Archive for January, 2009

The Originals Vol. 16 – Elvis edition 3

January 30th, 2009 3 comments

In the third Elvis special in this series we look at the originals of That”s All Right  (1954), My Baby Left Me (1956), His Latest Flame (1961), Cant” Help Falling In Love With You (1961) and Viva Las Vegas (1964) “” though the last of these is not really an Elvis cover.

Charles Gilibert ““ Plaisir d”amour (1908).mp3
Elvis Presley – Can’t Help Falling In Love (1961).mp3

This is the song which ignorant callers to radio stations tend to request by the title “Wise Man Say” (and, if fortune likes to piss on you, in UB40″s ghastly incarnation). The fictitious title is not entirely off the mark: the lyrics were co-written by a pair of alleged mafia associates, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, with George David Weiss. Peretti and Creatore were partners with mafioso Mo Levy in the Roulette record label (named after the game that “Colonel” Tom Parker was addicted to), which the FBI identified as a source of revenue for the Genovese crime family. The trio also wrote the lyrics for The Lion Sleeps Tonight, a song whose sorry saga will feature in a future instalment in this series.

Charles Gilibert

Charles Gilibert

The melody of Can”t Help”¦ borrows from the old French love song Plaisir d”amour, composed in 1785 by Johann Paul Aegidius Martini. It was first recorded in 1902 by Monsieur Fernand (real name Emilio de Gogorza), and subsequently by a zillion others, including in 1908 by the baritone Charles Gilibert (1866-1910). It may be a little more accurate to describe Can”t Help Falling In Love as an adaptation rather than as a cover. While the similarities are sufficiently evident to mark Plaisir d”amour as the basis for the song, it certainly has been innovated on.

The song was adapted in 1961 for Elvis” Blue Hawaii movie. Reportedly, neither the film”s producers nor Elvis” label, RCA, liked the song much. Elvis, however, insisted on recording it. Elvis often was his best A&R man, and so it was here. The song was initially released as the b-side of Rock-A-Hula Baby (you do know how that one goes, no?). In the event, Can”t Help became the big hit, reaching #2 in the US and #1 in the UK. It also became a signature song for Elvis who would invariably include it in his concerts. Indeed, it was the last song he performed live on stage in Indianapolis on 26 June 1977, Elvis” final concert.

Also recorded by: Perry Como (1962), The Lettermen (1963), We Five (1965), Bobby Solo (as Te ne vai, 1967), Aphrodite’s Child (as I Want To Live, 1969), Andy Williams (1970), Al Martino (1970), Marty Robbins (1970), Bob Dylan (1973), The Stylistics (1976), Johnny Farago (1976), Shirley Bassey (1977), Baccara (1977), Ral Donner (1979), Klaus Nomi (1983), Corey Hart (1986), Lick the Tins (1986), David Keith with The T. Graham Brown Band (1988), The Triffids (1989), Hall & Oates (1990), Julio Iglesias (1990), Luka Bloom (1992), UB40 (1993), James Galway (1994), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Celine Dion (1995), Richard Marx (1995), David Thomas and Two Pale Boys (1997), Sammy “Sax” Mintzer (1997), Neil Diamond (1998), Nato Ghandi (1999), Hi-Standard (2001), Pearl Jam (2001), Eels (2001), A*Teens (2002), Anne Murray (2002), Erasure (2003), Tuck & Patti (2004), Michael Bublé (2004), Mägo de Oz (as Todo Irá Bien, 2004), Rick Astley (2005), Joseph Williams (2006), Andrea Bocelli (2006), Barry Manilow (2006), The Skank Agents (2008), Blackmore’s Night (2008), Ingrid Michaelson (2008) a.o.


Del Shannon ““ His Latest Flame (1961).mp3
Mort Shuman ““ His Latest Flame (1961).mp3

Elvis Presley ““ His Latest Flame (1961).mp3
elvis-his-latest-flameWith it”s Bo Diddley-inspired guitar riff and flamenco-meets-Rock “˜n” Roll feel, 1961″s (Marie”s The Name) His Latest Flame served as a welcome, albeit temporary, break from Elvis” succession of easy listening fare such as It”s Now Or Never, Surrender and Are You Lonesome Tonight (though within a few months, he”d top the charts with another standard ballad, Can”t Help Falling In Love). Like these songs, His Latest Flame was not an original.

del-shannonThe song was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who wrote some 20 Elvis songs “” including His Latest Flame”s b-side, Little Sister “” as well as hits for acts such as The Drifters (Save The Last Dance For Me) and Dion (Teenager In Love). Although reportedly written specifically for Elvis, His Latest Flame was first offered to Bobby Vee, who turned it down. Del Shannon recorded the song in May 1961, with a view to releasing it as a follow-up single for his big hit Runaway. In the event, he decided to run with “Hats Off To Larry” instead. His Latest Flame was released on the Runaway With Del Shannon LP in June. The same month Elvis recorded his version, which was released in the US in August. Due to the arcane method of compiling the US charts, the His Latest Flame peaked at #4 and its flip side, Little Sister (another Pomus/Shuman composition) at #5. It topped the charts in Britain.

Shuman tended to tout his co-composition by way of demos on which he sang himself. The demo for His Latest Name is much closer to Elvis”version than Shannon”s, a less smooth, more soulful interpretation which has something of a mariachi band feel, using brass to accentuate the Diddley-style riff (which the Smiths famously sampled 24 years later on Rusholme Ruffians).

Also recorded by: Richard Anthony (1961), Ronnie McDowell (1978), The Residents (1989), El Vez (1992), Scorpions (1993), The Sun Gods (1999), Misfits (2003), Morrissey (as part of a medley, 2005)


Mort Shuman ““ Viva Las Vegas (1963).mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Viva Las Vegas (1964).mp3

elvis-viva-las-vegasDoc Pomus and Mort Shuman also wrote the title song for Elvis” 1964 movie vehicle, the title of which presages the singer”s future image (just think of the nauseating cliché of rhinestone-jumpsuited Elvis impersonators with comedy shades administering nuptial vows in a tacky plastic chapel in Vegas, the image of Elvis which threatens to destroy our boy”s rich legacy). The song has become one of the most popular from Elvis” fallow mid-“60s period. Oddly, initially it was only the b-side to the lead single, the cover of Ray Charles What”d I Say (MP3 here). Playing guitar on Viva Las Vegas was a little-known session musician named Glen Campbell. The Mort Shuman version is the demo version, so Viva Las Vegas is not really a cover.

