Archive for June, 2011

The Originals Vol. 42

June 29th, 2011 2 comments

In the 42nd instalment of The Originals we”ll revisit the originals of three huge hits, two US  #1s and one chart-topper in Britain, from the mid-“60s. Remember: if you are looking for particular songs that have been covered in this series, visit the index of The Originals.

Earl-Jean ““ I”m Into Something Good.mp3
Herman”s Hermits ““ I”m Into Something Good.mp3
Lady Lee – I”m Into Something Good.mp3

In the late 1950s Ethel “Earl-Jean” McCrea was a member of the R&B girl group The Cookies, which was absorbed into Ray Charles” backing band, The Raelettes. Only Earl-Jean didn”t join the backing singer gig, instead becoming part of a new incarnation of The Cookies, which featured before in this series as the original act to record The Beatles” Chains (see The Originals Vol. 25). We also met The Cookies as the first act to record On Broadway, though their version was not released (see The Originals Vol. 33).

As noted in the entry for On Broadway, The Cookies did much demo work for Carole King and Gerry Goffin at Aldon Music (which in the shorthand of music history tends to be conflated with the Brill Building down the road). They also did backing vocals on pop songs such as Little Eva”s The Loco-motion (it was through Earl-Jean”s recommendation that King and Goffin employed Little Eva as a babysitter), Neil Sedaka”s Breaking Up Is Hard To Do and Mel Tormé”s Comin” Home Baby. Along the way, they had a top ten hit with Don”t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby.

Earl-Jean left The Cookies in 1964 to try for a solo career, and it was King and Goffin who wrote her first (and only) solo hit: I”m Into Something Good, released on Colpix Records. It did a creditable job, climbing to #38 in the Billboard charts. Alas, her follow-up single, Randy, didn”t do as well, and when in 1966 Colpix folded, her solo career was over.

In Britain, the record producer Mickey Most ““ fresh from discovering The Animals ““ had heard I”m Into Something Good, and decided it was a perfect vehicle for his new protéges, Herman”s Hermits. Fronted by Peter Noone, a Mancunian with an All-American smile, the other Hermits were allowed to play on some songs, while on others session musicians did the job. Nobody seems to agree about who played on I”m Into Something Good; it is possible that any, all or none of Nicky Hopkins (the Rolling Stones” keyboard man from 1967-76), Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (later of Led Zeppelin) played on it. Band member Barry Whitwam insists the band did the duties; Noone and Most said they didn”t (though possibly in a fit of pique over contractual wrangles).  It does seem that the song was arranged by Hermits guitarist Dereck Leckenby, which would suggest that he would have had the bandmembers perform on it.

Whoever played on it, the single became a UK #1 hit in September 1964, and then went on to reach #13 in the US, ringing in a golden period for Herman”s Hermits, who remarkably became the best-selling act in the United States in 1965, ahead of even The Beatles.

Also in 1964, Billy Fury”s girlfriend Lady Lee, a character with a quite fascinating lifestory, recorded I”m Into Something Good. Later she and Fury split and in 1969 Lee married British DJ Kenny Everett.

Also recorded by: Lady Lee (1964), Don Devil and the Drifters  (1964), Sir Henry and His Butlers (1966) Donny Osmond (1971), The Machines (1982), Peter Noone (1988), The Stool Pigeons (1996), Dave Cloud (1999), The Langley Schools Music Project (2001), The Bird And The Bees (2010) a.o.


Nella Dodds – Come See About Me (1964).mp3
The Supremes – Come See About Me (1964).mp3

This is one of those records where the earlier recording was released later (another instance of that, which I was made aware of only recently, concerns Ruby Don”t Take Your Love To Town; an edit and new file are now up on The Originals Vol. 24). In keeping with the methodology of this series, we go primarily by release date. And here, it seems, Nella Dodds narrowly scooped The Supremes.

Come See About Me was written by Motown”s hugely successful songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, and The Supremes recorded it on 13 July 1964, backed by The Funk Brothers. Somehow the song had come into the hands of the people at Wand Records in New York, who had their singer Nella Dodds record it. While The Supremes were still riding high in the charts with Baby Love, their second chart-topper in a row, Wand put out Dodds” version, a pleasant affair which nonetheless cannot compare to the exquisite vigor of the Supremes” version.

