Archive for January, 2012

Murder Songs Vol. 8

January 30th, 2012 4 comments

In this trio of murder sings, we deal with a horse-loving psycho, a mother-loving psycho and a couple of miners for whom three was a crowd.

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Willie Nelson ““ The Red-Headed Stranger (1975).mp3
Ah, the follies of the blonde woman! As the song begins, we are told what the “yellow-haired lady” doesn”t know: don”t mess with the red-headed stranger and, whatever you do, don”t try and steal his pony (here we must assume that Nelson actually means a young equine). And since she doesn”t know not to mess with the red-headed stranger and since she does covet the pony, she initiates a tragic chain of events.

First she makes friendly with the red-headed stranger (we presume here that the colour describes his hair, not a sunburn sustained by a bald head subjected to the ultraviolet rays piercing the Montana air). He doesn”t respond to her flirtatious ways, even gives her money to go away. Fatefully, the blonde is not going to be deterred by otherwise compelling suggestion. She follows the red-haired stranger outside and touches the pony, presumably in ways that hint at an act of larceny. The red-headed stranger firmly puts forward a conclusion to the problem by putting a bullet in the women”s head.

We should have no moral dilemma here. By all reason, the red-headed stranger did something very wrong. Strangely, Willie Nelson and the local judicary, seem to disagree: “You can”t hang a man for killing a woman who”s trying to steal your horse.”


Eddie Noack ““ Psycho (1968)
Elvis Costello & The Attractions ““ Psycho (live, 1981).mp3
Who”d be the mother of a psychopath? We first encounter the hungry Declan (for want of a better moniker, the song doesn”t name his narrator, so let”s go with Costello”s maiden name) afflicted with a headache in the family home. The baby”s crying, which doesn”t exactly lighten Declan”s mood as he recounts to his mother an encounter with his ex-girlfriend the day before. “She was at the dance at Miller”s store. She was with that Jackie White, Mama. I killed them both and they”re buried under Jacob”s sycamore.”

As he speaks, Mama makes the schoolgirl error of handing her psycho son a puppy (puppy lovers, look away now). The puppy doesn”t survive Declan”s attention, but we learn that Dec is quite aware of his mental state and the need for institutionalised therapy. Things don”t get much more cheerful, and you don”t really know whether to be repulsed at Declan, or feel sorry for him.

Psycho was written by Leon Payne (whose I Love You Because was recorded by the young Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, George Jones and John Prine), and first recorded in 1968 by Eddie Noack to no particular attention, but became a hit five years later for Jack Kittel.


The Buoys ““ Timothy (1971).mp3
So, imagine you”re trapped in a coalmine with your colleagues Joe and Tim. And soon hunger sets in, and thirst. The reader blessed with sherlockian powers of deduction will by now have worked out that by the time the rescue is completed, only two miners emerge blinkingly into the daylight “” and the eponymous Timothy is not one of them.

“Hungry as hell, no food to eat, and Joe said that he would sell his soul for just a piece of meat. Water enough to drink for two, and Joe said to me: “˜I”ll take a swig, and then there”s some for you.” Knowing that Timothy didn”t survive, we have a sense of foreboding. “Timothy, Timothy ““ Joe was looking at you. Timothy, Timothy ““ God, what did we do?”

Well, you don”t really know what happened next (or so you say). “I must”ve blacked out just “bout then, “cause the very next thing that I could see was the light of the day again. My stomach was full as it could be and nobody ever got around to finding Timothy.” You and Joe ate Timothy”s bones and hair as well? Yuk!

The song, banned on US radio on its release, was written by Rupert Holmes, who also gave us the regrettable Escape (Pina Colada Song) and the much more brilliant Him. Despite that (or perhaps because of it), it reached #7 on the US charts.


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Step back to 1980 – Part 3

January 25th, 2012 9 comments

There isn”t much I remember specifically about the late summer and autumn of 1980. We holidayed in Czechoslovakia and Austria, I despised school, my granny died, and I read English football magazines to brush up on my English skills. But I recall the vibe of that time, and these songs help conjure it.

