New Songs For 2016

Every year I try to add new music to the collection. Nowadays I rarely listen to the radio (either broadcast or satellite) for inspiration. I tend to research new music by reviewing end of the year “best of” lists. This year I branched a little more than usual, trying songs suggested from a number of sources.

Over the last few years, NPR Music has been my most reliable source. My tastes are diverging from Rolling Stone Magazine’s favorites; their sensibilities seem to be changing into the greater mainstream of popular music. Review sites such as Pitchfork have wildly different criteria for musical evaluation than I do. Virtually no modern popular music on the radio interests me. I am offended by the lack of diction and inferior mixing that make singing so hard to understand, the loss of melody as a musical component, and the reliance on electronics as a substitute for instrumental virtuosity. It all sounds less human to me.

All of which makes the selection of new songs a very interesting aspect of the project. I have no obligation to include any artist, and am perhaps more free than ever to choose based on my my opinion. This is a topic I plan on exploring in detail sometime. New songs must adhere to the same criteria as all others. They should be well appreciated if called up in a random iPod shuffle. Some effort is made to include different sounding or innovative music, though today there isn’t much in terms of unexplored territory. Many songs I choose tend to fill holes in my personal music education. The last few years seem to include songs by female country songwriters, where there is a wealth of talent. Or maybe I’m just going country in my old age. Overall, modern music has seemed to have completely abandoned the uptempo swing of yesteryear.

I have added 58 new songs for 2016. This is a typical number of songs in recent years, a little less than half of the overall average (11,000 songs in about 100 years). Great songs grow on you over the years, so songs are rarely given a high rating to begin with. It is a rather sedate group of songs, by my standards. If a certain song appeals to you, then consider further research into that artist. My list for new songs will always be woefully incomplete; they are educated guesses. My focus is generally on older music.

It was a big year for working on the collection. In August I completed standardizing and verifying all the song data, a tiring grind which led to a mild post-effort depression that took several months to battle out of. I think I’m ready to start back up again, with an outline for a general essay on collecting the music, and a compilation of lists of specific types of songs. Like the greatest songs with hand claps, or best one-hit wonders. Happy New Year to everyone. I’m hoping to keep making progress on this big project.

2016 Songs

Little Movies, Aaron Lee Tasjan
Memphis Rain, Aaron Lee Tasjan ★★★
Real Bad Lookin’, Alex Cameron ★★
Am I Wrong, Anderson Paak ★★
Celebrate, Anderson Paak

Time Moves Slowly, BADBADNOTGOOD ★★
E.V.P., Blood Orange ★★
Three Kids No Husband, Brandy Clark
There Goes My Love, Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms ★★
Opposite House, Cass McCombs ★★

I Am Not Afraid, Charley Crockett ★★
Irene, Courtney Marie Andrews
Wine And Peanuts, Daniel Bachman ★★
Watermelon Slices On A Blue Bordered Plate, Daniel Bachman ★★
Lazurus, David Bowie

Can’t Think, Dawg Yawp
The Government Road, The Del McCoury Band
Falling To Believe, Doug Tuttle
What It Means, Drive-By Truckers
Lord It Over, Dylan Golden Aycock

Looking Up, Elton John
Someone In The Crowd, La La Land (Soundtrack)
Ivy, Frank Ocean ★★
Nothing More To Say, The Frightnrs
June Too Soon, October All Over, Glenn Jones

Mr. Fool, John Scofield
Christmas Makes Me Cry, Kacey Musgraves
Present Without A Bow, Kacey Musgraves
This Girl, Kungs & Cookin’ On 3 Burners
Diamond Heart, Lady Gaga

Humble & Kind, Lori McKenna ★★
Dust, Lucinda Williams
Bitter Memory, Lucinda Williams
Emotions And Math, Margaret Glaspy
You And I, Margaret Glaspy

Moth Into Flame, Metallica
Vice, Miranda Lambert
Tin Man, Miranda Lambert
Me & Magdalena, The Monkees
Tragedy, Norah Jones

It’s A Wonderful Time For Love, Norah Jones
Pining, Parker Milsap ★★
Human Performance, Parquet Courts
I’ve Got To Use My Imagination, The Rides
Never Come Home, Robbie Fulks ★★

Aunt Peg’s Old Man, Robbie Fulks
Drivin’, Robert Ellis
Weirdo, Sammus
What’s It Gonna Be?, Shura ★★
Bluebird Of Delhi, Slavic Soul Party! ★★

Cranes In The Sky, Solange
Easier Said, Sunflower Bean
Every Time I See A River, Van Morrison
Caledonia Swing, Van Morrison
No Woman, Whitney ★★

The Three Of Me, William Bell
Fly Away, Yola Carter ★★
A Change Of Heart, The 1975

29. Billie Holiday (Eleanora Fagan)

Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan, was a jazz singer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Holiday had a very difficult childhood; her mother Sadie did not maintain steady relationships, and often left home to find work. Young Eleanora dropped out of school after the fifth grade, and was working in a Baltimore brothel when she heard Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five’s recording of “West End Blues”, sparking a lifelong passion for music, and an aspiration to sing, and be known as Billie Holiday. By 1930, she and Sadie had moved to New York City, and when Sadie took a job at a Harlem speakeasy popular with the local jazz musicians, Billie seized the opportunity to sing from table to table for tips. Soon the young Holiday was performing in uptown Manhattan clubs.

Holiday’s big break came when jazz enthusiast John Hammond attended one of her club performances. Twenty-two years old at that time, and hailing from a prominent New York family, Hammond was a correspondent for Melody Maker magazine, a local disk jockey, and a generous benefactor to jazz musicians, offering them the opportunity to record music during the difficult years of the Great Depression. Hammond was enamored with Holiday, and arranged her first recording session with Columbia Records in November, 1933. John Hammond’s role in the development of popular music is hard to overestimate. Not only did he serve as the catalyst for the integration of black and white musicians, he was also the greatest talent scout in pop music history.

Holiday’s first two songs generated modest interest, and earned her a second recording session in 1935, which yielded the hit song “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”. Over the following seven years, Holiday, regularly paired with New York City’s finest jazz musicians, produced a dazzling body of work considered a pinnacle of popular song interpretation.

c26f3a3d19631973a655e7ce1f071

Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan) (1915-1959), singer

A Short List of Important Contributors

Lester Young (1909-1959), tenor saxophone
Teddy Wilson (1912-1986), piano, arranger

William “Count” Basie (1904-1984), piano, arranger
Benny Goodman (1909-1986), clarinet
Buck Clayton (1911-1991), trumpet
Freddie Green (1911-1987), guitar
Walter Page (1900-1957), double bass
Jo Jones (1911-1985), drums
John Kirby (1908-1952), string bass
William “Cozy” Cole (1909-1981), drums
Cootie Williams (1911-1985), trumpet
William “Buster” Bailey (1902-1967), clarinet
Johnny Hodges (1906-1970), alto saxophone

Billie Holiday Songs – Excellent Website/Discography
“The Hunting of Billie Holiday”, by Johann Hari, Politico Magazine, January 17, 2015

Singing With Style

Most music historians consider Billie Holiday the greatest female jazz singer, though she possessed an ordinary instrument in terms of range and volume. She fits nicely within my criteria for singing prowess; I prefer plain sounding voices who subtly augment a song, and shun vocal histrionics. Billie Holiday also advanced the art of jazz singing beyond women like Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker, by mastering the use of the microphone to bring out these subtleties.

“Billie Holiday sang blues only incidentally. But through her phrasing and conception, much that she sang seemed to become blues. She made more than one thousand records — among them about seventy with Teddy Wilson. She made her most beautiful recordings with Wilson and Lester Young. In the intertwining of the lines sung by Holiday and the lines played by Young, the question of which is lead and which is accompaniment, which line is vocal and which instrumental, becomes secondary.

Charm and urbane elegance, suppleness and sophistication are the chief elements in the understatement of Billie Holiday.

When Billie opened her mouth to sing, the truth emerged. Her voice expressed the damage and vulnerability of her soul with an almost masochistic honesty, from desire and lust, to joy and optimism, to doubt, sadness, and pain. Her mouth was like an open wound, she wore her heart on her tongue. And when she sang about loneliness, she drew the listener into her loneliness.

Billie Holiday didn’t just sing sad or happy songs. That’s what women singers in popular music normally do: sing sad and happy songs. In Billie Holiday’s singing, on the other hand, contradictory emotions and feelings exist simultaneously, blending with each other while contradicting each other. Or, as rock singer Bryan Ferry remarked, “Her style sings of hope…her message is despair.”

— Excerpts from “The Jazz Book”, Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Gunther Huesmann

Amazon.com Link to “The Jazz Book”, by Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Gunther Huesmann
Amazon.com Link to “The Oxford Companion to Jazz”, by Bill Kirchner

In this 1935 film short featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Holiday makes a brief appearance at the 4:45 mark:

Ascendance

Billie Holiday is an important omission from the original artist countdown list created in August, 2009. Back then I wasn’t hip to Holiday’s contributions, and only had eight songs in the collection. I suspected it was an oversight, and would require some research to rectify. Back in the early nineties I remember marveling at the Rolling Stone Album Guide’s Third Edition, 1992) five star ratings for all nine volumes of Columbia Records’ “The Quintessential Billie Holiday” collection, a level of consistent respect given to the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and perhaps one or two other artists. Over the years I picked up a couple of the Quintessential collections, plus a Commodore Records retrospective to acquire a copy of the protest song “Strange Fruit”. It was only last year that I started the process of creating a representative collection of her music.

My appreciation for her music grows. My interest started with the six to eight-piece jazz bands, and her famous collaborators. I love small band swing jazz, a modernized form of dixieland music; though rhythmically less complex than the Latin and rock syncopation that evolved, the swing rhythm lends itself well to fluid improvisation and clear storytelling. Holiday sings clean and crisp, and adds subtle accents. Her voice does not attempt to dominate or overwhelm. Music analysts often liken Holiday’s style to one of the horn players in the group. Her all-star counterparts do the same, and one gets the sense that the group behaves as a single team, marching forward in step, each voice important to the whole. Classy, restrained and powerful, Billie Holiday interpretations of Golden Age songs created a template for future developments in popular music.

Demise

That an abused or neglected person often makes bad decisions about the company they keep is well known. Billie Holiday had a weakness for handsome and abusive men, particularly those who trafficked in heroin. She started using around 1940 or 1941, and struggled with alcoholism and heroin addiction for the rest of her life. She was arrested in 1947 for heroin addiction, and as a result, lost her New York City cabaret card, her primary means of income and support. She was persecuted her whole life one way or another: for being black, for being female, and for being an addict. Her tragic downfall is well documented; through the fifties her health deteriorated, though she continued to perform and record beautifully, albeit with diminishing power. She developed cirrhosis of the liver in 1959, and was arrested for drug possession while on her death bed. Holiday died on July 17th, 1959, just forty-four years old.

