Archive for November, 2011

A History of Country Vol. 14: 1974-75

November 30th, 2011 12 comments

Thanks in large part to country-influenced acts like The Byrds, The Grateful Dead and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, rock fans were starting to dig the country scene “” not Nashville”s crooners or John Denver, of course, but the Outlaws, Gram Parsons and some of the old pioneers.  Some of California rock”s great names had their roots in playing bluegrass; people like Eagles co-founder and Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon, the Grateful Dead”s Jerry Garcia and the singer-songwriter J.D. Souther, who wrote for the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, the Texan “Queen of Rock” who made her start as a country performer before going the folk-rock route (she would later return to country, particularly in her collaborations with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton). Read more…

Categories: Country History Tags:

Covered with Soul Vol. 9

November 17th, 2011 5 comments

I”ve said it before: no other series on this blog is as much fun to put together than the Covered With Soul compilations.

There are have been a couple of pretty radical reworkings of songs; Maxine Weldon“s interpretation of George Gershwin”s  I”ll Build A Stairway To Paradise (best known, perhaps, as Georges Guetary”s showstopper in the An American In Paris musical) is one of them.

On the other hand, if the version of Spirit In The Sky by The Stovall Sisters has echoes of the original, then it is because the soul-gospel group provided the backing vocals to Norman Greenbaum”s record.

Donnie Elbert had been around for a long time before he covered Michael Jackson”s “We’ve Got A Good Thing Going” “” in fact, he had been recording longer than Michael had been alive, having his first R&B hit in 1957. Talking of covers, in the early 1970s he recorded an album of Otis Redding covers, as well as a few old Motown hits. He died in 1989 at 52.

If you might not know James Gilstrap“s name, and you might never heard any of his records before (though he had a #4 UK hit in 1975 with Swing Your Daddy), but you might well recognise the voice: he is the male voice that duets with Lani Groves at the start of Stevie Wonder”s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life. Or as one of the voices on the theme for the TV show Good Times. He has been prolific as a backing singer for acts as diverse as Quincy Jones, Elton John, Anita Baker, England Dan and John Ford Coley, Boz Scaggs (including on Lowdown), Joe Cocker, Sarah Vaughan, and Kelis.

Like Nancy Wilson, Salena Jones is better known as a jazz artist (her first name is a combination of the first names of Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne) who had a soul audience.

1. Barbara Acklin – To Sir, With Love (1968)
2. Al Green – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (1973)
3. James Brown – Your Cheatin’ Heart (1969)
4. Maxayn – Gimme Shelter (1972)
5. Sunday’s Child – Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)
6. Hearts Of Stone – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (1970)
7. Sly & the Family Stone – Que Sera Sera (1973)
8. Rotary Connection – Lady Jane (1967)
9. Erma Franklin – Son Of A Preacher Man (1968)
10. Sharon Cash – Change Gonna Come (1970)
11. Melba Moore – He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother (1971)
12. Esther Phillips – Into The Mystic (1977)
13. Salena Jones – Everbody’s Talkin’ (1970)
14. Thelma Jones – Angel Of The Morning (1978)
15. James Gilstrap – Hello, It’s Me (1976)
16. Donnie Elbert – We’ve Got A Good Thing Going (1974)
17. The Isley Brothers – Put A Little Love In Your Heart (1972)
18. The Stovall Sisters – Spirit In The Sky (1971)
19. Maxine Weldon – I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise (1975)
20. Loleatta Holloway – (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons (1971)
21. The Sweet Inspirations – To Love Somebody (1968)
22. Nancy Wilson – Make It With You (1971)
23. The Persuasions – Since I Fell For You (1970)



More Covered With Soul
More Mix-CDs

Categories: Covered With Soul Tags:

Some are titans, some are tits

November 11th, 2011 14 comments

Last week the Internet magazine invited me, quite out of the blue, to contribute to their fortnightly feature “Five Albums You Should Listen To This Week”. It seems Nerve asks only “titans of the mediasphere” to write that column. So here we have confirmation what the loyal reader knew all along: that the halfhearteddude is indeed a titan (remember us!). So, here are Any Major Titan’s halfhearted recommendations.

I was asked to choose five albums from the country/bluegrass/folk genre.  To enforce some discipline on myself, I imposed a limit to include only 2011 releases. The five I picked are almost certain to feature in my year-end Top 20.

To offset all that good musicness, here are three of the worst records I have in my collection. Now, I wouldn’t say they are bad in the way a filler track on a Starship album or a Westlife hit or or that LP of Beatles songs being barked anything by Michael F. Bolton is bad. For those there is no redemption. These songs are bad and their creators probably know it. These are compellingly bad songs. I dare you to listen to Alan & Denise’s epic Rummenigge (a love letter to the German football player of limited likeability) and not be earwormed by it. Genius.

Alan & Denise – Rummenigge (1983).mp3
Susan Christie – I Love Onions (1966).mp3
Mrs Miller – Chim Chim Cher-ee (1966).mp3



Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Step back to 1980 – Part 2

November 8th, 2011 7 comments

In past instalments of this series I have been very careful to issue a caveat about the music that I would feature, emphasising that the songs were chosen not because I endorsed them, but because they had the power to transport me back to a particular time or place. This caveat still applies, but it is becoming less necessary than before as the series goes on. This episode features some of my all-time favourite singles, and a few songs which I don”t mind hearing again. There is only among these eight songs from which I”d emphatically have to distance myself. During the second quarter of 1980, which is the time period we”re dealing with now, I turned 14. As ever, music and football were about the only bright lights in my teenage dejection.

*     *     *

The Vapors ““ Turning Japanese.mp3
Sometimes you go through life with a fresh-faced innocence until your face doesn”t look so fresh any longer. And so it”s only a couple of years since I discovered that Turning Japanese is not an ode to acquiring a taste for sushi and saki (which in The Vapors” case would have been quite visionary), nor   a narrative about the notoriously difficult act of assimilating to life in Tokyo, Osaka or Fukuoka. Turning Japanese apparently refers to the narrowing of the male”s eyes as he reaches the point of orgasm (in the case of the song brought about by masturbation). I cannot verify that this is indeed an accurate description of the physiological response to the point of climax, as I have no habit of observing other specimen of my genus as they engage in sexual activity, nor have I filmed or photographed myself in the act of copulation (and actors in movies of the pornographic genre cannot be depended upon to convey an accurate portrayal of the man in the throes of base relief).

Apparently, however, men”s toes tend to curl at the point of orgasm. I don”t suppose The Vapors had any bright ideas as to how ascribe that physical reflex to a racial or ethnic characteristic. “Turning poor Chinese girl whose feet are deformed so as to appear dainty to misogynist patriarchs” does lack the zip of the title the Guildford quartet had their hit with.


New Musik ““ Living By Numbers.mp3
This is one catchy new wave song, before that genre demanded the application of extravagant make-up, overdoses of hair gel, silly facial growths (yes, you, Midge Ure) and often injudicious use of synthethizers. I dig the sound of Living By Numbers, with its judicious use of synth. One of New Musik”s former members was Nick Straker ““ he left the group in 1979 ““ who had a disco hit later in 1980 with A Walk In The Park.

The lyrics of Living By Numbers are perfectly situated in 1980: the paranoia of the 1970s anticipating the computer age of the 1980s. Towards the end, there is a series of different English-accented individuals proclaiming: “They don”t want your name” (they want “just your numbah”, apparently). I derive much fun from imitating the different voices as I sing along, with correctly locating the strangely shrill and nasal women”s moment at 2:46 being a moment of particular personal triumph.


Marti Webb ““ Take That Look Off Your Face.mp3
In early 1980 our family joined the video generation. An acquaintance was selling his video recorder, with his video tape collection. I don”t know whether the man opted for VHS or the system with the flamboyantly futuristic moniker Beta 2000. I do know that the video reorder he sold us conformed to neither system. The clunky cassettes we got with the bargain included such films Psycho and The World of Suzie Wong, an instalment in the Angelique series, and a hardcore porn movie, the first I had ever seen and the dialogue of which has equipped my brother and me with a bunch of good catchphrases which obviously make no sense to anybody else (it also had a funny cartoon interlude involving a Sex Olympics for medieval knights). And one of the first things we recorded was an episode of the legendary German music show Musikladen, which ran on Thursday nights.

Those were exciting days: I watched that recording repeatedly, until the novelty wore off. It made such an impression that three songs from that show feature in this instalment, though I had already bought the single of one of them, Living By Numbers. I quite liked Marti Webb”s song, and I still do, cheerfully disregarding the fact that it was written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber (for the flop musical Tell Me On A Sunday). I hope the dreadful Lloyd-Webber produced this single, so that I can hold him personally responsible for one of the worst fade-outs of all time: just as Webb is hitting a big theatrical note, the song does a two-second fade out (normally a fade-out takes something like five seconds). It”s a song from a stage musical: it shouldn”t even have a fade out.


Godley & Creme ““ An Englishman In New York.mp3
An Englishman In New York (no relation to the Sting number) was the other song we recorded from Musikladen that day. It”s a strange song, and was even stranger then. In fact, it sounds as though pieces of three different songs were cobbled together by the two ex-10cc men. The performance on Musikladen was even more bizarre, featuring mannequins playing instruments, as did the groundbreaking promotional video of the song (something like THIS).

Eric and Lol would later produce another groundbreaking video, for 1985″s Cry, which featured morphing heads (a technique later used in Michael Jackson”s Black And White video). They also produced videos for hits such as The Police”s Every Breath You Take and Wrapped Around Your Finger, Duran Duran”s Girls On Film and A View To A Kill, Herbie Hancock”s Rockit, Go West”s We Close Our Eyes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood”s Two Tribes and The Power of Love, and Sting”s If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.


Ramones ““ Baby I Love You.mp3
For some reason I had no idea at the time that this was a cover version of The Ronettes” 1963 hit, even as I did know Be My Baby. So, to me, Baby I Love You will always be firstly a Ramones song. And I love their version, which appeared on the punk pioneers” album End Of The Century (a point in time not all of them would live to see), produced by Phil Spector. The Ronettes” version was, of course, also produced by Spector. It seems none of the Ramones except for singer Joey appear on Baby I Love You. Dee Dee later expressed his hatred for the cover version, and for the album in general. He also claimed that at one stage during the sessions, Spector held him and Joey at gunpoint ““ a claim which we now know is not as outlandish as it might have appeared when Dee Dee made it. It”s safe to say that the recording sessions were not a happy time for either Spector or the Ramones.


Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno.mp3
This is my favourite single ever. Now, when I call Geno my favourite single ever, I am not saying that it”s the best single ever, or even that it is my favourite song to be released as a single. It is my favourite single because never before or after have I loved a single “” as an item and a song at a particular place and time ““ as much as Geno. I remember clearly buying it and sitting on the bus home, anxious not so much to play it, but to own it, to place it in my collection of singles, as if this new acquisition was going to complete it.

The song may be somewhat derivative, but it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before: the stirring yet sad brass, the urgent chants of the titular name, and then Kevin Rowland”s distinctive style of staccato singing. It caused a weird sensation in my guts. I”ve heard Geno many, many times since then, but I can still feel that sensation. Incidentally, the line “You were Michael the lover, the fighter that won” refers to a track called Michael (The Lover) which had been a UK Top 40 hit in 1967for the subject of the song, soul singer Geno Washington.


Johnny Logan – What’s Another Year.mp3
Before it became the cultish reality TV circus it is now, it used to be the righteous option to criticise the Eurovision Song Contest for producing horrible, banal music. Still, winners have included such greats as ABBA and Sandie Shaw, and the 1978 winner, Izhar Cohen’s A-Ba-Ni-Bi, was quite excellent as well (I”ll even confess to having a soft spot for Brotherhood of Man). The year after, Cohen”s Israeli compatriots Milk & Honey won with the utterly wretched Hallelujah, and then it was Ireland”s turn, with the clean-cut, Australian-born Johnny Logan.

At the time, I thought What”s Another Year was a pretty good song (though evidently not good enough to buy the record). It isn”t really, though. It is by-the-numbers US soft rock, but of the kind which Christopher Cross and Air Supply might have scoffed at for being too soft. It even has a saxophone solo which sounds like those featured, by some unwritten law, in every hip film of the 1980s starring members of the Brat Pack. Kenny G certainly has done an impressive job turning the coolest musical instrument of the “80s into the lamest ever since. Anyway, Logan made music history when he won the Eurovision Song Contest a second time in 1987, with an utteerly forgettable ditty called Hold Me Now.


