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The Originals Vol. 35 – Beatles edition 2

January 22nd, 2010 8 comments

Last April — ten editions of The Originals ago — we looked at the first of three batches of originals covered by the Beatles. Here we revisit two tracks each from the debut Please Please Me (Anna, Boys) and 1964′s Beatles For Sale (Words Of Love, Mr Moonlight), as well as With The Beatles‘ Devil In His Heart.

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Arthur Alexander – Anna (Go To Him) (1962).mp3
The Beatles – Anna (Go To Him) (1963).mp3

Few artists will have had their original songs covered by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley. Arthur Alexander did. We already observed that Elvis covered Burning Love (though Alexander didn’t write that one), Dylan covered Sally Sue Brown (in 1988), the Stones covered his You Better Move On (in 1964), and the Beatles his song Anna on their debut album. The Fabs also used to perform three other Alexander songs in concert. Not bad for a soul singer who died in relative obscurity in 1993, aged only 53. Some people even suggest that Alexander influenced John Lennon’s vocal style. McCartney in a 1987 interview said that in those early days, the group wanted to be like Arthur Alexander.

Alexander’s far superior version of Anna was not a big hit, even as it featured the great country pianist Floyd Cramer, whose keyboard riffs Harrison replicates on guitar. It did make the R&B Top 10, but stalled at #68 in the Billboard charts. Released in September 1962, the Beatles — clearly already fans — soon included it in their concert repertoire, and eventually recorded it in three takes on February 11, 1963, just over five weeks before their debut album was released. That day, the band recorded 10 of the album’s 14 songs, culminating with Twist And Shout (featured in the first Beatles edition of The Originals), on which Lennon’s vocals are famously shot from a long day’s session and a cold. On Anna, Lennon’s voice is noticeably enduring the effects of his malaise. Strangely, once it had been committed to record, Anna was dropped from the concert setlists. Note by the way that neither Alexander nor the Beatles actually urge Anna to go to him.

A promo single of the Beatles’ version of Anna (backed with Ask Me Why) issued by the US label Vee Jay is said to be the rarest Beatles record, with only four copies known to exist. Vee Jay changed their mind about releasing Anna, going instead for Twist And Shout, since that was going to be performed on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Also recorded by: Vern Rogers (1964), The Tams (1964), George Martin (1966), Humble Pie (1974), Kursaal Flyers (1977), Jack Denton (1989), Roger McGuinn (1994), L.A. Workshop with New Yorker (1995), Alan Merrill (2003)

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The Donays – Devil In His Heart (1962).mp3
The Beatles – Devil In Her Heart (1963).mp3

Devil In His Heart appeared on the With The Beatles album, but had been part of the group’s concert repertoire in 1962/63. The Beatles recorded it on July 18, 1963, two days after recording it for the BBC show Pop Go The Beatles. The group came upon the song when they had heard it in Brian Epstein’s NEMS record store in Liverpool. George Harrison, who sings lead vocals on the cover, later recalled: “Brian [Epstein] had had a policy at NEMS [record store] of buying at least one copy of every record that was released. Consequently he had records that weren’t hits in Britain, weren’t even hits in America. Before we were going to a gig, we’d meet in the record store, after it had shut, and we’d search the racks like ferrets to see what new ones were there…Devil In Her Heart and Barrett Strong’s Money were records that we’d picked up and played in the shop and thought were interesting.”

Unlike other the other R&B acts covered on that album, the Donays — Yvonne, Janice, Michelle, Gwen — were not and never would be well known. Devil In His Heart was the Detroit girl-group’s only single, and it made no notable impact at all, though the flip-side, Bad Boy, received some local airplay. Devil In His Heart was first released by Detroit’s Correc-tone Records, which also had an unknown Wilson Picket on its books. The New York label Brent picked up the national license for the single, and through Brent’s arrangement with the British Oriole label the record ended up in Epstein’s Liverpool store.

But it was not the lack of commercial success that forced the group’s demise, but their mothers. “The mothers wanted the girls to go to college,” Yvonne would recall. “Michelle’s mother was leery about the music world, so they dropped out.” Yvonne carried on recording for Correc-tone for three more singles, as Yvonne Vernee, but without great commercial success. She later became a member of the Motown group The Elgins to tour Britain in 1971 after the band had a belated hit there with their 1967 sing Heaven Must Have Sent You.

Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems.

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Buddy Holly – Words Of Love (1957).mp3
The Diamonds – Words Of Love (1957).mp3
The Beatles – Words Of Love (1964).mp3

The influence of Buddy Holly on The Beatles (and virtually every act of the British Invasion) is evident. It was a Holly song, That’ll Be The Day, which The Quarrymen performed on that famous acetate, and the name “Beatles” was inspired as a riff on the insect name of Buddy’s band, the Crickets. Yet, the Beatles recorded only one Holly song, the rather minor Words Of Love, which in Holly’s version was released as a single in Britain, but failed to dent the charts there.

Holly recorded Words Of Love on his own, putting each individual part (including his harmonies) to tape and then overdubbing them, apparently the first time that production method was used by a major artist. It was not a hit for Holly in the US either. Instead it was recorded by The Diamonds, also in 1957, who enjoyed a #13 hit with it. The Diamonds, a Canadian group, were mostly used to score hits from cover versions of songs originally performed by black acts. Their version of Words Of Love was, well, different.

The Beatles’ lovely version, far superior to Buddy’s (never mind The Diamonds’) appeared on Beatles For Sale, having been recorded on October 18, with John and George harmonising on the vocals (sources differ on that; others say it’s Paul, not George), sounding not unlike the Everly Brothers. Paul, the big Holly fan, later recorded his own cover version of the song.

Also recorded by: Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs (1964), Mike Berry (1999), Jeremy Jay (2009), Jessica Lea Mayfield (2009)

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The Shirelles – Boys (1960).mp3
The Beatles – Boys (1963).mp3

Boys was one of two Shirelles songs on Please, Please Me. Co-written by Luther Dixon, who produced the Shirelles on the Specter label, Boys was released in 1960 as the b-side of the group’s big hit Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Dixon had enjoyed some success as a songwriter, notably The Crests’ 1958 hit Sixteen Candles. The other co-writer, a white boy named Wes Farrell, would go on to greater things yet. He co-wrote Hang On Sloopy with the legendary Bert Berns, was the force behind Tony Orlando’s Dawn (named after Farrell’s daughter) and the Partridge Family, and founded Bell Records, which would later, after he sold it, become Arista.

It was recorded in one take during the mammoth February 11, 1963 session, just after Anna and before Chains (which featured in the first part of originals of Beatles covers). The other Shirelles song on the album was the better known Burt Bacharach composition Baby It’s You. While Lennon sang the latter, Boys introduced Ringo’s vocal stylings to the public. In the Beatles’ hands, the R&B number becomes a rocking scorcher in which the backing vocals eclipse Ringo’s voice, which delivered suitably tweaked lyrics.

Boys had been popular on Liverpool’s live circuit. The Beatles performed it in the Cavern Club, where it was the token number to be sung by drummer Pete Best. After Best was sacked, it became Ringo’s song. But it already was before then: as the drummer with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes he would often sing it in concerts, sometimes even duetting the song with the young Cilla Black, who would later become a star herself.

Also recorded by: The Flamin’ Groovies (1979), Mata Hari (1988), Jools Holland & Ringo Starr (2003)

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Dr Feelgood and the Interns – Mr Moonlight (1962).mp3
The Beatles – Mr Moonlight (1964).mp3

Many Beatles fans point to Mr Moonlight as the group’s worst recording (presumably ignoring the arcane stuff like Revolution #9 or Within You, Without You). It is indeed doubtful that Mr Moonlight has ever featured on a great number Top 10 lists of Beatles songs. But it isn’t really that bad (this guy makes his case persuasively).

Mr Moonlight appeared on Beatles For Sale, the hotchpotch album released in late 1964 that among some strong original material featured a number of random covers. It may seem that Mr Moonlight was one of those peculiar obscurities the Fabs often dug out — note how many b-sides and non-hits they covered — but the song was in fact quite popular at the time. Other bands obviously did the same as the Beatles did. It had been covered by The Hollies in January 1964, and in 1963 by the Merseybeats. Mr Moonlight had also been a Beatles concert staple for a while (going as far back as 1962; it appears on the Live At The Star Club, Hamburg album) , so there are some who suggest that the Hollies and Merseybeats “borrowed” the song from the Beatles.

The song was written by one Roy Lee Johnson, and first recorded in 1962 by the blues pianist Piano Red (Willie Perryman) as a b-side to his single Dr Feelgood, the title of which had become his stage name, and would later be adopted by the British rock band of that name (though they probably picked up the moniker from a cover version by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates). Piano Red, an albino performer who had made his first recording in 1936, was the first blues musician to break into the Billboard pop charts, and as a radio DJ in Atlanta in the 1950s featured a young James Brown on his show. Piano Red’s excursion as Dr Feelgood, a moniker he employed as a DJ, was brief and did little to benefit his career. His career later recovered, with Piano Red appearing on the jazz circuit. He even performed at the inauguration of the German chancellor Helmut Schmidt before dying if cancer in 1985 at the age of 73.

Also recorded by: The Merseybeats (1963), The Hollies (1964)

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The Originals Vol. 34 – Reworked hits

November 20th, 2009 8 comments

In this episode of The Originals we look at artists who had hits with covers of their own songs. It’s a fairly rare phenomenon in rock and soul that artists have bigger hits with re-recordings, though a number had bigger hits with live performances of studio tracks, such as Peter Frampton with Baby, I Love Your Way or Cheap Trick with I Want You To Want Me. It was of course pretty common with the interpreters of the standards, such as Frank Sinatra, whose swinging 1962 version of I Get a Kick Out Of You (featured HERE), for example is probably more famous than the more pensive 1953 original (featured HERE).

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The Isley Brothers – Who’s That Lady (1964).mp3
The Isley Brothers – That Lady Pt 1&2 (1973).mp3

ISLEYS64 The slice of funky soul from The Isley Brothers’ classic 1973 album 3+3 (named for the three original Isleys plus the three new members) was a cover of their 1964 recording, which had been inspired Curtis Mayfield’s band The Impressions. Released just before the Isleys signed for Motown, the original has a vague bossa nova beat with a jazzy brass backing, but is immediately recognisable as the song they recorded nine years later. The 1964 recording was a flop. The latter version, with reworked harmonies and without the brass, added Ernie’s distinctive guitar, Chris Jasper’s new-fangled synthethizer, Santanesque percussions, and the menacing interjection “Look, yeah, but don’t touch”. It became their first Top 10 hit in four years.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems.

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Nazz – Hello It’s Me (1968).mp3
Todd Rundgren – Hello It’s Me (1972).mp3

The Isley Brothers – Hello It’s Me (1974).mp3
NAZZ Before he became a guitar god, Rundgren was part of the Philadelphia garage rock band Nazz (not The Nazz, who went on to become the band Alice Cooper, before their singer appropriated that name for himself as a solo artist), whom their manager sought to promote as a teenybopper outfit. The name refers to comic-poet Lord Buckley’s poem “The Nazz”, a hip retelling of the Jesus story, but might also have been an allusion to the Yardbirds’ song The Nazz Are Blue.

Hello It’s Me, written by Rundgren, was released in 1968 as the b-side of the group’s debut single, Open Your Eyes. The single flopped, except in Boston where a local DJ flipped the single, giving Hello It’s Me local hit status. Rundgren resurrected the song for his 1972 double album Something/Anything?, on three sides of which he did everything — writing, playing, producing, engineering — himself. Hello It’s Me was on side 4, and features session musicians, a horn section (including Randy Brecker) and the backing vocals of Vicki Sue Robinson (who went on to record the original of Gloria Estefan’s1994 hit Turn The Beat Around). The second single from the album, it reached #5 in the US, still Rundgren’s biggest hit. He re-recorded it in 1997 easy listening style. The best version, however, is that by The Isley Brothers, on the 1974 Live It Up album.
Also recorded by: The Isley Brothers (1974), Lani Hall (1975), Groove Theory (1995), Gerald Levert (1999), Paul Giamatti (in the film Duets, 2000), Seiya Nakano (2002), John Legend (2005), Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs (2009)

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Frantic Elevators – Holding Back The Years (1982).mp3
Simply Red – Holding Back The Years (1985).mp3

Randy Crawford – Holding Back The Years (1995).mp3
Angie Stone – Holding Back The Years (2000).mp3

frantic_elevators Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years sounds like a cover version of an obscure ’60s soul number, and the versions by Randy Crawford and Angie Stone show how good a soul song it is. But it is, in fact, a Mick Hucknall composition. Before Hucknall became Simply Red (would you recognise any of the other interchangeable members in the street?), he was the lead singer of the Frantic Elevators, a punk group whose founding was inspired by the Sex Pistols’ 1976 Manchester gig. They stayed together for seven years of very limited success, releasing four non-charting singles and recording a Peel session. The last of the four singles, released in 1982, was Holding Back The Years, a song Hucknall had mostly written as a 17-year-old about his mother’s desertion when he was three (he added the chorus later). Their version is understated and almost morose, in a Joy Division sort of way. Although released independently, as the cut-and-paste artwork on the sleeve suggests, they had high hopes for the single. Ineffective distribution dashed those hopes.

In 1983, Hucknall left the Frantic Elevators and went on to found Simply Red (who before arriving at that name were called World Service, Red and the Dancing Dead, and Just Red). The first single, Money’s Too Tight To Mention — a cover version featured in The Originals Vol. 23— was an instant hit. The follow-up was a remake of Holding Back The Years, now rendered as a soul number, which was a worldwide smash, even topping the Billboard charts. I seem to recall that the single and LP versions had different mixes, but I have found no reference to it, and my copy of the single is long gone.
Also recorded by: James Galway (1994), Randy Crawford (1995), The Isley Brothers (1996), Gino Marinello Orchestra (1996), Craig Chaquico (1997), Jimmy Scott (1998), Another Level (1999), Angie Stone (2000), Emmerson Nogueira (2001), Erin Bode (2006), Etta James (2006), Umphrey’s McGee (2007), The Cooltrane Quartet (2007)

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Strontium 90/Sting – Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (1977).mp3
The Police – Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (1981).mp3

strontium Strictly-speaking this is not really a cover version, or even a song by Strontium 90, but a demo by the group’s member Sting, though it was eventually released in 1997 on the Strontium 90 retrospective of live and demo cuts, Police Academy. In its initial form, the unrequited love for stalkers anthem (Sting has a string of those) is an acoustic number which is actually pretty good. Strontium 90 consisted of the three future Police members — Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland — plus founder Mike Howlett, who went on to be a successful producer of many New Wave acts. So Howlett, through Strontium 90 introduced Andy Summers to Sting and Copeland, who had previously gigged together.

Howlett remembered things this way: “I first saw Sting play live in a room above a pub in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England in the summer of ’76. The band was Last Exit, sounding a bit like Weather Report with vocals. Sting soon moved to London following his best chance instinct. I had just quit my group Gong and was working on material for my own project. I asked sting to sing on the demos I was recording. Meanwhile I’d bumped into Andy Summers at a party in January ’77. He’d been out of the scene for a couple of years studying classical guitar. When I asked him to play on my demo, he was glad to do something new. I needed a drummer. Sting had met Stewart Copeland, he’d bring him along. So that’s how it happened. We all met in a studio called Virtual Earth around February 1977. This was the first time Sting, Andy and Stewart played together.”
Also recorded by: The Surffreakers (1992), The Shadows (1990), Shawn Colvin (as Every Little Thing (He) Does Is Magic, 1994), Chaka Demus & Pliers (1997), Flying Pickets (1998), Soraya (as Todo lo que él hace, 1998), Lee Ritenour (2002), Emmerson Nogueira (2002), Melissa Ellen (2004), Anadivine (2005), Ra (2005), John Barrowman (2007), Ali Campbell (2008)

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The Beatles – Across The Universe (1969).mp3
The Beatles – Across The Universe (1970).mp3
David Bowie – Across The Universe (1975).mp3

This may well be the least surprising inclusion in the entire series of The Originals — or perhaps the most, since the latter version is really a remix of the first. The famous version, of course is that on the Let It Be album and the blue 1967-70 compilation. It was recorded long before the other tracks of Let It Be.

our world In early February 1968, the Beatles were in the Abbey Road studios to produce a single they would released while they went off to hang with the Maharishi in India. That single turned out to be Paul’s Lady Madonna (the same session also produced the b-side, George’s The Inner Light, and John’s Hey Bulldog, which would appear on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack). John’s contribution to the quest for a new single was Across The Universe, whose lyric “words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup” he said came to him when his then-wife Cynthia was babbling about something he took no interest in. The arrangement for the song was problematic, however. John did not think that Paul was getting the backing falsetto right, so Paul brought in two female fans who were standing outside the studio, Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease, to sing backing vocals instead. They did not turn professional, and the recording shows why. John later voiced his suspicion that Paul intentionally sabotaged many of his songs — citing also the violence McCartney did to, erm, Strawberry Fields — though he also admitted that his own vocals on Across The Universe were poor (and he couldn’t blame Paul for that).