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Kelly Marie – Feels Like I’m In Love.mp3
Here”s a great bit of trivia: Feels Like I”m In Love was written by Ray Dorset, the mutton-chopped frontman of Mungo Jerry, specifically for Elvis Presley. Alas, before Dorset could pitch the song to Elvis, the rhinestoned king died. But imagine Elvis singing Feels Like I”m In Love; with a different arrangement and perhaps slowed down a bit. Sounds like a hit to me. Of course, English disco starlet Kelly Marie also enjoyed a hit with it, a UK #1, and quite rightly so: it”s a very good song. I remember it being hugely popular at the funfair; when I hear it I smell candyfloss, sugar-roasted almonds and Bratwurst.


Randy Newman – The Story Of A Rock And Roll Band.mp3
This is the bit where the threads of an American songwriter of wit and style and German football meet. Randy Newman was so much a fan of the Electric Light Orchestra that he penned a tribute to the band. The lyrics are, by Newman”s standards, fairly artless, but in his own way, Newman manages to recreate the ELO sound in an affectionate homage, while still sounding like Randy Newman.  Turn To Stone seems to Randy”s favourite ELO song, though he does recognise other worthy contenders. I was so taken by Newman”s tribute that I bought the LP, with its crap cover pic.

At the same time, my favourite football player ““ and when you”re 14, a favourite player is a semi-deity ““ was the diminutive but brilliant winger Pierre Littbarski, who played for my favourite club. Sporting exploits aside (and, at 20, he was not a star yet in 1980), there are three things I remember about Littbarski: he was a chocaholic, he supported the conservative CDU (boo!), and he was a huge ELO fan.


Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I.mp3
Looking back, it seems that by now I was more into LPs than I was into singles. I bought Joan Armatrading”s  Me, Myself, I album on strength of its title track, with that abrasive guitar riff and Chris Spedding”s wonderful guitar solo , Cape Town-born Anton Fig”s thumping drums, the tempo changes and the catchy chorus. I still like the album a lot: All The Way From America, Feeling In My Heart (For You), and especially Turn Out The Lights remain great songs. At this point I had not yet become a Springsteen fan, though that was going to happen fairly soon. But the presence of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons on the album would have been an added bonus. It also featured Paul Shaffer, David Letterman”s annoying houseband leader, on keyboards. At one point, all of those who appeared on the song were members of the houseband, having met while recording with Joan Armatrading.


Styx – Boat On The River.mp3
Yeah, I know it came out in 1979, but Boat On The River didn”t get much airplay on German radio until 1980. In fact, on our local station at least, this was bigger than the megahit from the same album, Babe. Perhaps it reminded the playlist compilers of those Slavic-sounding Schlager hits that were in vogue a decade earlier. I bought the Cornerstones LP, but I don”t think I ever listened to it in full, other than Boat On The River and Babe.

In past instalments of this series, I described how my grandmother bought me my first single (see HERE) and how she helped finance my fast-growing singles collection. The Styx and Armatrading albums were the final music acquisitions she funded. She had actually given me the money to buy new trainers. But instead of purchasing the medium range shoes my budget allowed for, I decided to go for a bargain (still cool: yellow Pumas with a black stripe), and use the difference to buy the two LPs. My mom was not impressed with me. My grandmother died a few weeks later at the age of 85.


The Police – Driven To Tears.mp3
Liking The Police in the West Germany of 1980 was the mature and cool choice. Many of my friends loved AC/DC (good) and Kiss (meh). And a few sung the praises of Gerry Rafferty, even though his City To City album, released two years earlier, was quite ancient. But mention that you like The Police, and people would respect you, much like the neighbourhood respected the teenage Henry Hill in GoodFellas. Soon The Police became really massive and I had to abandon them, but when they released their Zenyatta Mondatta album in 1980, I played it to death.  I also played it to my stepfather when we were wallpapering my room, seeing as he had enjoyed the music of Bob Seger which I had introduced him to. He assured me that he liked the album. Looking back, I think he was lying.


Diana Ross – My Old Piano.mp3
Upside Down had already been a hit, but it was this track that turned me on to Diana Ross, whom I had hitherto regarded, in my unformed ways, as part of the musical wallpaper, the sort of star who is a star because she is a star. Well, it wasn”t really Ms Ross whom I loved this song for, but the production. It”s a great, catchy number, with the sort of funky bass and cool strings you”d associate with a Nile Rogers and Bernie Edwards production. And then there was the fantastic piano and guitar solo; I presume Rogers did the guitar part, and I guess the piano solo was either by Raymond Jones or Andy Schwartz.


