Monday, January 31, 2011

Hank Thompson

When I first started exploring country music, hard core, I picked up The Kitty Wells Story, and I learned that her signature song, called It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, was an answer record to The Wild Side Of Life by Hank Thompson. I’d never heard of Hank Thompson, and I’d never heard his song.

And when I finally did pick up this collection, which is The Capital Collectors Series, it wasn’t exactly what I expected.

Well wait, that’s not entirely true. I was expecting country and I got country, honky tonk style. But somehow I thought the song in question would be a celebration of the wild life. Not so. It was one of those musical curve balls you get when you explore the side roads of pop music history.

I love this music and I make no apologies. My colleague at work says that it’s because I’m from Winnipeg. Maybe so, but I didn’t listen to anything like this growing up. I only came to it, as I said, as an adult. And I don’t know what part of my psyche it speaks to, but whatever part it is seems to be very happy with it.

Hank Thompson:

Humpty Dumpty Heart – this nursery rhyme set to a Nashville heartbeat is from 1948.
Whoa, Sailor – From 1979.
The Wild Side Of Life – Hank sings about getting bitten after marrying the wrong sort of girl. Number 1 on the country charts in 1952, and it got Kitty Wells all excited, though I can’t for the life of me figure out why.
Waiting In The Lobby Of Your Heart – From 1952.
Rub-A-Dub-Dub – From 1953. Reached number 1 on the country chart.
Yesterday’ Girl – From 1953.
Wake Up Irene – Another number 1 country song, this was a parody of Goodnight Irene.
Honky Tonk Girl – The best kind, I hear. From 1954.
We’ve Gone Too Far – In the great country tradition of cheating songs. From 1954.
The New Green Light – From 1954.
Breakin’ In Another Heart – From 1955.
Don’t Take It Out On Me – From 1955.
The Blackboard Of My Heart – From 1956.
Rockin’ In The Congo – Arguably racist, but that’s not the intent. Not unlike The Ubangi Stomp.
Squaws Along The Yukon – Today’s politically correct world would render this nothing less than shocking. It’s meant to be a rather romantic view of native culture. From 1958.
A Six Pack To Go – In the grand country tradition of drinking songs. From 1960.
She’s Just A Whole Lot Like You – Thompson’s only foray into the pop charts, this snuck into the Billbard top 100 in the summer of 1960, reaching number 99 and disappearing after one week. Why this was the song to do is anybody’s guess.
Oklahoma Hills – Fron 1961
Hangover Tavern – From 1961.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Anita O'Day

Anita O'Day Let’s take another jazz break. This is part of a collection by Anita O’Day called Jazz Masters 49. It features recordings made in the late 50s and early 60s on Verve and one or two other labels.

There are those who say that there is no such thing as jazz singing, but if there is, and you want to know what it sounds like, this is a good place to start.

Anita O'Day:

No Soap, No Hope Blues
A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square
Them There Eyes
What Is This Thing Called Love?
That Old Feeling
Fly Me To The Moon
Boogie Blues
Ten Cents A Dance
Old Devil Moon

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Shadows

The Shadows The Shadows were quite the force to be reckoned with in the UK, though they were shutout in North America. The usual reason given is that the presence of The Ventures rendered them redundant, though I don’t know why that would be so. There was more than one girl group, more than one surf group, more than one male vocal harmony group, more than one Elvis wannabe, more than one Bobby. Surely Billboard could have made room for two instrumental groups sporting two guitars, bass, and drums.

My own Shadows collection was late in coming. I originally picked up Apache from The Roots Of British Rock, but in some moving-things-around mishap, I trashed it. So for a long time I didn’t even have Apache in my collection. I did pick up a couiple singles; one was F.B.I. – don’t ask me where I got that because I don’t remember – and one was The Rise And Fall Of Flingel Blunt, and I got that at the original Salvation Army Thrift Shop, a small store in the core area of town, and that was before they went into the thrift shop business big time in emulation of Value Village. Foot Tapper came from the Summer Holiday soundtrack. Then I missed an opportunity to pick up an LP collection at Records On Wheels, and I kicked myself, ouch, and for a long time my non-possession of a good Shadows collection left me with profound feelings of inadequacy. Eventually, however, I picked up a reasonably good collection of the hits they made during their most prolific period. I can now breathe easier, and save money on therapy bills. My copy of Foot Tapper is still the original; it was not on the CD collection I got.