Rejected for the single, Across The Universe was not considered for the White Album, apparently because John had become disillusioned with the whole transcendental meditation lark which the song had latched on to. Somehow, however, comedian Spike Milligan heard the song, and suggested that Across The Universe would be a great number for the charity album he was compiling for the World Wildlife Fund. The Beatles agreed to let him have it, with appropriate bird noises added to the mix. The LP’s title, No One’s Gonna Change Our World, was adapted from a recurring line in the song, which opened the set. The album, which also featured the likes of Lulu, Cliff Richard, the Bee Gees, Cilla Black and The Hollies, was eventually released on December 12, 1969.

By then Lennon had rediscovered his affection for the song, which he always regarded as one of the best he had ever written, and decided to rework it for the Get Back sessions, which became the Let It Be album. It was not re-recorded for the album, though the Let It Be film shows the Beatles rehearsing it (on the strength of which it was included on the LP). The new version was the work of engineering. The 1968 track was first remixed in early 1970 by Glyn Johns, who dumped the girls and birds, then Phil Spector mixed it in March/April 1970, slowing it down and adding the orchestra, to create the version we know best.

In January 2008, NASA beamed the song into space, in the direction of the North Star, Polaris. It will take the song another 429 years too get there. The cover version by David Bowie comes from the Young Americans album, and features Lennon on guitar.
Also recorded by: Cilla Black (1970), Lightsmyth (1970), Christine Roberts (1970), David Bowie (1975), Vadim Brodsky (1986), Laibach (1988), The Family Cat (1991), Holly Johnson (1991), 10cc (1993), Joemy Wilson (1993), Göran Söllscher (1995), Elliot Humberto Kavee (1997), Aine Minogue (1997), Fiona Apple (1998), Sloan Wainwright (1998), Paul Schwartz (1998), Lana Lane (1998), 46bliss (1999), Geoff Keezer (2000), Jane Duboc (2001), Texas (2001), Jason Falkner (2001), Rufus Wainwright (2002), Afterhours + Verdena (2003), Allon (2004), Emmerson Nogueira (2004), Beatlejazz (2005), Barbara Dickson (2006), Emmanuel Santarromana (2006), Jim Sturgess (2007), Michael Johns (2008) a.o.

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The Originals Vol. 33

October 16th, 2009 8 comments

In Volume 33 of The Originals, we’ll look at the first recordings of Glen Campbell’s Gentle On My Mind, The Drifters’ On Broadway, Millie’s My Boy Lollipop, George Harrison’s Got My Mind Set On You and Lutricia McNeal’s Ain’t that Just The Way. The two versions of On Broadway that preceded The Drifters’ version are of particular interest because they were recorded as originally written; the song was reworked for the version that became a hit. As always, thanks to Walter and RH who helped me out with songs.

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John Hartford – Gentle On My Mind (1967).mp3
Glen Campbell – Gentle On My Mind (1967).mp3
Leonard Nimoy – Gentle On My Mind (1968).mp3
Boots Randolph – Gentle On My Mind (1968).mp3
Elvis Presley – Gentle On My Mind (1969).mp3

HARTFORDEven without a chorus, Gentle On My Mind made a great impact when it first appeared in the late 1960s. John Hartford, who wrote the song, picked up two Grammys for best folk performance and best country song, but that was eclipsed by Glen Campbell, for whom it became a signature tune (literally; it was the theme of his 1969-72 TV show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, on which Hartford frequently appeared). Campbell, who discovered the song when he heard Hartford’s record on the radio, also won two Grammy for his version, for best country recording and solo performance). His version was a hit twice, in 1967 and again in 1968. The song also bothered the charts in versions by Patti Page (1968) and Aretha Franklin (1969), and featured on Elvis Presley’s excellent comeback album, From Elvis In Memphis (1969). In Britain, its only chart appearance was a #2 hit for, of all people, Dean Martin in1969.

Gentle On My Mind was not a typical John Hartford number. The singer is better known for his bluegrass roots which found expression in his accomplished use of the banjo and fiddle (shortly before his death at 63 in 2001, Hartford won another Grammy for his contributions to the bluegrass soundtrack for the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Hartford — the son of a New York doctor who grew up in St Louis and later acquired a steamboat pilot licence — said that he wrote Gentle On My Mind after watching the film Dr Zhivago. “While I was writing it, if I had any idea that was going to be a hit, it probably would have come out differently and it wouldn’t have been a hit. That just came real fast, a blaze, a blur.” See Hartford’s scribbled lyrics on the website dedicated to the singer.

The song is said to have spawned some 300 cover versions. Elvis’ remake is from the great Memphis sessions which also yielded Suspicious Minds (another cover, dealt with HERE); saxophonist Boots Randolph delivers a very likable easy listening instrumental; and Leonard Nimoy’s version…well, it needs to be heard.

Also recorded by: Tammy Wynette (1967), Trini Lopez (1968), The Lettermen (1968), Burl Ives (1968), Eddy Arnold (1968), Nancy Wilson (1968), Jim Ed Brown (1968), David Houston (1968), Johnny Darrell (1968), Wally Whyton (1968), Patti Page (1968), Billy Eckstine (1968), Dean Martin (1968), Frank Sinatra (1968), Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell (1968), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), Wolfgang Sauer (as Die schönen Zeiten der Erinnerung , 1968), Andy Williams (1969), Lenny Dee (1969), Nat Stuckey (1969), Aretha Franklin (1969), Elvis Presley (1969), Lawrence Welk (1969), Wayne Versage (1969), Claude François (as Si douce à mon souvenir, 1970), The New Seekers (1970), Albert West (1975), Bucky Dee James & The Nashville Explosion (1977), Howard Carpendale (1980), Mark Eitzel (2002), Johnny Cash with Glen Campbell (released in 2003), Lucinda Williams (2006) a.o.

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The Cookies – On Broadway (1962).mp3
The Cystals – On Broadway (1962).mp3
The Drifters – On Broadway (1963).mp3
(reuploaded)
George Benson – On Broadway (single version) (1978).mp3

CRYSTALSBarry Mann and Cynthia Weil were among the giants of the Brill Building songwriting collective, although they were based at Aldon Music on 1650 Broadway, not in the actual Brill Building at 1619 Broadway (Aldon Music was co-founded by Al Nevins, one of the Three Suns who recorded the original of Twilight Time). According to Cynthia Weil, her future husband Mann had wanted to write a “Gershwinesque” pop song, and she, being a Broadway fan, was delighted to put appropriate lyrics to the melody. They first had the song recorded by The Cookies (who featured in The Originals HERE), who ordinarily recorded songs, mostly demos, by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Their demo was not released, but that by fellow girl-group the Crystals recorded soon after was, opening side 2 of their 1962 Twist Uptown album.

DRIFTERSIn February 1963, Brill bosses Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber were in need of a song for the Drifters. At their request, Mann & Weil offered their On Broadway. Leiber & Stoller didn’t quite like their arrangement, and revised it overnight with the original composers. Next day the Drifters recorded the song, with Leiber & Stoller protégé Phil Spector on guitar and Rudy Lewis (successor of Ben E. King as the group’s lead singer) making one of his final appearances as a Drifter before his sudden death of a heart attack in 1964. Released in March ’63, the Drifters’ version became a hit, reaching #9 in the Billboard charts.

George Benson’s jazzed-up 1978 live recording did even better, reaching #7 in the US. Recorded in L.A., the crowd clearly agrees with the statement that Benson “can play this here guitar”.

Also recorded by: The Challengers (1963), Bobby Darin (1963), Nancy Wilson (1964), Dave Clark Five (1964), Frank Alamo (1964), Freddie Scott (1964), Lou Rawls (1966), King Curtis (1966), Nancy Sinatra (1966), Willis Jackson (1966), Blossom Dearie (1966), Mongo Santamaría (1970), Livingston Taylor (1971), Tony Christie (1972), Eric Carmen (1975), Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes feat. Sir Monti Rock III (1977), George Benson (1978), Bogart (1979), Gary Numan (1981), Jeff Beck & Paul Rodgers (1983), Neil Young (1989), Jeff Beck & Paul Rodgers (1994), George Benson & Clifford and the Rhythm Rats (1995), Stacy Sullivan (1997), Johnny Mathis (2000), Barbie Anaka with David Loy (2003), Frankie Valli & Jersey Boys (2007), James Taylor (2008), Daniele Magro (2009) a.o.

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Barbie Gaye – My Boy Lollypop (1956).mp3
Millie Small – My Boy Lollipop (1964).mp3

How often does a cover version change the course of music history? Elvis’ remakes of country, blues and rockabilly numbers. The standards sung by Sinatra and Crosby. And Millie’s My Boy Lollipop, widely regarded as the first crossover ska hit which helped give reggae a mainstream audience. In its original version, My Boy Lollypop (note the original spelling) was a song recorded in 1956 by the white R&B singer Barbie Gaye, at 15 two years younger than Millie Small was when she had a hit with the cover in 1964.

barbie_gayeAs so often in pop history, the story of the song’s authorship is cloaked in controversy. By most accounts, it was written by Bobby Spencer of the doo wop band the Cadillacs, with the group’s manager, Johnny Roberts, getting co-writer credit. Barbie Gaye’s single became a very minor hit, championed by the legendary rock ’n roll DJ Alan Freed (the late songwriter Ellie Greenwich styled herself Ellie Gaye in tribute to Barbie on her first single, 1958’s Silly Isn’t It). It was Spencer’s misfortune to come into contact with the notorious record executive and music publisher Morris Levy, who implausibly claimed that he had in fact written My Boy Lollypop, using the moniker R Spencer as a pseudonym. The Cadillacs’ Spencer was later reinstated on the credits which nonetheless still list Levy as a co-writer. Levy’s name is attached to other classics which he had no hand in writing, such as Lee Dorsey’s Ya Ya, Frankie Lymon’s Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and later the Rivieras’ California Sun.

Millie_My_Boy_LollipopMy Boy Lollipop was resurrected in 1964 by Chris Blackwell, boss of the nascent Island Records in England label which had recorded no big hit yet. He chose young Millicent Small, who as the duo Roy and Millie had enjoyed a hit with We’ll Meet in Jamaica, to record it. Her version changed that: the song became a worldwide hit, reaching #2 in both US and UK. Island, of course, went on to become the label of Bob Marley, Roxy Music, Robert Palmer and U2. Millie’s German version of the song featured HERE.

Also recorded by: Joan Baxter (1964), Heidi Bachert (German version, 1964), Plum Run (as part of a medley with Lollipop, 1969), Maggie Mae (1974), James Last (1975), Lea Laven (1976), Flesh (1979), Bad Manners (as My Girl Lollipop [My Boy Lollipop], 1982), Lulu (1986), Isabelle A & The Dinky Toys (1996), Die Mädels (2003), Élodie Frégé (2003), Steven Seagal (as Lollipop, 2005), The King Blues (2008), Amy Winehouse (2009) a.o.

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James Ray – Got My Mind Set On You (1962).mp3
George Harrison – Got My Mind Set On You (1987).mp3

Produced by Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra, it was a cover version that gave George Harrison his first big hit since his nostalgic All Those Years Ago six years earlier. With Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, Harrison and Lynne went on to form the Traveling Wilburys. It is no accident that Harrison’s US#1 and UK#2 hit sounds a lot like a Wilburys song.

james_rayGot My Mind Set On you was originally recorded at roughly the same time as the Beatles began their ascent. Indeed, Harrison discovered the song at that time when he bought James Ray’s LP during a holiday to visit his sister in the US in September 1963. It was written by Rudy Cark, who also wrote The Shoop Shoop Song (featured HERE), Good Lovin’ (which will still feature in this series) and Barbara Mason’s Everybody’s Got to Make A Fool Out Of Somebody. He also co-wrote the Main Ingredient’s Everybody Plays The Fool. R&B Singer Ray James was remembered mostly for only one song, and it wasn’t the song Harrison resurrected 25 years later, but If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody, which reached #22 in the Billboard charts. It might have become a Beatles cover (they did perform it), but in Britain Freddie & the Dreamers had a hit with it.

The diminutive Ray began recording in 1959, as Little Jimmy Ray, releasing one single which flopped. He soon became destitute until he was rediscovered in 1962, while busking in the streets and living on a rooftop in Washington, by Gerry Granahan of Caprice Records. Soon after, If You’ve Got To Make A Fool became a hit, and Ray’s star seemed to be rising. Alas, he struggled to have more hits. James Ray died in 1964, reportedly of a drug overdose. Featured here is the longer album version of I’ve Got My Mind Set On You, on which Ray was backed by the Hutch Davie Orchestra, which Harrison would have heard on the LP he bought (and which is a lot better than his cover). The single version apparently was brutally truncated.

Also recorded by: ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic (parody as This Song’s Just Six Words Long, 1988), Shakin’ Stevens (2007)

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Barbi Benton – Ain’t That Just The Way (1976).mp3
Lutricia McNeal – Ain’t That Just The Way (1997).mp3

benton_playboy_72Twenty years before the unusually named Lutricia McNeal had a European hit with Ain’t That Just The Way, it was recorded by the girlfriend of Playboy honcho Hugh Hefner. Hefner and Benton became a couple, for seven years, after the then 18-year-old pretended to be his girlfriend in episodes of the Playboy After Dark TV series in 1968. Born Barbara Klein (the more Playboy-friendly name was suggested by Hefner, of course) in New York and growing up in California, Benton was primarily an actress, appearing in a few unsuccessful movies as well as in the TV show Hee Haw. Between 1978 and ’81, she had three cameos playing three different characters on the Love Boat. In the meantime, she recorded six albums (including a live set) between 1974 and 1988, scoring a country chart top 5 hit in 1975 with Brass Buckles. She also appeared several times in Playboy, making it to the cover in July 1969, March 1970, May 1972 and October 1985 — but never as a Playmate.

barbi_bentonBenton first released Ain’t That Just The Way, which she co-wrote with film composer Stu Philips, as a single in 1976, possibly for the TV series McCloud, which Philips scored. It Appears in an episode of which the song played (the “Park Avenue Pirates” one, fact fans). Benton re-recorded a slowed-down version of the song, produced by Deep Purple’s Roger Glover, for her 1978 album of the same title (the cover of which is pictured here). The version featured here is the 1976 single. Benton today is married to a millionaire real estate developer and apparently works as an interior designer in L.A.

The song was covered in 1977 by Dutch singer Patricia Paay, retitled Poor Jeremy. Two decades later, American R&B singer McNeal had a big hit throughout Europe with her version, restored to its original title, reaching #5 in Britain and the top 10 in every European chart, as well as topping the Billboard Dance charts. In a bit of a twist, McNeal posed in the German edition of Hefner’s Playboy magazine in 2004.

Also recorded by: Patricia Paay (as Poor Jeremy, 1977)

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More Originals

The Originals Vol. 32

September 18th, 2009 12 comments

This time we look at the Carpenters hit that began life as an ad for a bank and was first released by a man with a one-off moniker; the Righteous Brothers classic which Phil Spector saw fit to issue only as a b-side; Gram Parsons’ famous song that was first recorded by a country singer before the co-writer had the chance; The Platters hit that was first an instrumental; and the Manhattan Transfer hit that was first recorded by a husband and wife team. Many thanks to Dennis, Walter and RH for their help.

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Freddie Allen – We’ve Only Just Begun (1970).mp3
Carpenters – We’ve Only Just Begun (1970).mp3
Curtis Mayfield – We’ve Only Just Begun (1971).mp3

freddie_allenWe’ve Only Just Begun first made its appearance in 1970 in a TV commercial for a bank (video), whence it was picked up by Richard Carpenter to create the popular wedding staple. But before Richard and Karen got around to it, it was recorded a few months earlier by Freddie Allen, an actor who under his stage name Smokey Roberds was a member of ’60s California pop group The Parade, and later formed the duo Ian & Murray with fellow actor and Parade member Murray MacLeod.

