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Posts Tagged ‘Roy Orbison’

The Originals Vol. 4

September 15th, 2008 1 comment

Everly Brothers – Love Hurts.mp3
Roy Orbison – Love Hurts.mp3
Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
Nazareth – Love Hurts.mp3
Don McLean – Love Hurts.mp3
Paul Young & the Q-Tips – Love Hurts.mp3
Monsieur Mono & Mara Tremblay – Love Hurts (direct DL)
It is possibly the greatest songs ever written from the perspective of heartbreak, with some gloriously bitter metaphors, and yet it took a long time to become a proper hit – and then in one of its worse incarnations. Love Hurts was written by Boudleaux Bryant who co-wrote several Everly Brothers hits. Love Hurts, however, was only an album track on the siblings’ 1960 LP A Date With The Everly Brothers. In 1965, they recorded a more upbeat version, but their mid-tempo 1960 rendition was sufficiently mournful for Roy Orbison to cover it tremulously the following year, releasing it as a b-side. Thereafter, the song remained dormant for 13 years, until Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris delivered the definitive version. Their sweet harmonies are drenched in the hot blood of a broken heart, Parsons perfecting the art of spitting his bile with tender vulnerability.

A year later, the song finally became a hit, in the misplaced hands of hard rockers Nazareth whose singer sounds mortified at having to sing these intimate lyrics. It sounds like he lost a bet at karaoke night. More covers followed soon after, but it was Don McLean in 1981 who returned the song the sensibilities of the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, probably aware that an imitation of Gram Parsons’ take was impossible. One of the more interesting propositions, the same year, was Paul Young recording the song with the Q-Tips before going solo. One can imagine how well this underrated singer (who did much to feed the dim views of his artistry) might have interpreted the song. In the event, it is a rendition of curious interest rather than a competitor, sounding more like an Ultravox arrangement than a soulful lament. He apparently re-recorded it in 1993, hopefully nailing it the second time around…
A late addition, thanks to L’Homme Scalp, is a rather lovely 2005 French version of the song.
Also recorded by: Cher, Jim Capaldi, Jennifer Warnes, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Bad Romance, Kim Deal and Bob Pollard, Corey Hart, Barbara Dickson, Little Milton and Lucinda Williams, Robin Gibb, Pat Boone, Emmylou Harris, Stina Nordenstam, Sinéad O’Connor, Rod Stewart, Paul Noonan & Lisa Hannigan, Clare Teal a.o.
Best version: Parsons’ version is one of my all-time favourite song…

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Jacques Brel – Le Moribond.mp3
Rod McKuen – Seasons In The Sun.mp3

Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun.mp3
I might do my reputation no good at all when I confess that I can’t understand the vitriol levelled against Terry Jacks’ 1974 hit. Yes, it’s sentimental and drenched in syrup, but it hardly is the only offender among its contemporaries in that respect. Cheesy though it may be, it is difficult to denounce a song that originated in the mighty catalogue of the unassailable Jacques Brel. The Belgian king of the vivant recorded the song as Le Moribund in 1961. In Brel’s version, and in poet Rod McKuen’s translation, the cause of the impending death could be natural but well might be a suicide note (there are strong hints that the singer’s wife had an extramarital affair). The English version was soon recorded by the Kingston Singers, and later by the Beach Boys. The latter’s version was not completed or released, but featured among its session musicians Terry Jacks (who, some accounts suggest, introduced the Beach Boys to the song). The Canadian-born singer changed the lyrics, introducing Michelle, his little one, into the proceedings and lightened the tone of the song considerably. The comparative cheerfulness of his version seems to eliminate the notion of suicide; unlike Brel or McKuen, Jacks sounds like a man who has made peace with his mortality.
Also recorded by: The Fortunes, Nana Mouskouri, Nirvana (you won’t see that sequence too often), Bad Religion, Black Box Recorder, Pearls Before Swine, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Westlife a.o.
Best version: I really like McKuen’s version, which I received from our friend RH

