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Any Major Neil Diamond Songbook

July 22nd, 2021 8 comments

 

When I was little, Neil Diamond was one of my mother’s favourite singers, alongside Cat Stevens. She’d also get excited when Engelbert Humperdinck appeared on TV, but she had none of his records. I assume that more than us crooning, she liked Engelbert’s luxuriously blow-dried hair. Of which Neil Diamond had a lot, too. Plus the lamé jackets.

As I became a teenager, I regarded Diamond as lamé and lame. His easy listening music was aimed at my mom, not at me. Forever In Blue Jeans was a boomer hymn, not aimed at my generation. And I assumed the name was a presumptuous moniker (turns out, it’s the guy’s real name).

For a long time, I didn’t dare to go near Diamond. Then I became the age of the people at whom Diamond had aimed his music. I still don’t go for the Forever In Blue Jeans stuff or the Streisand duet, but his 1960s and earlier ’70s stuff… well, that works for me. I also have a lot of time for his 2000s albums, especially the wonderful 12 Songs from 2005.

What a pity, then, that for many people, Neil Diamond means the hackneyed DA-DA-DA inserted by sports crowds into Sweet Caroline.

Diamond (who was born in 1941 and grew up in Brooklyn with future duet partner Barbra Streisand in his orbit) started out as part of a singing duo, Neil & Jack, and as a Brill Building songwriter. The duo flopped, but he made a name as a songwriter for acts like The Monkees, whose mega-hit I’m A Believer he wrote. His first Top 20 composition was in 1965, with Sunday And Me for Jay and the Americans. By 1966 he had a recording contract, recording his first hit, Solitary Man. It was the beginning of a fruitful career.

This mix features covers of songs from that long career. Strangely, some great songs have not been covered (such as the magnificent Brooklyn Roads) or not covered by many acts other than your James Lasts and Hugo Montenegros.

When UB40 had a hit with Neil Diamond’s Red Red Wine in 1983, they apparently had no idea that it was a song by the lame-suited balladeer. The group thought they were covering (and, we may assume, improving) an original by reggae singer Tony Tribe, whose own cover of the song was released in 1969, two years after Diamond’s (Tribe’s version is added here as a bonus track. It might have been inspired by the 1968 soul version of Jamaica’s Jimmy James & The Vagabonds).  Several reggae artists covered Diamond: Holly Holy, for example, was covered to good effect by both Byron Lee & The Dragonaires and Willie Lindo; Bunny Scott did I Am…I Said; Marcia Griffiths did Play Me. As recently as 2013, Third World got their hands on Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon.

This collection includes a handful of songs written by Diamond but first recorded by others:  I’m A Believer and A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You were first hits for The Monkees, but feature here as covers — the latter in Diamond’s version. The Monkees themselves feature with their original of Diamond’s composition Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow), The Box Tops with Ain’t No Way, the Jay & The Americans track, and Glen Campbell with Sunflower.

As ever, CD-R length, home-song-sung-blued covers, linernotes in illustrated PDF. PW in comments.

1. Neil Diamond – I’m A Believer (1970)
2. Bobby Womack – Sweet Caroline (1972)
3. Jr. Walker & The All Stars – Holly Holy (1970)
4. Deep Purple – Kentucky Woman (1968)
5. David Garrick – I Got The Feelin’ (1967)
6. Elvis Presley – And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind (1970)
7. Glen Campbell – Sunflower (1977)
8. Johnny Cash feat. Tom Petty – Solitary Man (2000)
9. Shane MacGowan & The Popes – Cracklin’ Rosie (1994)
10. The Specials – A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (1996)
11. Marcia Griffiths – Play Me (1974)
12. Jimmy James & The Vagabonds – Red Red Wine (1968)
13. Millie Jackson – Love On The Rocks (1981)
14. Bunny Walters – Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon (1972)
15. Caterina Caselli – La casa degli angeli (I Am…I Said) (1971)
16. The Box Tops – Ain’t No Way (1969)
17. Wishful Thinking – Cherry, Cherry (1967)
18. The Monkees – Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) (1967)
19. Lafayette – Porcupine Pie (1973)
20. Frank Sinatra – Song Sung Blue (1980)
21. Peggy Lee – Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show (1969)
22. Malcolm & The Les Humphries Singers – Soolaimon (1970)
23. Jay & The Americans – Sunday And Me (1966)
Bonus Tracks:
Elvis Presley – Sweet Caroline (1970)
Willie Lindo – Holly Holy (1974)
Tony Tribe – Red, Red Wine (1969)

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Previous Songbooks:
ABBA
Ashford & Simpson
Bill Withers
Bob Dylan Volumes 1-5
Bruce Springsteen
Burt Bacharach & Hal David
Burt Bacharach’s Lesser-Known Songbook
Chuck Berry
Cole Porter Vol. 1
Cole Porter Vol. 2
John Prine
Jimmy Webb Vol. 1
Jimmy Webb Vol. 2
Leonard Cohen
Rod Temperton
Steely Dan

More Songbooks
More Cover Mixes
More CD-R Mixes

Categories: Covers Mixes, Mix CD-Rs, Songwriters Tags:

Any Major Soul 1990-92

July 15th, 2021 1 comment

 

 

While the Any Major Soul series will continue with the mixes covering the 1980s year-by-year (the most recent being Any Major Soul 1981), we’ll also be jumping ahead to the 1990s.

It was arguably the last “golden age” of soul, and the last decade in which soul was the dominant African-American genre. One might have fruitful arguments about how hip hop and soul have fused to such an extent that they are merchandise in the same bag, symbolised by the union of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. But today is not the time for that discussion, though the flirtation between soul and hip hop had already begun in the 1990s.

As the 1980s turned into the 1990s, soul became more youthful, even as veterans such as Roberta Flack and Luther Vandross were still scoring hits. Indeed, on this mix, several veterans strut their middle-aged stuff: Chaka Khan, Curtis Mayfield, Anita Baker and Gerald Alston (former lead singer of The Manhattans).

At the dawn of the 1990s, there was the New Jack Swing movement, pioneered already in the ’80s by people like Keith Sweat (remarkably, his real name), which drew from the rhythms of hip hop. In its purest form, it was short-lived, but its legacy was heavily felt throughout the decade and beyond. The awful 1980s synthethisers and screeching movie soundtrack guitars were fading away, and the primacy of the bass returned.

Return of the Band

After a decade-and-half of solo singers grabbing most of the success, groups were back. And their influences went way back to doo wop, as outfits like Boyz II Men (featured here with the marvellous Motownphilly), Shai, All-4-One et al showed. Girl bands were also back, and this time they needn’t be families like the Pointers, Sledges or Joneses.  Now there were mostly trios of Sistas: TLC, En Vogue, SWV, Jade, Eternal, Xscape, Brownstone and so on.

Of course, there were still solo singers, and some of them were of the old school, like the singer of this set’s stand-out track, Keith Washington. But new stars emerged, even if for a brief shift at the top. One of them was Johnny Gill, alumnus of New Edition, whose My My My offered the promise of first-rate sex in the class of Teddy Pendergrass. But where TP was all hairy face, Gill was shaved balls. Soul machismo had a new look, all short-sides and flattop, and waxed chests.

Sex ‘n’ Soul

In the 1990s, soul music became more sexually explicit, though not yet in the misogynistic crudeness which would be spearheaded in hip hop with its demeaning rhymes about assorted bitches and ho’s who reportedly ain’t shit. Our soul singers were still cut from the romantic cloth, and their romancing included few sartorial uses, other than the strategic discarding of garments. The vague suggestion of sweet lovin’ through the night, baby, became more specific in the soul mainstream, recalling TP’s radical proposal a decade earlier of showering together for the purpose of mutually administered personal hygiene before sweaty proceedings could commence in the darkness.

Case in point: cunnilingus. Previously all kinds of metaphors would protect the fainthearted from exposure to this particular form of oral sex (and here we welcome the lost porn-googlers. Stick around, new arrivals, and enjoy the music). Pop band Spandau Ballet pushed the tongue out wide when in True, their 1983 hit, they referred to the “pill on my tongue”, which was not a pharmaceutical reference. Ten years later, Tony Toni Toné in their song Put Your Head On My Pillow issued an explicit instruction manual to cunnilingus (you find that track on Any Major Babymaking Music Vol. 2). And we will not even mention that unmentionable Bump n’ Grinder.

