Temptations Bout To Get Me (Cover Versions)

While giving myself twisted blood trying to get it right about the Temptations in just 1000 words & 3 video clips (I like a challenge…soon come) I was reminded of some memorable cover versions of their work by a wide variety of artists from rock, soul & reggae. So here are just 3 of those…OK there are 4…I do what I can.

Oh Yeah ! The wonderful Faces from 1971 crashing their way through a show-stopping take on “I’m Losing You”, the Norman Whitfield/Edward Holland Jr/Cornelius Grant song released by the Temptations in 1966. 1971 was a big year for the group. It started with the release of their 2nd LP “Long Player” & there was another to follow in November when “A Nod’s As Good As A Wink” came around. With the Beatles done, the Stones, the Who & Led Zeppelin gone global, Faces became the best rock & roll band in Britain. Formed when Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood off of the Jeff Beck Group joined the 3 remaining Small Faces to replace Steve Marriott, these 2 records fused their energy, humour & talent, blending bluesy good-time rock with Ronnie Lane’s more considered compositions.

However, the record everyone bought in the summer of 1971 was “Every Picture Tells A Story”, Rod Stewart’s 3rd solo LP. He had joined Faces with his own contract already in his back pocket. The 3 solo records are a mix of his own songs with very well chosen cover versions. “Every Picture…” & the single Maggie May” were #1 hits around the world & Rod became a very big name indeed. So, the hard-edged “I’m Losing You”, his first Motown cover, recorded by all of the band & performed in their set, was released under the singer’s name. In the US they found themselves billed as Rod Stewart & the Faces which must have affected the rest of the band. There was to be just one more LP from the group while Rod released 2 more. Ronnie left & in 1975 Stewart hooked up with Britt Ekland…I don’t want to talk about it.

Over in Jamaica, where vocal groups were always a thing, the Temptations were regarded as a close second to the sweet gospel-soul of the Impressions. Local musicians regularly covered the Motown hits. The move from Detroit to Kingston inspired a lovely alchemy, imagination & inventiveness adding shine to material that was already golden. Trojan Records’ 3 CD collection “Motor City Reggae” is a Who’s Who of Sixties & early Seventies Jamaican music. Back then JA produced singers like they now roll out world class sprinters. Slim Smith is included in Trojan’s treasure trove though his cover of “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, an absolute delight, isn’t. How the heck did the band come up with that bouncing rhythm, the loping bass ? It’s original, irresistible & I love it. I’m thinking that we are hearing the Soul Syndicate, from Greenwich Farm, with bass player George Fulwood. That’s some group.

Slim sang with the Techniques & the Uniques before starting a solo career. His sweet, passionate vocals proved to be very popular but Slim suffered with mental health problems & entered a sanitorium in 1972. The next year he cut his arm when he broke a window of his parents’ house & bled to death aged just 25. Slim is remembered for more than his sad passing, he was one of the finest singers in a very crowded Jamaican field. Check him out. In 1971 toaster Hugh Roy (that would be U Roy, “The Originator”) & producer Bunny Lee took Smith’s song & came up with “Love I Bring”, a great song, a superior mix of singer & DJ & a bonus version. It’s quite a way from the Temptations’ original & I include it here, in all its scratchy glory, for Danny McCahon who I know is partial to this sort of thing.

Heaven 17 were formed after the bifurcation of the Human League in 1980. While still committed to the Man/Machine electro-pop they still loved the funk. The 1981 debut LP “Penthouse & Pavement”, a classic prescient satire on a corporate culture which was rearing its ugly head, opened with their own Norman Whitfield inspired Motown Manifesto, the hectic “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang”. Their own enterprise ran parallel with the production company British Electric Foundation who, in 1982, released “Music of Quality & Distinction Volume 1”. It’s a odd mix of great pop songs, former pop stars & Billy McKenzie. Once you recover from Gary Glitter’s platform-booted stomp through Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” there’s an LP that does what it says on the sleeve. The lead track is the Temptations track “Ball of Confusion”, initially meant for James Brown who asked for too much money & was replaced by Tina Turner.

Since her split with Ike in 1976 Tina had done little of note (She was the “Acid Queen” in the 1975 movie of “Tommy). Her tour may have been called “The Wild Lady of Rock” but Tina was on the chicken-in-a-basket cabaret oldies circuit. “Ball of Confusion” was noticed by Capitol Records who offered her a new deal. In November 1983 her cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” put her back on the charts then the LP “Private Dancer” took her to the Thunderdome & a decade of platinum records. “Let’s Stay Together” was another B.E.F. production. Whatever your opinion on Rock & Soul’s favourite granny she was skillfully managed, recorded & promoted. I’ve always thought that not enough credit came the way of Heaven 17 for bringing Tina bang up to date & putting her back in the frame.

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That Woman Can Sing (Cool And Classy Sixties)

 

In 1965 if The Beatles asked then The Beatles got. The Fabs were making a TV show, “The Music of Lennon & McCartney”, for Granada TV. Their guests included Mersey mates from the NEMS stable, Brit popettes Marianne Faithfull & Lulu, Peter Sellers doing that Shakespearian “A Hard Day’s Night”. Also joining them was Esther Phillips, 15 years as a recording artist & appearing outside of the USA for the first time. In 1950, as “Little” Esther & just 14 years old, she enjoyed 7 Top 10 singles (3 at #1), 5 of them with “Blues” in the title. Miss Phillips had a tough ride in the Fifties. After a split with the influential Johnny Otis the hits didn’t come as easy as her addiction to heroin. It was 1962 before she had more success with covers of country songs.

“And I Love Him” was the title track of Esther’s first LP with Atlantic. Covering Beatles’ songs was a thing in 1965 &, as John Lennon says, this was one of their favourites. The gender-switching “Her” to “Him” was a stroke, the arrangement is spare, the vocal sophisticated & sensual, two things I knew little of when I was 12 but it sounded good then & it still does. Esther stuck around & in 1972 was with Kudu, an offshoot of jazz label CTI. “From A Whisper To A Scream” includes her version of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”, a sombre tale of addiction & it’s perfect. The whole LP is  treat, good songs arranged by Pee Wee Ellis, off of the James Brown Revue, played by stellar session men. Allen Toussaint’s title track & Marvin Gaye’s “Baby I’m For Real” are delights that I’m only just discovering.

 

In 1975 a discofied take on “What A Diff’rence A Day Makes”, a song made popular by her influence Dinah Washington, was a worldwide hit. She continued to record until 1984 when unfortunately, at the age of just 48, her hard-living past caused a much too early death. Esther Phillips had an individual voice which brought gritty quality to whatever material she was handed.

 

Of course in the mid-60s I was all about the Big Beat whether it was the energetic British take on Rock & Roll & the Blues or the new Motown sound that was calling out around the world. Everything that came before, the show business cabaret crooners, the vapid teen idols, trad jazz, was so over, stranded in the olden days by the new frontier of 60s modernity. (Yeah, I was so much older then…). Nancy Wilson’s cool supper club jazz stylings were absolutely off my radar but “The Girl With The Honey Coated Voice”, “Fancy Miss Nancy”, found a receptive audience with her interpretations of stage & screen standards. In 1963 her 4 LPs all reached the US Top 20.

 

The following year her single “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am” claimed the Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording though she thought it was a pop song & there’s still a touch of jazz. No labels just classy, urban & urbane. This is so cosmopolitan I want to smoke a pastel coloured Sobranie…& like it. Ms Wilson seized the time, a guest on many US TV shows as a singer & an actress. She has continued to sing her stories, always warm, effortless, & elegant, always popular. It is more than her longevity that has made her a Jazz great. If you are so inclined check her performances from the early 1960s when she was young, assured, drop-dead gorgeous & straight from the fridge.

 

 

And then came Dionne Warwick. We knew that our own Cilla Black had pinched a UK hit off her by getting in early with a cover of “Anyone Who Had A Heart” but Dionne came right back with her first single of 1964 “Walk On By”. Her partnership with songwriters/producers Bacharach & David, from 1962 to 1971 was irresistible. At Scepter Records they were given the freedom to create definitive versions of original instant classics. The productions were often sparse, leaving Dionne’s soulful voice to do that thing she does. My favourites, the eerie “Walk On By”, the quirky drumbeat of “You Can Have Him” (not a B & D song) & the perfect “Are You There (With Another Girl)”. There were 31 Top 40 hits for the trio in this time.

