Beatles Recovered: Let It Be

May 8th, 2020 8 comments

Fifty years ago on May 8, the final Beatles album was released, almost a month after Paul McCartney had announced that the band had split. If proof was needed that The Beatles had reached the end of the road, this uneven set seemed to provide it.

Of course, most of it was recorded before the masterful Abbey Road, so who can tell how much juice was still in that apple. Be that as it may, Let It Be was the swansong. The last bit of work was done in February 1970, with Paul and George doing some tinkering with I Me Mine, which had been recorded in January 1970, without John’s contribution.

Few fans will list Let It Be as their favourite Beatles album, and only a few tracks on it were widely covered. Naturally, the three stand-out McCartney were liberally covered: Get Back, The Long And Winding Road and the title track. Others found few takers: Dig A Pony, I Me Mine, One After 909, For You Blue…

Still, what we have here is a pretty decent compilation. Even the superfluous Dig It, from Laibach’s song-by-song copy of Let It Be, is, at least, interesting.

One of the artists featured here as a cover act actually played with The Beatles during that period. Billy Preston was even co-credited on Get Back, though that song is featured here in the cover by Motown songstress Chris Clark (released after the single was out and before the LP was released). On his 1970 LP Encouraging Words, Preston covered I’ve Got A Feeling (he also played, uncredited, on the Beatles version), as well as Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and the first recording of My Sweet Lord.

Harrison’s song For Your Blue is covered here by his son Dhani; and on David Bowie’s cover of Across The Universe, we have John Lennon playing guitar.

One track here isn’t even a cover, but precedes Let It Be by 13 years. The version of Maggie Mae — a traditional song from Liverpool which was the first non-Beatles composition the group recorded since Act Naturally on Help! — is by the The Vipers Skiffle Group, a very popular skiffle outfit in the 1950s that was at times produced by… George Martin. Their Maggie May was the b-side of the Top 10 hit The Cumberland Gap; it seems plausible that the young Beatles were familiar with this recording.

So this brings to an end this series of Beatles albums covered song-by-song, all posted on the 50th anniversary of each album. But I got into it only in 2014 with A Hard Days’ Night. I’m playing with the thought of recovering the first two albums.

1. R. Dean Taylor – Two Of Us (1970)
2. California Guitar Trio – Dig A Pony (2016)
3. David Bowie – Across The Universe (1975)
4. Beth Orton – I Me Mine (2010)
5. Laibach – Dig It (1988)
6. Bill Withers – Let It Be (1971)
7. The Vipers Skiffle Group – Maggie Mae (1957)
8. Billy Preston – I’ve Got A Feeling (1970)
9. Willie Nelson – One After 909 (1995)
10. Ray Charles – The Long And Winding Road (1971)
11. Dhani Harrison – For You Blue (2013)
12. Chris Clark – Get Back (1969)

GET IT! or HERE!

More Beatles Recovered:
Beatles Recovered: A Hard Day’s Night
Beatles Recovered: Beatles For Sale
Beatles Recovered: Help!
Beatles Recovered: Rubber Soul
Beatles Recovered: Revolver
Beatles Recovered: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club  Band
Beatles Revovered: Magical Mystery Tour
Beatles Recovered: White Album
Beatles Recovered: Yellow Submarine
Beatles Recovered: Abbey Road

Wordless: Any Major Beatles Instrumentals
Covered With Soul Vol. 14 – Beatles Edition 1
Covered With Soul Vol. 15 – Beatles Edition 2

Any Major Beatles Covers: 1962-66

Any Major Beatles Covers: 1967-68
Any Major Beatles Covers: 1968-70

More Beatles stuff

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In Memoriam – April 2020

May 5th, 2020 9 comments

What a horrible month! Even without Covid-19, April would have been a cruel month. I count 16 coronavirus-related music deaths this month (excluding classical and national folk music musicians). Disclaimer: in many cases, as I understand it, Covid-19 is not the only or primary cause of death. Where it states that somebody died of Covid-19, it does not exclude associated causes of death.

The Soul Legend
The news of Bill Withers’ death took a while to be announced. He died on March 30, but his death was made publicly known only on April 3. I paid tribute to the great singer with a mix of cover versions of his songs. A couple of days later I caught up on Netflix on an excellent documentary about the backroom fixer Clarence Avant. Featured in the film was Bill Withers, who had been discovered by Avant when the singer was still an airplane mechanic.

The Singing Mailman
A few days after Withers died, another giant fell in John Prine, whose death I also marked with a tribute and mix of covers of his songs. Like Withers, Prine was a working man when he was discovered. The mailman in Chicago became something of an overnight sensation in 1971 with his astonishing self-titled debut album. It was the foundation for an impressive body of work which deserves to be much better known. Among Prine’s fans were gifted songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Kris Kristofferson (who namechecked Prine in the title of one of his songs). Prine beat cancer twice, but died of Covid-19 after having had a hip operation.

A Funky Drummer
Disco had many pioneers, but among those who most notably put the stomp on the dancefloor was Hamilton Bohannon. The luxuriously coiffured funkmaster cut his teeth in the 1960s as Little Stevie Wonder’s drummer and then Motown’s tour bandleader. In 1973 he started to release his drum-driven funk under the banner of his surname (occasionally giving his first name an airing). A devout Christian, he saw it necessary to issue a disclaimer to the effect that the title of his album Dance Your Ass Off was not profane.

The Drumming Pioneer
Nigerian drummer Tony Allen is regarded by many of his peers as the greatest exponent of his craft. He was the long-time drummer for Fela Kuti’s Africa ‘70, the outfit that is credited with being the primary founder of Afro-pop, a genre which fused African jazz, traditional African rhythms, US jazz, funk, soul and pop. Kuti said that the genre would not exist without Tony Allen.

The drummer left the band in 1979 to form his own band. In the 1980s he moved to London and then Paris where he backed African acts such Kuti, King Sunny Adé, Ray Lema, Khaled, and Manu Dibango (whom we lost in March), as well as French acts such as Charlotte Gainsbourg and Air, plus Jimmy Cliff, Groove Armada, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Neil Finn, Grace Jones and, somehow, Irish Foster & Allen. On Blur’s 2000 single Music Is My Radar, Damon Albarn repeats the phrase “Tony Allen got me dancing”. Later Albarn got to collaborate with Allen.

The Award Winner
Another Covid-19 victim was Adam Schlesinger of the underrated Fountains of Wayne. Read more…

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Any Major Happy Songs Vol. 2

April 30th, 2020 2 comments

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

GET IT! or HERE!

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Any Major Week Vol. 2

April 23rd, 2020 1 comment

 

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

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

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

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

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

GET IT! or HERE!

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Any Major John Prine Songbook

April 16th, 2020 9 comments

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GET IT! or HERE!

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

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Beatles Reunited: Let It See (1980)

April 9th, 2020 9 comments

On 10 April it’ll be 50 years ago since Paul McCartney announced that The Beatles had split up. In our alternative Beatleverse, the Fabs never split.

They did their solo things, but released LPs throughout the 1970s: Everest in 1971, Live ’72 the following year, Smile Away in 1972, the classic double-album Photographs in 1974, and the lazily-titled 77 in 1977.

Now it’s 1980 — three years after the last album — and after a hiatus (remember, John contributed only two tracks to 77), John was raring to go again. By now Linda and Yoko were welcome guests in the studio. Occasionally they were even allowed to pitch in; it did keep the peace.

Those three years were fertile, with enough music to fill a double-album. Yoko suggested calling the set “Double Fantasy”, but our four friends thought it would be more amusing to riff on the tenth anniversary of the Let It Be album, a dark time when the group was on the verge of splitting up, with its black cover serving as a metaphor for those dark times. Punster John has come up with the lame title “Let It See”, Paul proposes “Back To The Egg”. Harrison wants the album to have no title at all and simply sport a symbol of some kind (maybe even renaming the group The Band Formerly Known As The Beatles), and Ringo doesn’t care either way.

With the marketing department nixing George’s bizarre proposal, and everybody thinking that “Back To The Egg” is the most rubbish title ever conceived, John’s shockingly bad title wins out. Even the cover is a lazy reference to the Let It Be cover.

John got his stupid title through, but Paul got more songs on to the double-album, though it’s likely John held some tracks back for his upcoming collaboration with Yoko (maybe that album will be called “Double Fantasy”, possibly featuring a hit titled Woman, whhich doesn’t feature on this set).

Paul has been experimenting with disco, on Goodnight Tonight, Coming Up and the soulish Arrow Through Me. On Old Siam Sir, Paul rocks out a bit, on Deliver Your Children he goes folk, and his retro vibes are still evident on Baby’s Request.

George Harrison is at his melodious best, especially with catchy tunes like Blow Away and Here Comes The Moon.

But it’s John’s material that catches the eye (and perhaps also the ear). The set starts with the theme song for middle-age marriage, (Just Like) Starting Over and closes with his love song to his little son, Beautiful Boy. In between, Watching The Wheels extols the virtues of getting out of the rat race just as presidential candidate Ronald Reagan proposes a free market agenda that will intensify that very rat race.

John Lennon as the spokesman for domesticity and tuning-out; “Strange days indeed”, as he notes on another song. The political spokesman has retired.

For innovation, you’ll be better better look elsewhere, but this is well-crafted pop for the people who have grown older with The Beatles. Who knows how long the Fab Four will continue…

Side 1
1. (Just Like) Starting Over (John)
2. Old Siam, Sir (Paul)
3. Here Comes The Moon (George)
4. With A Little Luck (Paul)
5. Nobody Told Me (John)
Side 2
6. Blow Away (George)
7. Watching The Wheels (John)
8. Getting Closer (Paul)
9. Old Time Relovin’ (Ringo)
10. Deliver Your Children (Paul)
Side 3
11. I’m Losing You (John)
12. Not Guilty (George)
13. Arrow Through Me (Paul)
14. Goodnight Tonight (Paul)
15. Real Love (John)
Side 4
16. Coming Up (Paul)
17. Love Comes To Everyone (George)
18. I Don’t Wanna Face It (John)
19. Baby’s Request (Paul)
20. Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) (John)

GET IT! or HERE!

Previous Beatles Reunited albums:
Everest (1971)
Live ’72 (1972)
Smile Away (1972)
Photographs (1974)
77 (1977)

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Any Major Bill Withers Songbook

April 3rd, 2020 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GET IT! or HERE!

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

 

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In Memoriam – March 2020

April 2nd, 2020 7 comments

March, a massacre-month, saw several music victims of Covid-19, with an Argentine jazz musician based in Spain being the first casualty, and many others coming after him. Think of them when assholes demand that vulnerable people die to keep the economy going.

The Gambler
We may hope that Kenny Rogers followed the advice of the lyrics of his 1980 hit The Gambler and folded ‘em in his sleep, having previously checked in to see what condition his condition was in. Rogers, who died peacefully at home at the age of 81, has become a byword of commercial country music, with hits such as Lucille, The Gambler, rape-revenge song Coward Of The County, the Lionel Richie-written Lady, the Bob Seger-penned duet with Sheena Easton We’ve Got Tonight, the Dolly Parton duet Islands In The Stream (which the Bee Gees had initially written with Marvin Gaye in mind), and so on.

Rogers started out in 1958 as a fresh-voiced country recording artist, as Kenneth Rogers, before joining a jazz trio. This then led to his membership of the folk outfit New Christy Minstrel Singers, whose members broke away with Kenny to form The First Edition. That group straddled rock and country, having hits with rock numbers and with country covers, such as Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town.

Rogers left The First Edition in 1976 to reboot his career as a country crooner, complete with dad beard and dad glasses, imparting wisdoms about the nature of humankind, and gurning cheerfully in the We Are The World video (he gets to sing the last line of the first verse, “the greatest gift at all”, with Paul Simon, before he briefly takes centrestage with the next line, “We can’t go on pretending day by day”). And Rogers became a flogger of fried chicken, being immortalised in an episode of Seinfeld.

The Jazz Legend
Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner made his name with John Coltrane, on classics such as My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. While still with Coltrane, Tyner released his own albums, playing more accessible music than that created by the innovator Coltrane. An innovator himself, Tyner continued to release solo albums for many years after parting with Coltrane in late 1965, after five years of close collaboration. His studio final album was released in 2008. He also worked as a sideman with acts like George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, Art Blakey, Milt Jackson, Wayne Shorter.

The Mokassa Man
Perhaps the most prominent victim of the coronavirus this month was Cameroonian saxophone legend Manu Dibango, who passed away at 86. Dibango’s big hit was Soul Mokassa, an early 1970s track that has been widely sampled. Michael Jackson copied the rhythmic vocals of “ma-ma-se, ma-ma-sa, ma-ma-ko-sa” for Wanna Be Startin’ Something, and Rihanna for 2007’s Don’t Stop The Music. But Jackson had used it without Dibango’s permission, and when Rihanna received permission to use the sample from the Jackson song, Dibango sued both. Jackson admitted his plagiarism and settled out of court. Rihanna’s gang got out of paying Dibango due to a legal quirk.

Other elements of Soul Mokassa have been sampled liberally. These include Will Smith’s Getting Jiggy With It, Jay-Z’s Face-Off, Kanye West’s Lost In The World, Mama Say by The Bloodhound Gang, Rhythm (Devoted To The Art Of Moving Butts) by A Tribe Called Quest, and many others.

The First Lady Of Folk
Known as Britain’s “First Lady of Folk” Julie Felix was born in the US and came to the UK in 1964, waving mid-Atlantic at the British invasion going the other way. Felix did little to trouble the charts — she had a #19 and a #22 hit in 1970 — and still she was the first folk singer to sell out the Royal Albert Hall. In 1966 she was the resident singer on David Frosts’ TV programme, The Frost Report, and between 1967 and 1970 hosted her own TV show. Felix kept recording until 2018, when she was 79.

The German-US Friend
The staid German music scene was revolutionised in the early 1980s by the emergence 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…

Categories: Country History, The Originals Tags:

Any Major Pandemic

March 18th, 2020 14 comments

 

There are very few good things about the coronavirus pandemic. But I hope this mix of songs, whose titles refer to this crisis in one way or another, joins clearer skies and balcony-singing in Italy among the few upsides.

Otherwise the effects of this virus are horrible, almost as though scripted by a syndicate of nasty capitalists, possibly headed by a stupid-haired English prime minister with too narrowly-set eyes who believes the culling of old people is good economy.

But all this, too, will pass, and we shall emerge from the Covid-19 wreckage. Possibly unemployed and/or bankrupt (but some tax cuts for the stinking-rich will fix that, I’m sure), but with an experience to tell our grandchildren about. “Yes, Amdwhah III, the US president really said all these idiotic things. Look it up in the hologramnet if you don’t believe me.”

But for now, let’s enjoy this playlist of songs, which effortlessly segues from the hard rock of Hawkwind to hygienic bath-time advice from Ernie and Bert. My one regret is the paucity of suitable songs about toilet paper for inclusion.

Many thanks to commenter “dramref” for song suggestions and making my mind up, on this Wednesday evening, to make this mix.

EDIT: I’m kicking myself for forgetting the song that has given me a conoronavirus earworm (besides The Knack’s My Sharona): Paul Simon’s Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, with the line, “Goodbye Rosie, Queen of Corona”

As always, CD-R length, home-cured covers, PW in comments.

1. Minutemen – Corona (1984)
2. Ramones – You Sound Like You’re Sick (1981)
3. AC/DC – Touch Too Much (1879)
4. Blue Öyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper (1976)
5. The Smiths – Still Ill (1984)
6. Crowded House – Isolation (2010)
7. The Cardigans – Sick & Tired (1994)
8. Hello Saferide – Get Sick Soon (2005)
9. Ben Lee – Catch My Disease (2004)
10. Ronnie Dyson – Fever (1970)
11. Ringo Starr – All By Myself (1974)
12. Thompson Twins – Doctor Doctor (1984)
13. The The – Infected (1986)
14. Joy Division – Transmission (1979)
15. Warren Zevon – Splendid Isolation (1989)
16. Bob Dylan – Suze (The Cough Song) (1963)
17. Kris Kristofferson – Feeling Mortal (2013)
18. Matchbox 20 – Unwell (2003)
19. The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work (1997)
20. Manic Street Preachers – Another Invented Disease (1992)
21. Hawkwind – Choose Your Masques (1982)
22. Ernie & Bert – Everybody Wash (1970)

GET IT! or HERE!

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