Archive for July, 2015

Should Have Been A UK Top 10 Hit Vol. 2

July 23rd, 2015 5 comments

Should Have Been A Top 10 Hit - Vol. 2

The second mix of singles that unaccountably failed to make the UK Top 10 starts off with a trio of songs that have become timeless classics since: Joe Jackson’s Is She Really Going Out With Him, Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart and Lloyd Cole & The Commotions’ Perfect Skin.

Joy Division even had two failed cracks at Top 10 glory, though one expects that reaching the upper reaches of the hit parades wasn’t really the group’s objective. Still, Love Will Tear Us Apart reached only #13 in 1980 and #19 when it was re-released in 1983 on the back of successor band New Order’s success (including a Top 10 hit a couple months earlier with Blue Monday). Happily, Paul Young’s version, also of 1983, wasn’t released as a single in the UK, so we were spared the indignity of his warbled interpretation inevitably going places the original twice failed to reach. Still, Young had Top 10 hits with it in Belgium and the Netherlands.

My selection criteria for this series have mostly excluded underperforming records by serial Top 10 residents. Every run of hits is liable to include an aberration or two. But I include ABBA‘s Ring Ring because it was a spectacular flop, peaking at only #32 in 1974, rather than an aberration. Released as a follow-up to the #1 hit Waterloo, its failure (and that of the inferior I Do I Do I Do I Do; #38 in 1975) suggests that ABBA were initially seen as a fleeting one-hit wonder, not as the mammoth gold record accumulating machine they’d become following the release of the sublime S.O.S. in the summer of 1975.

gallery_2The year 1974 was particularly notorious for fine songs missing the Top 10 — and some rotten songs getting there instead. Though even in that year there were times when one could see why there was little room for a song as great as Pilot“s Magic, which really deserved to get to #1, as its lesser follow-up, January, did (in the first week of February ’75).

As Magic peaked at #11 in the first week of December 1974, the Top 10 included Barry White’s You”re The First, The Last, My Everything; David Essex’s Gonna Make You A Star; Rubettes’ Juke Box Jive; Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet; Eddie Holman’s (Hey There) Lonely Girl; and Queen’s Killer Queen, plus records by Gary Glitter and Elvis and a reggae thing by Rupie Edwards called Ire Feelings (Skanga). Still, why did Hello’s now rightly forgotten Tell Him zoom past Pilot from #12 to 6 in the charts? Where is the justice in that?

I imagine Lynsey de Paul‘s Spector-Wall-of-Sound takeoff Ooh I Do was in its anachronistic ways a little ahead of its time. In the mid-1970s the revivalist taste was ’50s rock & roll, with Sha-Na-Na and Showaddywaddy (though their big hit, Under The Moon Of Love, was a cover of an early ’60s song). The early ’60s girl-band revival obviously had some traction in 1974, as Hello’s glam-rock cover of The Exciters’ Tell Him shows, but the pastiche of these songs had to wait another six years, when the Ramones hit the Top 10 with Baby I Love You.

I am ready to acknowledge that opinions on Malcolm McLaren‘s Something’s Jumping In My Shirt might differ. I hold it to be one of the best pop songs of 1989, so its peak at #29 is inexplicable. The #1 was Black Box”s Ride On Time, and Tears for Fear’s Sowing The Seeds Of Love was featuring in the Top 10 as well. But the great British public also made Top 10 hits of such horrors or lightweight nonsense like Swing The Mood by Jive Bunny And The Mastermixers, Every Day (I Love You More) by Jason Donovan, Blame It On The Boogie by Big Fun (not to be confused with the fine dance song Big Fun by Innercity), I Just Don’t Have The Heart by Cliff Richard and Hey DJ I Can’t Dance To That Music You’re Playing by The Beatmasters featuring Betty Boo. McLaren might have had a legitimate grievance…

And when Joe Jackson‘s Is She Really Going Out With Him peaked at #13 in late August 1979, ahead of it were, in order from #1 to 12: We Don’t Talk Anymore by Cliff Richard, I Don’t Like Mondays by The Boomtown Rats, Bang Bang by B.A. Robertson, Angel Eyes by Roxy Music, After The Love Has Gone by Earth Wind & Fire, Gangsters by The Special AKA, Duke Of Earl by Darts, Money by Flying Lizards, Reasons To Be Cheerful by Ian Dury And The Blockheads, Ooh! What A Life by the Gibson Brothers, Just When I Needed You Most by Randy Vanwarmer, and Hersham Boys by Sham 69. You decide whether or not Jackson suffered an injustice in that company. The inclusion of the song in this series clues you in on my view.

gallery_1As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-labelled covers.

1. Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him (#13 1979)
2. Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (#13 1980 / #19 1983)
3. Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Perfect Skin (#26 1983)
4. The Christians – Hooverville (#21 1987)
5. Squeeze – Hourglass (#16 1987)
6. Swing Out Sister – You On My Mind (#28 1989)
7. Malcolm McLaren feat. Lisa Marie – Something’s Jumping In My Shirt (#29 1989)
8. Heatwave – Groove Line (#12 1978)
9. Hi-Gloss – You’ll Never Know (#12 1981)
10. Propaganda – Duel (#21 1985)
11. The The – Heartland (#29 1986)
12. Bad Company – Feel Like Makin’ Love (#20 1975)
13. P.P. Arnold – The First Cut Is The Deepest (#18 1967)
14. The Mindbenders – Ashes To Ashes (#14 1966)
15. Emile Ford & the Checkmates – Them There Eyes (#18 1960)
16. The Bar-Kays – Soul Finger (#33 1967)
17. Abba – Ring Ring (#32 1974)
18. Lynsey De Paul – Ooh I Do (#25 1974)
19. Pilot – Magic (#11 1974)
20. Candlewick Green – Who Do You Think You Are (#21 1974)
21. Daniel Boone – Beautiful Sunday (#21 1972)
22. Barry Ryan – Can”t Let You Go (#32 1972)


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Any Major Disco Vol. 1

July 16th, 2015 8 comments

Any Major Disco Vol. 1

The Any Major Funk series might have ended, but that does not mean that we must pack away our dancing shoes. So here we begin a new series of disco mixes, drawing from the various strands in the genre, using 1982 as an approximate cut-off date.

The first mix coincides roughly with the 36th anniversary of the record burning bonanza at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on 12 July 1979, which gave full expression to the Disco Sucks movement. Several students of music, such as the British journalist Simon Price, have charged that the the anti-disco movement was driven by elements of racism and homophobia. While not all who invaded the pitch in Chicago for the Disco Demolition Night (or applauded from afar or donned their Disco Sucks t-shirts) were motivated by bigotry, the charge has some merit.

The negative reaction to disco was not invariably racist, of course. For starters, a lot of disco was produced by white people; including the unlikely poster boys of disco, The Bee Gees. Just as disco was a diverse collective, so were there different reasons for rejecting it. But at Comiskey Park there was a distinct racist dimension as the mob of sonic reactionaries incinerated records not only by disco acts such as Sister Sledge and Chic, but also those by artists such as Marvin Gaye and, unbelievably, Bill Withers. Records by any black artist who wasn’t Jimi Hendrix were liable to fuel the pyre.

The charge of homophobia is more difficult to substantiate, even if some Village People albums found their way on to the pyre. Nonetheless, let me try.

Disco was a broad movement borne of gay and soul-funk clubs alike. Sartorial flamboyance, funky basslines and synth experiments tended to blend across the sub-genres of what would become known as disco. The homophobia in anti-disco sentiments was not necessarily of a gay-bashing kind, but arguably was grounded in the disco culture”s threat to the prevalent models of masculinity.

When the mob at Comiskey Park burnt Earth, Wind & Fire records — possibly while humming Emerson, Lake & Palmer — a dimension of their unarticulated objection related to flamboyant costumes worn by men who sang in feminine voices. Disco challenged the traditional models of manhood (and, in the case of the Village People, satirised them), and it subverted prevailing social (and sonic) norms. Comiskey Park and the Disco Sucks movement were, in part, a reaction to that.

A few years later this threat to conventional masculinity found expression again when many believed Prince, who already had a prodigious track-record of heterosexual behaviour, to be gay on grounds of his Purple Rain stylings. The effete Prince subverted the standard notions of masculinity. The only explanation many could find for that was to believe Prince was gay.

