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.
Two-and-a-half years ago, as I offered six of the records in my Ultimate Jukebox, I wrote:
“Looking for a version of ‘Spanish Harlem’ to celebrate, I imagine that lots of folks would choose Aretha Franklin’s imaginative 1971 cover, which went to No. 2. But there’s something I prefer about Ben E. King’s original, which went to No. 10 in early 1961. Maybe it’s the tropical lilt brought out by the marimba during the introduction and throughout the record, maybe it’s the baion bass provided by producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (Leiber co-wrote the song with Phil Spector), maybe it’s King’s hushed, almost serene vocal, or maybe it’s the saxophone solo. Maybe it’s all of those or something else entirely. Whatever it is, it makes Spanish Harlem into a place I wish I’d seen through the eyes of all of those involved.”
Well, all that still holds true, but after King’s version popped up on the mp3 player in the kitchen the other day, I thought about cover versions as I rinsed the silverware. It might be that Franklin provided the definitive cover of the Leiber/Spector tune. But what else was out there?
The index at BMI lists twenty-seven covers of the tune, and Second Hand Songs lists thirty-six, with a lot of (expected) overlap between the lists. Combined, the two lists hold some interesting names. Among those listed whose performances I either didn’t look for or listen to entirely in the past week or so are Jay & The Americans, Chet Atkins, Manuel and His Music of the Mountains, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Freddie Scott, Arthur Alexander, Frankie Valli, Bowling For Soup, Vicki Carr, Ray Anthony, Kenny Rankin, Janet Seidel, Keld Heick and Tony Mottola.
The BMI list doesn’t show recording or release dates, but at Second Hand Songs, the earliest listed cover is a 1961 effort by Britain’s John Barry, whose version – included on his Stringbeat album – falls into what I would call easy listening territory. Other easy listening versions came over the years from Percy Faith, Andre Kostelanetz, the previously mentioned Manuel and His Music of the Mountains and guitarist Bert Weedon, whose 1971 take on the tune pleased me more than the others in that genre.
The most recent version of the tune listed at SHS was the 2010 cover by Latin vocalist Jon Secada, which I have not heard in full although what I did hear sounded promising. I had hopes for 1960s versions by Santo & Johnny and by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana brass, but both of those were draggy and limp.
So what did I like? Unsurprisingly, I like the version King Curtis released on his 1966 album, That Lovin’ Feeling. (The video misdates the track and shows the cover of the 1969 album Instant Groove.) I like the cover I featured the other day by The Mamas & The Papas. One version that did surprise me pleasantly came from Laura Nyro, who recorded the song with Labelle for her 1971 album, Gonna Take A Miracle. I’ve always admired the late Nyro’s songwriting, but I’ve found her own recordings to sometimes be shrill. This one wasn’t. And as I poked around YouTube this morning, I found a sweet live version of the tune from an October 19, 1974, performance at Union College in Schenectady, New York; according to the YouTube poster, it’s one of only three times that Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band have performed “Spanish Harlem.” (The audio is a bit muffled, but it’s still a treat, I think.)
I keep coming back, though, to Aretha’s version. It was released as a single in 1971 (with its first LP release on Aretha’s Greatest Hits) and was No.1 for three weeks on the R&B chart and No. 2 for two weeks on the pop chart. The video below attempts to identify the players on that session, but in the Franklin listing in Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn notes that Dr. John plays keyboards on the single, and the good doctor is not shown in the video. I’ll go with Whitburn and assume that Dr. John was there. In any case, it’s not the keyboard work that grabs me. And it’s not Aretha’s assured vocal that moves me most. So what does? It’s the drum work, which – if one can trust the video – came from the sticks of Bernard Purdie.
In the midst of busyness, nothing has been planned for this space. So it’s time for Games With Numbers again. It’s October 6 – a date that all J.R.R. Tolkien obsessives will recognize as the day that Frodo was attacked under Weathertop, as I noted in a post three years ago – so I thought I would convert that to one number – No. 106 – and see what records were in that position in the Bubbling Under portion of the Billboard Hot 100 on October 6 through the years.
As we all know, just as odd, wonderful and rare creatures inhabit the deepest portions of the oceans, so do similar records sometimes swim in the Bubbling Under portions of the charts. It may be difficult to find some of the records so listed. Or we may find familiar tunes. Let’s dive and find out. I think we’ll hang around in the 1960s for this one.
