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In Memoriam – July 2010

August 3rd, 2010 1 comment

The grim reaper evidently is a big football fan, stepping up his reaping only after the World Cup concluded (taking, however, the great South African saxophonist Robbie Jansen before its conclusion), but then with a vengeance. The most notable musician this month may be Harvey Fuqua, whose impact on music was mostly behind the scenes. Fittingly, Marvin Gaye on the last track of his last album paid tribute to his mentor. Just a short while after Big Star’s Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel died.

A couple of session musicians who played on rock classics passed on. I usually don’t include technical staff other than influential producers. But as a sound engineer Bill Porter shaped the Nashville sound. We all know songs that he has produced (many have featured on this blog), including classics by the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Skeeter Davis, Hank Locklin, and Jim Reeves. Also passing on is the relatively obscure funk and soul singer Melvin Bliss, whose 1973 b-side Synthetic Substitution became a staple hip hop sample (for a list, see here)

But the most tragic death came towards the end of the month when the jazz drummer Chris Dagley — who also was a session man (as featured on jazz singer’s Claire Martin’s latest album) — died in a motorbike accident on the way home from playing a gig at London’s famous Ronnie Scott’s. He leaves behind his wife and three kids.

Tracks listed for each entry are on the compilation linked to at the end of this post.

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Ilene Woods, 81, American singer and actress, on Juy 1
Ilene Woods – Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo (from Cinderella, 1950)

Harvey Fuqua, 80, singer with The Moonglows and record producer, on July 6
Harvey & The Moonglows – Ten Commandments Of Love (1959)
Marvin Gaye – My Love Is Waiting (1982)

Bill Porter, 79, hugely influential rock & roll and country sound engineer, on July 7
Bobby Bare – 500 Miles Away From Home (1963)
Skeeter Davis – I Can’t Stay Mad At You (1963)
Elvis Presley – (You’re The) Devil In Disguise (1963)

Robbie Jansen, 60, South African jazz saxophonist and singer, on July 7
Robbie Jansen – Praise My Soul (1998)
Tony Schilder Trio – Give Her Back To Me (1995)

More Robbie Jansen here

Sugar Minott, 54, reggae singer, on July 10
Sugar Minott – Good Thing Going (1981)

Walter Hawkins, 61, gospel singer, on July 11
Walter Hawkins – For My Good (1998)

Tuli Kupferberg, 86, poet, cartoonist and musician with folk-group The Fugs, on July 12
The Fugs – The Garden Is Open (1968)

Paulo Moura, 77, Brazilian saxophonist and clarinetist, on July 12
Paulo Moura & Os Batutas – Lamentos (1996)

Olga Guillot, 87, Cuban “Queen of Bolero”, on July 13
Olga Guillot – Sabor a mi

Gene Ludwig, 72, jazz organist, on July 14
Gene Ludwig – Blue Flame (1966)

Hank Cochran, 74, country music singer-songwriter and duo partner of Eddie Cochran, on July 15
Cochran Brothers – Slowdown (1956)
Wanda Jackson – I Fall To Pieces (1988)

Yandé Codou Sène, 78, Senegalese singer, on July 15
Yandé Codou Sène & Youssou N’Dour – Sama Guent Guii (1995)

Carlos Torres Vila, 63, Argentinian folk singer, on July 16
Carlos Torres Vila – Que Pasa Entre Los Dos (1976)

Fred Carter Jr., 76, guitarist (e.g. on The Boxer and bass on Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay), songwriter and producer, on July 17
Marty Robbins – El Paso (1959)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer (1970)

Andy Hummel, 59, founder member of Big Star, on July 19
Big Star – My Life Is Right (1972)

Phillip Walker, 73, blues musician, on July 22
Phillip Walker – Hello My Darling

Harry Beckett, 75, British trumpeter, on July 22
Harry Beckett – Ultimate Tribute (2009)

Al Goodman, 63, singer with The Moments and Ray, Goodman & Brown, on July 26
The Moments – Love On A Two-Way Street (1970)
Ray Goodman Brown – Special Lady (1979)

Melvin Bliss, 75, soul singer, on July 26
Melvin Bliss – Synthetic Substitution (1973)

Bice, 37, Japanese singer-songwriter and producer, on July 26
Bice – An Apple A Day (2001)

Ben Keith, 73, country/folk/rock musician and producer, on July 27
Neil Young – Are You Ready For The Country? (1972)

Chris Dagley, 38, English jazz drummer, on July 28
Claire Martin – Everybody Today Is Turning On (2009)

DOWNLOAD IN MEMORIAM – JULY 2010

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Step back to 1970

July 31st, 2009 8 comments

In the first part of this series, I looked back at songs that were hits before my musical consciousness awoke (other than Heintje’s run of classics in 1968). I had always loved records, but my awareness of pop started to really kick in 1970, when I was four. I cannot pinpoint it precisely, but two memories stick: a TV performance by the Schlager singer Katja Ebstein, possibly on the Hitparade show; the other lovingly studying the sleeve of an LP which featured El Condor Pasa. Read more…

The Originals Vol. 18

March 13th, 2009 5 comments

Another batch of originals, looking at Homeward Bound, Hurting Each Other, Blame It On The Boogie, Istanbul (Not Constantinople) and Rose Garden.

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Chad & Jeremy – Homeward Bound.mp3
Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound (live).mp3

chadjeremyIn 1965, Chad & Jeremy were a popular English folk-rock duo when Jeremy Clyde met the songwriter of promising newcomers Simon & Garfunkel at a party for Bob Dylan. Paul Simon was delighted to be asked to play some of his songs for the folk star, and proceeded to play 18 tracks, many of them future classics. One song in particular, Homeward Bound, appealed to Jeremy, and he recorded it with Chad Stuart in London on 26 November 1965 (with Simon dropping in during the session). A few weeks later, in December, Simon & Garfunkel got around to recording their own version of the song which Paul Simon had started writing while stuck at Widnes station (or Dutton or Wigan, accounts vary) in northern England.

Chad & Jeremy considered Homeward Bound for a single release, but having got wind of Simon & Garfunkel considering the song as a follow-up to their hit The Sound Of Silence, they opted for a rocker titled Ballad Of A Teenage Failure. It turned out to be a ballad of a failure, teenage or not. Chad & Jeremy in the end released Homeward Bound in August 1966 on their Distant Shores album. Simon & Garfunkel had a #5 hit with it earlier that year. The Simon & Garfunkel version posted here is a live recording from the soundboard bootleg of their 1968 Hollywood Bowl concert.

Also recorded by: Mel Tormé (1966), Petula Clark (1966), Cher (1966), Richard Anthony (as Un autographe, SVP, 1966), The Quiet Five (1966), Jack Jones (1968), Glen Campbell (1968), Brenda Byers (1970), Buck Owens (1971), Jermaine Jackson (1972), Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (1983), The King’s Singers (1989)

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Jimmy Clanton – Hurting Each Other.mp3
Carpenters – Hurting Each Other.mp3

jimmy-clantonAs previously noted, the Carpenters had a way of appropriating songs first recorded by other people. In part, this owes to an astuteness in often picking songs that weren’t very well known. Once Richard Carpenter imprinted his imaginative arrangements and Karen her marvellous vocals on such a song, it almost invariably was theirs. And so it was with Hurting Each Other, which the siblings recorded in late 1971 (apparently a news segment filmed them putting down the backing vocal track). It appeared on their excellent 1972 album, A Song For You, and the single reached #2 on the US charts.

Hurting Each Other was written by Gary Geld and Peter Udell, whose songwriting credits also included Brian Hyland’s Sealed With A Kiss. The first recording of the song was released in 1965 by teen idol Jimmy Clanton, a white R&B singer from Baton Rouge who had a string of hits (including Neil Sedaka’s composition Venus In Blue Jeans) in what has been called “swamp pop” and then faded into the sort of obscurity that has nonetheless ensured a performing career that continues to this day, complemented by a line in radio DJing.

Also recorded by: Chad Allan & The Expressions ( who would become Guess Who,1965); Walker Brothers (1966), Ruby & The Romantics (1969), Peter Nero (1972), Percy Faith & His Orchestra (1972), Ray Conniff and The Singers (1972), Johnette Napolitano with Marc Moreland (1994), Stan Whitmire (2000)

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Mick Jackson – Blame It On The Boogie.mp3
The Jacksons – Blame It On The Boogie.mp3

Loo & Placido – Should I Stay Or Should I Boogie.mp3
mick-jacksonHow many cover versions have been sung by the namesake of the original performer? Mick Jackson was a German-born English pop singer. His Blame It On The Boogie, which he also co-wrote, sounds like a presentable Leo Sayer number. The Jacksons changed little in the song’s structure — Mick’s original has all the touches we know well, such as the “sunshine, moonlight, good time, boogie” interlude — and yet they turned a pretty good song into a disco explosion of joy, presaging Michael’s Off TheWall a year and a bit later.

Mick Jackson actually wrote the song with Stevie Wonder in mind (and it’s easy to imagine how it might have sounded), but was persuaded by a German label to record it himself. When the freshly minted record was played at a music festival in Cannes, a rep for the Jackson — no doubt alerted by the performer’s name — secretly taped the song, flew it to the US and had the Jackson brothers record and release it in quick time, to release it before Mick could have a hit with it. With both singles out at the same time, the British press had some fun with the Jackson “Battle of the Boogie”. Mick’s single reached #15 in the UK and #61 in the US. The Jacksons’ version became the classic.

The song made a comeback in South Africa in 2003 in a version by a 13-year-old Danish character called Jay-Kid. That version was used in Loo & Placido’s rather splendid 2005 mash-up with the Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go, titled Should I Stay Or Should I Boogie?

Also recorded by: Rita Pavone (1979), Big Fun (1989), Fat Boy Slim (as Blame It On The Baseline, 1989), Luis Miguel (as Será que no me amas, 1990), Dynamo’s Rhythm Aces (1999), Jay-Kid (2003), Captain Jack (2003), Marcia Hines (2006)

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The Four Lads – Istanbul (Not Constantinople).mp3
They Might Be Giants – Istanbul (Not Constantinople).mp3

the-four-lads-istanbulIt casts a reflection of some kind on They Might Be Giants that many people believe the novelty number Istanbul (Not Constantinople) to be their original. It is, in fact, an old swing number from the 1950s written — borrowing copiously from Putting On The Ritz — by Nat Simons and Jimmy Arnold, the latter frontman of Canadian singing quartet the Four Lads. The song was the group’s breakthrough hit in 1953, and they had enough of a career to enable a reconstituted version of the group to trawl the nostalgia circuit.

They Might Be Giants recorded their faster cover version in 1989, drawing from the klezmer style of secular Jewish music to get that Middle Eastern effect (hey, they are Americans…). One may assume that the song would cause some perplexity in Greece, where the Turkish city on the Bosphorus is referred to as Constantinople. (Thanks to Philip)

Also recorded by: The Radio Revellers (1953), Frankie Vaughan (1954), Caterina Valente (1954), Santo & Johnny (1962), Edmundo Ros (1953), Al Caiola (1962), Bette Midler (1977), The Residents (1987), The Sacados (1990), Mad Dodo (1992), Chris Potter & Kenny Werner (1994), Trevor Horn Orchestra (2003), Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers (2005), Ska Cubano (2006), Ayhan Sicimoğlu (2006)

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Joe South – Rose Garden.mp3
Lynn Anderson – Rose Garden.mp3

joe-southOnce upon a time, I hated the song as being representative of everything I loathed about country music. I still didn’t like it when I saw the light and embraced the genre, for Anderson’s hit record is rather naff. Then I heard Joe South’s version, and it became clear to me just how good a song it is. Alas, a few weeks ago I watched an audition for South Africa’s Idols show during which a spectacularly untalented woman performed the song she retitled “Ahr Burk Yurr Pahrrdynn”, singing it aggressively out of tune and with no regard to the correct lyrics. It is her tragicomic version which I now hear, alas, when I think of the song.

In the three years before Lynn Anderson got around to scoring a hit with it in 1971, Rose Garden had been recorded by a soul singer (Dobie Gray), another country singer (Glen Campbell) and three easy listening merchants (Ray Conniff, Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos, and Boots Randolph, under his almost real name Homer Louis Randolph III). For Joe South it was just an album track. He’d have a hit later with Games People Play, and wrote a couple of hits for Billie Joe Royal (Down in the Boondocks and Hush, which would become a Deep Purple classic), The Osmonds and Elvis.

Lynn Anderson almost did not record the song. Execs at her record company, Columbia, didn’t like it much and thought it inappropriate for a woman to sing a song which represents a male perspective (for example in the line “I could promise you things like big diamond rings”). As it happened, there was some spare time during a studio session, and the track was recorded. The label’s micro-managing head, Clive Davis, heard it and decided that it should be Anderson’s next single. It was a big hit in the US and Europe, and Anderson’s version remained the biggest selling recording by any female country artist until 1997.

Also recorded by: Dobie Gray (1969), Glen Campbell (1971), Homer Louis Randolph III (1971), Ray Conniff (1971), Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos (1971), Peter Horton (with German lyrics, 1971), Johnny Mathis (1971), Loretta Lynn (1971), New World (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Dottie West (1971), The Fevers (as Mar de Rosas, 1971), Claude François (as Je te demande pardon, 1971), Bakersfield California Brass (1972), k.d. lang (1986), Kon Kan (1989), Suicide Machines (2000), Tamra Rosanes (2002), Socks (2004), Martina McBride (2005), Southern Culture on the Skids (2007), Aldebert (as Je te demande pardon, 2008)



More Originals

Any Major Groove Mix

November 3rd, 2008 2 comments

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Think about it: if a song title riffs on the theme of grooviness – as a noun, verb or adjective – it is almost certain to be an affirming, cheerful tune and lyric. So as most friends of this blog are entering the dark, depressing days of winter I thought they might need some groovy, sunny cheer…

This mix covers several genres – pop, soul, funk, indie. Much of the material here is old, though there are two recently released songs: Rio En Medio’s great a cappella cover of Earth, Wind & Fires’ Let’s Groove, and Swedish indie-pop outfit Billie The Vision & the Dancers fine opener of their latest album. One song features twice: the Young Rascals’ carefree Groovin’ and Aretha Franklin’s quite different cover.

Ask me which songs I dig the most, and I’d have to decide between those by Gene Chandler, P.P. Arnold, Alan Price and the Mamas and the Papas. Or the Equals. Or Mr Bloe (best pop instrumental ever?). Or… oh, listen to it and find your own favourites.

1. Mr. Bloe – Groovin’ With Mr Bloe
2. Young Rascals – Groovin’
3. The Equals – Soul Groovin’
4. The 5th Dimension – Working On A Groovy Thing
5. Letta Mbulu – What’s Wrong With Groovin’
6. Bobby Wells – Let’s Copp A Groove
7. Archie Bell & The Drells – Let’s Groove
8. Gene Chandler – Groovy Situation
9. Simon & Garfunkel – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (live)
10. PP Arnold – (If You Think You’re) Groovy
11. The Mamas and the Papas – Somebody Groovy
12. Alan Price – Groovy Times
13. Average White Band – Groovin’ The Night Away
14. Heatwave – Groove Line
15. Harvey Mason – Groovin’ You
16. Rodney Franklin – The Groove
17. Lou Rawls – Groovy People
18. Aretha Franklin – Groovin’
19. The Mindbenders – Groovy Kind Of Love
20. Rio En Medio – Let’s Groove
21. Billie The Vision And The Dancers – Groovy
22. Ace Frehley – New York Groove
23. The Smithereens – Groovy Tuesday
24. Ciccone Youth – Into The Groovey
25. Raquel Welch – I’m Ready To Groove

