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Archive for October, 2008

Frothy court jester

October 31st, 2008 9 comments

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If I sounded a little disheartened by my post (EDIT: Now deleted, ha dee fucking ha. EDIT2: And now reposted) about the post deletions on this blog and others, the comment by Mephisto from Totally Fuzzy was greatly encouraging. Mephisto and the people of Totally Fuzzy have seen it all before. I recall a series of deletions being subject to big debate on Fuzzy”s previous incarnation a coupler of years ago. For the benefit of those who haven”t read Mephisto”s comment, here”s an excerpt:

The idea that this would be done by some record company or label or whatever industry branch doesn’t make much sense to me to be honest. I know hundreds of blogs that post a dozen of freshly leaked albums on any given day, and they never seem to have to go through this. There are blogs out there that are genuine Free Record Stores, posting brand new releases every day again and again and they get away with it. If there would be any interest from the industry, those are the ones they’d be going after. It can’t be that they’re too dumb to just use google to search for the latest AC/DC album for example. I’m pretty sure that their visitor numbers are a lot higher than your blog too, so they should be the ones attracting the attention.

Given the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any logic behind any of this, I still think it is some lone cowboy, having what he understands as fun at other people’s expense. And it seems that it are especially the dedicated bloggers that get hit.

Another thing that really is very interesting is that I never see any foreign language blog get hit. Through the years that has consistently been the case. Whoever is doing this is English speaking and he probably gets off reading this kind of comments.

[…] should this blog be deleted, just start another one. We will promote it on totally fuzzy and most people will find it again. In the end we will always win, because we have way more patience and dedication than the freewheeling assholes.

I am persuaded that we”re dealing here with a court jester living a sadly empty life who no longer gets his kicks (yes, I”m sure it”s a male) from porn sites depicting women with heads shoved down a toilet. My post yesterday might have had our detractor wanking himself into a froth. The expression of his sexual disfunction is perhaps best confined to playing power games with the blogging community, because the alternatives to that are ghastly. People who get off on the exercise of coercive power are liable to also be rapists. The deletion of some posts (which, if one has backed up, can easily be reinstated) is a small price to pay for the safety of women and, perhaps, even children.

Of course I would prefer it if the frothy court jester would just piss off, as I”m sure he will when he realises that the blogging community will not be intimidated. Perhaps he will up the ante and force feckless Blogger (who just couldn”t be bothered to distinguish between authentic and frivolous complaints) to close down those blogs who”ll not be discouraged by his antics. Should that come to pass, I”ll simply start a new blog, with all my previous posts ““ or at least those preserving ““ intact. I have tussled with much more powerful people than the frothy court jester in my time. What delusion to think that he is anything more than a nuisance.

No music for this post, so there”s nothing for Blogger to delete but the whole account.

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War on bloggers

October 30th, 2008 2 comments


[Reinstated post after The Man deleted it for defiantly featuring songs by the Doobie Brothers, Rosie Thomas, Barry White, Melanie and Rage Against The Machine]

Even when you know it”s coming, when it does it is disturbing. Blogger deleted four posts of mine, The Originals Volumes 6, 7 and 8, and one from the dormant CD rated blog. Happily I backed up the Any Major Dude blog on Monday night after reading Whiteray”s post on Echoes In The Wind. In my comments to whiteray”s post I was defiantly bolshie. The essence of my response was “fuck them, we should not be bullied”. And I won”t be. I expect the arbitrary deletion campaign a passing phenomenon. And the fewer disheartened bloggers throw the towel, the sooner it will pass.

Of course I”m angry. I”m angry with those who demanded that Blogger remove pages, and I”m angry with Blogger. Of course, we music bloggers must acknowledge that we do play loose with intellectual property. Most of us, at least those of us who post music as a companion to a narrative, don”t seek to profit from doing so (no Google Ads here, nor pleas for donations. And the measure of glory we get is not going to inflate our egos unduly). Indeed, I think most of us post music to promote the artists and their music, to attract notice to lesser known or half-forgotten artists. In short, we do what we do in service to music. Many professionals in the music industry know that. Some contact us with a view to having their clients featured on blogs.

The post on CD Rated that was zapped by Blogger was a review of Brandi Carlile”s excellent The Story album. The review was glowing, encouraging the reader to buy the CD. Does it benefit Ms Carlile that my words of acclamation have been removed from the public domain? Most music blogs run a caveat asking copyright owners to tell us what links to remove, so that undisputed content can remain undisturbed. But why was the post on CD Rated (which nobody reads anyway) removed and not the post on this blog, much more popular and googlable than CD Rated, from which it borrowed the link? Maybe that will still happen. But if it doesn”t, then I should assume that this exercise is random and arbitrary. And if it is so, then this campaign has a purpose unrelated to copyright protection. But we cannot discern that purpose if we do not know who our accusers are. W can only guess at it. My guess is that those behind this campaign seek to obliterate the arena of music blogging with all the subtlety of Sarah Palin in a library and all the common sense of Dick, Don & Dubya before invading Iraq.

I understand Blogger”s dilemma. I am grateful to Google for providing bloggers like myself with a platform on which to communicate our thoughts. I accept that Google/Blogger must protect themselves from legal difficulties. My anger at Blogger is not directed at their self-protective action. My anger relates to the fact that Blogger did not notify me who told them to remove my words. Is it the RIAA, and individual record company, a private saboteur who gets his kick out of this? I understand that it would be a lot of work ““ and Google is a struggling small business which presumably cannot muster the required manpower ““ but my expectations might have been to communicate to the bloggers which links are being objected to, with an instruction (it needn”t even be polite) to remove the link in question.

I have pledged to continue blogging. I might change platforms ““ perhaps finding a host in a country where US copyright laws do not have force ““ or try to double-guess what Blogger will and will not zap. At the same time, I”m feeling a sense of blogging burnout and diminished time. If the rate of my updates decreases, then it will not because I have submitted to The Man, but because I am facing new challenges. Apart from the job which pays me my monthly salary and being engaged in an NGO I helped found*, I have taken on the editorship of a book project, revising another book, and plan to write one myself. And my family would like to remember my face as well. Which means I will not devote as much time to this labour of love as I have previously. But I won”t go.

* If anyone is interested in knowing about it, e-mail me.
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The Originals Vol. 12

October 27th, 2008 6 comments
In this instalment, we thank RH for the original of Here Comes The Night and my new friend Kevin for the original of Dedicated To The One I Love.

EDIT: With DivShare having deleted three accounts, some of these links are dead or probably will go dead soon. I have compiled the originals of the featured song in one file:

The Originals Vol. 12

Comme d”habitude/My Way
When your inebriated uncle grabs the karaoke microphone and sprays it with his saliva in a regrettable attempt to out-sinatra Sinatra his way, he probably won”t wish to contemplate that the song was originally sung in French by a small, somewhat camp blond guy wearing extravagant clothes who died in 1978 while changing a lightbulb as he was having a bath. It is peculiar that one of the most famous songs in the English language was a French number co-written and first recorded by a singer who himself had made a career of translating and performing American songs.

My Way was born Comme d”habitude, Claude François” elegy to his decaying love affair with singer France Gall. A year before its release in 1968, young songwriter Jacques Revaux offered CloClo, as François is known among his faithful fans, a ballad called For Me, with English lyrics. Michel Sardou has demoed it, but Revoux didn”t like his interpretation (Sardou subsequently recorded the finished article in the year of Claude François” death). François tweaked the melody, dumped the English and with Gilles Thibault wrote the new lyrics, and gave the whole thing a dramatic, brass punctured arrangement. It became a hit, and played on the radio (or TV, depending on which account you hear) when Paul Anka was holidaying in southern France.

Forty years later he recalled that he thought it was a “shitty record” but acquired the publishing rights anyway, for nothing (a bargain which would later cause a couple of legal quarrels). Back home, he decided to adapt Comme d”habitude for Frank Sinatra, who by then was threatening to quit the rapidly changing music business. According to Anka, he wrote the lyrics imagining what Sinatra might say and how he would say it, in that Rat Pack way of copying the stylings of gangsters who had themselves copied the stylings of movie hoods such as James Cagney and the pathetic George Raft. Sinatra”s impassioned rendition, recorded in early 1969, would affirm Anka”s astute judgment; as he sings it, the Chairman of the Board (and note which soul group covered My Way in 1970) personifies the great fuck you to the world. Anka himself thought he could not do justice to the song, but, possibly pressured by his label, recorded it nevertheless. Here too Anka was astute: his version was fundamentally “shitty”, much more so than Claude François” original (Paul Anka – My Way).

And so we are left wondering what might have been had Anka taken his 1968 holiday in the Bahamas instead of France. Young English singer David Bowie was invited to translate Comme d”habitude into English. Before his rendition, Even A Fool Learns To Love, could fruitfully cross the channel, Anka had snapped up the rights to the song (it is said that Life On Mars was, musically, his revenge song). And what would your drunk uncle sing then?
Also recorded by: John Davidson (1969), Anita Kerr Singers (1969), George Wright (1969), Hugo Montenegro (1969), Andy Williams (1969), Roy Drusky (1969), Sammy Davis Jr. (1970), Dorothy Squires (1970), Bill Medley (1970), Brook Benton (1970), Chairmen of the Board (1970), Shirley Bassey (1970), Glen Campbell (1970), Nina Simone (1971), Fred Bongusto (as La mia via, 1971), Patty Pravo (as A modo mio, 1972), Elvis Presley (1977), Sid Vicious/Sex Pistols (1978), Michel Sardou (Comme d’habitude, 1978), Nina Hagen (1985), Gipsy Kings (1988), Shane MacGowan (1996), Faudel/Khaled/Rachid Taha (Comme d’habitude, 2000), Robbie Williams (2001), Little Milton (2002), Paul Anka & Jon Bon Jovi (2007), Elli Medeiros (Comme d’habitude, 2008) a.o.
Best version: From zillions of versions to choose from, I think Claude François, far from being shitty, is the most appealing. And, naturally, Sid Vicious” interpretation.

Don”t Let Me Be Misunderstood
The writing credits for Don”t Let Me Be Misunderstood list Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus, but the main contributor, Horace Ott, is not credited (due to rivalling writers” union memberships which prohibited cross-fraternisation on record labels). The song, or at least its chorus, was actually written about Caldwell at a time when she and Ott were breaking up. Happily they reconciled in good time and eventually married, so Ott was not entirely out of the royalties loop.

Nina Simone first recorded the song in 1964 as a slow, soulful blues ballad, her voice so deep in places you”d think it was a man singing it. A year later The Animals took hold of it, and ““ as they had done with the traditional song House Of The Rising Sun ““ turned the number inside out, speeding it up, reintroducing the signature opening chords (which almost unnoticeably appeared at the end of Simone”s version) and Alan Price”s glorious organ riff, and giving the soul-rock a bit of a flamenco sound. Twelve years later, in 1977, Leroy Gomez & Santa Esmeralda covered the Animals version, adding a touch of disco to the mix, to produce a dramatic and eminently danceable hit. There are three versions of Santa Esmeralda”s Don”t Let Me Be Misunderstood: the album recording (which at 16 minutes takes up the whole side), an extended 12” version (about ten minutes long), and the standard single which topped the charts in many countries.
Also recorded by: Joe Cocker (1969), Little Bob Story (1975), Helen Schneider (1981), Gary Moore & Friends (1981), The Costello Show (1986), Lou Rawls (1990), Francesca Pettinelli (1994), Robben Ford (1995), Eric Burdon Brian Auger Band (1998), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Laura Fedele (2005), New Buffalo (2006), Yusuf Islam (2006), John Legend (2006)
Best version: Santa Esmeralda”s, in any format.

Dedicated To The One I Love
The “5” Royales” name screams “50s novelty band. That they were not. Indeed, they were cited as influences by the likes of James Brown (who recorded their song Think), the legendary Stax musician Steve Cropper and Eric Clapton. By the time the band from Salem, North Carolina released Dedicated To The One I Love in 1958, their heyday was past them, and the single did not do much in two releases. Likewise, the Shirelles” cover, recorded in 1959 (with Doris, not Shirley, doing lead vocals) initially flopped. It became a hit only on its re-release in 1961 to follow up the success of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, reaching #3 in the US pop charts. The Mamas and the Papas” 1967 cover did even better, getting to #2. As on the Shirelles” recording, the second banana took lead vocals; it was the first time Michelle Phillips, not Mama Cass, sang lead on a Mamas and Papas track. Funny enough, by then she had stopped sleeping with the two men in the group.
The “5” Royales – Dedicated To The One I Love
The Shirelles – Dedicated To The One I Love
The Mamas and the Papas – Dedicated To The One I Love
Also recorded by: The Lettermen (1967), The Temprees (1972), Stacy Lattisaw (1979), Bernadette Peters (1981), Bitty McLean (1994), Linda Ronstadt (1996), Laura Nyro (2002)
Best version: The “5” Royales” is tighter and more cohesive than either the Shirelles” or Mamas & Papas”. And the guitar!

Jersey Girl
Whether this is a case of lesser or better known originals depends on one”s musical development ““ and on whether one can abide by Tom Waits” voice. I can”t stand Waits” voice at great length and find it impossible to listen to a whole album by the man, and therefore gratefully welcome good cover versions of his songs (of which there are a few). A couple of lyrical tweaks aside, Springsteen took few liberties with Waits” 1980 song when he featured a live version of it on the b-side of the ghastly Cover Me in 1985. That is the same take that appears on the Live 1975-85 box set. One would, of course, expect Brooce to have empathy with a Jersey Girl; he has assembled a whole lyrical harem of girls from New Jersey in his catalogue, half of them called Wendy or Mary. Springsteen had long included the song in his live shows, once, in 1981, even performing it with Waits (EDIT: thanks to my friend John C in Canada, posted here on YouSendIt) . That should discount the rumours that Waits wrote Jersey Girl as a Springsteen parody ““ though it certainly sounds like one. The song was, according to Waits, written for his new wife and later songwriting collaborator, Kathleen Brennan, who was brought up in New Jersey.
Tom Waits & Bruce Springsteen – Jersey Girl (live)
Also recorded by: Pale Saints (1995), Holly Cole (1995)
Best version: If there”d be one with Waits” arrangement and Springsteen”s vocals”¦

Here Comes The Night
Sometimes in pop, as we have already seen in this series (and see again), a song written for a particular artist is not always the first to be recorded by them. Or, in this case, by Them. Here Comes The Night was written by Bert Berns, the Brill Building graduate whose songwriting credits included Twist And Shout, Hang On Sloopy, Tell Him and Piece Of My Heart, as well as production credits for the likes of Solomon Burke, the Drifters and Wilson Picket. His splendid career was cut short by his sudden death at 39 from a heart attack in late 1967. Somehow, possibly because they were labelmates on Decca with Them, Lulu & the Luvvers (she ditched the backing band in 1966; the same year Van Morrison ditched Them) got to go first with Here Comes The Night in 1964. This, their third single flopped, reaching only #50 in Britain. Them”s version, with Jimmy Page on guitar, was released in May 1965, peaking at #2 in the UK and #24 in the US.
Lulu & the Luvvers – Here Comes The Night
Them – Here Comes The Night
Also recorded by: David Bowie (1973), Van Morrison (1974), The Rivals (1980), Miki Honeycutt (1989), Graham Bonnet (1991), Dwight Yoakam (1992), Native (1994).
Best version: I”m rather partial of Van Morrison”s live recording on It”s Too Late to Stop Now.

