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Step back to 1979 – Part 3

August 31st, 2011 9 comments

And here we leave the 1970s. The first year of the 1980s would turn out to be a fantastic year. If I’m still going to run this blog (as I am writing, I am short on time and, to be honest, motivation), I’ll look forward to sharing the records that take me back to that year.

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B.A. Robertson – Bang Bang.mp3
A pal of mine tells a great story about he lost his virginity to this song, in a shed, of all places. Imagine that, losing your cherry to a song called Bang Bang about hanky panky. I suspect it was not a carefully orchestrated scene of romantic seduction. Bang Bang contains half of the plot of season 2 of Rome in two verses: “Tony and Cleo struck out for the freedom down Egypt’s way, but Caesar had squeezed her in Rome on his quilt for a day, hey hey. Now Anthony got really angry about old Caesar’s hanky panky. She told ’em she would use ’em, and boy did she abuse ’em. Fall in love and blew ’em away.” Can this be used as a Grade 8 tutorial for Shakespeare’s play about shenanigans in the Roman Empire?

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Boomtown Rats – Diamond Smiles.mp3
I had long been a bit of a Boomtown Rats fan, from the debut album, and welcomed the success of I Don’t Like Mondays, just so that I could point out to my less sophisticated pals that I had been a fan longer than they had been (and at 13, a year or so is a mighty long time). I Don’t Like Mondays is a great song, but spoiled forever at Live Aid by Geldof’s pregnant pause after the line “and the lesson today is how to die”. Bob, mate, it’s a song about a high school shooting, not about famine. A pregnant pause would’ve been appropriate at a Columbine benefit. In relation to famine, it was as appropriate as playing Too Drunk To Fuck would be at a wedding – there might be alcohol-induced libido inhibitors at wedding receptions, but it’s not the drift which the gentlemen from Dead Kennedy were hoping to impart. So instead silicon chips set to overload (in 1979, Geldof knew how to anticipate the halcyon ’80s), let’s hear it for one of a trio of outstanding tracks on the Rats’ The Fine Art Of Surfacing LP (the other being Someone’s Looking At You). Diamond Smiles is one of the great entries in the canon of suicide anthems. Keep it in mind for that essential self-annihilation mix-tape!

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Tubeway Army – Are ‘Friends’ Electric?.mp3
This Kraftwerk-influenced song was quite unique when it came out, and may well be regarded as the prototype for the New Romantic sound which would take residence in the charts the following year with acts such as Visage and Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark. Much as I liked Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, I later found it difficult to regard it fondly when Gary Numan revealed himself as a Thatcherite Tory. That, of course, raises the question of whether an artist’s politics should influence our appreciation of his or her music. I still resent Neil Young for his Reagan/Bush-supporting ways, and I would have none of Ted Nugent’s music even if it was actually any good. At the same time, I don’t care that Elvis or Sammy Davis Jr were in love with Richard Nixon. But they are Americans, a nation that votes for tax cuts for the rich at the expense of social services for the poor (and the difference between the two parties on that count is, in real terms, minimal). In Britain the battlelines were more clearly drawn:  you knew what your vote would get you. Numan cheerfully stated his support for the apartheid-loving, pro-rich and anti-poor Klassenfeind Margaret Thatcher. Are  “Friends” Tories? I damn well hope not.

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Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star.mp3
Who said Americans have no sense of irony? This was first music video ever to be shown on MTV, setting out the new channel’s ideology of domination by playing a song that anticipated and bemoaned the age of the music video. Trevor Horn, who also anticipated the appalling advertising yuppie look of the mid-’80s, regretted the name Buggles: “I know the name’s awful, but at the time it was the era of the great punk thing. I’d got fed up of producing people who were generally idiots but called themselves all sorts of clever names like The Unwanted, The Unwashed, The Unheard… when it came to choosing our name I thought I’d pick the most disgusting name possible.” My brother gave this to me as a present, redeeming himself for his transgression in early 1978 of desecrating my Sex Pistols LP with a biro in revenge of some transgression that might have involved damage to his poster of Winnetou, the Native American character of a German TV show based on a book by a chap who had never even been to America.

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Status Quo – Living On An Island.mp3
When I was younger I spent much of my childhood at my grandmother’s place. As I’ve noted before, she lived her appreciation of the German Schlager vicariously through me, and later she helped finance my fast-growing record collection. I don’t know if Status Quo’s Living On An Island – their bid at mid-tempo AOR and a rather nice number – was the last record I bought while staying with her, but it’s the last one I remember bringing to her warm house that always smelled of freshly made coffee. I know it was in December; her last. Soon I visited her less and less. I was a teenager now, after all. And she didn’t like my new interest in politics, much less my leftist leanings. She was still my grandmother, but I had changed, and a gap had appeared in our once close relationship.

Living On An Island transports me to her flat, with the white-and-gold patterned wallpaper in the living room, the display cabinet with delicate porcelain figures (some of them nudes, which I found interesting), the veranda which looked out on the garden with trees and bushes which in summer would bear cherries, apples, pears, plums and currants (red, white and black, like the German flag my grandmother saluted in two world wars). I felt safe in that place, even at 13.

