Archive for March, 2020

The Originals – Country Edition

March 26th, 2020 5 comments

Here’s a mix of originals of country hits, and the stories behind some of them. For those who expect a lot of hackneyed yee-haw’s and songs about dogs that gone and died, there may be little satisfaction. But many of these songs bear out what was made so clear in Ken Burns’ recent magisterial documentary series on the history of country music: the great songs are about the stories. Listen to country for its sounds or reject it for the same reasons, but if you hear the words, you’ll have great entertainment regardless of how you feel about the odd twang or dobro.

The potted History of Country I wrote some years ago is still available as as e-book as a free download.

And the greatest of all country songs, Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down was treated with its remarkable story in a songswarm. I include the first released recording, by Ray Price, as a bonus track.


A Boy Named Sue
The Johnny Cash signature tune 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, on Any Major Originals – The Classics).

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 was 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 (Joni Mitchell’s 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 ever 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 (Find it on the Any Major Fathers Vol. 1 mix). Oh, and Mandark in Dexter’s Laboratory is in fact called Susan.


Rose Garden
Before Lynn Anderson had a hit with it in early 1971, Rose Garden had been recorded by two soul acts — Dobie Gray and The Three Degrees — and before them, in 1968, by its writer, Joe South, who had in 1967 given the song to his old pal Billie Joe Royal. South had written Royal’s two best-known songs, Down in the Boondocks and Hush. Both of those were singles; Rose Garden remained an album track on the unwieldily titled Billy Joe Royal Featuring ‘Hush’. South’s far superior version was also just an album track (he’d have a hit later with Games People Play).

Lynn Anderson almost did not record the song. Execs at her record company, Columbia, didn’t like it much and thought it inappropriate for a woman to sing a song which represents a male perspective (for example in the line “I could promise you things like big diamond rings”). As it happened, there was some spare time during a studio session, and the track was recorded. The label’s micro-managing head, Clive Davis, heard it and decided that it should be Anderson’s next single. It was a big hit in the US and Europe, and Anderson’s version remained the biggest selling recording by any female country artist until 1997.

I think Rose Garden should have been recorded by Elvis in his American Sounds Studio period (which yielded tracks like Suspicious Minds and In The Ghetto); it could have been huge.


Detroit City
It took a name-change from the song’s best-known line to the geographically-specific Detroit City for Bobby Bare to score his first big hit, in 1963. Before Bare changed the title to Detroit City, the song was known as I Wanna Go Home, and had been a country hit for Billy Grammer a few months earlier. The famous guitar figure that kicks off Bare’s hit version also features in Grammer’s version, but in the middle of the song.

Grammer, later a guitar designer, had a way of riffing on life on the road; in 1959 he had a million-seller with Gotta Travel On— which Bare would dutifully cover as well. I Wanna Go Home was written by Danny Dill and Mel Tillis (who also wrote Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town).


Streets Of Baltimore
Tompall Glaser was one of the original country Outlaws — in fact, he owned the studio where the term was coined on account of the artists who recorded there. With his brothers, he supported Johnny Cash on tour in the early 1960s before as Tompall & The Glaser Brothers they signed for MGM Records in 1966.

The same year Tompall co-wrote Streets Of Baltimore, the sad story of a man who selflessly gives up everything, including his farm back in Tennessee, so as to fulfil his woman’s dream of living in Baltimore — with no happy ending, at not least for him.

Tompall’s cousin Dennis, who worked for him, told me in an e-mail in 2009 that the original song had many more verses. “Harlan [Howard; the legendary country hit writer] told me once that Tompall stopped by his office and gave him a copy of what he’s written, which was much longer than the final version. And said: “˜Here, fix it’. It sounds like something Tom would say.’

But the Glasers didn’t recorded the song first; Bobby Bare did, possibly after having been given the song by Harlan Howard. Recorded in April 1966 (produced by Chet Atkins) his version was released as a single in June 1966; the Glasers’ was recorded in September. Bare went on to have hit with it, reaching #7 on the Country charts. The song became more famous in the wonderful version by Gram Parsons, which appeared on his 1973 GP album. Likewise, the 1998 duet by Nanci Griffiths and John Prine is essential.

Dennis Glaser also said that the song has been mentioned in an American literature textbook “as an example of songs that reflect actual life”.


Make The World Go Away
Written by the legendary country songwriter Hank Cochran, Make The World Go Away was first recorded by Ray Price, but was first released by blue-eyed soul diva Timi Yuro, whose version reached #24 on the Billboard Charts in 1963. Price’s version, which was released a month after Yuro’s, became a huge country hit. But two years later, veteran crooner Eddy Arnold made the sing his own and scored a mammoth hit with.


Crazy Arms
Four years before Make The World Go Away, Ray Price had a massive hit with Crazy Arms, a recording which set the tone for country music for the next decade. But before Price got his hands on it, Crazy Arms was an unremarkable country ballad written in 1949 by steel guitar legend Ralph Mooney while he was in Las Vegas (there are claims that an ill-fated songwriter named Paul Gilley sold the lyrics to Mooney). Singer Wynn Stewart cut an acetate demo, but the song went unrecorded for several years.

