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Answer Records Vol. 8

May 5th, 2011 5 comments

In the eighth instalment of the Answer Records, Wilson Pickett is being told to change his sense of timing, a soul group is trying to escape a hungry lion, and a 1920s singer rails against women with short hair.

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It’s a question of timing
Act 1: Wilson Pickett – In The Midnight Hour (1965).mp3
Wilson is quite specific as to the time that he will condescend to engaging in the passions of copulation. That is, he will not make love to his woman unless the clock strikes 12, in darkness. However, once the time has arrived, he promises that “I’m gonna take you girl and hold you, and do all the [alas unspecified] things I told you”. Oh yes, come the minute hour, Wilson’s “love will come tumblin’ down”, whatever that means, and it will “begin to shine” and so on. But only once it’s midnight, because he wants a bit of privacy.

Act 2:  Ann Mason – You Can’t Love Me (In The Midnight Hour) (1965).mp3
Using the same tune, Ann Mason reminds Wilson that her expectations of him exceed a bit of nocturnal hanky panky. In any case, she argues, the midnight hours “is the only time I’m on your mind” and she is not the kind of girl he can use for his selfish gratifications. She regards herself as the only girl to give it – the truth – to him straight: “You got to love me in the morning, you got to love me during the day. If you want me during the midnight hours then you just gotta love me my way.” Looks like Wilson’s love will have to come tumblin’ down solo unless he is willing to show the straightshooting Ms Mason some affection around the clock.

Let sleeping lions lie

Act 1: The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight.mp3
Ripped off from the South African pop tune Mbube via The Weavers Wimoweh (story in The Originals Vol. 20), The Tokens observe that in the “mighty jungle” the lion (and presumably others of his herd) is sleeping. But instead of keeping quiet in case the lion (and the other wild cats) is awoken, The Tokens begin to yodel, which seems a pretty bad idea.

Act 2: The Dukays – Please Help (1962).mp3
Well, there the careless Tokens have done it: they’ve roused the lion from his sleep with their yodelling, and he is not only grumpy now. The Dukays now face the wakeful  and hungry lion’s wrath. Hence their call to “notify the nation” to help them out of this situation (with a different tune). The Dukays’ problem is that “the lion’s got a notion I’ll make a tasty potion”, and we do hear the fearsome lion roar. So while The Dukays state their appeal for emergency assistance, they have the awareness to keep using their feet, though it’s unclear whether they advise running or dancing, for this is an eminently danceable soul number. No wonder the lion is catching up; indeed, at the end it sounds like the lion won. If only The Tokens hadn’t yodelled.

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Hairdressing advice from Blind Alfred
Act 1: Blind Alfred Reed – Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls (1927).mp3
The youth of 1927 was out of control. They were, if you can believe the affront to all that’s decent and moral, bobbing their hair. That’s right, righteous folks, styling their hair in the shape of the bob, like some Hollywood harridan. Next these bobbed jezebels will propose baring their ankles, for shame. So Blind Alfred Reed wrote his protest song and recorded it on 19 December 1927 in Camden, New Jersey. “Why do you bob your hair, girls,” Alfred asks by way of pointing out that they are “doing mighty wrong” because a woman’s hair should be long by divine ordinance, no less. Yes, short hair is revealing and therefore “a sin”, and to keep in fashion “is not God’s advice”. Oh, the iniquities that reside in the decision “to rob the head God gave you and bear the flapper’s name”! So “every time you bob” your hair, “you’re breaking God’s command” and won’t “reach the Glory land”  (there’ll be something about that in that fun loving book of Leviticus, so beloved of homophobic hypocrites with the theological acumen of a dustmite that has failed Grade 1 in the remedial class of the school for slow insects. And 1 Corinthians 11 will clinch it). So keep your hair long, girls. “And when before the judgment you meet your Lord up there, he’ll say: ‘Well done. For one thing, you never bobbed your hair.’”