Did I mention that The Shadows were Cliff Richard’s backup band until the mid 60s? They were. They were originally called The Drifters, but the organization surrounding the American Drifters changed that. They had a few dozen hits, in the UK and other countries, but not, as I said, in North America at all.

The Shadows:

Apache – Meant to convey an American Indian ambience, later versions added a whooshing sound throughout. Number 1 for The Shadows in the summer of 1960, the American hit came from Dane Jorgen Ingmann. The Ventures did a version from which they got a lot of mileage.
Man Of Mystery – From the autumn of 1960.
The Stranger – B side of Man Of Mystery
F.B.I. – From the winter of 1961.
The Frightened City – From the spring of 1961.
Kon Tiki – Number 1 in the autumn of 1961.
The Savage – From the autumn / winter of 1961.
Peace Pipe
Mustang – Must have been about a horse, because the car didn’t exist yet.
Wonderful Land – Number 1 in the winter of 1962.
Guitar Tango – From the summer of 1962.
Dance On – From the winter of 1962 / 1963.
Spring Is Nearly Here
Foot Tapper – Exactly that. From the winter of 1963.
Perfidia – A hit for The Ventures.
Atlantis – Not the Donovan song. From the summer of 1963.
Shotgun – Not the Jr. Walker & The All Stars hit.
Theme For Young Lovers – This doesn’t sound like the Percy Faith hit, but you never know. From the winter of 1964.
The Rise And Fall Of Flingel Bunt – There doesn’t seem to have been anybody named Flingel Bunt. Just as well, imagine *his* therapy bills. From the spring of 1964.
Stingray – From the summer of 1965.
A Place In The Sun – Not the Stevie Wonder song. This was from 1966.
Thuderbird’s Theme

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Garry Miles

I kind of miss the thrill of discovery. Days were when I spent hours and hours looking through racks and boxes and shelves and drawers, at libraries, second hand record shops, thrift shops, garage sales. At some point I became better informed, with Whitburn and other similar books, but at one point I didn’t even have that; I just flew by the seat of my pants

I’m thinking about that as I remember the album from which I pulled my one and only Garry Miles recording; the album, which I’ve mentioned before, was called The Roots Of British Rock, misnamed really because the roots of British Rock were American. It ought to have been called, perhaps, the British Roots of British Rock. I knew almost none of the tracks on it when I picked it up; an exception was Telstar. But hearing opened up a door to a fascinating part of pop music history, especially to a North American like me, who never got to hear these songs on the radio, not even as oldies.

All this is odd, because according to Wikipedia, Garry Miles, whose real name was Buzz Cason (ok, it was James, not Buzz) was American. So I don’t know how his one and only hit ended up on the British Rock album. But there it was, and there I found it.

This is the guy that wrote Everlasting Love.

Garry Miles:

Look For A Star – The same as the one by Garry Mills, and also a hit at the same time for Billy Vaughn. From the summer of 1960.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Safaris

The Safaris Not to be confused with The Surfaris, the group that did Wipeout. Nothing more than a one-hit wonder. Not a full sentence in this entire paragraph.

The Safaris:

Image Of A Girl – A song of longing to meet that special someone, perfect for a Saturday night prom slow dance. The whole story is set against the ticking of a clock, making me wonder what the big hurry is. From the summer of 1960.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Garry Mills

It’s the monkeys typing Shakespeare phenomenon; given an infinite number of recording artists recording an infinite number of songs over an infinite period of time, inevitably 2 singers with the same name will do the same song at the same time. But here on earth there is no infinity, so we must settle for the singers’ names being one letter off. Garry Mills and Garry Miles were on the charts at the same time with the same song. The fact that Garry Miles’ real name was not Garry Miles does not detract from this curiosity one whit.

