Archive for the ‘Vs.’ Category


It’s the tick of our time and the tick in her hair that made me feel so strange.

February 11, 2010

Despite many of my friends’ best efforts, I haven’t yet been able to crack the “Oh, you must love…” enigma that is (are?) the Kings of Leon.

One of my best friends has been on me about getting into them since they put out their debut album when I was still a collegiate chap, and now all the fuss and hysteria surrounding this “Use Somebody” song makes me think one of two things. 1) I completely missed out on the band’s up and coming years and trying to get into them now would stink of Johnny-Come-Latelyism, or, 2) Has it already been about 5 years since they were first being pushed on me? Either way, I still don’t care.

I’ve heard “Use Somebody.” It’s not a *bad* song. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever understand the hype.

But back in September when I interviewed Craig Reid of the Proclaimers, he cited the Kings of Leon as a permanent fixture on the stereo system as the Proclaimers made their way through another American tour. Craig’s got pretty decent taste in music, so I thought maybe I should give them another chance. Especially as the Proclaimers’ one-off cover of “17” last year almost bested anything on the whole of the Notes & Rhymes album (“Wages of Sin” excluded, of course).

Anyway, for this month’s “Vs.” I thought we’d take a listen to the two versions side by side.

I don’t know what it says about me that I tend to enjoy songs about being attracted to younger girls. From Travis’ “U16 Girls” to Rooney’s “Daisy Duke,” singing about illegal love just seems to bring out rockers’ finer songwriting sensibilities. I’m sure some Big Brother agency is reading this is and preparing for thorough searches of my computer’s hard drive, but while forbidden love tends to make for nice songs, I can honestly say I’m probably more likely to chase an older woman. A comprehensive look at the girls I’ve dated in the last few years would back that up — the average tips slightly to women that were either by weeks, months or years my senior.

Anyway, enough self analysis — “17” is another fine addition to the pop lexicon of writing about underage girls. Not quite as catchy as “Daisy Duke,” but still finely crafted with some nifty lyrics to drive the point home — “I could call you baby, I could call you dammit, it’s a one in a million” is a nice one, and who isn’t encouraged to stay by a rolling Spanish tongue?

Musically, Kings of Leon, give it fine modern rock bluster on their Only By the Night LP and the “ooohs” during the chorus are a fine touch. Still, it feels a little like a mile-run used to feel to me in junior high. You have those bursts where you feel like you can finish the sucker in seven minutes flat, and then those draggy bits where you’re sure it’s not going to end for another half hour.

The Proclaimers version stays a bit more on a constant track. Recorded last year for an EP named after the track, I still have not found a version that contains any tracks besides it. So while it’s technically wrong to call the “17 EP” an EP at all, my genuine favoritism of the band makes that easy enough to forgive.

The Proclaimers are actually a damn fine covers band, hitting homers time and again with the likes of “King of the Road,” “Five O’Clock World,” “Get Ready,” “Whole Wide World,” and “(I’m Gonna) Burn Your Playhouse Down.”

The charm in their take on “17” is that they return the instrumentation that defined their 1987 debut, This is the Story — acoustic guitar, sparse harmonica and the Reid brothers’ strong vocals. Musically, it’s not the most virtuoso performance you’ll ever hear, but as they do on pretty much every song they’ve ever recorded, the vocal blend is just amazing.

I’m a stone cold Proclaimers fan, so I’ve got to go with their version in this fight, but I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would argue it isn’t a patch on the Kings’ version. Your thoughts?

Kings of Leon vs. The Proclaimers

Kings of Leon – 17

The Proclaimers – 17


I’ll try to do my best to hit you where it counts.

January 26, 2010

“Where’s Paul gone off to?” I hear you all wondering. I do. I hear you wondering. It’s an inner ear problem I’ve had for ages…

Well life gets busy and sometimes you have to spend days working on work and weekends working on projects for relatives and when all this adds up, you know, it gets very difficult to talk about music. No, never mind. I can always talk about music. But writing about it, ah… that becomes more difficult.

Anyway, I’ve been remiss this month in not offering up a “Vs.” contribution to the three of my monthly series, but I plan on rectifying that today with a guy who’s taken himself (and others) on in previous “Vs.” posts — the Modfather, Paul Weller.

Last week, I was perusing the Onion’s AV Club fine “Gateways to Geekery” essay on Northern Soul music, which did a positive service for people everywhere by ending the meditation with the video for the Style Council’s 1983 single, “A Solid Bond in Your Heart.”

As a longtime Weller fan (and avid Style Council defender), this heartened me. But it was weird, because “A Solid Bond in Your Heart” was just one song that I never really cottoned on to. It’s not to say I hated it — it just never seeped into my appreciation the way “Speak Like a Child” or “How She Threw it All Away” did. I suppose part of it was the fact that I was trying to get into the Style Council when I was a high schooler. That was probably hard enough in the 1980s (once I interviewed Old 97’s guitarist Ken Bethea, and when talk veered from Oasis into Paul Weller, he confided he’s never liked Paul Weller because when he was in high school, a certain breed of people liked the Style Council — and it was those people), but trying that group on in 2000 and 2001… let’s just say there weren’t many people at Willowbrook High School at the time to talk in depth about the 12″ version of “Long Hot Summer.” In fact, one of my best friends still gives me guff for liking the Style Council.

But as Weller has proved time and time (and time and time) again since splitting the Style Council, you strip away the abominable ’80s production and you have some of the finest songs he’s ever composed. And even with that production, I think the stuff still works. It admittedly took me a few years to gain a full appreciation, but the Style Council kicked a lot of ass. And Confessions of a Pop Group is one of the finest albums of Weller’s or anybody’s career — “Life at a Top Peoples Health Farm” and all.

Nevertheless, “Solid Bond” just never got back around to stirring me up. Still a bit too young to appreciate the Style Council with few music snob gusto, I reverted to the Jam in my high school days, and soon learned that Weller had actually composed the song as a contender for the group’s farewell single in 1982.

When Paul Weller split the Jam in 1982, he shocked tons of his more ardent supporters. Not only was he walking away from a group still in their prime (six albums and each one getting progressively better, Weller was only about 22 years of age), but to turn it around the very next year as part of a 1980s mod jazz duo with a bit too heavy of a leaning on French imagery was tantamount to pissing all over the moped and parka culture.

But it’s also fair to say that the people who didn’t get the jump might not have been as interested in the songwriting as they were the image. In rock and roll, certainly that’s important… but I ask you: What of the two lasts longer?

Would “Solid Bond” have been a more appropriate sendoff for the Jam than “Beat Surrender”? There are a lot of people who think so. In John Reed’s biography of Paul Weller, My Ever Changing Moods, a DJ tells the story of Weller not being able to decide on the two:

“I remember sitting down with Paul in a hotel room in Weymouth and he played me two songs,” remembers DJ Tony Rounce. “He said, ‘I dunno, whatcha reckon for the next single? It’s really between these two, whaddaya think?’ I said, ‘Solid Bond’ is far and away the single. He said, ‘Well, I’m saving that.’ I thought, ‘Who are you saving it for!? Somebody on Respond? A rainy day? For Christmas?'”

Actually, he was saving it for a damn fine edition to the Style Council’s early output.

The version the Jam recorded has a nice punch to it, and has a far more rhythmic base to it, but the Style Council’s version (even with the flamboyant hits of saxophone) MOVES. It’s got life. It’s got verve. It sounds hopeful and sunny. It’s the kind of thing that makes you go, “Oh yeah, this is why music affects so many people…”

Something about seeing the video last week made me dive right into my CD collection for the Style Council disc I’d bought all those years ago when I was in high school. I put on “A Solid Bond in Your Heart” and put it on repeat for the next 45 minutes. I recommend starting your day with it, actually. Really hard to spoil things afterward…

But that’s just my take… I can think of a few people who would say the Jam version pisses all over it. What say you?

The Jam vs. The Style Council
“A Solid Bond in Your Heart”

The Jam – A Solid Bond in Your Heart

The Style Council – A Solid Bond in Your Heart


I have trouble now even remembering.

November 19, 2009

I never really got fully on the Fiona Apple train. I remember she was hip in the late ’90s and a lot of my female friends at high school all seemed to swear by the Tidal album and some of the pervier dudes found the “Criminal” video ridiculously alluring (I don’t know if it’s weird that I never did).

But I remember the first time I heard the song “Extraordinary Machine.” It was a rainy day, I was in my car and it came on NPR (which is weird because I listen to the radio so rarely in my car — I must have been changing CDs). It stopped me. I just listened and thought, “My God is this clever.” I remember hearing it again at a New Year’s Eve party in Chicago and demanding people in the room quiet down so I could listen to it.

Eventually I got around to getting the album, but because of my indifference to Fiona’s career up to that point, I really had no idea about Extraordinary Machine‘s backstory, nor its involvement with one of my several untouchable musical darlings, Jon Brion.

For those who don’t know the story, Apple started working on the album in 2002 with Jon Brion, who apparently wanted to do the album to pull himself out of his own emotional turmoil after breaking up with his longtime girlfriend while he was scoring Punch-Drunk Love (one of my favorite films and soundtracks, mind you). Apple agreed, but she didn’t have a ton of songs.

So they started working together on material, but the lack of direction and deadlines seemed to bother the label heads at Epic a bit, who wanted a deadline and some ear candy after Apple’s 1999 album, When the Pawn… proved to be a bit of a commercial disaster. Work continued through 2003 between California and London, but Epic wasn’t hearing anything it could push as a single, and despite futile additions and reworkings of songs, things weren’t clicking for the label.

This had a two-pronged effect. On one hand, Apple’s fans wanted the damn album. Articles and interviews with Brion were coming out where he seemed to speak favorably about the album’s material, however difficult it may have been to record. But Epic still wasn’t interested and sat on the album, so as things go in this day and age, tracks started to leak out of the vaults and on to the Internet.

Epic wanted the damn album too and Fiona went back into the studio without Brion to try making more commercial versions of the songs on which they’d previously toiled. Finally in October 2005, the official version of Extraordinary Machine hit store shelves with production duties handled by Brian Kehew and Mike Elizondo, the producers basically stripping all the Brion-produced tracks down to Apple’s piano and rebuilding from there.

Hardcore fans (or those with passing interest in great shelved albums) probably have both versions of the record, so it’s created a debate amongst Apple fans for years as to which versions are better, and hey — why not use that as the leap off point for this months’ “Vs.”?

Unsurprisingly I find a lot of the Brion versions of songs preferable — “Better Version of Me” wins by miles as far as I’m concerned — but “Tymps” presents a real headscratcher for me.

On one hand, I LOVE the Brion version. The live drumming is just ten kinds of fabulous and the instrumentation veers into a bit of a cooky direction, but it’s kind of absurdly brilliant. The “proper” released version is a bit more syncopated, relying on processed beats and synths, but at the same time, it’s got its own kind of power — although it careens off the tracks momentarily at the 1:49 mark.

And frankly I think the strength of both versions is in Apple’s songwriting. It’s a wonderfully self-conscious song and Apple’s delivery highlights the “…dammit” feel in both.

But for the drumming alone, I gotta go with the Brion version. You?

Fiona Apple vs. Fiona Apple
Used to Love Him vs. Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)

Fiona Apple – Used to Love Him (Jon Brion version)

Fiona Apple – Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song) (Final version)


I’m in the groove.

October 7, 2009

You were getting sick of seeing that image of Ben Folds at the top of the page weren’t you? I’m sorry… things get too busy in the fall. And even though I should be sitting in a chair with a hot pad around my neck (got a nasty bout of whiplash in volleyball last night — those concrete walls really should let you know you’re dangerously close), I’m trying to do right by you dear readers and provide some more good tunes and debating ground.

We’re in a new month now, so I guess it’s time to reset the monthly series, the first of which as always is “Vs.”

This month we pit a bunch of early 1960’s American soulsters against another bunch of early 1960’s British stompers as they both take on one of the most beloved call and response songs of all time, “Do You Love Me.”

“Do You Love Me” was written by Berry Gordy in the formative days of Motown Records, and had the Temptations not scurried out of Detroit on a 1962 night to take part in a gospel music showcase, it could have been the band’s first major hit. As luck would have it, the Contours were hanging around the studio, consciously straddling the line of being dropped after producing a run of non-hit singles, but Gordy was so enthused by his new composition that he put the band in the studio immediately to cut the track.

