Archive for the ‘Song Swarm’ Category

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.”

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)


And more pictures from Soul Train on my Flickr series.


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Song Swarm: Blue Moon

January 31st, 2018 6 comments

It took the great songwriters Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers four attempts to arrive at the version of the song most people will know from the versions by The Marcels, Elvis Presley, Mel Tormé (my favourite, from 1961) or from the film Grease.

Rodgers and Hart originally wrote the song, with different lyrics, for a 1933 MGM film titled Hollywood Party, to be sung by Jean Harlow. The song, going by the working title Prayer (Oh Lord, Make Me A Movie Star), was never recorded, nor did Harlow appear in the film.

The following year, the songwriters dug up the song when MGM needed a number for the film Manhattan Melodrama, starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and William Powell. It was that movie, incidentally, which the bank robber John Dillinger watched before stepping out of the Chicago cinema to meet his death at the enthusiastic hands of law enforcement. With new lyrics, the song now was called It’s Just That Kind Of Play — and was cut from the movie. However, later in the production, a song was needed for a nightclub scene. Rogers decided that the melody was still good, and Hart wrote a third set of lyrics, under the title The Bad In Every Man. This one made it into the film, sung by Shirley Ross, who would go on to work and sing with Bob Hope on film a few times before retiring in 1945.

By now, MGM had appreciated the commercial potential for the melody, but wanted more romantic lyrics. Enter Lorenz Hart again, reluctantly providing a fourth set of words — those we are now familiar with. But even then, an introductory verse was excised, which proved a good decision. Blue Moon was first recorded on 16 November 1934 by Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra (named after the hotel where they once had a standing engagement), with the band’s saxophonist Kenny Sargent on vocals. Four days later, Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra recorded it, and from there on in, a host of performers and orchestras committed the song to record. The biggest hit of these was the version by Connie Boswell with the Victor Young Orchestra, recorded on 15 January 1935 as the theme for the radio show Hollywood Hotel (Boswell changed her first name to Connee only in the 1940s).

After a flurry of versions (including by Benny Goodman, Django Reinhardt and Al Bowlly), Blue Moon was intermittently recorded and also appeared in several movies, including as part of a Harpo interlude in the Marx Brothers’ 1939 film At The Circus. In the 1940s and ’50s it was mainly a jazz number, as an instrumental or in vocal versions, by the likes of Mel Tormé (who first recorded it in 1949), Ella Fitzgerald and Jo Stafford. Arguably it was Elvis Presley’s sombre 1956 version which appeared on his debut LP that returned Blue Moon to the world of popular music (the single of it was released between Hound Dog and Blue Suede Shoes). Sam Cooke released his version in 1958, as a b-side. It became a huge hit in the version by the multiracial doo wop band The Marcels, whose recording is probably the best known of the song.

As so often with popular covers that became huge hits, The Marcels recorded Blue Moon in 1961 as an afterthought. Producer Stu Phillips needed another song, one of the band members knew Blue Moon and taught it to the others, and in a matter of two takes the track had been laid down. The bom-bapa-bom intro came from a song the Marcels had in their live repertoire, which in turn was borrowed and sped up from The Collegians’ song Zoom Zoom Zoom. The Marcels were not the first to produce a doo wop version of Blue Moon, however: in 1956 The Emanons released a doo wop take on Josie Records.

The success of Blue Moon and follow-up single Heartaches (also a cover of a 1930s hit; they did a lot of that) led to extra touring for The Marcels. But in the South the band’s racial composition produced problems; those were the days when the dignified Nat ‘King’ Cole was prone to assault racists. Ultimately, the two white members of the quintet left the group.

When Rod Stewart recorded Blue Moon for his interminable series of American Songbook albums, he added something of a twist: a first verse in Rodgers and Hart’s original composition of Blue Moon which everybody else has ignored.


This collection of 38 versions covers all manner of approaches. There are the early jazz interpretations, most of them with vocals (though Gene Krupa, Django Reinhardt and in 1944 the Cozy Cole Allstars do it instrumentally). Then it became something of a torchsong number in the hands of jazzy crooners such as Mel Tormé, Billy Eckstine, Billie Holiday, Julie London and Ella Fitzgerald. Nat ‘King’ Cole weighed in with a more upbeat version. In 1960, Bert Kaempfert — the first producer of The Beatles — contrived an easy listening instrumental that is very much of its time.

Elvis added a rare falsetto (that take is later replicated in tribute by Chris Isaak and The Mavericks). Around the same time as Elvis, The Emanons recorded a doo wop version, which with Sam Cooke”s might have influenced that by The Marcels, which became a huge hit.

In 1970 Bob Dylan released a rather unexpected cover, with a unique arrangement. Another unexpected performer in this compilation is Robert de Niro, who performed it in the 1977 film New York, New York, in which Bob played a bandleader. Likewise, alt-country rockers My Morning Jacket are not the first band one would think of in a mix of covers of Blue Moon.

I’ve included a playlist file, which runs the versions in the chronological order, as listed below.

Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra (1934) • Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra  (1934) • Connie Boswell & Victor Young Orchestra  (1935) • Al Bowlly with the Ray Noble Orchestra (1935) • Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (1935) • Django Reinhardt  (1935) • Gene Krupa  (1939) • Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (1939) • Cozy Cole Allstars (1944) • Mel Tormé (1949) • Billy Eckstine (1949) • Nat ‘King’ Cole (1951) • Jo Stafford (1952) • Billie Holiday  (1952) • Oscar Peterson  (1954) • Ella Fitzgerald (1956) • Elvis Presley (1956) • The Emanons (1956) • Sam Cooke  (1958) •  Julie London  (1958) • Bert Kaempfert Orchester (1960) • Mel Tormé  (1960) • Frank Sinatra (1961) • The Marcels  (1961) • The Ventures (1961) • Bobby Vinton (1963) • Dean Martin  (1964) • Bob Dylan  (1970) • Spooky & Sue  (1975) • Robert de Niro & Mary Kay (1977) • Sha Na Na (1978) • Mark Isham with Tanita Tikaram  (1990) • Chris Isaak  (1994) • The Mavericks  (1995) • Tori Amos  (1996) • Vidal Brothers (1997) • Rod Stewart (2004) • My Morning Jacket  (2005)



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Song Swarm: Girl From Ipanema

August 11th, 2016 5 comments

ipanema covers gallery 3Once upon a time, The Girl From Ipanema was the ultimate square song. You’d hear it piped in the elevator before you entered the lounge where the piano player would tinkle out the most laid back song in pop history to the point of banality.

Today, the song is cool again. At the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in 2016, supermodel Gisele Bundchen came out strutting out to it. And this song swarm shows a fairly high number of recent covers for a song that resides recognisably in the 1960s. The Girl From Ipanema is cool again.

Bundchen got to play the girl from Ipanema, but the actual woman who inspired the song was not invited to the opening ceremony. And it’s not like Helô Pinheiro fell into obscurity after the poet Vini­cius de Moraes immortalised her in the song.

Songwriters Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes were sitting in the Veloso bar in the Ipanema beachfront district of Rio one winter’s day in 1962 when they noticed a pretty school girl — Heloísa Pinheiro — walking past them in her jacket-and-tie school uniform, and later in her bikini on the way to the beach. And day by day, they’d see her again, passing by and being observed by the two middle-aged men. And sometimes the 15-year-old would come into the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother.

