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Step back to 1975 – Part 1

January 15th, 2010 6 comments

The year 1974 morphed into 1975 without it making much of a difference. I became increasingly football mad, and I was still reading Micky Maus comics. I had the same kindly teacher, spent a large part of the week at my grandmother”s, and music didn”t mean all that much. It was there, I enjoyed it, but the passion that once was there had gone. At the age of nine, I was jaded, fallen off Planet Pop. And still I must cover the year in two parts. The songs in this series here are chosen for their ability to transport me back to the year under review. The songs here evoke the first half of 1975, the smell of spring and Easter eggs.

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ABBA ““ So Long.mp3
After winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo on 6 April 1974 and topping the UK charts with the song, ABBA thought they had made their big breakthrough. They hadn”t. Their next notable hit in Britain would be S.O.S., a year and a half later. In West Germany, however, ABBA were a permanent fixture. Songs that made little or no impact in Britain provided the soundtrack to my life as an eight and nine-year-old: Honey Honey, Ring Ring, Hasta Manana (featured in the second part for 1974), I Do I Do I Do I Do and So Long. These songs showed ABBA”s versatility, ranging from bubble gum pop to Schlager to glam rock. So Long is a fine glam stomper.

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Udo Jürgens ““ Griechischer Wein.mp3
Udo merits praise for investing some social commentary in his lyrics. Here he dealt German xenophobia a mortal blow, ensuring that Germans and Gastarbeiter would live in perfect harmony, like the keys on an oompah tuba. The song has Udo stumbling into a suburban Greek taverna whose noble patrons relate to him their longing for the old country because that”s where they are accepted. And the Greek wine “” Retsina is horrible stuff, tastes like the sap of a tree “” encourages them in their confessions of homesickness. I don”t think Udo thought that one through much, well-intentioned though his song was. In his representation, the swarthy immigrants (oh yes, he tells us of their swarth) are heavy-drinking emotive cliché-mongers who have no interest in assimilation, just trying to turn a buck so that they can go home again to live la vida loca. Exactly the image which the German xenophobes exploited in their bid not to accept immigrants.

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Rubettes ““ Juke Box Jive
You can set fashions by it: a decade will be revived about 20 years later. We see it now, with the “80s revival (the “90s revival has already started, in as far as that derivative era has anything worth copying). In the 1970s, the “50s made their comeback. Sha Na Na, Grease, The Last Picture Show, Elvis” death”¦and this song, which implores us to do the juke box jive just like we did in “55. In 1975, that seemed such a long time ago. But if we playfully update the lyrics to do the juke box jive just like we did in 1990″¦gulp!

I had the single of this. I lost ownership of it in unjust circumstances, in early 1978. My younger brother and I were eating soup when I made what must have been a very amusing comment, whereupon my brother spew his mouthful of soup all over my bowl. Naturally I refused to eat any more of the spitsoup. My mother, alas, was an enthusiastic enforcer of the empty plate rule. Seeing my problem, she suggested that we swap soups. That was a non-starter, because fraternal saliva would have polluted my brother”s soup as well “” a problem when other people”s bodily fluids could induce utter disgust. So I struck a bargain with my brother: if he eats both bowls of soup, I”ll give him, erm, the single of Juke Box Jive by the mighty Rubettes. Seeing as he had a pathetic collection of records, consisting mainly of fairy tale LPs, he took the bait. I didn”t really like the Rubettes much anymore, but the loss of any record rankled nonetheless.

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Leonard Cohen ““ Lover Lover Lover.mp3
Laughing Len is not really Top 10 fodder; he never had a UK chart entry, as far as I know. But this was a massive hit in West Germany, his only hit there. I have no idea why, of all Cohen songs, Lover Lover Lover became a hit. Well, it is pretty good and quite catchy. I remember singing it in the street, rendering the chorus as luvvel-luvvel-luvvel. The lyrics are classic Cohen: “I asked my father, I said: “˜Father change my name.” The one I”m using now, it”s covered up with fear and filth and cowardice and shame”¦He said: “˜I locked you in this body, I meant it as a kind of trial. You can use it for a weapon, or to make some woman smile”.”

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Barry White ““ You”re The First, My Last, My Everything.mp3
The sunny sound of the “70s. Because of this song and “Love”s Theme”, and the Philly sound (the TSOP theme especially received much airplay in Germany), I associate strings in soul music with my childhood summers. Poor Barry White has become a bit of a joke in some ignorant quarters. The whole Walrus of Lurve nonsense deflects from White as a serious and gifted musician, the creator luscious arrangements and intricate melodies. And he was, of course, a great singer.
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Bimbo Jet – El Bimbo.mp3
I”ve mentioned before that every year there would be at least one (at least mostly) instrumental hit riding high in the German charts. In 1975, it was the unpromisingly titled El Bimbo by the French disco outfit Bimbo Jet. Apparently El Bimbo, a chart-topper in France in 1974, was based on a track by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir, titled Tanha Shudham Tanha. I have a recollection of a female singer, possibly Gitte, singing a German vocal version of this song.

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Sweet ““ Fox On The Run.mp3
A different version of Fox On The Run appeared on the group”s 1974 album Desolation Boulevard; the 1975 single was re-recorded, produced by the band. I wouldn”t have known it at the time, but it”s a song about groupies: “I don”t wanna know your name, “˜cause you don”t look the same, the way you did before. OK, you think you got a pretty face, but the rest of you is out of place; you looked all right before.” Charming.

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Shirley & Company ““ Shame Shame Shame.mp3
I think in 1975 the disco sound really crossed over. Where songs like Rock The Boat could be called soul, there was no such interchange between genres with songs like Shame Shame Shame. Shirley Goodman had been around for a long time as an R&B singer. By the late”70s she had retired. Shame Shame Shame was written by Sylvia Robinson, who in the 1960s was half of the soul duo Mickey & Sylvia. She had a soul hit with the very sexy Pillow Talk before founding the All Platinum Records label on which Shame Shame Shame was published. But Robinson”s place in music history is guaranteed as the co-founder of the Sugar Hill label, on which the Sugarhill Gang released Rapper”s Delight, the first rap hit.

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Teach-In – Ding-A-Dong.mp3
In about 1986/87, Heineken ran a very funny commercial on British TV featuring Spitting Image puppets performing really bad Eurovision Contest songs with nonsense titles, not unlike Ding-A-Dong. None of those were bad enough until the British entry, The Chicken Song, scored maximum points everywhere. Of course, Britain had previously enjoyed success with Lulu”s Boom Bang-A-Bang. Ding-A-Dong was Holland”s 1975 winner of the Eurovision Contest, held in Stockholm a year after ABBA”s triumph. There will be no sorrow if you sing a song that goes Ding-Ding-A-Dong, apparently.

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Kenny ““ The Bump.mp3
Listen to this and tell me that Robbie Williams took no inspiration from The Bump for that song he did with Kylie Minogue! The song headlined a short-lived dance, a strange throw-back to the early “60s, when every dance fad produced a hit single. In 1975 there, of course, was also The Hustle, the disco masterpiece by Van McCoy.

The Bump was Kenny”s first hit, and apparently our five pals, still teenagers, had nothing to do with its production. The story goes that the song had already been released under the name Kenny, from a remixed backing track for an abandoned Bay City Rollers song and featuring co-writer Phil Coultier on vocals and backing vocals. The group Chuff was roped in, with a new lead singer, and renamed to present the song, lip synch style, on Top of the Pops. Kenny did not have much success: four hits in 1975 and, whoosh, they were gone “” except in West Germany, where the group lingered on for a couple of years. Confusingly, an Irish singer by the name of Kenny had been releasing records just a year or two before “” on the same label, RAK, as the group Kenny.

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More Stepping Back

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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