Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stones’

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?

* * *

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?

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.”

.

More Copy Borrow Steal

Great covers – Beatles

September 29th, 2009 12 comments

As a Beatles fan, I would be quite happy to display all their album covers on my wall, if decorating my humble abode with LP sleeves was my thing (the putative notion of such interior design innovation, of course, being the premise for this series). I imagine the Beatles would appreciate the pun in my song selection: Beatles songs sung by others… Read more…

The Originals Vol. 31

August 28th, 2009 10 comments

Volume 31 and 160 songs covered now. Here we have the originals of the Piranhas’ Tom Hark, the Rolling Stones’ It’s All Over Now, Middle of the Road’s unjustly reviled Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Georgie Fame’s Yeh Yeh, and Donovan’s Universal Soldier (whose writer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, apparently was not the first to record it either). As always, many thanks to my friends who have helped me out with some of the songs featured here.

* * *

Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes – Tom Hark (1956).mp3
The Piranhas – Tom Hark (1980).mp3
Mango Groove – Tom Hark (1996).mp3

eliasA staple these days on English football grounds, the impossibly catchy Tom Hark had its origins in South Africa. There was no Tom Hark: the song’s title was either a pun or more likely a sloppy mis-heard rendering of the word tomahawk, the axes gangs in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township used to carry.

Composer “Big Voice” Jack Lerole and his mates used to record in the pennywhistle-based kwela genre, though it was not yet known by that name — the contemporary term was marabi or pennywhistle jive. The word kwela is Zulu for “get up”, and as kwela-kwela also a township term for a police van (after the cops’ command “Kwela! Kwela!, meaning “climb in, climb in”), the unwelcome approach of which often was signalled by a lookout blowing his tin flute. Lerole, commonly known as Jake, learnt to play the pennywhistle as a little boy, observing the flautists from Scottish regiments that often played near Alexandra and which influenced a generation of pennywhistlers who adapted the complex techniques of flute-playing to the simple pennywhistle, thereby enhancing its versatility.

piranhasLerole and his bandmembers recorded under several names, mostly as Alexandra Black Mambazo (mambazo is zulu for axe — or tomahawk), but were signed by EMI in 1956 as Elias and His Zig Zag Jive Flutes; the Elias of the moniker being Lerole’s brother. Having recorded Tomahawk, or Tom Hark, EMI sold the rights to the song to British TV to serve as the theme for a series called The Killing Stone. On the back of that, the song became a British hit, reaching #2 in 1958. Lerole and his band received £6 for recording the song and not a red cent in royalties, even when the song became an international hit again in 1980 with an affectionate cover by the British ska band The Piranhas, whose frontman Bob Grover put lyrics to the song (“The whole things daft, I don’t know why, you have to laugh or else you cry”). On the single cover The Piranhas paid tribute to the original by emblazoning it with the word “kwela”.

After the Alexandra Black Mambazo split in 1963, Lerole enjoyed a fair career, though more as a gravelly baritone singer and saxophonist than as a pennywhistler, having followed the lead of pennywhistle king Spokes Mashiyane into the new mbaqanga style of music. He made a comeback in the ’80s as a member of the multi-racial group Mango Groove (which recorded Tom Hark with their own lyrics), on whose first hit, Dance Some More, Lerole provided his distinctive growling vocals. Before Mango Groove became famous in South Africa, he left the group. In 1998 he and the reformed Alex Black Mambazo were invited by South African-born Dave Matthews to perform with his group in the US. The band performed to international acclaim and total indifference in their home country. Leralo died in 2003 at the age of 63.

Also recorded by: Ted Heath (1958), Millie (1964), The Talksport Allstars (as We’re England, 2006)

.

The Valentinos – It’s All Over Now (1964).mp3
The Rolling Stones – It’s All Over Now (1964).mp3

Molly Hatchet – It’s All Over Now (1979).mp3
valentinosWhen the Rolling Stones arrived in the US for their first tour, they met the legendary New York radio DJ Murray the K (or Murray the Kunt, as Keith Richards would dub him), who had a heavy hand in promoting the Beatles before and during their triumphant debut tour of the US a few months earlier. Murray suggested that the group might do well to record the latest single by Cleveland’s R&B group the Valentinos, which comprised the Womack brothers Bobby, Cecil, Harry, Friendly and Curtis.

It’s All Over Now was written by Bobby with his sister-in-law Shirley, but the publishing rights resided with Sam Cooke’s SAR Records. The Stones’ young manager Andrew Oldham obtained the rights to record it from SAR’s manager/accountant, Allen Klein (soon to become the Stones’ despised manager). Bobby Womack was furious, correctly anticipating that the rock version by these kids from England would sabotage any chance of the Valentino’s soul single becoming a hit. He later recalled his mentor Cooke comforting him, presciently assuring him that he’d now be a part of music history by dint of having written the Rolling Stones’ first US hit. A little later Womack found another upside: when he received the first royalties cheque, “it was huge”.

Within three weeks of Murray the K turning them on to It’s all Over Now, the Stones recorded the song during their sessions at Chicago’s Chess studio (where they allegedly encountered their hero Muddy Waters painting the ceiling), which also yielded Time Is On My Side, which will feature in this series later. It was released almost immediately. The Valentino’s version tanked at #94 in the US, while the Stones reached the top 20 and went to #1 in Britain.

Also recorded by: The Chambers Brothers (1965), Ian and the Zodiacs (1965), Johnny Rivers (1965), The Pupils (1966), Waylon Jennings (1968), The Bintangs (1969), Rod Stewart (1970), Ry Cooder (1974), Faces (1974), Catfish Hodge (1975), Johnny Winter (1976), Molly Hatchet (1979), Jimmy & The Mustangs (1984), John Anderson (1985), The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (1987), Charles et les Lulus (1991), Bobby Womack (1997), Southside Johnny (1997), Paper Parrot (1999), The Alarm Clocks (2000), The Patron Saints (2008) a.o.

.

Lally Stott – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1970).mp3
Middle of the Road – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1971).mp3

lally_stottMy old friend Bono likes to tell the story of how seeing Middle of the Road performing Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep on Top of the Pops persuaded him that anyone, even little Paul Hewson, could become a pop star. It’s easy, even for Bono, to take a dig at a song called Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, of course. But I submit that, lyrics apart, it is a fine pop song.

