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Heads and senses

November 2nd, 2009 1 comment

iris

Very occasionally a group of people get together on the Touchedmix blog and post mixes on a particular theme. Last week, the theme was HEADS, with their features and their functions. I thought readers of this little corner of the music blogosphere might be interested in the two mixes I banged together.

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OVER MY HEAD MIX
1. Aztec Camera – Head Is Happy (Heart’s Insane) (1985)
2. Crowded House – Pineapple Head (live) (1996/2006)
3. Johnny Cash – Mean Eyed Cat (1996)
4. The Dillards – I’ve Just Seen A Face (1968)
5. The Holmes Brothers – Smiling Face Hiding A Weeping Heart (2006)
6. Paul Anka – Eyes Without A Face (2006)
7. The Undisputed Truth – Smiling Faces Sometimes (1971)
8. Justine Washington – I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face (1964)
9. The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes For You (1959)
10. Mississippi Sheikhs – I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes For You (1938)
11. Robert Mitchum – Mama Looka Boo Boo (Shut Your Mouth-Go Away) (1958)
12. Emile Ford & the Checkmates – Them There Eyes (1960)
13. Lewis Taylor – Blue Eyes (2000)
14. Andrew Bird – A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left (2005)
15. Nada Surf – The Way You Wear Your Head (2002)
16. The Sweet – The Lies In Your Eyes (1975)
17. Ben Folds – Doctor My Eyes (2002)
18. Josh Ritter – One More Mouth (2006)
19. Kaki King – Saving Days In A Frozen Head (2008)
20. The Lilac Time – The Darkness Of Her Eyes (1991)
21. Thomas Dybdahl – Pale Green Eyes (2009)
22. Ryan Adams – Halloweenhead (2007)
23. The Cardigans – Give Me Your Eyes (2005)

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Justine Washington is better known as Baby Washington; this is the original version of the song covered to good effect by Dusty Springfield.

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SENSES WORKING OVERTIME MIX
1. David Bowie – Can You Hear Me (1975)
2. Tim Buckley – I Can’t See You (1966)
3. Herman Düne – I Wish That I Could See You Soon (2006)
4. Devics – If We Cannot See (2006)
5. Richard Hawley – Can You Hear The Rain, Love (2001)
6. Scott Walker – You’re Gonna Hear From Me (1967)
7. The Righteous Brothers – See That Girl (1965)
8. Chris Montez – The More I See You (1966)
9. Cass Elliot – I’ll Be Seeing You (1973)
10. Blind Boy Fuller – What’s That Smells Like Fish (1938)
11. Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking (1955)
12. The Supremes – I Hear A Symphony (1965)
13. Jim Messina – Seeing You (For The First Time) (1979)
14. Baby Huey – Listen To Me (1971)
15. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Taste Of Cindy (1985)
16. K’s Choice – A Sound That Only You Can Hear (1995)
17. Mull Historical Society – Watching Xanadu (2001)
18. Ron Sexsmith & Don Kerr – Listen (2005)
19. Rosanne Cash – I Was Watching You (2006)
20. The Magic Numbers – I See You, You See Me (2005)
21. Paul Anka – Smells Like Teen Spirit (2005)

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The Originals Vol. 13 – Elvis edition 1

January 8th, 2009 5 comments

After a three-months absence, The Originals are returning. I must admit to having been discouraged from continuing it after more than half of the previous instalments were DMCAed by Blogger. Happily, the deleted posts were all backed up and are available here. So we resume this series of the lesser known original songs of hits with the first of what may end up to be three or four Elvis Presley specials, the first of them timed to coincide with our man’s 74th birthday.

