Sometimes my favorite song by a particular artist isn’t one of their most popular hits. That could be because the big hits get overplayed, so the deeper cuts are a pleasure to hear as a change.
Take, for instance, “I’m Livin’ In Shame” by Diana Ross & The Supremes. “I’m Livin’ In Shame” made it into the Top 10, so it was hardly a failure. But by the standard set by The Supremes, it was a modest hit.
The Supremes got off to a slow start at Motown. None of their first six singles, released between 1961 and 1963, reached the Top 40. That earned them the Motown studios nickname “The no-hit Supremes.” But in 1963 “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” made it to #23 on the Billboard Hot 100. 1964’s “Where Did Our Love Go” began a hitting streak of five consecutive #1s – ending with “Back In My Arms Again.” Another four release streak of #1s began with “You Can’t Hurry Love” and ended with “The Happening.” Several other #1s and Top 10s were sprinkled all around.
“I’m Livin’ In Shame” was a sequel to “Love Child” (#1 in 1968). Its story goes like this:
The Love Child is grown up and embarrassed by her mother’s poverty.
Mama was cookin’ bread She wore a dirty raggedy scarf around her head Always had her stockings low Rolled to her feet just didn’t know
She wore a sloppy dress Oh no matter how she tried she always looked a mess Out of the pot she ate Never used a fork or a dinner plate
She needs to hide her background from her wealthier friends so she lies to them about her upbringing.
I was always so afraid that The uptown friends would see her Afraid one day when I was grown That I would be her
In college town away from home A new identity I found That I was born elite With maids and servants at my feet
She goes so far as to make up a story that her mama died.
I must have been insane I lied and said mama died on a weekend trip to Spain She never got out of the house Never even boarded a train
Then she has a baby and never tells her mom.
Married a guy, was living high I didn’t want him to know her She had a grandson two years old That I never even showed her
When she learns her mom really died, she has regrets and shame.
Came the telegram Mama passed away while making homemade jam Before she died she cried to see me by her side
She always did her best Ah cooked and cleaned and always in the same old dress Working hard, down on her knees Always trying to please
Won’t you forgive me mama For all the wrong I’ve done I know you’ve done your best Oh I know you’ve done the very best you could Mama I thought you understood Working hard, down on your knees…
The music is cooks along just as you would expect from The Funk Brothers. It’s also unusual (for Motown, at least) in that it doesn’t have a distinctive chorus.
By the time of the release of “I’m Livin’ In Shame” in 1969, the Supremes had become Diana Ross & The Supremes. But even that is a distortion. The background vocals were not sung by Supremes Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong. They were provided by a group of session singers called The Andantes.
Shame. That word resonates today. After the horrible siege on the Capitol this week, we’re all living in a different kind of shame. At least we ALL should be.
Whew! 2020 is finally over. We can all agree that 2021 has to be better.
My final send off to 2020 is today’s SotW by the Mountain Goats.
This song is perfect for today if for no other reason than the signature line in the chorus – “I am going to make it through this year if it kills me.”
The version above is the studio version from The Mountain Goats’ 2005 album, The Sunset Tree. But the song translates even better live, including the performance of it that the band did with Stephen Colbert in July 2019. Wow, how did Colbert have such prescience?
Today’s post is an example of what can happen when you get an idea for a topic and it sends you down a rabbit hole.
I was listening to some old Beatles albums (I got a new turntable) and the verbal “count in” on “I Saw Her Standing There” caught my attention. I thought to myself “It’s very cool that they left the count in on the released recording.” Then I began to tickle my brain to try to remember other songs that are better for having the count in left on them.
If you don’t know what I’m referring to, a count in (sometimes called a count off) is used by a band to set the tempo and help the musicians all start at the right time.
I’m breaking my usual format of analyzing the songs’ music and lyrics to make more room for the recordings. Today I’m a man of few words – except 1-2-3-4!
There are plenty of other examples.
Lawyers, Guns, and Money – Warren Zevon
Ball of Confusion – The Temptations
The Ocean – Led Zeppelin
Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen (but in the middle, not at the beginning)
Wooly Bully – Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (in Spanish!)