Middle of the Road, who thought of themselves more as a folk group than as the bubble gum pop combo they are usually remembered as, didn’t want to record the song. It had been a hit in Italy (with the subtitle Cirpi cirpi, cip cip) and Australia for its composer, Liverpudlian Lally (Harold) Stott, and even dented the US charts at #92, though the song had greater success there, reaching #20, in a version by Trinidad-born duo Mac and Katie Kissoon (the female sibling of whom later became a session singer for the likes of Van Morrison, Elton John, Eric Clapton and the Pet Shop Boys). Despite Stott’s success in Italy and Australia, his label, Philips, evidently had little confidence in the recording, so Stott farmed it out to the Middle of the Road, who had just abandoned their previous moniker, Los Caracas, to take up an engagement in Italy.

motrThe band recorded the song reluctantly at singer Sally Carr’s insistence. Bandleader Ken Andrews was initially dismissive: “We were as disgusted with the thought of recording it as most people were at the thought of buying it. But at the end of the day, we liked it.” Their version, produced by Giacomo Tosti, became a massive hit throughout Europe in early 1971 and was imported to Britain by holidaymakers. At first it seemed that the Kissoon’s version would be a hit there, but influential radio DJ Tony Blackburn championed the Middle of the Road version on his BBC breakfast show, and it eventually reached #1 in June ’71.

Stott went on to work with Middle of the Road, writing their hit Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum. He died in 1977 in an accident while riding his Harley-Davidson — said to have been bought with the royalties of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.

Also recorded by: Los 3 de Castilla (1971), Paul Mauriat (1971), Joe Harris (1971), The California Gold Rush (1971), Hajo (1971), The Jay Boys (1972), The Panda Peeple (1973), Little Angels (1973), Briard (1979), Lush (1990), Cartoons (2000), Mickie Krause (as Reiß die Hütte ab, 2003), The Poco Loco Gang (2005)

.

Mongo Santamaría – Yeh-Yeh (1963).mp3
Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan – Yeh-Yeh (1963).mp3
Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames – Yeh Yeh (1964).mp3
Matt Bianco – Yeh Yeh (1985).mp3
yeh_yehWritten by jazz musicians Rodgers Grant (piano) and Laurdine “Pat” Patrick (saxophone), Yeh-Yeh was first recorded in 1963 by Afro-Cuban jazz percussionist Mongo Santamaría, whose band Grant and Patrick were members of at the time. Still an instrumental — though Santamaría’s single version includes what might be described as vocal ticks — it appeared on his Watermelon Man album. It soon came to the attention of jazz singer Jon Hendricks, one of the great purveyors of scat singing and a third of the ’50s trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Hendricks had a long line of instrumental songs to which he added lyrics, doing so most famously for an album of Count Basie standards. Hendricks recorded Yeh-Yeh with the trio, in which Yalande Bavan had by now replaced Annie Ross, for the At Newport ’63 live album.

English singer Georgie Fame (his moniker was an innovation of promoter Larry Parnes who at one point even briefly renamed the yet unknown Beatles) heard the Newport recording of Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan’s version, and incorporated into his Blue Flames’ live shows. At one point in 1964 Fame and his team were stuck for a new single. Somebody suggested Yeh Yeh.

georgie_fameFames’ manager at the time was nightclub owner Ronan O’Rahilly. His attempts to have Yeh Yeh played on the BBC and Radio Luxembourg were frustrated (reportedly on grounds that it sounded “too black”; the story that it was rejected for airplay because the stations played records only from EMI, Decca, Pye and Philips can be discounted since Yeh Yeh appeared on EMI’s Columbia label). Unable to get airplay, he became part of the group that set up the ship-based pirate station Radio Caroline in March 1964. Among its roster of DJs was the champion of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Tony Blackburn. Radio Caroline naturally gave Yeh Yeh (which O’Rahilly has claimed directly inspired the founding of the pirate station) heavy airplay. Without help from the conventional radio stations, it topped the UK charts in January 1965 (US #25), relieving the Beatles’ five-week occupancy of the top spot with the similarly upbeat I Feel Fine.

In 1985, British jazz-popsters Matt Bianco drew together their British lounge and Latin jazz influences to record a fine version of Yeh Yeh, which strays not too far from Fame’s take. It reached #15 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Dave “Baby” Cortez (1965), Danny Fisher (1965), Claude François (as Alors salut!, 1965), Matt Bianco (1985), The Aislers Set (2000), They Might Be Giants (2001)

.

The Highwaymen – Universal Soldier (1963).mp3
Buffy Sainte-Marie – Universal Soldier (1964).mp3
Donovan – Universal Soldier (1965).mp3

highwaymen_universal_soldierEarly in the Vietnam War, Canadian folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie saw an injured soldier return from active duty and decided to write an anti-war song. It would become one of the most potent songs in the peace movement, even if her good advice to you and me evidently has not been taken. By her own account written in a Toronto café to impress a college professor, Buffy, then in her early 20s, sold the rights to Universal Soldier to a man she had just met in Greenwich Village’s Gaslight Café, for a dollar (the contract was written on a paper napkin). Two decades later she bought the rights back for $25,000. In the interim, she made it on the White House’s blacklist for her anti-Vietnam and Native American rights activities, spent five years on Sesame Street (on which she breastfed her child), in 1966 became the first singer to release a quadraphonic album (4.0 stereo) and apparently the first to release an album on the Internet (in 1991).

buffySainte-Marie released Universal Soldier on her 1964 debut album, It’s My Way. The previous year, it was recorded by folk-group The Highwaymen (not to be confused with the country supergroup), who enjoyed their commercial peak in 1960 with the hit version of Michael (Row The Boat Ashore). It’s not clear how the Highwaymen got to record Universal Soldier first; one may guess that they were given the song by Buffy’s new friend from the Gaslight Café. Released as a single and on the group’s penultimate album, March On Brothers, it was not a huge success. Of course, if one channelled Seeger and Guthrie, one did not expect to compete with the Beatles.

donovanAcclaimed though Sainte-Marie’s debut album was, the song’s big breakthrough came with the version by Scottish folkie Donovan, who released it in 1965 at the age of 19, having already two UK Top 10 hits with Catch The Wind and Colours. Young Mr Leitch’s softer version, which adopted Buffy’s arrangement (and using strange pronunciation of the name Dachau). Released as an EP in Britain, it topped the EP charts there and reached #14 in the singles charts.

As for Buffy, she went on to write Up Where We Belong, the hit for Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes from 1981’s An Officer And A Gentleman, with then-husband Jack Nitzsche. She released her first album in 13 years, Running For The Drum, internationally a few weeks ago.

Also recorded by: Glen Campbell (1965), Boudewijn de Groot (as De eeuwige soldaat, 1965), Hector (as Palkkasoturi, 1965), Claus (as Soldato universale,1966), The Roemans (1965), The Caravans (1965), Sheila (as Je t’aime, 1966), Judy Collins and Ethel Raim Dunson (1967), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), Picture (1970), Juliane Werding (as Der ewige Soldat, 1973), Lobo (1974), Eugene Chadbourne (1985), Christopher Franke (1992), Eric Andersen (2004) a.o.

.

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 29

July 24th, 2009 4 comments

By the end of this instalment of the lesser-known originals, we’ll have covered (as it were) the 150th song since the series started last October. And there are still so many songs to go… So here are Not Fade Away, The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), La Vie En Rose, China Girl and the extraordinary story of Just Walkin’ In The Rain.

* * *

Buddy Holly and The Crickets – Not Fade Away.mp3
Rolling Stones – Not Fade Away.mp3

cricketsUnlike many artists in the early days of rock ’n’ roll, Buddy Holly and his Crickets were no overnight success. After being dropped by Decca records (not always the greatest judges of talent either side of the Atlantic) in late 1956, Holly and his newly formed Crickets struggled to find a distributor to market the songs they recorded at Norman Petty’s studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Eventually, That’ll Be The Day gave the group its first hit; before that, Holly kept writing future hits which would be billed either as Crickets or Buddy Holly records — purely a marketing ploy, for Holly saw himself as part of as collective. One of these songs recorded before fame came knocking in August 1957 was Not Fade Away (put down in May that year), which cheerfully plagiarised Bo Diddley’s seminal stop-start beat from his eponymous hit. Charlie Watts and Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham later bizarrely claimed that the Stones innovated on the Crickets’ original by introducing the Bo Diddley beat. Bill Wyman is more honest, saying that the Stones merely amplified it.

The song’s writers are credited as Charles Hardin (Holly’s Christian names) and Norman Petty, a result of the arbitrary designations which were supposed to let all Crickets members get a piece of royalty action. In reality, drummer Jerry Ivan Allison (on the left in the cover pic) had contributed significantly to the lyrics, while producer Petty had written nothing, but in any case took a writing credit for every Holly/Crickets song (and added his name to the writing credits of songs written by others for his charges, such as Sonny West and Bill Tilghman’s Oh Boy). In return, Allison would receive credit for songs to which he had contributed nothing, including Peggy Sue, to which he furnished little else but the name of his future wife.

Much as Elvis Presley inspired the American and British youth to seek musical fame, arguably the more profound influence on the future of rock ’n’ roll was that of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Chuck Berry and (certainly in the case of the Beatles) Carl Perkins. Unusually for the time, these acts wrote most of their own songs, inspiring the likes of Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards to do likewise. Holly, Perkins and Berry were also quite exceptional in that they played their own guitars, laying down solos which would be imitated by virtually every band that a few years later would “invade” America (think about Holly’s Peggy Sue solo). Indeed, Holly’s arrival in Britain coincided with the decline of skiffle, the musical form that involved guitars plus whatever you could find in the kitchen (especially washboards). Stuck with guitars and a dying genre, the likes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney sought a new muse. The guitar-wielding Buddy Holly provided just that. That’ll Be The Day was the song the Beatles (whose punning name was motivated by the Crickets) performed on their very first demo.

stones_not_fade_awayAnd it was the Crickets’ Not Fade Away, originally released as the b-side of Oh Boy, with which the Rolling Stones had their first cross-Atlantic hit. It is an amusing sidenote that the Crickets’ Not Fade Away unwittingly exercised a skiffle mentality: instead of drums, Jerry Allison beat out his rhythm on cardboard boxes, an idea borrowed from Buddy Knox’s hit Party Doll. It is said that on the Stones version, Phil Spector contributes to the recording by shaking a cognac bottle (“donated” by Gene Pitney) with a coin inside, doing the part Jagger does on stage with the maracas.

The Rolling Stones version, recorded in January 1964 and released in February, was the UK follow-up single to I Wanna Be Your Man — the song the Beatles donated to the Stones to help the London group break through — and their first US single (backed by I Wanna Be Your Man). Peaking at #3, it was their first UK Top10 hit. In the US it reached #48, a creditable placing for a foreign debut single and a basis from which the Stones could launch their career there.

Also recorded by: Bobby Fuller (1962), Dick and Dee Dee (1964), The Rolling Stones (1964), Dave Berry (1964), The Supremes, 1964), The Scorpions (Dutch band, 1964), The Beachers (1965), Corporate Image (1966), The Pupils (1966), The Why Four (1966), The End (1966), The Barracudas (1967), The Walflower Complextion (1967), Joe Pass (1967), Group Axis (1969), Grateful Dead (1971), Rush (1973), Everly Brothers (March 1973), Fumble (1974), Bo Diddley (1976), Sutherland Brothers & Quiver 91976), Steve Hillage (1977), Black Oak Arkansas (1977), Tanya Tucker (1978), Stephen Stills (1978), Eddy Mitchell (as Comment ça fait?, 1979), Joe Ely (1980), Mick Fleetwood (1981), Eric Hine (1981), The Knack (1982), Andy J. Forest & Snapshots (1982), Amiga Blues Band (1983), Happy Flowers (1987), The Purple Helmets (1988), The Razorbacks (1989), The Infidels (1989), Trout Fishing in America (1990), Peter Belli & De Nye Rivaler (1992), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1992), Foreigner (1993), Roy Rogers (1994), Dave Plaehn & Jeff Hino (1996), Mike and the Mellotones (1996), Hank Marvin (1996), Johnny Hallyday (as Je vais te secouer, 1996), John Entwistle (1997), Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez (1997), Sean Kennedy and the King Kats (1998), JGB (1998), Zydeco Flames (1998), James Taylor (1998), Darrel Higham (1999), Mike Berry (1999), The Jailbirds (1999), The End (1999), Status Quo (1999), Ned Sublette (1999), Jorma Kaukonen Band & Guests (1999), Michigan Mark DePree (2000), Lemmy & Friends (2000), Scott Ellison (2000), X (2001), The Pirates (2001), Cory Morrow (2001), Two Tons of Steel (2002), Jon Butcher Axis (2002), The Rocking Chairs (2002), Noel Redding (2004), The Head Cat (2006), David Kitt (2006), The Bees (2006), Sheryl Crow (2007) a.o.

.

The Prisonaires – Just Walkin’ In The Rain.mp3
Johnnie Ray – Just Walkin’ In The Rain.mp3
The Prisonaires – Please Baby.mp3

prisonaires_sunNot many pop classics were written in jail. Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley were incarcerated in 1952 at the Tennessee State Penitentiary when a chance conversation about the wet weather — Bragg, the story goes, remarked to Riley as they were hanging out in the jail’s courtyard: “Here we are just walking in the rain, and wondering what the girls are doing” — inspired the song’s composition (unnervingly, the comment was made by a man who was serving a sentence for six counts of rape). Bragg wrote the song but was illiterate; burglar Riley’s contribution was committing it to paper.