Heloísa Pinheiro, the inspiration for The Girl Fom Ipanema, on the beach.

Folklore has it that the men wrote this new, yet untitled song right there in the bar. In truth, they wrote it separately; Jobim working out the melody meticulously on his piano; de Moraes investing his poetic energy in creating that bitter-sweet erotic yearning of man for the unattainable — a melancholy underscored by the rising minor key changes in the “Oh, but he watches so sadly” set of lines. And so the song that started life as “Girl Passing By” emerged as Garota de Ipanema — The Girl From Ipanema.

The newly-hatched song was first performed at Rio’s Bon Gourmet restaurant, with the singer João Gilberto on vocals. Gilberto also recorded an unreleased version before it was cut on record by a vocal group called Os Cariocas (which means The Rio de Janeireans) and then by bossa nova singer Pery Ribeiro and the otherwise quite forgotten Tamba Trio. These four early versions are feature here. They are not bad, but it would take a stroke of genius to create the template from which almost every other version would flow.

In 1963 the jazz saxophonist Stan Getz had become obsessed with that new bossa nova sound from Brazil, and invited its pioneers, Tom Jobim and João Gilberto, to New York for an album of collaborations. Lyricist Norman Gimbel — the only famous songwriter to have corresponded with this blog — was called in to write English lyrics for the lilting tune about the girl from — oh, he was going to change that unpronounceable name. As Jobim remembered it years later in conversation with the music journalist James Woodall — and Gimbel might have different recall — it took a taxi ride in bitterly cold New York to persuade the American lyricist that firstly, a word such as Ipanema existed, and secondly to leave the name of the beach in the lyrics, for “maybe one day everyone will know about it”.

ipanema covers gallery 2And so Gilberto, Jobim and Getz found themselves in the studio with Gimbel’s reworked lyrics. The problem was that Gilberto’s English wasn’t really up for the new version. So his wife Astrud was roped in — not quite as much by chance as myth would have it, and she certainly wasn’t the novice of legend. Although not yet a professional singer, Astrud had sung with João before, and she was in the studio with a view of singing something. That this something was The Girl From Ipanema was the stroke of genius. Astrud’s cool voice gave the song an innocent sexuality, as if she was the girl from Ipanema singing about herself in the third person. And even as she made the song more sexual, by dint of being a sung by a woman the lyrics lost the innate creepiness of a middle-aged man lusting after a teenage girl.

The Girl From Ipanema was a big hit. Released on the Verve label, it peaked at #5 on the Billboard charts and won a Grammy. And it became an instant standard. Even Mrs Miller did a butchered version (it is here, if you dare to listen). Frank Sinatra recorded it with João Gilberto to great effect, as did fellow crooner Sammy Davis Jr, helped by Count Basie. And Lou Rawls’ take might be the best of the lot. Whereas Henry Mancini turned it into revoltingly cheesy easy listening. In Brazil the Astrud Gilberto template apparently didn’t hold: the 1965 version of by the flamboyant bossa nova singer Cauby Peixoto, who died in May this year, pays no mind to what came before.

What became of the protagonists in this story? Astrud had a moderately successful singing career, though she never shook off the Ipanema girl burden. She unofficially retired in 2002. Aged 76, she is still alive. Stan Getz, whose affair with Astrud put an end to his working relationship with João for the next 12 years, died in 1991. Jobim went three years later, shortly after finishing his final album, Antonio Brasileiro. He died a national treasure, having also written such Brazilian classics as Desafinado and One Note Samba. João Gilberto, who like Gimbel is still alive, is still recording [Edit: He died at 88 on 6 July 2019). Vinicius de Moraes died in 1980 at the age of 66.

And the Girl from Ipanema, Heloísa Pinheiro, who wasn’t invited to the opening ceremony of the Olympics where the famous song about her was highlighted as a legacy of Brazilian culture? She had stints as an actress and as a model, posing twice nude in Playboy (in 1987 and again 2003, with her daughter!).

In 2001 the heirs of the composers sued Pinheiro for naming her boutique Garota de Ipanema, arguing that her inspiration of the song was just incidental and she therefore had no right to use the song title for her store. Pinheiro, who received widespread public support, won the court case, having cited a press release by Jobim (who had been the best man at her wedding) and de Moraes in which the composers named her the original “Girl from Ipanema”.ipanema covers gallery 1And so here are 69 versions of The Girl From Ipanema/Garota de Ipanema. To unpack the lot you will need both files.

1962: João Gilberto Gilberto • Os Cariocas 1963: Pery Ribeiro • Tamba Trio • Getz/Gilberto • Antonio Carlos Jobim 7 Anita O’Day 1964: Henri Mancini • Andy Williams & Antonio Carlos Jobim • Oscar Peterson Trio • Peggy Lee • Stan Getz Quartet feat. Astrud Gilberto (Newport Jazz Festival) • Jacqueline Francois (as La Fille D’ipanema) • Little Anthony & The Imperials • Sarah Vaughan • Julie London • Sacha Distel & Dionne Warwick • Vince Guaraldi & Bona Sete • Nancy Wilson • Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass 1965: Cauby Peixoto • Nat King Cole • Sammy Davis & Count Basie • Charlie Byrd • Petula Clark • Esther Phillips 1966: Walter Wanderley • Lou Rawls • Shearing Quintet • Cher • Supremes • Chad & Jeremy • Freddie McCoy • Chris Montez • Mrs. Elva Miller 1967: Baden Powell • Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim 1968: Erroll Garner • Lena Horne 1969: Denny McLain 1970: Roger Williams 1971: Nara Leao 1972: Percy Faith and his Orchestra 1974: Toots Thielemans 1975: Eartha Kitt • John Holt 1976: Gilla (as Machen wir’s in Liebe) • Giovanni Fenatio  (as La Ragazza di Ipanema)  1977: Astrud Gilberto (Disco Version) 1981: Ella Fitzgerald 1983: Vinicius e Toquinho 1990: Nigel Kennedy 1996: Teddy Edwards & Houston Person • Crystal Waters 1997: Al Jarreau & Oleta Adams • Salena Jones 1998: Gabriela Anders 2000: Rosemary Clooney feat. Diana Krall 2001: Walter Bell 2003: Lisa Ono 2005: Dan Gibson’s Solitudes 2008: Eliane Elias 2011: Placido Domingo • Amy Winehouse • Pat Metheny 2013: Andrea Bocelli

GET IT: Part 1 & Part 2

Previous Song Swarms:
By The Time I Get To Phoenix
Hound Dog
These Boots Are Made For Walking
Sunday Morning Coming Down
Like A Rolling Stone
Papa Was A Rolling Stone
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Over The Rainbow
Georgia On My Mind
Blue Moon
Light My Fire

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Song Swarm: By The Time I Get To Phoenix

July 7th, 2016 21 comments

This is a reworked and extended version of a post from March 2010. Back then it was 23 stops to Phoenix; now we have 81.


By The Time I Get To Phoenix is not even my favourite Jimmy Webb song, much as I love it “” there are songs on the Jimmy Webb Collection Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 I love more. But I cannot think of many other songs in pop music that traverse interpretations and genres as effortlessly as this. Here I am offering a bunch of versions that cover pop, country, soul, jazz and easy listening.

