Archive for the ‘Covers’ Category

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:

‘It’s Too Late . . .’

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

Looking back at 1971’s charts, I noticed this morning that during the second week of August that year, Carole King’s Tapestry passed the halfway point of what would be a fifteen-week stay on top of the Billboard 200.

If there is such a thing as a perfect pop album, one on which every track works, that album might be Tapestry. There is one track I’m not fond of on its own for some reason – “Smackwater Jack” – but when I hear it in the context of the album it works, breaking the reflective mood just before the finale of the title tune.

And I find it odd, given my love of covers, that I’ve never dug – in any organized manner – into what covers there might be for the songs on Tapestry. Since Tuesday is a day I’ve decided to set aside most weeks for covers, let us take up the task.

A look at Second Hand Songs finds 128 versions of “It’s Too Late,” two of them by King: the version on the album and a 1970 demo released in 2012. The first of the other 126 came from Johnny Mathis. Then, still in 1971, came covers from Andy Williams, Top of the Pops, Jack Jones, Frances Yip, the Sound Effects, Agnaldo Rayol, Suzanne Lynch, the Shakers, the Music Machine, Mark Lindsay, the Sandpipers, and Bernard Purdie’s Pretty Purdie & The Playboys.

And from then, the covers continue, coming in every decade since the Seventies. There may be some more we look at down the road, but for today, I’m going to stop at the version by Pretty Purdie & The Playboys, which came out on the album Stand By Me (Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get). It seems to work pretty well.

‘Ooh, She Do Me . . .’

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

Having revisited Phoebe Snow’s cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” earlier this week, I was poking around various sites looking for other covers of the John Lennon-penned tune, and I was reminded of a different cover of a Beatles song by band with a very familiar name: Underground Sunshine.

The group, from Montello, Wisconsin, was part of my first full season of Top 40 listening, with their cover of the Beatles’ “Birthday” rising as high as No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the late summer and early autumn of 1969. That cover hangs in my memory for two reasons:

First, the record stayed long enough on the playlist of WJON, just down the street and around a couple of corners from us in St. Cloud, that I managed to get a decent recording of the record off of the radio on the late September evening that my sister was celebrating her nineteenth birthday. Not a big deal, but it’s always nice to surprise and please your older sister.

Second, as the Underground Sunshine’s record got its airplay during that late summer and early autumn, I was blissfully unaware of the song’s genesis, as I had only recently entered the world of pop and rock. Some months later, I heard the Beatles’ original (from the 1968 White Album) and pondered for a moment why the Beatles would bother recording another group’s song. I remain very glad, more than fifty years later, that I did not voice that thought aloud in the presence of any of my peers.

Anyway, the Underground Sunshine came to mind today – and as I write, I realize I’m kind of burying the lede here – with the discovery that the Wisconsin group had recorded “Don’t Let Me Down” and included the track on its only album, Let There Be Light, released on the Intrepid label in 1969.

The cover is a mixed bag: The tempo is just a hair slower than on the Beatles’ version, and the vocals are a bit dodgy, especially on the bridge. On the other hand, the organ solo – subbing for Billy Preston’s electric piano – works nicely. For a regional band’s album cut, it’s decent.

I Heard It Somewhere

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

Tuesday used to be a day devoted to cover versions here at EITW, a notion that I think will return, starting with this post. It’s a recobbling of a post from 2008 – augmented now with more information – that I shared this week at Consortium Of Seven, where I blog weekly.

The image of a young folks’ hangout, a place of Cokes and laughter and a jukebox, is a central icon of American mythology, a scene generally based in the 1950s. One thinks of Arnold’s in the faux Fifties of television’s Happy Days or of the less bubbly but more realistic teen hangout – if it had a name, I don’t recall it – in John Farris’ disturbing 1959 novel, Harrison High. (Never heard of it? It seems to be forgotten these days. It’s worth a look.)

The only place I ever spent a great deal of time where there was a jukebox was Atwood Center at St. Cloud State. One of the main rooms in the snack bar area downstairs had one of the machines against the wall, and that happened to be the room in which we gathered, those twenty or so of us who made up The Table, to spend those portions of the day not devoted to the classroom. The jukebox wasn’t in constant play, but often enough, someone would wander over and drop in a quarter or two.

Accordingly, there are some songs and voices that are tied to Atwood Center and its jukebox, sounds I either heard for the first time there or else heard so frequently there that they became meshed with my memories of the place. Every once in a while, the radio, the computer or the iPod offers a song whose first notes whirl me nearly fifty years back and a couple miles southeast of here, and in my mind, I’m once more in a place of coffee cups and notebooks, the occasional romance, and plenty of laughter for jests both silly and ribald.

What records put me there?

Shawn Phillips’ “We” – discussed here more than once – is one of them, a record on which the Texas singer lets loose his amazing falsetto; I fed the jukebox frequently for that one, and I recall one of my tablemates shaking her head in admiration and murmuring, “He just soars, doesn’t he?” I also spent a few quarters to hear Bob Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello,” the flipside to his single, “Tangled Up In Blue.”