Across the musical fence, the camp exploits of Dee Snider and David Lee Roth, or indeed Kiss, did not cause infernos of vinyl. But these acts performed their shtick with a nod and a wink which their rock fan constituency could understand and even relate to. The same sort of fans denied, at the pain of death, that Freddy Mercury was gay, and the Kiss make-up was considered not camp but an extension of the members’ individual personae. There was nothing here that threatened concepts of masculinity in the way the unironic flamboyance of many disco stars did.

Earth, Wind & Fire's Maurice White and Philip Bailey defied the sartorial codes of American masculinity.

Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White and Philip Bailey defied the sartorial codes of American masculinity.

But homophobia and racism surely were not the primary incitement for the Disco Sucks movement. Disco supposedly sucked not because the music was bad (though some of it indisputably was) or because Verdine White played the bass while sporting silver flamingo wings. It sucked because, like punk, it ate itself culturally. The exclusivism of clubs such as Studio 54 caused resentment — even among those who produced disco music. Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernie Edwards wrote Le Freak after they were denied entry to Studio 54; the original title was Fuck Off. And yet, how could the artists be blamed for the behaviour of those who played their records? Effigies of nightclub owners, not records by the artists, might have made for more appropriate burning matter at Comiskey Park.

The anti-disco sentiment was fed by disco’s ubiquity, starting with Saturday Night Fever (a gritty film which disowns the phoniness associated with the Studio 54 culture, a message usually overlooked in favour of Barry Gibb’s sterility-inducing trousers on the cover of the mega-selling soundtrack). Disco Sucks was also a reaction to the hegemony of the genre and its culture. It was a reaction to the Saturday Night Fever poster and Travolta’s white suit, to Ethel Merman and Sesame Street recording “disco” albums, to acts like Blondie and the Rolling Stones dabbling in disco sounds, to the hedonism of the élite, and to the occasional musical horror produced by cash-in corporates which was falsely considered to be representative of disco.

The anti-disco sentiment was fed by disco

The anti-disco sentiment was fed by disco”s ubiquity, starting with Saturday Night Fever.

And here we enter the final error of the Disco Sucks movement: the false notion that disco is a single, homogenous genre. As in rock music, there are common elements. Most disco songs have a 4/4 beat, basslines tend to drive the songs, and so on. And yet, take songs like, say, Love To Love You Baby by Donna Summer and Shoulda Loved Ya by Narada Michael Walden (on Any Major Funk Vol. 3). Both fall broadly within the disco genre, but one is Euro-Disco and the other is what one might call Disco-Funk. They are as different as Sweet Home Alabama is from A Whole Lotta Rosie.

Then there was the pop-disco stuff such as Y.M.C.A. (though I’d be reluctant to call it disco), which is quite different from either Summer or Walden. Blondie’s disco stuff, Heart Of Glass or Atomic, represents yet another separate genre; it’s disco, of a sort, but not in the way Cheryl Lynn’s Got To Be Real (on Any Major Funk Vol. 1) is disco. Like rock, disco is a collective term for many sub-genres.

This series will, I hope, demonstrate just how diverse disco was as a genre — and why the Lynyrd Skynyrd fans at Comiskey Park were thoroughly mistaken: disco never sucked.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-bootyshaken covers. PW in comments.

1. Bee Gees – You Should Be Dancing (1976)
2. Vicki Sue Robinson – Turn The Beat Around (1976)
3. Chic – Everybody Dance (1977)
4. Carol Williams – More (1976)
5. Don Ray – Got To Have Loving (1978)
6. Loleatta Holloway – Hit And Run (1977)
7. Brenda And The Tabulations – Let’s Go All The Way (Down) (1977)
8. Musique – In The Bush (1978)
9. Michael Zager Band – Let’s All Chant (1977)
10. Dan Hartman – Relight My Fire (1979)
11. Santa Esmeralda – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (1977)
12. Hot Chocolate – You Sexy Thing (1975)
13. Patrick Juvet – I Love America (1978)
14. Grace Jones – La Vie En Rose (1977)
15. Donna Summer – Love To Love You Baby (1975)
16. Rose Royce – Is It Love You’re After (1979)
17. Ben E. King – Music Trance (1980)
18. KC & the Sunshine Band – (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty (1976)
19. Andrea True Connection – What’s Your Name, What’s Your Number (1977)
20. Odyssey – Use It Up And Wear It Out (1980)


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Live Aid – 30 years ago

July 10th, 2015 10 comments

Live Aid: 13 July 1985. Thirty years ago!

