Sunday 22 April 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 141 (Top Five): AAA Crooning Songs

And so here we are, we approach the final curtain, you’ve read it all, but much more than this, you read this review my way (ie the Monkeynuts way). No McCartney didn’t actually get to croon ‘My Way’ thank goodness but more than one AAA member has fancied himself as a Sinatra down the years (goodness knows why – he didn’t even know the difference between a Lennon/McCartney and a Harrison song, famously calling ‘Something’ his favourite L/M song in concert and taking the liberty of re-writing the middle eight to read ‘Stick around Jack, she might show...’). Note – most of these songs are ‘written in the style of’ rather than covers per se – Paul McCartney’s ‘Kisses’ album (you know, that one we reviewed above... what do you mean you skipped it?!) is still the first crooner project by an AAA artist, discounting Ringo’s even weirder effort ‘Sentimental Journey’ outlined below (most of them leave that to the wannabes like Robbie Williams and Rod Stewart!) We can’t really give an order to things like this (although if we were ranking by ‘weirdness’ Ringo’s effort would be #1) so we’ve decided to list things alphabetically by artist...

1) The Beach Boys “Still I Dream Of It” (recorded 1976, not released until the ’30 Years Of Good Vibrations’ Box Set 1992 although Brian’s demo is on his solo album ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ 1989):

My personal favourite of all the songs on this list, this classy bit of Brian Wilson imagery came at a low point in his life. Despite what most books say, Brian’s ‘bed-bound’ era reached its peak in the mid-70s, not when he fell apart after ‘Smile’ and no other song (expect perhaps ‘Til I Die’) conjures up the misery and doubt of this period more than this song. Perhaps to distance himself from the words, Brian sings in a pretty accurate impression of Sinatra (he once considered sending the song to him to record but never got round to it) and the ‘finished’ version with Carl Wilson on lead adds a set of very ratpackish horns. It’s still a very Brian Wilson song, though, listing all the aimless hapless things the narrator is doing that seem to have no purpose, as well as a killer chorus where the narrator dreams of his lost love walking through the door to put his life right and an emotional middle eight where he turns on Jesus for breaking his promises and not helping him to ‘find my girl and find my world’. The sighing ending, where Brian sighs ‘till then I’m just a dreamer’ before yanking his weary body through his daily activity again is one of the best moments in his canon.

2) The Beatles “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” (B-side of ‘Let It Be’ 1969, now part of the ‘Past Masters Volume 2’ compilation):

A quirky one this, with John and Paul on vocals, Rolling Stone Brian Jones on saxophone (one of his last recordings before he died and released a year posthumously) plus Beatles roadie Mal Evans shovelling gravel, this is the Goon Show humour side of The Beatles and the closest musical equivalent of John Lennon’s wordplay books. Vamping phrases round the title sentence, Lennon and McCartney seek to outdo each other. Macca wins hands down, though, with his impersonation of a nightclub crooner (introduced by Lennon as Dennis O’Bell in honour of Apple Films magnate Dennis O’Dell). Macca’s impression is superb, oozing false charm and insincerity and so unlike Paul does it sound that even today some Beatles books have the singer down as Ringo (Lennon’s mischievous ‘OK, Ringo...’ after this part of the song doesn’t help!) Amazingly, this song still hasn’t been used for a telephone directory yet – a revolutionary idea back when this song was written (and directories were about a hundredth of the size they are today!)

3) Belle and Sebastian “Seymour Stein” (released on ‘Fold Your Hands, Child, You Walk Like A Peasant’ 2001):

We’ve covered this song before, but the story’s a good one so we’ll leave it in. Back in the late 90s Belle and Sebastian had gone from being a quirky internet-sales-only band to an almost household name and Sire record label boss Seymour Stein looked at the sales and figured he’d be doing the band a favour if he flew to Glasgow to offer them a million-dollar contract and an opportunity away from Indie label Jeepster. Alas he hadn’t paid that much attention to the band’s philosophy, which made big companies like Sire (and EMI and Decca, etc) out to be the enemy. The band sent him home empty-handed, asking if he’d ever even seen Dundee and wishing him a good flight home back to anonymous America-land. As if to prove how badly the record company misunderstood the band, this kiss-off song is delivered by Stevie Jackson in his best crooning voice, a million miles away from the usual B+S sound. That said, it’s still a lovely song and the sudden tension going into the middle eight does a great deal to overcome the sleepiness of the rest of the song.   

4) The Hollies “It’s In Everyone OF Us” (released on ‘5317704’ – and if you don’t understand what that means type it on a calculator and read news and views no 110!, 1978):

A bit of a cheat this one, but we were getting desperate. At the tail-end of the last great Hollies album Allan Clarke finally sings a capella and shows the world how different his life might have been had he grown up in the ‘crooner’ era rather than the rock and roll one. The song is an old standard, covered by everyone (John Denver’s probably the version you have in your head right now) and for my money Clarkey sings this song better than anyone else, however rated as a singer they might be. This song always sounded strangely out of place at the end of the album , a slow nightclubby sound The Hollies had never really used before, but they get away with it thanks to the genuine sincerity at the heart of the song and the presence of some mighty fine Hollies harmonies.

5) The Kinks “Lavender Hill” (recorded 1968, released 2004 on the ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ deluxe re-issue):

The Kinks abandoned nearly a whole album’s worth of material somewhere between ‘Something Else’ and ‘Village Green’ and this song was a particularly sad loss. Ray Davies enjoys himself crooning one of his own songs that seek to do for his local London area of Lavender Hill (near Muswell Hill) what the ratpack did for New York. Dreaming of a better future with the best things around him, the narrator quickly realises that moving away to a better area isn’t the answer – he was born to that part of the world and that station in life and doesn’t really want to change. The use of brass and mellotron on this song roots is both firmly in the past and in the (then) future, with this song among The Kinks’ quirkiest recordings of their long career. Ray sounds great as a crooner though – I hoped the abominable Kinks Khoral Kollection from a couple of years back was going to sound more like this, instead of tuneless anonymous choirs intoning ‘You Really Got Me, Yeah’ like an aria!