In 1956 Mooney sold the song to a California baker named Claude Caviness who had set up a record label, Pep, as a vehicle for his moderately talented singing wife Marilyn Kaye. He had the song recorded as a duet, with Kenny Brown and Kaye doing vocal duty, backed by the Arkansas Ramblers.

Their recording was not a hit, but Price discovered it while visiting a radio station in Florida. He changed some of the lyrics, gave it a new arrangement — and had a huge hit with his recording. When Caviness popped up to claim ownership of the song, Price didn’t fight back but formed a music publishing company with him. That’s how you solve a problem the Nashville way.


Here’s a song that could work on different types of Originals theme: a 1960s theme for the cover by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood; or the country take by Johnny Cash & June Carter, both from 1967. Originally it was a folk piece for the Kingston Trio, release in 1963 and written by Jerry Leiber and Billy Edd Wheeler (who’d later pen the rape tale Coward of the County). Wheeler had no particular Jackson in mind — he liked the sound of the consonants — but Cash decided to place it in Tennessee, where it has remained ever since.


Gonna Get Along Without You
Country went pop in the early 1950s when vocalist Theresa Brewer scored a hit with country singer Roy Hogsed’s I’m Gonna Get Along Without You in 1952, followed by kid duo Patience and Prudence in 1956. It returned to country in 1964 with Skeeter Davis version, considered by country fans as the definitive take. Since then the sing has been recorded, with various tweaks to the title, in different genres, including reggae (The Melodians), funk (The Vibrations), ska (Bad Manners), disco (in Violas Wills’ 1979 hit version from) and alt.rock (The Lemonheads).

Roy Hogsed recorded fairly prolifically between 1947 and 1954, but enjoyed only one minor country hit, Cocaine Blues. He died at 58 in 1978.


You Are My Sunshine
A standard to the point of cliché, You Are My Sunshine was a big hit in 1940 for Jimmie Davis, who’d become governor of Louisana from 1944-48 and 1960-64 (in the latter election campaign, he was a strong segregationist). From Davies’ croonery the song found its place in the canon of the Great American Songbook. But its roots are very much in country.

Its authorship is credited to Davies and his sideman Charles Mitchell, but they had nothing to do with writing. They bought the credit from the Rice Brothers Gang, who were the second outfit to record it. Three weeks before they got around to it, You Are My Sunshine was recorded in August 1939 by The Pine Ridge Boys from Atlanta, an outfit that recorded and performed in various incarnations for decades after.


Tennessee Waltz
On a Friday night in 1946, country singer and accordionist Pee Wee King (who was born by the decidedly un-country name Julius Kuczynski in Milwaukee) was driving with Redd Stewart, fiddler and singer with King’s Golden West Cowboys, to Nashville when the radio played bluegrass legend Bill Monroe’s Kentucky Waltz. Wondering why nobody ever dedicated a waltz to the state of Tennessee — home to country music capital Nashville, after all — they decided to relieve the boredom of the long drive by writing one, setting lyrics, written on a matchbox, to an instrumental they had been playing in concerts, the No Name Waltz.

One might think that Pee Wee King’s version, with Stewart on vocals, would be the first to be recorded. However, he was scooped by Cowboy Copas, who would perish on the plane that killed Patsy Cline (one of the many who later covered Tennessee Waltz). Lloyd Copas had been a singer with Pee Wee King’s band in the early 1940s, succeeding Eddy Arnold. It may be that Pee Wee first gave the song to his old frontman, who made a recording of it in April 1947 for (ironically) King Records in Cincinnatti, and another in June that year. It is most likely the latter recording that was released in March 1948 and became a #3 country hit. Pee Wee King recorded his version in December 1947. Also released in early 1948, it also peaked at #3, but at half a million copies sold more than Copas’ take.

By 1950, Tennessee Waltz had become something of a country classic, and even jazz singer Anita O’Day had covered it, when it became a mammoth crossover hit for Patti Page, whose version remains the best known. It topped the pop, country and R&B charts simultaneously, a unique feat. As so often, the big hit was first a b-side, in this case to the less than immortal Boogie Woogie Santa Claus. For a b-side, much effort went into the production, which used a rudimentary form of vocal overdubbing to go with the backing track by the Jack Rael Orchestra. An acetate was recorded of Page singing the song, and this would be played into one microphone while Page sang into a second microphone. Page’s version of her dad’s favourite song went on to sell 6 million copies.


Wabash Cannonball
The oldest song in this collection is also one of the most influential country songs Wabash Canonball (named after a famous railroad) is best-known in the 1947 version of Ray Acuff, one of the mega stars of country in the ‘40s. But the song itself goes back to at least 1882, with a song titled The Great Rock Island Route credited to J. A. Roff, and to 1904, when an adapted version of it was released under the current title as sheet music by William Kindt.

In 1929 it was first recorded by the Carter Family (and A.P. Carter duly gave himself a writing credit as well), but their version went unreleased for three years. In the interim, 25-year-old banjo picker and radio performer Hugh Cross became the first to release Wabash Cannonball on record, also in 1929, but using the Kindt arrangement.

