Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Gram Parsons’

Twattery in Pop: Bono again

January 8th, 2010 16 comments

We should have seen it coming when this occasional series started: that megalomaniac twat Bono will do all he can to monopolise it. I have resisted taking the bait, but the man known to the Irish tax authorities as Loopholin” Paul Hewson and to his immediate family as That Fecking Prat would not let up. And here the man called Bono Vox (which surely is an unprintable Gaelic insult) features for the second time on Twattery in Pop. Read more…

The Originals Vol. 32

September 18th, 2009 12 comments

This time we look at the Carpenters hit that began life as an ad for a bank and was first released by a man with a one-off moniker; the Righteous Brothers classic which Phil Spector saw fit to issue only as a b-side; Gram Parsons’ famous song that was first recorded by a country singer before the co-writer had the chance; The Platters hit that was first an instrumental; and the Manhattan Transfer hit that was first recorded by a husband and wife team. Many thanks to Dennis, Walter and RH for their help.

* * *

Freddie Allen ““ We”ve Only Just Begun (1970).mp3
Carpenters ““ We”ve Only Just Begun (1970).mp3
Curtis Mayfield – We”ve Only Just Begun (1971).mp3

freddie_allenWe”ve Only Just Begun first made its appearance in 1970 in a TV commercial for a bank (video), whence it was picked up by Richard Carpenter to create the popular wedding staple. But before Richard and Karen got around to it, it was recorded a few months earlier by Freddie Allen, an actor who under his stage name Smokey Roberds was a member of “60s California pop group The Parade, and later formed the duo Ian & Murray with fellow actor and Parade member Murray MacLeod.

As Roberds tells it, one day he heard the Crocker National Bank commercial on his car radio (presumably the ad transcended media platforms), and recognised in the tune the signature of his composer friend Roger Nichols, who had written the ad”s song with lyricist Paul Williams. He phoned Nichols, ascertained that he had indeed co-written it, and asked him to create a full-length version. Nichols and Williams did so, and Roberds intended to produce it for a band he had just signed to White Whale Records. The deal fell through, so Roberds decided to record the song himself, but couldn”t do so under his stage name for contractual reasons. Since he was born Fred Allen Roberds, his Christian names provided his new, temporary moniker (see interview here, though you”ll go blind reading it).

carpentersPaul Williams” memory is slightly different: in his version, Nichols and he had added verses to subsequent updates of the advert, and completed a full version in case anyone wanted to record it. When Richard Carpenter heard the song in the commercial, he contacted Williams to ask if there was a full version, and Williams said there was “” and he would have lied if there wasn”t. Perhaps that happened before Allen recorded it. (Full interview here)

The remarkable Williams, incidentally, sang the song in the ad and would later write Rainy Days And Mondays and I Won”t Last A Day Without You for the Carpenters (both with Nichols), as well as Barbra Streisand”s Evergreen, Kermit the Frog”s The Rainbow Connection and the Love Boat theme, among others.

Freddie Allen”s single, a likable country-pop affair, did well in California, but not nationally, which he attributed to promotion and distribution problems. Released a few months later, the Carpenters had their third hit with We”ve Only Just Begun, reaching #2 in the US.

Also recorded by: Perry Como (1970), Mark Lindsay (1970), Dionne Warwick (1970), Paul Williams (1971), Bill Medley (1971), Johnny Mathis (1971). Mark Lindsay (1971), Jerry Vale (1971), The Moments (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Claudine Longet (1971), The Wip (1971), Grant Green (1971), Barbra Streisand (recorded in 1971, released in 1991), Johnny Hartman (1972), Henry Mancini (1972), Reuben Wilson (1973), The Pacific Strings (1973), Jack Jones (1973), Ray Conniff (1986), Ferrante & Teicher (1992), Grant Lee Buffalo (1994), Richard Clayderman (1995), Stan Whitmire (2000), Bradley Joseph (2005), Peter Grant (2006)

.

Bobby Bare ““ Streets Of Baltimore (1966).mp3
Tompall & The Glaser Brothers – Streets of Baltimore (1966).mp3
Gram Parsons ““ Streets Of Baltimore.mp3
Nanci Griffiths & John Prine – Streets Of Baltimore (1998).mp3
Evan Dando – Streets Of Baltimore (1998).mp3

tompall_glaserTompall Glaser was one of the original country Outlaws, along with the likes of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. With his brothers, he supported Johnny Cash on tour in the early 1960s before as Tompall & The Glaser Brothers they signed for MGM Records in 1966. The same year Tompall wrote Streets Of Baltimore, the sad story of a man who selflessly gives up everything, including his farm back in Tennessee, so as to fulfill his woman”s dream of living in Baltimore “” with no happy ending, at not least for him.

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

bobby_bareBut the Glasers didn”t recorded the song first; Bobby Bare got there first. Recorded in April 1966 (produced by Chet Atkins) his version was released as a single in June 1966; the Glasers” was recorded in September. Bare went on to have hit with it, reaching #7 on the Country charts. The song became more famous in the wonderful version by Gram Parsons, which appeared on his 1973 GP album. Likewise, the 1998 duet by the magnificent Nanci Griffiths and the awesome John Prine is essential.

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

Also recorded by: Capitol Showband (1967), Charley Pride (1969), Statler Brothers (1974), The Bats (1994), Tony Walsh (1999), Skik (as Grachten van Amsterdam, 2004), The Little Willies (2006)

.

The Three Suns – Twilight Time (1944).mp3
Les Brown & his Orchestra – Twilight Time
(1945).mp3
Johnny Maddox and the Rhythmasters – Twilight Time (1953).mp3
The Platters – Twilight Time (1958).mp3

three_sunsThe Three Suns ““ brothers Al (guitar) and Morty Nevins (accordion) and cousin Artie Dunn (organ) ““ were an instrumental trio founded in the late 1930s in Philadelphia. Although not particularly well-known, they had a long career that lasted into the “60s (albeit in latter years with competing entities going by the group”s name, including one with Don Kirshner who later invented the Monkees). Unusual orchestration notwithstanding ““ their Twilight Time sounds like carousel music “” the Three Suns were sought-after performers who spawned imitation groups, including the Twilight Three. (More on The Three Suns here)

Not much seems to be known about the genesis of Twilight Time other than it becoming something of a signature tune for the group. They eventually recorded it in 1944. It had become so popular that songwriter Buck Ram put his evocative lyrics ““ “Heavenly shades of night are falling, it”s twilight time” ““ to the melody. The first cover version of the song was recorded in November 1944 by bandleader Les Brown, and released in early 1945. But it is unclear whether it featured vocals. Several sources, including not always reliable Wikipedia, say that Brown’s version features Doris Day, and therefore is the first vocal version of the song. I”ve not been able to find the song or even proof that Doris Day sang it. Featured here is the instrumental version Brown, released as the b-side to Sentimental Journey, the first recording of that standard which Doris did sing.

A recording I have of an old radio programme of the Armed Forces Radio Service, called Personal Album, features five Les Brown songs. Four of them are sung by Doris Day, but when announcing Twilight Time, the presenter says that Doris will “sit that one out”. So I doubt she ever recorded it with Brown, though she might have sung it on stage.

If Doris Day did not lend her vocals to Twilight Time, then the first recording to feature Buck Rams” lyrics would probably be that released, also in 1945, by Jimmy Dorsey featuring Teddy Walters on the microphones, which appeared in the MGM movie Thrill Of A Romance. Alas, I have no recording of that version.

plattersTwilight Time had been recorded intermittently “” including a rather nice ragtime version by Johnny Maddox and the Rhythmasters “” by the time Ram signed the vocal group The Platters, for whom he co-wrote some of their biggest hits, such as Only You and The Great Pretender. By 1958 it had been almost two years since The Platters had enjoyed a Top 10 hit. Ram dug out Twilight Time and his protegés had their third US #1. The song also reached #3 in Britain, their highest chart placing there until Smoke Gets In Your Eyes topped the UK charts later that year.

