Archive for the ‘Covers’ Category

‘Way, Way Down Inside . . .’

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

I slept in today, a rare thing. But when the alarm went off at 6:54, I wasn’t feeling well, and four hours later, not much has improved. Sluggish mind in a sluggish body isn’t exactly the ideal the ancient Greeks had in mind. But we get what we get.

I’ve been following the ongoing plagiarism case against Led Zeppelin for allegedly nicking a piece of Spirit’s song “Taurus” for the famous riff in “Stairway To Heaven,” and I saw a piece on the Rolling Stone website that in its introduction pretty much summed up my thinking about the case brought by the estate of Randy California. Gavin Edwards writes:

Reasonable people can disagree on whether (and how heavily) Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” filches from Spirit’s “Taurus” – that’s why there’s a court case in progress. But the reason many people aren’t extending Led Zeppelin the benefit of the doubt on “Stairway” is because they have an extensive history of swiping songs from other people and giving credit only under duress.

And Edwards’ piece goes on to explore – with videos illustrating each example – ten cases of appropriation.

(Another cataloging of Zep’s indiscretions – with nifty illustrations – is found at the great blog Willard’s Wormholes. Look for “Zeppelin Took My Blues Away” in the blog archives.)

So I was thinking about Led Zeppelin, and I got to thinking about “Whole Lotta Love,” which had its genesis in Muddy Water’s “You Need Love.” And I got to pondering covers of “Whole Lotta Love” (and the Led Zeppelin single remains part of the remembered soundtrack of my junior year of high school, which makes it matter).

I have a few covers of the tune, and there are more out there, according to Second Hand Songs. But if my search function worked correctly this morning, I’ve never posted any of those covers here. That oversight ends now, and sometime soon – tomorrow? Tuesday? I will not promise a specific date, only an intention – we’ll dig into more covers of an appropriated tune.

Our starting point is one of the better versions we’ll find of “Whole Lotta Love,” a 1970 track from King Curtis & The Kingpins.

‘Going Back To Memphis . . .’

Friday, May 13th, 2016

It’s Friday the 13th, and what could be more appropriate than a record titled “Black Cat Moan”? Here’s Don Nix:

As the video indicates, the track was on Nix’s 1973 album Hobos, Heroes and Street Corner Clowns, and the sound – especially with the piping harmonica – calls to mind the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., which around here is a very good thing.

Neither “Black Cat Moan” nor the rest of Nix’s work ever got much attention: There was a single release of “Black Cat Moan” that didn’t make the charts in either Billboard or Cashbox. A couple years earlier, Nix did have one single make both charts; “Olena” got to No. 94 in the Billboard Hot 100 and went to No. 96 in Cashbox in 1971, and two of his albums – In God We Trust and Living By The Days – made the lowest portions of the Billboard 200 that same year. (We wrote about Living By The Days long ago; that post is here.)

I imagine that Nix’s “Black Cat Moan” might be more familiar to folks from the cover included by Jeff Beck, Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice on their self-titled 1973 album:

Of the two, I prefer Nix’s original, but that’s not surprising; it’s got more of the South in it, while the BBA version sounds more like second rate Led Zeppelin. And I need to go back to Hobos, Heroes and Street Corner Clowns, which I’ve not heard for a while, and see what else I’ve forgotten about or missed entirely.

Saturday Single No. 494

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

In the middle of this past week, a friend of mine on Facebook – also a fellow member of our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship – noted that she’d had to explain the concept of a punchbowl to her elementary-age students. And she wondered when was the last time her friends on FB had seen or used a punchbowl.

Well, noted another fellowship member, we use one every year at our annual dinner. Others mentioned graduation celebrations, formal dances and the other types of get-togethers one might expect.

I added that we’d used a punchbowl at the celebration of my mom’s 90th birthday almost five years ago, and I noted that the punch we’d served that day was made from the same recipe (and very possibly, now that I think about it, served from the same punchbowl) that was used for the punch at my sister’s wedding reception in 1972. The recipe, I told FB readers, was one my mom found in a magazine.

