Archive

Archive for October, 2019

Any Major Sesame Street Pops

October 31st, 2019 8 comments

 

 

On November 10 it will be 50 years since the Sesame Street theme first announced sunny days on which everything is A-OK on the US public TV channel PBS. And not only has the show kept running ever since 1969, it has also spread across the world.

I remember well watching the pilot aired on West-German TV in 1972, flighted in the English original on regional channels to let parents decide whether they would like to expose their kids to this kind of thing. My mother had me and my brother, 6 and 4 years old, watch it with her, and afterwards asked us what we thought of it. Oh yes, yes, yes, please! A few months later, Sesamstrasse debuted on German TV — except in conservative Bavaria (the German Texas), where all those progressive teaching methods and racial mixing were unwelcome.

 

 

At the age of six going on seven, I was a bit beyond the target audience. But no matter, I loved it. Sesame Street taught me a lot about social empathy. It gave me the idea that most Americans were black. While my home was normatively white (though that was changing already), I learnt that not all places are like that, and I learnt that people of different backgrounds could and should be friends. Thanks to Susan and Gordon and Bon and Mr Hooper (or, in German, Herr Huber).

Obviously, I loved the muppets. I loved Ernie and wanted to be him, though I identified more with Bert’s sensible character. I loved the Cookie Monster, even though I thought he was quite rude and selfish. And above all, I loved Oscar the Grouch — so much so that I dressed as him for a fancy-dress party within weeks of Sesamstrasse debuting. He remains my favourite, and I still find him very funny.

Most of the great songs of early Sesame Street were translated into German for Sesamstrasse: Rubber Duckie; C Is For Cookie, I Love Trash, and so on. When I introduced them in English to Any Minor Dude back in the 1990s, I could relive my childhood as he lived his (though his Sesame experience also included Elmo, who arrived long after my time).

 

 

I don’t remember if the guest appearances by singing stars were part of the German Sesame Street. I discovered them later on, in the age of YouTube. Those are wonderful. Some singers performed their songs straight (more or less): on this mix, Stevie Wonder jams Superstition while name-dropping muppets; José Feliciano croons on the brownstone steps; Paul Simon clearly got annoyed with the kids; Cab Calloway revisits his ancient hits.

Some sang Sesame Street standards. On this mix Lou Rawls grooves the ABC like nobody’s business; Lena Horne sings another alphabet song. Diana Ross builds self-esteem (as does Ray Charles with the same song in a bonus track). Aaron Neville and Ernie duet on I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon. Gladys Knight & The Pips do the Sesame Street theme. And Little Richard sings — obviously! — Rubber Duckie.

 

 

And then there are the adaptations of the guests’ popular hits, which always wink a little at the parents, too. Some are alphabet-based. Norah Jones doesn’t know why Y didn’t come; in Sheryl Crow’s song I soaks up the sun; guess what B.B. King’s favourite letter is.

Most artists riff along with muppets. Stevie Wonder tries to teach Grover how to scat. Johnny Cash and James Taylor revisit their hits in dialogue with Oscar (Cash: “Nasty Dan was a nasty man the whole day long.” Oscar: “Good for him.”). Andrea Bocelli sings Elmo to sleep with the song that had Camilla Soprano nearly jump in the sack with the priest.

This mix is great stuff for families. I’d play it with kids in the car. But, to be honest, I’ll play it in the car on my own as well…

 

 

