News for February 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/1/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “It’s Been A Long Long Time” by Bing Crosby

As our boys came home from World War II, they were welcomed back with this number one hit from 1945 that perfectly captured the sentiments of those who remained home while their loved ones were away.

It’s a perfect record in every way. You’d be hard pressed to find a better vocalist than Crosby to deliver these hopeful, romantic lyrics in a croon that is both smooth and warm. Meanwhile, the lilting melody expertly supplied by Jule Styne effortlessly supports the lyrics written by Sammy Cahn that spoke to millions of couples who had been separated by the war.

However, it’s the lyrical guitar playing of Les Paul that steals the show, with a tone as smooth and genial as Crosby’s croon. His licks are the epitome of tasteful and never overpower the proceedings, while the rest of the Les Paul Trio, featuring Jim Atkins (half-brother of Chet Atkins) on rhythm guitar and Ernie “Darius” Newton on bass, add the perfect support.

The song was also a number one recording for Harry James and his Orchestra with Kitty Kallen on vocals in 1945, and a chart hit for Charlie Spivak and his Orchestra with Irene Daye on vocals.

It’s been covered dozens of times by the likes of Stan Kenton with June Christy, Sammy Kaye, Perry Como, Peggy Lee, Keely Smith, Louis Armstrong, Al Hibbler, Guy Mitchell, Frank Sinatra, The Ink Spots, Rosemary Clooney, Brook Benton, Tom Jones and many others. Les Paul revisited the song several times throughout his career, cutting a version with his wife Mary Ford in the 1950s, and nearly 30 years later another one with Chet Atkins on the Chester and Lester album.

This recording is the definition of timeless.

Edited: February 28th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/28/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “What The Eyeballs Did” by Atoms For Peace

The first thing that grabs you is the rhythm – jittery, squiggly, purely wiggy and totally glitchy rhythm. Rhythms that don’t make you dance, but do make you move. The ghost of Talking Heads’ Remain In Light lives here. Their fingerprints are all over songs that have been built up from rhythm. They inhabit the nine tracks that make up Amok, the first official album by Atoms For Peace.

Atoms For Peace consists of Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich (keyboards, synths), Joey Waronker of Beck & R.E.M.  on drums and Brazilian instrumentalist Mauro Refosco on percussion. The group bonded over their shared love of Afrobeat music and Fela Kuti, although you’d be hard pressed to feel the influence in the electronic jitter within.

They originally assembled back in 2009 when Yorke decided to take his first solo record, The Eraser out on the road. Back then the group went by the awkward monikers “??????” or “Thom Yorke????” depending on where they performed. Now they’re known by the also-awkward moniker “Atoms For Peace,” named after a song from The Eraser which took its name from a 1953 speech made by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Recording began in 2010, with Yorke assembling the band to share his laptop experiments. They then jammed on top of Yorke’s rhythm tracks and shaped the extended jams they captured on tape into songs by editing the pieces; much like Miles Davis and Teo Macero did back in the day while creating masterworks like Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way. Except, Amok is no Bitches Brew or In A Silent Way…

My first impression of the record is that this is dance music you can’t dance to. Nothing really sticks. The songs are merely patches of sound and rhythm with Yorke’s barely intelligible falsetto floating in and out of the proceedings. Just when the tracks seem like they are ready to cut loose, they evaporate into the ether. Yorke seems like he’s a guest in his own band, a band with Flea firmly in charge anchoring the songs as best he can.

Some of the tracks rise above the textural density upon repeated plays revealing hints of melody, including the album’s opener, “Before Your Very Eyes,” “Stuck Together In Pieces” which is held together by Flea’s bass loops, and “Default” which sounds like an outtake from David Byrne’s Music from the Catherine Wheel. “Dropped” and the record’s first single “Judge, Jury and Executioner” most resemble traditional song structures, and as a result are the most satisfying tracks here.

Best song of all isn’t even on the album! In their infinite wisdom, all of videos from Amok have been removed from YouTube. However, today’s Song Of The Day, “What The Eyeballs Did” is an outtake from the album that is easily better than everything that made it onto the album. When Atoms For Peace announced the release of the record in December, the song was included on the band’s website as a hidden Easter Egg. Happy Hunting!

So what we have is a somewhat flat headphone album you can get totally lost in. These tracks will no doubt explode when performed live on tour later this year.

Edited: February 27th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/27/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dancin’ Wild” by Tom & Jerry

Before “The Boy In The Bubble” and “Graceland”…before “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” and “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard”…and before “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Sound Of Silence,” there was “Hey Schoolgirl” and a multitude of early recordings by the likes of Tom & Jerry, Jerry Landis, Tommy Graph, Artie Garr, True Taylor, The Mystics and Tico And The Triumphs. No matter what name they recorded under they were still two teenagers named Art and Paul, and when their voices blended, they were undeniably Simon & Garfunkel.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were childhood friends who grew up living three blocks from each other in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York. They met in elementary school in 1953 and attended Parsons Junior High School and Forest Hills High School together.

Inspired by their heroes, The Everly Brothers, they began recording as Tom & Jerry in 1957, when they were 16 years old. Paul changed his name to Jerry Landis (taking the last name from a girl he’d been dating) and Art became Tommy Graph (taking his last name from his propensity to graph the hits on the weekly pop charts.)

Their first professional recording was the Paul Simon original, “Hey Schoolgirl,” backed with today’s Song Of The Day, “Dancin’ Wild,” which they recorded for Sid Prosen’s Big Record label. The single climbed up to #49 on the charts on the strength of its A-side, and sold 100,000 copies. Despite an appearance on American Bandstand, subsequent recordings for MGM, Warwick and Laurie Records, under various names, failed to chart. After high school, Simon attended Queens College and Garfunkel went to Columbia University.

Between 1957 and 1963, Simon and Garfunkel continued to write and record songs around The Brill Building. In early 1964 they were signed to Columbia records by Clive Davis, and recorded their debut album Wednesday Morning 3AM. The record didn’t sell well, so Simon took off to England to try his luck at a solo career. He recorded his first album, The Paul Simon Story, which was a UK only release that wouldn’t see a U.S. release until 2004.

While Simon was in England playing cafes and writing songs like “Cathy’s Song” and “Homeward Bound” for his girlfriend, Garfunkel continued with his studies. Meanwhile radio stations began to get requests for the Simon & Garfunkel album track, “The Sound Of Silence,” from their debut album. Producer, Tom Wilson was having success with early folk-rock recordings by The Byrds, so he overdubbed the track with electric guitar, bass, and drums and released it as a single. The recording became Simon & Garfunkel’s first number one hit, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My first came contact with the early Tom & Jerry recordings was from a “Simon & Garfunkel” album released by Pickwick Records back in the mid-1960s. My parents purchased it for me thinking it was one of their real releases,  only for us to all be disappointed by the early rock ‘n’ roll recordings we heard on the record. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the innocence of these recordings and their unique place in music history.

Last year, Jasmine Records in England released the compilation Two Teenagers featuring the duo’s complete recordings from 1957 through 1961.

Edited: February 26th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/26/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “One Too Many Mornings” by Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash

Still a mystery to me why these recordings have never been officially released…

The Dylan-Cash Sessions took place in Nashville’s Columbia Studio A on February 17-18, 1969 at the tail end of the Nashville Skyline recording sessions. During the same week that Dylan turned in such indelible recordings as “I Threw It All Away,” “Lay Lady Lay,” “To Be Alone With You” and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” Johnny Cash, who had been recording in an adjoining  studio turned up for some recording fun.

What transpired was several days of session in which the two traded songs and laid some duets down on tape with an eye toward making a record together. In the studio with Dylan and Cash were the cream of the Nashville session elite including Norman Blake on guitar and dobro, Kenny Buttrey on drums, Fred Carter, Jr. on guitar, Charlie Daniels on bass, Pete Drake on pedal steel, Marshall Grant on bass, W.S. Holland on drums,  Charlie McCoy on guitar and harmonica, Bob Wilson (crucially) on the organ and piano and Bob Wootton on electric guitar.

The fifteen selections that have been widely circulated include jovial run-throughs of Cash standards like “Big River,” “I Walk The Line,” “Ring Of Fire,” “Guess Things Happen That Way” and “I Still Miss Someone,” plus Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” and today’s Song Of The Day, “One Too Many Mornings,” and versions the rock and roll classics “Matchbox,” “That’s All Right Mama” and “Mystery Train.”

Not enough music came out of the loose sessions deemed worthy of release at the time except “Girl From The North Country,” which opened Nashville Skyline. So the rest sat on the shelves at Columbia and in the hands of lucky collectors.

It totally knocks me out that footage exists of these sessions at all, but here is a YouTube clip of the two in the studio. Cash handles the lion share of the lead vocals here and on most of the recordings, and Dylan seem somewhat out of his element with his vocals. That said, you can hear the mutual respect the two artists have for each other in every note of the joyful music they made.

Nashville Skyline  went on to be a big success, giving Dylan his biggest hit to date with “Lay Lady Lay.”

Edited: February 25th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/25/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Jungle Strut” by Gene Ammons

He was the son of boogie woogie pianist Albert Ammons, but Gene Ammons or “Jug” as he was affectionately nicknamed was known more for his full round tone on the tenor.

He got the name “Jug” from Billy Eckstine, after not fitting into the hats the band wore on stage. While with Eckstine, he played alongside Charlie Parker and later, Dexter Gordon.  He also recorded sessions Sonny Stitt, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Mal Waldron, Art Farmer and many others, until narcotics derailed his career resulting in two jail terms taking away nine years of his life.

Upon release in 1969, he was signed by Bob Weinstock, who offered him the largest Jazz recording contract at the time with Prestige Records where he recorded today’s Song Of The Day.

Edited: February 24th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/24/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Things Will Never Be The Same” by Four Just Men

Last week I wrote about Freddie & The Dreamers single, “I’m Telling You Now,” and the American album of the same name. The record was not a Freddie & The Dreamers album per se, although they were the featured group on the cover. It was a compilation released in 1965 to introduce unknown British Invasion groups to American audiences featuring two tracks each by Freddie & The Dreamers, Mike Rabin & The Demons, The Toggery Five, Linda Laine & The Sinners, Heinz and the group whose song is today’s Song Of The Day, Four Just Men.

Four Just Men were one of the better groups to ride on the coattails of The Beatles and The British Invasion, and while their output was miniscule to say the least, it was indeed potent.

They were a Merseybeat group whose original name was Dee Fenton & The Silhouettes. Upon changing their name to Four Just Men in 1964, they were signed by George Martin who produce several non-charting British singles for them in 1964 through 1965. The group’s two Parlophone singles were “Things Will Never Be The Same” b/w “That’s My Baby (which were the two songs on the U.S. compilation album) and “There’s Not One Thing” b/w “Don’t Come Any Closer.”  Both singles were originals, written by singer-guitarist Dimitrius Christopholus and guitarist John Kelman.  They changed their name yet again, this time to Just Four Men after another band also calling themselves Four Just Men threatened to sue EMI.

While the group toured with The Rolling Stones, The Searchers and Del Shannon in support of the two singles, neither charted and they were dropped by EMI, only to resurface in 1966 as a psychedelic group called Wimple Winch, who were known for the local hits “Rumble On Mersey Square South” and “Save My Soul.”

The two Four Just Men singles, as well as eight previously unreleased tracks from the era and 16 songs by Wimple Winch were released on the now out of print import CD The Wimple Story 1963-1968.

Edited: February 24th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/23/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Susan” by The Buckinghams

Transistor radios…beaches…the warmth of the sun…crashing waves…Chicago? Yup!

The Bucking hams were the epitome of 1960s sunshine pop with their perfect blend of warm harmonies and sophisticated horn-drenched productions. Their sound was more akin to California than their native Chicago, and they were responsible for a string of perfect pop singles during the late sixties like the number one hit “Kind Of A Drag,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” the sublime “Don’t You Care,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” “Hey Baby, They’re Playing Our Song” and today’s Song Of The Day.

Digging a little bit deeper than the singles also proved rewarding with some great would-have-been, should-have-been hits from their albums like “You Don’t Care,” “Back In Love Again,” “Where Did You Come From,” “It’s A Beautiful Day (For Lovin’)” and “Difference Of Opinion,” that all feature the group’s trademark baroque horn arrangements and layered harmonies.

The group formed in 1966 as The Pulsations with members Carl Giammarese on guitar, Nick Fortuna on bass, Dennis Miccolis on keyboards and John Poulos on drums. After winning a battle of the bands, they found themselves on WGN, a local Chicago TV station, as the house band for the show All Time Hits. It was then they adopted The Buckinghams name to fit in with the British Invasion groups who were all the rage on the charts at the time.

Shortly thereafter, they secured a contract with the local Chicago label, U.S.A. Records, where they recorded an album’s worth of material including covers of Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” James Brown’s “I Go Crazy” and The Beatles’ “I Call Your Name.” But it was their recording of “Kind Of A Drag,” written by a local Chicago songwriter, Jim Holvay that proved to be their ticket to stardom by topping the charts and selling a million copies. (Holvay also co-wrote the hits “Don’t You Care,” “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song),” and today’s Song Of the Day, “Susan.”)

A record contract with Columbia Records (the big time!) followed and a new producer, James William Guercio, who had been the bassist and road manager for Chad & Jeremy. (Fun fact: Guercio was also once a member of The Mothers Of Invention prior to the recording of their first album, Freak Out.)  Around this time Miccolis left the band and was replaced by Marty Grebb.

Guercio’s brass-heavy arrangements kept The Buckinghams on the charts, and prepared him for his future success producing similar brass-rock groups Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Guercio was at the production helm for their 1967 hit singles “Don’t You Care,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song),” but the group had a falling out with him over the single, “Susan.”

“Susan” is a pure pop radio gem that suddenly takes a left turn and goes all “A Day In The Life” wonky in the center section, complete with a psychedelic orchestral buildup placed there to remind the public that The Buckinghams were really hip. The group was dead set against it, but Guercio prevailed, causing an irreversible rift between group and producer.

With Guercio out of the picture, the group were unable to repeat any of the chart success they previously had, and they finally called it a day in 1970. Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna have since revived the Buckinghams in 1982 and continue touring full-time again.

Great mono single mix on the video!

Edited: February 22nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/22/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Willkommen” by Joel Grey from the film “Cabaret”

A funny thing happened to the Broadway Musical Cabaret during its adaptation to the big screen. It lost ten out of its original fifteen songs. Many of the original Broadway songs were in the play to express the emotions of the characters and move the plot line forward, something that the medium of film was able to accomplish by using visuals. As a result, Bob Fosse only retained the songs “Wilkommen,” “Two Ladies,” “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” “If You Could See Her,” and “Cabaret” for the film. The rest were dumped, as were characters and elements of the original plot.

Cabaret opened on Broadway in 1966 starring Jill Haworth, Bert Convy, Lotte Lenya, Jack Gilford and  Joel Grey. Grey would reprise his role as the Emcee for the film. The show was directed by Harold Prince and choreographed by Ron Field and had a successful run on Broadway. The musical was based on the 1951 play I Am Camera which was written by John Van Druten, and Druten’s play was adapted from the 1939 short novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood.

The 1972 film starred Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Grey and was directed by Bob Fosse with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. Kander and Ebb added new material to better fit the film’s plot including, “Mein Herr,” “Money Money” and “Maybe This Time.” Minnelli had been performing “Maybe This Time” for many years already, since it was not originally written for the film. As a result, it was not eligible for an Academy Award nomination.

Today’s Song Of The Day opens the musical with a solitary drum roll rather than an overture. The song introduces the show girls of the Kit Kat Klub, “Each and every one, a wirgin!”, where much of the action takes place. Most of the action that takes place in the club reflects what was going on outside in the real world of Nazi Germany. The song and film clip are classic Joel Grey in his signature role, playing up the kitsch factor in tantalizing fashion for the cameras. You’d be hard pressed to find another actor as “on” as Grey in this role. Indeed, the soundtrack outsold the Broadway recording spurred on by the film’s success, but also because Grey and Minnelli turned in indelible performances on screen and in the recording studio.

The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 1973, winning a total of eight, including awards for Best Director (Bob Fosse), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Liza Minnelli), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Joel Grey), Best Cinematography (Geoffrey Unsworth), Best Film Editing (David Bretherton), Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score (Ralph Burns), Best Art Direction (Rolf Zehetbauer, Hans Jürgen Kiebach, Herbert Strabel) and Best Sound (Robert Knudson, David Hildyard).

It was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, but lost both to The Godfather. As a result, Cabaret holds the somewhat dubious distinction for winning the most Academy Awards while not winning the Best Picture award.

Edited: February 21st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/21/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Answering Machine” by The Replacements

When they were good, they were really great. But when The Replacements were bad, they were truly awful. Seeing The Replacements in concert was always a crap shoot. Whether it was boredom from being on the road, or just youthful blowing off steam, you never really knew what you were going to get when you went to see the “Placemats.”

Heck, I saw them five times during their heyday, and I think they were really good only twice. I’m not sure if that makes me a sucker for punishment, or just addicted to the greatness that I did witness when they did come to play.

Once I saw them at the Beacon Theater in New York City and they were so drunk, they couldn’t even finish a song. Somehow, they’d gotten access to a helium tank and they spent a good part of their ‘set’ sucking on helium balloons and singing in high pitch voices. Most songs they performed that night were incomplete, and members of the audience threw toilet paper rolls at the band, which they gleefully threw back at us. This went on for more than an hour before they left the stage to a chorus of boos.

That said, the band could be great in concert, and often were. The couple times that I saw them truly on, they were focused as they gave an incendiary performance of some of the best-written songs of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, courtesy of Paul Westerberg.

It was the dawn of alternative music. While the rest of the world listened to Madonna’s Like A Virgin, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. and John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow, a whole new thing was brewing in the music scene as bands like REM, The Smiths and Meat Puppets began releasing albums that didn’t fit into the prevalent classic rock radio format. No, these records were played only on college radio stations giving birth to a new radio format, college rock or alternative music, that would catch on in a big way in a few years’ time.

When Let It Be by The Replacements came out in 1984, it was one-third of a “holy trinity” of groundbreaking albums that included Husker Du’s Zen Arcade and The Minutemen’s Double Nickels On The Dime that literally changed the way we listened to music. While each group came out of the punk era and held onto the punk aesthetic especially in their early recordings, these albums added the element of craftsmanship to the songwriting, that set them apart from all the rest.

With the release of Let It Be, Paul Westerberg’s songwriting began to evolve. What was once loud and brash became nuanced and tuneful, as the band began to venture away from the non-stop hardcore punk rock rave-ups they dabbled in, in favor of more arranged songs like “Unsatisfied,” “I Will Dare” and today’s Song Of The Day “Answering Machine.” These songs were far better constructed, had thoughtful lyrics and terrific melodies that allowed the band to branch out into more varied instrumentation.

The rest of the band included Bob Stinson on guitar, baby brother Tommy Stinson on bass and Chris Mars on drums, who really began to congeal as a unit on stage and in the studio, especially when left to their own devices on rockers like “Seen Your Video” and “We’re Coming Out.” It was no secret that the Stinson brothers truly disliked Westerberg’s forays into down-tempo material like “Androgynous,” preferring to rock out at all times.

On one level, Westerberg wanted to be taken seriously as a songwriter, even if he and the band continued to bait audiences by playing off-the-cuff covers and goofing around on stage. And this album contained its fair share of levity in songs like “Gary’s Got A Boner,” “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and on their tossed-off Kiss cover, “Black Diamond,” that let the fans know that hey, things hadn’t changed too drastically and that they were still just a lovable punk band trying to take the piss out of their fans.

Let It Be was also the band’s last independently released record before jumping ship from the independent Twin Tone Record label to the majors. Once they went with the majors, the overall quality of the songwriting dipped as the production values became slicker.  Their first album for Sire, Tim, was indeed a stunner, but after that few of the group’s albums have held up well over time.

Paul Westerberg has said Let It Be was “our way of saying that nothing is sacred, that the Beatles were just a fine rock & roll band. We were seriously gonna call the next record Let It Bleed.”

Edited: February 20th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/20/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bacchanal” by Gabor Szabo

Yesterday, I wrote about the Lena Horne/Gabor Szabo album Lena & Gabor. In doing so, I listened to that album, plus records by Lena Horne and Gabor Szabo while researching the piece.  As a result, I decided to feature one of Szabo’s great albums today, and to reuse some of the information that I used in yesterday’s post.

Gabor Szabo was one of the few guitarists whose stands comfortably beside Jerry Garcia when it comes to guitar sound, technique and improvisatory style. His use of Indian and Middle Eastern scales had a profound influence on the likes of John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, Robbie Krieger of The Doors and Larry Coryell. In fact, he composed and originally recorded the song “Gypsy Queen,” that Santana took to the charts in 1970.

Szabo was born in Hungary and came to America to study at the Berklee School Of Music in Boston. He played guitar with the Chico Hamilton Quartet between 1961 and 1965, before recording a series of classic jazz albums for Impulse that melded his modal psychedelic guitar style with eastern influences on choice covers of contemporary hits. His 1966 Impulse album Sorcerer is one of the seminal jazz guitar recordings of the 1960s. Concurrent with his recording career, Szabo launched his own record label and also toured and played as a member of Lena Horne’s live performance band.

Szabo left Impulse Records in 1968 to form his own Skye Records label along with vibist Cal Tjader and composer/arranger Gary McFarland in 1968. The label was set up to feature recordings by its principals, and other artists who interested them. In the two years the label was active, they released 21 records, including albums by Lena Horne, Ruth Brown, Grady Tate, Chuck Rainey and Airto.

Szabo’s first release for the label was the album Bacchanal. The album was recorded at Western Recording Studios in Los Angeles in February of 1969 and included a band comprised of drummer Jim Keltner, classically trained guitarist Jim Stewart, bassist Louis Kabok, and percussionist Hal Gordon.

Szabo’s trademark fluid style of jazz-raga jamming is in full bloom on the Donovan tunes “The King Fisher Blues” and “Sunshine Superman,” as well as a lyrically beautiful reading of the “Theme from Valley Of The Dolls.” The album also includes funky Eastern-tinged takes of Lee Hazelwood’s “Some Velvet Morning,” Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue” and Bacharach and David’s “The Look Of Love.” Rounding off the set are two psychedelic originals “Divided City” and today’s Song Of The Day and the album’s title track, “Bacchanal.”

Edited: February 19th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/19/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Watch What Happens” by Lena Horne & Gabor Szabo

A funny thing happened when jazz and pop vocalists like Lena Horne fell on the wrong side of the generation gap during the late 1960s. Suddenly, older classics like “Stormy Weather” and “Love Me Or Leave Me” began to sound hopelessly out of date to a younger generation of listeners, who didn’t give artists like Horne the time of day, or worse, time on their turntables.

Changes would have to be made, and many of the artists began recording popular songs of the day and augmenting their once jazz or orchestral recordings with electric guitars, electric bass, organ and drums. Sinatra did it. So did Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams. It was a matter of survival, and at least Lena Horne had the talent and had been around the block enough times to attempt to adapt to the times.

While many of the pop vocalists didn’t have the wherewithal to update their sound and still retain credibility,  Horne was a sympathetic and adept interpreter  of song and managed just fine to survive with her career intact.

By 1969, Lena Horne hadn’t released a new album for four years and was pretty much considered yesterday’s news as a recording artist. At the same time, Gabor Szabo, who is one of the few guitarists whose stands comfortably beside Jerry Garcia when it comes to guitar sound, technique and improvisatory style, left Impulse Records to form his own Skye Records label along with vibist Cal Tjader and composer/arranger Gary McFarland.

Szabo was born in Hungary and came to America to study at the Berklee School Of Music in Boston. He played guitar with the Chico Hamilton quartet between 1961 and 1965, before recording a series of classic jazz albums for Impulse that melded his modal psychedelic guitar style with choice covers of contemporary hits. His 1966 album Sorcerer  is one of the seminal jazz guitar recordings of the 1960s. Concurrent with his own recording career, Szabo also toured and played as a member of Horne’s live performance band. So it only seemed natural that Gabor and Horne would eventually record an album together.

The album they recorded was appropriately called Lena & Gabor, and it featured a who’s who of great jazz session players of the time including Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree on guitar, Richard Tee on organ, Chuck Rainey on bass and Grady Tate on drums. Many of these artists also recorded albums for the Skye label as well.

The album’s repertoire included Horne’s first chart hit in some time with today’s Song Of The Day, “Watch What Happens,” which was written by Michel Legrand. The record also featured no less than four Beatles covers including versions of “In My Life,” “The Fool On The Hill,” one of the best covers of “Something” ever, and a fairly ridiculous take on “Rocky Raccoon.” Rounding out the record were versions of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Bacharach and David’s “Message To Michael” and the Charles Aznavour classic “Yesterday When I Was Young.” 

Szabo’s hypnotic and funky guitar work throughout this album is nothing short of stunning. While the Skye label only lasted two years and 21 releases, Szabo went on to write the song “Gypsy Queen” which became a hit for Santana in 1970. He continued to record records for a variety of labels until his death in 1982.

Horne never really revived her recording career with this record, but continued to be a concert draw in supper clubs and on Broadway in her 1981 revue Lena Horne: The Lady And Her Music for which she won a Tony Award. She died on Mother’s Day 2010 at the age of 92.

Edited: February 18th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/18/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Shelter Of Your Arms” by Clyde McPhatter

Singles and albums that came out of the Brill Building during the early 1960s have a distinct sound of their own. It’s not just down to the great songs that were written by the best songwriters New York City had to offer, or the now-legendary musicians who played on the sessions, but it also came down to the production sound, which was the key ingredient that made each record sound great coming out of a mono speaker on a car radio or record player. Without that production sound, there was no record.

One of the great albums to come out of The Brill Building was Clyde McPhatter’ s 1964 release Songs Of The Big City, which was a concept album featuring, you guessed it, songs about city life. The album has that classic New York City sound with similar production values to singles by Dionne Warwick, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Neil Sedaka and the classic productions of Phil Spector.

By the time it came out in 1964, McPhatter had already been a key member of Billy Ward and his Dominos, singing on their hits “Do Something For Me” and “Sixty Minute Man.” Ward was a strict taskmaster who didn’t pay his singers very well, so McPhatter left The Dominoes in 1953 and was replaced by Jackie Wilson.

When Ahmet Ertegun heard that McPhatter left the group, he quickly signed him to Atlantic Records, and together they set upon forming Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters. McPhatter’ s vocals graced the hits “Money Honey,” “Such A Night,” “White Christmas” and “What’cha Gonna Do,” before McPhatter left in 1955 to serve in the Army. Upon his discharge, he released dozens of singles as a solo artist for Atlantic, MGM, Mercury, Amy, Deram and Decca Records, but only scored one substantial hit with “A Lover’s Question” in 1958.

In 1964, McPhatter was deep into his contract with Mercury Records when he recorded “The Shelter Of Your Arms.” The song became a big hit for Sammy Davis Jr., who released his version the same year on Reprise records. It was one of two hits the song’s writer Jerry Samuels would score, the other was “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!,” which he wrote, produced and recorded under the pseudonym Napoleon XIV.

Songs Of The Big City featured songs by many of the Brill Building best writers including Jerry Lieber and Phil Spector’s “Spanish Harlem,” Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Up On The Roof” and “On Broadway” by Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.

Jerry Radcliffe co-wrote many of the other songs on the album, including “Deep In The Heart Of Harlem,” “My Block,” “A Suburban Town” (which interlopes phrases from “On Broadway,” and “Uptown” into its verses), “Three Rooms With Running Water” and “Coney Island.”

Radcliffe was part of a cadre of in-demand session vocalists including Doris Troy, Dee Dee Warwick, Cissy Houston, Melba Moore, Toni Wine, Jean Thomas and Barbara Jean English, who all appeared on hundreds of singles during this time. 

Also of note are the very “hip” liner notes on the back cover of the original album jacket, which were written by Ira Howard. Howard was a writer for Cashbox during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and mingled with the likes of Bobby Darin, The Supremes, Dick Clark and Phil Spector, to name a few. I was lucky enough to work with him at Reader’s Digest Recorded Music in the early 1990s, where he used to regale me with tales of the wild and wacky record business during the time.

After years with no hits, McPhatter was on the precipice of another comeback recording for Decca in 1972, when he died of complications from alcoholism at the age of 39.

Edited: February 17th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/17/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Work Song” by Nina Simone

Here’s one that was released the year I was born, yet it sounds as hip and current as, well, I am.  OK, it is hipper and more current than I am, but it goes to show just how timeless Nina Simone’s recordings really were.

Simone’s interpretive talents as a singer and piano player earned her the nickname, “The High Priestess Of Soul,” and put her right up there with greats like Anita O’Day, Odetta, Sarah Vaughan and Judy Henske, who all possess a similar earthy style. She was a terrific songwriter, comfortable mingling soul, gospel, folk and blues into a stew that was uniquely her own, and she was also an outspoken Civil Rights activist.

It took a long time for me to crack the hard façade that Nina Simone projected, before I could really appreciate the depths of her talent. Her severe earnestness over the struggles she faced as a black woman during the infancy of the civil rights movement created a seemingly impenetrable barrier between me and her music. But with maturity on my side, I’ve come to love and respect Simone’s whole approach, and the influence she’s had on everyone from Laura Nyro and John Lennon (who cited her recording of “I Put A Spell On You” as an inspiration for The Beatles “Michelle”) to Alicia Keys and Diana Krall.

Simone came to Colpix Records in 1959, after scoring a big hit with “I Loves You, Porgy” on the Bethlehem label. Her deal at Colpix gave her complete artistic control over the material she recorded which was unheard of at the time, and she released nine albums for the label, seven of which were recorded live in front of an audience.  Today’s Song Of The Day, the much covered “Work Song” written by Nat Adderly and Oscar Brown, Jr., is from her second record for the label, 1961’s studio effort Forbidden Fruit.

Part of the album’s excellence comes down to Simone’s sympathetic backing trio consisting of Chris White on bass, Bobby Hamilton on drums, and crucially, the great Al Schackman on guitar, whose tasty licks light up this entire recording, especially on the tunes “Just Say I Love Him” and the album’s opener “Rags And Old Iron.” But its Simone’s vocals and amazing piano accompaniments, especially on “Gin House Blues,” the swaggering “I Love To Love” and the album’s title track, “Forbidden Fruit,” that really elevate the proceedings to new heights of gospel fervor.

Later albums like Nina Simone In Concert from 1964 and the essential RCA album Nina Simone Sings The Blues from 1967, included signature songs that dealt with the civil rights issues of black women like “Mississippi Goddam,” “Backlash Blues,” “Four Women” and “To Be Young, Gifted And Black,” which was later covered by Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway.  She was also responsible for introducing the songs “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “House Of The Rising Sun,” years before The Animals recorded them.

Additionally, her recording of “Sinnerman” was sampled by the likes of Kanye West and Timbaland, but her greatest success came surprisingly from the song “My Baby Cares For Me” which was recorded on  her 1960 debut album for Colpix, but didn’t become popular until 1987 when it was used in a UK television commercial for Chanel No. 5 perfume.

Edited: February 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/16/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Only A Lonely Man Would Know” by Marvin Gaye

The Marvin Gaye albums What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On and Here, My Dear are considered to be his finest by fans and critics alike, and it would be hard to argue the contrary with what’s in the grooves. But it mystifies me that the critics fail to mention the album M.P.G. in the same breath as the others.

M.P.G. came out in April of 1969, and was one of Marvin Gaye’s last records before he took the control of his career away from Motown, and began calling the shots himself. That said, M.P.G. (for Marvin Pentz Gaye, not miles per gallon) was his most consistent release up to that point. It was also his first solo record to make the top 40 of the Billboard Pop album charts, peaking at #33, mainly due to the singles “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” (#1 R&B/#4 Pop), originally recorded by The Temptations, and “That’s The Way Love Is” (#2 R&B/#7 Pop), also a remake originally recorded by The Isley Brothers.

But it’s the lesser known songs on the album, that are equally as good as the singles, like “It’s A Bitter Pill To Swallow,” “More Than A Heart Can Stand,” “Seek And You Shall Find,” “The End Of Our Road” (a cover of a Gladys Knight & The Pips song) and today’s Song Of The Day, elevating this record head and shoulders taller than the rest of his sixties output.

Of course, much of the Motown magic comes from The Funk Brothers, Motown’s ace studio band, who backed so many artists on their albums, including this one. While there are no musician credits on the record, one can guess that the band was made up of some, or all, of the following musicians: Johnny Griffith and Earl Van Dyke on piano; James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt on bass; Benny “Papa Zita” Benjamin, Uriel Jones and Richard “Pistol” Allen on drums; Robert White, Eddie Willis, Dennis Coffey and Joe Messina (guitar); Paul Riser on trombone; Jack Ashford on percussion; Jack Brokensha on vibraphone and marimba; and Eddie “Bongo” Brown on percussion. Background vocals were undoubtedly provided by The Andantes: Marlene Barrow, Jackie Hicks and Louvain Demps.

And then there’s marvelous Marvin. Plaintive, soulful, emotive, spiritual, seductive, dark and moody…all wrapped up into song, like no one that came before him, and none that have come since.

Edited: February 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/15/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by The Animals (Live NME Version 1965)

Some classic Animals from the 1965 NME Poll Winners Concert, as “Song Of The Day by Eric Berman” looks at a terrific “grey area” CD release!

The New Musical Express is a weekly British newspaper that has focused solely on the music scene for nearly 50 years. For several years during the 1960s, the paper sponsored concerts featuring artists who topped their music polls. The 1965 edition took place at Wembley Stadium on April 11, 1965, and was filmed. An edited version of the concert was screened on ABC TV in the U.S. on April 18 of that year. The New Musical Express Poll Winners Concert 1965 2 CD set was compiled from the soundtrack of the unedited master.

OK, so today’s Song Of The Day (and resultant album), isn’t an “official” release. It was put out in 1998 by Vigotone Industries, one of the best of the “grey area” record labels that existed for a brief time in the late 1990s. Vigotone specialized in Beatles and Beach Boy related bootlegs, comprised mostly of studio outtakes. Some of their landmark releases included The Beach Boys’ Leggo My Ego, featuring studio outs from 1965, and the Beatles Off White Album featuring the 1968 Escher demos recorded at George Harrison’s house shortly after the group returned from India.

Kicking things off are The Moody Blues, no not the version with the overblown orchestral arrangements and such, but the Brit-beat version of the group with future Wings-man, Denny Laine, performing a muscular and extended take of “Bo Diddley,” plus a version of their current single at the time, “Go Now.”

Next up are Freddie And The Dreamers with a credible version of Thurston Harris’ “Little Bitty Pretty One,” followed by Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames, and an early instrumental take of “Yeah Yeah,” plus a terrific performance of “Walkin’ The Dog.”

From there, it’s a trip down under for The Seekers and their hits “I’ll Never Find Another You” and “A World Of Our Own.” Herman’s Hermits were riding high with three records in the U.S. top ten at the time of this recording. They debut their then, brand new single “What A Wonderful World,” followed by the crowd pleaser “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.”

The Ivy League And Division Two take the stage next, with the gorgeous ballad “That’s Why I’m Crying,” and then Sounds Incorporated spread a little of their instrumental magic with “Time For You” and a rocking version of Grieg’s classical masterwork “In The Hall Of The Mountain King.”

A real crowd pleaser is up next with Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders performing “Game Of Love” and “Just A Little Bit Too Late,” before The Rolling Stones tear it up with a four-song set  comprised of “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love,” Otis Redding’s “Pain In My Heart,” Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around,” and finally, “The Last Time.”

Disc one is rounded off by Cilla Black backed by Sounds Incorporated on “Going Out Of My Head,” and that old Disney favorite “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” which was covered by in the U.S. by Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans, as well as fellow Brit Invasion groups Freddie And The Dreamers, The Hollies and Dave Clark Five.

The second disc kicks off with Donovan, “The British Dylan,” performing six minutes of “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond” followed by “Catch The Wind,” before the Belfast Cowboy (Van Morrison) and Them are brought on for rough and ready takes of “Here Comes The Night” and an nearly seven minute version of “Turn On Your Love Light.”

The Searchers are up next with “Bumble Bee” and “Let The Good Times Roll,” before pop royalty takes the stage in the form of Dusty Springfield giving Martha Reeves a run for her money on “Dancing In The Street,” followed by a cover of Inez and Charlie Foxx’s “Mockingbird” and “I Can’t Hear You.”

The big ending is in sight with three more heavy hitters on deck, including The Animals tearing it up on John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “Talkin’ ‘Bout You,” followed by The Kinks with two of their very best, “You Really Got Me” and “Tired Of Waiting For You.”

Finally, the group that the audience has been waiting for all day takes the stage! It’s The Beatles with a five song set including “I Feel Fine,” “She’s A Woman,” “Baby’s In Black,” “Ticket To Ride” and “Long Tall Sally” bringing the festivities to a rousing conclusion.

Much of this concert is up on YouTube (search by artist and NME 1965) and is recommended viewing.  So there we have the next to last NME Poll Winners Concert from 1965 in its entirety, in pristine sound quality to boot. Why hasn’t this been released officially?

The Animals “Boom Boom”

The Animals “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”

The Animals “Talkin’ ‘Bout You”

Edited: February 14th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/14/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “I Got Loaded” by Little Bob And The Lollipops

For many years, I thought this song was a Los Lobos original. Their version was so in line with their sound and it fit so well on their How Will The Wolf Survive album, I just assumed it was theirs. So it was surprising to me, when I found out that the song had been around for over twenty years by the time they got around to recording it.

The song was recorded by Little Bob and the Lollipops, and was never even originally released as the A-side to the single it appeared on. When released in 1965 on the La Louisianne record label (best known for Bob and Dale’s hit “I’m Leaving It All Up To You”), it was the flip of the single “Nobody But You.”  Over the years, the song has become Little Bob’s signature song and has inspired covers by the likes of Robert Cray, Tab Benoit and The Refreshments.  

Little Bob (born Camille Bob) grew up working on a farm in rural Prairie Laurent, Louisiana. Early on he took a liking to the music of B.B. King, Count Basie and Guitar Slim, and dreamed of a day when he could give up working in the fields to play music for a living. To that end, he traded a horse for his first set of drums as a teen, never looked back, and set out on a career in music.

By 1955, he was backing Good Rockin’ Bob (aka Ed Thomas) and making more money than he ever would have if he’d stayed on the farm. Growing restless as a backing musician, Bob decided to break out on his own, and formed Little Bob and the Lollipops in the late 1950s. The band soon became a fixture on the Louisiana party and club circuit, playing a rocking hybrid of rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues.

Little Bob has been performing for over 50 years and was elected into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 1992. Both Little Bob and the La Louisianne record label are both still active today.

Word to the wise: Take two aspirin and drink a big glass of water after listening to this one!

Edited: February 13th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/13/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “While I’m Alive” by STRFKR & “Young Turks” by Sexton Blake

Sure, you’d be hard-pressed to forgive them for a band name as over the top as STRFKR (which is short for Starfucker). But props are firmly in order because over the past few years they’ve released three solid albums; chock full of deliciously danceable and tuneful electro pop confections.

STRFKR’s roots are in solo projects by guitar/vocalist Josh Hodges, released under the moniker Sexton Blake. While the first Sexton Blake album was purely a solo affair, the second album featured a band (also called Sexton Blake)with Ryan Bjornstad on keyboards, Tom Homolya on bass and Tim Edgar on drums.

Together they recorded and released the 2007 record, Sexton Blake Plays The Hits, comprised totally of ‘70s and ‘80s covers, like Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes,” Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True,” Supertramp’s “The Logical Song,” Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” The Dream Academy’s “Life In A Northern Town,” Elton John’s “Daniel,” ELO’s “Evil Woman” and one of today’s two Songs Of the Day, “Young Turks,” a Rod Stewart cover.

Following the Sexton Blake records, Hodges and Bjornstad relocated to Portland, Oregon where they joined forces with Shawn Glassford and Keil Corcoran to form a new group. After a few name changes from PYRAMID to Pyramiddd, they settled on the moniker Starfucker, which has now been shortened to STRFKR. Their first blush of success resulted when Target picked up their song “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second,” for one of their TV campaigns.

The group has three albums under its belt including the eponymous debut record, Jupiter from 2009 and the superb Reptilians, which was one of the best records of 2011. An album of demos from Reptilians was also released as a Record Store Day exclusive last year. After extensive touring in support of Reptilians, Bjornstad announced he was leaving STRFKR to embark on a solo career, and was replaced by guitarist Patrick Morris in time to record and release their brand new album Miracle Mile. (due out 2/19/13)

The album begins with the blazing synth introduction on today’s other Song Of The Day, “While I’m Alive,” setting the tone for the electro-Bee Gees feast to follow. The rest of the album’s tunes are highly danceable, but more importantly, they are infused with hook-laden melodies that stick around long after they’re over, and that, my friends, is the key to this band’s greatness.

Edited: February 12th, 2013

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – 2/12/13

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “The Alley Cat” by Bent Fabric

Dance crazes come and go, but they are never forgotten.

Today there’s Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” wreaking havoc across dance floors all over the world. In the 1990s, there was “The Macarena.” In the 1980s, country line dancing and “The Lambada” had their day in the sun, and the ‘70s gave us “The Electric Slide.” But in the early 1960s, there was only one communal synchronized dance that kids and adults alike shared in, making it a staple at weddings, proms and Bar Mitzvahs.

That dance was “The Alley Cat.”

In actuality, “The Alley Cat” began as a 1961 hit for Bent Fabricius-Bjerre in Denmark under the title “Omkring et Flygel” (“Under The Table”). The song was picked up for U.S. distribution by Neshui and Ahmet Ehrtegun and released on their Atco label in 1962, where it became a million-selling top-ten hit.  The song also went on to win a Grammy Award for, get this, Best Rock and Roll Record of 1962!

Fabric released six albums on Atco between 1962 and 1968, with titles like The Happy Puppy, The Drunken Penguin and Operation Love Birds, with animal-centric album covers to match. He was also paired up with Atco’s other big instrumentalist, Acker Bilk, for a series of recordings. But no matter how many albums were released, in America he is still only associated with one thing, “The Alley Cat.”

Fabric got his start playing Jazz piano in Denmark before moving into the realm of film scores, where he wrote music for 27 different Danish films. He also founded Metronome Records in 1950, which went on to become one of the most successful Danish record companies. One of his signings was Jorge Ingmann who scored a #2 hit in America with his classic instrumental “Apache.”

While Fabric has seemingly faded from view in America, he’s continued to release recordings in Denmark over the years, most recently scoring two top-ten hits in 2006 from his album called Jukebox. That album’s title track also got airplay in dance clubs across America, where a remix of “Alley Cat” was also re-released.

Surprisingly, in Mexico, ice cream trucks co-opted “The Alley Cat” as their calling card, so when children hear it blaring through the streets, it means the ice cream man is in the neighborhood.

Edited: February 11th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/11/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “I’m Telling You Now” by Freddie & The Dreamers

I’m writing this on the 49th anniversary of The Beatles historic first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and while I have a vague memory of The Beatles playing on Sullivan, I don’t think it was their very first performance. Well, heck, I must have only been four or five years old. But even then, I do remember there was a sense of importance about the event in my house, because of my older sister, who made it that way.

Some of my earliest memories of the British Invasion include albums by the Herman’s Hermits including “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry The VIII,” and today’s Song Of The Day by Freddie & The Dreamers, “I’m Telling You Now.”  In fact, I have a distinct memory of my sister playing her copy of the album that is pictured with this piece, and teaching my brother and I how to do “The Freddie.”

It was pure show biz. The wacky dance performed by Freddie Garrity, with his hands and legs flailing to and fro. The vapid, comedic mugging. The maniacal laugh that bordered on the annoying. The geeky glasses.  The matching tailored suits. – They were just what American teens demanded in 1964 at the height of the British Invasion, when all things British was all the rage.

Garrity was an ex-milkman from Manchester, England when he joined forces in 1963 with Roy Crewdson on guitar, Derek Quinn also on guitar and harmonica, Peter Birrell on bass and Bernie Dwyer on drums, to form Freddie & The Dreamers.

They were much bigger in their native England where they scored four chart hits, to their two in America which included the chart-topping “I’m Telling You Now,” and its number 18 follow-up, “Do The Freddie,” which capitalized on Garrity’s manic stage gyrations by turning it into a dance craze.

Perhaps critic Lester Bangs summed it up best when he said in The Rolling Stone History Of Rock& Roll, “Freddie and the Dreamers [had] no masterpiece but a plentitude [sic] of talentless idiocy and enough persistence to get four albums and one film soundtrack released … the Dreamers looked as thuggish as Freddie looked dippy … Freddie and the Dreamers represented a triumph of rock as cretinous swill, and as such should be not only respected, but given their place in history.”

Edited: February 10th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/10/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” by Cher

When one thinks of interpreters of Bob Dylan, the name Cher doesn’t automatically come to mind. But she was, in fact, a huge champion of Dylan’s songs, and his songs fit her voice like a glove. Over the years, Cher has covered such Dylan copyrights as “All I Really Want To Do” (a #15 hit),“Lay Lady Lay” (titled “Lay Baby Lay” on her version), “I Threw It All Away,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Masters Of War,” “The Times, They Are A-Changin’” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.”

Cher cut her version of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” when it was a new song from Dylan’s just-released “Nashville Skyline.” Her version was released on the 1969 album “3614 Jackson Highway,” titled for the address of Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama.

The idea of bringing Cher to Muscle Shoals to work with Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin (who had also produced Dusty Springfield’s Dusty In Memphis album) was a brilliant one, and the results produced a terrific album that was not particularly well received when released and, unfortunately, didn’t sell well either.  Although Wexler does get a production credit on the record, he was not present for the recording of Cher’s vocals because he came down with pneumonia during the sessions. He did, however, choose all of the songs for Cher to record.

One of the reasons the album might not have sold so well was that back in 1969 the address and the studio were a completely unknown entity. In fact, Cher’s album was the first record cut there.  The studio was formed in 1969 by musicians Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and David Hood (bass) who had left the legendary FAME Studios, founded by Arthur Alexander, to launch Muscle Shoals.

Cher remains one of our greatest interpreters of song, especially in the 1960s, and for this album she adeptly covered Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” Dr. John’s “I Walk On Gilded Splinters,” Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s “Cry Like A Baby” (a hit for The Box Tops), Chips Moman and Dan Penn’s (by way of Aretha Franklin) “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and three of the above named Dylan songs, including today’s Song Of the Day.

The musicians on the sessions were Eddie Hinton on lead guitar, Jimmy Johnson on rhythm guitar, Barry Beckett on keyboards, Dave Hood on bass and Roger Hawkins on drums. The record was re-released by Rhino Handmade in 2001 and augmented with another 12 songs Cher cut for Atco that went unreleased.

Edited: February 9th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/9/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Catfish John” by Jerry Garcia Band

It was a tale of two Jerries.

By 1980 Jerry Garcia had his day job with the Grateful Dead. During that year, the band released the somewhat weak studio album, Go To Heaven, and took to the road to promote it. While the 1979-1980 shows generally found the band in excellent form, in order to keep things interesting for the fans and themselves, they performed some very special shows.

They kicked off their 15th anniversary celebration (1965-1980) with residencies at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and at The Warfield Theater in San Francisco. The shows revived the format of an acoustic first set followed by an electric second set, for the first time since the early 1970s. For the most part, the acoustic sets were uniform ally superb, while the electric sets were workmanlike, as can be evidenced by the acoustic live album Reckoning and the electric Dead Set that were released to commemorate the event.

During breaks in the Dead’s touring schedule, Jerry Garcia toured with the Jerry Garcia Band playing small theaters around the U.S. with Ozzie Ahlers on keyboards, John Kahn on bass and Johnny De Foncesca on drums. It was during the JGB shows that Garcia’s enthusiasm really showed through,  as evidenced by this performance from the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey from March 1, 1980, that has just been released as part of the first volume in the newly launched Garcia Live series.

With the JGB (and in this particular show), Garcia had the freedom to stretch out and choose material that really turned him on, including tunes from the Motown songbook (“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”), songs by Bob Dylan “Simple Twist Of Fate,” The Beatles (“Dear Prudence”),  Jimmy Cliff (“The Harder They Come,” “Sitting In Limbo”), Elvis Presley (via Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup) “That’s All Right” and even Irving Berlin (“Russian Lullaby”).

The JGB repertoire for this particular show also included other Garcia related tunes including the Grateful Dead staples “Deal” and “Sugaree,” solo tracks like “Mission In The Rain,” and a thoroughly enjoyable romp through  the Old And In The Way favorite “Midnight Moonlight.”

Today’s Song Of The Day is “Catfish John,” which was written by Bob McDill and Allen Reynolds and was originally recorded by country singer Johnny Russell in 1972. Garcia originally recorded the song for his 1976 album Reflections.

The Capitol Theater in Passaic New Jersey was partially run by the promoter John Scher, who would come out at the beginning of each show to introduce the band. Hearing his introduction at the beginning of the show (and on the CD) brings back great memories of a great venue. It was pretty much standard practice that the shows at the venue would be filmed and recorded, leaving behind a treasure trove of great ‘70s and ‘80s concerts. Some of the notable artists who played the Capitol included Springsteen, The Who, The Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones. The theater hosted shows between 1971 and 1989. If memory serves me right…and it doesn’t always…I think I was at this JGB Capitol Theater show…

And here’s the whole show!

Edited: February 8th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/8/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “From The Sun” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Out of the murky haze of gauze- encased melodies and tranquilized, processed vocals arrives the second album from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, cleverly titled II.

UMO is the brain child of Ruban Nielson, formally of the band Mint Chicks, who counts artists as diverse as Captain Beefheart and Sly Stone as major influences. Their muffled sound is an amalgam of neo-psychedelic acts like MGMT, Ween, Apples In Stereo and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, coming off like an updated Sid Barrett-era Pink Floyd. However, their totally unique angular melodies set this group apart from all the rest.

It all began in June of 2010, when Nielson anonymously uploaded his song “Ffuny Ffriends” onto Bandcamp (a website that helps bands sell their music and merchandise directly to fans). The song garnered frenzied interest partly because it was uploaded anonymously. The buzz led to Nielson claiming the song under the name Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The eponymously titled debut album that followed on Fat Possum Records was one of the best albums of 2011, proving the hype generated by the song was no fluke.

Today’s song of the day opens their second album, and builds on a rhythmic pattern dictated by the opening vocal line delivered via Nielson’s filtered falsetto, “Isolation can put a gun in your hand…” The lovely delivery of the lyric belies the acidic desperation that lies at its core. The pattern is then fortified when the guitar, bass and drums kick in to establish the shuffled feel of the track.

It is followed by the album’s first single “Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark),” the soulful “So Good At Being In Trouble,” the Princely “One At A Time,” and mind-addled confections like “The Opposite Of Afternoon” and “No Need For A Leader,” creating a sonic sequence that is both mind numbing and alluring.

The album looses a little steam when it hits a bit of a dry patch with the wonky “Monki” and the atmospheric instrumental “Dawn,” where the songs cave under the weight of the production, but the record recovers during the home stretch with “Faded In The Morning” and “Secret Xtians” (Christians).

While not as melodically satisfying as the debut album, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s second helping is a record that will reward upon multiple spins.

Edited: February 7th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/7/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Kinda Fuzzy” by Eels

It’s wonderful! It’s glorious! It’s Eels new album Wonderful, Glorious! Actually, the album could have been titled Everett Comes Alive, or even more to the point Get Happy! 

For their tenth studio album, Eels turned to a collaborative process, creating songs out of in-studio jams, with E (Mark Oliver Everett) adding lyrics on the fly. The result is a recording that is far more diverse in its sound, and a whole lot greasier than the last two Eels records.

Coming on the heels of the three-album trilogy, Hombre Lobo, End Times and Tomorrow Morning, with their attendant themes of desire, heartbreak and renewal, Wonderful, Glorious moves beyond renewal into happiness territory, or at least, as happy as Everett will allow.

But what are we to make of Everett’s apparent happiness? Ten studio albums in, and this is a first! Generally speaking, when artists attain happiness and well-being in their personal lives, it usually means that the creativity suffers greatly. Yet on Wonderful, Everett manages to find new and interesting ways to revel in his high spirits, without dragging the proceedings down.

Right from the get-go, Everett and his band of merry men – the Chet, Knuckles, Koool G Murder and P-Boo – crawl out of the woodwork in somewhat vengeful form on “Bombs Away,” with its wiggy electronic clicks and pops, stop-stuttering rhythms and proclamation: “I’ve had enough of being complacent, I’ve had enough of being the mouse…Bombs Away,” setting the tone for the awakening to come.

“New Alphabet” proclaims “You know what, I’m in a good mood today. I’m so happy, it’s not yesterday,” while “Peach Blossom” hints at new beginnings with the couplet, “Oh man, feels so nice. That was a long, cold night. But then the sun came out, to thaw the ice.”

“The Turnaround” adds “You’re all gonna be sorry, when I leave town, And get it together for the turnaround” as it builds to the epic conclusion, “Six bucks in my pocket, the shoes on my feet, first step is out the door, and onto the street.” On today’s Song Of The Day, “Kinda Fuzzy,” Everett and company share “I’m feeling kinda fuzzy, the future looks bright, don’t mess with me I’m up for the fight!”

The record’s most intimate moment comes in the spare ballad “Accident Prone,” with a gorgeous melody and clever wordplay that turns the negative connotation of the title phrase into a positive:  “A happy accident, me running into you …I was getting tired of always being alone, Good thing that I’ve always been accident prone.”

The deluxe version of the album doubles the song count by adding four new songs, plus an additional eight exclusive live versions of older songs. While Wonderful, Glorious doesn’t dramatically break any new ground musically, it still an album that is, indeed wonderful and glorious. It should be lots of fun watching it come alive on stage when Eels take this album on tour.

Edited: February 6th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/6/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Soldier Of Love (Lay Down Your Arms)” by Arthur Alexander

He’s the only artist to be covered by the holy trinity of Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Others who rushed to his deep well of first-rate copyrights included The Hollies, Ry Cooder, Pearl Jam, Ike & Tina Turner, Marshall Crenshaw, George Jones, Otis Redding, The Bee Gees, Humble Pie and Dusty Springfield, and that’s only a small sampling of those who have recorded his tunes.

Yet, Arthur Alexander, the man who wrote such classics as “Anna (Go To Him),” “You Better Move On,” “Sally Sue Brown,” “Detroit City,” “A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues” and today’s Song Of The Day, remains largely unknown to most people today, or even worse, totally forgotten.

And if his recordings weren’t enough to guarantee him legendary status, he, along with Donnie Fritts, Rick Hall and Tom Stafford, converted a dilapidated tobacco warehouse in Alabama into a recording studio, and launched the famed Muscle Shoals Studios with his first single “You Better Move On” in the early 1960s.

The music business was a tricky proposition then as it is now, and fame and fortune largely alluded him, but not for lack of trying. After a string of seminal southern soul recordings that made others rich and famous, Alexander moved from record label to record label releasing a series of albums and singles throughout the sixties and seventies that garnered little or no airplay, including an eponymously titled album for Warner Brothers in 1972 and the 1975 minor hit single “Every Day I Have To Cry” for Buddah Records.

From 1977 through 1992, Alexander dropped out of the music industry completely and drove a van for senior citizens. After being inducted into the Alabama Music Hall Of Fame, he came back to music and recorded his last record, Lonely Just Like Me for Elektra records in 1993. Sadly days after launching his comeback with a new band, Alexander died of a heart attack.

For further listening, check out The Ultimate Arthur Alexander for his original recordings, and the tribute album Adios Amigo: A Tribute To Arthur Alexander featuring covers of his songs by the likes of Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, Roger McGuinn, Nick Lowe, John Prine and Frank Black. Both CDs were issued by Razor & Tie music.

Edited: February 5th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/5/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Baja” by The Astronauts

They were a surf group from Boulder, Colorado. Yup, you heard that right, the group was from Colorado, where there is no ocean in sight, and yet they recorded nine surf albums for RCA Records during the 1960s.

The Astronauts consisted of Rich Fifield (guitar and vocals), Jon “Storm” Patterson (guitar and vocals), Bob Demmon (guitar), Dennis Lindsey (guitar) and Jim Gallagher (drums).  When the group went into the recording studio to record their first album in 1963, they’d never heard of or played surf music before.

Their first single was “Baja” which was written by none other than Lee Hazelwood (who was famous for his production work with Duane Eddy and Nancy Sinatra). The song was the group’s only appearance on the U.S. charts, where it flew all the way up to the none-too-impressive height of #94, and stayed for one solitary week.

The song was from their debut album, Surfin’ With The Astronauts (released in 1963) and featured covers of some of the biggest surf hits of the day including “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Miserlou,” “Pipeline,” “Susie Q,” “Let’s Go Trippin’,” “Batman” and “Banzai Pipeline” (written by Henry Mancini, no less). Their other classic single was the hot rod tune, “Competition Coupe,” which also served as the title cut from one of their albums of, you guessed it, hot rod tunes.

But while success seemed to elude The Astronauts here in the states, they found they were “Big In Japan” (as the song title goes), where they scored a number one hit with the song “Movin’” (retitled “Over The Sun” for the Japanese market) and three top-ten albums.

By 1967, it was pretty much over for The Astronauts when Gallagher and Lindsey were drafted and went to Viet Nam. However, Fifield did go on to become a member of one of the versions of the psychedelic rock group, The Electric Prunes.

Edited: February 4th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/4/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Mercy Seat” by Johnny Cash

By the year 2000 and the third album in the American series, Johnny Cash had reestablished himself as one of the greatest singers, not just in country music, but in all music. Producer, Rick Rubin, began working with him several years before and allowed Johnny Cash do what he did best in the studio…be JOHNNY CASH!

Cash began working with Rick Rubin in 1994. Rubin was the founder  of Def Jam Records, and was responsible for producing seminal recordings by Public Enemy and The Beastie Boys. It must have taken quite a leap of faith for Johnny Cash to, not only work with Rick Rubin who was much younger than him, but to put his career in hia hands.

When they first began working together, Cash’s career was pretty much over. He had recorded several ho-hum records for Mercury Records during the mid-to-late 1980s that were nothing special, and even resorted to re-recording some of his older hits for the label. I caught Cash in concert in a small New York City bar back in 1986 when he was touring behind the album Water From The Wells Of Home. His career was so far off the mark, that the place was not even half full, although I must say that he was terrific. The performance was marred by his proclivity to allow his son and wife to take precious concert time away from the main attraction, in order for them to perform their own second-rate material.

Rubin’s whole modus operandi  with Cash was to make bare guitar and voice recordings that would highlight what a great interpreter of material he was. In doing so, Rubin sent Cash tapes of songs he liked, exposing him to material he had never heard by the likes of Tom Petty, Beck, Soundgarden, U2 and Nick Cave, who wrote today’s Song Of The Day.

For American III: Solitary Man,  Rubin assembled an all-star list of backing musicians including Norman Blake, Mike Campbell, Randy Scruggs and Marty Stuart on guitar, Tom Petty, Merle Haggard and Shreyl Crow on backing vocals and Bentmont Tench on organ. “The Mercy Seat”  is probably Cash’s most harrowing recording, even more so than Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ original from their 1988 album Tender Prey.

Of the five American Recordings albums, not to mention the five CD Cash Unearthed box set with more Rubin/Cash collaborations, the American III: Solitary Man album is one of the most enjoyable on every level mainly because of its superb choice of cover songs by Tom Petty (“I Won’t Back Down”), Neil Diamond (“Solitary Man”) and U2 (“One”).  Together, Cash and Rubin formulated a record that kept Johnny Cash not only relevant with the hip cognoscenti,  but also true to himself as a recording artist.

And as for what Nick Cave thought about Cash’s cover, his pride oozes out of every word in the following quote… “It doesn’t matter what anyone says, Johnny Cash recorded my song.”

Edited: February 3rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/3/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Lemmings Lament” by National Lampoon

“Welcome to the Woodshuck Memorial Festival: Three Days Of Peace, Love And Death!”

So began one of the funniest and spot-on parodies of the Woodstock generation with this announcement made by none other than John Belushi. Lemmings was performed as a stage show by National Lampoon in 1973, and not only launched the career of Belushi, but also introduced many of us to Chevy Chase, Tony Hendra and Christopher Guest.

The show opened at the Village Gate, in New York City, on January 25, 1973, and ran for 350 performances. It included a then-unknown John Belushi performing a parody of Joe Cocker on the song “Lonely At The Bottom” (with fellow Lampooner Paul Jacobs taking on the part of Leon Russell).  Belushi’s Cocker would reach a much wider audience on Saturday Night Live several years later.

Other parodies included “Highway Toes” performed by Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap, Best In Show, Waiting For Guffman and A Mighty Wind, to name a few) taking on James Taylor, “Positively Wall Street” also by Guest, this time as Bob Dylan and “Pizza Man,” a send up of ‘50s Rock and Roll hilariously performed by Alice Playton. Today’s Song Of the Day, “Lemming Lament” was performed by Paul Jacobs, Christopher Guest, Alice Playton and John Belushi, billed as Freud, Marx, Engels and Jung, taking the piss out of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

I’ve been a fan of this album since it came out in 1973, but I never knew of the existence of a filmed performance that was released on VHS many years ago. Of course, it is now out of print on video again, but can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.

The Lemmings album was not National Lampoon’s first foray into musical parody. They released the album Radio Dinner the year before which also featured Christopher Guest and Tony Hendra (who does a great John Lennon on “Magical Misery Tour”), along with SNL alum Michael O’Donoghue and Melissa Manchester. The Lampoon would go to the well again in 1975, with the album Goodbye Pop featuring Christopher Guest, Paul Jacobs, Paul Shaffer, and future SNL alum Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner.

John Belushi as the Woodshuck announcer parodying an actual Woodstock announcement: “There isn’t enough food to go around. There just isn’t enough food. So remember, the man next to you is your dinner.” Classic…all the way!

The whole show!

Edited: February 2nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/2/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Reasons For Waiting” by Jethro Tull

By the time of their second album, Stand Up, original guitarist Mick Abrahams was out of the band over a dispute over the future direction Tull’s music would take. Abrahams wanted them to remain solidly a blues rock band as they were on their debut album, This Was, while Ian Anderson wanted to branch out, adding acoustic elements to their sound. Replacing Abrahams was new guitarist, Martin Barre, who has been in every other incarnation of Jethro Tull ever since.

 Stand Up saw the development of the classic Tull sound as we know it today. By adding the influences of classical music via the brilliant “Bouree” (a melody by J.S. Bach), elements of English folk on the tracks “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square” (one of three Tull songs devoted to Ian’s childhood friend Jeffrey Hammond, who would later join the band) and “Look Into the Sun,” the band carved out a unique niche in the music scene. Even Celtic music instrumentation crept into their arsenal of sound on “Fat Man,” which was laden with rockin’ acoustic mandolins, jagged bongos and, of course, heaping helpings of one-legged flute playing courtesy of Ian Anderson. And today’s Song Of The Day is easily one of their loveliest recordings ever.  The addition of these influences to the already blues-heavy mix the band were known for predated the sound that Led Zeppelin would adapt several years later on tracks like “Battle Of Evermore” and “Going To California.”

The album features the classic Tull line-up including Martin Barre on guitar, Glenn Cornick on bass, Clive Bunker on drums, and of course, Ian Anderson on flute, organ and vocals, further enhanced by the string arrangements of David Palmer.  It is by far Tull’s most-consistent album, featuring some of their most organic rockers including “We Used To Know,” “Back To The Family,” “A New Day Yesterday” and “For A Thousand Mothers.”

The group scored a #3 chart hit with the single “Living In the Past” in England while they were recording this album, but they wouldn’t find themselves on radio in a big way or at the forefront of American rock music for a few more years, until the release of their breakthrough album Aqualung.

The album cover for Stand Up features a woodcut of the band, and original pressings had an image of the band in the center of the gatefold sleeve that would literally pop-up when the cover would open. Try doing that today with your MP3s…

Edited: February 2nd, 2013