60s

‘Getting Nowhere Fast’/’Soul Strut,’ single, Floyd Smith (Dakar Records, 1968)

What a phenomenal single from Floyd ‘Guitar’ Smith. The contrast between the perfect on every level lament speaking of love and loss on side a) and the boss groove – it’s bossy too – of side two is something of real note. It’s hard to think of other releases as varied as this.

When doing some research on Floyd Smith, the fact that he had a career spanning two very different genres and sharply contrasting musical moments made me doubt whether it was in fact the same person: I’m still not completely confident that it is (the same man).

How was it possible that the same man who met and played with Django Reinhardt in Paris during the Second World war ended up recording 70s soul/disco greats (and even won the heart of one)? To quote da wik: 

In the 1970s, Smith moved into writing songs and record production, working with Dakar/Brunswick Records in Chicago, for which he recorded a few singles. He produced two albums with R&B star, Loleatta Holloway for Aware Records of Atlanta, as well as two (one completed, but un-issued when the label folded) with John Edwards, who later became lead singer of the Detroit Spinners. He produced two Top 10 R&B hits on Aware with Edwards (“Careful Man”, No. 8 in 1974) and Holloway (“Cry To Me”, No. 10 in 1975). In the late 1970s, he produced tracks on several albums with Loleatta Holloway for Gold Mine/Salsoul Records. He managed the former gospel singer and later married her.

Here’s a maybe too intense disco song from Smith, 1975.

Check out this strong interview with Smith by Jas Obrecht (former editor of Guitar Player and the founding editor of Pure Guitar magazine), published on his site, date unknown.  

‘A Taste of honey’ Doctor Pablo & Dub Syndicate (North of the River Thames, ON-U, 1984) plus P. Desmond, S. Vaughan, C. Baker and others

Originally my intention was to write something extremely simple and short about this silvery-delicate cover by an English melodica player who took on the name Doctor Pablo when fronting the great Dub Syndicate on this 1984 ON-U release.

A release that is considered to be a kind of oddity in the Dub Syndicate catalogue, as Rick Anderson writes in his AllMusic review 

"This is one of the more curious entries in the always interesting On-U Sound catalog. Doctor Pablo is Pete Stroud, a British melodica player who fell in love with the "Far East" sound of pioneering melodica virtuoso Augustus Pablo and hooked up with label head Adrian Sherwood and his house band, the Dub Syndicate, to record an album of languid reggae instrumentals in a style closely based on that of his namesake. (Even the album title is a tribute: It's a parody on the title of Augustus Pablo's classic album East of the River Nile.)

What gives this album an added whimsical twist is the fact that two of the tracks are covers of popular British tunes -- there's an arrangement of the popular TV theme song "Man of Mystery" and a setting of the "Dr. Who?" theme. Others are more simply standard-issue instrumental reggae with featured melodica. The Dub Syndicate plays things a bit more restrained than usual, but its mighty rhythm section is as powerful as always, especially on the album's stand out track, a long and eerie Stroud composition entitled "Red Sea" (which would later be appropriated by Singers & Players as the rhythm for their equally powerful song "Moses"). Fans of the On-U label's signature sound should consider this a strongly recommended purchase, but newcomers may do better starting out with one of the Dub Syndicate albums or one of the compilations in the Pay It All Back series."

This piece of writing on 'A Taste of Honey' dub-version was going to be a quick continuation of my earlier ‘theme’ (see here) about explosions in 80s music; notice the classic, essential dub-explosion just before 1’40” (x2). Then to complicate things, all or some of my other favourites intruded in on it, forcing themselves to be included or at least heard. Sorry too for the sudden ending of the upload: pretty unfortunate.

Another writer with a different kind of mind might usefully tackle the question as to why pop music now is so concerned with originality - despite it being an era of sample-based recycling and reinvention and while there is a kind of relative stasis or lack of confidence about the act of creating music in itself. Never before has popular music been so self-aware and “complicated” in the French sense. Still, it would be unthinkable for a stream of artists to cover one song as was the case with “A Taste of Honey” through the 60s and into the 70s.