The music wasn”t invariably good, the artists tended to be self-serving, we had seats right at the back of Wembley Stadium, and the legacy of the event is questioned by many. And still, for me Live Aid is an unforgettable event, not only as a historic concert, but because for one day there was such a concentration of goodwill among people.

Indisputably, there were long stretches of tedium (Bryan Ferry!), as some acts performed songs nobody needed to hear. And the creations of mad hairstylists immortalised the decade of my youth as one bereft of elegance. Just look at Bono! But the dull stretches were enlivened by some high point.

And everybody is right, Queen were indeed, well, majestic. Fred made crazy love to the whole of Wembley stadium. Queen”s set provided my abiding memory: the crowds doing that arms-aloft-clap-clap-arms-aloft-clap-clap thing from the video of Radio Gaga ““ what a sight that was from where I was sitting, overlooking the masses on the pitch ““ followed by Mercury leading the 80,000 people (or whatever) in vocal exercises. I was not a Queen fan before Live Aid, nor was I a fan after. But on that day, I was a Queen fan. Even today, I marvel at the footage of Queen”s segment.

Queen played six songs in their allocated time. Acts like U2, Dire Straits and The Who played just two, with all of them doodling on forever with one of these. Dire Straits” Sultans Of Swing seemed never-ending. The Who went into extra-time with Won”t Get Fooled Again (which is a great song, so no complaints here).

U2 also played my favourite of their repertoire, Bad. Suddenly, Bono jumped off the stage, grabbed that girl from the crowd, and danced with her. In a documentary made twenty years later, Bono suggested it was a spontaneous act. It may well be that he hadn”t planned to do this at Live Aid, but he had pulled that stunt “” probably stolen from Springsteen”s Dancing In The Dark video, the one with Courtney Cox as the dancee “” during every concert at the time. I know: I saw three of them in three different countries over successive weeks that summer.

If Queen had not stolen the show, then Elton John”s set might have taken the honours as the best in the London leg. Elton did the right thing: play the hits. And then he introduced George Michael, who came out as a bearded man for the first time. He was magnificent as he sang Elton John”s Don”t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, with the Dame backing him. When he got around to recording it almost a decade later, it had lost its magic.

In Philadelphia, Hall & Oates stole the show. In a pretty soul-free line-up, the blue-eyed soulmen hooked up with bona fide soul legends, singing soul music. Otherwise there were the Four Tops, Billy Ocean and Ashford & Simpson with Teddy Pendergrass, appearing on stage for the first time since his accident which left him paraplegic. Neither they, nor Run-DMC had a prominent slot. Pati LaBelle did, and her acute histrionics were entirely distressing, even for a soul fan.

I missed Led Zeppelin”s set. Backed by Phil Collins, who had performed in both London and in Philadelphia, they regarded their performance as their worst ever “” and blamed poor Phil for it. They have not given permission for the footage to be used since. So it doesn”t appear on the four-disc DVD set. Also missing from it is Duran Duran”s performance of A View Go A Kill, thanks to Simon Le Bon famous croak (see it here).

The embarrassing moments kept coming. Bob Dylan and the two craggies from the Stones (who looked 60-plus then, but were only in their early 40s) contrived to perform an amusing cacophony of Blowing In The Wind, reportedly because they could not hear each other due to some technical mishap or other.

Doubtless many acts on the bill felt deeply about feeding the world and reminding the starving Ethiopians that they were doing their best to ensure that there will be snow in Africa next Christmastime, regardless of the inopportune consequences of such radical climate change. But many of those who took part were also opportunists, wanting in on the cash-in. Some, such as Queen (who might have been sincere or opportunistic or both), revived their flagging careers on the back of Live Aid. In fact, reportedly all but one act who appeared at Live Aid recorded increased sales after the event, the exception being Adam Ant. Live Aid was at least as much about corporate profiteering as it was about social engagement. Did much of the artists” profits from increased post-Live Aid sales go to famine relief? Didn”t think so.

Paradoxically, Live Aid was also a bit of a racially problematic event, and the 4-DVD set aggravates that defect. No African artists other than Sade “” hardly an artist whom one would file under World Music “” appeared in either London or Philadelphia; an oddity when the event was supposed to raise awareness about Africa. As noted above, black artists were very thin on the bill. The DVD set even manages to exclude the Four Tops” five-song set, as well as that of Billy Ocean.