The Originals Vol. 11

October 22nd, 2008 1 comment

Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter 23.mp3
Brothers Johnson – Strawberrry Letter 23.mp3
Quentin Tarantino had a good line in compiling soundtracks. Among the nearly forgotten numbers he resurrected was the Brothers Johnson”s catchy Strawberry Letter 23. I loathe the use of it in Jackie Brown though ““ scoring a vicious scene with a cute song is so Clockwork Orange. The soundtrack for Jackie Brown surely sold very well. All the more the pity that the author and original performer of the song is now reportedly eking out a decaying existence in Oakland. Shuggie Otis, a gifted guitarist, indeed multi-instrumentalist, and son of R&B legend John Otis (Shuggie”s real name is John Otis Jr), released his ode of appreciation for the 22th love letter on strawberry-scented paper in 1971. The song was intended to represent a response to letter 22, hence the numbering. Six years after Otis recorded the track, Brothers Johnson recorded it in a more upbeat mood, produced by Quincy Jones (who, happily, amplified the opening hook) with Lee Ritenour taking over the guitar solo duties so integral to the song.
Also recorded by: Tevin Campbell (1991)
Best version: Much as I like the brothers” take.and without wishing to come over all purist, I prefer Otis” original. The clarity of his less lushly produced instrumental part can do your head in.

Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking.mp3
Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking.mp3
Smiley Lewis will feature again with another song when we visit the Elvis originals. Here he provided the original for an early “70s hit. Lewis, a New Orleans musician nicknamed for his missing front teeth, recorded I Hear You Knocking in 1955. The song was written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King, and the former was Fats Domino”s writing partner. Fats naturally later recorded the song. At a time when US radio and charts were subject to much racial segregation, Lewis” record made little impact outside the black charts, where it peaked at #2, and Lewis” career never really took off. Instead the song enjoyed commercial success in its version by Gale Storm in 1956. Lewis died of stomach cancer in 1966.

Four years later, he would be remembered by the Welsh singer Dave Edmunds, whose cover of I Hear You Knocking reached #1 in Britain and #4 in the US with slightly altered lyrics which name checked Lewis, among others (including Huey Smith, who played on Lewis” version). Edmunds himself hadn”t known the song until he produced a version of it for the young Shakin” Stevens ““ a decade away from fame as a revivalist rock “˜n roller and Christmas #1 hunter. In fact, Edmunds almost didn”t record what would become his biggest hit. He had planned to find stardom with a cover of Wilbert Harrison”s Let”s Work Together, but was scooped in that endeavour by Canned Heat (as we”ll see below). So he adapted the arrangement he had in mind for Let”s Work Together to create a truly original cover.
Also recorded by: Fats Domino (1955 & 1961), Jill Day (1956), Gale Storm (1956), Connie Francis (1959), Shakin’ Stevens (1970), Andy Fairweather-Low (1976), Kingfish (1976), Orion (1979), The Fabulous Thunderbirds (1981), Rocking Dopsie & the Cajun Twisters (1988), Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1991), Quicksilver Messenger Service (1991), Bart Herman (1993), Alvin Lee (1994), Yockamo All-Stars (1998), Tom Principato (2003) a.o.
Best version: I do like the original better than Edmunds”, but I suspect that Fats Domino would trump either.

Wilbert Harrison – Let’s Work Together.mp3
Canned Heat – Let’s Work Together.mp3
Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together.mp3
When Wilbert Harrison released Let”s Work Together in 1969, it was a slightly customised take on his 1961 song Let”s Stick Together. For all intents and purposes, it is the same song. Where “Stick Together” failed to make an impression, its reworked version was a minor US hit. Canned Heat, who were canny in their selection of obscure songs to cover, recorded their version soon after and scored a hit with it in 1970 (the same year their hitherto unreleased album produced by John Otis ““ Shuggie”s dad ““ was released). To their credit, Canned Heat delayed the US release of the single to let Harrison”s single run its course first. In 1976 Bryan Ferry took the song to #4 on the UK charts, having reverted to the original title, introduced some thumping saxophone and applied the suave working-class-boy-gone-posh vocals. Outside Roxy Music, everybody”s favourite fox-hunting Tory never did anything better. Thanks to Wilbert Harrison”s retitling, it is now evident which version ““ Canned Heat”s or Ferry”s ““ has inspired subsequent covers.
Also recorded by: Climax Blues Band (Work, 1973), Raful Neal (Work, 1987), Bob Dylan (Stick, 1988), Dwight Yoakam (Work, 1990), Status Quo (Work, 1991), George Thorogood & The Destroyers (Work, 1995), Francine Reed (Work, 1996), Paper Parrot (Stick, 1999), Kt Tunstall (Stick, 2007)
Best version: Thanks to the sax, Ferry”s. Marginally.

Sonny Dae & His Knights – Rock Around The Clock.mp3
Hank Williams – Move It On Over.mp3
Bill Haley & his Comets – Rock Around The Clock.mp3
It is indisputable that Bill Haley was a key figure in converting rock “n roll into the mainstream ““ or, if we prefer to stray from euphemistic rationalisation, make a black genre infused with some country sensibility palatable to white audiences (so that”s a doctoral thesis delivered in 13 glib words). The notion of Haley as the father of rock “n roll is about as plausible as describing the Bee Gees as the “Kings of Disco”. Rock Around The Clock most certainly wasn”t the first rock “n roll single either (on the original label it is categorised as a foxtrot), or even Haley”s first rock “n roll song. It was the first rock “n roll #1 hit, though, and the song”s pivotal influence is undeniable, even if it ripped off a 1947 hit, Hank Williams” Move It On Over (which Chuck Berry also seems to have borrowed from for Roll Over Beethoven).

Rock Around The Clock was written for Haley, but due to various complications involving a feud between record company and authors, it was recorded first by Sonny Dae and His Knights, an Italian-American band, released on a label co-owned by Haley. The original version ““ quite distinct from the more famous version ““ made no impression, and there is no evidence that Haley referred to it in his interpretation ““ indeed Haley and his Comets played it frequently on stage before recording it. Haley”s Rock Around The Clock (recorded on 12 April 1954 as Sammy Davis Jr sat outside the studio awaiting his turn to record) features one of the great guitar solos of the era, by session musician Benny Cedrone. Alas, Cedrone didn”t live to see his work become a seminal moment in music history ““ he died on 17 June 1954 in a fall, three days short of his 34rd birthday. Perhaps Cedrone might be regarded as the first rock “n roll death. Which would give the Rock “n Roll Hall of Fame two reasons to admit him.
Also recorded by: Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor and Alan Freed’s Rock ‘n Roll Band and The Modernaires (1956), Eddie Cochran and Gary Lambert (1956), Royale Orchestra (1956), Noe Fajardo (1956), Macky Kasper (1956), Renato Carosone (1956), Max Greger Orchestra (1956), Pat Boone (1957), Marimba Chiapas (1957), Winifred Atwell (1957), Isley Brothers (1959), Ray Martin Marching Band (1961), Meyer Davis Orchestra (1961), Sandy Nelson (1962), The Platters (1962), Frank Zappa (1964), Peter Kraus (1964), Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (1964), Mike Rios (1965), Bill Haley (1968), The Troublemakers (1968), Wild Angels (1970), Mae West (1972), Tritons (1973), Sha Na Na (1973), Harry Nilsson (1974), Peter Horton (1976), Jack Scott (1979), Telex (1979), Sex Pistols (1979), Les Humphries Singers (1982), The Housemartins (1986), Ty Tender (1987), Smurfarna (1993), Starlite Orchestra (1995), Ernie from Sesame Street (1999) and a few thousand others.
Best version: Haley”s. The guitar, the drums!

Johnny Darrell – Green Green Grass Of Home.mp3
Porter Wagoner – Green, Green Grass Of Home.mp3
Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass Of Home.mp3
I make no secret of it: I think Tom Jones is a hack. I”ll cheerfully concede that his delivery on Bacharach”s What”s New Pussycat is amusingly over the top, and It”s Not Unusual is a fine song sung well. But look at what Jones did to Green Green Grass Of Home. He robbed it of its pathos and lent it as much depth as his contemporary panty recipient Engelbert Humperdinck invested in his material. The spoken bit is droll, but inappropriately delivered to the point of creating a template for generations of hammy karaoke singers. And the cheesy backing vocals. Much better then to return to the song”s roots in country music.

Written by Claude “Curly” Putman Jr, it was first recorded by Johnny Darrell, the ill-fated associate of the Outlaw Country movement which also included the likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. In other words, country music that was cool. Darrell”s 1965 version failed to make much of a splash, but Porter Wagoner ““ who was cool but dressed like an overdone Nashville cliché ““ did gain some attention with his recording made in June 1965. Both versions communicate empathy with the protagonist, a dead man walking awakening from a dream of being reunited in freedom with the scenes of his childhood but in fact is awaiting his execution in the presence of the “sad old padre” (not “peartree” or “partridge”).

Jones was introduced to the song through Jerry Lee Lewis” version, also a country affair recorded a few months after Wagoner, and proceeded to turn it into hackneyed easy listening, selling more than a million records of it in 1966. Who said pop was fair?
Also recorded by: Bobby Bare (1965), Jerry Lee Lewis (1965), Leonardo (L’erba verde di casa mia, 1966), Conway Twitty (1966), The Statler Brothers (1967), Dean Martin (1967), Hootenanny Singers (as En sÃ¥ng en gÃ¥ng för längese’n, 1967), Jan Malmsjö (as En sÃ¥ng en gÃ¥ng för längese’n, 1967), Agnaldo Timóteo (as Os Verdes Campos da Minha Terra, 1967), Dallas Frazier (1967), Trini Lopez (1968), Skitch Henderson (1968), Merle Haggard and The Strangers (1968), Belmonte and Amaraí (as Os Verdes Campos da Minha Terra, 1968), Joan Baez (1969), Stompin’ Tom Connors (1971), The Fatback Band (1972), The Flying Burrito Brothers (1973), Elvis Presley (1975), Kenny Rogers (1977), John Otway (1980), Jetsurfers (2000)
Best version: I am most partial to Porter Wagoner”s interpretation, which Jones might have consulted concerning the spoken bit.

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 10

October 20th, 2008 No comments

Left Banke – Walk Away Renee.mp3
Four Tops – Walk Away Renee.mp3
A good time to post this, in tribute to the very great Levi Stubbs, who passed away last week. I have no idea how Levi pictured the heartbreaking Renee, but the beautiful woman who allegedly inspired the original by the Left Banke was a platinum blonde, teenager Renee Fladen, then the object of affection of 16-year-old co-writer Michael Brown and the bass player”s girfriend. Follow-up single Pretty Ballerina was also inspired by Renee. But Tony Sansone, who co-wrote the lyrics, claimed that the titular name was just a random riff on French names in the aftermath of the Beatles” Michelle, which had come out a year before Renee was released in 1966.

It reached #5 on the US charts, but it was the Four Tops” 1968 cover by which the song is better remembered (depending, perhaps, on where you live). And with good reason. Though the Left Banke”s version does feature the flute (which to me is always a recommendation), Levi Stubbs” uses all his experience to capture the resigned heartbreak of the lyrics. Though how fair is it to compare a bunch of youngsters to the great man? The Four Tops” cover reached only #14 in the US, but was a Top 5 hit in Britain, where the Left Banke”s version failed to chart.
Also recorded by: Gabor Szabo (1969), The Cowsills (1969), Franki Valli (1975), John O’Banion (1981), Alvin Stardust (1983), Rickie Lee Jones (1985), Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (1986), Rick Price (1992), Jimmy LaFave (1992), Lotion (1995), Peppino D’Agostino (1995), Vonda Shepard (1998), Angie Heaton (1999), Marshall Crenshaw (2001), David Cassidy (2003), Lowen & Navarro (2006), Linda Ronstadt & Ann Savoy (2006)
Best version: Well, the Four Tops”, of course.

Barry McGuire – California Dreamin’.mp3
The Mamas and the Papas – California Dreamin’.mp3
John and Michelle Phillips wrote California Dreamin” in 1963, suitably while living in New York, before forming the Mamas and the Papas and while John was still with a group called The New Journeymen. Fellow folkie Barry McGuire helped John and Michelle land a recording contract. In gratitude, they gave McGuire a song for his next album: California Dreamin”, which was recorded (with the now formed Mamas & Papas on backing vocals) in 1965, but was released only in 1966. It was supposed to be McGuire”s follow-up to Eve Of Destruction, but the Mamas and the Papas recorded the song themselves and released it as a single in 1965, initially to widespread indifference. Only when it started getting airplay on a Boston radio station did the song become a hit in early 1966. And quite right, too, because it includes a flute solo (and yes, I”m working on a series of flute in pop). McGuire insists that the Mamas & Papas didn”t so much re-record the song as replace his voice with Denny Doherty”s and the harmonica solo with the flute. Listen to the two versions and judge for yourself. And if you want more versions of California Dreamin” (including Baby Huey”s), check out this quite brilliant post from The Gentlebear.
Also recorded by: Johnny Rivers (1966), The Seekers (1966), Wes Montgomery (1966), Dik Dik (as Sognando la California, 1966), Richard Anthony (as La terre promise, 1966), The Ventures (1966), Jormas (1966), The Carpenters (demo 1967, released in 2001), Bobby Womack (1968), José Feliciano (1968), The Free Design (1968), The Lettermen (1969), The Four Tops (1969), Winston Francis (1970), Nancy Sinatra (1970), Baby Huey (1971), George Benson (1971), Mike Auldridge (1976), Eddie Hazel (1977), Melanie (1978), Tapani Kansa (as Kalajoen hiekat, 1978), The Beach Boys (1983 & 1986), M.I.A. (1985), River City People (1990), American Music Club (1994), Henry Kaiser (1995), West Coast All Stars (1997), Fleming & John (1998), 386 DX (2000), Jack Frost (2000), John Phillips (2001), DJ Sammy (2002), Ace Andres (2002), Clare Teal (2003), Lana Lane (2003), Queen Latifah (2004), Royal Gigolos (2004), Benny Benassi (2004), David Hasselhoff (2004), Barry Manilow (2006), Mower (2006), Jann Arden (2007), Shaw Blades (2007), Cristian Nemescu (2007)
Best version: The one with the flute. Or, of course, The Hoff’s!


Babatunde Olatunji – Jin-Go-Lo-Ba.mp3

Santana – Jingo.mp3
The Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji became one of the first African music stars in the US with his 1959 Drums of Passion album, which included Jin-Go-La-Ba. Apart from the African sound, Olatunji was at home with jazz (Gillespie and Coltrane rated him highly; the latter played gig final gig at a Olatunji’s Centre for African Culture in Harlem) and Latin music, especially the Cuban variety. Olatunji, who died in 2003 at 76, recorded with the likes of Quincy Jones, Cannonball Adderley and Stevie Wonder, and is namechecked on Bob Dylan”s I Shall Be Free. A decade later, Carlos Santana appeared on the scene with his fusion of rock, blues, jazz, Latin and African. He featured in the first volume of this series, having borrowed from then-blues band Fleetwood Mac (and Hungarian jazz master Gabor Szabo), and reappears here lifting the rhythm of Africa in a version that nonetheless sounds strongly Latin for the first Santana single, released in 1969.
Also recorded by: Jellybean (1988), FKW (1994), Fatboy Slim (2004)
Best version: Who can rightly decide? Rocking to either is going to psyche you up, though the Santana version might induce a heart attack among the dancing unfit.

Prince – I Feel For You.mp3
Chaka Khan – I Feel For You.mp3
It has never been much of a secret that Chaka Khan”s big 1984 hit I Feel For You was written by Prince, but the composer”s version is not very well known. And, frankly, it isn”t quite as good as Chaka”s (which coincidentally was a hit at the height of Prince”s fame and success on the back of Purple Rain). Prince, on his eponymous sophomore album, sings it with his falsetto, backed by a synth which in 1979 must have seemed cutting edge but now sounds terribly dated. It”s not bad, but the Arif Mardin arrangement for Chaka, with Melle Mel”s rap ““ which surely did a lot to popularise rap in the mainstream, and which Chaka did not like ““ is richer, funkier, more fun. Stevie Wonder played the harmonica on it, apparently recorded on the day he attended Marvin Gaye”s funeral. Fifteen years later, Prince and Chaka performed the song together while on tour.
Also recorded by: Pointer Sisters (1982), Mary Wells (1983), Rebbie Jackson (1984), Flying Pickets (1991),
Best version: Chaka Khan”s. Chaka Khan”s.

Eleventh Hour – Lady Marmalade.mp3
Labelle – Lady Marmalade.mp3
This is the sort of song this series was made for. When Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Pink and Mya created their version, produced by Missy Elliott, for the film Moulin Rouge in 2001, the buffs knowingly told their kids about its inferiority with reference to the original by Labelle. I know I did. Using the word “original”. In fact, I had no idea that LaBelle”s take wasn”t an original until our friend RH sent me the Eleventh Hour version. Lady Marmalade was written by Bob Crewe (a recurring name in this series for his association with the Four Seasons) and Kenny Nolan (who may be remembered for his 1977 ballad I Like Dreaming). Nolan was a member of the Eleventh Hour, who included the song on their rather grandly titled 1974 LP Eleventh Hour’s Greatest Hits (the number of actual hits were restricted to none, and the title was doubtless ironic).

The same year Labelle, led by Histrionic Patti, recorded it, produced by the legendary Alain Toussaint. It became a US #1, replacing another Crewe & Nolan composition, Frankie Valli”s My Eyes Adored You. In fact, Lady Marmalade was a #1 hit twice in both US and UK, albeit in different combinations: by Labelle and Missy Elliott”s gang in the US, and in the UK by All Saints and Elliott.
Also recorded by: Nanette Workman (1975), Amii Stewart (1979), Sheila E. (1991), Boogie Knights (1995), All Saints (1998), The BB Band (1999), Lords Of Acid (1999), Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya & Pink (2001), Andy Hallett (2005)
Best version: I quite like the original ““ it”s a fine mid-70s funk work-out. But Patti LaBelle is not doing the scream-queen thing, and Toussaint ““ a New Orleans icon producing a song about a Louisiana prostitute ““ knew what he was doing. Its greatness is compromised only by its ubiquity. The Moulin Rouge version has been unjustly hammered by many, but it isn”t nearly as good as it thinks it is.

More Originals

iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol. 7

October 18th, 2008 7 comments
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The iPod Shuffle function is very useful in bringing to the listener’s notice songs that have bypassed them. Of course, there is always the temptation when being confronted with a song one is not in the mood for to skip subsequent tracks, thereby compromising the arbitrary purpose of the random shuffle. And sometimes iPod comes up with a fantastic sequence, as it did this morning, compelling me to violate my no-weekend-posting rule to resurrect the iPod Random 5-track Experiment series, which last ran in March.

Nick Heyward – Whistle Down The Wind.mp3
Alas, poor Nick Heyward. He was just too clean cut, too cute and too saddled with a insurance salesman’s name to be respected. When the barely pubescent girls put up their Nick Heyward posters from Smash Hits, the deal was sealed: Heyward would not, could not be taken seriously by the cogniscenti. It’s a pity. Haircut 100’s pop was better than it has been given credit for, and Heyward’s 1983 North Of A Miracle debut solo album is at least in part quite excellent. The album’s first three singles, including Whistle Down The Wind, made the UK Top 20, but none made the Top 10. Perhaps the catchy Blue Hat For A Blue Day is the better remembered song, but Whistle is the better song. The chorus is just lush and lovely, and much more mature than his age at the time, 22, might suggest. Heyward made some fine music in the 1990s as well. Check out the gorgeous Not The Man You Used To Be.

Bruce Springsteen – Hungry Heart (live).mp3
This version is from the box set of Broooce live recordings released in 1986. It captures the energetic bonhommie between headliner, band and audiences beautifully. You don’t need to see video footage to know that everybody is having a just great time. Springsteen lets the audience take the lead with the first verse and chorus. A minute in, Bruce roars some sound of approval and repeats what the crowd just sang. More than Born To Run, I think Hungry Heart is the quintessential Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band song.

Herman’s Hermits – No Milk Today.mp3
I posted this before on the Teen Dreams mix, but can’t understand how No Milk Today failed to be included in the Perfect Pop series (which came to an abrupt end when I misplaced my shortlist of yet-tobe featured songs). Written by Grahame Gouldman, later of 10cc, the song was a massive hit in Germany, but did not perform as well as other Herman’s Hermit hits in the US, where the group in 1965 ““ the year before No Milk Today ““ outsold the Beatles. The arrangement is deceptively complex, featuring an orchestra and excellent use of bells.

Blondie – X-Offender.mp3
I posted this before in the 1970s Time Travel series. Few moments in pop music are sexier than Debbie Harry’s spoken intro. Oh, but the ’70s were an innocent age, when acts like Blondie were ordered not to feature the word “sex” in the title of a song which very much is about just that (a prostitute’s sexual attraction, possibly reciprocated, to the cop who bust her). Having said that, I think X-Offender is a better title than the original Sex Offender. Originally released in 1976, X-Offender didn’t attract wide notice until the following year. And soon after Blondie broke really big with Denis.