Another B side that got a fair amount of play in Atwood was the live performance of “I Saw Her Standing There” by John Lennon and Elton John, the flipside to Elton’s hit single, “Philadelphia Freedom.” There was Barry Manilow’s “Mandy,” a weeper that eased my way through the first major break-up of my life. We all rolled our eyes at the silliness of Reunion’s novelty, “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me),” with its rapid-fire selected history of rock & roll: “B. B. Bumble and the Stingers, Mott the Hoople, Ray Charles Singers . . .” But we kept playing it.

And as I finished my college days in 1977, it was occasionally to the accompaniment of “Smoke From A Distant Fire,” the single hit from the Sanford/Townsend Band.

Then there was Phoebe Snow. Her 1975 hit “Poetry Man” was a favorite down in the snack bar (and not only with those of us at The Table; that was a record that was frequently in play from other folks’ quarters, too). Her voice propelled “Gone At Last,” a Paul Simon record on which she shared billing later in 1975.

And I swear I heard Snow’s brilliant 1976 version of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” come from the jukebox. Now, according to everything I can find on the ’Net or in my library, I am in error, as the track was never released on a 45: The website 45cat shows no U.S. release of the track as a single, and the site discogs shows a single release of the track only in Greece.

So, my memory of hearing it on the jukebox must be wrong, but I know I heard it somewhere long before I had the LP It Looks Like Snow, where it nestles as an album track. Maybe I heard it on the college radio station back in those days. I don’t know.

Snow is ten years gone now, having died in April 2011 following a cerebral hemorrhage in early 2010. And every time her version of “Don’t Let Me Down” pops up on my computer or my iPod, I wonder for an instant. Then I just listen to Snow’s brilliant cover of the John Lennon-penned tune, and I know that all that matters is that I heard it long ago and can hear it again these days.

‘Let Me Be Your Little Dog . . .’

Thursday, July 1st, 2021

We go on exploring versions of “Matchbox,” the song first written and recorded by Carl Perkins in 1957. (After a while, we’ll also explore the versions of “Match Box Blues,” first written and recorded in 1927 by Blind Lemon Jefferson. As I noted the other day, even if they are two different songs, they are at least cousins.)

As I do this, I’m just bouncing around the versions parked in the RealPlayer here and then checking out the lists at Second Hand Songs. I don’t know that I’ve got much original to say about any of these versions, but we’ll see.

In the first iteration of this blog, fourteen years ago, I shared the 1970 album Ronnie Hawkins, (recorded the year before at Muscle Shoals and released on the Cotillion label), which included Hawkins’ second stab at “Matchbox.” His first came a couple years earlier on an album titled Mojo Man released on Roulette. I’ve not checked out the 1967 version; if and when I do, I doubt I’ll like it as much as I like the 1969 recording.

As the track was included on the second of the two 1970s Duane Allman anthologies, it’s a good bet that Allman handles the lead work on Hawkins’ “Matchbox.” Others credited are Eddie Hinton on guitar, David Hood on bass, Roger Hawkins on drums, Barry Beckett and Scott Cushnie on keyboards and King Biscuit Boy on harp.

‘Sure Got A Long Way To Go . . .’

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

About “Matchbox,” which we discussed briefly Saturday: I imagine it came to my attention during a sticky 1970 evening when the evening DJ at WJON spent his shift playing nothing but Beatles tracks.

I long ago lost the tapes, but I got everything from that night – five hours’ worth, maybe – on cassette. Many of the tracks were new to me, among them “Matchbox.”

The track, recorded June 1, 1964, was released that month in England as part of a four-track EP. (The other tracks were “Long Tall Sally,” “I Call Your Name,” and  “Slow Down.”) According to Mark Wallgren’s The Beatles on Record, the EP went to No. 1 in England in the charts released by Music & Video Week, to No. 14 in Melody Maker, and to No. 11 in New Music Express. As was the case for many of the Beatles’ singles and B-sides, it did not show up in album format in England until the release on CD of the two Beatles Past Masters collections in 1988.

In the U.S., “Matchbox” was released as a single b/w “Slow Down.” It went to No. 17 in both Billboard and Cashbox, and to No. 22 in Record World. It was part of the Capitol hodgepodge album Something New, released during the summer of 1964; the album went to No. 2 in the album charts of all three of the earlier mentioned magazines.

Musically, “Matchbox” is a direct descendant of Carl Perkins’ 1957 record on Sun, which is no surprise, as the Beatles, especially George Harrison, admired Perkins’ work. They’d also record Perkins’ “Honey Don’t,” which came out on a four-track EP in Britain during 1965 and was included on another of Capitol’s hodgepodge albums, Beatles ’65, released in the U.S. in December 1964.

Here’s Perkins’ 1957 take on “Matchbox.” It’s listed at Second Hand Songs as an original, but in the next couple weeks, we’ll examine some of the records listed there under the title “The Matchbox Blues,” and see how related they are.