Archive for October, 2011

A History of Country Vol. 13: 1972-74

October 26th, 2011 6 comments

The traditional country stars “” Conway Twitty, George Jones, Tammy Wynette Charlie Rich, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride “” were still selling many records in the 1970s, and periodically crossed over to the pop charts. Singers like Donna Fargo evoked the good old days with happy songs like The Happiest Girl In The Whole USA.  These were still the Opry years “” in fact, in 1972 the Grand Ole Opry opened a theme park called Opryland, and wo years later moved out of its long-time home, the Ryman Theatre, to Opryland.

But the Nashville scene no longer monopolised country, nor did it define it. In the introduction to his live recording of Me And Bobby McGee, Kris Kristofferson deadpans: “If it sounds country, man, then that”s what it is: a country song.”Â  So John Denver, with his songs about the Rocky Mountains, was regarded as a country singer, and even won the 1975 Country Music Association”s Entertainer of the Year award (Australian-born songbird Olivia Newton-John had won the female award in 1974). At the ceremony, the battle lines were drawn. Presenting Denver with his CMA award, 1974 winner Charlie Rich “” the Silverfox who had started his career as a rockabilly singer on Sun Records and now crooned his way through chart fodder “”  set fire to the card announcing Denver”s name, holding it up for the TV cameras. The act, which Rich attributed to medication and Gin & Tonics, all but killed his career. Read more…

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The Originals Vol. 44

October 20th, 2011 2 comments

In this instalment of The Originals, we look at the provenance of one of the biggest hit of 1978, the triumphal comeback of a Bacharach/David song that flopped at its first attempt, and the original version of a Marilyn Monroe signature tune. Remember, you can look up the originals covered so far in The Originals Index.

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The Righteous Brothers ““ Substitute (1975)
Gloria Gaynor ““ Substitute (1978)
Clout ““ Substitute (1978)

In 1978, the five-piece South African girl-band Clout scored a surprise hit with a cover of an unsuccessful single from the unremarkable 1975 Righteous Brothers LP The Sons of Mrs. Righteous. It”s fair to say that the Righteous Brothers” version of the unrequited love anthem lacks the euphoric verve of the Clout version.

It is said that the members of Clout didn”t play on Substitute (though I recall drummer Ingie Herbst telling a German interviewer in 1978 that she prefers to hit the drums with the thick end of the stick), but the South African rock band Circus, who were paid the princely sum of 34 Rand  ““ worth about £30 in 1978 money ““ for their efforts.

Clout”s version  was released in South Africa in November 1977. Within a few months it was topping the charts in countries such as Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the Netherlands, and spent three weeks at #2 in Britain (held off by You”re The One That I Want, despite shifting half a million copies).

In December that year, Gloria Gaynor released her version of the song on her Love Tracks album. In fact, Gaynor”s record company, Polydor, initially released Substitute as a lead single in November 1978. Presumably because of the success of the Clout single, Polydor flipped the single a month later, with the original b-side becoming the a-side. The song”s name was I Will Survive.

Clout, by then without keyboard player Glenda Hyam, went on to have another European hit in early 1979 with Save Me (featured HERE), a cover of Clodagh Rogers song.

Also recorded by: Peaches (1978), Sylvie Vartan (as Solitude, 1978), Izabella Scorupco (1990) 


Keely Smith – One Less Bell To Answer (1967)
The 5th Dimension – One Less Bell To Answer (1970)
Barbra Streisand – One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home (1971)
Kristin Chinoweth & Matthew Morrison – One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home (2009)
Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote One Less Bell To Answer for Keely Smith. Smith had a few years earlier divorced her long-time singing partner Louis Prima, so a song about marital separation seemed to be suitable. Alas, Smith”s version ““ with its recognisable Bacharach arrangement ““ went nowhere.

As so often with Bacharach/David compositions, the song was eventually rediscovered by others and made into a hit. In January 1970, The 5th Dimension recorded it for their Portrait album. The single reached #2 in the US, its popularity no doubt helped by the group singing it on the TV series It Takes A Thief, starring Robert Wagner.

The lead vocals were performed by Marilyn McCoo, who in 1969 married bandmate Billy Davis Jr. They have been together ever since.

One Less Bell To Answer has been covered many times since. The most spectacular version is that of Barbra Steisand, who dueted with herself on a medley of One Less Bell To Answer and A House Is Not A Home, another Bacharach/David song, which appeared on her 1971 album Barbra Joan Streisand. Streisand”s phrasing in that recording in places echoes that of Keely Smith”s original.

Almost four decades later, Streisand”s version served as a template for an outstanding showstopping duet on the TV series Glee, performed by the wonderful Kristin Chinoweth with Matthew Morrison, who plays the teacher Will Shuester.

Also recorded by: The Dells (1971), Gladys Knight & The Pips (1971), Vikki Carr (1971), Burt Bacharach (with Close To You, 1971), Living Brass (1971), Dionne Warwick (1972), Shirley Bassey (1972), Rita Reys (1973), Irina Milan (1974), Karen Logan (1987), Stanley Jordan (1987), Pearly Gates (1989), Mari Nakamoto (1993), The Starlite Orchestra (1995), McCoy Tyner Trio (1997), Marie McAuliffe’s ArKsextet  (1998), Lucie Silvas (2002), Vanessa Williams (2005), Michael Ball (2007), Trijntje Oosterhuis (2007), Steve Tyrell (2008), Patty Ascher (2010) a.o.


Helen Kane – I Wanna Be Loved by You (1928)
Marilyn Monroe – I Wanna Be Loved by You (1959)

Three decades before Marilyn Monroe had men getting hot under the collar by going boop-boop-de-boop, Helen Kane became a star by doing that ad lib and variations thereof. Kane might have inspired the cartoon character Betty Boop, who was born in 1930. Her lawsuit, which claimed just that, was dismissed. But compare pictures of Kane with those of Betty Boop, and consider Kane”s trademark scatting, and it seems that Kane might have had a case.

Kane said that the scat ad libs came to her by accident: “I just put it in at one of the rehearsals, a sort of interlude. It”s hard to explain ““ I haven”t explained it to myself yet. It”s like vo-de-o-do, Crosby with boo-boo-boo, and Durante with cha-cha-cha.”

Born in 1904 to German and Irish parents in the Bronx, Kane got her break in theatre in 1927. A year later, she appeared in the Oscar Hammerstein production Good Boy, which included I Wanna Be Loved By You, written by Herbert Stothart and Harry Ruby, with lyrics by Bert Kalmar. The song, and others with titles such as I Taut I Taw A Puddy Tat, helped make Kane a singing sensation.

Her popularity was brief but immense, giving rise to the production of such novelty items as Helen Kane dolls. But by the early 1930s, the flapper culture had become passé, and Kane”s career entered a two-decade hiatus. She re-appeared with the advent of television, and made her final public appearance on Ed Sullivan”s show in March 1965. She died of breast cancer a year and a half later, at the age of 62.

The record of I Wanna Be Loved By You was released in September 1928. It was revived in 1959 by Marilyn Monroe in the Billy Wilder film Some Like It Hot, which was set in 1929 and in which Monroe”s character is named, surely not coincidentally, Sugar Kane.

Also recorded by: Grace Johnston (1928), Annette Hanshaw (1928), Dan Ritchie and His Orchestra (1929), Ben Selvin (1929), Eydie Gormé (1958), Adolph Deutsch (1959), Marty Wilde (1960), Kay Barry (1961), Skeeter Davis (1965), Matadorerne (1967), Claudja Barry  (1978), Bibi Andersen (1981), Sinéad O’Connor (1992), Alana (2008), Pepe Lienhard Big Band (2009) , Pizzicato One feat. Wouter Hamel (2011) a.o.


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Song Swarm: Georgia On My Mind

October 12th, 2011 4 comments

Georgia On My Mind is most commonly associated with Ray Charles. It appears on every tribute album to Ray, and Willie Nelson (who recorded the song in 1978) sang it at his funeral. But Georgia was a standard long before Ray Charles made it his own.

