Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Elvis Presley’

The Originals Vol. 21 – Elvis edition 4

April 10th, 2009 6 comments

This is the fourth and final Elvis special in the Originals series. That is 20 cover versions (plus Glenn Reves” demo acetate of Heartbreak Hotel), out of some 250 cover versions Elvis recorded. Most of these are, however, relatively obscure or better known in previous versions. Featured here are six songs: Are You Lonesome Tonight, Crying In The Chapel, Suspicious Minds, The Wonder Of You, There Goes My Everything, and Burning Love.

————————————————-

Mark James ““ Suspicious Minds.mp3
(old file replaced by the album version as of December 17, 2009)
Elvis Presley ““ Suspicious Minds.mp3

Elvis Presley”s artistic decline in the1960s is symbolised by the coincidence of his most derided movie, Clambake, opening at about the same time as the Beatles released their groundbreaking Sgt Pepper”s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A year later, in 1968, Elvis” live TV special marked the comeback of Elvis the Entertainer. Elvis the Recording Artist, however, had not had a #1 hit in seven years when in January 1969 he entered the famous American Sound Studios in Memphis, the soul table where Dusty Springfield cut her legendary Dusty in Memphis album.

At first the old soul music veterans at the studio were dubious about working with the washed-up ex-king of rock “˜n” roll. Elvis soon had them convinced otherwise. Eight days into the session, on January 20, he recorded the Mac Davis-penned In The Ghetto; two days later Suspicious Minds, which by the end of 1969 would top the US charts.

mark_jamesSuspicious Minds was written by American Sound Studios in-house writer Mark James (whose real name was Francis Zambon), who also wrote hits such as It”s Only Love and Hooked On A Feeling for his friend, country singer BJ Thomas. The latter was also a UK hit for the vile Jonathan King. BJ Thomas was in line to record Suspicious Minds before the song was given to Elvis “” who insisted on recording the song even when his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, threatened that he wouldn”t over the question of publishing rights (always an issue with Parker). Thomas went on to have a big hit that year anyway with Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, and went on to record Suspicious Minds in 1970.

elvis_suspicious_mindsElvis would record four more songs written or co-written by James: Always On My Mind (written originally, as noted in Elvis edition 2, for Brenda Lee), Raised On A Rock, Moody Blue and Thomas” It”s Only Love. James recorded none of these, but in 1968 he did record Suspicious Minds. Chips Moman had produced James” version, and thereby created a handy template which he returned to when producing Elvis” version. Improved by Elvis superb interpretation, the stirring backing vocals, and the tight Memphis Horns, the cover became Elvis” definitive latter-period song. Two months before Suspicious Minds was released as a single in October 1969, Elvis resumed performing live on stage “” for the first time in more than a decade. As if to create a poignant contrast, Elvis” first performance in Vegas took place just two weeks before Woodstock. Almost invariably, Suspicious Minds would be Elvis” closing song, later usually accompanied by extravagant karate moves.

Also recorded by: Ross McManus (1970), BJ Thomas (1970), Waylon Jennings & Jessi Coulter (1970), Dee Dee Warwick (1971), The Heptones (1971), Del Reeves & Billie Jo Spears (1976), Johnny Farago (1978), Leo de Castro & Babylon (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Thelma Houston (1980), Candi Staton (1981), B.E.F. feat. Gary Glitter (1982), The Defects (1984), Fine Young Cannibals (1985; charting in the UK with a remix in 1986), Bobby Orlando (1988), Dwight Yoakam (1992), Phish (1996), Axelle Red (1997), Ligabue (as Ultimo tango a Memphis, 1997), True West (1998), Avail (1999), Wax (1999), Gareth Gates (2002), Helmut Lotti (2002), Big Fat Snake with TCB Band & Sweet Inspirations (2003), Pete Yorn (2003), Flemming Bamse Jørgensen (2007), Sakis Rouvas (2007), Dread Zeppelin (2008), Roch Voisine ( 2008), Colton Berry (2008), Ronan bloody Keating (2009), Miss Kittin & the Hacker (2009) a.o.

.

Darrell Glenn – Crying In The Chapel.mp3
The Orioles – Crying In The Chapel.mp3
Elvis Presley – Crying In The Chapel.mp3

elvis_chapelThe influence on Elvis” early music by the sounds of Rhythm & Blues on the one hand and country music on the other “” Arthur Crudup and Hank Snow “” is well known. A third profound influence was gospel. Here, too, Elvis drew from across the colour line. Often he was one of the few white faces at black church services (as a youth in Tupelo, he lived in a house designated for white families but located at the edge of a black township), but he also loved the white gospel/country sounds created by the likes of the Louvin Brothers “” whose charmless sibling Ira once declined an approach by his fan Elvis, citing his reluctance to speak to the “white nigger”.

Gospel was not just a fancy, but the genre Elvis loved the most. In recording studios, he would warm up with gospel numbers. When he jammed with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in the Sun studio (Johnny Cash left before any of the mis-named Million Dollar Quartet session was recorded), much of the material consisted of sacred music. At the height of his hip-gyrating greatness, he recorded an EP of spirituals titled Peace In The Valley. And let”s not forget that the only three Grammies Elvis ever received were for gospel recordings.

oriolesElvis” biggest gospel hit was Crying In The Chapel, which had been written in 1953 by Artie Glenn for his son Darrell, who performed it in the country genre. The same year, the R&B band Sonny Til & the Orioles “” progenitors of the doo wop style of the late “50s and the first of a succession of bird-themed bandnames “” scored a #11 hit with the song (around the same time, a pop version by June Valli reached #4). It was the Orioles” recording from which Elvis drew inspiration in his version, recorded shortly after he returned from the army in 1960. It was not released, at Tom Parker”s command, because Artie Glenn refused to share the rights to the song with the cut-throat publishing company of Elvis repertoire, Hill & Range. And with good reason, for the song continued to be a hit by several artists. Eventually Hill & Range secured the ownership. When Crying In The Chapel was eventually released in 1965, it was not only a US hit (his first top 10 single in two years), but also topped the UK charts.

Also recorded by: Rex Allen (1953), Lee Lawrence (1953), Art Lund (1953), Ella Fitzgerald (1953), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1953), Eddy Arnold (1953), Nelly Wijsbek (1953), Wolfgang Sauer (as Tränen in den Augen, 1954), Derrick & Patsy (1962), Little Richard (1963), Roy Hamilton (1963), Ellie Lavelle (1963), Santo & Johnny (1964), Adam Wade (1964), Bobby Solo (as La casa del Signore, 1965), The Starliners (1965), Hugo Winterhalter (1965), Chuck Jackson (1966), The Lettermen (1966), Staple Singers (1968), Don McLean (1974), Ronnie McDowell (1978), Allies (1989), Aaron Neville (1995), Hotel Hunger (1997), Helmut Lotti (2002), P.J. Proby (2002), Chris Clark (2005), Cagey Strings (as Tränen in den Augen, 2006), Flemming Bamse Jørgensen (2007) a.o.

.

Ray Peterson – The Wonder Of You.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ The Wonder Of You.mp3

raypApparently written for Perry Como, The Wonder Of You was first recorded by Ray Peterson (he of Tell Laura I Love Her notoriety) in 1959, scoring a moderate hit with it. Peterson, who died in 2005, later liked to recount the story of how Elvis sought his permission to record the song. “He asked me if I would mind if he recorded The Wonder Of You. I said: “˜You don’t have to ask permission; you”re Elvis Presley.” He said: “˜Yes, I do. You”re Ray Peterson.”” Not that Peterson owned the rights to the song, or was particularly famous for singing it.

