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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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In Memoriam May 2010

June 15th, 2010 2 comments

I realise that this is coming rather late in the month, and there has been the death of Marvin Isley in the interim. Anyway, the two big deaths in May were those of the stunning Lena Horne and heavy metal legend Ronnie James Dio. Another particularly notable death is that of country musician and songwriter Slim Bryant, who died at 101. He had one of his songs recorded by the legendary Jimmie Rodgers, who died in 1933, and played guitar on his 1932 song Mother Queen Of My Heart, and collaborated with the seminal fiddler Clayton McMichen.

Siphiwo Ntshebe, who died of tuberculosis, was a promising South African tenor, who merits inclusion by dint of having been slated to sing at the World Cup opening ceremony on June 11.

I owe the Chubby Carrier song to the marvellous Cover Me blog, which posted it on May 15, apparently unaware that Carrier had died 12 days earlier.

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Rob McConnell, 75, Canadian jazz trombonist, on May 1
Rob McConnell – My Bells (1980).mp3

Eddie Jackson, 63, founder guitarist of soul group Brenda & The Tabulations, on May 3
Brenda & The Tabulations – Dry Your Eyes (1967).mp3

Chubby Carrier, 63, American zydeco (Creole folk) musician, on May 3
Chubby Carrier – Rockin’ Robin (2001).mp3

Dave Fisher, 69, singer with folk band The Highwaymen, on May 7
The Highwaymen – Whiskey In The Jar (1962).mp3

Francisco Aguabella, 84, Cuban-born jazz percussionist, on May 7
Francisco Aguabella Orchestra – Que Mambo.mp3

Lena Horne, 92, actress and singer, on May 9
Lena Horne – Stormy Weather (1941).mp3

Ronnie James Dio, 67, heavy metal singer with Black Sabbath, Rainbow and Dio, on May 16
Ronnie James Dio – Holy Diver (1983).mp3

Hank Jones, 91, legendary jazz pianist and bandleader, on May 16
Hank Jones – I Mean You.mp3
Marilyn Monroe – Happy Birthday, Mr President.mp3
(with Jones on piano)

Larry Dale, 87, blues singer and guitarist who inspired Brian Jones, on May 19
Larry Dale – Feelin’ Alright (1955).mp3

Judy Lynn, 74, country singer and beauty queen, on May 26
Judy Lynn – Hello Mr DJ.mp3

Slim Bryant, 101, country singer-songwriter, on May 28
Jimmie Rodgers – Mother Queen Of My Heart (1932).mp3

Ali-Ollie Woodson, 58, singer with The Temptations (1984-86, and from 1988-96), on May 30
The Temptations – Treat Her Like A Lady (1984).mp3

Kevin Thomson, 56, bassist of Christian rock group Sweet Comfort Band, on May 30
Sweet Comfort Band – When I Was Alone (1977).mp3

Rubén Juárez, 62, Argentine tango singer-songwriter, on May 31
Rubén Juárez – Como dos extraños (1980).mp3

Also passing away in May:
Joëlle van Noppen, 30, singer with Dutch girl band WOW, on May 12
Beaver, 59, New Zealand jazz singer, on May 23
Paul Gray, 38, bassist of masked heavy metal group Slipknot, on May 24
Stella Nova/Steve New, 50, British guitarist and (as Steve New) member of the Rich Kids,on May 24
Siphiwo Ntshebe, 34, South African tenor, on May 25

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Curious Germany vol. 2

September 22nd, 2009 5 comments

The first instalment of German music and novelties was rather popular. So here’s another one, with a third instalment waiting.

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Marianne Rosenberg – Ich bin wie Du (1975).mp3
Rosenberg - Ich bin wie DuMuch of Eurodisco was made in West Germany, with Giorgio Moroder producing Donna Summer in Munich, and acts like the Silver Convention strutting their shiny trousers there, too. It is fair to say, however, that the German Schlager scene was not a hotbed of disco (or, indeed, anything else but banality). The exception was Marianne Rosenberg, whose sensible secretary’s hairstyle complemented her girl-next-door image. She retained the coiffure and high collar dress during her foray into disco in 1975, the splendid Ich bin wie Du (“I am like you”). The fusion of straight-lacedness and disco queenhood established Marianne as an icon in Germany’s gay scene, a position she continues to occupy today.

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Marianne Rosenberg – Mr Paul McCartney (1970).mp3
Die Beat Oma – Ich Bin die Beat Oma (1965).mp3

Rosenberg - Mr Paul McCartneyBefore she became a gay icon, a gawkier teenage Marianne Rosenberg appealed to Paul McCartney to reply to her fan letter, because no other girl likes him as much as she does. She resorts to emotional blackmail: John and Ringo and even the odd Rolling Stone would have sent her an autograph by now. But not Paul, oh no. So she has to resort to singing this song to attract his attention. There are, of course, other ways to get Paul’s attention (if not a thumbs up sign). Seven years later, in 1977, German newspapers were agog with the claims of a teenager that Mr Paul McCartney had fathered her during one of the Beatles’ stints in Hamburg. To the shock of nobody, the claims were found to be — gasp — untrue.

Five years before Marianne’s plea to Macca, there was Germany’s insane answer to the wonderful Mrs Miller. Beat Oma (The Beat Granny) based her autobiographical anthem on A Hard Day’s Night, very loosely so, intoning her credentials while aggressively hurtling across vocal keys, hitting none in the process. When she claims that she sings “everybody else against the wall”, the listener virtually feels blindfolded and condemned, hoping only that his superannuated executioner will experience a mishap of the kind depicted in Don Martin’s cartoons in Mad magazine. As the song closes, the drummer puts an end to Beat Oma’s atonal wailings with an assault on the drum kit, perhaps metaphorically beating some sense into the thoroughly charmless Oma (of course, Any Major Dude With Half A Heart disapproves of actual violence against grannies).

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Agnetha – Geh’ mit Gott (1972).mp3
Agnetha – Señor Gonzales (1968).mp3
Agnetha – Mein schönster Tag (1968)

Agnetha - Geh mit GottLast time we encountered ABBA recording in German. Before she became one of the As in the groups’ acronymised name, Agnetha Fältskog tried to realise the ambition of many Scandinavian singers of the day with a dream of musical success: breaking into the German Schlager scene. Agnetha released a batch of German singles between 1968 and 1972, most of them quite awful even by the low standards of the genre, though a couple were actually quite good. In her endeavours, Agnetha — who already had a career in Sweden but put it on hold while going for stardom in West Germany — was produced by her boyfriend, Dieter Zimmermann. Once Dieter was history, her next boyfriend, Björn, worked out better on the way to stardom.