The Prisonaires: rape, murder, manslaughter, larceny, sweet harmonies

The Prisonaires: rape, murder, manslaughter, larceny, sweet harmonies

Bragg was part of a gospel quintet at Tennessee State. His bandmates comprised two murderers, a fraudster and one convicted for manslaughter. Undesirable characters as they were, the Prisonaires had talent. They were discovered by a local radio producer, Joe Calloway, who recorded the group for a radio broadcast. A tape of the radio performance came to Sam Phillips, founder of the Sun Studio which a year later would introduce Elvis Presley to the public. Although not a big fan of the proto-doo wop style, he negotiated with the authorities to have the Prisonaires delivered, under heavy guard, to his Memphis studio to cut a record, Baby Please (posted above as a bonus), backed with Just Walkin’ In The Rain. The single was a big local hit, selling 50,000 copies. Thereafter they were allowed to tour, performing on occasion even for the state’s governor. The good times didn’t last long; by 1954 rock ’n’ roll was on the up, and Ink Spot type groups — especially if they were jailbirds — were falling by the wayside. In 1955 the Prisonaires disbanded. By 1959, Bragg’s was paroled, but was in and out of jail for the next ten years. He passed away in 2004 at 78, long after his former bandmates had died.

Johnnie_rayIn 1956, the most rueful of all ’50s singers, Johnnie Ray, recorded Just Walkin’ In The Rain, which despite the Prisonaires regional success was an obscure track. The original certainly was despondent, but the so-called Prince of Wails invested it with a different sense of mournfulness. In a word, his first-person protagonist is pathetic. Rat’s version, produced and whistled by Ray Conniff (he of serial easy listening crimes) and arranged by Mitch Miller (still alive at 98), was a massive hit, reaching #2 in the US and #1 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Judy Kileen (1956), Four Jacks (1957), Jim Reeves (1962), Shakin’ Stevens (1983), Eric Clapton (2001)

.

Marianne Michel – La Vie en Rose.mp3
Edith Piaf – La Vie En Rose.mp3

Grace Jones – La Vie En Rose (full version).mp3
marianne_michelThis is one of those orginals which was recorded first by somebody other than the writer (and even then, the authorship is disputed). Piaf’s lyrics were put to music by Louis “Louiguy” Guglielmi (who also wrote the song known in English as Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White). For legal reasons, Piaf’s name could not be credited. At the time, that didn’t seem to matter much, since the composers failed to see much hit potential in the song — even if, in 1945 France, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, the notion of seeing life through rose-tinted glasses must have seemed particularly attractive. So the song, then titled Les Choses en Rose, was farmed out to Piaf’s friend, the singer Marianne Michel. It was Michel who proposed the title by which the song became world famous, albeit in Piaf’s 1946 recording.

The song became a chanson and easy listening staple until Grace Jones discofied it with her rather excellent vocals, a bossa nova beat and glittering production values in 1977 (as she did with other standards, such as Autumn Leaves and Send In The Clowns). It was a massive hit in Europe, though not in Britain until eight years after its original release.

Also recorded by: Werner Schmah & Walter Dobschinski und die Tanzkapelle des Berliner Rundfunks (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1948), Louis Armstrong (1950), Gene Ammons (1950), Tony Martin (1950), Michel Legrand and his Orchestra (1954), The Mantovani Orchestra (1958), Dean Martin (1962), Jacques Faber (1964), Dalida (1964), Tony Mottola (1965), Bobby Solo (1965), Peter Alexander (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1966), Josephine Baker (1968), Nana Mouskouri (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1973), Alain Goraguer (1976), Dalida (1976), Grace Jones (1977), Bette Midler (1977), Richard Clayderman (1979), Grand Orchestre Mario Robbiani (1981), Taco (1982), James Last And His Orchestra (1982), Franck Pourcel (1983), Diane Dufresne (1985), Michèle Torr (1987), Melissa Manchester (1989), D’Erlanger (1998), Trio Esperança (1992), Donna Summer (1993), Patricia Kaas (1993), Nicole de Monde (1994), Wendy Van Wanten (as Duizend regenbogen, 1995), Madeleine Peyroux (1996), Toots Thielemans & Diana Krall (1998), Jo Lemaire (1999), Manlio Sgalambro (2001), Romy Haag (2001), Bernard Peiffer (2001), Tony Bennett & k.d. lang (2002), Miguel Wiels (2002), Petula Clark (2002), Liane Foly (2003), Zazie (2003), Cyndi Lauper (2003), In-grid (2004), Dee Dee Bridgewater (2005), Montmartre (2006), Princess Erika (2006), Alfons Haider (2007), Belinda Carlisle (2007), Victoria Abril (November 2007), Suarez (2008) and lots more

.

Merry Clayton – It’s In His Kiss.mp3
Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).mp3
merry_claytonSoul purists will have been quite scandalised by Cher’s version of the Shoop Shoop Song, declaring with considerable indignation that it does not measure up to Betty Everett’s original. While the assessment on respective quality is correct, we erred in ascribing originality to Everett. The first version was recorded by Merry Clayton and released in 1963, a few months before Everett’s version came out in December 1963 to give the singer her first Top 10 hit.

Written by Rudy Clark (whom we shall encounter again in this series) and produced by Jack Nietzsche, It’s in His Kiss was a flop for Clayton, then all of 15 years old. Indeed, Clayton never had a big hit of her own; the highest-charting one, at #48, came in 1987 with the song Yes from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Yet she was involved in many famous recordings, first as one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, then as Mick Jagger’s duet partner on Gimme Shelter, and as a backing vocalists on such songs as Lynyrd Skynrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and Tori Amos’ Cornflake Girl. She was also the original Acid Queen in The Who’s London production of their rock-opera Tommy.

betty_everettShortly after Clayton released It’s In His Kiss, Betty Everett recorded it very reluctantly, finding the song childish. Although credited to Everett alone, she as backed by a band called The Opals, effectively creating one of the supreme girl-group songs of the age. A month after Everett’s version was released on Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records, Warner Bros in LA issued a version of the song by Ramona King. To differentiate Everett’s version from King’s, Vee-Jay changed the title to The Shoop Shoop Song, after the catchy backing vocals.

In 1991, Cher’s version from the 1990 movie Mermaids introduced The Shoop Shoop Song to a new generation. While Everett’s version was a Top 10 hit in the US, but barely reached the Top 40 in the UK, now Cher’s version sold sluggishly in the US, but topped the UK charts, and was one of the biggest hits of 1991 throughout Europe as well as in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Also recorded by (under different titles): Aretha Franklin (1964), The Hollies (1964), Sandie Shaw (1964), The Searchers (1964), Linda Lewis (1975), Kate Taylor (1978), Nancy Boyd (1986), The Nylons (1996), Vonda Shepard (1998), The Neatbeats (1999), Bob Rivers (as It’s in His Piss, 2002), Lulu (2005)

.

