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Step back to 1980 – Part 4

April 26th, 2012 5 comments

I have a few specific memories of the final quarter of 1980, but one stands out, as it probably does for most western teenagers growing up in 1980. On 9 December the radio alarm clock went off. I was just rising when the announcer said that John Lennon had been shot dead while we were sleeping. On my turntable was the second LP from The Beatles 1967-70 collection, which I had listened to, for the first time in a long while, just the previous evening, when Lennon was still alive. That bitterly cold morning at school my fellow Beatles fan Thorsten and I were greeted by our more cynical mates with “congratulations” on the death of John Lennon. For Thorsten and me, and probably millions others, the next few months were our generation”s version of Beatlemania. I quickly completed my collection of Beatles LPs, buying a few on a post-Christmas holiday in Greece, and the US releases on Japanese pressings.

 

Robert Palmer – Johnny & Mary.mp3
I had been a bit of a Robert Palmer fan, so I was quite excited by Johnny & Mary, a song that bought into the nascent New Wave Zeitgeist, with its liberal use of the synth and Palmer”s cool lyrics. Remember that Visage, Human League and Ultravox had not yet had their synth-based hits; these would come in 1981. So Johnny And Mary sounded quite exciting at the time. Moreover, the song has no chorus, which was rare in 1980 (and still is), and the vocals are delivered in a laconic monotone, which was also unusual in pop. On strength of Johnny & Mary, Palmers Clues album made it on to my Christmas wishlist of LPs. And when I opened my gifts at Christmas, it was among them. Listening to it I had the sinking feeling one gets when the lead single is the only really good track on an LP. Palmer totally lost me a few years later with his Addicted To Love, a song with an over-praised sexist video which I still despise.

Kate Bush ““ Army Dreamers.mp3
Kate Bush”s Never For Ever album was also in that bunch of Christmas present LPs. I loved lead single Babooshka, with its sound of breaking glass that was created by a synthesizer, but I had real affection for Army Dreamers, a song that didn”t get as much attention as Babooshka. Of course, I had recorded both off the radio. I was politically engaged, and naturally opposed to all things military (I didn”t even like war movies), so an anti-martial song appealed to me, especially one with an unusual waltz tempo. I didn”t know the promo video for the song yet, but it seems to have made quite an impact at the time. It is indeed striking. That thing she does with her eyes is particularly good. (HERE)    *

Bots ““ Sieben Tage Lang.mp3
Bots was a Dutch folk-rock group of the left-wing protest song variety. Their Sieben Tage Lang was a hit, of sorts, in West Germany in 1980, a cover of their Dutch original from 1976 which in turn was based on the traditional Breton drinking song Son ar Chistr which in 1971 was a minor hit for the harpist Alan Stivell. The drum beat is martial, and the lyrics offer a vision of socialist revolution.

The German lyrics were co-written by the investigative journalist Günter Wallraff, who by reputation is Germany”s equivalent of Michael Moore, but without the populist polemic. Wallraff made a name for himself in the 1970s by infiltrating the mass-circulation Bild daily newspaper, a reactionary rag that trades in sensation, gossip, tits and sports. It would not be unfair to say that Bild“s ethics, at least in the 1970s and “80s, were on the level of those now exposed in Rupert Murdoch”s media empire; perhaps even worse. The newspaper cheerfully destroyed lives with lies. It was widely called “das Lügenblatt” (the rag of lies). Wallraff exposed all that.

Co-writing the German lyrics with Wallraff was one Lerryn, the pseudonym of leftist songwriter and manager Dieter Dehm. After the reunification of Germany it was alleged that Dehm had reported to East Germany”s secret service, the Stasi, on the activities of another leftist songwriter, Wolf Biermann (stepfather of Nina Hagen), before the communist regime expelled Biermann from the GDR. Dehm denies having spied for the Stasi.