But as Wednesday faded and Thursday arrived, I wondered if that was the source of the recipe, which calls for pineapple juice, frozen orange juice and ginger ale. Certainly Mom could have found the recipe in a magazine in 1972. She subscribed to several publications that could have offered it: Better Homes & Gardens, McCall’s and Redbook come to mind. The recipe’s genesis wasn’t all that important, but I wondered.

We went to lunch Thursday, Mom and I, at, of course, the Ace Bar & Grill. She told me about a lovely funeral that took place earlier in the week for the woman who’d been the oldest resident in the assisted living center, and she asked how the Texas Gal and I were feeling, as she knew we’d been struggling through a couple ailments each. We were getting better, I told her, turning around in my mind the thought that funerals and ailments will likely be more and more frequent conversation topics as the years go on.

Then I asked her about the punch, and she remembered it clearly. “So good!” she said (and she was right about that). And I asked if she’d found the recipe in a magazine. No, she hadn’t. She’d gotten the recipe from her mother, my grandmother, and it had been served in 1965 at the celebration of my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary at their farmhouse just outside Lamberton, Minnesota. That meant, I realized, that I had dipped and served some of that punch, as my cousin Debbie and I – we were both eleven – were on punch bowl duty for at least a part of that gathering at my grandparents’ home.

And, Mom went on, that punch had been served at the reception when she and my dad were married in July 1948; that celebration also took place at the Lamberton farm. So where had Grandma gotten the recipe? Well, Mom said, she’d gotten it from her sister Hilda. And Hilda, Mom said slowly, thinking, had gotten it from her roommate at nursing school.

The memories began to spool out, as they always do when Mom gets to talking about things that happened sixty or more years ago: Hilda was living in St. Paul, and the nursing school was at the long-gone Miller Hospital (and was a program of the University of Minnesota, according to the page about the hospital at Placeography).

Hilda’s roommate was a nursing student, too, Mom said, visibly sifting the memories as our lunch was served – eggs and hash browns for her; a German burger (a hamburger with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and bacon) and tater tots for me. Hilda’s roommate, Mom said, was Sophie, Sophie . . . Kashinsky. Sophie came from Hutchinson, Minnesota, a town about sixty miles straight west of the Twin Cities, with a population back then of not quite 5,000 people.

Where did Sophie get the recipe? Mom didn’t know. She’d met Sophie a number of times, the last occasion being a potluck picnic at the Hutchinson home of the recently married Sophie during the summer of 1950. Mom recalled the year of the picnic because she was pregnant with my sister at the time, and she also recalled that she brought baked beans to the picnic. I have no doubt that if I’d asked her what color the table cloth was, she’d have remembered.

But there was no answer to the question: Where did Sophie get the punch recipe? I didn’t say this at lunch, but it’s reasonable to assume, I think, that Sophie got the recipe from her mother, and I’d like to think that it was served at a reception for Sophie’s graduation from Hutchinson High School sometime during the 1930s, or maybe even at the reception when Sophie’s own parents were married, most likely in the early 1900s.

What I do know is that if one Googles “punch pineapple juice ginger ale,” the second recipe that pops up from allrecipes, called “Party Punch V,” is the one for which I bought the ingredients when we were planning to celebrate Mom’s 90th birthday in 2011. It’s evidently a classic.

That’s a story that really didn’t go anywhere, I know. Life is like that sometimes. But when it came time to find a tune to pair with that meandering story, I got lucky pretty quickly. I found a track from the Temptations’ second album, The Temptations Sing Smokey, released in 1965. The album went to No. 35 on the Billboard 200 and to No. 1 on the magazine’s R&B album chart. It’s a  song more often associated with Mary Wells, whose 1962 original went to No. 9 on the Billboard 100 and to No. 1 on the magazine’s R&B singles chart.

It may be more familiar coming from Wells, but it’s pretty damned good coming from the Temptations, and that’s why the Temps’ cover of “You Beat Me To The Punch” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Quick Stop, Good Day . . .’