Today’s post was written by repeat guest contributor, Michael Paquette. This is Michael’s third SotW essay this year. Merry Christmas! TM
Before launching his career as a blues artist B.B. King worked as a disc jockey for a radio station in Memphis in the late 1940s under the name Riley B. King. There he became known as the “The Beale Street Blues Boy” which was later shortened to Blues Boy and eventually to B.B.
He recorded more than a dozen hit songs in the 1950s and 1960s before he released “The Thrill Is Gone” in 1969 which became a global sensation and introduced him to a much wider audience. It also earned him a spot as an opening act for The Rolling Stones. In his time his career would last more than 50 years and he would become America’s most famous blues musician. He traveled the world with his trusted guitar Lucille, thrilling audiences with his brilliant solos and his heartfelt vocal treatments.
In 2001 he released his 39th studio recording which was a Christmas album — A Christmas Celebration of Hope — and one of my favorites of this genre. It peaked at 151 on the Billboard Top 200 and it hit number one on the Billboard Blues list. The album earned him two Grammy Awards for the Best Traditional Blues Album and his take on “Auld Lang Syne” earned him the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
The “title cut” is my choice for SOTW.
It showcases King’s distinctive jazz-influenced blues style with a big band arrangement that features a rhythmic piano accompaniment punctuated by short bursts of rhythm and blues brass. This song was originally recorded in 1960 and it harkens back to his earlier big band style.
The lyrics are appropriate for an intimate gathering on Christmas with the singer professing his love and holiday wishes to his sweetheart. As many couples will likely enjoy a more secluded holiday gathering this year this song seems to fit the bill.
The last part of the song says:
We’ll enjoy ourselves together, Christmas dinner and everything
We’ll share every bit of pleasure, every Christmas brings
Here’s to you
May Christmas bring you happiness
I want you to have a good time
Like we did on all the rest.
I wanna be home with you baby when New Year’s rolls around
We’ll make our resolutions before the sun goes down
Here’s to you honey
May Christmas bring you happiness
I want you to have a good time
Like we did on all the rest.
Merry Christmas to all from the King of the Blues.
In the mid-’70s, the McGarrigle sisters – Kate and Anna – put out two outstanding albums. The first, self-titled album (1975) included “Heart Like a Wheel” which was made famous a year earlier by Linda Ronstadt.
Key to that record’s success was the stellar slate of session musicians that played on the album, including on today’s SotW – “Kiss and Say Goodbye.”
Kate wrote the song, played rollicking piano and duets with Anna on vocals. Tony Levin (King Crimson, Bowie, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, and many more) played bass. Steve Gadd (Steely Dan, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, and many jazz greats) played drums. The cut used four guitarists! David Spinoza, Greg Prestopino, Hugh McCracken, and Lowell George. Anna has disclosed in interviews that only one note by George was left on the recording… but it was an important one. “… it slides up.” And the icing on the cake is the tenor sax solo by the great Bobby Keys.
The melody is a real earworm and uses clever rhymes that lodge in your head. It’s a sweet story about a woman that’s looking forward to a hookup with a lover that’s coming into town.
Call me when you’re coming to town Just as soon as your plane puts down Call me on the telephone But only if you’re traveling alone Counting down the hours Through the sunshine and the showers Today’s the day You’re finally going to come my way
I do believe the die is cast Let’s try and make the night-time last And I don’t know where it’s coming from But I want to kiss you till my mouth gets numb I want to make love to you Till the day comes breaking through And when the sun is high in the sky We’ll kiss and say goodbye
Sadly, Kate died in 2010 after a long battle with cancer. Her musical legacy lives on through Anna and her two children – Rufus and Martha Wainwright – that she birthed when married to Loudon Wainwright III.
I just learned Len Barry died a month ago on November 5, 2020. It reminded me of a post I wrote for the SotW back on July 10, 2010, before Rock and Roll Remnants began. I’m posting it here now in tribute to Barry.
Ignored Obscured Restored
A few year’s ago my brother told me he had just seen a very interesting documentary on PBS about John Lennon’s Jukebox. Since I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable Beatles fan, I was surprised to learn a documentary was made on a subject I didn’t even know existed. I was able to catch the show a few days later on a rebroadcast.
Here’s the skinny. Apparently Lennon found a Swiss made “portable” (33 lbs.) jukebox and bought one around 1965. He stocked it with forty-one 45s and took it on the road when he toured. In 1989, the juke showed up in a Beatles memorabilia auction at Christie’s and some dude (John Midwinter) bought it for about $5 grand.
But the best part is that it still had the forty-one records in it, complete with title strips in Lennon’s own handwriting! The song selection gives a great insight into the music that influenced Lennon’s own early compositions. Here’s a link to the complete list of records:
It’s hard to pick a single song from this list but I’m going with “1-2-3” by Len Barry, partly because I’ve always liked the song and partly because I have a personal connection to it. “1-2-3” was a #2 hit in the U.S. in 1965 when I was a nine year old boy. At the time, my father was dabbling in concert promotion, bringing national acts to upstate New York and using his roller skating rink as the performance venue. When he booked Barry I was excited and asked if it would be possible to get his autograph. Well, being a young boy I fell asleep before the concert was over but my father woke me up at the end of the night to meet Barry and collect the autograph. Barry couldn’t have been nicer, scribbled his autograph and handed it to me. Still in a stupor, I took it from him – and tore it in half!
I really didn’t mean to insult the poor guy. Hopefully the incident didn’t bruise his ego too deeply.
In 1967 The Soul Survivors had a major hit with “Expressway to Your Heart.” Yesterday their lead singer, Kenny Jeremiah, died from the COVID virus.
The New York/New Jersey-based Soul Survivors were formed by three white guys – Jeremiah and the Ingui brothers, Richie and Charlie – to play the R&B music they loved. They connected with Philadelphia based Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who wrote “Expressway…”, their first hit. Of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Gamble and Huff would go on to write and produce many ‘70s soul classics like “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes), “Me and Mrs. Jones” (Billy Paul), and the major hits for the O’Jays – “The Backstabbers”, “Love Train”, and “For the Love of Money.”
“Expressway..” began as a regional hit in the NY/Philadelphia corridor. Eventually it expanded nationally and landed at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 but went even higher to #3 on the R&B chart!
Besides the traffic horn sound effects, I always dug how Jeremiah goes into his Elvis Presley voice on the pre-chorus.
I was wrong, baby, I took too long I got caught in the rush hour A fellow started to shower You with love and affection Come on, look in my direction
“Expressway…” has been covered by other New Jersey rock royalty Bruce Springsteen (in concert during the Working on a Dream tour) and Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes (on the Adventures in Babysitting soundtrack).
Sadly, the original Soul Survivor couldn’t be a COVID survivor. This thing is real. Wear a mask!
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the release of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. The timing of the release ensured that the 3 disc, boxed set would be found under the Christmas tree of Beatles fans all over the world.
ATMP may be the best Beatles’ solo album. OK, John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band (1970) and Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run (1973) may give it a run for that claim. ATMP was the result of compiling a backlog of great songs after many years of being “subtly sat on” by Lennon, McCartney, and George Martin, as Harrison described his situation to Dick Cavett in a 1971 interview that can be seen on YouTube. In a June 1970 interview with Al Aronowitz, of Rolling Stone, Harrison said “I thought after I moved into my new house, I’d take a year off and do nothing, but here I am getting ready to make my own album in two weeks. The point is that we’re all of us writing too much now to put it all onto one Beatle record anyway.”
The album used a who’s who of session musicians including Klaus Voorman, Gary Wright, Billy Preston, Dave Mason, Bobby Keys, Pete Drake, Gary Brooker, Badfinger, Ringo Starr, Derek (Eric Clapton) and his future Dominoes – Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock – coming off tour with Delaney and Bonnie.