Jimmy Jones was an Alabama-born R&B singer, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, who had two songs get close to the top of the chart in 1960: “Handy Man,” which went to No. 2, and “Good Timin’,” which went to No. 3. (The records reached No. 3 and No. 8, respectively, on the R&B chart.) But that was about the extent of Jones’ success. Four other singles listed by Whitburn either stalled in the lower levels of the Hot 100 or Bubbled Under. One of those was a rock ’n’ roll version of “Old MacDonald Had A Farm.” Another was the single that was sitting at No. 106 – its peak – during the first week of October 1960: “Itchin’” would be gone from the chart the next week, and after “I Told You So” went to No. 85 in early 1961, so would Jimmy Jones.
There’s an interesting bit of information on the Top Pop Singles entry on the Wanderers, an early 1960s R&B group. The Wanderers had two singles released on the Cub label in 1961, with “For Your Love” reaching No. 93 and “I’ll Never Smile Again” bubbling under at No. 107. In 1962, “There Is No Greater Love” was released on Cub and failed to reach even the lowest portion of the charts, but then, for some reason, the same track was released on MGM and it pushed a little further in the chart than had the two previous singles. A ballad with an odd introduction and an interesting arrangement, “There Is No Greater Love” was at No. 106 this week in 1962; it peaked at No. 88 and was the last chart appearance by the Wanderers.
It’s always fun to find a nifty track I’ve never heard before, and that was the case with the record that was at No. 106 during the first week of October 1964. Earlier in the year, Roger Miller had a No. 6 pop hit with “Dang Me,” a record that spent six weeks atop the country chart. In September of that year came an answer record, “Dern Ya” by Ruby Wright, who happened to be the daughter of country performers Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright. “Dern Ya” peaked at No. 103.*
The name of P.F. Sloan pops up often enough in tales and discographies from the 1960s that I should know a lot more about the man than I do. I’ve mentioned him four times over the more than four years I’ve been writing this blog: three times in connection with the Grass Roots, which he and Steve Barri created, and once as the writer of Barry McGuire’s 1965 hit, “Eve of Destruction.” Along with everything else, Sloan did have two mid-1960s singles that touched the charts. “The Sins Of A Family” was the first, a preachy attempt at raising social consciousness that was sitting at No. 106 in the Billboard chart for the week of October 9, 1965; the record would peak at No. 87. Sloan’s other chart appearance came in 1966, when “From A Distance” bubbled under for one week at No. 109.
Up to this point, our explorations of records at No. 106 have found performers without a great deal of chart success. That changes when we move ahead to 1966: Sitting at No. 106 during the week of October 6 that year was a funky instrumental called “My Sweet Potato” by Booker T & the MG’s. After the No. 3 success of “Green Onions” in 1962 (No. 1 on the R&B chart), the group – essentially the house band from Stax Records – released a series of singles that didn’t come close to reaching the same heights. “My Sweet Potato” was no different, as it peaked at No. 85 (No. 18 on the R&B chart). Eventually, between 1967 and 1969, the group got five more singles into the Top 40, two of them – “Hang ’Em High” and “Time Is Tight” – into the Top Ten. The final total for Booker T & the MG’s? Eighteen singles on the pop chart and twelves in the R&B Top 40.
I do love me some saxophone, so I was very pleased to see the title that was listed at No. 106 during the first week of October in 1968: “Harper Valley PTA” by King Curtis and the Kingpins. I’ve written about Curtis Ousley a few times and mentioned him many times here, so I don’t need to say much more except that, just as it’s fun to discover new-to-me records by new-to-me performers, it’s more fun to discover a new-to-me King Curtis track. “Harper Valley PTA” didn’t do very well in the charts, going to No. 93, but it’s a great slice of soul for a Thursday morning.
*Soon after I posted this, I learned at Any Major Dude With Half A Heart that Wright crossed over on September 27 at the age of ninety-seven. He and Wells were married October 30, 1937, and spent nearly seventy-four years together.
Having listened to – and shared here – King Curtis’ version of “Them Changes” during Tuesday morning’s musings on impermanence, I went on to have a King Curtis mini-festival here in the Echoes In The Wind studios that afternoon. As I worked on mp3 tags, sorted slides from my college days, did some reading and caught up with at least one old friend at Facebook, Curtis Ousley’s saxophone kept me company.
And midway through the afternoon, a semi-familiar introductory riff caught my attention. “That sounds like . . .” I had time to think before Curtis launched into the familiar melody of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the song that was used as a theme for the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy. I left what I was reading and began to dig into the song.
It wasn’t hard labor, the digging. As I recalled, the song was originally written and recorded by the reclusive Fred Neil during the sessions for his second, self-titled, album, which came out in 1967. Wikipedia says the song “was composed towards the end of the session, after Neil had become anxious to wrap the album so he could return to his home in Miami, Florida. Manager Herb Cohen promised that if Neil wrote and recorded a final track, he could go. ‘Everybody’s Talkin’,’ recorded in one take, was the result.”
A year later, Harry Nilsson recorded the song for his Aerial Ballet album. Soon after that, according to Wikipedia, Derek Taylor (perhaps best known for his role as press officer for the Beatles) recommended Nilsson for soundtrack work on John Schlesinger’s film, Midnight Cowboy. Nilsson, says Wikipedia, offered his own tune, “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City,” but Schlesinger preferred Nilsson’s cover of Neil’s tune. A couple of shorter versions of the tune show up in the film’s soundtrack, nestled among work by John Barry and recordings by the Groop, Leslie Miller, Gary Sherman and Elephant’s Memory (the latter far better known for its work backing John Lennon on his 1972 album, Some Time In New York City).
And with the release of the film, Nilsson had a hit. I think the version of “Everybody’s Talkin’” that hit the Top 40 in September 1969 and went to No. 6 was the track from Aerial Ballet. Or maybe I should rephrase that and say that the version of “Everybody’s Talkin’” that has been played on radio for most of the last forty years is the Aerial Ballet version. It’s possible, I suppose, that the version from the film – which sounds different to me and is shorter – was released as the single and that oldies radio later pulled a switch. I don’t think that’s the case, though. I think Nilsson’s first recording of the tune was what hit the airwaves:
Since then, the song has become a perennial, one of those tunes that gets covered over and over. Early on, royalties from the song were plentiful enough to allow Neil to retire from songwriting and performing and live quietly in the Florida Keys. (I recall reading somewhere – perhaps one of the Rolling Stone record guides – that Neil was involved in researching dolphin behavior and preservation, an interesting tidbit considering he wrote the lovely song “The Dolphins.”) Neil died in 2001.
Cover versions of “Everybody’s Talkin’” abound. The list at All-Music Guide of CDs that contain versions of the song runs more than six hundred entries long. Some of the performers listed are Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Diamond, Ruth Brown, Johnny Mathis, the Four Tops, Willie Nelson, Ray Conniff, Bill Withers, Vikki Carr, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Claudine Longet, Vera Lynn and the Kingston Trio, among many, many more.
Perhaps the strangest cover of the song came out on one of the strangest albums of 1970, which is saying a lot. Ted Templeman, an original member of Harpers Bizarre and later one of the best-known producers in rock and pop, recorded an album, says Wikipedia, that “is now considered a cult classic. Using doubletracking, he appeared as ‘The Templeton Twins’ backed by ‘Teddy Turner & his Bunsen Burners,’ recording contemporary hits of the time such as ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Light My Fire’ in a pseudo-1920s style.”
Among those tunes was “Everybody’s Talkin’,” and here is that version:
And having gone through that (infectious) silliness, we should probably end this exercise where we began it, with King Curtis and the title tune from his 1971 album.
Since long before we moved here – for about forty years, I’d guess – the St. Cloud American Legion club has stood across the street from our house, its orange-red siding either glowing in the sun or providing a ruddy contrast to the greys and whites of rain and snow.
As I look out my study window this morning, it appears the building will be gone by this evening, maybe even sooner. A backhoe showed up on the parking lot Friday, before the blizzard came through, and yesterday, with the snow cleared, the preliminary work began. This morning, the backhoe – mindful to me of some prehistoric creature in the way it moves – is chewing at the empty shell of the Legion post, shaking huge sheets of metal in its jaws, then tossing those sheets aside and returning to the hulk of the building for another bite.
The building’s been empty for a while, maybe two years, ever since the local American Legion post decided that it could no longer afford to operate the club the building housed. Opened, I think, in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the post’s club was once the hub of social activity for veterans of the two World Wars and the Korean War. It was, it seemed from the outside, a good place for veterans of those long-gone wars and their friends to have a few beers, remember good (and not so good) times and grouse about the way the world had changed.
I was never in the Legion Post building very often. I have vague memories of a 1970s wedding reception there, although I can’t come close to telling you whose wedding it was. And my dad – even though he was a member of the American Legion – was for some reason more inclined to tip a beer or have a sandwich at the nearby East Side post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars than at the Legion.
Years ago, in Monticello, everyone was welcome at the Legion Club, whether you were a member or not. I spent several pleasant evenings there during my years in Monti. But that might just be the way things are in small towns; Monticello had about three thousand folks in those years, while St. Cloud is somewhere north of sixty thousand right now. And here in St. Cloud, it’s my sense that non-members didn’t show up at the Legion unless they were with a member. Whether that was by rule or convention, I’m not sure. Nor am I sure if the same rule or convention applies to the two VFW posts in town, although they seem to be thriving.
But whether enforced or implicit, it always seemed to me that nonmembers didn’t make their ways on their own to the red-sided club just off Lincoln Avenue. And the Legion’s loyal membership got older and older: Veterans of the Vietnam Era, many of whom – from what I’ve heard – were accepted less than graciously into membership by the veterans of earlier wars, are themselves in their fifties and sixties now. And it seems likely that even if all currently eligible veterans joined the post and were active, there would be far fewer members than there were in the 1960s and 1970s, when the veterans of the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam were numerous. So with the customer base dwindling, costs rising and revenue falling, the Legion post made the decision a couple of years ago to close the club (although the post itself remains in existence).
I have no idea what will happen to the site. On another portion of what was the American Legion’s property, there has already been constructed a multi-unit home for chronic alcoholics. I imagine there are plans already for what will soon be a vacant space where the club building once stood.
I’m not sad as I watch the building come down, but I am somehow uneasy. Part of that, I’m sure, is that whatever comes next will be right across the street from our home. Part of that unease, too, probably stems from an almost inevitable reaction to change. But I tell myself that anything – including a city – that does not change is already dead. On that score, St. Cloud – especially the East Side, where the Legion Club is just one of several notable buildings to fall recently to a backhoe and someone’s plans – is still vital. And that’s good.
That still does not alter the fact that for the thousands of folks who over the years found the Legion Club a refuge on a Friday or Saturday evening, there will be an empty spot where that refuge once stood. And that just underlines the fact that as good and necessary as change can sometimes be, change can also be hard.
And here’s an appropriate tune for the day, “Them Changes” by King Curtis, live at the Fillmore West in 1971.
It’s already early afternoon, giving me a far later start than usual on a Saturday post. But I’ve been out of touch. My computer picked up a nasty piece of malware late Thursday afternoon. When it happened, I checked with Dale the computer guy, and he gave me a few suggestions that he said might solve the problem although he wasn’t optimistic.
He was right not to be. After messing around with the machine most of Thursday evening, I gave up, and the next morning, I took it to Dale over on Wilson Avenue. I got it back this afternoon. The malware is gone, and a few other minor problems have been resolved. There are a few nagging things, though, for which he couldn’t find an easy fix. That means that the time will come when I have to get a new computer. It makes sense: This one is about five years old, which means it’s as outdated as a 1971 Plymouth Duster. (I drove a Duster for a few months in 1978. It was the worst car I’ve ever had.)
When the time comes for that new computer, I’ll have to decide between a desktop and a laptop. And I’m not sure what I’ll decide, although I am aware that fewer and fewer desktops are available; the future evidently belongs to the laptop. (Or maybe to the iPad and things like it.) The Texas Gal has a laptop and loves it.
I have a few practical concerns about the laptops. For one, I dislike – greatly – the flat keyboard. (I’ve been told there are laptops with graduated keyboards, so we’ll see.) I also dislike moving the cursor around with my finger, but I know one can always add a mouse if one wants. But beyond those practical concerns, I have – for reasons I cannot fathom – a visceral antipathy toward laptops. It’s odd and, for now, inexplicable, but it’s very real and very strong: I do not like them.
Why? As I said, it’s inexplicable at the moment. I’ve tried to figure out why that feeling lies there inside me like a hard lump, but the reason escapes me. Maybe by the time I get a new computer, I’ll feel differently, or at least know why I feel the way I do. Maybe if I use a laptop for a while, that feeling will fade.
But for now, it’s there. I suppose it could be simple dislike of change. I doubt it, as I’ve generally been pretty interested in technological advances over the years. But if that should be the case, here’s a good tune with a suitable title, and it’s today’s Saturday Single:
“Them Changes” by King Curtis at the Fillmore West, San Francisco, March 5, 1971
(Alternate version from the 2006 CD King Curtis Live at Fillmore West.)