Song Rendition Showdown: “Tupelo Honey”, Van Morrison vs. Dusty Springfield

Which version is better? The Van Morrison original, or Dusty Spingfield’s cover version?

“Tupelo Honey” is one of my favourite love songs. It’s sentimental, idealistic, mushy-as-hell. Yet, I love it. It reduces me to a quivering mess, if I’m caught unawares. It is hard to imagine that a song so eloquent, poetic, wonderful could have come from the grouchiest man in rock, yet so it did. Morrison melds soul and gospel into a tune that must have been inspired by the Solomon Burke school of plaintive-and-passionate delivery. This is a love song which scales the heights, seeming to reach the loftiness of its subject matter in an effortless manner. Love in this song is of the old sort – “knights in armor/intent on chivalry” indeed. And the figure at the centre of it is “an angel of the first degree”, making this love the stuff of high-spirituality as well as that of legend and myth.

The song was first released in 1971 on Van Morrison’s album of the same name, Tupelo Honey, soon to be covered by artists ranging from Irish folk singer Brian Kennedy to contemporary jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson. But, a notable version was by British pop-soul singer Dusty Springfield. The question is: which one does it for you, good people?

Van Morrison

Van Morrison Tupelo HoneyMorrison’s love of soul music shines through on this track, one of a number of tunes on the album which bares its name. Morrison was living in Woodstock at the time, and had marital and domestic bliss on his mind when writing the album. His then-wife Janet inspired this idealistic vision of love to such a degree that Morrison sounds downright overwhelmed on this track, with an almost epic poem approach springing out of him on this one.

The old meets the new here, with legendary knights and the evocation of the birthplace of the King rolling forth on equal ground. And his voice starts as a whisper, and grows into a soulful outpouring in probably one of the most passionate performances of his career, which is certainly saying something.

Dusty Springfield

Dusty Springfield CameoSpringfield knew a thing or two about soulful delivery herself, and her version of the tune follows pretty closely to the original, but for a few minor differences – a new verse, and a gender shift – “he’s as sweet as Tupelo Honey”. The song was featured on her 1973 album Cameo, which borrows from some of the lessons taken from her earlier album Dusty in Memphis, recorded at Muscle Shoals. Springfield’s voice is light as air, yet funky too.

Where Morrison’s fiery delivery makes the song a proclamation to the heavens, Springfield’s is a forthright sermon to the earthbound. And the horn arrangements on this version seem to have been magicked by the spirit of Otis Redding.

So, good people. Which is your preferred brand of Tupelo Honey? That of the Belfast Cowboy? Or is it soulful chanteuse Springfield?

Vote now!

Bluesman John Lee Hooker Performs “Boom Boom”

Here’s a clip of the immortal John Lee Hooker performing his hit “Boom Boom”

John Lee HookerThe blues is easily parodied – 12 bars, 3 chords, 3lines of lyrics for each verse, with subject matter about feeling bad. Yet, to reduce the blues to these cliches, as easy as it may be for some, is to forget how primal the blues really is as a form. And this isn’t just about how many genres of music it’s given birth to and fed. It’s about the basic human need to express something physical, something (for want of a better word) base. These expressions are as true to the human experience as anything to be found in any sacred text or scientific journal. For these purposes, singing the blues has few rivals. And Hooker’s tune is all about physicality, a celebration of arousal – “I love the way you walk/I love the way you talk/when you walk that walk/and talk that talk”. Grrr, baby! This is one of the songs about lust for the ages, and certainly one that has caused a ripple effect through into rock n’ roll.