With the background music provided by the Funk Brothers (who would backdrop several of Motown’s very best offerings), Billy Gordon delivered an impassioned lead vocal and the sheer energy of the song would result in more than a million sales of the single, as well as climbing to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962, and peaking at the top of the Billboard R&B chart.

It would get a second appearance in the Top 20 more than 20 years later when “Dirty Dancing” became a late 1980s sensation and introduced a whole new generation of kids to just how fun the song truly is. Of course, people say it’s the only song the Contours ever really had, and while it’s the only hit they had, I’d point you in the direction of “Just a Little Misunderstanding,” which was also on the Do You Love Me? (Now That I Can Dance) album. Fabulous tune and a true Northern Soul classic.

As popular as the song was on these shores, it (along with several other R&B cuts) blew a bunch of Brits away, including those who were forming their own bands at the time and needed material to fill out their sets. Brian Poole and the Tremeloes and the Hollies both added “Do You Love Me” to their repertoire, but no British act ever attacked it with the verve the Dave Clark Five offered.

The cut was included on their 1964 debut album, Glad All Over, which was better known for its title track and the pounding “Bits and Pieces,” but Mike Smith delivered a lead vocal on “Do You Love Me” that rivaled the energy of Billy Gordon’s two years prior. And the pounding production provided on Glad All Over gave the song, like many DC5 cuts, absolutely pulsating out of your speakers. Plus, how can you argue with this great British choreography?

I wrote a blog early last year where I questioned the DC5’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I felt bad enough when Mike Smith died a few days later, but I feel even worse about it today as I pour through a number of DC5 cuts and realize they really were a great little band. Does it mean I’m any less angry that they’re in while neither the Small Faces nor Faces are? No, but… I’m a little bit more forgiving now. I mean let’s face it — the thought of a bunch of limeys covering an American soul tune? Sure a lot of British bands with varying degrees of success, but this is as about a cocksure cover as has ever been recorded.

Better than the Contours? I honestly don’t know. But I’m willing to say it’s at least as good. Settle for a draw?


The Contours vs. The Dave Clark Five
“Do You Love Me”

The Contours – Do You Love Me

The Dave Clark Five – Do You Love Me


But now that the stars are in your eyes…

September 9, 2009

Caramba, the days are getting shorter and I’m posting more infrequently. It’s nothing to do with me, I swear. Well, I guess it is if you count how packed the days have been lately, and I don’t know if I should apologize for that, but I will. I’m sorry.

With the first week of September done and gone, I realize I’ve missed my normal window for posting the first of my monthly series, “Vs.”, so, on with that then. Today we’re gonna pit two old Vs. pros that have done battle with others, but never each other — Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin.

I’ve gone into long, ramblings analyses of each artist in previous posts — Frank’s kind of one of those undisputed kings that you can’t really ever say anything too bad about, and Bobby (for my money) is one of the most underrated vocalists of all time, despite the fact that he’s recorded the most memorable versions of several standards and was the subject of a Kevin Spacey-led biopic.

Bobby’s career trajectory is pretty interesting in that he spent much of his early career trying to emulate Frank, including hopping over to Capitol Records right around the time Frank Sinatra bailed to go found his own label, Reprise. Whether or not that was the best move for Bobby would make an interesting debate — certainly it got him a lot broader listening base than he’d had with Atlantic in the 1950s, but looking at the work he did on the Atlantic label (including all-time signature versions of “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond the Sea”), I’d say it’s not necessarily a given that the Capitol move was brilliant from a catalog standpoint.

Of course, my complaints with Frank’s time at Capitol is that despite genius albums including Sinatra Sings For Only the Lonely, A Swingin’ Affair! and In the Wee Small Hours, the orchestras they put together for him in LA never swung properly under the records’ producers. There was just a bit too much space in the Capitol recordings — the music wasn’t pouring out of the speakers and demanding you move. Instead it approached nicely, asked you to dance and seemed to understand if you politely refused. If you want to better understand, listen to A Swingin’ Affair! and then Swing Along With Me! from his Reprise label back to back. They’re both great albums, but one is going to MAKE you move.

Whatever production problems plagued Frank at Capitol, the execs seemed to work it out for Darin, who got great musical charge behind his takes on popular standards. Of course, I think Bobby brought a lot of energy into the room himself, but listening to the bands on both artists’ Capitol recordings, Darin’s just seems to swing a little crisper.

It seems only right then, that both artists should have the right production behind them for this month’s “Vs.” in which they take on Duke Ellington’s fabulous “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” The song was originally written and recorded in 1945 and has been reinvented countless times since, but Frank and Bobby both had pretty fantastic go’s at it in 1962.

Darin’s version was plugged into his Capitol album Oh! Look at Me Now, and became one of his best loved recordings, while Sinatra plugged his take onto the Reprise album Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass, which had a band conducted by Neal Hefti (the guy who composed the original Batman theme).

Sinatra seemed to use his album as a way to stick it to Capitol — four of the album’s tracks (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “At Long Last Love,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me”) were songs he’d found great success with during his Capitol tenure, but they do admittedly get more bounce on Swingin’ Brass.

Darin, meanwhile, got his feet wet at Capitol with Oh! Look at Me Now, and perhaps it’s only fitting that the conductor assigned to his album was Billy May, a composer and arranger that worked with Sinatra for more than 30 years. The album played well to Darin’s hopes of escaping the rabid teen following he’d cultivated with his movies and songs like “Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover,” but it also garnered a lot of skepticism from critics that viewed him as a pretender to the throne already established and held by the likes of Sinatra and Dean Martin.

Still, Darin could more than hold is own, and if any proof is needed, look no further than “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” While Sinatra puts his trademark pauses and cool into his version, Darin pops along with the beat and keeps his vocal tightly wound over the backing track. The resulting effect is, believe it or not, much cooler than Sinatra.

Of course, that’s merely what I think. You?


Frank Sinatra vs. Bobby Darin
“I’m Beginning to See the Light”

Frank Sinatra – I’m Beginning to See the Light

Bobby Darin – I’m Beginning to See the Light


Baby, baby, baby, have mercy.

August 7, 2009

The stack of bills on my dining room table tells me I mustn’t be a slouch like last month and put “Vs.” off until the end of the month now.

So this month, our confrontation takes us out of Motown and across the Atlantic to that great time in Great Britain prior to Britpop but a little on the afterburn of the whole Madchester/dance scene.

Heady days to be sure, but if anyone knew how to morph and find direction (as they always do), it was Primal Scream. A lot critics will say they were much better at shapeshifting and being all kinds of amazing back in the late 1980s, all the way through the 1990s and right up to 2000’s XTRMNTR, but I still contend the albums they’ve done since the turn of the century all have fine, fine moments.

This is certainly a topic I’ve covered on this blog before, but I think you can pin fandom or dismissal of Primal Scream on your personal feelings for Bobby Gillespie. If you see him as a drugged out copycat with pipes not properly befitting of a rock and roll lead singer, you probably loved the chance to lash a good critical tongue in the direction of, say, Riot City Blues, but for my money (and all his transgressions), I’ve found very few rock and roll singers to be as soulful on the incredibly unspectacular terrain that Gillespie inhibits. First of all, he was the drummer for Jesus and the Mary Chain. He’s got a voice, but he doesn’t got a very thick one. He’s stole his dance moves off Mick Jagger, his swagger from the Faces and most of his shades from the MC5. The guy’s easy to hate. But there are also few singers out there who seem as invested in the “Yeah”s they let out in a song. So I’ll always be a fan.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Scream’s definining moment came with the 1990 single “Loaded,” which barely featured Gillespie at all (and is still available on this blog’s summer mix, for all you slackers). It was supposed to be the new direction for Madchester and the E’d up dance music that had all but drowned northern England at the end of the 1980s. Primal Scream’s ensuing 1991 album Screamadelica is probably their most fondly remembered LP and a statement that they had the bravado to make an album strong enough to back the monster single that preceded it.

Hope was foisted upon the drugged up Scots, who then hi-jacked it, imbibed a lot of drugs and moonshine, couped themselves up in America for a year and made the greatest album of 1973 19 years too late. And from then on out, Primal Scream became Britpop fan’s favorite argument starter.

But what everyone forgets about their greatest moment, “Loaded,” is that that song is simply a remix of what arguably might be their truly greatest song, “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” (and how great of a title is that?!).

The song originally appeared on their self-titled 1989 record, and is a perfect examination of why I regard Gillespie so highly. This is a pure blues/soul song touched up with a bit of guitar flare and northern soul. And while maybe a voice like Paul Weller’s and certainly a voice like Steve Marriott’s or (hell, let’s just go for it) Solomon Burke’s could have put this song into entirely different stratosphere’s, Gillespie’s voice wavers through this in a comparatively mundane fashion.

But the thing is, Bobby BELIEVES what he’s singing. He may not be that much better of a vocalist than the guy who always rips the place apart at your local karaoke night, but he believes in the power of rock and roll and the pain of a broken heart. That’s why even though all those other names might have done unfathomnable jobs to “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have,” Gillespie made it the perfect little pop song it is here. It’s just too bad that a 7-minute remix that, while admittedly awesome, cut all the guts out of the song is what ended up launching the band.

Fortunately, there were some people that appreciated the song, among them Swedish starlet and former Andy Bell spouse Idha, who covered the song as part of her 1994 mini-album A Woman in a Man’s World. The song gets a lilting acoustic finish, that doesn’t even come close to matching the passion of the original, but it’s also played with obvious reverence to the original — and that untraceable personal magic that Idha puts in just about everything she lends her voice to. Heck, if I started strumming “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” and any woman started singing along, let alone one with the looks or voice of Idha, I’d probably be ring shopping the next day.

Still, the original is the ultimate for me. For you?

Primal Scream vs. Idha
“I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have”

Primal Scream – I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have

Idha – I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have


Think of how exciting it would be if you should discover you felt like me.

July 24, 2009

I know what you’re thinking.

“Good God, man, there are but seven days left in this fair month of July and you’ve not yet done a ‘Vs.’ post this month!”

Well first, let me say, you speak very eloquently.

Second, let me say the computer where I put together the infamous Vs. photographs (that is, the computer that carries Photoshop, which I can only use in its most rudimentary way) was acting a bit wonky this month. Thankfully it’s functioning somewhat properly and you get the great artwork to go along with this month’s Vs. post.

And how exciting this month’s post is.

One of the most notorious things about Motown Records — especially in its heyday — was the label’s proclivity to leave really good stuff permanently sealed in the vaults. Amazing cuts from some of their top artists, amazing ALBUMS from some of their top artists (David Ruffin’s self titled 1971 album springs immediately to mind). 

Now, usually stuff was left in the vaults for probably a pretty good reason. It’s hard to think of a time between 1964 and 1972 when Motown wasn’t the label imprint on some chart topping song or album. Berry Gordy ran the company in a very formulaic way designed to sustain chart dominance — he even employed juries to listen to newly recorded cuts and determine whether it was a hit or not before the songs went out for release. 

And with powerhouses like Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield as just some of your core songwriters, you can imagine a lot of great stuff stockpiled quickly, and a lot of stuff just naturally got swept underneath the rug while it was waiting — “The Tears of a Clown” didn’t become a major hit until about five years after it was recorded.

Still, the vault raiders that have since made special, limited-time-only releases of albums like Ruff’s aforementioned solo album and compilations like A Cellarful of Motown, have made fans simultaneously thank God for letting someone unearth all these forgotten treasures and curse God (or Motown execs) who thought some of this stuff was not up to snuff the first time around.

The greatest example of this has to be a song called “All I Do is Think About You,” written by Stevie Wonder and originally recorded at the end of 1965. The song is a mid-tempo ballad, bolstered by a signature in-the-pocket drumbeat, lovely strings and angelic backing vocals. 

David Ruffin’s girlfriend and Marvin Gaye’s foil Tammi Terrell added her vocals to the backing track in January 1966 and delivered (what pretty much anyone who’s heard the song can tell you) a perfect pop single. Three minutes in length with a wistful and pained vocal, “All I Do is Think About You” was probably the best unrequited love song ever committed to tape at the time.