Although I devoted more than a hundred hours this past year listening and researching her music, it feels like more investigation is required for the best complement of songs. To close, here’s my favorite Billie Holiday song. In order, the soloists are Benny Morton (trombone), Billie Holiday (vocal), Teddy Wilson (piano), Lester Young (tenor saxophone), and Buck Clayton (trumpet).

When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling,
The whole world smiles with you.
When you’re laughing, oh when you’re laughing,
The sun comes shinin’ through.

But when you’re crying, you bring on the rain,
So stop your sighin’, be happy again.
Keep on smiling, ’cause when you’re smiling,
The whole world smiles with you.

— “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)” by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher and Joe Goodwin

Billie Holiday Song Notes:

1. Most of the recommended songs can be found on the Columbia Records compilation called Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles.

2. “Strange Fruit”, “Billie’s Blues” and “On The Sunny Side Of the Street” can be found on Commodore Records compilations.

3. “Lover Man” can be found on Decca Records compilations.

4. “Body And Soul”, “Fine And Mellow”, “What’s New?” and “I Loves You Porgy” can be found on Verve Records compilations.

Billie Holiday Songs:

When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You), Billie Holiday ★★★★★

Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday ★★★★

I Must Have That Man, Billie Holiday ★★★
They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Billie Holiday ★★★
The Very Thought of You, Billie Holiday ★★★
Gloomy Sunday, Billie Holiday ★★★
God Bless The Child, Billie Holiday ★★★
These Foolish Things, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★★

Loveless Love, Benny Carter & His All-Star Orchestra ★★
St. Louis Blues, Benny Carter & His All-Star Orchestra ★★
Body And Soul, Billie Holiday ★★
Body And Soul (Alt), Billie Holiday ★★
Billie’s Blues, Billie Holiday ★★
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Billie Holiday ★★
Lover Man, Billie Holiday ★★
More Than You Know, Billie Holiday ★★
Long Gone Blues, Billie Holiday ★★
Easy To Love, Billie Holiday ★★
My Last Affair, Billie Holiday ★★
Me Myself And I, Billie Holiday ★★
Mean To Me, Billie Holiday ★★
Easy Living, Billie Holiday ★★
My Man, Billie Holiday ★★
I Cover The Waterfront, Billie Holiday ★★
Trav’lin’ Light, Billie Holiday & Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra ★★
The Way You Look Tonight, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★
Pennies From Heaven, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★
I’ll Never Be The Same, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★

I Loves You, Porgy, Billie Holiday
What’s New?, Billie Holiday
Fine And Mellow, Billie Holiday
I Wished On The Moon, Billie Holiday
Miss Brown To You, Billie Holiday
I Cried For You, Billie Holiday
This Year’s Kisses, Billie Holiday
Moanin’ Low, Billie Holiday
A Sailboat In The Moonlight, Billie Holiday
Sun Showers, Billie Holiday
He’s Funny That Way, Billie Holiday
You Go To My Head, Billie Holiday
I Can’t Get Started, Billie Holiday
Ghost Of Yesterday, Billie Holiday
Swing! Brother, Swing!, Billie Holiday
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Billie Holiday
Solitude, Billie Holiday

Related Songs:

Body And Soul, Coleman Hawkins & His Orchestra ★★★
Body And Soul, Louis Armstrong ★★★
Body And Soul, Benny Goodman Trio ★★

Careless Love Blues, Josh White Trio
Careless Love, Ray Charles ★★★
Careless Love, Ottilie Patterson & Chris Barber’s Jazz Band ★★

Easy Living, Wardell Gray ★★
Easy Living, Bill Evans ★★

God Bless The Child, Blood, Sweat & Tears ★★★
God Bless The Child, Stanley Turrentine ★★★

I Can’t Get Started, Bunny Berigan ★★
I Can’t Get Started, Lester Young Trio ★★
I Can’t Get Started, Dizzy Gillespie

I Cover The Waterfront, The Inkspots

I Cried For You (Take 1), Benny Goodman ★★

I Loves You, Porgy, Bill Evans ★★

Lover Man, Dizzy Gillespie & His Orchestra ★★
Lover Man, Sarah Vaughan ★★

Mean To Me, Nat Adderley

On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Lionel Hampton ★★
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt & Sonny Rollins
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Louis Armstrong

Pennies From Heaven, Count Basie ★★
Pennies From Heaven, J. J. Johnson ★★

Sailboat In The Moonlight, Ruby Braff ★★

Solitude, Duke Ellington & His Orchestra ★★

St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith ★★★
St. Louis Blues, W. C. Handy

Swing! Brother, Swing! (Live), Count Basie ★★

These Foolish Things, Benny Goodman Sextet ★★★
These Foolish Things, Nat King Cole Trio ★★

They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Ella Fitzgerald
They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Frank Sinatra ★★

The Very Thought Of You, Al Bowlly ★★★
The Very Thought Of You, Dodo Marmarosa & Gene Ammons

The Way You Look Tonight, Frank Sinatra ★★★★
The Way You Look Tonight, Fred Astaire ★★

When You’re Smiling / The Shiek Of Araby, Louis Prima ★★★
When You’re Smiling (Live), Van Morrison ★★

You Go To My Head, Lee Konitz ★★
You Go To My Head, Louis Armstrong & Oscar Peterson

96. Buck Owens & His Buckaroos

Buck Owens & His Buckaroos are a country and western band from Bakersfield, California. Alvis “Buck” Owens, Jr. is a guitarist and singer from Sherman, Texas. In 1937, the Owens family moved to Arizona after sustained droughts and high winds forced a move away from the family farm. Owens married and moved west to Bakersfield, California in 1951. For the next several years, Owens performed in local clubs, and worked as a session guitarist for Capitol Records in Los Angeles. After years of trying, his singing and songwriting career languished, and Owens moved to Tacoma, Washington, taking a job at radio station KAYE in Tacoma, Washington. During a live on-air program, he met guitarist and fiddler Don Rich, and began a fruitful partnership that lasted until Rich’s untimely death in 1974.

