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Copy Borrow Steal: Beatles edition

September 4th, 2009 10 comments

In this series, of which this is the second instalment, I am to a large extent guided by Tim English’ fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy), which inspired it in the first place. It must be stressed that I am not necessarily imputing unethical behaviour on part of those who created music that sounds like somebody else’s. A reader calling himself Fudge, in his comment to the first post, explained the legal case for plagiarism: “In terms of songwriting, lawmakers decided that melody and chord structure are the basis of the song (in terms of pop music anyway) and therefore those parts are the most protected. I think the term is ‘interpolate’. That’s why The Jam can ‘borrow’ “Taxman” for “Start!” and not get sued, or Steely Dan can nip Horace Silver’s cool bass line.”

I will also include a few songs where similarity has been suggested, but I can’t see it. You shall be the judge. Let me know what you think.

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Nat ‘King’ Cole – Answer Me My Love (1961).mp3
Ray Charles – Georgia On My Mind (1960).mp3
The Beatles – Yesterday (live in Blackpool) (1965).mp3
nat_king_coleIn my introduction to the first instalment, I cited Paul McCartney’s concern that he unconsciously plagiarised (the technical term for that is cryptomnesia) Yesterday as an example of a songwriter’s scruples. In his comment to the post, Mick alerted me to a suggestion in 2003 by British musicologists that Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Answer Me My Love from 1953 — available here in a 1961 re-recording — inspired McCartney on a sub-conscious level (and kindly uploaded the song as well).

The case here rests on a line in Cole’s song which does bear some resemblance lyrically and in its phrasing. Cole sings: “Yesterday, I believed that love was here to stay, won’t you tell me where I’ve gone astray” (0:38). McCartney’s line goes: “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now I need a place to hide away.” The musicologists suggested that McCartney must have been aware of the Cole song but kindly allowed that the influence was subliminal.

Paul and John in Blackpool, 1965

Paul and John in Blackpool, 1965

To my mind, this is hardly a case of Byron stealing from Shelley. It is not the most unlikely coincidence when two lyricist 12 years apart arrive at similar rhymes to the word “yesterday”. The phrasing charge doesn’t stick either. Yesterday was floating around with nonsense lyrics (“Scambled eggs, oh my darling you have lovely legs”) until McCartney eventually wrote the lyrics while in Portugal. He could not really phrase the lyrics in many other ways over the existing melody. Others have suggested that he borrowed the structure and chord progression from Ray Charles’ version of Georgia On My Mind. I don’t quite see that. So in more than 40 years, the best theories to support the notion that the most famous pop song of all time was influenced by other songs concern a generic rhyme and a song that sounds nothing like Yesterday. Members of the jury, there is no case.

Instead, enjoy this live performance of Yesterday, recorded at the Blackpool Night Out, with George Harrison’s introduction, “For Paul McCartney of Liverpool, opportunity knocks”, and Lennon’s attribution of the performance to Ringo at the end.

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Freddie Lennon – That’s My Life (My Love And My Home) (1965).mp3
Freddie Lennon – The Next Time You Feel Important.mp3
John Lennon – Imagine (1971).mp3

freddie_lennonIn early 1940 Alfred Lennon impregnated Julia and soon left her with little John Winston who’d barely hear of his seafaring father again. Alfred predictably turned up when the Beatles became successful. A reunion with his son was icy — funny enough, John was not impressed with the old man’s sudden paternal interest. Still, John later bought the old man a cottage. In the interim, Alfred tried to cash in by recording a self-justifying single, a precursor for My Way in many ways (in a “I’m a good bloke, ain’t I? I just like the sea more than my offspring” fashion). To John, the single was a running joke; he’d play it as a gag for his friends.

Tim English in his book suggests that John might have been unconsciously influenced by his father’s novelty record when he wrote Imagine. English refers to the stately tone of both songs, which in itself is no smoking gun. More crucially, he points to the similarity in the chord progression in the verses. These are not terribly complex or unusual, but the similarity is recognisable. Still, even if John was not in any way influenced, it is a delicious irony that John Lennon’s hypocritical hymn to idealism bears a resemblance to his father’s ridiculous novelty record. As a bonus, I’m including the b-side to Freddie’s single as well (it’s pretty awful).

