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Step back to 1980 – Part 1

September 28th, 2011 9 comments

The series now hits 1980, which was a pretty good year for pop music. Good enough to warrant four instalments, I think. It was the year in which I turned 14.

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Cheap Trick – Dream Police.mp3
This was the first record I bought in 1980. Cheap Trick probably were the first hair metal band. I didn”t really dig them very much, but I did like Dream Police, even if I had no idea what the song was about. It had a good guitar riff, a catchy chorus and some amusing sound effects. The term “dream police” has been used to describe a state on an LSD trip when the brain figures out that it”s not in charge anymore (or something like it; what the hell do I know about LSD trips?). But I think the lyrics are far better applied to describe a state of schizophrenia, with its paranoia and controlling inner voices.  The half-minute interlude at 2:50 certainly sounds like mental illness. Or, indeed, an alarming drugs trip.

Electric Light Orchestra ““ Confusion
And this was my second record of 1980. As with Cheap Trick, I”d never been much of an ELO fan. Don”t Bring Me Down changed that, and I liked Confusion even better (and perhaps still do; I prefer whichever of the two I’m presently hearing). Strangely, I didn”t buy the LP the songs were from. Later I discovered, as it were, that it”s a pretty good album. The purists don”t like it, I believe, because they thought that Jeff Lynne had sold ELO out to disco. Funny enough, disco often incorporated strings, which Lynne mostly dropped for the Discovery album. I”ll grant that Shine A Little Love and Last Train To London are a nod to disco, but for the most part it”s a wonderful pop album (Horace Wimple excepted).

Cherie & Marie Currie – Since You’ve Been Gone.mp3
In later 1979 and early 1980 there were two versions of the Russ Ballard-penned Since You Been Gone (or Since You”ve Been Gone, as some have rendered it. You can get Ballard”s original here). The excellent Rainbow version was the more successful, and apparently South African popsters Clout had a single of it out as well. I bought this single, by former Runaways singer Cherie Currie with her sister Marie (whom you will remember if you saw the recent biopic of the Runaways). I think the Curries” cover can just about compete with the Rainbow record. I”m not sure why I bought this single though. In the face of compertition by Rainbow, who were huge in West Germany, it wasn”t a big hit. Perhaps I saw it on the Musikladen TV show on which the sisters appeared in December 1979; but if I liked it, I”d have bought it right then, not in January (somehow I always had money for a single). Perhaps I bought it on strength of Cherie Currie, seeing as I liked The Runaways back in the day. Maybe I just like the cover”¦

AC/DC – Touch Too Much.mp3
Bon Scott was my first rock death as a fan. Of course, people whose music I had known had died before. Elvis, of course. Marc Bolan of T. Rex. Keith Moon of The Who. I had known their music, but I wasn”t a fan at the time. However, when Bon Scott died on 19 February 1980, I was something of an AC/DC fan. When the others died, I had no interest in their next record, but I was very much looking forward to the next AC/DC record, with Bon Scott on vocals, maybe featuring as great a song as Ride On from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. When the next album came out, with undue haste later that year, I had mixed emotions. The songs ““ Hells Bells, title track Back In Black, and especially You Shook Me All Night Long ““ were great, but to my mind new singer Brian Johnson was a pale imitation of the great Scott. I still think he is. So I started 1980 mourning the death of a favourite singer. I”d end the year in mourning an even more favourite singer.

Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.mp3
Like Since You Been Gone, The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan was a cover version, in this case of Dr Hook and the Medicine Show”s original penned by Shel Silverstein. Marianne Faithfull”s version is beautifully arranged, and the melody is lovely, but it was, of course, that broken voice which raised the song to another level. At the time I hadn”t heard of Faithfull”s history with the Stones. When I did, I went off Mars chocolate bars for a bit. Faithfull insists that the story is an untruth spreads by the London narcs after they raided Keef”s Redlands mansion. The singer says she is far too prudish to do that. In her biography she wrote: “It”s a dirty old man’s fantasy… a cop”s idea of what people do on acid!” Anyway, at the age of 13, Faithfull seemed to me so ancient as probably being close to death”s door from natural causes (of course, her drug use might have killed her). She was only 33, four years younger than Lucy Jordan”¦

Kenny Rogers – Coward Of The County.mp3
I never bought the single, though the chorus was pretty catchy. But buying a country record? Not very likely. It”s a jaunty little number that rather cloaks the disturbing lyrics. You don”t get many pop hits about gang rape. And that”s what happens in the song to poor Becky at the hands of the ghastly Gatlin boys. Trouble is, Coward of the County”s dad was a bit of a troublemaker in his time and on his deathbed extracted from CotC an oath of rigorous pacifism, with Uncle Ken serving as a witness to the pledge. So what does a pacifist do when the Gatlin boys violate his girl? Ah, I shall not spoil the ending for you, but it does not involve a visit to the local police station followed by a judicial process. We are not told whether Coward ensured that Becky would receive appropriate counselling.

Georg Danzer – Zehn kleine Fixer.mp3
I was a year late with this one, but what a good song it is. Danzer was an Austrian singer-songwriter ““ or Liedermacher (song-maker), as they say in German ““ who had a good reputation for producing accessible songs with sophisticated, sometimes funny and often socially conscious lyrics. He died of lung cancer in 2007 at the age of 50, having been a heavy smoker for years. In Zehn kleiner Fixer he sings about “ten little junkies” who die one by one. His tone is sardonic: while he shows little compassion for the junkies, but blames the ills of society for their condition.

Here”s my clumsy translation of the lyrics:

Ten little junkies sat in a boat. Ocean Desperation, homeport Death.One of them jumped overboard and sank like a stone. “Shit” was his final word; then there were only nine.

Nine little junkies; among them were girls. One was just 13, couldn’t break free.Went out on the corner, froze to death, then there were only eight.

Eight little junkies, one just out of jail. Parole officer let him down, no money for rehab, parents written off; he saw no other way out, then there were only seven.

Seven little junkies were so fed up with their lonely desert in the high-rise ghetto. One, they say, suffocated on wine and biscuits and indifference; then there were only six.

Six little junkies, one ended it with a golden fixall on the station toilet. Some tramp who found him took his shoes and socks, then there were only five.

Five little junkies, left all on their own, had neither hope nor money. One walked into a bank and “asked” the cashier who didn’t hesitate; then there were only four.

Four little junkies sat in a boat. Ocean Desperation, homeport Death. One reported a dealer to the police; when he was released again there were only three.

Three little junkies on the final tour; among them they had just one more fix. Oh, the heroin ran out and they capsized the boat.
Love was never their home, and now they were all dead.

Ten little junkies were now gone. Clearance sale, urban garbage, just lowly filth. But how long do we want to sweep them under the carpet? One day, when they rise again, they will strike back.

The Nolan Sisters ““ I”m In The Mood For Dancing.mp3
Now here”s a record I most definitely didn”t buy. I didn”t particularly like or dislike the song it was a hymn to my indifference. And yet the song stuck in my head for years. It was one of those earworms I found myself inexplicably singing at random moments. That kind of song. Some 11 years after this was a hit, I met my future wife. One day she randomly sang I”m In The Mood For Dancing. Then, a while later, she did so again. As it turned out, we had a shared permanent earworm of the random-singing variety (I don”t know the technical Greco-Latin terms for the phenomenon, I”m afraid). I”d like to say that I knew at that point that we would grow old together, but there were other, much better clues which did not involve the Nolan Sisters. Truth be told, I quite like the song now, in as far as inoffensive pop music from that era goes.

Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers.mp3
Peter Gabriel – Spiel ohne Grenzen.mp3

This was my 100th single. Now, that doesn”t mean it was the 100th single I had ever owned or bought. But when I bought it, it was the 100th single in my possession. Before that I had frequently swapped singles with friends (who exploited me; I gave away some really good records. So after that, I stopped trading). Others I had discarded for being too embarrassing to own, such as my Bay City Rollers records. But when I bought Games Without Frontiers in March 1980, it was single #100, a milestone. Within a year I would almost stop buying singles in favour of albums (though I”d rediscover the joy of the single when I lived in London in the mid-“80s).

Games Without Frontiers refers to an game show that was popular throughout Europe at the time in which village teams representing different countries were pitched against one another in bizarre action games, usually dressed in silly costumes. In French the show was called Jeux sans Frontiers and in German Spiele ohne Grenzen (both mean Games Without Frontiers); in England it was It”s A Knock-Out. Gabriel re-recorded his entire 1980 album, which also included the anti-apartheid song Biko, entirely in German. Hence the second file: the German version of Games Without Frontiers.

Tim Curry – I Do The Rock.mp3
When I bought this, I was blissfully unaware of that overhyped cult twaddle that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Indeed, I remained so until the late “80s. So when Tim Curry visited a restaurant in London where I worked as a waiter in 1985, my excitement was based on my love for I Do The Rock. The 80-year-old owner of the restaurant, an old Australian whom we had nicknamed Mr Magoo, was dining on Table 15 at the same time, and somebody advised him that a celebrity was at Table 8. Mr Magoo moseyed over, stood before Mr Curry and his lovely companion, stared at them for a bit while pushing his rolled-up tongue back and forth through his fleshy and disconcertingly moist lips, as he habitually did, and then blurted out in an accusatory manner: “So, you”re famous!” Mr Curry responded gracefully that he was an indeed an ac-tor. Thus informed, Mr Magoo grunted, turned and waddled back to Table 15 to complete his meal.

The song itself was one of thise that referenced the celebs of the day ““ from Solzhenitzin and Sadat to O.J. Simpson and Virginia Wade to Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Liza Minelli and Charlie’s Angels ““ and a few characters from the past, including Joe DiMaggio and former English cricket captain Colin Cowdrey. I Do The Rock also acquainted me with The Dakota as the New York residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a piece of information that would become relevant later in the year.

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More Stepping Back

The Originals Vol. 26

June 12th, 2009 21 comments

In this instalment, three songs featured are perhaps well known to some in their original form; one original (Galveston) is pretty obscure; and one song may not immediately ring bells until one hears it (German readers of a certain age will recognise it by another name). There are ten versions of Reason To Believe, one of the greatest songs ever written. I”ve posted Tim Hardin”s original separately and the nine cover versions in one file.

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Tim Hardin ““ Reason To Believe.mp3
Johnny Cash – Reason To Believe (1974)
(reupped)
NINE VERSIONS OF REASON TO BELIEVE
Bobby Darin – Reason To Believe (1966)
Scott McKenzie – Reason To Believe (1967)
Marianne Faithfull – Reason To Believe (1967)
The Dillards – Reason To Believe (1968)
Glen Campbell – Reason To Believe (1968)
Cher – Reason To Believe (1968)
Carpenters – Reason To Believe (1970)
Rod Stewart – Reason To Believe (1971)
Billy Bragg – Reason To Believe (live) (1989)
tim_hardin The mark of genius in a song resides in its adaptability. As the various covers featured here show, Reason To Believe (not to be confused with Bruce Springsteen”s song of the same title) is the sort of rare song into which artists can project their emotions, making it their own. The 1966 original by Tim Hardin, who wrote it, is suitably affecting, as befits a lyric of betrayal (the line “Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried; still I look to find a reason to believe” is heartbreaking). But in my view, the definitive interpretation of the song, one of my all-time favourites, is that by the Southern Californian country band The Dillards (1968), who inspired bands such as the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. It is perfect.

DARINReason To Believe was not a hit for Hardin. A gifted songwriter, he enjoyed his biggest hit with somebody else”s song, Bobby Darin”s twee Simple Song of Freedom, which Darin wrote in return for Hardin providing his big comeback hit If I Were A Carpenter. Darin, by then in his folk phase, also did a very credible version of Reason To Believe. Hardin”s story is tragic. As a marine in Vietnam in the early 1960s he discovered heroin and became addicted to the drug. Added to that, he suffered from terrible stagefright, which is not helpful when you are an entertainer. He died on 29 December 1980 from a heroin and morphine overdose. He was only 39.

The two best known versions arguably are those by Rod Stewart (1971) and the Carpenters (1970). Stewart is a fine interpreter of songs, and his take of Reason To Believe is entirely likable. Stewart”s take was released as a single a-side; in the event the flip side, Maggie Mae, became the big hit.

EDIT: The Johnny Cash version linked to above comes courtesy of Señor of the WTF? No, Seriously. WTF? blog.
Also recorded by: Bobby Darin (1966), Scott McKenzie (1967), Marianne Faithfull (1967), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1967), Rick Nelson (1967), David Hemmings (1967), Cher (1968), The Dillards (1968), The Youngbloods (1968), Glen Campbell (1968), Suzi Jane Hokom (1969), Brainbox (1969), The Wray Brothers Band (1969), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (1970), Andy Williams (1970), The Carpenters (1970), Rod Stewart (1971), Skeeter Davis (1972), Johan Verminnen (as Iemand als jij, 1989), Wilson Phillips (1990), Jackie DeShannon (1993), Don Williams (1995), Paul Weller (1995), Stina Nordenstam (1998), Ron Sexsmith (1999), Rod Stewart (2003), Vonda Shepard (2001) a.o.

Jimmy Driftwood ““ The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Horton ““ The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Les Humphries Singers ““ Mexico.mp3

jimmy_driftwood Oh, you probably do know the song. And if you don”t, you should. Originally a traditional folk song known as The 8th of January, it tells the story of a soldier fighting with Andrew Jackson”s army against the British in the 8 January 1815 battle of the title. It was first recorded in 1957 and released the following year by Jimmy Driftwood, a school teacher in Timbo, Arkansas. Born James Morris, he is said to have been one of the nicest guys in the folk music scene (not surprisingly, he was a collaborator with the great Alan Lomax). As a history teacher, Driftwood considered song to be a teaching device, and so in 1936 (or 1945, depending which sources you believe) he set the fiddle-based folk song to lyrics “” there were no definitive words, only snippets of recurring phrases “” to benefit his students. In the 1950s, Driftwood was signed by RCA, and eventually recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, with the label”s session man Chet Atkins on guitar. He later wrote another country classic, Tennessee Stud, which became a hit for Eddy Arnold and Johnny Cash (Tarantino fans will know it from the Jackie Brown soundtrack).

johnny_horton_new_orleansShortly after Driftwood recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, the doomed country star Johnny Horton did a cover which relied less on manic fiddling and dropped such radio-unfriendly words as “hell” and “damn”, and scored a big hit with it (he even changed the lyrics for the English market, turning the enemy “British” into random “rebels). Horton released several “historical records” (most famous among them, perhaps, Sink The Bismarck), though it would be unfair to reduce his influence on country music to that. A close friend of Johnny Cash”s, Horton died in a car crash in 1960, widowing his wife Billy Jean for the second time “” she had been married to Hank Williams when the country legend died. Spookily, both Williams and Horton played their last concerts at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.

There is a crazy idea on the Internet that associates Horton with the revolting racist records of a fuckwitted spunkbucket going by the name of Rebel Johnny (such as the charming “I Hate Niggers”). I am at a loss to understand how such a confusion could arise and thereby smear the name of a great country star.

les_humphries_mexicoTwo other cover versions are notable. Also in 1959, skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan reached the UK #2 “” but received no airplay on Aunty Beeb until he changed the word “ruddy” to “blooming”. The song was revived in 1972 by the Les Humphries Singers, a multi-ethnc and multi-national English-language ensemble of hippie demeanour that was very popular in West Germany with its Ed Hawkins Singer meets Hair shtick. Humphries, an Englishman, renamed the song Mexico (not a stretch; that country”s name appears in the original lyrics) and scored a massive hit with his outfit”s joyous rendition. Their performances, in English, captured the era”s exuberant spirit of social and sexual liberation. The trouble is, Humphries credited the song to himself, a brazen act of plagiarism. I have found no evidence that Humphries, who died in 2007 at 67, was ever sued for his blatant rip-off.
Also recorded by: Vaughn Monroe (1959), Eddy Arnold (1963), Harpers Bizarre (1968), Johnny Cash (1972), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1974), Buck Owens (1975), Bob Weir (1976), Bill Haley (1979)

Johnny O’Keefe – Wild One.mp3
Iggy Pop – Real Wild Child (Wild One).mp3

johnny_okeefe_wild_one Johnny O’Keefe was Australia”s first rock & roll star, notching up 30 hits in his country. Like Elvis, he was born in January 1935. He died just over a year after Elvis, of barbiturate poisoning. Often referred to by the title of his big hit, released in 1958, O”Keefe was the first Australian rock & roll star to tour the United States. But it was while Buddy Holly & the Crickets were touring Australia that the song came to traverse the Pacific. Crickets drummer Jerry Allison went on to record it under the name Ivan as Real Wild Child, enjoying a minor US hit with it.

It took almost three decades before O”Keefe”s song would reach the higher regions of the charts when Iggy Pop scored a UK Top 10 and US Top 30 hit with his David Bowie-produced track, as Real Wild Child (Wild One), in 1986. It isn”t clear which version inspired Mr Osterberg, but in 1982 Albert Lee recorded it under the same title.
Also recorded by: Jerry Lewis (1958; released in 1974), Jet Harris (1962), Billy Idol (1987), Christopher Otcasek (1989), Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1993), Lou Reed (1993), Status Quo (2003), Wakefield (2004), Everlife (2006)


Dave Edmunds – Queen Of Hearts.mp3
Juice Newton ““ Queen Of Hearts.mp3

dave_edmonds Here”s one of those songs that some might know better in its original version, and others as the hit cover. Queen Of Hearts was a UK #11 hit for Dave Edmunds “” previously featured in this series for covering Smiley Lewis” I Hear You Knocking “” in 1979, and two years later a US #2 hit for the unlikely-named Juice Newton. She will return to this series soon when her other big hit of 1981, Angel Of The Morning. Newton earned a Grammy nomination for best country song for her version, and it was her remake that inspired the veteran French singer Sylvie Vartan, who once performed on a bill with the Beatles, to record her French take on the song (retitled Quand tu veux , or When You Want It). A couple of years earlier Newton had tried to have a hit with another British song, but her version of It”s A Heartache lost out in the US to that by Welsh rasper Bonnie Tyler. Later Newton enjoyed a #11 with Brenda Lee”s Break It To Me Gently.
Also recorded by: Rodney Crowell (1980), Sylvie Vartan (as Quand tu veux, 1981), The Shadows (1983), Lawrence Welk (1984), Ramshackle Daddies (2003), Melanie Laine (2005), Valentina (2007)

don_ho_galvestonDon Ho ““ Galveston.mp3
Glen Campbell ““ Galveston.mp3

Jimmy Webb sat on the beach of Galveston on the hurricane-plagued Gulf of Mexico when he wrote this song, which might appear to be about the Spanish-American war but was just as applicable to the Vietnam War, which in 1966 was starting to heat up (“While I watch the cannons flashing, I clean my gun and dream of Galveston” and “I”m so afraid of dying”). The composer subsequently said it was about the Vietnam War but at other times also denied it. Whatever Webb had in mind, its theme is universal about any soldier who”d rather be home than on the killing fields.

glen_campbell_galvestonWebb had previously written By The Time I Get To Phoenix (first recorded by Johnny Rivers), which Glen Campbell would have a hit with. He later wrote Wichita Lineman especially for Campbell. Galveston would complete the trinity of Webb hit songs for Campbell, who in 1974 recorded a whole album of Webb numbers. The original of Galveston was recorded by the relatively obscure Don Ho, a Hawaiian lounge singer and TV star who was known for appearing with red shades and died in 2007 aged 76. Campbell later said that, while in Hawaii, Ho turned him to Galveston. Campbell sped it up a bit to create his moving version. Apparently, after “giving” the song to Campbell, Ho would not sing it any more.
Also recorded by: Lawrence Welk (1969), Jim Nabors (1968), The Ventures (1969), Roger Williams (1969), Jimmy Webb (1971), The Lemonheads (1997), Of Montreal (2000), Joel Harrison with David Binney (2004)

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More Originals

The Originals Vol. 3

September 9th, 2008 6 comments

In the third part of this series we look at the originals of songs made more famous by 70s doo wop revivalists Darts, Bobby Darin, Marianne Faithful, Carpenters and Gene Kelly.

EDIT: With DivShare having deleted three accounts, some of the links originally posted are dead or probably will go dead soon. I have compiled the originals of the featured song, except Daddy Cool, in one file:

The Originals Vol. 3
(The Wrens, Charles Trenet, Dr Hook, New Vaudeville Band, Herman”s Hermits, Cliff Edwards & the Brox Sisters)
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Daddy Cool & Come Back My Love
Every decade seems to enjoy a revival at roughly a 20-year cycle. We are slowly emerging from the 1970s revival, are full-on in the 1980s revival (which was officially launched with The Wedding Singer) and the 1990s revival has already begun ““ though I cannot imagine what there is to be nostalgic about. Essentially, the cultural decision-makers launch a wave of nostalgia to the years of their childhood. And, as this blog proves, I like nostalgia. In the “70s, the big revival was the “50s. It started early, with movies such as The Last Picture Show and climaxed with Grease and the death of Elvis. Bands such as Sha Na Na, Showaddywaddy, Racey and Long Tall Ernie & the Shakers had hits cashing in on the nostalgia boom (as did, at the tail-end of the revival, Shakin” Stevens). All of these were more or less karaoke artists. Not so Darts. They got Rock “˜n” Roll. They took old (usually obscure) numbers and gave them new life. In the case of both of these featured songs, released in 1977, the Darts revamped and improved on the original ““ if one overlooks the sample of Little Richard”s The Girl Can”t Help It in Daddy Cool. It is a shame they are not remembered by much more than the original artists.

The Wrens were a  Bronx doo wop trio that never hit the big time. Come Back My Love, recorded in 1954, should have been a massive hit, but (like their other records) never was. The Rays were a short-lived doo wop band who scored a US hit in 1957 with Silhouettes, of which Daddy Cool was the b-side (the Rays” singer, Guy Darrell re-recorded the b-side as a single in 1961). But it was Daddy Cool which became the inspiration for an Australian “70s group by that name. The Rays file has been borrowed, with permission, from the excellent Whiteray at Echoes In The Wind, who featured it in this post (and do read Whiteray’s amazing story associated with the song). The Wrens” version I had been looking for unsuccessfully for a long time. Within minutes of asking my very generous new friend RH (whom we will have much more reason to be grateful to as this series progresses), he sent it to me.
The Rays – Daddy Cool
Darts – Come Back My Love
Darts – Daddy Cool/The Girl Can’t Help It
Also recorded by: The Cardinals/Daddy Cool, Drummond
Best versions: Darts, in both cases.

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The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan
Shel Silverstein was something of a Renaissance Man: a poet, childrens” author, cartoonist, screenwriter and composer. In the latter incarnation, Silverstein wrote several hit songs, including A Boy Named Sue and The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. He also wrote a few soundtracks, among them Ned Kelly and the snappily titled Dustin Hoffman film Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? In 1971. Silverstein selected the yet unknown Dr Hook & the Medicine Show to appear on the latter. He proceeded to write the lyrics for many Dr Hook songs, including the notorious Sylvia”s Mother, Cover Of The Rolling Stone and Lucy Jordan. Dr Hook”s 1974 version made negligible impact, but Marianne Faithfull”s cover five years later became a big hit. And quite rightly so: Faithfull”s raspy, slightly desperate voice elicited empathy with the eponymous character”s breakdown, whereas Dr Hook in their perfectly servicable version just told a story. When I posted the Faithfull version previously, I claimed it was about suicide. A reader strongly disagreed. I think the denouement ““ climbing on the roof, taking the man”s hand, driving away in a white car ““ can be read in two ways: suicide or institutionalisation. Faithfull has opted for the latter interpretation, but as far as I know, the writer never let on what he meant.
Dr Hook & the Medicine Show – The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan
Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan
Also recorded by: Lee Hazlewood, Belinda Carlisle, Bobby Bare
Best version: Faithfull”s.

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La Mer/ Beyond The Sea
It is perhaps unfair to speak of Bobby Darin”s Beyond The Sea, released in 1959, as a cover version of the French song La Mer by Charles Trenet. The melodies coincide, as does the nautical theme. From there on, they are really different songs. Trenet”s version, written in 1943 on toilet paper while travelling by train and released in 1946, floats along merrily; Darin”s take initially sails along similarly but then enters a storm of big band brass and brash bluster of vocals. Before Darin recorded the song, with lyrics by Jack Lawrence, it was released by three acts as Beyond The Sea. I have heard none of these versions, but the notion that Benny Goodman”s orchestra was among them would suggest that there is no truth to the idea that it was Darin”s masterstroke to give it the big band treatment. And yet, whatever sound preceded the 1959 recording, Bobby Darin totally appropriated the song, investing in it so much personality that the number can”t be divorced from him. Most covers are based on Darin”s masterpiece, and nobody who has strayed too far from his template has managed to mess it up completely. Not even Robbie Williams.
Also recorded by: Harry James & Orchestra, Benny Goodman & Orchestra, George Wright, Roger Williams (La Mer), Ray Conniff, Lawrence Welk, Helen Shapiro, Johnny Mathis, The Sandpipers, George Benson, Kevin Kline (La Mer), Django Reinhard (La Mer), Ewan McGregor & Cameron Diaz, Bobby Caldwell, Patricia Kaas (La Mer), Wet Wet Wet, Will Young, Robbie Williams, Celtic Women (yikes!), Barry Manilow a.o.
Best version: Bobby Darin should be regarded the King of Headbanging Big Band Swing, with Beyond The Sea as the anthem.

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There”s A Kind Of Hush
A clean-cut song recorded first by a clean-cut band and covered with greater success by an even more clean-cut act. It”s difficult to imagine it now, but at the height of the British Invasion, Herman”s Hermits were briefly challengers to the Beatles” crown, ending 1965 as the best-selling act in the US. Peter Noone and pals weren”t quite as successful in their home country, where they nevertheless scored ten Top10 hits (and a solitary chart-topper) in between 1964 and 1970. Herman”s Hermits” There”s A Kind Of Hush fell smack bang into the middle of that run, becoming a UK #7 and US #4 hit in 1967. The Carpenters” cover nine years later didn”t do as well as that, #12 in the US, but to many people it is the more familiar version. Richard Carpenter does not have high praise for his own arrangement. The original, he has said, was perfect and could not be improved on (and how I wish that more musicians would have such humility), and he didn”t like the synth in his version. On the other hand, it does feature Karen”s voice, for which I am prepared to forgive anything ““ even this song. Edit: After posting this, our friend RH sent me the version by the New Vaudeville Band, whose founder Geoff Stevens co-wrote the song, and released in 1966 on the Winchester Cathedral album. In all my research, I found no reference to that until I read up on Stevens.
Also recorded by: Engelbert Humperdinck, John Davidson, Claude François, Dana Winner, Barry Manilow, Deerhoof
Best version: I don”t think the Herman”s Hermits version is perfect, but it certainly is superior.

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Singin’ In The Rain
Singin” In The Rain, the greatest musical movie of all time, was set in the nascent age of the talkies, giving rise to a couple of incredibly funny scenes involving the efforts to adapt to the new technologies by sound engineers and thespians. The songs in the film were pillaged mostly from Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Bown”s back catalogue of songs written for MGM musicals (Freed”s idea was mainly to cash in on royalties. And why not?). One of these was the title track, performed by Cliff Edwards & the Brox Sisters and originally featured in The Hollywood Revue of 1929, a star-studded affair released not long after the transition from silent movies, and MGM”s only second musical. It therefore was an inspired choice to provide the title and centrepiece for the 1952 musical. And the sequence of Gene Kelly crooning it in the rain ““ filmed while he was running a high fever ““ can never and will never become a cliché. It is film”s equivalent of the Sistine Chapel (and that sequence in A Clockwork Orange the equivalent of pissing on it).
Gene Kelly – Singin’ In The Rain
Also recorded by: Jimmy Durante, Judy Garland; John Serry Sr, Lena Horne, John Martyn, Sammy Davis Jr, Taco, Lou Rawls, Jamie Cullum, Mint Royale a.o.
Best version: The one you can play while jumping in puddles while wearing shiny shoes, a suit and a hat.

More Originals

1980

July 16th, 2007 5 comments


Let’s go on a nostalgia trip. This is the first instalment of a journey through the ’80s. These songs represent moments in time; they are not necessarily the best songs of the year, nor my favourites (neither then nor now). These songs evoke for me the feeling of the time, they recreate a time the way a smell might, or taste or photo (like the one on the right, taken in January 1980 on a visit to Finsterwalde in East Germany).

Rainbow – Since You Been Gone.mp3
There were two versions out at the time (both covers themselves). This was one, the other was by the Cherrie sisters, one of whom was in the Runaways. I had both singles, and actually preferred the Cherries’ one. Had Richie Blackmore been a hot blonde woman, on the other hand…

Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan.mp3
One of two songs that appeared in 1979 about middle-age women committing suicide (the song was the Boomtown Rats excellent “Diamond Smile”). This one became a hit in Germany only in 1980. I didn’t quite understand the song — still don’t. Kill yourself because you’ll never drive a sports car in Paris with the warm wind blowing in your hair? If only that was the extent of my problems! You have children, of school-going age; pull yourself together, Luce!

New Musik – Living By Numbers.mp3
I seem to recall that I bought the 7″ single the same day I bought “My Sharona” by the Knack. It’s still a favourite song, and I still can’t get the different “They don’t want your name” voices right.

Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno.mp3
My favourite song of 1980, then and now. The two-tone cover of the single was cool, the song beyond cool, with the horns and Kevin Rowland’s strange voice. I don’t think I had ever heard anything quite like it before.

Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers.mp3
The whistling! And working out that this was a song about the grotesque TV show we knew in Germany as “Spiele ohne Grenzen”! Plus, “Games Without Frontiers” was my 100th single. The album it came from also featured “Biko”, which got my left-wing teenage mind interested in the anti-apartheid movement. Two years later I (unwillingly) moved to apartheid South Africa.

Ramones – Baby, I Love You.mp3
I had liked the Ramones since I was a barely pubescent “punk rocker”. Gubba Gubba Hey and Sheena and all that. When this came out, I didn’t realise it was a cover version; I really thought the Ramones had changed their sound. I love this version; it’s terribly camp without intending to be so.

Robert Palmer – Johnny And Mary
I bought this album the same day as Bowie’s Scary Monsters and Paul Simon’s One Trick Pony. Then Lennon was shot, and I listened to his music for months (in fact, I was listening to the Beatles’ Blue Album the night before I woke up to the news that Lennon had been killed). So this track reminds me of the trauma I thought I had suffered through Lennon’s death.

Jermaine Jackson – Let’s Get Serious.mp3
Stevie Wonder produced this, and it sounds like it, in a “Do I Do” kind of way. This song is one funky bastard, coming out at about the same time as Michael’s Off The Wall. At the time I actually preferred Jermaine’s vibe. Is that Stevie actually doing guest vocals?

Olivia Newton-John & Cliff Richard – Suddenly.mp3
I’ve always been a leading candidate for the presidency of the Cliff Richard Hate Club. So I resisted this song for all it was worth (as I did with 1979’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore”). Still, the song is 1980, and with time I have come to accept it for the lovely bit of cheese it is.

Styx – Boat On The River.mp3
Styx were crap, really. And this song is a bit crap, too. And yet, as it is playing, I’m singing along with an unseemly amount of gusto. As a 14-year-old I thought I was rather sophisticated for appreciating the Greek-tinged vibe of this song.

Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I.mp3
I bought that album the same day I bought the Styx LP. My grandmother had given me money to buy new trainers. I bought a cheap pair so I could afford to buy a couple of LPs. In 1985 I saw Armatrading live in concert at the Hammersmith Odeon; second row, right in the middle of the stage. In the pub before I must have had a dodgy pint , because I fell asleep mid-gig. Eventually, introducing “Drop The Pilot”, Armatrading called the seated crowd to party in front of her stage, presumably so she didn’t have to look any longer at that sleeping fucker in the second row…

Ambrosia – The Biggest Part Of Me.mp3
This is how Steely Dan might have sounded had they developed like the Doobie Brothers. I imagined that this would be the perfect song driving along some random US highway with the car top down, and the warm wind in the hair. Bet Lucy Jordan never thought of that!