Soul Yodel

The 1990s produced the girl groups, but the decade also offered scope to female solo singers. The decade’s two biggest stars in soul were ground-breaking women: Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey (neither feature on this mix, but might well have). Both of them have become symbols for bombastic vocals with an excessive of melisma (the proper term for soul yodelling). Yet. both singers merit a thorough rehabilitation. They were magnificent vocalists with some great pop and a few superb soul songs (and also some unfortunate material). I shall discuss the melisma mania in the linernotes for the next mix, but it would be negligent of me to fail pointing out that summarily dismissing the vocals of I Will Always Love You or Vision Of Love simply because they include vocal gymnastics is an act of foolishness.

Women were taking their place of primacy in soul. I don’t imagine any major soul mix of the 1980s would kick off with five songs by women, or have a female presence of about two-thirds of the playlist. In my selection of tracks, this was entirely unintended. Even on the shortlist, men constituted only half of the volume. But it shows that in the 1990s, things in soul were changing.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-shellsuited covers and the text above in PDF format. PW in comments.

1. Soul II Soul feat. Kym Mazelle – Missing You (1990)
2. The Chimes – True Love (1990)
3. Mary J. Blige – Real Love (1992)
4. SWV – Weak (1992)
5. Cheryl Pepsii Riley – I Don’t Wanna Be Alone (1991)
6. Keith Washington – Kissing You (1991)
7. Curtis Mayfield – Do Be Down (1990)
8. Gerald Alston – Slow Motion (1990)
9. Chanté Moore – Love’s Taken Over (1992)
10. Jade – Don’t Walk Away (1992)
11. Johnny Gill – My My My (1990)
12. Mica Paris – You Put A Move On My Heart (1992)
13. Lisa Fischer – How Can I Ease The Pain (1991)
14. Anita Baker – Soul Inspiration (1990)
15. Chaka Khan – Love You All My Lifetime (1992)
16. Boyz II Men – Motownphilly (1991)
17. Shai – If I Ever Fall In Love (1992)

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Any Major Soul 1960s
Any Major Soul 1970s
Any Major Soul 1980s

Categories: 80s soul, 90s Soul, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

In Memoriam – June 2021

July 6th, 2021 4 comments

Oh, Reaper, please keep on taking it easy. It was a merciful month — the least eventful in many years — though it might not seem that way for fans of Argentine rock or Japanese instrumentalists. Or presidents who liked to make music. The reward in months like this is in discovering great music from unexpected quarters.

The Mentor
The story of Grace Griffith — who has died at only 64 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease — is one of generosity of spirit, that appealing characteristic which is an essence of love. When she was signed by folk and Celtic music label Blix Street Records, Griffith was supposed to become its headliner. But Griffith urged them to also sign a loyal fan of hers by the name of Eva Cassidy.

Nothing much happened until September 1996, when Griffith learnt of Cassidy’s illness with cancer. Griffith immediately arranged to send a tape of Cassidy’s just recently self-released Live at Blues Alley album to Bill Straw from Blix Street Records. Two months later, Cassidy was dead and Griffiths sang at her funeral. Straw obtained the rights to Cassidy’s recordings, both previously released and demos, and put a collection of them out under the title Songbird. It became a huge hit, especially in Britain.

Alas, Griffith was diagnosed with Parkinson’s less than two years after Cassidy’s death. Soon she lost her ability to play the various instruments she had mastered, but her beautiful voice remained unaffected, allowing her to continue performing and recording.

The Fourth Worlder
A collaborator with the likes of Brian Eno, Ry Cooder, David Sylvian, and Peter Gabriel, American trumpeter and composer Jon Hassell developed the concept of “Fourth World” music, which — and here I yield to Wikipedia — describes a “unified primitive/futurist sound combining elements of various world ethnic traditions with modern electronic techniques”. A doctor of music, Hassel studied with avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

It all sounds terribly esoteric, but Hassell worked with many well-known names, including Tears for Fears, Talking Heads, Jackson Browne, k.d. lang, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, Ani DiFranco, and Ibrahim Ferrer. And the electronic music on the TV series The Practice… that was Hassell as well.

The President
After his death at 97, former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda was mourned throughout Africa as one of its most beloved politicians. He was among the first African leaders to hand over power without hassles when he was defeated in a democratic election — which had not been taken for granted, since Kaunda was not a democrat during his 27-year presidency.

Kaunda was also a keen amateur musician, who often would accompany singers like Miriam Makeba on piano or guitar at functions. And in 1990 he entered the UK Dance Top 40, by way of a remix by disco legend Oliver Cheatham of a tune titled Tiyende Pamodzi, which Kaunda had written and, as conductor, recorded in 1974 under the snappy moniker Zambia Cabinet & Central Committee led by President Kenneth Kaunda. The recording of Tiyende Pamodzi marked the tenth anniversary of Zambia’s independence.

Kaunda used his guitar to rally crowds with his own compositions during the fight for independence, and even as president he would sing songs on the public stage, political tunes as well as love songs to his wife. A devout Christian, he also composed hymns.

Assassinated
On June 14, popular Colombian singer Junior Jein entered a nightclub in the city of Cali for a personal appearance. He left the club on a stretcher, having been shot six times. He died in hospital.

A socially engaged singer, Jein had protested in song and words against the state crackdown on protests since April, 28, in which at least 60 demonstrators have been killed and more than 2,300 injured by the authorities, and others were forcibly disappeared. Jein described the shooting of the protesters as a massacre. Soon after, he himself was shot dead…

As always, this post is reproduced in PDF format in the package, which also includes my personal playlist of the featured tracks. PW in comments.

 

Bob Edmondson, 86, trombonist, arranger, producer, on May 29
Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – Wade In The Water (1966, on trombone & as arranger)

Grace Griffith, 64, American and Celtic singer, on June 5
Grace Griffith – Demeter’s Daughter (1996)
Grace Griffith – My Life (2006)

Michele Merlo, 28, Italian singer-songwriter, on June 6

Jaime Junaro, 72, Bolivian singer-songwriter and guitarist, on June 6

David C. Lewis, keyboardist of soft-rock band Ambrosia, on June 7
Ambrosia – Heart to Heart (1978)
Shadowfax – Solar Wind (1988, as member and writer)

Dean Parrish, 79, soul singer, on June 8
Dean Parrish – I’m On My Way (1967)

Farhad Humayun, 42, singer and drummer of Pakistani rock band Overload, on June 8
Overload – Dhamaal (2005)

Torgny Björk, 82, Swedish singer, musician, composer, on June 9

Juan Nelson, 62, American bassist (Ben Harper), on June 9
Ben Harper – The Woman In You (1999, on bass)

Jon Lukas, 72, Maltese musician, on June 11
Jon Lukas – Can’t Afford To Lose (1970)

Pablo Larralde, 55, Argentinian heavy metal singer, on June 13

Raul de Souza, 86, Brazilian trombonist, on June 13
Raul De Souza – Only When You Can (1979)

Junior Jein, 38, Colombian singer, producer and composer, shot dead on June 14
Junior Jein – Si Dios Fuera Negro

Fane Flaws, 70, New Zealand musician and songwriter, on June 17

Kenneth Kaunda, 97, Zambian ex-president and hobby musician, on June 17
Zambia Cabinet & Central Committee led by President Kenneth Kaunda – Tiyende Pamodzi (1974)

Takeshi ‘Terry’ Terauchi, 82, Japanese rock guitarist and actor, on June 18
Takeshi Terauchi & The Blue Jeans – Kuroda Bushi (1966)

Lionel Leroy, 65, French singer, on June 20
Lionel Leroy – Starsky et Hutch (Chanson originale de la série télévisée) (1981)

Nobuo Hara, 94, Japanese jazz saxophonist, on June 21
Nobuo Hara and His Sharps & Flats – Five Spot After Dark (1970)

Mamady Keïta, 70, Guinean drummer, on June 21

Ike Stubblefield, 69, organ & keyboard player, on June 19
Ike Stubblefield – I Thought It Was You (2011)

Winsford Devine, 77, Trinidadian calypso & soca songwriter, on June 22
Winsford Devine – Dance All Night (1985)

