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The Originals Vol. 10

October 20th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to 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.

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