Tag Archives: elvis presley

1001 Songs – 1969: Part Two

Wow that was a long break between songs. I guess that live and a re-emerging love of cinema got in the way… also RuPaul’s Drag Race. Man, I love those girls. So let’s continue on and finally get out of the 1960s!

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Sister Morphine – Marianne Faithfull

I am probably in the minority of people in my generation to have listened to a Marianne Faithfull album (Broken English) at some point. I’d forgotten just how haunting her vocals can be, that is until ‘Sister Morphine’ starts. I don’t know if I have ever heard such a frank song about drug addiction – granted we’ve had ‘Heroin’ by the Velvet Underground – where the singer is exposing her own dark dependencies… and at the time of recording her drug habits were just on the precipice of an even deeper addiction. In part, because the money she made from this song helped her to afford more drugs, like the titular morphine.

The huskiness in Faithfull’s voice is haunting and the history of this song make it one of those weird relics that won’t soon be forgotten.

Okie from Muskogee – Merle Haggard

Okay, so this is how I would imagine Hank Hill as a country singer. On the surface this is a song about a man in Middle America looking at the youth culture (the then hippies and the drugs that they took) and being glad to be the sort of man he is. It’s hard to go beyond the surface because Merle Haggard himself keeps changing his story as to what this song means i.e. is it a satire or is he playing it straight. He basically veers between those depending on the company.

Personally I didn’t read it as satire – it feels just like someone rolling their eyes, shrugging their shoulders and going “kids these days”.

Heartbreaker – Led Zeppelin

I said previously that with Led Zeppelin II I finally found a Led Zeppelin album that I enjoyed. I wrote that two years ago and the moment ‘Heartbreaker’ started it took me right back to that sunny day when I was listening to this on the train.

With ‘Heartbreaker’ in a better context I can really appreciate how this fit into music at the time. Hard rock is becoming harder and you can see that metal is just around the corner. In fact, you might even call this and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (which will be in the next batch of songs) metal – just not heavy metal.

Is That All There Is? – Peggy Lee

Turning the dial right down from 11 here as we go for something completely different. Something utterly depressing. I’ve heard this song before, but never listened to this song before. I think that the character in the song is depressed and displaying some flat affect.

This is a woman who knows that despite being able to find any joy in love or the circus there is no point in ending it all… because death is it’s own type of disappointment. I mean, good God! Also, good on Peggy Lee for actually taking on a song like this in the twilight of her career. Her voice is sultry enough to pull this of despite the weirdly upbeat banjo in the background.

And wouldn’t you know, this helped Peggy Lee stage a comeback. Uttlerly brilliant.

Sweetness – Yes

Ladies and gentlemen, progressive rock has just arrived. If I hadn’t been so focused on the interplay between hard and soft rock in previous songs I probably would have noticed that prog-rock was quietly developing in the background – thanks in no small part to the Beatles and the Beach Boys. In the next post we’ll have a King Crimson song, which also signals the point where psychedelia is coming to an end and is mixing with the baroque rock/chamber pop of the Beach Boys to make prog-rock.

‘Sweetness’ is a song you could imagine the Beatles singing in their Sgt Pepper days, but I think it is better that this song belongs to Yes. Even if just for the sweeter vocals that the Beatles couldn’t really do.

Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley

You have to hand it to Elvis, he had a long career. He managed to jump genres and change with the times. Granted that this will have been a lot down to the management knowing what they are doing, but credit where credit is due.

It’s still very much an Elvis song though and it could belong on his Memphis album if it had been recorded earlier. He sounds so good on this song and it’s just a pity that it has that weird fade out-fade in thing going on around the 3.5 minute mark. I guess that’s the producer wanting to put his mark on the song or something like that… but that’s probably just when the song should have ended.

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby, Stills, & Nash

Bonus marks for this song for doing something very different. Structured more like a classical piece ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ is formed of four distinct parts to make one contiguous piece of music. It’s always an upbeat song, but it goes through variations in harmony, orchestration and (for the final section) language.

I think most people would find themselves recognising the final part of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ and not being sure exactly how – but it’s pretty recognisable for its unintelligability.

Pinball Wizard – The Who

We close this group of songs with two incredibly famous entries. Whilst I have not seen Tommy the movie, I have listened to the rock opera. Within the story of Tommy ‘Pinball Wizard’ is a song about the deaf-blind protagonist becoming a world class pinball player (is player the word for pinball) just through sensing the vibrations.

I mean this is drug-fuelled rock we’re talking about so it doesn’t have to make that much sense as it veers between rock and pop.

Je t’aime… moi non plus – Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg

So the story goes that there is a generation of people that have been conceived to this song. I love this idea. It’s bizarre, but I’m going to run with it. The other story goes that the heavy breathing is because of Birkin and Gainsbourg having sex during the recording. Again I love this idea if just for the logistics that would need to be involved.

Okay so both of those stories are baloney, but isn’t it great when a 4 and a half minute song can develop such a rich mythology. Especially a breathy erotic song like this one. I was about to go into how stupid it is that a song like this was banned from radio in a number of countries… but now that I’ve listened to it all the way it makes sense. There is a lot of heavy breathing in this and I can just imagine the kids in the playground mimicing this without knowing why.

Got to say that this is a weird song to end the post on…

Progress: 285/1021

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1001 Songs – 1969: Part One

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

My Way – Frank Sinatra

For many legendary artists there are songs that come to define them. Aretha has ‘Respect‘, ABBA has ‘Dancing Queen’, Nirvana has ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit‘ and Frank Sinatra has ‘My Way’.

This is very much US crooning through the lens of the French chanson. Few American male singers of note have had the voice and range to do justice to this song about looking back on a life lived. It’s not about necessarily having a good life, but about having a life on your own terms. It’s a defiant and somewhat remorseful song that should only be attempted by singers in the final or penultimate act of their life.

When I hear Sinatra sing it I imagine an abusive father being kicked out of the house and trying to show some semblance of pride. I can imaging the Denzel Washington character in Fences being a huge fan of this song.

I guess what I am trying to say is… if this was sung by someone who was less of a piece of work than Frank Sinatra I might be more on board with this despite the fact that the production is so overblown. But I’m not.

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – Roberta Flack

So this was recorded and first released by Roberta Flack in 1969 and ended up winning her Grammys in 1972. It’s weird how the Grammys work. Then again – Lemonade.

As is obvious from the title, this is a love song. Interestingly it is a song written by Ewan MacColl for the woman he would later marry… who would also be his third and final wife. So that’s kinda sweet.

Roberta Flack clearly has a big set of pipes, but manages to show remarkable restraint when delivering the song. It comes out every now and then, but she keeps a lid on it for over five minutes. Not going to say that I didn’t get a bit bored during this though. It could have been cut for time.

I’m Just a Prisoner (of Your Good Lovin’) – Candi Staton

Probably better known for the immortal singles ‘You Got the Love’ and ‘Young Hearts, Run Free’ we are at the first of Candi Staton’s three entries on this list. All three songs are incredibly different with ‘I’m Just A Prisoner’ being an example of soul done well.

There’s a rasp to her voice that gives her that extra bit of personality compared to other singers of this era – although we won’t see that rasp in full force until her later songs. I look forward to reaching 1976.

She Moves Through the Fair – Fairport Convention

Here we are back in blighty and we have an early example of electric folk. This particular song is a rather traditional Irish folk song that is beautifully sung by lead vocalist Sandy Denny.

It’s an understated affair that brings in influences like Van Morrison and Simon and Garfunkel to update traditional songs to present day using contemporary instruments and arrangements. As music goes it isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it shows just how these influences can separate off.

Many Rivers to Cross – Jimmy Cliff

Okay this selection of songs is a rather downplayed bunch. We’re crossing many genre borders and that’s not something that could have been done when starting off on this list.

According to Wikipedia this is a reggae/gospel ballad – more emphasis on the gospel thanks to that electric organ in the background. For some reason I am getting a massive hint of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ which would place this song more into the soul category… which makes a lot more sense than reggae.

I guess that thanks to all these different genres sprouting the ability to section them off really is starting to get harder. Although, I would be hard-pressed to call this reggae.

In the Ghetto – Elvis Presley

Thank you South Park for ruining this song. I listen to this and all I can think of is Eric Cartman singing this about Kenny’s family.

Then again, this is an incredibly overdone song with it’s ghostly backing vocals and Elvis’s affected emotion. The lyrics are fascinating to listen to and, honestly, I wish this had retained the original title of ‘The Vicious Circle’. It’s all about the vicious cycle of poverty and how there are many that cannot escape it. All a bit rich when sung by Elvis Presley who didn’t want to do a political song.