As Roberds tells it, one day he heard the Crocker National Bank commercial on his car radio (presumably the ad transcended media platforms), and recognised in the tune the signature of his composer friend Roger Nichols, who had written the ad’s song with lyricist Paul Williams. He phoned Nichols, ascertained that he had indeed co-written it, and asked him to create a full-length version. Nichols and Williams did so, and Roberds intended to produce it for a band he had just signed to White Whale Records. The deal fell through, so Roberds decided to record the song himself, but couldn’t do so under his stage name for contractual reasons. Since he was born Fred Allen Roberds, his Christian names provided his new, temporary moniker (see interview here, though you’ll go blind reading it).

carpentersPaul Williams’ memory is slightly different: in his version, Nichols and he had added verses to subsequent updates of the advert, and completed a full version in case anyone wanted to record it. When Richard Carpenter heard the song in the commercial, he contacted Williams to ask if there was a full version, and Williams said there was — and he would have lied if there wasn’t. Perhaps that happened before Allen recorded it. (Full interview here)

The remarkable Williams, incidentally, sang the song in the ad and would later write Rainy Days And Mondays and I Won’t Last A Day Without You for the Carpenters (both with Nichols), as well as Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen, Kermit the Frog’s The Rainbow Connection and the Love Boat theme, among others.

Freddie Allen’s single, a likable country-pop affair, did well in California, but not nationally, which he attributed to promotion and distribution problems. Released a few months later, the Carpenters had their third hit with We’ve Only Just Begun, reaching #2 in the US.

Also recorded by: Perry Como (1970), Mark Lindsay (1970), Dionne Warwick (1970), Paul Williams (1971), Bill Medley (1971), Johnny Mathis (1971). Mark Lindsay (1971), Jerry Vale (1971), The Moments (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Claudine Longet (1971), The Wip (1971), Grant Green (1971), Barbra Streisand (recorded in 1971, released in 1991), Johnny Hartman (1972), Henry Mancini (1972), Reuben Wilson (1973), The Pacific Strings (1973), Jack Jones (1973), Ray Conniff (1986), Ferrante & Teicher (1992), Grant Lee Buffalo (1994), Richard Clayderman (1995), Stan Whitmire (2000), Bradley Joseph (2005), Peter Grant (2006)

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Bobby Bare – Streets Of Baltimore (1966).mp3
Tompall & The Glaser Brothers – Streets of Baltimore (1966).mp3
Gram Parsons – Streets Of Baltimore.mp3
Nanci Griffiths & John Prine – Streets Of Baltimore (1998).mp3
Evan Dando – Streets Of Baltimore (1998).mp3

tompall_glaserTompall Glaser was one of the original country Outlaws, along with the likes of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. With his brothers, he supported Johnny Cash on tour in the early 1960s before as Tompall & The Glaser Brothers they signed for MGM Records in 1966. The same year Tompall wrote Streets Of Baltimore, the sad story of a man who selflessly gives up everything, including his farm back in Tennessee, so as to fulfill his woman’s dream of living in Baltimore — with no happy ending, at not least for him.

Tompall’s cousin Dennis, who worked for him, told me in an e-mail that the original song had many more verses. “Harlan told me once that Tompall stopped by his office and gave him a copy of what he’s written, which was much longer than the final version. And said: ‘Here, fix it’. It sounds like something Tom would say.”

bobby_bareBut the Glasers didn’t recorded the song first; Bobby Bare got there first. Recorded in April 1966 (produced by Chet Atkins) his version was released as a single in June 1966; the Glasers’ was recorded in September. Bare went on to have hit with it, reaching #7 on the Country charts. The song became more famous in the wonderful version by Gram Parsons, which appeared on his 1973 GP album. Likewise, the 1998 duet by the magnificent Nanci Griffiths and the awesome John Prine is essential.

Dennis Glaser also said that the song has been mentioned in an American Literature textbook “as an example of songs that reflect actual life”.

Also recorded by: Capitol Showband (1967), Charley Pride (1969), Statler Brothers (1974), The Bats (1994), Tony Walsh (1999), Skik (as Grachten van Amsterdam, 2004), The Little Willies (2006)

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The Three Suns – Twilight Time (1944).mp3
Les Brown & his Orchestra – Twilight Time
(1945).mp3
Johnny Maddox and the Rhythmasters – Twilight Time (1953).mp3
The Platters – Twilight Time (1958).mp3

three_sunsThe Three Suns – brothers Al (guitar) and Morty Nevins (accordion) and cousin Artie Dunn (organ) – were an instrumental trio founded in the late 1930s in Philadelphia. Although not particularly well-known, they had a long career that lasted into the ’60s (albeit in latter years with competing entities going by the group’s name, including one with Don Kirshner who later invented the Monkees). Unusual orchestration notwithstanding – their Twilight Time sounds like carousel music — the Three Suns were sought-after performers who spawned imitation groups, including the Twilight Three. (More on The Three Suns here)

Not much seems to be known about the genesis of Twilight Time other than it becoming something of a signature tune for the group. They eventually recorded it in 1944. It had become so popular that songwriter Buck Ram put his evocative lyrics – “Heavenly shades of night are falling, it’s twilight time” – to the melody. The first cover version of the song was recorded in November 1944 by bandleader Les Brown, and released in early 1945. But it is unclear whether it featured vocals. Several sources, including not always reliable Wikipedia, say that Brown’s version features Doris Day, and therefore is the first vocal version of the song. I’ve not been able to find the song or even proof that Doris Day sang it. Featured here is the instrumental version Brown, released as the b-side to Sentimental Journey, the first recording of that standard which Doris did sing.

A recording I have of an old radio programme of the Armed Forces Radio Service, called Personal Album, features five Les Brown songs. Four of them are sung by Doris Day, but when announcing Twilight Time, the presenter says that Doris will “sit that one out”. So I doubt she ever recorded it with Brown, though she might have sung it on stage.

If Doris Day did not lend her vocals to Twilight Time, then the first recording to feature Buck Rams’ lyrics would probably be that released, also in 1945, by Jimmy Dorsey featuring Teddy Walters on the microphones, which appeared in the MGM movie Thrill Of A Romance. Alas, I have no recording of that version.

plattersTwilight Time had been recorded intermittently — including a rather nice ragtime version by Johnny Maddox and the Rhythmasters — by the time Ram signed the vocal group The Platters, for whom he co-wrote some of their biggest hits, such as Only You and The Great Pretender. By 1958 it had been almost two years since The Platters had enjoyed a Top 10 hit. Ram dug out Twilight Time and his protegés had their third US #1. The song also reached #3 in Britain, their highest chart placing there until Smoke Gets In Your Eyes topped the UK charts later that year.

Also recorded by: Roy Eldridge & His Orchestra (1944), Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Teddy Walters (1945), Johnny Maddox And The Rhythmasters (1953), Otto Brandenburg (1960), Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas (1965), Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs (1965), Gene Pitney (1970), P.J. Proby (1973), José Feliciano (1975), Carl Mann (1976), Dave (as 5 Uhr früh, 1980), Willie Nelson (1988), John Fahey (1992), John Davidson (1999), The Alley Cats (2000), Anne Murray (2004) a.o.

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Art and Dottie Todd – Chanson D’Amour (Song Of Love) (1958).mp3
Manhattan Transfer – Chanson D’Amour (1976).mp3

art_dottie_toddFew songs have irritated and fascinated me in such equal measures as Manhattan Transfer’s 1977 hit Chanson D’Amour, a UK #1. Their cover was ingratiatingly camp and absolutely ubiquitous, a middle-aged finger raised at punk. It is also a most insidious earworm. Almost two decades earlier, the Wayne Shanklin composition had been a US #6 hit for the husband and wife duo Art and Dottie Todd. The couple’s version competed in the charts with an alternative take by the Fontane Sisters. Ar and Dottie scored the bigger hit. It was also their only US hit. Chanson D’Amour didn’t chart in Britain, but the Todds had their solitary hit there with a different song, Broken Wings. So they ended up one-hit wonders on both sides of the Atlantic, but with different songs.

The Todds, who already had enjoyed a long career and even presented a radio show after getting married in 1941 (they met when accidentally booked into the same hotel room), proceeded to entertain in the lounges of Las Vegas for many years before their semi-retirement in 1980 to Hawaii, where they opened a supper club. Dottie died in 2000 at 87; Art followed her in 2007 at the age of 93. Somehow it seems right that this couple, who lived and worked together for six decades, should be remembered for a Song of Love.

Chanson D’Amour was resurrected in 1966 by easy listening merchants The Lettermen, who had a minor US hit with it. And a decade later, Manhattan Transfer recorded their cover, adding a French 1920s cabaret feel to the Todd’s template, which they followed quite faithfully.

Also recorded by: Also recorded by: The Fontane Sisters (1958), The Lettermen (1966), Gheorghe Zamfir (1974), Ray Conniff (1979), BZN (1981), André Rieu (2003), In-grid (2004) a.o.

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Todd Duncan – Unchained Melody (excerpt) (1955).mp3
Unchained Melody Mix (39MB):
Les Baxter – Unchained Melody (1955)
Al Hibbler – Unchained Melody (1955)
Roy Hamilton – Unchained Melody (1955)
Gene Vincent & his Blue Caps – Unchained Melody (1957)
Merri Gail – Unchained Melody (1960)
Vito and the Salutations – Unchained Melody (1963)
The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody (1965)
Boots Randolph – Unchained Melody (1967)
Elvis Presley – Unchained Melody (1977)
Kenny Rogers – Unchained Melody (1977)
Willie Nelson – Unchained Melody (1978)
U2 – Unchained Melody (1989)
Clarence Gatemouth Brown – Unchained Melody (1995)

todd_duncanIt takes something special to record a song that had been recorded many times and been a hit for various artists, and in the process appropriate it in the public consciousness. The Righteous Brothers did so with Unchained Melody, a song that made its public debut as a theme in the otherwise forgotten 1955 movie Unchained (hence the song’s cryptic title), sung on the soundtrack by the African-American singer Todd Duncan (pictured), the original Porgy in the 1935 production of Porgy & Bess, who died at 95 in 1998 (the last surviving original cast member, Anne Brown, who played Bess, died a few months ago at the age of 96). Duncan was also a professor of voice at Harvard. I’m afraid the poor quality clip I’m posting here is the best I could find (thanks to my friend Walter).

The song was written by Alex North and Hy Zaret (whose mother knew him as William Starrat). The story goes that the young Hy, in an episode of unrequited love, had written the lyrics as a poem, which North set to music in 1936. The yet nameless song was offered to Bing Crosby, who turned it down. Thereafter it sat on the shelves until almost two decades later North was scoring Unchained, a prison drama, which in a small role featured the jazz legend Dexter Gordon, at the time jailed for heroin possession at the prison which served as the movie’s set. Unchained Melody received an Oscar nomination (Love Is A Many Splendored Thing won) — the first of 14 unsuccessful nominations for North, who eventually was given a lifetime achievement award.

ray hamiltonDuncan’s version went nowhere, but the song was a US top 10 hit for three artists in 1955: Les Baxter, in an instrumental version, and vocal interpretations by Al Hibbler and Roy Hamilton, with Hibbler’s becoming the best known version for the next decade. In June the same year,  singer Jimmy Young took the song to the top of the British charts, the first of four times the song was a UK #1 (the other chart-toppers were the Righteous Brothers, Robson & Jerome, and Gareth Gates).

Ten years later, the Righteous Brothers’ recorded it, produced by Bill Medley (though some dispute that) with Bobby Hatfield’s magnificent vocals, and released on Spector’s Philles label. With so many versions preceding the Righteous Brothers’ take, one can only speculate which one, if any, provided the primary inspiration. I would not be surprised to learn that Hatfield drew at least something from Gene Vincent’s vocals in the 1957 version, which oddly omits the chorus.

As so often, the classic started out as a b-side, in this case to the Gerry Goffin & Carole King song Hung On You, which Spector produced. To Spector’s chagrin, DJs flipped the record and Unchained Melody (which had no producer credit on the label) became the big hit, reaching #4 in the US.

righteous_brothersIn 1990 Unchained Melody enjoyed a massive revival thanks to the most famous scene in the film Ghost, featuring Patrick Swayze (R.I.P.) and Demi Moore playing with clay. The song went to #1 in Britain, and would have done likewise in the US had there not been two Righteous Brothers’ versions in the charts at the same time. The owners of the 1965 recording underestimated the demand for the song and failed to re-issue it in large quantity. Medley and Hatfield took the gap by recording a new version, which sold very well. Since the US charts are based on sales and airplay, the 1965 version charted in the Top 10 on strength of the latter, while the reformed Righteous Brothers reached the Top 20.

Unchained Melody represents another footnote in music history: it was the last (or second last, sources vary) song ever sung on stage by Elvis Presley. And fans of the Scorsese film GoodFellas may recognise the doo wop recording of the song by Vito and the Salutations.

Also recorded by: June Valli (1955), Jimmy Young (1955), Cab Calloway (1955), Chet Atkins (1955), The Crew Cuts (1955), Harry Belafonte (1957), Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps (1957), Ricky Nelson (1958), Andy Williams (1959), Earl Bostic (1959), Sam Cooke (1960), The Blackwells (1960), Ray Conniff (1960), The Browns (1960), Charlie Rich (1960), Merri Gail (1960), Marty Robbins (1961), Cliff Richard (1961), Floyd Cramer (1962), Duane Eddy (1962), Conway Twitty (1962), Steve Alaimo (1962), Les Chaussettes Noires (as Les enchaînés, 1962), The Lettermen (1962), Frank Ifield (1963), Vito & the Salutations (1963), Johnny De Little (1963), Matt Monro (1964), Anne Murray (1964), Bobby Vinton (1964), Brenda Holloway (1964), Sonny & Cher (1965), Dionne Warwick (1965), The Wailers (1966), Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles (1966), The Supremes (1966), The Englishmen (1967), The Caretakers (1967), Robert Gennari (1967), Igor Mann e I Gormanni (as Senza catene, 1968), Roy Orbison (1968), The Sweet Inspirations (1968), David Garrick (1968), Jimmy Scott (1969), The Platters (1969), Waylon Jennings (1970), The New Overlanders (1970), Dean Reed (1971), Blue Haze (1972), Al Green (1973), Donny Osmond (1973), James Last (1974), Bamses Venner (as En forunderlig melodi, 1975), Greyhound (1975), The Stylistics (1976), Kenny Rogers (1977), Paris Connection (1978), Willie Nelson (1978), Clem Curtis (1979), George Benson (1979), Heart (1980), Will Tura (as Oh My Love, 1980), Magazine 60 (1981), Gerry & The Pacemakers (1981), Joni Mitchell (1982), Bill Hurley (1982), Manhattan Transfer (1984), Leo Sayer (1985), U2 (1989), Maurice Jarre (1990), Ronnie McDowell (1991), Richard Clayderman (1992), Dread Zeppelin (1993), Captain & Tennille (1995), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Al Green (1995), Clarence Gatemouth Brown (1995), Robson & Jerome (1995), Melanie (1996), Günther Neefs (1997), LeAnn Rimes (1997), Joe Lyn Turner (1997), David Osborne (1998), Neil Diamond (1998), Mythos ‘n DJ Cosmo (1999), Gareth Gates (2002), Justin Guarini (2003), Marshall & Alexander (2003), Bruno Cuomo (2003), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Jan Keizer (2004), Il Divo (2005), Joseph Williams (2006), Barry Manilow (2006), Damien Leith (2006), David Phelps (2008), Johnny Hallyday & Joss Stone (2008), Carrie Underwood (2008) a.o.

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More Originals

The Originals Vol. 31

August 28th, 2009 10 comments

Volume 31 and 160 songs covered now. Here we have the originals of the Piranhas’ Tom Hark, the Rolling Stones’ It’s All Over Now, Middle of the Road’s unjustly reviled Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Georgie Fame’s Yeh Yeh, and Donovan’s Universal Soldier (whose writer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, apparently was not the first to record it either). As always, many thanks to my friends who have helped me out with some of the songs featured here.

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Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes – Tom Hark (1956).mp3
The Piranhas – Tom Hark (1980).mp3
Mango Groove – Tom Hark (1996).mp3

eliasA staple these days on English football grounds, the impossibly catchy Tom Hark had its origins in South Africa. There was no Tom Hark: the song’s title was either a pun or more likely a sloppy mis-heard rendering of the word tomahawk, the axes gangs in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township used to carry.

Composer “Big Voice” Jack Lerole and his mates used to record in the pennywhistle-based kwela genre, though it was not yet known by that name — the contemporary term was marabi or pennywhistle jive. The word kwela is Zulu for “get up”, and as kwela-kwela also a township term for a police van (after the cops’ command “Kwela! Kwela!, meaning “climb in, climb in”), the unwelcome approach of which often was signalled by a lookout blowing his tin flute. Lerole, commonly known as Jake, learnt to play the pennywhistle as a little boy, observing the flautists from Scottish regiments that often played near Alexandra and which influenced a generation of pennywhistlers who adapted the complex techniques of flute-playing to the simple pennywhistle, thereby enhancing its versatility.

piranhasLerole and his bandmembers recorded under several names, mostly as Alexandra Black Mambazo (mambazo is zulu for axe — or tomahawk), but were signed by EMI in 1956 as Elias and His Zig Zag Jive Flutes; the Elias of the moniker being Lerole’s brother. Having recorded Tomahawk, or Tom Hark, EMI sold the rights to the song to British TV to serve as the theme for a series called The Killing Stone. On the back of that, the song became a British hit, reaching #2 in 1958. Lerole and his band received £6 for recording the song and not a red cent in royalties, even when the song became an international hit again in 1980 with an affectionate cover by the British ska band The Piranhas, whose frontman Bob Grover put lyrics to the song (“The whole things daft, I don’t know why, you have to laugh or else you cry”). On the single cover The Piranhas paid tribute to the original by emblazoning it with the word “kwela”.

After the Alexandra Black Mambazo split in 1963, Lerole enjoyed a fair career, though more as a gravelly baritone singer and saxophonist than as a pennywhistler, having followed the lead of pennywhistle king Spokes Mashiyane into the new mbaqanga style of music. He made a comeback in the ’80s as a member of the multi-racial group Mango Groove (which recorded Tom Hark with their own lyrics), on whose first hit, Dance Some More, Lerole provided his distinctive growling vocals. Before Mango Groove became famous in South Africa, he left the group. In 1998 he and the reformed Alex Black Mambazo were invited by South African-born Dave Matthews to perform with his group in the US. The band performed to international acclaim and total indifference in their home country. Leralo died in 2003 at the age of 63.

Also recorded by: Ted Heath (1958), Millie (1964), The Talksport Allstars (as We’re England, 2006)

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The Valentinos – It’s All Over Now (1964).mp3
The Rolling Stones – It’s All Over Now (1964).mp3

Molly Hatchet – It’s All Over Now (1979).mp3
valentinosWhen the Rolling Stones arrived in the US for their first tour, they met the legendary New York radio DJ Murray the K (or Murray the Kunt, as Keith Richards would dub him), who had a heavy hand in promoting the Beatles before and during their triumphant debut tour of the US a few months earlier. Murray suggested that the group might do well to record the latest single by Cleveland’s R&B group the Valentinos, which comprised the Womack brothers Bobby, Cecil, Harry, Friendly and Curtis.

It’s All Over Now was written by Bobby with his sister-in-law Shirley, but the publishing rights resided with Sam Cooke’s SAR Records. The Stones’ young manager Andrew Oldham obtained the rights to record it from SAR’s manager/accountant, Allen Klein (soon to become the Stones’ despised manager). Bobby Womack was furious, correctly anticipating that the rock version by these kids from England would sabotage any chance of the Valentino’s soul single becoming a hit. He later recalled his mentor Cooke comforting him, presciently assuring him that he’d now be a part of music history by dint of having written the Rolling Stones’ first US hit. A little later Womack found another upside: when he received the first royalties cheque, “it was huge”.

Within three weeks of Murray the K turning them on to It’s all Over Now, the Stones recorded the song during their sessions at Chicago’s Chess studio (where they allegedly encountered their hero Muddy Waters painting the ceiling), which also yielded Time Is On My Side, which will feature in this series later. It was released almost immediately. The Valentino’s version tanked at #94 in the US, while the Stones reached the top 20 and went to #1 in Britain.

Also recorded by: The Chambers Brothers (1965), Ian and the Zodiacs (1965), Johnny Rivers (1965), The Pupils (1966), Waylon Jennings (1968), The Bintangs (1969), Rod Stewart (1970), Ry Cooder (1974), Faces (1974), Catfish Hodge (1975), Johnny Winter (1976), Molly Hatchet (1979), Jimmy & The Mustangs (1984), John Anderson (1985), The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (1987), Charles et les Lulus (1991), Bobby Womack (1997), Southside Johnny (1997), Paper Parrot (1999), The Alarm Clocks (2000), The Patron Saints (2008) a.o.

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Lally Stott – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1970).mp3
Middle of the Road – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1971).mp3

lally_stottMy old friend Bono likes to tell the story of how seeing Middle of the Road performing Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep on Top of the Pops persuaded him that anyone, even little Paul Hewson, could become a pop star. It’s easy, even for Bono, to take a dig at a song called Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, of course. But I submit that, lyrics apart, it is a fine pop song.

Middle of the Road, who thought of themselves more as a folk group than as the bubble gum pop combo they are usually remembered as, didn’t want to record the song. It had been a hit in Italy (with the subtitle Cirpi cirpi, cip cip) and Australia for its composer, Liverpudlian Lally (Harold) Stott, and even dented the US charts at #92, though the song had greater success there, reaching #20, in a version by Trinidad-born duo Mac and Katie Kissoon (the female sibling of whom later became a session singer for the likes of Van Morrison, Elton John, Eric Clapton and the Pet Shop Boys). Despite Stott’s success in Italy and Australia, his label, Philips, evidently had little confidence in the recording, so Stott farmed it out to the Middle of the Road, who had just abandoned their previous moniker, Los Caracas, to take up an engagement in Italy.

motrThe band recorded the song reluctantly at singer Sally Carr’s insistence. Bandleader Ken Andrews was initially dismissive: “We were as disgusted with the thought of recording it as most people were at the thought of buying it. But at the end of the day, we liked it.” Their version, produced by Giacomo Tosti, became a massive hit throughout Europe in early 1971 and was imported to Britain by holidaymakers. At first it seemed that the Kissoon’s version would be a hit there, but influential radio DJ Tony Blackburn championed the Middle of the Road version on his BBC breakfast show, and it eventually reached #1 in June ’71.

Stott went on to work with Middle of the Road, writing their hit Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum. He died in 1977 in an accident while riding his Harley-Davidson — said to have been bought with the royalties of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.

Also recorded by: Los 3 de Castilla (1971), Paul Mauriat (1971), Joe Harris (1971), The California Gold Rush (1971), Hajo (1971), The Jay Boys (1972), The Panda Peeple (1973), Little Angels (1973), Briard (1979), Lush (1990), Cartoons (2000), Mickie Krause (as Reiß die Hütte ab, 2003), The Poco Loco Gang (2005)

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Mongo Santamaría – Yeh-Yeh (1963).mp3
Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan – Yeh-Yeh (1963).mp3
Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames – Yeh Yeh (1964).mp3
Matt Bianco – Yeh Yeh (1985).mp3
yeh_yehWritten by jazz musicians Rodgers Grant (piano) and Laurdine “Pat” Patrick (saxophone), Yeh-Yeh was first recorded in 1963 by Afro-Cuban jazz percussionist Mongo Santamaría, whose band Grant and Patrick were members of at the time. Still an instrumental — though Santamaría’s single version includes what might be described as vocal ticks — it appeared on his Watermelon Man album. It soon came to the attention of jazz singer Jon Hendricks, one of the great purveyors of scat singing and a third of the ’50s trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Hendricks had a long line of instrumental songs to which he added lyrics, doing so most famously for an album of Count Basie standards. Hendricks recorded Yeh-Yeh with the trio, in which Yalande Bavan had by now replaced Annie Ross, for the At Newport ’63 live album.

English singer Georgie Fame (his moniker was an innovation of promoter Larry Parnes who at one point even briefly renamed the yet unknown Beatles) heard the Newport recording of Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan’s version, and incorporated into his Blue Flames’ live shows. At one point in 1964 Fame and his team were stuck for a new single. Somebody suggested Yeh Yeh.

georgie_fameFames’ manager at the time was nightclub owner Ronan O’Rahilly. His attempts to have Yeh Yeh played on the BBC and Radio Luxembourg were frustrated (reportedly on grounds that it sounded “too black”; the story that it was rejected for airplay because the stations played records only from EMI, Decca, Pye and Philips can be discounted since Yeh Yeh appeared on EMI’s Columbia label). Unable to get airplay, he became part of the group that set up the ship-based pirate station Radio Caroline in March 1964. Among its roster of DJs was the champion of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Tony Blackburn. Radio Caroline naturally gave Yeh Yeh (which O’Rahilly has claimed directly inspired the founding of the pirate station) heavy airplay. Without help from the conventional radio stations, it topped the UK charts in January 1965 (US #25), relieving the Beatles’ five-week occupancy of the top spot with the similarly upbeat I Feel Fine.

In 1985, British jazz-popsters Matt Bianco drew together their British lounge and Latin jazz influences to record a fine version of Yeh Yeh, which strays not too far from Fame’s take. It reached #15 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Dave “Baby” Cortez (1965), Danny Fisher (1965), Claude François (as Alors salut!, 1965), Matt Bianco (1985), The Aislers Set (2000), They Might Be Giants (2001)

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The Highwaymen – Universal Soldier (1963).mp3
Buffy Sainte-Marie – Universal Soldier (1964).mp3
Donovan – Universal Soldier (1965).mp3

highwaymen_universal_soldierEarly in the Vietnam War, Canadian folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie saw an injured soldier return from active duty and decided to write an anti-war song. It would become one of the most potent songs in the peace movement, even if her good advice to you and me evidently has not been taken. By her own account written in a Toronto café to impress a college professor, Buffy, then in her early 20s, sold the rights to Universal Soldier to a man she had just met in Greenwich Village’s Gaslight Café, for a dollar (the contract was written on a paper napkin). Two decades later she bought the rights back for $25,000. In the interim, she made it on the White House’s blacklist for her anti-Vietnam and Native American rights activities, spent five years on Sesame Street (on which she breastfed her child), in 1966 became the first singer to release a quadraphonic album (4.0 stereo) and apparently the first to release an album on the Internet (in 1991).

buffySainte-Marie released Universal Soldier on her 1964 debut album, It’s My Way. The previous year, it was recorded by folk-group The Highwaymen (not to be confused with the country supergroup), who enjoyed their commercial peak in 1960 with the hit version of Michael (Row The Boat Ashore). It’s not clear how the Highwaymen got to record Universal Soldier first; one may guess that they were given the song by Buffy’s new friend from the Gaslight Café. Released as a single and on the group’s penultimate album, March On Brothers, it was not a huge success. Of course, if one channelled Seeger and Guthrie, one did not expect to compete with the Beatles.

donovanAcclaimed though Sainte-Marie’s debut album was, the song’s big breakthrough came with the version by Scottish folkie Donovan, who released it in 1965 at the age of 19, having already two UK Top 10 hits with Catch The Wind and Colours. Young Mr Leitch’s softer version, which adopted Buffy’s arrangement (and using strange pronunciation of the name Dachau). Released as an EP in Britain, it topped the EP charts there and reached #14 in the singles charts.

As for Buffy, she went on to write Up Where We Belong, the hit for Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes from 1981’s An Officer And A Gentleman, with then-husband Jack Nitzsche. She released her first album in 13 years, Running For The Drum, internationally a few weeks ago.

Also recorded by: Glen Campbell (1965), Boudewijn de Groot (as De eeuwige soldaat, 1965), Hector (as Palkkasoturi, 1965), Claus (as Soldato universale,1966), The Roemans (1965), The Caravans (1965), Sheila (as Je t’aime, 1966), Judy Collins and Ethel Raim Dunson (1967), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), Picture (1970), Juliane Werding (as Der ewige Soldat, 1973), Lobo (1974), Eugene Chadbourne (1985), Christopher Franke (1992), Eric Andersen (2004) a.o.

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More Originals

The Originals Vol. 30

August 7th, 2009 8 comments

In this instalment in the series of the lesser known originals, we look at Killing Me Softly With His Song, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, Evil Ways, (Ghost) Riders In The Sky, and I Wanna Be Loved, an obscure ’70s soul song covered a decade later by Elvis Costello. A vote of thanks to my friends Walter, RH and Mark for feeding me some of the music featured here (the latter a very long time ago).

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Kelly Gordon – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969).mp3
The Hollies – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969).mp3
The Persuasions – He Ain’t Heavy/You’ve Got A Friend (1971).mp3
Donny Hathaway – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1972).mp3
The Housemartins – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1986).mp3

kelly_gordonThe Hollies’ guitarist Tony Hicks was desperately looking for a song to record when he was played a demo of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. The band decided to record it without great expectations, with Reg Dwight (who would become Elton John) on piano. Of course, it became a mega-hit and pop classic. But the Hollies were not the first to record it. The song had already been released by Kelly Gordon in April 1969 — five months before the Hollies’ version — as a single and on his Defunked album (the single’s b-side was That’s Life, a song Gordon had co-written five years earlier, but had been recorded before and made famous by Frank Sinatra). The original of He Ain’t Heavy by Gordon, more active as a producer than a singer, is slower and more mournful. Based on his interpretation, the publishers thought it would be a good song for Joe Cocker to record. And it would have been, but Cocker turned the song down.

He Ain’t Heavy was written by Bobby Scott (who wrote A Taste Of Honey) and the older veteran lyricist Bob Russell (Little Green Apples), who was already ailing with cancer and died at 55 in February 1970, just after the song had become a worldwide hit. There is much speculation as to the origin of the title; most commonly it is believed that the line was inspired by Father Edward Flannagan, the founder of Boys Town, who had adopted it as the organisation’s motto, reputedly after spotting a cartoon of a boy carrying another in a corporate publication named Louis Allis Messenger, that was captioned “He ain’t heavy Mister – he’s m’ brother!” It was not a new line; it had been used in literature and magazine articles before, and supposedly provided the punchline for a Native American folk story.

persuasionsThere have been many covers of the song. I have several favourites. Donny Hathaway’s soul interpretation tops the Hollies’ pop version. Then there are two fine a cappella versions. There are three such recordings by the Housemartins are in circulation: on the compilation Now That’s What I Call Quite Good, as a bonus track on the London 0 Hull 4 CD, and unofficially on the 1986 BBC Saturday Live sessions. It is the latter featured here. It might very well have been inspired by the magnificent version released in 1971 by the a cappella band The Persuasions, who recorded it as part of a medley with You’ve Got A Friend — which the Housemartins also recorded a cappella. (Edit: See the message by former Persuasions frontman Jerry Lawson in the comments section.)

Also recorded by: Neil Diamond (1970), I Ribelli (as Il vento non sa leggere, 1970), The Ruffin Brothers (1970), The Osmonds (1971 & 1975), Glen Campbell (1971), Ramsey Lewis (1971), Cher (1971), Donny Hathaway (1971), Gladys Knight & The Pips (1971), Melba Moore (1971), Johnny Mathis (1972), Brotherhood of Man (1974), Olivia Newton-John (1975), The Housemartins (1985/86), Al Green (1987), Bill Medley (1988), Gotthard (1996), Rufus Wainwright (2001), Helmut Lotti (2003), Pentti Hietanen (2005), Barry Manilow (2007) a.o.

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Lori Lieberman – Killing Me Softly With His Song (1972).mp3
Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song (1973).mp3

lori_lieberman(Text has been edited since it was first posted)

There are two stories describing the genesis of Killing Me Softly With HIs Song. The more widely-spread story has folk-singer Lori Lieberman so moved by Don McLean’s live performance of the song Empty Chairs that she wrote a poem about, calling it Killing Me Softly With His Blues. The composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, who were taking time out from their impressive TV theme production line (Happy Days!) to write songs for Lieberman’s self-titled debut album, used her poem as the basis for the song which she would be the first to record in 1971, releasing it the following year.

Or so Lieberman says. Norman Gimbel’s recollection is very different, though much less known. In an e-mail to this blog (which will go up fully reproduced on Sunday), he explained how it was a book he was referred to years earlier by composer Lalo Shifre that featured the line “Killing Me Softly With His Blues” (the title of the poem Lieberman says she wrote). He like the idea and stored it away for a few years until he needed lyrics for the Lieberman album which he and Fox were writing, changing the word “blues” to “song”.

flackAlthough Lieberman didn’t score a big hit with the song, Flack stumbled upon it in 1972 while in air. After reading about Lieberman in the TWA airline magazine and her interest piqued by the title of the song, she tuned into the song on the in-flight radio, and decided to record it herself. Over a period of three months, Flack experimented with and rearranged the song, changing the chord structure, adding the soaring ad libs and ending the song on a major chord where Lieberman did with a minor. Her remake made an immediate impression, topping the US charts for four weeks and reaching #6 in Britain. Her version won Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance.

