Archive for September, 2009

Great covers – Beatles

September 29th, 2009 12 comments

As a Beatles fan, I would be quite happy to display all their album covers on my wall, if decorating my humble abode with LP sleeves was my thing (the putative notion of such interior design innovation, of course, being the premise for this series). I imagine the Beatles would appreciate the pun in my song selection: Beatles songs sung by others…

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beatles for sale

The cover photo of Beatles For Sale is probably my favourite of all Fab Four pics. The lads look as tired (because they were exhausted) as half of the hurriedly compiled album sounds. The photo evokes late autumn, mainly because it was taken at that time of the year during a session in London”s Hyde Park (the LP was released on 4 December 1964). The photographer was Robert Freeman, who shot the photos for four other Beatles album covers: Please, Please Me, With The Beatles, Help! and Rubber Soul.


Almost exactly a year later, on 3 December 1965, the Beatles released another LP, Rubber Soul, with cover art that evoked autumn. I’ve always imagined that on the photo the four were looking down into a well. What actually happened was that photographer Freeman was projecting a series of photos he had taken at Lennon’s place on an LP sleeve-sized cardboard, to give an idea as to how each option would look as a cover. At one point, the cardboard had slipped, and the image was projected at an angle. According to Paul, the Beatles really liked the effect, and asked Freeman whether he could recreate it. As we know, he could. The title Rubber Soul was a pun of a criticism McCartney had heard from an American musician of Mick Jagger, whose singing was described as “plastic soul”. The Rolling Stones almost inspired a much worse pun when the Beatles considered naming their next album, which we know as Revolver, “After Geography”, as pun on the Stones” LP Aftermath. Happily, sanity prevailed.


Much as we may take it for granted on account of its ubiquity, I like the Abbey Road cover a lot for its simplicity. It is a great snapshot in time: the particular movement, the way the cars are parked (especially the VW Beetle with its supposedly cryptic license plate), the transience of Paul’s cigarette. I enjoy looking at the photo, imagining the scene at that precise moment. Seconds previously, a car had gone over the zebra crossing — we see the back of it as our four friends parade in single file. The distance of the car to the zebra crossing would suggest that John began leading the guys across the road the moment the car had passed, doing so fairly briskly (George clearly is striding hard to keep up). And in the background, there is a group of people and a single individual (one Paul Cole, a tourist speaking to a policeman in a black van) witnessing the scene with some interest. They surely had no idea that they would feature on the cover of what may be the greatest album of the 1960s, nor probably did the owner of the legs and blue dress we see flying by on the back cover.

The photo was taken on 8 August 1969 at 11:35 by Iain MacMillan, a friend of John and Yoko’s, who stood on a step ladder as he shot the Beatles walking over the zebra crossing twice in both directions. Reportedly a police man stopped the traffic for a short while to let the shoot, all of six photos, go ahead (clearly he stopped the traffic only in the left lane; the sequence shows that as the four cross the road again, they have let a black cab pass as a doubledecker bus approaches). One of the photos, taken before the Fab Four cross the road, shows an old lady approaching the Beatles as Paul fixes Ringo’s collar.


With The Beatles

If I had to pick just one Beatles cover to decorate my wall, it would be that of With The Beatles, the group’s second LP. The photo was taken on 22 August 1963 in a corridor in the Bournemouth Palace Court Hotel, not an establishment generally associated with great moments in rock ‘n’ roll. Photographer Freeman was given instruction to recreate the shadow-and-light effect often employed by their Hamburg-days friend Astrid Kirchherr, the girl in whose arms original Beatle Stu Sutcliffe died (see here for Kirchherr’s pictures). Freeman achieved the effect by using natural light coming through a window at the end of the corridor.

Kirchherr never shot a Beatles cover, but her sidekicks Klaus Voormann and Jürgen Vollmer were involved in cover art. Voormann designed the Revolver cover; Vollmer’s photo of Hamburg-days Lennon appeared on the cover of John’s 1975 Rock ‘n’ Roll album.

Now seems also a good time to dismiss the story that Astrid Kirchherr “invented” the Beatles mop top style (known in German as Pilzkopf, or “mushroom head”). It was already a hairstyle popular among the art student set (the “Exis”, or existentialists) and sported by Vollmer, whose example the Beatles would follow.

Musically, With The Beatles shows only hints of the impact the group would have on music. Almost half of it comprised cover versions. It was a remarkable album for what it did not include: a single. At a time when releasing LPs as a clutch of singles plus loads of fillers was the norm, the Beatles took a conscious decision not to include their most recent hits, such as She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand, on the album. The gamble plaid off: the album was a massive hit in an age when pop LPs didn’t sell well. So it can be said that the success of With The Beatles helped raise the status of the humble LP. Within four years, the Beatles would release the benchmark LP of the 1960s, Sgt Pepper”s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

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Categories: Album cover art, Beatles Tags:

Any Major Soul 1976-77

September 25th, 2009 8 comments

Any Major Soul 1976-77

The cull to bring the 1976/77 mix down to CD-R length was more brutal than I had anticipated. So much good music that failed to make the cut (hence all the bonus tracks)! Here then is a mix of a few fairly well-known songs, a couple of album tracks, and a handful of quite rare “” and certainly not familiar “” numbers. A few of these rarities are not of great sound quality; I hope the excellence of the music compensates for that.

To me the centre piece in the mix is Marlena Shaw“s Yu-Ma/Go Away Little Boy, the boy of the title being a bit of a waster whom Marlena knows she ought to get rid of “” but when he nibbles her earlobes”¦ooooh! Here Shaw recorded her big-bandish song from the 1969 The Spice Of Life album and added the Yu-Ma monologue. It is marvellous.  Shaw is treasured among the soul and jazz cognoscenti, but wider fame has sadly eluded her. Shaw”s career, which started with a performance at age 10 at the Harlem Apollo, was certainly distinguished. She was not yet out of her teens when she co-wrote the jazz classic Wade In The Water with Ramsey Lewis. Careering between jazz and soul, she fronted the Count Basie band from 1968-72, and before that came up with some soul gems, such as California Soul and Liberation Conversation. By the mid-’70s she had no recording contract. A CBS record exec heard her sing Go Away Little Boy at a nightclub, and signed her up, giving her career a new lease.

The singer with the most off-putting name in this set must be Bunny Sigler. Born Walter Sigler, the nickname refers to the timing of his birth: two days before Easter 1941. The Philadelphia native was an early collaborator with Philly Soul godfather Leon Huff. He had a couple of minor hits in the 1960s, including 1967″s Let The Good Times Roll (featured on Any Major “60s Soul Vol. 1), and was central in the ascent of Philly Soul in the “70s, not only as a singer but also as a writer and producer. Like Marlena Shaw, Sigler continues to perform today.

Billy Paul“s Let “˜Em In is a cover of the Wings song, but with entirely different lyrics, paying tribute to Malcolm X, Martin Luther Kind, Louis Armstrong et al. Vastly superior McCartney”s original, a truth I hold as self-evident.