Dub artists always covered pop/soul songs, either in their entirety or splicing them up. And yet, returning to “A Taste of Honey” decades after its moment is kind of strange, but touching too. A vast contingent of popular singers covered the song in a relatively short period of time in the 60s: Barbra Streisand, Andy Williams, Julie London, Bobby Darin, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass among many many others.   

Three highlights though, Paul Desmond in 1965 and Sarah Vaughan

who does all kinds of unexpected things with her phrasing – unexpected that is for a typical singer, not for her such experimentation is an essential part of her gift.

And Chet Baker on his 1965 album Baby Breeze. Some criticise the version for the so-called “honky tonk piano” in the background that’s considered to be too loud and out of place, but I think it makes it, roughing up Baker’s early dulcet singing style. Another point of interest: how Baker slows the song right down, making it simpler and foundational like a folk song. It's really wonderful, I think.

To read more on Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughan, jazz and dub, follow the tags. 

Alternate versions: ‘Oh my lover’ PJ Harvey (Peel Session, 1991 & Dry, Too Pure, 1992) plus Nina Simone

To begin with the essential sweetness of this demo version …

Underneath one of the videos posted online someone had written how PJ Harvey had recorded this demo as a teenager to get her first record deal; she sounds so young here, her voice is noticeably different, lacking the magisterial nature of the final recorded version. What’s interesting is the way this youthful voice dilutes the ‘female masochistic-schtick’ critique that could be levelled at the lyrics, as what comes through is the giddy enthusiasm, the excitement, spinning in a lovely exuberance (that total devotion thing fed to women via a lifetime of fairy-tales of all kinds), it’s got total bounce.

Love the way she doubles her voice at the end, it’s so impressive on every level: song-writing, performance, creative vision. As for the recorded version that came out on 1992 debut:

From that opening moment, the intensity of it: this is just one of those extraordinary songs. Listen to that distorted bass/guitar and the unexpected phrasing of the drums. It is archetypal – a folk song transposed to the modern era, timeless. It reminds me of this similarly magical live 1969 performance by Nina Simone of ‘Black is the color of my true love’s hair’ for the same seriousness of intent, declaration: the strength of the woman’s voice.

Here’s the Peel Sessions version from 1991, which sounds almost the same as the recorded version, which further demonstrates the level of Harvey’s musicianship (she was born in 1969, so only was only 22-years-old or so at the time of recording). Check out this interesting video with Harvey speaking about her creative, song writing process put up in 2011.    

Coda:

Related article: PJ Harvey 'Silence' (White Chalk, Island Records 2007) published 27th February 2016

I have written a lot on Nina Simone on this site, go here to find all the references.   

‘My time to shine’ Guilty Simpson, prod. Oh No (Forge your own chains: Heavy psychedelic ballads and dirges, 1968-1974, Now-Again Records, 2009)

Released as part of a compilation, and as a single it seems, via Now-Again Records this track has a very direct verse from Guilty Simpson keeping it level, appropriate as the message is one of defiance and rejecting expectations and a magical switch about half-way through from producer Oh No.

The 60s surf-rock dimensions come from Damon’s ‘Don’t you feel me’ -

See here Damon's biography from AllMusic that spells out the singer’s obscurity (and unusual style).

"Singer/songwriter Damon (just Damon, no last name) put out an extremely obscure, folk-tinged psychedelic album in 1969, 'Song of a Gypsy,' of which only 100 copies were pressed. Such is its rarity that mint copies have gone for as much as $1000 or more. There's a droning, slightly raga-modalish flavor to the melodies and guitar lines, with a gypsy touch in the percussion and questing, spiritual lyrics. The gypsy element of Song of a Gypsy is not just an extrapolation from the title, but a deliberate action on Damon's part, who came to think of himself as a gypsy while wandering around California in the late '60s.

After one 45, "Song of the Gypsy"/"Oh What a Good Boy Am I," the LP was recorded by Damon and other musicians in Los Angeles, its existence barely even suspected by most psychedelic collectors for years. In the late '90s, it had something of a renaissance, with the title track appearing on one of the Love, Peace & Poetry compilations of rare psychedelia, and the LP getting reissued in both CD and vinyl editions.

