We wouldn’t call her a contender for “America’s teenager,” but it’s still hard to believe Cyndi Lauper is sixty-two years old. Her birthday was yesterday — a day she shares with Kris Kristofferson, Roy Drusky, and one Osmond or another (Alan? Is that an Osmond?).
We have a paperback of This Day in Music History in the office. It’s where we find the birthdays we write on the blackboard each week. Afterwards its not really something we think much about, but this week it seemed like the musical birthdays would make a peculiar playlist. Here today are a few from this weekend.
Lionel Richie was born on June 20, 1949, and was thirty-four years old when Can’t Slow Down, his second solo album, began its fifty-nine week stay in the top ten. That’s why you see copies of this album in nearly every record store in America — but you know what, it’s that popular for a reason. When was the last time you played your copy? You’ll be surprised how much you enjoy hearing it again.
Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual isn’t quite as ubiquitous as the first three Lionel Richie albums, but for folks in their thirties these days its an old favorite. That’s why Lauper took the entire album on a world-wide 30th anniversary tour two summers ago.
This was the song which set singer Anne Murray’s career on track — it wasn’t originally chosen as a single from her album Country in 1969, but becoming an unexpected hit when released the following year. “Snowbird” was written by another Canadian, Gene MacLellan.
Golf For Women magazine named Murray the world’s best female celebrity golfer in 2007. Betcha didn’t know that.
Billy Guy was one of the longest-serving original members of the Coasters. He also released a series of solo singles in the sixties on Double L Records and — true to the group’s narrow walk between pop and novelty — had a couple of comedy projects in the seventies. One was a double album about drag queens and the other, The Tramp is Funky, featured his own raunchy stand-up material. “Poison Ivy” captures the Coasters’ flair for suggestive humor.
And last we have Brian Wilson, the enigmatic Beach Boy who released his eleventh solo album, No Pier Pressure, earlier this year. We still have one copy in stock for those of you interested in hearing it. The album was originally planned to be a Beach Boys record, to follow their 50th anniversary album That’s Why God Made the Radio, and so includes some of his former bandmates, though obviously not Mike Love who for all intents and purposes fired founding members Wilson and Al Jardine, and David Marks who had been a member since 1962. Mike Love has his own, more profitable version of the Beach Boys which is playing shows in California this month. We’ll let Cyndi sum it all up for today…
Burt Bacharach is turning eighty-seven on Tuesday, and local guitarist Brian Peterson asked if he could come in and perform some of Bacharach’s many famous songs — so he’ll be here this evening at 5pm for your listening enjoyment. In the meantime, we had fun looking for some interesting recordings of his songs. Here’s the ones we chose:
The Story of My Life
“The Story of my Life” was one of the first major successes for Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who had started writing songs together about a year earlier. The single by Marty Robbins reached #1 on Billboard’s country chart and #15 on the pop chart in 1957 — another version in England by Michael Holliday was also a #1 hit. Robbins later re-recorded the song for a 1970 album, and its title was used for a Columbia Legacy compilation disc.
Bacharach also wrote songs over the years with Hal’s brother, Mack. One of them was “The Blob” for the 1958 monster movie starring Steve McQueen. The silly song was recorded by a Los Angeles studio band led by Bernie Knee. The single by the Five Blobs was a surprise hit, reaching #33 on Billboard’s pop chart.
Folks in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania host an annual “Blobfest” which includes re-enactments and a photo opportunities at a facsimile of the basement of Chef’s Diner.
Move it on the Backbeat
“Move it on the Backbeat” is another song Bacharach wrote with Mack David. The uncredited singers are the Gospelaires, an in-demand backing vocal group which including at that time Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, as well as Cissy Houston.
You can also hear them singing on records by the Drifters, Dinah Washington, Ronnie Hawkins and on Doris Troy’s “Just One Look” (Troy was previously a member of the group). And of course “Move it on the Backbeat” was the beginning of a long collaboration between Bacharach and Dionne Warwick, who recorded dozens of Bacharach/David songs.