By The Time I Get To Phoenix sounds like it belongs in any of these genres. And even when interpreted by artists from the same genre, it is an immensely flexible a song. Just compare the soul versions by the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Erma Franklin, Isaac Hayes, the Intruders, Lloyd Price, the Mad Lads, Billie Stewart, William Bell, The Escorts, and New York City. So I think one can listen to all the versions here without necessarily getting bored.

The first version of the song was recorded by Webb”s mentor, Johnny Rivers, in 1966. Since then it has been covered many time. Apparently there are more than a thousand versions of it.

Rivers” version made no impact, nor did a cover by Pat Boone. The guitarist on Boone”s version, however, picked up on the song and released it in 1967. Glen Campbell scored a massive hit with the song, even winning two Grammies for it. In quick succession, Campbell completed a trilogy of geographically-themed songs by Webb, with the gorgeous Wichita Lineman (written especially for Campbell) and the similarly wonderful Galveston.

Another seasoned session musician took Phoenix into a completely different direction (if you will pardon the unintended pun). Isaac Hayes had heard the song, and decided to perform it as the Bar-Keys” guest performer at Memphis” Tiki Club, a soul venue. He started with a spontaneous spoken prologue, explaining in some detail why this man is on his  journey. At first the patrons weren”t sure what Hayes was doing rapping over a repetitive chord loop. After a while, according to Hayes, they started to listen. At the end of the song, he said, there was not a dry eye in the house (“I”m gonna moan now”¦”). As it appeared on Ike”s 1968 Hot Buttered Soul album, the thing went on for 18 glorious minutes.

The fine version of soul singer Doug Haynes changes the perspective: here she has gone to Phoenix, and Doug is making the call where the phone is just keeps ringing off the wall. Wanda Jackson“s version, titled By The Time You Got To Phoenix, is really an answer record (turns out, she is not that unhappy to see the dude gone). The Harden Trio don’t change the lyrics, as Haynes does, but offer the twist of the female voices singing from their perspective and the male lead taking the traditional leavers’ narrative.


There are those who scoff that it is physically impossible to complete the song”s itinerary “” Phoenix, Albuquerque, Oklahoma “” in a day. But I think the itinerary makes perfect sense, presuming it starts in Los Angeles.

He gets to Phoenix when she is normally getting up from bed. From LA to Phoenix it”s about six hours drive. Assuming she rises around 6am, our friend left LA at around midnight. By the time he hits Albuquerque, our narrator thinks she”s about to have lunch; more or less at 1pm. From Phoenix to Abuquerque it”s another six hours. That gave our friend time to spare to reach the city of Walter White. By the time he makes Oklahoma she”ll be sleeping. The distance from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City (guessing that this is his destination) is about eight hours drive. Setting aside aside breaks for food, rest and ablutions, by the time he hits Oklahoma it will be past midnight, when she will indeed be having a tear-interrupted sleep. The timeline fits.

One act that was not going to make any such journeys any time soon was The Escorts. These soul singers were incarcerated in a New Jersey jail. In 1968 one inmate, Reginald Haynes, started a singing group which would become The Escorts. They were discovered by producers and went on to record two albums. Their version of Phoenix is from the first of these, 1973″s All We Need Is Another Chance which became a hit, selling 300,000 copies. After his release, Haynes tried to launch a solo career; that attempt was cut short when he was unjustly convicted of a crime he didn”t commit. Read the remarkable story here.

Back to the music, I do like the well-executed 1930s radio pastiche by The Templeton Twins. And the best individual moment in this collection might be The Pips responding to Gladys Knight‘s announcement that she was leaving with a sad, “Oh no” on their live version from 1970’s All In A Knight’s Work LP. Also check out Jermaine and the Jackson 5 doing the song on The Tonight Show in 1974; Jermaine takes the lead and Michael harmonises.

So, apart from Isaac Hayes’, which version is your favourite? I think I like Al Wilson’s best. Or the Four Tops’. Or Erma Franklin’s. Or Pete Shelley’s discoish take. Or Nick Cave’s. Or Thelma Houston’s majestic version from 2007. Or, of course, Glen Campbell’s. Or maybe the 2010 version by the song’s writer, with Glenn Campbell on backing vocals and, I think, Mark Knopfler on guitar.


The collection comes in two parts. You will need both. PW = amdwhah

1966: Johnny Rivers “¢ 1967: Glen Campbell, Santo & Johnny “¢ 1968: Vikki Carr, Marty Wilde, Georgie Fame, The Lettermen, Marty Robbins, Roy Drusky, Charlie Rich, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Mills Brothers, Four Tops, Joe Tex, Ace Cannon, Roger Miller, Harry Belafonte, Andy Williams, Nat Adderley, Johnny Mathis, Al Wilson, Herbie Mann, Solomon Burke, Raymonde Singers, Eydie Gorme,  Peggy Lee, Toots Thielemans, The Magnificent Men, The Intruders, The Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett, Wanda Jackson, The Harden Trio, Frankie Laine, Gloria Lynne,  Jack Jones, Tony Mottola with The Groovies, Ray Price, Bobby Goldsboro, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra “¢ 1969: José Feliciano, Dorothy Ashby, Billy Stewart,  Oscar Peterson, Burl Ives, Andy Kim, A.J. Marshall, Erma Franklin, Henry Mancini, Isaac Hayes, Lloyd Price, The Springfield Rifle, Family Circle, The Mad Lads, The Dells (in a medley with Wichita Lineman), Al Caiola, William Bell “¢ 1970: Stevie Wonder, Autumn & Barrie McAskill,  The Manhattans, The Templeton Twins, The Ventures, Jimmy Smith, Main Ingredient (in a medley with Wichita Lineman),Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Willie Tee “¢ 1971: Jimmy Webb,  Fabulous Souls “¢ 1972: Shirley Scott “¢ 1973: New York City, The Escorts “¢ 1974: Jermaine and the Jackson 5, Doug Haynes “¢ 1975: Peter Shelley”¢ 1976: Junior Mance Trio “¢ 1977: Isaac Hayes & Dionne Warwick (with I Say A Little Prayer) “¢ 1986: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds “¢ 1995: Reba McEntire “¢ 2007: Thelma Houston “¢ 2010: Jimmy Webb

GET IT: Part 1 & Part 2

Previous Song Swarms:
Hound Dog
These Boots Are Made For Walking
Sunday Morning Coming Down
Like A Rolling Stone
Papa Was A Rolling Stone
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Over The Rainbow
Georgia On My Mind
Blue Moon
Light My Fire


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Song Swarm – Hound Dog

June 26th, 2014 10 comments

Hound Dog gallery_1

RCA Studios, New York. Monday, July 2, 1956. Elvis turned up for his third and final recording session there to lay down the tracks for Hound Dog, the song’s eventual b-side, Don’t Be Cruel, and the ballad Any Way You Want Me.

