Archive for the ‘Covers’ Category

A Quick Look at No. 100 (July 1970)

Friday, July 3rd, 2020

Having been sidetracked by household duties this morning, I was going to let things slide here, but I nevertheless took a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from the first week of July 1970, fifty years ago.

And, as I do, I took a quick look at No. 100, and I was startled to see “Eve Of Destruction” by the Turtles. Really? In 1970?

I mean, the world wasn’t puppies and roses in 1970 by any measure, but Barry McGuire’s No. 1 hit with the song came in 1965, and five years in pop music and radio terms is an eternity. And things got even more strange when I looked at versions of the song at Second Hand Songs because the Turtles were among the first to record the song in 1965.

The website lists songs by release and lists McGuire’s version as the first released in August 1965. Then comes P.F. Sloan in September, and in October, the Turtles’ version came out on their It Ain’t Me, Babe album (as did a version by a Danish group called Sir Henry & His Butlers).

So the question hangs in the air: Why release an album track from 1965 as a single in 1970, especially of such a topical (and idiosyncratic) song? Whatever the reason was, it didn’t work, as the record spent two weeks at No. 100 and then sank from sight. (It was the Turtles’ last record to hit the Hot 100. In November 1970, “Me About You” bubbled under for three weeks, peaking at No. 105).

Here’s the Turtles’ “Eve Of Destruction.”

And I’m going to offer here the heavily accented cover from 1965 by Sir Henry & His Butlers. I’m especially amused by the enunciation of the letter “v” with a “w” sound (“wiolence” and “woting” instead of “violence” and “voting”). It reminds me of life with my host family in Denmark; during the autumn of 1973, my host mother Oda would see me reading the International Herald-Tribune on Tuesdays and – knowing of my interest in Minnesota’s professional football team – would ask me, “How did the Wikings do this week?”

‘For Your Love’

Friday, June 26th, 2020

I imagine that the first time I heard the Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” was on a friend’s radio sometime after summer vacation began in late May or early June 1965. The KDWB surveys at Oldiesloon tell me that the record debuted at No. 40 in the station’s “Fabulous Forty” on May 22 that year, just a week after it reached the Billboard Hot 100.

It moved quickly at KDWB, reaching No. 34 and No. 14 during the next weeks and then peaking at No. 8 in the June 12 survey. It then hung around for another six weeks before falling out of the KDWB survey at the end of July.

Sometimes when I hear the record these days, I have a quick vision of the halls of South Junior High, and it’s possible I heard the record there or at least nearby, as that was the summer between sixth and seventh grades, and I went to a couple of so-called enrichment classes – beginning Spanish and cooking, I think – at South during June and July.

Anyway, I was aware of the record, and I liked it, though like almost all pop rock at the time, I would not have known whose record it was. (A quick look at the June 12 KDWB survey – when “For Your Love” peaked – shows only two or three records for which I might have been able to name the performer: the Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride,” Glenn Yarbrough’s “Baby The Rain Must Fall,” and maybe the Seekers’ “A World Of Our Own.”

The first version of the tune I ever owned came a bit later when my sister gave me – for my birthday or Christmas; it’s a bit foggy – a copy of Herman’s Hermits’ On Tour album. The Hermits’ cover of “For Your Love” was recorded only a few months after the Yardbird’s version and is quite a bit less intense than that original.

(It’s worth noting here that the song was written by Graham Gouldman, who, among other things, was a member of 10cc.)

Other covers followed, of course, from Gary Lewis & The Playboys in August 1965 to – according to Second Hand Songs – a group called Cracks last year. A search with the RealPlayer finds six tracks titled “For Your Love” on the digital shelves here. Two of them – by Gwen McRae (1975) and by the Romantic Saxophone Quintet (2005) are not Gouldman’s song.