Geh’ mit Gott was released towards the end of her futile bid at Schlager stardom. It was the German version of Ennio Morricone’s song Here’s To You (sung by Joan Baez) for the 1971 film Sacco e Vanzetti (about two Italian immigrants executed in the US for a crime they possibly didn’t commit).

Agnetha - Senor GonzalesFour years earlier, Señor Gonzales was Agnetha’s second German single. I see no reason why it shouldn’t have been a Schlager hit. It has the necessary clichéd lyrics and banal melody; it even has the faux-Mexican sound the Schlager-buying public was so fond of (though here Agnetha might have been ahead of her time; the Mexican Schlager wave peaked in 1972 with Rex Gildo’s superb Fiesta Mexicana, which I shall feature soon). The b-side to Señor Gonzales is a rather better affair. Mein schönster Tag is a country ballad which our girl sings rather well; it is a cover version of a country song, but I can’t work out what the original is. Somebody will surely tell me.

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Johnny Cash – Wer Kennt den Weg (1966).mp3
cashIn the 1960s it became common for English-speaking artists to make foreign-language recordings of their hit songs. Foremost among the European countries to offer a market for such things was West Germany. In 1966, Johnny Cash recorded I Walk The Line as Wer Kennt den Weg (alas not as Johannes Bargeld). In the early 1950s, Cash had been based as an US soldier in southern Germany. Clearly he did little in that time to benefit from the opportunity to learn German; his accent is quite appalling.

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Sandie Shaw – Einmal glücklich sein wie die Andern (1965).mp3
sandie_shawLike her compatriots Petula Clark and, to a lesser extent, Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw recorded a lot of her repertoire in German (and in French), including her epic version of Bacharach/David’s Always Something There To Remind Me. Here the title translates as “Just once to be happy like the others”. Recorded in 1965, Sandie sounds like she actually knows what she is singing. She clearly makes an effort (though towards the end the effort apparently becomes a bit too much for her), and her diction is charmingly foreign. That’s all the German public ever asked for; as noted previously, nothing could win the hearts of Germans as much as somebody butchering their languages gently.

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The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go (German version) (1964).mp3
The Temptations – Mein Girl (1964).mp3

supremesBerry Gordy could spot a marketing opportunity, and so he had the stars of his Motown roster record their big hits in various European languages, apparently singing from phonetic lyric sheets. Diana Ross makes a game attempt at it; one can understand her implorations not to be left by the addressee of the song. The Temptations take rather more relaxed view of linguistic doctrines, anticipating the German tendency to include English words as part of the conversational language. Germans are quite happy to use the word “girl” instead of Mädchen, or indeed “happy” instead of glücklich, as the Temptations do here (dear Diana is more purist about this: she actually uses the word glücklich, which must be a bit of a tongue breaker for non-German speakers).
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Millie – My Boy Lollipop (German) (1964).mp3
millieAnd another German version of an English-language hit. Millie (who sounds even more chipmunkish in German) doesn’t make an effort to translate the chief rhyme — sweet as candy/sugar dandy — into German. And how could she? “Du bist so süss wie Süssigkeiten / Du bist mein Zuckerbursche” somehow wouldn’t work well as a line of seduction. So we can forgive that. But why didn’t the songwriters bother to change the line “I love you I love you I love you so” to “Ich lieb’ dich ich lieb’ dich ich lieb’ dich so” ? That’s just lazy.

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Franz Beckenbauer – Gute Freunde kann niemand trennen (1966).mp3
Gerd Müller – Dann macht es bumm (1969).mp3

Fans of English football (or soccer, as my American friends would say) are likely to cringe at the memory of their players’ attempts at pop stardom: Kevin Keegan’s 1979 hit single Head Over Heels, or Glenn Hoddle & Chris Waddle with their 1987 #12 hit Diamond Lights, or Paul Gascoigne teaming up with Lindisfarne to belt out The Fog On The Tyne (there’s a Newcastle United thread here). Bad though these might be, English football fans would have no cause to cringe if they knew what their German counterparts have been subjected to, horrors that would make Hoddle & Waddle seem like the Righteous Brothers.

beckenbauerAnd yet, the two Bayern München legends featured here can be forgiven for their amateur warblings (if not for their club affiliation). Beckenbauer is, in my view, the greatest defensive player of all time. Adept at playing in virtually any position, he was an elegantly authoritative figure on the pitch. Germans, always acutely sensitive to their troubled history, called him “Der Kaiser”, which is preferable to “Der Führer”.

After finishing his playing career (which included a stint with New York Cosmos), Beckenbauer led the West German national team as coach to a World Cup final in 1986 and the world championship in 1990. After abdicating, as it were, he became a functionary for Bayern München, doing all he could to diminish the affection in which German football fans hold their heroes. Today he is a dear friend of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, a thoroughly nasty piece of work behind his grinning mask of buffoonery.

gerd_mullerIf Beckenbauer’s nickname was somewhat misguided, that of his teammate Gerd Müller’s is quite mind-boggling, coming just a quarter of a century after World War 2: “Der Bomber”. The moniker was supposed to testify to Müller’s genuinely breathtaking ability to score goals — he’s by far the best I’ve seen in my lifetime. But it was a misnomer. The nickname suggests that Müller had a mighty shot, firing V2 rockets with accuracy from outside the penalty area. In reality, Müller had no particularly powerful shot. He was, however, compact with a low centre of gravity and an almost unerring positioning instinct. Many of his goals were scored with his backside, or while he was on the ground. His single, Dann macht es bumm (“And then it bangs”), perpetuates the mistaken notion of the blitzkrieging bomber. It also perpetuates the reality that Gerd Müller wasn’t particularly bright. Still, the man is a legend and probably not a friend of the evil Blatter.

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Johannes Heesters – Ich werde jede Nacht von Ihnen träumen (1937).mp3
heestersVera Lynn has just become the oldest person to have a British #1 album (alas not with her collection of Rammstein covers), but the world’s oldest still active performer is Johannes Heesters. The Dutch-born singer and former actor, whose career was directed almost exclusively at German audiences, is still at it at 105 years of age. As one might expect, he is much loved in Germany.

But he is not very popular in the country of his birth, where he has not been forgiven for continuing his career in Nazi Germany (where all entertainment was subject to Joseph Goebbels’ censorship and even dictate), and especially for performing for SS troops at Dachau. After the war Heesters pleaded that he had no idea about Dachau’s the extent of function. I suspect that he might not be entirely loose with the truth here (not all entertainers are very bright); and even if he knew, how much courage might he have needed to muster to tell the SS to bugger off. At the same time, he did move to Germany in 1935, so fuck him for that.

