Archive for the ‘Covers’ Category

‘Riding With The Wind . . .’

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 16, 2009

To this day, Jimi Hendrix remains an enigma to me. And that’s my fault, I suppose.

There’s no doubt about his prodigious talent; when one talks about great rock guitarists, his name is – and should be – one of the first to be laid on the table. (I’d also include Eric Clapton and Duane Allman among those first named; maybe Derek Trucks, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Who else?) But I never got into Hendrix when he was alive. At the time of his death in September 1970, I was still sifting through music that was much more accessible and less challenging: the Beatles, CSN&Y, Chicago.

And I didn’t really dig into Jimi’s music until I began collecting LPs seriously in the late 1980s. Over the years, I’ve gathered seven Hendrix albums, from 1967’s Are You Experienced? through Experience Hendrix, a 1997 two-LP anthology. (I have a couple of things on CD as well.) So I know the music – and I like most of it – but it never really brought along to me that “wow” factor that other listeners have told me about over the years. That doesn’t negate the brilliance of what Hendrix accomplished in a very short time; all it means is that when I put together a playlist of favorites, there are very few Hendrix songs that would show up: “Red House,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Little Wing” are the most likely.

I suppose that I might have heard Hendrix’ version of “All Along the Watchtower” when it was getting a little bit of airplay in 1968 (it went to No. 20 that autumn). I might have heard some Hendrix as I wandered the residence halls at St. Cloud State during my freshman year. But my first verifiable exposure to Hendrix’ work came in the spring of 1972 through a cover version of his song, “Little Wing.” Derek & the Dominos’ version of “Little Wing” was included on Clapton At His Best, a two-LP set that included highlights of the single Blind Faith album, Clapton’s first solo album and Layla.

That first hearing is probably one of the reasons why “Little Wing” remains one of my favorite Hendrix songs. Beyond familiarity, though, it’s a great song: It’s got a strong melody and chord structure, and the lyrics – enigmatic and evocative – are among the best that Hendrix ever put on paper. Here they are as presented on the inside cover of Axis: Bold As Love:

Well, she’s walking through the clouds,
With a circus mind that’s running wild,
Butterflies and Zebras,
And Moonbeams and fairy tales.
That’s all she ever thinks about.
Riding with the wind.

When I’m sad, she comes to me,
With a thousand smiles she gives to me free.
It’s alright, she says, it’s alright,
Take anything you want from me,
Anything.
Fly on, little wing.

Of course, given the song’s quality, cover versions of “Little Wing” abound. All-Music Guide lists more than 300 CDs with a recording of the song. Maybe fifty of those include Hendrix’ version and another fifty include Derek & the Dominos version (or versions by Clapton), but that leaves a hefty number of cover versions by other performers. I can’t provide my customary rundown of some of the more interesting names on the AMG list, as the site is being balky this morning.

But here are a few of the cover versions of “Little Wing” I’ve come across over the years.

“Little Wing” by the Corrs from Unplugged [1999]

“Little Wing” by Sanne Salomonsen from In A New York Minute [1998]

“Little Wing” by Toots Thielemans & The London Metropolitan Orchestra from In From the Storm: Music of Jimi Hendrix [1995]

The most familiar name there is no doubt that of the Corrs’, the Irish group that dances a line between Celtic folk and pop.

Salomonsen is a Danish performer who records in both Danish and English. The album, In A New York Minute, was a project that brought Salomonsen together with Danish-American jazz pianist Chris Minh Doky and his quartet for a series of largely improvised sessions. In addition, Doky brought along some friends and colleagues, including among them American alto saxophonist David Sanborn, American trumpeter and flugelhornist Randy Brecker and his brother, saxophonist Michael Brecker, American blues, jazz and rock guitarist Robben Ford and legendary Belgian guitarist and harmonica player Toots Thielemans. The album, which is out of print and quite pricey even used, is well worth a listen. “Little Wing” is one of the better performances.

As I was digging around for information about Salomonsen’s album last evening, I came across that reference to Thielemans, whom I’ve seen called many time the world’s greatest classical harmonica player. And then I found a reference to Thielemans’ own cover of “Little Wing,” which I’d never heard. I managed to find a copy, and I think the album from which it comes – which also includes performances by Buddy Miles, Taj Mahal and other folks – is going to end up on my want list.

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‘Beware Of Maya . . .’

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 9, 2009

As I look back over my musical life, there are hundreds of places, I suppose, where I learned something new or heard something new that changed the way I hear music. One popped to mind this week. I wrote last weekend about the people I spent time with during my first quarters of college, the Doors fans Dave and Mark and the other fellows and gals who hung around with us. In later years, my college life revolved around Atwood, the student center at St. Cloud State, but – with one significant exception – not during that first year.

It was that exception that I remembered this weekend. As school began in the autumn of 1971, Atwood had been remodeled and expanded, with the new sections being home, on the main floor, to an art gallery, meeting rooms, a small theater and a listening lounge. It was the listening lounge that pulled me to Atwood for a fair amount of my daily free time during that year.

The lounge itself was comfy: there were listening stations with easy chairs and sofas, with beanbags and large pillows. And on the end of the lounge was a small room with maybe fifteen turntables and a wide-ranging record library. A would-be lounger would go to the service window, and the student worker in the small room would take a student ID and a music request and would then hand out a set of headphones. The lounger would choose an open listening station and the worker would head off to cue up the record.