The song would be recorded several times before 1947, when Acuff had his big hit with it. Funny enough, Acuffs’ had recorded Wabash Cannonball back in 1938, with is band The Tennesseans — but in that session, member Sam “Dynamite” Hatcher did the lead vocals.


Wild Side Of Life / It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels
When in 1952 Kitty Wells released her answer song to Hank Thompson’s The Wild Side Of Life, it caused a sensation. Here a woman dared to answer back to the moaning of a chauvinist. With her hit It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, which in terms of success eclipsed Thompson’s lament, became an inspiration to many women. And it turned the singing housewife Wells into a star.

But neither The Wild Side Of Life nor It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels were first recorded by the gender-battle protagonist who had their chart-topping hits with these songs.

The male perspective was first recorded by Jimmy Heap & The Melody Masters (with Perk William on vocals) in 1951; the answer record by the otherwise rather obscure songstress Al Montgomery was released as Did God Make Honky Tonk Angels a few months before Wells recorded hers.

The melody for both was adapted from a group of similar songs: Thrills That I Can’t Forget by Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz in (1925), The Carter Family’s I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes (1929), and Great Speckled Bird (popularised by Roy Acuff in 1936).


Sweet Dreams
Released after she died in a plane crash, the unusually poppy Sweet Dreams became so associated with Cline that the successful biopic was named after the song. Originally, it was Don Gibson’s song, and his own composition (as was the future Ray Charles hit I Can’t Stop Loving You). Gibson’s version made no inroads, and a cover by Faron Young fared much better. But even though Young’s record did better on the Billboard country charts (#2 against Cline’s #5), it was Cline’s version that became the classic, even crossing over into the pop charts.


The Battle Of New Orleans
Originally a traditional folk song known as The 8th of January, The Battle of New Orleans tells the story of a soldier fighting with the genocidal Andrew Jackson’s army against the British in the 8 January 1815 battle of the title. It was first recorded in 1957 and released the following year by Jimmy Driftwood, a school teacher in Timbo, Arkansas.

Born James Morris, he is said to have been one of the nicest guys in the folk music scene (not surprisingly, he was a collaborator with the great musicologist Alan Lomax). As a history teacher, Driftwood considered song to be an educational device, and so in 1936 (or 1945, depending which sources you believe) he set the fiddle-based folk song to lyrics — there were no definitive words, only snippets of recurring phrases — to benefit his students.

In the 1950s, Driftwood was signed by RCA, and eventually recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, with the label’s session man Chet Atkins on guitar. He later wrote another country classic, Tennessee Stud, which became a hit for Eddy Arnold and Johnny Cash (Tarantino fans will know it from the Jackie Brown soundtrack).

Shortly after Driftwood recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, the doomed country star Johnny Horton did a cover which relied less on manic fiddling and dropped such radio-unfriendly words as “hell” and “damn” — and scored a big hit with it (he even changed the lyrics for the English market, turning the enemy “British” into generic “rebels”).

Horton released several “historical records” (most famous among them, perhaps, Sink The Bismarck), though it would be unfair to reduce his influence on country music to that. A close friend of Johnny Cash’s, Horton died in a car crash in 1960, widowing his wife Billy Jean for the second time — she had been married to Hank Williams when the country legend died. Spookily, both Williams and Horton played their last concerts at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.

Two other takes on The Battle Of New Orleans are notable. In 1959, skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan reached the UK #2 with it — but received no airplay on Aunty Beeb until he changed the word “ruddy” to “blooming”.

The song was revived in 1972 by the Les Humphries Singers, a multi-ethnic and multi-national English-language ensemble of hippie demeanour that was very popular in West Germany with its Ed Hawkins Singers-meet-Hair shtick. Humphries, an Englishman, renamed the song Mexico (not a stretch; that country’s name appears in the original lyrics) and scored a massive hit with his outfit’s joyous rendition. The trouble is, Humphries credited the song to himself, a brazen act of plagiarism. I have found no evidence that Humphries, who died in 2007 at 67, was ever sued for his blatant rip-off.


Queen Of Hearts
Here’s one of those songs that some might know better in its original version, and others as the hit cover. Queen Of Hearts was a UK #11 hit for Welsh singer Dave Edmunds in 1979, and two years later a US #2 hit for the unlikely-named Juice Newton, who is most famous for her cover of Angel Of The Morning (the original of which is yet to run in this series). With Newton, the song came home to the world of country: it was written by Hank DeVito, pedal steel guitarist for Emmylou Harris.

Newton earned a Grammy nomination for best country song for her version, and it was her remake that inspired the veteran French singer Sylvie Vartan, who once performed on a bill with the Beatles, to record her French take on the song (retitled Quand tu veux , or When You Want It). A couple of years earlier Newton had tried to have a hit with another British song, but her version of It’s A Heartache lost out in the US to that by Welsh rasper Bonnie Tyler. Later Newton enjoyed a #11 with another cover. Brenda Lee’s Break It To Me Gently.


