10 Cover Songs By The Beatles That Helped Define Them

The Beatles established the idea for British beat groups that if you wanted to make your mark, you had to write your own songs.

But, before they were writers, they were music fans and record collectors – just like us! They had influences, like any other band. In their earliest days, The Beatles considered themselves primarily as a rock ‘n’ roll band. But, they pulled in a number of influences that allowed them to define their sound even early on; soul music, rockabilly, traditional pop, movie soundtrack music, Latin music, and more.

The Beatles 1964

A lot of the time, their choice in material was made so as to distinguish their sets from those of other bands working the same clubs as they did. And it also served them as a live act when they were a bar band in Hamburg, playing eight-hour shows. To play sets that long, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground, and make sure you’re ready to play anything for the sometimes volatile audiences. More material is better than less in those situations; better to know it and not have to play it, than having to play it, and not knowing it.

What this anything goes approach also helped them to do of course is to create a template for how wide their reach would be as songwriters on their own. So, which songs did they cover that helped them to do this best? Well, in the tradition of the Delete Bin, here are 10 to consider as great Beatle-starters, and as prime cuts of pure pop magic all on their own. Take a look! Read more

Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Clowns Play “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”

Listen to this track by 88-fingered New Orleans R&B icon Huey “Piano” Smith. It’s his 1958 hit “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu”, his smash signature hit that sold over a million copies when it was released as a single, and eventually featured on the compilation LP Having a Good Time.

In the end, it’s this type of fun loving, light-spirited playing that nearly everyone associates with the sound of New Orleans R&B, and with the city itself. This song, and Smith as a musician, influenced a legion of players both contemporary of him, as well as the musical acolytes that followed him.

In the ’50s, Smith was an active songwriter, sessioner, and recording artist, knocking out a number of singles in quick succession for himself as well as for other artists including Guitar Slim, Earl King, Little Richard,  Lloyd Price, and Smiley Lewis, among others. In 1957, he formed his own band, the Clowns and began a career which would finish the decade, and then into the ’60s too, with hits on the R&B charts as well as the pop charts.  But, this one would be his trademark; a joyous, life-affirming thing, brimming with glee and sexiness.

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Chuck Berry Performs ‘Too Much Monkey Business’

Listen to this track, a huge landmark song in the rock ‘n’ roll treasury by one of the undisputed Founding Fathers, Chuck Berry.  It’s his 1956 single, “Too Much Monkey Business”, recorded on Chess Records and later to be released on the essential Great Twenty-Eight compilation, that every, EVERY music fan should own. I suppose that’s what essential means. But, it can’t be stressed enough, good people.

How influential, vitally important, and artistically exalted is Chuck Berry in the realm of popular song?  This post would be far, far too long trying to describe the breadth of this question. Suffice it to say, the Beatles, the Stones, and Dylan, among many, many others arguably WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN, were it not for this lunatic genius from St. Louis, an auto worker, house painter, and only part-time musician until his 1955 hit “Maybelline” took off and convinced him he could make more money by being a recording artist than by painting houses.

I could focus on his role as a self-contained singer-songwriter-guitarist. In an age of professional songwriters doling out tunes to singers, who in turn needed professional musicians to play the songs, Berry was a triple threat who stood on his own. This helped to set the scene for his contemporaries, like Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis, who would do likewise.  But, it also presented this approach as a viable possibility for his musical children, including the British Invasion-era groups that took his example and began to forge their own songwriting capacities to all of our benefits.

I could focus on his guitar style alone, which has become so intertwined in how everyone expects a rock guitar player to sound like, that when players don’t at least reference Berry’s style, they aren’t considered to be playing rock ‘n’ roll at all.  Everyone, from Keith Richards, to Johnny Thunders, to the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, and the list continues, all touch on Berry’s playing.

Berry’s guitar style is basically country picking meets boogie-woogie piano as translated to six strings.  In this second element, we must also thank longtime Berry collaborator and largely unsung hero pianist Johnnie Johnson, who contributed a great deal to how Berry’s guitar playing, and his sound in general, evolved.  But, even that is a post in and of itself.

