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In Memoriam – December 2011

January 5th, 2012 14 comments

December’s headline death probably is that of the great Cesária Évora, who emerged from the tiny West African island of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony.

But as a soul fan, percussion maestro Ralph MacDonald is my headline departure of the month. He wrote some stone-cold classics and appeared on an impressive catalogue of soul and fusion albums, including those released in their heyday by Bill Withers, George Benson, Donny Hathaway, Ashford & Simpson, Brothers Johnson, Margie Joseph, Patti Austin, Grover Washington, Maynard Ferguson, The Crusaders, Michael Franks,  Eric Gale, Bob James,  Herbie Mann, Earl Klugh, and Sadao Watanabe, as well as on pop albums by the likes of Billy Joel (The Stranger, 52nd Street, Innocent Man) and Paul Simon (Still Crazy…, One Trick Pony, Graceland).

The Ragovoy curse struck again. First the great songwriter died in July; then his occasional collaborator Jimmy Norman, with whom he wrote Time Is On My Side, died in November; in December singer Howard Tate, for whom Ragovoy wrote and produced several songs (including Get It While You Can, which Janis Joplin later covered, and 8 Days On The Road) passed away at 72.

Three of the world’s longest-performing artists died in December: Myra Taylor first took to the stage as a 14-year-old in 1931; she made her final performance in a career spanning 70 years on 24 July this year. Fans of The Originals will appreciate the first recording of the great Ink Spots hit I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire, which featured Myra Taylor on vocals (originals fans will also enjoy Ruby and the Romantics’ Our Day Will Come, covered by Amy Winehouse on her new posthumous album) .

Johannes Heesters, who died at 108, had been a huge star in Nazi Germany and counted Nazi leaders among his friends – a stigma that followed him to his death. Hated in his native Holland, he was still hugely popular in West Germany.  He still toured as a centenarian, and performed to the age of 105.

Bill Tapia, dead at 103, was a ukulele maestro. Check out his version of Stars and Stripes Forever, from just two years ago, which he introduces as having played during World War I – the audience laughs, but the guy isn’t joking. He has been performing since 1918.

Among the more bizarre deaths is that of Willie Nelson’s drummer Dan Spears, who fell outside his house and, unable to move, froze to death.

Sadly, this will be the final monthly In Memoriam. Compiling each instalment simply takes up much more time than I can afford to spend, so this is a decision I had to make – with much regret, because I don’t think anyone is doing it quite this way on the Internet.

 Michal ‘Michal the Girl’ Friedman, singer, from complication during the birth of twins on November 25
ATB – The Autumn Leaves (2004)

Howard Tate, 72, soul singer, on December 2
Howard Tate – 8 Days On The Road (1971)

Bill Tapia, 103, legendary ukulele player, on December 2
Bill Tapia – Stars And Stripes

Ronald Mosley, 72, baritone and guitarist with Ruby & the Romantics, on December 3
Ruby and the Romantics – Our Day Will Come (1963)

Hubert Sumlin, 80, legendary blues guitarist (with Howlin’ Wolf), on December 4
Howlin’ Wolf – The Red Rooster (1962, as guitarist)
Hubert Sumlin – Down In The Bottom (1987)
R.J. Rosales, 37, Filipino-born Australian singer and actor, on December 4

Violetta Villas, 73, Belgian-born Polish diva, on December 5
Violetta Villas – Przyjdzie Na To Czas (1964)

Dobie Gray, 71, soul singer (Drift Away, The In-Crowd), on December 6
Dobie Gray – River Deep, Mountain High (1973)

Bob Burnett, 71, member of ’60s folk group The Highwaymen, on December 7
The Highwaymen – Universal Soldier (1964)

Dan ‘Bee’ Spears, 62, long-time bassist for Willie Nelson, on December 8
Willie Nelson – Remember Me (1975, as bassist)
Dick Sims, 60, keyboard player for Eric Clapton, Bob Seger a.o., on December 8
Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight (1977, as keyboardist)

Alan Styles, Pink Floyd roadie and subject of Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast, on December 8
Pink Floyd – Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast (1970)

Myra Taylor, 94, jazz singer and actress, on December 9
Harlan Leonard and his Rockets – I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire (1940, as vocalist)

Dustin Hengst, drummer of pop-punk band Damone, on December 9

Karryl ‘Special One’ Smith, member of hip hop duo The Conscious Daughters, on December 10
The Conscious Daughters – Somthin’ To Ride To (Fonky Expidition) (1993)
Billie Jo Spears, 74, country singer, on December 14
Billie Jo Spears – Blanket On The Ground (1975)

Bob Brookmeyer, 81, jazz trombonist, on December 16
Lalo Schifrin & Bob Brookmeyer – Samba Para Dos (1963)

Slim Dunkin, 24, rapper with 1017 Brick Squad, shot dead on December 16

Cesária Évora, 70, Cape Verdean singer, on December 17
Cesária Évora – Nho Antone Escade (1999)
Cesária Évora – Cabo Verde Terra Estimada (1988)

Sean Bonniwell, 71, American guitarist and singer of ’60s rock band Music Machine, on December 17
Ralph MacDonald, 67, percussionist, songwriter and producer, on December 18
Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – Where Is The Love (1972, as songwriter)
Grover Washington Jr with Bill Withers – Just The Two Of Us (1980, as songwriter)
Billy Joel – Rosalinda’s Eyes (1978, as percussionist)

Johnny Silvo, 75, folk singer and children’s TV presenter, on December 18

Clem DeRosa, 86, jazz drummer, arranger, bandleader and music educator, on December 20

David Gold, 31, singer and guitarist of Canadian death-metal band Woods of Ypres, on December 22
Johannes Heesters, 108, Dutch-born actor and singer, on December 24
Johannes Heesters – Ich werde jede Nacht von Ihnen träumen (1937)

Jody Rainwater, 92, bluegrass musician (with the Foggy Mountain Boys) and radio DJ, on December 24

Jim ‘Motorhead’ Sherwood, 69, saxophone player for Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, on December 25
Frank Zappa – Conehead

Sam Rivers, 88, jazz musician and composer, on December 26
Sam Rivers – Verve (1980)

Barbara Lea, 82, jazz singer and actress, on December 26
Betty McQuade, 70, Australian singer, on December 26
Betty McQuade – Blue Train

Dan Terry, 87, American jazz trumpeter and big band leader, on December 27

Kaye Stevens, 79, singer and actress (frequent guest of the Rat Pack), on December 28

Christine Rosholt, 46, jazz singer, on December 28

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In Memoriam – July 2011

August 3rd, 2011 5 comments

The month was overshadowed by the death of Amy Winehouse. But the Grim Reaper took some people on whom greater attention would not have been wasted. For example, Chic’s keyboard man Raymond Jones died at the age of 53 of pneumonia; the same illness that took fellow Chic member Bernie Edwards 15 years ago. Also departing on the soul train this month was Fonce Mizell, who with his brother Larry produced acts such as L.T.D., Taste of Honey, The Blackbyrds, Brenda Lee Eager and The Rance Allen Group, and on his own produced that golden run of Jackson 5 singles from 1969-71.