Although Dodds recorded for a New York label, she was a pioneer of Philadelphia soul ““ Kenneth Gamble, future Philly soul supremo, and Jimmy Bishop, who would discover many Philly soul acts, appeared on Dodds” Wand recordings. Gamble later co-wrote a hit which The Supemes would cover with The Temptations (and which will still feature in this series).

Motown were alarmed when they learned that Dodds” record had been issued, and rush-released The Supremes” recording. Dodds” version stalled at #74, and she would never have a breakthrough hit. For The Supremes, Come See About Me became the third in a golden run of five #1 hits.

Also recorded by: Choker Campbell  (1964), Gene Barge (1965), The Newbeats (1965), Barbara Mason (1965), Jr. Walker  (1967), Mitch Ryder (1968), Bonnie Pointer (1979), Tracy Nelson (1980), Neil Sedaka (1984), Shakin’ Stevens (1987), Afghan Whigs (1992), The Originals (1998), Freda Payne (2001), James Taylor Quartet (2007) a.o.

The Raindrops – Hanky Panky (1963).mp3
The Summits ““ Hanky Panky (1963).mp3
Tommy James and the Shondells ““ Hanky Panky (1966).mp3

Among the inhabitants of cubicles with pianos at the Brill Building in New York were Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry, who together wrote so many of the songs we now associate with Phil Spector”s girl groups. While writing music was their bread and butter, they also wanted to record. Greenwich had already done so in the late “50s, as Ellie Gaye, and while writing hits in the early “60s, she also sang on demos for Brill compositions.

In 1963, Greenwich and Barry recorded a demo of a song called What A Guy. It was intended for a doo-wop group called The Sensations, but the band”s label, Jubilee, was so impressed with demo”s girl-band style (which was in fact Greenwich”s multi-tracked voice, with Barry providing bass voice) that they decided to release it, in the name of the songwriters” band, The Raindrops. Trouble was that Greenwich and Barry had no song for the flip-side, so they thrashed out Hanky Panky in the space of 20 minutes. They were not particularly satisfied with the song, and when a group called The Summits released it soon after as the b-side of He”s An Angel (or it might have been released before What A Guy came out; it”s unclear), it didn”t do brisk business either.

And yet, the song had become popular among garage rock live bands, including one called The Spinners (not the soul band), from whom the teenage musician Tommy Jackson heard it. He recorded it with his band, The Shondells, in 1964 at a radio station in Michigan. It was a local hit, but Tommy decided to break up his band and complete his schooling. The following year he was contacted by a Pittsburgh DJ who had discovered the record and now wanted Tommy and his Shondells to perform it on air. He hurriedly put together a new line-up of Shondells, and changed his name to Tommy James. He then sold the 1964 master to Roulette Records, which released it without remixing, never mind re-recording it. The single went to #1 in July 1966. James later explained in a Billboard interview: “I don”t think anybody can record a song that bad and make it sound good. It had to sound amateurish like that.”

There is a great story of how the small New York-based Roulette label got to release Hanky Panky. It seems that a whole gang of labels, some of them majors, wanted to buy the record. Suddenly, one after another, they withdrew their offers, much to Tommy James” surprised dismay. In the end Jerry Wexler of Atlantic told the singer, still a teenager, what was going on: Roulette”s Morris Levy (on whom The Soprano“s Hesch Rabkin is based) had called all rival labels telling them that Hanky Panky belonged to him. Intimidated, the rivals bought the bluff, and James had to go with Levy.

Also Recorded By: The Junior Mance Trio (1965), Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (1966), The Outsiders (1966), The Wallflower Complexion (1966), The Ventures (1966), Neil Diamond (1966), , Joan Jett and The Blackhearts (1981), Link Protrudi and the Jaymen (1987), Ellie Greenwich (1999), The Cramps (2004), The Freedoms (2004), Los Hitters (2005) a.o.