But, when you’re talking about the role of lyrics in rock ‘n’ roll, then you have to mention Berry yet again.  And this tune is a giant in Berry’s catalogue.  As a rock ‘n’ roll song, it has everything; disdain for routine, for dead-end jobs, and for the futility of trying to please everyone.  On top of that, it is all about the rhythm of language with this tune.  The instruments take a backseat as Berry sings.  The way the words sound, tumbling one after the other, is enough to make you want to dance.  Many bands have covered this song just because of how punchy it is lyrically, from the Yardbirds, to the Beatles, and even Elvis Presley.  My favourite cover version is by The Hollies.

The groove this song created, thanks to how the verses were structured sent out a massive ripple effect, giving birth to other songs by other artists down through the decades, from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, to Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up”, to REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine)”.  If one thinks of Berry as a guitar hero, let us first think of him as one of the most lyrically gifted songwriters of the form as well.

For more information about how Chuck Berry influenced rock ‘n’ roll, and popular music in general, check out this article about Chuck Berry’s musical influence on history-of-rock.com and learn more.

Enjoy!

Interview With Eli Paperboy Reed, Feat. His New Single ‘Come and Get It’

Here’s a clip of Boston-bred soulman and 21st century rhythm & blues daddy Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed along with his band the True Loves.  It’s ‘Come and Get It’, the lead single of off his newest record of the same name, Come and Get It.   This is Reed’s third collection of songs that hearken back to the classic soul period, evoking the spirits of Sam Cooke, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, and James Brown, with a dash of the Chi-lites and Solomon Burke, too.

While he and the band continued their extensive tour of Europe, and after I was sent a copy of the new record, I asked Eli about this single, about the release of his first album on a major label, about his love of records and record collecting, and about the rich traditions of an American art form; sweet soul music!

Here’s that interview.

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The Delete BinThe newest record Come and Get It is your third album, yet it’s your first on a major label (EMI-Parlophone).  How did being on a major affect the way you’ve approached making and touring the record?

Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed: It didn’t really change much of the way I thought about approaching the record-making process but it was great to be able to record the whole thing all in one go and to be able to get all the musicians I wanted. Really it was just having the budget to do what we needed to do and having the support to release in so many countries. That was a huge deal, having all the different offices in different territories, it’s allowed us to really go everywhere and get exposure because of it.

DB: This new single,  “Come and Get It”, the title track off of the new record sounds like a classic from Stax/Voltz and Atlantic, an AM radio hit.  But, I get the impression it, and other songs like “Time Will Tell” and “Name Callin'” for instance, could have been written and performed as country songs.  What do you think the connection is between these strains of  American music?

EPR:  Well for starters, “Come and Get It” sounds way more like Brunswick Records or Twinight in Chicago than it does Stax or Atlantic but that’s neither here nor there. Country music and R&B have always gone hand in hand and I grew up listening to so much Country that’s really naturally informed my writing and style. The turn of phrase in “Name Calling” is actually sort of quintessentially 90s country wordplay. They did that kind of stuff all the time.

I’ve been really embracing my 90s country upbringing lately and I think people like Don Schlitz, Paul Overstreet, Alan Jackson and a million others writing that stuff were amazing writers who had knowledge of so much music. It’s all about southern stuff really; country, r&b, gospel, blues.  It all fits together.

DB: You gained an interest in rhythm & blues initially because of records your dad had in his collection.  These days with the Internet and all of the choice that it offers, do you think it’s easier or more difficult for kids to find classic soul music like you did?

EPR:  It’s actually both easier and more difficult. You have to know what you’re looking for and that’s the tough thing. Having a father with a great record collection or a great local record store means you can just browse and find stuff that has cool covers and buy it or put it on the turntable. I would just pull stuff out and be like “I don’t know what this is all about” and half the time it would be good.

