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Any Major Halloween Mix 2

October 28th, 2009 2 comments

halloweenFollowing the slightly spooky Halloween mix posted on Monday, this one comprises songs mostly of less serious tone, setting what I hope is a bit of a party atmosphere, with a bit of rock, rock & roll and downright silly novelty numbers, including one by Soupy Sales, who died last week. The sense of levity this mix aims at is not of the literal variety.

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TRACKLISTING
1. Tim Curry – Anything Can Happen On Halloween (1986)
2. Golden Earring – The Devil Made Me Do It (1982)
3. Morgus & the Ghouls – Morgus The Magnificent (1958)
4. The Tarantulas – Black Widow (1961)
5. Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs – Haunted House (1964)
6. Big Bopper – Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor (1958)
7. The Kingsmen – Haunted Castle (1963)
8. The Five Blobs – The Blob (1958)
9. The Fifth Estate – The Witch Is Dead (1967)
10. Bobby Bare – Vampira (1958)
11. Johnny Cash – Ghost Riders In The Sky (1978)
12. R Dean Taylor – There’s A Ghost In My House (1967)
13. Alice Cooper – Feed My Frankenstein (1992)
14. Rob Zombie feat. The Ghastly Ones – Halloween (1998)
15. Medeski, Martin & Wood – End Of The World Party (2004)
16. The Pogues – Turkish Song Of The Damned (1988)
17. The Specials – Ghost Town (1981)
18. Jimmy Buffett – Halloween In Tijuana (1985)
19. Soupy Sales – My Baby’s Got A Crush On Frankenstein (1962)
20. France Gall – Frankenstein (1972)
21. Danny Elfman – This Is Halloween (1993)
22. David Seville – Witch Doctor (1958)
23. Bobby Rydell – That Old Black Magic (1961)
24. The Moontrekkers – Night Of The Vampire (1961)
25. Allan Sherman – I See Bones (1963)
26. Lord Melody – The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1957)
27. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross – Halloween Spooks (1960)

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And to bring the mood down a bit again, here is a track sent to me by a friend, whose knowledge in music in encyclopedic. He points out that the artist, folk singer Jackson C Frank, is “ the single unluckiest man in music history”. Read this to find that this is most probably so.

Jackson C. Frank – Halloween Is Black As Night.mp3 (reuploaded)

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More Mixes

Albums of the Year: 2000

October 21st, 2009 13 comments

Perusing the calendar, I was shocked to realise that the current decade “” what some people call the “Noughties” “” is almost over; that we”re about to start the 2010s. And here I am still getting used to the idea of the new millennium. So, with this decade coming to an end soon, it seems right to review my top 10 albums of this period. I”ll try to avoid joining the critical consensus (which probably agrees on albums I either never heard of or don”t like), and obviously I can”t list albums I don”t have. So, no Kid A here.

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1. Johnny Cash – American III: Solitary Man

cash_solitary_manIt”s not necessarily the best album in Cash”s American series, but probably the only one that”ll top one of my annual charts. It certainly is a fine album, with an astute song selection (no peculiar choices such as Personal Jesus, which appeared on the follow-up). Cash had previously taken a Sting song, Hung My Head, and entirely appropriated it, leaving Sting”s original sound like a pale, inadequate and ill-advised cover version by an inferior hack. Here Cash repeats the trick with One, lending gravitas to a song that in Bono”s hands sounds overwrought (Bono really meant it, man). But it is what Cash and producer Rick Rubin do with Nick Cave”s The Mercy Seat that blows me away. For this album, Rubin roped in a few heavy-hitters, including Tom Petty and Will Oldham. I”m not sure it was necessary to do so.
Johnny Cash – One.mp3
Johnny Cash – The Mercy Seat.mp3

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2. D”Angelo – Voodoo

d'angelo_voodooAfter 2000, I began falling off Planet Soul. Voodoo was the genre”s last high-water mark, even if the likes of india.arie, Erykah Badu and (to some extent) Alicia Keys proceeded to release decent albums (and I suppose John Legend isn”t bad either, even though I own nothing by the man). Before too long, it became a law that soul singers must have uniformly nasal, almost pre-pubescent voices and sing about sex a lot without projecting any confidence that they really know what to do in the sack. D”Angelo, on the other hand, left us in no doubt that he knew exactly how to create a concerto of orgasms.

In terms of soul, D”Angelo fused all that came before, plus a strong dose of hip hop and a shot of Hendrix in one album, creating a whole new, exciting and intensely sexual sound. It had taken him five years to follow up the gorgeous Brown Sugar, and I believe a new album is imminent. Whatever happened before or will happen, Voodoo is Michael Archer”s masterpiece. Had Marvin Gaye lived, this is what he”d have sounded like.
D”Angelo – Untitled (How Does It Feel).mp3

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3. Elliot Smith – Figure 8

elliott_smith_figure_8Smith”s final album in his lifetime “” he died three years later “” may not be his best, but even then, it is lovely and affecting. It could have done with some trimming, and the cover is unattractive. You don”t pick up an Elliot Smith album to cheer you up, but the charge of miserablism often levelled against seems unfair to me. There is beauty in Smith”s sadness “” made all the more poignant by his apparent suicide (there are theories that Smith didn”t actually kill himself). We owe Smith a huge voter of thanks for his part in inspiring so many of the great acoustic artists that emerged in (and, perhaps, from) his wake.
Elliott Smith – Somebody That I Used To Know.mp3

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4. Colin Hay – Going Somewhere

colin_hayThe solo albums of the former Men At Work frontman tend to be frustrating; amid the near-perfect gems there is so much indifferent filler material. Best, really, to put together one”s own compilation. But then one would not find that some of the mediocre stuff is actually pretty good, but required a few more listens. Going Somewhere does not suffer from this. It is one of two albums on which Hay re-recorded his better songs and a couple of new ones, here mostly acoustically. And it works wonderfully. Highlights include opener Beautiful World (which features the brilliant line “where a man can still be free “” or a woman if you are one”), I Just Don”t Think I”ll Ever Get Over You, Looking For Jack (about an encounter with Mr Nicholson), Waiting For My Real Life To Begin and Lifeline.
Colin Hay – Lifeline.mp3

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5. Jill Sobule – Pink Pearl

jill_sobuleSobule kissed a girl and liked it long before Katy Perry did so “” and Sobule meant it. Sobule is an engaging lyricist dealing with often unexpected subject matter, ranging from anorexia to the case of a teacher who had sex with her pupil. In turn she can be insightful, funny, ironic, cute, tender and daring. Her music is neither particularly challenging nor bland, and some of the tracks on Pink Pearl are excellent, especially the Bacharach-via-Spektor-sounding Rainy Day Parade. But it”s for the lyrics that I return to it. This, from the also outstanding One Of These Days, always makes me laugh: “One of these days I”m gonna touch the sky. Like that awful song “˜I Believe I Can Fly”, [pause for effect] I believe I can fly.” Download free Jill Sobule tracks from her website
Jill Sobule – Rainy Day Parade.mp3

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6. Lewis Taylor – Lewis II

lewis_taylorI”ve read that Lewis Taylor has retired from the music business because his albums didn”t sell. That is a pity. Lewis II (which, you will have worked out, was his sophomore album, following the more psychedelic self-titled debut) is a likeable soulful and funky effort. When white soulsters arrive on the scene, they tend to be matched with their likely influences, invariably from the “60s and “70s (usually Curtis Mayfield with a bit of Motown). London-born Taylor escaped such labelling, or at least its accurate application. He drew from the treasury of soul through the ages and created his own unique sound. The album features a fine cover of Jeff Buckley”s Everybody Here Wants You.
Lewis Taylor – The Way You Done Me.mp3

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7. K”s Choice – Almost Happy

ks_choice_almost_happyIn my view, Almost Happy is the Belgian brother-and-sister act”s best album. The title track and Another Year are most affecting, beautiful songs dipped in sadness but not despondency. Both of these, and other K”s Choice songs, find an echo in the music of the wonderful Weepies (another female/male singing and songwriting combo). The stand-out track is the almost gothic (though not goth) Shadowman, a song about depression.
K”s Choice – Shadowman.mp3

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8. Ben Kweller – Freak Out”¦It”s Ben Kweller

ben_kweller_freak_outI know, EPs aren”t albums. But I”m not going to list my favourite EPs of the decade (hmmm, or maybe I should), so Ben Kweller”s debut on disc gets in. And what a debut it was. The stand-out track here is In Other Words, which features a few duff lines (including references to passive-aggressive butterflies) but has a tune and, especially, an arrangement that one might not expect from an 18-year-old. The piano and banjo interplay in the song”s climax is exquisite. Kweller later re-recorded In Other Words, as well as the brief How It Should Be (Sha Sha), for his first full album, 2002″s Sha Sha. Both songs are superior on this eight-song EP.
Ben Kweller – In Other Words.mp3

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9. Richard Ashcroft – Alone With Everybody

ashcroftI”d include this for Brave New World alone. And I”˜ll cheerfully admit that I don”t really like about half of this album. But the other half is better than most music he created with the Verve. From his former group, we knew Ashcroft was rather given to kitchen-sink productions, and there”s little here that could be described as sparse (quite in contrast to Elliott Smith). At times the onslaught of instrumentation is sumptuous, at other times one yearns for some respite. Not a great album, but one with great moments. I”d recommend You On My Mind In My Sleep, A Song For Lovers and On A Beach; and strongly advise against Money To Burn, which I think was the lead single.
Richard Ashcroft – Brave New World.mp3

10. Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour Of The Bewilderbeest

badly_drawn_boyThe album title merely hints at the punnery Damon Gough engages in here. I like the wordplay in Badly Drawn Boy”s lyrics, even if I find them unnecessary in songtitles (Everybody”s Stalking!). Like almost any studio double album (and how audacious to release a double album on debut), there is a lot of unnecessary music here, and the brief interludes are annoying. But in the day of WinAmp, one can happily re-sequence an album according to one”s tastes. And doing so with this set is a very rewarding experience.
Badly Drawn Boy – The Shining.mp3


Answer records Vol. 1

October 13th, 2009 6 comments

A while ago, a Facebook friend of this blog proposed that I might do a series of answer records, the novelty songs that riffed on the theme of a contemporary hit. Excellent idea, so this series is dedicated to Mike C., kicking off with answer records to Etta James” Stop The Wedding, Johnny Cash”s I Walk The Line, and The McCoys” Hang On Sloopy.

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Church bells are ringing. Oh, look, a bride and a groom”¦

Act 1: Etta James – Stop The Wedding (1962).mp3
The opening notes from Here Comes The Bride set the scene. Immediately the rich baritone of the preacher invites the congregants to state their objection to the presently to be blessed union. And of course we know what happens next. Etta pipes up: “Wait! Wait! Stop the wedding!” See, Etta is the groom”s ex-girlfriend, and it is her conviction that he is entering into matrimony only to spite Etta. If the bride knew of his less than true motivation, Etta figures, she”d pull out of this deal herself. “So stop this madness before it starts”¦and don”t break two hearts.” As Etta urges “DON”T DO IT!” in soulful ways which Aretha Franklin would envy, we are becoming quite convinced that he should follow Etta”s advice. But, what”s that? Oh, here comes the bride:

Act 2: Ann Cole – Don’t Stop The Wedding (1962).mp3
ann_coleSame intro, and the pastor (well, he sounds different now. Maybe it”s an ecclesial double act) notes Etta”s appeal, and yields the floor to the bride. We are not surprised to learn “” alerted perhaps by the songtitle “” that Ann fails to concur with Etta”s spin. The wedding should in fact not be stopped, Ann proposes. And then she gets personal: “You just can”t face the fact”¦that he is happy here without you.” Anyway, she posits, Etta doesn”t really love him. Indeed, it turns out that Etta dumped the groom and now, with the benefit of hindsight and his impending nuptials, she”s sorry. Ann says that she gives him the kind of love he never had, so “don”t stop the wedding and break two hearts” (and where Etta meant hers and Ann”s, Ann doesn”t give much of a damn about the state of Etta”s heart). And the groom? We don”t hear from the poor bastard, though we can imagine him calculating all sorts of possible options, ranging from polygamy to running for the hills.

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Unsteady on the lines”¦

Act 1: Johnny Cash ““ I Walk The Line.mp3
You know the deal: “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine; I keep my eyes wide open all the time; I keep the ends out for the tie that binds, because you’re mine, I walk the line”. Johnny is a straight-up guy who finds it “very, very easy to be true”. So he walks the line (though we know that Johnny did so unsteadily). So, Johnny, let”s meet your brother.

Act 2: Tommy Cash – I Didn’t Walk The Line (1965).mp3
tommy_cashOh dear, Tommy”s nothing like his straight-arrow older brother. He sings an entirely different tune, literally. He didn”t treat his wife very well, she found love with somebody else, the marriage is ending and she”s off, leaving Tom with self-recriminations. But what to tell the children, of whom she will evidently have custody? Tommy, in a mood for self-flagellating, knows how: tell them their that their Daddy didn”t walk the line. Yes, “you were mine, but I didn”t walk the line”.

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The next pairing of songs has featured previously, in The Originals series. But different context calls for different treatment.

Act 1: The McCoys ““ Hang On Sloopy.mp3
MCCOYSThe Sloopy of the title was the jazz singer Dorothy Sloop, but for our purposes, she is any random girl called Sloopy, of whom there must be millions. Sloopy is from meagre circumstances, whereas our interlocutor evidently is a young man of more abundant means. But class divisions don”t bother him: he is in love with wrong-side-of-the-tracks Sloopy, which means he doesn”t even care about her father”s occupation, which is very right-on of him. Her red dress may be old, but it turns him on. And the relief he requires is of the oral variety (“Sloopy let your hair down, girl, let it hang down on me.”). Her ministrations prompt the McCoy to prefigure your standard porn movie script: “Well, it feels so good, (come on, come on). You know it feels so good, (come on, come on). Well, shake it, shake it, shake it, Sloopy (come on, come on). Well, shake it, shake it, shake it, yeah (come on, come on).” And then: “Aaaaaah!”

Act 2: The Debs ““ Sloopy”s Gonna Hang On.mp3
Sloopy acknowledges that she lives in a bad part of town and that people are always putting her down, which wins her our sympathy. But she buys into the sincerity of his declaration of love and so “your girl Sloopy”s gonna hang on”. Sloopy us perfectly happy enough to let her hair hang down on him, and here we go hoping that she will insist on reciprocal oral favours. Perhaps she does, as we may guess as she exclaims “Sloopy”s coming” (if that”s what she means; or maybe our minds are just too corrupted), and “it feels so good now” (which probably means exactly what it says).

For the original of Hang On Sloopy, titled My Girl Sloopy by the Vibrations, go HERE.

Curious Germany vol. 2

September 22nd, 2009 7 comments

The first instalment of German music and novelties was rather popular. So here”s another one, with a third instalment waiting.

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Marianne Rosenberg ““ Ich bin wie Du (1975).mp3
Rosenberg - Ich bin wie DuMuch of Eurodisco was made in West Germany, with Giorgio Moroder producing Donna Summer in Munich, and acts like the Silver Convention strutting their shiny trousers there, too. It is fair to say, however, that the German Schlager scene was not a hotbed of disco (or, indeed, anything else but banality). The exception was Marianne Rosenberg, whose sensible secretary”s hairstyle complemented her girl-next-door image. She retained the coiffure and high collar dress during her foray into disco in 1975, the splendid Ich bin wie Du (“I am like you”). The fusion of straight-lacedness and disco queenhood established Marianne as an icon in Germany”s gay scene, a position she continues to occupy today.

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Marianne Rosenberg ““ Mr Paul McCartney (1970).mp3
Die Beat Oma – Ich Bin die Beat Oma (1965).mp3

Rosenberg - Mr Paul McCartneyBefore she became a gay icon, a gawkier teenage Marianne Rosenberg appealed to Paul McCartney to reply to her fan letter, because no other girl likes him as much as she does. She resorts to emotional blackmail: John and Ringo and even the odd Rolling Stone would have sent her an autograph by now. But not Paul, oh no. So she has to resort to singing this song to attract his attention. There are, of course, other ways to get Paul”s attention (if not a thumbs up sign). Seven years later, in 1977, German newspapers were agog with the claims of a teenager that Mr Paul McCartney had fathered her during one of the Beatles” stints in Hamburg. To the shock of nobody, the claims were found to be “” gasp “” untrue.

Five years before Marianne”s plea to Macca, there was Germany”s insane answer to the wonderful Mrs Miller. Beat Oma (The Beat Granny) based her autobiographical anthem on A Hard Day”s Night, very loosely so, intoning her credentials while aggressively hurtling across vocal keys, hitting none in the process. When she claims that she sings “everybody else against the wall”, the listener virtually feels blindfolded and condemned, hoping only that his superannuated executioner will experience a mishap of the kind depicted in Don Martin”s cartoons in Mad magazine. As the song closes, the drummer puts an end to Beat Oma”s atonal wailings with an assault on the drum kit, perhaps metaphorically beating some sense into the thoroughly charmless Oma (of course, Any Major Dude With Half A Heart disapproves of actual violence against grannies).

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Agnetha – Geh’ mit Gott (1972).mp3
Agnetha РSe̱or Gonzales (1968).mp3
Agnetha РMein sch̦nster Tag (1968)

Agnetha - Geh mit GottLast time we encountered ABBA recording in German. Before she became one of the As in the groups” acronymised name, Agnetha Fältskog tried to realise the ambition of many Scandinavian singers of the day with a dream of musical success: breaking into the German Schlager scene. Agnetha released a batch of German singles between 1968 and 1972, most of them quite awful even by the low standards of the genre, though a couple were actually quite good. In her endeavours, Agnetha “” who already had a career in Sweden but put it on hold while going for stardom in West Germany “” was produced by her boyfriend, Dieter Zimmermann. Once Dieter was history, her next boyfriend, Björn, worked out better on the way to stardom.

Geh” mit Gott was released towards the end of her futile bid at Schlager stardom. It was the German version of Ennio Morricone”s song Here”s To You (sung by Joan Baez) for the 1971 film Sacco e Vanzetti (about two Italian immigrants executed in the US for a crime they possibly didn”t commit).

Agnetha - Senor GonzalesFour years earlier, Señor Gonzales was Agnetha”s second German single. I see no reason why it shouldn”t have been a Schlager hit. It has the necessary clichéd lyrics and banal melody; it even has the faux-Mexican sound the Schlager-buying public was so fond of (though here Agnetha might have been ahead of her time; the Mexican Schlager wave peaked in 1972 with Rex Gildo”s superb Fiesta Mexicana, which I shall feature soon). The b-side to Señor Gonzales is a rather better affair. Mein schönster Tag is a country ballad which our girl sings rather well; it is a cover version of a country song, but I can”t work out what the original is. Somebody will surely tell me.

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Johnny Cash – Wer Kennt den Weg (1966).mp3
cashIn the 1960s it became common for English-speaking artists to make foreign-language recordings of their hit songs. Foremost among the European countries to offer a market for such things was West Germany. In 1966, Johnny Cash recorded I Walk The Line as Wer Kennt den Weg (alas not as Johannes Bargeld). In the early 1950s, Cash had been based as an US soldier in southern Germany. Clearly he did little in that time to benefit from the opportunity to learn German; his accent is quite appalling.

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Sandie Shaw – Einmal glücklich sein wie die Andern (1965).mp3
sandie_shawLike her compatriots Petula Clark and, to a lesser extent, Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw recorded a lot of her repertoire in German (and in French), including her epic version of Bacharach/David”s Always Something There To Remind Me. Here the title translates as “Just once to be happy like the others”. Recorded in 1965, Sandie sounds like she actually knows what she is singing. She clearly makes an effort (though towards the end the effort apparently becomes a bit too much for her), and her diction is charmingly foreign. That”s all the German public ever asked for; as noted previously, nothing could win the hearts of Germans as much as somebody butchering their languages gently.

