Archive for April 24th, 2012
Presley’s Jukebox: Bob Dylan, Bobby Darin, Rick Nelson, Jerry Butler Shine on “Elvis Heard Them Here First”
Though Elvis Presley rose through the ranks of Sun Records alongside artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins (his fellow members of the “Million Dollar Quartet,” if you will), Elvis and Jerry Lee differed from Johnny and Carl in that they primarily leaned upon the songs of others. Cash and Perkins predated the pop-rock singer/songwriter revolution of the next decade, and in fact, harkened back to an older tradition in country and blues of performing your own material.
Yet by the time the King of Rock and Roll came out of the army, returned from Hollywood and reinvented himself on the concert stage, much had changed. Armed with their guitars, Bob Dylan and The Beatles had proved that singers didn’t need a cadre of professional writers to craft their songs, whether from New York’s Brill Building or Nashville’s Music Row. Soon, “singer/songwriter” would enter the lexicon, upping the emotional ante for these “confessional” writers. “Covers” of existing hits were largely the province of adult-aimed “MOR” singers like Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis. Where did this leave Elvis Presley? Ace Records makes a compelling case with the new compilation Elvis Heard Them Here First that Presley simply continued to do what he had done all along: synthesize strains from a wide range of genres and songs into material that was always uniquely “Elvis.”
The 24-track compilation is based on Ace’s You Heard It Here First series, which presents original versions of songs made famous by other interpretive singers. Producer Tony Rounce acknowledges in his introductory essay that the playing field was rather wide. Even during those early Sun years, all but three of Elvis’ recordings on the label were of previously-performed songs. Rather than limiting himself to one era, Rounce collects songs recorded by Elvis between his 1959 return from the Army and his death in 1977. The disc avoids the overly familiar (Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” etc.) and offers up a fascinating journey through the records that just might have inspired Elvis to turn in some of his best vocals.
What songs will you hear? Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »
It’d be wrong to say that the fine folks at Universal Music Enterprises are doing it to death when it comes to James Brown; there’s been a solid two decades of box sets, compilations and reissues to enjoy, and that list is only going to get longer with the news that a Live at The Apollo box set is coming out later this year.
But there is one brief, substantial period of the Godfather of Soul’s career that’s often not as focused on: a brief but bright pop crossover in the mid-’80s on Scotti Bros. Records with a cheesy but fun hit single that inadvertently paved the way for his critical reappraisal. The song was “Living in America,” from the film Rocky IV, and the album was 1986′s Gravity, now due for an expanded reissue from Big Break Records.
By 1985, James Brown had more than his share of ups (some of the greatest funk and soul singles throughout the 1960s and early 1970s) and downs (the expiration of his contract with Polydor in 1981 and subsequent reduction of his touring schedule). He turned in a great performance of the gospel standard “The Old Landmark” for 1980′s The Blues Brothers, and he guested on Afrika Bambaataa’s “Unity” – arguably, one of the first singles to acknowledge the Godfather’s influence on the nascent genre of hip-hop – but things were quiet for awhile, with a few independent releases coming and going.
“Living in America” was an out-of-nowhere opportunity, reportedly requested personally by Rocky IV star/writer/director Sylvester Stallone. The song was performed by Brown himself within the movie, to introduce retired champ Apollo Creed’s exhibition bout against fearsome Soviet boxer Ivan Drago. The song’s writers were Charlie Midnight and Dan Hartman, both well known for their work on soundtrack hits, notably Hartman’s Top 10 hit “I Can Dream About You” for the Streets of Fire soundtrack in 1984. The duo would receive a Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Song for “America.”
Midnight and Hartman would serve as writer-producers for all of Gravity, enlisting a stunning stable of backing talent, including Brown’s longtime horn player Maceo Parker, lead keyboardist Steve Winwood, guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and backing vocals from Alison Moyet. Key tracks included Top 40 R&B single “Gravity” and Top 10 R&B hit “How Do You Stop,” later covered by Joni Mitchell and Seal in 1994.
In true BBR form, this new edition includes a heap of bonus tracks, effectively doubling the album to 16 tracks. Remixes of “Living in America,” “Gravity,” “How Do You Stop” and album cut “Goliath” all appear, along with single edits and an instrumental of “America.”
The expanded disc is out in the U.K. May 21. Hit the jump for the full track list!
If the news of Edsel’s expanded reissues of the Sugar discography wasn’t enough to get your power-pop-loving heart aflutter, there’s more Bob Mould from where that came from. The label is releasing, on the same day, a bonus-laden set that combines three of Mould’s post-Sugar albums.
When Sugar split up in 1995, Mould – known equally well as one-third of power-pop legends Hüsker Dü – got to work on his next musical project, a self-titled album on which he played all the instruments. A rougher-hewn album than Sugar’s output in terms of production, Bob Mould (sometimes known as “the hubcap album” for its cover art) is no less melodic than the others. (Trivia buffs take note: an outtake from this period called “Dog on Fire” was later recorded by They Might Be Giants and has long served as the theme to Comedy Central’s popular The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.)
For 1998′s The Last Dog and Pony Show, Mould returned to play nearly every instrument (Matt Hannon handled drums, while cellist Alison Chesley contributed to a few tracks) and would bring to the table songs in the similar vein as his previous works, with a few teases toward electronica, a genre Mould would explore more on subsequent album. The similarities to the past were there for a reason, though; Mould announced before the release of the album that it would be among the last of its kind by him (hence the title), and vowed that the ensuing tour would be his last with a full band. (He kept that promise through 2005.)