But for whatever reason, Motown execs blanched at the recording. It’s hard to ascertain why. Maybe they wanted to keep Tammi focused on duets with Marvin. Maybe they wanted a good vehicle for Brenda Holloway, who’d experienced some amount of success with label when she debuted in 1964, but had not managed to keep a successful run of hits like other women on the label.

So the engineers kept the backing track recorded in December 1965, removed Tammi’s vocals from the mix and let Brenda have a shot at singing the song.

Where Tammi took the song to a wistful and innocent place, Brenda inserted a bit more pain and anguish into proceedings (not surprising when you figure her big hit for the label up to that point was the heartwrenching “Every Little Bit Hurts”). 

It still was a kickass affair, but again Motown did nothing with the song. Both Tammi’s and Brenda’s versions were shelved and the song was completely forgotten about for more than a decade before Stevie Wonder himself dusted it off, rewrote a few lyrics and gave it a disco feel for his 1977 album Hotter Than July.

It’s hard to dismiss anything by Stevie Wonder, but all it takes is one listen to the versions that were never previously heard to prove that Stevie was way out of his league doing his own song. 

Thankfully, Tammi’s version found the light of day on the Cellarful of Motown anthology and Brenda’s surfaced on the Brenda Holloway Anthology

What you have here, then, is a “Vs.” first — two versions of the song with the exact same backing track. So comparison really comes down to the two ladies’ respective deliveries. 

I’m crazy about Brenda Holloway. I think she was the most underrated and underutilized weapon in Motown’s arsenal, but really, Tammi’s version is perfection. It’s the innocence in her delivery that really sells this song. 

But that’s just me. What says you?



Tammi Terrell vs. Brenda Holloway
“All I Do is Think About You” 

Tammi Terrell – All I Do is Think About You

Brenda Holloway – All I Do is Think About You


I said, “Please don’t talk to strangers, baby,” but she always do.

June 4, 2009

Earlier this year, the Huffington Post ran an extensive interview with Bob Dylan in advance of his latest album, and got him to open up about some of his favorite songwriters. A beatific smile spread across my face when Bob dropped Randy Newman’s name.

“What can you say? I like his early songs, “Sail Away,” “Burn Down the Cornfield,” “Louisiana,” where he kept it simple. Bordello songs. I think of him as the Crown Prince, the heir apparent to Jelly Roll Morton. His style is deceiving. He’s so laid back that you kind of forget he’s saying important things. Randy’s sort of tied to a different era like I am.”
-Bob Dylan

Newman’s been a favorite of mine for years. I love the humor and social commentary in songs like “Sail Away” and “Political Science.” I love the heartbreaking sentimentality in stuff like “Louisiana 1927” and “Dayton, Ohio – 1903.” But more recently, I’ve just really grown to love his smartass comments about love and women in songs like “Shame,” “The Girls In My Life, Pt. 1” and the song that I’ve basically adopted as my own gospel, “Lover’s Prayer.”

I suppose it makes sense in that even with songwriters like Dylan and Billy Bragg who have a lot of things to say about society, the working class and politics, I always gravitate to their songs dealing with love. It’s not that I can’t identify with songs about workers or politics. I just find it a lot easier to identify with songs about relationships.

And both unmarried and continuing to age, I find it very easy to identify with the songs about failed or tumultuous relationships.

All of this leads us into the month’s edition of “Vs.” wherein we look at one of Randy’s better-known laments, “Have You Seen My Baby?”

The interesting thing about Newman as opposed to Dylan is that although a lot of people like to cover his songs (think momentarily about the many stabs at “Feels Like Home” or “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”), few artists tend to better Randy’s versions. Not blessed with the most golden of vocal cords, Newman’s voice is unique in a Dylan-esque way, but that uniqueness highlights what he’s singing almost like nobody else can. The range is limited and it sounds like a cynical guy talking at you who’s either winding you up for the enjoyment of everyone else at the bar or a simpleton that might or ready to give a hearty “…and f*ck you” to you and everyone else in there.

So I guess it’s either very funny or very appropriate the Ringo Starr was able to interpret some of Randy Newman’s lyrics better than almost everyone in the course of history that’s tried (a list which includes Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield and Harry Nilsson, mind you).

Ringo’s personality — even today with the “Stop writing me letters” BS — has never been one of cynicism. It’s been one of charm, aloofness and almost painful affability that makes you want to be his best friend for the stories and jokes. And maybe it’s that kind of personality that makes “Have You Seen My Baby?” even more effective in his hands than it does in Newman’s own.

The song was originally part of Newman’s 1970 album, 12 Songs (solid album, but worth checking out for “Lover’s Prayer” alone) and explains the anxiety of a man somewhat attached to a female muse that cavorts with gypsies, milkmen and any number of strangers. Newman’s delivery gives it that grumbly “motherf*cker…” undertone, which is not without its merits and I think is relatable for the countless men now and forevermore who will sooner or later find themselves in a comparable position.

But when Ringo covered it on his 1973 album, Ringo (more famous for being the first post-breakup album to include all four Beatles), he came at it with his genuine Ringo-ness. The thing about this is that instead of conjuring up the “I know the feeling” sympathies, Newman’s does, it conjures up actual “Oh, poor thing. I want to take care of you” sympathies. And it does this despite the fact that Ringo’s backing band is a lot tighter and willing to rock on the song than Newman’s was.

As big of a Newman fan as I am, I actually think Ringo delivers a much more effective version of the song. Maybe the key to a good Randy Newman cover, then, is a general inability to sing?

That’s just me. What says you?


Randy Newman Vs. Ringo Starr
“Have You Seen My Baby?”

Randy Newman – Have You Seen My Baby?

Ringo Starr – Have You Seen My Baby?


And I seem to find the happiness I seek.

May 8, 2009

Right-o, so I turn my head for a few days and completely forget that a new month is upon us and that we need to roll on with a new set of this blog’s monthly series, and the first of which — as always — is “Vs.”

This month we take a look at two 1950s-era readings of a song written in the 1930s, Irving Berlin’s famed “Cheek to Cheek.”

The song first found prominence in the 1935 movie “Top Hat,” in which leading man and budding multi-talent Fred Astaire delivered a performance that would ultimately end up in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000. 

The song’s gentle lull and wistfully romantic lyrics led to it becoming a standard for almost every up-and-coming jazz or easy listening artist for 30 years thereafter and everyone from Frank Sinatra to Chet Atkins to Peggy Lee to Taco has put their own spin on it since.

The Omaha-native Astaire revisited the song in 1952 on The Astaire Storyan album conceived by Norman Granz, who would later go on to found the jazz mothership label, Verve Records. On the album, Granz put Astaire in front of a hot group of jazz musicians led by pianist Oscar Peterson, as they wound their way through several of the songs the leading man had main famous in his celluloid career.

The album has it’s charms — particularly in listening to Fred try (and sometimes fail) in singing with a jazz delivery, but the guy’s charisma still trickles through your speakers to this day, so it’s hard to knock it too much. “Cheek to Cheek” sat snug in a spot about halfway through the album, and while it doesn’t have the tightness of the version he delivered in “Top Hat,” it has a very lazy grace about it. He also concedes the last half of the song to the jazz outfit accompanying him and lets them take the song out on an extended musical stretch. 

Four years later, jazz giants Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald took a swipe at the song on their 1956 album, Ella and Louis, their first official co-starring album, released (appropriately enough) on Verve Records.

As with several of the songs on the Ella and Louis albums, the song lets the spotlight shine equally on its two names, so while this means both Armstrong and Fitzgerald each gets to sing the song within the course of just under six minutes, each delivers their own unique stamp on the song, and while there’s not much room for musical improvisation, the vocal deliveries are something in which the listener can just revel in time and again.

I still contend that nothing contends with the scratchy audio relic of Astaire’s 1935 recording, but of the 1950s versions, I have to favor Ella and Louis over Fred’s second go-round. It’s not a really a knock against Mr. Astaire, just me being a complete sucker for the audible charms in Ella and Louis singing it to each other.

Of course, that’s just me. Your thoughts?


Fred Astaire vs. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
“Cheek to Cheek”

Fred Astaire – Cheek to Cheek

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Cheek to Cheek


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