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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.

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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More Originals

Music for Bloggers Vol. 10

May 15th, 2009 11 comments

It has been a long time since I”ve celebrated the work of my fellow bloggers. So long, in fact, that some which I might have featured along the way have given up (or hopefully just suspended) their endeavours. So, whatever happened to The Urban Woo? Will Catholick Tastes ever blog again? Got The Fever, the mercury is running much too low!

Oh, and if your blog doesn”t feature here, it doesn”t mean I don”t love you. And at this point, I should express my gratitude to all the blogs that link to me, and especially to those that do so in their posts (with special props to Rock God Cred and its sibling blog Retro Music Snob). Click on the heading to visit the blogs reviewed.

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The Vinyl District

vinyl_district

This may look like reciprocation after The Vinyl District (TVD) chose your humble servant to kick off a new series in which that blog visits other blogs, asking them to tell about themselves and offer up a few tunes. Of course I sounded like an idiot, referring to this blog in the third person. TVD, on the other hand, astutely evades exhibitions of idiocy in its bid to promote the delights of trusty vinyl, which is sustaining something of a comeback. In doing so, the blog revisits old records and flags new vinyl releases. Periodically, TVD runs competitions, usually calling on readers to exercise their wit to win a t-shirt, a concert ticket or a deluxe vinyl edition of Jenny Lewis” fine Acid Tongue album (I can never muster the required with, I”m afraid). And I love the website design: the vinyl LP coming out of the album cover. Brilkliant. It seems logical that the song dedication for TVD should be my vinyl rip of a hard-to-find song, a very beautiful 1982 track in the James Taylor vein by the Australian singer Richard Clapton.
Richard Clapton – Walk On The Water.mp3

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Another Nickel In The Machine

another_nickel

This blog is an absolute gem. Taking as its subject London in the 20th century, it is a cultural multimedia journey through eras, from the London which still had the murders of Jack the Ripper fresh in its collective mind to the pre-WW2 years to the Swinging Sixties to the brief punk period. Some posts include music, others photos or videos. The essays are beautifully written and invariably fascinating, even (or especially) for non-Londoners. Along the way we meet eccentrics, gangsters and musicians, read about “the Duchess of Argyll and the Headless Man polaroids” and visit Harry Nilsson”s cursed flat in which first Cass Elliott and then Keith Moon died, or take a look inside “the hippy squat at 144 Piccadilly”, which was guarded by a trio of fey looking Hell”s Angels.
The Smiths – Half A Person.mp3

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Oreo Cookie Blues

oreo_cookie_blues

I like a blog with great pictures and great music. One such blog is Dane”s All Eyes And Ears, which showcases her marvellous photography (which has influenced the way I look for subject matter in my own photographic endeavours) and fine music to illustrate the illustration. Oreo Cookie Blues is another fusion of sound and images, mostly photos taken by the blogger, from Toronto, himself. Some of the photos are utterly exquisite, and so is the music “” for all you Ring Of Fire cover needs, Oreo Cookie Blues” got “em. I must run the all-too obvious song dedication, of course. Any Minor Dude, now 14, recently told me that, when he was small, he thought I was the Cookie Monster because I sounded exactly like him when singing C Is For Cookie. But to compensate for the novelty value of a Sesame Street classic, I also offer an early girl-group soul classic (with a weird spoken bit) from 1956 by a group which we will soon encounter again in the Originals series.
Cookie Monster – C is for Cookie.mp3
The Cookies – In Paradise.mp3

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The Cheese Does Not Wear Me

cheese_does_not_wear_me

I remember my university days with some affection; so much so that when I visit the campus, as I do when I am showing overseas visitors around, I get agonisingly nostalgic. Perhaps I just feel reminded of my rapidly receding youth. So I read Liz”s blog of life on campus in Winnipeg, Canada, with a certain empathy. It helps that Liz (who frequently comments on this blog, for which I love her) is engaging and witty as she shares the minutae of college life. She is at her best when she directs her bile at her more brainless peers. Liz recently completed her Bachelor of Arts degree (hurrah!) and will leave the site of her brainless peers. Happily for us, she is not going to enter the world of gainful employment (other than a summer job), but will continue her studies, post-grad style, at the University of Minnesota, home state of at least three bloggers previously featured in this series. As we know from the film Fargo, Minnesota has its share of dim people, so Liz doubtless will find fertile grounds from which to reap instances of brainlessness on which to comment. In Purple Rain, the objectionable side of Minnesotans was represented by the gloriously preening Morris Day. This is one of the songs Day and his group (which once included future producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam) performed in the film. It’s outrageous!
Morris Day & the Time – The Bird.mp3

