot. Starkes, it is said, confessed on his deathbed to having been the shooter.

Starkes’ saloon was located in an area of St Louis that gave rise to two even more famous murder songs. The Stagger Lee story happened across the road; the murder in Frankie And Johnny a couple of blocks away.

Bill Cox – The Trial Of Bruno Richard Hauptmann Part 1 (1935).mp3
Bill Cox – The Trial Of Bruno Richard Hauptmann Part 2 (1935).mp3

It was the trial of the decade: the German immigrant Hauptmann who was accused and found guilty of kidnapping and killing the infant son of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh in 1932. There are those who believe that Hauptmann was unjustly convicted of the crime, for which he was executed. Indeed, the case for Hauptmann having been framed has been enthusiastically pursued in several books and TV documentaries. Even the New York governor who denied Hauptmann a pardon at the time had his doubts, and the evidence certainly is not more than circumstantial (though the body of circumstantial evidence is not negligible). Guilty or not, Hauptmann was not a nice guy. He had been a petty criminal in Germany before his illegal immigration to the US. Lindbergh was not a great guy either, as it turned out. He lost a big slice of public sympathy when he turned out to be an avid Nazi sympathiser.

But Bill Cox (pictured) – a singer, songwriter and noted harmonica player  – did not know yet about Lindbergh’s dark side. And if he did, it didn’t matter much, because his gig is to tell the story of the trial, in two parts, right down to the piece of evidence involving gold certificates paid by Lindbergh as part of the ransom to the kidnapper.

* * *

More Murder Songs

.

In Memoriam – November/December 2010

January 5th, 2011 8 comments

The Grim Reaper took things easy in November – so much so that there was no pressing need for an update — but he could barely stop himself once he got into the swing of things in the fnal month of 2010 (and, alas, has not wasted time getting going in 2011).

A couple of artists fell victim to violent crime: New Orleans rapper Magnolia $horty died in an apparent drive-by shooting (as for the lyrics of her song…oh my), and jazz rock drummer Billy Maddox was shot dead in a burglary in Austin, Texas.

Also desperately sad was the suicide of Barclay James Harvest’s Woolly Wolstenholme. The prog-rocker apparently had gone through mental suffering for a long time. In 1976 he and his band released a most affecting song titled Suicide (which calls to mind Sailing); my choice of it to mark Wolstenholme’s death is not intended to be ironic.

Australian rock singer James Freud also took his own life, apparently giving up his battle against alcoholism. The anguish of those who commit suicide is unimaginable to those of us who have not been on that edge. It’s not the coward’s way out, as the cliché would have it, for it takes immense courage to go through with suicide. Nor is it selfish, because surely their pain overrides all other considerations.

The Grim Reaper launched an onslaught on the world of R&B in late December, claming on successive days Sweet Inspiration Myrna Smith, Dorothy Jones of the Cookies, Bernard Wilson of Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, and Teena Marie.

On a personal level, I was sad to learn of the not unexpected death of Cape Town jazz maestro Tony Schilder, who provided me with many hours of top notch jazz entertainment. Tony was an immensely talented musician and a true gentleman. I marked his death over at Star Maker Machine. The guitar solo on the featured song, incidentally, is by Jonathan Butler.

Talking of jazz men, James Moody also passed away; fans of Aretha Franklin, George Benson and Amy Whitehouse will be familiar with the vocal takes on his mood.

Eddie Hazell, 76, American jazz musician guitarist, on November 2

Hotep Idris Galeta, 69, South African jazz pianist, on November 3

Jim Clench, 61, bass guitarist with April Wine and Bachman–Turner Overdrive, on November 4
April Wine – Tonight Is A Good Time To Fall In Love (1975)

James Freud, 51, Australian rock singer and former member of The Models, of suicide on November 4
James Freud – Modern Girl (1980)

Randy Miller, 39, drummer of Seattle rock band The Myriad, on November 5
The Myriad – A Clean Shot (2008)

Tony West, 72, founder bassist of The Searchers, on November 10

Lee Harper, 65, jazz trumpeter, on November 10

Mimi Perrin, 84, singer and pianist with French jazz vocal group Les Double Six, on November 16
Les Double Six – Let The Good Times Roll By (1964)

Little Smokey Smothers, 71, blues guitarist and singer, on November 20
Howlin’ Wolf – Howlin’ For My Darling (1960, as guitarist)

Peter Christopherson, 55, member of British avant garde group Throbbing Gristle, LP cover designer (Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Animals; Peter Gabriel’s Melt album) and music video director, on November 24
Throbbing Gristle – Hamburger Lady (1978)

Monty Sunshine, 82, English jazz clarinetist, on November 30
Monty Sunshine – Just A Closer Walk With Thee

Donald Lineberger, 71, banjo player with Bill Monroe and Glen Campbell (on his TV show), on December 5

Trev Thoms, 60, guitarist of British punk groups Inner City Unit and Atom Gods, on December 8

James Moody, 85, jazz saxophonist and flautist, on December 9
James Moody – Moody’s Mood For Love (1950)

Tony Schilder, 73, South African jazz pianist, bandleader and composer, on December 9
Tony Schilder – Madeleine (1985)

Remmy Ongala, 63, Tanzanian singer, on December 13
Remmy Ongala – Inchi Vetu (Our Country) (1991)

Enrique Morente, 67, Spanish flamenco singer, on December 13
Enrique Morente – Tangos de la Plaza

Woolly Wolstenholme, 63, singer and keyboardist of Barclay James Harvest, of suicide on December 13
Barclay James Harvest – Suicide? (1976)

Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet), 69, experimental rock musician, On December 17
Captain Beefheart – Ink Mathematics (1982)

Glen Adams, 65, Jamaican reggae musician, producer and co-founder of The Heptones, on December 17.
Glen Adams – I Can’t Help It (1968)

Trudy Pitts, 78, American jazz & R&B keyboard player, on December 19
Trudy Pitts – Take Five (1967)
Magnolia $horty, 28, New Orleans rapper, shot dead on December 20
Magnolia $horty – That’s My Juvie

Myrna Smith, 69, member of the Sweet Inspirations, on December 24
The Sweet Inspirations – Slipped And Tripped (1973)

Dorothy Jones, 76, singer of ’60s girl band The Cookies (also backing singers on Little Eva’s The Locomotion), on December 25
The Cookies – Chains (1962)

Bernard Wilson, 64, singer with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, on December 26
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes – Everybody’s Talkin’ (1977)
Teena Marie, 54, soul/funk singer, on December 26
Teena Marie – I Need Your Lovin’ (1980)

Billy Maddox, 54, jazz-rock drummer drummer, shot dead on December 27.

Billy Taylor, 89, jazz pianist and composer, on December 28
Billy Taylor – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (1957)
Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (1967, as composer)

Gene Kelton, 55, rockabilly singer, on December 28

Agathe von Trapp, 97, member of the von Trapp family, on December 28

Nick Santo, 69, singer with doo-wop band The Capris, on December 30
The Capris – There’s A Moon Out Tonight (1957)

Bobby Farrell, 61, dancer with Boney M., on December 30
Boney M – Ma Baker (1977)

DOWNLOAD

* * *

Previous In Memoriams

Keep up to date with dead pop stars on Facebook

The Originals Vol. 39

August 6th, 2010 7 comments

Here are five more lesser-known originals, covered in four entries: Wild Thing, Sunny, Angel Of The Morning, Under The Influence Of Love and It May Be Winter Outside. Incidentally, look at the tabs on top to find an alphabetical index of Originals that have featured so far, with links to the relevant posts.

*    *    *

The Wild Ones – Wild Thing (1965).mp3
The Troggs – Wild Thing (1966).mp3
Senator Bobby – Wild Thing (1968)
Jimi Hendrix – Wild Thing.mp3
Marsha Hunt – Wild Thing (1971).mp3

One of rock’s most iconic songs was written by actor Jon Voight’s younger brother,  James Wesley, who took the name Chip Taylor. He had a prolific songwriting career before turning to recording records himself in 1971 as a country artist. The first version of Wild Thing, by the New York band The Wild Ones, was released in 1965. Headed by one Jordan Christopher, they are said to have been the houseband of what has been called New York’s first disco, The Office. Taylor wrote Wild Thing for them as a favour for A&R man Gerry Granagan.

It’s not very good, certainly not in comparison to The Troggs version, which replaced the Wild Ones’ whistle interlude with an ocarina solo (the ocarina is an ancient ceramic wind instrument). Taylor has recalled that he wrote the song in a few minutes (“the pauses and the hesitations are a result of not knowing what I was going to do next”) and had a low opinion of it. Likewise, The Troggs recorded it in 20 minutes, during the same session that produced their follow-up hit With A Girl Like You. They worked from Taylor’s demo, rather than the Wild Ones’ version.  Due to a licensing issue, The Troggs’ version of Wild Thing was released on two labels, Fontana and Atco. It is the only time a record has topped the US charts under the simultaneous banner of two labels.

Wild Thing was covered frequently after that. Jimi Hendrix famously set his guitar on fire at Monterey after playing his version of it. In 1968 the comedy troupe The Hardly Worthit Players released a version of Wild Thing being performed by “Bobby Kennedy”, with a producer giving him instructions. Robert F Kennedy was voiced by the comedian Bill Minkin (it’s a myth that it was Jon Voight). That novelty record  was one of the last releases by the Cameo-Parkway label, a noteworthy footnote in light of the next song. Marsha Hunt’s version featured on the Covered In Soul Vol 2 mix.

Also recorded by: The Capitols (1966), The Standells (1966), The Kingsmen (1966), Manfred Mann (1966), Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band (1967), The Memphis Three (1968), Fancy (1974), The Goodies (1976), The Runaways (1977), The Creatures (1981), The Meteors (1983), X (1984), Cold Chisel (1984), La Muerte (1984), Sister Carol (1986), Amanda Lear (1987), Unrest (1987), Sam Kinison with Jessica Hahn (1988), Cheap Trick (1992), Divinyls (1993), Stoned Age (1994), Hank Williams, Jr (1995), The Muppets (1995), Acid Drinkers (1995), Chip Taylor (1996), Popa Chubby (1996), Danny and the Nightmares (1999), Sky Sunlight Saxon (2008), Trash Cans (2010)

.

Evie Sands – Angel Of The Morning (1967).mp3
Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts  – Angel Of The Morning (1968).mp3
P.P. Arnold – Angel Of The Morning (1968).mp3
Skeeter Davis  – Angel Of The Morning (1969).mp3
Nina Simone – Angel Of The Morning (1971).mp3
Juice Newton – Angel of the Morning (1981).mp3

The one-night stand anthem was also written by Chip Taylor (perhaps the angel of the morning was last night’s wild thing). Indeed, he told Mojo magazine in its September 2008 edition that Angel is Wild Thing slowed down: “I heard some guy playing Wild Thing real slow on a guitar. It sounded nice. So I did the same, lifting one of my fingers off a chord to create a suspension.” He also credited the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday for inspiration.

The song was first recorded in 1967 by New York singer-songwriter Evie Sands (pictured), for whom Taylor wrote several songs (he also wrote I Can’t Let Go for her; it became a hit for The Hollies). It was on its way to becoming a hit, with good radio airplay and 10,000 copies selling fast. Then the label, Cameo-Parkway (of the Bobby Kennedy novelty record above) went bankrupt, and Sands’ record sank. A few months later, Memphis producer Chips Moman picked up Angel Of The Morning (which in the interim had also been recorded by English singer Billie Davies) and had the unknown Merrilee Rush record it, backed by the same session crew that played with Elvis during his famous Memphis sessions that produced hits such as Suspicious Minds (itself a cover, as detailed in The Orignals Vol. 21). The Seattle-born singer had a massive hit with it, even receiving a Grammy nomination. It soon was covered prodigiously, with P.P. Arnold scoring a UK hit with it in 1968.

Angel Of The Morning was revived in 1981 by Juice Newton, who previously featured in The Originals Vol. 26 with her cover of Queen Of Hearts.  Her version sold a million copies in the US and reached #4 in the US charts. Like Rush, Newton was Grammy-nominated for her performance.

Also recorded by: Billie Davis (1967), Joya Landis (1968), Percy Faith (1968), Ray Conniff (1968), Liliane Saint Pierre (as Au revoir et à demain, 1968), I Profeti (as Gli occhi verdi dell’amore, 1968), Dusty Springfield (1969), Skeeter Davis (1969), Bettye Swann (1969), Connie Eaton (1970), Olivia Newton-John (1973), Merrilee Rush (re-recording, 1977), Guys n’ Dolls (1977), Mary Mason (as part of a medley, 1977), Thelma Jones (1978), Rita Remington (1978), Melba Montgomery (1978), Pat Kelly (1978), Elisabeth Andreassen (as En enda morgon, 1981), The Tremeloes (1987), Barnyard Slut (1993), Chip Taylor (1994), The Pretenders (1994), Ace Cannon (1994), Position (1997), Juice Newton (re-recording, 1998), Bonnie Tyler (1998), Thunderbugs (1999), Shaggy (as Angel, 2000), Maggie Reilly (2002), Blackman & The Butterfly (2003), The Shocker (2003), Chip Davis & Carrie Rodriguez (2006), Girlyman (2007), Jill Johnson (2007), Vagiant (2007), Gypsy Butterfly (2008), Barb Jungr (2008), Michelle (2008), Randy Crawford with Joe Sample (2008), Iván (as Angel de la mañana, 2009)

.

Felice Taylor – It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart It’s Spring) (1967).mp3
Felice Taylor – I’m Under The Influence Of Love (1967).mp3
Love Unlimited – It May Be Winter Outside, But In My Heart It’s Spring (1973).mp3
Love Unlimited – Under The Influence Of Love (1973).mp3

Before becoming an icon of baby-making music, Barry White was something of an impresario. He discovered and produced the girl band Love Unlimited (which included White’s future wife Glodean James), whose success in 1972 set him off on his successful solo career. Just a decade or so earlier, White had been in jail for stealing the tyres of a Cadillac (he credited hearing Elvis Presley singing It’s Now Or Never for turning his life around). After leaving jail, he started to work in record production, mostly as an arranger. Among his early arrangement credits was Bob & Earl’s 1963 song Harlem Shuffle. By 1967, White worked for the Mustang label, owned by Rob Keane, the man who first signed Sam Cooke, Richie Valens and Frank Zappa. In that job, White wrote for Bobby Fuller (of I Fought The Law fame), Viola Wills and  a young soul singer named Felice Taylor.

Felice Taylor, born in 1948 in Richmond, California, had previously released a single as part of a trio with her sisters, The Sweets, and a solo single under the name Florian Taylor. White’s It May Be Winter Outside provided Taylor with her only US hit, reaching #42 in the pop charts. It is a rather lovely version that sounds a lot like a Supremes song (with a break stolen from the Four Tops’ Reach Out I’ll Be There). White also wrote and arranged Taylor’s I’m Under The Influence Of Love. The arrangement and Taylor’s vocals are inferior, and the single failed to make an impact. Taylor’s biggest success was with another White song, I Feel Love Comin’ On, a bubblegum pop number that reached #11 in the UK charts in late 1967.

By the early 1970s Taylor had ceased to record. In 1973 Love Unlimited recorded totally reworked, luscious versions of It May Be Winter Outside and (title shortened) Under The Influence Of Love for the sophomore album. Both were released as singles, with Winter reaching #11 in the UK charts.

Also recorded by: (Under The Influence) Lori Hampton (1968), Kylie Minogue (2000)

.

Mieko Hirota – Sunny (1965).mp3
Chris Montez – Sunny (1966).mp3
Bobby Hebb – Sunny (1966).mp3
Dusty Springfield – Sunny (1967).mp3
Johnny Rivers –  Sunny (1967).mp3
Stevie Wonder – Sunny (1968).mp3
Boney M. – Sunny (1976).mp3

Bobby Hebb died on Tuesday, August 3 at the age of 72. The man had a quite remarkable early life. Born to blind parents, both musicians, Nashville-born Robert Von Hebb progressed from being a child musician to becoming  one of the earlier musicians to play at the Grand Ole Opry, as part of Ray Acuff’s band. In the early 1960s Hebb even had a minor hit with a country standard recorded by Acuff, among others, Night Train To Memphis. Subsequently, afer the success of Sunny, he headlined the 1966 Beatles tour.

