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Any Major Schlager

September 26th, 2023 7 comments

Top row: Michael Holm, Francoise Hardy, Katja Ebstein, Marianne Rosenberg, Ricky Shayne. Centre: Vicky Leandros, Udo Jürgens, Daliah Lavi, Jürgen Marcus. Bottom: Juliane Werding, Agnetha, Alexandra, Peter Maffay, Manuela

 

To mark Germany’s national day next week, on October 3, here’s a mix of German schlager and chanson tracks from the golden era between 1965 and 1975. Don’t be alarmed, we’re looking at the higher end of quality in schlager music.

Almost anyone who was a child in West Germany in the first half of the 1970s will tell you the routine on a Saturday, once a month: Have a bath, then into payamas, and at 18:45, the ZDF Hitparade would come on (ZDF was the channel on which the show was broadcast). Launched in 1969, it was the premier showcase for the German schlager — and it was incredibly popular. I watched it, in my payamas. Bath-time would be some time after 5, so that we’d catch Star Trek or Riptide (known in Germany as “Raumschiff Enterprise” and “SOS Charterboot”), and then once a month the Hitparade. In weeks when there was no Hitparade, we might have our bath after Star Trek.

 

Dieter “Thomas” Heck, shorn of his sideburns, presents the ZDF Hitparade on a Saturday evening in March 1976.

 

Presented by the bespectacled and sideburned Dieter “Thomas” Heck, the ZDF Hitparade came live from Berlin, filmed on a sparse set on which the stars, both established and budding, would sit among the audience. Mid-song, audience members would often get up and present the singer with flowers. It was superbly presented, even if the music was mostly awful.

Not that I cared about the defects in musical standards at the time. I loved the entertainment values, but by the time I was 10 years old, I started to become more discerning, and soon I denounced the whole schlager scene with increasing militancy. That attitude would carry me into adulthood. For a long time, I had no time for nor interest in the banal clap-along schlager fare.

In that I was with the majority of Germany’s youth. But the rejection of schlager followed no consensus. In a 1973 episode of the Disco TV show, super-square and conservative singer Heino performs his latest hit, a popular (and admittedly pretty catchy) clap-along number. The young people, guys with long hair and girls in tight stripey trousers, party to it like it’s 1999. At other times, the Disco audience would sit impassively to the glamrock of Slade or the dance-pop of ABBA or the rock of Status Quo or the disco-pop of Boney M, which suggests that this Heino mania was a spontaneous outbreak of schlager frenzy.

On the subject of Heino, a truly fascinating phenomenon who ended up doing duets with Rammstein, I recommend the documentary Made In Germany, which counts among its pundits, of all people, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys. You need not know a thing about Heino to appreciate it.

Eventually I reached the age at which one may indulge in the nostalgia that evokes fond childhood memories. And many of the old schlager songs transported me back to the days when I’d sit with my payamas on the couch and watch the Hitparade with my mother, sister and brother. Much of the music might be questionable, but it recalls happy memories. Sometimes I find some old song, long-forgotten but instantly recognisable, and it’s back into the time capsule. Psychologist refer to this as our autobiographical memory, which is biased towards finding refuge in memories that recall moments when we felt safe — like sitting on the couch, watching TV with the family.

Schlager music has a bad reputation, and not without good reason. Most of it was banal and poor. But some of it was very good. ABBA fans will know that the Swedes were influenced by schlager. Before becoming an A in the group’s name, Agnetha Faltskrög tried her luck in German schlager, releasing six singles them between 1968-72; none of them was a hit. The last of these features on this mix. What might have been had Agnetha had become a big schlager star, too busy to join her husband and pals in their new pop combo? Would BBA have been as successful as they became?

Schlager star Michael Holm initiated two global hits, co-writing with Giorgio Moroder and recording the original of Chicory Tip’s Son Of My Father, and creating the first vocal version of the Italian instrumental which would become a Christmas hit for Johnny Mathis as When A Child Is Born. In Holm’s hands that song had no reference to Christmas: “Tränen lügen nicht” translates as “Tears don’t lie”.

Michael Holm performs on the ZDF Hitparade.

 

Drafi Deutscher kicks off this mix with one of the great schlager classics, “Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht”. He entered the US Billboard Top 100 with an English version of it, retitled “Marble Breaks And Iron Bends”.

Many schlager stars were straitjacketed into the genre’s formula. Some were broken by it, others made the best of it. Husband-and-wife duo Cindy & Bert found fame with hackneyed songs about Spanish guitars and “gypsies”, but at heart they were a rock act. They featured here before with their cover of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid (On Any Major Schlager Covers Vol. 2); the song on this mix shows them as they wanted to be seen, rather than how their record company sought to present them.