I still buy records that way, especially 45s. If the label looks good and it’s got a good title, chances are it’s a great record. I think people just gotta seek stuff out that they don’t know. There are great music blogs that people can go to but for the most part nothing can replace looking through the racks and the stacks.

DB: You’re from the Boston area.  When you were seeking out live R&B music as a growing musician and writer, was there a local scene doing the strain of music you’re currently doing near to where you grew up?

EPR:  I went to some shows and things with my Dad but for the most part I was in a vacuum, listening to records on the living room floor. As I got to be older in high school I went to see shows but not really R&B. When I came back to Boston, though after Chicago I started playing in all these little churches and that really opened my eyes to that kind of music in Boston. I sang in this Gospel Quartet in Boston, the Silver Leaf singers, I was the only member under 65 and also the only instrumentalist they ever had. I played acoustic guitar and sang the high tenor parts and they even let me take some leads. It was amazing.

We sang at the funeral of one of the oldest members who I got along well with because he was from Mississippi and we knew alot of the same places. It was heavy. At the same time I started finding R&B and Gospel records that came out in Boston in the 60s like “Young Girl” and I started going to Skippy White’s record store all the time and talking to him about the records he released. By the time I moved to New York I had found almost every record he put out on all of his labels. He had Silver Cross for Gospel, WILD and Bluestown for R&B.

DB: Having been a singer and instrumentalist in a gospel church while you were going to school in Chicago as you mentioned, but also spending time in Clarksdale Mississippi in juke joints , how did the contrast of these experiences inform your music and performance style?

EPR:  Well how long have you got? That’s a tough question to answer in a short amount of time. I guess it’s sufficient to say it really shaped everything that I do. I learned about performing and keeping a crowd in Clarksdale and I learned to be tough and thick-skinned. In the churches I learned that as a performer it’s not about you. It’s about the audience you’re playing for. You have to do everything you can for them.  In Church, if they get the spirit, you stop when they’re done, not when you feel like stopping.

DB: Your popularity as a live act is undeniable, especially in places like the UK and continental Europe where you’ve spent a lot of time building a loyal following.  How do European audiences  appreciate soul music and rhythm & blues compared to audiences in the States and Canada?

EPR: I really don’t think there’s much of a difference in the actual audience, but clearly people in the UK and Europe are a little bit more scholarly about their appreciation of American music. When it comes to playing shows though, it doesn’t make a difference where you are.  A good audience is a good audience.

DB: Your influences can be detected  and attached to certain clearly defined musical traditions, yet you clearly have an artistic voice of your own.  How have you managed to avoid the temptation to simply take up the characteristics of a style, rather than find that voice?

EPR:  Listening.

I spent thousands of hours listening and taking things in and learning them. That’s how you ingrain things in your mind and let it come out as your own. If you don’t know the music you love (and why you love it) like the back of your hand, there’s no way you can come up with something new that’s based on that. Everybody needs to spend more time just listening to music, I think that’s probably the biggest problem with most singers these days.

DB:  Your first record Sings Walkin’ and Talkin’ and Other Smash Hits!, which was released independently.  Any chance of a re-issue?

EPR: I hope so, man. I’d love to put it out on vinyl. I might wait a little while longer until the price hits $100 on ebay though!

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What a thrill to get to interview Eli!  As you can see, he was extremely generous with his time, as reflected here.  Thanks, Eli!

You can check out music, tour information, buy the new record from the official Eli Paperboy Reed site.

Also, you can follow Eli Paperboy Reed on Twitter for real-time updates from the man himself.

And be sure and check out the Eli Paperboy Reed Facebook Page, too.

Enjoy!

Little Richard Belts Out ‘Long Tall Sally’

hereslittlerichardListen to this track, a primordial slice of rock ‘n’roll from one of the founding fathers of the genre; Richard Penniman, otherwise known to the world as the flamboyant Little Richard.

This song has been well-covered by fellow rock ‘n’ roll architects like Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran. British Invasion groups from the Beatles (who recorded it, and titled an EP after it in 1963) to the Kinks (who had a debut single with a version of it), and beyond also recorded versions of the song.  And what a tune it is, a bona fide rock ‘n’ roll anthem about ‘havin’ me some fun tonight’.