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The Hollies – Stewball (1966).mp3
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Merry X-Mas (War Is Over) (1971).mp3

holliesWe might acquit John from nicking chords from his Dad, but his Christmas standard will have the jury wanting exonerating evidence before it can acquit. Stewball, an American folk song adapted from a British ballad about an 18th century racehorse, had been recorded many times before Lennon wrote Merry X-Mas. The folk-influenced Lennon might have been familiar with the versions by Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, Peter Paul & Mary or Joan Baez. It is likely too that he knew the Hollies’ version, which appeared on their 1966 album Would You Believe?. Their version sounds close to Lennon’s song in arrangement, apart from the distinct melodic similarity.

Did John directly plagiarise? Well, Stewball came from a folk tradition in which melodies were routinely recycled and adapted with new lyrics. Bob Dylan did that with Blowin’ In The Wind (see here) sounding more than just suspiciously like No More Auction Block. If we want to get Lennon off the charge on a technicality, at least we have recourse to a defence based on precedent.

merry_xmasEnglish refers to another inspiration, acknowledged by Lennon: the arrangement, by Phil Spector, was lifted from a song Spector and George Harrison had produced for Ronnie Spector, titled Try Some Buy Some (later recorded by Harrison). Apparently the song was so bad, Ronnie thought her husband and George were joking when presenting her with it. Harrison later put another arrangement from the Ronnie sessions (which she did not record) to his hit song You.

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The Beatles – Norwegian Wood (Take 1) (1965).mp3
Bob Dylan – 4th Time Around (1966).mp3

rubber_soulIn his book, English writes that John Lennon almost had a fit when he heard 4th Time Around on Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde album: it ripped off Norwegian Wood, which the Beatles had released a little earlier on Rubber Soul. One can understand Lennon’s point: listen to 4th Time Around a few times, and latest by the third time around the similarities become glaring, especially two-thirds of the way through, and not only in subject matter.

Of course, Dylan had influenced Lennon profoundly. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away is John’s musical homage to acoustic Dylan. It’s fair to say that without the Dylan influence, John would not have written something like Norwegian Wood. Posted here is the first take of Norwegian Wood, recorded nine days before the version which made it on to the album. Some people prefer this take.

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The Byrds – Bells Of Rhymney (1965).mp3
The Beatles – If I Needed Someone (1965).mp3

byrdsAnd if Dylan ripped off Norwegian Wood, the Beatles borrowed and adapted the jangling guitar intro of the Byrds’ version of Pete Seeger’s Bells Of Rhymney for If I Needed Someone. Still with Dylan in mind, it is of interest to note that he was influenced to go electric by the Byrds and the Beatles. And just to add to the mix, the Byrds’ Gene Clark was moved by She Loves You to abandon the straight folk of the New Christy Minstrels, and instead co-found the Byrds, who borrowed further from the Beatles to get their guitar- and harmony-based sound (Tim English notes that Roger McGuinn bought his essential 12-string Rickenbacker after seeing Harrison use one in A Hard Day’s Night).

Harrison cheerfully admitted, in public and to the Byrds, that he had copied the intro to If I Needed Someone from the Byrds’ song, which had just been released when the Beatles recorded Rubber Soul.

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The Beatles – Taxman (alternative take) (1966).mp3
The Jam – Start! (1980).mp3

taxmanThis is the rip-off every fan of English music immediately thinks off. As Fudge said, copying a riff does not constitute legal plagiarism. Here The Jam lifted the guitar and bass riff from Harrison’s rather mean-spirited complaint about having to pay taxes (which, admittedly, were punitive in Britain). The guitar and bass parts in Taxman, incidentally, were played by McCartney. Harrison took over Lennon’s rhythm guitar, and John (who contributed the bipartisan falsetto “Ah ha Mr Wilson; Ah ha Mr Heath”, replaced in the take featured here with the line “Anybody got a bit of money”) did tambourine and backing vocals duty. Start! Was The Jam’s second UK #1 hit after Going Underground.