The Look of Love
Casino Royale was the third soundtrack album Bacharach worked on. The title song was performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and Dusty Springfield sang the sultry, memorable tune “The Look of Love,” one of the most well-known Bacharach/David songs of all.
In the days before eBay and internet dealers, original stereo pressings of Casino Royale were one of the most sought-after albums for audiophiles. This is a result of the recording process, in which high-grade tape was used and heavily saturated to nearly the point of distortion, leading to extreme high and low ranges on playback. Our fairly worn mono copy is hardly a gem, but then again we’ve never really understood audiophiles anyways — they sure can take all the fun out of record collecting!
South American Getaway
Bacharach’s score to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of the records we’ve had in our collection for the longest. He received one of his three Academy Awards for the music, and the B.J. Thomas recording of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head” was a huge hit. The music fits the film magnificently, as in the montage scene where Butch, Sundance and Etta travel to Bolivia and this song is heard.
Baby It’s You
Bacharach and Mack David wrote “Baby Its You” with Luther Dixon, who was the producer who established the Shirelles’ sound (he’s credited as Barney Williams on the single). It came out in the middle of their string of successful tunes for Scepter Records in the early sixties. The song was also a hit for the Beatles, and later an even bigger hit for Smith in 1968, which featured a full-throated delivery by singer Gayle McCormick.
Trains and Boats and Planes
Originally titled Hit Maker!, the first album Bacharach issued under his own name didn’t feature his own voice. Instead listeners found lush, mostly instrumental arrangements of songs he and David had written for Warwick and others. A largely anonymous chorus sings some of the songs, including “Planes and Boats and Trains,” which was had minor success as a single in England.
Also among the anonymous contributors were Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, session musicians in their pre-Zeppelin days.
The album has been reissued many times over the years, most often as Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits.
Walk on By
“Walk On By” was one of the many hits Bacharach and David wrote for Dionne Warwick in the sixties. The song’s woe-is-me narrative draws out a unique quality from nearly everyone who interprets it.
Isaac Hayes turned it into a bombastic, epic jam on his 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul, and about ten years later the Stranglers recorded an equally over-long version driven by a plodding bass line and an extended organ solo. Shortly after that the Average White Band recorded a great, funky version on their album Feel No Fret. Its a song which has inspired many interpretation and many imitations, and is surely one of the most beloved Bacharach songs.
My Little Red Book
The lyrics of Hal David were often melodramatic and self-depreciating, which fit well with Bacharach’s style. We read an interview once where he described how the music should tell a story, just as the lyrics do.
Whether “My Little Red Book” was intended to reference the ubiquitous and famous Quotes from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, published the same year as the song, is as debatable as theories The Blob was an allegory for Soviet communism. The song was one of the first Bacharach and David wrote for a British pop band, probably connected to their continued chart success across the pond beginning with the cover of Marty Robbins’ “The Story of My Life.”
When Love recorded the song for their first album, guitarist Arthur Lee completely re-invented the chord changes, to the chagrin of Bacharach. Still, the song was a hit and has become a favorite of garage rock fans and guys who like to hang around record stores and talk about where punk rock was invented.
I Say A Little Prayer
Several of the hits Bacharach and David wrote for Dionne Warwick became jazz standards, although his use of unusual chord progressions probably made it more complicated for performers. Stan Getz recorded an entire album of Bacharach/David songs in the seventies (What the World Needs Now Is Love), and Ahmad Jamal opened his 1968 album Tranquility (one of our favorites of his) with two of their songs: “I Say a Little Prayer” and “The Look of Love.”
Elton John may have declared Saturday the night for fightin’ and Link Wray may have been ready to “Rumble,” but sure as red, white and blue the soundtrack to a bar fight is honky tonk country. And like all good country music, there’s a story in all the best bar fight songs.
Honky tonks have been a primary setting for country music since Hank Williams crooned “Honky Tonkin'” in 1948, and ground zero in the battle of the sexes ever since Kitty Wells’ responded to a Hank Thompson tune with “It Wasn’t God Who Made the Honky Tonk Angels” four years later.
Other country standards carry an implicit rowdy brawl — there’s no doubt, for instance, that Garth Brooks got his ass kicked after taking the groom’s glass and toasting his “friends in low places,” or that any of several Loretta Lynn hits (“Sweet Thang,”“Fist City,” etc) ended in anything short of a cat fight. Through all those years we were warned rap music would corrupt the youth of America country singers have been treating the tavern like a playground. You’re already familiar with the setting, so let’s introduce you to the redneck mother who’s going to kick your ass…
Oklahoma native Ray Wylie Hubbard wrote “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother,” and chose the tune to open his second album — but it what made it a country standard was a rendition on Jerry Jeff Walker’s live album, A Man Must Carry On. Hubbard’s own explanation of the song’s origin, at a birthday celebration for Walker, is just as funny:
Johnny Paycheck ran into the redneck mother in “Colorado Kool-Aid,” a tune from his hit album Take This Job and Shove It. It was on the flip side of the title track’s hit single, reaching #50 on Billboard’s country singles chart all by itself in 1977. Nearly a decade later, Paycheck walked into the North High Lodge in Hillsboro, Ohio and got into a similar disagreement. This very real bar fight ended with the country singer shooting a .22 at a fan, grazing his head. Paycheck, who was quoted as saying “Do you see me as some kind of country hick?” before firing the gun, eventually served a small portion of his nine-year sentence before being pardoned.
One of the very best outlaw country tunes of the seventies was Charlie Daniels’ “Uneasy Rider,” which tells the story of a ‘cosmic hippy’ as described by Hubbard getting into a fight with rednecks in a Jackson, Mississippi bar after his car breaks down.
Daniels himself drifted to the right so strongly that his 1988 remake of “Uneasy Rider” is just about the opposite of the original song: the counter-culture is then represented with the same disdain Daniel’s had reserved for the rednecks of the Dew Drop Inn in 1973.
Bobby Weir introduces a novelty number on the Grateful Dead’s Reckoning by saying, “From a song about tragedy impending we’re going to move swiftly to a song about tragedy narrowly averted,” and that’s a fine description for this next song. Lynyrd Skynyrd is, of course, more southern rock than country music, but there are shades of Nashville in all of our favorite of their songs, including “Every Mother’s Son,” “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe” and of course “Sweet Home Alabama.”
“Gimme Three Steps” is a song about a bar fight we can presume doesn’t happen.
What better way to end a playlist of bar fight songs than with “The Winner” by Bobby Bare, a song written by prolific poet Shel Silverstein? Bare’s 1976 album The Winner and Other Losers is best remembered for producing one of the clumsiest country hits, “Dropkick Me Jesus,” but we think of “The Winner” as its best song. And to bring today’s post full-circle, the other side of the single was Bare’s version of “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.”
Folklore around the world attributes supernatural powers to the scion of an unbroken line of males: the seventh son of a seventh son. These are sometimes dark, demonic powers, as in Argentina, where if the seventh son of a seventh son is not baptized in seven churches he will become the lobizón, a werewolf. Other cultures bestow upon him powers of premonition, or Christ-like abilities to heal merely by touch.
In 1 Chronicles 2:15 we learn David, second sovereign of the Kingdom of Israel, was the seventh son of Jesse. Apostles Matthew and Luke later assure us the Messiah was descendent of David. The lesser prophet Gad, who in 2 Samuel 24:11-13 instructed David to return to Judah where he would ultimately rule, was the seventh son of Jacob. The Book of Gad the Seer is a lost text.
We have already written recently about Ralph Ellison’s 1952 masterpiece, The Invisible Man. The book comes up again in the form of Petey Wheatstraw, who Ellison’s narrator meets in Harlem, and who claims to be the seventh son of a seventh son. Wheatstraw is drawn from Peetie Wheatstraw, blues singer alternately billed on records as “The Devil’s Son in Law” and “The High Sheriff from Hell,” who may have been the source of the Robert Johnson/”Crossroads” mythology.