By now, Elvis had become confident enough to take charge of the session, for all intents and purposes acting as the producer. He had decided which songs to record, and would run through as many takes as necessary for the perfect recording. Occasionally, when a backing musician would make a mistake, he would sing a note out of key or commit another error, forcing another take. In the seven-hour session, 31 takes of Hound Dog were recorded (and 28 of Don’t Be Cruel). Elvis listened to them all, narrowed down the choices. Eventually, he settled for Take 18 of Hound Dog (some sources say it was number 28, others yet suggest the final one).

Before the session, the story goes, RCA had procured the first recording of the Leiber/Stoller composition, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton’s blues rendition from 1953, to know what their star was planning to record. Everybody was aghast: they thought it was horrible, and were unable to comprehend why Elvis would want to record that, as Gordon Stoker of the vocal backing group The Jordanaires later recalled. Stoker and the other puzzled people in the studio obviously did not watch TV.

Almost a month before the recording session, on June 5, Elvis had performed the song, hip-swivellingly, on The Milton Berle Show, more or less the way he was going to record it on July 2. DJ Fontana had already introduced the drum roll between the verses, and Scotty Moore the guitar solo. He performed the song again on TV the day before the recording session: the performance on The Steve Allen Show when, wearing a tuxedo, Presley had to sing the song to a bemused, top-hatted basset hound. Elvis was a good sport about it, at one point even laughing at the absurd set-up. He later recalled it as the most peculiar experience of his career — and that presumably includes all those bizarre movies! The Berle performance, seen by a reported 40 million people, had created a storm of protest by the guardians of morality at Elvis’ “vulgarity”. Could anybody really have been so oblivious as to regard Rainey’s record as a blueprint, as if Elvis had no idea what to do with the song?




The truth is that Elvis didn’t base his version on Big Mama Thornton at all. In fact, the song had crossed the tracks within weeks of Thornton’s record, with versions by country acts such as Eddie Hazelwood, Betsy Gay, Bob Wills, Jack Turner and Billy Starr. But it was a 1955 cover by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys which provided the template for Elvis’ interpretation. Elvis had seen the Italo-American band during his discouraging concert engagement in Vegas in April/May 1956. Having ascertained that Bell wouldn’t mind, Elvis quickly included their reworked Hound Dog in his setlist.

Elvis probably was aware of Thornton’s version, and perhaps heard some of the country covers that had been released; one source says Elvis was familiar with it already in 1953. But Elvis’ Hound Dog is entirely a cover of the Bellboys’ template, incorporating their sound and modified lyrics (“Cryin’ all the time” for Thornton’s “Snoopin” round my door”, “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine” for “You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more” and so on). Happily Elvis dispensed with the lupine howls. What he produced was arguably the first ever punk song.

Bell and his band enjoyed a mostly undistinguished recording career, with only one real hit, Giddy Up A Ding Dong, which was much bigger in Europe than it was in the US, in 1956. Adapted lyrics notwithstanding, Bell received no writing credit for Elvis’ Hound Dog. The writing credit remained entirely with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were still R&B-obsessed teenagers when in 1952 they were commissioned by the producer Johnny Otis to write a song for Big Mama Thornton. They did so in 15 minutes. Otis claimed co-authorship, and his co-credit appeared on the label of the Thornton single. Leiber & Stoller fought him in court, and won. Thornton’s recording became a #1 hit on the R&B charts in 1953. Her 12-bar blues inspired a plagiarised response song, which turned out to be the first ever record released by Sun Records, Sam Phillips’ label which would go on to discover Elvis.


freddie bell


Three years after Thornton’s hit, Stoller honeymooned on board of the sinking Andrea Doria. His life was spared. Returning to New York, he was greeted at the pier by Leiber with the news that Hound Dog had become a smash hit. “Mama Thornton?” Stoller asked. “No, some white kid named Elvis Presley,” replied Leiber.

The songwriters, R&B purists both, resented Elvis’ version. When, inevitably, they were commissioned to write for Elvis a year later, for the Jailhouse Rock film, they were not particularly happy. As a form of revenge, Leiber wrote for Elvis to sing this line in the title track: “You’re the cutest little jailbird I ever did see.” The prison in Jailhouse Rock was not co-ed. When they finally met Elvis, the songwriters realised that Elvis was a kindred spirit who genuinely shared their love for R&B, and they became good friends. Stoller even appeared in the film, as a piano player.



There have been many cover versions of Hound Dog, drawing from both Thornton’s and Presley’s templates (but not from the country versions that came after the former and before the latter). The division is fairly predictably between those who in the lyrics are ejecting a freeloader and those who note in the titular canine an Elmer Fuddian rate of failure in hunting down rabbits.

Blues aficionadoes like Eric Clapton will opt for the Big Mama original, with its coherent lyrics in which the term “hound dog” serves as a euphemism for something quite rude — “something like motherfucker”, according to Leiber. The Elvis fans tend to pay tribute to his doggerel version — and to Presley. In his live version John Lennon drawls “Elvis, I love ya”. The Rolling Stones in their horrible 1978 live version from Memphis, provide an example of when a tribute is exactly the opposite.

Jerry Lee Lewis borrows from Elvis’ sound but goes with Thornton’”s lyrics. Conversely, blues master Albert King‘s version is melodically closer to Thornton, but uses the Presley lyrics. And the Everly Brothers employ a martial beat.

Pat Boone, on an Elvis tribute album whose cover references the gold suit sleeve, croons to a pseudo baroque backing before shifting gear into what might be called an easy listening rock & roll groove which even by 1963 would have sounded hopelessly dated. At one point Patrick sings one of the aggressively ungrammatical lines of the Presley version, and then “corrects” it: “You have not never caught a rabbit and you aren’t no friend of mine.” One suspects that Boone did not cherish the song. Rockin’ Rocky Rockwell also betrayed no fondness for the song in what appears to be a mocking take on the Lawrence Welk Show in 1956. Chubby Checker‘s hound dog is — obviously — “twisting all the time”.

If the twisting and surfing versions provide a time capsule, then so might the 1977 version by the Puhdys, East Germany’s leading rock band at the time. One might imagine Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev boogying along to it after a hard day of watching goose-stepping soldiers and interminable processions of tanks on the International Day of Glorious Proletarian Combine Harvester Soviet Friendship Parade.

Hound Dog gallery_2Obviously Shakin’ Stevens did a version, and does well with a rough-vocaled uptempo boogie treatment, also from 1977. T. Rex‘s outtake came out only in 1993; I don’t know when it was recorded, but it regrettably defies all glam expectations as Bolan comes across all whiney folk-singer with Hound Dog”.

Sigue Sigue Sputnik did their version in 2001, performing it in the way their 1980s incarnation might have expected music to sound like in the year 2000, while Tom Jones‘ take sounds exactly as you’d think it would, Likewise both Jimi Hendrix versions sound as you might imagine them to, even if they are very different from one another (1969’s Hound Dog Blues features Traffic’s Chris Woods on sax).

Among the best re-imaging is, surprisingly, James Taylor‘s 2009 take. I rather like Betty Everett‘s soul cover (like Taylor’s, using Thornton lyrics) from 1964’s It’s In His Kiss LP, or the burning southern soul track by Ruby Andrews, whose invitation to “wag your tail” might mean exactly what we think it does. But the best version of Hound Dog is the one which Elvis Presley recorded that summer’s day in 1956 in New York, Take Number 18.

And count the number of versions in which some barking, woofing or howling takes place — starting with the original.

