Posts Tagged ‘Beatles’

The Beatles, Gene & Elvis

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 3, 2009

Well, there are a large number of videos of “Long Tall Sally” available at YouTube. One of the most interesting – despite the annoying slow-motion segment in the middle – is this one of the Beatles performing live on television, either in the UK or perhaps in Australia or New Zealand (going only by the hostess’ accent, which I can’t place). The performance dates from 1963 or 1964, I would guess; it could be narrowed down more if one were so inclined by the fact that Ringo appears to have a mustache. (If this is from the Australian tour during the summer of 1964, then it’s from June 14 or later: Ringo was hospitalized with tonsillitis when the other three Beatles left Britain at the beginning of the tour. Jimmy Nicol filled in on drums until Ringo could rejoin the band in Melbourne.)

Video unavailable

Here’s some footage of Gene Vincent – generally forgotten these days but a pretty big name in the late 1950s – performing “Long Tall Sally” in Belgium on October 10, 1963. The performance last about two minutes; the remainder of the clip is comments in French from, I assume, some of those who saw Vincent’s performance. I’m sure the comments are fascinating, but my schoolboy facility in French long ago dwindled away, so I have no idea what those young folk are saying.

Video unavailable

Here’s Elvis Presley’s version of the song, packaged with photos of Presley. The recording dates from September 2, 1956.

Video unavailable

After learning of its existence as I wrote Tuesday’s post, I’m trying to find either audio or video of Roger Whittaker’s performance of “Long Tall Sally.” I’ve seen references to it online that imply that it’s, well, unique. According to All-Music Guide, it’s included on a DVD of a concert performance. I’ll keep looking.

‘Gonna Tell Aunt Mary . . .’

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 1, 2009

The things you can learn rummaging around online!

Remember all the stories about a baseball player promising to hit a home run for a sick kid in the hospital and then actually going out and doing so? (The ballplayer in the story is frequently Babe Ruth, and there is some evidence that things happened that way at least once, which only proves that where Babe Ruth is concerned, fact and fable intersect.) As I dug around at Wikipedia this morning, I found a similar story of rock ’n’ roll lore:

In the mid-1950s, it seems, there was a young woman in or near New Orleans named Enotris Johnson. Her Aunt Mary was ill, and in hopes of gaining the money for her aunt’s treatment, Enotris began to write a rock ’n’ roll song for a popular performer to record. Actually, she only wrote a couple of lines, but somehow, she got in touch with Honey Chile, a popular disk jockey.

Honey Chile took the few lines that Enotris had written and got in touch with a fellow named Bumps Blackwell, who was an A&R man for Specialty Records. Blackwell took the few lines to the performer, who was – Wikipedia says – reluctant to use them. Still, one of the lines resonated with the artist, and he and Blackwell added to Enotris Johnson’s lines and crafted a song out of it. Recorded at a tempo so fast that the artist might have been singing in some language other than English, the song was released as a single. It went as high as No. 6 on the fragmented pop charts of the time and spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart.

Those three lines Enotris wrote?

Saw Uncle John with Long Tall Sally
They saw Aunt Mary comin’
So they ducked back in the alley.

The artist, of course, was Little Richard and the song was “Long Tall Sally,” maybe the most famous song recorded by the flamboyant singer born as Richard Penniman in Macon, Georgia. (I’d guess that “Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” would be in the running for that “most famous” title.)

As to the truth of the tale I found at Wikipedia, some of the details of the story – minus Aunt Mary – also appear in The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh’s 1989 tome about the 1,001 best singles. In addition, the song’s writing credits have seemingly always included an E. Johnson. On the other hand, “Long Tall Sally” wasn’t a one-shot for Enotris Johnson. She received at least two other writing credits on Little Richard songs: She’s also listed as a co-writer on “Miss Ann” and “Jenny Jenny.” (There may have been more credits for Enotris Johnson on songs that weren’t hits; those are the credits I noticed this morning on the CD The Georgia Peach.)

I did find some more information at Who’s Dated Who, a celebrity website. On an otherwise blank page for Enotris Johnson, a reader named Betty posted this note in May:

What happen to Enotris Johnson, the song writer that almost became a star? She loved the music industry very much and still does. She says that Little Richard was her brother back then. She married a preacher back in September 10, 1956; that ended all of her musical dreams because he was a man of God and he could not have his wife singing the blues. You can only think of what was expected of a housewife back in the 1950’s. Enotris now lives in Bogalusa, Louisiana. She is now 72 years old. She has one daughter, Wilma Dunn, [who] resides in Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband. Enotris is a warm loving mother and friend and still supports her husband. Every once in a while you can hear her wailing on that piano and singing in the middle of the night. You would just love to sit around her and hear her tell all the stories from back in the day when all of the old singers were at their humble beginnings. Enotris Johnson has lived a full and happy life with her husband and being the idea preacher’s wife. [Edited slightly.]

The information would mean that Enotris Johnson would have been about nineteen years old when “Long Tall Sally” was recorded. And it still doesn’t address the truth about the ill Aunt Mary, but – like so many other rock ’n’ roll stories and fables (see Mr. Jimmy and the Rolling Stones, for example) – it really doesn’t matter. As I’ve said before, legend drives out fact.

And Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” remains one of the most vital songs in rock ’n roll history, and it must be one of the most covered, as well. Among those who covered it when Little Richard’s version was getting airplay were Pat Boone and Elvis Presley. I shared Boone’s limp version here about a year ago, and – oddly enough – I don’t have a copy of Presley’s.