The 1960s rock band The Grass Roots lost its second member this year: after Rick Coonce’s death in February, lead singer Rob Grill passed away. I was also saddened to learn of the death of America’s Dan Peek, whose compositions Lonely People and Don’t Cross The River formed part of the soundtrack of my youth.

The most bizarre death this month is that of Facundo Cabral’s. The 74-year-old Argentinian singer-songwriter was shot dead in Guatemala on July 9, apparently in an assassination attempt on a concert promoter. He had a tough life: at the age of 9 he supported his mother and sibling after the father walked out; in 1978 his wife and infant daughter died in a plane crash; he was a cancer survivor and almost blind. Sample Cabral line: “Every morning is good news, every child that is born is good news, every just man is good news, every singer is good news, because every singer is one less soldier.”

I was also sad to learn of the death, after a fall, of German Schlager singer Bernd Clüver, who was a cut above the usual gang of bowtied squares in the genre, and who in 1976 virtually sabotaged his career when he wrote a song about homophobia, which was banned on West German radio.

Finally, Alex Steinweiss died. We all have plenty of his invention: the album cover. In 1939 he pitched the idea of illustrated record sleeves to his superiors at Columbia Records. They accepted his proposal, and record sales shot up immediately. Steinweiss mostly designed artwork for classical records. Read more at www.soundfountain.org.

Oh, and if you play the saxophone, congratulations on not dying in July.

Christy Essien-Igbokwe, 52, Nigerian singer, on June 30
Christy Essien-Igbokwe – Seun Rere (1981)

Raymond Jones, 52, keyboardist with Chic, on July 1
Chic – My Feet Keep Dancing (1979)

Bébé Manga, 60, Cameroonian singer, on July 1
Bébé Manga – Ami O (1982)

Ruth Roberts, 84, songwriter (Meet The Mets, It’s a Beautiful Day For A Ballgame), on July 1
Meet The Mets (original version, 1962)

Jane Scott, 92, legendary rock critic, on July 3
The Jam – The Modern World (1977)
Manuel Galbán, 80, Cuban guitarist (Las Zafiros, Buena Vista Social Club), on July 7
Ry Cooder & Manuel Galbán – Patricia (2003)

Billy Blanco, 87, Brazilian bossa nova pioneer, on July 8
Billy Blanco – O tempo e a hora (1974)

Kenny Baker, 85, bluegrass fiddler (Bill Monroe, Don Gibson), on July 8
Bill Monroe – Walk Softly On This Heart Of Mine (1970)

Würzel (Michael Burston), 61, Motörhead gutarist (also of Fairport Convention, Splodgenessabounds), on July 9
Motörhead – Overkill (1979)

Facundo Cabral, 74, Argentine singer-songwriter, shot dead on July 9
Facundo Cabral – No Soy De Aquí, Ni Soy De Allá (1970)
Rob Grill, 67, singer of ’60s rock band The Grass Roots, on July 11
The Grass Roots – Midnight Confession (1968)

Fonce Mizell, 68, record producer (a half of Mizell Brothers), death announced on July 11
Blackbyrds – Do It, Fluid (1975)
L.T.D. – Love Ballad (1976)

Jerry Ragovoy, 80, producer and hit songwriter (Piece Of My Heart, Time Is On My Side), on July 13
Garnett Mimms & the Enchanters – Cry Baby (1963, as songwriter)

Adam Chisvo, 47, Zimbabwean jazz musician, on July 13

Antonio Prieto, 85, Chilean singer and actor, on July 14
Antonio Prieto – La novia (1961)
Eric Delaney, 87, British percussionist and swing band leader, on July 15
Eric Delaney Band – Sweet Georgia Brown

Gil Bernal, 80, saxophonist with Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, The Coasters, Quincy Jones, on July 17
Duane Eddy – Rebel-Rouser (1959, as saxophonist)

Taiji, 45, member of Japanese heavy metal band X Japan, of suicide on July 17
X Japan – Endless Rain (1989)

Joe Lee Wilson, 75, jazz singer, on July 17
Joe Lee Wilson – It’s You Or No One (1974)

Sid Cooper, 94, woodwind musician and arranger for big bands (Tommy Dorsey),  TV (Johnny Carson Show) and film (several Woody Allen movies), on July 18
Chris Connor – Chiquita From Chi-wah-wah (1954, on alto sax)
Alex Steinweiss, 94, graphic designer and inventor of album covers (in 1940), on July 18

Lil Greenwood, 86, jazz singer (Duke Ellington Orchestra), on July 19

Milly Del Rubio, 89, singer with The Del Rubio Triplets, on July 21
Del Rubio Triplets – Whip It (1994)

Amy Winehouse, 27, English singer-singwriter, on July 23
Amy Winehouse – Me And Mr Jones (2006)

Bill Morrissey, 59, singer-songwriter, on July 23
Bill Morrissey – Last Day Of The Last Furlough (1989)
Dan Peek, 60, member and songwriter of folk-rock group America, on July 24
America – Don’t Cross The River (1972)

Mike Reaves, 52, guitarist of alt.metal band Full Devil Jacket, on July 25

Frank Foster, 82, jazz saxophonist (Count Basie), composer and arranger, on July 26
Count Basie Orchestra feat. Tony Bennett – Jeepers Creepers (1959, on tenor sax)

Tim Smooth, 39, New Orleans rapper, on July 26
Joe Arroyo, 55, Colombian singer, on July 26
Joe Arroyo-Echao pa’lante (1988)

Bernd Clüver, 63, German Schlager singer, on July 28
Bernd Clüver – Der Junge mit der Mundharmonika (1973)

Jack Barlow, 87, country singer, on July 29

Gene McDaniels, 76, soul singer and songwriter, on July 29
Gene McDaniels – Tower Of Strength (1961)
Roberta Flack – Compared To What (1969, as songwriter)
Marlena Shaw – Feel Like Making Love (1975, as songwriter)

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The Originals Vol. 30

August 7th, 2009 8 comments

In this instalment in the series of the lesser known originals, we look at Killing Me Softly With His Song, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, Evil Ways, (Ghost) Riders In The Sky, and I Wanna Be Loved, an obscure ’70s soul song covered a decade later by Elvis Costello. A vote of thanks to my friends Walter, RH and Mark for feeding me some of the music featured here (the latter a very long time ago).

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Kelly Gordon – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969).mp3
The Hollies – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969).mp3
The Persuasions – He Ain’t Heavy/You’ve Got A Friend (1971).mp3
Donny Hathaway – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1972).mp3
The Housemartins – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1986).mp3

kelly_gordonThe Hollies’ guitarist Tony Hicks was desperately looking for a song to record when he was played a demo of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. The band decided to record it without great expectations, with Reg Dwight (who would become Elton John) on piano. Of course, it became a mega-hit and pop classic. But the Hollies were not the first to record it. The song had already been released by Kelly Gordon in April 1969 — five months before the Hollies’ version — as a single and on his Defunked album (the single’s b-side was That’s Life, a song Gordon had co-written five years earlier, but had been recorded before and made famous by Frank Sinatra). The original of He Ain’t Heavy by Gordon, more active as a producer than a singer, is slower and more mournful. Based on his interpretation, the publishers thought it would be a good song for Joe Cocker to record. And it would have been, but Cocker turned the song down.