In 2002, the city of Las Vegas approached Elvis Presley Enterprises, the behemoth that controls (or at least tries to control) all Elvis-related matters, with a view to using Viva Las Vegas as its official song. In a merry-go-round of idiocy, EPE demanded too high a fee, even though the copyrights for the song had reverted to the estates of Pomus and Shuman (who died within three months of one another in early 1991) in 1993. The city of Las Vegas apparently didn”t bother to check who actually owned the song and negotiate a deal with them. It might be, of course, that Vegas wanted to use Elvis” voice, which EPE possibly do control. If so, then Vegas must take a very dim view of the talents on offer among its growing population of Cliché Elvis Impersonators.While Vegas did not get to adopt the song, it was used by the pharmaceutical company (which Elvis had supported so enthusiastically) Pfizer to flog Viagra “” Viva Viagra!

Also recorded by: Ral Donner (1979), Dead Kennedys (1980), The Residents (1989), Nina Hagen (1989), Bruce Springsteen (1990), ZZ Top (1992), Shawn Colvin (1995), Big Johnson (1995), Boxer (1997), Ann-Margaret (as Viva Rock Vegas, 2000), Dread Zeppelin (2004), The Thrills (2004), The Grascals with Dolly Parton (2005), Los Derrumbes (2005), Jim Belushi & the Sacred Hearts (2005), Spinballs (2007) a.o.


Arthur “˜Big Boy” Crudup – That”s All Right (1946).mp3
Elvis Presley ““ That”s All Right (Mama) (1954).mp3

arthur-crudup-thats-all-rightThis is the song that changed Rock “˜n” Roll forever. Young Elvis was in the Sun studios in Memphis, auditioning for the legendary Sam Phillips (in other accounts the story is set, more credibly, during the first recording session). Elvis, the story goes, was failing the audition, having crooned one ballad after another in Dean Martin mode. It was not the sound Phillips was looking for. During a break (or at the end of the session), Elvis starting goofing around with his guitar, singing That”s Allright, Arthur “˜Big Boy” Crudup”s blues number from 1946. Session musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black joined in. Sam Phillips later recalled: “The door to the control room was open, the mics were on, Scotty was in the process of packing up his guitar, I think Bill had already thrown his old bass down “” he didn”t even have a cover for it “” and the session was, to all intents and purposes, over. Then Elvis struck up on just his rhythm guitar, “˜That’s all right, mama..,” and I mean he got my attention immediately. It could have been that it wouldn”t have sold ten copies, but that was what I was looking for!”

elvis-thats-all-rightEleven days before the single was released on 19 July 1954, Memphis radio DJ Dewey Phillips played it seven times in a row by popular request. In an on air interview, he asked Elvis (whom, according to legend, he first called Elton Preston) which high school he had attended “” a euphemistic way of clarifying for his listeners that Elvis was in fact white. Elvis has often been accused of hijacking black music, turning it white. If that was the effect, it was not Elvis” plan. Here was a boy with a real affinity for R&B (as well as for gospel, country and the crooners). In 1956 he said: “The coloured folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin” now, man, for more years than I know… I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel what old Arthur felt, I”d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”

Also recorded by: Marty Robbins (1954), Carl Perkins (1958), Blind Snooks Eaglin (1962), Scotty Moore (1964), Gram Parsons’ International Submarine Band (1968), Albert King (1970), Rod Stewart (1971), Jimmy Ellis (1972), Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn & Bill Vitt (1973), William Robertson (1977), Merle Haggard (1977), Ral Donner (1979), The Maines Brothers (1981), Ronnie Hawkins (1983), Paul McCartney (1988), Albert Lee (1991), Vince Gill (1992), Home Coockin’ (1997), Nikolaj Christensen (1997), Tyler Hilton (2005), Curtis Stigers (2005), Monster Klub (2007), Dread Zeppelin (2008)


Arthur “˜Big Boy” Crudup ““ My Baby Left Me (1949).mp3
Elvis Presley ““ My Baby Left Me (1956).mp3

arthur-crudupElvis would record two more Crudup songs, My Baby Left Me and So Glad You”re Mine. If My Baby Left Me, which he recorded in 1949, sounds a lot like That”s Allright, it is because Crudup had a limited number of tunes which he adapted with new lyrics (usually also recycled). By coincidence, the man whose song set Elvis up with a career start at Sun Records had previously recorded for RCA (on their Bluebird subsidiary), the record company with which Elvis would break big. Crudup fought for the rest of his life to receive due royalties, making his living as a bootlegger and field labourer. In 1971, an agreement for $60,000 was agreed with Melrose Publishers, who proceeded to blankly refuse paying up. Crudup died penniless in 1974 at the age of 68.

Elvis recorded My Baby Left Me in January 1956, during the same New York session which produced Blue Suede Shoes. It was released as the flip side of I Want You, I Need You, I Love You in May that year.

Also recorded by: Johnny Hallyday (as Tu me quittes, 1964), Dave Berry (1964), Scotty Moore (1964), Creedence Clearwater Revival (1970), Loggins & Messina (1975), Dave Edmunds (1977), Ronnie McDowell (1978), Geraint Watkins & The Dominators (1979), John Hammond (1982)

More Originals

The Originals  – Elvis edition 1
The Originals  – Elvis edition 2

The Originals Vol. 15 – Elvis edition 2

January 28th, 2009 3 comments

Big Mama Thornton ““ Hound Dog.mp3
Freddie Bell & the Bellboys ““ Hound Dog.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Hound Dog.mp3

RCA Studios, New York. Monday, 2 July 1956. Elvis turned up for his third and final recording session there to lay down the tracks for Hound Dog, Don”t Be Cruel and the ballad Any Way You Want Me. By now, Elvis had become confident enough to take charge of the session, for all intents and purposes acting as the producer. He had decided which songs to record, and would run through as many takes as necessary for the perfect recording. Occasionally, when a backing musician would make a mistake, he would sing a note out of key or commit another error, forcing another take. In the seven-hour session, 31 takes of Hound Dog were recorded (and 28 of Don”t Be Cruel). Elvis listened to them all, narrowed down the choices. Eventually, he settled for take 18 of Hound Dog (some sources say it was number 28).