The three-disc compilation of these albums also includes five B-sides, including two live tracks, appended to Bob Mould as well as a bonus disc of a live show from Mould’s 1998 tour recorded in London. (Mould’s label Granary Music first released the disc in 2002.)
The newly-remastered set features 32 pages of liner notes featuring rare photos and a new interview with Mould conducted by Keith Cameron of MOJO. It will be released in the U.K. on June 18, following the three weeks in which Edsel will release the expanded Sugar albums.
Check out the full track details after the jump.
Though there’s no one formula for creating a great song, there’s no denying the success of the method that flourished first in New York’s Tin Pan Alley (28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, for those wondering) and later a bit uptown in and around the Brill Building (1619 Broadway near 49th Street). A couple of blocks away at 1650 Broadway at 51st Street, during the halcyon days of the 1960s, you would have found the home of Aldon Music, and the team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. “Aldon Music has been described as boot camp for songwriters. That it was. And yes, we did write in cubicles,” King confirms in her recent, acclaimed memoir A Natural Woman. “The proximity of each cubicle to the next added an ‘echo’ factor. While I was playing the song on which Gerry and I were working, we heard only our song. As soon as I stopped playing, we could hear the song on which the team in the next cubicle was working. Not surprisingly, with each of us trying to write the follow-up to an artist’s career hit, everyone’s song sounded similar to everyone else’s…” But King doesn’t find this a bad thing at all: “[The] competitive atmosphere fostered by Donnie [Kirshner] spurred each team on to greater effort, which resulted in better songs.”
Hot on the heels of the publication of A Natural Woman, two indispensable new releases are revisiting those days of 1650 Broadway and proving just how right Carole King is. The music you’ll find on The Legendary Demos (Rockingale/Hear Music HRM-33681-02) and Something Good from the Goffin and King Songbook (Ace CDCHD 1327) amounts to one of the most joyful noises in popular music, and each title addresses a crucial part of the 9-to-5 Brill Building/Aldon Music process. The former makes available, for the very first time, the demos with which Carole King presented her newest songs to artists like The Monkees, The Everly Brothers and Bobby Vee. The latter includes Goffin and King’s songs in released versions by those very artists and many more.
The Legendary Demos, of course, starts at the very beginning, but it hasn’t arrived without its share of surprises. King’s publishing demos were well-known up and down Broadway; as producer Lou Adler accurately observes in the liner notes, “Within her piano, you could hear a string part, or another background part, and she did the background parts!” These seminal recordings, dating from 1961-1970, have long been requested, but until now have eluded commercial release. The good news is that all thirteen tracks show King at the absolute peak of her form. The bad news is that there are only thirteen tracks (compare with the twenty-six on Something Good!) and the album’s total running time is just under forty minutes. These songs – culled from some 118 hits penned by King – are just the tip of the iceberg.
The most eyebrow-raising aspect of the album may be the presence of five demos from 1971’s Tapestry, meaning that listeners are likely already familiar with King’s renditions of the songs. (A sixth song from Tapestry, “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman,” is heard in a galvanizing demo intended for Aretha Franklin, predating the Tapestry album.) The biggest thrill of Legendary Demos comes from hearing Carole King sing The Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” or The Righteous Brothers’ “Just Once in My Life.” Good as these demos of “It’s Too Late” and “You’ve Got a Friend” are, one has the nagging wish that they had been saved for a Tapestry: The Demo release, allowing King’s versions of songs written for others to take the spotlight here.
King’s gifts as a vocalist truly come to the fore on these intimate demos. She never imitated a singer for whom she’s “pitching” a song (in fact, some of those singers ended up imitating King’s demo!) but adopted different tones and phrasing for each title that might recall the artist for whom the song is intended. More likely, it was just intuition of knowing which artist might be most suited to a particular composition and tailoring that demo to his or her strengths. Though the approach is non-chronological here, it still traces the journey from staff songwriter to singer/songwriter. Long before “confessional” songwriting was in vogue, honesty and believability was at the core of the Goffin and King songbook. Goffin had the knack for verbalizing the emotions of kids his own age; Goffin was just 20 and King 17 when they married in 1959. Although Legendary Demos also contains songs with lyrics by Howard Greenfield (“Crying in the Rain”), Toni Stern (“It’s Too Late”) and King herself (“You’ve Got a Friend,” “Tapestry,” “Way Over Yonder”), the early songs with Goffin are the heart of this collection.
Hit the jump for much more on both new sets! Read the rest of this entry »
Carole King, The Legendary Demos (Rockingale/Hear Music)
Who wouldn’t want to hear early recordings of some of the greatest pop songs ever recorded? I know I would.
The late Monkee’s first post-band project released on CD and expanded with bonus tracks, as well as a CD/DVD of the band’s penultimate 1987 album with two bonus tracks and the group’s videography.
T. Rex, Electric Warrior: Deluxe Edition (Polydor)
The glam classic is greatly expanded overseas, with a bonus disc of unreleased demos and a DVD of rare performances. This is likely going to stay import-only, so get it while it’s hot.
Louis Armstrong, Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours (Smithsonian Folkways)
One of Satchmo’s last recordings ever, a short set with surprise bliss from his trumpet.
Cilla Black, Completely Cilla 1963-1973 (EMI)
The U.K. pop singer gets a swinging box set: five CDs of George Martin-produced tunes and a DVD of rare BBC television appearances.
ABBA, The Visitors: Deluxe Edition (Universal Music Catalogue)
The Swedish pop icons’ final album, reissued as a CD/DVD set, features plenty of extras, including an unreleased track heard in its entirety for the first time anywhere.