Garry Mills

Look For A Star – Dippy romantic stuff. It’s not clear whether he is singing about astronomy or celebrity. This was a hit at the same time for Garry Miles and for Billy Vaughn, whose version had no vocals. From the summer of 1960.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hank Locklin

Hank Locklin There are risks you take when you make a collection like this. I used the present tense, which is silly; people don’t make collections like this anymore. In the digital world, it is so easy to shuffle things around.

But this all (mostly, anyway) comes from the old analog world, where sequencing was paramount. So here is Hank Locklin, stuck in the summer of 1960, because until recently my collection consisted of only one track, that track being Please Help Me I’m Falling, a hit in the summer of 1960.

But Hank first hit the chart back in 1958, and it wasn’t so long ago that I expanded my Hank L collection with acquisition of RCA Country Legends, which actually includes all three of his pop chart entries, and so we are out of sync with what should have been a strict chronology. The casual reader may be forgiven for not noticing, and while it’s probably not news to anyone who reads this regularly that there is a methodology here, I doubt that anyone cares enough to think about what that might be.

So let me explain it… another time. For now, let’s just listen to some good old fashioned country:

Hank Locklin:

Why Baby Why – Honky tonk piano and old fashioned fiddle highlight George Jones’ tale of a highly dysfunctional relationship. “I caught you honky tonkin’ with my best friend,” he complains. Why baby why, indeed.
Geisha Girl – Definition of anomaly: a honky tonk song about a Japanese lover. From early 1958.
Livin’ Alone – Money, our hero tells us, can’t buy happiness. I’ve heard otherwise. For this tale of heartache, he has abandoned the honky tonk style (well, except for the piano) in favour of a chorus and strings.
Send Me The Pillow You Dream On – We’ve heard this before but here’s the guy that wrote it. The original was a hit in the spring of 1958; other versions by Johnny Tillotson, The Browns, Dean Martin all did better. I wonder if she ever sent the pillow…
It’s A Little Bit Like Heaven – A classic juxtaposition of hyperbole and understatement.
Blue Grass Skirt – A Hawaiian tale but no less country. In this tale, his baby was “stolen” by a rock and roller. Oh those bad rock and rollers…
Please Help Me I’m Falling – A joke, sort of. This song is about temptation, love in the wrong places, with the wrong person. Think Me And Mrs. Jones but country, or 99 Miles (On A Dead End Street), or Dark End Of The Street, or… For some reason, he’s stuck with his wife “forever.” Really? From the summer of 1960.
One Step Ahead Of My Past – Floyd Cramer (or a good soundalike) and a massive sounding male chorus underline this tale of a guy condemned by his biography. Maybe she’ll like you anyway Hank…
From Here To There To You – He’s writing her a letter, like Paul in P.S. I Love You. What strikes one about this is how sweetly romantic this would be if Hank’s voice weren’t so darn country. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing…
Happy Birthday To Me – A feeling sorry for myself song: his loves one has gone AWOL. She didn’t even send a card…
Happy Journey – A going away song, with accordion.
We’re Gonna Go Fishin’ – This isn’t a male bonding song. Nope. It’s romance like all the others, but heck, he says, leave behind your lipstick, makeup etc. We’re goin’ fishing. Can’t argue with the premise. There is even a sax on this track.
Followed Closely By My Teardrops – An I watched you get married song. Stand in line.
The Country Hall Of Fame – A tribute to country, plain and simple. Not all that different from Tex Ritter’s Hillbilly Heaven, except Hank’s stars are still alive. String on this, as you’d expect.
Danny Boy – Jackie Wilson, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, shall I go on. Give Hank credit; he doesn’t emote this like so many others.
Bonaparte’s Retreat – Another country standard. It’s not bad, but where did he get that organ?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

July, 1960

Monday, January 17, 2011

Johnny Kidd & The Pirates

Johnny Kidd & The Pirates Before everything became homogenized the musical climate in Canada was quite different from its American counterpart; The Beatles made it here before their US breakthough; before that Canadian radio stations were more attuned to the UK charts, and Canadian musicians were listening to and imitating Cliff Richard and all his British imitators and would-be’s and wanna-be’s. Johnny Kidd & The Pirates had 4 hits that made the UK top 20, and Randy Bachman and Chad Allen were listening.