Otherwise, we find the versions by the Yardbirds and Herman’s Hermits, a lackluster cover of the tune by Fleetwood Mac from the 1973 album Mystery To Me, and a cover by the London Symphony Orchestra. That last is one of numerous tracks of pop rock songs the orchestra recorded beginning – from what I can tell – in 1983. There were in total five CDs worth of such work, I think, and I somehow came across a compilation pulled from those five CDs.

Here’s the London Symphony Orchestra’s take on “For Your Love.” It’s from the 1983 album Classic Rock: Rock Symphonies (repackaged later as part of a five-CD set).

‘When I Was Small . . .’

Friday, May 1st, 2020

Well, it’s the First Of May, which makes it a Bee Gees day here.

The maudlin track showed up first in early 1969 on the group’s Odessa album, which entered the Billboard 200 on February 22 of that year, on its way to No. 20. It’s a somewhat baffling collection of lovely tracks covering almost every genre conceivable in 1969 (excluding hard rock). As I wrote almost thirteen years ago:

Perhaps the most sensible comment I’ve ever heard or read about Odessa came from the Rolling Stone Album Guide, which called it “the Sgt. Pepper’s copy all ’60s headliners felt driven to attempt,” noting that it “wasn’t bad; faulting it for pretentiousness makes absolutely no sense.”

I didn’t hear the album until a few years after it had been released, and I certainly don’t recall hearing “First Of May” on the radio after it was released as a single in early 1969. I wasn’t yet in full Top 40 mode, but the sounds were around me a fair amount of the time, and I think I’d remember the record. I’m not sure it charted on the Twin Cities’ KDWB or WDGY, based on the (incomplete) information offered at Oldiesloon.

The record did get into the Top 40 in Billboard, reaching No. 37, not major hit territory.

But right from the start, the song attracted cover versions. Second Hand Songs lists fifty covers. The earliest is from a group called Top Of The Pops in March 1969. I suspect a connection to the British television show; a glance at the album’s jacket kind of tells me that the recordings on the album are performed by studio musicians.

The first cover of “First Of May” by a known musician came from José Feliciano on his Feliciano/10 to 23 album released in June 1969. Covers followed into 1974 from names I know like Cilla Black, Matt Monro, Mel Carter, and Roger Whittaker, and from names I’m not familiar with like Jill Kirkland and Cornelia.

Instrumental covers by groups including the Mystic Moods Orchestra also came along in those five years after the Bee Gees’ release, as did covers in Danish, Italian, Portuguese and Swedish.

And even after that flurry, covers would come along every once in a while, with a spate of ten or so of them in the Oughts by performers whose names I do not recognize. (Except, that is, for Robin Gibb, who collaborated on a cover of “First Of May” with G4 in 2005.)

I’ve not heard a lot of those covers (the only covers of the song on the digital shelves are those from Feliciano and the Mystic Moods Orchestra), so I’m going to select one pretty much at random to mark the day.

Here’s Tony Hadley’s atmospheric and, frankly, odd cover from 1997. (Knowing that Hadley was the lead singer for Spandau Ballet makes the cover’s quirks a little more understandable.)

‘Night Theme’

Friday, April 24th, 2020

As has been noted here numerous times, one of the formative albums in my musical life is the 1963 release by trumpeter Al Hirt, Honey In The Horn.

It encouraged me in my horn playing, giving me a model, something that all young artists and performers need. And it introduced me to a wide variety of songs, although it took a few years to realize that. On the album Hirt covered songs written by legends such as Hank Snow (“I’m Movin’ On), Allen Toussaint (“Java”), Boudleaux Bryant (“Theme From A Dream”) Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke (“I Can’t Get Started”) and others.

Shortly after I got the record for my eleventh birthday, I knew the tracks well enough to “play” them in my head, nailing the background chorus work and Hirt’s solos. It took me years, though, to begin to read the credits, and it wasn’t until the Internet years that I began to look for the original – or at least additional – versions of the songs.

