Category: Single of the week

For Once In My Life (Stevie Wonder)

The majority of Motown’s biggest hit were written in-house either by the staff writers of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier & Edward Holland, Norman Whitfield, Henry Cosby and Sylvia Moy or even by the artists themselves like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder. Quite rarely did they cover other artist’s songs. There are a few exceptions for example, The Four Tops did If I Were a Carpenter written by Tim Hardin and Do What You Gotta Do as written by Jimmy Webb and Stevie covered Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind and equally, Motown writers rarely wrote for artists outside the stable, but obviously hundreds of acts covered Motown songs. One particular exception is this week’s suggestion of For Once in My Life, which began long before Stevie Wonder got his hands on it.

It was written by the Motown staff Ron Miller and an outsider called Orlando Murden. There has been, for years controversy as to who recorded it first especially as a number of the singers claimed they did it first. According to a recent article by David Freeland on the American Songwriter site, who says, “Sometime in 1965, Miller gave lead sheets of For Once in My Life to two Detroit-based singers, Jo Thompson and Sherry Kaye. In a letter written to the Detroit Free Press in March 2019, Kaye claimed that she performed the song first in a musical revue at the Gem Theater. Meanwhile, Thompson was featuring it in her act at the Celebrity Room, a swanky club operated by Flame Show Bar owner Al Green (not the 70s soul singer). Today, both Thompson and Kaye own ‘original’ copies of the song, and Thompson’s even bears the hand-written note from Miller: ‘To Jo Thompson who sang it first, and best!'”

It transpires that neither did it first, but another argument that arises as to not only who did it first, but whose was released first. At the end of the day, the first recording laid down is the original regardless of any release. In 1966, a version by a Jazz/soul singer called Jean DuShon who was a recording artist signed to the Chess record label. It is claimed that Miller had her record the song as a demo, but liked her version so much that he thought she should sing it. In November 1966, another Motown-signed singer, Barbara McNair (who died in 2007) included the song on her album Here I Am. Since delving further into this minefield, it seems that DuShon’s version was issued first, but a close checking on the copyright on McNair’s record label reveals that her version was recorded in 1965, preceding all other versions. So, in short, McNair did the original and all others followed.

All the early versions were in a ballad style but it was Hank Cosby who had become responsible for the studio operations at Motown and it was he who suggested Stevie Wonder record the song and up the tempo. “The song had been previously recorded by some big named acts,” Cosby recalled in an interview with Stuart Grundy. “I said to Stevie, ‘this song sounds like people are dying and crying and I thought it was supposed to be happy so I suggested he put some life into the song.’ Stevie said to me, ‘Oh no, I hate that song, but to please me he started singing and playing and I started the tape recorder playing.’ I played it back and asked Stevie what he thought, to which he replied, ‘It wasn’t too bad.’ We did it again and, again, he said it wasn’t too bad so I said come on, let’s cut it.”

After the song was recorded, Cosby, said, “I thought it came out great, done with so much fire and so much feeling, but when Ron Miller heard the jazzed-up version  he went berserk. He went crazy saying, ‘what have you done that for?’ and because he didn’t like it, it sat on the shelf for one year. A year later, they finally released it because there was no other product on the shelf.

Ron Miller, in the same interview, explained a slightly different story, “When I wrote that song, I wrote it the way I thought Tony Bennett would sing it. Tony had a hit out at the time and did record it but never had a hit on it. Stevie came to me in my basement office and said, ‘Hey man, I love that tune’ and I said, ‘great’, but Stevie said, ‘I want to do it like this’ and he started playing it the way he wanted with the whole concept of his new arrangement. When I heard it, I said, ‘Listen man, you’re talking Oscar Hammerstein, I don’t want to hear it like that, but Stevie actually spent three or four months trying to talk me into letting him do the song that way. Finally, I said OK and we did the song but I was dead against it because I thought it was a sacrilege to a beautiful song. But then it sat in the can for almost two years because the company didn’t like it.” Eighteen months later, Stevie said to Miller, maybe they don’t like the pace of it, so let’s do it again and put a harmonica solo in. That’s what happened and then everyone was happy and it got released.

Many other acts recorded it including Frank Sinatra, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Emeli Sande, Michael Buble and the Temptations which then had Paul Williams on lead vocals. Tony Bennett often included it in his live shows and in 2006 performed a slower paced version with Stevie Wonder for his album Duets: An American Classic. That version went on to win a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. At the awards ceremony, Wonder dedicated the Grammy to his mother, who died that same year.