elvis-hound-dogBefore the session, the story goes, RCA had procured the first recording of the Leiber/Stoller composition, Big Mama Thornton”s blues rendition. Everybody was aghast: they thought it was horrible, unable to comprehend why Elvis would want to record that, as Gordon Stoker of the vocal backing group The Jordanaires later recalled. Stoker and the other puzzled people in the studio obviously did not watch TV. A month before the recording session, Elvis had performed the song on The Milton Berle Show, more or less the way he was going to record it on 2 July (Video clip). DJ Fontana had already introduced the drum roll between the verses, and Scotty Moore the guitar solo. He performed the song again on TV the day before the recording session: the performance on the Steve Allen show (VIDEO) when, wearing a tuexedo, he had to sing the song to a bemused, top-hatted basset hound (Elvis was a good sport about it, at one point even laughing at the absurd set-up. Allen had a way of humiliating Elvis. Another time, he had Elvis playing an inarticulate hillbilly [!] in what by all accounts was a particularly tasteless sketch). The Berle performance, seen by a reported 40 million people, had created a storm of protest by the guardians of morality at Elvis” “vulgarity” (just see his movements 2:04 into the video to understand why it might have been controversial in the mid-1950s). Could anybody really have been so oblivious as to regard Rainey”s record as a demo, as if Elvis had no idea what to do with the song?

freddie-bell-the-bellboysThe truth is that Elvis didn”t base his version on Big Mama Thornton at all, but on the cover by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, An Ital0-American band he had seen during his discouraging concert engagement in Vegas in April/May 1956. Having ascertained that Bell wouldn”t mind, Elvis quickly included Hound Dog in his setlist. He probably was aware of Thornton”s version, and perhaps heard some of the country covers that had been released. But Elvis” Hound Dog is entirely a reworking of the Bellboys”, incorporating their sound and modified lyrics (“Cryin’ all the time” for “Snoopin” round my door”, “You ain”t never caught a rabbit, and you ain”t no friend of mine” for  “You can wag your tail, but I ain”t gonna feed you no more”), but happily dispensing with the lupine howls.

big-mama-thornton-hound-dogBell and his band enjoyed a mostly undistinguished recording career, with only one real hit, Giddy Up A Ding Dong (which was much bigger in Europe than it was in the US), also in 1956. Bell got no writing credit for Hound Dog. The writing credit remained entirely with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were still R&B-obsessed teenagers when they were commissioned by the producer Johnny Otis to write a song for Big Mama Thornton in 1952. They did so in 15 minutes (when the song became a million-seller for Elvis, Otis claimed co-authorship. He lost that case). Thornton”s recording became a #1 hit on the R&B charts in 1953 (Video). Her 12-bar blues inspired a plagiarised response song, which turned out to be the first ever record released by Sun Records, Sam Phillips” label which would go on to produce Elvis.

Three years after Thornton”s hit, Stoller honeymooning on board of the sinking Andrea Doria. His life was spared (and, like Leiber, he is still with us), and returning to New York, he was greeted at the pier by Leiber with the news that Hound Dog had become a smash hit. “Mama Thornton?” Stoller asked. “No, some white kid named Elvis Presley,” replied Leiber. The songwriters, R&B purists, resented Elvis” version. When, inevitably, they were commissioned to write for Elvis a year later, for the Jailhouse Rock film, they were not particularly happy. As a form of revenge, Leiber wrote for Elvis to sing the line in the title track: “you”re the cutest little jailbird I ever did see.” The prison in Jailhouse Rock was not co-ed. When they finally met Elvis, the songwriters realised that Elvis was a kindred spirit who genuinely shared their love for R&B, and they became good friends. Stoller even appeared in the film, as a piano player.

Elvis” Hound Dog went on to sell 4 million copies in its first release in the US; it”s flip side, the wonderful Don”t Be Cruel, also reached #1. In Britain, the critics were not enthusiastic, even if Hound Dog became a big hit there too. The jazzheads at the venerable Melody Maker were particularly unimpressed. In an exceptionally scathing review, which described Hound Dog as being possessed by “sheer repulsiveness coupled with the monotony of incoherence”, Steve Race opined: “I fear for the country which ought to have the good taste and the good sense to reject music so decadent.” He had no advice as to how one might repel the Rock “˜n” Roll tide, but with regard to Elvis, he rather deliciously offered to leave him  “with his “˜rectinbutter houn dogger” and merely echo his last and only comprehensible line: “˜You ain”t no friend of mine”.”

Also recorded by: Billy Starr (1953), Tommy Duncan (1953), Eddie Hazelwood (1953), Jack Turner (1953), Cleve Jackson (1953), Gene Vincent (1956), Scotty Moore (1964), Everly Brothers (1965), The Easybeats (1967), Jimi Hendrix (1967), Nat Stuckey (1969), Ross McManus (1970), Albert King (1970), James Burton (1971), John Entwistle  (1973), Sha Na Na (1973), Johnny Farago (1977), Ral Donner (1979), Shakin’ Stevens (1983), Tales Of Terror (1984), The Residents (1989), Eric Clapton (1989), Züri West (as Souhung, 1990), Jeff Beck & Jed Leiber (1992), Marva Wright (1993), Bryan Adams (1994), Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express (1996), The Lord Lucan Quartet (1999), Jimmy Barnes (2000), Status Quo (2000), Etta James (2000), The Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio (2003), Robert Palmer (2003), Porterhouse Bob (2005), James Taylor (2008) a.o.


Tippie & the Clovers ““ Bossa Nova Baby.mp3 (new link)
Elvis Presley ““ Bossa Nova Baby.mp3

tippie-the-cloversAnother Leiber & Stoller composition, Bossa Nova Baby has been unjustly regarded by some as a bit of a displeasing novelty number from an Elvis movie (1963″s Fun In Acapulco). Even Elvis is said to have been embarrassed by it. If so, he had no cause: it may not be a bossa nova “” it”s too fast for that “” but it has a infectious tune and a genius keyboard riff which begs to be sampled widely. Perhaps it was the lyrics which had Elvis allegedly shamefaced, but the lines “she said, “˜Drink, drink, drink/Oh, fiddle-de-dink/I can dance with a drink in my hand”” are not much worse than some of the doggerel our man was forced to croon in his movie career as singing racing driver/pineapple heir/bus conductor. Or perhaps Elvis was embarrassed by the idea of including a notional bossa nova number in a movie set in Mexico.

