Posts Tagged ‘Al Green’

There were three men in the beginning of the 1970s who had the firepower to compete with Marvin Gaye: Al Green, Donny Hathaway, and Bill Withers. (At the end of the decade there was also Teddy Pendergrass, but I’m still trying to finish the beginning of the decade.)

These gentlemen were at their peak in the years 1970 through ’73, when I was in high school. (Pendergrass was at his peak when I was in disco.) Despite a few not-too-positive comments (what is this blog without not-too-positive comments), it was a pleasure to spend an entire day with them so I could write this post.

Al Green
My problem with Al Green is that his music follows an arc from make-out songs to soft rock to Jesus. But Green had a run of excellent discs in the early ’70s starting with Al Green Gets Next to You (1971). The big hit was “Tired of Being Alone.” The big flaw was “Light My Fire.” Sadly, there is nothing flammable about Green’s version.

Let’s Stay Together (1972) features the deservedly-popular title track, of course, but also a stunning reclamation project: Green’s cover of The Bee-Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” Making something this artful out of something that awful must’ve been like making drinking water out of the Dead Sea.

I’m Still in Love with You (1972) includes my favorite, “Love and Happiness,” where Green lets the first 34 seconds go by before he even thinks about singing. There’s also a terrific version of “Oh Pretty Woman.” The soft rock seeps in with Call Me (1973), but Call Me also has “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” so I still rate it as a Buy.

Donny Hathaway
The late Mr. Hathaway had a voice from a galaxy far, far away. His duets with Roberta Flack were popular (Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, 1972). But I never liked his material; I thought his voice was better suited for Broadway or even opera.

I was sleepwalking through his debut, Everything Is Everything (1970), which is pleasant, when “The Ghetto” came on. That was like stepping on the third rail. This is a true lost classic of the ’70s, a song the teenaged me only heard on the underground radio stations in Boston. I’d completely forgotten it. What a gift to have it returned.

However, I suspect I like “The Ghetto” because there’s not much singing on this track.

Bill Withers
Here’s the formula for making unfair judgments about Bill Withers’ albums:

1. The album covers all feature photos of Withers.
2. As his clothes improve, his music does not.

My favorite Withers record is his first, Just As I Am (1971). What an easy-going man…an easy-going man who can get to the core of an incident or an entire life in two minutes. “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which I know you love as much as I do, lasts two minutes. His tribute to his grandmother, “Grandma’s Hands,” is two minutes.

Give him another 30 seconds and you get his hair-raising cover of “Let It Be.” And when he decides to stretch out a bit and use three or even four minutes, he gives us “Harlem,” a rocker, and “Hope She’ll Be Happier,” a fresh look at an old subject.

Withers closes Just As I Am with “Better Off Dead,” a song about an alcoholic. Devastation.

His second album, Still Bill (1972), features “Lean on Me” and “Use Me,” but also “Another Day to Run” and the funky and adult “Lonely Town, Lonely Street,” “Take It All In and Check It All Out,” and “Who Is He (and What Is He to You)?”

Withers’ third effort, Live At Carnegie Hall, marks the end of the great Withers records. (Yes, I know that he still has “Lovely Day” coming up in a few years, but he cancels that out with the sticky-sweet “Just the Two of Us.”) Live At Carnegie Hall opens with eight minutes of “Use Me” and includes a “Grandma’s Hands” that’ll grab ya by the throat.

Bill Withers is sad. Al Green understands sad but isn’t. Donny Hathaway was seamless.

Random Pick of the Day
Lou Rawls, Live! (1966)
Lou Rawls sang like another Nat King Cole but with human flaws. Rawls is best known for “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” a planetary phenomenon in 1976.

To my ears, all of Rawls’ interesting recordings are from the 1960s. This disqualifies him from any further discussion in my survey of black music of the ’70s, but I couldn’t let this album go unheralded. It was a very different, at times ferocious man who recorded these songs: “Tobacco Road,” “Stormy Monday,” and “I Got It Bad (and that Ain’t Good).” Even old-timers such as “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “The Girl From Ipanema” sound new here.

As much as I like Al Green and Bill Withers and sort of like Donny Hathaway, I find the women of the ’70s to be much more diverse and interesting than the men. Next up in the black music of the ’70s series: Stand by for…Diva Week!


’70s Week at Run-DMSteve concludes with some of my favorite songs of the decade. I’m not saying these are the best songs of the decade, and they’re not all of my favorites. I just stopped at 25. To keep things manageable, I limited myself to one song per artist (except in one instance), but to make them less manageable, I included some runners-up.

A few words about women, of whom my list has only one, Joan Armatrading, recording on her own. (I do have Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of The B-52s and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads.)

There were plenty of remarkable women in rock in the ’70s. Minnie Ripperton could reach all of the known octaves and a few that she must’ve invented. But I can’t digest her music. Ditto Cher, Blondie, The Runaways, and Susie Quatro. I’ll see you in hell before I listen to Heart. If I added another 25 songs, I’d include Patti Smith (“So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star”), Donna Summer (“I Feel Love”), Joni Mitchell (tough one, but probably “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire”), and The Slits (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”). How I wish The Slits could’ve opened for Hole. I’ll try to field a more balanced squad during ’80s Week.

My heartfelt thanks to Brother Bob Lingard, who started me on this week’s theme when he kindly loaned me a CD with hundreds of songs from the ’70s and ’80s. Though listening to this collection often seemed like an endurance test, especially when I collided with Christopher Cross –

“I’m on the runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn/no time to sleep”

– Phil Collins, and the REO Styxjourneywagon dud machine, I learned a lot. I’d forgotten how much I like Roxy Music and Squeeze, how overrated REM is and how undeservedly obscure Steve Winwood is. Party on, Brother Bob!

Here’s the list:

Aerosmith, “Sweet Emotion”
It pains me to type “Aerosmith,” but at least they’re not Foghat.

Joan Armatrading, “Love and Affection”
This is the female “Bolero”!

The B-52s, “Rock Lobster”
How amazing that “Rock Lobster,” the greatest song ever recorded by anyone in any language on any planet, was produced in the same decade that gave us “Kung Fu Fighting” and “You’re Having My Baby.”

David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream”
My favorite Bowie album is Station to Station, but this is my favorite song.

The Clash, “Complete Control”
Runner-up: “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”

Elvis Costello, “You Belong to Me”
Could easily have gone with “Mystery Dance,” “Watching the Detectives,” or “This Year’s Model.”

The Dickies, “Nights in White Satin”
One of the best covers in the history of covers. You get every note of the original but all of them played five times as fast. The single was released in 1979 on white vinyl.

Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On” and “What’s Going On
If this had been ’60s Week, I would’ve picked “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Al Green, “Love and Happiness”
I can listen to this over and over. In fact, I have.

The Guess Who, “No Time”
What this song means is anybody’s guess. The live version, recorded in Seattle on the same stage where Special D and I saw The Roches and Guys and Dolls, rocks harder.

George Harrison, “Isn’t It a Pity”
Harrison’s talent seems so very different from Lennon’s and McCartney’s. George’s work floats on a slow-moving undercurrent of grief.

Isaac Hayes, “Theme From Shaft”
Shaft. Any questions?

Michael Jackson, “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough”
The video of Jackson dancing to this song was the first thing I ever saw played back on a VCR.

K.C. & The Sunshine Band, “Get Down Tonight”
By your command!

Led Zeppelin, “Kashmir”
I’ve tried for years to dismiss Led Zeppelin as AC/DC with a library card, but songs like this rebuke me.

Paul McCartney, “Maybe I’m Amazed”
The best thing Sir Paul did on his own, and good enough to compare to his work with John.

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”
Thelma Houston’s version is more disco. I had to flip a coin to pick one.

Pink Floyd, “Fearless”
Dark Side of the Moon is my favorite Pink Floyd, but this is my favorite song. Always brings tears to my eyes.

Lou Reed, “Walk on the Wild Side”
To save space, the term “Lou Reed” includes the term “The Velvet Underground.”

The Rolling Stones, “Wild Horses”
If I hadn’t limited myself to one song apiece, The Stones would’ve dominated this list. For ’60s Week I would’ve picked “Street Fighting Man.”

Tom Rush, “Urge for Going”
Joni Mitchell wrote this one. Tom Rush is not in her league, except here. Not what you’d call a bouncy number.

Bruce Springsteen, “Backstreets”
One of the few times Bruce surpassed “Wild Billy’s Circus Story.”

Steely Dan, “Bodhisattva”
Steely Dan is not the most annoying band of the decade, though they’re right behind Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Bee-Gees in that department. “Bodhisattva,” however, is too ridiculous to resist. Plus it packs more swing than anything else in the Steely Dan catalog.

Talking Heads, “Heaven”
As I wrote here, I never appreciated this song until I heard them perform it during the Stop Making Sense concert tour.

Stevie Wonder, “Superstition”
Almost every one of his songs bursts with joy. Runner-up: “As.”

Your suggestions, comments, and suggestive comments are welcome. Thanks as always for reading. See you for ’80s Week!

If you’re going to set up shop as a music writer, you will eventually have to write about The Beatles. I can’t put this off any longer, so let’s get right into it with a few words about Babe Ruth.

Babe Ruth changed baseball in almost every way. In 1920 he hit 59 homeruns. In case your memories of the 1920 baseball season have grown dim, the man in second place hit 19. There were eight teams in the American League that year and only one of them managed, as a team, to hit more homeruns than Ruth.

Babe Ruth sparked a conceptual leap in how baseball should be played, and within a couple of years other players were hitting almost as many homers. The long ball is still the name of the game today. You could say we’ve been copying Ruth for 90 years, but I say we’ve been covering him.

Befuddled TV producer after meeting George: “Do you think he’s an early clue to a new direction?”
The Beatles changed pop music in almost every way. They were a guitar band that covered other people’s songs until they started writing their own. That was unusual. Rather than ride a popular groove all the way to to retirement, they experimented with new grooves. That was extreme. They remained relevant right up until the day they broke up and went to court.

