Van Morrison’s 1969 Pop Reggae

All these years I’ve naively assumed “I Shall Sing” to be a Judy Mowatt early reggae original (and 1974 Jamaican chart-topper, according to this Los Angeles Times piece from 1986).  And yet that same Times piece makes clear, Judy Mowatt was taking her musical inspiration from Miriam Makeba (not Art Garfunkel), as “I Shall Sing” turns out to have come from the pen of Van Morrison, who first recorded it November 11, 1969 for his Moondance album – but ultimately binned it!

Van Morrison sheet musicOn October 8, 2013, Mojo would make a rather big to-do over the premeire of this Caribbean-flavoured “never-before-released” track:

“I Shall Sing” (take 7)     Van Morrison     1969

Check out the fresh arrangement, especially the offbeat intro that kicks off the version sung by Judy Mowatt:

“I Shall Sing”     Judy Mowatt     197

Miriam Makeba’s Warner Brothers single was originally selected by Billboard for its Top 60 Pop Spotlight (i.e., predicted to reach the Top 60 of the Hot 100 Chart) in its July 4, 1970 edition:

“This happy Van Morrison swinger serves as potent material for the top stylist.  Her most commercial outing in some time this could prove an out and out smash.”

Van Morrison - Miriam Makeba 45-aMowatt’s version may have topped the Jamaican charts in 1974, but her recording had originally been released in 1971 using at least two music aliases — Julian (in Jamaica) and Jean and the Gaytones (in the UK) — as well as her own name.  Imagine this music blogger’s delight in discovering “Musical Fight” by The Crashers to be the flip side of the Jean and the Gaytones 45 released by Trojan!

Van Morrison - Judy Mowatt 45-a1971 would also be the year France Gall would give the song the Schlager treatment for the German market.

Toots and the Maytals, meanwhile, would arrange a stellar roots reggae version for 1976’s Reggae Got Soul album, while Marcia Griffiths would revive “I Shall Sing” in 1993 in a modern roots style.

Art Garfunkel would have the most success with “I Shall Sing” in the States (#38 Pop) in 1973 — Billboard would select Garfunkel’s 45 as one of the “Top Single Picks” for the week of December 15, 1973 and have these words of praise:

“A zesty tune from Art’s current album brings us a happy picture with a Caribbean flavor.  This is hand clapping, joyous music with Garfunkel’s dueting with himself and lots of infectious music behind his saga of always singing as a way of staying happy.”

Van Morrison - Art Garfunkel 45-a

(Please Not) “Steel Guitar Rag”

Just when you thought you couldn’t take another version of “Steel Guitar Rag,” this 1959 version by The Dynatones, surprisingly (despite the absence of a steel guitar) swaggers:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     The Dynatones     1959

Here’s a great swing boogie version by Rudi Wairata & His Hawaiian Boys that brings to mind the radical rockabilly sounds produced by the Brothers Tielman, featuring Andy and his 10-string electric guitar:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     Rudi Wairata & His Hawaiian Boys     1963

Roy Smeck‘s manic, rapid-fire arrangement from 1938 still amazes and amuses more than seven decades later:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     Roy Smeck     1938

Buck Owens & the Buckaroos, as you would expect, play “Steel Guitar Rag” Bakersfield-style in an arrangement that spotlights the sophisticated steel guitar stylings of Tom Brumley:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     Buck Owens & the Buckaroos     1965

If you’re curious to hear “Steel Guitar Rag” as a sax instrumental led by King Curtis, then I have good news: :

“Steel Guitar Rag”     King Curtis    1957

Check out Hardrock Gunter‘s version from 1972, with Merle Travis-style multi-track guitars that sound recorded at half-speed for that ‘Alvin & Chipmunk-style’ tinkly effect when played back at regular speed:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     Hardrock Gunter     1972

Click here to enjoy an immaculately-recorded western swing version by Kelso Herston & the Funky Guitar Band from 1971 — likewise from Noel Boggs, whose version from 1961 kicks off with bongo drums.  Jerry Byrd bequeaths to all of humanity a(n) Hawaiian-flavored version from 1950, while Chet Atkins whips up a crisp country pop arrangement from 1962John Fahey, unsurprisingly, would arrange his own bottleneck acoustic version, while Barbara Mandrell would do a cracking country jazz version on Johnny Cash’s 1976 Christmas Special.