“Boom Boom” was released by Hooker in 1961, marked by its unique guitar riff and Hooker’s own lustful growl. It was a staple song in the set of many blues and R&B acts on both sides of the Atlantic soon after. It became a single for the Animals, who were admirers of Hooker, a few years later along with another Hooker hit, “Dimples”. The “twelve bars-3chords-3 lines of lyrics” model for which the blues is known is entirely discarded here. What we get instead is a call-and-response drone, with Hooker’s guitar used more as a rhythm instrument, almost a percussion instrument, rather than the now-expected guitar histrionics with which electric blues is often associated. This song is much akin to Hooker’s earlier side “Boogie Chillun” which is a single riff on one chord, with only Hooker’s boot on the studio floor as a secondary instrument. It’s here that the world of the blues is taken out of the clubs of Chicago, and Hooker’s adopted hometown of Detroit, and is transported back to Africa.

Malian musician and innovator, the late Ali Farka Toure was always annoyed when he was compared to John Lee Hooker. “When I hear John Lee Hooker,” said Toure, “I hear African music”.

Thanks to www.allaboutjazz.com for use of John Lee Hooker’s image.

Tales of Brit-Pop – Blur perform “Parklife”

Here’s a clip of Blur doing their song “Parklife” from the 1994 album of the same name, Parklife .

Blur ParklifeThis song is one of my favourites by a band I consider to be a great singles band. Phil Daniels, most famous for his portrayal as Jimmy in 1979’s Quadrophenia, is the perfect choice as the narrator of an Eastend wideboy’s tale of simple pleasures in a narrow world of his own. And guitarist Graham Coxon’s opening guitar figure is genius in its simplicity. In short, a memorable pop song.

The song and the album of course was released during the so-called Brit-pop era, when bands like Blur, along with Suede, Supergrass, Pulp (who had actually been around since 1983) and Oasis were making a splash in their native country. All tried to break America at the time, and all but Oasis failed, although many found select audiences. I think this is because the thing which typified the scene (if there even was one beyond the music press buzz) was an unabashed celebration of all things British – British accents, British cultural references, and British musical influences like the Kinks and the Small Faces, bands from the 60s who carved a similar path, and who had similarly select success Stateside.

The scene was of course short lived, and the respective bands either fizzled out entirely (Elastica, Suede, Echobelly, etc), or transformed themselves into something other than cheeky chappies (Supergrass and Blur). It’s arguable that the bands who are associated with Britpop couldn’t get a foothold in America because they refused to Americanize. But, I don’t think it’s entirely beyond reason that this was the case. I think this ultimately caused most Americans to scratch their heads, wondering if these guys even knew how to speak American.

Hear the Langley Schools Project – McCartney, Bowie, Beach Boys, More

Langley Schools Music ProjectHere’s a link to the MySpace page of the Langley School Project, recordings from 1976-77 of a 60 voice children’s choir doing the hits of the time – McCartney, Bowie, The Beach Boys, the Eagles, and others.

These recordings made a big splash some years ago when they were discovered and subsequently released as an album entitled Innocence & Despair. The recordings were literally a school project, headed up by music teacher Hans Fenger based in Langely B.C (just up the road from where I’m writing this), and incorporating 60 students who sang and played percussion instruments on songs which included David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Band on the Run”, the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”, and the Eagles’ “Desperado”. The record polarized opinion. Some said that the takes on the songs create a sort of ghostly, otherworldly effect, while others denounced it as sounding amateurish and very “school assembly” in delivery. Perhaps it’s their origin which makes these recordings so compelling. Fenger had this to say about the project and the kids who created it:

“I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education, and didn’t know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children’s music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal — they had élan. This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional ‘children’s music,’ which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated ‘cute.’ They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness.”

I’m not quite sure where I stand on them. I was in school and about the same age as the kids were when they recorded this on a 2-track recorder while in the school gymnasium. Canadian public schools in the mid-70s was going through an experimental stage, trying out a number of modern techniques in teaching, like teaching music by getting kids to sing choral versions of rock songs for instance. In my case, we didn’t do this, but we were allowed more free rein in the “classroom” by way of an open concept floor where we could try out different “centres” during the course of a day instead of traditional lessons. This was the environment out of which these recordings come. And there is a certain nostalgia attached to these recordings, I guess.