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The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go (German version) (1964).mp3
The Temptations ““ Mein Girl (1964).mp3

supremesBerry Gordy could spot a marketing opportunity, and so he had the stars of his Motown roster record their big hits in various European languages, apparently singing from phonetic lyric sheets. Diana Ross makes a game attempt at it; one can understand her implorations not to be left by the addressee of the song. The Temptations take rather more relaxed view of linguistic doctrines, anticipating the German tendency to include English words as part of the conversational language. Germans are quite happy to use the word “girl” instead of Mädchen, or indeed “happy” instead of glücklich, as the Temptations do here (dear Diana is more purist about this: she actually uses the word glücklich, which must be a bit of a tongue breaker for non-German speakers).
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Millie – My Boy Lollipop (German) (1964).mp3
millieAnd another German version of an English-language hit. Millie (who sounds even more chipmunkish in German) doesn”t make an effort to translate the chief rhyme “” sweet as candy/sugar dandy “” into German. And how could she? “Du bist so süss wie Süssigkeiten / Du bist mein Zuckerbursche” somehow wouldn”t work well as a line of seduction. So we can forgive that. But why didn”t the songwriters bother to change the line “I love you I love you I love you so” to “Ich lieb” dich ich lieb” dich ich lieb” dich so” ? That”s just lazy.

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Franz Beckenbauer – Gute Freunde kann niemand trennen (1966).mp3
Gerd Müller – Dann macht es bumm (1969).mp3

Fans of English football (or soccer, as my American friends would say) are likely to cringe at the memory of their players” attempts at pop stardom: Kevin Keegan”s 1979 hit single Head Over Heels, or Glenn Hoddle & Chris Waddle with their 1987 #12 hit Diamond Lights, or Paul Gascoigne teaming up with Lindisfarne to belt out The Fog On The Tyne (there”s a Newcastle United thread here). Bad though these might be, English football fans would have no cause to cringe if they knew what their German counterparts have been subjected to, horrors that would make Hoddle & Waddle seem like the Righteous Brothers.

beckenbauerAnd yet, the two Bayern München legends featured here can be forgiven for their amateur warblings (if not for their club affiliation). Beckenbauer is, in my view, the greatest defensive player of all time. Adept at playing in virtually any position, he was an elegantly authoritative figure on the pitch. Germans, always acutely sensitive to their troubled history, called him “Der Kaiser”, which is preferable to “Der Führer”.

After finishing his playing career (which included a stint with New York Cosmos), Beckenbauer led the West German national team as coach to a World Cup final in 1986 and the world championship in 1990. After abdicating, as it were, he became a functionary for Bayern München, doing all he could to diminish the affection in which German football fans hold their heroes. Today he is a dear friend of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, a thoroughly nasty piece of work behind his grinning mask of buffoonery.

gerd_mullerIf Beckenbauer”s nickname was somewhat misguided, that of his teammate Gerd Müller”s is quite mind-boggling, coming just a quarter of a century after World War 2: “Der Bomber”. The moniker was supposed to testify to Müller”s genuinely breathtaking ability to score goals “” he”s by far the best I”ve seen in my lifetime. But it was a misnomer. The nickname suggests that Müller had a mighty shot, firing V2 rockets with accuracy from outside the penalty area. In reality, Müller had no particularly powerful shot. He was, however, compact with a low centre of gravity and an almost unerring positioning instinct. Many of his goals were scored with his backside, or while he was on the ground. His single, Dann macht es bumm (“And then it bangs”), perpetuates the mistaken notion of the blitzkrieging bomber. It also perpetuates the reality that Gerd Müller wasn”t particularly bright. Still, the man is a legend and probably not a friend of the evil Blatter.

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Johannes Heesters – Ich werde jede Nacht von Ihnen träumen (1937).mp3
heestersVera Lynn has just become the oldest person to have a British #1 album (alas not with her collection of Rammstein covers), but the world”s oldest still active performer is Johannes Heesters. The Dutch-born singer and former actor, whose career was directed almost exclusively at German audiences, is still at it at 105 years of age. As one might expect, he is much loved in Germany.

But he is not very popular in the country of his birth, where he has not been forgiven for continuing his career in Nazi Germany (where all entertainment was subject to Joseph Goebbels” censorship and even dictate), and especially for performing for SS troops at Dachau. After the war Heesters pleaded that he had no idea about Dachau”s the extent of function. I suspect that he might not be entirely loose with the truth here (not all entertainers are very bright); and even if he knew, how much courage might he have needed to muster to tell the SS to bugger off. At the same time, he did move to Germany in 1935, so fuck him for that.

Still, almost 106 years of age, and still performing. And he has a wife who is 45 years younger than he is “” Respect!
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Noel Coward ““ Don”t Let”s Be Beastly To The Germans (1943).mp3
Noel_CowardNot a German song, obviously, but a stinging propaganda satire by the legendary English wit at the expense of Germans. Of course he had no intention of pleading for post-war clemency towards Germans; quite the contrary. And yet, to some extent his satirical entreaty would be realised. To be sure, some Germans were treated badly after the war, especially the many women who were raped by occupying soldiers (and not just by the Russians, who clearly did not share the song”s sentiments). But, truth be told, Germans subjected to occupation in the West cannot have too many complaints about the treatment they received.

Songs about fathers

June 21st, 2009 7 comments

fathers day beerI don”t really care much for Mothers” Day or Fathers” Day, mostly because I”ve had neither mother nor father since I was 18. Still, as a father I damn well expect to get breakfast in bed today. High hopes”¦ Fathers” Day, of course, does bring to mind my late father, who died suddenly when I was 11. It has occurred to me that I am now at the same age he was when I was born, the fifth of his six children. He doubtless was far more mature than I am now. He probably wouldn”t have written blogs about moustaches in pop and the twattery of Michael Fucking Bolton. But then, I didn”t fight in World War 2, my brother did not die in war, my father was not persecuted by the Nazis, and I”ve never been widowed. Of course he was more mature than I will ever be.

My father was not quite an absentee father, but he was away a lot. The little time he had free, he needed to share between relaxation and a little socialising, wife, and, lastly, children. When he spent time with us, he was very loving, but there never wasn”t enough of him. I”ve learned from my father to make career sacrifices so that I could be a constant presence in my son”s life.

For a few years after my father died, I had occasional dreams that it was all a hoax; that he faked his death and was now coming to fetch us. About a decade after he died, I dreamt about him. He was hugging me, and I could smell him, a scent I had long forgotten (and never thought of). That was the last of my hoax dreams. In fact, twenty years or so on, I don”t think he has ever appeared in my dreams again.

Here then a few song about fatherhood, inspired by a recent series on the subject on the fine Star Maker Machine blog.

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Everything But The Girl – The Night I Heard Caruso Sing.mp3idlewildNot so much a song about parental relations than one of despair and hope. Released on 1988’s Idlewild album, the singer notes that just where his father lives in Scotland, the military has set up a missile system. That persuades him that he does not want to be responsible for bringing a child into this ugly world. But then he comes across something of great beauty “” a recording of early 20th century opera singer Enrico Caruso “” and it changes his notion of fatherhood, about his unborn child and about being the child of a father. It is a very beautiful song from a desperately under-appreciated album.

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Cardigans ““ Don”t Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds).mp3
cardigans_segThis quite brilliant 2005 track is an indictment of a really shitty father who seems to have abandoned his family. The song drips with bitterness and anger and sarcasm and a healthy shot of self-pity. “Your autograph”s worthless so don”t send me letters, and don”t mail me cash “cause your money is no good. What”s left in your mattress is holes that lack of love left, some hair from a horse and none of it is yours, man.” Somebody has Daddy Issues”¦

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Loudon Wainwright III – A Father And A Son.mp3
loudonLoudon”s children, Rufus and Martha, evidently are not great fans of his parenting style, as we”ll see in the next song. Here, Loudon addresses his teenage son, recalling his own difficult relationship with his father, suggesting that volatile filial interactions are hereditary. He”d rather not fight with his son: “I don’t know what all of this fighting is for; but we”re having us a teenage/middle-age war.” Presumably father and son don”t hold back when screaming at each other. And yet: “This thing between a father and a son “” maybe it”s power and push and shove; maybe it”s hate”¦but probably it”s love.”

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Martha Wainwright – Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole.mp3
martha_wainwrightPerhaps Loudon can persuade his son, but daughter is disenchanted. He has clearly caused Martha (and, it seems, her mother) so much pain that the breakdown in their relationship is complete: “I will not pretend, I will not put on a smile, I will not say I”m all right for you”¦” And then the repeated outburst: “You bloody mother fucking asshole. Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole.” No breakfast in bed for Loudon on Fathers” Day then?

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Gladys Knight & The Pips – Daddy Could Swear, I Declare.mp3
gknightAh, a father after my own heart. A man of my height (what do you mean “only” 5″7, Gladys) who knows how to swear and a short fuse. But he loved his children. This song, from 1973″s Neither One Of Us album, should resonate with adult children remembering their father through the medium of anecdote: “Ooh, my brothers and sisters still talk about how Daddy lost his temper that day. You see, he built a picket fence from the garage to the house. Well, Sam, tell me what I say, the same day the garbage man backed into the fence and the whole darn thing gave way. You should have been there”¦”

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Johnny Cash – Daddy Sang Bass.mp3
cash_stquentinThe family that sings together, stays together. Until somebody dies. Johnny Cash didn”t have a particularly happy family; his father blamed Johnny for the accidental death of his older brother. In this song, written by Carl Perkins, the family enjoys harmony, despite poverty. “Daddy sang bass, mama sang tenor. Me and little brother would join right in there.” Now, however, they”re all dead. Cash remembers the closeness and has the religious convictions to presume meeting them again in the afterlife: “Singing seems to help a troubled soul. One of these days, and it won”t be long, I”ll rejoin them in a song.” Cash died 34 years after recording the song at San Quentin jail.

The Originals Vol. 27

June 19th, 2009 7 comments

Sometimes it happens that an act which wrote a famous song has it recorded by others before they do. This can be because the composer was still a songwriter waiting to become well known (Kris Kristofferson or Leonard Cohen), or because the first performer was friendly with the star who wrote the song. We have seen a couple of such cases in this series before, with Barry McGuire recording the Mamas and the Papas” California Dreaming and Chad & Jeremy”s doing Simon & Garfunkel”s Homeward Bound first (amusingly, DivShare indicates that the McGuire version has been downloaded 140,701 times. Yeah, right). In this instalment, all five songs were recorded by others before the writers recorded their more famous versions.