Act 2: Blind Alfred Reed – Why Don’t You Bob Your Hair Girls (1929).mp3
The title notwithstanding, Blind Alfred is not telling you to ignore what he counselled two years earlier (so this is rather a sequel than answer song). He acknowledges that a woman with long hair “is hard to find” this fine 3 December 1929 in New York City. And the problem really swings both ways: a man wants to get married, but not to a woman who has no hair. And as woman with short hair won’t find as man (if Blind Al was alive today, he might find that some women with short hair don’t want to land a man in the first place). Upshot : marital bliss and procreation down the drain. And that won’t serve anybody. The solution now is to revert from bobbing your hair, girls, and repent so that Jesus will forgive the errors of your hairstyling ways. In other words, go to the confessional, not the salon. And let that hair grow, for God’s sake.

Don’t beat up on Blind Alfred though: it sounds like one of the original socially conscious protest singers is having a bit of fun with his hair songs, rather mischievously overstating the case. He had made his first recordings in July 1927 in the Bristol sessions which launched the careers of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. And his end is just tragic: he died penniless in 1956 at the age of 76, apparently of starvation.

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More answer records

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Any Major 60s Soul Vol. 2

June 5th, 2009 5 comments

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

The Originals Vol. 17

March 3rd, 2009 7 comments

Time for another round of Originals. Apologies for the relative scarcity of posts in the series. They are rather research-intensive, so one post of five songs can take up to 5-6 hours of work. Still, I enjoy writing these posts very much, so I’ll keep on going.
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Richard Chamberlain – They Long To Be Close To You.mp3
Dusty Springfield – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3
Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3

Isaac Hayes – (They Long To Be) Close To You (full).mp3
Jerry Butler & Brenda Lee Eager – Close To You (live).mp3
Gwen Guthrie – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3
Paul Weller – Close To You.mp3

richard-chamberlain-close-to-youThe Carpenters drew heavily from often not very well known songs, making them their own in the process. This was not so, however, with what is widely regarded at their signature tune. (They Long To Be) Close To You had been recorded a few times before the Carpenters got their turn in 1970.

It started out as a humble b-side to Richard Chamberlain’ (yes, the actor) 1963 single Blue Guitar. Within a year both Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield had recorded it, though Dusty’s version was not released until 1967, on her lovely Where Am I Going? LP.

Composer Burt Bacharach was not happy with either of the hitherto published versions when he offered the song to Herb Alpert, who had in 1968 recorded a rather good version of Bacharach’s This Guy’s In Love With You. Alpert, however, declined to do Close To You (apparently he didn’t like the line about sprinkling “moondust in your hair”), and gave the song to the Carpenters, who had released their debut LP on Alpert’s A&M label. An similarly hesitant Richard Carpenter and Alpert arranged the song — with the latter’s prominent trumpet track — and created aversion Bacharach was happy with.

carpenters1Close To You has been covered many times since. The genius of the song is that it can stand distinct treatments. It did not suffer from Isaac Hayes slowed down, psychedelic-soul 1971 take, nor from Jerry Butler & Brenda Lee Eager’s 1973 gospel-blues rendition (from the legendary Save The Children concert), nor from Gwen Guthrie’s wonderful upbeat, joyous soul interpretation in 1986. Even Paul Weller on his 2004 album of cover versions couldn’t mess it up. Indeed, I like his raspy-voiced version on which he struggles to keep in tune, but I seem to be in a minority here. Listen to it and tell me what you think. And, of course, it’s Homer and Marge’s wedding song (in the movie; regular viewers will recall several weddings).

Also recorded by: Dionne Warwick (1967), Gabor Szabo (1970), Johnny Mathis (1970), Perry Como (1970), Nancy Wilson (1970), Diana Ross (1970), Leon Spencer (1971), Frank Sinatra (1971), The Moments (1971), Claudine Longet (1971), Barbra Streisand & Burt Bacharach (1971, on Bacharach’s TV show), Cilla Black (1971), Eddy Arnold (1971), Richard Evans (1972), Errol Garner (1973), The Clams (1974), B.T. Express (1975), The Cranberries (1994), Richard Clayderman (1995), Yasuko Agawa (1996), Billy Baxter (1998), Marshall & Alexander (2003), Gerald Levert & Tamia (2003), Tuck & Patti (2004), Soulbob (2005), Rick Astley (2005), Herb Alpert (2005), Barry Manilow (2007), Mario Biondi & Duke Orchestra (2007), Steve Tyrell (2008), Tina Arena (2008) a.o.