He Ain’t Heavy was written by Bobby Scott (who wrote A Taste Of Honey) and the older veteran lyricist Bob Russell (Little Green Apples), who was already ailing with cancer and died at 55 in February 1970, just after the song had become a worldwide hit. There is much speculation as to the origin of the title; most commonly it is believed that the line was inspired by Father Edward Flannagan, the founder of Boys Town, who had adopted it as the organisation’s motto, reputedly after spotting a cartoon of a boy carrying another in a corporate publication named Louis Allis Messenger, that was captioned “He ain’t heavy Mister – he’s m’ brother!” It was not a new line; it had been used in literature and magazine articles before, and supposedly provided the punchline for a Native American folk story.

persuasionsThere have been many covers of the song. I have several favourites. Donny Hathaway’s soul interpretation tops the Hollies’ pop version. Then there are two fine a cappella versions. There are three such recordings by the Housemartins are in circulation: on the compilation Now That’s What I Call Quite Good, as a bonus track on the London 0 Hull 4 CD, and unofficially on the 1986 BBC Saturday Live sessions. It is the latter featured here. It might very well have been inspired by the magnificent version released in 1971 by the a cappella band The Persuasions, who recorded it as part of a medley with You’ve Got A Friend — which the Housemartins also recorded a cappella. (Edit: See the message by former Persuasions frontman Jerry Lawson in the comments section.)

Also recorded by: Neil Diamond (1970), I Ribelli (as Il vento non sa leggere, 1970), The Ruffin Brothers (1970), The Osmonds (1971 & 1975), Glen Campbell (1971), Ramsey Lewis (1971), Cher (1971), Donny Hathaway (1971), Gladys Knight & The Pips (1971), Melba Moore (1971), Johnny Mathis (1972), Brotherhood of Man (1974), Olivia Newton-John (1975), The Housemartins (1985/86), Al Green (1987), Bill Medley (1988), Gotthard (1996), Rufus Wainwright (2001), Helmut Lotti (2003), Pentti Hietanen (2005), Barry Manilow (2007) a.o.

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Lori Lieberman – Killing Me Softly With His Song (1972).mp3
Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song (1973).mp3

lori_lieberman(Text has been edited since it was first posted)

There are two stories describing the genesis of Killing Me Softly With HIs Song. The more widely-spread story has folk-singer Lori Lieberman so moved by Don McLean’s live performance of the song Empty Chairs that she wrote a poem about, calling it Killing Me Softly With His Blues. The composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, who were taking time out from their impressive TV theme production line (Happy Days!) to write songs for Lieberman’s self-titled debut album, used her poem as the basis for the song which she would be the first to record in 1971, releasing it the following year.

Or so Lieberman says. Norman Gimbel’s recollection is very different, though much less known. In an e-mail to this blog (which will go up fully reproduced on Sunday), he explained how it was a book he was referred to years earlier by composer Lalo Shifre that featured the line “Killing Me Softly With His Blues” (the title of the poem Lieberman says she wrote). He like the idea and stored it away for a few years until he needed lyrics for the Lieberman album which he and Fox were writing, changing the word “blues” to “song”.

flackAlthough Lieberman didn’t score a big hit with the song, Flack stumbled upon it in 1972 while in air. After reading about Lieberman in the TWA airline magazine and her interest piqued by the title of the song, she tuned into the song on the in-flight radio, and decided to record it herself. Over a period of three months, Flack experimented with and rearranged the song, changing the chord structure, adding the soaring ad libs and ending the song on a major chord where Lieberman did with a minor. Her remake made an immediate impression, topping the US charts for four weeks and reaching #6 in Britain. Her version won Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance.

Almost a quarter of a century later, in 1996, Killing Me Softly – its full title by now routinely castrated – made an unwelcome return to the album charts in the form of the Fugees’ cover (it wasn’t released as a single so as to boost album sales). Lauryn Hill’s vocals are fine, though the hip hop arrangement negates the confessional intimacy of Flack’s, or indeed Lieberman’s, version. And that would be adequate; the mood of a lyric often is disengaged from a song’s sound to little detriment (think of all the great upbeat numbers with morose lyrics). Besides, the Fugees had conceived of the song as an anti-drug anthem with the revised title Killing Him Softly, a plan that was abandoned when they were denied permission for such modification. The whole exercise becomes something of a prank thanks to Wyclef Jean’s repeated intonation of “one time” and “two time”, as though he was auditioning for the role of parody DJ on Sesame Street. No matter how affecting Hill’s vocals, Wycount von Count’s antics render the Fugees’ version one of the most deplorable covers in pop.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1973), Rusty Bryant (1973), Tim Weisberg (1973), Perry Como (1973), Bobby Goldsboro (1973), John Holt (1973), Anne Murray (1973), The Ventures (1973), Shirley Bassey (1973), Woody Herman (1973), Katja Ebstein (as Das Lied meines Lebens, 1973), Vikki Carr (1973), Lynn Anderson (1973), Rune Gustafsson (1973), Lill Lindfors (as Sången han sjöng var min egen, 1973), Marcella Bella, Lara Saint Paul, Ornella Vanoni (all as Mi fa morire cantando, 1973), Andy Williams (1974), Mike Auldridge (1974), Charlie Byrd (1974), Petula Clark (1974), Engelbert Humperdinck (1974), Ferrante & Teicher (1974), George Shearing Quintet (1974), Charles Fox (1975), Hampton Hawes (1976), Cleo Laine & John Williams (1976), Mina (1985), Lance Hayward (1987), Al B. Sure! (1988), Donald Brown (1989), Casal (as Tal como soy, 1989), Linda Imperial (1991), Yta Farrow (1991), Joanna (as Morrendo de amo, 1991), Luther Vandross (1994), Ron Sanfilippo (1994), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Mahogany (1996), The Fugees (1996), Victoria Abril (1998), Joe Augustine (1998), Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers (1998), The BB Band (1999), Anthony Arizaga (2000), Hank Marvin (2002), Eric Hansen (2002), Kimberly Caldwell (2003), Raymond Jones (2004), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (2005), Omara Portuondo (as Matándome suavemente, 2006), Helge Schneider (2007), a.o.

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Burl Ives – Riders In The Sky (1949).mp3
Vaughn Monroe – Riders In The Sky (1949).mp3
Peggy Lee – Riders In The Sky (A Cowboy Legend) (1949).mp3
The Ventures – Ghost Riders In The Sky (1961).mp3
Deborah Harry – Riders In The Sky (1998).mp3

burl_ivesRiders In The Sky, sometimes known as Ghost Riders In The Sky, is one of those standards which is famous mostly for being famous. It has been recorded many times, and most people know at least its melody (I knew it first in the The Ventures’ 1961 guitar-driven instrumental version), but there seems to be no artist to whom the song is universally and specifically attached.

The song was written in 1948 by Stan Jones, a California forest ranger by trade who wrote western music as a sideline, also contributing music to film classics such as The Searchers and Rio Bravo. Riders In The Sky was first recorded in February 1949 by Burl Ives, still to be outed as a supposed communist fellow traveller and a few years from becoming friends with the McCarthyist defenders of freedom. Two months after Ives, Vaughn Monroe recorded it with his orchestra, and scored an international hit with it. The same year, Gene Autry sang it in a film, also titled Riders In The Sky, and Peggy Lee did a version, adding the parenthetical “A Cowboy Legend” to the title. The song made a comeback in the British charts in 1980 with the instrumental take by The Shadows, covering ground previously traversed by The Ventures and Dick Dale. And in 1998, Deborah Harry, formerly of Blondie, issued her electronica version.

