I found a story about the photoshoot that led to the album cover and a bunch of other shots. The story irritated me. It claimed that the topless photos the Slits generated out of the shoot were subverting the male gaze because of their intentions, which may well have been pure, but based on the quotes everyone involved knew that topless images, even those slathered in mud, are going to read as more sexualized than clothed pictures. To claim otherwise doesn’t pass the smell test. That story was a dead end.
But the site, Proxy Music, is apparently about the intersection of visuals and music and I quickly found this excellent story about William Eggleston’s photos being used for album covers. I have to say that I knew some of these covers, didn’t know many, and didn’t connect those I knew to Eggleston, one of the masters of photography in the second half of the 20th century.
Meet me in the middle of the day Let me hear you say everything’s okay Bring me southern kisses from your room
Back in 1979, singer-songwriter Steve Forbert had a Top 20 hit with “Romeo’s Tune” from Forbert’s second album, Jackrabbit Slim.
The sweet love song is driven by a lively piano riff played by Bobby Ogdin who was the pianist in Elvis Presley’s TCB band.
But the final arrangement of the song didn’t come easy. It was originally slated to be on his debut album, but he wasn’t satisfied with the recordings from those sessions and decided to hold it back. Over the next year, he tried various arrangements before he came up with the final with help from the album’s producer, John Simon.
Simon was responsible for producing several of my favorite records – The Band’s Music from Big Pink, The Child is Father to the Man by Blood Sweat & Tears, and Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel. He also produced the hit “Red Rubber Ball” by The Cyrkle (written by Paul Simon).
Forbert dedicated the song to Florence Ballard, of the Supremes, on the Jackrabbit Slim album cover, though it isn’t about her. He has often said that the track is about girl he knew when he was a teen but has never identified her by name.
On a side note, Forbert played Cyndi Lauper’s boyfriend in the video for her song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
Meet me in the middle of the night Let me hear you say everything’s alright Let me smell the moon in your perfume
It was just a few years ago that I regularly ran into Sylvain’s Rampage of Songs, a night of youtube clips on Facebook. They were the delightful mashup of rock, old rock, rnb, and great stuff you’d expect. His energy in that enterprise was so so Syl!
We’re on first person terms because I lived in an apartment on Mott Street near Prince back in the 70s that had some carvings in the window sill that convinced me that the previous tenant was Syl Sylvain.
It may not have been true, but the carvings were real (they said Syl Sylvain if I remember correctly) and there were plenty of musicians in that building. In those days when I walked through the village I was often mistaken for Lenny Kaye. Why wouldn’t we live in Syl’s bathtub in kitchen tenement apartment?
I hadn’t seen the Dolls back then. I was in high school when they broke up. I did see them when they got back together in the late aughts with Earl Slick playing Johnny, at Bowery Ballroom. Earlier that day I was at the dentist, and the radio was promoting an REO Speedwagon show at the Garden, an oldies show. I went to see the remainders of the Dolls and they were very fine, most notable because Syl was so committed to bringing back all they had before with them to the now. Old but not oldies.
And it worked, mostly. David is great, first name though I don’t think I’ve lived in one of his places, but Syl seemed to believe that that night mattered completely. Like a Phil Spector production.
Which doesn’t say that much about the magnificence of the Dolls who I championed in high school over the logorrheic Bruce Springsteen. But the music says all about Syl.
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!)