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

So as we resume our somewhat dormant project of finding covers for the ten tracks on Joe Cocker’s 1969 album Joe Cocker!, we find ourselves considering the final track on what was Side One of the album, “Hitchcock Railway,” which also happens to be my favorite track on the record (and almost certainly my favorite Joe Cocker track of all time, a status cemented, no doubt, by the rollicking version I recall from seeing Cocker perform in 1972).

The song came from the duo of Don Dunn and Tony McCashen, who released a couple of albums as the Sixties became the Seventies and had a minor hit with “Alright In The City,” which went to No. 91 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1970. They’d put out a single of “Hitchcock Railway” in 1969, but it did not chart.

They weren’t the first to record the song, though. In 1968, José Feliciano had released a single version of the tune that had gone to No. 77. That’s the only time a recording of the tune has charted.

And there aren’t a lot of versions of the song out there. Second Hand Songs lists six. Along with three already mentioned, the website mentions versions by an Irish group called Anno Domini, Latin bandleader Mongo Santamaria and bluegrass singer Claire Lynch. There are at least a few more: I have a 1972 studio version by a band from Ohio called Clockwork and a live cut from Cleveland’s Agora arena, also from 1972 with the same arrangement, credited, however, to a band called Change. (I’m assuming that the band took a new name.)

And at Amazon, there are a few versions I have not heard by groups I’m unfamiliar with: The Hegg Brothers, Sweet Wine, and Chris & Mike.

I like all the versions I have, to various degree, but to be honest, only the Joe Cocker version grabs hold of me by the ear and shakes me around the room. So to find a cover that works with our slowly moving project, we’re heading to bluegrass territory. CLaire Lynch has been performing and recording since the 1970s, first as a member of the Front Porch String Band, and then on her own. She formed the Claire Lynch Band in 2005. Her take on “Hitchcock Railway” was on her 1997 album Silver and Gold.

Passing It Along

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

“You know,” said Viv, “I thought about you the other day. We were in this music shop in Owatonna, and the records they had . . .”

Viv is the administrative assistant at Salem Lutheran Church here in St. Cloud, the church our family attended while I was growing up and where my mother is still a member. It’s difficult for Mom to get to church regularly, so she listens to the service on a weekly radio broadcast. And every year, Mom sponsors two of the weekly radio broadcasts, usually those closest to October 18, my dad’s birthday, and to July 17, the date they were married in 1948.

I was at Salem last week to drop off Mom’s check for those two broadcasts when Viv told me of her record digging in Owatonna, a city about sixty-five miles south of Minneapolis. Viv and I have talked a lot about music in the past ten years, when I began stopping by Salem on a regular basis to either drop off a check or to get the latest edition of a quarterly devotional booklet for Mom. We’ve talked about a lot of other stuff – pets, cooking, current events, life in general – but we almost always get around to music during our conversations.

“The one thing they didn’t have there,” Viv said, “was Pink Floyd. I asked the manager, and he said that any Pink Floyd vinyl that comes in goes out almost as quickly. That was disappointing.”

“Which Floyd album were you looking for?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Any of them,” she said. “I don’t have any Pink Floyd.”

I have some Floyd on the digital shelves, and I offered to bring her a couple CD’s worth of Pink Floyd’s work, including Dark Side of the Moon ripped as one long mp3.

“That would be great!” she said. “Let me see if I can find some blank CDs, and we can trade.”

We left it at that, and I went home and took up the task of ripping to a higher bit rate a collection of Mississippi John Hurt recordings from 1928 and tagging the resulting mp3s. As I did, I took a quick look at the digital Pink Floyd inventory.

And then I had another thought, so I went to the physical shelves, where I found six Pink Floyd LPs: Ummagumma, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall, and A Momentary Lapse of Reason. The only one of them that held anything beyond musical interest was Dark Side, because it was part of the soundtrack to my long ago days in Fredericia, Denmark. And had the LP in my hands been the first vinyl copy I’d ever owned of Dark Side, there would have been a tug because Mom bought it for me and because it connected me, however vaguely, to May Day 1975 and a note from the lovely Anne.

But that copy of Dark Side is gone, replaced in 1993 after it began to wear out, and I have the album on CD. As to the other Pink Floyd LPs, if I want any of the music I don’t already have digitally, all are available from the public library. And as I’ve noted here before, I do need to trim down the vinyl.