A quick look at All-Music Guide results in a list of more than eight hundred CDs that contain a version of “Long Tall Sally.” The Little Richard, Pat Boone and Elvis Presley versions account for many of those, of course, but some of the other names that show up are Atlanta Rhythm Section, Cactus, Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, the Chambers Brothers, Eddie Cochrane, Joey Dee & the Starliters, Wanda Jackson, the Isley Brothers, the Kinks, Sleepy LaBeef, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul McCartney, Molly Hatchet, Don Nix, Carl Perkins, Johnny Rivers, the Rivingtons, Marty Robbins, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, Sha Na Na, the Tornadoes, the Trashmen, Walter Trout, Gene Vincent and Roger Whittaker. (That last one baffles me a little.)

[Note from 2022: The website Second Hand Songs lists a total of 161 separate covers of “Long Tall Sally,” including versions in Danish, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Swedish. Note added May 18, 2022.]

I have, strangely, only three covers of “Long Tall Sally” (on mp3 at any rate; vinyl may be another story): The Pat Boone I mentioned earlier and versions by the Beatles and by King Curtis.

The Beatles’ version was issued in 1964; in Britain, it was one of four songs on an EP (“I Call Your Name,” “Slow Down” and “Matchbox” were the others), and here in the U.S., the song was included on the imaginatively titled The Beatles’ Second Album. (It later showed up on several vinyl and CD anthologies, including Past Masters, Vol. 1.)

King Curtis’ version was recorded in New York City on October 28, 1965, and was evidently released as the flip side of “The Boss” [Atlantic 9469] and was included on a 1986 R&B saxophone anthology, Atlantic Honkers. (The sketchy notes on Atlantic Honkers indicate that “Long Tall Sally” was the title track of a King Curtis album, presumably on the Atco label, but I can’t find any other mention of such an album. Anyone out there know anything?)

“Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard, Specialty 572 [1956]

“Long Tall Sally” by the Beatles from The Beatles’ Second Album [1964]

“Long Tall Sally” by King Curtis, evidently Atlantic 9469 B-Side [1965]

Was It 1964 Or 1965?

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 14, 2009

Memory is a slippery creature. I read or heard somewhere about recent research into memory, and the theory was – and this is necessarily a paraphrase – that when we remember an event, our brain overlays the original memory with our new memory of that event, so the next time we recall that specific moment, we’re processing a second-generation memory and creating a third-generation memory. (Without any irony, I have to say that I cannot at all remember where I read or heard that bit of information.)

That seems to make some sense, even though it means our memories eventually become thinner and possibly distorted, like a favorite recording that’s seven generations removed from the original tape.

I got to thinking about this after Wednesday’s Vinyl Record Day post about the development of my LP database. Art D., a reader in Michigan, emailed me that afternoon and asked if I had the right date for Beatles’ ’65, after I said my sister and I received it for Christmas in 1965. He said the record had been released in December 1964. I nodded to myself, having verified that date at All-Music Guide that morning. I emailed back.

I said, in part, about Beatles ’65, that my sister and I got the record in 1965, about a year after it came out. I added:

“That’s what the red ink on it says, and that inscription dates from the day I began marking my LPs in 1970, and I suppose I could have erred then, and we actually got the album in 1964. At this point, we’ll never know for sure. I think, though, that I would have remembered – given the way I recall odd details – the paradox of getting a record titled Beatles ’65 when it was still 1964.”

And writing those words – “I think, though, that I would have remembered . . . the paradox of getting a record titled Beatles ’65 when it was still 1964” – triggered another memory, a recollection of a very young whiteray looking at the record jacket that December night and wondering about that very paradox. It’s not the kind of memory that jumps up and says, “Here I am and here you were!” It’s more like it’s dancing on the edge of clarity, so I’m not sure about trusting it.

Earlier this week, when recalling the day I began marking my LPs, I wrote “I knew for certain that Beatles ’65 came to my sister and me for Christmas 1965.” Well, we all, at one time or another, know things for certain that just ain’t so. This could be one of mine. I imagine that on that summer day in 1970, I looked at the title of the album and just assumed it came out in 1965 and thus showed up in our house that December. I might have been wrong; the record might have been there a year earlier.

But I’m going to be gentle with the kid I was back then. I examined the record and its jacket this morning, and there’s no copyright date on either, no hint of the year of issue. Beyond that, I would have had no idea in 1970 where to go to find out when Beatles ’65 was released. As I think of it today, I probably could have gone out to Musicland at the mall or to the library at St. Cloud State and learned something in either one of those places. Knowing the correct release date might have changed my mind about when we got the record. But at sixteen, I didn’t think of that. I did the best I could.

There is one thing I do know for certain about that December night when we found Beatles ’65 next to the stereo. I’ve seen the photographic evidence: Somewhere among all the slides in Mom’s storage unit is a slide showing me sitting in Dad’s chair, wearing my Beatle wig, holding Beatles ’65 in my lap and quite possibly putting my fingers in my ears as a jest.

I wrote to Art D. that “we’ll never know for sure.” But we might. If I ever find that one slide among the thousands in the storage unit, and if Dad wrote the date on the cardboard, we’ll know. I do have a hunch that, if I ever find that picture of me and it has a date on it, I’ll be changing the acquisition year in my database to 1964. But that’s just a hunch, so I’ll leave it for now.

Note from 2022: We do know now. The photograph – a print, not a slide – turned up in a package of things I got from my sister a few years ago, and the date on the back of the picture – in my dad’s hand – clearly says “Christmas 1964.” Here it is:

Given my preoccupation for the past few days with Beatles ’65, it was easy to decide what to post today. The album was, of course, one of those created by Capitol Records here in the U.S., in this case by taking portions of two Beatles albums released in the United Kingdom and adding two sides of a UK single not released on an album there. So it’s an aberration, although it was a popular one; it was the No. 1 album for nine weeks in the U.S. during early 1965.