Weezer – Island In The Sun.mp3
I tend to make my own cellphone ringtones. At one point, Island In The Sun was the personalised ringtone alerting me to calls from Any Major Wife. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I note that my wife loves to phone. So I’d get lots of calls signalled by Island In The Sun. That kind of thing can spoil a song, especially when the “hep hep” causes interruptions in the midst of intensive concentration (as my prose here might suggest, my bids at intensive concentration are largely unsuccessful). I changed AMW’s ringtone just before the ringtone ruined the song for me. Happily, I still love this impossibly happy tune ““ which may or may not be about drug addiction. Weezer weren’t going to include it on their 2001 Green Album; it was included only at producer Ric Ocasek’s insistence. As it happens, it was released as a single, promoted with a great Spike Jonze video (actually, there were two videos), and became Weezer’s biggest hit.

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The Originals Vol. 9

October 13th, 2008 8 comments
Another installment of lesser originals (and their famous cover versions). After Volume 8, caithiseach of The Great Vinyl Meltdown send me an even older version of Whiskey In The Jar than the one I posted by the Seekers. I’ll add the Highwaymen version from 1962 to the original post, and stick the link to the file at the end of this one. caithiseach’s series on incredibly rare early ’60s vinyl is coming to an end. He has listed a few options for his blog’s future direction, which look great (personally, I could do without the instrumentals option, but that’s just me). Have a look and help this fine writer shape his blog. As for this batch of originals, we owe our friend RH for A Boy Named Sue and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.
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Badfinger – Without You.mp3
Nilsson – Without You.mp3
There is something dismal about the notion that a pop classic would be best-known among some people in its incarnation by Mariah Carey. Those with a more acute sense of pop history will have been dismissive of Carey”s calorific cover of Nilsson”s hit. But even Harry Nilsson applied a generous dose of schmaltz to his cover of the Badfinger original.

Without You apart, there is a chain of tragedy which links the Welsh band and Nilsson. Both acts had a Lennon connection (more tragedy here, of course). Badfinger were signed to the Beatles” Apple label, on which Without You was released in 1970; Nilsson was a collaborator with and drinking buddy of Lennon”s. Nilsson died fairly young, so did two members of Badfinger, both of whom wrote Without You and committed suicide. Singer Peter Ham killed himself in 1975 (in his suicide note he referred to their “heartless bastard” of a manager), and in 1983, Tom Evans hanged himself after an argument over royalties for the song with former colleague Joey Molland (who both had played on Lennon”s Imagine album and other ex-Beatles solo records).

Nilsson reportedly thought that Badfinger”s Without You had been a Beatles recording ““ indeed, the Rolling Stone touted Badfinger as the Beatles” heirs. His version, turning a fairly rough mid-tempo rock song into an orchestral power ballad (at a time when such things were rare) became a massive hit in 1972; Carey”s version hit the charts just a week after Nilsson”s death in 1994. One may fear the worst for Ms Carey should the Nilsson curse strike her: apart from the sad story of Badfinger and Lennon”s death, both Mama Cass and Keith Moon died in Nilsson”s flat.
Also recorded by: Shirley Bassey (1972), Johnny Mathis (1972), Percy Faith (1972), Vikki Carr (1972), Cilla Black (1973), Petula Clark (1974), Billy Paul (1976), Susie Allanson (1977), Heart (1978), Mina (as Per chi, 1978), Melissa Manchester (1980), T.G. Sheppard (1983), Richard Clayderman (1988), Beverly Jo Scott (1991), Air Supply (1991), Pandora (as Desde el dia que te fuiste, 1992), Mariah Carey (1993), Donny Osmond (2002), Natalia (2003), Jade Kwan (2003), Weezer (unofficial release, 2004), Clay Aiken (2006), Il Divo (as Desde el dia que te fuiste, 2006), Wing (2007).
Best version: Tough choice. Nilsson”s vocals are quite impressive, but I prefer Badfinger”s arrangement and Ham”s desperately sad voice. Or the phonetic Bulgarian Idols version now known as Ken Lee is worth watching, as well as the improved English version (“You alwees smile lolly nigh”¦Ilibu dibu douchoo”).

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Frankie Valli – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.mp3

Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.mp3
When some years ago I looked up the UK number 1 on the day I was born, I was delighted: the Walker Brothers” The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore was one of my favourite “60s songs. It’s magnificent Spector-esque production makes the song sound like a Righteous Brothers number (don”t the strings sound a bit like The Theme from A Summer”s Place?). I had not realised that the Walker Brothers” 1966 version was a cover.

A year before the Californian trio recorded their biggest hit, it had been recorded by Frankie Valli on his debut solo album. The single release flopped, even though it was in almost every way a Four Seasons song. It was written by Bob Crewe and Robert Gaudio, who wrote most of the group”s hits, and produced by the Four Seasons” producer, Crewe. There is little difference in the arrangement; the Walkers” is a richer and more dramatic carbon copy. Their version attained some sort of notoriety as the soundtrack to a London gangland killing. The story has it that it was playing on a jukebox in the Blind Beggar pub when Ronnie Kray entered and shot his adversary George Cornell. A stray bullet hit the jukebox causing the needle to get stuck in the groove, repeating the line “The sun ain”t gonna shine anymore” as Cornell lay dying.
Also recorded by: Richard Anthony (as Le soleil ne brille, 1966), Caterina Caselli (as Il sole non tramonterà, 1967), The Lettermen (1970), Neil Diamond (1979), Nielsen/Pearson (1981), Long John Baldry (1986), The Flying Pickets (1986), Russell Hitchcock (1987), David Essex (1989), Cher (1995), Robson & Jerome (1995), Keane (2004)
Best version: With Scott Engel on vocals and the lush arrangement, it must be the Walker Brothers”.

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Lou Johnson – (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3
Sandie Shaw – Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3
One would think that Burt Bacharach songs would feature strongly in this series. Somehow that hasn”t been the case, though some will still be highlighted. In some cases it is difficult to find the first recording (Richard Chamberlain singing Close To You), in many instances the original is already sufficiently well-known or indeed the best-known version (Walk On By). So I”m glad that I can include one of my favourite Bacharach songs in this series: Always Something There To Remind Me.

The most famous version is Sandie Shaw”s, which has some of the sexiest vocals I can think of (though nobody seems to agree with me). Shaw”s version has the standard Bacharach arrangement. Johnson”s original, like Shaw”s version recorded in 1964 but released as a b-side, has the Bacharachian trumpet, strings and keyboard, yet sounds like the soul song it is, especially when Johnson”s abandons the song”s structure and ad libs the final half minute as the backing singers spur him on. Dionne Warwick, who”d later release the song herself, sang the demo, and Shaw later recorded the song in German.
Also recorded by: Brenda Lee (1965), Gals and Pals (1966), Johnny Mathis (1967), Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles (1967), Dionne Warwick (1967), Mal dei Primitives (1968), José Feliciano (1968), Stanley Turrentine (1968), Martha Reeves & The Vandellas (1968), R.B. Greaves (1969), Barbara Mason (1970), Winston Francis (1970), The Carpenters (as part of their Bacharach Medley, 1972), Blue Swede (1973), The Stylistics (1982), Naked Eyes (1983), The Starlite Orchestra (1995), Tin Tin Out featuring Espiritu (1995), The Captain Howdy (1998), The Absolute Zeros (1998), Rebecca’s Empire (1998), Braid (2000), Steve Tyrell (2008) a.o.
Best version: Johnson”s is very good, but Sandie Shaw”s is heavenly (Her German version, Einmal glücklich sein wie die ander”n, is quite good, in a cute foreign accent sort of way).