The Beatles had more hits in one week than most bands have in a lifetime. In early April 1964 they placed 12 songs on the Billboard 100 including all five of the top five: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Please Please Me.” Sinatra and Elvis had been popular but no one had seen anything like Beatlemania. (Children loved Babe Ruth, Yankee fans loved Babe Ruth, and Hollywood starlets really loved Babe Ruth.)

Of course The Beatles also gave us the prototype of the Boy Band, afflicting us with The Monkees, Duran Duran, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, *NSYNC, and Coldplay, but that’s a small price to pay. Plus I like The Monkees.

Every guitarist starts out with “Smoke on the Water” or “Stairway to Heaven,” but every band learns a Beatles song.

Manager: The train station is surging with girls!
John: Please sir, please sir, can I have a girl to surge with, sir?
Bands began covering The Beatles right from the beginning and the first band to do so was The Beatles: They recorded German versions of “She Loves You” (“Sie Liebt Dich”) and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (“Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand”). The Knickerbockers hit the charts in 1966 with “Lies,” which is so good and so Beatles-like it could easily have been the B-side of “Can’t Buy Me Love.” And then something interesting happened: The music of The Beatles escaped the pop genre.

Aretha Franklin raised the gospel roof with “Let It Be.” Al Green sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and though he’s obviously not working too hard, still, he’s Al Green. (A dozen of these gems were collected recently on Soul Tribute to the Beatles.)

Jazz artists loved The Beatles too, as you can see on The London Jazz Four’s Take a New Look At the Beatles (1967), particularly their superfun version of “Things We Said Today.” My jazz hero, pianist Vince Guaraldi, performed “I’m a Loser” on Vince and Bola (1966). Not only is this a beautiful work, at one point he wanders into the “Let It Be” melody, which Lennon and McCartney didn’t write for another three years. Only the man who composed the immortal music for the Peanuts specials could cover a band before they’d written the song he was covering.

I draw the line at 101 Strings Play the Beatles and Salsa Tribute to the Beatles.

Paul’s grandfather: I’ve been in a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room!
Today, as part of the public service I perform here at Run-DMSteve, I present four more entries in the panorama of Beatles interpretations.

Backbeat (1994)
This is the soundtrack to the movie about The Beatles in Germany. The band standing in for The Beatles is a supergroup of alt-rock giants:

Mike Mills (REM)
Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth)
Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs)
Dave Grohl (at that time, Nirvana)
Don Fleming (produced my favorite Screaming Trees album)
Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum)

Back then The Beatles were still playing American music, so the Backbeat band is covering The Beatles covering The Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and etc. Party on, alt-rock giants! The Notorious S.M.A.L.L. gives this four paws up.

The Double White – A Tribute Hommage to the Beatles (2010)
Giacomo Bondi & Apple Pies
The Italians surprised me in my roundup of Rolling Stones covers and they’ve done it again here. You’re not going to like every song on this double-disc juggernaut and in fact I mostly listen to three: “Paperback Writer,” “Rain,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Check out the bagpipes. Grade: Solid B.

Meet The Smithereens! (2007)
The Smithereens

My favorite story about The Smithereens (“Only a Memory,” “A Girl Like You”) is that in the 1980s, while they were still scrambling to make a living, they toured with largely forgotten ’60s folk-rock icons The Beau Brummels. They are still together and they’ve found a way to make music and still make a living: They’ve turned themselves into a tribute band.

Meet The Smithereens! is their interpretation of Meet The Beatles! We get all 12 songs from the 1964 U.S. release. Unfortunately, 11 only make me want to listen to the originals. This isn’t because they’re bad; I don’t believe this band can play one bad note. It’s because those 11 sound like The Smithereens.

But the 12th  song, “Don’t Bother Me,” is the reason to own this CD. “Don’t Bother Me” was, I think, George’s first song recorded by The Beatles. It’s morose:

But ’till she’s here please don’t come near, just stay away.
I’ll let you know when she’s come home. Until that day,
Don’t come around, leave me alone, don’t bother me.

Fortunately, the Smithereens are all about morose. They wade into this song like they own it, and they do!

“I Should Have Known Better”
Volume One (2008)
She & Him
“She” is actress, singer, and composer Zooey Deschanel. “Him” is low-fi soft-rocker M. Ward. “Car sick” is me. On this unappetizing album they give “I Should Have Known Better” the Hawaiian treatment, which would have been intriguing if they had recruited Israel Kamakawiwo’ole to perform it for them. Ms. Deschanel’s voice is flat and she giggles. M. Ward is game but uninteresting. This is the kind of doorstop that hangs around in record shops for decades.

Pompous businessman: I fought the war for your sort!
John: I’ll bet you’re sorry you won!
The subheads this week are my favorite lines from A Hard Day’s Night. Stay tuned as Run-DMSteve looks at what women have been up to in rock ’n’ roll and takes the Rush challenge. Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this blog without the express written consent of Major League Baseball is prohibited.

Special D’s a pretty nice girl but she doesn’t have a lot to say. Special D’s a pretty nice girl but she changes from day to day. I want to tell her that I love her a lot but I can’t hear myself over the dog’s hysterical barking. Special D’s a pretty nice girl some day I’m going to make her mine oh yeah, some day I’m going to make her mine.