Also recorded by: Roy Eldridge & His Orchestra (1944), Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Teddy Walters (1945), Johnny Maddox And The Rhythmasters (1953), Otto Brandenburg (1960), Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas (1965), Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs (1965), Gene Pitney (1970), P.J. Proby (1973), José Feliciano (1975), Carl Mann (1976), Dave (as 5 Uhr früh, 1980), Willie Nelson (1988), John Fahey (1992), John Davidson (1999), The Alley Cats (2000), Anne Murray (2004) a.o.

.

Art and Dottie Todd – Chanson D”Amour (Song Of Love) (1958).mp3
Manhattan Transfer – Chanson D”Amour (1976).mp3

art_dottie_toddFew songs have irritated and fascinated me in such equal measures as Manhattan Transfer”s 1977 hit Chanson D”Amour, a UK #1. Their cover was ingratiatingly camp and absolutely ubiquitous, a middle-aged finger raised at punk. It is also a most insidious earworm. Almost two decades earlier, the Wayne Shanklin composition had been a US #6 hit for the husband and wife duo Art and Dottie Todd. The couple”s version competed in the charts with an alternative take by the Fontane Sisters. Ar and Dottie scored the bigger hit. It was also their only US hit. Chanson D”Amour didn”t chart in Britain, but the Todds had their solitary hit there with a different song, Broken Wings. So they ended up one-hit wonders on both sides of the Atlantic, but with different songs.

The Todds, who already had enjoyed a long career and even presented a radio show after getting married in 1941 (they met when accidentally booked into the same hotel room), proceeded to entertain in the lounges of Las Vegas for many years before their semi-retirement in 1980 to Hawaii, where they opened a supper club. Dottie died in 2000 at 87; Art followed her in 2007 at the age of 93. Somehow it seems right that this couple, who lived and worked together for six decades, should be remembered for a Song of Love.

Chanson D”Amour was resurrected in 1966 by easy listening merchants The Lettermen, who had a minor US hit with it. And a decade later, Manhattan Transfer recorded their cover, adding a French 1920s cabaret feel to the Todd”s template, which they followed quite faithfully.

Also recorded by: Also recorded by: The Fontane Sisters (1958), The Lettermen (1966), Gheorghe Zamfir (1974), Ray Conniff (1979), BZN (1981), André Rieu (2003), In-grid (2004) a.o.

.

Todd Duncan – Unchained Melody (excerpt) (1955).mp3
Unchained Melody Mix (39MB):
Les Baxter – Unchained Melody (1955)
Al Hibbler – Unchained Melody (1955)
Roy Hamilton – Unchained Melody (1955)
Gene Vincent & his Blue Caps – Unchained Melody (1957)
Merri Gail – Unchained Melody (1960)
Vito and the Salutations – Unchained Melody (1963)
The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody (1965)
Boots Randolph – Unchained Melody (1967)
Elvis Presley – Unchained Melody (1977)
Kenny Rogers – Unchained Melody (1977)
Willie Nelson – Unchained Melody (1978)
U2 – Unchained Melody (1989)
Clarence Gatemouth Brown – Unchained Melody (1995)

todd_duncanIt takes something special to record a song that had been recorded many times and been a hit for various artists, and in the process appropriate it in the public consciousness. The Righteous Brothers did so with Unchained Melody, a song that made its public debut as a theme in the otherwise forgotten 1955 movie Unchained (hence the song”s cryptic title), sung on the soundtrack by the African-American singer Todd Duncan (pictured), the original Porgy in the 1935 production of Porgy & Bess, who died at 95 in 1998 (the last surviving original cast member, Anne Brown, who played Bess, died a few months ago at the age of 96). Duncan was also a professor of voice at Harvard. I”m afraid the poor quality clip I”m posting here is the best I could find (thanks to my friend Walter).

The song was written by Alex North and Hy Zaret (whose mother knew him as William Starrat). The story goes that the young Hy, in an episode of unrequited love, had written the lyrics as a poem, which North set to music in 1936. The yet nameless song was offered to Bing Crosby, who turned it down. Thereafter it sat on the shelves until almost two decades later North was scoring Unchained, a prison drama, which in a small role featured the jazz legend Dexter Gordon, at the time jailed for heroin possession at the prison which served as the movie”s set. Unchained Melody received an Oscar nomination (Love Is A Many Splendored Thing won) “” the first of 14 unsuccessful nominations for North, who eventually was given a lifetime achievement award.

ray hamiltonDuncan”s version went nowhere, but the song was a US top 10 hit for three artists in 1955: Les Baxter, in an instrumental version, and vocal interpretations by Al Hibbler and Roy Hamilton, with Hibbler”s becoming the best known version for the next decade. In June the same year,  singer Jimmy Young took the song to the top of the British charts, the first of four times the song was a UK #1 (the other chart-toppers were the Righteous Brothers, Robson & Jerome, and Gareth Gates).

Ten years later, the Righteous Brothers” recorded it, produced by Bill Medley (though some dispute that) with Bobby Hatfield”s magnificent vocals, and released on Spector”s Philles label. With so many versions preceding the Righteous Brothers” take, one can only speculate which one, if any, provided the primary inspiration. I would not be surprised to learn that Hatfield drew at least something from Gene Vincent”s vocals in the 1957 version, which oddly omits the chorus.

As so often, the classic started out as a b-side, in this case to the Gerry Goffin & Carole King song Hung On You, which Spector produced. To Spector”s chagrin, DJs flipped the record and Unchained Melody (which had no producer credit on the label) became the big hit, reaching #4 in the US.

righteous_brothersIn 1990 Unchained Melody enjoyed a massive revival thanks to the most famous scene in the film Ghost, featuring Patrick Swayze (R.I.P.) and Demi Moore playing with clay. The song went to #1 in Britain, and would have done likewise in the US had there not been two Righteous Brothers” versions in the charts at the same time. The owners of the 1965 recording underestimated the demand for the song and failed to re-issue it in large quantity. Medley and Hatfield took the gap by recording a new version, which sold very well. Since the US charts are based on sales and airplay, the 1965 version charted in the Top 10 on strength of the latter, while the reformed Righteous Brothers reached the Top 20.

Unchained Melody represents another footnote in music history: it was the last (or second last, sources vary) song ever sung on stage by Elvis Presley. And fans of the Scorsese film GoodFellas may recognise the doo wop recording of the song by Vito and the Salutations.

