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The Originals – Soul Vol. 2

February 25th, 2021 6 comments

 

 

In part 2 of the lesser-known originals of soul classics, we look at the sources of two of Roberta Flack’s most famous songs, a few more originals of Gladys Knight hits, how the Pointer Sisters got to cover a Springsteen song he never recorded, the first version of ‘60s classic Tell Him, and much more… And when you hear the Kim Weston song, listen to the background vocals: they are by the trio known at Motown as The No-Hit Supremes. If you don’t feel like reading all this now, the package includes an illustrated PDF booklet with all the text below.

 

Tell Him
A few months before The Exciters had their 1963 hit with Tell Him, a singer named Gil Hamilton, one-time touring member of The Drifters, tried his luck with the first recording of what is now a quintessential girl-band song. Gil Hamilton had no hit with the Bert Berns-written track. Nor did he have any luck with his other two singles. Then he changed his name Johnny Thunder, made himself nine years younger, and had a 1963 hit with the novelty R&B number Loop de Loop (itself a cover), backed by The Bobettes, who featured on the ABC of the 1950s mix. It was his only hit of significance.

The Exciters had their hit in early 1963, with the production by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, recorded in October 1962, five months after Hamilton did. It would be their only Top 10, but apparently their version inspired Dusty Springfield to try her hand at a solo career.

 

Killing Me Softly With His Song
There are two stories describing the genesis of Killing Me Softly With His Song. The more widely-spread story has folk-singer Lori Lieberman so moved by Don McLean’s live performance of the song Empty Chairs that she wrote a poem about it, with the title Killing Me Softly With His Blues. The composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, who were taking time out from their impressive TV theme production line (such as Happy Days) to write songs for Lieberman’s self-titled debut album, used her poem as the basis for the song which she would be the first to record in 1971, releasing it the following year.

That is the version of Lieberman. Gimbel’s recollection is very different. In an e-mail to this blog some years ago, he explained how it was an unnamed book he was referred to years earlier by composer Lalo Shifre that featured the line “Killing Me Softly With His Blues” (the title of the poem Lieberman says she wrote). He liked the idea and stored it away for a few years until he needed lyrics for the Lieberman album, changing the word “blues” to “song”. Gimbel died in December 2018.

Which of these two versions is the correct one? Who can say? Lieberman didn’t score a big hit with the song, but Roberta Flack stumbled upon it in 1972 while reading about Lieberman in the TWA airline magazine. Her interest piqued by the title of the song, she tuned into it on the in-flight radio, and decided to record it herself. Over a period of three months, Flack experimented with and rearranged the song, changing the chord structure, adding the soaring ad libs and ending the song on a major chord where Lieberman did it with a minor. Her remake made an immediate impression, topping the US charts for four weeks and reaching #6 in Britain. Her version won Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance.

Almost a quarter of a century later, in 1996, Killing Me Softly – its full title by now routinely and redundantly castrated – made a return to the album charts in the form of the Fugees’ cover (it wasn’t released as a single so as to boost album sales). Lauryn Hill’s vocals are fine, though the hip hop arrangement negates the confessional intimacy of Flack’s, or indeed Lieberman’s, version. And that would be adequate; the mood of a lyric often is disengaged from a song’s sound to little detriment (think of all the great upbeat numbers with morose lyrics). Besides, the Fugees had conceived of the song as an anti-drug anthem with the revised title Killing Him Softly, a plan that was abandoned when they were denied permission for such modification.

The whole exercise becomes something of a prank, however, thanks to Wyclef Jean’s repeated intonation of “one time” and “two time”, as though he was auditioning for the role of parody DJ on Sesame Street. No matter how affecting Hill’s vocals, Wycount von Count’s antics render the Fugees’ version one of the most deplorable covers in pop.

 

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
The first time ever we heard this song probably was in the version by Roberta Flack, whose performance on her 1969 debut album was barely noticed until it was included in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film Play Misty For Me. Those who dig deeper will know that it was written in the 1950s by British folk legend Ewan MacColl, for Peggy Seeger (Pete’s half-sister) with whom he was having an affair and who would become his third wife. She sang it on the song’s first recording, released in 1962.

For MacColl, the political troubadour, the song is a radical departure, supporting the notion that he didn’t just write it for inclusion in Peggy’s repertoire but as the intimate declaration of love it is. Followers of the 1960s folk scene might have known the song before they heard the Flack version; it was a staple of the genre. The Kingston Trio even cleaned up the lyrics, changing the line “The first time ever I lay with you…” to the more prissy “…ever I held you near”. After the success of Flack’s intense, tender, sensual, touching and definitive version — which captures the experience of being with somebody you love better than most other songs — there was an explosion of covers, with Elvis Presley’s bombastic version especially infuriating MacColl, who compared it to Romeo singing up at Juliet on the Post Office tower.