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Ringo Starr – Back Off Boogaloo (1972).mp3
Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out (2004).mp3

boogalooRingo Starr wrote his hit after having a dinner with T. Rex’s Marc Bolan who repeatedly used the word “boogaloo” (I am happy to dismiss the story that Boogaloo was Ringo’s nickname for Paul McCartney, who was engaged in legal action with the other Beatles at the time). The song was produced by George Harrison and was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Glaswegians Franz Ferdinand appeared on the scene in 2004 with Take Me Out, supported by a superb video. Take Me Out sounded a bit like a mash of several unfinished songs. It was Libertines singer and celebrity junkie Pete Doherty who, in an unfamiliar moment of lucidity, accused Franz Ferdinand of copying the riff and song structure of Ringo’s song. Apart from Boogaloo’s riff, the “I know I won’t be leaving here” bridge certainly bears a close resemblance. Theft or not? What do you think?

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The Originals Vol. 23

May 1st, 2009 4 comments

This time, we’re looking at the originals (and, in some cases, more than one covers) of For Once In My Life, Dancing In The Moonlight, Money’s Too Tight (To Mention), Georgia On My Mind and Rainy Night In Georgia.

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Jean DuShon – For Once In My Life (1966).mp3
Barbara McNair – For Once In My Life (1966).mp3
Stevie Wonder – For Once In My Life (1967/68).mp3

Jean DuShon

Jean DuShon

Ron Miller and Orlando Murden were staff writers for the Jobete publishing company which was owned by Motown. In 1966 they wrote For Once In My Life, but were still struggling with it. Miller asked the little-known singer, signed to Chess Records but then performing in a nightclub, singer Jean DuShon to work with him on the vocal arrangement. He was so impressed with DuShon’s interpretation that he had her record and release the record on Chess. Sadly Chess didn’t promote the record (some say due to pressure by Motown boss Berry Gordy), and it flopped. Hearing that the songwriters had given the song to a non-Motown artist, Berry Gordy insisted that it be immediately recorded by an act on his label. The song was given to Barbara McNair (whose stint at Motown was brief and who never was a priority for Gordy), and over the next few months was recorded by non-Motown artists, including Tony Bennett, who had a minor pop but decent easy listening charts hit with it.

steviewonder_foronceMotown regularly produced the same songs by different artists. In summer 1967, the Temptations recorded For Once In My Life, and included their take — like all the others, read as a ballad — in their live repertoire. At about the same time Stevie Wonder, still a teenager, gave it an exuberant, uptempo treatment. Gordy didn’t like Stevie’s versions and declined to release it. When, at the bidding of Billie Jean Brown, head of Motown’s Quality Control Department (!), it was released as a single (and title song of Stevie’s new LP) in late 1968, it became a massive hit, peaking at #2 (topping the charts was another Motown hit Gordy had previously vetoed, Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine).

Ron Miller wrote other hits for Stevie Wonder: Heaven Help Us All, Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday, and A Place In The Sun. But before Stevie had a hit with For Once In My Life, it was considered Tony Bennett’s song. When Ella Fitzgerald introduced it on her 1968 Live in Berlin album (recorded before Stevie’s version was issued), she described it as Bennett’s song. A few years ago, Bennett and Wonder finally sang the song together, on the former’s album of duets. The pair took Grammies home for their efforts, and performed the song at the awards ceremony where Stevie dedicated it to his recently deceased mother and Bennett to…his sponsors.

Also recorded by: Barbara McNair (1966), Tony Bennett (1967, Carmen McRae (1967), Nancy Wilson (1968), Ella Fitzgerald (1968), Vikki Carr (1968), Dorothy Squires (1969), Jim Nabors (1969), Mantovani (1969), Erma Franklin (1969), Charlie Byrd (1969), Nancy Sinatra (1969), Andy Williams (1969), Slim Jim (1969), O.C. Smith (1969), Frank Sinatra (1969), Sammy Davis Jr. (1970), Bill Medley (1970), James Brown (1970), Kiki Dee (1970), Cilla Black (1970), Dean Martin (1971), John Farnham (1971), The Rance Allen Group (1973), Gladys Knight & The Pips (1973), Peter Nero (1974), Roberto Carlos (1979), Dean Martin (1986), Pia Zadora (1986), Frank Sinatra, Gladys Knight & Stevie Wonder (1994), Dionne Farris (1996), Jack Jones (1998), Patti Austin (1999), Trijntje Oosterhuis (1999), Vonda Shephered (2001), Justin Guarini (2002), Michael Bublé (2003), Natalia (2003), Harry Connick Jr (2004), Stefan Gwildis (as Es kommt eine Zeit, 2005), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Gilbert Montagné (2006), Michael McDonald (2008) a.o.