Arthur Alexander occupies a rare, perhaps unique, position in music history: he had his original songs covered by the Beatles (Anna), Elvis Presley (Burnin” Love) and the Rolling Stones (You Better Move On). More of a writer and arranger than a hitmaker, Alexander enjoyed a very brief revival in the mid-“70s. The gorgeous Sharing The Night Together, which was written by Muscle Shoals composers Ava Aldridge and Eddie Struzick, reached only #92 in the R&B charts. Typically, somebody else had greater success with it, in this case Dr Hook. Thereafter Alexander drifted out of the music industry, working as a bus driver. Just as he began making music again in 1993, he died of a heart attack. He was 53.

Bo Kirkland and Ruth Davis represent the disco influence in this mix. They were both recording independently until put together at Claridge Records, to whom both had signed. The smoothly funky You’re Gonna Get Next To Me was their only hit, reaching #12 in Britain in 1977.

The New World (not to be confused with the early”70s Australian group) were Curtis Mayfield proteges who did not seem to have recorded much more than one single. We”re Gonna Make It was the flip side of Help The Man, a funky number which you can find at the I Wish You Would blog. Curtis Mayfield is represented here with a really lovely track from 1977″s Never Say You Can’t Survive album .

The Fiestas were veterans by the time their Philly soul-a-like was released. The group had enjoyed some success since starting out as an R&B group in 1959, when they had a #11 US hit with So Fine. They later also covered Arthur Alexander”s Anna. Released in 1977, Gonna Hate Myself made no chart impact at all, which is a great shame.

Oh, and about the Lou Rawls” title: it is not me taking liberty with the Queen”s English.

1. Billy Paul – Let ‘Em In
2. Arthur Alexander – Sharing The Night Together
3. The Fiestas – Gonna Hate Myself
4. The Spinners – The Rubberband Man
5. Innersection – I’m In Debt To You
6 . Curtis Mayfield – Show Me Love
7. High Inergy – You Can’t Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turning Me On)
8. Marlena Shaw – Yu-Ma/Go Away Little Boy
9. Bessie Banks – Try To Leave Me If You Can (I Bet You Can’t Do It)
10. Bunny Sigler – That’s How Long I’ll Be Loving You
11. Candi Staton – Before The Next Teardop Falls
12. L.T.D. – Love Ballad
13. Lou Rawls – See You When I Git There
14. Tavares – Whodunnit
15. Bo Kirkland & Ruth Davis – You’re Gonna Get Next To Me
16. Eddie Kendricks – Skeleton In Your Closet
17. New World – We’re Gonna Make It
18. Dee Edwards – I Can Deal With That
19. Brothers Johnson – I’ll Be Good To You
20. Marvin Gaye – After The Dance




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Categories: 70s Soul, Any Major Soul Tags:

Curious Germany vol. 2

September 22nd, 2009 7 comments

The first instalment of German music and novelties was rather popular. So here”s another one, with a third instalment waiting.

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Marianne Rosenberg ““ Ich bin wie Du (1975).mp3
Rosenberg - Ich bin wie DuMuch of Eurodisco was made in West Germany, with Giorgio Moroder producing Donna Summer in Munich, and acts like the Silver Convention strutting their shiny trousers there, too. It is fair to say, however, that the German Schlager scene was not a hotbed of disco (or, indeed, anything else but banality). The exception was Marianne Rosenberg, whose sensible secretary”s hairstyle complemented her girl-next-door image. She retained the coiffure and high collar dress during her foray into disco in 1975, the splendid Ich bin wie Du (“I am like you”). The fusion of straight-lacedness and disco queenhood established Marianne as an icon in Germany”s gay scene, a position she continues to occupy today.


Marianne Rosenberg ““ Mr Paul McCartney (1970).mp3
Die Beat Oma – Ich Bin die Beat Oma (1965).mp3

Rosenberg - Mr Paul McCartneyBefore she became a gay icon, a gawkier teenage Marianne Rosenberg appealed to Paul McCartney to reply to her fan letter, because no other girl likes him as much as she does. She resorts to emotional blackmail: John and Ringo and even the odd Rolling Stone would have sent her an autograph by now. But not Paul, oh no. So she has to resort to singing this song to attract his attention. There are, of course, other ways to get Paul”s attention (if not a thumbs up sign). Seven years later, in 1977, German newspapers were agog with the claims of a teenager that Mr Paul McCartney had fathered her during one of the Beatles” stints in Hamburg. To the shock of nobody, the claims were found to be “” gasp “” untrue.

Five years before Marianne”s plea to Macca, there was Germany”s insane answer to the wonderful Mrs Miller. Beat Oma (The Beat Granny) based her autobiographical anthem on A Hard Day”s Night, very loosely so, intoning her credentials while aggressively hurtling across vocal keys, hitting none in the process. When she claims that she sings “everybody else against the wall”, the listener virtually feels blindfolded and condemned, hoping only that his superannuated executioner will experience a mishap of the kind depicted in Don Martin”s cartoons in Mad magazine. As the song closes, the drummer puts an end to Beat Oma”s atonal wailings with an assault on the drum kit, perhaps metaphorically beating some sense into the thoroughly charmless Oma (of course, Any Major Dude With Half A Heart disapproves of actual violence against grannies).


Agnetha – Geh’ mit Gott (1972).mp3
Agnetha РSe̱or Gonzales (1968).mp3
Agnetha РMein sch̦nster Tag (1968)

Agnetha - Geh mit GottLast time we encountered ABBA recording in German. Before she became one of the As in the groups” acronymised name, Agnetha Fältskog tried to realise the ambition of many Scandinavian singers of the day with a dream of musical success: breaking into the German Schlager scene. Agnetha released a batch of German singles between 1968 and 1972, most of them quite awful even by the low standards of the genre, though a couple were actually quite good. In her endeavours, Agnetha “” who already had a career in Sweden but put it on hold while going for stardom in West Germany “” was produced by her boyfriend, Dieter Zimmermann. Once Dieter was history, her next boyfriend, Björn, worked out better on the way to stardom.

Geh” mit Gott was released towards the end of her futile bid at Schlager stardom. It was the German version of Ennio Morricone”s song Here”s To You (sung by Joan Baez) for the 1971 film Sacco e Vanzetti (about two Italian immigrants executed in the US for a crime they possibly didn”t commit).

Agnetha - Senor GonzalesFour years earlier, Señor Gonzales was Agnetha”s second German single. I see no reason why it shouldn”t have been a Schlager hit. It has the necessary clichéd lyrics and banal melody; it even has the faux-Mexican sound the Schlager-buying public was so fond of (though here Agnetha might have been ahead of her time; the Mexican Schlager wave peaked in 1972 with Rex Gildo”s superb Fiesta Mexicana, which I shall feature soon). The b-side to Señor Gonzales is a rather better affair. Mein schönster Tag is a country ballad which our girl sings rather well; it is a cover version of a country song, but I can”t work out what the original is. Somebody will surely tell me.


Johnny Cash – Wer Kennt den Weg (1966).mp3
cashIn the 1960s it became common for English-speaking artists to make foreign-language recordings of their hit songs. Foremost among the European countries to offer a market for such things was West Germany. In 1966, Johnny Cash recorded I Walk The Line as Wer Kennt den Weg (alas not as Johannes Bargeld). In the early 1950s, Cash had been based as an US soldier in southern Germany. Clearly he did little in that time to benefit from the opportunity to learn German; his accent is quite appalling.