6) Paul McCartney “Suicide” (a bonus track from the ‘McCartney’ album, recorded 1970 released ):

We mention ‘Suicide’ as our song simply because that’s the song Macca actually dared to send to Sinatra to record somwewhere around the Beatles break-up. Ol’ Blue Eyes is meant to have taken it as a hurtful joke and never went anywhere near it and the song has long had a bad reputation among Beatleheads. It’s actually not that bad when you hear the whole thing (it came out on the deluxe ‘McCartney’ set last year, with a single verse making it to the original album) and is very McCartney, both the delightfully free-flowing melody and the rather awkward verses (there’s a reason writers don’t often use the term ‘suicide’, a word as ugly as the subject matter – Macca’s rhyme with ‘rue-icide’ is fooling no one!). Still, its a lot better than most of the rubbish Sinatra recorded in his declining years and the fact that big Frabnk recorded a whole album of songs by Four Seasons writer Bob Gaudio suggests the marriage could have worked, given more time and a better climate. That’s just the icing on the cake of Macca’s infatuation with this era: see also The Beatles’ ‘When I’m 64’ and ‘Honey Pie’, Wings’ ‘You Gave Me The Answer’, the song Macca wrote for Peggy Lee ‘Let’s Love’ and the song recorded for the ‘James Paul McCartney’ TV special in 1973 ‘Gotta Sing Gotta Dance!’

7) Pink Floyd “San Tropez” (released on ‘Meddle’ 1972):

What a curious album ‘Meddle’ is. The last ‘proper’ (ie non-film soundtrack) album before ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. It made our ‘classic’ list on the basis of 23-minute magnum opus ‘Echoes’ alone, but the tracks on side one are a mixed bunch at best. ‘San Tropez’ is weirder even than ‘Seamus’, the blues instrumental with Steve Marriott’s dog howling over the top, being a jazzy easy listening song about being away on holiday. As if mirroring the narrator’s discomfort at being in an unfamiliar climate, Roger Waters sounds very lost singing amongst what might well be the most eccentric backing Pink Floyd came up (yes, even rivalling ‘Several Species’!) The fact that is also one of the shortest songs in the Floyd back catalogue is actually a cause for relief.

8) Ringo “Sentimental Journey” (the whole album! 1970):

Good God no! A lot of Ringo’s albums are on the poor side (played ‘Ringo the 4th recently? Me neither), though there are some gems in there if you’re prepared to search for them (‘Stop and Smell The Roses’, ‘Time Takes Time’, parts of ‘Vertical Man’). This album, however, is probably the worst Beatles-related release of them all (yep, even ‘Two Virgins’ is more interesting than this!), with Ringo crooning his way badly through a set of standards so well known there isn’t anything he could possibly bring to the table. AS we said above, there are lots of similarities with Macca’s album ‘Kisses On The Bottom’, not least Macca’s name in the arranging credits and the presence of ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, but there the similarities end. You need to have a really great voice to get the most out of these songs – Ringo doesn’t even sing in an average voice here. Just listen to the title track for proof of what may be one of the longest listening experiences of your life. It’s often said that Ringo recorded this album for his mother, doing her favourite songs – what’s not often repeated is that even she didn’t like this album very much and only heard it once! Follow-up ‘Beaucoups of Blues’, a similar album but made up of country standards, suits Ringo’s voice much better.

9) The Small Faces “All Of Our Yesterdays” (released on ‘The Small Faces’, 1967):

‘And now coming to you from Whapping Wharf Laundrette, Ronald ‘Leafy’ Lane!’ It’s probably fair to say that Steve Marriott didn’t take his bandmate’s attempts at writing an easy listening song that seriously, given that introduction and the infectious giggle that he makes during most of the song. Poor Ronnie Lane is doing a good job at staying focused, however, on a song that’s actually a fair go at writing in an alien style, complete with very 40s sounding lyrics about a girl with ‘freckles on her nose, cutely sun shine’. In fact, hilarious as Marriott is, you wish the Small Faces had done this song properly and given what we know is still lying in the vaults its amazing this recording made the final album at all. Ronnie makes a great crooner, however, sounding not unlike Viv Stanshall in his part-serious, part-tongue-in-cheek rendition of his own words. There’s a nice brass arrangement too.

10) 10cc “The Film Of Our Love” (released on ‘The Original Soundtrack’ 1974):

Finally, this song is most decidedly meant to be tongue-in-cheek, with Graham Gouldmann offering what might well be the un-funniest song in the whole of 10cc’s oeuvre. Having already decided that the album would be named after a soundtrack to an album that doesn’t exist, Gouldmann decided to take pot-shots at all the worst moments of films he’s ever had to sit through, sounding like a bad Spanish singing waiter that’s just been fired and doesn’t care anymore. There are some good ideas here, with the narrator clutching a home movie kit to film his every move that features more double entendres than most Carry On Films (‘a long shot of yours, a close up of mine...’). Alas, this is one of those occasional one-joke 10cc songs that simply isn’t funny past the first verse and the long fadeout (‘over and over and over again, over and over and over...) may well be the longest two minutes of your listening life (after hearing Ringo croon ‘Sentimental Journey’ at any rate!

Bom-ba-ba-ba-bom, scooby-dooby-doo, that’s all for another issue, we seem to be through, see you next week (or sooner if you can’t sleep), when we’ll be back to answer our ‘call’ and look at good old fashioned rock and roll...

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