Listen to DON'T LET ME DOWN by Dillard & Clark.
So that's nearly a month of Beatles covers for you, should be enough for almost anybody I think!
We're ending with a wonderful take on another classic. Don't Let Me Down, when it was released, was perhaps a little raw to make a big Hey Jude-style impact, but it's truly one of the standout John songs, and I think recognized as such by a lot of Beatles fans.
Dillard & Clark were a great act in their own right, and their take on Don't Let Me Down is as good as it can be, eschewing John's more desperate vocal for a sound of apprehension or resignation even. One I could listen to all day.
Happy July, see you in August!
Photo: Manhattan bridge details (4).
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Listen to STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER by Candy Flip.
I vividly remember hearing this one on the radio back in 1990 (KJ103, more than likely) and ever since, it's been an unshakeable favorite Beatles cover.
I can imagine certain heads exploding at that statement, but I don't--can't--apologize for it. I love the blissed out feel of this version, and the fact that it's not as deep or as creepy as the original counts as a plus. I even like the Funky Drummer baggy beat stuck on it! Ah, youth.
Photo: Manhattan bridge details (3).
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Listen to AND I LOVE HER by The Detroit Emeralds.
I can't quite put my finger on why I like this cover of And I Love Her so much. Whereas the formality of the original tends toward the awkward and earnest (not necessarily bad things), the formality here is more baroque and sophisticated. It's less about the sentiment than about showing off the band's (and producer's) chops.
Also, I have a thing for the Detroit Emeralds. They're a bunch of fellas who took the time-honored journey up from Arkansas to Michigan (like the Chambers Brothers), and (less importantly, I admit) recorded one of my favorite soul singles, Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms) (sampled heavily in Eazy-Duz-It, a song we heard coming out of a car in Bed-Stuy this weekend. Thanks, car, for putting me in the mind to blog today's song!)
Photo: Manhattan bridge details (2).
Monday, July 28, 2008
Listen to WE CAN WORK IT OUT by Stevie Wonder.
So, one last week of Beatles covers this month, and I thought it would be nice to end on some sure-fire winners.
Most of you have probably heard Stevie's cover of We Can Work It Out. I know I've heard it a million times, but it never ceases to blow me away. How he was able to take one of the best Beatles singles, then markedly change the mood, the feel, the arrangement, and make it even listenable...well, how did he do it? This cover--as much as anything he ever did--signifies for me how much talent that kid had.
Photo: Manhattan bridge details (1).
Friday, July 25, 2008
Listen to I CANT GO FOR THAT:SAY NO GO:MY CREW CANT GO FOR THAT by Hall & Oates:De La Soul:DV Alias Khrist.
Listen to SOFT by Lemon Jelly.
Jason dropping in.
Bill's sticking with Beatles' covers so I'll take a twist on the theme. Two songs that "cover" previous works. One is a song that samples a classic. The other is a song that mashes a song that samples a classic with the classic itself.
First up is a track from French DJ Arthur King's "Pop Sh!t" - a compilation in which he mashes hip-hop tracks with the 80s pop tunes that begat them. Brooklyn rapper Khryst/Khrist (or Scranton if you want his real name) takes us over the robobeat of Hall & Oates before segueing into one of my seminal songs of 1989 - "Say No Go" by the D.A.I.S.Y agers of De La. That song will forever remind me of the first year I hit the clubs. Of course, it was years before I realised that the song sampled Hall & Oates.
Second is from British electronauts Lemon Jelly. This was a filler track for the "Nice Weather for Ducks" single and I heard it whilst checking them out live at the Roskilde music festival in Denmark, 2003. The sample is Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now".
The thing that marks out both tracks for me is that they both incorporate classic tracks. More importantly, you get to hear the pieces you want from them. Not just a repeating snippet - or a teasing sample that makes you itch for the chorus. The "ooh ooh ooh ooh" in Soft seems like its just gonna stay that way, obsessive compulsing as it does over those strings for nearly two-and-a-half minutes. But then, just as you think the song's ending, in comes Peter "Et" Cetera.
Photo: Tuileries, Paris, 2003. Taken by Jason Bryant
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Listen to REVOLUTION 9 by The Durham Ox Singers.
This one is the one that gets the most questions when you say, "I have a cover of every Beatles song." They say, "You mean even songs like Revolution Number 9?!?!?!" YES! Even Revolution 9. And it wasn't even that hard to find. Also, it's pretty cool.
