Posts Tagged ‘She & Him’

For years, my dogs Emma and Sailor collaborated on free-form and synchronized barking. Though Emma was older and smaller than Sailor, she never took a backseat to him. In fact she kept him on probation for seven years. As a producer of sound, Emma was a formidable unit who could shake the shack with her John Philip Sousa thundering. In memory of Emma and Sailor and their body of work, which is still echoing through the cosmos, here’s a look at some famous female/male musical duos.

Look At Us
Sonny & Cher
(Salvatore Bono and Cherilyn Lapierre)
Sonny and Cher were perfectly matched, as neither of them had a particularly good voice. Sometimes I can’t tell which one of them is singing. But they harmonized well! Sonny rarely ventured beyond his limited range; when Cher swung out, as in her solo hit “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” (1971), it sounded like controlled yelling. When they worked together, Sonny did the composing, Cher did the hair. Most of their albums aren’t worth spit, but if you were a teenage love couple in the ’60s you have a soft spot in your heart for “I Got You, Babe.” The dopey lyrics don’t hurt the surprisingly strong finish, the spare but effective piano arrangement, and their genuine affection for each other.

River Deep – Mountain High
Ike & Tina Turner
I could’ve picked any of their albums because none of them are memorable, but I picked this one because it features “River Deep – Mountain High.” This is either Phil Spector’s masterpiece or his monster mash. Tina sounds like she’s floundering in a tidal wave of strings, but she’s one of the few vocalists of that era who could stand against the full fury of the Wall of Sound. Crosby, Stills, & Nash would’ve been sucked into another dimension. Ike wrote most of their material (not “River Deep”), but Tina topped him when she wrote their last hit, the upbeat, funky “Nutbush City Limits” (1973).

Make Your Move
Captain & Tennille
(Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille)
It pains me to even consider these characters, as their lukewarm music makes Bananarama sound like The Buzzcocks. However, I can appreciate their special status in the music industry: A husband-and-wife team who have been recording and performing together since the early ’70s. The only other couple I can think of with that kind of staying power is June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash. Dragon wrote most of the Captain & Tennille catalog, so he’s the one who deserves the lengthy prison sentence, but the bland-voiced Tennille is guilty of aiding and abetting. She also contributed their final hit, “Do That to Me One More Time” (1979). If this blog survives until 2015 it will be my pleasure to wish them a happy 40th wedding anniversary.

While we’re discussing substandard music of the ’70s, let me briefly mention The Carpenters, Donny and Marie, and Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. Roberta Flack by herself was by far the biggest talent in this sorrowful group, but none of them were as good as (to cross into another genre) Ian & Sylvia. [Note from me in 2015: I was thinking here of the Flack/Hathaway duets, which I didn’t care for. Flack on her own was a force, if not The Force. Hathaway wasn’t my style, but I recognize how good he was and the tragedy of his early death.]

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
(Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart)
Annie Lennox has a truly outstanding voice, and in Eurythmics she was also a formidable artistic partner. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) gave us two iconic ’80s hits: the title track and “Love Is a Stranger.” Here’s a rumor I remember from 1983: Lennox’s transsexual look in the “Love Is a Stranger” video alarmed some radio programming heads, who demanded to know her gender before they would play the single. Which reminds me, I somehow managed to leave Ms. Lennox off my Ladies of the ’80s post, even though “Love Is a Stranger” is one of my favorite songs of that era.

Eurythmics were no fluke, as on later albums they produced “It’s Alright, Baby’s Coming Back,” “Here Comes the Rain Again,” “Sexcrime (Nineteen Eightyfour),” and “Would I Lie to You Baby?” which I think is their finest moment. The band dominated the middle of the decade, but didn’t last into the next one. Lennox and Dave Stewart long ago split up, personally and professionally. Two things Lennox has done in her solo career have caught my attention: the covers album Medusa (particularly her interpretations of Neil Young and Procul Harum) and her Mick Jagger impersonation on “I Want a Man.”

Nerd alert: Lennox wrote “Into the West” for the third Lord of the Rings movie.