All that remained was to plug in the headphones and listen to the music, maybe while studying, writing a letter, or simply relaxing to the tunes. (I think this is correct; it’s been nearly forty years since I thought of the lounge, and some of the details are fuzzy.)

The lounge’s library numbered, I think, about fifty albums. I recall listening to Shawn Phillips, to Bobby Whitlock, to Derek & the Dominos, to Joe Cocker and to Leon Russell. I recall that listening to Leon Russell & The Shelter People sometime in early 1972 answered a question that had been lingering since Christmas. When I listened to The Concert for Bangladesh, which my folks had given me for Christmas, I was puzzled as to why George Harrison let Leon Russell sing one of the verses of “Beware of Darkness.” Not that Leon’s verse was badly done; I was learning to like the Okie’s idiosyncratic delivery.

But in January or February of 1972, when I stopped by the listening lounge and popped on the headphones for a run through Leon Russell & The Shelter People, I learned that the album included Leon’s version of the song. And his taking a verse at the concert the previous summer made more sense to me.

I don’t think the listening lounge lasted very long. I’m not sure if it was in operation during my second year of college, beginning in the fall of 1972, but I don’t think so. And I know for sure that it was gone by the time I came home from Denmark in the spring of 1974. It was a good idea, but I imagine there were reasons it was discontinued. And of course, these days, it would be unnecessary: We all carry our listening lounges with us in the form of mp3 players.

The memory of the listening lounge, as I noted above, brought back memories this week of “Beware of Darkness,” which at the time was one of my favorite George Harrison songs. (I still like it, but probably not with the fervor of a college freshman.) I wouldn’t want to call it a strange song, but it is unique, its imagery and message being very much of its time and of its composer. So it’s not surprising that there aren’t very many cover versions. All-Music Guide lists about thirty CDs with recordings of the song on it, and a good share of those, of course, are Harrison’s original version or his (and Russell’s) live version at the Concert for Bangladesh.

The slender list of those who’ve covered the song includes Eric Clapton (at the 2002 Concert for George), Joe Cocker, Concrete Blonde, Marianne Faithful, Joel Harrison, Spock’s Beard and, of course, Leon Russell.

“Beware of Darkness” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell & The Shelter People [1970]

‘Somebody Loan Me A Dime . . .’

May 25, 2014

Originally posted June 2, 2009

At this point – after digging for a few days – two of the few things I am sure of when I think about the original version of the blues tune “Somebody (Loan Me A Dime)” is that I don’t have it and don’t know how it sounds. (Almost five years later, neither of those two facts is true, as noted below.)

Like many of my generation, I first came across the tune through Boz Scaggs, who recorded a lengthy version of it for his self-titled debut album in 1969. One of the highlights of not just the album but of Scaggs’ long career, the twelve-and-a-half-minute track features some jaw-dropping extended solos from Duane Allman, backed by some of the best work ever done by the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section and the horns of Joe Arnold, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller and James Mitchell.

As with many things in my musical life, I first heard Scaggs’ version of the tune during my stay in Denmark, and over the years, I heard the track again and again on my own stereo systems at home. But when I went to the record jackets – checking both the Duane Allman Anthology notes and then the Boz Scaggs jacket – all I could learn was that the tune was written by one Fenton Robinson. My interest during the 1970s in the song’s provenance was casual. Not recognizing Robinson’s name, I let the matter drop.

(At least by the time I looked, the name of the composer was correct. On early printings of Boz Scaggs, the song was credited to Scaggs himself. Whether that was Scaggs’ decision or the work of someone at Atlantic Records, I do not know. But by the time I bought my copy of the Allman anthology in late 1974, the song was credited to Robinson. A case could be made for Scaggs to take a half-credit along with Robinson, as Scaggs did modify the song’s structure: instead of the standard 4/4 rhythm, Scaggs started his version in a slow 6/8 time, shifting to 4/4 time about midway through and then closing the song with a manic section in 2/4 time. But no such split credit exists; the CD version of Boz Scaggs, first released in 1990, lists only Robinson as the composer.)

I’ve learned since that Robinson – who died in 1997 at the age of 62 – originally wrote and recorded the song for the Palos label in 1967. As is pretty standard with bluesmen, he re-recorded it several times after that, and those versions are the ones that are generally available these days. I haven’t dug too deeply in the past few weeks to see if I can find the version recorded for Palos; if I found it, I’d want to buy it, and the last thing I need to do right now is add another line to the want list.

(I have since found the Palos version, and here’s “Loan Me A Dime” as Robinson originally recorded it.)

The tune is indexed at All-Music Guide as both “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” and “Loan Me A Dime.” Scaggs’ name is among the most prominent of those who covered Robinson’s tune. Among the other names listed at All-Music Guide are Mike Bloomfield, Rick Derringer, J.B. Hutto, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson, Johnny Laws, Mighty Joe Young, Buster Benton, and the Disciples of Grace.