I'm one of those people who doesn't mind listening to Revolution 9 every so often. At times, in fact, I think it's pretty amazing, so you may not trust my judgment on this. But I quite like this cover, an a capella cover at that. It's kinda funny.
Photo: Uptown (4).
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Listen to PENNY LANE by The Better Beatles.
When I picked this up off of WFMU, I really expected this song to be awful: "[T]his quartet from Nebraska in 1980 actually were trying to make the Beatles' music sound better. However you judge in terms of improvement, the attempt was done in a pure spirited way with a set of basic electronic elements, vocals, bass and drums, managing to project a sense of lofty artistic and definite postmodern design, but without pretentiousness."
I dunno, that sounds not so good. But it's awesome!
Having heard this cover, Penny Lane reveals a side of itself that even the original doesn't show. I'm not saying it's better than the Beatles, but I can listen to it eight times in a row, no problem.
Photo: Uptown (3).
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Listen to YOU CAN'T DO THAT by Harry Nilsson.
I don't know that this song by Harry Nilsson--I think "ingenious" or maybe "clever" describes it better, but it's certainly one of the more unusual Beatles covers. As you'll hear, Nilsson is nominally covering You Can't Do That off "A Hard Day's Night," but it's really a bunch of quotations from a couple dozen (well, twenty-two) Beatles songs. Ingenious. Nilsson had a knack for this--he did the same trick on the "Skidoo" soundtrack, where he sang the names of the ENTIRE cast and crew in less than four minutes.
Supposedly when John Lennon heard "Pandemonium Shadow Show" (where You Can't Do That appears), he listened to it for 36 hours straight. And lots of people have heard about the 1968 press conference where John named "Nilsson" as the group's favorite singer (and Paul, for good measure, named "Nilsson" as their favorite group). Less known is that John and Paul later followed up with separate out-of-the-blue, middle-of-the-night phone calls proclaiming their admiration. Can you imagine?
Photo: Uptown (2).
Monday, July 21, 2008
Listen to SHE LOVES YOU by Peter Sellers.
There are a lot of Beatles covers, obviously, and there are a lot of "wacky," strange, unusual Beatles covers, very few of which are any good.
But when Peter Sellers (as Dr. Strangelove) does a cover of She Loves You, you'd have to think that it would be worth hearing, and it totally is. Sellers did a number of Beatles covers in various personae, but imho this one takes the biscuit. Hope you like it!
Photo: Uptown (1).
Friday, July 18, 2008
Listen to UP, UP, AND AWAY by Ray Conniff.
John here. I came across Ray Conniff the same way everyone does: grandparents. There for the holidays, it was either Johnny Mathis or Ray Conniff, cheese or snow. After having heard Johnny’s Christmas classics many times, the choice was Ray.
Ray’s main idea was to take a popular song and strip it down to its underlying rhythm and harmony. Next, he replaced any depth removed by the extraction of a fuzzy guitar or a cracking solo with winsome instrumental flourishes and vocals. Or rather a choir: 12 women and 13 men singing in unison. It’s the pleasure principle in practice.
Ray’s tune quiver contained a lot numbers in the lush 60’s style, so although many don’t sound too distant from their root to our ears, the generation gap was a bit wider then. How else could my ageing grandparents have known the hits of the Beatles (gasp - longhairs!) or Simon and Garfunkel (egad - folk beatniks!)? I like that – can’t imagine my own parents walking around humming “Knives Out”.
Today’s track is a Jimmy Webb classic made famous by the Fifth Dimension (and others) and is almost impossible not to like. Hey, it's Friday ... Easy as she goes!
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Listen to SAVOY TRUFFLE by Terry Manning.
Having typed and erased about 400 words trying to get this first line right, I can say without resort to metaphor that words cannot describe how rockin I think this cover of Savoy Truffle is.
It's ten minutes long, it opens with a weird Moog solo (played by Robert Moog, so there), has Chris Bell lurking about (Terry engineered and/or produced the Box Tops and later Big Star), was the opening track on a record specifically commissioned by Al Bell of Stax, has guitar solos and harmonica licks EVERYWHERE, Terry sings like Marc Bolan's tougher older brother...and did I mention this all goes on for ten minutes?
Photo: Ft. Tilden (4).
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Listen to YOUR MOTHER SHOULD KNOW by Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen.
I don't think I mentioned this before, but the reason why we have so many Beatles covers is because we decided one weekend not too long ago that it would be neat if we could get a cover version of every single Beatles song ever recorded, including the German language ones, the joke ones, and everything else in between.
