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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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Previous In Memoriams

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Bouncing back

May 14th, 2010 5 comments

I will hardly reveal myself as the music blogosphere’s slightly less ugly version of Dr Phil when I observe that people recover from the end of serious relationships in very different ways. In this series of songs about love we have looked at various themes, including splitting up. Here we look at how protagonists in ten songs have bounced back, or not, from the death of a liaison.

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Skeeter Davis – Gonna Get Along Without You Now (1964).mp3

Well, it’s easier to bounce back when our ex was a bit of a bounder. Look at the ex of Skeeter (or Teresa Brewer or Viola Wills or lately She & Him): one minute he proposes marriage, the next he’s running around “with every girl in town”, masking his two-timing ways by telling everybody that he and Skeeter are just friends. Who needs that? Not Skeeter (or Teresa or Viola or She). “I got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now.” And the philosophical lack of concern is followed by the triumphant zinger: “Thought I’d find somebody who is twice as cute , ’cause I didn’t like you anyhow.” Bouncebackability score: 10/10

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Ben Folds – Landed (Strings version) (2005).mp3
Ben got out of the clutches of a controlling woman (as he tells it anyway). He and the ex moved to the West Coast, and separated from their old social circle. She seems have bullied Ben: “She liked to push me and talk me back down till I believed I was the crazy one. And in a way I guess I was.” She controlled access to him, so when people phoned, she’d not convey the message. Now he has walked out — “down comes the reign of the telephone tsar” — and it’s okay to call him. He’s ready to resume his old life, if that is possible: “And if you wrote me off, I’d understand it. ’Cause I’ve been on some other planet. So come pick me up, I’ve landed” — from that “other planet” and from the West Coast. Bouncebackability score: 9/10

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Kris Kristofferson – From The Bottle To The Bottom (1969).mp3
Sometimes there is no bounce-back. Whatever solace there can be derived emanates from those friends in low places: Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels. So it is here. Being asked whether he is happy apparently is bitter a joke. Or at least, “happy” is a concept that needs to be clearly defined before the question is posed. “It seems that since I’ve seen you last I done forgot the meaning of the word. If happiness is empty rooms and drinkin’ in the afternoon, well, I suppose I’m happy as a clam. But if it’s got a thing to do with smilin’ or forgettin’ you, well, I don’t guess that I could say I am.” Happy, that is. Freedom, eh? Living the dream? Not so much: “There’s no one here to carry on if I stay out the whole night long, or give a tinker’s damn if I don’t call. I’m livin’ like I wanted to, and doin’ things I wanna do, and nothin’ means a thing to me at all.” So we might think that Kris is not doing well. In fact, he’s doing worse.

How’s this for being down: “Did you ever see a down and outer waking up alone without a blanket on to keep him from the dew, when the water from the weeds has soaked the paper he’s been puttin’ in his shoes to keep the ground from comin’ through, and his future feels as empty as the pocket in his pants because he’s never seen a single dream come true? That’s the way that I’ve been feelin’ since the day I started falling from the bottle to the bottom, stool by stool.” He’s lost that bouncing feeling… Bouncebackability score: 1/10

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Rilo Kiley – The Execution Of All Things (2002).mp3
There’s no post break-up messing around here: the now defunct relationship must be snuffed out. The split was humiliating to her, as we learn in the first verse, and her business now is to get over that. “Oh god, come quickly, the execution of all things. Let’s start with the bears and the air and mountains, rivers, and streams. Then we’ll murder what matters to you and move on to your neighbours and kids. Crush all hopes of happiness with disease ’cause of what you did.” So pretty much a scorched earth policy. And that comes laced with a bit of vengeful anticipation: “And lastly, you’re all alone with nothing left but sleep. But sleep never comes to you; it’s just the guilt and forever wakefulness of the weak.” Bouncebackability score: 7/10

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Damien Rice – The Blower’s Daughter (2002).mp3
Here’s a guy not about to bounce back from what might be a broken relationship, unrequited love, unstated love, impossible love. Pretty much a love that has fucked over somebody to whom things tend to come fairly easy. He’s still obsessed: “I can’t take my eyes off of you”. Lisa Hannigan, giving voice the titular blower’s daughter, tries to calm him, pointing out that she didn’t say she loathes him, as he apparently thinks she does. Upshot is that much as he feels like hating her, he doesn’t. So he won’t keep his mind off her, “till I find somebody new”. So there’s hope for the bounce-back yet from whatever love our friend is suffering. Bouncebackability score: 3/10