Also recorded by: Bing Crosby (1949), Peggy Lee (1949), Gene Autry (1949), Spike Jones (1949), Eddy Arnold (1959), The Ramrods (1961), The Ventures (1961), Dick Dale (1963), Frank Ifield (1963), Frankie Laine (1963), Lorne Greene (1964), Duane Eddy (1966), The Englishmen (1967), Tom Jones (1967), Elvis Presley (live, 1970), Dennis Stoner (1971), Mary McCaslin (1975), Riders in the Sky 91979), Johnny Cash (1979), The Shadows (1979), Outlaws (1980), Fred Penner (1980), Milton Nascimento (1981), Marty Robbins (1984), The Trashmen (1990), R.E.M. (as Ghost Reindeer in the Sky, 1990), Michael Martin Murphey (1993), Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson (1998), Deborah Harry (1998), Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman and The Blues Brothers Band (1998), Ned Sublette (1999), Concrete Blonde (2004), Peter Pan Speedrock (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006), Die Apokalyptischen Reiter (2006), Spiderbait (2007), Dezperadoz (2008), Children of Bodom (2008) a.o.

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Teacher’s Edition – I Wanna Be Loved (1973).mp3
Elvis Costello – I Wanna Be Loved (1984).mp3

teachers_editionFor a prolific songwriter, Elvis Costello has covered songs widely. His best known cover perhaps is George Jones’ A Good Year For The Roses, itself a country classic. I Wanna Be Loved, a Costello single in 1984 which appeared on the otherwise underwhelming Goodbye Cruel World album (and features Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside on backing vocals), was plucked from obscurity. That’s what Costello said, and he was not exaggerating. I have been able to find nothing about Teacher’s Edition or about Farnell Jenkins, who wrote the song, except that it was released in on the Memphis-based Hi Records (which counted Al Green, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright among its roster) in1973 as a b-side to a song titled It Helps To Make You Strong, and enjoyed popularity in the Northern Soul set. Jenkins, now 67, now seems to be a Chicago-based writer of Gospel songs.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems

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Willie Bobo – Evil Ways (1967).mp3
bobo Santana – Evil Ways (1969).mp3
This month, you may hear it incidentally mentioned, marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. For Santana, the festival was the great break-out moment. Within a few months of Woodstock, the group had a hit with Evil Ways, the first of a string of covers by Carlos and his shifting band of chums. Evil Ways was recorded first by Latin jazz percussionist Willie Bobo, who would later collaborate with Santana. It was written by Bobo’s guitarist Sonny Henry, who is also doing vocal duty. Bobo died young, in 1983 at 49 of cancer. His son, Eric Bobo (the family name is actually Correa), also became a percussionist, with Cypress Hill.

evil_waysThe vocals (and the organ solo) on the Santana version are by the band’s co-founder Gregg Rolie, whose keyboards and vocals were also so integral to Santana’s version of Black Magic Woman (featured in Vol. 1). Rolie proceeded to co-found Journey with former Santana bandmate Neal Schon. In Journey, Rolie was initially lead vocalist, but ceded frontman duties when Steve Perry joined.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1970), Cal Tjader (1971), Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles (1972)

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In The Originals Vol. 22 we looked at The House Of The Rising Sun. In the interim, our friend Walter has sent me the first known recording of the song, by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster, recorded in 1933. I have added it to the original article, and post it below:

Ashley and Foster – Rising Sun Blues.mp3

Those interested in more versions of the song will be well served by this post on the fascinating Merlin in Rags blog, which specialises in old folk and blues.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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More Originals

Songs about impossible love

March 27th, 2009 13 comments

Love that cannot be is a vicious thing. Love is reciprocated, happiness is within one’s grasp (the song Pachelbel makes a beautiful reference to that), but something – marital obligation, family or class politics, sexual orientation, age gap, distance, wrong time and place – obstructs the path to bliss. Here’s then to songs (a couple of them recycled from last year’s post on the subject) about impossible love.

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Karma – Pachelbel.mp3
karmaI am recycling this incredibly moving song from last year. It seems to have been very popular indeed, even though it was a mere album track from an album that was not a big hit even in Karma-Ann Swanepoel’s home country, South Africa. Karma has found someone with whom to connect on an intimate level. As the alert reader might have predicted, there is something that makes this love impossible. They have been talking a lot, always skirting around their true feelings: “So we’ll talk every now and then about our day-to-day, never saying the things we both planned to say.”

In song, however, she tells the object of her desire how she feels: “Thought it best to let you know, you crept into my mind.” And later, the most beautiful line: “I think I smile a little differently when you’re close by.” There are times when impulses threaten to take over: “Then your arms were close enough to kiss.” But, “it doesn’t happen; never will, I guess. But I can hope.” So she is stuck in a love limbo: “And it’s too late to say goodbye, it’s too early yet to think you can’t be mine.” She is distressed, and yet she finds that “there is pleasure to be found in this kind of pain”.

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Rilo Kiley – Does He Love You.mp3
jenny_lewisThe song reflects the experiences of two female friends who are presently conversing. One has an affair with a married man who promises to leave his wife and join her in California. The other is in a difficult marriage – it seems she married her husband only because she felt her “time was running out”. But now that she is pregnant, she seems to love him (or so she says). “But now you love him and your baby; at last you are complete. But he’s distant and you found him on the phone, pleading, saying: ‘Baby, I love you, and I’ll leave her and I’m coming out to California”. Ooops! Obviously the husband is in love with the first woman, who loves him too. And the geometry of the relationships will be further complicated when the love triangle turns into a square soon. Woman #1 realises what will happen: “And your husband will never leave you. He will never leave you for me.” An impossible love for at least two people here, beautifully dramatised by the gorgeous Jenny Lewis.

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Roberta Flack – Our Ages Or Our Hearts.mp3
roberta_flack_first_takeThe obstacle of the age gap was explored by Gary Puckett in his anthem to narrowly but judiciously avoided statutory rape. We don’t know how old Gary was vis-a-vis the young girl, but in Roberta Flack’s lovely song from her 1969 debut album, First Take, the relationship is between two consenting adults. The age difference here seems to be too vast to reconcile. I have difficulty buying into that: she is 21, he is 34. That’s just 13 years (and the 21-year-old girl is probably more mature than the guy). But, as Roberta tells it, “now I find according to society that our ages, they must keep us apart.” She rightly believes that the age difference is immaterial when the two of them are so much in love, “a love too strong for gossip to kill”. But gossip seems to be winning; her man unreasonably a hostage to parochial prejudices. So Roberta has to put an ultimatum to him: “What will it be – our ages or our hearts?”

