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The Originals: 1980s Vol. 2

August 25th, 2020 5 comments

In this instalment of The Originals, we return to the 1980s with a second volume. As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, plus a handful of bonus tracks, coming to a playlist of 32 lesser-known originals of 1980s hits.

 

Holding Back The Years
Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years sounds like a cover version of an obscure 1960s soul number, and the versions by Randy Crawford and Angie Stone show just how good a soul song it is. But it is, in fact, a Mick Hucknall composition.

Before Hucknall became Simply Red (would you recognise any of the other interchangeable members in the street?), he was the lead singer of the Frantic Elevators, a punk group whose formation was inspired by the Sex Pistols’ 1976 Manchester gig. They stayed together for seven years of very limited success, releasing four non-charting singles and recording a Peel session at the BBC.

The last of their four singles, released in 1982, was Holding Back The Years, a song Hucknall had mostly written as a 17-year-old about his mother’s desertion when he was three (he added the chorus later). Their version is understated and almost morose, in a Joy Division sort of way. Although released independently, as the cut-and-paste artwork on the slightly disturbing sleeve suggests, they had high hopes for the single. Ineffective distribution dashed those hopes.

In 1983, Hucknall left the Frantic Elevators and went on to found Simply Red (who before arriving at that name were called World Service, Red and the Dancing Dead, and Just Red). The first single, Money’s Too Tight To Mention — a cover version of The Valentine Brothers song (featured on Any Major Originals Vol. 1) — was an instant hit. The follow-up single but one was a remake of Holding Back The Years, now rendered as a soul number. On its first release in late 1985 it flopped. Re-released in 1986, it became a worldwide smash, even topping the Billboard charts.

Talk Talk
Another act covering (part of) itself was Talk Talk who recorded their 1993 hit Talk Talk from an original titled Talk Talk Talk Talk. The song was written by the late Mark Hollis, and originally recorded by his previous band, Reaction. It appeared on the Beggars Banquet punk compilation Streets, which was released in late 1977.

I’ve Never Been To Me
The song that has invited much ridicule, especially regarding what exactly a woman isn’t supposed to see, has been widely covered. Among those who’d never been to themselves were Nancy Wilson, Walter Jackson, The Temptations, and Howard Keel. But the first to lament her lifetime of non-hedonism was Randy Crawford, who released it in October 1976 on her debut album, Everything Must Change. Soon after it was recorded by Charlene, a Motown singer.

I’ve Never Been To Me was co-written by Motown songwriter Ron Miller, whose hits included Stevie Wonder’s For Once In My Life, A Place in the Sun, Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday, and Heaven Help Us All, and Diana Ross’ Touch Me in the Morning.

Charlene was a singer for Motown who also wrote songs and produced. Part of her job was to record demos of songs. In 1976 she teamed up with Miller to release her debut album. Released in December that year, it included three singles which just about reached the 90s in the US Top 100 each. The third of these was I’ve Never Been To Me.

While the song was a minor hit by singer Marti Caine in Canada in 1978, and was recorded by Nancy Wilson and Walter Jackson, both in 1977, for Charlene commercial failure meant the end of the dream of hedonistic stardom. She quit her job and emigrated to England. Then in 1982, a DJ in Florida played I’ve Never Been To Me on the radio, and listeners loved it. Motown re-released the single, and it became a worldwide hit. For Charlene, it would be the only big hit. She scored a minor hit with a duet with Stevie Wonder in 1982.

 

Pass The Dutchie
A drug anthem sung by children, Pass The Dutchie was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic, which was unusual for a reggae number.

Pass The Dutchie was a cover of Pass the Kouchie by the Mighty Diamonds (a trio of adults singing about sharing a marijuana pipe), also from 1982. And both can be said to have borrowed their hook from 1969’s instrumental Full Up by the Sound Dimension.

Tom Hark
A staple these days on English football grounds, the impossibly catchy Tom Hark had its origins in South Africa. There was no Tom Hark: the song’s title was either a pun or more likely a sloppy mis-heard rendering of the word tomahawk, the axes gangs in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township used to carry.

Composer “Big Voice” Jack Lerole and his mates used to record in the pennywhistle-based kwela genre, though it was not yet known by that name — the contemporary term was marabi or pennywhistle jive. The word kwela is Zulu for “Get up”, and as kwela-kwela it was also a township term for a police van (after the cops” command “Kwela! Kwela!”, meaning “get in”), the unwelcome approach of which often was signalled by a lookout blowing his tin flute.

Lerole, commonly known as Jake, learnt to play the pennywhistle as a little boy, observing the flautists from Scottish regiments that often played near Alexandra and which influenced a generation of pennywhistlers who adapted the complex techniques of flute-playing to the simple pennywhistle, thereby enhancing its versatility.

Lerole and his bandmembers recorded under several names, mostly as Alexandra Black Mambazo (mambazo is Zulu for axe — or tomahawk), but were signed by EMI in 1956 as Elias and His Zig Zag Jive Flutes; the Elias of the moniker being Lerole”s brother.

Having recorded Tomahawk, or Tom Hark, EMI sold the rights to the song to British TV to serve as the theme for a series called The Killing Stone. On the back of that, the song became a British hit, reaching #2 in 1958 (a concurrent version by bandleader Ted Heath reached #24). Lerole and his band received £6 for recording the song and not a red cent in royalties, even when the song became an international hit again in 1980 with an affectionate cover by the British ska band The Piranhas, whose frontman Bob Grover put lyrics to the song (“The whole things daft, I don’t know why, you have to laugh or else you cry”). On the single cover The Piranhas paid tribute to the original by emblazoning it with the word “kwela”.

After the Alexandra Black Mambazo split in 1963, Lerole enjoyed a fair career, though more as a gravelly baritone singer and saxophonist than as a pennywhistler, having followed the lead of pennywhistle king Spokes Mashiyane into the new mbaqanga style of music. He made a comeback in the 1980s as a member of the multiracial group Mango Groove (which recorded Tom Hark with their own lyrics), on whose first hit, Dance Sum More (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nlom0-Z0RBE), Lerole provided his distinctive growling vocals. Before Mango Groove became famous in South Africa, he left the group.

In 1998 he and the reformed Alex Black Mambazo were invited by South African-born Dave Matthews to perform with his group in the US. The band performed to international acclaim and total indifference in their home country. Leralo died in 2003 at the age of 63.