Still, almost 106 years of age, and still performing. And he has a wife who is 45 years younger than he is — Respect!
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Noel Coward – Don’t Let’s Be Beastly To The Germans (1943).mp3
Noel_CowardNot a German song, obviously, but a stinging propaganda satire by the legendary English wit at the expense of Germans. Of course he had no intention of pleading for post-war clemency towards Germans; quite the contrary. And yet, to some extent his satirical entreaty would be realised. To be sure, some Germans were treated badly after the war, especially the many women who were raped by occupying soldiers (and not just by the Russians, who clearly did not share the song’s sentiments). But, truth be told, Germans subjected to occupation in the West cannot have too many complaints about the treatment they received.

Any Major 60s Soul Vol. 2

June 5th, 2009 5 comments

60s_soulHere is the second volume of ’60s soul tracks. Some of these songs are pretty well-known, but many others are hidden or forgotten gem. Eddie Holland’s track is as much a gem as it is a historical curiosity; it’s one of the few records he released on Motown before Berry Gordy decided that Eddie, with Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, should work exclusively as one of the label’s in-house writer/producer teams, in particular for the Supremes and the Four Tops . Read more…

The Originals Vol. 19

March 23rd, 2009 3 comments

In the 19th instalment of The Originals, we look at ’60s classic Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, Joe Cocker’s chestnut You Are So Beautiful, a couple of legendary Motown his and the sorry tale of the Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony.

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The Exciters – Do-Wah-Diddy.mp3
Manfred Mann – Do Wah Diddy Diddy.mp3

excitersIt was a huge hit for the unlikeliest pop star ever to emerge from Johannesburg (yeah, I know, Mr Lubowitz’s stage name applied to the whole band). But a year before that, in 1963, it was recorded, minus a diddy, by a soul girl group which never enjoyed as much success as it deserved. The Exciters are remembered mainly for their single big hit, the Bert Berns composition Tell Him.

Do-Wah-Diddy was written by Brill Building hitmakers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who wrote many girl group hits such as Be My Baby, Baby, I Love You, And Then He Kissed Me, Da Doo Ron Ron, and River Deep Mountain High (Greenwich also co-wrote the Exciters’ other hit, He’s Got The Power, and – incidentally – discovered Neil Diamond).

The song made a comeback of sorts when Bill Murray and Harold Ramis sang it in a marching scene from Stripes (1981), the first half of which was very funny. Earlier in the film, Ramis uses another Barry & Greenwich composition, Da Doo Ron Ron to good comedic effect.

Also recorded by: Sheila (as Vous les copains, je ne vous oublierai jamais, 1964), Jan & Dean (1965), A la Carte (1980), Silicon Teens (1980), Showaddywaddy (1980), The Dolly Dots (1982), Neil Diamond (1993), Mr. Al (1997), Murry Lachlan Young (1997), DJ Ötzi (2001)

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Undisputed Truth – Papa Was A Rolling Stone.mp3
Temptations – Papa Was A Rolling Stone (full version).mp3
Temptations – War.mp3
Edwin Starr  – War.mp3

papa-was-a-rolling-stoneIn Motown’s happy family it was common that the same songs would be recorded by different artists. Sometimes, that custom would result in two chart-toppers within a year, as in the case of I Heard It Through The Grapevine (see Volume 2). In other cases, one version would become legendary, and the other virtually forgotten. So it is with Papa Was A Rolling Stone and War, both muscular soul-funk tunes written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.

The Undisputed Truth, who may be remembered for their hit Smiling Faces Sometimes (which was originally recorded by the Temptations), recorded Papa Was A Rolling Stone as a single release in 1971. It did not perform spectacularly well, peaking at #63 in the US charts. A year later, Whitfield gave the song to the Temptations when he produced their 1972 All Directions album, on which it appeared as a 12-minute workout. The shortened single version went on to top the US charts.

The song dated the death of the deplorable Papa to “the third of September”, which happened to be the date Temptations singer Dennis Edward’s father died. Edwards was allocated that line, leading him to suspect that Whitfield had written the line knowing of that particular detail. Whitfield denied that (as he well might), but nevertheless exploited Edward’s anger about it by having him sing the line in repeated takes until the singer sounded very irate indeed. For his troubles, by the Temptations dismissed Whitfield as their producer. The group would never recorded anything better than Whitfield’s epics. And when Whitfield (who died last year) eventually left Motown, the Undisputed Truth followed him.

psychedelic-shackWhile the Temptations scored with the Undisputed Truth’s song, Edwin Starr had a hit with a Temps song, War. The anti-Vietnam protest song appeared originally on the Temptations 1970 Psychedelic Shack album. By popular request, Motown decided to release it as a single, but not by the Temptations, because the label did not want to associate its big stars with political causes. Indeed, the Temptations themselves were apprehensive about offending some of their fans (though exactly why anybody who would dig the drug-friendly psychedelic grooves of early-’70s Temptations might be offended by an anti-war sentiment is a mystery). So Motown gave the song to a relative unknown who two years earlier had enjoyed his solitary hit. Edwin Starr’s anthemic, fist-raising version was far more fierce and furious than that of Temptations. Catching the zeitgeist, Starr’s War was a US #1 hit. And guess who appears on the backing track? The Undisputed Truth.

Also recorded by: (Papa Was A Rolling Stone): David Lindley & El Rayo-X (1988), Was (Not Was) (1990), The Lovemongers (1992), George Michael & Queen (1993), Isaac Hayes & Soul II Soul (1996), 4 the Cause (1998), Lisa Fischer & Chris Botti (2003), Gilbert Montagné (2006).
(War) D.O.A. (1982), The Jam (1982), Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1984), Tom Jones (1985), Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street band (1986), Mace (1976), Laibach (1994), Hexenhaus (1997), The BB Band (1999), Joan Osborne (2002), Gilbert Montagné (2006), Boyz II Men (2007), Maria Muldaur (2008)

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Billy Preston – You Are So Beautiful.mp3
Joe Cocker – You Are So Beautiful.mp3

billy-prestonFew noises in mainstream pop history have been as disturbing as Joe Cocker’s croaked note at the end of that staple of soppy love songs, You Are So Beautiful. Some people might regard the song best crooned by Homer Simpson, but they are probably not familiar with Billy Preston’s rather good original. The song was written by Preston and his songwriting partner Bruce Fisher, with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s uncredited lyrical contribution  (Wilson would sing the song as an encore at Beach Boys gigs in the late ’70s and early ’80s). Preston’s version was recorded shortly before Cocker’s slower version in 1974. The former remained an album track, while Cocker’s version reached the US #5 in 1975 (but didn’t chart at all Britain).

