Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Rivers’

Trees Again

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Rob’s wife, Barb, was correct: The tree at the corner of our condo is in fact a flowering crab. But unlike the one in their yard in St. Francis, which has pink flowers, ours offers white flowers to the world. Here it is about a week ago:

Flowering Crab 2

That was its peak. Overnight, the wind came up, and morning found the ground littered with white flowers. And over the next few days the flowers flew off like large snowflakes. If we get even a third as many crab apples as there were flowers, we’re in for a crabby autumn.

(We still don’t know what type of tree stands between the flowering crab and the maple. We’ve talked about taking pictures of its general appearance and close-ups of its leaves and posting them on Facebook for our friends to take a look at, but we have not yet done so. It’s in full leaf, however, and it looks quite nice, and whatever it is, it’s providing noon-time shade.)

And I thought, since trees have been a frequent topic of conversation around our place, I’d take a look at the digital shelves and see if I could find a few tunes with types of trees in their titles.

The first one is easy: “Tall Pine Trees” by Peter Yarrow. It’s beautiful, a song of farewell, but I think what captures my imagination is the tune’s Russian overtones. It’s from Peter, Yarrow’s first solo album, which was released in 1972 in conjunction with solo albums from Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, Yarrow’s partners in Peter, Paul & Mary. When the Texas Gal and I took my mom to see Yarrow in concert six years ago, the second half of his show was made up almost entirely of requests; I asked for “Tall Pine Trees,” and he told us that it was the first time the song had ever been requested. Sadly, he didn’t perform it.

We move to the first hit by Dorsey Burnette. “(There Was A) Tall Oak Tree” starts with a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden and then shifts for its second verse to a theme echoed by many songwriters: How humans have despoiled nature for their own ends. (Think, among many others, of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”) The record peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of March 1960, the first of six records that Burnette – the older brother of Johnny Burnette and the uncle of Rocky Burnette – would place in or near the Hot 100 but his only Top 40 hit. (He placed five records in the magazine’s country Top 40 in the 1970s.)

And for the second time this month, we come across the name of Gram Parsons, this time as the writer of a song recorded by Johnny Rivers. “Apple Tree” is the second track on Side Two of River’s 1972 album Slim Slo Slider. It’s a tale of love found and love lost, framed as a seasonal saga:

I used to sit in a big apple tree
Welcome the sun as he shone down on me
Watch the fruit ripen, smell the land grow
Felt the fall rains get colder and turn into snow

And then in the summer, I’d walk through the trees
Roll up my trousers way over my knees
Waded a stream ’til the rocks hurt my feet
The water was cool, and the summer was sweet

Autumn got lonely when harvest came ’round
Green leaves turned golden and fell to the ground
Clear nights got colder, with the stars bright above
And in the winter, I first fell in love

She loved me truly ’til winter passed by
Left without warning and never said why
Maybe she’s lonely, needs me somewhere
Maybe by summer, I won’t even care

And then Rivers lets us think about that as James Burton takes us home with a lovely guitar solo.

We’ll close our brief excursion through the trees with the Indigo Girls’ lovely but cryptic “Cedar Tree” from their 1992 album, Rites Of Passage, an album I love:

You dug a well, you dug it deep
For every wife you buried, you planted a cedar tree
The best, the best you ever had

I stand where you stood
I stand for bad or good
And I am green, and you are wood
The best, the best he ever had

I dig a well, I dig it deep
And for my only love, I plant a cedar tree
The best, the best we ever had

First Wednesday: January 1968

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or make notes as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

Looking at the list Wikipedia presents of events that took place in January 1968, one wonders if the year started with a sense of foreboding. Probably not.

We have the advantage of hindsight, of course, so – to take one example – when we see in a list of events the notation, “January 5 – Prague Spring: Alexander Dubček is elected leader of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia,” we know that the Prague Spring, the easing of social and political repression in that small corner of Eastern Europe, was doomed. We remember the news footage from August showing Soviet tanks in Prague and in other cities. We recall the reports of students and other protestors shot or arrested as a new and much more repressive government took over, one whose approach continued for another twenty-one years, until the Communists in Prague fell in the series of mostly peaceful revolutions of 1989-90.

If there was no sense of foreboding, of tense anticipation as the year’s events began to spin out in January, there is now, forty years later, when one reads the list. It reminds me of something film director Alfred Hitchcock said once. He described a scene in which a woman comes in off the street, climbs a staircase and finds a dead body. The best way to show the scene, he said, is not to follow the woman and show her finding the body, but to show the body in its place and show the woman entering the building. Then, Hitchcock said, keep the camera on the street. The audience knows what the woman will find, and the anticipation of her discovery will heighten the tension and horror.

So when one reads the list of the events of January 1968, it’s like watching the first moments of that scene, like we’re watching the world enter the building of 1968. We know the building is full of bodies.

On January 23, North Korea seizes the U.S. ship The Pueblo, claiming that the ship violated its territorial waters, with more than eighty U.S. sailors and officers taken prisoner. The crew was moved twice to POW camps during the ensuing months, and – crewmen said after their release in December – was systematically starved and tortured. That treatment was said to have worsened, Wikipedia notes, when the North Koreans realized that the sailors were flipping the camera off during the taking of propaganda photos.

On January 30, the Tet (or New Year’s) offensive, an attack by the People’s Army of [North] Vietnam and Viet Cong guerillas, began in Vietnam. As I wrote in an earlier post, Americans had been assured time and again by military and political leaders that the opposition was were no longer strong enough to mount major operations. Oops! During the Tet offensive, some of the fighting took place on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in the city that was then called Saigon.

It was not an auspicious start to the new year. There were, of course, some more pleasant events during the month. The NBC network aired the premiere of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Johnny Cash recorded his live album, At Folsom Prison. In Super Bowl III on January 12, the New York Jets, in what has been described as one of the two most important professional football games ever played (the 1958 NFL title game is the other), defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7.

(And that bit about the New York Jets and Super Bowl III is wrong, of course. The championship game played in 1968, as faithful reader Steve reminded me in a comment, “was Super Bowl II, where the Vince Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers repeated as champions, defeating the Oakland Raiders.” Thanks, Steve!)

Here are the Top 15 records from the Billboard Hot 100 released on January 6, 1968:

“Hello Goodbye” by the Beatles
“Daydream Believer” by the Monkees
“Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“Woman, Woman”by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
“I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
“Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Bend Me, Shape Me” by the American Breed
“Boogaloo Down Broadway” by The Fantastic Johnny C.
“Skinny Legs And All” by Joe Tex
“Honey Chile” by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
“Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers
“If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers
“Incense & Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock

Sitting at No. 50 was “Dear Eloise” by the Hollies, and “Born Free” by the Hesitations was at No. 100.

And the record at No. 14, Johnny Rivers’ “Summer Rain,” leads perfectly into the album I shared here ten years ago, Rivers’ Realization. Here’s what I wrote about it then:

While the album’s single, “Summer Rain” is well-known – it went to No. 14 during the winter of 1968-69 – and is a great song, it’s quite likely not the best track on the album. The entire album is full of sparkling performances, but if I had to select three that stand above the rest, I’d go with “Look To Your Soul,” written by James Hendricks (who also wrote “Summer Rain”), “Brother, Where Are You,” written by Oscar Brown, and Rivers’ own composition, “Going Back to Big Sur.”

It’s difficult, though, to separate out those tracks, as the entire album is truly great. Among the eye-openers are three covers: The album’s first track, “Hey Joe,” credited here to William M. Roberts and Rivers; “Whiter Shade of Pale,” released only a year earlier by Procol Harum; and Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.”

Personnel on the record included Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, James Burton on guitar, James Hendricks on rhythm guitar, Joe Osborn on guitar and bass and Marty Paitch in charge of the strings and the horns. Rivers produced the album.

There’s nothing there I disagree with now, ten years later. Back then, I knew that the story of the origins of “Hey Joe” was a complicated one, so I just listed the credits as they were on the LP (and eventually got around to touching on the writing of “Hey Joe” in another January 2008 post about the Indigo Girls’ cover of “Get Together”).

I suppose I should note that over the years, I have included Rivers’ “Summer Rain” in the list of my four favorite singles of all time. It remains there.

The tracks on Realization are:

Hey Joe
Look To Your Soul
The Way We Live
Summer Rain
Whiter Shade Of Pale
Brother, Where Are You
Something’s Strange
What’s The Difference
Going Back To Big Sur
Positively 4th Street

Saturday Single No. 425

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

I got a new toy for Christmas: an iPod Nano.

For about eight years, my portable music player has been a little Zen V-Plus made by a company called Creative. The Texas Gal and I picked up two of them at our local Circuit City outlet and then loaded them with our favorite tunes. Not many tunes, however. The Zens each had a two gigabyte capacity, and all one of them would hold was about 340 tracks.

