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The Originals Vol. 22

April 17th, 2009 6 comments

With Elvis out of the way, we return to randomly selected lesser-known originals (or, in one case, near-original) of hits by The Animals, Rosemary Clooney (and Shakin’ Stevens), Captain & Tennille, Bob Seger and the Beach Boys. Please feel free to comment!

Ashley and Foster – Rising Sun Blues (1933).mp3
Georgia Turner – Rising Sun Blues (1937).mp3
Woody Guthrie – House Of The Rising Sun (1941).mp3
Leadbelly – In New Orleans (1944).mp3
Bob Dylan – House Of The Risin’ Sun (1962).mp3
The Animals – House Of The Rising Sun (1964).mp3
Orchester Günter Gollasch  –  Es steht ein Haus in New Orleans (1973).mp3
animalsThe moment Hilton Valentine’s distinctive guitar arpeggio kicks off House Of The Rising Sun, the song is instantly recognisable. It is now The Animals’ song, even though not wildly dissimilar previous versions by folkie Josh White, Nina Simone, and Bob Dylan preceded that by Eric Burdon and pals. Burdon has said that White’s version inspired the Animals’ version, but at other times he has credited the English folk singer Johnny Handle for the inspiration. Dylan, for his part, was miffed that people thought that he had covered the Animals’ version. Ironically, fellow folk-singer Dave Van Ronk has accused Dylan of “borrowing” his arrangement.

leadbellyThe song itself is an American folk song of uncertain date, adapted from an old English tune said to go back to the 17th century. It used different lyrics, though those credited to Georgia Turner and Bert Martin in the ’30s formed the early basis for the version we now know best. Turner’s version featured here was recorded by the great musicologist Alan Lomax in 1937, when she was 16. The oldest known recording, by Clarence Tom Ashley with Gwen Foster, dates back to 1933, using different lyrics. The song was recorded under alternative titles — blues legend Leadbelly went for the title In New Orleans — before House Of The Rising Sun stuck. By the time Josh White recorded it, the lyrics had been changed so much that the best-known version now excludes Turner and Martin from the songwriting credit.

Dylan has also claimed songwriting credit (no doubt to Van Ronk’s mirth), but the Animals’” version — recorded in one take — is credited to “traditional” with arrangement by keyboardist Alan Price. Apparently the record company ordered it was not possible to include all five members’ names on the single’s label, so Price’s went on by dint of alphabetical order, using the first names of the band’s members. It seems that Price has cheerfully collected the royalties without caring to share them with his four ex-friends.

The Animals have been accused of changing a prostitute’s lament (even Dylan sings it from her perspective) to a gambler’s cautionary tale to satisfy radio-friendly requirements. That may be so, but they were not the first to take the gambler’s position. Apparently Lonnie Donegan did so on his 1959 version, which might or might no have inspired Valentine’s guitar part.

The song has been so ubiquitous, it was even recorded in East Germany, by the Orchester Günter Gollasch. Under a regime where rock music was regarded as subversive, Gollasch must have been willing to take his chances. It is a quite excellent version.

