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In Memoriam – August 2011

September 5th, 2011 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Akiko Futaba, 96, Japanese singer, on August 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Step back to 1977 – Part 1

June 4th, 2010 8 comments

1977, the year I turned 11, was a pivotal year in my life, perhaps more than any other. My family was torn apart by my father’s sudden death, I discovered love and became a serious fan of pop music. We’ll deal with the first two in part 1. As always, I must stress that all songs are included here because they have the power to beam me back to the time under discussion. Some I like, and some I most certainly do not endorse. Don’t despair, things will get better as I get older…
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Electric Light Orchestra – Livin’ Thing.mp3
Until this point, the Electric Light Orchestra had passed me by, and they would again do so until 1979/80, when I really liked their hits Don’t Bring Me Down, Confusion and Shine A Light from the Discovery album. There were other songs in between, and every friend’s long-haired, bumfluff-moustached older brother had a few ELO albums, alongside the ubiquitous Heart LP (the one with Barracuda, which to this day remains Annoying Older Brother music to me). But I didn’t dig ELO. Except Livin’ Thing. Perhaps not coincidentally, it sounds much like the Discovery era ELO. The production is brilliant, of course (the strings especially), but it’s the chorus that must have grabbed me then. For all values that I have come to appreciate about ELO since then, I don’t think they were that great with choruses.

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Bay City Rollers – Yesterday’s Hero.mp3
In West Germany, the little girls maintained a rivalry between the Bay City Rollers and Sweet. If churning out the better hits in 1977 is the yardstick by which we shall measure victory, BCR won, even as the song’s title was becoming increasingly apt. Yesterday’s Hero is a bit of a stomper in the Saturday Night vein. Written by Harry Vanda and George Young, it was originally recorded in 1975 by John Paul Young, who’d score a couple of worldwide hits in 1977/78 with Love Is In The Air and Standing In The Rain (an Italian cardinal was such a great fan, he adopted the singer’s name upon becoming pope in August 1978). George Young, incidentally is AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm Young’s older brother. With Vanda, George had been a member of the Easybeats. They then recorded as Flash and the Pan. They also produced AC/DC’s Powerage and High Voltage albums.

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Bonnie Tyler – Lost In France.mp3
If any record my mother bought was going to excite me, then it had to be one that included the timeless lyrics: “Hoolay-hoolay hoolay-hoolay-dance”. It might have supposed to sound like ooh-la-la ooh-la-la dance, but Mrs Tyler (no doubt she was married, because she looked like a Hausfrau) gave the French phrase her own Welsh twist. Lost In France, which sounds like a Smokie song, was recorded before Tyler had an operation on her vocal chords, which gave her already smoky voice that distinctive rasp. Within a year Tyler had an even bigger hit, with It’s a Heartache, and in 1983 with the magnificent Jim Steinman production Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

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Frank Zander – Oh Susie (Der zensierte Song).mp3
While my interest in German Schlager had diminished by 1977, I couldn’t escape the likes of Peter Alexander, Roberto Blanco, Costa Cordalis and Howard Carpendale on the radio or TV. Compared to those ingratiating chumps, Frank Zander was fairly cool. With his almost tuneless voice and faintly amusing lyrics (well, up to a point), he certainly stood apart from the chumps. He had first come to general notice in 1975 with Ich trink auf dein Wohl Marie, the supposed humour of which resided in his supposed drunkenness (hell, at nine years of age, I was amused). Two years later, he had moved from the adult Marie to jalbait Susie, of the “uncensored song” which through the medium of country-pop operates on the fun to be had with bleeped out double entendres. Oh, how we almost laughed. An “uncensored version” was also released, with Zander voicing over the supposed words that were bleeped out, but those were not really objectionable either; a comedic double bluff, in other words. Zander later became a full-time practitioner of the novelty song, doing unhilarious spoof covers of Trio’s Da Da Da and, under the pseudonym Fred Sonnenschein released particularly inane Scheiße.

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Lynsey De Paul & Mike Moran – Rock Bottom.mp3
Ah, the days when Britain still had a shot at winning the Eurovision Song Contest; before bitter regional enemies in the Balkans would divvy up the highest numbers of points between one another (except this year, when Germany won). Rock Bottom was the runner-up in the 1977 contest. France won that year, with Marie Myriam’s L’oiseau et l’enfant, a song I would not even pretend to recognise if it stuck its tongue down my throat while humming itself. And while Croatia is happy to give Serbia 12 points, Ireland gave Rock Bottom nil points. Austria’s entry, Eurovision cliché watchers will be pleased to know, was titled Boom Boom Boomerang. Mike Moran went on to produce David Bowie and write the theme for crime TV series Taggard. De Paul had already enjoyed a career as a singer and songwriter (including Barry Blue’s hit Dancin’ On a Saturday Night). At around the time that Moran co-wrote Kenny Everett’s not entirely welcome Snot Rap, De Paul was singing songs for the Conservative Party.

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Space – Magic Fly.mp3
This was a bit of an instrumental novelty hit in the way that there always was at least one every year in the German charts. Unlike some of the others, however, Magic Fly is rather good. Space were a pretty cool French disco act whose music might well be sought out by aficionados of the genre. I had the single of this. It got stolen at the last church youth camp I bothered attending, in 1979. The youth leaders didn’t even bother to investigate the theft of my records (the violation of the commandments about theft and coveting thy neighbour’s goods notwithstanding). That annoyed me, because in 1976 they had a whole scene from The Shield going when some hapless goon stole a popular guy’s pocketknife. Nobody asked what the cool guy was doing with a knife in a church camp in the first place. But to the religious church camp regime, rightful ownership of weapon clearly was more important than pop music. So, you know, fuck them.

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Oliver Onions – Orzowei.mp3
I actually didn’t like this song that much; my younger brother was a great fan of it (and, yeah, the chorus is quite catchy, in the way choruses with the phrase “nananana-nananana-nananana-na-na” often are). Little bro’ was also a great Bud Spencer and Terence Hill fan, so he had an Italian obsession already which would only later incorporate the finer aspects of that country’s rich cultural heritage. Oliver Onions (named after the British writer) were Italian film writers Guido & Maurizio De Angelis, who wrote for Bud Spencer & Terence Hill movies. Orzowei was the theme song for what I think was an Italian mini-series titled in Germany Weißer Sohn des kleinen Königs, a story about a white boy brought up in an African tribe. It was a German #1 in late May and early June, which was, as we will see in the next entry, a rather significant point in my young life.

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Julie Covington – Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.mp3
In early June, my mother bought the single of this. One night she played it for my father, a theatre and opera buff who probably would have liked any of the crap inflicted upon us by that revolting grease-head Andrew Lloyd-Webber. And, indeed, Mom and Dad, sitting together on the green suede lounge suite, really enjoyed that song together. A couple of nights later (the anniversary of which is on Saturday), a shrill scream echoed through our house, alerting me to the notion I was now fatherless. My father had collapsed with a heart attack at work; we had been notified that he had been taken to hospital, but didn’t know that he made his final, apparently artificial breath in the ambulance.

In the subsequent weeks, my mother was totally obsessed by Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, playing it over and over and over, her loud sobs disregarding Evita’s injunction not to shed tears for her or, by extension, my father. I cannot have an objective opinion of that song’s merits. I love that song because it evokes such intense emotions. And I hate it for the same reason. Catch me on the right day, and you’ll find that the strings that open Don’t Cry For Me Argentina can still produce a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach, or a tear in my eye.

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Smokie – It’s Your Life.mp3
Readers who are familiar with the oeuvre of Smokie will rightly question my good judgment in including this song, and, if there had to be Smokie, not one their bigger hits of 1977, Living Next Door To Alice (and you may very well ask politely who is Alice) or Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone, both far less rubbish tunes than this. But the point of the series is to include songs that have the power to transport me back to a particular time. It’s Your Life, a tempo-changing mish-mash of cod-reggae, bubblegum pop and Beatles-homage, does just that. It evokes the summer of 1977. When it comes to the bridge, and the backing singers start singing: “How does it feel…” I am inclined to continue “…one of the beautiful people”. The fleeting similarity to the Beatles’ Baby You’re A Rich Man is not subtle. And the chorus borrows more than a bit from George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord (or, indeed, The Chiffons’ He’s So Fine).

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Rod Stewart – Sailing.mp3
Yes, I know, it was a hit in 1975. Yet it belongs here. In August 1977, my brothers and I went on a church camp. The regular reader may recall from the 1976 installment that the previous year’s camp (the one with the pocketknife incident) had been intolerable due to my older brother’s Gauleiter complex, bullying me mercilessly. This year, he was totally cool. The whole group of about 40 kids from 9-15 was great and grew close over two weeks. It was one of the best fortnights of my life. And I fell in love with the lovely Antje, with her dark hair and little freckles on her nose. Of course I was too shy to do much about it, other than carving her name on my bed’s headboard (and anywhere else I found suitable). A night or two before our departure — the day we received news of Elvis’ death — we had a disco evening. I was intent on asking Antje for a slow dance, and practised with one of the youth leaders, the generously bosomed Doris, to Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London. The next ballad would be my cue.

After loads of Sweet and T Rex songs, played by my DJing older brother, the opening notes of Rod Stewart’s Sailing sounded. Being totally sexy in my tight white jeans and navy T-shirt, I got up and made a beeline across the dancefloor for the lovely Antje. Halfway down, approaching from the right flank, came a chap called Roland. I had not known that he too had taken a fancy to the lovely Antje. For all I knew, he might have had his sights on any number of girls cliqued together in the lovely Antje’s vicinity. Still, somehow I sensed his intended target right at that moment.

It was like High Noon; tumbleweed blowing as nervous eyes darted here and there. Little me and big Roland, both after the same girl, with the entire crowd watching from the sidelines. Our paths met. Instinctively, I shoulder-charged my rival out of the way. As he tumbled away I reached the lovely Antje, stood in front of her and boldly asked her to dance to Rod Stewart’s Sailing. She looked inquiringly at her best friend, who nodded her consent. So Antje and I had our awkward first — and, alas, last — dance, with all my pals giving me the thumbs up, and Roland plotting a revenge which never came. After the camp, I never saw Antje again. But not a year goes by when I don’t think of her, of the feeling of my hands on the back of her slightly clammy T-shirt and her soft breath brushing against my neck.

So when I think of 1977, the shock and grief caused by my father’s death comes to mind, but also the intensity of my puppy love and the comfort of my holiday with a great group of people. The year had awoken in me an intense consciousness of life, and I would soon direct that intensity towards the fanatical acquisition of music.

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More Stepping Back

Copy Borrow Steal Vol. 3

November 13th, 2009 14 comments

Did the Beatles borrow from a 1956 jazz hit before their song was shamelessly copied by a 1990s alternative group? How did Rod Stewart get around a plagiarism lawsuit? Does Seal’s mega-hit Kiss From A Rose borrow from Natalie Cole? Did Keith Richards and Mick Jagger really never hear k.d. lang’s Constant Craving? Why am I writing the intro in question format? Could it be because the Copy Borrow Steal posts are not intended to directly accuse songwriters of plagiarism (except when they do)? Shall we proceed to the meat of the post?

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Jorge Ben – Taj Mahal (1976).mp3
Bob Dylan – One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) (1966).mp3
Rod Stewart – Do Ya Think I’m Sexy (1978).mp3
Steve Dahl – Do You Think I’m Disco
(1979).mp3
jorge benIt didn’t go down well when Rod the Mod donned the leopard-print spandex tights and satin shirt to cash in on the disco boom. His fans were appalled, the disco purists even more so, and the disco haters went into overdrive. Radio jock Steve Dahl was prompted to organise the despicable record burning at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in part because of Rod’s single (for my views on Comiskey, go here). Dahl later released the non-genius spoof Do You Think I’m Disco. In the outrage, few noticed that the chorus of Rod’s song (and, for that matter, Dahl’s) was lifted almost wholesale from Brazilian jazz maestro Jorge Ben’s samba-funk workout Taj Mahal, which he has recorded at least three times since its first appearance in 1972 (featured here is the 1976 version).

rodDo Ya Think I’m Sexy was written by Stewart with his drummer, Carmine Appice. But clearly, it was largely plagiarised, so Jorge Ben threatened to sue. Rod deftly outmanoeuvred him, and Ben (who also wrote the bossa nova standard Mais Que Nada) saw no profit from it. Stewart grandly announced that future royalties of his ripped-off track would go to UNICEF, at whose proto-Live Aid show he sang “his” song. Ben — now known as Jorge Ben Jor, after somehow royalties due to him were paid to George Benson — later complained that UNICEF never even contacted him about the agreement. He was not happy about having been ripped off, but would have been fine with his melody being lifted if only Stewart and Appice had asked him.

