Sir Paul @ The White House

2 08 2010

This past week PBS aired a special entitled: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song In Performance at the White House. It’s a real mouthful but then again, titles were never exactly PBS’ strong suit. The honoree this year was none-other-than Sir Paul McCartney, which should come as no surprise given the man is (literally) the most successful songwriter of all time. There were 2 stats that popped up during the presentation that were pretty astonishing to me. The first was that nearly 200 of his songs reached the charts. The second was more surprising, collectively these songs have spent a total of 32 years on the charts… 32 years! The special itself was pretty cool. It included some performances by Paul, some brief MC work from Jerry Seinfeld, numerous guest performances by other artist who honored Paul by covering his material and, of course, the President presenting Paul with his award. The whole thing can be watched in it’s entirety on the PBS website, which you can find a link to in the ‘references’ section at the bottom of this post. For a quick sneak peek you can find a few of my favorite moments right below.

Here is Jack White performing a great version of the Lennon/McCartney tune “Mother Nature’s Son” from The Beatles (The White Album).

Here is Stevie Wonder doing his amazing cover of yet another Lennon/McCartney collaboration, “We Can Work It Out”. This tune is on Stevie’s album Signed, Sealed, Delivered and in my opinion stands as one of the best interpretations of another artist’s song I’ve ever heard. It does what every cover is intended to do. It honors the original while putting a very unique (and in this case, compelling) spin on it.

This last one is a bit of a montage. It’s starts with Paul himself playing the classic “Michelle”. He gives a very charming introduction that is playfully apologetic to the Commander in Chief for singing such a flirty song to the First Lady. Unfortunately, this song is abbreviated, transitioning into “Eleanor Rigby” and then quickly cutting away to the actual award presentation. This version of the presentation is the long, unedited one. If you watch the version of the PBS site, they edit out some of the typical political rhetoric that usually accompanies such events. That version just sticks to what’s important about this evening: honoring a legend. Nevertheless, should you be curious you can see it all below…


See the entire PBS Special

More info on Paul McCartney

More info on The Gershwin Prize

More info on The Library of Congress

More info on Barack Obama

It’s A Shame

25 05 2010

The dual guitar intro on this Spinner’s tune from 1970 just grabs you as soon as you hear it. So much so that it helped take “It’s A Shame” to #14. The song was released on Motown’s subsidiary VIP, which is ironic because VIP was usually reserved for Berry Gordy’s least desirable acts. “It’s A Shame” was actually written and produced by Stevie Wonder (and wife, Syreeta Wright), specifically for The Spinners. It was his first that he produced by himself for an act other than his own. It proved to be The Spinners’ biggest hit in their entire career with Motown, which ended in 1972. The group signed with Atlantic after being referred by fellow Detroit native Aretha Franklin. In all their years with Motown, The Spinners were always highly respected but lacked any remarkable success. Often they would act as lackeys for Berry Gordy and Motown, taking work as road managers, chaperons or chauffeurs for other groups, and even as low as shipping clerks at one point. Shortly after signing with Atlantic, they became one of the biggest soul acts of 1970’s with numerous top 10 hits to their credit. Fitting retribution for all those years of hard work and no big pay day with Motown.

Here is The Spinners’ classic “It’s A Shame” circa 1970. No spectacular video here but the audio is all you need for this one.

There are a ton of covers of this tune but that should be no surprise. For starters, it’s a Stevie Wonder composition which always seem to make the rounds. On top of that, it’s one of those crossovers from the time when soul went funky, mixing the bass groove and harmonies of the 60’s with the energy and fire of the 70’s.

Here is Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings doing an all instrumental version of “It’s A Shame” live. I love how the baritone sax plays the lead vocal part, while the rest of the horn section blast away on the arrangement.

This cover is absolutely brilliant. So much so it almost deserves it’s own post. It’s Alton Ellis giving this classic an old school dub reggae feel back in 1971.

Finally, here is the instrumental track from Motown’s original house band The Funk Brothers. This is the actual original recording from the session that has since surfaced. This happens to be one of James Jamerson’s greatest bass lines so to hear it like this is a real treat. It has serious groove, implies the harmony and even touches the melody at points… genius.


More info on The Spinners

More info on “It’s A Shame”

More info on Motown

More info on VIP Records

More info on Berry Gordy

More info on The Funk Brothers

More info on Alton Ellis

NEW! On The Turntable

11 05 2010

Now that May is in full swing, the On The Turntable page has been updated. This month it’s yet another classic: Stevie Wonder’s 1970 Motown release Signed, Sealed & Delivered.  This one is probably my favorite Stevie LP although it’s really too tough to say for sure. This one, like so many others, has so many great songs that is is a great listen form start to finish. Just the other day I had it on and someone said, “you got to send me this playlist”, as though I had weeded out all the bad songs or something. Well, not the case… this one is just a solid collection of material that doesn’t quit. There are some great videos of Stevie promoting this album back in 1970 (and plenty of later stuff too). I’ve tried to select just one or two but it is so hard to choose. Below is some footage of Stevie performing one of the lesser known hits live, “Heaven Help Us All”. This version is really great. The rap he gives in the intro is amazing and, damn, what a groove…

Here is the title track “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” from the Dick Cavett show. I love when Stevie gets up from the keys and starts groovin’ out with the back-up singers.

The interview from this appearance is very funny as well as informative. It’s pretty neat to see him be so candid. Not only does the man have a ton of talent but he has a great sense of humor too.

Visit the On The Turntable page to listen to the entire album and learn more about it.  If you don’t already own this one, you can follow the links to make a purchase online… it’s a must have.

Stevie Wonder | I Was Made To Love Her

30 03 2010

This is one of my all-time favorite Stevie songs. It’s the title track from one of his best records, released in 1967 for Motown. I really love all his early work from the 60’s, Signed, Sealed, Delivered being my favorite. Many people will put the 70’s stuff like Songs In The Key Of Life or Innervisions at the top of Stevie’s discography and that is all well & good as there’s no denying they are great albums but I insist you need to give this one another spin. With songs like this, it might just change your mind. I also highly recommend For Once In My Life as it has “You Met Your Match” on it, which is AMAZING but then again I’m a sucker for this 60’s stuff. This first video is some really cool live footage of a young Stevie… very straightforward.  Doesn’t Stevie look like the man in his early 60’s gear? I love that skinny tie.

This next version is perhaps one of the oddest and most interesting collaborations I have ever stumbled upon. It’s Jimi Hendrix and bassist, Noel Redding, from The Experience jamming “I Was Made To Love Her” with Stevie on drums. Apparently, drummer Mitch Mitchell had to go to the bathroom at some point during this 1967 BBC session and Stevie was in house so he sat in for a slightly different take on one of his classics. At first I thought, the story was BS but I check it out and it’s the real deal. The real story says that Jimi was there to record while Stevie had come in to do an interview. He was very nervous so they sat him down behind the drum kit to help him relax.

*A lot of people don’t know that Stevie is a hell of a drummer, as evidenced by this clip.

What I didn’t realize for all these years is that there are a bunch of covers of this song. Here are just a few:

Here is the Beach Boys’ version

Here is the Jackson 5’s laid back version… damn Michael!

Here is Michael McDonald & Billy Preston doing this tune live from a PBS Motown Special back in 2005… It’s not nearly as good as the original but you know I have a thing for Mike & Billy.

There is a Boyz II Men version too, but I’m NOT posting it… sorry, you’re on your own if you want it that bad.

Here’s another live version of Stevie from 1967… this one is a bit later than the first. Some folks might dig this one but I prefer the older one.

*In all my searching I found the Funk Brother’s instrumental track from the original Motown recording. Surprisingly, there are a bunch of these online, which is pretty cool. I’m a huge James Jamerson fan so to hear James’ bass here is pretty awesome. I think there is a future post in here somewhere, whether it’s about The Funk Brothers or just Jamerson… or perhaps both. Click here for the instrumental.

Mac & Jack

23 02 2010

I wanted to put this in my recent Guilty Pleasures post from last week but it’s so… well, um… amazing (?), that it requires it’s own spot. This song, “Say Say Say”, is a Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney duet from McCartney’s 1983 album Pipes of Peace. Not surprisingly, the song is a good one but it’s extremely lame in all aspects… catchy but lame. I was going to just slide it in with the rest of the guilty pleasures but then I started to look in to it more and a little research made me realize this is deserving of it’s own post. First there is the song itself. The lyrics are ridiculous, they are a sappy blend of the two artists as they grow into their later years. Keep in mind, Paul had just done “Ebony & Ivory” with Stevie Wonder and Michael would go on to do “We Are The World” just a year later. Which all makes sense because that’s kind of the vibe here. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement but it’s certainly no “Beat It” or “Helter Skelter“. The song is not that bad, it did go Platinum and in comparison to their other attempt at a duet (“The Girl Is Mine” from Thriller), it’s fantastic. It’s the video that’s just awful. The year it came out one critic said it’s both  “horrifying and compelling”. You will likely agree upon viewing. It’s very typical MJ in that it has dialogue and a story and seems more cinema than music video. In it, they play two benevolent vaudevillian conmen, “Mac & Jack” (how clever). When I watch this I just imagine what it would have been like if they had actually made a full length feature of it. It’s hilarious to see two of the biggest figures in pop culture running around the Wild West selling “wonder potion” only to give the profits to an orphanage, Robin Hood style. If that weren’t enough, Linda McCartney and La Toya Jackson make cameos. Linda is Mac’s girl which is no surprise but La Toya oddly plays Jack’s  love interest, which only makes this whole tale that much weirder. It was directed by Bob Giraldi, who also did the “Beat It” video and the infamous MJ Pepsi Commercial in which Michael’s hair caught on fire. Between the fire incident and this, I’m not sure which is the bigger disaster.

These 2 guys both did a bunch of collaborations throughout their careers. Here are a few:

Michael & Freddie Mercury

Paul & Stevie Wonder

Michael & Macaulay Culkin

Paul & Michael – The Man

Michael & Freddie… again

Michael & Diana Ross

Michael & Friends – We Are The World

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