I put the six LPs in a grocery bag and left it at the dining room table. I got back to Salem Tuesday, taking Mom to attend the funeral of a long-time member of the St. Cloud State Faculty Wives & Women. After Mom got settled, I went into Viv’s office. She pulled a CDR out of a drawer. “Will this work?”

“Well, yes,” I said, “but take a look at this.” I handed her the bag, and she began to pull albums out. As she did, I recognized the expression on her face: The look of vinyl dreams come true.

“How much do you want?” she asked, looking up from the open gatefold of Dark Side of the Moon.

I shook my head. “They’re yours.”

“Oh,” she said, “I think I’m going to cry. And I can hardly wait to get home now!”

That was payment better than money.

And I could easily post “Money” from Dark Side here, but it’s too obvious, and the same holds true for the various covers I have of the tune. So I’ll slide back a little, heading from the first track on what was Side Two of Dark Side to the last track on what was Side One, the majestic “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Here’s how Mary Fahl, former lead singer of October Project, offered it on her 2006 tribute album From the Dark Side of the Moon.

‘But She Could Not Rob . . .’

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Taking up our project of replicating Joe Cocker’s self-titled 1969 album through a series of covers, we come to the fourth track of that fine album, “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.”

When I heard the album for the time in the spring of 1972, I was a little skeptical. I knew the original version, of course, from the long set of three medleys on Side Two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, where it follows “Polythene Pam” and ends the second medley (leaving listeners with a brief moment of silence before Paul McCartney’s piano opens the final medley with “Golden Slumbers”).

But the song itself – credited to the writing partnership of John Lennon and McCartney but written solely by McCartney – was such a brief snippet, running less than two minutes on Abbey Road, that I wondered as Cocker’s album played how it could be stretched to a full track. Well, Cocker didn’t stretch it a lot, but he and producers Denny Cordell and Leon Russell added a guitar solo between the verses and got the track to 2:37. Good enough.

But as we replicate Joe Cocker! with covers, which other version of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” do we use? There are plenty to choose from. Second Hand Songs lists twenty-two covers, and there are more listed at Amazon. No doubt there are others not listed either place.

Booker T & The MG’s included the song in an instrumental medley on McLemore Avenue in 1970. It’s a decent version, but it isn’t as good as some of the other covers on the Abbey Road tribute. Ray Stevens covered the song on Everything Is Beautiful in 1970, adding a funky voodoo rhythm behind his blah vocal.

On 1972’s Feel Good, Ike & Tina Turner offered a herky-jerky, gender-flipped cover of the song laden with some of the most unpleasant shrieks of Tina’s career. The Youngbloods turned the song into a near-country shuffle on their 1972 album, High On A Ridge Top, adding slide guitar and some nice country-folk accents and harmonies.

The Bee Gees took two stabs at “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” The first came for the soundtrack to All This And World War II, which, says Wikipedia, is a 1976 musical documentary that juxtaposes covers of Beatles songs “with World War II newsreel footage and 20th Century Fox films from the 1940s. It lasted two weeks in cinemas and was quickly sent into storage.” As to the Bee Gees’ contribution, the vocals sounded like the Bee Gees and no one else, but the orchestral backing was overly busy. With the addition of Peter Frampton, the Brothers Gibb took another swing at the song for the 1978 movie, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Bracketed by “Polythene Pam” and “Nowhere Man,” the cover is as dull as one can imagine.

I noticed, without listening to them, several other covers of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” Eddie Money and Los Lonely Boys each took on the song in 2009, as did British singer-songwriter Karima Francis. Her version was released on a 2009 tribute celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ album, titled Abbey Road Now! (The CD was included free with MOJO Magazine No. 191, dated October 2009.)

I also noticed that the tune has been covered by several groups naming themselves with ghastly Beatle-related puns, including Yellow Dubmarine and Shabby Road.

So there are lots of choices out there. But I’m going with the first cover of the song that ever came to me, one that I heard across the street at Rick’s. Here, from his 1970 album Fireworks, is José Feliciano’s idiosyncratic cover of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.”

