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Joni Mitchell’s Blue Recovered

June 30th, 2021 2 comments

 

 

I have a terrible confession to make: I find it difficult to listen to Joni Mitchell when she hits those high notes. I know the loss of mine: Mitchell obviously is a great interpreter of her lyrics, and because her lyrics are so personal, the obviously most authentic one. Moreover, few singers convey irony in the way Mitchell does. And yet, I struggle with her singing — whereas I tolerate the far less accomplished warblings of other singers; Dylan being an obvious example.

To me, Joni Mitchell (in her folk period, at least) is like broccoli: a lot of people love it, and it’s really good for you. But I’d rather eat string beans. I do like the look of broccoli though. And to swing the vegetable metaphor back to the artist, I love many of Mitchell’s songs. And I own several Mitchell albums.

It’s a tribulation that manifests itself this year in particular, as the world marks the 50th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s Blue album. In previous months I marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark albums Tapestry and What’s Going On by recovering them. Blue is in their landmark league, and like the albums released by Carole King in February 1971 and Marvin Gaye in May that year, was so upon its release on 22 June 1971. It broke a mold: here was a high-profile album by an independent woman singing lyrics that were highly personal and at times brutally honest. And her experiences and that candidness with which she expressed the freedom she asserted in song — in her life and in her travels — gave a voice to women who could identify with or at least aspire to them.

 

 

Given all that, recovering Blue seems a task of necessity. Having done so has allowed me to appreciate the genius of the album without the distraction of my voice hang-up. The past 20 years have seen a great number of covers. Strangely, between the late 1970s and mid-’90s, there seemed to be a widespread reluctance to cover songs from Blue, even the much-covered River and A Case Of You. So on this mix, there is a gap between early/mid-1970s and the late-1990s.

The most surprising cover here is by Nazareth, whose version of This Flight Tonight is a proper reworking. Apparently its riff inspired the more famous one of Heart’s Barracuda. Conversely, the most faithful cover here is that by Goldie Hawn’s of Carey (the song which I’d pick as my favourite on Blue). Turns out, Goldie could sing.

The “best” cover here might be Prince doing A Case Of You (strange that I love a good falsetto, but not soprano). Or maybe Brandi Carlile, that dedicated and superb interpreter of Mitchell’s songs, singing Blue’s rawest song, Little Green, live on a webcast in July 2020. Her high notes I do like, just to prove the randomness of my Joni problem (Listen to Carlile’s amusing Joni story). And Dianne Reeves’ version of River is quite outstanding. I add Rosie Thomas’ lovely version as a bonus.

The Supremes version of Blue’s opener, All I Want, was arranged and produced by Jimmy Webb, who will feature prominently here in a couple of week’s time. That mix will include a song from the same album that featured the song here.

The star of Joni Mitchell is always the lyrics. So here are ten songs of those wonderful words recovered, with home-dulcimered covers. PW in comments.

1. The Supremes – All I Want (1972)
2. Mandy Lagan – My Old Man (2018) BUY
3. Brandi Carlile – Little Green (2020)
4. Goldie Hawn – Carey (1972)
5. Cat Power – Blue (2008)
6. Wilson Phillips – California (2004)
7. Nazareth – This Flight Tonight (1973)
8. Dianne Reeves – River (1999)
9. Prince – A Case Of You (2007)
10. Legião Urbana – The Last Time I Saw Richard (1999)

GET IT! or HERE!

More Recovered albums:
Tapestry
What’s Going On
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Every Beatles album

More Cover Mixes:
Bob Dylan Songbooks
John Prine Songbook
Bill Withers Songbook
Bruce Springsteen Songbook
Steely Dan Songbook
Leonard Cohen Songbook
Elvis Presley Songbook
Chuck Berry Songbook
ABBA Songbook

And check out the Covered With Soul series

Categories: Covers Mixes, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Any Major Week Vol. 3

June 24th, 2021 1 comment

Over the weekend I revisited the Any Major Week mixes I made some years ago — the first originally ten years ago and Vol. 2 just over a year ago— and enjoyed them so much that I decided to make a third one. I think I’ve enjoyed the new one even more than the first two, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

As before, the idea is to sequence songs about particular days of the week in the order of those days. Some days have a greater wealth of songs to choose from, but I haven’t exhausted the well for any day yet.

The most interesting track here is Prince’s demo version of Manic Monday, a 1986 hit for The Bangles which he had originally planned for an album he was producing for Appolonia 6. Prince’s version has some charm, but I don’t think I’m doing him an injustice when I say that the Bangles version is impeccable.

I stumbled on Leonard Herron by chance. The guitarist and singer-songwriter is based in Tokyo and plies his trade mainly as a session musician. He has recorded a few albums, which are available digitally on his website.

Also rather obscure were The Siddeleys, a British indie band that formed in 1986. Though they were championed by influential BBC DJ John Peel, they released only three singles between 1986-88.

As ever, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-calendarised covered. PW in comments.

1. Thelma Houston – Saturday Night (1978)
2. Honey Cone – Sunday Morning People (1971)
3. Prince – Manic Monday (1983)
4. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Tuesday’s Gone (1973)
5. The Guess Who – Wednesday In Your Garden (1969)
6. Jim Croce – Thursday (1973)
7. Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Friday Night (2003)
8. Hello Saferide – Saturday Nights (2005)
9. Everything But The Girl – Goodbye Sunday (1988)
10. Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays (1971)
11. The Smithereens – Groovy Tuesday (1986)
12. The Siddeleys – My Favourite Wet Wednesday Afternoon (1987)
13. Leonard Herron – On A Thursday Morning (2017)
14. Cowboy Junkies – Good Friday (1998)
15. Lefty Frizzell – Shine, Shave, Shower (It’s Saturday) (1951)
16. Maxine Weldon – I Want Sunday Back Again (1975)
17. Little River Band – Home On Monday (1977)
18. Josh Abbott Band – Tuesday Night (2014)
19. Johnny Cash – A Wednesday Car (1977)
20. Giles, Giles & Fripp – Thursday Morning (1968)
21. Townes Van Zandt – Gypsy Friday (1966)
22. James Dean Bradfield – On Saturday Morning We Will Rule The World (2006)
23. Bobbie Gentry – Sunday Best (1967)

GET IT! or HERE!

Any Major Week Vol. 1
Any Major Week Vol. 2
More CD-R Mixes

Categories: Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Any Major ABC of South Africa

June 17th, 2021 3 comments

Over the weekend, an article on how Malcolm McLaren brazenly plagiarised a South African song from 1977 for his 1983 hit Double Dutch came to my attention. The piece, written by Carsten Rasch and published in South Africa’s Sunday Times, is poorly edited, but it serves as a reminder of the ways in which black artists especially have been ripped off over and over again. At the centre here is how McLaren ripped off a 1977 tune, Puleng by The Boyoyo Boys, to create his biggest hit, the very catchy Double Dutch.

This sorry tale of theft and exploitation echoes the infuriating story of how a South African song named Mbube became a mega hit called The Lion Sleeps Tonight, on which all manner of white people cashed in — but not the man who wrote and first recorded it (and his family had to fight to get crumbs off the table). You can revisit my brief account of it at The Originals: Classics. Or seek out the very good 2019 Netflix documentary ReMastered: The Lion’s Share.

McLaren might have called his acts of theft — he looted various musical traditions — “taking inspiration”, but he betrayed these traditions when he failed to credit them. Before he ripped off the Bayoyo Boys, he plagiarised a tune by another South African outfit, the Mahotella Queens, for the Bow Wow Wow hit See Jungle! (Jungle Boy). Links to both songs are embedded in the Sunday Times article.

These were acts of cultural violence, and of cultural appropriation, though that term was not a big issue when these tunes were whitewashed (except to Peter Gabriel, who called McLaren out on it at the time). Where the lyrics of The Lion Sleeps Tonight riffed on African cliché, McLaren barely gave a nod to the cultural origins of the tune he stole, emigrating the mbaqanga sounds of South Africa’s townships to New York City.

Double Dutch, and other tracks by McLaren, were recorded in South Africa, with South African musicians, produced by Trevor Horn, who is also complicit in this sorry tale. The musicians were paid a flat fee, which in itself is fair practice. But Horn revealed the business ethics behind McLaren’s global raid on musical heritage himself: “The Africans got married on what we paid them. The Cubans charged us a lot of money, they really had their heads screwed on right. The Dominicans charged us a fortune. They screwed us!” That’s what it sounds like when music’s colonialists exploit people. “The Africans got married on what we paid them.” Translation: “These fools should be grateful for what we bothered to pay them.”

The copyright holders of the songs which McLaren plagiarised eventually sued, and the case was settled out of court — but no composer of the song saw the money, or received a songwriting credit for it. White justice!

The writer of the Sunday Times article sums it up well: “Truth is, McLaren and Horn arrived at these shores, and like a pair of modern-day Cecil John Rhodeses, took what they wanted from the ‘gullible natives’ — so grateful to be blessed by the presence of these big white music bwanas they bent over backwards, allowed themselves to be morphed into ‘McLarenettes’ (a contrived group name for the musicians who played the music on the various tracks) — and deprived them of their just composer credits, not to mention money.”

Graceland and apartheid

The question of cultural appropriation brings me to Paul Simon’s 1986 Graceland album, which he recorded with a host of South African artists during the time of the cultural boycott against apartheid. These artists included groups like Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Stimela, and local jazz giants like Morris Goldberg and Mike Makhalemele. These musicians suffered under apartheid and opposed it. And the South African musicians appreciated the fair royalties, ethical attributions, and exposure their involvement created. For example, bassist Bakithi Kumalo built a great career as an international session musician on account of that bassline on You Can Call Me Al.

One can accuse Simon of arrogance in not following Harry Belafonte’s counsel to consult the exiled ANC first, but he did obtain the support of the South African musicians’ union — hardly collaborators with apartheid — and the approval of exiled heavyweight like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. Clearly, there’s a world of a difference between empowering musicians living under oppression, and acts like Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart or Queen playing Sun City in contempt of the oppressed. And there’s a canyon of a difference between the exploitation of culture and people perpetrated by McLaren and Horn, and the mostly respectful way Simon treated his fellow musicians.

Though, it must be said, Simon might have included a proper anti-apartheid tune in his set, and his dismissal of that idea was petulant and even disrepctful. You Can Call Me Al’s lyrics weren’t that good to begin with, and its video might have featured the South African musicians who played on it — (Ray Phiri on guitar; Morris Goldberg on pennywhistle, Isaac Mtshali on drums, Ladysmith Black Mambazo on background vocals, and Kumalo on bass) — rather than a pair of middle-aged white American men pretending to play these instruments.

An ABC of South Africa

That article on McLaren’s theft prompted me to complete this mix of Any Major ABC of South Africa — one artist per letter of the alphabet. The timing is appropriate: Yesterday was the 45th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising against apartheid education, a public holiday in the country.

As always, the choice of artist to represent letters is quite random; they don’t necessarily are the best or most representative act for that letter. If that was so, I’d have given the letter H to Hugh Masekela.

This mix doesn’t tell the history of South African music, nor is it complete. But it gives what I hope is a taste of some of the country’s incredibly broad music scene, which ranges from ever-developing township pop styles to jazz to reggae to country to hip hop to indie to rock to gospel to musicals to Afrikaans schlagers (and more).

I was glad to include a few favourites by way of collaborations. The Skylarks were Miriam Makeba’s first group in the 1950s, and on the present song they recorded with Spokes Mashiane, the “King of the Pennywhistle”. Togegher they cover the letter S. Theirs was the sound of Sophiatown, a black neighbourhood in Johannesburg which was ethnically cleansed in the 1950s and renamed by the regime as Triomph (which means exactly what you suspect it does).

A few years later, the regime declared District 6, a mixed-race neighbourhood on the edge of the city centre of Cape Town, a “white group area”. Over the next decade, the entire area was razed, and its “mixed-race” population dumped into far-off townships. One of these is called Manenberg, which inspired a superb jazz tune by Dollar Brand (now known as Abdullah Ibrahim). In the midst of the gangs and poverty (well, geographically at the periphery of it), the late jazz pianist Tony Schilder helped open a sophisticated jazz club named Montreal. The song here is the club’s “theme song”, sung by the great vocalist and saxophonist Robbie Jansen (who appeared, with the above-mentioned Graceland contributor Morris Goldberg, on Dollar Brand’s jazz classic). Montreal, here in its rare 1985 version, also features Jonathan Butler on guitar. It is the sound of Cape Town.

As is Pacific Express’ Give A Little Love. The jazz-rock band — led by Tony Schilder’s brother Chris and whose former members included Jonathan Butler and Robbie Jansen — was having a radio hit with the uncharacteristic soul ballad in 1978. All went well, until the state broadcaster realised that the group was mixed-race and South African, whereupon the video clip of the song was banned from TV.

A couple of songs here are stone-cold South African classics. Mandoza’s 2000 kwaito hit Nkalakatha still fires up parties; it crossed over like no other kwaito hit before or since.