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Boffalongo – Dancing In The Moonlight (1970).mp3
King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight (1972).mp3

boffalongoWhen Toploader had a UK top 10 hit with Dancing In The Moonlight in 2000, the question of who originally recorded the song became a popular piece of trivia. Most self-appointed quiz masters got it wrong. Dancing In The Moonlight was written by Sherman Kelly of the not very successful American band Boffalongo, which recorded the song in 1970. Sherman’s brother Wells was the drummer for King Harvest (named after the song by The Band), and introduced the song to his group, which recorded it in 1972 and had their one big hit with it.

The Toploader version, which I see no cause for featuring here, was a bit of a joke in that the singer even copied the frog-in-the-mouth diction of King Harvest singer (evraburdy’s dancin’ in moonlight). The Boffalongo version, it may be noted, also features some serious drawling.

Also recorded by: Young Generation (1973), Liza Minnelli (1973), The Keane Brothers (1979), M.O.T.O. (1991), Baha Man (1994), Joe Esposito (1996), Toploader (2000), Aswad (2002), David Kitt (2005), Orleans (2005), Jack Wagner (2005) a.o.
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The Valentine Brothers – Money’s Too Tight (To Mention) (1982).mp3
Simply Red – Money’s Too Tight (To Mention) (1985).mp3

valentine-brothersThe lyrics of this song have recovered pertinence in the aftermath of greedy capitalist bastards selling the world economy down the toilet. The economy was not in a great state in the early ’80s, so money was pretty tight then.

Money’s Too Tight To Mention was Simply Red’s breakthrough hit in the summer of 1985, creating what seemed to be a fresh take on an old soul number. It was, in fact, a cover of a song barely three years old (the Reaganomics reference, of course, hints at that). But even in its original form, the track sounds like a ’60s throwback, musically and lyrically. The narrative borrows from down-on-luck numbers such as Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come (absent the trace of optimism), and musically you can imagine Otis Redding singing it. Simply Red’s take is not wildly different from the funkier Valentine Brothers’ version. And the iconic exclamation, “Cut-back!” is there in the original.

The Valentine Brothers, a duo from Ohio (one of whom, Billy, had been a member of jazz trio Young-Holt Unlimited), never enjoyed much success, their career fizzling out after a couple of albums. Billy Valentine still seems to be recording and writing. I’ve once read that, happily, the brothers didn’t sell the right to Money’s Too Tight, which will have brought in a fair amount of royalties.

Also recorded by: Nobody I could find
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Hoagy Carmichael – Georgia On My Mind (1930).mp3
Mildred Bailey – Georgia On My Mind (1931).mp3
Billie Holiday – Georgia On My Mind (1941).mp3
Ray Charles – Georgia On My Mind (1960).mp3

hoagy-georgia-on-my-mindGeorgia On My Mind was a standard long before Ray Charles recorded it, but when he did, he made the song his own. It was written by Hoagy Carmichael and lyricist Stuart Gorrell in 1930. The Georgia of the title was originally intended to refer to Hoagy’s sister, but realising that the words could apply also to the southern US state, Carmichael and Gorrell were happy to keep things ambiguous. The plan worked: the song was a massive hit especially in the South, and since 1979 it has been the state song of Georgia (a better choice than the tourist-unfriendly Rainy Night In Georgia, the loser-comes-home Midnight Train To Georgia, or the infrastructure-deficient The Lights Went Out In Georgia).

Carmichael’s version features jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. He died a few months later at 28, but Carmichael went on to enjoy a long career, and is perhaps even better known for Stardust and Heart And Soul than he is for Georgia (which he nonetheless re-recorded a few times). Frankie Trumbauer scored a hit with the song in 1931, as did Mildred Bailey with her very appealing version.

ray_charles_georgia1Ray Charles, who was born in Georgia but grew up in Florida, recorded his version in 1960, reportedly at the advice of his driver who had heard Ray sing it to himself in the car. It was an instant hit, topping the US charts, and became something of a signature tune for Ray. When Georgia adopted the song, two years before Hoagy’s death, it was Ray Charles who performed it at ceremony in Atlanta. Willie Nelson sang Georgia On My Mind at Ray’s funeral.

