Listen to this track by Sheffieldian blues-rock exemplar Joe Cocker, who today turns 69. It’s “Feeling Alright” as taken from Cocker’s 1969 record With A Little Help From My Friends. The album is well-named, given the range of talent that went into its creation, taking Cocker’s own formidable talents as a given. Among the many contributors to the record as a whole include Jimmy Page, Stevie Winwood, Tony Visconti, Henri McCulloch, and Chris Stainton, among others.
On this track, a cover version of Dave Mason’s song that first was heard by Traffic, Carol Kaye holds down the bottom end on bass guitar, David Cohen on guitar, Paul Humphrey on drums, and Artie Butler on the piano. It’s Butler’s ivory-tinkling that really stands out here, balanced against Cocker’s gruff and impossibly soulful vocals. It’s hard to believe that Butler would make his name later on as a musical director for Barry Manilow and Neil Sedaka, among other middle-of-the-road acts. But, there you are.
The concoction made for one of the most memorable songs of the era, eclipsing the original and creating a template for many versions to follow. This isn’t a bad feat for an interpretive singer at a time when interpreters were making less and less impact covering the material of others – although Cocker would pen tunes on the record as well. So, what’s the difference here? Read the rest of this entry
photo: Peter Castleton
The Mayan Calendar. Rumours of the Rapture. Rod Stewart’s new Christmas album. All of them have been recently featured in the news over the past few years to make us wonder whether or not the end is nigh. Well, maybe the Rod album only makes me wonder that.
Anyway, as established with our 10 songs about death list, we can all agree that one day everything meets its end. This of course must include civilization as we know it; the end of the world. But, maybe making civilization and “the world” synonymous is just human arrogance. After all, the world existed before we came along, right?
And yet we’re a species that’s marked with a blessing, or is it a curse: we know that the end is coming. Maybe it’s both.
So, as a result, songwriters have taken it on. And how has it turned out?
Well, here’s 10 songs about doomsday in several possible forms. Sometimes, it really is about the end of everything. At other times, its about endings that just seem like the end of everything from a certain point of view. But, with all of them, it’s about confrontation with a force that we have to deal with whether we’re at the end of the line or not; our own humanity.
Take a look.
*** Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by Motown wunderkind and soul pop auteur Stevie Wonder. It’s “I Believe (When I Fall In Love With You It Will Be Forever)”, the closing track of his 1972 record Talking Book.
That album was almost dead center in the inarguable purple patch of records Wonder would create in the early ’70s, wedged between Music Of My Mind, and Innervisions, while still managing to rival those albums as among the best examples of his work. And this was a highlight among highlights, with a co-authorship by Yvonne Wright, his then sister-in-law.
The song would be covered by a wide range of artists on the pop spectrum, from Peter Frampton, to Art Garfunkel, to George Michael, to Petra Haden, to Josh Groban. This could be because it’s one of those sweeping pop songs, full of the glory of idealized love, with plenty of room for singers to stretch out their chops.
But, there’s more to this tune then being a showstopper, which it is of course. Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by Tennessean songwriter and true rags to riches tale in the flesh Dolly Parton. It’s “Coat of Many Colors” as taken from the 1971 album that references it, Joshua & the Coat of Many Colors. The story is a childhood tale, touching on a number of themes. But, one of the big ones is that of a mother’s love. On the week just before Mother’s Day here in North America (in Britain, it’s in March, friends), that’s a pretty top-of-mind theme for many.
The song was a standout on the record, and released as a single where it reached a #4 position on the country charts. It would later go on the be extensively covered by a variety of artists from Billy Connoly to Shania Twain, to Dolly Parton herself. It would become something of an anthem to the region out of which it came as well. It seems that there were a lot of hard-working mothers supporting families, which maybe why the themes of strong mothers carried this song to success.
But, this song touches on other themes besides, with the rare feat of doing justice to all of them.
Read the rest of this entry
Here’s a clip of Birmingham second-wave ska merchants The Beat, or sometimes known as The English Beat depending on which continent you happen to be living on. It’s “Too Nice To Talk To”, a single released in 1980 between their debut record I Just Can’t Stop It and their follow-up by the next year, Wha’ppen?.
The naming convention of this band is rooted in some pretty well known lore by now. Paul Collins, formerly of the Nerves, had a band Stateside called the Beat. So, when the English Beat began to make an impact in North America, it was decided that they should put the “English” to their name, as it were, to avoid band (or was that brand?) confusion.
Collins’ band was a power pop band, as opposed to the punk and R&B-informed ska of his UK counterparts. But, on this song, that classic power pop convention is very well in place; the insecure, awkward narrator pining after a girl he can’t work up the nerve to go up and talk to. So, despite stylistic differences, The Beat knew what would resonate with popular audiences. It scored them a top ten showing on the UK singles chart.
But, despite the accessibility of the subject matter, there is a musical concoction to be found in this song that took some chances. Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by British folk paragon and singer-songwriter Bridget St. John. It’s “A Day A Way” the opening track as taken from her 1971 album Songs For The Gentle Man which, as Wikipedia puts it best, “propelled her to cult status in the United Kingdom”. I love that: propelled her to cult status.
