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The Originals Vol. 8

October 5th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments


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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  1. Trod
    October 22nd, 2009 at 03:10 | #1

    The Smothers Brothers did a comedy version of “Whiskey In The Jar.”

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