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Thom Pace – Maybe.mp3
This is the theme song of a TV series, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (known in Germany as Der Mann in den Bergen), which was produced in 1977/78 but came to German TV only in 1979, finding greater success there than it did in the country of its origin. Like the TV series, the title song is pretty soft. It can be enjoyed only in the pursuit of feeding nostalgia, though my grandmother was very fond of it (maybe this was the last record I bought while staying with her).  The single topped the West German charts at the height of disco. To be honest, though, I wouldn’t mind watching an episode of Grizzly Adams again – just for the nostalgia, of course.

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More Stepping Back

Step back to 1979 – Part 1

June 2nd, 2011 4 comments

As we enter 1979 and the songs that take me back to that time, I’m still living in the house in which I had spent the first 13 years of my life. In early summer we moved into a new house. So this lot of songs are old-house songs. In May, at the end of the time under review in part 1, I went to Bavaria for a week or two on a “cure”, organised by the medical aid scheme, for stressed kids. Because a stressed kid I certainly was.

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Gebrüder Blattschuss – Kreuzberger Nächte.mp3
It was a time for comic novelty songs in Germany. Big-nosed Mike Krüger had Germans in a LOL hysteria with his instruction ditty playing on the word “nipple”, while swathes of Germans were engaging in a collective ROFLMAO at the frankly unhilarious antics of comedians Dieter Hallervoorden and Helga Feddersen in their cover of the Grease hit You’re The One That I Want (their hit riffed on the phonetic rendition of the English title, “Du die Wanne ist voll”, which roughly means – be still, chuckling heart – “Hey, the bathtub is full”), and some fuckwit from Hamburg split a nation’s side just by virtue of his moniker, Gottlieb Wendehals (you see, an uncool first name and a surname that means “twist-neck” is as close to Monty Python’s funniest joke ever as you’ll get). And the brothers Blattschuss joined the comedy revolution by singing this song about prolific beer-drinking in the working-class Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg, where the nights apparently are long. It includes a few good puns and a rousing chorus which even the most inebriated joker can sing, which elevates the song above the rest of the mirthless comedy. Obviously I didn’t buy or even like the record. I remember the song chiefly for its performance on the Disco music TV show, during which leadsinger  Jürgen von der Lippe, who’d become a big German TV personality, lit up a cigarette.

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Status Quo – Accident Prone.mp3
For years, the chorus of this mid-tempo number resided in my repertoire of permanent earworms, the songs whose lines I might absent-mindedly sing as I go about buttering my toast, or whatever. The critics didn’t love it – I’ve read that some believed Accident Prone to be the Quo’s nod to disco, but I really can’t hear that at all. It certainly is a Rick Parfitt song though, less boogie than Francis Rossi’s material. The guitar solo is pretty good. I bought the single, as I had bought Again And Again (featured in part 3 of 1978). Then I bought the If You Can’t Stand The Heat album, and never listened to it in its entirety. In fact, of the three Quo LPs I have owned (the live double set, Rocking All Over The World, and …Heat), I don’t think I ever listened to any of them in full.

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Thin Lizzy – Rosalie (live).mp3
Rosalie was my introduction to Thin Lizzy. This version is from the great Live And Dangerous album. Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott was one cool guy. He is so cool when he expresses his appreciation for the audience participation on this live version of the song written by Bob Seger (whose Hollywood Nights might have featured in this series, come to think of it). Of course, towards the end, Lynott was not cool, in the ways heroin addiction is not cool. His death in early 1986 (from pneumonia, not an overdose) was a tragedy; the man had so much more to give. So it’s much better to remember Lynot as the charismatic frontman of a great live band, not a tragic junkie. On that subject, can anyone explain to me why intelligent individuals ignore everything they know about the hyper-addictive dangers of heroin, and try it anyway? Fun trivia fact: heroin got its name from the German pharma-giant Bayer (who in their guise as IG Farben supplied the Nazis with the Zyklon B used in the gas chambers).

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Hot Chocolate – I’ll Put You Together Again.mp3
Man, I loved Hot Chocolate’s disco stuff. Heaven’s In The Backseat Of My Cadillac and You Sexy Thing and all that. I also loved the slower songs, especially So You Win Again and Emma. This was one of those slower songs, and I think I got the single for my 13th birthday, on which my friends and I were allowed to share a bottle of white wine (well, it amounted to a small glass each). Errol Brown’s vocals are fine, but it’s the melody, which I’m sure was inspired by some piece of classical music, that really appealed to me. Brown had had a hand in writing all big Hot Chocolate hits other than this and So You Win Again (written by Russ Ballard). I’ll Put You Together Again was co-written by Geoff Stephens, one of those songwriters whose work is much better known than his name. Among the songs he wrote are The Crying Game, There’s A Kind Of Hush, Winchester Cathedral, Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James, Sorry Suzanne, It’s Gonna Be A Cold Cold Christmas, The Lights Of Cincinnati, You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me, and Silver Lady.

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Queen – Mustapha.mp3
My friend Arne was a big Queen fan, and introduced me to more Queen stuff than News Of The World, which I already had. So when Jazz came out, I bought it – and put up the poster of all the naked women on bicycles (or Fat Bottomed Girls on a Bicycle Race) on my wall. And my mother didn’t mind, tolerant woman that she was. Mustapha was the strangest thing I had ever heard in rock. It still is bizarre. Presumably inspired by Freddie Mercury’s experience as Faroukh Bulsara in his birthplace of Zanzibar, it sounds like a Muslim call to prayer which halfway through gets the pomp rock treatment. Muezzin rock, if you like.