I have two recordings of the song by Robinson from the 1970s. The first is from a series of sessions Robinson did during the early Seventies for Sound Stage 7 Records in Nashville and Memphis (released on CD in 1993 as Mellow Fellow, Volume 41 of the Charly Blues Masterworks series). For some reason, according to AMG, the Sound Stage 7 producers took the guitar out of Robinson’s hands during the sessions in Nashville and let others play guitar. I don’t much care for the result, but I’ll post it anyway.

“Somebody Loan Me A Dime” by Fenton Robinson, Nashville [1970]

The second version by Robinson is the title track of a 1974 album on Alligator Records. On this one, Robinson plays guitar as well as sings, and the result, to my ears, is much better. (My thanks to The Roadhouse for this one.)

“Somebody Loan Me A Dime” by Fenton Robinson from Somebody Loan Me A Dime [1974]

And then, here’s Scaggs’ 1969 version from his self-titled debut album:

(Notes added May 25, 2014.)

More ‘More’ Than You’ve Ever Heard Before

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 26, 2009

The movie, an Italian flick, was supposed to be dark, depraved and disturbing. It might have been so in 1962. Now, forty-seven years later, it’s mostly slow and dull.

The title? Mondo Cane, which translates from the Italian as something like A Dog’s World.

Supposedly a documentary that detailed the oddities, cruelties and perversities of life, Mondo Cane was intended to be controversial, and some of its contents likely were shocking in 1962. I spent a couple hours looking at it over the holiday weekend, and it’s not very shocking at all from the vantage point of 2009.

The movie spent a lot of time in the Pacific, examining what might best be called non-industrial island cultures. While the film purported to be a true reflection of life in those societies, the winking narration – as when a cluster of bare-breasted island girls chase one young man around the island and into the sea, and in a few other instances – left me wondering about the truth of the visuals as well as the truth of the narration.

The broad-brush contrasts the film points out between so-called primitive cultures and Western culture were so ham-handed that I chuckled. Yeah, I know that in some areas of the world snakes and dogs are dinner; and in 1962, one could go to a restaurant in New York City and spend $20 for plate of fried ants, bug larvae and butterfly eggs. The film shows those young island women chasing men into the sea, and a little later shows a cadre of young Australian women running into the sea and pulling men back onto the sand (during lifeguard practice). After seeing footage of dogs in Asia waiting in cages to become dinner, the film takes us to a pet cemetery in southern California, showing the gravestones of pets owned by celebrities of the time, including Vivan Vance (Lucille Ball’s sidekick), Jack Warner, Jr., of Warner Brothers and Julie London.

I think I knew about Mondo Cane when it came out. I would have been nine, and – as I’ve noted before – was even then aware of current events and news that troubled adults. It’s quite likely, I realized this weekend, that my awareness of the film was helped along by parodies of its approach in MAD magazine, which was one of my favorites at the time. It’s not a significant film in any way, but it is interesting. There are, by current standards, several troubling images involving cruelty to animals, but beyond that, little is truly surprising. As a historical document of what Western culture found depraved in 1962, however, it’s an interesting way to spend a couple of hours.

The movie did, however, provide one long-lasting piece of popular culture: Its theme, better known these days as “More (Theme to Mondo Cane).” The song, written by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero, was used in the movie as an instrumental under the title “Ti Guarderò Nel Cuore.” Italian lyrics were added by Marcello Ciorciolini, and later, the English lyrics were written by Norman Newell, giving us the song “More (Theme From Mondo Cane)” as we know it.

I would guess that “More” is one of the most covered songs of all time. All-Music Guide lists 1,325 CDs on which there is a recording of a song titled “More.” Some of those would be other compositions, but I’m certain that the vast majority of those recordings are of the song by Ortolani and Oliviero. So let’s take a walk though the garden of “More.”

First, here’s the original:

“Theme from Mondo Cane” by Riz Ortolani & Nino Oliviero [1962]

One version of the song made the Top 40 in the U.S., an instrumental version by a Kai Winding, a composer and bandleader who was born in Denmark but grew up in the U.S. His version of “More” went to No. 8 in the summer of 1963.

“More” by Kai Winding, Verve 10295 [1963]

And then came the flood (though not all covers were titled exactly the same):

“More” by Ferrante & Teicher from Concert for Lovers [1963]

“Theme from Mondo Cane (More)” by Jack Nitschze from The Lonely Surfer [1963]

“More” by John Gary from Catch A Rising Star [1963]

“More” by Vic Dana from More [1963]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Frank Sinatra & Count Basie from It Might As Well Be Swing [1964]

“More” by Billy Vaughn from Blue Velvet [1964]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Liberace from Golden Themes From Hollywood [1964]

“More” by Mantovani from The Incomparable Mantovani and his Orchestra [1964]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Nat King Cole from L-O-V-E [1965]

“More” by Julie London from Our Fair Lady [1965]

“More” by Steve Lawrence, Columbia 42795 [1963]

“More” by Roger Williams from I’ll Remember You [1967]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by the Ray Conniff Singers from Ray Conniff’s World Of Hits [1967]

“More” by Jerry Vale from The Impossible Dream [1967]

“More” by Andy Williams from The Academy Award Winning “Call Me Irresponsible” [1970]

“More” by Jackie Gleason from Today’s Romantic Hits – For Lovers Only [1963]

“More” by Harry Connick, Jr., from Only You [2004]

(I’ve pulled these from various sources; some are mine, some I found elsewhere. Of those I found elsewhere, I’m reasonably sure that the performers are identified correctly. And after spending several hours digging, I’m also reasonably sure that the original release album titles and dates are correct. I have a suspicion that the version by the Ray Conniff singers might have been released on an earlier album, but I can’t verify that.)

Edited slightly and Jackie Gleason release and date verified June 28, 2013. Steve Lawrence release and date verified March 5, 2014.

‘You’re So Supreme . . .’

October 3, 2012

Originally posted May 19, 2009

Over the course of more than two years of sharing music here, there have been some detours from the rock ’n’ roll highway. While I love rock and pop from most eras, I also love music from other genres and eras. And I’ve noticed that when I share songs from those disparate non-rock genres, the numbers of downloads drops precipitously. Folks come by here to find rock and pop, and generally the more familiar fare.

That’s fine. We like what we like.

But among my loves in music, as I’ve noted many times, is one Al Hirt, a New Orleans-born trumpet player who died in 1999 at the age of seventy-six. His music was what I listened to while I was learning to play cornet; in that sense, he was my first musical model and hero, getting in line way ahead of the Beatles and Bob Dylan and all the other musicians who came along to entertain and inspire me later.

The first of Al Hirt’s music I heard was almost certainly “Java,” a sprightly tune from his Honey In The Horn album; the album came out in 1963, and in 1964, “Java” went to No. 4, providing Hirt with his only Top Ten hit. (“Cotton Candy” went to No. 15 and “Sugar Lips” went to No. 30 later that year.) It was in 1964, as I’ve noted before, that I got my horn; I took lessons that summer between fifth and sixth grades and continued to play the horn through high school. And as I heard “Java” on the radio – all three of his hits got some play on Top Forty stations and plenty of play on the St. Cloud stations, which at that time did not play any rock – I wanted two things: I wanted the LP, and I wanted to play my horn that well.

I got the album for my birthday that September, and continued to think that “Java,” the second track on Side One, was fun. But the revelation was the first track on the record: “I Can’t Get Started.” I loved the sliding saxophones, the chorus (seeming corny now but so much a part of its time), the shifts in tempo, and above all, Al Hirt’s horn: weaving and darting in and around the arrangement, taking a breather or two and finally 2:08 into the song, taking off and flying, then leaving me hanging in mid-air.

The first time I heard Hirt’s take on “I Can’t Get Started,” I stared at the stereo as I sat on the floor in the living room. When the song ended, I lifted the needle and played it again. And again. I’d never heard anything like it.

What I didn’t know, of course, is that “I Can’t Get Started” is one of the great standards of American song. Written by Vernon Duke, with words by Ira Gershwin, it was first heard – says Wikipedia – in the theatrical production Ziegfield Follies of 1936. Since then, there have been numerous versions recorded; All-Music Guide lists 1,778 CDs with versions of “I Can’t Get Started.” The artists who’ve recorded the song include (and this is by necessity a brief and inadequate selection): Cannonball Adderly, Larry Adler, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Judy Collins, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Merle Haggard, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Quincy Jones, Rickie Lee Jones, Gene Krupa, Enoch Light, Wynton Marsalis, Rod McKuen, Peter Nero, Anita O’Day, Charlie Parker, Django Reinhardt, Buddy Rich, Doc Severinsen, Cybill Shepherd, Mel Tormé, Joe Utterback, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Lester Young and Dave Zoller. (No one whose last name begins with “Q” or “X” was listed.)

Some of those, I’d like to hear. Others, well, maybe not. The thought of the Cybill Shepherd version, frankly, scares me.

The one name I did not list there is the man whose version was listed most: Bunny Berigan. A trumpeter and vocalist at the time that Big Band music was separating itself from other forms of jazz, Berigan recorded the song in 1937 for Victor Records (a predecessor of RCA Victor). I learned a little about that – but just a little – by reading the notes on the back of Hirt’s Honey In The Horn.

“On one (recording) date,” writes Anne L. Freels, “Al was scheduled to do ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ a perennial that most knowledgeable musicians feel should be left alone after Bunny Berigan’s incomparable rendition. Especially wary was Louis Nunley, a member of the vocal chorus and a good trumpeter himself. When behemoth Hirt finished with that fine song, however, Nunley sat down and said ‘I’ll never pick up my horn again.’”

I’ll note three things about the anecdote: First: Plenty of musicians had recorded “I Can’t Get Started” at the time Freels was writing, so her comment that the song “should be left alone” is publicist’s overstatement. But over the years, I have read many times that Berigan’s version is considered the standard, and horn players do risk a comparison when they record it.

Second, I doubt that Nunley was serious about leaving his horn sit unplayed. I’m sure that if he actually made that statement about not playing again, it was hyperbole, uttered in amazement at a great performance.

Third: Even if the anecdote was overstated, it underlined to me at the age of eleven that someone besides me thought that Hirt’s version of “I Can’t Get Started” was special.

But I’ll let you judge for yourselves. Here are Bunny Berigan’s version from 1937 and Al Hirt’s version from 1963.

“I Can’t Get Started” by Bunny Berigan, Victor 37539 [1937]

“I Can’t Get Started” by Al Hirt from Honey In The Horn [1963]

Hot Tuna, The Staples, Patti & Bruce

October 3, 2012

Originally posted May 14, 2009

It’s Thursday, and that means some wandering around YouTube.