It was written by Hoagy Carmichael and lyricist Stuart Gorrell in 1930. The story goes that the Georgia of the title was originally intended to refer to Hoagy”s sister, but realising that Gorell”s words could apply also to the southern US state, the writers were happy to keep things ambiguous. The plan worked: the song was a massive hit especially in the South, and since 1979 it has been the state song of Georgia (a better choice than the tourist-unfriendly Rainy Night In Georgia, the loser-comes-home Midnight Train To Georgia, or the infrastructure-deficient The Lights Went Out In Georgia). When Georgia adopted the song, two years before Hoagy”s death, it was Ray Charles who performed it at ceremony in Atlanta

Carmichael”s version features jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. Beiderbecke, a huge star at the time, died a few months later at 28, but Carmichael went on to enjoy a long career, and is perhaps even better known for Stardust and Heart And Soul than he is for Georgia, which he nonetheless re-recorded a few times. Frankie Trumbauer (who according to Carmichael”s 1965 memoirs suggested that he write a song about the southern state, thereby contradicting the much better story above) scored a hit with the song in 1931, as did Mildred Bailey.

Ray Charles, who was born in Georgia but grew up in Florida, recorded his version in 1960, reportedly at the advice of his driver who had heard Ray sing it to himself in the car. It was an instant hit, topping the US charts. The song did not do as well in Britain where it troubled the charts only once when Ray Charles” version reached the undizzying heights of #24.

The present song swarm provides just a cross-section of covers. There obviously are the early vocal versions (Gene Krupa”s take with Anita O”Day on the vocals is the best of those, though some might prefer Billie Holiday”s), instrumental jazz (very different versions by Artie Shaw, Django Reinhardt, Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, and Grover Washington Jr with Eric Gale on guitar), country (Brenda Lee ““ with a spoken bit ““ Jerry Reed, Ronnie Sullivan, Jerry Lee Lewis), soul (The Manhattans), rock (The Uniques), folk (Tim Hardin, Anya Marina), those versions that built on Ray Charles” template (Righteous Brothers, Tom Jones, Stevie Winwood, Maceo Parker, whose version which features James Brown”s old saxophonist himself on great vocals), and even a cappella (The Society of Orpheus and Bacchus from Yale University). And there is a rather odd live take by Led Zeppelin from 1973.

Forced to choose a favourite, other than Ray”s, I”d be torn between Lou Rawls” jazzy 1963 take  and that by the late South African musician Robbie Jansen. The latter choice might be clouded by having heard Jansen sing it live; the recorded version doesn”t do justice to his live performances of the song.

One version is a medley: New Orleans musician Eddie Snoozer Quinn plays Georgia On My Mind and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, another standard that would become a signature tune for a later act. The song was recorded in 1948 by Snoozer”s friend and long-time collaborator Johnny Wiggs, shortly before Snoozer died of tuberculosis.

So, here are 48 versions of Georgia On My Mind. Which ones do you like best?

1930 Hoagy Carmichael “¢ 1931 Frankie Trumbauer Orchestra “¢ 1931 Louis Armstrong “¢ 1931 Mildred Bailey “¢ 1931 Washboard Rhythm Kings “¢ 1936 Django Reinhardt “¢ 1941 Artie Shaw “¢ 1941 Billie Holiday “¢ 1941 Fats Waller “¢ 1941 Gene Krupa feat Anita O’Day “¢ 1948 Snoozer Quinn & Johnny Wiggs “¢ 1949 Frankie Laine “¢ 1952 Jack Teagarden Orchestra “¢ 1955 Dean Martin “¢ 1958 Danny Guglielmi “¢ 1960 Ray Charles “¢ 1961 Brenda Lee “¢ 1961 Ella Fitzgerald “¢ 1962 Ronnie Sullivan “¢ 1963 Lou Rawls “¢ 1963 Oscar Peterson Trio “¢ 1963 The Righteous Brothers “¢ 1964 Les Double Six “¢ 1965 Matt Monro “¢ 1966 The Uniques “¢ 1969 Jerry Reed “¢ 1970 The Manhattans “¢ 1971 Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer & Boots Randolph “¢ 1971 Tim Hardin “¢ 1972 Grover Washington Jr. “¢ 1972 Mauro Sérgio (Georgia, Meu Amor) “¢ 1973 Led Zeppelin “¢ 1974 Herb Ellis & Joe Pass “¢ 1977 Jerry Lee Lewis “¢ 1978 Mina “¢ 1978 Willie Nelson “¢ 1986 Stanley Jordan “¢ 1993 Shirley Horn “¢ 2000 Robbie Jansen “¢ 2002 V Morrison “¢ 2004 Marc Broussard “¢ 2005 Alicia Keys & Jamie Foxx “¢ 2005 Anya Marina “¢ 2006 Tom Jones “¢ 2007 Maceo Parker “¢ 2008 Eric Clapton & Stevie Winwood “¢ 2009 Hugh Laurie (from House) “¢ 2010 The SOBs