Frank Zappa – Bobby Brown.mp3
Incredibly, Bobby Brown received extensive airplay on West German radio. I can understand why the terminology of “golden shower” or “she had my dick in the vice” went over the heads of the German censors. But were they really happy to pass a line like “I”ve got a cheerleader here, wants to help with my paper. Let her do all the work, and maybe later I”ll rape her”? Zappa was not endorsing the sentiments of his protagonist, of course, and recording Bobby Brown was his prerogative (yes, I just did that). I’m sure Zappa, who is delivering a great vocal performance on Bobby Brown, was tickled to know it was being played on foreign radio. It”s a nasty and incredibly catchy song.


More Stepping Back

In Memoriam – October 2011

November 2nd, 2011 3 comments

The Grim Reaper feasted on a rich harvest in October, though he (or she; let’s not be sexist about grim reaping) thankfully let off a bit towards the end. Incidentally, today’s post is the best-timed of the year: published on All Souls Day.

The headline death this month probably is that of folk-music legend Bert Jansch, who influenced so many musicians ““ and not only folkies. Among those who cited Jansch as influences are Jimmy Page, Elton John, Nick Drake, Johnny Marr, Mazzy Starr’s Hope Sandoval, Neil Young, Donovan, Blur’s Graham Coxon, Suede’s Bernard Butler, Al Stewart, The Fleet Foxes and Paul Simon.

Clarence Johnson, who has died at 69, might have become a soul legend with the Chi-Lites; instead he became a fine producer of soul music. With future Chi-Lites frontman Eugene Record and Robert “Squirrel” Lester (the good-looking one in the Chi-Lites), he was a member of doo wop band The Chanteurs. That band then merged with members of The Desideros to form The Hi-Lites who, after Johnson left, renamed themselves the Chi-Lites (in tribute to their hometown of Chicago). Of the Hi-Lites line-up, only one member, Marshall Thompson, is still alive.

Even if the name means nothing to you, you’ll be familiar with the photography of Barry Feinstein, who died at the age of 80. Many Feinstein photos became famous album covers, including Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Janis Joplin’s Pearl, The Byrd’s Mr. Tambourine Man, and Eric Clapton’s eponymous solo debut.

Two young musicians died young of brain haemorrhage. Peter Sykes of the upcoming British Indie group This Many Boyfriends (I’ve been unable to ascertain his age) and Zimbabwean musician Taku Mafika, 28. Both tracks included here to mark their passing are quite excellent.

Tragically upcoming R&B singer Gilani Taylor, 27, died in Los Angeles of injuries sustained in a car accident three weeks earlier which also killed her young daughter. It seems the driver of the car that caused the accident fled the scene. A tragic story. Likewise, Joel “Taz” DiGregorio of country band Charlie Daniels Band (whose big hit The Devil Went Down To Georgia he co-wrote) died in a car crash. Another band member and co-writer of Devil, Tommy Crain, died in January. And Aaron Beamish, drummer of Canadian rock band Slow Motion Victory, died in a skateboarding accident, apparently after being hit by a car. At 25, Beamish is the month’s youngest dead. He died on the same day as the month’s oldest, 100-year-old Edmundo Ros.

The most bizarre death must be that of Finnish metal guitarist Mikko Laine, who was run over by a truck while apparently sleeping backstage in Holland. Also strange was the death of hard rock guitarist Terry Span, who fell into a coma after being hit by a fellow band member. It seems Span had tried to break up a fight between band mates.

As a fan of The Blues Brothers, I must also note the death at 75 on October 5 of actor Charles Napier, who played Tucker McElroy, the grudge-bearing leader of the Good Ole Boys.

Clarence Johnson, 69, soul producer and doop wop singer with The Chanteurs (who would become the Chi-Lites), on September 23
The Chanteurs – Wishin’ Well (1961)
The Brighter Side of Darkness – Love Jones (1973, as producer) Read more…