A Hot Tuna track showed up in yesterday’s random 1975 package. Here’s a video from about 1970 of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady doing a particularly nice version of “Hesitation Blues,” which was the opening track to Hot Tuna’s self-titled album.

There are lots of Staple Singers clips out there, but I did a little digging and found what I think is a gem. It’s a performance from the PBS performance show Soundstage, with Joss Stone and Mavis Staples taking on the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.” The show originally aired October 6, 2005.

Here’s a fine live performance of “Because the Night” by Patti Smith. I’m not sure of the date, but I’m going to guess right around 1978, when the Easter album came out.

And I can’t let the week go past without posting at least one performance by Bruce Springsteen; Here’s Bruce and the band performing “Land of Hope and Dreams” on April 19, 1999, in Milan, Italy.

About “Good Lovin’”
I got a nice note from David Y. earlier this week. He said some kind things about the blog and then he commented on my calling Springsteen’s performance of “Good Lovin’” a cover of the Young Rascals, noting that when the Young Rascals recorded the song, they were in fact covering an R&B group. I did some digging, and that’s the case: The Olympics, who are best remembered for 1958’s “Western Movies,” recorded “Good Lovin’” in 1965. Had I known that (and maybe I should have), I think I still would have referred to Springsteen’s performance of the song as a cover of the Young Rascals, as the concert performance replicated the Young Rascals’ recording, right down to the brilliant organ solo, an element that’s missing from the Olympics’ version, which also has a more measured pace.

But listen for yourselves. Thanks to the generosity of Larry at Funky 16 Corners, here’s the original:

“Good Lovin’” by the Olympics, Loma 2013 [1965]

‘We’re Only Ordinary Men . . .’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 5, 2009

I’ve written in passing at various times about what I call “time and place” songs, songs that are so interlaced in memory that just hearing a few notes pulls me back elsewhere and elsewhen.

I think anyone who loves music has a number of songs that do that. Some of the moments my songs take me to are significant. Others are not, and I think one of the joys of time and place songs is that they remind me of the little bits of everyday life, things that would otherwise go unmarked. One that comes to mind as I write is from 1966: Rick and I were locking our bikes to the rack outside a long-gone St. Cloud discount store called Tempo when we heard the strains of the Seeker’s “Georgy Girl” coming from somewhere. For better or worse, whenever I’ve heard the song for many years, I’m back on St. Germain in the west end of downtown going to Tempo for some reason.*

Probably the most potent time and place song for me is Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them,” from Dark Side of the Moon. As soon as I hear the first notes of the long slow introduction, I’m gone. And as the introduction flows into Dick Parry’s sweet and sad saxophone solo, I’m standing in a doorway between the small lobby and the lounge at the youth hostel in Fredericia, Denmark, so many years ago. A few feet away stands the kiosk where three of our college gals earn a little spending money, selling the rest of us soda, beer, cigarettes and some snacks.

In the other direction, in the lounge, some of the kids are sitting in low-slung chairs near the fireplace, which is never used. They’re studying or reading letters from home or maybe writing their own letters back. Over by the window, a bunch of the guys are playing poker for matchsticks, and right near them, a couple more are hanging around the pinball machine. Just a normal evening in an extraordinary time.

And as the song moves on, I have the choice of digging further into the memories or pulling back and listening in the here and now. The memories are sweet, but my here and now is good, too. Either way, “Us and Them” always has that little tug, whenever I hear it. And I imagine that’s why it’s one of my favorite songs.

All-Music Guide lists just more than a hundred CDs that contain a version of “Us and Them.” Not all of those listings are of the song written by Roger Waters and Richard Wright. I’d estimate that about ninety percent are, though. And of those listings, twenty-two are recordings by Pink Floyd itself.

So that leaves about seventy listings of covers of “Us and Them,” including versions done by Between the Buried and Me, the East Star All-Stars, Ron Jones, David Ari Leon, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, German singer Nena, Out of Phase, Sarah Slean, Jeff Scott Soto, the Squirrels, Supermayor, Switch, Walt Wagner, John Wetton and Holly Wilson.

Two names intrigue me in that list: Nena and Holly Wilson. Nena, because her recording of “Us and Them” is the closer to a double album of covers, one CD of German songs and one CD in English of some of the more interesting songs of the rock era. Along with “Us and Them,” Nena tackled “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” “After the Goldrush,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and a few more. I’m not sure I’d listen often to the German songs, but I might like the second CD of the set pretty well.

Then, there’s Holly Wilson. I know pretty much nothing about her, just that she’s a singer who likes to record songs in bossa nova style. For some reason, I’ve recently been digging into albums released during the bossa nova craze of the early 1960s, trying to decide which of the classic albums I want to add to my CD collection. In doing so, I’ve come across some interesting performers and performances. Wilson has recorded four themed albums of covers in bossa nova style in recent years, including Genesis en Bossa Nova in 2005, Queen en Bossa Nova in 2006 and Frank Sinatra en Bossa Nova in 2007. And there was the album I found, Pink Floyd en Bossa Nova, also from 2006.

