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Heads and senses

November 2nd, 2009 1 comment

iris

Very occasionally a group of people get together on the Touchedmix blog and post mixes on a particular theme. Last week, the theme was HEADS, with their features and their functions. I thought readers of this little corner of the music blogosphere might be interested in the two mixes I banged together.

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OVER MY HEAD MIX
1. Aztec Camera – Head Is Happy (Heart’s Insane) (1985)
2. Crowded House – Pineapple Head (live) (1996/2006)
3. Johnny Cash – Mean Eyed Cat (1996)
4. The Dillards – I’ve Just Seen A Face (1968)
5. The Holmes Brothers – Smiling Face Hiding A Weeping Heart (2006)
6. Paul Anka – Eyes Without A Face (2006)
7. The Undisputed Truth – Smiling Faces Sometimes (1971)
8. Justine Washington – I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face (1964)
9. The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes For You (1959)
10. Mississippi Sheikhs – I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes For You (1938)
11. Robert Mitchum – Mama Looka Boo Boo (Shut Your Mouth-Go Away) (1958)
12. Emile Ford & the Checkmates – Them There Eyes (1960)
13. Lewis Taylor – Blue Eyes (2000)
14. Andrew Bird – A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left (2005)
15. Nada Surf – The Way You Wear Your Head (2002)
16. The Sweet – The Lies In Your Eyes (1975)
17. Ben Folds – Doctor My Eyes (2002)
18. Josh Ritter – One More Mouth (2006)
19. Kaki King – Saving Days In A Frozen Head (2008)
20. The Lilac Time – The Darkness Of Her Eyes (1991)
21. Thomas Dybdahl – Pale Green Eyes (2009)
22. Ryan Adams – Halloweenhead (2007)
23. The Cardigans – Give Me Your Eyes (2005)

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Justine Washington is better known as Baby Washington; this is the original version of the song covered to good effect by Dusty Springfield.

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SENSES WORKING OVERTIME MIX
1. David Bowie – Can You Hear Me (1975)
2. Tim Buckley – I Can’t See You (1966)
3. Herman Düne – I Wish That I Could See You Soon (2006)
4. Devics – If We Cannot See (2006)
5. Richard Hawley – Can You Hear The Rain, Love (2001)
6. Scott Walker – You’re Gonna Hear From Me (1967)
7. The Righteous Brothers – See That Girl (1965)
8. Chris Montez – The More I See You (1966)
9. Cass Elliot – I’ll Be Seeing You (1973)
10. Blind Boy Fuller – What’s That Smells Like Fish (1938)
11. Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking (1955)
12. The Supremes – I Hear A Symphony (1965)
13. Jim Messina – Seeing You (For The First Time) (1979)
14. Baby Huey – Listen To Me (1971)
15. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Taste Of Cindy (1985)
16. K’s Choice – A Sound That Only You Can Hear (1995)
17. Mull Historical Society – Watching Xanadu (2001)
18. Ron Sexsmith & Don Kerr – Listen (2005)
19. Rosanne Cash – I Was Watching You (2006)
20. The Magic Numbers – I See You, You See Me (2005)
21. Paul Anka – Smells Like Teen Spirit (2005)

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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.

Perfect Pop – Vol. 8

May 9th, 2008 3 comments

Here are a few more perfect pop records which brings the number of featured songs up up to 100 (by my rough count).

Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.mp3
This song has been covered a zillion times and by some of the finest singers ever to commit their voices to record (Sinatra, Fitzgerald). And every one of these covers has failed to translate the sweet vitality of the original. It is a shame that this gem of a song has become a muzak staple; few major songs have been as poorly understood at this one. Written when Stevie was just 20, this mid-tempo samba number seems unassuming, until you listen to Stevie’s vocal inflections and, even more carefully, the deceptively simple arrangement. This song needs no big orchestration to fix its simplicity; indeed, strings or a big band treatment poison its sweet intimacy. And this is the key: it is a loveletter, not an epic declaration. Give it an orchestra, and the sentiment is varnished with cliché. All Stevie needs is keyboard, bass, drums and percussions. And the joyous exuberance of his voice (with the help of Jim Gilstrap and Lani Groves, who sing the first verse; listen to it over earphones). Stevie sounds like he is in love, because he is: with Gloria Barley, who sings backing vocals here. And isn’t that lovely?
Best bit: “Mmm-mmm-hmmm-mmm (2:22)