It was also the first Beatles LP I owned, and the sequence of songs on it lingers inside me. When I play Beatles for Sale on the CD player, I start out hearing Beatles ’65 because the first six tracks are the same on both. But I’m always startled after “Mr. Moonlight,” when Side One should be over, because here comes “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” And Side Two of Beatles ’65 – cobbled together as it was with two tracks from Beatles for Sale, the lovely “I’ll Be Back” from A Hard Day’s Night and the single mentioned above – exists in modern form only on a CD that’s included as part of the 2004 box set The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1.

So I decided this morning to drop my mono copy of the LP (stereo cost more in the mid-1960s, and Dad was a thrifty man) on the turntable and offer Beatles ’65 as two mp3s, Side One and Side Two. There are a few pops and snaps, but hey, it’s forty-five-year-old vinyl.

Tracks, Side One
No Reply
I’m a Loser
Baby’s in Black
Rock and Roll Music
I’ll Follow the Sun
Mr. Moonlight

Tracks, Side Two
Honey Don’t
I’ll Be Back
She’s a Woman
I Feel Fine
Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby

On to YouTube!

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 11, 2009

Looking for a video of Rolf Harris perfoming “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” I found something that, to me, is astounding. It’s a recording – with no video, but that’s okay – of Harris singing his hit song with the Beatles, most likely in 1963. It’s a little ragged, but the best thing is that the lyrics have been changed to reflect the session. Give it a listen:

Here’s a television performance by Dave Dudley of “Six Days On The Road.” It’s from his appearance on the National Life Grand Old Opry on October 28, 1966.

And to close the video portion of today’s post, here’s George Harrison and Leon Russell performing “Beware of Darkness” at 1971’s Concert for Bangladesh:

Bonus Track
In yesterday’s post, I said of Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” that there were probably hundreds of songs in which the narrator realizes how good things were at home “but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s.” Frequent commenters Yah Shure and Oldetymer suggested several songs with similar themes, and Oldetymer added that Hazel Dickens’ “West Virginia My Home” might top Bare’s song for twang.

I don’t have a recording of Dickens performing the song on her own, but I have a version she recorded with her frequent partner, Alice Gerard, from the 1976 album Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerard. And it’s pretty down-home.

When I made my comment, I was actually referring to the guitar figure that opened Bare’s record, but Oldetymer has done a service by reminding me of Dickens and her music, which is very much aligned with the sounds and places from which she, and country music, came. When you listen to Dickens, you’re hearing what a great deal of American music sounded like in 1927 when the Carter Family – A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter – made their ways from Maces Spring, Virginia, to Bristol, Tennessee, for their first recording sessions, sessions that are said to have been the birthpoint of country music records.

There is, thus, an entirely different aesthetic to the music Dickens has recorded. (She turned seventy-four earlier this month.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the sound of the past:

Saturday Single No. 115

February 1, 2012

Originally posted February 21, 2009

The 45 rpm single I’m sharing today is one of the oldest records I own, marking forty-five years sometime this month, perhaps even this week. As I think about it, it may, in fact, be my longest-owned record. In February of 1964, I hadn’t yet begun to play the cornet, so I wasn’t yet enamored of Al Hirt’s music; I got my first Hirt album in the autumn of that year. And two other albums I got as gifts during the mid-1960s actually came out later: Herman’s Hermits On Tour and Sonny & Cher’s Look At Us were both released in 1965.

So the record I’m listening to this morning is likely the record I’ve had longer than any other. Of course, had it been up to me on that Saturday in February 1964, it likely wouldn’t be here. It was my sister who persuaded my dad to take her downtown, probably to Woolworth’s, so she could buy the record. It wasn’t until they were home and all four of us clustered around the old RCA record player to listen that Dad told her that the record was half-mine.

I don’t think that mattered to her then, nor did it in years to come. As I’ve written other times, when she left home to set up housekeeping with her new husband in 1972, she took her LPs with her. But she left the single behind, so it’s been in my custody – if not my entire ownership – for more than thirty years.

There are a couple of amazing things about the record: For one, it’s still in its original picture sleeve.

I have about two hundred 45s, some of them in carrying cases and others jumbled into the cardboard box in which I first got them second-hand. I think that maybe ten of them are still in their original sleeves. Most of those are records I got from Leo Rau, the jukebox owner who lived across the alley. But there’s a catch there: One of the Leo Rau records is a copy of the Rolling Stones’ “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadow” in its corresponding picture sleeve. But he had multiple jukeboxes in the St. Cloud area, so he had multiple copies of the record and of the jacket. This may seem picky, but there’s no guarantee that the Stones record he gave me is in the picture sleeve it started out in.

I know, however, that the record my dad and sister brought home in February 1964 is still in the same picture sleeve and has been for forty-five years.

The other amazing thing that comes to mind about the record this morning is how the music in its grooves has aged, or rather, not aged. So many folks at the time said that all fads end and that the record my sister and dad brought home that day was part of just another fad, another shiny bright toy that would end up discarded and forgotten.

But that hasn’t happened. The four young men from Liverpool who still smile from that single’s sleeve surprised and confounded everyone. To paraphrase from one of the Rolling Stone album guides, they not only became the world’s best pop group, they invented the idea that there could be such a thing as the world’s best pop group. And the music they made along the way still sounds vital and fresh. That might be the most amazing thing of all.

So here are the Beatles, from my forty-five year old copy of the song that was No. 1 on this day in 1964 (including the wavery noise right at the end), with today’s Saturday Single:

“I Want To Hold Your Hand” – The Beatles [Capitol 5112, 1964]

Note
Somehow, I trimmed off the beginning of the record while ripping it this morning. I’ve re-ripped and reposted the record, so that’s taken care of. Sorry!

Edited slightly on archival posting.

‘Like Endless Rain Into A Paper Cup . . .’

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 21, 2008

A while back, when I was discussing what I considered the ten best songs written by John Lennon, I included “Across the Universe” and said:

“Recorded in 1968 during the sessions for The Beatles, ‘Across the Universe’ was set to be released as a single in March 1968, but McCartney’s ‘Lady Madonna’ was released instead. A version of the song appeared on a charity album for the World Wildlife Fund in 1969 (available, in the U.S. at least, on the Rarities album released in 1980; I don’t know off the top of my head about CD releases of that version). A different version ended up on Let It Be. The song provides me with one of the more tolerable earworms, as the phrase ‘Nothing’s gonna change my world’ sometimes cycles around and around in my head.”

As I was looking for a cover version of a song to post today, I noticed that I have several covers of “Across the Universe” and three versions by the Beatles. From the Beatles, there’s the version that was included on the World Wildlife Fund album (which took its title, sort of, from the Lennon song: No One’s Gonna Change Our World). There’s the version that was on Let It Be, released in 1970 after Phil Spector was charged with making some sense out of the product of the messy 1969 sessions originally aimed at creating an album called Get Back. And there’s the version released in 2003 on Let It Be . . . Naked, which was a Paul McCartney-led project aimed, essentially, at correcting Spector’s errors.

(I don’t think much of the results of the Let It Be . . . Naked project. The recordings seem flat and lifeless, with three exceptions: Lennon’s songs “Don’t Let Me Down,” which wasn’t on the original Let It Be album, and “Across the Universe,” which sounds a great deal better with the women’s choir and Spectorian echo removed; and McCartney’s “Let It Be,” which is similar, if not identical, to the George Martin-produced single from 1970, a version I’ve always preferred to the Spectorian version on the album. For what it’s worth, I’ve also always preferred the “Get Back” single to the Let It Be version, so the version on Let It Be . . . Naked doesn’t really matter.)

Anyway, heading toward a discussion of covers of “Across the Universe,” which Beatles version should be considered the original?

The version that showed up on the World Wildlife Fund album was recorded on February 4, 1968, at Abbey Road, according to William J. Dowlding in Beatlesongs. A couple of sources Dowlding uses for his chronicle of Beatles recordings note that during the recording sessions, Lennon and McCartney decided they wanted falsetto voices on the chorus, so they went outside and brought in two of the fans who had been waiting outside the studio, young women named Lizzie Bravo and Gaylene Pease. When the recording wasn’t released as a single and was given to the World Wildlife Fund, sound effects of birds were added during October 1969 to the beginning and the ending of the record, which was eventually released on Past Masters, Vol. 2:

“Across the Universe” by the Beatles [1969]

What happened next is open to debate. Dowlding says that some sources indicate that the original recording of “Across the Universe” – pre-birds – was the one that Phil Spector reworked for the Let It Be album. Dowlding notes, though, that at least one source – Neville Stannard’s 1984 volume, The Long and Winding Road: A History of the Beatles on Record – says that the version of “Across the Universe” that showed up on Let It Be (and eventually on Let It Be . . . Naked) was an entirely different recording. Here’s how it sounded when Spector was through with it:

“Across the Universe” by the Beatles, from Let It Be [1970]

Here’s what was released when Let It Be . . . Naked came out in 2003:

 “Across the Universe” by the Beatles, from Let It Be . . . Naked [1969, released 2003]

I’ve listened to the three versions a couple times each in the last few hours . . . and I’m not sure if the WWF version (as it became) is a different recording than the two that ended up on the two Let It Be albums. There’s a pitch difference, yes, but Dowlding quotes Lennon as saying “Phil slowed the tape down.”

I’m not sure it matters whether there were two basic versions recorded or just one. I think the last version released – from Let It Be . . . Naked – is the best of the three, without the overbearing choir and without the falsetto added by the two girls dragged in from outside on Abbey Road.

There haven’t been a lot of cover versions of “Across the Universe.” All-Music Guide lists seventy-three CDs with recordings of the song, and about twenty of those are by the Beatles. Some interesting names do pop up in the list:

Aloid & the Interplanetary Invasion, Cilla Black, Mary Black, Johnny Boston, Jackson Browne & Robbie Krieger (on an odd two-CD set called 70’s Box: The Sound of a Decade), Comanche Moon, Barbara Dickson. Becky Durango, Debra Farris, Jawbone, Bill Lloyd, the London String Orchestra, the Lullaby Orchestra, Madooo, Moby, Mystical Chant, the Neanderthals, Lisa Ono, Samuel Reed, Scanner, Stuffy Shmitt, the String Cheese Incident, 10cc, Venus in Bluejeans and Rufus Wainwright.

I’m not sure I’ve heard many of those versions; some of those names aren’t even familiar to me (though quite a few are). But two of the versions in my collection are, I think, fairly interesting. In 1976, David Bowie covered “Across the Universe” on his Young Americans album. I never really thought that the song fit into the album’s blue-eyed soul groove, but it’s an interesting cover:

“Across the Universe” by David Bowie [1976]

And in 1998, the intriguing but odd movie Pleasantville – about two modern-day kids pulled into the black-and-white 1950s of a television show – used Fiona Apple’s elegant cover of “Across the Universe” as the music behind the closing credits:

“Across the Universe” by Fiona Apple [1998]

Given that the song is one of my favorites by Lennon, I’ll likely dig deeper into the list. But I have to say I like Apple’s version very much.

‘If You Wanna Dance With Me . . .’

