Posts Tagged ‘José Feliciano’

Bonnie, José & Sonny & Cher

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 13, 2009

Let’s go prospecting at YouTube!

Looking for video related to Monday’s post about the Benton County Fair, I found a sweet performance of “Too Long At The Fair” by Bonnie Raitt on the BBC show The Old Grey Whistle Test. The original poster at YouTube said the performance comes from 1976.

Video unavailable

Reader Laserman said the other day that his list of best cover performances would include José Feliciano’s rendition of “Light My Fire.” Wandering a little further into the video valley, I found a 1968 television performance of that Doors’ song by Feliciano.

Video unavailable

The Sonny & Cher album I wrote about yesterday was the home of “I Got You Babe,” the first hit for the duo. Here’s a video of the two of them lip-synching the song – which spent three weeks at No. 1 in the U.S. in 1965 – on Britain’s Top of the Pops.

Tomorrow I’m going to write a little bit about Beatles ’65 and the risks of certainty, as well as talk a little about the mysterious Lori Jacobs. And there might be a few other things in there, too.

The Greatest Cover?

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 11, 2009

A couple weeks ago, I offered some thoughts on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and posted a couple of cover versions. In the comments to that post, Robert – a frequent visitor and commenter – wondered if Jimi Hendrix’ version of “All Along the Watchtower” could be considered the greatest rock cover version ever. He offered the Beatles’ take on “Twist and Shout” and Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect” as other possibilities and said he could likely add a few others.

It’s a question I’ve pondered on occasion, and I don’t know that I’ll ever come to a satisfactory conclusion. Robert’s suggestions are certainly deserving. When I saw them, without doing any deep digging, I mentally added one more to the list: Otis Redding’s version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” released in 1966. And there are more I’d likely drop into a list of great cover versions if I took the time to get organized about my thinking.

I am, however, going to invest my time today in a post for tomorrow’s observance of Vinyl Record Day, commemorating Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph on August 12, 1877. So I’m going to turn to my readers and ask:

Which cover versions – in rock, soul, R&B or related genres – would you put on a list of the top, oh, fifteen cover versions of all time?

Here’s my nomination: The previously mentioned Otis Redding track. And, just for fun, I’m throwing in José Feliciano’s 1970 version of the same tune.

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by Otis Redding, Volt 132 [1966]

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by José Feliciano from Fireworks [1970]

‘I Walk Along The City Streets . . .’

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 21, 2009

Sometime during the early months of 1970, a new record came whispering out of the radio as I listened. It might have been a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but most likely, it was a weekday evening, and the radio was my old RCA, perched on the nightstand in my bedroom, keeping me company as I did homework, read or simply puttered around with the things that were important to a sixteen-year-old boy.

And as I puttered, I heard the singer, with a little bit of a rasp in his voice, tell the object of his devotion, “There’s always something there to remind me . . . You’ll always be a part of me.” And as the sound and the words sunk in, I operated on two levels for an instant. A portion of me recognized the voice as that of R.B. Greaves, who’d had a hit the previous autumn with “Take A Letter Maria.” (That record, the tale of a cuckolded husband who turns around and hits on his secretary, peaked at No. 2 during a thirteen-week run in the Top 40.)

And on the other level, I was thinking, “Always there to remind me: Oh, yes! Always be a part of me. Oh, yes! But how does he know?” How, I wondered, can the people who write and perform popular songs know what it is I’m going through? For there was in fact someone who mattered that much during that winter of 1969-1970, one whom I adored without consequent return. And in the confined environment of even a large high school like St. Cloud Tech, there were many places and people and things and moments that reminded me of her as I made my way through the days. And as I heard “Always Something There To Remind Me” from time to time – it spent only five weeks in the Top 40, reaching just No. 27 – it became one more of a chorus of songs that reminded me almost daily that the one I wanted to hold would remain forever beyond my reach.

So how do I hear the song today when it pops up on the RealPlayer or – infrequently – on the radio? I smile, recalling the absolute devotion of the high school junior I was, and I smile with a shrug of regret as I recall the exasperation on the face of my beloved. As it happens, the song doesn’t come around on the oldies stations very often: Greaves is remembered more for “Take A Letter Maria,” but then, that was the bigger hit. On occasion, though, it makes it way through the speakers here in the study. And almost forty years after that one-sided high school romance, the song – which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David – brings back memories far more sweet than bitter.

Over the years since Greaves’ version of the song was on the charts, I’ve learned, of course, that Greaves was not the first to record the Bacharach-David song, just as I learned that there are at least two ways to present the song’s title. Two versions that reside in my collection came out of 1964: One by British singer Sandie Shaw and the other by Lou Johnson.