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Marit Larsen – Only A Fool (2006).mp3
Marit’s boyfriend (or perhaps husband; a ring changed hands and unspecified vows were made) betrayed her, and now she has dumped the chump. Our Norwegian songbird has “been changing after what you put me through; there is just no way that I’ll be coming home to you”. She thinks she’d be a bit of an idiot to do so, as she notes with admirable forthrightness in the chorus: “Only a fool would do this again. Only a fool would let you back in. There is no you left to embrace, there is no word would make it feel safe.” Her naive trust was broken, and that must have hurt. But she’s in a better place than her apparently pleading ex: “It feels good here, better than you know. Isn’t it only fair that you try and let it go?”
Bouncebackability score: 10/10

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Mazzy Starr – Halah (1990).mp3
Sometimes you need closure before bouncing back. Hope Sandoval, Mazzy Starr’s singer, is still looking for that. Instead, there is a lot of confusion. “It’s like I told you, I’m over you somehow.” Well, that is good. But what’s this? “Before I close the door I need to hear you say goodbye.” Ah, not so much over it then. “Baby won’t you change your mind?” And that awful obstacle to closure and bounce-back: hope. The ex owes Sandoval an explanation which she won’t receive. So there won’t be closure any time soon. Bouncebackability score: 2/10

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Ricky Peterson – Livin’ It Up (1990).mp3
The song has featured in the songs about love series before, in Bill LaBounty’s original version (though that link is dead. The song is on this mix). Here jazz singer Ricky Peterson is giving vocals to the anthem for the false bounce-back. Our friend admits that he had gone through a tough time since the break-up. He even put a service on the phone. And whatever that is, it sounds like the action of a man in a deep funk. But he’s out of that, he informs us (and, more to the point, her). He scraped his heart up off the floor! Oh, and he’s having a majestic time now. Living it up, he is, “right from the women to the wine. Livin’ out all those fantasies I never did get to, crazy things I never got to do”. Now that’s bouncing back like kangaroo on methamphetamine. But all’s not as it seems. “Every now and then I must confess, I’m not up to all this happiness. Sometimes I wonder if the place I’m at is where I do belong.” So what’s missing from making this great life complete? Well, all this livin’ it up from women to wine involving crazy fantasies…” it don’t seem like living without you”. Bouncebackability score: 6/10

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Tom Waits – Innocent When You Dream (78) (1987).mp3
Oh curse you, wicked self-recrimination. Tom and his girl had something beautiful: “I made a golden promise that we would never part. I gave my love a locket.” Tell me more, tell me more, did you get very far? Evidently not. “And then I broke her heart.” So instead of running through a pollen paradise straight out of a shampoo commercial, Tom now observes that “the bats are in the belfry, the dew is on the moor”. But when he sleeps, he resuscitates the happy memories. “The fields are soft and green”, but “it’s memories that I’m stealing”. The song title will have alerted the reader of Waits’ punchline: “But you’re innocent when you dream.” Tom isn’t about to forgive himself for what he has done, is he? Bouncebackability score: 2/10

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Rainbow – Since You’ve Been Gone (1979).mp3
Head East – Since You’ve Been Gone (1978).mp3

Written by Russ Ballard, we have two proxies expressing his thoughts (Cherie & Marie Currie’s version must wait for a couple of months to feature in a different context). Our jilted lover can take a lot of punishment, including poison letters and telegrams that just go to show she doesn’t give a damn. And the cause for that readiness to be reconciled? Well, see, “these four walls are closing in” and recurring dreams cause our anti-hero to fall out of his bed at night, possibly as a result of reading her letter at night “beneath the back street light” (is he stalking her?). His mental well-being is on the edge. “Since you been gone, I’m outta my head, can’t take it.” Witchcraft may be involved: “Could I be wrong, but since you been gone, you cast the spell — so break it.” Oooohwaowaow ohwaowoawoh indeed. Bouncebackability score: 1/10

More Songs About Love (happy, unhappy, ending etc)

Answer Records Vol. 5

April 7th, 2010 7 comments

Country music is a fertile field for answer records. So here we’ll look at three answer records from that genre. Kitty Well’s response to Hank Thompson was a massive hit, a breakthrough for country’s first female superstar that outsold the hit song it was responding to. And I defy anyone not to like, even secretly, these songs — few things annoy me so much than people claiming categorically that they hate “all country music”.

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Should he stay or should he go now?