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

1. Gladys Knight & The Pips – Sesame Street Theme (1988)
2. Lou Rawls – The Alphabet (1970)
3. Ray Charles with Bert & Ernie – I Got A Song (1977)
4. Jesse Jackson – I Am Somebody (1971)
5. Stevie Wonder – Superstition (1973)
6. Stevie Wonder with Grover – Scatting (1973)
7. Four Tops – Please Be Careful (When You Cross The Street) (1986)
8. José Feliciano – A World Without Music (1975)
9. James Taylor with Oscar – Your Smiling Face (1983)
10. Johnny Cash with Oscar – Nasty Dan (1973)
11. Johnny Cash with Biff – Five Feet High (1973)
12. R.E.M. – Furry Monsters Song (1998)
13. Sheryl Crow – I Soaks Up The Sun (2003)
14. Janelle Monáe – Power Of Yet (2014)
15. Queen Latifah with The Prairie Sisters – The Letter O (1992)
16. Norah Jones with Elmo – Don’t Know Y (2004)
17. John Legend with Hoots – I Got A Song (2006)
18. Diane Schuur with Elmo – From Your Head (1996)
19. Lena Horne – The Alphabet (1974)
20. Cab Calloway – Hi De Ho Man (1981)
21. Cab Calloway – Jump Jive (1981)
22. B.B. King – The Letter B (2000)
23. Little Richard – Rubber Duckie (1994)
24. Harry Belafonte with the Count – Coconut Counting Man (1982)
25. Paul Simon – El Condor Pasa (1977)
26. Feist – 1,2,3,4 (2008)
27. Chaka Khan with Elmo and Telly – Faces (2000)
28. Arrested Development – Pride (1995)
29. Dixie Chicks – No Letter Better Than B (2002)
30. Alison Krauss & Union Station – Sesame Jamboree (2005)
31. Diana Ross – Believe In Yourself (1981)
32. Aaron Neville & Ernie – I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon (1994)
33. Andrea Bocelli & Elmo – Time to Say Goodnight (2004)
Bonus Tracks:
Faith Hill & Tim McGraw – Take A Turn (2000)
Ray Charles with Elmo – Believe In Yourself (1996)

GET IT! or HERE!

More Mix CD-Rs

Categories: Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Any Major Murder Songs Vol. 2

October 24th, 2019 4 comments

 

Just in time for Halloween, here’s another mix of murder songs to provide you with holiday-appropriate chills.

Some of these are truly scary. Some of our killers here have serious mental conditions, such as the protagonists in the songs by Warren Zevon and Hall & Oates. In Zevon’s song, the target of the singer’s wrath are the entitled family members who make excuses for their murderous rapist spawn. The Hall & Oates track (in which the duo recalls one of their older hits) is a bit disturbing as our dark anti-hero is into music you or I might listen to.

The darkness of mental disease is captured well in sound in the Wilco song’s distortions. The track was recorded live in Chicago. It’s about a guy dreaming of committing a murder in that city, and coming to the city to make his dreams come true. When Jeff Tweedy sings the name Chicago, the crowd cheers. Audience members: you really don’t want the protagonist of that sing in your city!

Most of our murders here are crimes of passion, with the victim being either a cheating partner, or the person with whom the cheating was committed (including Loretta Lynn, who in the Jack White-produced song will hang for her murder).

However, Rod Stewart uses a murder to deal with homophobia at a time when that was not really a mainstream issue. Think what you will of Rod, but plaudits are due for that song.

Of all our killers here, there’s one we can sort of support, Woody Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floy, who gunned down an especially unpleasant deputy sheriff (I like to imagine a law enforcer of the Mississippi Burning variety).

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the troubling case of a father pushing his daughter down the well in the Violent Femmes song.

Neil Young is running a theme as old as song itself — the crime of passion; the wronged husband avenging his honour. But this being 1969, and musicians of Young’s ilk more interested in laying down guitar jams than producing lucid lyrics, we must figure out ourselves the circumstances leading to the murder, which the narrator at least admits to: “Down by the river, I shot my baby. Down by the river…Dead, oh, shot her dead.” The rest is just crazy hippie talk about rainbows. So, obviously, youngologists believe the song is about heroin. Which, by Young’s own account, it isn’t.

But of all these songs, Porter Wagoner’s song is the most spine-chilling. It has a real horror-movie vibe. In fact, the only thing that will lift the chill is to look at a picture of Porter in full ludicrous country music regalia. Or it might make things worse…

Again, to be very clear, this mix does not promote, endorse or celebrate murder. Don’t kill, kids.

As ever, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-first48hoursed covers. PW the same as always.

1. Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy (1978)
The Vic: Suzie from the Junior Prom

2. Tim Rose – Hey Joe (1967)
The Vic: Joe’s “old lady”

3. Nina Simone – Ballad of Hollis Brown (1965)
The Vic: Hollis’ family

4. Fleetwood Mac – Blood On The Floor (1970)
The Vic: The “darling” of the guy about to hang

5. Porter Wagoner – The First Mrs Jones (1967)
The Vic: Mrs Jones

6. Johnny Cash – Joe Bean (live) (1969)
The Vic: Well, Joe Bean, really. An man hanging for a crime be didn’t commit

7. Loretta Lynn – Women’s Prison (2004)
The Vic: The “darling” of the woman about to hang

8. Wilco – Via Chicago (live) (2005)
The Vic: “You”

9. Violent Femmes – Country Death Song (1984)
The Vic: His daughter, the bastard

10. Robber Barons – Music For A Hanging (2004)
The Vic: A killer who is about to hang

11. Neil Young – Down By The River (1969)
The Vic: Neil’s “baby”, down by the river

12. Fairport Convention – Crazy Man Michael (1969)
The Vic: The “raven”

13. Rod Stewart – The Killing Of Georgie (1976)
The Vic: Georgie

14. Hall & Oates – Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear The Voices) (1980)
The Vic: Random strangers at the subway station

15. Tom Jones – Delilah (1968)
The Vic: Delilah, the two-timer

16. Marty Robbins – Streets Of Laredo (1969)
The Vic: The narrator, a cowboy

17. Lloyd Price – Stagger Lee (1958)
The Vic: Billy, a gambler

18. Little Walter – Boom, Boom, Out Goes The Light (1957)
The Vic: His baby who ain’t his no more

19. Louis Armstrong & Louis Jordan – You Rascal, You (1950)
The Vic: The seducer of his wife

20. Carter Family – John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man (1929)
The Vic: A man on the West Virginia line

21. Woody Guthrie – Pretty Boy Floyd (1940)
The Vic: A very rude deputy sheriff

GET IT!

More Mix CD-Rs
Murder Ballads
Halloween mixes

Categories: Halloween, Mix CD-Rs, Murder Songs Tags:

Any Major Originals: The 1970s Vol. 2

October 17th, 2019 4 comments

 

More 1970s hits were covers than one might think. Here are 25 more lesser-known originals, after the 23 tracks in the 1970s Volume 1.

 

Popcorn
German-born and US-based composer Gershon Kingsley (still alive at 97) wrote classical music and scores for TV and movies, arranged and conducted Broadway musicals — and pioneered electronic music, particularly through the Moog synth. As half of the electronic music duo Perrey and Kingsley, he wrote avant garde music. And part of that synth experimentation was his catchy tune Popcorn, which he recorded for his 1969 album Music to Moog By.

Kingsley re-recorded it in 1971 with his First Moog Quartet. One of the members was Stan Free, himself an accomplished jazz musician, composer, conductor and arranger. He in turn recorded Popcorn with his own band of musicians, named Hot Butter. It was their superior version that became a mega hit all over the world in 1972.

To truly appreciate Popcorn, it has to be experienced in this video from French TV.

 

Mama Told Me Not To Come
The 1970 hit for Three Dog Night was written by Randy Newman — already in the habit of writing lyrics from a character’s point of view — for Eric Burdon and The Animals, who recorded it in 1966 with the intention of releasing as a single. That idea was abandoned, but the song appeared on their 1967 album Eric Is Here.

Three Dog Night picked the song up in 1970, the same year Newman finally recorded it, and had a huge hit with it. US chart fans may be interested to know that it was at #1 when Casey Kasem presented his first Top 40 countdown show on 4 July 1970.

 

Mamy Blue
In the early 1970s you couldn’t move in Europe for versions of Mamy Blue. The most famous of these was the English recording by the Spanish group Pop-Tops. It will get more international yet — a lot. Mamy Blue was written in a traffic jam in Paris by French composer Hubert Giraud (who featured in In Memoriam – January 2016). The first recording was by Italian singer Ivana Spagna, the first record for the then 16-year-old. She later dropped her first name and as Spagna had several dance hits in the 1980s, including the 1987 UK #2 hit Call Me.

The Pop-Tops’ version (recorded by Swiss producer Alain Milhaud with lyrics by Trinidad-born singer Phil Trimm) reached #4 in the UK in 1971; in the US a version by The Stories charted in 1973. Roger Whittaker took his version in French to #2 on Canada’s French charts, while French singer Joël Daydé had a hit with an English take of it in Australia (it was arranged by Wally Stott, who features in his own right on this mix). Whitacker’s English version was also a Top 10 hit in Denmark and Finland (where local-language versions also were Top 10 hits). In France it was hit in French for Nicoletta. In West-Germany, it was a huge hit in German for French singer Ricky Shayne, who also reached the French Top 10 with his English version of the song (in the land of its origin, Mamy Blue was a hit for Nicoletta, Ricky Shayne, Pop-Tops and Daydé). Shayne’s German version was also a hit in the French-speaking regions of Belgium. In South Africa, Mamy Blue topped the charts in a truly terrible version by Charisma.

And Italy, where Ivana Spagna sang the song in Italian? The only hit was the Pop-Tops version.

 

These Foolish Things
It would be a stretch to call These Foolish Things an obscurity made famous in Bryan Ferry’s 1973 cover, but for a certain generation, that is the best-known version; for many the first they’d heard. Before Ferry got his greasy hair all over it, Read more…

Categories: The Originals Tags:

Life In Vinyl 1986 Vol. 2

October 10th, 2019 No comments

 

Part 2 of the 1986 edition of A Life In Vinyl covers, naturally enough, the second half of the year, starting in July (Vol. 1 obviously followed the first half of that year). I’ve tried to keep things in the chronological order in which I bought these records — except the last song; I know I bought the LP late that year but have no memory of exactly when that was. I do remember that the LP was on heavy rotation in December that year, though.

During that summer, British TV presented an all-night pop show. Various artists appeared on that programme; I recall Cameo and The Smiths (introduced by Stephen Fry as Der Schmidts and playing Panic) appearing live. Also part of the show was the song that kicks off this collection. The festival was also broadcast in Europe; possibly made in cooperation with European TV stations. Just a year after Live Aid but just before the domination of globalisation, this was quite an exciting venture. Lunatics were advocating Brexit then already, of course, but they were still an idiotic minority.

I suppose most of the acts here are well-known, certainly to readers of this corner of the Internet. But US readers might not know much about acts like The Housemartins. They were a left-wing Indie group of Christians with the motto, “Take Jesus – Take Marx – Take Hope”. After they broke up in 1988, the lead singer went on to form The Beautiful South; the bassist became a famous dance DJ as Fatboy Slim; the lead guitarist became a children’s author and journalist; and the drummer later went to jail for assaulting a business associate with an axe.

Few people outside their native Ireland will remember Cactus World News, who sounded much like the types of Echo & The Bunnymen, Simple Minds, U2 et al. And it was Bono who first signed them to the U2-owened label Mother, and co-produced the first version of The Bridge, which I bought on single in 1985. The version featured here is that from the 1986 Urban Beaches LP, which was also their final album until 2004.

One feature of the UK charts in 1986 finds no inclusion here, though in one instance I contributed to its manifestation. That year the soap opera Eastenders broke so big that it produced three big hits, two of them related to its storylines. One was a spin-off from a rather bad storyline about three teenage characters forming a band, but the other gripped Britain’s imagination — including, I must confess, mine.

Every Loser Wins, sung by actor Nick Berry as character Wicksy, was a plot device to score a romance that ended with the luckless guy being jilted at the altar. After the aborted wedding episode, which made newspaper headlines, the song topped the charts and ended up being the second-biggest selling single of the year. It even won the Ivor Novello Award for songwriting, even though one of the characters in Eastenders got it perfectly right when in a scene she called it “sentimental garbage”. There are many records I regret buying; this was one of them.

There are many other tracks I might have included here, some have aged well, some haven’t, some were good and some not so much. Maybe a bit like this lot — but these tracks have a way of taking me back to my magical time as a 20-year-old in London in 1986.

As always, CD-R length, home-PVC-trousered covers, PW the same as always.