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New World Singers ““ Blowing In The Wind.mp3
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind (Gerde’s version, 1962).mp3

Bob Dylan ““ No More Auction Block (1962).mp3
Chad Mitchell Trio – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3
Peter, Paul & Mary – Blowin’ In The Wind.mp3

Marlene Dietrich ““ Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind.mp3

Before he became almost instantly famous, Bob Dylan”s favoured hang-out in Greenwich Village was Gerde”s Folk City. In 1962 he took ten minutes to cobble together Blowin” In The Wind, based on an old slave song called No More Auction Block, which he says he knew from the Cater Family”s version. Dylan”s recording of the song dates from October 1962, at the Gaslight Café.

gerde's

Also performing regularly at Gerde”s was the multi-racial folk group New World Singers. Delores Nixon, the black member, often sang No More Auction Block as part of the group”s repertoire. Dylan later recalled that he wrote Blowin” In The Wind after spending the night with Delores (who told him that it was unethical to “borrow” the melody, even though many folkies used to do that). One day in April 1962, Dylan handed the lyrics of Blowin” In The Wind to New World Singer Gil Turner, who hosted the Monday evening line-up. Turner was impressed and asked Dylan to teach him the song, so that he could perform it immediately. Turner introduced the song “” “I”d like to sing a new song by one of our great songwriters. It”s hot of the pencil and here it goes.” The crowd went mad, and Dylan went home. After that, he would include Blowin’ In The Wind on his repertoire; his version featured here is an excellent bootleg from a gig at Gerde”s in late 1962, before he recorded it for his sophomore album and before anybody else released it.

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The timeline of recordings of Blowin” In The Wind is a little confused. Some sources date the New World Singers” recording to September 1963, four months after Dylan”s was released. That is patently wrong, however. The New World Singers” version appeared on a compilation of “topical songs” called Broadside Ballads Vol. 1 which apparently was released on 1 January 1963 on Broadside Records, the recording arm of the folk magazine (you guessed it) Broadside, which was founded by Pete Seeger and printed the lyrics of the song in May 1962. The Chad Mitchell Trio, sometimes credited with recording the song first, released the song on their In Action LP in March 1963.

dietrich_antwort_windIn 1963, Blowin” In The Wind became a massive hit, not for Dylan, but for Peter, Paul & Mary. Naturally the song has been covered copiously and esoterically. Perhaps the most unexpected recording is that by the German film legend Marlene Dietrich in 1964; her Burt Bacharach-orchestrated single, which is not at all bad (I do dig the groovy flute), was backed by another German take on a folk anthem, Where Have All The Flowers Gone. I owe the New World Singers file to my latest Originals friend Walter from Belgium, who has kindly set me up with 30-odd more songs for this series.

Also recorded by: Chad Mitchell Trio (1963), Kingston Trio (1963), Stan Getz (1963), Marie Laforêt (1963), The Breakaways (1963), Conny Vandenbos & René Frank (as Wie weet waar het begint, 1964), Stan Getz & João Gilberto (1964; b-side of The Girl From Ipanema), Richard Anthony (as Ecoute dans le vent, 1964), Eddy Arnold (1964), The Browns (1964), Sam Cooke (1964), Marianne Faithfull (1964), Lena Horne (1964), Lucille Starr & Bob Regan (1964), Nina & Frederik (1964), Chet Atkins (1965), Trini Lopez (1965), Cher (1965), The Mad Hatters (1965), Johnny Rivers (1965), Bobby Bare (1965), Jackie DeShannon (1965), The Silkie (1965), Blue Mood Four (1965), Marlene Dietrich (English version, 1966), John Davidson (1966), I Kings (as La risposta, 1966), Robert DeCormier Singers (1966), Peggy March (as Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind, 1966), The Sheffields (1966), Stevie Wonder (1966), Dionne Warwick (1966), Joan Baez (1967), Brother Jack McDuff (1967), Lou Donaldson (1967), Laurel Aitken (1967), O.V. Wright (1968), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1968), The Dixie Drifters (1968), The Hollies (1969), Stanley Turrentine feat. Shirley Scott (1969), The Travellers (1969), Edwin Hawkins Singers (1969), Diana Ross & The Supremes (1969), Bill Medley (1970), Johnny Nash (1970), Luigi Tenco (as La risposta è caduta nel vento, 1972), Brimstone (1973), Black Johnny & His Paradiso’s (1973), Trident (1975), Horst Jankowski und sein Rias-Tanzorchester (1977), Julie Felix (1992), Neil Young (1991), Barbara Dickson (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), Judy Collins (1994), The Hooters (1994), Hugues Aufray (as Dans le souffle du vent, 1995), Mina (2000), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2001), Emmerson Nogueira (2002), Peter Saltzman (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Loona (2004), Bobby Solo (2004), Jools Holland with Ruby Turner (2005), House of Fools (2005), Dolly Parton & Nickel Creek (2005), Nena (2007), Sylvie Vartan (as Dans le souffle du vent, 2007), Massimo Priviero (2007) a.o.

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Billy Preston – My Sweet Lord.mp3
George Harrison ““ My Sweet Lord.mp3

billy_prestonYes, of course, the Chiffons did it “originally”. And with that out of the way, Harrison wrote My Sweet Lord, which would become his biggest and most controversial hit, for Billy Preston. Preston had at one point come to be regarded as the “Fifth Beatle” thanks to his keyboard work which earned him a co-credit on the Get Back single. He had actually known the band since 1962, when he toured Britain with Little Richard, for whom the Beatles opened in Liverpool. Post-Beatles, Preston continued working with Harrison, who had brought him into the Let It Be sessions.

Written in December 1969 in Copenhagen, My Sweet Lord song first appeared on Preston”s Encouraging Words album, a star-studded affair which included not only Harrison, but also Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richard on bass and Ginger Baker on drums. The album also included Harrison”s All Things Must Pass (a song which the Beatles had considered of recording); almost a year later that song would provide the title of the triple-LP set. The All Things Must Pass album, produced by Phil Spector, also included George”s cover of his own My Sweet Lord.

my_sweet_lordPreston”s version is much closer to Harrison”s original concept than the composer”s own take. In his defence during the My Sweet Lord/He”s So Fine plagiarism case, Harrison said that he was inspired not by early-“60s girlband pop, but by the Edwin Hawkins Singers” 1969 hit Oh Happy Day. That influence is acutely apparent on Preston”s recording, but less so on Harrison”s chart-topper. Indeed, had Preston scored the big hit with it, not Harrison, it might have been Ed Hawkins initiating the plagiarism litigation.

Also recorded by: Stu Phillips & The Hollyridge Strings (1971), Johnny Mathis (1971), Homer Louis Randolph III (1971), Peggy Lee (1971), Ray Conniff (1971), Monty Alexander & the Cyclones (1971), Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Eddy Arnold (1971), Edwin Starr (1971), Top of the Poppers (1971), Nina Simone (1972), Richie Havens (1972), The Violinaires (1973), Five Thirty (1990), Boy George (1992), Stacy Q (1997), George Harrison & Sam Brown (2000), David Young (2000), Emmerson Nogueira (2003), Bebe Winans (2003), Girlyman (2003), Joel Harrison (2005), Gary Christian & Desa Basshead (2008) a.o.

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Flying Burrito Brothers – Wild Horses.mp3
Rolling Stones – Wild Horses.mp3

burritoIt is difficult to say which one is the original, and which one the cover. The Stones recorded it before the Flying Burrito Brothers did, but released it only after Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons” band released it on their 1970 album, Burrito Deluxe. Wild Horses was written in 1969 (Keef says about his new-born son; Jagger denies that its re-written lyrics were about Marianne Faithfull) and recorded in December 1969 at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, the day after the group laid down Brown Sugar. Jamming in a country mood, Mick asked Keith to present a number in that genre, spurring his country-loving friend on by saying: “Come on, you must have hundreds”. Keith disappeared for a bit, and returned with a melody and words for the chorus. Mick filled in the lyrics for the verses, and the song was recorded (with Jim Dickinson standing it for Ian Stewart, who did not like playing minor chords)  before the Stones packed up and left Memphis.

Earlier that year, the Stones had collaborated on the Flying Burrito Brothers” The Gilded Palace Of Sin album; and as the curtain fell on the 1960s, the Burritos opened for the Stones at the notorious Altamont concert (according to some reports, it was during their performance that the Hells” Angels started the first fight). Parsons was especially friendly with Keith Richard, whom he introduced to the treasury of country music. It is even said that the song was intended for Gram “” probably a false rumour, yet it  sounds more like a Parsons than a Stones song. Whether or not it was intended for Parsons, the Burritos were allowed to record Wild Horses, and release it before the Stones were able to (for contractual reasons involving their “divorce” from Allen Klein) on 1971″s Sticky Fingers album.

Also recorded by: Labelle (1971), Leon Russell (1974), Melanie (1974), The Sundays (1992), Southside Johnny (1997), Otis Clay (1997), Blackhawk (1997), Old & In the Way (1997), Elliott Murphy with Olivier Durand (2000), Brent Truitt, Tim Crouch and Dennis Crouch (2000), The Rocking Chairs (2002), Leslie King (2003), The String Quartet (2003), Rachel Z (2004), Charlotte Martin (2004), Karen Souza (2005), Alicia Keys featuring Adam Levine (2005), Tre Lux (2006), Richard Marx with Jessica Andrews (2008) a.o.

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Judy Collins – Suzanne.mp3
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne.mp3
Fran̤oise Hardy РSuzanne (English version).mp3

judy_collinsMany of Laughing Len”s most famous songs were first recorded by folk warbless Judy Collins: Sisters Of Mercy; Bird On A Wire; Since You”ve Asked; Hey, That”s No Way to Say Goodbye “” and Suzanne. The song was born in Montréal, landmarks of which are described at length in the song. Cohen already had a chord pattern in place which he then married to a poem he had written about one Suzanne Verdal “” the beautiful wife of the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, a friend of Cohen”s “” whom he fancied but, as the lyrics have it, touched only in his mind.

francoise_hardyOne night in 1966, a year before Cohen released his debut album, he played the finished song over the telephone to his friend Judy Collins, who was already a star on the folk scene. Duly enchanted, Collins recorded the song for her In My Life album, which was released in November 1966. A few months later, the English-born singer Noel Harrison and Josh White Jr both recorded it before the song”s writer got around to releasing it in December 1967. It is fair to say that Leonard Cohen owes much of his start in music to Judy Collins” patronage. Apart from Cohen”s version, I really like Françoise Hardy”s (English-language) remake from 1970.

suzanne

Suzanne Verdal, the muse behind Cohen's song.