I only have the one song, and it comes from The Roots Of British Rock.

Johnny Kidd & The Pirates:

Shakin’ All Over – A Johnny Kidd original. I read in The Book Of Rock Lists by Kevin Stein and Dave Marsh that Mick Green played lead guitar on this, but Wikipedia says it was Joe Moretti, and that Green joined later. I, of course, have no idea who it was, and perhaps Johnny Kidd (or Mick Green or Joe Moretti) will read this and fill me in. The song is an expression of lust of the wildest sort, and it took on a life of its own after Kidd and the band had their way with it. It was The Guess Who’s first US release (recorded by the group as Chad Allen & The Expressions and released in the US as Guess Who?) and The Who like to perform an extreme arrangement of this; their version was on the Woodstock movie and on the Live At Leeds album. The Swinging Blue Jeans had a crack at it too. From the summer of 1960.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Fendermen

The FendermenThe standard bearers of the Loony Tune right behind The Hollywood Argyles. There one hit surely appeared on every possible such collection.

For the record, The Fendermen were two guys, Phil Humphrey and Jim Sundquist, who is still a Fenderman (?). After Muleskinner Blues, they were never heard on the radio again.

The Fendermen:

Muleskinner Blues – Orginally Blue Yodel #8 by Jimmie Rodgers (the singing brakeman, not the guy who did Honeycomb). It was also a hit for Bill Monroe, and Dolly Parton later on, but nobody did it like this. It’s an android-hillbilly gigglefest, unique in the annals of pop music. From the summer of 1960. Good morning captain…

The Hollywood Argyles

Alley Oop

The wasn’t much to The Hollwood Argyles besides Alley Oop. The group was really Gary Paxton, who was half of Skip & Flip, and some studio musicians and singers. That was, by the way, typical of the time. The whole Milli Vanilli controversy becomes kind of funny in that context. My “collection” comes from one of those Looney Tunes albums, the commercials for which were the bane of daytime TV watchers.

The Hollywood Argyles:

Alley-Oop – This version of the song competed with the one by Dante & The Evergreens, but the Argyles won by 14 points. Their recording went to number 1 and it was the only hit they ever had. Offhand I can’t think of any other songs that commemorate comic book heroes, unless you count Batman, but that came from the TV series. You could also make an argument I suppose for Popeye The Hitchhiker by Chubby Checker, but you’d lose. From the summer of The Hollywood Argyles1960.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jeanne Black

I looked up Jeanne Black on Wikipedia and was delighted to find a discography with exactly one entry. There is a transcendent absurdity to that.

I found this Rhino compilation at Records On Wheels, back when Rhino mattered, and that’s where I found this song. The album also had Rockin’ Round The Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee, I Want My Baby Back by Jimmy Cross and DOA by Bloodrock. Not easy to figure out what all those songs had in common, even after reading the liner notes.

He’ll Have To Stay – An answer record to Jim Reeves' He’ll Have To Go. He’s quite the cad to hear her tell it. Unlike, say, Kitty Wells doing Honky Tonk Angels in answer to The Wild Side Of Life, this song uses the exact same melody as the Question song. (Ok, I know it’s not a “question song,”, but if there’s an answer song, there should be a question song, no?) And really, after hearing this, you can't hear the original the same way again. From the summer of 1960.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jessie Hill

I had a United Artists album called The Very Best Of The Ventures and one called The Very Best Of The Fleetwoods and one called The Very Best Of Jan & Dean. And I also had a similar one, same series, that might have been called The Very Best Of Oldies; it was a various artists collection, and that’s where I got Jessie Hill’s one and only top 40 hit. I picked it up at Into The Music, which I told you about under Little Willie John.

Hill did have one other, and that seems to be the pattern doesn’t it, one big one, one small one, called Whip It On Me. I leave it to the reader to find it on YouTube.

