Archive for the ‘Covers’ Category

‘Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me . . .’

Friday, October 22nd, 2021

It was ninety-three years ago today in Atlanta, on October 22, 1928 – according to the notes to the CD The Essential Jimmie Rodgers – that the Yodeling Brakeman recorded a song that I’d guess is one of his best-known: “Waiting For A Train.” The recording was released the following February as Bluebird 5163.

I imagine that my first exposure to the tune came with Boz Scaggs’ version, found on his 1969 self-titled album recorded in Muscle Shoals, a track highlighted by Duane Allman’s sweet work on dobro. (Also on the album, of course, is the epic “Loan Me A Dime,” which features Allman’s ferocious slide work.) I got the album in the spring of 1989, but I imagine I’d heard Scagg’s version of the tune long before, though I have no idea when.

Scaggs’ version is just one of more than eighty covers of the tune listed at Second Hand Songs. Three versions are listed from 1929, by Riley Puckett, by Ed (Jake) West, and by Carson Robison and Frank Luther, who recorded as the Jimson Brothers.

The most recent version of “Waiting For A Train” listed at the site was by Billy Bragg and Joe Henry. They recorded the song in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, the same room where Robert Johnson recorded twenty-three tracks during three sessions in November 1936. Bragg and Henry released their version in 2016 on the album Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad.

There was a surprise, though, waiting for me at Second Hand Songs. Listed with the versions of “Waiting For A Train” were thirteen versions of the song “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me,” with the words credited to Mississippi John Hurt. The website says that Hurt first recorded the song in 1966, a take that was included on the posthumous 1972 album Last Sessions.

I’ve noted here before that Second Hand Songs is a good place to start but not always complete. That’s the case here, as in the digital stacks here I find a version of “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” that Hurt recorded in 1963 for the Library of Congress. That version was first released in 1982 on an album titled Avalon Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings, Vol. 2 and has been released on several anthologies since (as has the 1966 version) as shown by the photo in the video below.

Whichever came first, it’s a surprise and a delight to hear the same melody as Rodgers’ “Waiting For A Train” used as the basis for an entirely different song (as was frequently the case in the folk and blues tradition).

Saturday Single No. 757

Saturday, October 16th, 2021

As promised, I went looking for interesting covers of “Love Is A Rose,” having offered the earliest versions of the song – by Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young – here last week. I used as my guide the list of covers offered by Second Hand Songs.

It wasn’t a lot of fun.

Now, I didn’t listen to all the covers listed, nor did I listen to any of the covers all the way through. I let the first twenty or so seconds suffice, so there may be a misjudgment or two here. Too bad.

The first covers after Ronstadt’s version came out were from country/rock singer Wayne Berry in 1975 and country singer Sue Richards in 1976. Neither version is available at YouTube though you can find other stuff by both of them.

I checked out a version from 1976 by a Swedish group called New Strangers, and it was kind of dull and plodding. The other version from the 1970s I took a chance on was from Greek singer Nana Mouskouri; she sounded shrill.

In 1998, a singer named Lynn Marie seemed to want to turn the song into a polka. A few years later, in 2006, a country group named Grantham Road laid heavy on the bass and guitar on all four beats. In 2007 a duo – I think, perhaps a trio – called Dirtbird turned the song into a slice of dissonant Americana.

And then I saw a familiar name: Terri Clark. In 2012, the country singer recorded the song for her album Classic. I’ve not listened to a lot of Clark’s stuff, but I’ve got a CD or two of hers, and I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve heard. Her take on “Love Is A Rose” is no different: It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Hammer Of The Gods . . .’

Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

I’ve been reading a lot of the discussions over the past few days about how we should no longer be celebrating Columbus and how we should change the name of the holiday to Indigenous Persons Day. Some folks brought in Leif Erikson’s Norsemen, and a few even mentioned the Phoenecians as folks who got to the shores of the North American continent before Columbus.

My take on it? Columbus was an evil man, evil enough that other Spanish explorers around him – who were pretty bad actors themselves – sent him back to Spain in chains. He’s not someone we’d should really want to celebrate. His navigational feat (along with those of other explorers), however, did open the North American continent to exploration, exploitation and settlement. But there were already other folks here, of course, who were dispossessed and nearly exterminated by that exploration, exploitation and settlement.