Tippie & the Clovers, who were signed to Leiber and Stoller”s Tiger label, recorded it first in 1962 to cash in on the bossa nova craze. Apparently the composer’s preferred the Clovers’ version of Elvis’. These were the same Clovers, incidentally, who had scored a #23 hit with Love Potion No. 9 (also written by Leiber & Stoller and later covered to greater chart effect by the Searchers) on Atlantic in 1959.

Also recorded by: Cosmic Voodoo (2007)


Jerry Reed ““ Guitar Man.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Guitar Man.mp3

jerry-reedJerry Reed was a country singer who toiled for a dozen years before scoring a hit in 1967 with Tupelo Mississippi Flash “” a song about Elvis. The same year Elvis chose to record Reed”s Guitar Man (the composer is listed as Jerry Hubbard, the singer”s real surname), and Reed played guitar on it. In 1968, Elvis also had a hit with Reed”s US Male, originally written in 1966. Reed, who died last August, had enjoyed some success as a songwriter before (such as Johnny Cash”s A thing called love) and later became a three-time Grammy winner, including one for his 1970 LP of duets with occasional Elvis associate Chet Atkins, and part-time movie actor, usually as a Burt Reynolds sidekick.

For Elvis, Guitar man was a redemption of sorts after the degradation of Clambake. His performance of the song at the Elvis “68 Comeback Special is one of the best moments of the show.

Also recorded by: Bob Luman (1969), Jesus and Mary Chain (1990), Junior Brown (2001)


Bing Crosby ““ Blue Hawaii.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Blue Hawaii.mp3

waikiki-weddingWe”ll take a look at the more famous hit from Elvis” 1961 movie Blue Hawaii “” one of his most popular and the one with his best-selling soundtrack “” in the next Elvis Originals Special on Friday.

Blue Hawaii was written by Leo Robin & Ralph Rainger (who also wrote Bob Hope”s signature song Thank You For The Memory) for the 1937 movie Waikiki Wedding, starring Bing Crosby and Shirley Ross. Crosby recorded it for the movie and scored a #5 hit with it that year. Robin”s other great contribution to music was to author the Marilyn Monroe hit Diamonds Are A Girl”s Best Friend.

Also recorded by: Frank Sinatra (1958), Willie Nelson (1992), David Byrne (2008)


Brenda Lee ““ Always On My Mind.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Always On My Mind.mp3

brenda-leeDepending on where you live and how old you are, this may be Elvis” song or Willie Nelson”s, or perhaps the Pet Shop Boys” (who had a hit with it in late 1987 after earlier performing it on a TV special to mark the 10th anniversary of Elvis” death). Originally it was Brenda Lee”s, released in May 1972. It was not a big hit for her, reaching only #45 in the country charts. Somehow Elvis heard it and found the lyrics expressed his emotions at a time when the marriage to Priscilla was collapsing. He recorded it later in 1972. Released as the b-side to the top 20 hit Separate Ways, Always On My Mind was a #16 hit in the country charts. In the UK, however it was a top 10 hit, and became better know in Europe than in the US.

The song was co-written by the singer Mark James, who will feature in a future instalment of the Elvis Originals series with a song which also articulated Elvis” marital emotions. Another co-writer was Wayne Carson (Thompson), who a few years earlier had written the “60s classic The Letter, a hit for Elvis” fellow Memphians the Box Tops.

Also recorded by: Willie Nelson (1982), Big Daddy (1985), David Hasselhoff (1985), Pet Shop Boys (1987), Alvin & the Chipmunks  (1988), The Starsound Orchestra (1992), James Galway (1994), David Axelrod (1995), Chris de Burgh (1995), Caroline Henderson (1997), Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson (1998), David Osborne (1998), James Last (1998), El Vez (1999), Willie Nelson, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora (2002), Anne Murray (2002), DJ QuickSilver presents Base Unique (2002), Jade Villalon (2002), B.B. King (2003), Fantasia Barrino  (2004), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2004), Ryan Adams and The Cardinals (2005), Julio Iglesias (2006 – what took him so long?), Michael Bublé (2007), Roch Voisine (2008) a.o.

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Great covers: The Clash – London Calling (1979)

January 26th, 2009 4 comments

I cannot claim to be highly original when I big up the cover of The Clash’s 1979 London Calling double-album. It appears to features in every list of best cover art in rock. Still, the series is about my favourite covers, the kind of LP sleeves I’d display on my wall. If my taste coincides with received wisdom, who am I to rebel against universal acclaim. Unlike the previous covers I discussed, the musical content of this one leaves me mostly cold. Oh, I do realise the significance and applaud the righteousness and all that. But I”m not a great Clash fan, and the album– hmmm…well, I don’t hate it. Read more…

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The Originals Vol. 14

January 21st, 2009 11 comments

Jerry Jeff Walker – Mr. Bojangles (1968).mp3
Bobby Cole ““ Mr. Bojangles (1968).mp3
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band ““ Mr. Bojangles (1971).mp3
Sammy Davis Jr ““ Mr. Bojangles (1972).mp3

jerry-jeff-walkerThere is no truth to the old chestnut that Mr Bojangles tells the story of the great Bill Robinson. Folk/country singer Jerry Jeff Walker, who wrote and first recorded the song, tells the story of being in a New Orleans holding cell for public disorderliness with, among others, a street dancer (a white one, because cells were segregated). These public performers were generically nicknamed Bojangles (after Robinson). This man told his tales of life and of his grief for his dog. Urged on by the other cellmates, he proceeded to give them a tap dance. In 1968, three years after the incident, Walker recorded the song about that experience. Mr Bojangles is by far his most famous contribution to popular music. The second-most important would be to inspire Townes van Zandt to start writing songs.