Also recorded by: The Callahan Brothers (as Rounder’s Luck, 1934), Ray Acuff (1938), Woody Guthrie (1941), The Weavers (?), Glenn Yarbrough (1957), Lonnie Donegan (1959), Frankie Laine (as New Orleans, 1959), Miriam Makeba (1960), Joan Baez (1960), Nina Simone (1972), Johnny Hallyday (as Le pénitencier, 1964), The Supremes (1964), Marianne Faithfull (1964), Friedel Berlipp (1964), The Telstar’s (1964), Los Speakers (as La casa del sol naciente, 1965), The Brothers Four (1965), Waylon Jennings (1965), Jay and The Driving Wheels (1965), The Barbarians (1965), Marcellos Ferial (as La casa del sole, 1965), The Five Canadians (1966), Herbie Mann (1967), Trudy Pitts (1967), Ronnie Milsap (1967), Catherine McKinnon (1968), Tim Hardin (1969), Nat Stuckey (1969), Jimmy Powell (1969), Jimi Hendrix (1969), Oscar and the Majestics (1969), Mike Auldridge (1970), Frijid Pink (1970), Conway Twitty (1970), Geordie (1973), Idris Muhammad (1976), Hot R.S. (1977), Santa Esmeralda (1978), Alan Price (1980), Dolly Parton (1980), Skid Row (1981), Jan Walravens (1984), Adolescents (1987), Tangerine Dream (1988), Alejandra Guzmán (as La casa del sol naciente,1989), Tracy Chapman (1990), Theodis Ealey (1993), Don McMinn (1994), Sinéad O’Connor (1994), Peter, Paul and Mary with B.B. King (1995), Eric Burdon Brian Auger Band (1998), Don Angle (1999), 386 DX (2000), Blind Boys of Alabama (using the words of Amazing Grace, 2001), Toto (2002), Sarah Brooks with Joe Beck (2002), Muse (2002), Helmut Lotti (2003), Jet Jet Six (2003), Rock Nalle & The Yankees (2004) a.o.

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Stuart Hamblen – This Ole House.mp3
Rosemary Clooney – This Ole House.mp3
Shakin’ Stevens – This Ole House.mp3

stuart-hamblenThe story goes that in 1949 actor and cowboy-country singer Stuart Hamblen was hunting with John Wayne in a remote part of Texas when they happened upon an abandoned, crumbling hut, miles from the nearest road. Intrigued, they entered, finding the corpse of an old mountain man. Hamblen wrote the lyrics right there, on a sandwich bag. As a song about dying, Hamblen’s recording was upbeat yet poignant.

clooneyHamblen sang the song from the first person perspective. Rosemary Clooney in her 1954 hit version became a spectator to the man’s death, giving it a rather indecorous upbeat treatment. In Clooney’s version, it seems that the death of the man is a matter of gratification. The record-buying public didn’t mind: her version topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic (two concurrently released versions in Britain notwithstanding). In 1981 Welsh rock & roll revivalist Shakin’ Stevens (Shakey!) resurrected the dead man’s epitaph in similar bouncy fashion, also topping the UK charts.

hamblen-candidateAs for Stuart Hamblen, shortly after writing This Ole House he experienced a religious conversion at a Billy Graham rally, became a broadcaster of Christian material. Having lost as a Democrat congressional candidate in 1933, he ran as the Prohibition Party’s candidate for US president in 1952, picking up 72,949 sober votes.

Also recorded by: Alma Cogan (1954), Billie Anthony (1954), Rex Allen & Tex Williams (1954), The Statler Brothers (1966), Les Humphries Singers (1971), Billie Jo Spears (1981), The Brian Setzer Orchestra (1998), Bette Midler (2003), Wenche (2005), Brenda Lee with Dolly Parton (2007) a.o.

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Willis Alan Ramsey – Muskrat Candlelight.mp3
America – Muskrat Love.mp3
Captain & Tennille – Muskrat Love.mp3

willis-alan-ramsey Popular music is not brimming over with songs about the romantic pursuits of rodents. Willis Alan Ramsey got his break as a 19-year-old in 1972 when he stayed in the same Austin, Texas hotel as Leon Russell and Gregg Allman. Precociously, he knocked on their doors, introduced himself, and impressed them so much that they invited him to record at their respective studios. Ramsey eventually signed for the Shelter Records label which Russell co-owned. He made only one album (recorded in five different studios), and then became a songwriter of some renown instead. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffett, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin. The most successful of the songs on his poorly selling, self-titled album was intended as a novelty number — how can a song about rodent porn be otherwise? — written in 15 minutes.

Ramsey’s Muskrat Candlelight was first covered in 1973 by soft-rockers America (who I consider to be hard done by in reputation on the back of the much reviled Horse With No Name – see HERE). Unaccountably, America changed the title to Muskrat Love, which is how husband and wife duo Captain & Tennille adopted it three years later for their US #4 hit.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems.

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Rodney Crowell – Shame On The Moon.mp3
Bob Seger – Shame On The Moon.mp3

rodney-crowell Many of our performers of lesser-known originals never hit the big time, especially when they wrote the successfully covered song (which goes some way to explaining why their originals aren’t better known). Rodney Crowell isn’t one of them. A successful country singer, especially in the alt-country genre headlined by Earle and Van Zandt, he is still churning out records. Among his country credentials is his former marriage to Roseanne Cash, and a recording (and reworking) with his ex-father-in-law of I Walk The Line. Some might include him in this series as progenitor of the Keith Urban hit Making Memories of Us. Not many would associate him with having written and first performed one of Bob Seger’s biggest hits.

Crowell’s version appeared on his self-titled 1981 LP, to no attention at all. A year later, Seger’s version reached the US #2. It features former Eagle Glenn Frey on the harmonies. It was also his only sizeable hit on the country charts.
Also recorded by: nobody else again, it seems.

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The Regents – Barbara-Ann.mp3
Beach Boys – Barbara Ann.mp3

barbara-annBarbara Ann became one of the Beach Boys’ biggest hits at the same time as the Beatles released Rubber Soul. For the Beatles, December 1965 was a new beginning; for the Beach Boys, Barbara-Ann bookmarked the end of their surf pop era, appearing on the covers album Beach Boys Party! (which included three versions of Beatles songs), as Brian Wilson was already preparing the massively influential Pet Sounds.

The Beach Boys didn’t want Barbara Ann to be a single release. Beach Boys Party! was an informal affair, a very laid back jam session recorded to fulfil a contractual obligation. The group, and whoever else was around, were playing whatever came to mind while they were getting drunk. At one point, Dean Torrence of surf-pop duo Jan & Dean, who had previously recorded Barbara Ann in 1962 and was recording in an adjacent studio, popped in. Torrence suggested the song and sang lead on the recording with Brian Wilson. Torrence left half an hour later, and was not credited on the album. Obviously, the light-hearted Barbara Ann, with its fluffed lines and subsequent laughter and with session drummer Hal Blaine on ashtrays — listen closely at 1:05 — did not quite meet the sophisticated production values which had already been evident on recent recordings, such as California Girls. And still, Barbara Ann reached the US #2.

regentsBarbara-Ann (it was originally hyphenated) had been a 1961 US #13 hit for The Regents, an American-Italian doo wop group from the Bronx. They went on to have only one more Top 30 hit, Runaround. Barbara-Ann — written by bandmember Chuck Fassert’s brother Fred for their eponymous sister —had been recorded as a demo by The Regents in 1959. When they couldn’t land a record contract, the group folded. A couple of years later, a group called The Consorts, which included a Regents’ member’s younger brother, dug out the demo and played it at auditions. One record company, Cousins, liked Barbara-Ann and released it — but not by the Consorts, but the Regents’ version. The Regents hurriedly reunited, and the song quickly became a local and then a national hit.

Also recorded by: Jan & Dean (1962), The Who (1966), Martin Circus (as Marylène, 1975), Vince Vance & the Valiants (as Bomb Iran, 1979 — John McCain’s favourite), Red Squares (1989), Blind Guardian (1991), Travoltas (2003)
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Perfect Pop – Vol. 6 ('60s special)

April 28th, 2008 6 comments

Looking over my shortlist for the Perfect Pop series, I realised that the ’60s column was much longer than that of other decades. I guess that pop might have been more perfect in the 1960s than in other decades because it had developed from the raw sounds of early rock & roll, but had not yet acquired that body of experience with which to complicate pop through technical innovation. That’s why Sgt Pepper’s, with all its inventive experimentations, was seen as such a revolutionary milestone in 1967: nobody had heard anything like it before. Today it sounds rather ordinary. Of course, it’s all good to have complex pop, but for the purpose of this series, complexity tends to be an obstacle to pop perfection (though not all songs featured are lacking in innovation or technical complexity). So to even out the shortlist, here is the first of two special 1960s editions of Perfect Pop.

