Archive for April, 2009

h1

As it skims along with a happy sound.

April 7, 2009

A few months ago at the old site, there was a Friday Five (the series returns this week, folks!) where five songs were featured that were completely redefinied by their inclusion in major motion pictures.

Of course, several movies have rendered a second lease of life to songs of old previously long-since forgotten, and always on the lookout for new series possibilities, I thought, “Hey, why not take a look at other such motion picture-led rebirths?”

And so today we launch…

cinema-paradiso-p

CINEMASCOPE
Songs rediscovered and redefined through film.

Perry Como – Round and Round
Featured in “Blast From the Past,” 1999

“Blast From the Past” is one of the movies that you wouldn’t pay to see, but once it came out on video/DVD (wherever most of society was at the turn of the century), it was an alright rental for a family movie night. Now it pops up every once in awhile on basic cable, and if its star power (Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken and Dave Foley, notably) wasn’t enough to make you cough up $7.50 10 years ago, it’s at least enough to keep you interested until a commercial break now.

If you haven’t seen it, the basic idea is this — there’s this family in California, the father (Walken) is an extremely intelligent guy, but is routinely lambasted by colleagues as a bit of a nut. He has a bit of fear of nuclear annihilation and builds an elaborate deep under the family’s home that can serve as a formidable housing unit for as long as it takes the after effects of nuclear explosion to wear off. One day a plane crashes into the house, and thinking nuclear war is underway, moves himself and his pregnant wife underground for about 30 years.

They raise a well-behaved, intelligent kid (Fraser), and after about 30 years, they get a bit antsy and want to go up and see what the world’s like now that the nuclear holocaust is over. Of course, a bomb never went off — society just charged right ahead without them, but when Dad pops up for a peek, he comes back down mortified at the changed world. The kid pleads to go up and be afforded the opportunity to find a love and life of his own, and of course, all sorts of outrageous hilarity ensues as a kid raised in a 1950s world tries to make it 1990s Los Angeles.

This is the scene where he encounters his muse — a typically cynical, uneasy-to-impress 1990s chick, played by Silverstone (start really paying attention at the 4:17 mark):

Growing up, I didn’t really know much about Perry Como. My great Uncle Gene would go on and on about him and say his name with ridiculous reverence (much like Fraser’s character in the above clip), but for whatever reason, Perry’s music didn’t make it’s way through the family generation lines like Frank Sinatra’s or Dean Martin’s. Personally, I think it’s just as well that it worked out like that. Not a huge loss, you know?

The charm of the clip above, of course, is the ridiculous pleasure Adam takes in Como’s music (I now find myself saying, “This is where it really takes off!” when listening to any song I particularly like with a friend), and enthusiastically referring to Como as “Perry!” (he also refers to him as “Mr. Como” at another point in the film).  It kind of reminds me of Uncle Gene, and makes me wonder whether it was something about the guy that commanded such reverence or if it’s just the way people referred to artists they admired in the late 1950s.

Of course, the real genius of the clip is that although director Hugh Wilson centered the particular scene around the song, more attention is paid to the developing interplay between Adam and Eve and the song serves as just a funny backing to a guy who’s beside himself to hear the song on the radio, and a girl who’s a little weirded out by her overenthusiastic passenger. It plants the seed of the song in the audience’s head, but it doesn’t really pour any water on it or encourage it to grow in any other way.

Which is good. Because while it’s a charming little song, it’s also borderline annoying-as-f*ck, and take caution that when you download and listen to the song, it will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. It just will. And at first it’s alright, because it’s an easy hook and is kind of fun to whistle or quietly sing to yourself. But when you find your brain hasn’t moved on four hour laters, you might regret buying Round and Round and Other Hits. Although you’ll certainly understand why the song made it to number one in 1957. It’s audible brainwashing. Maybe that’s why Uncle Gene always said “Perry…” like that, come to think of it.

A couple weeks ago, a friend came up and asked if I had a DVD copy of “Blast From the Past.” I said I didn’t, but I could easily sum up the movie with one song and threaten to mentally handicap all of us for the ensuing 24 hours.

Thanks, Hugh.

And thanks, Mr. Como.

h1

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

h1

The little money comin’ worked out well.

April 1, 2009

As always on April 1, we pay tribute to this blog’s patron saint and the perennial April Fool, Ronnie Lane.

In years past (at the old host, of course), we’ve delved deeply into Ronnie’s career and celebrated his songwriting at several turns, most recently in the latest spring mix which is racking up downloads like nobody’s business (thank you).

But one thing that we haven’t really done is look at how the guy’s gentle voice fit other artists’ songs. As prolific and great of a songwriter he was, he also brought his own charm to rustic old traditional folk songs, great R&B, rock and roll classics and even fellow band members’ compositions several times throughout his career. So as a way to kick off Ronnie Lane month this year, why not take a look at just a few of the covers he performed in his lifetime?

Clowns and Fool.

Clowns and Fool.

Small Faces – Shake
This is probably the most vexing cover Ronnie ever performed in his life for two main reasons. One, the Sam Cooke cover kicked off the Small Faces very first LP, their self-titled debut on Decca in 1966, in which they established themselves as a new Mod, R&B force on the British scene. Two, (and basically continuing on from one) it’s just the kind of song that the Small Faces’ principal singer, Steve Marriott should have wrapped his unbelievably soulful vocal cords around. Nevertheless, Ronnie proves he can belt too, and with all the verve and excitement any young British rocker of the time would. So it’s missing Marriott’s gutteral “Whoa-oh!”s, but it’s not entirely without its merits.

Ronnie Lane – You Never Can Tell
When Ronnie left the Faces in 1973 and began his solo career, it looked like he would forever shed the rock and roll roots that spawned him in favor of folky, sepia-flavored acoustic songs from there on out. While that wasn’t entirely the case, the folky stuff did dominate the majority of his solo output, and as fantastic as most of the songs were, his cover of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” from 1975’s Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance hit the listener like a wonderful refresher of Ronnie’s previous musical outfits. Sure, the feel is more zydeco than R&B, but to hear Ronnie pumping away on an electric six-string and hear his voice wonderfully merging with the multi-talented Steve Simpson’s is a real treat and provides one of the best versions of this song ever. Also was a treat to watch when he performed it on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975.

Ronnie Lane – All or Nothing (live)
Sure, Lane got the co-writing credit on this Small Faces classic (the band’s first number one record, mind you), but it was always a Marriott dominated song (thanks in large part to the impassioned vocal Marriott delivered on record and in live performances). Despite having a wealth of great Small Faces songs to dip into himself (including “Song of a Baker,” “Eddie’s Dreaming,” “Show Me the Way” and “All of Our Yesterdays”), Lane rarely reached back to Small Faces stuff during Slim Chance gigs. Nevertheless, the band’s biggest hit got a few airings in the late 1970s, and Ronnie proved that while he didn’t have the vocal depth of his former collaborator, he was no slouch in delivering a soulful vocal and could provide a bit of muscle when needed.

Ronnie would have been 63 today. Lift a glass for him.