Shaw’s version – one I’ve never much cared for – was a hit in the United Kingdom, reaching No. 1. Here in the U.S., it went to only No. 52. At the same time in the U.S., Johnson had been assigned through his record label, Big Top, to work with Bacharach and David. His take on “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” was his second single for them, and it went to No. 49, according to All-Music Guide. (AMG says that Bacharach brought Johnson to London for an appearance on Top of the Pops, but the visit took place right during the time that Shaw’s version of the song was dominating the charts.)

A few years later, in 1968, José Feliciano slid the song onto his record Feliciano as an album track, and in 1972, a couple of years after Greaves recorded his version, Michael McDonald recorded the song for his first album, a little-known artifact called That Was Then. Neither version reached the Top 40, and neither seems to be anything special, though I like the Feliciano version better of the two. (The McDonald album was recently released in a CD package with some extra tracks; I have utterly forgotten who pointed it my way, but they deserve my thanks.)

Finally, the last version in my collection is the one that most recently reached the Top 40 chart: the 1983 cover of the song by Naked Eyes, with the attention-grabbing chiming bells in the introduction. The record, which I quite like – though I was prepared not to when I first heard it – went to No. 8 and spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40, the first – and best-performing – of four Top 40 hits for the English duo.

There are of course, many others who’ve covered “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me.” Some of them are: Affinity, the Drifters, Carol Duboc, the Four Seasons, Aretha Franklin, Jay & The Americans, Larry Knechtel, Patti LaBelle, Brenda Lee, Peggy Lee, Anne Murray, Willie Nelson, the Pozo-Seco Singers, the Stylistics, Stanley Turrentine, Dionne Warwick and Don Williams.

I’ll likely dig a few of those up in the future. (The idea of the Aretha cover of the song intrigues me.) But these six will have to do for now:

A Six-Pack Of Reminders
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by Sandie Shaw, Pye 15704 (UK) [1964]
“(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” by Lou Johnson, Big Hill 552 [1964]
“(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” by José Feliciano from Feliciano! [1968]
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by Michael McDonald from That Was Then [1972]
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by R.B. Greaves, Atco 6726 [1970]
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by Naked Eyes, EMI America 8155 [1983]

Afternote: I read Oldetymer’s note, and yes, the McDonald track does sound like B.J. Thomas. I admit to wondering about it myself, as it was an extra track in the That Was Then package someone posted for me. So I did some digging, and it turns, according to what I learned at An Overdose of Fingal Cocoa, that McDonald recorded some tracks for Bell Records in 1972 that were eventually released on Arista in 1982 as That Was Then. A later re-release on vinyl included some bonus tracks, one of which was “Always Something There To Remind Me.” So it is in fact a young Michael McDonald.

Looking Ahead To 1970

January 2, 2020

Well, not that it’s a trenchant insight or anything, but the past keeps getting further away from us. For example, stuff that happened in 1990 – a year that still seems recent – now took place thirty years ago. My students from that year at Stephens College, a women’s college in Missouri, are now mostly in their early fifties, many of them likely grandparents. And yet, they remain in their early twenties in my memory.

Then there’s the year of 1970, long a benchmark for me – for both music and life – which suddenly (or so it seems) lies a half-century in the past. But its music – and the music of the years on either side of it, from about 1965 to 1975 – still seems vital to me (and to millions of others, too, based on the things I see and hear in the groves of popular culture).

So I guess we’ll keep digging here – Odd and Pop and I – into the music and times of my youth. And what better way to continue doing that than to look at what the year of 1970 would eventually bring as, we tuned our radios fifty years ago this week.

Here are the top ten records of 1970, as offered by Joel Whitburn in A Century Of Pop Music:

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters
“My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison
“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross
“War” by Edwin Starr
“American Woman” by the Guess Who
“Let It Be” by the Beatles

No surprises there.

But the list reminds me of lying on the sofa at home on January 1, 1971, listening and taking notes as the Twin Cities’ KDWB was counting down its own top hits of 1970. At Nos. 1 and 3 were “Bridge” and “Let It Be.” (And I’m not sure of the order of those two, as the piece of paper on which I took my notes has years ago gone its own way.) But at No. 2, I remember for certain, was the Partridge Family record, and I remember as well rolling my eyes in consternation.

Fifty years later, I’d be unconsterned, if that’s a word. “I Think I Love You” is, as I’ve realized over the years, a great record, so it was no surprise to see it the top ten in Whitburn’s book. (And it’s a record that’s provided me with a more vivid memory than have either “Bridge” or “Let It Be,” a memory I’ve related here before.)

