Archive for Tongue and Groove

Up seven notches

Progress continues:

The Great Divide reaches Number 42 on Billboard's Dance Music Chart

Meanwhile, it’s back to the covers, this time a song first recorded by Katy Perry and released a whole two weeks ago. Whatever else you might say about Rebecca Black, she does pay attention to what The Industry is doing.

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Trapeze be unto you

I’d wandered over to the iTunes Store for something or other, and got to wondering: “Geez, how long have I been doing this?”

We turn back the clock ten years and change, and find this statement:

I opened up the Store and said, “If they have [insert song information here], I will sign up, and I will purchase that track, and no doubt there will be others to follow.”

They had that track. It was, in fact, “The West Wind Circus,” a narrative by Adam Miller that Helen Reddy cut back in ’73 for her Long Hard Climb LP; it has stuck in the back of my head for lo, these many years, but never pushed its way far enough to the front for me to track down either the LP or the current CD release. (Yeah, yeah, I know: Helen Reddy. Forget those 45s you threw away; this is a lovely song, beautifully sung.) Ninety-nine cents well spent, I’d say.

There are a couple of live versions on YouTube, but they stay so close to the studio-recorded original that you might as well listen to the LP track, which led off side two:

“Is that all there is to the circus?” Peggy Lee had asked four years earlier. Well, yeah, if you can retain your ironic detachment. Not here, though.


That southern Northern Soul

And the twain shall meet somewhere in between:

I grew up listening to polka, since I grew up in Northeastern Ohio, where there was a large Polish-and-other-Slavic immigrant community. (In fact, until I was in college, I just assumed everywhere had a radio station that played polka and broadcast in Polish for at least part of the day. Well, where I am now there are channels that broadcast Norteño music and broadcast in Spanish part of the day, so that’s similar — a lot of Norteño is polka-influenced.)

And in turn, Norteño, once inflected by other American styles, gave rise to something called Tejano. Did any of this reach the Anglo audience? I give you the Sir Douglas Quintet, practitioners of the Norteño two-step polka beat as filtered through a standard 12-bar blues, who achieved a #13 hit in 1965:

Some background information on Doug Sahm and the band here. Note that despite the lyric, “she,” at least in the video, isn’t much of a mover at all.

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Thank you for the music

In 1974, I was in northern Turkey, assembling a hi-fi system when I wasn’t toting a rifle or doing other soldier-ish things. One of the discs I used to blast at overly high volume was the Waterloo album by ABBA, crisply recorded and full of pop hooks.

Forty-odd years later, Waterloo remains my favorite ABBA album, but the song I play most from it is not the verve-y title track, but this comparatively obscure number from side two, with its occasionally weird time signature and its gently cooing vocals:

It may be the least-played, least-covered ABBA track ever. I don’t care.


Knowing when to hold ’em

Long before this year’s Superb Owl, I’d learned never to underestimate Lady Gaga — especially not if she’s doing an acoustic set:

In case you were thinking “Poker Face” was some kind of mechanical dance tune, fercrissake.

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Took about six, actually

The first two, circa 1972, were singer Lyn Collins and producer-writer James Brown, in a semi-massive hit called “Think (About It),” circa 1972, which floundered on the pop chart but became a legitimate Top Ten soul record. Its staying power was demonstrated sixteen years later when Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock turned it into “It Takes Two,” old-school hip-hop of the highest grade.

In 1988, when “It Takes Two” forced its way onto the dance floor, Carly Rae Jepsen was not quite three years old, and Lil Yachty hadn’t even been thought of yet. At the behest of Target, they gave it their all:

Sanitary, as Target demands, but still James Brown-level danceable. (That spectral-sounding opening line, incidentally, is a shout-out to producer Mike Will Made It.)


At the end of Electric Avenue

Roger Green’s slice-of-life story yesterday centered on Eddy Grant’s humongous hit record “Electric Avenue,” to which I tacked on a bit of marketing history. It gave me an idea, and I stumbled down several roads that didn’t go anywhere before finding this exquisite bit of silliness. From 1998, this is Eurodance combo Duck, from beautiful downtown Serbia, with “Kako si mogao” (“How could you?”):

This is, of course, a rewrite of Eddy Grant’s “Romancing the Stone,” a song written for the 20th Century-Fox movie of the same name but not used therein.


Duly quarter-noted

The Oklahoma City Philharmonic stuck this up on their Facebook page with the promise that it would improve your dating life 110 percent:

S'up babe?

After that much sightreading, I could use a rest.

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It’s on your shoulder

The Beatles arrived in America in February 1964, and the earth twisted and shouted on its axis.

Now the Fab Four, their heirs and assigns, and whoever else might be involved, have somehow allowed a bunch of promotional videos out of the vault. This, for perhaps obvious reasons, is one of the longer ones.

I’m not absolutely certain, but I think they’re playing over a copy of the original master tape, minus the vocals. (With McCartney on piano and lead, there’s no place for a bass player, and indeed, the bass is mixed out of the master.)

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Ed aims to please

Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill,” from his album ÷ — yes, that’s the name of it — is an atmospheric ballad about growing up in Framlingham, Suffolk. All the more reason, I think, that it should be covered by a half-Indian guy from Cincinnati and a half-Mexican girl from southern California, right?

(For comparison, here’s Ed’s original.)

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Girl with a uke

Cover art for Perfectly Imperfect by Grace VanderWaalIt’s probably a good thing that you can’t trademark a title, because Perfectly Imperfect, as an album title, has been around the bend more than once. (See, for instance, Elle Varner’s first album, which came out in 2012.) That said, I’m not about to complain about seeing it on this five-song EP by Wunderkind Grace VanderWaal, winner of last year’s America’s Got Talent; it’s that good, and yet it may rub you the wrong way.

I think the issue, for me, is that Grace’s singing voice is crisp and pure, but the way she uses it is somewhat mannered; she’s writing at the level of Taylor Swift, which is some dandy writing indeed, but I can’t help but wonder if she learned to sing by listening to old Tom Waits records. (Then again, there are a lot worse role models than Tom Waits.) The big hit, “I Don’t Know My Name,” appears, as it should, as Track 1; perhaps the charmer here is “Beautiful Thing,” co-written with producer Greg Wells and featuring none of Grace’s trademark ukulele at all, only Wells’ piano work. Grace’s vocal here blends sprightly youth with the world-weariness of us old folk without ever sounding like anyone other than Grace. I keep reminding myself that she’s just turned thirteen, and I wonder if there’s a ceiling for her; but after hearing some of the covers and new songs she’s sent up to her YouTube channel — named, disarmingly, “Oh Never mind it’s just me” — I’m inclined to think that, for now anyway, the sky’s the limit.

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Thirteen times two

The night Grace VanderWaal won America’s Got Talent, Simon Cowell told her she was the next Taylor Swift. And yeah, she had kind of a Swiftian hairdo at the time, which may have influenced Cowell just a little.

And then last night I went looking for pictures of Grace, now all of thirteen, and Bing served up rather a hefty proportion of Taylor Swift shots. (An example of what I mean.)

Oh, I went ahead and bought Grace’s EP Perfectly Imperfect. Remind me to put out something resembling a review. Not on it: this cover of Alessia Cara’s “Scars to Your Beautiful.”

This is apparently not the guitar Shawn Mendes gave her.


Into something good

The Best of Herman's Hermits: The 50th Anniversary AnthologyOf all the Sixties groups I can name — and believe me, I can name a heck of a lot of them — Herman’s Hermits got just about the least benefit of stereo recording techniques, largely because producer Mickie Most didn’t believe in such a thing: he was a singles man, and singles were mixed to mono because singles were always mixed to mono, and he did much the same thing for the Animals and for Donovan and even for Lulu. (Most’s only real rival here was Joe Meek, and Meek, who died in 1967, is undeservedly unknown in the States; the Yardbirds got similar nonsupport from Giorgio Gomelsky, who died last week.) So a 66-track compilation with, um, 66 tracks in stereo is going way beyond the call of duty; 58 of them have appeared in mono only for half a century.

More astonishing than that is that these 66 tracks appear on a mere two CDs; the legendary German reissue label Bear Family managed to cram more than 87 minutes on each of these discs. (The CD spec originally called for 74 minutes, later boosted to 80.) Better yet, they hired Ron Furmanek to do tape research and produce, and Furmanek is one of the best in the biz. A lot of the early stuff is two-track because that’s all there was; producers of this particular era figured that this was the last step before a proper mono mix, and that’s what they kept.

The songs, or at least the hits anyway, you already know. A few have additional studio talk or countoffs from the original tapes; “Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” runs out to a cold ending instead of fading at 2:46 like the 45. The booklet runs 140 pages, and explains several things it didn’t occur to me to wonder about, like why the Hermits recorded old R&B stuff like “Silhouettes” and Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” Both these songs, it turns out, were controlled by American gung-ho exec Allen Klein, who took on Most’s representation in the States, and later managed both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. No wonder latter-day issues, when you could find them, came out on Klein’s ABKCO label — in mono, of course.

The band’s fractious post-1970 existence led to no hits, so the collection runs out in 1970. (The last American chart item, “Something’s Happening,” was recorded in late 1968 and released in 1969.) If you remember Herman and the Hermits, this is a pricey way to get all their tunes; a 2004 ABKCO issue called Retrospective contains the hits for about half as much — in mono, of course.

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Pants of incendiary nature

The Castaways’ original version of “Liar, Liar” ran eight or nine seconds short of two minutes and ended with a nice, cold thump, as though the prevaricator in question had finally been silenced.

But that was 1965. Twenty-three years later, Debbie Harry covered the song for the soundtrack of Married to the Mob, and despite being just as speedy as the Castaways, she takes almost three minutes to bring things to an acceptable closing. Like anyone wanted Blondie Herself to disappear in a hurry.

As mobsters go, these are pretty cartoonish, but then again, Married to the Mob was supposed to be funny.

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To do that doo-wop once more

Alan Freed’s colossal reputation is based largely on the fact that he invariably passed up seemingly antiseptic white cover versions in favor of the original recordings by black acts. And Freed’s aesthetic judgment was largely borne out; the number of white covers that surpassed the black originals was vanishingly small. I feel I can make a case for exactly two, one of which was Elvis’ take on “Hound Dog,” which leaves Big Mama Thornton’s blues shouter in its high-velocity dust.

This is the other.

What’s particularly cool about this Diamonds gig is that Maurice Williams, who wrote the darn thing and recorded it first with his Gladiolas, gets to sit in. I’d like to think Alan Freed would have enjoyed it.


Roughly half of fifteen

Xia Vigor is Taylor Swift, half-sized:

Background, sort of:

Hailing from Exeter in England, Xia is a proper star in the Philippines, with a big social media following and a career in movies and TV. In fact, this isn’t her first turn on Your Face Sounds Familiar. Xia previously did a performance as Selena Gomez, covering the singer’s hit “Love You Like A Love Song.”

For some reason, this girl of seven makes me think of a Tom Lehrer pronouncement: “It’s people like that who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.”

Professor Lehrer was thirty-seven at the time.


At 5:00 it’s much too crowded

The music business, it seems, is drowning in irony. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, one of the definitive soul-music production teams and the proprietors of the legendary Philadelphia International label, started out producing a bunch of white guys. Admittedly, they were white guys from Philadelphia, but on AM radio they sounded pretty darn black.

Gamble says he wrote the words to “Expressway to Your Heart” while on an actual expressway: the Schuylkill (“Sure-Kill”) Expressway through Philly. He had a date that night with Dee Dee Sharp (“Mashed Potato Time”), about whom I haven’t written nearly enough.

The passing of Soul Survivors vocalist Richie Ingui last Friday prompts the posting of this live track from 2011:

Contrary to the lyrics, there was always room for them.

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Boost your shelf-esteem

Fourteen “Weird Al” Yankovic albums in one humongous (and tuneful!) box set:

Yes, even UHF.


And still more covers

Jon Bellion’s single “All Time Low” came out this past spring. You may be absolutely certain that Rebecca Black knows it inside and out:

With Max Ehrich. Note: Some of the language approaches saltiness.


A Memphis story or two

My life began with country music, my dad’s choice of background noise, long before I ever heard any of that rock and/or roll stuff. When I broke away — or, more precisely, ran away — I didn’t abandon country entirely, since various C&W songs still made the Top 40 charts, but I never had quite the same emotional connection to it; as I once noted, country never, ever made me cry.

Until, of course, it did:

Tanya’s about a year off here: “What’s Your Mama’s Name” came out in 1973, when she was fourteen. The narrative here, provided by Dallas Frazier with Earl Montgomery, is clearly first cousin to the one Chuck Berry concocted, um, fourteen years earlier. Both are set in Memphis; both are sagas of broken homes. But Chuck never made me bawl; his song ends on a more or less hopeful note. Tanya’s far sadder tale still makes me lose it, forty-some-odd years later.


And as I still walk on

One small item from the Wikipedia article on the Traveling Wilburys:

[Jeff] Lynne and [Tom] Petty co-wrote a song with Del Shannon for Shannon’s album Rock On! (1991), which Lynne produced. This spawned rumors that Shannon would join the group.

Downside of this: that album appeared posthumously, Del having taken his own life in 1990.

That said, Lynne probably knew the Del Shannon oeuvre as well as anyone; the 2001 reissue of the Electric Light Orchestra album Discovery featured a suitably ELO-ized cover of “Little Town Flirt.” But before that track was pulled from the vault and completed, the Wilburys took a shot at the greatest Del Shannon song of them all:

“Runaway” was my favorite song 55 years ago, and you’ll have a tough time dislodging it today. And tomorrow would have been Del Shannon’s 82nd birthday.

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Potential seizure warning

If Nine Inch Nails sounded any more industrial than this, they’d have to be inspected by OSHA. “Burning Bright,” the closer from the Not the Actual Events EP, sounds very much like a throwback to the Downward Spiral and Fragile days, and the video will hurt your face so much I’m not even embedding it here. (Here’s the link.) At the very least, Atticus Ross, now credited as a full member of NIN, grasps the original NIN Zeitgeist, and on this particular track, Dave Navarro adds some delightfully discordant guitar work.

In terms of Halo numbers, Not the Actual Events seems to be number 29, with 30 reserved for an extended instrumental version of The Fragile, currently scheduled for early 2017.

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Sing it out

In 2013, the contemporary-Christian group Cloverton set some Christmas-y lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s evergreen “Hallelujah,” which apparently didn’t bother Cohen’s record label until it started to sell in its own right.

And afterward, the new lyrics went largely unheard, until this:

Where this came from:

A 10-year-old girl from Northern Ireland has wowed people around the world after a video of her singing in her school choir went viral.

The video of the choir’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — recorded at the school’s Christmas show — has gained almost 170,000 views in three days.

Kaylee Rodgers, from Donaghadee, County Down, has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but singing has helped her build up her confidence.

“For a child who came in P4 [age 7-8] and wouldn’t really talk, wouldn’t really read out in class, to stand and perform in front of an audience is amazing. It takes a lot of effort on Kaylee’s part,” Colin Millar, principal of Killard House, told UTV.

And yet she somehow makes it look easy.

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Yeah, it’s a wild hurricane

Sometimes you need something like this to clear your head:

Not quite the way I remember “Highway Star,” but worth noting on its own, and Emily Hastings’ YouTube channel is full of comparable noises.


Bye now

Things worth knowing about Phoenix band Farewell, My Love:

  • Yes, that comma belongs there, though one is tempted just to call them FML (and their Web site is
  • They went through two lead vocalists before drummer Chad Kowal took over the mic.
  • The lead guitarist is Röbby Creasey. With the umlaut and everything.
  • This video is very creepy:

Weirdly melodic, though. So is this, also from their Above It All album:

Yeah, it’s Goth, but it’s an accessible sort of Goth.



Tim Curry’s one and only Billboard chart hit, reaching #91 in 1979:

No one else, I suspect, would have even attempted to work all three Sitwell siblings — Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell — into a song at all, let alone into the very first verse.

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How would they know in California?

Still, this song is de rigueur this time of year:

Frank Loesser, who wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” sold it to MGM, which used it for the film Neptune’s Daughter in 1949; it subsequently won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Which sort of puts the lie to the claim that it’s all about the date rape:

Although some critical analyses of the song have highlighted parts of the lyrics such as “What’s in this drink?” and his unrelenting pressure to stay despite her repeated suggestions that she should go home, others noted that cultural expectations of the time period were such that women were not socially permitted to spend the night with a boyfriend or fiancé, and that the female speaker states that she wants to stay, while “what’s in this drink” was a common idiom of the period used to rebuke social expectations by blaming one’s actions on the influence of alcohol.

Which is by way of saying that you probably couldn’t have put out a song like this in, say, 2011, the year Rebecca Black rose to prominence.


Something you can always have

I brought this up on TTAC (!) yesterday, and it occurs to me that it might be, at the very least, timely.

So be it. Lore Sjöberg’s Reznorized Christmas carols, “Nine Inch Noels”:

Hint: Don’t play the bit from “Closer” at work.


Staying here for now

Eddie Holland’s younger brother is Brian Holland, and the guy in the middle of the collective is Lamont Dozier. As Holland-Dozier-Holland, they produced all manner of hits for Motown, and more for themselves after leaving. Everybody knows this. Not everybody, but a decent number of folks, know that Eddie Holland was the primary wordsmith of H-D-H, and that he had had a small-scale singing career, though he chose not to pursue it: stage fright, apparently.

That said, Eddie Holland came up with some dandy 45s, though his biggest hit sounds like Jackie Wilson — I mean, exactly like Jackie Wilson — and was written, not by Holland, but by Barrett Strong and Mickey Stevenson.

“Jamie” made it to #30 in Billboard, Holland’s only trip to the Top 40. What would happen if Eddie Holland had the full H-D-H machinery behind him? This:

Died at #76 in 1963. But “Leaving Here” was never, ever forgotten. Ask Lemmy:

For that matter, ask The Who:

Or head a few miles west of Detroit to Ann Arbor, home of the Rationals:

The Rationals had one chart item, but this wasn’t it; their cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” slid up to #92 for one week. They’re still playing it, too.

The amazing thing, of course, is that guys never, ever take Eddie’s advice, which is why all these fine girls are moving away.

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Sedaka is still back

You might think that Neil Sedaka, who’s been making records for nearly 60 years, might have faded out by now. Not in the least.

In 2008, Sedaka, then sixty-nine, premiered an actual classical composition: “Joie de Vivre,” introduced on his Australian tour. This year, he put out an all-acoustic album — just piano and voice — with one bonus track, which turned out to be a full orchestral 14-minute version of “Joie de Vivre,” recorded with the London Philharmonia Orchestra.

In 2013, he turned loose a piano concerto: “Manhattan Intermezzo.”

Of course, if you go to one of Neil’s shows, you can always call out for “Stairway to Heaven.”

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