But that served my needs at the time (and its price was reasonable). I’d tell the software to load a random sample from the mp3 shelves, and a couple months later, I’d dump those tunes and reload. When I started the long Ultimate Jukebox project in early 2009, I limited the Zen’s contents to just the 228 tracks I’d included in that project, and for the next nine months, those were the tunes I heard when the Zen was playing.

So how often did I use it? Out of the house, not often. I’d take it along when I had to take Mom to the doctor or dentist, but that was about it. At home, it pretty much stayed in the kitchen, where I plugged it into a small boombox that sits atop a bookcase, and there it provided – as I’ve written before – the music for my kitchen dancing as well as for the Facebook posts about dishwashing music.

But for Christmas, the Texas Gal – who’s had an iPod Touch for about four years now – decided that I would move up a few notches. And so I have, although in terms of music stored, it’s more like 2,300 notches, at least. As I said, the Zen had a capacity of two gig. Well, the Nano holds 16 gig of info, and that’s my guesstimate of how many additional tunes I’ll be able to get on the new player.

Not all of the tunes from the Ultimate Jukebox will end up on the Nano. Over the years, I’ve come to tire of a few of them as the Zen tossed them into the kitchen mix. But most of the tunes that I’ve had on the Zen will make the trip with me, as will many, many new ones. And it’s been selecting the new ones that’s been both fun and tedious.

I didn’t want to convert the entire library of 80,000 mp3s to the iTunes format, so I’ve been going through the alphabetized folders of mp3s one by one, scanning the names of artists as I go. When I dig into an artist’s folder and find a tune I want in the new player, I copy it to a separate folder, and when I have the harvest from two or three letters of the alphabet in that separate folder, I dump that harvest into iTunes, and from there, iTunes will sync it into the Nano.

I’m in the middle of the “R” folder now. The last tune I dropped into the “To Go To iPod” folder was Johnny Rivers’ “Going Back To Big Sur.” And since it’s always good to listen to Johnny Rivers, especially anything from his 1968 album, Realization, “Going Back To Big Sur” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘You’re Never Too Old To Change The World . . .’

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Pete Seeger passed away yesterday. His story is well told in today’s edition of the New York Times (and told in great detail at Wikipedia), and I thought that instead of trying (and failing) to tell the whole story this morning, I’d just share a few moments of Seeger’s musical life and heritage.

Seeger was a founding member of the Weavers, the early 1950s folk group that had a No. 1 hit with Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” and was blacklisted for its liberal leanings during the 1950s Red Scare. This is the Weavers’ 1950 recording of “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song),” written by Seeger and fellow Weaver Lee Hayes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Seeger was considered by many to be a dangerous man. As Wikipedia relates, “In 1960, the San Diego school board told him that he could not play a scheduled concert at a high school unless he signed an oath pledging that the concert would not be used to promote a communist agenda or an overthrow of the government. Seeger refused, and the American Civil Liberties Union obtained an injunction against the school district, allowing the concert to go on as scheduled. In February 2009, the San Diego School District officially extended an apology to Seeger for the actions of their predecessors.”

Seeger’s songs and music were without doubt popular and important far beyond the reach of radio and pop music. Still, in the 1960s, a few of his songs provided hits. “If I Had A Hammer” was a hit for both Trini Lopez (No. 3, 1963) and Peter, Paul & Mary (No. 10, 1962). (It’s likely, for what it may matter, that Lopez’ version of the song is the first Pete Seeger song I ever heard, as a copy of Lopez’ single came home with my sister one day in one of those record store grab bags of ten singles for a dollar. I still have the single, with “Unchain My Heart” on the flipside.) The Byrds (No. 1, 1965) and Judy Collins (No. 69, 1969) reached the charts with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” And “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” was a hit for the Kingston Trio (No. 21, 1962) and Johnny Rivers (No. 26, 1965), while a version by guitarist Wes Montgomery bubbled under the chart (No. 119, 1969).