Willie Dixon wrote “Seventh Son” in 1955, playing bass on the original recording by Willie Mabon. He performed the song himself on a 1970 album which included other songs he’d written as a Chess sideman, including “Back Door Man” and “I Ain’t Superstitious,” both associated with Howlin’ Wolf. It has likewise been covered many times over the years — notably by Johnny Rivers on his album, Meanwhile Back at the Whiskey A Go Go, by pianist Mose Alison, the Climax Blues Band and George Thorogood. Unfortunately the song has also been recorded by Sting.
The Johnny Rivers album, his third of five ostensibly recorded the legendary Los Angeles club, sounds suspiciously to some like a studio recording with overdubbed crowd noise. Still, his “Seventh Son” peaked at, you guessed it, #7 on the singles chart.
Iron Maiden’s seventh album explored clairvoyance, madness and evil in what began as a concept album based on the seventh son of a seventh son mythology. If there is a story to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, we can’t follow it, although we’ve always considered “Can I Play with Madness?” a favorite track by the band. “Moonchild” is an entertaining entry into the hard rock obsession with occultist Aleister Crowley, and the title song places the eponymous soul at the crossroads:
Then they watch the progress he makes The Good and the evil which path will he take Both of them trying to manipulate The use of his powers before it’s too late
On the jacket the tragic Eddie retains his lobotomy scar from Piece of Mind, as well as his cybertronic parts from Somewhere in Time. In addition he is disemboweled, and proffers a fetus.
“Seventh Son” was one of the first songs Joe Zawinul contributed after joining the Cannonball Adderely band, then a sextet featuring Yusef Lateef. The Austrian pianist went on to contribute some of the bands’ best material for its Capitol Recordings in the mid-60s including the hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and later led Weather Report with Wayne Shorter.
“He’s always off on one trip or another,” says the band’s leader on The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Person.
It’s George Benson’s birthday and we thought it would be fun to celebrate with some of our favorite songs from his albums. You don’t need a special occasion to enjoy his music, however — pretty much any day is the right day for some George Benson jams.
George Benson cut his first single at ten years old, but fell into his familiar style a few years later working for organist Brother Jack McDuff, who served as a mentor to the promising guitarist. His first LP as a leader, The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, was recorded for Prestige Records with McDuff’s band in 1964, and most of the songs were originals he’d written. As a frequent side-man on McDuff’s records Benson’s bold, downstroke-driven style shone, but he also showed the sensitivity of Wes Montgomery’s more subtle, layered approach.
From this 70s Prestige two-fer, which includes Benson’s debut as well as McDuff’s Hot Barbeque, we picked this lovely version of the standard “Easy Living” because it shows how much Montgomery influenced Benson’s style from the beginning.
With a quartet featuring organist Lonnie Smith, Benson made his heaviest bop recordings in the mid-sixties for Columbia. In addition to his two awesome albums, Its Uptown and The George Benson Cookbook, the group recorded Finger Lickin’ Good with Smith as the leader, and Melvin Sparks as a second guitarist. Ronnie Cuber plays a baritone sax with the group, giving them a grittier, swampier feel than other organ/guitar combos which usually employed a tenor.
Columbia capitalized on the success of Benson’s soul jazz hits in the seventies by collecting tracks from these albums, plus some unissued material, on Benson’s Burner in 1976. Its hard to say what fans of his mellow style made of these tracks, but we think of his bop recordings as some of his very best. “The Cooker” was the opening tune on The George Benson Cookbook.
Lonnie Smith took the band to record for Blue Note, replacing Benson with Larry McGhee, ending their successful five year collaboration and also effectively ending Benson’s bop phase. During those years he had continued to work with Jack McDuff, and also appeared on albums by Lou Donaldson, Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan.
From the late 60s on, his own albums started trending towards the style of Wes Montgomery, and away from contemporaries like Grant Green and Melvin Sparks. Its a shame his own quartet was not recorded more by Columbia, because the handful of records they did make are fantastic.
While at Columbia Benson also made an appearance on Miles Davis’ transitional album, Miles in the Sky. So far as we can recall, his was the first appearance of an electric guitarist on one of Miles’ Columbia albums, presaging the fusion phase which began in earnest with In a Silent Way (with Brit John MacLaughlin playing guitar) and providing a bridge of sorts between Benson’s soulful Columbia quartet and his own fusion-leaning albums for CTI to follow. Benson’s solo, starting shortly after the 7:00 mark, is surprisingly restrained compared to either.