And 1980s Paradise Road by Joy was an anti-apartheid song about interracial love, which was strictly illegal under apartheid. State radio didn’t notice, and the song, with Anneline Malebo’s soaring vocals, topped the SA charts for nine weeks — and crossed the racial divides. Malebo’s story ended unhappily: in 2002 she died in poverty from AIDS-related causes, having contracted the virus after being raped at a party. Shortly before her death, old friends discovered her living in squalor in a Cape Town township, and had her transferred to a hospice where she died in some dignified comfort.

And under B, we hear the Bayoyo Boys with the song Malcolm McLaren stole. Any other day, the late Brenda Fassie would have taken that spot. There is no X… Even so, the mix is too long to fit on a standard CD-R, but I’ve made home-jived covers anyway. The above text is included in an illustrated PDF for comfortable reading and later reference. PW in comments.

1. Allou April – Bringing Joy (2002)
2. Boyoyo Boys – Puleng (1977)
3. Cofield Mundi – Count Me Out (2006)
4. Dorothy Masuka – Khauleza (1959)
5. Emil Dean Zoghby – Won’t You Join Me (1970)
6. Farryl Purkiss – Ducking And Diving (2006)
7. Goldfish feat. John Mani – One Million Views (2013)
8. Harari – Get Funky (1981)
9. Isochronous – The Curve (2010)
10. Joy – Paradise Road (1980)
11. Karma – Pachelbel (1998)
12. Lira – Mali (2011)
13. Mandoza – Nkalakatha (2000)
14. Nancy Jacobs & Her Sisters – Meadowlands (1956)
15. Oskido – Une Mali (2020) [BUY]
16. Pacific Express – Give A Little Love (1978)
17. Qkumba Zoo – Harbour Song (2021) [BUY]
18. Ringo – Sondela (1997)
19. Skylarks with Miriam Makeba & Spokes Mashiyane – Ekoneni (1950s)
20. Tony Schilder with Robbie Jansen – Montreal (1985)
21. Una Valli – Take Me For A Little While (1968)
22. Vusi Mahlasela – Moleko (2006)
23. Wendy Oldfield – Acid Rain (1991)
24. Yvonne Chaka Chaka – Umqombothi (1986)
25. Zahara – Ndize (2011)

GET IT! or HERE!

PREVIOUS ABCs:
ABC of 1950s
ABC of 1960s
ABC of 1970s
ABC of 1990s
ABC of 2000s
ABC of Soul
ABC of Country
ABC of Christmas

Categories: ABC in Decades, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Life In Vinyl 1987 Vol. 2

June 10th, 2021 5 comments

 

By the second half of 1987, the rate by which my record collection was growing had slowed down. Unemployment for part of that time was one reason, employment at strange hours another, and a phase of intense socialising in the little time I had complicated the acquisition of records further.

Still, I bought records, including some quite awful ones. What we have here, then, is a collection of what is still presentable. It includes a few pop hits which the purists might scoff at, but I stand by them. Bananarama, that still underrated trio of women, had long decamped to the dreaded Stock Aitken Waterman, who had produced their 1986 hit Venus. In 1987, SAW gave Bananarama two great pop songs, I Heard A Rumour and Love In The First Degree. The latter is especially good, as far as commercial pop goes.

The same goes for I’ve Had The Time Of My Life, the excellence of it is obscured by its mega-hitness and the mainstream nature of the movie it scored, Dirty Dancing. The arrangement is very much 1980s, but the saxophone solo that leads up to the breakdown… sometimes you just have to love’80s pop! This track might also be the swansong for this series of A Life in Vinyl.

Then there is a song whose title is immediately suspect, but what a great slice of fun Walk The Dinosaur is, with that percussive “Boom boom, ackalacka boom”. Inevitably the Was (Not Was) song provoked a dance craze (no, I didn’t, since you ask), and the video had sexy cavewomen and Flintstones. A total novelty number, right? Well, the song apparently is about nuclear holocaust: “A shadow from the sky much too big to be a bird/A screaming crashing noise louder than I’ve ever heard.”

I have mentioned Bright Blue’s Weeping before, as the song that surreptitiously smuggled the anthem of the anti-apartheid movement on to South Africa’s state radio, in the middle of the racist regime’s state of emergency. Bright Blue were a group of white South Africans, so the controllers either suspected nothing untoward in the song, or (more likely) subversively pretended not to notice. The lyrics are hardly obscure, especially as they were written in a time of frantic oppression, and the strains of Nkosi Sikel’ iAfrika (now half of South Africa’s national anthem) are hidden in plain sight. And so this rather lovely song served as another kick against the pricks.

Apartheid was defeated within a couple of years, and in 1994 South Africa became a democracy, with Nelson Mandela as its first president. Until 1990, the law decided where you could live, according to race. Many communities were uprooted and destroyed, with the people dumped into new townships which soon became gang-ridden because with the destruction of communities came the destruction of the values these communities enforced. Today, communities — in South Africa and around the world — are being destroyed and uprooted by “urban development”, the evil of gentrification. Spike Lee referred to it in 1989 in Do The Right Thing. Two years earlier, The Housemartins raised the issue in Build. And 34 years later, the economic cleansing (which in some areas is linked to race and ethnicity) continues.

And on that cheerful note: CD-R length, home-built covers, text above in illustrated PDF, PW in comments.

1. Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This
2. Black – Wonderful Life
3. Then Jericho – The Motive
4. Squeeze – Hourglass
5. Alexander O’Neal & Cherelle – Never Knew Love Like This
6. Smokey Robinson – Just To See Her
7. Bananarama – Love In The First Degree
8. Was (Not Was) – Walk The Dinosaur
9. Aztec Camera – Deep & Wide & Tall
10. Bright Blue – Weeping
11. Chris Isaak – Blue Hotel
12. The Smiths – Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before
13. The Housemartins – Build
14. Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands
15. INXS – Never Tear Us Apart
16. Gino Vannelli – Wild Horses
17. Bruce Springsteen – Tougher Than The Rest
18. George Michael – Kissing A Fool
19. Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes – (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life

GET IT! or HERE!

More A Life In Vinyl
More Mix-CD-Rs

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In Memoriam – May 2021

June 3rd, 2021 3 comments

Ironically, it was raining when I learnt of the death of B.J. Thomas. It would have been even better had I been in a branch of the Personality franchise of shops when I read that Lloyd Price had died, but that night have been irony overkill.

Overall, May was a fairly quiet month, though not for samba singers, three of whom died in Brazil within days of one another.

The Rock & Roll Pioneer
Had he not been drafted into the US army to fight in Korea in 1954, Lloyd Price might have become a “King of Rock & Roll”. By the time he came home, other R&B singers had become kings of that new type of music which Price had pioneered. One of the great prototype Rock & Roll records was Price’s self-written debut single, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, recorded in 1952 in New Orleans with the great Dave Bartholomew leading the band which included the yet-unknown Fats Domino on the piano.

After returning from Korea, Price was able to resume his recording career with some success, scoring big hits with ’50s rock & roll classics such as Personality, I’m Gonna Get Married, and Stagger Lee.

When the hits dried up, he became a mover behind the scenes, co-founding the label on which Wilson Pickett got his start, and another label in the 1970s with boxing Don King. In 1974 Price helped King organise the “Rumble in Jungle” extravaganza in Kinshasa, Zaire (now DR Congo), with the legendary bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, and the attendant concert featuring James Brown and B.B. King. Price was also a successful entrepreneur outside music, in businesses ranging from construction to canned foods.

The Raindrops Guy
It is strange that B.J. Thomas never became a big star in Europe. His songs were know there, even if Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head was a bigger hit in Sasha Distel’s inferior version, but he never broke really big. Thomas had already enjoyed a couple of US Top 10 hits (with I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry in 1966 and Hooked On A Feeling in 1968) when Raindrops forced itself on him. He wasn’t songwriter Burt Bacharach’s first or even second choice, but when Bob Dylan and Ray Stevens cried off, the song was offered to Thomas… who had laryngitis at the time. It seems providential: the relaxed singing style, the better to avoid straining his larynx, suited the beautiful arrangement perfectly.

Thomas went on to have a few more hits — including I Just Can’t Help Believing, which Elvis would cover — before switching to Christian contemporary music in the late ’70s, becoming the genre’s first superstar. He’d still have a few country hits as well. TV viewers would get to hear Thomas again in the late 1980s, when he duetted with Jennifer Warnes on the theme of the sitcom Growing Pain, which he then released in a full song recording with Dusty Springfield.

The Soul Drummer
By the time he was 25, Roger Hawkins had played the drums on dozens of stone-cold soul classics. Born in 1945, Hawkins was only 20 when his stick-work, as drummer of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (or Swampers) featured on a US Top 10 single, Percy Sledges’s When a Man Loves A Woman. Many followed, including Wilson Pickett’s Land Of A 1000 Dances and Mustang Sally; James & Bobby Purify’s I’m Your Puppet; Clarence Carter’ Slip Away; R.B. Greaves’ Take A Letter Maria; Read more…

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