Sandie Shaw – Einmal glücklich sein wie die Andern (1965).mp3
sandie_shawLike her compatriots Petula Clark and, to a lesser extent, Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw recorded a lot of her repertoire in German (and in French), including her epic version of Bacharach/David”s Always Something There To Remind Me. Here the title translates as “Just once to be happy like the others”. Recorded in 1965, Sandie sounds like she actually knows what she is singing. She clearly makes an effort (though towards the end the effort apparently becomes a bit too much for her), and her diction is charmingly foreign. That”s all the German public ever asked for; as noted previously, nothing could win the hearts of Germans as much as somebody butchering their languages gently.


The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go (German version) (1964).mp3
The Temptations ““ Mein Girl (1964).mp3

supremesBerry Gordy could spot a marketing opportunity, and so he had the stars of his Motown roster record their big hits in various European languages, apparently singing from phonetic lyric sheets. Diana Ross makes a game attempt at it; one can understand her implorations not to be left by the addressee of the song. The Temptations take rather more relaxed view of linguistic doctrines, anticipating the German tendency to include English words as part of the conversational language. Germans are quite happy to use the word “girl” instead of Mädchen, or indeed “happy” instead of glücklich, as the Temptations do here (dear Diana is more purist about this: she actually uses the word glücklich, which must be a bit of a tongue breaker for non-German speakers).

Millie – My Boy Lollipop (German) (1964).mp3
millieAnd another German version of an English-language hit. Millie (who sounds even more chipmunkish in German) doesn”t make an effort to translate the chief rhyme “” sweet as candy/sugar dandy “” into German. And how could she? “Du bist so süss wie Süssigkeiten / Du bist mein Zuckerbursche” somehow wouldn”t work well as a line of seduction. So we can forgive that. But why didn”t the songwriters bother to change the line “I love you I love you I love you so” to “Ich lieb” dich ich lieb” dich ich lieb” dich so” ? That”s just lazy.


Franz Beckenbauer – Gute Freunde kann niemand trennen (1966).mp3
Gerd Müller – Dann macht es bumm (1969).mp3

Fans of English football (or soccer, as my American friends would say) are likely to cringe at the memory of their players” attempts at pop stardom: Kevin Keegan”s 1979 hit single Head Over Heels, or Glenn Hoddle & Chris Waddle with their 1987 #12 hit Diamond Lights, or Paul Gascoigne teaming up with Lindisfarne to belt out The Fog On The Tyne (there”s a Newcastle United thread here). Bad though these might be, English football fans would have no cause to cringe if they knew what their German counterparts have been subjected to, horrors that would make Hoddle & Waddle seem like the Righteous Brothers.

beckenbauerAnd yet, the two Bayern München legends featured here can be forgiven for their amateur warblings (if not for their club affiliation). Beckenbauer is, in my view, the greatest defensive player of all time. Adept at playing in virtually any position, he was an elegantly authoritative figure on the pitch. Germans, always acutely sensitive to their troubled history, called him “Der Kaiser”, which is preferable to “Der Führer”.

After finishing his playing career (which included a stint with New York Cosmos), Beckenbauer led the West German national team as coach to a World Cup final in 1986 and the world championship in 1990. After abdicating, as it were, he became a functionary for Bayern München, doing all he could to diminish the affection in which German football fans hold their heroes. Today he is a dear friend of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, a thoroughly nasty piece of work behind his grinning mask of buffoonery.

gerd_mullerIf Beckenbauer”s nickname was somewhat misguided, that of his teammate Gerd Müller”s is quite mind-boggling, coming just a quarter of a century after World War 2: “Der Bomber”. The moniker was supposed to testify to Müller”s genuinely breathtaking ability to score goals “” he”s by far the best I”ve seen in my lifetime. But it was a misnomer. The nickname suggests that Müller had a mighty shot, firing V2 rockets with accuracy from outside the penalty area. In reality, Müller had no particularly powerful shot. He was, however, compact with a low centre of gravity and an almost unerring positioning instinct. Many of his goals were scored with his backside, or while he was on the ground. His single, Dann macht es bumm (“And then it bangs”), perpetuates the mistaken notion of the blitzkrieging bomber. It also perpetuates the reality that Gerd Müller wasn”t particularly bright. Still, the man is a legend and probably not a friend of the evil Blatter.


Johannes Heesters – Ich werde jede Nacht von Ihnen träumen (1937).mp3
heestersVera Lynn has just become the oldest person to have a British #1 album (alas not with her collection of Rammstein covers), but the world”s oldest still active performer is Johannes Heesters. The Dutch-born singer and former actor, whose career was directed almost exclusively at German audiences, is still at it at 105 years of age. As one might expect, he is much loved in Germany.

But he is not very popular in the country of his birth, where he has not been forgiven for continuing his career in Nazi Germany (where all entertainment was subject to Joseph Goebbels” censorship and even dictate), and especially for performing for SS troops at Dachau. After the war Heesters pleaded that he had no idea about Dachau”s the extent of function. I suspect that he might not be entirely loose with the truth here (not all entertainers are very bright); and even if he knew, how much courage might he have needed to muster to tell the SS to bugger off. At the same time, he did move to Germany in 1935, so fuck him for that.

Still, almost 106 years of age, and still performing. And he has a wife who is 45 years younger than he is “” Respect!

Noel Coward ““ Don”t Let”s Be Beastly To The Germans (1943).mp3
Noel_CowardNot a German song, obviously, but a stinging propaganda satire by the legendary English wit at the expense of Germans. Of course he had no intention of pleading for post-war clemency towards Germans; quite the contrary. And yet, to some extent his satirical entreaty would be realised. To be sure, some Germans were treated badly after the war, especially the many women who were raped by occupying soldiers (and not just by the Russians, who clearly did not share the song”s sentiments). But, truth be told, Germans subjected to occupation in the West cannot have too many complaints about the treatment they received.

The Originals Vol. 32

September 18th, 2009 12 comments

This time we look at the Carpenters hit that began life as an ad for a bank and was first released by a man with a one-off moniker; the Righteous Brothers classic which Phil Spector saw fit to issue only as a b-side; Gram Parsons’ famous song that was first recorded by a country singer before the co-writer had the chance; The Platters hit that was first an instrumental; and the Manhattan Transfer hit that was first recorded by a husband and wife team. Many thanks to Dennis, Walter and RH for their help.

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Freddie Allen ““ We”ve Only Just Begun (1970).mp3
Carpenters ““ We”ve Only Just Begun (1970).mp3
Curtis Mayfield – We”ve Only Just Begun (1971).mp3

freddie_allenWe”ve Only Just Begun first made its appearance in 1970 in a TV commercial for a bank (video), whence it was picked up by Richard Carpenter to create the popular wedding staple. But before Richard and Karen got around to it, it was recorded a few months earlier by Freddie Allen, an actor who under his stage name Smokey Roberds was a member of “60s California pop group The Parade, and later formed the duo Ian & Murray with fellow actor and Parade member Murray MacLeod.