Iggy Pop – China Girl.mp3
David Bowie – China Girl.mp3
iggy_pop_idiotIggy and Bowie wrote China Girl together for the former’s 1977 album The Idiot, at a time when both stars dwelled in Berlin to wean themselves off heroin (Berlin seems an odd choice of refuge from smack, but nobody ever accused those two of being eminently sensible). Indeed, there is a good case that the song is about heroin, a drug sometimes referred to as China White, or about an opiate known as China Girl. The locale of composition also explains the swastika reference.

In 1983 Bowie revived the song, which in Iggy’s version made few waves, in his besuited Let’s Dance period, polishing it under Nile Rodger’s production, and frolicking to it in the Australian waves in the video. His co-star in the video is a New Zealand actress of Vietnamese extraction named Geeling Ng. Although they dated afterwards, according to Geeling, the popular rumours that they actually had sex in the video are, as one would expect, false. The video created further controversy surrounding — goodness, hold on to your drawers! — Bowie’s bared buttocks; later versions excised his arse.

Also recorded: Nick Cave (1978), Piggy Stardust (1998), James (1998), Trance to the Sun (1999), Moogue (2001), Pete Yorn (2002), Rhonda Harris (2003), Winter (2004), Anna Ternheim (2005), Silver (2005), Voltaire (2006)

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 27

June 19th, 2009 7 comments

Sometimes it happens that an act which wrote a famous song has it recorded by others before they do. This can be because the composer was still a songwriter waiting to become well known (Kris Kristofferson or Leonard Cohen), or because the first performer was friendly with the star who wrote the song. We have seen a couple of such cases in this series before, with Barry McGuire recording the Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreaming and Chad & Jeremy’s doing Simon & Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound first (amusingly, DivShare indicates that the McGuire version has been downloaded 140,701 times. Yeah, right). In this instalment, all five songs were recorded by others before the writers recorded their more famous versions.

* *

New World Singers – Blowing In The Wind.mp3
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind (Gerde’s version, 1962).mp3

Bob Dylan – No More Auction Block (1962).mp3
Chad Mitchell Trio – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3
Peter, Paul & Mary – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3

Marlene Dietrich – Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind.mp3

Before he became almost instantly famous, Bob Dylan’s favoured hang-out in Greenwich Village was Gerde’s Folk City. In 1962 he took ten minutes to cobble together Blowin’ In The Wind, based on an old slave song called No More Auction Block, which he says he knew from the Cater Family’s version. Dylan’s recording of the song dates from October 1962, at the Gaslight Café.

gerde's

Also performing regularly at Gerde’s was the multi-racial folk group New World Singers. Delores Nixon, the black member, often sang No More Auction Block as part of the group’s repertoire. Dylan later recalled that he wrote Blowin’ In The Wind after spending the night with Delores (who told him that it was unethical to “borrow” the melody, even though many folkies used to do that). One day in April 1962, Dylan handed the lyrics of Blowin’ In The Wind to New World Singer Gil Turner, who hosted the Monday evening line-up. Turner was impressed and asked Dylan to teach him the song, so that he could perform it immediately. Turner introduced the song — “I’d like to sing a new song by one of our great songwriters. It’s hot of the pencil and here it goes.” The crowd went mad, and Dylan went home. After that, he would include Blowin’ In The Wind on his repertoire; his version featured here is an excellent bootleg from a gig at Gerde’s in late 1962, before he recorded it for his sophomore album and before anybody else released it.

*

The timeline of recordings of Blowin’ In The Wind is a little confused. Some sources date the New World Singers’ recording to September 1963, four months after Dylan’s was released. That is patently wrong, however. The New World Singers’ version appeared on a compilation of “topical songs” called Broadside Ballads Vol. 1 which apparently was released on 1 January 1963 on Broadside Records, the recording arm of the folk magazine (you guessed it) Broadside, which was founded by Pete Seeger and printed the lyrics of the song in May 1962. The Chad Mitchell Trio, sometimes credited with recording the song first, released the song on their In Action LP in March 1963.

dietrich_antwort_windIn 1963, Blowin’ In The Wind became a massive hit, not for Dylan, but for Peter, Paul & Mary. Naturally the song has been covered copiously and esoterically. Perhaps the most unexpected recording is that by the German film legend Marlene Dietrich in 1964; her Burt Bacharach-orchestrated single, which is not at all bad (I do dig the groovy flute), was backed by another German take on a folk anthem, Where Have All The Flowers Gone. I owe the New World Singers file to my latest Originals friend Walter from Belgium, who has kindly set me up with 30-odd more songs for this series.

Also recorded by: Chad Mitchell Trio (1963), Kingston Trio (1963), Stan Getz (1963), Marie Laforêt (1963), The Breakaways (1963), Conny Vandenbos & René Frank (as Wie weet waar het begint, 1964), Stan Getz & João Gilberto (1964; b-side of The Girl From Ipanema), Richard Anthony (as Ecoute dans le vent, 1964), Eddy Arnold (1964), The Browns (1964), Sam Cooke (1964), Marianne Faithfull (1964), Lena Horne (1964), Lucille Starr & Bob Regan (1964), Nina & Frederik (1964), Chet Atkins (1965), Trini Lopez (1965), Cher (1965), The Mad Hatters (1965), Johnny Rivers (1965), Bobby Bare (1965), Jackie DeShannon (1965), The Silkie (1965), Blue Mood Four (1965), Marlene Dietrich (English version, 1966), John Davidson (1966), I Kings (as La risposta, 1966), Robert DeCormier Singers (1966), Peggy March (as Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind, 1966), The Sheffields (1966), Stevie Wonder (1966), Dionne Warwick (1966), Joan Baez (1967), Brother Jack McDuff (1967), Lou Donaldson (1967), Laurel Aitken (1967), O.V. Wright (1968), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), The Dixie Drifters (1968), The Hollies (1969), Stanley Turrentine feat. Shirley Scott (1969), The Travellers (1969), Edwin Hawkins Singers (1969), Diana Ross & The Supremes (1969), Bill Medley (1970), Johnny Nash (1970), Luigi Tenco (as La risposta è caduta nel vento, 1972), Brimstone (1973), Black Johnny & His Paradiso’s (1973), Trident (1975), Horst Jankowski und sein Rias-Tanzorchester (1977), Julie Felix (1992), Neil Young (1991), Barbara Dickson (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), Judy Collins (1994), The Hooters (1994), Hugues Aufray (as Dans le souffle du vent, 1995), Mina (2000), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2001), Emmerson Nogueira (2002), Peter Saltzman (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Loona (2004), Bobby Solo (2004), Jools Holland with Ruby Turner (2005), House of Fools (2005), Dolly Parton & Nickel Creek (2005), Nena (2007), Sylvie Vartan (as Dans le souffle du vent, 2007), Massimo Priviero (2007) a.o.

.

Billy Preston – My Sweet Lord.mp3
George Harrison – My Sweet Lord.mp3

billy_prestonYes, of course, the Chiffons did it “originally”. And with that out of the way, Harrison wrote My Sweet Lord, which would become his biggest and most controversial hit, for Billy Preston. Preston had at one point come to be regarded as the “Fifth Beatle” thanks to his keyboard work which earned him a co-credit on the Get Back single. He had actually known the band since 1962, when he toured Britain with Little Richard, for whom the Beatles opened in Liverpool. Post-Beatles, Preston continued working with Harrison, who had brought him into the Let It Be sessions.

Written in December 1969 in Copenhagen, My Sweet Lord song first appeared on Preston’s Encouraging Words album, a star-studded affair which included not only Harrison, but also Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richard on bass and Ginger Baker on drums. The album also included Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (a song which the Beatles had considered of recording); almost a year later that song would provide the title of the triple-LP set. The All Things Must Pass album, produced by Phil Spector, also included George’s cover of his own My Sweet Lord.

my_sweet_lordPreston’s version is much closer to Harrison’s original concept than the composer’s own take. In his defence during the My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine plagiarism case, Harrison said that he was inspired not by early-’60s girlband pop, but by the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1969 hit Oh Happy Day. That influence is acutely apparent on Preston’s recording, but less so on Harrison’s chart-topper. Indeed, had Preston scored the big hit with it, not Harrison, it might have been Ed Hawkins initiating the plagiarism litigation.

Also recorded by: Stu Phillips & The Hollyridge Strings (1971), Johnny Mathis (1971), Homer Louis Randolph III (1971), Peggy Lee (1971), Ray Conniff (1971), Monty Alexander & the Cyclones (1971), Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Eddy Arnold (1971), Edwin Starr (1971), Top of the Poppers (1971), Nina Simone (1972), Richie Havens (1972), The Violinaires (1973), Five Thirty (1990), Boy George (1992), Stacy Q (1997), George Harrison & Sam Brown (2000), David Young (2000), Emmerson Nogueira (2003), Bebe Winans (2003), Girlyman (2003), Joel Harrison (2005), Gary Christian & Desa Basshead (2008) a.o.

.

Flying Burrito Brothers – Wild Horses.mp3
Rolling Stones – Wild Horses.mp3

burritoIt is difficult to say which one is the original, and which one the cover. The Stones recorded it before the Flying Burrito Brothers did, but released it only after Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons’ band released it on their 1970 album, Burrito Deluxe. Wild Horses was written in 1969 (Keef says about his new-born son; Jagger denies that its re-written lyrics were about Marianne Faithfull) and recorded in December 1969 at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, the day after the group laid down Brown Sugar. Jamming in a country mood, Mick asked Keith to present a number in that genre, spurring his country-loving friend on by saying: “Come on, you must have hundreds”. Keith disappeared for a bit, and returned with a melody and words for the chorus. Mick filled in the lyrics for the verses, and the song was recorded (with Jim Dickinson standing it for Ian Stewart, who did not like playing minor chords)  before the Stones packed up and left Memphis.

Earlier that year, the Stones had collaborated on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace Of Sin album; and as the curtain fell on the 1960s, the Burritos opened for the Stones at the notorious Altamont concert (according to some reports, it was during their performance that the Hells’ Angels started the first fight). Parsons was especially friendly with Keith Richard, whom he introduced to the treasury of country music. It is even said that the song was intended for Gram — probably a false rumour, yet it  sounds more like a Parsons than a Stones song. Whether or not it was intended for Parsons, the Burritos were allowed to record Wild Horses, and release it before the Stones were able to (for contractual reasons involving their “divorce” from Allen Klein) on 1971’s Sticky Fingers album.

Also recorded by: Labelle (1971), Leon Russell (1974), Melanie (1974), The Sundays (1992), Southside Johnny (1997), Otis Clay (1997), Blackhawk (1997), Old & In the Way (1997), Elliott Murphy with Olivier Durand (2000), Brent Truitt, Tim Crouch and Dennis Crouch (2000), The Rocking Chairs (2002), Leslie King (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Rachel Z (2004), Charlotte Martin (2004), Karen Souza (2005), Alicia Keys featuring Adam Levine (2005), Tre Lux (2006), Richard Marx with Jessica Andrews (2008) a.o.

.

Judy Collins – Suzanne.mp3
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne.mp3
Françoise Hardy – Suzanne (English version).mp3

judy_collinsMany of Laughing Len’s most famous songs were first recorded by folk warbless Judy Collins: Sisters Of Mercy; Bird On A Wire; Since You’ve Asked; Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye — and Suzanne. The song was born in Montréal, landmarks of which are described at length in the song. Cohen already had a chord pattern in place which he then married to a poem he had written about one Suzanne Verdal — the beautiful wife of the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, a friend of Cohen’s — whom he fancied but, as the lyrics have it, touched only in his mind.

francoise_hardyOne night in 1966, a year before Cohen released his debut album, he played the finished song over the telephone to his friend Judy Collins, who was already a star on the folk scene. Duly enchanted, Collins recorded the song for her In My Life album, which was released in November 1966. A few months later, the English-born singer Noel Harrison and Josh White Jr both recorded it before the song’s writer got around to releasing it in December 1967. It is fair to say that Leonard Cohen owes much of his start in music to Judy Collins’ patronage. Apart from Cohen’s version, I really like Françoise Hardy’s (English-language) remake from 1970.

suzanne

Suzanne Verdal, the muse behind Cohen's song.

As for the subject of the song, she is now (or at least was fairly recently) living out of her car in California following a serious back injury sustained in a fall. In 1998, BBC4 interviewed her about the song; she comes across as charming — one can sense why Cohen might have been enchanted by her three decades earlier. The interview is a useful tool for deciphering the lyrics. The marine theme was inspired by the adjacent St Lawrence River, nearby was a Catholic church for sailors under the patronage of the Virgin Mary. Suzanne was a practising Catholic (hence the nautical Jesus allusions). And the tea…well, it was just tea, with pieces of fruit in it.

Also recorded by: Noel Harrison (1967), Josh White Jr (1968), Pearls Before Swine (1968), Catherine McKinnon (1968), Genesis (a US band, 1968), Graeme Allwright (1968), Françoise Hardy (1970), (in French, 1968), Jack Jones (1968), Harry Belafonte (1969), Herman van Veen (in Dutch and German, 1969), Nina Simone (1969), John Davidson (1969), George Hamilton IV (1969), Gary McFarland (1969), Fairport Convention (1969), Françoise Hardy (in English, 1970), Nancy Wilson (1970), Joan Baez (on four occasions, first in 1971), Neil Diamond (1971), Anni-Frid Lyngstad (1971), Fabrizio De André (1972), Roberta Flack (1973), Mia Martini (1983), The Flying Lizards (1984), Geoffrey Oryema (1991), Bomb (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), The Parasites (1993), Peter Gabriel (1995), Dianne Reeves (1999), Barb Jungr (1999), Kevin Parent (2001), Nana Mouskouri (2002), Denison Witmer (2003), Andrea Parodi e Bocephus King (2003), Marti Pellow (2003), René Marie (2003), Perla Batalla (2005), Aga Zaryan (2006), Sylvie Vartan (2007), Aretha Franklin (in the ’60s, released in 2007), Alain Bashung (2008), Gaetane Abrial (2008), James Taylor (2008) a.o.

.

Ray Stevens – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.mp3
Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.mp3
Johnny Cash – Sunday Morning Coming Down.mp3

ray_stevensKris Kristofferson is country music’s Cinderella. Although from a distinguished military family and highly educated, by the mid-’60s he was a janitor for Columbia Records in Nashville, writing his songs literally in the basement. His bosses even warned him not to pitch his songs to the label’s recording stars, or he’d be fired. One day, Kristofferson broke that rule. Double-shifting as a helicopter pilot, he collared Johnny Cash on the building’s helipad (some say he landed a chopper in Cash’s garden) to present him with Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down. Cash was impressed with the song, and made sure that Kristofferson would not be fired. He did not, however, record his songs — yet. Still, soon Kristofferson’s songs — such Me And Bobby McGee (which already featured in this series), Help Me Make It Through The Night, From The Bottle To The Bottom — were recorded by a variety of country artists. Eventually Kristofferson was rewarded with a recording contract; his big career breakthrough came when Cash introduced him at the Newport Folk Festival.

johnny_cash_showStrangely, Cash was not the first to record Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down. Ray Stevens, a country singer who frequently dabbled in novelty songs, recorded it in 1969, scoring a minor hit on the country charts. Cash had the bigger hit with his 1970 version, which corrected the colloquial spelling. Cash resisted pressure to change the line “wishing Lord that I was stoned” to “…I was home” in deference to the song’s writer; he however had the kid playing with, not cussing at, the can that he was kicking.

Johnny Cash was a marvellous interpreter of songs, but his take Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, fine though it is, does not stand up to Kristofferson’s version, which was also released in 1970. Indeed, it recently occurred to me that, if I was forced to choose, I would list KK’s version of Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down as my all-time favourite song.

Also recorded by: Sammi Smith (1970), Hank Ballard (1970), R. Dean Taylor (1970), Vikki Carr (1970), Lynn Anderson (1971), John Mogensen (as Søndag morgen,1971), Hank Snow (1971), Bobby Bare (1974), Frankie Laine (1978), Louis Neefs (as Zondagmiddag, 1979), Johnny Paycheck (1980), Shawn Mullins (1998), David Allan Coe (1998), Crooked Fingers (2002), Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-press (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006), Trace Adkins (2006), Ernie Thacker (2009) a.o.

More Originals

Perfect Pop – Vol. 7 (more '60s)

May 1st, 2008 5 comments

Here is the second part of the Perfect Pop ’60s Special. I think there are still enough songs for two or three more instalments in this series, with the ’70s now having run a backlog.

Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer In The City.mp3
This may be the quintessental summer song, at least as far as inner city life is concerned. It captures the claustrophic energy of a baking city; the song harries you, disorientates you. You feel the city dust in your nose, the steam rising from asphalt. Nobody is chilling on the beach or over a barbecue, because regardless of the heat, life goes on: cars are hooting, construction workers are pressure drilling (you can hear both in the song). There is something ominous yet utterly attractive in the air, creating a delicious tension as the stress of surviving the oppressive urban heat gives way to the warm nights when girls are lightly dressed and guys go on the prowl for summer sex.
Best bit: Possibly the first use of a pneumatic drill in pop (1:16)

The 5th Dimension – Up-Up And Away.mp3
I first became aware of this Jimmy Webb-penned song through Sesame Street in the early ’70s, and loved its mellow, almost comforting melody. It is a lot like a Bacharach songs, in structure and arrangement. It also sounds a bit like the advertising jingle it subsequently became; but if all commercial jingles would be as lovely as this, maybe ad breaks would not be such an imposition (to wit, I really like the Jeep ad with the Stephen Poltz song, You Remind Me). The 5th Dimension were a bit of a hippie outfit, so when this track was released in 1967 I imagine that a lot of people interpreted it as an invitation to get high. In fact, I like to imagine that it was a drug song, only for it to be played on Sesame Street and to flog airline tickets. The boring truth seems to be that the song was just about balloon travel. The familiar story that it was written to celebrate the wedding of band members Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davies Jr in a hot air balloon is rubbish: the song came out in 1967; McCoo and Davies were married in 1969. But either they or fellow member Florence LaRue did marry in a balloon as a tribute to their first big hit.
Best bit: A flute in the background! (1:43)

The Hollies – Carrie Anne.mp3
From grey and rainy Manchester, the Hollies produced a song that is as California sunshiney as anything the Beach Boys ever delivered. The Everley Brothers influence is most evident in this1967 song, on which Stephen Nash (who later hooked up with Crosby and Stills) at the end harmonises with himself. There has been much speculation about who the eponymous girl was. Carrie Fisher has claimed its about her (just as I claim that Steely Dan wrote their song about this blog), some say that it was about Marianne Faithfull or Jagger’s future sister-in-law Karri-Ann Moller. I think it might be about my pal’s Kevin’s daughter, even though she was not yet born. The most likely explanation is this: the song’s working title was “Hey Mr Man”, and Carrie-Anne rhymes with that.
Best bit: The steel drums (1:37)

B.J. Thomas – Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.mp3
I cannot imagine what exactly a Bacharach pop song was doing in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I never did “get” that movie. The scene it scored — Paul Newman monkeying around on one of those newfangled “bicycles” — was memorable, though. Thanks to Raindrops… The lyrics don’t make sense either. On the one hand, B.J. (did he ever get teased for that?) says that the rain doesn’t bother him; on the other he has a supervisory word with the sun which doesn’t get things done properly. Which suggests that the lyricist Hal David flunked science in school, because it is in the sun’s job description to facilitate evaporation which will lead to rain. So it bloody well did its job. (Of course, I flunked science too, so what do I know?). Ray Stevens was initially tapped to sing the song, but he turned it down; a real Decca moment for a singer I cannot immediately associate any song with. I don’t think it is necessary to discuss at length why Raindrops is a perfect pop song. It most self-evidently is.
Best bit: The half-minute trumpet coda (2:26)

Dion – Runaround Sue.mp3
Runaround Sue seems a bit like the early ’60s equivalent of losers posting nude pictures of their ex-girlfiends on the Internet for revenge. Dion, who was brought up a good Catholic boy, clearly is pissed that Sue has not been exclusive, alleging that she has been sleeping with all the boys in town. If she was such a nympho, then Dion must have had massive blinkers on; if she really shagged all the boys in town, at least after boy-in-town number 17 reports of Sue’s conduct should have come to Dion’s attention before she could notch up the rest of the local boys. And how many girls-in-town did you shag, DeMucci? The real background story to “Sue” is rather less dramatic, by Dion’s own account: “It was about, you know, some girl who loved to be worshipped, but as soon as you want a commitment and express your love for her, she’s gone. So the song was a reaction to that kind of woman.” And where is the rich legacy in pop music exercising its critical muscle in relation to vain, commitment-shy men? Whatever the ethical merits of Dion’s character assassination, the song is great, even if it rips off Pat Boone’s Speedy Gonzales. A cracking melody, totally assured vocals, superb handclaps, and tremendous doo wop backing. Wonderful.
Best bit: “Aaaaaaaaaaarh” (0:45)

Gary Puckett & The Union Gap – Young Girl.mp3
Fuck it, Mr Puckett, but you’re right: a statutory rape charge is too high a price to pay for the consummation of love, no matter how hot the hottie, and the law would not accept ignorance of her age as a defence, no matter how mature she seemed. We don’t know how old Gazza is in the song, nor how old this “baby in disguise” is. Puckett in an interview once suggested that the ages of the protagonists were 20 and 14. In four years time, that age difference would be quite acceptable, so we’re not having a dirty old man scenario here, thank goodness. Having said that, if it’s a Californication type of deal, the storyline where Duchnovy’s Hank is getting banged (in more ways than one) by the 16-year-old girl, then maybe it doesn’t seem quite so sick.
Best bit: “Get out of here…” (2:18)


Udo Jürgens – Es wird Nacht, Señorita.mp3*
Udo Jürgens is in many ways the Frank Sinatra of the German Schlager, with the added dimension of also being a talented songwriter. In the early ’60s he wrote big hits for Shirley Bassey and Matt Monro, and he even wrote a song for Sinatra (If I Never Sing Another Song, subsequently a signature song for Sammy Davis Jr). An institution in Germany, the now 73-year-old Austrian-born singer has been around for decades, producing music that at times was excellent (within the confines of Schlager), often pushing the boundaries. He was among the first Schlager singers to address the taboo subject of divorce, and even addressed German xenophobia in his 1975 hit Griechischer Wein, which was at once daring and patronisingly hackneyed. At the same time, he was responsible for some abominations against music (German readers of my generation will rightly recoil at the thought of Aber bitte mit Sahne). Es Wird Nacht, Señorita, from 1968, is hackneyed in as far as it creates the whole faux-Spanish vibe, and yet it is an absolute corker of a song. The lyrics are pretty explicit for its time and place within a very conservative genre. In the song, Udo seduces a “Señorita” — whom I like to picture as looking like Whistler’s girlfriend in the third season of Prison Break — by asking for accommodation, seeing as he’s apparently itinerant (“I’m tired from hiking”). “I want nothing from you”, he assures her. Except “perhaps a little love”. Ultimately the tired hiker asks Señorita to take him to bed, because there he is “not as bad as the others”. When the song ends with Udo triumphantly shouting “Olé”, you know he has scored.
Best bit: Udo has scored (2:10)

The Rolling Stones – 19th Nervous Breakdown.mp3
The Stones are another act with a wide treasury of perfect pop songs. Satisfaction might have been the obvious choice; Let’s Spend The Night Together or Get Off My Cloud would have been excellent choices as well (though my favourite Stones song, She’s A Rainbow, probably not). So it became a contest between one of the greatest riffs in pop music, a great use of the word “Ba-ba-ba-ba-bababababa”, a fantastic shouted chorus, and a track on which everything comes together. Listen to Watt’s drumming (those cymbals!) and Wyman’s bass complementing Keef’s guitar line, the insistent rhythm guitar, and Jagger’s vocals which are still relatively free of some of the affectations they would assume later.
Best bit: Wyman’s shuddering bass (3:31)

The Supremes – You Keep Me Hangin’ On.mp3
Early in this series I featured the Temptations’ My Girl as a proxy for all the perfect pop manufactured on the conveyor belt of hits at Tamla-Motown. I have since toyed with the idea of doing a Perfect Pop Motown special. That idea will need to wait until I have exhausted my shortlists of remaining perfect pop songs (which, rather annoyingly, keeps growing). In the interim, having a male Motown group as a proxy cannot suffice. The Supremes may not have performed on the most perfect Perfect Pop single by women on Motown (that would be Martha & the Vandellas), but their body of work represents the greatest number of perfect pop records by females on Motown, hence their proxy status. And among so many great songs (Baby Love; Stop In The Name Of Love; The Happening; You Can’t Hurry Love; Where Did Our Love Go; Reflections etc), You Keep Me Hangin’ On stands out. Diana Ross and Florence Ballard (who was so royally and tragically stitched up by the Motown machinery) are almost breathless as they demand a resolution to what clearly is not a happy relationship, and the arrangement, especially the rock guitar, add to the urgency.
Best bit: “And there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it” (1:30)

The Beatles – I Feel Fine.mp3
Tracking back a little, the reader may recall that the Perfect Pop series was inspired by a comment in an article by Jim Irvin in The Word. Irvin identified three songs as examples of perfect pop: Take That’s Back For Good, Britney Spears’ Toxic, and the Beatles’ I Feel Fine. I have featured the Take That and Britney songs, so it is only right to include his third pick as well. And from the Beatles’ incredible repertoire of perfect pop, I Feel Fine may indeed the most perfect, exuding an overdose of joyfulness. It was issued as a single only before the release of Help, which I regard as possibly the best pop album of all time, but strangely seems more accomplished and mature than anything on Help, with the possible exceptions of the album’s title track and You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away. I Feel Fine also signalled the beginning of the Beatles’ experimental phase, with the inclusion of an accidentally discovered sound, the feedback that starts the song. It may be unnecessary to mention that this came about when John Lennon parked his still switched on electric guitar against an amp et cetera.
Best bit: The feedback intro, of course (0:01)


The Chiffons – He’s So Fine.mp3
The song George Harrison never heard before writing My Sweet Lord. In this series, the Chiffons represent all those great girl-bands from the early ’60s. He’s So Fine may not be the best of the lot (I like the Ronettes’ Be My Baby, for example, or even the Chiffons’ One Fine Day better), but I think it has all the ingredients which made girl-band pop so perfect. The wonderful backing harmonies which are almost bell-like, the always slightly sad undercurrent in the melody and vocals even when the song is about happiness, the dense production (often by Phil Spector, though not here), and the killer chorus — which, in this case, must have wormed itself so deeply into Harrison’s subconscience that he took plagiaristic ownership of the melody. After losing his 1976 plagiarism case, Harrison bought the rights to He’s So Fine so he would not be sued again.
Best bit: “Doo-lang-doo-lang-doo-lang” (0:01)

More Perfect Pop