The song was covered by several well known performers but became a hit only in 1971, when the Nitty Gritty Band took it the US #9, drawing from Walker”s folk arrangement. The best, and probably best-known, version was recorded a year later, drawing from the arrangement of Bobby Cole”s version (props to Ill Folks blog), which was in the lower reaches of the US charts at the same time as Walker”s. Cole added to the song the vaudeville sounds which evoked the tap-dancing ambience. It was that quality of Cole”s version from which Sammy Davis Jr seems to have drawn. Sammy was a hoofer himself, of course, so in his younger days would have known many characters such as Mr Bojangles, even in his family of entertainers. Sammy could identify with the song, and he delivers a beautiful performance, with the right mix of carefree spirit (the whistling) and drama which his protagonist projects. To some the line about the dog gone dying might be overwrought; I get goosebumps when I hear it.

Also recorded by: Rod McKuen (1968), Neil Diamond (1969), The Byrds (1969), Harry Nilsson (1969), Neil Diamond (1969), Lulu (1970), Harry Belafonte (1970), John Denver (1970), Ronnie Aldrich & his Two Pianos (1971), Nina Simone (1971), King Curtis (1971), Nancy Wilson (1971), David Bromberg (1972), John Holt (1973), Bob Dylan (1973), Esther Phillips (1986), Chet Atkins (1996), Edwyn Collins (1997), Steve Hall (1997), Whitney Houston (1998), Magna Carta (2000), Robbie Williams (2001), Jamie Cullum (2003), Luba Mason (2004), The Bentones (2005), Ray Quinn (2007) and loads of others for whom I have no years of recording: Frank Sinatra, Glenn Yarbrough, Arlo Guthrie, Frankie Laine, Elton John, Michael Bublé, and more.


Pino Donaggio – Io che non vivo (senza te).mp3
Dusty Springfield ““ You Don”t Have To Say You Love Me.mp3

pino-donaggioPino Donaggio is best known as a composer of the scores for films such as Don”t Look Now, Carrie and Dressed To Kill. But before that, he was a big pop star in Italy, having abandoned the classical training he received as a teenager (and which prepared him for his soundtrack career) for pop after performing with Paul Anka in the late 1950s.

He performed Io che non vivo (senza te), which he wrote with Vito Pallavicini, at the San Remo Festival in 1965 with the country singer Jody Miller. Dusty Springfield was there and then asked Vicki Wickham, producer of the British music TV show Ready Steady Go! and a songwriter, to set the song to English lyrics for her. Wickham asked Simon Napier-Bell (one-time manager of the Yardbirds, Marc Bolan and Wham!) to help her. Napier-Bell later remembered that they wrote the lyrics in a taxi. Springfield”s version (reportedly recorded in 47 takes) was released in 1966 and became one of her signature hits.

The original title means, roughly translated, “I, who cannot live without you”. My Italian being rusty, I have no idea how Donaggio riffed on that theme (EDIT: Paolo helps us out in the comments section). The English lyrics express the “If you love someone, let them go” motto. The intent of the lyrics may be the converse of the original (I don”t know, and nor did Napier-Bell), but the dramatic arrangement does not differ substantially “” other than Dusty”s mighty, heartbroken vocals begging the object of her unrequited affection to decline her offer of romantic freedom.

Also recorded by: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (1966), John Davidson (1966), Carla Thomas (1966), Cher (1966), Vikki Carr (1966), Jackie De Shannon (1966), Connie Francis (1967), Matt Monro (1967), Bill Medley (1968), Kiki Dee (1970), Elvis Presley (1970), Guys & Dolls (1976), Helen Reddy (1981), Tanya Tucker (1981), Ferrante & Teicher (1992), Maureen McGovern (1992), Denise Welch (1995), Clarence Carter (1997), Brenda Lee (1998), Marti Jones (2000), Fire-Ball (2004), Jill Johnson (2007), John Barrowman (2008), Shelby Lynne (2008) a.o.


The Strangeloves ““ I Want Candy.mp3
Bow Wow Wow ““ I Want Candy.mp3

strangelovesI Want Candy originally was a Bo Diddley-inspired 1965 US #11 hit for the Strangeloves, a joke project of songwriter/producers Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer (the latter would go on to produce the likes of Blondie and the Go-Go”s, and co-founded the Sire label on which Madonna launched her career). The conceit was that the Strangeloves were Australian brothers who had made a fortune by crossbreeding a new type of sheep, named after Gottehrer. The gag did not acquire much public traction, but it did present a problem when I Want Candy”s success imposed the demand for live performances by the Strangeloves. The three producers solved the problem by putting together a band of session musicians. Their adventures on the road will form part of the story in the next entry.

The touring versions of the Strangeloves were artificially put together, as were Bow Wow Wow 15 years later, albeit with much more of a plan. After he had finished managing the punk version of the Spice Girls, Malcolm McLaren went on to inspire Adam Ant & the Ants to success, and just as the group got there, stole the Ants from Adam to form a new group, Bow Wow Wow, in 1980. Ever mindful of the gimmick imperative, he found a precocious 14-year-old girl to front the band, Burmese-born Annabella Lwin (born Myint Myint Aye, which allegedly means High High Cool “” my Burmese is as rusty as my Italian).

Lwin was not shy to flaunt her sexuality, appearing nude on the cover of the group”s debut album, simply titled See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over Go Ape Crazy. The now15-year-old”s parents were so outraged that they threatened to institute legal action against McLaren. Evidently Malcolm got the girl”s parents around to his point of view: the single cover for I Want Candy depicted Annabella again in a state of some undress. McLaren, incidentally, had considered a second singer to partner Lwin, but the artist he had in mind, going by the name Lieutenant Lush, was considered to wild. The disorderly vocalist went on to find success as Boy George.


Bow Wow Wow”s 1982 version of I Want Candy was produced by Kenny Laguna, who at the time was scoring big with singers such as Joan Jett and Kenny Loggins. The story goes that Laguna had the band already in the Florida studio to record the song when he realised that he had no recording, no lyrics and no songsheet for it. So he got in touch with Richard Gottehrer (at the time in a studio recording another cover version, the Go-Go”s Vacation) who taught him the song over the telephone. Gottehrer also had to persuade Laguna that the guitar hook was an integral part of the song. Bow Wow Wow were not pleased with what they considered a bubble gum song. Still, it was their only hit, reaching #9 in the UK. It was only a minor hit in the US. Yet, strong rotation on MTV ensured its status as an “80s classic.

