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In Memoriam – July 2012

August 2nd, 2012 7 comments

Two Funk Brother died in July: first Maurice D Davis, who played trumpet on songs like Papa Was A Rolling Stone, and a couple of days later, on July 16, Bob Babbitt, who played the bass on Motown hits such as Tears Of A Clown, War, Just My Imagination; on soul classics like Midnight Train To Georgia and Band Of Gold. Also listen to his bass solo on Dennis Coffey’s 1972 hit Scorpio.

July 16 was a bad day for music. We lost Jon Lord, the great innovative organist of Deep Purple and Whitesnake. We also lost Kitty Wells, whose breakthrough as a country singer paved the way for female stars in that genre, such as Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Wells was already in her 30s and a mother of three when she became a star; the first female ever to top the country charts. Wells introduced feminist themes into country long before that was regarded as ordinary and articulated a female self-confidence that would become characteristic of many women who succeeded her.

Fritz Pauer, 68, Austrian jazz pianist, on July 1

Margot Werner, 74, Austrian-born chanson singer, suicide on July 1

Andy Griffiths, 86, actor and gospel singer, on July 3

Ben Kynard, 92, jazz saxophonist, on July 5
Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra – I’m Mindin’ My Business (And Baby, My Business Is You) (1946, on saxophone)

José Roberto Bertrami, 66, Brazilian pianist and keyboardist with jazz-funk Azymuth, on July 8
Azymuth – Fly Over The Horizon (1979)

Lionel Batiste, 81, jazz musician with the Tremè Brass Band, on July 8
Tremè Brass Band – The Old Rugged Cross (1993)

Zach Booher, 22, member of acoustic rock duo While We’re Up, in a car crash on July 8

Dennis Flemion, 57, member of indie-comic band The Frogs, member of Smashing Pumpkins live line-up 1996/97, drowned on July 9
The Frogs – Which One Of You Gave My Daughter The Dope (1996)

Edwin Duff, 84, Australian singer, on July 10

Maria Hawkins Cole, 89, jazz singer, widow of Nat King Cole, on July 10

Lol Coxhill, 79, English jazz saxophonist, on July 10

Perry Baggs, 50, drummer and singer with cowpunk group Jason & The Scorchers, on July 12

Maurice D Davis, 71, saxophonist and member of Motown backing-collective The Funk Brothers, on July 13
The Temptations – Papa Was A Rolling Stone (1972)
One Way – Cutie Pie (1982)

Bucky Adams, 75, Canadian jazz trumpeter, on July 13

Celeste Holm, 95, actress who occasionally sang (High Society, Oklahoma), on July 15
Frank Sinatra & Celeste Holm – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (1956)

Kitty Wells, 92, country legend, on July 16
Kitty Wells – I Don’t Claim To Be An Angel (1956)
Kitty Wells – Crying Time (1966)

Jon Lord, 71, composer and keyboardist of Deep Purple and Whitesnake, on July 16
Deep Purple – Child In Time (1972)
Whitesnake – Here I Go Again (1987)
Jon Lord with Frida Lyngstad – The Sun Will Shine Again (2004)

Bob Babbitt, 74, bass guitarist of backing bands The Funk Brothers (Motown) and MFSB (PIR), on July 16
Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered (1970)
Freda Payne – Band Of Gold (1970)
Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band – Scorpio (1971)

Ms. Melodie (Ramona Scott), 48, rapper, on July 18

Ossie Hibbert, 62, reggae keyboardist and producer, on July 19

Larry Hoppen, 61, singer and guitarist of soft-rock band Orleans, on July 24
Orleans – Dance With Me (1975, on lead vocals)

Sherman Hemsley, 74, jazz singer and keyboardist, actor (George Jefferson, Amen), on July 24

Big Walter Smith, 82, blues musician, on July 24

Don Bagley, 84, jazz bassist and composer, on July 26
June Christy & Stan Kenton – Easy Street (1951, on bass)

Tony Martin, 98, actor and singer, on July 27
Tony Martin & Fran Warren – I Said My Pajamas (And Put On My Pray’rs) (1949)

Darryl Cotton, 62, Australian singer with Zoot; Cotton Keays & Morris; and television host, on July 27

Geoffrey Hughes, 68, English actor, voice of Paul McCartney in Yellow Submarine, on July 27
The Beatles – Yellow Submarine In Pepperland (1968)

Bill Doss, 43, rock singer and guitarist with The Olivia Tremor Control, The Apples in Stereo; announced on July 31
The Olivia Tremor Control – Not Feeling Human (1999)

Lucio Quarantotto, 55, Italian songwriter and composer (Con te partirò), suicide on July 31

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The Originals Vol. 40

February 10th, 2011 4 comments

In the overdue return of The Originals, we’ll visit three songs that became iconic in their interpretations from the 1960s, but had been standards since the early 1930s and, in one instance, 1940s. Blue Moon and At Last debuted in movies, while Dream A Little Dream Of Me, the oldest of the three songs, would end up lending its title to a 1989 flick (and an episode of Grey’s Anatomy). Speaking of At Last, I hear that Etta James is in very poor health. Don’t forget the index of The Originals to revisit older instalments in this series. By the way, the Blue Moon discussion here will be followed later this month by a 38-song swarm of the tune.

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Shirley Ross – The Bad In Every Man (1934).mp3
Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra – Blue Moon (1934).mp3
Connie Boswell – Blue Moon (1935).mp3
The Emanons – Blue Moon (1958).mp3
The Marcels – Blue Moon (1961).mp3

It took the great songwriters Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers four attempts to arrive at the version of the song most people will know from the versions by The Marcels, Elvis Presley, Mel Tormé (my favourite, from 1961) or from the film Grease.

Rodgers and Hart originally wrote the song, with different lyrics, for a 1933 MGM film titled Hollywood Party, to be sung by Jean Harlow. The song, going by the working title Prayer (Oh Lord, Make Me A Movie Star), was never recorded, nor did Harlow appear in the film.

The following year, the songwriters dug up the song when MGM needed a number for the film Manhattan Melodrama, starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and William Powell. It was that movie, incidentally, which the bank robber John Dillinger watched before stepping out of the Chicago cinema to meet his death at the enthusiastic hands of law enforcement. With new lyrics, the song now was called It’s Just That Kind Of Play – and was cut from the movie. However, later in the production, a song was needed for a nightclub scene. Rogers decided that the melody was still good, and Hart wrote a third set of lyrics, under the title The Bad In Every Man. This one made it into the film, sung by Shirley Ross (pictured right), who would go on to work and sing with Bob Hope on film a few times before retiring in 1945.

By now, MGM had appreciated the commercial potential for the melody, but wanted more romantic lyrics. Enter Lorenz Hart again, reluctantly providing a fourth set of words — those we are now familiar with. But even then, an introductory verse was excised, which proved a good decision. Blue Moon was first recorded on 16 November 1934 by Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra (named after the hotel where they once had a standing engagement), with the band’s saxophonist Kenny Sargent on vocals. Four days later, Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra recorded it, and from there on in, a host of performers and orchestras committed the song to record. The biggest hit of these was the version by Connie Boswell with the Victor Young Orchestra, recorded on 15 January 1935 as the theme for the radio show Hollywood Hotel (Boswell changed her first name to Connee only in the 1940s).