I don”t buy into the idea that Live Aid was in itself malign. Pragmatically, it raised money which saved some lives, and built clinics and water purification schemes. That is commendable. It did raise awareness on a range of issues concerning famine, albeit imperfectly, and it promoted some sense of social responsibility. In the callous, self-centred 1980s, Live Aid made charity cool. But it also proposed a notion that charity is not selfless, that for your charity you must get something in return, at the very least the option to congratulate yourself. Consumerist charity, one might call it.

Live Aid, at least initially, did not see itself as a solution but as a contribution to facing a problem. Read that way, its contribution was admirable.

Oh, and Bob Geldof never said: “Give me your fuckin” money.”

London programme cover

And so, here is a compilation of some Live Aid highlights, timed to fit on two standard CD-Rs and including home-pledged covers. PW in comments. Some comments refer to an earlier version of this article.

1. Live Aid – Intro
2. Status Quo – Rockin” All Over The World
3. Style Council – Walls Come Tumbling Down
4. Boomtown Rats – I Don”t Like Mondays
5. Ultravox – Vienna
6. Spandau Ballet – Only When You Leave
7. Elvis Costello – All You Need Is Love
8. Sade – Your Love Is King
9. Phil Collins – Against The Odds
10. Alison Moyet & Paul Young – That”s The Way Love Is
11. Bryan Adams – Summer Of “69
12. U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday
13. Beach Boys – Good Vibrations
14. Queen – Radio Gaga
15. Queen – We Are The Champions
16. Queen – We Will Rock You
17. Simple Minds – Don”t You (Forget About Me)
18. David Bowie – Heroes

1. Pretenders – Chain Gang
2. The Who – Won”t Get Fooled Again
3. Elton John – Rocket Man
4. George Michael & Elton John – Don”t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
5. Madonna – Holiday
6. Freddie Mercury & Brian May – Is This The World We Created?
7. Paul McCartney – Let It Be
8. Live Aid Wembley Finale – Do They Know It”s Christmas
9. Crosby, Stills & Nash – Teach Your Children Well
10. Eric Clapton – White Room
11. Neil Young – Nothing Is Perfect (In God”s Perfect Plan)
12. Hall & Oates with Eddie Kendricks & David Ruffin – Ain”t Too Proud To Beg
13. Hall & Oates with Eddie Kendricks & David Ruffin – My Girl
14. Bob Dylan with Keith Richards & Ron Wood – Blowing In The Wind
15. Live Aid Philadelphia Finale – We Are The World

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Part 1
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The Ringo Starr Collection

July 7th, 2015 13 comments


Today, July 7, is Ringo Starr”s 75th birthday, which gives me a good reason to put up an entirely unscheduled collection of non-Beatles tracks starring Ringo.

If you want to really annoy an expert on drumming, repeat the old John Lennon quip that Ringo wasn”t even the best drummer in The Beatles, and pronounce it as some sort of fact. Those who know about such things will point out that Ringo was an innovative drummer in the Beatles with perfect timing, pointing to songs such as A Day In The Life, All You Need Is Love, Rain, Ticket To Ride and Here Comes The Sun (the time changes in the latter drive strumming guitarists to madness). If it all sounds ordinary now, it”s because other drummers followed Ringo”s lead.

Even the supposedly better drummer in The Beatles calls Ringo his favourite drummer. George Harrison recalled that Ringo was the final piece in the Beatles jigsaw puzzle “” without him the Beatles couldn”t have been The Beatles. So what did John Lennon mean with his assumed put-down of Ringo? Presumably that Paul”s technique was better than Ringo”s. But when he recorded his first proper solo album, Lennon had Ringo backing him on every song.

Great drummers such as Jim Keltner, whose career I chronicled lately over two volumes and who became Lennon”s favoured drummer, point to the influence Ringo had on them. Keltner says that he learned from observing Ringo, whom he describes as his “idol”. This is not an apprentice admiring the elder master; Ringo is only two years older than Jim, whose recording career began around the time The Beatles fitst came yo the US. Max Weinberg, the E-Street Band”s drummer, said in 1984 that Ringo”s “influence in rock drumming was as important and wide spread as Gene Krupa’s had been in jazz”.