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A History of Country Vol. 10: 1961-64 – The Comfort Years

June 15th, 2011 12 comments

In the late 1950s and early “60s country was in a good shape. The likes of Johnny Cash, George Jones,  Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline (who like Reeves would die in a plane crash), Don Gibson, Kitty Wells, Marty Robbins, Skeeter Davis, Ray Price, Faron Young, Ernest Tubb, ex-boxer Lefty Frizzell and Wanda Jackson were recording prodigious success, even in rivalry with its progeny, rock & roll.These were the comfort years before the social upheaval of the 1960s put into question old certainties, even in the world of country music. Read more…

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Murder Songs Vol. 7

June 9th, 2011 2 comments

And here are three more murder songs. One is chilling, one is mournful, and one is camper than David.

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Andre Williams – Pardon Me (I’ve Got Someone To Kill) (2000).mp3
Hello friend, meet Andre Williams. He”s got someone to kill, and he will tell you why. This is not a shooting-a-man-in-Reno-just-to-see-him-die kind of deal. This killing is premeditated, but our new friend believes he has a good reason. “I warned him not to try and take her from me. He laughed and said: “˜If I can, you know I will.”” His pal will have to pay for not heeding the warning. “So tonight, when they get home, I”ll be waiting,” he reveals before prematurely excusing himself:  “Pardon me, I”ve got someone to kill.”

So, he”ll just pop the corrupt pal then? Well, no. Having just excused himself, Andre nevertheless goes on about what he”s planning to do. He”ll kill both of them, and ““ knowing that his crime will warrant the death penalty ““ do himself in once the dirty deed is done. And don”t think of going to the law with a notion of preventing a bloodbath. “By the time you tell the sheriff, it”ll all be over. He”ll find me at their big house on the hill. He”ll find a note explaining why I killed us all.” We imagine your new friend downing his beer, wiping his mouth, getting up and nod to you as he says: “Now it”s time to go, I”ve got someone to kill.”

The song was originally recorded by country man Johnny Paycheck ; it”s covered here by veteran soul-country singer Andre Williams, who has one chilling mother of a voice.


The Everly Brothers – Down In The Willow Garden (1958).mp3
Strumming gently, the Everly Brothers sing about a picnic in the eponymous garden with Rose Connelly. Ah, but the downbeat voices (copied pretty much directly from the Louvin Brothers) alert us that the story won”t have a happy ending. At first it sounds cosy enough: “As we sat a-courtin” my love fell off to sleep.” Well, it”s cosy if you don”t take offense to your date nodding off. But it”s not her fault: our friend gave her poisoned wine (Burgundy, the oenologists will want to now). Imagine the wine tasting of that: “I discern a suggestion of berries with a hint of cinnamon, papaya and cyanide.”

Our friend isn”t done yet. Having poisoned poor Rose Connelly, he stabs her and then throws her body in the river. Turns out his father put him up to it, for demon money. Of coursed our friend gets caught, and look at this contemptible exemplar of fatherhood now: “My father sits at his cabin door, wiping his tear-dimmed eyes, for his only son soon shall walk to yonder scaffold high.”


Tony Christie – I Did What I Did For Maria (1971).mp3
Alas, poor Tony Christie. First he struggled with the SatNav en route to Amarillo, now he is about to be hanged. To clarify, lacking a sense of direction and having a map-reading disability is not a capital offense in most US states (though it might be in Texas, where they”ll execute you for pretty much anything). No, what Tony will hang for is murder. He accepts his fate, “going to the Lord with no fear”, but hopes to persuade us of the justice of his case through the medium of catchy pop music.

In fact, either Tonyhas  had a really rotten lawyer, or he stood trial in Texas for murder (and, possibly, for having lost his way to Amarillo as well). His crime was a revenge killing for the apparently sadistic murder of Tony”s wife, Maria. It was a high noon scene: “As I rode into town with the sun going down all the windows were barred. There was no one around for they knew that I”d come with my hand on my gun and revenge in my heart for Maria.” The depraved reprobate who killed Maria, possibly a relative of the notorious Gatlin boys, came out laughing, but he was dealing with a rather more decisive fellow than a coward of the county. No messing around with fists as the coward of the county would; Tony”s gun was gonna smoke. “He fell to the ground, raisin” dust all around. But I knew he was dead long before he went down. It was quick, it was clean. Made it easy on him…which is more than he did for Maria.”  I sense extenuating circumstances, Your Honour.

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In Memoriam – May 2011

June 6th, 2011 4 comments

This series has noted a couple of hundred musicians’ deaths. Not many have caused me so much sadness as that of Gil Scott-Heron. Never mind that the man was a drug addict, and that he once wrote a homophobic song. He was a poet, and he set his poetry to glorious music. He was the Bob Dylan of the ghetto. I hope that with his dying breath, Scott-Heron appreciated the fact that astronauts were just then making a final journey and the US president has introcuded health care reform he was demanding in Whitey On The Moon).

As a soul fan, I noted with particular sadness the passing of jazz-funk guitarist Cornell Dupree, who played that opening riff of Aretha Franklin’s version of Respect, and also backed favourite acts like Bill Withers and Marlena Shaw.

We tend to mourn deaths by suicide, though that of Gramy-winning songwriter, screenplsy writer and director Joseph Brooks, who wrote the much-loathed You Light Up My Life, leaves us at best with mixed feelings: he killed himself while under indictment for a series of “casting couch” rapes (the details of which are nauseating). Not a very nice guy at all, it seems.

David Mason, 85, English trumpeter who played the piccolo solo on The Beatles’ Penny Lane, on April 29
The Beatles – Penny Lane (1967) Read more…

Step back to 1979 – Part 1

June 2nd, 2011 4 comments

As we enter 1979 and the songs that take me back to that time, I”m still living in the house in which I had spent the first 13 years of my life. In early summer we moved into a new house. So this lot of songs are old-house songs. In May, at the end of the time under review in part 1, I went to Bavaria for a week or two on a “cure”, organised by the medical aid scheme, for stressed kids. Because a stressed kid I certainly was.

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Gebrüder Blattschuss ““ Kreuzberger Nächte.mp3
It was a time for comic novelty songs in Germany. Big-nosed Mike Krüger had Germans in a LOL hysteria with his instruction ditty playing on the word “nipple”, while swathes of Germans were engaging in a collective ROFLMAO at the frankly unhilarious antics of comedians Dieter Hallervoorden and Helga Feddersen in their cover of the Grease hit You”re The One That I Want (their hit riffed on the phonetic rendition of the English title, “Du die Wanne ist voll”, which roughly means ““ be still, chuckling heart ““ “Hey, the bathtub is full”), and some fuckwit from Hamburg split a nation”s side just by virtue of his moniker, Gottlieb Wendehals (you see, an uncool first name and a surname that means “twist-neck” is as close to Monty Python”s funniest joke ever as you”ll get). And the brothers Blattschuss joined the comedy revolution by singing this song about prolific beer-drinking in the working-class Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg, where the nights apparently are long. It includes a few good puns and a rousing chorus which even the most inebriated joker can sing, which elevates the song above the rest of the mirthless comedy. Obviously I didn”t buy or even like the record. I remember the song chiefly for its performance on the Disco music TV show, during which leadsinger  Jürgen von der Lippe, who”d become a big German TV personality, lit up a cigarette.


Status Quo – Accident Prone.mp3
For years, the chorus of this mid-tempo number resided in my repertoire of permanent earworms, the songs whose lines I might absent-mindedly sing as I go about buttering my toast, or whatever. The critics didn”t love it ““ I”ve read that some believed Accident Prone to be the Quo”s nod to disco, but I really can”t hear that at all. It certainly is a Rick Parfitt song though, less boogie than Francis Rossi”s material. The guitar solo is pretty good. I bought the single, as I had bought Again And Again (featured in part 3 of 1978). Then I bought the If You Can”t Stand The Heat album, and never listened to it in its entirety. In fact, of the three Quo LPs I have owned (the live double set, Rocking All Over The World, and “¦Heat), I don”t think I ever listened to any of them in full.