In The Army Now
Also from South Africa, though from a very different cultural context, were the Bolland brothers, Rob and Ferdi. The year 1986 was lucrative for the brothers. First their song Rock Me Amadeus, performed by the Austrian cult singer Falco, topped the UK charts (having been a huge hit in Europe the previous year), and then Status Quo hit the UK Top 10 with their cover of the brothers’ 1981 song In The Army Now.

Born in Port Elizabeth, the Bolland brothers had emigrated to the Netherlands, and started their recording career in 1972 as a folk-rock duo. When that genre became passé they hooked into the electronic sounds of the late 1970s. In The Army Now was a big hit in South Africa, where conscription applied to only white men, many of whom were sent to fight in the war with Angola, apartheid’s Vietnam. The single did only moderately well elsewhere, and the Bolland brothers became record producers, counting among their clients Falco, Amii Stewart, Samantha Fox, Suzi Quatro and Dana International.

Meanwhile, Status Quo’s Francis Rossi had heard In The Army Now on the radio while driving in Germany, and proposed it to his band, which by now had lost bassist Alan Lancaster and drummer John Coughlan. The song took the Quo to #2 in the UK.

 

That’s What Friends Are For
Two songs here appeared on the soundtrack of the 1982 comedy Nightshift. That’s What Friends Are For was written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer-Sager, and first appeared on the movie’s soundtrack as a filler in a version by Rod Stewart.

Three years later it was revived by Dionne Warwick, with her friends Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder, as a fundraiser for AIDS research. It was a huge hit and won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group, as well as Song of the Year. The notion of supporting AIDS research in the 1980s was laudable, but musically I prefer Rod’s version.

Harden My Heart
One song from the Nightshift soundtrack that did trouble the charts was Harden My Heart by Quarterflash. By then it already had been a huge hit for the band. Written by its guitarist Marv Ross, the song was first recorded in a sparser arrangement by Seafood Mama, which was a predecessor band for Quarterflash.

Both bands featured Ross on guitar, and his wife, Rindy Ross on vocals and — hello, the 1980s — saxophone. Rindy can be seen holding a saxophone on the single cover of the original Harden My Heart.

Self Control
In Italy one might argue that the original is better known than the internationally more famous cover. The original by Italian singer Raf (or Raffaele Riefoli, as his mom knew him), who also co-wrote it, topped his country’s charts as well as that of Switzerland in the summer of 1984. US singer Laura Branigan’s version was a hit in Europe at the same time, competing with Raf’s version. Her take, for which arranger Harold Faltermeyer traded Raf’s keyboard hook with a guitar riff, became a huge US hit.

Branigan had enjoyed previous success with Italian pop music: her big 1982 hit Gloria was originally recorded in 1979 by Umberto Tozzi, whose 1977 hit Ti Amo she also recorded.  All three songs were co-written by Giancarlo Bigazzi, which explains how Branigan got to record it in time to compete with the original.

 

I Wanna Be Loved
For a prolific songwriter, Elvis Costello has covered other people’s songs widely. His best-known cover perhaps is George Jones’ A Good Year For The Roses, itself a country classic. Others were I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down was first done by Sam & Dave (featured on Any Major Originals – 1980s Vol. 1), and (What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding, covered from the Brinsley Schwarz original.

I Wanna Be Loved, a Costello single in 1984 which appeared on the otherwise underwhelming Goodbye Cruel World album (and features Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside on backing vocals), was plucked from obscurity. That’s what Costello said, and he was not exaggerating.

There is very little information about the song’s original artists, Teacher’s Edition, or about Farnell Jenkins, who wrote the song. I Wanna Be Loved was released in on the Memphis-based Hi Records (which counted Al Green, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright among its roster) in 1973 as a Willie Mitchell-produced b-side to a song titled It Helps To Make You Strong. For the Teacher’s Edition, that second single was the end of the road.

Jenkins had been around for a while already. Previously his band had been called The Conservatives, but that name was changed after Richard Nixon’s election. Jenkins brought out a gospel album in 1977, and continued to be a Chicago-based writer of Gospel songs.

The Only Way Is Up
Another soul singer who tried to make his way at Hi Records at the same time as Jenkins was Otis Clay. Recording since 1967, Clay had a run of well-received but modestly successful records on Hi. The best-performing of these was Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You, which hit #24 on the R&B charts in 1973. In 1981, Bob Seger scored a big hit with a cover of the song, which is added here as a bonus track.

By then, Clay had changed record labels a couple of times. In 1980 he released his records on his own label, Echo Records. Among these was the single The Only Way Is Up, co-written by soul singer-songwriter George Jackson, whose previous credits included the Osmonds hit One Bad Apple and Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll. The Only Way Is Up wasn’t a hit, but was popular enough to prompt Clay to name his 1982 album after it.

Eight years after Otis Clay recorded the song, it was picked up by English house outfit Coldcut which turned it into a pumping dance number for Yazz and the Plastic Population. It became a mega hit in the UK and in Europe, though it didn’t do much business in the US.

As for Otis Clay, he continued to record and earned himself a reputation as one of the finest blues singers, culminating in a Grammy nomination in 2007 for his album Walk a Mile in My Shoes. Clay died in 2016 at 73.

Wind Beneath My Wings
Between the first recording by whistling apartheid fan Roger Whitaker in 1982 and Bette Midler’s huge hit with it in 1988 on the back of the film Beaches, Wind Beneath My Wings had been recorded by many artists, including Sheena Easton, Gladys Knight and The Pips (as Hero), Lou Rawls, B.J. Thomas, Willie Nelson, Patty LaBelle, and Ray Price. Rawls and Knight, as well as country singer Gary Morris, saw some chart action with their versions.

