Friday, November 05, 2004

Now Playing 11/5 - Scott Walker and the Crying Game

Example So…I decided that since it was getting more difficult (due to time constraints) to get full updates of my web site completed, I would try to be the 5,000,000th person to get one of these things going. I've seen some audio blogs, and thought they were a great idea. While this site won't follow that path 100%, it'll touch on some of the same bases. Also, while my recent focus has been on funk and soul music, I'll be writing about a lot more than that here. I'll paraphrase Duke Ellington who said something along the lines of "there are only two kinds of music, good and bad", and what I'll be writing about here is the good kind. There'll also be the occasional political monologue/rant, and all manner of pop culture rambling. That said, the last week has been extremely depressing. The re-election (election?) of George Bush has brought an end to one of the most hopeful political seasons in recent memory. For the first time in a long time I saw a lot of people getting as excited about politics as I was, and it looked like we were really going to turn things around. Needless to say that did not happen. I'll spare you the gory details of my own personal political hell (compounded by the fact that my wife and son have been away visiting her folks for the week). Suffice to say that I was/am pretty down. So...what to do? I broke out the records. A while back we came into (via my father in law) a sizable stash of 45s. Maybe 80% of them were crap, but the remaining 20% yielded some interesting stuff. Some for me, but mostly for resale. My wife was a huge help sorting/pricing/grading the records, and one of the things she pulled out was a version of "The Crying Game" by Brenda Lee(?!?). This was already one of my favorite songs via the original version by Dave Berry (a big deal in the UK and Europe during the 60's, never really hit it over here). It's a superb, atmospheric beat ballad, which enjoyed a brief moment of popularity when it was redone by Boy George for the movie of the same name. Anyway.... The Brenda Lee version was FANTASTIC! Even though I knew she was more than her top 40 chart list would lead you to believe (she made some cool rockabilly sides), this was a complete surprise. I'd love to know how the song made it's way to her. She recorded her version in 1965 (after Berry and Ian & The Zodiacs), when her career was not exactly at it's peak. Ultimately it was the perfect match between a singer and a song. Anyway...(again)... Hearing this record inspired me to work on a mix built around it. I'm at a stage in my life where I've listened to (and continue to listen to) so much music that a large part of my brain has become devoted to assembling and reassembling it all into categories, lists and ultimately impressionistic, themed mixes (god bless the brilliant bastard that invented a way to record vinyl to cds). So...last night, after dinner I moved into the record room and started digging through my LPs, to see what hit me. I pulled about 60 LPs off the shelves and got to work. I wanted to put something together that would alternately sooth my shattered nerves and still satisfy my need to hear obscure, and interesting music. So here it is (you'll need Realplayer to hear the soundclips) 1. Artie Schroeck Implosion - Darling Be Home Soon - The first track I used is a cover of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Darling Be Home Soon" by the Artie Schroeck Implosion. Schroeck was a producer/arranger who was given an opportunity to make his own album, and he decided to compose it entirely of Lovin Spoonful covers (saxophonist Bud Shank did a similar project around the same time). Unlike a lot of LPs like this, it's actually quite good; the kind of off kilter, somewhat inspired takes on easy listening/background music that were so prevalent at the time. "Darling be Home Soon" is one of my favorite Spoonful songs, and Schroeck laid down a pretty interesting version, using harpsichord, acoustic guitar and strings. The melody/vocal lines are run by French horn, oboe and what sounds like an electronically processed clarinet, and the song builds nicely, layer upon layer. 