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Suzi Quatro – If You Can’t Give Me Love.mp3
I liked Suzi Quatro back in the day. Too Big was my favourite sing of hers. Recently I saw her Top of the Pops performance of Devil Gate Drive, which sparkles with the exuberance and rocking choreography. Suzi Quatro opened doors for chicks with guitars (and I’m using the word in the nicest possible way). So her comeback in 1979 was anticipated. Alas, Suzi had grown pout of rock-chickdom. A few months earlier, she had recorded a duet with Smokie singer and fellow RKA label mate Chris Norman, Stumblin’ In, the contemplation of which makes me feel slightly ill. And yet, I bought the LP, titled If You Knew Suzi… Well,I thought I knew Suzi. High-kicking, guitar-thrashing, super-gurning Suzi. This was housewive Suzi whose Smokie music was going to appeal to our mothers. I couldn’t give her love, and I gave it to somebody else.

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Clout – Save Me.mp3
The South African band featured in 1978 with Substitute (and I’m still looking for the original of that by the Righteous Brothers, as well as for Gloria Gaynor’s take). Save Me was also a cover version of a Merrilee Rush’s 1977 original (she had the first hit version of Angel In The Morning, as recounted in The Originals Vol. 39). Rush’s version was a mid-tempo country-pop affair; Clout turned it into a proper pop song.  Save Me is almost as good as Substitute, which I’d designate as a perfect pop song. By now Clout had lost their gorgeous keyboardist Glenda Hyams, and wasn’t even an all-girl group anymore, with the inclusion of two dudes (who’d later join Johnny Clegg in Juluka). I don’t know what became of the Clout members, other than Cindy Alter, one of the lead singers, who now performs with South African pop veteran Stewart Irving.

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Gerard Kenny – New York New York.mp3
So good they named it twice, sings Mr Kenny as he fellates the Big Apple. I had this on a compilation album (titled Disco Laser, it also included hits by the likes of Leif Garrett, Racey, Supermax and Chic, among a whole lot of people that were never heard of again, such as Wallensten and Snoopy). I rather liked it as a companion piece to Billy Joel’s My Life, a favourite at the time. It really should accompany New York State Of Mind; either way, it belongs in the same genre as Billy Joel (with whom Kenny once was in a band, apparently). Gerard Kenny has been something of a prolific songwriter; his resumé includes Barry Manilow’s I Made it Through The Rain and I Could Be So Good For You by Dennis Waterman (off TV’s Minder). He continues to perform.

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Patrick Hernandez – Born To Be Alive.mp3
This was the anthem of every school disco in the West-Germany of 1979. I wonder if schools in other cities did that stupid aerobic dance: legs together and jumping from one side to the other, if possible in beat to the music. The song, by a French Euro disco singer with a football player’s bubble perm, was absolutely ubiquitous, and there are no words to describe how much I hated it. Just as I hated school discos, with their bad music, cheap crisps and ban on Coca Cola, because somebody decreed it was not good for 13-year-olds, whereas Fanta was. For that reason Born To Be Alive does not conjure cheerful memories, but today I can acknowledge just how good a Euro-disco song it is. Hernandez later gave the young Madonna her first break as a dancer.

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Dschinghis Khan – Dschinghis Khan.mp3
Germans have earned themselves a reputation of having slowly developed an awareness of and sensitivity to their country’s terrible history in relation to the Holocaust; the noble project of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (and bless the German language for its compound words). In 1979, all good intentions notwithstanding, West-Germany was not quite there yet. The country’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest that year was a rousing ensemble number extolling the masculine virility of the Mongol warrior Genghis Khan, whose name the performing group adopted for good measure. All that might have seemed like a good idea at the time, except that the host city of the contest was Jerusalem. It does not send a message of Vergangenheitsbewältigungsbestätigung when Germany sends its minstrels to Israel to sing about a genocidal megalomaniac. The Austrian entry was much more sensitive with the title “Today in Jerusalem” (presumably not a protest song about the condition of Palestinans in that city).

In the event, the German entry placed fourth (ahead of Britain’s Black Lace, who took revenge a few years later with the appalling Agadoo), while Israel defended their title with Milk & Honey’s melodious and very annoying Hallelujah, a song a visitor to Israel cannot avoid hearing even three decades later.

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Frank Mills – Music Box Dancer.mp3
I think it’s fair to say that I bought some pretty decent singles when I was 13, though that will reveal itself only in parts 2 and 3. And amid all those cool records, I bought this, a record which Richard Clayderman must have condemned as too soft. I have no interest in hearing his cover version (of course he recorded one!), but by comparison it probably rocks hard. It has to. Musicx Box Dancer has as pretty melody, admittedly, and as such is a very dangerous earworm. It’s no accident that ice cream vans around the world are playing the tune. It’s not surprising then to learn that one town has declared ice cream van music illegal. Oh yes, if you signal the availability of soft-serve in Stafford, New Jersey, you’ll go down, man. “At no time shall a vendor be permitted to use a sound device, mechanical bell, mechanical music, mechanical noise, speakers, amplifiers or any other similar type of sound device,” The Man has ordained. You may use a bicycle bell, however. Can you play Music Box Dancer on a bicycle bell?