It’s also worth noting that in 2007 Lisa-Marie Presley did this song as a posthumous duet with her father…

Oh Well, Parts 1 & 2 – Fleetwood Mac

So this is the first song in a good while that’s mostly instrumental. Part 1 (which is the first 2 minutes of this 9 minute song) features vocials and is more inkeeping with the rock music of the time, but the rest is more classical.

You have to hand it to Fleetwood Mac for trying to have a 7 minute instrumental track inspired by Spanish guitar as a single. The use of the first two minutes as the A-side was against the songwriter’s wishes with it being a throwaway piece for the B-side. Somewhere along the way the tracks got swapped and it is those first two minutes that went on to be a hit.

Despite being a throwaway ‘Oh Well, Part 1’ went on to be an influential song because of how it fused harder rock with blues rock. As a single it showcases two very different sides of the same songwriter – so I’m glad that I got to hear both parts,

The Real Thing – Russell Morris

Oh psychedelia. We are seeing you on your way out by now in most markets and being replaced with harder rock or a revival of folk… so of course we see a bit example of Australian psychedelia. Without the instant sharing of musical influences things would have trickled around the world so much slower.

It’s not your regular psychedelic rock song. This had the whole music producer toolkit behind it which lead to a lot of interesting effects being used that make this song rather unique and mindbending. The ending alone where it appears that another song is trying to intrude on ‘The Real Thing’ is remarkably odd.

At the time this was the most expensive song in Australian history, coming in at about the same cost as an average album.

Progress: 276/1021

1001 Songs – 1966: Part Two

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone – Paul Revere & The Raiders

I think I had this song ruined by a rather awful cover by Ant and Dec. Honestly, I am starting to wonder when we are going to be getting away from rock songs with an organ
playing alongside the bass-line. It’s getting to the point where having it squawking in the background is rather distracting.

Whilst I know we are not going to be having new developments and evolutions with every song that we play – this just felt like one of the bunch instead of a standout. This is meant to be proto-punk – but if it’s a song easily covered by The Monkees and PJ and Duncan then it isn’t THAT punk.

Mas que nada – Sergio Mendes & Brasil’ 66

Speaking of developments. It has been a while since we were in the presence of bossanova (although I did listen to some Bebel Gilberto when holidaying in Lisbon) and the sound has already started to become a lot richer down in Brazil.

There won’t be many people that don’t know a version of this song, even if it is the more recent version with the Black Eyed Peas. It’s one of those moodsetters that sitcoms use to convince you that they’ve shot in Brazil instead of a parking lot outside of Tampa.

El muerto vivo – Peret

Might as well pop over to Spain for a bit of a rumba after a bit of a Brazilian bossanova.

This is on the list as ‘El Mureto Vivo’ (or ‘The Living Dead’ in English) is one of the most played and most famous example of a Catalan rumba song. Not a lot to say here to be honest other than the fact that I wish we had more songs like this. Songs that were different from the big movements in rock/punk/soul that we are seeing elsewhere on the list.

Still, good to be developing that breadth of knowledge.

Tomorrow Is a Long Time – Elvis Presley

A Bob Dylan song as recorded by Elvis Presley. Sure, why the hell not.

Despite the fact that both Dylan and Presley are both part of the US sphere of rock, I find it hard to imagine the two of them interacting that often.

Still, this is an interesting bit of world collision here and it could originally be found as a bonus track on a movie soundtrack. A cover that Bob Dylan views as his favourite.

Knowing that Presley actively sought these Bob Dylan songs out to cover (it’s just that we don’t know a lot of them) really changes my view on the emotional depth of Presley as an artist.

Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles

Baroque pop! One of of my favourite sub-genres and I am finally hearing it for the first time. You can identify that it’s baroque pop not just from the sting section but the mix of melodies and harmonies.

When I listened to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as part of my listenthrough for Revolver I honestly don’t think I got it. I do now.

Just so much to unpack here when you listen to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in isolation. The interesting topic of loneliness. The incredible leap that The Beatles took to reach this point from the last song of theirs we heard.

Actually, this is not like anything we’ve heard on the list so far. Actually rather astonishing.

River Deep–Mountain High – Ike & Tina Turner

Don’t let the artist name fool you. This is a Tina Turner and Phil Spector song. I know my image of this song will be clouded by the fictions present in the Tina Turner biopic ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’, but with Ike Turner being paid hansomly to not mess with this song… well get the idea.

Big and bodacious ‘River Deep-Mountain High’ is one of those songs that just shows the range and power in Tina Turner’s voice. There are moments where the Wall of Sound feels like it is about to overwhelm her, but she always finds a way to soar.