Act 1: Jim Reeves – He’ll Have To Go (1960).mp3
Gentleman Jim is in a bar when he figures out that only a phone call can get his two-timin’ gal back to him. And with that mellifluous baritone the recipient of Jim’s call should not find it difficult to make a decision. To complicate matters, she presently is with another man, which Jim realises rather constrains her from telling him exactly how she feels. So he’ll do the talking, cunningly asking her to put her “sweet lips a little closer to the phone”, to create an atmosphere of intimacy, while he tells the barman “to turn the juke box way down low”. And so he puts an ultimatum to her, all she has to do is answer yes or no. If it is the former, than he — the he of the title — will have to be told to leave. If it’s no, Jim will put down the phone, whereafter he’d presumably order the barman to pump up the jam and fill a few glasses for a heartbroken fella learnin’ the blues.

Act 2: Jeanne Black – Hell Have To Stay (1960).mp3
Using the same melody, Jeanne gives her answer away in the title. But it’s not just a simple no. Jeanne explains to Jim exactly why “he’ll have to stay”. See, the night before, Jim and Jeanne had a date, but guess who didn’t show! Jeanne clearly is not one to take such a sleight lightly, nor is she short of potential suitors. Within a day of Jim standing her up — she demands no explanation — she has hooked up and ostensibly fallen in love with with the personal pronounced joker of the title, who right now must be feeling pretty smug. Jeanne does not hold back. Once she loved Jim, but he’s messed her around too much. She suspects cheating on his part: even now she suspects he’s “out again with someone else”, citing the softly playing juke box as evidence. But why would Jim phone her if he was already sorted out for the night? Jeanne won’t concern herself with questions of logic. It’s time to tell Jim they’re through: “I have found another love I know is true, and [to answer Jim’s question] he holds me much more tenderly than you. Loving you is not worth the price I have to pay. Someone else is in your place, he’ll have to stay.”

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A vow’s a vow’s a vow…

Act 1: Hank Locklin – Please Help Me, I’m Falling (1960).mp3
Oh shit, Hank is falling in love with somebody he can’t be with, and he cannot be with her because he belongs “to another whose arms have gone cold”.  He has made his vows “to have and to hold” (even if the arms are cold and legs presumably locked), and the mere act of  falling for somebody else would be sinful, apparently (that is some pretty dodgy theology there, I think). So he begs the object of his desire to “close the door to temptation; don’t let me walk in”. In other words, he wants her to go away. But he doesn’t really. “I mustn’t want you, but darling I do; please help me, I’m falling in love with you.” The confusion is evident, poor bastard.

Act 2: Skeeter Davis – (I Can’t Help) I’m Falling Too (1960).mp3
And if the object of your desire is Skeeter Davis (who on her album also responded to Jim Reeves in Jeanne Black’s stead, and who previously in this series featured responding to Ray Petersen, all on the same album), then falling in love can be easy. Skeeter reciprocates Hank’s love, and tells him so. Two poor souls in love but circumstances and morals prevent that love’s consummation. But Skeeter can be of no assistance in Hank’s predicament: “You say that you’re falling, but what can I do? You want me to help you, but I’m falling too.” So might an affair be on the cards? Not likely: “We could never be happy living in sin. Our love’s a temptation, but we just can’t win.” Sigh, no chance then. As you wish, Skeeter. As you wish.

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Answering the MCPs.

Act 1: Hank Thompson – Wild Side Of Life (1952).mp3
Hank has been left by his best girl, and he has to tell her how he feels. But he can’t do so by telephone, because she has told him not to phone her (in any case, she might go all Jeanne Black on him should he phone her), and not by letter, which Hank thinks she wouldn’t read. Confronting her face-to-face could lead to a restraining order, if one isn’t in effect already. And with Facebook still almost six decades in the future, Hank shall communicate through the ancient medium of song. And he won’t exercise much tact: “I didn’t know God made honky tonk angels, I might have known you’d never make a wife. You gave up the only one that ever loved you, and went back to the wild side of life.” Where Hank comes from, a honky tonk angel evidently is a very bad thing, a lady of promiscuous virtue even: “The glamour of the gay night life had lured you to the places where the wine and liquor flow, Where you’re waiting to be anybody’s baby, and give up the only love you’ll ever know.” It may be necessary to point out that Hank’s understanding of the “gay nightlife” may not coincide with ours.