Around this time, Damon returned to recording with a similar but less strange album, Gypsy EyesSong of a Gypsy was reissued by Now-Again in 2013, just in time for a Damon track to feature on HBO's vampire hit True Blood."

What really appeals to me is this moment in this song where Oh No does the switch, just after the one minute mark, where he deepens the sound, increasing the intensity by keeping it still. It reminds me of dub, sure, but the difference lies in the duration of the effect, how it’s so extended; it's as if he making space within the music. This is both interesting and surprising.

Here’s some information on the Forge your own chains compilation, provided by the Stones Throw site:

With the same detailed, no-stone-unturned approach he used for deep funk on The Funky 16 Corners and Cold Heat, Egon’s Now-Again Records tackles beat-heavy global psychedelia with Forge Your Own Chains. Psychedelic records, long the mainstay of older, grizzled collectors, are giving up new ghosts in the hands of Egon and those of this generation. 

Digipak CD package includes 40-page full color booklet with detailed liner notes, annotation, photos and ephemera. Gatefold 2/LP includes all liner notes. 

Coda:

‘Real cool time’ Half Japanese/Don Fleming – single (Split, 1989) plus Laughing Clowns, The Stooges

Never thought I’d be writing this about Jad Fair, but with this cover of The Stooges classic (no, this word is not over-used in relation to the spirit of Detroit, even their messiest/sloppiest/non-conscious moments were touched by greatness and this was maintained despite the lack of recognition, drug-induced conditions) he is switching it on, expressing some definite lustiness. 

I like this cover for many reasons: it reminds me of Laughing Clowns 

a sound/atmosphere that is inbuilt somehow, etched into my being, DNA-mapped even though I wasn’t going to see the Laughing Clowns shows, obviously. I think it’s something about the keeping it loose spirit and the warm, percussive sound – jazzy in the nicest, the most sinister-acting way. 

Yeah we danced around the golden calf
And we had a very sharp knife
And we never did anything by halves
We had a strong philosophy of life
And everything that flies is not a bird

Yeah we give it such a friendly reception
Disarm it and disembowel it with a feather
Hope for the best nothing’s too good
For the lords of the plague
When everything that flies is not a bird

You’re a part of my world here
You’re the air that I breathe in
You’re a part of my world here
The water I urinate in

And the wind and sea get up on their hind legs and walk across the land

I have to cut off the electricity to turn off the light
We had a strong philosophy on light
And everything that flies is not a bird
Is not a bird

“And now, introducing the wonderful Ed Kuepper ...” 

This brings me to the key reason for liking this track the drums, how beautiful is this performance, reminding me of the best loose-wristed, keeping it fluid and so solid at the same time performances by the drumming greats of the 70s transplanted to the rock idiom. I’m not 100 % but I think the drummer here is Gilles Reider. 

It’s the combination of Jad Fair’s switch to expressing longing/desire, the pared back poetry of the lyrics, simple and true like a koan and the drums:

Can I come over tonight?
Can I come over tonight?
What do you think I wanna do?
That's right
Can I come over tonight?
I say we will have a real cool time tonight
I say we will have a real cool time tonight
I say we will have a real cool time
I say we will have a real cool time tonight
I'd say will have a real cool time tonight
I say will have a real cool time
We will have a real cool time
A real cool time tonight


To hear the original from The Stooges 1969 self-titled record: American poetry in its purest form, yes (three minutes or less).

Here’s an interview with Jad Fair from The Quietus (2013) on the reissue of Half Gentlemen/Half Beasts

Versions: 'I don't know why' Stevie Wonder (For Once in My Life, Tamla, 1968) Jackson 5, Thelma Houston, plus live performance

Forming a kind of flawless constellation, three points in triangle, that arguably represents the pinnacle of achievement of Black American Music in the 60s/70s: Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Thelma Houston.       