I say: Tear down the statues, cancel the holiday and find another day in the calendar to mourn the Native American cultures lost to Manifest Destiny and to celebrate the Native Cultures that survived. I guess we can call it Indigenous Persons Day, though that seems kind of stiff. I like what Canada did when it used First Nations as a combined term for those who were here before the Europeans. That might be the term we should be using.

Anyway, to take kind of a left turn, as I was pondering this stuff in the past few days, I was reminded of a video posted at YouTube a year ago today. A user there who goes by the name of “the_miracle_aligner” posted a video offering Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” sung in old Norse.

In the notes, the_miracle_aligner credits a user named Constantine Bard for the backing track. (Constantine Bard’s page is filled with versions of current and older pop songs recast in medieval form.) And the_miracle_aligner credits Angus Bolton for translating the words of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page into old Norse and offering some pronunciation training.

So here’s how Erikson’s men might have sounded had they been singing Led Zeppelin as they came ashore in what was to become northeastern Canada sometime around the year 1000.

Saturday Singles Nos. 755 & 756

Saturday, October 9th, 2021

Having mentioned yesterday that Neil Young’s “Love Is A Rose” grew out of an earlier song titled “Dance Dance Dance,” first recorded by the band Crazy Horse, I thought we’d take a quick look that way this morning.

After “Dance Dance Dance” came out on Crazy Horse’s self-titled debut album in 1971, a few people jumped on the cover wagon: The New Seekers had a slight hit with it, with the record going to No. 84 on the Billboard Hot 100 in a five-week run a year during the autumn of 1972. That year that also saw covers of the song by Dave Edmunds and the band Cochise. More covers followed, but not until the 1990s.

Maybe next week we’ll look at a few other covers of both “Love Is A Rose” and “Dance Dance Dance,” but for now, here’s “Dance Dance Dance” as it was released in 1971 on Crazy Horse’s first, self-titled album and then as the New Seekers released it. They’re this week’s Saturday Singles.

‘A Hand Full Of Thorns . . .’

Friday, October 8th, 2021

We were heading home from an errand the other day when Neil Young’s unmistakable voice came from the radio speaker, courtesy of WXYG in Sauk Rapids:

Love is a rose
But you better not pick it
It only grows when it’s on the vine
A handful of thorns and
You’ll know you’ve missed it
You lose your love
When you say the word “Mine”

I wanna see what’s never been seen
I wanna live that age old dream
Come on, lass, we can go together
Let’s take the best right now
Take the best right now

I wanna go to an old hoe-down
Long ago in a western town
Pick me up if my feet are draggin’
Give me a lift and I’ll hay your wagon

Love is a rose
But you better not pick it
It only grows when it’s on the vine
A handful of thorns and
You’ll know you’ve missed it
You lose your love
When you say the word “Mine”
Mine, mine

Love is a rose, love is a rose
Love is a rose, love is a rose

“I only know the Linda Ronstadt version,” said the Texas Gal. “Did Neil Young write it?”

“I think so,” I said, being pretty sure that he did.

“It kinda caught me by surprise,” she said. “It was a little different than the way Linda Ronstadt sings it.”

And it is. Ronstadt puts an extra chorus in just before the verse about the hoe-down in the western town, then adds another chorus later on, along with an instrumental, making her version of the tune run about thirty seconds longer.

And the thought came to my mind as we got home: Which one came first? So, I did some digging. And it got a little complicated. The melody first showed up in a Young-penned song called “Dance Dance Dance,” which was first recorded by Young’s back-up band Crazy Horse and released on the group’s self-titled album in 1971. (All of the release information here comes from a combination of Wikipedia, Second Hand Songs, and discogs.)

Somewhere in the next few years, Young gave new words to “Dance Dance Dance” and came up with “Love Is A Rose.” As Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young rehearsed for their 1974 tour, Young recorded the song, planning to include it on an album titled Homegrown. The album was shelved, and Young released his 1974 recording of the song in 1977 on his anthology Decade.

Meanwhile, Ronstadt recorded the song in 1975, releasing it as a single in August of that year and on her album Prisoner In Disguise in September. The single reached No. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100 but stalled when its B-side, “Heat Wave,” began to get air play and went to No. 5. Ronstadt’s album, Prisoner In Disguise, went to No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

Young finally released Homegrown, including “Love Is A Rose,” in the summer of 2000.

Saturday Single No. 751

Saturday, September 4th, 2021

I’m going to turn 68 tomorrow. And today is September 4, which means that forty-eight years ago this evening, I boarded a Finnair jet and headed off to Denmark for a college year that I can only describe – after years of thought – as the single greatest formative experience of my life.

The confluence of those things can put me in a pensive, nostalgic mood, one that can prod me to fill this space with ideas I’ve offered here before (perhaps too many times), a mood that can nudge me into messy binges of memories.

And to add to the perils a writer with an occasional lack of discipline must face, it’s beginning to feel a little bit like autumn around here: a little bit cooler, a little less humid, with high school and college football underway.

So, I’ll just mention the best meal I’ve had in some time, courtesy of my sister and brother-in-law yesterday at Krewe, a Cajun restaurant in the nearby burg of St. Joseph. The tradition of my sister taking me out for lunch around the time of my birthday arose in the early 1990s, when I’d quit my Midwest wanderings and was living in South Minneapolis. I don’t think we’ve missed a year since then.

Now, of course, the lunches include the Texas Gal and – when he’s not working at the golf course – my brother-in-law.

We’ve eaten at basic burger joints, an upscale steak place or two, an Ethiopian place in south Minneapolis, and other places I cannot recall. My sister said friends of her had recommended Krewe.

The food was good: muffuletta for my sister and the Texas Gal, a chicken sandwich with spicy coleslaw on the side for my brother-in-law, a bowl of gumbo without rice for me – too much white rice can give me unpleasant after-effects – and a plate of maque choux – a creole-seasoned corn dish that we augmented with some andouille – for all of us to share.

And, because the waiter noticed my sister handing me a birthday card, I got the free dessert that goes to birthday folks: I chose the bourbon caramel bread pudding. It’s waiting for me in the refrigerator, and I’ll have to eat it over the course of a few days, as white flour has the same effect on me as white rice. But I’ll bet it’s going to be tasty.

Anyway, I got through a September 4 post without being maudlin, which is good. And here’s an appropriately titled swampy tune: “Hippy Gumbo” by Marsha Hunt. It was written by Marc Bolan in his pre-T. Rex days; his version was released as a single in the U.K. in December 1966. It did not chart.

Hunt’s version was recorded in late 1969 after she and Bolan began a relationship; it came out as the B-side to her “Desdemona” single in the U.K. and a few other places. It doesn’t seem to have charted either (though I cannot be sure). It’s a little strange, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Turn, Turn Any Corner . . .’

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

Thirty-some years ago, as part of a summer I spent in St. Cloud in between things and places and people, my ladyfriend and I decided to put on a Sixties party. Our friends filled the place I was renting – the lower level of a house, usually home to probably ten to twelve students – as we laughed, drew pictures on the tagboard designated a graffiti wall, and took part in a Sixties trivia contest.

There was music, of course. My lady and I spent hours the week before the party creating mix tapes. I borrowed records from the St. Cloud State radio station’s library to supplement my own pretty good collection. (This was in the late 1980s; I had about 250 albums, nothing near what I would eventually have filling the shelves.)

She insisted that the first track of the first tape played be the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In.” Okay. And then, she said, should come Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Woodstock.” 

Well. I told her – and fifty-seven years after the Summer of Love, I don’t know who would argue – that along with the shininess of Sixties’ utopianism, there was always a shadow side, and if we were setting up a sense of the decade for our guests, that shadow had to be reflected in the first parts of the music.

I persuaded her, so the second track on our first mixtape for that evening was “Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash. Written, it is said, by Crosby upon the death of Robert F. Kennedy, it’s a song of portent, and the first time I heard it – not long after the trio’s first album was released in May of 1969, it spooked me out (and it did so again the other day when it popped up on the radio in the car).

And today, as I sat down to check email and so on first thing this morning (after a series of unsettling early morning dreams), it popped up in iTunes, this time in the cover version recorded and released by Ruthie Foster in 2012, accompanied by the Blind Boys of Alabama.

With nothing else to say this morning, here’s that cover:

‘My Sweet Lord’ vs. ‘He’s So Fine’

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

As I sometimes do, I was browsing through the old posts here yesterday when I came across one that wandered from the Beatles’ last years as a group into George Harrison’s massive 1970 album All Things Must Pass,

The post mentioned Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and the resulting suit brought by the copyright owners of “He’s So Fine,” a hit for the Chiffons in 1963. And when iTunes offered me “He’s So Fine” this morning as I pondered the empty space here, I wondered two things: First, how did things in that lawsuit actually resolve? And second, was I right in thinking that the Chiffons did a cover version of “My Sweet Lord”?

I dug into the tale of the U.S. suit at Wikipedia and read, as I recalled, that Harrison was in fact found, in 1976, to have plagiarized the melody of “He’s So Fine,” written by one Ronnie Mack, who had died in 1963. The financial verdict against Harrison, says Wikipedia, was startlingly large: He was to pay Bright Tunes Music – holder of the “He’s So Fine” copyright – $1.6 million, which amounted to three quarters of the sales of the single in the U.S. and a significant amount of the proceeds from the sales of All Things Must Pass.

And then, Wikipedia tells us, we find the dirty hands of Allen Klein, one-time manager of the Beatles (over the protests of Paul McCartney). After Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr severed their business relationship with Klein in 1973 – a move that led to protracted litigation itself – Klein began providing inside information to Bright about, if I read things rightly, Harrison’s legal strategy. Eventually, Klein’s ABCKO Industries purchased from Bright the rights to “He’s So Fine” and the rights to any settlement; that cost Klein $587,000, and he then proceeded to open negotiations with Harrison for the rights to the song.

In February 1981 – more than ten years after the release of the single “My Sweet Lord” and All Things Must Pass – the New York court ruled that because of Klein’s duplicity and interference, Harrison would pay Klein $587,000 for the rights to “He’s So Fine” and would retain the rights to “My Sweet Lord.”

Okay, that’s how that turned out. But what about the Chiffons covering “My Sweet Lord”? Well, that happened, too. In 1975, the Chiffons released their version of the song with the aim, Wikipedia says, of drawing attention to the languishing court proceedings. I suppose that sounded like a good idea, but I think the result is a little tepid. Here it is:

Saturday Single No. 748

Saturday, August 7th, 2021

As this week has turned into an “It’s Too Late” week here, I thought that we’d close the week by doing one of my favorite things: Finding a foreign language version of the tune that is our focus.

And Second Hand Songs provides a few options for languages: Chinese, Finnish, French, German, Portuguese, and Swedish. (And there are suggested versions in Khmer and Spanish that the website had not yet verified.)

As readers might expect, we’ll go Scandinavian: Here, with Swedish lyrics by Stig Anderson, is Björn Skifs’ recording of “Alltför sent.” It was on Skifs’ 1972 album Blåblus, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘You Were Light And Breezy . . .’

Thursday, August 5th, 2021

According to the Joel Whitburn book #1s, here are the singles and albums that topped the seven major Billboard charts this week in 1971, fifty years ago:

The Bee Gees were atop the Hot Singles chart with “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” in its first week at No. 1.

On top of the R&B chart was a record that likely has the longest title for any single ever mentioned in this space, James Brown’s “Hot Pants Pt. 1 (She Got To Use What She Got, To Get What She Wants).”

Charley Pride was on top of the Country chart with “I’m Just Me,” in its second week in the top spot.

And “If Not For You” by Olivia Newton-John was perched atop the Adult Contemporary chart.

Things were more long-term on the album side:

Carole King’s Tapestry was in its eighth week at No. 1 on the pop chart.

Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On was No. 1 on the R&B chart for the second week.

And I Won’t Mention It Again by Ray Price was No. 1 on the country chart for the fourth week.

As is almost always the case, I know the pop stuff, I know half of the R&B stuff – What’s Going On has been on my shelves for many years – and I don’t know the country stuff. But since we’ve come across Tapestry again, I thought we’d take a look at another cover of its most well-known track, “It’s Too Late.”

Among the artists who have covered the song that I noticed but didn’t mention earlier this week are the Isley Brothers, who gave the song a ten-minute-plus workout on their 1972 album, Brother, Brother, Brother. Here it is: