Single of the week

The Way It Is (Bruce Hornsby & The Range)

When certain songs arrive on the scene it’s very often quickly established what the song’s content is about especially if it’s of a sensitive or delicate nature. When Luka by Suzanne Vega came along we all knew it was about child abuse, when Phil Collins brought out Another Day in Paradise we knew it was about homelessness and when Bruce Hornsby & the Range told us about The Way Is It were learned that it was about unemployment, but in actual fact there’s more to it than that.

It’s highly unlikely that if anyone asked you to name the group who were made up of George Marinelli, Joe Puerta, David Mansfield and John Molo you wouldn’t know. Well, it’s The Range, Bruce Hornsby’s backing group which he formed in 1984. Bruce, who was born in Virginia in 1954, learned piano by ear as a kid by copying songs from the records he was listening to. “I really got interested because I loved the Joe Cocker records with Leon Russell on them which led me to the later Leon Russell solo records,” he told Lydia Hutchinson. Elton John’s first few records I loved. Obviously they were very piano-oriented records with Leon and Elton, and it made me want to play along with them. So I started fooling around on our piano that we had at home, just got into it by ear and gradually got more serious about it later.” He went on to study music at the University of Richmond, the Berklee College of Music and the University of Miami eventually graduating in 1977.

The Way It Is looks at the Civil Rights Movement in America as referred to by the line ‘The law passed in ’64’ and that was the law which was supposed to put a stop to public discrimination. It was quite political which is not something you would expect from a man born in Virginia, Bruce explained in an interview with NME, “My mother came from the New England area, and she was a little more enlightened about racial subjects than a lot of people in the South. So I had a different attitude to a lot of my friends whose parents were more conservative. When I was brought up, the vibe I got of Martin Luther King in my town was that he was a real evil man – just the vibe in the air, that he was terrible. And if you grow up in that environment you can’t help but be affected by it a little bit. Luckily, I came from a family that guarded us against that conservatism, but sure, I grew up in the thick of all that bad feeling.”

It’s not typical of a Bruce Hornsby track. For a start there is no chorus, no really catchy hooks, Bruce even said at the time, “I don’t think it’s commercial enough.” He told Steve Pond of Rolling Stone magazine, “I like to go for a sort of anthemic thing, a big chorus, but this is a very even-running song. It doesn’t reach the highs and lows that I think of as desirable, almost, in songwriting.” He’s often been sceptical about his own music and who it appeals to saying, in an interview with Keyboard magazine, “I didn’t think the music I was making would interest any major labels. It was just piano, bass, drums a little synth pad and vocals so I didn’t think it was your typical radio formula and I still don’t. I see it as a novelty record,” he continued “There are things that set it apart. I feel the same way about Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits, it goes down easy and isn’t that what a lot of pop is about? But at the same time, it’s a completely different sound than you’d heard. Even the big piano guys like Elton and Billy Joel, they didn’t really solo like that. A pleasing sound with solos.”

Hornsby explained more of the song’s lyrics ‘Some things will never change’ is a statement of resignation, but the most important line in that song is the one that comes after that: ‘But don’t you believe ’em’ so I’ve always been about being strong when resignation is a possibility. Trying to pull up from that and have a positive outlook so that things can change.

One person who was a real fan was Don Henley and began writing with him, Bruce explained how it happened, “He called me up in 1987 right around then and asked me to write with him. I was really flattered by it, and I loved his solo work especially. I thought Boys of Summer was just great and Dirty Laundry too. So I was instantly in for this, and he was the first ‘big shot’ who called me to write. So he came over to my house, and we sort of instantly became friends, and I gave him this track that I’d had lying around. I’d written a song with this music but I didn’t think it was great, so I gave him the track and it seemed to spark something in him right away. He left the house and he was listening to the cassette in the car and I think he called me down the road.” That song was The End of the Innocence which Bruce also plays piano on. Bruce said, “It’s that outside collaboration that I’m the most proud of.”

The Way It Is reached number one in the USA and number 15 in the UK, but was brought to a new audience in 1999 when 2Pac samples the piano on his number three hit Changes.

In 2007, Hornsby collaborated with country singer Ricky Skaggs and recorded a bluegrass album called Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby, it was well received and led to them going out on some tour dates.

Since 2000, Bruce’s backing group has been the Noisemakers who have released six albums the latest being Rehab Reunion in 2016.

He has two sons, Russell and Keith, who are both named after two of Bruce’s favourite musicians, Leon Russell and the jazz and classical music pianist Keith Jarrett.

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Why Can’t We Be Lovers (Holland-Dozier featuring Lamont Dozier)

Songwriting duos, especially in the sixties, were very common and very successful, Lennon & McCartney, Goffin and King, Bacharach and David etc, but songwriting trios are a rarer breed, the Bee Gees would be an obvious thought and in the eighties and nineties Stock, Aitken and Waterman but this week I look at Holland-Dozier-Holland, but more as an artist than as songwriters.

In 1954, Lamont Dozier, who was just 13 when he broke into the music scene, formed a group called The Romeos and released an R&B track called Fine Fine Baby, when they disbanded he joined a doo-wop group called the Voicemasters who, in 1962, landed a contract with Motown with Dozier also being signed as a producer. Eddie Holland had already been working with the label’s founder, Berry Gordy before its formation and Berry teamed them together along with Eddie’s brother Brian and they became the backbone of Motown’s lyrical output until 1968. Their first UK success was with Where Did Our Love Go for the Supremes and they wrote hits for Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and the Four Tops among many others. One of the label’s most distinctive intros was I Can’t Help Myself, Dozier explain how he came up with it, “I was considered the ideas man. I had a bassline for the song and that phrase ‘Sugar pie, honey bunch’ was something my grandfather used to say when I was a kid, and it just stayed with me and went in the song. Lots of childhood memories came back to me and I started using them as song titles.”

In 1967 there was a major dispute between the trio and Gordy over royalties and money generally and so the following year they quit the label and formed their own labels Invictus and Hot Wax, the former being more successful in the UK and the latter in the US. Motown sued the trio for breach of contract over their names being on the label and the trio counter-sued. They began using pseudonyms and it took 10 years until the case was finally settled.

The trio’s biggest success was in 1970 when Freda Payne took their song Band of Gold to number one. The other charting act on their label was Chairmen of the Board who notched up 10 hit singles. In 1972 they released the single Why Can’t We Be Lovers which was actually bizarrely credited as Holland-Dozier featuring Lamont Dozier. It failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 but did reach a respectable number nine on the R&B chart, in the UK it got to number 29.

It’s the ultimate song of a broken down relationship although no obvious reasons are given, but, as is so often the case, the man can’t accept the fact that his woman has moved on. Lyrics like ‘Girl, you’re the habit I can’t break, I’d fall apart if you weren’t there when I awake’ are very moving, but it doesn’t change her mind.

Dozier parted company with the Holland brothers in the mid-seventies, and moved to California where he embarked on a solo career, in America he made the top 20 with Trying to Hold to My Woman and also recorded the original version of Going Back To My Roots which was a major hit for Odyssey in 1981. He also wrote or co-wrote Sixteen (Musical Youth), Invisible (Alison Moyet), Infidelity (Simply Red), Sold (Boy George) but his biggest success came in 1988 when he teamed up with Phil Collins where the pair wrote Two Hearts and Loco In Acapulco which were both featured in the film Buster. It additionally earned the duo a Grammy, a Brit award, a Golden Globe, an Oscar nomination and an Ivor Novello Award.

In 1990, as Holland-Dozier-Holland they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2009 the trio reunited for a one-off occasion to compose music for the scores of the musical production of The First Wives Club. It contained over 20 new songs and was turned into a TV film in 2016.