This song with its highly complex lyrics, describing an addictive state of desire that makes no sense, was written by a sixteen-year-old Stevie Wonder. There is something so arresting about the music, with its heavy atmosphere of portent – those descending notes and the dramatic build – but what I like best about it is Wonder’s surprising (and idiosyncratic) vocal performance. Before the two-minute mark there is separation between Wonder’s vocal line and the music itself where he breaks away almost, sounding hazy and drugged; you can hear his breathing as it all falls apart and yet the music maintains its forward movement.

You throw my heart down in the dirt
You made me crawl on 
This cold black earth, baby
No I never, I never knew 
How much love could hurt
Until I loved you baby
Till I loved you baby, baby
Oh baby, I can’t stop 
I can’t stop crying can’t you see
Here I’m pleadin’ on my knees
I’m on my knees
Won’t you help me, help me please
Cause I love you, I love you baby
Sure enough, baby, yeah

Here’s a live performance from 1969 from the Hollywood Palace; check out the ever so hip “thank you” at the start, in acknowledgment of the brief applause from the audience (other listeners appreciate his little knowing laugh later on; I like the opening curtain effect behind Stevie that happens for no reason, as he is in front of it, at the start).

Second star in the constellation …

This gem was recorded when Michael Jackson was eleven years old, or maybe 12. There’s not much to write here, as it’s all there the artistry so obvious clear from first listen, the intensity of his delivery all the extremely cute ad-libs/Soul additions, from the opening drama of the, “sure enough baby, baby …” The “darling, darling, darling” and especially the “baby dear” added to the original “You made me crawl on/This cold black earth, baby” is so sweet.

The Jackson 5 released this version on their 1970 ABC album   

The third …

Thelma Houston, as a vocalist, has a lovely quality of restraint, of singing just behind the musical line and never over-stating and exaggerating things for effect. I like the way she sings in such a controlled, but sensual way: there are no playful additions here, no need. But this version is special, surely for the wonderful grace of the musicianship. Listening to this I can’t help but hear the continuum with the past, where current and earlier hip-hop feeds off this heritage. Obvious to say, I know, but listening to this it’s made so explicit the way the various elements play with notions of fusion, similarity and difference.

Other well-known artists have covered the Stevie Wonder classic then and since, including the Rolling Stones in 1969 with this out-of-synch honky tonk version that has certain charm. 

According to Wik

"The Rolling Stones released a 1969 cover of the song in 1975 on their ABKCO outtake album Metamorphosis. It was recorded on 3 July 1969 during the sessions for Let It Bleed, the night that news broke of Brian Jones' death. It was also used as the b-side for their 1975 single." 

Related article: Versions: “Sunny” Bobby Hebb (Sunny, Philips, 1966) 

 

‘I’d like to walk around in your mind,’ Vashti Bunyan (Some things just stick in your mind: Singles and demos, 1964-1967, Fat Cat, 2007)  

I’d like to walk around in your mind someday
I’d like to walk all over the things you say to me

I’d like to run and jump on your solitude
I’d like to rearrange your attitude to me

You say you just want peace and to never hurt anyone
You see the end before the beginning has ever begun

I would disturb your easy tranquillity
I’d turn away the sad impossibility of your smile

I’d sit there in the sun of the things I like about you
I’d sing my songs and find out just what they mean to you

But most of all I’d like you to be unaware
Then I’d just wander away, trailing palm leaves behind me
So you don’t even know I’ve been there

The quotation below comes from an appreciation by Mike Wojciechowski, published in Tiny Mix Tapes in 2012, yes, it is a bit explicit and literal and I'm not sure how you can be passive and vicious, but there is some interest here. At the end of his article he suggests that the song might in some way act as a premonition about Bunyan's lack of success - she received critical acclaim, but apparently didn't sell many records - but I cut that part.      

"The one song that has always stuck out for me in Bunyan’s catalog is 1967’s “I’d Like To Walk Around in Your Mind.” Produced by Mike Hurst (who also worked with Cat Stevens and the Spencer Davis Group) and intended to be a single for Immediate Records, it’s a sparse arrangement — double bass, cello, acoustic guitar, voice, and light percussion. Her voice is as beautiful as ever; floating calmly over the gently fingerpicked guitar.

The song appeals to me for many reasons, but primarily it seems to offer a raw line of communication into the mindset of a British female songwriter during the late 60s. Despite sounding sweet and folky, the lyrics are still passively vicious. “I’d like to walk all over the things you say to me/ I’d like to run and jump on your solitude… I would disturb your easy tranquility…”

You can read the rest of the article here. 

Versions/Live Recordings: 'Sunny' Bobby Hebb (Sunny, Philips, 1966)

Live performance from 1972, with Ron Carter

Written in the 48 hours after a ‘double tragedy’ in 1963 - the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and the murder of Hebb’s older brother, Harold who was stabbed to death outside a Nashville nightclub’ (source, Wik), ‘Sunny’ is one of those key touchstone tracks whose success has eclipsed all the other work by songwriter, Bobby Hebb.

Hebb claimed that he wrote the song as an expression of a preference for a 'sunny' disposition over a 'lousy' disposition following the murder of his brother and that his goal with the ‘optimistic’ lyrics was to express the idea that one should always ‘look at the bright side’.

All my intentions were to think of happier times and pay tribute to my brother – basically looking for a brighter day – because times were at a low. After I wrote it, I thought ‘Sunny’ just might be a different approach to what Johnny Bragg – from the Prisonaires -was talking about in ‘Just Walkin’ in the Rain.’ 

Though if you listen to the Prisonaires’ track there is little obvious point of connection between the two: ‘Sunny’ appears to be a straight-up love song, while ‘Just Walkin’ is an expression of hopelessness. It was released on Sun Records in 1953, while the group was incarcerated in the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville – here is some info on the group that included one member on a 99-year prison sentence. They were given day release to perform across the state and became famous during their time. 

The dark inspiration for the song’s composition – the two murders – and the reference to the imprisoned singers fascinates me, as it disrupts what would arguably be the most common associations with the song, as a ‘simple’ expression of love and feel-good, light-hearted entertainment, aka Boney M groovin' & movin' in sequins. 

Without wanting to over-state this too much, I like to think that this song holds this complexity and depth – as code – within it; you can feel it in the live version above, with Ron Carter, where there is an element of threat, or menace in the way Hebb enunciates and the music builds. You can sense it in the lyrics too that strike me as surprisingly non-specific for a straightforward love song:

‘Sunny
Thank you for the truth you let me see
Sunny
Thank you for the facts from A to Z
My life was torn like wind-blown sand
And a rock was formed when you held my hand (oh, sunny)
Sunny one so true, I love you.

Sunny
Thank you for the smile upon your face
Hmm, sunny
Thank you, thank you for the gleam that shows its grace
You're my spark of nature's fire
You're my sweet complete desire
Sunny one so true, yes, I love you

‘Thank you for the gleam that shows its grace/You're my spark of nature's fire ..’ aside from being wonderfully poetic it sounds far from human, is Hebb encouraging us to think that he is, in fact, referring to something more abstract, without spelling it out in fixed terms. This notion bewitches me a little; pop transcendence, hidden in plain view.    

The raw intensity of the live acoustic performance is missing in the original recorded version that has a sweet self-exposure and vulnerability, in the way it starts and falls away from time to time. Hebb’s 1966 album is really consistent, with some equally impressive songs; see, for example, I am your man and You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Until You Lose It

Within the year and soon after, well-known artists were releasing their takes, most notably, Marvin Gaye and this superb version from the Stevie Wonder Live record – bassline paradise forming ...

'Sunny baby yeah ...'

Here’s Ella Fitzgerald/Tom Jones with the Welsh crooner tapping out the beat on a rocking chair, and even more surprisingly the film noir icon Robert Mitchum in 1967 offering his rendition as well. Jazz musicians also got involved in the celebration: notably, this classy and restrained Stanley Turrentine 1966 interpretation, but here is my preferred, as always, the passionate Les McCann exorcising spirits: 

Though the two versions that really strike me come from two non-Anglo women, first the Italian Luisa Casali – again from 1966  and this stunning rendition from Mieko "Miko" Hirota who has been called the "Connie Francis of Japan". Really love what she does here, encapsulating the erotics of the unhinged, while sounding completely committed.