Also recorded by: John Davidson (1976), Tanya Tucker (1977), Bonnie Tyler (1992), Babyface (1993), Kenny Rogers (1994), Captain & Tennille (1995), Al Green (2005), Sam Moore with Billy Preston, Zucchero, Eric Clapton & Robert Randolph (2006), Diana Ross (2006), Carnie Wilson (2006), Westlife (2006), Kenny Rankin (2007), Donny Osmond (2007) a.o.
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Andrew Oldham Orchestra – The Last Time.mp3
The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony.mp3

andrew-oldham-orchestraOf course, this is not so much the story of an orignal and its cover as the unhappy tale of a sample and greed — all revolving around a loop in the Verve song that was lifted from Andrew Look Oldham’s 1966 instrumental adaptation of the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time. Oldham was not only a musician, but also the manager of the Stones in their early pomp. He sold his contract to Allen Klein – has there ever been a more lawyerly name in rock? – in 1966. By 1997, when the Verve’s Urban Hymns album came out, Klein controlled the Stones’ 1960s back catalogue.

The Verve had actually secured permission to use the sample, but when Klein heard an advance copy of the song, he threatened to sue, claiming that the us of the sample exceeded what had been agreed on. The band and publishers settled on a 50/50 royalties split. As the album hit the shops, Klein reneged on the agreement and demanded 100%, successfully so, because by now the album could not be pulled from the shelves. The out-of-court settlement was a defeat for the Verve – and, to some extent, for Oldham. All royalties were ceded, and the songwriting credit went to Jagger & Richards, even though their version of The Last Time had no significant influence on Bitter Sweet Symphony. The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft, who wrote the song, later commented caustically: “This is the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years.”

verve-bitter-sweet-symphonyIt can be argued that Jagger and Richards didn’t even write the song from which Ashcroft didn’t sample; The Last Time was based (or ripped off, if you are feeling less than overly charitable) on a 1950s recording by the Staple Singers of almost exactly the same title, This May Be The Last Time. It’s a shame the Staple Singers didn’t think to sue… And just to turn this sorry tale into a real farce, when Bitter Sweet Symphony was nominated for two Grammys, the credit went to Jagger and Richards as writers and the Andrew Oldham Orchestra as artists.

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More Originals

Sea of heartbreak

February 17th, 2009 1 comment

Finding songs about broken hearts is like shooting whales in a barrel of treacle. So, naturally, those represented here are not necessarily the best or brightest in the genre (though the two Motown songs probably are). But I hope they provide a decent round-up. The series of songs about love will run for a while yet, but I will space the remaining posts put a bit. It’s time to run other stuff again…

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The Temptation – I Wish It Would Rain.mp3

temptations“Sunshine, blue skies, please go away. My girl has found another and gone away. With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom, so day after day I stayed locked up in my room. I know to you it might sound strange, but I wish it would rain.” Motown lyrics are pure poetry. “Day in, day out, my tear-stained face pressed against the window pane. My eyes search the skies desperately for rain, ’cause raindrops will hide my teardrops, and no one will ever know that I’m cryin’. When I go outside to the world outside, my tears I refuse to explain. Oh, I wish it would rain.” Promise me you will punch them.

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Ben Folds – Gone.mp3
A year after she left, Ben says he’s ready to let her go. Unless she gets in touch with him. But if not, he’s ready to end it. I think we can spot the snag in his strategy. “And I hope you find some time to drop a note, but if you won’t, then you won’t – and I will consider you gone.” As he notes, she went straight to somebody else (he thinks “that you should spend some time alone”), but hope springs eternal, even at the cost of dignity. “I wake up in the night all alone and it’s alright. The chemicals are wearing off. Since you’ve gone, the days go on, the lights go off and on, and nothing really matters when you’re gone.” But, girl, here’s Ben given you another chance – and he hasn’t even set you a deadline.

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Kris Kristofferson – From the Bottle To The Bottom.mp3
Kris was happy once with a woman. She left him and now he’s shacking up with a bottle of booze. “You ask me if I’m happy now; that’s good as any joke I’ve heard. It seems that since I’ve seen you last I done forgot the meaning of the words. If happiness is empty rooms, and drinkin’ in the afternoon, well, I suppose I’m happy as a clam. But if it’s got a thing to do with smilin’ of forgettin’ you, well, I don’t guess that I could say I am.” He proceeds to make his point by way of analogies and metaphors involving moisture, empty pockets and shoes to conclude that he is “from the bottle to the bottom stool by stool, learnin’ hard to live with losin’ you.”

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Todd Tibaud – Unbroken.mp3
todd-thibaudThe unaccountably obscure Tibault in his song from 2000 acknowledges that he was dumped for being a bit of an ass (“And everything about me drags her down”), and he now pretends, Smokey-like, not to be affected by the break-up. But he really still loves her (“She moves around me like the air I breathe, gets inside of me and she never leaves”) and wants her back: “Someday I’ll find my way back in; somehow I’ll cross that bridge again. And then I won’t have to pretend to be unbroken.”

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Don Gibson – Sea Of Heartbreak.mp3
don-gibsonA very jaunty number for so sad a lament wrapped up in nautical metaphors. Since she “sailed away” there are no lights in the harbour and ships lost at sea all because Don is crying so much, he is “on this sea of tears – sea of heartbreak”. He tried to woo her back with another maritime call: “Oh, what I’d give to sail back to shore, back to your arms once more.” Poor Don, chances are that another man has put down his anchor in the good ship ex-girlfriend.

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Sugar Ray – When It’s Over.mp3
Naked Eyes – Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3

naked-eyesYou know what it’s like when a song comes on that reminds you of an ex-partner (or, worse, of the break-up itself)? In this rather quirky tune, Sugar Ray bemoan not only the loss of a girlfriend, but also the diminishing delight in the things they used to enjoy together: “All the songs she used to sing, all the favourite TV shows have gone out the window.” It’s worse than that. Not only does he no longer enjoy re-runs of Friends or whatever, but when he does catch one, the old feelings for her return. Which calls to mind Hal David’s lyrics for Always Something There To Remind Me: “I passed a small café where we would dance at night, and I can’t help recalling how it felt to kiss and hold you tight. Oh, how can I forget you, when there is always something there to remind me…” The version posted here is a 1982 cover by the English synth-pop duo Naked Eyes, featuring the late Rob Fisher, later of Climie Fisher. Burt Bacharach once said their version was his favourite…

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Loudon Wainwright III – Lost Love.mp3
This song comes courtesy of my Facebook friend Garth (to become my FB friend click here). In this ’20s-pop-cum-country song, Loudon is sending mixed messages, and it might even not be all defiant bravado. He seems to be OK with the break-up, but occasionally it catches up with him. “I’m happy that it’s finally over, but when I’m not bad, then I’m sad.” He notes that she doesn’t call him and “I understand the reason why” (but the way he delivers the line suggests contempt for the reasons). Indeed, “there should be no reason why you shouldn’t call me, darlin’”. So he is getting on the telephone, “I’m not calling you for a reason, dear, and the reason is because there is no reason why I should call you because your love, darling, I have lost.” What price logic when you’re missing you ex so much, you call her (or him) for no good reason?