Perhaps the greatest attention Seeger got in the 1960s was when he was scheduled to perform his Vietnam allegory, “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy” on the CBS television show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, in September 1967. Wikipedia notes, “Although the performance was cut from the September 1967 show, after wide publicity it was broadcast when Seeger appeared again on the Smothers’ Brothers show in the following January.” Here’s that January 1968 performance:

This morning, after I heard the news of Seeger’s passing, I dug around at YouTube for something different to post at Facebook. I came across a mini-documentary detailing how Seeger came to recite Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” for the 2012 collection Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. It’s a piece that tells as much about Seeger as it does about the recording he was invited to make. I was especially moved at the end of the piece when one of the Rivertown Kids, the Seeger-organized choir of young people involved in the recording, seemed to sum up Seeger’s life about as well as can be done: “You’re never too old the change the world.”

‘Cast Your Dancing Spell My Way . . .’

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

So how many covers are out there of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”? Who knows?

There are sixty versions – including Dylan’s – listed at Second Hand Songs. There are more than 500 mp3s – with much duplication – offered at Amazon. Beyond that, I’ve found covers at YouTube not listed in either place.

(I checked at both BMI and ASCAP, as I’m not sure which organization administers Dylan’s songs. I found no listings for Dylan at either place, which eithers means I’m doing something wrong while searching or his compositions are administered elsewhere. Either way, it’s no help.)

The listing at Second Hand Songs starts with Dylan’s original and the Byrds’ ground-breaking cover in 1965 and goes on to the 2012 version by Jack’s Mannequin, which was included in the four-CD set Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. The first cover listed after the Byrds’ cover is a 1965 misspelled offering of “Mr. Tambourin Man” from a group called the Finnish Beatmakers. Except for the Finnish accent – which I kind of like – it’s a copy of the Byrds’ version, starting right from the guitar introduction.

And that’s the case for many of the covers I’ve listened to this week: they’re warmed-over fowl. One of the few with an original sound came, interestingly, from Gene Clark, one of the members of the Byrds when they recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man.” His version of the Dylan tune – with a reimagined (and very nice, to my ears) introduction – was included on his 1984 album, Firebyrd.

The originator of the Byrds’ classic guitar lick, Roger McGuinn, shows up on a 1989 version of the tune recorded live in Los Angeles with Crowded House. As might be expected in that circumstance, it’s pretty much a copy of the Byrds’ version, with the Finn brothers et al. backing McGuinn.

Other early versions of note came from the Brothers Four and Johnny Rivers in 1965, from a young Stevie Wonder (with, one assumes, the Funk Brothers behind him), the Lettermen, the Beau Brummels and Noel Harrison in 1966, and from the Leathercoated Minds and Kenny Rankin in 1967. Versions from 1966 that I’d like to hear came from Billy Lee Riley and Duane Eddy. Odetta, as might be expected, offered an idiosyncratic and austere take on the tune in 1965.

Easy listening folks got hold of the tune, too. Billy Strange is listed at Second Hand Songs as having recorded a cover in 1965; I haven’t found that one (though my digging is not yet done), but I did find an easy listening version – with banjo, no less – recorded in 1965 by the Golden Gate Strings. And Johnny Harris & His Orchestra recorded the tune for the Reader’s Digest’s Up, Up & Away collection, which seems to have been released in 1970.

Speaking of banjo, the bluegrass/country duo of Flatt & Scruggs took on the song for their 1968 album, Changin’ Times. It’s nicely arranged with some nice harmonica in the background, but they’re too, well, square for the song, and that’s true right from the start, when they drop the “ain’t” and sing “there is no place I’m goin’ to.”

We’ll look at a few more versions of the tune – some of them quite nice – next week, but we’ll close today with a foreign language version of the tune. (Did you honestly think I would not drop one of those in?) Titled “Hra tampuurimies,” it’s a 1990 version from the irresistibly named Finnish group Freud, Marx, Engels & Jung.

Chart Digging For Covers: June 20, 1970

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

As often as I’ve messed around over the past six years with Billboard Hot 100 charts from one week or another, and as often as I’ve looked for cover versions of familiar records, I’ve never taken the time to look at one specific Hot 100 for cover versions. So I don’t know if the Hot 100 from June 20, 1970 – forty-three years ago today – was typical or atypical.

I do know that it was a mother lode for those seeking covers of familiar records.

The riches begin at No. 25, where we find “It’s All In The Game” by the Four Tops. It’s a cover of the song that was No. 1 for Tommy Edwards in 1958 and that’s also charted for Cliff Richard (No. 25, 1964) and Isaac Hayes (No. 80, 1980) and bubbled under for Jackie DeShannon (No. 110, 1967). It’s also the only hit ever written by a vice-president of the United States, as it uses a tune that was called “Melody in A Major” when it was written in 1912 by Charles Gates Dawes, who later served as vice-president from 1925 to 1929. The Tops’ version of “It’s All In The Game” peaked at No. 24.

