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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 Detroit City for Bobby Bare to score his first big hit, in 1963. Before Bare changed the title to Detroit City, the song was known as I Wanna Go Home, and had been a country hit for Billy Grammer a few months earlier. The famous guitar figure that kicks off Bare’s hit version also features in Grammer’s version, but in the middle of the song.

Grammer, later a guitar designer, had a way of riffing on life on the road; in 1959 he had a million-seller with Gotta Travel On— which Bare would dutifully cover as well. I Wanna Go Home was written by Danny Dill and Mel Tillis (who also wrote Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town).

 

Streets Of Baltimore
Tompall Glaser was one of the original country Outlaws — in fact, he owned the studio where the term was coined on account of the artists who recorded there. With his brothers, he supported Johnny Cash on tour in the early 1960s before as Tompall & The Glaser Brothers they signed for MGM Records in 1966.

The same year Tompall co-wrote Streets Of Baltimore, the sad story of a man who selflessly gives up everything, including his farm back in Tennessee, so as to fulfil his woman’s dream of living in Baltimore — with no happy ending, at not least for him.

Tompall’s cousin Dennis, who worked for him, told me in an e-mail in 2009 that the original song had many more verses. “Harlan [Howard; the legendary country hit writer] told me once that Tompall stopped by his office and gave him a copy of what he’s written, which was much longer than the final version. And said: “˜Here, fix it’. It sounds like something Tom would say.’

But the Glasers didn’t recorded the song first; Bobby Bare did, possibly after having been given the song by Harlan Howard. Recorded in April 1966 (produced by Chet Atkins) his version was released as a single in June 1966; the Glasers’ was recorded in September. Bare went on to have hit with it, reaching #7 on the Country charts. The song became more famous in the wonderful version by Gram Parsons, which appeared on his 1973 GP album. Likewise, the 1998 duet by Nanci Griffiths and John Prine is essential.

Dennis Glaser also said that the song has been mentioned in an American literature textbook “as an example of songs that reflect actual life”.

 

Make The World Go Away
Written by the legendary country songwriter Hank Cochran, Make The World Go Away was first recorded by Ray Price, but was first released by blue-eyed soul diva Timi Yuro, whose version reached #24 on the Billboard Charts in 1963. Price’s version, which was released a month after Yuro’s, became a huge country hit. But two years later, veteran crooner Eddy Arnold made the sing his own and scored a mammoth hit with.

 

Crazy Arms
Four years before Make The World Go Away, Ray Price had a massive hit with Crazy Arms, a recording which set the tone for country music for the next decade. But before Price got his hands on it, Crazy Arms was an unremarkable country ballad written in 1949 by steel guitar legend Ralph Mooney while he was in Las Vegas (there are claims that an ill-fated songwriter named Paul Gilley sold the lyrics to Mooney). Singer Wynn Stewart cut an acetate demo, but the song went unrecorded for several years.

In 1956 Mooney sold the song to a California baker named Claude Caviness who had set up a record label, Pep, as a vehicle for his moderately talented singing wife Marilyn Kaye. He had the song recorded as a duet, with Kenny Brown and Kaye doing vocal duty, backed by the Arkansas Ramblers.

Their recording was not a hit, but Price discovered it while visiting a radio station in Florida. He changed some of the lyrics, gave it a new arrangement — and had a huge hit with his recording. When Caviness popped up to claim ownership of the song, Price didn’t fight back but formed a music publishing company with him. That’s how you solve a problem the Nashville way.

 

Jackson
Here’s a song that could work on different types of Originals theme: a 1960s theme for the cover by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood; or the country take by Johnny Cash & June Carter, both from 1967. Originally it was a folk piece for the Kingston Trio, release in 1963 and written by Jerry Leiber and Billy Edd Wheeler (who’d later pen the rape tale Coward of the County). Wheeler had no particular Jackson in mind — he liked the sound of the consonants — but Cash decided to place it in Tennessee, where it has remained ever since.

 

Gonna Get Along Without You
Country went pop in the early 1950s when vocalist Theresa Brewer scored a hit with country singer Roy Hogsed’s I’m Gonna Get Along Without You in 1952, followed by kid duo Patience and Prudence in 1956. It returned to country in 1964 with Skeeter Davis version, considered by country fans as the definitive take. Since then the sing has been recorded, with various tweaks to the title, in different genres, including reggae (The Melodians), funk (The Vibrations), ska (Bad Manners), disco (in Violas Wills’ 1979 hit version from) and alt.rock (The Lemonheads).

Roy Hogsed recorded fairly prolifically between 1947 and 1954, but enjoyed only one minor country hit, Cocaine Blues. He died at 58 in 1978.

 

You Are My Sunshine
A standard to the point of cliché, You Are My Sunshine was a big hit in 1940 for Jimmie Davis, who’d become governor of Louisana from 1944-48 and 1960-64 (in the latter election campaign, he was a strong segregationist). From Davies’ croonery the song found its place in the canon of the Great American Songbook. But its roots are very much in country.

Its authorship is credited to Davies and his sideman Charles Mitchell, but they had nothing to do with writing. They bought the credit from the Rice Brothers Gang, who were the second outfit to record it. Three weeks before they got around to it, You Are My Sunshine was recorded in August 1939 by The Pine Ridge Boys from Atlanta, an outfit that recorded and performed in various incarnations for decades after.

 

Tennessee Waltz
On a Friday night in 1946, country singer and accordionist Pee Wee King (who was born by the decidedly un-country name Julius Kuczynski in Milwaukee) was driving with Redd Stewart, fiddler and singer with King’s Golden West Cowboys, to Nashville when the radio played bluegrass legend Bill Monroe’s Kentucky Waltz. Wondering why nobody ever dedicated a waltz to the state of Tennessee — home to country music capital Nashville, after all — they decided to relieve the boredom of the long drive by writing one, setting lyrics, written on a matchbox, to an instrumental they had been playing in concerts, the No Name Waltz.

One might think that Pee Wee King’s version, with Stewart on vocals, would be the first to be recorded. However, he was scooped by Cowboy Copas, who would perish on the plane that killed Patsy Cline (one of the many who later covered Tennessee Waltz). Lloyd Copas had been a singer with Pee Wee King’s band in the early 1940s, succeeding Eddy Arnold. It may be that Pee Wee first gave the song to his old frontman, who made a recording of it in April 1947 for (ironically) King Records in Cincinnatti, and another in June that year. It is most likely the latter recording that was released in March 1948 and became a #3 country hit. Pee Wee King recorded his version in December 1947. Also released in early 1948, it also peaked at #3, but at half a million copies sold more than Copas’ take.

By 1950, Tennessee Waltz had become something of a country classic, and even jazz singer Anita O’Day had covered it, when it became a mammoth crossover hit for Patti Page, whose version remains the best known. It topped the pop, country and R&B charts simultaneously, a unique feat. As so often, the big hit was first a b-side, in this case to the less than immortal Boogie Woogie Santa Claus. For a b-side, much effort went into the production, which used a rudimentary form of vocal overdubbing to go with the backing track by the Jack Rael Orchestra. An acetate was recorded of Page singing the song, and this would be played into one microphone while Page sang into a second microphone. Page’s version of her dad’s favourite song went on to sell 6 million copies.

 

Wabash Cannonball
The oldest song in this collection is also one of the most influential country songs Wabash Canonball (named after a famous railroad) is best-known in the 1947 version of Ray Acuff, one of the mega stars of country in the ‘40s. But the song itself goes back to at least 1882, with a song titled The Great Rock Island Route credited to J. A. Roff, and to 1904, when an adapted version of it was released under the current title as sheet music by William Kindt.

In 1929 it was first recorded by the Carter Family (and A.P. Carter duly gave himself a writing credit as well), but their version went unreleased for three years. In the interim, 25-year-old banjo picker and radio performer Hugh Cross became the first to release Wabash Cannonball on record, also in 1929, but using the Kindt arrangement.

The song would be recorded several times before 1947, when Acuff had his big hit with it. Funny enough, Acuffs’ had recorded Wabash Cannonball back in 1938, with is band The Tennesseans — but in that session, member Sam “Dynamite” Hatcher did the lead vocals.

 

Wild Side Of Life / It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels
When in 1952 Kitty Wells released her answer song to Hank Thompson’s The Wild Side Of Life, it caused a sensation. Here a woman dared to answer back to the moaning of a chauvinist. With her hit It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, which in terms of success eclipsed Thompson’s lament, became an inspiration to many women. And it turned the singing housewife Wells into a star.

But neither The Wild Side Of Life nor It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels were first recorded by the gender-battle protagonist who had their chart-topping hits with these songs.

The male perspective was first recorded by Jimmy Heap & The Melody Masters (with Perk William on vocals) in 1951; the answer record by the otherwise rather obscure songstress Al Montgomery was released as Did God Make Honky Tonk Angels a few months before Wells recorded hers.

The melody for both was adapted from a group of similar songs: Thrills That I Can’t Forget by Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz in (1925), The Carter Family’s I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes (1929), and Great Speckled Bird (popularised by Roy Acuff in 1936).

 

Sweet Dreams
Released after she died in a plane crash, the unusually poppy Sweet Dreams became so associated with Cline that the successful biopic was named after the song. Originally, it was Don Gibson’s song, and his own composition (as was the future Ray Charles hit I Can’t Stop Loving You). Gibson’s version made no inroads, and a cover by Faron Young fared much better. But even though Young’s record did better on the Billboard country charts (#2 against Cline’s #5), it was Cline’s version that became the classic, even crossing over into the pop charts.

 

The Battle Of New Orleans
Originally a traditional folk song known as The 8th of January, The Battle of New Orleans tells the story of a soldier fighting with the genocidal Andrew Jackson’s army against the British in the 8 January 1815 battle of the title. It was first recorded in 1957 and released the following year by Jimmy Driftwood, a school teacher in Timbo, Arkansas.

Born James Morris, he is said to have been one of the nicest guys in the folk music scene (not surprisingly, he was a collaborator with the great musicologist Alan Lomax). As a history teacher, Driftwood considered song to be an educational device, and so in 1936 (or 1945, depending which sources you believe) he set the fiddle-based folk song to lyrics — there were no definitive words, only snippets of recurring phrases — to benefit his students.

In the 1950s, Driftwood was signed by RCA, and eventually recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, with the label’s session man Chet Atkins on guitar. He later wrote another country classic, Tennessee Stud, which became a hit for Eddy Arnold and Johnny Cash (Tarantino fans will know it from the Jackie Brown soundtrack).

Shortly after Driftwood recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, the doomed country star Johnny Horton did a cover which relied less on manic fiddling and dropped such radio-unfriendly words as “hell” and “damn” — and scored a big hit with it (he even changed the lyrics for the English market, turning the enemy “British” into generic “rebels”).

Horton released several “historical records” (most famous among them, perhaps, Sink The Bismarck), though it would be unfair to reduce his influence on country music to that. A close friend of Johnny Cash’s, Horton died in a car crash in 1960, widowing his wife Billy Jean for the second time — she had been married to Hank Williams when the country legend died. Spookily, both Williams and Horton played their last concerts at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.

Two other takes on The Battle Of New Orleans are notable. In 1959, skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan reached the UK #2 with it — but received no airplay on Aunty Beeb until he changed the word “ruddy” to “blooming”.

The song was revived in 1972 by the Les Humphries Singers, a multi-ethnic and multi-national English-language ensemble of hippie demeanour that was very popular in West Germany with its Ed Hawkins Singers-meet-Hair shtick. Humphries, an Englishman, renamed the song Mexico (not a stretch; that country’s name appears in the original lyrics) and scored a massive hit with his outfit’s joyous rendition. The trouble is, Humphries credited the song to himself, a brazen act of plagiarism. I have found no evidence that Humphries, who died in 2007 at 67, was ever sued for his blatant rip-off.

 

Queen Of Hearts
Here’s one of those songs that some might know better in its original version, and others as the hit cover. Queen Of Hearts was a UK #11 hit for Welsh singer Dave Edmunds in 1979, and two years later a US #2 hit for the unlikely-named Juice Newton, who is most famous for her cover of Angel Of The Morning (the original of which is yet to run in this series). With Newton, the song came home to the world of country: it was written by Hank DeVito, pedal steel guitarist for Emmylou Harris.

Newton earned a Grammy nomination for best country song for her version, and it was her remake that inspired the veteran French singer Sylvie Vartan, who once performed on a bill with the Beatles, to record her French take on the song (retitled Quand tu veux , or When You Want It). A couple of years earlier Newton had tried to have a hit with another British song, but her version of It’s A Heartache lost out in the US to that by Welsh rasper Bonnie Tyler. Later Newton enjoyed a #11 with another cover. Brenda Lee’s Break It To Me Gently.