Almost a quarter of a century later, in 1996, Killing Me Softly – its full title by now routinely castrated – made an unwelcome return to the album charts in the form of the Fugees’ cover (it wasn’t released as a single so as to boost album sales). Lauryn Hill’s vocals are fine, though the hip hop arrangement negates the confessional intimacy of Flack’s, or indeed Lieberman’s, version. And that would be adequate; the mood of a lyric often is disengaged from a song’s sound to little detriment (think of all the great upbeat numbers with morose lyrics). Besides, the Fugees had conceived of the song as an anti-drug anthem with the revised title Killing Him Softly, a plan that was abandoned when they were denied permission for such modification. The whole exercise becomes something of a prank thanks to Wyclef Jean’s repeated intonation of “one time” and “two time”, as though he was auditioning for the role of parody DJ on Sesame Street. No matter how affecting Hill’s vocals, Wycount von Count’s antics render the Fugees’ version one of the most deplorable covers in pop.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1973), Rusty Bryant (1973), Tim Weisberg (1973), Perry Como (1973), Bobby Goldsboro (1973), John Holt (1973), Anne Murray (1973), The Ventures (1973), Shirley Bassey (1973), Woody Herman (1973), Katja Ebstein (as Das Lied meines Lebens, 1973), Vikki Carr (1973), Lynn Anderson (1973), Rune Gustafsson (1973), Lill Lindfors (as Sången han sjöng var min egen, 1973), Marcella Bella, Lara Saint Paul, Ornella Vanoni (all as Mi fa morire cantando, 1973), Andy Williams (1974), Mike Auldridge (1974), Charlie Byrd (1974), Petula Clark (1974), Engelbert Humperdinck (1974), Ferrante & Teicher (1974), George Shearing Quintet (1974), Charles Fox (1975), Hampton Hawes (1976), Cleo Laine & John Williams (1976), Mina (1985), Lance Hayward (1987), Al B. Sure! (1988), Donald Brown (1989), Casal (as Tal como soy, 1989), Linda Imperial (1991), Yta Farrow (1991), Joanna (as Morrendo de amo, 1991), Luther Vandross (1994), Ron Sanfilippo (1994), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Mahogany (1996), The Fugees (1996), Victoria Abril (1998), Joe Augustine (1998), Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers (1998), The BB Band (1999), Anthony Arizaga (2000), Hank Marvin (2002), Eric Hansen (2002), Kimberly Caldwell (2003), Raymond Jones (2004), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (2005), Omara Portuondo (as Matándome suavemente, 2006), Helge Schneider (2007), a.o.

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Burl Ives – Riders In The Sky (1949).mp3
Vaughn Monroe – Riders In The Sky (1949).mp3
Peggy Lee – Riders In The Sky (A Cowboy Legend) (1949).mp3
The Ventures – Ghost Riders In The Sky (1961).mp3
Deborah Harry – Riders In The Sky (1998).mp3

burl_ivesRiders In The Sky, sometimes known as Ghost Riders In The Sky, is one of those standards which is famous mostly for being famous. It has been recorded many times, and most people know at least its melody (I knew it first in the The Ventures’ 1961 guitar-driven instrumental version), but there seems to be no artist to whom the song is universally and specifically attached.

The song was written in 1948 by Stan Jones, a California forest ranger by trade who wrote western music as a sideline, also contributing music to film classics such as The Searchers and Rio Bravo. Riders In The Sky was first recorded in February 1949 by Burl Ives, still to be outed as a supposed communist fellow traveller and a few years from becoming friends with the McCarthyist defenders of freedom. Two months after Ives, Vaughn Monroe recorded it with his orchestra, and scored an international hit with it. The same year, Gene Autry sang it in a film, also titled Riders In The Sky, and Peggy Lee did a version, adding the parenthetical “A Cowboy Legend” to the title. The song made a comeback in the British charts in 1980 with the instrumental take by The Shadows, covering ground previously traversed by The Ventures and Dick Dale. And in 1998, Deborah Harry, formerly of Blondie, issued her electronica version.

Also recorded by: Bing Crosby (1949), Peggy Lee (1949), Gene Autry (1949), Spike Jones (1949), Eddy Arnold (1959), The Ramrods (1961), The Ventures (1961), Dick Dale (1963), Frank Ifield (1963), Frankie Laine (1963), Lorne Greene (1964), Duane Eddy (1966), The Englishmen (1967), Tom Jones (1967), Elvis Presley (live, 1970), Dennis Stoner (1971), Mary McCaslin (1975), Riders in the Sky 91979), Johnny Cash (1979), The Shadows (1979), Outlaws (1980), Fred Penner (1980), Milton Nascimento (1981), Marty Robbins (1984), The Trashmen (1990), R.E.M. (as Ghost Reindeer in the Sky, 1990), Michael Martin Murphey (1993), Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson (1998), Deborah Harry (1998), Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman and The Blues Brothers Band (1998), Ned Sublette (1999), Concrete Blonde (2004), Peter Pan Speedrock (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006), Die Apokalyptischen Reiter (2006), Spiderbait (2007), Dezperadoz (2008), Children of Bodom (2008) a.o.

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Teacher’s Edition – I Wanna Be Loved (1973).mp3
Elvis Costello – I Wanna Be Loved (1984).mp3

teachers_editionFor a prolific songwriter, Elvis Costello has covered songs widely. His best known cover perhaps is George Jones’ A Good Year For The Roses, itself a country classic. I Wanna Be Loved, a Costello single in 1984 which appeared on the otherwise underwhelming Goodbye Cruel World album (and features Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside on backing vocals), was plucked from obscurity. That’s what Costello said, and he was not exaggerating. I have been able to find nothing about Teacher’s Edition or about Farnell Jenkins, who wrote the song, except that it was released in on the Memphis-based Hi Records (which counted Al Green, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright among its roster) in1973 as a b-side to a song titled It Helps To Make You Strong, and enjoyed popularity in the Northern Soul set. Jenkins, now 67, now seems to be a Chicago-based writer of Gospel songs.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems

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Willie Bobo – Evil Ways (1967).mp3
bobo Santana – Evil Ways (1969).mp3
This month, you may hear it incidentally mentioned, marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. For Santana, the festival was the great break-out moment. Within a few months of Woodstock, the group had a hit with Evil Ways, the first of a string of covers by Carlos and his shifting band of chums. Evil Ways was recorded first by Latin jazz percussionist Willie Bobo, who would later collaborate with Santana. It was written by Bobo’s guitarist Sonny Henry, who is also doing vocal duty. Bobo died young, in 1983 at 49 of cancer. His son, Eric Bobo (the family name is actually Correa), also became a percussionist, with Cypress Hill.

evil_waysThe vocals (and the organ solo) on the Santana version are by the band’s co-founder Gregg Rolie, whose keyboards and vocals were also so integral to Santana’s version of Black Magic Woman (featured in Vol. 1). Rolie proceeded to co-found Journey with former Santana bandmate Neal Schon. In Journey, Rolie was initially lead vocalist, but ceded frontman duties when Steve Perry joined.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1970), Cal Tjader (1971), Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles (1972)

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In The Originals Vol. 22 we looked at The House Of The Rising Sun. In the interim, our friend Walter has sent me the first known recording of the song, by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster, recorded in 1933. I have added it to the original article, and post it below:

Ashley and Foster – Rising Sun Blues.mp3

Those interested in more versions of the song will be well served by this post on the fascinating Merlin in Rags blog, which specialises in old folk and blues.

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More Originals


The Originals Vol. 29

July 24th, 2009 4 comments

By the end of this instalment of the lesser-known originals, we’ll have covered (as it were) the 150th song since the series started last October. And there are still so many songs to go… So here are Not Fade Away, The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), La Vie En Rose, China Girl and the extraordinary story of Just Walkin’ In The Rain.

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Buddy Holly and The Crickets – Not Fade Away.mp3
Rolling Stones – Not Fade Away.mp3

cricketsUnlike many artists in the early days of rock ’n’ roll, Buddy Holly and his Crickets were no overnight success. After being dropped by Decca records (not always the greatest judges of talent either side of the Atlantic) in late 1956, Holly and his newly formed Crickets struggled to find a distributor to market the songs they recorded at Norman Petty’s studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Eventually, That’ll Be The Day gave the group its first hit; before that, Holly kept writing future hits which would be billed either as Crickets or Buddy Holly records — purely a marketing ploy, for Holly saw himself as part of as collective. One of these songs recorded before fame came knocking in August 1957 was Not Fade Away (put down in May that year), which cheerfully plagiarised Bo Diddley’s seminal stop-start beat from his eponymous hit. Charlie Watts and Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham later bizarrely claimed that the Stones innovated on the Crickets’ original by introducing the Bo Diddley beat. Bill Wyman is more honest, saying that the Stones merely amplified it.

The song’s writers are credited as Charles Hardin (Holly’s Christian names) and Norman Petty, a result of the arbitrary designations which were supposed to let all Crickets members get a piece of royalty action. In reality, drummer Jerry Ivan Allison (on the left in the cover pic) had contributed significantly to the lyrics, while producer Petty had written nothing, but in any case took a writing credit for every Holly/Crickets song (and added his name to the writing credits of songs written by others for his charges, such as Sonny West and Bill Tilghman’s Oh Boy). In return, Allison would receive credit for songs to which he had contributed nothing, including Peggy Sue, to which he furnished little else but the name of his future wife.

Much as Elvis Presley inspired the American and British youth to seek musical fame, arguably the more profound influence on the future of rock ’n’ roll was that of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Chuck Berry and (certainly in the case of the Beatles) Carl Perkins. Unusually for the time, these acts wrote most of their own songs, inspiring the likes of Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards to do likewise. Holly, Perkins and Berry were also quite exceptional in that they played their own guitars, laying down solos which would be imitated by virtually every band that a few years later would “invade” America (think about Holly’s Peggy Sue solo). Indeed, Holly’s arrival in Britain coincided with the decline of skiffle, the musical form that involved guitars plus whatever you could find in the kitchen (especially washboards). Stuck with guitars and a dying genre, the likes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney sought a new muse. The guitar-wielding Buddy Holly provided just that. That’ll Be The Day was the song the Beatles (whose punning name was motivated by the Crickets) performed on their very first demo.

stones_not_fade_awayAnd it was the Crickets’ Not Fade Away, originally released as the b-side of Oh Boy, with which the Rolling Stones had their first cross-Atlantic hit. It is an amusing sidenote that the Crickets’ Not Fade Away unwittingly exercised a skiffle mentality: instead of drums, Jerry Allison beat out his rhythm on cardboard boxes, an idea borrowed from Buddy Knox’s hit Party Doll. It is said that on the Stones version, Phil Spector contributes to the recording by shaking a cognac bottle (“donated” by Gene Pitney) with a coin inside, doing the part Jagger does on stage with the maracas.

The Rolling Stones version, recorded in January 1964 and released in February, was the UK follow-up single to I Wanna Be Your Man — the song the Beatles donated to the Stones to help the London group break through — and their first US single (backed by I Wanna Be Your Man). Peaking at #3, it was their first UK Top10 hit. In the US it reached #48, a creditable placing for a foreign debut single and a basis from which the Stones could launch their career there.

Also recorded by: Bobby Fuller (1962), Dick and Dee Dee (1964), The Rolling Stones (1964), Dave Berry (1964), The Supremes, 1964), The Scorpions (Dutch band, 1964), The Beachers (1965), Corporate Image (1966), The Pupils (1966), The Why Four (1966), The End (1966), The Barracudas (1967), The Walflower Complextion (1967), Joe Pass (1967), Group Axis (1969), Grateful Dead (1971), Rush (1973), Everly Brothers (March 1973), Fumble (1974), Bo Diddley (1976), Sutherland Brothers & Quiver 91976), Steve Hillage (1977), Black Oak Arkansas (1977), Tanya Tucker (1978), Stephen Stills (1978), Eddy Mitchell (as Comment ça fait?, 1979), Joe Ely (1980), Mick Fleetwood (1981), Eric Hine (1981), The Knack (1982), Andy J. Forest & Snapshots (1982), Amiga Blues Band (1983), Happy Flowers (1987), The Purple Helmets (1988), The Razorbacks (1989), The Infidels (1989), Trout Fishing in America (1990), Peter Belli & De Nye Rivaler (1992), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1992), Foreigner (1993), Roy Rogers (1994), Dave Plaehn & Jeff Hino (1996), Mike and the Mellotones (1996), Hank Marvin (1996), Johnny Hallyday (as Je vais te secouer, 1996), John Entwistle (1997), Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez (1997), Sean Kennedy and the King Kats (1998), JGB (1998), Zydeco Flames (1998), James Taylor (1998), Darrel Higham (1999), Mike Berry (1999), The Jailbirds (1999), The End (1999), Status Quo (1999), Ned Sublette (1999), Jorma Kaukonen Band & Guests (1999), Michigan Mark DePree (2000), Lemmy & Friends (2000), Scott Ellison (2000), X (2001), The Pirates (2001), Cory Morrow (2001), Two Tons of Steel (2002), Jon Butcher Axis (2002), The Rocking Chairs (2002), Noel Redding (2004), The Head Cat (2006), David Kitt (2006), The Bees (2006), Sheryl Crow (2007) a.o.

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The Prisonaires – Just Walkin’ In The Rain.mp3
Johnnie Ray – Just Walkin’ In The Rain.mp3
The Prisonaires – Please Baby.mp3

prisonaires_sunNot many pop classics were written in jail. Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley were incarcerated in 1952 at the Tennessee State Penitentiary when a chance conversation about the wet weather — Bragg, the story goes, remarked to Riley as they were hanging out in the jail’s courtyard: “Here we are just walking in the rain, and wondering what the girls are doing” — inspired the song’s composition (unnervingly, the comment was made by a man who was serving a sentence for six counts of rape). Bragg wrote the song but was illiterate; burglar Riley’s contribution was committing it to paper.

The Prisonaires: rape, murder, manslaughter, larceny, sweet harmonies

The Prisonaires: rape, murder, manslaughter, larceny, sweet harmonies

Bragg was part of a gospel quintet at Tennessee State. His bandmates comprised two murderers, a fraudster and one convicted for manslaughter. Undesirable characters as they were, the Prisonaires had talent. They were discovered by a local radio producer, Joe Calloway, who recorded the group for a radio broadcast. A tape of the radio performance came to Sam Phillips, founder of the Sun Studio which a year later would introduce Elvis Presley to the public. Although not a big fan of the proto-doo wop style, he negotiated with the authorities to have the Prisonaires delivered, under heavy guard, to his Memphis studio to cut a record, Baby Please (posted above as a bonus), backed with Just Walkin’ In The Rain. The single was a big local hit, selling 50,000 copies. Thereafter they were allowed to tour, performing on occasion even for the state’s governor. The good times didn’t last long; by 1954 rock ’n’ roll was on the up, and Ink Spot type groups — especially if they were jailbirds — were falling by the wayside. In 1955 the Prisonaires disbanded. By 1959, Bragg’s was paroled, but was in and out of jail for the next ten years. He passed away in 2004 at 78, long after his former bandmates had died.

Johnnie_rayIn 1956, the most rueful of all ’50s singers, Johnnie Ray, recorded Just Walkin’ In The Rain, which despite the Prisonaires regional success was an obscure track. The original certainly was despondent, but the so-called Prince of Wails invested it with a different sense of mournfulness. In a word, his first-person protagonist is pathetic. Rat’s version, produced and whistled by Ray Conniff (he of serial easy listening crimes) and arranged by Mitch Miller (still alive at 98), was a massive hit, reaching #2 in the US and #1 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Judy Kileen (1956), Four Jacks (1957), Jim Reeves (1962), Shakin’ Stevens (1983), Eric Clapton (2001)

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Marianne Michel – La Vie en Rose.mp3
Edith Piaf – La Vie En Rose.mp3

Grace Jones – La Vie En Rose (full version).mp3
marianne_michelThis is one of those orginals which was recorded first by somebody other than the writer (and even then, the authorship is disputed). Piaf’s lyrics were put to music by Louis “Louiguy” Guglielmi (who also wrote the song known in English as Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White). For legal reasons, Piaf’s name could not be credited. At the time, that didn’t seem to matter much, since the composers failed to see much hit potential in the song — even if, in 1945 France, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, the notion of seeing life through rose-tinted glasses must have seemed particularly attractive. So the song, then titled Les Choses en Rose, was farmed out to Piaf’s friend, the singer Marianne Michel. It was Michel who proposed the title by which the song became world famous, albeit in Piaf’s 1946 recording.