Some of the songs here were big schlager hits, but the only one that invites a jolly clap-along is by Jürgen Marcus. I include it as an example of how that brand of schlager actually could be well-executed.

Marcus was a great singer who too often was stuck with sub-standard material. Israeli actress and singer Daliah Lavi — featuring here with as cover of a song by South African singer Emil Dean Zoghby, “Won’t You Join Me” — was more discerning. She had huge hits, usually with covers of English songs, and was a superstar among schlager singers, but musically she was closer to French chansoneers than most of her German colleagues.

As was Alexandra, the most tragic of the artists on this mix. The singer was just hitting the big time when she was killed in a car crash on July 31, 1969. She was only 27 (and thus became an unwilling member of the so-called 27 Club, comprising artists who died at that age). Rumours have it that the accident was caused by foul play. The featured song, the beautiful “Mein Freund, der Baum” (My friend, the tree) became a hit only after her death.

The wonderfully talented singer Alexandra on German TV in 1969, the year she died in a mysterious car crash.

 

International stars also formed part of the schlager firmament. Greek-born Vicky Leandros — who features here with her German version of the Eurovision winner Aprés toi — grew up and lived in West Germany. But stars like Caterina Valente, Mireille Mathieu, Gilbert Bécaud, France Gall, Nana Mouskouri, Danyel Gerard, Salvatore Adamo, Ricky Shayne or Françoise Hardy had hits with German songs, some originals and some covers of their mostly French originals, though Mathieu had several hits written for her by German producers (particularly Christian Bruhn, of whom more later). Of these international stars, Françoise Hardy and Ricky Shayne feature here.

Almost all songs here were single releases, albeit some of them as b-sides. Two, however, are album deep tracks. Manuela’s “Sonntag im Zoo” from 1967 is a delightful song that sounds like a Jimmy Webb or Burt Bacharach number arranged by The 5th Dimension. It was co-written by Christian Bruhn, who co-wrote many schlager hits, including the tracks here by Drafi Deutscher, Marion Maerz, Peter Maffay, and the wonderful Katja Ebstein, for whom he also wrote the magnificent “Wunder gibt es immer wieder” (featured on Any Major Eurovision).

Mary Roos was highly regarded in France as a chanson singer, and even played at the Olympia. Her “Schmetterlinge weinen nicht” (Butterflies don’t cry) of 1970 sounds even more like a Bacharach song; one might think it might be a cover of a Dionne Warwick song. It was co-written and produced by the multi-talented Michael Holm.

The mix concludes with three tracks from 1975 that can be ID-tagged under different labels than “Schlager”. Joy Fleming was a blues and soul singer, Marianne Rosenberg had the first German-language disco hit in 1975 with “Ich bin wie Du”, and Juliane Werding, who broke through in 1972 as a teenager with a powerful cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, delivers a fine German country song with the not snappily titled “Wenn Du denkst Du denkst, dann denkst Du nur Du denkst” (“When you think you think, then you only think you think”).

I’ve re-upped the two companion mixes, wherein schlager stars sing German covers of Englosh songs — Any Major Schlager Covers Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), s well as Any Major Originals – Schlager Edition, which comprises mostly international originals of schlager hits, including Emil Drean Zoghby’s original of the Daliah Lavi song.

As a bonus I include the greatest German schlager: what it lacks in highest artistic merits it compensates for the the highest levels of banality and an overdose of cliché, but there is no song in the genre that is as catchy as this track. Germans probably already know which track it is.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, includes home-schunkeled covers, and the above text in an illustrated PDF. PW in comments.

