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Bouncing back

May 14th, 2010 5 comments

I will hardly reveal myself as the music blogosphere”s slightly less ugly version of Dr Phil when I observe that people recover from the end of serious relationships in very different ways. In this series of songs about love we have looked at various themes, including splitting up. Here we look at how protagonists in ten songs have bounced back, or not, from the death of a liaison.

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Skeeter Davis ““ Gonna Get Along Without You Now (1964).mp3

Well, it”s easier to bounce back when our ex was a bit of a bounder. Look at the ex of Skeeter (or Teresa Brewer or Viola Wills or lately She & Him): one minute he proposes marriage, the next he”s running around “with every girl in town”, masking his two-timing ways by telling everybody that he and Skeeter are just friends. Who needs that? Not Skeeter (or Teresa or Viola or She). “I got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now.” And the philosophical lack of concern is followed by the triumphant zinger: “Thought I”d find somebody who is twice as cute , “cause I didn’t like you anyhow.” Bouncebackability score: 10/10

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Ben Folds ““ Landed (Strings version) (2005).mp3
Ben got out of the clutches of a controlling woman (as he tells it anyway). He and the ex moved to the West Coast, and separated from their old social circle. She seems have bullied Ben: “She liked to push me and talk me back down till I believed I was the crazy one. And in a way I guess I was.” She controlled access to him, so when people phoned, she”d not convey the message. Now he has walked out “” “down comes the reign of the telephone tsar” “” and it”s okay to call him. He”s ready to resume his old life, if that is possible: “And if you wrote me off, I”d understand it. “Cause I’ve been on some other planet. So come pick me up, I”ve landed” “” from that “other planet” and from the West Coast. Bouncebackability score: 9/10

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Kris Kristofferson ““ From The Bottle To The Bottom (1969).mp3
Sometimes there is no bounce-back. Whatever solace there can be derived emanates from those friends in low places: Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels. So it is here. Being asked whether he is happy apparently is bitter a joke. Or at least, “happy” is a concept that needs to be clearly defined before the question is posed. “It seems that since I”ve seen you last I done forgot the meaning of the word. If happiness is empty rooms and drinkin” in the afternoon, well, I suppose I”m happy as a clam. But if it”s got a thing to do with smilin” or forgettin” you, well, I don”t guess that I could say I am.” Happy, that is. Freedom, eh? Living the dream? Not so much: “There”s no one here to carry on if I stay out the whole night long, or give a tinker”s damn if I don”t call. I”m livin” like I wanted to, and doin” things I wanna do, and nothin” means a thing to me at all.” So we might think that Kris is not doing well. In fact, he”s doing worse.

How”s this for being down: “Did you ever see a down and outer waking up alone without a blanket on to keep him from the dew, when the water from the weeds has soaked the paper he”s been puttin” in his shoes to keep the ground from comin’ through, and his future feels as empty as the pocket in his pants because he”s never seen a single dream come true? That”s the way that I”ve been feelin” since the day I started falling from the bottle to the bottom, stool by stool.” He”s lost that bouncing feeling… Bouncebackability score: 1/10

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Rilo Kiley ““ The Execution Of All Things (2002).mp3
There”s no post break-up messing around here: the now defunct relationship must be snuffed out. The split was humiliating to her, as we learn in the first verse, and her business now is to get over that. “Oh god, come quickly, the execution of all things. Let”s start with the bears and the air and mountains, rivers, and streams. Then we”ll murder what matters to you and move on to your neighbours and kids. Crush all hopes of happiness with disease “cause of what you did.” So pretty much a scorched earth policy. And that comes laced with a bit of vengeful anticipation: “And lastly, you”re all alone with nothing left but sleep. But sleep never comes to you; it”s just the guilt and forever wakefulness of the weak.” Bouncebackability score: 7/10

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Damien Rice ““ The Blower”s Daughter (2002).mp3
Here”s a guy not about to bounce back from what might be a broken relationship, unrequited love, unstated love, impossible love. Pretty much a love that has fucked over somebody to whom things tend to come fairly easy. He”s still obsessed: “I can”t take my eyes off of you”. Lisa Hannigan, giving voice the titular blower”s daughter, tries to calm him, pointing out that she didn”t say she loathes him, as he apparently thinks she does. Upshot is that much as he feels like hating her, he doesn”t. So he won”t keep his mind off her, “till I find somebody new”. So there”s hope for the bounce-back yet from whatever love our friend is suffering. Bouncebackability score: 3/10