1. Dave Edmunds – Queen Of Hearts (1979)
The Usurper: Juice Newton (1981)

2. Shel Silverstein – Boy Named Sue (1968)
The Usurper: Johnny Cash (1968)

3. Ed Bruce – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys (1974)
The Usurper: Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (1978)

4. Billy Joe Royal – I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (1967)
The Usurper: Lynn Anderson (1970)

5. Norro Wilson – Hey Mister (1969)
The Usurper: Charlie Rich (as The Most Beautiful Girl, 1973)

6. Waylon Jennings – Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again) (1971)
The Usurpers: Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller (1971), Tompall & the Glaser Brothers (1981)

7. Bobby Bare – Streets Of Baltimore (1966)
The Usurper: Gram Parsons (1973)

8. Timi Yuro – Make The World Go Away (1963)
The Usurpers: Eddy Arnold (1965), The Osmonds (1975)

9. Billy Brown – He’ll Have To Go (1959)
The Usurper: Jim Reeves (1959)

10. Billy Walker – Funny How Time Slips Away (1959)
The Usurpers: Jimmy Elledge (1961), Willie Nelson (1962), Joe Hinton (1964),

11. Ray Price – Heartaches By The Number (1959)
The Usurper: Guy Mitchell (1959)

12. Merle Travis – Sixteen Tons (1947)
The Usurpers: Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955), Frankie Laine (1956)

13. Kenny Brown & Marilyn Kaye – Crazy Arms (1956)
The Usurper: Ray Price (1959)

14. Don Gibson – Sweet Dreams (1955)
The Usurpers: Faron Young (1956), Patsy Cline (1963)

15. Margie Singleton – Harper Valley PTA (1968)
The Usurper: Jeannie C. Riley (1968)

16. The Kingston Trio – Jackson (1963)
The Usurpers: Johnny Cash & June Carter (1967), Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood (1967)

17. Jimmy Driftwood – Battle Of New Orleans (1958)
The Usurper: Johnny Horton (1959)

18. Billy Grammer – I Wanna Go Home (1963)
The Usurpers: Bobby Bare (as Detroit City, 1963), Tom Jones (1967)

19. Roy Hogsed – I’m Gonna Get Along Without You (1951)
The Usurpers: Patience & Prudence (1956), Skeeter Davis (1964), Viola Wills (1979)

20. Cowboy Copas – Tennessee Waltz (1948)
The Usurpers: Pee Wee King (1948), Patti Page (1950), Les Paul with Mary Ford (1950),

21. Pine Ridge Boys – You Are My Sunshine (1939)
The Usurper: Jimmie Davis (1930), Gene Autry (1941), Bing Crosby (1941),

22. Hugh Cross – Wabash Cannonball (1929)
The Usurper: Roy Acuff (1936)

23. Jimmie Heap – Wild Side Of Life (1951)
The Usurper: Hank Thompson (1952)

24. Al Montgomery – Did God Make Honky Tonk Angels? (1952)
The Usurper: Kitty Wells (1952)

25. Bonnie & Fuzzy Owens – A Dear John Letter (1953)
The Usurper: Ferlin Husky & Jean Shepard (1953)

26. Big Bopper – White Lightning (1958)
The Usurper: George Jones (1959)

27. Paul Davis – Six Days On The Road (1961)
The Usurper: Dave Dudley (1973)

28. Arthur Smith & His Cracker Jacks – Feudin’ Banjos (1955)
The Usurper: Eric Weissberg (as Dueling Banjos, 1972)

Ray Stevens – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down (1969)
The Usurpers: Johnny Cash (1969), Kris Kristofferson (1970)


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Any Major Pandemic

March 18th, 2020 14 comments


There are very few good things about the coronavirus pandemic. But I hope this mix of songs, whose titles refer to this crisis in one way or another, joins clearer skies and balcony-singing in Italy among the few upsides.

Otherwise the effects of this virus are horrible, almost as though scripted by a syndicate of nasty capitalists, possibly headed by a stupid-haired English prime minister with too narrowly-set eyes who believes the culling of old people is good economy.

But all this, too, will pass, and we shall emerge from the Covid-19 wreckage. Possibly unemployed and/or bankrupt (but some tax cuts for the stinking-rich will fix that, I’m sure), but with an experience to tell our grandchildren about. “Yes, Amdwhah III, the US president really said all these idiotic things. Look it up in the hologramnet if you don’t believe me.”

But for now, let’s enjoy this playlist of songs, which effortlessly segues from the hard rock of Hawkwind to hygienic bath-time advice from Ernie and Bert. My one regret is the paucity of suitable songs about toilet paper for inclusion.

Many thanks to commenter “dramref” for song suggestions and making my mind up, on this Wednesday evening, to make this mix.

EDIT: I’m kicking myself for forgetting the song that has given me a conoronavirus earworm (besides The Knack’s My Sharona): Paul Simon’s Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, with the line, “Goodbye Rosie, Queen of Corona”

As always, CD-R length, home-cured covers, PW in comments.

1. Minutemen – Corona (1984)
2. Ramones – You Sound Like You’re Sick (1981)
3. AC/DC – Touch Too Much (1879)
4. Blue Öyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper (1976)
5. The Smiths – Still Ill (1984)
6. Crowded House – Isolation (2010)
7. The Cardigans – Sick & Tired (1994)
8. Hello Saferide – Get Sick Soon (2005)
9. Ben Lee – Catch My Disease (2004)
10. Ronnie Dyson – Fever (1970)
11. Ringo Starr – All By Myself (1974)
12. Thompson Twins – Doctor Doctor (1984)
13. The The – Infected (1986)
14. Joy Division – Transmission (1979)
15. Warren Zevon – Splendid Isolation (1989)
16. Bob Dylan – Suze (The Cough Song) (1963)
17. Kris Kristofferson – Feeling Mortal (2013)
18. Matchbox 20 – Unwell (2003)
19. The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work (1997)
20. Manic Street Preachers – Another Invented Disease (1992)
21. Hawkwind – Choose Your Masques (1982)
22. Ernie & Bert – Everybody Wash (1970)


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Any Major Schlager Covers Vol. 2

March 12th, 2020 4 comments


In a 1979 interview with the Swiss-German pop magazine, Schlager singer Benny was asked whether recording German versions of foreign songs wasn’t a cop-out for producing good local music. Benny answered along the lines that German versions help listeners with no foreign language skills understand the original song.

But Benny was wrong: at the time the singer himself issued versions of Plastic Bertrand’s Ça Plane Pour Moi and Sham 69’s If The Kids Are Alright, and their lyrics failed to resemble the lyrics of the original. The interviewer had a point: good German tunes were thin on the ground, until the New German Wave hit a couple of years later.

In Any Major Schlager Covers Vol. 1 we looked at German covers of international hits, some of which were pretty good, and others were curious. This second mix repeats that exercise.

It kicks off with the most iconic of the lesser-known cover, a cover of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid by the most quintessential of square Schlager singers, the husband-and-wife duo Cindy & Bert. The Sabbath cover was released when they were still doing music part-time, seeing themselves as serious musicians. Soon Cindy & Bert became staples of clap-along Schlager songs, mostly on Fernweh themes of exotic locations and Spanish guitars in Malaga. Cindy & Bert competed in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, which Sweden’s ABBA won while the German pair finished rock bottom of the table.

Some Schlager singers successfully straddled the line between cultured chanson and banal Schlager. One of them was Greek-born and Germany-raised singer Vicky Leandros, whose father gave up his successful music career to mentor his daughter to stardom. His plan worked: Leandros created two of the great Eurovision classics, both in French representing Luxembourg (no Brexit in the Leandros household): L’amour est Bleu and Aprés Toi (better known in English as Love Is Blue and Then Came You; both featured on Any Major Eurovision). Here Leandros, who also did a fine cover of My Sweet Lord, reinterprets The Box Tops’ The Letter.

Likewise, the great Katja Ebstein was a credible singing artist who had success in Schlager (and in the Eurovision Song Contest, which she finished as runner-up three times). She featured in Vol. 1; here she covers Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. In terms of vocals, I prefer Ebstein’s to those of Mitchell or Judy Collins.

Also part of the Schlager scene but transcending it was the sassy Juliane Werding, who as a 16-year-old landed a huge hit with an anti-drug version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Personal problems got in the way of her career which was marked by several comebacks.

The late Jürgen Marcus, on the other hand, was a Schlager singer of the intergenerational clap-along variety, though one always suspected that he could have been much better than that (as did he). His competent but unconvincing cover of the Bee Gees’ Massachussets gives little indication of that, though the arrangement is very nice. Perhaps he was better off singing those catchy Schlager hits.

Also going back to the canon of mid-1960s ballads is Thomas Fritsch’s version of Wichitia Lineman, which also is scored in good taste, with a nice piano solo. Fritsch was an acting star, starting his long career as a child, and never really had great success as a singer.

The weedy voice that croons the Eagles’ New Kid In Town on the old theme of seductive 17-year-olds is that of Frank Farian, who became the male and a female voice of Boney M., and later had Milli Vanilli lip-sync for him.


One act here comes from East-Germany, which was not exactly not a mine of pop jewels. So it seems quite fitting that ABBA would be covered by a choir ensemble, the eight-member Gerd Michaelis Chor. Their cover of Waterloo, recorded soon after ABBA won the Eurovision, does the right thing: play it straight, and accept that it won’t be superior to the original.

As a teenager Suzanne Doucet had her first hit with her German take on The Ronettes’ Be My Baby. The daughter of a well-known psychologist went on to become a prolific songwriter, producer and music entrepreneur, as well as an actress. Much of her career was devoted to new age music.

I take no responsibility for some pretty weird covers here. Rock & roll singer John Dattelbaum’s version of Dion’s Runaway is included for its WTF qualities. In it, the singer styles himself as Mädchenschreck (one who frightens off girls); his vocal performance confirms the validity of the title.

Gaby Baginsky recorded her German version of Paul McCartney’s Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey in 1972, a few years before she became a star with traditionally banal Schlager numbers. Incredibly, somebody thought it was a good idea to, firstly, cover that song, and, secondly, to issue her cover as a single. I recently learnt that I had once seen Baginsky in concert, as a support act. I had no memory of that in any way.

At least four acts here are very much not Schlager stars. Christopher & Michael were protest singers in the 1960s, so it seemed obvious that they would cover Barry McGuire’s Eve Of Destruction. The lyrics are certainly heartfelt, and issue a timely reminder that Germans should look at their own society before calling for “Death to Red Russia”. But some in the protest movement saw the twosome as a bit naïve and embarrassing. Joan Baez didn’t think so: she appeared alongside them during a famous protest in Frankfurt in 1966.

I have written before about Jürgen Zeltinger, an overweight, balding, openly gay punk singer often seen in a kaftan who delivered his lyrics in Kölsch, the dialect specific to Cologne. I’ve also posted his cover of the Ramones’ Rockaway Beach before, but include it here because it is so good.

Marius Müller-Westernhagen was better known as an actor before he became a well-known, often quotable rock singer. His voice was not very good, but his lyrics had punch, often of the satirical variety. And then it wasn’t always clear whether he meant it or not, as it was with his song Dicke (“fat people”), which lyrically more than borrowed from Randy Newman’s Short People. Here Müller-Westernhagen adapts Paul McCartney’s sincere but artless Give Ireland Back To The Irish to a call to give Bavaria back to the Bavarians, for the good of West-Germany. For US readers, it’s a bit like telling Texas to secede for the greater good of the USA — except many secession-minded Bavarians would agree with Marius.

Finally, there is The Hunters doing a German cover of the Sweet’s Fox On The Run. The Hunters were already active as an English-language rock band: The Scorpions.

As a bonus track, I offer you the first German rap record, a cover of Rapper’s Delight performed by a trio of German TV music show presenters: Frank Laufenberg, the superbly-named Manfred Sexauer, and Thomas Gottschalk as G.L.S.-United. It is a total disaster as the trio recall their musical influences: other than Gottschalk mentioning “disco, from time to time” and Sexauer remembering Little Richard, they have no black influences. But they rap…


As always, CD-R length, home-eisbeined covers, PW in comments.

1. Cindy & Bert – Der Hund von Baskerville (1970 – Paranoid)
2. Gus Ferlin – Es steht ein Haus im Westen (1966 – House Of The Rising Sun)
3. Inga – The Beat Goes On (1967 – The Beat Goes On)
4. Lisa Bauer – Song vom Hilfsarbeiter (1971 – Son Of A Preacherman)
5. Peter Horton – Mrs Robinson (1971 – Mrs Robinson)
6. Christopher & Michael – Wir sind am Ende (1965 – Eve Of Destruction)
7. Jürgen Marcus – Warum kann ich deine Liebe nicht vergessen? (1971 – Massachusetts)
8. Thomas Fritsch – Draht in der Sonne (1969 – Wichita Lineman)
9. Howard Carpendale – Heiss wie Feuer (1971 – Ring Of Fire)
10. Bernd Spier – Memphis Tennessee (1964 – Memphis, Tennessee)
11. John Dattelbaum – Mädchenschreck (1961 – Runaway)
12. Suzanne Doucet – Sei mein Baby (1964 – Be My Baby)
13. Die Five Tops – Frag doch nur dein Herz (1965 – Trains And Boats And Planes)
14. Marion Maerz – Warten und hoffen (1971 – Wishing And Hoping)
15. Vicky Leandros – Er hat mir geschrieben (1971 – The Letter)
16. Anita Traversi – Es ist so schön verliebt zu sein (1965 – As Tears Go By)
17. Katja Ebstein – Beide Seiten (1973 – Both Sides Now)
18. Drafi Deutscher – Weil ich Dich liebe (1970 – Wigwam [by Bob Dylan])
19. Frank Farian – Sie war erst 17 (1977 – New Kid In Town)
20. Gerd Michaelis Chor – Waterloo (1974 – Waterloo)
21. Juliane Werding – Da staunste, was (1977 – Howzat)
22. The Hunters (Scorpions) – Fuchs geh’ voran (1975 – Fox On The Run)
23. Zeltinger Band – Müngersdorfer Stadion (1979 – Rockaway Beach)
24. Benny – Bin wieder frei (1978 – Ça Plane Pour Moi)
25. Marius Müller-Westernhagen – Gebt Bayern zurück an die Bayern (1972 – Give Ireland Back To The Irish)
26. Gaby Baginsky – Von Calais nach Dover (1972 – Admiral Halsey)
Bonus:  G.L.S.-United – Rapper’s Deutsch (1980 – Rapper’s Delight)


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In Memoriam – February 2020

March 4th, 2020 3 comments

When a singing star dies in a prison cell as a guest of his dictatorial regime, you know it has been the kind of shitty month when music and politics intersect. The African state of Rwanda might have a respectable looking president and one of Africa’s economic success stories, but opponents of the regime die in its prison cells…

I was also sad to learn of the death on March 2 at 93 of James Lipton, presenter (and so much more) of Inside The Actors Studio. In his honour, I shall do the 10 Questions he asked of his guests in the comments section.