For Midler, the song was a critically-acclaimed worldwide hit, and US #1. It won the Grammy for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

 

1. Otis Clay – The Only Way Is Up (1980)
The Usurper: Yazz and the Plastic Population (1988)

2. Rod Stewart – That’s What Friends Are For (1982)
The Usurper: Dionne Warwick & Friends (1985)

3. Seafood Mama – Harden My Heart (1980)
The Usurper: Quarterflash (1981)

4. Raf – Self Control (1984)
The Usurper: Laura Branigan (1984)

5. Charlie Dore – You Should Hear (How She Talks About You) (1981)
The Usurper: Melissa Manchester (1982)

6. The Textones – Vacation (1980)
The Usurpers: The Go-Go’s (1982)

7. The Mighty Diamonds – Pass The Kouchie (1982)
The Usurper: Musical Youth (1982, as Pass The Dutchie)

8. Elias & His Zigzag Jive Flutes – Tom Hark (1956)
The Usurper: Ted Heath (1956), The Piranhas (1980)

9. Kirsty MacColl – They Don’t Know (1979)
The Usurper: Tracy Ullman (1983)

10. Bolland & Bolland – You’re In The Army Now (1981)
The Usurper: Status Quo (1986)

11. Reaction – Talk Talk Talk Talk (1977)
The Usurper: Talk Talk (1982, as Talk Talk)

12. Frantic Elevators – Holding Back The Years (1982)
The Usurper: Simply Red (1985)

13. Cherrelle – I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On (1984)
The Usurper: Robert Palmer (1986)

14. Randy Crawford – I’ve Never Been To Me (1976)
The Usurper: Charlene (1976)

15. Teacher’s Edition – I Wanna Be Loved (1973)
The Usurper: Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1984)

16. The Applejacks – I Go To Sleep (1965)
The Usurper: Pretenders (1981)

17. Four Preps – Love Of The Common People (1966)
The Usurpers: Nicky Thomas (1970), Paul Young (1983)

18. The Crickets – More Than I Can Say (1960)
The Usurpers: Bobby Vee (1961), Leo Sayer (1980)

19. Barry Mann – Don’t Know Much (1980)
The Usurper: Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville (1989)

20. Albert Hammond – To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before (1975)
The Usurper: Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson (1984)

21. Roger Whittaker – Wind Beneath My Wings (1982)
The Usurper: Bette Midler (1988)

22. George Benson – Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You (1985)
The Usurper: Glen Medeiros (1987)

23. Bonnie Tyler – The Best (1988)
The Usurper: Tina Turner (1989)

Bonus:
Otis Clay – Trying To Live My Life Without You (1973)
The Usurper: Bob Seger (1981)

Jon & Vangelis – State of Independence (1981)
The Usurper: Donna Summer (1982)

Neil Diamond – Red Red Wine (1968)
The Usurper: UB 40 (1983)

Priscilla Bowman & Spaniels – A Rockin’ Good Way (1958)
The Usurper: Shakin’ Stevens & Bonnie Tyler (1983)

Jack Lee – Come Back And Stay (1981)
The Usurper: Paul Young (1983)

Hall & Oates – Everytime You Go Away (1980)
The Usurper: Paul Young (1985)

Dionne Warwick – Never Gonna Let You Go (1982)
The Usurper: Sérgio Mendes (1983)

Floy Joy – Weak In The Presence Of Beauty (1986)
The Usurper: Alison Moyet (1987)

O’Chi Brown – Whenever You Need Somebody (1985)
The Usurper: Rick Astley (1987)

GET IT! or HERE!

More Originals:
The Originals: The Classics
The Originals: Soul
The Originals: Motown
The Originals: Country
The Originals: The Rock & Roll Years
The Originals: 1960s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1960s Vol. 2
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 2
The Originals: 1980s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1990s & 2000s
The Originals: Beatles edition
The Originals: Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 1
The Originals:  Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 2
The Originals: Carpenters Edition
The Originals: Burt Bacharach Edition
The Originals: Rat Pack Edition
The Originals: Schlager Edition
The Originals: Christmas Edition

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The Originals – 1960s Vol. 2

July 30th, 2020 10 comments

 

In this second volume of Lesser-known Originals of 1960s hits (get Vol. 1 HERE), we look at the first recordings of songs made famous by the likes of The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel,  The Animals, The Mamas & The Papas,  Cilla Black, The 5th Dimension,  Harry Nilson, The Byrds, and many others…

 

Louie Louie
There are people who like to designate The Kingsmens’ 1963 version of Louie Louie the first-ever punk song. One can see why: its production is shambolic, the drummer is rumoured to be swearing in the background, his diction is non-existent, the modified lyrics were investigated by the FBI for lewdness (the Feds found nothing incriminating, not even the line which may or may not have been changed from “it won’t be long me see me love” to “stick my finger up the hole of love”), and by the time the song became a hit — after a Boston DJ played it in a “worst songs ever” type segment — the band had broken up and toured in two incarnations.

Originally it was a regional hit in 1957 for an R&B singer named Richard Berry, who took inspiration from his namesake Chuck and West Indian music. In essence, it’s a calypso number of a sailor telling the eponymous barman about the girl he loves.

Louie Louie was originally released as a b-side, but quickly gained popularity on the West Coast. It sold 40,000 copies, but after a series of flops Berry momentarily retired from the recording business, selling the rights to Louie Louie for $750. In the meantime, bands continued to include the song in their repertoire. It was a 1961 version by Rockin’ Robin Roberts & the Fabulous Wailers which provided The Kingsmen with the prototype for their cover.

 

Hang On Sloopy
The McCoys hit it big in 1965 with Hang On Sloopy, a cover version, of The Vibrations’ 1964 US Top 30 hit My Girl Sloopy, written by the legendary Bert Berns and Wes Farrell. The Vibrations were a soul group from Los Angeles which kept going well into the 1970s; one of their members, Ricky Owens, even joined The Temptations very briefly. Several of their songs are Northern Soul classics (which basically means that they were so unsuccessful that their records are rare).

The McCoys version was originally intended for The Strangeloves, who did the original of the Bow Wow Wow hit I Want Candy. While on tour with their group, the producers decided that My Girl Sloopy, the backing track already recorded, should be the band’s follow-up to I Want Candy. But the Dave Clark Five, on tour with the Strangeloves, got wind of it, and said they’d record Sloopy, too.

So the trio, afraid that the Dave Clark Five might have a hit with the song before they could release theirs, acted fast to scoop the English group. They recruited an unknown group based in Dayton, Ohio, called Rick and the Raiders, renamed them The McCoys, and in quick time released the retitled Hang On Sloopy.

But it wasn’t all the McCoys playing on the single. Only singer Rick Zehringer (later Derringer) performed on it — his vocals having been overlaid on the version already recorded by the Strangeloves, and a guitar solo added to it. The single was a massive hit, reaching the US #1. In 1985 it was adopted as the official rock song of Ohio (honestly).