Some were easy, like the three mentioned above. “Java” came from Toussaint’s pen, “I Can’t Get Started” is one of the entries in what we now call the Great American Songbook, and “I’m Movin’ On” is one of the biggest hits in country history. Others took some digging, like “Al Di Là” by Carlo Donida and Mogol, which turned out to have been Italy’s 1961 entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

And there were some I never looked into: “Tansy,” “Man With A Horn,” and a few more.

Not long after I began this blog, I wondered about the moody “Night Theme.” Broad Googling got me nowhere, and a trip to YouTube failed. A few years later I went to one of my favorite tools, the website Second Hand Songs and found nothing, there, so I forgot about “Night Theme,” except whenever Hirt’s rendition popped up on the RealPlayer or iTunes or when I played his CD in the car:

A mention earlier this month at my pal jb’s blog, The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, of a different tune with the same title got me looking again. Armed with a wider range of tools, and a copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, I got some results.

“Night Theme” was the product of songwriters Wayne Cogswell and Ray Peterson a pair of Rhode Island natives. Cogswell’s fingerprints are all over 1950s pop and early rock ’n’ roll, especially for his work in Memphis with Sam Phillips. Peterson was a guitarist and composer based mainly in his home state, if I read things correctly. Right around 1960, according to a 2014 piece in the Johnston Sunrise newspaper in Warwick, Cogswell came back home and started Wye Records with a business partner, but still wanting to perform and record, he looked for a musical partner and found Peterson:

“I met Ray Peterson and we decided to do a dual piano act, one piano, two players, like the old Ferrante and Teicher thing.” One of the products of the piano thing was “Night Theme,” an atmospheric, blues-infected instrumental that was a favorite for slow dancing at record hops and teen hangouts for many years.

The duo released the record – Wye 1001 – as The Mark II, and in 1960, it got to No. 75 on the Billboard Hot 100.

So that’s one minor mystery solved. I have a few to go.

‘Grey’ or ‘Gray’?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

Here’s one of those questions that writers ponder every once in a while: Is it “grey” or “gray”?

If I had a copy of the Associated Press stylebook here, I imagine it would say “gray.” For many years, in my own writing, I used “grey,” probably just to be contrarian. And, in a typographical sense, I think it looks better. I think, though, that my usage has shifted toward “gray” over the past few years, but how consistently, I’m not sure.

But which is preferred? And what is the difference, if any? The folks at the Grammarly website say that “gray” is preferred in the U.S., while “grey” is more common in other English-speaking countries. The website goes on to say:

Both gray and grey come from the Old English word grǽg. Over time, many different spellings of the word developed. The Middle English poem “The Owl and the Nightingale,” which was written in the twelfth or thirteenth century, uses the spelling “greie.” The fourteenth-century translation of the French poem “Roman de la Rose” uses the spelling “greye.” “Graye” can be found in the poem “Piers Plowman” written by William Langland in the second half of the fourteenth century. Examples of the spellings we use today can also be found in Middle English literature.

By the eighteenth century, “grey” had become the more common spelling, even though the legendary lexicographer Samuel Johnson thought that “gray” was a better version. In the nineteenth century, English dictionaries followed Johnson’s cue and prescribed “gray” as the correct version, but to no avail. By the twentieth century, “grey” had become the accepted spelling everywhere except in the United States.

So let’s look at “grey” and “gray” on the digital shelves.

First, there’s the song “Grey Goose” as recorded by Lead Belly (born Huddie Ledbetter) and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet for the Victor label in June 1940.

“Grey Goose” is a traditional tune that tells the tale of a preacher who hunted a goose that was impossible to kill, to cook or to eat. Wikipedia says the implication of the song is that the preacher had not properly observed the Sabbath (although the website notes as well “there are other folk songs which may or may not have existed before this song . . . that have a similar theme of the grey goose being indestructible.”)

I found the version by Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet on the CD Leadbelly: Take This Hammer, one of the eleven CDs in the series titled When The Sun Goes Down: The Secret History Of Rock & Roll. The series was released by RCA Victor and Bluebird in the early years of this century.