Paul Simon – Late In The Evening (YouTube live clip)
Paul Simon”s One Trick Pony LP was another Christmas present LP which I had wanted on strength of a great lead single and never really enjoyed. Which means that the album title is quite ironic itself “” it had only one trick. Ah, but what a trick. It has a casual drug reference, which didn”t get the song banned! The fantastic Latin horn part was arranged by Dave Grusin, who did the instrumental score for the soundtrack for The Graduate, which Simon & Garfunkel had significantly contributed to.  And check out the exquisite drumming by Steve Gadd. Then there are the masterful percussions of Ralph MacDonald, who died in December, and the guitar work of the late Eric Gale. And on backing vocals is Lani Groves, who sang the opening verse of Stevie Wonder”s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life with Jim Gilstrap. (The MP3 file was found and zapped before the post was even up. Hence the YouTube clip.)

Air Supply – All Out Of Love.mp3
I always stress that in this series, the songs are chosen because they have the power to transport me back to the time when they came out, not because I endorse them. This one can in an instance recreate in me that nagging teenage feeling in the stomach, the desire for romance, and the smell of my bedroom. I don”t really want to endorse the song; on the contrary, I want to hate it as the spineless power ballad it really is. And still ““ and I don”t know if it is the nostalgia for an unhappy youth or my advancing age ““ listening to it as I”m writing this, I rather enjoy it. So much so, that I”ll play it again. But then, I have previously publicly defended Chicago”s If You Leave Me Now, an act that has earned me some derision, so I might as well confess my (no longer) secret affection for wimpy power ballads.

Karat – Ãœber sieben Brücken mußt du gehn.mp3
On my family”s periodic visits to East Germany, I would try and satisfy my record-buying impulse by purchasing albums by local rock bands. It was also a good way of spending East German marks, which was quite challenge in a country which did not go in for quality consumer goods. You couldn”t even buy a replica Dynamo Dresden football shirt (just as you couldn”t buy a Dukla Prague away shirt in Czechoslovakia; though you could do so from western mail order companies). And that”s how I came to own LPs by the likes of City and the Puhdys. I never really listened to them. But the biggest East German band, Karat, had passed me by until they suddenly had a hit in West Germany with Ãœber sieben Brücken mußt du gehn (You”ll have to cross seven bridges). The rather lovely prog-rock ballad, originally released in East Germany in 1978, was covered by Peter Maffay, one of West Germany”s biggest stars who styled himself (and still does) as a bit of an outlaw. Maffay had the bigger hit with it, but in the slipstream of his version”s success, Karat”s original received much radio airplay (by East German law they were not allowed to appear on West German TV). I preferred the Karat version.

David Bowie – Up The Hill Backwards.mp3
Here”s another Christmas present album, which made my wishlist on strength of Ashes To Ashes and the even more fabulous Fashion. Unlike the LPs by Palmer and Simon, I liked the Scary Monsters LP a lot, and I particularly loved Up The Hill Backwards with its anthemic vocals, Robert Fripp”s crazy guitars and the staccato drumming. Bruce Springsteen”s piano man Roy Bittan did ivory tinkling duty here, as he did on Ashes To Ashes and Teenage Wildlife, and the album”s co-producer, Tony Visconti played the acoustic guitar. Up The Hill Backwards was released as the album”s fourth single in Britain. It stalled at #32, not entirely surprisingly, because it is not really commercial.

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More Stepping Back

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Singing actors – Vol. 2

June 1st, 2008 7 comments

I am feeling a little guilty: among the many nice comments I”ve received over the past week was one expressing regret that I don”t update this blog more frequently. I think the average rate is a new post every 3-4 days; but just this past week I have been unusually busy at work trying to squeeze into one week what I normally do in three or four (and next week looks no better). So, after a little of what Germans would call Funkstille, here”s the second volume of singing actors.


Tim Curry – I Do The Rock
Tim Curry was the first non-footballing famous person I had ever met when in 1985 he patronised a restaurant I was working in on Fulham Road in Chelsea, London. Somebody alerted the owner, an overweight 80-year-old Australian queen whom we nicknamed Mr Magoo on account of his obliviousness to everything. So Mr Magoo waddled over to Mr Curry”s table, stared at him for a bit while visible rolling his tongue, and then observed: “So, you are famous, eh.” Mr Curry with much grace acknowledged that he indeed had a certain celebrity status. Mr Magoo then turned on his heels and walked away. After that, I was too embarrassed to tell Mr Curry that “I Do The Rock” was a favourite song of mine when I was 13. Which I probably wouldn’t have done anyway.

Lee Marvin – Wandrin’ Star
Clint Eastwood – I Talk To The Trees
Both songs come from the same Western-Musical, 1969″s Paint Your Wagon. The movie was an adaptation from the 1950s musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, who probably did not have Lee Marvin in mind when they wrote the songs. Marvin”s deep growl, now iconic, served to make Wandrin” Star a massive hit. I suspect that if you played the single on LP speed, Wandrin” Star would sound positively satanic.

Knowing Clint Eastwood and his superglued teeth (he always speaks through clenched jaws, doesn’t he? Has anyone ever seen his tongue?), one might expect his showpiece to be as rough as Lee Marvin’s. Clint, however, was quite a decent singer with a light touch. Indeed, when he was a cowboy in the TV series Rawhide, he cashed in on his celebrity by releasing an album of country songs. Eastwood turned 78 yesterday, incidentally.

Lorne Greene ““ Ringo
Just as Clint took inspiration from his Western TV show, so did Lorne Greene from his. Greene, of course, presided over the Ponderosa as the Dad in Bonanza (in real life, Greene was just 13 years older than Hoss and Adam). Some songs, like Ringo (not an ode to the drummer), were cowboy stuff, but Greene also tried his hands at the standards (his take on As Time Goes By was an alternate contender for this slot). Apparently it was Lorne Greene who, as an announcer on Canadian state radio, announced to his compatriots that their country had just entered World War II, earning him the nickname “The Voice of Doom”.

Yves Montand – Les Feuilles Mortes
Is Yves Montand known better as an actor or as a singer? Perhaps how one regards Montand”s primary field of artistry depends on how much classic French cinema one watches. Certainly, Montand was a singer first, during his affair with Edith Piaf. Les Feuilles Mortes is the original of the standard known in the anglophone world as Autumn Leaves. Originally it was a poem by Jacques Prévert, the Parisian pal of Sartre and de Beauvoir. The composer Joseph Kosma later added the intricate melody. It was used in Yves Montand”s debut movie, though he didn”t sing it. Montand nevertheless would include it in his repertoire, and it became his most popular song — and, indeed, his song. Listen to this version to hear all that which was excised by those who turned the song into Autumn Leaves.

Telly Savalas ““ If
There is a series of albums that came out in the ’80s and ’90s called Golden Throats. Kojak features on one of them with a version of Johnny Cash”s I Walk The Line. The same album kicks off with Leonard Nimoy”s version, as if to set up a duel of horribleness. Nimoy does not stand a chance as Savalas rapes and pillages the song. He obviously didn”t love it, baby. Much better then to include Telly”s chart-topping cover version of the Bread hit, in which (unlike I Walk The Line) he actually speaks. I must confess that here I prefer Savalas” take over the original.

Rick Moranis & Ellen Greene – Suddenly, Seymour
It may be cheating to include in this series a performance from a movie, but a few call for inclusion. Rick Moranis ““ whatever happened to him anyway? ““ shows in this showstopper from the criminally underrated Little Shop Of Horrors (1986) that he is a pretty good singer. Ellen Greene starts off singing in her breathy, lispy Audrey voice before hitting the big notes like the star of stage she is. Attentive TV viewers will know that Greene now appears on TV, in the rather sweet series Pushing Daisies.

Mandy Patinkin – Me And My Shadow
Another star better known for his work on the boards than on celluloid. This song combines two of my favourite moments in popular culture: the song which in its version by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr features in my list of great cheer-up music, and Mandy Patinkin”s turn in The Princess Bride (in which he looks like he modelled himself on Arpad the gypsy from the popular 1970s TV series on German TV) in which he uttered the immortal line: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father; prepare to die” before he kills the six-fingered Count Rugen.

Christopher Walker & John Travolta – (You’re) Timeless To Me
While we know that the smug Scientologist has dabbled in singing (who can forget that weird note he strikes at the end of Summer Nights), but one does not immediately associate the stock villain Christopher Walken with exploits of the larynx. Yet here he is in this showstopper from Hairspray. What is not widely known is that Walken was a child star who appeared on 1950s US television variety shows. He is also a very good dancer, as he has occasionally proved in films (and on that astonishing Fat Boy Slim video). That knowledge rather diminishes the menace he can so convincingly convey when cast as the bad guy.

Betty Hutton – Blow A Fuse (It’s Oh So Quiet)
Hands up those who thought Bjork”s It”s Oh So Quiet was an original composition. It was in fact first recorded under the title Blow A Fuse by Betty Hutton in 1948. Hutton, who died a year or so ago, had a crazy singing style anyway (listen to her as Annie Oakley proclaiming that you can”t get a man with a gun, which are indeed wise words). Bjork did not inject much cookiness into her version which Hutton hadn”t already displayed in the original.

Danny Aiello & Bruce Willis – Side By Side
A few years ago, Aiello released an album of Big Band type standards. On evidence of this song from the megaflop movie Hudson Hawk, it probably was quite good. Our man, a very fine actor, can sing. Unfortunately, Bruce Willis can neither act nor sing, but has persuaded himself that he”s a deft hand in both disciplines ““ and the stupid record buyers of the 1980s even handed him a couple of hits which now presumably are used on Gitmo as a means of aural torture. While Aiello is sure footed in this swing number, Willis approaches it as a karaoke singer who has consumed an excess of Rat Pack recordings. Aiello may be no Frank Sinatra, but Willis is not even a Robbie Williams.

George Burns – Fixing A Hole
I had hoped to locate Burns” fabled version of With A Little Help From My Friends (which features on a Golden Throats album I don”t have). Instead, here the old coot is doing injury to another song from Sgt Pepper”s, from the ill-advised movie by that name featuring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. Having heard the assault on the Beatles conducted by the cast of Across The Universe (and contributors like bloody Bono; singing, obviously, I Am The Walrus), it must be regarded as axiomatic that nobody should ever cover Beatles songs unless they are as talented as the Fab Four. On the Sgt Pepper”s soundtrack, there is the glorious exception of Earth, Wind & Fire”s cover of Got To Get You Into My Life, which eclipses the original (a bit like Stevie Wonder”s We Can Work It Out is better than the Beatles” version). George Burns, on the other hand, proves that even with 100 years of showbiz experience, you can still fuck it up big-time.

Mae West – Twist And Shout
Like Burns, so did Mae West try her hands at covering the Beatles and other rock stars in old age. On her superbly titled but awfully conceived Way Out West album, Mae has lots of fun. She changes lyrics when she can”t be bothered to remember them, she misses the right pitch in a bid do outdo the legendary Mrs Miller. West”s version of Twist And Shout is”¦remarkable (I was going to post her take on Light My Fire, but then decided to include a real jawdropper). At first the actress, then a sprightly 73, warbles the tune in a brave bid to hit the higher notes. At one point you can almost hear her groovin” to the beat. Still, she doesn”t attempt the ah-aaah-aaah-aaaah part, instead simulating what appears to be an orgasm. Which may be appealing if you”re a gerontophile. Come up and see me some time? Only if you don”t sing, ducky.

Steve Martin – King Tut
I thought of including Martin”s star turn in Little Shop Of Horrors as the dentist, but that works better if one watches his kerrazy moves as the dementedly sadist mama”s boy. Besides, that fine film already has featured here. So instead, here”s the man”s kerrazy song from his 1978 comedy album A Wild And Crazy Guy (or, indeed, kerrazy guy). King Tut could have won a Grammy, apparently. At what point did Steve Martin take the turn down the Robin Williams Avenue of Sentimentality? I think it was when he played the fireman with the long nose in the American adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, which was quite good, but made Martin realise his soppy side.


Pam Grier – Long Time Woman
Back to the serious stuff. Pam Grier made something of a comeback as a headliner when she appeared as the eponymous Jackie Brown in Tarantino”s 1997 movie. In the 70s she was the queen of blaxploitation movies, most notably as Foxy Brown and Coffy. Lately she has appeared on TV in The L-Word. Long Time Woman featured in 1971″s The Doll House, in which Grier played a prisoner. As in all her films, she was out for revenge, like a prettier and certainly sexier version of Charles Bronson. “My name is Coffy, you killed my husband; prepare to die.”

Nicolas Cage – Love Me Tender
Nicolas Cage has two things going for himself: his career has been a zillion times more successful than his modest talent should have allowed for, and as a huge Elvis fan, he acquired the ultimate Presley memorabilia when he married Lisa-Marie (you won”t believe this, but the marriage didn”t last). Before getting close and sweaty with 50% pure Elvis genes, Nic had to do with just crooning his idol”s hits. He did so with Love Me Tender in Wild At Heart, a rare thing in that it is a movie starring Nicolas Cage which can be described as both quite good and not destroyed by its lead actor”s one-dimensional mediocrity. Unlike his rendition of Love Me Tender.

30 Odd Foot Of Grunt (ft Russell Crowe) – What You Want Me To Forget
Russell Crowe, eh? Better actor than Nicolas Cage and sings his own material. Which does not mean you actually want to see his movies (they tend to be cheerless affairs) or listen to his music. Crowe certainly channels Michael Hutchence, yet the title of this song just teases you to offer the most obvious response.

Robert Downey Jr. – Your Move
The man could have been Cary Grant reincarnated as Johnny Depp. Charm, cool, style, a prodigious talent. And he fucked it all up. He got himself fired from Ally McBeal, for crying out loud, a show which required its actors to teeter on the verge of insanity to make it possible for them to act out those stupid storylines. Remember The Biscuit? Most annoying TV character ever. But now Downey is back, a hot cult property, the man who survived heroin hell and incarceration with coolness intact et cetera. Give it a couple of years, and Oscar presenters will point to Downey, flanked by Clooney and Nicholson, trading in hilarious one-liner as our hero gurns, wiggles his sunglasses and gives a saluting wave. This song comes from Bob Junior”s 2004 album, The Futurist. On evidence of this song, it is almost sad to observe that the album must have been an unremarkable middle of the road affair, proving that Downey is no Crispin Glover.

Minnie Driver – Hungry Heart
Minnie Driver”s version of Hungry Heart is her 2004 album”s most memorable song. But only because we already knew it. And because Minnie Driver forgot to change the reference to having “a wife and kid in Baltimore, Jack”. So bereft of energy is Minnie Driver”s rendition, by that point Jack had already drifted off.

Catherine Deneuve – Overseas Telegram
I got this from Jack S, and to him you”ll owe this very fine Serge Gainsbourg song (if you download this mix, obviously). In Volume 1 I included the Je”taime”¦ sexual intercourse soundtrack number which was originally recorded by Brigitte Bardot, and then covered by Jane Birkin. Guess what: two years after Overseas Telegram appeared on what I think is Deneuve”s only album, it was recorded by”¦Jane Birkin.

Goldie Hawn – I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
A real WTF moment here. In 1972 Goldie Hawn recorded an album of country music, titled simply Goldie (for that”s her name. Not a stage name. Her birth name actually is Goldie Jean Hawn). She got some of the greats working with her: Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Buck Owens, Nick De Caro. And when you are backed by such a class of musicians, and by the Buckaroos, you might fancy the odds of conquering a Bob Dylan track, especially since it is as country a song as Dylan ever wrote. Goldie, looking like Brigitte Bardot on the cover, gets through the first verse fairly unscathed. She starts to struggle with the chorus, then evidently downs a few bottles of cheap bourbon to muster courage (and perhaps do a little method acting to suit the lyrics), and sounds sloshed for the rest of the song. The diction goes, the voice falters and rises, the emotions are in all the wrong places”¦

Rowan Atkinson & Kate Bush – Do Bears
Long before he became insufferable as Mr Bean, Atkinson was one of the funniest men around. For the Comic Relief shows in London in April 1986, Atkinson went into slimeball Vegas star mode, persuasively so with big glasses and barstool. He was joined in his duet by the lovely Kate Bush. On the Comic Relief video it is apparent that Rowan & Kate were miming the song when Atkinson forgets to “sing” the falsetto “sha-la-la-la-la-la..”. A raised eyebrow of acknowledgment communicates the hope that nobody noticed. Two decades later, the lapse is still being discussed on blogs. Forgive the clicks and pops on this version: I”ve tried to clean it up as much as I could”¦


Merv Griffin – Tumbling Tumbleweeds
It amazes me that anyone thought it was a good idea to release atonal aural assault. The saxophone riff makes the listener dizzy, the backing vocals make the listener nauseous, and Merv’s off-pitch singing will drive the listener to the bottle (at which point the listener might join Goldie Hawn in a rendition of a Bob Dylan medley).


William Shatner – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
We began this two-parter with Shatner speaking a song, and we might as well use Capt”n Kirk as a handy bookend. His interpretation of the Beatles track is an all-time novelty classic, though it is doubtful that Shatner intended it as such (his Mr Tambourine Man certainly suggests that he was dead serious in his artistry. Find that and listen to his closing scream for the titular character). But, my, what a wondrous journey Shatner guides us through. The highlights are many, but I particularly like the way he first unaccountably shouts the word “girl” and later moans it. The album this comes from, 1968’s The Transformed Man, is often derided as some sort of unlistenable wreck. It is actually quite engaging. On six tracks, Shatner soliloquises dramatically from Shakespeare before launching into pop hits of the day. The combination of technical excellence, pompous artistry and crazy audacity (or audacious craziness, as on Lucy) is impressive.

TRACKLISTING
1. Tim Curry – I Do The Rock
2. Lee Marvin – Wandrin’ Star
3. Clint Eastwood – I Talk To The Trees
4. Lorne Greene – Ringo
5. Yves Montand – Les Feuilles Mortes
6. Telly Savalas – If
7. Rick Moranis & Ellen Greene – Suddenly, Seymour
8. Mandy Patinkin – Me And My Shadow
9. Christopher Walker & John Travolta – (You’re) Timeless to Me
10. Betty Hutton – Blow A Fuse (It’s Oh So Quiet)
11. Danny Aiello & Bruce Willis – Side By Side
12. George Burns – Fixing A Hole
13. Mae West – Twist And Shout
14. Steve Martin – King Tut
15. Pam Grier – Long Time Woman
16. Nicolas Cage – Love Me Tender
17. 30 Odd Foot Of Grunt (ft Russell Crowe) – What You Want Me To Forget
18. Robert Downey Jr. – Your Move
19. Minnie Driver – Hungry Heart
20. Catherine Deneuve – Overseas Telegram
21. Goldie Hawn – I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
22. Rowan Atkinson & Kate Bush – Do Bears…
23. Merv Griffin – Tumbling Tumbleweeds
24. William Shatner – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

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