Posts Tagged ‘Aretha Franklin’

Here’s what I wrote about Aretha Franklin when I started this project. (If you’ve forgotten, if you weren’t paying attention, or if you have actual significant other things to do, I’m listening to all the black music of the 1970s.) So anyway:

“With Aretha Franklin, it’s always 1967, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You is on the turntable, and you’re about to drop the needle on the first track, ‘Respect.’ ”

For most people, the top five Aretha Franklin songs are “Respect,” “Respect,” “Respect,” “Respect,” and “Respect.” Spam spam spam eggs sausage and spam. I just checked the five most-streamed Franklin tracks from Spotify and they are “Respect,” “Respect” (re-mastered), “Think” (from The Blues Brothers soundtrack), “I Say a Little Prayer for You,” and “(You Make Me Feel like a) Natural Woman.”

Except for “Think,” these songs are all from the ’60s. Come on, folks! The woman’s career didn’t end at midnight on December 31, 1969! Let’s move boldly into the ’70s and respectfully see what Franklin was up to.

This Girl’s in Love with You (1970)
I haven’t heard this one, or if I did I was 15 and I don’t remember it. It was recorded in 1969 so it’s disqualified. That was handy.

Spirit in the Dark (1970)
Franklin wrote five of the 12 songs here. Of all the divas of the ’70s, Aretha Franklin and, guess who, Donna Summer, most resemble Marvin Gaye in that they wrote or co-wrote so many of their own songs.

Spirit in the Dark is overshadowed by her work from the ’60s and by the two albums that followed it in the ’70s. It has some weak stretches. But it also has “Spirit in the Dark,” which is Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” as a woman sees it:

It’s like Sally Walker sittin’ in a saucer
That’s how ya do it, it ain’t nothin’ to it
Rise, Sally, rise, put your hands on your hips
And cover your eyes, and move on with the spirit

“Spirit in the Dark” and four others (“Don’t Play that Song,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Pullin’,” and “When the Battle Is Over”) make this disc a Buy.

Live At the Fillmore West (1971)
This live set, which brings us the highlights from four nights at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, opens with “Respect” played 1.5 times faster than the version everyone knows from downloading it on Spotify. I just listened to it 3.0 times.

Live At the Fillmore West gets even better after that. Franklin covers Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” which had appeared the year before on Stills’ first solo album. She doesn’t take it away from him the way she took “Respect” from Otis Redding, but she comes close.

Then we swing into “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” You should buy Live At the Fillmore West just for this track. The three women in the chorus, the “Sweethearts of Soul,” come in after about a minute and a half of quiet musical reflection. Franklin follows, as if she were leading her congregation. “Still waters run deep,” she intones, then slowly and steadily turns this song into a hair-raising hymn of praise. How can one human being sing like this? Art Garfunkel was a one-man orchestra, but compared to Aretha, Artie is an AM/FM radio.

Her backing band is stunning. I haven’t checked the credits, but I assume it must be the Justice League of America.

We then move to a superlative four-song set in which Franklin accompanies herself on her electrified piano. We get her cover of “Eleanor Rigby,” the boogie of “Don’t Play that Song,” and then “Dr. Feelgood” from I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You:

I tell you I don’t mind company
Because company’s alright with me
Every once in a while, yeah
But oh, when me and that man get to lovin’
I tell you girls
I dig you but I just don’t have time
To sit and chit and sit and chit-chat and smile

“Good God Almighty,” she cries, “that man makes me feelllllllllllllllllllll – ” I can’t tell what that man makes her feel, but I predict he’s going to do well when the results come back from the customer-satisfaction survey.

“Spirit in the Dark” follows, this time with the ability to bring eyesight to the blind.

OK. What a record. The only unpleasureable song for me is Franklin’s fruitless effort to turn “Make It with You” by Bread into something more than soggy toast. Everything else is going well. The crowd is hers. She practically controls their breathing. Everyone who attended one of these concerts was blessed.

There’s nothing Franklin can do to top this. Right? This is about as good as it gets. Right? You know I’m going to say Wrong!

Guess who shows up? Ray Charles! And what do they do? They do “Spirit in the Dark” all over again! “Well I tell you what,” Franklin says to her guest, as she gets up from her piano, “why don’t you sit right here?” If this magic moment doesn’t get your blood pumping, I guess you shouldn’t have bought your Pacemaker at Walmart.

“Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” ends the record. It’s a snore, but it’s her good-night to the audience. She earned it.

Overall rating: Good God Almighty!

Young, Gifted and Black (1972)
This is the one with “Rock Steady,” another of her originals, and her cover of Weldon Irvine and Nina Simone’s civil-rights anthem “Young, Gifted and Black.” It also has the Jerry Butler/Otis Redding classic “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” a bass-heavy version with a gospel-tinged piano (well, everything she did in those years was gospel-tinged). And the wonder of “The Long and Winding Road.” Her interpretations of The Beatles are always interesting. Her interpretations of everyone are always interesting (except for Bread).

Amazing Grace (1972 – six months later)
If you honk because you love Jesus – even when you’re parked in your garage – you’ll find there’s no better way to cast your bread upon the waters than by cuing up Amazing Grace. Franklin shifts tectonic plates with her performance, particularly on “How I Got Over.” If there were a song like that about Maimonides, I might still be going to the synagogue on Saturdays.

The original release was a live, double LP with 14 tracks. The reissue has 27 tracks and vastly expands the number of announcements, introductions, and theological musings from the clergyman on duty. In the name of Our Lord Satan, please get the hell off of Aretha’s record.

Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky) (1973)
This album usually gets panned, starting with its cover, which was drawn by a high school yearbook editor on mescaline. It’s also the last album before she gets totaled by disco. I can’t recommend it, but a few of the songs are worth a spin.

“Hey Now Hey” is fascinating, a stop-and-go, straight ballad and jazzy gospel infusion that’s a very different sound for her.

“Just Right Tonight” is an 8-minute funky blues in which Aretha doesn’t start singing until she’s three and a half minutes in. This song proves that Aretha Franklin could be Aretha Franklin plus she could be James Brown in her spare time.

“Master of Eyes,” the closer, isn’t great, but I note it because it would’ve fit perfectly on at least half a dozen blaxploitation soundtracks.

Sparkle (1976)
A forgotten movie about a fictional ’60s girl group. Music by Curtis Mayfield, except for “Jump,” which was written by Marcus Miller and Luther Vandross.

Mayfield is missing his Super Fly superpowers here. “Hooked on Your Love” is the only number that’s worthy of Franklin, though “I Get a High” (another Mayfield anti-drug number) is close. “Jump” is nowhere near as good as the hit version by The Pointer Sisters. Yes, somebody finally took a song away from her.

Sadly, the next Aretha Franklin record you should listen to is Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, and that won’t appear until 1985. I haven’t followed her career past ’85 because I’m afraid of what I’ll discover. But from approximately 1966 through 1973 you could find few women or men who could move us like Aretha Franklin. I don’t care that her two most downloaded songs are “Respect” and “Respect.” Thanks for still being here and still singing. Rock steady.

 

 

In 2014 I heroically listened to every album Prince ever made. Well, I heroically came close. I listened to the first 14. I will eventually listen to the remaining 987. This was an exciting, enlightening quest for which I received 100% zero thanks. I didn’t get a link from Wikipedia. I didn’t get a lousy T-shirt from Prince. And, as always, WordPress refused to give me any money.

I remain undeterred. Why? Because it says BLOGGER on my uniform! So today I jump on my new project, the project I should’ve jumped on before I jumped on Prince: the black music of the 1970s. But first: The Rules!

Rule 1: Provincialism is good. I’m disqualifying 98% of planet Earth. Once you dive into my unscientific survey you’ll discover that almost all of these performers are from the USA. That’s because I’m from the USA. USA! USA!

Rule 2: One-hit wonders are blunders. The 1970s were a magnet for the truly awful (that was somehow spectacularly popular). For every passable tune such as Jean Knight and “Mr. Big Stuff” you get a dumpster full of this:

Billy Paul, “Me and Mrs. Jones”
Peaches & Herb, “Reunited”
Labelle, “Lady Marmalade”*
Anita Ward, “Ring My Bell”
A Taste of Honey, “Boogie Oogie Oogie”**
Hues Corporation, “Rock the Boat”
Carl Douglas, “Kung Fu Fighting”***

* This is the “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, c’est soir” song.
** I hate to put them on this list, because they were an early girl-power band with two female guitarists. Also, they looked most excellent in backless swimsuits. But their song sucks.
*** According to legend, “Kung Fu Fighting” was recorded in 10 minutes. Of course it was.