The characteristic sound of the Buckaroos slowly evolved. While in Tacoma, Owens made his first appearance on the Billboard country charts with “Second Fiddle”, notable for the use of fiddle and steel guitar, and without the saccharine orchestration typical of many country hit songs. Owens and Rich eventually switched to electric guitar, and assembled a quintet with drums, bass and steel guitar to complete the classic Buckaroos lineup. Beginning in 1959, Buck Owens enjoyed a remarkable string of country hit songs; in 1963 “Act Naturally” became his first of fifteen consecutive #1 hit songs during the sixties. He became a household name during the seventies while hosting the corny variety show Hee Haw with banjo/guitar player Roy Clark. By 1980, he essentially retired from recording, focusing on his many business ventures. Buck Owens was inducted to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1996.

buck-owens-carnegie-hall

Buck Owens (1929-2006), rhythm guitar, vocals

Don Rich (1941-1974), lead guitar, vocals
Doyle Holly (1946-2007), bass guitar, rhythm guitar
Tom Brumley (1935-2009), steel guitar
Willie Cantu (b. 1946), drums

buckowensfan.com — Fan Website

Amazon.com Link to “Buck Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens”, by Randy Poe
Amazon.com Link to “Buck Owens – The Biography”, by Eileen Sisk (an unauthorized tell-all biography)

Although Hee Haw made Owens a household name, the lesser known “Buck Owens Ranch Show” from 1966-1968 best represents the band in its prime. Here are three episodes currently showing on YouTube:

Old television programs are much more natural and unpolished. In a word, better.

Bakersfield, California

Buck Owens is considered a founder of the Bakersfield sound, an antidote to the lush “countrypolitan” Nashville sound of the fifties and sixties. His influence within country music can be traced directly to Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam, among many others. The contemporary Nashville sound is a hybrid music, featuring some aspects of the Bakersfield sound, with extensive production techniques.

Buck Owens’ impact on country music is clear. Less discussed is Owens’ influence on rock music, and how he fits in the history of California popular music. In this passage, my friend Corry Arnold discusses the Buckaroos impact on the Grateful Dead:

“Buck Owens influence on Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead is no less fundamental. Owens and his Buckaroos played clean, rocking music that was the blueprint for Workingman’s Dead, and Garcia specifically mentioned Owens’s inspiration many times. The biggest success of the Bakersfield musicians was Merle Haggard, and some of Haggard’s songs (“Mama Tried” and “Sing Me Back Home”) also made it into the Grateful Dead repertoire. People interested in some of the roots of Garcia’s twangy Fender sound of the early 70s would do well to listen to Buckaroo guitarist Don Rich.

Owens’s influence on Garcia doesn’t stop with Merle Haggard and Don Rich. Old Garcia pal Pete Grant recalls driving somewhere with Jerry Garcia in mid-60s and hearing Owens’s 1964 song “Together Again.” The pedal steel guitar solo by Tom Brumley was so beautiful that Grant and Garcia agreed on the spot that they had to learn pedal steel. Grant learned before Garcia, as it happened, but the Buckaroos music was one of the signposts for the future Garcia, even if it lay dormant for a few years (and I should add that the New Riders occasionally played “Together Again”).”

— Corry Arnold

“Buck Owens And The Buckaroos, March 9, 1968”, by Corry Arnold, Lost Live Dead Blog

The anecdote gives insight to the young Garcia, who played both banjo and guitar, and was a devotee of both bluegrass and country music. The joys of “Together Again” are subtle at first glance, but a closer listen hears Brumley soloing throughout the song. To me, steel guitar ballads sound like a cat rubbing against your ankles, looking you in the eye and braying for her dinner. “Together Again” is first class kitty music.

One can imagine the two young musicians marveling at the Buckaroos’ precision as something to emulate. Ironic, considering The Grateful Dead, and other San Francisco rock bands of the late sixties, were considered anything but tight or precise, but during the late sixties and early seventies the Dead played a complement of country songs in the Buck Owens style, clean and swinging.

Other California rock bands profiled in this blog are direct descendants of the Buckaroos. Creedence Clearwater Revival, who would be considered a country band today, spent their formative years touring the San Joaquin Valley and have that Central Valley sound. Chris Isaak grew up in Stockton, four hours north of Bakersfield, also shares the California sound: smaller bands with sharp, twanging guitars, well enunciated singing of songs with simple themes, and a basic, swinging beat. California music tends to be unsentimental, with minimal displays of melisma and overwrought emotion.

Buck Owens and Don Rich’s voices overlap one another beautifully. Several Buckaroos songs are punctuated with stop time passages, and possess a brightness matched only perhaps by early Beatles songs. Songs like “Hello Trouble” and “Love’s Gonna Live Here” shine with cheer and lightness that bely the song’s subjects. A little research into Mr. Owens suggests he may have courted and welcomed that aspect of life’s excitement.

The argument for Owens’ influence extends to the surf guitar music of southern California that succeeds him, and even Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, who spent the bulk of their career in Los Angeles, after migrating from Florida. Included for your consideration are a list of twenty fine Buck Owens songs.

Buck Owens & His Buckaroos Song Notes:

1. Most of these songs can be found on either 21 #1 Hits: The Ultimate Collection or Buck Em! The Music Of Buck Owens (1955-1967), The exceptions are:

“Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache)” can be found on Buck Owens.
“Crying Time (Live)” can be found on The Best of Austin City Limits – Legends of Country Music.
“Love’s Gonna Live Here (Live)” can be found on Carnegie Hall Concert.
“Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” can be found on Sings Harlan Howard.
“If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin'” and “High On A Hilltop” can be found on Sings Tommy Collins.

2. The Owens family had a donkey named Buck. One day, at the age of 4, young Alvis Jr. walked into the house and announced that from now on, he would also be known as “Buck”.

3. Reportedly, The Buckaroos never rehearsed.

Buck Owens & His Buckaroos Songs:

Act Naturally, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★★★
Above And Beyond (Alt), Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★★★

Love’s Gonna Live Here, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★★
Together Again, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★★

Second Fiddle, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Hello Trouble, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Foolin’ Around, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Pray Every Day, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Together Again (Live), Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Cryin’ Time, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
High On A Hilltop, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache), Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★
Buckaroo, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos ★★

Cryin’ Time (Live), Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
Under Your Spell Again, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
Made In Japan, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
Pick Me Up On Your Way Down, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin’, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos

Related Songs:

Streets Of Bakersfield, Dwight Yoakam

Act Naturally, The Beatles ★★

Foolin’ Round, Patsy Cline

145. The Drifters

The Drifters are a vocal group from New York, New York. Originally assembled in 1953 as a supporting group for singer Clyde McPhatter, the Drifters brand has one of the more complex histories in pop music history. After McPhatter’s brief tenure as lead singer, the group persevered with modest success until 1958, when manager George Treadwell replaced the entire group. Still recording with Atlantic Records, the second generation Drifters enjoyed a brief peak of popularity, which produced a memorable series of pop standards. By the mid-sixties, their star had faded, but the strength of the original material allowed The Drifters to become a perpetual nostalgia act, often with more than one version of the group in business.

Drifters2-500x371

Wikipedia Biography of The Drifters
Soulwalking.co.uk Biography of The Drifters

Notable Lead Singers For The Drifters

Clyde McPhatter (1932-1972), vocals
Johnny Moore (1934-1998), vocals
Ben E. King (b. 1938), vocals
Rudy Lewis (1936-1964), vocals

Only In America

The Drifters have a few great songs that define their legacy. My favorite song may be the one they never released until over forty years later. The Drifters version of “Only In America” was shelved by Atlantic Records, while a cover version of the song by Jay & The Americans, was sold to United Artists and reached #25 on the pop charts in 1963.

Here Comes The Night, Joel Selvin’s book about the life of record producer Bert Berns, also serves as a comprehensive history of the New York pop music industry of the fifties and sixties. Selvin tells the story of “Only In America” as follows:

With “Up On The Roof” and “On Broadway”, Leiber and Stoller once again reprieved the Drifters from slipping off the charts entirely. It had two long years since “Save The Last Dance For Me”. In April 1963, they returned to the studio with the Drifters and another Mann-Weil song they had remodeled. Originally “Only In America” was more an angry, straightforward protest song (“Only in America, land of opportunity, do they save a seat in the back of the bus just for me”). The civil rights movement was reaching crisis proportions. New harrowing headlines came daily from the South. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and placed in solitary confinement on the day of the session a thousand miles away in Birmingham, Alabama. Leiber and Stoller, from their rarified, socially advanced perspective, as only two smart-ass, New York Jews could, recast the song as a coolly ironic send up (having black people sing lines like “Only in America can a kid without a cent get a break and maybe grow up to be president”).

(Jerry) Wexler was predictably blunt in his assessment. “Are you guys nuts?” he said. “They’ll lynch us.”

The world was not ready to hear black people sing “Only in America, land of opportunity.” Leiber was way too hip for the room. Leiber and Stoller still liked the track immensely. They took off the Drifters vocals and replaced them with Jay and the Americans. White people singing the same song eliminated all irony, turning the record into the kind of cornball sentimentality that Leiber and Stoller previously assiduously avoided. Wexler hated the record so much, he was happy to sell the track to United Artists for something he was never going to release and didn’t even mind as the thing scooted up the charts. Not much anyway.

— Joel Selvin

Also discussed in the Coasters profile, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had a knack for distilling the realities and dreams of young Americans into simple, uplifting songs. The brilliant “Only In America” was forty-five years ahead of its time. I recently shared this on Facebook, and one of my friends shared that his father played this song (the Jay & the Americans version) in the mornings as encouragement for his sons to pursue their dreams.

Amazon.com Link to “Here Comes The Night”, by Joel Selvin

“50 Years Later, A Drifters Song Has Its Day”, by Ryan Zummallen, Long Beach Post, November 2008

Save The Last Dance For Me

My father’s parents emigrated from Scotland around 1920, and never returned. My father had only met a couple of his Scottish relatives until he arranged a visit to Scotland in 1998, where they “rolled out the red carpet”, and cousins Ruby and Dick hosted a family get-together at their lawn bowling club in Clydebank. Dad also used the vacation as an opportunity to play golf, and brought me along with my then brother-in-law John. We traveled around Scotland for a few days before working our way back into town for family gatherings.

At the time, I was actively drinking, an on-or-off practice I never mastered, and eventually quit doing. My father was a teetotaler, and generally disapproved of my drinking habit. So we stayed away from night life for the most part, but John and I sneaked out twice during the vacation for drinks and laughs. Both times were memorable experiences, though the second one was a bit scary, with the potential for real danger. But the first night out was happy and fun, and maybe a little strange, too.

Our first destination was Inverness, the northernmost city in the United Kingdom. Golfers generally travel there to play the famous golf courses in nearby Nairn and Dornoch. We stayed at a bed and breakfast inn in downtown Inverness for three nights, while driving each day to play golf. On one of those nights I dragged John out for beer, cigarettes and a little local flavor.

We found a pub nearby with live music and settled in. The band performed on a stage about ten feet above the pub floor, and were quite loud, making small talk a bit cumbersome, especially for west coast Americans trying to decipher the Scottish brogue. Nevertheless, we soon struck up a conversation with four Scots, two unattached men and a married couple. They were friendly and talkative, and in the case of the married husband, very drunk. We learned he had been on a bender for over twenty-four hours, but to begin with, he was still pretty lucid when we started to chat. He was a successful businessman, and helped manage a significant local establishment. He was a nice fellow, but in bad shape. Early in the evening, we talked about golf, where he admitted that though he was not an accomplished player, he felt he could “putt for Scotland”.

His wife was charming, and quite attractive. As her husband’s energy started to fade, she stayed close by, but seemed rather unconcerned, as if this was a common occurrence. He was really drunk, and starting to list, but was hanging in there as best he could for the conversation with the visiting Americans.

I had given up worrying about the fading husband, and was chatting with the others when over the din of the music, I heard him sneeze with a mighty “Whoosh!”. Looking over, as he pulled himself back upright, I noticed his nose now featured the longest snot string I had ever seen in my life. And neither he nor his friends seemed to notice. I expected that his wife or friends would notice, but they were enjoying themselves, and had kind of tuned him out. And for two or three minutes that seemed to last an eternity, this poor man stood there drunk and unaware that he had snot hanging from his nose down below his waist. I casually turned to my brother-in-law and whispered “I think that might be the grossest thing I’ve ever seen”, and we shared a private laugh between ourselves. I can’t remember whether he fixed the problem, or it just dropped eventually.

Although he managed to stay upright, at that point of the evening he was politely coexisting while the others yelled at one another over the music. By then the center of attention was the man’s lovely wife, who was holding court while everybody stood around her in a circle. At some point, it occurred to me that their friends were perhaps a bit too friendly and attentive, and inspired by the spirits of the night, I did something I rarely do — I broke into song:

“So don’t forget who’s taking you home,
And in whose arms you’re gonna be,
So darlin’, save the last dance for me.”

I must have done well, because afterwards all three of them applauded enthusiastically, and urged me to keep singing. I demurred, as I was overcome by shyness, plus I didn’t know the words and melody well enough to sing the whole thing. By midnight, we left our friends for the evening, and walked back to the inn, but I’ll never forget the night I serenaded the beautiful woman with the great song that came to mind and means so much.

The Drifters Songs:

On Broadway, The Drifters ★★★★
Up On The Roof, The Drifters ★★★★
Only In America, The Drifters ★★★★

Save The Last Dance For Me, The Drifters ★★★
White Christmas, The Drifters ★★★

Under The Boardwalk, The Drifters ★★
This Magic Moment, The Drifters ★★
Ruby Baby, The Drifters ★★

Money Honey, The Drifters
The Bells Of St. Mary’s, The Drifters
There Goes My Baby, The Drifters
Whatcha Gonna Do, Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters

Related Songs:

A Lover’s Question, Clyde McPhatter ★★
Lover Please, Clyde McPhatter ★★

Stand By Me, Ben E. King ★★★
Spanish Harlem, Ben E. King ★★★
I (Who Have Nothing), Ben E. King ★★
Don’t Play That Song (You Lied), Ben E. King
Amor, Ben E. King

On Broadway, Neil Young

Only In America, Jay & the Americans ★★

White Christmas, Bing Crosby ★★
White Christmas, Darlene Love

This Magic Moment, Jay & the Americans ★★

Ruby Baby, Dion ★★★

Money Honey, Elvis Presley

159. Tom Jones (Thomas Jones Woodward)

Sir Thomas Jones Woodward, aka “Tom Jones”, is a singer from Pontypridd, Wales, just twelve miles north of Cardiff, the Welsh capital.  Blessed with a powerful baritone voice, Jones’ singing style is reminiscent of the great American soul singers of the fifties and sixties.  Married with a child before his 17th birthday, Woodward worked by day and honed his musical skills by night.  In 1964, as lead singer for Tommy Scott & The Senators, he attracted the attention of producer Joe Meek, but efforts to land a recording contract were unsuccessful. However, later that year, Gordon Mills, a songwriter and fellow Welshmen, signed Woodward to a management contract, changed his name to Tom Jones, and brought him to London. Once signed with Decca Records, his second single, Mills’s own “It’s Not Unusual”, was a breakthrough hit in both Great Britain and the United States, and the catalyst for Jones’s lifetime, worldwide success as a professional singer and entertainer. In appreciation for his contribution to British society, Jones was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his “services to music” in 2006.

Tom Jones (b. 1940), singer
The Official Tom Jones Website

tom-jones-performs-at-glastonbury_0

The Aging Sex Symbol

Tom Jones was always a mainstream performer, and never considered a rock musician. He was renowned for his sex appeal, which he and his management used to great benefit. In this wonderful early video, It is apparent that Mr. Jones is a powerfully built man. He actually looks a lot like a college roommate of mine who played football.

As his initial success waned, Jones transformed himself in a middle of the road crooner, singing popular songs from many genres. Here he sings the American country hit, “Green, Green Grass Of Home”:

For the next few years, Jones was a consistent presence on popular and easy listening radio programs. From 1969 to 1971, he even hosted a successful TV variety show. He performed regularly in Las Vegas, where he was an object of intense adulation. Women threw undergarments and hotel keys onto the stage, and Jones played to his desirous audience by dancing suggestively, or wiping sweat from his brow and gifting the soiled handkerchiefs to his admirers. A few videos online capture this nonsense, which I find rather vulgar.