The National Treasure
Few musicians receive a state funeral with flags flying at half-mast, but that is the way South Africa’s government honoured Joseph Shabalala, the founder and leader of the (mostly) a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo after he died at the age of 78. His group came to worldwide notice when they used their distinctive harmonies to back Paul Simon on his (controversial) Graceland album and tour. They went on to win five Grammys and were nominated for countless more. Amid a punishing touring schedule, they released 50 albums since their hit debut in 1973.

The Last Chordette
The final surviving Chordette has lollipopped. Lynn Evans, who appeared on all the Cadence recordings — that is, the glory days of the vocal group which soundtracks the 1950s so well — reached the ripe age of 95 before Mr Sandman took her to join her erstwhile companions, the first of whom to die was Alice Buschmann in 1981.

The Guitar Cop
To funk aficionados, Harold Beane might be best-known for his guitar work on Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain and other tracks. He also wrote a few tracks for the collective, including the title track of the America Eats Its Young album. He also recorded and/or toured with the likes of Isaac Hayes (including the superb fuzz guitar solo on Walk On By), William Bell, Little Richard, Eddie Floyd, Otis Redding, Al Green and others. A trained policeman, Beane played a prank on his old pal George Clinton and his funky friends in Atlanta in 1996. Donning his police uniform, he went to the hotel where Clinton and entourage stayed. “I knocked on the door and put my finger over the peephole. They opened the door and all they saw was the police uniform and the badge… Man, I heard the toilet flushing!” I’m sure there was abounding mirth.

The Mazzy Star
With his other-worldy guitar scoring the haunting voice of Hope Sandoval on Mazzy Star’s delicate, almost dreamlike 1990s songs, David Roback (possibly unintentionally) influenced many acts that were to come. A product of LA’s post-punk Paisley Underground scene, Roback dabbled in psychedelic throwbacks, first with his band Rain Parade and Opal, and then to some commercial and a lot of critical effect with Mazzy Star.

The Drumming Sidekick
Few backing musicians get honoured to be the referenced in the title of a song of their boss. But Willie Nelson honoured his long-time drummer Paul English in his song Me And Paul, which recounts their adventures together (and also provided the title of Nelson’s 1985 LP). English first drummed for Willie in 1955 and joined the Willie Nelson Family permanently in 1966. And when he wasn’t drumming, English would be the heavy who’d extract overdue payments from recalcitrant club owners.

The Aceed Pioneer
With the passing at 56 of Andrew Weatherall, one of the pioneers of acid house has joined the great DJ booth in the sky. His work of mixing on the decks in clubs led to his production of Primal Scream’s groundbreaking Screamdelica album in 1991, which fused rock, indie and house music. Weatherall went to remix or produce for acts like New Order, Happy Mondays, Björk, Siouxsie Sioux and My Bloody Valentine.

Gang of Three
Coming in at the end of punk, British band Gang of Four were at the vanguard of the post-punk movement, with Andy Gill on the band’s distinctive guitar. As frank commentators on social ills, the group had a loyal fanbase but never broke in a big way as the BBC banned some of their records, and refused to playlist most of the rest. Their influence was massive, however, with acts like R.E.M, Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers citing the Gang of Four as major influences.

Star’s Suspicious Death
In Rwanda, Catholic gospel singer Kizitio Mihigo was a music star and a much-loved peace activist — and he met his end at 38 in a police cell, as a political opponent the president. Police say he died by suicide (the lazy cousin of pneumonia and slipping on a bar of soap). Orphaned in the genocide against Tutsis in 1994, Mihigo was a prominent activist for reconciliation, working for peace on his TV show, through his peace foundation, and through his music. As his music became increasingly political, he incurred the displeasure of Africa’s slimmest and least threatening-looking dictator, Paul Kagame.

One song in particular, titled IgisobanuroCy’urupfu, provided the straw that broke the tyrant’s back. It criticised his fellow Tutsi Kagame’s non-conciliatory policy of dealing with the legacy of the genocide. In it, Mihigo sings: “Even though genocide orphaned me, but let it not make me lose empathy for others. Their lives, too, were brutally taken. But that did not qualify as genocide.”

The short version given by Mihigo’s supporters is that Mihigo was set up to be tried for conspiracy against the president. Forced to plead guilty, he was convicted (let’s just say, Amnesty International was not impressed by the method by which Mihigo’s confession was extracted). In prison, he brought peace between rival ethnic groups there.  He was pardoned in 2018, and rearrested on 14 February for allegedly trying to illegally cross the border to Burundi, apparently after his life was threatened. Three days later he died in Kagame’s jail. As mentioned above, police say it was by suicide; Mihigo’s supporters say he was tortured to death.