Roy Brown – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3
Wynonie Harris – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3

Elvis Presley – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3

Some say that Good Rockin’ Tonight was the proto Rock ‘n’ Roll record. Of course, any claim of inaugurating Rock ‘n’ Roll is impossible to validate because the genre was the result of a musical evolution (and it is still evolving). What can be said is that the song, and most certainly Wynonie Harris’ 1948 cover, was influential in that evolution. Another vital element in that evolution was the advent of Elvis Presley’s stardom. Good Rockin’ Tonight was his second single, following his cover of Arthur Crudup’s That’s Alright Mama. So it is faintly ironic that Presley’s version draws more from Brown’s 1947 jump blues original (deleting, however, the by then outdated litany of R&B figures) than from Harris’ R&B cover.

It was not the most popular of Elvis’ early tunes; his still mostly country audience was still unsure about the influence of what was then called “race music” on the future legend’s sound. In those embryonic days of Elvis’ stardom, his most popular song seemed to be the flip side of That’s Alright, Blue Moon Of Kentucky.

Also recorded by: Rick Nelson (1958), Pat Boone, James Brown, Shakin’ Stevens and The Sunsets (1972), Jerry Lee Lewis (1979), Gene Summers (1981), Contraband (1991), Paul McCartney (1991)

Carl Perkins – Blues Suede Shoes.mp3
Elvis Presley – Blues Suede Shoes.mp3

It is difficult to pinpoint at which point Elvis became a superstar, or with which hit. He was a local star as soon as his debut single hit the Memphis airwaves, and a regional star soon after. Arguably, his nascent stardom was not built so much on hit recordings than on his incendiary performances delivered on intensive tours. On these tours, he often shared a bill with his Sun labelmates Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

It was on one such tour in November 1955, in Gladewater, Texas, that Cash gave Perkins the idea for a song (in return for Perkins inspiring the title for Cash’s future hit I Walk The Line), based on a catchphrase by one C.V. White, an African-American GI Cash had served with in West Germany. White, the story as told by one of Cash’s GI friends goes, was about to go out for the weekend when another soldier accidentally trod on White’s black army issue shoes, whereupon White exclaimed: “I don’t care what you do with my Fräulein or what you do with whatever, but don’t step on my blues suede shoes.” The joke, obviously, was that White was not actually wearing such shoes (which, in any case, where not in fashion), but regulation issue army shoes. Soon after, Perkins was at a dance when he saw a young man being visibly upset with his pretty date for stepping on his, you guessed it, blue suede shoes. Sufficiently inspired, he immediately wrote the lyrics on a paper potato sack, giving birth to one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s great classics.

It may have been the first true crossover record; it certainly was the first to chart simultaneously in the pop, country and R&B charts, in early 1956. As the song was rising in the charts, Perkins was laid low by a serious car crash on the way to performing his hit on the Ed Sullivan Show. While he was recuperating, he heard former Sun labelmate Elvis announcing on the Milton Berle Show that his next single would be Blues Suede Shoes, which he proceeded to perform, as he would twice more before releasing the single. Although Perkins was unable to promote the song further, it went on to sell more than a million copies. By arrangement, Elvis waited until Perkins’ version had peaked. Released so soon after Perkins’ hit, Elvis’ version reached no higher than #20 on the charts. Yet, public consciousness associates the song more closely with Elvis than with its author, possibly because he performed it several times on television, and riffed on the footwear in a few skits on these shows.

Perkins, whose career or health never really recovered from the car crash, was philosophical about Elvis scoring the more lasting hit, saying that Presley had the image and the looks, and he did not. He surely was less placid about not receiving writer’s royalties until a court found in his favour in 1977.

Also recorded by: Roy Hall (1956), Boyd Bennett and His Rockets (1956), Cliff Richard and The Shadows (1959), Bill Haley and His Comets (1960), Conway Twitty (1960), Eddie Cochran (1962), Dave Clark Five (1965), Beacon Street Union (1968), John Lennon (1969), Ross McManus (1970), Albert King (1970), Johnny Halliday (1971), Jimi Hendrix (1972), Johnny Rivers (1973), Dean Reed (1976), Merle Haggard (1977), Ry Cooder (1982), Toy Dolls (1983), The Residents (1989), Lemmy & The Upsetters (1990), Medicine Head (1994), Agents & Scotty Moore & DJ Fontana (2001) a.o.

