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We can’t have one kind without the other.

April 3, 2009

First off, I must admit it is a little strange to be blogging again, and you’ll have to forgive the fact that posts this week have come every other day as opposed to every day. You’ll have to give me a bit of time to get back into the habit. You go off something for three whole months, and it takes a little more push to get back into it.

Plus, I’m a busy guy, alright?

Anyway, although it’s kind of difficult for me not to think of this as a new blog, it simply is a a nicer extension of the one that was already in place, and let’s not kid ourselves — the old one had some great features, and they’ll carry over to this one.

Since it’s the beginning of a new month, it’s only appropriate that we delve back into an ASBTTIS monthly series, “Vs.,” wherein we pit two artists’ rendering of the same song against each other for judgement on who ultimately proved superior.

For newcomers, previous matchups can be found here, but basically the ground rules are this:

  • The recordings must have been officially laid down for an album or single — no radio sessions or live shows where inclusion might be impromptu or simply to spark reaction can compete with official recordings.
  • The differing versions of songs must have been recorded within five years of each other. Leads to one version of the song having less to stand up against in terms of stature. Ask Madonna how people felt about her version of “American Pie.” My point exactly. Even though I’ve always hated that song…
  • The pairing must have a horribly photoshopped piece of artwork depicting battle between the two combatants rendered by yours truly. It just makes proceedings more fun.

Right, so now that you’re up to speed, let’s get on with this month’s matchup which pits one of one of southern soul’s greatest voices against the guy that penned and produced several of his hits. It’s Lee Dorsey and Allen Toussaint in a battle royale, folks…

Although odds are pretty strong that you know a Lee Dorsey song, Dorsey’s career in professional music was never really one of any consistency. He had a string of hits throughout the 1960s, but in between them, labels folded and he ended up taking odd jobs to keep the money coming in. Despite the fact that “Ya Ya” was a top 10 record in 1961, for example, the subsequent washout of Fury Records meant the budding pop star went back to fixing cars.

But the New Orleans native found his golden goose in another up and coming N’Awlins-ite who was making huge steps in the city in terms of songwriting and production. Having already seen his songs “Mother-in-Law” and “Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)” taken to the upper reaches of Billboard by Ernie K-Doe and Benny Spellman respectively, it seemed kind of natural that Allen Toussaint might be made to share some of his magic with the mechanic.

Dorsey received a lot of Toussaint magic over the years. “Working in the Coal Mine,” “Get Out of My Life, Woman,” “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (From Now On),” and “Yes We Can Can” all were solid notches in Dorsey’s belt, and all were written by Toussaint.

But in the 1970s, some of the dynamic in Toussaint’s musical career began to change. While he was still one of the most coveted composers and producers around (Dr. John, La Belle and Paul McCartney & Wings were just a few of the artists to employ his services in the seventies), label heads started to wonder why the guy writing so many hits wasn’t making records himself.

Although Toussaint had been a lead artist on some instrumental records and singles throughout the 1960s, it wasn’t really until 1970’s From a Whisper to a Scream that he became a bona fide solo artist. Most of the record comprised his versions of songs that others had made famous, and while it was followed by some excellent records like Life, Love and Faith and Southern Nights, Toussaint never really found the fame as an artist that many of the people he wrote songs for did.

While Dorsey enjoyed success with the “Yes We Can” album and single in 1970, he reverted back into the shadows shortly thereafter as Toussaint stepped into the spotlight.

But Toussaint’s admitted discomfort with being in front of the band as opposed to behind it, combined with the unimpressive sales his albums wracked up (which still boggles my mind as they’re all amazing albums), kind of pushed him back into his New Orleans studio to instead work with other artists.

But in the late 1970s, former Atlantic Records #2 man-turned-Warner-honcho Jerry Wexler pulled Toussaint out of New Orleans and into Los Angeles to make the Motion album. At the same time Dorsey had been convinced to record what would ultimately prove his final LP, Night People.

Dorsey’s title track was written and produced by Toussaint, who actually delivered his own version of the song on Motion in 1978, the same year Dorsey’s album was released. Motion is criminally out of print now, but Toussaint’s version of “Night People” can be found on the The Allen Toussaint Collection.

Personally, I prefer Toussaint’s read. There’s a bit more sheen to it, sure, but there’s also a lot more tension for the L.A. studio pros to build on as it’s lead by that electric piano. Dorsey’s version is good, and certainly a lot funkier, but I don’t think it has the edge that Toussaint delivers. And when you listen to the song’s lyrics, well, the edge is what this song is about, man.

But that’s just me. What say you?

allenvsleeAllen Toussaint Vs. Lee Dorsey
“Night People”

Allen Toussaint – Night People

Lee Dorsey – Night People

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