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Amy Rigby – Keep It To Yourself.mp3
amy-rigbyThe Bee Gees asked for pointers in mending broken hearts. One way of doing so is to enter into a loving relationship with somebody new who will take care of you. In this song, Amy Rigby found such a man, one who’d do anything for her. But sometimes even that doesn’t work, when there remains so much residual anger that the contemptible ex still dominates emotions. In this instance, the new man in Amy’s life wrecklessly* offers to “shoot the dude who screwed me up”. Amy responds that she is “trying so hard to forgive”. With that in mind, “Here’s his address, here’s his picture, here’s the make and model of his car. He works until 4:30, then he hangs out at the topless bar with a girl on each arm.” Amy reminds the new paramour: “Remember how he cheated and he lied to me. You told me that it makes you lose your head… I don’t believe you’d do those things you said.” And did she mention they’re pouring concrete on Route 33? But if he does the things he said he’d do (and here’s the address and a photo), he must not tell her, but keep it to himself. Then Amy sighs: “I like the way that you take care of me. I like the way you that you’ll take care of things.” Hell hath no fury etc. (* google it)

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Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted.mp3
Echoing the anthem of brokenheartedness, Love Hurts, poor Jimmy has turned cynical: “Love’s happiness is just an illusion filled with sadness and confusion.” He sees other people in love: “The fruits of love grow all around, but for me they come a-tumblin’ down.” Then depression sets in: Every day heartaches grow a little stronger, I can’t stand this pain much longer. I walk in shadows searching for light, cold and alone, no comfort in sight. Hoping and praying for someone to care, always moving and going nowhere.” Morrissey would have killed for lyrics like that. Then comes the threat of suicide – “All that’s left is an unhappy ending” – before he catches himself and insistently resolves that he can find happiness again: “I know I’ve got to find some kind of peace of mind. I’ll be searching everywhere just to find someone to care. I’ll be looking every day. I know I’m gonna find a way. Nothing’s gonna stop me now, I’ll find a way somehow; I’ll be searching everywhere.” Next time somebody claims that Motown lyrics lack depth, please contact Amy Rigby’s new boyfriend.
Previously in this series:
Longing For Love
Love Hurts
Unrequited Love
Being in love (Any Major Love Mix)

More songs about love

Rudolph – Victim of prejudice

December 15th, 2008 7 comments

We have seen the story played out in countless movies: a marginalised and victimised member of a society finding inclusion after turning his handicap into a communal benefit. So it is with Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer.

Rudolph, a victim of prejudice, and his boss.

Rudolph, a victim of prejudice, and his boss.

We don’t know much about Rudolph. The song reports that due to a birth defect or medical condition the reindeer has a shiny, virtually luminous red nose, quite in contrast to his black-nosed peers. These evidently have taken to numerous ways of bullying Rudolph, presumably on account of his red nose. The bullying seems to take on the form of abuse directed at the physical non-conformity as well as deliberate marginalisation from social activities. It may well be that the alienation is prompted by other, perhaps related factors. Perhaps Rudy is excessively shy (a disposition which in itself may be rooted in physical differentiation), or perhaps he is rude (a defence mechanism). Perhaps his unglamorous name influences the group dynamic; like children, reindeer can be cruel, and if your name is as dreary as Rudolph, it may be difficult to gain acceptance in a clique which comprises individuals with such remarkable names as Donner, Blitzen and German favourite Vixen which would not be out of place in the line-up of a glamorous heavy metal band.

But we don’t know. All the song tells us is that Rudolph is being bullied, almost certainly on account of his red nose. But then circumstances beyond the group’s control intervene. Bad weather seems to preclude the execution of an important task: the annual delivery of presents to all good children in the world (an inaccurate characterisation, of course; many good children receive no gifts, and many unattractive juveniles will benefit richly from material bounteousness; as Bob Geldof reminded us in poetry when he reminded us that, departing from metereological norm, there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime). The CEO of the organisation hits on an unlikely plan: Rudolph’s incandescent nose can double as a headlight, aiding the navigation of his transporter in unfavourable weather conditions. As we learn, the innovation works. Rudolph, having saved the day, finds immediate acceptance, and even a level of celebrity, among his peers. The heavy metal singers presumably act with magnanimity, perhaps patting Rudy on his back and letting him play the bass guitar.

Superficially, the song celebrates the conquest of social exclusion as a response to deviation from the norm. It celebrates the notion that everybody has something to offer to the common good. These are commendable sentiments. However, we ought to question why these impulses to exclude others from social structures on grounds of defects, inherited or caused by illness, exist in first place. How much more in keeping with the spirit of Christmas might the song be had it addressed this specific characteristic of social dynamics more constructively?

Moreover, how much more valid a testament to the season of reconciliation might the song have been had Santa Claus, apparently an equal opportunities employer, taken concrete action to put a prompt end to Rudolph’s discrimination when the problem initially arose. His failure to afford Rudolph protection is aggravated by his opportunistic exploitation of Rudolph’s perceived defect. The episode’s conclusion — Rudolph’s acceptance into the group — is purely accidental. Santa used Rudolph’s distinctive attribute for purposes other than effecting that outcome (though he may well have welcomed it).

Without due intervention, Rudolph’s social rehabilitation could not have taken effect otherwise. But with poor Rudolph there must reside a bitterness that the imperfection that once assured his exclusion is now the cause of his celebrity. He is not being received into the group on his own merits, but on basis of a deep-seated hypocrisy. Moreover, he had to prove his usefulness to the group before being incorporated into it. In other words, the other reindeer’s acceptance of him is not founded in their regard for Rudolph, but in his usefulness to the group. Should Rudolph’s nose lose its luminescence and instead turn, say, green, would he lose his new-found status in the group?

