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The Originals Vol. 5

September 19th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Delaney & Bonnie – Groupie (Superstar)
Carpenters – Superstar.mp3
Luther Vandross – Superstar.mp3
Sonic Youth – Superstar.mp3
The genius of the Carpenters resided with their ability, through Richards”s arrangements and Karen”s emotional investment, to make other people”s songs totally theirs. In the case of Superstar, they not only took the song, but also usurped its meaning. Sung by Karen Carpenter it no longer is the groupie”s lament it was written as. Indeed, in its first incarnation, by Delaney & Bonnie in 1969, the song was titled Groupie (Superstar), and included more explicit lyrics (“I can hardly wait to sleep with you” became “…be with you”). Released as a b-side, the song was written by the original performers with Leon Russell, and Eric Clapton featured on the recording. A few months later, former Delaney & Bonnie backing singer Rita Coolidge recorded it. According to Leon Russell, she had come up with the concept for it and Delaney Bramlett said she had helped with the harmonies. But it was Bette Midler”s performance of the song on the Tonight Show in August 1970 that alerted Richard Carpenter, who hadn”t heard the song before, to it. It is said that Karen”s first take, read from a napkin, is that which made it on to the record. In 1983 Luther Vandross recorded a quite beautiful epic version of Superstar; while a whole new generation was introduced to the song through Sonic Youth”s 1994 cover which forms part of a plotline in Juno.
Also recorded by: Cher (1970), Vikki Carr (1971), Colleen Hewett (1971), Bette Midler (1972), George Shearing Quintet (1974), Woody Herman (1975), The Shadows (1977), Elkie Brooks (1981), Richard Clayderman (1995), Dogstar (Keanu Reeves” group, in 2000), Ruben Studdard (2003), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2004), Usher (2005) a.o.
Best version: I”m sure Richard Clayderman”s version fucking rocks, but Karen Carpenter could sing the Horst Wessel Lied and bring a tear to my eye, so ““ with apologies to the late Luther Vandross ““ it must be the Carpenters version.

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Betty Hutton – Blow A Fuse.mp3
Bjork – It’s Oh So Quiet.mp3
That Bjork, she is a bit mad, isn”t she? How crazy is It”s Oh So Quiet (the only one of her post Sugarcubes songs I actually like)? Only Bjork, eh? Actually, Betty Hutton”s 1951 original English version of the song, titled Blow A Fuse, is no less maniacal than Bjork”s 1995 cover. It”s fair to say that back in the day Hutton was a bit of a cook in her own right; her goofy performance in the musical Annie Get Your Gun (with which you apparently can”t get a man) testifies to a certain lack of restraint which is very much on exhibition on Blow A Fuse. The song was itself a cover of a 1948 German number by jazz musician Horst Winter, who knew it as Und jetzt ist es still (And now it”s quiet).
Also recorded by: Lisa Ekdahl (1997), Noise For Pretend, Lucy Woodward (2005)
Best version: The arrangement on Bjork”s version is superior.

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Pete Seeger – Turn! Turn! Turn!.mp3
The Byrds – Turn! Turn! Turn!.mp3
For all their songwriting genius, the Byrds were something of an über-cover band. Few acts did Dylan as well as the Byrds did. Some songs they made totally their own. One of these was Turn! Turn! Turn!, a staple of “60s compilation written by Pete Seeger (co-written, really: the lyrics are almost entirely lifted from the Book of Ecclesiastes). Before Seeger got around to record it in 1962, a folk outfit called the Limelighters put it out under the title To Everything There Is A Season. The first post-Seeger cover was by ““ you guessed it ““ Marlene Dietrich as Für alles kommt die Zeit during the actress” folk phase which also saw her record German versions of Blowin” In The Wind and Where Have All The Flowers Gone. The same year, 1963, Judy Collins also issued a version, arranged by Roger McGuinn, then still Jim McGuinn, who had played on the Limelighters recording. After Collins” version, McGuinn (still called Jim) co-founded the Byrds, for whom Turn! Turn! Turn!, released in October 1965, became their second hit. Jim turned turned turned into Roger in 1968.
Also recorded by: Jan & Dean (1965), The Lettermen (1966), The Seekers (1966), Mary Hopkins (1968), Nina Simone (1969), Dolly Parton (1984), Lou Rawls (1998), Bruce Cockburn (1998), Sister Janet Mead (1999), Wilson Phillips (2004) a.o.
Best version: The Byrds” version was put to perfect use on The Wonder Years, one of my all-time favourite TV shows (the grumpy Dad was just incredible, and the annoying older brother was perfectly written).

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Racey – Kitty.mp3
Toni Basil – Mickey.mp3
I have been told that there is a practice in the cinema of pornography whereby seasoned thespians of the genre dress up in schoolgirl uniforms (temporarily, one should think) and pigtails and pass themselves off as teenagers. So it was with the video for Toni Basil”s 1982 hit Mickey, in which the 39-year-old dressed up as a teenage girl, doing an energetic routine approximating cheerleading. But if Stockard Channing could pass as a high school student in Grease”¦ Mickey was unaccountably popular ““ it”s a pretty awful song, actually ““ eclipsing the original by British faux greasers Racey, who recorded on the RKA label. Their 1979 original version of the song was called Kitty, written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (who also wrote hits for the likes of Sweet, Smokie and Suzi Quatro). It was not a hit, and neither Toni Basil nor her record company evidently thought much of it when she recorded it soon after, also in 1979. For two years it languished in the reject tray before some bright spark decided to inflict the number on us, against Basil”s misgivings. In my view, they should have listened to the singer.
Also recorded by: Weird Al Yankovich did a version called Rickey, which I”m sure split sides coast to coast. And B*witched also did a version, which can”t have been great.
Best version: The Racey song is actually not bad.

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  1. Kippers
    September 19th, 2008 at 18:14 | #1

    Good stuff, thanks Major. :) Educational too – I had no idea Mickey/Kitty started off life as a flop for Racey!

  2. Davy H
    September 19th, 2008 at 22:13 | #2

    Oooh, I really, really like the Larry Weiss – and I speak as a long time fan, like you, of GC’s version. Definitive series this AMD, hugely.

  3. Bill
    September 19th, 2008 at 22:41 | #3

    This whole series is well done, particularly the research. I hope you are enjoying doing it as much as I’m enjoying following it.

  4. Dane
    September 20th, 2008 at 23:41 | #4

    I have and love both Bjork & Betty Hutton's version of that song, but you're right – Bjork's somehow manages to sound more "Old Hollywood glamorous" than Betty's.

  5. HTBomb
    September 28th, 2008 at 17:44 | #5

    I always liked Superstar and had both the Carpenter’s and Leon Russel’s recordings but didn’t really get the song til hearing Delaney and Bonnie’s Groupie.

  6. cletus_buckley
    October 6th, 2008 at 20:37 | #6

    Wonderfully insightful.Thanks for “Groupie” and “Blow A Fuse”.Supper stuff.

  7. Fusion 45
    October 17th, 2008 at 06:53 | #7

    Karen Carpenter is underrated. There wasn’t a smoother alto in 1970’s pop music.

  8. narkspud
    August 19th, 2012 at 06:05 | #8

    A quick note, belatedly correcting a mistake that was made on a single European CD cover a few years ago, and has now circled the internet about a million times before landing here …

    Betty Hutton’s version of “It’s Oh So Quiet” is entitled “It’s Oh So Quiet” – on the original 78 label, as well as on subsequent reissues. It was NEVER released under the name “Blow a Fuse” until that one (unauthorized) European CD popped up.

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