Archive for the ‘2008’ Category

‘Like A Wheel Within A Wheel . . .’

Friday, July 27th, 2012

After “Windmills of Your Mind” was used – as noted here Tuesday – as the main theme for the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair, covers of the Michel Legrand tune came spinning from many places – in English, with the lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman; in French, with Eddy Marnay’s lyrics; in Dutch; in Danish (as “Sjælens Karrusel,” a 1970 single performed by Pedro Biker that I, sadly, have not yet heard); and eventually, in recent years, in Slovenian and Italian.

(Those are the languages listed today at Second Hand Songs, which is usually pretty comprehensive, but there certainly could be covers in other languages out there.)

The vast majority of the covers listed at Second Hand Songs are, of course, in English; the website lists seventy versions of “Windmills of Your Mind,” beginning with a 1968 cover by Merrill Womach, who is described at Wikipedia as “an American undertaker, organist and gospel singer.” I’ve never heard Womach’s cover, but other early covers I have heard include those from jazz drummer and singer Grady Tate, guitarist George Benson (who kicked the tempo up way too fast) and rock group Vanilla Fudge (who psychedelicized the tune) in 1969.

(The song has also been covered numerous times in French, too, with the most popular cover – if I’m reading things right – being the 1969 version by Vicky Leandros.)

Also in 1969, Dusty Springfield released the tune as a single, recorded during her brilliant Dusty in Memphis sessions; the record went to No. 31 on the Billboard chart in June of that year. I don’t recall hearing Springfield’s version, and the record doesn’t show up on the Twin Cities radio charts available at The Oldies Loon. But a couple of readers who stopped in this week – Steve E. and Marie – noted that for them, Dusty’s version is the definitive take on the song. Steve E. wrote, “For me, the song belongs to Dusty Springfield. Her version got a lot of airplay in Southern California in summer 1969, and I love both her vocal and the arrangement.”

Despite the large number of covers the song has generated over the years, only two versions of the tune have made it to the pop charts (through 2009, anyway, which is where my copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles calls it quits). Springfield’s, as I noted above, got to No. 31, and a version by country/pop singer Jimmie Rodgers (“Honeycomb”) went to No. 123 in 1969. It’s not a bad cover, but it’s distinguished more by being Rodgers’ thirtieth and last record in or near the Hot 100 than by anything else.

The past decade has brought out quite a few covers of the tune. Of those I’ve heard, perhaps the most interesting was the trippy 2008 version released by the Parenthetical Girls, an “experimental pop band” (according to Wikipedia) from Everett, Washington. You’ll note I said “most interesting” and not “most listenable.” I also sampled recent versions of the song by singers Melissa Errico, Stephanie Rearick and by Barbra Streisand (from her 2011 album What Matters Most: Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman), and wasn’t impressed by them, either.

So which is my favorite? Well, somewhere out there is an instrumental version of the tune that I heard on occasion, probably on what would now be called Adult Contemporary radio, right around the time the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair was released. I’m just not sure whose version it was. It might have been the cover by Henry Mancini off his 1969 album A Warm Shade of Ivory, but I’m not putting any money on it. In the absence of surety, I’ll go with Steve E. and Marie and enjoy Dusty Springfield’s take on the song.

‘Write It On A Piece Of Paper . . .’

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

It was sometime during late 1987, and Robbie Robertson’s first solo album was on the stereo in my apartment in Minot, North Dakota. I was letting the record play in the background as I did something else – reading, most likely – and the second track on Side Two began.

The loosely structured “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” is one of those songs with spoken portions and several different sung verses, and it caught my attention. I heard most clearly the second spoken portion:

Take a picture of this
The fields are empty, abandoned ’59 Chevy
Laying in the back seat listening to Little Willie John
Yea, that’s when time stood still
You know, I think I’m gonna go down to Madam X
And let her read my mind
She said “That Voodoo stuff don’t do nothing for me.”

That might have been the first time I’d heard of Little Willie John. Or I might have heard of him in conjunction with “Fever,” his 1956 hit (No. 24 pop, No. 5 R&B) covered and taken to No. 8 by Peggy Lee in 1958. I’m not sure when I first heard about Little Willie John, but I do know that I still know very little about him or his music. Beyond the facts that he had some R&B hits – I have a CD’s worth of them in mp3 form but none on vinyl – and that he died in prison, my data banks have been pretty empty. And I’m going to have to rectify that very soon.

So why spend four paragraphs writing about things I don’t know? (Readers of an acerbic bent might suggest that I frequently spend many paragraphs writing about things I don’t know.) Because this morning, the RealPlayer popped up the Allman Brothers Band doing “Need Your Love So Bad” from 1979’s reasonably good Enlightened Rogues. I knew it was a cover, and – my curiosity piqued – I did some looking.

The song was written in 1956 by one Mertis John Jr., says Wikipedia, and was first recorded by his brother, Little Willie John. Released on the King label, “Need Your Love So Bad” went to No. 5 on the R&B chart, the second single by John to do so. (“All Around The World,” John’s first single in the R&B Top 40, had gone to No. 5 in 1955.)

John went on to place fifteen more records in the Billboard R&B Top 40 and sixteen in the Hot 100, and I may dig around in those someday, but my interest this morning was in covers of “Need Your Love So Bad.” Performers who have covered the song include, according to All Music Guide, the Allman Brothers Band, Fleetwood Mac, Sting, Pee Wee Crayton, Whitesnake, Tracy Nelson (recording with Mother Earth), Brenton Wood, Joe Cocker, Gary Moore, Ruby Johnson, Eva Cassidy, Georgie Fame, B.B. King, Bonnie Tyler and seemingly many more.

Digging around at YouTube, I first found a cover of the song recorded live in 2008 for the BBC by Adele and Paul Weller, and that was pretty good. But then I found the late Eva Cassidy’s version, a duet with Chuck Brown from the 1997 release Eva by Heart, which AMG says was Cassidy’s “only true studio album.”

And I don’t need to go any further than that this morning.

Saturday Single No. 227

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

 As I wander through the forest of mp3s that has grown on my external hard drive, I sometimes find it hard to see the trees. Trying to decide on a single tune or title as a subject for writing is difficult when there are more than 50,000 recordings covering the digital hills and valleys.

So I devise ways to sort the lumber into segments that help me make some sense of it. One of them – by year – is obvious and frequently used. (The total of mp3s from my favorite year, 1970, now stands at 3,177.) So is sorting by title, which I use when I am considering writing about cover versions of a song. And the other day, I had the RealPlayer sort all 50,000-plus mp3s by title, and the results pointed something out to me that I kind of knew but hadn’t really thought about, if that makes any kind of sense.

I like songs about Memphis, Tennessee.

A rough count this morning showed that I have more than fifty recordings of songs with “Memphis” in the title. That total is vague because I’m not sure if I should count the five or so versions of Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again,” as it’s not really about Memphis, unless it’s a Memphis from an alternate universe. At least fifty recordings, however, are about the real Memphis, the home of rock ’n’ roll that was the gateway out of the South for millions.

More than any other large city in the U.S., Memphis calls to me. Someday, I hope, the city will be a gateway for me into the South, as I still have hopes of getting there and then heading south into the Delta to explore a territory that already seems familiar in daydreams and reverie. I’d spend time in Memphis, too, of course, absorbing what I could of that city’s history from the Stax Museum to the Lorraine Motel, from Graceland to the famous ducks at the Peabody.

Given the southward pull I feel, it’s no wonder, I guess, that I collect songs with the city’s name in their titles. The earliest recorded such tune I have is Bessie Smith’s 1923 recording, “Jazzbo Brown From Memphis Town,” and the most recent is Sheryl Crow’s “100 Miles From Memphis,” which was released last year.

It’s easy enough to fill in most of the intervening decades: From the 1934, we have “Memphis Shakedown” by the Memphis Jug Band. Nothing from the 1940s comes up, but the end of the 1950s, we find Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee,” and the 1960s were thick with songs that were in one way or another about the city atop the Mississippi bluffs: A couple of favorites are 1968’s “Memphis Train” by Rufus Thomas and “L.A., Memphis & Tyler, Texas” by Dale Hawkins in 1969.

