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The Originals – Rat Pack Edition

June 18th, 2020 6 comments

 

In this instalment of The Originals we go to the first recordings or releases of songs that later became hits for Frank Sinatra (most of them), Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr — the so-called Rat Pack.

Frank Sinatra was a supreme interpreter of music. Even in the later stages of his career, when the arrangements often transgressed the boundaries of good taste, Sinatra still knew how to appropriate a song. So one may well think that he was essentially a cover artist — after all, he never wrote a song — and much of his catalogue consists of songs more famous in other artists’ hands. But many of Sinatra’s most famous songs were first recorded by him, and often written especially for him, particularly by Sammy Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen.

The songs that were first recorded by others but became known as Sinatra standards are relatively few. Hence the need to fill up this collection with tracks made famous by Dino and Sammy. And we’ll kick this thing of with one that connects Sinatra and Martin.

 

Everybody Loves Somebody
One of the originals is by Sinatra himself: Everybody Loves Somebody. When Dean Martin covered to it two decades later to good effect, he reportedly told the master interpreter of songs: “That’s how you sing it.”

Sinatra had released the song in 1948, a month before Peggy Lee’s version, though hers was recorded earlier. Neither version was a hit, though it can’t have been too obscure either. That same year, Dean Martin sang it on Bob Hope’s Show as well as on his own radio show with Jerry Lewis. Still after 1948, it was rarely recorded.

In 1964 Martin filled a little spare time at the end of a session by recording the song, at the suggestion of his pianist, Ken Lane, who had co-written it. The result was so good that Martin re-recorded the song with a full orchestra. It became a huge hit, knocking The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night off the top of the US charts. Apparently Martin celebrated that by sending a telegram to his friend Elvis Presley. It said: “If you can’t handle the Beatles, I’ll do it for you, pally.”

 

I’ve Got You Under My Skin
Sinatra was a marvellous interpreter of Cole Porter’s songs, and both of his solo versions of I’ve Got You Under My Skin are superb (whereas his long-distance duet with Bono was embarrassing). The song was originally written for the 1936 MGM musical Born To Dance, in which Virginia Bruce vied with star Eleanor Powell for the affection of James Stewart. The film was the first to be entirely scored by Porter (and his first engagement for MGM), and featured another classic in the exquisite Easy to Love, crooned by Powell and, in an unusual singing role, Stewart.

But before the film it is from was even released in November 1936, I’ve Got You Under My Skin had been recorded by singer-actress Frances Langford with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. But the first act to have a hit with it Ray Noble and his Orchestra, with the South African-born English singer Al Bowlly on vocals. Bowlly met an untimely end in 1941 when the explosion of a Blitzkrieg bomb on London blew his bedroom door off its hinges, lethally smashing the crooner’s head.

Sinatra first performed I’ve Got You Under My Skin as part of a medley with Easy To Love on radio in 1946 (some sources say 1943), but he didn’t record it until 1956, with Nelson Riddle’s arrangement on the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers album. He recorded the song again in 1963, in full swing mode, for an album of remakes of some of his favourite hits.

In 1966 the song was a hit in the popified remake by The Four Seasons.

 

I Get A Kick Out Of You
Trust Cole Porter to identify in his lyrical witticisms a yet undiscovered matter of science. As we now know, the emotion of love triggers Read more…

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Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 3

June 9th, 2020 2 comments

 

It’s not only recent events in the USA that make this third mix of Protest Soul overdue. The three years and counting since Donald Trump took office have seen an escalation of extrajudicial killings of black people by police, the weaponisation of white privilege by racists who call the police on black people, the legitimisation of racist rhetoric, and so on.

None of that arrived with Trump, of course. Trayvon Martin was executed by that stand-your-ground scumbag on Obama’s watch, and was declared innocent of murder by a jury of his racist peers before Trump descended that escalator of hate.

But consider this: In 1992, during the presidency of George Bush Sr, the riots in LA broke out because cops got off for assaulting Rodney King. In the fourth year of Trump’s reign, country-wide protests (and some riots) broke out because police murdered George Floyd. And Jamar Clark. And Philando Castile. And Dreasjon Reed. And Breonna Taylor. And Botham Jean. And Michael Brown. And Ezell Ford. And Eric Garner. And Michelle Shirley. And Redel Jones. And Stephon Clark. And 12-year-old Tamir Rice. And. And. And…

And don’t forget the lynching in Brunswick, Georgia, of Ahmaud Arbery, the jogger whose sickening murder by racist thugs who hunted him down was going to be covered up by the authorities until a video of it appeared.

Things have escalated from brutal assault sparking outrage to an endless series of murders of black people by police, as if the US has turned back the clock to the 1960s.

And this is where this mix of songs takes us: the aftermath of the civil rights era, when the freedom promised by the law still was elusive. As recent events have shown, they remain so.

Civil rights march in the 1960s. How much has changed in the 50 years since? (History in HD)

 

If the USA ever was beacon of hope and freedom for the rest of the world, that light has been extinguished by Trump’s America. The rest of the democratic world looks at the USA with sorrow and disdain. Three decades ago, people in Europe marched against the racist regime in South Africa. In 2020, they brave the coronavirus to take to the streets in protest against the systemic racism of the United States.

They see a race war that is being sought and, to some extent, prosecuted by a racist president and his minions, and by drooling specimen of the master race who hide their cowardice behind their guns, their trucks and their white privilege. The free world is saying: they must not win. It is the defeat of systemic racism and injustice that will make America great again.

The hope for that victory was present four or five decades ago, when most of the songs on this mix were made. It is a scandal that the content of these songs still speak to the reality of today.

Ferguson’s gotten me so upset, Brunswick made me lose my rest. And everybody knows about Minneapolis goddam!

1. Camille Yarbrough – All Hid (1975)
2. Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam (1964)
3. The Staple Singers – We The People (1972)
4. Della Reese – Compared To What (1969)
5. Curtis Mayfield – We’re A Winner (live) (1971)
6. The Pointer Sisters – Yes We Can Can (1973)
7. Dorothy Morrison – Black California (1970)
8. Larry Williams – Wake Up (Nothing Comes To A Sleeper But A Dream) (1968)
9. Hank Ballard – Blackenized (1969)
10. Marion Black – Listen Black Brother (1972)
11. Solomon Burke – I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free) (1968)
12. Lou Bond – Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards (1974)
13. Claudia Lennear – Sister Angela (1973)
14. Gil Scott-Heron – Winter in America (1974)
15. Donny Hathaway – Someday We’ll All Be Free (1973)
16. Syl Johnson – Is It Because I’m Black (1970)
17. The Temptations – 1990 (1973)
18. Eugene McDaniels – Silent Majority (1970)

GET IT! or HERE!

Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 1
Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 2

Any Major Soul: 1960s
Any Major Soul: 1970s

Mix CD-R

Categories: 60s soul, 70s Soul, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

In Memoriam – May 2020

June 4th, 2020 2 comments

Another relentless month, and not just because Covid-19 (though that virus was a factor in several deaths). May claimed a number of innovators and trailblazers — Little Richard, Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider, Betty Wright, Mory Kanyté. But the deaths we should mourn more than others is that of Turkish musicians Ibrahim Gökçek and Helion Bölek, who have died of hunger strike in protest against the persecution of their group by Turkey’s Erdoğan regime.

The Superstar
Little needs to be added to the many tributes for Little Richard, other than to note that without him, we’d not have had The Beatles as we knew them. I can only imagine how explosive the sounds of Little Richard, and Elvis’ Hound Dog, must have sounded to teenagers in the 1950s. In a tweet, British music journalist Simon Price summed up most fittingly Little Richard’s position in the history of rock ‘n’ roll: “Little Richard was the firecracker who set it all off. Right there at rock ‘n’ roll’s Big Bang, this ungovernable force transcending race, gender and sexuality. Literally a screaming queen. I met him once and it was like touching the hand of God. We owe him everything. RIP (it up).”

The Beatles certainly owed him a lot. When the young Liverpool quartet was supporting Mr Perriman on his England tour in 1963, Little Richard taught Paul McCartney to scream — s skill Macca put to good use in tracks such as I Saw Her Standing There and I’m Down to Helter Skelter and Hey Jude. And, of course, The Beatles borrowed their “wooo” from Littler Richard.

And, of course, check out Little Richard singing Rubber Ducky on Sesame Street.

The Robot Pioneer
It seems entirely in keeping with Florian Schneider’s ways that his death on April 21 would remain unreported for more than two weeks. With his band Kraftwerk, human emotion was unimportant, to the extent that in 1978 the members were replaced by identikit robots whom one could barely tell apart from the living men. In person, Schneider was said to be warm and funny. It is good that his death was met with many warm tributes.

Kraftwerk (properly prtonounced CRUFT-vairk) weren’t the only pioneers of electronic music — the German scene had several of those — but they had the greatest impact on the international mainstream pop that was to follow, be it Eurodisco, the post-punk synth pop in the UK, dance and electronica, or the Neue Deutsche Welle in Germany. And that influence manifested itself not only in music but also in image. David Bowie was an early adopter: the instrumental on his Heroes album (and b-side of the single of the title track) is named V2-Schneider in tribute to Florian — even if the war reference in the title sounded a bit insulting.

The Soul Allrounder
For a generation of strong, independently-minded and put-upon women, Betty Wright articulated the right responses to often inferior men — and the right to be satisfied. A songwriter and an accomplished singer — she could hit notes every bit as high as later pretenders such as Mariah Carey — Wright also had a strong stage presence. Witness her command of the audience on Tonight Is The Night.

She won a Grammy for Best R&B Song for Where Is The Love?, then discovered disco-funkster Peter Brown, with whom she duetted on the 1978 dance classic  Dance With Me. In 1988, Wright became the first black female artist to score a gold album on her own label, with her album Mother.  Later she went into vocals arranging and producing for acts like Gloria Estefan, Tom Jones, Jennifer Lopez and Joss Stone. And she also sang backing vocals on Stevie Wonder’s hit Happy Birthday and All I Do, which featured earlier this month on Any Major Soul 1980.

The Beatles’ Friend
It’s rare that non-musicians feature in this series, but the death of Astrid Kirchherr a week before her 82nd birthday needs to be noted. Kirchherr was a young photographer when she met the yet unknown and even younger five Beatles in Hamburg in 1961. Of the Fab Five, one absconded to be with her — Stuart Sutcliffe died a year later (and Pete Best was later replaced). At her intervention, the group changed their Teddy Boy hairstyles to the moptops they became famous with. Kirchherr would reject the idea that she had “invented” these hairstyles, saying that lots of German boys had been wearing them. Still, if any hairstyle ever had any pivotal role in changing pop music, it was the one Astrid Kirchherr prescribed The Beatles.

The Prog Punk
Even people who have no truck with the grimy pub-rock of The Stranglers might have grooved to the sounds of the band’s keyboardist Dave Greenfield: his keyboard sounds dominate Waltz In Black, the theme of TV cook Keith Floyd’s alcohol-drenched programmes. Greenfield’s prog-rock keyboards transformed the pub-rock of The Stranglers (they never really were punk). Consider their hit No More Heroes: without the swirling keyboards, it’s a sneering rock song with a guitar solo. And hear what Greenfield does with The Strangler’s version of Walk On By, a truly unattractive cover until he goes all Isaac Hayes on it, turning it into an impressive work.

Greenfield was often compared to The Doors’ Ray Manzarek, whose work similarly transformed the sound of his band. Greenfield claimed that he had never heard of Manzarek before The Stranglers. He cited as his decidedly non-punk influences Rick Wakeman of Yes.

Miles’ Drummer
For nearly three decades, jazz drummer Jimmy Cobb was the last man standing of the Miles Davis Sextet which recorded the seminal Kind Of Blue album. Davis died in 1991, John Coltrane in 1967, Paul Chambers in 1969, Wynton Kelly (who played piano on Freddie Freeloader) in 1971, Cannonball Adderley in 1975, Bill Evans in 1980. Cobb played on many Miles Davis albums, including on the marvellous Sketches Of Spain and Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall. A drummer known for his subtlety and restraint, Cobb backed many jazz greats, including Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, both Adderley Bothers, Wayne Shorter, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Dorothy Ashby, Hubert Laws and many others.

The One-hit Pioneer
For a one-hit wonder, Millie Small’s brief residence in the limelight with her hit My Boy Lollipop was significant. She was the first Jamaican to have a worldwide hit with a song made in Jamaica, and the first to have an international smash with a song in the bluebeat genre, which fused R&B, pop and ska, and is regarded an ancestor of reggae. Alas, Millie said she never received royalties from her mega-hit, and eventually slid into poverty. She received honours later in life; and apparently Island Records founder Chris Blackwell gave her some financial sustenance to keep her going.

The Griot Man
With his song Yé ké Yé ké, Guinean singer Mory Kanté scored the first million-seller by an African Read more…

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PROTEST!

June 3rd, 2020 3 comments

At the beginning of the poisonous presidency of Donald Trump, I posted two mixes of soul tracks demanding racial justice. Given recent events, it is overdue that I should make a third one, which I will in due cause.

The need for the consciousness of social justice will not go away, and #BlackLivesMatter will remain an acute issue even when (if?) the racist president gets turfed out at the end of this awful year. George Floyd’s name will never be forgotten, but no doubt there will be more George Floyds. The struggle continues.

In the interim, the two previous mixes are up again.

Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 1
Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 2

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