The Animals – The House Of The Rising Sun.mp3
This song has one of the must recognisable intros in pop history, and from there on barely lets up on its brilliance. Apart from Hilton Valentine’s iconic guitar, Alan Price drives his organ like a Ferrari through the desert, and Eric Burdon moans and groans in best white blues-singer fashion, thereby helping to set a trend which would bring mixed blessings to popular music. Amazingly, the whole thing took just 15 minutes to record. The House Of The Rising Sun (which was a new Orleans brothel) was an old song going back at least to the 1920s, possibly much earlier. Based on an English folk-song, it had become an African-American folk song and was later recorded by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Nina Simone and Bob Dylan (on his debut) before the Animals virtually appropriated it in 1964, changing the lyrics slightly.
Best bit: Price’s organ solo really kicks in (1:54)

Johnny Kidd & the Pirates – Shakin’ All Over.mp3
Listen to this as part of a non-chronological ’60s compilations, and you might not realise that this song was released in 1960. In sound and look, Johnny Kidd and his timber-shivering pals were prophetic, helping to provide the template for ’60s pop at the birth of the decade in which rock & roll and pop, all still very young, defined themselves. This is the sound on which the Searchers, the Dave Clark Five, even the Beatles, would build. It is quite likely that Johnny Kidd would have faded into obscurity. In the event, we do not know, because Johnny died in a 1966 car crash, two years after the Swinging Blue Jeans scored a hit with it in Britain, and a year after the Guess Who did likewise in the US — and two years after his last Top 40 hit in Britain. Shakin’ All Over later became something of a signature rune for the Who.
Best bit: The drum flourish preceding the guitar solo (1:21)

Amen Corner – (If Paradise Was) Half As Nice.mp3
If in paradise they play music only half as nice as this, I’d be more or less okay, I think. I first heard this song covered by a ’70s group called the Rosetta Stone, led by former Bay City Rollers member Ian Mitchell (whose stint was turbulent and brief) and an enthusiastic exponents of ’60s covers. I loved their version, but have no idea whether it was any good when held up against the Amen Corner’s version, which itself was a cover of an Italian song written by Lucio Battisti for popstress Patty Pravo. The arrangement of the Welsh group’s rendition is just lovely though (if you can handle your music with more than one spoonful of sugar, I suppose). Especially the horn (French? Flugel?).
Best bit: “Oh yes I’d rather have you” (1:26)

Robert Knight – Love On A Mountain Top.mp3
Some readers might raise two pertinent questions about the inclusion of Love On A Mountain in a ’60s special of Perfect Pop; neither should relate to the indisputable perfection of this fine tune. Firstly, why didn’t I choose Knight’s original of Everlasting Love? Secondly, what is a hit from 1973/74 doing here? I would have chosen Knight’s Everlasting Love (and I won’t feature the unsatisfactory cover by the Love Affair), but my MP3 of the song is damaged. Yes, my selections hang on such arbitrary threads. In fact, I like Love On A Mountain Top better; it is such a happy, sunshiney song. The song was a hit in Britain and Europe in the mid-’70s, but its first single release was in 1968.
Best bit: The instrumental break (1:29)

Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline.mp3*
Another ’60s release which found UK chart success in the ’70s. Sweet Caroline was released in the US in September 1969. According to Neil Diamond, it was inspired by a photo of Caroline Kennedy, who was 11 at the time. Which strikes me as slightly creepy. Nonetheless, it is a great ytackby a great songwriter. The distinctive intro and verse are pretty good, but it is the build-up to the roaring, rousing chorus which really elevates this song. One cannot help but sing along to it, which is a sign of its pop perfection.
Best bit: Neil’s hard Ts when he sings:” “Warm touching warm, reaching out, touching me, touching you” (1:56)

Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).mp3
Everything that was sweet and engaging in Everett’s version became horrible and cynical in Cher’s awful and tragically now better known cover from that abominable Mermaids movie. Cher’s cover (and Cher in general) pissed me off so much, I cannot even bring myself to include Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe in this series, even though it probably is a perfect pop record. Betty’s 1963 version, in the vein of the girl groups so popular at the time (Chiffons, Shirelles, Ronettes et al), became a hit in the US in 1964. It flopped in Britain, where Cher’s cover topped the charts almost three decades later. Conversely, in the US, Cher’s version was only a minor hit.
Best bit: The instrumental bridge (1:17)

The Kinks – You Really Got Me.mp3
Those who think that punk in the late ’70s offered anything original musically, or indeed culturally, might like to revisit some of the sneering, middle-finger raising acts of the ’60s. As Paul Weller, who hooked his mod ways on the punk star, surely knew, the Kinks were a lot more punk than the Sex Pistols. Don’t misunderstand, I love Never Mind The Bollocks as much as any amateur anarchist, but the Sex Pistols really were just as manufactured an act as were the Spice Girls. On You Really Got Me, Ray Davies sneers as much as Johnny Rotten ever did. The distorted rhythm guitar (an effect produced by slicing the amp) is pure punk. Contrary to persistent rumour, Jimmy Page definitely did not play on Your Really Got Me, but a random session musician by the name of Jon Lord, later of Deep Purple, tinkled the ivories.
Best bit: Ray shouts in Dave’s guitar solo (1:17)

Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual.mp3
I don’t like Tom Jones much, and that Sex Bomb song was a disgrace to all that is good about music. But, my goodness, It’s Not Unusual is just perfect. Even Jones’ vocals. Especially Jones’ vocals. I submit that the ad libbing in the fade out represents one of the great yodels in pop music. Ever. I have heard that on this song, Jimmy Page does play the guitar, coming in at 1:19. Regular viewers of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air (well, somebody must have watched it!) will recall that It’s Not Unusual was Carlton’s favourite dance number.
Best bit: “…to find that I’m in love with you, wow-oh-wow etc” (1:44)

Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice.mp3
Selecting a Beach Boys song for this series was problematic. While I see why, say, Surfin’ USA or Help Me Rhonda might be more qualified choices, I don’t like them much. It’s the Mike Love factor. Wouldn’t It Be Nice, like Good Vibration and God Only Knows (both considered), has those innovative Brian Wilson touches which ought to have elevated Pet Sounds in reputation above Revolver or Sgt Pepper’s. Wouldn’t It Be Nice is sung by Brian Wilson, with the hateful Love performing vocal duties only on the bridge. Mike Love apparently sought to take legal action against Brian Wilson over the latter’s wonderful Smile album for bringing the Beach Boys’ legacy into disrepute. The last song performed by the Love-led Beach Boys? Santa Goes To Kokomo (thanks to Mr Parkes for that bit of info).
Best bit: I might have picked the bridge, but, you know, fuck Mike Love. The intro (0:01)

Dionne Warwick – Do You Know The Way To San José.mp3
The body of Dionne Warwick’s interpretations of Burt Bacharach’s music is rich in absolute delights. Among so many highpoints, two songs stand out: Walk On By and San José. The latter makes you feel good, from the brief bass notes that introduce the song to bosa nova sound to the wow-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wowowos that accompany Dionne’s insistence that she does have a large circle of sidekicks in San José. It’s a song for driving along a deserted coastal road with the roof down. As so often, the singer didn’t like the song when asked to record it. Frankie Goes To Hollywood covered it 16 years later, at a time when Bacharach was widely dismissed as a passé easy listening merchant. Whether or not that cover was supposed to be “ironic”, it introduced a whole new generation to the genius of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Best bit: The way Dionne accentuates the word back (2:33)


Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3
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Yes, I know. Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. Or even Pretty Flamingo. Contenders they were, but this lesser remembered song is absolutely flawless. And it has flutes in it, which the really attentive and loyal reader of this blog will know seals a deal for me automatically. This track has a even greater energythan Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. The drumming is quite outstanding, and the punchline at the end of the song is just great. On top of that, my mother had the single of this, and as a small boy I played it very often. So Ha! Ha! Said The Clown is one of the songs responsible for turning me on to pop music. Hell, without it, you might not be reading this post right now.
Best bit: The whistling bit (1:17)

Drafi Deutscher – Marmor Stein und Eisen.mp3
Much as I enjoy submerging myself in the nostalgia for my childhood, I must insist that the German Schlager was a horrible musical genre; deeply conservative music for deeply conservative people dressed up in just so much supposed cool as to make it acceptable to the youth. Part of that faux-cool was a tendency of Schlager singers to assume an Anglo-sounding name. So Gerd Höllerich became Roy Black, Christian Klusacek (perhaps understandably) became Chris Roberts, Jutta and Norbert became Cindy & Bert (who came last in the Eurovision Song Contest which Abba won), Franz Eugen Helmuth Manfred Nidl-Petz became Freddy Quinn, and so on. Drafi Deutscher admirably didn’t anglicise his name, but went by his real surname, which means German. Oddly then, he sang with a heavy foreign accent, perhaps owing to his Hungarian background. His big hit, in 1965, was Marmor, Stein und Eisen (marble, rock and iron), which can all break, but not the love he and the addressee of the song shared, as the catchy chorus informs us. The song is more beat than Schlager.
Best bit: Drafi goes heavy metal rockabilly (1:15)

Elvis Presley – (You’re The) Devil In Disguise.mp3
Last time I posted Perfect Pop, I had a brief lapse in judgment when I forgot that there are four Elvises: pre-GI Elvis, movie-Elvis, post-comeback Elvis, and the drug-addled bloaterino we need not concern ourselves with much. From Elvis middle-period, Devil In Disguise seems to me an obvious choice for inclusion. This 1963 track saw the first two Elvis phases coalesce. On the verses, we have Elvis in beach trunks contemplating the script for his 17th movie in which he’ll be a racing driver/cowboy/trapeze artist/big-hearted hooker. He’s in well-behavedly in crooner mode, and very good at it. But when the chorus comes in, our boy remembers his pink shirted, pelvis-swivelling ways, and lets go a bit. Add to that the sharp guitar solo with those rapid quick handclaps, and you have true pop perfection.
Best Bit: The devil speaks! (2:07)

Simon & Garfunkel – A Hazy Shade of Winter.mp3
I considered I Am A Rock. Mrs Robinson (a song I don’t like much) and The Boxer (if only to mention that the banging sound was created by recording a filing cabinet thrown down an elevator shaft). What clinches it for A Hazy Shade Of Winter as a perfect pop song is its sense of urgency. Mostly the erstwhile Tom & Jerry did the languid folk-pop thing, but this song drives quite hard. The Bangles covered it in 1989 and scored a hit with it. I cannot say that I particularly liked that cover, but it shows that the song has a certain timelessness. The 1966 single release was backed with For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, one of S&G’s most beautiful songs. Strangely, A Hazy Shade Of Winter appeared on an LP only a year and a half later, on Bookends.
Best bit: The song ends abruptly with an exhalation of breath (2:16)

Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.mp3
Few people are going to feature twice in this series, but Bill Medley does. Thanks to Ghost, Unchained Melody has become the Righteous Brothers signature song, but You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (itself revived in a movie of that era, Top Gun) has all the drama and soulfulness which Unchained Melody lacks. Intitially singing so low as to raise questions about whether the single was being played at 33rpm, at some points Medley almost sounds like Levi Stubbs (indeed, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was supposedly inspired by the Four Tops’ Baby I Need Your Lovin’), while Bobby Hatfield has little to do. The story goes that Hatfield was rather annoyed about that, asking producer Phil Spector what he was supposed to do until he came into the song. Spector reportedly replied: “You can take the money to the bank:”
Best bit: Medley and Hatfield’s interplay: “Baby!” “Baby!” (2:34)

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