Elvis recorded the song live on stage in Las Vegas on February 18, 1970. It was released as a single a couple of months later and was a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic, topping the UK charts for six weeks. It was also his last UK #1 during his lifetime.

Also recorded by: Ronnie Hilton (1959), The Lettermen (1963), The Sandpipers (1969), Bobby Hatfield (1969), Jennifer Holliday (2003), Flemming Bamse Jørgensen (2007)

.

Ferlin Husky ““ There Goes My Everything.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ There Goes My Everything.mp3

ferlin_huskyThis song is probably most famous in its incarnation as Engelbert Humperdinck”s gaudy 1967 hit. In its original form, however, it is a country classic, written by Dallas Frazier. It was first recorded in 1965 and released the following year by that great purveyor of unintentionally funny songs and owner of the hickiest of hick accents, Ferlin Husky. His version was an album track; fellow country singer Jack Greene turned it into a hit in 1967. Elvis” version, which appeared on the quite excellent 1971 Elvis Country album (after being a 1970 b-side of I Really Don”t Want To Know) and was a UK top 10 hit that year, certainly draws from the song”s country origins “” though surely not from Husky”s original.

Also recorded by: Carl Belew (1967), Del Reeves (1967), Margie Singleton (1967), Bill Vaughn (1967), David Ables (1967), Col Joye (1968), James Burton & Ralph Mooney (1968), Charlie Walker (1968), Nana Mouskouri (as Mille raisons de vivre, 1971), Holmes Brothers (1993), Patty Loveless (2008) a.o.

.
Arthur Alexander ““ Burning Love.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Burning Love.mp3
Dennis Linde – Burning Love.mp3

arthur_alexander_burning_loveElvis did not particularly like Burning Love; if he didn”t record it under protest, he certainly was not going to spend much time on it. Where 16 years earlier he”d spend 30-odd takes on the spontaneous sounding Hound Dog (see Elvis edition 2), he recorded Burning Love in only six takes. The production values were pretty poor: Elvis” voice sounds tinny, but not for lack of trying. But listen to the drumming! Strange then that this slack recording scored big in the US (#2 on Billboard; the final top 10 hit in his lifetime) and UK (#7).

A year previously, in 1971, the soul singer Arthur Alexander (whom we will meet again when we turn to originals of Beatles songs) recorded Burning Love, releasing it in January 1972, two months before Elvis recorded it. A fine recording in the southern soul tradition, it made no impact. The song”s writer, Dennis Linde, recorded it in 1973 “” his version recalls the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Also recorded by: Mother’s Finest (1977), Benny Scott (1983), Ronnie Spector (1987), I Love You (1989), Clouseau (as In vuur en vlam, 1992), Travis Tritt (1992), Batmobile (1993), Grant Lee Buffalo (1993), Melissa Etheridge (1994), Nina Forsberg (1997), Ghoti Hook (1998), Wynonna Judd (2003) a.o.

.

Vaughn Deleath – Are You Lonesome Tonight.mp3
Henry Burr – Are You Lonesome To-night.mp3
Carter Family – Are You Lonesome Tonight.mp3
Elvis Presley – Are You Lonesome Tonight (Laughing version).mp3

vaughn_deleathTom Parker got Elvis to sing this old standard because it was a favourite of his wife, Mrs Marie (!) Parker, in its 1940s version by country star Gene Austin. Written by Tin Pan Alley residents Lou Handman and Roy Turk in 1926, it was recorded by a swathe of artists in 1927. The first of these versions, by Ned Jakobs, was not released, so the honour of first released recording goes to one Charles Hart. The song first became a hit in the version by the improbably named Vaughn Deleath, “The Radio Girl”. Her take dates to June 13 (Hart”s was May 8). On August 5, 1927, the famed tenor Henry Burr put his voice to it. Many a crooner would follow, but some performers adapted the song to their genre. So it was with the Carter Family “” the pioneers of country music who went on to produce June and Anita “” whose quite lovely 1935 bluegrass version is barely recognisable, musically and even lyrically.

The song enjoyed a revival in the 1950s. It was the 1950 version by the Blue Barron and his Orchestra which served as the basis for Elvis” take on Are You Lonesome Tonight, with Al Jolson”s version of the same year inspiring the spoken part, which borrows from Shakespeare”s As You Like It (“All the world”s a stage” etc). The saxophone is played by Boots Randolph, who later covered the song himself.

are_you_lonesome_tonightFeatured here is not the studio version which those who don”t already have it don”t really need. What they need is the laughing version from one of his 1969 Vegas gigs. The conventional story has it that Elvis, probably amphetamine-addled, was cracking up at the high-pitched singing of a backing singer (said to be Cissy Houston, Whitney”s mother). An alternative story has it that after Elvis, as was his wont, “humorously” changed the lyrics from “Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there” to “Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair”, when he spotted a bald man in the audience, setting him off into a fit of laughter “” and all the while the backing singer keeps going in a most gamely fashion.

Also recorded by: Al Jolson (1950), Blue Barron and his Orchestra (1950), Jaye P. Morgan (1959), Peter Alexander (as Bist du einsam heut’ nacht?, 1961), Frank Sinatra (1962), Helen Shapiro (1962), The Lettermen (1964), Michele (as Ti senti sola stasera, 1965), Dottie West (1972), Donnie Osmond (1973), Euson (1973), (as Er du langsom i nat, 1976), Johnny Farago (1976), Allison Durbin (1977), Merle Haggard (1977), Ral Donner (1979), Karen Casey (1980), Will Tura (as Ben je eenzaam vannacht , 1984), Peter Hofmann (1986), Robot (as Ti senti sola stasera, 1987), Mina (1989), Bryan Ferry (1992), 101 Strings (1993), Sammy “Sax” Mintzer (1997), Megan Mullally (1999), The Mavericks (1999), Helmut Lotti (2002), Anne Murray (2002), Barb Jungr (2005), Chris Botti with Paul Buchanan (2005), Cagey Strings (2006), Barry Manilow (2006) a.o.

.

More Originals

The Originals – Elvis edition 1
The Originals – Elvis edition 2
The Originals – Elvis edition 3

The Originals Vol. 16 – Elvis edition 3

January 30th, 2009 3 comments

In the third Elvis special in this series we look at the originals of That”s All Right  (1954), My Baby Left Me (1956), His Latest Flame (1961), Cant” Help Falling In Love With You (1961) and Viva Las Vegas (1964) “” though the last of these is not really an Elvis cover.

Charles Gilibert ““ Plaisir d”amour (1908).mp3
Elvis Presley – Can’t Help Falling In Love (1961).mp3

This is the song which ignorant callers to radio stations tend to request by the title “Wise Man Say” (and, if fortune likes to piss on you, in UB40″s ghastly incarnation). The fictitious title is not entirely off the mark: the lyrics were co-written by a pair of alleged mafia associates, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, with George David Weiss. Peretti and Creatore were partners with mafioso Mo Levy in the Roulette record label (named after the game that “Colonel” Tom Parker was addicted to), which the FBI identified as a source of revenue for the Genovese crime family. The trio also wrote the lyrics for The Lion Sleeps Tonight, a song whose sorry saga will feature in a future instalment in this series.

Charles Gilibert

Charles Gilibert

The melody of Can”t Help”¦ borrows from the old French love song Plaisir d”amour, composed in 1785 by Johann Paul Aegidius Martini. It was first recorded in 1902 by Monsieur Fernand (real name Emilio de Gogorza), and subsequently by a zillion others, including in 1908 by the baritone Charles Gilibert (1866-1910). It may be a little more accurate to describe Can”t Help Falling In Love as an adaptation rather than as a cover. While the similarities are sufficiently evident to mark Plaisir d”amour as the basis for the song, it certainly has been innovated on.

The song was adapted in 1961 for Elvis” Blue Hawaii movie. Reportedly, neither the film”s producers nor Elvis” label, RCA, liked the song much. Elvis, however, insisted on recording it. Elvis often was his best A&R man, and so it was here. The song was initially released as the b-side of Rock-A-Hula Baby (you do know how that one goes, no?). In the event, Can”t Help became the big hit, reaching #2 in the US and #1 in the UK. It also became a signature song for Elvis who would invariably include it in his concerts. Indeed, it was the last song he performed live on stage in Indianapolis on 26 June 1977, Elvis” final concert.

Also recorded by: Perry Como (1962), The Lettermen (1963), We Five (1965), Bobby Solo (as Te ne vai, 1967), Aphrodite’s Child (as I Want To Live, 1969), Andy Williams (1970), Al Martino (1970), Marty Robbins (1970), Bob Dylan (1973), The Stylistics (1976), Johnny Farago (1976), Shirley Bassey (1977), Baccara (1977), Ral Donner (1979), Klaus Nomi (1983), Corey Hart (1986), Lick the Tins (1986), David Keith with The T. Graham Brown Band (1988), The Triffids (1989), Hall & Oates (1990), Julio Iglesias (1990), Luka Bloom (1992), UB40 (1993), James Galway (1994), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Celine Dion (1995), Richard Marx (1995), David Thomas and Two Pale Boys (1997), Sammy “Sax” Mintzer (1997), Neil Diamond (1998), Nato Ghandi (1999), Hi-Standard (2001), Pearl Jam (2001), Eels (2001), A*Teens (2002), Anne Murray (2002), Erasure (2003), Tuck & Patti (2004), Michael Bublé (2004), Mägo de Oz (as Todo Irá Bien, 2004), Rick Astley (2005), Joseph Williams (2006), Andrea Bocelli (2006), Barry Manilow (2006), The Skank Agents (2008), Blackmore’s Night (2008), Ingrid Michaelson (2008) a.o.

——————————

Del Shannon ““ His Latest Flame (1961).mp3
Mort Shuman ““ His Latest Flame (1961).mp3

Elvis Presley ““ His Latest Flame (1961).mp3
elvis-his-latest-flameWith it”s Bo Diddley-inspired guitar riff and flamenco-meets-Rock “˜n” Roll feel, 1961″s (Marie”s The Name) His Latest Flame served as a welcome, albeit temporary, break from Elvis” succession of easy listening fare such as It”s Now Or Never, Surrender and Are You Lonesome Tonight (though within a few months, he”d top the charts with another standard ballad, Can”t Help Falling In Love). Like these songs, His Latest Flame was not an original.

del-shannonThe song was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who wrote some 20 Elvis songs “” including His Latest Flame”s b-side, Little Sister “” as well as hits for acts such as The Drifters (Save The Last Dance For Me) and Dion (Teenager In Love). Although reportedly written specifically for Elvis, His Latest Flame was first offered to Bobby Vee, who turned it down. Del Shannon recorded the song in May 1961, with a view to releasing it as a follow-up single for his big hit Runaway. In the event, he decided to run with “Hats Off To Larry” instead. His Latest Flame was released on the Runaway With Del Shannon LP in June. The same month Elvis recorded his version, which was released in the US in August. Due to the arcane method of compiling the US charts, the His Latest Flame peaked at #4 and its flip side, Little Sister (another Pomus/Shuman composition) at #5. It topped the charts in Britain.

Shuman tended to tout his co-composition by way of demos on which he sang himself. The demo for His Latest Name is much closer to Elvis”version than Shannon”s, a less smooth, more soulful interpretation which has something of a mariachi band feel, using brass to accentuate the Diddley-style riff (which the Smiths famously sampled 24 years later on Rusholme Ruffians).

Also recorded by: Richard Anthony (1961), Ronnie McDowell (1978), The Residents (1989), El Vez (1992), Scorpions (1993), The Sun Gods (1999), Misfits (2003), Morrissey (as part of a medley, 2005)

pomus-shuman

Mort Shuman ““ Viva Las Vegas (1963).mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Viva Las Vegas (1964).mp3

elvis-viva-las-vegasDoc Pomus and Mort Shuman also wrote the title song for Elvis” 1964 movie vehicle, the title of which presages the singer”s future image (just think of the nauseating cliché of rhinestone-jumpsuited Elvis impersonators with comedy shades administering nuptial vows in a tacky plastic chapel in Vegas, the image of Elvis which threatens to destroy our boy”s rich legacy). The song has become one of the most popular from Elvis” fallow mid-“60s period. Oddly, initially it was only the b-side to the lead single, the cover of Ray Charles What”d I Say (MP3 here). Playing guitar on Viva Las Vegas was a little-known session musician named Glen Campbell. The Mort Shuman version is the demo version, so Viva Las Vegas is not really a cover.

In 2002, the city of Las Vegas approached Elvis Presley Enterprises, the behemoth that controls (or at least tries to control) all Elvis-related matters, with a view to using Viva Las Vegas as its official song. In a merry-go-round of idiocy, EPE demanded too high a fee, even though the copyrights for the song had reverted to the estates of Pomus and Shuman (who died within three months of one another in early 1991) in 1993. The city of Las Vegas apparently didn”t bother to check who actually owned the song and negotiate a deal with them. It might be, of course, that Vegas wanted to use Elvis” voice, which EPE possibly do control. If so, then Vegas must take a very dim view of the talents on offer among its growing population of Cliché Elvis Impersonators.While Vegas did not get to adopt the song, it was used by the pharmaceutical company (which Elvis had supported so enthusiastically) Pfizer to flog Viagra “” Viva Viagra!

Also recorded by: Ral Donner (1979), Dead Kennedys (1980), The Residents (1989), Nina Hagen (1989), Bruce Springsteen (1990), ZZ Top (1992), Shawn Colvin (1995), Big Johnson (1995), Boxer (1997), Ann-Margaret (as Viva Rock Vegas, 2000), Dread Zeppelin (2004), The Thrills (2004), The Grascals with Dolly Parton (2005), Los Derrumbes (2005), Jim Belushi & the Sacred Hearts (2005), Spinballs (2007) a.o.