‘They Won’t Tell Your Secrets . . .’

Friday, January 15th, 2016

Things start with a familiarly slinky piano riff joined by a girl group singing softly in the background. Then, enter Mitch Ryder.

“Sally,” he says, “you know I’m your best friend, right? And four years ago, I told you not to go downtown, ’cause you’re gonna get hurt. Didn’t I tell you you were gonna cry? Mm-hmm. So you kept hangin’ around with him.”

Then, sounding utterly fed up, Ryder hollers, “Here it is, almost 1968, and you still ain’t straight!”

And Ryder rolls into his own version of “Sally, Go ’Round The Roses,” one that works in the chorus to “Mustang Sally” along the way:

Ryder’s cover of the Jaynetts’ 1963 hit is on his 1967 album What Now My Love, and it’s just one of numerous covers of “Sally” in the more than fifty years since the Jaynetts’ hit went to No. 2 in the Billboard Hot 100. Twenty-seven of those covers – including two in French – are listed at Second Hand Songs. There are certainly more covers of the song out there, but as usual, that’s a good starting place.

That list of twenty-five covers in English range in time from a 1965 version by Ike Turner’s Ikettes that doesn’t roam very far from the Jaynetts’ original to a 2012 version from the album Moving In Blue by Danny Kalb & Friends – Kalb was a member of Blues Project in the 1960s – that’s instrumentally exotic but vocally drab.

There have been plenty of others along the way. One that I’ve heard touted as worth hearing is a live performance from 1966 by the San Francisco group Great Society with Grace Slick. I found it uninteresting, as I did a 1974 version by the all-woman group Fanny (on the album Rock & Roll Survivors). Yvonne Elliman traded in the Jaynetts’ slinky piano for some weird late Seventies electronica when she covered the song on her 1978 album Night Flight, and that didn’t grab me too hard, either. More interesting was the funky 1971 version by Donna Gaines (later Donna Summer) released on a British single.

At a rough estimate, covers of “Sally” by female performers outnumber those by male singers by about a three-to-one ratio. Joining Ryder with one of the relatively few male covers of the tune was Tim Buckley, whose 1973 cover from his Sefronia album has an interesting folk vibe (though he wanders away from the lyrics and the melody for an odd bit in the middle).

Another folkish version of the tune comes from the British band Pentangle, who included the song on its 1969 album Basket of Light. The group’s version is one of my favorite covers, as is the version by the far more obscure group Queen Anne’s Lace, which put a cover of “Sally” on the group’s only album, a self-titled 1969 release.

But the honors for strangest version of “Sally, Go ’Round The Roses” that I came across go to singer Alannah Myles, who found an utterly weird – but compelling – Scottish vibe for the song on her 1995 album, A-Lan-Nah.

‘Sure Look Good To Me . . .’

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

As we put together an alternate version of Joe Cocker’s second album – the 1969 release Joe Cocker! – there are a few tracks where our choices for an alternate version will be limited.

That’s not the case with the third track on the album, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” Covers of the tune have been coming out of studios fairly regularly since Lloyd Price wrote and recorded the song in 1952. Released on the Los Angeles-based Specialty label and credited to Lloyd Price & His Orchestra, the record went to No. 1 on two of the three R&B charts tracked at the time by Billboard. It was No. 1 for one week on the Most Played In Juke Boxes chart and for seven weeks on the Best Sellers In Stores charts.

And after that came the covers. Second Hand Songs doesn’t have all of them, but it lists seventy-six covers, starting with Elvis Presley’s 1956 version, which was on his first, self-titled album, and ending with two versions released in 2011: One by the Hucklebucks on the album Juke Box Blues and the other by the venerable P.J. Proby on his self-released album One Night of Elvis – One Hour With Proby.

Along with Price’s original and Joe Cocker’s cover, there are three other versions on the digital shelves here in the EITW studios: Elvis’ version from 1956, Johnny River’s take on the tune from his 1964 album At The Whisky á Go-Go and Paul McCartney’s cover from his Cнова в CCCP album, originally released exclusively in the Soviet Union in 1988. Of those three, I prefer Presley’s take; McCartney’s version sounds like an Elvis impression, and Rivers’ version seems a little flat.