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Groover”s Paradise

groovers_paradise

I”m not certain I am convinced of the merits of collaborative blogs. Of course, the benefit of pooling expertise and talent is a potential consistency of quality, but somehow I miss the one-on-one relationship between blogger and reader. This is not intended to deprecate such blogs, of course. There are many whose fused work I admire. One of them is Groover”s Paradise, among whose contributors are the always wonderful Gentlebear and the very impressive Setting The Woods On Fire, one of my favourite site for classic country fixes. Groover”s Paradise styles itself as a place “where we celebrate our favorite 20th Century rock, country, and soul music”. Which is as good a description as I might come up with.
Peaches & Herb – Shake Your Groove Thing (Original 12″ Mix).mp3

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Geezer Music Club

geezer_music_club

The title stakes out this blog”s intended audiences: if you are looking for Kelly Clarkson”s latest single, you probably won”t find it here. And, just in case you need to be reassured that Kelly does not live here, it says: “A special place for SEASONED music lovers.” What one will find is thoughtfully selected music with well researched and written articles of just the right length (in other words, the Big Geez does not waffle as prodigiously as your present interlocutor). I”m not sure at what point one becomes a “seasoned” music lover; I suspect it has to do less with age but with the extent to which one has been immersed in music. Read this way, following this blog can ““ should ““ be inter-generational.
John Prine – Hello In There.mp3

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Beatles Anecdotes

beatles_anecdotes

Can one ever know enough about the Beatles? Beatles Anecdotes offers a fresh nugget of information every day. That is quite an incredible effort: finding something to post, writing it up, logging in, posting”¦every day. That is dedication. And the information is very entertaining indeed. I didn”t know that Lovely Rita, the meter maid, was a real person called, of all things, Meta, whom McCartney met in St John”s Wood (and 20 years later didn”t recognise even after hearing her name). And I didn”t know that John Lennon gave the band Hot Chocolate their name, or that Ringo was briefly a Beach Boy. And here”s the kicker, all three nuggets of extravagant trivia appeared on consecutive days. This is a blog to visit for a daily fix of trivia, and to dip into the archives on a slow day. In tribute, José Feliciano”s fantastic live acoustic version of A Day In The Life from his 1969 Alive Alive-o! Live At London Palladium album (another vinyl rip of mine).
Jos̩ Feliciano РA Day In The Life.mp3

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Number One In Heaven

number_one_in_heaven

And finally not a blog, but those who dabble on Facebook will find at least one group very useful indeed: Number One In Heaven sends out monthly messages notifying subscribers of the latest deaths in the world of pop. I did not know that soul songstress Viola Wills and former Delfonic Randy Cain had died until I received my update earlier this week. The group promotes Jeremy Simmonds book Number One in Heaven: The Heroes Who Died for Rock ‘n’ Roll (retitled in the US The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns and Ham Sandwiches). I haven”t read it yet (seeing as I live in a backwater where the music section in even the best bookshops offers a range of a dozen books, half of them about U2 and Nirvana, and Amazon don”t deliver to South Africa), but it looks like a fantastic work. The reviews certainly seem to suggest so.

And while you are on Facebook, become this blog”s friend (it”s OK, you won”t go to Guantanamo Bay for being friends with something called Amd Whah any longer). Apart from being alerted to new posts ““ and sometimes posts I”m working on ““ you”ll also learn such fascinating things about me as which West Wing character I am, my five favourite brands of ketchup and how well (or not) I perform in quizzes about Pauly Shore”s cinematic artistry. The sort of stuff that will enrich your reading experiences of Any Major Dude With Half A Heart. The song dedication is a bit obvious, though the song belongs in every collection that reserves a special place for spectacularly bad songs, such as this glorious cash-in on the death of Elvis, released within a couple of weeks of 16 August 1977.
Danny Mirror – I Remember Elvis Presley.mp3 (reuploaded)

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Previously featured in Music for Bloggers

Longing for love

February 13th, 2009 5 comments

Is it better to have love and lost than never to have loved? There aren”t many songs about yearning for love. So, as decided by a staw-poll on my Facebook page (become my friend here), for Valentine”s Day here is a collection of songs for those who have nobody to share the commercial feast with, or don”t have the bitterness of love lost, rejected or betrayed to commemorate on the day.

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The Smiths – How Soon Is Now.mp3
how-soon-is-nowThe Smiths canon is brimming with songs about Morrissey”s unlovability. He doesn”t even get rejected; he just can”t find the right person to reject him (and when a girl comes on to him, as one does in Never Had No One Ever, he can”t even get “sorrow”s native son” to rise to the occasion). How Soon Is Now is the anthem of these songs. Every person afflicted with shyness will probably identify with Morrissey”s sad disco tales: “There”s a club, if you”d like to go. You could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go, and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die.” Which more or less mirrors my juvenile experience, minus the crying and suicidal tendencies.

One day, when I was 19, some friends took me to Heaven, the great gay club in London. It wasn”t long before a very nice man timidly offered to buy me drink. I was flattered to be considered attractive enough to be targetted for a pull (and here is a collorary to the shyness: a lack of self-esteem) but declined politely. I thought what a displeasure it was to be a straight man in a city where the women in the clubs I went to were so stuck up when I wouldn”t even have to try to get laid if I was gay. What did not seem to occur to me was that the girls were probably not so much stuck-up as I was a victim of a shyness that was criminally vulgar which prevented me from actually approaching them. No wonder I couldn”t get laid.

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Richard Hawley – Coles Corner.mp3
coles-cornerLike Morrissey, Hawley is looking for company in bright, busy places, only to find nothing. “I”m going downtown where there”s music. I”m going where voices fill the air. Maybe there”s someone waitin” for me with a smile and a flower in her hair.” And with such hopes our hero puts on his best shoes and (as Kris Kristofferson would have it) his cleanest dirty shirt and heads to Coles Corner, apparently a popular hang-out in Sheffield. “I”m going downtown where there”s people. My loneliness hangs in the air, with no one there real waitin” for me, no smile, no flower, nowhere.” And so he”ll make his sad way home.

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Kevin Devine – Probably.mp3
Set in a train carriage, Kevin is admiring a fellow passenger, imagining her life (covering all the bases of contradiction): “You probably don”t wear your glasses but you probably need them to read, and you probably value your downtime and you probably don”t get much sleep, and you probably don”t like the movies but you probably go anyway, and you probably fight with your parents a lot when you feel like there”s nothing to say, and you probably don”t care for punk rock but you probably own Nevermind.” He thinks of chatting her up ““ “you probably don”t talk to strangers but you wish they”d talk to you all the time” ““ but either shyness or self-loathing preclude him from approaching her: “So I should probably say something to you, but I”d probably ruin it then. It”s best for us both if I keep my mouth shut and just stay on my side of the train.” It may well be his loss and hers. This is the far superior version from 2003″s “¦Travelling The EU EP.

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Hello Saferide – Loneliness Is Better When You”re Not Alone.mp3
hello-saferide_2Annika Norlin (for she is Hello Saferide) has nobody in her life, so she is looking to compensate for that with meaningless one-night stands, rationalising it with the statement of the song”s title. No strings attached. “I will be gone when you wake up. No awkward breakfasts, I swear. And don”t you look for me, because I could be anywhere ““ in someone else”s house, in someone else”s arms, with someone else to warm the pain away.” Her promiscuity is a band-aid for the sores of loneliness. She really would like closeness, to open up herself, not just her legs. “If I told you my stories and sang you my songs, would you laugh at me? Would you pity me? What would you say if I asked of you not out of accident, out of loneliness: would you shelter me? Will you shelter me?” And why does she not ask? Low self-esteem seems to be at play: “What can I ask of you? What would you want from me? What would you say if I just fell asleep?” Annika, there”s a club, if you”d like to go”¦

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Liz Phair – Fuck And Run.mp3
phairAnother song about promiscuity compensating for loneliness. She wakes up with a one-night stand guy and instantly has regrets, thinking: “Whatever happened to a boyfriend, the kind of guy who makes love cause he”s in it”¦ I want a boyfriend. I want all that stupid old shit like letters and sodas.” But it doesn”t seem that a boyfriend is on the cards (maybe Liz should look in the unrequited love section; loads of nice guys there), even when a one-night lover reaches out to her. She doesn”t want his pity. So, she concludes, “I”m gonna spend another year alone. It”s fuck and run, fuck and run.” But there is an alarming clue in the lyrics which might explain her disposition. “It’s fuck and run, fuck and run, even when I was 17. Fuck and run, fuck and run even when I was 12.” Does that suggest that she was abused, leading to these trust issues?

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John Prine – Aimless Love.mp3
in this 1984 song, Prine is singing about a sensitive soul, a guy who is suspicious of strangers and “a bit too gun shy to have his heart touched without a glove”. He really wants love to find him. Prine reminds him, and us: “Love has no mind. It can”t spell unkind. It”s never seen a heart shaped like a Valentine. For if love knew him. It”d walk up to him and introduce him to an aimless love.” In other words, open yourself up to let love in when you find it.

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Jay Brannan – Housewife.mp3
brannanIn an alternative riff on Audrey”s Somewhere That”s Green in Little Shop Of Horrors, Jay is describing a scene of domestic bliss (and great sex): “I”m making guacamole, he”s working on the car. When he grills turkey burgers he knows I like them charred. I like to wash the dishes, I like to scrub the floors, don”t mind doing his laundry, what are boyfriends for?” Yes, he wants to be a housewife. “What”s so wrong with that?” But, as it turns out, he”s not one yet. “Can”t wait to till he”s in my life, “cause we haven”t met.” (Read my interview with Jay)

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Colin Hay – Waiting For My Real Life To Begin.mp3
colin-hayAt first glance, this song (from Hay”s 2001 album Going Somewhere; one of three versions) might not belong in this series, but I think it has a place, and right here. The singer has a girl, but she”s obviously not what he really wants. He”s holding out for a better life which does not seem to include her. Indeed, even now, she is peripheral. “And you say: “˜Be still my love, open up your heart, let the light shine in.” Don”t you understand I already have a plan, I”m waiting for my real life to begin.” It seems to me that our friend could be in depression, vainly holding out for a better future “” “Let me throw one more dice, I know that I can win” “” and in the process is unable to return the love offered by his current partner. Which is really just as tragic as Morrissey”s shyness, Annika”s and Liz”s promiscuity, and Kevin”s lack of self-confidence.

Previously in this series:
Love Hurts
Unrequited Love
Being in love (Any Major Love Mix)

More songs about love

Any Major Love Mix 2009

February 10th, 2009 11 comments

Amid all the heartbreak and unrequited love (with lovelessness and death still to come) we are looking at this month, we need a respite from the gloomy tears and instead frolic in the calm waters of true love reciprocated “” which in itself, as some of the lyrics here suggest, is a source of anxiety and uncertainty. And, well, perhaps some lucky person might need a decent mix for Valentine”s Day which does not include the unlovely horrors perpetrated by Chris DeBurgh, Jennifer Rush, Peabo Bryson, Céline Dion, Engelbert Humperdinck, Stevie Wonder and, of course, Michael Bublé ““ and who prefer to do without “edgy” comps featuring the love musings of Coldplay, U2, Avril Lavigne and James Blunt. As always, the mix is timed to fit on a CD-R. It might be a good alternative to an overpriced VD card (and if anybody tries that, please let me know if it was a good idea).

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1. Donny Hathaway – A Song For You (1971)
You taught me precious secrets of the truth withholding nothing, you came out in front and I was hiding. But now I’m so much better and if my words don”t come together, listen to the melody, “cause my love is in there hiding.

2. Carpenters – I Won”t Last A Day Without You (1972)
When there”s no gettin” over that rainbow, when my smallest of dreams won”t come true, I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I won”t last a day without you.

3. Ben Kweller – Sundress (2006)
I don”t need a smile from a mannequin, I just want to hold you in my hands. I do everything you want me to”¦for you.

4. The Weepies – Happiness (2004)
Friday 13, lights go red, green, in a coffee shop. I”m giving you the look while someone else is fingering your wallet in my pocketbook. It”s a mean town, but I don”t care. Try and steal this! Can”t steal happiness.

5. Mindy Smith ““ Falling (2004)
When I”ve almost had enough, something about you draws me back again. When I”ve almost given up, something about you pulls me in. And we”re falling”¦

6. John Prine with Iris Dement – In Spite Of Ourselves (1999)
She thinks all my jokes are corny, convict movies make her horny. She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs, swears like a sailor when shaves her legs. She takes a lickin” and keeps on tickin”. I”m never gonna let her go.

7. Moldy Peaches – Anyone Else But You (2001)
Here is the church and here is the steeple, we sure are cute for two ugly people, I don”t see what anyone can see in anyone else but you.

8. Simone White – The Beep Beep Song (2007)
(Yeah, the one from the Audi commercial) Despite all the warnings I landed like a fallen star in your arms.

9. Curtis Mayfield – So In Love (1975)
This love affair is bigger than we two. Lose our faith and it will swallow you. Loving you is what I”ll always feel, never ever doing things against our will. Loving means, never require any kind of test “¦ Ya got me so in love.

10. Aretha Franklin – Baby I Love You (1967)
If you want my lovin”, if you really do, don”t be afraid, baby. Just ask me, you know I”m gonna give it to you. Oh, and I do declare: I want to see you with it. Stretch out your arms, little boy, you”re gonna get it ““ “cause I love you.

11. Ron Sexsmith ““ Never Give Up On You (2006)
I”d never give up on you because I know you”d do the same for me. Never give up on you because you take me as I am, how I”ll always be.

12. Mary Chapin Carpenter – Grow Old With Me (1999)
Grow old along with me. Two branches of one tree face the setting sun when the day is done. God bless our love. (Beautifully sung by Carpenter, the real poignancy of this song derives from its authorship: written and demoed by John Lennon shortly before his murder in December 1980, it first appeared on his posthumous Milk And Honey album)

13. Tom Waits – Falling Down (1988)
For she loves you for all that you are not “¦You forget all the roses, don”t come around on Sunday. She”s not gonna choose you for standing so tall; go on and take a swig of that poison and like it.

14. Alexi Murdoch – Love You More (2006)
Love you more than anyone. Love you more than anyone. Love you more in time to come. Love you more. (That”s the complete lyric”¦)

15. Finley Quaye ““ Dice (2003)
I was crying over you. I am smiling, I think of you. Misty morning and water falls, breathe in the air if you care, you compare, don”t say farewell. Nothing can compare to when you roll the dice and swear your love”s for me.

16. Dexys Midnight Runners – This Is What She”s Like (1985)
“Well how did all this happen?” “Just all at once really. The Italians have a word for it.” “What word what is it?” “A thunderbolt or something.” “What, you mean the Italian word for thunderbolt?” “Yeah, something like that. I don”t speak Italian myself you understand?” “No.” “But I knew a man who did. Well, that”s my story. The strongest thing I”ve ever seen.” (Single version)

17. The Cure ““ Lovesong (1989)
Whenever I”m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again. Whenever I”m alone with you , you make me feel like I am whole again. Whenever I”m alone with you, you make me feel like I am young again. Whenever I”m alone with you, you make me feel like I am fun again.

18. Jens Lekman – I Saw Her In The Anti-War Demonstration (2004)
And the skies were clear blue skies, and her eyes were clear blue eyes, and her thighs were about the same size as mine, and we were walking in the anti-war demonstration; it was a sweet sensation of love.

19. Kacy Crowley ““ Kind Of Perfect (2004)
The last few years have been much harder than we ever thought they”d be. I know you hate it when I say I”m sorry, but I”m sorry. There was never a point in our love that I didn”t love you; not a point in our love. I always did, I always will, I always do, love you still, I always would, how could I not? Just look at us baby, we”re kind of perfect.

20. Joshua Radin – The Fear You Won”t Fall (2007)
I know you”re scared that I”ll soon be over it. That”s part of it all, part of the beauty of falling in love with you is the fear you won”t fall.

21. Nina Kinert – Through Your Eyes (2004)
All the time I stood here holding dandylions and chocolate for you. Tumbleweeds and fireworks go by. It”s hard to keep them still for you to see, nut you know that I try. I want to see you watching what I see, now that you”re mine, through your eyes.

22. Sarah Bettens ““ Grey (2005)
Will you be my everything? Maybe just this time we can really think that I am yours and you are mine; I am yours and you are mine…

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More songs about love

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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