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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…

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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)

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Any Major Schlager Covers Vol. 2

March 12th, 2020 4 comments

 

In a 1979 interview with the Swiss-German pop magazine, Schlager singer Benny was asked whether recording German versions of foreign songs wasn’t a cop-out for producing good local music. Benny answered along the lines that German versions help listeners with no foreign language skills understand the original song.

But Benny was wrong: at the time the singer himself issued versions of Plastic Bertrand’s Ça Plane Pour Moi and Sham 69’s If The Kids Are Alright, and their lyrics failed to resemble the lyrics of the original. The interviewer had a point: good German tunes were thin on the ground, until the New German Wave hit a couple of years later.

In Any Major Schlager Covers Vol. 1 we looked at German covers of international hits, some of which were pretty good, and others were curious. This second mix repeats that exercise.

It kicks off with the most iconic of the lesser-known cover, a cover of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid by the most quintessential of square Schlager singers, the husband-and-wife duo Cindy & Bert. The Sabbath cover was released when they were still doing music part-time, seeing themselves as serious musicians. Soon Cindy & Bert became staples of clap-along Schlager songs, mostly on Fernweh themes of exotic locations and Spanish guitars in Malaga. Cindy & Bert competed in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, which Sweden’s ABBA won while the German pair finished rock bottom of the table.

Some Schlager singers successfully straddled the line between cultured chanson and banal Schlager. One of them was Greek-born and Germany-raised singer Vicky Leandros, whose father gave up his successful music career to mentor his daughter to stardom. His plan worked: Leandros created two of the great Eurovision classics, both in French representing Luxembourg (no Brexit in the Leandros household): L’amour est Bleu and Aprés Toi (better known in English as Love Is Blue and Then Came You; both featured on Any Major Eurovision). Here Leandros, who also did a fine cover of My Sweet Lord, reinterprets The Box Tops’ The Letter.

Likewise, the great Katja Ebstein was a credible singing artist who had success in Schlager (and in the Eurovision Song Contest, which she finished as runner-up three times). She featured in Vol. 1; here she covers Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. In terms of vocals, I prefer Ebstein’s to those of Mitchell or Judy Collins.

Also part of the Schlager scene but transcending it was the sassy Juliane Werding, who as a 16-year-old landed a huge hit with an anti-drug version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Personal problems got in the way of her career which was marked by several comebacks.

The late Jürgen Marcus, on the other hand, was a Schlager singer of the intergenerational clap-along variety, though one always suspected that he could have been much better than that (as did he). His competent but unconvincing cover of the Bee Gees’ Massachussets gives little indication of that, though the arrangement is very nice. Perhaps he was better off singing those catchy Schlager hits.

Also going back to the canon of mid-1960s ballads is Thomas Fritsch’s version of Wichitia Lineman, which also is scored in good taste, with a nice piano solo. Fritsch was an acting star, starting his long career as a child, and never really had great success as a singer.

The weedy voice that croons the Eagles’ New Kid In Town on the old theme of seductive 17-year-olds is that of Frank Farian, who became the male and a female voice of Boney M., and later had Milli Vanilli lip-sync for him.

 

One act here comes from East-Germany, which was not exactly not a mine of pop jewels. So it seems quite fitting that ABBA would be covered by a choir ensemble, the eight-member Gerd Michaelis Chor. Their cover of Waterloo, recorded soon after ABBA won the Eurovision, does the right thing: play it straight, and accept that it won’t be superior to the original.

As a teenager Suzanne Doucet had her first hit with her German take on The Ronettes’ Be My Baby. The daughter of a well-known psychologist went on to become a prolific songwriter, producer and music entrepreneur, as well as an actress. Much of her career was devoted to new age music.

I take no responsibility for some pretty weird covers here. Rock & roll singer John Dattelbaum’s version of Dion’s Runaway is included for its WTF qualities. In it, the singer styles himself as Mädchenschreck (one who frightens off girls); his vocal performance confirms the validity of the title.