Glen Reeves – Heartbreak Hotel.mp3
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel.mp3

Elvis’ national breakthrough hit was written by Thomas Durden and Mae Boren Axton (school teacher, mother of Hoyt Axton, some-time associate of “Colonel” Tom Parker, manager of Hank Snow and “Queen Mother of Nashville”), with Elvis specifically in mind. Durden got the idea for the song when he read about a Florida man whose suicide note ended with the elegiac line: “I walk a lonely street.” Durden and Axton had asked their friend Glen Reeves to help write the song. Reeves declined but did record the demo in what he believed to be Elvis’ style. Presented with the demo, Elvis insisted that this should be his first single for RCA (the deal with whom Axton had mediated).

Elvis’ version (which featured Chet Atkins on guitar) is structurally little different from Reeve’s demo, and even the vocals don’t depart much from Reeve’s template. Still, Presley received an utterly undeserved co-writer credit, apparently at the insistence of Parker as a reward for recording the song in first place. One has to admire that bastard’s nerve. Durden defended the added credit by saying that Presley’s take changed the song substantially from the original. Mr Durden clearly was a more gracious individual than most of us.

Also recorded by: Stan Freberg (1956), Connie Francis (1959), Conway Twitty (1960), Scotty Moore (1964), Buddy Love (1964), Sha Na Na (1969), Albert King (1970), Ross McManus (1970), Frijid Pink (October 1970), Delaney Bramlett (1971), Johnny Halliday (1974), John Cale (1974), The James Gang (1975), Johnny Farago (1976), Suzi Quatro (1977), Merle Haggard (1977), Tanya Tucker (1978), Ronnie McDowell (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Willie and Leon (1979), The Vandals (1982), The Residents (1989), The Chipmunks (1990), Dread Zeppelin (1990), Neil Diamond & Kim Carnes (1992), Billy Joel (1992), Lynyrd Skynyrd (1994), El Vez (1999), Lemmy & Friends (2000), Helmut Lotti (2002) a.o.

Smiley Lewis – One Night Of Sin.mp3
Elvis Presley – One Night.mp3

The dentally-challenged Smiley Lewis (who featured earlier in this series with I Hear You Knocking) was an influential R&B singer who never accomplished legendary status. And then Elvis even emasculated his R&B hit about the attraction of a desperate one-night stand. Where Smiley in 1956 asked for one night of sin, Elvis a year later went for the more ambiguous and less sexual “one night with you” (which might, for all we care, be spent holding hands). Elvis also recorded a version with the original lyrics, which went unreleased until a few years ago, when it appeared on a box set.

Lewis’ version was a hit on the R&B charts, but failed to crack the pop charts. Written by Dave Bartholomew and Dave King, One Night was among the many Elvis songs which his label, RCA, held over for release while he was in the army. It finally came out in 1958, as a double A-side with I Got Stung, and reached #2 on the US charts, and in 1959 #1 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Fats Domino (1961), Johnny Farago (1967), Albert King (1970), Jackie Brown (1971), Tami Lynn (1971), Shakin’ Stevens and The Sunsets (1972), Fancy (1974), Mud (1975), Ronnie McDowell (1978), José Feliciano (1983), Joe Cocker (1989), Billy Ray Cyrus (1994), Helmut Lotti (2002)

Hank Snow – (Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I.mp3
Elvis Presley – A Fool Such As I.mp3

Canadian-born country icon Hank Snow can be described as one of the most significant men in Elvis’ career. As a youngster, Elvis was a big fan of country’s two big Hanks — Williams and Snow. Their music influenced the young Presley, who did regard himself as a country singer, with pretensions towards white gospel, before the term Rock ‘n’ Roll gained currency (which did not prevent the wife-beating gospel singer Ira Louvain from calling an initially admiring Elvis to his face a “white nigger”, or a variation thereof).