DOWNLOAD

If you liked the Billie The Vision & the Dancers song, you can download the whole album (and previous albums) on their website, and set your own price, or none (“If you want to download our songs there are two ways to do it. Either you can afford to pay us, or, if you are just as poor as we are, you can download it for free. We appreciate both choices!” Aren’t they just lovely people?).

Any Major Groove Mix

November 3rd, 2008 3 comments

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Think about it: if a song title riffs on the theme of grooviness – as a noun, verb or adjective – it is almost certain to be an affirming, cheerful tune and lyric. So as most friends of this blog are entering the dark, depressing days of winter I thought they might need some groovy, sunny cheer…

This mix covers several genres – pop, soul, funk, indie. Much of the material here is old, though there are two recently released songs: Rio En Medio’s great a cappella cover of Earth, Wind & Fires’ Let’s Groove, and Swedish indie-pop outfit Billie The Vision & the Dancers fine opener of their latest album. One song features twice: the Young Rascals’ carefree Groovin’ and Aretha Franklin’s quite different cover.

Ask me which songs I dig the most, and I’d have to decide between those by Gene Chandler, P.P. Arnold, Alan Price and the Mamas and the Papas. Or the Equals. Or Mr Bloe (best pop instrumental ever?). Or… oh, listen to it and find your own favourites.

1. Mr.Bloe – Groovin’ With Mr Bloe
2. Young Rascals – Groovin’
3. The Equals – Soul Groovin’
4. The 5th Dimension – Working On A Groovy Thing
5. Letta Mbulu – What’s Wrong With Groovin’
6. Bobby Wells – Let’s Copp A Groove
7. Archie Bell & The Drells – Let’s Groove
8. Gene Chandler – Groovy Situation
9. Simon & Garfunkel – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (live)
10. PP Arnold – (If You Think You’re) Groovy
11. The Mamas and the Papas – Somebody Groovy
12. Alan Price – Groovy Times
13. Average White Band – Groovin’ The Night Away
14. Heatwave – Groove Line
15. Harvey Mason – Groovin’ You
16. Rodney Franklin – The Groove
17. Lou Rawls – Groovy People
18. Aretha Franklin – Groovin’
19. The Mindbenders – Groovy Kind Of Love
20. Rio En Medio – Let’s Groove
21. Billie The Vision And The Dancers – Groovy
22. Ace Frehley – New York Groove
23. The Smithereens – Groovy Tuesday
24. Ciccone Youth – Into The Groove
25. Raquel Welch – I’m Ready To Groove

DOWNLOAD (Sharebee)

If you liked the Billie The Vision & the Dancers song, you can download the whole album (and previous albums) on their website, and set your own price, or none (“If you want to download our songs there are two ways to do it. Either you can afford to pay us, or, if you are just as poor as we are, you can download it for free. We appreciate both choices!” Aren’t they just lovely people?).

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Perfect Pop – Vol. 6 ('60s special)

April 28th, 2008 6 comments

Looking over my shortlist for the Perfect Pop series, I realised that the ’60s column was much longer than that of other decades. I guess that pop might have been more perfect in the 1960s than in other decades because it had developed from the raw sounds of early rock & roll, but had not yet acquired that body of experience with which to complicate pop through technical innovation. That’s why Sgt Pepper’s, with all its inventive experimentations, was seen as such a revolutionary milestone in 1967: nobody had heard anything like it before. Today it sounds rather ordinary. Of course, it’s all good to have complex pop, but for the purpose of this series, complexity tends to be an obstacle to pop perfection (though not all songs featured are lacking in innovation or technical complexity). So to even out the shortlist, here is the first of two special 1960s editions of Perfect Pop.

