Friday, April 30, 2010

The Impalas

The Impalas Named after the Chevy? Not likely. At least The Fleetwoods had the class not to name themselves after a Cadillac. This comes from The Doo-Wop Box.

The Impalas:

Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home) – A whole story here, but I don’t know what it is. They don’t sound too out of breath, considering. There’s a bit of a big band arrangement on this, which is unusual. From the spring of 1959.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tommy Dee

Tommy DeeTommy Dee has the special privilege of having no entry in Wikipedia. It’s odd, because his one and only hit record is in there, and he was, I understand, active in country music for about 30 years before he died in 2007.

His record turns up on various compilations, but Amazon has no Tommy Dee albums, and there probably never were any. His real name was Donaldson.

Tommy Dee:

Three Stars – A memorial song to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. It’s maudlin, of course it is, and Tommy delivers the monologue in his best news-announcer’s voice, The female chorus is suitably weepy, and the whole thing is embarrassing. I love it. It is subcredited to Carol Kaye & the Teen-Aires. From the spring of 1959. Eddie Cochran recorded this as well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Brook Benton

The Brook Benton collection that I had my eye on for so long (and yes, eventually bought) was sitting in the “50s and 60s” section of Records On Wheels. It was an import, like so many others, and it had a respectable 16 of his 49 hits. It wasn’t that much, probably less than $20, but it cost considerably more than your typical top 40 album of the day would have, and I couldn’t justify the purchase for a long time. When I did buy there must have been an occasion, maybe my birthday, maybe one my kid’s birth days, maybe my mother’s birthday. Who knows.

Benton is a great example of the forgotten hitmaker. He had, as I say, 49 records in the top 100 between 1958 and 1971, most between 1959 and 1963, and altogether 24 of his records were in the top 40, 8 in the top 10. And how many people remember Brook Benton? And of those who do, how many remember anything but Rainy Night In Georgia? Growing up in the 60s, I did not hear Brook Benton, not as a flashback, not as current, not as anything – until, that is, Rainy Night became a sleeper hit in 1970, and when that song appeared, it felt like it came from an artist with no history.

Beyond that collection I was talking about, I pulled out 6 more songs from here and there, singles mostly, and the aforesaid Rainy Night which is available on umpteen Atlantic anthologies.

Brook Benton:

Fools Rush In – “Wise men never fall in love” declares lyricists Johnny Mercer in 1940 pop standard, a statement not likely borne out by history, but perhaps it’s the definition. Love makes fools of all of us. A hit for Benton in the winter of 1960 / 1961. Rick Nelson revived it yet again in 1963.
Kiddio – A come-on, plain and simple. Well I guess we could read it as a simple declaration of pure love. Sure. From the fall of 1960.
Hotel Happiness – Well we had Heartbreak Hotel of course, and Brook here assures us that he is checking out of Hotel Loneliness. What’s with all these hotels? Ok. It’s quite a metaphor he develops here. From the winter of 1963.
Still Waters Run Deep – Not The Four Tops song. This is actually the B side of Hotel Happiness, and it was a minor hit in its own right, just before the A side (that would be late 1962). It’s a song about communication, and the non-necessity thereof. There’s a sweetness in this that puts it just above the pack.
Shadrack – A top 40 Bible lesson. I’ve never understood the point of these things, but what do I know. From the winter of 1962.
Think Twice – The same subject matter as Kiddio, but coming from a far more reverent place. It’s not clear at all while the hesitation is necessary; is he afraid she will say no, or his he afraid that she will say yes? From the spring of 1961.
Frankie And Johnny – And old old song of an old old story. A hit for Sam Cooke and for Elvis as well. It’s a routine rendition. From the fall of 1961.
A Rockin Good Way – Ol’ Brook lets loose a bit here, in a duet with Dinah Washington, who shows off her R & B side to advantage. From the summer of 1960.
Hit Record – A recipe. I prefer King Curtis doing Memphis Soul Stew. This has a bit of tongue-in-cheek that actually reminds me a bit of Disco’s In The Garbage by Brother Jake & The Incinerators, which nobody who wasn’t from Winnipeg would remember. Hit Record wasn’t much of a hit record; it only reached Billboard at # 45 in the spring of 1962.
The Boll Weevil Song – I have a version of this by Eddie Cochran. Cotton growing was close to the heart of many southerners, black and white, and this infestation seems to have been the worst threat. How many songs, after all, are about insects, and about crop failure? This was actually Benton’s highest placing single; it reached #2. That was in the summer of 1961.
Revenge – It is what love is about sometimes, isn’t it? From the winter of 1961 / 1962.
Endlessly – The idea that love goes on forever is a popular one. From the summer of 1959.
Lie To Me – Why, asks my daughter who is sitting nearby, would someone want someone else to lie to him. The truth is too difficult to hear I suggest. Well, she says, he ought to be stronger. Perhaps he ought. From the fall of 1962.
It’s Just A Matter Of Time – Always is, eh? Not his first hit exactly, but the one that kicked off his career in the spring of 1959.
Walk On The Wild Side – A hit in the winter of 1962 and a hit again for Jimmy Smith a few months later. Not the Lou Reed song. Very preachy, this, judgmental, one may say, not given to respecting the life choices of others. But hey, it’s only a pop song after all.
Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes) – Another track with Dinah Washington, and another swinger. She should have sang with him more often. Not to be confused with You’ve Got What It Takes by Marv Johnson. From the winter of 1960.
So Close – So out of reach, sang Solomon Burke and a million others, in a similar kind of thing. Close to my arms, sang Brook, and far from my heart. Close to my arms, that’s not bad already. From the summer of 1959, the B side of Endlessly.
The Same One – I’m the same one, he sings, that you kicked out. I’m coming back. Doesn’t sound good to me. She’ll just kick him out again. From the fall of 1960, the B side of Kiddio.
For My Baby – The B side of Think Twice, from the winter of 1961.
My True Confession – It takes guts to face up to less-than-ideal conduct, but our hero seems just a bit too eager to tell us of his misdeeds. He did not, it seems, comport himself with the appropriate degree of integrity. So he tells his story, using the magazine metaphor to hang it on. From the summer of 1963.
Two Tickets To Paradise – Didn’t Eddie Rabbit do something like this? Meanwhile something’s going on here, Brook actually gets excited. From the fall of 1963.
Rainy Night In Georgia – Easily his best known song when all the smoke clears, and the odd thing is that his sound is totally updated but it’s still not all that different. The song, written by Tony Joe White (Polk Salad Annie) perfectly captures the ambience of loneliness, Benton singing with his usual straight style, proclaiming “I feel fine” with that tone that tells you that he feels anything but. From the winter of 1970.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dave "Baby" Cortez