 

Dionne had 5 million reasons for leaving Scepter in 1971 & though Bacharach & David followed her to Warner Bros they ended their songwriting relationship the following year. She worked with Holland-Dozier-Holland, Jerry Ragovoy & Thom Bell but, apart from “Then Came You”, recorded with the Spinners, the hits were fewer & smaller. Ms Warwick was not ready to join the golden oldie circuit. A generation of musicians & composers had learned about well-crafted pop music from her records & were only too pleased to work with her. Similarly listeners had grown up with her too. There was more success, of female singers only Aretha Franklin has had more hits. Dionne Warwick is a legend. A few years ago I hit upon copies of her Greatest Hits Vol I & II, released on Wand, a Scepter subsidiary in 1970. It was payday & they turned out to be in mint condition…a result. Both records are quality from start to finish, filling the house with the beautiful noise of the best of swinging sixties sophistication.

 

 

Pretty Good Shape For The Shape You’re In (Results)

I watched “Results” this week because I like watching Guy Pearce act, the man has range. Pearce gave an award-worthy performance as the Quite-Peeved Max figure in “The Rover” David Michod’s stark, brutal film where the characters are still reeling from a global economic collapse. He was involved in Michod’s debut “Animal Kingdom” (2010) doing that cop-with-principles thing he first did in “LA Confidential” (1997). There are the 2 films he made with another Australian director John Hillcoat. He was a less upright agent of the law in “Lawless” (2012) & one of the bad band of brothers pursued by Ray Winstone in the great “The Proposition” (2005). Then there is, of course, Christopher Nolan’s magnificent mindfuck “Memento”.

As I said, I’m a fan. I have not seen “Iron Man 3” (2013), I have younger people to do that for me. I had to watch “Hateship Loveship”  (2013)  for myself as my staff  saw Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids” &  have understandably decided to give any of her subsequent work a swerve. I have even sat uncomfortably through “The Time Machine” (2002). I’m no stalker, he was in over 400 episodes of the Aussie soap “Neighbours” & I missed some of those.

I didn’t watch “Results” because Pearce’s co-star is Cobie Smulders, Robin off of “How I Met Your Mother”, a hateful US sit com which, I think, is about a man lying to women so that he can have sex with them then boasting about it to some children-in-adult’s bodies…no thanks. What I didn’t know & I probably should have, is that “Results” is the new film by writer-director Andrew Bujalski whose 4 previous no-to-low budget movies had earned him the title of “Godfather of Mumblecore”, a snarky catch-all for some interesting naturalistic American independent films. Bujalski’s “Computer Chess” (2013) is a smart as a whip fake documentary, set in 1980, about a gathering of proto-geeks, brains the size of a planet, hoping to prove that their machine can play a board game better than someone else’s. Now he gets to point his camera at some people we have heard of & it’s about time that a bigger audience gets to see his smart films.

“Results” is an anti-rom com. In Bujalski’s movies the protagonists are flawed individuals, y’know like real people. Ambitious gym owner Trevor (Pearce) & personal trainer with an attitude Kat (Smulders) are an unlikable pair, physical well being is all good but a person’s social skills depends on more than an ability to pump a load of iron. Their hermetic world of health & happiness is challenged by the arrival of Danny, a newly wealthy, recently divorced, middle aged man, overweight & disconsolate. The master stroke of the film is the casting of Kevin Corrigan, an actor who has always caught the eye, as the 3rd point of this eccentric triangle.

Kevin Corrigan has added value to some good movies over the years without ever  moving on up the credits. I was recently revisiting with Martin McDonagh’s violent & funny “Seven Psychopaths” (2012). It has a great cast, Farrell, Rockwell, Walken, Woody H, with small parts for Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, Michael Pitt & Corrigan. It was good to see him passing through the film, it’s what he does & I hadn’t noticed him for a while. He had another blink & you’ll miss him role in “Life of Crime” (2014) the entertaining “Jackie Brown” prequel based on Elmore Leonard’s novel “The Switch”. New Yorker Kevin played Ray Liotta’s younger brother in “Goodfellas” & DiCaprio’s drug dealing cousin Sean in “The Departed”. It’s a pity that he was born too late for the early Scorsese movies. He would have been right at home on those mean streets & maybe things would have been different.

Corrigan has done his deadpan stoner thing in a lot of indie films that I haven’t seen. He appeared in “True Romance”, who didn’t ? He is great in Tom DiCillo’s ensemble piece”Living In Oblivion” (1995), the assistant cameraman in a motley crew assembled by director Steve Buscemi. He hooked up with the same pair 10 years later for the less successful “Delirious” (see above). When Buscemi directed for real Kevin was in a couple of those too. There are other noteworthy films, it’s a list, it’s on the Internet somewhere, you know where to find it. In “Results” it’s a jolt to see him as an older man, world-weary, still smoking, trying to work out how & if his money can buy him love. It’s a buzz to see him star in a movie & he, as the Americans say, hits it out of the park. “I don’t want to be a rageaholic muscleman anyway, you guys can keep it. I’m gonna stick with pudgy & mellow”…oh yeah !

“Results” isn’t the best movie you will see this year, that may be “Wild Tales”. If you have never seen any of Bujalski’s previous films you may wonder just what the heck these characters are doing on screen. I like good American comedy films. Remember when John Landis was making movies, when Steve Martin was funny ? Now I get to see films starring Paul Rudd (“Our Idiot Brother”, “Wanderlust”, “Admission”, there’s a bunch) or Jason Bateman (“Bad Words”, those Bosses). I see Peter Bogdanovich remove the wit & flamboyance from screwball comedy (“She’s Funny That Way”) & it makes me frown. “Results” is an intelligent, well made film. There’s a touch of Wes Anderson’s Tenenbaum dysfunction, a hint of Woody Allen’s early, funny films. It also brings to mind the films that Albert Brooks directed. Comedy that takes its time, y’know, for grown ups.

“Results” is a fine nudge towards the mainstream for a talented director, an addition to Guy Pearce’s individual career choices &, at last, a chance for Kevin Corrigan, a very fine actor, to finally give a top of the bill performance that I’ve been waiting for.Well, it made me laugh.

From Lancashire To Laurel Canyon (Graham Nash)

The Hollies, from Manchester, had their first hit records with cover versions of American R&B songs. Of the 14 tracks on their debut LP in 1965 only one was an original composition by friends from schooldays, Allan Clarke & Graham Nash. They established themselves as more than Beat Boom beneficiaries with a string of UK Top 10 hits, energetic, optimistic pure pop rooted in the rock & roll harmonies of the Everly Brothers & Buddy Holly, bright & shiny Sixties music. In October 1966 “Stop, Stop,Stop”, Top 10 both sides of the Atlantic, was the first 45 written by the songwriting unit of singer Clarke, guitarist Nash & lead guitar Tony Hicks.

In 1967 the Beatles raised the bar & moved the goalposts (uh ?) with “Sergeant Pepper’s…”. The Hollies, recording in the same Abbey Road studios, released 2 LPs that year, introducing pleasant though modest experimentation to their pop sound with Graham Nash to the forefront. Significantly a non-album single “King Midas In Reverse”, written solely by Nash though credited to the trio, was relatively unsuccessful & caused the group to be less receptive to his new songs. At a cabaret style performance in Croatia, the Hollies smart-suited & booted, Nash mutters “Thank God” when the last song is introduced. He could not accept the planned “Hollies Sing Dylan” LP & in 1968 he left his group planning to hang out with a bunch of new, interesting friends in Los Angeles.

The clincher for this move from Salford to SoCal was an evening in Laurel Canyon at the house of his girlfriend Joni Mitchell. Guests Stephen Stills & David Crosby played “You Don’t Have To Cry”, a new song & Graham, after a couple of listens, added his own third part to the harmonies. This natural, sweet sound made the formation of Crosby, Stills & Nash a done deal for the trio. The two Americans had big reputations with the Byrds & Buffalo Springfield respectively, the debut LP of this new “supergroup” was bound to be a thing. The Chairman of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun pulled strings & twisted arms to sign them to his label & in May 1969 CSN were in the fast lane to superstardom.