But, one thing that seems to have passed under the radar of many is the narrative that runs through this tune.  Behind the celebratory tone of the joyous sax/piano/rhythm section, and Richard’s ebullient vocal, lies a dark tale of deception, of hidden desires, of a love that dare not speak its name.

Uncle John has needs, and Long Tall Sally has everything he is looking for, unbeknownst to Aunt Mary.  This is a bit of a seedy tale, perhaps which is complicated and made more tragic somehow  because Sally is also ‘bald-headed Sally’.  Uncle John is in the closet, as Penniman himself was when he recorded this song in March of 1956, being as he was a threat to the status quo even without being gay.

Little Richard’s onstage style, his flamboyant manner, and his wild, androgynous appearance seemed to confirm everything conservative critics believed about rock ‘n’ roll – that it was a corrupting force, that it threatened the fabric of society.  And in a certain respect, they were quite correct. It certainly showed teenagers that there was more out there imagined in the philosophies of post-war America and Britain.  And if this song isn’t exactly an anthem to gay pride, Little Richard’s delivery of it certainly has a lot going for it in this respect.

Fear of change, fear of ‘mixing the races’, homosexuality, and other related societal issues seemed to be reaching a boiling point by the mid-to-late Fifties with rock ‘n’ roll musicians and the Beat poets presenting alternative visions of how life really is, or can be.  And they took a lot of the flak as being dangerous voices.  But, what became evident as the years progressed was that Uncle John’s married life to Aunt Mary wasn’t the whole picture, societally speaking.  And by the 1960s and 70s, this was more than evident.

This is what great art does – it challenges expectations and assumptions.  Rock music would come into its own in the 60s in this respect.  But, challenging the status quo certainly didn’t start there.  In this respect, Little Richard is something of a visionary, even if he was , in the end, a pure entertainer on the surface.

Enjoy!

Jimmy Reed Sings ‘Shame Shame Shame’

Here’s a clip of Blues and R&B giant Jimmy Reed with his 1963 song ‘Shame Shame Shame’, which like so many  of his other tunes became standard set favourites during the British R&B boom in the 1960s.

Reed’s voice is a quite idiosyncratic sleepy mumble,  making him instantly recognizable. And his delivery here is perfect.  This is the tale of a man done wrong by his woman, and clearly the worse for wear because of it.  Of course, Reed’s own state of being probably helped the performance quite a bit.

This is one of his least successful singles, yet it’s one of my favourites. By ’63, Jimmy Reed had a string of big hits including ‘Bright Lights, Big City’, ‘Honest I Do’, ‘Baby, What You Want Me To Do’, and many others, having made a name for himself on the Vee-Jay label and being, for a time, a big seller on both the R&B and pop charts.  But, his success would never match that of other blues artists in the long-term, possibly due to health problems and personal issues which included alcoholism.  At one point, his memory for lyrics became so bad even during recording sessions, that his wife had to whisper the words in his ear as the tape rolled.  On some cuts, you can hear her.

Yet Reed had a tremendous impact, not only on British groups like the Rolling Stones (who modeled, some might say stole, this  very song for their own under the title, “Little By Little”), but also on early rock ‘n’ rollers, including Elvis Presley who recorded Reed’s ‘Baby, What You Want Me To Do”.  Even country artists like Charlie Rich and Hank Williams, Jr. had a shot at some of Reed’s songs, once again proving that the barriers between R&B and country aren’t really that insurmountable.  And this ability to put across accessible, and highly interpretable R&B  might be more true of Jimmy Reed than most.

By the mid-70s though, he was ravaged by health problems, including epilepsy.  And even though he had changed tracks and was on the road to making a comeback on the blues revival circuit, his years of hard living and chronic health issues besides caught up with him in August of 1976.  Yet, he’s made his mark as a purveyor of accessible-yet-authentic and highly appealing blues that has inspired multiple generations of players.

For more music, check out this Jimmy Reed MySpace page.

Enjoy!

Sax Great King Curtis Plays ‘Memphis Soul Stew’

king-curtis-memphis-soul-stewHere’s a clip of saxophone superman and soul music legend King Curtis with his 1967 single and signature tune “Memphis Soul Stew”.  No self-respecting soul compilation album should be without it as an opening track.

King Curtis was a giant when it came to sax, touching on soul but also R&B and rock ‘n’ roll as well, playing the famous solo in the Coasters’ “Yakety Yak”, and playing with fellow Texan Buddy Holly too.  By the time the 60s rolled around, he’d recorded for a number of labels and in a number of styles.  Yet, I really think this is his signature tune once he found a home on Atlantic Records by 1965.

“Memphis Soul Stew” is an ode to Southern soul music that brings out something of the funk that lays at the heart of it.  It helps that he had some heavyweight players behind him including Jerry Jemmott on bass, Bernard Purdie on drums, and long-time collaborator Cornell Dupree on guitar.  These guys became known as the Kingpins, recording a number of sides with Curtis from the mid-60s to the early 70s.  Along with the Memphis horns, it’s hard to think how much better these guys could have done in the raw talent department.

King Curtis’ sax would also be a sought after element on other people’s records, and Curtis’ enthusiasm and natural leadership skills made him a success behind the desk as well as in the role  of musical director for Aretha Franklin in the early 70s.  He of course worked with Jerry Wexler, being in the Atlantic Records stable.  And he played on John Lennon’s Imagine album as well.

But like Lennon, his life  would be cut short by violence.  Curtis was killed in the street just outside of his home in the summer of 1971.  Aretha Franklin sang at his funeral.  But, with a recorded legacy behind him, and with the contributions he made to the development of soul music, it’s impossible to forget him.

Enjoy!

Them featuring Van Morrison Perform “I Can Only Give You Everything”

them_again-ukListen to this track, a slice of grungy R&B from Belfast’s R&B purveyors Them featuring a young and ballsy Van Morrison on lead vocal.  It’s the garage classic “I Can Only Give You Everything” which was a single for the band in 1966, and featured on their second LP Them Again.  This song became a fast garage band favourite, also recorded by the MC5, and later by Richard Hell & the Voidoids.  Soon after this song was released, Morrison would embark on a solo career.

This tune was unusual in a couple of ways as a single for Them.  First, it wasn’t written by Van Morrison.  Second, it wasn’t an established R&B recording.  It was in fact an original song written by a couple of British songwriters, Mike Coulter and Tommy Scott. Scott also served as producer.  But Morrison throws his entire weight behind it, pulling in his own influences and elements from his contemporaries – Solomon Burke, a bit of Jagger, a smattering of Eric Burdon –  and distilling it into a knock-out believable performance.

Signed to Decca Records, Them were represented a lot of the time by studio musicians.  Dick Rowe of Decca (‘the man who gave away the Beatles’) established this as a standard practice for many bands in their roster.  But, what a sound!  That opening riff is a monster, and the organ underpinning it is like the generator which keeps the whole thing running.  There are some standard British R&B elements here perhaps.  But this is a flat-out classic which helped to inspire a template for all manner of bands starting out with rough, unpolished sounds of their own.

Do you think you recognize that opening riff?  Beck sampled it for his “Devil’s Haircut” single thirty years later.  Well, I say sampled.  Beck cheated.  He played it live.

Enjoy!

Little Willie John Performs ‘Need Your Love So Bad'”

Here’s a clip of R&B wunderkind Little Willie John Performing his 1960 hit “Need Your Love So Bad”. The song became an R&B revival and blues-rock standard, famously covered by the Peter Green-fronted incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, who recorded their version in 1968.

Little Willie John was discovered at the age of 14, apprenticing with bandleader Johnny Otis (father of Shuggie Otis).
Little Willie John was discovered at the age of 14, apprenticing with bandleader Johnny Otis (father of Shuggie Otis).

Little Willie John is an unappreciated titan of rhythm & blues, counting James Brown as a fan among many other of his fellow musicians of the era.  His name is derived from his 5’4″ height, yet his voice is a towering siren of heartfelt proto-soul and blues, touching on pop balladry too.  Beginning his career while still in his teens , John was always the bridesmaid never the bride when it came to fame, despite a string of hits, many of them crossover hits to the pop charts, from 1953 to 1962.  His superlative version of the song ‘Fever’ in 1956, which Peggy Lee recorded two years later and making her a star, set the stage for the kind of smouldering sexuality for which many singers would strive with less success. Although credited for being one of the pioneers of soul music, Sam Cooke gave the credit to Little Willie John, and the evidence is pretty compelling. His material has been covered by artists across the musical spectrum, and through the decades. Yet, he is unknown among many music fans, at least when compared to many of his contemporaries.

Despite his relative success as a singer, John was purportedly very insecure, largely because of his slight stature and his temper was his downfall.  In 1964, he was engaged in a fight with an ex-convict while out with his wife.  When his assailant hit him, he countered by stabbing him to death.  John was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to time in a Washington State prison, starting his sentence in May, 1966. He died in prison in 1968 of pneumonia.

For me, the thing that strikes me about his voice is how rich it is, how big it is, and from someone his age.  Maybe that seems like a cliché, that someone that short could have the voice of a guy twelve feet tall, or at least sounding like it.  It’s of no surprise to me that even if he didn’t gain the fame of singers that worked within the same musical idiom as he, he had an impact on those singers, and the songs (particularly ‘Fever’, which has also been covered by Madonna…) survive.

For more music and biographical information, check out the Little Willie John MySpace page.

Enjoy!

Goodbye, Jerry Wexler

A legend in music passed on today at the age of 91 – Jerry Wexler, the man who (among many other things) coined the term ‘Rhythm & Blues’ while working as a writer for Billboard magazine at the end of the 1940s. In addition to shaping the language of the music press, Wexler joined forces with Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun in 1953 in order to record and promote up and coming artists such as Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, and the Drifters.

Jerry Wexler and Aretha Franklin, two co-conspirators in the making of some of the greatest soul music ever recorded while in Muscle Shoals, Alabama
Jerry Wexler and Aretha Franklin, two co-conspirators in the making of some of the greatest soul music ever recorded while in Muscle Shoals, Alabama

Wexler served as A&R man and as producer for the entire spectrum of popular music from the 50s to the 90s, while making Atlantic one of the most eclectic major labels ever. Among the artists Wexler produced and promoted during that time were Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett, John Coltrane, Led Zeppelin, Charles Mingus, Sonny & Cher, Crosby Stills and Nash, and many others.

He established ties with Stax records and made soul music a mainstream concern in the 60s. He also helped to develop a music scene and an accompanying recording centre in Muscle Shoals Alabama, FAME records, which served as a base of operations for acts such as the Allman Brothers, Etta James, and Candi Staton.

Wexler stayed at Atlantic until the mid-70s. But even after his association with Ertegun ended, Wexler continued to work with a wide range of artists, from Bob Dylan (Wexler produced Dylan’s 1979 album Slow Train Coming), to George Michael, with whom he recorded an early version of the Wham hit single “Careless Whisper”. He was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Jerry Wexler retired from the music business in the 1990s, having done more than his share to help drive popular music as a potent social force. His constant drive to develop artists should serve as an example to everyone in the industry that the long view pays off when it comes to making stars out of musicians; it takes time, respect, and passion for art, all of which Wexler had to spare. And his interest across the musical spectrum – R&B, soul, hard rock, pop, folk-rock, and jazz – should serve as a reminder that good music and talent transcends genres, demographics, and cultural backgrounds.

Thanks Jerry. Here’s hoping we’ll see your like again, although I sadly suspect we won’t.

Read this article about Jerry Wexler for a more in-depth overview of his life and work.