(A note on the spelling of Huddie Ledbetter’s performing name: For many years, since I first heard of the man when I was maybe in junior high school, I had seen it spelled as one word, “Leadbelly.” In recent years, I have read that Ledbetter actually spelled it as two words: “Lead Belly.” That’s the spelling used on his grave stone and it’s what Wikipedia uses.)

Here’s how Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet sang “Grey Goose.”

Almost fifty years later, Sweet Honey In The Rock recorded the song for the 1988 compilation A Vision Shared, a Folkways release that offered covers of songs written by Woody Guthrie and written by or associated with Lead Belly. But the song was titled, for some reason, “Gray Goose.” Here’s what Sweet Honey In The Rock did with it:

“Grey” or “gray,” take your pick. Either one works in this case.

‘Delia’s Gone . . .’

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

Who was Delia?

Her name was Delia Green. Here’s part of what Wikipedia has to say about her:

Delia Green (1886 – December 25, 1900) was a 14-year-old African-American murder victim who has been identified as the likely inspiration for several well-known traditional American songs, usually known by the titles “Delia” and “Delia’s Gone.”

According to contemporaneous reports published in Georgia newspapers, Green was shot by 15-year-old Mose (or Moses) Houston late on Christmas Eve, 1900, in the Yamacraw neighborhood of Savannah, Georgia, and died at 3:00 a.m. on Christmas Day. Houston, the newspapers implied, had been involved in a sexual relationship with Green for several months. The shooting took place at the home of Willie West, who chased down Houston after the shooting and turned him over to the city police.

Green’s murder and Houston’s trial in the spring of 1901 were reported in the Savannah Morning News and the Savannah Evening Press. Although Houston reportedly had confessed to the murder at the time of his arrest, at his trial he claimed the shooting was accidental. Other witnesses, however, testified that Houston had become angry after Green called him ‘a son of a bitch.”

Green was buried in an unmarked grave in Laurel Grove Cemetery South in Savannah.

The earliest recorded version of any of the songs inspired by Green’s fate is listed at Second Hand Songs as “Delhia,” a 1939 Decca recording by Jimmie Gordon and His Vip Vop Band. I wouldn’t be startled if there were earlier recordings. (Wikipedia notes that in 1928, folklorist Robert Winslow Gordon reported to the Library of Congress that he had traced the songs back to a murder in Savannah and that he had interviewed both Green’s mother and the police officer who took Houston into custody.)

Johnny Cash recorded “Delia’s Gone” in 1962 for the album The Sound Of Johnny Cash and re-recorded the song in 1993 for the album American Recordings. Here’s how he told the tale the second time:

Delia, oh, Delia
Delia all my life
If I hadn’t shot poor Delia
I’d have had her for my wife
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

I went up to Memphis
And I met Delia there
Found her in her parlor
And I tied her to her chair
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

She was low-down and trifling
And she was cold and mean
Kind of evil make me want to
Grab my sub-machine
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

First time I shot her
I shot her in the side
Hard to watch her suffer
But with the second shot she died
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

But jailer, oh, jailer
Jailer, I can’t sleep
’Cause all around my bedside
I hear the patter of Delia’s feet
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

So if your woman’s devilish
You can let her run
Or you can bring her down and do her
Like Delia got done
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

Saturday Single No. 673

Saturday, January 11th, 2020

I’ve got a bunch of music stored on my phone, stuff that I put there a year ago so the phone could be my mp3 player while I was in the hospital, and every once in a while, as I take a rest, I lay the phone near the pillow and let the music lull me to sleep.

Except not all of the tunes on the phone are lulling. The other day I was roused when Long John Baldry began graveling his way through “Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield,” the Randy Newman tune Baldry covered on his 1971 album It Ain’t Easy.

I wrote briefly about the song in 2008, quoting the assessment of Newman’s original recording of the song found at All-Music Guide:

A sinewy ballad built around a fine bottleneck guitar riff, “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” is a love song, basically, but the slightly demented lyric content is what gives it the edge.

Slightly demented? Well, yeah. Take a read:

Let’s burn down the cornfield,
Let’s burn down the cornfield,
And we can listen to it burn.

You hide behind the oak tree,
You hide behind the oak tree,
Stay out of danger ’till I return.

Oh, it’s so good on a cold night
To have a fire burnin’ warm and bright.

You hide behind the oak tree,
You hide behind the oak tree,
Stay out of danger ’till I return.

Let’s burn down the cornfield,
Let’s burn down the cornfield,
And I’ll make love to you while it’s burning.

At the time, more than eleven years ago, I had access to two covers of the song, those by Baldry and by Alex Taylor, and I noted that I planned to soon rip to mp3s Etta James’ version of the tune from her 1974 album Come A Little Closer.

Well, I must have done that, because James’ version of the song is now in the RealPlayer stacks, as are additional versions by Lou Rawls, Sam Samudio and the Walkabouts. There are others out there, but we’re not going to look any further afield this morning. Instead, we’re just going to make Etta James’ take on “Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield” today’s Saturday Single.

‘Underneath The Harlem Moon . . .’

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

I was parked at my computer, idly clicking from one track to another in iTunes, as I sometimes do, just seeing what there was among the 3,900-some tracks, when up popped one I’d not really noticed before: Rhiannon Giddens’ take on the 1930s tune “Underneath the Harlem Moon” from her 2015 EP Factory Girl.

Creole babies walk along with rhythm in their thighs
Rhythm in their hips and in their lips and in their eyes
Where do high-browns find the kind of love that satisfies?
Underneath the Harlem moon

We don’t pick no cotton; picking cotton is taboo
We don’t live in cabins like the old folks used to do
Our cabin is a penthouse up on St. Nicholas Avenue
Underneath that Harlem moon

We just live for dancing
We’re never blue or forlorn
Ain’t no sin to laugh and grin
That’s why we schwarzes were born

We shout, “Hallelujah!” every time we’re feeling low
And every sheik is dressed up like a Georgia gigolo
White folks call it madness but I call it hi-de-ho
Underneath that Harlem moon

Once we wore bandanas, now we wear Parisian hats
Once we were barefoot, now we’re sporting shoes and spats
Once we were Republicans but now we’re Democrats
Underneath the Harlem moon

We don’t pick no cotton; picking cotton is taboo
All we pick is numbers and that includes you white folks too
’Cause if we hit, we pay our rent on any avenue
Underneath the Harlem moon

We just thrive on dancing
Why be blue and forlorn?
We just laugh and grin. Ha! Let the landlord in
That’s why house rent parties were born

We also drink our gin, smoke our reefer, when we’re feeling low
Then we’re ready to step out and take charge of any so-and-so
Don’t stop for law, no traffic, when we’re raring to go
Underneath the Harlem moon
Underneath the Harlem moon

I wondered for a bit about Giddens’ purpose in recording the song, written in the 1930s by Harry Revel and Mack Gordon and first recorded in 1932 by Howard Joyner. And I’m still wondering.

The most prominent version of the song may be the truncated version Randy Newman included on his 1972 album 12 Songs. It’s been released a few other times as well – mostly in the 1930s and a couple of times in the 1980s before Giddens came along with her version, according to Second Hand Songs. Not listed there is a performance by Ethel Waters in a 1933 film titled Rufus Jones For President (starring a young Sammy Davis Jr. as the presidential candidate).

Was Giddens – who is one of my favorite musical discoveries in the years since I began blogging in 2007 – reclaiming heritage, as she is wont to do? Maybe so. It seems to me that Giddens, with her clear interest in bringing the musical past into the present – from her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops to her current solo work – is one of the few performers who could get away with performing “Under The Harlem Moon.”

Questions? Comments?

‘She’s Lost The Sun . . .’

Thursday, December 12th, 2019

When I explored the Billboard Easy Listening chart from fifty years ago in a post here last week, many of the top fifteen records that I highlighted were among those I was hearing on the Top 40 at the time. That’s not surprising, of course. Crossover between the two charts was common. (I don’t know if that’s the case today. My interest in the Top 40 fades somewhere between twenty and thirty years ago. I’m old.)