After a flurry of versions (including by Benny Goodman, Django Reinhardt and Al Bowlly), Blue Moon was intermittently recorded and also appeared in several movies, including as part of a Harpo interlude in the Marx Brothers’ 1939 film At The Circus. In the 1940s and ’50s it was mainly a jazz number, as an instrumental or in vocal versions, by the likes of Mel Tormé (who first recorded it in 1949), Ella Fitzgerald and Jo Stafford. Arguably it was Elvis Presley’s sombre 1956 version thast appeared on his debut LP that returned Blue Moon to the world of popular music (the single of it was released between Hound Dog and Blue Suede Shoes). Sam Cooke released his version in 1958, as a b-side. It became a huge hit in the version by the multiracial doo wop band The Marcels, whose recording is probably the best known of the song.

As so often with popular covers that became huge hits, The Marcels recorded Blue Moon in 1961 as an afterthought. Producer Stu Phillips needed another song, one of the band members knew Blue Moon and taught it to the others, and in a matter of two takes the track had been laid down. The bom-bapa-bom intro came from a song the Marcels had in their live repertoire, which in turn was borrowed and sped up from The Collegians’ song Zoom Zoom Zoom.  The Marcels were not the first to produce a doo wop version of Blue Moon, however: in 1956 The Emanons released a doo wop take on Josie Records.

The success of Blue Moon and follow-up single Heartaches (also a cover of a 1930s hit; they did a lot of that) led to extra touring for The Marcels. But in the South the band’s racial composition produced problems; those were the days when the dignified Nat ‘King’ Cole was prone to assault racists. Ultimately, the two white members of the quintet left the group.

When Rod Stewart recorded Blue Moon for his interminable series of American Songbook albums, he added something of as twist: a first verse in Rodgers and Hart’s original composition of Blue Moon which everybody else has ignored.

The Blue Moon Song Swarm planned for later this month will feature several of the versions mentioned above and listed below.

Also recorded by: Frankie Trumbauer & his Orchestra (1934), Benny Goodman with Helen Ward (1935), Ray Noble with Al Bowlly (1935), Django Reinhardt (1935), Belle Baker (1935), Greta Keller (1935), Coleman Hawkins (1935), Tommy Dorsey & his Orchestra  (1939), Gene Krupa (1939), Charlie and his Orchestra (1943), The Cozy Cole All Stars (1944), Vaughn Monroe (1945), Georgie Auld & his Orchestra (1946), Mel Tormé (1949), Billy Eckstine (1949), Billie Holiday (1952), Eri Chiemi (1952), Jo Stafford (1952), Dizzy Gillespie (1954), Oscar Peterson Trio (1954), Blossom Dearie (1955), Louis Armstrong (1955), Art Tatum (1955), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Julie London (1958), Sam Cooke (1958), Russell Garcia & Roy Eldridge (1958), Mel Tormé (1960), Bert Kaempfert Orchester (1960), Billy Taylor (1960), Conway Twitty (1960), Frank Sinatra (1961), Art Blakey Jazz Messengers (1962), The Ventures (1961), Cliff Richard & The Shadows (1961), Bobby Vinton (1963), Dean Martin (1964), Liza Minnelli (1964), Amalia Rodrigues (1965), Thyfonerne (as Desert Walk, 1965), The Supremes (1967), Bob Dylan (1970), Lee Perry’s Upsetters (1971), Sha Na Na (1971), Tony Bennett & Ella Fitzgerald (1973), Showaddywaddy (1974), Mud (1974), Spooky & Sue  (1975), Gene Summers (1975), Robert de Niro & Mary Kay (1977), Cornell Campbell (1979), César Camargo Mariano (1983), Elkie Brooks (1984), New Edition (1986), Cowboy Junkies (1988), Herb Ellis & Red Mitchell (1989), Mark Isham with by Tanita Tikaram (1990), Isabelle Aubret (1991), Daniel Ash (1991), Message (1993), Chris Isaak (1994), Bengt Hallberg (1994),Tommy Emmanuel (1995), Mina (1995), The Mavericks (1995), Estrada Brothers (1996), Less Than Jake (1996), Da Vinci’s Notebook (1997), The Huntingtons (1997), MxPx (1997), Vidal Brothers (as part of medley, 1997), Course of Empire (1998), Samantha Mumba (2002), John Alford (2002), Tommy Emmanuel CGP (2005), Rod Stewart featuring Eric Clapton (2004), My Morning Jacket (2006), Orange and Lemons (2006), Ann Hampton Callaway (2006), Helmut Lotti (2007), Joe Robinson (2007) a.o.

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Glenn Miller Orchestra – At Last (1942).mp3
Ray Anthony with Tom Mercer – At Last (1952).mp3
Nat ‘King’ Cole – At Last (1957).mp3
Etta James – At Last (1960).mp3
Stevie Wonder – At Last (1969).mp3

When Beyoncé Knowles was invited to sing At Last — Barack and Michelle’s special song — at one of the many Obama inauguration events in January 2009, Etta James was not best pleased. The veteran soul singer stated her dislike for the younger singer, who had portrayed Etta in the film about the Chess label, Cadillac Records. “That woman; singing my song, she gonna get her ass whupped,” James declared (she later relegated her outburst to the status of a “joke”).

It is her song, of course, certainly in the form covered so competently by Beyoncé. But many people recorded it before her, and it was a hit at least twice. The first incarnation came in the 1941 movie Orchestra Wives, in which it was performed by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, who also recorded the first version to be released on record on 20 May 1942. Doing vocal duties were Ray Eberle and Pat Friday. A month later, Miller fired Eberle for being late for a gig; the hapless singer had been stuck in traffic. Written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren (they also wrote Chattanooga Choo Choo, and Warren wrote hits such as That’s Amoré and I Only Have Eyes For You), At Last — with I’ve Got A Gal In Kalamazoo on the flip side (and, it seems, nominal A-side) — was a #9 hit for Miller.

At Last became a hit again ten years later, for Ray Anthony with Tom Mercer on vocals. This version is typical 1950s easy listening fare, done much better in 1957 by Nat ‘King’ Cole (who tended to do music much better than most people).

In 1960 Etta James recorded the song, with Phil and Leonard Chess producing with a view to accomplishing crossover success (the same year she contributed backing vocals on labelmate Chuck Berry’s Back In The USA). Her version, released on Chess subsidiary Argo, was a #2 R&B hit in 1961, but crossover success was limited, reaching only #47 in the pop charts. Over the years it did manage to cross over, being especially popular at weddings. As a result, it has been covered prodigiously, by soul singers (such as the wonderful Laura Lee and, in a gloriously upbeat version, Stevie Wonder), folk legends (Joni Mitchell) and difficult listening merchants (Céline Dion, Michael F. Bolton and Kenny G) alike.