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The Paragons – The Tide Is High.mp3
Blondie – The Tide is High.mp3
The Tide Is High probably is the least surprising of Blondie”s cunningly chosen covers. When Blondie suddenly turned up with a reggae-pop number, it was apparent that they had not written it themselves. And yet, the original by the Paragons, a mellow soul-reggae number, has not become a pop classic in its own right. Another case of the cover artist appropriating a song. The Paragons released The Tide Is High in 1967, in Britain as a b-side, and the song remained relatively obscure until Blondie”s 1980 cover, which added horns and more strings to the arrangement. Singer Bob Andy made an appearance in the British charts in 1970, as one half of Bob & Marcia, scoring a hit with a cover of Nina Simone”s Young, Gifted And Black. John Holt, who wrote The Tide Is High (or, more precisely, adapted it from a 1930s song), became a legendary exponent of lover”s rock. I’ll soare you the Atomic Kitten UK #1 version from 2002.
Also recorded by: Top of the Poppers (1980), Sinitta (1995), Nydia Rojas (as La número uno, 1996), Papa Dee (1996), Maxi Priest (1997), Angelina (1997), Billie Piper (2000), Up The Duff (2000), Sheep on Drugs (2000), The Chubbies (2001), Atomic Kitten (September 9, 2002), The Selecter (2006), Kardinal Offishall feat Nicole Scherzinger (as Numba 1 [The Tide Is High], 2008)
Best version: I never liked the song in Blondie”s hands much, but really like the original.

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Shel Silverstein – Boy Named Sue.mp3
Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue.mp3
It”s a Johnny Cash signature tune, but was actually written by the ultimate Renaissance Man, Shel Silverstein (who previously featured in this series as the author of Dr Hook”s/Marianne Faithfull”s The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan). It is unclear what inspired Silverstein to create this fantastic story about the guy with a girl”s name (or why the boy named Sue just didn”t acquire a butch nickname). But there once was a prominent Mr Sue, Sue K Hicks, the original prosecutor in the notorious 1925 Scopes Trial. Cash (or possibly his wife June Carter; the accounts vary) was introduced to the song at a “guitar pull” party in Nashville, at which musician friends ran their latest compositions by one another. According to Cash, other artists present that night were Bob Dylan (who played Lay Lady Lay), Judy Collins (Both Sides Now) and her then lover Stephen Stills (Judy Blue Eyes), and Silverstein.

Just before his televised 1969 concert from St Quentin jail, June suggested that Johnny perform Silverstein’s song. And he did. On the film footage he can be seen referring to the scribbled lyrics of the song taped to the floor. And so his spontaneous performance of the song, apparently the first time he had even sung it, became one of his biggest hits. Some have claimed that Cash”s lack of familiarity with the song explains his half-spoken delivery. But Silverstein”s 1968 version, from the Boy Named Sue and His Other Country Songs album, is similarly half-spoken. Silverstein followed the song up with a composition from the father”s perspective, using the same tune, It’s very funny: check out the lyrics. Oh, and Mandark in Dexter”s Laboratory is in fact called Susan.
Also recorded by: Joe Dassin (as Un garçon nommé Suzy, 1970), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1970), Mike Krüger (as Ein Junge namens Susi, 1975), Joshua James (1999)
Best version: Cash”s, represented here in its unbleeped version. Havea look at the video of Silverstein and Cash performing a bit of the song together

and, as promised above:
The Highwaymen – Whiskey In The Jar.mp3

Mr Ben Folds: A retraction & apology

October 10th, 2008 3 comments
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Dear Mr Folds,

On various platforms and in private communications, I prematurely passed judgment on the merits of your new long-player entitled Way To Normal. Having exposed myself further to the artistry contained therein, I wish to retract my earlier judgment and assure you that I have identified points of merits which have enhanced immeasurably my pleasure in your long-player.

Your musical interlude titled “Cologne” in particular is entirely agreeable and expressive of affecting profundities. The very amusing story concerning your unfortunate mishap in the city of Hiroshima is sufficiently mirthful as to have caused me the sensation of Schadenfreude of a such a nature which may call to mind one Master Nelson Muntz, resident of Springfield. I should however counsel you that a young bewigged English piano player whose name momentarily escapes me has seen it suitable to plagiarise certain aspects of your composition. Doubtless you shall invoke the full force of the law against the impertinent young man so as to deter any further infringements on your intellectual property.

Its exotic title notwithstanding, Dr Yang is a delightful song, and I wish you much success in your endeavour to become a lesbian. Be assured that many manly men share your desires in this regard. I do, however, object to your proposed notion that the Almighty may disrespectfully “laugh” at my football team. As a gloryhunter of high repute, I believe to be correct when I suggest that our Heavenly Father is an ardent Manchester United supporter Himself. Moreover, it is a matter of public record that the late Holy Father Pope John Paul II of beloved memory was a member of the German club FC Schalke 04, who most decidedly have in their history given no cause to suggest fitness for ridicule of any kind.

I furthermore regret and apologise for having mistaken your song “Free Coffee” for “utter fucking shit”, as I initially might have spat in a rare exhibition of uncouth language on my part. While I maintain that my initial reaction was correct, I realize, upon much reflection, that the disagreeable noises that accompany said song are so at your full intent. It surely is not possible that a gentleman and scholar of your towering mastery would perpetrate such gross injury on the listener’s senses coincidentally. Sir, I bow before your satirical genius.

I shall keep my letter of retraction and apology brief, Mr Folds, so as to permit me further pleasure in the company of your of lately highly esteemed long-player. Suffice it to say that I have now been brainwashed. You cunt.

Yours etc,
Major (ret) Dude W.H.A.H.

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And with that out of the way, here is my Top 10 of Ben Folds songs. They are all works of genius, of course, and the order is unimportant (and I feel bad for the songs that fell outside the top 10). Narcolepsy tops the list at the moment ““ at other times Luckiest, Best Imitation, the criminally neglected All You Can Eat, Gone and Landed have been “my favourite Ben Folds song”. And the live recording of Trusted from Berlin is quite brilliant. The uninitiated might be reluctant to download a song called Narcolepsy. And it does lack the jauntiness and witty lyrics of many other Folds songs. But it captures the feeling of emotional disonance ““ a subject not often treated in pop ““ very well. A quite stunning song.

Narcolepsy.mp3 (from Ben Folds Live, 2002)
Trusted.mp3 (Live in Berlin, 2005)
Brick.mp3 (from Ben Folds Five, 1997)
The Luckiest.mp3 (from Rockin’ The Suburbs, 2001)
Best Imitation Of Myself.mp3 (from Ben Folds Live, 2002)
All You Can Eat.mp3 (Live in Berlin, 2005)
Landed.mp3 (from Songs For Silverman, 2004)
Gone.mp3 (from Rockin’ The Suburbs, 2001)
Fred Jones Part 2.mp3 (from Summerstage in NYC, 2004)
Rockin” The Suburbs (live).mp3 (from Songs for Goldfish EP, 2005)

and how about the covers?
Get Your Hands Off My Woman.mp3
Bitches Ain’t Shit (live on 3fm).mp3
Careless Whispers (live in NYC with with Rufus Wainwright).mp3

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80s Soul: The redemption – Vol.1

October 8th, 2008 5 comments
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After the glorious era of the “60s and “70s, soul music found itself in a bit of a rut in the “80s, and has never recovered from it. Where in the golden age the public standard bearers of soul were the likes of Aretha Franklin and Al Green, in the “80s it was Whitney Houston and Lionel Richie. I am referring to popular perception, of course. Still, the soul giant of the 1980s was Luther Vandross; rather a step down from Al, Ike, Marvin or Curtis (soul singers are always referred to by their first names). Much of “80s soul was too smooth to be sexual, even as the lyrics promised total sexual gratification, or your money back. The more the singers sang about makin” lurve to you awawawawall nighyeet, the more sexless the genre became. Things were called soul that weren”t much soulful. Like Whitney Houston, like Lionel Richie (though both made some excellent soul records). Read more…

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The Originals Vol. 8

October 5th, 2008 1 comment


Jackie DeShannon ““ Needles And Pins
The Searchers ““ Needles And Pins
Last night I watched The Commitments on DVD, with the scene at the wedding where the singer belts out a cheesy version Needles And Pins. What struck me is how difficult it is to mess the song up. Even Smokie”s 1977 version was quite good. It is, of course, regarded as a classic in its incarnation by the Searchers (a group I used to confuse with the Seekers, featured above). It was written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nietzsche and first recorded by the vastly underrated Jackie DeShannon in 1963, crossing the Atlantic the same year in Petula Clark”s version before the Searchers finally scored a hit with it in 1964 (actually, DeShannon”s version, while not a hit in the US, topped the Canadian charts). The story goes that the Searchers first heard Needles And Pins being performed by Cliff Bennett at the Star Club in Hamburg and immediately decided that the song should be their next single. It became the second of their three UK #1 hits. They did retain DeShannon”s pronunciation of “now-ah”, “begins-ah” and “pins-ah.
Also recorded by: Petula Clark (1963), Buddy Morrow & his Orchestra (1964), Cher (1965), The Wallflower Complextion (1967), Smokie (1977), The Ramones (1978), Crack The Sky (1983), Tom Petty & Steve Nicks (1986), Mr. T Experience (1998), Willy DeVille (1999), Raimundos (2001), The Commercials (2001) a.o.
Best version: DeShannon”s original has a great energy, Smokie”s I have a nostalgic attachment to, but the Searchers had a moment of pop perfection with their version.

Jackie DeShannon – Bette Davis Eyes
Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes
In 1981, my half-sister”s boyfriend went on holiday to Colorado. For us in Germany, that was tremendously exotic. Although we had by then travelled through much of central Europe, America seemed another world. Where we had medieval churches, all of American architecture seemed to be mirrored skyscrapers (cf. the Dallas titles montage), and where our forests were populated by Rumpelstiltskin, granny-eating wolves and poisonous mushrooms, American woods were run by Grizzly Adams. And, most significantly, new LPs were available in America before they came out in Germany. So when our man came back from Colorado and told of his adventures (in what probably was boring suburbia), his tales were soundtracked by Juicy Newton”s Angel Of The Morning and Kim Carnes” Betty Davis Eyes. The former has long been pencilled in to feature in this series, the latter joined the list only when our friend RH sent me the original.

I hadn”t known it was a cover version: neither did the song”s subject, who went out of her way to thank first Carnes and then the songwriters for introducing her to a whole new generation (including myself) and giving her cool status among her grandchildren. Davis and Carnes remained friends till the actress” death. As noted above, Jackie DeShannon was not just an underrated singer, but also a songwriter. She co-wrote Bette Davis Eyes with Donna Weiss, and recorded it in 1975 in a country-boogie woogie style. Her version attracted little attention, but seven years later Carnes” cover became one of the biggest hits in US chart history, spending nine weeks at #1 (a week less than the year”s top-seller, Olivia Newton John”s Physical). As for the titular eyes which warranted a song, apparently they were the product of a thyroid condition Davis suffered.
Also recorded by: Gwynneth Paltrow (for the film Duets, 2000), Crash Test Dummies (2001), Handsome Devil (2004), Space Cadet (2005)
Best version: The Carnes version reworks the song entirely. The guitar, synth and the somewhat sleazy drums complement Carnes” raspy voice in the slowed down. That production evokes Davis” (public) personality better than the original does.

The Highwaymen – Whiskey In The Jar
The Seekers – Whiskey In The Jar
The Pogues & the Dubliners – Whiskey In The Jar
“Musha ring dum a doo dum a da” is gibberish, apparently. And “Whack fol the daddy O” is not slurred “50s slang. Whiskey In The Jar is an old Irish folk song about a girl betraying the highwayman who loves her. Folk historian Alan Lomax (who among many other things did that recording of Black Betty featured earlier on in this series) suggested that the song goes back, in some form, to the 1600s and might have inspired John Gay’s 1728 The Beggar’s Opera. When the folk revival hit in America in the 1950s and “60s, Whiskey In The Jar, which had long enjoyed popularity in the US, was among the many traditional tunes to be performed by the likes of The Limeliters and Peter, Paul & Mary. The oldest recordings that I”ve been able to turn up are thise by The Highwaymen from 1962 (thanks to caithiseach of The Great Vinyl Meltdown) and from 1964 by the Seekers. The song is, of course, more famous now as a rock song, thanks to Thin Lizzy”s iconic 1973 interpretation (which took some liberties with the lyrics). The Dubliners, whose 1967 hit with the song returned it to its native land, re-recorded it to fine effect with the Pogues in 1990. Some people talk highly of Metallica”s 1998 Grammy-winning take, but since I boycott those Napster-busting fuckers, it won”t feature here.
Also recorded by: The Dubliners (1967), Jerry Garcia & David Grisman (1995), Pulp (1995), Metallica (1998), Brobdingnagian Bards (2001), Belle & Sebastian (2005), Gary Moore (2006), as well as Roger Whittaker, Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Irish Rovers, the Poxy Boggards, Seven Nations, King Creosote, Axel the Sot, and Smokie (a.o.)
Best version: The Dubliners and Pogues nail it.

Albert Hammond – The Air That I Breathe
The Hollies – The Air That I Breathe
I feel very old when Albert Hammond needs to be introduced as “The Dad of the dude from the Strokes”. Hammond Sr is of course the more significant figure in pop, having scored hits on his own and written many more for others. The Air That I Breathe, composed with frequent collaborator Mike Hazlewood, is among those (and at least one more will feature in this series). Hammond”s 1972 recording on his debut album, It Never Rains In Southern California, went by fairly unnoticed. It starts of uncertainly, but mid-way through hits a strange stride. Perfect it is not, but interesting it certainly is. According to Hammond, it was written for a physically unattractive girl while Hazlewood came up with the title upon glimpsing LA”s smog ““ I rather like that story. The song was then recorded by Phil Everly in 1973, but became a hit in the hands of the briefly resurgent Hollies a year later. Subsequently Hammond and Hazlewood received an unexpected songwriting credit on Radiohead”s Creep for its resemblance to The Air That I Breathe.
Also recorded by: Cilla Black (1974), Olivia Newton-John (1975), José Feliciano (1977), Hank Williams Jr (1983), Julio Iglesias (1984), Steve Wynn (1995), Barry Manilow (1996), k.d. lang (1997), Simply Red (1998), Patti LuPone (1999), The Mavericks (2003), Blue Mule (2005), Tom Fuller (2007)
Best version: It”s a great song to interpret (as Thom Yorke would agree), but the Hollies version is just lush.

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