The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is one of reindeer’s cruelty against reindeer, managerial failure and the alienation of the reindeer soul. This, I submit, calls not for the upbeat musical treatment of custom. It should be expected that the song be performed as a two-bar blues, a sad country number, or an emo lament, preferably incorporating a verse or two telling the story from Rudy’s perspective, including his contemplation of reindeer suicide.

Mr Martin, shame on you for the cheer with which you invest the distressing tale of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Shame indeed.

Dean Martin – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

The Temptations – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Gene Autry – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Bing Crosby – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Yet more '80s soul

November 20th, 2008 5 comments

I’m not sure whether it is due to popular demand after last week’s compilation, but here is a second ’80s soul mix, with a third and final installment in the works. The first mix was an attempt to create a fairly representative cross-section of the genre. This mix is less self-conscious about that. What we have here, then, are some of my favourite soul tracks from that comparatively barren decade. As in any compilation of favourites, the measure of quality may be secondary to the compiler’s emotional connection to a song. Is Smokey’s Just To See Her any good? I don’t rightly know. It may not be a better song than Being With You. But much as I like Being With You, it does not transport me back to a particular time. Play Just To See Her, however, and I smell the girl’s hair, taste the vegetarian gunk I used to eat, feel the anticipation of going to the club and the anxiety of missing my friends in London. And so it is with many songs in this mix (especially Pendergrass’ wonderfully Marvin-esque Joy). Read more…

Perfect Pop – Vol.1

March 17th, 2008 7 comments

Jim Irvin in the latest issue of that fine British music magazine The Word makes the point that when his fellow critics describe something as perfect pop, it probably is neither. “It’ll be the work of a tone-deaf beanpole with a great haircut who sings like a rusty hinge while his mates commit acts upon musical instruments that the Spanish Inquisition would have thought twice about,” he writes, exaggerating for effect only marginally. Irvin mentions three songs as examples of what does constitute perfect pop: Britney’s Toxic, Take That’s Back For Good, and the Beatles’ I Feel Fine. I think these are excellent choices. But perfect pop is not a rarity, as I and a few Internet buddies found.

So, what are the ingredients in a perfect pop record? One pal suggested that pursuing a recipe is like “unweaving a rainbow” (a reasoning which might recall Stephen Fry’s immortal line, “Don’t analyse comedy; it’s beautiful as it is”). Unlike my pal, I prefer to approach such things scientifically, so here are some criteria I’d employ:

1. Great tune (obviously)
2. A killer chorus
3. Relative brevity (six-minute epics really must justify their time)
4. Instant recognisability
5. A certain timelessness (it should sound fresh three decades later)
6. Singalongabillity (or humalongability)
7. something undefinable; let’s call it aural fairydust (probably the one essential ingredient)

With all that in mind, and acknowledging that discerning perfection in pop is intrinsically subjective, let’s dip into the first bumper lot of 20 perfect pop records (enough to make a mix-tape, so take your time):

Hall & Oates – Private Eyes.mp3
It is easy to make fun of Hall’s mullet and of Oates in general, but Daryl and John were purveyors of many a perfect pop record. ‘She’s Gone’, ‘Kiss On My List’, ‘Rich Girl’, ‘Everytime You Go Away’, ‘One On One’, perhaps also ‘Out Of Touch’ (were it not for the horrible ’80s production) are all contenders. ‘Private Eyes’, however, towers above all of these in capturing a flawless pop sensibility: you sing along with it involuntarily, you do the drum thingy, your foot taps, you remember the lyrics even when you haven’t heard the song in years…
Best bit: The whipping drum thingy (0:42)

The Sweet – Teenage Rampage.mp3
It could have been any number of Sweet hits. ‘Ballroom Blitz’, ‘Blockbuster’, ‘The Six Teens’ or ‘Fox On The Run’ have no deficiency in the pop perfection stakes. When the verses are almost good enough to be the chorus, and the chorus tops it, and you have to sing along, then it has the main ingredients for perfect pop.
Best Bit: When the chorus kicks in (0:54)

The Jesus And Mary Chain – Just Like Honey.mp3
Can a record with excess feedback be perfect? In this case, I think it can be. Indeed, had the Reid brothers dispensed with the feedback for ‘Just Like Honey’, the song might have been just another Phil Spektor pastiche.
Best bit: The guitar solo gets even louder (1:42)

The Turtles – Happy Together.mp3
The sound of 1966, a great year in pop. A judiciously employed backing vocal of ba-ba-ba-bah and a martial beat can make a difference between a good pop song and a perfect one.
Best bit: “How is the weather?” (2:21)

Guildo Horn – Guildo hat euch lieb.mp3
Germany’s quite brilliant Eurovision Song Contest entry in 1998 seemed to at once embrace the contest and give it the finger (hence his relatively poor showing in seventh place). The name alone suggests some ribbing at the German Schlager (Guildo is phonetically identical to the surname of the late Schlager icon Rex Gildo, whose ‘Fiesta Mexicana’ can be found here). On ‘Guildo hat euch lieb’ (Guildo loves you [plural]), Horn accomplishes the impossible: he makes German sound good in a pop song.
Best bit: “Tief, tief, tief, ich hab’ dich lieb” (1:00)

Big Bopper – Chantilly Lace.mp3
This might have aged a bit since it was a hit 50 years ago, but if you have to listen to somebody speak on record, wouldn’t you rather it was the Big Bopper instead of bloody Fabolous?
Best bit: “Helllooooo baaaaaaybee” (0:01)

The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star.mp3*
Not quite three-and-a-half minutes packed with so many endearing touches, from the piano intro to the sing-along fade out. It’s impossible, surely, not to love this song.
Best bit: The drum comes in (0:31)

Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.mp3
Would one say this song was perfect pop if it wasn’t for that video? “Spinning Around” is perhaps the bouncier pop song, but this creeps into your head without you even noticing and squats there like a hippie commune. Where do I apply for the job as Kylie’s gold shorts?
Best bit: “La la la, la-la-lala-la…” (0:15)

Abba – Dancing Queen.mp3
Some would say that this is the most perfect pop song ever. If one takes the view that there can be such a thing as a single “most perfect pop song” ever, then ‘Dancing Queen’ would be as good a choice as any (but there can’t be, of course). Indeed, there are a number of worthy challengers in the Abba canon: there is only a sliver of difference in the perfection of ‘Dancing Queen’ and, say, ‘S.O.S.’ or ‘Mamma Mia’.
Best bit: “You can dance, you can jive…” (0:20)

Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This.mp3*
The Pet Shop Boys are another outfit who could churn out some wonderful pop. The 1986 debut album, Please, in particular boasted four singles which accomplished or neared perfection, especially ‘Suburbia’. But it was in tandem with another purveyor of great pop that they conjured indisputable perfection.
Best bit: Dusty’s voice goes higher as she sings “make me feel better” (2:48)

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – Come Up And See Me.mp3*
Steve Harley’s periodically stuttering, spluttering and sneering delivery are complemented by a great tune, infectious hooks and an exciting arrangement, with sudden stops and those “oowooh-la-la-la” backing vocals.
Best bit: The two second pause between the acoustic guitar solo and Steve Harley resuming (2:19)

The Temptations – My Girl.mp3
One could fill a whole 2GB iPod with perfect pop from Hitsville, and still regret leaving out great songs. So we’ll settle for “My Girl” as a representative for Motown, appropriately so not only because it is a mindbogglingly great song, but also because it combines two agents of serial pop perfection: it was written by Smokey Robinson, and performed by the Temptations.
Best bit: “Hey hey hey” (1:42)

The Smiths – This Charming Man (Peel session).mp3*
There are people who have bought into the foolish notion that The Smiths were in any way depressing. Who created that idea? The Smiths were a great pop combo, and ‘This Charming Man’ is the best example of that.
Best bit: Marr’s closing chords (2:39)

The Kingsmen – Louie Louie.mp3
If you have the right hi-fi equipment and good hearing, apparently you can hear the drummer say “fuck” when he screws up as he comes into song. Which would be the first instance of the f-word word being released on record. Everything about this song is shambolic, which adds to its attraction. It makes even the untalented among us believe that anyone could do this rock ‘n roll lark. So it’s probably more punk than the Sex Pistols ever were.
Best bit: “OK, let’s give it to them, right now” (1:25)

Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday.mp3*
My son’s 13-year-old friend Thabo was going through my iPod, and attracted by this duo’s name (mmm, strawberries) discovered ‘Since Yesterday’, a piece of pop heaven from 1984/85. Thabo was so enchanted by it, he recorded it on to his cellphone (when all he needed to do was visit this blog to get the MP3. Or just ask me for it).
Best bit: The instrumental break (1:32)

David Essex – Gonna Make You A Star.mp3
Is this glam rock or bubblegum pop? Either way, it is faultless pop with loads of little touches which reveal themselves the more familiar one becomes with this1974 hit.
Best bit: “I’ gonna make you a stah-yee-yah-yee-yah-yee-yah-yee-yah-ee-yah-ee-ye-yay-yeaaaa-ur (2:39)

Rainbow – Since You’ve Been Gone.mp3*
Great opening chords, some of the best handclaps outside a Motown studio, a catchy chorus, and fantastic pop-rock vocals of the kind that would come to influence every big hair rocker (by a dude with short hair).
Best bit: Things picking up again after the bridge (2:15)

Wham! – Club Tropicana.mp3
Wham! had their share of great pop tunes: ‘I’m Your Man’, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, ‘Freedom’. But this trumps any of these. It’s a total joy from the first few seconds when the crickets chirp to the final “coooo-ooool”. Only a curmudgeon could not derive pleasure out of this.
Best bit: The duelling saxophones (2:45)

DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince – Summertime.mp3
It is indeed the sound of a lazy summer’s day. If this is going to be Will Smith’s sole legacy worth preserving (as seems likely), then we nonetheless owe him a debt of gratitude for adding to the pop canon this most evocative seasonal anthem. Props to DJ Jazzy Jeff who presumably was responsible for sampling so well from Kool & the Gangs ‘Summer Madness’ (download that as well).
Best bit: The Kool & the Gang sample throughout.

* previously posted

Love Songs For Every Situation: Unrequited Love

February 19th, 2008 7 comments

Unrequited love is a real bastard. The rejection can scar a person for life, depending on its nature. My chapter of unrequited love was set in the seasons 1988/89 and 1989/90, and was cruelly soundtracked by the disgusting cheering of the fans of Arsenal and FC Liverpool, as if to taunt me further in my indescribable pain. There was no comfort, other than Manchester Utd’s FA Cup victory just days before the object of my desire left South Africa. I cannot say whether it was a good thing or not that she and I were very close friends. There was much affection, indeed a certain kind of love. But from her side obviously not that kind of love. So there was always hope, which again and again and again would be gently but brutally crushed. Would it have been easier to let unrequited love turn to festering hate?

Morrissey – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (live).mp3
I presume everybody has this Smiths track already, so here is a live performance by Morrissey from 2004 in Manchester, ripped from DVD. That line about the doubledecker bus crashing into us is justly regarded as a classic lyric, but the one that really gets me is this one: “And in the darkened underpass I thought, ‘Oh God, my chance has come at last’, but then a strange fear gripped me, and I just couldn’t ask.” Don’t I know the feeling! For days, weeks, months one prepares for the perfect moment. The words are ready and practiced, the mood is set in one’s mind. And then, when the perfect opportunity presents itself, one chokes. And what setting could be better than a darkened underpass, where the object of ones desire cannot see the blushes. Ah, but she’d see the potentially crushed face, the dazed look, when they emerge into the light. At which point the 10-ton truck killing the both of us would appear to be an inviting proposition. So one waits for a really long, dark tunnel…

Freshlyground – I’d Like.mp3
South Africa’s most popular band, probably, engaged in a spot of self pity in this tender anthem to unrequited love and the self-loathing which often accompanies it. To the casual observer, the reactions she anticipates from her putative displays of affection seem exaggerated, even silly. Would her object of desire really say the singer deserved to die or humiliate her otherwise for showing affection or making a phone call? I suppose any vaguely negative response, or even a lack of response, would feel like an extreme reprimand or punishment to the one who is in unrequited love. The song might be dealing with a further complication: the lyrics make sense also in a context where the protagonist has same-sex feelings for somebody who is heterosexual (which could also explain the fear of being rejected harshly). Either way, the singer asks questions that make sense to anyone who has experienced unrequited love: “What do I do with all these feelings tearing me up inside? What do I do with all these wasted hours dreaming of you at night?”

Weezer – Pink Triangle.mp3
Weezer provided the flip-side to the theory posited in the entry for “I’d Like”. Here the protagonist is falling for a lesbian. “I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian. I thought I had found the one. We were good as married in my mind, but married in my mind’s no good. Oh, pink triangle on her sleeve.” Which raises the question if there is any comfort to be had if the woman a man desires is at least not with another man. Is Rivers holding out some hope when he asks: “If everyone’s a little queer, can’t she be a little straight?”