The genesis for Sunny was in a dual tragedy: the assassination of John F Kennedy and soon after  the fatal stabbing in a mugging of Hebb’s older brother Harold, with whom he had performed in childhood. The song was a conscious statement of meeting the trauma of these events with a defiantly positive disposition. In 2007, he told the Assiociated Press about writing Sunny: “I was intoxicated. I came home and started playing the guitar. I looked up and saw what looked like a purple sky. I started writing because I’d never seen that before.”

Still, it would be almost three years before Hebb would release the song himself. It was first recorded by the Japanese singer Mieko “Miko” Hirota who made her debut in her home country in 1962 with a cover of Connie Francis’ Vacation. Within three years, the by now 18-year-old singer became the first Japanese artist to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival (the line-up of which included Frank Sinatra), having just recently discovered her talent for the genre thanks to a chance meeting with American jazz promoter  George Wein. The same year, in October 1965, she was the first of many to release Sunny, scoring a hit with it in Japan with her rather lovely jazzy version. By the time Hebb got around to releasing it, apparently having recorded it as an after-thought at the end of a session, there already were a few versions, including Chris Montez’s featured here. Hebb’s rightly became the definitive and most successful version, though Boney M scored a huge hit with it in Europe ten years later.

Also recorded by: John Schroeder Orchestra (1966), Cher (1966), Chris Montez (1966), Del Shannon (1966), Dave Pike (1966), Georgie Fame (1966), The Young-Holt Trio (1966), Roger Williams (1966), Richard Anthiny (1966), James Darren (1967), Horacio Malvicino (1967), Billy Preston (1967), Herbie Mann & Tamiko Jones (1967), Johnny Mathis (1967), Andy Williams (1967), Sam Baker (1967), John Davidson (1967), The Amazing Dancing Band (1967), Jackie Trent (1967), Booker T. & The M.G.’s (1967), Gordon Beck (1967), Joe Torres (1967), Nancy Wilson (1967), Dusty Springfield (1967), The Ventures (1967), Shirley Bassey (1968), Eddy Arnold (1968), Leonard Nimoy (1968), Frankie Valli (1968), José Feliciano (1968), Bill Cosby (1968), Mary Wells (1968), Frank Sinatra & Duke Ellington (1968), Paul Mauriat (1968), Gary Lewis & the Playboys (1968), Stevie Wonder (1968), Ray Conniff (1968), George Nenson (1968),  The Head Shop (1969), Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (1969), The Electric Flag (1969), Classics IV (1969), Ray Nance (1969), The Lettermen (1969), Ella Fitzgerald (1970), Del Shannon (1971), Pat Martino (1972), Bobby Hebb (as Sunny ’76, 1975), Hampton Hawes (1976), Boney M. (1976), Stanley Jordan (1987), Cosmoalpha (1994), Günther Neefs (1997), Ottottrio (1998), Kazuo Yashiro Trio (2000), Clementine (2000), Twinset (2003), Christophe Willem (2006), Michael Sagmeister (2006), Dwight Adams (2007), Cris Barber (2008), Giuliano Palma & the Bluebeaters (2009) a.o.

More Originals

.

The Originals Vol. 24

May 8th, 2009 14 comments

We have a bit of a bumper edition here, with ten quite distinct and all lovely versions of Let It Be Me, four of City Of New Orleans, plus It Must Be Love, My Baby Just Cares For Me and Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town. Special thanks to our old friend RH and our new friend Walter for their contributions. I would be interested to know which version of Let It Be Me is the most liked.

* * *

Labi Siffre – It Must Be Love.mp3
Madness – It Must Be Love.mp3

siffre_it_must_be_lovePerhaps I’m stretching the concept of this series a little here; some may well say that they know the Labi Siffre original better than the remake. Still, it is the 1981 Madness cover that was the bigger hit and gets the wider airplay. In my view, their version is better than Siffre’s, though I fully expect to receive dissenting comment calling into question the intactness of my mental faculties (or, indeed, refer to my complete madness). Madness reached the UK #4 with the song; in 1971, Siffre (one of the first openly gay singers in pop) reached #14 with it. Rather endearingly, Siffre made a cameo appearance in the video for the Madness single (he is a violin player).

Siffre periodically retired from the music industry. He most propitiously returned in 1987 when he released his anti-apartheid song Something Inside (So Strong), which has been frequently covered, and then proceeded to co-write most of Jonathan Butler’s fine 1990 album Heal Our Land, which in part was a love letter to South Africa at a time when it had become clear that apartheid was dead.

Also recorded by: Marian Montgomery (1972), Lyn Paul (1975), Jasper Steverlinck (2004), Jeroen van der Boom (2006), Paolo Nutini (2007)

* * *

Mel Tillis – Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town) (1967).mp3
Waylon Jennings – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1967).mp3
Kenny Rogers & First Edition – Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town.mp3

Mel Tillis – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1976).mp3

tillisA Korean war veteran comes home from doing his “patriotic chore” without his legs and his beloved wife treats him like dirt and goes cheating on him. Much as it may sound like a country music cliché, songwriter Mel Tillis, who released the song in January 1967, said he based the lyrics on a couple in his neighbourhood, with the man having been wounded in Germany in Word War 2, not in Korea. Tillis spared us the bitter end of the story: The ex-GI killed his straying wife and then himself. Though the protagonist of the song imagines putting Ruby into the ground, he has no concrete plans to kill her.

EDIT: Tillis was the first to release the song, but Waylon Jennings actually recorded it three months before Tillis did, in September 1966. Jennings’ version, however, did not get released until August 1967.

The song had been recorded a couple of times before Kenny Rogers decided it would serve to move his group, the First Edition, closer to the country scene. He and the group recorded the song in one take. It became a hit in 1969 (at the height of the Vietnam War), reaching #6 in the US and #2 in the UK. For Rogers it became a signature tune which he would record twice more, in 1977 and 1990. Apparently Rogers likes to send the song up in concerts; it seems to have become a bit of a gag, with the not very humorous Right Said Fred honouring it with a cover version. Personally, I fail to see the capricious angle.

And thanks to commenter Phillip:
Walter Brennan – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.mp3 (direct DL via AprilWinchell.com)

Also recorded by: Johnny Darrell (1967), The Statler Brothers (1967), Red Sovine (1969), Dale Hawkins (1969), Peter Law & The New Pacific (1969), Leonard Nimoy (1970),  Carl Perkins (1974), Gary Holton & Casino Steel (1980), Sort Sol (1985), The Gorehounds (as Ruby, 1989), Right Said Fred (1996), Cake (2005), The Killers (2007) a.o.

* * *

Steve Goodman – City Of New Orleans.mp3
Arlo Guthrie – City Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Cash – City Of New Orleans.mp3

Willie Nelson – City Of New Orleans.mp3

steve_goodmanThroughout this series there have been songs that in their original form were far superior to the versions that made them famous. Great though Guthrie’s version (and Willie Nelson’s) is, City Of New Orleans is one such song. Goodman wrote it after travelling on the eponymous train which was about to be decommissioned, recording faithfully what he saw. The song helped to reprieve the line. Having been discovered by Kris Kristofferson, who introduced him to Paul Anka, Goodman recorded the song in 1971. One night in a Chicago bar he approached Arlo Guthrie with a view to introducing the song to Woody’s son. Arlo was not really interested in hearing another songwriter trying to peddle a song, but on condition that Goodman buy him a beer, he mustered some patience. Later he would recall it as “one of the longest, most enjoyable beers I ever had”. The meeting would provide him with his biggest hit, released in 1972. Johnny Cash, no stranger to the subject matter of trains, released his take in 1973.

arlo_guthrieGuthrie changed some of the lyrics: Goodman’s “passing towns” became “passing trains”, the “magic carpet made of steam” was now made of steel, “the rhythm of the rails is all they dream” was now felt. Goodman didn’t seem to mind; he and Guthrie remained good friends until the former’s premature death at 36 in 1984 from leukaemia, the disease he had been diagnosed with in 1969. He won a posthumous Grammy for the song on strength of Willie Nelson’s 1984 version. Read the quite dramatic story of The City of New Orleans train here, and more about Steve Goodman here.

Also recorded by: John Denver (1971), Chet Atkins (1973), The Seldom Scene (1973), Joe Dassin (as Salut les amoureux, 1973), Sammi Smith (1973), Hank Snow (1973), Johnny Cash & June Carter (1973), Henson Cargill (1973), Ted Egan (1973), Hopeton Lewis (1973), Jerry Reed (1974), Johnny Cash (1975), Judy Collins (1975), Rudi Carrell (as Wann wird’s mal wieder richtig Sommer, 1975), Yoram Gaon (as Shalom Lach Eretz Nehederet, 1977), Louise Féron & Jérôme Soligny (as Salut les amoureux, 1993), Randy Scruggs (1998), Maarten Cox (as ‘t Is weer voorbij, die mooie zomer, 2005), Beth Kinderman (2006), Discharger (2006), Lizzie West & the White Buffalo (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2007) a.o.

* * *

Ted Weems & his Orchestra – My Baby Just Cares For Me.mp3
Nina Simone – My Baby Just Cares For Me.mp3

weemsWritten by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn for the 1928 musical Whoopee (not to be confused with the rubbish actress going by a similar name), My Baby Just Cares For Me was recorded by a host of artists in the following few years. Ted Weems’ was not the first, but certainly among the earliest recordings. His take shows just how great an interpreter of songs Nina Simone was. She recorded it in 1958. It was not her most famous number, much less her signature tune, really becoming well-known when it featured in a British TV commercial for Chanel No. 5.

The bandleader Ted Weems was a star by the time he released his version of My Baby Just Cares For Me in July 1930, having had previous hits with Somebody Stole My Gal (1924), Piccolo Pete, and The Man from the South (1928), and later with Heartaches, which he recorded in 1933. At around that time he became even more famous thanks to a regular spot on Jack Benny’s hugely popular radio show. His band broke up with World War 2, and was reformed briefly in the early ’50s. Weems toured until 1953 when he became a DJ in Memphis and then a hotel manager. Weems died in 1963 at the age of 62. Take a look at this great video of Weems and a chorus line of flappers.

Also recorded by: Ethel Shutta (1930), Ted Fiorito & his Orchestra (1930), Mel Tormé (1947), Nat ‘King’ Cole (1949), The Hi-Lo’s (1954), Tony Bennett (1955), Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads (1955), Tommy Dorsey (1958), Tab Hunter (1958), Mary Wells (1965), Frank Sinatra (1966), Cornell Campbell (1973), Alex Chilton (1994), George Michael (1999), Julie Budd (2000), Natalie Cole (2002), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Laura Fedele (2005), Jaqui Naylor (2006), Amanda Lear (2006) a.o.

.