There was a lot of talent in the group, a fair amount of ego too. Instrumentally Stephen Stills was prolific & dominant but it was Graham’s song “Marrakesh Express”, one rejected by the Hollies, which was chosen as the lead 45 from the LP. CSN toured to support their record, “scared shitless” (Stills) at Woodstock, the second gig they played. A rhythm section was hired &, to take a load off Stephen, Neil Young made the trio a quartet. “Deja Vu”, released in 1970 was the result of many hours in the studio, each member taking care of their own songs.The crystal, organic harmonies tied the thing together & “Deja Vu” was everywhere. Around this time the MC 5 were kicking out the jams & the Stooges playing in their Fun House but it was the Californian soft-rockers whose LP went seven times platinum. Graham Nash contributed 2 songs to the record, “Teach Your Children” & “Our House”, you know them both, were Top 40 singles. His pop sensibility, a simple man singing simple songs, was a major factor in the group’s appeal to such a wide audience.

These records, musically & lyrically, are of their time. Led Zeppelin were taking care of the heavier Blues-based rock while Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young moved harmonious, melodic music into the Stoned Age. In the following year all 4 released solo LPs & every one of them earned a gold record. Crosby’s ethereal “If I Could Only Remember My Name” is almost perfect, Neil’s “After The Goldrush” caught the current singer-songwriter wave & became a massive hit while Stills released 2 LPs then had enough tunes for a soon-come double LP with a new band Manassas.

Graham Nash’s “Songs For Beginners”, marks his journey from Lancashire to LA & his split with Joni. The political songs   can display a hippie “we can change the world” naivete (didn’t we all ?) but “Chicago” was angry, right, right-on & was played on the radio. Nash was concerned that his songs communicated to as wide an audience as possible, if that meant broad lyrical & musical strokes then that’s the way it is. He was never  going to stray  too far from the template that had served him so well & his introspective, personal lyrics are direct & affecting. New friends from California’s rock aristocracy assisted the record & these fresh influences are shown at their best on “I Used To Be A King”. Jerry Garcia’s high-lonesome pedal steel added value to many songs at this time & it sure does that here. The ex-pat’s move from Hollies to Hollywood had, in the catchphrase of an earlier Lancastrian entertainer, “turned out nice again”.

A live album of that 1970 tour was released but members of CSN&Y were busy with all sorts of craziness & it would be 1974 before the quartet toured again. Crosby & Nash had forged a friendship & musical empathy that became lifelong. They toured & recorded together & their LP “Graham Nash David Crosby” was a commercial success. Once again Garcia played the right notes in the right place on “Southbound Train”. A perfect soundtrack for a sunny morning way back when & still effective when played live with just an acoustic guitar. The balance between Crosby’s explorations & Nash’s clarity, both wrapped in perfect harmonies, makes the record a very worthwhile listen & a signal to why their connection has been so enduring.

Graham Nash continues to be creative, musically & with a camera. His success as a musician has given him a platform for his personal & political opinions. He tells his stories, takes his stand, simply, directly & with good humour. He was part of a generation of British teenagers whose love for & imaginative take on Rock & Roll took them into a world they could not have imagined back in their monochromatic 1950’s cities. It was a long, strange trip. He seem to have enjoyed it & to have understood it better than most. At least he’s still here.

The Grass Is All Synthetic And We Don’t Know For Sure About The Food (John Hartford)

As a young musician growing up in St Louis, Missouri John Hartford was inspired by the Grand Ole Opry radio show & particularly the finger-picking stylings of banjo master Earl Scruggs. While other white teenagers were trying to play Rhythm & Blues but starting to rock & roll John’s high school band played Bluegrass. He was in his mid-20s when he moved to Nashville in 1965 & signed with RCA records the following year. The 6 LPs he made with Felton Jarvis, Elvis’ man in Nashville, are a mix of poetic romanticism & wry humour. Hartford had more going on than the folkie Dylan imitators, was never, despite some incongruous orchestration, country enough for diehards but too rootsy & individual for a pop audience. It was a song from his 2nd LP “Earthwords & Music” which found an audience & changed his life.

 

“Gentle On My Mind” was the title track of Glen Campbell’s breakthrough LP (“The Big, Bad Rock Guitar of…” had missed out in 1965). There were 4 Grammy awards waiting for the song in 1968, 2 of them for Hartford himself. Later that year Dean Martin recorded his version which was a Top 3 UK hit. It became an upbeat Aretha Franklin B-side, she shows crooner Andy Williams how it’s done in this clip. When Elvis went to American Sound Studio for his “…In Memphis” record he included his take on the song. Well Alright ! The royalty cheques must have been so big that 4 guys had to carry them to John’s door. After writing such a major hit John Hartford was pretty much allowed to follow whatever musical path he wanted. To his credit he didn’t choose to tailor his songs in search of another middle-of-the-road crossover hit.

 

 

John was around US TV in the late-60s. He regularly appeared  on the Smothers Brothers show & again when Glen Campbell got his own series. He joined Johnny Cash for a Bill Monroe medley & a solo spot of “I’ve Heard That Tear-Stained Monologue You Do There By The Door Before You Go” (phew !) which is pretty, pretty good. Better still he added his banjo & fiddle to the the Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, check “I Am A Pilgrim” & “Pretty Boy Floyd”. Young rock musicians were starting to mine a vein of American roots music which had been neglected in the rock & roll years.

 

Hartford’s contract with RCA ended & he moved to Warner Bros in 1971. His first LP for them was quite a surprise. The clean cut young man, the welcome guest in America’s living rooms, had been replaced by a Fabulous Furry Freak Brother ! I admit that the striking cover of “Aereo-Plain” made me take a closer look. The quality of his accompanists impressed too & when I got the record home & took a listen I knew that I had made a spur of the moment purchase I would not regret (mentioning no names !).

 

 

“Aereo-Plain” is a joyous mix of John Hartford’s love for Bluegrass & letting his freak flag fly. He sounded more comfortable with his music & with his attitude than on any of his previous records. He assembled an all-star band of Nashville Cats & they sound clean as country water, wild as mountain dew. Guitarist Norman Blake had joined Bob Dylan for his Nashville visit, Randy Scruggs, bass, was the son of Hartford’s hero Earl. Tut Taylor was Music City’s Dobro player of choice while Vassar Clements, a veteran of Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys later added his fiddle to records by members of the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers & the Beatles. John’s fluid, subtle banjo playing fits right in with these guys. Together they make a beautiful noise, producer David Bromberg was told to let the tape roll & leave it on.

 

 

The LP is lyrically retrospective, “Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry”, “Back in the Goodle Days”, “Steamboat Whistle Blues” & the lovely “First Girl I Loved” (a cousin ?) are all wistful & whistleable. The stoner “Holding” & the out there “Boogie” bring High Times humour to the piece. “Aereo-Plain” has the same blend of hippie spirit & respect for musical roots as its contemporaries “Workingman’s Dead”, “Burrito Deluxe”, “Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers’ Favorites”, modern country rock classics that avoided worthy revivalism. It’s somewhere in your e-appliance (try Y-tube).

 

Of course the record barely made the Top 200 of the LP charts & the following year’s “Morning  Bugle”, recorded with Blake & former Miles Davis bassist Dave Holland was barely promoted. Hartford walked away from Warners & didn’t record again for 4 years. When he returned “Aereo-Plain” had become more recognised as a modern Bluegrass classic (I’m not gonna say “newgrass”…oh sh…!). John became a fixture on the folk & country circuit, a virtuoso welcomed by many talented musicians, a solo performer on banjo & fiddle, playing while dancing on a a piece of amplified plywood. He loved the steamboat culture of the Mississippi River & held a pilot’s licence as well as being an authority on its music & stories. Though suffering from Non-Hodgkin lymphoma he was still around to contribute to the soundtrack of “Oh Brother Where Art Thou ?”, another revival of a music that had never gone away.

 

 

Since his passing in 2001 the 6 LPs he recorded for RCA have been reissued. “Aereo-Plain” & “Modern Bugle” are the starting points for John Hartford. His intelligent, romantic, witty  country-pop songs make his work before those 2 worth checking too.