Lamont Dozier has also taught a course of popular music at the University of Southern California.

It’s not often songwriters get mentioned in lyrics of songs but in 1986 Billy Bragg recorded the song Levi Stubbs’ Tears, Stubbs, for those who don’t know, was the lead singer of the Four Tops and Holland, Dozier and Holland, along with two other Motown staff, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, all get a mention.

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Don’t Change (INXS)

When INXS first hit the UK chart with What you Need in 1986 it went relatively unnoticed. The song only reached number 58 and their next three singles; Listen like Thieves (number46), Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain) (number 54) and Need You Tonight (number 58) were all by-passed by the general British public. It was only when their next single, New Sensation, reached number 25 people took notice. What many won’t realise is that by 1988 when Never Tear Us Apart came along, they’d been going for 11 years. But this week let’s look at one of the early releases.

They were formed in Sydney, New South Wales in 1977 as the Farriss Brothers but not formed by them. Tim and Andrew Farriss were in different bands, Andrew in Doctor Dolphin and Tim in Guinness and each had future INXS members but it was Andrew who invited his school mate Michael Hutchence to join Doctor Dolphin and guitarist Tim was with sax player Kirk Pengilly. In 1977, Tim asked his brother and Hutchence to join forces, they also invited Jon, the youngest of the Farriss brothers.

This week I focus on their seventh release which was called Don’t Change which missed the UK charts altogether but did garner a little airplay in 1980 when radio stations dared to play something different especially shows like Paul Gambaccini’s American hits programme and Don’t Change did reached number 80 Stateside.

The song, although credits the writers as INXS, it was actually created by Michael Hutchence and Andrew Farriss in 1982 during the recording of their third album Shabooh Shoobah and is a very simple message, “Everything Changes, or does it? Nothing lasts forever and yet most of us at some point in our lives want it to.” Andrew said.

The accompanying video was meant to be shot on an airport runway in Southern Australia, but on the day it was pouring with rain and the plan had to be cancelled. The video was directed by Scott Hicks whom Hutchence wanted to bring in because he had worked with him on an Australian film called Freedom for which Hutchence had provided the tracks Speed Kills which was Hutchence’s debut solo single and Forest Theme. If was Scott who had the idea to use hangar in a nearby airport.

In 2014 Channel 7 in Australia aired the mini-series INXS: Never Tear Us Apart and on the back of that, the song was download enough times to allow it to creep into the lower end of the Aussie chart. Later the same year Bruce Springsteen included it in his Australian tour which was so well received that he then included it on the next leg of the tour in New York. It’s also made its way into the sports world by the Maryland-based Baltimore Ravens football team, who, when there’s a dispute during the game and the referee finds in their favour they play a snippet of the chorus. In the film world it was included in the 2009 film Adventureland.

INXS went on to have 26 UK hits and nine studio albums between 1986 and 2002. Lead singer Hutchence was often in the press because of his love-life and string of affairs which included Kylie Minogue and Paula Yates – with whom they had a daughter, Tiger Lily. It’s unbelievably just over 20 years since Michael Hutchence committed suicide and after Yates died of a heroin overdose in 2000 Lily was placed in Yates’ former husband, Bob Geldof’s care. The band continued after his death and had three difference lead singers, Jimmy Barnes in 1998, Terence Trent D’Arby in 1999 and Ciaran Gribbin from September 2011 until the group disbanded in November 2012.

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Broken Stones (Paul Weller)

Very few musicians have success with one band, success with another and then as a solo artist. Paul McCartney would be the obvious name, but it’s not this week choice. This man had 18 hits with his first band in five and a half years, then 17 during the following six years and then a solo career which began in 1991 and has so far racked 38 hits. Paul Weller is the man in question and his tally to date is 73 hits and that doesn’t include guest appearances. Incidentally McCartney has had 98, Elton John has 87, Glee – 100, Elvis – 119 and Cliff – 134, and so he’s up there with the best but still a way to catch up. Paul has also had 24 hit albums with 1995s Stanley Road being the most successful with 87 week s on the chart and from it, let’s talk Broken Stones.