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Dee Dee Warwick – You’re No Good.mp3

Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good.mp3
Linda Ronstadt’s big country-rock hit of 1974 started life as a ’60s soul number. Written by the British songwriter Clint Ballard Jr, it was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne’s younger sister, in 1963. The same year Betty Everett (of Shoop Shoop Song fame) scored a minor hit with it. Ronstadt took the song out of its R&B context altogether, creating a new template on which future covers would be based. That is probably a sign of a really good cover artist: the ability of appropriating a song, changing it so much that it really will feel like a different song. These two versions are a great example of that attribute.
Also recorded by: Swinging Blue Jeans, José Feliciano, Van Halen, Elvis Costello, Wilson Phillips, Lulu, Jill Johnson a.o.
Best version: Ronstadt’s, probably.

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The McCoys – Sorrow.mp3
David Bowie – Sorrow.mp3
Speaking of covers, it is a vaguely amusing coincidence that albums of cover versions by David Bowie and Bryan Ferry – icons of cool both at the time – entered the British charts on the same day in November 1973. Proof, if any was needed, that the covers project is not a recent phenomenon in pop music. David Bowie scored only one hit from the Pin Ups album, Sorrow, which had been made popular in the UK seven years earlier by the Merseys. The original version of it, however, was by the McCoys, the US group better known for their big hit Hang On Sloopy, which also provided the title for the 1965 album which featured Sorrow.
Also recorded by: Status Quo, Tribal Underground, Powderfinger
Best version: Bowie’s shades it.

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Sting – I Hung My Head
Johnny Cash – I Hung My Head.mp3
Who would have thought that Sting could write a really excellent country song. Of course, Sting’s original of I Hung My Head is only notionally country – the arrangement could be by somebody like Tim McGraw, whose country music often is infused with rock music. It’s not a bad version at all, and I say so as somebody who generally holds old Gordon in less than high esteem. But it took Johnny Cash on his landmark 2002 album American IV: The Man Comes Around to give the song the country spin it really requires. Where in Sting’s version, the spine-tingling story drowns in overproduction, Cash slows it down and delivers it as if he had sung it as a bluegrass number since he was a little boy.
Also recorded by: Blue Highway
Best version: Cash, of course

Perfect Pop – Vol.2

March 26th, 2008 7 comments

Here is the second installment of Perfect Pop. For the criteria, look up the introduction to the first part of the series. One commenter rightly suggested the inclusion of The La’s, which I happily already had on my shortlist. Tell us which songs you think constitute perfect pop.

The Troggs – Wild Thing.mp3
A bit like “Louie Louie”, featured in the first part of this series, there is something gloriously shambolic going on here, understandably so if one knows that it was recorded in 20 minutes as an afterthought to a recording session. Singer Reg Presley not just sounds lewd, he is fucking the listener none too gently. Which is quite a contrast to later, milder Troggs hits (Love Is All Around; With A Girl Like You), but quite in keeping with the famous recording of the Troggs’ having an animated discussion in the studio.
Best bit: The ocarina solo (1:11)

The La’s – There She Goes.mp3
Had the Troggs been 20 years younger, they might well have sounded like the La’s (a name I’ve always hated). Allegedly about heroin, this song has a catchy tune and beautifully jangling guitars which surely helped influence dozens of US Indie groups in the ’90s. And it was only in the ’90s that this song, originally released in 1988, became a hit.
Best bit: After the slow bridge, “She calls my name” (1:46)

Roy Orbison – Only The Lonely.mp3
My mother had the single of this: it was the song she and her teenage sweetheart shared. It’s a good “our song” if your love is being split up by disapproving parents, I think (he was working class, my mother the rebellious princess of upper middle-class parents; you know the deal). On many songs, Orbison’s voice annoys me (hence my utter hatred for the Travelling Wilburys), on a few it is perfect. Only The Lonely, where he sounds a lot like Elvis at times, is one of those.
Best bit: Orbison hits the falsetto (2:08)

Pilot – Magic.mp3
Unjustly never a hit in Britain, this is one of the finest bubble gum pop songs of the ’70s. It’s so full of lovely little touches. Listen to the quirks of the guitar, the sporadic handclaps, the intermittent strings, the soft backing la-la-la-las. And then there is the rich chorus; it’s all rather brilliant.
Best bit: The handclaps during the guitar solo (2:16)

The Cure – In Between Days.mp3
The Cure have a surprising number of straight pop songs; easy to forget if one listens too much to the weird or depressing stuff Robert Smith and pals have produced. This, the first of two outstanding singles from 1985’s The Head On The Door, is a quick, bubbly burst of perfect pop. New Order might have taken notes about the value of brevity in pop.
Best bit: Bob laments over the outro: “Without you!” (2:35)

Van McCoy – The Hustle.mp3*
Tune! Disco guitars, strings, flute, horns, a killer bassline, while friendly ladies and commanding gentlemen invite us to do The Hustle. Do it!
Best bit: The guitar demands to be heard (1:02)

Plastic Bertrand – Ça Plane Pour Moi.mp3*
Belgian punk, thankfully in French and not Flemish. It’s all very audacious, probably borrowing less from the Sex Pistols and more from the Small Faces, whose Sha-la-la-la-lee Plastic Bertrand covered on his debut album) than Sex Pistols. I have never bothered to establish what the man is singing about. I don’t think I want to. As long as I can sing the title and the ou-ooou-eeooou, I’m happy.
Best bit: Whatever he sings after being the king of the divan (1:12)

Mel & Kim – Respectable.mp3
Take them or leave them, but the much reviled Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory of the ’80s created some respectable pop. This song found SAW more or less at a crossroad: their formula was starting to take hold (with Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up becoming a hit just six months later), but there remains enough of the Hi-NRG-cum-pop sound which propelled songs such as Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round” to pop classicdom. The “tay-tay-tay-tay” intro is an iconic ’80s moment. Sadly Mel Appleby died of cancerin 1990, just three years after Respectable (and the equally fine Showing Out).
Best bit: The House break (2:07)

ELO – Shine A Little Love.mp3
Jeff Lynne’s pop orchestra could get a little too prog, but 1979’s Discovery album was a jewel of great pop. I might as well have chosen Don’t Let Me Down (with its power chords and the bwoosh sound) or Confusion (with its lovely keyboard riff), but it always seems to me that Shine A Little Love tends to be overlooked. The urgent, swirling opening passage and the chorus with the strings and the woooo’s qualify this as a piece of perfect pop.
Best bit: “Ooh, ooh…ooh-ba-ooh-ba-ooh-ba” (1:37)

Georgie Fame – Yeh Yeh.mp3
2:47 minutes of pure joy. I think this is perfect kitchen pop: try not to dance to it while doing the dishes. Or while you sail a boat. The famous British pirate broadcaster Radio Caroline was launched because no other station wanted to play Yeh Yeh, on account of it sounding “too black”, according to its founder, Ronan O’Rahilly. Read the full story of that here.
Best bit: The slow build-up to the chorus: “We play a melody…” (0:49)

Soft Cell – Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.mp3
Oh man, that opening line: “Standing in the door of the Pink Flamingo, crying in the rain”! The lyrics, the lament of a gay man who can’t pull through a relationship because he is shackled in the closet, are incredibly sad, scored by a gorgeous melody, Marc Almond’s luscious vocals and some of the best synth pop lines we’re ever likely to hear. And, please, never listen to David Gray’s excruciatingly poor cover (or never do that again)!
Best bit: “We’re strangers meeting for the first time, okay? Just smile and say hello…” (3:40)

Love Songs For Every Situation: Heartbreak

February 23rd, 2008 4 comments

When unrequited love girl communicated to me gently that she didn’t like me that way, I experienced validation for the term heartbreak. It did feel as though my actually heart was broken right down the middle. Of course it didn’t, because else I would be dead, but the instant pain manifested itself in the location where the blood-pumping organ resides. It then moved to my chest and stomach, but lungache or gutbreak don’t sound terrible romantic.

The genre of love songs is rich in lyrics about broken hearts, from Sinatra learning the blues to Alicia Keys bemoaning that she can’t have you and any number of country singers picking up the shards of their broken hearts. Somehow this hugely intense emotion has given rise to some astoundingly banal lyrics — take a bow Bonnie Tyler and Mariah Carey. Here then, in the penultimate installment of this series, we deal with heartbreak in a non-banal manner.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – The Tracks Of My Tears.mp3
This may well be the best song ever about a broken heart, by Motown’s poet laureate. Smokey is stoic, like the stiff-lipped Englishman of cliché, and won’t publicly exhibit his inner turmoil. He jokes around, has a cute girlfriend, but it’s an act. “The Tracks Of My Tears” also contains one of the most wonderfully delivered lines in pop ever: “My smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you”. There is joy in sadness.

Colin Hay – Lifeline.mp3
Part-time genius Colin Hay (who used to be Men At Work’s frontman) has a great way of expressing inner discontent with philosophical easy-goingness (take “Beautiful World” as an example of that). Here our man is a bit more forthright. She “broke my heart, I saw it coming from the start”, and now he is drowning in a sea of depression, hence the request for a lifeline in the chorus. He acknowledges that he needs to learn how to swim, throwing away the prozac (“You’ll never forget her, so why do you even try?”) and try to get over the depression by drinking water from appears to be a lake with magical healing properties. A really powerful song.

The Weepies – World Spins Madly On.mp3
When your heart is broken, inertia and feelings of alienation are normal reactions. The Weepies’ Steve Tannen outlines just that: “Woke up and wished that I was dead, with an aching in my head I lay motionless in bed. I thought of you and where you’d gone, and let the world spin madly on.” Perfect.

April Sixth – Dear Angel.mp3
I don’t usually do stuff with emo tendencies, but I’ll make an exception for this song (by a group named after my birthday, bless them), which I like a lot. Girl has dumped dude, and dude is feeling very bad about it. He thinks about her all the time, as you do, and naturally this causes him grief (“If only my love could be with you, if only this pain, this pain died too”). So he has decided that the best thing to do is to cut her out of his life entirely, for both their sakes (“So I’ll break you away”). Will he succeed?

Aqualung – Breaking My Heart Again.mp3
Heartbreak need not be a consequence of a break-up, but can kick in while a relationship still exists. And so it is here. “Need to know, don’t want to know, already know: I’ve seen the signs;
I watch you as you pull yourself away from.” And so our man out-Coldplays Apple Sr as he anticipates having his heart broken, apparently not for the first time, and observes: “I’m losing all strength” and, finally, “I’m losing you”.

Mozella – Light Years Away.mp3
Here’s a woman, in the singer-songwriter mode, who has her heart broken so badly that she is entirely embittered while saying she isn’t. “It’s almost like you had it planned, it’s like you smiled and shook my hand and said: ‘Hey, I’m about to screw you over big time’.” Clearly, the break-up was not easy (“I think I cried for days”), nor was the recovery. She has found a way of dealing with it: “But I don’t blame you anymore; that’s too much pain to store”, but takes care to inform him that the whole experience has changed her irrevocably. It’s all a rather clever fuck-off letter.

Damien Rice – Cannonball.mp3
I really wanted to use this song somewhere in this series, because it is one of the most powerful  songs about love I can think of. But in which part of the series? It is a song that captures perfectly the pain and confusion of imperfect love, the kind of emotion that ties your stomach in a knot, which is a manifestation of what we call heartache. The first two stanzas speak of confusion: “There’s still a little bit of your taste in my mouth. There’s still a little bit of you laced with my doubt. It’s still a little hard to say what’s going on.” Not exactly heartbreak, but a good dose of confusion here. The kick in the stomach comes later when our boy seeks distance, perhaps because he is scared of getting hurt in this relationship, or perhaps because it can’t be. “So come on courage, teach me to be shy. ‘Cause it’s not hard to fall, and I don’t want to scare her; it’s not hard to fall and I don’t want to lose…” Whatever the case, he is frightened of crashing (“It’s not hard to fall when you float like a cannonball”), and that inhibits his quest for letting love find full expression. And that is heartbreaking in itself.

Hall & Oates – She’s Gone.mp3
Well, it had to feature at some point in this series. Apparently the lads who’d become ’80s icons for their hairstyles (the serious mullet and bubble perm combo) were both dealing with heartbreaks at the time this song was written. The lyrics are fantastic. I love this: “Think I’ll spend eternity in the city [cue disapproving sound effect]. Let the carbon and monoxide choke my thoughts away. And pretty bodies help dissolve the memories. [However:] There can never be what she once was to me.” And the vocal performance, especially on the last line of the quoted verse and the drawn out “she’s gone” at 3:08, is wonderful.

Brandi Carlile – My Song.mp3
This might be about a failed romance or a friendship gone sour. Either way, Brandi (and don’t let her name put you off this wonderful songbird) harbours some anger as she sings: “If you only knew my mind was full of razors to cut you like a word” and “I’m way too old to hate you” (if you have to point out a lack of hatred, then there must be residual resentment). She holds out an olive branch, but won’t any longer run after the addressee of the song: “I’m too proud to beg for your attention and your friendship and your time. So you can come and get it from now on.”

PP Arnold – The First Cut Is The Deepest.mp3
This is, in my view, the best version of Cat Stevens’ great song (though I rather like Rod Stewart’s version too). Here our protagonist finds it difficult to be in love because of a previous episode of heartbreak. “I would have given you all of my heart, but there’s someone who’s torn it apart, and he’s taken just all that I had.” As he Bee Gees would ask a couple of years later: “How can you mend a broken heart?”

Roy Orbison – Crying.mp3
Rebekah Del Rio – Llorando.mp3

I was torn between using the original version, or the one Orbison recorded with k.d. Lang, or Rebekah del Rio’s breathtaking a cappela interpretation from Mulholland Drive. Much as I love the duet, I’ll go with the 1961 original and del Rio’s Spanish cover. Apparently Orbison wrote this after meeting an ex-girlfriend and realising in the process how much he had lost when she became an ex. “I thought that I was over you. But it’s true, so true: I love you even more than I did before.” So, as you will have guessed, Roy will be crying over her. It seems to surprise him: “It’s hard to understand, but the touch of your hand can start me crying.”

Sandie Shaw – Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3
Doesn’t Sandie Shaw sound incredibly sexy on this song? Burt Bacharach and Hal David built a great repository of love songs (and a few terribly sexist ones as well), and heartbreak featured prominently, hence two inclusions of their songs in this post. The set up here is explained in the songtitle: girl loves boy who doesn’t love girl anymore and she can’t forget him. Common stuff that is no less relevant for it: “How can I forget you when there is always something there to remind me? I was born to love you, and I will never be free; you’ll always be a part of me.”

Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (full version).mp3
The other Bacharach/David song. Everybody should know the lyrics well. “If you see me, do me a favour and just fuck off because talking with you will mess with me.” Or words to that effect. The song found its perfect expression in Dionne Warwick’s version. There have been many covers since, and it is quite difficult to do a bad cover of it, though not for lack of trying. Some have put their own spin on it. The Stranglers did, but I don’t like their cover much. Isaac Hayes, on the other hand, appropriated the song without taking it from Dionne, which is a mark of his genius. He took “Walk On By” and resculptured it into a psychedelic soul symphony going on for 12 minutes – and not a single second is wasted. As he did on other Bacharach songs — “The Look Of Love”, “Close To You” – he invested into the straightforward lyrics and melody whole new dynamics and drama. Where Warwick sweetly attracts your sympathy, Hayes involves you in the inner drama of the heartbreak to the point that it leaves you feeling the torment yourself. But by then you’re so exhausted, the heartbreak feels almost sweet.