Rockabilly

Gene

I’ve had this topic in my folder since I started blogging four years ago. On the heels of the Elvis post it seems it’s time. Rockabilly by definition is a hybrid name, or technically a portmanteau so I recently learned. A combination of Rock and Roll and Hillbilly music. Rock and Roll as we know started to really develop in the early 1950’s and prior to that much of Country Music was described as Hillbilly Music. However that name was going out of fashion at the same time as Rock and Roll was rising. So it is somewhat fitting that we have a genre that bridges the gap between the two. Just to set the stage for Rockabilly, which not unlike most of what we call a ‘genre’ is actually considered a subgenre, in this case of Rock, so let’s take a look at the roots of the music. As the name says a big influence came from what was labeled as Hillbilly, so geographically we are talking about music from the Appalachia and the Ozarks as well as parts of the American South. It came to be used to describe the music, often in a derogatory way meaning music from the hills of just about anywhere.  Hillbilly Music moved under the term Country & Western, which ‘adopted’ this sound and other associated styles including Bluegrass, Folk, Western, and Folk Blues among others. Having said that, post this musical amalgamation the legendary Country star Hank Williams has been described as The Hillbilly Shakespeare which is unrelated to Rockabilly. For a short time in the late 1940’s Cashbox Magazine among its many music charts had one called the The Nations Big 5 Hillbilly. As for the term Hillbilly, it has not gone away entirely and is closely linked to Old Time Music and Bluegrass.Read More »

Elvis Presley, simply complicated.

I have dedicated two posts to Elvis and his name pops up over 50 times throughout my blog, more than any other artist. Now there is a new biopic out and from what I have heard and read it was very well done with some amazing vocals from Austin Butler, Elvis impersonator number 19,350,108 (serious fans will understand that figure). If you include singing in the shower this is a low estimate of people who have tried to sing like Elvis Presley. According to Wikipedia there have been an estimated 400,000 full blown costume, hair, voice, the whole thing impersonators. I am sure many of us have heard some very good ones, but Butler maybe the best of them all. Really looking forward to seeing the film. I am no expert on Elvis, but I do know a bit about his music, particularly in the early years, and I’m learning all the time. I titled this post with an oxymoron as I believe the life story of Elvis is full of contradictions and events that make his very existence a labyrinthine that intertwines not only the history of Rock and Roll, but three decades of changing times, culture and the events that led to his untimely death at the age of 42. For that story you need to watch some of the many films or read one of the many biographies.

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We all know of the King of Rock and Roll, a title he never accepted, and we at least recognize a song or two, afterall he holds the record for the most certifications ever from the RIAA (Recording Industry Arts Association) in the USA. For example he had 54 Singles obtain Gold Record (500,000 sold) status, for all his album and other milestones you can see the Guinness World Records link here. Why do we (maybe not you but a lot of us) still listen to Elvis songs, many of which are now over 60 years old? As I write this it was 68 years ago today, meaning we are just two years away from the 70th anniversary of the recording of his first release, July 5, 1954. Music for most of us is a personal thing, we like what we like because somehow on some level we can connect with it. Why is it when we play our favorite song for someone else they often offer a friendly nod or say, “that’s nice”? Why don’t they love it as much as you do? It could be the style or genre, maybe the artist, melody or the lyrics they don’t connect with, maybe it’s just missing the context that made you love the song. We could say it’s the music of our youth that sticks with us, but many people change their preferences over time. Hey, my sister talked me into going in on buying a The Partridge Family album when I was 12 so I know this is true!


Elvis passed when I was in high school and I’ll admit he was on the periphery of my music radar, unlike my girlfriend at the time who would have gleefully tossed her panties on stage. But I came to enjoy that amazing voice and his unique way of delivering a song on a record, let alone on stage or in film. Elvis wasn’t known for his songwriting abilities and like many artists he didn’t read or write music. And though he played guitar, bass and piano as well as other instruments, typically he is not remembered for this talent.  All was surpassed by the love of his voice and grant you, his looks and swinging hips for some. The focus of my blog is centered around cover songs and given the plethora of Elvis information both pre and in, the new film, I will talk about him from a different perspective. Focusing on his early career, here is a selection of songs and many of them were not Elvis originals but he certainly added something special and made most any song his own.

While researching in May of 2018, I found there were 485 documented (by Secondhandsongs.com) songs that Elvis covered. In 2019 they had 507 listed and as of July 2022 that number has grown to 514, researchers are uncovering and adding new songs to the list all the time. The original Elvis songs he did total 271, which even for a 25 year recording career is very impressive. Not that it’s a competition but just to give you a comparison, Rod Stewart in his 50 plus year career has recorded about 50 (Elvis 271) or so original songs and approximately 315 (Elvis 514) covers. I took the time to add up the number of covers of just the top 10 of the 271 original songs by Elvis and there are currently 2,179 versions, add in the rest for a grand total of 5916. This makes him the fifth most recorded artist of all time, behind The Beatles, Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby and Bob Dylan. Expect a spike in these numbers as the new movie will inspire a lot of singers.