As for the subject of the song, she is now (or at least was fairly recently) living out of her car in California following a serious back injury sustained in a fall. In 1998, BBC4 interviewed her about the song; she comes across as charming “” one can sense why Cohen might have been enchanted by her three decades earlier. The interview is a useful tool for deciphering the lyrics. The marine theme was inspired by the adjacent St Lawrence River, nearby was a Catholic church for sailors under the patronage of the Virgin Mary. Suzanne was a practising Catholic (hence the nautical Jesus allusions). And the tea”¦well, it was just tea, with pieces of fruit in it.

Also recorded by: Noel Harrison (1967), Josh White Jr (1968), Pearls Before Swine (1968), Catherine McKinnon (1968), Genesis (a US band, 1968), Graeme Allwright (1968), Françoise Hardy (1970), (in French, 1968), Jack Jones (1968), Harry Belafonte (1969), Herman van Veen (in Dutch and German, 1969), Nina Simone (1969), John Davidson (1969), George Hamilton IV (1969), Gary McFarland (1969), Fairport Convention (1969), Françoise Hardy (in English, 1970), Nancy Wilson (1970), Joan Baez (on four occasions, first in 1971), Neil Diamond (1971), Anni-Frid Lyngstad (1971), Fabrizio De André (1972), Roberta Flack (1973), Mia Martini (1983), The Flying Lizards (1984), Geoffrey Oryema (1991), Bomb (1992), Richard Dworsky (1992), The Parasites (1993), Peter Gabriel (1995), Dianne Reeves (1999), Barb Jungr (1999), Kevin Parent (2001), Nana Mouskouri (2002), Denison Witmer (2003), Andrea Parodi e Bocephus King (2003), Marti Pellow (2003), René Marie (2003), Perla Batalla (2005), Aga Zaryan (2006), Sylvie Vartan (2007), Aretha Franklin (in the “60s, released in 2007), Alain Bashung (2008), Gaetane Abrial (2008), James Taylor (2008) a.o.

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Ray Stevens – Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down.mp3
Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down.mp3
Johnny Cash – Sunday Morning Coming Down.mp3

ray_stevensKris Kristofferson is country music”s Cinderella. Although from a distinguished military family and highly educated, by the mid-“60s he was a janitor for Columbia Records in Nashville, writing his songs literally in the basement. His bosses even warned him not to pitch his songs to the label”s recording stars, or he”d be fired. One day, Kristofferson broke that rule. Double-shifting as a helicopter pilot, he collared Johnny Cash on the building”s helipad (some say he landed a chopper in Cash”s garden) to present him with Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down. Cash was impressed with the song, and made sure that Kristofferson would not be fired. He did not, however, record his songs “” yet. Still, soon Kristofferson”s songs “” such Me And Bobby McGee (which already featured in this series), Help Me Make It Through The Night, From The Bottle To The Bottom “” were recorded by a variety of country artists. Eventually Kristofferson was rewarded with a recording contract; his big career breakthrough came when Cash introduced him at the Newport Folk Festival.

johnny_cash_showStrangely, Cash was not the first to record Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down. Ray Stevens, a country singer who frequently dabbled in novelty songs, recorded it in 1969, scoring a minor hit on the country charts. Cash had the bigger hit with his 1970 version, which corrected the colloquial spelling. 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.

Johnny Cash was a marvellous interpreter of songs, but his take Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down, fine though it is, does not stand up to Kristofferson”s version, which was also released in 1970. Indeed, it recently occurred to me that, if I was forced to choose, I would list KK”s version of Sunday Mornin” Comin” Down as my all-time favourite song.

Also recorded by: Sammi Smith (1970), Hank Ballard (1970), R. Dean Taylor (1970), Vikki Carr (1970), Lynn Anderson (1971), John Mogensen (as Søndag morgen,1971), Hank Snow (1971), Bobby Bare (1974), Frankie Laine (1978), Louis Neefs (as Zondagmiddag, 1979), Johnny Paycheck (1980), Shawn Mullins (1998), David Allan Coe (1998), Crooked Fingers (2002), Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-press (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006), Trace Adkins (2006), Ernie Thacker (2009) a.o.

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More Originals

The Originals Vol. 26

June 12th, 2009 21 comments

In this instalment, three songs featured are perhaps well known to some in their original form; one original (Galveston) is pretty obscure; and one song may not immediately ring bells until one hears it (German readers of a certain age will recognise it by another name). There are ten versions of Reason To Believe, one of the greatest songs ever written. I”ve posted Tim Hardin”s original separately and the nine cover versions in one file.

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Tim Hardin ““ Reason To Believe.mp3
Johnny Cash – Reason To Believe (1974)
(reupped)
NINE VERSIONS OF REASON TO BELIEVE
Bobby Darin – Reason To Believe (1966)
Scott McKenzie – Reason To Believe (1967)
Marianne Faithfull – Reason To Believe (1967)
The Dillards – Reason To Believe (1968)
Glen Campbell – Reason To Believe (1968)
Cher – Reason To Believe (1968)
Carpenters – Reason To Believe (1970)
Rod Stewart – Reason To Believe (1971)
Billy Bragg – Reason To Believe (live) (1989)
tim_hardin The mark of genius in a song resides in its adaptability. As the various covers featured here show, Reason To Believe (not to be confused with Bruce Springsteen”s song of the same title) is the sort of rare song into which artists can project their emotions, making it their own. The 1966 original by Tim Hardin, who wrote it, is suitably affecting, as befits a lyric of betrayal (the line “Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried; still I look to find a reason to believe” is heartbreaking). But in my view, the definitive interpretation of the song, one of my all-time favourites, is that by the Southern Californian country band The Dillards (1968), who inspired bands such as the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. It is perfect.

DARINReason To Believe was not a hit for Hardin. A gifted songwriter, he enjoyed his biggest hit with somebody else”s song, Bobby Darin”s twee Simple Song of Freedom, which Darin wrote in return for Hardin providing his big comeback hit If I Were A Carpenter. Darin, by then in his folk phase, also did a very credible version of Reason To Believe. Hardin”s story is tragic. As a marine in Vietnam in the early 1960s he discovered heroin and became addicted to the drug. Added to that, he suffered from terrible stagefright, which is not helpful when you are an entertainer. He died on 29 December 1980 from a heroin and morphine overdose. He was only 39.

The two best known versions arguably are those by Rod Stewart (1971) and the Carpenters (1970). Stewart is a fine interpreter of songs, and his take of Reason To Believe is entirely likable. Stewart”s take was released as a single a-side; in the event the flip side, Maggie Mae, became the big hit.

EDIT: The Johnny Cash version linked to above comes courtesy of Señor of the WTF? No, Seriously. WTF? blog.
Also recorded by: Bobby Darin (1966), Scott McKenzie (1967), Marianne Faithfull (1967), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1967), Rick Nelson (1967), David Hemmings (1967), Cher (1968), The Dillards (1968), The Youngbloods (1968), Glen Campbell (1968), Suzi Jane Hokom (1969), Brainbox (1969), The Wray Brothers Band (1969), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (1970), Andy Williams (1970), The Carpenters (1970), Rod Stewart (1971), Skeeter Davis (1972), Johan Verminnen (as Iemand als jij, 1989), Wilson Phillips (1990), Jackie DeShannon (1993), Don Williams (1995), Paul Weller (1995), Stina Nordenstam (1998), Ron Sexsmith (1999), Rod Stewart (2003), Vonda Shepard (2001) a.o.

Jimmy Driftwood ““ The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Horton ““ The Battle Of New Orleans.mp3
Les Humphries Singers ““ Mexico.mp3

jimmy_driftwood Oh, you probably do know the song. And if you don”t, you should. Originally a traditional folk song known as The 8th of January, it tells the story of a soldier fighting with Andrew Jackson”s army against the British in the 8 January 1815 battle of the title. It was first recorded in 1957 and released the following year by Jimmy Driftwood, a school teacher in Timbo, Arkansas. Born James Morris, he is said to have been one of the nicest guys in the folk music scene (not surprisingly, he was a collaborator with the great Alan Lomax). As a history teacher, Driftwood considered song to be a teaching device, and so in 1936 (or 1945, depending which sources you believe) he set the fiddle-based folk song to lyrics “” there were no definitive words, only snippets of recurring phrases “” to benefit his students. In the 1950s, Driftwood was signed by RCA, and eventually recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, with the label”s session man Chet Atkins on guitar. He later wrote another country classic, Tennessee Stud, which became a hit for Eddy Arnold and Johnny Cash (Tarantino fans will know it from the Jackie Brown soundtrack).

johnny_horton_new_orleansShortly after Driftwood recorded The Battle Of New Orleans, the doomed country star Johnny Horton did a cover which relied less on manic fiddling and dropped such radio-unfriendly words as “hell” and “damn”, and scored a big hit with it (he even changed the lyrics for the English market, turning the enemy “British” into random “rebels). Horton released several “historical records” (most famous among them, perhaps, Sink The Bismarck), though it would be unfair to reduce his influence on country music to that. A close friend of Johnny Cash”s, Horton died in a car crash in 1960, widowing his wife Billy Jean for the second time “” she had been married to Hank Williams when the country legend died. Spookily, both Williams and Horton played their last concerts at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.