Benson opened his first album for Creed Taylor’s CTI label with a Miles Davis tune (“So What”) but by the time he hit his stride there the music was far removed from the heavy fusion vamps Davis was recording at the same time. Still, Benson’s bandmates over the half-dozen albums he made for the label included, at times, three members of Davis’ second great quintet, in addition to soul jazz mainstays like Phil Upchurch, Joe Farrell and the Brecker brothers. His driven take on Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” has always been a favorite of ours.
Few things had more tragic consequences in the world of jazz than the first time Nat ‘King’ Cole began singing pop standards over sugary string arrangements — the records sold so quickly that at most sessions he stopped playing the piano, leaving the world without one of the finest soloists of a generation.
The same could be said of George Benson’s string of hit singles for Warner Brothers starting with 1977’s “This Masquerade” (below). His albums became increasingly filled with smoldering rhythm and blues numbers, and his solos fewer and further between. He had, in fact, crooned a couple tunes several years earlier on his lush recreation of the Beatles’ Abbey Road. On “Golden Slumbers” he doesn’t even play the guitar he’s seen carrying across the street.
Another pre-Breezin’ hint at Benson’s prodigious vocal prowess was an appearance on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. where he sings some backup as well as playing guitar. His supporting role is pretty minimal, overshadowed by another guest, flautist Bobbi Humphrey — still, any appearance on one of the most revered records of all time is pretty awesome. Stevie’s masterpiece beat out Benson’s Breezin’ for the album of the year Grammy, but Benson’s single “This Masquerade” won record of the year. “Another Star” was released as a single but it didn’t sell as well as “Sir Duke” and “I Wish,” both of which topped the charts.
Breezin’ set a new standard for crossover jazz, cultivating previously unrealized commercial potential. Record collectors know this as one of the most ubiquitous seventies jazz albums, taking for granted the likelihood there’s already a copy somewhere on our shelves. Although he only sang on one song, a cover of Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade,” its success as a single became the turning point in Benson’s career. Although this was his first album for Warner Brothers, it followed the form of his CTI Records and even included some artists regularly heard on his albums there, like Phil Upchurch as keyboardist Ronnie Foster, whose solos provide some of the album’s best moments.
Erotic Moods is the orphan of the George Benson catalog, having hardly been released and even less enthusiastically acknowledged. At its raunchiest the record’s loosest jams are downright dirty, especially the enthusiastic sex sounds throughout “Sweet Taste of Love” — one of two tracks featuring the sultry sounds of Willis “Gator” Jackson’s sax. This dancefloor gem has a hot lead vocal by Ann Winley, whose husband Paul ran the label which ran the range from doo wop to pioneering hip hop. Winley also produced a sweet soul jazz album by Willie “Gator” Jackson on which Benson played some of his most R&B styled guitar. Wikipedia’s Benson discography specifically omits this one, but Erotic Moods is essential Benson.
The live album Weekend in LA features Benson’s regular backing group: Phil Upchurch, Ronnie Foster, Jorge Dalto, Stanley Banks and the double drumming team of Harvey Mason and Ralph MacDonald. Its four sides recorded at the Roxy in 1977 are split pretty evenly between instrumentals and vocal numbers, and the band is in great form — the set also introduces “On Broadway,” the Drifters tune which Benson would sort of adopt as a signature tune. Our favorite track is tribute to Wes Montgomery.
Give me the Night first appeared here on the Hymie’s blog when we posted our proposal for a biopic about producer Quincy Jones, and its also a regular in our “make-out music” section. This is probably Benson’s most pop-oriented album. His take on James Moody’s “Moody’s Mood,” on which he’s joined by singer Patti Austin, is particularly silly. Still, there’s something irresistibly enjoyable about this album.