As Roberds tells it, one day he heard the Crocker National Bank commercial on his car radio (presumably the ad transcended media platforms), and recognised in the tune the signature of his composer friend Roger Nichols, who had written the ad”s song with lyricist Paul Williams. He phoned Nichols, ascertained that he had indeed co-written it, and asked him to create a full-length version. Nichols and Williams did so, and Roberds intended to produce it for a band he had just signed to White Whale Records. The deal fell through, so Roberds decided to record the song himself, but couldn”t do so under his stage name for contractual reasons. Since he was born Fred Allen Roberds, his Christian names provided his new, temporary moniker (see interview here, though you”ll go blind reading it).

carpentersPaul Williams” memory is slightly different: in his version, Nichols and he had added verses to subsequent updates of the advert, and completed a full version in case anyone wanted to record it. When Richard Carpenter heard the song in the commercial, he contacted Williams to ask if there was a full version, and Williams said there was “” and he would have lied if there wasn”t. Perhaps that happened before Allen recorded it. (Full interview here)

The remarkable Williams, incidentally, sang the song in the ad and would later write Rainy Days And Mondays and I Won”t Last A Day Without You for the Carpenters (both with Nichols), as well as Barbra Streisand”s Evergreen, Kermit the Frog”s The Rainbow Connection and the Love Boat theme, among others.

Freddie Allen”s single, a likable country-pop affair, did well in California, but not nationally, which he attributed to promotion and distribution problems. Released a few months later, the Carpenters had their third hit with We”ve Only Just Begun, reaching #2 in the US.

Also recorded by: Perry Como (1970), Mark Lindsay (1970), Dionne Warwick (1970), Paul Williams (1971), Bill Medley (1971), Johnny Mathis (1971). Mark Lindsay (1971), Jerry Vale (1971), The Moments (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Claudine Longet (1971), The Wip (1971), Grant Green (1971), Barbra Streisand (recorded in 1971, released in 1991), Johnny Hartman (1972), Henry Mancini (1972), Reuben Wilson (1973), The Pacific Strings (1973), Jack Jones (1973), Ray Conniff (1986), Ferrante & Teicher (1992), Grant Lee Buffalo (1994), Richard Clayderman (1995), Stan Whitmire (2000), Bradley Joseph (2005), Peter Grant (2006)


Bobby Bare ““ Streets Of Baltimore (1966).mp3
Tompall & The Glaser Brothers – Streets of Baltimore (1966).mp3
Gram Parsons ““ Streets Of Baltimore.mp3
Nanci Griffiths & John Prine – Streets Of Baltimore (1998).mp3
Evan Dando – Streets Of Baltimore (1998).mp3

tompall_glaserTompall Glaser was one of the original country Outlaws, along with the likes of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. With his brothers, he supported Johnny Cash on tour in the early 1960s before as Tompall & The Glaser Brothers they signed for MGM Records in 1966. The same year Tompall wrote Streets Of Baltimore, the sad story of a man who selflessly gives up everything, including his farm back in Tennessee, so as to fulfill his woman”s dream of living in Baltimore “” with no happy ending, at not least for him.

Tompall”s cousin Dennis, who worked for him, told me in an e-mail that the original song had many more verses. “Harlan told me once that Tompall stopped by his office and gave him a copy of what he”s written, which was much longer than the final version. And said: “˜Here, fix it”. It sounds like something Tom would say.”

bobby_bareBut the Glasers didn”t recorded the song first; Bobby Bare got there first. Recorded in April 1966 (produced by Chet Atkins) his version was released as a single in June 1966; the Glasers” was recorded in September. Bare went on to have hit with it, reaching #7 on the Country charts. The song became more famous in the wonderful version by Gram Parsons, which appeared on his 1973 GP album. Likewise, the 1998 duet by the magnificent Nanci Griffiths and the awesome John Prine is essential.

Dennis Glaser also said that the song has been mentioned in an American Literature textbook “as an example of songs that reflect actual life”.

Also recorded by: Capitol Showband (1967), Charley Pride (1969), Statler Brothers (1974), The Bats (1994), Tony Walsh (1999), Skik (as Grachten van Amsterdam, 2004), The Little Willies (2006)


The Three Suns – Twilight Time (1944).mp3
Les Brown & his Orchestra – Twilight Time
Johnny Maddox and the Rhythmasters – Twilight Time (1953).mp3
The Platters – Twilight Time (1958).mp3

three_sunsThe Three Suns ““ brothers Al (guitar) and Morty Nevins (accordion) and cousin Artie Dunn (organ) ““ were an instrumental trio founded in the late 1930s in Philadelphia. Although not particularly well-known, they had a long career that lasted into the “60s (albeit in latter years with competing entities going by the group”s name, including one with Don Kirshner who later invented the Monkees). Unusual orchestration notwithstanding ““ their Twilight Time sounds like carousel music “” the Three Suns were sought-after performers who spawned imitation groups, including the Twilight Three. (More on The Three Suns here)

Not much seems to be known about the genesis of Twilight Time other than it becoming something of a signature tune for the group. They eventually recorded it in 1944. It had become so popular that songwriter Buck Ram put his evocative lyrics ““ “Heavenly shades of night are falling, it”s twilight time” ““ to the melody. The first cover version of the song was recorded in November 1944 by bandleader Les Brown, and released in early 1945. But it is unclear whether it featured vocals. Several sources, including not always reliable Wikipedia, say that Brown’s version features Doris Day, and therefore is the first vocal version of the song. I”ve not been able to find the song or even proof that Doris Day sang it. Featured here is the instrumental version Brown, released as the b-side to Sentimental Journey, the first recording of that standard which Doris did sing.

A recording I have of an old radio programme of the Armed Forces Radio Service, called Personal Album, features five Les Brown songs. Four of them are sung by Doris Day, but when announcing Twilight Time, the presenter says that Doris will “sit that one out”. So I doubt she ever recorded it with Brown, though she might have sung it on stage.

If Doris Day did not lend her vocals to Twilight Time, then the first recording to feature Buck Rams” lyrics would probably be that released, also in 1945, by Jimmy Dorsey featuring Teddy Walters on the microphones, which appeared in the MGM movie Thrill Of A Romance. Alas, I have no recording of that version.

plattersTwilight Time had been recorded intermittently “” including a rather nice ragtime version by Johnny Maddox and the Rhythmasters “” by the time Ram signed the vocal group The Platters, for whom he co-wrote some of their biggest hits, such as Only You and The Great Pretender. By 1958 it had been almost two years since The Platters had enjoyed a Top 10 hit. Ram dug out Twilight Time and his protegés had their third US #1. The song also reached #3 in Britain, their highest chart placing there until Smoke Gets In Your Eyes topped the UK charts later that year.

Also recorded by: Roy Eldridge & His Orchestra (1944), Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Teddy Walters (1945), Johnny Maddox And The Rhythmasters (1953), Otto Brandenburg (1960), Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas (1965), Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs (1965), Gene Pitney (1970), P.J. Proby (1973), José Feliciano (1975), Carl Mann (1976), Dave (as 5 Uhr früh, 1980), Willie Nelson (1988), John Fahey (1992), John Davidson (1999), The Alley Cats (2000), Anne Murray (2004) a.o.