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Marilyn McCoo – Saving All My Love For You.mp3
mccooThe 1978 original of Whitney Houston’s 1985 hit by the one-time singer of the 5th Dimension. It is, of course, another adultery song (which I think is used better here than in the cheating songs instalment). Naturally, the arrangement of clandestinely banging a married man is not ideal, but she really seems to love him, and, one suspects, he really loves her too, believing that this in itself would justify ending his marriage. “You used to tell me we’d run away together. Love gives you the right to be free.” But she knows that he doesn’t really believe this to be true, that he cannot sacrifice his marital obligation on the altar of love. “You said be patient, just wait a little longer – but that’s just an old fantasy.” So, is he a cheating cad who is just using Marilyn? Or is he in a desperate situation in which at least two – and if his wife finds out possibly three – hearts are broken?

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Erykah Badu – Next Lifetime (live).mp3
erykah_badu1Ouch, she fell hard – “You make me feel like a lilting girl. What do you do to me?” – but is trapped in another relationship. “Now what am I supposed to do when I want you in my world? How can I want you for myself when I’m already someone’s girl?” For Erykah, extra-curricular activity, which her object of desire seems to be proposing, is not an option: “I know I’m a lot of woman, but not enough to divide the pie.” So it won’t happen; they cannot be together, ever. Forever ever? Well, the idea of brutal finality might be just a little too much for Erykah to bear, so she makes a deal: they’ll be together in the next lifetime. “I guess I’ll see you next lifetime. I’m going to look for you.” Which must bring modest comfort to the atheist lover.

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Snow Patrol feat Martha Wainwright – Set The Fire To The Third Bar.mp3
set_the_fireHere we have two people who are in love, but geographical distance is coming between them. “I find the map and draw a straight line over rivers, farms, and state lines; the distance from A to where you’d be…” He and she, for it is a duet with Loudon’s daughter (ergo Rufus’ sister), are feeling depressed about it all. “I’m miles from where you are, I lay down on the cold ground. I pray that something picks me up, and sets me down in your warm arms.” Unlike many others in the impossible love predicament, our two friends may well activate their love fully when they do get together. And in their imagination, they already are: “After I have travelled so far, we’d set the fire to the third bar. We’d share each other like an island until exhausted close our eyelids.” Can the promise of sweaty sex compensate for the agony of separation?

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Morrissey – Driving Your Girlfriend Home.mp3
morrissey_kill_uncle1As the title suggests, Morrissey and his pal’s girlfriend are in a car, but instead of dreaming about double-decker busses, Morrissey is engaged in a conversation punctuated by directions. It turns out that she is not really happy with Morrissey’s pal. “So how did I end up so deeply involved in the very existence I planned on avoiding?” Morrissey has no answer, for he can’t run his mate down in a quest for this girl. She instructs him to drive on, and he does. There is an obvious attraction. Eventually they get to her place. Will she invite him up for “a cup of coffee”? Would he accept such a suggestion? In the event, she doesn’t though she probably was tempted to, and with what seems like profound regret, Morrissey notes: “I’m parking outside her home. And we’re shaking hands ‘Goodnight’, so politely.”

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Jem – Flying High.mp3
jem_finally_wokenI’ll cheat and use the same text as I did last year. Welsh songbird Jem usually does the electronica thing, but here she is in ballad mode. And what a sad ballad it is, continuing the close-but-not-close-enough riff of Pachelbel. “I know that we can’t be together, but I just like to dream. It’s so strange the way our paths have crossed, how we were brought together.” The wonder of love desperately seeks physical expression, but even though she’d “love to spend the night”, she “can’t pay the price”, even if they are “so close to giving in”. The realisation arrives: “I know there’s no such thing as painless love…we can never win.” And still, in the next line Jem reiterates just how giddy this impossible love makes her — it makes her “flying high”.

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In this series so far:
Love hurts
Unrequited love
Being in love
Longing for love
Heartbreak
Adultery
Death

More Songs About Love

More '80s Soul

November 14th, 2008 7 comments

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

The Originals Vol. 1

August 28th, 2008 11 comments

Inspired by a propitious confluence of a long discussion about cover versions we didn’t know where covers and a generous correspondent whom we’ll know as RH e-mailing me a bunch of rare originals of better known covers, we are now at the cusp of what will be a longish series. Any Major Notebook now includes two pages worth of almost 100 shortlisted songs that in their original form are lesser known than later versions. In some cases that reputation is entirely subjective. There will be people who think that the version of Lady Marmalade perpetrated by Christina Aguilera and pals was the original. But people of my generation will long have been familiar with LaBelle’s 1970s recording. Until a day ago, I thought that was the original, but RH has disabused me of my error. The real original of Lady Marmalade will feature later in this series. In a very few cases, I will not present the original, but the earliest version available (I will note these instances accordingly). And we’ll kick-off with a heavy-duty dose of 10 originals. Tell me which songs you were surprised to learn are in fact covers, and let me know whether you prefer the originals or later versions.

(All original songs re-uploaded on March 31, 2009)

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Leon Russell – This Masquerade.mp3
Carpenters – This Masquerade.mp3
It makes sense to start this series with the Carpenters, who made it a virtue of picking up relatively obscure songs, and re-arrange and appropriate them. Think of (They Long To Be) Close To You, which despite legions of competing covers has become the Carpenters’ signature song as much as Richard’s arrangement has become the best-known, indeed primary incarnation of that song. For another good example of Richard’s rearrangement genius, take This Masquerade. Covered only a year after it originally appeared on Leon Russell’s 1972 Carney album, it becomes quite a different animal in the Carpenters’ shop, doing away with the long movie-theme style intro. Oddly, both Russell and the Carpenters’ used the song on b-sides of inferior singles. George Benson’s 1976 Grammy-winning version from the Breezin’ album is also worth noting.
Also covered by: Carl Tjader, Sergio Mendez, Helen Reddy, Shirley Bassey, No Mercy, CoCo Lee, Nils Landgren a.o.
Best version: The Carpenters’s version has a flute and Karen’s voice, beating Benson into second place.

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Randy & the Rainbows – Denise.mp3
Blondie – Denis.mp3
Here’s one I didn’t know until a few days ago: Blondie’s 1977 burst of pop-punk was in fact a cover of a 1963 hit. For Randy & the Rainbows, Denise represented a brief flirtation with stardom. It reached #10 on the Billboard charts, but after the follow-up barely scraped into the Top 100, that was it for the doo-woppers from Queens. For Blondie, on the other hand, Denis was something of a break-through song, at least in Europe. The French verse in Denis was necessary to explain away the object of desire’s gender-change. Thanks to my friend John C for the original version.
Also covered by: nobody worth mentioning
Best version: The original is very nice indeed, but Blondie’s cover is just perfect pop.

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Bing Crosby – Try A Little Tenderness.mp3
Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness.mp3
My kind friend RH, who helped inspire this series, has made me aware of many originals that have surprised me. It was not news to me, however, that Try A Little Tenderness was in fact an old 1930s standard, when RV sent me this Bing Crosby version. And yet, of the many songs I have received from RH, I was particularly delighted with this one, because among its crooned renditions I had heard only versions by Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. It needn’t be pointed out that once Otis was through with the song, with the help of Booker T & the MGs and a production team that included Isaac Hayes, it bore only the vaguest semblance to the smooth and safe standard it once was. Redding didn’t want to record it, ostensibly because he did not want to compete with his hero Sam Cooke’s brief interpretation of the song on the Live At The Copa set. Incredibly Otis’ now iconic delivery was actually intended to screw the song up so much that it could not be released. Bing’s 1932 version is actually not the original, but the song’s first cover version following the Ray Noble Orchestra’s recording.
Also covered by: Mel Tormé, Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra, Jack Webb, Frankie Lane, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Nancy Wilson, Percy Sledge, Nina Simone, Three Dog Night, Etta James, Al Jarreau, Rod Stewart, The Commitments, Michael Fucking Bolton, Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner, Diane Schuur & BB King, Von Bondies, Michael Bublé a.o.
Best version: Otis.

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The Arrows – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.mp3
Joan Jett – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.mp3
The Arrows were a short-lived English band on the RAK label, which also gave us the likes of Smokie, Hot Chocolate and Racey, and so were produced by the semi-genius of ’70s pop, Mickey Most. After two hits – though not this song – and starring in a couple of brief TV series on British TV, they disappeared. Joan Jett also seemed to disappear after the break-up of The Runaways in the late ’70s, suddenly reappearing with the largely obscure I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which she had previously recorded with members of the Sex Pistols. Apparently Jett had known the song since 1976 when, while on tour with the Runaways, she saw the Arrows performing it on TV. Jett had another hit with another cover version, and that was her solo career over. The song found a new generation of admirers in 2001 with Britney Spears’ redundant cover.
Also covered by: Allan Merrill, Hayseed Dixie, Queens of Japan (no, me neither)
Best version: Jett gives it beery attitude.

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Everly Brothers – Crying In The Rain.mp3
Cotton, Lloyd & Christian – Crying In The Rain.mp3
A-ha – Crying In The Rain.mp3

Before she was all dreamy and barefooted hippie cat lover, Carole King was a songwriter in the legendary Brill Building. One of the many hits she churned out was Crying In The Rain, with which the Everly Brothers scored a top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1961. It was periodically revived on the country circuit, but is best known to many as the A-ha hit from 1990 – and the many would include me. In between, it was recorded in 1976 by an obscure outfit called Cotton, Lloyd & Christian. I have no idea how their version landed up in my collection, but here it is, serving as a missing link between the versions by the Everly Bothers and A-ha.
Also covered by: Sweet Inspirations, Crystal Gayle, Tammy Wynette, Don Williams a.o.
Best version: A-ha, by a whisker

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Liza Minnelli – New York, New York.mp3
Frank Sinatra – New York New York.mp3
The Theme from New York, New York has so much become a Sinatra cliché, it is often forgotten that it came from a rather long and boring Scoresese film with Minnelli and Robert de Niro. In the film, Minelli’s version is a source of some melancholy viewing; Sinatra’s 1979 take, recorded two years after the film, gets parties going with the hackneyed high-kicks and provides any old drunk with an alternative to My Way on karaoke night. If proof was needed that Sinatra trumps Lucille 2, consider that the NY Yankees used to play the Sinatra version after winning, and Minnelli’s after a defeat. Minnelli objected to that, understandably, and gave the Yankees an ultimatum: “Play me also when you win, or not at all.” Now Sinatra gets played even when they lose.
Also covered by: Michael Fucking Bolton (imagine that!), Reel Big Fish, Cat Power a.o.
Best version: Frank’s version is A-Number One

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Four Seasons – Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye).mp3
Bay City Rollers – Bye Bye Baby.mp3
The Four Seasons will be occasional visitors in this series. At least those people who grew up in the 1970s will be more familiar with cover versions than the Four Seasons originals. Bye Bye Baby was written by band member Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe, making it to #12 in the US charts. A decade later the Bay City Rollers scored their biggest hit with their decent but inferior version. The story goes that the Bay City Rollers were oblivious of the Four Seasons orginal, choosing it because Stuart “Woody” Wood had the 1967 cover by the Symbols. I have no idea what the Symbols did with the song, but the BCR arrangement certainly owes nothing to the more sparse original.
Also covered by: Apart from the Symbols also by something called the Popguns
Best version: Always the Four Seasons

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Fleetwood Mac – Black Magic Woman.mp3
Santana – Back Magic Woman.mp3
From Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 debut album, Black magic Woman is “three minutes of sustain/reverb guitar with two exquisite solos from Peter [Green],” according to Mick Fleetwood. Carlos Santana covered it on 1970’s Abraxas album and retained its basic structure and clearly drug-induced vibe, but changed the arrangement significantly with a shot of Latin and hint of fusion, and borrowing from jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo’s Gypsy Queen. It became one of Santana’s signature tunes, while Fleetwood Mac had to remind audiences that the song was actually theirs. The vocals on the Santana version are by Greg Rolie, who later co-founded Journey. And the who is this Black Magic Woman? According to legend, it was a BMW of that colour which the non-materialist Green fancied.
Also covered by: Dennis Brown, Mina, the Go Getters
Best version: Santana’s, especially for the use of the congas

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Scott English – Brandy.mp3
Barry Manilow – Mandy.mp3
Although he is a talented songwriter, Barry Manilow is a bit like the Carpenters: he appropriated other people’s songs by force of arrangement (and, obviously, commercial success) – including a Carpenters song, which will feature in this series. If we need proof of how much Bazza owned the songs he didn’t write, consider his giant hit Mandy. It was a cover of a ditty called Brandy by one Scott English, which was a #12 hit in Britain in 1971 (the tune was written by Richard Kerr, who wrote two other hits for Manilow, Looks Like We’ve Made It and Somewhere In The Night). Manilow’s renamed version was the first cover. None of the subsequent recordings are dedicated to Brandy. English’s version is not very good. To start with he couldn’t sing, and the production is slapdash. Manilow recorded it relucantly, not yet sure about singing other people’s music. He slowed it down, gave it a lush arrangement, and we know how it ended. Quite hilariously, Manilow is not popuar among some people in New Zealand who think that he stole the song from a local singer called Bunny Walters, who had a hit with Brandy in his home country while the actual songwriter’s version failed to dent the charts there.
Also covered by: Johnny Mathis, Starsound Orchestra, Helmut Lotti (urgh!), Westlife
Best version: Mandy trumps Brandy.

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Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.mp3
Roberta Flack – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.mp3
The first time ever you heard this song probably was by Roberta Flack, whose performance on her 1969 debut album was barely noticed until it was included in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film Play Misty For Me. Those who dig deeper will know that it was in fact written in the 1950s by folk legend Ewan MacColl, for Peggy Seeger with whom he was having an affair and who would become his third wife. For MacColl, the political troubadour, the song is a radical departure, supporting the notion that he didn’t just write it for inclusion in Peggy’s repertoire. Followers of the ’60s folk scene might have known the song before they heard the Flack version; it was a staple of the genre. The Kingston Trio even cleaned up the lyrics, changing the line “The first time ever I lay with you…” to “…held you near”. After the success of Flack’s intense, tender, sensual, touching and definitive version – which captures the experience of being with somebody you love better than any other song – there was an explosion of covers, with Elvis Presley’s bombastic version especially infuriating MacColl, who compared it to Romeo singing up at Juliet on the Post Office tower. It does seem that he did not take kindly to the intimacy of his song being spread widely and, indeed, corrupted. And Peggy Seeger never sang the song again after Ewan’s death
Also covered by: Smothers Brothers, Peter Paul & Mary, Harry Belafonte, Marianne Faithfull, Bert Jansch, Gordon Lightfoot, Shirley Bassey, Vicky Carr, Andy Williams, Engelbert Humperdinck, Johnny Mathis, The Temptations, Isaac Hayes, Timmy Thomas, The Chi-Lites, Mel Tormé, Barbara Dickson, Alsion Moyet, Aaron Neville, Julian Lloyd Webber, Lauryn Hill, Celine Dion, George Michael, Christy Moore, Stereophonics, Johnny Cash, Vanessa Williams, Leona Lewis a.o.
Best version: I’m waiting for Michael Fucking Bolton to do his version before I commit myself…
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The Age of the Afro: '70s Soul Vol. 2