From there, we head to No. 28, where Wilson Pickett’s two-sided entry “Sugar, Sugar/ Cole, Cooke & Redding” sat on its way to No. 25. The B-side is a tribute to Nat “King” Cole, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, but it’s “Sugar, Sugar” on the A-side that matters today, as it’s Pickett’s cover of the Archies’ hit – No. 1 for four weeks – from 1969.

Earlier in 1970, Brook Benton had a No. 4 hit with “A Rainy Night In Georgia” and had followed that up with a cover of Frank Sinatra’s No. 27 hit from 1969, “My Way,” which stalled at No. 72. Benton’s next single came from the catalog of a fellow Southerner, as he turned to “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South. The original version of the tune, credited to Joe South & The Believers, had gone to No. 41 in 1969; Benton’s version would peak at No. 45.

Maybe Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” didn’t carry in 1970 the mythic weight it seems to have today, or maybe that weight is just something I perceive because “Into The Mystic” is a song that is dear to both the Texas Gal and me, but it seems to me that it took a lot of guts for Johnny Rivers to cover Morrison’s tune so soon after Morrison released it on Moondance in February 1970. Rivers’ version of the classic tune – the only version ever to hit the Hot 100 – was at No. 58 forty years ago today, having peaked earlier at No. 51. As the tune played this morning, I took a look at the credits for Rivers’ Slim Slo Slider, the album that includes “Into The Mystic,” and I learned that the gorgeous saxophone solo comes from Jim Horn, the piano work is from the late Larry Knechtel, and the drum work is from either Hal Blaine or Ronnie Tutt. I’d bet on Blaine.

According to the website Second Hand Songs, Neil Young released his single of “Cinnamon Girl” in April 1969, just ahead of the May release of the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, but the single didn’t enter the Hot 100 until more than a year later. It entered the chart forty-three years ago today, starting out at No. 95. Its presence on the chart was spurred, I would imagine, by the fact that the Gentrys’ very similar cover of “Cinnamon Girl” was in its tenth week on the chart, sitting at No. 63 after peaking at No. 52. Young’s version of the song didn’t do quite as well, peaking at No. 55.

The gorgeous song “Maybe” first showed up on the charts in 1958, when the Chantels’ version went to No. 15. Since that time, charting (or near-charting) versions had come from the Shangri-Las (No. 91, 1965), the Chantels (No. 116 with a 1969 re-release on a new label) and Janis Joplin (No. 110 in 1970). Next came the Three Degrees, adding a spoken soap opera introduction to “Maybe” that – from the vantage point of more than forty years – doesn’t seem to work. Listeners back then seemed to like it, though; the record, which was sitting at No. 69 on June 20, eventually peaked at No. 29.

Well, that’s six, and that’s more enough for today. But I could go on for a while yet, as that chart from June 20, 1970, also included Merry Clayton’s cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” Peggy Lipton’s take on Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” Rare Earth’s cover of the Temptations’ “Get Ready,” the Assembled Multitude’s version of the Who’s “Overture from ‘Tommy’,” Paul Davis’ cover of the Jarmels’ “A Little Bit of Soap,” Ike & Tina Turner & The Ikettes’ take on Sly & The Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher,” Vic Dana’s version of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red Wine,” Johnny Taylor’s cover of Jimmy Hughes’ “Steal Away,” the Satisfactions’ version of Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth,” and Miguel Rios’ reworking of the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 into “A Song of Joy.” And I probably missed some.

‘Dreamin’ Those Dreams Again . . .’

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

One can tell, just by looking at the cloud of artists’ names here and at Echoes In The Wind Archives, that one of the main pillars on which this blog has rested is Johnny Rivers. There are a few artists whose names are larger in those two clouds, but not many.* I think I know his catalog pretty well, but I was reminded again this morning how vast that catalog is.

Poking through the Billboard Hot 100 from January 22, 1966 – forty-seven years ago today – I saw Rivers’ name listed at No. 35 with “Under Your Spell Again.” I didn’t recognize the title, and I wandered off to YouTube to dig.

I’d never heard Rivers’ version, but at that point, I recognized the song (though I do not know when or where I’ve ever heard it) and learned rapidly that Buck Owens wrote it and took it to No. 4 on the country chart in 1959.