Art and Dottie Todd – Chanson D”Amour (Song Of Love) (1958).mp3
Manhattan Transfer – Chanson D”Amour (1976).mp3

art_dottie_toddFew songs have irritated and fascinated me in such equal measures as Manhattan Transfer”s 1977 hit Chanson D”Amour, a UK #1. Their cover was ingratiatingly camp and absolutely ubiquitous, a middle-aged finger raised at punk. It is also a most insidious earworm. Almost two decades earlier, the Wayne Shanklin composition had been a US #6 hit for the husband and wife duo Art and Dottie Todd. The couple”s version competed in the charts with an alternative take by the Fontane Sisters. Ar and Dottie scored the bigger hit. It was also their only US hit. Chanson D”Amour didn”t chart in Britain, but the Todds had their solitary hit there with a different song, Broken Wings. So they ended up one-hit wonders on both sides of the Atlantic, but with different songs.

The Todds, who already had enjoyed a long career and even presented a radio show after getting married in 1941 (they met when accidentally booked into the same hotel room), proceeded to entertain in the lounges of Las Vegas for many years before their semi-retirement in 1980 to Hawaii, where they opened a supper club. Dottie died in 2000 at 87; Art followed her in 2007 at the age of 93. Somehow it seems right that this couple, who lived and worked together for six decades, should be remembered for a Song of Love.

Chanson D”Amour was resurrected in 1966 by easy listening merchants The Lettermen, who had a minor US hit with it. And a decade later, Manhattan Transfer recorded their cover, adding a French 1920s cabaret feel to the Todd”s template, which they followed quite faithfully.

Also recorded by: Also recorded by: The Fontane Sisters (1958), The Lettermen (1966), Gheorghe Zamfir (1974), Ray Conniff (1979), BZN (1981), André Rieu (2003), In-grid (2004) a.o.


Todd Duncan – Unchained Melody (excerpt) (1955).mp3
Unchained Melody Mix (39MB):
Les Baxter – Unchained Melody (1955)
Al Hibbler – Unchained Melody (1955)
Roy Hamilton – Unchained Melody (1955)
Gene Vincent & his Blue Caps – Unchained Melody (1957)
Merri Gail – Unchained Melody (1960)
Vito and the Salutations – Unchained Melody (1963)
The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody (1965)
Boots Randolph – Unchained Melody (1967)
Elvis Presley – Unchained Melody (1977)
Kenny Rogers – Unchained Melody (1977)
Willie Nelson – Unchained Melody (1978)
U2 – Unchained Melody (1989)
Clarence Gatemouth Brown – Unchained Melody (1995)

todd_duncanIt takes something special to record a song that had been recorded many times and been a hit for various artists, and in the process appropriate it in the public consciousness. The Righteous Brothers did so with Unchained Melody, a song that made its public debut as a theme in the otherwise forgotten 1955 movie Unchained (hence the song”s cryptic title), sung on the soundtrack by the African-American singer Todd Duncan (pictured), the original Porgy in the 1935 production of Porgy & Bess, who died at 95 in 1998 (the last surviving original cast member, Anne Brown, who played Bess, died a few months ago at the age of 96). Duncan was also a professor of voice at Harvard. I”m afraid the poor quality clip I”m posting here is the best I could find (thanks to my friend Walter).

The song was written by Alex North and Hy Zaret (whose mother knew him as William Starrat). The story goes that the young Hy, in an episode of unrequited love, had written the lyrics as a poem, which North set to music in 1936. The yet nameless song was offered to Bing Crosby, who turned it down. Thereafter it sat on the shelves until almost two decades later North was scoring Unchained, a prison drama, which in a small role featured the jazz legend Dexter Gordon, at the time jailed for heroin possession at the prison which served as the movie”s set. Unchained Melody received an Oscar nomination (Love Is A Many Splendored Thing won) “” the first of 14 unsuccessful nominations for North, who eventually was given a lifetime achievement award.

ray hamiltonDuncan”s version went nowhere, but the song was a US top 10 hit for three artists in 1955: Les Baxter, in an instrumental version, and vocal interpretations by Al Hibbler and Roy Hamilton, with Hibbler”s becoming the best known version for the next decade. In June the same year,  singer Jimmy Young took the song to the top of the British charts, the first of four times the song was a UK #1 (the other chart-toppers were the Righteous Brothers, Robson & Jerome, and Gareth Gates).

Ten years later, the Righteous Brothers” recorded it, produced by Bill Medley (though some dispute that) with Bobby Hatfield”s magnificent vocals, and released on Spector”s Philles label. With so many versions preceding the Righteous Brothers” take, one can only speculate which one, if any, provided the primary inspiration. I would not be surprised to learn that Hatfield drew at least something from Gene Vincent”s vocals in the 1957 version, which oddly omits the chorus.

As so often, the classic started out as a b-side, in this case to the Gerry Goffin & Carole King song Hung On You, which Spector produced. To Spector”s chagrin, DJs flipped the record and Unchained Melody (which had no producer credit on the label) became the big hit, reaching #4 in the US.

righteous_brothersIn 1990 Unchained Melody enjoyed a massive revival thanks to the most famous scene in the film Ghost, featuring Patrick Swayze (R.I.P.) and Demi Moore playing with clay. The song went to #1 in Britain, and would have done likewise in the US had there not been two Righteous Brothers” versions in the charts at the same time. The owners of the 1965 recording underestimated the demand for the song and failed to re-issue it in large quantity. Medley and Hatfield took the gap by recording a new version, which sold very well. Since the US charts are based on sales and airplay, the 1965 version charted in the Top 10 on strength of the latter, while the reformed Righteous Brothers reached the Top 20.

Unchained Melody represents another footnote in music history: it was the last (or second last, sources vary) song ever sung on stage by Elvis Presley. And fans of the Scorsese film GoodFellas may recognise the doo wop recording of the song by Vito and the Salutations.

