James Ray | I Got My Mind Set On You

8 02 2011

Yes, that title should sound familiar to you. That’s because George Harrison had a huge hit with this tune in 1987. “I Got My Mind Set On You” was featured on his otherwise lackluster release Cloud Nine. Considering the popularity of the Harrison version it’s remarkable that so few people are aware that it’s actually a cover. The song was written by Rudy Clark and recorded by James Ray in 1962. No doubt, it’s a great song through and through. Whether you like the Harrison rendition or the original it’s a classic.

Interestingly enough, of George’s three #1 hit singles in the US, this was the only one that was not self-penned and the only one without religious overtones. Also, not only was this the last US #1 hit for ol’ Georgie boy, but it was also the last from any of the other ex-Beatles. To hear Harrison’s version click HERE. As you might expect, I’m partial to Ray’s original…

As enjoyable as that 1987 attempt was, I was floored when I first heard James Ray’s original. It’s just so raw and authentic, especially when compared to Harrison’s version. For me, this was the way the song was intended. The arrangement is so natural feeling that I almost can’t imagine it any other way. How Ray never had his own hit with song remains a mystery to me.

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Kim Carnes | Bette Davis Eyes

19 11 2010

I’ve had this Kim Carnes’ song, “Bette Davis Eyes” stuck in my head for 2 days. Whether you like it or not, it’s hard to forget this one. So, I figure, if I have to suffer, then everybody should share in on it. OK. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. It’s actually a pretty great song… for 1981 especially. The song, the lyrics, the video; everything smacks of comedy with this one. I’ve got to say though,  the funniest thing to me is how Kim’s trademark raspy voice is regularly mistaken for Rod Stewart. Come to think of it, Rod would probably do a fantastic version of this tune. Hoefully, it’ll make his next ‘great American songbook’ album.

I pick on this tune but it is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine and was actually really successful in it’s time. In 1981 it was one of the most popular songs of the entire year, second only to Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical”. And, I have to hand it to Kim Carnes. She not only sings well, she is also quite the instrumentalist; playing guitar, keyboards and harmonica. Now, none of that talent is really showcased in this classic music video but it’s pretty amazing nevertheless. Check it out…





Young-Holt Unlimited | Soulful Strut

14 09 2010

Young-Holt Unlimited. It’s probably one of the worst band names EVER. Fortunately for these guys, they can really play. Chicago based, they were a late 60’s Soul/Jazz Instrumental group. Drummer Isaac “Red” Holt and bassist Eldee Young, formerly members of Ramsey Lewis’ jazz trio broke off to do their own thing in 1966. The first incarnation of their group was called The Young-Holt Trio. It’s not exactly original but it’s got a nicer ring to it than Unlimited. In 1968 they replaced pianist Don Walker with Ken Chaney, at which point they changed the name… I’m still confused about this name. Names aside, they are a solid band. “Soulful Strut” was their biggest hit, reaching #3, but they had other minor hits along the way. Many of their albums include soul jazz covers of some classics that were relatively well received back in their heyday. First check out “Soulful Strut” and then I have a few of their covers I’m fond of.

Oddly enough, “Soulful Strut” is actually the backing instrumental to another less popular song, “Am I the Same Girl”. Recorded by Barbara Ackerly, the wife of the songs writer Eugene Record, it was recorded in early 1968 but was shelved by the label. Shortly thereafter, the producer Carl Davis removed her voice from the track, replaced it with a piano solo by Floyd Morris, and released the resulting track in November 1968 as “Soulful Strut”. Although credited to Young-Holt Unlimited, neither Young nor Holt are believed to have played on the recorded track.  The instrumental is simply credited to the Brunswick Studio Band. which could include Red and Eldee, but it’s not likely. It sounds like some pretty fishy stuff, but it is confirmed that these they went on to perform the song for many years after it’s release.

Two songs I have featured on GG before are Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” and The Stylistics “People Make The World Go Around”. Both at GREAT tunes that get a lot of attention in the Soul/R&B community. Cover versions are abound so these two versions don’t exactly rank at the top of all that are available but I like these. The cool thing about these guys is that they have a very distinct sound in their playing. Although it’s very much of it’s time, it is very stylized, which plays to their Jazz roots.