Phil Spector co-produced the album with Harrison, so it is predictably drenched in reverb. Cal Poly’s Professor James Cushing said “The album’s blend of an epic Phil Spector orchestral sweep and the intimacy of Harrison’s voice is the key to the album’s paradox, and why the music holds up (mostly) after a half century, because it’s as big as the Beatles ever wanted to be, bigger than Shea Stadium, while it’s also George taking you aside and speaking to you privately about important matters.”
That brings me to today’s SotW – the album’s title song, “All Things Must Pass.”
A Let It Be reject, “All Things Must Pass” contains some very nice guitar work. Harrison said, “I wrote it after [The Band’s 1968] Music From Big Pink album; when I heard that song in my head I always heard Levon Helm singing it!”
It also has some of Harrison’s wisest lyrics.
All things must pass None of life’s strings can last So I must be on my way And face another day
While often interpreted as a statement about the Beatles’ break-up, I think it is much deeper than that. It reflects Harrison’s spirituality and being mindful and present in the “now” because everything is impermanent – even life.
It’s a song that is very meaningful to me today.
Enjoy… until next week.
Note: Several of the quotes above are from an article by Harvey Kubernik that was published in Music Connection.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the release of Steely Dan’s album Gaucho. Gaucho is perhaps my least favorite Dan disc – a little too “yacht rocky” for me – but by the standards of other artists, it’s a damn fine record.
Gaucho was not an easy album to make. Multiple personal issues caused major distractions. Walter Becker was deep into his heroin addiction at the time. Add to that a freak car accident while walking back to his apartment in New York that resulted in a broken foot that laid him up for six months! If that wasn’t enough, his then girlfriend died of an overdose in his home which led to a multi-million-dollar lawsuit by her family that he eventually won.
Then there was the technical snafu. The band worked for weeks on a song called “Second Arrangement” that they felt was one of their best songs ever. That was until an assistant engineer accidentally erased most of the master. (Something similar happened years earlier when the masters for Katy Lied were damaged due to an equipment malfunction.) They tried to recreate it but when the new takes didn’t live up to the standard of the erased mix, they abandoned the song. (It’s no wonder that the band stopped recording for some 20 years after they finished Gaucho.)
The “Second Arrangement” debacle left the album light one track. So, Donald Fagan went back to the vaults from earlier album sessions and found the tapes for a song called “Were You Blind That Day.” The lyrics were changed and the new track, “Third World Man,” was added to the album, and is today’s SotW.
Some Steely Dan fans think “Were You Blind That Day” was an Aja outtake. But Larry Carlton, who played the song’s outstanding guitar solo has been quoted as saying it was a leftover from The Royal Scam sessions. Experts agree that Carlton’s solo is the best of any Steely Dan recording. It is less busy than his typical solos but perfectly complements the feel of the unusually slow Dan song.
As is typical for Steely Dan songs, the lyrics to “Third World Man” are ambiguous and can be interpreted in multiple ways.
Johnny’s playroom Is a bunker filled with sand He’s become a third world man Smoky Sunday He’s been mobilized since dawn Now he’s crouching on the lawn He’s a third world man
Soon you’ll throw down your disguise We’ll see behind those bright eyes By and by When the sidewalks are safe For the little guy
I saw the fireworks I believed that I was dreaming Till the neighbors came out screaming He’s a third world man
Soon you’ll throw down your disguise We’ll see behind those bright eyes By and by When the sidewalks are safe For the little guys
Is Johnny a child playing Army? Is he a real soldier that was deployed to a hostile country? Are the fireworks real or the consequence of PTSD?
In 2005, Joni Mitchell released a covers CD album that was only available through Starbucks coffee shops. Artist’s Choice – Music That Matters to Her included “Third World Man.” It should be no surprise that Mitchell is so fond of that song for two reasons. Firstly, since she is such an accomplished writer herself, it is no wonder she would be attracted to “Third World Man’s” sophisticated lyrics. Then there’s her affection for guitarist Carlton’s work. He has played on many of her albums, including Court and Spark, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and the awesome Hejira.
Happy anniversary, Gaucho! “I just sing that Ghana Rondo e l’era del terzo mondo.”