This two volume bootleg of Benson and a new band is a mellow affair compared to Weekend in LA. Most tunes are stretched to ten minutes or more, and the solos are subdued and thoughtful. Benson is certainly a fan of Miles Davis’ modal masterpiece Kind of Blue (who isn’t?), having recorded several of its songs. This long version of “All Blues” includes some great interplay between the quartet and a memorable, extended solo by Benson. Drummer Al Harewood, who passed away around this time last year, was a frequent side-man for Blue Note in the sixties. Here he comps Benson’s solo with the same flair he showed on albums by Stanley Turrentine and guitarist Grant Green.
Benson sang “The Greatest Love of All” for the 1977 bio-pic The Greatest, in which Muhammad Ali played himself — lyricist Linda Creed wrote the song as she suffered through the early stages of breast cancer. When Creed passed at the tragically young age of thirty-seven, her song was a #1 hit as re-recorded by Whitney Houston. Another song Benson sang on the soundtrack, “I Always Knew I Had it in Me,” also had an inspiring message. It seems like the perfect place to end our tribute today.
We can’t explain why its so fun to us, but we love it when a band has a song that is also their name. This edition of our on-going playlist highlights bands who have a song which is their name which is on the album which is also their name. Of course, the awesome-est example of this is “Bad Company” by Bad Company on Bad Company.
But there’s also these guys, who have a single which is their name which is on the record label which is their name…
Wilco’s self-titled album was met with mixed opinions from fans, but we like it okay. It has a festive camel on the cover. Our favorite song was this one…
It’s a good thing these country rock fellas made a song with their name on their self-titled album, because otherwise a lot of people might have called them “Ja-mule” instead of “Ha-mule,” ya know.
Here at Hymie’s we love local jazz fusion band Natural Life (first featuring a song by them here), who made a few records in the 70s. Members of the band also appeared on other Sound 80 recordings, including Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (although they remain un-credited for their work in that case). Their first album, Natural Life, opens with this great extended jam, “Natural Life.”
More bands with a song which is also their name can be found here and here.
“Don’t Feel the Reaper” was named ‘song of the year’ by Rolling Stone in 197something, but those of us born back then only knew it as one of those anonymous classic rock staples until it appeared in a Saturday Night Live sketch. Christopher Walken, always one of the show’s best guests, plays a record producer who is not Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, and Will Ferrel plays an enthusiastic member of Blue Öyster Cult. He plays the hell out of that cowbell.
Exasperated when the band suggests he play more quietly, Ferrel’s character says, “The last time I checked we don’t have a lot of songs that feature the cowbell.” Membered of Blue Öyster Cult have said that until the television sketch they didn’t think much about the cowbell, but now they have to be sure to have it on stage when they play “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”
The earliest cowbells found by archaeologists are from the Iron Age, around the same era as the creation of the Indian Vedas and the earliest parts of the Hebrew Bible. There is no cowbell in the Bible, but we assume Assyrian rock bands played them. If only they made records back then.
We have no idea who holds the honor of clanging the first cowbell on record, but we’re big fans of Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q,” which was recorded at a radio station in Louisiana in 1957 with Ron Lewis playing the drums.
In the 70s it became a familiar hard rock gimmick, used by bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Mountain — leading to the instrument’s exalted status in heavy metal. There’s some pretty sweet cowbell on just about every classic Iron Maiden album, not to mention every other song on Appetite for Destruction. There is a cowbell in the first minute of Nightosaur’s Set Fire to the Mountain.
The cowbell is one of the most versatile instruments in the pop music oeuvre, fit as comfortably into country rock as into classic hip hop.
The Electric Light Orchestra’s “Evil Woman” has one of the most popular cowbell parts of all time (you know you ‘air cowbell’ to this one whenever it comes on the radio) — in fact, the band has a history of cowbell jams going back to its earlier incarnation, the Move. Their original recording of “Do Ya” has a cowbell jam so prominent you’d think it was played by Ferrel himself.
What is the future of the cowbell?
Do you feel like you’re getting enough cowbell?
It’s okay to tell a band, “Hey, your set was great but it needed more cowbell.” It’s okay to play your own cowbell. Really explore the studio space this time.