Da Ya Think also lifts that synth hook from Bobby Womack’s 1975 track (If You Want My Love) Put Something Down On It. The Can-Smashing Robot blog, however, believes to have spotted another subtle rip-off: Al Kooper’s organ hook at 2:59 in Bob Dylan’s One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later). You decide. But as you do, think about this: Dylan’s track appeared on Blonde On Blonde; Stewart’s on Blondes Have More Fun. Coincidence?

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Humphrey Lyttleton – Bad Penny Blues (1956).mp3
The Beatles – Lady Madonna (1967).mp3
Sublime – What I Got (1996).mp3

lytteltonThe piano riff of Humphrey Lyttleton’s Bad Penny Blues, played by Johnny Parker, allegedly inspired Paul McCartney ivory-tinkling on Lady Madonna. Engineered by the legendary Joe Meek (who should have received the producer credit), it was the first British jazz number to reach the UK Top 20. Lyttleton, a jazz traditionalist, did not like the song on account of Meek’s innovations.

The aristocratic Lyttleton, who died in April last year, was a colourful character. Apart from playing jazz, he was also a cartoonist for the Daily Mail (which at the time evidently still employed left-leaning characters). At school, he played in a band with the journalist Ludovic Kennedy, who died last month. The trumpet was his constant companion, it seems. During the war, he reportedly landed on Salerno beach during Operation Avalanche with gun in one hand and trumpet in the other. On VE Day, the BBC filmed him celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany sitting in a wheelbarrow playing his trumpet. For 40 years he presented a jazz programme on BBC radio, retiring the month before his death. He also appeared on the BBC radio comedy quiz show I’m Sorry, I Haven’t Got A Clue; one of his replacement after his death was the magnificent Stephen Fry. And in 2001, he contributed to Radiohead’s Life In A Glasshouse.

To spoil a good story, McCartney says that the piano on Lady Madonna was in fact inspired by Fats Domino, whose vocal style he also tried to replicate. And, in fairness, I can’t hear much similarity between Lyttleton’s and McCartney’s songs.

There is, however, more than just a little similarity between Lady Madonna and alternative rock outfit Sublime’s 1997 hit What You Got. The latter’s first verse melody is almost identical to that of the Beatles’ song. Apparently the Sublime song, released after lead singer Bradley Nowell’s death, was based on a song by called Loving by Jamaican dancehall singer Half Pint. He gets a writer’s credit; McCartney doesn’t.

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Natalie Cole – Our Love (1978).mp3
Seal – Kiss From A Rose (1995).mp3

natalie_coleYou’ll have to make your own mind up about this: to me, the piano intro of Natalie Cole’s 1978 song Our Love sounds suspiciously like the scatted intro of Seal’s 1995 hit Kiss From A Rose (a song I can’t say I’m particularly partial to, though I’ll allow that Seal’s vocal performance is pretty good).

Natalie Cole’s song was written by Chuck Jackson & Marvin Yancy, and covered in 1997 by Mary J Blige, though I don’t remember her version at all. Cole’s version was a US #10 hit; Seal’s, written for the Batman Forever soundtrack by Seal and Trevor Horn, topped the US charts.

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k.d. lang – Constant Craving (1992).mp3
Rolling Stones – Anybody Seen My Baby (1997).mp3

kdlangOne of my favourite passages in Timothy English’s fascinating book on songs that have copied, borrowed or stolen, Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy) concerns the Rolling Stones’ Anybody Seen My Baby from the mostly mediocre Bridges To Babylon album. It’s 1997 and Keef is playing the soon-to-be-release album to his daughter and her friends. As the chorus of Anybody Seen My Baby begins, the girls launch into the chorus of k.d. lang’s Constant Craving. Richards and Jagger denied having consciously heard lang’s mammoth hit of 1992 (nor, as English pointedly notes, did the producer, engineer, session musicians or record company honchos, it seems).

However, by the time Ms Richards and pals had alerted Keef to the potential plagiarism, the marketing machine for Bridges To Babylon was already in overdrive, and the track could not be pulled. The pragmatic, and honourable, solution was to add Lang and her co-writer, Ben Mink, to the writing credit. As for Richards, he later told CNN: “If you’re a songwriter, it can happen. You know, it’s what goes in may well come out.”

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More Copy Borrow Steal

The Originals Vol. 26

June 12th, 2009 21 comments

In this instalment, three songs featured are perhaps well known to some in their original form; one original (Galveston) is pretty obscure; and one song may not immediately ring bells until one hears it (German readers of a certain age will recognise it by another name). There are ten versions of Reason To Believe, one of the greatest songs ever written. I’ve posted Tim Hardin’s original separately and the nine cover versions in one file.

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Tim Hardin – Reason To Believe.mp3
Johnny Cash – Reason To Believe (1974)
(reupped)
NINE VERSIONS OF REASON TO BELIEVE
Bobby Darin – Reason To Believe (1966)
Scott McKenzie – Reason To Believe (1967)
Marianne Faithfull – Reason To Believe (1967)
The Dillards – Reason To Believe (1968)
Glen Campbell – Reason To Believe (1968)
Cher – Reason To Believe (1968)
Carpenters – Reason To Believe (1970)
Rod Stewart – Reason To Believe (1971)
Billy Bragg – Reason To Believe (live) (1989)
tim_hardin The mark of genius in a song resides in its adaptability. As the various covers featured here show, Reason To Believe (not to be confused with Bruce Springsteen’s song of the same title) is the sort of rare song into which artists can project their emotions, making it their own. The 1966 original by Tim Hardin, who wrote it, is suitably affecting, as befits a lyric of betrayal (the line “Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried; still I look to find a reason to believe” is heartbreaking). But in my view, the definitive interpretation of the song, one of my all-time favourites, is that by the Southern Californian country band The Dillards (1968), who inspired bands such as the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. It is perfect.

DARINReason To Believe was not a hit for Hardin. A gifted songwriter, he enjoyed his biggest hit with somebody else’s song, Bobby Darin’s twee Simple Song of Freedom, which Darin wrote in return for Hardin providing his big comeback hit If I Were A Carpenter. Darin, by then in his folk phase, also did a very credible version of Reason To Believe. Hardin’s story is tragic. As a marine in Vietnam in the early 1960s he discovered heroin and became addicted to the drug. Added to that, he suffered from terrible stagefright, which is not helpful when you are an entertainer. He died on 29 December 1980 from a heroin and morphine overdose. He was only 39.

The two best known versions arguably are those by Rod Stewart (1971) and the Carpenters (1970). Stewart is a fine interpreter of songs, and his take of Reason To Believe is entirely likable. Stewart’s take was released as a single a-side; in the event the flip side, Maggie Mae, became the big hit.

EDIT: The Johnny Cash version linked to above comes courtesy of Señor of the WTF? No, Seriously. WTF? blog.
Also recorded by: Bobby Darin (1966), Scott McKenzie (1967), Marianne Faithfull (1967), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1967), Rick Nelson (1967), David Hemmings (1967), Cher (1968), The Dillards (1968), The Youngbloods (1968), Glen Campbell (1968), Suzi Jane Hokom (1969), Brainbox (1969), The Wray Brothers Band (1969), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (1970), Andy Williams (1970), The Carpenters (1970), Rod Stewart (1971), Skeeter Davis (1972), Johan Verminnen (as Iemand als jij, 1989), Wilson Phillips (1990), Jackie DeShannon (1993), Don Williams (1995), Paul Weller (1995), Stina Nordenstam (1998), Ron Sexsmith (1999), Rod Stewart (2003), Vonda Shepard (2001) a.o.

Jimmy Driftwood – The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Horton – The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Les Humphries Singers – Mexico.mp3

jimmy_driftwood Oh, you probably do know the song. And if you don’t, you should. Originally a traditional folk song known as The 8th of January, it tells the story of a soldier fighting with Andrew Jackson’s army against the British in the 8 January 1815 battle of the title. It was first recorded in 1957 and released the following year by Jimmy Driftwood, a school teacher in Timbo, Arkansas. Born James Morris, he is said to have been one of the nicest guys in the folk music scene (not surprisingly, he was a collaborator with the great Alan Lomax). As a history teacher, Driftwood considered song to be a teaching device, and so in 1936 (or 1945, depending which sources you believe) he set the fiddle-based folk song to lyrics — there were no definitive words, only snippets of recurring phrases — to benefit his students. In the 1950s, Driftwood was signed by RCA, and eventually recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, with the label’s session man Chet Atkins on guitar. He later wrote another country classic, Tennessee Stud, which became a hit for Eddy Arnold and Johnny Cash (Tarantino fans will know it from the Jackie Brown soundtrack).

johnny_horton_new_orleansShortly after Driftwood recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, the doomed country star Johnny Horton did a cover which relied less on manic fiddling and dropped such radio-unfriendly words as “hell” and “damn”, and scored a big hit with it (he even changed the lyrics for the English market, turning the enemy “British” into random “rebels). Horton released several “historical records” (most famous among them, perhaps, Sink The Bismarck), though it would be unfair to reduce his influence on country music to that. A close friend of Johnny Cash’s, Horton died in a car crash in 1960, widowing his wife Billy Jean for the second time — she had been married to Hank Williams when the country legend died. Spookily, both Williams and Horton played their last concerts at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.

There is a crazy idea on the Internet that associates Horton with the revolting racist records of a fuckwitted spunkbucket going by the name of Rebel Johnny (such as the charming “I Hate Niggers”). I am at a loss to understand how such a confusion could arise and thereby smear the name of a great country star.

les_humphries_mexicoTwo other cover versions are notable. Also in 1959, skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan reached the UK #2 — but received no airplay on Aunty Beeb until he changed the word “ruddy” to “blooming”. The song was revived in 1972 by the Les Humphries Singers, a multi-ethnc and multi-national English-language ensemble of hippie demeanour that was very popular in West Germany with its Ed Hawkins Singer meets Hair shtick. Humphries, an Englishman, renamed the song Mexico (not a stretch; that country’s name appears in the original lyrics) and scored a massive hit with his outfit’s joyous rendition. Their performances, in English, captured the era’s exuberant spirit of social and sexual liberation. The trouble is, Humphries credited the song to himself, a brazen act of plagiarism. I have found no evidence that Humphries, who died in 2007 at 67, was ever sued for his blatant rip-off.
Also recorded by: Vaughn Monroe (1959), Eddy Arnold (1963), Harpers Bizarre (1968), Johnny Cash (1972), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1974), Buck Owens (1975), Bob Weir (1976), Bill Haley (1979)

Johnny O’Keefe – Wild One.mp3
Iggy Pop – Real Wild Child (Wild One).mp3

johnny_okeefe_wild_one Johnny O’Keefe was Australia’s first rock & roll star, notching up 30 hits in his country. Like Elvis, he was born in January 1935. He died just over a year after Elvis, of barbiturate poisoning. Often referred to by the title of his big hit, released in 1958, O’Keefe was the first Australian rock & roll star to tour the United States. But it was while Buddy Holly & the Crickets were touring Australia that the song came to traverse the Pacific. Crickets drummer Jerry Allison went on to record it under the name Ivan as Real Wild Child, enjoying a minor US hit with it.

It took almost three decades before O’Keefe’s song would reach the higher regions of the charts when Iggy Pop scored a UK Top 10 and US Top 30 hit with his David Bowie-produced track, as Real Wild Child (Wild One), in 1986. It isn’t clear which version inspired Mr Osterberg, but in 1982 Albert Lee recorded it under the same title.
Also recorded by: Jerry Lewis (1958; released in 1974), Jet Harris (1962), Billy Idol (1987), Christopher Otcasek (1989), Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1993), Lou Reed (1993), Status Quo (2003), Wakefield (2004), Everlife (2006)