Thanks to YouTube and various posters who have done my work for me I can give you video or audio of some of these songs. And thanks to Secondhandsongs.com I have a great reference library! Here is a selection of covers that Elvis did early in his career with reference to some original songs as well.

The first songs to be recorded at Sun Studios and then released on July 19, 1954 were “That’s Alright” a cover of Arthur Crudup, and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” from Bill Monroe.

You’re a Heartbreaker” was his first original song (written by Jack Sallee) recorded December 8, 1954 and released on Jan 8, 1955. It was the ‘B’ side of the single “Milkcow Blues Boogie” a cover of Kokomo Arnold from 1934. Neither song charted, his first original song that would become a hit was “Heartbreak Hotel”, released a year later on Jan 10, 1956. This was his first release with RCA Records and it was a worldwide smash #1 song.

At this point in the timeline I would like to talk about the great Little Richard. I did a post on him a while back and you can check that out here, so I may repeat myself a bit here. First I will say he was a key figure and pioneer in Rock and Roll. When Specialty Records released his sixth single and first successful song, “Tutti Frutti” in October of 1955 it hit #18 on the then equivalent of the Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B chart. He would follow with “Long Tall Sally”, “Rip it Up”, “Ready Teddy” and “Lucille” all with the exception of “Ready Teddy” hit #1 on the R&B charts and all had varying success on the mainstream charts. All fantastic stuff.

Pat Boone was the first to cover Richard, his version of “Tutti Frutti” which was a ‘B’ side, charted at #12 in 1956. Elvis was next do the song and he would record Richard’s songs seven times but none of them charted. Was Little Richard a victim of the the exploitation experienced by performers, and many of them Black, absolutely. This practice is a stain on White culture, particularly in the US, but also Canada and the UK. Is Elvis to blame for any of this? I think not, and again these are issues I have tackled in many of my past posts on Rock and Roll and Blues history. Elvis recorded Little Richard songs as a tribute not as an attempt to “rip him off” or steal his music. He recorded covers of many Black artists, because they were great songs. Did Elvis pick up some pointers from the dynamic Little Richard, yes, did Little Richard pick up some tips from other artists such as Esquerita? Yes.

Little Richards’ woes at least from a royalty and financial perspective were due to a bad record deal. It is true Black artists were notoriously paid less than the popular White artists. If you do some research you will find that recording artists both Black and White have been getting screwed over by Record Companies and Managers since the beginning of recorded music. Both Black and White record executives often underpaid their artists, also Black and White executives stole or hid royalty fees from both Black and White performers, and the list goes on. Black artists have covered other Black artists. Black artists have also covered White artists many times, every hear of “Maybellene” or “Blueberry Hill”? This is a debate that has been going on for a very long time and has come into mainstream again with the movie release. Just thought I would include this perspective as it not about a Black and White divide, though a little education on this topic would go a long way.

While I am tangenting again, just one more aside, here is a sampling of bona fide early Rock and Roll songs by date of recording/release to give more perspective on this. I can go back several years but let’s just begin with Big Joe Turner’s original “Shake Rattle and Roll”, Feb/April 1954, covered by Bill Haley June/August 1954 after he covered”Rock Around the Clock” April/May 1954, Elvis with “That’s Alright” July/July 1954, Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” May/July 1955, Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” September/October 1955. James Brown’s first hit was “Please, Please, Please” Feb/Feb 1956. Buddy Holly’s first hit release was “Blue Days – Black Nights” Jan/April 1956. These and many other artists were in the mix as pioneers of Rock and Roll, did any of them invent it? No. On to more Elvis songs.

“Blue Suede Shoes” was written and first recorded by Carl Perkins in December 1955, Elvis recorded the song in February 1956 and easily the best know version

“Money Honey” was written by Jesse Stone and originally recorded by Clyde McPhatter and Drifters 1953. Elvis released it in 1956.

My Baby Left Me”, another song by Arthur Crudup from November 1950. Elvis released it May 4,1956

“Shake Rattle and Roll” again a song written by Jesse Stone (Alias Charles Calhoun) and first released by Joe Turner and His Blues Kings in June 1954. The best-known version of this song for most is from Bill Haley and His Comets from July 1954, but Elvis was the seventh to try this one, released in 1956.

In total Elvis would release 26 covers and 11 original songs in 1956. Notable originals include; “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” followed by “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Paralyzed”. Adding to the list of memorable covers that year were:

Hound Dog” originally from Willie Mae Thornton, albeit via Freddie Bell and The Bellboys, but Elvis would find his own style for the song. Check out this clip from ‘Big Mama’ Thornton, “Everything Gonna Be Alright” and you will hear why she came to people’s attention beyond “Hound Dog”, she was an incredible talent who was unfortunately much overlooked in her all too short time with us.

“How’s the World Treating You” written by two major stars in the music world, Chet Atkins and Boudleaux Bryant, first released in 1953 by the Beaver Valley Sweethearts. Elvis did it in October 1956.