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George Harrison – Blow Away.mp3
As mentioned in the intro, in May 1979 the medical scheme packed me and a few dozen other kids from across West-Germany off to a cure in Bavaria. On the train journey there, we encountered a pederast who liked to suck the feet of pubescent boys (not mine, I’m relieved to report). In Bavaria I met for the first time a person named Adolf, our bus driver on excursions, though he tried to disguise his unfortunate name by inviting us to call him Dolf. He was a nice guy, so we didn’t even make jokes about him. The small town where we stayed, with the satisfying name Pfronten, had a small record shop. One day we were passing it when our group, probably headed for another bloody uphill hike through Bavarian forest, paused for a few minutes. I quickly jumped into the shop to see what was new. And what was new was George Harrison’s new single, which I bought unheard. Happily George’s bubble perm did not deter me, for Blow Away is a great song; indeed, it’s my favourite solo song by Harrison, with a great sing-along chorus.

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More Stepping Back

Step back to 1978 – Part 3

March 24th, 2011 10 comments

By the second half of 1978 I was clearly done with punk — much like the rest of the civilised world. Now the word was Grease, even if You’re The One That I Want became unbearably overplayed. Other than a really great roadtrip holiday, the latter part of 1978 seems to have been quite uneventful for me: I cannot remember anything interesting at all happening other than playing football in ankle-deep snow in winter.

John Paul Young – Love Is In The Air.mp3
I knew this track by the Australian singer who prompted two popes to adopt his name in 1978 for quite a while before the event I associate it most with: a summer holiday in what was then East-Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria. Love Is In The Air was on a K-Tel type sampler cassette we played ad nauseam on that road trip in a Volkswagen camper, mainly because we didn’t have much else with us by way of musical entertainment. The tape also included J.J. Cale’s Cocaine, Eric Clapton’s Lay Down Sally, and Eruption’s cover of I Can’t Stand The Rain. I think the latter might have followed Love Is In The Air, because when Young’s song ends, I expect to hear the opening synth notes from the Eruption number. It could be that we gave that tape away to an East German family we met in Prague, with whom we struck up a friendship that extended beyond the holiday (I met the daughter again last year, for the first time in 29 years). To East Germans, all forms of Western media were like golddust. On our later visits to our friends, I’d smuggle Bravo magazines over the border, and act that was regarded as quite audacious, indeed almost heroic.  Love Is In The Air was also the first song I ever sung at a karaoke.

Clout – Substitute.mp3
In this series I have reported on my barely pubescent crushes on Agnetha of ABBA and Debbie Harry of Blondie. They were joined by another blonde in the form of the Glenda Hyam, the keyboard player of South African girl group Clout. The thing is, I turned out have a greater preference for darker women (not that I am inclined to discriminate on the basis of excessive pheomelanin). Alas, Glenda soon left the group, to be replaced by two much less fanciable but more hirsute blokes (who would later joined Johnny Clegg in Juluka). The dudes, no less curly than the rest of Clout, turned up for the follow-up hit Save Me, which will feature in the course of this series. Substitute, a great unrequited love number, is a cover version of a song by the Righteous Brothers. If anyone has the original, I’d be most grateful to receive it.

Supermax – Love Machine.mp3
Austrian disco, long before Falco! Goodness, this played everywhere in Germany, and at the time I hated it. Now I actually like it. Imagine Pink Floyd going disco (in which case the lyrics, with gems like “I am a love machine in town, the best you can get 50 miles around”, would need to be read ironically). Long-haired, moustachoid Kurt Hauenstein’s band was multi-racial (though not as predominantly black as the single cover would lead us to believe), and as such it became the first international multi-racial band to tour South Africa in 1981. It was a thankless venture. The apartheid authorities were not exactly pleased at the racial mixing – just imagine the potential of miscegenation among these degenerate disco hippies! – especially since the Austrians were also playing in the “homeland” of Venda, which is so off the beaten track that it probably has not seen any international music acts since. And the international artistic community failed to see the humour in anybody touring apartheid South Africa, racial diversity notwithstanding. Even if just a few years earlier the likes of Percy Sledge and George Benson had done exactly that.

Umberto Tozzi – Tu.mp3
A year earlier, Umberto Tozzi had enjoyed a big hit with Ti Amo. I liked that song very much. In 1978, Tozzi had a hit with Tu. By then I was wary of Italian balladeers whose schlock lent themselves to German covers by Schlager singers with an excess of blow-dried hair. Oddly, I don’t recall this being turned into a Schlager. Perhaps the absence of a chorus deterred the Schlager industry. Or perhaps they didn’t know how to translate “ba-badda-darm” into German. A year later, Tozzi released Gloria, which in 1984 became, much to my astonishment, a hit for Laura Branagan. I must confess that I do have a bit of a weakness for the Italian San Remo festival kind of songs.

Robert Palmer – Best Of Both Worlds.mp3
Much as I liked the song back then, it’s a bit of a mess, with its cod-Reggae beat and aggressively out-of-tune vocals. It was a fair hit in Europe, I think, but didn’t even dent the Top 75 in Britain. I think what I found most attractive about it are the minor notes 2:12 into the song. A year later Palmer had a bigger hit with Bad Case Of Loving You. At the bumper car rink at the local Rummel (as a travelling funfair is known in German) that year, the ticket-booth DJ held a name-the-artist competition when Bad Case Of Loving You came on. The prize was something like tokens for five free rides. Trouble was, I was already driving in a bumper car. To my frustration, nobody knew the answer, which I did. I called the answer out to my younger brother, but all I got in return was a deaf “heh?”. Of course, he wasn’t the idiot in that situation. I was. Obviously I should have abandoned my single ride in order to get five freebies – and the satisfaction of strutting to cash in my free rides knowing the answer to a tough question none of the assembled ignoramuses knew. File under “Regrets, I’ve had a few”.