Moving beyond the slender pickings here, two versions of the tune have made the Billboard Hot 100: Gary Stites’ fairly bland cover went to No. 47 in 1960, and the Buckinghams got to No. 41 with a cover that raced ahead about 40 percent faster than any other version I’ve heard. (In Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn lists the Buckinghams’ version as “Laudy Miss Claudy,” noting that some pressings used the correct spelling.)

A number of the other versions on the list at Second Hand Songs (which did not yet list Stites’ version) sparked some interest. Little Richard’s cover from his 1964 album Little Richard Is Back (And There’s a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On) barrels along like a classic Penniman side. Larry Williams released a 1959 cover that’s okay but doesn’t add a whole lot to the versions that came before. The same goes for a couple of covers by British groups: The Swingin’ Blue Jeans in 1964 and the Hollies in 1965.

Later covers came from Sandy Nelson (1967), Ronnie Hawkins, the Nashville Teens and Ike Turner (all 1972), Bill Haley & The Comets (1973), Conway Twitty and Fats Domino (both 1974) and on and on through Travis Tritt (1994), Cliff Richard & The Drifters (1997) and Noel Redding With 3:05 A.M. (2003) with more to follow.

I haven’t listened to all of those – and some I only sampled at Amazon – but I liked (unsurprisingly) the Tritt and Domino versions, and a few seconds of Redding’s version was enough. Nothing much else – and I’ve listened to at least a bit of about twenty-five versions of the tune – made an impression. (And I should note that I got a little weary of the many, many times that covers of the song began with the triplet-rich piano introduction created for Price’s 1952 original by Domino.)

It came down to two versions of the song for our remake of Cocker’s album: Either Price’s original or Tritt’s 1994 cover from the Elvis tribute It’s Now Or Never. And I went with Tritt.

Saturday Single No. 478

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

As our pal j.b. at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has noted on occasion, our culture has a fascination with round numbers and anniversaries: Twenty years ago, thirty years ago, and so on. I have the same fascination (as does j.b., whose plan this year is to feature posts about 1976, his year of years). Not only do I like to look at round numbers, but I also like the numbers halfway in between: the fives.

So we’re going to look for our first Saturday Single of 2016 by using round numbers and those halfway numbers. We’re going to look at the Billboard Hot 100 for the first week of the year, starting in 1981 and heading back five years at a time to 1956 (when the chart was called the Top 100). We’ll check out one record on each chart (and look at the No. 1 record at the time, as well).

Thirty-five years ago, in 1981, the No. 35 record on the first chart of the year was the Eagles’ live version of “Seven Bridges Road,” on its way to No. 21. The No. 1 record that week was John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over,” in its third week at the top of the chart.

We go back five years from there, forty years ago, and the No. 40 record during the first week of 1976 was “Squeeze Box” by the Who, heading to No. 16. The No. 1 record as 1976 began was “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers (and that’s the first mention of that group in the nearly 2,000 posts I’ve written for this blog).

As 1971 began, the No. 45 record was “The Green Grass Starts To Grow” by Dionne Warwick, closing in on its peak at No. 43. Sitting on top of the chart forty-five years ago was George Harrison’s double-sided single, “My Sweet Lord/Isn’t It A Pity,” in its second week at No. 1.

The No. 50 single in the first Hot 100 of 1966, fifty years ago, was “A Well Respected Man” by the Kinks, on its way to No. 13. The No. 1 record fifty years ago this week was “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. It would stay there another week.

The first Hot 100 of January 1961, fifty-five years ago, had “My Last Date (With You)” by Joni James at No. 55, heading for a peak at No. 35. Parked at No. 1 for the first of three weeks was Bert Kaempfert’s “Wonderland By Night.”

Our final stop is the chart from the first week of 1956, sixty years ago, when the No. 60 record was Dorothy Collins’ “My Boy – Flat Top.” The No. 1 record in that long-ago first week of January was Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made Of This,” in the first of six weeks atop the chart.