 

Dedicated To The One I Love
The “5” Royales’ name screams 1950s novelty band. But that they were not. Indeed, they were cited as influences by the likes of James Brown (who recorded their song Think), the legendary Stax musician Steve Cropper, and Eric Clapton. By the time the band from Salem, North Carolina, released Dedicated To The One I Love in 1958, their heyday was past them, and the single did not do much in two releases. It deserved better, alone for that great guitar.

Likewise, The Shirelles’ cover (with Doris, not Shirley, doing lead vocals), recorded in 1959 initially flopped. It became a hit only on its re-release in 1961 to follow up the success of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, reaching #3 in the US pop charts.

The Mamas and the Papas’ 1967 cover did even better, getting to #2. As on the Shirelles’ recording, the second banana took lead vocals; it was the first time Michelle Phillips, not Mama Cass, sang lead on a Mamas and Papas track.

 

Turn! Turn! Turn!
For all their collective songwriting genius, The Byrds were something of an über-covers band. Few acts did Dylan as well as The Byrds did. Some songs they made totally their own. One of these was Turn! Turn! Turn!, a staple of ‘60s compilation written by Pete Seeger (co-written, really: the lyrics are almost entirely lifted from the Book of Ecclesiastes).

Before Seeger got around to record it in 1962, or The Byrds were even formed, a folk outfit called The Limeliters put it out under the title To Everything There Is A Season. The first post-Seeger cover was by Marlene Dietrich as Für alles kommt die Zeit, recorded during the actress’ folk phase which also saw her record German versions of Blowin’ In The Wind and Where Have All The Flowers Gone.

The same year, 1963, Judy Collins also issued a version, arranged by Jim McGuinn, who had played on The Limelighters recording. After Collins’ version, McGuinn co-founded The Byrds, for whom Turn! Turn! Turn!, released in October 1965, became their second hit. Jim turned turned turned into Roger in 1968.

 

I Am A Rock
After the disappointing sales of Simon & Garfunkel’s Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. album, the duo split and Read more…

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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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The Originals – Country Edition

March 26th, 2020 5 comments

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

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

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

 

A Boy Named Sue
The Johnny Cash signature tune was actually written by the ultimate Renaissance Man, Shel Silverstein (who previously featured in this series as the author of Dr Hook’s/Marianne Faithfull’s The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan, on Any Major Originals – The Classics).

It is unclear what inspired Silverstein to create this fantastic story about the guy with a girl’s name (or why the boy named Sue just didn’t acquire a butch nickname). But there once was a prominent Mr Sue. Sue K Hicks was the original prosecutor in the notorious 1925 Scopes Trial.

Cash (or possibly his wife June Carter; the accounts vary) was introduced to the song at a “guitar pull” party in Nashville, at which musician friends ran their latest compositions by one another. According to Cash, other artists present that night were Bob Dylan (who played Lay Lady Lay), Judy Collins (Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now) and her then lover Stephen Stills (Judy Blue Eyes), and Silverstein.

Just before his televised 1969 concert from St Quentin jail, June suggested that Johnny perform Silverstein’s song. And he did. On the film footage he can be seen referring to the scribbled lyrics of the song taped to the floor. And so his spontaneous performance of the song, apparently the first time he had ever sung it, became one of his biggest hits. Some have claimed that Cash’s lack of familiarity with the song explains his half-spoken delivery. But Silverstein’s 1968 version, from the Boy Named Sue and His Other Country Songs album, is similarly half-spoken.

Silverstein followed the song up with a composition from the father’s perspective, using the same tune (Find it on the Any Major Fathers Vol. 1 mix). Oh, and Mandark in Dexter’s Laboratory is in fact called Susan.

 

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

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

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

 

Detroit City
It took a name-change from the song’s best-known line to the geographically-specific Read more…

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Any Major Originals – Bacharach Edition

January 29th, 2020 9 comments

 

(This is a recycled post from February 2013)

Often Burt Bacharach had a lucky hand in producing the best known version of his compositions at the first attempt — and after 1963, he usually was the de facto producer and arranger of his songs” first (and sometimes subsequent) recordings, even when others would get the credit.

So songs like Only Love Can Break A Heart, What’s New, Pussycat, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head and This Guy’s In Love are best known in their original versions by Gene Pitney, Tom Jones, B.J. Thomas and Herb Alpert respectively. And, of course, there are all the Dionne Warwick hits, such as Walk On By, Do You Know The Way To San José or Promises Promises which have been covered often but never eclipsed. The one Warwick/Bacharach hit that provides the rule-proving exception is I Say a Little Prayer, a US #10 hit for Aretha Franklin in 1968, two years after it reached #4 for Warwick.

So here are Bacharach songs which may be better known — and, in some cases, definitely are better — in later versions. In many of these cases, geography is the key. For example, in the US, The Story Of My Life from 1957 will be associated with Marty Robbins, but in Britain it was a #1 hit for Michael Holliday. The same may apply to Anyone Who Had A Heart, which in Britain is Cilla Black’s song rather than Dionne’s (and, depending on generation, to some it is Luther Vandross’ song). The Story Of My Life was, incidentally, the first collaboration between Bacharach and Hal David to become a hit, years before they started to work together regularly and, for a time, exclusively. It went #1 Country, #15 Pop and reached #2 in Australia.

A few songs were bigger hits than their better-known covers. For example, The Shirelles had a US #8 hit with Baby It’s You in 1962, but The Beatles’ version enjoys greater familiarity by force of album sales.

Other songs were not hits until later. Keely Smith’s One Less Bell To Answer sank without a trace until The 5th Dimension had a hit with it three years later. I’ll Never Fall In Love Again might have been familiar to those who knew the soundtrack for the 1968 musical Promises, Promises (for which Jerry Orbach — yes, Lennie Briscoe from Law & Order — won a Tony Award. British fans will know it better as Bobbie Gentry’s hit, or in Dionne’s version, and younger generations might think of it as Elvis Costello’s song from the Austin Powers 2 movie.

I would guess that Bacharach probably was happy enough with most hit covers of his songs (though I wonder what he made of The Stranglers and Naked Eyes covers of his tunes); one which he apparently really dislikes is Love’s 1966 rock classic version of Manfred Mann’s My Little Red Book, which was written for the film What’s New, Pussycat.