As it turns out, there are a couple of resources on the web that makes this project easier than one would think (obscure completist collections--not just for total obsessives any more!), so by the time the weekend was over we had successfully augmented our collection to include at least one cover of every song (and usually many more--we've now got about 16 versions of Yesterday, for example).
A few songs were understandably more difficult to find than others. Your Mother Should Know, from the "Magical Mystery Tour" EP doesn't have many champions. I eventually found a version I liked on iTunes, by this guy, Kenny Ball (and His Jazzmen). I refuse to learn anything about Mr. Ball and His Jazzmen beyond that they got the arrangement right where Paul failed over many attempts. So kudos to them.
Photo: Ft. Tilden (3).
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Listen to SHE'S LEAVING HOME by Syreeta.
Continuing with excellent covers of lesser-known Beatles songs we have She's Leaving Home by Syreeta. She's Leaving Home? Isn't that on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"? Isn't that, like, the most famous album of all time?!?!
Well, yes. But I have a theory that nobody ever listens to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" except maybe David Fricke and Cameron Crowe. Be honest, can you name the songs on it? People know the title track, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, When I'm 64, and A Day In The Life, but I submit that most people think of these more like the words to a Hail Mary, something you reel off semi-consciously, rather than actual pieces of music, much less part of a semi-cohesive album. (It doesn't help that a couple of these songs are kinda stinky.)
That brings us to She's Leaving Home (for the record, the sixth track on the album). Reviews are mixed among the cognoscenti. It's not usually included among McCartney's best ballads (Yesterday, Here, There and Everywhere, Let It Be), but some put it just below this top tier. Others think its an insipid mess. Still others (well, me at least) think of it as a very interesting failure.
Enough about that, let's talk about today's cover for a moment. Today's song features two great talents, one of whom did this blog's favorite Beatles cover. Even without Google, one should be able to identify this person almost immediately from listening to the song. The answer is not Syreeta (that would be TOO easy). But anyway, her debut album is a minor classic, and this song is a highlight therefrom.
Photo: Ft. Tilden (2).
Monday, July 14, 2008
Listen to HEY BULLDOG by Fanny.
Who said this?
"One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest f*cking rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary: They wrote everything, they played like motherf*ckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They're as important as anybody else who's ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time. Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done."
That's David Bowie in 1999, and he feels quite strongly about this.
And he's right--Fanny are quite good, and completely forgotten about. Even so, "they were the first, genuine, self-founded, all-woman rock band to be signed to a major US label, and to gain international fame." You'll see the group name-checked as important influences for loads of female acts, from the Go-Gos to Bonnie Raitt. And even that may be a little unfair--when I say this cover of Hey Bulldog (recorded at Abbey Road, by the way) is pretty good, I don't mean to imply "(for a girl)," I mean it's one of the better Beatles covers I have, full stop (it doesn't hurt that they're covering everyone's favorite choice for lost Beatles classic--it does amaze me when people haven't heard this one).
Enough plugging, here's a couple of interesting things about Fanny. Aside from being one of the first all girl rock groups of any prominence, the Millington sisters are one of the first and only Filipino-American acts to ever hit big. Also, to lay to rest a rumor that is (sadly) untrue, George Harrison did NOT suggest the band's name to the sisters taking advantage of the band's ignorance of British slang. My apologies to the thousands of you to whom I've repeated this story in the past.
Photo: Ft. Tilden (1).
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
Listen to GASOLINE ALLEY BRED by The Hollies.
Listen to CHIMES OF FREEDOM by The Byrds.
Jason dropping in.
I've been tossing and turning this week's selection. After tinkering with The Damned, Nico, Murray Head and MC 900 Ft Jesus, I settled on The The. But I had 3 songs of theirs and I really wanted to force it to 2 - which I couldn't do.
In the end, this week's theme settled it for me. Bill is doing "best Beatles covers" and kicked off with one of my favourite Beatles tunes - This Boy (and let's just say that the only time it is acceptable to go into a bathroom together with your brother is when you both have guitars in hand and a song in your throat). I'm writing this on Tuesday so I'll be interested to see how the rest of the week shapes out but, for my money, the best Beatles cover is Nina Simone's "Here Comes The Sun" (either that or the entire "Let It Be" album by Laibach). Yes, Nina's version isn't as wonderfully different as, say, Stevie Wonder's "We Can Work It Out", but "Sun" is simply a better song.
Now, rather than posting a Beatles cover (linking to one doesn't count), I've gone for two songs from that era. Gasoline Alley Bred was originally a single-only release and was written by Cook & Greenaway of 60s pop group the Kestrels and songwriter Tony Macaulay.
One of my favourite Hollies tracks, it tells of a couple with big dreams , but who fail to rise above their station. Gasoline Alley is a comic strip that started in the Chicago Tribune in 1918 and is still serialised in papers to this day. What marks the strip is that the characters aged in real-time (main character Walt's wife, Phyllis, "died" in 2004 aged 105). That ageing of the characters is concordant with the two characters in this song.
The lyrics are straight and simple but the double-time strumming and soaring harmonies lift those words to become the musical metaphor for the ageing of the protagonists:
I know that we could have made itInterestingly, the single came out in 1970 - and yet I would have sworn that it's Graham Nash's voice in the 2nd verse (the one starting: "I'm a-gonna heat me some water") - but Nash left in '68. If its not Nash, who is it*?
We had ideas in our heads
And I wish somehow we could have saved it
But we're Gasoline Alley bred
Yet the years haven't really been wasted
And I know it in my head
We did good for the life that we've tasted
'Cause we're Gasoline Alley, Gasoline Alley bred
Speaking of Nash, he left The Hollies to join David Crosby and Stephen Stills in their self-titled supergroup (hard to believe these guys failed their audition with the Beatles' Apple Records - there's that Beatles riff again!). And its Bill's second post of the week that pulled "Chimes of Freedom" off the 'pod.
I seem to remember CS&N being the first act to perform on Letterman when he returned to air after 9/11. The song was "Find The Cost of Freedom" and, as haunting as that anti-war song is, its not my favourite of "their's" (and I'm including every band that CS&N were involved in with the term "theirs"). In fact, "Chimes" isn't even theirs either - written as it was by Bob Dylan. And if Bill were to extend this week's riff to "Best Bob Dylan covers", the Byrds would feature thrice.
Even though a cloud’s white curtain in a far off corner flashedThis song has been described as a "near-perfect protest song".
And the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting
Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones
Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting
I can not disagree.
*PS Bill and I worked it out a day after I wrote this- its Terry Sylvester - who actually replaced Graham Nash in The Hollies.
Photo: DUBLIN, 2002. Taken by Jason Bryant.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Listen to SOMETHING by Booker T. & The MG's.
It doesn't look like it's a book I've mentioned on the blog yet, but it's a book I've thought a lot about since reading it earlier this year: "Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records," by Rob Bowman.
The Stax story makes for a tremendous read, but it's also really sad on a lot of levels. First and foremost, of course, Stax created a ton of great music.
Stax was an inspiration as a successful small business and independent music label. Stax was also one of the great integrated businesses, and later, a success and model as a Black-owned business.
But Stax also failed as a business and as a role model on all of those counts. It was choked to death by bad deals with major labels; the racial turmoil of the mid-to-late Sixties polarized and undermined the (sort of) color blind character of the company; and Al Bell wasn't able to build a sustainable business over a period of years.
The book goes into all this in great, sympathetic detail.
One of the central figures in Stax was Booker T. & the M.G.'s. This group would have been legendary anyway as Stax's house band, but they also achieved fame as an instrumental group (everyone in the world has heard 1962's Green Onions, whether they know it or not). But the group was never the most cohesive (to be honest, it wasn't really a group, per se, but the name given when Booker T., Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson, mainly, recorded together), and Booker T.'s position with Stax became increasingly untenable over the years (read the book), and so 1970's "McLemore Avenue" was one of their last offerings.
Something is from "McLemore Avenue," which itself is an entire cover album of "Abbey Road"--Abbey Road runs in front of Abbey Road (f.k.a. EMI) Studios, and McLemore Avenue runs in front of Stax. The album as a whole has rightly been described as a curio, but the quality of the playing (and also the underlying emotional turmoil within the group and the label) makes it a worthwhile listen.
Photo: Cape Cod garden (4).
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Listen to GET BACK by Deirdre Wilson Tabac.
If anyone says that there's a better band than the Beatles, they're wrong. If anyone says there's a more influential band than the Beatles, they're wrong. And if anyone says there's a better cover of a Beatles song than the original, they're probably wrong. ...Unless they're talking about today's selection.
You may disagree, but I think the Beatles' version(s) of Get Back never really get off the ground, for whatever reason. There are bad vibes on that song, and Paul's voice annoys me on it.
Still, you wouldn't think many groups could improve on it, much less a no-hit wonder jazz-lite mixed gender ensemble. This is a group that no one would remember at all if it weren't for the rare groove scene's love of I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes (the A-Side to Get Back's B-side) and Jazzman Records. But this is an inspired cover. It's light, but it's funky. It finds more hooks in the song than the original manages to do, and finds a better groove too. Highly recommended.