Gaby Baginsky recorded her German version of Paul McCartney’s Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey in 1972, a few years before she became a star with traditionally banal Schlager numbers. Incredibly, somebody thought it was a good idea to, firstly, cover that song, and, secondly, to issue her cover as a single. I recently learnt that I had once seen Baginsky in concert, as a support act. I had no memory of that in any way.

At least four acts here are very much not Schlager stars. Christopher & Michael were protest singers in the 1960s, so it seemed obvious that they would cover Barry McGuire’s Eve Of Destruction. The lyrics are certainly heartfelt, and issue a timely reminder that Germans should look at their own society before calling for “Death to Red Russia”. But some in the protest movement saw the twosome as a bit naïve and embarrassing. Joan Baez didn’t think so: she appeared alongside them during a famous protest in Frankfurt in 1966.

I have written before about Jürgen Zeltinger, an overweight, balding, openly gay punk singer often seen in a kaftan who delivered his lyrics in Kölsch, the dialect specific to Cologne. I’ve also posted his cover of the Ramones’ Rockaway Beach before, but include it here because it is so good.

Marius Müller-Westernhagen was better known as an actor before he became a well-known, often quotable rock singer. His voice was not very good, but his lyrics had punch, often of the satirical variety. And then it wasn’t always clear whether he meant it or not, as it was with his song Dicke (“fat people”), which lyrically more than borrowed from Randy Newman’s Short People. Here Müller-Westernhagen adapts Paul McCartney’s sincere but artless Give Ireland Back To The Irish to a call to give Bavaria back to the Bavarians, for the good of West-Germany. For US readers, it’s a bit like telling Texas to secede for the greater good of the USA — except many secession-minded Bavarians would agree with Marius.

Finally, there is The Hunters doing a German cover of the Sweet’s Fox On The Run. The Hunters were already active as an English-language rock band: The Scorpions.

As a bonus track, I offer you the first German rap record, a cover of Rapper’s Delight performed by a trio of German TV music show presenters: Frank Laufenberg, the superbly-named Manfred Sexauer, and Thomas Gottschalk as G.L.S.-United. It is a total disaster as the trio recall their musical influences: other than Gottschalk mentioning “disco, from time to time” and Sexauer remembering Little Richard, they have no black influences. But they rap…

 

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

1. Cindy & Bert – Der Hund von Baskerville (1970 – Paranoid)
2. Gus Ferlin – Es steht ein Haus im Westen (1966 – House Of The Rising Sun)
3. Inga – The Beat Goes On (1967 – The Beat Goes On)
4. Lisa Bauer – Song vom Hilfsarbeiter (1971 – Son Of A Preacherman)
5. Peter Horton – Mrs Robinson (1971 – Mrs Robinson)
6. Christopher & Michael – Wir sind am Ende (1965 – Eve Of Destruction)
7. Jürgen Marcus – Warum kann ich deine Liebe nicht vergessen? (1971 – Massachusetts)
8. Thomas Fritsch – Draht in der Sonne (1969 – Wichita Lineman)
9. Howard Carpendale – Heiss wie Feuer (1971 – Ring Of Fire)
10. Bernd Spier – Memphis Tennessee (1964 – Memphis, Tennessee)
11. John Dattelbaum – Mädchenschreck (1961 – Runaway)
12. Suzanne Doucet – Sei mein Baby (1964 – Be My Baby)
13. Die Five Tops – Frag doch nur dein Herz (1965 – Trains And Boats And Planes)
14. Marion Maerz – Warten und hoffen (1971 – Wishing And Hoping)
15. Vicky Leandros – Er hat mir geschrieben (1971 – The Letter)
16. Anita Traversi – Es ist so schön verliebt zu sein (1965 – As Tears Go By)
17. Katja Ebstein – Beide Seiten (1973 – Both Sides Now)
18. Drafi Deutscher – Weil ich Dich liebe (1970 – Wigwam [by Bob Dylan])
19. Frank Farian – Sie war erst 17 (1977 – New Kid In Town)
20. Gerd Michaelis Chor – Waterloo (1974 – Waterloo)
21. Juliane Werding – Da staunste, was (1977 – Howzat)
22. The Hunters (Scorpions) – Fuchs geh’ voran (1975 – Fox On The Run)
23. Zeltinger Band – Müngersdorfer Stadion (1979 – Rockaway Beach)
24. Benny – Bin wieder frei (1978 – Ça Plane Pour Moi)
25. Marius Müller-Westernhagen – Gebt Bayern zurück an die Bayern (1972 – Give Ireland Back To The Irish)
26. Gaby Baginsky – Von Calais nach Dover (1972 – Admiral Halsey)
Bonus:  G.L.S.-United – Rapper’s Deutsch (1980 – Rapper’s Delight)

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In Memoriam – February 2020

March 4th, 2020 3 comments

When a singing star dies in a prison cell as a guest of his dictatorial regime, you know it has been the kind of shitty month when music and politics intersect. The African state of Rwanda might have a respectable looking president and one of Africa’s economic success stories, but opponents of the regime die in its prison cells…

I was also sad to learn of the death on March 2 at 93 of James Lipton, presenter (and so much more) of Inside The Actors Studio. In his honour, I shall do the 10 Questions he asked of his guests in the comments section.

The National Treasure
Few musicians receive a state funeral with flags flying at half-mast, but that is the way South Africa’s government honoured Joseph Shabalala, the founder and leader of the (mostly) a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo after he died at the age of 78. His group came to worldwide notice when they used their distinctive harmonies to back Paul Simon on his (controversial) Graceland album and tour. They went on to win five Grammys and were nominated for countless more. Amid a punishing touring schedule, they released 50 albums since their hit debut in 1973.

The Last Chordette
The final surviving Chordette has lollipopped. Lynn Evans, who appeared on all the Cadence recordings — that is, the glory days of the vocal group which soundtracks the 1950s so well — reached the ripe age of 95 before Mr Sandman took her to join her erstwhile companions, the first of whom to die was Alice Buschmann in 1981.

The Guitar Cop
To funk aficionados, Harold Beane might be best-known for his guitar work on Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain and other tracks. He also wrote a few tracks for the collective, including the title track of the America Eats Its Young album. He also recorded and/or toured with the likes of Isaac Hayes (including the superb fuzz guitar solo on Walk On By), William Bell, Little Richard, Eddie Floyd, Otis Redding, Al Green and others. A trained policeman, Beane played a prank on his old pal George Clinton and his funky friends in Atlanta in 1996. Donning his police uniform, he went to the hotel where Clinton and entourage stayed. “I knocked on the door and put my finger over the peephole. They opened the door and all they saw was the police uniform and the badge… Man, I heard the toilet flushing!” I’m sure there was abounding mirth.

The Mazzy Star
With his other-worldy guitar scoring the haunting voice of Hope Sandoval on Mazzy Star’s delicate, almost dreamlike 1990s songs, David Roback (possibly unintentionally) influenced many acts that were to come. A product of LA’s post-punk Paisley Underground scene, Roback dabbled in psychedelic throwbacks, first with his band Rain Parade and Opal, and then to some commercial and a lot of critical effect with Mazzy Star.

The Drumming Sidekick
Few backing musicians get honoured to be the referenced in the title of a song of their boss Read more…

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Any Major Music Firsts

February 25th, 2020 4 comments

 

 

This collection presents a number of firsts in recorded music. These are mostly confirmed firsts; obviously there are many other firsts that are disputed or plain unknown. So while we know what the first jazz, blues country or hip hop records were, it is impossible to determine the first rock & roll record, since the genre evolved from various other genres and therefore is difficult to define. It’s also a point of debate what constitutes the first-ever heave metal record — if I said Helter Skelter, you’d say Black Sabbath and your mom would suggest Blue Cheer’s cover of Summertime Blues — so no contender features here.

Other firsts are easily determined: first recordings by Elvis or The Beatles or Michael Jackson or Frank Sinatra; first record to feature the word “fuck”, even the first use on record of an electric guitar.

The oldest known recording of the human voice dates back to 1860, with an anonymous person singing the French folk song Claire de la lune on a phonautograph (nobody even knows for sure whether it’s a man or a woman). In 1878, Thomas Edison recorded a man reciting nursery rhymes. The man gets it quite wrong, but he is very audible. I haven’t included either of those, but if you really want to know, they are on YouTube.

 

1. Marv Johnson – Come To Me (1959)
First what? Marv Johnson recorded the first single to be released on Tamla, the label that would become Motown, in May 1959. It was co-written by Johnson with Berry Gordy, and reached #30 on the Billboard charts. Johnson would also have the label’s first Top 10 hit, with You’ve Got What It Takes in the early 1960s (also a #7 in the UK).

2. The Dominoes – Sixty Minute Man (1951)
First what? A few black artists had crossed over into the Billboard pop charts, but Billy Ward’s Dominoes were the first R&B act to do so, reaching #17 (having topped the R&B charts). The lyrics were risqué for their time: in them, the protagonist brags about his sex technique and stamina. There’ll be 15 minutes each of kissing, teasing, squeezing and “of blowing my top”. Moreover, “I rock ‘em, roll ‘em all night long.” The use of those words (more on them later) and the song’s crossover success makes it a contender for the elusive “first rock & roll record”.

 


3. The Jackson 5 – Big Boy (1968)
First what? This was the first recording to feature Michael Jackson. Recorded in Chicago in 1967, when MJ was nine, Big Boy was released on the Steeltown label in the Jacksons’ hometown of Gary, Indiana. It became a minor hit locally but did nothing regionally, never mind nationally. The band released one more single on Steeltown before they signed with Motown later in 1968. It’s fair to say that there they eclipsed their success on Steeltown.

4. The Fatback Band – King Tim III (Personality Jock) (1979)
First what? Released on 25 March 1979, six months before the Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, this is the first commercially released hip hop record, as the flip side of the disco number You’re My Candy Sweet. While the Sugar Hill Gang was a rap act (albeit one thrown together by producer Sylvia Robinson), the Fatback Band was actually a funk and disco outfit. The eponymous King Tim is Fatback Band lead singer Tim Washington.

5. The Maytals – Do The Reggay (1968)
First what? This is the song that gave the name reggae to the modern Jamaican music that was evolving from ska and rocksteady. As The Maytals’ song title suggests, the term “reggay” was until then used to describe as dance. The song was written by Maytals leader Toots Hibbert.

6. The Beatles – Across The Universe (1970)
First what? In 2008, this Beatles track from 1970s’ Let It Be album was the first song beamed into space, chosen for apparent reasons. Aliens thought: “And that’s The Beatles’ best song?”

7. The Boswell Sisters – Rock And Roll (1934)
First what? A few songs ago we noted how The Dominoes used the terminology of rockin’ and rollin’ in their crossover hit from 1951. The verb “to rock” was used in a song title in 1927 in country singer Uncle Dave Macon’s Rock About My Sara Jane, but the Boswell Sisters in 1934 were the first to use the name of the future pop genre in a title. Unlike The Dominoes’ lyrics, the song, from the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round, was not about sex but about “the rolling rocking rhythm of the sea”.

8. Trixie Smith – My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) (1938)
First what? First recorded in 1922, Trixie Smith’s My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) marks the first mention of both “rock” and “roll” as sex metaphor in lyrics. I’m using the 1938 version, because Smith’s voice had matured by then, influencing future R&B singers in ways her cartoonish 1920s voice didn’t.

9. Buddy Jones – Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama (1939)
First what? Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama is generally regarded as the first rockabilly song (and, yes, rock and roll is used as sex slang here). Buddy Jones was an early exponent of western swing, the sub-genre in country which drew from black musical forms. Since rockabilly was a huge influence on rock & roll — by the mid-’50s the two were virtually undistinguishable — Buddy Jones can be described as a proto-rock & roller. Alas, he died at 53 in 1956, just as rock & roll was becoming big. But by then he was long retired from the music biz.

 

10. Elvis Presley – My Happiness (1953)
11. Elvis Presley – That’s When The Heartaches Begin (1953)
First what? These are the first two recordings Elvis made when he was an amateur. On 18 July 1953, the 18-year-old truck driver Elvis Presley walked into Memphis’ Sun studios to avail himself of a service whereby members of the public could record a double-sided acetate. As a present for his mother, Elvis recorded these two ballads. Secretary Marion Keisker was so impressed by this boy that she advised the studio owner Sam Phillips to audition him. Which, it turns out, Phillips did.

12. The Quarrymen – In Spite Of All The Danger (1958)
First what? This is the first recording of the three young guys who’d become The Beatles: John Lennon (the leader of the Quarrymen), Paul McCartney and George Harrison. On 12 July 1958 they laid down two tracks for a demo at the Kensington recording studio — well, living room — of Percy F Phillips: a cover of the Buddy Holly song That’ll Be The Day, and the Elvis-inspired In Spite Of All The Danger, a Paul McCartney & George Harrison composition with John on lead vocals. With the Fab Three were John “Duff” Lowe on piano and Colin Hanton on drums. Each member held on to the shellac record for a week, until it was Lowe’s turn… who kept it for 23 years. In 1981 McCartney bought it from his old school friend, “at an inflated price”. In 1995, after having the two sides cleaned up, McCartney had them included on the Anthology set.

13. The Hoboken Four – Shine (1935)
First what? This is the first recording of Frank Sinatra, as a member of The Hoboken Four on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show. The group won and was awarded a six-month contract to perform on the radio and on stage. It was an important event in the career of Sinatra, even if he left the group later that year to job as a singing waiter.

14. Frank Mane Orchestra with Frank Sinatra – Our Love (1939)
First what? This was first song which Frank Sinatra recorded in a studio, for Frank Mane’s Orchestra on 18 March 1939. Our Love was not released, though. It survived as an acetate in Frank Mane’s personal collection, and was finally released after Mane’s widow auctioned it off in 2006 for $14,000.

 

15. Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra – Hittin’ The Bottle (1935)
First what? Hittin’ The Bottle was the first song to feature an “amplified guitar”, what we’d now call an electric guitar. It was played by Eddie Durham, who had experimented with various guitar effects for a few years already.

16. Martha Tilton – Moondreams (1941)
First what? On 6 April 1942, Martha Tilton recorded the first song for Capitol Records, a company just founded by the songwriter Johnny Mercer, who also supervised the recording. Capitol went on to become of the giants of recorded music, with legends such as Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, The Kingston Trio and, in the 1960s, the Beach Boys and The Beatles on their roster.

 

17. Eddy Arnold – Texarkana Baby (1949)
First what? On 31 March 1949 Eddy Arnold became the first act to have a song released on a 45RPM 7” single. Released by RCA, who had tried unsuccessfully to introduce 12” vinyl records in the early 1930s, Texarkana Baby came out on green vinyl. It was not the first 7” single to be pressed; that was a demo titled Whirl Away, which nevertheless featured a sample of the Arnold song.

18. Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra with Frank Sinatra – I’ll Never Smile Again (1940)
First what? This was the first #1 on Billboard’s “National List of Best Selling Retail Records”, on 27 July 1940, which replaced the three separate hit parades that since 1936 had listed separately the top Sheet Music Best Sellers; Records Most Popular on Music Machines and Songs With the Most Radio Plugs. I’ll Never Smile Again, recorded in May 1940 and billed as a foxtrot, topped the charts for 12 weeks.

19. Al Martino – Here In My Heart (1952)
First what? Al Martino scored the very first UK #1, in November 1952 when it was the NME Top 10. He topped the charts for nine weeks before being toppled by Jo Stafford’s You Belong To Me.

20. Eddy Duchin with Patricia Norman – Ol’ Man Moses (1938)
First what? This is probably the first song to use the word “fuck”. The word was not in the lyrics of the original Louis Armstrong song, but singer Patricia Norman pretty clearly doesn’t sing the prescribed line “buck’, buck, bucket”. Instead the song goes “(We found out) He kicked the bucket, (We found out) Where’s the man? Fuck, fuck, fuck it.”

 

21. Jimmie Rodgers – Blue Yodel No.9 (1930)
First what? Although there were black country musicians even in the early days of the genre, they didn’t record with their white counterparts. In 1930, Jimmie Rodgers became the first white country act to record with a black musician, in the person of Louis Armstrong (albeit initially uncredited). Both men were megastars in their respective genres. Rodgers died in 1933, aged only 35.

22. George W. Johnson – The Laughing Song (1891)
First what? Recorded on wax cylinder, this is the first recording by an African-American singer. Johnson was quite a star in his day, so much so that he was promoted across racial lines. The Laughing Song and the racist The Whistling Coon were the best-selling recordings in the US in the early 1890s, selling somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 (each wax cylinder had to be recorded individually, so Johnson was a busy man). Born in 1846 to a slave, Johnson was brought up as a companion to a Virginia farmer’s son. After the civil war he moved to New York City, where he became a street entertainer before hitting stardom. He also had a turbulent private life: both his common-law wives died in suspicious circumstances; possibly at Johnson’s hands.

23. Dinwiddie Colored Quartet – Down On The Old Campground (1902)
First what? This is the first record by African-Americans to be put on disc, and the first ever gospel record. It is not, however, the first black group to be recorded: in 1893 four songs were recorded on wax cylinder by the barbershop quartet Unique Quartette (the first of these is included as a bonus track). The Dinwiddie Colored Quartet cut six tracks for the Victor Talking Machine Company in October 1902.

24. Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band – Dixie Jass Band One-Step (1917)
First what? The first-ever jazz record was released in 1917 by a bunch of white guys (the flip-side was Livery Stable Blues, which therefore is also the first-ever jazz record). And it was so popular that W.C. Handy, the Father of the Blues, would cover it. Jass was the original spelling of the genre’s name, first documented in 1915. The first-ever jazz record was also one of the first to use an unauthorised sample, of Joe Jordan’s 1909 song That Teasin’ Rag. After a court case, subsequent pressings had to carry Jordan’s song-title in brackets: “Introducing ‘That Teasin’ Rag’”.

25. A.C. ‘Eck’ Robertson – Sallie Gooden (1922)
First what? This is the first-ever country record, recorded on 30 June 1922 in New York City by 35-year old Texan fiddler Eck Robertson and released by Victor. At the time the term country music didn’t exist; before that was invented in the 1940s the genre was often called Old-Time Music. But the label bills the type of music on this record as “Country Dance”.

 

26. Fiddlin’ John Carson – Little Old Cabin In The Lane (1923)
First what? Little Old Cabin In The Lane, a minstrel song from the 1870s, was the first country hit record. Recorded in Atlanta, it was released on the Okeh label. Read a Any Major potted history of country music.

27. The Victor Military Band – Memphis Blues (1914)
First what? It might not sound much like it, nor do the performers have a name to suggest it, but this is generally regarded to be the first blues record to be released. Of course, the song definitely is a blues song, written in 1912 by W.C. Handy, the first breakthrough blues artist. The Victor Military Band was a houseband of the Victor label, the giant that would later become RCA.

28. Walter M. Schirra Jr. & Thomas P. Stafford – Jingle Bells (1965)
First what? On 16 December 1965, astronauts Walter Schirra Jr. and Thomas Stafford played an impromptu version of Jingle Bells, relayed from their spacecraft to ground control, making this the first piece of music broadcast from space. The musical performance, performed with a harmonica and a jingle bell, was preceded by the astronauts making a gag about an UFO they had sighted… namely Santa Claus.

Bonus Tracks:
Unique Quartette – Mama’s Black Baby Boy (1893, first recording by black group)
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh In Society (1909, first time ‘jazz’ is mentioned on a record)
The Quarrymen – That’ll Be The Day (1958, The Beatles first recorded performance)
Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star (1979, first song played on MTV)

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Life In Vinyl 1987 Vol. 1

February 13th, 2020 1 comment

The first half of my 1987 was tinged by retro, much as the UK charts were. As the year begun, Jackie Wilson was at #1 with Reet Petite; and the follow-up re-releases — The Sweetest Feeling and Higher And Higher — also charted well. In February, Ben E. King topped the charts with Stand By Me, thanks to the Levis 501s commercial. Percy Sledge hit #2 with When A Man Loves A Woman around the same time, also on the back of a Levi’s ad. In April Doris Day’s 1964 hit Move Over Darling returned to the charts, also thanks to a commercial. And so on.

I loved it, especially the soul revival, which found fine expression in Wendy May’s Friday night club Locomotion at the Kentish Town & Country Club in north London, a jog away from my flat. The rules of playlisting were strict: nothing but soul music from the 1960s and ’70s (popular soul, not the specialists’ rare tracks scene of Northern Soul).

If that rule was broken, then I recall only one instance. Local-based Terence Trent D’Arby, a US singer who had just arrived from Germany a few months earlier, had his debut single out. If You Let Me Stay, a superb track with a bit of a ’60s soul vibe, would be played at the Locomotion, doubtless helping it into the charts. I certainly bought the single well before it was a hit.

There were other soul singles which I thought deserved to be hits. Paul Johnson’s When Love Comes Calling, on which the singer hits a hell of a long falsetto note, unaccountably stalled at #52. Produced by Junior Giscombe, it should have been a hit. But, as we have seen in the past few years, the British public is an idiot.

Likewise, the lush Don’t Come To Stay by Hot House barely dented the charts. It spent a week at #74 in February 1987. A reissue troubled the charts in September 1988 to the tune of #70 (the good follow-up to the ’87 release, The Way We Talk, didn’t even chart!). The singer of Hot House was Heather Small, still with an attractive soul voice. She later switched her vocals into foghorn mode for the successful but mostly regrettable M-People.

In April ’87 I saw Johnny Clegg & Savuka at the Kentish Town & Country Club. I had seen Clegg with his previous band Juluka several times in South Africa. There wasn’t much of a difference, and when they played Scatterlings Of Africa, to me it was just one of several Juluka songs they played. But on the Savuka LP Third World Child, it had been re-recorded, and to good effect. The single of it did little to bother the charts: it spent one week at #75 (the Juluka version had peaked at #44 in 1983).

Clegg was, of course, an icon of the struggle against apartheid, though his audience of South African expats at the gig probably didn’t all share his views. Labi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong riffed along the same lines. A song about apartheid, its single cover showed a segregation sign in South Africa. Songs like these and the cultural boycott helped mobilise international opposition against apartheid. We didn’t know it then, but within less than three years, apartheid would fold. Don’t let anybody say that cultural boycotts of evil regimes don’t work. They do, and that’s why evil regimes don’t like them.

In my memory, I tended to think of Duran Duran’s Skin Trade — a song that was clearly more than a little influenced by Prince — as a comeback single. But it wasn’t. Notorious had been a hit just a few months earlier. But Skin Trade, which stalled at #22, did signal an end to Duran’s run of ten Top 10 hits on the trot.

If you asked me for my favourite track of 1987, I might be tempted to name Sherrick’s Just Call, a soul groover with a great bassline. That would be the emotional answer, rather than one propelled by discernment of artistic merit. Just Call smells like 1987. It’s a fine track, even if Sherrick looked a lot like a 1980s soul singer cliché. Alas, he died in 1999 at the age of only 41.

So, let’s revisit the first eight months of 1987, with a second part coming later this year.

1. Blow Monkeys – It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way
2. A-ha – Manhattan Skyline
3. Simply Red – The Right Thing
4. Carly Simon – Coming Around Again
5. Duran Duran – Skin Trade
6. Hot House – Don’t Come To Stay
7. Paul Johnson – When Love Comes Calling
8. Terence Trent D’Arby – If You Let Me Stay
9. Sly & Robbie – Boops
10. Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Scatterlings Of Africa
11. Labi Siffre – Something Inside So Strong
12. Jody Watley – Looking For A New Love
13. ABC – When Smokey Sings
14. The Christians – Hooverville (And They Promised Us The World)
15. The Cure – Catch
16. Echo and the Bunnymen – Lips Like Sugar
17. Heart – Alone
18. Sherrick – Just Call
19. Jonathan Butler – Lies

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In Memoriam – January 2020

February 4th, 2020 2 comments

This month we lost two hugely influential musicians, but also observe the kindest death one could ask for.

The Doorbreaker
In the late 1950s, folk trio The Kingston Singers kicked open the doors for the folk scene (along with the likes of Burl Ives and Pete Seeger’s Weavers), paving the way for the likes of Odetta and later Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and so on to enter the mainstream. They also inspired the Beach Boys, who would even dress like the Kingston Trio. And all that, in turn, had huge influence on the trajectory of popular music. This month we lost the last surviving member of the original trio, Bob Shane, a few days short of his 85th birthday. Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds died in 1991 and 2008 respectively.

A bonus for fans of The Originals is the featured first version of Honey, recorded by Bob Shane before Bobby Goldsboro had a hit with it, and the Kingston Trio version of Sloop John B, which a few years later the Beach Boys covered. Another Kingston Trio original features in an Originals instalment currently in the works.

The Drumming Great
I must confess, at the risk of inviting passionate hate-mail, that Rush has never been my jam, mainly due to the lead singer’s voice, so my awareness of the genius of drummer Neil Peart was acquired through his reputation. If the likes of Dave Grohl and Stewart Copeland were admirers, and countless other rock drummers drew influence from the man, then you needn’t be a Rush fan to acknowledge that genius. The obituaries have revealed things that were even more interesting than Peart’s drumming exploits. Among them is the story, related in is 1996 book, of how in 1988 he went on a bicycle trip through Cameroon, and ending up giving a hand-drumming performance that drew an audience of a whole village.

The Foot Man
Best-known for his million-selling novelty dance number Barefootin’ (great video here), Robert Parker had a previous career as a saxophonist, playing on tracks like Professor Longhair’s 1949 hit Mardi Gras In New Orleans, and backing the likes of Fats Read more…

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Any Major Originals – Bacharach Edition

January 29th, 2020 9 comments

 

(This is a recycled post from February 2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Burt Bacharach Mix
Covered With Soul – Bacharach/David edition

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Any Major Women Vol. 2

January 23rd, 2020 2 comments

 

Here is a second tribute to all the girls I’ve known before. As with Any Major Women Vol. 1, here I want to be clear that I’m talking about women who have been in my life in some way or another — as family, friends, loves and lovers.

Again, the lyrics of the songs applied to their names obviously don’t necessarily reflect my relationship with or feelings about the women in question. There’s nothing to be inferred from the song choices.

The Nina in my life certainly was not a gay woman trying to use me for a beard, as she is in Jens Lekman’s marvellous song. And “my” Sandra was  definitely not lousy with virginity until she was legally wed. I was quite happy to say good-bye to “my” Nadine. And Dawn must stay around. But I’m sure Peggy doesn’t remember me. I do hope the girl referenced by the Claude King song remembers me for that very brief encounter we shared very many years ago…

I must confess that I have never known a Jolene; the titular character stands in for a for an erstwhile flame with a very similar name.

As always, CD-R length (plus one bonus track), home-cooked covers, PW in comments.

1. Toto – Pamela (1988)
2. Steely Dan – Peg (1977)
3. Hall & Oates – Sara Smile (1975)
4. Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Jennifer She Said (1988)
5. Elvis Costello – Alison (1977)
6. Mindy Smith – Jolene (2004)
7. Indigo Girls – Get Out The Map (Joni, Suzanne & Beth, 1997)
8. Jessi Colter – I’m Not Lisa (Lisa & Julie, 1975)
9. Claude King – Anna (1965)
10. The Four Seasons – Dawn (Go Away) (1964)
11. Four Tops – Bernadette (1967)
12. Sarah Vaughan – Bianca (1949)
13. Paul & Paula – Hey, Paula (1962)
14. The Passions – Gloria (1959)
15. Ray Peterson – Corinna Corinna (1960)
16. Carpenters – Eve (1969)
17. Elton John – Lady Samantha (1974)
18. Jimi Hendrix Experience – The Wind Cries Mary (1967)
19. Neutral Milk Hotel – Naomi (1995)
20. The National – Karen (2005)
21. Jens Lekman – A Postcard To Nina (2007)
22. Mungo Jerry – Hello Nadine (1974)
23. Frank Sinatra – Tina (1963)
24. Stockard Channing – Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee (Sandra, 1978)
Bonus: Boz Scaggs – Simone (1980)

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