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Marit Larsen ““ Only A Fool (2006).mp3
Marit”s boyfriend (or perhaps husband; a ring changed hands and unspecified vows were made) betrayed her, and now she has dumped the chump. Our Norwegian songbird has “been changing after what you put me through; there is just no way that I”ll be coming home to you”. She thinks she”d be a bit of an idiot to do so, as she notes with admirable forthrightness in the chorus: “Only a fool would do this again. Only a fool would let you back in. There is no you left to embrace, there is no word would make it feel safe.” Her naive trust was broken, and that must have hurt. But she”s in a better place than her apparently pleading ex: “It feels good here, better than you know. Isn”t it only fair that you try and let it go?”
Bouncebackability score: 10/10

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Mazzy Starr ““ Halah (1990).mp3
Sometimes you need closure before bouncing back. Hope Sandoval, Mazzy Starr”s singer, is still looking for that. Instead, there is a lot of confusion. “It”s like I told you, I”m over you somehow.” Well, that is good. But what”s this? “Before I close the door I need to hear you say goodbye.” Ah, not so much over it then. “Baby won”t you change your mind?” And that awful obstacle to closure and bounce-back: hope. The ex owes Sandoval an explanation which she won”t receive. So there won”t be closure any time soon. Bouncebackability score: 2/10

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Ricky Peterson ““ Livin” It Up (1990).mp3
The song has featured in the songs about love series before, in Bill LaBounty”s original version (though that link is dead. The song is on this mix). Here jazz singer Ricky Peterson is giving vocals to the anthem for the false bounce-back. Our friend admits that he had gone through a tough time since the break-up. He even put a service on the phone. And whatever that is, it sounds like the action of a man in a deep funk. But he”s out of that, he informs us (and, more to the point, her). He scraped his heart up off the floor! Oh, and he”s having a majestic time now. Living it up, he is, “right from the women to the wine. Livin” out all those fantasies I never did get to, crazy things I never got to do”. Now that”s bouncing back like kangaroo on methamphetamine. But all”s not as it seems. “Every now and then I must confess, I’m not up to all this happiness. Sometimes I wonder if the place I”m at is where I do belong.” So what”s missing from making this great life complete? Well, all this livin” it up from women to wine involving crazy fantasies…” it don”t seem like living without you”. Bouncebackability score: 6/10

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Tom Waits ““ Innocent When You Dream (78) (1987).mp3
Oh curse you, wicked self-recrimination. Tom and his girl had something beautiful: “I made a golden promise that we would never part. I gave my love a locket.” Tell me more, tell me more, did you get very far? Evidently not. “And then I broke her heart.” So instead of running through a pollen paradise straight out of a shampoo commercial, Tom now observes that “the bats are in the belfry, the dew is on the moor”. But when he sleeps, he resuscitates the happy memories. “The fields are soft and green”, but “it”s memories that I”m stealing”. The song title will have alerted the reader of Waits” punchline: “But you”re innocent when you dream.” Tom isn”t about to forgive himself for what he has done, is he? Bouncebackability score: 2/10

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Rainbow ““ Since You”ve Been Gone (1979).mp3
Head East – Since You’ve Been Gone (1978).mp3

Written by Russ Ballard, we have two proxies expressing his thoughts (Cherie & Marie Currie”s version must wait for a couple of months to feature in a different context). Our jilted lover can take a lot of punishment, including poison letters and telegrams that just go to show she doesn’t give a damn. And the cause for that readiness to be reconciled? Well, see, “these four walls are closing in” and recurring dreams cause our anti-hero to fall out of his bed at night, possibly as a result of reading her letter at night “beneath the back street light” (is he stalking her?). His mental well-being is on the edge. “Since you been gone, I”m outta my head, can”t take it.” Witchcraft may be involved: “Could I be wrong, but since you been gone, you cast the spell “” so break it.” Oooohwaowaow ohwaowoawoh indeed. Bouncebackability score: 1/10

More Songs About Love (happy, unhappy, ending etc)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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More Originals

American Road Trip Vol. 4

April 8th, 2009 No comments

On the last leg of our US tour we visited Elvis” cities: Memphis and Tupelo. We now enter the territory where Elvis tasted much success before he broke nationwide: Louisiana. In a strange turn of events, Elvis appeared first at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, to little acclaim, supporting Hank Snow. Shortly after Elvis became a weekly regular on the Louisiana Hayride, based in Shreveport, Louisiana, whence many country legends (Hank Williams among them) moved to Nashville. Alas, we will have no time or song to make a turn to Shreveport, but we”ll visit two cities in the state.

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Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I was entirely oblivious to a place called Baton Rouge until, as a young man, I read John Kennedy Toole”s wonderful novel, Confederacy of Dunces, which mentions the city. I loved the name. But we have no time to hang aorund in the state capital of Louisiana, so we move on to the city in which Confederacy of Dunces is set. As we set off in our eight-wheel truck (the beauty of this journey is that we can travel by any mode of transport of our fancy) we spot a pretty hitchhiker. We stop and let her (Bobby by name, as it turns out) and the suddenly appearing boyfriend in “” and just in time, too, because it looks like rain, and the poor fellow looks as faded as his jeans. The whole way down to New Orleans we exhaust our song repertoire, with Bobby”s handclaps and the windscreen wiper keeping the rhythm.
Kris Kristofferson ““ Bobby McGee.mp3

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New Orleans, Louisiana

The city of legends has popularised the idea of Mardi Gras, which idiots around the world have a way of scheduling all year round (it is, of course, the carnival before the season of Lent). More lately, New Orleans has become a symbol of George W Bush”s callous incompetence. There are hundreds of songs about New Orleans “” perhaps only New York among jock-a-moUS cities has been the subject of lyrics more frequently “” so the challenge here was to identify three top tunes that mention in the title neither the city nor its state, nor Mardi Gras, nor Bourbon Street nor the Latin Quarter (though one does so partly), nor houses of rising suns. So here we entertain ourselves with a trio of songs about a parade confrontation between “tribes” of African-American Mardi gras reveller; a love song for a prostitute (Steely Dan rocking the pedal steel!); and the tale of a hoofer (the version here was not featured in my recent Bojangles line up). The first of these songs became famous in the version by the Dixie Cups, renamed Iko Iko; this is the 1953 original by Sugar Boy Crawford, who co-wrote it with Lloyd Price.
Sugar Boy Crawford & his Cane Cutters – Jock-A-Mo (Iko Iko).mp3
Steely Dan -Pearl Of The Quarter.mp3
Nina Simone – Mr Bojangles.mp3

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Biloxi, Mississippi

Biloxi, pop. 50,000, is another one of those obscure American towns which gained some fame due to American cultural hegemony, thanks to a rather endearing movie featuring Matthew Broderick and Christopher Walken, and earlier to Goldie Hawn”s Private Benjamin. Biloxi is well-known also as a casino resort and as the one-time abode of the beautiful Jessica Alba. And now Biloxi attains great fame thanks to Any Major Dude, who”s not even American. More recently, of course, Biloxi was frequently mentioned in association with Hurricane Katrina. So, here we are in Biloxi on the Gulf of Mexico and meet a middle-aged fellow with his young girlfriend. He came from Houston, just left is family behind. Sometimes he goes back to see his family. It doesn”t sound like they are very impressed with him. But our new friend seems to have no regrets. Or does he?
Jack Ingram ““ Biloxi (live).mp3

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We will leave the former capital of French Louisiana, known then as Bilocci, for the town that had that honour before. Before Biloxi we had visited the city especially built as a capital to succeed it, La Nouvelle-Orléans. The French decided that New Orleans would be safer from hurricanes and flooding”¦ And our next stop will be the city which was the French colony”s first capital.

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Previously on American Road Trip

Sea of heartbreak

February 17th, 2009 1 comment

Finding songs about broken hearts is like shooting whales in a barrel of treacle. So, naturally, those represented here are not necessarily the best or brightest in the genre (though the two Motown songs probably are). But I hope they provide a decent round-up. The series of songs about love will run for a while yet, but I will space the remaining posts put a bit. It”s time to run other stuff again”¦

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The Temptation – I Wish It Would Rain.mp3

temptations“Sunshine, blue skies, please go away. My girl has found another and gone away. With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom, so day after day I stayed locked up in my room. I know to you it might sound strange, but I wish it would rain.” Motown lyrics are pure poetry. “Day in, day out, my tear-stained face pressed against the window pane. My eyes search the skies desperately for rain, “cause raindrops will hide my teardrops, and no one will ever know that I”m cryin”. When I go outside to the world outside, my tears I refuse to explain. Oh, I wish it would rain.” Promise me you will punch them.

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Ben Folds – Gone.mp3
A year after she left, Ben says he”s ready to let her go. Unless she gets in touch with him. But if not, he”s ready to end it. I think we can spot the snag in his strategy. “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.” As he notes, she went straight to somebody else (he thinks “that you should spend some time alone”), but hope springs eternal, even at the cost of dignity. “I wake up in the night all alone and it”s alright. The chemicals are wearing off. Since you”ve gone, the days go on, the lights go off and on, and nothing really matters when you”re gone.” But, girl, here”s Ben given you another chance ““ and he hasn”t even set you a deadline.

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Kris Kristofferson – From the Bottle To The Bottom.mp3
Kris was happy once with a woman. She left him and now he”s shacking up with a bottle of booze. “You ask me if I”m happy now; that”s good as any joke I”ve heard. It seems that since I”ve seen you last I done forgot the meaning of the words. If happiness is empty rooms, and drinkin” in the afternoon, well, I suppose I”m happy as a clam. But if it”s got a thing to do with smilin” of forgettin” you, well, I don”t guess that I could say I am.” He proceeds to make his point by way of analogies and metaphors involving moisture, empty pockets and shoes to conclude that he is “from the bottle to the bottom stool by stool, learnin” hard to live with losin” you.”

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Todd Tibaud – Unbroken.mp3
todd-thibaudThe unaccountably obscure Tibault in his song from 2000 acknowledges that he was dumped for being a bit of an ass (“And everything about me drags her down”), and he now pretends, Smokey-like, not to be affected by the break-up. But he really still loves her (“She moves around me like the air I breathe, gets inside of me and she never leaves”) and wants her back: “Someday I”ll find my way back in; somehow I”ll cross that bridge again. And then I won”t have to pretend to be unbroken.”

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Don Gibson – Sea Of Heartbreak.mp3
don-gibsonA very jaunty number for so sad a lament wrapped up in nautical metaphors. Since she “sailed away” there are no lights in the harbour and ships lost at sea all because Don is crying so much, he is “on this sea of tears ““ sea of heartbreak”. He tried to woo her back with another maritime call: “Oh, what I”d give to sail back to shore, back to your arms once more.” Poor Don, chances are that another man has put down his anchor in the good ship ex-girlfriend.

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Sugar Ray – When It”s Over.mp3
Naked Eyes – Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3

naked-eyesYou know what it”s like when a song comes on that reminds you of an ex-partner (or, worse, of the break-up itself)? In this rather quirky tune, Sugar Ray bemoan not only the loss of a girlfriend, but also the diminishing delight in the things they used to enjoy together: “All the songs she used to sing, all the favourite TV shows have gone out the window.” It”s worse than that. Not only does he no longer enjoy re-runs of Friends or whatever, but when he does catch one, the old feelings for her return. Which calls to mind Hal David”s lyrics for Always Something There To Remind Me: “I passed a small café where we would dance at night, and I can”t help recalling how it felt to kiss and hold you tight. Oh, how can I forget you, when there is always something there to remind me”¦” The version posted here is a 1982 cover by the English synth-pop duo Naked Eyes, featuring the late Rob Fisher, later of Climie Fisher. Burt Bacharach once said their version was his favourite”¦

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Loudon Wainwright III – Lost Love.mp3
This song comes courtesy of my Facebook friend Garth (to become my FB friend click here). In this “20s-pop-cum-country song, Loudon is sending mixed messages, and it might even not be all defiant bravado. He seems to be OK with the break-up, but occasionally it catches up with him. “I”m happy that it”s finally over, but when I”m not bad, then I”m sad.” He notes that she doesn”t call him and “I understand the reason why” (but the way he delivers the line suggests contempt for the reasons). Indeed, “there should be no reason why you shouldn”t call me, darlin””. So he is getting on the telephone, “I”m not calling you for a reason, dear, and the reason is because there is no reason why I should call you because your love, darling, I have lost.” What price logic when you”re missing you ex so much, you call her (or him) for no good reason?

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Amy Rigby – Keep It To Yourself.mp3
amy-rigbyThe Bee Gees asked for pointers in mending broken hearts. One way of doing so is to enter into a loving relationship with somebody new who will take care of you. In this song, Amy Rigby found such a man, one who”d do anything for her. But sometimes even that doesn”t work, when there remains so much residual anger that the contemptible ex still dominates emotions. In this instance, the new man in Amy”s life wrecklessly* offers to “shoot the dude who screwed me up”. Amy responds that she is “trying so hard to forgive”. With that in mind, “Here”s his address, here”s his picture, here”s the make and model of his car. He works until 4:30, then he hangs out at the topless bar with a girl on each arm.” Amy reminds the new paramour: “Remember how he cheated and he lied to me. You told me that it makes you lose your head”¦ I don”t believe you”d do those things you said.” And did she mention they”re pouring concrete on Route 33? But if he does the things he said he”d do (and here”s the address and a photo), he must not tell her, but keep it to himself. Then Amy sighs: “I like the way that you take care of me. I like the way you that you”ll take care of things.” Hell hath no fury etc. (* google it)

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Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted.mp3
Echoing the anthem of brokenheartedness, Love Hurts, poor Jimmy has turned cynical: “Love”s happiness is just an illusion filled with sadness and confusion.” He sees other people in love: “The fruits of love grow all around, but for me they come a-tumblin” down.” Then depression sets in: Every day heartaches grow a little stronger, I can”t stand this pain much longer. I walk in shadows searching for light, cold and alone, no comfort in sight. Hoping and praying for someone to care, always moving and going nowhere.” Morrissey would have killed for lyrics like that. Then comes the threat of suicide ““ “All that”s left is an unhappy ending” ““ before he catches himself and insistently resolves that he can find happiness again: “I know I”ve got to find some kind of peace of mind. I”ll be searching everywhere just to find someone to care. I”ll be looking every day. I know I”m gonna find a way. Nothing”s gonna stop me now, I”ll find a way somehow; I”ll be searching everywhere.” Next time somebody claims that Motown lyrics lack depth, please contact Amy Rigby”s new boyfriend.
Previously in this series:
Longing For Love
Love Hurts
Unrequited Love
Being in love (Any Major Love Mix)

More songs about love

Love Songs For Every Situation: Love ends

February 13th, 2008 3 comments

And after love comes the break-up. We’ll deal with the long-term effects of that later. For now, let’s get caught in the moment of the break-up.

Kris Kristofferson – For The Good Times.mp3
Few songs are as much in the moment as this: Kris is proposing break-up sex to celebrate what must have been a great relationship, and to signify that the split is amicable (“There’s no need to watch the bridges that we’re burning”). There is still some love there (it is unclear who actually wants to leave). There is much tenderness in the chorus: “Lay your head upon my pillow.Hold your warm and tender body close to mine. Hear the whisper of the raindrops, blowin’ soft against the window,and make believe you love me one more time…for the good times.”

Crowded House – Better Be Home Soon (live).mp3
Interpreting Crowded House lyrics can be a precarious past-time. I read those for “Better Be Home Soon” (here a live version from the Farewell To The World album) as a desperate plea to save a relationship. Perhaps the couple has already separated, or one partner is playing away, or (as I read it) the couple is experiencing a great personal distance, but the protagonist is asking to fix a relationship that is dying. The effort must come from both sides: “So don’t say no, don’t say nothing’s wrong, cause when you get back home, maybe I’ll be gone.” This is a great song to play on guitar. For the tabs check out the Guitariotabs blog whence I borrowed this file from.

Missy Higgins – Ten Days.mp3
A relationship is certainly dying in this song, by another Australian artist, but not so much because the love has been extinguished, but as the effect of long-distance (“so tell me, did you really think…I had gone when you couldn’t see me anymore?”). Missy is “cutting the ropes”, even though “you’re still the only one that feels like home”.

Powderfinger – Wishing On The Same Moon.mp3
More Aussie heartbreak in this slow-rock song from last year’s Dream Days at the Hotel Existence album. The dude is still totally in love, but has been left. He’s not bitter yet (that’ll be dealt with in later posts); in fact “whenever you set free your devil smile on me, I melt”. The poor guy knows it’s over, and is now reduced to begging: “I’m calling out for you, pleading for your love. You’re falling from my view and there’s nothing I can do.” So, what does one do when one cannot be with one’s love? Why, look up at the stars and the moon, of course. That’s what they are there for, it’s what he and she can share: “I’m waiting in the afternoon for the sun to sink and let the night back in. It’s when I feel close to you, when the stars they swoon and bring their night time bloom.”

Prefab Sprout – When Love Breaks Down.mp3
An obvious break-up song from the great 1985 Steve McQueen album. There isn’t much drama in this split; the relationship is fizzling out, the inevitable being delayed to avoid the pain. They don’t see each other much, so “absence makes the heart lose weight, till love breaks down, love breaks down.” So, what will it be like when he’s single again? Paddy’ take: “When love breaks down, you join the wrecks who leave their hearts for easy sex.”

Carole King – It’s Too Late.mp3
Another song about love fading undramatically. “It used to be so easy living here with you. You were light and breezy and I knew just what to do. Now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool” — that is such a brutal realisation. It’s over, but it is reciprocal: “There’ll be good times again for me and you, but we just can’t stay together, can’t you feel it too? Still I’m glad for what we had and how I once loved you.” They’ll have their memories, and they’ll be good.

Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way.mp3
A classic in the genre, this track, from the 1977 Rumous album, was Lindsay Buckingham’s “fuck off” letter to Stevie Nicks. He wants to give her his world, but “how can I when you won’t take it from me”. Much has been made of the line: “Packing up, shacking up is all you wanna do”. Either Stevie was cheating (which she denies), or it refers to the rejected wedding proposal. Mick Fleetwood’s furious drumming and Buckingham’s angry guitar solo help to underscore the acidity of the lyrics.

Abba – The Winner Takes It All.mp3
Another song about band members splitting. Everything that has been said in praise of this song is true. Agnetha’s vocals are drenched in the pain of her own separation from Bjorn, who said he wrote it with a bottle of whisky as a companion. “I was in your arms, thinking I belonged there. I figured it made sense, building me a fence. Building me a home, thinking I’d be strong there, but I was a fool, playing by the rules.” The disillusionment of love, and trust, broken. The dude goes on to somebody else, (“but tell me, does she kiss like I used to kiss you?”). In this split someone is going on with life, the other feels foolish, desperate, frustrated and lonely.

Earth, Wind & Fire – After The Love Has Gone.mp3*
A marriage is blowing up after several good years, and our man can’t understand why. “We knew love would last. Every night, something right would invite us to begin the day.” Then things went awry. “Something happened along the way, what used to be happy was sad…” Words and melody combine to express an inner drama in the singer’s bid to make sense of it all (seeing as it’s Maurice White singing here, maybe a clue is in his sexual selfishness as revealed in yesterday’s post).

Odyssey – If You’re Looking For A Way Out.mp3
This is the saddest song among all these sad songs. A ballad from the funkster’s 1980 Hang Together album, the singer knows her man’s love has died, and puts the ball into his court. “Tell me I’m wrong”, but if she isn’t, “if you’re looking for a way out, I won’t stand here in your way”. Dude needs telling. She knows he cares: “Ain’t that just like you to worry about me. But we promised to be honest with each other for all eternity.” But she also knows that his love is gone: “Your kisses taste the same, but it’s just a sweet disguise.” Are you feeling tears coming on yet? Try this for size then: “Don’t look at the tears that I’m crying, they’ll only make you wanna stay. Don’t kiss me again, ’cause I’m dying to keep you from running away.” So what does the guy do when he is told: “Better tell me what’s in you heart. Oh baby now stop pretending, stop pretending, stop pretending”? He might be ready to tell her what’s in his heart, but then she adds: “Don’t you know I’ll always love you.” Checkmate.

Review: Tim McGraw – Let It Go

June 11th, 2007 1 comment

On Let It Go, Tim McGraw (who is, I must confess, an occasional guilty pleasure, albeit in small doses) does his usually mix of cowboy-hatted shtick and thoughtful, often surprising material.

Opener “Last Dollars” is discouragingly aimed at the line-dancing beer-swilling Good Ole” Boys, and Let It Go ends with a song that cringingly refers to “cowboys” and “shotgun riders” (presumably even a country singer aspiring towards seriousness has to keep the redneck audience happy).

So it is a relief that in between things get progressively better with a clever mix of songs that will satisfy McGraw“s various constituencies.

One of the surprises is “Suspicions”, a very good cover of “˜70s adult-rock semi-mediocrity Eddie Rabbit (whom one may file under the label Guilty Pleasures as well). “Kristofferson“ is an obvious and suitable nod to the country legend of that surname (second perhaps only to Johnny Cash in the genre), while “I Need You” is the obligatory duet with wife Faith Hill, this time dispensing with the customary treacle.

The title track, with its “oh-woo-woh-oh-woo-woh” chorus is hardline formulaic, but a catchy bastard nonetheless. The stand-out track is “Nothing To Die For”, this year’s “Live Like You Were Dying” moment, which kicks off like a rock song and settles in with a kick-ass singalong chorus.

Within its genre of mainstream radio-friendly country music, this is a mostly pleasing album.
Tim McGraw – Nothing To Die For.mp3
Tim McGrawKristofferson.mp3

And here’s the real deal:
Kris Kristofferson – Loving Her Was Easy.mp3
Kris Kristofferson – Josie.mp3