Ron Miller’s other successes included Heaven Help Us All, Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday and A Place In The Sun which were all hits for Stevie Wonder as well as Touch Me In The Morning for Diana Ross. His most recent UK chart success was I’ve Never Been To Me which she had recorded in 1977 but finally topped the UK chart upon re-issue in 1982.

Miller died of a heart attack in July 2007.

In an interview with Ralph McKnight and Martin Lawrie, Jean DuShon described her feelings of hurt when Stevie’s version became a hit, “It was a very big disappointment in my life. I stopped singing it ’cause I didn’t have the song. I didn’t have anything. It wasn’t mine anymore.”

Sometimes (Gerry Cinnamon)

Wiggles has been hounding me to write about this song for weeks, but apart from having heard the song, I knew little about it. When this happens I usually contact the person or people involved to try and find out more. On this occasion, despite several attempts, Gerry and his manager, Kayleigh haven’t bothered responding, however, through a friend some details have been obtained.

Gerry was born Gerard Crosbie in Glasgow in 1984 who, by his own words, said, “My life was f***ing mental growing up” because he had no father around and from his teens was often in trouble. Post education he worked as a plumber and then as a scaffolder without satisfaction. He tried his hand at being a chef and even worked in a coffee shop, but then moved to London and resided with a friend’s father and began learning guitar. He briefly formed a band called The Cinnamons but that didn’t work out and he returned to Scotland. Following some experience with cocaine, he began writing songs about his past experiences which he found came easy and has since poured them out in his songs.

Gerry began a solo career and originally used the mononym, Cinnamon before adding is real first name. He is passionate about his home country and all things to do with it and sings in a strong Glaswegian accent. Many of his songs are reminisce about growing up in Glasgow and his use of cocaine.

“My lyrics are honest almost to a fault, it gets me into trouble,” he told Nadia Younes. “I think people appreciate that… The music I write is what I want to hear myself. What other artists play acoustic guitar and their gigs are bouncing? That’s all I’m looking for.”

In 2017, he released his debut album of self-written songs on his own eponymous label and called it Erratic Cinematic and the opening track is Sometimes.

Sometimes really talks about his troubled upbringing, he openly states, ‘Insecurity is rife, I’m not the ideal person to be lecturing of life.’ and then in verse two the reference to the drugs, ‘Some things I’ve learned about myself, being in sticky situations, I won’t bore you with the filth, breaking bones and sniffing gear.’

Gerry formed his own Little Runaway records because gone are the days when artists needed record labels to help boost their career because with the advent of social media, the artists can do their own promoting and not lose interest like the record labels so often did if a song wasn’t a bit hit first time round. He told Craig McLean at The Face, “I know there’s people that think that the fact I don’t deal with labels is some sort of front. As if I’ve not had any offers from labels! If they think that what I’m doing just now is because I haven’t had offers from labels, then they’re a fucking idiot, aren’t they? They don’t know what they’re talking about. Of course I’ve had offers! All sorts of offers. But it’s like, why would it work for me? Why should I sign? At the start I was like: ‘let’s see if I can open the door. If I can show that there’s a way to do this without the glass ceiling or waiting for somebody else to do it for you.”

He has a cult following by a loyal fan base who turn up time after time regardless of where the gig is and it’s another thing that record companies never really took into consideration. They just looked at sales figures and how much money they could make.

In 2017, he played the John Peel tent at Glastonbury to a 7000-capacity audience who seems to know every word to every song which just enhances his live popularity.

He has, to date, minimal UK chart success having charted three singles, Canter, in the summer of 2019 peaked at number 50, the follow up, Sun Queen petered out at number 64 and last week Where We’re Going stalled at number 67. Meanwhile the album, Erratic Cinematic, reached number 17 and spent one year on the chart. In May 2019, he supported Liam Gallagher on tour and later this year he confirmed he’ll be headlining the Hampden Park festival, the 51,000 capacity stadium and thus will become the first Scottish act to do so. Things are really taking off for him and only three weeks ago he announced that he will be appearing at the Reading and Leeds festival in August.

In time for that he’s had begun work on his second album, The Bonny, which is short for Bonfire and in his mind that is an image of defiance and light coming together.

“The statistics I never really gave a fuck about, it’s just the magnitude of it,” Cinnamon revealed to Nadia Younes “To be honest, I’ve got no ambitions, I’m trying to say this without sounding like a negative bastard, but I don’t really have any ambitions for it to go any bigger. I don’t want it to get any bigger. It’s just trying to make it better. And if that means a bigger venue, then so be it.”

Lido Shuffle (Boz Scaggs)

This week’s song was chosen by General Blee who emailed to say, “I had forgotten how good Lido Shuffle was and how much I actually liked it. However, having tried hard to listen to the lyrics, I am still confused as to what it is all about. Can you have a look at this one for me please? Before contacting a friend of mine who has interviewed Boz Scaggs, a little research on the internet confirmed why I don’t rely too much on it. It never ceases to amaze me what rubbish is written on so many websites that people make up which then gets transformed into folklore over a period of time. I read on three site that this song is about a man being released from prison in Mississippi and needed a boat to get across the water which he’d just missed and so thought about robbing a bar. What utter tosh. Let’s tell the real story.

William Royce Scaggs was born in Canton, Ohio and because his father was a travelling salesman, he moved around a lot firstly to Oklahoma and then spent much of his childhood growing up in Texas. He began learning guitar at the age of 12 and when he was 15 he met Steve Miller (who was in the same school and had his own band) and Scaggs was invited to join as vocalist. He then attended a private school in Dallas where a schoolmate gave him the nickname Bosley which was later shortened to Boz. Miller and Scaggs both attended the same University and then went their separate ways with Scaggs heading to London and then to Sweden. In 1965, he released his first solo album, Boz, which bombed. Two years later he returned to the U.S and San Francisco where he was reunited with Steve Miller and played on his first two albums.

He secured a record contract and released his second album, the inventively titled Boz Scaggs that featured then-session guitarist Duane Allman. It wasn’t commercially successful despite good reviews. His 1974 album, Slow Dancer, had a more soulful feel as it produced by Johnny Bristol.

In 1976, for his next album, he gathered more top session musicians including David Paich, Jim Gilstrap, Fred Tackett and Jeff Porcaro and was recorded at Hollywood Sound Studios in Los Angeles. Paich and Porcaro went on to form Toto and Tackett was a member of Little Feat. Paich also co-wrote and played keyboards on most of the tracks with Scaggs. Lowdown was the first release and made number 28 in the UK. The follow-up, What Can I Say made the top 10 and then came Lido Shuffle which went to number 13.

Scaggs in the interview said of the song, “Lido’ was a song that I’d been banging around. And I kind of stole… well, I didn’t steal anything. I just took the idea of the shuffle. There was a song that Fats Domino did called The Fat Man that had a kind of driving shuffle beat that I used to play on the piano, and I just started kind of singing along with it. Then I showed it to David Paich and he helped me fill it out. It ended up being Lido Shuffle. The song is about a drifter looking for a big score.” He concurred in another interview with Barry Scott, “It’s sort of a little throw-down, that’s an impressionistic little thing about a character who is flying by the seat of his pants. That’s probably as well as I can describe it.”

Another track on the parent album, Silk Degrees was We’re All Alone which was released as the B-side to Lido Shuffle. A&M records decided it was too good to waste as a flip and gave it to Rita Coolidge to cover who took it to number six in June 1977.

In 1996, Boz and his second wife Dominique moved to Napa Valley in California and four years later they began to produce their own wine incorporating a blend of classic southern Rhone varieties. It became known as Scaggs Vineyard. Sadly they lost their house during the Napa Valley wildfires of October 2017. Their wine business continues in Oakville, California. Scaggs said last year, “Recently we partnered up with Matt Naumann at Newfound Wines to produce our wines. We love that aspect of our lives up here and we’re going to continue that.”

On The Rebound (Floyd Cramer)

This week’s suggestion is from Milkybarnick who emailed to say, “I wondered if Floyd Cramer’s On the Rebound was worth a punt as single of the week. It’s a record I never heard until I started doing hospital Radio some years back, and despite being a good 16 years older than me, it’s one of my favourite records. It feels oddly of its time, but also timeless which is often what makes a good pop hit.” Well Nick, that is very true, so let’s look into it.

Floyd was born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1933 and began learning piano by ear at the age of five. Although he didn’t have his first UK hit, the chart-topping On the Rebound, until 1961 he’d already made his name in the States playing piano on numerous songs mainly by country acts. After graduating from high school, he joined the cast of the Louisiana Hayride country show in Shreveport. His break came when he began playing in Webb Pierce’s country band and doing session work for singers like Jim Reeves. In 1953, he recorded his first single Dancin’ Diane. A couple of years later he moved to Nashville, Tennessee and became one of the most sought-after session pianists where he played for the Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Perry Como and Patsy Cline among others. He’ll be remembered by many as the man who played on the early sessions by Elvis Presley when he made his debut at RCA in 1955. He played on most Presley songs through to 1968.