February 2nd, 2008 4 comments

Before we launch into the second part of the Age of the Afro series, let me thank the kind people who commented so generously and positively on the first installment — and, indeed, everybody who posts comments. Any blogger, certainly the music writers, will agree that comments validate our efforts, and encourage us to carry on. So, on to the next lot of ’70s soul classics. Read more…

1989

July 29th, 2007 1 comment

A most intense year. I fell heavily in unrequited love (we were closest of friends instead, FFS), and I had the worst day of my life. One morning in January I received my call-up papers for the apartheid army — there was no way I’d go, but what to do other than leaving the country (and leaving behind the woman I hoped would love me back)? Refusing military “service” was punishable by six years in jail. After a Savuka concert that night, which I had to watch on my own after getting separated from my friends, I crashed the car I was about to sell to my friend Claude, and was lucky to to get away with a mashed-up lip, cut chin and sprained finger, since I was wearing no seatbelt (playing on tape at the time was Bruce Springsteen).

The army situation became an opportunity: it turned out that one could receive an exemption if one studied. So I registered at a college to complete my matriculation. From there I went on to university to study Sociology and Political Studies (the refuge for people who have no idea what to study). By the time I had completed my studies, it was safe to ignore call-up papers. Musically it was generally a terrible year, except in dance music, which hit a high.

Jevetta Steele – Calling You.mp3
The fantastically atmospheric theme song of the fantastically atmospheric film Baghdad Café (not to be confused with the train-wreck sitcom based on the film). The Percy Adlon film, originally titled Out Of Rosenheim, was originally released in 1987. It hit the South African circuit in 1989. I watched it twice at the movies, and several times on video that year.

Michelle Shocked – Anchorage.mp3
I was in bed with the woman I loved when this song played on the radio one afternoon. Alas, we were both dressed and there were other people in the room, resting after a day at the beach. Gah! I can’t say I would know other Michelle Shocked songs. I taped the album, but didn’t rate it. Except this song; it’s great. Oh, and hello to my two loyal readers in Anchorage!

MarcAlex – Quick Quick.mp3
The South African hit of early 1989. Brothers MarcAlex not only filled the dancefloors with this innocuous discopop tune, but people everywhere were singing it. It’s a catchy number, very much of its time (it even has a sax solo in it). After a few more inferior hits, Marcalex’s gradual disappearance was barely noticed or bemoaned.

Gipsy Kings – Djobi Djoba.mp3
I could never get much enthused for the works of the Gipsy Kings, nor for the criticism of them. At the time I often DJed at parties, by dint of having the biggest and best record collection. As a party mover, this song worked. And where I live, it still does.

Roberta Flack – So It Goes.mp3
Flack’s reputation is slightly tarnished by her duets with the likes of Peabo Bryson (though their “Maybe” was great). Fact is, Roberta Flack is one of history’s great soul singers. Her 1988 Oasis album, which yielded this unassuming track, was quite lovely in the “Quiet Storm” sort of way. As I listen to it right now, I can smell 1989.

Natalie Cole – Miss You Like Crazy.mp3
Guess whom I associate this song with. Oh the tears this song soundtracked; just hearing it now knots up my stomach all over again. The album this is from, Good To Be Back, was actually pretty good. Especially the swinging vibe of the title track.

De La Soul – Me, Myself And I.mp3
Fabolous, 50 Cent, Ludacris, The Game and all these contemporary hip hop gubbins are pissing on the legacy of De La Soul. Fiddy and his ilk are really an outgrowth of the MC Hammer vs Vanilla Ice battle for the crown of rap kings via the deplorable gangsta rap scene of the ’90s (OK, I’m not an expert on hip hop, it just seems like it to me). So where can we find the influence of De La Soul today?

Soul II Soul – Back To Life.mp3
Black Box – Ride On Time.mp3
Ten City – That’s The Way Love Is.mp3
A trio of dance classics from a golden era. Soul II Soul were innovators from a British dance culture; Black Box was the best slice of Euro disco (though replacing the generously proportioned singer with a thin waif in the video was criminal); Ten City was a Chicago act produced in Germany, drawing from ’70s soul, House and Euro to create a quite unique sound.

Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians – Friends.mp3
I bought this album because I thought I was supposed to like it. Hearing Brickell even now tends to remind of all the frustrations I felt in 1989. This song is an exception — nice vocal performance, a good melody, and wonderfully stroppy lyrics that give the finger to bad friends, of whom I’ve had my fair share.

Martika – Toy Soldiers.mp3
When I played this a few minutes ago, my 12-year-old son came in, singing along. I asked how he knew that song. He told me Eminem sampled liberally from it on a song called — and here we learn that Eminem is a true innovator — “Like Toy Soldiers”. I didn’t want to like this song after Martika’s redundant cover Carol King’s “I Feel The Earth Move”. But, pssst, it is actually quite good, at least within the context of Top 40 hits of 1989.

Mango Groove – Special Star.mp3
Oh, South Africans were proud of the multi-racial Mango Groove, which combined joyful pop with local musical genres, revived the pennywhistle (giving dues, as in this song, to the master of the art, Spokes Mashiane), and gave wider exposure to the miners’ tradition of gumboot dancing. Mango Groove foreshadowed the New South Africa. Alas, by the time the New South Africa was born in 1994, Mango Groove was no more. Singer Claire Johnston’s beautiful voice is now usually heard singing the national anthem before rugby internationals in South Africa. But “Special Star”, with its multiple pace changes and that exuberant pennywhistle, is rightly a towering classic in local pop history. (Previously uploaded)

Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes.mp3
I know, it’s not from 1989 at all (it appeared on 1986’s So). Why is it included in a 1989 nostalgia trip? Two words: Say Anything. Which came out in 1989 and created one of the most iconic moments in ’80s cinema.

———————————

And so we reach the end of my nostalgia trip through the 1980s. I will no

t attempt to do the 1990s, which are a blur to me (Mariah Carey was big in the ’90s, yes?). The 1970s on the other hand… Oh yes, I’ll do the 1970s soon.

Music for a wedding

March 5th, 2007 1 comment

Sountrack to this blog:
Ben Folds – The Luckiest (left-click)
Mason Jennings – Ballad For My One True Love (left-click)
The Weepies – Somebody Loved (live) (right-click and “save target as”)
Bob Schneider – The World Exploded Into Love (right-click and “save target as”)
Sadao Watanabe & Roberta Flack – Here’s To Love (right-click and “save target as”)

Oh my, what an exciting weekend: Liz Hurley got married!!! I learned all about what must be one of the great stories of the year from Sky News, purveyors of all the modern person needs to know.

On Saturday morning, Sky interviewed a wedding planner. Because such erudite insights into matters of this nature are crucial to our understanding of the world. Explaining why Ms Hurley needed a flashy celebrity wedding reception (at which the only acceptable gift was an organic cow, going rate £3,000; presumably an ironic statement relating to Hurley’s purported character), Ms Wedding Planner excitedly proclaimed: “Imagine Liz went to the local registrar’s office to get married and then to a three-star hotel for a chicken dinner. We’d all be disappointed!” By Jupiter, how we would be!

It is one of life’s graces that Ms Hurley does care about us, and so had a just super wedding, with even shy and retiring Elton John on the celeb-studded guest list (important, because the quality and quantity of celebrities in attendance dictate the fee Ms Hurley receives from whatever gossip magazine secured the rights for the obligatory wedding photo-spread). The threat of our collective disappointment was averted. It just makes it so much easier coping with the climate change, the impenetrable mess in Iraq, and the worrying prospect of Rudy Giuliani succeeding the putrid spawn of Satan, if we know that Liz Hurley did not have a plebian nuptial ceremony at the local 3-star dig.

I went to a wedding last week. Elton John wasn’t there, but I heroically endured that obvious cause for distress. The bride also didn’t ask for organic cows. So we gave her a lovely casserole dish, as one does. But we abstained from buying the traditional congratulatory card.

Oh, the congratulatory message is necessary, even if I one gets to see the bride only every five years (at funerals, mostly) and makes one’s introduction to the lucky groom only on the wedding day. One is delighted and genuinely touched to have been invited. But here’s the problem: you buy a carefully-chosen and diabolically expensive greeting card, and scribble an awkward message inside. It will not be remembered in competition with all the other cards from closer friends and family. And after a decent period of prominent display, it will be packed away, never to be seen again until the couple moves or splits. And then it will be (ahem) discarded.

The casserole dish will soon be forgotten, but our good wishes hopefully not. For our mode of conveying congratulations was at once creative and thrifty: in lieu of tacky cardboard, the bridal couple received a mix-tape (on CD-R, but let’s continue, for sake of tradition, to call it a mix-tape). Don’t think I’m cheap: I spent the best part of three hours collating appropriate songs — and at my hourly rates, the couple easily recouped their financial outlay for two wedding dinners.

Selecting appropriate songs wasn’t easy. For one, I don’t know what sort of music the happy couple prefers to listen to. For all I know they are devotees of Gorgoroth and their death metal chums. Or perhaps they are faithful only to the deplorable Celine Dion, Anastasia and Simply Red — and a spot of Coldplay if they feel really edgy. (In the event, Joshua Kadison provided the first “waltz”, and Al Green the exit dance). This lack of knowledge complicates the song selection. And yet, the reason I enjoy making mix-tapes is to share the music I love, perhaps introducing the recipient to new favourites. Because I have excellent taste in music, obviously.

But it isn’t good enough to bang together a mix-tape for virtual strangers on one’s egocentric speculation. Not many people want to hear 20 unknown tracks by obscurities they have never heard about, and probably never would have. The trick is to sprinkle such a collection with tracks the listener can identify with, even at the cost of compromising the compiler’s integrity.

And then there was the challenge of finding songs with the right lyrics. I have discovered that there are many love songs that sound perfectly romantic – until a subtle twist in the lyrics rendered them useless for purposes of expressing “true love”. Few things in life are more embarrassing than two lovers playing James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” to each other because, you know, she really is beautiful. I’ve heard of couples playing this at their weddings, as if the line “she was with another man” did not subtly hint at a lyrical context quite at variance with the notion of a romantic union saturated with perpetual bliss.

In short, only about half of the songs are representative of my musical evangelisation work. But if this mix-tape inspires the couple to get into, say, the Weepies or Iron & Wine or Ron Sexsmith, my mission will have been accomplished.

So every song a proper love song, with lyrics and music better than Will Young’s ubiquitous “Evergreen” (OK, open goal. Shoot already!). Listening to this CD of love songs, I contemplated building a fireplace, shoot and skin a luxuriously furry animal, put on these 22 songs on loop, and make long passionate love to the love of my life.

So, here’s what the newly-weds listened to, I hope, as they consummated their marriage:

The Platters – With This Ring
‘Baby, I never thought so much love could fit in a little band of gold. But I’m telling you, darling, I feel it in my heart, got it in my soul.’

Sadao Watanabe & Roberta Flack – Here’s To Love
‘You fill my life with love and joy…a toast to all the things you are, my light and shining star’

Eric Benét feat. Tamia – Spend My Life With You

‘The years will roll by, but nothing will change the love inside of you and I’

Shawn Colvin – When You Know

‘When it’s clear this time, you’ve found the one, you never let him go’

Lifehouse – You And Me

‘Everything she does is beautiful, everything she does is right’

Ben Folds – The Luckiest
‘And where was I before the day that I first saw your lovely face? Now I see it e

veryday, and I know.’ (Possibly the greatest love song of all time)

Bob Schneider – The World Exploded Into Love
‘The world exploded into love all around me, and every time I take a look around me, I have to smile’ (Not too sure whether the lyrics don’t invite alternative interpretations, actually… Download it and hear.)

Ben Harper – By My Side

‘My care for you is from the ground up to the sky it’s over under up above down below and to the side.’

Al Green – Let’s Stay Together

‘Lovin’ you whether, whether, times are good or bad, happy or sad.’

Minnie Riperton – Loving You

‘No one else can make me feel the colors that you bring. Stay with me while we grow old, and we will live each day in springtime.’

Earth, Wind & Fire – Be Ever Wonderful

‘And be ever wonderful, stay as you are. Stay as you are, won’t you stay in your own sweet way.’

Anita Baker – Giving You The Best That I Got

‘I bet everything on my wedding ring, I’m giving you the best that I got, givin’ it to you baby.’

Ron Sexsmith – Whatever It Takes

‘The sun alone will never do, without your love to shine on through’

Jonny Lang – Beautiful One

‘I gave my word, I made a promise And I’m gonna keep it til the end’

Alexi Murdoch – Love You More

‘I’m gonna love you more’ (That’s the lyrics, basically)

Peter Mayer – Now Touch The Air Softly

‘And I’ll love you as long as the furrow the plow, as However is Ever, and Ever is Now.’ (I owe the Late Greats blog for this.)

The Weepies – Somebody Loved

‘Now my feet turn the corner back home. Sun turns the evening to rose, stars turning high up above. You turn me into somebody loved.’ (Another one I’m not 100% of, but it’s a lovely sentiment.)

Richard Hawley – Baby, You’re My Light

‘But I believe in you and now I’ll show it. And as life goes on you know you don’t have to hate all you find. Baby, you’re my light.’

Rascal Flatts – I Melt

‘Don’t know how you do it, I love the way I lost it every time. And what’s even better
is knowing that forever you’re all mine.’

Mason Jennings – Ballad For My One True Love
‘And all the while I ‘m dreaming of the ballad for my one true love, searching for the perfect way to say: I love you sweetheart, this is my dream come true.’

Eastmountainsouth – So Are You To Me

‘As the ruby in the setting, as the fruit upon the tree, as the wind blows over the plains, so are you to me.’

Iron & Wine – Such Great Heights

‘I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they are perfectly alligned.’