So what do we listen to today? Usually, I’d find the No. 50 record from a year that’s now fifty years in the past, but Whitburn’s book only lists the top forty records of the year. So I think we’ll sort out by time the 4,183 records from 1970 in the RealPlayer, set the cursor in the middle and click ten times.

And we get José Feliciano covering the Beatles, taking on “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” It’s from his 1970 album Fireworks, which I used to hear across the street at Rick’s.

Tenth record added after first posting.

First Wednesday: October 1968

October 3, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

In October of 1968, the world’s focus – or much of it, anyway – shifted to Latin America.

The main event of the month was the 1968 summer Olympic games, which took place in Mexico City, Mexico, from October 12 through October 27. The games provided, in my memory, two iconic moments: The first is U.S. long jumper Bob Beamon collapsing in disbelief after breaking the world record for the long jump by an astounding 21 inches (55 cm). The second, and likely more well known, is the human rights protest by African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their black-gloved hands during the awards ceremony for the 200-meter run.

But several other major events of the month took place in Latin American, the most important of which might have been the Tlatelolco Massacre, as it’s come to be called.

During the night of October 2, military personnel and other men with guns shot at five thousand students and workers who had gathered [to protest] in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City. Ten years ago, Wikipedia noted: “The death toll remains controversial: some estimates place the number of deaths in the thousands, but most sources report between 200 and 300 deaths. The exact number of people who were arrested is also controversial.”

Notes from 2018: The report on the massacre at Wikipedia has changed over the past ten years. Regarding the death toll, the site now says: “According to US national security archives, Kate Doyle, a Senior Analyst of US policy in Latin America, documented the deaths of 44 people; however, estimates of the death toll range the actual number from 300 to 400, with eyewitnesses reporting hundreds dead.”

Beyond that, I am deleting from this post several additional paragraphs about the massacre, as the Wikipedia report has changed substantially in the past ten years, and I cannot be certain of the accuracy of what I wrote a decade ago. That post from ten years ago can be found here, and the current Wikipedia page on the massacre can be found here.

Elsewhere in Latin American that month, Juan Velasco Alverado took power via an October 3 revolution in Peru; in Panama, a military coup d’état led by Col. Boris Martinez and Col. Omar Torrijjos on October 11 overthrew the democratically elected government of President Arnulfo Arias.

There was also unrest in other portions of the world that month: On October 5, police in Derry, Northern Ireland, used batons to subdue civil rights demonstrators, an event often cited as the beginning of that country’s years of violence called The Troubles. In Jamaica, riots broke out on October 16 in response to the government’s banning from the nation the Guyanese author and activist Walter Rodney.

In the U.S., the Defense Department announced on October 14 that the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marines planned to send 24,000 soldiers and marines back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours. Also relating to the war in Vietnam, by the end of the month, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that peace talks in Paris had progressed well enough that he was ordering a cessation of air, naval and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam, effective November 1.

(Cynics in the room might note that Johnson’s announcement and action came days before the U.S. presidential election, which was being contested by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat; Richard Nixon, a Republican; and George Wallace of the American Independent Party. The announcement seemed to help Humphrey, as polls in the days before the November 5 election showed him gaining ground on Nixon. Political pundits and writers have theorized for [fifty] years that Humphrey would have won the presidency had the election been a week later or had Johnson announced the bombing halt a week earlier.)

So, in the midst of politics and blood and war, what did we hear that month when we sought solace in music?

Here are the top fifteen records in the Billboard Top 40 for October 5, 1968:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C Riley
“Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
“Little Green Apples” by O.C. Smith
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions
“Slip Away” by Clarence Carter
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” by the Bee Gees
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“I Say A Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin
“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers
“Revolution” by the Beatles
“The Fool On The Hill” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
“Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud” by James Brown
“The House That Jack Built” by Aretha Franklin

Boy, that’s about as representative (and maybe as good) as a top fifteen can get, I’d guess. You’ve got the mainstream rock of the Beatles, the country cross-over from Riley (O.C. Smith’s record might have gotten some country play, too, I think), straight R&B from Aretha and Clarence Carter and some psychedelic R&B from the Chambers Brothers. There’s Arthur Brown’s powerful rock. You’ve got some blue-eyed soul from the Rascals, pop from the O’Kaysions and the Bee Gees, and a little bit of bubble-gum from the 1910 Fruitgum Company. And then there’s James Brown’s uncompromising and funky proto-rap. Wow!

A note from 2018: O.C. Smith’s “Little Green Apples” did not make the country Top 40 in Billboard, which I find a little surprising. The record did, however, go to No. 2 on the magazine’s R&B chart and to No. 4 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.