Nick Drake – Man In A Shed.mp3
This apparently is based on Drake’s own experience of living in somebody’s backyard, admiring the girl of the house from afar, but she doesn’t acknowledge his existence, presumably thinking she’s above his station in life. Drake clearly doesn’t buy into the class hierarchy (and Amen to that). Employing what might be termed Byronic Marxism, he declares: “So leave your house, come into my shed. Please stop my world from raining through my head. Please don’t think I’m not your sort. You’ll find that sheds are nicer than you thought.” Observe also Drake’s exquisite guitar work on this track.

Mazzy Star – Give You My Lovin’.mp3
You have to love Hope Sandoval. So it is difficult to believe that Hope should have any unhappy experience of unrequited love. And yet she sings: “When I see you I want to kiss you, but I know that ain’t right. So I ask if I can hold you. Oh babe, I need you so bad. Oh babe, I only want to make you glad.” What crazy fuck would say no to these words from the wonderful Ms Sandoval? She believes such crazy fucks do exist: “Discomfort arouses when I speak of you, as if you’ve been saying something bad about me.”

The Band – It Makes No Difference.mp3
You may thank one of the commenters in this series for this song from The Last Waltz, which would otherwise slipped below my radar. And what a fortuitous alert: this is a most beautiful and heartbreaking song. It makes no difference, Rick Danko sings, “where I turn, I can’t get over you when the flame still burns… the shadow never seems to fade away… like a scar, the hurt will always show… who I meet, they’re just a face in the crowd on a dead-end street.” The Counting Crows are drawing their influence from The Band (even framing a song around the news of Richard Manuel’s death), but their lyrics are usually unpenetrable. Here Danko is writing poetry you can actually make sense of, hitting the listener in the guts. “Well, I love you so much, and it’s all I can do just to keep myself from telling you that I never felt so alone before.”

The Temptations – Just My Imagination.mp3
The sweetest song about unrequited love. Our guy plays a trick on us as he begins: “Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by. I say to myself, ‘You’re such a lucky guy. To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true.’ Out of all of the guys in the world, she belongs to me…” Ah, but the alert reader will have spotted that in this post nothing is as well as that. So in verse two, the punchline pokes you in the eye: “But it was just my imagination running away with me.” Our friend even pleads with God to play cupid (and here we briefly call to mind Sam Cooke’s hymn to unrequited love), but how can God fix him up when “in reality, she doesn’t even know me”.

Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him.mp3
And from the sweetest song to the most acerbic. Observing from indoors, Joe sees Jeannie, and every other pretty woman, walking with gorillas down his street. This makes him angry. Knowing that he is puny, and they are gorillas, he employs his imaginary superpowers: “But if looks could kill, there’s a man there who’s more down as dead.” Zapp! He is possibly better served engaging his wit: “They say that looks don’t count for much, if so, there goes your proof”, he sings about Jeannie’s boyfriend (would that be the same Jeannie whose diary Eels wish to be a page in?).

The Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love.mp3
It seems that our boy is having some sort of relationship with the woman who nonetheless is rejecting his love. She doesn’t treat him well. “You spurn my natural emotions, you make me feel like dirt.” He won’t cause a scene though, because then he might just lose her. So while she keeps rejecting him, he’s getting increasingly frustrated and, the clue here is not in the lyrics but in the intensity of music, obsessed with the one-sidedness of it all. Unrequited love happens in established relationships as well. Think of the stunning Odyssey song I posted in the Love Ends post.

Johnny Mathis – Misty.mp3
The person in unrequited love often is like a pathetic puppy. Mathis certainly is in this definitive reading of Erroll Garner’s standard, better even than Sarah Vaughn’s. And the key is that Mathis actually does sound like a lovestruck puppy. The girl sounds like a bit of a tease (she lets him hold her hand), “you can say that you’re leading me on”, and Johnny likes it, “but it’s just what I want you to do”, because as long she takes notice of him, he has hope that his total love will find reciprocation.

Jens Lekman – Maple Leaves.mp3
This song puts an unusual spin on unrequited love. Jens can’t find a way into her heart — “if you don’t take my hand I lose my mind completely” — but the problem seems to be twofold. For one, the girl has such low self-esteem, she perhaps cannot accept that somebody could love her (“You said you hated your body, that it was just a piece of meat. I disagreed”). The second problem may be that incredibly unjust curse suffered by millions of nice men: the girl sees you as a friend! A bloody friend! “So we talked for hours and you cried into my sheets”. Of course, it may be that Jens just couldn’t understand her accent. “She says the dreamer just make-believe, but I thought she said maple leaves… and when she talked about about the fall I thought she talked about Mark E Smith.” No wonder he “never understood at all”.

Joshua Radin – Do You Wanna.mp3
I might be way off the mark here, but this is how I read the song: Joshua is in love with his friend (Ducky Dales everywhere!). She is in a destructive relationship. He brings comfort, but doesn’t want to be seen doing so with the ulterior motive of preparing the ground for his romantic relationship with her. And, you know, he cares firstly for her well-being. Which makes him a star among men — and sets him up for friendship standing in the way of romance and sex. “No one believes you smile alone. You wanna retrieve your high on the phone, but when you hang up all I wanna do is help you to pick up the pieces from your past. But there’s nothing more to gather, holding on to moments that won’t last. Or would you rather end it all; do you wanna?” Well, even if I’m totally wrong, I’d be pleased if this song, from Radin’s excellent First Between 3rd And 4th EP in 2004, is going to turn one or the other reader on to this wonderful singer-songwriter, whose new album will feature Ingrid Michaelson and Catherine Feeny, plus some production by Rick Rubin.

Barenaked Ladies – If I Had $1000000.mp3
Beneath the jocular mirth of this song there is a slightly pathetic subtext. Here our boy wants, Dr Evil style, a million dollars (Canadian, presumably) to buy the object of his desire everything, from a “nice reliant automobile” to a green dress (“but not a real green dress, that’s cruel”). All that sounds very nice, even amusing, until the pathos of the final line of the third verse: “If I had one million dollars, I’d buy your love.” Poor bastard.

Richard Cheese – Creep.mp3
I presume that everybody who needs it already owns Radiohead’s “Creep”. So here, to introduce some levity into the proceedings, is the lounge-jazzy version by the great spoofologist Richard Cheese. In the original, our boy is so intoxicated with self-loathing that he places himself several leagues below hers. He might have a good reason for doing so, but for every “creep” and “weirdo” there is a beacon of hope: Pete Doherty pulled Kate Moss. That must give hope to anyone who believes the unattainable to be just that.