Rule 3: I make the tough calls! Reggae was obviously a vital part of the ’70s – it was a huge influence on British punk – but I don’t care for reggae so you won’t find it here. I like the blues but there’s no blues on my list because after half an hour it’s not the blues, it’s whining. There’s no rap because, while I like some rap, I don’t understand it.

Even within the genres I like – rock, psychedelia, disco, soul, R&B – I’ll have to leave out some fun people to make sure I can get through this project before 2250 A.D. Here are two:

  • Eddie Kendricks, who sang lead on The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” and had a solo hit with “Keep on Truckin’.”
  • Johnny “Guitar” Watson, who played blues, jazz, and funk but is probably best remembered for that sentimental lament, “A Real Mother for Ya.”

Rule 4: I’m sure to forget somebody. I only remembered The Spinners about 5 minutes ago.

This list I’m about to unleash is not exhaustive, though it’s exhausting me. I might not make it past 1974. But here goes.

The ’70s begin!

On the starting line we have:

  • Marvin Gaye and worthy but lesser satellites: Al Green, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Diana Ross, but not The Supremes
  • Quincy Jones
  • Ray Charles
  • James Brown
  • George Clinton
  • Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and Barry White
  • The Jackson 5, The Isley Brothers, and other notable families
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Sly & The Family Stone
  • Ike & Tina Turner
  • Gladys Knight & The Pips
  • Earth, Wind & Fire and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
  • Rufus (featuring Chaka Khan)
  • The Four Tops
  • The Spinners
  • The Temptations

Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were at their height in the ’70s, and their height is somewhere north of the Matterhorn. I could write about them and never get to anyone else.

Diana Ross released 17 albums in the ’70s. (First on this list is James Brown’s brain-busting 28.) She played Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. She recorded duets with Marvin Gaye. Like a true diva, Diana Ross can’t be ignored. But I can ignore her former co-workers. This was not their decade.

I am mostly going to ignore Quincy Jones. Sure, Jones can compose, arrange, produce, conduct, and play. He brought out the best in the senior-citizen Frank Sinatra and the young-adult Michael Jackson. “Killer Joe” is one of my favorite jazz standards. But almost everything I like about him comes before 1970 or after 1979. I’m only going to mention Jones once, for an album I’m not recommending, and I hope the Lords of Kobol will forgive me.

Did Ray Charles do more in the ’70s than make those dopey commercials for Scotch Brand recording tape? Run-DMSteve investigates!

Everyone on this list owes something to James Brown. Everyone who isn’t on this list owes something to James Brown, even if they were born in a galaxy far, far away. Soul Brother #1 began the decade with the 11-minute “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” a song that added substantially to my knowledge of how to deal with women (building on what I’d learned from Capt. Kirk and a stolen copy of South Pacific).

Brown ran out of fissionable uranium by mid-decade. His disco resurgence in 1979 doesn’t count.

George Clinton’s bands were Funkadelic and Parliament. After reacquainting myself with the few songs I knew and listening to the many I didn’t, I see him now as the secret weapon of the ’70s. Clinton has suffered the most from the way white radio playlists, particularly the Oldies and Classic Rock formats, exclude black artists.

We’ll get to Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Barry White, and Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and Quincy Jones again when we dive into the deep end of the Shaft/Super Fly machismo pool.

The Jackson 5 were the best family act of any color of any era. Their only contenders are Don and Phil Everly, and I think that’s a very close race. (The Isley Brothers are right behind them. Two more challengers popped up in the ’70s: The Pointer Sisters and The Staple Singers.) The J5 were superior to Sister Sledge, The Osmonds, The Carpenters, The Cowsills, The Partridge Family (OK, that’s cheating), the von Trapps, and everyone who has ever appeared on Lawrence Welk.

Jimi Hendrix existed in the ’70s for about nine months. His early death is the second-greatest tragedy in the history of pop music. (Mozart’s early death is first.)

With Aretha Franklin, it’s always 1967, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You is on the turntable, and you’re about to drop the needle on the first track, “Respect.” I can’t imagine the pressure this woman faced at the age of 25 with “Respect” heading her résumé. Bruce Springsteen faced the same pressure when he was 25 and had just recorded “Born to Run.”

