Posts Tagged ‘Melissa Etheridge’

‘One Last Chance To Make It Real . . .’

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Down on East St. Germain – the main street here on the East Side – there’s a pawnshop. It’s right around the corner from Tom’s Barbershop, and I pop in from time to time. Granite City Pawn Shop, it’s called. It’s kind of dusty, and it’s well-stocked with tools and outdoor sports equipment.

And in the middle of the shop, sometimes guarded by a gantlet of other merchandise – a telescope tripod the other day – is an alcove filled with CDs, all priced at $1 apiece. Over the past couple years, I’ve made a few interesting finds there – probably the best was Blue & Sentimental by 1950s sax player Ike Quebec – and filled some gaps, most of them in my country collection.

I stopped by there the other day and found three CDs from the 1990s by country singer John Berry, about whom I’d read a few nice things. They’re all pretty good, and it turns out that one of them – Saddle the Wind – was an album Berry recorded and released in 1990, before he was signed to Liberty Records. Liberty released it in 1994, and that’s the version I found. And when the CD got to the fifth track, here’s what I heard:

He sings it well, but to my ears, the track hews far too closely to Bruce Springsteen’s version to make it more than interesting. But for the last ten days or so, I’ve had “Thunder Road” running through my head as Berry’s cover inspired me to make my way through various versions of one of Springsteen’s greatest songs.

Along the way, I’ve been wondering if the harmonica and piano that lead off “Thunder Road” on Born to Run might not be the very first things that lots of folks ever heard from Bruce Springsteen. My reasoning: It was with Born to Run, of course, that Springsteen made the leap from regional favorite to national artist, and I figure a lot of folks picked up the album on the basis of the national noise without having heard anything from Springsteen before, even the single “Born to Run.” The album reached the Billboard chart on September 13, 1975, showing up at No. 84, a week before “Born to Run” jumped into the Hot 100 at No. 68. And “Thunder Road” leads off the album. So that introduction could have been the introduction to Springsteen for a lot of people.

Well, it’s an interesting thought (to me, anyway), but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that “Thunder Road” is one of the sturdiest songs Springsteen’s ever put together. Wikipedia notes that in 2004, the song was ranked No. 86 in Rolling Stone magazine’s assessment of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” And, as Wikipedia notes, the song has shown up highly ranked on several similar lists.

Like all sturdy songs, it’s been covered fairly frequently. Among those who’ve tackled the song are Badly Drawn Boy, Frank Turner, Tori Amos, Mary Lou Lord and Bonnie “Prince” Bill with Tortoise. I’ve heard some of those, and I’ve come across a few more. Melissa Etheridge sang the song in concert at least once after Springsteen performed the song with her at an earlier show. (Her solo performance of the song is listed as being in 2009, but I don’t know when the duet took place.) I also found a few studio covers that I thought were interesting: Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners recorded the song for his 1999 album My Beauty, but – according to a comment at YouTube – the track was held back because Springsteen thought Rowland took too many liberties with the lyrics. I thought the Cowboy Junkies did a nice version; it was released on the bonus CD that came with their 2004 album One Soul Now.

And I came across this version by a string quartet calling itself the Section; it came from the 2002 CD Hometown: The String Quartet Tribute to Springsteen:

 There are other covers out there, but my energy waned. Of the covers I found, I think I like the Cowboy Junkies’ version best; Margo Timmins can do little wrong from where I listen. But the best version of the song I found on YouTube isn’t really a cover at all.

In 2005, Springsteen toured as a solo artist after the release of Devils & Dust, and for that tour, he shelved a lot of the songs he normally performed live. But he did “Thunder Road” once, backing himself on the piano. And it’s neat to know that the performance took place in Minneapolis, at the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium on October 12, 2005. (No, I wasn’t there, but I sure wish I had been.)

Corrected and edited slightly after posting.

‘And So This Is Christmas . . .’

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

As regular readers know, we here at Echoes In The Wind don’t do much about Christmas. It’s generally been three posts and two songs since the blog marked its first Christmas in 2007. And that’s not going to change. We started Saturday with a salute to Darlene Love and her “Christmas Baby (Please Come Home),” and – as has been our habit – continue today with a cover version of my favorite Christmas song.

But before getting into the cover, I thought we’d dig a little deeper into the original record. I don’t know what John Lennon’s hopes were when he released “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” in December 1971. I doubt that he thought that he and Yoko Ono had released a holiday classic. (The record was actually credited to John & Yoko/The Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir.) At the time, it seemed to me that I heard the record enough that it would have made a sizable dent in the Billboard chart.

Not so. To my surprise, when I checked this morning, the record – according to both editions I have of the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits – did not reach the Top 40. I find the same information in Mark Wallgren’s The Beatles On Record. Wallgren notes, however, that “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” did reach No. 36 on the Cashbox chart, and on the very long-gone Record World chart, the record went to No. 28.

The Billboard results are surprising, as Wallgren notes, as “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” became “the very first Lennon single not to make the [Billboard] charts at all.”

Just in case Wallgren was referring only to the Top 40, I went this morning to my collection of week-by-week Billboard charts. And there is in fact no sign of the record even making the Hot 100. I checked a couple of other places, and another source, the Brit-centric The Great Rock Discography, also has the record not showing up on the American chart but shows the record reaching No. 4 in Britain.  Still, somehow, both All-Music Guide and Wikipedia have the record reaching No. 3! (I dearly want to know where those rankings came from; I suspect either a massive compounded error or a separate Christmas chart about which I know nothing.)

There are answers somewhere to all of those questions, but we’ll let them show up later.  (As I’d hoped, our pal Yah Shure has the answers; see the comments below.) I want to talk about the record, which was a Christmas song offered additionally as an anti-war anthem. (The Vietnam War was still going on as of Christmas 1971; an agreement for the U.S. to withdraw its combat troops came in January 1973, and the war ended with the defeat of South Vietnam in April 1975.) My sense of the time the record came out tells me that anyone who thought about it – citizens and civilian and military leadership alike – knew that the war was going to be ended; it was just a matter of how and when (and a matter of U.S. presidential politics, with an election set for 1972).

So the chorus of Lennon’s song wasn’t likely to change any minds, but it served as a reminder that even as public opinion had turned on the war, the war still went on.

And over the nearly forty years since the single was released, the song has become a holiday anthem as well, perhaps not as popular as some of the long-time December reliables that I’ve heard far too many times but still more than welcome when it rises from the speakers above the Christmas chaos. And it’s been covered many times since 1971. All-Music Guide lists more than 320 CDs that have a version of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” on it (many of those the Lennon/Ono version, of course), and we find another 134 CDs listed that present the song as “Happy Christmas (War Is Over).”

Among those listed as covering the song under either title are Placido Domingo, the Vienna Boys Choir, Acker Bilk, Rebecca St. James, the Alarm, Jessica Simpson, Delta Goodrem, the Bachelors, the Finnish singer Tarja Turunen, Sarah Brightman, Neil Diamond, Maroon 5, Randy Bachman, Sent By Ravens, Dorsey Dodd, the Moody Blues, Andy Williams, the Canadian Brass, Diana Ross, Darlene Love, Celine Dion, Yo-Yo Ma and many, many more. I’ve heard some of those, but most are unknown to me.

In years past, I’ve presented Sarah McLachlan’s version of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” from her Wintersong album. But I’m changing course this year and presenting a live version by Melissa Etheridge. Evidently from 1994, it was released on the 1999 CD VH1: Pop-Up Christmas. It’s a remarkable performance.

We’ll see you briefly on Christmas Day.

‘You Ain’t Never Caught A Rabbit . . .’

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

At last, we come to the end of this particular line: Today, we look at the final six selections in my Ultimate Jukebox, the last six of the 228 records I’d have set to play in my living room, if – as I wrote much earlier this year – my living room were part malt shop, part beer joint, part crash pad and part heaven.

If I were fool enough to start this project all over again, I’m sure that the list of songs would be very different. I imagine that about half of the records that showed up here would show up here again. The others? Well, over the past nine months, I’ve frequently heard a record on the radio or during random play on the RealPlayer and wondered why I didn’t choose it for the UJ. I didn’t keep track of those moments, but had I done so, I estimate that they were frequent enough to replace half of the tunes I put into the UJ.

One constraint I might ignore on a second go-round is length. I set a limit of 7:30 for a record, knowing that a 45 could handle that much, and I hit that limit with Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.” (I came close, relatively, with Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” and Buddy Miles “Down by the River” and maybe a few others that don’t come to mind right now.) If I were to do the project over, I’d ignore that limit and include longer pieces.

Some of the worthy longer pieces that come immediately to mind are the Side One suite on Shawn Phillips’ Second Contribution, the Allman Brothers Band’s performance of “Whipping Post” from At Fillmore East, Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” from Blood on the Tracks, “Beginnings” by Chicago from Chicago Transit Authority, Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Leon Russell’s take on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” from The Concert for Bangla Desh and Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me A Dime” from his self-titled album. I suppose those and a few others might show up in a complementary project. We’ll see.

When I wrote the second installment of this project, I mentioned Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” as the final two records trimmed to get to 228. And I said that one of the selections set for this final installment was there on probation, as it were: If something else along the way seemed more compelling or more deserving, there was one record that I would pull out of the list to make room.

Well, as good as a lot of the records I thought about along the way might have been – and “Baker Street” came to mind several times – that final record has come off probation and remains in the Ultimate Jukebox:

While Willie Mae Thornton’s version of “Hound Dog” – written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – was recorded in 1952, it was the next year when the record did its damage on the air and in the charts: “Hound Dog,” according to All-Music Guide, held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart for seven weeks in 1953.

Thornton’s version was the first recorded of the oft-covered song, with the session taking place at Radio Recorders in Los Angeles on August 13, 1952, according to Wikipedia. The session was in fact produced by Leiber and Stoller themselves “because their work had sometimes been misrepresented, and on this one they knew how they wanted the drums to sound.”

Wikipedia notes that Johnny Otis was supposed to produce the session, but Leiber and Stoller wanted Otis on drums. Evidently in exchange, Otis received a writing credit on all six of the 1953 pressings, Wikipedia says. The first release was on a 10-inch 78 rpm record, according to Wikipedia, but there’s no indication when the 45 rpm releases first came out.

And although I’ve included a player for the song above, I could not resist offering this video – I think it’s from 1965 – of Big Mama Thornton performing “Hound Dog” with a band that includes guitar legend Buddy Guy.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 38
“Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton, Peacock 1612 [1952]
“Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla 54188 [1969]
“Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” by Elton John from Honky Château [1972]
“I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley, Big Tree 16069 [1976]
“Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” by Fire Inc. from the soundtrack to Streets of Fire [1984]
“Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge, Island 858028 [1994]

In one of the last posts before I decided to put together the Ultimate Jukebox, I wrote about the mournful and beautiful “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” and its impact on me no matter when or where I hear it. It’s an exercise in nostalgia, not only in its lyrics but in its arrangement, with its decidedly old-school chorus in the introduction and choruses (a description borrowed from a comment left by jb, the proprietor of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’). Wonder makes the unlikely combination work, as he has done so many times through his career. And whenever it comes on the radio or the player, if there’s not a twinge of regret for all the things left behind, well, you’re at the wrong blog.

One of the amazing things to me about the early Elton John – from say 1970 through 1976 – was his ability to take the frequently opaque lyrics of Bernie Taupin and craft songs around them that made them sound cryptically wise or at least reasonable. I mean, after hundreds of listenings, I’m still not sure what the lyrics to “Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” mean:

And now I know
Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say
I thought I knew
But now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City

Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true
You stand at the edge while people run you through
And I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you
I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light

Wikipedia says that the lyrics were inspired partly by Ben E. King’s recording of “Spanish Harlem” and partly by Taupin’s having heard a gun go off near his hotel during his first visit to New York City. Okay. In any case, they sound good, and John crafted around them one of his better melodies. Add the production of Gus Dudgeon, and you have an album track that hangs around, sounding better every time it pops up in the player.

Paul Evans of the 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide didn’t much care for England Dan & John Ford Coley. He called “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” “ingratiating, smug and coy” and labeled the duo’s body of work as “truly repellent,” capping his review off by saying that they “sound like oafish bores [not “boars,” sorry] breaking their backs to be ‘sensitive.’” Well, okay. I’ll acknowledge that “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” isn’t going to be on everyone’s good list. But I don’t hear those flaws when I hear “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” which was the duo’s biggest hit (two weeks at No. 2 and one week atop the Adult Contemporary chart). I hear the summer of 1976, which was a reasonably good season. I was taking some post-graduate courses at St. Cloud State, I had a steady girlfriend whom I saw most weekends, I had friends for evenings downtown or at one of our homes: Life was good. Along the way, I occasionally heard “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” coming through the speakers at home, in the car and – early in the morning before the place got too noisy – in the snack bar at Atwood Center. And the record has become a reminder of a pretty good summer, and that’s good enough for me.

A while back, I came across the movie Streets of Fire as I walked the remote up the channels. As I almost always do when that happens, I watched the rest of the movie. And I made a note at Facebook about it, calling it a bad movie. I was corrected by my blogging pal Jeff, who keeps house at AM, then FM. He called it a guilty pleasure, and I guess that’s a better label. Either way, I do like the movie, and I still love the soundtrack, especially the two Jim Steinman epics that open and close the movie. “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” is the closer, with the studio group Fire Inc. providing the backing and lead vocals coming from Holly Sherwood with other vocals from Laurie Sargent, Rory Dodd and Eric Troyer, according to Wikipedia. One notable name on the roster of Fire Inc. is that of Roy Bittan, piano player for the E Street Band. “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” spent five weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 80.

When I started this project, I devised a way to split the 228 records I had selected into random groups of six, and each week, I listed that week’s six songs chronologically. Back in Week One, the first song listed was The Mamas & The Papas’ “Look Through My Window.” This week, the last song listed – the last entry in this project – is Melissa Etheridge’s “Come To My Window,” a record that went to No. 25 in 1994. I guess that confluence is fitting, as what I’ve tried to do in these thirty-eight weeks is provide a window into the music that moves me and in doing so, a window into me as I’ve been shaped by music over the years. As I thought might happen, I’ve probably learned as much about myself as has anyone else who’s read my words and listened to the tunes offered here over the past eight-plus months. The mystery of how some songs attach themselves to our lives is one I’ll be exploring for the rest of my days. I doubt I’ll ever completely know how some songs – “Cherish” and “We” come to mind in my case – become major pillars of our internal lives and how others like “Come To My Window” – a good record to me, but nothing more than that – are perhaps the equivalent of artwork hung on the internal walls supported by those other, more vital records. In the end, I doubt I’ll find a perfect answer, and I suppose it might be better if all that remains a mystery. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop listening.