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Any Major Power Ballads Vol. 1

May 28th, 2020 6 comments

 

 

This mix, dear reader, is going out to Any Major Dudette, who expressed her wish for a mix of power ballads. And with the critical rehabilitation of the genre lately, I shall feel free to share the fruits of her request with you.

And here we don’t need to concern ourselves with the inconvenient truth that her desire was expressed upon hearing a Céline Dion song on the radio (not the Titanic one. The other one). It doesn’t matter, since the stylings of Ms Dion are not to my taste, and therefore do not feature on this mix.

Also very much excluded are Jennifer Rush’s Power Of Love, which I loathe with a special depth of repulsion.  The same applies to Chris de Burgh’s Lady In Red, which I wouldn’t call a power ballad anyway.

The long-time reader may wonder: “But, Any Major Dude With Half A Heart, did you find a place for Michael F. Bolton?” And funny that you should ask, but… no. Having said that, the same wretched radio station which Any Major Dudette tunes into recently played Bolton’s breakthrough hit “How Am I Supposed To Love Without You”. And, I must confess, I was sort of singing along. Not so enthusiastically that I’d include it here, nor to turn me into one of the Bobs from Office Space. Still, I suspect that had it been sung by somebody else, it might have… no, enough. Shudder.

But that is the key to the good power ballad: it allows you to like something by an artist you’d otherwise not engage with.

Surveying the present collection of songs, I find that I own albums by only nine of them; just over half. Half of my total collection of REO Speedwagon’s catalogue is represented here. The other one is also a power ballad.

Let’s not forget: power ballads are white people’s baby-making music. People conceived to Track 4 might have conceived their offspring to Tracks 13, 15 and 16.

So, yes, the power ballad is pop music’s joker: the occasion when even the purist can get out that lighter and wave it from side to side without having to write an excuse to the taste police.

I have the enough power ballads for a second volume, if there’s a demand for it. But tell me your favourite power ballads in the comments.

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

1. Aerosmith – I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing (1998)
2. Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse Of The Heart (1983)
3. Phil Collins – Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) (1984)
4. Moody Blues – Nights In White Satin (1967)
5. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Simple Man (1973)
6. Boston – Amanda (1986)
7. Styx – Babe (1979)
8. REO Speedwagon – Keep On Loving You (1981)
9. Heart – Alone (1987)
10. Journey – Open Arms (1981)
11. Whitesnake – Here I Go Again (1987)
12. Meat Loaf – I’m Gonna Love Her For Both Of Us (1981)
13. Maria McKee – Show Me Heaven (1990)
14. Toto – I’ll Be Over You (1986)
15. Roxette – It Must Have Been Love (1990)
16. Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville – I Don’t Know Much (1989)
17. Prince – Purple Rain (1984)

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Any Major Happy Songs Vol. 2

April 30th, 2020 2 comments

 

 

In these times of coronavirus it’s easy to fall into moods of anxiety and depression. As every reader of this corner of the Internet will know, music is a good medicine in times of dejection — and also a superb means of accompanying feelings of misery. But right now, we are in need of the former more than of the latter.

So here is a second mix of songs that make me feel happy (or, when I’m down, at least happier). These are tracks that uplift me. Some do so just by the cheerfulness of the sound; others because they make me want to dance, others yet because they make me laugh. The Labi Siffre song, for example, combines all three elements. In one way or another, these are songs that make my heart soar. Maybe they’ll do the same for you.

I still return to Any Major Happy Songs Vol. 1 quite frequently; that mix is still up, in case you need more happy music.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and includes covers made while I was wearing my facemask to avoid any risk of infecting you. And whatever you do, don’t listen to idiots and don’t inject the bleach!