 

1. Dave Edmunds – Queen Of Hearts (1979)
The Usurper: Juice Newton (1981)

2. Shel Silverstein – Boy Named Sue (1968)
The Usurper: Johnny Cash (1968)

3. Ed Bruce – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys (1974)
The Usurper: Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (1978)

4. Billy Joe Royal – I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (1967)
The Usurper: Lynn Anderson (1970)

5. Norro Wilson – Hey Mister (1969)
The Usurper: Charlie Rich (as The Most Beautiful Girl, 1973)

6. Waylon Jennings – Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again) (1971)
The Usurpers: Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller (1971), Tompall & the Glaser Brothers (1981)

7. Bobby Bare – Streets Of Baltimore (1966)
The Usurper: Gram Parsons (1973)

8. Timi Yuro – Make The World Go Away (1963)
The Usurpers: Eddy Arnold (1965), The Osmonds (1975)

9. Billy Brown – He’ll Have To Go (1959)
The Usurper: Jim Reeves (1959)

10. Billy Walker – Funny How Time Slips Away (1959)
The Usurpers: Jimmy Elledge (1961), Willie Nelson (1962), Joe Hinton (1964),

11. Ray Price – Heartaches By The Number (1959)
The Usurper: Guy Mitchell (1959)

12. Merle Travis – Sixteen Tons (1947)
The Usurpers: Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955), Frankie Laine (1956)

13. Kenny Brown & Marilyn Kaye – Crazy Arms (1956)
The Usurper: Ray Price (1959)

14. Don Gibson – Sweet Dreams (1955)
The Usurpers: Faron Young (1956), Patsy Cline (1963)

15. Margie Singleton – Harper Valley PTA (1968)
The Usurper: Jeannie C. Riley (1968)

16. The Kingston Trio – Jackson (1963)
The Usurpers: Johnny Cash & June Carter (1967), Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood (1967)

17. Jimmy Driftwood – Battle Of New Orleans (1958)
The Usurper: Johnny Horton (1959)

18. Billy Grammer – I Wanna Go Home (1963)
The Usurpers: Bobby Bare (as Detroit City, 1963), Tom Jones (1967)

19. Roy Hogsed – I’m Gonna Get Along Without You (1951)
The Usurpers: Patience & Prudence (1956), Skeeter Davis (1964), Viola Wills (1979)

20. Cowboy Copas – Tennessee Waltz (1948)
The Usurpers: Pee Wee King (1948), Patti Page (1950), Les Paul with Mary Ford (1950),

21. Pine Ridge Boys – You Are My Sunshine (1939)
The Usurper: Jimmie Davis (1930), Gene Autry (1941), Bing Crosby (1941),

22. Hugh Cross – Wabash Cannonball (1929)
The Usurper: Roy Acuff (1936)

23. Jimmie Heap – Wild Side Of Life (1951)
The Usurper: Hank Thompson (1952)

24. Al Montgomery – Did God Make Honky Tonk Angels? (1952)
The Usurper: Kitty Wells (1952)

25. Bonnie & Fuzzy Owens – A Dear John Letter (1953)
The Usurper: Ferlin Husky & Jean Shepard (1953)

26. Big Bopper – White Lightning (1958)
The Usurper: George Jones (1959)

27. Paul Davis – Six Days On The Road (1961)
The Usurper: Dave Dudley (1973)

28. Arthur Smith & His Cracker Jacks – Feudin’ Banjos (1955)
The Usurper: Eric Weissberg (as Dueling Banjos, 1972)

BONUS TRACK:
Ray Stevens – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down (1969)
The Usurpers: Johnny Cash (1969), Kris Kristofferson (1970)

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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

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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)

GET IT! or HERE!

 

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

Categories: Mix CD-Rs, The Originals Tags:

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, the song had been recorded to good effect by the likes of Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald.

But Ferry took These Foolish Things home: it was written in the mid-1930s for the BBC in England, with the lyrics by Eric Maschwitz, who went on to write A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, and was married to actress Hermione Gingold. His lyrics for These Foolish Things might be about Gingold, though the more widely accepted version suggests it was about cabaret singer Jean Ross, with whom Maschwitz had had a fling (Ross inspired the character of Cabaret’s Sally Knowles).

The song was unloved. Maschwitz couldn’t even get a publisher (so, luckily, he retained the copyrights). In 1936, Grenada-born singer-pianist Leslie Hutchinson, a big star on Britain’s music scene at the time, discovered the sheet music for These Foolish Things on a piano at the BBC. He recorded it, and the song quickly became popular. The same year, it crossed the Atlantic, with Benny Goodman recording it.

It was covered by many big names afterwards, including Sinatra, Crosby and Cole — and James Brown, who recorded it three times. Ferry based is affected take on a version by English actress-singer Dorothy Dickson.

 

Sorrow
It is a vaguely amusing coincidence that albums of cover versions by David Bowie and Bryan Ferry — icons of cool both at the time — entered the British charts on the same day in November 1973. Proof, if any was needed, that the covers project is not a recent phenomenon in pop music.

David Bowie scored only one hit from the Pin Ups album, Sorrow, which had been made popular in the UK seven years earlier by The Merseys. The original version of it, however, was by The McCoys, the US group better known for their big hit Hang On Sloopy (which, in turn, they had covered) that also provided the title for the 1965 album which featured Sorrow.

 

My Ding-a-Ling
Perhaps it is fitting for the unpleasant Chuck Berry that his biggest hit worldwide should have been a novelty number he covered from the guy who wrote hits for Fats Domino. A UK #1 for Berry in 1972, My Ding-a-Ling was first recorded 20 years by Dave Bartholomew, whom we lost in June at 100.

Its tune based on the 19th-century folk song Little Brown Jug, Bartholomew recorded it again as Little Girl Sing Ting-a-Ling, and soon after The Bees recorded it as Toy Bell, though the lyrics were Bartholomew’s. They earned themselves a radio ban for it.

Chuck Berry recorded it as My Tambourine in 1968 (giving himself sole writing credit), though on stage in England he performed Bartholomew’s My Ding-a-Ling. That’s what he did on stage in Coventry when his hit version, with the crowd interaction, was recorded (apparently with The Specials’ Jerry Dammers in the audience; a song covered by The Specials also features here). It became a #1 in the UK, US, Canada and Ireland. Unsurprisingly, the song, which depends on wordplay, fared less well in European countries where audiences were less likely to understand the puns.

 

Could This Be Magic
Several songs here are covered by acts who also recorded the original. So it was with Could This Be Magic. The act that first recorded it in 1971 was Featherbed, which was Barry Manilow and a bunch of session musicians. Written by Manilow with lyrics by producer Tony Orlando, it has the production you’d associate with its producer. It was a flop.

In 1973, Manilow re-recorded the song, with lyrical contributions by Adrienne Anderson. It remained an album track until a remixed version of it was released in 1975.

 

One Love
As the mainman of the Wailers, Bob Marley resurrected an old track from the times when he was a Wailer with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. The first version of One Love was released by The Wailers in 1965, in rocksteady style with all three members providing vocals.

When Marley revived his composition for 1977’s Exodus album, he slowed the song down, added bits of The Impression’s People Get Ready — initially uncredited, until that seemed to be a bad idea — and a reggae classic was born, after a 12-year gestation.

 

Danny’s Song
Also re-recorded by its first singer to good effect was the Loggins & Messina hit Danny’s Boy. Kenny Loggins wrote it for his brother Danny, who had just written him a letter about becoming a father, and recorded it in 1971 with his band Gator Creek, which was — echoes of Manilow’s Featherbed here — Ken and a bunch of session musicians. These included Wrecking Crew regulars such as the great Larry Knechtel (on guitar rather than keys) and Mike Deasy. After one LP Gator Creek was done and Loggins teamed up with Poco alumnus Jim Messina.

 

Saturday Night
Written and produced by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, who created a series of hits for the Bay City Rollers, Saturday Night was first recorded by the band in 1973, with singer Nobby Clark on vocals. The record went nowhere, and Clark soon went his own way — just as follow-up single Remember (Sha-La-La-La) shot up the charts to reach #6.

Saturday Night was re-recorded it in 1974 with new lead singer Les McKeown. In Britain it remained an album track, but in the US, Saturday Night became a #1 hit in 1975 — and inspired the Ramones’ “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go” chant in Blitzkrieg Bop. It also was a huge hit throughout Europe. The McKeown vocals version featured on Any Major Glam Vol. 2.

 

Rock And Roll Love Letter
Another Bay City Rollers classic which evaded the UK charts was Rock And Roll Love Letter, which was huge in Europe and Australia, and reached #28 in the US.

The song was originally recorded by Tim Harris, a musician less loved by fans than he was admired by some big names in music, including Frank Zappa, Donald Fagen, Darryl Hall (with whom Harris worked as a staff songwriter), Michael McDonald, Jeff Porcaro and Timothy B. Schmit. Keith Richards loved Harris guitar work so much that they became friends.

Another admirer was the legendary record executive Clive Davis, who headed the Bay City Rollers’ label Arista. When he heard Rock And Roll Love Letter, he decided that the Scottish band should record it.

Harris never had a big hit but continues to write music. He is also a psychologist and an artist.

 

Come Back My Love
British doo wop/rock & roll revivalists Darts had a knack for picking great but forgotten songs and turning them into late-‘70s hits. So it was with Come Back My Love, a UK #2 hit for the group in early 1978. It was originally recorded in 1954 by The Wrens, a Bronx doo wop trio that never hit the big time. Come Back My Love should have been a massive hit, but (like their other six singles) never was.

The original of the other great Darts cover of the time, Daddy Cool, featured in Any Major Originals: 1970s Vol. 1. The Darts version of Come Back My Love, as the famous cover of the next song, featured on A Life In Vinyl 1978.

 

Davy’s On The Road Again
John Simon had made an inedible mark on popular music as the producer of such classic albums as The Band’s Music from Big Pink and The Band (and later The Last Waltz); Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills, Songs of Leonard Cohen, Blood, Sweat & Tears’ Child Is Father to the Man, and tracks by the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Gordon Lightfoot, Seals & Croft and Mama Cass.

Then in the early 1970s, encouraged by his brother, he released as couple of albums of his own. They did not set the world on fire, and Simon’s pedestrian version of Davy’s On The Road Again from 1971’s  John Simon’s Album seems to indicate why that was so.

Seven years later, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band gave the song, which was written by Simon with The Band’s Robbie Robertson, the treatment it deserved, and had a big hit with it.

 

Love Will Keep Us Together
Forever associated with Captain & Tenille, Love Will Keep Us Together had two previous recordings before Daryl Dragon (the captain’s real name) got his hands on it; playing all instruments on it except the drums, which were played by Hal Blaine. In the fade-out, the song’s co-writer and original performer, Neil Sedaka, gets a shout-out.

The first version of the song, written with Sedaka’s old Brill Building partner Howard Greenfield (the last song they wrote together), appeared on Sedaka’s 1973 The Tra-La Days Are Over album, which was recorded in England, with 10cc backing him. That album was not even released in the US.

Soon after Love Will Keep Us Together was recorded and issued as a single by the West Indian, England-based soul duo Mac and Katie Kissoon. Their version did little business anywhere, except in the Netherlands where it was a hit. It wasn’t the first time that the Kissoons covered an obscure song and soon after see another act score a big hit with it, as we’ll see in the story of the next original.

 

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep
Our old friend Bono, lead singer of Dublin combo U2, likes to tell the story of how seeing Middle of the Road performing Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep on Top of the Pops as a 11-year-old persuaded him that anyone, even little Paul Hewson, could become a pop star. It’s easy, even for Bono, to take a dig at a song called Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, of course. But I submit that, lyrics apart, it is a fine pop song.

Middle of the Road, who thought of themselves more as a folk group than the bubblegum pop combo they are usually remembered as, didn’t want to record the song. It had been a hit in Italy (with the subtitle Cirpi cirpi, cip cip) and Australia for its composer, Liverpudlian Lally (Harold) Stott, and even dented the US charts at #92. The song had greater success there, reaching #20, in a version by Mac and Katie Kissoon (included as a bonus track).

Despite Stott’s success in Italy and Australia, his label, Philips, evidently had little confidence in the recording, so Stott farmed it out to the Middle of the Road, who had just abandoned their previous moniker, Los Caracas, to take up an engagement in Italy.

The band recorded the song reluctantly at singer Sally Carr’s insistence. Bandleader Ken Andrews was initially dismissive: “We were as disgusted with the thought of recording it as most people were at the thought of buying it. But at the end of the day, we liked it.”

Their version, produced by Giacomo Tosti, became a massive hit throughout Europe in early 1971 and was imported to Britain by holidaymakers. At first it seemed that the Kissoons’ version would be a hit there, but influential radio DJ Tony Blackburn championed the Middle of the Road version on his BBC breakfast show, and it eventually reached #1 in June ’71.

Stott went on to work with Middle of the Road, writing their hit Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum. He died in 1977 in an accident while riding his Harley-Davidson — said to have been bought with the royalties of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.

 

Son Of My Father
Chicory Tip’s Son Of My Father, one of the big hits of the 1970s, had its roots in the collaboration between a future disco legend and a German schlager singer. It was written in 1971 by Giorgio Moroder and singer Michael Holm, who had many hits with German versions of English songs.

Holm recorded his collaboration with Moroder as Nachts scheint die Sonne (The sun shines at night) and released it in 1971. The following year Moroder recorded a version of his own, with English lyrics by Pete Bellotte, who later added words to Moroder-written tunes such as Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, Love to Love You Baby and Hot Stuff.

Released under the name of Giorgio, Son Of My Father did moderate business, reaching #47 in Germany (where Holm’s German original stalled at #29); and #46 in the US. It is included as a bonus track.

The song was discovered by British producer Roger Easterby, who got the previously unsuccessful Chicory Tip to record it. It was one of the first UK pop hits to use a Moog synth (as did the Holm and Giorgio versions).

While Giorgio’s modest return in the US was still higher there than that of the Chicory Tip version, also released in 1972, the British band had a huge with it throughout Europe. It topped the charts in the UK, Belgium and Spain, and also was #1 in South Africa and Argentina. But in West-Germany, where the song was born, it got no higher than #18 — though that was still higher than Holm and Moroder.

Holm featured before in The Originals, as the singer of the first vocal version of When A Child Is Born on the Christmas Originals. Moroder has also featured before, as the originator of a schlager hit in Any Major Originals: Schlager Edition.

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

 

1. Moon Martin – Bad Case Of Lovin’ You (1978)
The Usurper: Robert Palmer (1979)

2. Eric Burdon & Animals – Mama Told Me Not To Come (1967)
The Usurper: Three Dog Night (1970), Tom Jones & The Stereophonics (2000)

3. The McCoys – Sorrow (1965)
The Usurpers: The Merseys (1966), David Bowie (1973)

4. Alex Harvey – Delta Dawn (1971)
The Usurpers: Tanya Tucker (1972), Helen Reddy (1973), Bette Midler (1973)

5. Crazy Horse – I Don’t Want To Talk About It (1971)
The Usurpers: Rod Stewart (1977), Everything But The Girl (1988)

6. Gator Greek – Danny’s Song (1970)
The Usurpers: Loggins & Messina (1971), Anne Murray (1972)

7. Don Williams – Tulsa Time (1978)
The Usurper: Eric Clapton (1978)

8. John Simon – Davy’s On The Road Again (1971)
The Usurper: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (1978)

9. Michael Holm – Nachts scheint die Sonne [Son Of My Father] (1971)
The Usurper: Chickory Tip (1972, as Son Of The Father)

10. Ivana Spagna – Mamy Blue (1971)
The Usurpers: The Pop Tops (1971) and maby others

11. Lally Stott – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1971)
The Usurpers: Mac and Katie Kissoon (1971), Middle Of The Road (1972)

12. Tim Moore – Rock And Roll Love Letter (1975)
The Usurper: Bay City Rollers (1976)

13. Bay City Rollers – Saturday Night (1973)
The Usurper: Bay City Rollers (1975)

14. Featherbed – Could It Be Magic (1971)
The Usurper: Barry Manilow (1973/1975), Take That (1992)

15. Neil Sedaka – Love Will Keep Us Together (1974)
The Usurper: Captain & Tennille (1975)

16. Paul Anka – She’s A Lady (1970)
The Usurper: Tom Jones (1971)

17. Allen Toussaint – Southern Nights (1975)
The Usurper: Glen Campbell (1977)

18. Gershon Kingsley – Popcorn (1969)
The Usurper: Hot Butter (1972)

19. Dandy Livingstone – Rudy A Message To You (1979)
The Usurper: The Specials (1979)

20. The Melodians – Rivers Of Babylon (1969)
The Usurper: Boney M (1978)

21. The Wailers – One Love (1965)
The Usurper: Bob Marley & The Wailers (1977)

22. The Wrens – Come Back My Love (1955)
The Usurper: Darts (1978)

23. Dave Bartholomew – My Ding-a-ling (1952)
The Usurper: Chuck Berry (1972)

24. Leslie Hutchinson – These Foolish Things (1936)
The Usurper: Bryan Ferry (1973)

25. Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers – Down On The Banks Of The Ohio (1927)
The Usurpers: Joan Baez (1959/61), Olivia Newton-John (1971)

Bonus Tracks:
Giorgio – Son Of My Father (1971)
Mac and Katie Kissoon – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1971)
Chuck Berry – My Tambourine (1968)

GET IT! or HERE!

 

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: 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

Categories: The Originals Tags:

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 by future Philly Soul legend Thom Bell and Jerry Ross, the patron of Kenny Gamble (whose sidekick Leon Huff received a writing credit for it on some releases). For Warwick it was a R&B #13 hit. Ross was so convinced of the song, he had it recorded by several other artists under his charge. Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson did backing vocals on all of them.

But it was only in 1968 that I’m Gonna Make You Love Me dented the US pop charts, when Madeline Bell’s version, recorded in England after Dusty Springfield passed on it, took it to #26 in April that year (also on Mercury, incidentally).

A few weeks later the recordings for the Motown version began, being completed in stages over almost four months. The final product, essentially a duet of Diana Ross and Eddie Kendrick with Otis Williams joining the fun for the spoken interlude, was released in November 1968. It reached #2 on the Billboard pop charts.

 

You Are Everything / Stop Look Listen
Thom Bell also co-wrote You Are Everything, first a hit for The Stylistics before becoming a Motown staple in the version by Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye. In the US, it was a hit for The Stylistics (#9) while the Ross & Gaye recording wasn’t released as a single there; but in the UK the Motown version did the business, reaching #5 in 1974.

Follow-up Stop Look Listen (Listen To Your Heart), also a cover from a Thom Bell & Linda Creed composition for The Stylistics, reached only #25 in the UK, where the 1971 original had failed to dent the charts. The Motown version wasn’t released on single in the US, but it is probably the better-known version, not least thanks to its inclusion on soundtrack for Bridget Jones’s Diary.

 

Abraham, Martin And John
Another song that features here on strength of its performance in the UK is the idealistic Abraham, Martin And John, which in its folky original was a hit for erstwhile rock & roll idol Dion. Released soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr (the only one of the martyred trio who unconditionally and absolutely wanted to free a lot of people), it reached #4 in the US.

In the UK, Dion had enjoyed #10 and #11 hits in 1961/62 (with The Wanderer and Runaround Sue respectively), and nothing since. So when Marvin Gaye released his version of the lament for the trio of unseen friends in early 1970, Britain’s delayed zeitgeist propelled it to #9. It was Gaye’s last solo Top 10 hit there for seven years (Let’s Get It On reached #31!).

 

For Once In My Life
Ron Miller and Orlando Murden were staff writers for the Jobete publishing company which was owned by Motown. In 1966 they wrote For Once In My Life, but were still struggling with it.

Miller asked little-known singer Jean DuShon, signed to Chess Records but then performing in a nightclub, to work with him on the vocal arrangement. He was so impressed with DuShon’s interpretation that he had her record and release the record on Chess.

Alas, Chess didn’t promote the record (some say due to pressure by Motown boss Berry Gordy), and it flopped. Hearing that the songwriters were giving the song to a non-Motown artist, Gordy insisted that it be immediately recorded by an act on his label. The song was given to Barbara McNair (whose stint at Motown was brief and who never was a priority for Gordy), who might have recorded it before DuShon, though the latter’s version was the first to be released. McNair’s version is included as a bonus track.

Over the next few months the song was recorded by several non-Motown artists, including Tony Bennett, who had a minor hit with it, Carmen McCrae, Della Reese, Vicky Carr and Nancy Wilson. On Motown, which regularly produced the same songs by different artists, it was released in 1967 alone by The Temptations, Four Tops and Martha & The Vandellas.

On 15 October 1968, teenager Stevie Wonder gave it an exuberant, uptempo treatment. Gordy didn’t like Stevie’s versions and declined to release it. When, at the urging of Billie Jean Brown, the head of Motown”s Quality Control Department, it was released as a single in late 1968, it became a massive hit, peaking at #2 (topping the charts was another Motown hit Gordy had previously vetoed, Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine).

Ron Miller wrote other hits for Stevie Wonder: Heaven Help Us All, Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday (see below), and A Place In The Sun, as well as Diana Ross’ Touch Me In The Morning. But before Stevie had a hit with For Once In My Life, it was considered Tony Bennett’s song.

When Ella Fitzgerald introduced it on her 1968 Live in Berlin album (recorded before Stevie’s version was issued), she described it as Bennett’s song. A few years ago, Bennett and Wonder finally sang the For Once In My Life together, on the former’s album of duets. The pair took Grammies home for their efforts, and performed the song at the awards ceremony. Stevie dedicated it to his recently deceased mother, and Bennett… to his sponsors.

 

Someday We’ll Be Together
The Supremes’ sentimental farewell song with Diana Ross proved less than prescient (if we disregard the awkward performance of it on 1983’s Motown 25th anniversary show), and La Ross probably never thought that she “made a big mistake” by leaving.

The song was originally recorded in 1961 by the R&B duo Johnny & Jackie, in a Drifters-style arrangement. The Johnny half of the Detroit duo was Johnny Bristol, and Jackey was his singing and songwriting partner — and ex-air force compadre — Jackey Beavers. They co-wrote Someday We’ll Be Together with the great Harvey Fuqua, on whose Tri-Phi label the single appeared. It was not a big hit, and after several years of trying, Bristol and Beavers went their separate ways, with Jackey signing for Chess Records.

Bristol went on to become a noted producer on Motown, working with Fuqua on songs such as Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and David Ruffin’s My Whole World Ended.

Bristol had the distinction of producing the final singles by both The Supremes and The Miracles before their headliners departed. That means, of course, that Bristol produced the song which he had co-written and first recorded himself for Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The other Supremes didn’t actually appear on it (which makes the decision to play Some Day We’ll Be Together at Florence Ballard’s funeral seem quite odd). Bristol had intended the song for Junior Walker and the All Stars, for whom he had already written the hit What Does It Take (To Make You Love Me). He had laid down the arrangement and backing vocals, by Maxine and Julia Waters, when Gordy decided that this would be the song with which to transition Diana into her solo career. Probably because of the title, he issued it as a farewell song for Diana Ross and the Supremes, rather than as a solo debut for Ross.

The male voice on the song is Bristol’s. Not satisfied with Ross’ performance, he harmonised with her, ad libbing encouragements. The sound engineer accidentally captured these, and since it sounded good, it was decided to keep them in. Diana Ross & the Backing Singers’ single topped the US charts (perhaps fittingly, the last chart-topper of the ‘60s).

Johnny Bristol, who died in 2004, went on to have some success as a singer, most notably with the 1974 hit Hang On In There Baby. He also wrote and recorded the first version of the Osmonds’ hit Love Me For A Reason.

 

Come See About Me
The Supremes hit Come See About Me is one of those records where the earlier recording was released later (as we’ll see, there are a few others in this mix). In keeping with the methodology of this series, we go primarily by release date. And here, it seems, Nella Dodds narrowly scooped The Supremes.

Come See About Me was written by Motown’s hugely successful songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, and The Supremes recorded it on 13 July 1964, backed by The Funk Brothers. Somehow the song had come into the hands of the people at Wand Records in New York, who had their singer Nella Dodds record it. While The Supremes were still riding high in the charts with Baby Love, their second chart-topper in a row, Wand put out Dodds’ version, a pleasant affair which nonetheless can’t compare to the exquisite vigour of the Supremes’ version.

Although Dodds recorded for a New York label, she was a pioneer of Philadelphia soul — Kenneth Gamble, future Philly soul supremo, and Jimmy Bishop, who would discover many Philly soul acts, appeared on Dodds’ Wand recordings.

Motown were alarmed when they learned that Dodds’ record had been issued, and rush-released The Supremes’ recording. Dodds’ version stalled at #74, and she would never have a breakthrough hit. For The Supremes, Come See About Me became the third in a golden run of five #1 hits.

 

Shop Around
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles covered themselves very soon after releasing the original of Shop Around, Motown’s first million-seller, in 1960. The first version was the bluesy version of the song which features here. It was released only in Detroit (hence it is known as the “Detroit Version”), and credited to The Miracles featuring Bill “Smokey” Robinson.

Co-writer Berry Gordy astutely calculated that the song needed a poppy treatment and had The Miracles re-record it, apparently art something like three in the morning, with Gordy himself on piano — and thereby have their big breakthrough hit.

 

I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Gladys Knight believes she has good reason to be pissed off. There Gladys and her Pips had delivered an excellent dance number with I Heard It Through The Grapevine, scoring a US #2 hit in 1967, and Motown’s best-selling single up to then. And yet, a fair number of people will be surprised to know that the song was in fact not a Marvin Gaye original. One has to feel for poor Gladys, but Marvin’s more bluesy version, though unloved by Berry Gordy, is flawless in every way.

The timeline of the song is a little confusing. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, several Motown stars — including  as well as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and the Isley Brothers — tested for the song before Gladys Knight’s version was approved for release. It was Smokey who recorded it first, with The Miracles, on 16 August 1966. His version stayed in the vaults until after Knight had her hit with it, as did that recorded by Marvin Gaye, whom Whitfield had in mind when he wrote the song. He had to bug Gordy until the owner relented and had the Gladys Knight version released.

A year later Smokey’s version was released as an LP track, on the Special Occasion LP. On the very same day, on 26 August 1968, Gaye’s version was issued, as track 4 on his In The Groove album (later retitled after Grapevine). Having been recorded in February 1967 (before Gladys did her take), it was not supposed to be a single. But radio DJs picked it up and created the demand which forced Motown to issue it on single, on 30 October 1968.

 

Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday / All I Do
Two other songs were recorded before their more famous covers, both by Stevie Wonder, but released later. Written by Ron Miller (who also wrote For Once In My Life) and Bryan Wells, Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday was first recorded by Chris Clark, the white soul singer on the Motown roster, in 1966. Her version didn’t see the light of day until 2005; possibly it was a demo for a sing which would then remain unrecorded for two years.

All I Do Is Think About You went unrecorded even longer. Recorded by Tammi Terrell in 1966, it finally surfaced as All I Do on Stevie Wonder’s 1980 album Hotter Than July. Terrell’s version, and one done around the same time by Brenda Holloway, didn’t get a release until 2002, which is puzzling since it is very good.

For Stevie, one of three co-writers of the song, it wasn’t really a hit either. Which is puzzling since it also is very good.

 

You Got What It Takes
Marv Johnson’s You Got What It Takes was Motown’s first hit — and a case of brazen theft.

The song was written and first recorded in 1958 by blues musician Bobby Parker. It was the b-side of his debut solo single, Blues Get Off My Shoulder. A year later, Berry Gordy took it, literally. He had Marv Johnson record it, and then stole the songwriting credit for himself, with his sister Gwen Gordy (later Fuqua) and Roquel Davis. Poor Bobby Parker, powerless to act against the musical mugging, got nothing from the song, which was a Top 10 hit in both the US and UK.

And the kicker is that Gordy set up Motown and the music publishing wing Jobete because he was sick of getting stuffed by record companies for the work he had done…

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

 

1. Bobby Parker – You Got What It Takes (1958)
The Usurper: Marv Johnson (1959)

2. The Miracles feat. Bill ‘Smokey’ Robinson – Shop Around (Detroit Version) (1960)
The Usurper: The Miracles (1960)

3. The Temptations – Too Busy Thinking About My Baby (1966)
The Usurper: Marvin Gaye (1969)

4. The Isley Brothers – That’s The Way Love Is (1967)
The Usurper: Marvin Gaye (1969); The Temptations (1969)

5. The Miracles – Who’s Lovin’ You (1960)
The Usurper: The Jackson 5 (1969)

6. Johnny & Jackey – Someday We’ll Be Together (1961)
The Usurper: Diana Ross & The Supremes (1969)

7. Dee Dee Warwick – I’m Gonna Make You Love Me (1966)
The Usurper: Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations (1968)

8. Tammi Terrell – All I Do Is Think About You (1965, rel. 2002)
The Usurper: Stevie Wonder (as All I Do, 1980)

9. The Choice 4 – I’m Gonna Walk Away From Love (1975)
The Usurper: David Ruffin (as Walk Away from Love, 1975)

10. The Stylistics – You Are Everything (1971)
The Usurper: Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye (1973)

11. The Stylistics – Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart) (1971)
The Usurper: Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye (1973)

12. Dion – Abraham, Martin & John (1968)
The Usurpers: Marvin Gaye (1970), Tom Clay (1971)

13. The Temptations – War (1970)
The Usurpers: Edwin Starr (1970), Bruce Springsteen (1986)

14. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Beauty Is Only Skin Deep (1964, rel. 1966)
The Usurper: The Temptations (1966)

15. Nella Dodds – Come See About Me (1964)
The Usurper: The Supremes (1964)

16. Chris Clark – Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday (1966, rel,. 2005)
The Usurper: Stevie Wonder (1969)

17. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – I Heard It Through The Grapevine (1966, rel. 1968)
The Usurpers: Gladys Knight & The Pips (1967), Marvin Gaye (1968)

18. Jean DuShon – For Once In My Life (1966)
The Usurpers: Tony Bennett (1967), Stevie Wonder (1968)

19. Thelma Houston – Do You Know Where You’re Going To (1973)
The Usurper: Diana Ross (1975, as Theme from ‘Mahogany’)

20. The Undisputed Truth – Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone (1973)
The Usurper: The Temptations (1973)

21. The Temptations – Smiling Faces Sometimes (1971)
The Usurper: The Undisputed Truth (1971)

Bonus Tracks:
Barbara McNair – For Once In My Life (1966)
Gladys Knight & The Pips – I Heard It Through The Grapevine (1967)

GET IT! or HERE!

 

More Originals:
The Originals: The Classics
The Originals: Soul
The Originals: Rock & Roll Years
The Originals: 1960s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 1
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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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 5 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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The Originals – Soul Vol. 1

June 27th, 2019 2 comments

The theme of this month’s instalment of The Originals is soul classics. The alert reader will notice, with possible alarm, that none of the tracks featured were Motown hits. But that reveals that I’m planning to do a special of lesser-known originals of Motown hits at some point.

 

 

Sweet Soul Music (Yeah Man)
Before Arthur Conley wrote Sweet Soul Music, his tribute to the living soul legends, he just wanted to cover Sam Cooke’s posthumously released Yeah Man. Otis Redding rewrote the lyrics, and got himself a namecheck — but excluded the man who was being plagiarised. It was a strange omission, since Sam Cooke influenced pretty much every soul singer of the 1960s, including and especially Otis Redding.

Try A Little Tenderness
Indeed, it was Cooke’s interpretation of the old standard Try A Little Tenderness which inspired Otis Redding’s reworking of the song. Once Otis was through with the song, with the help of Booker T & the MGs and a production team that included Isaac Hayes, it bore only the vaguest semblance to the smooth and safe standard it once was. Redding in fact didn’t even want to record it, ostensibly because he did not want to compete with his hero Cooke’s brief interpretation of the song on the Live At The Copa set. His now iconic delivery was actually intended to screw the song up so much that it could not be released.

It isn’t quite clear who recorded the original version: the versions by the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra and the Ray Noble Orchestra are both cited as having been recorded on December 8, 1932.

At Last
When Beyoncé Knowles was invited to sing At Last — Barack and Michelle’s special song — at Obama’s inauguration events in January 2009, Etta James was not best pleased. The veteran soul singer stated her dislike for the younger singer, who had portrayed Etta in the film about the Chess label, Cadillac Records. “That woman; singing my song, she gonna get her ass whupped,” James declared (she later relegated her outburst to the status of a “joke”).

It is her song, of course, certainly in the form covered so competently by Beyoncé. But many people recorded it before her, and it was a hit at least twice. The first incarnation came in the 1941 movie Orchestra Wives, in which it was performed by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, who also recorded the first version to be released on record on 20 May 1942. It was a #9 hit for Miller. At Last became a hit again ten years later, for Ray Anthony with Tom Mercer on vocals. This version is typical 1950s easy listening fare, done much better in 1957 by Nat ‘King’ Cole (who tended to do music much better than most people).

In 1960 Etta James recorded the song, with Phil and Leonard Chess producing with a view to accomplishing crossover success. Her version, released Read more…

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The Originals: 1990s & 2000s

May 30th, 2019 5 comments

 

 

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that The Originals are running monthly now. This month we cover the 1990s and 2000s. My stash of lesser-known originals from that era is limited; so much so that I’m adding a few bonus tracks to exhaust those decades.

 

It’s Oh So Quiet
Bjork showed just how madcap crazy she is on the big band pastiche It’s Oh So Quiet. But the song was actually a cover of actress Betty Hutton‘s 1951 English version of the song, titled Blow A Fuse. It is no less maniacal than Bjork’s 1995 cover, right down to the frantic screams.

It’s fair to say that back in the day Hutton was a bit of a cook in her own right; her goofy performance in the musical Annie Get Your Gun (with which you apparently can’t get a man) testifies to a certain lack of restraint which is very much on exhibition on Bjork’cover.

Blow A Fuse itself was a cover of a 1948 German number by Austrian jazz musician Horst Winter, who knew it as Und jetzt ist es still (And now it’s quiet). It is included here as a bonus track.

Torn
When Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn had its long run in the upper reaches of the British and US charts in 1997, word was that the song was a cover of the Norwegian hit by Trine Rein. The truth is that it wasn’t even the first cover, or even the first Scandinavian version.

The song’s journey to hit-dom is a little complicated. The song was written by Ednaswap members Anne Preven and Scott Cutler in 1993. The same year it was recorded in Danish by Lis Sørensen as Brændt (“Burnt’) but by Ednaswap only in 1995. Still, those who overplayed the Norwegian angle aren’t entire wrong though: Imbruglia’s cover is a straight copy of Rein’s version, right down to the guitar solo.

Ednaswap were a not very successful ’90s grunge band, who came by their name when singer Anne Preven had a nightmare about fronting a group by that name being booed off the stage. Well, with a name like that… Preven has become a songwriter, receiving an Oscar nomination for co-writing the song Listen from  Dreamgirls.

 

I Swear & I Can Love You Like That
Before it was a worldwide mega-hit for soul crooners All-4-One, I Swear was a country song. In late 1993, singer John Michael Montgomery issued I Swear as a single. It did very well in the country charts and won the 1995 Grammy for Best Country Song, but reached only Read more…

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The Originals – 1960s Vol. 1

April 25th, 2019 7 comments

 

In this instalment of The Originals we look at some of the lesser-known first releases of songs that would become huge 1960s hits for others, starting with (what I will assume is) the innocence of My Boy Lollipop and ending with the national anthem of Orgasmia. There are 30 songs on the mix; I’m telling the story of 17 of them. Of the remaining 13, it may be noted that two were written by Laura Nyro, the one featured here in her first recording and the later Blood, Sweat & Tears hit And When I Die.

So, get a good cup of the hit beverage of your choice, settle in and enjoy the journey through the originals of 1960s classics.

 

My Boy Lollipop

Millie’s My Boy Lollipop, widely regarded as the first crossover ska hit which helped give reggae a mainstream audience. In its original version, My Boy Lollypop (note the original spelling) was a song recorded in 1956 by the white R&B singer Barbie Gaye, at 15 two years younger than Millie Small was when she had a hit with the cover in 1964.

As so often in pop history, the story of the song’s authorship is cloaked in controversy. By most accounts, it was written by Bobby Spencer of the doo wop band The Cadillacs, with the group’s manager, Johnny Roberts, getting co-writer credit. Barbie Gaye’s single became a very minor hit, championed by the legendary rock & roll DJ Alan Freed. It was Spencer’s misfortune to come into contact with the notorious mafia-connected record executive and music publisher Morris Levy, who implausibly claimed that he had in fact written My Boy Lollypop, using the moniker R Spencer as a pseudonym. The real Spencer was later reinstated on the credits which nonetheless still list Levy as a co-writer. Levy’s name is attached to other classics which he had no hand in writing, such as Lee Dorsey’s Ya Ya, Frankie Lymon’s Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and The Rivieras’ California Sun. We’ll encounter him again in the story of the next song in this post.

My Boy Lollipop was revived in 1964 by Chris Blackwell, boss of the nascent Island Records label in England, which had recorded no big hit yet. He chose young Millicent Small to record it. As half of the duo Roy & Millie she had already enjoyed a hit with We’ll Meet in Jamaica. Her version changed Island’s fortunes: the song became a worldwide hit, reaching #2 in both US and UK. Island, of course, went on to become the label of Bob Marley, Roxy Music, Robert Palmer and U2.

Hanky Panky

Among the inhabitants of cubicles with pianos at the Brill Building in New York were Ellie Greenwich (who in her earlier singing had named herself Ellie Gaye in tribute to Barbie Gaye) and her husband Jeff Barry, who together wrote so many of the songs we now associate with Phil Spector’s girl groups. In 1963, Greenwich and Barry recorded a demo of a song called What A Guy. It was intended for a doo-wop group called The Sensations, but the band’s label, Jubilee, was so impressed with demo’s girl-band style (which was in fact Greenwich’s multi-tracked voice, with Barry providing bass voice) that they decided to release it, in the name of the songwriters’ band, The Raindrops.

Trouble was that Greenwich and Barry had no song for the flip-side, so they thrashed out Hanky Panky in the space of 20 minutes. They were not particularly satisfied with the song, and when a group called The Summits released it soon after as the b-side of He’s An Angel (or it might have been released before What A Guy came out; it’s unclear), it didn’t do brisk business either.

And yet, the song had become popular among garage rock live bands, including one called The Spinners (not the soul band), from whom the teenage musician Tommy Jackson heard it. He recorded it with his band, The Shondells, in 1964 at a radio station in Michigan. It was a local hit, but Tommy decided to break up his band and complete his schooling. The following year he was contacted by a Pittsburgh DJ who had discovered the record and now wanted Tommy and his Shondells to perform it on air. He hurriedly put together a new line-up of Shondells, and changed his name to Tommy James. He then sold the 1964 master to Roulette Records, which released it without remixing, never mind re-recording it. The single went to #1 in July 1966. James later explained in a Billboard interview: “I don’t think anybody can record a song that bad and make it sound good. It had to sound amateurish like that.”

There is a great story of how the small New York-based Roulette label got to release Hanky Panky. It seems that a whole gang of labels, some of them majors, wanted to buy the record. Suddenly, one after another, they withdrew their offers, much to Tommy James’ surprised dismay. In the end Jerry Wexler of Atlantic told the singer, still a teenager, what was going on: Roulette’s Morris Levy (on whom The Soprano’s Hesch Rabkin is based) had called all rival labels telling them that Hanky Panky belonged to him. Intimidated, the rivals bought the bluff, and James had to go with Levy.

Needles And Pins
Needles And Pins was written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nietzsche and first recorded by the vastly underrated Jackie DeShannon in 1963, crossing the Atlantic the same year in Petula Clark’s version before the Searchers finally scored a hit with it in 1964 (DeShannon’s version, while not a hit in the US, topped the Canadian charts). The story goes that The Searchers first heard Needles And Pins being performed by Cliff Bennett at the Star Club in Hamburg and immediately decided that the song should be their next single. It became the second of their three UK #1 hits. They did retain DeShannon’s pronunciation of “now-ah”, “begins-ah” and “pins-ah”.

 

I’m Into Something Good
In the late 1950s Ethel “Earl-Jean” McCrea was a member of the R&B girl group The Cookies, which was absorbed into Ray Charles’ backing band, The Raelettes. Only Earl-Jean didn’t join the backing singer gig, instead becoming part of a new incarnation of The Cookies, who recorded the original of The Beatles’ Chains.

The Cookies did much demo work for Carole King and Gerry Goffin at Aldon Music, doing backing vocals on pop songs such as Little Eva’s The Loco-motion (it was through Earl-Jean’s recommendation that King and Goffin employed Little Eva as a babysitter) and Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. Along the way, they had a top ten hit with Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby.

Earl-Jean left The Cookies in 1964 to try for a solo career, and it was King and Goffin who wrote her first (and only) solo hit: I’m Into Something Good, released on Colpix Records. It did a creditable job, climbing to #38 in the Billboard charts. Alas, her follow-up single, Randy, didn’t do as well, and when in 1966 Colpix folded, her solo career was over.

In Britain, the record producer Mickey Most – fresh from discovering The Animals – had heard I’m Into Something Good, and decided it was a perfect vehicle for his new protéges, Herman’s Hermits. The single became a UK #1 hit in September 1964, and then went on to reach #13 in the US, ringing in a golden period for Herman’s Hermits, who remarkably became the best-selling act in the United States in 1965, ahead of even The Beatles

Galveston

Jimmy Webb sat on the beach of Galveston on the hurricane-plagued Gulf of Mexico when he wrote this song, which might appear to be about the “Spanish-American War” (which we really should call the Cuban Independence War) but was just as applicable to the Vietnam War, which Read more…

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