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160: Smokey Robinson & Aretha Franklin, ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ (Live)

Posted by jeff on Aug 16, 2018 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Smokey Robinson & Aretha Franklin, ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ (Live)

Last week I talked about Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ from a very personal angle. But the song just wouldn’t leave me alone (yes, it’s infectious as the bubonic plague), so I did some snooping, and discovered a few things.

One is that Smokey really does have an uncommonly beautiful voice. I knew that was true, but somehow I always wind up absorbed by the gestalt of his recordings, not him as a vocalist per se.

Another is that he’s abused ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ horribly in a slew of embarrassing glam celeb duets that I very strongly recommend you not listen to: with Lucy Lawless (lawless indeed, there really should be a law against such demeaning appearances); with Ashanti (her plastic singing oudone by her affected hand gestures and ludicrous slinky walk); with Darryl Hall (all forced joviality, carrot-up-the-ass smiles); and even with Linda Ronstadt (whose schlocky 1978 cover of the song made us swoon for years. But neither she nor her treatment have worn well – here her floozy appearance is rivaled in bad judgment only by the stage set, with both Smokey and Linda concentrating more on avoiding tripping and stepping on each other’s toes than on singing the song).

But the discovery that’s been haunting me for days is this one, a spontaneous, honest homeboy and girl moment.  Aretha Franklin (b. 1942) Smokey (b. 1940) grew up in the same Detroit ‘hood, knew each other since forever. Here she’s the featured guest on a TV show called Soul Train, and Smokey’s a guest of the guest. Watch the banter, the comfort and immense mutual admiration. Watch the emcee challenge Aretha live on camera to come up with a Smokey song. Look at the total focus with which she engages the task, bestowing on it both gravitas and the most serious of fun.

Listen to these two remarkable voices, velvet and steel. A magical meeting in a magical song.  It’s not chemistry, it’s alchemy. Their emotion is palpable. As has been mine for these several days now. So will yours.

No matter that they botch the harmony at the end of the second verse. No matter that they omit the third verse entirely. At the beginning of the second verse (3’00” in the clip), Smokey takes the solo in the most transcendent, celestial voice produced by an earthbound human; then Aretha graces it with her blue note ‘mmm-hmm’, and it’s as miraculous as the rising of the sun.

Unrehearsed, glitzless. Watch it and say a little prayer of thanks for being present at the creation.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

152: Sam Cooke, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’
116: Van Morrison, ‘Tupelo Honey’
088: Lizz Wright, ‘Old Man’

 
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120: Sam Cooke, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’

Posted by jeff on Aug 9, 2018 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

There are a number of artists I admire who to my taste lack a definitive record. I’d like to listen to them, but I just can’t find a really satisfying album that invites repeated visits. Thelonious Monk, whom I admire greatly. Neil Young, whom I begrudgingly admit as being spottily interesting. And this week’s SoTW artist, the great Sam Cooke.

A while back I wrote a SoTW about Cooke’s 1962 Rhythm and Blues classic, ‘Bring It on Home to Me.’ I wrote there about how he’s universally acknowledged  as one of the great singers of popular music. In terms of oeuvre, though, I’ve always been a bit stuck. He has a dozen great pop hits, but how frequently can you listen to them? His gospel music is somewhat beyond my ken. But I’ve often wanted to listen to him more, if I only had something fresh and interesting. Well, folks, I found it. It’s the fine, fine album “Night Beat”, from 1963.

Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shinin’ through/ I can’t believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you.

All Music Guide writes: “Saddled with soaring strings and vocal choruses for maximum crossover potential, Sam Cooke’s solo material often masked the most important part of his genius — his glorious voice — so this odd small-group date earns a special recommendation in his discography.” Or as John Sebastian put it so eloquently (as is his wont) in the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Good Time Music”:

I don’t want no cryin’violins, no sax, no slide trombones

I don’t want no screaming ya-ya girls, and no honkin’English horns

I don’t want no symphony orchestra with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

All I want is a guitar, a harp and drum just to set my soul on fire.

I get over the hill and way down underneath

The arrangements on “Night Beat” are perfectly perspicuous – tasteful, enhancing, serving the vocalist, but  unobtrusive. They provide a perfect backdrop for a truly remarkable singer.

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’ (which he completely transforms from the hackneyed spiritual to a spot-on, moving personal statement); ‘Lost and Lookin’’, a virtuoso showcase with only a bass for accompaniment; ‘Please Don’t Drive Me Away’; ‘Get Yourself Another Fool’, utterly restrained, utterly passionate, a perfect example of the degree to which Sam Cooke invented the genre of Soul; ‘Trouble Blues’; ‘Fool’s Paradise’, three years after the Mose Allison version; ‘Little Red Rooster’, a hilarious, sexy blues showcasing the organ of 16-year old Billy Preston. Every single cut breathes with presence, immediacy, conviction. They’re just a pleasure to listen to, each and every one.

Big Joe Turner

But the show-stealer, by a whole bushel of black-eyed peas, is good old ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’. I can see your reaction – sure, Jeff, another old singer from the early 1960s doing another version of that humdrum antique I’ve been bored by hundreds of times already. Okay, I’ll stake my reputation on this one. You listen to this and tell me you weren’t shaking your shaker, bopping your boppers, grinning from ear to ear. I dare you! It’s sparkling, ebullient, irresistible. It’ll make you shake, rattle and roll.

Listen to his Whoa!!! At 2:33. It’s as signature and irresistible as the moptop Beatles shaking their hair and smirking their ‘Yeah yeah yeah’.

Bill Haley

‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ was originally recorded by Big Joe Turner in February, 1954 (“Everybody was singing slow blues when I was young, and I thought I’d put a beat to it and sing it up-tempo.”), with Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegün singing the response chorus!! The lyrics (and the performance) were too blatantly sexual for White Top 40 air play, so Bill Haley sanitized it for his July, 1954 recording (three weeks after Turner’s version topped the R&B charts). His version is credited as being the first rock and roll song. Well, that’s a slippery slope, but it’s certainly got its bona fides.

One-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store–Copyright Alfred Wertheimer

Elvis Presley recorded the song in 1955 (for Sun) and 1956 (for RCA) with the bowdlerized lyrics. Here he is singing the whole shebang, dirty words and all, in about 1956. I’m going to give y’all enough credit as mature adults and not explicate the secret, hidden risqué meanings in the original. But only on condition that you let Sam Cooke get your buns bouncing.

Get outta that bed, wash your face and hands
Well, you get in that kitchen, make some noise with the pots ‘n pans.

 Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shinin’ through
I can’t believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you.

I believe to the soul you’re the devil and now I know
Well, the more I work, the faster my money goes.

I said shake, rattle and roll,
Well, you won’t do right to save your doggone soul.

I’m like a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store
Well I can look at you till you ain’t no child no more.

I get over the hill and way down underneath
You make me roll my eyes, even make me grit my teeth.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

023: Tommy Edwards, ‘It’s All In the Game’

028: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, ‘The Tracks of My Tears’

048 Sam Cooke ‘Bring It On Home To Me’

 

 

 

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1

287: Moses Sumney, ‘Incantation’

Posted by jeff on Aug 3, 2018 in Song Of the week, Vocalists

Moses Sumney, ‘Incantation’

Moses Sumney, ‘Plastic’

Moses Sumney, ‘Quarrel’

Moses Sumney, ‘Lonely World’

Moses Sumney, ‘Make Out in My Car’

Moses Sumney is the best vocalist I’ve ever heard.

If you don’t believe me, jump to the end of this clip, listen to “One minute of his singing, folks, one short minute.” If that doesn’t convince you, you have my blessing to go mow the lawn or water the cat.

You all know that I NEVER exaggerate, but let’s narrow that down a bit:
He has, at times, the vocal virtuosity of Bobby McFerrin, the orchestrational brilliance of Jacob Collier, the vocalese swag of Amy Winehouse, the intimate warmth of Nat “King” Cole, and the weirdness of his buddy Sufjan Stevens.

And that’s just in falsetto.

Moses was born in 1990 in California to Ghanaian pastor parents. When he was 10, they moved back for a number of years to preach The Word. He failed to fit in, speaking Twi with an American accent, so he spent his time alone composing a cappella songs (he still doesn’t read music). He moved back to California for high school, studied creative writing at UCLA, taught himself guitar and started playing in the club scene, where he caught the eye of Sufjan, Solange, Beck, Jose Gonzalez and James Blake, Erykah Badu, Thundercat, and other names that are supposed to impress you.

He creates wondrous floating sound paintings, changing the background and coloring at whim from performance to performance, but always featuring his sensual, warm, ridiculously agile falsetto. Think of Jacob Collier, in an intimate setting, with soul.

It’s true, he doesn’t write memorable ballads—yet. “A lot of people were trying to pull me in a very pop direction…[but I realized] I didn’t have to go there. I could go weirder.” You gotta love the guy already.

If you want to see just how mind-bogglingly talented this guy is, treat yourself to 20 minutes of this NRP Tiny Desk concert. He sings just three ‘songs’, compositions really.

In the NRP Tiny Desk concert, “Doomed” starts out on solo piano till 1’30”. Then for two minutes he uses the looping station to build a tapestry from his magical orchestra: harp, electric guitar, 5-string bass, soprano sax and That Voice. People like me really get exciting watching such marvelous music being built. You normal folks can skip to the last minute of the song, starting at let’s say 7’00”. You’ll hear some vocal aerobatics that could launch Nadia Comaneci into orbit.

“Quarrel” runs from 9’00” to 15’30”. Listen to the last minute. The song? “We cannot be lovers long as I’m the other.”

This is his explication, quoted from the NY Times article “Moses Sumney Does Not Sing Love Songs”: “You don’t realize the ways in which you have social power that allows you to be an oppressor, whether you’re intending to or not. For it to be a lovers’ quarrel would imply that we come to the table as equals. And we don’t.”

Say what? He talks about never having never having experienced romantic love. From his official videos (“Quarrel”, about horses, snow, and something else I’m not going to try to describe; or “Lonely World”, which depicts his very kinky relationship with a mermaid), I’d say he’s barking up the wrong tree. If you still don’t believe in mermaids, check out this wonderful 3-page play by John Patrick Shanley.

The closer of the NRP Tiny Desk concert is a solo show piece, ‘Plastic‘ (“I try to do it differently every time, to keep it alive.”) It starts at 16’30”, and ends with some riffing that is equally astounding technically, soulful and beautiful. The best vocalist I’ve ever heard.

The critics love Moses Sumney. The coolest young artists love Moses Sumney. I love Moses Sumney, even though I readily admit that my understanding of the world he works in is severely limited. I’m a heavy user of AllMusic.com, but their review of his one album, “Aromanticism” is written in a dialect I don’t speak. However, their attempt to tag him as ‘groove ambient music/art soul’ seems to me spot-on.

From my admittedly limited perspective, I see a group of incredibly talented young composer/writer/performers who mix acoustic and electronic sounds, experimenting with sound while making technically astounding, stunningly beautiful, accessible music, singing almost solely in falsetto – Bon Iver (Justin Vernon), James Blake, Jacob Collier, Antony and the Johnsons (Antony Hegarty), Asgeir, Sigur Rós (Jónsi), Sufjan Stevens. For my money, these are among the most interesting young musicians operating today.

But for our Song of The Week, we can’t help going for a cut off his second EP, “Lamentations”, ‘Incantation’.

The text is an obscure Jewish folk incantation, wrapped in the mist of Kabbalic mysticism, sometimes included in קריאת שמע על מיטה, the nightly recitation of the Hear O Israel prayers in bed just before sleep, calling on God and his angels to protect the supplicant.

The Zohar is the central work of Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, written in Aramaic, the spoken language in Israel in the time of Jesus and the Second Temple, the language of the Talmud, Daniel and Jesus of Nazareth himself. This particular text is based on the Zohar’s riff on the first chapter of Leviticus (זהר במדבר פ’ איש על דגלו if you don’t believe me). Somewhere after the 13th century, the Aramaic version reverted to Hebrew and became The Angels’ Blessing, ברכת מלאכים.

How it got to a Ghanaian lad from San Bernadino who doesn’t believe in love is anybody’s guess. But this is some pretty amazing music. And I actually understand the lyrics (as opposed to most of his songs!)

קדוש קדוש קדוש ה’ צבאות מלא כל הארץ כבודו.
בשם ה’ אלוהי ישראל: מימיני מיכאל, משמאלי גבריאל, מלפני אוריאל, מאחורי רפאל ועל ראשי שכינת אל.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord of hosts, full of his honor is the land.
In the name of Adonai, the God of Israel: On my right Michael, on my left Gabriel, before me Uriel, behind me Raphael, and above my head the spirit of God.

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121: George Harrison, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (Acoustic Demo)

Posted by jeff on Jul 26, 2018 in Rock, Song Of the week

Beatle of Spirit and Flesh

George Harrison died ten years ago this week [written in 2011]. The event could slip by unnoticed, in contrast to the invariably gut-wrenching anniversaries of John Lennon’s death. Paul Simon wrote a beautiful song about John’s death, ‘The Late, Great Johnny Ace’, (SoTW 078), but no one writes any songs about George.

John was the towering figure. He was the domineering 17-year old leader of the group  when Paul convinced him to begrudgingly allow 14-year old George to sit in with The Quarrymen. In the 1996 video documentary “The Beatles Anthology”, George was asked about his relationship with John (who had died 16 years earlier). “Well, he was John, you know. He was three years older than me. [Long, thoughtful pause.] He still is.”  A 56-year old Beatle candidly showing that the acute inferiority he felt as an adolescent hadn’t been dulled a whit by a lifetime of achieving more than most humans can even dream of.

Tip of the Iceberg Beatle

Read more…

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