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Song Swarm: Over The Rainbow

November 22nd, 2012 11 comments

 

Over The Rainbow tends to top respectable lists of greatest-ever songs. And as long as it beats My Way in doing so, I”m all for it. It nearly didn”t become such a huge hit. Written by Harold Arlen with lyrics by EY Harburg, MGM wanted to cut it from The Wizard Of Oz film because the ballad, performed early in the film before the storm hits, was dragging matters out before the colour section, then still a novelty, would begin. Happily, the song was retained, thanks to the lobbying from associate producer Arthur Freed and arranger Roger Edens, Judy Garland”s mentor.

Dorothy, carrying on waywardly to evade the dust in the wind etc.

Garland recorded the version for the film on 7 October 1938, and a single version for Decca on 28 July 1939. Both versions are included here. It was not Garland”s version that provided the biggest hit of the song in 1939, but those by Glenn Miller and Bing”s brother Bob Crosby, both also featured here. The sheet music for the song included a first verse which was dropped from the Garland version. We hear it here in the version by Ella Fitzgerald.

Invariably, a tearful female singer-songwriter will whisper a fragile cover version that is supposed to be “heart-rendering”; Tori Amos and Ingrid Michaelson do delicately doleful duties here. On the other end of the spectrum are the histrionics of Patti LaBelle”s live performances of the song, which are a bit like expressing sensitive emotions with an atomic sledgehammer. You are spared that nonsense, instead getting an interesting interpretation from 1966 by Patti”s old group, The Bluebelles. Far better to have Jerry Lee Lewis or The Marcels giving it an upbeat treatment, or the punkified version of Me First And The Gimme Gimmes.

Thanks to the late Israel Kamakawiwo”ole, there are now also surfer-guitar ways of doing Over The Rainbow; the TV show Glee picked up on that vibe in a version performed by Matthew Morrison with Gwynneth Paltrow. Those who like things a bit darker will enjoy the depressive mumblings of German singer Blixa Bargeld, co-founder of Einstürzende Neubauten and Nick Cave collaborator.

Obviously there are copious jazz versions, some executed straight up with vocal accompaniment, others instrumentals that stretch the tune in the way jazz people do. Erroll Garner, Art Tatum and Maynard Ferguson all offer great examples of the latter. James Moody”s version is the one you want to dig out for that romantic dinner. Byard Lancaster”s version, however, admits only a casual acquaintance with the tune.

There are a couple of non-jazz intrumentals. Chet Atkin and Les Paul playing together is any guitar-lovers” dream. More bizarre is the version credited to Rolf Harris; alas, the great Australian doesn”t sing or even perform here, but produces young stylophonists.

Ultimately Over The Rainbow is a crooner”s number. We have Frank Sinatra doing it his way in one of at least two versions he recorded, and even Harry Nilsson playing it torchsong style. But I particularly like Matt Monro”s slightly blues-inflected rendition and Ella Fitzgerald”s wonderfully comfortable version.

Here are some of the versions that have been recorded. Some, all or none might be on the mix which you can download. Password in the comments section.