The 1970s bring us, among others, Dan Penn’s “Raining In Memphis” and Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way From Memphis,” both from 1973. In 1981, Jesse Winchester gave us “Talk Memphis,” while John Fogerty’s 1985  track called Elvis Presley the “Big Train (From Memphis)” and John Hiatt released “Memphis in the Meantime” in 1987.

And the early years of the 1990s were chock-full of Memphian melodies, starting with the obvious, Marc Cohn’s brilliant “Walking in Memphis.” Also released between 1991 and 1994 – during the early years of that decade’s revival of country music, I’d say – were “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis, “Wrong Side of Memphis” by Trisha Yearwood, “Memphis Pearl” by Lucinda Williams and my favorite song among all of these, “Memphis Women and Chicken,” written by Dan Penn, Donnie Fritts and Gary Nicholson.

Penn’s performance of the song, from 1991’s Do Right Man, is good, but the first version of the tune I ever heard was by T. Graham Brown, who covered the song on his 1998 album Wine Into Water. (That was also the year, as it happened, that The Band covered Bobby Charles’ “Last Train to Memphis” on Jubilation, the group’s final release of new music.) And Alvin Youngblood Hart went “Back to Memphis” in 2000.

Continuing on into the first decade of this century, songs about Memphis continued to appear: The Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls released “West Memphis Three” in 2001 (which maybe shouldn’t count, as West Memphis is actually across the Mississippi River in Arkansas), Etta James sang of the “Wayward Saints of Memphis” in 2003, and Old Crow Medicine Show released “Memphis Motel” in 2008.

And early today, I discovered a new version of my favorite Memphis song. In 2008, one of the song’s co-writers, Gary Nicholson, released an album titled after his alter-ego, bluesman Whitey Johnson. So here is Nicholson – with the assistance of, I believe, Colin Linden – from Whitey Johnson with “Memphis Women and Chicken,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 219

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

One of the most remarkable things I saw during my European travels so long ago was a gravestone in the cathedral at Salisbury, England. The man who was my host in Salisbury was an officer of some sort in the cathedral’s administration, so I received an amazingly thorough and well-informed tour through the massive and beautiful structure. And along with his informed commentary on the history and design of the great cathedral, Horace Rogers also showed me an oddity that I certainly would have missed had I been touring the cathedral on my own.

It was the grave of a child, and the stone showed the child to have been born on May 13 and to have died on February 9 in the same year. (Thanks for the webfind with the correct dates, blue50p.) He pointed the dates out to me and smiled as he saw my mental gears go into action and then stop with a nearly audible grinding. I finally just shook my head, baffled, and looked at him for an explanation.

That explanation was simple: Horace told me that from sometime in the Twelfth Century until 1752, while operating under the Julian calendar, each year in Britain began on March 25 and ended on March 24. So the child buried in that grave was nearly nine months old at the time of his or her death.

I mention this today because it points out how artificial a construct it is that each new year – like this morning’s 2011 – begins on January 1. Other cultures, of course, have long begun their years on other dates; it’s not uncommon for people to make note of the Chinese New Year, and there are others, as well.

But, artificial construct or not (and leaving aside the benefits of standards for record keeping), there is a personal value one can find in the establishment of beginnings and endings. We hear a lot of talk about New Year’s resolutions, though I don’t know if I’ve ever known anyone who actually made any with the intent of keeping them. I imagine there are folks who do, and a well-defined starting point for change likely has some value. So for those who want to, say, quit smoking, lose weight, exercise more, spend more time with loved ones or whatever beneficial change one might want, January 1 provides a nice benchmark.

Change – as I mentioned the other day – is hard, even on the level of our personal lives, like the changes listed above. And I imagine it’s just as hard on the level of a resolution that came into my mind the other day and then fluttered away until just now. That resolution? To be a better citizen.

That’s a vague goal, and this morning I have no firm idea what actions go with attaining that goal. Does it mean to write more letters to the editor? To become active once again in the local activities of a political party? To be more careful about recycling? To share my views in letters and emails to elected officials, from St. Cloud to Washington, D.C.? I imagine all of those and more might help attain what seems this morning to be a nebulous goal. I have some thinking ahead of me.

And it’s a good day to start doing that, among the parades and football games and the likelihood of going out to lunch with the Texas Gal. I imagine that, if I do things right, by the time the next January 1 rolls around, I’ll have been busy but I won’t be anywhere near done thinking about what actions would help me meet that goal. And if that’s the case, that’s fine.

To go along with these vague thoughts, I decided to share a tune I came across during the last couple of days when I was wandering through the musical decade just ended. It’s one that the Texas Gal and I actually heard Richie Havens perform when we saw him in St. Cloud a couple of years ago, and its title and lyrics, come to think of it, form a pretty good goal for a New Year’s Day.

So, from his 2008 album Nobody Left to Crown, here’s Richie Havens’ cover of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Dates and age of child corrected after first posting.

Highlights Continued: 2006-2010

Friday, December 31st, 2010

New Year’s has never been a big deal to me. When I was a kid, Rick and I would spend the evening together, sometimes at our place but usually at his. We’d play board games and listen to music, and at midnight, we’d holler “Happy New Year!” Not long after that, we’d head to bed.

I did spend a couple of New Year’s Eves in a few drinking establishments along St. Cloud’s Fifth Avenue during my latter college days, but even those two evenings were fairly tame. The first year, 1974, three of us from The Table – two guys and a gal – sat in the Red Carpet sipping drinks and watching others dance. As 1975 ended, my Denmark buddy Rob and I stood by the bar next door in the Press, sipping drinks and watching others dance. So I’ve never really celebrated much on New Year’s Eve.

And that makes the rain, freezing rain, sleet and snow that we’re supposed to get today inconsequential, as long as the Texas Gal gets back from work safe and dry. We’ll probably watch some TV tonight, maybe load up the DVD with the next disc of The West Wing boxset, and – if we stay awake – we’ll watch the lighted ball drop in Times Square. After that, the only excitement will be staying up to watch the dates change on our computer screens.

But tomorrow is a new year and a new decade, and I should finish what I began yesterday, tapping one album and one other track from each of the years of the first decade of the new century. Yesterday, I wrote about 2001-2005, and today we pick up with 2006.

These last five years got a lot tougher. With the exception of the occasional powerhouse album or track, I absorb music slowly, through repeated listenings over time. And the closer I got to the present day in this exercise, the less I seemed to know about some of the music I’ve heard. I imagine that if I were to do the same thing for these ten years a decade from now, my selections would be quite a bit different. But we’ll leave that problem for December 2020 when we get there, and we’ll pick things up with 2006.

Choosing an album for 2006 might have been the easiest of this batch. Bruce Springsteen’s talented, rambling and delightfully informal Seeger Sessions Band put together a gem of Americana with We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. A later version, subtitled The American Land Edition, added bonus tracks and bonus video and was actually worth the extra coinage. The sound of Springsteen and like-minded folks performing classic tunes like “Erie Canal” was a refreshing change. There’s nothing at all wrong with the E Street Band, of course, but it was fun to hear the Boss in a different environment.

My one single track from 2006 comes from a project by Linda Ronstadt and Cajun singer Ann Savoy. Their album, Adieu False Heart, while not quite a Cajun album, comes close to tapping the center of that unique American subculture. And to complicate things more, the duo digs into the old Left Banke hit, “Walk Away Renee” and makes the track work.

 

Things got a little obscure in 2007. That happens to be the year this blog began its explorations although I’m not sure there’s a causal link there. But as I looked at the list of CDs from 2007, I dithered a lot, considering We’ll Never Turn Back by Mavis Staples and Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss as well as albums by Maroon 5, the Indigo Girls and Ruthie Foster. After a lot of listening last evening, I settled on the debut CD by Rachel Harrington, The Bootlegger’s Daughter. The comments from All-Music Guide about Harrington’s follow-up – 2008’s City of Refuge – also describe The Bootlegger’s Daughter very well: “Harrington’s music . . . often sounds like it could date from the 1850s, or at least as far back as the 1930s, anyway. Accompanied by bluegrass instrumentation – fiddle, dobro, mandolin – she sings in a rough-hewn country voice songs with a rural setting that touch on love and death.” The Bootlegger’s Daughter is spare, haunting and beautiful.

It’s probably not surprising that a lot of my selections are Americana, steeped in the connection between the country, folk and singer/songwriter idioms. But the direction I took for a single track from 2007 might be a surprise. Nicole Atkins’ CD, Neptune City, was lushly produced pop with some tricks and warbles that made it clear how much Atkins listened to – among other things – the Brill Building sounds of the early 1960s. Though the album tends to wander a little, Atkins’ songs are strong; it’s a good listen, and I’ve selected “Maybe Tonight,” the album’s first track, as something to keep from 2007.

My album choice for 2008 landed here after I followed the advice of my pal and fellow blogger, jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, who told me to make sure to listen to a group called Jump Back Jake. I listened and pretty quickly got hold of the group’s first album, Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle. The CD’s title pretty much sums up the group’s music: Straighforward, funky, soulful and rocking. This CD sees the inside of my player a lot.

In 2008, Nils Lofgren – whose solo work is a little slight in comparison with the work he’s done for Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen – put out a solo project that seemed at best risky: An acoustic album of Neil Young songs. I wasn’t sure Lofgren’s rather thin voice was up to that challenge. But it’s a superb album, and Lofgren does his early mentor well. It thought it would be difficult to pull one track from the CD, but it wasn’t. Here’s Lofgren’s cover of “On The Way Home.”

Nils Lofgren – “On The Way Home”

Among the CDs I wrote about during this blog’s early days were the two collaborations between singer/songwriter Eric Andersen, the late Rick Danko of The Band and Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld. And since then, I keep watch for anything new by Andersen and Fjeld. Andersen’s easy enough to keep track of, but it’s a little tougher – though not nearly as difficult as it would have been twenty years ago – to know what Fjeld is doing. That why it was intriguing in 2009 when I discovered the second collaboration between Fjeld and the North Carolina bluegrass/roots group Chatham County Line. (The first was a 2007 live album recorded in Norway.) The 2009 CD, Brother Of Song, covers a lot of musical ground with songs rooted both in Americana and in Norwegian tradition (two of the tracks are sung in Norwegian), with Fjeld’s slightly raspy and slightly accented voice adding another dimension to the proceedings.

Instead of a studio track from 2009, I’m going to offer – I think for the second time at this blog – a live performance by Perpetuum Jazzile, a choir from Slovenia. The group’s performance of Toto’s “Africa” at – I think – a 2008 concert in Ljubljana remains amazing. The song was included on the group’s 2009 CD, Africa, but seeing it – even a second time – is better than just hearing it.

For all the dithering I did about some of the choices higher up the page, I found that making selections for the year just ending was easy. My favorite album from 2010 – as of this writing, anyway – turns out to be Women + Country by Jakob Dylan. It’s a collection of spare songs, supplemented by production from T-Bone Burnett and harmony vocals from Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, and it seems to sink deeper into me with every listening.

And my single track from 2010 was a pretty easy choice, too. I’ve been listening at least a little to The Union, the collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russell, and when I found that there’d been a video released for “If It Wasn’t For Bad,” the CD’s first track, there was no doubt what I’d tab as my favorite track of the year. Maybe it’s just the Bogartish noir of the video that gets to me. I dunno. But something makes this work for me.

Finally, a look at the last decade wouldn’t be complete without tapping into one of the funniest things I’ve found on the Internet since I first logged on in February 2000. In 2007, a music producer with too much time on his hands and some mimicry skills took seven of the witty children’s tales by Dr. Seuss and recorded them as they would have been done by Bob Dylan in the Blonde On Blonde era, with that “ wild mercury sound.” The songs were posted at the website Dylan Hears A Who, which was soon retired after a request by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. But the songs were already out there, and they continue to pop up now and then. So here’s a video for “Green Eggs & Ham” by Dylan Hears A Who:

I’ll be back tomorrow with the first Saturday Single of the new year.