For those who bought their music via albums, it was also an interesting month. Here are the Billboard top ten albums for October 5, 1968:

Waiting For The Sun by the Doors
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell
Realization by Johnny Rivers
Wheels Of Fire by Cream
Steppenwolf by Steppenwolf
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly

There are a number of interesting records and names on that list. What might be most interesting, however, are titles and a name that aren’t there. In the previous week’s listing, the soundtrack to the film The Graduate had been in tenth place, featuring songs by Simon & Garfunkel as well as incidental music from the movie. When that album slipped out of tenth place, it marked the first time since March 16, 1968 – six-and-a-half months – that there was no mention of Simon & Garfunkel on the top ten albums list. Between the soundtrack to The Graduate and their own two albums, Bookends and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel had dominated the albums list as much as anybody during 1968.

The records that did make up the top ten as October 1968 started are a pretty good bunch themselves. I would say that the only one that hasn’t aged very well at all is the Iron Butterfly, which to me is pretty much a dead end. (I should admit here that I purchased a copy of the group’s Live when it came out in 1970; the incessant noodling on the side-long live version of the group’s hit was even less accomplished than the side-long studio version, so I sold the album to a used record store within days.)

There might be a few quibbles about the quality of the rest of that albums list: Janis Joplin did far better on her own, with better backing musicians, than she did on the Big Brother album, but the record is still an interesting look at her development, as well as an acid-drenched product of its time. As I’ve noted here before, I always have some reservations about the Doors, but Waiting For The Sun has some good work on it, especially the single “Hello I Love You” and a few other tracks, including “The Unknown Soldier” and the pairing of the bluesy “Summer’s Almost Gone” and the awkward waltz of “Wintertime Love.”

Note from 2018: I’m startled that I didn’t single out the Johnny Rivers album for a comment. Any listing I make of my favorite ten albums of all time will, I think, always include Realization.

With those caveats, that’s a pretty good list of albums. And the album I’m posting today comes from the list: José Feliciano’s Feliciano!

As October 1968 began, Feliciano’s version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” had been in the Billboard Hot 100 for eleven weeks. It had peaked at No. 3, and the album from which it came, Feliciano!, was in its seventh week in the Billboard Top Ten, with seven weeks to come. (It would peak at No. 2 for two weeks in December 1968.) Feliciano, then twenty-three, was a big enough star in October 1968 that he was invited to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium before a World Series game. The performance – a Latin-tinged interpretation – was loved by some and criticized by many. (A single was issued and went to No. 50 during a five-week stay in the Billboard Hot 100.)

There’s no controversy in Feliciano! It’s a solid set of covers, in a style that All-Music Guide tabs as “soulful easy listening,” with Feliciano – who was blinded since birth by glaucoma – working his way through songs by the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas, Bobby Hebb, Tom Paxton and others, including, of course, the Doors’ “Light My Fire.”

Even with a singer as distinctive as Feliciano, though, performing such well-known songs as “Light My Fire,” “California Dreamin’,” “In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere” can be awkward, if not actually risky. It’s difficult to cover such well-known material and not remind listeners of the originals. Feliciano managed that with “Light My Fire,” I think, and he battles “California Dreamin’” to a draw, but other than those tracks, the best tracks on the album are the lesser-known songs, especially Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind” and Fred Neill’s “Just A Little Bit Of Rain.” (The latter song is likely more familiar in the version recorded in the mid-1970s by the Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.)

Still, Feliciano! is a good, if not great, album and it’s pleasant listening. It was Feliciano’s commercial peak, as only one other single and two of his succeeding albums – and he’s recorded prolifically – reached the Top 40. He continues to record, frequently in Spanish, and released his most recent album, Con Mexico en el Corazon, earlier this year.

Note from 2018: According to Wikipedia, Feliciano has released seven more albums in the past ten years, one in Spanish and six in English (including two that were offered only as digital downloads). His most recent listed is the 2017 album As You See Me Now, recorded with Jools Holland.

The credits for Feliciano! at All-Music Guide are slender and, I think, are incomplete. They do list Ray Brown on bass, Milt Holland on percussion and Jim Horn on flute, alto flute and recorder.

Tracks:
California Dreamin’
Light My Fire
Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying
In My Life
And I Love Her
Nena Na Na
(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me
Just A Little Bit Of Rain
Sunny
Here, There and Everywhere
The Last Thing On My Mind

José Feliciano – Feliciano! [1968]

The link above goes to a playlist of the full album at YouTube.

‘But She Could Not Rob . . .’

February 25, 2016

Taking up our project of replicating Joe Cocker’s self-titled 1969 album through a series of covers, we come to the fourth track of that fine album, “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.”

