Archive for the ‘Elvis Presley’ Category

Sunday July 20th, 1969, marked a momentous moment in the history of humankind: Neil Armstrong stepped from the lunar module Eagle and descended a ladder to the surface of the moon. After touching ground at 10:56pm ET, he paused to say, “that’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” (The “a” is in brackets because it wasn’t audible on the transmission beamed to the 600 million people watching on Earth.)

The U.S. president – the 37th in the country’s history – was Richard M. Nixon, who took the oath of office six months earlier. His time in office was accented by chicanery, cynicism and brilliance, though much of that was yet to come. At this point in time, though he was viewed with disdain by some, his approval ratings were routinely in the 60s.

On the economic front, the unemployment rate began the year at 3.4 percent and ended at 3.9 percent. Everyone who wanted one had a job, just about. Inflation, on the other hand, was a source of concern: When Nixon took office, it was already high at 4.4 percent, and it continued to inch higher each month. 

When it came to foreign affairs – specifically, the Vietnam War – this very month marked two significant events: the first U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam occurred on the 8th; and, on July 25th, the “Nixon Doctrine” – aka the Vietnamization of the war – was announced. The plan was for the U.S. to turn over the defense of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese.

In the Philly region, it was an atypical summer’s day, topping out at a mere 78 degrees (Fahrenheit). The Phillies didn’t take advantage of the cool weather, however, as starting pitcher Bill Champion failed to live up to his surname in a 6-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Connie Mack Stadium.

Among the movies playing in the theaters: Hook, Line & Sinker, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider, which was released on July 14th. As I’ve noted before, however, this was the era when it could take a movie six or more months to make it to your local cinema.

Aside from the moon transmission, TV was basically in yesteryear’s DVR mode – rerun season. It’s when folks caught up on episodes they had missed.

In the world of music, June and July 1969 saw the release of a few notable – and not-so-notable – albums, including Roberta Flack’s First Take, Elvis Presley’s From Elvis in Memphis, Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking, Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad, The Doors’ Soft Parade, and Yes’ eponymous debut. 

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: July 20, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40; the chart is for the 19th).

1) Zager and Evans – “In the Year 2525.” The next time a baby boomer laments the state of today’s music, point them to this song. And laugh. Because on July 20th, 1969 – less than a month before Woodstock – this “prophetic” song was the No. 1 song in the land.

And for you Gen-Xers feeling smug right now, here’s R.E.M. covering it:

2) Blood, Sweat & Tears – “Spinning Wheel.” Holding steady at No. 2 for a second week is this jaunty philosophical ode, which was penned by BS&T singer David Clayton-Thomas. 

To again leave the pop charts for a moment, earlier in the year Peggy Lee released an effervescent rendition of the song that reached No. 24 on the Easy Listening charts…

3) Three Dog Night – “One.” Dropping from No. 5 to No. 6 is this song, which I first heard in the mid-1970s on a commercial for a mail-order compilation. The song was written and originally recorded by Harry Nilsson, who released it in 1968.

And – yes, this is a trend – Aimee Mann recorded “One” for the For the Love of Nilsson tribute album in 1995. It also appeared on the soundtrack for Magnolia.

4) Elvis Presley – “In the Ghetto.” Elvis continued his comeback with this classic song written by Mac Davis that tackles poverty. (Sad to say, 50 years later, it remains as relevant as it was then.)

A few decades years later, on the 1998 Lilith Fair tour, Natalie Merchant – accompanied by Tracy Chapman – sang the song.

5) Jackie DeShannon – “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” One of the week’s “power plays” is this catchy plea for love, which jumps from No. 55 to 48. FYI: Jackie co-wrote it.

And, finally, Dolly Parton recorded a wonderful version of the song for her 1993 album Slow Dancing With the Moon. Here she is singing it a few months earlier on the CMA Awards… 

I’ve written before of my affinity for cover songs. There’s just something magical when a singer tackles a contemporary’s tune and/or digs deep into the charts of history to celebrate an influence. It sheds light on him or her, I think, in a way that one’s own work doesn’t.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, of course, cover songs were somewhat de rigueur. Many a Motown LP followed a simple pattern: the artist’s current single(s); versions of their stablemates’ hits; and renditions of Beatles’ songs and other current tunes. Gladys Knight & the Pips’ If I Were Your Woman album, from 1971, includes her renditions of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” and the Beatles’ “Let It Be,” for instance, and her Standing Ovation features her sultry take on Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

In today’s world, many an aspiring singer has a YouTube channel loaded with their renditions, many of them very good, of current and classic songs. I’m sidestepping that rabbit hole to focus primarily on artists who’ve released original works, however.

So, without further adieu, here’s today’s Top 5: Cover Songs, Part Two.

1)  Rumer – “Balance of Nature.” This is another tasty treat from the Brit singer-songwriter’s upcoming album, This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook. (It was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick for her 1972 Warner Brothers’ debut, Dionne.)

2) Rylie Bourne – “Fist City.” One of my favorite new artists shows off her roots with this rendition of the feisty Loretta Lynn classic.

3) The MonaLisa Twins – “God Only Knows.” So, above, I mentioned the rabbit hole of YouTube. The MonaLisa Twins, who I discovered courtesy of YouTube’s algorithms, are singing sisters from Austria who moved to Liverpool a few years back – and, man, what voices! This hails from their 2014 MonaLisa Twins Play Beatles & More album.

4) Paul Weller – “What’s Going On.” The “modfather” is joined by Lena Fiagbe for this cover of the timeless Marvin Gaye song.

5) Britta Phillips – “Drive.” A cover of the Cars’ song; a studio version can be found on her recent album, the sublime Luck or Magic.

And a few bonuses…

Elvis Presley – “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Presley expanded his Vegas sets with a plethora of contemporary tunes. This wondrous rendition of the Simon & Garfunkel chestnut comes from the That’s the Way It Is film, which documented his 1970 return to live performance in Las Vegas.

Alicia Keys – “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” Here’s Alicia from the America: A Tribute to Heroes TV special in 2001 performing a stirring rendition of the 1973 Donnie Hathaway classic.

Juliana Hatfield – “It Never Rains in Southern California.” A few years back, Juliana offered to record song requests for one of her PledgeMusic projects – for $1000 a pop, if my memory is correct. That was far and away out of my budget then, and still is now, but hey – someone ponied up the cash. Here’s one of them: a wistful version of the 1972 hit by Albert Hammond.

 

Venus_Mars

On August 16, 1977, a little more than a month after my 12th birthday, I survived the SooperDooperLooper at Hershey Park. Most of my memories of the day itself long ago faded to black, but what I do recall: the ride home. My father was at the wheel, my mother beside him in the front passenger seat and my older brother beside me in the back. It was there, somewhere on the Pennsylvania turnpike, that we learned of Elvis Presley’s death via my father’s favorite radio station, Philadelphia’s WWDB, 96.5 FM. It was all-talk and, to my young ears, always all-boring. This night, however, the host played Elvis songs and took calls from listeners, many of whom were quite upset.

Mind you, up until that point, for me Elvis was just a name occasionally tossed out on one of my favorite TV shows, Happy Days. I had no clue as to who he was or what he represented – but learned fast. A week later, I scrawled in my rarely used desk diary, “I might order an Elvis Presley record. He was the king of rock ’n roll!” (Then – as now – I had a knack for stating the obvious.) As it turned out, however, while shopping for school supplies not long thereafter, my mom saved me a few bucks and bought me Elvis’ Golden Records.

Other records followed. I picked up a few cut-rate/Pickwick compilations of Elvis’ movie music over the next few months for no other reason than they were priced right. And I enjoyed both halves of the Donny & Marie ampersand enough to sell some of my treasured comic books, which I’d painstakingly collected over the preceding few years, in order to afford The Osmonds’ Greatest Hits. Marie’s rendition of “Paper Roses” was sublime, I thought.

I also bought the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me based on the theme song and because of my ignorance. I didn’t know the difference between LPs and singles.

That Christmas, though it may have been the Christmas before, my brother and I both received Radio Shack/Realistic compact stereos – a turntable and radio in one. An inexpensive model, to be sure, but far from cheap. There was always something magical about lowering the needle to the vinyl.

Tentative steps – that best describes those initial forays into popular music. I’ve written about it before – here and here – and will undoubtedly do so again, but, really, all one needs to know for now is this: I had no clue as to what I was doing. I listened to Mike St. Johns’ “Saturday Night Oldies” show on WPEN-AM. Bought a few Jan & Dean singles. And spent most of my time focused on schoolwork, football, pro wrestling and comic books.

A TV commercial, of all things, upended that order of things. Paul McCartney and Wings released London Town on March 31st of 1978, and Capitol Records put together a spot advertising it – possibly this one:

The snippet of “With a Little Luck” therein took hold of my 12-year-old brain and before long I had the 45, then the album, then another Wings LP, and then another, and then someone – my father or mother, more than likely – told me about his previous band. You know, the Beatles. As I remember it, I listened to nothing but McCartney, Wings and the Beatles for the next few years. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise. Soon I was enjoying Grease, Olivia Newton-John, WIFI-92 and such 45s as Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes,” Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

Venus and Mars was one of the “another” Wings LPs mentioned above, bought over the summer with cash I received for my 13th birthday, if my memory is correct. I loved it from the get-go. The one-two punch of “Venus and Mars” and “Rock Show” set the stage for what followed on the LP, which was laid out somewhat like a concert. The songs included such catchy bon mots as the comic-book romp “Magneto and Titanium Man,” guitar-heavy “Letting Go,” bluesy “Call Me Back Again” and poppy “Listen to What the Man Said.”

Earlier this month, I received the deluxe edition of the remastered Venus and Mars – part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection series. In addition to the original album, it comes with a CD of bonus material (including “Junior’s Farm” and “My Carnival”); a DVD of assorted video clips and live footage; a coffee table-sized book that delves deep into the recording of the album; and downloads of the high-resolution audio (96kHz/24 bit). Sonically speaking, there’s no comparison to the original 1987 CD release. That sounded distant and flat; this sounds like you’re in the control room.

What strikes me now: It’s not as good as my 13-year-old self thought (small surprise there), yet remains thoroughly enjoyable. I still love the songs I mentioned above, plus a few (“Love in Song,” “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People”) that I used to find boring, and sing along with most of them while driving in my car. For me, they’re high-octane nostalgia fodder, conjuring the days of bell-bottom jeans, loud shirts, long hair and little worries beyond the weather.