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.





Damn! Jake Shimabukuro Ukelele Covers

28 10 2010

There are not too many videos of Jake Shimabukuro out there but the ones that do exist are pretty fantastic. Jake is an exceptional ukelele player, maybe even a virtuoso. He has some incredible originals but it is his long list of covers that make him so appealing. There are three below that are pretty impressive. The first is George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. He does a bunch of great Beatles covers but this is really cool.

This next video is Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Obviously a great song, this cover is amazing. The coolest thing is to see how he breaks down the arrangement and translates it to Ukelele.

This next one is pretty cool too. It’s Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Like the Queen version, it starts out pretty mellow and then gets really intense in the latter half of the song. Again, amazing arrangement and some down right crazy chops… for a Uke.

For a few more cool covers check out these links:

Led Zeppelin’s “Going To California”

The Beatles’ “In My Life”

Cindi Lauper’s “Time After Time”





George Harrison | My Sweet Lord

8 10 2010

Lately, I’ve been listening to the Beatles’ post-Beatles solo work a lot. As one would expect Paul & John have the strongest catalogs but George & Ringo are not short on great work either. Here is one of George’s solo hits. Probably not my all-time favorite but it’s near the top and comes with a cool little story. “My Sweet Lord” was originally written for one of Harrison’s friends, former Beatle session man Billy Preston. Preston released it on his 1970 album Encouraging Words, which George produced. Just 10 months later, George released his version of the song on his first post-Beatles album All Things Must Pass. I love this album, it was huge. Originally a triple album (3 records/6 sides), it was produced by Phil Spector and featured 23 songs. Some of which were long jams with various guest spots from friends like Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Ginger Baker, Gary, Wright, Alan White (of Yes), a young Phil Collins, Preston and it is even said that John Lennon appeared on one track, although uncredited. There is also a song co-written with Bob Dylan and then a cover of Dylan’s “If Not For You”. It’s a really great album. “My Sweet Lord” was only released as a single after All Things Must Pass, at which point it went right to the top 5 and then occupied no. 1 for five weeks. It later topped the charts again after Harrison’s death and then again upon the release of a re-mastered anniversary version. Remarkable as that is, it’s not the juicy part of the story.

In 1971, George was sued by The Chiffons for rights to the song as it was incredibly similar to their hit “He’s So Fine”. Harrison later stated that he was actually inspired to write “My Sweet Lord” after hearing the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day”. A US federal court ruled that Harrison had subconsciously copied The Chiffon tune and he had to hand over the majority of his royalties from the song. This ordeal was parodied by The Chiffons afterward in order capitalize on the publicity. In good humor, George would later record his own song about the case, called “This Song”, which featured many direct references. Soon after, he just bought the rights to “He’s So Fine” anyway. So in the end, he owns his song and theirs… right on, George!

If you’re not familiar with this Chiffons tune, here it is. You’ll hear the similarities instantly. So much so, it’s hard not to side with the courts on this one.

One last thing, there is a great version of this song from The Concert For George, with Billy Preston leading an allstar band that includes Ringo, Paul McCartney, Dhani Harrison, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Tom Petty. 

note: If you’re a Billy Preston fan and want hear his original version from Encouraging Words, THIS is a great old live version, true to form.

References:

More info on George Harrison

More info on All Things Must Pass

More info on “My Sweet Lord”

More info on The Chiffons

More info on “He’s So Fine”

More info on Concert For Bangledesh

More info on Concert For George

More info on Billy Preston





Hey MJ, I Want You Back

25 06 2010

Today is the 1 yr anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. By now everybody knows what happened and it goes without saying that just about every media outlet will be doing something to honor the guy so I will spare you any overly verbose statement of reverence and just give you the goods. I wanted to showcase a few moments from his career. Some of which are monumental, while others are just pieces I really appreciate.

As a big Motown fan, I had to start with the early days of the Jackson 5. There are actually quite a few videos that capture the boys at this period in their career. This one is from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Per Dick’s intro, it commemorates their hit “I Want You Back” going platinum in 1970. The video quality is not great but the performance is supercharged. They amp it up just a bit by increasing the tempo… it burns.

This next one is, perhaps, from one of their low moments but I find it to be a really interesting piece that I had never seen before. It’s a medley of two popular covers done as part of a western themed sketch from the Jackson 5’s mid 70’s variety show. The segment shows the boys doing War’s “The Cisco Kid” and Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff”. It’s not their best work but, like I said, really neat to watch. The theatrical stage antics are way too much for my taste but who knew they had covered War and Marley. That was the one cool thing about this TV show, they used to show off their talents with material beyond their own catalog or that of other Motown artists.

This next one is without a doubt one of the biggest moments in Michael’s career. It’s that famous performance of “Billie Jean” from the Motown 25 show live at NY’s Apollo Theater in Harlem. This is the first time Micheal displayed his trademark moonwalk. The whole performance is phenomenal but once he hits the move, the audience erupts… it gives me goosebumps to watch it decades later.

This is just a song that I happen to like, despite its down tempo beat.  As one of his more mellow tracks, it’s a real standout. It’s “Man In The Mirror”, live from the Moonwalker concert film. The audience footage here really shows how big of a superstar the man really was. He touched millions upon millions of people (pardon the off-color pun).

This is the ever famous “Thriller” video from 1983. This 14 minute John Landis video is usually referred to as the greatest music video of all time and has had a huge impact on pop culture as we know it. As many times as you’ve seen it (I know, countless), it’s always pretty cool. I, like many, absolutely loved it when I was a kid.





Shuggie Otis | Strawberry Letter 23

20 05 2010

Strawberry Letter 23 is a great old tune from guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, producer Shuggie Otis. It’s from his 1972 album Freedom Flight. Otis wrote the song for a girlfriend who used strawberry-scented paper when she wrote letters to him. Unfortunately, since the mid 70’s Otis has practically fallen to near obscurity. His biggest hit was actually a song called “Inspiration Information” and it only reached #56 back in 1975. “Strawberry Letter 23” was never a hit for Shuggie himself but the song was covered by The Brothers Johnson in 1977, which rose to  #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and all the way to #1 on the R&B charts. Their version is much funky which translated better for the times, plus it was produced by legendary Quincy Jones, a icon known for making accessible dance music. Interestingly, Quincy kept the guitar solo the same  as the original but had Lee Ritenour come in to record it. Lee’s is lick for lick a copy of Shuggie’s masterpiece. Through the years “Strawberry Letter 23” has been covered or sampled countless times and many of those songs have had much greater success than the original. Despite that, Shuggie still remains a relatively unknown artist. Although, the sheer quantity of tributes is a testament to his popularity amongst musicians. Which is probably a legacy that he appreciates more than commercial success as Shuggie is truly a musician’s musician. The guy has been a studio player on some major recordings and has numerous credits as a writer. He was even approached to tour with Billy Preston and the Rolling Stones but declined. Otis started playing professionally at age 12 and is not just a master guitarist but is also quite proficient on the piano, bass, organ and drums. His ability is obvious in his session work, most notably Shuggie played bass on Frank Zappa’s “Peaches en Ragalia”.

Below is the original “Strawberry Letter 23”, circa 1972. It’s brilliant…

Here is a live version of The Brothers Johnson cover from 1977. It’s got all the Quincy bells & whistles… and damn is it funky.

This is Shuggie’s ‘big‘ hit “Inspiration Information”. Just a REALLY great song, despite relative obscurity.

One last one here… this is Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia”, featuring Otis on electric bass.

There is a great radio interview with Shuggie Otis from just last year. He discusses everything from his music to his work with Zappa, Mos Def and Beyonce, and he even delves into Barack Obama. Check it out HERE.

Samples & Covers:

Color Me Badd’s “I Want To Sex You Up”

Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson”

Beyonce’s “Dangerously In Love”

DJ Quik’s “Safe & Sound”

Tevin Cambell’s “Strawberry Letter 23”

References:

More info on Shuggie Otis

More info on “Strawberry Letter 23”

More info on The Brothers Johnson





Feelin’ Good

27 04 2010

This tune is simply a classic. Written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the 1964 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd it has been covered and/or sampled by countless artist. The most notable version though has got to be Nina Simone’s from her 1965 album I Put Spell On You. Below is a student produced music video for that epic song.

There are so many others that I cannot include them all here but there is a list of just a few below. Each artist’s name is actually a link to their unique version. Have a listen and see how each puts their own personal touch on this timeless hit. There are quite a few cool versions here. My favorites are probably Coltrane, Traffic and Jean DuShon, with My Brightest Diamond and Joe Bonamassa coming in close second… but the others are excellent as well. Too close for me to make the call. Go ahead and judge for yourself:

John Coltrane

Gilbert Price

Traffic

Sammy Davis Jr

Bobby Darin

Freda Payne

Joe Sample & Randy Crawford

Jean DuShon

Joe Bonamassa

George Micheal

My Brightest Diamond

Muse

*For a complete list of artists and some more info about “Feelin’ Good” click HERE.





People Make the World Go Around

2 04 2010

CTI LogoThis is a great tune from legendary vibraphonist Milt Jackson’s CTI album Sunflower. The 70’s Philly Soul/R&B group, The Stylistics, originally wrote this song but this one is so good you might as well forget the original ever existed. The title of the album is an abbreviated take on what might be considered the title track, Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower”. Freddie plays trumpet and flugelhorn on this album as this was in the prime period of CTI when he was a regular on most of the sessions. Joining Milt and Freddie is a phenomenal line up of Herbie Hancock on piano & Fender Rhodes, Ron Carter on bass, Billy Cobham on drums. Although there are some string & horn arrangements by Don Sebesky and acoustic guitar from Jay Berliner, this song is one of the more straight forward tunes on the record that is stripped down to just the quintet. It’s for the better because they have all the room they need to stretch out and have fun with it. The entire album is absolute perfection. In my opinion, it’s not just Jackson’s best CTI album, it’s probably the greatest of his incredible career… Not to mention the album cover is super cool. The whole album is a perfect representation of the CTI aesthetic.

There are a few covers of “People Make The World Go Round”, including one by the Jackson 5 but the only one that is even close to Milt’s is this cool version by lesser known Jamaican reggae singer Hortense Ellis. Hortense is the younger sister of the more popular Alton Ellis, so it’s no surprise it’s so good.

The Stylistics original “People Make The World Go Round”

The Jackson 5’s version

References:

More info on Sunflower from AllAboutJazz

More info on Milt Jackson from AllAboutJazz

More info on The Stylistics

More info about Hortense Ellis








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