——————————

Arthur “˜Big Boy” Crudup – That”s All Right (1946).mp3
Elvis Presley ““ That”s All Right (Mama) (1954).mp3

arthur-crudup-thats-all-rightThis is the song that changed Rock “˜n” Roll forever. Young Elvis was in the Sun studios in Memphis, auditioning for the legendary Sam Phillips (in other accounts the story is set, more credibly, during the first recording session). Elvis, the story goes, was failing the audition, having crooned one ballad after another in Dean Martin mode. It was not the sound Phillips was looking for. During a break (or at the end of the session), Elvis starting goofing around with his guitar, singing That”s Allright, Arthur “˜Big Boy” Crudup”s blues number from 1946. Session musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black joined in. Sam Phillips later recalled: “The door to the control room was open, the mics were on, Scotty was in the process of packing up his guitar, I think Bill had already thrown his old bass down “” he didn”t even have a cover for it “” and the session was, to all intents and purposes, over. Then Elvis struck up on just his rhythm guitar, “˜That’s all right, mama..,” and I mean he got my attention immediately. It could have been that it wouldn”t have sold ten copies, but that was what I was looking for!”

elvis-thats-all-rightEleven days before the single was released on 19 July 1954, Memphis radio DJ Dewey Phillips played it seven times in a row by popular request. In an on air interview, he asked Elvis (whom, according to legend, he first called Elton Preston) which high school he had attended “” a euphemistic way of clarifying for his listeners that Elvis was in fact white. Elvis has often been accused of hijacking black music, turning it white. If that was the effect, it was not Elvis” plan. Here was a boy with a real affinity for R&B (as well as for gospel, country and the crooners). In 1956 he said: “The coloured folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin” now, man, for more years than I know… I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel what old Arthur felt, I”d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”

Also recorded by: Marty Robbins (1954), Carl Perkins (1958), Blind Snooks Eaglin (1962), Scotty Moore (1964), Gram Parsons’ International Submarine Band (1968), Albert King (1970), Rod Stewart (1971), Jimmy Ellis (1972), Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn & Bill Vitt (1973), William Robertson (1977), Merle Haggard (1977), Ral Donner (1979), The Maines Brothers (1981), Ronnie Hawkins (1983), Paul McCartney (1988), Albert Lee (1991), Vince Gill (1992), Home Coockin’ (1997), Nikolaj Christensen (1997), Tyler Hilton (2005), Curtis Stigers (2005), Monster Klub (2007), Dread Zeppelin (2008)

——————————

Arthur “˜Big Boy” Crudup ““ My Baby Left Me (1949).mp3
Elvis Presley ““ My Baby Left Me (1956).mp3

arthur-crudupElvis would record two more Crudup songs, My Baby Left Me and So Glad You”re Mine. If My Baby Left Me, which he recorded in 1949, sounds a lot like That”s Allright, it is because Crudup had a limited number of tunes which he adapted with new lyrics (usually also recycled). By coincidence, the man whose song set Elvis up with a career start at Sun Records had previously recorded for RCA (on their Bluebird subsidiary), the record company with which Elvis would break big. Crudup fought for the rest of his life to receive due royalties, making his living as a bootlegger and field labourer. In 1971, an agreement for $60,000 was agreed with Melrose Publishers, who proceeded to blankly refuse paying up. Crudup died penniless in 1974 at the age of 68.

Elvis recorded My Baby Left Me in January 1956, during the same New York session which produced Blue Suede Shoes. It was released as the flip side of I Want You, I Need You, I Love You in May that year.

Also recorded by: Johnny Hallyday (as Tu me quittes, 1964), Dave Berry (1964), Scotty Moore (1964), Creedence Clearwater Revival (1970), Loggins & Messina (1975), Dave Edmunds (1977), Ronnie McDowell (1978), Geraint Watkins & The Dominators (1979), John Hammond (1982)

More Originals

The Originals  – Elvis edition 1
The Originals  – Elvis edition 2

The Originals Vol. 15 – Elvis edition 2

January 28th, 2009 3 comments

Big Mama Thornton ““ Hound Dog.mp3
Freddie Bell & the Bellboys ““ Hound Dog.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Hound Dog.mp3

RCA Studios, New York. Monday, 2 July 1956. Elvis turned up for his third and final recording session there to lay down the tracks for Hound Dog, Don”t Be Cruel and the ballad Any Way You Want Me. By now, Elvis had become confident enough to take charge of the session, for all intents and purposes acting as the producer. He had decided which songs to record, and would run through as many takes as necessary for the perfect recording. Occasionally, when a backing musician would make a mistake, he would sing a note out of key or commit another error, forcing another take. In the seven-hour session, 31 takes of Hound Dog were recorded (and 28 of Don”t Be Cruel). Elvis listened to them all, narrowed down the choices. Eventually, he settled for take 18 of Hound Dog (some sources say it was number 28).

elvis-hound-dogBefore the session, the story goes, RCA had procured the first recording of the Leiber/Stoller composition, Big Mama Thornton”s blues rendition. Everybody was aghast: they thought it was horrible, unable to comprehend why Elvis would want to record that, as Gordon Stoker of the vocal backing group The Jordanaires later recalled. Stoker and the other puzzled people in the studio obviously did not watch TV. A month before the recording session, Elvis had performed the song on The Milton Berle Show, more or less the way he was going to record it on 2 July (Video clip). DJ Fontana had already introduced the drum roll between the verses, and Scotty Moore the guitar solo. He performed the song again on TV the day before the recording session: the performance on the Steve Allen show (VIDEO) when, wearing a tuexedo, he had to sing the song to a bemused, top-hatted basset hound (Elvis was a good sport about it, at one point even laughing at the absurd set-up. Allen had a way of humiliating Elvis. Another time, he had Elvis playing an inarticulate hillbilly [!] in what by all accounts was a particularly tasteless sketch). The Berle performance, seen by a reported 40 million people, had created a storm of protest by the guardians of morality at Elvis” “vulgarity” (just see his movements 2:04 into the video to understand why it might have been controversial in the mid-1950s). Could anybody really have been so oblivious as to regard Rainey”s record as a demo, as if Elvis had no idea what to do with the song?

freddie-bell-the-bellboysThe truth is that Elvis didn”t base his version on Big Mama Thornton at all, but on the cover by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, An Ital0-American band he had seen during his discouraging concert engagement in Vegas in April/May 1956. Having ascertained that Bell wouldn”t mind, Elvis quickly included Hound Dog in his setlist. He probably was aware of Thornton”s version, and perhaps heard some of the country covers that had been released. But Elvis” Hound Dog is entirely a reworking of the Bellboys”, incorporating their sound and modified lyrics (“Cryin’ all the time” for “Snoopin” round my door”, “You ain”t never caught a rabbit, and you ain”t no friend of mine” for  “You can wag your tail, but I ain”t gonna feed you no more”), but happily dispensing with the lupine howls.

big-mama-thornton-hound-dogBell and his band enjoyed a mostly undistinguished recording career, with only one real hit, Giddy Up A Ding Dong (which was much bigger in Europe than it was in the US), also in 1956. Bell got no writing credit for Hound Dog. The writing credit remained entirely with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were still R&B-obsessed teenagers when they were commissioned by the producer Johnny Otis to write a song for Big Mama Thornton in 1952. They did so in 15 minutes (when the song became a million-seller for Elvis, Otis claimed co-authorship. He lost that case). Thornton”s recording became a #1 hit on the R&B charts in 1953 (Video). Her 12-bar blues inspired a plagiarised response song, which turned out to be the first ever record released by Sun Records, Sam Phillips” label which would go on to produce Elvis.

Three years after Thornton”s hit, Stoller honeymooning on board of the sinking Andrea Doria. His life was spared (and, like Leiber, he is still with us), and returning to New York, he was greeted at the pier by Leiber with the news that Hound Dog had become a smash hit. “Mama Thornton?” Stoller asked. “No, some white kid named Elvis Presley,” replied Leiber. The songwriters, R&B purists, resented Elvis” version. When, inevitably, they were commissioned to write for Elvis a year later, for the Jailhouse Rock film, they were not particularly happy. As a form of revenge, Leiber wrote for Elvis to sing the line in the title track: “you”re the cutest little jailbird I ever did see.” The prison in Jailhouse Rock was not co-ed. When they finally met Elvis, the songwriters realised that Elvis was a kindred spirit who genuinely shared their love for R&B, and they became good friends. Stoller even appeared in the film, as a piano player.

Elvis” Hound Dog went on to sell 4 million copies in its first release in the US; it”s flip side, the wonderful Don”t Be Cruel, also reached #1. In Britain, the critics were not enthusiastic, even if Hound Dog became a big hit there too. The jazzheads at the venerable Melody Maker were particularly unimpressed. In an exceptionally scathing review, which described Hound Dog as being possessed by “sheer repulsiveness coupled with the monotony of incoherence”, Steve Race opined: “I fear for the country which ought to have the good taste and the good sense to reject music so decadent.” He had no advice as to how one might repel the Rock “˜n” Roll tide, but with regard to Elvis, he rather deliciously offered to leave him  “with his “˜rectinbutter houn dogger” and merely echo his last and only comprehensible line: “˜You ain”t no friend of mine”.”

Also recorded by: Billy Starr (1953), Tommy Duncan (1953), Eddie Hazelwood (1953), Jack Turner (1953), Cleve Jackson (1953), Gene Vincent (1956), Scotty Moore (1964), Everly Brothers (1965), The Easybeats (1967), Jimi Hendrix (1967), Nat Stuckey (1969), Ross McManus (1970), Albert King (1970), James Burton (1971), John Entwistle  (1973), Sha Na Na (1973), Johnny Farago (1977), Ral Donner (1979), Shakin’ Stevens (1983), Tales Of Terror (1984), The Residents (1989), Eric Clapton (1989), Züri West (as Souhung, 1990), Jeff Beck & Jed Leiber (1992), Marva Wright (1993), Bryan Adams (1994), Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express (1996), The Lord Lucan Quartet (1999), Jimmy Barnes (2000), Status Quo (2000), Etta James (2000), The Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio (2003), Robert Palmer (2003), Porterhouse Bob (2005), James Taylor (2008) a.o.

———————————

Tippie & the Clovers ““ Bossa Nova Baby.mp3 (new link)
Elvis Presley ““ Bossa Nova Baby.mp3

tippie-the-cloversAnother Leiber & Stoller composition, Bossa Nova Baby has been unjustly regarded by some as a bit of a displeasing novelty number from an Elvis movie (1963″s Fun In Acapulco). Even Elvis is said to have been embarrassed by it. If so, he had no cause: it may not be a bossa nova “” it”s too fast for that “” but it has a infectious tune and a genius keyboard riff which begs to be sampled widely. Perhaps it was the lyrics which had Elvis allegedly shamefaced, but the lines “she said, “˜Drink, drink, drink/Oh, fiddle-de-dink/I can dance with a drink in my hand”” are not much worse than some of the doggerel our man was forced to croon in his movie career as singing racing driver/pineapple heir/bus conductor. Or perhaps Elvis was embarrassed by the idea of including a notional bossa nova number in a movie set in Mexico.

Tippie & the Clovers, who were signed to Leiber and Stoller”s Tiger label, recorded it first in 1962 to cash in on the bossa nova craze. Apparently the composer’s preferred the Clovers’ version of Elvis’. These were the same Clovers, incidentally, who had scored a #23 hit with Love Potion No. 9 (also written by Leiber & Stoller and later covered to greater chart effect by the Searchers) on Atlantic in 1959.

Also recorded by: Cosmic Voodoo (2007)

——————————–

Jerry Reed ““ Guitar Man.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Guitar Man.mp3

jerry-reedJerry Reed was a country singer who toiled for a dozen years before scoring a hit in 1967 with Tupelo Mississippi Flash “” a song about Elvis. The same year Elvis chose to record Reed”s Guitar Man (the composer is listed as Jerry Hubbard, the singer”s real surname), and Reed played guitar on it. In 1968, Elvis also had a hit with Reed”s US Male, originally written in 1966. Reed, who died last August, had enjoyed some success as a songwriter before (such as Johnny Cash”s A thing called love) and later became a three-time Grammy winner, including one for his 1970 LP of duets with occasional Elvis associate Chet Atkins, and part-time movie actor, usually as a Burt Reynolds sidekick.

For Elvis, Guitar man was a redemption of sorts after the degradation of Clambake. His performance of the song at the Elvis “68 Comeback Special is one of the best moments of the show.

Also recorded by: Bob Luman (1969), Jesus and Mary Chain (1990), Junior Brown (2001)

———————————

Bing Crosby ““ Blue Hawaii.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Blue Hawaii.mp3

waikiki-weddingWe”ll take a look at the more famous hit from Elvis” 1961 movie Blue Hawaii “” one of his most popular and the one with his best-selling soundtrack “” in the next Elvis Originals Special on Friday.

Blue Hawaii was written by Leo Robin & Ralph Rainger (who also wrote Bob Hope”s signature song Thank You For The Memory) for the 1937 movie Waikiki Wedding, starring Bing Crosby and Shirley Ross. Crosby recorded it for the movie and scored a #5 hit with it that year. Robin”s other great contribution to music was to author the Marilyn Monroe hit Diamonds Are A Girl”s Best Friend.

Also recorded by: Frank Sinatra (1958), Willie Nelson (1992), David Byrne (2008)

———————————

Brenda Lee ““ Always On My Mind.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ Always On My Mind.mp3

brenda-leeDepending on where you live and how old you are, this may be Elvis” song or Willie Nelson”s, or perhaps the Pet Shop Boys” (who had a hit with it in late 1987 after earlier performing it on a TV special to mark the 10th anniversary of Elvis” death). Originally it was Brenda Lee”s, released in May 1972. It was not a big hit for her, reaching only #45 in the country charts. Somehow Elvis heard it and found the lyrics expressed his emotions at a time when the marriage to Priscilla was collapsing. He recorded it later in 1972. Released as the b-side to the top 20 hit Separate Ways, Always On My Mind was a #16 hit in the country charts. In the UK, however it was a top 10 hit, and became better know in Europe than in the US.

The song was co-written by the singer Mark James, who will feature in a future instalment of the Elvis Originals series with a song which also articulated Elvis” marital emotions. Another co-writer was Wayne Carson (Thompson), who a few years earlier had written the “60s classic The Letter, a hit for Elvis” fellow Memphians the Box Tops.

Also recorded by: Willie Nelson (1982), Big Daddy (1985), David Hasselhoff (1985), Pet Shop Boys (1987), Alvin & the Chipmunks  (1988), The Starsound Orchestra (1992), James Galway (1994), David Axelrod (1995), Chris de Burgh (1995), Caroline Henderson (1997), Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson (1998), David Osborne (1998), James Last (1998), El Vez (1999), Willie Nelson, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora (2002), Anne Murray (2002), DJ QuickSilver presents Base Unique (2002), Jade Villalon (2002), B.B. King (2003), Fantasia Barrino  (2004), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2004), Ryan Adams and The Cardinals (2005), Julio Iglesias (2006 – what took him so long?), Michael Bublé (2007), Roch Voisine (2008) a.o.

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 13 – Elvis edition 1

January 8th, 2009 5 comments

After a three-months absence, The Originals are returning. I must admit to having been discouraged from continuing it after more than half of the previous instalments were DMCAed by Blogger. Happily, the deleted posts were all backed up and are available here. So we resume this series of the lesser known original songs of hits with the first of what may end up to be three or four Elvis Presley specials, the first of them timed to coincide with our man”s 74th birthday.

Roy Brown – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3
Wynonie Harris – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3

Elvis Presley – Good Rockin’ Tonight.mp3

Some say that Good Rockin” Tonight was the proto Rock “˜n” Roll record. Of course, any claim of inaugurating Rock “˜n” Roll is impossible to validate because the genre was the result of a musical evolution (and it is still evolving). What can be said is that the song, and most certainly Wynonie Harris” 1948 cover, was influential in that evolution. Another vital element in that evolution was the advent of Elvis Presley”s stardom. Good Rockin” Tonight was his second single, following his cover of Arthur Crudup”s That”s Alright Mama. So it is faintly ironic that Presley”s version draws more from Brown”s 1947 jump blues original (deleting, however, the by then outdated litany of R&B figures) than from Harris” R&B cover.

It was not the most popular of Elvis” early tunes; his still mostly country audience was still unsure about the influence of what was then called “race music” on the future legend”s sound. In those embryonic days of Elvis” stardom, his most popular song seemed to be the flip side of That”s Alright, Blue Moon Of Kentucky.

Also recorded by: Rick Nelson (1958), Pat Boone, James Brown, Shakin’ Stevens and The Sunsets (1972), Jerry Lee Lewis (1979), Gene Summers (1981), Contraband (1991), Paul McCartney (1991)

Carl Perkins – Blues Suede Shoes.mp3
Elvis Presley – Blues Suede Shoes.mp3

It is difficult to pinpoint at which point Elvis became a superstar, or with which hit. He was a local star as soon as his debut single hit the Memphis airwaves, and a regional star soon after. Arguably, his nascent stardom was not built so much on hit recordings than on his incendiary performances delivered on intensive tours. On these tours, he often shared a bill with his Sun labelmates Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

It was on one such tour in November 1955, in Gladewater, Texas, that Cash gave Perkins the idea for a song (in return for Perkins inspiring the title for Cash”s future hit I Walk The Line), based on a catchphrase by one C.V. White, an African-American GI Cash had served with in West Germany. White, the story as told by one of Cash”s GI friends goes, was about to go out for the weekend when another soldier accidentally trod on White”s black army issue shoes, whereupon White exclaimed: “I don”t care what you do with my Fräulein or what you do with whatever, but don”t step on my blues suede shoes.” The joke, obviously, was that White was not actually wearing such shoes (which, in any case, where not in fashion), but regulation issue army shoes. Soon after, Perkins was at a dance when he saw a young man being visibly upset with his pretty date for stepping on his, you guessed it, blue suede shoes. Sufficiently inspired, he immediately wrote the lyrics on a paper potato sack, giving birth to one of Rock “˜n” Roll”s great classics.

It may have been the first true crossover record; it certainly was the first to chart simultaneously in the pop, country and R&B charts, in early 1956. As the song was rising in the charts, Perkins was laid low by a serious car crash on the way to performing his hit on the Ed Sullivan Show. While he was recuperating, he heard former Sun labelmate Elvis announcing on the Milton Berle Show that his next single would be Blues Suede Shoes, which he proceeded to perform, as he would twice more before releasing the single. Although Perkins was unable to promote the song further, it went on to sell more than a million copies. By arrangement, Elvis waited until Perkins” version had peaked. Released so soon after Perkins” hit, Elvis” version reached no higher than #20 on the charts. Yet, public consciousness associates the song more closely with Elvis than with its author, possibly because he performed it several times on television, and riffed on the footwear in a few skits on these shows.

Perkins, whose career or health never really recovered from the car crash, was philosophical about Elvis scoring the more lasting hit, saying that Presley had the image and the looks, and he did not. He surely was less placid about not receiving writer”s royalties until a court found in his favour in 1977.

Also recorded by: Roy Hall (1956), Boyd Bennett and His Rockets (1956), Cliff Richard and The Shadows (1959), Bill Haley and His Comets (1960), Conway Twitty (1960), Eddie Cochran (1962), Dave Clark Five (1965), Beacon Street Union (1968), John Lennon (1969), Ross McManus (1970), Albert King (1970), Johnny Halliday (1971), Jimi Hendrix (1972), Johnny Rivers (1973), Dean Reed (1976), Merle Haggard (1977), Ry Cooder (1982), Toy Dolls (1983), The Residents (1989), Lemmy & The Upsetters (1990), Medicine Head (1994), Agents & Scotty Moore & DJ Fontana (2001) a.o.

Glen Reeves – Heartbreak Hotel.mp3
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel.mp3

Elvis” national breakthrough hit was written by Thomas Durden and Mae Boren Axton (school teacher, mother of Hoyt Axton, some-time associate of “Colonel” Tom Parker, manager of Hank Snow and “Queen Mother of Nashville”), with Elvis specifically in mind. Durden got the idea for the song when he read about a Florida man whose suicide note ended with the elegiac line: “I walk a lonely street.” Durden and Axton had asked their friend Glen Reeves to help write the song. Reeves declined but did record the demo in what he believed to be Elvis” style. Presented with the demo, Elvis insisted that this should be his first single for RCA (the deal with whom Axton had mediated).

Elvis” version (which featured Chet Atkins on guitar) is structurally little different from Reeve’s demo, and even the vocals don”t depart much from Reeve”s template. Still, Presley received an utterly undeserved co-writer credit, apparently at the insistence of Parker as a reward for recording the song in first place. One has to admire that bastard”s nerve. Durden defended the added credit by saying that Presley”s take changed the song substantially from the original. Mr Durden clearly was a more gracious individual than most of us.

Also recorded by: Stan Freberg (1956), Connie Francis (1959), Conway Twitty (1960), Scotty Moore (1964), Buddy Love (1964), Sha Na Na (1969), Albert King (1970), Ross McManus (1970), Frijid Pink (October 1970), Delaney Bramlett (1971), Johnny Halliday (1974), John Cale (1974), The James Gang (1975), Johnny Farago (1976), Suzi Quatro (1977), Merle Haggard (1977), Tanya Tucker (1978), Ronnie McDowell (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Willie and Leon (1979), The Vandals (1982), The Residents (1989), The Chipmunks (1990), Dread Zeppelin (1990), Neil Diamond & Kim Carnes (1992), Billy Joel (1992), Lynyrd Skynyrd (1994), El Vez (1999), Lemmy & Friends (2000), Helmut Lotti (2002) a.o.

Smiley Lewis – One Night Of Sin.mp3
Elvis Presley – One Night.mp3

The dentally-challenged Smiley Lewis (who featured earlier in this series with I Hear You Knocking) was an influential R&B singer who never accomplished legendary status. And then Elvis even emasculated his R&B hit about the attraction of a desperate one-night stand. Where Smiley in 1956 asked for one night of sin, Elvis a year later went for the more ambiguous and less sexual “one night with you” (which might, for all we care, be spent holding hands). Elvis also recorded a version with the original lyrics, which went unreleased until a few years ago, when it appeared on a box set.

Lewis” version was a hit on the R&B charts, but failed to crack the pop charts. Written by Dave Bartholomew and Dave King, One Night was among the many Elvis songs which his label, RCA, held over for release while he was in the army. It finally came out in 1958, as a double A-side with I Got Stung, and reached #2 on the US charts, and in 1959 #1 in the UK.

Also recorded by: Fats Domino (1961), Johnny Farago (1967), Albert King (1970), Jackie Brown (1971), Tami Lynn (1971), Shakin” Stevens and The Sunsets (1972), Fancy (1974), Mud (1975), Ronnie McDowell (1978), José Feliciano (1983), Joe Cocker (1989), Billy Ray Cyrus (1994), Helmut Lotti (2002)

Hank Snow ““ (Now And Then There”s) A Fool Such As I.mp3
Elvis Presley ““ A Fool Such As I.mp3

Canadian-born country icon Hank Snow can be described as one of the most significant men in Elvis” career. As a youngster, Elvis was a big fan of country”s two big Hanks “” Williams and Snow. Their music influenced the young Presley, who did regard himself as a country singer, with pretensions towards white gospel, before the term Rock “˜n” Roll gained currency (which did not prevent the wife-beating gospel singer Ira Louvain from calling an initially admiring Elvis to his face a “white nigger”, or a variation thereof).

It was Snow who gave Elvis a supporting slot at Nashville”s Grand Ole Opry, the mecca of country music. And it was Snow who cultivated Elvis when Tom Parker wanted to sign the young singer. Indeed, the clean-cut Snow persuaded Elvis” mother, Gladys, that her son would be well looked after under a new management which would include his tutorship. Driving home after the decisive meeting, a pleased Snow mentioned to Parker that they would earn good money from managing Elvis. With the ink on the contract barely dry, Parker instructed Snow to read it: it made no mention of Snow whatsoever. The “Colonel” had pulled his first vicious trick as Elvis” manager.

The Elvis cover of Snow”s 1952 song A Fool Such As I (which Snow co-wrote with Bill Trader and first appeared as a single b-side), was released in March 1959 and was a US #2 and UK #1 hit. While Jo Stafford enjoyed a hit with it a year after Snow”s recording, it is most probable that Elvis was inspired by Snow”s more mournful (and, it must be said, superior) version.

Also recorded by: Jo Stafford (1953), Tommy Edwards (1953), The Bell Susters (1953), The Robins (1953), Eddy Arnold (1956), Bill Haley and His Comets (1959), Jim Reeves (1959), Petula Clark (1960), Doris Day (1963), Davy Kaye (1964), Bob Dylan (1967 & 1969, released in 1973), Rodney Crowell (1978), Ral Donner (1979), Peabo Bryson (1981), The Residents (1989), Bailie & the Boys (1990), Don Walsere (1998), Anne Murray (2002), Raul Malo (2007), Batmobile (2007), Josh Ritter (2008) a.o.

More Originals

Perfect Pop – Vol. 6 ('60s special)

April 28th, 2008 6 comments

Looking over my shortlist for the Perfect Pop series, I realised that the ’60s column was much longer than that of other decades. I guess that pop might have been more perfect in the 1960s than in other decades because it had developed from the raw sounds of early rock & roll, but had not yet acquired that body of experience with which to complicate pop through technical innovation. That’s why Sgt Pepper’s, with all its inventive experimentations, was seen as such a revolutionary milestone in 1967: nobody had heard anything like it before. Today it sounds rather ordinary. Of course, it’s all good to have complex pop, but for the purpose of this series, complexity tends to be an obstacle to pop perfection (though not all songs featured are lacking in innovation or technical complexity). So to even out the shortlist, here is the first of two special 1960s editions of Perfect Pop.

The Animals – The House Of The Rising Sun.mp3
This song has one of the must recognisable intros in pop history, and from there on barely lets up on its brilliance. Apart from Hilton Valentine’s iconic guitar, Alan Price drives his organ like a Ferrari through the desert, and Eric Burdon moans and groans in best white blues-singer fashion, thereby helping to set a trend which would bring mixed blessings to popular music. Amazingly, the whole thing took just 15 minutes to record. The House Of The Rising Sun (which was a new Orleans brothel) was an old song going back at least to the 1920s, possibly much earlier. Based on an English folk-song, it had become an African-American folk song and was later recorded by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Nina Simone and Bob Dylan (on his debut) before the Animals virtually appropriated it in 1964, changing the lyrics slightly.
Best bit: Price’s organ solo really kicks in (1:54)

Johnny Kidd & the Pirates – Shakin’ All Over.mp3
Listen to this as part of a non-chronological ’60s compilations, and you might not realise that this song was released in 1960. In sound and look, Johnny Kidd and his timber-shivering pals were prophetic, helping to provide the template for “60s pop at the birth of the decade in which rock & roll and pop, all still very young, defined themselves. This is the sound on which the Searchers, the Dave Clark Five, even the Beatles, would build. It is quite likely that Johnny Kidd would have faded into obscurity. In the event, we do not know, because Johnny died in a 1966 car crash, two years after the Swinging Blue Jeans scored a hit with it in Britain, and a year after the Guess Who did likewise in the US — and two years after his last Top 40 hit in Britain. Shakin’ All Over later became something of a signature rune for the Who.
Best bit: The drum flourish preceding the guitar solo (1:21)

Amen Corner – (If Paradise Was) Half As Nice.mp3
If in paradise they play music only half as nice as this, I’d be more or less okay, I think. I first heard this song covered by a ’70s group called the Rosetta Stone, led by former Bay City Rollers member Ian Mitchell (whose stint was turbulent and brief) and an enthusiastic exponents of ’60s covers. I loved their version, but have no idea whether it was any good when held up against the Amen Corner’s version, which itself was a cover of an Italian song written by Lucio Battisti for popstress Patty Pravo. The arrangement of the Welsh group’s rendition is just lovely though (if you can handle your music with more than one spoonful of sugar, I suppose). Especially the horn (French? Flugel?).
Best bit: “Oh yes I’d rather have you” (1:26)

Robert Knight – Love On A Mountain Top.mp3
Some readers might raise two pertinent questions about the inclusion of Love On A Mountain in a ’60s special of Perfect Pop; neither should relate to the indisputable perfection of this fine tune. Firstly, why didn’t I choose Knight’s original of Everlasting Love? Secondly, what is a hit from 1973/74 doing here? I would have chosen Knight’s Everlasting Love (and I won’t feature the unsatisfactory cover by the Love Affair), but my MP3 of the song is damaged. Yes, my selections hang on such arbitrary threads. In fact, I like Love On A Mountain Top better; it is such a happy, sunshiney song. The song was a hit in Britain and Europe in the mid-’70s, but its first single release was in 1968.
Best bit: The instrumental break (1:29)

Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline.mp3*
Another ’60s release which found UK chart success in the ’70s. Sweet Caroline was released in the US in September 1969. According to Neil Diamond, it was inspired by a photo of Caroline Kennedy, who was 11 at the time. Which strikes me as slightly creepy. Nonetheless, it is a great ytackby a great songwriter. The distinctive intro and verse are pretty good, but it is the build-up to the roaring, rousing chorus which really elevates this song. One cannot help but sing along to it, which is a sign of its pop perfection.
Best bit: Neil’s hard Ts when he sings:” “Warm touching warm, reaching out, touching me, touching you” (1:56)

Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).mp3
Everything that was sweet and engaging in Everett’s version became horrible and cynical in Cher’s awful and tragically now better known cover from that abominable Mermaids movie. Cher’s cover (and Cher in general) pissed me off so much, I cannot even bring myself to include Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe in this series, even though it probably is a perfect pop record. Betty’s 1963 version, in the vein of the girl groups so popular at the time (Chiffons, Shirelles, Ronettes et al), became a hit in the US in 1964. It flopped in Britain, where Cher’s cover topped the charts almost three decades later. Conversely, in the US, Cher’s version was only a minor hit.
Best bit: The instrumental bridge (1:17)

The Kinks – You Really Got Me.mp3
Those who think that punk in the late ’70s offered anything original musically, or indeed culturally, might like to revisit some of the sneering, middle-finger raising acts of the ’60s. As Paul Weller, who hooked his mod ways on the punk star, surely knew, the Kinks were a lot more punk than the Sex Pistols. Don’t misunderstand, I love Never Mind The Bollocks as much as any amateur anarchist, but the Sex Pistols really were just as manufactured an act as were the Spice Girls. On You Really Got Me, Ray Davies sneers as much as Johnny Rotten ever did. The distorted rhythm guitar (an effect produced by slicing the amp) is pure punk. Contrary to persistent rumour, Jimmy Page definitely did not play on Your Really Got Me, but a random session musician by the name of Jon Lord, later of Deep Purple, tinkled the ivories.
Best bit: Ray shouts in Dave’s guitar solo (1:17)

Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual.mp3
I don’t like Tom Jones much, and that Sex Bomb song was a disgrace to all that is good about music. But, my goodness, It’s Not Unusual is just perfect. Even Jones’ vocals. Especially Jones’ vocals. I submit that the ad libbing in the fade out represents one of the great yodels in pop music. Ever. I have heard that on this song, Jimmy Page does play the guitar, coming in at 1:19. Regular viewers of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air (well, somebody must have watched it!) will recall that It’s Not Unusual was Carlton’s favourite dance number.
Best bit: “…to find that I’m in love with you, wow-oh-wow etc” (1:44)

Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice.mp3
Selecting a Beach Boys song for this series was problematic. While I see why, say, Surfin’ USA or Help Me Rhonda might be more qualified choices, I don’t like them much. It’s the Mike Love factor. Wouldn’t It Be Nice, like Good Vibration and God Only Knows (both considered), has those innovative Brian Wilson touches which ought to have elevated Pet Sounds in reputation above Revolver or Sgt Pepper’s. Wouldn’t It Be Nice is sung by Brian Wilson, with the hateful Love performing vocal duties only on the bridge. Mike Love apparently sought to take legal action against Brian Wilson over the latter’s wonderful Smile album for bringing the Beach Boys’ legacy into disrepute. The last song performed by the Love-led Beach Boys? Santa Goes To Kokomo (thanks to Mr Parkes for that bit of info).
Best bit: I might have picked the bridge, but, you know, fuck Mike Love. The intro (0:01)

Dionne Warwick РDo You Know The Way To San Jos̩.mp3
The body of Dionne Warwick’s interpretations of Burt Bacharach’s music is rich in absolute delights. Among so many highpoints, two songs stand out: Walk On By and San José. The latter makes you feel good, from the brief bass notes that introduce the song to bosa nova sound to the wow-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wowowos that accompany Dionne’s insistence that she does have a large circle of sidekicks in San José. It’s a song for driving along a deserted coastal road with the roof down. As so often, the singer didn’t like the song when asked to record it. Frankie Goes To Hollywood covered it 16 years later, at a time when Bacharach was widely dismissed as a passé easy listening merchant. Whether or not that cover was supposed to be “ironic”, it introduced a whole new generation to the genius of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Best bit: The way Dionne accentuates the word back (2:33)


Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3
*
Yes, I know. Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. Or even Pretty Flamingo. Contenders they were, but this lesser remembered song is absolutely flawless. And it has flutes in it, which the really attentive and loyal reader of this blog will know seals a deal for me automatically. This track has a even greater energythan Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. The drumming is quite outstanding, and the punchline at the end of the song is just great. On top of that, my mother had the single of this, and as a small boy I played it very often. So Ha! Ha! Said The Clown is one of the songs responsible for turning me on to pop music. Hell, without it, you might not be reading this post right now.
Best bit: The whistling bit (1:17)

Drafi Deutscher – Marmor Stein und Eisen.mp3
Much as I enjoy submerging myself in the nostalgia for my childhood, I must insist that the German Schlager was a horrible musical genre; deeply conservative music for deeply conservative people dressed up in just so much supposed cool as to make it acceptable to the youth. Part of that faux-cool was a tendency of Schlager singers to assume an Anglo-sounding name. So Gerd Höllerich became Roy Black, Christian Klusacek (perhaps understandably) became Chris Roberts, Jutta and Norbert became Cindy & Bert (who came last in the Eurovision Song Contest which Abba won), Franz Eugen Helmuth Manfred Nidl-Petz became Freddy Quinn, and so on. Drafi Deutscher admirably didn’t anglicise his name, but went by his real surname, which means German. Oddly then, he sang with a heavy foreign accent, perhaps owing to his Hungarian background. His big hit, in 1965, was Marmor, Stein und Eisen (marble, rock and iron), which can all break, but not the love he and the addressee of the song shared, as the catchy chorus informs us. The song is more beat than Schlager.
Best bit: Drafi goes heavy metal rockabilly (1:15)

Elvis Presley – (You’re The) Devil In Disguise.mp3
Last time I posted Perfect Pop, I had a brief lapse in judgment when I forgot that there are four Elvises: pre-GI Elvis, movie-Elvis, post-comeback Elvis, and the drug-addled bloaterino we need not concern ourselves with much. From Elvis middle-period, Devil In Disguise seems to me an obvious choice for inclusion. This 1963 track saw the first two Elvis phases coalesce. On the verses, we have Elvis in beach trunks contemplating the script for his 17th movie in which he’ll be a racing driver/cowboy/trapeze artist/big-hearted hooker. He’s in well-behavedly in crooner mode, and very good at it. But when the chorus comes in, our boy remembers his pink shirted, pelvis-swivelling ways, and lets go a bit. Add to that the sharp guitar solo with those rapid quick handclaps, and you have true pop perfection.
Best Bit: The devil speaks! (2:07)

Simon & Garfunkel – A Hazy Shade of Winter.mp3
I considered I Am A Rock. Mrs Robinson (a song I don’t like much) and The Boxer (if only to mention that the banging sound was created by recording a filing cabinet thrown down an elevator shaft). What clinches it for A Hazy Shade Of Winter as a perfect pop song is its sense of urgency. Mostly the erstwhile Tom & Jerry did the languid folk-pop thing, but this song drives quite hard. The Bangles covered it in 1989 and scored a hit with it. I cannot say that I particularly liked that cover, but it shows that the song has a certain timelessness. The 1966 single release was backed with For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, one of S&G’s most beautiful songs. Strangely, A Hazy Shade Of Winter appeared on an LP only a year and a half later, on Bookends.
Best bit: The song ends abruptly with an exhalation of breath (2:16)

Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.mp3
Few people are going to feature twice in this series, but Bill Medley does. Thanks to Ghost, Unchained Melody has become the Righteous Brothers signature song, but You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (itself revived in a movie of that era, Top Gun) has all the drama and soulfulness which Unchained Melody lacks. Intitially singing so low as to raise questions about whether the single was being played at 33rpm, at some points Medley almost sounds like Levi Stubbs (indeed, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was supposedly inspired by the Four Tops’ Baby I Need Your Lovin’), while Bobby Hatfield has little to do. The story goes that Hatfield was rather annoyed about that, asking producer Phil Spector what he was supposed to do until he came into the song. Spector reportedly replied: “You can take the money to the bank:”
Best bit: Medley and Hatfield’s interplay: “Baby!” “Baby!” (2:34)

More Perfect Pop