Also recorded by: June Valli (1955), Jimmy Young (1955), Cab Calloway (1955), Chet Atkins (1955), The Crew Cuts (1955), Harry Belafonte (1957), Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps (1957), Ricky Nelson (1958), Andy Williams (1959), Earl Bostic (1959), Sam Cooke (1960), The Blackwells (1960), Ray Conniff (1960), The Browns (1960), Charlie Rich (1960), Merri Gail (1960), Marty Robbins (1961), Cliff Richard (1961), Floyd Cramer (1962), Duane Eddy (1962), Conway Twitty (1962), Steve Alaimo (1962), Les Chaussettes Noires (as Les enchaînés, 1962), The Lettermen (1962), Frank Ifield (1963), Vito & the Salutations (1963), Johnny De Little (1963), Matt Monro (1964), Anne Murray (1964), Bobby Vinton (1964), Brenda Holloway (1964), Sonny & Cher (1965), Dionne Warwick (1965), The Wailers (1966), Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles (1966), The Supremes (1966), The Englishmen (1967), The Caretakers (1967), Robert Gennari (1967), Igor Mann e I Gormanni (as Senza catene, 1968), Roy Orbison (1968), The Sweet Inspirations (1968), David Garrick (1968), Jimmy Scott (1969), The Platters (1969), Waylon Jennings (1970), The New Overlanders (1970), Dean Reed (1971), Blue Haze (1972), Al Green (1973), Donny Osmond (1973), James Last (1974), Bamses Venner (as En forunderlig melodi, 1975), Greyhound (1975), The Stylistics (1976), Kenny Rogers (1977), Paris Connection (1978), Willie Nelson (1978), Clem Curtis (1979), George Benson (1979), Heart (1980), Will Tura (as Oh My Love, 1980), Magazine 60 (1981), Gerry & The Pacemakers (1981), Joni Mitchell (1982), Bill Hurley (1982), Manhattan Transfer (1984), Leo Sayer (1985), U2 (1989), Maurice Jarre (1990), Ronnie McDowell (1991), Richard Clayderman (1992), Dread Zeppelin (1993), Captain & Tennille (1995), Michael Chapdelaine (1995), Al Green (1995), Clarence Gatemouth Brown (1995), Robson & Jerome (1995), Melanie (1996), Günther Neefs (1997), LeAnn Rimes (1997), Joe Lyn Turner (1997), David Osborne (1998), Neil Diamond (1998), Mythos ‘n DJ Cosmo (1999), Gareth Gates (2002), Justin Guarini (2003), Marshall & Alexander (2003), Bruno Cuomo (2003), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Jan Keizer (2004), Il Divo (2005), Joseph Williams (2006), Barry Manilow (2006), Damien Leith (2006), David Phelps (2008), Johnny Hallyday & Joss Stone (2008), Carrie Underwood (2008) a.o.


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Intros Quiz – Glam edition

September 14th, 2009 4 comments

glam_bootThis month”s quiz was compiled by my friend Duncan G, a scholar and a gentleman, on the theme of “70s Glam Rock (employing a fairly loose interpretation of the term).

The usual format applies: twenty song intros of about five seconds in length. I must confess, I did poorly, scoring 12 1/2 (and then kicked myself with a boot just like the one pictured for not getting four I really should have known). There is a good reason why I make these quizzes and not do them myself.

I”ll post the answers into the comments section on Thursday, so please don”t post your answers. If you can”t wait till then to find out what the blasted number 9 is, please feel free to e-mail me or, better, message me on Facebook. If you”re not my FB friend, click here and become one.

Intros Quiz – Glam Rock edition

Meanwhile, Nick Hornby has defended music blogs. But why, oh why, does he not like my blog…sob.

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Any Major Soul 1974-75

September 11th, 2009 8 comments

Any Major Soul 1974-75

By the mid-1970s, soul had by and large left behind its R&B roots and the influence of funk and what would become widely known as disco was beginning to manifest itself “” many soul acts of the period crossed back and forth between soul, funk and disco.

A few notes on some of the featured acts:

The Impressions had soldiered on after Curtis Mayfield went solo in 1970. By the time they had a trio of hits in 1974/75, Mayfield”s successor as lead singer, Leroy Hutson had departed as well, having been replaced by Reggie Torian and Ralph Johnson (the latter left in 1976). The song featured here was not a hit, but might be the best Impressions song of the period. The Natural Four, incidentally, were signed to Mayfield”s Curtom label and produced by Leroy Hutson at the time of Can This Be Real.

William DeVaughn sounds vaguely like Mayfield channelling Timmy Thomas. DeVaughn paid $900 to record Be Thankful For What You Got in 1972 in Philadelphia, with the MFSB band backing him. On its release in 1974 it became a massive hit. Yo La Tengo and Massive Attack fans will know the song from those groups” covers. It”s a boss groove which Squeeze must have known when they conjured the chorus of 1987″s Hourglass. Everybody now: “Diamond in the back, sunroof top, diggin” the scene with a gangsta lean.”

The Soul Children were formed in the late 1960s by Isaac Hayes and David Porter for Stax. The group included John Colbert (who would take the stagename J Blackfoot), who before becoming one of the four soul children had been serving a prison sentence with Johnny Bragg of The Prisonaires. After his release he met Otis Redding who invited him to travel on the plane that would kill Redding and most of the Bar-Keys. There was no room on the plane.

“I”ll Be The Other Woman, written by Homer Banks and Carl Hampton, belongs in the canon of great cheating songs. Here “the other woman” warns her adulterous lover not to cheat on her.

Sidney Joe Qualls was billed as “the new Al Green” when he appeared on the scene. He never reached the Reverend”s great heights, but his How Can You Say Goodbye To Someone might well be one of the best Al Green tracks Al never recorded.

The Moments, whose Sexy Mama is much better than the title would suggest, soon would have to change their name for contractual reasons, despite having recorded under that moniker for close to a decade, even scoring two UK Top 10 hits and a UK #3 hit with Girls, their collaboration with the Whatnauts. We will meet them again in this series as Ray Goodman Brown. Sexy Mama would be a great companion piece to Billy Paul“s Let”s Make A Baby (posted here as a bonus track).

Gene Page, whose instrumental All Our Dreams Are Coming True is this set”s most conspicuous nod to disco, was noted more as an arranger, having worked with artists as diverse as Buffalo Springfield, The Righteous Brothers, The Supremes, Elton John and Barbra Streisand.

Syreeta featured on the 1970/71 mix as a co-writer of Stevie Wonder”s If You Really Love Me. She was briefly married to Wonder, who continued to promote her career after they split, to the extent that the 1974 album on which the bluesy Black Maybe appears was titled Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta.

1. Billy Preston – Nothing From Nothing
2. The Main Ingredient – Just Dont Want To Be Lonely
3. The Tymes – You Little Trustmaker
4. Blue Magic – What’s Come Over Me
5. William DeVaughn – Be Thankful For What You Got
6. Sydney Joe Qualls – How Can You Say Goodbye
7. Major Harris – Love Won’t Let Me Wait
8. Rufus & Chaka Khan – Sweet Thing
9. Minnie Riperton – Simple Things
10. Latimore – Let’s Straighten It Out
11. Soul Children – Ill Be The Other Woman
12. The Impressions – If It’s In You To Do Wrong
13. Aretha Franklin – I’m In Love
14. Syreeta – Black Maybe
15. Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes – Wake Up Everybody
16. The Moments – Sexy Mama
17. Gene Page – All Our Dreams Are Coming True
18. Natural Four – Can This Be Real
19. The Spinners – Mighty Love
20. Earth, Wind & Fire – That’s The Way Of The World (Latin Expedition)



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Categories: 70s Soul, Any Major Soul Tags:

TV Themes: How I Met Your Mother

September 9th, 2009 1 comment

Take a pinch of Seinfeld, wrap him up with Friends, add a touch of Raymond and a little bitty bit of original ideas (apologies if this gave you an unwelcome earworm). The stew would give forth How I Met Your Mother, one of the finest current comedy series, admittedly at a time when there are not many great ones around.


Neil Patrick Harris, a teenage TV star as Doogie Howser MD, is the perhaps the funniest man on TV right now. As Barney Stinson, his comedic timing and delivery is impeccable. More than that, his physical comedy is exceptional as he deftly sidesteps the perils of exaggerating for effect. His character may be over-the-top, yet there is much subtlety in Harris” performance. It is perfectly judged (and, indeed, awesome). Few characters in recent times have given birth to so many catchphrases. True story.

How I Met Your Mother would be poorer without Harris, of course, but not entirely lacking in appeal. Some of the show”s best setpieces have not hinged on Barney”s character. For example, Robin”s “80s style music videos are brilliantly observed. The snag is that Robin had her solitary Tiffany-lite hit in the “90s. The scriptwriters get around that anomaly by having her explain that the “80s didn’t come to her native Canada until the mid-“90s. The absurdity of the notion illuminates the gag. The two-minute date sequence from season 3 shows the progamme”s big heart

The theme is very brief, just 11 seconds long. It”s an catchy chunk from a song by The Solids called Hey Beautiful, a garage band type of affair that really belongs in the “90s (perhaps the “90s didn”t get to The Solids until the “00s). The song was written by Solids members Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, who just happen to be the originators and writers of How I Met Your Mother, and on whom the series is loosely based. Minus the rock band antics.

The third track featured here (like the very brief theme, ripped from DVD)  is sung by Jason Segel, who plays Marshall Erikson in the show. Having won a bet, he has earned the right to slap the obnoxious Barney five times over any period of time. The third slap he saves up for Thanksgiving (or, as he calls it, “Slapsgiving”). Having visited the stipulated act of violence upon Barney, he sings a song he especially composed for the occasion (video).

Theme of How I Met Your Mother.mp3
The Solids – Hey Beautiful.mp3
Jason Segel – You Just Got Slapped.mp3


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Bouncing echoes in the wind

September 7th, 2009 8 comments

Should there still be people who think of Google as t-shirt clad rebels against The Man, let them be disabused of their folly. Quite in contrast to the image Google seeks to portray, they are a corporate branch of The Man, not the Internet”s equivalent of cuddly mineral-water drinking Ashbury Haights hippies.

Among Google”s service is Blogger (with the addresses). Those who follow such things will know that Blogger indiscriminately deletes posts in response to (supposed) DMCA notices alleging copyright violation. Google will not tell which part of an offending post breached copyright, and I have come across cases where posts were deleted in supposed accordance with the DMCA, but did not feature copyrighted material. Google has every right to protect themselves from real threats of legal problems, but they seem to be doing more than that. The deletions are indiscriminate.

Presumable there is pressure from the music industry (or perhaps Google has a stake in the industry). If so, it is a shame that record companies fail to distinguish between blogs that upload the latest Madonna album before it is being released, and those that post mostly old and often out-of-print music. A blog of the latter nature was Whiteray”s excellent Echoes In The Wind, which last week was deleted in its entirety, without warning. I cannot see how the music industry is being crippled by a blogger sharing the obscure sixth track of Boz Scaggs” 1969 album. But, of course, Whiteray has no idea what content produced complaints “” if any “” from copyright holder.


Echoes In The Wind: nuked by Blogger

In the last few weeks, I”ve had messages from members of two “˜70s groups, the Persuasions and the Flaming Ember, thanking me for posting their music. Circumstantial proof that some artists do support what blogs like mine and Whiteray”s and many others are doing. We hope to introduce readers to music we are passionate about, or make them aware of a relevance that may create interest. Much of that music is out of print or otherwise rare. We all hope that the interest we hopefully generate will animate some people to buy the albums. All of us are happy to take down music should the copyright holder ask (they needn”t even be polite). Few of us, if any, try to make money out of this blogging thing. There are no ads on this blog, there were none on Echoes In The Wind. We do invest much time and, I hope, talent for the love of the music.

So Echoes In The Wind has been nuked. An archive representing years of work is gone (though Whiteray has saved his drafts in Word documents). But there is some good news. As of tomorrow, Tuesday, Whiteray will be back, not on Blogger but on WordPress. Visit him in great numbers for a housewarming at

To celebrate, a few songs with appropriate titles. All fine songs. Buy the albums.

Joseph Arthur – Echo Park.mp3
A lovely, haunting ballad from Arthur”s excellent 2004 album Our Shadows Will Remain.

Jimmy Dludlu ““ Echoes From The Past.mp3
Great Afro-jazz track by the South African guitar virtuoso, from the classic 1997 album of the same name.

Tristan Prettyman – Echo2.mp3
Gorgeous track by a gorgeous singer in the folk-tinged pop mould with which Colbie Caillat has had deserved success lately.

Dar Williams – Echoes.mp3
Williams has recorded many albums; this song is from a favourite of those, 2005″s My Better Self.

Copy Borrow Steal: Beatles edition

September 4th, 2009 10 comments

In this series, of which this is the second instalment, I am to a large extent guided by Tim English” fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy), which inspired it in the first place. It must be stressed that I am not necessarily imputing unethical behaviour on part of those who created music that sounds like somebody else”s. A reader calling himself Fudge, in his comment to the first post, explained the legal case for plagiarism: “In terms of songwriting, lawmakers decided that melody and chord structure are the basis of the song (in terms of pop music anyway) and therefore those parts are the most protected. I think the term is “˜interpolate”. That”s why The Jam can “˜borrow” “Taxman” for “Start!” and not get sued, or Steely Dan can nip Horace Silver”s cool bass line.”

I will also include a few songs where similarity has been suggested, but I can”t see it. You shall be the judge. Let me know what you think.

* * *

Nat “˜King” Cole – Answer Me My Love (1961).mp3
Ray Charles ““ Georgia On My Mind (1960).mp3
The Beatles – Yesterday (live in Blackpool) (1965).mp3
nat_king_coleIn my introduction to the first instalment, I cited Paul McCartney”s concern that he unconsciously plagiarised (the technical term for that is cryptomnesia) Yesterday as an example of a songwriter”s scruples. In his comment to the post, Mick alerted me to a suggestion in 2003 by British musicologists that Nat “˜King” Cole”s Answer Me My Love from 1953 “” available here in a 1961 re-recording “” inspired McCartney on a sub-conscious level (and kindly uploaded the song as well).

The case here rests on a line in Cole”s song which does bear some resemblance lyrically and in its phrasing. Cole sings: “Yesterday, I believed that love was here to stay, won”t you tell me where I”ve gone astray” (0:38). McCartney”s line goes: “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now I need a place to hide away.” The musicologists suggested that McCartney must have been aware of the Cole song but kindly allowed that the influence was subliminal.

Paul and John in Blackpool, 1965

Paul and John in Blackpool, 1965

To my mind, this is hardly a case of Byron stealing from Shelley. It is not the most unlikely coincidence when two lyricist 12 years apart arrive at similar rhymes to the word “yesterday”. The phrasing charge doesn”t stick either. Yesterday was floating around with nonsense lyrics (“Scambled eggs, oh my darling you have lovely legs”) until McCartney eventually wrote the lyrics while in Portugal. He could not really phrase the lyrics in many other ways over the existing melody. Others have suggested that he borrowed the structure and chord progression from Ray Charles” version of Georgia On My Mind. I don”t quite see that. So in more than 40 years, the best theories to support the notion that the most famous pop song of all time was influenced by other songs concern a generic rhyme and a song that sounds nothing like Yesterday. Members of the jury, there is no case.

Instead, enjoy this live performance of Yesterday, recorded at the Blackpool Night Out, with George Harrison”s introduction, “For Paul McCartney of Liverpool, opportunity knocks”, and Lennon”s attribution of the performance to Ringo at the end.


Freddie Lennon – That’s My Life (My Love And My Home) (1965).mp3
Freddie Lennon – The Next Time You Feel Important.mp3
John Lennon ““ Imagine (1971).mp3

freddie_lennonIn early 1940 Alfred Lennon impregnated Julia and soon left her with little John Winston who”d barely hear of his seafaring father again. Alfred predictably turned up when the Beatles became successful. A reunion with his son was icy “” funny enough, John was not impressed with the old man”s sudden paternal interest. Still, John later bought the old man a cottage. In the interim, Alfred tried to cash in by recording a self-justifying single, a precursor for My Way in many ways (in a “I”m a good bloke, ain”t I? I just like the sea more than my offspring” fashion). To John, the single was a running joke; he”d play it as a gag for his friends.

Tim English in his book suggests that John might have been unconsciously influenced by his father”s novelty record when he wrote Imagine. English refers to the stately tone of both songs, which in itself is no smoking gun. More crucially, he points to the similarity in the chord progression in the verses. These are not terribly complex or unusual, but the similarity is recognisable. Still, even if John was not in any way influenced, it is a delicious irony that John Lennon”s hypocritical hymn to idealism bears a resemblance to his father”s ridiculous novelty record. As a bonus, I”m including the b-side to Freddie”s single as well (it”s pretty awful).


The Hollies ““ Stewball (1966).mp3
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Merry X-Mas (War Is Over) (1971).mp3

holliesWe might acquit John from nicking chords from his Dad, but his Christmas standard will have the jury wanting exonerating evidence before it can acquit. Stewball, an American folk song adapted from a British ballad about an 18th century racehorse, had been recorded many times before Lennon wrote Merry X-Mas. The folk-influenced Lennon might have been familiar with the versions by Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, Peter Paul & Mary or Joan Baez. It is likely too that he knew the Hollies” version, which appeared on their 1966 album Would You Believe?. Their version sounds close to Lennon”s song in arrangement, apart from the distinct melodic similarity.

Did John directly plagiarise? Well, Stewball came from a folk tradition in which melodies were routinely recycled and adapted with new lyrics. Bob Dylan did that with Blowin” In The Wind (see here) sounding more than just suspiciously like No More Auction Block. If we want to get Lennon off the charge on a technicality, at least we have recourse to a defence based on precedent.

merry_xmasEnglish refers to another inspiration, acknowledged by Lennon: the arrangement, by Phil Spector, was lifted from a song Spector and George Harrison had produced for Ronnie Spector, titled Try Some Buy Some (later recorded by Harrison). Apparently the song was so bad, Ronnie thought her husband and George were joking when presenting her with it. Harrison later put another arrangement from the Ronnie sessions (which she did not record) to his hit song You.


The Beatles – Norwegian Wood (Take 1) (1965).mp3
Bob Dylan – 4th Time Around (1966).mp3

rubber_soulIn his book, English writes that John Lennon almost had a fit when he heard 4th Time Around on Bob Dylan”s Blonde On Blonde album: it ripped off Norwegian Wood, which the Beatles had released a little earlier on Rubber Soul. One can understand Lennon”s point: listen to 4th Time Around a few times, and latest by the third time around the similarities become glaring, especially two-thirds of the way through, and not only in subject matter.

Of course, Dylan had influenced Lennon profoundly. You”ve Got To Hide Your Love Away is John”s musical homage to acoustic Dylan. It”s fair to say that without the Dylan influence, John would not have written something like Norwegian Wood. Posted here is the first take of Norwegian Wood, recorded nine days before the version which made it on to the album. Some people prefer this take.


The Byrds – Bells Of Rhymney (1965).mp3
The Beatles – If I Needed Someone (1965).mp3

byrdsAnd if Dylan ripped off Norwegian Wood, the Beatles borrowed and adapted the jangling guitar intro of the Byrds” version of Pete Seeger”s Bells Of Rhymney for If I Needed Someone. Still with Dylan in mind, it is of interest to note that he was influenced to go electric by the Byrds and the Beatles. And just to add to the mix, the Byrds” Gene Clark was moved by She Loves You to abandon the straight folk of the New Christy Minstrels, and instead co-found the Byrds, who borrowed further from the Beatles to get their guitar- and harmony-based sound (Tim English notes that Roger McGuinn bought his essential 12-string Rickenbacker after seeing Harrison use one in A Hard Day”s Night).

Harrison cheerfully admitted, in public and to the Byrds, that he had copied the intro to If I Needed Someone from the Byrds” song, which had just been released when the Beatles recorded Rubber Soul.


The Beatles – Taxman (alternative take) (1966).mp3
The Jam ““ Start! (1980).mp3

taxmanThis is the rip-off every fan of English music immediately thinks off. As Fudge said, copying a riff does not constitute legal plagiarism. Here The Jam lifted the guitar and bass riff from Harrison”s rather mean-spirited complaint about having to pay taxes (which, admittedly, were punitive in Britain). The guitar and bass parts in Taxman, incidentally, were played by McCartney. Harrison took over Lennon”s rhythm guitar, and John (who contributed the bipartisan falsetto “Ah ha Mr Wilson; Ah ha Mr Heath”, replaced in the take featured here with the line “Anybody got a bit of money”) did tambourine and backing vocals duty. Start! Was The Jam”s second UK #1 hit after Going Underground.


Ringo Starr – Back Off Boogaloo (1972).mp3
Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out (2004).mp3

boogalooRingo Starr wrote his hit after having a dinner with T. Rex”s Marc Bolan who repeatedly used the word “boogaloo” (I am happy to dismiss the story that Boogaloo was Ringo”s nickname for Paul McCartney, who was engaged in legal action with the other Beatles at the time). The song was produced by George Harrison and was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Glaswegians Franz Ferdinand appeared on the scene in 2004 with Take Me Out, supported by a superb video. Take Me Out sounded a bit like a mash of several unfinished songs. It was Libertines singer and celebrity junkie Pete Doherty who, in an unfamiliar moment of lucidity, accused Franz Ferdinand of copying the riff and song structure of Ringo”s song. Apart from Boogaloo”s riff, the “I know I won”t be leaving here” bridge certainly bears a close resemblance. Theft or not? What do you think?

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Great covers: Curtis Mayfield 1975

September 1st, 2009 1 comment

The message of the cover of Curtis Mayfield”s 1975 album There”s No Place Like America Today is unambiguously direct: the American dream is a lie when there is so great a disparity in the experience of comforts among Americans. The happy, white middle-class family is symbolically running over the (mostly black) poor on their way to a promising future. Curtis Mayfield, always the most eloquent political spokesman among the soul men, is calling bullshit on the great American delusion. Note also how the billboard serves as a front “” a physical barrier as well as a tool of propaganda “” for the capitalist palaces and at the same time shields them from the poor in the welfare queue. It”s also striking that the Rockwellian billboard image recalls the 1950s, while the welfare line evokes the Great Depression, communicating the notion that the great lie and the divide between American affluence and poverty transcends generations. Read more…