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 7, 2008

In this blogging lark – as darcy of the blog feel it once called it – we find our inspirations where we can, even in the bits and pieces left on another blog’s floor, if need be. So it was this morning when I stopped by The Great Vinyl Meltdown and pondered what caithiseach had to say in last Saturday’s post about Chuck Berry’s “Little Marie.”

Discussing Berry’s 1964 sequel to his own “Memphis, Tennessee” and the early rock ’n’ roller’s influence on the music we love, caithiseach noted a couple of covers of Berry tunes that did pretty well: the Electric Light Orchestra’s take on “Roll Over Beethoven” went to No 42 in 1973, and the Beach Boys’ version of “Rock and Roll Music” went to No. 5 during the Bicentennial summer of 1976.

I blinked. And I thought of two other Berry covers, neither of which was released as a single. The Beatles put their very good version of “Roll Over Beethoven” on their second LP, With the Beatles, released in Britain in late 1963. In the U.S., “Roll Over Beethoven” showed up on The Beatles’ Second Album, which came out in the spring of 1964. And the Fab Four’s version of “Rock and Roll Music” was released in Britain on Beatles For Sale in December 1964.

Here in the U.S., “Rock and Roll Music” was included on the first Beatles LP I ever owned: Beatles ’65.

One of our family traditions at Christmas during my childhood was that just before we left St. Cloud for the three-hour drive to my grandparents’ home, either my mom or my dad would go back into the house to check on something. While in the house, Mom or Dad would pull from a closet two additional gifts, unwrapped, and place one on my bed and one on my sister’s bed, evidence we’d find when we came home from Grandpa’s that Santa Claus had not overlooked us just because we’d been out of town.

The gifts we found on our beds were generally toys and games, standard 1960s childhood fare. Twice, my sister and I shared gifts: One year, we each found the end of a ribbon on our beds, and found the ribbons attached to the game Geography, a game we enjoyed for many years. In December of 1965, we each found an envelope, containing pieces of a note that had been cut up. We quickly realized we each had only half a note and combined our pieces. The note read:

We come to thee from across the sea
With melodies quite rare.
Which you will find if you look
There or there.

We looked at each other, digesting the meaning of Dad’s bit of doggerel.

“It’s a record!” we said, nearly simultaneously, and we ran downstairs to the living room, where the RCA stereo and our household’s few LPs were kept. There, in the front of the stack of records, was a crisp, new copy of Beatles ’65. As soon as we unpacked a little, we were allowed to open the record and play it for the first time.

Beatles ’65 was one of those records that Capitol – which issued Beatles’ recordings in the U.S. – created piecemeal, in this case by pulling some songs from Beatles For Sale, one track from the British version of A Hard Day’s Night and adding the single “I Feel Fine/She’s A Woman,” which was not released on an album in the UK at the time.

I don’t know how well my sister liked the record. She never seemed to be too interested in the Beatles. As for me, I was still a few years from being a rock ’n’ roll boy. But I liked some of it: the opener “No Reply,” the feedback-triggered “I Feel Fine,” the sweet folk rock of “I’ll Be Back” and “I’ll Follow The Sun.” But my favorite track of all – and thus the first rock ’n’ roll cover I loved – was the Beatles’ take on Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music.”

It took years before I got around to listening to Berry’s version, which is – and I find myself feeling silly damning one of the fathers of rock ’n’ roll with faint praise – a good one. There is joy in Berry’s delivery of his classic, which was released as Chess 1671 in late 1957 and went to No. 8 on the combined charts of the time. Had I heard Berry’s original first, it might be my favorite.

But I heard the Beatles’ version first, that December night in 1965. The swift introductory chords, John Lennon’s urgent vocal, the driving accompaniment of the other Beatles behind him and the amazing piano triplets (Paul McCartney’s work, according to Geoff Emerick in Here, There and Everywhere) all made for one of the first rock recordings that I really loved. I wasn’t ready to give up on Al Hirt and Herb Alpert and my soundtracks yet, but man, did I love “Rock and Roll Music”!

Then there was the Beach Boys’ version a little more than a decade later, at a time when, to me, the Beach Boys were utterly irrelevant. I’m not the only one who thought so. In The Great Rock Discography, Martin C Strong writes about the band in 1976: “At this point, the Beach Boys abandoned even the slightest attempts to push their own musical boundaries, Instead [sic] relying upon tired retreads of their earlier sound.”

And when I heard the Beach Boys’ 1976 cover of “Rock and Roll Music,” released as Brother/Reprise 1354, I thought it was flabby and never gave it another thought until today.

There are other versions of Berry’s classic song, of course. All-Music Guide lists versions by the Ballroom Band, the Bay City Allstars, former Beatle Pete Best, Bingo Kids, Gary Busey (!), the Everly Brothers, Bill Haley, Ray Hamilton, Humble Pie, Jan & Dean, Tom Jones, the Manic Street Preachers, REO Speedwagon, Showaddywaddy and Tenpole Tudor, to mention only a few.

I don’t think I’ve heard any of those versions, but I know they’d have to be better than I can almost imagine to improve on the versions by Berry and the Beatles, offered below. I’m also posting the Beach Boys’ version. Enough people liked it in 1976 that it went to No. 5. I’ll just note that the Beach Boys’ version reminds me of H.L. Mencken’s comment: You’ll never go broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

Chuck Berry – “Rock and Roll Music” [1957]

Beatles – “Rock and Roll Music” [1964]

Beach Boys – “Rock and Roll Music” [1976]

Disorder In The Center

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 8, 2008

On the far wall, the big shelves wait for the LPs, all of which are still in boxes that form Mount Vinyl in the middle of the living room. On the near wall, the electronics are all hooked up: computer, USB turntable, television, telephone, CD player with futuristic speakers and wireless headphones.

But in the center of the room that we call my study: Oh disorder!