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Song Swarms

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Intros Quiz – Drum edition 1

October 6th, 2011 3 comments

We take a break from our five-yearly cycle of intros quizzes (next up will be the Year of Our Lord 1986), and get percussive with 20 songs that start with drums, from the 1960s to the 1990s. Some of them start with just a couple of beats or a drum roll, others bang the drum for a bit before the song gets started. Only one of the 5-7 second clips features no instruments or a vocal clue, but that one is instantly recognisable.

The answers will be posted in the comments section by Monday (so please don”t post your answers). If the pesky number 17 bugs you, go to the Contact Me tab above to request the answers, or  better, message me on Facebook. If you”re not my FB friend, click here.

Intros Quiz ““ Drum edition Vol. 1



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In Memoriam – September 2011

October 3rd, 2011 4 comments

The headline death this past month was that at 75 of Sylvia Robinson, who featured on this blog before with her 1973 hit “Pillow Talk”, a song taught Donna Summer all she needed to know about pleasured moaning to a disco beat. But Robinson was much more important than that. As the founder of Sugar Hill Records, she produced and released the first ever rap hit (“Rappers’ Delight”). Robinson’s label also released what I still regard as the greatest rap record of all time, Grandmaster Flash’s monumental “The Message”.

Also notable is the death a day later of Marv Tarplin, who was something of a shadow member of Smokey Robinson’s Miracles: he was always listed as a member, but rarely pictured as one. Tarplin co-wrote many great songs with Smokey, including Tracks Of My Tears, Going To A Go-Go, Ain’t That Peculiar and I’ll Be Doggone (both for Marvin Gaye), and later Smokey solo hits like Being With You and Cruisin’, on many of which he played guitar (including that exquisite intro of Tracks Of My Tears).

Most probably, few will know Wardell Quezergue, but many have heard the music he arranged and/or produced on records by the Dixie Cups, King Floyd, Robert Parker, Jean Knight, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners, Dorothy Moore, Eddie Bo, Paul Simon, Neville Brothers, Dr John and Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. A New Orleans native, he lost almost everything in Hurricane Katrina.

In August we lost Pinetop Perkins; in September his long-time collaborater Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith passed away at 75, just over half a year after winning a Grammy for his work with the Legendary Blues Band (whom you might have spotted as John Lee Hooker’s backing band in The Blues Brothers).

The romantic in me was sad to learn of the death of Johnny Wright, who would have celebrated his 75th wedding anniversary with the country legend Kitty Wells in October 2012 (they got married on 30 October 1937!).

Wright wasn’t the month’s oldest music casualty; that was Wade Mainer, who had been recording music since 1936 and reached the age of 104. On the other hand, two musicians in their 20s departed: DJ Medhi, who died at 24 in a freak accident, and British electronica muscian Joel Devers, apparently of suicide at 25.

Suicide is also a suspected cause of the death of soul singer Vesta Williams. Bottles of prescription drugs were found with her body in a hotel room. And, to reiterate, I tend to mention suicides not to titilate: to my mind, few things are more tragic than suicide, and few deaths as stigmatised. By mentioning suicide, I hope to offer a little contribution towards its destigmatisation.

Fans of Beatles covers will note the death of collage artist Richard Hamilton, who designed the poster that appeared in the White Album, and that double LP’s cover (in as far as it was designed). A week later, Robert Whitaker died. He was The Beatles’ in-house photographer in the mid-’60s, and most famously took the butcher cover pic for the group’s 1966 US album release Yesterday And Today. The photo, which was intended to communicate that the Fab Four were just ordinary human beings of flesh and blood, caused a huge outcry among people who cheerfully defended the Vietnam war (possibly even Johnnie Wright), and was quickly pulled from circulation.

Tom Hibbert, 59, English music journalist (Smash Hits, Q), on August 28
Brothers Johnson – ‘Q’ (1977) Read more…