Nina Hagen Band – TV-Glotzer.mp3
I must be honest: I don’t like Nina Hagen’s obnoxious vocals much. I bought this single (the cover of which seems to have been used for every Hagen release around that time) because it seemed the rebellious thing to do. There simply was very little of this kind of thing in German music at the time. The indictment of consumerism and the public’s passive, indeed mindless, acceptance of it appealed to my nascent leftist tendencies (translated lyrics are here). The consumerism must have been striking to Hagen, who had come from East-Germany only two years earlier after her singer stepfather, Wolf Biermann, was expelled by the communist regime. Backed by what would become the Neue Deutsche Welle band Spliff, TV Glotzer is a cover of The Tubes’ far superior White Punks On Dope.  So Hagen and especially TV Glotzer were hugely influential in the rise of the German new wave movement.

Status Quo – Again And Again.mp3
For the first three years of my record-buying career, I bought loads of Status Quo records. Then I went off them, righteously repudiating the Quo. By the time I was a young adult, I joined the consensus that they were rather ridiculous and easily spoofed cliché mongering two-chord wonders. What utter foolishness! What deprivation did I subject myself to? No good case can be made for Status Quo being rock & roll’s equivalent of Dietrich Buxtehude, but, damn it, for pure energy and fun it’s hard to beat songs like Again And Again. Denims on, strike pose standing with legs apart (position of mirror optional), engage air guitar, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with imaginary fellow guitarist rocking forward and backward, jump in the air with final chord, look in panic at doors and windows to ensure that they were shut…

Olivia Newton-John – A Little More Love.mp3
Livvy’s career was stuttering to a bit of a halt before her appearance in Grease. On strength of that movie I bought her Totally Hot album, which contained rather too much disco-pop and too little by way of quality ballads, such as the wonderful Hopelessly Devoted To You from Grease. It really set the scene for the later Physical, the opening chord for the ghastly ’80s. A Little More Love is one of those songs that suffers from a lack of direction. It’s not clear whether it’s supposed to be a West Coast rock number or a disco track. The pedestrian verses call to mind a b-side recorded under duress by Linda Ronstadt, but the glorious chorus sounds like it was written by the Bee Gees in their pomp, even though the song’s composer was John Farrar (who also wrote Hopelessly Devoted To You and You’re The One That I Want). As much as I hate Physical, I was pleased to see Newton-John appear on Glee last year; not as the sweet individual of her doubtless merited reputation, but as a bitch who outdoes the wonderfully ruthless Sue Sylvester.

Al Stewart – Song On The Radio.mp3
I had ended 1977 by buying singles by Harpo and The Runaways. I ended the following year by buying an Al Stewart album. I was staying with family friends in another city for a week or so over New Year’s Eve. They were quite different from my family. To begin with, they were communists. Not communists of the variety that had beards (even the men), carried Mao’s pocketbook and a displayed velvet poster of Che Guevara. These were proper activists, registered members of the German Communist Party, the DKP, and as critical of the corruption of communism in the East as they were of the capitalist society in the West. Communists of the ilk of Nina Hagen’s stepfather Biermann. I never adopted their politics, but I was influenced by them to see the word in a different way. So I was with them when I bought Al Stewart’s Time Passages album. When I asked them to play it, they appeared less than keen; much as I would feel if a 12-year-old asked me to put on their latest favourite record by what I would presume to be an autotuned muppet or derivative emo goon. When they finally relented, they liked what they heard and even asked if they could tape the LP (buying it would just have given profits to owners of the means of production, of course). I felt great validation that adults of intellectual character would like the music I bought.

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More Stepping Back

The Originals Vol. 37

April 20th, 2010 6 comments

Almost all of the previous 36 instalments of The Originals consisted of five songs each. The inaugural post had ten tracks, one (or was it two?) had six. Which makes for 186 tracks that have been, well, covered. Truth be told, researching five songs at a time has been so much a burden on my time that at times I’ve not been motivated to start a new post. Maybe by reducing the number to three I’ll update this series more enthusiastically in future. I still have many lesser-known originals to write about.

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Cowboy Copas – Tennessee Waltz (1948).mp3
Pee Wee King – Tennessee Waltz (1948).mp3
Patti Page – Tennessee Waltz (1950).mp3
Les Paul & Mary Ford – Tennessee Waltz (1951).mp3
Sam Cooke – Tennessee Waltz (1964).mp3

On a Friday night in 1946, country singer and accordionist Pee Wee King (who was born by the decidedly un-country name Julius Kuczynski in Milwaukee) was driving with Redd Stewart, fiddler and singer with King’s Golden West Cowboys, to Nashville when the radio played bluegrass legend Bill Monroe’s Kentucky Waltz. Wondering why nobody ever dedicated a waltz to Tennessee — home to country music capital Nashville, after all — they decided to relieve the boredom of the long drive by writing one, setting lyrics, written on a matchbox, to an instrumental they had been playing in concerts, the No Name Waltz.