Also recorded by: Connie Haines (1942), Geraldo and his Orchestra (1942), Miles Davis (1953), Chet Baker (1953), The Four Freshmen (1960), Baby Face Willette (1961), Lloyd Price (1961), Urbie Green (1961), Ben E. King (1962), Shirley Scott (1962), Brenda Lee (1963), Judy Garland (1964), Mary Wells (1964), Doris Day (1965), Baby Washington (1968), Stevie Wonder (1969), Laura Lee (1972), Randy Crawford (1977), The Fatback Band (1978), Ella Fitzgerald (1983), Lou Rawls & Dianne Reeves (1989), Phoebe Snow (1991), Diane Schuur & B.B. King (1994), Michelle Willson (1994), Stevie Nicks (1999), Günther Neefs (1999), Joni Mitchell (2000), Eva Cassidy (2000), Monica Mancini (2000), David McLeod (2000), Mary Coughlan (2002), Celine Dion (2002), Mary Coughlan (2002), Julia DeMato (2003), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Christina Aguilera (2003), Lavelle White (2003), Julia DeMato (2003), Michael Bolton (2004), The Frank Collett Trio (2005), Kenny G. feat Arturo Sandoval (2005), Michael Feinstein & George Shearing (2005), Raul Malo (2006), Aretha Franklin (2007), Ida Sand (2007), Beyoncé (2008), Kevin Michael (2009), Jaimee Paul (2009), Lynda Carter (2009), Daphne Loves Derby (2009), Stephanie Lapointe (2009), Stacey Solomon (2010), Liza Minnelli (2010), Brandy (2010), Paloma Faith (2010), a.o

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Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra – Dream A Little Dream Of Me (1931).mp3
Doris Day – Dream A Little Dream Of Me (1957).mp3
Mama Cass – Dream A Little Dream Of Me (1968).mp3
The Beautiful South – Les Yeux Ouverts (1995).mp3

Dream A Little Dream Of Me is one of those songs where one cannot pinpoint a definitive performance or hit version. To some, it’s Mama Cass’ song. Others will remember it as Frankie Laine’s or Ella Fitzgerald’s song. Sign me up to the former group.

Written by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt — there are claims that one Milton Adolphus wrote it —with lyrics by Gus Kahn (whose My Baby Just Cares For Me we encountered in The Originals Vol. 24), it was first recorded on 16 February 1931 by Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra, with Ozzie on vocals and Jack Teagarden on trombone, beating Wayne King’s orchestra by two days.  Ozzie, who had a radio and then TV show with his wife Harriet Hilliard and two sons — the late rock & roll singer Ricky Nelson and the TV producer David, who died in January — got his break in 1930 when as an unknown he won a popularity poll by the New York Daily News. Realising that kiosk vendors claimed for unsold newspapers with only the torn-off front page, Ozzie and pals picked up the discarded newspapers and filled in the poll forms in their favour. The ruse worked, and throughout the 1930s, Ozzie and his orchestra enjoyed a fine run of success — even if their version of Dream A Little Dream Of Me was not a hit.

The song seems to have maintained a presence in many concert repertoires. Kate Smith is said to have used the song, which she recorded in 1931, as a signature tune.  But it made a big comeback with the versions by Laine and Fitzgerald only in 1950. It made the rounds in the jazz and easy listening circles, but it required the death of one of its co-writers to cross over into pop.

Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas grew up knowing Fabian André as a family friend. When he died in 1967, after falling down an elevator shaft, she (or possibly Cass Elliott) proposed that the band record the song Michelle remembered from her childhood. A decision was made that Cass should sing it solo, and when the song was released as a single, it was credited in the US to Mama Cass with the Mamas and the Papas (elsewhere just to Mama Cass). A re-recorded version also appeared on Cass’ debut album, not coincidentally titled Dream A Little Dream.  Do check out Doris Day’s version; aside from Cass’ gorgeous interpretation it is my favourite.

Also recorded by: Wayne King and his Orchestra (1931), Kate Smith (1931), Nat ‘King’ Cole Trio (ca 1948), Ella Fitzgerald (1950), Frankie Laine (1950), Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald With Sy Oliver and His Orchestra (1950), Jack Owens (1950), Joe Newman Octet (1955), Doris Day (1957), Bing Crosby (1957), Dean Martin (1959), Tony Martin (1960), Joni James (1962), Enoch Light (1967), Tony Mottola with The Groovies (1968), Anita Harris (1968), Sylvie Vartan (as Nostalgy and Les Yeux Ouverts, 1969), Henry Mancini (1969), Mills Brothers (1969), Mickey Thomas & Mel Tormé (1989), Enzo Enzo (as Les yeux ouverts, 1990), Laura Fygi (1991), Micky Dolenz (1991), Maria Muldaur and Friends (1992), Gerry Mulligan Quartet (1994), The Beautiful South (two versions in 1995), Terry Hall & Salad (1995), Chicago (1995), Sharon, Lois & Bram (1995), Flying Pickets (1996), Candye Kane (1998), Denny Doherty (1999), Ephemera (2000), Gene Nery (2000), Tony Bennett & k.d. lang (2002), Molly Ryan (2002), Rozz Williams (2003), My Morning Jacket (2004), Anne Murray (2004), Béraud and the Birds (2004), Bucky Pizzarelli & Frank Vignola (2005), Dala (2005), Arielle Dombasle (2006), Diana Krall (2007), Blind Guardian (2007), Claw Boys Claw (2008), Jimmy Demers (2008), Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester (2008), Helen Schneider (2008), Mark Weber (2008), Matthieu Boré (2009), Nicole Atkins (2009), Erasure (2009), Michael Bublé (2010), OC Times (2010), Glee (sung by Arti, 2010) a.o.

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 39

August 6th, 2010 7 comments

Here are five more lesser-known originals, covered in four entries: Wild Thing, Sunny, Angel Of The Morning, Under The Influence Of Love and It May Be Winter Outside. Incidentally, look at the tabs on top to find an alphabetical index of Originals that have featured so far, with links to the relevant posts.

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The Wild Ones – Wild Thing (1965).mp3
The Troggs – Wild Thing (1966).mp3
Senator Bobby – Wild Thing (1968)
Jimi Hendrix – Wild Thing.mp3
Marsha Hunt – Wild Thing (1971).mp3

One of rock’s most iconic songs was written by actor Jon Voight’s younger brother,  James Wesley, who took the name Chip Taylor. He had a prolific songwriting career before turning to recording records himself in 1971 as a country artist. The first version of Wild Thing, by the New York band The Wild Ones, was released in 1965. Headed by one Jordan Christopher, they are said to have been the houseband of what has been called New York’s first disco, The Office. Taylor wrote Wild Thing for them as a favour for A&R man Gerry Granagan.

It’s not very good, certainly not in comparison to The Troggs version, which replaced the Wild Ones’ whistle interlude with an ocarina solo (the ocarina is an ancient ceramic wind instrument). Taylor has recalled that he wrote the song in a few minutes (“the pauses and the hesitations are a result of not knowing what I was going to do next”) and had a low opinion of it. Likewise, The Troggs recorded it in 20 minutes, during the same session that produced their follow-up hit With A Girl Like You. They worked from Taylor’s demo, rather than the Wild Ones’ version.  Due to a licensing issue, The Troggs’ version of Wild Thing was released on two labels, Fontana and Atco. It is the only time a record has topped the US charts under the simultaneous banner of two labels.

Wild Thing was covered frequently after that. Jimi Hendrix famously set his guitar on fire at Monterey after playing his version of it. In 1968 the comedy troupe The Hardly Worthit Players released a version of Wild Thing being performed by “Bobby Kennedy”, with a producer giving him instructions. Robert F Kennedy was voiced by the comedian Bill Minkin (it’s a myth that it was Jon Voight). That novelty record  was one of the last releases by the Cameo-Parkway label, a noteworthy footnote in light of the next song. Marsha Hunt’s version featured on the Covered In Soul Vol 2 mix.

Also recorded by: The Capitols (1966), The Standells (1966), The Kingsmen (1966), Manfred Mann (1966), Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band (1967), The Memphis Three (1968), Fancy (1974), The Goodies (1976), The Runaways (1977), The Creatures (1981), The Meteors (1983), X (1984), Cold Chisel (1984), La Muerte (1984), Sister Carol (1986), Amanda Lear (1987), Unrest (1987), Sam Kinison with Jessica Hahn (1988), Cheap Trick (1992), Divinyls (1993), Stoned Age (1994), Hank Williams, Jr (1995), The Muppets (1995), Acid Drinkers (1995), Chip Taylor (1996), Popa Chubby (1996), Danny and the Nightmares (1999), Sky Sunlight Saxon (2008), Trash Cans (2010)

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Evie Sands – Angel Of The Morning (1967).mp3
Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts  – Angel Of The Morning (1968).mp3
P.P. Arnold – Angel Of The Morning (1968).mp3
Skeeter Davis  – Angel Of The Morning (1969).mp3
Nina Simone – Angel Of The Morning (1971).mp3
Juice Newton – Angel of the Morning (1981).mp3

The one-night stand anthem was also written by Chip Taylor (perhaps the angel of the morning was last night’s wild thing). Indeed, he told Mojo magazine in its September 2008 edition that Angel is Wild Thing slowed down: “I heard some guy playing Wild Thing real slow on a guitar. It sounded nice. So I did the same, lifting one of my fingers off a chord to create a suspension.” He also credited the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday for inspiration.

The song was first recorded in 1967 by New York singer-songwriter Evie Sands (pictured), for whom Taylor wrote several songs (he also wrote I Can’t Let Go for her; it became a hit for The Hollies). It was on its way to becoming a hit, with good radio airplay and 10,000 copies selling fast. Then the label, Cameo-Parkway (of the Bobby Kennedy novelty record above) went bankrupt, and Sands’ record sank. A few months later, Memphis producer Chips Moman picked up Angel Of The Morning (which in the interim had also been recorded by English singer Billie Davies) and had the unknown Merrilee Rush record it, backed by the same session crew that played with Elvis during his famous Memphis sessions that produced hits such as Suspicious Minds (itself a cover, as detailed in The Orignals Vol. 21). The Seattle-born singer had a massive hit with it, even receiving a Grammy nomination. It soon was covered prodigiously, with P.P. Arnold scoring a UK hit with it in 1968.

Angel Of The Morning was revived in 1981 by Juice Newton, who previously featured in The Originals Vol. 26 with her cover of Queen Of Hearts.  Her version sold a million copies in the US and reached #4 in the US charts. Like Rush, Newton was Grammy-nominated for her performance.

Also recorded by: Billie Davis (1967), Joya Landis (1968), Percy Faith (1968), Ray Conniff (1968), Liliane Saint Pierre (as Au revoir et à demain, 1968), I Profeti (as Gli occhi verdi dell’amore, 1968), Dusty Springfield (1969), Skeeter Davis (1969), Bettye Swann (1969), Connie Eaton (1970), Olivia Newton-John (1973), Merrilee Rush (re-recording, 1977), Guys n’ Dolls (1977), Mary Mason (as part of a medley, 1977), Thelma Jones (1978), Rita Remington (1978), Melba Montgomery (1978), Pat Kelly (1978), Elisabeth Andreassen (as En enda morgon, 1981), The Tremeloes (1987), Barnyard Slut (1993), Chip Taylor (1994), The Pretenders (1994), Ace Cannon (1994), Position (1997), Juice Newton (re-recording, 1998), Bonnie Tyler (1998), Thunderbugs (1999), Shaggy (as Angel, 2000), Maggie Reilly (2002), Blackman & The Butterfly (2003), The Shocker (2003), Chip Davis & Carrie Rodriguez (2006), Girlyman (2007), Jill Johnson (2007), Vagiant (2007), Gypsy Butterfly (2008), Barb Jungr (2008), Michelle (2008), Randy Crawford with Joe Sample (2008), Iván (as Angel de la mañana, 2009)

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Felice Taylor – It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart It’s Spring) (1967).mp3
Felice Taylor – I’m Under The Influence Of Love (1967).mp3
Love Unlimited – It May Be Winter Outside, But In My Heart It’s Spring (1973).mp3
Love Unlimited – Under The Influence Of Love (1973).mp3

Before becoming an icon of baby-making music, Barry White was something of an impresario. He discovered and produced the girl band Love Unlimited (which included White’s future wife Glodean James), whose success in 1972 set him off on his successful solo career. Just a decade or so earlier, White had been in jail for stealing the tyres of a Cadillac (he credited hearing Elvis Presley singing It’s Now Or Never for turning his life around). After leaving jail, he started to work in record production, mostly as an arranger. Among his early arrangement credits was Bob & Earl’s 1963 song Harlem Shuffle. By 1967, White worked for the Mustang label, owned by Rob Keane, the man who first signed Sam Cooke, Richie Valens and Frank Zappa. In that job, White wrote for Bobby Fuller (of I Fought The Law fame), Viola Wills and  a young soul singer named Felice Taylor.

Felice Taylor, born in 1948 in Richmond, California, had previously released a single as part of a trio with her sisters, The Sweets, and a solo single under the name Florian Taylor. White’s It May Be Winter Outside provided Taylor with her only US hit, reaching #42 in the pop charts. It is a rather lovely version that sounds a lot like a Supremes song (with a break stolen from the Four Tops’ Reach Out I’ll Be There). White also wrote and arranged Taylor’s I’m Under The Influence Of Love. The arrangement and Taylor’s vocals are inferior, and the single failed to make an impact. Taylor’s biggest success was with another White song, I Feel Love Comin’ On, a bubblegum pop number that reached #11 in the UK charts in late 1967.

By the early 1970s Taylor had ceased to record. In 1973 Love Unlimited recorded totally reworked, luscious versions of It May Be Winter Outside and (title shortened) Under The Influence Of Love for the sophomore album. Both were released as singles, with Winter reaching #11 in the UK charts.

Also recorded by: (Under The Influence) Lori Hampton (1968), Kylie Minogue (2000)

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Mieko Hirota – Sunny (1965).mp3
Chris Montez – Sunny (1966).mp3
Bobby Hebb – Sunny (1966).mp3
Dusty Springfield – Sunny (1967).mp3
Johnny Rivers –  Sunny (1967).mp3
Stevie Wonder – Sunny (1968).mp3
Boney M. – Sunny (1976).mp3

Bobby Hebb died on Tuesday, August 3 at the age of 72. The man had a quite remarkable early life. Born to blind parents, both musicians, Nashville-born Robert Von Hebb progressed from being a child musician to becoming  one of the earlier musicians to play at the Grand Ole Opry, as part of Ray Acuff’s band. In the early 1960s Hebb even had a minor hit with a country standard recorded by Acuff, among others, Night Train To Memphis. Subsequently, afer the success of Sunny, he headlined the 1966 Beatles tour.

The genesis for Sunny was in a dual tragedy: the assassination of John F Kennedy and soon after  the fatal stabbing in a mugging of Hebb’s older brother Harold, with whom he had performed in childhood. The song was a conscious statement of meeting the trauma of these events with a defiantly positive disposition. In 2007, he told the Assiociated Press about writing Sunny: “I was intoxicated. I came home and started playing the guitar. I looked up and saw what looked like a purple sky. I started writing because I’d never seen that before.”