He developed his own style known as ‘slip note’ which was described at the time as ‘a lonesome cowboy sound.’ Cramer said, “It’s like a near miss, you hit the note below the one you want and slide up into it. I developed this technique with the songwriter, Don Robertson.” He first used it on the 1960 hit Please Help Me I’m Falling by Hank Locklin. The same year, Cramer, at the suggestion of his guitarist friend, Chet Atkins, to showcase his style, recorded his own track, Last Date, which reached number two in the States and it was kept from number one by Elvis Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight? on which he also played piano. Cramer acknowledged in an interview with Pophistory, “It’s been done for a long time on the guitar by people like Maybelle Carter and by lots of people on the steel guitar; half-tones are very common.”

On the Rebound was the follow up to Last Date and his first hit in the UK. Naturally, the record company wanted him to tour, but he was reluctant to leave his lucrative session work by touring. Instead, he released numerous easy listening albums including America’s Biggest Selling Pianist (1961), Floyd Cramer Gets Organ-ised (1961), Country Piano, City Strings (1964) and Floyd Cramer Meets the Monkees (1967) as well as albums with Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph and Danny Davis.

A number of his albums featured cover versions of popular hits of the day and in 1979, he won a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental with My Blue Eyes. In 1980, he recorded a hit version of the theme song from the Dallas TV series. Later that same year he decided to go on tour with the aforementioned Chet Atkins and joining them was the saxophonist Boots Randolph (best remembered in the UK as the man who recorded the theme to the Benny Hill Show) and called themselves the Million Dollar Band. That name was inspired by the famous Million Dollar Quartet, which was collectively, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley following an impromptu jam session at Sun Studios in Nashville.

Cramer died of cancer on New Year’s Eve 1997 at the age of 64. Although best known for playing country music, he did play many other styles which included jazz, gospel, blues and classical. He said, “Music is emotion, mood, regardless of what you name it. I wouldn’t want to be pigeonholed as playing only country or pop.”

On The Rebound would have been heard by a new younger audience when it was played over the opening credits on the 2009 Oscar-nominated film An Education that was set in 1961.

Boys Keep Swinging (David Bowie)

The video era really came to life in 1981 with the birth of MTV, but of course, there were videos before that and it’s always been cited that Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was the first. It wasn’t. For a start, the Beatles were doing promo videos in the sixties with Paperback Writer and Strawberry Fields Forever being the best known. In 1979, Rolling Stone magazine stated that promotional video tapes were becoming ‘the newest selling tool in rock,’ giving David Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging as an example.

Boys Keep Swinging was David’s last UK top 10 hit of the 1970s and the accompanying video shows David, much like Phil Collins doing You Can’t Hurry Love, singing his own backing vocals in triplicate and in drag. The BBC were hot on David’s heels as they had banned the video to Heroes because of light shining through David’s crotch and deemed it suggestive, so he had to be careful. The video to Boys Keep Swinging, despite the title suggesting it might have connotations, started off the David standing in a dapper suit at a microphone and the BBC must have only watched about 45 seconds of it and considered it passable. Thankfully, they didn’t watch any more otherwise we may not have got to see the bit where at 52 seconds the Bowie’s in drag are seen albeit it’s only a brief glimpse and not immediately obvious it’s David. Apparently, when it was aired there were, as usual, complaints. I don’t believe anyone complained when the Two Ronnies dressed up and even shared a bed.

David wanted the track to have that American garage band sound and thought, to do that, it would be a good idea if a couple of the musicians swapped instruments, so the guitarist, Carlos Alomar, played the drums and the drummer, Dennis Davis played bass. The other musos were, Adrian Belew – guitar, Brian Eno on piano, Tony Visconti also played bass guitar (because Tony didn’t think Dennis’ efforts were good enough) and Simon House played violin.

The song was written about the guitarist Adrian Belew who explained in an interview with Uncut magazine that Bowie wrote it with him in mind. He said, “In New York, David was doing vocals for Boys Keep Swinging, he played me it and said: ‘This is written after you, in the spirit of you.’ I think he saw me as a naïve person who just enjoyed life. I was thrilled with that.”

Belew explained his somewhat futuristic sounding guitar solo, “What I do is, say, use four tracks for a recorded solo and then I cut them up, knock up a little four-point mixer clipping the solos in and out. I give myself arbitrary numbers of bars in which they can play within a particular area and go backwards and forwards from one track to another. The effect is somewhat histrionic.”

Bowie, in an interview with Bust magazine in 2000 said of the song, “I do not feel that there is anything remotely glorious about being either male or female. I was merely playing on the idea of the colonisation of gender.”

In 1997, Blur released the single M.O.R. which ‘borrowed’ Boys Keep Swinging’s melody and thus its writers. Eno and Bowie made a noise and were then awarded writing credits on the track.

Boys Keep Swinging reached number seven in the UK chart but was not released in America as his label there, RCA, deemed the video too suggestive so instead released Look Back in Anger which was another track from the parent album, Lodger but it failed to chart.

Lodger was not as well received as a number of previous Bowie albums. Melody Maker‘s Jon Savage said in his review, ‘Will the eighties really be this boring?’ to which Tony Visconti replied in an interview with The Guardian, “It’s the mix. Someone had called it thin and muddy and that’s pretty bad, to be both thin and muddy! And that’s what always nagged me and David about it.”

2000 Miles (Pretenders)

Three weeks ago, I covered the story of Keeping the Dream Alive by Freiheit, a song that has nothing to do with Christmas, yet only really gets wheeled out in December because it has that ‘Christmassy’ sound. I gave other examples of the same, but one not mentioned was 2000 miles by The Pretenders, although, to be honest, that one it a bit more understandable as it does mention snow and the ‘C’ word four times.

It was Blodwyn Buttercup who emailed me to say, “Hi Jon, could you look at The Pretenders 2000 miles, we have some differing opinions in our household on what/who it was written about?” I love to solve an argument me so, understandably when you listen to the song, on the face of it you would think the man has left the woman and kids behind and gone far away for reasons unknown and the song tells of how she misses him and wants him back etc., well, total nonsense.

The Pretenders are a British band with an American front woman. That woman is the Akron, Ohio-born lead singer Chrissie Hynde who came to the UK in 1973 and worked on the NME and in Malcolm McLaren’s SEX shop. She recorded some demos she had written which Dave Hill at Anchor Records heard and gave her some studio time. He suggested she form her own band and in doing so recruited guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, Pete Farndon on bass and drummer Gerry Mcilduff. One of the first songs they recorded was a cover of the Kinks’ Stop Your Sobbing and soon after, Gerry was replaced with Martin Chambers. All they needed was a name and it was Chrissie who chose that after the Platters hit, The Great Pretender.

In January 1980, Brass in Pocket topped the UK chart and became the first number one of the 80s. They followed it with Talk of the Town which made number eight. Their next top 10 hit was a cover of the Ray Davies-penned, Peggy Lee original I Go to Sleep in December 1981.

In the summer of 1982, Hynde called a band meeting and promptly sacked Fardon due to illegal substance abuse and two days later Honeyman-Scott was found dead in his girlfriend’s house. His death was cocaine related and he was just 25.

That tragic news hit Hynde hard and the following year wrote 2000 Miles about him and, depending on your beliefs, has gone much further than 2000 miles or he’s just up the road.

Hynde, later said, “It was James’ legacy that kept the Pretenders together, we’d worked too hard to get it where it was and I had to finish what we’d started.” Honeyman-Scott’s void was filled by Robbie McIntosh (not to be confused with the Average White Band drummer) who, from 1988, joined Paul McCartney’s band for six years.

What gives the song its added Christmas appeal was the video which featured Hynde dressed in a Salvation Army uniform as well as skiing down a mountain. In there somewhere, you’ll see a mini nativity play, a rabbit and a fake polar bear climbing out of a cave.

In 2014, Chrissie recorded her first solo album called Stockholm which was recorded in Sweden’s capital city and finds her collaborating with the native producer, musician and songwriter Björn Yttling. The album, which reached number 22 in the UK, features Neil Young and John McEnroe on electric guitars. Although it doesn’t appear on the album, unless you bought the deluxe version, Chrissie and Björn collaborated on a new version of 2000 Miles which Chrissie said in an interview with Classic Rock Magazine, “I think it captures the mood of the season perfectly as it gets cold in Sweden, reindeer wander the streets freely and the snow was coming down!”

There have been a number of cover versions including Coldplay, Tom Chaplin of Keane and KT Tunstall. There are a couple of live duet versions where Chrissie performs it live with Kylie Minogue and, in 2017, Robert Plant.