1. Blackstreet – Happy Song (Tonite) (1996)
2. Outkast – Hey Ya (2003)
3. Junior Senior – Move Your Feet (2002)
4. Odyssey – Use It Up And Wear It Out (1980)
5. Diana Ross – I’m Coming Out (1980)
6. New York City – I’m Doing Fine Now (1973)
7. Robert Knight – Love On A Mountain Top (1968)
8. Mango Groove – Special Star (1989)
9. Status Quo – Rockin’ All Over The World (1977)
10. Poco – A Good Feeling To Know (1972)
11. Ambrosia – The Biggest Part Of Me (1980)
12. Rufus & Chaka Khan – Ain’t Nobody (1983)
13. Sadao Watanabe & Roberta Flack – Here’s To Love (1984)
14. KC & the Sunshine Band – I Betcha Didn’t Know That (1979)
15. Samantha Sang – Emotion (1978)
16. Minnie Riperton – Lovin’ You (1974)
17. Gene Chandler – Groovy Situation (1970)
18. Shalamar – A Night To Remember (1982)
19. Labi Siffre – Love-A-Love-A-Love-A-Love-A-Love (1975)
20. Hello Saferide – I Was Definitely Made For These Times (2007)

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Any Major Week Vol. 2

April 23rd, 2020 1 comment

 

Last year — time really flies — I promised a follow-up to the mix of songs about the days of the week, in sequence until time of the standard CD-R runs out; which here is on a Friday night.

And that Friday song is a version of the song that started the idea in 2011, when I wrote a defence of Rebecca Black’s YouTube hit Friday. Here the song — a composition of negligible merit — is performed by Steven Colbert on Jimmy Fallon’s show. It is quite catchy, actually.

If your country is in lockdown, as mine is, you might need to be reminded of the way “the week” used to work. You see, there’s Monday, when we used to go back to work after two days off. It used to be a ghastly day. Then came Tuesday, when things got into swing again. On Wednesday we started to look at the calendar (a numbered chart that gave the days of the week in a sequential order) to behold Friday. On Thursday we might give our work another push, and download the latest mix from Any Major Dude With Half A Heart. Friday would be time to slowly wind things down for the weekend. That period comprised Saturday and Sunday, when we might go to the park, or stroll through the city or the mall, or watch sporting events, or visit friends. And on Monday we’d be back sat work with that nagging sense of inertia. Oh, happy days. Will we ever see them again?

As ever, CD-R length, home-trudged covers, PW in comments

1. Earth, Wind & Fire – Saturday Nite (1976)
2. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson – Hello Sunday! Hello Road! (1977)
3. Fleetwood Mac – Monday Morning (1975)
4. The Pogues – Tuesday Morning (1987)
5. Majic Ship – Wednesday Morning Dew (1970)
6. Morphine – Thursday (1993)
7. The Easybeats – Friday On My Mind (1966)
8. Cass Elliot – Saturday Suit (1972)
9. Diane Schuur – Louisiana Sunday Afternoon (1988)
10. Stealers Wheel – Monday Morning (1975)
11. Dylan LeBlanc – Tuesday Night Rain (2010)
12. America – Wednesday Morning (1998)
13. Johnny Otis – Thursday Night Blues (1949)
14. Bell & James – Living It Up (Friday Night) (1978)
15. Neil Diamond – Save Me A Saturday Night (2005)
16. Labelle – Sunday’s News (1972)
17. Freda Payne – Rainy Days And Mondays (1973)
18. Stevie Wonder – Tuesday Heartbreak (1972)
19. Emiliana Torrini – Wednesday’s Child (1999)
20. David Bowie – Thursday’s Child (1999)
21. Stephen Colbert feat. Taylor Hicks – Friday (2011)

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Any Major John Prine Songbook

April 16th, 2020 9 comments

 

Just days after we learned of the passing of Bill Withers, John Prine left us, a victim of the Covid-19 pandemic. I made a Bill Withers Songbook mix , and here’s one for Prine.

Within their respective genres, Withers and Prine shared similarities. Where Withers never was quite the insider in soul music, so was Prine very much not an insider in country music. Both infused their songs with folk influences. Both had an acute sense of and empathy for the human condition, born of kind hearts, and this found expression in their often poetic lyrics.

Prine knew how to write a good tune and deliver it convincingly, but his genius resided in his lyrics. Like a good country singer, he knew how to tell a story. Sometimes he named his protagonists, and you got to know them in the space of three minutes. From just a few lines, you can picture the drug-addicted Vietnam vet Sam Stone, or the lonely outsiders Lydia and Donald.

He wrote Angel From Montgomery from the perspective of a prematurely aged middle-aged woman, and persuasively so. Extraordinarily, Prine was 24 and from Chicago when he wrote the song. Prine never was a jailbird, but he could imagine himself in prison at Christmas (in a song which really should have been covered by The Pogues).