Still, it would be almost three years before Hebb would release the song himself. It was first recorded by the Japanese singer Mieko “Miko” Hirota who made her debut in her home country in 1962 with a cover of Connie Francis’ Vacation. Within three years, the by now 18-year-old singer became the first Japanese artist to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival (the line-up of which included Frank Sinatra), having just recently discovered her talent for the genre thanks to a chance meeting with American jazz promoter  George Wein. The same year, in October 1965, she was the first of many to release Sunny, scoring a hit with it in Japan with her rather lovely jazzy version. By the time Hebb got around to releasing it, apparently having recorded it as an after-thought at the end of a session, there already were a few versions, including Chris Montez’s featured here. Hebb’s rightly became the definitive and most successful version, though Boney M scored a huge hit with it in Europe ten years later.

Also recorded by: John Schroeder Orchestra (1966), Cher (1966), Chris Montez (1966), Del Shannon (1966), Dave Pike (1966), Georgie Fame (1966), The Young-Holt Trio (1966), Roger Williams (1966), Richard Anthiny (1966), James Darren (1967), Horacio Malvicino (1967), Billy Preston (1967), Herbie Mann & Tamiko Jones (1967), Johnny Mathis (1967), Andy Williams (1967), Sam Baker (1967), John Davidson (1967), The Amazing Dancing Band (1967), Jackie Trent (1967), Booker T. & The M.G.’s (1967), Gordon Beck (1967), Joe Torres (1967), Nancy Wilson (1967), Dusty Springfield (1967), The Ventures (1967), Shirley Bassey (1968), Eddy Arnold (1968), Leonard Nimoy (1968), Frankie Valli (1968), José Feliciano (1968), Bill Cosby (1968), Mary Wells (1968), Frank Sinatra & Duke Ellington (1968), Paul Mauriat (1968), Gary Lewis & the Playboys (1968), Stevie Wonder (1968), Ray Conniff (1968), George Nenson (1968),  The Head Shop (1969), Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (1969), The Electric Flag (1969), Classics IV (1969), Ray Nance (1969), The Lettermen (1969), Ella Fitzgerald (1970), Del Shannon (1971), Pat Martino (1972), Bobby Hebb (as Sunny ’76, 1975), Hampton Hawes (1976), Boney M. (1976), Stanley Jordan (1987), Cosmoalpha (1994), Günther Neefs (1997), Ottottrio (1998), Kazuo Yashiro Trio (2000), Clementine (2000), Twinset (2003), Christophe Willem (2006), Michael Sagmeister (2006), Dwight Adams (2007), Cris Barber (2008), Giuliano Palma & the Bluebeaters (2009) a.o.

More Originals

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Copy, borrow, steal: Rikki’s number & Sibelius’ swans

July 29th, 2009 12 comments

Few things at once delight and annoy the music fan as much as spotting a melody, a riff or a lyric lifted from another song. The delight resides in the act of knowing; the more obscure the source, the greater the pleasure. The irritation rests in the suspicion that an artist we admire has committed an act of plagiarism. How can one listen now to many Led Zeppelin classics knowing that Page and Plant didn’t just draw inspiration from other people’s composition, but irrefutably plagiarised artists they claimed to admire, and not give them a credit (except, belatedly, under the duress of legal action)?

Not all similarities in songs are plagiarism, of course. Some reference another piece of music with a knowing nod and a wink, as George Harrison did when he too inspiration from the Ed Hawkins Singers’ Oh Happy Day for My Sweet Lord (of course, we can’t sounds_like_teen_spiritknow to what extent he knowingly plagiarised the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine — see here for more on that). It is quite possible that more than one people might have had the same good idea (it might well be that somebody has written this exact sentence before me in a similar context). It is plausible that a melody, riff or hook heard a long time ago has worked itself into the composer’s subconscious, and thus internalised emerges as something original, or at least presumed original. When Paul McCartney woke up with the melody for Yesterday in his head, he asked anyone who’d listen whether it sounded familiar to them. It didn’t. McCartney was scrupulous in ascertaining that the idea was indeed his. Not everybody is.

Timothy English wrote a fascinating book on songs that copy, borrow and steal, titled Sounds Like Teen Spirit (Website and Buy), which inspires this new series. And I will liberally draw ideas from it (having been in contact with Timothy I know he won’t mind). And since this blog is named after a Steely Dan song from the Pretzel Logic album, it seems right that this new series should kick off with a song from that album. The second segment does not feature in Sounds Like Teen Spirit, the scope of which excluded reference to works from the world of classical music.

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Horace Silver – Song For My Father.mp3
Steely Dan – Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.mp3
Stevie Wonder – Don’t You Worry ’Bout A Thing.mp3

horace_silverYes, Steely Dan’s biggest hit borrows liberally. The opening keyboard riff that runs throughout the song was lifted was lifted from the title track of jazz legend Horace Silver’s 1964 album, released on Blue Note (and featuring Silver’s Cape Verde-born father on the cover). Silver was a pioneer of the percussive hard bop form of jazz, but Song For My Father, written after a visit to Brazil, has more of a funky bossa nova vibe.

Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker famously fused their jazz sensibilities with their rock direction, so it seems appropriate that their biggest hit, reaching #4 in the US, should have borrowed from a jazz classic. Evidently sampling a riff so faithfully, even from a piece regarded by many as a classic, did not qualify its creator for a co-writer credit: Horace Silver is not credited on Rikki Don’t Lose That Number. The titular Rikki, incidentally, may be the writer Rikki Ducornet, who claims that Fagen, whom she knew in college, once did giver her his number at a party (Fagen has not commented).

Had Silver sued Steely Dan, he probably would have won. Writers have secured credits for much less (and others have gotten away with much more!). He also might have succeeded in litigating against Stevie Wonder’s use of Song For My Father’s horn riff as an inspiration for the melody of 1973’s Don’t You Worry ’Bout A Thing.

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Sibelius – 5th Symphony 3rd Movement.mp3
The First Class – Beach Baby.mp3
Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday.mp3

first_classOnly nostalgists and one-hit wonder devotees might remember The First Class or Strawberry Switchblade. Beach Baby was The First Class’ only hit, in 1974. The First Class was one of the names under which British singer Tony Burrows and songwriters John Carter and Ken Lewis released some of their songs. While Beach Baby was The First Class’ only hit, Lewis and Carter were behind other one hit wonders. They were the Flowerpot Men, who had a solitary hit with Let’s Go To San Francisco in 1967, while Burrows fronted Edison Lighthouse, who had a massive hit in 1970 with Love Goes Where My Rosemary Goes, as well as with White Plains (My Baby Loves Lovin’) and Brotherhood Of Men before they hit the Eurovision trail. Carter had previously also enjoyed chart success as a founder-member of The Ivy League (Tossin’ And Turnin’).

strawberry_switchbladeStrawberry Switchblade, one of the few acts I ever caught live before they had a hit (The Housemartins and R.E.M. are the others; besides them, I was a jinx to every unknown act I saw), emerged from Glasgow’s punk scene to make some beautiful pop in the mid-‘80s, produced by John Deacon of Queen (so much for the punk revolution). Since Yesterday was released in November 1984, but hit the UK top 5 only in February 1985. They released only one LP and a couple of singles in Japan before splitting and disappearing.

Sibelius thinks about another pop riff.

Jean Sibelius contemplates creating another pop riff.

As the attentive reader may have worked out, both pop songs sample from Sibelius 5th symphony. The horn riff that opens Since Yesterday so gorgeously appeared a decade earlier in an interlude on Beach Baby (at 3:05) which unashamedly and deliberately recreates the sound of the Beach Boys, producing a rather good pastiche.

Jean Sibelius wrote his 5th Symphony in 1915 at the request of the Finnish government which wanted to mark the composer’s 50th birthday by declaring it a public holiday. It was revised twice, and it is the final revision from 1919 that is most commonly performed. Sibelius said the recurring horn motif which the two pop bands would adopt more than half a century later was inspired by the sound of swan calls. For both acts, the songs that used Sibelius’ swan call represented — and you know that I can never resist a criminally bad pun — their swansong.

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More Copy Borrow Steal

The Originals Vol. 23

May 1st, 2009 4 comments

This time, we’re looking at the originals (and, in some cases, more than one covers) of For Once In My Life, Dancing In The Moonlight, Money’s Too Tight (To Mention), Georgia On My Mind and Rainy Night In Georgia.

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Jean DuShon – For Once In My Life (1966).mp3
Barbara McNair – For Once In My Life (1966).mp3
Stevie Wonder – For Once In My Life (1967/68).mp3

Jean DuShon

Jean DuShon

Ron Miller and Orlando Murden were staff writers for the Jobete publishing company which was owned by Motown. In 1966 they wrote For Once In My Life, but were still struggling with it. Miller asked the little-known singer, signed to Chess Records but then performing in a nightclub, singer Jean DuShon to work with him on the vocal arrangement. He was so impressed with DuShon’s interpretation that he had her record and release the record on Chess. Sadly Chess didn’t promote the record (some say due to pressure by Motown boss Berry Gordy), and it flopped. Hearing that the songwriters had given the song to a non-Motown artist, Berry Gordy insisted that it be immediately recorded by an act on his label. The song was given to Barbara McNair (whose stint at Motown was brief and who never was a priority for Gordy), and over the next few months was recorded by non-Motown artists, including Tony Bennett, who had a minor pop but decent easy listening charts hit with it.

steviewonder_foronceMotown regularly produced the same songs by different artists. In summer 1967, the Temptations recorded For Once In My Life, and included their take — like all the others, read as a ballad — in their live repertoire. At about the same time Stevie Wonder, still a teenager, gave it an exuberant, uptempo treatment. Gordy didn’t like Stevie’s versions and declined to release it. When, at the bidding of Billie Jean Brown, head of Motown’s Quality Control Department (!), it was released as a single (and title song of Stevie’s new LP) in late 1968, it became a massive hit, peaking at #2 (topping the charts was another Motown hit Gordy had previously vetoed, Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine).

Ron Miller wrote other hits for Stevie Wonder: Heaven Help Us All, Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday, and A Place In The Sun. But before Stevie had a hit with For Once In My Life, it was considered Tony Bennett’s song. When Ella Fitzgerald introduced it on her 1968 Live in Berlin album (recorded before Stevie’s version was issued), she described it as Bennett’s song. A few years ago, Bennett and Wonder finally sang the song together, on the former’s album of duets. The pair took Grammies home for their efforts, and performed the song at the awards ceremony where Stevie dedicated it to his recently deceased mother and Bennett to…his sponsors.

Also recorded by: Barbara McNair (1966), Tony Bennett (1967, Carmen McRae (1967), Nancy Wilson (1968), Ella Fitzgerald (1968), Vikki Carr (1968), Dorothy Squires (1969), Jim Nabors (1969), Mantovani (1969), Erma Franklin (1969), Charlie Byrd (1969), Nancy Sinatra (1969), Andy Williams (1969), Slim Jim (1969), O.C. Smith (1969), Frank Sinatra (1969), Sammy Davis Jr. (1970), Bill Medley (1970), James Brown (1970), Kiki Dee (1970), Cilla Black (1970), Dean Martin (1971), John Farnham (1971), The Rance Allen Group (1973), Gladys Knight & The Pips (1973), Peter Nero (1974), Roberto Carlos (1979), Dean Martin (1986), Pia Zadora (1986), Frank Sinatra, Gladys Knight & Stevie Wonder (1994), Dionne Farris (1996), Jack Jones (1998), Patti Austin (1999), Trijntje Oosterhuis (1999), Vonda Shephered (2001), Justin Guarini (2002), Michael Bublé (2003), Natalia (2003), Harry Connick Jr (2004), Stefan Gwildis (as Es kommt eine Zeit, 2005), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Gilbert Montagné (2006), Michael McDonald (2008) a.o.


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Boffalongo – Dancing In The Moonlight (1970).mp3
King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight (1972).mp3

boffalongoWhen Toploader had a UK top 10 hit with Dancing In The Moonlight in 2000, the question of who originally recorded the song became a popular piece of trivia. Most self-appointed quiz masters got it wrong. Dancing In The Moonlight was written by Sherman Kelly of the not very successful American band Boffalongo, which recorded the song in 1970. Sherman’s brother Wells was the drummer for King Harvest (named after the song by The Band), and introduced the song to his group, which recorded it in 1972 and had their one big hit with it.

The Toploader version, which I see no cause for featuring here, was a bit of a joke in that the singer even copied the frog-in-the-mouth diction of King Harvest singer (evraburdy’s dancin’ in moonlight). The Boffalongo version, it may be noted, also features some serious drawling.

Also recorded by: Young Generation (1973), Liza Minnelli (1973), The Keane Brothers (1979), M.O.T.O. (1991), Baha Man (1994), Joe Esposito (1996), Toploader (2000), Aswad (2002), David Kitt (2005), Orleans (2005), Jack Wagner (2005) a.o.
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The Valentine Brothers – Money’s Too Tight (To Mention) (1982).mp3
Simply Red – Money’s Too Tight (To Mention) (1985).mp3

valentine-brothersThe lyrics of this song have recovered pertinence in the aftermath of greedy capitalist bastards selling the world economy down the toilet. The economy was not in a great state in the early ’80s, so money was pretty tight then.

Money’s Too Tight To Mention was Simply Red’s breakthrough hit in the summer of 1985, creating what seemed to be a fresh take on an old soul number. It was, in fact, a cover of a song barely three years old (the Reaganomics reference, of course, hints at that). But even in its original form, the track sounds like a ’60s throwback, musically and lyrically. The narrative borrows from down-on-luck numbers such as Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come (absent the trace of optimism), and musically you can imagine Otis Redding singing it. Simply Red’s take is not wildly different from the funkier Valentine Brothers’ version. And the iconic exclamation, “Cut-back!” is there in the original.

The Valentine Brothers, a duo from Ohio (one of whom, Billy, had been a member of jazz trio Young-Holt Unlimited), never enjoyed much success, their career fizzling out after a couple of albums. Billy Valentine still seems to be recording and writing. I’ve once read that, happily, the brothers didn’t sell the right to Money’s Too Tight, which will have brought in a fair amount of royalties.