2. Glen Campbell - Without Her - I followed it up with Glen Campbell covering Harry Nilsson's "Without Her". Say what you want about his recent drunken rampage, but in the early days of Campbell's pop stardom he combines his fantastic voice and guitar playing with really good taste in material. It certainly didn't hurt that he had Jimmy Webb writing his hits for him. From 1967's "Gentle On My Mind" lp, which also includes a great version of Donovan's "Catch The Wind". "Without Her" is a fairly early cover of a Nilsson tune, and it's one of his prettiest melodies. It helps that Nilsson and Campbell were both outstanding singers whose voices had a similar clarity and texture. Campbell's 1968 "Wichita Lineman" LP is also quite good with some interesting covers (Bee Gees, Jacques Brel, Tim Hardin). 3. Sonny Stitt - Wichita Lineman - "Wichita Lineman" is simply a great f-ing song. Sonny Stitt's version from1969 isn't stunning, but it's a great window into what seasoned jazz performers had to do to stay afloat at that time. Stitt started out in the 40's as one of best alto players to appears in the wake of (and as a disciple of) Charlie Parker. By the mid-60's all but the biggest jazz starts (and then some of those) were forced to make albums of pop songs, some more inspired than others. By the late 60's, Stitt (like Eddie Harris) was a proponent of the Varitone saxophone, which 'electrified' the sound of the instrument. Not a synthesizer, as much as a saxophone equivalent of a guitar effects box, the Varitone made for interesting listening. Stitt acquits himself nicely. It's certainly not 'jazz' by any real standard (other that the fact that it's being played by jazz musicians) but it's a cool version of the tune. 4. Dorothy Ashby - Drink - Dorothy Ashby's name is known mostly to beat junkies, soul/funk collectors and fans of exotica. She was a jazz harpist who made three amazing albums for Cadet in the late 60's. "The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby" is her most "far out". A concept album based around musical framings of the poetry of Omar Khayyam, it features Ashby not only on harp, but piano, koto and vocals as well. Produced by the brilliant Richard Evans, the LP moves between quiet, meditative pieces, exotica and full on jazz, sometimes hitting all three bases in the same song. 'Drink' is one of the few selections on the album to feature a full vocal and like a lot of Evans work has a lush backing overlaid on a slightly funky beat. 5. Luis Bonfa - Zabumba - Luis Bonfa was one of the pioneers of bossa nova. He composed two absolute classics Manha de Carnival and Samba de Orpheu - and made many great albums. His 1968 Dot LP 'Bonfa' is a pretty typical mix (for the time) of incongruous pop covers and originals. 'Zabumba' is a moody slice of instrumental bossa guitar. Short and sweet. 6. Jose Feliciano - California Dreaming - Jose Feliciano is one of those guys that was huge for a short time and eventually just faded into the Branson-like wallpaper. That's a shame because he was not only a brilliant guitarist but also a great, expressive vocalist. While I was tempted to include his version of 'Light My Fire' ( a top 40 hit and a big fave of mine), I decided instead on his take on the Mamas and Papas 'California Dreaming'. It starts out with the same signature guitar riff, but them drifts off on a soulful wave, building to a kind of subdued crescendo with Feliciano scatting in Spanish (at least I think he's scatting...) 7. Ian & The Zodiacs - The Crying Game - So...Brenda Lee's 'Crying Game' inspired this mix, yet didn't get on it. Therein lies the difference between listening to 45s on the old Columbia GP3 portable, and on a good turntable. Brenda was (as the say on Soultrut) skated/rinked, or as they say everywhere else, VERY scratchy. Fortunately I had an alternative, and grabbed my recently acquired copy of the same tune by Ian & The Zodiacs. Ian & The Zodiacs were Liverpool contemporaries of the Beatles who became fairly big stars in Germany during the beat era (and got some of their 45s issued in the US). They played all the kinds of stuff that the Liverpool/Hamburg bar bands had to play, i.e. soul/R&B covers, pop tunes, standards etc. They were a solid band that during their three album tenure on Germany's Star Club label recorded lots of great rock'n'roll, and at least one moment of certified Euro-punk brilliance , 'Why Can't It Be Me'. Their version of 'The Crying Game' doesn't rise to the magnificent heights of pathos attained by Brenda Lee, but it manages to create a real sense of longing/sadness (and borrow Big Jim Sullivan's guitar effects from Dave Berry's record). It's still the same great song. 8. Gabor Szabo - Gypsy Queen - Perhaps the hottest Hungarian export since goulash (for what that's worth) guitarist Gabor Szabo had a pretty nice career for himself in the 60's. He recorded several great albums for Impulse and later partnering with Gary McFarland to create the short-lived but interesting Skye Records. His 1966 'Spellbinder' album features the track 'Gypsy Queen' (which might be familiar because Santana redid it as part of a medley with 'Black Magic Woman'). Szabo managed to combine folk and pop sounds in his jazz stylings, and his acoustic guitar work on 'Gypsy Queen', in combination with Willie Bobo's percussion is hypnotic. 9. Hugh Masekela - Bajabula Bonke (Healing Song) - To most people Hugh Masekela's career starts and ends with 'Grazing In The Grass'. One of the first 'world music' crossovers, Masekela came from South Africa with music that represents jazz as much as it reflects the sounds of Africa. Prior to his pop success, Masekela recorded a pair of excellent albums for MGM. He first recorded 'Bajabula Bonke (Healing Song)' - which had been written by his then-wife Miriam Makeba - on 'The Americanization of Ooga Booga' in 1966. He rerecorded the tune in 1967 for UNI, and is seen playing the song in the film Monterey Pop. The tune is slow and meditative, but also quite powerful. Masekela vocalizes over a slow piano/bass vamp, building to a climax with the horns. 10. Roberta Flack - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - Flack's cover of Ewan McColl's 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' is the only track in this mix that was a hit (albeit two years after it was first released). The whole 'First Take' album is beautiful, with covers of Leonard Cohen and Eugene McDaniels (and a couple fo Donny Hathaway tunes), but 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' is absolutely sublime. Flack's voice seems to caress the words of the song. The instruments are almost an afterthought, bubbling under ever so subtly as if to intrude on the the communion between the singer and the song would be criminal. I can hardly listen to this song without feeling transported. And that’s what it’s all about, isn't it? 11. Scott Walker - It's Raining Today - Speaking of music that "transports" me to a different place, there isn't much that approaches Scott Walker. Though Walker has become something of a chic cult object for alterna-types of late, I haven't really met too many people that really "get" his music. If you approach his albums casually, the initial impression is of a standard crooner. Walker's voice is so rich and magnificent (maybe the best pop voice of the 60's??) that it's hard to believe that he had previously been part of the teen-idol Walker Brothers (and that all of his post-Walker's solo albums were top 10 hits in the UK). If you look at the tunes he was covering (he was a Jacques Brel fanatic), and then at his sometime spellbinding orginals it soon becomes apparent that the singer you are listening to is no Robert Goulet. Scott Walker had the soul of a poet and it was easy to hear that in his music. 'It's Raining Today' (which starts with a string sound that was later sampled by the Sneetches for 'Behind The Shadow') , which appeared on his first solo LP, Scott/A Loner, is more than a song. It's more like a vignette, or set piece from a musical that never existed. I first got into Scott about 15 years ago via a compilation put together by Marc Almond of the group Soft Cell. Since then all of his albums have come back into print, and there's more than one compilation. 12. Gary McFarland - Everybody's Talkin- Gary McFarland was a strange dude. He started out as a pretty straight ahead vibes player, but was also an accomplished arranger. At some point in the mid-60's he happened upon a unique style wherein he kind of vocalized (sometimes wordlessly) over his vibes. This kind of thing wasn't totally unprecedented (listen to early recordings of bassist Slam Stewart, or later recordings of guys like George Benson), but McFarland's take on the style always had a slightly off-kilter feel. Sometimes this worked to his advantage, on tracks like 'Fried Bananas' (from the 'In Sound' LP). I wanted to include a version of Fred Neil’s 'Everybody's Talkin' - (other than the Nilsson hit), but couldn't find my Fred Neil album, so I dug out this version by McFarland. Here he mixes straight singing of the lyrics with whistling (?!?) and the strangest thing of all is that it works. Whether that has anything to do with McFarland, or is simply a testament to the greatness of the song is for you to decide. Strangest of all, McFarland died in 1971 after being poisoned in a bar in NYC. 13. Donovan - Sand and Foam - Donovan is one of the most misunderstood artists of the 60's. Most people have no idea of his music outside of 'Mellow Yellow', and he is largely remembered as an uber- flower child. In fact he made some extremely interesting music, fusing folk, pop and jazz with some great songwriting. 