Gilbert Bécaud – Je t’appartiens (1955).mp3
Jill Corey
– Let It Be Me (1957)
Everly Brothers – Let It Be Me (1960)
Betty Everett & Jerry Butler – Let It Be Me (1964)
Skeeter Davis & Bobby Bare – Let It Be Me (1965)
Peaches & Herb – Let It Be Me (ca 1967)
Glen Campbell & Bobbie Gentry – Let It Be Me (1968)
Bob Dylan – Let It Be Me (1970)
Roberta Flack – Let It Be Me (1970)
Rosie Thomas – Let It Be Me (2005)
All nine cover versions in one file here

becaud-jappertiensLet It Be Me is one of those pop standards that cannot be ascribed to any one particular artist. Most commonly, it might be considered an Everly Brothers song. To me, it is Betty Everett & Jerry Butler’s song; perhaps the most gorgeous version. Some may have heard it for the first time in its vulnerable interpretation by the wonderful Rosie Thomas, duetting with Ed Hardcourt. Not many will think of it as a French song, co-written and first released by the brilliant Gilbert Bécaud as Je t’appartiens (I belong to you) in 1955.

It was not the biggest hit for Bécaud (born François Silly), but it has been prodigiously covered. It took two years to cross the Atlantic, when Jill Corey – the youngest singer ever to headline at the Copacabana — recorded the first English-translation version. It was not a big hit, barely scratching the Top 60. It did become a hit with the Everly Brothers’ in 1960, their first recording made outside Nashville — it was made in New York — and their first to incorporate strings in the arrangement. Let It Be Me became a hit again in 1964 for Butler & Everett, in 1969 for Glenn Campbell & Bobby Gentry, and in 1982 for Willie Nelson. Bob Dylan recorded it twice; featured here is the first of these, which appeared on his 1970’s Self Portrait album. The same year Roberta Flack gave the song a whole new treatment on her second album. I am also partial to the version by the delightfully named Skeeter Davis with outlaw country pioneer Bobby Bare, which includes aspoken bit by Skeeter, as was her wont.

Also recorded by: The Blue Diamonds (1960), Chet Atkins (1961), The Lettermen (1962), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1962), Andy Williams & Claudine Longet (1964), Sonny & Cher (1965), Brenda Lee (1965), Molly Bee (1965), The Shadows (1965), Barbara Lewis (1966), The Escorts (1966), Nancy Sinatra (1966), Arthur Prysock (1966), Chuck Jackson & Maxine Brown (1967), The Sweet Inspirations (1967), Sam & Dave (1967), Claudine Longet (1968), Earl Grant (1968), Petula Clark (1969), The Delfonics (1969), Jim Ed Brown (1969), Tom Jones (1969), Connie Smith & Nat Stuckey (1969), Roberta Flack (1970), Elvis Presley (1970), Bob Dylan (1970), Nancy Wilson (1971), New Trolls (1973), The Pointer Sisters (1974), Demis Roussos (1974), Nina Simone (1974), Mary McCaslin (1974), Melanie (1978), Kenny Rogers & Dottie West (1979),Jay & the Americans (1980), Bob Dylan (again, 1981), Willie Nelson (1982), David Hasselhoff (1984), Collin Raye (1992), Marc Jordan (1999), Nnenna Freelon feat Kirk Whalum (2000), Justin (2000), Lauro Nyro (2001), Anne Murray & Vince Gill (2002), Mike Andersen (2003), The Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio ( 2003), Paul Weller (2004),Pajo (2006), Frankie Valli (2007), Charlie Daniels Band with Brenda Lee (2007), Roch Voisine (2008), Jason Donovan (2008) a.o.

.

More Originals

American Road Trip Vol. 4

April 8th, 2009 No comments

On the last leg of our US tour we visited Elvis’ cities: Memphis and Tupelo. We now enter the territory where Elvis tasted much success before he broke nationwide: Louisiana. In a strange turn of events, Elvis appeared first at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, to little acclaim, supporting Hank Snow. Shortly after Elvis became a weekly regular on the Louisiana Hayride, based in Shreveport, Louisiana, whence many country legends (Hank Williams among them) moved to Nashville. Alas, we will have no time or song to make a turn to Shreveport, but we’ll visit two cities in the state.

.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I was entirely oblivious to a place called Baton Rouge until, as a young man, I read John Kennedy Toole’s wonderful novel, Confederacy of Dunces, which mentions the city. I loved the name. But we have no time to hang aorund in the state capital of Louisiana, so we move on to the city in which Confederacy of Dunces is set. As we set off in our eight-wheel truck (the beauty of this journey is that we can travel by any mode of transport of our fancy) we spot a pretty hitchhiker. We stop and let her (Bobby by name, as it turns out) and the suddenly appearing boyfriend in — and just in time, too, because it looks like rain, and the poor fellow looks as faded as his jeans. The whole way down to New Orleans we exhaust our song repertoire, with Bobby’s handclaps and the windscreen wiper keeping the rhythm.
Kris Kristofferson – Bobby McGee.mp3

.

New Orleans, Louisiana

The city of legends has popularised the idea of Mardi Gras, which idiots around the world have a way of scheduling all year round (it is, of course, the carnival before the season of Lent). More lately, New Orleans has become a symbol of George W Bush’s callous incompetence. There are hundreds of songs about New Orleans — perhaps only New York among jock-a-moUS cities has been the subject of lyrics more frequently — so the challenge here was to identify three top tunes that mention in the title neither the city nor its state, nor Mardi Gras, nor Bourbon Street nor the Latin Quarter (though one does so partly), nor houses of rising suns. So here we entertain ourselves with a trio of songs about a parade confrontation between “tribes” of African-American Mardi gras reveller; a love song for a prostitute (Steely Dan rocking the pedal steel!); and the tale of a hoofer (the version here was not featured in my recent Bojangles line up). The first of these songs became famous in the version by the Dixie Cups, renamed Iko Iko; this is the 1953 original by Sugar Boy Crawford, who co-wrote it with Lloyd Price.
Sugar Boy Crawford & his Cane Cutters – Jock-A-Mo (Iko Iko).mp3
Steely Dan -Pearl Of The Quarter.mp3
Nina Simone – Mr Bojangles.mp3

.