Nick Mackenzie – Hello Good Morning.mp3
This is a terrible song. And when I think of 1980 it sticks in my head like the fumes from the gas released by a decomposing body that sticks on the clothes of your favourite CSI agent. Personally, I think they are all rubbish, none more so that sunglasses juggling fool from the Miami franchise, though I have a theory that David Caruso might play him with a bit of wink, creating a sardonic self-parody to offset the stink of the preposterous scripts; rather unlike Lieutenant Dan over in New York, who seems to play his equally preposterous role with a straight bat. But I digress. So, yeah, Nick Mackenzie was, as his name fails to suggest, from the Netherlands where apparently he was alternately known as Henk van Broekhoven and Nick van der Broeke, which might be a pun on his surname involving the Dutch word for trousers. And that is pretty much all you need to know as you decide whether Hello Good Morning is any good. Take his name or my word for it: it isn”t.


More Stepping Back

A History of Country Vol. 15: 1976-79

January 19th, 2012 14 comments

This compilation is not accompanied by an instalment in the country history, because the next chapter goes with the next mix. And, in some ways, it makes sense that this mix has no history (of course, the timeframe is covered by past articles in the series) because the late 1970s was a time of hiatus.

Many of the stalwarts of just a few years earlier ceased having strings of hits, and those artists who had grown out of the Outlaw movement now had their day. In this mix, the likes of Guy Clark, John Anderson, Larry Jon Wilson and Moe Bandy owed something to the Outlaws. Even Tom T Hall, who wrote so many mainstream numbers without ever being mainstream himself, is calling for the Outlaw guys to stick to their country roots and return to Nashville (while one of the leading Outlaws, Kris Kristofferson, sang the praises of Hank Williams).

A few bluegrass musicians kept the flame of that genre alive: here we have veterans Jim & Jesse and, with a view to the future, Boone Creek, which included Ricky Skaggs, one of the country superstars of the 1980s who would later return to bluegrass.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-baked front and back covers.

1. Kris Kristofferson – If You Don’t Like Hank Williams
2. Jerry Jeff Walker – Standing At The Big Hotel
3. John Anderson – Country Comfort
4. Funky Kings – Slow Dancing
5. Guy Clark – Anyhow I Love You
6. Mickey Gilley – Bring It On Home To Me
7. Herb Pederson – Can’t You Hear Me Calling
8. Jim & Jesse – Ashes Of Love
9. Johnny Cash – One Piece At A Time
10. Skeeter Davis – Homebreaker
11. Razzy Bailey – She’s Anybody’s Darling
12. The Statler Brothers – Your Picture In The Paper
13. Emmylou Harris – Pancho & Lefty
14. Larry Jon Wilson – In My Song
15. Merle Haggard – Ramblin’ Fever
16. Charlie Rich – Rolling With The Flow
17. Bellamy Brothers – Crossfire
18. O.B. McClinton – Talk To My Childrens’ Mama
19. Johnny Paycheck – Take This Job And Shove It
20. Crystal Gayle – Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue
21. Boone Creek – Dark Is The Night
22. Tom T. Hall – Come On Back To Nashville (Ode To The Outlaws)
23. John Prine – Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone
24. Billie Jo Spears – It Should Have Been Easy
25. Moe Bandy – I Cheated Me Right Out Of You

(includes front and back covers. PW in comments)



Previously in A History of Country

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Curious Germany Vol. 4

January 12th, 2012 1 comment

We haven”t had German curiosities for a while. Well, here are some: Marlene Dietrich singing a folk anthem, Bowie going to Berlin,  a Schlager icon rocking out for peace, a short-haired teen doing Be My Baby, Chubby Checker twisten in Deutsch,  and a politician getting remixed.

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Marlene Dietrich ““ Sag” mir wo die Blumen sind (1962).mp3
The Springfields – Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind (1963).mp3

While Mae West was singing Light My Fire in the 1960s (see HERE), Marlene Dietrich became a bit of a folkie with her German versions of Blowin” In The Wind, retitled in German Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind (HERE), and this cover of Pete Seeger”s 1955 anti-war anthem Where Have All The Flowers Gone.  The German version, with the lyrics by the author Max Colpet (who, among other things, wrote five scripts for Billy Wilder films) , has been recorded many times, even by Joan Baez; Dietrich”s was the first. In 1963, The Springfields, featuring Dusty Springfield, issued a rather lovely folk recording of that and other German-language songs.

Seeger has praised Sag” mir wo die Blumen sind as being better than his original lyrics. Dietrich also recorded the English version of the song, as well as a French adaptation (titled Où vont les fleurs?).


David Bowie ““ Helden (1977).mp3
Bowie lately hit the retirement age of 65, prompting many to lament the curious notion that Ziggy Stardust can now travel on a pensioner travelcard. When Bowie recorded Heroes, he was long past the Ziggy deal. It was his Berlin period during which he fused the cultures of the Weimar Republic cabarets, Krautrock and Kraftwerk, and the local junkie scene. It”s very nice that David Bowie sought to pay tribute to the city that served as his muse by recording in German, but since he lived and recorded there, one might quibble that he could have taken better care with his pronunciations. As it turns out, he put as much effort in enunciating German words correctly as English football commentators take care to pronounce the names of German (or any non-Latinate) football players.


Udo Jürgens – Peace Now (1970).mp3
Here”s one in English, by Udo Jürgens, the Austrian-born Swiss national who enjoyed immense success in West Germany, the place of his parents’ birth. Jürgens provided one of my earliest musical memories since my sister was a big fan of the man in the late 1960s (see HERE). I still think that Siebzehn Jahr Blondes Haar and the funny Es Wird Nacht Senorita are superior Schlager moments; if more songs of that genre were as good as those, nobody would have cause to laugh at German music.  Jürgens also wrote hits for Matt Munro, Sammy Davis Jr and Shirley Bassey.

Peace Now was the rocking English-language b-side of a German single titled Deine Einsamkeit, released in October 1970. It”s actually pretty good, in a dated sort of way that draws from rock, funk and gospel. Udo, exhibiting a rather lilting German accent, buys into the Zeitgeist as he sings: “Everybody is talkin” “bout peace in the world, but everytime I hear a hungry baby cry I ask: Peace, now show me your face.”


Suzanne Doucet – Sei mein Baby (1964).mp3
It”s quite interesting that in the 1960s, a female singer”s image could be defined by her short hair. So it was with Suzanne Doucet. Born in 1944 in the university town of Tübingen to a family of thespians and artists, she was briefly a Schlager star while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, as you do. Later she appeared with Donna Summer in the German version of the musical Godspell. Then she married an American, moved to the US and became a leading New Age musician, a field in which she remains active (so it”s important to know that she was born with the sun in Virgo, Aquarius rising, and Saggitarius moon ““ whatever that means).

Sei mein Baby is a lovely bilingual cover of The Ronettes” Be My Baby, and appeared on the b-side of Doucet”s first hit single, Das geht doch keinen etwas an (That is nobody”s business).


Chubby Checker – Der Twist Beginnt (1962).mp3
I got this German version of Chubby Checker”s Let”s Twist Again  courtesy of reader Ton, who certainly would agree with me that Chubby did not put much effort into his translations. “Sei nicht so lazy”, indeed. In fact, Chubby sounds a bit like a cliché Wehrmacht soldier in a 1960s war movie, right down to the way he enunciates the affirmative word “Ja”. You can almost hear it: “Ve hef vays of making you tvist.” At least the backing track is new, which makes this a proper cover version of Checker”s own original. He compiled a fairly impressive catalogue of German-language records, with titles such as Twist doch mal mit mir, Autobahn-Baby, Holla Hi Holla Ho and Troola-Troola-Troola-La. But he proably recorded loads in other languages, as his LP Twistin” Around The World suggests.


Karl Schiller – High.mp3
Karl Schiller was West Germany”s economic minister from 1966-72. He did not record this track. High appeared on one of four LPs of politicians” speeches set to far out music by Volker Kühn and Roland Schneider (featuring jazz-rock guitar maestro Volker Kriegel) . Schiller”s speech was economic babble laced with contemporary lingo about drugs, being high and blow-ups. Schiller had a rather colourful political career. In 1937, at the age of 26, he joined the Nazi party, but after the war he joined the left-of-centre Social Democratic Party (SPD). He left them in 1972 when he clashed with Chancellor Willy Brandt (possibly Germany”s greatest politician and a co-star on Kühn and Schneider”s Pol(H)itparade LP) over economic policy, and collaborated with. Eight years later he re-joined the SPD. He died in 1994.

More Curious Germany



In Memoriam – December 2011

January 5th, 2012 14 comments

December”s headline death probably is that of the great Cesária Évora, who emerged from the tiny West African island of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony.

But as a soul fan, percussion maestro Ralph MacDonald is my headline departure of the month. He wrote some stone-cold classics and appeared on an impressive catalogue of soul and fusion albums, including those released in their heyday by Bill Withers, George Benson, Donny Hathaway, Ashford & Simpson, Brothers Johnson, Margie Joseph, Patti Austin, Grover Washington, Maynard Ferguson, The Crusaders, Michael Franks,  Eric Gale, Bob James,  Herbie Mann, Earl Klugh, and Sadao Watanabe, as well as on pop albums by the likes of Billy Joel (The Stranger, 52nd Street, Innocent Man) and Paul Simon (Still Crazy”¦, One Trick Pony, Graceland).

The Ragovoy curse struck again. First the great songwriter died in July; then his occasional collaborator Jimmy Norman, with whom he wrote Time Is On My Side, died in November; in December singer Howard Tate, for whom Ragovoy wrote and produced several songs (including Get It While You Can, which Janis Joplin later covered, and 8 Days On The Road) passed away at 72.

Three of the world”s longest-performing artists died in December: Myra Taylor first took to the stage as a 14-year-old in 1931; she made her final performance in a career spanning 70 years on 24 July this year. Fans of The Originals will appreciate the first recording of the great Ink Spots hit I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire, which featured Myra Taylor on vocals (originals fans will also enjoy Ruby and the Romantics” Our Day Will Come, covered by Amy Winehouse on her new posthumous album) .

Johannes Heesters, who died at 108, had been a huge star in Nazi Germany and counted Nazi leaders among his friends ““ a stigma that followed him to his death. Hated in his native Holland, he was still hugely popular in West Germany.  He still toured as a centenarian, and performed to the age of 105.

Bill Tapia, dead at 103, was a ukulele maestro. Check out his version of Stars and Stripes Forever, from just two years ago, which he introduces as having played during World War I ““ the audience laughs, but the guy isn”t joking. He has been performing since 1918.

Among the more bizarre deaths is that of Willie Nelson”s drummer Dan Spears, who fell outside his house and, unable to move, froze to death.

Sadly, this will be the final monthly In Memoriam. Compiling each instalment simply takes up much more time than I can afford to spend, so this is a decision I had to make ““ with much regret, because I don”t think anyone is doing it quite this way on the Internet.

Michal “˜Michal the Girl” Friedman, singer, from complication during the birth of twins on November 25
ATB ““ The Autumn Leaves (2004)
Read more…

Intros Quiz: 1967 edition

January 2nd, 2012 1 comment

1967 model prepares to drive her Camino to wherever the Summer of Love is happening.

Here we begin another new five-yearly cycle of intros quizzes, starting with 45 years ago: 1967 (and what a great year for music that was). Next month we”ll skip to 1972, then 1977 and so on.

1967 was the year the first edition of Rolling Stone was published, so-called “race riots” broke out in cities such as Detroit and Cleveland, Muhammad Ali is stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing induction into US Army, Dr Christiaan Barnard performs the first successful heart transplant in Cape Town, Biafra declares independence from Nigeria and a civil war begins, the first ATM is installed in England, The Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s and Elvis married Priscilla.

As always, twenty intros to hit songs from that year of 5-7 seconds in length. All were single releases and/or hits that year. The answers will be posted in the comments section by Thursday. If the pesky number 18 bugs you, go to the Contact Me tab above for the answers, or  better, message me on Facebook. If you”re not my FB friend, click here.

Intros Quiz – 1967 Edition


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