Don’t You Worry, Little Hank Is Back

Posted in music post with tags , , on March 11, 2009 by Wes

100_16801 Hank Ballard is probably known by most as a pop music foot note — he’s the guy who wrote and orginally recorded The Twist.  But he is much more than that if you take the time to search out the rest of his catalogue. Hank Ballard & The Midnighters recorded some great, hard-driving, instantly danceable r&b songs in the 50s and early 60s.  Their sound is comparable with the equally hard driving stuff that The ‘5’ Royales have from the same period.  Another point of note is their lyrics which were often quite full of sexual innuendos or even just literal sexual references.  Songs like one of their first releases, Sexy Ways and the hit Work With Me Annie both exemplify that.  Many radio stations didn’t play these songs at the time of release do to their explicitness or perceived obscenity. Other great songs by them are Finger Poppin’ Time and Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go.

But right now we have a couple of obscure, but great, non-hits. That Low Down Move.  Best parts:  the super heavy drum intro, the fact that the drums are WAY up in the mix and the wild Hammond organ licks that come out of nowhere during the outro.  The b-side is (I’m Goin’ Back To) That House On The Hill.  Best parts of this track are again, the great organ work, the crazy loud snare/clap/guitar hit on the beat, Hank’s strained and slightly distorted/overdriven vocals. Another great and funny bit is when Hank is listing the dances that they’ll do in ‘the house on the hill’ instead of the mashed potato he says the mashed shpotata
Hank Ballard & The Midnighters – That Low Down Move
Hank Ballard & The Midnighters – (I’m Goin’ Back To) That House On The Hill


The Best Part

Posted in music post with tags , , , on March 5, 2009 by Wes

100_16781Here is both sides of Philles Records single 120. (The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up by the Ronettes is the a-side. While it was no Be My Baby or Baby, I Love You in terms of chart toppingness its still a fine example of Ronnie Bennet’s soaring vocals and Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound. Also of note is the theme of the lyrics. Basically its about make up sex. What we’re hearing is that when you have a fight getting back together is the best part of the fight. A first I would think for 1964. The start of the second verse is the line: “everytime you leave a get those teardrops in my eyes.” But when I listen to it I always here “everytime you eat I get those teardrops in my eyes.” Listen for yourself and see. It really does sound like she’s singing ‘eat’. The arrangement is highlighted by the fantastic false ending: a brief pause and then the outro is introduced with 4 beats of the kick drum followed by some great drums fills as the song fades.
This specific rip is a home job done by me, direct from the 7 inch single. There is a fair amount of surface noise but I decided to upload this version as opposed to a digital version. Why? just cause.
On the flip side is the song Big Red. After a little bit of internet digging it looks like the only issue of this song is on the b-side of this single. No albums, compilations or anthologies. Its an instrumental credited to The Ronettes which is curious due to the fact that, of course, they were a vocal group. A group who didn’t write any of their songs, produce the music or play any instruments on their recordings. They just sang. So who’s song is this really? The writing credits are given to A. L. Spector which I would assume is an alias for Phil Spector. The players on the session are none other than Spector’s crack team of legendary session musicians, The Wrecking Crew. So here we have a great slice of some studio legends doing what sounds no more than just fooling around in the studio. We can assume that Hal Blaine (the most recorded drummer in history), Glen Campbell, Leon Russel and Carol Kaye are all playing on this track. Its likely Russel on the piano but I’m not sure who’s playing the trumpet solos.

The Ronettes – (The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up
The Ronettes – Big Red

James Brown – There Was A Time

Posted in music post with tags , , on February 26, 2009 by Wes


Here is a track which returns more to the original theme of Doing it to Death the DJ night.  There Was A Time is an absolute classic from James Brown.  The version here is a direct vinyl rip from the King single released in 1967.  This song was a staple of Brown’s live show as it is basically a showcase for his famous dancing.  The lyrics of each verse go through various dance steps ending with a creshendo scream and instead of a chorus the band kicks it up a notch with the slamming drums taking the centre of the mix.  This same sequence also starts the the song.
There Was A Time went to #3 on the US R&B Singles chart and #36 Pop.
This track is available on an earlier Doing it to Death mix CD if you got one of those last year. If not you can download it here:

Little Knoxville Girl

Posted in music post, video post with tags , on February 20, 2009 by Wes

One of the darkest and most sinister murder ballads that I know is the story of The Knoxville Girl. Its format is based on British ballads The Wexford Girl (Irish) and The Oxford Girl (English). It follows the format common to many Appalachian murder ballads. The killer retells the story from a first person perspective while not revealing much of a motive and therefore leaving the listener without much sympathy for him or his actions. A few facts are revealed when listening to the lyrics closely. We are told that the killer’s name is Willie as the Knoxille Girl calls him by his first name as she begs for mercy. After the act is committed Willie is having nightmare and can’t sleep. In the Louvin Brothers version he sees the flames of hell and in Nick Cave’s telling the devil visits him, stands at the foot of his bed and points his finger at him. In the end he find himself in jail and tells us that the was in love with the girl he murdered, thus adding more confusion to his already unknown motives. Any insights into the story? Leave a comment.

Eels boiled in broth

Posted in music post with tags , , on February 16, 2009 by Wes

This is a follow up to the Staple Singers/Dylan post. I had said that the question and answer lyric structure for Dylan’s song, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall was taken from the english ballad Lord Randall. Here is a version by living Appalachian legend Jean Ritchie.

Jean Ritchie – Lord Randall

Lord Randall is a classic example of a Murder Ballad in the Anglo folk tradition. Dark and morbid stuff indeed.

Doing it to Death: Stone Cold Soul

Posted in music post with tags , , , on February 7, 2009 by Wes

I read Peter Guralnick’s book, Sweet Soul Music, The Southern Dream of Freedom a few months ago. It is a fantastic book that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning more about southern soul. After finishing it I was inspired to make a mix CD of some of the best soul songs that I have. A lot of this is from the Stax/Volt and Atlantic catalogue.
I’ve given out a few so far. If you got one and you found out that there is no track listing I’m sorry. Here it is if you want to fill it in yourself. Also if you think this looks good and you want one just ask me. Some of these are classics and some are a little more obscure. A few of them are pretty well known samples too.

The mix CD is called Doing it to Death: Stone Cold Soul

1. Sam Cooke – That’s Where It’s At
2. Ray Charles – I Believe To My Soul
3. Soloman Burke – If You Need Me
4. The Falcons – I Found A Love
5. William Bell – You Don’t Miss Your Water
6. James Carr – A Man Needs A Woman
7. Bobby Marchan – What Can I Do
8. The Canes – Why Should I Suffer With The Blues
9. Otis Redding – You Left The Water Running
10. Carla Thomas – I’ll Bring It Home To You
11. Charmels – As Long As I’ve Got You
12. Del Rios – Just Across The Street
13. Dorothy Williams – Closer To My Baby
14. Sam & Dave – When Something Is Wrong With My Baby
15. Eddie Floyd – Saturday Night
16. Johnnie Taylor – I’ve Got To Love Somebody’s Baby
17. Mable John – Your Good Thing (Is About To End)
18. The Pips with Gladys Knight – Every Beat Of My Heart
19. Prince Conley – I’m Going Home
20. Ruby Johnson – When My Love Comes Down
21. James Carr – The Dark End Of The Street
22. Jerry Butler with The Impressions – For Your Precious Love
23. Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
24. Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – You’ve Got A Friend
25. Arthur Alexander – You Better Move On
26. Joe Simon – My Adorable One
27. William Bell – I Forgot To Be Your Lover
28. Little Richard – I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)

I heard one hundred drummers who’s hands were a-blazin’

Posted in music post with tags , , on February 5, 2009 by Wes

I’ve been listening to the Staple Singers a lot lately.  I think at this point my favourite thing is Pops Staples guitar playing.  Always simple, on point and mounds of tremolo.  I think its tremolo, guitar players, is that the right effect term? Or is it reverb? Or both even?!? As a contemporary of Charlie Patton and other Mississippi guitar players he’s a good link from the early delta players through to that style done in an electric style by people like Lightnin’ Hopkins or Hubert Sumlin or John Lee Hooker I suppose.  But his style differs from those, perhaps from Hopkins’ the least though, as he takes it in a direction that is rooted in the gospel tradition.  There are many examples of gospel quartets of groups accompanied simply by an electric guitar and handclaps.  The Staple Singers hit these notes often but also add drums and electric bass on many takes as well. The end result rather unique, somewhat rock and roll but definitely gospel at its core. In the later 60s and 70s The Staple Singers’ sound was more straight ahead in soul/funk territory.  They had some great stuff but its their earlier stuff that I’m really feeling.  

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall was written by Bob Dylan and recorded in 1962 for his 1963 release The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.  The question and answer lyric structure of the song is based on Lord Randall, a traditional English ballad about a boy retelling the story of his own fateful poisoning to his mother.  The lyrics in Dylan’s version can read as being somewhat political or social: critical of the then current Cuban Missile Crisis or nuclear war in general.  Perhaps this is true in a sense, but in a less direct one than the imagery that the song gives us.  In the liner notes on the album Dylan is quoted and reveals the sense of his own mortality at the time: “Every line in it is actually the start of a whole new song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one.”  Reflecting on the last verse one could surely get an impending sense of doom that Dylan was feeling in late ’62.  

“I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number”

The Staple Singers’ cover of A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall appeared on their album This Little Light of Mine which was released one year after Dylan’s original version.  In this cover the call and answer format is re-imagined in a duet between Mavis and Pops Staples.  Mavis sings the initial question and then the second question is sang in harmony with her siblings.  Pops takes the role of recounting what it was, exactly that the ‘son’ experienced as he sings the verses.  These verses use the gospel call and response trope common of many group and quartet recordings — Pops singing each line and the other members of the family responding back in harmony. 

An oddity of this recording can be picked up if you listen closely. It appears for the first time at around the 5:30 mark and continues more or less uninterrupted for the rest of the song.  Its a squeaking sound. It sounds like someone rocking back and forth in a squeaky wingbacked chair.  It must have been some unwanted sound picked up in the studio.  Two of the highlights of this recording for me are, the beginning where Mavis’ voice and Pops’ guitar are introduced on the first line before being joined by the backing harmonies and the bass and drums for the second, and the very end where Pops reprises a single line of the chorus a cappella. 

Dylan’s original can be heard here:

And The Staple Singers’ version here:
The Staple Singers – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall