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In Memoriam – September 2010

October 7th, 2010 3 comments

The Grim Reaper evidently took it easy in September, at least by the standards of the last few months. One notable non-musician death last month was that on September 20 of one Leonard Skinner, the Florida gym coach whose insistence on cut hair inspired a group of future rock stars to name their group in ironic fashion after him “” Lynyrd Skynyrd. As before, all songs listed are compiled in one mix (and I’m afraid that the quality on some tracks isn’t great).

Mike Edwards, 62, cellist with the Electric Light Orchestra from 1972-75, on September 3
Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado (1973)

Noah Howard, 67, free jazz saxophonist, on September 3

Rich Cronin, 36, member of pop/rap group LFO, on September 8
LFO – Summer Girls (1999)

Hadley Caliman, 78, jazz saxophonist and flautist who recorded with the likes of Santana, Freddie Hubbard and Patrice Rushen, on September 8
Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles – Them Changes (Live, 1972).mp3

King Coleman, 78, R&B singer, on September 11
King Coleman – Down In The Basement (1960)

‘Big’ John Russell, 67, Dutch soul singer, on September 12
Big John Russell – Oh Mabel (1990)

Gus Williams, 73, Australian Aboriginal leader and country singer, on September 13.

Matt Upsher, 31, guitarist of English rock group Grey Dog, on September 13

Jorge Vidal, 86, Argentine tango singer, on September 14
Jorge Vidal – El Metejon

Arrow, 60, Montserratian soca musician, on September 15
Arrow – Hot Hot Hot (1982)

Ahmad Salaheldeen, 79, American jazz saxophone player, on September 15

Roy ‘Whitey’ Grant, 94, half of the long-running country duo Whitey & Hogan, on September 17

Buddy Collette, 89, jazz saxophonist and mentor to Charlie Mingus, on September 19
Herbie Mann & Buddy Collette – Give A Little Whistle (1957)

Fud Leclerc, 86, Belgian singer and the first person to score ‘nul points’ at the Eurovision Song Contest (with the song Ton nom in 1962, his fourth and last appearance in the competition), on September 20
Fud Leclerc – Ton nom (1962)

Don Partridge, 68, British über-busker, on September 21
Don Partridge – Blue Eyes (1968)

Eddie Fisher, 82, crooner, all-round entertainer and ex-husband of Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds, on September 22
Eddie Fisher – How Do You Speak To An Angel? (1953 )

Richard Griffey, 71, founder of soul label Solar, musician and songwriter, on September 24
The Whispers – And The Beat Goes On (1979) (as co-writer)

Ed Wiley Jr., 80, American R&B saxophonist and singer who played a pivotal role in the development of early rock ‘n’ roll, on September 27
Ed WileyJr – Cry Cry Baby (1950)

Buddy Morrow (or Moe Zudekoff), 91, jazz bandleader and trombonist, on September 27
Sharkey Bonano – High Society (1936) (as trombonist)

Tomáš Dask, 25, frontman of UK-based Slovak group The Bridgeheads, on September 27
The Bridgeheads – Fire (2010)

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Step back to 1974 – Part 1

November 27th, 2009 9 comments

It was a most significant year for me: I discovered two passions that have remained with me ever since: football (or what our American friends call soccer) and reading. The latter came first, in the shape of comic books. I never had much time for the Marvel comics type, which weren”t that big in West Germany anyhow. My first comic purchase, in 1973 when I was I Grade 2, was a rendering of Laurel and Hardy, known in Germany by the less than gratifying moniker Dick und Doof (Fat and Dim), which I bought on a train journey with my sister. But that wasn”t as good as the old film shorts which were shown on German TV on Friday afternoons. So I went on to the comic book version of Looney Tunes, with Porky Pig (or Schweinchen Dick), Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Tweety and Sylvester, Roadrunner et al. This coincided with a failed campaign to persuade German TV not to pull the weekly Looney Tunes show from its schedule, a decision made due to the cartoons” violence. Read more…

The Originals Vol. 30

August 7th, 2009 8 comments

In this instalment in the series of the lesser known originals, we look at Killing Me Softly With His Song, He Ain”t Heavy, He”s My Brother, Evil Ways, (Ghost) Riders In The Sky, and I Wanna Be Loved, an obscure “70s soul song covered a decade later by Elvis Costello. A vote of thanks to my friends Walter, RH and Mark for feeding me some of the music featured here (the latter a very long time ago).