Just to wrap things up before I go deal with the minor tasks of real life, Rivers’ version went no higher in 1966, peaking at No. 35. The website Second Hand Songs lists twenty-seven versions of the song (although there are likely more out there).  Lloyd Price’s version bubbled under at No. 123 in 1962, while on the country chart, Ray Price’s version went to No. 5 in 1959 and a duet by Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter went to No. 39 in 1971. Here’s that duet (which I like a lot):

And we’ll leave it there this morning (although I think I’d like to dig up the version of the tune that the band Southern Fried released in 1971). Unless the bottom drops out, I’ll be here tomorrow, most likely looking at versions of “Spanish Harlem.”

*After writing this post, I did a quick bit of research. Between this site and the earlier locations of Echoes In The Wind (with about nine months’ worth of posts yet to be revived at the archives site), Rivers’ music has been featured twenty-six times. Only three other artists and one group have been featured more. Here’s the top five:

Bob Dylan (57)
Bruce Springsteen (40)
Richie Havens (29)
The Band (28)
Johnny Rivers (26)

‘She’ll Just Hear That Phone . . .’

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

As most readers know, I’m always looking for an interesting cover of a familiar song. And I found one this morning. On this date in 1969, a cover of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” by a group called the Mad Lads was sitting at No. 90 in the Billboard Hot 100:

It turns out that the Mad Lads recorded for Volt in Memphis. Originally from Detroit, the lads got three singles into the lower reaches of the Hot 100, starting in 1965. But after “Phoenix” peaked at No. 84 in 1969, the Mad Lads were gone from the charts and, one would guess, were mostly forgotten.

Tthe song certainly wasn’t. According to Second Hand Songs, more than ninety artists or groups have covered Jimmy Webb’s tune since 1966, when Johnny Rivers included it on his album Changes. A year later, Glen Campbell saw his version of the tune go to No. 26. And after that came Floyd Cramer, Johnny Mathis, Henson Cargill, Larry Carlton, O.C. Smith, Burl Ives and more, right down to singer Carol Welsman earlier this year. (It’s interesting to note that the next-to-last version of the tune listed is the one by Webb and Campbell from Webb’s 2010 album Just Across the River.)

The vast majority of covers of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” came early, with forty-six versions listed in 1968 alone, including versions I’d love to hear by saxophonists Ace Cannon and King Curtis. I can probably get by without the version by Ray Conniff and the Singers, though. As often happens, a foreign language version of the tune intrigues me, this one a 1969 cover of the tune in French – “Le Temps Que J’arrive à Marseille” – by Claude François. (Both videos available of François’ version, sadly, chop off the last few seconds.)

But no one, I’m sure, could match what Isaac Hayes did with Webb’s song, stretching it for more than eighteen minutes and most of the second side of his great 1969 album, Hot Buttered Soul. For nine minutes, over a quiet but insistent beat, Hayes tells the back story of the song, the tale of the man who’s driving toward Phoenix and away from the woman who’s broken his heart over and over. Then he breaks into the song. Some strings sweeten it, and horns, piano and then organ provide punctuation as the track pulls the narrator toward Albuquerque and Oklahoma and, finally, home.

(An edit of Hayes’ long version was released as a single and went to No. 37. I’ve never heard the edit, and I think I’d like to. I saw several edits available for purchase online this morning, but I have no idea which one, if any, is true to the 1969 single. Even when I finally hear it, though, I doubt that it could be any better than Hayes’ original version.)

From Rivers To Havens

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

In last week’s post about Jackson Browne, I noted that I had come across a few intriguing cover versions of some of his tunes, so in the interest of not letting my research molder on the shelf, here are those covers.

The music of Johnny Rivers has been a frequent topic at this blog, with singles, albums and videos having been posted more than twenty times, based on a quick estimate this morning. That’s not surprising, as I’ve long admired Rivers’ abilities. One of the covers I found this week turned out to be – as far as I can tell – the first released recording of Browne’s “Lady of the Well.” Rivers included his version on his 1972 album Home Grown. A year later, Browne included the song on For Everyman.

Maybe the most startling find during this brief bit of digging came from 1972, when the Jackson 5 covered “Doctor My Eyes,” which was on Browne’s self-titled debut (often retitled by fans as Saturate Before Using) that same year. The Jackson 5 version went to No. 9 hit in England. Here in the U.S., it was relegated to the status of an album track on Lookin’ Through the Windows, which – based on the review at All-Music Guide – sounds like a mish-mash of an album. Even if that’s true about the album, the Jacksons’ performance on “Doctor My Eyes” makes one wonder how it would have fared on the charts on this side of the pond.