1. Steve Winwood – Higher Love
2. Phil Fearon – I Can Prove It
3. Daryl Hall – Dreamtime
4. Human League – Human
5. Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk – Love Can’t Turn Around
6. Cameo – Word Up
7. Run DMC & Aerosmith – Walk This Way
8. Cactus World News – The Bridge
9. Michael McDonald – Sweet Freedom
10. Julian Cope – World Shut Your Mouth
11. Pet Shop Boys – Suburbia (The Full Horror)
12. The Housemartins – Think For A Minute
13. Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush – Don’t Give Up
14. Swing Out Sister – Breakout
15. Madness – (Waiting For) The Ghost Train
16. Alison Moyet – Is This Love?
17. Luther Vandross – Give Me The Reason

GET IT!

More A Life In Vinyl
More Mix-CD-Rs

Categories: A Life in Vinyl, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

In Memoriam – September 2019

October 3rd, 2019 4 comments

 

The Cars’ Driver
The death at 75 of Rik Ocasek reminded me of how when I got my first car in 1984, the tape of the Heartbeat City album by The Cars (appropriately) was on heavy rotation. Much of that album has not dated well, though I still enjoy Magic, Why Can’t I Have You, You Might Think (which featured on A Life In Vinyl 1984 Vol. 1) and the title track. I also loved Drive — the album’s stand-out track — until Live Aid destroyed it for me. The laziness of using that song to illustrate the suffering of famine based on one line taken completely out of context still annoys me.

Besides creating a lot of great power pop with The Cars, Ocasek was also a producer. His best-known work in that area is that with Suicide. He also produced Weezer’s eponymous debut album (and listen to The Cars’ 1978 track Just What I Needed as a precursor to the Weezer sound). He also produced other Weezer classics, including the impossibly catchy Island In The Sun. Ocasek also produced acts like Alan Vega, Nada Surf, Hole, Jonathan Richman, Bad Religion, Guided By Voices

The Session Legend
One of those lesser-known giants of music left us in Muscle Shoals guitarist, engineer and producer Jimmy Johnson. His great body of work is in his session guitar work, as a member of the session players’ collective The Swampers (more on that below). As an engineer, Johnson worked on the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album. He also discovered and produced Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose mention of “The Swampers” on Sweet Home Alabama refers to Johnson’s session group.

As a guitarist Johnson often worked alongside Duane Allman, Bobby Womack, Joe South and/or Eddie Hinton on a great many classics recorded in Muscle Shoals, at the FAME Studios and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, which he co-founded.

I have ascertained that he played on Aretha Franklin tracks such as Chain Of Fools, Natural Woman, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), Think, Since You’ve Been Gone, Call Me; Wilson Picket’s Land Of 1000 Dances; Boz Scaggs’ Dinah Jo; The Staple Singers’ I’ll Take You There, If You’re Ready Come Go With Me, and Respect Yourself (on rhythm guitar); Bobby Womack’s Harry Hippie; Luther Ingram’s If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right); Millie Jackson’s Hurt So Good;  Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Take Me To The Mardi Gras and Kodachrome; Rod Stewart’s Tonight’s the Night and Sailing (on rhythm guitar); Eddie Rabbit’s Suspicions; and Bob Seger’s We’ve Got Tonight, Night Moves, Old Time Rock and Roll (on rhythm guitar) and Good For Me (he accompanied Seger on almost all his albums between 1972 and 1982).

Wikipedia credits him with playing on a dizzying number of other classics, including When a Man Loves A Woman, Mustang Sally, Sweet Soul Music, I’m Your Puppet, Do Right Woman – Do Right Man, Respect (Aretha’s version), Take A Letter Maria, The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff; When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman and Sexy Eyes by Dr Hook.

The Soprano
The In Memoriam series usually does not include musicians from the field of classical music, but an exception may be made with the soprano Jessye Norman, who blazed many trails in her field. In as far as I can be said to have a “favourite” soprano, Norman was that, ever since I first heard her as a 23-year-old. As a friend of mine who had a friendship with Norman can testify, she was a kind, accessible and generous person.

Occasionally Norman dabbled outside the field of opera and lieder, turning her talents to Cole Porter or Michel Legrand (who preceded her in death by a few months), and singing songs of religion. Norman, who was raised as a Baptist, was a freestyling Christian who found greater religious impulse in the Girls Scouts, of whom she was one, than in church — and every year, like a good scout, she would sell thousands of boxes of cookies.

Out of Money
Eddie Money was the kind of singer Read more…

Categories: In Memoriam Tags: