Saturday, September 12, 2009

Listening to Oldies on a Saturday Night

Just what it sounds like on this rainy September night. I've got KLUV HD2, an online oldies station par excellence, streaming on the old computer, and I'm just going to freestyle on the music for a while. Nothing deeper than that, I'm afraid. Come back for trenchant commentary another day.

"I Can't Stop Loving You," Ray Charles. No singer in the history of American music has better, more distinctive, more soulful phrasing than Brother Ray. Every time I hear his version of "America the Beautiful," I want to cry. This song is from Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. If you don't own a copy of this album, you can't claim to be a popular music fan. Period.

"Dream Lover," Bobby Darin. Another voice sent from heaven. Bobby had a tumultuous and all too short life - he was only 37 when he died in 1973. Look up an old Christmas song of his called "Christmas Auld Lang Syne" sometime - somewhat obscure, but one of my favorites.

"Jimmy Mack" - Martha and the Vandellas. This song is from 1967, but seems a bit out of place in that year of Sgt. Pepper and the Summer of Love. Innocent, and not at all psychedelic. Martha should be richer and more famous than she is; she had a great attitude and a badass voice. There have been about a million cover versions of "Dancing in the Street," and nobody has ever done it better - Van Halen did an OK job, David Bowie and Mick Jagger practically killed the song, and everyone else falls somewhere in between, but no one ever quite sang it like Martha.

"New Orleans," Gary "U.S." Bonds. A lot of people don't know Bonds. They should. He made great R&B-tinged rock. Bruce Springsteen helped him make a comeback album around 1981 or so. He had a minor hit with a song (that I believe Springsteen wrote) called "This Little Girl Is Mine." Good tune, should have led to a bigger resurgence in his popularity.

"At the Hop," Danny and the Juniors. One of the essential early rock and roll songs. Sha Na Na performed it at Woodstock. Yep, Sha Na Na was at Woodstock. Cracks me up every time I think about it. Don't know who Sha Na Na is, let alone Danny and the Juniors? To YouTube with you and get yourself educated.

"Surfer Girl," The Beach Boys. Gotta turn this one up to hear Brian Wilson's perfectly arranged harmonies. Brian was partial to mono over stereo in his recordings, owing to the fact that his mean old dad popped him in the ear and made him partially deaf. So the Beach Boys' vocals usually sound extra dense, as they were mixed to be heard all on one side. Go get the CD of Pet Sounds that includes both the mono and stereo versions, and you can hear the almost miraculous things Brian did with the music without all the fancy phasing effects that were so cool in the 60s.

"Don't You Care," The Buckinghams. This and "Kind of a Drag" were their big radio hits. On the cover the CD they're using to illustrate the song online, the band are wearing these dorky matching frock coats with huge collars, and they've got the requisite mid-60s Beatle haircuts, of course. They had a pretty good sound...

"In the Still of the Nite," The Five Satins. ...but nothing, oh, nothing like this. Fred Parris was the lead singer on this track, according to Wikipedia. This is the quintessential doo-wop song. Doo-wop should have a major revival. Some of these pretty-boy singers who are all about their vests and their photogenic faces could really show if they had any vocal chops by taking on some of those great tunes, especially this one and "Since I Don't Have You."

"This Diamond Ring," Gary Lewis and the Playboys. Gary Lewis is Jerry Lewis' son. This song was recorded completely with studio musicians, including the vocal tracks, and then the actual band members were allowed to sing over them. Can you imagine such a thing happening today? They'd just AutoTune all of them and then they'd lip-synch every time they performed anyway.

"Will You Love Me Tomorrow," The Shirelles. Linda Ronstadt did a cover of this song early in her career. Her voice, although lovely, doesn't quite have the smoothness of the original. One of my favorite songs to sing. Try it in the shower sometime.

That's all for tonight. I think I'll do this again sometime. Go look up the songs you don't know, or haven't heard for a while. Oh, and find a video of Bobby Darin singing "Mack the Knife." It'll put a smile on your face, I promise you that.

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