Wojciech Karolak, 82, Polish jazz and R&B keyboardist, on June 23
Wojciech Karolak – Easy! (1974)

Ellen McIlwaine, 75, Canadian slide guitarist and blues/folk singer, on June 23
Ellen McIlwaine – I Don’t Want To Play (1973)

David Edwards, 56, singer of Welsh rock band Datblygu, announced June 23
Datblygu – Cân i Gymry (1993)

Rinaldo Rafanelli, 71, singer of Argentine rock band Sui Generis, on June 25
Sui Generis – Para quién canto yo entonces (1974)

Wes Madiko, 57, Cameroonian singer, on June 25
Wes – Alane (1997)

Hidefumi Toki, 71, Japanese jazz saxophonist, on June 26
Toki & Samba Friends – Morena (1981)

Jon Hassell, 84, trumpeter and avant garde composer, on June 26
Kenny Rogers – Something About Your Song (1978, as writer)
Lloyd Cole And The Commotions – Big Snake (1986, on trumpet)
Jon Hassel – Voiceprint (Blind From The Facts) (1990)
Ibrahim Ferrer – Boliviana (2003, on trumpet)

Johnny Solinger, 55, lead singer of Skid Row (1999-2015), on June 26
Skid Row – Ghost (2003)

Peps Persson, 74, Swedish blues and reggae musician, on June 27

Willy Crook, 55, saxophonist of Argentine rock band Redonditos de Ricota, on June 27
Patricio Rey y sus Redonditos de Ricota  – Ya nadie va a escuchar tu remera (1986)

Burton Greene, 84, free jazz pianist, on June 28

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Previous In Memoriams

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Joni Mitchell’s Blue Recovered

June 30th, 2021 1 comment

 

 

I have a terrible confession to make: I find it difficult to listen to Joni Mitchell when she hits those high notes. I know the loss of mine: Mitchell obviously is a great interpreter of her lyrics, and because her lyrics are so personal, the obviously most authentic one. Moreover, few singers convey irony in the way Mitchell does. And yet, I struggle with her singing — whereas I tolerate the far less accomplished warblings of other singers; Dylan being an obvious example.

To me, Joni Mitchell (in her folk period, at least) is like broccoli: a lot of people love it, and it’s really good for you. But I’d rather eat string beans. I do like the look of broccoli though. And to swing the vegetable metaphor back to the artist, I love many of Mitchell’s songs. And I own several Mitchell albums.

It’s a tribulation that manifests itself this year in particular, as the world marks the 50th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s Blue album. In previous months I marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark albums Tapestry and What’s Going On by recovering them. Blue is in their landmark league, and like the albums released by Carole King in February 1971 and Marvin Gaye in May that year, was so upon its release on 22 June 1971. It broke a mold: here was a high-profile album by an independent woman singing lyrics that were highly personal and at times brutally honest. And her experiences and that candidness with which she expressed the freedom she asserted in song — in her life and in her travels — gave a voice to women who could identify with or at least aspire to them.

 

 

Given all that, recovering Blue seems a task of necessity. Having done so has allowed me to appreciate the genius of the album without the distraction of my voice hang-up. The past 20 years have seen a great number of covers. Strangely, between the late 1970s and mid-’90s, there seemed to be a widespread reluctance to cover songs from Blue, even the much-covered River and A Case Of You. So on this mix, there is a gap between early/mid-1970s and the late-1990s.

The most surprising cover here is by Nazareth, whose version of This Flight Tonight is a proper reworking. Apparently its riff inspired the more famous one of Heart’s Barracuda. Conversely, the most faithful cover here is that by Goldie Hawn’s of Carey (the song which I’d pick as my favourite on Blue). Turns out, Goldie could sing.

The “best” cover here might be Prince doing A Case Of You (strange that I love a good falsetto, but not soprano). Or maybe Brandi Carlile, that dedicated and superb interpreter of Mitchell’s songs, singing Blue’s rawest song, Little Green, live on a webcast in July 2020. Her high notes I do like, just to prove the randomness of my Joni problem (Listen to Carlile’s amusing Joni story). And Dianne Reeves’ version of River is quite outstanding. I add Rosie Thomas’ lovely version as a bonus.

The Supremes version of Blue’s opener, All I Want, was arranged and produced by Jimmy Webb, who will feature prominently here in a couple of week’s time. That mix will include a song from the same album that featured the song here.

The star of Joni Mitchell is always the lyrics. So here are ten songs of those wonderful words recovered, with home-dulcimered covers. PW in comments.

1. The Supremes – All I Want (1972)
2. Mandy Lagan – My Old Man (2018) BUY
3. Brandi Carlile – Little Green (2020)
4. Goldie Hawn – Carey (1972)
5. Cat Power – Blue (2008)
6. Wilson Phillips – California (2004)
7. Nazareth – This Flight Tonight (1973)
8. Dianne Reeves – River (1999)
9. Prince – A Case Of You (2007)
10. Legião Urbana – The Last Time I Saw Richard (1999)

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More Recovered albums:
Tapestry
What’s Going On
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Every Beatles album

More Cover Mixes:
Bob Dylan Songbooks
John Prine Songbook
Bill Withers Songbook
Bruce Springsteen Songbook
Steely Dan Songbook
Leonard Cohen Songbook
Elvis Presley Songbook
Chuck Berry Songbook
ABBA Songbook

And check out the Covered With Soul series

Categories: Covers Mixes, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Any Major Week Vol. 3

June 24th, 2021 1 comment

Over the weekend I revisited the Any Major Week mixes I made some years ago — the first originally ten years ago and Vol. 2 just over a year ago— and enjoyed them so much that I decided to make a third one. I think I’ve enjoyed the new one even more than the first two, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

As before, the idea is to sequence songs about particular days of the week in the order of those days. Some days have a greater wealth of songs to choose from, but I haven’t exhausted the well for any day yet.

The most interesting track here is Prince’s demo version of Manic Monday, a 1986 hit for The Bangles which he had originally planned for an album he was producing for Appolonia 6. Prince’s version has some charm, but I don’t think I’m doing him an injustice when I say that the Bangles version is impeccable.

I stumbled on Leonard Herron by chance. The guitarist and singer-songwriter is based in Tokyo and plies his trade mainly as a session musician. He has recorded a few albums, which are available digitally on his website.

Also rather obscure were The Siddeleys, a British indie band that formed in 1986. Though they were championed by influential BBC DJ John Peel, they released only three singles between 1986-88.

As ever, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-calendarised covered. PW in comments.

1. Thelma Houston – Saturday Night (1978)
2. Honey Cone – Sunday Morning People (1971)
3. Prince – Manic Monday (1983)
4. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Tuesday’s Gone (1973)
5. The Guess Who – Wednesday In Your Garden (1969)
6. Jim Croce – Thursday (1973)
7. Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Friday Night (2003)
8. Hello Saferide – Saturday Nights (2005)
9. Everything But The Girl – Goodbye Sunday (1988)
10. Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays (1971)
11. The Smithereens – Groovy Tuesday (1986)
12. The Siddeleys – My Favourite Wet Wednesday Afternoon (1987)
13. Leonard Herron – On A Thursday Morning (2017)
14. Cowboy Junkies – Good Friday (1998)
15. Lefty Frizzell – Shine, Shave, Shower (It’s Saturday) (1951)
16. Maxine Weldon – I Want Sunday Back Again (1975)
17. Little River Band – Home On Monday (1977)
18. Josh Abbott Band – Tuesday Night (2014)
19. Johnny Cash – A Wednesday Car (1977)
20. Giles, Giles & Fripp – Thursday Morning (1968)
21. Townes Van Zandt – Gypsy Friday (1966)
22. James Dean Bradfield – On Saturday Morning We Will Rule The World (2006)
23. Bobbie Gentry – Sunday Best (1967)

GET IT! or HERE!

Any Major Week Vol. 1
Any Major Week Vol. 2
More CD-R Mixes

Categories: Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Any Major ABC of South Africa

June 17th, 2021 3 comments

Over the weekend, an article on how Malcolm McLaren brazenly plagiarised a South African song from 1977 for his 1983 hit Double Dutch came to my attention. The piece, written by Carsten Rasch and published in South Africa’s Sunday Times, is poorly edited, but it serves as a reminder of the ways in which black artists especially have been ripped off over and over again. At the centre here is how McLaren ripped off a 1977 tune, Puleng by The Boyoyo Boys, to create his biggest hit, the very catchy Double Dutch.