1. Drafi Deutscher – Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht (1965)
2. Udo Jürgens – Siebzehn Jahr, Blondes Haar (1965)
3. Marion – Er ist wieder da (1965)
4. Françoise Hardy – Wenn dieses Lied erklingt (1965)
5. Manuela – Sonntag im Zoo (1967)
6. Hildegard Knef – Von nun an ging’s bergab (1968)
7. Alexandra – Mein Freund, der Baum (1968)
8. Lil Walker – Abschied im September (1968)
9. Mary Roos – Schmetterlinge weinen nicht (1970)
10. Haide Hansson – Du bist das Leben (1970)
11. Katja Ebstein – Und wenn ein neuer Tag erwacht (1970)
12. Peter Maffay – Du bist anders (1970)
13. Daliah Lavi – Willst du mit mir geh’n (1971)
14. Vicky Leandros – Dann kamst Du (1972)
15. Cindy & Bert – Geh’ die Straße (1972)
16. Ricky Shayne – Delta Queen (1972)
17. Su Kramer – Glaub’ an dich selbst (1972)
18. Elke Best – Nichts bleibt ungescheh’n (1972)
19. Agnetha – Komm’ doch zu mir (1972)
20. Jürgen Marcus – Eine neue Liebe ist wie ein neues Leben (1972)
21. Bernd Glüver – Der Junge mit der Mundhamonika (1973)
22. Michael Holm – Tränen lügen nicht (1974)
23. Joy Fleming – Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein (1975)
24. Marianne Rosenberg – Ich bin wie Du (1975)
25. Juliane Werding – Wenn Du denkst Du denkst, dann denkst Du nur Du denkst (1975)

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Any Major Hank Williams Songbook

September 14th, 2023 3 comments

In 1975, Waylon Jennings asked in his song: “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”. His point was to criticise the rhinestone commercialism of country music, but it’s a question that may be applied to this Hank Williams Songbook. Well, Waylon, the answer is that, musically, most of these songs very much are not the way Hank done them. But, I venture, Hank would probably have approved of most of these versions of his songs anyway.

On September 17, we mark the 100th anniversary of Hank Williams’ birth. Born Hiram King Williams in Mount Olive, Alabama, Hank was a pivotal figure in the development of country music, and therefore also of rock & roll (even if rock & roll covers of Hank’s songs are pretty scarce). “The Hillbilly Shakespeare”, as he came to be dubbed for his lyrical faculties, was a big star in the late 1940s and early 1950s during which he created an astonishing number of great songs.

But the stardom came with personal challenges and health issues, including dependence on alcohol and pain killers, the latter due to chronic back pain caused by spina bifida occulta, a birth defect of the spinal column. When he died at the age of 29, he looked 20 years older.

Williams was scheduled to perform in Charleston, West Virginia, on New Year’s Eve 1952, having cancelled a number of shows before that due to his poor health. While he was being driven there in his blue Cadillac by his friend Charles Carr, Hank’s condition suddenly deteriorated. He never made it there, and the two went on to Canton Ohio, for a gig on January 1, 1953. Somewhere on the way to Canton, Hank died in the back seat of his Cadillac. Carr found him dead when he stopped at a filling station in Oak Hill, West Virginia. As Hank once sang, “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive”.

The official cause of death was listed as heart failure. The coroner’s report also mentioned the presence of alcohol and morphine in Williams’ system. Hank left behind his recently divorced wife. country singer Audrey Sheppard whom Hank had married in 1944, and their three-year-old son, future country star Hank Williams Jr.

Hank left a rich legacy of songs, including 55 Top 10 hits in the Billboard Country & Western Charts. Some of them have become standards which have been covered dozens or even more than 100 times. Some went on to become even bigger hits as pop songs, such as 1951’s Cold, Cold Heart for Tony Bennett in 1953. It later became a signature tune for Dinah Washington, whose version features here. Bennett is represented her with another hit Hank cover, There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight.

Other Hank standards include Hey Good Lookin’, Your Cheatin’ Heart, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Kaw-Liga, Move It On Over (later ripped off for Rock Around The Clock), You Win Again, and Jambalaya.

Three of these feature twice in this mix: Al Green’s and Barbara Lynn’s versions of I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Fats Domino’s and James Brown’s interpretations of Your Cheatin’ Heart, and Johnny Cash’s 1958 version of You Win Again is echoed in 1978 by The Rolling Stones (who themselves were the subject of a Songbook in June). You Win Again also featured in The Beatles’ film Let It Be, sung by John Lennon.

Hank Williams and wife Audrey Sheppard with Hank’s band The Drifting Cowboys.

The two Hanks, Senior and Junior, open the mix in a pairing that anticipates Nat and Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable duet by 25 years (Nat, by the way, covered Hank at least twice). In 1965 the technology wasn’t quite so advanced as it would be in 1990, so the recording of Move It On Over basically is an overdub of Hank Jr mixed with the original recording from 1947.

The line-up of artists in this collection shows just how adaptable Hank’s songs were: from various types of country to the jazz crooning of Tony Bennett to the rock & roll of Little Richard to the soul of Isaac Hayes to the new wave of Elvis Costello to the folk-rock of Patty Griffin to the indie of Camper Van Beethoven to the jazz of Madeleine Peyroux. Even the Red Hot Chilli Peppers recorded Hank on their 1984 debut, though I won’t feature their version of Why Don’t You Love Me, because it isn’t very good (here we have Elvis Costello’s version).

