Posts Tagged ‘Libby Titus’

Saturday Single No. 623

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

We continue our increasingly frequent wandering through the EITW archives in search of posts that might have some interest. Today’s it a meandering look at the song I first heard from the Beatles about a city where you can hang around Twelfth Street and Vine. The piece first ran here in October 2008. I’ve made some minor changes.

For a time around 1969-70, the evening deejay at WJON, the radio station just down the street and across the railroad tracks from our house, was a fellow who used the name Ron P. Michaels (his initials were then RPM, you see). And one evening during the summer of 1970, he put on a special show.

From seven o’clock to (I think) midnight one weekday evening, Michaels played nothing but the Beatles. From the hits like “Hey Jude,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to tracks from deep in the group’s catalog, WJON was all-Beatles for one five-hour stretch that summer night.

I was a fledgling Beatles fan, just beginning to learn about the Fab Four’s music. I had – and knew well – the Let It Be and Abbey Road albums. I owned – with my sister – Beatles ’65, one of the albums of bits and pieces that Capitol had created in the early days of the group’s American success. Later that summer, I would buy Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Hey Jude, a package of hits and B-sides (also known as The Beatles Again).

There was still plenty I did not know about the Beatles’ music. I was determined to learn, however. So I stationed myself in my bedroom with my Panasonic cassette recorder and carefully stopped and started the tape to edit out commercial breaks. My recording technique was brutal: The radio was on the bed, with the microphone set down nearby, but the sound quality was good enough. I ended up with three-and-a-half hours of music, which was nothing near the group’s entire output on Capitol/Apple (During their active recording years, from Please Please Me through Let It Be, I estimated ten years ago that the Beatles released about eleven hours of music), but it was certainly a place to start learning about the deeper places in the group’s catalog.

I recall that some of the songs I heard for the first time that evening weren’t, to be honest, high points in the Beatles’ career: “Devil In Her Heart,” “Yes It Is,” “Act Naturally” and “Blue Jay Way” come to mind. On the other hand, that was the evening I was introduced to “In My Life,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” the last of which remains one of my favorite recordings by anyone, ever.

Another song that I heard for the first time that evening was titled at the time “Kansas City.” It started, “I’m goin’ to Kansas City, bringing my baby back home.”

Released on Beatles For Sale in 1964, the song was the Beatles’ cover of Little Richard’s version of the tune written in the early 1950s by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Little Richard’s indelible contribution to the song – beyond his lethal performance of “Kansas City” itself – was the “Hey, hey, hey hey” coda, which was his own creation. From what I’ve read, the Beatles were unaware of Little Richard’s addition; they called the song simply “Kansas City” and listed only Leiber and Stoller as the writers. (Eventually, the title of the Beatles’ recording was changed; it’s now called a medley of “Kansas City” and “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey” with Little Richard given a writing credit [as Richard Penniman].)

Looking a little bit deeper, there was no way the Beatles really could have known. After all, when Little Richard’s recording was released as Specialty 664 after it was recorded in 1955, its title was simply “Kansas City,” with only Leiber and Stoller listed as writers. As was the case with the Beatles’ omission, that error has since been corrected. The 1991 CD The Georgia Peach, a Little Richard hits package, lists the song as “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” and lists Penniman as a writer along with the team of Leiber and Stoller.

Anyway, that night was the first time I’d heard “Kansas City” with or without the Penniman addition. I thought it was a pretty good song, but I didn’t bother in those days to dig too deeply into the history of the music I was listening to. I was having a difficult enough time keeping track of current groups and their catalogs. So I didn’t know for years that “Kansas City” – sometimes listed as “K.C. Lovin’” – had been around since before I was born.

As noted above, the song came from the duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a duo credited with writing hit after hit during the Fifties and early Sixties, including “Hound Dog,” “Young Blood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me” (with Ben E. King), “Ruby Baby” and many more, including the very odd No. 11 hit for Peggy Lee in 1969, “Is That All There Is?”

Originally recorded in 1952 by Little Willie Littlefield, “Kansas City” is without doubt one of the most-covered R&B songs of all time. The listings at Second Hand Songs show more than 160 versions of “Kansas City” and fourteen additional versions of “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.” The most famous cover of “Kansas City” is most likely Wilbert Harrison’s 1959 version, which was No. 1 for two weeks. (As good as Little Richard’s version on Specialty was, it did not reach the Top 40.)

Other covers of the song that I have in my collection are from Joe Williams, Muddy Waters, Paul McCartney (on his 1988 album Снова в СССР, originally released only in the Soviet Union) and Albert King. It’s not a song in which I’ve invested a lot of time.

I’ve since added more versions by artists including bluesman David “Honeyboy” Edwards, guitarist Billy Strange, Big Bill Broonzy, and Jan & Dean.

But there is one fascinating version I do have. In 1977, Libby Titus – who I think is generally forgotten today – recorded a version of the song that she titled “Kansas City (K.C. Lovin’)” and released it on her self-titled album. The album is pretty good, but is, I think, of additional interest because Titus was once in a relationship with Levon Helm of The Band (and is the mother of musician Amy Helm, who’s been mentioned here a few times). Helm’s former bandmate Garth Hudson shows up on one track, and Robbie Robertson produced two tracks and plays on one. (Producing the remaining tracks were, in various combinations, the intriguing trio of Paul Simon, Carly Simon and Phil Ramone.)

Among the other highlights of the album – which used to be pricey on both CD and vinyl but has since been re-released on CD and is now available in both formats for reasonable prices – are Titus’ work on the classic song “Love Has No Pride,” which she co-wrote with Eric Kaz, and the slightly odd “The Night You Took Me to Barbados in My Dreams.” But “Kansas City (K.C. Lovin’),” with its own odd moment in the introduction, is likely the best thing on the album and one of the slinkier covers of the song I’ve ever heard.

And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘I’d Give Anything To See You Again . . .’

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

A few weeks ago, I dug lightly into the song “Love Has No Pride” and promised a few more covers in a few days. Those days stretched into these few weeks, but now I’ll take a look at some more versions of the song.

In that earlier post, I noted that the song was written by Eric Justin Kaz and Libby Titus, and I added: “The song was first recorded, according to the website Second Hand Songs, by Bonnie Raitt for her 1972 album Give It Up, with numerous cover versions following. The best known of those – and ‘the only version that matters,’ according to the Texas Gal – was Linda Ronstadt’s cover, which went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1974.”

Here are links to the original by Bonnie Raitt and the album version of the tune from Linda Ronstadt.

Some of those other covers are versions I can pass by. I generally enjoy Tracy Nelson’s work, but her cover of the Kaz/Titus song – from 1974’s Tracy Nelson – falls flat for some reason. I don’t know Billy Bragg’s version, nor that done by Celtic-British singer Ron Kavana, so I can’t comment on those.  And I have little interest in the covers of the song done by Rita Coolidge and John Paul Young, so those can wait for another day. On the other hand, county singer Michelle Wright did a nice version on her 1996 album, For Me It’s You. And there are, of course, other covers out there.

The one cover I was truly interested in hearing is the cause for the delay in writing this post. As I was rummaging through the catalog of Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary, I noticed that he’d covered “Love Has No Pride” on his 1972 album Love Songs, recorded at Muscle Shoals. Unable to find the album on CD, I went off to Ebay and ordered a copy of the LP. The record, when it arrived, was essentially unplayable, so I got my money back and tried again. The next copy was better, and I’m slowly making my way through the record, ripping songs to mp3s as I listen. Unfortunately, I’m not all that impressed with Yarrow’s version of “Love Has No Pride.” Even the great studio pros at Muscle Shoals don’t seem able to get the track going.

So I went back and looked for versions by the song’s two writers, Libby Titus and Eric Kaz. It turns out I had both. Titus included the tune on her self-titled 1977 album, and she does a pretty good job of it.

As for Kaz, he’s evidently never recorded the song on his own, but in 1976, he was a member of American Flyer, a country rock band with some serious lineage – Kaz was in the Blues Magoos, Craig Fuller had been in Pure Prairie League, Steve Katz was in Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Doug Yule had been a member of the Velvet Underground – and “Love Has No Pride” showed up on the group’s self-titled album.

Of the two from the writers, I prefer Titus’ version. I also still like the Grady Tate version I shared here earlier, but having sifted through the various covers and Raitt’s original in the past few weeks, I have to finally agree with the Texas Gal and with reader Yah Shure – who left a note at the earlier post – in their assessment that the only version that matters is Ronstadt’s.