If you like children’s choirs, you’ll either love this or hate it since the arrangements are not polished, despite how on-key the voices are. There aren’t too many examples of professionally arranged harmonies for instance. All of the kids, with a few exceptions, sing in unison although they do so very well. Yet a part of the charm is that a lot of the lyrical content is given a twist by virtue of the fact that they’re being sung by children, and not jaded rock stars. And I suppose there is a certain ghostly quality to the songs, although you feel yourself wondering whether this really comes off as something entertaining, or just hearing it as a novelty, a curiosity of something that is of its time, and meant for a narrower audience than it got .

Apparently, the proceeds of the recordings go to the kids who sang on it, and to the Langely school board too. The orginal releases were strictly for the school, but were given a wider release. When they were released, music critics from far and wide praised them to the skies. Like I said, I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced all-around. But many do find these recordings as something of a return to innocence, the sound of a bygone age. And I have to admit that there are moments in the songs where something special bursts through, little instances of greatness that make you wonder if they got the effect deliberately, or whether it just sort of turned out that way.

What do you think, good people? Amateurish or sublime?

To read more about the project, check out the Langley Schools Music Project Wikipedia entry.

Former Pink Floyd Bassist Roger Waters Loses His, er, Pig

Roger Waters PigHere’s a link to a story about Roger Waters’ continuing problems with inflatable barnyard animals. Get your mind out of the gutter! I’m talking about his elaborate on-stage (above stage, actually) prop – his giant inflatable pig, which was cast adrift on Sunday at this year’s Coachella festival when the mooring ropes meant to keep it from floating away came loose.

Everyone can relax. He got it back, albeit in pieces. And those who found it got a promised reward of cash (ten grand!) and concert tickets. Happy endings all around, except for the pig of course who must be re-constructed before flying once again. The best part about it: when he saw that the porcine prop was adrift and floating away, he said: “That’s my pig!” from the stage while in the middle of the Floyd-era track “Pigs on the Wing”. It must have been the highlight of the show.

Waters has used the prop for a long time, as a sort of holdover from his Pink Floyd days. The image of the floating pig, seen hanging over Battersea Power Station in London on the Floyd’s 1977 album Animals, has become a trademark of the group. There was an absurd law suit between the band and Waters, who spilt from them in 1985, as to who owns the rights to the image and the use of the prop. It was settled of course by the only reasonable path available to both parties. Waters was instructed to put a set of “knackers” on his pig – that’s “balls” to us North American types – making it a “boy” pig. The Floyd’s pig is a sow.

Rock and roll. Oink oink.

Editor’s note – The editorial staff here at the Delete Bin would like it noted that no reference to the popular phrase “when pigs fly” was made through out the whole of this article. For this, we feel that we too deserve a cash reward and concert tickets. If you feel the same way, please give generously. Well, maybe just add your comments, and we’ll call it even…

Song rendition showdown: What a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong vs. Joey Ramone

So, good people which version is better? Is it the classic original by Satchmo, or the punked-up goodbye from head Ramone, Joey Ramone? You decide!

“What a Wonderful World” remains to be one of the most unabashed songs of optimism ever recorded, covered by artists as disparate as soprano sax cheesemeister Kenny G, to alt-country goddess Victoria Williams, and on to new-psyche pop outfit the Flaming Lips, among many others. A relative flop around the time of release, the song itself gained resurgence in popularity by the end of the 80s, when it was featured in Barry Levinson’s Good Morning, Vietnam in a memorable montage sequence that put the song’s innocence and optimism against the destructiveness of the war in Vietnam.

The sentiments in the song are undeniably sunny, despite the hints of melancholy in the Armstrong version at least. And if Louis Armstrong’s take is considered the most heartfelt, delivery-wise, than perhaps Joey’s take is equally heartfelt, knowing that he was in fact saying goodbye to us all; Joey was dying from lymphoma.

Louis Armstrong

Louis armstrong what a wonderful worldArmstrong’s version of the song, written by Bob Thiele (himself a jazz figure, using a pseudonym, George Douglas) was recorded in 1967, making the 1965 setting in the Levinson film somewhat of a historical inaccuracy, as effective as it is. It was a single at the time, but also features on the compilation album What a Wonderful World. Louis Armstrong was criticized by the jazz community around the time of this recording for selling out to a pop audience. Yet, the material here suits his ragged voice of experience all the more just because of what a striking contrast it provides.

I strongly think that this contrast is why this version of the song works so well. It’s more believable with someone like Louis singing it, because you get the sense that if someone with such a voice, laced with grit and texture as it is, believes that this is a wonderful world, then it simply must be. If someone with a blander, less idiosyncratic voice led the charge, it would be one-dimensional The poignancy here is undeniable because of how it works against expectations.

Joey Ramone

Joey Ramone what a wonderful worldIn 2001, Joey Ramone died having just completed his solo album Don’t Worry About Me. His version of the song is, perhaps predictably, a more intense, punk-oriented affair which creates another kind of context for a well-known song that works in its own right. This time, the song has the exuberance which the lyrics suggest – it’s truly celebratory. The added bonus is that this is not a song of mourning which it easily could have been. Instead of being a restrained eulogy of a song, it kicks ass instead. In this sense, it provides just as much of an interesting contrast as Armstrong’s version provides, although this is contrast of a different sort.

Joey was dying, and yet his dedication to energetic, life-affirming music is underscored in this cover version. As such, this feels like a one-finger salute to the stresses he and his loved ones must have been going through at the time. Covering this song must have felt like an act of defiance, against death and against despair. That kind of defiance makes for some pretty compelling punk rock!

So, which is it to be: Satch or Joey? Vote now, people!

The Replacements Perform “I Will Dare” from Let It Be

Here’s a clip of the Replacements performing their song “I Will Dare” from their landmark 1984 album, Let It Be.

The Replacements Let it BeWere I to compile a list of songs entitled “Songs That Should Have Been Hits”, then this song would make top twenty at least. What’s not to love about this track? A great hook, some great lyrics from head writer Paul Westerberg (“How young are you? /How old am I? / Let’s count the rings/Around my eyes…”), and some great guest playing on it by none other than Peter Buck from REM. It should have been all over mainstream radio.

The ‘Mats (as they are known...) were an unstable unit in many ways, with brilliance lurking beneath a slovenly approach to the stage, with rock deity clashing with too much drink on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s this which kept them from breaking through to the mainstream, yet grew their legend as an underground attraction. There again, their lack of pop success could have been their seemingly willful refusal to play to a specific genre, which was a cardinal sin starting in the 80s and continuing today. The album off of which the track comes is known as one of their high points, taking a pot shot at rock classicism not only by putting a folk rock tune (“Unsatisfied”), a KISS cover (“Black Diamond”), and a hard-core punk tune (“We’re Coming Out”) on the same record, but in naming the record in question after a Beatles album.

Paul Westerberg would go on to success as a solo artist, while Tommy Stinson would join the latest version of Guns n’ Roses with sole original member Axl Rose. Guitarist Bob Stinson died in 1995 of a drug overdose, regrettably succumbing to the rock n roll lifestyle that the Replacements would embody for many.

Despite burning out as a collective, the Replacements are considered to be influential, informing the sounds of bands like Nirvana, Green Day, and Wilco, among others.

XTC English Settlement Album Cover, with Aerial Photo

XTC’s 1982 English Settlement album reflects something of English history, starting from its album cover. Here is an aerial photo of a 3000-year old chalk etching called the Uffington white horse as featured on the cover of XTC’s English Settlement album.

Uffington White Horse

It’s actually found in Oxfordshire, and referenced in texts starting from the middle-ages onward. It is rumoured to not actually be a horse at all, but the dragon which (as legend tells it) was defeated by St. George. Others feel that it represents an older figure, Epona the horse goddess from Celtic traditions. Here’s more information about this fantastic piece of history.