Also recorded by: Frankie Trumbauer & his Orchestra (1931), Milded Bailey (1932), Louis Armstrong (1932), Gene Krupa (1941), Billie Holiday (1941), Artie Shaw & his Orchestra (1942), Fats Waller (1942), Jo Stafford (1946), Peggy Lee (1946), Frankie Laine (1953), Dean Martin (1955), Eddy Arnold (1958), Lawrence Welk (1960), Rusty Draper (1960), Oscar Peterson Trio (1962), Lou Rawls (1963), Richard Chamberlain (1963), The Righteous Brothers (1963), Jimmy Smith (1963), Jackie Wilson (1965), The Spencer Davis Group (1965), Doc Severinsen (1966), Tom Jones (1966), Gonks (1966), Wes Montgomery (1968), Anita Kerr (1968), Jerry Reed (1969), Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland (1969), James Brown (1970), Geoff & Maria Muldaur (1970), Herbie Mann (1973), Glenn Barber (1974), The Band (1976), Mike Auldridge (1976), Deep Purple (1976), Jerry Lee Lewis (1977), Jerry Lee Lewis (1977), Willie Nelson (1978), Cold Chisel (1978), Mina (1978), Willie Nelson (1980), Nat Gonella (1981), Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass (1983), Stanley Jordan (1987), Michael Fucking Bolton (1989), George Adams (1989), Maceo Parker (1992), James Brown (1992), Bobby Kimball (1993), Shirley Horn (1993), Emilio Aragón & Greta (1996), Günther Neefs (1997), Crystal Gayle (1999), Roderick Paulin (1999), Coco Schumann (1999), Boston Brass (2001), Van Morrison (2002), Booker T. & the MG’s (previously unreleased, 2003), Steve Tyrell (2003), Joeri (2004), John Scofield (2005), Nicoletta (2006), Gerald Albright (2006), Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues feat. india.arie (2006), Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis (2008), Russell Watson (2008) a.o.
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Tony Joe White – Rainy Night In Georgia (1969).mp3
Brook Benton – Rainy Night In Georgia (1970).mp3
Ray Charles – Rainy Night In Georgia (1972).mp3
Randy Crawford – Rainy Night In Georgia (1981).mp3

tony-joe-whiteLouisiana-born “swamp rocker” Tony Joe White was only19 when he wrote Rainy Night In Georgia in 1962. He didn’t release the song until seven later, and even then it was his Polk Salad Annie which grabbed all the attention (covered to good effect by Elvis). At the same time, deep-voiced soul veteran Brook Benton was looking for a hit to launch his comeback on an Atlantic subsidiary, Cottillion Records. The legendary Jerry Wexler alerted Benton to White’s song, and the singer scored a massive 1970 hit with his version, produced by the great Arif Mardin.

brook_bentonRainy Night In Georgia has been recorded many times (ex-Temptations singer David Ruffin put down a version at about the same time as Benton did; it was not released until 2004), as soul and as country songs. Ray Charles (1972) put his own blues spin on it, taking the tune to unexpected places. But my favourite version is that from 1981 by Randy Crawford, one of soul’s finest but least appreciated singers, whose clear and warm voice captures the resigned spirit of the lyrics exquisitely.

Also recorded by: Nat Stuckey (1970), Boots Randolph (1970), Johnny Rivers (1970), Ken Parker (1970), Wynn Stewart (1970), Tennessee Ernie Ford (1971), Hank Williams Jr (1974), John Holt (1977), Tony Worsley (1990), Amos Garrett (1992), Ross Hanniford Trio (1994), Sam Moore & Conway Twitty (1994), Beaucoup Blue (2005), Boozoo Bajou (2006), Hem (2006), Aaron Neville feat. Chris Botti (2006) a.o.

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The Originals Vol. 14

January 21st, 2009 11 comments

Jerry Jeff Walker – Mr. Bojangles (1968).mp3
Bobby Cole – Mr. Bojangles (1968).mp3
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Mr. Bojangles (1971).mp3
Sammy Davis Jr – Mr. Bojangles (1972).mp3

jerry-jeff-walkerThere is no truth to the old chestnut that Mr Bojangles tells the story of the great Bill Robinson. Folk/country singer Jerry Jeff Walker, who wrote and first recorded the song, tells the story of being in a New Orleans holding cell for public disorderliness with, among others, a street dancer (a white one, because cells were segregated). These public performers were generically nicknamed Bojangles (after Robinson). This man told his tales of life and of his grief for his dog. Urged on by the other cellmates, he proceeded to give them a tap dance. In 1968, three years after the incident, Walker recorded the song about that experience. Mr Bojangles is by far his most famous contribution to popular music. The second-most important would be to inspire Townes van Zandt to start writing songs.