The Animals – The House Of The Rising Sun.mp3
This song has one of the must recognisable intros in pop history, and from there on barely lets up on its brilliance. Apart from Hilton Valentine’s iconic guitar, Alan Price drives his organ like a Ferrari through the desert, and Eric Burdon moans and groans in best white blues-singer fashion, thereby helping to set a trend which would bring mixed blessings to popular music. Amazingly, the whole thing took just 15 minutes to record. The House Of The Rising Sun (which was a new Orleans brothel) was an old song going back at least to the 1920s, possibly much earlier. Based on an English folk-song, it had become an African-American folk song and was later recorded by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Nina Simone and Bob Dylan (on his debut) before the Animals virtually appropriated it in 1964, changing the lyrics slightly.
Best bit: Price’s organ solo really kicks in (1:54)

Johnny Kidd & the Pirates – Shakin’ All Over.mp3
Listen to this as part of a non-chronological ’60s compilations, and you might not realise that this song was released in 1960. In sound and look, Johnny Kidd and his timber-shivering pals were prophetic, helping to provide the template for ’60s pop at the birth of the decade in which rock & roll and pop, all still very young, defined themselves. This is the sound on which the Searchers, the Dave Clark Five, even the Beatles, would build. It is quite likely that Johnny Kidd would have faded into obscurity. In the event, we do not know, because Johnny died in a 1966 car crash, two years after the Swinging Blue Jeans scored a hit with it in Britain, and a year after the Guess Who did likewise in the US — and two years after his last Top 40 hit in Britain. Shakin’ All Over later became something of a signature rune for the Who.
Best bit: The drum flourish preceding the guitar solo (1:21)

Amen Corner – (If Paradise Was) Half As Nice.mp3
If in paradise they play music only half as nice as this, I’d be more or less okay, I think. I first heard this song covered by a ’70s group called the Rosetta Stone, led by former Bay City Rollers member Ian Mitchell (whose stint was turbulent and brief) and an enthusiastic exponents of ’60s covers. I loved their version, but have no idea whether it was any good when held up against the Amen Corner’s version, which itself was a cover of an Italian song written by Lucio Battisti for popstress Patty Pravo. The arrangement of the Welsh group’s rendition is just lovely though (if you can handle your music with more than one spoonful of sugar, I suppose). Especially the horn (French? Flugel?).
Best bit: “Oh yes I’d rather have you” (1:26)

Robert Knight – Love On A Mountain Top.mp3
Some readers might raise two pertinent questions about the inclusion of Love On A Mountain in a ’60s special of Perfect Pop; neither should relate to the indisputable perfection of this fine tune. Firstly, why didn’t I choose Knight’s original of Everlasting Love? Secondly, what is a hit from 1973/74 doing here? I would have chosen Knight’s Everlasting Love (and I won’t feature the unsatisfactory cover by the Love Affair), but my MP3 of the song is damaged. Yes, my selections hang on such arbitrary threads. In fact, I like Love On A Mountain Top better; it is such a happy, sunshiney song. The song was a hit in Britain and Europe in the mid-’70s, but its first single release was in 1968.
Best bit: The instrumental break (1:29)

Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline.mp3*
Another ’60s release which found UK chart success in the ’70s. Sweet Caroline was released in the US in September 1969. According to Neil Diamond, it was inspired by a photo of Caroline Kennedy, who was 11 at the time. Which strikes me as slightly creepy. Nonetheless, it is a great ytackby a great songwriter. The distinctive intro and verse are pretty good, but it is the build-up to the roaring, rousing chorus which really elevates this song. One cannot help but sing along to it, which is a sign of its pop perfection.
Best bit: Neil’s hard Ts when he sings:” “Warm touching warm, reaching out, touching me, touching you” (1:56)

Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).mp3
Everything that was sweet and engaging in Everett’s version became horrible and cynical in Cher’s awful and tragically now better known cover from that abominable Mermaids movie. Cher’s cover (and Cher in general) pissed me off so much, I cannot even bring myself to include Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe in this series, even though it probably is a perfect pop record. Betty’s 1963 version, in the vein of the girl groups so popular at the time (Chiffons, Shirelles, Ronettes et al), became a hit in the US in 1964. It flopped in Britain, where Cher’s cover topped the charts almost three decades later. Conversely, in the US, Cher’s version was only a minor hit.
Best bit: The instrumental bridge (1:17)

The Kinks – You Really Got Me.mp3
Those who think that punk in the late ’70s offered anything original musically, or indeed culturally, might like to revisit some of the sneering, middle-finger raising acts of the ’60s. As Paul Weller, who hooked his mod ways on the punk star, surely knew, the Kinks were a lot more punk than the Sex Pistols. Don’t misunderstand, I love Never Mind The Bollocks as much as any amateur anarchist, but the Sex Pistols really were just as manufactured an act as were the Spice Girls. On You Really Got Me, Ray Davies sneers as much as Johnny Rotten ever did. The distorted rhythm guitar (an effect produced by slicing the amp) is pure punk. Contrary to persistent rumour, Jimmy Page definitely did not play on Your Really Got Me, but a random session musician by the name of Jon Lord, later of Deep Purple, tinkled the ivories.
Best bit: Ray shouts in Dave’s guitar solo (1:17)

Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual.mp3
I don’t like Tom Jones much, and that Sex Bomb song was a disgrace to all that is good about music. But, my goodness, It’s Not Unusual is just perfect. Even Jones’ vocals. Especially Jones’ vocals. I submit that the ad libbing in the fade out represents one of the great yodels in pop music. Ever. I have heard that on this song, Jimmy Page does play the guitar, coming in at 1:19. Regular viewers of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air (well, somebody must have watched it!) will recall that It’s Not Unusual was Carlton’s favourite dance number.
Best bit: “…to find that I’m in love with you, wow-oh-wow etc” (1:44)

Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice.mp3
Selecting a Beach Boys song for this series was problematic. While I see why, say, Surfin’ USA or Help Me Rhonda might be more qualified choices, I don’t like them much. It’s the Mike Love factor. Wouldn’t It Be Nice, like Good Vibration and God Only Knows (both considered), has those innovative Brian Wilson touches which ought to have elevated Pet Sounds in reputation above Revolver or Sgt Pepper’s. Wouldn’t It Be Nice is sung by Brian Wilson, with the hateful Love performing vocal duties only on the bridge. Mike Love apparently sought to take legal action against Brian Wilson over the latter’s wonderful Smile album for bringing the Beach Boys’ legacy into disrepute. The last song performed by the Love-led Beach Boys? Santa Goes To Kokomo (thanks to Mr Parkes for that bit of info).
Best bit: I might have picked the bridge, but, you know, fuck Mike Love. The intro (0:01)

Dionne Warwick – Do You Know The Way To San José.mp3
The body of Dionne Warwick’s interpretations of Burt Bacharach’s music is rich in absolute delights. Among so many highpoints, two songs stand out: Walk On By and San José. The latter makes you feel good, from the brief bass notes that introduce the song to bosa nova sound to the wow-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wowowos that accompany Dionne’s insistence that she does have a large circle of sidekicks in San José. It’s a song for driving along a deserted coastal road with the roof down. As so often, the singer didn’t like the song when asked to record it. Frankie Goes To Hollywood covered it 16 years later, at a time when Bacharach was widely dismissed as a passé easy listening merchant. Whether or not that cover was supposed to be “ironic”, it introduced a whole new generation to the genius of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Best bit: The way Dionne accentuates the word back (2:33)


Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3
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Yes, I know. Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. Or even Pretty Flamingo. Contenders they were, but this lesser remembered song is absolutely flawless. And it has flutes in it, which the really attentive and loyal reader of this blog will know seals a deal for me automatically. This track has a even greater energythan Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. The drumming is quite outstanding, and the punchline at the end of the song is just great. On top of that, my mother had the single of this, and as a small boy I played it very often. So Ha! Ha! Said The Clown is one of the songs responsible for turning me on to pop music. Hell, without it, you might not be reading this post right now.
Best bit: The whistling bit (1:17)

Drafi Deutscher – Marmor Stein und Eisen.mp3
Much as I enjoy submerging myself in the nostalgia for my childhood, I must insist that the German Schlager was a horrible musical genre; deeply conservative music for deeply conservative people dressed up in just so much supposed cool as to make it acceptable to the youth. Part of that faux-cool was a tendency of Schlager singers to assume an Anglo-sounding name. So Gerd Höllerich became Roy Black, Christian Klusacek (perhaps understandably) became Chris Roberts, Jutta and Norbert became Cindy & Bert (who came last in the Eurovision Song Contest which Abba won), Franz Eugen Helmuth Manfred Nidl-Petz became Freddy Quinn, and so on. Drafi Deutscher admirably didn’t anglicise his name, but went by his real surname, which means German. Oddly then, he sang with a heavy foreign accent, perhaps owing to his Hungarian background. His big hit, in 1965, was Marmor, Stein und Eisen (marble, rock and iron), which can all break, but not the love he and the addressee of the song shared, as the catchy chorus informs us. The song is more beat than Schlager.
Best bit: Drafi goes heavy metal rockabilly (1:15)

Elvis Presley – (You’re The) Devil In Disguise.mp3
Last time I posted Perfect Pop, I had a brief lapse in judgment when I forgot that there are four Elvises: pre-GI Elvis, movie-Elvis, post-comeback Elvis, and the drug-addled bloaterino we need not concern ourselves with much. From Elvis middle-period, Devil In Disguise seems to me an obvious choice for inclusion. This 1963 track saw the first two Elvis phases coalesce. On the verses, we have Elvis in beach trunks contemplating the script for his 17th movie in which he’ll be a racing driver/cowboy/trapeze artist/big-hearted hooker. He’s in well-behavedly in crooner mode, and very good at it. But when the chorus comes in, our boy remembers his pink shirted, pelvis-swivelling ways, and lets go a bit. Add to that the sharp guitar solo with those rapid quick handclaps, and you have true pop perfection.
Best Bit: The devil speaks! (2:07)

Simon & Garfunkel – A Hazy Shade of Winter.mp3
I considered I Am A Rock. Mrs Robinson (a song I don’t like much) and The Boxer (if only to mention that the banging sound was created by recording a filing cabinet thrown down an elevator shaft). What clinches it for A Hazy Shade Of Winter as a perfect pop song is its sense of urgency. Mostly the erstwhile Tom & Jerry did the languid folk-pop thing, but this song drives quite hard. The Bangles covered it in 1989 and scored a hit with it. I cannot say that I particularly liked that cover, but it shows that the song has a certain timelessness. The 1966 single release was backed with For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, one of S&G’s most beautiful songs. Strangely, A Hazy Shade Of Winter appeared on an LP only a year and a half later, on Bookends.
Best bit: The song ends abruptly with an exhalation of breath (2:16)

Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.mp3
Few people are going to feature twice in this series, but Bill Medley does. Thanks to Ghost, Unchained Melody has become the Righteous Brothers signature song, but You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (itself revived in a movie of that era, Top Gun) has all the drama and soulfulness which Unchained Melody lacks. Intitially singing so low as to raise questions about whether the single was being played at 33rpm, at some points Medley almost sounds like Levi Stubbs (indeed, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was supposedly inspired by the Four Tops’ Baby I Need Your Lovin’), while Bobby Hatfield has little to do. The story goes that Hatfield was rather annoyed about that, asking producer Phil Spector what he was supposed to do until he came into the song. Spector reportedly replied: “You can take the money to the bank:”
Best bit: Medley and Hatfield’s interplay: “Baby!” “Baby!” (2:34)

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