In an interview in 1998 with Paul Lester, Weller said of Stanley Road, “I was really surprised at the success of the album because it was quite dark. I remember playing the demo to friends and they were saying ‘take it off’. I was conscious that there were a lot of sweet tunes like You Do Something to Me and Times Passes so I wanted to add a darkness to the album. It was one of those records where everything came together; you had the songs which are always at the heart of it, we had the right studio, a great sleeve and it was a boom time for music. Bands were back and it was the right time for me – it was the most complete thing I’ve ever done.”

“We were very buoyant when we entered the studio,” he told Lois Wilson, “a lot of the material had been written up front. There had been a good year-and-a-half of playing on the road in between Wild Wood and the making of Stanley Road so I’d written at home, on the tour bus, in hotel rooms, wherever I could snatch the time, and we had a chance to play a lot of the songs in on the road.” The first single released from the album the Out of the Sinking which stalled at number 20 in November 1994, it was followed by The Changingman and You Do Something to Me and, finally, the fourth single was Broken Stones.

The song’s idea came from a conversation he was having with his son whilst at the beach. “He was asking me where all the pebbles came from, Paul explained to Daniel Rachel, “I told him we were all part of one rock before and we all got smashed down in time and splintered and sent around the earth. I don’t know if that’s true or not, scientifically, but that was my explanation to him anyway. But even if it wasn’t true, as a metaphor for us as a human race, human spirit, that we all come from one source and we just got splintered and sent round the world, there was a sense of spirituality that we’re all seeking to get back to that core again or get back home. So that spiritual element I married to the gospel accordion chords in it. It’s like an old gospel or spiritual tune to me.”

It’s a simple song that, like Sting’s Fields of Gold, could have been written at any point in time. A beautiful track with a gentle guitar and littered with rimshots and fits in with the other tracks on Stanley Road.

Weller had a further three number one albums after Stanley Road which were Illumination (2002), 22 Dreams (2008) and Sonik Kicks (2012) and he released two albums in 2017, the much-overlooked Jawbone the soundtrack to a film which starred Ray Winstone and Ian McShane and featured the wonderful song The Ballad Of Jimmy McCabe, the other was A Kind Revolution which peaked at number five.

Paul keeps his finger on the pulse of the current music or recent music scene, in 2014 he wrote a song for Olly Murs’ new album Never Been Better, the song was called Let Me In but Olly wasn’t sure about it at first. He thought it needed to be a bit more commercial and so changed some lyrics and recorded it. He said, “I rang Paul with my version, thinking he’d say no, but he loved it. That gave me a huge confidence boost.”

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Green, Green Grass of Home (Tom Jones)

I do love it when there’s a discrepancy as to who recorded a particular song first. That gets me digging even deeper into the roots to find the origin and it’s not always the person who wrote it. John D. Loudermilk and Tony Joe White were two prolific songwriters who both tended to record their own songs after other people had recorded them first. This week’s suggestion, The Green, Green Grass of Home wasn’t written by either of the aforementioned person, nor was it first recorded by its author.

Marilyn Monroe made her screen debut in the 1950 film The Asphalt Jungle. It was a crime scene during that film that inspired Nashville songwriter Curly Putnam to write The Green, Green Grass of Home. It is the tale of a condemned prisoner who is dreaming of going back to the green grass home, but when he awakes, he remembers that he is about to face the electric chair. Like any archetypal country song, it makes references to the old hometown, a girl called Mary, a preacher, a death and a funeral.