It was Snow who gave Elvis a supporting slot at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, the mecca of country music. And it was Snow who cultivated Elvis when Tom Parker wanted to sign the young singer. Indeed, the clean-cut Snow persuaded Elvis’ mother, Gladys, that her son would be well looked after under a new management which would include his tutorship. Driving home after the decisive meeting, a pleased Snow mentioned to Parker that they would earn good money from managing Elvis. With the ink on the contract barely dry, Parker instructed Snow to read it: it made no mention of Snow whatsoever. The “Colonel” had pulled his first vicious trick as Elvis’ manager.

The Elvis cover of Snow’s 1952 song A Fool Such As I (which Snow co-wrote with Bill Trader and first appeared as a single b-side), was released in March 1959 and was a US #2 and UK #1 hit. While Jo Stafford enjoyed a hit with it a year after Snow’s recording, it is most probable that Elvis was inspired by Snow’s more mournful (and, it must be said, superior) version.

Also recorded by: Jo Stafford (1953), Tommy Edwards (1953), The Bell Susters (1953), The Robins (1953), Eddy Arnold (1956), Bill Haley and His Comets (1959), Jim Reeves (1959), Petula Clark (1960), Doris Day (1963), Davy Kaye (1964), Bob Dylan (1967 & 1969, released in 1973), Rodney Crowell (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Peabo Bryson (1981), The Residents (1989), Bailie & the Boys (1990), Don Walsere (1998), Anne Murray (2002), Raul Malo (2007), Batmobile (2007), Josh Ritter (2008) a.o.

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The Originals Vol. 11

October 22nd, 2008 1 comment

Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter 23.mp3
Brothers Johnson – Strawberrry Letter 23.mp3
Quentin Tarantino had a good line in compiling soundtracks. Among the nearly forgotten numbers he resurrected was the Brothers Johnson’s catchy Strawberry Letter 23. I loathe the use of it in Jackie Brown though – scoring a vicious scene with a cute song is so Clockwork Orange. The soundtrack for Jackie Brown surely sold very well. All the more the pity that the author and original performer of the song is now reportedly eking out a decaying existence in Oakland. Shuggie Otis, a gifted guitarist, indeed multi-instrumentalist, and son of R&B legend John Otis (Shuggie’s real name is John Otis Jr), released his ode of appreciation for the 22th love letter on strawberry-scented paper in 1971. The song was intended to represent a response to letter 22, hence the numbering. Six years after Otis recorded the track, Brothers Johnson recorded it in a more upbeat mood, produced by Quincy Jones (who, happily, amplified the opening hook) with Lee Ritenour taking over the guitar solo duties so integral to the song.
Also recorded by: Tevin Campbell (1991)
Best version: Much as I like the brothers’ take.and without wishing to come over all purist, I prefer Otis’ original. The clarity of his less lushly produced instrumental part can do your head in.

Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking.mp3
Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking.mp3
Smiley Lewis will feature again with another song when we visit the Elvis originals. Here he provided the original for an early ’70s hit. Lewis, a New Orleans musician nicknamed for his missing front teeth, recorded I Hear You Knocking in 1955. The song was written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King, and the former was Fats Domino’s writing partner. Fats naturally later recorded the song. At a time when US radio and charts were subject to much racial segregation, Lewis’ record made little impact outside the black charts, where it peaked at #2, and Lewis’ career never really took off. Instead the song enjoyed commercial success in its version by Gale Storm in 1956. Lewis died of stomach cancer in 1966.