One of the records on that Easy Listening chart from 1969 that caught my eye as I wrote was the Guess Who’s “Undun.” It was one of my two or three favorite records from the Canadian group during my high school days, topped only, I’d guess, by “No Time” (which did end up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox). And until it showed up on that long-ago Easy Listening chart last week, it hadn’t crossed my mind for a while. Nor had the larger catalog of the Guess Who. (Even though about ten of the group’s singles are in my iPod, they evidently don’t pop up often enough that I take notice.)

So I spent some time the other day checking the digital shelves for Guess Who material and ripping and sorting the 2003 two-CD Anthology released by RCA/BMG Heritage. I suppose I should just pop the CDs into the car’s player the next few times I head out on errands or drop them into the large stereo set that sits not far from my desk here in the EITW studios. But I just listened to a few of the resulting mp3s, “Undun” included.

“Undun” was, according to the listings in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, the B-side of “Laughing,” which entered the Hot 100 in July of 1969 and peaked at No. 10. “Undun” followed its A-side into the Hot 100 in mid-October and was in the chart for ten weeks, reaching No. 22. On the Easy Listening chart, it peaked at No. 15, which is where it was in the fifty-year-old chart explored here last week. (It was the only record the Guess Who ever got into the Easy Listening chart.)

And in the Twin Cities, it looks like the record peaked at No. 22 on KDWB, where I got a good share of my Top 40 fix. So I let some memories wash over me as I listened to it the other day; the autumn of 1969 was a pretty good time.

And then I wondered about real easy listening versions of the song, recordings from folks like Ferrante & Teicher or Ray Conniff. Well, those folks didn’t record the tune, according to the information from Second Hand Songs, but I did find a version of the tune that scratched my easy listening itch: Hugo Montenegro included a cover of “Undun” on his 1970 album Colours Of Love.

‘Teach Me Tonight’

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

The standard “Teach Me Tonight” had popped up here a few times over the years before the 1954 version by Dinah Washington became last Saturday’s featured single. Back in 2013, as I looked at records that sat at No. 22 on February 2 over the years, I wrote:

At No. 22 in that long-ago [1955] chart, we find the DeCastro Sisters with their first Hot 100 appearance and the first appearance in that chart of the classic “Teach Me Tonight,” a tune written in 1953 by Gene De Paul and Sammy Cahn. The DeCastro Sisters, who were born in Cuba, weren’t the first to record the song – jazz singer Janet Brace was – but the DeCastros’ version went to No. 2, making it the best-charting of the more than sixty recordings of the tune since the mid-1950s. (The most recent version of the song to chart came from Al Jarreau [No. 70] in 1982.)

And Phoebe Snow’s version of the tune from 1976 came up during as I reminisced about the jukebox that got many of my quarters during time spent in the snack bar at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center. (Snow’s version was released on a single but did not chart.)

But that’s about it. And Second Hand Songs tells me that there are at least 251 versions of the tune out there to explore. We’ll start that exploration today with the original version by Janet Brace.

And we start with some confusion. A note at Wikipedia mentions Brace’s recording of the song entering “the Billboard chart on October 23, 1954, and eventually reaching No. 23.” But neither Brace’s version nor Brace herself are listed in Joel Whitburn’s Pop Hits: Singles & Albums, 1940-1954. Two versions of the song are listed in the book: The above-mentioned No. 2 version by the DeCastro Sisters and Jo Stafford’s cover, which hit the magazine’s charts in November 1954 and peaked at No. 15.

Anyway, here’s Brace’s original version:

And, while we’ll dig into names familiar and not in upcoming posts, I thought I’d close this post with a foreign language version (since I tend to like those). So here’s one in Czech: “Vím už co to znamená” by Eva Pilarová (which offers the chorus in English). It was released – according to Second Hand Songs – in 1961.