This sorry tale of theft and exploitation echoes the infuriating story of how a South African song named Mbube became a mega hit called The Lion Sleeps Tonight, on which all manner of white people cashed in — but not the man who wrote and first recorded it (and his family had to fight to get crumbs off the table). You can revisit my brief account of it at The Originals: Classics. Or seek out the very good 2019 Netflix documentary ReMastered: The Lion’s Share.

McLaren might have called his acts of theft — he looted various musical traditions — “taking inspiration”, but he betrayed these traditions when he failed to credit them. Before he ripped off the Bayoyo Boys, he plagiarised a tune by another South African outfit, the Mahotella Queens, for the Bow Wow Wow hit See Jungle! (Jungle Boy). Links to both songs are embedded in the Sunday Times article.

These were acts of cultural violence, and of cultural appropriation, though that term was not a big issue when these tunes were whitewashed (except to Peter Gabriel, who called McLaren out on it at the time). Where the lyrics of The Lion Sleeps Tonight riffed on African cliché, McLaren barely gave a nod to the cultural origins of the tune he stole, emigrating the mbaqanga sounds of South Africa’s townships to New York City.

Double Dutch, and other tracks by McLaren, were recorded in South Africa, with South African musicians, produced by Trevor Horn, who is also complicit in this sorry tale. The musicians were paid a flat fee, which in itself is fair practice. But Horn revealed the business ethics behind McLaren’s global raid on musical heritage himself: “The Africans got married on what we paid them. The Cubans charged us a lot of money, they really had their heads screwed on right. The Dominicans charged us a fortune. They screwed us!” That’s what it sounds like when music’s colonialists exploit people. “The Africans got married on what we paid them.” Translation: “These fools should be grateful for what we bothered to pay them.”

The copyright holders of the songs which McLaren plagiarised eventually sued, and the case was settled out of court — but no composer of the song saw the money, or received a songwriting credit for it. White justice!

The writer of the Sunday Times article sums it up well: “Truth is, McLaren and Horn arrived at these shores, and like a pair of modern-day Cecil John Rhodeses, took what they wanted from the ‘gullible natives’ — so grateful to be blessed by the presence of these big white music bwanas they bent over backwards, allowed themselves to be morphed into ‘McLarenettes’ (a contrived group name for the musicians who played the music on the various tracks) — and deprived them of their just composer credits, not to mention money.”

Graceland and apartheid

The question of cultural appropriation brings me to Paul Simon’s 1986 Graceland album, which he recorded with a host of South African artists during the time of the cultural boycott against apartheid. These artists included groups like Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Stimela, and local jazz giants like Morris Goldberg and Mike Makhalemele. These musicians suffered under apartheid and opposed it. And the South African musicians appreciated the fair royalties, ethical attributions, and exposure their involvement created. For example, bassist Bakithi Kumalo built a great career as an international session musician on account of that bassline on You Can Call Me Al.

One can accuse Simon of arrogance in not following Harry Belafonte’s counsel to consult the exiled ANC first, but he did obtain the support of the South African musicians’ union — hardly collaborators with apartheid — and the approval of exiled heavyweight like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. Clearly, there’s a world of a difference between empowering musicians living under oppression, and acts like Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart or Queen playing Sun City in contempt of the oppressed. And there’s a canyon of a difference between the exploitation of culture and people perpetrated by McLaren and Horn, and the mostly respectful way Simon treated his fellow musicians.

Though, it must be said, Simon might have included a proper anti-apartheid tune in his set, and his dismissal of that idea was petulant and even disrepctful. You Can Call Me Al’s lyrics weren’t that good to begin with, and its video might have featured the South African musicians who played on it — (Ray Phiri on guitar; Morris Goldberg on pennywhistle, Isaac Mtshali on drums, Ladysmith Black Mambazo on background vocals, and Kumalo on bass) — rather than a pair of middle-aged white American men pretending to play these instruments.

An ABC of South Africa

That article on McLaren’s theft prompted me to complete this mix of Any Major ABC of South Africa — one artist per letter of the alphabet. The timing is appropriate: Yesterday was the 45th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising against apartheid education, a public holiday in the country.

As always, the choice of artist to represent letters is quite random; they don’t necessarily are the best or most representative act for that letter. If that was so, I’d have given the letter H to Hugh Masekela.

This mix doesn’t tell the history of South African music, nor is it complete. But it gives what I hope is a taste of some of the country’s incredibly broad music scene, which ranges from ever-developing township pop styles to jazz to reggae to country to hip hop to indie to rock to gospel to musicals to Afrikaans schlagers (and more).

I was glad to include a few favourites by way of collaborations. The Skylarks were Miriam Makeba’s first group in the 1950s, and on the present song they recorded with Spokes Mashiane, the “King of the Pennywhistle”. Togegher they cover the letter S. Theirs was the sound of Sophiatown, a black neighbourhood in Johannesburg which was ethnically cleansed in the 1950s and renamed by the regime as Triomph (which means exactly what you suspect it does).

A few years later, the regime declared District 6, a mixed-race neighbourhood on the edge of the city centre of Cape Town, a “white group area”. Over the next decade, the entire area was razed, and its “mixed-race” population dumped into far-off townships. One of these is called Manenberg, which inspired a superb jazz tune by Dollar Brand (now known as Abdullah Ibrahim). In the midst of the gangs and poverty (well, geographically at the periphery of it), the late jazz pianist Tony Schilder helped open a sophisticated jazz club named Montreal. The song here is the club’s “theme song”, sung by the great vocalist and saxophonist Robbie Jansen (who appeared, with the above-mentioned Graceland contributor Morris Goldberg, on Dollar Brand’s jazz classic). Montreal, here in its rare 1985 version, also features Jonathan Butler on guitar. It is the sound of Cape Town.

As is Pacific Express’ Give A Little Love. The jazz-rock band — led by Tony Schilder’s brother Chris and whose former members included Jonathan Butler and Robbie Jansen — was having a radio hit with the uncharacteristic soul ballad in 1978. All went well, until the state broadcaster realised that the group was mixed-race and South African, whereupon the video clip of the song was banned from TV.

A couple of songs here are stone-cold South African classics. Mandoza’s 2000 kwaito hit Nkalakatha still fires up parties; it crossed over like no other kwaito hit before or since.

And 1980s Paradise Road by Joy was an anti-apartheid song about interracial love, which was strictly illegal under apartheid. State radio didn’t notice, and the song, with Anneline Malebo’s soaring vocals, topped the SA charts for nine weeks — and crossed the racial divides. Malebo’s story ended unhappily: in 2002 she died in poverty from AIDS-related causes, having contracted the virus after being raped at a party. Shortly before her death, old friends discovered her living in squalor in a Cape Town township, and had her transferred to a hospice where she died in some dignified comfort.

And under B, we hear the Bayoyo Boys with the song Malcolm McLaren stole. Any other day, the late Brenda Fassie would have taken that spot. There is no X… Even so, the mix is too long to fit on a standard CD-R, but I’ve made home-jived covers anyway. The above text is included in an illustrated PDF for comfortable reading and later reference. PW in comments.