“Love Me Tender” has original lyrics written by Ken Darby who was a singer and vocal director on the Wizard of Oz soundtrack. He wrote more songs for Elvis as well as Marilyn Monroe and Bing Crosby. It is classified as a cover however because the melody is from a Civil War song circa 1861 called “Aura Lee” written by George Poulton, the original lyrics were not used but they were written by W.W. Fosdick.

As we know Elvis served in the Army from March 1958 to March of 1960. Recorded on June 10, 1958 before he left for Germany they released “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I” in March of 1959 as a ‘B’ side song. It was gaining popularity so they re-released it as an ‘A’ side and it hit #1 in the UK and #2 in the US. The first ‘A’ side was an original Elvis song, “I Need Your Love Tonight” which hit also #1 in the UK and #4 in the US.

After his return he and The Jordanaires were right back at it and I mean hard at it, he released 29 cover songs in 1960 alone and another 13 original songs. In 1960 and 1961 he would have “Surrender” and “Stuck on You” both hit #1 and “A Mess of Blues” was #2 in the UK. “Little Sister” reached #5 in the US, however the song, along with the singles flipside “(Maries the Name) His Latest Flame” both hit #1 in the UK. For covers it would be “It’s Now or Never” which was another song with original lyrics but the music was from “O Sole mio” composed by Eduardo di Capua in 1898, and “Are Lonesome Tonight” which was originally from 1926. These two hit #1 in the US, UK, Canada and Australia as well as several other countries in the top five. “Fever” which was about the 11th version of the song first recorded by Little Willie John was not a hit for Elvis but one of my favorites. For me it’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” at the top of my list, it has original lyrics from the dynamic trio of Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss. Although the music was adapted from “Plaisir d’amour”, which was a popular French love song composed in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini.

In 1962 ‘Good Luck Charm” would hit #1 in the US and eight other charts, “Return to Sender” hit #2 in the US and #1 on seven other charts. He would chart another three singles that year. In 1963 he charted two singles, “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’ peaked at #3 in the US and #1 on eight other charts.

Elvis’s time was dedicated to a string of movies (1964-66) so his recording releases were largely restricted to songs from those films. Unless you are an Elvis fanatic you may not know that an album was released in 1999 of ‘home’ recordings from 1964-67. Some of the songs are just Elvis solo, several were used for a later Gospel album and other songs include an ensemble such as “500 Miles“. It’s a folk favorite written by Hedy West first recorded by “The Journeymen” (John Phillips, Scott McKenzie and Dick Weissman) in 1961. The song was based on the words and melody from this traditional folk song – the first recording is called “I’m Nine Hundred Miles from Home” by Fiddlin’ John Carson (1924).

Just how far back can we go to find a connection to a song Elvis covered? So far (that I’ve found at least) as mentioned is “Love Me Tender” as it’s roots go back to 1861 and you can check it out my Love Songs post. But here is another, “The Gospel Train” or “Get On Board” is a traditional gospel song dating back to at least 1872. Here are the Tuskegee Institute Singers (1916). Based on this same melody is “Cindy” by Riley Puckett and Clayton McMichen, first recorded in 1927. Hope you are following along OK, now a song based on that melody was recorded as “Cindy Cindy” (words and music by Darrell Fuller, Buddy Kaye and Ben Weisman) released by Elvis in June of 1971.

Here are some more songs;

Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” by Eddie Riff with Orchestra (written by Ivory Joe Hunter and Clyde Otis) in 1956. Elvis recorded this as a single in 1964.

And I Love You So” (1970) written and performed by Don McLean, another beautiful song from a gifted artist, this song touched Elvis enough that he released a version in May of 1975.

Elvis recorded several songs from the talented Jimmy Reed, such as “Baby What You Want Me to Do” (1959). Elvis (1968).

In an earlier post I talked about Aretha’s cover (1971) of “Bridge over Troubled Water’ from Simon and Garfunkel (January 26, 1970) but Elvis , and an astounding 52 other artists did a cover of this in that first year (1970) alone.

Elvis also covered Bob Dylan (four times) including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right“. To say Elvis’s tastes and abilities were diverse is a bit of an understatement.

Trivia. The Queen song “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (1979) was written by Freddie Mercury in about 10 minutes while lounging in a bath. It was a tribute to Elvis. It was the first time Freddie composed a song using a guitar which he admittedly “couldn’t play for nuts” and the band completed and recorded the song in half an hour. It went to #1 in the US, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands and sold close to 3 million copies worldwide. A great cover by the very talented Dwight Yoakam the closest thing to a legit ‘Country Elvis’ you’ll ever find, he hit #1 on the Canadian Country chart in 1999.

Interesting fact that top ranked (Rolling Stone Magazine) music icons Elvis (#3), Aretha Franklin (#9) and Robert Johnson (fifth greatest guitarist) all passed away on August 16.

Thanks as always for reading my blog. Click on the Follow button if you would like my new post sent directly to your inbox.