Four years later, he would be remembered by the Welsh singer Dave Edmunds, whose cover of I Hear You Knocking reached #1 in Britain and #4 in the US with slightly altered lyrics which name checked Lewis, among others (including Huey Smith, who played on Lewis’ version). Edmunds himself hadn’t known the song until he produced a version of it for the young Shakin’ Stevens – a decade away from fame as a revivalist rock ‘n roller and Christmas #1 hunter. In fact, Edmunds almost didn’t record what would become his biggest hit. He had planned to find stardom with a cover of Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Work Together, but was scooped in that endeavour by Canned Heat (as we’ll see below). So he adapted the arrangement he had in mind for Let’s Work Together to create a truly original cover.
Also recorded by: Fats Domino (1955 & 1961), Jill Day (1956), Gale Storm (1956), Connie Francis (1959), Shakin’ Stevens (1970), Andy Fairweather-Low (1976), Kingfish (1976), Orion (1979), The Fabulous Thunderbirds (1981), Rocking Dopsie & the Cajun Twisters (1988), Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1991), Quicksilver Messenger Service (1991), Bart Herman (1993), Alvin Lee (1994), Yockamo All-Stars (1998), Tom Principato (2003) a.o.
Best version: I do like the original better than Edmunds’, but I suspect that Fats Domino would trump either.

Wilbert Harrison – Let’s Work Together.mp3
Canned Heat – Let’s Work Together.mp3
Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together.mp3
When Wilbert Harrison released Let’s Work Together in 1969, it was a slightly customised take on his 1961 song Let’s Stick Together. For all intents and purposes, it is the same song. Where “Stick Together” failed to make an impression, its reworked version was a minor US hit. Canned Heat, who were canny in their selection of obscure songs to cover, recorded their version soon after and scored a hit with it in 1970 (the same year their hitherto unreleased album produced by John Otis – Shuggie’s dad – was released). To their credit, Canned Heat delayed the US release of the single to let Harrison’s single run its course first. In 1976 Bryan Ferry took the song to #4 on the UK charts, having reverted to the original title, introduced some thumping saxophone and applied the suave working-class-boy-gone-posh vocals. Outside Roxy Music, everybody’s favourite fox-hunting Tory never did anything better. Thanks to Wilbert Harrison’s retitling, it is now evident which version – Canned Heat’s or Ferry’s – has inspired subsequent covers.
Also recorded by: Climax Blues Band (Work, 1973), Raful Neal (Work, 1987), Bob Dylan (Stick, 1988), Dwight Yoakam (Work, 1990), Status Quo (Work, 1991), George Thorogood & The Destroyers (Work, 1995), Francine Reed (Work, 1996), Paper Parrot (Stick, 1999), Kt Tunstall (Stick, 2007)
Best version: Thanks to the sax, Ferry’s. Marginally.

Sonny Dae & His Knights – Rock Around The Clock.mp3
Hank Williams – Move It On Over.mp3
Bill Haley & his Comets – Rock Around The Clock.mp3
It is indisputable that Bill Haley was a key figure in converting rock ’n roll into the mainstream – or, if we prefer to stray from euphemistic rationalisation, make a black genre infused with some country sensibility palatable to white audiences (so that’s a doctoral thesis delivered in 13 glib words). The notion of Haley as the father of rock ’n roll is about as plausible as describing the Bee Gees as the “Kings of Disco”. Rock Around The Clock most certainly wasn’t the first rock ’n roll single either (on the original label it is categorised as a foxtrot), or even Haley’s first rock ’n roll song. It was the first rock ’n roll #1 hit, though, and the song’s pivotal influence is undeniable, even if it ripped off a 1947 hit, Hank Williams’ Move It On Over (which Chuck Berry also seems to have borrowed from for Roll Over Beethoven).