I remember a Dave “Baby” Cortez album displayed in the show window of Roxie’s, a store that gained some notoriety for its creative use of female manikins. Don’t ask.

Was this the world’s first superstar keyboard player? If having a number 1 hit makes you a superstar then maybe. Certainly he was the first to reach number 1 by playing the organ. Apart from the fact that he didn’t sing, he may have been a prototype for Billy Preston.

There isn’t a lot of information around about Cortez, and I don’t know why his epithet was “Baby”; he didn’t seem to look very babyish. Maybe he some habits we don’t know about.

Cortez, whose real surname was Clowney, put 8 records into the top 100 between 1959 and 1966 (that late!) but none but 2 made it higher than number 61, though both of those were top 10. I have those 2, and I don’t really remember where I got them; The Happy Organ probably came from a collections of rock and roll instrumentals. Given how many labels he recorded for, it’s no surprise that no collection is available.

Dave "Baby" Cortez:

The Happy Organ – Now that’s a provocative title if there ever was one. Cortez managed to create convincing rock and roll with a cheesy organ sound, and reach number one at that. From the spring of 1959.
Rinky Dink – This brings roller skating to mind, and it’s not just the title. From the fall of 1962.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April, 1959

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Frankie Ford

Frankie FordFrankie Ford, who is still alive and well and rocking New Orleans style, had a short career on the pop charts – 5 singles on the top 100 over 3 years (1969 – 1961), only one of which made it higher than 75 (it reached 14).

Frankie Ford:

Sea Cruise – New Orleans rock and roll at its finest. Frankie promises not just love forever and ever, but a major holiday to boot. He wants to boogie woogie, he says, like “a knife in the back.” Doesn’t sound like much fun to me, but then I’ve never been to New Orleans. Huey Smith’s presence is keenly felt; it’s no coincidence that Frankie yells “hhhuuuuueeeeyyy huey baby” on the chorus. From the spring of 1959. There is a rather anemic version by Herman’s Hermits.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Skyliners

The Skyliners 40 odd tracks seems like a lot for a group that were only ever known for 1 song, and it’s true, it is a lot of tracks. The group actually placed 6 songs in the top 100, 3 of them in the top 40.

For many years I only had that one track in my collection; recently I found this double CD at the downtown library. It’s called 40th Anniversary Edition, though edition of what isn’t clear. Still, with all those tracks, one is missing, though it’s easily explained – it’s on Capital, the rest are on Calico (one on Jubilee, but it’s here). It’s also much later, 1975.

It’s a bit much, all this, the group’s style didn’t vary much from one song to the next, and at the end they tack on outtakes, which, honestly, don’t sound much different from the non-outtakes.

But they are here, in all their glory…

The Skyliners:

Since I Don’t Have You – Tin Pan Alley meets 50s R & B, though this was a white group. Poor Jimmy, his whole world is crumbling, and all he can do is sing about it, and sing he does, amidst the collapse of his dreams, the shattering of his pride, the pizzicato of the violins, and the otherworldly beauty of the orchestration. It’s all a little nuts but it not matters not a whit. From the spring of 1959.
One Night, One Night – The old theme. It’s not the Elvis song (One Night With You) but it may as well be.
This I Swear – Musically this is Since I Don’t Have You redux, lyrically it’s about the eternity of love. To hear Jimmy and the group sing it, I believe every word. From the summer of 1959.
Tomorrow – Not the Little Orphan Annie song, not the The Strawberry Alarm Clock song. This is same idea as Will You Love Me Tomorrow, but it’s a guy singing, and it’s got a honking sax.
It Happened Today – What did? He got a job? He hit puberty? He won the lottery? No of course not. Why, his dreams came true. That’s all. From the fall of 1959.
My Lonely Way – Just another heartbreak song, except for that falsetto at the end…
Lorraine From Spain – Very Coasters-like
How Much – There was a commercial once, with a guy trying to buy a duck call, and he kept asking the store guy how much, but they guy kept firing questions back, cash or credit, take it with you or delivery, but the customer kept saying how much! I can’t remember what it was a commercial for. And… oh yeah, this is a love song.
Pennies From Heaven – Pure Tin Pan Alley, done in Tin Pan Alley style. An actual hit in the summer of 1960.
I’ll Be Seeing You – Another old standard, done old standard style. They are better when they do the R & B stuff, though the harmonies are nice here.
Happy Time – Not about drinking. Really it’s just another love song. You know, maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems that there’s a very subtle undertone of melancholy here, but it may be, as I said, my imagination.
Believe Me – Not The Royal Teens song. Bells here, though I’m not sure why.
Stardust – Oh my, what next. Another oldie, this revived in the early 60 by Nino Tempo & April Stevens, who put it back on the chart.
Footsteps – I don’t think this is the same song that Steve Lawrence did, but it’s hard to tell with all that stuff going on in the background. It definitely sounds like the group is singing “shut up shut up” in the background.
Tired Of Me – An odd way to express a broken romance, but it’s hard to keep the idea fresh I suppose.
When I Fall In Love – It’s the girl singer that takes the lead on this, which is appropriate, but she doesn’t stand up to Doris Day. Sorry. The Lettermen put this on the chart in 1962.
Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart – Totally old fashioned, the song, the performance. Done famously by Judy Garland, but check out The Coasters’ version for the definitive version (copied later lick for lick by The Move and The Trammps).
Warm – The wonders of falling in love presented as a weather report.
If I Loved You – From Carousel. It was recorded by about a million people; I have Perry Como, and Chad & Jeremy, who put it on the chart in 1965.
I Can Dream, Can’t I – Yet another old standard.
Blossoms In The Snow – About how love grows in the most trying of circumstances, set in an arrangement that suggests the easiest of circumstances.
The Door Is Still Open To My Heart – A hit for Dean Martin.
I’ll Close My Eyes - … and dream it’s you, sings our hero. Love as blindness.
Close Your Eyes – A hit for The Five Keys. These guys, and especially the Janet girl, stick pretty close to the original. A hit later for Peaches & Herb.
Our Love Will Last – Jimmy takes a break on this, hands over the vocal to Janet, and the result is more of an R & B feel, but less idiosyncricity. On lead vocal she loses that ethereal quality.
Comes Love – I bet it does.
Tell Me – One of the most pathetic self-pity song ever. Tell me, he asks, when’s it all gonna end? My goodness. Not The Rolling Stones song.
I’d Die –A bit too morbid for my liking.
Since I Fell For You – A song that turns up here and there, originally by The Harptones in the early 50; a hit for Lenny Welch about 10 years later.
The Loser – Suitably morose. From the summer of 1965. You didn’t think the group was still around then, did you? The style on this is very much in keeping with what mid tempo R & B sounded like in the mid 60s.
I Could Have Loved You So Well – Not so, you did the best you could.
Where Have They Gone – A song of nostalgia, complete with bird sounds.
The Day That The Clown Cried – Stand in line behind Smokey Robinson, Lou Christie, The Platters etc etc.
You’re My Christmas Present – A Christmas based on the Since I Don’t Have You idea. They uses the Dickens idea, doing a pun on “present.”
Another Lonely New Year’s Eve – I know that sad music is supposed to be sad, but this is just too sad.
Since I Don’t Have You (Outtake) – Virtually indistinguishable from the released version., as are all the following…
One Night, One Night (Outtake)
This I Swear (Outtake)
My Lonely Way (Outtake)
Tired Of Me (Outtake)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman More jazz. When my jazz-fan friend learned that I was listening to this he suggested that I stop at The Shape Of Jazz To Come. I am not so faint-hearted, I responded. A little avant garde never scared me. and it’s true. It doesn’t scare. That doesn’t mean that I can make head or tail of it.

The collection is called Beauty Is A Rare Thing, and it is the complete recording history of Ornette Coleman on Atlantic. I made an anthology out of it, with no concept of how to do that. A bit of this album, a bit of that, except for Free Jazz, which consisted of one.. mmm. Not track, because an LP can’t have fewer than 2 tracks, not “song” exactly, well you know.

Ornette Coleman:

Focus On Sanity
Bird Food
Changes Of The Century
To Us
Free Jazz
Just For You
T & T

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Virtues

When I was growing up my parents had friends, and to us they were always Mr. and Mrs. But for some reason there was a handful of people whom we addressed just by first name. Looking back, it seems that the common thread was that they were all unmarried. Hmmm.

One of these unmarrieds worked in the electronics world. So he is the guy we’d call on if we needed something. And so in 1966 when we graduated from mono to the world of stereo, it was Robert, for that was what I shall say was his name, who brought a portable stereo to which we had to attune our less than delicate ears. And as an added bonus, he brought records for the bunch of us. My older sister got some kind of waltz album, my younger sister got Woody Woodpecker, and I got William Bendix Sings And Tells Famous Pirate Stories, from which I derived hundreds of hours of pleasure. I still have it, and I can still sing the songs.

But as a bonus to the bonus, he threw in a 45, which happened to be Guitar Boogie Shuffle by The Virtues. The B side was Guitar In Orbit. It was years and years later that I discovered the origin of the record. The record label (oh my goodness, what label was it? This is Canada remember, records were often on different labels here) anyway the record label had a picture of some dude conducting an orchestra, which set me up for some dissociation, because that’s not what I heard.

The Virtues:

Guitar Boogie Shuffle – Not much more than going up and down the scale, but how it rocks... From the spring of 1959.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dodie Stevens

Dodie Stevens Her real name was Geraldine, and she recorded as Geraldine Stevens also. As Dodie, she had 5 top 100 singles, none of which made it higher than number 60, except for Pink Shoelaces, which reached number 3. She was 13 when she recorded it.

Dodie Stevens:

Pink Shoelaces – Rock and roll has always been about style, from Elvis’ sideburns to the Beatles’ “mop tops” to Alice Cooper’s mascara to Cobain’s lumberjack look to blings. The guys who make the records, they sound cool and look cool. The rest of us mortals, the best we can hope for is to look cool. Carl Perkins got in on the ground floor when he wrote Blue Suede Shoes; the song was tongue-in-cheek, but the message was anything but funny. And whoever it was that wrote Pink Shoe Laces knew exactly was he was talking about. This was a hit in the spring of 1959.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thomas Wayne

Tear Jerkers K-Tel and Rondo would gather up sad songs into collections called Tear Jerkers and that kind of thing. The quality was never great, and you had to be careful or you’d end up with a “rerecording by one or more members of the original group.” Some of the most notorious collections were silly; they would be called Loony Tunes and they were the butt of many a joke. Finding old copies in second hand shops, though, was a great source of otherwise unavailable songs. And, if blogs are any indication, K-Tel has actually acquired a kind of retro cool. It had to happen…

My one and only Thomas Wayne hit comes from just such a collection, though I can’t absolutely promise that it’s the one in the picture…

Thomas Wayne:

Tragedy – The loss of romance described as “tragedy” isn’t such a leap when one considers the scope of the subject as it’s covered in pop songs. Still and all, it’s a bit silly. From the winter of 1959.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Fleetwoods

The Fleetwoods The Fleetwoods were the mirror image of The Teddy Bears, Two gals and a guy, with the guy singing lead. They were famously not named after the Cadillac. In fact, they were named for a Seattle telephone exchange. And how many people now know what a telephone exchange is. Nine. Nine people know. When I was a kid, our exchange was Edison. The problem now is that searching online for The Fleetwoods gets you mired in Fleetwood Mac, so you have to minus out the Mac. They didn’t think of that in the 50s.

Two guys and a girl. The guy’s name was Gary Troxell. One of the girls was Gretchen, the other was Barbara. Gary always seems to have one arm round each.

This album was called The Very Best Of The Fleetwoods, and I suppose that that’s what it is. All but one of their top 40 hits are here; missing is Lovers By Night, Strangers By Day. Their two top 100 records that didn’t make the top 40 are not here. The one about downtown was not on the album; it came straight from the single.

And I don’t know why Gary dressed like a sailor…

The Fleetwoods:

Come Softly To Me – The love song as invitation. It’s the delivery that’s everything here; even the sexual overtones (they never say the words “to me” in the actual song) are muted. “Let me whisper in your ear” is the message.. And The Fleetwoods whisper their way into our hearts. A number one record in the spring of 1959.
The Great Imposter – Not to be confused with The Great Pretender. A recurring theme in pop music – Silence Is Golden by The Four Seasons / The Tremeloes, Is She Really Going Out With Him by Joe Jackson. How frustrating it is when such a nice girl throws herself away on someone unworthy. This song found itself on the American Graffiti soundtrack and found a whole new audience for the group. From the fall of 1961.
Graduation’s Here – Graduation is such a milestone in one’s life, whether it’s high school or college or university. In pop songs, though, it’s always about saying goodbye to a loved one. But perhaps that’s just the only level on which the medium can deal with it. This was just in time for the 1959 grad. Play it alongside Graduation Day by The Four Freshmen, Your Graduation Means Goodbye by The Cardigans, What Good Is Graduation by The Graduates, and you’ll have a whole ceremony. You won’t even need Elgar.
We Belong Together – The Robert & Johnny hit was a declamation.. When The Fleetwoods do it, it’s so gentle that it’s just a statement of fact whispered from one lover to another.
Mr. Blue – Wow. Just wow. Just close your eyes, listen to the tune. They don’t write them like this, haven’t for many years. The song tells of heartbreak so profound that effects one’s very identity. Call me Mr. Blue, formerly known as Mr. Fleetwood (not). This was number 1 in the fall of 1959.
Tragedy – Describing the loss of a romance as a “tragedy” is a bit over the top, but no one ever accused pop music of a lack of drama. The Fleetwoods do this Thomas Wayne hit in their usual gentle style, suggesting not so much “tragedy” as “mishap.” From the summer of 1961. Brian Hyland was to revive it about 6 years later.
Runaround – Not The Regents hit. It’s called Runaround but what they sing is “run around,” about the frustration of loving someone who won’t commit. It’s a bit odd given the cross gender singing here, but uncertainty as to who is not committing to whom just gives it a bit of a piquant flavour. From the summer of 1960.
Sure Is Lonesome Downtown – Think Johnny Rivers doing Poor Side Of Town and you get the idea. Here it’s more about how a special person infuses a place with meaning.
Goodnight My Love – Their rendition of this song was a revival I guess, coming as it did in the summer of 1963, so long after the style that created it has dissipated. One of the girls does the lead on this, reminding one perhaps of The Fontane Sisters version.
Confidential – Just another way of saying that what’s between us is between us, no kissing and telling…
Outside My Window – Stevie Wonder did a song with this title on The Secret Life Of Plants, which was, altogether, his most underrated moment. No matter. This is from the winter of 1960.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

March, 1959

Thursday, April 8, 2010

James Brown

James Brown Figuring out James Brown is an inexact science:
·He had 92 singles on the top 100 between 1959 and 1977, 97 if you count tracks by Nat Kendricks & The Swans, and by The JBs.
·Try Me shows up twice
·Think shows up 4 times
·There are live versions and studio versions
·30 songs have “Part 1” appended to them
·Several songs are listed as “Part 1 and Part 2.”
·For Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn, Parts 1 and 2 are listed separately
·There is one song listed as Part 3, though no parts 1 or 2 are evident
·10 songs are listed by Whitburn as instrumental, including Night Train and Ain’t It Funky Now, neither of which are instrumentals.
·It’s a big big mess.

I have made no effort to make sense of all this, or to figure out exactly which versions I have. I list the titles with the part numbers attached more or less arbitrarily, according to what I’ve written down on the cassette labels. Don’t you try to make sense of it either.

All but one track comes from the Star Time box set. That one track is I Got The Feeling, which I don’t know why they left it off the box set. It came from a 20 track Greatest Hits. I picked that one up at Sam The Record Man, but it’s been superseded by Star Time, all but one track, anyway. I left off the superfluous tracks; there were not that many.

I grew up hearing James Brown on the radio, right back to Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. But considering how many songs he’s got listed in Whitburn, I heard surprisingly few: Cold Sweat, I’ve Got You (I Feel Good), It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World. I remember watching him on Ed Sullivan, his shtick was a riot. Later I read his autobiography. The most graphic recollection I have is how he would fine members of his entourage if they were out of step on stage. He would dance over and count out the number of dollars on his fingers one by one, and it looked just like part of the act.

James Brown:

Please Please Please – “You done me wrong” he says, so why is he the one begging? And how can 3 words and a few notes carry so much emotional weight? The song only bubbled under at number 105 on the hot 100, but it reached number 5 on the R & B chart. That doesn’t tell the story though; the real story is that all those budding musicians were listening. Notable covers are by The Who, on their first album, and by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. Brown could have fashioned his entire career on this one song, and in a way he did.
Why Do You Do Me – A Please Please Please clone, but without the power.
Try Me – Advertising principals applied to prospective romance. Brown’s first pop hit, from the winter of 1959.
Tell Me What I Did Wrong – A challenge, walk right up to me baby.
Bewildered – He may be confused, but he has a heck of definite way of saying so. A brilliant ballad performance from the spring of 1961.
Good Good Lovin’ – A great rockin’ piece of soul, with great drums and great sax. Never made the charts. Go figure…
I’ll Go Crazy – How we use insanity as a metaphor for love. This song reached the top 70 in the spring of 1966, but it was released much earlier. It was a favourite for bands to cover – The Buckinghams come to mind, and The Blues Magoos. There were a million others.
I Know It’s True – A simple statement. I found someone who loves me. How does he know it’s true? Not sure, but it probably has something to do with the sax…
(Do The) Mashed Potatoes, Pt. 1 – If I were doing this right, this would be in a separate entry, under Nat Kendrick & The Swans, because that’s the name this was released under, and Whitburn has it listed separately, without a note even as to its true auteur. The song was also a hit, and a bigger one, for The Dartells, as Hot Pastrami. From the winter of 1960, when dances about food were all the rage, apparently.
Think – Not The Aretha Franklin song. 4 different versions of this song were on the chart, 2 in 1974, one in 1967, and the original in the summer of 1960.
Baby You’re Right – Every release seemed to bring him closer to some kind of soul nirvana, and no reference is intended to Kurt Cobain. From the fall of 1961.
Lost Someone – The expression usually used in the case of death is employed in this ballad in the romantic sense, and it together with the mournful tone it puts the story at a whole new level. From the winter of 1962.
Night Train – The grooviest train ever to hit the top 40. By adding vocals to a song that was originally an instrumental (by Jimmy Forrest, in case you’re wondering) the song becomes a journey to transcendence. From the spring of 1962.
I’ve Got Money – And now I need love, sings our hero. Straighter words were never sung.
I Don’t Mind – Another favourite for cover versions, another one done by The Who. This song was a hit in the fall of 1961, but this is a live version.
Prisoner Of Love – An old standard, and Dave March describes Brown’s recording as “a man fighting his way out of a fog” and I can’t top his description. James Brown with strings sounds almost as discordant as Ray Charles with strings. From the summer of 1963.
Out Of The Blue – This sounds more like one of those early 60s pop ballads than Brown’s songs tend to do. Not The Band song.
Devil’s Den – An instrumental. If I’m not mistaken, Brown plays organ. Not too satanic sounding, really.
Out Of Sight – No she’s not standing behind the fence. James uses this to-be hippie epithet as the superlative we all know and love. Them covered this. From the fall of 1964.
Grits – Grits are apparently slower than mashed potatoes. Another instrumental.
Maybe The Last Time – Not to be confused with The Last Time by The Stones.
Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Part 1 – Those by whom I was surrounded, specifically adolescent girls, and I was not yet quite an adolescent, puzzled as to the meaning of the title. Doesn’t make sense, they opined. They were wrong of course. It makes more sense than even James Brown could have realized at the time. The song is a monument in the history of R & B. In the words of Dave Marsh: “The only way Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag could be more bonerattling would be if James Brown himself leaped from your speakers, grabbed you tight by the shoulders and danced you round the room, all the while screaming into your face.” A picturesque image indeed. The B side of the single featured part 2, and the Star Time collection, in addition to the single version, combined part 1 and part 2 for a first time ever release of the whole song in one shot. The length dilutes it though, stick to part 1. From the late summer of 1965.
I Got You (I Feel Good) – Picking up the thread, the “bag,” and running with it. The bass alone is worth the price. The biggest hit Brown ever had, this reached number 3 in the winter of 65 / 66.
Ain’t That A Groove – Stepping back a bit from the severe groove of the previous hits, Ain’t That A Groove swings a bit harder, uses a female vocal chorus, and sings of the pleasures of the flesh. From the spring of 1966.
It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World – Kind of a spoof, from the movie It’s A Mad Mad Mad World, but it’s far too unfunny to be a spoof. Totally over the top. Brown sings, with total seriousness, of all of man’s inventions, he makes this, he makes that, and without missing a beat tells that when man’s done making stuff, he makes money. Totally chauvinistic, totally self-contradictory, dead serious. Back when this was a hit, you could get away with this stuff. From the spring of 1966.
Money Won’t Change You, Part 1 – The beginning of the James Brown lecture series. From the summer of 1966.
Don’t Be A Dropout – And here is the next lecture. If your parents sounded this cool when they lectured you, you’d do everything they wanted. From the fall of 1966.
Bring It Up (Hipster’s Avenue) – From the winter of 1967.
Let Yourself Go – Not a song about gaining weight. From the summer of 1967.
I Got The Feeling – From the spring of 1968, one can be forgiven for thinking that he is listening to Cold Sweat.
Cold Sweat – Dave Marsh calls this “the birth of modern funk,” explaining that Brown did away with the chord change. I guess that’s a fairly good way to put it. He also says that this is as “resistible as gravity,” another good way to put it. From the summer of ’67. There is a superb cover by Mongo Santamaria.
Get It Together – Another don’t drop out of school song. From the fall of 1967. Fast funk, almost every song was to do from then on sounded like this.
I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me) – This has to be the strangest title ever for a love song, but a love song it is, not that you’d want to slow dance to it. From the winter of 1968.
There Was A Time – A song about dancing, though, in a way, all his songs are about dancing. From the winter of 1968, the B side of I Can’t Stand Myself.
Licking Stick – Licking Stick – This song brings back memories – not of when it was a hit, which was the summer of 1968, because I never heard it then. No. I remember when I picked up the single back around ’84, around the time I’d first discovered Pyramid Records. I can still smell the dust. I’ve since replaced the single with the CD copy, but I can still hear the scratches. There is a cover on a Ventures album called The Horse, which seems to make sense, but there isn’t anything about horses on this song, the title notwithstanding. One can only imagine who is licking what.
Say It Loud - I’m Black And I’m Proud – Along with The Impressions, James Brown was among the first to declaim black pride on the top 40. Curtis Mayfield stuck to gospel, Brown got into a funky groove, made Malcom X sound like fun. From the fall of 1968.
Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose – I can’t tell what the difference is between one and the other, but James is adamant either way. From the winter of 1969.
I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself) – Not only were chord changes superfluous, but with such a title who needed lyrics. From the winter of 1969.
Hot Pants (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Want), Part 1 – Say no more. From the summer of 1971.
Mother Popcorn – 10 years after the mashed potatoes we had the popcorn. That makes a kind of perverse sense I suppose. We had to get through the bugaloo and the shingaling first. From the summer of 1969.
Funky Drummer – Highlights the organ more than the drummer. From the summer of 1970.
Get Up (I Feel Like Being) A Sex Machine – This is the opposite of Marvin Gaye, who ended writing slick come ons like Let’s Get It On. No such subtlety for Mr. Brown, who reduces the whole think to some kind of funk-driven stud automation. From the summer of 1970.
Super Bad – The title of at least one K-Tel album that featured early 70s R&B. “Bad” in this case means “good.” From the fall of 1970.
Talking Loud And Saying Nothing – A put down song, but you know that from the title. From the winter of 1972.
Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved – This is another song whose title obviates the need to listen to the actual song, not that Brown isn’t worth listening to. From the winter of 1971.
Soul Power – Another instance of pure James Brown funk, from the winter of 1961.
Brother Rapp / Ain’t It Funky Now – The latter was a hit in the winter of 1969 / 1970. Brother Rapp was a hit in the spring of 1970. Brother Rapp, it presaged a musical movement that would not exist for another 20 years. This is a live medley.
Make It Funky, Pt. 1 – You can take this one at face value, and I particularly like it when he starts listing vegetables toward the end. No, I don’t understand it either, but on a certain level I do. From the fall of 1971.
It’s A New Day – “It’s star time ladies and gentleman,” says the compère off the top, giving the collection its name. This is a live version of a song that was a hit in the winter of 1970. Maybe the live version was the hit. I don’t know, because I never heard it on the radio.
I Got Ants In My Pants And I Want To Dance, Pt. 1 – From the winter of 1973, a song that sums up a big part of who James Brown was.
King Heroin – A hardcore mainline anti-drug song. Non-ambiguous. Along with staying in school, this was one of his crusades. From the winter of 1972.
There It Is, Pt 1 – I’m not sure what it is, but there it is. There’s a point, anyway, when the words become superfluous, and by this time he had passed that point long ago. From the summer of 1972.
Public Enemy #1, Pt. 1 – Another anti-drug song. The way he delivers this, he leaves no doubt about how he feels.
Get On The Good Foot – As if he had a bad foot. If you can listen to this without dancing then you’re dead. From the fall of 1972.
I Got A Bag Of My Own – Picking up, lyrically at least, where Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag left off, but musically it’s of a piece with what he was doing in the early 70s. From the winter of 72 / 73.
Doing It To Death – Technically this is another track that doesn’t belong here. The record was released by The JBs, or by Fred Wesley & The JBs, depending on who you ask. But it’s definitely James Brown doing the vocals, if not exactly singing. And the JBs were, in any event, his backing band. From the summer of 1973.
The Payback – Whom is he paying back? For what? There is a sinister ambience here, a bit like a spy thriller. In any event James ain’t happy. From the spring of 1974.
Papa Don’t Take No Mess, Pt. 1 – More funk, from the fall of 1974.
Stoned To The Bone, Pt.1 – What bone would that be, James? I would comment on the appropriateness of the title and subject matter given his avowed anti-drug stance, but it seems that title is deceptive. This seems to be naught but a funky love song. From the winter of 1974.
My Thang – What “thang” would that be James? From the summer of 1974.
Funky President (People It’s Bad) – I honestly don’t know whether the “bad” in the title is bad bad or bad good. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be much politics in this track. From the winter of 1974 / 1975.
Hey (I Need To Be Loved Loved Loved) – There is something “sampled” on this, and I can’t place it. Oh, curse old age!
Get Up Offa That Thing (Release The Pressure) – Nobody, but nobody, came up with so many ways to say the same thing, not even Chuck Berry. Brown tenaciously clung to funk in the face of disco. A hit in the fall of 1976.
Bodyheat, Pt. 1 – Well, there’s a bit of disco in this, and there’s a bit of gospel, at least in the lyrics (“gotta go to church, y’all”). From the winter of 1977. James Brown’s final top 100 hit.
It’s Too Funky In Here – Probably his best song title of all, in a what is definitely an impressive collection.
Rapp Payback (Where Is Moses), Pt. 1– He was really starting to recycle his ideas here…
Unity, Pt. 1 – We bid adieu, just as James Brown gets into electronics…

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich Every jazz drummer is worth about a dozen rock drummers. There are exceptions (Bill Bruford, Gary Peterson) but not many. My friend Joe L gave me a demo once. He said can you play one rhythm with one hand and different rhythm with the other? I said that’s not possible, and he proceeded to demonstrate that it was possible indeed.

So Buddy Rich was a jazz drummer. This is the Compact Jazz series; it collects recordings he made during the late 50s and early 60s.

Buddy Rich:

Jumpin’ At The Woodside
Yardbird Suite
Toot Toot Tootsie
Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
Bloody Mary
From The Sticks
Last Date
Jump For Me
A Night In Tunisia

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Shirley Bassey

Shirley BasseySay “Shirley Bassey” and the response, if there is one at all, will be “Goldfinger.” It was Shirley Bassey who wrote the last word on Bond themes, back in ’65. And Goldfinger gave her her only real North American hit. She had three more in the early 70s, none of which made it past number 48, and which included Diamonds Are Forever, putting her back into the world of 007, though its relative failure to capture the pop charts may have been an indication that the spy’s cachet was falling. It was, after all, to be Sean Connery’s last fling in the role (ok, not counting Never Say Never Again).

In the UK, though, Shirley had 12 hits in the top 20, including the 3 aforesaid songs from the early 70s, and a bunch between 1959 and 1963, most of which I have on this I’m-lucky-to-have-found-it collection.

Shirley Bassey:

Kiss Me Honey, Honey Kiss Me – Seduction to a calypso beat. She doesn’t stop at kissing. Thrill me she says, and even if I blow my top, don’t stop. Wow. The meaning is unambiguous. From the winter of 1959.
Who Can I Turn To – The fact that you have run out of options isn’t a good reason for me to stay in a relationship, but what’s really happening here is that when things fall apart, the person who is supposed to be your comfort is the one who is causing you the pain. Who can I turn to, she asks, if you walk away, and the walking away is why she needs to turn to someone in the first place. High drama, to a bolero beat.
As Long As He Needs Me – A love song from Oliver. I have never seen Oliver, so I don’t know the context in which this song is sung, but I can only imagine, and it’s not good. From the summer of 1960.
Goldfinger – The theme from the third James Bond movie, and it set the standard for over the top performances that were to characterize the movies series for decades. From the summer of 1965, this was her only North American top 40 record, and her only hit at all until 1970.
I (Who Have Nothing) – Tom Jones probably did the best known version of this, and it was a minor hit for Terry Knight & The Pack in the late 60s. It is self-effacement set to music, and one wonders what kind of relationship can be built with someone who is so self disparaging. Also, it doesn’t work so well sung by a woman. From the autumn of 1963.
You’ll Never Know – I do my best, I go out of my way, I try, and if you don’t feel it, then there’s not a damn thing I can do. Sung with much sadness. From the spring of 1965.
What Now My Love – A warhorse. I wish I could count the number of version I have in my collection. The best may be the one by Miss Piggie, from the Muppet Show, though I don’t actually have that one. In North America, the only hit versions of this song were a double time instrumental by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and a highly idiosyncratic performance by Mitch Ryder. I guess, then, that Shirley nails this for having the hit version, this recording having made the UK top 10 in the fall of 1962.
What Kind Of Fool Am I – A big hit for Sammy Davis Jr, and a less big hit for Robert Goulet, Shirley does a reasonable job lamenting her emotional handicaps.
Climb Ev’ry Mountain – Sung by a nun in The Sound Of Music, Shirley does a surprisingly restrained reading, at the beginning. It’s almost good. She kind of lets loose at the end, then the chorus comes in, then duck…
Till – A hit for Percy Faith, a hit for The Angels, a hit for The Vogues. Jane Morgan did a passable version. It’s a beautiful song; I’ve said it before, and Shirley does it proud.
I Reach For The Stars – Another song of unrequited love. How hopeless it all is, she sings, like Donovan in Catch The Wind. It seems, though, that for Shirley, things work out. Miracles happen. From the summer of 1961.
The Party’s Over – Check out Lonnie Donegan’s version. Everything has a timespan – a party, a relationship, a marriage. When it’s over it’s over. Take off your makeup, go home, the party’s over, my friend…
Just Once In A Lifetime – Another well known song. A song about seizing the day. And she doesn’t hold back a note.
With These Hands – Tom Jones did this. Another love song, one that expresses a love as a physical bond, with these hands I will cling to you, she sings, not satisfied with pure emotion.
No Regrets – Make your decision and stick to it. I like that. A song about the vicissitudes of life. Her most over-the-top vocal yet.
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