The song became a chanson and easy listening staple until Grace Jones discofied it with her rather excellent vocals, a bossa nova beat and glittering production values in 1977 (as she did with other standards, such as Autumn Leaves and Send In The Clowns). It was a massive hit in Europe, though not in Britain until eight years after its original release.

Also recorded by: Werner Schmah & Walter Dobschinski und die Tanzkapelle des Berliner Rundfunks (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1948), Louis Armstrong (1950), Gene Ammons (1950), Tony Martin (1950), Michel Legrand and his Orchestra (1954), The Mantovani Orchestra (1958), Dean Martin (1962), Jacques Faber (1964), Dalida (1964), Tony Mottola (1965), Bobby Solo (1965), Peter Alexander (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1966), Josephine Baker (1968), Nana Mouskouri (as Schau’ mich bitte nicht so an, 1973), Alain Goraguer (1976), Dalida (1976), Grace Jones (1977), Bette Midler (1977), Richard Clayderman (1979), Grand Orchestre Mario Robbiani (1981), Taco (1982), James Last And His Orchestra (1982), Franck Pourcel (1983), Diane Dufresne (1985), Michèle Torr (1987), Melissa Manchester (1989), D’Erlanger (1998), Trio Esperança (1992), Donna Summer (1993), Patricia Kaas (1993), Nicole de Monde (1994), Wendy Van Wanten (as Duizend regenbogen, 1995), Madeleine Peyroux (1996), Toots Thielemans & Diana Krall (1998), Jo Lemaire (1999), Manlio Sgalambro (2001), Romy Haag (2001), Bernard Peiffer (2001), Tony Bennett & k.d. lang (2002), Miguel Wiels (2002), Petula Clark (2002), Liane Foly (2003), Zazie (2003), Cyndi Lauper (2003), In-grid (2004), Dee Dee Bridgewater (2005), Montmartre (2006), Princess Erika (2006), Alfons Haider (2007), Belinda Carlisle (2007), Victoria Abril (November 2007), Suarez (2008) and lots more

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Merry Clayton – It’s In His Kiss.mp3
Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).mp3
merry_claytonSoul purists will have been quite scandalised by Cher’s version of the Shoop Shoop Song, declaring with considerable indignation that it does not measure up to Betty Everett’s original. While the assessment on respective quality is correct, we erred in ascribing originality to Everett. The first version was recorded by Merry Clayton and released in 1963, a few months before Everett’s version came out in December 1963 to give the singer her first Top 10 hit.

Written by Rudy Clark (whom we shall encounter again in this series) and produced by Jack Nietzsche, It’s in His Kiss was a flop for Clayton, then all of 15 years old. Indeed, Clayton never had a big hit of her own; the highest-charting one, at #48, came in 1987 with the song Yes from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Yet she was involved in many famous recordings, first as one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, then as Mick Jagger’s duet partner on Gimme Shelter, and as a backing vocalists on such songs as Lynyrd Skynrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and Tori Amos’ Cornflake Girl. She was also the original Acid Queen in The Who’s London production of their rock-opera Tommy.

betty_everettShortly after Clayton released It’s In His Kiss, Betty Everett recorded it very reluctantly, finding the song childish. Although credited to Everett alone, she as backed by a band called The Opals, effectively creating one of the supreme girl-group songs of the age. A month after Everett’s version was released on Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records, Warner Bros in LA issued a version of the song by Ramona King. To differentiate Everett’s version from King’s, Vee-Jay changed the title to The Shoop Shoop Song, after the catchy backing vocals.

In 1991, Cher’s version from the 1990 movie Mermaids introduced The Shoop Shoop Song to a new generation. While Everett’s version was a Top 10 hit in the US, but barely reached the Top 40 in the UK, now Cher’s version sold sluggishly in the US, but topped the UK charts, and was one of the biggest hits of 1991 throughout Europe as well as in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Also recorded by (under different titles): Aretha Franklin (1964), The Hollies (1964), Sandie Shaw (1964), The Searchers (1964), Linda Lewis (1975), Kate Taylor (1978), Nancy Boyd (1986), The Nylons (1996), Vonda Shepard (1998), The Neatbeats (1999), Bob Rivers (as It’s in His Piss, 2002), Lulu (2005)

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Iggy Pop – China Girl.mp3
David Bowie – China Girl.mp3
iggy_pop_idiotIggy and Bowie wrote China Girl together for the former’s 1977 album The Idiot, at a time when both stars dwelled in Berlin to wean themselves off heroin (Berlin seems an odd choice of refuge from smack, but nobody ever accused those two of being eminently sensible). Indeed, there is a good case that the song is about heroin, a drug sometimes referred to as China White, or about an opiate known as China Girl. The locale of composition also explains the swastika reference.

In 1983 Bowie revived the song, which in Iggy’s version made few waves, in his besuited Let’s Dance period, polishing it under Nile Rodger’s production, and frolicking to it in the Australian waves in the video. His co-star in the video is a New Zealand actress of Vietnamese extraction named Geeling Ng. Although they dated afterwards, according to Geeling, the popular rumours that they actually had sex in the video are, as one would expect, false. The video created further controversy surrounding — goodness, hold on to your drawers! — Bowie’s bared buttocks; later versions excised his arse.

Also recorded: Nick Cave (1978), Piggy Stardust (1998), James (1998), Trance to the Sun (1999), Moogue (2001), Pete Yorn (2002), Rhonda Harris (2003), Winter (2004), Anna Ternheim (2005), Silver (2005), Voltaire (2006)

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The Originals Vol. 28 – Sinatra edition

July 10th, 2009 11 comments

Frank Sinatra was a supreme interpreter of music. Even in the later stages of his career, when the arrangements often transgressed the boundaries of good taste, Sinatra still knew how to appropriate a song. One may well think that he was essentially a cover artist — after all, he never wrote a song — and much of his catalogue consists of songs more famous in other artists’ hands. But many of Sinatra’s most famous songs were first recorded by him, and often written especially for him, particularly by Sammy Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The songs that were first recorded by others but became known as Sinatra standards are relatively few. About a dozen or so, by my count. This series has already examined My Way, New York New York and Something Stupid. Here are five other songs first recorded by others, some even had hits with them, but are now unmistakable linked with Sinatra.

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Bert Kaempfert – Beddy Bye.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Strangers In The Night.mp3

beddy_byeThe melody for Strangers In The Night featured in a theme written by German composer and arranger Bert Kaempfert (who had also produced the Beatles’ first recordings on Tony Sheridan’s record) for the 1965 movie A Man Could Get Killed. The Strangers In The Night melody was adapted for or had been adapted from a recording of the song which Kaempfert wrote as Fremde in der Nacht (video) for Croatian singer Ivo Robić, who also sang it in Croatian (some say that Robić wrote it and gave it to Kaempfert because he latter was supposedly out on his luck; an unlikely notion). The sequence of events is confused: Robić released the song in 1966, the year after Kaempfert scored A Man Who Could Get Killed.

Set to English lyrics by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, Kaempfert was involved in arranging Strangers In The Night for Sinatra, who recorded it on 11 April 1966. Sinatra didn’t want to record the song that would give him one of his biggest hits — so big, he could not exclude the song he called “a piece of shit” from his concert setlist, much as he tried. Audiences loved the song, applauding wildly even when a bemused Sinatra asked: “You like this song?” At the same time, he also acknowledged that “it’s helped keep me in pizza”.

Strangers In The Night produced an appalling travesty: in the public imagination, the lazily scatted doobee-dobeedoo (that was Sinatra mocking the song, descending into a gibberish that really says “fuck you”) has become associated with Sinatra more than his wonderful phrasing, the timing of his interpretation and the precise diction (listen to any Sinatra song, and you’ll understand every word; when speaking, Sinatra’s elocution was less meticulous in his speech). Still, “the worst song I ever fucking heard” won Sinatra a pair of Grammys (The Beatles’ Michelle won Song of the Year).

strangers_in_the_nightStrangers In The Night is now often billed as Sinatra’s great comeback song. But just a year before, Sinatra was Grammy-awarded for a song which we shall review in a moment. So it might only by the standards of sales, not quality, that Strangers In The Night marked any kind of rebound. Even then, many of Sinatra’s most popular songs performed poorly in the charts. None of his singles between Hey Jealous Lover in 1957 and Strangers In The Night in 1966 topped the Billboard charts. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the 1957 chart topper, hardly a Sinatra classic, was his only Billboard #1 during the golden period on Capitol. And that other Sinatra behemoth, My Way (which he also despised) reached only #27. In short, Sinatra’s success could not be measured by sales or chart placings.

Apparently the ad lib inspired the name of cartoon hound Scooby Doo. Playing rhythm guitar on the song is Glen Campbell (a musical Zelig of the ’60s), about whom Sinatra, not rarely an asshole, enquired: “Who’s the fag guitarist over there?” When the English version became a hit, Sinatra’s first chart-topper in 11 years, composer Ralph Chicorel accused Kaempfert of plagiarising his song You Are My Love (the claim was settled, to Chicorel’s dissatisfaction, out of court). Kaempfert might have been an easy listening merchant, but he was no hack. Songs he wrote or co-wrote include Nat ‘King” Cole’s L-O-V-E and Al Martino’s Spanish Eyes.

Also recorded by: Johnny Dorelli (as Solo più che mai, 1966), Mel Tormé (1966), The Sandpipers (1966), Johnny Rivers (1966), Jack Jones (1966), Petula Clark (1966), John Davidson (1966), Jim Nabors (1966), Vikki Carr (1966), Connie Francis (1966), Sandy Posey (1966), Barbara McNair (1966), Peggy Lee (1966), Fred Bertelmann (as Fremde in der Nacht, 1966), Johnny Mathis (1967), Andy Williams (1967), José Feliciano (1967), Dalida (as Solo più che mai, 1967), Jimi Hendrix (as part of Wild Thing at the Monterrey Fesival, 1967), Line Renaud (as Étrangers dans la nuit, 1969), Violetta Villas (1970), The Ventures (1970), Teddy Harold & Jeremy (1974), Bette Midler (1976), Mina (1984), Babe (as Stranac usranac, 1994), Los Manolos (1991), Manuel (1998), The Supremes (unreleased until 1998), Michael Bublé (2000), Paul Kuhn (2003), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Cake (2005), Barry Manilow (2006), Dany Brillant (2007), Russell Watson (2007), Marc Almond (2007) a.o.

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Virginia Bruce – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Ray Noble & his Orchestra with Al Bowlly – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Frank Sinatra – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
The Four Seasons – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3

born_to-danceSinatra was a marvellous interpreter of Cole Porter’s songs, and both of his solo versions of I‘ve Got You Under My Skin are superb (whereas his long-distance duet with Bono was embarrassing. “Don’t you know, Blue Eyes, you never can win” indeed.). The song was originally written for the 1936 MGM musical Born To Dance, in which Virginia Bruce vied with star Eleanor Powell for the affection of James Stewart. The film was the first to be entirely scored by Porter (and his first engagement for MGM), and featured another classic in the exquisite Easy to Love, crooned by Powell and, in an unusual singing role, Stewart.

The song was quickly covered by scores of crooners and orchestras, with Ray Noble and his Orchestra’s version, with the English singer Al Bowlly on vocals, scoring the biggest hit among various versions released in 1936. Two months earlier, in October, Hal Kemp and his Orchestra had a hit with it. Noble’s arrangement is superior, but Skinnay Ellis’ vocals, when they finally come in, are preferable. Bowlly met an untimely end in 1941 when the explosion of a Blitzkrieg bomb on London blew his bedroom door off its hinges, lethally smashing the crooner’s head (see the wonderful Another Nickel in the Machine blog for the full story).

swingin_loversSinatra first performed I’ve Got You Under My Skin as part of a medley with You’d Be So Easy To Love on radio in 1946 (some sources say 1943), but didn’t record it until 1956, with Nelson Riddle’s arrangement on the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers album (it is the version featured here; the built-up to the instrumental break is quite delicious). He re-recorded the song again in 1963, in full swing mode, on Sinatra’s Sinatra, an album of remakes of some of his favourite hits. In an international poll conducted in 1980, I’ve Got You Under My Skin was voted the most popular Sinatra song. In 1966 the song was a hit in the popified remake of the Four Seasons.

Also recorded by: Frances Langford with Jimmy Dorsey (1936), Shep Fields (1936), Hal Kemp & his Orchestra (1936), Eddy Duchin (1942), Erroll Garner (1945), Artie Shaw & his Orchestra (1946), Ginny Simms (1946), Frank Culley (1951), Eddie Fisher (1952), Stan Freberg (1952), Peggy Lee (1953), The Ravens (1954), Dinah Washington (1955), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Georgie Auld (1956), Jimmy Callaway (1956), Shirley Bassey (1957), Anita O’Day With Billy May & His Orchestra (1959), Perry Como (1959), Louis Prima & Keely Smith (1960), Dinah Shore (1960), The Miracles (1962), Danny Williams (1962), Julie London (1965), The Four Seasons (1966), Gloria Gaynor (1976), Hank Marvin (1977), Chris Connor (1978), Rosemary Clooney (1982), Julio Iglesias (1985), Babe (1985), Neneh Cherry (1990), Dionne Warwick (1990), Frank Sinatra & Bono (1993), Guy Marchand (1998), Diana Krall (1999), Jamie Cullum Trio (1999), Neil Diamond (2000), Patricia Paay (2000), Echo (2002), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Michael Bublé (2005), Danny Seward (2005), Steve Tyrell (2005), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Smokey Robinson (2006), John Pizzarelli with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (2006), Cídia e Dan (2008), Wilfried Van den Brande (2008) a.o.

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Ethel Merman – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Frank Sinatra – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Ella Fitzgerald – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3

ethelTrust Cole Porter to identify in his lyrical witticisms a yet undiscovered matter of science. As we now know, the emotion of love triggers a neurochemical reaction. So when Porter has generations of singers crooning about getting a kick out of you (or whoever the object of unrequited desire is), he gets them to rhapsodise about the intoxicating effect of oxytocin. The first to do so was Ethel Merman, whose voice is most unlikely to give you oxytocin overload.

The song was originally written for an unproduced musical titled Stardust, but languished for three years until a reworked version was included in the 1934 musical Anything Goes. This was Porter in his list-song pomp. Here he enumerates all the things that fail to give him a dopamine rush (he doesn’t give a flying fuck about a flying fuck, long before air travel became widely accessible), while in You’re The Top, from the same musical, he goes metaphor-crazy in cataloging all the ways his true love is, well, the top. While his brief did not refer specifically to Merman performing these songs, Porter did have her diction in mind when he included the line “it would bore me terrifically too”, just so that she could roll those Rs (alas not on the present version, but note how Sinatra accentuates the F instead). That line, of course, makes reference to cocaine — not a kick-giver, apparently — which for the 1936 movie version was replaced, incongruously, by Spanish perfume (not French and not quite in the same kick-giving league as a Class A drug).

songs_for_young_loversSinatra recorded the song at least three times, in 1953, 1962 (featured on Monday) and on his Live In Paris album, also in 1962 but not released until 1994. The earlier version is a jazzy guitar-based number in which Sinatra, just climbing out of career slump, treats the song with a certain decorum. He sounds nonchalant about all these supposed stimulants but is still sad because she obviously does not adore him. The song and the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! album it came from marked Sinatra’s big comeback after a few years in the wilderness (partly due to his vocal cord haemorrhage in 1951 and his subsequent dumping by Columbia records), coinciding with his success on the big screen in From Here To Eternity. It was his first outing with Nelson Riddle, whom Sinatra had to be tricked into working with, Riddle’s recent success arranging Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Mona Lisa notwithstanding. It is said that in their long association, Sinatra rejected one eight of Riddle’s proposed arrangements.

ella_cole_porterThe big band swing recording from 1962 — when Sinatra was in his Rat Pack grandeur — has the singer brimming with hubris. Here her lack of adoration is not a big snag — using Sinatra terminology, she’s still a great broad. As for the cocaine: in the 1953 take he is blasé about cocaine; by 1962 he is instead left cold by the riffs of the bop-tight refrain. Ella Fitzgerald, in her utterly enchanting version (and do try to sing along to get an idea just how intricate her effortless vocals are), also refers to cocaine. Does Ethel Merman in her remake for the notorious 1979 disco album?

