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The Originals Vol. 6

September 22nd, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

In this instalment, we owe thanks to RH for the originals of Handbags And Gladrags and Since You Been Gone.Little Willie John – Fever.mp3
Peggy Lee – Fever.mp3
Idols audition in South Africa, a couple of years ago. The contestant enters and announces that she will sing Fever by”¦Michael Bublé. I can see grumpy Idols judge Randall Abrahams getting wound up. When the contestant has delivered her performance (as poor as you imagined), Randall berates her for lacking historical perspective. The song was originally done by Peggy Lee, he tells the hapless non-Idol, and she should have listened to that version instead of Bublé”s. Randall, whom I knew at university as a man of huge musical knowledge, was terribly wrong and also quite right at the same time. The original version of Fever was the work of Little Willie John, but the finger-snapping arrangement with which we associate the song was inaugurated by Peggy Lee.

Little Willie John should command a prominent place in music history, not necessarily for his catalogue of music, but certainly for his influence. Before Sam Cooke, before James Brown, before Ray Charles, he was at the vanguard of singers who build the bridge between the R&B genre which was then called “race music” to the relatively smoother sounds of soul. Perhaps dying in jail in 1968 while serving a sentence for manslaughter contributed to his legacy being relegated to the periphery. Little Willie John”s 1956 version of Fever is a light, jazzy affair with soul vocals which anticipate Jackie Wilson, co-written by Rock “˜n Roll legend Otis Blackwell (Great Balls Of Fire, All Shook Up, Don”t Be Cruel). Two years later, Peggy Lee set the template with snapping fingers, sparse bass and drum, and two added verses (including those namechecking Romeo, Juliet and Pocahontas), creating an almost unbearable sexual tension. It is her take which has been covered to the point of cliché.
Also recorded by: Ray Peterson (1957), Frankie Avalon (1959), Elvis Presley (1960), King Curtis (1961), Ben E. King (1962), Timi Yuro (1963), Conway Twitty (1963), Alvin Robinson (1964), Sarah Vaughan (1964), The McCoys (1965), Quincy Jones (1965), Little Milton (1966), Buddy Guy (1968), Wanda Jackson (1968), Marie “Queenie” Lyons (1970), Ronnie Dyson (1970), Sharon cash (1970), Rita Coolidge (1972), Suzi Quatro (1975), Boney M. (1976), Esther Phillips with Beck (1976), Sylvester (1980), Chaka Khan (1989), Madonna (1992), Anne Murray (1993), Tom Verlaine (1994), Don Williams (1995), Tito Puente (1996), Eva Cassidy (2002), Beyoncé (2003), Michael Bublé (2003), Alan Merrill (2003), Celine Dion (2004), Ray Charles & Natalie Cole (2004), Bette Midler (2005), Helmut Lotti (2008) and hundreds more.
Best version: For its impact alone, it must be Peggy Lee”s.

Chris Farlowe – Handbags And Gladrags.mp3
Rod Stewart – Handbags And Gladrags.mp3
Big George Webley – Handbags and Gladrags.mp3
The word “gladrags” is deplorably underused in pop music. So we ought to give credit to former Manfred Mann singer Mike D”Abo for popularising it in music. D”Abo didn”t immediately release it, producing British singer Chris Farlowe”s recording in 1967. Farlowe had made it a bit of a career of covering Rolling Stones songs in particular; his rather good version of Out Of Time topped the UK charts in 1966, his only Top 30 hit. He didn”t do very well either with Handbags And Gladrags, which tanked at #33, great harmonica backing notwithstanding. In 1969, Rod Stewart ““ a shrewd operator when it comes to recording lesser known songs, as we will still find in this series ““ recorded the track, arranged again by D”Abo himself. Released in 1970, it became a hit only two years later.