Nu Shooz
(Valerie Day and John Smith)
Nu Shooz are here only because they’re from Portland and because Valerie Day and John Smith are still together and still performing. They had a hit with “I Can’t Wait,” which is an excellent warm-up number before you start spinning the dance music. As for the rest of their stuff…I can wait.

Frou Frou
(Imogen Heap and Guy Sigsworth)
This one-off from two British musicians is noteworthy even before you get to the music: The couple is not romantically involved, and the woman not only does the singing, she also co-writes, co-produces, and plays some of the instruments. Imogen Heap’s voice is not as powerful as Annie Lennox’s, but it’s more expressive, like Tina Turner’s without Turner’s Wagnerian wallop. Some of the tracks on Details are pleasant (“Hear Me Out”), some are Gary Numan-like electronic excursions that are humanized by Heap’s voice (“Flicks”), one is upbeat despite its ambiguous lyrics (“Breathe In” – are they breaking up or what?), and one is every bit as melancholy as Pink Floyd, but with adult lyrics (“Psychobabble”):

You couldn’t be more wrong, darling
I never gave out these signs
You misunderstand all meaning
Snap out of it
I’m not falling for this one

I only like a few songs from this disc, but I like those a lot, and I wish there’d been a follow-up to this at times mesmerizing debut.

(Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory)
Time for more guilty pleasures! Goldfrapp is an electronic dance outfit for people who are just a tiny bit scared of Lady Gaga. Goldfrapp’s music is danceable, but not as frantically as Gaga’s. Goldfrapp is willing to chance some downbeat numbers, which might make her the thinking woman’s Gaga if you don’t listen to the lyrics. Both performers flaunt their legs, but they’re both built like sticks so it’s hard to say who is superior in this area. (Actually, it’s not hard to say: Tina Turner.) They cover some of the same thematic material; Gaga wants to ride my disco stick, Goldfrapp wants to ride a white horse. As David Byrne sang, “Everybody. Get. In. Line!

The main difference between the two women is Allison Goldfrapp’s voice, which must be one of Britain’s natural resources and the main reason I keep listening. “Felt Mountain,” the title track from the album before Supernature, is like a story by H.P. Lovecraft – nothing but atmosphere. She’s singing, but there are no lyrics. If there’s a radio station on Mars, “Felt Mountain” is in heavy rotation. “Do That to Me One More Time” is not.

Supernature has quite a few misfires, but I can recommend “Fly Me Away,” “Ride a White Horse,” and “Ooh La La.” (“Little Bird,” from their Seventh Tree  album, could’ve been a Magical Mystery Tour  outtake.) Ms. Goldfrapp is the co-author with Will Gregory of most of the band’s songs and she has considerable influence on the videos, so I am placing the responsibility for the “Ride a White Horse” video on her shoulders. This footage must be seen to be believed. You might be tempted to bail after the first 30 seconds, but I urge you to hang in until 2:05 when The Underwearers climb out of a dumpster and form a zombie conga line behind her.

Volume One
She & Him
(Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward)
I’ve tangled with these people before. I still haven’t succeeded in developing any affection for them. This is pretty much how I feel about another cult couple, Richard and Linda Thompson (I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, 1974).

Zooey Deschanel has a precious, little-girl voice that’s as warm as tin. M. Ward is too country and frankly kind of tame. (He is from Portland, though, so extra points there.) “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” sounds like the B side to something by Badfinger. Perry Como would’ve rejected “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” as too laid-back. “I Was Made for You” is simulated ’60s Girl Group. I couldn’t help tapping my foot to it, and I also couldn’t help asking myself who could’ve done this better. I finally settled on The Monkees.

Deschanel writes all the lyrics, and they give the illusion of meaning, which is more than I can say for Goldfrapp. But it’s still an illusion. I am interested in their covers, though. Ward’s lo-fi arrangement for “You Really Got a Hold on Me” is austerely beautiful, and they were gutsy to record “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Deschanel’s voice rises to the occasion on that one, so bravo, She & Him!

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody, whether your union is heterosexual, homosexual, multidisciplinary, or independent/undecided. And as for our current dog, The Notorious S.M.A.L.L., he’s been a solo act too long. We’re getting a puppy.

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.