The song was covered by several well known performers but became a hit only in 1971, when the Nitty Gritty Band took it the US #9, drawing from Walker’s folk arrangement. The best, and probably best-known, version was recorded a year later, drawing from the arrangement of Bobby Cole’s version (props to Ill Folks blog), which was in the lower reaches of the US charts at the same time as Walker’s. Cole added to the song the vaudeville sounds which evoked the tap-dancing ambience. It was that quality of Cole’s version from which Sammy Davis Jr seems to have drawn. Sammy was a hoofer himself, of course, so in his younger days would have known many characters such as Mr Bojangles, even in his family of entertainers. Sammy could identify with the song, and he delivers a beautiful performance, with the right mix of carefree spirit (the whistling) and drama which his protagonist projects. To some the line about the dog gone dying might be overwrought; I get goosebumps when I hear it.

Also recorded by: Rod McKuen (1968), Neil Diamond (1969), The Byrds (1969), Harry Nilsson (1969), Neil Diamond (1969), Lulu (1970), Harry Belafonte (1970), John Denver (1970), Ronnie Aldrich & his Two Pianos (1971), Nina Simone (1971), King Curtis (1971), Nancy Wilson (1971), David Bromberg (1972), John Holt (1973), Bob Dylan (1973), Esther Phillips (1986), Chet Atkins (1996), Edwyn Collins (1997), Steve Hall (1997), Whitney Houston (1998), Magna Carta (2000), Robbie Williams (2001), Jamie Cullum (2003), Luba Mason (2004), The Bentones (2005), Ray Quinn (2007) and loads of others for whom I have no years of recording: Frank Sinatra, Glenn Yarbrough, Arlo Guthrie, Frankie Laine, Elton John, Michael Bublé, and more.

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Pino Donaggio – Io che non vivo (senza te).mp3
Dusty Springfield – You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.mp3

pino-donaggioPino Donaggio is best known as a composer of the scores for films such as Don’t Look Now, Carrie and Dressed To Kill. But before that, he was a big pop star in Italy, having abandoned the classical training he received as a teenager (and which prepared him for his soundtrack career) for pop after performing with Paul Anka in the late 1950s.

He performed Io che non vivo (senza te), which he wrote with Vito Pallavicini, at the San Remo Festival in 1965 with the country singer Jody Miller. Dusty Springfield was there and then asked Vicki Wickham, producer of the British music TV show Ready Steady Go! and a songwriter, to set the song to English lyrics for her. Wickham asked Simon Napier-Bell (one-time manager of the Yardbirds, Marc Bolan and Wham!) to help her. Napier-Bell later remembered that they wrote the lyrics in a taxi. Springfield’s version (reportedly recorded in 47 takes) was released in 1966 and became one of her signature hits.

The original title means, roughly translated, “I, who cannot live without you”. My Italian being rusty, I have no idea how Donaggio riffed on that theme (EDIT: Paolo helps us out in the comments section). The English lyrics express the “If you love someone, let them go” motto. The intent of the lyrics may be the converse of the original (I don’t know, and nor did Napier-Bell), but the dramatic arrangement does not differ substantially — other than Dusty’s mighty, heartbroken vocals begging the object of her unrequited affection to decline her offer of romantic freedom.

Also recorded by: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (1966), John Davidson (1966), Carla Thomas (1966), Cher (1966), Vikki Carr (1966), Jackie De Shannon (1966), Connie Francis (1967), Matt Monro (1967), Bill Medley (1968), Kiki Dee (1970), Elvis Presley (1970), Guys & Dolls (1976), Helen Reddy (1981), Tanya Tucker (1981), Ferrante & Teicher (1992), Maureen McGovern (1992), Denise Welch (1995), Clarence Carter (1997), Brenda Lee (1998), Marti Jones (2000), Fire-Ball (2004), Jill Johnson (2007), John Barrowman (2008), Shelby Lynne (2008) a.o.

