Song of the Week – What a Man, Linda Lyndell

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor Mark Vincent. Mark is a multi instrumental musician (guitar, bass and recently drums) with The Occasionalists – Brooklyn, NY’s premiere live karaoke band. When he’s not playing with the band, he makes music of a different kind for the patients of his chiropractic practice in Manhattan.

In 1993 the rap group Salt n Pepa teamed with En Vogue for a massive hit with a version of “What a Man,” a Stax single that had reached #50 on Billboard in 1968.  Although they added new provocative lyrics to the verses; the chorus, main guitar riff and general vibe of the song were lifted directly from the original.  I had only been familiar with the original from an Oxford compilation CD someone had burned for me, so I never had access to the artist or any credits.  It was only when my band decided to cover it, that I discovered the origins — which turned out to have an interesting backstory.

Linda Lyndell was a white gospel singer in Gainesville, FL.  She began singing with RnB groups as a teenager and after singing back up for James Brown and Ike & Tina Turner, she recorded with Stax producers Issac Hayes and David Porter in 1967 and 1968.  The second of these sessions produced “What a Man.”

Between the funky R&B sound and references to James Brown in the lyrics, the song caught the unwanted attention of the KKK and other white supremacist groups, who did not approve of a white girl singing in such a manner.  After getting death threats from the KKK, she retreated from the music business, living in seclusion back in Gainesville for the next 25 years. She only learned about the Salt n Pepa cover after she received her first royalty check in the mail.  Inspired by the success of the remake, she began performing again and sang “What a Man” in public for the first time in 2003 at the opening of the Stax Museum.

No disrespect to Salt n Pepa, but Lyndell’s version has a warmer, more soulful feel to it and is musically more interesting.   The guitars, piano, and horns are all more expansive and the song moves around more despite being only half the length.  At the risk of being racially inappropriate, I played that song for 15 years without the slightest notion I was listening to a 22-year old white girl from FL.

Enjoy… until next week.

Daniel Johnston is Dead.

Sometime in the late 80s I had, with partners, a film company. People would send us tapes of their films, in hopes that we could find a way to help them get their film distributed. In any case, a guy from Chicago sent me a film, I think it called Reconstruction, and I think I liked it just fine. I think that now because I got to the end credits, under which played a simple song simply arranged sung in an innocent and tuneful bleat. I watched through the credits to find out that the singer was Daniel Johnston. The song wasn’t this one:
Johnston went on to have an interesting career as an indie artist, one known for his struggles with bipolarity and the charmingly appealing art he made, as well as many collaborations and tributes by admirers such as Kurt Cobain and Tom Waits. For more you can read his obit in the Guardian here. My period of Johnston fandom was fairly short, the sound of innocence and wonder wear down after a while, but this song is a keeper:

Robert Frank is Dead.

Frank created a book of photographs called The Americans back in the 50s. It’s a terrific book of strikingly straightforward and revealing images full of, um, Americans.
Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to The Americans, an obvious choice at the moment On the Road ruled the world. Kerouac also wrote and narrated Frank’s first film, a shambling tale of New York City’s bohemian lives, called Pull My Daisy. You can view it here. Frank, of course, took the photos that made up the collagey cover of the Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street.
Frank also made a tour documentary with the Stones at about the same time. It is called Cocksucker Blues and the Stones, who have said they thought the film was excellent, sued to keep it from being released because its explicit sex and drug scenes were too much even for them. A deal was reached that allowed Frank to show the movie five times a year provided he was in attendance. I remember one year leaving the Rolling Stone magazine Christmas party early to see the film at the Anthology Film Archives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. You can find the film in pieces on You Tube, from time to time. Frank clearly wasn’t policing the copyright, nor were the Stones, as evidenced by this music video that uses some of the film.
Frank also made some dramatic films that drew notice, though the only one I saw was a shambling road picture featuring a who’s who of cool rock dudes in the late 80s (I’m talking guys named Johansen, Waits and Strummer, plus Leon Redbone).
This is the trailer with French titles.
This seems to be the whole film with German titles.
Final bonus video with Frank’s Super 8 film of the Stones.

Song of the Week – Thing We Said Today, Dwight Yoakam

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Those of you that know me personally are aware that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, The Beatles.  I’ve collected all their official releases and dozens of bootlegs that contain outtakes, alternate takes, and demos.

I have an iTunes playlist of Beatles covers that has thousands of versions of their songs.  My playlist is totally indiscriminate.  Some of the cuts are awesome – some pathetic.  But I’ve collected them all – straight covers, and lots of variations including soul, country, classical, easy listening, big band, jazz, and bluegrass.  I even have some Polka versions!

I really enjoy when an artist takes a Beatles tune and makes it their own.  Especially if it is well played and well sung.  Today’s SotW is an example of such – “Things We Said Today” by Dwight Yoakam.

Yoakam is a country artist, but his style is much closer to rock influenced honky-tonk than traditional Nashville country.  At least that was true when he began his recording career in the mid ‘80s.  (Today it seems like all the top country acts really play rock music with a twang.)  Believe it or not, Yoakam actually shared a bill with the punk band Hüsker Dü in 1986!  On his 2012 album 3 Pears, Yoakam enlisted the help of Beck to provide handclaps on “A Heart Like Mine.”

His cover of “Things We Said Today” is a terrific example of his melding of rock and country.  The song has an inventive recurring riff that sets the tone for what’s to come.  It’s heavier than the Beatles original.  And it ends with a searing guitar solo.

On a side note, I have an interesting story about seeing Yoakam live.  Back in the mid ‘80s, my wife was working for an ad agency in Boston when she was invited to a party to celebrate the launch of WBOS’s format change to country music.  I was her guest.  The party included live performances by some of the rising country artists of the day, including Reba McEntire… and Yoakam.

Boston wasn’t a hotbed for country music fans back then (and probably still isn’t) so the audience of radio and ad executives were more interested in the hors d’oeuvres and drinks than the music.  But being the music nerd that I am, I walked (alone) up to the front of the stage and watched both artists perform.  Even though I couldn’t claim to be a country music fan, I could tell that these were top quality musicians and deserved to be heard.  It was a great experience that is seared into my memory.

Enjoy… until next week.

Link: Liz Phair Interview

Liz Phair has some books coming out soon. I’m not clear based on the story, but it seems like two memoirs are on their way. I’m a fan but that idea didn’t excite me until I read this interview with Rob Tannenbaum, which dropped on vulture.com today. I’ve been a big Liz Phair fan from the beginning, so big that I actually really liked her 2003 eponymously named Liz Phair elpee, which was given a provocative 0.0 (on a scale of 10) rating by Pitchfork. It also provoked attacks on Phair by Meghan O’Rourke and others, who should all have known better. My point isn’t that Phair is bulletproof. You’re entitled to dislike her music, obviously, which is odd and aggressive and indie most of the time, on the merits (or demerits), but she is an artist with a long history of putting her heart and soul on the line. In her defense, at some point (after four or five albums, let’s say) she should have earned trust instead of enmity from those who admired those early albums. She’s a singer songwriter, give her a break (I would think would be the default), but they turned on her brutally, dismissively. It was terrible. That issue was tackled 16 years ago, and mercifully Phair is still kicking it Today we have a woman who is putting on hot shows (I saw her in Denver and Brooklyn recently) and despite her protestations about stage fright she seems like a live wire living for the spotlight.

This post is about the interview with Tannenbaum, in which Phair talks about a lot of things that wouldn’t be the first thing you think about a singer-songwriter promoting a book. Or two. But it’s also a chance to thumb our noses at Pitchfork and the others who dismissed the woman rather than engage with what she was trying to do. If you didn’t understand Phair you might think this commercial move was reprehensible, but it’s way more interesting to think about how that reviled album differs from both Brittany and all the indie expectations that provoked the haters.