It’s not like this record went under the radar of some key influencers at the time. None other than John Peel was a major supporter in a variety of capacities. Her first three records, including this one, came out on his Dandelion label. And he produced her debut Ask Me No Questions, and arranged several Peel sessions. According to a piece in July 2006 issue of MOJO magazine, he even shouted down a loutish crowd so that she could be heard during an early tour before she recorded her first record. If only Peel had been there to do the same when Nick Drake toured.
And speaking of Drake, St. John played with him in Le Cousins, a folk club in Soho in London. They had a common friend in John Martyn who was something of a mentor to St. John when it came to the guitar. Much like both men mentioned, she unlocked her melodic sense when it came to songwriting by way of open tunings, and with a flurry of natural imagery in her lyrics. This is not to mention that patented melancholy that makes her work so compelling, and so tied to the British folk sound of the time.
But, there’s something unique to be found in this song, and St. John’s work in general. Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by Torontonian nu-new wave musical quadrangle Metric. It’s “Combat Baby” a single released at the end of 2004, and eventually featured on their second record Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? the following year.
It’s quite a statement to make. But, I feel that Metric is most interesting band in Canada, and in a great of deal of other countries too, to have grown to prominence in the 2000s. So, take that Arcade Fire. They certainly don’t appear to be running out of creative steam, going from strength to strength. “Combat Baby” is one of their earlier singles, and just listen to it; full of post-punk texture and pure pop hooks, while somehow not betraying one aesthetic over another. Magic.
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Another thing that it notable about this band is that even if they follow a number of existing musical threads, there is something about how they process them that allows the band to come off like they are cutting their own trail through the indie wilderness, rather than regurgitating what has come before for an audience that may be unfamiliar with the source material. In this alone, they are in a league by themselves. And how do they prove that here? Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by one-time Only Band That Mattered, the one and only The Clash. It’s “Safe European Home” as taken from the band’s second record Give ‘Em Enough Rope, released in November of 1978. The song recounts the return of an English tourist from “the land of Bluebeat“, that being Jamaica, and the change in perspective that the trip has created.
The whole thing is delivered by what is now known as the classic Clash line-up; Joe Strummer singing and playing rhythm guitar, Mick Jones singing and playing lead guitar, Paul Simonon on bass, and joining them for the first time, Topper Headon on drums. This is also the classic punk rock sound on which they built their reputation, although it’s filtered through the growing expectations of CBS, and their producer Sandy Pearlman. The sessions were strained, by some accounts. Yet, The Clash had a voice like no other band at the time, which shows through gloriously here.
They would expand their sound greatly in short order beyond this bedrock set of musical aesthetics established here. But, the core sound of the Clash is solidified here in any case; call and response oriented vocal dynamics, bluntly effective guitarwork, and an impressive, almost R&B feel between bassist Simonon and drummer Headon.
This song also touches on a classic Clash theme, specifically that of authenticity, although in a way that works against many of their other songs that deal with that same theme.
Read the rest of this entry
Here’s a clip of Norwegian folk-pop duo Kings of Convenience, here in their natural habitat of Bergen, Norway. It’s “Me In You”, a track that can be heard on their most recent record, Declaration of Dependence from 2009.
In addition to being a reminder of their skills in creating melancholic, atmospheric music that seems to fuse pop, jazz, and samba-like rhythms, this clip gives you an overview – literally – of their hometown. It was the first video that the duo directed themselves, although I’m not sure whether it was Erlend Øye or Erik Glambek Bøe , the two KoC principles, who oversaw the remote-control camera (if that’s what it was!).
This clip touches on a two of my personal passions. One is accessible, intelligent pop music that pulls from disparate sources and eras, yet is still to be considered as wholly original. The other is city planning designed for humans and human happiness, not for cars, for developers, or real estate speculators. Just look at that town. Beautiful.
Bergen, Norway: picture postcard perfect home of Kings of Convenience
And there’s a point. How does one’s environment affect the way one’s music comes out? Is there a correlation? And how does it play out here? Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by Animalistic, leaping gnome-like singer Eric Burdon as backed by Latin-influenced Long Beach L.A funkateers War. It’s “Spill The Wine”, a 1970 hit as featured on the collaborative and self-referentially titled album Eric Burdon Declares War. It was initially released as a single, scoring a top ten chart result.
The song bridges the gaps between British rock, R&B, and Latin music, with a long portion of it being something of a spoken-word short story. That story is a rather dreamlike excursion, filled with images of tall grass, afternoon naps, dreams, Hollywood movies, and visions of “every kind of girl”. There aren’t too many tunes like it. Since its release, it’s been featured on soundtracks in movies and on TV, and covered by a number of artists from The Isley Brothers, to Michael Hutchence.
War was an outfit that started out as a socio-political concern, with statements against racism, crime, poverty, and other negative forces that were becoming serious issues in their native Los Angeles. Eric Burdon had moved to the West Coast from Britain after having dissolved the second incarnation of the Animals, with the original group having split by the mid-60s. In some ways, it was kind of an odd pairing, with Burdon being a student of Chicago blues, and War being more of a funk outfit who’d left the blues behind for a more contemporary Latin R&B funk hybrid sound.
But, “Spill The Wine” consolidated their success, and with an approach that was stylistically off the map in many ways. Here are a few of them. Read the rest of this entry