Also recorded by: George Hall (1934), Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra (1934), Bob Causer and his Cornellians (1934), The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (1934), Leo Reisman and his Orchestra (1935), Eddy Duchin (1942), Johnny Dankworth Seven (1953), Johnny Hartman (1956), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Shirley Bassey (1962), Anita O’Day with Billy May & his Orchestra (1959), Shirley Scott (1960), Nana Mouskouri (1962), Esquivel (1962), Sandie Shaw (1965), Dave Brubeck Quartet (1966), Alma Cogan (1967), Gary Shearston (1974), Anita O’Day (1975), Ira Sullivan (1979), Ethel Merman (1979), Rosemary Clooney (1982), Madeline Vergari (1984), Kim Criswell (1989), Jungle Brothers (1990), Dionne Warwick (1990), Tom Jones (1990), Tony Bennett (1991), Bobby Caldwell (1993), Diana Krall (1999), Lisa Ekdahl (1999), The Living End (2001), Dolly Parton (2001), Jamie Cullum (2003), Patrick Lindner & Thilo Wolf Big Band (2005), Steve Tyrell (2005), Leah Thys (2008), Lew Stone and His Band (2008), Patricia Barber (2008), Heike Makatsch (as Nichts haut mich um aber Du, 2009) a.o.

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The Kingston Trio – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
Frank Sinatra – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
William Shatner – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3

kingston_trioWhen Michael Jackson was a 12-year-old, he appeared on Diana Ross’ TV show, delightfully performing It Was A Very Good Year in mock-inebriated ring-a-ding-dinging rat-packer mode before dumping a fur-clad La Ross (video). Little Mike was clearly in on the joke of a small boy taking off a rather world-weary sentimentalist. What a showboy he was, and how poignant to see this child, from whom childhood was taken, singing that when he was two years old, he was four years old.

The original was recorded in 1961 with suitable gravitas by the Kingston Trio, right down to two melancholy but not downbeat whistle solos. It was written in ten minutes by Ervin Drake, who at 90 is still alive, with the trio’s frontman Bob Shane, the band’s last surviving member, in mind.

septemberSinatra heard the Kingston Trio record on the radio and liked it so much that he insisted on recording it, which he did on 22 April 1965 for his wistful September Of My Years album, with an arrangement by Gordon Jenkins. About to turn 50, the lyrics seemed appropriate for Sinatra (who, of course, was not yet finished with the game of romance; the following year he married the lovely, very young Mia Farrow). Sinatra’s version earned him a Grammy for best vocal performance, a title which he would defend the next year with Strangers In The Night. So much for the latter being a big comeback. The author and songwriter Arnold Shaw observed in It Was A Very Good Year a new maturity in Sinatra’s voice: “The silken baritone of 1943 is now like torn velvet.”

shatnerWhere Bob Shane is gentle, and Sinatra is all sombre introspection, William Shatner’s bizarre remake from 1968 is absolute comedy gold. It’s not as demented as his Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, nor does it have a primal scream as the end of Mr Tambourine Man, but it is bizarrely entertaining nonetheless. Weeee’d ride in limousines, or their chauffeurs would drive…when I…was…thirty-five. And then the crazy harps!

Also recorded by: Modern Folk Quartet (1963), Lonnie Donegan (1963), Shawn Phillips (1964), The Turtles (1965), The Barron Knights (1965), Wes Montgomery (1965), Gabor Szabo (1966), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1966), Trudy Pitts (1967), Lou Rawls (1968), Ray Conniff & the Singers (1968), The Freedom Sounds feat Wayne Henderson (1969), Richie Havens (1973), Lee Hazlewood (1977), The Muppet Shiw (Statler and Waldorf, 1979), The Flaming Lips (1993), Homer Simpson (as It Was A Very Good Beer, 1993), Paul Young (1997), The Reverend Horton Heat (2000), Robbie Williams (in a troubling duet with Sinatra’s original vocals, 2001), Robert Charlebois (as C’était une très bonne année, 2003), Ray Charles with Willie Nelson (2004), Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (2006), Russell Watson (2007)

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Kaye Ballard – In Other Words.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Fly Me To The Moon.mp3

kaye_ballardFor the first few years of its life, Fly Me To The Moon was known as In Other Words. The song was a staple of cabaret singer Felicia Sanders’ repertoire, but she didn’t record the song until 1959. The first recording of the Bart Howard composition was by Kaye Ballard, a Broadway star and later TV actress, in 1954. Her version is quite lovely; one wonders what Judy Garland in her prime might have done with it. The song was first titled Fly Me To The Moon on Johnny Mathis 1956 version.

Sinatra didn’t get around to putting down his take until 1964, on his record with Count Basie (reprised, as it were, on the 1966 live album with the great bandleader). Arranged by Quincy Jones, it became the definitive version. Examine the list of performers who recorded the song in the decade between its first appearance and Sinatra’s 1964 recording, and marvel at the idea that it isn’t a version by Mathis, Cole, Brenda Lee, Vaughan, Tormé or Jack Jones that you first think of, but Sinatra’s, as though he had given everybody else a headstart.

sinatraStill fresh in the collective memory, it enjoyed a second life at the time of the 1969 lunar explorations. Astronaut Gene Cernan, in pictures broadcast on TV, played the song on board of Apollo 10, whereby Fly Me To The Moon became one of the first pieces of music to be played in outer space. It is not true, as Quincy Jones has claimed, that the crew of Apollo 11, which actually flew to the moon, played the song after the lunar landing; Buzz Aldrin has denied the tale. Four decades later, South Korean cosmonaut Yi So-yeon reported having sung the song in space during her Soyuz TMA-12 Flight in April 2008.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1956), Chris Connor (1957), Frances Wayne (1957), Nancy Wilson (1959), Gloria Lynne (1959), Dion and the Belmonts (1960), Nat ‘King’ Cole (1961), The Barry Sisters (1961), Brenda Lee (1962), Joe Harnell (1962), Sarah Vaughan (1962), Mel Tormé (1962), Jack Jones (1962), Connie Francis (as Portami con te, 1962), Roy Haynes (1962), Tony Martin (1962), Dartmouth Injunaires (1962), Enoch Light & The Light Brigade (1963), Tony Mottola (1963), Julie London (1963), Earl Grant (1963), Perry Como (1963), Alma Cogan (1963), Laurindo Almeida & the Bossa Nova Allstars (1963), Helen O’Connell (1963), Dick Hyman (1963), Rita Reys (1963), The Downbeats (1963), The Demensions (1963), Patti Page (1964), Xavier Cugat (1964), Grady Martin and The Slewfoot Five (1964), Joan Shaw (1964), Matt Monro (1965), Howard Roberts Quartet (1965), Tony Bennett (1965), Doris Day (1965), Heidi Brühl (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 1965), Cliff Richard (1965), LaVern Baker (1965), Chris Montez (1966), Trini Lopez (1966), Bobby Darin (1966), Dudley Moore Trio (1966), Tante Emma (as Fremde in der Nacht, 1967). Wes Montgomery (1968), Bobby Womack (1968), Nicoletta (1968), Leslie Uggams (1969), Tom Jones (1969), Mitty Collier (1969),
Tony Bennett (1970), Oscar Peterson (1970), Mina (1972), Lyn Collins (1972), Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (1994), Paula West (1999), Boston Brass (2000), Utada Hikaru (2000), Diana Krall (2002), Günther Neefs (2002), Julien Clerc with Véronique Sanson (as olons vers la lune, 2003), Tom Gaebel (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 2003), Agnetha Fältskog (2004), Dany Brillant (2004), Matt Dusk (2004), Westlife (2004), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Steve Tyrell (2005), Bobby Taylor (2006), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Smokey Robinson (2006), Roger Cicero (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 2006), Ray Quinn (2007), Laura Fygi (as Volons vers la lune, 2008), Saw Loser (2008), Helmut Lotti (2008) a.o.

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The Originals Vol. 27

June 19th, 2009 7 comments

Sometimes it happens that an act which wrote a famous song has it recorded by others before they do. This can be because the composer was still a songwriter waiting to become well known (Kris Kristofferson or Leonard Cohen), or because the first performer was friendly with the star who wrote the song. We have seen a couple of such cases in this series before, with Barry McGuire recording the Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreaming and Chad & Jeremy’s doing Simon & Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound first (amusingly, DivShare indicates that the McGuire version has been downloaded 140,701 times. Yeah, right). In this instalment, all five songs were recorded by others before the writers recorded their more famous versions.

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New World Singers – Blowing In The Wind.mp3
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind (Gerde’s version, 1962).mp3

Bob Dylan – No More Auction Block (1962).mp3
Chad Mitchell Trio – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3
Peter, Paul & Mary – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3

Marlene Dietrich – Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind.mp3

Before he became almost instantly famous, Bob Dylan’s favoured hang-out in Greenwich Village was Gerde’s Folk City. In 1962 he took ten minutes to cobble together Blowin’ In The Wind, based on an old slave song called No More Auction Block, which he says he knew from the Cater Family’s version. Dylan’s recording of the song dates from October 1962, at the Gaslight Café.

gerde's

Also performing regularly at Gerde’s was the multi-racial folk group New World Singers. Delores Nixon, the black member, often sang No More Auction Block as part of the group’s repertoire. Dylan later recalled that he wrote Blowin’ In The Wind after spending the night with Delores (who told him that it was unethical to “borrow” the melody, even though many folkies used to do that). One day in April 1962, Dylan handed the lyrics of Blowin’ In The Wind to New World Singer Gil Turner, who hosted the Monday evening line-up. Turner was impressed and asked Dylan to teach him the song, so that he could perform it immediately. Turner introduced the song — “I’d like to sing a new song by one of our great songwriters. It’s hot of the pencil and here it goes.” The crowd went mad, and Dylan went home. After that, he would include Blowin’ In The Wind on his repertoire; his version featured here is an excellent bootleg from a gig at Gerde’s in late 1962, before he recorded it for his sophomore album and before anybody else released it.

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The timeline of recordings of Blowin’ In The Wind is a little confused. Some sources date the New World Singers’ recording to September 1963, four months after Dylan’s was released. That is patently wrong, however. The New World Singers’ version appeared on a compilation of “topical songs” called Broadside Ballads Vol. 1 which apparently was released on 1 January 1963 on Broadside Records, the recording arm of the folk magazine (you guessed it) Broadside, which was founded by Pete Seeger and printed the lyrics of the song in May 1962. The Chad Mitchell Trio, sometimes credited with recording the song first, released the song on their In Action LP in March 1963.

dietrich_antwort_windIn 1963, Blowin’ In The Wind became a massive hit, not for Dylan, but for Peter, Paul & Mary. Naturally the song has been covered copiously and esoterically. Perhaps the most unexpected recording is that by the German film legend Marlene Dietrich in 1964; her Burt Bacharach-orchestrated single, which is not at all bad (I do dig the groovy flute), was backed by another German take on a folk anthem, Where Have All The Flowers Gone. I owe the New World Singers file to my latest Originals friend Walter from Belgium, who has kindly set me up with 30-odd more songs for this series.

Also recorded by: Chad Mitchell Trio (1963), Kingston Trio (1963), Stan Getz (1963), Marie Laforêt (1963), The Breakaways (1963), Conny Vandenbos & René Frank (as Wie weet waar het begint, 1964), Stan Getz & João Gilberto (1964; b-side of The Girl From Ipanema), Richard Anthony (as Ecoute dans le vent, 1964), Eddy Arnold (1964), The Browns (1964), Sam Cooke (1964), Marianne Faithfull (1964), Lena Horne (1964), Lucille Starr & Bob Regan (1964), Nina & Frederik (1964), Chet Atkins (1965), Trini Lopez (1965), Cher (1965), The Mad Hatters (1965), Johnny Rivers (1965), Bobby Bare (1965), Jackie DeShannon (1965), The Silkie (1965), Blue Mood Four (1965), Marlene Dietrich (English version, 1966), John Davidson (1966), I Kings (as La risposta, 1966), Robert DeCormier Singers (1966), Peggy March (as Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind, 1966), The Sheffields (1966), Stevie Wonder (1966), Dionne Warwick (1966), Joan Baez (1967), Brother Jack McDuff (1967), Lou Donaldson (1967), Laurel Aitken (1967), O.V. Wright (1968), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), The Dixie Drifters (1968), The Hollies (1969), Stanley Turrentine feat. Shirley Scott (1969), The Travellers (1969), Edwin Hawkins Singers (1969), Diana Ross & The Supremes (1969), Bill Medley (1970), Johnny Nash (1970), Luigi Tenco (as La risposta è caduta nel vento, 1972), Brimstone (1973), Black Johnny & His Paradiso’s (1973), Trident (1975), Horst Jankowski und sein Rias-Tanzorchester (1977), Julie Felix (1992), Neil Young (1991), Barbara Dickson (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), Judy Collins (1994), The Hooters (1994), Hugues Aufray (as Dans le souffle du vent, 1995), Mina (2000), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2001), Emmerson Nogueira (2002), Peter Saltzman (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Loona (2004), Bobby Solo (2004), Jools Holland with Ruby Turner (2005), House of Fools (2005), Dolly Parton & Nickel Creek (2005), Nena (2007), Sylvie Vartan (as Dans le souffle du vent, 2007), Massimo Priviero (2007) a.o.

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Billy Preston – My Sweet Lord.mp3
George Harrison – My Sweet Lord.mp3

billy_prestonYes, of course, the Chiffons did it “originally”. And with that out of the way, Harrison wrote My Sweet Lord, which would become his biggest and most controversial hit, for Billy Preston. Preston had at one point come to be regarded as the “Fifth Beatle” thanks to his keyboard work which earned him a co-credit on the Get Back single. He had actually known the band since 1962, when he toured Britain with Little Richard, for whom the Beatles opened in Liverpool. Post-Beatles, Preston continued working with Harrison, who had brought him into the Let It Be sessions.

Written in December 1969 in Copenhagen, My Sweet Lord song first appeared on Preston’s Encouraging Words album, a star-studded affair which included not only Harrison, but also Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richard on bass and Ginger Baker on drums. The album also included Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (a song which the Beatles had considered of recording); almost a year later that song would provide the title of the triple-LP set. The All Things Must Pass album, produced by Phil Spector, also included George’s cover of his own My Sweet Lord.

my_sweet_lordPreston’s version is much closer to Harrison’s original concept than the composer’s own take. In his defence during the My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine plagiarism case, Harrison said that he was inspired not by early-’60s girlband pop, but by the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1969 hit Oh Happy Day. That influence is acutely apparent on Preston’s recording, but less so on Harrison’s chart-topper. Indeed, had Preston scored the big hit with it, not Harrison, it might have been Ed Hawkins initiating the plagiarism litigation.

Also recorded by: Stu Phillips & The Hollyridge Strings (1971), Johnny Mathis (1971), Homer Louis Randolph III (1971), Peggy Lee (1971), Ray Conniff (1971), Monty Alexander & the Cyclones (1971), Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Eddy Arnold (1971), Edwin Starr (1971), Top of the Poppers (1971), Nina Simone (1972), Richie Havens (1972), The Violinaires (1973), Five Thirty (1990), Boy George (1992), Stacy Q (1997), George Harrison & Sam Brown (2000), David Young (2000), Emmerson Nogueira (2003), Bebe Winans (2003), Girlyman (2003), Joel Harrison (2005), Gary Christian & Desa Basshead (2008) a.o.

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Flying Burrito Brothers – Wild Horses.mp3
Rolling Stones – Wild Horses.mp3

burritoIt is difficult to say which one is the original, and which one the cover. The Stones recorded it before the Flying Burrito Brothers did, but released it only after Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons’ band released it on their 1970 album, Burrito Deluxe. Wild Horses was written in 1969 (Keef says about his new-born son; Jagger denies that its re-written lyrics were about Marianne Faithfull) and recorded in December 1969 at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, the day after the group laid down Brown Sugar. Jamming in a country mood, Mick asked Keith to present a number in that genre, spurring his country-loving friend on by saying: “Come on, you must have hundreds”. Keith disappeared for a bit, and returned with a melody and words for the chorus. Mick filled in the lyrics for the verses, and the song was recorded (with Jim Dickinson standing it for Ian Stewart, who did not like playing minor chords)  before the Stones packed up and left Memphis.