Acrostico 🔤

I know I have some Wordle fans, I follow this very interesting blog and thought I would share!

words and music and stories

🅁 🄴 🄻 🄸 🅃 🅃 🄾

Vorrei proporre un acrostico che rifacendosi alla poesia di Adrienne Rich gioca con la parola Relitto:

Riaffioro lentamente,
Emergendo dalla
Liquida distesa
In cui mi ero immersa per
Tentar di trovar
Tesori sommersi,
Orgogliosa della mia conchiglia bianca.

Se volete partecipare, aggiungete i vostri testi nei commenti: saranno riportati qui⤵️

The language game I’d like to suggest this week is an Acrostic that refers to Adrienne Rich’s poem and spells out the word Wreck

Wars always
Ravage
Everything
Cancelling life
Knowingly

If you want to play, please write acrostics in your own language: they will be published here⤵️

aparna12 sent this delightful acrostic, allowing herself a poetic license from the proposed word:

Don’t get offended if anyone calls you stupid because STUPID stands for
S Smart
T Talented
U Unique

View original post 23 more words

 Happy Canada Day and Independence Day! (2022)

 
 
When it comes to music there is a lot we here in Canada share with our American cousins to the south. There is also much we don’t directly share but have eagerly adopted such as Blues, Jazz, R&R and of course R&B/Hip Hop. When comparing things between the two countries the multiple of ten times often comes up, as the US has approximately 331 million people and Canada has 38 million, which is closer to 8.7 but we tend to round numbers. So given the disparity in population, despite the great music from Canada the US has always and continues to have considerable influence. If you are a Country Singer and or Songwriter sooner or later, you end up in Nashville. If you really want to know about the Blues, you must travel even further south.
 
Perhaps we Canadians have a bit of an identity complex when it comes to music, and for than matter a few other things, as there is no denying we have adopted a lot of music/musical styles from the US. Having said that we have some unique and original music in Canada such as several forms originating from our only officially French speaking province of Quebec, First Nations and Métis peoples. And although Newfoundland has Irish, Celtic and British roots you won’t find music quite like it anywhere else.
 
Without dropping some more statistics we here in Canada think we pull our own weight in terms of representation of most any musical genre compared to the US. As most of my regular readers will know I am stuck in the past, but despite by anachronistic musical tastes I can read a music chart from 2021 and 2022. Enough so that I see names like Drake, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, and The Weeknd among the top artists in the USA/ World. Many will recognize names like Alessia Cara, Jessie Reyez and Ruth B, Daniel Caesar with producer extraordinaire Jordan Evans and speaking of producers there is a long list here as well. 
 
In past posts I talked about the iconic names known internationally to come out of Canada like Celine Dion, Leonard Cohen, Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Shania Twain, Michael Bublé, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Nickelback and going back a bit, Paul Anka. Many of these artists are still touring and making great music. Along the way I have likely missed mention of Avril Lavigne and Carly Rae Jepsen as well as dozens more, my point being Canada is not in the back seat when it comes to recognizable names. 
 
In truth, in popular music there’s no competing with the USA. However, it seems (from what I have read) that music is becoming much more international, in large part due to the accessibility via streaming and that silly app that sounds like a clock. Now, there is an argument that streaming has stifled the emerging artist and the traditional methods of touring small venues had all but dried up even before the global crisis. Having said that local music scenes continue to find a way to survive. But back to my point, if you are asked to name the most iconic names in music, your list will include Beyoncé, Bob Dylan, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Post Malone, Madonna, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, or Kanye West, all from the USA. 
 
When it comes to lists and birthplace, I often see names like Rihanna, who is Barbadian, Nicki Minaj (Trinidad and Tobago) and Drake, The Weeknd and Joni Mitchell, listed as American artists. While some have become US citizens many origins get lost in the big American pie. The same can be said in other parts of the entertainment industry with many actors like Jim Carrey, Stana Katic, Rachel McAdams, the two Ryan’s (Reynolds and Gosling), Kiefer Sutherland, William Shatner, all born in Canada. I don’t have room to list the great actors to come from the USA.
 
We do share much more however, as there are dozens of well known songs and groups that have a US and Canada mix. Many iconic songs were written by Canadian Robbie Robertson while in The Band, and we also have; Arcade Fire, The Mamas and The Papas, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Blood Sweat and Tears and anything that Neil Young has been in like Buffalo Springfield and CSNY. The LA based Rock band Steppenwolf was founded by Canadian artists Jerry Edmonton, Goldy McJohn and German-Canadian John Kay, they would add American guitarist Michael Monarch and bass player Rushton Moreve.
 
Here are a few songs that you may not know have a Canada/US connection and as I am wont to do, let’s go back in time a bit first.
 
“Red River Valley” is listed as a Traditional song and has been a hit for several Country artists over the years, although first recorded by American singers, Canadian Folklorist Edith Folke has uncovered evidence the origins can be traced to Western Canada before 1896. This predates recordings by a couple of artists I have mentioned in past posts, Carl T Sprague (as “Cowboy Love Song“) and Bascom Lamar Lunsford (as “Sherman Valley”) both recorded it in 1925. There are many different lyrics that follow the same theme and certainly the melody. More modern versions, if I can use that term, follow the name, “Red River Valley” as first recorded by Hugh Cross and Riley Puckett in 1927. Google search will give you this wonderful version from Marty Robbins, released in 1961. Including instrumentals there are 225 recordings of this song.
 
I have mentioned Shelton Brooks before, he is Canadian born and is of African descent. His family moved to Detroit when he was quite young. A talented musician and singer best remembered for writing the song “Some of these Days” (covered over 300 times) first recorded by Sophie Tucker in 1910, released in 1911 on cylinder and she did it again in 1927, released on 78 rpm. Serena Ryder (2006).
 
Bob Nolan (Clarence Roberts Noble) moved from his birthplace (April 13, 1908) of Winnipeg Manitoba to New Brunswick with his mother sometime after his parents’ divorce. After a couple more moves at age 13, he ended up in Tucson, Arizona to live with his father. Nolan would write “Tumbling Tumbleweeds“, first released in 1934 by The Sons of the Pioneers, a group he co-founded with Americans Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers) and Tim Spencer. In high school Nolan would write a poem, later it became a favorite Cowboy song titled “Cool Water” first recorded by Bob Atcher in 1940, followed by The Sons of the Pioneers in 1941. Nolans songs have been covered by Dan Blocker (Hoss on Bonanza), Patsy Montana, Pete Seeger, Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, and a boodle of Hanks: Williams, Shizzoe,Thompson and in 1938, Hank the Yodelling Cowboy, also known as Hank Snow.
 
At age 17, Montreal born Alex Kramer’s first gig was playing piano at a silent movie theatre in 1920. He would later travel the US as a Vaudeville and Nightclub performer. His sideline as a Vocal Coach would lead to him marry one of his American students, Joan Whitney. The pair would write several notable songs such as “High on a Windy Hill” which was a hit for Gene Krupa (vocals by Howard Du Lany) in 1940, they also wrote “Candy” with Mack David (Baby It’s You). “Candy” has been recorded over 70 times but the original by Jo Stafford and Johnny Mercer remains the standout. Other artists that recorded their songs are Doris Day, Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, and the Andrews Sisters. They also co-wrote Jimmy Dorsey’s #1 hit song “My Sister and I” (vocals by Bob Eberly) with another well known composer, Hy Zaret who co-wrote “Unchained Melody”.
 
I have blogged about Buffy (Beverly) Sainte-Marie, who was born in Canada February 20, 1941, She is described as an Indigenous Canadian-American singer-songwriter and musician. Her other endeavors include social activism, educator, and visual artist. She has done much to help preserve first nations culture in Canada and the US. Oh, and she is also a composer, and has an Oscar to prove it. I was fortunate enough to see her perform at the Aeolian Hall in London, Ontario in November of last year. She is still in top form and it was an incredible experience. Here is a clip from her 2018 show.
 
Singer Bobby Curtola of “Fortune Teller” fame was born in Port Arthur Ontario but perhaps his most lasting legacy to Canada and the US is the jingle he wrote, composed and sang, “Things go better with Coca-Cola” in 1964.
 
Speaking of teen idols, again I have mentioned Paul Anka before and the fact that he wrote the theme song for The Johnny Carson show, but he also penned one of Buddy Holly’s most enduring songs “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore“. It became a hit soon after Holly died in the plane crash of 1959. Covered to great success by Linda Ronstadt in 1974 and Serena Ryder in 2006.  
 
Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was the smash hit from the musical Hair. It spent six weeks at #1 in 1969. The lyrics were written by two Americans, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, and Canadian Galt MacDermot composed the music. It’s perhaps best known by the 1969 release by The 5th Dimension in 1969 in the medley format, “Aquarius” is the main song with “Let the Sunshine In” as an add on which has only been recorded once as a stand alone song.  Including instrumentals there are 180 versions of the song. The Original Cast recording of Aquarius is listed as Warren Burton and Company in 1967, first released recording was credited to the guy who actually sang the song in the play, Ronald (Ronnie) Dyson and Company.
 
An American band known as Blood, Sweat and Tears lost their lead singer Al Kooper so thanks to Folk music star Judy Collins they hired Canadian David Clayton Thomas. Their self-titled record released late 1968 contained the hit songs’ “Spinning Wheel”, “And When I Die” and “You Made Me So Very Happy”. It topped Billboards’ album chart for 7 of it’s of 109 weeks. The album won an unprecedented five Grammy awards in 1969/70. They were the first artists to have three U.S. gold singles on the same album. 
 
Montreal born Andy Kim moved to New York and the Brill Building to pursue a career in music. He had a hit covering the Ronettes song “Baby I Love You” in 1969.  Kim, along with American songwriting legend Jeff Barry wrote “Sugar, Sugar” that same year which was a hit for Don Kirshner’s studio creation of The Archies. The song featured Kim and Toni Wine backing up Ron Dante (The Cuff Links) on lead vocals. The song would hit #1 for four weeks and was the Song of the Year for Billboard Magazine for 1969. You will also know him from a song he wrote himself, “Rock Me Gently” which was a #1 Billboard hit in 1974.
 