Sylvester Stewart, aka Sly Stone, is mostly known for the music he gave us in the ’60s. By the time he got to the ’70s, his revolutionary zeal had congealed. Sadly, so had his optimism. Sly & The Family Stone’s last great album, There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971), is as confused, cynical, and hard to listen to as The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street (1972). The main difference between the two is that Stone was apathetic. The Stones were sleazy.

Sly Stone fun fact: You could transfer “Just Like a Baby” from There’s a Riot Goin’ On to Exile on Main Street and nobody would know the difference.

Most of Ike and Tina Turner’s music evaporates while you listen to it. For every “Proud Mary” or “River Deep – Mountain High” they have 20 songs that are guaranteed not to stick to your ribs. But we needed The Ike & Tina Turner Revue because they created the image of Tina Turner as a force majeure. Ms. Turner gave us one good record on her own (Private Dancer), but that’s off in the ’80s.

Gladys Knight & The Pips recorded the first version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” a hymn that could make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window. In the ’70s they recorded “Midnight Train to Georgia.” I still want to kick them.

Earth, Wind & Fire were just getting started and didn’t know what they wanted to be when they grew up. Same with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes.

Rufus was funky for sure, but they’re not as good as their contemporaries War. But they’re important for giving Chaka Khan a launching pad. Khan has a voice like Tina Turner’s, with less power but more finesse at close range.

The Four Tops’ many classics are all from the ’60s. In the ’70s they recorded two albums with The Supremes (minus Diana Ross), The Magnificent Seven and The Return of the Magnificent Seven. Not enough of a draw to make me listen. Sorry kids, but as I’ve stated many times in this blog I am paid to be unfair. All right, I’m not paid, but I’m still unfair.

The Spinners have left little behind them besides the image of five guys in yummy-colored pantsuits. But they had a run of hits in the early ’70s, starting with “It’s a Shame,” which I always thought was Al Green until I finally looked it up. Duh. However, I don’t care for the rest of their easy-listening catalog, and they gave us the gift of “The Rubberband Man,” which is clearly related to the crud back in Rule 2, so though they meant well they disappear as soon as this sentence hits the period.

The Temptations recorded “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” in 1972. This was another show-stopper written by Norman Whitfield. The Temptations could’ve stopped right there. But they didn’t, and neither will I. I’ll be back next time with: Blaxploitation!

 

The Best of Rare Earth
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection
Rare Earth
2001

[Editor’s note: Last week I took on Prince’s Parade. Next up is Sign ‘o’ the Times, which requires more thought. Also, the World Series is about to start. While I’m doing all this extra thinking about Prince and baseball let’s take a look at a much simpler topic.]

Rare Earth was a white Motown group with three superpowers:

  • They were expert interpreters of black R&B.
  • Their drummer, who was 3’ taller than anyone else in the band, was a terrific soul-shouter.
  • They began every song like they owned the world.

Unfortunately, they had a fourth power: a knack for getting lost three minutes into every song. They were like the party guest who never knows when to go home. This talent is most apparent on their cover of “What I Say.” For the first three minutes they run Ray Charles right off the road. They played another four minutes. They shouldn’t have.

The Best of Rare Earth is a disc for the most passionate Rare Earth fan. That’s why the first song is not their powerful three-minute hit, “Get Ready” (1969). No, it’s the 21-minute wall of blubber that the hit was carved from, like a burger from a buffalo. I can’t believe that anyone other than a specialist would willingly listen to this track more than once. I have – when my friend Jeff invited me over to his house one day after high school, and again last week when the CD arrived from Half.com. A 500-year interval is about right.

OK, so Rare Earth was long-winded. The late-’60s/early ’70s was a time of gusty musical winds. How do our boys stack up against their contemporaries?

  • They lack the discipline of The Byrds (the live version of “Eight Miles High”), The Rolling Stones (“Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ ”), and Santana (“Black Magic Woman”).
  • They’re loose like Creedence Clearwater Revival (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Susie Q”), but they can’t bring things to a satisfying close the way Creedence can.
  • However, they don’t play funeral marches like Mountain (“Nantucket Sleighride”) or psychedelic plasmodium like Steppenwolf (“Magic Carpet Ride”) or Quicksilver Messenger Service (“The Fool”).
  • Their musicianship is superior to Iron Butterfly (“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”) and The Grateful Dead (just about anything).

Actually, they remind me of The Allman Brothers, even though the Allmans are closer to the blues and Rare Earth is closer to jazz. Neither group knows when to cry “Hold, enough!”

[Editor’s note: All of these bands are better than Yes.]

Racial profiling
I have serious trouble with six Caucasians singing an ode to their African-American swamp mama in the album’s closer, “Ma.” Nevermind that it’s 17 frakking minutes long. Forget the lyrics. (Ma raised 13 kids on her own, but always sent them to church because that’s what Pa would’ve wanted? Pa only showed up once a year for sex, but he was religious? Which religion? Ma should’ve shot him 12 kids ago.) The dudes in Rare Earth are white. They didn’t grow up in a shack and their lives were never restricted by the color of their skin. Why don’t they sing something from The Sound of Music?

Surely Universal could’ve used the space hogged by “Ma” for the radio edit of “Get Ready” and maybe some other track from Rare Earth’s best effort, Rare Earth in Concert (1971), which came in a cardboard sleeve that looked like a hippie’s knapsack.

Summing up
The Best of Rare Earth gives us “I Just Want to Celebrate,” “Born to Wander,” and “Hey Big Brother,” which fit just fine in any Classic Rock rotation. If you can handle all 11 minutes, “(I Know) I’m Losing You” is rewarding. It’s slower than but similar to the Temptations’ hit “Ball of Confusion.” Rare Earth’s producer, the late Mr. Norman Whitfield, co-wrote both tunes, as well as “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” (And “Ma.” Anyone can have an off-night.)

Rare Earth rocks harder than Blood, Sweat & Tears and plays better than J. Geils. You can go straight from Rare Earth to any jazz-fusion outfit of the 1970s. Give them a try. But be ready to push Skip.

Today’s Randoms: 1968 Jazz Edition
OK everybody. Here’s some vocabulary to help you talk like a jazz critic!

Set: The songs (or cuts) you intend to record.
Reading: Your cover of somebody else’s cut.
Date: If you record the cuts at a concert or all in one day, it’s a date.
Platter: The medium on which you record the set. Also called “sides.”
Wax: You wax the set onto the platter. As in “The best set he ever waxed!”
Lay down a groove: Play your part in a song so it can get waxed onto a platter.
Burner: Any Hammond B3 organist who waxes a funky platter has laid down a burner.

Thumbs-up
Frank Foster, Manhattan Fever
Fascinating sides from Foster, who played for years with Count Basie and led the band after Basie’s death. On Manhattan Fever, you get jazz you can almost dance to, some great soloing from Foster on the tenor sax, experimental stuff I skip no matter whose name is on the cover, and amazing drumming from Mickey Roker. I want to have his baby. Foster waxed some funky titles: “What’s New From the Monster Mill,” “You Gotta Be Kiddin’,” and the killer cut “Little Miss No Nose.”

Thumbs-up
Jimmy McGriff, The Worm
Mr. McGriff played the Hammond B3 organ, so you know how I’m going to end this paragraph. The Worm is a funky, fun platter with many highlights, particularly the cuts “Keep Loose” and their reading of “Think,” which I only knew from Aretha Franklin’s performance in The Blues Brothers. (Aretha co-wrote the song.) “Girl Talk” is a slo-mo groove that deserved a good waxing. Nine musicians contributed to this set; the cumulative effect is of a swinging jazz orchestra. Burner!

Worth a mention
Hank Mobley, Reach Out!
Mobley led hard-bop marauders in dates with names like No Room for Squares (1963). They tried a more commercial sound for Reach Out! I can’t fault musicians who want to make some money for once, but I doubt the public tossed much bacon onto this platter. Mobley’s heart wasn’t in it.

But Reach Out! is notable for the band’s reading of The Four Tops hit of the same name – the only time I’ve heard anyone else give this cut a spin. Fun but klutzy, with people getting lost in the groove, particularly the drummer, who may have believed he was in another song. Lily Von Shtupp put it best in Blazing Saddles, when she complained that men were always “coming and going and going and coming…and always too soon!”

 

Here’s one of my many life goals: To be all ready to go on New Year’s Eve. Not just dressed to go out – I always aim to have my desk cleared, my body humming along like Ken Griffey Jr. rather than Boog Powell, and my big projects for the year lined up and waiting for me to dive in.

Some years I’m ready, or at least I’m close. Not this year. I gave up yesterday and finally started 2014. Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks for reading this blog, even though I’m pretty sure I insulted you last year and I’ll insult you this year. I wish you all health and prosperity and plenty of good music in the next 12 months. Which brings me to my last musical topic of 2013, the band we saw on New Year’s Eve.

But first: When did New Year’s Eve become a public party? When did people start gathering in clubs, taverns, and dance halls to listen to loud music and drink like it’s St. Patrick’s Day?

F. Scott Fitzgerald mentions raucous New Year’s Eve celebrations in his books, but I can’t recall reading anything like that in earlier authors – for example, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, William Dean Howells, Ambrose Bierce, or Stephen Crane. If H.P. Lovecraft liked to party, he kept it out of the papers.

Here’s another question: What makes a good New Year’s Eve band?

While Special D and I have extensively researched this topic, I’m not about to speak for her. Here instead are three of my ideas:

1)      Please practice, and not just the stuff you play the rest of the year. Learn “Auld Lang Syne.” Federal law requires you to play it at midnight so it would be a good idea to memorize a couple of verses, or at least write them down in big block letters.
2)      You must have a sense of humor; not everything is about you. Your audience will begin to evaporate at one minute after midnight. Maybe they want to finish the evening in their bathrobes eating ice cream; maybe they want to copulate at home rather than against one of your speakers. It’s not a comment on your musical talent.
3)      Original material is good, but on New Year’s Eve we mostly want to hear pop songs we already know. Don’t fret if you massacre one or two originals. That’s part of the fun. If you wreck them all you’ll antagonize an army of idiot bloggers.

Not a whiter shade of pale
When we suited up on New Year’s Eve, Special D added her boa to the fancy black number she wore. White Fang was pleased to be let out of the Nordstrom bag where he usually lives. He practically growled with antici…pation. We then headed uptown to a hall called The Secret Society where they had two bands and two djs waiting for us. The band I want to mention is called Brownish Black.

Where most bands might offer one unusual characteristic, say double the horn players or double the guitarists, Brownish Black’s lineup included three horns and two singers. That’s plenty of firepower right there, but they also fielded a bass player who played barefoot. His flashing white feet were particularly striking when he started marching in place. Rounding out the personnel was a drummer who looked like Justin Timberlake and a guitarist who looked like he’d left Pearl Jam due to artistic differences.

I was very impressed that this visually striking outfit met my first two requirements but totally trampled the third. Brownish Black plays R&B, soul, and funk that they wrote themselves. I believe I heard one cover, maybe two, in two hours of music. (They were probably able to get away with this because they only played until 11, when the second band took over.)

We loved their music, which I can only describe in terms of artists from the ’60s and ’70s:

If everyone in Big Brother & The Holding Company were black, and
if the leads were sung by Aretha Franklin and Peter Wolf, and
if you could borrow Rare Earth’s or James Brown’s horns, and
if everything were written by Sly Stone and Otis Redding,
you’d end up with Brownish Black. Plus the female singer loved White Fang.

I did hear one outstanding cover, but that was from the second band, Satin Chaps. For their opening blast they gave us a funky version of Deodato’s 1972 cross-over hit, “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001).” They couldn’t quite translate Deodato’s jazz-fusion into dance music, but I have to give them a shout-out for trying.

Best conversation of the evening
This happened in the men’s room, of all places. Ladies, we don’t have substantive conversations in there. There was one urinal and there were several of us waiting for one inebriated gentleman to finish. When he turned and saw the line, he said, “Oh, sorry fellas, I was reciting poetry.”

MAN IN LINE: What poem?
POETRY LOVER: The one where the guy’s wandering in the fucking woods.
2ND MAN: “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”?
3RD MAN: Robert Frost.
POETRY LOVER: I love this club.

Robert Frost, by the way, was once arrested for dancing nude in a fountain on New Year’s Eve.

Random Pick of the Day
The Smiths, …Best I (1992)
The Smiths, …Best II (1992)
Twenty-eight songs by one of the most excellent bands of the 1980s.

I was looking for a job and I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

Morrissey says the right thing, always.

Random Pan of the Day
The Smiths, …Best I (1992)
The Smiths, …Best II (1992)
They could’ve done this on one disc! The filler they’ve included illuminates The Smiths’ biggest problem – how little their sound varies. Plus there’s no excuse for including “Oscillating Wildly,” the most boring instrumental in the history of boredom and instrumentals.

OK, it’s 2014. As The Smiths sang, “Please please please let me get what I want!”

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.