There is a crazy idea on the Internet that associates Horton with the revolting racist records of a fuckwitted spunkbucket going by the name of Rebel Johnny (such as the charming “I Hate Niggers”). I am at a loss to understand how such a confusion could arise and thereby smear the name of a great country star.

les_humphries_mexicoTwo other cover versions are notable. Also in 1959, skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan reached the UK #2 “” but received no airplay on Aunty Beeb until he changed the word “ruddy” to “blooming”. The song was revived in 1972 by the Les Humphries Singers, a multi-ethnc and multi-national English-language ensemble of hippie demeanour that was very popular in West Germany with its Ed Hawkins Singer meets Hair shtick. Humphries, an Englishman, renamed the song Mexico (not a stretch; that country”s name appears in the original lyrics) and scored a massive hit with his outfit”s joyous rendition. Their performances, in English, captured the era”s exuberant spirit of social and sexual liberation. The trouble is, Humphries credited the song to himself, a brazen act of plagiarism. I have found no evidence that Humphries, who died in 2007 at 67, was ever sued for his blatant rip-off.
Also recorded by: Vaughn Monroe (1959), Eddy Arnold (1963), Harpers Bizarre (1968), Johnny Cash (1972), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1974), Buck Owens (1975), Bob Weir (1976), Bill Haley (1979)

Johnny O’Keefe – Wild One.mp3
Iggy Pop – Real Wild Child (Wild One).mp3

johnny_okeefe_wild_one Johnny O’Keefe was Australia”s first rock & roll star, notching up 30 hits in his country. Like Elvis, he was born in January 1935. He died just over a year after Elvis, of barbiturate poisoning. Often referred to by the title of his big hit, released in 1958, O”Keefe was the first Australian rock & roll star to tour the United States. But it was while Buddy Holly & the Crickets were touring Australia that the song came to traverse the Pacific. Crickets drummer Jerry Allison went on to record it under the name Ivan as Real Wild Child, enjoying a minor US hit with it.

It took almost three decades before O”Keefe”s song would reach the higher regions of the charts when Iggy Pop scored a UK Top 10 and US Top 30 hit with his David Bowie-produced track, as Real Wild Child (Wild One), in 1986. It isn”t clear which version inspired Mr Osterberg, but in 1982 Albert Lee recorded it under the same title.
Also recorded by: Jerry Lewis (1958; released in 1974), Jet Harris (1962), Billy Idol (1987), Christopher Otcasek (1989), Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1993), Lou Reed (1993), Status Quo (2003), Wakefield (2004), Everlife (2006)


Dave Edmunds – Queen Of Hearts.mp3
Juice Newton ““ Queen Of Hearts.mp3

dave_edmonds Here”s one of those songs that some might know better in its original version, and others as the hit cover. Queen Of Hearts was a UK #11 hit for Dave Edmunds “” previously featured in this series for covering Smiley Lewis” I Hear You Knocking “” in 1979, and two years later a US #2 hit for the unlikely-named Juice Newton. She will return to this series soon when her other big hit of 1981, Angel Of The Morning. Newton earned a Grammy nomination for best country song for her version, and it was her remake that inspired the veteran French singer Sylvie Vartan, who once performed on a bill with the Beatles, to record her French take on the song (retitled Quand tu veux , or When You Want It). A couple of years earlier Newton had tried to have a hit with another British song, but her version of It”s A Heartache lost out in the US to that by Welsh rasper Bonnie Tyler. Later Newton enjoyed a #11 with Brenda Lee”s Break It To Me Gently.
Also recorded by: Rodney Crowell (1980), Sylvie Vartan (as Quand tu veux, 1981), The Shadows (1983), Lawrence Welk (1984), Ramshackle Daddies (2003), Melanie Laine (2005), Valentina (2007)

don_ho_galvestonDon Ho ““ Galveston.mp3
Glen Campbell ““ Galveston.mp3

Jimmy Webb sat on the beach of Galveston on the hurricane-plagued Gulf of Mexico when he wrote this song, which might appear to be about the Spanish-American war but was just as applicable to the Vietnam War, which in 1966 was starting to heat up (“While I watch the cannons flashing, I clean my gun and dream of Galveston” and “I”m so afraid of dying”). The composer subsequently said it was about the Vietnam War but at other times also denied it. Whatever Webb had in mind, its theme is universal about any soldier who”d rather be home than on the killing fields.

glen_campbell_galvestonWebb had previously written By The Time I Get To Phoenix (first recorded by Johnny Rivers), which Glen Campbell would have a hit with. He later wrote Wichita Lineman especially for Campbell. Galveston would complete the trinity of Webb hit songs for Campbell, who in 1974 recorded a whole album of Webb numbers. The original of Galveston was recorded by the relatively obscure Don Ho, a Hawaiian lounge singer and TV star who was known for appearing with red shades and died in 2007 aged 76. Campbell later said that, while in Hawaii, Ho turned him to Galveston. Campbell sped it up a bit to create his moving version. Apparently, after “giving” the song to Campbell, Ho would not sing it any more.
Also recorded by: Lawrence Welk (1969), Jim Nabors (1968), The Ventures (1969), Roger Williams (1969), Jimmy Webb (1971), The Lemonheads (1997), Of Montreal (2000), Joel Harrison with David Binney (2004)

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More Originals

The Originals Vol. 24

May 8th, 2009 14 comments

We have a bit of a bumper edition here, with ten quite distinct and all lovely versions of Let It Be Me, four of City Of New Orleans, plus It Must Be Love, My Baby Just Cares For Me and Ruby Don”t Take Your Love To Town. Special thanks to our old friend RH and our new friend Walter for their contributions. I would be interested to know which version of Let It Be Me is the most liked.

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Labi Siffre – It Must Be Love.mp3
Madness – It Must Be Love.mp3

siffre_it_must_be_lovePerhaps I”m stretching the concept of this series a little here; some may well say that they know the Labi Siffre original better than the remake. Still, it is the 1981 Madness cover that was the bigger hit and gets the wider airplay. In my view, their version is better than Siffre”s, though I fully expect to receive dissenting comment calling into question the intactness of my mental faculties (or, indeed, refer to my complete madness). Madness reached the UK #4 with the song; in 1971, Siffre (one of the first openly gay singers in pop) reached #14 with it. Rather endearingly, Siffre made a cameo appearance in the video for the Madness single (he is a violin player).

Siffre periodically retired from the music industry. He most propitiously returned in 1987 when he released his anti-apartheid song Something Inside (So Strong), which has been frequently covered, and then proceeded to co-write most of Jonathan Butler”s fine 1990 album Heal Our Land, which in part was a love letter to South Africa at a time when it had become clear that apartheid was dead.

Also recorded by: Marian Montgomery (1972), Lyn Paul (1975), Jasper Steverlinck (2004), Jeroen van der Boom (2006), Paolo Nutini (2007)

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Mel Tillis – Ruby (Don”t Take Your Love To Town) (1967).mp3
Waylon Jennings – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1967).mp3
Kenny Rogers & First Edition – Ruby Don”t Take Your Love To Town.mp3

Mel Tillis – Ruby, Don”t Take Your Love To Town (1976).mp3

tillisA Korean war veteran comes home from doing his “patriotic chore” without his legs and his beloved wife treats him like dirt and goes cheating on him. Much as it may sound like a country music cliché, songwriter Mel Tillis, who released the song in January 1967, said he based the lyrics on a couple in his neighbourhood, with the man having been wounded in Germany in Word War 2, not in Korea. Tillis spared us the bitter end of the story: The ex-GI killed his straying wife and then himself. Though the protagonist of the song imagines putting Ruby into the ground, he has no concrete plans to kill her.

EDIT: Tillis was the first to release the song, but Waylon Jennings actually recorded it three months before Tillis did, in September 1966. Jennings’ version, however, did not get released until August 1967.

The song had been recorded a couple of times before Kenny Rogers decided it would serve to move his group, the First Edition, closer to the country scene. He and the group recorded the song in one take. It became a hit in 1969 (at the height of the Vietnam War), reaching #6 in the US and #2 in the UK. For Rogers it became a signature tune which he would record twice more, in 1977 and 1990. Apparently Rogers likes to send the song up in concerts; it seems to have become a bit of a gag, with the not very humorous Right Said Fred honouring it with a cover version. Personally, I fail to see the capricious angle.

And thanks to commenter Phillip:
Walter Brennan – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.mp3 (direct DL via AprilWinchell.com)

Also recorded by: Johnny Darrell (1967), The Statler Brothers (1967), Red Sovine (1969), Dale Hawkins (1969), Peter Law & The New Pacific (1969), Leonard Nimoy (1970),  Carl Perkins (1974), Gary Holton & Casino Steel (1980), Sort Sol (1985), The Gorehounds (as Ruby, 1989), Right Said Fred (1996), Cake (2005), The Killers (2007) a.o.

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Steve Goodman – City Of New Orleans.mp3
Arlo Guthrie – City Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Cash – City Of New Orleans.mp3

Willie Nelson – City Of New Orleans.mp3

steve_goodmanThroughout this series there have been songs that in their original form were far superior to the versions that made them famous. Great though Guthrie”s version (and Willie Nelson”s) is, City Of New Orleans is one such song. Goodman wrote it after travelling on the eponymous train which was about to be decommissioned, recording faithfully what he saw. The song helped to reprieve the line. Having been discovered by Kris Kristofferson, who introduced him to Paul Anka, Goodman recorded the song in 1971. One night in a Chicago bar he approached Arlo Guthrie with a view to introducing the song to Woody”s son. Arlo was not really interested in hearing another songwriter trying to peddle a song, but on condition that Goodman buy him a beer, he mustered some patience. Later he would recall it as “one of the longest, most enjoyable beers I ever had”. The meeting would provide him with his biggest hit, released in 1972. Johnny Cash, no stranger to the subject matter of trains, released his take in 1973.

arlo_guthrieGuthrie changed some of the lyrics: Goodman”s “passing towns” became “passing trains”, the “magic carpet made of steam” was now made of steel, “the rhythm of the rails is all they dream” was now felt. Goodman didn”t seem to mind; he and Guthrie remained good friends until the former”s premature death at 36 in 1984 from leukaemia, the disease he had been diagnosed with in 1969. He won a posthumous Grammy for the song on strength of Willie Nelson”s 1984 version. Read the quite dramatic story of The City of New Orleans train here, and more about Steve Goodman here.

Also recorded by: John Denver (1971), Chet Atkins (1973), The Seldom Scene (1973), Joe Dassin (as Salut les amoureux, 1973), Sammi Smith (1973), Hank Snow (1973), Johnny Cash & June Carter (1973), Henson Cargill (1973), Ted Egan (1973), Hopeton Lewis (1973), Jerry Reed (1974), Johnny Cash (1975), Judy Collins (1975), Rudi Carrell (as Wann wird’s mal wieder richtig Sommer, 1975), Yoram Gaon (as Shalom Lach Eretz Nehederet, 1977), Louise Féron & Jérôme Soligny (as Salut les amoureux, 1993), Randy Scruggs (1998), Maarten Cox (as ‘t Is weer voorbij, die mooie zomer, 2005), Beth Kinderman (2006), Discharger (2006), Lizzie West & the White Buffalo (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2007) a.o.

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Ted Weems & his Orchestra – My Baby Just Cares For Me.mp3
Nina Simone – My Baby Just Cares For Me.mp3

weemsWritten by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn for the 1928 musical Whoopee (not to be confused with the rubbish actress going by a similar name), My Baby Just Cares For Me was recorded by a host of artists in the following few years. Ted Weems” was not the first, but certainly among the earliest recordings. His take shows just how great an interpreter of songs Nina Simone was. She recorded it in 1958. It was not her most famous number, much less her signature tune, really becoming well-known when it featured in a British TV commercial for Chanel No. 5.

The bandleader Ted Weems was a star by the time he released his version of My Baby Just Cares For Me in July 1930, having had previous hits with Somebody Stole My Gal (1924), Piccolo Pete, and The Man from the South (1928), and later with Heartaches, which he recorded in 1933. At around that time he became even more famous thanks to a regular spot on Jack Benny”s hugely popular radio show. His band broke up with World War 2, and was reformed briefly in the early “50s. Weems toured until 1953 when he became a DJ in Memphis and then a hotel manager. Weems died in 1963 at the age of 62. Take a look at this great video of Weems and a chorus line of flappers.

Also recorded by: Ethel Shutta (1930), Ted Fiorito & his Orchestra (1930), Mel Tormé (1947), Nat “˜King” Cole (1949), The Hi-Lo’s (1954), Tony Bennett (1955), Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads (1955), Tommy Dorsey (1958), Tab Hunter (1958), Mary Wells (1965), Frank Sinatra (1966), Cornell Campbell (1973), Alex Chilton (1994), George Michael (1999), Julie Budd (2000), Natalie Cole (2002), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Laura Fedele (2005), Jaqui Naylor (2006), Amanda Lear (2006) a.o.

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Gilbert Bécaud – Je t”appartiens (1955).mp3
Jill Corey
– Let It Be Me (1957)
Everly Brothers – Let It Be Me (1960)
Betty Everett & Jerry Butler – Let It Be Me (1964)
Skeeter Davis & Bobby Bare – Let It Be Me (1965)
Peaches & Herb – Let It Be Me (ca 1967)
Glen Campbell & Bobbie Gentry – Let It Be Me (1968)
Bob Dylan – Let It Be Me (1970)
Roberta Flack – Let It Be Me (1970)
Rosie Thomas – Let It Be Me (2005)
All nine cover versions in one file here

becaud-jappertiensLet It Be Me is one of those pop standards that cannot be ascribed to any one particular artist. Most commonly, it might be considered an Everly Brothers song. To me, it is Betty Everett & Jerry Butler”s song; perhaps the most gorgeous version. Some may have heard it for the first time in its vulnerable interpretation by the wonderful Rosie Thomas, duetting with Ed Hardcourt. Not many will think of it as a French song, co-written and first released by the brilliant Gilbert Bécaud as Je t”appartiens (I belong to you) in 1955.

It was not the biggest hit for Bécaud (born François Silly), but it has been prodigiously covered. It took two years to cross the Atlantic, when Jill Corey ““ the youngest singer ever to headline at the Copacabana “” recorded the first English-translation version. It was not a big hit, barely scratching the Top 60. It did become a hit with the Everly Brothers” in 1960, their first recording made outside Nashville “” it was made in New York “” and their first to incorporate strings in the arrangement. Let It Be Me became a hit again in 1964 for Butler & Everett, in 1969 for Glenn Campbell & Bobby Gentry, and in 1982 for Willie Nelson. Bob Dylan recorded it twice; featured here is the first of these, which appeared on his 1970″s Self Portrait album. The same year Roberta Flack gave the song a whole new treatment on her second album. I am also partial to the version by the delightfully named Skeeter Davis with outlaw country pioneer Bobby Bare, which includes aspoken bit by Skeeter, as was her wont.

Also recorded by: The Blue Diamonds (1960), Chet Atkins (1961), The Lettermen (1962), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1962), Andy Williams & Claudine Longet (1964), Sonny & Cher (1965), Brenda Lee (1965), Molly Bee (1965), The Shadows (1965), Barbara Lewis (1966), The Escorts (1966), Nancy Sinatra (1966), Arthur Prysock (1966), Chuck Jackson & Maxine Brown (1967), The Sweet Inspirations (1967), Sam & Dave (1967), Claudine Longet (1968), Earl Grant (1968), Petula Clark (1969), The Delfonics (1969), Jim Ed Brown (1969), Tom Jones (1969), Connie Smith & Nat Stuckey (1969), Roberta Flack (1970), Elvis Presley (1970), Bob Dylan (1970), Nancy Wilson (1971), New Trolls (1973), The Pointer Sisters (1974), Demis Roussos (1974), Nina Simone (1974), Mary McCaslin (1974), Melanie (1978), Kenny Rogers & Dottie West (1979),Jay & the Americans (1980), Bob Dylan (again, 1981), Willie Nelson (1982), David Hasselhoff (1984), Collin Raye (1992), Marc Jordan (1999), Nnenna Freelon feat Kirk Whalum (2000), Justin (2000), Lauro Nyro (2001), Anne Murray & Vince Gill (2002), Mike Andersen (2003), The Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio ( 2003), Paul Weller (2004),Pajo (2006), Frankie Valli (2007), Charlie Daniels Band with Brenda Lee (2007), Roch Voisine (2008), Jason Donovan (2008) a.o.

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American Road Trip Vol. 6

April 28th, 2009 2 comments

We are on our way out of Alabama, having visited Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery, but there is one more stop before we see the lights of Georgia.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

While trawling through Alabama, we met our new friend Chris (himself on a road trip, with his lovely girlfriend, from Mobile to Birmingham) who has invited us to meet him in Tuscaloosa to catch some American Football shenanigans (I”ve always bristled at the idea of that sport being called “football” at the expense of the one that actually calls for the predominant use of feet). And so we go to Tuscaloosa to see the University of Alabama”s gridiron team, the Crimson Tide, beating seven shades of blue of tonight”s oppostion, Wake Forest University”s Demon Deacons. The appalling punster in me is amused to note that the habitual winners should be based in TuscaLOOSA.
Steely Dan – Deacon Blue.mp3
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Atlanta, Georgia

After our excursion into American sporting culture, we dump our 36-tonner truck which we picked up in Baton Rouge and avail ourselves of the great US Railway system, arriving at the station just in time at 23:55. It rains as we cross the state border. Eventually we arrive in Atlanta, city of the unaccountably popular and repulsive Gone With The Wind, carbonated syrup soda, AT&T and other mega-corporations which at present probably are engaged in doing their sums to see if they can qualify for a bailout. Strange to think that just 190 years ago the city was a Cherokee village called Standing Peachtree (hence the civil war Battle of Peachtree Creek and the name of Atlanta”s main street). The Cherokees apparently sold the village to The Man, who in turn forcibly removed them less than 20 years later. Nice.

Atlanta was, of course, an epicentre of the civil rights struggle which was led by a son of the city, Martin Luther King Jr. Atlanta tried to rise above the racism in the region, dubbing itself “the city too busy too hate” (which did not immunise it from hate crimes, racist and anti-semitic).
The B-52s – Love Shack.mp3
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Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Our foray into Georgia is brief, as we make our way north towards the Appalachians (travelling in, for the fun of it, a stagecoach). En route, we stop for a brew in a run-down saloon in Gatlinburg, in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The frost on our glasses has barely thawed when a fellow spontaneously starts a fight with an older man. The problem apparently arose over the older man giving the younger man, his son, a girl”s name. Turns out that the old boy had given his son such an awful name to toughen up the kid in his fatherless childhood ““ a ploy that seems to have had its desired effect, yet seems to have been a bad idea on every other count.

After the younger man has left to have his cut ear stitched, the old man snorts derisively: “I lef” home when the kid was three and it sure felt good to be fancy free, tho” I knew it wasn”t quite the fatherly thing to do. But that kid kept screamin” and throwin” up and pissin” in his pants till I had enough, so just for revenge I went and named him Sue.” And it gets much worse, and funnier, thereafter. (Get Shel Silverstein’s original of A Boy Named Sue here)
Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue.mp3
Shel Silverstein – Father Of A Boy Named Sue.mp3

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One more stop before we cross the Appalachians into Kentucky on our way to Ohio.

Previously on American Road Trip

The Originals Vol. 17

March 3rd, 2009 7 comments

Time for another round of Originals. Apologies for the relative scarcity of posts in the series. They are rather research-intensive, so one post of five songs can take up to 5-6 hours of work. Still, I enjoy writing these posts very much, so I”ll keep on going.
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Richard Chamberlain ““ They Long To Be Close To You.mp3
Dusty Springfield ““ (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3
Carpenters ““ (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3

Isaac Hayes – (They Long To Be) Close To You (full).mp3
Jerry Butler & Brenda Lee Eager – Close To You (live).mp3
Gwen Guthrie ““ (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3
Paul Weller – Close To You.mp3

richard-chamberlain-close-to-youThe Carpenters drew heavily from often not very well known songs, making them their own in the process. This was not so, however, with what is widely regarded at their signature tune. (They Long To Be) Close To You had been recorded a few times before the Carpenters got their turn in 1970.

It started out as a humble b-side to Richard Chamberlain” (yes, the actor) 1963 single Blue Guitar. Within a year both Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield had recorded it, though Dusty”s version was not released until 1967, on her lovely Where Am I Going? LP.

Composer Burt Bacharach was not happy with either of the hitherto published versions when he offered the song to Herb Alpert, who had in 1968 recorded a rather good version of Bacharach”s This Guy”s In Love With You. Alpert, however, declined to do Close To You (apparently he didn”t like the line about sprinkling “moondust in your hair”), and gave the song to the Carpenters, who had released their debut LP on Alpert”s A&M label. An similarly hesitant Richard Carpenter and Alpert arranged the song “” with the latter”s prominent trumpet track “” and created aversion Bacharach was happy with.

carpenters1Close To You has been covered many times since. The genius of the song is that it can stand distinct treatments. It did not suffer from Isaac Hayes slowed down, psychedelic-soul 1971 take, nor from Jerry Butler & Brenda Lee Eager’s 1973 gospel-blues rendition (from the legendary Save The Children concert), nor from Gwen Guthrie”s wonderful upbeat, joyous soul interpretation in 1986. Even Paul Weller on his 2004 album of cover versions couldn”t mess it up. Indeed, I like his raspy-voiced version on which he struggles to keep in tune, but I seem to be in a minority here. Listen to it and tell me what you think. And, of course, it”s Homer and Marge”s wedding song (in the movie; regular viewers will recall several weddings).

Also recorded by: Dionne Warwick (1967), Gabor Szabo (1970), Johnny Mathis (1970), Perry Como (1970), Nancy Wilson (1970), Diana Ross (1970), Leon Spencer (1971), Frank Sinatra (1971), The Moments (1971), Claudine Longet (1971), Barbra Streisand & Burt Bacharach (1971, on Bacharach’s TV show), Cilla Black (1971), Eddy Arnold (1971), Richard Evans (1972), Errol Garner (1973), The Clams (1974), B.T. Express (1975), The Cranberries (1994), Richard Clayderman (1995), Yasuko Agawa (1996), Billy Baxter (1998), Marshall & Alexander (2003), Gerald Levert & Tamia (2003), Tuck & Patti (2004), Soulbob (2005), Rick Astley (2005), Herb Alpert (2005), Barry Manilow (2007), Mario Biondi & Duke Orchestra (2007), Steve Tyrell (2008), Tina Arena (2008) a.o.

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Anita Carter ““ Love”s Ring Of Fire.mp3
Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire.mp3

anita-carterAt the time when June Carter was falling heavily for Johnny Cash, she was regularly writing songs with fellow country singer Merle Kilgore (the first song they wrote together was titled Promised To John, recorded by Anita Carter with Hank Snow). As Kilgore recalled it, Ring Of Fire was born the day June spoke to him about her love for Cash. Later, seeking an idea for a song, June remembered a letter she had received from a friend going through a divorce which described love as “a burning ring of fire”. And thus a classic song title (which even appealed to the manufacturers of haemorrhoid ointment; Roseanne Cash blocked its use in an ad for such a product) was born. Or, if you choose to doubt Kilgore, the writers lifted it from an Elizabethan love poem (or maybe June”s friend got the line from that source).

The song essentially describes June”s feelings for Cash. But it was her sister Anita “” reportedly a one-time girlfriend of Elvis Presley”s “” who recorded it first, in November 1962. In fact, the song was only half-finished when Anita was ready to record it (June had led her to believe the song was already complete). June and Kilgore banged the rest together in ten minutes, fortuitously retaining the word “mire” from a provisional lyric.

cash-ring-of-fireCash liked the song when he heard Anita”s record (as he well should) and decided he would record it. Deferring to his future sister-in-law, he waited four months before recording his version. In the interim he had a dream about the song featuring Tijuana trumpets “” possibly inspired by June”s comment about her having borrowed the song”s swirling sound from the music at a merry-go-round in Villa Acuna, Mexico. Shortened to Ring Of Fire, Cash”s version was a hit, his first since October 1958, this saving his about-to-be-cancelled recording contract with Columbia. And for years later, Kilgore was the best man at Johnny and June”s wedding.

As a postscript, Cash”s ex-wife Vivian claimed that June (or Kilgore) wrote the song, saying it was Johnny”s song about June”s vagina (or “bearded clam”). Attractive though the idea of the song as a metaphor for cunnilingus may be, Vivian”s claim is less than utterly persuasive.

Also recorded by: Roy Drusky (1964), Kitty Wells (1964), Jerry Lee Lewis (1965), Dave Dudley (1966), Tom Jones (1967), Lynn Anderson (1968), Eric Burdon & The Animals (1968), Tommy Cash (1969), Hank Williams Jr (1970), Ray Charles (1970), The Buckaroos (1971), Earl Scruggs & Linda Ronstadt (1972), Olivia Newton-John (1977), Blondie (1980), Wall of Voodoo (1980), Carlene Carter (1980), Dwight Yoakam (1986), Social Distortion (1990), Frank Zappa (1991), McPeak Brothers (1992), Dick Dale (1994), Martin Belmont (1995), Stop (1995), Bhundu Boys & Hank Wangford (1996), Elliot Humberto Kavee (1997), David Allan Coe (1998), The Caravans (1999), The Du-Tels (2001), Billy Burnette (2002), Michel Montecrossa (2003), James Carr (2003), Rachel Z (2004)
Bobby Solo ( 2004), Joaquin Phoenix (2005), The Regulars (2006), Leningrad Cowboys (2006), Lucy Kaplansky (2007), Elvis Costello (2007) a.o.

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Sir Mack Rice – Mustang Sally.mp3
Wilson Pickett – Mustang Sally.mp3

mack-riceMustang Sally is the karaoke number of blues and soul, thanks in large part to The Commitments spirited performance in the eponymous 1991 film. But it was in overuse before that: John Lee Hooker”s San Francisco blues club sported a sign on its stage warning: “No Mustang Sally”.

The song was written by the songwriter Bonnie “Sir Mack” Rice (who also wrote the soul classic Respect Yourself) as a bit of a gag on somebody”s desire for a Ford Mustang, calling it first “Mustang Mama”. Reportedly it was Aretha Franklin who suggested the renaming to Sally. Mack had a minor (and his only) hit with it in 1965; in late 1966 Wilson Pickett recorded his now legendary version “” which almost died the moment it was finished. Apparently the tape snapped off the reel, fragmenting on the floor of the Muscle Shoals studio. The engineer, Tom Dowd, gathered the pieces and spliced them back together again. With that, he saved one of the great soul performances. Of course the great story of the broken tape ignores that Pickett could have simply recorded the thing again. Apparently the men from Desperate Housewives are singing it in the new series; have mercy”¦

Also recorded by: Chambers Brothers (1965), The Kingsmen (1966), Young Rascals (1966), Ken Boothe (1968), Mar-Keys (1969), Muddy Waters (1974), Maurice Williams (1975), Willie Mitchell (1977), Snooks Eaglin (1978), Rufus Thomas (1980), Magic Slim & the Teardrops (1983), Frank Frost (1988), Andy Taylor (1990), Buddy Guy (1991), The Outcasts (1993), John Clark (1993), Hiram Bullock (1994), Sam & Dave (1995), Vance Kelly (1998), Fiona Day (1999), Albert Collins (2000), Los Lobos (2000), Solomon Burke (2004) a.o.

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Lis Sørensen – Brændt.mp3
Ednaswap ““ Torn (acoustic version).mp3

Trine Rein – Torn.mp3
Natalie Imbruglia ““ Torn.mp3

lis-sorensenWhen Natalie Imbruglia”s Torn had its long run in the upper reaches of the British and US charts in 1997, word was that the song was a cover of the Norwegian hit by Trine Rein. The rumour was repeated so often that it became received wisdom. The truth is that it wasn”t even the first cover, or even the first Scandinavian version.

The song”s journey to hit-dom is a little complicated. The song was written by Ednaswap members Anne Preven and Scott Cutler in 1993. The same year it was recorded in Danish by Lis Sørensen as Brændt (I got her version from Danophile Whiteray of Echoes In The Wind), but by Ednaswap only in 1995. Still, those who overplayed the Norwegian angle aren”t entire wrong though: Imbruglia”s cover is a straight copy of Rein”s version, right down to the guitar solo. Ednaswap were a not very successful “90s grunge band, who came by their name when singer Anne Preven had a nightmare about fronting a group by that name being booed off the stage. Well, with a name like that”¦ Preven has become a songwriter, receiving an Oscar nomination for co-writing the song Listen from Dreamgirls.

Also recorded by: Off By One (2002)

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Marion Harris – I Ain”t Got Nobody.mp3
Ted Lewis – Just A Gigolo.mp3
Louis Prima – Just a Gigolo/I Ain”t Got Nobody.mp3

marion-harrisBased on his early “50s stage act, Louis Prima craftily took two songs and seamlessly turned them into one. Just A Gigolo, the first part of the song, is based on the 1929 Austrian hit by Richard Tauber, originally known as Schöner Gigolo, Armer Gigolo (Beautiful Gigolo, Poor Gigolo ““ as in the 1978 movie in which Marlene Dietrich sings the song), which tells the story of a soldier who ditches his uniform to become a “dancer-for-hire” after World War I. In the interim, the song has become a German big band standard. Soon after it was released in Austria, it crossed the Atlantic. The translated lyrics, by one Irving Caesar, moved the action to Paris and eliminated the social commentary on post-war Austria. It was first recorded in the US by French singer Irene Bordoni. Ted Lewis” 1931 is the oldest of the German-language versions I could come by, thanks to One Hep Kat.

Prima brings the gigolo”s fatalism (“When the end comes I know, they”ll say “˜just a gigolo” as life goes on without me”) to the obvious conclusion in the second part, in which the gigolo laments his loneliness via I Ain”t Got Nobody. The song was written, as I Ain’t Got Nobody Much, by Spencer Williams (who also wrote Basin Street Blues) in around 1915, and was first recorded in 1917 by Marion Harris (1896-1944), providing her biggest hit (sorry about the low bit-rate of the MP3). By the time Prima got around to merging it with Just A Gigolo in his 1956 debut album, The Wildest!, it had become a standard. Prima”s audacity in taking two standards and presenting them as one song is matched by his genius in creating from a medley a single version which in itself is now a standard, one that towers over the other two.

Also recorded by: (Just A Gigolo): Louis Armstrong, Leo Reisman, Bing Crosby (his first hit), Leo Reisman And His Orchestra, Jack Hylton, Billy Ternent, Jaye P Morgan, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich a.o. (I Ain”t Got Nobody): Bing Crosby, Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, Wingy Manone, Chick Webb, Emmett Miller, Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, Coleman Hawkins, Rosemary Clooney a.o. (Prima medley): Village People, David Lee Roth, Alex Harvey, Lou Bega a.o.

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