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.





Neil Young | Cowgirl in the Sand

13 10 2010

“Cowgirl in the Sand” is a great song from one of my favorite Neil Young albums, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969). It was Neil’s second solo album and his first with backing band Crazy Horse. This album has 3 of his most popular songs on it, all of which were written when he was sick with a 103° fever. Pretty remarkable stuff. “Cowgirl” was one of those tunes, along with “Cinnamon Girl” and “Down By The River”. As much as I like the studio version of this song, it tends to sound a little like another one of his great ones, “Southern Man”, at certain parts. But, this live acoustic version really makes it feel like it’s own song, and a fantastic one at that. It’s quintessential Neil Young. Although difficult to tell for sure, I believe this performance is from his solo acoustic show at Massey Hall in 1971. That concert captures Neil at his finest. Check out “Cowgirl in the Sand” and I will be sure to post more songs from that performance in the future.

References:

More info on Neil Young

More info on Crazy Horse

More info on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Studio (electric) version of “Cowgirl in the Sand”





The Isley Bros. | Why When Love Is Gone

15 09 2010

I really love this old Isley Brothers tune, “Why When Love Is Gone”. It’s from the earler part of their career, during a short stint with Berry Gordy at Motown. It was recorded in 1967 on the Motown subsidiary Tamla Records and released the same year. It absolutely is a soul tune but it also has elements more a kin to the British rock music from the same period. It’s kinda like The Animals meets Marvin Gaye… really good stuff. As great as this song is though, it was never a hit single for The Isley Brother or any other Motown artist for that matter (there are versions by The Originals and Kim Weston too). In fact it was never even considered as a potential single release. Instead, tt was released on the group’s second and final album for Motown, Soul on the Rocks.  Given the attention the song gets 50 years later it’s hard to believe it could be overlooked but then again, Berry Gordy was sinking all his resources into act like The Temptations and The Supremes. Don’t get me wrong, they’re amazing acts, but this tune is a classic.

References:

More info on The Isley Brothers

More info on Soul on the Rocks

More info on Motown

More info on Berry Gordy

More info on O’Kelly Isley Jr.

More info on Ronald Isley

More info on Rudolph Isley





The Band | The Last Waltz

7 09 2010

The Last Waltz is probably the first of the hand full of spectacular concert films, many even regard it as the “greatest of all time”. Directed by Martin Scorsese back in 1976, it’s an epic film that commemorates the final days of The Band’s touring career by capturing their last live performance, which included a tremendous lineup of distinguished guests from the music community. Many of whom were closely connected The Bands history, like Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan. As well as many others who are just old friends or occasional collaborators, like Van Morrison and Neil Young. Then there are even a few out that make hardly any sense at all, namely: Neil Diamond. That one I always found odd but I recently read it was because Robbie Robertson wanted to make sure the “Tin Pan Alley”  songwriters were represented and hence invited Neil. Apparently, it was weird to the rest of the band to as they have since admitted to objecting to Robbie’s decision… but went along with it anyway. Of all the songs that evening and of all the guest performances, there are a few that will forever stick out.  My all-time favorite (although it’s a tough call) would have to be Van’s appearance, doing the classic “Caravan”. This tune is awesome. Not surprising when you consider the talent. Van, as usual, knocks it out of the park, showcasing that Van The Man charisma and charm. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a must…

I’m also a big fan of Neil Young’s “Helpless”. Neil is fantastic, as crazy as ever. One of the coolest parts is that Joni Mitchell is lying in the shadows off stage singing backup. I always thought that was so weird but, I later read they wanted her eventual appearance to have more impact so they asked her to lay back early in the set. This song is so great, but accompanied by this band it’s larger than life.

There are too many good performances to start listing them all. One that thing that’s hard to comprehend based on the film is the magnitude of the evening. It was not just a concert. It was a major happening. Just consider the major players: Bill Graham, Martin Scorsese, Bob Dylan, The Band, and so on. From the word go, this thing was going to be an evening that would never be forgotten. It lasted all night long, literally. They served dinner early at 5pm, then partook in some ballroom dancing (presumably where the Waltz comes from in the title), the dancing was followed by a live poetry reading and then this very loooooong cocnert began. By the time they got to the encore, a cool version of Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t Do It”, it was almost 3am. Like I said, the entire evening is full of great performances, but some of the best are from the original lineup of players that were being honored that night, The Band. Here are a few great examples:

This is the Rick Danko sung beauty “Stagefright”. I love this tune and Danko, the bass player, is fantastic on all accounts. One of the things I love most about this band is that everybody sings and they all have very distinct voices that alone sound great but in concert with each other become something much greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Of course the classics are always enjoyable. This version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is accompanied by a huge horn section arranged by none-other-than Allen Toussaint. Drummer, Levon Helm, sings with every once of breath the man has in him. As usual, he’s superb.

There is another “classic” that was shot on an MGM soundstage after the event. Scorsese decided to include this version instead of the live one from that night. I see why. It’s an amazing performance. The Staple Singers are great but more remarkable is the production. The sound quality and the video are noticeably better than the rest of the film’s footage. In the beginning of this clip, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel just finishes telling the story of how The Band got it’s name. If you’ve never heard the story, you got to check it out. It’s simple but Manuel tells it so well.