Two more recent songs postscript this collection, both from movie soundtracks. Rod Stewart’s version of That’s What Friends Are For appeared on the soundtrack of the Michael Keaton vehicle Nightshift (1982) before it was revived by Dionne Warwick and her pals. Siedah Garrett’s Everchanging Times featured in the 1987 Diane Keaton flick Baby Boom before Aretha Franklin & Michael McDonald covered it to good effect in 1992.

Not all the songs here are Bacharach/David compositions. Tower Of Strength and Any Day Now were written with Bob Hilliard; Baby It’s You with Mack David (Hal’s brother) and Luther Dixon, and the two 1980s songs with Carol Bayer-Sager.

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

1. Marty Robbins – The Story Of My Life (1958)
The Usurpers: Michael Holliday (1958); Gary Miller (1958)

2. Gene McDaniels – Tower Of Strength (1961)
The Usurper: Frankie Vaughan (1961)

3. Jerry Butler – Make It Easy On Yourself (1962)
The Usurper: Walker Brothers (1965)

4. Chuck Jackson – Any Day Now (1962)
The Usurpers: Elvis Presley (1969), Ronnie Milsap (1978)

5. The Shirelles – Baby, It’s You (1962)
The Usurpers: The Beatles (1963); Smith (1969)

6. Tommy Hunt – I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (1962)
The Usurpers: Dusty Springfield (1964); Dionne Warwick (1966)

7. The Fairmount Singers – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
The Usurper: Gene Pitney (1962)

8. Gene McDaniels – Another Tear Falls (1962)
The Usurper: Walker Brothers (1966)

9. Dionne Warwick – Wishin’ And Hopin’ (1963)
The Usurpers: Dusty Springfield (1964); Merseybeats (1964)

10. Lou Johnson – Reach Out For Me (1963)
The Usurper: Dionne Warwick (1964)

11. Jerry Butler – Message To Martha (1963)
The Usurpers: Adam Faith (1964); Dionne Warwick (as Message To Michael, 1966)

12. Dionne Warwick – Anyone Who Had A Heart (1963)
The Usurpers: Cilla Black (1964); Petula Clark (1964)

13. Richard Chamberlain – (They Long To Be) Close To You (1964)
The Usurpers: Carpenters (1970); Gwen Guthrie (1986)

14. Brook Benton – A House Is Not A Home (1964)
The Usurpers:  Dionne Warwick (1964); Luther Vandross (1981)

15. Lou Johnson – (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me (1964)
The Usurpers: Sandie Shaw (1964); Naked Eyes, 1982)

16. Burt Bacharach – Trains And Boats And Planes (1965)
The Usurper: Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas (1965)

17. Dionne Warwick – You’ll Never Get To Heaven (1964)
The Usurper: The Stylistics (1976)

18. Manfred Mann – My Little Red Book (1965)
The Usurper: Love (1966)

19. Dusty Springfield – The Look Of Love (1967)
The Usurpers: Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 (1968); Isaac Hayes (1971)

20. Keely Smith – One Less Bell To Answer (1967)
The Usurper: The 5th Dimension (1970)

21. Jill O’Hara & Jerry Orbach – I’ll Never Fall In Love Again (1968)
The Usurpers: Bobbie Gentry (1969); Dionne Warwick (1970)

22. Rod Stewart – That’s What Friends Are For (1982)
The Usurper: Dionne Warwick & Friends, 1986)

23. Siedah Garrett – Everchanging Times (1987)
The Usurper: Aretha Franklin & Michael McDonald (1992)

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More Bacharach:
Burt Bacharach Mix
Covered With Soul – Bacharach/David edition

More Originals
More Songwriter Collections

More Mix CD-Rs

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Any Major Original Samples Vol. 1

November 21st, 2019 2 comments

 

 

The art of the sample has been diluted by the lazy poaching of popular grooves, hooks and riffs, but it hasn’t always been like that. Some of the best-known samples aren’t even known to be the work of other people.

Not many people know, for example, that the hook of Grandmaster Melle Mel’s White Lines was lifted from a rather obscure piece called Cavern by Liquid Liquid (like all tracks mentioned here, it features on this mix). Or that Tupac & Dr Dre’s California Love took the whole chorus (“California knows how to party, in the city of LA…”) and more from a 1982 track by Ronnie Hudson and The Streetpeople.

A well-deployed sample can suck over the life out of the song it has been taken from. If you listen to the horn blast on the Chi-Lites’ Are You My Woman, try not to do the “oh-oh oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” hic-cupping thing in Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love. Or try not launching into Lauryn Hill mode when the wonderful Fifth Dimension track kicks in, or avoid conversing about sex when you hear the horn hook in The Staple Singers’ I’ll Take You There.

And if you manage to not do any of those, you will still go, “All I want to do is zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom and a poom-poom” when you hear the Lafayette Afro Rock Band’s Darkest Light.

 

A couple of songs were more than sampled. Fatboy Slim reworked performance-poet Camille Yarbrough’s delicious 1975 sex anthem Take Yo’ Praise as Praise You, but it’s more cover (though not quite) than sample. In fairness, Yarbrough has received the full writing credit.

Even more a virtual cover is Mariah Carey’s mega-hit Fantasy, which reworks the Tom Tom Club’s 1981 anthem to black musicians, Genius Of Love. Of course, Tina Weymouth and colleagues got a co-writing credit

Some of the tracks that are sampled include themselves samples. For example, the widely-sampled (Not Just) Knee Deep by Funkadelic (for example in De La Soul’s Me Myself And I) references James Brown’s Ants In My Pants.

The mix closes with the godfather of sampled tracks, by the Godfather of Soul: Funky Drummer, by James Brown & The J.B.s., which has provided drum breaks for Public Enemy’s Fight The Power and the Powerpuff Girl’s theme song. Clyde Stubblefield, who played the drum break, didn’t get a writer’s credit on Funky Drummer — the most-reused bit of music, and the creator went empty-handed.

As ever, CD-R length and home-hooked-and-riffed covers. PW in comments.