One might think that Pee Wee King’s version, with Stewart on vocals, would be the first to be recorded. However, he was scooped by Cowboy Copas, who would perish on the plane that killed Patsy Cline (one of the many who later covered Tennessee Waltz). Lloyd Copas had been a singer with Pee Wee King’s band in the early 1940s, succeeding Eddy Arnold. It may be that Pee Wee first gave the song to his old frontman, who made a recording of it in April 1947 for (ironically) King Records in Cincinnatti, and another in June that year. It is most likely the latter recording that was released in March 1948 and became a #3 country hit. Pee Wee King recorded his version in December 1947. Also released in early 1948, it also peaked at #3, but at half a million copies sold more than Copas’ take.

By 1950, Tennessee Waltz had become something of a country classic, and even jazz singer Anita O’Day had covered it, when it became a mammoth crossover hit for Patti Page, whose version remains the best known. It topped the pop, country and R&B charts simultaneously, a unique feat. As so often, the big hit was first a b-side, in this case to the less than immortal Boogie Woogie Santa Claus. For a b-side, much effort went into the production, which used a rudimentary form of vocal overdubbing to go with the backing track by the Jack Rael Orchestra. An acetate was recorded of Page singing the song, and this would be played into one microphone while Page sang into a second microphone. Page’s version of her dad’s favourite song went on to sell 6 million copies.

Tennessee Waltz was awarded BMI’s 3,000,000 Airplay Award in 2004. Only five other songs have achieved that honour.

Also recorded by: Roy Acuff (1949), Jo Stafford (1950), Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (1950), John ‘Schoolboy’ Porter (1950), Stick McGhee (1950), Anita O’Day (1951), Spike Jones (1951), The Fontane Sisters (1951), Eddy Arnold (1956), Floyd Cramer (as part of a medley, 1957), The Louvin Brothers (1958), Bill Vaughn (1958), Faron Young (1959), Connie Francis (1959), Chet Atkins (1959), Bobby Comstock & The Counts (1959), Jerry Fuller (1959), Four Jacks (1960), Red Hewitt & the Buccaneers (1960), Tennessee Ernie Ford (1960), Grady Martin and The Slewfoot Five (1960), Kitty Wells (1960), Gus Backus (1960), Don Robertson (1961), Webb Pierce (1962), Homer & Jethro (1962), Pat Boone (1962), The Violents (1962), Alma Cogan (1964), Anna King (1964), Sam Cooke (1964), Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas (1965), Chet Atkins (1966), Slim Whitman (1966), Manfred Mann (1966), Ernest Tubb (1966), Ray Brown & the Whispers (1966), Otis Redding (1966), Richard “Groove” Holmes and the Super Soul Big Band (1967), Chuck Jackson & Maxine Brown (1967), Johnny Jones (1968), American Soul Train (1968), Dottie West (1968), Sue Thompson (1969), Leon Haywood (1969), Ferlin Husky (1969), Don Gibson (1969), Napoleon Jr (1969), Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass (1970), Lou Donaldson (1970), Bobbi Martin (1971), David Bromberg (1972), American Spring (1972), Boots Randolph (1974), Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass (1976), Pete Tex (1976), Gitte (1977), Anne Murray (1978), Tielman Brothers (1979), Lacy J. Dalton (1980), Emmylou Harris (1981), Billie Jo Spears (1981), James Brown (1983), Willie Nelson & Hank Williams (1984), Audrey Landers (1986), George Adams (1989), Holly Cole Trio (1993), Tom Jones with the Chieftans (1995), Richard Hindman Trio (1995), Sally Timms (1997), Linda Martin (1998), James Last (1998), Sarah Harmer & Jason Euringer (1999), Sam Moore (2002), André Rieu (2002), Joel Harrison feat. Norah Jones (2002), Eva Cassidy (released in 2002), Joel Harrison (2003), Leonard Cohen (2004), Herb Alpert (2005), Hem (2006), Pete Molinari (2009), Isabelle Boulay (2009) a.o.

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Johnny & Jackey – Someday We’ll Be Together (1961).mp3
Diana Ross and the Supremes – Someday We’ll Be Together (1969).mp3
Frederick Knight – Someday We’ll Be Together (1973).mp3

The Supremes’ sentimental farewell song with Diana Ross proved less than prescient (if we disregard the awkward performance of it on 1983’s Motown 25th anniversary show), and La Ross probably never thought that she “made a big mistake” by leaving.

The song was originally recorded in 1961 by the R&B duo Johnny & Jackie, in a Drifters-style arrangement. The Johnny half of the Detroit duo was Johnny Bristol, and Jackey was his singing and songwriting partner — and ex-air force compadre — Jackey Beavers. They co-wrote Someday We’ll Be Together with the great Harvey Fuqua, on whose Tri-Phi label the single appeared. It was not a big hit, and after several years of trying, Bristol and Beavers went their separate ways, with Jackey signing for Chess Records.

Bristol went on to become a noted producer on Motown, working with Fuqua on songs such as Marvin Gaye’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and David Ruffin’s My Whole World Ended. Bristol had the distinction of producing the final singles by both the Supremes and the Miracles before their headliners departed. That means, of course, that Bristol produced the song which he had co-written and first recorded for Diana Ross and the Supremes. The other Supremes didn’t actually appear on it (which makes the decision to play Some Day We’ll Be Together at Florence Ballard’s funeral seem quite odd). Bristol had intended the song for Jr Walker and the All Stars, for whom he had already written the hit What Does It Take (To Make You Love Me). He had laid down the arrangement and backing vocals, by Maxine and Julia Waters, when Gordy decided that this would be the song with which to launch Diana’s solo career. On reflection, probably because of the title, he instead issued it as a farewell song for Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The male voice on the song is Bristol’s. Not satisfied with Ross’ performance, he harmonised with her, ad libbing encouragements. The sound engineer accidentally captured these, and the since it sounded good, it was decided to keep them in. Diana Ross & the Backing Singers’ single topped the US charts (perhaps fittingly, the last chart-topper of the ’60s) , which meant that Berry Gordy, who was intent on having the Ross-led Supremes go out with a #1, could release Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hands) as Diana’s solo debut.

Johnny Bristol, who died in 2004, continued producing after leaving Motown (he lent Boz Scaggs that blue-eyed soul inflection), and had some success as a singer, most notably with the 1974 hit Hang On In There Baby. He also wrote and recorded the first version of the Osmonds’ hit Love Me For A Reason, which will feature later in this series.

Frederick Knight’s 1973 version slows down the song and gives it a proper southern soul treatment. It was not a hit, but it may be the best version of the song (by the man who went on to write Anita Bell’s disco classic Ring My Bell).

Also recorded by: Boogaloo Joe Jones (1970), Brenda & the Tabulations (1970), Shirley Scott (1970), The Marvelettes (1970), Bobby Darin (1971), Bill Anderson & Jan Howard (1972), Dionne Warwicke (1972), Frederick Knight (1973), The Pointer Sisters (1982), Lorrie Morgan (1983), Jimmy Somerville (1995), LaToya Jackson (1995), Vonda Shepard (1999)


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Bolland – You’re In The Army Now (1983).mp3
Status Quo – In The Army Now (1986).mp3

The year 1986 was lucrative for the brothers Bolland, Rob and Ferdi. First their song Rock Me Amadeus, performed by the Austrian cult singer Falco, topped the UK charts (having been a huge hit in Europe the previous year), and then Status Quo hit the top 10 with their cover of the brothers’ 1981 song In The Army Now.

Born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (in the same region that gave the world the entirely unneccesary Dave Matthews), the Bolland brothers had emigrated to the Netherlands, and started their recording career in 1972 as a folk-rock duo along the lines of Simon & Garfunkel. When that genre became passé, they hooked into the electronic sounds of the late 1970s. In The Army Now was a big hit in South Africa, where conscription applied to only white men, many of whom were sent to fight in the war with Angola, apartheid’s Vietnam. The single did only moderately well elsewhere, and the Bolland brothers became record producers, counting among their clients Falco, Amii Stewart, Samantha Fox, Suzi Quatro and Dana International.

Meanwhile, Status Quo’s Francis Rossi had heard In The Army Now on the radio while driving in Germany, and proposed it to his band, which by now had lost bassist Alan Lancaster and drummer John Coughlan. The song took the Quo to #2 in Britain.

Also recorded by: Laibach (1994), Les Enfoirés (as Ici les Enfoirés, 2009)

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More Originals

Music for Bloggers Vol. 9

November 12th, 2008 4 comments
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Sometimes I visit a favourite blog and, David Byrne echoing in my mind, I wonder: how did I get here? Totally Fuzzy is an obvious source of discovering favourite blogs. Links on blogs I like are another pretty reliable source (shared tastes, and all that). Some I might have stumbled upon while searching for a particular song, using a variety of search engines and aggregators. And many I’ve discovered when their owners left a comment. Occasionally I encounter members of my circle of blogging pals – people whose blogs I read and who read mine – in comments sections of other blogs. Did they get there through my links, or did I find them through theirs, or what other permutations might have led to our congregation at a third blog?

And how did people find my blog? No doubt, Totally Fuzzy, Elbows and good old-fashioned googling are a major source of exposure, as are Retro Music Snob and All Music, All Blogs. Some blogs clearly are so popular and trusted that their readers click on links to mine (Echoes In The Wind, DeaconBlues1103 and Dr Forrest’s Cheese Factory are the most prolific sources of traffic in that respect). And if you’re reading this having read The Guardian’s blogroll last weekend, welcome (also featured was the excellent Ghost of Electricity).

Not so welcome is whoever DMCAs me to Blogger. Another post was zapped yesterday; Blogger again won’t say who complained. As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve not capitulated. Nor have many of the bloggers I particularly enjoy. Anyway, all this to introduce or highlight six more blogs I particularly enjoy. There were more on my shortlist, so if yours has not yet featured, it may well do so in the future.

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Modern Acoustic
Rich K puts out a PDF-based magazine featuring some of my favourite contemporary artists: Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Borges, Josh Ritter, Patty Griffin etc. To go with the mag (which can be downloaded at modernacoustic.com), he runs a blog with copious links to the official sites of the acts he is writing about. Rich is DMCA-safe because he posts no music, but he has taken an interest in the War on Bloggers situation . He wrote to me saying that he is researching an article on the subject. If fellow victims of the terror campaign, or other interested observers, would like to share their views or experiences with Rich, he can be e-mailed: rich [at] modernacoustics [dot] com. One act Modern Acoustics has not featured yet are The Weepies, whose cause I promote with undiluted enthusiasm. From a perfectly legal and band-approved top-notch bootleg:
The Weepies – Gotta To Have You (live).mp3

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The Gentlebear
To illustrate a point I made in the introduction, I found this blog just a few weeks ago and have no idea how I came by it. Whichever route it took, I am delighted to have arrived there. Gentlebear is one of those bloggers who educates and entertains with some fine writing and great song selection. I was particularly impressed with her recent post on The Temptations’ song “I Wish It Would Rain” – possibly my favourite by the Temps next to “Since I Lost My Baby” – featuring a couple of great covers. When I discover a new blog I really like, I trawl through back posts until I have no more energy or time. I read all of the ursine’s blog in one sitting (well, it goes back to only June, but the point stands: this is a very fine blog). The song dedication comes from a 2005 charity compilation, War Child – Help: A Day In The Life. War Child is going to release a new comp in February 2009. Check it out.
Damien Rice – Cross-Eyed Bear.mp3

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The beauty of la musique
A bilingual blog from Canada which takes as its theme appealing or otherwise remarkable graphic artistry from yore. The blog pictures old LP or magazine covers, photos, posters, record labels and so on with a succinct illumination to explain its presence. Sometimes the narrative is very funny. I enjoyed this one for an early ’60s record cover depicting a rather predatory sleazedouche doing the twist: “Here’s a stupid and ugly one, for a change. Richard Anthony was a popular French singer of the 1960’s. On the cover art of this single, he seems to have other projects than twisting. Look at the way he’s watching this girl… Help ! Police !”
Status Quo – Pictures Of Matchstick Men.mp3

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Silence Is A Rhythm Too
Here’s a blog that has been running since I was a little boy in Lederhosen (which reminds me of a boy at school in Germany who once pissed into his Lederhosen. As visitors to München’s Oktoberfest may know, not only is piss in Lederhosen eminently conspicuous, but it also produces a nasty aroma). Funk-loving Michael of SIART describes his blog as “an on-going mix-tape”, which seems to me quite an accurate description, though songs are mostly posted individually. Including a bootleg version of the song this blog is named after (though you’ll have to go back a couple of months to find that). Those still on an Obama-high can get an Obama Mix at SIART. It’s all stimulatingly eclectic stuff.
Gene Kelly – I Got Rhythm.mp3

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Jay Brannan: The Morning After
Jay’s debut album, Goddamned, might well turn out to be my most-played of 2008. The long-standing reader will recall that I interviewed Jay back in July. What came across was an appealing personality with some strong opinions and a healthy dose of wit. This is reflected in his apparently very popular blog (featuring a number of video clips from his gigs around Europe), which we can take for granted is written by the artist himself, not an intern at the management company. Jay is certainly building up a strong following around the world, and – this is particularly pleasing – across the sexual spectrum. As he said in the interview, why should his sexuality matter when he sings about stuff in his life? I imagine that Jay’s blog is named after this, the theme from The Poseidon Adventure:
Maureen McGovern – The Morning After.mp3

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The Music Blog of the Infonistacrat!
I feel a little guilty about not having featured the Infonistacrat before. I have found some great music there, especially from the ’90s, which is a bit of a blind spot for me (fatherhood and lack of access to sources of decent music – DMCA fans might note that had there been blogs then, I’d have bought plenty more CDs then). The Infonistacrat also calls back into action songs from the ’80s, including a lot of half-forgotten material. A great and frequently updated source of alt.rock, punk, indie, new wave and so on. The Infonistacrat will have this song already, probably. It’s that sort of song.
The Ramones – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.mp3

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Previously featured:
Music For Bloggers Vol. 1: Totally Fuzzy, Not Rock On, Serenity Now (RIP), Stay At Home Indie Pop, The Late Greats, Tsururadio, 200percent, Jefitoblog (RIP), Television Without Pity, Michael’s World
Music For Bloggers Vol. 2: Fullundie, Mr Agreeable, Greatest Films, Peanut’s Playground, Just Good Tunes, Csíkszereda Musings, Mulberry Panda, The Black Hole, Secret Love, Hot Chicks With Douchebags
Music For Bloggers Vol. 3: Girl On A Train, Maybe We Ain’t That Young Anymore, Earbleedingcountry, Spangly Princess, Ill Folks, Deacon Blues, One-Man Publisher, CD Rated
Music For Bloggers Vol. 4: Pop Dose, Todger Talk, Holy Goof (RIP), Echoes In The Wind, Sunset Over Slawit, The Hits Just Keep Coming, The Ghost of Electricity, Guitariotabs
Music For Bloggers Vol. 5: The Quietus, Barely Awake In Frog Pyamas, The Great Vinyl Meltdown, Fusion 45, Inveresk Street Ingrate, The Songs That People Sing
Music For Bloggers Vol. 6: my hmphs, Visions of Wrong Terrence, Don’t Burn The Day Away, Mine For Life, 3 Minutes 49 Seconds
Music For Bloggers Vol. 7: Uncle E’s Musical Nightmare, Jens Lekman, Ain’t Superstitious, AM Then FM, Psd Photoshop Disasters, SIBlingshot on the Bleachers, Dr Forrest’s Cheese Factory, NME & Melody Maker
Music For Bloggers Vol. 8: dustysevens, All Eyes And Ears, Bob Evans, Retro Kino, Retro Music Snob