The (fabulous) Ventures would imbue the song with their own inimitable spirit in 1963, as The Sgro Brothers (Dom & Tony) would record a toe-tappin’ harmonica version in 1975 with the great Johnny Gimble (possibly) on fiddle.  Curious to hear a Finnish rockabilly version from The Cosh Boys?  Or the astounding Junior Brown playing a tastefully restrained live version?  Don’t forget Hank Thompson & the Brazos Valley Boysbrash and brassy, Vegas-styled version from country music’s supposed first live album, 1961’s At the Golden Nugget.  That same year, Danny & the Zeltones would feed their lead instrument (guitar? keyboard?) through a rotating Leslie speaker on a shuffle version that annoys with its oddly brittle sound.

King Curtis King 45Note:  Many versions of “Steel Guitar Rag” list three composers – McAuliffe, Merle Travis, Cliff Stone – versus the lone songwriting credit for McAuliffe, who first recorded the song with Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys in 1936 on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive (I assume it’s safe to disregard Rudi Wairata, who would also put in his own songwriting claim in 1963).  Song publishers, music historians — what sayeth ye?.

Versions of “Steel Guitar Rag” that I hope to hear some day include the one by Don & Donna & the Gennessee Country Boys, as well as by New Zealand’s own guitar army, The Multiple Guitars of Peter Posa.

“Soul Serenade”: Beau Dollar + Coins

Seems like everyone’s covered “Soul Serenade” – so why does no one play it on the radio?  Don’t you think it’s about time for this tune to be rediscovered?

“Soul Serenade”     Beau Dollar & the Coins     1966

This irresistible instrumental was produced by Lonnie Mack, one-time musical compatriot of Roger TroyBeau Dollar – last celebrated in this offbeat & oddball historical highlight reel – once served as a session drummer for Syd Nathan’s King Records in Cincinnati.  Three of the Coins – Ed Setser, Tim Hedding & Les Asch – in fact, would join Roger Troy’s Jellyroll.

                      DJ copy                                        45 on Cincinnati’s Fraternity label

Beau Dollar - Prime 45Beau Dollar - Fraternity 45

Originally recorded by legendary session musician and bandleader, King Curtis, in 1964, this song would be covered by the likes of Quincy Jones, Gloria Lynne, Aretha Franklin,  Lou RawlsWillie Mitchell, The Allman Brothers, Jimmy Castor Bunch, Bill Black’s Combo & The Derek Trucks Band.

The song would also spawn a slew of ska, rocksteady & reggae covers by such notable names as Prince Buster, The Soul Brothers, The Paragons, The Gaylads, Tommy McCook, Boris Gardiner, St. George & the Dragon Killers, Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, and don’t forget The Federalmen.

Beau Dollar’s Last King 45 as Artist – written by henry glover

Beau Dollar - King 45

It’s French – and Very Catchy

Thanks to Whole Foods for nourishing my soul with its affordably-priced (no, seriously) 3-disc set of French pop, Café Paris:  42 Classic Songs from France.  This past week, I have found myself particularly taken with one song by a French singer-songwriter whose name, Michel Polnareff, was new to me — Jimmy Page, lo and behold, I would discover to be the unnamed session musician who plays the riff that refuses to vacate the premises:

“La Poupée Qui Fait Non”    Michel Polnareff     1966

Now, of course, it’s one thing for this unpaid music enthusiast to declare “La Poupée Qui Fait Non” (“The Doll That Says No”) catchy as all get out, but as I poke into the song’s subsequent history, I am quite struck by the range of artists who have been similarly charmed by the song’s wiles over the decades.

A-side of a 4-song EP that also includes the track “Beatnik”

Michel Polnareff EPThe Jimi Hendrix Experience, for instance, can be heard messing around with the song (though just for fun), while Montreal glam punkers The 222s would record a rockin’ “70s” version (albeit in 1981).

English alternative dance act, St. Etienne would craft their own catchy 90s arrangement in 1994, while “iconic” French Canadian singer-songwriter Mylène Farmer would join forces in 1996 with Algeria’s (semi-official) “King of Rai,” Khaled, to take this song in yet another alluring direction. (click here if you have nothing else to do all day).

Perhaps it’s time for the current trendsetters of contemporary popular music to rediscover this song?

Joie de vivre!  This is the seventh Zero to 180 piece thus far tagged as French Pop.

Not Your Father’s “Purple Haze”

I just stumbled upon another freaky coincidence that is not unlike Germany’s 1966 one-off single by The Dead-Heads In the year 1968, two artists – The Jimi Hendrix Experience and singer, Robert Ray Whitley – would both release original songs entitled “1983”!   Am I the only one who finds that bizarre?   Who wants to bet that Ray Whitley’s “1983” sounds even remotely similar to Hendrix’s epic 13-minute underwater odyssey?

That same year Dion (“Runaround Sue”) DiMucci would release his version of hoary Hendrix classic “Purple Haze” that is curiously – and musically – defiant.  Dion uses the song’s lyrics .. and discards the rest!  If you prefer your “Purple Haze” as a downbeat pastoral ballad, then you’re really in for a treat:

“Purple Haze”     Dion     1968

“1983” by “beach music composer” Ray Whitley

Ray Whitley 45

“Witchi Tai To”: Pop Chant

How did I only just learn of “Witchy Tai To”?  This morning I heard this song for the first time, and it immediately occupied the empty spaces in my soul and refused to leave:

“Witchi Tai To”     Topo D. Bill     1969

I am hardly the first person to react this way to the song — many voices on the web likewise characterize the song as an “earworm” of major proportions.  Is it possible that Jim Pepper’s adaptation of an ancient (peyote) chant is the first such Native American chant to be played on pop radio?  Brewer & Shipley confirm the hunch:  “To this day ‘Witchi Tai To’ is the only hit in the history of the Billboard pop charts (reaching #69 in 1969) to feature an authentic Native American chant.”  Pepper’s hit version was recorded with the group, Everything is Everything, and issued, unsurprisingly, on Vanguard.

Ed Ward drew my attention to this song when he reviewed a non-LP version of this mesmerizing tune by “Topo D. Bill” (get it?), a pseudonym for “Legs” Larry Smith of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and special friends, although there is fervent speculation as to whom — possibly Keith Moon on drums and members of Yes lending support.  “This song,” wrote Ward, “is on its way to becoming a ‘standard’ in the rock field, and no wonder, since it lends itself to myriad interpretations so readily.”

This 1979 Trouser Press tribute to the Charisma record label states that (1) a pseudonym was used for this single since the Bonzos were still under contract to United Artists at the time of the song’s release and (2) “Witchi Tai To” was the label’s inaugural 45.  David Fricke gets the amusing back story from Charisma’s founder, Tony Stratton Smith:

“For this masterpiece of a single, Larry insisted on either ‘Witchi-Tai-To’ or ‘Springtime for Hitler.’  We were just closing a deal with a German distributor, so we didn’t think ‘Springtime for Hitler’ would be all that good and went with ‘Witchi-Tai-To.’  I also remember that single because we were counting every penny in those days.  I said to Larry, ‘Well, you’ve got your studio and musicians.  What else do you want?’  He said, ‘I’ll tell you, old boy, if you could arrange for 44 drumsticks of chicken and a dozen bottles of champagne…’  I told him he had to be joking. ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘we’ve got to have a supper break.’  And like an idiot, I fell for it.”

            UK 7″                                    German 45                                French 7″

Witchi Tai ToWitchi Tai To-aWitchi Tai To-b

Is “Witchi Tai To” the ‘standard’ Ed Ward predicted it would be?  Perhaps not yet – but it could and should be the “native” part of our American pop canon.

Larry Coryell, Billy Cobham & Chuck Rainey (et al) backed Jim Pepper on his debut LP

Jim Pepper LP

“Think”: Squeezing Soul From a Stone

I had assumed lots of people were already familiar with Chris Farlowe’s kicking mod soul version of Jagger & Richard’s “Think” – but viewership numbers on YouTube tell otherwise:

“Think” wisely enjoyed release in India and Sweden, as well as its native UK, where it went to #37 on Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label.  “Think” is also the kick-off track on Farlowe’s 1966 LP, 14 Things to Think About.

14 Things and Yet Only 10 Faces – What Gives?

Chris Farlowe LP

“You Don’t Love Me”: Where Blues and Reggae Intersect

Thanks to Steve Hoffman‘s blues show on WPFW, today I was able to make the connection (as many others have done before me) that the inspiration for Dawn Penn‘s massive 1967 rocksteady hit, “No No No,” came directly from Willie Cobbs‘ hugely influential 1960 blues single, “You Don’t Love Me” — which, itself, was derived from a Bo Diddley tune five years prior, “She’s Fine She’s Mine“:

“You Don’t Love Me”     Willie Cobbs     1960

For comparison, check out Dawn Penn‘s interpretation, with musical support from Studio One’s Soul Vendors:

“You Don’t Love Me (No No No)”     Dawn Penn     1967

Or check out prototype as laid down by Bo Diddley:

“You Don’t Love Me”     Bo Diddley     1955

Long before Kingston, Jamaica became known as the “Nashville of the Third World,”  some of reggae’s most famous producers and label owners originally gained fame as mobile sound system operators playing obscure (at least, at that time) American jump blues and boogie 45s — albeit with identifying information removed from the labels to prevent other sound systems from knowing the names of the songs or artists behind their most popular records.   Relying on non-Jamaican recordings worked well enough in the pre-Internet 1950s.  ClementCoxsoneDodd, for instance, long enjoyed a reputation as the ranking sound system operator whose signature tune, “Coxsone Hop” (in reality, a 1950 honking sax instrumental called “Later for Gator” by Willis ‘Gatortail’ Jackson) ruled the Kingston dancehalls for an impressive seven years.  Until, that is, the fateful night Coxsone’s chief rival, Duke Reid, pulled the rug out from underneath him completely.  Prince Buster witnessed it all go down (as recounted in Lloyd Bradley‘s definitive history of Jamaican music, Bass Culture):

“I was at the counter with Coxsone, he have a glass in him hand.  He drop it and just collapse, sliding down the bar.  I had to brace him against the bar, then get Phantom [compatriot] to give me a hand.  The psychological impact had knocked him out.  Nobody never hit him.

We hold him up against the bar and try to shut out the noise.  Not only they play ‘Coxsone Hop,’ but they play seven of Coxsone’s top tunes straight.  When that happen, you know that tomorrow morning those tune’ll be selling in every fried-fish shop.”

Fortunately for the rest of the world, what initially seemed like a door slamming shut was actually a window of opportunity for sound system operators instead to obtain their musical “exclusives” by forging their own original sounds – which, in Coxsone’s case, led directly to the creation of Studio One, whose songs continue to rule the dancehalls today.

Coxsone behind the board

CoxsoneHow interesting to see Dodd draw on his prior experience as a sound system operator in refashioning “You Don’t Love Me” for a Jamaican audience.  Even more interesting to learn that Dawn Penn, who initially dropped out of the music business in 1970, would re-work “No No No” in a more contemporary dancehall style and hit the top of the Jamaican charts in 1994.   Most fascinating of all is that fact that two of the world’s top pop singers, Rhianna and Beyonce, breathed new life into this nearly 60-year-old tune when they covered “You Don’t Love Me” in 2005 and 2010, respectively.

Wait – didn’t Willie Cobbs (or Bo Diddley) write this song?

You Don't Love Me 45

“Dr. Robert”: Cover Version Hall of Fame?

It is the mark of a true artist when he or she can take someone else’s song and transform it into something else entirely, to the point of making the new version almost unrecognizable.  Stevie Wonder’s 1973 version of “We Can Work It Out,” for example, begins with a funky clavinet riff whose boldness and originality immediately sets it apart from The Beatles’ 1965 single.  An even better example of taking someone’s else tune and completely making it their own is Earth, Wind & Fire’s stellar arrangement of The Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” – a radio highlight of the summer of 1978.

Speaking of The Fab Four, those of you who lived outside Cincinnati during the 1980s have been sadly deprived of a Beatles cover version so original and inspired that it instantly merited inclusion in an exalted, exclusive group — a Cover Version Hall of Fame, if you will — once it was broadcast on public television in 1980 as part of a local talent series called Rock Around the Block.  Fortunately, some kind soul has made this amazing musical moment by Cincinnati’s finest – The Raisins – available to the rest of the world so that your life will now be complete:

Interesting to note that guitarist Rob Fetters would reprise his classic ‘Dr. Robert’ riff for “Mattress,” the kick-off track to 1995’s Awkwardsville album by psychodots, a group whose personnel include former Raisins, Bob Nyswonger and Chris Arduser (click here to view the promotional video).

I would love to know from others:  are there any rearrangements whose uniqueness and freshness of perspective would qualify for inclusion in this presumptive Cover Version Hall of Fame?

“Museum”: Herman’s Hermits’ Lone Moment of Hipness

I dismissed Herman’s Hermits ages ago (“I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” etc.) but then, in recent years, was given a copy of their 1967 MGM album, Museum, and had to admit that the title track made for a surprisingly strong kick-off tune:Museum - Herman's Hermits

I only just now learned that this song is, in fact, a Donovan cover.