I can imagine that some people might be put off from investigating Hank Williams’ music because they don’t like his voice, or the songs’ arrangements, or because they are just suspicious of country music, or don’t know where to start. I hope this mix will serve as a decent introduction to the songs of one of the greatest songwriters in popular music.

As ever, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, includes home-movedonovered covers, and the above text in an illustrated PDF.

1. Hank Williams Sr. & Hank Williams Jr. – Move It On Over (1965)
2. Johnny Cash – You Win Again (1958)
3. Hawkshaw Hawkins – Kaw Liga (1953)
4. Roberta Lee with The Blue Diamond Melody Boys – We’re Really In Love (1952)
5. Joni James – I’m Sorry For You My Friend (1959)
6. Tony Bennett – There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight (1953)
7. Dinah Washington – Cold, Cold Heart (1962)
8. Ray Charles – Hey, Good Lookin’ (1962)
9. Fats Domino – Your Cheatin’ Heart (1964)
10. Little Richard – Settin’ The Woods On Fire (1971)
11. Professor Longhair – Jambalaya (1974)
12. Townes Van Zandt – Honky Tonkin’ (1972)
13. Waylon Jennings – Let’s Turn Back The Years (1975)
14. Elvis Presley – Men With Broken Hearts (live) (1970)
15. Al Green – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (1973)
16. Isaac Hayes – I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love In Love With You) (1973)
17. Madeleine Peyroux – Take These Chains From My Heart (2012)
18. Cat Power – Ramblin’ (Wo)man (2008)
19. Patty Griffin – House Of Gold (2010)
20. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – My Heart Would Know (2021)
21. Billy Bragg & Joe Henry – Lonesome Whistle (2016)
22. Bap Kennedy – Angel Of Death (1999)
23. Emmylou Harris & Mark Knopfler – Alone & Forsaken (2001)
24. Patty Loveless – I Can’t Get You Off Of My Mind (1988)
25. Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To Do (1981)
26. John Prine – Dear John (I Sent Your Saddle Home) (1999)
27. Tompall And The Glaser Brothers – A Mansion On The Hill (1981)
BONUS TRACKS
28. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – I Saw The Light (1972)
29. Asleep At The Wheel – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (1973)
30. James Brown – Your Cheatin’ Heart (1969)
31. Barbara Lynn – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (1969)
32. George Jones – I’m A Long Gone Daddy (1987)
33. Huey Lewis & The News – Honky Tonk Blues (1983)
34. Camper Van Beethoven – Six More Miles To The Graveyard (1993)
35. The The – I Can’t Escape From You (1995)
36. The Rolling Stones – You Win Again (1978)

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Previous Songbooks:
ABBA
Ashford & Simpson
Barry Gibb Vol. 1
Barry Gibb Vol. 2
Bill Withers
Bob Dylan Volumes 1-5
Brian Wilson
Bruce Springsteen
Burt Bacharach & Hal David Vol. 1
Burt Bacharach & Hal David Vol. 2
Burt Bacharach’s Lesser-Known Songbook
Carole Bayer Sager
Carole King Vol. 1
Carole King Vol. 2
Chuck Berry
Cole Porter Vol. 1
Cole Porter Vol. 2
Elton John & Bernie Taupin
George Harrison
Gordon Lightfoot
Holland-Dozier-Holland
John Prine
Jimmy Webb Vol. 1
Jimmy Webb Vol. 2
Jimmy Webb Vol. 3
Lamont Dozier
Laura Nyro
Leonard Cohen
Neil Diamond
Paul McCartney Vol. 1
Paul McCartney Vol. 2
Prince
Rod Temperton
Rolling Stones Vol. 1
Sly Stone
Steely Dan

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Song Swarm: Papa Was A Rolling Stone

September 5th, 2023 16 comments

In Motown’s happy family it was common that the same songs would be recorded by different artists. So it is with Papa Was A Rolling Stone, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.

The Undisputed Truth, who may be remembered for their hit Smiling Faces Sometimes (which was originally recorded by the Temptations), recorded Papa Was A Rolling Stone as a single release in 1971. It did not perform well, peaking at #63 in the US charts. A year later, Whitfield gave the song to The Temptations when he produced their 1972 All Directions album on which it appeared as a 12-minute workout of the kind that recalled the epic soul symphonies of Isaac Hayes (though the Undisputed Truth version sounds more like an Ike arrangement). The shortened single version went on to top the US charts. The original is discussed further in Any Major Originals: Motown Edition.

The Temptations line-up for that period differed significantly from that of the 1970s glory days, with only Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin remaining. Dennis Edwards had replaced David Ruffin; Richard Street, who had been a member of a Temptations precursor, had replaced the troubled Paul Williams; and Damon Harris had replaced Eddie Kendricks.

The Temptations perform Papa Was A Rolling Stone on Soul Train in 1973.

Recorded in June 1972 and released the following month, all but Otis Williams took lead vocals on Papa Was A Rolling Stone (see below), backed by Motown’s in-house session band, The Funk Brothers, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It topped the US charts, but only made #14 in the UK, two positions lower than the Was (Not Was) 1990 cover.

Cover versions sprung up almost immediately. The earliest featured here is by jazz multi-instrumentalist Jay Berliner, in 1972. The same year Stevie Wonder performed it on TV, using the then little known vocoder. Billy Wolfer’s electronic version in 1982 featured the artist on the vocoder, and Michael Jackson — who had been party to the Jackson 5’s live cover in 1973 — contributing to the background vocals. In 1996 Isaac Hayes, who clearly influenced Whitfield in both of his versions, finally got around to recording Papa Was A Rolling Stone, live with Soul II Soul.

A couple of other versions of the 30 featured here are worth mentioning. Malik Adouane gives it the Arab-Funk treatment, and Los Lobos’ soft acoustic version is quite splendid. I’ll spare us the recent versions by Phil Collins and Craig David.

Back to The Temptation’s version, here are the vocal leads:

Dennis Edwards:
It was the third of September.
That day I’ll always remember, yes I will.
‘Cause that was the day that my daddy died.
I never got a chance to see him.
Never heard nothing but bad things about him.
Mama, I’m depending on you, tell me the truth.
And Mama just hung her head and said,

Dennis Edwards: It was the third of September. That day I’ll always remember.

ALL (lead Edwards)
“Son, Papa was a rolling stone.
Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
And when he died, all he left us was alone.
Papa was a rolling stone, my son.
Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
And when he died, all he left us was alone.”

Edwards
Well, well.
Hey Mama, is it true what they say,
that Papa never worked a day in his life?

Melvin Franklin: And that ain”t right.

Melvin Franklin
And Mama, bad talk going around town
saying that Papa had three outside children and another wife.
And that ain’t right.

Richard Street
Heard some talk about Papa doing some store front preaching.
Talking about saving souls and all the time leeching.
Dealing in debt and stealing in the name of the Lord.
Mama just hung her head and said,

All (lead Street)
“Papa was a rolling stone, my son.
Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
And when he died, all he left us was alone.
Hey, Papa was a rolling stone.
Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
And when he died, all he left us was alone.”

Richard Street (left) and Damon Harris, both died in February 2013

Damon Harris
Hey Mama, I heard Papa call himself a jack of all trade,
Tell me is that what sent Papa to an early grave?
Folk say Papa would beg, borrow, steal to pay his bill.
Richard Street
Hey Mama, folk say that Papa was never much on thinking,
Spent most of his time chasing women and drinking.
Damon Harris
Mama, I’m depending on you to tell me the truth.
Mama looked up with a tear in her eye and said,
All (lead Harris)
“Son, Papa was a rolling stone.
Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
And when he died, all he left us was alone.
Papa was a rolling stone.
Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
And when he died, all he left us was alone.
I said, Papa was a rolling stone. Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
And when he died, all he left us was alone.”

Here are the featured versions:

The Undisputed Truth (1971) • The Temptations (1972) • Stevie Wonder (1972) • Jay Berliner • Fausto Papetti (1973) • The Pioneers (1973) • Roy Ayers (1973) • The Jackson 5 (1973) • The Temptations (live, 1973) • Gene Ammons (1973) • Sidney, George and Jackie (1973) • 20th Century Steel Band (1975) • Bill Wolfer (1982) • Precious Wilson (1983) • Was (Not Was) (1990) • South Central Cartel (1992) • Isaac Hayes & Soul II Soul (1996) • Third World (1996) • Los Lobos (1999) • Paul Bollenback (1999) • Ray Brown, John Clayton, Christian McBride (2001) • Malik Adouane (2002) • Lee Ritenour feat Lisa Fischer & Chris Botti (2003) • Leningrad Cowboys (2003) • Rare Earth (2005) • Horace Andy (2005) • Gilbert Montagné (2006) • Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (2009) • Papa John Defrancesco (2011)

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And more pictures from Soul Train on my Flickr series.

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