Jessie Hill:

Ooh Poo Pah Doo – It was actually Part II that was the hit, and I’m not even sure which part I have, so let’s just pretend that it’s part II. This song doesn’t seem to be about anything, and it is one of the first in a long line of songs with nonsense titles: Rama Lama Ding Dong, Wooly Bully, Shimy Shimmy Koko Bop, Da Doo Doo Doo Da Da Da Da, MmmBop etc. There’s a decent cover of this on Paul Revere & The Raiders’ first album. From the spring of 1960.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ray Bryant Combo

Ray BryantRay Bryant had a prolific career as a bandleader and pianist, but he only clocked into the top 100 twice: once with the Madison Time in 1960, and then in 1967 with a cover of Ode To Billy Joe which lost in the chart sweepstakes to The Kingpins’ competing cover.

Ray Bryant Combo:

The Madison Time Part 1 – The Madison is apparently some kind of dance, and the narrator on the record, who may or may not be Bryant, calls out instructions to the dancers, which is all pretty tame until you listen and realize that the instructions are spoken in what sounds like some kind of extra-terrestrial code. From the spring of 1960. Cleveland box? Hit it!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Rebels

Wild Weekend These guys were from Buffalo, NY, and their big day in the sun came in 1963, by which time it seems they no longer existed. They became known as “the Rockin’ Rebels” so as to avoid confusion with Duane Eddy’s backup group, but they were The Rebels originally. Just to keep collectors busy, the reissue of Wild Weekend was sometimes by The Rockin’ Rebels, and sometimes by The Rebels.

The Rebels:

Wild Weekend – As if any further proof was needed that Canada is culturally superior to its American neighbours, Wild Weekend hit number 10 on the CHUM chart (Toronto) in the spring of The Rebels1960, three years before the reissue finally saw sunlight on Billboard. The song, a super grooving guitar / sax instrumental, fits nicely into the surfing genre, which did not exist when this record was made, but which existed indeed when it became popular.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Skip & Flip

Skip & FlipSkip & Flip were not really Skip & Flip. Flip’s name was really Skip but he was called Flip because he Flipped their names, and Flip’s name was really Skip and they called him Skip because it rhymed with Flip.

Not so, says Wikipedia, which claims that their real names were Clyde and Gary. My story is better. Besides Cherry Pie, they had a minor hit called Fancy Nancy, and a big hit called It Was I, which I only recently just heard for the first time on Radio Bop, an internet oldies radio station. I got my one and only Skip & Flip track from a real scratchy old 45.

Skip & Flip:

Cherry Pie – Songs about food are not in great abundance. Most aren’t even about food. Mashed Potatoes is about a dance, Sukiyaki is a love song with a Japanese title that is not Sukiyaki or anything close, and Hot Pastrami isn’t about anything at all. Cherry Pie might be a love song or something like that, and given that this is a family oriented blog, I will not elaborate. From the summer of 1960.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Johnny Ferguson

Let’s just say that I’m harried, no time to blog. Just as well, because I know nothing about Johnny Ferguson, and the web is no help. I know this much: he only ever had one hit record.

Johnny Ferguson:

Angela Jones – I wonder if she was related to Delilah Jones. The idea of using a surname is cute but uncommon. There were Jennifer Eccles and Jennifer Juniper and Jennifer Tomkins. So why were they all Jennifer? It tells its own story of course, and creates its own little world, but it eliminates (or reduces, or suppose it’s possible to know someone named “Angela Jones”) the universality of the song. From the spring of 1960.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Beau-Marks

The Beau-MarksThe Beau-Marks were a Canadian band, and they weren’t the first Canadian group to hit Billboard’s top 100 – The Crew Cuts were there before, as were The Diamonds – but they may have been the first who weren’t just a vocal group. They hailed from my own adopted hometown of Montreal, and they pioneered the way for the likes of The Guess Who, The Five Man Electrical Band, The Band (except Levon Helm), Lighthouse, and (God help us) Rush.

They only had the one hit on Billboard, but CHUM shows that they had 3 hits, and I have all three, though not in the same place. No matter, allow me to cheat this one time.

The Beau-Marks:

Clap Your Hands – This was the Big Hit. It actually did better on Billboard, where it hit 45, than it did on CHUM, where it only reached 46. But for all its pathetic chart placement, it is the only one of their songs to survive into oldies rotation. From the spring of 1960.
Billy, Billy Went A-Walking – This is a somber tale indeed, with tragic undertones. It tells the story of Billy, who went walking. Honest. From the fall of 1960.
Classmate – On CHUM this was their only song to place higher than 39; it reached number 4. It’s a teen thing. Will you be mine, etc. From the summer of 1961.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Connie Stevens

Connie Stevens If Connie Francis married Geraldine Stevens she’d be Connie Stevens, but that’s not who this is. This is Connie Stevens, who was an actress, and for whom singing was a sideline. She had one major hit with Ed Byrnes, and one major hit on her own. She had a few more minor hits, all between 1960 and 1965.

Connie Stevens:

Sixteen Reasons – She has sixteen reasons for loving her guy. Maybe it was her sweet sixteen. Maybe it was his. Now what happens if, say, he starts combing his hair differently, or he starts wearing conservative clothes? Problems. This gets the full-on treatment, big orchestra, chorus, fey vocals. From the spring of 1960.
Mr. Songwriter – Connie implores her favourite composer to write a song that will do the trick. Surely there are songs out there she could use, but this was 1962, and Jackson Browne didn’t exist yet. An autumn hit.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Etta James

Etta JamesEtta James recorded for Modern Records in the late 50s, starting with Roll With Me Henry (aka The Wallflower) which was an answer record to Hank Ballard’s raunchy Work With Me Annie. But this collection, called The Essential Etta James, covers her years with Chess, starting in 1960. Musically it’s wonderful, historically less so, but still 22 of her 28 top 100 singles are here.

Now Etta, she had style. Just picture the 60s world of female R&B, with Dionne Warwick doing near MOR on one end, and Aretha with her gospel-inflected soul at the other. Now keep moving, past Aretha, and there is Etta, screaming for all she’s worth. And she got away with all that screaming, because, as I say, she had style.

And for all those 28 hits, and her induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, the Grammy Hall Of Fame and the Blues Hall Of Fame (you didn’t know there was such a thing, did you) how many people, including boomers, could name one of her songs.

Etta James:

All I Could Do Was Cry – The subject is familiar. We’ve heard this before, and we’ll hear it again. But Etta’s delivery is so… adult, so real, that the experience is unique. It would take Aretha another seven years to figure this out. Her debut top 100 single, from the summer of 1960.
My Dearest Darling – Nice pizzicato on this. The first song proved that she could do heartbreak, and this proves that she can do hopeful – with a vengeance. In other words, but for the fact that she sings the heck out of it, this would be just another love song. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
If I Can’t Have You – Romantic obsessiveness. This is a duet with Harvey Fuqua, slightly reminiscent of Ike & Tina on I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine. Not the Yvonne Elliman song. From the autumn of 1960.
A Sunday Kind Of Love – Slowed down compared to how we usually hear this one. Very barroom, with beautiful solo strings. Originally recorded by The Harptones, and covered by everyone and his brother.
Anything To Say You’re Mine – A song of longing and denial, with a great cello arrangement.
At Last – Comes on all symphonic and stays there. Said to be her signature tune and I’ll have take their word for it, whoever they are. It did not even make the top 40, from the winter of 1961.
Seven Day Fool – She gets down and gritty here, appropriately. It’s all about the dysfunctional nature of love. From the winter of 1961 / 1962, and the B side of It’s Too Soon To Know, which isn’t on this collection.
Trust In Me – Etta goes lounge. From the spring of 1961.
Only Time Will Tell
Don’t Pick Me For Your Fool – Janis Joplin would have sold her soul to sound like this. She spent her entire career trying. Amazing stuff.
The Same Rope
Fool That I Am – Tinkling barroom piano, movie-nightclub strings, Etta does a jazz ballad with as much panache as she does anything else. From the summer of 1961.
One For My Baby – Jazz chestnut.
Waiting For Charlie (To Come Home)
Something’s Got A Hold On Me – Almost rock and roll. Covered by The Merseybeats. From the spring of 1962.
Next Door To The Blues – Matters of the heart represented as physical places, think Heartbreak Hotel, Lonesome Town, etc.
These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You) – A very soulful rendition of a pop standard.
Stop The Wedding – Another old story. Do clergymen really do this, ask people if they have objections? Do people really voice objections? Gladys Knight did also, in It Should Have Been Me. Ok. From the fall of 1962.
Prisoner Of Love – Pretty straight compared to, say, James Brown doing this.
Pushover – Another song close to the rock and roll of its day. From the summer of 1963, while The Beatles were taking over England.
Would It Make Any Difference To You – From the winter of 1963.
Pay Back – From the summer of 1963.
Two Sides To Every Story – Some level headed thinking, to a great R&B rhythm and girl group attitude. From the winter of 1963.
In The Basement, Part One – It’s a nice place, a dancing place, not a drug hangout. Ok? From the summer of 1966.
Baby What You Want Me To Do – The Jimmy Reed blues standard, done to the teeth by The Yardbirds etc. Etta slows it down a bit. From the winter of 1964, as the British invasion was getting firmly off the ground.
Loving You More Every Day – “I want you to marry me,” she screams at the top of her lungs – wow. This is some infatuation going on. From the spring of 1964.
Do I Make Myself Clear – Ultimatum time, in the tradition of the best R&B. From the winter of 1965 / 66.
I Prefer You – I suppose one takes what one can get.
It Must Be Your Love – “They just don’t know,” she sings, in response to various and sundry detractors, “what I found in you.” Spare us the details. An obsession set to music.
542-3089 (Call My Name) –Takes its place beside Beechwood 4-5768 by The Marvelettes and 634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.) by Wilson Picket, among the phone number songs. That has to mean something…
I’d Rather Go Blind – Here is where everything stops. It’s not At Last really, it’s this one that everyone thinks of when Etta’s name comes up, if they think of anything. The Muscle Shoals rhythm section is behind this, and Etta’s vocal is indescribable, in this tale of hopelessness. This was the B side of Tell Mama; it never made the pop charts. Note: Dave Marsh in The Heart Of Rock And Soul claims that the alcolhol of which she sings in this song is a stand-in for the junk to which she was addicted, but I don’t know what song he was hearing, there is nothing in this song about substance abuse, unless he thinks that the word “blind” means “drunk,” which is a farfetched assumption, because it makes no sense.
Tell Mama – This was her highest placing chart single, and even then it only made number 23. Good gritty late 60s R&B, from the winter of 1967 / 1968 to be precise.
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man – Ok, she doesn’t make you forget Aretha, but she does hold her own. Joe Cocker also had a crack at this.
Security – She’s not talking finacial; it’s an odd subject for a pop song but a heck of a lot more realistic than undying love. From the spring of 1968.
Almost Persuaded – Country song done with country flavour. Maybe she was trying to prove that she could sing anything. Maybe she could. A hit for David Houston. From winter of 1969.
You Got It – We all know what she means. Super funky.
Miss Pitiful – Takes on Otis Redding on this. Otis sounded pitiful; Etta sounds anything but.
Losers Weepers, Part One – She slows it down here and tells how her best friend dumped her guy because he was “too old.” Well… So Etta grabbed the “old” dude and good for her. Musically this is close to I’d Rather Go Blind. From the fall of 1970.
W.O.M.A.N. – Slinky, sexy, bluesy…
I Never Meant To Love Him – These things just happen I guess. The ultimate slow dance – I cheated, right, but you know…
Steal Away – From her Daddy, not her man. Very soulful.
Feeling Uneasy – Now this is an odd one. I think it could stand beside The Plastic Ono Band’s Cold Turkey, because I think that’s what this is about. There are no lyrics, but there is something going on that’s highly unsettling…

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

2011 – Happy New Year.

My favourite thing as a kid was listening the countdown on January 1, sometimes December 31, of the best of the year.

They still do it of course, but I’m far from that these days, and I have been for longer than I care to think about. There are reasons for than, besides just old-fogeyness, and I may get into that at some point, but for now I’m going to do my own top 10, but not of songs of the year.

There was a news article recently about how Canadians are per capita the biggest YouTube watchers of any G7 country, and I take my share of the credit. I don’t watch what everybody else watches, I promise you, but it matters not; I do my share to bring up the average.

So here, with no further ado, are 10 of my favourite YouTube videos, 10 of the many that have made it to my favourites list, and I have to admit that I’m partial to videos of live performances (or fake live performances, I’m not fussy) or videos that give us more than just the bare music. We are, after all, meant to sit and watch these…

Days Like This by Van Morrison – I love the way Van Morrison uses a horn section and the way he uses his voice, and the way he uses them together. I love the way that he’s made a career out of singing songs of joy and happiness, (when he’s not whining about being rich and famous) without ever sacrificing his artistic integrity. He may be a miserable man (so I’ve heard, lawyers keep away please) but his music reaches a place in my heart that surprises me every time. This isn’t a song that I’ve paid a lot of attention to, but I like this video (I just discovered it this evening, one of those “recommended for you” videos), I like the black and white, and I love the way that he is twice the age of anyone else in the band and how little it matters.

Two Beds And A Coffee Machine by Savage Garden – Savage Garden is / was an Australian duo who were big for about 5 minutes. Most of the stuff on their 2 CDs is likeable but forgettable pop. But this song is something else. The subject isn’t all that common in pop music (think of another song anyone?) and it would be incredibly difficult to pull off, but they do it, nothing maudlin. All they had to do was throw in an electric piano and it would have thrown the song into saccharine hell, but as it is, especially the strings, and especially the cellos, it’s all too human and all too sad. And the video? The guy that did it got an amazing amount of positive feedback, well deserved.

Only You by Ringo Starr – Lightening things up… This is obviously a promotional video, and what we see has obviously nothing to do with the song per se (flying saucers?), but this is here for one reason: Harry Nilsson. He does all the background vocals, and that’s him in the bathrobe, reading the magazine and smoking. Harry, RIP.

Diamonds And Rust by Joan Baez – Yeah I know she can be insufferable, and I know she’s been known to be strident, and I know she’s not for everyone’s taste. But when she’s good she’s very very good. And on this video she’s very good indeed. The song is one the best she’s written, and the performance shows her at her elegant best. And yeah I know she squeaks the guitar strings, so she’s no Jorma Kaukonen ok?

Stay With Me by The Faces– Rockin’ it up… The song was always one of my favourites, and the video reminds us that Rod Stewart used to sing some damn fine rock and roll, and he that he used to have a splendid time doing it.

Some Of Shelley’s Blues by Michael Nesmith – Well into middle age, here is the former Monkee, who didn’t so much outgrow his Monkee persona as anticipate his later musical identity even while a Monkee, doing the song that was done so well by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, with David Letterman sitting behind him looking out of place at his own desk, doing what he (Nesmith, noth Letterman) does best, singing and playing. Honestly though, it was hard for me to decide between this and Different Drum, but I went for this one because as much as I love watching Nesmith do Drum , and as much as I love the original Stone Poneys version , it’s a song about rejection, so I went for the positive. (But notice how cleverly I got the link in anyway…).

הלילה הוא שירים by Chava Alberstein – Forgive me this indulgence. The title of the song (pronounced "halayla hu shirim") translates literally as “the night is songs,” which makes no sense in English, but the real meaning is something like “the night is full of music.” I can get into that. This is from 1977, which, I’m ashamed to say, is the last time that I was in Israel, and I bought the album with this song as a souvenir, because they were playing this song on the radio a lot. This shows an incredibly beautiful performance; Chava looks radiant, the shot of the oboist off the top is cinematic brilliance, and the fact that it’s in black and white is a reminder that while Israel is one of the most technically advanced countries in the world, it’s not always kept up with availability of luxuries (like colour cinematography – this is late 70s remember). And the song? The song is beautiful. I know you probably don’t understand the lyrics, but take my word for it…

Your Mother And I by Loudon Wainwright III – I wrote about this already, so maybe this is cheating, but here it is again. It just hits too close to home…

Foolish You by Kate & Anna McGarrigle – The late Kate McGarrige happens to be ex-wife of Loudon from the last entry, the “Mother” of Your Mother And I. That’s not her singing, though, that’s Anna. Kate is playing the banjo in the corner. No matter, this is the McGarrigle Sisters at their best.

A Song For You by Ray Charles – A special friend sent me this, and that’s reason enough to include it here.
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