Harold Beane, 73, funk/soul guitarist and songwriter, on Feb. 1
Mitty Collier – Share What You Got (1969, as producer)
Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (1969, on guitar)
Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young (1972, on guitar and as writer)

Andy Gill, 64, guitarist of English rock band Gang of Four, producer, on Feb. 1
Gang Of Four – At Home He’s A Tourist (1979)
Gang Of Four – To Hell With Poverty (1981)

Kofi B, Ghanaian musician, on Feb. 2

Ivan Král, 71, Czech-born musician and songwriter, on Feb. 2
Patti Smith Group – Dancing Barefoot (1979, as co-writer)
Ivan Kral – Winner Takes All (1995)

Andrew Brough, 56, member of New Zealand band Straitjacket Fits, on Feb. 4
Straitjacket Fits – Hail (1988)

Buddy Cage, 73, pedal steel guitarist, on Feb. 4
New Riders Of The Purple Sage – Dim Lights, Thick Smoke And Loud Loud Music (1972)
Bob Dylan – Meet Me In The Morning (1975, on steel guitar)

Ola Magnell, 74, Swedish pop singer and guitarist, on Feb. 6

Lynn Evans, 95, singer with vocal group The Chordettes, on Feb. 6
The Chordettes – Mr. Sandman (1954)
The Chordettes – Lollipop (1958)

Diego Farias, 27, guitarist of metal band Volumes, on Feb. 6

Délizia (Adamo), 67, Belgian singer, on Feb. 9
Délizia – Le proces de l’amour (1976)

Lyle Mays, 66, pianist and composer with the Pat Metheny Group, on Feb. 10
David Bowie / Pat Metheny Group – This Is Not America (1985)
Pat Metheny Group – Slip Away (1989)

Joseph Shabalala, 78, leader of South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, on Feb. 11
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain (1987)
Ladysmith Black Mambazo  – Township Jive (1990)
Ben Harper & Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Picture Of Jesus (2003)

Paul English, 87, country drummer with Willie Nelson, on Feb. 12
Johnny Bush – You Ought To Hear Me Cry (1967, as producer)
Willie Nelson – Shotgun Willie (1973, on drums)
Willie Nelson – Me And Paul (1985, on drums and as song subject)

Buzzy Linhart, 76, folk-rock singer and songwriter, on Feb. 13
Buzzy Linhart- Friends (1970, also as co-writer)
Richie Havens – Missing Train (1970, on vibraphone)

Jacob Thiele, 40, keyboardist of indie-rock band The Faint, on Feb. 13
The Faint – Desperate Guys (2004)

Prince Kudakwashe Musarurwa, 31, Zimbabwean singer-songwriter, on Feb. 15

Ron Thompson, 66, blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, on Feb. 15
Ron Thompson & His Resistors – 13 Women (1987)

Cavan Grogan, 70, Welsh rock and roll singer, on Feb. 15

Pearl Carr, 98, English singer, on Feb. 16
Teddy Johnson & Pearl Carr – How Wonderful To Know (1961)

Clyde Davenport, 98, old-time fiddler and banjo player, on Feb. 16

Andrew Weatherall, 56, English DJ, producer and musician, on Feb. 17
Happy Mondays – Rave On (Club Mix) (1989, as remixer)
Primal Scream – Movin’ On Up (1991, as producer)

KizitoMihigo, 38, Rwandan gospel singer, political activist, on Feb. 17
KizitoMihigo – A Dieu
KizitoMihigo – IgisobanuroCy’urupfu (2014)

Lindsey Lagestee, 25, country singer, in car crash on Feb. 17

Henry Gray, 95, blues pianist and singer, on Feb. 17
Little Henry Gray – Matchbox Blues (1953)
Howlin’ Wolf – Little Red Rooster (1961, on piano)

Ja’Net DuBois, 74, actress and singer, on Feb. 17
Ja’net DuBois & Oren Waters – Movin’ On Up (Theme of ‘The Jeffersons’) (1975)
Ja’net DuBois – Queen Of The Highway (1980)

Pop Smoke, 20, rapper, shot on Feb. 19

Hector, 73, French singer, on Feb. 19
Hector – La Femme De Ma Vie (1964)

Bob Cobert, 95, Film and TV composer, on Feb. 19
Bob Cobert – ‘War And Remembrance’ Main Title (1988, as composer)

Jon Christensen, 79, Norwegian jazz percussionist, on Feb. 20

Zoe Gail, 100, South African-born singer and actress, on Feb. 20

John S. Corcoran, 72, American folk singer and actor, on Feb. 21

Jahn Teigen, 70, singer of Norwegian prog group Popol Ace, on Feb. 24
Popol Ace – Today Another Day (1976)

David Roback, 61, songwriter, guitarist and founder of Mazzy Star, on Feb. 25
Rain Parade – No Easy Way Down (1984, on guitar & as writer)
Mazzy Star – Halah (1991, also as writer, co-producer)
Mazzy Star – Fade Into You (1993, also as writer, producer)

Claude Flagel, 87, French musician and producer, on Feb. 25

Nick Apollo Forte, 81, musician and actor, on Feb. 26

Simon Posthuma, 81, Dutch artist, fashion designer and musician as Seemon & Marijke, on Feb. 28
Seemon & Marijke – I Saw You (1971)

Mike Somerville, 68, guitarist of rock band Head East and songwriter, on Feb. 29
Head East – Never Been Any Reason (1975, also as writer)


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