Big Mama Thornton (1953) • Billy Starr (1953) • Eddie Hazelwood (1953) • Betsy Gay (1953) • Jack Turner (1953) • Little Esther (Phillips, 1953) • Freddie Bell & the Bellboys (1956) • Elvis Presley (Milton Berle Show, June 5, 1956) •  Elvis Presley (Steve Allen Show, July 1, 1956) • Elvis Presley (1956) • Rockin’ Rocky Rockwell (1956) • Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps (1956) • Jimmy Breedlove (1958) • Chubby Checker (1960) • Sammy Davis Jr (as part of a medley with ‘What’d I Say, 1961) • Don Lang & The Twisters (1962) •  Pat Boone (1963) • Betty Everett (1964) • The Surfaris (1964) • Little Richard (1964) • Big Mama Thornton with Buddy Guy (1965) • The Easybeats (1966) • Chuck Jackson (1966) • Duffy’s Nucleus (1967) • Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967) • Jimi Hendrix (as Hound Dog Blues, 1969) • Albert King (1969) • Ruby Andrews (1972) • Conway Twitty (1972) • John Lennon (live 1972) • John Entwistle (1973) • Jerry Lee Lewis (1974) • Elvis Presley (live in Chicago, November 1976) • Puhdys (1977) • Shakin’ Stevens (1977) • The Rolling Stones (live in Memphis, 1978) • Sha-Na-Na (1978) • Scorpions (1978)• James Booker (1982) • Link Wray (1982) • Junior Wells (1983) • Tales Of Terror (1984) • Hugo Strasser und sein Tanzorchester (1978) • Lonnie Mack (as Hound Dog Man, with Stevie Ray Vaughan Man, 1985) • The Delmonas (1986) • Arthur Brown (1988) • Eric Clapton (1989) • Jeff Beck (1992) • Eddy Clearwater (1992) • Koko Taylor (1993) • T.Rex (released 1993) • Carl Perkins (1994) • Bryan Adams (1994) • Susan Tedeschi (1995) • Tom Jones (1999) • The Residents (2000) • Etta James (2000) • Status Quo (2002) • Sigue Sigue Sputnik (2002) • Robert Palmer (2003) • The Stray Cats (2004) • Macy Gray (2004) • James Taylor (2009)

(PW in comments)*

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Song Swarm – Sunny

May 15th, 2014 2 comments


Bobby Hebb, the writer of “Sunny”, had a quite remarkable early life, which after 72 years came to an end in 2010. Born to blind parents, both musicians, Nashville-born Robert Von Hebb progressed from being a child musician to becoming one of the earlier black musicians to play at the Grand Ole Opry, as part of Ray Acuff”s band. In the early 1960s Hebb even had a minor hit with a country standard recorded by Acuff, “Night Train To Memphis”. When “Sunny” became a hit in 1966, Hebb was touring with The Beatles “” he was among the support acts at their last ever concert, in San Francisco”s Candlestick Park.

The genesis for “Sunny” was in a dual tragedy: the assassination of John F Kennedy and the following day the fatal stabbing in a mugging of Hebb”s older brother Harold, with whom he had performed in childhood. The song was a conscious statement of meeting the trauma of these events with a defiantly positive disposition. In 2007, he told the Associated Press about writing Sunny: “I was intoxicated. I came home and started playing the guitar. I looked up and saw what looked like a purple sky. I started writing because I”d never seen that before.”


Still, it would be almost three years before Hebb would release the song himself “” and een then he wasn”t the first. In a quite curious twist, it was first recorded in Japanese by the singer Mieko “Miko” Hirota, who had made her debut in her home country in 1962 with a cover of Connie Francis” “Vacation”. Within three years, the by now 18-year-old singer became the first Japanese artist to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival (the line-up of which included Frank Sinatra), having just recently discovered her talent for the genre thanks to a chance meeting with American jazz promoter George Wein. The same year, in October 1965, she was the first of many to release “Sunny”, scoring a hit with it in Japan with her rather lovely jazzy version.

By the time Hebb got around to releasing it, apparently having recorded it as an after-thought at the end of a session. Hebb”s rightly became the definitive and most successful version. Apparently it is the 18th most performed song in the BMI catalog.

There”d be no Song Swarm of 65 songs of “Sunny” was not so adaptable. Of those, 45 were recorded within the first two years of its release. The genres cover pop (from Georgie Fame over Cher to Manfred Mann), soul (Marvin Gaye, Billy Preston “” especially super “” Stevie Wonder, Wilson Picket etc), country (Eddy Arnold, Floyd Cramer), jazz (Les McCann, Wes Montgomery, Young-Holt Trio), easy listening (Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Andy Williams), Latin (Willie Bobo, Trini Lopez, Johnny Colón) “” and a few actors got into it as well: Robert Mitchum plays it straight, Leonard Nimoy tries to play it straight, and Bill Cosby plays it”¦well, that whole LP is bizarre, though his “Sunny” is among the least peculiar on it.


1966: Mieko Hirota “¢ Bobby Hebb “¢ Les McCann (Part 1) “¢ Georgie Fame “¢ Young-Holt Trio “¢ Cher “¢ Chris Montez “¢ Willie Bobo “¢ Wes Montgomery (alternate take) “¢ Del Shannon “¢ The Walker Brothers “¢ Marvin Gaye “¢ Chuck Jackson “¢ Billy Preston “¢ 1967: Andy Williams “¢ Booker T. & The MG’s “¢ Dusty Springfield “¢ The Ventures “¢ Herbie Mann & Tamiko Jones “¢ Johnny Rivers “¢ Blossom Dearie “¢ Robert Mitchum “¢ Wilson Pickett “¢ Frank Sinatra & Duke Ellington “¢ 1968: The Four Tops “¢ Manfred Mann “¢ Bill Cosby “¢ Eddy Arnold “¢ Floyd Cramer “¢ Mary Wells “¢ Leonard Nimoy “¢ Stevie Wonder  “¢ Frankie Valli “¢ José Feliciano “¢ Maxine Brown “¢ Shirley Bassey “¢ Nancy Wilson “¢ Brother Jack & David Newman “¢ George Benson “¢ Trini Lopez “¢ Johnny Colón and his Orchestra “¢ Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers “¢ 1969: James Brown & Marva Whitney “¢ Electric Flag “¢ Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Bra “¢ 1970: Ella Fitzgerald “¢ Tom Jones & Ella Fitzgerald “¢ Melba Moore “¢ “¢ “¢ Pat Martino (1972) “¢ Yambú (1975) “¢ Bobby Hebb ’76 (1976) “¢ Boney M (1976) “¢ Hampton Hawes (1978) “¢ Stanley Jordan (1986) “¢ Joe McBride (1992) “¢ Nick Cave (1995) “¢ The Head Shop (1996) “¢ Jamiroquai (2000) “¢ John Schroeder Orchestra (2000) “¢ Paul Carrack (2003) “¢ Noon (2005) “¢ Elisabeth Kontomanou (2005) “¢  PillowTalk (2012) “¢ Hippie Sabotage (2013)

Song Swarm – Sunny – Part 1
Song Swarm – Sunny – Part 2
(PW here)


Previous Song Swarms:
These Boots Are Made For Walking
Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down
Like A Rolling Stone
Papa Was A Rolling Stone
Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Over The Rainbow
Georgia On My Mind
Blue Moon
Light My Fire

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Song Swarm: These Boots Are Made For Walking

March 10th, 2014 18 comments


Two years ago I posted a mini-song swarm of 11 versions of These Boots Are Made For Walking. I have long planned to revise that post with a proper song swarm. A request by a reader to re-post the link prompted me to spent my Sunday afternoon putting that plan into action, with now 31 versions. I keep the original post’s comments for some of the tracks intact, and added a couple more.