7 and 7 Is – Love

14? An awful beverage? Oh right, a proper proto-punk song unlike the one we started this year off with. How silly of me.

A while ago I listened to their album Forever Changes, which they released a year after ‘7 and 7 Is’. That is a great album and a very different direction to what I just heard here. From proto-punk to a softer folk style more inkeeping with their name of ‘Love’.

Interesting to read up what happened there…

96 Tears – ? & The Mysterians

Seriously, when will we stop with that organ. If you are not a rendition of ‘Green Onions’ I am not interested in how proficient you are with the organ. The sheer abundance of the organ on this track is enough to make my ears curl.

This is another one of those garage rock songs (can you spot the pattern with a bunch of these songs from 1966) and it is seen as one of the proper progenitors of punk. Honestly I think ‘7 And 7 Is’ is further along in terms of what punk is… but what do I know.

I do, however, have respect for a band that plays with the idea that their lead singer is an alien who is thousands of years old. LSD really must be marvellous.

Pushin’ Too Hard – The Seeds

Once again, we have some baby punk. Why couldn’t we have had more songs like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ (Arcade Fire really is too far away in the future at this point).

There are points where I think they are going to segue into a rendition of The Kink’s ‘You Really Got Me’. Just something about the backing that feels a bit borrowed. Then again, most modern punk sounds like the Ramones put through a filter so who am I to judge.

In a similar vein to Love, The Seeds went away from this punkier sound to something more psychedelic. I mean if you end up being the band that coins the phrase ‘Flower Power’ you need music you can groove along to.

Psychotic Reaction – The Count Five

It feels like AGES since I last heard a harmonica. After a few of these garage rock/proto-punk songs I thought I would be a bit more jaded, but this one is really good.

This garage rock song still feels like half a light year from what punk would become. Still with those musical breakdowns and a howling harmonica ‘Psychotic Reaction’ felt like a smarter way of approaching punk rock.

Never heard of the band? Well, they broke up to go to college. Who knows where they could have ended up if they had stuck with music.

Reach Out (I’ll Be There) – The Four Tops

A nice bit of Motown soul to finish off this run of songs. Alongside ‘Baby Love’ by the Supremes, ‘Reach Out (I’ll Be There)’ was one of the first big hits to come out of the Motown record label.

Interesting to hear the strain in the voice of the lead singer during this song. His range was a baritone and he was being asked to sing a song for a tenor, and you can really tell that the higher he is meant to sing the harder it becomes for him. This, however, gives the song a sense of urgency that only adds to it.

Progress: 207/1021

One more post left and that’s 1966 covered. I wonder what gems I will be listening to next time.

1001 Songs – 1956: Part One

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Blue Monday – Fats Domino

Rhythm and blues with some rock and roll influences here. The music showing how these genres can mash up to produce something that was, for the time, new and exciting. The first of two Fats Domino tracks of 1956 and this is not the star of the show; that honour goes to Blueberry Hill.

Burundanga – Celia Cruz

A deliciously festive salsa track that ended up lending its name to a drug used by rapists. Clearly this knowledge clouds a lot of the positive feeling I have towards this song. Not the songs fault… but wow.

Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love) – Ella Fitzgerald

Oh hello Ella. She really was the voice you wanted when translating the Great American Songbook to vinyl. One of the true greats of this era. The fact that such a normal and unassuming woman is on here singing about sex with an audible gleam in her eye… well it’s a delight.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Frank Sinatra

 

Sintra’s warm tones and a rather intrusive saxophone make for one of the classic recordings. It takes a lot for someone to take a 20 year old Oscar nominated song and make it their standard. This song is forever linked with Frank Sinatra and don’t you just know it as the big band explodes into view.

Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye – Ella Fitzgerald

Third song in a row penned by Cole Porter. I don’t think we’ll see something like that again in this song list. Elegant is the only word that really springs to mind. The woodwind and string sections get a good workout in this more positive rendition of a song about saying goodbye to a loved one.

Be-Bop-A-Lula – Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps

Ah rockabilly. It didn’t take long for rock and roll for it to receive it’s first offbranching genre. Be-Bop-A-Lula makes heavy use of steel guitars in this early marriage of rock and roll, rhythym and blues and, most importantly, country music. It’s one of those tracks that screams Elvis Presley… and talk of the devil.

Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley

Another song making heavy use of those steel guitars. Listening to Elvis in the context of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra really helps to understand how Elvis stood out so much. In this more bluesy take on rockabilly Elvis is really slurring his words to the point where you find yourself leaning in… in a good way. Dark subject content too.

Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino

I have always loved this song. I even had this album for a while. It’s a smooth track that was apparently spliced together after they lost the sheet music and Fats couldn’t remember the song well enough to sing one clean take. Thumbs up to the editors there.

Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

A song about a woman throwing out her no good man as sung by Elvis Presley? I love it! This is one of those songs that twirling poodle skirts was made for. It’s one of those where both his cover and the original (an electric and attitude filled turn by Big Mama Thornton) satisify different needs. In her hands it’s a fuck you and get lost, in his hands it’s a fuck this and let’s dance.

Progress: 74/1021

Music Monday: Time With The Pelvis

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 5/250

I did say that I would remain amongst the earlier years of this list when I looked at Frank Sinatra so this week I will be spending time with the King himself; Elvis Presley. The two albums that Elvis have on the most acclaimed list are very different which makes for an interesting listening experiment first we will have his 1956 eponymous debut and then the album which marked his comeback in the late sixties. In a way he made his best work when he really needed to which is remarkable… especially considering he didn’t write a word of them.

ElvispresleydebutalbumTitle: Elvis Presley
Artist: Elvis Presley
Year: 1956
Position: #123 (Previously: #102)

Elvis Presley’s eponymous debut truly hit’s the ground running with the catchy and upbeat ‘Blue Suede Shoesloses a bit of momentum on the next track (don’t get me wrong it’s still good) but just fails to keep up the pace and falls completely flat at the next track along. This pattern does repeat itself very often as the album goes along with the latter half of the album really being more miss than hit. This is a real pity as when it is good it is VERY good with foot-tapping music that you just can not help but bop along to. But this is very quickly extinguished by some of the schmaltz that makes you want to reach for the next track.

While there are exceptions to the rule (such as ‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘In The Ghetto’ and, from this album, ‘I’m Counting On You’) Elvis truly does sound at his best when the songs are more upbeat and are better to swing-dance to. Songs like ‘Tutti Frutti’ just conjure up the images of teens in diner’s sharing vanilla malts listening to the new music. Okay maybe I’ve watched Pleasantville one too many times but that’s just an opinion I am venturing

Historically speaking there is no question that this album does belong on a list of albums that you need to listen to, just because of what this album did. Firstly, it launched the career of arguably the most famous singer of all time (I would happily argue more than John Lennon or Michael Jackson) and for that this album is truly impressive. Secondly this has the great distinction of being the first truly successful rock ‘n roll album. So again this album has some historical value.

However, being a purely preferential escapade of mine I am probably unlikely to listen to the whole album again, with the exception of the highlights. Other than that it is a tad disappointing.

ElvisinMemphisTitle: From Elvis In Memphis
Artist: Elvis Presley
Year: 1969
Position: #259 (Previously: #219)

From Elvis In Memphis is an interesting album as in many ways it marks a homecoming for Elvis. Having moved there with his family at the age of 13 and getting his music career started there back in 1953 the city of Memphis, Tennessee is central to Elvis as a person. Thus, for a comeback album (after years in the wilderness of crappy films) it is completely right that he chose to return to his roots.

Between the release of his debut and this album the Memphis sound had truly evolved into something that was not what you would have associated with Elvis. In many ways it was a brave move of Elvis to try and make a comeback with such a different sound. The young man who was the face of rock n roll and rockabilly has been through military service and was now the victim of multiple additions. If he had ever had the talent or inclination to become a song-writer then he could have churned out some amazing things.

Instead here we are at From Elvis In Memphis where the production is lush and the main influences are gospel and soul (something that had always been part of Elvis’s background but  never done as well as it was here). Elvis here sings with tenderness and conviction where you feel that he is living and breathing every word that he says (although the whole “this is why I wrote this song” on ‘Only The Strong Survive’ annoys). He is easily able to inhabit the characters from these songs which speaks to his acting and empathetic abilities.

He could have been a good actor, something he proved in King Creole, but the industry insisted on quick and cheap films that were, almost exclusively, formulaic and terrible. I mean Viva Las Vegas was a fun romp but it was incredibly empty. I can not remember where I was meant to go with this…

Anyway, with the exception of the somewhat melodramatic backing singers in ‘In The Ghetto’ the album as a whole feels earnest and genuine. It smacks of a man clambering for his second chance and who wanted to be loved once more after a series of bad choices. It worked.