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The Strangeloves – I Want Candy.mp3
Bow Wow Wow – I Want Candy.mp3

strangelovesI Want Candy originally was a Bo Diddley-inspired 1965 US #11 hit for the Strangeloves, a joke project of songwriter/producers Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer (the latter would go on to produce the likes of Blondie and the Go-Go’s, and co-founded the Sire label on which Madonna launched her career). The conceit was that the Strangeloves were Australian brothers who had made a fortune by crossbreeding a new type of sheep, named after Gottehrer. The gag did not acquire much public traction, but it did present a problem when I Want Candy’s success imposed the demand for live performances by the Strangeloves. The three producers solved the problem by putting together a band of session musicians. Their adventures on the road will form part of the story in the next entry.

The touring versions of the Strangeloves were artificially put together, as were Bow Wow Wow 15 years later, albeit with much more of a plan. After he had finished managing the punk version of the Spice Girls, Malcolm McLaren went on to inspire Adam Ant & the Ants to success, and just as the group got there, stole the Ants from Adam to form a new group, Bow Wow Wow, in 1980. Ever mindful of the gimmick imperative, he found a precocious 14-year-old girl to front the band, Burmese-born Annabella Lwin (born Myint Myint Aye, which allegedly means High High Cool — my Burmese is as rusty as my Italian).

Lwin was not shy to flaunt her sexuality, appearing nude on the cover of the group’s debut album, simply titled See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over Go Ape Crazy. The now15-year-old’s parents were so outraged that they threatened to institute legal action against McLaren. Evidently Malcolm got the girl’s parents around to his point of view: the single cover for I Want Candy depicted Annabella again in a state of some undress. McLaren, incidentally, had considered a second singer to partner Lwin, but the artist he had in mind, going by the name Lieutenant Lush, was considered to wild. The disorderly vocalist went on to find success as Boy George.

bow-wow-wow

Bow Wow Wow’s 1982 version of I Want Candy was produced by Kenny Laguna, who at the time was scoring big with singers such as Joan Jett and Kenny Loggins. The story goes that Laguna had the band already in the Florida studio to record the song when he realised that he had no recording, no lyrics and no songsheet for it. So he got in touch with Richard Gottehrer (at the time in a studio recording another cover version, the Go-Go’s Vacation) who taught him the song over the telephone. Gottehrer also had to persuade Laguna that the guitar hook was an integral part of the song. Bow Wow Wow were not pleased with what they considered a bubble gum song. Still, it was their only hit, reaching #9 in the UK. It was only a minor hit in the US. Yet, strong rotation on MTV ensured its status as an ’80s classic.

Also recorded by: Brian Poole And The Tremeloes (1965), The Bishops (1978), The Bouncing Souls (1994), Chrome (1995), Candy Girls (1996), Black Metal Box (1997), Aaron Carter (1998), Good Charlotte (2001), Melanie C (2007)

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The Vibrations – My Girl Sloopy.mp3
The McCoys – Hang On Sloopy.mp3

The Debs – Sloopy’s Gonna Hang On.mp3
vibrationsEarlier in the series, The McCoys featured with their original of Sorrow, famously covered by David Bowie. Oddly enough, the group’s 1965 signature hit, Hang On Sloopy, was a cover version, of the Vibrations’ 1964 US top 30 hit My Girl Sloopy, written by the legendary Bert Berns (who also had an association with the Strangeloves) and Wes Farrell. The Vibrations were a soul group from Los Angeles which kept going well into the 1970s; one if their members, Ricky Owens, even joined the Temptations very briefly. Several of their songs are Northern Soul classics (which basically means that they were so unsuccessful that the records are rare).

I promised in the entry for I Want Candy that the story of the Strangeloves would have a sequel. Our three producer heroes were on tour, shadowing the session musicians playing their songs, when they decided My Girl Sloopy should be the follow-up to I Want Candy. The Dave Clark Five, on tour with the Strangeloves, got wind of it, and said they’d record Sloopy too. So the Strangelove trio, afraid that the Dave Clark Five might have a hit with the song before they could release theirs, acted fast to scoop the English group. They recruited an unknown group based in Dayton, Ohio, called Rick and the Raiders, renamed them The McCoys, and in quick time released the retitled Hang On Sloopy.