When I heard the album for the time in the spring of 1972, I was a little skeptical. I knew the original version, of course, from the long set of three medleys on Side Two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, where it follows “Polythene Pam” and ends the second medley (leaving listeners with a brief moment of silence before Paul McCartney’s piano opens the final medley with “Golden Slumbers”).

But the song itself – credited to the writing partnership of John Lennon and McCartney but written solely by McCartney – was such a brief snippet, running less than two minutes on Abbey Road, that I wondered as Cocker’s album played how it could be stretched to a full track. Well, Cocker didn’t stretch it a lot, but he and producers Denny Cordell and Leon Russell added a guitar solo between the verses and got the track to 2:37. Good enough.

But as we replicate Joe Cocker! with covers, which other version of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” do we use? There are plenty to choose from. Second Hand Songs lists twenty-two covers, and there are more listed at Amazon. No doubt there are others not listed either place.

Booker T & The MG’s included the song in an instrumental medley on McLemore Avenue in 1970. It’s a decent version, but it isn’t as good as some of the other covers on the Abbey Road tribute. Ray Stevens covered the song on Everything Is Beautiful in 1970, adding a funky voodoo rhythm behind his blah vocal.

On 1972’s Feel Good, Ike & Tina Turner offered a herky-jerky, gender-flipped cover of the song laden with some of the most unpleasant shrieks of Tina’s career. The Youngbloods turned the song into a near-country shuffle on their 1972 album, High On A Ridge Top, adding slide guitar and some nice country-folk accents and harmonies.

The Bee Gees took two stabs at “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” The first came for the soundtrack to All This And World War II, which, says Wikipedia, is a 1976 musical documentary that juxtaposes covers of Beatles songs “with World War II newsreel footage and 20th Century Fox films from the 1940s. It lasted two weeks in cinemas and was quickly sent into storage.” As to the Bee Gees’ contribution, the vocals sounded like the Bee Gees and no one else, but the orchestral backing was overly busy. With the addition of Peter Frampton, the Brothers Gibb took another swing at the song for the 1978 movie, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Bracketed by “Polythene Pam” and “Nowhere Man,” the cover is as dull as one can imagine.

I noticed, without listening to them, several other covers of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” Eddie Money and Los Lonely Boys each took on the song in 2009, as did British singer-songwriter Karima Francis. Her version was released on a 2009 tribute celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ album, titled Abbey Road Now! (The CD was included free with MOJO Magazine No. 191, dated October 2009.)

I also noticed that the tune has been covered by several groups naming themselves with ghastly Beatle-related puns, including Yellow Dubmarine and Shabby Road.

So there are lots of choices out there. But I’m going with the first cover of the song that ever came to me, one that I heard across the street at Rick’s. Here, from his 1970 album Fireworks, is José Feliciano’s idiosyncratic cover of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.”

‘The Time Has Passed Us By . . .’

May 1, 2014

In a career studded at least partly with lush, heartfelt and romantic songs, the Bee Gees might never have written and recorded a track as lush, heartfelt and romantic as the song that belongs to today: “First of May.” Released as a single from the trio’s 1969 album Odessa, “First of May” went to No. 37 that spring in the Billboard Hot 100. (It went to No. 18 in the Cash Box chart, and to No. 6 in the U.K.)

And if ever there were a day to check out covers, today is the day to look at a few covers of “First of May.” Several popped up shortly after the Bee Gees’ version came out. Among those listed at Second Hand Songs are 1969 versions by Fausto Pepetti and José Feliciano (on his Feliciano 10 to 23 album) and a 1971 cover by Cilla Black (on Images). And a 1970 cover brought “First of May” into the idiosyncratic and decidedly adult contemporary sights of the Mystic Moods Orchestra from its English Muffins album:

Another cover of the tune that caught my ear this morning came in 1979 from a Nigerian singer named Patti Boulaye, who included the song on her 1979 album, You Stepped Into My Life. The name was new to me, but Wikipedia says she was “among the leading black British entertainers in the 1970s and 1980s.” And that was the last cover listed at Second Hand Songs for eighteen years.

The listings at Second Hand Songs are likely not comprehensive (as I’ve said before), but I noticed in the website’s accounting of “First of May” a pattern I’ve seen there with other popular songs from the 1960s and 1970s: Frequent covers in the years immediately following a song’s first release followed by a slowing of interest in the song until, roughly, the years right around 2000. At that point, many songs have what can only be termed a renaissance, and I wonder if there is a correlation between the proliferation of covers and the growth in Internet marketing of music track-by-track. I suspect there is, and I imagine I could find evidence for that correlation if I wished to research the question, but I have other things in which to invest my time. (I also suspect there is a correlation less easy to research between the proliferation of covers of 1960s and 1970s songs with the quality of the songwriting during those times.)

In any event, the evident resurgence of interest in “First of May” included a pairing of Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees with G4 (described at Wikipedia as a “British opera boy band”) to record the song for the 2005 album, G4 and Friends. (There are several videos at YouTube of Gibb and G4 performing the song live in various venues.) And the most recent version of “First of May” listed at SHS comes from the Universal Daughters, whose 2013 cover – included on the album Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me – featured British singer Jarvis Cocker.

But the recent cover that I liked most came from English singer Mari Wilson, whose generally restrained version contrasts nicely with the over-performance that “First of May” often seems to invite. Wilson’s version is on her 2012 album, Cover Stories:

Chart Digging: September 6, 1969

September 6, 2011

I’ve told the story before, how sometime in late August or early September 1969, I went to the basement and took Grandpa’s old RCA radio from the shelf near Dad’s workbench, dusted it off and took it upstairs.

I wanted my KDWB and my WLS (and a little bit of nearby WJON) in my room.

I don’t know the date of that bit of appropriation. But it was right around this time, and a look at the Billboard Top Ten from forty-two years ago today finds a lot of familiar records:

“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon
“Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan
“Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)” by Neil Diamond
“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Tom Jones

The only one there that escapes my memory is the Tom Jones tune. I played it on YouTube this morning – as I no doubt have before – and it’s pleasant but it isn’t ingrained in my memories, as are the other nine on that list.

I have no doubt that I’ve looked at that Top Ten – or one from a week so close as to be nearly identical – but I don’t think I’ve ever dug into the deeper parts of the Billboard chart from that week. There are riches there:

Clarence Reid was an R&B singer and songwriter from Georgia who had three records reach the Billboard Hot 100, two in 1969 and one in 1974. (Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles notes that Reid also recorded “X-rated party records” as Blowfly.) During this week in 1969, Reid’s most successful record was sitting at No. 45 on its way up the chart. “Nobody But You Babe” would perch at No. 40 for two weeks. (It would get to No. 7 on the R&B chart, Reid’s best performance on that chart.) Whitburn says that the record – a funky treat – is an answer record to the Isley Brother’s “It’s Your Thing,” which had gone to No. 2 earlier in 1969.

A little further down, we find the Cascades. The group from San Diego is likely best known for its early 1963 hit, “Rhythm of the Rain,” which went to No. 3. In the six years since, the Cascades had placed five records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section, with the best-performing of those being “The Last Leaf,” which went to No. 60 in the spring of 1963. As September 1969 began, the group’s lightweight “Maybe The Rain Will Fall” was at No. 63. It would get to No. 61 before falling off the chart; it was the last single by the group to make the chart.

Most folks who know Billy Preston’s gospel anthem “That’s The Way God Planned It” know the live version from 1971’s Concert For Bangla Desh. Few, I imagine, have heard the studio version, which was the title track to Preston’s only album released on the Apple label. The track was actually listed on the album as “That’s The Way God Planned It (Parts 1 & 2),” and I’m assuming it was Part 1 that was released as the single. (As it happens, that wasn’t the case. See the note from reader and pal Yah Shure at the bottom.) Forty-two years ago this week, that single – which I like a lot – was at No. 65, falling from its peak position of No. 62. (The single would be rereleased in the summer of 1972, after the album The Concert For Bangla Desh and the accompanying film came out, but it would only go to No. 65.) It’s worth noting that the bulk of Preston’s Apple album was produced by George Harrison, and Harrison, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Ginger Baker were among the musicians backing Preston.

In 1969, José Feliciano was still trying to replicate the success he’d had with his cover of the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which had gone to No. 3 the year before. “Hi-Heel Sneakers” had reached No. 25 in the autumn of 1968, but several singles after that failed to get any higher than No. 50. In early September 1969, Feliciano’s “Rain” (not the Beatles’ tune) was sitting at No. 76. A sweet but feathery record, “Rain” would go no higher. Its flipside, a Latinized version of the Lennon-McCartney tune “She’s A Woman,” went to No. 103. Feliciano continued to release singles into 1975, but none of them went any higher than No. 83. (In the late 1990s, Feliciano’s 1970 version of “Feliz Navidad” would go to No. 70; it continues to get holiday airplay to this day.)

From 1957’s “Be Careful With A Fool” (No. 95) through 1989’s collaboration with U2, “When Love Comes To Town” (No. 68), B.B. King put forty-seven records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section. And starting with 1951’s “3 O’Clock Blues” (No. 1 for five weeks) and ending with 1985’s “Into The Night” (No. 15), he put sixty-eight records into the R&B Top 40. There’s not much to say in this limited space after that, except to note that in early September 1969, his “Get Off My Back Woman” was sitting at No. 100. A bluesy joy, the record would peak at No. 74 on the pop chart and at No. 32 on the R&B chart.

Just about two years before he reached No. 6 with “Do You Know What I Mean,” Lee Michaels showed up on the chart for the first time with a record that had a somewhat similar sound as his future hit. The Los Angeles native’s “Heighty Hi” was at No. 114 in its first week in the Bubbling Under section forty-two years ago this week; it would climb a little bit more in the next four weeks, peaking at No. 106. From where I listen, it could easily have done a lot better.

First Friday: October 1968

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 3, 2008

In October of 1968, the world’s focus – or much of it, anyway – shifted to Latin America.

The main event of the month was the 1968 summer Olympic games, which took place in Mexico City, Mexico, from October 12 through October 27. The games provided, in my memory, two iconic moments: The first is U.S. long jumper Bob Beamon collapsing in disbelief after breaking the world record for the long jump by an astounding 21 inches (55 cm). The second, and likely more well known, is the human rights protest by African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their gloved hands during the awards ceremony for the 200-meter run.

But several other major events of the month took place in Latin American, the most important of which might have been the Tlatelolco Massacre, as it’s come to be called.

During the night of October 2, military personnel and other men with guns shot at five thousand students and workers who had gathered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City. Wikipedia notes: “The death toll remains controversial: some estimates place the number of deaths in the thousands, but most sources report between 200 and 300 deaths. The exact number of people who were arrested is also controversial.”

Wikipedia further notes: “The massacre was preceded by months of political unrest in the Mexican capital, echoing student demonstrations and riots all over the world during 1968. The students wanted to harness the attention focused on Mexico City for the 1968 Summer Olympics.”

The students, says Wikipedia, were demanding several changes in policy and the country’s penal codes, including freedom for political prisoners; the dismissal of the chief of police and his deputy; the identification of officials responsible for the bloodshed from previous government repressions that had taken place in July and August of that year; the abolition of the the tactical police corps; and the repeal of those portions of the country’s penal code that “sanctioned imprisonment of anyone attending meetings of three or more people . . . deemed to threaten public order.”

(Wikipedia reports that a 1997 committee assigned to investigate the massacre heard testimony from Luis Echeverría Álvarez, a former Mexican president who was the Minister of the Interior at the time of the massacre. Echeverría admitted that the students had been unarmed and also suggested that the military action was planned in advance as a means to destroy the student movement. In June of 2006, Echeverría, then eighty-four, was charged with genocide in connection with the massacre and placed under house arrest pending trial. He was cleared of those charges the next month when a judge found that the statute of limitations for the crimes had expired.)

Elsewhere in Latin American that month, Juan Velasco Alverado took power via an October 3 revolution in Peru; in Panama, a military coup d’état led by Col. Boris Martinez and Col. Omar Torrijjos on October 11 overthrew the democratically elected government of President Arnulfo Arias.

There was also unrest in other portions of the world that month: On October 5, police in Derry, Northern Ireland, used batons to subdue civil rights demonstrators, an event often cited as the beginning of that country’s years of violence called The Troubles. In Jamaica, riots broke out on October 16 in response to the govenrment’s banning from the nation the Guyanese author and activist Walter Rodney.

In the U.S., the Defense Department announced on October 14 that the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marines planned to send 24,000 soldiers and marines back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours. Also relating to the war in Vietnam, by the end of the month, U.S. President Lynon B. Johnson announced that peace talks in Paris had progressed well enough that he was ordering a cessation of air, naval and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam, effective November 1.

(Cynics in the room might note that Johnson’s announcement and action came days before the U.S. presidential election, which was being contested by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat; Richard Nixon, a Republican; and George Wallace of the American Independent Party. The announcement seemed to help Humphrey, as polls in the days before the November 5 election showed him gaining ground on Nixon. Political pundits and writers have theorized for forty years that Humphrey would have won the presidency had the election been a week later or had Johnson announced the bombing halt a week earlier.)

So, in the midst of politics and blood and war, what did we hear that month when we sought solace in music?

Here’s the top fifteen records in the Billboard Top 40 for October 5, 1968:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C Riley
“Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
“Little Green Apples” by O.C. Smith
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions
“Slip Away” by Clarence Carter
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” by the Bee Gees
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“I Say A Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin
“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers
“Revolution” by the Beatles
“The Fool On The Hill” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
“Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud” by James Brown
“The House That Jack Built” by Aretha Franklin

Boy, that’s about as representative (and maybe as good) as a top fifteen can get, I’d guess. You’ve got the mainstream rock of the Beatles, the country cross-over from Riley (O.C. Smith’s record might have gotten some country play, too, I think), straight R&B from Aretha and Clarence Carter and some psychedelic R&B from the Chambers Brothers. There’s Arthur Brown’s powerful rock. You’ve got some blue-eyed soul from the Rascals, pop from the O’Kaysions and the Bee Gees, and a little bit of bubble-gum from the 1910 Fruitgum Company. And then there’s James Brown’s uncompromising and funky proto-rap. Wow!

For those who bought their music via albums, it was also an interesting month. Here’s the Billboard top ten albums for October 5, 1968:

Waiting For The Sun by the Doors
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell
Realization by Johnny Rivers
Wheels Of Fire by Cream
Steppenwolf by Steppenwolf
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly

There are a number of interesting records and names on that list. What might be most interesting, however, are titles and a name that aren’t there. In the previous week’s listing, the soundtrack to the film The Graduate had been in tenth place, featuring songs by Simon & Garfunkel as well as incidental music from the movie. When that album slipped out of tenth place, it marked the first time since March 16, 1968 – six-and-a-half months – that there was no mention of Simon & Garfunkel on the top ten albums list. Between the soundtrack to The Graduate and their own two albums, Bookends and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel had dominated the albums list as much as anybody during 1968.

The records that did make up the top ten list as October 1968 started are a pretty good bunch themselves. I would say that the only one that hasn’t aged very well at all is the Iron Butterfly, which to me is pretty much a dead end. (I should admit here that I purchased a copy of the group’s Live when it came out in 1970; the incessant noodling on the side-long live version of the group’s hit was even less accomplished than the side-long studio version, so I sold the album to a used record store within days.)

There might be a few quibbles about the quality of the rest of that albums list: Janis Joplin did far better on her own, with better backing musicians, than she did on the Big Brother album, but the record is still an interesting look at her development, as well as an acid-drenched product of its time. As I’ve noted here before, I always have some reservations about the Doors, but Waiting For The Sun has some good work on it, especially the single “Hello I Love You” and a few other tracks, including “The Unknown Soldier” and the pairing of the bluesy “Summer’s Almost Gone” and the awkward waltz of “Wintertime Love.”

With those caveats, that’s a pretty good list of albums. And the album I’m posting today comes from the list: José Feliciano’s Feliciano!

As October 1968 began, Feliciano’s version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” had been in the Billboard Hot 100 for eleven weeks. It had peaked at No. 3, and the album from which it came, Feliciano!, was in its seventh week in the Billboard Top Ten, with seven weeks to come. (It would peak at No. 2 for two weeks in December 1968.) Feliciano, then twenty-three, was a big enough star in October 1968 that he was invited to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium before a World Series game. The performance – a Latin-tinged interpretation – was loved by some and criticized by many. (A single was issued and went to No. 50 during a five-week stay in the Billboard Hot 100.)

There’s no controversy in Feliciano! It’s a solid set of covers, in a style that All-Music Guide tabs as “soulful easy listening,” with Feliciano – who was blinded since birth by glaucoma – working his way through songs by the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas, Bobby Hebb, Tom Paxton and others, including, of course, the Doors’ “Light My Fire.”

Even with a singer as distinctive as Feliciano, though, performing such well-known songs as “Light My Fire,” “California Dreamin’,” “In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere” can be awkward, if not actually risky. It’s difficult to cover such well-known material and not remind listeners of the originals. Feliciano managed that with “Light My Fire,” I think, and he battles “California Dreamin’” to a draw, but other than those tracks, the best tracks on the album are the lesser-known songs, especially Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind” and Fred Neill’s “Just A Little Bit Of Rain.” (The latter song is likely more familiar in the version recorded in the mid-1970s by the Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.)

Still, Feliciano! is a good, if not great, album and it’s pleasant listening. It was Feliciano’s commercial peak, as only one other single and two of his succeeding albums – and he’s recorded prolifically – reached the Top 40. He continues to record, frequently in Spanish, and released his most recent album, Con Mexico en el Corazon, earlier this year.

The credits for Feliciano! at All-Music Guide are slender and, I think, are incomplete. They do list Ray Brown on bass, Milt Holland on percussion and Jim Horn on flute, alto flute and recorder.

Tracks:
California Dreamin’
Light My Fire
Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying
In My Life
And I Love Her
Nena Na Na
(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me
Just A Little Bit Of Rain
Sunny
Here, There and Everywhere
The Last Thing On My Mind

José Feliciano – Feliciano! [1968]