'Sand and Foam' from the 'Mellow Yellow' album is just Donovan and his guitar, dark, stark and moody. I can't make much sense of the lyrics, but I like them a lot. 14. Philamore Lincoln - The North Wind Blew South - Completely obscure outside of UK psyche-pop fans, Lincoln made this album in 1969 (rumored to be assisted by various Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin members). Most of it is fairly light and wispy, but with a nice pop touch. One of the other tunes 'Temma Harbour' was a UK hit for Mary Hopkin. 'The North Wind Blew South' has a kind of subdued, minor epic quality to it - kind of like what a lot of late 60's/early 70's prog rock would sound like with all of the bombast and pretension drained out. I don't know if the lp was ever reissued. 15. Ramsey Lewis - Mother Natures Son - The title track from his Cadet lp (long sought after by beat heads for the drums on 'Back In The USSR') starts out with a totally incongruous moog interlude which leads directly into a lush, Charles Stepney (the other great Cadet Records producer/arranger with Richard Evans) arrangement. The strings are prominent, the horns subdued and Lewis's piano manages to snake in and out of the mix without getting lost. Things get a little less lush and a lot more jazzy toward the middle, eventually exploding into a burst of strings (sounding like George Martin's orchestrations for the 'Yellow Submarine' soundtrack). This whole album is great. 16. John Martyn - Bless The Weather - Martyn was/is part of the axis of UK folk-rockers like Fairport Convention/Richard Thompson, Nick Drake and others, and like those artists have never really been strictly folk. Like Drake his style is definitely informed by jazz and pop, and his original songs are high quality. 'Bless The Weather' (the title song of the LP) is mellow, jazzy folk with lots of acoustic guitar. 'Bless the weather that brought you to me. Curse the storm that took you away.' 17. David Bowie - London Boys - Great story/song from Bowie's lesser know mid-60's period. Slightly melancholy (and quite possibly ironic, one never knows with Bowie) ode to the pilled-up Mods of London, circa 1967. Redone quite well by The Times in the 80's. Not at all what you'd expect from Bowie, kind of like a prototype for some of the quieter songs on 'Hunky Dory' and 'The Man Who Sold The World’' and definitely in line with the theatrical pretensions of Bowie the mime. 18. Tom Rush - Urge For Going - Definitely in line with my comments on Sonny Stitt, 'Urge For Going' was from Tom Rush's attempt (successful to some extent) at career redefinition 1968's 'The Circle Game'. Rush had always been a great interpreter of folk and folk blues, and occasionally threw a very tasty stylistic curve ball like his early 60's cover of 'Just A Closer Walk With Thee'. 'Circle Game' had him all screen-idoled up on a cover photo by Linda Eastman, and covering a selection of tunes by up and comers (at the time) like James Taylor, Jackson Browne and the composer of this tune, Joni Mitchell - all of whom had yet to reach a wide audience. The arrangements on the album are marked with subtle brilliance, set to showcase Rush's dry baritone, with which he paints 'Urge For Going' as if he were sitting in chilled Canadian prairie. Very nice. 19. Scott Walker - Montague Terrace (In Blue) - I can't say much more about Walker that I didn't say earlier. One of his best.


Blogger Funky'sChick said...

Wow...this blog is fantastic. I've never read anything so compelling in my life. If this blogger was in front of me, I wouldn't be able to keep my hands off of him. He must be one hell of a guy. Keep up the good work!

11/08/2004 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Why, thank you...

11/08/2004 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger MackMcCoy said...

re: why Brenda Lee would cover "The Crying Game" ... apparently the Ian & the Zodiacs version (which I love, although I have not heard the Dave Berry OG) was a #1 regional hit in Texas in 1965! The single sold almost half-a-million copies in the US, and apparently the bulk of them were being moved in the TX and gulf coast areas. So you can see why it would have been on Brenda's radar as a song to cover. SOUL STRUT FOREVER!


9/21/2008 06:58:00 PM  

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