 

1. Ronnie Hudson and The Streetpeople – West Coast Poplock (1982)
The Borrower: 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre – California Love (Vocals/Lyrics)
Also: Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg – Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang (Vocals/Lyrics)
Also: N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton (Vocals/Lyrics)
Also: Mos Def – Habitat (Vocals/Lyrics)

2. Leon Haywood – I Want’a Do Something Freaky To You (1975)
The Borrower: Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg – Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang (Multiple Elements)

3. Liquid Liquid – Cavern (1983)
The Borrower: Grandmaster Melle Mel – White Lines (Multiple Elements)

4. The Chi-Lites – Are You My Woman (Tell Me So) (1970)
The Borrower: Beyoncé – Crazy In Love (Multiple Elements)
Also: Kool G Rap & DJ Polo feat. Big Daddy Kane – #1 With A Bullet (Hook)

5. The Moments – Love On A Two-Way Street (1970)
The Borrower: Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind (Multiple Elements)

6. The 5th Dimension – Together Let’s Find Love (1971)
The Borrower: Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing) (Hook)

7. Pete Rodriguez – I Like It Like That (1967)
The Borrower: Cardi B – I Like It (Multiple Elements)

8. Peggy Lee – Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay (1969)
The Borrower: Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out (Multiple Elements)

9. Bill Withers – Grandma’s Hands (1971)
The Borrower: Blackstreet – No Diggity (Multiple Elements)

10. The Staple Singers – I’ll Take You There (1972)
The Borrower: Salt-N-Pepa – Let’s Talk About Sex (Hook)
Also: Eazy-E – Boyz-N-The-Hood (Hook)

11. Camille Yarbrough – Take Yo’ Praise (1975)
The Borrower: Fat Boy Slim – Praise You (Vocals/Lyrics)

12. Kool & the Gang – Summer Madness (4:17)
The Borrower: DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – Summertime (Multiple Elements)
Also: Snoop Dogg – Doggy Dogg World (Sound Effect)

13. Tom Tom Club – Genius Of Love (1981)
The Borrower: Mariah Carey – Fantasy (Multiple Elements)
Also: Mark Morrison – Return Of The Mack (Drums)

14. Aerosmith – Dream On (1973)
The Borrower: Eminem – Sing For The Moment (Multiple Elements)

15. The Lafayette Afro Rock Band – Darkest Light (1974)
The Borrower: Wreckx-N-Effect – Rump Shaker (Hook)
Also: Jay-Z – Show Me What You Got (Hook)

16. Funkadelic – (Not Just) Knee Deep (1979)
The Borrower: De La Soul – Me Myself and I (Multiple Elements)
Also: Snoop Dogg – Who Am I (What’s My Name)? (Bass)
Also: Black Eyed Peas – Shut The Phunk Up (Multiple Elements)

17. Sly & the Family Stone – Trip To Your Heart (1967)
The Borrower: LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out (Multiple Elements)

18. James Brown – Funky Drummer (1970)
The Borrower: Public Enemy – Fight The Power / Bring The Noise (Drums)
Also: Dr. Dre – Let Me Ride (Drums)
Also: N.W.A – Fuck Tha Police (Drums)
Also: LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out (Drums)
Also: Fine Young Cannibals – I’m Not the Man I Used To Be (Multiple Elements)
Also: The Powerpuff Girls Theme (drums)

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More Originals:
The Originals: The Classics
The Originals: Soul
The Originals: Motown
The Originals: Rock & Roll Years
The Originals: 1960s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 2
The Originals: 1980s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1990s & 2000s
The Originals: Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 1
The Originals: Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 2
The Originals: Beatles Edition
The Originals: Carpenters Edition
The Originals: Burt Bacharach Edition
The Originals: Schlager Edition
The Originals: : Christmas Edition

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Any Major Originals: The 1970s Vol. 2

October 17th, 2019 4 comments

 

More 1970s hits were covers than one might think. Here are 25 more lesser-known originals, after the 23 tracks in the 1970s Volume 1.

 

Popcorn
German-born and US-based composer Gershon Kingsley (still alive at 97) wrote classical music and scores for TV and movies, arranged and conducted Broadway musicals — and pioneered electronic music, particularly through the Moog synth. As half of the electronic music duo Perrey and Kingsley, he wrote avant garde music. And part of that synth experimentation was his catchy tune Popcorn, which he recorded for his 1969 album Music to Moog By.

Kingsley re-recorded it in 1971 with his First Moog Quartet. One of the members was Stan Free, himself an accomplished jazz musician, composer, conductor and arranger. He in turn recorded Popcorn with his own band of musicians, named Hot Butter. It was their superior version that became a mega hit all over the world in 1972.

To truly appreciate Popcorn, it has to be experienced in this video from French TV.

 

Mama Told Me Not To Come
The 1970 hit for Three Dog Night was written by Randy Newman — already in the habit of writing lyrics from a character’s point of view — for Eric Burdon and The Animals, who recorded it in 1966 with the intention of releasing as a single. That idea was abandoned, but the song appeared on their 1967 album Eric Is Here.

Three Dog Night picked the song up in 1970, the same year Newman finally recorded it, and had a huge hit with it. US chart fans may be interested to know that it was at #1 when Casey Kasem presented his first Top 40 countdown show on 4 July 1970.

 

Mamy Blue
In the early 1970s you couldn’t move in Europe for versions of Mamy Blue. The most famous of these was the English recording by the Spanish group Pop-Tops. It will get more international yet — a lot. Mamy Blue was written in a traffic jam in Paris by French composer Hubert Giraud (who featured in In Memoriam – January 2016). The first recording was by Italian singer Ivana Spagna, the first record for the then 16-year-old. She later dropped her first name and as Spagna had several dance hits in the 1980s, including the 1987 UK #2 hit Call Me.

The Pop-Tops’ version (recorded by Swiss producer Alain Milhaud with lyrics by Trinidad-born singer Phil Trimm) reached #4 in the UK in 1971; in the US a version by The Stories charted in 1973. Roger Whittaker took his version in French to #2 on Canada’s French charts, while French singer Joël Daydé had a hit with an English take of it in Australia (it was arranged by Wally Stott, who features in his own right on this mix). Whitacker’s English version was also a Top 10 hit in Denmark and Finland (where local-language versions also were Top 10 hits). In France it was hit in French for Nicoletta. In West-Germany, it was a huge hit in German for French singer Ricky Shayne, who also reached the French Top 10 with his English version of the song (in the land of its origin, Mamy Blue was a hit for Nicoletta, Ricky Shayne, Pop-Tops and Daydé). Shayne’s German version was also a hit in the French-speaking regions of Belgium. In South Africa, Mamy Blue topped the charts in a truly terrible version by Charisma.

