Song of the Week – Gimme Shelter, Rolling Stones; The Battle of Evermore, Led Zeppelin; Every Picture Tells a Story, Rod Stewart; The Great Gig in the Sky, Pink Floyd

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

A few years ago a film was released called 20 Feet from Stardom (2013). It’s all about the background singers whose fine work has supported so many more famous acts in the studio and on the road.

Today’s post highlights a few of my favorite examples of the value the background singers often contribute.

Merry Clayton, perhaps the most sought background singer in the rock era and one of the featured artists in 20 Feet from Stardom, provided the memorable performance on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” (1969).

In a 2013 interview on Fresh Air with NPR’s Terry Gross, Clayton told her story about the making of “Gimme Shelter.”

Well, I’m at home at about 12–I’d say about 11:30, almost 12 o’clock at night. And I’m hunkered down in my bed with my husband, very pregnant, and we got a call from a dear friend of mine and producer named Jack Nitzsche. Jack Nitzsche called and said “You know, Merry, are you busy?” I said “No, I’m in bed.” He says, “Well, you know, there are some guys in town from England and they need someone to come and sing a duet with them, but I can’t get anybody to do it. Could you come?” He said “I really think this would be something good for you.”

Mick Jagger told NPRs’ Melissa Block on All Things Considered:

“We randomly phoned up this poor lady in the middle of the night, and she arrived in her curlers and proceeded to do that in one or two takes, which is pretty amazing. She came in and knocked off this rather odd lyric. It’s not the sort of lyric you give anyone–‘Rape, murder/It’s just a shot away’– but she really got into it, as you can hear on the record.”

Clayton later lost her pregnancy to a miscarriage. Though unrelated, the association with “Gimme Shelter” made it very difficult to listen to the song for many years.

In 1970 Led Zeppelin released their acclaimed 4th album. “Stairway to Heaven” get the most attention but deep cut “The Battle of Evermore” is equally worthy. And it wouldn’t be the same without the vocal provided by Sandy Denny.

The song has the flavor of a traditional British folk song, so inviting Sandy Denny – whose pedigree was with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay – was a natural choice. Robert Plant and Denny perform a duet on this song. It is a story that references The Lord of the Rings where Plant plays the role of the narrator and Denny represents the town crier. “… Evermore” is the only Led Zeppelin song that has ever used a guest vocalist. Well played!

Maggie Bell’s effort on Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells a Story” is smaller but no less significant.

She adds harmony on the fabulous fifth verse and, along with John Baldry, sings the “every picture tells a story, don’t it” line that repeats through the end of the song. But her best part is when Stewart sings the line “Shanghai Lil never used the pill” and Bell spits out the response “she claimed that it just ain’t natural.” That seals the deal for me.

Lastly is Clare Torry’s improvised vocal on Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky.”

Torry was introduced to the band by Alan Parsons, who engineered the classic Dark Side of the Moon at Abbey Road. Initially reluctant, Torry agreed to the session and recorded 2 ½ takes. The final was an edit of all three takes. All pressings of the song since 2005 give Torry co-writing credit for “TGGitS.”

I can’t imagine any of these iconic rock records without the key contributions from these female supporting vocalists.

Enjoy… until next week.

Hear It Anew

Never thought of this as a rocknroll song but they rock the shit out of it. I heard that Keith wasn’t happy with this song in particular and that’s why the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus was never aired. Typical musician. Embrace the garage, Keith.

Also notable in that Brian Jones is still around. Maybe Keith was pissed because the camera is on Jones when Keith is playing.

Remembering Richard.

Three years ago my friend Richard died. He and I had been occasional tennis partners, often shared dinners with mutual friends, and enjoyed talking about music.

He was English by birth, but had lived in the US for many years. I bring that up because he had a love for Englishy art rock and subgenres of dance music that I found somewhat bewildering. But each New Years Eve, at the party we would inevitably be attending together, he would pass out CDs with his favorite songs from the previous year and it was a treat to hear the world through his ears. Richard loved sharing the tunes he liked, and was always looking for new sounds.

At his memorial I learned that back in the early 80s Richard had played the synthesizer in a band.

After his death his wife, Monica, shared a big folder of songs of his, which is another window into his world. We’ve long talked about posting some of these songs somewhere as a tribute, and may still do that on Facebook.

But while thinking about Richard this memorial week, I thought a post of a handful of the tunes I’ve discovered from his collection would serve as a memorial, a tribute to someone who is missed by many.

 

Roots

Have we done anything on murder songs? We should. This one isn’t exactly murder but the threat is refreshingly explicit.

I wonder how many real murders have been directly – inspired isn’t quite the word here – influenced shall we say – by songs? It must have happened a few times. Music has been a major player in various murder cults of course, and war of course, but individuals who committed murder under the influence of a song – how rare is that? Inquiring minds want to know.

Anyway, Sonny Boy II has his very own blues style, and I happen to think that he’s one of the greatest singers ever, not to mention maybe the best harp player, both instantly recognizable at any rate, and his band swings the blues good.

 

Song of the Week – Johnny Have You Seen Her, The Rembrandts

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Today’s SotW is a power pop classic. It is “Johnny Have You Seen Her” by the Rembrandts.

I probably wouldn’t be so embarrassed to admit that I love this song if the duo of Danny Wilde and Phil Solem weren’t best known for performing the theme song to the 90s sitcom Friends, “I’ll Be There For You.”

But please try to put that aside and listen to this as if you could separate them from Friends. (I admit I’m being a music snob.)

“Johnny…” has Beatlesque harmonies (and that ain’t bad) with ringing guitars that conjure up similarities to Squeeze and Crowded House – who at their best also emulate the Beatles.

Don’t take this all too seriously. It’s just “pure pop for now people.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Betrayal Takes Two

At the time, I’m not sure I played any record more than Richard Hell and the Voidoid’s Blank Generation elpee. There are a bunch of great tunes on it, including a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover(!!!!) that’s both surprising and grooves. But this one is a bit like a folk song, except for the brittle strutting guitar solo in the middle, by the always excellent Robert Quine. I’m not sure what it means, except maybe it’s the other side of the Dark End of the Street.

Punk Errata

Almost finished with the John Doe L.A. Punk history book. It’s very good, although probably not intelligent and versatile enough for this audience. Ran into this interesting mistake in Charlotte Caffey’s (Go-Go’s guitarist) chapter about Jane Wiedlin (other Go-Go’s guitarist):

Jane had had a mad love affair with Terry Hall, the lead singer of Madness.

Terry Hall sang for The Specials, not Madness. Not quite on the order of saying Mick Jagger sang for The Beatles, but in the neighborhood. To top it off, Caffey mentions soon after that The Go-Go’s toured with Madness. I would imagine spending weeks touring with Suggs (crew cut footballer guy) to be much different from spending weeks touring with Terry Hall (floofy new waver guy).

Was this a senior moment brain fart, a lifetime of too much drugs, carelessness, ignorance, too much mad in the same sentence? Where was the editor?

Well, Madness was way better than The Go-Go’s and The Specials were way, way better than The Go-Go’s so who cares, I guess.

Brian Eno, Kurt’s Rejoinder

Those solo records he made in the mid 70s are notebooks of sounds that he gave to Talking Heads, Devo and U2, but they also stand up on their own. This one from Before and After Science comes with a neat video, and like Eno’s other elpees of the period has Phil Collins playing drums, which was probably cool at the time but in retrospect is just a little paradigm shifting.

Everything is “Beautiful”

The last couple of years Diane and I have vacationed in New York, we have hit a couple of plays. Last year, The Book of Mormon and Larry David’s Fish in the Dark were it, and this year, I grabbed tickets to The Humans which had just moved to Broadway a month before our trip, and perfectly, the play won four Tonys including best play, actor, and actress, two nights before the tix I copped.

But, for the second show, I opted for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. There is no question how much I loved King’s songwriting, then with her (now late) husband Gerry Goffin. The LocomotionUp on the RoofChains, and especially Will You Still Love Me, Tomorrow?–which is among my favorite songs ever–are all such great and timeless cuts.  In fact, I wrote this obit when Goffin passed away a couple of years back.

But, last year, when Di and I were in NYC for the FSTA, as we walked up Broadway to Central Park, I noticed the Brill Building for the first time, so I stopped, and looked and took a photo of the front.

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Somewhere, that shot was lost, but this year when we walked by I got another snap, and though I knew the bulk of the Brill Building story, the show brought out so much and so many great songs and just what amazing and productive songwriters like Lieber and Stoller, and Neil Sedaka, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil in addition to Goffin and King, and all of this orchestrated by Don Krischner.

One of the things that plagued Goffin and Mann, in particular, with the British invasion and new propensity for bands to write their own materiel was writing songs that were relevant, rather than just pop tunes that appealed to the generally superficial life of teenagers.

Goffin. who wrote the words, and King banged out this really great tune immortalized: