Archive for Tongue and Groove

Acoustic-ish drums

This is the way of the world today: you spend a little time showing off your new drums, and a little more time showing how they’re miked.

Pardon me if I dial back to a sunnier, if not necessarily less electrified, time.

I bought her first album, and await her second.


And yes, a fine girl

So I’m reading that Brandy (surname “Norwood,” which we’d all forgotten) has sold something like 70 million records, and my first thought was “Whatever happened to her, anyway?” After that car wreck in 2006, she seemed to disappear. She didn’t, of course; it’s just that some of us weren’t paying attention.

A very young, schoolgirlish Brandy

Brandy and er mirror mess with your head

A very grown-up Brandy

She had plenty of acting chops — see any episode of Moesha — but the emphasis was always on the music, and this 2016 single, based on a John Lee Hooker riff, serves notice that any time she wants back on the charts, she knows where to call.

Shug Avery, though, was not available for comment.

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Close your eyes

Two mutually-contradictory Laws of Popular Music:

  • Don’t do another damned Beatles cover;
  • Don’t tell Amy Winehouse what to sing.

Amy sang this song once in public — Glastonbury, 2004, after Frank but before the Big Breakthrough. This is probably not that live track.

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Several spoonfuls of sugar

It’s fine with the Sherman brothers:

For some reason, ragtime seems like it ought to be played on upright pianos rather than grands. Perhaps this is due to its ostensibly “disreputable” (translation: African-American) origins; or maybe it’s just that so much of it was distributed via piano rolls, which seldom was playable on grands.

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Meanwhile, back in the 80s

I can believe this:

“Our 14-year-old selves are totally dying,” BT says about All Hail the Silence, his new duo with BBMAK’s Christian Burns.

BT turned 14 in 1985.

The seeds of AHTS were planted when BT and Christian toured Europe with Tiesto “many moons ago.” They began trading musical ideas and hatching plans, ultimately starting to record about five years ago, independently and without a label deal, in the basement Baltimore studio of a reclusive friend of BT’s who owns an extensive collection of analog synthesizers — “Cooler than any of the other synthesizer museums out there,” BT says. They shoehorned work in when their schedules allowed, cooking up an estimated 18 tracks under arduous conditions. “There was not a computer used on this record,” BT reports. “I was there with patch cables around my neck. Every single sound was done live, straight to tape, sometimes up to two days recording a song. It was truly a labor of love. I’m more proud of it than any other project I’ve done — and that’s saying something.”

Given BT’s well-deserved reputation for computerized wizardry — but never mind. This is analog at its non-digital best.


This can’t go on

Two years before Santana made it a hit, Sonny Henry made it a song, and Willie Bobo made it a single:

Haven’t turned up any session credits, other than Bobo and Henry.


Isn’t like that

Sixty seconds of wistfulness from musician Josh Isn’t:

And that would seem to be that.


It looks like Snow

Another Brian J. discovery:

So WSIE played this song called “Poetry Man,” and I thought, hey, it’s like she’s singing to me!

So I researched it, and, as you might already know, Phoebe Snow’s song is not new at all. It’s from 1974. Which means it’s newer than I am, but not by much.

I snagged it when it was new. It struck me as odd that it came out on Leon Russell’s label, but Snow, it turns out, was signed by Russell’s then-partner Denny Cordell. Still, it was a great album, the sort of album you could start with a Sam Cooke cover and make it sound almost deserved.

Snow suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 2010, and died the next year, barely sixty.

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Teenaged and British

[I’d been wanting to do this story for some time, and I figured the best time for it was a Friday, for, um, obvious reasons.]

How big was Helen Shapiro? About five foot two. More to the point, in 1961, when she was fourteen, she recorded a song called “Don’t Treat Me Like a Child,” which she sang in an amazingly grown-up voice. It made #3 on the UK charts, and was followed by two #1s and a #2.

How big was Helen Shapiro? The Beatles opened for her in 1963. She recorded for UK Columbia, an EMI label, which meant that in the States, Capitol Records got the first shot at releasing her records. They put out all four of those tracks, though they went nowhere in a hurry. (Well, “Walkin’ Back to Happiness,” the third single, showed up for one week in Billboard at #100.) Capitol’s US branch dropped her from the roster, though the Canadian office continued to release Shapiro’s material. (I note purely in passing that Capitol passed on the Beatles’ first singles.)

That Number Two track was “Tell Me What He Said,” a Jeff Barry tune that started life as a Ginny Arnell B-side in 1960; the Playmates (“Beep Beep”) covered it in 1961, with the obligatory gender-flip. Both versions were arranged in typical US Top 40 styles, in the hopes of getting them on the radio; both acts were at different stages of their careers, the Playmates having had four Top 40 hits up to that point, but Arnell, going solo after a couple of flop singles with Gene Pitney (as “Jamie and Jane”), was still a couple of years away from finally cracking the chart with a song you dare not play on the radio anymore.

Meanwhile, Norrie Paramor, Shapiro’s producer, gave her a not-even-slightly-teenage sound:

Paramor was contemplating a Shapiro album from Nashville, of all places, and began hitting up EMI composers for material — including, yes, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who turned out a number called “Misery.” Paramor turned it down, though Kenny Lynch, who’d been on that tour with Helen and the Beatles, decided to cut it himself.

Teen sensations, alas, seldom remain so. Helen Shapiro disappeared from the charts, resurfacing now and then with a song from a stage musical or a jazz number. Her last new track, from 1984, was an Allen Toussaint song:

It was 2002 when she finally retired from show biz; she was still only 56.

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Shivers down my spine

Twenty-eight of those big long sliding things, put to use in the service of Freddie Mercury’s most enduring music:

(Roger Green was kind enough to send this along, and hey, I share.)

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Least likely cover version

French singer Jain, who grew up amid the sounds of Africa, knocks out a seemingly-impromptu version of “Gangsta’s Paradise”:

Well, I guess the really least likely cover would be if she did Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise.”


Keeping organs happy since the 1950s

Dave “Baby” Cortez, after recording scores of instrumentals, began singing when he signed to the All Platinum label in the early 1970s. This was his biggest hit as a vocalist:

It didn’t hit the pop chart, but made it to #45 on the R&B chart.


Fugue you very much

A lovely little four-voice fugue, based on the phrase “Donald Trump is a wanker”:

Hey, you take your inspiration where you can find it.

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It helps if she can cook

Rafael de Leon, known worldwide as Roaring Lion, put out this vaguely sexist ditty in 1934:

The attribution by the record label to “Hubert Raphael Charles” is, shall we say, not entirely accurate.

Lion was born way back in 1908. In 1942, James Louis McCleese was born in North Carolina; in 1963 as “Jimmy Soul,” he recorded a version of the story first told by the Lion back in the Thirties:

Soul, who fell into a bad drug habit in the 1980s, died in 1988. The Lion was still alive, and held out until 1999.

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Back up that train once more

Yes, it’s true:

Thursday (Sept. 13) the “Love and Happiness” singer released his first single in a decade, a cover of Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” The single, a part of Amazon’s original series Produced By, was issued exclusively on Amazon Music.

The Produced By series pairs producers with a collection of some of today’s top artists across various genres to create exclusive, new recordings for Amazon Music listeners. Green worked on the track with Grammy Award-winning, Memphis-based producer Matt Ross-Spang (Margo Price, Jason Isbell) for the series bringing back the singer’s signature sound to the soul scene.

Together the duo combined bluesy keys, feel good guitar riffs and bass lines, and Green’s smooth, soulful vocals to create a cover that put a rejuvenating spin on the country classic while still managing to maintain its original and vulnerable beauty.

Ross-Spang does a better-than-decent job of replicating the sounds Willie Mitchell provided for Green back in the seventies; if you’d sneaked this into a Green compilation and slapped a 1972 date on it, your friends wouldn’t question it at all. And Al sounds like Al always sounds: like he has the Lord on speed-dial. The VRB0 MP3 is a buck twenty-nine from Amazon, and for now, from nowhere else.


And never, ever dull

Classical music, says Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, is “far from boring”:

It has all the blood, energy, the sinister dark side, rhythm that rock music has, and all the refined, subtle sensuality that one can ask for.

Just outside Yuja Wang's dressing room

Yuja Wang sits on a piano

Yuja Wang gets down on Friday

“Sinister” used to mean “having to do with the left side,” which brings us to Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961), who lost his right arm in the Great War; he subsequently commissioned several works he could still play, including a piano concerto by Maurice Ravel, which premiered in 1932. Purists — the major exception, perhaps, was Alfred Cortot — still play it with five fingers only. For her part, Miss Wang plays the notes with her left hand and works the iPad with her right.

If you’re keeping score, she’s 31, and this is the eighth time I’ve found Rule 5 space for her.

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Let’s do it again

Johnny Smith wrote “Walk, Don’t Run” in 1954; it was a brilliant exercise in jazz guitar. It wasn’t Smith’s title: he’d worked up the song based on the chord changes to “Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise,” from the Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein II operetta The New Moon, fresh from 1928, and Smith’s record producer Teddy Reig slapped the title on it.

Three years later, Chet Atkins fingerpicked his way through “Walk, Don’t Run,” to the approval of both Johnny Smith and RCA Victor. And three years later than that — we’re up to 1960 now — the Ventures ran (not walking) the song to a solid #2.

What motivated the Ventures to update the tune is anyone’s guess. However, “Walk, Don’t Run ’64,” given a pure surf-guitar fade-in, happily slid its way to #8, the band’s third-best chart showing ever. They were still playing it live in Japan in 1990.

And let’s face it, not too many acts got two chart runs out of two versions of the same darn song.

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Sensible beat

Here we are in 2018, and here’s a new Debbie Gibson single. “Your Forever Girl,” a song she did for the Hallmark Channel’s Wedding of Dreams, fits snugly into any and all DG playlists I might have hanging around the house.

She’s selling this track (99 cents, MP3 320) through her Web site. As a practicing Debhead, I already have mine.


Remember the public domain?

You do and I do and Van Dyke Parks does — on his famed Song Cycle album, there’s a song called “Public Domain,” and what’s more, there’s a song called “Van Dyke Parks,” credited to Public Domain — but Congress never thinks about it except to ignore it and extend already-distended copyrights. It’s almost mechanical with them — and, for that matter, YouTube:

[P]eople playing music from Johann Sebastian Bach in videos on YouTube were told that they were playing copyrighted music and it would have to be taken down or they would have to allow advertising on the video. The idea is kind of ludicrous, because Bach’s music has long been in the public domain and can be played by anyone who can master it.

The problem, it turns out, is that certain performances of Bach pieces are indeed copyrighted by the music companies that released them. When the YouTube algorithm that sniffs around and looks for copyright violations encounters the computer code that makes sounds like the sounds it knows are copyrighted, it flags them and the person who posted the video gets a notice about it.

Which is fine with me if you’re trying to pass off Glenn Gould’s playing as your own, not that anyone has ever tried that (I hope). Otherwise, it’s dumb with a capital D.

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And eventually getting somewhere

The big story here is right there on the label, where it says “SIDE 1.” God knows they threw enough stuff in there for an A-side.

Disc jockeys, semi-independent souls that they (sometimes) were, promptly sampled Side 2, and found something they liked better:

Composer “Chuck Rio” was saxman and, um, vocalist Danny Flores, who couldn’t allow his name to be seen on this label while he was under contract to another. Some version of the Champs continued into the middle 1960s: both Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were members at one time or another.

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Ho … Ho … Ho

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Cover art for Shatner Claus by William Shatner

As they say, it’s imminent:

Shatner is being joined by several famous musicians who will lend their voices to his Christmas song covers. Henry Rolins, Brad Paisley, Iggy Pop, Mel Collins, and Judy Collins are among the contributors for the album.

Out on CD and LP in late October.

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Numero uno

John Marks is probably not an obsessive chart-watcher:

Billboard’s Hot 100 chart presents a snapshot with a shutter speed of one week—another example of the “Tyranny of the New” that in my opinion has always bedeviled the music business and music journalism. A single that gets to No. 1 might be grabby as all get-out, but it might also not wear well. Shooting stars and flashes in the pan have a way of wearing out their welcomes. Whereas the “Always a Bridesmaid But Never a Bride” single that hangs in the Top 10 for months might actually sell more records over the course of a year.

I can think of no better examples of what I am talking about than the facts that in 1972, Melanie Safka’s abominable and detestable “Brand New Key” (the “Roller-Skate Song”) spent two weeks in the Number One position, while Eric Clapton’s band Derek and the Dominoes’ single “Layla” spent one week in the Top Ten — down in the No. 10 position. I think that that tells you all you need to know about the usefulness of Billboard’s Top 100 Number One as anything but a snapshot of one week in a turbulent and not always well-informed marketplace.

It probably didn’t help that “Layla” had two separate chart runs, in two different edits. In spring 1971, Atco turned loose a three-minute edit of the album cut, ignoring the Heavy Piano movement entirely. It died at #51. A year later, Atco released a 7:00 version, essentially the full 7:08 album track, with almost the same catalog number (6809-1 as opposed to the mere 6809). This is the version that made it to #10. (There exists a 2:34 edit by — who else? — K-Tel.)

A greater injustice, perhaps, was done to Creedence Clearwater Revival, which had five singles (two of them double-sided!) that made it to #2, but no higher. Fantasy actually issued a 3:50 edit of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which ran for eleven solid minutes on Cosmo’s Factory; it stopped short of the Top 40.


Chicken in D Major

Who knew there was a Baroque Poultry movement? Not I:

(Actually via Fark.)

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Not easy being her

Vivian Green’s first album, A Love Story, sold half a million copies and earned Gold certification from RIAA. That was in 2002; last year, her sixth album, VGVI, shipped, and has sold, per Wikipedia, 1400 copies.

I don’t know what, if anything, I can do about that, but here’s her current single, “Vibes,” which has spent four months on Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay without ever breaking big.

We try.



“The Sound of Silence,” covered not by a metal(ish) band with a scary-looking vocalist, but by a couple of young women playing harps:

I don’t think Paul Simon expected this cover either.


At the sign of the Z

If you’re carrying around a name like Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman, you can hardly be blamed for pushing aside three-quarters of it. So Zendaya she is, she’s 22 today, and, probably due to Disney Channel influence, she’s been around long enough for me to go “Twenty-two? Seriously?”

It’s a pretty long list of credits, too, from an appearance in a Kidz Bop video to her reappearance as Michelle “MJ” Jones in the next Spider-Man theatrical (2019). Interestingly, she’s producing a biography (in which she will star) of Anita Florence Hemmings, the first African-American student at Vassar in the 1890s.

A slightly unbuttoned Zendaya

Zendaya at the 2015 BET Awards

An even more unbuttoned Zendaya

Unsurprisingly for a Disney Channel alumna, she also sings; she cut an eponymous album for Disney’s Hollywood Records label in 2013, featuring the single “Replay.”

“Replay” just barely cracked the Top 40, but it hung around long enough to earn Platinum status. A second LP is in the works, from Republic.

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Remixed with pride

“Satellite” was the hidden delight of Rebecca Black’s RE/BL EP: a previously unheard track with enough gumption to stand alone as a single. It was duly released, and vanished into the ether like so many others.

Then this was announced:

A few tries to get to BonFire’s Web site fell short of actually doing so.

“You’re gonna buy it anyway, why not go straight to iTunes?” Why not, indeed? Schier trimmed the original by a few seconds and gave it more of a backbeat. Will this be enough to get back on the Billboard dance charts? I did what I could.


Downstream from Memphis Minnie

The true test of a cover band is not how well it does the hits, but how well it does the deeper cuts.

According to the anonymous Wikipedant,”‘When the Levee Breaks’ [was] released in 2010 with over 6 million YouTube views.”

It’s up over 11 million now.

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Bobby never did slip away completely

Janis Joplin, let’s face it, owns “Me and Bobby McGee”; a few folks know that Kris Kristofferson wrote it, and a small fraction thereof know that Fred Foster, perhaps better known as the producer of all Roy Orbison’s hits for Monument Records, cowrote it; hardly anyone knows that Roger Miller (!) cut it first. I suspect the reason for this has something to do with the fact that the story of Bobby, who vanished somewhere around Salinas, wasn’t particularly funny, and Miller, even then, was still doing stuff like “My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died.”

There would be other versions before Janis cut hers, by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Sam the Sham. (Sam’s track, the B-side to the flop single “Key to the Highway,” is punctuated with tasty Duane Allman-esque slide-guitar licks; it’s reported by some that Allman himself played them.)

Still, you can’t touch Janis on the subject of Bobby McGee. And I have a feeling that the feeling is mutual:

It would be nice if we had more of this footage, shot in Canada on the road with, among others, the Grateful Dead. But then, it would be nice if we’d had more of Janis, period.

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Much impressed

For a singer who’s released only five studio albums in twenty-five years, Shania Twain has quite the amazing reputation: she got nine — count ’em, nine — singles out of the Up! album; said album was released in three different musical genres at the same time; and if ever there’s a penalty for exclamation-point abuse, she’ll almost certainly hang.

Perhaps I should explain the “genres” reference. There exist three complete versions of Up!: green, a sort of traditional country sound; red, with the pop turned up and the steel guitars banished; and blue, suitable for a Bollywood musical. The performances are essentially identical; only the mixes are different. And if you bought the two-CD set in the States, as I did, you got red and green. Ahead of her time? Well, yeah. But also retro: she’s the first country artist ever to write what could just as easily have been an ABBA tune.

Shania Twain stretches it out

Shania Twain shows some shin

Shania Twain on the sofa

For her 53rd birthday, we’re celebrating with the first of those nine singles from Up! in its red incarnation. Taylor Swift was 14 that year, and had no idea she was going to be a pop star, let alone that this was what she was going to have to compete with.

You turned it up, didn’t you? I thought you might.

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