Act 2: Kitty Wells – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels (1952).mp3

Let’s remember that it’s 1952; women’s liberation is not really on the agenda yet, much less so in the conservative, Lawd-fearin’ world of country music. So when Kitty is challenging Thompson’s notions of the jezebel, which she has heard on the juke box (obviously not turned down low), she is challenging the whole patriarchal system. So, for starters, don’t blame God for the reality of “honky tonk angels”. It wasn’t Him who created them, but bad, two-timing, untrustworthy men. “Too many times married men think they’re still single. That has caused many a good girl to go wrong. It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women. It’s not true that only you men feel the same. From the start, most every heart that’s ever broken was because there always was a man to blame.” Kitty Wells’ song did not produce a comoplete change in attitudes .A decade and a half later, the women’s rights movement had gathered steam, but in country world, big-haired right-wingers like Tammy Wynette still counselled wives to stand be their man.

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More answer records

Answer Records Vol. 2

October 19th, 2009 11 comments

In the second instalment of answer records, we hear from Laura whose Tommy died, the son of the late Shaft, and the commie-hating response to Barry McGuire’s Eve Of Destruction.

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Oh no, Tommy’s dying! Will Laura be sad?

Act 1: Ray Peterson – Tell Laura I Love Her.mp3
ray_petersonJames Dean has a lot to answer for. The American youth of the late 1950s and early 1960s was decimated by unnecessary motor accidents, at least in song. Among the most maudlin of the many teen death records was Tell Laura I Love Her, which was so popular that it was recorded by several artists. Ray Peterson’s 1959 hit version is probably the best known.

The set-up here is that Tommy takes part in a stock-car race so that he can buy Laura a wedding ring with the supposed winnings of $1,000. He knows it’s dangerous business and phones Laura. But she’s not in, so he gives Laura’s mother the message of the chorus. You know what happens next. Well, you do know the conclusion, but no one knows what happened that day or how his car overturned in flames. “But as they pulled him from the twisted wreck, with his dying breath, they heard him” sing the chorus of this fucking awful song.

The teen death genre gave rise to the most bizarre parody, Jimmy Cross’ I Want My Baby Back, which can be found HERE.

Act 2: Skeeter Davis – Tell Tommy I Miss Him.mp3
skeeter_davis_answersIn Act 2, the delightfully named Skeeter Davis plays the part of Laura (as did Marilyn Michaels, Laura Lee, and someone called Pitersen Ray). She cuts straight to the chase in catching up with Ray’s mawkishness: “Tommy my sweetheart has gone now. He’s up in the heaven somewhere, so little star high above, if you see Tommy tell him all my love.” As we valiantly choke back the puke, Skeeter/Laura recounts the story of Tommy’s death, turning it into as much of a cautionary tale as a lovelorn lament: “Why did he do such a reckless thing?” Hear that, kids? DON’T RACE STOCK-CARS!!! Still, she implores the little star high above (eurgh!) to “tell Tommy I love him, tell Tommy I miss him, tell him though I may cry, my love for him will never die”.

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It’s war. Left, right, left, right!

Act 1: Barry McGuire – Eve Of Destruction.mp3
mcguireThis song will turn up again on this blog. In this context, we concern ourselves with McGuire’s righteous anger about the “exploding” “eastern world” and civil rights and, well, everything. It’s 1965, and Barry’s “blood’s so mad, feels like coagulating” because people who are too young to vote are old enough to kill, and the war-mongers don’t want to believe that we’re “on the eve of destruction”. Four decades later, so little has changed that Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded to a US president for saying peaceful things while increasing troop deployments to Afghanistan (bit of political comment always goes down well here).

Act 2: The Spokesmen – The Dawn Of Correction.mp3
spokesmenMcGuire implicitly invited those who didn’t share his view that we’re on the eve of destruction to justify their view. The modestly named Spokesmen, who included David White of Danny & the Juniors, take the time to offer a fairly reasonable if unrefined response with their furiously punning title. Rush Limbaugh’s antecedents they are not, nor are they redneck racists (they do welcome racial integration and even dig the Peace Corps). But they do hate the Reds who presumably must be contained by the simultaneous means of napalm bombing civilians and nuclear deterrence. “So over and over again, you keep sayin’ it’s the end. But I say you’re wrong, we’re just on the dawn of correction.”

Of course, the flag-waving Spokesmen match the naiveté of the hippie movement with a vigorous dose of their own, and muster an army of strawmen in a bid to catch out McGuire. Take their endorsement of protests — “Be thankful our country allows demonstrations” (set aside an evening to debate that) — which is followed by a bizarre interpretation of McGuire’s position: “I don’t understand the cause of your aggravation. You mean to tell me, boy, it’s not a better situation?” Where to start, Spokesmen, where to start?

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He’s a bad mutha… shut your mouth. And his son?