1938 Judy Garland “¢ 1939 Glenn Miller “¢ 1939 Larry Clinton “¢ 1939 Judy Garland (with Victor Young) “¢ 1939 Bob Crosby “¢ 1940s Cleaver “¢ 1946 Jimmy Durante “¢ 1946 Boyd Raeburn’s Orchestra “¢ 1947 Frank Sinatra “¢ 1950 James Moody and his Cool Cats “¢ 1952 Erroll Garner “¢ 1954 Maynard Ferguson “¢ 1954 Dave Brubeck & Paul Desmond “¢ 1955 Sarah Vaughan “¢ 1955 Art Tatum “¢ 1958 Caterina Valente “¢ 1961 Ella Fitzgerald “¢ 1961 The Marcels “¢ 1961 Aretha Franklin “¢ 1962 Chet Baker “¢ 1963 The Beatles “¢ 1966 Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles “¢ 1968 Byard Lancaster “¢ 1970 Rolf Harris “¢ 1975 Rod McKuen “¢ 1975 Matt Monro “¢ 1978 Chet Atkins & Les Paul “¢ Jerry Lee Lewis “¢ Harry Nilsson “¢ 1989 Olivia Newton-John “¢ 1991 Richard Elliot “¢ 1992 The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy “¢ 1993 James McMillan & Tracy Thorn “¢ 1993 Nana Mouskouri “¢ 1995 Blixa Bargeld “¢ Chris Spheeris & Paul Voudouris “¢ 1996 Tori Amos “¢ 1998 Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps “¢ 1992 Eva Cassidy “¢ 1999 Me First And The Gimme Gimmes “¢ 2001 Jane Monheit “¢ 2001 Faith Hill “¢ 2002 Martina McBride “¢ 2002 Eric Clapton “¢ 2002 Ernesto Cortazar “¢ 2004 Ray Charles & Johnny Mathis “¢ 2004 Innocence Mission “¢ 2005 Anne Murray “¢ 2008 Dave Koz “¢ 2008 Ingrid Michaelson “¢ 2009 Jewel “¢ 2009 Clare and the Reasons “¢ 2010 Matthew Morrison & Gwynneth Paltrow

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(PW in comments)

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Song Swarm: Georgia On My Mind

October 12th, 2011 4 comments

Georgia On My Mind is most commonly associated with Ray Charles. It appears on every tribute album to Ray, and Willie Nelson (who recorded the song in 1978) sang it at his funeral. But Georgia was a standard long before Ray Charles made it his own.

It was written by Hoagy Carmichael and lyricist Stuart Gorrell in 1930. The story goes that the Georgia of the title was originally intended to refer to Hoagy”s sister, but realising that Gorell”s words could apply also to the southern US state, the writers were happy to keep things ambiguous. The plan worked: the song was a massive hit especially in the South, and since 1979 it has been the state song of Georgia (a better choice than the tourist-unfriendly Rainy Night In Georgia, the loser-comes-home Midnight Train To Georgia, or the infrastructure-deficient The Lights Went Out In Georgia). When Georgia adopted the song, two years before Hoagy”s death, it was Ray Charles who performed it at ceremony in Atlanta

Carmichael”s version features jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. Beiderbecke, a huge star at the time, died a few months later at 28, but Carmichael went on to enjoy a long career, and is perhaps even better known for Stardust and Heart And Soul than he is for Georgia, which he nonetheless re-recorded a few times. Frankie Trumbauer (who according to Carmichael”s 1965 memoirs suggested that he write a song about the southern state, thereby contradicting the much better story above) scored a hit with the song in 1931, as did Mildred Bailey.

Ray Charles, who was born in Georgia but grew up in Florida, recorded his version in 1960, reportedly at the advice of his driver who had heard Ray sing it to himself in the car. It was an instant hit, topping the US charts. The song did not do as well in Britain where it troubled the charts only once when Ray Charles” version reached the undizzying heights of #24.

The present song swarm provides just a cross-section of covers. There obviously are the early vocal versions (Gene Krupa”s take with Anita O”Day on the vocals is the best of those, though some might prefer Billie Holiday”s), instrumental jazz (very different versions by Artie Shaw, Django Reinhardt, Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, and Grover Washington Jr with Eric Gale on guitar), country (Brenda Lee ““ with a spoken bit ““ Jerry Reed, Ronnie Sullivan, Jerry Lee Lewis), soul (The Manhattans), rock (The Uniques), folk (Tim Hardin, Anya Marina), those versions that built on Ray Charles” template (Righteous Brothers, Tom Jones, Stevie Winwood, Maceo Parker, whose version which features James Brown”s old saxophonist himself on great vocals), and even a cappella (The Society of Orpheus and Bacchus from Yale University). And there is a rather odd live take by Led Zeppelin from 1973.

Forced to choose a favourite, other than Ray”s, I”d be torn between Lou Rawls” jazzy 1963 take  and that by the late South African musician Robbie Jansen. The latter choice might be clouded by having heard Jansen sing it live; the recorded version doesn”t do justice to his live performances of the song.