Also recorded by: Nobody I could find
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Hoagy Carmichael – Georgia On My Mind (1930).mp3
Mildred Bailey – Georgia On My Mind (1931).mp3
Billie Holiday – Georgia On My Mind (1941).mp3
Ray Charles – Georgia On My Mind (1960).mp3

hoagy-georgia-on-my-mindGeorgia On My Mind was a standard long before Ray Charles recorded it, but when he did, he made the song his own. It was written by Hoagy Carmichael and lyricist Stuart Gorrell in 1930. The Georgia of the title was originally intended to refer to Hoagy’s sister, but realising that the words could apply also to the southern US state, Carmichael and Gorrell were happy to keep things ambiguous. The plan worked: the song was a massive hit especially in the South, and since 1979 it has been the state song of Georgia (a better choice than the tourist-unfriendly Rainy Night In Georgia, the loser-comes-home Midnight Train To Georgia, or the infrastructure-deficient The Lights Went Out In Georgia).

Carmichael’s version features jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. He died a few months later at 28, but Carmichael went on to enjoy a long career, and is perhaps even better known for Stardust and Heart And Soul than he is for Georgia (which he nonetheless re-recorded a few times). Frankie Trumbauer scored a hit with the song in 1931, as did Mildred Bailey with her very appealing version.

ray_charles_georgia1Ray Charles, who was born in Georgia but grew up in Florida, recorded his version in 1960, reportedly at the advice of his driver who had heard Ray sing it to himself in the car. It was an instant hit, topping the US charts, and became something of a signature tune for Ray. When Georgia adopted the song, two years before Hoagy’s death, it was Ray Charles who performed it at ceremony in Atlanta. Willie Nelson sang Georgia On My Mind at Ray’s funeral.

Also recorded by: Frankie Trumbauer & his Orchestra (1931), Milded Bailey (1932), Louis Armstrong (1932), Gene Krupa (1941), Billie Holiday (1941), Artie Shaw & his Orchestra (1942), Fats Waller (1942), Jo Stafford (1946), Peggy Lee (1946), Frankie Laine (1953), Dean Martin (1955), Eddy Arnold (1958), Lawrence Welk (1960), Rusty Draper (1960), Oscar Peterson Trio (1962), Lou Rawls (1963), Richard Chamberlain (1963), The Righteous Brothers (1963), Jimmy Smith (1963), Jackie Wilson (1965), The Spencer Davis Group (1965), Doc Severinsen (1966), Tom Jones (1966), Gonks (1966), Wes Montgomery (1968), Anita Kerr (1968), Jerry Reed (1969), Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland (1969), James Brown (1970), Geoff & Maria Muldaur (1970), Herbie Mann (1973), Glenn Barber (1974), The Band (1976), Mike Auldridge (1976), Deep Purple (1976), Jerry Lee Lewis (1977), Jerry Lee Lewis (1977), Willie Nelson (1978), Cold Chisel (1978), Mina (1978), Willie Nelson (1980), Nat Gonella (1981), Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass (1983), Stanley Jordan (1987), Michael Fucking Bolton (1989), George Adams (1989), Maceo Parker (1992), James Brown (1992), Bobby Kimball (1993), Shirley Horn (1993), Emilio Aragón & Greta (1996), Günther Neefs (1997), Crystal Gayle (1999), Roderick Paulin (1999), Coco Schumann (1999), Boston Brass (2001), Van Morrison (2002), Booker T. & the MG’s (previously unreleased, 2003), Steve Tyrell (2003), Joeri (2004), John Scofield (2005), Nicoletta (2006), Gerald Albright (2006), Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues feat. india.arie (2006), Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis (2008), Russell Watson (2008) a.o.
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Tony Joe White – Rainy Night In Georgia (1969).mp3
Brook Benton – Rainy Night In Georgia (1970).mp3
Ray Charles – Rainy Night In Georgia (1972).mp3
Randy Crawford – Rainy Night In Georgia (1981).mp3

tony-joe-whiteLouisiana-born “swamp rocker” Tony Joe White was only19 when he wrote Rainy Night In Georgia in 1962. He didn’t release the song until seven later, and even then it was his Polk Salad Annie which grabbed all the attention (covered to good effect by Elvis). At the same time, deep-voiced soul veteran Brook Benton was looking for a hit to launch his comeback on an Atlantic subsidiary, Cottillion Records. The legendary Jerry Wexler alerted Benton to White’s song, and the singer scored a massive 1970 hit with his version, produced by the great Arif Mardin.

brook_bentonRainy Night In Georgia has been recorded many times (ex-Temptations singer David Ruffin put down a version at about the same time as Benton did; it was not released until 2004), as soul and as country songs. Ray Charles (1972) put his own blues spin on it, taking the tune to unexpected places. But my favourite version is that from 1981 by Randy Crawford, one of soul’s finest but least appreciated singers, whose clear and warm voice captures the resigned spirit of the lyrics exquisitely.

Also recorded by: Nat Stuckey (1970), Boots Randolph (1970), Johnny Rivers (1970), Ken Parker (1970), Wynn Stewart (1970), Tennessee Ernie Ford (1971), Hank Williams Jr (1974), John Holt (1977), Tony Worsley (1990), Amos Garrett (1992), Ross Hanniford Trio (1994), Sam Moore & Conway Twitty (1994), Beaucoup Blue (2005), Boozoo Bajou (2006), Hem (2006), Aaron Neville feat. Chris Botti (2006) a.o.

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More Originals

Revisiting ’60s Soul

November 29th, 2008 11 comments
I don’t think I’ve so much fun putting together an Any Major Mix as I had with this one. So much great music to choose from, so much great music I hadn’t played in a while. As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R.

This mix is not a representative overview of ’60s soul. Some essential artists are not represented here: Sam Cooke, James Brown, Temptations, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield (well, he is very much present on Major Lance’s deceptively titled track. And the Five Stairsteps, with a song released four years before their famous Ooh Ooh Child, evidently have heard a Curtis song or two before). There are some well-known tracks on here – hopefully not too obvious, though – complementing some less famous tracks. Perhaps some songs will provide surprises. Dionne Warwick takes time out from bacharaching to provide a nearly camp girl-band type song. Johnny Adams gives Release Me, most famous in its Engelbert Humperdinck rancid cheese version, the soul treatment, showing that this is in fact a great song. Read more…

Perfect Pop – Vol. 8

May 9th, 2008 3 comments

Here are a few more perfect pop records which brings the number of featured songs up up to 100 (by my rough count).

Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.mp3
This song has been covered a zillion times and by some of the finest singers ever to commit their voices to record (Sinatra, Fitzgerald). And every one of these covers has failed to translate the sweet vitality of the original. It is a shame that this gem of a song has become a muzak staple; few major songs have been as poorly understood at this one. Written when Stevie was just 20, this mid-tempo samba number seems unassuming, until you listen to Stevie’s vocal inflections and, even more carefully, the deceptively simple arrangement. This song needs no big orchestration to fix its simplicity; indeed, strings or a big band treatment poison its sweet intimacy. And this is the key: it is a loveletter, not an epic declaration. Give it an orchestra, and the sentiment is varnished with cliché. All Stevie needs is keyboard, bass, drums and percussions. And the joyous exuberance of his voice (with the help of Jim Gilstrap and Lani Groves, who sing the first verse; listen to it over earphones). Stevie sounds like he is in love, because he is: with Gloria Barley, who sings backing vocals here. And isn’t that lovely?
Best bit: “Mmm-mmm-hmmm-mmm (2:22)