Act 1: Isaac Hayes – Theme of Shaft.mp3
I need not waste your time introducing Ike’s most celebrated tune. Suffice it to say that it spawned an answer record in 1972 from Hayes’ old mates from Stax, The Bar-Kays.

Act 2: The Bar-Kays – Son Of Shaft.mp3
son_of_shaftMusically similar to Hayes’ classic, but a damn sight funkier. Hell, let’s face it, the son eats the sex machine to all the chicks for his funky breakfast. The son of John Shaft had a tough time of it, “thrown in the street; problems of a man at the age of three”. Now Shaft Sr is dead, and Junior will be just as bad a mutha as Daddy. “I love by the clock and live by the gun. If you met my father, soon you’ll meet his son.” Can ya dig it?

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More answer records

The Originals Vol. 24

May 8th, 2009 14 comments

We have a bit of a bumper edition here, with ten quite distinct and all lovely versions of Let It Be Me, four of City Of New Orleans, plus It Must Be Love, My Baby Just Cares For Me and Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town. Special thanks to our old friend RH and our new friend Walter for their contributions. I would be interested to know which version of Let It Be Me is the most liked.

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Labi Siffre – It Must Be Love.mp3
Madness – It Must Be Love.mp3

siffre_it_must_be_lovePerhaps I’m stretching the concept of this series a little here; some may well say that they know the Labi Siffre original better than the remake. Still, it is the 1981 Madness cover that was the bigger hit and gets the wider airplay. In my view, their version is better than Siffre’s, though I fully expect to receive dissenting comment calling into question the intactness of my mental faculties (or, indeed, refer to my complete madness). Madness reached the UK #4 with the song; in 1971, Siffre (one of the first openly gay singers in pop) reached #14 with it. Rather endearingly, Siffre made a cameo appearance in the video for the Madness single (he is a violin player).

Siffre periodically retired from the music industry. He most propitiously returned in 1987 when he released his anti-apartheid song Something Inside (So Strong), which has been frequently covered, and then proceeded to co-write most of Jonathan Butler’s fine 1990 album Heal Our Land, which in part was a love letter to South Africa at a time when it had become clear that apartheid was dead.

Also recorded by: Marian Montgomery (1972), Lyn Paul (1975), Jasper Steverlinck (2004), Jeroen van der Boom (2006), Paolo Nutini (2007)

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Mel Tillis – Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town) (1967).mp3
Waylon Jennings – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1967).mp3
Kenny Rogers & First Edition – Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town.mp3

Mel Tillis – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1976).mp3

tillisA Korean war veteran comes home from doing his “patriotic chore” without his legs and his beloved wife treats him like dirt and goes cheating on him. Much as it may sound like a country music cliché, songwriter Mel Tillis, who released the song in January 1967, said he based the lyrics on a couple in his neighbourhood, with the man having been wounded in Germany in Word War 2, not in Korea. Tillis spared us the bitter end of the story: The ex-GI killed his straying wife and then himself. Though the protagonist of the song imagines putting Ruby into the ground, he has no concrete plans to kill her.

EDIT: Tillis was the first to release the song, but Waylon Jennings actually recorded it three months before Tillis did, in September 1966. Jennings’ version, however, did not get released until August 1967.

The song had been recorded a couple of times before Kenny Rogers decided it would serve to move his group, the First Edition, closer to the country scene. He and the group recorded the song in one take. It became a hit in 1969 (at the height of the Vietnam War), reaching #6 in the US and #2 in the UK. For Rogers it became a signature tune which he would record twice more, in 1977 and 1990. Apparently Rogers likes to send the song up in concerts; it seems to have become a bit of a gag, with the not very humorous Right Said Fred honouring it with a cover version. Personally, I fail to see the capricious angle.

And thanks to commenter Phillip:
Walter Brennan – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.mp3 (direct DL via AprilWinchell.com)

Also recorded by: Johnny Darrell (1967), The Statler Brothers (1967), Red Sovine (1969), Dale Hawkins (1969), Peter Law & The New Pacific (1969), Leonard Nimoy (1970),  Carl Perkins (1974), Gary Holton & Casino Steel (1980), Sort Sol (1985), The Gorehounds (as Ruby, 1989), Right Said Fred (1996), Cake (2005), The Killers (2007) a.o.