Frankie Valli – Can’t Take My Eyes Of You.mp3
The Four Seasons had a number of great pop songs, but Valli’s finest moment came as a solo performer, albeit with the help of his old pals Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, who wrote this song. Can’t Take My Eyes Of You begins as a mid-tempo ballad, unremarkable except for Valli’s beautiful phrasing, frequently lagging half a note behind the beat, enunciating some vowels as if to provide an off-beat percussion. Suddenly staccato notes signal a change in tempo; jolly strings (not unlike those used on many disco records a decade later) suggest that Frankie is going to get quite excited now. And then Valli launches into a giddy chorus. He’s in love all right, but our fears that it may not be reciprocal, hinted at in the first verse (“but if you feel like I feel…”, “You’d be like heaven to touch”) are realised as the chorus tails off, and Frankie gently, anxiously asks: “let me love you”. We return to the mid-tempo verse, and are quite aware of Frankie’s doubts and that the giddiness (thanking God he’s alive) may just be the oxytocin talking.
Best bit: The way Frankie chews the final vowel in touch (2:17)

Jens Lekman – Your Are The Light.mp3
Among indie-pop fans, the Swede Jens Lekman is a semi-deity. He writes catchy, quirky tunes. His lyrics are invariably hugely entertaining, sometimes touching, sometimes off-beat. You Are The Light has a great tune, introduced by a Earth, Wind & Fire-ish clarion call and supported by a beat that seems just a little too fast for the song. The chorus is proper singalong stuff. The melody and arrangement, with its occasional blasts of horn now and harmonica there, are hugely attractive. But it is the lyrics that captivate. In the opening verse, he uses his one phone call from jail to dedicate a song to his girl (who landed him in this predicament in first place) on the radio. Later the cops are “sad” because they can’t prove his act of delinquency. This song has much by way of completely likable charm — which sets it apart from much of contemporary pop.
Best bit: The horn intro (0:01)

Matt Monro – We’re Gonna Change The World.mp3
If Barack Obama was into the British crooners of the ’60s and ’70s, he might well have adopted this as his campaign anthem. Monro, whom Sinatra described as the only British singer, might have been an easy listening merchant, but this song has a socially conscious edge which was not usually reflected in the genre, even in the late ’60s (the song itself was released in 1970). The song tells of three women, two of them going on a protest march, presumably for peace, while another sees the demonstration but doesn’t join. In the punchline, the non-joiner is a war widow, crying in her office over her dead husband. Monro’s chorus suggests that her option is the wrong one as he calls, as if from within the throng of marchers: “So, come with us, run with us! We’re gonna change the world. You’ll be amazed, so full of praise, when we’ve rearranged your world. We’re gonna change your world.” And don’t these words sum up the message Obama has been trying to sell? Add to that a wonderfully jaunty tune – try not be lifted by it – and Monro’s enthusiastic vocals, and you have a perfect campaign pop song.
Best bit: Monro nearly shouts the word “run” in his call to action (2:54)

Elvis Presley – Hound Dog.mp3
Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog.mp3
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote Hound Dog as teenagers for Big Mama Thornton, apparently in ten minutes. Meditate on that for a minute. A couple of teenagers write what will become a timeless classic for an intimidating blues singer, and do the job in ten minutes. The way Thornton sings it is the way the composers conceived it. Hound Dog became a local hit, and inspired a plagiarised response song, which turned out to be the first ever record released by Sun Records, Sam Phillips’ label which would go on to produce Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and, of course, Elvis Presley. It took Elvis a few years to get around to Hound Dog, which had been brutalised in a series of covers which dismantled the original lyrics and added doggerel to it (such as the rabbit line) to become the nonsense we know today. In the 31rd take we know today, Elvis made no attempt to sing the lyrics, symbolised by the way he chews up the pronunciation of the title. He shouts and sneers through the song with his band rocking to the beat of the handclaps, while the Jordannaires gamely try to instill some civility over the raucous guitar solo. Guitarist Scotty Moore’s final chords are a breath of post-orgasmic release. It seems clear while Hound Dog threatened the USA’s repressed sexual morality: Elvis is fingering America’s daughters right there.
Best bit: Drum roll, Elvis groans something, and a guitar chord closes the song (2:09)

Sex Pistols – Pretty Vacant.mp3
The Sex Pistols were the poster boys for the British punk revolution; more than their music, it was their exploits and, more to the point, their image that made Middle England nervous. They swore on TV; they insulted Her Majesty with a song that was banned from radio and yet reached #2 on the UK charts (some have smelled a conspiracy to keep the Pistols off #1, to the benefit of Rod Stewart’s I Don’t Want To Talk About It); they used a naughty word in their album title (it was later established in court that “bollocks” is a non-vulgar Olde English word) . And now hear how Johnny Rotten supposedly pronounces the second syllable of the title’s second word. Ooooh, the threat. Ooooh, the publicity! The Sex Pistols invented punk as much as Elvis invented rock & roll. In many ways, they were the Spice Girls of their day: a phenomenon managed by a clever svengali, whose music was secondary to the image. That’s why Glenn Matlock, the really talented one, could be replaced by a disorientated thug who’d become the most pathetic junkie in rock history. It was all about presentation. But that also glosses over the music. While the primary sales pitch was the image, the product – the music – was very good too. For all the punk posturing, the Sex Pistols had some fine pop tunes. Other than John Lydon’s hysterically sneering delivery and the nature of the lyrics he sneered, there was little revolutionary about the Pisxtols’ music. Never Mind The Bollocks, a very well produced LP, was a harder-edged, faster version of glam rock, with an additional debt to the likes of the Kinks. Of the handful of hits, Pretty Vacant has was the best pop song. Shook your head at the glam reference? Matlock said the riff was based on Abba’s S.O.S.
Best bit: “And we don’t caaaaaaaahre” (1:44)

Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination.mp3
The Human League’s Dare probably was the most perfect pop album of its era. But when I pondered which Human League song to feature, I kept coming back to Fascination, which was a single release only. An EP featuring to mixes of Fascination came out later (it also included the excellent preceding single, Mirror Man). Fascination kicks off proper with the swirling, horn-like synth hook which runs through the song and, in the intro, instructs the listeners to get on their feet and dance. The band members take turns singing lines, including even guitarist/keyoardist Jo Callis.
Best bit: “…and so the conversation turned, until the sun went down” (1:00)

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit.mp3
Paul Anka – Smells Like Teen Spirit.mp3*
Cobain’s Pixies moment (he admitted consciously copying them) sounds as much as the uncles of grunge as it sounds like an angry glam rock song. Cobain tried to write a pop song, and succeeded. Tori Amos might have fucked it up, but when Paul Anka covered it as a big band swing number in 2005, the pop sensibilities of Teen Spirit revealed themselves from beneath the grime of discontent. The anthem of non-conformity had, by dint of its over-exposure on MTV and radio, acquired the status of conformity; much of what came after – all the “feel my pain” emo gubbins – was no more non-conformist than the industry and its hit machines Teen Spirit was railing against. Anka stripped the song of its suburban rebellion sheen, turned it into a swing song, and perpetrated an act of subversion one hopes Cobain would have approved of: turning on its head the conformity of Nirvana’s own followers. It may not be the best Nirvana song, but it certainly is their best pop song.
Best bit: Apologies for being boring, but it’s the “yay” bits (1:31)

More Perfect Pop

Come up and make me smile…

May 31st, 2007 No comments

Is music supposed to be funny? Well, here are a few songs that make me smile, mildly amuse me, or even make me laugh out loud:

Ben Folds – Rockin’ The Suburbs (live).mp3 (left click)
Mr Folds doesn’t like the “belly-aching rock stars” who go on and on about their pain. “Rockin‘ The Suburbs” was aimed at the Limp Bizkits and Kid Rocks who set the emo template. In this live version, from the Songs For Goldfish EP, Mr Folds launches into a Fred Durst imitation that just ro-aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-cks.

Barenaked Ladies – If I Had $1000000.mp3 (left click)
The music may be ho-hum at times, but lyrically Barenaked Ladies come up with lovely little turns and twists of phrases. This song has a succession of them: why would a green dress be cruel?

Paul Anka – Smells Like Teen Spirit.mp3
Paul Anka – Jump.mp3

The legendary crooner certainly wasn’t the first to do lounge versions of rock hits, but his 2005 album Rock Swings was one of the finest efforts in the genre. Unlike Richard Cheese (below), Anka took the songs very seriously, giving them a big band treatment that sometimes worked, and sometimes didn’t. On the Nirvana song, Anka walked a tightrope. When I first heard it I almost fainted with laughter as I finger-clicked to Anka’s jaunty, non-emoting phrasing of “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous…” On “Jump”, on the other hand, Anka shows why the Van Halen hit is really a swing number.

Richard Cheese – Sunday, Bloody Sunday.mp3
Richard Cheese – Yellow.mp3
Richard Cheese – She Hates Me.mp3

Where Anka is doing the swinging rock sincerely, Richard Cheese (not his real name, you’ll be pleased to learn) takes the piss by way of sometimes startlingly brilliant lounge jazz renditions of rock, pop and hip hop songs. He even perks up Joy Division. In Cheese’s rhumba-ing hands, U2’s earnest “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” now contains the immortal line, “Tonight we fiesta, while tomorrow they die”. Heh! His version of “Yellow” is not just a novelty record; he turns Coldplay’s snivelling song of whine into a hell of a good swing standard.

The Gourds – Gin And Juice.mp3 Link fixed.
A bluegrass version of the Snoop song. The Gourds play it straight, hinting at no irony — which, of course, is there in bundles. Not 5 minutes of LOL, one is more likely to admire this version as inventive and actually pretty cool.

Jens Lekman – A Man Walks Into A Bar.mp3
Not a funny song at all. Jokes without punchlines set the scene for nostalgic reminiscences. A wonderful song. Download it!