Eddie Schwartz is a Toronto songwriter who wrote “The Doctor“, a #1 hit on the Mainstream Rock chart for the Doobie Brothers. He wrote “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” for Pat Benatar and many other songs recorded by International artists. The song title was featured on the Jeopardy clue title board the other day.
 
Well, that’s a good bit of the older stuff, there are many more American-Canadian collaborations in bands, songwriting and producing but perhaps another day.
 
Trivia
 
Eddie Schwartz’ song “Don’t Shed a Tear” (with Rob Friedman) would become a hit for British singer songwriter Paul Carrack known for his lead vocals on “How Long” (Ace), “Tempted” (Squeeze) and “In the Living Years” (Mike + the Mechanics). In 1987 my wife and I were at Paul Carracks debut for the album One Good Reason in Toronto, I think it was the El Mocambo but not sure on that point. Anyway, when Carrack started into “Don’t Shed a Tear” the guy beside me happened to be the above mentioned Eddie Schwartz and he said “I wrote that song”, oh the brushes with fame I’ve had! Schwartz has had hit songs recorded by Donna Summer, Meatloaf and many more. Also, of note that evening, at least it was for me! Carrack’s voice started to crack, and he said just one word, “Nick” and without missing a beat, his bass player, the one and only Nick Lowe started into “Half a Boy and Half a Man” and the place nearly fell apart. Clearly full of Nick Lowe nerds like myself. He was a big supporter of Carrack and they have played together for years, the two shared back-up bands on several albums and tours. Look for Paul Carrack as the keyboard player in the video clip from 1984. Still going strong in 2022 Nick Lowe is making a tour stop opening for his protégé, Elvis Costello in Toronto in August, yes I will be there!
 

Boodle: Old Cowboy saying for a crowd of people.

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Vocal Groups

Vocal Groups

You may ask, isn’t any group that sings a “Vocal Group”? As with many musical questions the answer is not that straight forward. But think of the ‘Backstreet Boys‘. My understanding of the difference is that a “Vocal Group” primarily consists of a front of at least three singers (three part harmony) with a back-up band. While researching I ran across this website The Vocal Group Hall of Fame (VGHF) by the names it mentions it also allows for two part harmony or Duo’s, though I can’t find an actual definition on the website. However to me this site seems contradictory in that the typically guitar playing Everly Brothers seems to fit for them. I will use this website as a bit of foil for this post. Aside from the VGHF view, in my definition it would be very uncommon among these groups for one or more of them to play a musical instrument (not that they can’t) as part of their performance.  Therefore disqualifying the commonly guitar playing Everly Brothers. On the other hand, the VGHF initial inductees for the most part reflect this singing only criteria. But again in the ‘Hall of Fame’, I’ve found many more exceptions to this such as the ‘Bee Gees’, Robin was the only ‘vocalist’ while Maurice Gibb quite often played the keyboards among many other instruments during performances (and when recording) and Barry played guitar. Read More »

Music stories and my Fourth Blogiversary

Year Four

I write this blog because I enjoy the subject matter and it interests me, last year I recapped some stats on my third anniversary; as of the end of April 2021, there were a record over 4,500 page views for the month and in total had just passed the 100,000 mark.  An increase of 44,000 over 2020 and the number of different countries went from 83 to 107. This is my “passion project” I guess you could say, a hobby that was not designed to make money. Nevertheless I will admit I was pleased enough with the growth that I continued to write in the past year. Now as of May 1, 2022, I have reached 122 countries and over 180,000 pageviews, representing an increase of 80,000 views and 13 countries in the past year. I exceeded my one week record of 13,000 pageviews. My updated post on The Most Covered Pop Artists and Songs of All Time not only continues to be the most popular but the pageview count has risen by more than 3,000 in one year. At nearly 8 thousand pageviews it is by far my most viewed post out my 159 written to date. That’s quite enough of a walk down vanity lane, I should get to the point. I have reached the 4 year mark and while that has surpassed my expectations I continue to struggle with the time and effort invested, so my posting may be less consistent going forward.

A little bit about Music Blogging

There are many blogs that talk about cover songs, but very few embrace the history of vintage music the way that I do. The majority of people are interested in current music, and that’s a good thing. But contemporary music, with several exceptions I will say, interests me much less. While I have no idea as to the demographics of my readers I suspect the vast majority are 50 plus. Which is of course relates more to the eras I talk about, for the most part stuff I know and familiar with, the added benefit is that I always learn something new during the course of my research.

So if we take any given song from any year from even the biggest stars in let’s say 2004 that may even have been covered a dozen or so times does not typically grab my attention the way a tune from 1904 might. Actually the most covered song from 2004 is a great tune from their first album Hot Fuss by the Rock Band The Killers, “Mr. Brightside” with an impressive 69 versions. However the history is not there and as far as I can see there’s not much of a story either.