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Steve Goodman – City Of New Orleans.mp3
Arlo Guthrie – City Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Cash – City Of New Orleans.mp3

Willie Nelson – City Of New Orleans.mp3

steve_goodmanThroughout this series there have been songs that in their original form were far superior to the versions that made them famous. Great though Guthrie’s version (and Willie Nelson’s) is, City Of New Orleans is one such song. Goodman wrote it after travelling on the eponymous train which was about to be decommissioned, recording faithfully what he saw. The song helped to reprieve the line. Having been discovered by Kris Kristofferson, who introduced him to Paul Anka, Goodman recorded the song in 1971. One night in a Chicago bar he approached Arlo Guthrie with a view to introducing the song to Woody’s son. Arlo was not really interested in hearing another songwriter trying to peddle a song, but on condition that Goodman buy him a beer, he mustered some patience. Later he would recall it as “one of the longest, most enjoyable beers I ever had”. The meeting would provide him with his biggest hit, released in 1972. Johnny Cash, no stranger to the subject matter of trains, released his take in 1973.

arlo_guthrieGuthrie changed some of the lyrics: Goodman’s “passing towns” became “passing trains”, the “magic carpet made of steam” was now made of steel, “the rhythm of the rails is all they dream” was now felt. Goodman didn’t seem to mind; he and Guthrie remained good friends until the former’s premature death at 36 in 1984 from leukaemia, the disease he had been diagnosed with in 1969. He won a posthumous Grammy for the song on strength of Willie Nelson’s 1984 version. Read the quite dramatic story of The City of New Orleans train here, and more about Steve Goodman here.

Also recorded by: John Denver (1971), Chet Atkins (1973), The Seldom Scene (1973), Joe Dassin (as Salut les amoureux, 1973), Sammi Smith (1973), Hank Snow (1973), Johnny Cash & June Carter (1973), Henson Cargill (1973), Ted Egan (1973), Hopeton Lewis (1973), Jerry Reed (1974), Johnny Cash (1975), Judy Collins (1975), Rudi Carrell (as Wann wird’s mal wieder richtig Sommer, 1975), Yoram Gaon (as Shalom Lach Eretz Nehederet, 1977), Louise Féron & Jérôme Soligny (as Salut les amoureux, 1993), Randy Scruggs (1998), Maarten Cox (as ‘t Is weer voorbij, die mooie zomer, 2005), Beth Kinderman (2006), Discharger (2006), Lizzie West & the White Buffalo (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2007) a.o.

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Ted Weems & his Orchestra – My Baby Just Cares For Me.mp3
Nina Simone – My Baby Just Cares For Me.mp3

weemsWritten by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn for the 1928 musical Whoopee (not to be confused with the rubbish actress going by a similar name), My Baby Just Cares For Me was recorded by a host of artists in the following few years. Ted Weems’ was not the first, but certainly among the earliest recordings. His take shows just how great an interpreter of songs Nina Simone was. She recorded it in 1958. It was not her most famous number, much less her signature tune, really becoming well-known when it featured in a British TV commercial for Chanel No. 5.

The bandleader Ted Weems was a star by the time he released his version of My Baby Just Cares For Me in July 1930, having had previous hits with Somebody Stole My Gal (1924), Piccolo Pete, and The Man from the South (1928), and later with Heartaches, which he recorded in 1933. At around that time he became even more famous thanks to a regular spot on Jack Benny’s hugely popular radio show. His band broke up with World War 2, and was reformed briefly in the early ’50s. Weems toured until 1953 when he became a DJ in Memphis and then a hotel manager. Weems died in 1963 at the age of 62. Take a look at this great video of Weems and a chorus line of flappers.

Also recorded by: Ethel Shutta (1930), Ted Fiorito & his Orchestra (1930), Mel Tormé (1947), Nat ‘King’ Cole (1949), The Hi-Lo’s (1954), Tony Bennett (1955), Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads (1955), Tommy Dorsey (1958), Tab Hunter (1958), Mary Wells (1965), Frank Sinatra (1966), Cornell Campbell (1973), Alex Chilton (1994), George Michael (1999), Julie Budd (2000), Natalie Cole (2002), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Laura Fedele (2005), Jaqui Naylor (2006), Amanda Lear (2006) a.o.

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Gilbert Bécaud – Je t’appartiens (1955).mp3
Jill Corey
– Let It Be Me (1957)
Everly Brothers – Let It Be Me (1960)
Betty Everett & Jerry Butler – Let It Be Me (1964)
Skeeter Davis & Bobby Bare – Let It Be Me (1965)
Peaches & Herb – Let It Be Me (ca 1967)
Glen Campbell & Bobbie Gentry – Let It Be Me (1968)
Bob Dylan – Let It Be Me (1970)
Roberta Flack – Let It Be Me (1970)
Rosie Thomas – Let It Be Me (2005)
All nine cover versions in one file here

becaud-jappertiensLet It Be Me is one of those pop standards that cannot be ascribed to any one particular artist. Most commonly, it might be considered an Everly Brothers song. To me, it is Betty Everett & Jerry Butler’s song; perhaps the most gorgeous version. Some may have heard it for the first time in its vulnerable interpretation by the wonderful Rosie Thomas, duetting with Ed Hardcourt. Not many will think of it as a French song, co-written and first released by the brilliant Gilbert Bécaud as Je t’appartiens (I belong to you) in 1955.

It was not the biggest hit for Bécaud (born François Silly), but it has been prodigiously covered. It took two years to cross the Atlantic, when Jill Corey – the youngest singer ever to headline at the Copacabana — recorded the first English-translation version. It was not a big hit, barely scratching the Top 60. It did become a hit with the Everly Brothers’ in 1960, their first recording made outside Nashville — it was made in New York — and their first to incorporate strings in the arrangement. Let It Be Me became a hit again in 1964 for Butler & Everett, in 1969 for Glenn Campbell & Bobby Gentry, and in 1982 for Willie Nelson. Bob Dylan recorded it twice; featured here is the first of these, which appeared on his 1970’s Self Portrait album. The same year Roberta Flack gave the song a whole new treatment on her second album. I am also partial to the version by the delightfully named Skeeter Davis with outlaw country pioneer Bobby Bare, which includes aspoken bit by Skeeter, as was her wont.

Also recorded by: The Blue Diamonds (1960), Chet Atkins (1961), The Lettermen (1962), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1962), Andy Williams & Claudine Longet (1964), Sonny & Cher (1965), Brenda Lee (1965), Molly Bee (1965), The Shadows (1965), Barbara Lewis (1966), The Escorts (1966), Nancy Sinatra (1966), Arthur Prysock (1966), Chuck Jackson & Maxine Brown (1967), The Sweet Inspirations (1967), Sam & Dave (1967), Claudine Longet (1968), Earl Grant (1968), Petula Clark (1969), The Delfonics (1969), Jim Ed Brown (1969), Tom Jones (1969), Connie Smith & Nat Stuckey (1969), Roberta Flack (1970), Elvis Presley (1970), Bob Dylan (1970), Nancy Wilson (1971), New Trolls (1973), The Pointer Sisters (1974), Demis Roussos (1974), Nina Simone (1974), Mary McCaslin (1974), Melanie (1978), Kenny Rogers & Dottie West (1979),Jay & the Americans (1980), Bob Dylan (again, 1981), Willie Nelson (1982), David Hasselhoff (1984), Collin Raye (1992), Marc Jordan (1999), Nnenna Freelon feat Kirk Whalum (2000), Justin (2000), Lauro Nyro (2001), Anne Murray & Vince Gill (2002), Mike Andersen (2003), The Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio ( 2003), Paul Weller (2004),Pajo (2006), Frankie Valli (2007), Charlie Daniels Band with Brenda Lee (2007), Roch Voisine (2008), Jason Donovan (2008) a.o.

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More Originals

Love hurts

February 4th, 2009 7 comments

The alert consumer of mindless advertising will have noticed that the marketing industry has officially declared February the month of love by dint of Valentine’s Day falling smack bang in the middle of it. So, this month we’ll run through the emotions produced by love (as we did last year), including the joys of being happily in love but much more the utter torment of not being happily in love. Let’s kick things off with just how horrible love is.

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Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
I know, I included Love Hurts in last year’s series, and more recently in The Originals. It is the finest recording of one of the finest songs ever written. Gram has been burnt by love (which, as he tells it, is like a hot stove) and now it’s payback time. Love, he accuses, “is just a lie, made to make you blue”, which evokes the notion of an elaborate conspiracy theory involving The Man and the Illuminati reptiles hatching devious plans to break hearts worldwide. Gram has no time for the idiots who buy into the myth of love. “Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness. Some fools fool themselves I guess, but they’re not fooling me. I know it isn’t true.” And yet, we suspect that it is Gram who’s fooling himself: just listen to the way Gram and Emmylou sing the word “togetherness” with such hopeful yearning.

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J. Geils Band – Love Stinks.mp3
Gram and Em have had their emotions bulldozed, yet their cynicism is diluted by the tenderness with which they try to paper over the cracks in their hearts. J Geils and friends, on the other hand, give up on love altogether, with bullish defiantly and utter immaturity, as the title immediately suggests. They sound a clarion warning: love’s a devious bastard (as you might have suspected once you learnt aboiut the Illuminatis involvement). “Love’s gonna find you… You’ll hear it call, your heart will fall, then love will fly. It’s gonna soar. I don’t care for any Casanova thing; all I can say is LOVE STINKS.” To which they might add: nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah! (Which might take us to the chorus of Centrefold.)