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Kelly Gordon ““ He Ain”t Heavy, He”s My Brother (1969).mp3
The Hollies ““ He Ain”t Heavy, He”s My Brother (1969).mp3
The Persuasions – He Ain”t Heavy/You”ve Got A Friend (1971).mp3
Donny Hathaway – He Ain”t Heavy, He”s My Brother (1972).mp3
The Housemartins – He Ain”t Heavy, He”s My Brother (1986).mp3

kelly_gordonThe Hollies” guitarist Tony Hicks was desperately looking for a song to record when he was played a demo of He Ain”t Heavy, He”s My Brother. The band decided to record it without great expectations, with Reg Dwight (who would become Elton John) on piano. Of course, it became a mega-hit and pop classic. But the Hollies were not the first to record it. The song had already been released by Kelly Gordon in April 1969 “” five months before the Hollies” version “” as a single and on his Defunked album (the single”s b-side was That”s Life, a song Gordon had co-written five years earlier, but had been recorded before and made famous by Frank Sinatra). The original of He Ain”t Heavy by Gordon, more active as a producer than a singer, is slower and more mournful. Based on his interpretation, the publishers thought it would be a good song for Joe Cocker to record. And it would have been, but Cocker turned the song down.

He Ain”t Heavy was written by Bobby Scott (who wrote A Taste Of Honey) and the older veteran lyricist Bob Russell (Little Green Apples), who was already ailing with cancer and died at 55 in February 1970, just after the song had become a worldwide hit. There is much speculation as to the origin of the title; most commonly it is believed that the line was inspired by Father Edward Flannagan, the founder of Boys Town, who had adopted it as the organisation”s motto, reputedly after spotting a cartoon of a boy carrying another in a corporate publication named Louis Allis Messenger, that was captioned “He ain”t heavy Mister ““ he”s m” brother!” It was not a new line; it had been used in literature and magazine articles before, and supposedly provided the punchline for a Native American folk story.

persuasionsThere have been many covers of the song. I have several favourites. Donny Hathaway”s soul interpretation tops the Hollies” pop version. Then there are two fine a cappella versions. There are three such recordings by the Housemartins are in circulation: on the compilation Now That”s What I Call Quite Good, as a bonus track on the London 0 Hull 4 CD, and unofficially on the 1986 BBC Saturday Live sessions. It is the latter featured here. It might very well have been inspired by the magnificent version released in 1971 by the a cappella band The Persuasions, who recorded it as part of a medley with You”ve Got A Friend “” which the Housemartins also recorded a cappella. (Edit: See the message by former Persuasions frontman Jerry Lawson in the comments section.)

Also recorded by: Neil Diamond (1970), I Ribelli (as Il vento non sa leggere, 1970), The Ruffin Brothers (1970), The Osmonds (1971 & 1975), Glen Campbell (1971), Ramsey Lewis (1971), Cher (1971), Donny Hathaway (1971), Gladys Knight & The Pips (1971), Melba Moore (1971), Johnny Mathis (1972), Brotherhood of Man (1974), Olivia Newton-John (1975), The Housemartins (1985/86), Al Green (1987), Bill Medley (1988), Gotthard (1996), Rufus Wainwright (2001), Helmut Lotti (2003), Pentti Hietanen (2005), Barry Manilow (2007) a.o.

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Lori Lieberman ““ Killing Me Softly With His Song (1972).mp3
Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song (1973).mp3

lori_lieberman(Text has been edited since it was first posted)

There are two stories describing the genesis of Killing Me Softly With HIs Song. The more widely-spread story has folk-singer Lori Lieberman so moved by Don McLean”s live performance of the song Empty Chairs that she wrote a poem about, calling it Killing Me Softly With His Blues. The composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, who were taking time out from their impressive TV theme production line (Happy Days!) to write songs for Lieberman”s self-titled debut album, used her poem as the basis for the song which she would be the first to record in 1971, releasing it the following year.

Or so Lieberman says. Norman Gimbel’s recollection is very different, though much less known. In an e-mail to this blog (which will go up fully reproduced on Sunday), he explained how it was a book he was referred to years earlier by composer Lalo Shifre that featured the line “Killing Me Softly With His Blues” (the title of the poem Lieberman says she wrote). He like the idea and stored it away for a few years until he needed lyrics for the Lieberman album which he and Fox were writing, changing the word “blues” to “song”.

flackAlthough Lieberman didn”t score a big hit with the song, Flack stumbled upon it in 1972 while in air. After reading about Lieberman in the TWA airline magazine and her interest piqued by the title of the song, she tuned into the song on the in-flight radio, and decided to record it herself. Over a period of three months, Flack experimented with and rearranged the song, changing the chord structure, adding the soaring ad libs and ending the song on a major chord where Lieberman did with a minor. Her remake made an immediate impression, topping the US charts for four weeks and reaching #6 in Britain. Her version won Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance.

Almost a quarter of a century later, in 1996, Killing Me Softly ““ its full title by now routinely castrated ““ made an unwelcome return to the album charts in the form of the Fugees” cover (it wasn”t released as a single so as to boost album sales). Lauryn Hill”s vocals are fine, though the hip hop arrangement negates the confessional intimacy of Flack”s, or indeed Lieberman”s, version. And that would be adequate; the mood of a lyric often is disengaged from a song”s sound to little detriment (think of all the great upbeat numbers with morose lyrics). Besides, the Fugees had conceived of the song as an anti-drug anthem with the revised title Killing Him Softly, a plan that was abandoned when they were denied permission for such modification. The whole exercise becomes something of a prank thanks to Wyclef Jean”s repeated intonation of “one time” and “two time”, as though he was auditioning for the role of parody DJ on Sesame Street. No matter how affecting Hill”s vocals, Wycount von Count”s antics render the Fugees” version one of the most deplorable covers in pop.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1973), Rusty Bryant (1973), Tim Weisberg (1973), Perry Como (1973), Bobby Goldsboro (1973), John Holt (1973), Anne Murray (1973), The Ventures (1973), Shirley Bassey (1973), Woody Herman (1973), Katja Ebstein (as Das Lied meines Lebens, 1973), Vikki Carr (1973), Lynn Anderson (1973), Rune Gustafsson (1973), Lill Lindfors (as Sången han sjöng var min egen, 1973), Marcella Bella, Lara Saint Paul, Ornella Vanoni (all as Mi fa morire cantando, 1973), Andy Williams (1974), Mike Auldridge (1974), Charlie Byrd (1974), Petula Clark (1974), Engelbert Humperdinck (1974), Ferrante & Teicher (1974), George Shearing Quintet (1974), Charles Fox (1975), Hampton Hawes (1976), Cleo Laine & John Williams (1976), Mina (1985), Lance Hayward (1987), Al B. Sure! (1988), Donald Brown (1989), Casal (as Tal como soy, 1989), Linda Imperial (1991), Yta Farrow (1991), Joanna (as Morrendo de amo, 1991), Luther Vandross (1994), Ron Sanfilippo (1994), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Mahogany (1996), The Fugees (1996), Victoria Abril (1998), Joe Augustine (1998), Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers (1998), The BB Band (1999), Anthony Arizaga (2000), Hank Marvin (2002), Eric Hansen (2002), Kimberly Caldwell (2003), Raymond Jones (2004), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (2005), Omara Portuondo (as Matándome suavemente, 2006), Helge Schneider (2007), a.o.

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Burl Ives – Riders In The Sky (1949).mp3
Vaughn Monroe – Riders In The Sky (1949).mp3
Peggy Lee – Riders In The Sky (A Cowboy Legend) (1949).mp3
The Ventures – Ghost Riders In The Sky (1961).mp3
Deborah Harry – Riders In The Sky (1998).mp3

burl_ivesRiders In The Sky, sometimes known as Ghost Riders In The Sky, is one of those standards which is famous mostly for being famous. It has been recorded many times, and most people know at least its melody (I knew it first in the The Ventures” 1961 guitar-driven instrumental version), but there seems to be no artist to whom the song is universally and specifically attached.

The song was written in 1948 by Stan Jones, a California forest ranger by trade who wrote western music as a sideline, also contributing music to film classics such as The Searchers and Rio Bravo. Riders In The Sky was first recorded in February 1949 by Burl Ives, still to be outed as a supposed communist fellow traveller and a few years from becoming friends with the McCarthyist defenders of freedom. Two months after Ives, Vaughn Monroe recorded it with his orchestra, and scored an international hit with it. The same year, Gene Autry sang it in a film, also titled Riders In The Sky, and Peggy Lee did a version, adding the parenthetical “A Cowboy Legend” to the title. The song made a comeback in the British charts in 1980 with the instrumental take by The Shadows, covering ground previously traversed by The Ventures and Dick Dale. And in 1998, Deborah Harry, formerly of Blondie, issued her electronica version.

Also recorded by: Bing Crosby (1949), Peggy Lee (1949), Gene Autry (1949), Spike Jones (1949), Eddy Arnold (1959), The Ramrods (1961), The Ventures (1961), Dick Dale (1963), Frank Ifield (1963), Frankie Laine (1963), Lorne Greene (1964), Duane Eddy (1966), The Englishmen (1967), Tom Jones (1967), Elvis Presley (live, 1970), Dennis Stoner (1971), Mary McCaslin (1975), Riders in the Sky 91979), Johnny Cash (1979), The Shadows (1979), Outlaws (1980), Fred Penner (1980), Milton Nascimento (1981), Marty Robbins (1984), The Trashmen (1990), R.E.M. (as Ghost Reindeer in the Sky, 1990), Michael Martin Murphey (1993), Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson (1998), Deborah Harry (1998), Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman and The Blues Brothers Band (1998), Ned Sublette (1999), Concrete Blonde (2004), Peter Pan Speedrock (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006), Die Apokalyptischen Reiter (2006), Spiderbait (2007), Dezperadoz (2008), Children of Bodom (2008) a.o.

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Teacher”s Edition – I Wanna Be Loved (1973).mp3
Elvis Costello – I Wanna Be Loved (1984).mp3

teachers_editionFor a prolific songwriter, Elvis Costello has covered songs widely. His best known cover perhaps is George Jones” A Good Year For The Roses, itself a country classic. I Wanna Be Loved, a Costello single in 1984 which appeared on the otherwise underwhelming Goodbye Cruel World album (and features Scritti Politti”s Green Gartside on backing vocals), was plucked from obscurity. That”s what Costello said, and he was not exaggerating. I have been able to find nothing about Teacher”s Edition or about Farnell Jenkins, who wrote the song, except that it was released in on the Memphis-based Hi Records (which counted Al Green, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright among its roster) in1973 as a b-side to a song titled It Helps To Make You Strong, and enjoyed popularity in the Northern Soul set. Jenkins, now 67, now seems to be a Chicago-based writer of Gospel songs.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems

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Willie Bobo ““ Evil Ways (1967).mp3
bobo Santana ““ Evil Ways (1969).mp3
This month, you may hear it incidentally mentioned, marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. For Santana, the festival was the great break-out moment. Within a few months of Woodstock, the group had a hit with Evil Ways, the first of a string of covers by Carlos and his shifting band of chums. Evil Ways was recorded first by Latin jazz percussionist Willie Bobo, who would later collaborate with Santana. It was written by Bobo”s guitarist Sonny Henry, who is also doing vocal duty. Bobo died young, in 1983 at 49 of cancer. His son, Eric Bobo (the family name is actually Correa), also became a percussionist, with Cypress Hill.

evil_waysThe vocals (and the organ solo) on the Santana version are by the band”s co-founder Gregg Rolie, whose keyboards and vocals were also so integral to Santana”s version of Black Magic Woman (featured in Vol. 1). Rolie proceeded to co-found Journey with former Santana bandmate Neal Schon. In Journey, Rolie was initially lead vocalist, but ceded frontman duties when Steve Perry joined.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1970), Cal Tjader (1971), Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles (1972)

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In The Originals Vol. 22 we looked at The House Of The Rising Sun. In the interim, our friend Walter has sent me the first known recording of the song, by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster, recorded in 1933. I have added it to the original article, and post it below:

Ashley and Foster – Rising Sun Blues.mp3

Those interested in more versions of the song will be well served by this post on the fascinating Merlin in Rags blog, which specialises in old folk and blues.

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The Originals Vol. 10

October 20th, 2008 No comments

Left Banke – Walk Away Renee.mp3
Four Tops – Walk Away Renee.mp3
A good time to post this, in tribute to the very great Levi Stubbs, who passed away last week. I have no idea how Levi pictured the heartbreaking Renee, but the beautiful woman who allegedly inspired the original by the Left Banke was a platinum blonde, teenager Renee Fladen, then the object of affection of 16-year-old co-writer Michael Brown and the bass player”s girfriend. Follow-up single Pretty Ballerina was also inspired by Renee. But Tony Sansone, who co-wrote the lyrics, claimed that the titular name was just a random riff on French names in the aftermath of the Beatles” Michelle, which had come out a year before Renee was released in 1966.

It reached #5 on the US charts, but it was the Four Tops” 1968 cover by which the song is better remembered (depending, perhaps, on where you live). And with good reason. Though the Left Banke”s version does feature the flute (which to me is always a recommendation), Levi Stubbs” uses all his experience to capture the resigned heartbreak of the lyrics. Though how fair is it to compare a bunch of youngsters to the great man? The Four Tops” cover reached only #14 in the US, but was a Top 5 hit in Britain, where the Left Banke”s version failed to chart.
Also recorded by: Gabor Szabo (1969), The Cowsills (1969), Franki Valli (1975), John O’Banion (1981), Alvin Stardust (1983), Rickie Lee Jones (1985), Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (1986), Rick Price (1992), Jimmy LaFave (1992), Lotion (1995), Peppino D’Agostino (1995), Vonda Shepard (1998), Angie Heaton (1999), Marshall Crenshaw (2001), David Cassidy (2003), Lowen & Navarro (2006), Linda Ronstadt & Ann Savoy (2006)
Best version: Well, the Four Tops”, of course.

Barry McGuire – California Dreamin’.mp3
The Mamas and the Papas – California Dreamin’.mp3
John and Michelle Phillips wrote California Dreamin” in 1963, suitably while living in New York, before forming the Mamas and the Papas and while John was still with a group called The New Journeymen. Fellow folkie Barry McGuire helped John and Michelle land a recording contract. In gratitude, they gave McGuire a song for his next album: California Dreamin”, which was recorded (with the now formed Mamas & Papas on backing vocals) in 1965, but was released only in 1966. It was supposed to be McGuire”s follow-up to Eve Of Destruction, but the Mamas and the Papas recorded the song themselves and released it as a single in 1965, initially to widespread indifference. Only when it started getting airplay on a Boston radio station did the song become a hit in early 1966. And quite right, too, because it includes a flute solo (and yes, I”m working on a series of flute in pop). McGuire insists that the Mamas & Papas didn”t so much re-record the song as replace his voice with Denny Doherty”s and the harmonica solo with the flute. Listen to the two versions and judge for yourself. And if you want more versions of California Dreamin” (including Baby Huey”s), check out this quite brilliant post from The Gentlebear.
Also recorded by: Johnny Rivers (1966), The Seekers (1966), Wes Montgomery (1966), Dik Dik (as Sognando la California, 1966), Richard Anthony (as La terre promise, 1966), The Ventures (1966), Jormas (1966), The Carpenters (demo 1967, released in 2001), Bobby Womack (1968), José Feliciano (1968), The Free Design (1968), The Lettermen (1969), The Four Tops (1969), Winston Francis (1970), Nancy Sinatra (1970), Baby Huey (1971), George Benson (1971), Mike Auldridge (1976), Eddie Hazel (1977), Melanie (1978), Tapani Kansa (as Kalajoen hiekat, 1978), The Beach Boys (1983 & 1986), M.I.A. (1985), River City People (1990), American Music Club (1994), Henry Kaiser (1995), West Coast All Stars (1997), Fleming & John (1998), 386 DX (2000), Jack Frost (2000), John Phillips (2001), DJ Sammy (2002), Ace Andres (2002), Clare Teal (2003), Lana Lane (2003), Queen Latifah (2004), Royal Gigolos (2004), Benny Benassi (2004), David Hasselhoff (2004), Barry Manilow (2006), Mower (2006), Jann Arden (2007), Shaw Blades (2007), Cristian Nemescu (2007)
Best version: The one with the flute. Or, of course, The Hoff’s!


Babatunde Olatunji – Jin-Go-Lo-Ba.mp3

Santana – Jingo.mp3
The Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji became one of the first African music stars in the US with his 1959 Drums of Passion album, which included Jin-Go-La-Ba. Apart from the African sound, Olatunji was at home with jazz (Gillespie and Coltrane rated him highly; the latter played gig final gig at a Olatunji’s Centre for African Culture in Harlem) and Latin music, especially the Cuban variety. Olatunji, who died in 2003 at 76, recorded with the likes of Quincy Jones, Cannonball Adderley and Stevie Wonder, and is namechecked on Bob Dylan”s I Shall Be Free. A decade later, Carlos Santana appeared on the scene with his fusion of rock, blues, jazz, Latin and African. He featured in the first volume of this series, having borrowed from then-blues band Fleetwood Mac (and Hungarian jazz master Gabor Szabo), and reappears here lifting the rhythm of Africa in a version that nonetheless sounds strongly Latin for the first Santana single, released in 1969.
Also recorded by: Jellybean (1988), FKW (1994), Fatboy Slim (2004)
Best version: Who can rightly decide? Rocking to either is going to psyche you up, though the Santana version might induce a heart attack among the dancing unfit.

Prince – I Feel For You.mp3
Chaka Khan – I Feel For You.mp3
It has never been much of a secret that Chaka Khan”s big 1984 hit I Feel For You was written by Prince, but the composer”s version is not very well known. And, frankly, it isn”t quite as good as Chaka”s (which coincidentally was a hit at the height of Prince”s fame and success on the back of Purple Rain). Prince, on his eponymous sophomore album, sings it with his falsetto, backed by a synth which in 1979 must have seemed cutting edge but now sounds terribly dated. It”s not bad, but the Arif Mardin arrangement for Chaka, with Melle Mel”s rap ““ which surely did a lot to popularise rap in the mainstream, and which Chaka did not like ““ is richer, funkier, more fun. Stevie Wonder played the harmonica on it, apparently recorded on the day he attended Marvin Gaye”s funeral. Fifteen years later, Prince and Chaka performed the song together while on tour.
Also recorded by: Pointer Sisters (1982), Mary Wells (1983), Rebbie Jackson (1984), Flying Pickets (1991),
Best version: Chaka Khan”s. Chaka Khan”s.

Eleventh Hour – Lady Marmalade.mp3
Labelle – Lady Marmalade.mp3
This is the sort of song this series was made for. When Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Pink and Mya created their version, produced by Missy Elliott, for the film Moulin Rouge in 2001, the buffs knowingly told their kids about its inferiority with reference to the original by Labelle. I know I did. Using the word “original”. In fact, I had no idea that LaBelle”s take wasn”t an original until our friend RH sent me the Eleventh Hour version. Lady Marmalade was written by Bob Crewe (a recurring name in this series for his association with the Four Seasons) and Kenny Nolan (who may be remembered for his 1977 ballad I Like Dreaming). Nolan was a member of the Eleventh Hour, who included the song on their rather grandly titled 1974 LP Eleventh Hour’s Greatest Hits (the number of actual hits were restricted to none, and the title was doubtless ironic).

The same year Labelle, led by Histrionic Patti, recorded it, produced by the legendary Alain Toussaint. It became a US #1, replacing another Crewe & Nolan composition, Frankie Valli”s My Eyes Adored You. In fact, Lady Marmalade was a #1 hit twice in both US and UK, albeit in different combinations: by Labelle and Missy Elliott”s gang in the US, and in the UK by All Saints and Elliott.
Also recorded by: Nanette Workman (1975), Amii Stewart (1979), Sheila E. (1991), Boogie Knights (1995), All Saints (1998), The BB Band (1999), Lords Of Acid (1999), Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya & Pink (2001), Andy Hallett (2005)
Best version: I quite like the original ““ it”s a fine mid-70s funk work-out. But Patti LaBelle is not doing the scream-queen thing, and Toussaint ““ a New Orleans icon producing a song about a Louisiana prostitute ““ knew what he was doing. Its greatness is compromised only by its ubiquity. The Moulin Rouge version has been unjustly hammered by many, but it isn”t nearly as good as it thinks it is.

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The Originals Vol. 1

August 28th, 2008 11 comments

Inspired by a propitious confluence of a long discussion about cover versions we didn”t know where covers and a generous correspondent whom we”ll know as RH e-mailing me a bunch of rare originals of better known covers, we are now at the cusp of what will be a longish series. Any Major Notebook now includes two pages worth of almost 100 shortlisted songs that in their original form are lesser known than later versions. In some cases that reputation is entirely subjective. There will be people who think that the version of Lady Marmalade perpetrated by Christina Aguilera and pals was the original. But people of my generation will long have been familiar with LaBelle”s 1970s recording. Until a day ago, I thought that was the original, but RH has disabused me of my error. The real original of Lady Marmalade will feature later in this series. In a very few cases, I will not present the original, but the earliest version available (I will note these instances accordingly). And we”ll kick-off with a heavy-duty dose of 10 originals. Tell me which songs you were surprised to learn are in fact covers, and let me know whether you prefer the originals or later versions.

(All original songs re-uploaded on March 31, 2009)

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Leon Russell – This Masquerade.mp3
Carpenters – This Masquerade.mp3
It makes sense to start this series with the Carpenters, who made it a virtue of picking up relatively obscure songs, and re-arrange and appropriate them. Think of (They Long To Be) Close To You, which despite legions of competing covers has become the Carpenters” signature song as much as Richard”s arrangement has become the best-known, indeed primary incarnation of that song. For another good example of Richard”s rearrangement genius, take This Masquerade. Covered only a year after it originally appeared on Leon Russell”s 1972 Carney album, it becomes quite a different animal in the Carpenters” shop, doing away with the long movie-theme style intro. Oddly, both Russell and the Carpenters” used the song on b-sides of inferior singles. George Benson”s 1976 Grammy-winning version from the Breezin” album is also worth noting.
Also covered by: Carl Tjader, Sergio Mendez, Helen Reddy, Shirley Bassey, No Mercy, CoCo Lee, Nils Landgren a.o.
Best version: The Carpenters”s version has a flute and Karen”s voice, beating Benson into second place.

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Randy & the Rainbows – Denise.mp3
Blondie – Denis.mp3
Here”s one I didn”t know until a few days ago: Blondie”s 1977 burst of pop-punk was in fact a cover of a 1963 hit. For Randy & the Rainbows, Denise represented a brief flirtation with stardom. It reached #10 on the Billboard charts, but after the follow-up barely scraped into the Top 100, that was it for the doo-woppers from Queens. For Blondie, on the other hand, Denis was something of a break-through song, at least in Europe. The French verse in Denis was necessary to explain away the object of desire”s gender-change. Thanks to my friend John C for the original version.
Also covered by: nobody worth mentioning
Best version: The original is very nice indeed, but Blondie”s cover is just perfect pop.

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Bing Crosby – Try A Little Tenderness.mp3
Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness.mp3
My kind friend RH, who helped inspire this series, has made me aware of many originals that have surprised me. It was not news to me, however, that Try A Little Tenderness was in fact an old 1930s standard, when RV sent me this Bing Crosby version. And yet, of the many songs I have received from RH, I was particularly delighted with this one, because among its crooned renditions I had heard only versions by Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. It needn”t be pointed out that once Otis was through with the song, with the help of Booker T & the MGs and a production team that included Isaac Hayes, it bore only the vaguest semblance to the smooth and safe standard it once was. Redding didn’t want to record it, ostensibly because he did not want to compete with his hero Sam Cooke”s brief interpretation of the song on the Live At The Copa set. Incredibly Otis’ now iconic delivery was actually intended to screw the song up so much that it could not be released. Bing”s 1932 version is actually not the original, but the song”s first cover version following the Ray Noble Orchestra”s recording.
Also covered by: Mel Tormé, Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra, Jack Webb, Frankie Lane, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Nancy Wilson, Percy Sledge, Nina Simone, Three Dog Night, Etta James, Al Jarreau, Rod Stewart, The Commitments, Michael Fucking Bolton, Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner, Diane Schuur & BB King, Von Bondies, Michael Bublé a.o.
Best version: Otis.

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The Arrows – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.mp3
Joan Jett – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.mp3
The Arrows were a short-lived English band on the RAK label, which also gave us the likes of Smokie, Hot Chocolate and Racey, and so were produced by the semi-genius of ’70s pop, Mickey Most. After two hits ““ though not this song ““ and starring in a couple of brief TV series on British TV, they disappeared. Joan Jett also seemed to disappear after the break-up of The Runaways in the late “70s, suddenly reappearing with the largely obscure I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which she had previously recorded with members of the Sex Pistols. Apparently Jett had known the song since 1976 when, while on tour with the Runaways, she saw the Arrows performing it on TV. Jett had another hit with another cover version, and that was her solo career over. The song found a new generation of admirers in 2001 with Britney Spears” redundant cover.
Also covered by: Allan Merrill, Hayseed Dixie, Queens of Japan (no, me neither)
Best version: Jett gives it beery attitude.

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Everly Brothers – Crying In The Rain.mp3
Cotton, Lloyd & Christian – Crying In The Rain.mp3
A-ha – Crying In The Rain.mp3

Before she was all dreamy and barefooted hippie cat lover, Carole King was a songwriter in the legendary Brill Building. One of the many hits she churned out was Crying In The Rain, with which the Everly Brothers scored a top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1961. It was periodically revived on the country circuit, but is best known to many as the A-ha hit from 1990 ““ and the many would include me. In between, it was recorded in 1976 by an obscure outfit called Cotton, Lloyd & Christian. I have no idea how their version landed up in my collection, but here it is, serving as a missing link between the versions by the Everly Bothers and A-ha.
Also covered by: Sweet Inspirations, Crystal Gayle, Tammy Wynette, Don Williams a.o.
Best version: A-ha, by a whisker

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Liza Minnelli – New York, New York.mp3
Frank Sinatra – New York New York.mp3
The Theme from New York, New York has so much become a Sinatra cliché, it is often forgotten that it came from a rather long and boring Scoresese film with Minnelli and Robert de Niro. In the film, Minelli”s version is a source of some melancholy viewing; Sinatra”s 1979 take, recorded two years after the film, gets parties going with the hackneyed high-kicks and provides any old drunk with an alternative to My Way on karaoke night. If proof was needed that Sinatra trumps Lucille 2, consider that the NY Yankees used to play the Sinatra version after winning, and Minnelli”s after a defeat. Minnelli objected to that, understandably, and gave the Yankees an ultimatum: “Play me also when you win, or not at all.” Now Sinatra gets played even when they lose.
Also covered by: Michael Fucking Bolton (imagine that!), Reel Big Fish, Cat Power a.o.
Best version: Frank”s version is A-Number One

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Four Seasons – Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye).mp3
Bay City Rollers – Bye Bye Baby.mp3
The Four Seasons will be occasional visitors in this series. At least those people who grew up in the 1970s will be more familiar with cover versions than the Four Seasons originals. Bye Bye Baby was written by band member Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe, making it to #12 in the US charts. A decade later the Bay City Rollers scored their biggest hit with their decent but inferior version. The story goes that the Bay City Rollers were oblivious of the Four Seasons orginal, choosing it because Stuart “Woody” Wood had the 1967 cover by the Symbols. I have no idea what the Symbols did with the song, but the BCR arrangement certainly owes nothing to the more sparse original.
Also covered by: Apart from the Symbols also by something called the Popguns
Best version: Always the Four Seasons

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Fleetwood Mac – Black Magic Woman.mp3
Santana – Back Magic Woman.mp3
From Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 debut album, Black magic Woman is “three minutes of sustain/reverb guitar with two exquisite solos from Peter [Green],” according to Mick Fleetwood. Carlos Santana covered it on 1970’s Abraxas album and retained its basic structure and clearly drug-induced vibe, but changed the arrangement significantly with a shot of Latin and hint of fusion, and borrowing from jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo’s Gypsy Queen. It became one of Santana’s signature tunes, while Fleetwood Mac had to remind audiences that the song was actually theirs. The vocals on the Santana version are by Greg Rolie, who later co-founded Journey. And the who is this Black Magic Woman? According to legend, it was a BMW of that colour which the non-materialist Green fancied.
Also covered by: Dennis Brown, Mina, the Go Getters
Best version: Santana’s, especially for the use of the congas

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Scott English – Brandy.mp3
Barry Manilow – Mandy.mp3
Although he is a talented songwriter, Barry Manilow is a bit like the Carpenters: he appropriated other people’s songs by force of arrangement (and, obviously, commercial success) ““ including a Carpenters song, which will feature in this series. If we need proof of how much Bazza owned the songs he didn’t write, consider his giant hit Mandy. It was a cover of a ditty called Brandy by one Scott English, which was a #12 hit in Britain in 1971 (the tune was written by Richard Kerr, who wrote two other hits for Manilow, Looks Like We’ve Made It and Somewhere In The Night). Manilow’s renamed version was the first cover. None of the subsequent recordings are dedicated to Brandy. English’s version is not very good. To start with he couldn’t sing, and the production is slapdash. Manilow recorded it relucantly, not yet sure about singing other people’s music. He slowed it down, gave it a lush arrangement, and we know how it ended. Quite hilariously, Manilow is not popuar among some people in New Zealand who think that he stole the song from a local singer called Bunny Walters, who had a hit with Brandy in his home country while the actual songwriter’s version failed to dent the charts there.
Also covered by: Johnny Mathis, Starsound Orchestra, Helmut Lotti (urgh!), Westlife
Best version: Mandy trumps Brandy.

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Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.mp3
Roberta Flack – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.mp3
The first time ever you heard this song probably was by Roberta Flack, whose performance on her 1969 debut album was barely noticed until it was included in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film Play Misty For Me. Those who dig deeper will know that it was in fact written in the 1950s by folk legend Ewan MacColl, for Peggy Seeger with whom he was having an affair and who would become his third wife. For MacColl, the political troubadour, the song is a radical departure, supporting the notion that he didn’t just write it for inclusion in Peggy’s repertoire. Followers of the ’60s folk scene might have known the song before they heard the Flack version; it was a staple of the genre. The Kingston Trio even cleaned up the lyrics, changing the line “The first time ever I lay with you…” to “…held you near”. After the success of Flack’s intense, tender, sensual, touching and definitive version ““ which captures the experience of being with somebody you love better than any other song ““ there was an explosion of covers, with Elvis Presley’s bombastic version especially infuriating MacColl, who compared it to Romeo singing up at Juliet on the Post Office tower. It does seem that he did not take kindly to the intimacy of his song being spread widely and, indeed, corrupted. And Peggy Seeger never sang the song again after Ewan’s death
Also covered by: Smothers Brothers, Peter Paul & Mary, Harry Belafonte, Marianne Faithfull, Bert Jansch, Gordon Lightfoot, Shirley Bassey, Vicky Carr, Andy Williams, Engelbert Humperdinck, Johnny Mathis, The Temptations, Isaac Hayes, Timmy Thomas, The Chi-Lites, Mel Tormé, Barbara Dickson, Alsion Moyet, Aaron Neville, Julian Lloyd Webber, Lauryn Hill, Celine Dion, George Michael, Christy Moore, Stereophonics, Johnny Cash, Vanessa Williams, Leona Lewis a.o.
Best version: I’m waiting for Michael Fucking Bolton to do his version before I commit myself…
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