Strangely, the song has not been covered much. It made something of a comeback when it was used as the theme for the British version of The Office, produced by a session musician and writer of many TV themes called Big George Webley (bassist with Paul Young”s Q-Tips, who featured in the previous installment with Love Hurts), with vocals by heavy metal singer going by the terminally snappy name Fin of an outfit called Waysted (who took over lead vocals for the Q-Tips when Pal Young went solo). Nice piano in that version.
Also recorded by: The Love Affair (1968), The Rationals (1969), Mike D”Abo (1970), Gary Burton (1971), Kate Taylor (1971), Jon English (1973), Stereophonics (2001), Engelbert Humperdinck (2007)
Best version: I like all three featured here, but on balance you can”t beat Rod.

The Crickets – I Fought The Law.mp3
The Bobby Fuller Four – I Fought The Law.mp3
The Clash – I Fought The Law.mp3
Thought by many to be an original Clash song, the more knowledgeable will refer to the Bobby Fuller Four. But even that was a cover of the 1960 song by the Crickets, Buddy Holly”s erstwhile band. Written by Sonny Curtis, one can almost hear Holly sing it. In the event, the song made no great impact until Fuller”s 1964 recording. Fuller was found dead just as the single was becoming a hit (some say suicide, some allege foul play ““ few suicides involve beating one”s self up before imbibing petrol). The session drummer on the Fuller version, rumour has it, was a young Barry White. That may be apocryphal, but it is documented that White did drum for Fuller on other tracks. A generation later, it become something of a pub-punk classic as spat out by Strummer on the Clash version. The Dead Kennedys 1987 changed the song”s perspective, from that of a robber (and, in the Clash”s version, killer) to that of the man who killed San Francisco”s mayor and police chief in 1978. The song was also in the repertoire that flushed Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican embassy.
Also recorded by: Claude François (1966), Bryan Adams (1988), Stray Cats (1989), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1992), Nanci Griffith (1997), Mike Ness (1999), Status Quo (2003), Green Day (2004), Colin Farrell (2004), Waco Brothers (2005)
Best version: I really can’t decide. Tossing a coin, the Clash win.

Brenda Holloway – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.mp3
Blood, Sweat & Tears – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.mp3
Brenda Holloway was perhaps Motown”s most under-used singer. Relegated by Berry Gordy to sing the songs rejected by Mary Wells and other female Tamla stars, it is ironic that Gordy helped her (and sister Patrice Holloway) write the song that has cemented her place in music history more than her Motown output ever did. Shortly after finishing the song, Holloway left Motown, released another album, sang backing vocals for Joe Cocker, and disappeared from the music industry for three decades. Her 1967 version of You”ve Made Me So Very Happy was a minor Top 40 hit in the US. Two years later, the song became a rock standard in the hands of Blood, Sweat & Tears, whose rich arrangement, with the horns and the gospel keyboard and David Clayton-Thomas impassioned vocals, virtually overhauled the song. On the same album, BS&T appropriated two other songs: Laura Nyro”s And When I Die and Clayton-Thomas” own Spinning Wheel.
Also recorded by: Alton Ellis (1967), The Anita Kerr Singers (1969). John Davidson (1969). Bobbie Gentry (1969), The Honey Cone (1970), The Temptations (1970), Lou Rawls (1970), Sammy Davis Jr. (1970), Nancy Wilson (February 1970), Mina (1972), Shirley Bassey (1976), Gloria Estefan (1994), Diana Ross (1994)
Best version: Blood, Sweat & Tears” is one of rock music”s finest 500 moments, probably.

Russ Ballard – Since You Been Gone.mp3
Rainbow – Since You Been Gone.mp3
Written by Russ Ballard of Argent, Since You Been Gone is usually associated with Rainbow, who scored a big hit with it in 1979/80. Singer Graham Bonnet sets the template for every big hair rock group that would soil the charts in the 1980s ““ ironically Bonnet had short hair (see how I resisted a pun here). Rarely have handclaps sounded as good in rock as they do here. I really like the version, released around the same time as Rainbow”s, by ex-Runaways member Cherrie Currie and her sister Marie, which fuses the poppier sound of the original with the rock sensibilities of the Rainbow version, though I don”t know if they were aware of it (check out the video).
Also recorded by: Clout (1979), The Brian May Band (1994)
Best version: Has to be Rainbow’s, with those tempo changes and handclaps

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