Biloxi, Mississippi

Biloxi, pop. 50,000, is another one of those obscure American towns which gained some fame due to American cultural hegemony, thanks to a rather endearing movie featuring Matthew Broderick and Christopher Walken, and earlier to Goldie Hawn’s Private Benjamin. Biloxi is well-known also as a casino resort and as the one-time abode of the beautiful Jessica Alba. And now Biloxi attains great fame thanks to Any Major Dude, who’s not even American. More recently, of course, Biloxi was frequently mentioned in association with Hurricane Katrina. So, here we are in Biloxi on the Gulf of Mexico and meet a middle-aged fellow with his young girlfriend. He came from Houston, just left is family behind. Sometimes he goes back to see his family. It doesn’t sound like they are very impressed with him. But our new friend seems to have no regrets. Or does he?
Jack Ingram – Biloxi (live).mp3

.
We will leave the former capital of French Louisiana, known then as Bilocci, for the town that had that honour before. Before Biloxi we had visited the city especially built as a capital to succeed it, La Nouvelle-Orléans. The French decided that New Orleans would be safer from hurricanes and flooding… And our next stop will be the city which was the French colony’s first capital.

.

Previously on American Road Trip

The Originals Vol. 12

October 27th, 2008 6 comments
In this instalment, we thank RH for the original of Here Comes The Night and my new friend Kevin for the original of Dedicated To The One I Love.

EDIT: With DivShare having deleted three accounts, some of these links are dead or probably will go dead soon. I have compiled the originals of the featured song in one file:

The Originals Vol. 12

Comme d’habitude/My Way
When your inebriated uncle grabs the karaoke microphone and sprays it with his saliva in a regrettable attempt to out-sinatra Sinatra his way, he probably won’t wish to contemplate that the song was originally sung in French by a small, somewhat camp blond guy wearing extravagant clothes who died in 1978 while changing a lightbulb as he was having a bath. It is peculiar that one of the most famous songs in the English language was a French number co-written and first recorded by a singer who himself had made a career of translating and performing American songs.

My Way was born Comme d’habitude, Claude François’ elegy to his decaying love affair with singer France Gall. A year before its release in 1968, young songwriter Jacques Revaux offered CloClo, as François is known among his faithful fans, a ballad called For Me, with English lyrics. Michel Sardou has demoed it, but Revoux didn’t like his interpretation (Sardou subsequently recorded the finished article in the year of Claude François’ death). François tweaked the melody, dumped the English and with Gilles Thibault wrote the new lyrics, and gave the whole thing a dramatic, brass punctured arrangement. It became a hit, and played on the radio (or TV, depending on which account you hear) when Paul Anka was holidaying in southern France.

Forty years later he recalled that he thought it was a “shitty record” but acquired the publishing rights anyway, for nothing (a bargain which would later cause a couple of legal quarrels). Back home, he decided to adapt Comme d’habitude for Frank Sinatra, who by then was threatening to quit the rapidly changing music business. According to Anka, he wrote the lyrics imagining what Sinatra might say and how he would say it, in that Rat Pack way of copying the stylings of gangsters who had themselves copied the stylings of movie hoods such as James Cagney and the pathetic George Raft. Sinatra’s impassioned rendition, recorded in early 1969, would affirm Anka’s astute judgment; as he sings it, the Chairman of the Board (and note which soul group covered My Way in 1970) personifies the great fuck you to the world. Anka himself thought he could not do justice to the song, but, possibly pressured by his label, recorded it nevertheless. Here too Anka was astute: his version was fundamentally “shitty”, much more so than Claude François’ original (Paul Anka – My Way).

And so we are left wondering what might have been had Anka taken his 1968 holiday in the Bahamas instead of France. Young English singer David Bowie was invited to translate Comme d’habitude into English. Before his rendition, Even A Fool Learns To Love, could fruitfully cross the channel, Anka had snapped up the rights to the song (it is said that Life On Mars was, musically, his revenge song). And what would your drunk uncle sing then?
Also recorded by: John Davidson (1969), Anita Kerr Singers (1969), George Wright (1969), Hugo Montenegro (1969), Andy Williams (1969), Roy Drusky (1969), Sammy Davis Jr. (1970), Dorothy Squires (1970), Bill Medley (1970), Brook Benton (1970), Chairmen of the Board (1970), Shirley Bassey (1970), Glen Campbell (1970), Nina Simone (1971), Fred Bongusto (as La mia via, 1971), Patty Pravo (as A modo mio, 1972), Elvis Presley (1977), Sid Vicious/Sex Pistols (1978), Michel Sardou (Comme d’habitude, 1978), Nina Hagen (1985), Gipsy Kings (1988), Shane MacGowan (1996), Faudel/Khaled/Rachid Taha (Comme d’habitude, 2000), Robbie Williams (2001), Little Milton (2002), Paul Anka & Jon Bon Jovi (2007), Elli Medeiros (Comme d’habitude, 2008) a.o.
Best version: From zillions of versions to choose from, I think Claude François, far from being shitty, is the most appealing. And, naturally, Sid Vicious’ interpretation.