Conversely, and this a great example of what I am talking about, the most covered song from 100 years prior has a story. Now I had just picked 2004 at random so I looked at what the most covered songs were from that year as noted. So now we go back to 1904 and the #1 most covered tune is one everyone will recognize. “Aloha Oe” written by Liliuokalani, this is the pen name for the last reigning Monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii which itself dates back to the 15th Century. Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamakaʻeha (September 2, 1838 – November 11, 1917) had her short lived reign of two years overthrown in 1893. I will give a very short version of a long and fascinating story. She had attempted to bring about a more democratic government and allow people to vote on their leaders. This was seen as contrary to American interests and with the help of the US Marines the country was seized and pro American leaders put in place. This, not surprisingly was mostly about money and resources. Though later exonerated she was put on trial and when her closest friends and family were threatened with hanging, she wrote a letter confessing to supposed wrong doings to help justify the coup. She served a period of confinement, albeit in the Palace. We all know how that turned out as eventually Hawaii was made the 50th State in 1959.

While under house arrest she continued to write several more beautiful songs. Liliuokalani composed “Aloha Oe” 1878 and in 1904 she recorded it in Hawaiian along with her sister Princess Likelike and two other ‘girl’s. Credited as the Quartet of Hawaiian Girls from Kawaihao Seminary. The first commercial version of the song was the English adaptation by Bing Crosby in 1936. Also recorded by Elvis Presley for the movie Blue Hawaii in 1961. Among the more than 125 recordings is a lovely version from Oregon native Evynne Hollens in 2019 for the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch. Now, while you may argue the merits of my writing, I barely scratched the surface of the story behind a tune that half the planet can hum along to nearly 125 years after it was written.

It’s stories like these that lead me to quite frequently go off on little tangents from the theme of a post. Believe it or not, I have used a fair bit of restraint in that regard. As a consequence I have had a few thoughts on songs I have talked about or as with “Aloha Oe”, newly discovered ones. I didn’t get to fleshing these out enough for a dedicated post and/or they got clipped out of post during the editing process. So here are some of them.

Terminology

We hear terms such as ‘legend’ or ‘icon’ to describe artists and I have used them myself several times. “That’s an iconic song” or “She is a music legend”, but what do the the terms actually mean? Often times when I read the terms from others writing or social media comments it is a substitute for “one of my favorites”. I have to say I am fairly well read on music history so when I come across the terms in reference to someone or a song that I have never heard of, well I question the use of the labels. But who decides whether a singer or musician or group is legendary? What makes a song iconic and worthy of the designation? Many times you will find the words in an Obituary or Biographical pieces, and the editorial nature of them opens the door for the use of the noun(s). The word icon for example has many meanings, such as the small picture on your computer screen or phone, a religious object, painting or a person that represents something in a larger or universal way.

This is an example of what it takes to be labeled an Iconic song. “Bésame mucho” (Kiss Me A Lot) originally written by Consuelo Velázquez in Spanish. First recorded in 1940 by Los Cadetes del Swing. Later the singer songwriter Selig Shaftel known by his stage name as Sunny Skylar would translate and sing an english version, so that “Besame mucho” was first recorded by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra in 1944. Also recorded by The Beatles, the most recent of the over 624 versions is by Martina Balogová from the Czech Republic in 2021. Songs that are currently very popular must stand the test of time to become iconic. Check out his interesting article on iconic songs, https://www.eonline.com/ca/news/699788/here-are-the-most-iconic-songs-of-all-time-according-to-science

The Culture Beyond the Music

In my recent post on the 1970’s I edit out this tangent from the topic of Punk Music; I can see the sway of Punk Culture, aside from the musical influences, in other art forms. From what I have read there is connection by way of more than just a coincidental use of the word or name “Punk” in the Sci-Fi book concepts/genre of Cyberpunk (coined by William Gibson in 1979, btw his Neuromancer is a great read) followed by Steampunk (author Kevin Jeter). They and others found their writing inspiration from earlier authors including HG Wells and the eccentric William S. Burroughs, a bit later also the likes of Michael Moorcock. But to my point, more recently when transformed into visual art such as comics, it comes out looking like Punk fashion and the characters persona reflects that renegade lifestyle. The stories themselves are often set in Dystopian environments with Victorian Era style ‘steam’ technology. There are many short stories, novels, comic book series and video games are designed in the Steampunk and/or Cyberpunk style. Although it is based on a 1968 Book by Philip K Dick (another odd man but a brilliant author I’d recommend) the ‘look’ of some of the characters in the movie Blade Runner from 1982 is an example. For video games there is the popular Borderlands series and yes (guilty pleasure time) I admit to owning that ;).