So, we have three candidates that I know well and don’t particularly like (the records by the Eagles, the Who and the Kinks) and three candidates that I doubt I’ve ever heard (the records by Warwick, James and Collins).

Warwick’s record is a typical Burt Bacharach/Hal David joint, similar in style and production to almost any of the hits she had in the 1960s. Think “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” or “Message To Michael” or “I Say A Little Prayer.” In other words, it’s a good record but nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that I don’t remember ever hearing it before.

James’ single, “My Last Date (With You)” is a country-ish adaptation of (or answer to) pianist Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date,” which went to No. 2 in late 1960. The lyrics were added, according to Second Hand Songs, by Boudleaux Bryant and Skeeter Davis, and Davis’ version of the song went to No. 2 on the country chart and No. 26 in the Hot 100 in early 1961. James’ version, as I noted above, went to No. 35 in the Hot 100. It was the last of her eighteen records in or near the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1960, and Joel Whitburn notes in Top Pop Singles that James also had eight Top Twenty hits in 1952 and 1953.

Collins’ “My Boy – Flat Top” is a poppy and peppy celebration of a boyfriend with a severe crew cut; there’s a great sax break in the middle, but the record comes off as more of a novelty than anything else. Collins was the star of the television show Your Hit Parade! for most of the 1950s, and “My Boy – Flat Top” was the first – and most successful – of four records Collins put into the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1960.

Sifting all that out, I fall on the side of the adaptation/answer song. It’s not a great record, but it’s not bad, and it’s the best of the three that I’ve got to choose from, according to the rules I’ve set. So here’s Joni James’ “My Last Date (With You),” your Saturday Single.

‘If I Have Been Unkind . . .’

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

As I was learning how to make my way across the ocean of rock, blues R&B and all the rest during the early 1970s, I imagine that somewhere, I ran across the music of Leonard Cohen. Someone at a party, a dorm bull session, a quiet evening or somewhere else had to have put onto the stereo one of Cohen’s early albums – Songs Of Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room or Songs Of Love and Hate.

I would have been unimpressed. The generally spare melodies and arrangements and the plainness of Cohen’s voice would have left me wanting more and would have over-ridden any regard I might have had for the quality of Cohen’s songs. Some of those songs I would have known via covers by other artists, like Judy Collins’ versions of “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” “Suzanne” and “Sisters Of Mercy,” and I liked those, but Cohen’s own versions left me cold.

(In writing that, I find some irony, for over the decades, I’ve been dismayed to hear friends say essentially the same thing about Bob Dylan: I like his songs, but I cannot stand the way he sings.)

So even though there’s a fair amount of Cohen’s work on both the vinyl and digital shelves here, very little of it is played. The only album of Cohen’s that I truly like is his 1992 work, The Future, and with the exception of the great track “Closing Time,” my regard for the album is tied more to its time and my place then.

This comes up now, of course, because as we put together an alternate version of Joe Cocker’s second album, Joe Cocker!, we run right into Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire.” It’s the second track on Cocker’s album, and his relatively spare take on the tune is likely the first one I ever heard. Judy Collins was evidently the first to release the song, on her 1968 album Who Knows Where The Time Goes, and I might have heard that before the spring of 1972, but I don’t think so. Some of the versions released through 1972, according to Second Hand Tunes, came from folks I would eventually listen to – Jackie DeShannon, Dave Van Ronk, Genya Ravan and Tim Hardin among them – but they were not on my turntable then.

So would any of those early versions work for our purposes today? I like the idea behind Collins’ country-tinged take, but I think the vocal gets lost. Ravan’s take from 1972 is restrained with a slowly building backing, and I like it, too. Plenty of covers have come since then, of course, and I’ve heard and liked some. But among all the versions of the tune that I’ve heard – and that list also includes covers by k. d. lang, the Neville Brothers, Fairport Convention, Kate Wolf, Johnny Cash and more – I keep coming back to Jennifer Warnes’ foreboding version on her 1987 album of Cohen’s songs, Famous Blue Raincoat.