Thin Lizzy – Rosalie (live).mp3
Rosalie was my introduction to Thin Lizzy. This version is from the great Live And Dangerous album. Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott was one cool guy. He is so cool when he expresses his appreciation for the audience participation on this live version of the song written by Bob Seger (whose Hollywood Nights might have featured in this series, come to think of it). Of course, towards the end, Lynott was not cool, in the ways heroin addiction is not cool. His death in early 1986 (from pneumonia, not an overdose) was a tragedy; the man had so much more to give. So it”s much better to remember Lynot as the charismatic frontman of a great live band, not a tragic junkie. On that subject, can anyone explain to me why intelligent individuals ignore everything they know about the hyper-addictive dangers of heroin, and try it anyway? Fun trivia fact: heroin got its name from the German pharma-giant Bayer (who in their guise as IG Farben supplied the Nazis with the Zyklon B used in the gas chambers).


Hot Chocolate ““ I”ll Put You Together Again.mp3
Man, I loved Hot Chocolate”s disco stuff. Heaven”s In The Backseat Of My Cadillac and You Sexy Thing and all that. I also loved the slower songs, especially So You Win Again and Emma. This was one of those slower songs, and I think I got the single for my 13th birthday, on which my friends and I were allowed to share a bottle of white wine (well, it amounted to a small glass each). Errol Brown’s vocals are fine, but it’s the melody, which I’m sure was inspired by some piece of classical music, that really appealed to me. Brown had had a hand in writing all big Hot Chocolate hits other than this and So You Win Again (written by Russ Ballard). I”ll Put You Together Again was co-written by Geoff Stephens, one of those songwriters whose work is much better known than his name. Among the songs he wrote are The Crying Game, There’s A Kind Of Hush, Winchester Cathedral, Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James, Sorry Suzanne, It’s Gonna Be A Cold Cold Christmas, The Lights Of Cincinnati, You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me, and Silver Lady.


Queen ““ Mustapha.mp3
My friend Arne was a big Queen fan, and introduced me to more Queen stuff than News Of The World, which I already had. So when Jazz came out, I bought it ““ and put up the poster of all the naked women on bicycles (or Fat Bottomed Girls on a Bicycle Race) on my wall. And my mother didn”t mind, tolerant woman that she was. Mustapha was the strangest thing I had ever heard in rock. It still is bizarre. Presumably inspired by Freddie Mercury”s experience as Faroukh Bulsara in his birthplace of Zanzibar, it sounds like a Muslim call to prayer which halfway through gets the pomp rock treatment. Muezzin rock, if you like.


Suzi Quatro – If You Can’t Give Me Love.mp3
I liked Suzi Quatro back in the day. Too Big was my favourite sing of hers. Recently I saw her Top of the Pops performance of Devil Gate Drive, which sparkles with the exuberance and rocking choreography. Suzi Quatro opened doors for chicks with guitars (and I”m using the word in the nicest possible way). So her comeback in 1979 was anticipated. Alas, Suzi had grown pout of rock-chickdom. A few months earlier, she had recorded a duet with Smokie singer and fellow RKA label mate Chris Norman, Stumblin” In, the contemplation of which makes me feel slightly ill. And yet, I bought the LP, titled If You Knew Suzi… Well,I thought I knew Suzi. High-kicking, guitar-thrashing, super-gurning Suzi. This was housewive Suzi whose Smokie music was going to appeal to our mothers. I couldn’t give her love, and I gave it to somebody else.


Clout – Save Me.mp3
The South African band featured in 1978 with Substitute (and I”m still looking for the original of that by the Righteous Brothers, as well as for Gloria Gaynor”s take). Save Me was also a cover version of a Merrilee Rush”s 1977 original (she had the first hit version of Angel In The Morning, as recounted in The Originals Vol. 39). Rush”s version was a mid-tempo country-pop affair; Clout turned it into a proper pop song.  Save Me is almost as good as Substitute, which I”d designate as a perfect pop song. By now Clout had lost their gorgeous keyboardist Glenda Hyams, and wasn”t even an all-girl group anymore, with the inclusion of two dudes (who”d later join Johnny Clegg in Juluka). I don”t know what became of the Clout members, other than Cindy Alter, one of the lead singers, who now performs with South African pop veteran Stewart Irving.


Gerard Kenny ““ New York New York.mp3
So good they named it twice, sings Mr Kenny as he fellates the Big Apple. I had this on a compilation album (titled Disco Laser, it also included hits by the likes of Leif Garrett, Racey, Supermax and Chic, among a whole lot of people that were never heard of again, such as Wallensten and Snoopy). I rather liked it as a companion piece to Billy Joel”s My Life, a favourite at the time. It really should accompany New York State Of Mind; either way, it belongs in the same genre as Billy Joel (with whom Kenny once was in a band, apparently). Gerard Kenny has been something of a prolific songwriter; his resumé includes Barry Manilow”s I Made it Through The Rain and I Could Be So Good For You by Dennis Waterman (off TV”s Minder). He continues to perform.


Patrick Hernandez ““ Born To Be Alive.mp3
This was the anthem of every school disco in the West-Germany of 1979. I wonder if schools in other cities did that stupid aerobic dance: legs together and jumping from one side to the other, if possible in beat to the music. The song, by a French Euro disco singer with a football player”s bubble perm, was absolutely ubiquitous, and there are no words to describe how much I hated it. Just as I hated school discos, with their bad music, cheap crisps and ban on Coca Cola, because somebody decreed it was not good for 13-year-olds, whereas Fanta was. For that reason Born To Be Alive does not conjure cheerful memories, but today I can acknowledge just how good a Euro-disco song it is. Hernandez later gave the young Madonna her first break as a dancer.


Dschinghis Khan – Dschinghis Khan.mp3
Germans have earned themselves a reputation of having slowly developed an awareness of and sensitivity to their country”s terrible history in relation to the Holocaust; the noble project of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (and bless the German language for its compound words). In 1979, all good intentions notwithstanding, West-Germany was not quite there yet. The country”s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest that year was a rousing ensemble number extolling the masculine virility of the Mongol warrior Genghis Khan, whose name the performing group adopted for good measure. All that might have seemed like a good idea at the time, except that the host city of the contest was Jerusalem. It does not send a message of Vergangenheitsbewältigungsbestätigung when Germany sends its minstrels to Israel to sing about a genocidal megalomaniac. The Austrian entry was much more sensitive with the title “Today in Jerusalem” (presumably not a protest song about the condition of Palestinans in that city).

In the event, the German entry placed fourth (ahead of Britain”s Black Lace, who took revenge a few years later with the appalling Agadoo), while Israel defended their title with Milk & Honey”s melodious and very annoying Hallelujah, a song a visitor to Israel cannot avoid hearing even three decades later.


Frank Mills – Music Box Dancer.mp3
I think it”s fair to say that I bought some pretty decent singles when I was 13, though that will reveal itself only in parts 2 and 3. And amid all those cool records, I bought this, a record which Richard Clayderman must have condemned as too soft. I have no interest in hearing his cover version (of course he recorded one!), but by comparison it probably rocks hard. It has to. Musicx Box Dancer has as pretty melody, admittedly, and as such is a very dangerous earworm. It”s no accident that ice cream vans around the world are playing the tune. It”s not surprising then to learn that one town has declared ice cream van music illegal. Oh yes, if you signal the availability of soft-serve in Stafford, New Jersey, you”ll go down, man. “At no time shall a vendor be permitted to use a sound device, mechanical bell, mechanical music, mechanical noise, speakers, amplifiers or any other similar type of sound device,” The Man has ordained. You may use a bicycle bell, however. Can you play Music Box Dancer on a bicycle bell?


George Harrison ““ Blow Away.mp3
As mentioned in the intro, in May 1979 the medical scheme packed me and a few dozen other kids from across West-Germany off to a cure in Bavaria. On the train journey there, we encountered a pederast who liked to suck the feet of pubescent boys (not mine, I”m relieved to report). In Bavaria I met for the first time a person named Adolf, our bus driver on excursions, though he tried to disguise his unfortunate name by inviting us to call him Dolf. He was a nice guy, so we didn”t even make jokes about him. The small town where we stayed, with the satisfying name Pfronten, had a small record shop. One day we were passing it when our group, probably headed for another bloody uphill hike through Bavarian forest, paused for a few minutes. I quickly jumped into the shop to see what was new. And what was new was George Harrison”s new single, which I bought unheard. Happily George”s bubble perm did not deter me, for Blow Away is a great song; indeed, it”s my favourite solo song by Harrison, with a great sing-along chorus.


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