Rock Around The Clock was written for Haley, but due to various complications involving a feud between record company and authors, it was recorded first by Sonny Dae and His Knights, an Italian-American band, released on a label co-owned by Haley. The original version – quite distinct from the more famous version – made no impression, and there is no evidence that Haley referred to it in his interpretation – indeed Haley and his Comets played it frequently on stage before recording it. Haley’s Rock Around The Clock (recorded on 12 April 1954 as Sammy Davis Jr sat outside the studio awaiting his turn to record) features one of the great guitar solos of the era, by session musician Benny Cedrone. Alas, Cedrone didn’t live to see his work become a seminal moment in music history – he died on 17 June 1954 in a fall, three days short of his 34rd birthday. Perhaps Cedrone might be regarded as the first rock ’n roll death. Which would give the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame two reasons to admit him.
Also recorded by: Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor and Alan Freed’s Rock ‘n Roll Band and The Modernaires (1956), Eddie Cochran and Gary Lambert (1956), Royale Orchestra (1956), Noe Fajardo (1956), Macky Kasper (1956), Renato Carosone (1956), Max Greger Orchestra (1956), Pat Boone (1957), Marimba Chiapas (1957), Winifred Atwell (1957), Isley Brothers (1959), Ray Martin Marching Band (1961), Meyer Davis Orchestra (1961), Sandy Nelson (1962), The Platters (1962), Frank Zappa (1964), Peter Kraus (1964), Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (1964), Mike Rios (1965), Bill Haley (1968), The Troublemakers (1968), Wild Angels (1970), Mae West (1972), Tritons (1973), Sha Na Na (1973), Harry Nilsson (1974), Peter Horton (1976), Jack Scott (1979), Telex (1979), Sex Pistols (1979), Les Humphries Singers (1982), The Housemartins (1986), Ty Tender (1987), Smurfarna (1993), Starlite Orchestra (1995), Ernie from Sesame Street (1999) and a few thousand others.
Best version: Haley’s. The guitar, the drums!

Johnny Darrell – Green Green Grass Of Home.mp3
Porter Wagoner – Green, Green Grass Of Home.mp3
Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass Of Home.mp3
I make no secret of it: I think Tom Jones is a hack. I’ll cheerfully concede that his delivery on Bacharach’s What’s New Pussycat is amusingly over the top, and It’s Not Unusual is a fine song sung well. But look at what Jones did to Green Green Grass Of Home. He robbed it of its pathos and lent it as much depth as his contemporary panty recipient Engelbert Humperdinck invested in his material. The spoken bit is droll, but inappropriately delivered to the point of creating a template for generations of hammy karaoke singers. And the cheesy backing vocals. Much better then to return to the song’s roots in country music.

Written by Claude “Curly” Putman Jr, it was first recorded by Johnny Darrell, the ill-fated associate of the Outlaw Country movement which also included the likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. In other words, country music that was cool. Darrell’s 1965 version failed to make much of a splash, but Porter Wagoner – who was cool but dressed like an overdone Nashville cliché – did gain some attention with his recording made in June 1965. Both versions communicate empathy with the protagonist, a dead man walking awakening from a dream of being reunited in freedom with the scenes of his childhood but in fact is awaiting his execution in the presence of the “sad old padre” (not “peartree” or “partridge”).

Jones was introduced to the song through Jerry Lee Lewis’ version, also a country affair recorded a few months after Wagoner, and proceeded to turn it into hackneyed easy listening, selling more than a million records of it in 1966. Who said pop was fair?
Also recorded by: Bobby Bare (1965), Jerry Lee Lewis (1965), Leonardo (L’erba verde di casa mia, 1966), Conway Twitty (1966), The Statler Brothers (1967), Dean Martin (1967), Hootenanny Singers (as En sång en gång för längese’n, 1967), Jan Malmsjö (as En sång en gång för längese’n, 1967), Agnaldo Timóteo (as Os Verdes Campos da Minha Terra, 1967), Dallas Frazier (1967), Trini Lopez (1968), Skitch Henderson (1968), Merle Haggard and The Strangers (1968), Belmonte and Amaraí (as Os Verdes Campos da Minha Terra, 1968), Joan Baez (1969), Stompin’ Tom Connors (1971), The Fatback Band (1972), The Flying Burrito Brothers (1973), Elvis Presley (1975), Kenny Rogers (1977), John Otway (1980), Jetsurfers (2000)
Best version: I am most partial to Porter Wagoner’s interpretation, which Jones might have consulted concerning the spoken bit.

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