One version is a medley: New Orleans musician Eddie Snoozer Quinn plays Georgia On My Mind and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, another standard that would become a signature tune for a later act. The song was recorded in 1948 by Snoozer”s friend and long-time collaborator Johnny Wiggs, shortly before Snoozer died of tuberculosis.

So, here are 48 versions of Georgia On My Mind. Which ones do you like best?

TRACKLISTING
1930 Hoagy Carmichael “¢ 1931 Frankie Trumbauer Orchestra “¢ 1931 Louis Armstrong “¢ 1931 Mildred Bailey “¢ 1931 Washboard Rhythm Kings “¢ 1936 Django Reinhardt “¢ 1941 Artie Shaw “¢ 1941 Billie Holiday “¢ 1941 Fats Waller “¢ 1941 Gene Krupa feat Anita O’Day “¢ 1948 Snoozer Quinn & Johnny Wiggs “¢ 1949 Frankie Laine “¢ 1952 Jack Teagarden Orchestra “¢ 1955 Dean Martin “¢ 1958 Danny Guglielmi “¢ 1960 Ray Charles “¢ 1961 Brenda Lee “¢ 1961 Ella Fitzgerald “¢ 1962 Ronnie Sullivan “¢ 1963 Lou Rawls “¢ 1963 Oscar Peterson Trio “¢ 1963 The Righteous Brothers “¢ 1964 Les Double Six “¢ 1965 Matt Monro “¢ 1966 The Uniques “¢ 1969 Jerry Reed “¢ 1970 The Manhattans “¢ 1971 Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer & Boots Randolph “¢ 1971 Tim Hardin “¢ 1972 Grover Washington Jr. “¢ 1972 Mauro Sérgio (Georgia, Meu Amor) “¢ 1973 Led Zeppelin “¢ 1974 Herb Ellis & Joe Pass “¢ 1977 Jerry Lee Lewis “¢ 1978 Mina “¢ 1978 Willie Nelson “¢ 1986 Stanley Jordan “¢ 1993 Shirley Horn “¢ 2000 Robbie Jansen “¢ 2002 V Morrison “¢ 2004 Marc Broussard “¢ 2005 Alicia Keys & Jamie Foxx “¢ 2005 Anya Marina “¢ 2006 Tom Jones “¢ 2007 Maceo Parker “¢ 2008 Eric Clapton & Stevie Winwood “¢ 2009 Hugh Laurie (from House) “¢ 2010 The SOBs

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Song Swarm: Light My Fire

December 30th, 2010 12 comments

The story goes that Jim Morrison hated Light My Fire, The Doors” great breakthrough hit. Recorded in August 1966, it was released in January 1967, at the dawn of the so-called Summer of Love. If it was true that Morrison disliked it, I”d sort of concur with his judgment. In fact, he didn”t hate the song, but resented that he had only a small part in writing his band”s signature hit (most of it was written by guitarist Robby Krieger).

I don”t like The Doors much, and have more respect than affection for their version of Light My Fire. No, let me rephrase it. I dislike Jim Morrison and hate his mannered vocals on the song (as opposed to Ray Manzarek”s magnificent keyboard line). It is a great song that has been covered hundreds of times, usually to good effect. It is the mark of a fine song when it is difficult to fuck it up. And when a song is interpreted in so many different ways as Light My Fire is here, it incontrovertibly is a truly great song. I predict that the reader who will listen to all versions offered here in one go won”t get bored with it.

Of the 38 versions collated here, only one is gratingly bad: that by Train, which appeared, of all things, on a Doors tribute album (I have refrained from throwing Will Young”s chart-topping karaoke effort into the mix). I include Train”s version for the sake of curiosity, but the most curious interpretation here is that of Mae West, by then 79 years old. Clearly aiming for the gerontophile market, Mae purrs and pouts and outsexes Jim Morrision himself. The backing track, apparently by an outfit called The Hot Rockers, is quite good. I know nothing more about them, alas.

Some versions here take The Doors” original as their template; more follow the path created by José Felicianio”s superior cover. The best of these, Minnie Riperton”s posthumously released take, sees Feliciano guesting (he turns up again later on a DVD rip of a Ricky Martin concert, when the somg morphs into Santana’s Oye Como Va)

Feliciano provided the blueprint for the pop and jazz vocalists, with Julie London”s flutey take and Shirley Bassey”s interpretation (which sounds much like a Bond theme) especially good. An early adopter was soul/jazz singer Spanky Wilson. I suspect that her version was as influential as Feliciano”s in attracting the many soul covers. Jackie Wilson, Clarence Carter, Rhetta Hughes (inspiring), Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band (surprisingly understated), Erma Franklin, Stevie Wonder (gloriously overproduced) and the Four Tops (“sizzle, sizzle, sizzle me, baby”) all recorded their covers in 1969; Al Green and Isaac Hayes did so in 1971 and “73. A few years later Carol Douglas and Amii Stewart issued disco versions. So did Baccara, whom I hold close to my heart, but not for their horrible 1978 version which I decline to inflict upon the kind reader.

Light My Fire has lent itself to instrumental coverage. Some of it is quite excellent (Young Holt Unlimited; Booker T. and the MG’s slower interpretation; Ananda Shankar”s Indian take), some veer into easy listening territory (Edmundo Ros” cha cha cha flavoured version; Helmut Zacharias” bizarre violin-dominated James Last-goes-psychedelic job). The Ebony Rhythm Band in 2004 recorded a quite splendid psychedelic retro soul version. And then there is English violinist Nigel Kennedy giving it a classical twist, with the arranging help of former Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman.

Bringing the threads of these different versions together is Mike Flower Pops, the outfit that specialised in recreating the sounds of the 1960s, having been invented for that purpose by restyling Oasis” Wonderwall, scratchy vinyl and all, as a gag on allegations of the Mancunians” alleged plagiariasm.

It is fitting, I think, that the mix should end with two recent songs from the Latin genre ““ Tahta Menezes” bossa nova take and Uruguayan singer/actress Natalia Oreiro”s moody rendition ““ signalling that Light My Fire is indeed Feliciano”s song. Can you spot whose version is missing?

The first Song Swarm covered By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Interestingly, five of the 23 performers on that mix return here: Erma Franklin, the Four Tops, Johnny Mathis, Isaac Hayes and, of course, José Feliciano.

TRACKLISTING
1. Jos̩ Feliciano РLight My Fire
2. Spanky Wilson – Light My Fire
3. Johnny Mathis – Light My Fire
4. BJ Thomas – Light My Fire
5. Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity – Light My Fire
6. Julie London – Light My Fire
7. Jackie Wilson – Light My Fire
8. Clarence Carter – Light My Fire
9. Rhetta Hughes – Light My Fire
10. The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – Light My Fire
11. Erma Franklin – Light My Fire
12. Booker T. and the MG’s – Light My Fire
13. Young Holt Unlimited – Light My Fire
14. Nancy Sinatra – Light My Fire
15. Astrud Gilberto – Light My Fire
16. Stevie Wonder – Light My Fire
17. The Four Tops – Light My Fire
18. Edmundo Ros – Light My Fire
19. Ananda Shankar – Light My Fire
20. Shirley Bassey – Light My Fire
21. Larry Page Orchestra – Light My Fire
22. Al Green – Light My Fire
23. Free Design – Light My Fire
24. Helmut Zacharias – Light My Fire
25. Mae West – Light My Fire
26. Isaac Hayes – Light My Fire
27. Carol Douglas – Light My Fire
28. Amii Stewart – Light My Fire
29. Minnie Riperton feat Jos̩ Feliciano РLight My Fire
30. Massive Attack – Light My Fire
31. Mike Flowers Pops – Light My Fire
32. Ricky Martin with Jos̩ Feliciano & Carlos Santana РLight My Fire/Oye Como Va
33. Nigel Kennedy & Jaz Coleman – Light My Fire
34. Train – Light My Fire
35. Cibo Matto – Light My Fire
36. Ebony Rhythm Band – Light My Fire
37. Tahta Menezes – Light My Fire
38. Natalia Oreiro – Light My Fire

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