Frankie Valli – Can’t Take My Eyes Of You.mp3
The Four Seasons had a number of great pop songs, but Valli’s finest moment came as a solo performer, albeit with the help of his old pals Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, who wrote this song. Can’t Take My Eyes Of You begins as a mid-tempo ballad, unremarkable except for Valli’s beautiful phrasing, frequently lagging half a note behind the beat, enunciating some vowels as if to provide an off-beat percussion. Suddenly staccato notes signal a change in tempo; jolly strings (not unlike those used on many disco records a decade later) suggest that Frankie is going to get quite excited now. And then Valli launches into a giddy chorus. He’s in love all right, but our fears that it may not be reciprocal, hinted at in the first verse (“but if you feel like I feel…”, “You’d be like heaven to touch”) are realised as the chorus tails off, and Frankie gently, anxiously asks: “let me love you”. We return to the mid-tempo verse, and are quite aware of Frankie’s doubts and that the giddiness (thanking God he’s alive) may just be the oxytocin talking.
Best bit: The way Frankie chews the final vowel in touch (2:17)

Jens Lekman – Your Are The Light.mp3
Among indie-pop fans, the Swede Jens Lekman is a semi-deity. He writes catchy, quirky tunes. His lyrics are invariably hugely entertaining, sometimes touching, sometimes off-beat. You Are The Light has a great tune, introduced by a Earth, Wind & Fire-ish clarion call and supported by a beat that seems just a little too fast for the song. The chorus is proper singalong stuff. The melody and arrangement, with its occasional blasts of horn now and harmonica there, are hugely attractive. But it is the lyrics that captivate. In the opening verse, he uses his one phone call from jail to dedicate a song to his girl (who landed him in this predicament in first place) on the radio. Later the cops are “sad” because they can’t prove his act of delinquency. This song has much by way of completely likable charm — which sets it apart from much of contemporary pop.
Best bit: The horn intro (0:01)

Matt Monro – We’re Gonna Change The World.mp3
If Barack Obama was into the British crooners of the ’60s and ’70s, he might well have adopted this as his campaign anthem. Monro, whom Sinatra described as the only British singer, might have been an easy listening merchant, but this song has a socially conscious edge which was not usually reflected in the genre, even in the late ’60s (the song itself was released in 1970). The song tells of three women, two of them going on a protest march, presumably for peace, while another sees the demonstration but doesn’t join. In the punchline, the non-joiner is a war widow, crying in her office over her dead husband. Monro’s chorus suggests that her option is the wrong one as he calls, as if from within the throng of marchers: “So, come with us, run with us! We’re gonna change the world. You’ll be amazed, so full of praise, when we’ve rearranged your world. We’re gonna change your world.” And don’t these words sum up the message Obama has been trying to sell? Add to that a wonderfully jaunty tune – try not be lifted by it – and Monro’s enthusiastic vocals, and you have a perfect campaign pop song.
Best bit: Monro nearly shouts the word “run” in his call to action (2:54)

Elvis Presley – Hound Dog.mp3
Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog.mp3
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote Hound Dog as teenagers for Big Mama Thornton, apparently in ten minutes. Meditate on that for a minute. A couple of teenagers write what will become a timeless classic for an intimidating blues singer, and do the job in ten minutes. The way Thornton sings it is the way the composers conceived it. Hound Dog became a local hit, and inspired a plagiarised response song, which turned out to be the first ever record released by Sun Records, Sam Phillips’ label which would go on to produce Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and, of course, Elvis Presley. It took Elvis a few years to get around to Hound Dog, which had been brutalised in a series of covers which dismantled the original lyrics and added doggerel to it (such as the rabbit line) to become the nonsense we know today. In the 31rd take we know today, Elvis made no attempt to sing the lyrics, symbolised by the way he chews up the pronunciation of the title. He shouts and sneers through the song with his band rocking to the beat of the handclaps, while the Jordannaires gamely try to instill some civility over the raucous guitar solo. Guitarist Scotty Moore’s final chords are a breath of post-orgasmic release. It seems clear while Hound Dog threatened the USA’s repressed sexual morality: Elvis is fingering America’s daughters right there.
Best bit: Drum roll, Elvis groans something, and a guitar chord closes the song (2:09)

Sex Pistols – Pretty Vacant.mp3
The Sex Pistols were the poster boys for the British punk revolution; more than their music, it was their exploits and, more to the point, their image that made Middle England nervous. They swore on TV; they insulted Her Majesty with a song that was banned from radio and yet reached #2 on the UK charts (some have smelled a conspiracy to keep the Pistols off #1, to the benefit of Rod Stewart’s I Don’t Want To Talk About It); they used a naughty word in their album title (it was later established in court that “bollocks” is a non-vulgar Olde English word) . And now hear how Johnny Rotten supposedly pronounces the second syllable of the title’s second word. Ooooh, the threat. Ooooh, the publicity! The Sex Pistols invented punk as much as Elvis invented rock & roll. In many ways, they were the Spice Girls of their day: a phenomenon managed by a clever svengali, whose music was secondary to the image. That’s why Glenn Matlock, the really talented one, could be replaced by a disorientated thug who’d become the most pathetic junkie in rock history. It was all about presentation. But that also glosses over the music. While the primary sales pitch was the image, the product – the music – was very good too. For all the punk posturing, the Sex Pistols had some fine pop tunes. Other than John Lydon’s hysterically sneering delivery and the nature of the lyrics he sneered, there was little revolutionary about the Pisxtols’ music. Never Mind The Bollocks, a very well produced LP, was a harder-edged, faster version of glam rock, with an additional debt to the likes of the Kinks. Of the handful of hits, Pretty Vacant has was the best pop song. Shook your head at the glam reference? Matlock said the riff was based on Abba’s S.O.S.
Best bit: “And we don’t caaaaaaaahre” (1:44)

Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination.mp3
The Human League’s Dare probably was the most perfect pop album of its era. But when I pondered which Human League song to feature, I kept coming back to Fascination, which was a single release only. An EP featuring to mixes of Fascination came out later (it also included the excellent preceding single, Mirror Man). Fascination kicks off proper with the swirling, horn-like synth hook which runs through the song and, in the intro, instructs the listeners to get on their feet and dance. The band members take turns singing lines, including even guitarist/keyoardist Jo Callis.
Best bit: “…and so the conversation turned, until the sun went down” (1:00)

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit.mp3
Paul Anka – Smells Like Teen Spirit.mp3*
Cobain’s Pixies moment (he admitted consciously copying them) sounds as much as the uncles of grunge as it sounds like an angry glam rock song. Cobain tried to write a pop song, and succeeded. Tori Amos might have fucked it up, but when Paul Anka covered it as a big band swing number in 2005, the pop sensibilities of Teen Spirit revealed themselves from beneath the grime of discontent. The anthem of non-conformity had, by dint of its over-exposure on MTV and radio, acquired the status of conformity; much of what came after – all the “feel my pain” emo gubbins – was no more non-conformist than the industry and its hit machines Teen Spirit was railing against. Anka stripped the song of its suburban rebellion sheen, turned it into a swing song, and perpetrated an act of subversion one hopes Cobain would have approved of: turning on its head the conformity of Nirvana’s own followers. It may not be the best Nirvana song, but it certainly is their best pop song.
Best bit: Apologies for being boring, but it’s the “yay” bits (1:31)

More Perfect Pop

The Locomotion: 60s Soul – Vol. 2

December 6th, 2007 6 comments

Is everybody else feeling Christmas song overload in blogworld this year? If so, then for a bit of respite some more ’60s soul. Read more…