Ringo Starr in 1962

Ringo Starr in 1962

Ringo is credited with changing the way drummers hold their sticks. He didn”t invent the matched grip (in which both hands hold the stick the same way, as opposed to the traditional grip, where the left hands holds the stick as you would hold a chopstick), but as the first rock drummer to appear prominently on US television, usually on as raised platform, his preferred method caught on and became the default technique in rock.

What Ringo lacks in technique he makes up in application, perfect timing and innovation, much as in soccer most of the great goalscorers don”t necessarily have the technique of keepy-uppy champions (that analogy, I suppose, makes Gene Krupa Pelé and Hal Blaine Lionel Messi).

As a person, Ringo has had a reputation of being the easy-going, fun guy we knew from The Beatles. Occasionally he has shown a petulant side, but few people seem to have bad things to say about the man. As a driving force behind the anti-apartheid Sun City record, as a co-initiator and musically “” drumming with his son Zac on the record “” his political heart must be in the right place.

Ringo clearly is also not an egomaniac. Many times he is happy to drum alongside another drummer, often Jim Keltner (who in turn doesn”t really like co-drumming). On this mix, he plays alongside Keltner on the tracks by Manhattan Transfer and Keith Moon (on which Ringo also raps). On B.B. King”s Ghetto Woman, Ringo drums with Jim Gordon, subject of two collections in this series (see Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). Also worth noting is Harry Nilsson”s Daydream, on which Ringo”s drumming is supplemented by the work of George Harrison “” on cowbells. Harrison also plays alongside Ringo on Leon Russell”s Delta Lady, and wrote the track by Ringo that opens this collection.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a CD-R and includes home-backbeat covers.

1. Ringo Starr – Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond) (1973)
2. Peter Frampton – Alright (1972)
3. Attitudes – Good News (1977)
4. Leon Russell – Delta Lady (1970)
5. B.B. King – Ghetto Woman (1971)
6. John Lennon – Well Well Well (1970)
7. The Band – I Shall Be Released (1978)
8. Carly Simon – More & More (1975)
9. Bobby Hatfield – Oo Wee Baby, I Love You (1972)
10. T. Rex & Elton John – Children Of The Revolution (1972)
11. Keith Moon – Together (1975)
12. Harry Nilsson – Daybreak (1972)
13. George Harrison – When We Was Fab (1987)
14. Paul McCartney – Not Such A Bad Boy (1984)
15. Manhattan Transfer – Zindy Lou (1976)
16. Ian McLagan – Hold On (1979)
17. Tom Petty – Hard To Find A Friend (1993)
18. Guthrie Thomas – Captain Jack (1990)
19. The Alpha Band – Born In Captivity (1977)
20. Artists United Against Apartheid – Sun City (1985)


Previous Session Musicians:
The Roy Bittan Collection
The Larry Carlton Collection
The Hal Blaine Collection Vol. 1
The Hal Blaine Collection Vol. 2
The Steve Gadd Collection Vol. 1
The Steve Gadd Collection Vol. 2
The Steve Gadd Collection Vol. 3
The Jim Gordon Collection Vol. 1
The Jim Gordon Collection Vol. 2
The Bobby Graham Collection
The Louis Johnson Collection
The Jim Keltner Collection Vol. 1
The Jim Keltner Collection Vol. 2
The Bobby Keys Collection
The Ricky Lawson Collection Vol. 1
The Ricky Lawson Collection Vol. 2
The Joe Osborne Collection
The Bernard Purdie Collection Vol. 1
The Bernard Purdie Collection Vol. 2

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In Memoriam – June 2015

July 2nd, 2015 7 comments

15061 galleryThe issue of bounty hunters in the US has come under scrutiny lately. One June 8, John Oliver exposed the problems with bounty hunting on his Last Week Tonight show. The following evening, country singer Randy Howard was shot dead by a bounty bunter in his own home in Tennessee. Howard, who was one of the vanguard of the Outlaw country music movement, had failed to appear in court to answer charges on standard country music trespasses such as possession of drug paraphernalia and handling a gun while being drunk. Upon a bounty hunter bursting into his house, he apparently fired shots; these were returned. The bounty hunter was injured; Howard was dead. I am no expert on law enforcement issues in the US, but surely one needs no bounty hunter to track down a man to his home?

Harold Battiste, who has died at 81, was a true Renaissance Man in music. He was an arranger, producer, composer, keyboard player, saxophonist and record company founder. The latter was particularly significant: in 1961, he set up the first African-American musician-owned record label, All For One, or AFO Records, which soon scored a massive hit with Barbara George”s I Know (You Don”t Love Me No More). He arranged and/or produced for acts like Sam Cooke (including You Send Me), Sonny & Cher (I Got You, Babe; The Beat Goes On ; Bang Bang), Lee Dorsey (Ya Ya), Dr John (Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya; Iko Iko) and others. He played keyboards on many of the Phil Spector-produced hits for The Ronettes, The Crystals and so on, as well as on The Righteous Brothers You”ve Lost That Lovin” Feelin”. On many of these he played alongside the Wrecking Crew collective. He also played sax on a track on The Jim Keltner Collection Vol. 1, Claudia Lennear” Goin” Down. On top of all that, he was a lecturer in music at several colleges, including in the Jazz Studies faculty of the University of New Orleans.

And then there was only one. In January we lost Popsy Dixon of the trio The Holmes Brothers; in June Wendell Holmes left us, leaving only his brother Sherman alive. Wendell died from complications caused by pulmonary hypertension, not of the cancer which he beat to record the 2010 album Feed My Soul. He said his favourite song was We Meet, We Part, We Remember “” so I”ll feature it here.

The female voice of folk pioneers The Weavers is now silent. Ronnie Gilbert passed away at the age of 88, wrapping a quite extraordinary life. The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, she grew up in New York, but it was in Washington during World War 2 that she hooked up with the giants of folk, Alan Lomax and Woody Guthrie. From there she met Pete Seeger with whom she co-founded The Weavers, which had to break up in 1953 after being blacklisted during the purge of the left in the world”s self-proclaimed bastion of freedom. Gilbert continued her activism, visiting Cuba after the revolution and taking part in the Paris protests of 1968.

In the 1970s she obtained an MA in psychology, but continued with her music, mentoring and influencing many folkies and singer-songwriters along the way. Late in life she still played at folk and Jewish music festivals, and remained politically active, especially in opposing Israel”s occupation of Palestinian territories. In 2004 she married her partner of 20 years, Donna Korones. She missed the Supreme Court decision to legalise same-sex marriage in the US by three weeks.

15062 galleryThe rich life of Ornette Coleman was celebrated with a three-hour funeral which, reports say, was marked with music and lightness of mood. This seems fitting for a man who in his 85 years was one of the most influential musicians in jazz. Yoko Ono, who had been friends with Coleman for 50 years, spoke at the funeral. Several pieces of music were performed, including one featuring Ravi Coltrane, son of John, at whose father”s funeral Coleman played in 1967. And Coleman”s son was part of an ensemble that played the track featured here, Lonely Woman.

His face is an emblem of my childhood. In 1970s Germany, James Last was ubiquitous. And I couldn”t stand his easy listening fare, his side-parted long hair and goatee. To me, he represented music for people who hate music. He was the extent of cool the squares would allow. In time I grew up and acknowledged his accomplishments as one of Europe”s fine bandleaders. I”d never own a James Last record, but I came to like the old chap. A Strange thing: his real name was Hans Last. Before he became James (and why not John, the English version of Hans?), his surname would likely have been pronounced to rhyme with the English word “lust”. But when he took his Anglo moniker, the surname was pronounced in the English way, even by the Germans.

His was a name I knew better than his work, even though I was familiar with his music. To me, James Horner was a perennial Oscar nominee who won for his score of the 1997 movie Titanic and the entirely regrettable theme song, My Heart Will Go On. Unless one is an aficionado of the genre, we don”t expend much energy thinking about who wrote the music for a film score, even if we admire it. But anybody who has watched American movies over the past three decades will have heard Horner”s music, in films such as Alien, Field of Dreams, Braveheart, Glory, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind (the subject of which, John Nash, died on May 23), 48 Hrs., Cocoon, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Legends of the Fall, House of Cards, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Avatar, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Willow, An American Tail and its sequel, and more. Apparently director Don Bluth was not happy with Horner”s score for An American Tail “” in the end, it turned out to be some of Horner”s best work. The song Never Say Never, which Horner wrote with Cynthia Weill and Barry Mann, ought to be a musical standard. Read more…

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