The melody of These Boots Are Made For Walking does not really lend itself to great radical reinterpretation in the way previous song-swarmed songs “” such as Light My Fire, Georgia On My Mind, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Over The Rainbow and Blue Moon “” do. Instead of allowing itself to be remoulded, These Boots invites idiosyncratic deliveries, partly because the song is something of a novelty number (and, of course, a great pop song with fantastic lyrics). Many versions retain the quite bizarre saxophone outro, the brainwave of the original arranger, Billy Strange, who died in February 2010 at the age of 84.

So many of the covers here are rather (or very) unusual. Some are fantastic (Ella!). Not all of them are good, and a few might make your ears bleed (step foward Crispin Glover, David Hasselhoff and especially Darrell & Teddy). But all are, I think, worth hearing at least once.

Lee Hazlewood – These Boots Are Made For Walkin” (1966)
The great song by the guy who wrote it. Hazlewood introduces it as “a little song bout boots and a darlin” named Nancy”, and as he sings it he ad libs a few lines about the production of Nancy Sinatra”s version (“and here is the part of the record where everybody said “˜oh it can”t be number one””).

Crispin Hellion Glover – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1989)
In 1989 George McFly released one of the most demented albums I have ever heard. Bizarre spoken bits intersperse some of the worst singing (more like whining) ever committed to record. And all that performed with apparent seriousness. Ironists have ordained the unsnappily-titled The Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution. The Solution = Let It Be. a cult album, but the real question is how anybody thought it would be a good idea to release it in the first place. Glover”s vocals of These Boots are delivered through the medium of crying. The arrangement is quite good though, and the trumpet riff at the end is brilliant. An appalling version which nonetheless every music collection should include.

British Electric Foundation – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1982)
Paula Yates, the former Mrs Bob Geldof and mother of whichever strange-named daughters of theirs are celebrities now, was a British TV presenter. But in 1982 she appeared on the British Electric Foundation”s modestly titled album Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One, which also featured a pre-comeback-in-fishnets Tina Turner. BEF was a project of future Heaven 17 members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, and on evidence of their version of These Boots, the BEF”s claim of quality and distinction might have been exaggerated. The arrangement is sparse, dominated by a funk guitar, occasional backing interjections which Duran Duran possibly borrowed for Wild Boys, and some fun with the synth. And then there are the vocals by Yates, who died in 2000 at 41. Let”s just say that there were good reasons why she did not pursue a career in singing.

Teddy and Darrel – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1966)
Teddy and Darrell are believed to be Theodore Charach, a film scriptwriter and producer, and Mike Curb. The latter is the ultra-conservative producer and record company executive on the MGM label who once fired a roster of artists whom he knew, or suspected, to be drug users, including Frank Zappa (who himself used to dismiss people for using, or even singing about, drugs) and the Velvet Underground. Whoever Teddy and Darrell were, they made an album of intentionally horrible spoof of pop hits. Regardless of your level of irony, their version of These Boots is one of the worst records ever, with one, presumably Teddy, half-singing in a camp voice and the other fool groaning in way that suggests he had listened to too many Peter Sellers records, and not learnt a trace of comedy from them.

Symarip – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1969)
Their name might sound like a piece of computer Shareware that is advertised as free but once installed reveals itself to contain all sorts of limitations that render it useless for your purpose unless you buy the full version. But Symarip was in fact a ska-reggae group from Jamaica recorded in Britain and released an LP titled Skinhead Moonstomp before decamping under a different name to West Germany. Symarip, an anagram of their alternative moniker, The Pyramids, were one of the earliest bands to serve the skinhead market, long before shaved heads became associated with neo-Nazis. Nevertheless, the adapted lyrics hint at a culture in which recreational violence was not entirely condemned: “These boots are made for stamping” indeed.

Eileen - Ces Bottes sont faites pour marcher (1966)
Eileen – Die stiefel sind zum wandern (1966)
The French and German versions of These Boots, delivered by French singer Eileen. The lyrics and arrangement are faithful to the original. “Stiefel, seit bereit? Wandert!”

Loretta Lynn – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1966)
Think about it: the lyrics of These Boots are totally country, if sung by sassy women who won”t submissively stand by their shitty men. And Loretta, as you”ll now from the movie, takes no crap from anyone, least of all men who are lying when they ought to be truthing. Her version of These Boots is really good, in a honky tonk kinda way.

Marianne Ascher – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1980)
For the new wave fix of These Boots, Canadian songstress Marianne Asher is your woman. To the backing of a dreamy synth of the kind you”d hear on records by Ultravox and a hardworking drum machine, Ascher channels such vocal innovators as Toyah and Hazel O”Connor, with the unnecessary squeals and lack of discernible charm.  The thing is topped off by a tinny saxophone solo.


Amanda Lear – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1977)
French-born Amanda Lear is probably best known for being an alleged transsexual (she once published nude photos of herself to prove that she was all woman), but her life story transcends speculation about her sex. A former girlfriend of Salvadore Dali, Bryan Ferry (it is her on the cover of Roxy Music”s For Your Pleasure LP) and David Bowie, the deep-voiced vamp became an Euro-disco singer with hits such as Queen Of Chinatown, Blood And Honey and Follow Me. It was high camp for the masses ““ much as These Boots is a song of high camp. One might debate the merits of Lear”s voice and the arrangement, but this is a very entertaining version.

Adriano Celentano – Bisogna far qualcosa (1984)
He might not be a man of attractive political ideology, but Adriano Celentano was Italy”s original rock “n” roller. Taking the Elvis route, he proceeded to become a crooner of banalities, dotting that artistic decline with the occasional gem. In the late 1960s he recorded the quintessential San Remo-type hit, Azzuro. In 1972 he released the strangest record of his career, the quasi rap number Prisencolinensinainciusol (a title which sounds like a heavy duty drug to control a rare form pancreatic leakage, but was really an appeal for universal love which anticipated Malcolm McLaren 1980s hits and indeed hip hop). And in 1984 he finally got around to covering, in Italian, These Boots. Italian is one of the most beautiful and romantic languages in the world. You can read Mein Kampf in Italian and it would sound like a florid love letter. But Adriano Celentano proves one thing: Italiant was not intended to give words to These Boots Are Made For Walking.

Mrs Miller – These Boots Are Made For Walkin” (1966)
Of all the songs on her optimistically titled Greatest Hits album, it”s on These Boots that dear Mrs Miller manages to hold the tune, for the most part. Having mastered to more or less sing in tune, Mrs Miller decides to inject some personality into this not very difficult-to-sing number. And that personality is, as you”d want from Mrs Miller, of sultry character. Oh yes, Mrs Miller ““ though at this point you might want to call her Elva, unless you wish to sound like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate ““ gets her sexy on with some throaty purring. When she encourages those boots to start walking ““ and to keep walking ““ I don”t think she is talking about podriatic motion any longer”¦ A year later, another granny, 71-year-old Dora Hall, who in her younger days used to sing for WW1 troops, recorded the song, to rather less camp effect.