A cover of “Doctor My Eyes” isn’t surprising – though hearing it done by the Jackson 5 was a little startling – as it’s one of the sturdier songs on Browne’s first album. It’s a little surprising, however, to find a cover of Browne’s’ “Song for Adam.” It’s a fine song, no doubt, but it’s far more personal in its stance and far more subdued than “Doctor My Eyes” (or the other track seen as a major statement on Jackson Browne, “Rock Me On The Water”). But Kiki Dee chose to cover “Song for Adam” on her 1973 album, Loving & Free. No doubt the production by Elton John and Clive Franks helped, but Dee did a pretty good job with the song.

There was one more surprise for me as I dug into covers of Jackson Browne’s tunes, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all, for I’ve heard the track in question numerous times and just forgot about it. I wrote in last week’s post that Browne’s two agit-prop albums of the late 1980s – Lives In The Balance from 1986 and World In Motion from 1989 – didn’t interest me much. Part of that was the content, and part of that was Browne’s performance; his rather slight voice didn’t seem up to the challenge of calling for revolution. But take the title tune from Lives In The Balance and hand it to Richie Havens, and you have a different thing entirely. Havens’ stirring cover of “Lives In The Balance” comes from his 1994 album Cuts to the Chase.

‘If I Was A Master Thief . . .’

Friday, July 29th, 2011

So, which Fourth Street is paved with Bob Dylan’s nastiest thoughts?

When Dylan sneers and slices his way through his 1965 single, “Positively 4th Street,” is he taking aim at the mid-1960s hipsters and posers in New York City’s Greenwich Village? Or is he looking back to the Midwest, slashing and lacerating his way through the remembered slights from his days at the University of Minnesota and its Dinkytown district? Both the Village and Dinkytown have as one of their main thoroughfares a Fourth Street.

I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone besides the Bard of Hibbing knows for sure. The heavy money, I would guess, is on New York City’s Fourth Street, simply because the Village was where Dylan became famous as a folkie and then – after turning to rock – became an infamous pariah among the folk set in the Village. Add that New York was where he was living when the song was written and released as a single, and you might have a case. But I have a sense, and I doubt that I’m alone in this, that when Dylan was writing the song, he was very much aware that there was another Fourth Street in his rear-view mirror and if folks from his Dinkytown days were wounded because they thought the tune was about them, well, that would be okay.

Whatever street provided the inspiration for the song, the song itself provided listeners with a lot to take in. The lyrics – starting with the snarling “You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend. When I was down, you just stood there grinning.” – have always sounded to me like the 1 a.m. party rant of guy all the guests have been sidestepping all evening. He’s like the character on a new Tarot card for the modern age: The Volatile Man. He’s the one who eventually spews his bitterness over everyone, halting every conversation like an Icelandic volcano grounding air traffic. And he never stops as everyone else makes excuses and heads for the door.

The vitriol makes “Positively 4th Street” a one-of-a-kind rant that went to No. 7 in the autumn of 1965, with a performance that Dave Marsh called “an icy hipster bitch session” that turned out to be “brilliantly poisonous.”

Given the tune and its indelible origins, one would think that cover versions would be scarce. Well, they’re not plentiful, but there are more than I expected. The Byrds took a shot at the song with a live version on their untitled album from 1970, and it’s not bad. Others who’ve recorded the song include the Jerry Garcia Band, Johnny Rivers, Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia, punk band Antiseen, Spirit, Bryan Ferry, Simply Red, Sue Foley, Scottish performer Junior Campbell, Scott Lucas & The Married Men, Lucinda Williams, Deb Callahan, the Stereophonics, the Persuasions, Winston Apple and someone named Farryl Purkiss.

I’ve heard a few of those, and I’m interested in hearing a number of the rest. Williams’ take on the song is, as might be expected, idiosyncratic, and I’ve read a lot of praise for Simply Red’s version, but I find it a little bland both in vocal and in backing. I like very much the version Johnny Rivers presents as the closer to his 1968 album, Realization. But in sorting through the covers I had at hand this morning – and I could spend more time and money digging, but I won’t – I was more pleased than I expected to be with Ferry’s take on the tune.