Photo: Cape Cod garden (3).
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Listen to LADY MADONNA by Swamp Dogg.
I've been reading about Vietnam, especially about all of the strange storylines that grew out of and in response to our country's failures over there. You have the POW/MIA movement, the 80's Rambo revenge narratives, the "spit on the troops" stories, the "Hanoi Jane" myth, and so on.
In the face of all of that mythologizing it's easy to miss (especially if you weren't there) how truly warped things were for awhile, even compared to our current problems.
To be sure, there's nobody on the current scene remotely like Swamp Dogg, who was attached to the Free The Army movement and made Richard Nixon's enemies list. That guy was crazy! Musically, I mean. It sounds like he was--and is--eccentric enough, but it's the music that matters, and the music he was making from 1969-1973 was as compelling and challenging as any soul music ever written.
Now, having said that, we're doing Beatles covers, not a Swamp Dogg retrospective, so this Lady Madonna is all you get. It starts and ends very strongly, but (like the original) is a little thick around the middle. Even with a straight reading of the song, though, Swamp Dogg makes it his own from sheer weight of personality.
Photo: Cape Cod garden (2).
Monday, July 7, 2008
Listen to THIS BOY by Joe Bataan.
I knew we would start this at some point, and today is the day. Looming in my iTunes is a playlist of Beatles songs--cover versions--that is approaching 800 songs at this point. So let's share some (more of) them, shall we?
Joe Bataan, living music legend, chips in with a Sweet Soul cover of This Boy. Some of you may not be familiar with This Boy. From 1963, it was the B-Side to I Want To Hold Your Hand, and an instrumental version was used in that great scene in "A Hard Day's Night" where Ringo goes off on his own.
I am tempted to say Bataan's version is superior to the original, which feels a little rushed and which harmonies are a little unrefined and...Scouse. But everyone can have their opinion on that. To be sure, Bataan's doo wop background comes in handy, and his cover comes alive on the outro where he adlibs a few lyrics and sounds really at home in the song.
Photo: Cape Cod garden (1).
Friday, July 4, 2008
Listen to THIS IS MY COUNTRY by The Impressions.
Listen to 4th OF JULY by The Beach Boys.
Nothing I can add to today's selections, except enjoy your holiday and spare a thought for our country!
Photo: Visit to Harlem (3).
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Listen to JESUS CHILDREN OF AMERICA by Stevie Wonder.
Listen to AMUSEMENT PARKS U.S.A. by The Beach Boys.
Stevie Wonder has never been on this blog until today--what a crime. Well, we've got him now, from just about his best and most well known album (leaving aside "Songs In The Key Of Life"). So you people might already have this tune. But give it another listen today.
Everybody also knows the Beach Boys of course, but maybe not Amusement Parks U.S.A. I've got a lot of favorite Beach Boys songs, but still, this one ranks right up there. Especially the off-kilter and almost creepy spoken section a couple of verses in. Check it out.
Photo: Visit to Harlem (2).
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Listen to (HELP) GOD HELP AMERICA by Charlie Whitehead.
Listen to SPIRIT OF AMERICA by The Beach Boys.
See if you can guess this week's theme! First up is a repeat appearance from the beloved Charlie Whitehead. Charlie and Swamp Dogg wrote a bunch of songs about America. Some people might object to the rawness and bitterness in a lot of these songs (like The Freedom Under Certain Konditions Marching Band we shared last year), but I can really get behind a song about this country that is passionate and intelligent and isn't watered down or deracinated. Fortunately, me and Charlie aren't trying to be President!
We also have a Beach Boys song, The Spirit Of America, which isn't literally about America at all, despite the title. But symbolically it's about much more than a car--it's about hopes and dreams. Brian Wilson (with help from Roger Christian on this one, I think) has this anachronistic (the doo wop he tries on here was already well out of style) and nostalgic vision that is so appealing to so many (including me).
Photo: Visit to Harlem (1).
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
...or the day after. Apologies for no blog fix the last couple of days. We are recharging our batteries a bit. But we still probably could have put something together were it not for the Euro 2008 final Sunday afternoon (our normal blog planning time) rendered us somewhat tired and emotional. Anyway, we'll have a few offerings the rest of the week and ease back into a normal posting schedule next week.
By the way, we're also debuting our new point and shoot camera this week. I think it looks okay!