References:

More info on Young-Holt Unlimited

More info on “Soulful Strut”

More info on Ramsey Lewis

Previous GG Post: “Sunny”

Previous GG Post: “People Make…”





Cee-Lo | Fuck You!

1 09 2010

This is some pretty  interesting $h!t… Cee-Lo Green, of Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley fame, released his newest single “Fuck You!” on YouTube. This first video is just the song with animated lyrics, but nevertheless received instant attention due obvious reasons: 1. the explicit title/lyrics and 2. the explicit pop-stickiness of the song itself. It’s true. It’s one of tunes that you embarrassingly catch yourself humming or singing, not unlike his Gnarls Barkley hit from 2006, “Crazy”.  So, this whole tactic is a relatively new concept. No doubt it’s inspired by the the current state of the recording industry, the ever-growing use of social media and the fact that this particular piece of work would be hard to release anywhere but the internet. He, rather wisely, is using YouTube (an extension of his social media) to promote his new album Lady Killer. At first, I didn’t think much of it but I got to thinking about how clever a move that is… and like that, I had forgotten about it. All of a sudden as of today, Green releases a more “traditional” MTV-style music video but this time via Facebook. The catch is: you have to “Like” his page. When I heard this I was at the same time both disgusted and impressed. All these little teasers actually seem to be working. People are talking about it and he is engaging fans (albeit a tad forcefully). I am only curious what the next step will be. At this same rate, it should only be another week or so ’til we find out.

Below is the original YouTube video with lyrics. Many will tell you that they can not yet offer the Facebook video as it is exclusive to Cee-Lo’s Facebook Page. Well, no here. I was able to obtain a copy and uploaded it as discreetly as possible so that you do not have to officially become a fan on FB. Before watching, I should tell you that this “Official Music Video” is not all that cool. Actually, it kind of reminds me of Pepsi commercial… and not one of the good ones. Check out, it’s the second video below.

References:

Cee-Lo’s Official Site

Cee-Lo’s Facebook Page

More info on Cee-Lo Green

Read more about “Fuck You!” @ PitchFork.com HERE & HERE





Grazing In The Grass

30 08 2010

“Grazing In The Grass” is a very cool (and yet little known) tune from 1968. Originally recorded by South African trumpet Master Hugh Masekela, it is an all instrumental soul groove that sounds more jazz inspired R&B than afro-pop. It’s full of great horn lines and A LOT of cowbell. Masekela is a pop legend both at home and here in the States. “Grazing In The Grass” was probably his most popular tune, selling over 4 million copies to date. Later in his career, he also had a hit with a song dedicated to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison called “Bring Him Home”. Even in his early days, Masekela was a go-to “world music” collaborator for everyone from Paul Simon to The Byrds, as well as numerous jazz ensembles. That aside, this is easily my favorite of all his work.

There are many covers of this song but only one that stands out to me. And, it comes with a cool back story. It’s from Eivets Rednow’s 1968 release Alfie, which was an all instrumental album inspired by the works of Burt Bacharach and Hal David (most notably their hit score “Alfie”,  hence the title). What is not commonly known is that this is actually an early Stevie Wonder album. If you look again at the artist, you will see that it is Wonder’s name spelled backwards. It was released without much promotion on a Motown subsidiary called Gordy Records because Berry Gordy and the rest of the Motown machine were still establishing Stevie as a soul/pop shouter on their more popular label. As not to confuse their audience, it was practically released in secret. Funny enough, there is almost no hint as to who the real artist is except for a tiny little note on the top corner of the album spine saying, “How do you spell Stevie Wonder backwards”. The album is mediocre at best, in the scope of Wonder’s catalog but it’s a very cool one to own for die-hard collectors. Stevie plays harmonica, piano, clavinet and is accompanied by Motown greats Benny Benjamin on drums and James Jamerson on bass. For me, that’s the best part… it’s this little known, under-the-radar snapshot of these guys just playing and having fun in the studio.

References:

More info on Hugh Masekela

More info on Eivets Rednow

More info on Stevie Wonder





Journey | Lights

23 08 2010

I’ve written about all-time great guitar solos before, most notably Robbie Robertson’s on The Bands’ “Ophelia”. Well, here is another that I would put into that category. I’m not a huge fan of Journey for various reasons that I won’t elaborate on, but this song is a real gem from early in their career. It was written and recorded just as, lead singer, Steve Perry joined the group  in 1977. The story behind it’s origin is pretty cool. Perry has said that he wrote most of the tune while leaving in Los Angeles and it was originally about LA. In fact, the original lyric was: “When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on LA”. He admits that it never quite sat right with him so he shelved it. Soon after, he joined Journey and moved to their home city, San Francisco. After a short time in the Bay City, it hit him… “the sun shines on the BAY”. And, like that, he penned a classic. Released on the bands fourth album, Infinity, it was the beginning of their most popular period as a band. To me the guitar solo has always stood out as the most compelling part of the song, which is played oh-so tastefully by lead guitarist and co-writer Neal Schon. Although the opening lick sounds a little too similar to the solo from Queen’s “Somebody To Love”, the statement as a whole is arranged really well. It’s succinct, lyrical, catchy and, above all else, memorable. As a little side note: Schon was actually one of the few original members of Journey. He was an alumni of one of San Fran’s biggest groups, Santana. After leaving Carlos & Co, they built Journey around his sound. I had no idea until just recently, but I’m not at all surprised.

Below is a live video that became the “official” video in the early MTV days. It’s decent if you consider the era. You may have to look past the poor audio dubbing but once you do, it’s pretty good stuff. To jump to Schon’s solo, go to 2:07 – 2:34.

References:

Official Journey Site

More info on Journey

More info on “Lights”

More info on Steve Perry

More info on Neal Schon

More info on Infinity





Twist & Shout

19 08 2010

It’s a song that almost everybody knows and loves. Made famous by The Beatles, “Twist & Shout” was written by Phil Medley and Bert Russell (aka Bert Berns). It was originally recorded in 1961 by the Top Notes. This original version was considered one of very few Phil Spector flops. It was just a year after he  came to Atlantic Records and had yet to perfect his “wall of sound” style. See if you can even recognize the tune…

In 1962, one of the songwriters, Bert Berns, sought out to revive what he knew was a great song. He thought that Spector and The Top Notes simply didn’t do it justice, missing the feel completely. Berns decided to produce the version he intended with the help of ever popular soul group The Isley Brothers, which went on to reach #17 in the Billboard Hot 100 and was #2 on the R&B charts.

Ultimately, the version that forever lives on as the most popular and recognizable is that of The Beatles. Recorded in 1964 for their debut album Please Please Me, it reached #2 in the charts just a month after the release. Remarkably, that same week each of the top 5 songs were all Beatles tracks. It’s an amazing moment that truly reflected the magnitude and impact of the Beatlemania phenomenon that was sweeping the world. Interestingly, producer George Martin saved this song for the final 15 minutes of the recording session as an attempt to salvage what was left of John’s vocal chords. Lennon’s voice was suffering through the entire 10 hour recording period. Knowing it would take every last bit of energy to get it right, Martin fed it to him with just minutes to spare. John absolutely killed it on the first take. It sounds as though he gives every bit of heart and soul he could muster. Which, was  very fortunate because he later admitted that he couldn’t sing for days afterward so even if they wanted a second take, he never could have done it.

This 1963 live performance (below) from the  Royal Variety Show is a great example of the tune. All the lads sound great but John’s lead is fantastic, as if he was born for  it.

There are plenty of other covers out there. Of them, there are only a few that are worth mentioning. One of which is THIS ONE from The Who. And, probably THIS ONE from Bruce Springsteen. If you look hard enough you can also find versions by The Tremeloes, The Shangri La’s, The Mamas and The Papas, Salt + Peppa, many, many more (including Celine Dion) but compared to The Beatles there is no point in even bothering with them.

References:

More info on “Twist and Shout”

More info on Phil Medley and Bert Russell

More info on The Top Notes

More info on The Isley Brothers

More info on The Beatles

More info on Please Please Me

More info on Phil Spector

More info on Spector’s Wall of Sound








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