XTC English Settlement Andy Partridge has made a number of references to ancient British history in his songs. As such, I had always assumed that the cover of this album was of Celtic or ancient Briton origin. But, I had no idea that it wasn’t simply a piece of art, but an actual location…

To give you a feel for the record attached to this image, here’s a clip of XTC doing their track “Yacht Dance”, a rare live track since the group ceased touring around the time this double album came out. This is the record off of which the band’s song “Senses Working Overtime” is featured, and features a range of styles that makes it roughly parallel to XTC’s ‘White Album’.

Fantasy Albums: The Beatles 1971 comeback album

Or, how music history should have unfolded if I were in charge.

This is another possible series, should the spirit of the Delete Bin move me further. That is, the geekiest of all geekery among music geeks – the fantasy album. Most of these either come about because the albums haven’t happened, are unlikely to happen, or could never happen. But, fantasy albums are the stuff dreams by music geeks the world over (I have proof that this is the case, good people…). Here is one of mine, with more to (possibly … well, probably) follow. My Beatles album 1971.

Here’s the story:

Paul McCartneyThe Beatles decide to take a breather at the end of the Abbey Road sessions, knowing that they’re running on fumes. John makes the Plastic Ono Band album. George puts out All Things Must Pass as a double album (but holds back a few tunes). Ringo makes some coin as a guest musician on albums by Badfinger and Harry Nilsson, among others. Paul McCartney retreats to his farm in Scotland to write his first album, with some tunes held back. 1970 is otherwise a quiet year. But, by the end of it, The Beatles feel refreshed enough to come back to the Beatles with a renewed sense of vigour. This is because they’ve decided to take control of it, and not have it define them.

George HarrisonThey decide to have solo careers, while coming back to the Beatles by treating it as their hobby band. They deflate the myth by taking it less seriously, while at the same time always making a commitment to bringing their best to it, out of respect. This attitude will create a certain thematic cohesion for the ensuing sessions for their next record. Meanwhile, they’ve cut ties with Allen Klein to find new management in a local firm out of Liverpool with a charismatic leader at the head of it who also happens to be a fan of the music. Through this firm, they are able to re-negotiate their publishing deal with Northern Songs so that they own their own back catalogue outright, as well as control of all materials they put out going forward, either as a group or as solo artists. So, the first year of the decade is a good year indeed.

Ringo StarrThey go into Abbey Road studios with George Martin to record this album, with Geoff Emerick as engineer. And Klaus Voorman will do the album cover (as he did for 1966’s Revolver…), as well as playing bass on a few tracks. Billy Preston will appear playing organ and Fender Rhodes.

Beatles ’71

1. Too Many People – Now not about how obnoxious John and Yoko are, but a song about the disillusion of the hippie ideal. I think John Lennon would add some interesting lyrical content to this. The arrangement would be the same, but with Macca/Lennon/Hari three part harmonies on the “this was your first mistake/you took your lucky break and broke it in two” section. And Harrision would get a slide solo somewhere.
2. What is Life – with more three-part harmonies. It would otherwise remain unchanged.

3. Jealous Guy – No strings on this one, but a bit bluesier, with some Billy Preston organ to make it sound more like a gospel tune. Macca’s bass would be almost a lead instrument on it (his compositional contribution), providing a counter melody under the vocal. The first verse would be John at the piano, and the band would come in on the first chorus.
4. How Do You Sleep? – Equally, this is no longer about Macca, but about the American government and its involvement in Vietnam. John’s lyrics are bolstered by tougher playing and grittier production, making this rock harder than anything they’ve done up until this point. Still featuring the blistering Harrison slide riff, it will also feature a lead guitar as played by Macca that offsets the riff , making it about 12 bars longer. Also, there is a new middle-eight section added by Paul as well, which features his vocal.
5. It Don’t Come Easy The Ringo song! This time, it’s not a mercy track.