Also recorded by: Brian Poole And The Tremeloes (1965), The Bishops (1978), The Bouncing Souls (1994), Chrome (1995), Candy Girls (1996), Black Metal Box (1997), Aaron Carter (1998), Good Charlotte (2001), Melanie C (2007)


The Vibrations – My Girl Sloopy.mp3
The McCoys ““ Hang On Sloopy.mp3

The Debs – Sloopy’s Gonna Hang On.mp3
vibrationsEarlier in the series, The McCoys featured with their original of Sorrow, famously covered by David Bowie. Oddly enough, the group”s 1965 signature hit, Hang On Sloopy, was a cover version, of the Vibrations” 1964 US top 30 hit My Girl Sloopy, written by the legendary Bert Berns (who also had an association with the Strangeloves) and Wes Farrell. The Vibrations were a soul group from Los Angeles which kept going well into the 1970s; one if their members, Ricky Owens, even joined the Temptations very briefly. Several of their songs are Northern Soul classics (which basically means that they were so unsuccessful that the records are rare).

I promised in the entry for I Want Candy that the story of the Strangeloves would have a sequel. Our three producer heroes were on tour, shadowing the session musicians playing their songs, when they decided My Girl Sloopy should be the follow-up to I Want Candy. The Dave Clark Five, on tour with the Strangeloves, got wind of it, and said they”d record Sloopy too. So the Strangelove trio, afraid that the Dave Clark Five might have a hit with the song before they could release theirs, acted fast to scoop the English group. They recruited an unknown group based in Dayton, Ohio, called Rick and the Raiders, renamed them The McCoys, and in quick time released the retitled Hang On Sloopy.

But it wasn”t all the McCoys playing on the single, only singer Rick Zehringer (later Derringer) performed on it “” his vocals having been overlaid on the version already recorded by the Strangeloves, and a guitar solo added to it. The single was a massive hit, reaching the US #1. In 1985 it was adopted as the official rock song of Ohio (honestly). And, for the hell of it, there”s also the answer song by The Debs. Oh, and the Sloopy of the title is jazz singer Dorothy Sloop.

Also recorded by: The Invictas (1965), Quincy Jones (1965), Little Caesar & The Consuls (1965), The Newbeats (1965), The Yardbirds (1965), Jan & Dean (1965), The Eliminators (1966), The Raves (1966), The Wailers (1966), Ramsey Lewis Trio (1966), The Phantoms (1966), The Supremes (1966), The Fevers (1966), Count Basie & his Orchestra (1968), The Lettermen (1970), Ramsey Lewis (1973), Skid Row (1976), BAP (1980, in the Cologne dialect Kölsch), Daddy Memphis (1998), Aaron Carter (2000), Die Toten Hosen (2000), Saving Jane (2006)


don-gibsonDon Gibson – I Can’t Stop Loving You.mp3
Ray Charles – I Can’t Stop Loving You.mp3

It is a mark of Ray Charles” genius that he, the Father of Soul, took a country song to the US #1, still sounding like a country song. It is fair to say that sometimes there is a pretty thin line between southern soul and country. Brook Benton is perhaps the best example of a soul singer casually entering country territory. Indeed, it is that cross-germination of white country and black R&B which helped give rise to Rock & Roll, a musical form of racial integration which anticipated the intensification of the civil rights struggle. But that is a debate for another day, unhelpfully dealt with in 35 words.

raycharlesWhen Ray Charles released his seminal Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (in 1962, at the height of the civil rights struggle), he let it be known that country music has soul “” an elementary truth which the haters of the genre have too easily ignored. Don Gibson, hardly the prototype for sweaty, sexy party music, had soul. You can hear it on his 1958 original of I Can”t Stop Loving You, one of 150 country songs shortlisted for the Ray Charles LP. If anything, Ray Charles (and arranger Sid Feller) added Nashville schmaltz to the song. Indeed, it is the one song on the album that is still recognisably a country number. This wasn”t Charles” first foray into country. A few years earlier he had recorded Hank Snow”s I”m Movin” On.

Gibson recorded I Can”t Stop Loving You during the same December 1957 session that produced the great country classic, Oh Lonesome Me (which Johnny Cash later covered to great effect, and one of the few covers Neil Young ever recorded). I Can”t Stop”¦ was the b-side to Oh Lonesome Me, a US top 10 hit. Before Ray Charles got hold of it, the song had already been covered several times, including a version by Roy Orbison. Indeed, at the same time the song was a b-side for Gibson, Kitty Wells had a big hit with it in the country charts.

Also recorded by: Kitty Wells (1958), Roy Orbison (1960), Rex Allen (1961), Rick Nelson (1961), Tab Hunter (1962), John Foster (as Non finirò d’amarti, 1962), Connie Francis (1962), Bobby Sitting & the Twistin’ Guy’s (1962), Hank Locklin (1962), Grant Green (1962), The Ventures (1963), Count Basie (1963), Peggy Lee (1963), Paul Anka (1963), Webb Pierce (1963), Ferlin Husky (1963), Floyd Cramer (1964), Faron Young (1964), Jim Reeves (1964), Jean Shepard (1964), Nancy Wilson (1964), Chet Atkins & Hank Snow (1964), Frank Sinatra & Count Basie (1964), Dinah Shore (1965), Tom Jones (1965), Gene Pitney (1965), George Semper (1966), Tennessee Ernie Ford (1966), Bettye Swann (1967), Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers (1968), Jimmy Dean (January 1968), Long John Baldry (1968), Jerry Lee Lewis (1969, as a blues), Elvis Presley (1969), Jim Nabors (1970), Eddy Arnold (1971), Charlie McCoy (1972), Conway Twitty (1972), Sammi Smith (1977), Jerry Lee Lewis (1979, as a country song), Van Morrison (1991), Arlen Roth (1993), Diane Schuur & B.B. King (1994), Anne Murray (2002), John Scofield (2005), Mica Paris (2005), Martina McBride (2005) a.o.

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Great covers: Donald Fagen – The Nightfly (1982)

January 15th, 2009 11 comments

The cover of The Nightfly is my default answer when the question of favourite LP sleeves comes up. I”m not sure whether it actually is my favourite (how can there be just one anyway), but it is not a false answer either. Read more…

The Originals Vol. 13 – Elvis edition 1

January 8th, 2009 5 comments

After a three-months absence, The Originals are returning. I must admit to having been discouraged from continuing it after more than half of the previous instalments were DMCAed by Blogger. Happily, the deleted posts were all backed up and are available here. So we resume this series of the lesser known original songs of hits with the first of what may end up to be three or four Elvis Presley specials, the first of them timed to coincide with our man”s 74th birthday.

Roy Brown – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3
Wynonie Harris – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3

Elvis Presley – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3

Some say that Good Rockin” Tonight was the proto Rock “˜n” Roll record. Of course, any claim of inaugurating Rock “˜n” Roll is impossible to validate because the genre was the result of a musical evolution (and it is still evolving). What can be said is that the song, and most certainly Wynonie Harris” 1948 cover, was influential in that evolution. Another vital element in that evolution was the advent of Elvis Presley”s stardom. Good Rockin” Tonight was his second single, following his cover of Arthur Crudup”s That”s Alright Mama. So it is faintly ironic that Presley”s version draws more from Brown”s 1947 jump blues original (deleting, however, the by then outdated litany of R&B figures) than from Harris” R&B cover.

It was not the most popular of Elvis” early tunes; his still mostly country audience was still unsure about the influence of what was then called “race music” on the future legend”s sound. In those embryonic days of Elvis” stardom, his most popular song seemed to be the flip side of That”s Alright, Blue Moon Of Kentucky.

Also recorded by: Rick Nelson (1958), Pat Boone, James Brown, Shakin’ Stevens and The Sunsets (1972), Jerry Lee Lewis (1979), Gene Summers (1981), Contraband (1991), Paul McCartney (1991)

Carl Perkins – Blues Suede Shoes.mp3
Elvis Presley – Blues Suede Shoes.mp3

It is difficult to pinpoint at which point Elvis became a superstar, or with which hit. He was a local star as soon as his debut single hit the Memphis airwaves, and a regional star soon after. Arguably, his nascent stardom was not built so much on hit recordings than on his incendiary performances delivered on intensive tours. On these tours, he often shared a bill with his Sun labelmates Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

It was on one such tour in November 1955, in Gladewater, Texas, that Cash gave Perkins the idea for a song (in return for Perkins inspiring the title for Cash”s future hit I Walk The Line), based on a catchphrase by one C.V. White, an African-American GI Cash had served with in West Germany. White, the story as told by one of Cash”s GI friends goes, was about to go out for the weekend when another soldier accidentally trod on White”s black army issue shoes, whereupon White exclaimed: “I don”t care what you do with my Fräulein or what you do with whatever, but don”t step on my blues suede shoes.” The joke, obviously, was that White was not actually wearing such shoes (which, in any case, where not in fashion), but regulation issue army shoes. Soon after, Perkins was at a dance when he saw a young man being visibly upset with his pretty date for stepping on his, you guessed it, blue suede shoes. Sufficiently inspired, he immediately wrote the lyrics on a paper potato sack, giving birth to one of Rock “˜n” Roll”s great classics.

It may have been the first true crossover record; it certainly was the first to chart simultaneously in the pop, country and R&B charts, in early 1956. As the song was rising in the charts, Perkins was laid low by a serious car crash on the way to performing his hit on the Ed Sullivan Show. While he was recuperating, he heard former Sun labelmate Elvis announcing on the Milton Berle Show that his next single would be Blues Suede Shoes, which he proceeded to perform, as he would twice more before releasing the single. Although Perkins was unable to promote the song further, it went on to sell more than a million copies. By arrangement, Elvis waited until Perkins” version had peaked. Released so soon after Perkins” hit, Elvis” version reached no higher than #20 on the charts. Yet, public consciousness associates the song more closely with Elvis than with its author, possibly because he performed it several times on television, and riffed on the footwear in a few skits on these shows.

Perkins, whose career or health never really recovered from the car crash, was philosophical about Elvis scoring the more lasting hit, saying that Presley had the image and the looks, and he did not. He surely was less placid about not receiving writer”s royalties until a court found in his favour in 1977.

Also recorded by: Roy Hall (1956), Boyd Bennett and His Rockets (1956), Cliff Richard and The Shadows (1959), Bill Haley and His Comets (1960), Conway Twitty (1960), Eddie Cochran (1962), Dave Clark Five (1965), Beacon Street Union (1968), John Lennon (1969), Ross McManus (1970), Albert King (1970), Johnny Halliday (1971), Jimi Hendrix (1972), Johnny Rivers (1973), Dean Reed (1976), Merle Haggard (1977), Ry Cooder (1982), Toy Dolls (1983), The Residents (1989), Lemmy & The Upsetters (1990), Medicine Head (1994), Agents & Scotty Moore & DJ Fontana (2001) a.o.

Glen Reeves – Heartbreak Hotel.mp3
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel.mp3

Elvis” national breakthrough hit was written by Thomas Durden and Mae Boren Axton (school teacher, mother of Hoyt Axton, some-time associate of “Colonel” Tom Parker, manager of Hank Snow and “Queen Mother of Nashville”), with Elvis specifically in mind. Durden got the idea for the song when he read about a Florida man whose suicide note ended with the elegiac line: “I walk a lonely street.” Durden and Axton had asked their friend Glen Reeves to help write the song. Reeves declined but did record the demo in what he believed to be Elvis” style. Presented with the demo, Elvis insisted that this should be his first single for RCA (the deal with whom Axton had mediated).

Elvis” version (which featured Chet Atkins on guitar) is structurally little different from Reeve’s demo, and even the vocals don”t depart much from Reeve”s template. Still, Presley received an utterly undeserved co-writer credit, apparently at the insistence of Parker as a reward for recording the song in first place. One has to admire that bastard”s nerve. Durden defended the added credit by saying that Presley”s take changed the song substantially from the original. Mr Durden clearly was a more gracious individual than most of us.

Also recorded by: Stan Freberg (1956), Connie Francis (1959), Conway Twitty (1960), Scotty Moore (1964), Buddy Love (1964), Sha Na Na (1969), Albert King (1970), Ross McManus (1970), Frijid Pink (October 1970), Delaney Bramlett (1971), Johnny Halliday (1974), John Cale (1974), The James Gang (1975), Johnny Farago (1976), Suzi Quatro (1977), Merle Haggard (1977), Tanya Tucker (1978), Ronnie McDowell (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Willie and Leon (1979), The Vandals (1982), The Residents (1989), The Chipmunks (1990), Dread Zeppelin (1990), Neil Diamond & Kim Carnes (1992), Billy Joel (1992), Lynyrd Skynyrd (1994), El Vez (1999), Lemmy & Friends (2000), Helmut Lotti (2002) a.o.

Smiley Lewis – One Night Of Sin.mp3
Elvis Presley – One Night.mp3

The dentally-challenged Smiley Lewis (who featured earlier in this series with I Hear You Knocking) was an influential R&B singer who never accomplished legendary status. And then Elvis even emasculated his R&B hit about the attraction of a desperate one-night stand. Where Smiley in 1956 asked for one night of sin, Elvis a year later went for the more ambiguous and less sexual “one night with you” (which might, for all we care, be spent holding hands). Elvis also recorded a version with the original lyrics, which went unreleased until a few years ago, when it appeared on a box set.

Lewis” version was a hit on the R&B charts, but failed to crack the pop charts. Written by Dave Bartholomew and Dave King, One Night was among the many Elvis songs which his label, RCA, held over for release while he was in the army. It finally came out in 1958, as a double A-side with I Got Stung, and reached #2 on the US charts, and in 1959 #1 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Fats Domino (1961), Johnny Farago (1967), Albert King (1970), Jackie Brown (1971), Tami Lynn (1971), Shakin” Stevens and The Sunsets (1972), Fancy (1974), Mud (1975), Ronnie McDowell (1978), José Feliciano (1983), Joe Cocker (1989), Billy Ray Cyrus (1994), Helmut Lotti (2002)

Hank Snow ““ (Now And Then There”s) A Fool Such As I.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ A Fool Such As I.mp3

Canadian-born country icon Hank Snow can be described as one of the most significant men in Elvis” career. As a youngster, Elvis was a big fan of country”s two big Hanks “” Williams and Snow. Their music influenced the young Presley, who did regard himself as a country singer, with pretensions towards white gospel, before the term Rock “˜n” Roll gained currency (which did not prevent the wife-beating gospel singer Ira Louvain from calling an initially admiring Elvis to his face a “white nigger”, or a variation thereof).

It was Snow who gave Elvis a supporting slot at Nashville”s Grand Ole Opry, the mecca of country music. And it was Snow who cultivated Elvis when Tom Parker wanted to sign the young singer. Indeed, the clean-cut Snow persuaded Elvis” mother, Gladys, that her son would be well looked after under a new management which would include his tutorship. Driving home after the decisive meeting, a pleased Snow mentioned to Parker that they would earn good money from managing Elvis. With the ink on the contract barely dry, Parker instructed Snow to read it: it made no mention of Snow whatsoever. The “Colonel” had pulled his first vicious trick as Elvis” manager.

The Elvis cover of Snow”s 1952 song A Fool Such As I (which Snow co-wrote with Bill Trader and first appeared as a single b-side), was released in March 1959 and was a US #2 and UK #1 hit. While Jo Stafford enjoyed a hit with it a year after Snow”s recording, it is most probable that Elvis was inspired by Snow”s more mournful (and, it must be said, superior) version.

Also recorded by: Jo Stafford (1953), Tommy Edwards (1953), The Bell Susters (1953), The Robins (1953), Eddy Arnold (1956), Bill Haley and His Comets (1959), Jim Reeves (1959), Petula Clark (1960), Doris Day (1963), Davy Kaye (1964), Bob Dylan (1967 & 1969, released in 1973), Rodney Crowell (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Peabo Bryson (1981), The Residents (1989), Bailie & the Boys (1990), Don Walsere (1998), Anne Murray (2002), Raul Malo (2007), Batmobile (2007), Josh Ritter (2008) a.o.

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Will you be my friend?

January 6th, 2009 8 comments


And so Any Major Dude With Half A Heart has taken the plunge into Facebook world. Why? Well, I have no friends in real life….. As the Beauty Shop sang in their fantastic 2006 non-hit A Desperate Cry For Help: “And all the friends I used to have went and formed a hate club.”

So, if you’re feeling sufficiently sorry for me, look up Amd Whah (not my real name) on Facebook and become my friend.

Actually, the idea is to provide a manual RSS link: status updates will flag new postings and assorted bon mots about things I’m not blogging about. It might be a way to communicate between blogger and reader “” blogging is all a bit one-way. And it would be nice to call readers of my disjointed ramblings my friends.

Just don’t poke me.

Two songs to bribe entice you: the above mentioned A Desperate Cry For Help, which might be my most-played song over the past two years (everybody should love this song), and the rousing 1983 hit song by my near namesakes, the Mighty Wah!

The Beauty Shop – A Desperate Cry For Help.mp3
Wah! – The Story Of The Blues.mp3

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Intros Quiz – 1964 edition

January 5th, 2009 1 comment

bravo_64In this year’s monthly intros quizzes, we’ll continue the five-year cycle, starting in 1964 (next month will cover 1969 and so on). As always, twenty intros to hit songs from that year of 5-7 seconds in length. All where single releases that yeay, except the well-known first intro, and all were hits that year.

The answers will be posted in the comments section by Thursday. As always, if the pesky number 17 bugs you, e-mail me at halfhearteddude [at) gmail [dot] com for the answers.

Intros Quiz – 1964 edition.mp3

The cover of Germany’s Bravo magazine, incidentally, comes from Cover Browser, an absolute treasure trove.

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Great covers: Johnny Cash – American Recordings (1994)

January 2nd, 2009 6 comments

A new year, and a new series. Here I plan to visit album covers which I like. I have no idea if they are the best ever “” an entirely subjective game anyway “” but the featured covers will have made some kind of impression on me. To limit things further, I think I”ll feature only cover art of albums I actually own. We kick things off with Johnny Cash. Read more…