Also recorded by: June Valli (1955), Jimmy Young (1955), Cab Calloway (1955), Chet Atkins (1955), The Crew Cuts (1955), Harry Belafonte (1957), Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps (1957), Ricky Nelson (1958), Andy Williams (1959), Earl Bostic (1959), Sam Cooke (1960), The Blackwells (1960), Ray Conniff (1960), The Browns (1960), Charlie Rich (1960), Merri Gail (1960), Marty Robbins (1961), Cliff Richard (1961), Floyd Cramer (1962), Duane Eddy (1962), Conway Twitty (1962), Steve Alaimo (1962), Les Chaussettes Noires (as Les enchaînés, 1962), The Lettermen (1962), Frank Ifield (1963), Vito & the Salutations (1963), Johnny De Little (1963), Matt Monro (1964), Anne Murray (1964), Bobby Vinton (1964), Brenda Holloway (1964), Sonny & Cher (1965), Dionne Warwick (1965), The Wailers (1966), Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles (1966), The Supremes (1966), The Englishmen (1967), The Caretakers (1967), Robert Gennari (1967), Igor Mann e I Gormanni (as Senza catene, 1968), Roy Orbison (1968), The Sweet Inspirations (1968), David Garrick (1968), Jimmy Scott (1969), The Platters (1969), Waylon Jennings (1970), The New Overlanders (1970), Dean Reed (1971), Blue Haze (1972), Al Green (1973), Donny Osmond (1973), James Last (1974), Bamses Venner (as En forunderlig melodi, 1975), Greyhound (1975), The Stylistics (1976), Kenny Rogers (1977), Paris Connection (1978), Willie Nelson (1978), Clem Curtis (1979), George Benson (1979), Heart (1980), Will Tura (as Oh My Love, 1980), Magazine 60 (1981), Gerry & The Pacemakers (1981), Joni Mitchell (1982), Bill Hurley (1982), Manhattan Transfer (1984), Leo Sayer (1985), U2 (1989), Maurice Jarre (1990), Ronnie McDowell (1991), Richard Clayderman (1992), Dread Zeppelin (1993), Captain & Tennille (1995), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Al Green (1995), Clarence Gatemouth Brown (1995), Robson & Jerome (1995), Melanie (1996), Günther Neefs (1997), LeAnn Rimes (1997), Joe Lyn Turner (1997), David Osborne (1998), Neil Diamond (1998), Mythos ‘n DJ Cosmo (1999), Gareth Gates (2002), Justin Guarini (2003), Marshall & Alexander (2003), Bruno Cuomo (2003), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Jan Keizer (2004), Il Divo (2005), Joseph Williams (2006), Barry Manilow (2006), Damien Leith (2006), David Phelps (2008), Johnny Hallyday & Joss Stone (2008), Carrie Underwood (2008) a.o.

.

More Originals

American Road Trip Vol. 9

July 27th, 2009 4 comments

Last time on our US road trip, we left Pittsburgh. From there, one might travel in any direction to reach places of interest to our purposes. I do think it is time we come to the capital.

* * *

Washington, D.C.

chocolate_cityI note Marion Berry, the four-term mayor of Washington DC was arrested again this month, this time for stalking a girlfriend. No matter what Berry”s accomplishments as a mayor and councillor, how on earth does that man still enjoy the credibility to be re-elected? How does the electorate of Washington arrive at the conclusion that a crackhead with the powers of judgment of a lemming is best qualified to govern their affairs? This is a man who delivers pearls of wisdom like, “The laws in this city are clearly racist. All laws are racist. The law of gravity is racist” or “The brave men who died in Vietnam, more than 100% of which were black, were the ultimate sacrifice”? It”s like the great American public electing a former drug abuser with no brains to the presidency. Which, of course, could never happen (and, yes, I can hear you whisper the name Zuma). Chris Rock perhaps nailed it when he said about Barry”s re-election as mayor after i his crack conviction: “How did that happen? Smoked crack, got his job back! What was the other guy on heroin?”
Parliament – Chocolate City.mp3
.

Baltimore, Maryland.mp3

Well, I sold my pick-up truckGP to take my woman where she used to be. We left our friends and Marion Barry back there in Washington. And I bought those one way tickets she had often begged me for, and they took us to the streets of Baltimore. Well, her heart was filled with gladness when she saw those city lights. She said: “The prettiest place on earth is Baltimore at night.” But I soon learned she loved those bright lights more than she loved me. Now I”m a going back on that same train that brought me here before while my baby walks the streets of Baltimore. On second thought, fuck it, let”s go to Philadelphia.
Gram Parsons – Streets Of Baltimore.mp3
.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

tsopTo people who grew up in the “90s, Philadelphia may be a movie about AIDS discrimination starring two insufferably smug, overrated actors. Or the hometown of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. To me, it evokes the sunny sounds of “70s soul. The Philly sound. The O”Jays. The Three Degrees. The Delfonics. Billy Paul. Jean Carn. Blue Magic. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. The Intruders. The Trammps. Lou Rawls singing Lady Love. SalSoul and Gamble & Huff”s PIR.
M.F.S.B. – T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia).mp3
Dexys Midnight Runners – T.S.O.P.mp3

.

Previously on American Road Trip

Twattery in Pop: Rush Limbaugh

July 3rd, 2009 6 comments

What, you may demand imploringly, connects sweaty, saliva-dispersing self-parodist Rush Limbaugh with the world of pop (of course there is no question as to what connects the putrescent pusbucket to twattery)? Has Rush recorded an album of his favourite Motown songs, adding his own twist to the lyrics; perhaps adapting Smokey Robinson & the Miracle”s hit named after Mickey Stephenson autobiographically to read Cheney”s Monkey? Has Limbaugh praised the humanitarian work of Bono, or the operatic stylings of Michael Fucking Bolton, or the art of Yoko Ono (well, obviously not, though he seems psychotic enough to own the complete canon of MFB”s artistry)? Was Rush perhaps ghastly to some of my favourite artists, such as the Weepies or the Carpenters?

Rush Limbaugh

No, on Wednesday Rush Limbaugh contrived to wind his fusilli mind into a palomar knot by virtually blaming Barack Obama for the death of Michael Jackson. Spunk-silo”s take on MJ”s death: “Jackson”s success, if you stop and think of it [amusingly Limbaugh listeners are being asked to THINK!] and this is going to really irritate some people, which I will enjoy doing “” Jackson”s success paralleled the rebound of the United States under Ronaldus Magnus [that would be Ronald Reagan whose decomposed salad Sweat-wit is tossing]. Michael Jackson”s biggest successes, and as it turns out his final successes, real successes took place in the eighties. That was Billie Jean, Thriller and all this. I mean he was as weird as he could be [says Rush fucking Limbaugh!] but he was profoundly, because of his weirdness, an individual. He wasn”t a group member [except when he was, of course. Rush evidently couldn”t feel it]. He reached a level of success that may never be equalled. He flourished under Reagan [but his best record, the wildly successful Off The Wall, was a hit under Carter, pop fans]; he languished under Clinton-Bush; and died under Obama. Let”s hope the parallel does not continue.” (Full story here)

I actually don”t think that Limbaugh is as stupid as to believe the ignorant, noxious shit he is disgorging upon the public. His “hilarious” shtick is to try and wind up liberals with such associations. If it wasn”t a sideshow, there”d be no reason why he has not been committed to a caring institution for lobotomised patients. In fairness, he signals his pitiful intent when he says: “this is going to really irritate some people, which I will enjoy doing”. It isn”t really what Limbaugh is saying that is irritating “Them Liberals”; it”s the idea that there are some very dull-witted people who take him and his likes seriously.

I must concede though that the clammy wankmonster “” who in older times would have made an accomplished ass-raping bishop of Bath and Wells “” might be on to something. Think about all the great celebrity icons who have died. Almost all of them kicked the bucket on the watch of a Democratic president. Jimmy Carter”s reign was particularly grim: Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin”¦ Bill Clinton has Frank Sinatra, Princess in the Wind and, er, Kurt Cobain to answer for. JFK died during the JFK presidency, as did Marilyn Monroe and Patsy Cline, while Jim Reeves crashed under LBJ. Lately only Johnny Cash, being Johnny Cash, bucked the trend. And there Madonna was happy that Obama was elected.

But Limbaugh”s theory of Democratic culpability in celebrity mortality does fall flat. Consider the victims of the Nixon presidency: Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Parsons and Elliott. Of those, only Cass died a natural death (and even that is disputed by ham sandwich conspiracists). Makes you think, no?

In the case of Michael Jackson, however, I am disinclined to indict Obama. More likely, on the morning of Thursday, 25 June, MJ found his transistor radio had been mistuned. As he surfed the dial he stumbled upon the depraved sound of Rush Limbaugh vomiting his bigotry all over the airwaves, and decided that he could no longer live in a world where that anal itch on humanity “” and his idiot listeners “” are allowed to exist. And here”s the kicker: my theory makes a zillion times more sense than any of Limbaugh”s deranged splutterings.

*   *   *

And to celebrate dead celebs:

Frank Sinatra – High Hopes With John Kennedy (1960).mp3
Marilyn Monroe – Happy Birthday, Mr President (1962).mp3
Patsy Cline – I Fall To Pieces (1961).mp3
Michael Jackson – Ain”t No Sunshine (1972).mp3
Cass Elliott – I’m Coming To The Best Part Of My Life (1973).mp3
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel (Alternate Take 5) (1956).mp3
Jimi Hendrix – Star Sprangled Banner (1969).mp3
Gram Parsons – Big Mouth Blues (1973).mp3

.
More Twattery in Pop

The Originals Vol. 27

June 19th, 2009 7 comments

Sometimes it happens that an act which wrote a famous song has it recorded by others before they do. This can be because the composer was still a songwriter waiting to become well known (Kris Kristofferson or Leonard Cohen), or because the first performer was friendly with the star who wrote the song. We have seen a couple of such cases in this series before, with Barry McGuire recording the Mamas and the Papas” California Dreaming and Chad & Jeremy”s doing Simon & Garfunkel”s Homeward Bound first (amusingly, DivShare indicates that the McGuire version has been downloaded 140,701 times. Yeah, right). In this instalment, all five songs were recorded by others before the writers recorded their more famous versions.

* *

New World Singers ““ Blowing In The Wind.mp3
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind (Gerde’s version, 1962).mp3

Bob Dylan ““ No More Auction Block (1962).mp3
Chad Mitchell Trio – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3
Peter, Paul & Mary – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3

Marlene Dietrich ““ Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind.mp3

Before he became almost instantly famous, Bob Dylan”s favoured hang-out in Greenwich Village was Gerde”s Folk City. In 1962 he took ten minutes to cobble together Blowin” In The Wind, based on an old slave song called No More Auction Block, which he says he knew from the Cater Family”s version. Dylan”s recording of the song dates from October 1962, at the Gaslight Café.

gerde's

Also performing regularly at Gerde”s was the multi-racial folk group New World Singers. Delores Nixon, the black member, often sang No More Auction Block as part of the group”s repertoire. Dylan later recalled that he wrote Blowin” In The Wind after spending the night with Delores (who told him that it was unethical to “borrow” the melody, even though many folkies used to do that). One day in April 1962, Dylan handed the lyrics of Blowin” In The Wind to New World Singer Gil Turner, who hosted the Monday evening line-up. Turner was impressed and asked Dylan to teach him the song, so that he could perform it immediately. Turner introduced the song “” “I”d like to sing a new song by one of our great songwriters. It”s hot of the pencil and here it goes.” The crowd went mad, and Dylan went home. After that, he would include Blowin’ In The Wind on his repertoire; his version featured here is an excellent bootleg from a gig at Gerde”s in late 1962, before he recorded it for his sophomore album and before anybody else released it.

*

The timeline of recordings of Blowin” In The Wind is a little confused. Some sources date the New World Singers” recording to September 1963, four months after Dylan”s was released. That is patently wrong, however. The New World Singers” version appeared on a compilation of “topical songs” called Broadside Ballads Vol. 1 which apparently was released on 1 January 1963 on Broadside Records, the recording arm of the folk magazine (you guessed it) Broadside, which was founded by Pete Seeger and printed the lyrics of the song in May 1962. The Chad Mitchell Trio, sometimes credited with recording the song first, released the song on their In Action LP in March 1963.

dietrich_antwort_windIn 1963, Blowin” In The Wind became a massive hit, not for Dylan, but for Peter, Paul & Mary. Naturally the song has been covered copiously and esoterically. Perhaps the most unexpected recording is that by the German film legend Marlene Dietrich in 1964; her Burt Bacharach-orchestrated single, which is not at all bad (I do dig the groovy flute), was backed by another German take on a folk anthem, Where Have All The Flowers Gone. I owe the New World Singers file to my latest Originals friend Walter from Belgium, who has kindly set me up with 30-odd more songs for this series.

Also recorded by: Chad Mitchell Trio (1963), Kingston Trio (1963), Stan Getz (1963), Marie Laforêt (1963), The Breakaways (1963), Conny Vandenbos & René Frank (as Wie weet waar het begint, 1964), Stan Getz & João Gilberto (1964; b-side of The Girl From Ipanema), Richard Anthony (as Ecoute dans le vent, 1964), Eddy Arnold (1964), The Browns (1964), Sam Cooke (1964), Marianne Faithfull (1964), Lena Horne (1964), Lucille Starr & Bob Regan (1964), Nina & Frederik (1964), Chet Atkins (1965), Trini Lopez (1965), Cher (1965), The Mad Hatters (1965), Johnny Rivers (1965), Bobby Bare (1965), Jackie DeShannon (1965), The Silkie (1965), Blue Mood Four (1965), Marlene Dietrich (English version, 1966), John Davidson (1966), I Kings (as La risposta, 1966), Robert DeCormier Singers (1966), Peggy March (as Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind, 1966), The Sheffields (1966), Stevie Wonder (1966), Dionne Warwick (1966), Joan Baez (1967), Brother Jack McDuff (1967), Lou Donaldson (1967), Laurel Aitken (1967), O.V. Wright (1968), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), The Dixie Drifters (1968), The Hollies (1969), Stanley Turrentine feat. Shirley Scott (1969), The Travellers (1969), Edwin Hawkins Singers (1969), Diana Ross & The Supremes (1969), Bill Medley (1970), Johnny Nash (1970), Luigi Tenco (as La risposta è caduta nel vento, 1972), Brimstone (1973), Black Johnny & His Paradiso’s (1973), Trident (1975), Horst Jankowski und sein Rias-Tanzorchester (1977), Julie Felix (1992), Neil Young (1991), Barbara Dickson (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), Judy Collins (1994), The Hooters (1994), Hugues Aufray (as Dans le souffle du vent, 1995), Mina (2000), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2001), Emmerson Nogueira (2002), Peter Saltzman (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Loona (2004), Bobby Solo (2004), Jools Holland with Ruby Turner (2005), House of Fools (2005), Dolly Parton & Nickel Creek (2005), Nena (2007), Sylvie Vartan (as Dans le souffle du vent, 2007), Massimo Priviero (2007) a.o.

.

Billy Preston – My Sweet Lord.mp3
George Harrison ““ My Sweet Lord.mp3

billy_prestonYes, of course, the Chiffons did it “originally”. And with that out of the way, Harrison wrote My Sweet Lord, which would become his biggest and most controversial hit, for Billy Preston. Preston had at one point come to be regarded as the “Fifth Beatle” thanks to his keyboard work which earned him a co-credit on the Get Back single. He had actually known the band since 1962, when he toured Britain with Little Richard, for whom the Beatles opened in Liverpool. Post-Beatles, Preston continued working with Harrison, who had brought him into the Let It Be sessions.

Written in December 1969 in Copenhagen, My Sweet Lord song first appeared on Preston”s Encouraging Words album, a star-studded affair which included not only Harrison, but also Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richard on bass and Ginger Baker on drums. The album also included Harrison”s All Things Must Pass (a song which the Beatles had considered of recording); almost a year later that song would provide the title of the triple-LP set. The All Things Must Pass album, produced by Phil Spector, also included George”s cover of his own My Sweet Lord.

my_sweet_lordPreston”s version is much closer to Harrison”s original concept than the composer”s own take. In his defence during the My Sweet Lord/He”s So Fine plagiarism case, Harrison said that he was inspired not by early-“60s girlband pop, but by the Edwin Hawkins Singers” 1969 hit Oh Happy Day. That influence is acutely apparent on Preston”s recording, but less so on Harrison”s chart-topper. Indeed, had Preston scored the big hit with it, not Harrison, it might have been Ed Hawkins initiating the plagiarism litigation.

Also recorded by: Stu Phillips & The Hollyridge Strings (1971), Johnny Mathis (1971), Homer Louis Randolph III (1971), Peggy Lee (1971), Ray Conniff (1971), Monty Alexander & the Cyclones (1971), Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Eddy Arnold (1971), Edwin Starr (1971), Top of the Poppers (1971), Nina Simone (1972), Richie Havens (1972), The Violinaires (1973), Five Thirty (1990), Boy George (1992), Stacy Q (1997), George Harrison & Sam Brown (2000), David Young (2000), Emmerson Nogueira (2003), Bebe Winans (2003), Girlyman (2003), Joel Harrison (2005), Gary Christian & Desa Basshead (2008) a.o.

.

Flying Burrito Brothers – Wild Horses.mp3
Rolling Stones – Wild Horses.mp3

burritoIt is difficult to say which one is the original, and which one the cover. The Stones recorded it before the Flying Burrito Brothers did, but released it only after Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons” band released it on their 1970 album, Burrito Deluxe. Wild Horses was written in 1969 (Keef says about his new-born son; Jagger denies that its re-written lyrics were about Marianne Faithfull) and recorded in December 1969 at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, the day after the group laid down Brown Sugar. Jamming in a country mood, Mick asked Keith to present a number in that genre, spurring his country-loving friend on by saying: “Come on, you must have hundreds”. Keith disappeared for a bit, and returned with a melody and words for the chorus. Mick filled in the lyrics for the verses, and the song was recorded (with Jim Dickinson standing it for Ian Stewart, who did not like playing minor chords)  before the Stones packed up and left Memphis.

Earlier that year, the Stones had collaborated on the Flying Burrito Brothers” The Gilded Palace Of Sin album; and as the curtain fell on the 1960s, the Burritos opened for the Stones at the notorious Altamont concert (according to some reports, it was during their performance that the Hells” Angels started the first fight). Parsons was especially friendly with Keith Richard, whom he introduced to the treasury of country music. It is even said that the song was intended for Gram “” probably a false rumour, yet it  sounds more like a Parsons than a Stones song. Whether or not it was intended for Parsons, the Burritos were allowed to record Wild Horses, and release it before the Stones were able to (for contractual reasons involving their “divorce” from Allen Klein) on 1971″s Sticky Fingers album.

Also recorded by: Labelle (1971), Leon Russell (1974), Melanie (1974), The Sundays (1992), Southside Johnny (1997), Otis Clay (1997), Blackhawk (1997), Old & In the Way (1997), Elliott Murphy with Olivier Durand (2000), Brent Truitt, Tim Crouch and Dennis Crouch (2000), The Rocking Chairs (2002), Leslie King (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Rachel Z (2004), Charlotte Martin (2004), Karen Souza (2005), Alicia Keys featuring Adam Levine (2005), Tre Lux (2006), Richard Marx with Jessica Andrews (2008) a.o.

.

Judy Collins – Suzanne.mp3
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne.mp3
Fran̤oise Hardy РSuzanne (English version).mp3

judy_collinsMany of Laughing Len”s most famous songs were first recorded by folk warbless Judy Collins: Sisters Of Mercy; Bird On A Wire; Since You”ve Asked; Hey, That”s No Way to Say Goodbye “” and Suzanne. The song was born in Montréal, landmarks of which are described at length in the song. Cohen already had a chord pattern in place which he then married to a poem he had written about one Suzanne Verdal “” the beautiful wife of the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, a friend of Cohen”s “” whom he fancied but, as the lyrics have it, touched only in his mind.

francoise_hardyOne night in 1966, a year before Cohen released his debut album, he played the finished song over the telephone to his friend Judy Collins, who was already a star on the folk scene. Duly enchanted, Collins recorded the song for her In My Life album, which was released in November 1966. A few months later, the English-born singer Noel Harrison and Josh White Jr both recorded it before the song”s writer got around to releasing it in December 1967. It is fair to say that Leonard Cohen owes much of his start in music to Judy Collins” patronage. Apart from Cohen”s version, I really like Françoise Hardy”s (English-language) remake from 1970.

suzanne

Suzanne Verdal, the muse behind Cohen's song.

As for the subject of the song, she is now (or at least was fairly recently) living out of her car in California following a serious back injury sustained in a fall. In 1998, BBC4 interviewed her about the song; she comes across as charming “” one can sense why Cohen might have been enchanted by her three decades earlier. The interview is a useful tool for deciphering the lyrics. The marine theme was inspired by the adjacent St Lawrence River, nearby was a Catholic church for sailors under the patronage of the Virgin Mary. Suzanne was a practising Catholic (hence the nautical Jesus allusions). And the tea”¦well, it was just tea, with pieces of fruit in it.

Also recorded by: Noel Harrison (1967), Josh White Jr (1968), Pearls Before Swine (1968), Catherine McKinnon (1968), Genesis (a US band, 1968), Graeme Allwright (1968), Françoise Hardy (1970), (in French, 1968), Jack Jones (1968), Harry Belafonte (1969), Herman van Veen (in Dutch and German, 1969), Nina Simone (1969), John Davidson (1969), George Hamilton IV (1969), Gary McFarland (1969), Fairport Convention (1969), Françoise Hardy (in English, 1970), Nancy Wilson (1970), Joan Baez (on four occasions, first in 1971), Neil Diamond (1971), Anni-Frid Lyngstad (1971), Fabrizio De André (1972), Roberta Flack (1973), Mia Martini (1983), The Flying Lizards (1984), Geoffrey Oryema (1991), Bomb (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), The Parasites (1993), Peter Gabriel (1995), Dianne Reeves (1999), Barb Jungr (1999), Kevin Parent (2001), Nana Mouskouri (2002), Denison Witmer (2003), Andrea Parodi e Bocephus King (2003), Marti Pellow (2003), René Marie (2003), Perla Batalla (2005), Aga Zaryan (2006), Sylvie Vartan (2007), Aretha Franklin (in the “60s, released in 2007), Alain Bashung (2008), Gaetane Abrial (2008), James Taylor (2008) a.o.

.

Ray Stevens – Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down.mp3
Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down.mp3
Johnny Cash – Sunday Morning Coming Down.mp3

ray_stevensKris Kristofferson is country music”s Cinderella. Although from a distinguished military family and highly educated, by the mid-“60s he was a janitor for Columbia Records in Nashville, writing his songs literally in the basement. His bosses even warned him not to pitch his songs to the label”s recording stars, or he”d be fired. One day, Kristofferson broke that rule. Double-shifting as a helicopter pilot, he collared Johnny Cash on the building”s helipad (some say he landed a chopper in Cash”s garden) to present him with Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down. Cash was impressed with the song, and made sure that Kristofferson would not be fired. He did not, however, record his songs “” yet. Still, soon Kristofferson”s songs “” such Me And Bobby McGee (which already featured in this series), Help Me Make It Through The Night, From The Bottle To The Bottom “” were recorded by a variety of country artists. Eventually Kristofferson was rewarded with a recording contract; his big career breakthrough came when Cash introduced him at the Newport Folk Festival.

johnny_cash_showStrangely, Cash was not the first to record Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down. Ray Stevens, a country singer who frequently dabbled in novelty songs, recorded it in 1969, scoring a minor hit on the country charts. Cash had the bigger hit with his 1970 version, which corrected the colloquial spelling. Cash resisted pressure to change the line “wishing Lord that I was stoned” to “”¦I was home” in deference to the song”s writer; he however had the kid playing with, not cussing at, the can that he was kicking.

Johnny Cash was a marvellous interpreter of songs, but his take Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down, fine though it is, does not stand up to Kristofferson”s version, which was also released in 1970. Indeed, it recently occurred to me that, if I was forced to choose, I would list KK”s version of Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down as my all-time favourite song.

Also recorded by: Sammi Smith (1970), Hank Ballard (1970), R. Dean Taylor (1970), Vikki Carr (1970), Lynn Anderson (1971), John Mogensen (as Søndag morgen,1971), Hank Snow (1971), Bobby Bare (1974), Frankie Laine (1978), Louis Neefs (as Zondagmiddag, 1979), Johnny Paycheck (1980), Shawn Mullins (1998), David Allan Coe (1998), Crooked Fingers (2002), Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-press (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006), Trace Adkins (2006), Ernie Thacker (2009) a.o.

“¦

More Originals

Love hurts

February 4th, 2009 7 comments

The alert consumer of mindless advertising will have noticed that the marketing industry has officially declared February the month of love by dint of Valentine”s Day falling smack bang in the middle of it. So, this month we”ll run through the emotions produced by love (as we did last year), including the joys of being happily in love but much more the utter torment of not being happily in love. Let”s kick things off with just how horrible love is.

.

Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
I know, I included Love Hurts in last year”s series, and more recently in The Originals. It is the finest recording of one of the finest songs ever written. Gram has been burnt by love (which, as he tells it, is like a hot stove) and now it”s payback time. Love, he accuses, “is just a lie, made to make you blue”, which evokes the notion of an elaborate conspiracy theory involving The Man and the Illuminati reptiles hatching devious plans to break hearts worldwide. Gram has no time for the idiots who buy into the myth of love. “Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness. Some fools fool themselves I guess, but they”re not fooling me. I know it isn”t true.” And yet, we suspect that it is Gram who”s fooling himself: just listen to the way Gram and Emmylou sing the word “togetherness” with such hopeful yearning.

“”””””””””””””””””””

J. Geils Band – Love Stinks.mp3
Gram and Em have had their emotions bulldozed, yet their cynicism is diluted by the tenderness with which they try to paper over the cracks in their hearts. J Geils and friends, on the other hand, give up on love altogether, with bullish defiantly and utter immaturity, as the title immediately suggests. They sound a clarion warning: love”s a devious bastard (as you might have suspected once you learnt aboiut the Illuminatis involvement). “Love”s gonna find you”¦ You”ll hear it call, your heart will fall, then love will fly. It”s gonna soar. I don”t care for any Casanova thing; all I can say is LOVE STINKS.” To which they might add: nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah! (Which might take us to the chorus of Centrefold.)

“”””””””””””””””””””

John Prine – All The Best.mp3
Passive-aggressive is a pretty good response to being hurt by someone ““ at least in song. John Prine provides a template for how it”s done: “I wish you love and happiness, I guess I wish you all the best,” which is very magnanimous indeed. Oh, but here comes the sting: “I wish you don”t do like I do, and ever fall in love with someone like you.” We”ll dispense with the awkward rhyme that follows before we arrive at the smackdown:  “But kids”¦can only guess how hard it is to wish you happiness.” Isn”t that bitter? Prine isn”t quite as self-pitying as Gram or cynical as Geils, but he is abundantly resentful of love nonetheless: “I guess that love is like a Christmas card. You decorate a tree, you throw it in the yard. It decays and dies and the snowmen melt. Well, I once knew love, I knew how love felt.”

“”””””””””””””””””””

Velvet Underground – Who Loves The Sun.mp3
After Prine”s Christmas metaphor, we join the Velvet Underground jaunty weather centre of broken hearts: “Who loves the sun? Who cares that it makes plants grow? Who cares what it does “” since you broke my heart?” They follow that with similar riffs on wind and rain. Says it all, really. Ba-ba-ba-ba indeed.

“”””””””””””””””””””

Skeeter Davis  – The End Of The World.mp3
This series will visit the home for break-up songs a couple of times, but few of those that will feature pack as much pain in one song as Skeeter”s lamentation for a love lost. Best of all, this 1961 country hit has a spoken bit. Skeeter tries to make sense of a world unchanged despite the seismic transformation in her life after her boyfriend or husband left her (she sounds like a 16-year-old, but was 31 when this song, remarkably a top 10 hit on the R&B charts, was recorded). “Why do the birds go on singing? Why do the stars glow above? Don”t they know it”s the end of the world? It ended when I lost your love.” Those who have experienced real heartbreak “” not a crushed crush, but the whole damn gig “” may empathise with the repeated verse: “Why does my heart go on beating? Why do these eyes of mine cry? Don”t they know it”s the end of the world. It ended when you said goodbye.”

“”””””””””””””””””””

Bob Dylan – If You See Her, Say Hello.mp3
Bob is rebounding from a break-up ““ or so he tries to pretend as he tells his friend to send his regards to the ex. “Say for me that I”m all right, though things get kind of slow. She might think that I”ve forgotten her, don”t tell her it isn”t so.” Oh, but he hasn”t forgotten her at all, “she still lives inside of me”. At social gatherings he still hears her name and it”s all he can do to block the pain. He suffers unhappy love”s equivalent of Chinese water torture: “I replay the past. I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast.” And then there remains that cancerous glimmer of hope which won”t let you bury the painful love as Bob asks his pal: “If she”s passin” back this way, I”m not that hard to find. Tell her she can look me up if she”s got the time.” Way to get over her, dude.

“”””””””””””””””””””

Angie Stone – No More Rain (In This Cloud).mp3
Smokey Robinson asked the girl to look at his face to see just how broken his heart is. Thirty-odd years on, retro soul singer Angie Stone namechecks Tracks Of My Tears in 1999″s gorgeous No More Rain as she explains: “There”s no hiding place when someone has hurt you. It”s written on your face, and it reads: “˜Broken spirit, lost and confused. Empty, scared, used and abused, a fool”.” She goes on to berate her tormentor, but the song isn”t really about him; it”s about the process of healing from the pain he inflicted. Angie still feels pain, but it”s really a song of comfort and hope. After all the emotional turmoil, at some point the tears will dry up. “My sunshine has come, and I”m all cried out. And there”s no more rain in this cloud.” Take note, Gram and Geils, there is life after love.

“”””””””””””””””””””

The Delgados – All You Need Is Hate.mp3
If Angie”s zen recovery doesn”t work for you, some anger might. Here, Scottish exponents of Indie pop The Delgados are your friend as they subvert several musical clichés about love. And it”s not just romantic love they don”t need. All love is dead, all you need is a heart of stone “” or not, because hate is really a very visceral emotion. So the song should really say: All you need is indifference, and you shouldn”t care about that either. But it doesn”t. “Charity, a joke that friendly cities think that we believe “¦ Everlasting hate, feel it in the people where it”s warm and great  “¦ Hate is all around, find it in your heart in every waking sound; on your way to school, work or church you”ll find that it”s the only rule“ and so on. Obviously they”re taking the piss. “Come on hate yourself; everyone here does, so just enjoy yourself.” Poor Gram Parsons would probably agree with that.

Last year’s season of songs about love

The Originals Vol. 4

September 15th, 2008 1 comment

Everly Brothers – Love Hurts.mp3
Roy Orbison – Love Hurts.mp3
Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
Nazareth – Love Hurts.mp3
Don McLean – Love Hurts.mp3
Paul Young & the Q-Tips – Love Hurts.mp3
Monsieur Mono & Mara Tremblay – Love Hurts (direct DL)
It is possibly the greatest songs ever written from the perspective of heartbreak, with some gloriously bitter metaphors, and yet it took a long time to become a proper hit ““ and then in one of its worse incarnations. Love Hurts was written by Boudleaux Bryant who co-wrote several Everly Brothers hits. Love Hurts, however, was only an album track on the siblings” 1960 LP A Date With The Everly Brothers. In 1965, they recorded a more upbeat version, but their mid-tempo 1960 rendition was sufficiently mournful for Roy Orbison to cover it tremulously the following year, releasing it as a b-side. Thereafter, the song remained dormant for 13 years, until Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris delivered the definitive version. Their sweet harmonies are drenched in the hot blood of a broken heart, Parsons perfecting the art of spitting his bile with tender vulnerability.

A year later, the song finally became a hit, in the misplaced hands of hard rockers Nazareth whose singer sounds mortified at having to sing these intimate lyrics. It sounds like he lost a bet at karaoke night. More covers followed soon after, but it was Don McLean in 1981 who returned the song the sensibilities of the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, probably aware that an imitation of Gram Parsons” take was impossible. One of the more interesting propositions, the same year, was Paul Young recording the song with the Q-Tips before going solo. One can imagine how well this underrated singer (who did much to feed the dim views of his artistry) might have interpreted the song. In the event, it is a rendition of curious interest rather than a competitor, sounding more like an Ultravox arrangement than a soulful lament. He apparently re-recorded it in 1993, hopefully nailing it the second time around”¦
A late addition, thanks to L’Homme Scalp, is a rather lovely 2005 French version of the song.
Also recorded by: Cher, Jim Capaldi, Jennifer Warnes, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Bad Romance, Kim Deal and Bob Pollard, Corey Hart, Barbara Dickson, Little Milton and Lucinda Williams, Robin Gibb, Pat Boone, Emmylou Harris, Stina Nordenstam, Sinéad O’Connor, Rod Stewart, Paul Noonan & Lisa Hannigan, Clare Teal a.o.
Best version: Parsons” version is one of my all-time favourite song”¦

.

Jacques Brel – Le Moribond.mp3
Rod McKuen – Seasons In The Sun.mp3

Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun.mp3
I might do my reputation no good at all when I confess that I can”t understand the vitriol levelled against Terry Jacks” 1974 hit. Yes, it”s sentimental and drenched in syrup, but it hardly is the only offender among its contemporaries in that respect. Cheesy though it may be, it is difficult to denounce a song that originated in the mighty catalogue of the unassailable Jacques Brel. The Belgian king of the vivant recorded the song as Le Moribund in 1961. In Brel”s version, and in poet Rod McKuen”s translation, the cause of the impending death could be natural but well might be a suicide note (there are strong hints that the singer”s wife had an extramarital affair). The English version was soon recorded by the Kingston Singers, and later by the Beach Boys. The latter”s version was not completed or released, but featured among its session musicians Terry Jacks (who, some accounts suggest, introduced the Beach Boys to the song). The Canadian-born singer changed the lyrics, introducing Michelle, his little one, into the proceedings and lightened the tone of the song considerably. The comparative cheerfulness of his version seems to eliminate the notion of suicide; unlike Brel or McKuen, Jacks sounds like a man who has made peace with his mortality.
Also recorded by: The Fortunes, Nana Mouskouri, Nirvana (you won’t see that sequence too often), Bad Religion, Black Box Recorder, Pearls Before Swine, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Westlife a.o.
Best version: I really like McKuen”s version, which I received from our friend RH

.


Dee Dee Warwick – You’re No Good.mp3

Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good.mp3
Linda Ronstadt”s big country-rock hit of 1974 started life as a “60s soul number. Written by the British songwriter Clint Ballard Jr, it was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne”s younger sister, in 1963. The same year Betty Everett (of Shoop Shoop Song fame) scored a minor hit with it. Ronstadt took the song out of its R&B context altogether, creating a new template on which future covers would be based. That is probably a sign of a really good cover artist: the ability of appropriating a song, changing it so much that it really will feel like a different song. These two versions are a great example of that attribute.
Also recorded by: Swinging Blue Jeans, José Feliciano, Van Halen, Elvis Costello, Wilson Phillips, Lulu, Jill Johnson a.o.
Best version: Ronstadt”s, probably.

.

The McCoys – Sorrow.mp3
David Bowie – Sorrow.mp3
Speaking of covers, it is a vaguely amusing coincidence that albums of cover versions by David Bowie and Bryan Ferry ““ icons of cool both at the time ““ entered the British charts on the same day in November 1973. Proof, if any was needed, that the covers project is not a recent phenomenon in pop music. David Bowie scored only one hit from the Pin Ups album, Sorrow, which had been made popular in the UK seven years earlier by the Merseys. The original version of it, however, was by the McCoys, the US group better known for their big hit Hang On Sloopy, which also provided the title for the 1965 album which featured Sorrow.
Also recorded by: Status Quo, Tribal Underground, Powderfinger
Best version: Bowie’s shades it.

.

Sting – I Hung My Head
Johnny Cash – I Hung My Head.mp3
Who would have thought that Sting could write a really excellent country song. Of course, Sting”s original of I Hung My Head is only notionally country ““ the arrangement could be by somebody like Tim McGraw, whose country music often is infused with rock music. It”s not a bad version at all, and I say so as somebody who generally holds old Gordon in less than high esteem. But it took Johnny Cash on his landmark 2002 album American IV: The Man Comes Around to give the song the country spin it really requires. Where in Sting”s version, the spine-tingling story drowns in overproduction, Cash slows it down and delivers it as if he had sung it as a bluegrass number since he was a little boy.
Also recorded by: Blue Highway
Best version: Cash, of course

The iPod (non-)Random 10-track Experiment

February 5th, 2008 2 comments

I’m about to wipe everything off my iPod, and reload it (for housekeeping purposes). So, for the pure fun of it, here are the top 10 most-listened to tracks. I have arbitrarily decided to exclude anything from the Beatles’ Love album, because I didn’t listen to it more than once, though my nephews played it ad nauseam over Christmas. Where an artist was represented more than once, their subsequent tracks have been skipped for the purpose of this post. Tracks marked with an asterisk have been featured on this blog before.

1. Nicole Atkins – Brooklyn’s On Fire.mp3*
No surprise here: this song has been an constant earworm, and her wonderful Neptune City album a frequent companion. On the album Atkins hops across and fuses genres, being Abba-esque one moment, then grabbing the singing-torch before going all B-52s on our asses. It’s magnificent. “Brooklyn’s On Fire” has an abundance of exuberance, and probably is the catchiest thing on the album.

2. Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
If CD plays counted, this song would easily head the list. The arrangement and harmonies make this the definitive version of this oft-covered Everly Brothers song (certainly better than that by bloody Cher, or the ludicrously OTT effort by Nazareth). Gram and the lovely Emmylou persuade us that love is indeed “just a lie made to make you blue”. An all-time favourite.

3. Rilo Kiley – Portions For Foxes.mp3*
Strange that this older Rilo Kiley track should still appear ahead of the great stuff from 2007’s Under The Blacklight. Jenny Lewis has never sounded sexier than here. When she commands, “COME HERE”, I’m inclined to obey.

4. Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire*
I have a fear that the Taste Police will before long declare Colbie Caillat a punishable offence, seeing that “Bubbly” is now a big hit and getting airplay on MOR radio stations. I suspect that Caillat’s success is in part due to the buzz created by the blogging community. So she is ours, bloggers and blog readers. Her stardom will be due not to The Man, but to the music blogs who gave her exposure and to the MySpace phenomenon. A reader of this blog had a brief but good discussion about how The Man will try to exploit music blogs and interactive sites like MySpace as a new form of marketing. But better that, with all the independence the credible music blogs can offer and the power of the My Space browser to click to the next page, than letting Sony’s A&R goons dictate public taste. Hopefully more people of genuine talent like Colbie will find stardom through that route, not via corporate manufacture.

5. John Denver – Rocky Mountain High.mp3
John Denver is overdue a rehabilitation. The music writer John Doran once responded to my point along the lines that those who would applaud Denver’s liberal politics are reluctant to like his music, and those who like his music are likely to detest his politics. My point is that there is much in Denver’s pre-1974 canon that should not be ignored, or subjected to clichéd jokes about straw-chewing hicks. 1972’s “Rocky Mountain High” is drenched in beauty and is free of the hackneyed shtick which by the late ’70s had turned Denver into a granny’s favourite and party-time Muppet.

6. Ben Folds – Gone.mp3
When I don’t know what to play, Ben Folds is always a safe bet. “Gone” is a great track to sing along to, at least the backing vocals. But don’t let that detract from the excellent lyrics addressed to a lover who left him and now won’t even write to him. He says he’s over her, but clearly he isn’t: ” I thought I’d write, I thought I’d let you know: In the year since you’ve been gone I’ve finally let you go. And I hope you find some time to drop a note, but if you won’t, then you won’t, and I will consider you gone.” I can empathise.

7. Billie the Vision & the Dancers (feat Hello Saferide) – Overdosing With You.mp3
One of the large group of fine Swedish Indie groups, this lot is as twee as they come, in a very enjoyable way (though clumsily monikered). This track features the wonderful Hello Saferide a.k.a. Annika Norlin, whom I’m possibly in love with. The lyrics to this song may be weak at times, but you have to love a song about couch potatoing the blues away with DVD box sets of NYPD Blue and Desperate Housewives (clearly not a bit too much sci-fi on Billie the Vision’s shelf, Ms Norlin). Did I mention, it has Hello Safreide, whom I’m possibly in love with, on it? You can legally download Billie the Vision etc’s albums on their webpage.

8. Scott Walker – Joanna.mp3
Walker’s vocal performance on this glorious Tin Pan Alley piece of treacle is stunning (it usually was stunning, but even more so here). Try singing this song; it is no accident that in the abominable Love, Actually, Liam Neeson mimes it to his son, doesn’t sing it. Which I would probably do, ill-advisedly or not.

9. Foo Fighters – Statues.mp3*
The more I hear the new Foo Fighters album, Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace, the more convinced I am that it is the best thing Grohl and pals have ever done, and that the album deserves to be regarded as a classic in its genre already. Without any hyperbole. Just as it had come out, I expressed my dislike for “Erase/Replace”. Someone commented that I was very wrong about the song. And quite rightly so. It’s majestic! But “Statues” remains my favourite song off the album, a track whose simplicity disguises its depths.

10. Perez – Picture Perfect.mp3
Perez were a South African rock group which subsequently split. Which is a shame, because they were pretty good in an alt.rock sort of way. “Picture Perfect”, from 2002, is certainly superior to much that has been released in the genre. A fine song to sing while driving, and not a bad way to spend five minutes secretly playing the air guitar.

The iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol.2

December 1st, 2007 1 comment

Another five random songs from my iPod’s Shuffle function. Like before, Any Major iPod was in a mellow mood. That is perhaps because a high percentage of the music on it is mellow…

Alexi Murdoch – All Of My Days.mp3
Murdoch’s “Orange Sky”, from the astonishing Four Songs EP, received a lot of coverage on several TV shows. Off-hand, I remember it featuring in The O.C. and Prison Break, as well as on that wonderful film Garden State. Alexi Murdoch remains a staple on TV drama series, and yet he is not very well known at all. That is a pity, because his Nick Drake-channeling music has greater depth than inclusion on the soundtrack of Brothers & Sisters, or whatever, might suggest. Indeed, his full debut, last year’s Time Without Consequence recalled Drake even in requiring a few listens before it really clicks. “All Of My Days”, which kicks off the album, manages to sound at once laid back and intense, gentle and urgent. Good choice, iPod.
More Alexi Murdoch here and here.

Missy Higgins – Nightminds.mp3
Apparently Missy Higgins is absolutely massive in Australia. Now that the Aussies have turned that objectionable shit Howard out of office, made fools of themselves at the rugby world cup and have given us the adorable, wonderful Melissa Higgins (and Bob Evans and Auggie March), I can now object only to their cricket team, with the spit-rubbing captain. “Nightminds” comes from Higgins’ excellent 2004 debut, The Sound Of White. It’s one of those rather intense ballads on the album. I take it that the song addresses somebody with either depression or an addiction, with Higgins offering support and understanding. In the initial verses, the solitary piano and Higgins’ delivery communicate a sense of emotional pain. With the chorus, a cello (or something with strings, I can never really tell) and drums come in, and the melody and lyrics become more hopeful. A beautifully constructed song.
More Missy Higgins music here.

Gram Parsons – She.mp3
Not to be confused with the Charles Aznavour hit covered by Elvis Costello. Here, Gram Parsons (one who is too easily overlooked in the “gone too soon” stakes) infuses his country/rock with soul, perhaps having just listened to Donny Hathaway (another one often easily overlooked in the “gone too soon” department). Of course, a song about a slave girl who could sing requires a soul influence. But what Parsons — formerly a Flying Burrito Brother and a Byrd — accomplishes on this track from 1973’s G.P., his full debut solo album, is to show just how close country and soul used to be. Parson’s lifestory can make you weep: his father committed suicide on a Christmas Eve when Gram was 13; his mother died on the eve of his graduation; and Gram was dead of a heart attack by the time he was not yet 27, leaving behind a rich musical legacy (without Parsons, no Wilco) and our regret at how much more he might have accomplished in shaping modern music. Read about Parsons’ death soon after the release of G.P. here.

Jam – Eton Rifles.mp3
This is the joy and the trouble with the iPod Shuffle function. You get into a particular mood during a sequence of certain kinds of songs, and then something completely different comes on. And so it is here: Alexi, Missy and Gram create a kicked-back mood, and then the sharply dressed threesome go all The Who on us, with ripping guitar chords and incendiary singing, punctuated by the menacing backing heys. “Eton Rifles” is an air-guitar anthem for those who would feel stupid playing imaginary instruments to “Freebird” or ’80s hair rock. Play it loud and don’t forget to time your triumphant leap in the air at the smack-in-the-gob end.

Dobie Gray – Drift Away.mp3
The soul song even soul-hating rock fans could love, sort of an inverse to Parsons’ “She”. The Rolling Stones covered it, Uncle Kracker (newsmaking sidekick to the revolting Kid Rock) covered it with Dobie Gray, even Michael fucking Bolton covered it before he decided he wasn’t Otis Redding after all, but Luciano Pavarotten. I don’t recall Bolton’s version, but surely even he couldn’t mess this song up. Or could he? The excellent Echoes in the Wind blog has a vinyl rip of the Dobie Gray album on which “Drift Away” originally appeared.

The iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol. 1