Earlier that year, the Stones had collaborated on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace Of Sin album; and as the curtain fell on the 1960s, the Burritos opened for the Stones at the notorious Altamont concert (according to some reports, it was during their performance that the Hells’ Angels started the first fight). Parsons was especially friendly with Keith Richard, whom he introduced to the treasury of country music. It is even said that the song was intended for Gram — probably a false rumour, yet it  sounds more like a Parsons than a Stones song. Whether or not it was intended for Parsons, the Burritos were allowed to record Wild Horses, and release it before the Stones were able to (for contractual reasons involving their “divorce” from Allen Klein) on 1971’s Sticky Fingers album.

Also recorded by: Labelle (1971), Leon Russell (1974), Melanie (1974), The Sundays (1992), Southside Johnny (1997), Otis Clay (1997), Blackhawk (1997), Old & In the Way (1997), Elliott Murphy with Olivier Durand (2000), Brent Truitt, Tim Crouch and Dennis Crouch (2000), The Rocking Chairs (2002), Leslie King (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Rachel Z (2004), Charlotte Martin (2004), Karen Souza (2005), Alicia Keys featuring Adam Levine (2005), Tre Lux (2006), Richard Marx with Jessica Andrews (2008) a.o.

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Judy Collins – Suzanne.mp3
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne.mp3
Françoise Hardy – Suzanne (English version).mp3

judy_collinsMany of Laughing Len’s most famous songs were first recorded by folk warbless Judy Collins: Sisters Of Mercy; Bird On A Wire; Since You’ve Asked; Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye — and Suzanne. The song was born in Montréal, landmarks of which are described at length in the song. Cohen already had a chord pattern in place which he then married to a poem he had written about one Suzanne Verdal — the beautiful wife of the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, a friend of Cohen’s — whom he fancied but, as the lyrics have it, touched only in his mind.

francoise_hardyOne night in 1966, a year before Cohen released his debut album, he played the finished song over the telephone to his friend Judy Collins, who was already a star on the folk scene. Duly enchanted, Collins recorded the song for her In My Life album, which was released in November 1966. A few months later, the English-born singer Noel Harrison and Josh White Jr both recorded it before the song’s writer got around to releasing it in December 1967. It is fair to say that Leonard Cohen owes much of his start in music to Judy Collins’ patronage. Apart from Cohen’s version, I really like Françoise Hardy’s (English-language) remake from 1970.

suzanne

Suzanne Verdal, the muse behind Cohen's song.

As for the subject of the song, she is now (or at least was fairly recently) living out of her car in California following a serious back injury sustained in a fall. In 1998, BBC4 interviewed her about the song; she comes across as charming — one can sense why Cohen might have been enchanted by her three decades earlier. The interview is a useful tool for deciphering the lyrics. The marine theme was inspired by the adjacent St Lawrence River, nearby was a Catholic church for sailors under the patronage of the Virgin Mary. Suzanne was a practising Catholic (hence the nautical Jesus allusions). And the tea…well, it was just tea, with pieces of fruit in it.

Also recorded by: Noel Harrison (1967), Josh White Jr (1968), Pearls Before Swine (1968), Catherine McKinnon (1968), Genesis (a US band, 1968), Graeme Allwright (1968), Françoise Hardy (1970), (in French, 1968), Jack Jones (1968), Harry Belafonte (1969), Herman van Veen (in Dutch and German, 1969), Nina Simone (1969), John Davidson (1969), George Hamilton IV (1969), Gary McFarland (1969), Fairport Convention (1969), Françoise Hardy (in English, 1970), Nancy Wilson (1970), Joan Baez (on four occasions, first in 1971), Neil Diamond (1971), Anni-Frid Lyngstad (1971), Fabrizio De André (1972), Roberta Flack (1973), Mia Martini (1983), The Flying Lizards (1984), Geoffrey Oryema (1991), Bomb (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), The Parasites (1993), Peter Gabriel (1995), Dianne Reeves (1999), Barb Jungr (1999), Kevin Parent (2001), Nana Mouskouri (2002), Denison Witmer (2003), Andrea Parodi e Bocephus King (2003), Marti Pellow (2003), René Marie (2003), Perla Batalla (2005), Aga Zaryan (2006), Sylvie Vartan (2007), Aretha Franklin (in the ’60s, released in 2007), Alain Bashung (2008), Gaetane Abrial (2008), James Taylor (2008) a.o.

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Ray Stevens – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.mp3
Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.mp3
Johnny Cash – Sunday Morning Coming Down.mp3

ray_stevensKris Kristofferson is country music’s Cinderella. Although from a distinguished military family and highly educated, by the mid-’60s he was a janitor for Columbia Records in Nashville, writing his songs literally in the basement. His bosses even warned him not to pitch his songs to the label’s recording stars, or he’d be fired. One day, Kristofferson broke that rule. Double-shifting as a helicopter pilot, he collared Johnny Cash on the building’s helipad (some say he landed a chopper in Cash’s garden) to present him with Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down. Cash was impressed with the song, and made sure that Kristofferson would not be fired. He did not, however, record his songs — yet. Still, soon Kristofferson’s songs — such Me And Bobby McGee (which already featured in this series), Help Me Make It Through The Night, From The Bottle To The Bottom — were recorded by a variety of country artists. Eventually Kristofferson was rewarded with a recording contract; his big career breakthrough came when Cash introduced him at the Newport Folk Festival.

johnny_cash_showStrangely, Cash was not the first to record Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down. Ray Stevens, a country singer who frequently dabbled in novelty songs, recorded it in 1969, scoring a minor hit on the country charts. Cash had the bigger hit with his 1970 version, which corrected the colloquial spelling. Cash resisted pressure to change the line “wishing Lord that I was stoned” to “…I was home” in deference to the song’s writer; he however had the kid playing with, not cussing at, the can that he was kicking.

Johnny Cash was a marvellous interpreter of songs, but his take Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, fine though it is, does not stand up to Kristofferson’s version, which was also released in 1970. Indeed, it recently occurred to me that, if I was forced to choose, I would list KK’s version of Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down as my all-time favourite song.

Also recorded by: Sammi Smith (1970), Hank Ballard (1970), R. Dean Taylor (1970), Vikki Carr (1970), Lynn Anderson (1971), John Mogensen (as Søndag morgen,1971), Hank Snow (1971), Bobby Bare (1974), Frankie Laine (1978), Louis Neefs (as Zondagmiddag, 1979), Johnny Paycheck (1980), Shawn Mullins (1998), David Allan Coe (1998), Crooked Fingers (2002), Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-press (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006), Trace Adkins (2006), Ernie Thacker (2009) a.o.

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The Originals Vol. 26

June 12th, 2009 21 comments

In this instalment, three songs featured are perhaps well known to some in their original form; one original (Galveston) is pretty obscure; and one song may not immediately ring bells until one hears it (German readers of a certain age will recognise it by another name). There are ten versions of Reason To Believe, one of the greatest songs ever written. I’ve posted Tim Hardin’s original separately and the nine cover versions in one file.

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Tim Hardin – Reason To Believe.mp3
Johnny Cash – Reason To Believe (1974)
(reupped)
NINE VERSIONS OF REASON TO BELIEVE
Bobby Darin – Reason To Believe (1966)
Scott McKenzie – Reason To Believe (1967)
Marianne Faithfull – Reason To Believe (1967)
The Dillards – Reason To Believe (1968)
Glen Campbell – Reason To Believe (1968)
Cher – Reason To Believe (1968)
Carpenters – Reason To Believe (1970)
Rod Stewart – Reason To Believe (1971)
Billy Bragg – Reason To Believe (live) (1989)
tim_hardin The mark of genius in a song resides in its adaptability. As the various covers featured here show, Reason To Believe (not to be confused with Bruce Springsteen’s song of the same title) is the sort of rare song into which artists can project their emotions, making it their own. The 1966 original by Tim Hardin, who wrote it, is suitably affecting, as befits a lyric of betrayal (the line “Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried; still I look to find a reason to believe” is heartbreaking). But in my view, the definitive interpretation of the song, one of my all-time favourites, is that by the Southern Californian country band The Dillards (1968), who inspired bands such as the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. It is perfect.

DARINReason To Believe was not a hit for Hardin. A gifted songwriter, he enjoyed his biggest hit with somebody else’s song, Bobby Darin’s twee Simple Song of Freedom, which Darin wrote in return for Hardin providing his big comeback hit If I Were A Carpenter. Darin, by then in his folk phase, also did a very credible version of Reason To Believe. Hardin’s story is tragic. As a marine in Vietnam in the early 1960s he discovered heroin and became addicted to the drug. Added to that, he suffered from terrible stagefright, which is not helpful when you are an entertainer. He died on 29 December 1980 from a heroin and morphine overdose. He was only 39.

The two best known versions arguably are those by Rod Stewart (1971) and the Carpenters (1970). Stewart is a fine interpreter of songs, and his take of Reason To Believe is entirely likable. Stewart’s take was released as a single a-side; in the event the flip side, Maggie Mae, became the big hit.

EDIT: The Johnny Cash version linked to above comes courtesy of Señor of the WTF? No, Seriously. WTF? blog.
Also recorded by: Bobby Darin (1966), Scott McKenzie (1967), Marianne Faithfull (1967), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1967), Rick Nelson (1967), David Hemmings (1967), Cher (1968), The Dillards (1968), The Youngbloods (1968), Glen Campbell (1968), Suzi Jane Hokom (1969), Brainbox (1969), The Wray Brothers Band (1969), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (1970), Andy Williams (1970), The Carpenters (1970), Rod Stewart (1971), Skeeter Davis (1972), Johan Verminnen (as Iemand als jij, 1989), Wilson Phillips (1990), Jackie DeShannon (1993), Don Williams (1995), Paul Weller (1995), Stina Nordenstam (1998), Ron Sexsmith (1999), Rod Stewart (2003), Vonda Shepard (2001) a.o.

Jimmy Driftwood – The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Horton – The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Les Humphries Singers – Mexico.mp3

jimmy_driftwood Oh, you probably do know the song. And if you don’t, you should. Originally a traditional folk song known as The 8th of January, it tells the story of a soldier fighting with Andrew Jackson’s army against the British in the 8 January 1815 battle of the title. It was first recorded in 1957 and released the following year by Jimmy Driftwood, a school teacher in Timbo, Arkansas. Born James Morris, he is said to have been one of the nicest guys in the folk music scene (not surprisingly, he was a collaborator with the great Alan Lomax). As a history teacher, Driftwood considered song to be a teaching device, and so in 1936 (or 1945, depending which sources you believe) he set the fiddle-based folk song to lyrics — there were no definitive words, only snippets of recurring phrases — to benefit his students. In the 1950s, Driftwood was signed by RCA, and eventually recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, with the label’s session man Chet Atkins on guitar. He later wrote another country classic, Tennessee Stud, which became a hit for Eddy Arnold and Johnny Cash (Tarantino fans will know it from the Jackie Brown soundtrack).

johnny_horton_new_orleansShortly after Driftwood recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, the doomed country star Johnny Horton did a cover which relied less on manic fiddling and dropped such radio-unfriendly words as “hell” and “damn”, and scored a big hit with it (he even changed the lyrics for the English market, turning the enemy “British” into random “rebels). Horton released several “historical records” (most famous among them, perhaps, Sink The Bismarck), though it would be unfair to reduce his influence on country music to that. A close friend of Johnny Cash’s, Horton died in a car crash in 1960, widowing his wife Billy Jean for the second time — she had been married to Hank Williams when the country legend died. Spookily, both Williams and Horton played their last concerts at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.

There is a crazy idea on the Internet that associates Horton with the revolting racist records of a fuckwitted spunkbucket going by the name of Rebel Johnny (such as the charming “I Hate Niggers”). I am at a loss to understand how such a confusion could arise and thereby smear the name of a great country star.

les_humphries_mexicoTwo other cover versions are notable. Also in 1959, skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan reached the UK #2 — but received no airplay on Aunty Beeb until he changed the word “ruddy” to “blooming”. The song was revived in 1972 by the Les Humphries Singers, a multi-ethnc and multi-national English-language ensemble of hippie demeanour that was very popular in West Germany with its Ed Hawkins Singer meets Hair shtick. Humphries, an Englishman, renamed the song Mexico (not a stretch; that country’s name appears in the original lyrics) and scored a massive hit with his outfit’s joyous rendition. Their performances, in English, captured the era’s exuberant spirit of social and sexual liberation. The trouble is, Humphries credited the song to himself, a brazen act of plagiarism. I have found no evidence that Humphries, who died in 2007 at 67, was ever sued for his blatant rip-off.
Also recorded by: Vaughn Monroe (1959), Eddy Arnold (1963), Harpers Bizarre (1968), Johnny Cash (1972), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1974), Buck Owens (1975), Bob Weir (1976), Bill Haley (1979)

Johnny O’Keefe – Wild One.mp3
Iggy Pop – Real Wild Child (Wild One).mp3

johnny_okeefe_wild_one Johnny O’Keefe was Australia’s first rock & roll star, notching up 30 hits in his country. Like Elvis, he was born in January 1935. He died just over a year after Elvis, of barbiturate poisoning. Often referred to by the title of his big hit, released in 1958, O’Keefe was the first Australian rock & roll star to tour the United States. But it was while Buddy Holly & the Crickets were touring Australia that the song came to traverse the Pacific. Crickets drummer Jerry Allison went on to record it under the name Ivan as Real Wild Child, enjoying a minor US hit with it.

It took almost three decades before O’Keefe’s song would reach the higher regions of the charts when Iggy Pop scored a UK Top 10 and US Top 30 hit with his David Bowie-produced track, as Real Wild Child (Wild One), in 1986. It isn’t clear which version inspired Mr Osterberg, but in 1982 Albert Lee recorded it under the same title.
Also recorded by: Jerry Lewis (1958; released in 1974), Jet Harris (1962), Billy Idol (1987), Christopher Otcasek (1989), Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1993), Lou Reed (1993), Status Quo (2003), Wakefield (2004), Everlife (2006)


Dave Edmunds – Queen Of Hearts.mp3
Juice Newton – Queen Of Hearts.mp3

dave_edmonds Here’s one of those songs that some might know better in its original version, and others as the hit cover. Queen Of Hearts was a UK #11 hit for Dave Edmunds — previously featured in this series for covering Smiley Lewis’ I Hear You Knocking — in 1979, and two years later a US #2 hit for the unlikely-named Juice Newton. She will return to this series soon when her other big hit of 1981, Angel Of The Morning. Newton earned a Grammy nomination for best country song for her version, and it was her remake that inspired the veteran French singer Sylvie Vartan, who once performed on a bill with the Beatles, to record her French take on the song (retitled Quand tu veux , or When You Want It). A couple of years earlier Newton had tried to have a hit with another British song, but her version of It’s A Heartache lost out in the US to that by Welsh rasper Bonnie Tyler. Later Newton enjoyed a #11 with Brenda Lee’s Break It To Me Gently.
Also recorded by: Rodney Crowell (1980), Sylvie Vartan (as Quand tu veux, 1981), The Shadows (1983), Lawrence Welk (1984), Ramshackle Daddies (2003), Melanie Laine (2005), Valentina (2007)

don_ho_galvestonDon Ho – Galveston.mp3
Glen Campbell – Galveston.mp3

Jimmy Webb sat on the beach of Galveston on the hurricane-plagued Gulf of Mexico when he wrote this song, which might appear to be about the Spanish-American war but was just as applicable to the Vietnam War, which in 1966 was starting to heat up (“While I watch the cannons flashing, I clean my gun and dream of Galveston” and “I’m so afraid of dying”). The composer subsequently said it was about the Vietnam War but at other times also denied it. Whatever Webb had in mind, its theme is universal about any soldier who’d rather be home than on the killing fields.

glen_campbell_galvestonWebb had previously written By The Time I Get To Phoenix (first recorded by Johnny Rivers), which Glen Campbell would have a hit with. He later wrote Wichita Lineman especially for Campbell. Galveston would complete the trinity of Webb hit songs for Campbell, who in 1974 recorded a whole album of Webb numbers. The original of Galveston was recorded by the relatively obscure Don Ho, a Hawaiian lounge singer and TV star who was known for appearing with red shades and died in 2007 aged 76. Campbell later said that, while in Hawaii, Ho turned him to Galveston. Campbell sped it up a bit to create his moving version. Apparently, after “giving” the song to Campbell, Ho would not sing it any more.
Also recorded by: Lawrence Welk (1969), Jim Nabors (1968), The Ventures (1969), Roger Williams (1969), Jimmy Webb (1971), The Lemonheads (1997), Of Montreal (2000), Joel Harrison with David Binney (2004)

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