Somehow, two of the large fans we used in the apartment – it was on the southwest corner of the building with no shade, and the air conditioner, a wall unit, was horribly unsuited to cool anything but the living room – two of those fans have wandered into this room. We shouldn’t need them any longer except in a Saharan heat wave, as the house has central air and is shaded by about twenty large trees, most of them oak.

Along with the fans, as I scan the pile of miscellaneous stuff that has migrated here in the past six days, I can see a small plastic table, about ten feet of coaxial cable the cable guy didn’t need, a box of board games (Up Words, several versions of Monopoly, two versions of Risk, the Settlers of Catan – our favorite – and more), a book bag, two belts, a blue three-ring binder (with no paper in it), two trays with bottles of prescription medicine from the past six years, two folders of lyrics and verse dating back to 1970, another folder filled with special editions of Sports Illustrated dating back to 1979 and a partially inflated Hutch brand football called The Gripper with a facsimile signature from Roger Staubach.

And that’s just the stuff I can see in a glance before I get to the boxes of books. It looks like a random junkyard to me.

A Monday Walk Through the Junkyard (1950-1999), Vol. 6
“Come Together” by the Beatles from Abbey Road, 1969

“Friar’s Point” by Susan Tedeschi from Just Won’t Burn, 1998

“Two Faced Man” by Gary Wright from Footprint, 1971

“The Madman And The Angel” by Drnwyn from Gypsies In The Mist, 1978

“Blind Willy” by Herbie Mann from Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty, 1970

“I’m A Drifter” by Martin & Neil from Tear Down The Walls, 1964

“Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton, Columbia single 41339, 1959

“Golf Girl” by Caravan from In The Land of Grey and Pink, 1971

“The Road” by Chicago from Chicago, 1970

“Sit and Wonder” by Dave Mason and Cass Elliot from Dave Mason & Cass Elliot, 1971

“I’m Not Living Here” by Sagittarius from Present Tense, 1967

“Four Walls” by Eddie Holman from I Love You, 1970

“Seven Day Fool” by Etta James, Argo single 5402, 1961

A few notes:

Susan Tedeschi is an excellent blues guitarist and singer who has made a string of fine albums, starting with Just Won’t Burn. “Friar’s Point” is a tour through blues country: Friars Point itself is a small Mississippi town right on the Mississippi River in Delta Country. Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” mentioned the small town: “I got womens in Vicksburg, clean on into Tennessee/But my Friars Point rider, now, hops all over me.” The town is also famous as the home of the park bench where a young Muddy Waters is said to have seen and heard Johnson play guitar. Intimidated, the tale goes, Waters quietly walked away. Tedeschi’s song name-checks Johnson, Irma Thomas, B.B. King, Magic Sam and Waters himself as it takes us from the Mississippi Delta to New Orleans, Memphis and Chicago. The town’s name is “Friars Point,” with no apostrophe; Tedeschi’s song is titled, according to All-Music Guide and other sources, “Friar’s Point.” Why? I have no idea. Nor do I have any information about the surprise ending of the mp3; I got the file from a friend and don’t have access to the original CD this morning.

There’s not a lot of information out there about Drnwyn, at least not that I’ve found. A note at the blog Jezus Rocks classifies the group as Christian Folk/Psychedelic/Rock, and I guess that fits as well as anything, although it sounds more like 1969 than 1978 to me. I found the album online in my early days of haunting music blogs, but I do not recall where. The same note at Jezus Rocks tells of a 2006 CD reissue, but copies of that seem scarce, based on a quick look.

The Herbie Mann track is from an LP I ripped and posted here almost a year and a half ago. Amazingly, the link for the album is still good. You can find the original post here.

The Neil of Martin & Neil was the late Fred Neil, reclusive singer and writer of, among others, “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “The Dolphins.” Martin was Vince Martin, and the two men’s talents – augmented by some work on bass by Felix Pappalardi and on harmonica by John Sebastian – made for a good album.

“The Road” is the second track from the album now known as Chicago II, the one with the silver cover that was called simply Chicago when it was released in 1970 and then again years later when it was released on CD.

Recalling The Year Of No Crayons

July 25, 2011

Originally posted July 30, 2008

I saw the first back-to-school ads in the paper the other week, and we got the first ad supplements in the mail this week. As with every other annual event that carries commercial weight, the back-to-school season begins earlier every year.

Never having had kids, I’ve never had to deal with back-to-school from the parents’ side of the aisle, but I recall coming home from the first day of school from, oh, third grade onward and being quizzed on what it was I would need to survive the scholastic rigors of the school year ahead.

And as soon as dinner was over, my folks, my sister and I would get in the car, head across the river to downtown and walk along with what seemed like hundreds of students and parents to Dan Marsh Drug. We’d find notebooks and pens and pencils, struggling through crowds to get them. Mom and Dad would look over our choices and check them against the lists we’d made that day in school.

(As I understand it, schools these days mail lists of required supplies to students’ homes during the summer. I imagine that makes the first day of school a day with one less chore to accomplish, if teachers no longer have to spend time listing required supplies. And it most likely lessens the madness in the stores: If parents and students have some weeks before the start of school to acquire supplies, then there’s no need for the first-night-of-school mania that I saw many autumns at the drug store. But it also takes away from the student the responsibility of listening during that first day of school to make certain that the list he or she brings home contains everything he or she will need during the year.)

One of the highlights of school shopping during elementary years was the selection of the new box of crayons for the new school year. Most years, my folks were firm that twenty-four crayons provided my sister and me with enough colors to accomplish any art project that might be required. During my later years of elementary school, I looked longingly at the larger sets of crayons. Never mind that I was an indifferent artist, one whose life as well as his art was defined by coloring outside the lines. The thought of all those new colors fascinated me.

My birthday falls in early September, and as I entered sixth grade in 1964, one of my gifts was a canister with forty-eight crayons. I remember the gold crayon and the silver one. There was periwinkle and brick and slate, spring green, sienna and burnt umber. I enjoyed the names for the colors almost as much as the crayons themselves. (That holds true today; I find the art/science of naming paints and fabrics fascinating, an interest that was augmented in 1964, when Dad bought a new car. I remember being captivated by the fact that a car somehow became more desirable when one said that its color wasn’t light brown but was in fact chantilly beige.)

A year later, I entered seventh grade, a move that brought lots of changes. I’d ride a bus to school for the first time, I’d move from classroom to classroom during the day, keeping my things in a locker, and I’d have to shower after phy. ed. And I was no longer required to bring a box of crayons to school. Whatever supplies I needed for projects in art class would be provided, and crayons would not be among them.

As points of passage go, it’s a small one, I guess. It’s nothing as important as a first kiss or a first driver’s license or a first beer. But I noticed it, and although I probably didn’t say anything to anyone, it felt to me like one tiny step on the pathway from kid to adult.

And here’s a random set of songs from the year I didn’t need crayons. Some of them I most likely heard; most I probably didn’t.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1965, Vol. 2
“Just Like Tom Thumbs’ Blues” by Gordon Lightfoot, United Artists single 929

“I’ll Be True To You” by Spencer Wiggins, Goldwax single 118

“Mr. Tambourine Man” by Bob Dylan from Bringing It All Back Home

“Wernher von Braun” by Tom Lehrer from That Was The Year That Was

“Now The Sun Has Gone” by the Beatmen, Pye single 7N15792 (UK)

“007” by David Lloyd & His Orchestra from Sounds For A Secret Agent

“Tired of Waiting For You” by the Kinks, Reprise single 0347

“You’re Going To Lose That Girl” by the Beatles from Help!

“Wang Dang Doodle” by Koko Taylor, Checker single 1135

“Don’t Ask Me” by the Staccatos from Come Back Silly Girl

“Lara’s Theme” by Maurice Jarre from the soundtrack to Doctor Zhivago

“Respect” by Otis Redding, Volt single 128

“It Was A Very Good Year” by Frank Sinatra, Reprise single 0429

A few notes:

Gordon Lightfoot’s take on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” has to be one of the first cover versions of Bob Dylan’s surreal tale of Juarez, Housing Project Hill, Sweet Melinda and all the rest. The arrangement is interesting, and Lightfoot does a pretty good job with it.

Spencer Wiggins’ name and work has popped up here before. A good singer who hailed from Memphis (and went to high school with, among others, Booker T. Jones and William Bell), Wiggins recorded for many years, most often for Goldwax, but never really made a dent in the public awareness. His work for Goldwax was collected and released in 2006 by Britain’s Kent label.

“Wernher von Braun” is one of the tracks from That Was The Year That Was, a live comedy album by Tom Lehrer, who was one of the most on-target satirists of the mid-1960s. Von Braun – whom I met once after he gave a talk at St. Cloud State – was one of the German scientists who designed the first workable rockets during World War II, rockets that were used late in the war to attack London. After the war, von Braun was brought to the U.S. and was one of the chief scientists in the Apollo program that put men on the moon. Lehrer’s song is witty, his audience liked it in 1965, and he makes a point worth pondering: Von Braun’s conduct was open to criticism; his work for Nazi Germany resulted in death and damage in England, and there’s clear evidence that much of that work in Germany was accomplished with the use of slave labor.

This version of “007” from the James Bond films comes from an album mentioned here some time ago. David Lloyd jumped on the Bondwagon in 1965 by recording not only the themes to the three James Bond films already released but by also recording themes for the books not yet turned into films. The record was one of four Bond-related albums I collected in 1964 and 1965, and it may be my favorite of them all.

I’m not sure what a “Wang Dang Doodle” is, but you ought to give Koko Taylor’s song a listen. Taylor takes her listeners through a cityscape peopled by characters that sound as if they came from Bob Dylan’s notebook as interpreted by Howlin’ Wolf. The song actually came from the pen of Willie Dixon, bass player on many Checker and Chess releases and one of the most important writers in blues history.

Otis Redding wrote “Respect” and had a minor hit with the record (No. 35 in late 1965), but of course, the song was pretty much taken away from him by Aretha Franklin and her titanic version two years later. But it’s always good to go back and take a listen to the original, of course.

There are plenty of sad songs out there, always have been and always will be. But few of them are as melancholy as Frank Sinatra’s “It Was A Very Good Year,” which was written by Ervin Drake. Even though the narrator claims that all is well, the fact is: All the wine is gone. And Sinatra nails the song. To me, it’s one of the best performances of his long career.

We’re Moving!

July 18, 2011

Originally posted July 2, 2008

Well, it’s begun: Two bookshelves have been emptied into about eight boxes, stacked in the living room. Twenty or so empty boxes clutter the kitchen and the entryway. And the catboys – who distrust any alteration of their environment – are a little upset, stopping by occasionally to complain to the Texas Gal or me that they don’t like change.

We’ve moving!

The owner of the apartment complex where we’ve lived for almost six years was looking for tenants for a house he also owns and offered it to us. We looked at the place a couple of times, asked a few questions and got satisfactory answers. And we took into consideration two things: First, we have badly outgrown our two-bedroom apartment both for storage and with stuff we use everyday. (That happens when collections are of things that are bulky, as are books, records, CDs and fabric. Were we both stamp collectors, we might not be so crowded. But we’re not, so . . .) Second, the house offers at least two-and-a-half times the space we now have with only a small increase in rent.

There was a third consideration: We like our neighborhood here on the East Side. I grew up no more than six blocks from the apartment, and the Texas Gal likes the area, too. Luckily, the house in question is on a wooded lot adjacent to the apartment complex, no more than thirty yards away. It’s close enough that were we younger, we’d likely just haul stuff over ourselves when the time comes, recruiting friends to help with the heavy lifting. But being where we’re at chronologically, we’re going to hire movers to do the hauling come September 1.

We will, however, do the packing. That will also, we’ve decided, include some winnowing. You know how it is: Stuff accumulates for no other reason than its own existence. Greeting cards from several years pile up in a basket; magazines you intend to really read someday huddle on the coffee table; and all those recipes and coupons to restaurants you want to try sometime create a fire hazard by the toaster. So we’ll be sifting as we pack, separating the chaff of almost six years’ living from the grain we’ll move.

It was easier back in 1976, when I made my first move, from my parents’ home to the drafty house on the North Side. I moved a twin bed and a dresser, a writing table and a chair and some bricks and boards (the bricks salvaged from a pile created when Murl and I knocked down the chimney of the house we moved). I moved some books – about forty, I’d guess, not nearly as many as the Texas Gal and I have now – my clothes and various other items necessary for day-to-day living. I was done in just a few trips of my Ford Falcon and with one trip (I think) by Murl’s truck, to move the bed and the dresser.

This will be the twentieth time I’ve loaded up my stuff and moved. (It’s my twenty-first move, but I doubt I did much loading during the shift from Riverside Drive to Kilian Boulevard here in St. Cloud when I was three.) The Texas Gal has moved a few times, too. There’s one thing that makes this impending move different: When we moved from the Twin Cities to St. Cloud in late 2002, we’d been sharing living quarters for a little more than a year, and the things we used for daily life – from the couch to the can opener, the fan to the frying pan we used for Sunday bacon – had either been hers or mine. So many things like that have become “ours” in these nearly six years here. Even as I survey the incredible amount of stuff that needs to be packed, there is comfort in that.

And here are some songs from the year of that first, so very easy, move:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1976, Vol. 3
“Outward Bound” by Wishbone Ash from New England

“Out of Control” by the Flying Burrito Brothers from Airborne

“Lost Without Your Love” by Bread, Elektra single 45365

“Satisfied ‘N’ Tickled Too” by Taj Mahal from Satisfied ‘N’ Tickled Too

“Innocent Times” by Eric Clapton from No Reason to Cry

“Race of the Computers” by Pete Carr from Not A Word On It

“Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Warner Bros. single 8252

“Got To Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles, Capitol single 4274

“Pyramid (Of Love And Friends)” by El Chicano from Pyramid, 1976

“Smokin’” by Boston from Boston

“Night Moves” by Bob Seger, Capitol single 4369

“Turn the Beat Around” by Vickie Sue Robinson, RCA single 10562

“More, More, More” by the Andrea True Connection, Buddah single 515

A few notes:

Classifications are tricky things, but Wishbone Ash in the Seventies was considered hard rock, and the group rocked pretty well, by standards of the time. It’s true that Wishbone Ash on occasion allowed its folk inclinations to temper its rock, and that shows on New England, but the album also rocks nicely in spots, too. Listening to the group today, though – after thirty-some years of increasing toughness, roughness and incivility in music – Wishbone Ash sounds a lot less tough than it used to.

“Lost Without Your Love” was the title song to Bread’s last album, a reunion album released in 1977. (The album was the group’s first since 1972.) While this single’s hook didn’t sink in quite as deeply as those of earlier hits — I think of “If,” “It Don’t Matter To Me” and “Baby I’m-A Want You” in particular – it was still a nice piece of popcraft. “Lost Without Your Love” entered the Top 40 in the first week of December and peaked at No. 9 in early 1977. It was Bread’s twelfth Top 40 hit and the group’s fifth to reach the Top Ten. (“Make It With You,” the group’s first hit, was its only single to reach No. 1.)

No Reason To Cry was an album that saw Eric Clapton surround himself with lots of prominent friends: Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Billy Preston, Ronnie Wood, Jesse Ed Davis, Carl Radle, Georgie Fame and more. Sometimes it sounds more like an album by The Band than it does one by Clapton, which doesn’t bother me too much. Dylan takes a vocal turn on his own song, “Sign Language.” The lead vocal on “Innocent Times” came from Marcy Levy, who co-wrote the song with Clapton.

I’m certain there’s a story behind Apple Capitol Records releasing the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” as a single in 1976, six years after the band’s last release and seven years after the four Beatles last recorded together. But I don’t know what the story is. Anyone out there? The single went to No. 7 that summer. (That wasn’t the Beatles’ last Top Ten hit, though; “Free As A Bird,” the “reunion” single that some thought ghoulish, went to No. 6 during the winter of 1995-96.)*

El Chicano was one of the numerous Latin rock groups that popped up in the early 1970s after the ascendance of Santana. The group hung around longer than most of its contemporaries, recording either seven or eight albums (All-Music Guide’s listing is unclear) between 1970 and 1976. The single here came from the 1975 album, Pyramid, which was the group’s last album for a major label.

“Night Moves” might be the greatest single ever written and recorded about growing up in the age of rock ’n’ roll. If it’s not the greatest, it’s pretty darn close to the top. Nominations, anyone? The song’s best line – “Strange how the night moves . . . with autumn closin’ in.” – is probably not the line I’d have chosen thirty-two years ago.

*As was pointed out by, I believe, reader and pal Yah Shure shortly after this entry was originally posted, the release of “Got To Get You Into My Life” as a single was related to Capitol’s release of the two-LP anthology, Rock ’N’ Roll Music, which itself went to No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart. Note added July 18, 2011.