Though his star faded in middle age, Jones stayed hip by interpreting new songs using contemporary instrumentation, but he would never have earned a spot in my countdown without a late career renaissance. I was surprised how effectively Jones sang the blues in Martin Scorcese’s 2003 documentary “The Blues”. When an authority like Van Morrison suggests that Tom Jones is one of his favorite singers, further research is merited, and finds that Jones has crafted a fitting culmination to his career. Two recent albums, Praise And Blame and Spirit In The Room, are gentle and thoughtful, with spare, traditional instrumentation. Jones interprets songs of a spiritual nature, that contemplate life’s great mysteries — life and death, and Heaven and Hell.

Avant-Garde

Over the past century, popular music of the English speaking world has come full circle. The formalization of peasant music into jazz and blues, and the major music forms that followed — be-bop and free jazz, rhythm and blues into guitar-based rock, electronics and computerized sounds, the incorporation of Latin and African rhythms, and the spoken word set to a beat — these innovations have exhausted the possibilities for further exploration. Like classical music before it, popular music is a finite art, and has already enjoyed its peak period of innovation.

Wikipedia states, “the Avant-garde are people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics”. In this recent blog posting, Charles Hugh Smith argues that disruptive avant-garde movements in the arts have reached a point of diminishing returns, and that the avant-garde movement’s true concern is social innovation.

“It’s art that’s irrelevant, not the avant-garde. This is a boring age for art, mainly because of how boring the collectors are. These days collectors actually want to buy contemporary art. How boring can you get? It’s like they are buying fantastically expensive bespoke IKEA furniture for their homes. Now, art is not a bad day job if you can pull it off. I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make a living at it, like any other day job. But as day jobs go, it has no more glamour or dignity than doing public relations or corporate law. Not to mention academia! We’re all servants of the most boring and clueless ruling class in a century.

Avant-gardes, on the other hand, are always interesting, but they are not really about art, whatever some silly art school textbooks might say. Avant-gardes are about media, about social relations, about property-forms, but they are only ever incidentally or tactically concerned with art. The most interesting ones around at the moment might be about pharmacology or horticulture or even ‘business models’.”

— McKenzie Wark

What’s Avant-Garde Now? Social Innovation, by Charles Hugh Smith
“McKenzie Wark, Information/Commodification”, DisMagazine.com

To most music fans, Tom Jones will be remembered as a sexy pop singer, but these modern updates of folk songs deserve to be a significant part of his legacy. These big picture songs, with clearly sung lyrics and impeccable musicianship, are the logical conclusion to the popular music era. They are the only innovation in modern music worth preserving for posterity. In the coming century, pop music will endure in its current unimaginative form, at least for a while. The only music worth remembering will be the masters of the various instruments, the occasional jazz composition, and the rare songwriter who eloquently captures the misery of the dying Industrial Age.

Tom Jones Songs:

It’s Not Unusual, Tom Jones ★★★★

What Good Am I?, Tom Jones ★★
Burning Hell, Tom Jones ★★
Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Tom Jones ★★
Help Yourself, Tom Jones ★★
If He Should Ever Leave You, Tom Jones ★★
Hard Times, Tom Jones & Jeff Beck ★★
Sometimes We Cry, Tom Jones & Van Morrison ★★
Tower Of Song, Tom Jones ★★

If I Only Knew, Tom Jones
Hit Or Miss, Tom Jones
She’s A Lady, Tom Jones
In Style And Rhythm, Tom Jones
Goin’ Down Slow (Live), Tom Jones & Jeff Beck

Related Songs:

It’s Not Unusual, Willie Bobo ★★★
It’s Not Unusual (Instrumental), Willie Bobo

Hard Times, Ray Charles ★★★
Hard Times, Ray Charles & David Newman ★★
Hard Times (Live), The Crusaders ★★

Goin’ Down Slow, Duane Allman
Goin’ Down Slow (Alt), Howlin’ Wolf ★★

139. The Coasters

The Coasters are a rhythm and blues vocal group from New York, New York. Originally based in Los Angeles, California, the group’s career is linked to their primary songwriting duo, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Early in their career, Leiber and Stoller wrote and produced a series of popular songs for the Robins. After their initial success, they signed a contract to work for Atlantic Records in New York City. Leiber and Stoller encouraged the Robins to follow; two members of the group, Bobby Nunn and Carl Gardner, joined them. Adding two singers and a guitarist, the band’s new name reflected the move from the west coast to the east coast. The Coasters experienced great success in the late fifties, with lively, amusing stories of American teenage life. The Coasters were the first band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987.

Coasters

Wikipedia Biography of The Coasters
Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Biography of the Coasters

The Group Roster During Their Prime:

Carl Gardner (1928-2011), vocals
Cornell Gunter (1936-1990), vocals
Wil “Dub” Jones (1928-2000), vocals
Billy Guy (1936-2002), vocals
Adolph Jacobs (b. 1939), guitar

Two Other Important Members:

Ulysses B. “Bobby” Nunn (1925-1986), vocals
Leon Hughes (b. 1929), vocals

Leiber, Stoller and Curtis

Jerry Leiber (1933-2011) and Mike Stoller (b. 1933), songwriters, producers
King Curtis (1934-1971), saxophone

Yakety Yak, Don’t Talk Back

Take out the papers and the trash,
Or you don’t get no spendin’ cash,
If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor,
You ain’t gonna rock and roll no more.
Yakety yak, (don’t talk back.)

“Just put on your coat and hat,
And walk yourself to the laundromat,
And when you finish doin’ that,
Bring in the dog and put out the cat.
Yakety yak, (don’t talk back.)”

— Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

“Yakety Yak” is a sub-two minute blast of shuffling rock and roll, punctuated by King Curtis’s saxophone iconic solo, which became known as “yakety sax”. The message is clear: finish your chores, or you don’t get to hang out with your friends tonight.

Three Cool Cats

My favorite Coasters song is “Three Cool Cats”, originally released as the flip side to the hit song “Charlie Brown” (Billboard #2, 1958). I learned about “Three Cool Cats” from The Beatles, who covered the song during their first major audition with Decca Records.

“Three cool cats, three cool cats.
Parked on the corner in a beat-up car,
Dividing up a nickel candy bar,
Talking all about how sharp they are, these
Three cool cats.

Three cool chicks, three cool chicks.
Walkin’ down the street, swingin’ their hips,
Splitting up a bag of potato chips,
And three cool cats did three big flips, for
Three cool chicks.

— Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Through the course of this exercise it’s becoming apparent I place a high value on song lyrics like these. Simple words, laced with a hint of common slang, that paint complex images of modern America. I can taste my favorite candy bar, and I can feel those swingin’ hips walking in my direction. “Three Cool Cats” is easy enough for a child to sing, and the subject matter is funny, and important.

Complex, poetic lyrics can be deeply moving, but simple words that evoke powerful imagery are just as impressive.

Coasters Song Notes:

1. A longer version of “Three Cool Cats” has surfaced in recent years, and can be found on These Hoodlum Friends: The Coasters In Stereo. I discovered it a few years ago as “Take 11-12” on an album called Charlie Brown, which no longer appears to be available.

2. Several alternate takes of “Yakety Yak” can be found on These Hoodlum Friends: The Coasters In Stereo.

3. I just learned that “Poison Ivy” is a sly ode to sexually transmitted disease. How did I not figure that out?

Coasters Songs:

Three Cool Cats (Take 11-12), The Coasters ★★★★

Three Cool Cats, The Coasters ★★★
Yakety Yak, The Coasters ★★★
Yakety Yak (Take 5), The Coasters ★★★
Down In Mexico, The Coasters ★★★
Poison Ivy, The Coasters ★★★

Shoppin’ For Clothes, The Coasters ★★
Charlie Brown, The Coasters ★★

Young Blood, The Coasters
Searchin’ The Coasters
Along Came Jones, The Coasters

Riot In Cell Block #9, The Robins
Smokey Joe’s Cafe, The Robins
Framed, The Robins

Related Songs:

Three Cool Cats, The Beatles

Double Crossing Blues, Johnny Otis (with Little Esther and The Robins) ★https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOzoaSQ454Y

156. Jimmy Reed

Jimmy Reed is a blues singer and songwriter from Dunleith, Mississippi. Reed moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1943. After a short stint in the Navy, he returned to Mississippi to marry his sweetheart, and then returned to Gary, Indiana, where he worked in a meat packing plant, and played blues music at night. From 1953 to 1966, Reed was a popular recording artist with the local Vee-Jay Records label. He was ill-equipped to handle the life of a touring musician, and his severe alcoholism kept his epilepsy undiagnosed for many years.

Jimmy_Reed_RF_004

Mathis James “Jimmy” Reed (1925-1976), singer, songwriter, guitar, harmonica
Eddie Taylor (1923-1985), guitar, vocals

BluesHarp.Ca Biography of Jimmy Reed

Reed is an odd figure in pop music history. He was illiterate, and his music was very simple. Many songs are standard twelve-bar blues, with subject matter a bit less bleak than his contemporaries. He was the first blues musician to have a top 40 hit on the Billboard charts (“Honest I Do”, #32 in November, 1957). Tempos are relaxed, and Reed sings as though he’s half-awake. The best Jimmy Reed songs put you in a sleepy trance. Perhaps the strangest quirk is the presence of his wife Mary “Mama” Reed singing along on famous songs such as “Bright Lights, Big City”, “Big Boss Man” and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do”. Her guide vocal may have been necessary so that Reed knew the words, and when to sing them. Reed left an unlikely and remarkable legacy. He was particularly popular with the Rolling Stones, who recorded several of his songs early in their career.

Jimmy Reed Song Notes:

1. Both monaural and stereo versions of “Big Boss Man” are included in the collection.

2. Good sound quality for most songs can be found on the The Very Best of Jimmy Reed and The Very Best of Jimmy Reed, Vol. 2 compilations.

3. “Blues For Twelve Strings” and “Baby What You Want Me To Do (Alt)” can be found on 12 String Blues.

Jimmy Reed Songs:

Big Boss Man, Jimmy Reed ★★★
Take Out Some Insurance, Jimmy Reed ★★★
Baby, What You Want Me To Do, Jimmy Reed ★★★

Found Love, Jimmy Reed ★★
I Ain’t Got You, Jimmy Reed ★★
Baby What’s Wrong, Jimmy Reed ★★
Bright Lights, Big City, Jimmy Reed ★★

Hush, Hush, Jimmy Reed
Honest I Do, Jimmy Reed
Little Rain, Jimmy Reed
Blues For Twelve Strings, Jimmy Reed
Baby What You Want Me To Do (Alt), Jimmy Reed

Related Songs:

Baby What’s Wrong, The Rolling Stones ★★

Big Boss Man (Take 2), Elvis Presley ★★
Big Boss Man (Live), Grateful Dead

Bright Lights, Big City, The Rolling Stones ★★

I Ain’t Got You, The Yardbirds ★★