Dave Edmunds – Queen Of Hearts.mp3
Juice Newton – Queen Of Hearts.mp3

dave_edmonds Here’s one of those songs that some might know better in its original version, and others as the hit cover. Queen Of Hearts was a UK #11 hit for Dave Edmunds — previously featured in this series for covering Smiley Lewis’ I Hear You Knocking — in 1979, and two years later a US #2 hit for the unlikely-named Juice Newton. She will return to this series soon when her other big hit of 1981, Angel Of The Morning. Newton earned a Grammy nomination for best country song for her version, and it was her remake that inspired the veteran French singer Sylvie Vartan, who once performed on a bill with the Beatles, to record her French take on the song (retitled Quand tu veux , or When You Want It). A couple of years earlier Newton had tried to have a hit with another British song, but her version of It’s A Heartache lost out in the US to that by Welsh rasper Bonnie Tyler. Later Newton enjoyed a #11 with Brenda Lee’s Break It To Me Gently.
Also recorded by: Rodney Crowell (1980), Sylvie Vartan (as Quand tu veux, 1981), The Shadows (1983), Lawrence Welk (1984), Ramshackle Daddies (2003), Melanie Laine (2005), Valentina (2007)

don_ho_galvestonDon Ho – Galveston.mp3
Glen Campbell – Galveston.mp3

Jimmy Webb sat on the beach of Galveston on the hurricane-plagued Gulf of Mexico when he wrote this song, which might appear to be about the Spanish-American war but was just as applicable to the Vietnam War, which in 1966 was starting to heat up (“While I watch the cannons flashing, I clean my gun and dream of Galveston” and “I’m so afraid of dying”). The composer subsequently said it was about the Vietnam War but at other times also denied it. Whatever Webb had in mind, its theme is universal about any soldier who’d rather be home than on the killing fields.

glen_campbell_galvestonWebb had previously written By The Time I Get To Phoenix (first recorded by Johnny Rivers), which Glen Campbell would have a hit with. He later wrote Wichita Lineman especially for Campbell. Galveston would complete the trinity of Webb hit songs for Campbell, who in 1974 recorded a whole album of Webb numbers. The original of Galveston was recorded by the relatively obscure Don Ho, a Hawaiian lounge singer and TV star who was known for appearing with red shades and died in 2007 aged 76. Campbell later said that, while in Hawaii, Ho turned him to Galveston. Campbell sped it up a bit to create his moving version. Apparently, after “giving” the song to Campbell, Ho would not sing it any more.
Also recorded by: Lawrence Welk (1969), Jim Nabors (1968), The Ventures (1969), Roger Williams (1969), Jimmy Webb (1971), The Lemonheads (1997), Of Montreal (2000), Joel Harrison with David Binney (2004)

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 7

September 28th, 2008 3 comments

Sutherland Brothers – Sailing.mp3
Rod Stewart – Sailing.mp3
Our friend RH has supplied me with scores of lesser known originals. The biggest surprise of these perhaps was that Rod Stewart’s Sailing was in fact a cover version. Written in 1972, it was first recorded by the Sutherland Brothers. Having joined forces with the band Quiver, the brothers were also responsible for another possible inclusion in this series, Arms Of Mary, which readers of a certain vintage are more likely to associate with Danny Wilson’s1988 hit (and others, perhaps, as a hit for Chilliwack in the ’70s). The Sutherland Brothers’ version has a apposite shanty feel, with the keyboard player especially having fun experimenting with his toy. Rod’s version is richer and warmer. The old soul lover recorded it, and the rest of the ludicrously cover-designed Atlantic Crossing, in that incubator of great soul music: Muscle Shoals, Alabama. As I mentioned in my Pissing Off The Taste Police With Rod Stewart post last week, I’ve had an emotional attachment to Rod’s Sailing ever since it facilitated my first slow dance as an 11-year-old, so I instinctively love the song. Frankly, I can think of no good reason, other than its overexposure, why Rod’s Sailing seems to be so widely reviled.
Also recorded by: Joe Dassin (as Ma Musique, 1975), Robin Trower (1976), Joan Baez (1977), The Shadows (1981), Richard Clayderman (1988), Rock Against Repatriation (1990), The Gary Tesca Orchestra (1995), Khadja Nin (1998), Stina Nordenstam (1998), Smokie (2001), fucking Helmut Lotti (2003) a.o.
Best version: Holding the lovely Antje in my arms to the sounds of Rod Stewart singing Sailing…what do you think?

Jacques Dutronc – Et Moi Et Moi Et Moi.mp3
Mungo Jerry – Alright Alright Alright.mp3
This one is a bit of a contentious inclusion. Mungo Jerry didn’t so much cover Jacques Dutronc’s song as re-write it. There are songs billed as original compositions that bear a greater resemblance to another song than Alright Alright Alright does to Et Moi Et Moi Et Moi. Both are first-rate songs. Dutronc’s 1964 hit anticipates Plastic Bertand by 14 years and probably is more punk than the Belgian ever was. Mungo Jerry are often remembered as a bit of a novelty act or – worse and inaccurately– as a one-hit wonder. Fine songs, every bit the equal of In The Summertime, such as Lady Rose or Baby Jump, are often forgotten. Summertime’s b-side, Mighty Man, should be regarded as a classic, if only for singer Ray Dorset’s ad libbing sound effects. As for Dutronc, the man married Francoise Hardy. He is a lucky man.
Also recorded by: Nobody I’ve heard of.
Best version: Oh, they’re both so different… At a push, Mungo Jerry’s for the way Dorset sings “Awride awride awridaridaride”. And the Boo-pee-doop-doops.

Tommy James & The Shondells – I Think We’re Alone Now.mp3
Tiffany – I Think We’re Alone Now.mp3
Teenage singer Tiffany scored her 1987 debut hit I Think We’re Alone Now by performing it at malls. One wonders if the kids’ parents, seen in the video looking on bemusedly at Tiffany’s exploits, recognised the song as Tommy James & the Shondells’ 1967 US #4 hit (apparently described by Lester Bangs as “the bubblegum apotheosis”). Curiously, Tiffany’s cover was followed at the US #1 by another Tommy James cover, Mony Mony by Billy Idol. And before that, Joan Jett had a hit with a cover of Tommy James’ Crimson And Clover. Tiffany at 16 was the youngest female singer to top the US charts.
Also recorded by: The Rubinoos (1977), Lene Lovich (1978), “Weird Al” Yankovic (1988, as, “hilariously”, I Think I’m a Clone Now), Kanda (2003), Girls Aloud (2006), The Birthday Massacre (2008) a.o.
Best version: I used to loathe Tiffany’s version on principle but rather like it now. Still, Tommy James’ original is far superior.

Carson & Gaile – Something Stupid.mp3
Frank & Nancy Sinatra – Something Stupid.mp3
Sung by Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy, Something Stupid is just a little less creepy than Natalie Cole duetting with her long-dead father (I note that she’s at it again). Lee Hazlewood, who produced it, recalled that he phoned Frank to tell him that he was going to duet the song with Nancy if Frank wasn’t. It seems that in the mid-’60s people were not freaked out by such things yet, so Frank called dibs on hisdaughter. And you can’t really argue with the result: it’s a lovely easy listening production. It had been recorded by several artists in the months between its first recording in early 1967 by the song’s composer C. Carson Parks with Gaile and the Sinatras’ production in September that year (including a version by Marvin Gaye with Tammi Terrell in August). But it is Frank and Nancy’s version that is remembered. Carson & Gaile’s original recording – posted here courtesy of our man RH – isn’t wildly different; it has the acoustic guitars and tempo of the Frank ‘n Nancy production. Come to think of it, there isn’t much one can do it, as Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman showed when they returned the song to the UK #1 in 2001.
Also recorded by: The Amazing Dancing Band (1967), Ray Conniff (1967), Sacha Distel & Joanna Shimkus (as Ces mots stupides, 1967), Tino Rossi (as Ces mots stupides, 1967), Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (1967), Tammy Wynette & David Houston (1967), Andy Williams (1967), Artie Butler (1968), Ali & Kibibi Campbell (1995), Lu Campbell (1998), Dana Winner & Jan Decleir (1998), The Mavericks with Trisha Yearwood (2001), Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman (2001), Steve & Lauryn Tyrell (2005) a.o.
Best version: Sideshow Bob and Selma Bouvier

The Leaves – Hey Joe, Where Are You Going.mp3
Love – Hey Joe.mp3
Tim Rose – Hey Joe (You Shot Your Woman Down).mp3
Jimi Hendrix – Hey Joe.mp3
The genesis of Hey Joe is disputed, with some claiming it is an old traditional folk song. There seems to be wide consensus, however, that it was written in the early 1960s by a folk singer called Billy Roberts, who may well have borrowed from a 1950s country song by the same title written by Boudleaux Bryant. Something of a cult classic on LA’s live scene and reportedly propagated by David Crosby, Roberts’ song was eventually recorded by The Leaves (though some claim that the Surfaris recorded their version first, but released it after the Leaves’ version came out). Where The Leaves rock out in a psychedelic fashion, Jimi’s version’s, recorded in December 1966, is said to have been based on the slower folk-rock treatment by Tim Rose (who once was part of a folk trio including someone called Jim Hendricks, as well as Mama Cass Elliott), though Arthur Lee insisted it was the Love recording of September 1966 that inspired Hendrix (which with the Leaves’ version shares a riff very reminiscent of the Searchers’ Needles And Pins). Whatever the stimulant – Rose’s vocals certainly seem not to dissimilar to Jimi’s interpretation, and also compare the drumming – it turned out to be a claustrophobic affair which communicated the intensity of the lyrics: friends discussing a murder of passion.
Also recorded by: Swamp Rats (1966), The Cryan’ Shames (1966), The Surfaris (1966), The Standells (1966), The Byrds (1966), Love (1966), The Shadows of Knight (October 1966), The Music Machine (1966), Cher (1967), Tim Rose (1967), Johnny Hallyday (1967), Marto (1967), Johnny Rivers (1968), Marmalade (1968), The Mothers of Invention (as a satire titled Flower Punk in 1968), King Curtis (1968), Deep Purple (1968), Wilson Pickett (1969), Fever Tree (1970), Les Humphries Singers (1971), Roy Buchanan (1973), Patti Smith (1974), Alvin Lee (1979), “Weird Al” Yankovic (1984), Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (1986), Seal (1991), The Offspring (1991), Willy DeVille (1992), Buckwheat Zydeco (1992), Paul Gilbert (1992), Reddog (1992), Eddie Murphy (1993), Band of Joy (1996), The Hamsters (1996), Helge & The Firefuckers (1999), Medeski, Martin and Wood (2000), Roy Mette (2001), Popa Chubby (2001), Robert Plant (2002), Cassie Steele (2005), Gabe Dixon Band (2005) a.o.
Best version: Gotta be Jimi Hendrix’s

Pissing off the Taste Police with Rod Stewart

September 25th, 2008 13 comments
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Rock legend Rod Stewart is going to play concerts in South Africa, the morning radio DJ announced breathlessly. In our celebrity-starved land, that is big news. Amplifying the public joy is the certain knowledge that it will be the real Rod coming to our shores, not a tribute act pretending to be the real article, as happened when “Earth, Wind & Fire” toured the country. Our boy Rod is a real superstar. At least in South Africa. He always was. That’s why he could draw an audience to Sun City, the cheeky little cultural boycott breaker.

He is also entirely irrelevant these days. Today, Stewart’s output – mostly karaoke performances of the standards – is squarely aimed at the audience that has followed him faithfully ever since Sailing. The really obsessive reader of this little seed in the blogospheric silo may recall that I have great memories of Sailing – it was the soundtrack to my first (and last) slow dance with the first love of my life, the lovely Antje. So I ought to find it in my heart to forgive everybody’s favourite faux-Caledonian a lot of things. Like skin-tight leopard-print trousers and women’s legs growing out of his body. But it’s not as uncomplicated as that. You see, Rod Stewart made a meaningful contribution not only to my romantic vocation, but also was a protagonist in my socio-musical development.

Let me explain by backtracking to the 1977/78 season. That’s when the man who’d become my stepfather appeared on the scene. I was 11 going on 12, and he was very old indeed. I was still finding my way musically. I’d cheerfully listen to Showaddywaddy, Neil Diamond, Sham 69, Hot Chocolate and Jethro Tull, not yet realising that as an aspiring teenager it was my obligation to choose sides as a vehicle for the expression of my individualism. When stepfather began insinuating himself with us, it emerged that he really liked Rod Stewart. I was thrilled: so did I. And if an old man of 33 years liked what I liked, then I must have been achieving musical maturity. I was like a grown-up, at least musically. So out with the Bay City Rollers and Harpo records, let’s dig Rod together. But then came the awareness that if a really old dude of 33 liked Rod Stewart, then Rod Stewart had to be past it, uncool. Stepfather, who at his advanced age must have been past it too, certainly did not appreciate the cool music produced by the Stranglers (who included that fresh-faced stripling Jet Black). The peroxided hair and Da Ya Think I’m Sexy were the last straw. Rod was out of my good books, and would not return into them until I approached the geriatric age of 33.

Stewart’s romantic life did little to attract atonement for his descent into musical cliché. His cortege of blond partners seemed like evictees from the Playboy Mansion. I found few of them attractive – least of all Britt Ekland, who looked like a curious amalgam of porn star, soap actress and desperate housewife. Had Rod Stewart been born 25 years later, his affairs doubtless would have been the subject of reality TV shows on the E! Channel. Starring Jessica Simpson (and what exactly do people see in that preened-up boil?). I cannot deny my superficiality in dumping favourite singers once they become household names not for their music but for their notoriety. Rod Stewart, I decided, would have struggled to pull a toothless hooker in a crackhouse had he not stumbled upon success by singing other people’s songs badly and his own even worse. And, alas, Rod Stewart rarely gave me much reason to believe that I was wrong. Oh, I could have liked Young Turks or Baby Jane in 1983, but on principle I didn’t. Dad Pop, I’d scoff. And look at his fucking housewives’ hair!

Only later, in my 30s, did I revisit the music of Rod Stewart (who by then was through plundering the catalogue of Tom Waits). I had deprived myself. It should really be an article of musical faith that “Early Rod” was magnificent. Maggie May, You Wear It Well, Handbags And Gladrags, Angel or Reason To Believe are all wonderful songs performed superbly, though not necessarily invariably superior to alternative versions. But when exactly does the early period end? Some might say in 1975 with Sailing, which was followed by his disposable version of This Old Heart Of Mine. But that can’t be right: a year after Sailing, Stewart released The Killing Of Georgie, one of the earliest chart hits explicitly about homophobic violence (Rod the Mod merits our appreciation for his courage to sing about homosexuality). In 1977, he had hits with fine cover versions of I Don’t Want To Talk About It and The First Cut Is The Deepest, followed by the perfectly amicable sing-along number You’re In My Heart (which rocks for comparing his lady love to Celtic and [Manchester] United). Now that I am over 33, I’m down with Step-dad Rock.

So the cut-off to cool Rod must be 1978. The dreadful Hot Legs (a hit in ’78, though an album track from 1977) and that World Cup song for Scotland’s ill-fated Argentine adventure presaged the departure from sanity that was the grammatically criminal Da Ya Think I’m Sexy, a vaguely prurient discofied jingle aimed at people over 30 desperate to retain their youth by swinging their arthritic hips and waving their flabby arms to the unfunky beats of self-parody. Or so my analysis went for nearly 30 years. It is not a great song by any means, but it does not merit the detraction so cordially solicited by the sleeve on which Rod covers his companion’s eyes, thereby precluding the statement of her candid and informed opinion in response to his question, practically coercing an affirmation. The song, it must be said, is quite catchy in the way songs that are great to sing in the shower usually are. If ever I need to own up to having a “guilty pleasure” – I feel no guilt over musical pleasure – this song might be it.

Stewart had his last stab at pop relevance with his two 1983 hits, and then settled into the comfort zone of singing bland and pointless songs for housewives and chartered accountants who conspired to make his impertinent cover of Tom Waits’ Downtown Train a UK Top 10 hit. More recently, Rod enjoyed a revival with his American Songbook series, the first of which, beautifully arranged, was actually pretty good (not that anybody needs Rod Stewart’s interpretations when we can listen to the originals by Robbie Williams), before our boy reverted to flogging that particular equine cadaver to the point of decadent extremes.

When the b

ell tolls for Rod Stewart, as it does for every man, our obituaries will probably deviate wildly. There will be those of us who liked the Mod, those of us whose barely pubescent testicles stirred to the strains of Sailing, those of us who got the disco fever from Rod, those of us who thought he was the heir to Waits or Sinatra, and indeed those of us who despised the old fraud… What we all should agree upon, however, is the timeless charm and warmth of Rod Stewart’s music before he hit 33, as these eight songs show.

Rod Stewart – The Killing Of Georgie (Parts I & II) (1976).mp3
Rod Stewart – You Wear It Well (1972).mp3
Rod Stewart – Tonight’s The Night (1976).mp3
Rod Stewart – I Don’t Want To Talk About It (1977).mp3
Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley (1970).mp3
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story (1971).mp3
Rod Stewart – Maggie Mae (1971).mp3
Rod Stewart – You’re In My Heart (1977).mp3

Previously on Pissing off the Taste Police:
Bay City Rollers
Counting Crows
Simply Red
John Denver
Barry Manilow
Lionel Richie
The Carpenters
Billy Joel
Neil Diamond
America

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The Originals Vol. 6

September 22nd, 2008 No comments

In this instalment, we owe thanks to RH for the originals of Handbags And Gladrags and Since You Been Gone.Little Willie John – Fever.mp3
Peggy Lee – Fever.mp3
Idols audition in South Africa, a couple of years ago. The contestant enters and announces that she will sing Fever by…Michael Bublé. I can see grumpy Idols judge Randall Abrahams getting wound up. When the contestant has delivered her performance (as poor as you imagined), Randall berates her for lacking historical perspective. The song was originally done by Peggy Lee, he tells the hapless non-Idol, and she should have listened to that version instead of Bublé’s. Randall, whom I knew at university as a man of huge musical knowledge, was terribly wrong and also quite right at the same time. The original version of Fever was the work of Little Willie John, but the finger-snapping arrangement with which we associate the song was inaugurated by Peggy Lee.

Little Willie John should command a prominent place in music history, not necessarily for his catalogue of music, but certainly for his influence. Before Sam Cooke, before James Brown, before Ray Charles, he was at the vanguard of singers who build the bridge between the R&B genre which was then called “race music” to the relatively smoother sounds of soul. Perhaps dying in jail in 1968 while serving a sentence for manslaughter contributed to his legacy being relegated to the periphery. Little Willie John’s 1956 version of Fever is a light, jazzy affair with soul vocals which anticipate Jackie Wilson, co-written by Rock ‘n Roll legend Otis Blackwell (Great Balls Of Fire, All Shook Up, Don’t Be Cruel). Two years later, Peggy Lee set the template with snapping fingers, sparse bass and drum, and two added verses (including those namechecking Romeo, Juliet and Pocahontas), creating an almost unbearable sexual tension. It is her take which has been covered to the point of cliché.
Also recorded by: Ray Peterson (1957), Frankie Avalon (1959), Elvis Presley (1960), King Curtis (1961), Ben E. King (1962), Timi Yuro (1963), Conway Twitty (1963), Alvin Robinson (1964), Sarah Vaughan (1964), The McCoys (1965), Quincy Jones (1965), Little Milton (1966), Buddy Guy (1968), Wanda Jackson (1968), Marie “Queenie” Lyons (1970), Ronnie Dyson (1970), Sharon cash (1970), Rita Coolidge (1972), Suzi Quatro (1975), Boney M. (1976), Esther Phillips with Beck (1976), Sylvester (1980), Chaka Khan (1989), Madonna (1992), Anne Murray (1993), Tom Verlaine (1994), Don Williams (1995), Tito Puente (1996), Eva Cassidy (2002), Beyoncé (2003), Michael Bublé (2003), Alan Merrill (2003), Celine Dion (2004), Ray Charles & Natalie Cole (2004), Bette Midler (2005), Helmut Lotti (2008) and hundreds more.
Best version: For its impact alone, it must be Peggy Lee’s.

Chris Farlowe – Handbags And Gladrags.mp3
Rod Stewart – Handbags And Gladrags.mp3
Big George Webley – Handbags and Gladrags.mp3
The word “gladrags” is deplorably underused in pop music. So we ought to give credit to former Manfred Mann singer Mike D’Abo for popularising it in music. D’Abo didn’t immediately release it, producing British singer Chris Farlowe’s recording in 1967. Farlowe had made it a bit of a career of covering Rolling Stones songs in particular; his rather good version of Out Of Time topped the UK charts in 1966, his only Top 30 hit. He didn’t do very well either with Handbags And Gladrags, which tanked at #33, great harmonica backing notwithstanding. In 1969, Rod Stewart – a shrewd operator when it comes to recording lesser known songs, as we will still find in this series – recorded the track, arranged again by D’Abo himself. Released in 1970, it became a hit only two years later.

Strangely, the song has not been covered much. It made something of a comeback when it was used as the theme for the British version of The Office, produced by a session musician and writer of many TV themes called Big George Webley (bassist with Paul Young’s Q-Tips, who featured in the previous installment with Love Hurts), with vocals by heavy metal singer going by the terminally snappy name Fin of an outfit called Waysted (who took over lead vocals for the Q-Tips when Pal Young went solo). Nice piano in that version.
Also recorded by: The Love Affair (1968), The Rationals (1969), Mike D’Abo (1970), Gary Burton (1971), Kate Taylor (1971), Jon English (1973), Stereophonics (2001), Engelbert Humperdinck (2007)
Best version: I like all three featured here, but on balance you can’t beat Rod.

The Crickets – I Fought The Law.mp3
The Bobby Fuller Four – I Fought The Law.mp3
The Clash – I Fought The Law.mp3
Thought by many to be an original Clash song, the more knowledgeable will refer to the Bobby Fuller Four. But even that was a cover of the 1960 song by the Crickets, Buddy Holly’s erstwhile band. Written by Sonny Curtis, one can almost hear Holly sing it. In the event, the song made no great impact until Fuller’s 1964 recording. Fuller was found dead just as the single was becoming a hit (some say suicide, some allege foul play – few suicides involve beating one’s self up before imbibing petrol). The session drummer on the Fuller version, rumour has it, was a young Barry White. That may be apocryphal, but it is documented that White did drum for Fuller on other tracks. A generation later, it become something of a pub-punk classic as spat out by Strummer on the Clash version. The Dead Kennedys 1987 changed the song’s perspective, from that of a robber (and, in the Clash’s version, killer) to that of the man who killed San Francisco’s mayor and police chief in 1978. The song was also in the repertoire that flushed Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican embassy.
Also recorded by: Claude François (1966), Bryan Adams (1988), Stray Cats (1989), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1992), Nanci Griffith (1997), Mike Ness (1999), Status Quo (2003), Green Day (2004), Colin Farrell (2004), Waco Brothers (2005)
Best version: I really can’t decide. Tossing a coin, the Clash win.

Brenda Holloway – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.mp3
Blood, Sweat & Tears – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.mp3
Brenda Holloway was perhaps Motown’s most under-used singer. Relegated by Berry Gordy to sing the songs rejected by Mary Wells and other female Tamla stars, it is ironic that Gordy helped her (and sister Patrice Holloway) write the song that has cemented her place in music history more than her Motown output ever did. Shortly after finishing the song, Holloway left Motown, released another album, sang backing vocals for Joe Cocker, and disappeared from the music industry for three decades. Her 1967 version of You’ve Made Me So Very Happy was a minor Top 40 hit in the US. Two years later, the song became a rock standard in the hands of Blood, Sweat & Tears, whose rich arrangement, with the horns and the gospel keyboard and David Clayton-Thomas impassioned vocals, virtually overhauled the song. On the same album, BS&T appropriated two other songs: Laura Nyro’s And When I Die and Clayton-Thomas’ own Spinning Wheel.
Also recorded by: Alton Ellis (1967), The Anita Kerr Singers (1969). John Davidson (1969). Bobbie Gentry (1969), The Honey Cone (1970), The Temptations (1970), Lou Rawls (1970), Sammy Davis Jr. (1970), Nancy Wilson (February 1970), Mina (1972), Shirley Bassey (1976), Gloria Estefan (1994), Diana Ross (1994)
Best version: Blood, Sweat & Tears’ is one of rock music’s finest 500 moments, probably.

Russ Ballard – Since You Been Gone.mp3
Rainbow – Since You Been Gone.mp3
Written by Russ Ballard of Argent, Since You Been Gone is usually associated with Rainbow, who scored a big hit with it in 1979/80. Singer Graham Bonnet sets the template for every big hair rock group that would soil the charts in the 1980s – ironically Bonnet had short hair (see how I resisted a pun here). Rarely have handclaps sounded as good in rock as they do here. I really like the version, released around the same time as Rainbow’s, by ex-Runaways member Cherrie Currie and her sister Marie, which fuses the poppier sound of the original with the rock sensibilities of the Rainbow version, though I don’t know if they were aware of it (check out the video).
Also recorded by: Clout (1979), The Brian May Band (1994)
Best version: Has to be Rainbow’s, with those tempo changes and handclaps