But it wasn’t all the McCoys playing on the single, only singer Rick Zehringer (later Derringer) performed on it — his vocals having been overlaid on the version already recorded by the Strangeloves, and a guitar solo added to it. The single was a massive hit, reaching the US #1. In 1985 it was adopted as the official rock song of Ohio (honestly). And, for the hell of it, there’s also the answer song by The Debs. Oh, and the Sloopy of the title is jazz singer Dorothy Sloop.

Also recorded by: The Invictas (1965), Quincy Jones (1965), Little Caesar & The Consuls (1965), The Newbeats (1965), The Yardbirds (1965), Jan & Dean (1965), The Eliminators (1966), The Raves (1966), The Wailers (1966), Ramsey Lewis Trio (1966), The Phantoms (1966), The Supremes (1966), The Fevers (1966), Count Basie & his Orchestra (1968), The Lettermen (1970), Ramsey Lewis (1973), Skid Row (1976), BAP (1980, in the Cologne dialect Kölsch), Daddy Memphis (1998), Aaron Carter (2000), Die Toten Hosen (2000), Saving Jane (2006)

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don-gibsonDon Gibson – I Can’t Stop Loving You.mp3
Ray Charles – I Can’t Stop Loving You.mp3

It is a mark of Ray Charles’ genius that he, the Father of Soul, took a country song to the US #1, still sounding like a country song. It is fair to say that sometimes there is a pretty thin line between southern soul and country. Brook Benton is perhaps the best example of a soul singer casually entering country territory. Indeed, it is that cross-germination of white country and black R&B which helped give rise to Rock & Roll, a musical form of racial integration which anticipated the intensification of the civil rights struggle. But that is a debate for another day, unhelpfully dealt with in 35 words.

raycharlesWhen Ray Charles released his seminal Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (in 1962, at the height of the civil rights struggle), he let it be known that country music has soul — an elementary truth which the haters of the genre have too easily ignored. Don Gibson, hardly the prototype for sweaty, sexy party music, had soul. You can hear it on his 1958 original of I Can’t Stop Loving You, one of 150 country songs shortlisted for the Ray Charles LP. If anything, Ray Charles (and arranger Sid Feller) added Nashville schmaltz to the song. Indeed, it is the one song on the album that is still recognisably a country number. This wasn’t Charles’ first foray into country. A few years earlier he had recorded Hank Snow’s I’m Movin’ On.

Gibson recorded I Can’t Stop Loving You during the same December 1957 session that produced the great country classic, Oh Lonesome Me (which Johnny Cash later covered to great effect, and one of the few covers Neil Young ever recorded). I Can’t Stop… was the b-side to Oh Lonesome Me, a US top 10 hit. Before Ray Charles got hold of it, the song had already been covered several times, including a version by Roy Orbison. Indeed, at the same time the song was a b-side for Gibson, Kitty Wells had a big hit with it in the country charts.

Also recorded by: Kitty Wells (1958), Roy Orbison (1960), Rex Allen (1961), Rick Nelson (1961), Tab Hunter (1962), John Foster (as Non finirò d’amarti, 1962), Connie Francis (1962), Bobby Sitting & the Twistin’ Guy’s (1962), Hank Locklin (1962), Grant Green (1962), The Ventures (1963), Count Basie (1963), Peggy Lee (1963), Paul Anka (1963), Webb Pierce (1963), Ferlin Husky (1963), Floyd Cramer (1964), Faron Young (1964), Jim Reeves (1964), Jean Shepard (1964), Nancy Wilson (1964), Chet Atkins & Hank Snow (1964), Frank Sinatra & Count Basie (1964), Dinah Shore (1965), Tom Jones (1965), Gene Pitney (1965), George Semper (1966), Tennessee Ernie Ford (1966), Bettye Swann (1967), Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers (1968), Jimmy Dean (January 1968), Long John Baldry (1968), Jerry Lee Lewis (1969, as a blues), Elvis Presley (1969), Jim Nabors (1970), Eddy Arnold (1971), Charlie McCoy (1972), Conway Twitty (1972), Sammi Smith (1977), Jerry Lee Lewis (1979, as a country song), Van Morrison (1991), Arlen Roth (1993), Diane Schuur & B.B. King (1994), Anne Murray (2002), John Scofield (2005), Mica Paris (2005), Martina McBride (2005) a.o.

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