Boys Next DoorBoys Next Door – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1978)
Boys Next Door were the Australian punk band which became The Birthday Party, whose most famous member was the young Nick Cave. His bandmates went on to make a name for themselves, such as fellow Bad Seed Mick Harvey, the late guitarist Rowland S. Howard and drummer Phill Calvert. The neighbourhood boys were mostly doing covers, These Boots being one of them. It’s not very good, though it probably was great fun live. The typical Cave delivery is already in evidence.

Megadeth – These Boots (1978)
The lovely folks of Megadeth have recorded the Hazlewood song, with is express non-approval, twice: once in 1985 on their charmingly titled Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! LP, as These Boots, and again seven years later under the song’s full title. Here the boots don’t just walk all over you, but they stomp. They’re not kidding…

All featured versions:
Nancy Sinatra (1966), Mrs Miller (1966), The Artwoods (1966), The Ventures (1966), The Supremes (1966), Loretta Lynn (1966), Dora Hall (1966), Teddy and Darrel (1966), Eileen (as Ces Bottes sont faites pour marcher, 1966), Eileen (as Die Stiefel sind zum wander, 1966), Lee Hazlewood (1966), The New Christy Minstrels (1967), Dalida (as Stivaletti rossi, 1967), Ella Fitzgerald (1967), Symarip (1969), Amanda Lear (1977), Boys Next Door (1978), Marianne Ascher (1980), British Electric Foundation feat. Paula Yates (1982), Adriano Celentano (as Bisogna far qualcosa, 1984), Megadeth  (as These Boots, 1985), Crispin Hellion Glover (1989), Barry Adamson & Anita Lane (1991), Velvet 99 (2000), The Meteors (2002), Robert Gordon (2004), Barcode Brothers (2004), David Hasselhoff (2004), Chiwetel Ejiofor (in drag as part of a medley in the film Kinky Boots, 2005), Jessica Simpson (2006), Lenny Clerwall and his Guitar (2009), Planet Funk (2012)

(PW in comments)

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Song Swarm – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down

September 26th, 2013 16 comments


If you were to put me on the spot and demand that I choose one all-time favourite song, I suppose my default answer would be Sunday Mornin Comin’ Down, the Kris Kristofferson version.

One may argue about whether it would feature in a shortlist of best song ever; still it resonates with me on many levels, including as a soundtrack in a particular time in my life. And it is, of course, a great song which ought to feature in a shortlist of best song ever.

Like many early Kristofferson songs, it was first recorded not by the composer but by others, because early in his career KK didn’t regard himself primarily as a singer. In fact, he thought he was a terrible singer. In the event, his limitations are also his strength, with that whisky-soaked, soulful voice giving his lyrics a sense of having been lived. But KK knew he had good tunes and that he wanted to write songs for a living.

It might have been different. The son of an army officer, Kristofferson was earmarked for a military career, and served a stint as a helicopter pilot for Uncle Sam. Before that he was a Rhodes scholar, graduating from Oxford with a degree in philosophy. He was offered a job lecturing at the military academy at West Point. Instead, he left the army, and, having been inspired by a meeting with Johnny Cash after a concert, Kristofferson moved with his family to Nashville to try his hand at the music business.

Things did not start promisingly: in 1966 he landed a job at Columbia Records — as a janitor. But in between sweeping floors and polishing door handles, he gave Cash some of his songs, thereby violating strict company policy. Cash was encouraging but didn’t use any of the songs — in fact, according to Kristofferson, Cash said that he threw them into a lake. Still, it was the genesis of a profound friendship.

kristoffersonA year later, Kristofferson flew helicopters again, for an oil company. He also began a tentative recording career with Epic Records, and finally his songs were started to be recorded by other artists. One day, Kristofferson decided to try and impress Cash again, so he flew a helicopter to Cash’s house to give him some tapes. Cash wasn’t home, though that didn’t stop him from telling a great tale about Kristofferson exiting the chopper with a demo in one hand and a beer in the other.

Still, Cash started to create a buzz around KK, referring to him repeatedly on his TV show. Cash’s introduction of Kristofferson at the Newport Folk Festival especially helped kickstart KK’s recording career.

Cash, of course, recorded Sunday Morning Coming Down (as he corrected the title) in 1970, and won a Grammy for it. Cash resisted pressure to change the line “wishing, Lord, that I was stoned” to “…I was home” in deference to the song’s writer; he however had the kid “playing with”, not “cussing at”, the can that he was kicking.

The song had already been fiirst recorded the previous year by Ray Stevens, who had a minor hit with it. Following Cash’s hit and KK’s definitive version, several artists tried their hand at the song, with varying degrees of accomplishment. Some are featured here, and many tend to play loose with the lyrics.

So, here are 36 versions of Sunday Morninh Comin’ Down, some of them live recordings.

Ray Stevens (1969) • Johnny Cash (live, 1970) • Johnny Cash (1970) • Kris Kristofferson (1970) • Roy Clark (1970) • Freddy Weller (1970) • Lynn Anderson (1970) • Mark Lindsay (1970) • Sammi Smith (1970) • Janis Joplin (1970) • Hank Ballard (1970) • Tom Jones • Glen Campbell & Nancy Sinatra (1970) • R. Dean Taylor (1971) • Waylon Jennings (1971) • Hank Snow (1971) • Margie Brandon (1971) • Ernie Smith (1971) • John Mogensen (as Sondag morgen, 1971) • Kristofferson & Friends (1973) • Pavel Bobek (1973) • Frankie Laine (1978) • Johnny Cash & Kris Kristofferson (live, 1980) • Johnny Paycheck (1980) • Louis Neefs (as Zondagmiddag, 1980) • David Allan Coe (1998) • Shawn Mullins (1998) • Alvin Youngblood Hart (2003) • Kris Kristofferson & Foo Fighters (2005) • Floyd Red Crow Westerman (2006) • Jeff Walker und Die Flffers (2006) • Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006) • Mark Chesnutt (2010) • Jerry Lee Lewis (2010) • Marissa Nadler (2010) • Willie Nelson (2011) • Brandi Carlile (live, 2012) • Gretchen Wilson (2012)

(PW in comments)


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Song Swarm – Like A Rolling Stone

June 20th, 2013 7 comments

There are people who would like Bob Dylan”s songs more if only they were sung by somebody else. I have some empathy with that view (as I do with the opposing perspective), so it is a little strange that I would choose for a song swarm one song on which I really enjoy young Robert”s singing.


“Like A Rolling Stone”, recorded in June 1965 and released a month later, is a landmark record in pop music. At a time when singles were considered long-winded if they exceeded the three-minute mark, it clocked it in at 6:13 and yet reached #2 on the US charts (a decade before “Bohemian Rhapsody”).

It also signposted the Dylan-goes-electric controversy. The1966  live recording from Manchester included in this swarm is that of an audience member yelling “Judas”, to which Dylan responds: “I don’t believe you. You”re a liar”, then instructing the band to “play it fuckin” loud”. By Dylan”s own admission, it was the song that prevented him from quitting recording; it was a song he himself could dig.

The story of the song”s recording session in New York has been documented in rich detail by Greil Marcus (read it HERE).

“Like A Rolling Stone” inspired the young guitarist Jimi Hendrix to take up singing (presumably on the “if he can, so can I” principle), and he included the song in his repertoire. His version at Monterey in 1967, his breakthrough performance, is included here.

The song jumped genres with remarkable ease, from psychedelic (Rotary Connection) to garage rock (The Remains) to ska (The Wailers) to bluegrass (Flatt & Scruggs) to spoken poetry (Sebastian Cabot) to easy listening (Hugo Montenegro) to soul (Major Harris, Maxine Weldon ““ both brilliant).

Most of these 33 versions work well; a few serve as curiosities. Top of these is the home recording from John Lennon”s 31st birthday party in a hotel room in Syracuse, New York. John and his friends have a sing-along, with “Like A Rolling Stone” featuring in the medley. We don”t know exactly who among the guests were singing along, but the guests included Ringo Starr, Phil Spector, Eric Clapton,  Jim Keltner, Phil Ochs and beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

Two foreign language versions are included: an Italian take from 1966 by Gianni Pettenati, and one by Wolfgang Ambros, performed in the local dialect of Vienna.

Though I haven”t bothered to include the original “” if you don”t already have it, you really don”t need this collection “” Dylan himself features three times with live versions: the 1966 “fuckin” loud” Manchester version, 1974 with The Band, and one from 1979″ Live At Budokan album. If that doesn”t still the hunger, then there is always the live take from the Isle Of Wright gig you can find on the Self Portrait album of 1970.


Bob Dylan (Judas version, 1966); The Four Seasons (1965), The Turtles (1965); The Soup Greens (1965); Cher (1966), The Young Rascals (1966), The Wailers (1966), Gianni Pettenati e The Juniors  (as “Come una pietra che rotola”, 1966), The Remains (1966), Sebastian Cabot (1967), Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967), Rotary Connection (1967), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), Phil Flowers & the Flower Shop (1969), Buddy Greco (1969), Major Harris (1969), Maxine Weldon (1970), Hugo Montenegro Orchestra (1970), Hardin & York (1971), The Undisputed Truth (1971), John Lennon & Friends (home-recording with Dig It, Twist And Shout, La Bamba, Louie Louie, 1971), Johnny Winter (1973), Bob Dylan & The Band (1974), Wolfgang Ambros (as “Allan wia a Stan”, 1978), Bob Dylan (1979), Johnny Thunders (1984), Judy Collins (1993), Mick Ronson with David Bowie (1994), The Rolling Stones (1995), Phil Lesh (2000), Drive-By Truckers (2005), The Kentucky Headhunters (2005), Green Day (2009)



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Song Swarm: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

December 24th, 2012 11 comments


Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was written by Johnny Marks, to whom we also owe X-Mas staples such as Rockin’ Round The Christmas Tree and A Holly Jolly Christmas, as well as Chuck Berry’s Run, Rudolph Run.

Rudolph was invented in 1939 by Johnny’s brother-in-law Robert L May, a copywriter, as part of a marketing campaign for department store/mail order company Montgomery Ward. Drawing inspiration from the tale of the Ugly Duckling and his own experience of being bullied for being slightly built, he contrived the story of reindeer-turned-hero. He had previously considered the names Reginald and Rollo before settling on Rudolph. By 1946, some six million copies of the story had been distributed.

These were more charitable times than ours. May’s wife had been diagnosed with cancer around the time he wrote Rudolph, and by 1947 he was financially crippled. Montgomery Ward, who held the copyright to the story, having commissioned it, generously ceded it to the writer, who did well from subsequent licensing, including a cartoon short.

Johnny Marks’ lyrics took some liberties with May’s story. For example, in the story, Rudolph was not one of Santa’s reindeer but a resident of the local reindeer village, raised by loving parents but teased by other little reindeers. The final line anticipates the patois of the 2010s as Santa tells Rudolph: “By YOU last night’s journey was actually bossed. Without you, I’m certain we’d all have been lost.”

Marks’ song was first performed on radio in 1949 by Harry Brannon; the same year Hollywood cowboy Gene Autry recorded the first version, apparently reluctantly and at his wife’s insistence. It had been offered to Bing Crosby who turned it down — and recorded it a year later. Autry’s record reached #1 on the US charts, the first chart-topper of the 1950s, and the following week disappeared from the charts altogether. It”s the only time that has ever happened.

The versions

Rudolph is a versatile song. Its nature allows the singer to have some fun. So Lena Horne in her 1966 version speculates whether the tone of Rudi’s nose might have been caused by generous grog consumption. Paul McCartney re-imagined our hero as the “reggae reindeer”, and Los Lobos as the manic reindeer. The Supremes and The Temptations in their respective takes take to shouting out Rudolph’s name. And Bing and Judy Garland, and later Bing with Ella in their live recordings from 1950 and 1953 offer all sorts of additional riffs to the story (Rudolph the celeb smoking cigars, jokes about deer-hunting!), which at one point has Judy giggling.

The Temptations’ version is one of the best of this lot, but I also really like The Melodeers’ doo wop take, and The Cadillacs’ R&B recording with the Coasters'” style sax solo. The definitive version, in my view, is Dean Martin’s.

There are two very different instrumental versions: The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s piano-driven interpretation is very good; The Ventures bizzarely sample The Beatles’ I Feel Fine along the way.

And, of course, The Simpsons sang it, shambolically, in the very first full episode of the show, in 1989.

The late Vic Chesnutt mumbles the song in his live performance from 2006, in which he makes no secret of his disdain for the “frat boys”, meaning the other reindeer. His version finds an echo in my incisive analysis of the Rudolph situation from 2008.

So here are 42 takes on Rudolph’s story.

Gene Autry (1949), Bing Crosby (1950), Bing Crosby & Judy Garland (1950), Spike Jones and his City Slickers (1950), Bing Crosby & Ella Fitzgerald (1953), The Four Aces (1955), The Cadillacs (1956), Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra (1957), Dean Martin (1959), Ella Fitzgerald (1960), The Melodeers (1960), The Crystals (1963), Al Martino (1964), Burl Ives (1965), The Ventures (1965), The Supremes (1965), Lena Horne (1966), Ramsey Lewis Trio (1966), Hank Snow (1967), The Temptations (1968), The Jackson 5 (1970), John Denver (1975), Carpenters (as part of medley, 1978), Paul McCartney (as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reggae, 1979), Willie Nelson (1979), Starland Vocal Band (1980), Los Lobos (as Rudolph The Manic Reindeer, 1988), The Simpsons (1989), Dolly Parton (1990), The Smashing Pumpkins (1993), Tiny Tim (1995), Alan Jackson (1996), Aaron Tippin (1997), Ray Charles (1997), The Pointer Sisters (1998), Lynyrd Skynyrd (2000), Jack Johnson (2002), Destiny’s Child (2004), Ballard C Boyd (2005), Merle Haggard (2005), Bootsy Collins (as Boot-Off, 2006), Vic Chesnutt & Elf Power (2006)

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Song Swarm: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

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