And Italy, where Ivana Spagna sang the song in Italian? The only hit was the Pop-Tops version.

 

These Foolish Things
It would be a stretch to call These Foolish Things an obscurity made famous in Bryan Ferry’s 1973 cover, but for a certain generation, that is the best-known version; for many the first they’d heard. Before Ferry got his greasy hair all over it, Read more…

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Any Major Originals – Motown

September 19th, 2019 7 comments

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of Tamla Motown. I needn’t riff on about the genius and influence of Berry Gordy’s label; for that you are well-advised to watch the recent, marvellous Showtime documentary. Most of Motown’s classic hits were original compositions; a few were versions of previously recorded in-house productions (though far fewer than one might expect); a handful were songs brought in from outside Hitsville — and one was, as we’ll see, brazenly stolen.

If you wish to mark the 60th anniversary by way of covers of Motown hits, Covered With Soul Vol. 17 and Vol. 19 might do the trick.

 

Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone / Smiling Faces Sometimes
In Motown’s happy family it was common that the same songs would be recorded by different artists. Often this involved The Temptations, who sometimes originated a hit for others, and other times had a hit with a song previously recorded by others. And sometimes, there was a straight swap, as it was between The Temptations and The Undisputed Truth.

The Undisputed Truth, who are now mostly remembered for their hit Smiling Faces Sometimes, recorded Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone as a single release in 1971. It did not perform spectacularly well, peaking at #63 in the US charts. A year later, songwriter Norman Whitfield gave the song to the Temptations when he produced their 1972 All Directions album, on which it appeared as a 12-minute workout. The shortened single version went on to top the US charts in 1973.

The song dated the death of the deplorable Papa to “the third of September”, which happened to be the date Temptations singer Dennis Edward’s father died. Edwards was allocated that line, leading him to suspect that Whitfield had written the line knowing of that particular detail. Whitfield denied that (as he well might), but nevertheless exploited Edward’s anger about it by having him sing the line in repeated takes until the singer sounded very irate indeed. For his troubles, the Temptations dismissed Whitfield as their producer.

The group would never record anything better than Whitfield’s epics. And when Whitfield left Motown, the Undisputed Truth followed him.

But still at Motown, The Undisputed Truth took their signature song, Smiling Faces Sometimes, from The Temptations, who released it as a 12-minute track in April 1971 on their Sky’s The Limit LP and later, in as final twist of irony, as a b-side of Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.

Released a month after The Temptations’ LP version, The Undisputed Truth enjoyed a US #3 hit with the song. The follow-up, Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone, flopped at #63. And then went to The Temptations…

 

War
While The Temptations and The Undisputed Truth scored hits with each others’ songs, Edwin Starr had a hit with a Temps song, War. The anti-Vietnam protest song appeared originally on the Temptations 1970 Psychedelic Shack album.

By popular request, Motown decided to release War as a single — but not by the Temptations, because the label did not want to associate its big stars with political causes.

Indeed, the Temptations themselves were apprehensive about offending some of their fans (though exactly why anybody who would dig the drug-friendly psychedelic grooves of early-’70s Temptations might be offended by an anti-war sentiment is a mystery). So Motown gave the song to a relative unknown who two years earlier had enjoyed his solitary hit.

Edwin Starr’s anthemic, fist-raising version was far more fierce and furious than that of The Temptations. Catching the zeitgeist, Starr’s War was a US #1 hit. And guess who appears on the backing track… The Undisputed Truth.

 

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
There’s a link between the first recording of I’m Gonna Make You Love Me by Dee Dee Warwick in 1966 and the 1968 hit by Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations: on the original, released on Mercury, Nickolas Ashford provided backing vocals; on the Motown cover, he was a co-producer.

The song was written Read more…

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The Originals: Rock & Roll Years

August 22nd, 2019 5 comments

 

This edition of The Originals covers the Rock & Roll Years: the 1950s and very early 1960s.  Not every song is rock & roll, but the better-known versions of these songs would have been bought by those who also bought rock & roll records. And, having already covered the lesser-known originals of Elvis Presley hits (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), the story must begin with Bill Haley & His Comets. Poor yourself a cup of coffee, or a long drink, sit back, and read about the lesser-known covers of the Rock & Roll Years.

 

Rock Around The Clock
It is indisputable that Bill Haley was a key figure in converting rock & roll into the mainstream — or, if we prefer to stray from euphemistic rationalisation, make a black genre infused with some country sensibility palatable to white audiences (so that’s a doctoral thesis delivered in 13 glib words). Haley was no more the father of rock & roll as the Bee Gees were the “Kings of Disco”. Rock Around The Clock wasn’t the first rock & roll single either (if there is such an originating record; on the original label it is categorised as a foxtrot), or even Haley’s first rock & roll song.

But it was the first rock & roll #1 hit, and the song’s pivotal influence is undeniable, even if it ripped off a 1947 hit, Hank Williams’ Move It On Over (which Chuck Berry also seems to have borrowed from for Roll Over Beethoven).

Rock Around The Clock was written for Haley, but due to various complications involving a feud between record company and authors, it was recorded first by Sonny Dae and His Knights, an Italian-American band, released on a label co-owned by Haley. The original version — quite distinct from the more famous version — made no impression, and there is no evidence that Haley referred to it in his interpretation. Indeed Haley and his Comets played it frequently on stage before they recorded it.

Haley’s Rock Around The Clock (recorded on 12 April 1954 as Sammy Davis Jr sat outside the studio awaiting his turn in the studio) features one of the great guitar solos of the era, by Danny Cedrone. Alas, Cedrone didn’t live to see his work become a seminal moment in music history — he died on 17 June 1954 in a fall, three days short of his 34rd birthday. Perhaps Cedrone might be regarded as the first rock & roll death. Which would give the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame two reasons to admit him.

As a footnote, Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie, which also features here, was written by Haley in 1952, but was first recorded by Cedrone’s band The Esquires. Haley recorded, to greater commercial effect, after Cedrone’s death, in 1955.

 

Shake, Rattle And Roll
In its original version by Big Joe Turner, Shake Rattle And Roll is a salacious song about sexual intercourse (“a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store”). Haley — a man who did not particularly inspire thoughts of wild sex — defanged the song of its carnal suggestions and made it acceptable to halfway respectable folks.