Side Two

1. Maybe I’m Amazed Pretty much as is, but with more three-part harmony bits. John would still get a co-writing credit.
2. Wah-Wah George leads an extended version of this tune, allowing for riff-trading with John, Paul, and Preston on Fender Rhodes. This will be the collective statement of the group in many ways, since the sentiment of the song is not being tied to someone else idea of your identity. All the Beatles faced this, and this tune would speak to that issue, along with George’s personal ones. As such, the song would be even harder, and more exhuberant!
3. Gimme Some Truth More chances for cascading “ah” backing vocals a la “Because” on this. Macca would add an intertwining countermelody sung as a backing to John’s lead. It will rely for the main on the strength of the vocals, both lead and backing. As such, it will be entirely a cappella.

4. Reeperbahn Days– This will be a tune that uses the melody of “Oh Yoko!” with Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr contributions to the lyrics. The song is about their Hamburg days, and about their sense of innocence, just playing rock n roll and discovering the world as young men before they were famous. It will feature a rockabilly middle eight section contributed by McCartney which ups the tempo, and on which they will play as a four piece without any keyboards or production flourishes. The song will resolve back to the descending Lennon melody. It will be good natured and celebratory, but the sentiment will resolve on the idea that the past is behind and serves only as a means to understand the present.

5. Imagine – This would be as is, sans strings, with John doing this entirely solo, no drums.
6. Junk This would be a laid back, back porch acoustic guitar strum, with Ringo on a streamlined drum kit and brushes. George would play a tasteful acoustic slide. It would be cut live, with as much of a “just felt like playing” feel to it as possible.

The Beatles would not do a full tour, but would appear at the Concert For Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison. They will perform three songs together: “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “Across the Universe”, and “Too Many People”. In addition to Harrison’s solo set, John Lennon will have a solo tune (“Imagine”), and McCartney will perform “Blackbird” solo to close the record. The money from the concert would be more effective too, with less of it going toward administration, and more to the people who needed it. Royalties from the record would continue to serve development agencies in the sub-continent for many years to come.

In 1976 after the four concentrate on solo careers, there’s a live album …

So there it is, good people. This might be my geekiest article yet. So, there’s no reason for you not to tell me about your fantasy recordings, ones that never were or never can be.

PS- In December 1980, a city bus would jump the curb in New York City and take out a single victim standing outside of the Dakota apartment, knocking a signed copy of Double Fantasy heavenward…

Song rendition showdown: “You Really Got A Hold On Me”

Which version is better? Smokey Robinson, or the Beatles? Vote now!

This is the second installment of the series which pits two excellent versions of a song against one another. Which will triumph as the better version? You decide, good people.

This week, it’s Smokey Robinson’s “ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with” classic, “You Really Got a Hold on Me”.

Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

This is the original version, released as a single in November 1962, featuring Smokey’s keening tenor falsetto. Here, Smokey sounds like a little kid, in love for the first time, and yet knowing that love means a lot of pain. Yet, because it is Smokey singing, it can’t sound anything less than joyous. This is a pure Motown sugar-rush, yet with a dark undercurrent (also a characteristic of a lot of Motown singles), that outlines that love is not always the safest of pursuits. You can find this version on the recent Smokey Robinson & the Miracles compilation The Ultimate Collection.

The Beatles

The Beatles loved Motown, and took this tune to their hearts when they recorded it for their second album With the Beatles, released in 1963. John Lennon’s voice is raspier and more raucous than Smokey’s smooth as silk original, with a hint of desparation behind it that serves the material well. George Harrison’s backing vocal is a shadowy response to Lennon’s call, which helps to capture that same undercurrent of darkness to an otherwise joyous delivery.

So, which is it to be? Smokey or the Fabs? Or is it some other version? The Zombies did a good one. So did Percy Sledge, M Ward, and many others. Vote now, good people!