As I said before, this was a long evening presented in multiple parts. On of which was focused on the blues. I felt I had to include this footage of Eric Clapton guesting on “Further On Up The Road”. The song is nothing too spectacular but there is this moment that I love. At  about 30 seconds, Clapton takes the solo but about half a chorus in his guitar strap comes off and he yells “hold on”. Like true professionals, Robbie Robertson jumps right in and picks up where Eric left off. Robbie even tries to mimic Clapton’s style a bit. It’s pretty cool and I, frankly, I would regret not mentioning it.

I could go on and on about this memorable night, but I need to end somewhere. I figure this is a fitting end as it kind of sums up what The Band was retreating with their transition from live act to becoming simply a “studio band”. This is Dylan’s performance of “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”. For those that don’t know, The Band used to be Dylan’s backing band (a great one at that). Given the significance of the evening and their relationship, they invited him to do a 4 song reunion set. But, this is where it gets interesting. Bob was reluctant to participate because he had his own film coming out and didn’t want to detract from that release. He agreed nevertheless but negotiations took place all the way up to his appearance on stage… obviously a very sensitive topic of for old Bobby boy. Reportedly, Robertson assured Dylan that the concert film’s release would be delayed until after his film, and with that Dylan relented and agreed to be filmed. As the promoter, Bill Graham was also involved in the talks. As the story goes, “Somebody working with Bob said ‘We’re not filming this.’ And Bill just said, ‘Get out of here, or I’ll kill you’,” Robertson is quoted in the liner notes of the 2002 album re-issue as saying, “It all worked out.” According to Scorsese, Dylan made the stipulation that only two of his songs could be filmed: “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” and “Forever Young”. He added, “When Dylan got on stage, the sound was so loud, I didn’t know what to shoot,” Scorsese later recalled. “Bill Graham was next to me shouting, ‘Shoot him! Shoot him! He comes from the same streets as you. Don’t let him push you around.’ Fortunately, we got our cues right and we shot the two songs that were used in the film.” …and yet it all seems so friendly and simple when you watch the movie.

References:

More info on The Band

More info on The Last Waltz

More info on Martin Scorsese

More info on Bill Graham

More info on Bob Dylan

More info on Eric Clapton

More info on Neil Young

More info on Van Morrison

More info on Joni Mitchell

More info on The Staple Singers

More info on “The Weight”

More info on “Caravan”

More info on “Helpless”

More info on “Further On Up The Road”

More info on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”





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





Jacqueline Taïeb | 7 Heures du Matin

18 08 2010

This is a really great tune from the late 60’s. Tunisian-born French Yé Yé/Pop singer Jacqueline Taïeb released it in 1967 on Impact Records. “7 Heures du Matin” was a huge hit in Europe, easily the biggest of her career. It’s remarkable considering she was only 18 when it was recorded. The song is about a teenage girl who is obsessed with Paul McCartney. Although, as someone who doesn’t speak French you’d never know. It has a very mid/late 60’s mod feel, with a lot of rawness to it. A very fitting mix of the British beat sound and the garage rock that was emerging. This was the beginning of The Runaways or The Corvettes. Basically,  female-driven edgy rock. Check out the original French version below:

Now, there is also an American version that was produced after it had achieved so much success in Europe. All the lyrics are in English on this one. I typically don’t care for alternate langauge versions because most  languages have a very specific cadence that often doesn’t translate. But, this one made me curious because I was really interested to hear these lyrics about a girl who is obsessing over Paul. Curious? PS- The English version is called “7am”.

References:

More info on Jacqueline Taïeb

More info on Yé Yé Rock

More info on Impact Records

“7 Heures du Matin” Lyrics (French)





Sneak Peek: Weezer | Hurley

10 08 2010

Have you seen this new album cover for the forthcoming Weezer album, appropriately titled Hurley? It’s a hilarious picture of Lost character, Hurley (actor, Jorge Garcia).

When asked about it by Pitchfork.com, frontman Rivers Cuomo explained the rationale behind this odd choice, “We just wanted to use that picture of Jorge Garcia’s face on the cover. It’s such an amazing album cover, and we didn’t want to have any other words on it, so we just figured everyone was going to call it Hurley, so that’s what we call it.” I can accept that. Given a few of their other albums have just been self-titled and otherwise referred to by their colors (i.e. the green album, the blue album, the red album) this seems like a slight shift in protocol. Hurley comes out on September 14th but they released a single entitled “Memories” early to create a little buzz. Honestly, I like the picture of Jorge more than this song but I’m sure there are fans out there that are excited about it nonetheless. Below is a sneak peek of the new track for those loyal Weezer fans… I know there are still quite a few.

I’m more partial to their old tunes but I suppose they can’t just keep doing that stuff anymore. Anyway, it’s nice to see they still don’t take themselves too seriously. It is actually their sense of humor that I appreciate most about them these days. In fact, I think they might be getting sillier with age. Check out some of their music videos from the last decade+ below and tell me if you agree.

References:

Pitchfork.com Article/Inteview

More info on Weezer

More info on Hurley

Weezer’s Complete Discography








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