It does seem that he did not take kindly to the intimacy of his song being spread widely and, indeed, corrupted. And Peggy Seeger never sang the song again after Ewan’s death in 1989.

 

Neither One Of Us
In February this year we lost Jim Weatherley, who wrote Neither One Of Us, as well as Midnight Train To Georgia (featured on The Originals Soul Edition Vol. 1) and Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me, all hits for Gladys Knight & The Pips — who recorded a total of 12 Weatherley songs. Neither One Of Us was the first of them, giving Knight and Pips their biggest hit to date — with their final record on Motown before their fertile move to Buddah.

Neither One Of Us was first recorded by Weatherley, an ex-football player turned country singer-songwriter, and appeared on his eponymous debut album in 1972, which also featured the song then still known Midnight Plane To Houston, before its mode of transport and destination were changed.

 

I’ve Got To Use My Imagination
The move to Buddha was good for Gladys Knight & The Pips. Treated like unwanted stepchildren on Motown, they now enjoyed a string of hits. One of these was I’ve Got To Use My Imagination, which was written by Gerry Goffin (Carole King’s ex-partner) with blues musician Barry Goldberg, who released the song a month before it appeared on Knight’s Imagination album in November 1973. The single was the follow-up to the chart-topper Midnight Train To Georgia, and reached #4 in the US. Their next single was Weatherley’s Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me (the original version, by Steve Lawrence featured on the Soul Originals Vol. 1).

Goldberg’s version is very different from Gladys’ smooth interpretation. His blues background is very much evident. A decade earlier, Goldberg had played with Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, and Howlin’ Wolf. He then played keyboards with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, in which capacity he was part of the backing band as Bob Dylan went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. In 1967 he founded The Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield, and then formed a band with Steve Miller.

 

Fire
We don’t really regard Bruce Springsteen as the writer of classic soul songs, and he wasn’t best pleased when The Pointer Sisters had a 1979 hit with the song that had failed to make the cut for his Darkness On The Edge Of Town album. While Springsteen was still searching for his first big hit, a year earlier Patti Smith scored a global smash with his Because The Night (another Darkness reject), and before that Manfred Mann’s Earthband had a hit with his Blinded By The Light. Now even a group of soul sisters had a hit with one of his songs. Springsteen would finally have a hit with Hungry Heart in 1980 — a song he had written with the Ramones in mind.

Springsteen didn’t record Fire, though it was part of his live setlist in the late 1970s. Instead he gave the song to a friend of E Street Band bassist Garry Talent, a rockabilly singer named Robert Gordon. Springsteen had seen Gordon on stage with guitarist Link Wray, and evidently thought that this singer would give the song the appropriate treatment. Gordon and Wray recorded it in December 1977.

The Pointer Sisters came to Fire through their producer, Richard Perry, who had a cassette bootleg of Springsteen singing it in concert. He thought it would make a great song for Anita Pointer — and the song’s success proved him right. Fire was released in October 1978 as the lead single for the Sisters’ Energy album. Springsteen finally had a hit with Fire in 1987, with a live recording from December 1978…

 

I’m In Love
Here’s one song that ties in three legends of soul: Bobby Womack, who wrote I’m In Love during his enforced social and professional exile for marrying Sam Cooke’s widow, as a declaration of the authenticity of his love for the erstwhile Mrs Cooke. But Womack gave the song to Wilson Pickett who recorded it in 1967. Just after Pickett’s version was released, Womack also recorded his version. Pickett’s version did fairly good business, reaching #4 on the R&B charts, and #45 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In 1974 Aretha Franklin released her marvellous version and had greater success with it, topping the R&B charts and reaching #19 on the Hit 100.

 

It Hurts So Good
Written by soul singer-songwriter and producer Philip Mitchell, It Hurts So Good was one of the signature songs for Millie Jackson and a 1975 hit for Susan Cadogan & The Diamonds. But first it was recorded in 1971 by Katie Love and The Four Shades of Black, for whom it was the only record. Katie Love would release one more single in 1973, and that was it for her recording career.

In Millie Jackson’s version, It Hurts So Good reached #3 the R&B charts and #24 on the US Billboard Hot 100 pop chart (it also featured in the blaxploitation film Cleopatra Jones). It was the first time Jackson’s appeared in her real voice — on her debut album, the producers sped up her deep voice to make it sound higher. So on the follow-up, Jackson was a co-producer, preventing any meddling with her natural voice.…

Due to Jackson’s raunchy image, people with impure minds have suggested that the song was about the joys of the kind of intercourse that could get you arrested in many states. It’s not, but if it was, I hope Millie’s partner did not “bounce me like a rubber ball”.

 

Love On A Two-Way Street
The song which The Moments recorded in 1968 and had a hit with two years later has been given second and third lives, first by the 1981 hit version by Stacy Lattislaw and later by way of the instantly recognisable sample on the Alicia Keys & Jay-Z hit Empire State of Mind. But before The Moments got around to it, a singer named Lezli Valentine recorded Love On A Two-Way Street (with the sample Jay-Z would lift from The Moments’ version). It was one of just three records she released, all on the All Platinum label, owned by future sex-song siren and hip-hop impresario Sylvia Robinson.

Robinson shares the writing credit with Bert Keyes, who had co-written Nat King Cole’s 1958 hit Angel Smile. But Valentine insisted that she should have received a writing credit, too, for contributing a significant chunk of the lyrics. Legal steps she took apparently amounted to nothing.

 

Show And Tell
It’s quite a coincidence that on the album on which Johnny Mathis gives us an original, he also covered two songs featured here: Neither One Of Us and Killing Me Softly With Her Song, the title track of his 1972 LP. Written by Jerry Fuller (whose biggest songwriting hit was Gary Puckett & Union Gap’s Young Girl), Show And Tell gave Mathis a minor Easy Listening hit.

In 1973, the song was covered by soul singer Al Wilson, who topped the US charts with in January 1974. It later was also a R&B hit for Peabo Bryson.

 

Ai No Corrida
It’s a far way from England’s gritty post-punk scene to the shiny LA studios governed by Quincy Jones, but so it was with Ai No Corrida. The song was first recorded by Chaz Jankel, erstwhile member of Ian Dury’s Blockheads, who co-wrote it with US songwriter Kenny Young, who sadly featured in the In Memoriam – April 2020 post.

Ai No Corrida was inspired by the Japanese 1976 film In the Realm of the Senses, originally titled Ai no Korīda (“Bullfight of Love”), a film that was precluded from general release due to scenes of unsimulated sex.

Somehow Jankel’s version came to the attention of Quincy Jones, who polished it up, handed the lead vocals to a singer going by the name of Dune (with Patti Austin assisting), and put it on his The Duke album, whence it became a global hit.

As always, CD-R length, home-basslined covers, all the above text in an illustrated PDF booklet, PW in comments. PLUS: three surprise bonus tracks of originals of future hits by Aretha Franklin!

1. Chaz Jankel – Ai No Corrida (1980)
The Usurper: Quincy Jones (1981)

2. Average White Band – What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me (1980)
The Usurper: Chaka Khan (1981)

3. Turley Richards – You Might Need Somebody (1979)
The Usurpers: Randy Crawford (1981), Shola Ama (1997)

4. Jim Weatherly – Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Good-bye) (1972)
The Usurpers: Gladys Knight & The Pips (1972), Bob Luman (1973)

5. Lori Lieberman – Killing Me Softly With His Song (1972)
The Usurpers: Roberta Flack (1968), The Fugees (1996)

6. Eddy Arnold – You Don’t Know Me (1956)
The Usurpers: Ray Charles (1962), Mickey Gilley (1981)

7. Sonny Thompson with Lula Reed – I’ll Drown In My Tears (1952)
The Usurpers: Ray Charles (1956), Aretha Franklin (1967), Simply Red (1986)

8. Al Braggs – Cigarettes And Coffee (1962)
The Usurper: Otis Redding (1966)

9. Arthur Prysock – My Special Prayer (1964)
The Usurper: Percy Sledge (1969)

10. Dan Penn – I’m Your Puppet (1965)
The Usurper: James & Bobby Purify (1966)

11. Jerry Butler – I Stand Accused (1964)
The Usurper: Isaac Hayes (1970)

12. Dyke & the Blazers – Funky Broadway (Part 1) (1966)
The Usurper: Wilson Pickett (1967)

13. Wilson Pickett – I’m In Love (1967)
The Usurper: Aretha Franklin (1974)

14. Katie Love and the Four Shades – It Hurts So Good (1971)
The Usurpers: Millie Jackson (1973), Susan Cadogan (1974), Jimmy Somerville (1995)

15. Lezli Valentine – Love On A Two Way Street (1968)
The Usurper: The Moments (1970), Stacy Lattisaw (1981)

16. Johnny Mathis – Show And Tell (1972)
The Usurper: Al Wilson (1973), Peabo Bryson (1989)

17. David Oliver – Love TKO (1980)
The Usurper: Teddy Pendergrass (1980)

18. Ruby and the Romantics – Hey There Lonely Boy (1963)
The Usurpers: Eddie Holman (as Hey There Lonely Girl, 1970)

19. Gil Hamilton – Tell Her (1962)
The Usurpers: The Exciters (as Tell Him, 1962), Billie Davis (as Tell Him, 1962)
Claude François (as Dis-lui, 1963), Hello (1974)

20. Kim Weston – It Should Have Been Me (1963)
The Usurper: Gladys Knight & the Pips (1967), Yvonne Fair (1975), Adeva (1991)

21. Barry Goldberg – I’ve Got To Use My Imagination (1973)
The Usurper: Gladys Knight & The Pips (1974)

22. Robert Gordon with Link Wray – Fire (1978)
The Usurper: The Pointer Sisters (1978)

23. Cheryl Ladd – I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again (1978)
The Usurper: Dionne Warwick (1979)

24. Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (1962)
The Usurper: Roberta Flack (1968)

GET IT! or HERE!

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

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The Originals: 1980s Vol. 2

August 25th, 2020 5 comments

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Pass The Dutchie was a cover of Pass the Kouchie by the Mighty Diamonds (a trio of adults singing about sharing a marijuana pipe), also from 1982. And both Read more…

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The Originals – 1960s Vol. 2

July 30th, 2020 10 comments

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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The Originals – Rat Pack Edition

June 18th, 2020 6 comments

 

In this instalment of The Originals we go to the first recordings or releases of songs that later became hits for Frank Sinatra (most of them), Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr — the so-called Rat Pack.

Frank Sinatra was a supreme interpreter of music. Even in the later stages of his career, when the arrangements often transgressed the boundaries of good taste, Sinatra still knew how to appropriate a song. So one may well think that he was essentially a cover artist — after all, he never wrote a song — and much of his catalogue consists of songs more famous in other artists’ hands. But many of Sinatra’s most famous songs were first recorded by him, and often written especially for him, particularly by Sammy Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen.

The songs that were first recorded by others but became known as Sinatra standards are relatively few. Hence the need to fill up this collection with tracks made famous by Dino and Sammy. And we’ll kick this thing of with one that connects Sinatra and Martin.

 

Everybody Loves Somebody
One of the originals is by Sinatra himself: Everybody Loves Somebody. When Dean Martin covered to it two decades later to good effect, he reportedly told the master interpreter of songs: “That’s how you sing it.”

Sinatra had released the song in 1948, a month before Peggy Lee’s version, though hers was recorded earlier. Neither version was a hit, though it can’t have been too obscure either. That same year, Dean Martin sang it on Bob Hope’s Show as well as on his own radio show with Jerry Lewis. Still after 1948, it was rarely recorded.

In 1964 Martin filled a little spare time at the end of a session by recording the song, at the suggestion of his pianist, Ken Lane, who had co-written it. The result was so good that Martin re-recorded the song with a full orchestra. It became a huge hit, knocking The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night off the top of the US charts. Apparently Martin celebrated that by sending a telegram to his friend Elvis Presley. It said: “If you can’t handle the Beatles, I’ll do it for you, pally.”

 

I’ve Got You Under My Skin
Sinatra was a marvellous interpreter of Cole Porter’s songs, and both of his solo versions of I’ve Got You Under My Skin are superb (whereas his long-distance duet with Bono was embarrassing). The song was originally written for the 1936 MGM musical Born To Dance, in which Virginia Bruce vied with star Eleanor Powell for the affection of James Stewart. The film was the first to be entirely scored by Porter (and his first engagement for MGM), and featured another classic in the exquisite Easy to Love, crooned by Powell and, in an unusual singing role, Stewart.

But before the film it is from was even released in November 1936, I’ve Got You Under My Skin had been recorded by singer-actress Frances Langford with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. But the first act to have a hit with it Ray Noble and his Orchestra, with the South African-born English singer Al Bowlly on vocals. Bowlly met an untimely end in 1941 when the explosion of a Blitzkrieg bomb on London blew his bedroom door off its hinges, lethally smashing the crooner’s head.

Sinatra first performed I’ve Got You Under My Skin as part of a medley with Easy To Love on radio in 1946 (some sources say 1943), but he didn’t record it until 1956, with Nelson Riddle’s arrangement on the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers album. He recorded the song again in 1963, in full swing mode, for an album of remakes of some of his favourite hits.

In 1966 the song was a hit in the popified remake by The Four Seasons.

 

I Get A Kick Out Of You
Trust Cole Porter to identify in his lyrical witticisms a yet undiscovered matter of science. As we now know, the emotion of love triggers Read more…

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The Originals – Country Edition

March 26th, 2020 5 comments

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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Any Major Originals – Bacharach Edition

January 29th, 2020 10 comments

 

(This is a recycled post from February 2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Originals
More Songwriter Collections

More Mix CD-Rs

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Any Major Original Samples Vol. 1

November 21st, 2019 2 comments

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Any Major Originals: The 1970s Vol. 2

October 17th, 2019 4 comments

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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Any Major Originals – Motown

September 19th, 2019 8 comments

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

The song was written Read more…

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The Originals: Rock & Roll Years

August 22nd, 2019 5 comments

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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