The song was written by Jesse Stone (under a pseudonym), who also wrote The Drifters’ breakthrough hit Money Honey and arranged The Crew Cuts mega-hit Sh-Boom.  Turner recorded it for Atlantic on February 15, 1954, with Sam “The Man” Taylor on saxophone (he also played on the mentioned Jesse Stone-produced tracks). Stone, and Atlantic bosses Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegün did the backing vocals.

It was released in April 1954 and did respectable business. Haley’s version, released in August that year, made it a classic. One night think that Turner would have resented the white guy getting the big success with the song. But the two soon became close friends, with Haley later helping out a struggling Turner.

Turner, who had enjoyed a career as a blues act in the 1940s (he was Esquire magazine’s male vocalist in 1945) and was a huge influence on rock & roll pioneers like Little Richard and Buddy Holly, died in 1985 at the age of 74.

 

See You Later Alligator
See You Later Alligator, the final of Haley’s trilogy of million-sellers, was a cover of Bobby Charles’ Cajun blues number. Born Robert Charles Guidry in Louisiana, Charles recorded the song as Later Alligator in 1955 at the age of 17. It was released in November 1955 without making much of a commercial impact. His hero, Fats Domino, also recorded a couple of his songs, first Before I Grow Too Old and in 1960 the hit Walking To New Orleans.

Haley recorded See You Later Alligator on December 12, 1955, apparently allowing his drummer Ralph Jones to play on it, instead of the customary random session musician. Released in January 1956, Haley’s version sold more than a million copies, but reached only #6 in the Billboard charts.

Contrary to popular perception, the catchphrase “See you later, alligator”— with the response “in a while, crocodile”— was not coined by the song, neither in Bobby Charles’ nor Bill Haley’s version. It was an old turn of phrase, used by the jazz set already in the 1930s, along the same lines as “What’s the story, morning glory?”, “What’s your song, King Kong?” and “What’s the plan, Charlie Chan?”. It was, however, due to Haley’s hit that the phrase spread more widely throughout the US and internationally.

 

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On
One day in 1956, Jerry Lee Lewis and his father Elmo were passing through Memphis. Aware of how Elvis Presley had emerged from Sam Philips’ Sun studio, Jerry Lee decided to drop in and audition, at the suggestion of his cousin Mickey Gilley (who later would become a big country star; another cousin, Jimmy Swaggart would become a notorious televangelist).

The audition didn’t go very well: nobody wanted a piano player. According to sound engineer Cowboy Jack Clement, Lewis sounded like country guitar legend Chet Atkins on piano. Jerry Lee was dynamic, to be sure, but he was country and boogie woogie — not rock & roll. A month later Lewis returned, with Clement’s encouragement. This time Sam Philips was in the studio. Lewis played a country hit, Ray Price’s Crazy Arms, in blues style. Philips was sold. Before too long, Lewis’ version of Crazy Arms became his debut single, on Sun.

In May 1957, Clement and Philips were seeking a follow-up single. The session to record the Clement composition I’ll Be Me did not go well. During a break, bassist JW Brown — Jerry’s cousin and future father-in-law (13-year-old Myra Gale’s dad) — suggested they play A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On, a cover of a song that had gone over well live. It took just one take for a pivotal moment in rock & roll to be created.

A Whole Lotta Shakin’ had been written by Dave “Curlee” Williams, half black and half Native American, and Roy Hall, a nightclub owner from Nashville who had been recording intermittently in the country genre for 11 years. Or maybe Roy Hall didn’t write it; as so often with songs in the 1950s, there’s no single accepted narrative.

The song became a minor hit in 1955 after the R&B singer Big Maybelle (real name Mabel Louise Smith) recorded it, produced by a young Quincy Jones. Though Big Maybelle’s version was better known, Lewis had picked up the song from a version by Hall, whom he had seen performing it with country star Webb Pierce in Nashville.

Perhaps more than any rock & roll classic, A Whole Lotta Shakin’ embodies the spirit of the nascent genre: a song created by a multi-racial team which first was a rockabilly number, then an R&B song, and then became something different altogether when performed by a singer who had a love for country, blues, and gospel and infused the stew with his own unique anarchic sensibility and lecherous sexuality.

Initially the song was banned, but after Lewis appeared on the Steve Allen Show, which had also provided Elvis with an early platform, the airplay ban was gradually lifted, and the song became a big hit. Suitably, it topped both R&B and country charts.

 

Walkin’ In The Rain
Not many pop classics were written in jail. Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley were incarcerated in 1952 at the Tennessee State Penitentiary when a chance conversation about the wet weather — Bragg, the story goes Read more…

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The Originals: Beatles

July 25th, 2019 9 comments

 

With the Beatles’ incredible achievements in mind, it is easy to forget that three of the Beatles’ first four albums were topped up with fillers, many of them cover versions — which is quite ironic since the Beatles went on to become the most covered band ever. Some of these covers are better known in their original versions; the Little Richard and Chuck Berry compositions and Motown classics, for example. Some are generic classics (A Taste Of Honey; Till There Was You), and some are fairly obscure, or would become so.

In this instalment of The Originals, we look at the lesser-known first recordings of songs covered by The Beatles on their albums or singles.

 

Twist And Shout
Twist And Shout is probably the most famous cover by The Beatles, and is most commonly associated with them. And rightly so: their take is rock & roll perfection. It was based on the 1962 cover by the Isley Brothers, who introduced the rhythm guitar riff (which borrows heavily from Richie Valens’ La Bamba) and the “ah-ah-ah” harmonies, to which the Beatles added the Little Richardesque “wooo”.

The song was written by the legendary Bert Berns (sometimes credited to his pseudonym Bert Russell) with Phil Medley. Berns gave Twist And Shout to The Top Notes  —  a Philadelphia R&B group which might have been forgotten entirely otherwise  —  whose recording was produced by a very young Phil Spector.

The result did not please Berns, who accused Spector of “fucking it up”. He was a bit harsh on young Phil; the Top Notes’ version is not bad, but Berns had hoped for something a more energetic. So he took the song to the reluctant Isley Brothers, who had scored a hit two years earlier with the driving Shout, which had the kind of sound Berns imagined for his song.  Their Twist And Shout, which Berns produced, became a US #17 hit and is included here as a bonus track. Read more…

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