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John Prine – All The Best.mp3
Passive-aggressive is a pretty good response to being hurt by someone – at least in song. John Prine provides a template for how it’s done: “I wish you love and happiness, I guess I wish you all the best,” which is very magnanimous indeed. Oh, but here comes the sting: “I wish you don’t do like I do, and ever fall in love with someone like you.” We’ll dispense with the awkward rhyme that follows before we arrive at the smackdown:  “But kids…can only guess how hard it is to wish you happiness.” Isn’t that bitter? Prine isn’t quite as self-pitying as Gram or cynical as Geils, but he is abundantly resentful of love nonetheless: “I guess that love is like a Christmas card. You decorate a tree, you throw it in the yard. It decays and dies and the snowmen melt. Well, I once knew love, I knew how love felt.”

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Velvet Underground – Who Loves The Sun.mp3
After Prine’s Christmas metaphor, we join the Velvet Underground jaunty weather centre of broken hearts: “Who loves the sun? Who cares that it makes plants grow? Who cares what it does — since you broke my heart?” They follow that with similar riffs on wind and rain. Says it all, really. Ba-ba-ba-ba indeed.

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Skeeter Davis  – The End Of The World.mp3
This series will visit the home for break-up songs a couple of times, but few of those that will feature pack as much pain in one song as Skeeter’s lamentation for a love lost. Best of all, this 1961 country hit has a spoken bit. Skeeter tries to make sense of a world unchanged despite the seismic transformation in her life after her boyfriend or husband left her (she sounds like a 16-year-old, but was 31 when this song, remarkably a top 10 hit on the R&B charts, was recorded). “Why do the birds go on singing? Why do the stars glow above? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? It ended when I lost your love.” Those who have experienced real heartbreak — not a crushed crush, but the whole damn gig — may empathise with the repeated verse: “Why does my heart go on beating? Why do these eyes of mine cry? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world. It ended when you said goodbye.”

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Bob Dylan – If You See Her, Say Hello.mp3
Bob is rebounding from a break-up – or so he tries to pretend as he tells his friend to send his regards to the ex. “Say for me that I’m all right, though things get kind of slow. She might think that I’ve forgotten her, don’t tell her it isn’t so.” Oh, but he hasn’t forgotten her at all, “she still lives inside of me”. At social gatherings he still hears her name and it’s all he can do to block the pain. He suffers unhappy love’s equivalent of Chinese water torture: “I replay the past. I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast.” And then there remains that cancerous glimmer of hope which won’t let you bury the painful love as Bob asks his pal: “If she’s passin’ back this way, I’m not that hard to find. Tell her she can look me up if she’s got the time.” Way to get over her, dude.

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Angie Stone – No More Rain (In This Cloud).mp3
Smokey Robinson asked the girl to look at his face to see just how broken his heart is. Thirty-odd years on, retro soul singer Angie Stone namechecks Tracks Of My Tears in 1999’s gorgeous No More Rain as she explains: “There’s no hiding place when someone has hurt you. It’s written on your face, and it reads: ‘Broken spirit, lost and confused. Empty, scared, used and abused, a fool’.” She goes on to berate her tormentor, but the song isn’t really about him; it’s about the process of healing from the pain he inflicted. Angie still feels pain, but it’s really a song of comfort and hope. After all the emotional turmoil, at some point the tears will dry up. “My sunshine has come, and I’m all cried out. And there’s no more rain in this cloud.” Take note, Gram and Geils, there is life after love.

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The Delgados – All You Need Is Hate.mp3
If Angie’s zen recovery doesn’t work for you, some anger might. Here, Scottish exponents of Indie pop The Delgados are your friend as they subvert several musical clichés about love. And it’s not just romantic love they don’t need. All love is dead, all you need is a heart of stone — or not, because hate is really a very visceral emotion. So the song should really say: All you need is indifference, and you shouldn’t care about that either. But it doesn’t. “Charity, a joke that friendly cities think that we believe … Everlasting hate, feel it in the people where it’s warm and great  … Hate is all around, find it in your heart in every waking sound; on your way to school, work or church you’ll find that it’s the only rule and so on. Obviously they’re taking the piss. “Come on hate yourself; everyone here does, so just enjoy yourself.” Poor Gram Parsons would probably agree with that.

Last year’s season of songs about love