Hello In There, is another great example of Pine’s empathy, perhaps his best. And that empathy is not just in the lyrics but also in their delivery and the song’s arrangement. Take those matter-of-fact clipped lines about the dispersal of the kids and losing Davy in the Korean War, juxtaposed with the drawn out lines of longing, about old trees growing stronger and old rivers growing wilder every day.

Of course, the song about lonely older people has particular relevance during the health crisis that killed Prine. Fittingly, Brandi Carlile sung that song as a tribute on Stephen Colbert’s show. Prefacing Hello In There, Carlile puts it eloquently: “It reminds us that old people aren’t expendable, that they made us who were are and they’ve given us every single thing that we have. Even though John never got to get old, and we all would’ve liked for him to…at the age of 24, when he wrote this song, he understood this.” Colbert’s heartfelt tribute, preceding Carlile’s performance, is also worth listening to.

Prine had an extraordinary warmth, and a wonderfully wry sense of humour. Happily, he was given a lifetime achievement award by the Grammys just a few weeks before his death. It was overdue, for his exquisite body of work and for the great love and respect he inspired from his fans and his fellow musicians.

Here is a mix of covers of Prine songs. Fans will know the originals, but I hope that people who are not familiar with John Prine’s songbook will give this collection a listen, enjoy it, and then seek out the original recordings.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and includes home-pipedreamed covers. PW in comments.

1. Manfred Mann’s Earthband – Pretty Good (1973)
2. Al Kooper – Sam Stone (1972)
3. Bonnie Raitt – Angel From Montgomery (1974)
4. Loretta Lynn – Somewhere Someone’s Falling In Love (2000)
5. 10,000 Maniacs – Hello In There (1989)
6. The Avett Brothers – Spanish Pipedream (2010)
7. Johnny Cash – The Hobo Song (1982)
8. Kris Kristofferson – Late John Garfield Blues (1972)
9. Steve Goodman – Donald And Lydia (1971)
10. Reilly & Maloney – That’s The Way That The World Goes ‘Round (1980)
11. Nanci Griffith – Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness (1993)
12. Justin Townes Earle – Far From Me (2010)
13. The Flying Burrito Brothers – Quiet Man (1976)
14. After The First Gallon – Illegal Smile (1978)
15. The Everly Brothers – Paradise (1972)
16. Priscilla Coolidge-Jones – If You Don’t Want My Love (1979)
17. George Strait – I Just Want To Dance With You (2011)
18. Josh Ritter – Mexican Home (2010)
19. Weeping Willows – Christmas In Prison (2005)

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Previous Songbooks:
ABBA
Ashford & Simpson
Bill Withers
Bob Dylan Volumes 1-5
Bruce Springsteen
Burt Bacharach & Hal David
Burt Bacharach’s Lesser-Known Songbook
Chuck Berry
Cole Porter
Jimmy Webb Vol. 1
Jimmy Webb Vol. 2
Leonard Cohen
Rod Temperton
Steely Dan

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Any Major Bill Withers Songbook

April 3rd, 2020 3 comments

With Bill Withers, a giant of soul has left us, at the age of 81. He died on March 30, but his death was reported only today, April 3.

Withers was a superb songwriter — Lovely Day, Ain’t No Sunshine, Lean On Me, Use Me, Grandma’s Hands, Who Is He (And Who Is He To You) and so on are stone-cold soul classics. These and others are perfectly rendered in Withers hands, in their studio versions and often more so in their live performances. But their simplicity allowed other artists great freedom of reinterpretation, especially the slower numbers.

Other than the much-violated Lean On Me, few mediocre acts dared to take on a Withers track. If you dared to, better be prepared to match Withers’ artistry.

Al Jarreau, a tremendous interpreter of other people’s songs, recorded a whole album of Withers songs in 1979. Isaac Hayes included a couple of Withers songs in his live sets, turning Wither’s brief and simple Ain’t No Sunshine into a mini-jazz opera on his Live At The Sahara Tahoe album. Likewise, in this set, The Temptations remold the song, without compromising its integrity.

In my mind, Bill Withers and Gil Scott-Heron were comrades in the trenches. Both were men with something to say  — just hear Withers’ anti-war anthem I Can’t Write Left Handed — and the capacity to do so poetically, and then they set these great lyrics to engaging music. Bill and Gil weren’t the only ones, of course, but they were of a rare breed. Happily, Gil Scott-Heron recorded a Withers track, which features here.

In this present collection, no singer is a mug — there are no pointless covers here. Whether they manage to justice to the originals, you may decide.

Rest in Peace, Bill Withers. May you be reunited with Grandma.

As ever, this mix fits on a standard CD-R, and includes home-made covers, plus a couple of bonus tracks. PW in comments.

1. Georgie Fame – Lovely Day (1979)
2. Al Green – Lean On Me (1984)
3. Gil Scott-Heron – Grandma’s Hands (1982)
4. Marlena Shaw – Just The Two Of Us (2004)
5. Gladys Knight & The Pips – Who Is She (And What Is She To You) (1973)
6. The Temptations – Ain’t No Sunshine (1972)
7. Scott Walker – Use Me (1973)
8. The 5th Dimension – Harlem (1974)
9. Aretha Franklin – Let Me In Your Life (1974)
10. Al Jarreau – Kissing My Love (1979)
11. Elkie Brooks – Paint Your Pretty Picture (1980)
12. Herb Alpert – Love Is (1979)
13. Carolyn Franklin – Sweet Naomi (1973)
14. Carmen McRae – I Wish You Well (1976)
15. Nancy Wilson – Hello Like Before (1997)
16. John Legend & The Roots – I Can’t Write Left Handed (2010)

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Previous Songbooks:
Ashford & Simpson
Bob Dylan Volumes 1-5
Bruce Springsteen
Burt Bacharach & Hal David
Burt Bacharach’s Lesser-Known Songbook
Chuck Berry
Cole Porter
Jimmy Webb Vol. 1
Jimmy Webb Vol. 2
Leonard Cohen
Rod Temperton
Steely Dan

 

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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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Any Major Music Firsts

February 25th, 2020 4 comments

 

 

This collection presents a number of firsts in recorded music. These are mostly confirmed firsts; obviously there are many other firsts that are disputed or plain unknown. So while we know what the first jazz, blues country or hip hop records were, it is impossible to determine the first rock & roll record, since the genre evolved from various other genres and therefore is difficult to define. It’s also a point of debate what constitutes the first-ever heave metal record — if I said Helter Skelter, you’d say Black Sabbath and your mom would suggest Blue Cheer’s cover of Summertime Blues — so no contender features here.

Other firsts are easily determined: first recordings by Elvis or The Beatles or Michael Jackson or Frank Sinatra; first record to feature the word “fuck”, even the first use on record of an electric guitar.

The oldest known recording of the human voice dates back to 1860, with an anonymous person singing the French folk song Claire de la lune on a phonautograph (nobody even knows for sure whether it’s a man or a woman). In 1878, Thomas Edison recorded a man reciting nursery rhymes. The man gets it quite wrong, but he is very audible. I haven’t included either of those, but if you really want to know, they are on YouTube.

 

1. Marv Johnson – Come To Me (1959)
First what? Marv Johnson recorded the first single to be released on Tamla, the label that would become Motown, in May 1959. It was co-written by Johnson with Berry Gordy, and reached #30 on the Billboard charts. Johnson would also have the label’s first Top 10 hit, with You’ve Got What It Takes in the early 1960s (also a #7 in the UK).

2. The Dominoes – Sixty Minute Man (1951)
First what? A few black artists had crossed over into the Billboard pop charts, but Billy Ward’s Dominoes were the first R&B act to do so, reaching #17 (having topped the R&B charts). The lyrics were risqué for their time: in them, the protagonist brags about his sex technique and stamina. There’ll be 15 minutes each of kissing, teasing, squeezing and “of blowing my top”. Moreover, “I rock ‘em, roll ‘em all night long.” The use of those words (more on them later) and the song’s crossover success makes it a contender for the elusive “first rock & roll record”.

 


3. The Jackson 5 – Big Boy (1968)
First what? This was the first recording to feature Michael Jackson. Recorded in Chicago in 1967, when MJ was nine, Big Boy was released on the Steeltown label in the Jacksons’ hometown of Gary, Indiana. It became a minor hit locally but did nothing regionally, never mind nationally. The band released one more single on Steeltown before they signed with Motown later in 1968. It’s fair to say that there they eclipsed their success on Steeltown.

4. The Fatback Band – King Tim III (Personality Jock) (1979)
First what? Released on 25 March 1979, six months before the Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, this is the first commercially released hip hop record, as the flip side of the disco number You’re My Candy Sweet. While the Sugar Hill Gang was a rap act (albeit one thrown together by producer Sylvia Robinson), the Fatback Band was actually a funk and disco outfit. The eponymous King Tim is Fatback Band lead singer Tim Washington.

5. The Maytals – Do The Reggay (1968)
First what? This is the song that gave the name reggae to the modern Jamaican music that was evolving from ska and rocksteady. As The Maytals’ song title suggests, the term “reggay” was until then used to describe as dance. The song was written by Maytals leader Toots Hibbert.

6. The Beatles – Across The Universe (1970)
First what? In 2008, this Beatles track from 1970s’ Let It Be album was the first song beamed into space, chosen for apparent reasons. Aliens thought: “And that’s The Beatles’ best song?”

7. The Boswell Sisters – Rock And Roll (1934)
First what? A few songs ago we noted how The Dominoes used the terminology of rockin’ and rollin’ in their crossover hit from 1951. The verb “to rock” was used in a song title in 1927 in country singer Uncle Dave Macon’s Rock About My Sara Jane, but the Boswell Sisters in 1934 were the first to use the name of the future pop genre in a title. Unlike The Dominoes’ lyrics, the song, from the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round, was not about sex but about “the rolling rocking rhythm of the sea”.

8. Trixie Smith – My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) (1938)
First what? First recorded in 1922, Trixie Smith’s My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) marks the first mention of both “rock” and “roll” as sex metaphor in lyrics. I’m using the 1938 version, because Smith’s voice had matured by then, influencing future R&B singers in ways her cartoonish 1920s voice didn’t.

9. Buddy Jones – Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama (1939)
First what? Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama is generally regarded as the first rockabilly song (and, yes, rock and roll is used as sex slang here). Buddy Jones was an early exponent of western swing, the sub-genre in country which drew from black musical forms. Since rockabilly was a huge influence on rock & roll — by the mid-’50s the two were virtually undistinguishable — Buddy Jones can be described as a proto-rock & roller. Alas, he died at 53 in 1956, just as rock & roll was becoming big. But by then he was long retired from the music biz.

 

10. Elvis Presley – My Happiness (1953)
11. Elvis Presley – That’s When The Heartaches Begin (1953)
First what? These are the first two recordings Elvis made when he was an amateur. On 18 July 1953, the 18-year-old truck driver Elvis Presley walked into Memphis’ Sun studios to avail himself of a service whereby members of the public could record a double-sided acetate. As a present for his mother, Elvis recorded these two ballads. Secretary Marion Keisker was so impressed by this boy that she advised the studio owner Sam Phillips to audition him. Which, it turns out, Phillips did.

12. The Quarrymen – In Spite Of All The Danger (1958)
First what? This is the first recording of the three young guys who’d become The Beatles: John Lennon (the leader of the Quarrymen), Paul McCartney and George Harrison. On 12 July 1958 they laid down two tracks for a demo at the Kensington recording studio — well, living room — of Percy F Phillips: a cover of the Buddy Holly song That’ll Be The Day, and the Elvis-inspired In Spite Of All The Danger, a Paul McCartney & George Harrison composition with John on lead vocals. With the Fab Three were John “Duff” Lowe on piano and Colin Hanton on drums. Each member held on to the shellac record for a week, until it was Lowe’s turn… who kept it for 23 years. In 1981 McCartney bought it from his old school friend, “at an inflated price”. In 1995, after having the two sides cleaned up, McCartney had them included on the Anthology set.

13. The Hoboken Four – Shine (1935)
First what? This is the first recording of Frank Sinatra, as a member of The Hoboken Four on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show. The group won and was awarded a six-month contract to perform on the radio and on stage. It was an important event in the career of Sinatra, even if he left the group later that year to job as a singing waiter.

14. Frank Mane Orchestra with Frank Sinatra – Our Love (1939)
First what? This was first song which Frank Sinatra recorded in a studio, for Frank Mane’s Orchestra on 18 March 1939. Our Love was not released, though. It survived as an acetate in Frank Mane’s personal collection, and was finally released after Mane’s widow auctioned it off in 2006 for $14,000.

 

15. Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra – Hittin’ The Bottle (1935)
First what? Hittin’ The Bottle was the first song to feature an “amplified guitar”, what we’d now call an electric guitar. It was played by Eddie Durham, who had experimented with various guitar effects for a few years already.

16. Martha Tilton – Moondreams (1941)
First what? On 6 April 1942, Martha Tilton recorded the first song for Capitol Records, a company just founded by the songwriter Johnny Mercer, who also supervised the recording. Capitol went on to become of the giants of recorded music, with legends such as Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, The Kingston Trio and, in the 1960s, the Beach Boys and The Beatles on their roster.

 

17. Eddy Arnold – Texarkana Baby (1949)
First what? On 31 March 1949 Eddy Arnold became the first act to have a song released on a 45RPM 7” single. Released by RCA, who had tried unsuccessfully to introduce 12” vinyl records in the early 1930s, Texarkana Baby came out on green vinyl. It was not the first 7” single to be pressed; that was a demo titled Whirl Away, which nevertheless featured a sample of the Arnold song.

18. Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra with Frank Sinatra – I’ll Never Smile Again (1940)
First what? This was the first #1 on Billboard’s “National List of Best Selling Retail Records”, on 27 July 1940, which replaced the three separate hit parades that since 1936 had listed separately the top Sheet Music Best Sellers; Records Most Popular on Music Machines and Songs With the Most Radio Plugs. I’ll Never Smile Again, recorded in May 1940 and billed as a foxtrot, topped the charts for 12 weeks.

19. Al Martino – Here In My Heart (1952)
First what? Al Martino scored the very first UK #1, in November 1952 when it was the NME Top 10. He topped the charts for nine weeks before being toppled by Jo Stafford’s You Belong To Me.

20. Eddy Duchin with Patricia Norman – Ol’ Man Moses (1938)
First what? This is probably the first song to use the word “fuck”. The word was not in the lyrics of the original Louis Armstrong song, but singer Patricia Norman pretty clearly doesn’t sing the prescribed line “buck’, buck, bucket”. Instead the song goes “(We found out) He kicked the bucket, (We found out) Where’s the man? Fuck, fuck, fuck it.”

 

21. Jimmie Rodgers – Blue Yodel No.9 (1930)
First what? Although there were black country musicians even in the early days of the genre, they didn’t record with their white counterparts. In 1930, Jimmie Rodgers became the first white country act to record with a black musician, in the person of Louis Armstrong (albeit initially uncredited). Both men were megastars in their respective genres. Rodgers died in 1933, aged only 35.

22. George W. Johnson – The Laughing Song (1891)
First what? Recorded on wax cylinder, this is the first recording by an African-American singer. Johnson was quite a star in his day, so much so that he was promoted across racial lines. The Laughing Song and the racist The Whistling Coon were the best-selling recordings in the US in the early 1890s, selling somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 (each wax cylinder had to be recorded individually, so Johnson was a busy man). Born in 1846 to a slave, Johnson was brought up as a companion to a Virginia farmer’s son. After the civil war he moved to New York City, where he became a street entertainer before hitting stardom. He also had a turbulent private life: both his common-law wives died in suspicious circumstances; possibly at Johnson’s hands.

23. Dinwiddie Colored Quartet – Down On The Old Campground (1902)
First what? This is the first record by African-Americans to be put on disc, and the first ever gospel record. It is not, however, the first black group to be recorded: in 1893 four songs were recorded on wax cylinder by the barbershop quartet Unique Quartette (the first of these is included as a bonus track). The Dinwiddie Colored Quartet cut six tracks for the Victor Talking Machine Company in October 1902.

24. Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band – Dixie Jass Band One-Step (1917)
First what? The first-ever jazz record was released in 1917 by a bunch of white guys (the flip-side was Livery Stable Blues, which therefore is also the first-ever jazz record). And it was so popular that W.C. Handy, the Father of the Blues, would cover it. Jass was the original spelling of the genre’s name, first documented in 1915. The first-ever jazz record was also one of the first to use an unauthorised sample, of Joe Jordan’s 1909 song That Teasin’ Rag. After a court case, subsequent pressings had to carry Jordan’s song-title in brackets: “Introducing ‘That Teasin’ Rag’”.

25. A.C. ‘Eck’ Robertson – Sallie Gooden (1922)
First what? This is the first-ever country record, recorded on 30 June 1922 in New York City by 35-year old Texan fiddler Eck Robertson and released by Victor. At the time the term country music didn’t exist; before that was invented in the 1940s the genre was often called Old-Time Music. But the label bills the type of music on this record as “Country Dance”.

 

26. Fiddlin’ John Carson – Little Old Cabin In The Lane (1923)
First what? Little Old Cabin In The Lane, a minstrel song from the 1870s, was the first country hit record. Recorded in Atlanta, it was released on the Okeh label. Read a Any Major potted history of country music.

27. The Victor Military Band – Memphis Blues (1914)
First what? It might not sound much like it, nor do the performers have a name to suggest it, but this is generally regarded to be the first blues record to be released. Of course, the song definitely is a blues song, written in 1912 by W.C. Handy, the first breakthrough blues artist. The Victor Military Band was a houseband of the Victor label, the giant that would later become RCA.

28. Walter M. Schirra Jr. & Thomas P. Stafford – Jingle Bells (1965)
First what? On 16 December 1965, astronauts Walter Schirra Jr. and Thomas Stafford played an impromptu version of Jingle Bells, relayed from their spacecraft to ground control, making this the first piece of music broadcast from space. The musical performance, performed with a harmonica and a jingle bell, was preceded by the astronauts making a gag about an UFO they had sighted… namely Santa Claus.

Bonus Tracks:
Unique Quartette – Mama’s Black Baby Boy (1893, first recording by black group)
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh In Society (1909, first time ‘jazz’ is mentioned on a record)
The Quarrymen – That’ll Be The Day (1958, The Beatles first recorded performance)
Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star (1979, first song played on MTV)

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Life In Vinyl 1987 Vol. 1

February 13th, 2020 1 comment

The first half of my 1987 was tinged by retro, much as the UK charts were. As the year begun, Jackie Wilson was at #1 with Reet Petite; and the follow-up re-releases — The Sweetest Feeling and Higher And Higher — also charted well. In February, Ben E. King topped the charts with Stand By Me, thanks to the Levis 501s commercial. Percy Sledge hit #2 with When A Man Loves A Woman around the same time, also on the back of a Levi’s ad. In April Doris Day’s 1964 hit Move Over Darling returned to the charts, also thanks to a commercial. And so on.

I loved it, especially the soul revival, which found fine expression in Wendy May’s Friday night club Locomotion at the Kentish Town & Country Club in north London, a jog away from my flat. The rules of playlisting were strict: nothing but soul music from the 1960s and ’70s (popular soul, not the specialists’ rare tracks scene of Northern Soul).

If that rule was broken, then I recall only one instance. Local-based Terence Trent D’Arby, a US singer who had just arrived from Germany a few months earlier, had his debut single out. If You Let Me Stay, a superb track with a bit of a ’60s soul vibe, would be played at the Locomotion, doubtless helping it into the charts. I certainly bought the single well before it was a hit.

There were other soul singles which I thought deserved to be hits. Paul Johnson’s When Love Comes Calling, on which the singer hits a hell of a long falsetto note, unaccountably stalled at #52. Produced by Junior Giscombe, it should have been a hit. But, as we have seen in the past few years, the British public is an idiot.

Likewise, the lush Don’t Come To Stay by Hot House barely dented the charts. It spent a week at #74 in February 1987. A reissue troubled the charts in September 1988 to the tune of #70 (the good follow-up to the ’87 release, The Way We Talk, didn’t even chart!). The singer of Hot House was Heather Small, still with an attractive soul voice. She later switched her vocals into foghorn mode for the successful but mostly regrettable M-People.

In April ’87 I saw Johnny Clegg & Savuka at the Kentish Town & Country Club. I had seen Clegg with his previous band Juluka several times in South Africa. There wasn’t much of a difference, and when they played Scatterlings Of Africa, to me it was just one of several Juluka songs they played. But on the Savuka LP Third World Child, it had been re-recorded, and to good effect. The single of it did little to bother the charts: it spent one week at #75 (the Juluka version had peaked at #44 in 1983).

Clegg was, of course, an icon of the struggle against apartheid, though his audience of South African expats at the gig probably didn’t all share his views. Labi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong riffed along the same lines. A song about apartheid, its single cover showed a segregation sign in South Africa. Songs like these and the cultural boycott helped mobilise international opposition against apartheid. We didn’t know it then, but within less than three years, apartheid would fold. Don’t let anybody say that cultural boycotts of evil regimes don’t work. They do, and that’s why evil regimes don’t like them.

In my memory, I tended to think of Duran Duran’s Skin Trade — a song that was clearly more than a little influenced by Prince — as a comeback single. But it wasn’t. Notorious had been a hit just a few months earlier. But Skin Trade, which stalled at #22, did signal an end to Duran’s run of ten Top 10 hits on the trot.

If you asked me for my favourite track of 1987, I might be tempted to name Sherrick’s Just Call, a soul groover with a great bassline. That would be the emotional answer, rather than one propelled by discernment of artistic merit. Just Call smells like 1987. It’s a fine track, even if Sherrick looked a lot like a 1980s soul singer cliché. Alas, he died in 1999 at the age of only 41.

So, let’s revisit the first eight months of 1987, with a second part coming later this year.

1. Blow Monkeys – It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way
2. A-ha – Manhattan Skyline
3. Simply Red – The Right Thing
4. Carly Simon – Coming Around Again
5. Duran Duran – Skin Trade
6. Hot House – Don’t Come To Stay
7. Paul Johnson – When Love Comes Calling
8. Terence Trent D’Arby – If You Let Me Stay
9. Sly & Robbie – Boops
10. Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Scatterlings Of Africa
11. Labi Siffre – Something Inside So Strong
12. Jody Watley – Looking For A New Love
13. ABC – When Smokey Sings
14. The Christians – Hooverville (And They Promised Us The World)
15. The Cure – Catch
16. Echo and the Bunnymen – Lips Like Sugar
17. Heart – Alone
18. Sherrick – Just Call
19. Jonathan Butler – Lies

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Any Major Women Vol. 2

January 23rd, 2020 2 comments

 

Here is a second tribute to all the girls I’ve known before. As with Any Major Women Vol. 1, here I want to be clear that I’m talking about women who have been in my life in some way or another — as family, friends, loves and lovers.

Again, the lyrics of the songs applied to their names obviously don’t necessarily reflect my relationship with or feelings about the women in question. There’s nothing to be inferred from the song choices.

The Nina in my life certainly was not a gay woman trying to use me for a beard, as she is in Jens Lekman’s marvellous song. And “my” Sandra was  definitely not lousy with virginity until she was legally wed. I was quite happy to say good-bye to “my” Nadine. And Dawn must stay around. But I’m sure Peggy doesn’t remember me. I do hope the girl referenced by the Claude King song remembers me for that very brief encounter we shared very many years ago…

I must confess that I have never known a Jolene; the titular character stands in for a for an erstwhile flame with a very similar name.

As always, CD-R length (plus one bonus track), home-cooked covers, PW in comments.

1. Toto – Pamela (1988)
2. Steely Dan – Peg (1977)
3. Hall & Oates – Sara Smile (1975)
4. Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Jennifer She Said (1988)
5. Elvis Costello – Alison (1977)
6. Mindy Smith – Jolene (2004)
7. Indigo Girls – Get Out The Map (Joni, Suzanne & Beth, 1997)
8. Jessi Colter – I’m Not Lisa (Lisa & Julie, 1975)
9. Claude King – Anna (1965)
10. The Four Seasons – Dawn (Go Away) (1964)
11. Four Tops – Bernadette (1967)
12. Sarah Vaughan – Bianca (1949)
13. Paul & Paula – Hey, Paula (1962)
14. The Passions – Gloria (1959)
15. Ray Peterson – Corinna Corinna (1960)
16. Carpenters – Eve (1969)
17. Elton John – Lady Samantha (1974)
18. Jimi Hendrix Experience – The Wind Cries Mary (1967)
19. Neutral Milk Hotel – Naomi (1995)
20. The National – Karen (2005)
21. Jens Lekman – A Postcard To Nina (2007)
22. Mungo Jerry – Hello Nadine (1974)
23. Frank Sinatra – Tina (1963)
24. Stockard Channing – Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee (Sandra, 1978)
Bonus: Boz Scaggs – Simone (1980)

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