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Any Major Billy Joel Songbook

May 9th, 2024 3 comments

Today, May 9, Billy Joel turns 75. He has had a long career, and hasn’t always been the most universally admired singer. But for about ten years, between 1973 and 1983, he had a run of producing excellent songs (amid a few duds, take a bow of shame, Only The Good Die Young). I regard 1977’s The Stranger as a minor masterpiece, and Turnstiles (1976), 52nd Street (1978) and An Innocent Man (1983) are superb albums. The other two efforts were more patchy, though both had great moments, too.

And his Songs In The Attic, released in 1981, is a perfect live album (though it is not a record of a single concert). According to the linernotes, Joel’s aim with the album was to recreate improved versions of songs which he thought had been inadequately produced on the studio albums. He succeeded in that aim on every song.

After 1983 Joel still produced the odd gem (Baby Grand, his duet with Ray Charles was one of them), but the magic was gone. And then came the horrible We Didn’t Start The Fire, a hit so big that it came to define his career, at least in part. Even Billy Joel thinks the song is a pile of crap.

Strangely, it seems difficult to cover Billy Joel, and few singers bothered to do so in the 1980s and ’90s. Some people have done so well, but good covers of his best-known songs are scarce. Look at the tracklisting and see what’s missing: The Stranger, My Life, It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me, You May Be Right, All For Leyna, Allentown, Pressure, Tell Her About It, Leave A Tender Moment Alone, An Innocent Man, And So It Goes, Baby Grand…

Say Goodbye To Hollywood has been covered by Ronnie Spector and the E-Street Band (it featured on the Roy Bittan Collection). It’s an okay cover. Bette Midler in 1978 gave it a jaunty vibe, thus totally misreading the song. Either failed to make the cut here.

Also missing is Uptown Girl, which has been covered by many acts — including Westlife, who had a megahit with it — but by none I’ve heard did so well. I don’t mind that; it’s not a song I particularly like.

Piano Man sneaks into the mix with a good Spanish version; I know of no particularly good English version. I thought maybe one of Billy Joel’s duets with Elton John on their live tours might do. They don’t.

Photo from the shoot for the covers of The Stranger. On the cover, they’re black & white.

 

Likewise, Just The Way You Are tends to be covered in disagreeable easy listening mode. Barry White had a hit with a soulified cover of the song, but I don’t like his self-conscious vocals on it. Just The Way You Are would have failed to appear here too but for the saving grace that is Isaac Hayes. Of course, Ike turns it into a long jam with a long spoken intro.

Indeed, the best interpretations here tend to be by soul acts. The Three Degrees take Stop In Nevada, a lesser known Billy Joel song from 1973’s Piano Man album, and turn it into a quite different number. Zhané turn the doo wop of The Longest Tine (from An Innocent Man) into a slow-burning ’90s R&B groove.

The Manhattans take all the fake gospel out of Everybody Has A Dream (originally on The Stranger) and show why it is really a soul song.

Margie Joseph’s cover of She’s Got A Way — the earliest cover in this collection, from 1974 — starts off like a straight cover, but soon she makes it her own song. Produced by Arif Mardin, listen to the backing singers, who include Cissy Houston and fellow Sweet Inspirations Myrna Smith and Sylvia Shemwell, Gwen Guthrie and Judy Clay (who was also Shemwell’ sister). The drummer is Bernard Purdie (see the Bernard Collection Vol. 1 and Vol. 2); on guitar are Cornell Dupree and Hugh McCracken, and the distinct keyboards are by Richard Tee.

Another old-school soul singer appears here with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Billy Griffin succeeded Smokey Robinson as lead singer of The Miracles (it’s his lead on hit like Love Machine). He was also the co-producer of Take That’s debut album.

The Songbook ends with a song performed by the man himself, recorded live at Carnegie Hall on June 3, 1977. Souvenir, originally on 1974’s Streetlife Serenade, comes from a terrific live set released with 2008’s “legacy edition” of The Stranger.

And my favourite Billy Joel song? Summer, Highland Falls — preferably the live version from Songs In The Attic.

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

1. Waylon Jennings – The Entertainer (1984)
2. The Manhattans – Everybody Has A Dream (1978)
3. Margie Joseph – He’s Got A Way (1974)
4. The Three Degrees – Stop In Nevada (1976)
5. Richard Marx – Miami 2017 (1993)
6. Lauren Wool – Summer, Highland Falls (2004)
7. Zhané – For The Longest Time (1997)
8. Beyoncé – Honesty (2009)
9. Joan Baez – Goodnight Saigon (1991)
10. Ana Belén – El hombre del piano (1981)
11. Angelo – I’ve Loved These Days (1978)
12. Lynda Carter – She’s Always A Woman (1978)
13. Isaac Hayes – Just The Way You Are (1978)
14. Barbra Streisand – New York State Of Mind (1977)
15. Paul Anka – I Go To Extremes (2007)
16. Ladysmith Black Mambazo feat. Billy Griffin – The River Of Dreams (2012)
17. Gregorian – Leningrad (2013)
18. Billy Joel – Souvenir (live) (1977)

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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
Hank Williams
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
Rolling Stones Vol. 2
Sly Stone
Steely Dan

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More Covers Mixes
More CD-R Mixes

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In Memoriam – April 2024

May 3rd, 2024 2 comments

Here are the music deaths of April, with two guitar legends leaving us.

The Guitar Man
For many boomers born in the 1940s and early ‘50s, the sound of Duane Eddy’s twangy guitar is an echo of their childhood. Between 1958 and 1962 Eddy had a string of hits in the US and UK with his mostly instrumental rock & roll tracks.

Eddy’s sound prefigured the surf rock of the early 1960s; The Beach Boys lifted his riff from Movin’ n’ Groovin’, released in 1958, for Surfin’ USA (Eddy himself borrowed it from Chuck Berry’s Brown Eyed Handsome Man).

Eddy scored seven US Top 20 hits, from 1958’s Rebel Rouser (#6) to 1962’s (Dance With The) Guitar Man (#12). The latter was also the final of his six UK Top 10 hits. It featured The Blossoms (Fanita James, Jean King and Darlene Love) on vocals.

The Guitar Genius
Few rock guitarists could create their own distinctive sound as Dickey Betts did. When you heard that sound, you knew it was Betts. Perhaps his most famous composition, certainly in Britain, is the instrumental Jessica, which he wrote as a long-time member of the Allman Brothers Band. The track was used as the theme tune for the hugely popular and lamentably reactionary Top Gear show.

With Duane Allman, Betts redefined how two lead guitars can work together — just witness their solos on the wonderful Blue Sky, which Betts also wrote and took lead vocals on. First Duane plays his great solo (said to be the last thing he recorded before he died), then Betts comes in with his solo, and it is every bit Duane’s equal. It featured on Any Major Guitar Vol. 2.

Betts also wrote and sang the band’s big breakthrough hit Ramblin’ Man (featured on Any Major Southern Rock Vol. 1). In between the Allman work, Betts released some solo stuff. In 2000 he was fired from the band over his drug and alcohol use. He would never play with the band or any of its members again. Drummer Jaimoe Johanson is now the last survivor of the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band.

The Croaker
Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, who has died at 87, belonged to the group of R&B singer-pianists from New Orleans who managed to cross over into the mainstream (though nobody did it as comprehensively as Fats Domino). He also recorded a number of country records.

Henry, whose nickname Frogman referred to his trademark croak, had a national Top 20 hit with his first record, Ain’t Got No Home, in 1956, while still a teenager.

He went on to have two further Top 20 hits, a cover of Bobby Charles’ (I Don’t Know Why) But I Do (US #4; UK #3) and You Always Hurt The One You Love (US #12, UK #6). The former featured on Any Major Hits 1961.

The hits dried up, but in 1964 he still supported The Beatles on 18 dates during their US tour. For almost two decades he performed nightly in New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. Henry, who was married seven times, performed right up to his end; he was billed to appear at last month’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Alas, he died from complications after surgery on April 7.

The Moody Blue
With the death of keyboard player Mike Pinder at 82, all five original members of The Moody Blues are now dead (of the classic late-1960s/early 1970s line-up Justin Hayward and John Lodge are still with us). Pinder was with the band until 1978, writing several songs on which he took lead vocals. The recited poetry on some Moody Blues songs, written by Graeme Edge, were recited by Pinder.

On the Moody Blues most famous song, Nights In White Satin, Pinder’s mellotron created the orchestral sounds in the main body of the song (that in the beginning, final chorus and fade-out on the LP version, which features here, were by the London Festival Orchestra). Pinder also recited the Edge’s poetry in the album version of the song.

After the Moody Blues, Pinder emigrated to the US, and worked for Atari in the area of music synthesis. In the 1990s he released a second solo album, as well as making spoken-word recordings for children’s albums.

The Limeliter
With the death at 91 of Alex Hassilev, all the founder members of the pivotal folk trio The Limeliters are now gone. The group’s baritone and banjo player was predeceased by Louis Gottlieb in 1996 and the fascinating Glenn Yarbrough in 2016.

Between 1959 and ‘65, the trio had a few hits, but they were more successful as an albums act, at a time when albums, as a commercial proposition, were more commonly the domain of jazz and musical soundtracks. The Limeliters incorporated a lot of humour into their act, and while they were of the left-leaning scene, their political satire was relatively restrained.

They broke up in the mid-‘60s, and Hassilev recorded solo, but reunited and remained a long-running and popular live act.

The Soul Brother
Five brothers from New Bedford, Massachusetts created some of the sweetest soul music in the 1970s. Tavares were the brothers Ralph (who died in December 2021), Tiny, Chubby, Butch and Pooch. In April we lost Arthur ‘Pooch’ Tavares, who was 81.

Pooch didn’t take lead vocals on the group’s biggest hits, such as Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel, Check It Out or More Than A Woman, but his harmonies formed an important part of the whole. Pooch took lead on songs such as Penny For Your Thoughts, Love Calls, Right Back In Your Arms and Never Say Never Again.

The Gospel Singer
Gospel-soul singer Mandisa, who has died at the horribly young age of 47, was a fine performer in her genre; certainly good enough to win a Grammy. But the moment she will probably be remembered for most is her calling out the ghastly Simon Cowell when she was a contestant on American Idol in 2005. Cowell had made several demeaning comments about Mandisa’s weight.

At one point she told Cowell: “What I want to say to you is that, yes, you hurt me and I cried and it was painful, it really was. But I want you to know that I’ve forgiven you and that you don’t need someone to apologise in order to forgive somebody. I figure that if Jesus could die so that all of my wrongs could be forgiven, I can certainly extend that same grace to you.”

Cowell duly apologised and said that he was “humbled”, though you may decide for yourself whether that guy has the capacity for sincerity and humility, or whether his expression of regret was simply performative.

Mandisa didn’t win the talent show but made a good career, which came to a halt in 2014 when she suffered depression following the death of a close friend. She wrote her autobiography and released her final album, Out Of The Dark, in 2017.As always, this post is reproduced in illustrated PDF format in the package, which also includes my personal playlist of the featured tracks. PW in comments.

Bill Briggs, keyboardist of garage rock band The Remains, on March 26
The Remains – Don’t Look Back (1966)

Michael Ward, 57, rock guitarist (The Wallflowers, School of Fish), on April 1
The Wallflowers – 6th Avenue Heartache (1996, as member on lead guitar)

Phil Delire, c.67, Belgian producer, on April 1

Sue Chaloner, 71, British-born half of Dutch duo Spooky & Sue, on April 1
Spooky & Sue – I’ve Got The Need (1975)

Jerry Abbott, 81, country singer-songwriter and producer, on April 2
Jerry Abbott – The Bottom Of The Bottle (1969, also as writer)
Pantera – Nothin’ On (But The Radio) (1983, as producer, engineer and manager)

John O’Leary, 79 British blues singer and harmonica player, on April 3

Albert Heath, 88, jazz drummer and composer, on April 3
Albert Heath – Dunia (1974, also as writer)
Heath Bros – Mellowdrama (1978, as member)

Joe Aitken, 79, Scottish folk singer, on April 3

Keith LeBlanc, 69, hip hop drummer and producer, on April 4
Malcolm X – No Sell Out (1983, as writer and producer)

Graeme Naysmith, 57, guitarist of English shoegaze band Pale Saints, on June 4
Pale Saints – Kinky Love (1991)

J. Snare, 64, keyboardist and songwriter with rock band Firehouse, producer, on April 5
Firehouse – When I Look Into Your Eyes (1992, also as co-writer)

Phil Nimmons, 100, Canadian free jazz clarinettist, on April 5

Rocket Norton, 73, former drummer of Canadian rock band Prism, on April 5
Prism – Don’t Let Him Know (1981)

Dutty Dior, 27, Norwegian rapper, on April 6

Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, 87, R&B singer, on April 7
Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry – Ain’t Got No Home (1956, also as writer)
Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry – You Always Hurt The One You Love (1961)
Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry – Hummin’ A Heartache (1967)

Joe Viera, 91, German jazz saxophonist and festival founder, on April 7

‘Seth’ Jon Card, 63, Canadian punk drummer, on April 8
SNFU – Black Cloud (1986, as member)

Sturgis Nikides, 66, rock guitarist, on April 9
John Cale – Mercenaries (Ready For War) (1980)

Muluken Melesse, 70, Ethiopian singer and drummer, on April 9

Max Werner, 70, singer and drummer of Dutch band Kayak, on April 9
Kayak – Ruthless Queen (1978, on drums)

Bob Lanese, 82, US-born trumpeter with the James Last Orchestra, on April 9
Lucifer’s Friend- Blind Freedom (1973, on trumpet)
BAP – Silver Un Jold (1996, on trumpet)

Dan Wallin, 97, soundtrack engineer, on April 10
Bob Dylan – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (1973, as engineer)
The Trammps – Disco Inferno (1977, Saturday Night Fever version, as engineer)

Mister Cee, 57, hip hop DJ and producer, announced April 10
Big Daddy Kane – Mister Cee’s Master Plan (1988, as DJ)

Park Bo-ram, 30, South Korean K-pop singer, on April 11

Enrique Llácer Soler, 89, Spanish jazz percussionist and composer, on April 11

Rico Wade, 52, part of producer group Organized Noize and songwriter, on April 12
En Vogue – Don’t Let Go (Love) (1996, as co-producer and co-writer)

Lucy Rimmer, British singer with The Fall, announced April 12
The Fall – Birthday (1996, on lead vocals)

Richard Horowitz, 75, film composer and actor, on April 13
Ryuichi Sakamoto – The Sheltering Sky Theme 1990, as co-composer)

Jun Mhoon, 69, session and touring drummer and producer, on April 13

Calvin Keys, 82, jazz guitarist, on April 14
Calvin Keys – Trade Winds (1974)

Ben Eldridge, 85, banjo player with bluegrass band The Seldom Scene, on April 14
The Seldom Scene – Muddy Water (1973)

Reita, 42, bassist of Japanese rock band The Gazette, on April 15

P.K. Dwyer, 74, jump and folk musician, on April 15
P.K. Dwyer & Donna Beck – Dandy Annie (1975)

Arthur ‘Pooch’ Tavares, 81, singer with soul band Tavares, on April 15
Tavares – Don’t Take Away The Music (1976)
Tavares – More Than A Woman (1977)
Tavares – My Love Calls (1979, on lead vocals)

Clorofila, 56, member of electronic-dance group Nortec Collective, on April 16
Nortec Collective – Olvidela compa (2005)

Topo Gioia, 72, Argentine-born Germany-based percussionist, on April 15

Gavin Webb, 77, bassist of Australian rock band The Masters Apprentices, on April 16
The Masters Apprentices – Buried And Dead (1967)

Dickey Betts, 80, guitar legend, singer and songwriter, on April 18
The Allman Brothers Band – Jessica (1973, also as writer)
The Allman Brothers Band – Ramblin’ Man (1973, on lead vocals and as writer)
Dickey Betts & Great Southern – Sweet Virginia (1977, also as writer)
The Allman Brothers Band – Brothers Of The Road (1981, also as co-writer)

Jack Green, 73, Scottish guitarist, bassist, singer and songwriter, on April 18
Jack Green – This Is Japan (1980)

Steve Kille, bassist of rock band Dead Meadow, on April 18
Dead Meadow – 1000 Dreams (2013)

Mandisa, 47, gospel-soul singer, on April 18
Mandisa – Only The World (2007)
Mandisa – Stronger (2011)

Eddie Sutton, 59, singer of thrash metal band Leeway, on April 19

Michael Cuscuna, 75, jazz producer, journalist, founder of Mosaic label, on April 19
Young-Holt Unlimited – Yes We Can (1972, as producer)

Kaj Chydenius, 84, Finnish singer-songwriter, on April 20

Tony Tuff, 69, Jamaican reggae singer (African Brothers), on April 20
Tony Tuff – Love Light Shining (1980)

Chris King, 32, rapper, shot dead on April 20

MC Duke, 58, British rapper and producer, on April 21
MC Duke – I’m Riffin’ (1989)

Jean-Marie Aerts, 72, guitarist of Belgian new wave band TC Matic, on April 21
TC Matic – Willie (1981)

KODA, 45, Ghanaian gospel-jazz singer, songwriter, musician and producer, on April 21

Alex Hassilev, 91, banjo player and baritone of folk group The Limeliters, on April 21
The Limeliters – The Hammer Song (1959)
The Limeliters – By The Risin’ Of The Moon (1963)
Alex Hassilev – Young Man (1965)

Chan Romero, 82, rock & roll singer-songwriter and guitarist, on April 22
Chan Romero – Hippy Hippy Shake (1959, also as writer)
Chan Romero – A Man Can’t Dog A Woman (1965, also as writer)

Florian Chmielewski, 97, polka accordionist and state senator, on April 23

Brian Gregg, 85, British rock & roll bass player, announced April 23
Johnny Kidd and The Pirates – Shakin’ All Over (1960, as member)

Fergie MacDonald, 86, Scottish folk accordionist, on April 23

Mike Pinder, 82, keyboard player, singer, songwriter with The Moody Blues, on April 24
The Moody Blues – The Night: Nights In White Satin (1967, on mellotrone, spoken words)
The Moody Blues – A Simple Game (1968, on lead vocals and as writer)
The Moody Blues – When You’re A Free Man (1972, on lead vocals and as writer) 

Robin George, 68, English rock guitarist, singer and producer, on April 26
Robin George – Heartline (1984)

Anderson Leonardo, 51, singer with Brazilian samba band Molejo, on April 26

Frank Wakefield, 89, bluegrass mandolin player, arranger and producer, on April 26
Red Allen, Frank Wakefield & The Kentuckians – New Camptown Races (1964)

Jean-Pierre Ferland, 89, Canadian singer-songwriter, on April 27
Jean-Pierre Ferland – Le chat du café des artistes (1970)

Maria Feliciana, 77, Brazilian singer, on April 27

Mac McKenzie, 63, singer of South African jazz-rock band The Genuines, on April 29
The Genuines – Struggle (1986)

Chris ‘Christian’ McClure, 80, Scottish singer and entertainer, on April 29
Chris McClure Section – You’re Only Passing Time (1971)

Duane Eddy, 86, guitar legend, on April 30
Duane Eddy – Movin’ n’ Groovin’ (1958)
Duane Eddy – Peter Gunn (1958)
Duane Eddy – (Dance With The) Guitar Man (1962, also as co-writer)
Duane Eddy & The Rebelettes – Play Me Like You Play Your Guitar (1975)

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