The CD seems, oddly, to hold up pretty well, though at first there is a little bit of cognitive dissonance in hearing, say, the gloom of “Brain Damage” performed as a sprightly dance tune.

Seven of the ten tracks on Wilson’s Pink Floyd CD are pulled from Dark Side of the Moon, and Wilson’s interpretations of them and of the other three tracks – “Another Brick In The Wall,” Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Wish You Were Here” – make for interesting listening. One of the reasons I think the album works is that Wilson and her producers – whoever they were – made good use of electronic sounds as well as standard instrumentation. And Wilson sings them well, though she might overuse the breathy half-spoken approach a little too much.

I don’t post much that’s been released after 1999, but this was too interesting a cover to let it go.

“Us and Them” by Holly Wilson from Pink Floyd en Bossa Nova (2006)

Tuesday Extra
As the Texas Gal and I wandered through some garage sales Saturday, I kept my eyes open for LPs. And at one sale on the south side of the city, I found a crate full. Lots of country, some Christmas albums, a little bit of rock and pop (things I already have) and one interesting find in near mint condition.

It’s a 1982 album of covers by a group that had eight Top 40 hits between 1958 and 1962. The covers range from “Leader of the Pack” to “Take A Chance On Me” and beyond, with the most surprising being the track I’m sharing today. I’m not going to tell you the name of the group. You’ll have to download the track to find that out. And I’m using Boxnet for this particular mp3 so you can listen to it right away.

“Whip It” (by the Chipmunks)

*I’ve since recalled that Rick and I were having a conversation about “Georgy Girl” as we locked our bikes that long-ago morning. Even with that small correction, the point remains: I hear “Georgy Girl,” and I am back in 1966, on the sidewalk outside the long-gone Tempo store. Note added June 20, 2012.

‘Outside, The Rain Begins . . .’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 28, 2009

Well, I just spent an hour combing through ten different versions of Boz Scaggs’ “We’re All Alone,” the gorgeous song that’s the closer to Scaggs’ 1976 album Silk Degrees.

Feeling a bit like Andy Rooney this morning, I’ll just note that Silk Degrees – though I’ve certainly become accustomed to it – is an odd name for an album. What does it mean? How many degrees are there in silk? I wonder if sometime, somewhere, Boz Scaggs told the story.

Anyway, looking for a cover version to share, I just listened to the original version of “We’re All Alone” and nine covers. And none of them really blew me away. One of the things that I did find interesting when I began to look for covers through All-Music Guide was the evident popularity of the song in the Pacific Rim. I found versions by Japanese singers, by singers from the Philippines and by a Hawaii-based duo named Cecilio & Kapono, and I saw listings at AMG for more versions of the tune from that area of the world.

Unhappily, none of those versions seemed to add anything to the song, and that’s too bad. The song is one of those that can get inside my head and whirl around for an hour or so, one of the most tolerable of earworms. I almost certainly heard the song for the first time not long after Silk Degrees was released in 1976, when I was living in the cold house on the North Side of St. Cloud, about two blocks from both the rail yards and a neighborhood beer joint called the Black Door Club.

(The owner of the bar said the name didn’t signify anything: “When I bought the place,” he told a few of us over a pitcher of Grain Belt one Saturday afternoon, “the door was painted black. I thought that was strange, but I wasn’t gonna repaint it. And then I was tryin’ to come up with a name for the place, and the best I could do was the Black Door Club.”)

Anyway, one of my three roommates in the autumn of 1976 brought home Silk Degrees and began playing it – a lot. At least daily for three weeks, he dropped it on the stereo in the living room or the stereo in his room. It didn’t take long before I knew the record very, very well. Kevin moved out at the end of fall quarter and headed off into adult life, taking the record with him. At that time, I didn’t have a list of music I wanted to collect. When I felt like getting something new, I headed to Musicland or Shopko and rifled through the bins, or else I headed to Axis downtown and looked through the used records, and I bought whatever I found. I imagine if I’d run across a copy of Silk Degrees, I would have bought it.

But my album log says that I didn’t bring Silk Degrees home until December 1, 1977. I remember buying the record as a celebration. That day had seen the publication of the first edition of the Monticello Times with my byline in it. And when I played the record in my small apartment that evening, I realized how much I had missed hearing it. Oh, I’d heard the singles, of course: “Lowdown” had spent fifteen weeks in the Top 40 in the late summer and fall of 1976, reaching No. 3, and “Lido Shuffle” had peaked at No. 11 during a nine-week stay in the Top 40 during the spring of 1977, and both continued to get some airplay. (The first chart single from the album, “It’s Over,” had gone to No. 38 in the spring before I moved to the north side; a fourth single, “What Can I Say,” failed to reach the Top 40.)

It was sweet that evening to hear my own copy of the album. And over the years, it’s an album I go back to time and again. In fact, in a post here in June 2007, I put Silk Degrees on a list of my thirteen favorite albums. Lists like that are often fluid, and if I did a similar list now without referring to the earlier list, there would likely be some changes. But Silk Degrees would stay there, I’m sure.

Is “We’re All Alone” the best track on the record? Maybe. Beyond the singles, which are almost too familiar to assess, I like “What Do You Want The Girl To Do?” and “Harbor Lights.” But I keep coming back to “We’re All Alone” as my favorite on the record.

Scaggs’ version of “We’re All Alone,”, even though it’s the original, likely isn’t the best known: Rita Coolidge’s cover of the song went to No. 7 in the latter months of 1977, but I’ve never cared much for Coolidge’s version. Others who have covered the song – according to All-Music Guide – include Joe Augustine, Acker Bilk, the Matt Catingub Orchestra of Hawaii, Linda Eder, Lesley Gore, Engelbert Humperdinck, Bob James, Steve Lawrence, Johnny Mathis, Reba McIntire, Natalia, Newton, the Romantic Strings, Lars Roos, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Frankie Valli, the Ventures, the Walker Brothers and the West Coast All-Stars.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard eight covers of the song, and none of them blew me away. But two of them, I thought, were pretty good. The Three Degrees, the Philadelphia R&B trio that showed up on MFSB’s “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia” (No. 1 in 1974) and had a good career on its own (“When Will I See You Again” went to No. 2 in 1974), covered the song for its 1977 album Standing Up For Love. And Pieces Of A Dream, a long-lived Philadelphia jazz/R&B group, covered “We’re All Alone” on its 1994 album Goodbye Manhattan.

“We’re All Alone” by Boz Scaggs from Silk Degrees [1976]

“We’re All Alone” by the Three Degrees from Standing Up For Love [1977]

“We’re All Alone” by Pieces Of A Dream from Goodbye Manhattan [1994]

Listen To The Train Wreck

June 1, 2012

Originally posted April 14, 2009

There were some requests following Saturday’s post for more information about my database of LPs. It’s a topic I’ve thought about before, but I thought it would be of little interest to others. Since Saturday, though, I’ve given the matter some thought, and I will write about it. But not yet. There is – one assumes – the third annual Vinyl Music Day coming along this summer, and that would be a good time to dig into how my database came to be. (As well as being a grand excuse to pull unique records from the shelf to rip odd mp3s.)

So those who are interested in the history of the database and my methods (the name Rube Goldberg comes to mind; if that name is unfamiliar to you, Google it, and you’ll understand a bit more about my methodology), you’ll have to wait a few months.

But that does not mean that there are not tales to tell now. In fact, Saturday brought me face to face with another extraordinary cover version of a well-known song.

To be honest, it was the comments about my database that got things started. For nearly six years, a box of odd records has been waiting for its contents to be entered into the database. Oh, I tagged the records when I got them, so I knew when they had been purchased. The box of stuff came from a garage sale the Texas Gal and I found somewhere in St. Cloud in May 2003. The folks who were running the sale were about to shut things down, and a box of records was still sitting there.

The price was fifty cents a record or something like that, and the box had some nice stuff in it, some of it in pretty good shape: about half of it was rock and pop mostly from the Seventies and Eighties, but that was stuff I already had (and my copies at home were in just as good a shape or better). The other half of the box was, well, interesting. I mentioned the other week that I have a double album of performances by the Willmar Boys’ Chorus (Willmar being a city about sixty miles southwest of St. Cloud). I found it in this box. The same with Favorite Marches Featuring the Marches of John Philip Sousa by the Norwegian Military Band, and Russian Folk Musical Instruments Anthology (assuming I transliterated and translated correctly) on the Soviet-era Melodiya label.

So why did I buy the box of records if I already had the good half of what was in there, and the half I didn’t have was, well, different? A one-word answer: Commerce.

The folks running the garage sale were, as I said, about to close up, and they asked how much I’d pay for the whole box of records. I took one more quick look at the pop and rock stuff and said ten bucks. They were happy, and I took the box to the car. And the Texas Gal and I ended our Saturday excursion with a trip to the Electric Fetus downtown, where I got about $25 for the rock and pop albums in the box.

That was something I’d done many times during the years I lived in south Minneapolis: Buy a box of records at a garage sale and then make the rounds of the used record stores near my home. I’d generally take the remainder, the records I did not want, to the Salvation Army store about six blocks from my home. I had planned to do that with these St. Cloud garage sale records, but for some reason, I never did, and Saturday found me entering them into the database.

As I did, I had to play a few tracks here and there. I haven’t listened to anything by the Willmar Boys’ Chorus yet, but I have found some, well, interesting tracks. And that’s inspired me to start a new series here at Echoes In The Wind. Today’s mp3 will be the third in the series called Train Wreck Jukebox. (I’m granting ex-post-facto membership to both sides of the Swingers’ “Bay-Hay Bee Doll,” which I shared about a year ago and to Ray Conniff’s rendition of “Photograph,” which I shared two weeks ago.)

In 1968, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians decided it was time to get with it and clue in the grandpas and grandmas and old fogey uncles who bought their music. The new Lombardo album was titled The New Songs! The New Sounds!

The liner notes by Lee Gillette read, in part:

“More and more of the younger generation are becoming familiar with the sound of the Guy Lombardo orchestra . . . they are attending his concerts across the nation . . . the college set was prominently represented recently during the Royal Canadians, twice-yearly appearances at the Tropicana in Las Vegas . . . and they not only listened, but joined together on the dance floor each evening during the newly-inaugurated dance sessions there.

“The same nostalgic sound of the band is there, but something new has been added. Bobby Christian, one of the nation’s finest percussionists, was flown to the recording session in Las Vegas from Chicago to perform on vibes, Latin-percussion, harpsichord, tambourine, cymbals, drums, to name a few. In Las Vegas, guitarist Bob Morgan was added to the rhythm section with electric guitar and Brazilian type guitars to up-date the over-all sounds of the Royal Canadians. Songs like “Harper Valley P.T.A.” and “Gentle on My Mind” have a new Lombardo rhythmic beat that is now-a-days. Harmonica virtuoso Tommy Morgan was brought in to enhance “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Oh, there’s so much to chew on in that! But I guess I’ll just point to the use of “now-a-days,” which in any usage sounds so very much like 1930, at best. And we’ll ignore the odd diction and punctuation and get to the heart of this post, which is this week’s entry into the Train Wreck Jukebox:

“Folsom Prison Blues” by Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians
From The New Songs! The New Sounds! (1968)

Reposts
Cate Brothers by the Cate Brothers, 1975
Original post here.

In One Eye and Out The Other by the Cate Brothers, 1977
Original post here.

Steve Winwood by Steve Winwood, 1977
Original post here.

‘If You See Saint Annie . . .’

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 7, 2009

The RealPlayer was chugging along on random last evening as I caught up on several editions of Rolling Stone, laughing ruefully at Matt Taibbi’s tales of greed on Wall Street and wondering if I should take Taylor Swift seriously, when a very soft version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” began to play. I put the magazine down and checked out the music.

(A little later, when I got back to my reading, I was still laughing at Taibbi’s work but decided to pass on Taylor Swift, a decision helped by her rather lame performance the evening before during a country music awards show. But that’s just me, and I’m neither the correct age nor the correct gender to be part of Ms. Swift’s target audience. From what I’ve read, it sounds as if Ms. Swift has her head on pretty straight, and I admire that, even if I don’t invest myself in her music.)

Anyway, when I got to the RealPlayer, the music turned out to be an album track from a very obscure group called West, a late 1960s group that – from what I read at All-Music Guide – had a hard time deciding on a musical identity. Shimmering folk-rock, sweet sunshine pop and a few other hard-to-describe styles crowded together in the grooves of West’s records, the website indicated. I listened to a few more tracks by the group and decided it wasn’t interesting enough to dig into actively. But it was inoffensive enough to be good background music, so I didn’t delete it. (And I have no idea where I found it. I’m guessing it came to me sometime in late 2006, during the first weeks after I discovered music blogs, a time when I was trying to be the Download King of the Universe.)

Hearing the song did remind me, though, of the late winter and early spring of 1972. As I mentioned once before, I think, I’d bought my first Bob Dylan album during that late winter, shelling out a little bit of cash for the newly released Greatest Hits, Volume II. Among the Dylan personas that I discovered there was the surrealist wordsmith who crafted “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.” The emerging writer inside me fell in love with that stuff, and I spent hours listening to those two songs – I loved the entire album, but those two tracks especially – over and over.

As I went about my days, I’d ponder their lyrical construction and find myself murmuring lines under my breath. It’s quite likely that some of my fellow students at St. Cloud State thought me a little odd as I walked along, muttering, “I cannot move; my fingers are all in a knot,” with my head bobbing as if I were hearing voices. (And I was, of course, hearing a voice: Dylan’s.) My own lyrics changed, becoming more surreal and sprinkled with obscure references.

It would be nice to say that I continued to explore Dylan’s work at the time. But I didn’t. I was still catching up on all the pop and rock music I’d missed during earlier years, and the Joe Cocker/Leon Russell/Delaney Bramlett/Bobby Whitlock/Eric Clapton axis of sounds was beginning to fascinate me. I still listened to Top 40, and in all those places, I found so much to explore that – with a few exceptions like Blood on the Tracks – Dylan didn’t come close to the center of my musical universe again for years. (When he did, in 1987, it was in a flood, as – with the help of a lady friend – I put together a complete collection of Dylan on the Columbia, Asylum and Island labels by the summer of 1990.)

But through those years, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” has remained a favorite of mine, one that often pops into my head with its jangly piano intro. There are more than a hundred CDs in the market with a version of the song, according to AMG, and there are others that list the song under a variation of the title. (As an example, Judy Collins called it simply “Tom Thumb’s Blues” on her In My Life album in 1966). Some of the performers listed as having recorded the song are: Jaime Brockett, Dave’s True Story, Bryan Ferry, the Grateful Dead, Robyn Hitchcock, Jimmy LaFave, Gordon Lightfoot, Barry McGuire, Medicine Head, Linda Ronstadt, Nina Simone, the Sir Douglas Quintet, the Sting Cheese Incident, the Walking Wounded, Jennifer Warnes and Neil Young.

Here’s the version by West that started this post, a recent version by Dylan contemporary Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and a live version by Dylan and The Band recorded in Liverpool in 1966. (I’ve posted that last version once before; that post is here.)

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by West from West [1968]

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott from the soundtrack to I’m Not There [2007]
(Thanks to Jeff at AM then FM for this one.)

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Bob Dylan & The Band, Liverpool, England, May 14, 1966

Reposts
Gypsy, Part One, by Gypsy (1970)
Gypsy, Part Two by Gypsy (1970)
In The Garden by Gypsy (1971)
Original post here.

Edited slightly on archival posting.