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Anita Carter – Love’s Ring Of Fire.mp3
Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire.mp3

anita-carterAt the time when June Carter was falling heavily for Johnny Cash, she was regularly writing songs with fellow country singer Merle Kilgore (the first song they wrote together was titled Promised To John, recorded by Anita Carter with Hank Snow). As Kilgore recalled it, Ring Of Fire was born the day June spoke to him about her love for Cash. Later, seeking an idea for a song, June remembered a letter she had received from a friend going through a divorce which described love as “a burning ring of fire”. And thus a classic song title (which even appealed to the manufacturers of haemorrhoid ointment; Roseanne Cash blocked its use in an ad for such a product) was born. Or, if you choose to doubt Kilgore, the writers lifted it from an Elizabethan love poem (or maybe June’s friend got the line from that source).

The song essentially describes June’s feelings for Cash. But it was her sister Anita — reportedly a one-time girlfriend of Elvis Presley’s — who recorded it first, in November 1962. In fact, the song was only half-finished when Anita was ready to record it (June had led her to believe the song was already complete). June and Kilgore banged the rest together in ten minutes, fortuitously retaining the word “mire” from a provisional lyric.

cash-ring-of-fireCash liked the song when he heard Anita’s record (as he well should) and decided he would record it. Deferring to his future sister-in-law, he waited four months before recording his version. In the interim he had a dream about the song featuring Tijuana trumpets — possibly inspired by June’s comment about her having borrowed the song’s swirling sound from the music at a merry-go-round in Villa Acuna, Mexico. Shortened to Ring Of Fire, Cash’s version was a hit, his first since October 1958, this saving his about-to-be-cancelled recording contract with Columbia. And for years later, Kilgore was the best man at Johnny and June’s wedding.

As a postscript, Cash’s ex-wife Vivian claimed that June (or Kilgore) wrote the song, saying it was Johnny’s song about June’s vagina (or “bearded clam”). Attractive though the idea of the song as a metaphor for cunnilingus may be, Vivian’s claim is less than utterly persuasive.

Also recorded by: Roy Drusky (1964), Kitty Wells (1964), Jerry Lee Lewis (1965), Dave Dudley (1966), Tom Jones (1967), Lynn Anderson (1968), Eric Burdon & The Animals (1968), Tommy Cash (1969), Hank Williams Jr (1970), Ray Charles (1970), The Buckaroos (1971), Earl Scruggs & Linda Ronstadt (1972), Olivia Newton-John (1977), Blondie (1980), Wall of Voodoo (1980), Carlene Carter (1980), Dwight Yoakam (1986), Social Distortion (1990), Frank Zappa (1991), McPeak Brothers (1992), Dick Dale (1994), Martin Belmont (1995), Stop (1995), Bhundu Boys & Hank Wangford (1996), Elliot Humberto Kavee (1997), David Allan Coe (1998), The Caravans (1999), The Du-Tels (2001), Billy Burnette (2002), Michel Montecrossa (2003), James Carr (2003), Rachel Z (2004)
Bobby Solo ( 2004), Joaquin Phoenix (2005), The Regulars (2006), Leningrad Cowboys (2006), Lucy Kaplansky (2007), Elvis Costello (2007) a.o.

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Sir Mack Rice – Mustang Sally.mp3
Wilson Pickett – Mustang Sally.mp3

mack-riceMustang Sally is the karaoke number of blues and soul, thanks in large part to The Commitments spirited performance in the eponymous 1991 film. But it was in overuse before that: John Lee Hooker’s San Francisco blues club sported a sign on its stage warning: “No Mustang Sally”.

The song was written by the songwriter Bonnie “Sir Mack” Rice (who also wrote the soul classic Respect Yourself) as a bit of a gag on somebody’s desire for a Ford Mustang, calling it first “Mustang Mama”. Reportedly it was Aretha Franklin who suggested the renaming to Sally. Mack had a minor (and his only) hit with it in 1965; in late 1966 Wilson Pickett recorded his now legendary version — which almost died the moment it was finished. Apparently the tape snapped off the reel, fragmenting on the floor of the Muscle Shoals studio. The engineer, Tom Dowd, gathered the pieces and spliced them back together again. With that, he saved one of the great soul performances. Of course the great story of the broken tape ignores that Pickett could have simply recorded the thing again. Apparently the men from Desperate Housewives are singing it in the new series; have mercy…

Also recorded by: Chambers Brothers (1965), The Kingsmen (1966), Young Rascals (1966), Ken Boothe (1968), Mar-Keys (1969), Muddy Waters (1974), Maurice Williams (1975), Willie Mitchell (1977), Snooks Eaglin (1978), Rufus Thomas (1980), Magic Slim & the Teardrops (1983), Frank Frost (1988), Andy Taylor (1990), Buddy Guy (1991), The Outcasts (1993), John Clark (1993), Hiram Bullock (1994), Sam & Dave (1995), Vance Kelly (1998), Fiona Day (1999), Albert Collins (2000), Los Lobos (2000), Solomon Burke (2004) a.o.

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Lis Sørensen – Brændt.mp3
Ednaswap – Torn (acoustic version).mp3

Trine Rein – Torn.mp3
Natalie Imbruglia – Torn.mp3

lis-sorensenWhen Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn had its long run in the upper reaches of the British and US charts in 1997, word was that the song was a cover of the Norwegian hit by Trine Rein. The rumour was repeated so often that it became received wisdom. The truth is that it wasn’t even the first cover, or even the first Scandinavian version.

The song’s journey to hit-dom is a little complicated. The song was written by Ednaswap members Anne Preven and Scott Cutler in 1993. The same year it was recorded in Danish by Lis Sørensen as Brændt (I got her version from Danophile Whiteray of Echoes In The Wind), but by Ednaswap only in 1995. Still, those who overplayed the Norwegian angle aren’t entire wrong though: Imbruglia’s cover is a straight copy of Rein’s version, right down to the guitar solo. Ednaswap were a not very successful ’90s grunge band, who came by their name when singer Anne Preven had a nightmare about fronting a group by that name being booed off the stage. Well, with a name like that… Preven has become a songwriter, receiving an Oscar nomination for co-writing the song Listen from Dreamgirls.

Also recorded by: Off By One (2002)

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Marion Harris – I Ain’t Got Nobody.mp3
Ted Lewis – Just A Gigolo.mp3
Louis Prima – Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody.mp3

marion-harrisBased on his early ’50s stage act, Louis Prima craftily took two songs and seamlessly turned them into one. Just A Gigolo, the first part of the song, is based on the 1929 Austrian hit by Richard Tauber, originally known as Schöner Gigolo, Armer Gigolo (Beautiful Gigolo, Poor Gigolo – as in the 1978 movie in which Marlene Dietrich sings the song), which tells the story of a soldier who ditches his uniform to become a “dancer-for-hire” after World War I. In the interim, the song has become a German big band standard. Soon after it was released in Austria, it crossed the Atlantic. The translated lyrics, by one Irving Caesar, moved the action to Paris and eliminated the social commentary on post-war Austria. It was first recorded in the US by French singer Irene Bordoni. Ted Lewis’ 1931 is the oldest of the German-language versions I could come by, thanks to One Hep Kat.

Prima brings the gigolo’s fatalism (“When the end comes I know, they’ll say ‘just a gigolo’ as life goes on without me”) to the obvious conclusion in the second part, in which the gigolo laments his loneliness via I Ain’t Got Nobody. The song was written, as I Ain’t Got Nobody Much, by Spencer Williams (who also wrote Basin Street Blues) in around 1915, and was first recorded in 1917 by Marion Harris (1896-1944), providing her biggest hit (sorry about the low bit-rate of the MP3). By the time Prima got around to merging it with Just A Gigolo in his 1956 debut album, The Wildest!, it had become a standard. Prima’s audacity in taking two standards and presenting them as one song is matched by his genius in creating from a medley a single version which in itself is now a standard, one that towers over the other two.

Also recorded by: (Just A Gigolo): Louis Armstrong, Leo Reisman, Bing Crosby (his first hit), Leo Reisman And His Orchestra, Jack Hylton, Billy Ternent, Jaye P Morgan, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich a.o. (I Ain’t Got Nobody): Bing Crosby, Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, Wingy Manone, Chick Webb, Emmett Miller, Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, Coleman Hawkins, Rosemary Clooney a.o. (Prima medley): Village People, David Lee Roth, Alex Harvey, Lou Bega a.o.

More Originals

The Locomotion: 60s Soul – Vol. 2

December 6th, 2007 6 comments

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