Sampling

Also from the 1970’s post I had researched a bit on the origins of Song Sampling; For example, if we look at Song Sampling which is not normally my thing, there are tens of thousands of excerpts taken from songs of this decade and inserted, for the most part into Rap, Hip Hop, Funk and R&B songs. Sampling by definition is the use of a previous recording in whole or part and inserted into a new piece of music. For the beginnings of this phenomenon we can look to pioneer James Tenney and his experimental “Blue Suede” in 1961 which incorporated clips of Elvis Presley’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes” along with audio distortions. One of the first commercial examples would be the use of a “Sousa” March from American composer John Philip Sousa, which had been previously recorded by George Martin and Geoff Emerick and inserted into The Beatles “Yellow Submarine” recording in 1966. Followed by the more well known use of a BBC King Lear broadcast into “I Am the Walrus” in 1967. However it was in the 1970’s when Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and others were more regularly using this technique. Sampling began to really impact the recording industry, particularly as new technology was created in 1970’s. While growing common among live DJ performances it was still a fairly sparse practice until the 1980’s, once the R&B/Hip Hop/Rap genres really got hold of it, a new art form was created. As far as songs from the 70’s that have had samples taken from them, “Think About It” (1971) by Lyn Collins (which was written and produced by James Brown) has been sampled 3077 times according to whosampledwho.com . If you include his singing and writing credits Brown is the most sampled artist in almost 14,500 songs. In Hip Hop, Drum beats are the most sampled sections of songs and Browns “Funky Drummer” from 1970 has been sampled 1750 times.

Conclusion

So this is just a short post today to make a mark for my four years of blogging and thanks to my buddy Shayne for his support and the note today acknowledging that bit of trivia. A special thanks to my family (aka my patient and understanding wife), friends and regular readers. Also thanks to those that take the time to pass on a note or comment, especially David and Darren, for without feedback I operate in a bit of a vacuum. Some of my FB friends share my blog posts, and to Judy-thanks for doing that every time. My dear friend Steve and I have talked about music almost every week for the last 45 years or so, and that helps keep me going as well. I would also like to thank all those who have visited my site and read a blog post or two. Happy reading and happy listening.

References: 123, 4,

The 1970’s Pt. 3

Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic from 1975

I received some feedback on the first two 1970’s posts citing that there were “some forgotten songs mentioned, and yet they came back immediately in my head” which is all part of the fun.

Music of the 1970’s

Parts one and two focused on three major sources; the Billboard charts, Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs and from The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. A few other references were used and I will try not to repeat myself as I would like to give an overview of the decades music. It was a time of much social change and we saw the introduction of many new music styles that still impact the music of today.

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100 of the Greatest Cover Songs #76-100

Last but not least, 25 more of the Greatest Cover Songs

Ok here is the last of my list, I could go on and as a matter of fact I will, just not with another set of 25 plus “to infinity and beyond!” I have to say it was easy to come up with more songs to complete the total of 100 as this final list started at 43. But it was very difficult to decide which ones would make the cut, so these last 25 songs became a list with a number of great ones left for another day.

Downchild Blues Band
76. “Flip Flop and Fly” is a song by the same collection that brought us the classic “Shake Rattle and Roll” written by Jesse Stone (credited to his pseudonym Charles E. Calhoun) and Lou Willie Turner, sung by Big Joe Turner (1954). The first time I heard this song was at a club in my hometown I’ll say around 1979 or so, performed by the talented Canadian Blues band Downchild Blues Band(1973), later known as just ‘Downchild’. Still the best cover for me although I’ve heard many fine ones out of some over 70 versions, this is a standard blues song sung in venues around the globe. Have a listen and you’ll hear I’m not just being a homer, it really is a well made piece of music. I was fortunate there were a few places noted for booking blues artists like the amazing Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy and attending them with my buddies-for just the music you understand, got me hooked on the genre. I have to sneak in this version from the Geraint Watkins Band (1978) who is a real blast to see perform live.

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100 of the Greatest Cover Songs #51-75

25 more of the Greatest Cover Songs

There has been a very positive response to the first two ‘Greatest’ posts. So the list continues and the songs become no less in their timeless quality compared to numbers one through fifty. I will post a #76-100 edition soon.

51. “I Put a Spell on You” written and originally recorded by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1956. There have been many really good covers of this song but Nina Simone (1965) was just the second person to cover this song. I just can’t get over how overlooked this artist was in her time, a high class version that turns the song on it’s ear to give it an entirely different sound.Read More »

100 of the Greatest Cover Songs #26-50

The next 25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #26-50

In part one I listed 25 of the greatest cover songs and to date it’s been one of my most viewed blog post. There are so many more added to the list so I’ve updated the posts on #’s 51-75 and 76-100 and will publish those as well.

This list in part comes from many of the songs that I have already posted since I started blogging. As for how songs make it on my list there are a few criteria, while I don’t dismiss music from more recent years a song has to have stood the test of time for me, hence much of the list are songs of some vintage and just plain old, like the writer. Next, the original song itself must have some character and some degree of popularity. And preferably the artist and or songwriters are of interest as well. I have read other lists of great cover songs from books, articles and google searches and you’ll find much similarity, but some of them contain songs I just don’t think warrant the attention or at the very least should be much lower on the ‘great’ scale. Last but not least I have to like the songs and most of these I put on my ‘songs I love’ list.Read More »