So who did record the original? Well, scan as many books and websites as you like and it’ll throw up the names Porter Wagoner, Conway Twitty, Johnny Darrell, Roy Drusky and Jerry Lee Lewis. Indeed they did all record a version, but most popularly it will say Porter Wagoner – the man who Dolly Parton famously wrote I Will Always Love You about after seven years of performing together. Wagoner also had his own TV show in America and Darrell and Putman were good friends and drinking partners in the mid-sixties. The answer lies in Wagoner’s biography where he states, “I first heard the song when Darrell sang it on my TV show.” Wagoner then brought Johnny’s record home to get his wife’s opinion of the song when he was considering cutting it. But Darrell wasn’t the first choice. Putnam actually wrote it for another country singer Bobby Bare who disliked it and turned it down. Melodically it was inspired by the gospel song The Old Rugged Cross which was written in 1912 by George Bennard and first performed the following year. Hundreds of acts have recorded The Old Rugged Cross but the only UK hit version of it, albeit a minor one, was for Ethna Campbell in 1976 where it peaked at number 33 but did spend 11 weeks on the chart.

Jerry Lee Lewis recorded his version in 1965, a year after the original, as he was starting to move away from rock ‘n’ roll and into country music. It appeared in his album Country Songs for City Folks and it was Jerry Lee’s version that Tom Jones heard and recalled, “I said to my recording manager, Peter Sullivan, I’d like to record this. He said, ‘a country song?’ I said ‘yeah’, because I hadn’t done a country song up to that point. Les Reed did the arrangement and played piano on the track and made it more of a pop song than a country song, because when Jerry Lee Lewis did it, it was strict country. When I came back to England I recorded the song on TV and we did it like in a jail. But you don’t know it is a jail, until the camera pulls back and you see the bars, and there I am in this jail, singing The Green, Green Grass of Home.” Jones said, in a 2011 interview with The Mail On Sunday, “I used to collect anything Jerry Lee Lewis recorded, and still do. I was in New York in 1965 when I bought his country album Country Songs for City Folks. Green, Green Grass of Home just stuck out.”

Tom told Song Facts, “I got on well with Jerry Lee. I did have a bit of a dust-up with him one night in Vegas, but most of the time, we got on great. He came over to do a British tour in 1966 and I had just recorded the song. He told me he’d love to hear it, so I played it to him in his hotel room. He was knocked out with it and said: ‘You’ve done something different here, the arrangement is great. It sounds like a number one to me.’ I said: ‘I hope you’re right.’ He was. I think the lyrical content is important here. The guy in the song is really in a jail cell, but you don’t know until the end. That got to me. Good God, it paints a picture and yet a lot of people who love Green, Green Grass of Home don’t even realise that. This is about a man who is going to die and he’s just reminiscing on the precious parts of his life. It made me think of Wales when I recorded it – ‘the old home town looks the same’. When I went back to Pontypridd in those days, getting off the train from London, those words would ring true. It seems like a lot of people relate the sentiment to their home too.”

Tom had always claimed that his biggest regret was not getting into movies. Although he hated the film What’s New Pussycat, in 1965, he delivered the title song, which was very timely as it gave Tom’s chart career a much needed boost. In early 1966 he recorded another film title song and that was Thunderball for the James Bond movie of the same name.

Although the film was a success and Tom often opened his shows with the song, it failed to make the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic. Tom’s version of the song also inspired Engelbert Humperdinck to check out the country back catalogue and Engelbert found a 1949 song called Release Me written and first recorded by Eddie Miller and his Oklahomas.

Other big names who recorded the song were Dean Martin, Joe Tex, Johnny Cash, Nana Mouskouri, Joan Baez and Elvis Presley. During Christmas 1966, Elvis was driving from California back to his home in Memphis when Green, Green Grass of Home came on the radio. He couldn’t stop raving about it and got a friend of his in Arkansas to call the radio station and have them play it repeatedly. Elvis’ version charted in 1975 where it peaked at number 29.

It became Tom Jones’ biggest UK hit selling 1.2m copies and was the first Decca single by a UK artist to sell more than a million copies in this country.

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