1. Allou April – Bringing Joy (2002)
2. Boyoyo Boys – Puleng (1977)
3. Cofield Mundi – Count Me Out (2006)
4. Dorothy Masuka – Khauleza (1959)
5. Emil Dean Zoghby – Won’t You Join Me (1970)
6. Farryl Purkiss – Ducking And Diving (2006)
7. Goldfish feat. John Mani – One Million Views (2013)
8. Harari – Get Funky (1981)
9. Isochronous – The Curve (2010)
10. Joy – Paradise Road (1980)
11. Karma – Pachelbel (1998)
12. Lira – Mali (2011)
13. Mandoza – Nkalakatha (2000)
14. Nancy Jacobs & Her Sisters – Meadowlands (1956)
15. Oskido – Une Mali (2020) [BUY]
16. Pacific Express – Give A Little Love (1978)
17. Qkumba Zoo – Harbour Song (2021) [BUY]
18. Ringo – Sondela (1997)
19. Skylarks with Miriam Makeba & Spokes Mashiyane – Ekoneni (1950s)
20. Tony Schilder with Robbie Jansen – Montreal (1985)
21. Una Valli – Take Me For A Little While (1968)
22. Vusi Mahlasela – Moleko (2006)
23. Wendy Oldfield – Acid Rain (1991)
24. Yvonne Chaka Chaka – Umqombothi (1986)
25. Zahara – Ndize (2011)

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PREVIOUS ABCs:
ABC of 1950s
ABC of 1960s
ABC of 1970s
ABC of 1990s
ABC of 2000s
ABC of Soul
ABC of Country
ABC of Christmas

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Life In Vinyl 1987 Vol. 2

June 10th, 2021 5 comments

 

By the second half of 1987, the rate by which my record collection was growing had slowed down. Unemployment for part of that time was one reason, employment at strange hours another, and a phase of intense socialising in the little time I had complicated the acquisition of records further.

Still, I bought records, including some quite awful ones. What we have here, then, is a collection of what is still presentable. It includes a few pop hits which the purists might scoff at, but I stand by them. Bananarama, that still underrated trio of women, had long decamped to the dreaded Stock Aitken Waterman, who had produced their 1986 hit Venus. In 1987, SAW gave Bananarama two great pop songs, I Heard A Rumour and Love In The First Degree. The latter is especially good, as far as commercial pop goes.

The same goes for I’ve Had The Time Of My Life, the excellence of it is obscured by its mega-hitness and the mainstream nature of the movie it scored, Dirty Dancing. The arrangement is very much 1980s, but the saxophone solo that leads up to the breakdown… sometimes you just have to love’80s pop! This track might also be the swansong for this series of A Life in Vinyl.

Then there is a song whose title is immediately suspect, but what a great slice of fun Walk The Dinosaur is, with that percussive “Boom boom, ackalacka boom”. Inevitably the Was (Not Was) song provoked a dance craze (no, I didn’t, since you ask), and the video had sexy cavewomen and Flintstones. A total novelty number, right? Well, the song apparently is about nuclear holocaust: “A shadow from the sky much too big to be a bird/A screaming crashing noise louder than I’ve ever heard.”

I have mentioned Bright Blue’s Weeping before, as the song that surreptitiously smuggled the anthem of the anti-apartheid movement on to South Africa’s state radio, in the middle of the racist regime’s state of emergency. Bright Blue were a group of white South Africans, so the controllers either suspected nothing untoward in the song, or (more likely) subversively pretended not to notice. The lyrics are hardly obscure, especially as they were written in a time of frantic oppression, and the strains of Nkosi Sikel’ iAfrika (now half of South Africa’s national anthem) are hidden in plain sight. And so this rather lovely song served as another kick against the pricks.

Apartheid was defeated within a couple of years, and in 1994 South Africa became a democracy, with Nelson Mandela as its first president. Until 1990, the law decided where you could live, according to race. Many communities were uprooted and destroyed, with the people dumped into new townships which soon became gang-ridden because with the destruction of communities came the destruction of the values these communities enforced. Today, communities — in South Africa and around the world — are being destroyed and uprooted by “urban development”, the evil of gentrification. Spike Lee referred to it in 1989 in Do The Right Thing. Two years earlier, The Housemartins raised the issue in Build. And 34 years later, the economic cleansing (which in some areas is linked to race and ethnicity) continues.

And on that cheerful note: CD-R length, home-built covers, text above in illustrated PDF, PW in comments.

1. Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This
2. Black – Wonderful Life
3. Then Jericho – The Motive
4. Squeeze – Hourglass
5. Alexander O’Neal & Cherelle – Never Knew Love Like This
6. Smokey Robinson – Just To See Her
7. Bananarama – Love In The First Degree
8. Was (Not Was) – Walk The Dinosaur
9. Aztec Camera – Deep & Wide & Tall
10. Bright Blue – Weeping
11. Chris Isaak – Blue Hotel
12. The Smiths – Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before
13. The Housemartins – Build
14. Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands
15. INXS – Never Tear Us Apart
16. Gino Vannelli – Wild Horses
17. Bruce Springsteen – Tougher Than The Rest
18. George Michael – Kissing A Fool
19. Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes – (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life

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In Memoriam – May 2021

June 3rd, 2021 3 comments

Ironically, it was raining when I learnt of the death of B.J. Thomas. It would have been even better had I been in a branch of the Personality franchise of shops when I read that Lloyd Price had died, but that night have been irony overkill.

Overall, May was a fairly quiet month, though not for samba singers, three of whom died in Brazil within days of one another.

The Rock & Roll Pioneer
Had he not been drafted into the US army to fight in Korea in 1954, Lloyd Price might have become a “King of Rock & Roll”. By the time he came home, other R&B singers had become kings of that new type of music which Price had pioneered. One of the great prototype Rock & Roll records was Price’s self-written debut single, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, recorded in 1952 in New Orleans with the great Dave Bartholomew leading the band which included the yet-unknown Fats Domino on the piano.

After returning from Korea, Price was able to resume his recording career with some success, scoring big hits with ’50s rock & roll classics such as Personality, I’m Gonna Get Married, and Stagger Lee.

When the hits dried up, he became a mover behind the scenes, co-founding the label on which Wilson Pickett got his start, and another label in the 1970s with boxing Don King. In 1974 Price helped King organise the “Rumble in Jungle” extravaganza in Kinshasa, Zaire (now DR Congo), with the legendary bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, and the attendant concert featuring James Brown and B.B. King. Price was also a successful entrepreneur outside music, in businesses ranging from construction to canned foods.

The Raindrops Guy
It is strange that B.J. Thomas never became a big star in Europe. His songs were know there, even if Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head was a bigger hit in Sasha Distel’s inferior version, but he never broke really big. Thomas had already enjoyed a couple of US Top 10 hits (with I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry in 1966 and Hooked On A Feeling in 1968) when Raindrops forced itself on him. He wasn’t songwriter Burt Bacharach’s first or even second choice, but when Bob Dylan and Ray Stevens cried off, the song was offered to Thomas… who had laryngitis at the time. It seems providential: the relaxed singing style, the better to avoid straining his larynx, suited the beautiful arrangement perfectly.

Thomas went on to have a few more hits — including I Just Can’t Help Believing, which Elvis would cover — before switching to Christian contemporary music in the late ’70s, becoming the genre’s first superstar. He’d still have a few country hits as well. TV viewers would get to hear Thomas again in the late 1980s, when he duetted with Jennifer Warnes on the theme of the sitcom Growing Pain, which he then released in a full song recording with Dusty Springfield.

The Soul Drummer
By the time he was 25, Roger Hawkins had played the drums on dozens of stone-cold soul classics. Born in 1945, Hawkins was only 20 when his stick-work, as drummer of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (or Swampers) featured on a US Top 10 single, Percy Sledges’s When a Man Loves A Woman. Many followed, including Wilson Pickett’s Land Of A 1000 Dances and Mustang Sally; James & Bobby Purify’s I’m Your Puppet; Clarence Carter’ Slip Away; R.B. Greaves’ Take A Letter Maria; The Staple Singers’ I’ll Take You There and Respect Yourself; Paul Simon’s Kodachrome, Still Crazy After All These Years, and Loves Me Like A Rock; and Eddie Rabbitt’s Suspicion. And then there were all those Aretha Franklin classics: Respect, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), Chain Of Fools, Since You’ve Been Gone, Think, Call Me, Do Right Woman – Do Right Man, and so on. All with a guy on the drums who looked like a postgrad chemistry student (no offense to postgrad chemistry students, of course).

Hawkins also played on Bob Seger tracks like Mainstreet, We’ve Got Tonight, Old Time Rock & Roll and Good For Me. And he drummed on a couple of tracks by model-singer Nick Kamen, who died earlier in the month (see below).

In 1969m Hawkins co-founded the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The Lesbian Activist
At a time when gay and lesbian singers were hiding their sexuality, folk singer Alix Dobkin broke it out into the open in the 1970s, with albums like Lavender Jane Loves Women (1973) and Living With Lesbians (1975). She started her career on the Greenwich Village coffeehouse circuit in 1962, where she performed with folk legends like Bob Dylan and Buffy Sainte-Marie. A marriage followed, after the breakdown of which Dobkin came out as a lesbian. Her activism cause the lovely people at the FBI to see her as a “troublemaker”. She wrote and recorded until the turn of the century, and performed until her death at 80.

The Croce Producer
Practically every song you know by Jim Croce was co-produced by Tommy West, who has died at 78. And on many of them, he played the keyboard and/or bass or the rhythm guitar. Having started his music career in the 1950s as a member of the Doo Woo band The Criterions, he was a backing vocalists for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Connie Francis, and Perry Como. He was also a songwriter (including for the Partridge Family), and a producer for acts like Ed Bruce, Holly Dunn, Judy Rodman, Dion and Ann Murray. He and long-time collaborator Cashman also produced the 1976 million-seller Shannon for Henry Gross, and recorded a number of albums together.

The Real Singer
One of the biggest scandals in pop took place when it turned out that the two charismatic members of Milli Vanilli had not been the actual vocalists on mega hits like Girl You Know It’s True, Blame It On The Rain, and Girl I’m Gonna Miss You. The Grammy Awards people took back the gongs they had given Milli Vanilli, proclaiming to be shocked — shocked! — that pretend-singing was going on. Of course, the Grammy people hadn’t done their due diligence. Milli Vanilli were produced by Frank Farian, the former German Schlager singer who had produced Boney M to world stardom — while providing the voices for two of their singers, one of them female.

Farian didn’t bless us with his own vocal stylings on Milli Vanilli records, but he employed several studio backing singers to give voice to the lip-synchers Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan. One of them was John Davis, who has died at 65 from causes related to Covid-19. A singer and bass player born in South Carolina, he came to Germany in the 1980s, and released a bunch of records under his own name. In the 1990, having been outed as one of the real voiced behind Milli Vanilli, he tried his hand at performing as the Real Milli Vanilli, but with limited success.

The 501s Guy
In 1985 British TV viewers gut an eyefull of model Nick Kamen taking off his Levi’s 501s in a launderette. The commercial for the jeans brand inaugurated a series of popular ads that used 1960s soul as background music. Kamen stripped to Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine, which on the back off that would become a #8 hit in April 1986. That ad was followed by Levi’s ads using soul standards such as Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World (*#2 in March 1986), Ben E. King’s Stand By Me (#1 in 1987) and Percy Sledge’s When A Man Loves A Woman (#2 in 1987), as well as The Temptations’ My Girl and The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, neither of which were re-released as singles.

The effect of the ads was two-fold: 501s became the hippest thing going (and I wear them to this day), and it brought the already ongoing ’60s soul revival into the mainstream. And it also made a star of Kamen, who has died at the young age of 59 from bone marrow cancer. His debut single, the Madonna-written and produced Each Time You Break My Heart, hit #5 in the UK in 1986, at around the same time Grapevine was in the charts. It would be his biggest hit, though 1990s I Promised Myself was huge throughout Europe. Kamen was particularly successful in Italy, where he notched up five Top 10 hits.

As always, this post is reproduced in PDF format in the package, which also includes my personal playlist of the featured tracks. PW in comments.

Danny ‘Panamas Red’ Finley, 76, outlaw country musician, on April 29
Billy Joe Shaver – Bottom Dollar (1973, on guitar and as co-writer)

Wondress Hutchinson, 56, jazz and dance music singer, on May 1
Mantronix feat. Wondress – Got To Have Your Love (1989, on lead vocals)

Tommy West, 78, producer, musician, singer, songwriter, on May 2
The Criterions – I Remain Truly Yours (1959, as member)
Cashman & West – American City Suite (1972)
Jim Croce – Time In A Bottle (1973, as co-producer, an on bass, keyboards and harpsichord)
Judy Rodman – Until I Met You (1986, as producer)

Marcel Stellman, 96, Belgian producer and lyricist, on May 2
Drafi Deutscher And His Magics – Marble, Breaks And Iron Bends (1966, as lyricist)

Phil Naro, 63, rock singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer, on May 3
Phil Naro – ‘6Teen’ Theme (2005, on vocals)

Rodolfo García, 75, drummer of Argentine rock band Almendra, on May 4
Almendra – Hoy todo el hielo en la ciudad (1968)

Henrik Ohlin, bassist of heavy metal spoof band Black Ingvars, on May 4

Nick Kamen, 59, English singer and model, on May 4
Nick Kamen – Each Time You Break My Heart (1986)
Nick Kamen – Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever (1986, with Roger Hawkins on drums)

Lloyd Price, 88, pioneering R&B singer, songwriter, label owner, on May 6
Lloyd Price And His Orchestra – Lawdy Miss Clawdy (1952, also as writer)
Lloyd Price – I’m Gonna Get Married (1959, also as co-writer)
Lloyd Price – What Did You Do With My Love (1976, also as writer)

Cassiano, 77, Brazilian soul singer-songwriter and guitarist, on May 7
Cassiano – Coleção (1976)

Curtis Fuller, 86, jazz trombonist, on May 8
Curtis Fuller’s Quintet – Five Spot After Dark (1959)

Svante Thuresson, 84, Swedish jazz singer and drummer, on May 10
Lill & Svante – Nygammal Vals (1966)

Bernard Lachance, 46, Canadian singer-songwriter, on May 11

Bob G. Koester, 88, jazz & blues producer, label owner, on May 12
Big Joe Williams – Drop Down Mama (1958, as producer)

Herman Celis, 67, Belgian new wave drummer, on May 12

Norman Simmons, 91, jazz pianist, arranger and composer, on May 13
Carmen McCrae – Sunday (1963, on piano)
Norman Simmons – Eleanor Rigby (2002)

Jack Terricloth, 50, leader of The World/Inferno Friendship Society, on May 13
World/Inferno Friendship Society – Brother Of The Mayor Of Bridgewater (2012)

Mario Pavone, 80, jazz bassist, on May 15
Mario Pavone – Monk In Soweto (1992)

Jacky van Dam, 83, Dutch musician and singer, on May 15

Patsy Bruce, 81, country songwriter, on May 16
Gibson/Miller Band – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys (1994, as co-writer)

MC Kevin, 23, Brazilian singer-songwriter, in a fall on May 16

Nicolas Ker, 50, singer of French electronic band Poni Hoax, on May 17
Poni Hoax – She’s On The Radio (2006)

Franco Battiato, 76, Italian singer-songwriter and filmmaker, on May 18
Battiato – La convenzione (1972)

Alix Dobkin, 80, folk singer-songwriter, on May 19
Alix Dobkin – A Woman’s Love (1973)
Alix Dobkin – Toughen Up! (1976)

Johnny Ashcroft, 94, Australian country singer, on May 19
Johnny Ashcroft – Little Boy Lost (1960)

Zion Aquino, 42, Filipino singer, on May 20

Roger Hawkins, 75, drummer and co-owner Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, on May 20
Wilson Pickett – Land Of 1000 Dances (1966, on drums)
Etta James – I’d Rather Go Blind (1968, on drums)
Herbie Mann – Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty (1970, on drums)
Eddie Rabbitt – Suspicions (1982, on drums)

Roberto González, 68, Mexican musician and composer, on May 20

Mel Buckley, guitarist of blues-rock group Someone’s Band, on May 21
Someones Band – A Story (1970, also as writer)

Xerardo Moscoso, 77, Spanish singer-songwriter and playwright, on May 22
Xerardo Moscoso – Deuda cumprida (1968)

Dewayne Blackwell, 84, country songwriter, on May 23
The Fleetwoods – Mr. Blue (1959, as writer)
Garth Brooks – Friends In Low Places (live) (1998, as co-writer)

Lorrae Desmond, 91, Australian singer and actress, May 23
Lorrae Desmond & The Rebels – Ding Dong Rock A Billy Weddin’ (1957)

John Davis, 66, singer and real voice of Milli Vanilli, on May 24
John Davis – Check It Out (1984)
Milli Vanilli – Girl You Know It’s True (1989; as vocalist)
The Real Milli Vanilli – When I Die (1990)

Søren Holm, 25, singer of Danish R&B group Liss, on May 25
Liss – Miles Apart (2016)

Rusty Warren, 91, comedian- singer, on May 25
Rusty Warren – Knockers Up! (1960)

Patrick Sky, 80, folk singer-songwriter, on May 27
Patrick Sky – Many A Mile (1965)

Nelson Sargento, 96, Brazilian samba musician, on May 27
Nelson Sargento – Sonho de Um Sambista (1979)

Freddy Marks, 71, English kids’ music singer and actor, on May 27

Jimi/Jimmy Bellmartin, 71, Dutch singer, on May 28
Jimmy Bellmartin – This Is My Love Song (1970)

B.J. Thomas, 78, pop and country singer, on May 29
B.J. Thomas – Hooked On A Feeling (1968)
B.J. Thomas – If You Must Leave My Life (1969)
B.J. Thomas – Another Done Somebody Wrong Song (1975)
B.J. Thomas & Dusty Springfield – As Long As We Got Each Other (1988)

Johnny Trudell, 82, jazz trumpeter and composer, on May 29
Johnny Trudell – Free & Easy (1979)

Dominguinhos do Estácio, 79, Brazilian samba musician, on May 30

Lil Loaded, 20, rapper, by suicide on May 31

Firmino de Itapoan, 78, Brazilian samba musician and composer, on May 31
Firmino De Itapoã – Bada-Uê (1978)

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What’s Going On Recovered

May 25th, 2021 4 comments

 

On May 21, it was 50 years since the release of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On LP, an album that broke the mould.

It certainly broke Motown’s rules, which preferred its artists to be apolitical — social commentary was permissible if it brought in cash, as it did with Edwin Starr’s War or The Temptations’ Ball Of Confusion or Gaye’s own cover of Dion’s Abraham, Martin & John. But Marvin Gaye wasn’t proposing an album of politics you can dance or sing along to; quite the contrary. This was a meandering exercise in quiet reflection on social ills, from economic inequality to drug abuse to racism to war to the ecology. Even Gil Scott-Heron provided some light relief on his Pieces Of A Man, recorded the month before What’s Going On came out (like Gaye’s album, it also featured a track titled Save The Children).

Motown also wasn’t in a habit of issuing concept albums. What’s Going On is just that — it is a reflection on various social ills from the perspective of a Vietnam veteran, a proxy for Gaye’s own brother Frankie. Gaye’s Christian faith permeates the exercise, not only in the song God Is Love but in its hopeful tone that the mess we’re in now can be redeemed.

What’s Going On is a song cycle LP, with one song fading into another, almost like a jazz concept album. That wasn’t the clean-cut, vigorous Marvin with his beautiful smile; this was a troubled man in a depressive state, surrounded by toxic people, facing a hostile world. At one point, Gaye had contemplated suicide. He was talked off the proverbial ledge by Berry Gordy Sr — evidently a better father than the one Marvin had.Just as Gaye was becoming sensitised to the politics of social justices, so was Obie Benson of The Four Tops. After witnessing the brutal suppression of an anti-war demo at Berkeley, he and Motown songwriter Al Cleveland wrote what would become What’s Going On, the song. The other Four Tops were not interested in a protest song, but over a game of golf, Benson offered it to Gaye, who took the song and then added his own tweaks to it.

The final version of the song was a series of happy accidents, with its saxophone into and multi-layered voices. Motown wasn’t going to release it — too political, too jazzy — but executives Harry Balk and Barney Ales managed to swing a single release in January 1971. It turned out to become Motown’s fastest-selling single ever. Now Berry Gordy Jr was interested, and gave Gaye until the end of March to record whatever he wanted. That was unprecedented at Motown, and would encourage Stevie Wonder to demand full creative control when time came to renew his Motown contract a year later.

To his credit, Gordy backed the final result of What’s Going On, even if it delivered little obvious potential for hit singles, unlike Stevie Wonder’s album Where I’m Coming From, released in April 1971, on which personal and socially conscious material is leavened with traditional love-song tracks like If You Really Love Me or Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer. Happily for Gordy, What’s Going On yielded two more Top 10 hits, Mercy Mercy Me and Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler).

What’s Going On was a very different album from others on Motown in content, and it was different in its cover art. The cover was designed by Curtis McNair, who was responsible for hundreds of Motown covers, with photographs by Jim Hendin. The latter had presented several photos he had taken of Gaye in the singer’s Detroit backyard (note the kids’ swing on the back cover). It was a wet winter’s day. Sleet settled on Marvin’s hair, water on his coat, and Gaye is looking pensively into the distance, as if trying to make sense of all this madness. But there is a little smile trying to emerge: this man is sad but strangely hopeful. Physically, Gaye is no longer the pretty face of the 1960s, but the beard accentuates those beautiful dark eyes. He looks mature and sensual. See more Hendin photos here.

Recovering What’s Going On is not entirely easy, and it required the inclusion of a song that’s not on the LP, I Want You, since it is part of a two-song medley by Robert Palmer. The only version of Flying High I was happy to use was that by Dizzy Gillespie (or that by Everette Harp, who covered the whole album in 1997, but I need him to feature with God Is Love). But Gillespie’s instrumental comes with Save The Children. That track, however, must feature with its lyrics, so the great Marlena Shaw reprises that song, with lyrics. I think Marvin Gaye would approve.

There are two final contenders for the title track which I found difficult to choose between. But since the album ends with a reprise of What’s Going On, the “losing” contender can go there.

As ever, CD-R length, home-conceptualised covers. Text above in an illustrated PDF. PW in comments.

1. Donny Hathaway – What’s Goin’ On (live, 1971)
2. Keb’ Mo’ – What’s Happening Brother (2004)
3. Dizzy Gillespie – Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky)/Save The Children (1988)
4. Marlena Shaw – Save The Children (1972)
5. Everette Harp – God Is Love (1997)
6. Robert Palmer – Mercy Mercy Me/I Want You (1990)
7. Sons Of Slum – Right On (1971)
8. John Legend & The Roots – Wholy Holy (2010)
9. Gil Scott-Heron – Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler) (1981)
10. The Undisputed Truth – What’s Going On (1971)

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More Recovered albums:
Tapestry
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Every Beatles album

More Cover Mixes:
Bob Dylan Songbooks
John Prine Songbook
Bill Withers Songbook
Bruce Springsteen Songbook
Steely Dan Songbook
Leonard Cohen Songbook
Elvis Presley Songbook
Chuck Berry Songbook
ABBA Songbook

And check out the Covered With Soul series

Categories: Album cover art, Covers Mixes, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Any Major Eurovision

May 23rd, 2021 4 comments

 

After the victory of a tuneless tune by Italy’s Guitar Hero heroes L’Oscurità (12 hours later, I don’t recall their real name), I imagine some people need some relief. So I’m reposting this from three years ago.

For Europeans and other purveyors of musical kitsch, the Eurovision Song Contest is annual appointment TV. The international singing competition has been held since 1956. Up to the fall of the Iron Curtain, competing countries were drawn from Western, Southern, Northern and Central Europe, plus Israel and, a few times, Morocco. Today the contest is hugely popular in Eastern Europe — and lately even that well-known European country Australia has taken part (but if Israel can, then why not Australia?).

Making a list of “favourite” or “best” Eurovision songs is dicey business. The sober music fan will laugh at you for even considering such a thing; the hardcore Eurovision fan will absolutely hate you for not including Estonia’s entry for 1998 which never deserved to finish in 23rd place. Still, here I am and can do no other.

So, here is a collection of the songs I chose as those I like the best of the thousand-something songs that were composed in the hope of winning the Grand Prix (97,6% of which have been utterly awful). They may not be the best of the lot; the dominance of 1970s entries suggests that childhood nostalgia influences my choices. So I happily accept that Teach-In‘s 1975 winner Ding-A-Dong fails to represent a highwater mark in popular music, even in that dismal year. But when I hear it, I am transported to the cobblestoned street where I grew up, riding my green chopper bicycle, hatching new adventures with my friends.

I exclude some common favourites. There’s no place for Cliff Richard’s Congratulations, nor for Lulu, Brotherhood of Men, Nicole, Dana (Irish or International), Lordi, Katrina & the Waves, or Bucks Fizz, nor for many of the winners of the last few decades. I also have no love for Germany’s 1979 entry Dschinghis Khan, a song about a genocidal psychopath which the Germans saw fit to perform in, of all places, Jerusalem. And I really cannot stand Israel’s insipid winner that year, Milk & Honey’s Hallelujah.

With all these possibly worthy candidates sifted out, I expect to be asked what the hell Sophie & Magaly‘s Papa Pingouin, Luxembourg’s 1980 entry which finished 9th with a slightly disturbing performance featuring an absurd man-penguin, is doing here (indeed, my incredulous wife just earlier asked me, upon hearing me play it, what the fuck I am listening to). Well, it’s a catchy enough song, written by German serial Eurovision offender Ralph Siegel. Despite receiving little love from the juries, Papa Pingouin became a million-seller. Alas, due to a brutal contract the French twins saw very little of the loot. And then Siegel dropped the singers, trying to sting them out of the little money that was due to them. Magaly died in 1996 of AIDS; Sophie is battling with depression. Siegel is still churns out songs for the Eurovision.

Siegel wrote several entries for Germany, including the afore-mentioned Dschinghis Khan, the runners-up in 1980, ’81, and ’87 — Theater (Katja Epstein), Johnny Blue (Lena Valaitis) and Lass die Sonne in dein Herz (Wind) — and the 1982 winner, Nicole’s Ein bisschen Frieden. None of them feature here.

Germany’s best-ever entry, in my view, was 1970’s third-placed Wunder gibt es immer wieder by Katja Epstein, the arrangement of which is truly a marker of its time. The wonderful Epstein returned the following year, again finishing third with the ecological anthem Diese Welt, featured here in the English version, River Run River Flow.

The second-best German entry also features here in English: the late Joy Fleming‘s superb, soulful Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein (Bridge of Love). Incredibly, it finished 17th in a field of 19, despite being backed by soul singer Madeline Bell, close friend of Dusty Springfield and ex-member of Blue Mink. National juries are idiots.

I also really like Guildo Horn‘s Guildo hat Euch lieb (Guildo loves you all), which was Germany’s entry in 1998. Written by off-the-wall entertainer Stefan Raab under the pseudonym Alf Igl it was a parody of Ralph Siegel (as Raab’s alias suggests). In the national elimination round, the song beat out three Siegel compositions, despite the mass-circulation Bild running a campaign against Horn and his manic and anarchic ways. Raab took part himself in 2000, with an even more subversive number, sung in an invented German dialect.

The greatest Eurovision song of all time is, inevitably, ABBA‘s Waterloo, the winning entry for Sweden in 1974 (amazingly, ABBA failed to qualify in the national qualification contest the previous year. Sweden’s Decca moment). Waterloo had it all: a great tune, international lyrics, bright outfits, Björn’s star-shaped silver guitar, and a conductor dressed like Napoleon. But it wasn’t an easy win, as I explained in the article accompanying the ABBA cover versions mix. The nearest contender, Italian Gigliola Cinquetti‘s more traditional ballad Si, put up a strong fight. That song also features here, unlike Cinquetti’s 1964 winner Non ho l’età.

Running a close second, in my book, is Spain’s entry for 1973, Eres Tu by a singing group Mocedades. It finished in second place in a strong field, beaten by Anne-Marie David‘s also superb Tu Te Reconnaitras, winning it for Luxembourg. Cliff Richard‘s appeal for groovy social harmony, a track that has a better tune than lyrics, came third.

The deserved winner in 1967 was Sandie Shaw with Puppet On A String, the song the barefooted singer hated and performed virtually under duress. Coming only fourth that year, representing Luxembourg, was Greek-born and Germany-based singer Vicky Leandros with L’amour est bleu. That song became famous as the easy listening classic Love Is Blue by Paul Mauriat, who stripped the song of all the emotions, lyricism and style which Leandros had invested in it.

Leandros would eventually win the thing, also for Luxembourg, in 1972 with Aprés toi. This time around, she had an international hit with the song, in its original French version, in West Germany as Dann kamst Du, and in Britain, where it reached #2 as Come What May.

Luxembourg had a way of picking winners: in 1965 it was the appropriately-named French singer France Gall, whose Poupée De Cire Poupée De Son was penned by Serge Gainsbourg, inspired by Beethoven. Her performance was off-key, causing her lover at the time, singer Claude Francois, to scream at her in a discouraging manner. The charm of the catchy song, with its clever lyrics, and of France Gall herself evidently won over the juries.

Perhaps even more famous internationally than Waterloo and Love Is Blue is Italian singer Domenico Modugno‘s 1958 entry: Nel blu dipinto di blu. You’ll know it better as Volare, probably in Dean Martin”s version. Modugno finished only in third place with it. As I said, juries are idiots. The singer tried his luck again the following year, finishing 6th. A third Eurovision attempt in 1966 ended in disaster: Modugno came last, with nil points.

The winner that year was German-Austrian singer Udo Jürgens, winning the contest for Austria with Merci Chérie. It was Jürgens’ third successive participation in the Eurovision.

Austria would have to wait until 2014, shortly before Jürgens’ death, to win again. But what a winner that was: bearded drag artist Conchita Wurst singing a fantastically dramatic song which in the artist’s hands became a liberation anthem for LBGT+ communities. Before the contest, no Austrian record company was willing to release it, possibly because the vehement opposition by conservative and right-wing politicians to the mold-breaking artist. So national broadcaster ORF had to release it themselves. The song became a hit in many countries…

If I became the dictator of a newly-founded state and was looking for a rousing national anthem, I’d repurpose Séverine‘s 1971 Eurovision winner, Un banc, un arbre, un rue. Take the chorus (which, brazenly, kicks off the song), slow it down a bit and give it the national anthem arrangement. I could win wars with that national anthem. The song was the only winning entry for Monaco. I reckon my army could take on Monaco’s troops, especially with that anthem.

I hope this collection of songs will give lie to the notion that Eurovision has offered only cliché and acts of grievous musical battery. In fact, many of these songs may well stick in your head to give you not unpleasant earworms.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and includes home-nilpointed covers (the cover promises 25 tracks; I added one for your delight), as well as a larger version of the above collage of single covers, and the above text in an illustrated PDF. PW in comments.

1. Abba – Waterloo (1974, Sweden #1)
2. Cliff Richard – Power To All Our Friends (1973, Great Britain #3)
3. Sandie Shaw – Puppet On A String (1967, Great Britain #1)
4. France Gall – Poupée De Cire Poupée De Son (1965, France #1)
5. Vicky Leandros – Aprés toi (1972, Luxembourg #1)
6. Katja Ebstein – Wunder gibt es immer wieder (1970, Germany #3)
7. Anne-Marie David – Tu Te Reconnaitras (1973, Luxembourg, #1)
8. The New Seekers – Beg, Steal Or Borrow (1972, Great Britain #2)
9. Joy Fleming – Bridge Of Love (1975, Germany, #17)
10. Lynsey de Paul & Mike Moran – Rock Bottom (1977, Great Britain #2)
11. Teach In – Ding-A-Dong (1975, Netherlands #1)
12. Catherine Ferry – 1, 2, 3 (1976, France #2)
13. Sophie & Magaly – Papa Pingouin (1980, Luxembourg #9)
14. Guildo Horn – Guildo hat euch lieb (1998, Germany #7)
15. Charlotte Nilsson – Take Me To Your Heaven (1999, Sweden #1)
16. Conchita Wurst – Rise Like A Phoenix (2014, Austria #1)
17. Joélle Ursull – White And Black Blues (1990, France #2)
18. Secret Garden – Nocturne (1995, Norway #1)
19. Gigliola Cinquetti – Si (1974, Italy #2)
20. Katja Ebstein – River Run River Flow (Diese Welt) (1971, Germany #3)
21. Séverine – Un Banc, Un Arbre, Un Rue (1971, Monaco, #1)
22. Mocedades – Eres Tu (1973, Spain #2)
23. Vicky Leandros – L’amour Est Bleu (Love Is Blue) (1967, Luxembourg #4)
24. Udo Jürgens – Merci Cherie (1966, Austria #1)
25. Domenico Modugno – Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu) (1958, Italy #3)
26. Grethe & Jörgen Ingmann – Dansevise (1963, Denmark, #1)
Bonus:
Mary Hopkin – Knock, Knock Who’s There (1970, Great Britain #2)
Stefan Raab – Wadde hadde dudde da (2000, Germany #5)

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