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
The writing credits for Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood list Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus, but the main contributor, Horace Ott, is not credited (due to rivalling writers’ union memberships which prohibited cross-fraternisation on record labels). The song, or at least its chorus, was actually written about Caldwell at a time when she and Ott were breaking up. Happily they reconciled in good time and eventually married, so Ott was not entirely out of the royalties loop.

Nina Simone first recorded the song in 1964 as a slow, soulful blues ballad, her voice so deep in places you’d think it was a man singing it. A year later The Animals took hold of it, and – as they had done with the traditional song House Of The Rising Sun – turned the number inside out, speeding it up, reintroducing the signature opening chords (which almost unnoticeably appeared at the end of Simone’s version) and Alan Price’s glorious organ riff, and giving the soul-rock a bit of a flamenco sound. Twelve years later, in 1977, Leroy Gomez & Santa Esmeralda covered the Animals version, adding a touch of disco to the mix, to produce a dramatic and eminently danceable hit. There are three versions of Santa Esmeralda’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood: the album recording (which at 16 minutes takes up the whole side), an extended 12″ version (about ten minutes long), and the standard single which topped the charts in many countries.
Also recorded by: Joe Cocker (1969), Little Bob Story (1975), Helen Schneider (1981), Gary Moore & Friends (1981), The Costello Show (1986), Lou Rawls (1990), Francesca Pettinelli (1994), Robben Ford (1995), Eric Burdon Brian Auger Band (1998), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Laura Fedele (2005), New Buffalo (2006), Yusuf Islam (2006), John Legend (2006)
Best version: Santa Esmeralda’s, in any format.

Dedicated To The One I Love
The “5” Royales’ name screams ’50s novelty band. That they were not. Indeed, they were cited as influences by the likes of James Brown (who recorded their song Think), the legendary Stax musician Steve Cropper and Eric Clapton. By the time the band from Salem, North Carolina released Dedicated To The One I Love in 1958, their heyday was past them, and the single did not do much in two releases. Likewise, the Shirelles’ cover, recorded in 1959 (with Doris, not Shirley, doing lead vocals) initially flopped. It became a hit only on its re-release in 1961 to follow up the success of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, reaching #3 in the US pop charts. The Mamas and the Papas’ 1967 cover did even better, getting to #2. As on the Shirelles’ recording, the second banana took lead vocals; it was the first time Michelle Phillips, not Mama Cass, sang lead on a Mamas and Papas track. Funny enough, by then she had stopped sleeping with the two men in the group.
The “5” Royales – Dedicated To The One I Love
The Shirelles – Dedicated To The One I Love
The Mamas and the Papas – Dedicated To The One I Love
Also recorded by: The Lettermen (1967), The Temprees (1972), Stacy Lattisaw (1979), Bernadette Peters (1981), Bitty McLean (1994), Linda Ronstadt (1996), Laura Nyro (2002)
Best version: The “5” Royales’ is tighter and more cohesive than either the Shirelles’ or Mamas & Papas’. And the guitar!

Jersey Girl
Whether this is a case of lesser or better known originals depends on one’s musical development – and on whether one can abide by Tom Waits’ voice. I can’t stand Waits’ voice at great length and find it impossible to listen to a whole album by the man, and therefore gratefully welcome good cover versions of his songs (of which there are a few). A couple of lyrical tweaks aside, Springsteen took few liberties with Waits’ 1980 song when he featured a live version of it on the b-side of the ghastly Cover Me in 1985. That is the same take that appears on the Live 1975-85 box set. One would, of course, expect Brooce to have empathy with a Jersey Girl; he has assembled a whole lyrical harem of girls from New Jersey in his catalogue, half of them called Wendy or Mary. Springsteen had long included the song in his live shows, once, in 1981, even performing it with Waits (EDIT: thanks to my friend John C in Canada, posted here on YouSendIt) . That should discount the rumours that Waits wrote Jersey Girl as a Springsteen parody – though it certainly sounds like one. The song was, according to Waits, written for his new wife and later songwriting collaborator, Kathleen Brennan, who was brought up in New Jersey.
Tom Waits & Bruce Springsteen – Jersey Girl (live)
Also recorded by: Pale Saints (1995), Holly Cole (1995)
Best version: If there’d be one with Waits’ arrangement and Springsteen’s vocals…

Here Comes The Night
Sometimes in pop, as we have already seen in this series (and see again), a song written for a particular artist is not always the first to be recorded by them. Or, in this case, by Them. Here Comes The Night was written by Bert Berns, the Brill Building graduate whose songwriting credits included Twist And Shout, Hang On Sloopy, Tell Him and Piece Of My Heart, as well as production credits for the likes of Solomon Burke, the Drifters and Wilson Picket. His splendid career was cut short by his sudden death at 39 from a heart attack in late 1967. Somehow, possibly because they were labelmates on Decca with Them, Lulu & the Luvvers (she ditched the backing band in 1966; the same year Van Morrison ditched Them) got to go first with Here Comes The Night in 1964. This, their third single flopped, reaching only #50 in Britain. Them’s version, with Jimmy Page on guitar, was released in May 1965, peaking at #2 in the UK and #24 in the US.
Lulu & the Luvvers – Here Comes The Night
Them – Here Comes The Night
Also recorded by: David Bowie (1973), Van Morrison (1974), The Rivals (1980), Miki Honeycutt (1989), Graham Bonnet (1991), Dwight Yoakam (1992), Native (1994).
Best version: I’m rather partial of Van Morrison’s live recording on It’s Too Late to Stop Now.