Single of the week

Chocolate Salty Balls (PS I Love You) (Chef)

A lot of megastars unofficially earn themselves a nickname and most of the time they are flattering, Elvis Presley was The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul and Andy Williams was the Emperor of Easy, but one that is not so well known was Black Moses, it doesn’t describe a lot, but that’s the moniker that became associated with Isaac Hayes and it came from the name of his fifth album.

The soul man was born in Tennessee in 1942 and his childhood must have been hard because his mother died young and then his father abandoned the family leaving Isaac to be raised by his grandparents. At the age of five he taught himself to play both the saxophone and keyboards and then began singing in soul clubs in the late fifties. In 1962 he joined the recently formed Stax record label whose house band were Booker T & The M.G’s and quite often Isaac found himself standing in for Booker T who would be pursuing other engagements. He turned his hand to song writing and teaming up with Dave Porter the pair wrote a number of songs for artists including Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, The Emotions and William Bell. He also launched a singing career of his own culminating with the 1971 song and film soundtrack to Shaft in which he wrote, produced and performed all tracks. At the following year’s Grammys the song won the awards for Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical and Best Instrumental Arrangement – even though there was vocals. The film soundtrack won for Best Instrumental Composition Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television. He also became the first black artist to win an Oscar.

Smashed at a party at Stax, Isaac Hayes went to the electric piano and talked his way through some standards. This led to some classic albums, notably Hot Buttered Soul (1969), in which he spent over 10 minutes on sensual interpretations of Walk on By and By the Time I Get To Phoenix. “It was like I was preaching a sermon,” said Isaac, “and when I did them in a club, I found that some people were crying during the songs.” Complete with his gold chains and medallions Isaac became a major concert attraction.

A whole younger generation would know very little of him until he landed the role of Chef in the adult cartoon South Park. Fritz the Cat, in 1972, demonstrated a market for adult cartoon features, admittedly aimed at the student population, but it wasn’t until South Park that the medium became really popular. It was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone and recounted the exploits of the 10-year-olds Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny. Going against all conventions, Kenny was killed in most of the episodes, only to reappear in the next. The script was packed with vulgarities, sexual humour and comic violence, never more so than in the film, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, in which the USA wages war on Canada. The film is noted for its grotesque parody of Disney musicals with Satan’s Up There. Isaac played Jerome McElroy, otherwise known as Chef.

Isaac Hayes had written music for the film, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996), so landing the role of Chef in South Park was a natural progression. Trey Parker explained how he managed to get Isaac to agree, “I’m not sure how we managed it really, it was this really funny thing that happened, because all of a sudden we had this show and then we decided we needed a theme song.” A message had been sent to Isaac Hayes who then called Trey, “I couldn’t believe it, so I said to him ‘would you do a song for us?'” Matt added, “Initially we wanted to do his voice but that didn’t go down too well as we were both white and there’s this thing in America where generally black people will do black people and white people will do white people. We knew we wanted someone like Isaac or Barry White or Lou Rawls because we knew we wanted a seventies soul brother kind of guy.” Trey continued, “After Isaac agreed, we went to the studio and Isaac said, ‘OK guys what do you want me to do?'” Trey said, “Didn’t they tell you what this was, and he said, ‘no’ so I had to say to him, basically, you’re big and fat and you’re the only black guy in the whole town and you’re a total stereotype and you’re a chef and you sing love songs all the time, to which Isaac replied, ‘OK that’s cool!’

The main song was Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You) which was the title of a 1998 episode and was a recipe packed with innuendo: Oooo, Suck on my chocolate salty balls, Put ’em in your mouth, and suck ’em, They’re on fire, baby. The record was produced by Rick Rubin, who was noted for his work with The Beastie Boys and then Johnny Cash in his later years. Its success led to Chef Aid: The South Park Album and a celebrity book edited by Isaac Hayes, Cooking with Heart and Soul. One of the participants, John Travolta, offers Royale with Cheese. The single shot to number one in 1999 but never released as a single in the States. Within the song, Chef offers the recipe for his creation which is as follows in anyone wants to try it: two tablespoons cinnamon, two-three egg whites, half a stick of butter, one cup unsweetened chocolate, half a cup of brandy, one to two bags of sugar, a pinch of vanilla and one cup of flour. It doesn’t sound like it should work with that much flour and sugar, but in all fairness it doesn’t say how many balls he’s making.

Isaac Hayes had a cameo appearance in Blues Brothers 2000, but the film didn’t rekindle the excitement of the first. He continued making concert appearances and did a lot of humanitarian work for The Isaac Hayes Foundation.

In January 2006 it was announced that Isaac had suffered a stroke which was initially denied by his agent, but admitted by Isaac that he had. He died just 10 days before his 66th birthday in his home town of Memphis.

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We Just Disagree (Dave Mason)

One of the greatly respected band in the late sixties were Traffic who formed in April 1967 in Birmingham and comprised Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason. They disbanded after just two years and Winwood went on to form Blind Faith. They had a brief reunion in 1970 but without Mason who did some session work for George Harrison, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix before forging a solo career in 1970.

Mason released eight solo albums in the seventies and a handful of minor hit singles in America including Only you Know And I Know, Satin Red and Black Velvet Woman and To Be Free, but, eventually, in 1977, he struck lucky when he landed a number 12 hit with We Just Disagree from the album Let It Flow. It was written by Jim Krueger a guitarist who had joined Mason’s band in 1974.

It’s a strong song with a strong message and so you would have thought it would be the leadoff single, but the record company, as always, think they know better and decided that So High (Rock Me Baby and Roll Me Away) would be better and so went with that, but that stalled at number 89. Mason explained what it was like when he first heard it, Kruger said to me, ‘Hey, I wrote this song, I want you to hear it.’ The first time it was kind of like, ‘shit! If I was going to write it, that’s what I’d be writing.” Any song about broken relationships will resonate with the public and this song is all about a couple who have split up but have agreed to stop blaming each other and try and get on.

Mason made the connection, not only in his personal life, but because of encounters with other band members and said of it in an interview with Song Facts, “I did it because I thought it was a great song, It’s a great song, a timeless song and I was going to cut it anyway, but I frankly thought it was too good a song to be a hit. It had an unusual chord arrangement behind it, and it stood up – it was a song that when he sang it to me, it was like, Yeah, that’s the song. Just him and a guitar, which is usually how I judge whether I’m going to do something. If it holds up like that I’ll put the rest of the icing on it.”

Krueger, who contributed backing vocals and 12-string guitar on the track, went on to write song for acts like Bob Dylan, Stephen Stills, David Cassidy and Jennifer Warnes. In a 1990 interview with the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Krueger said he left Los Angeles because it was “just too plain aggravating. The most important thing to me is songwriting, and I can write from anywhere. I don’t have to be in L.A. I can send a tape anywhere. So I sold the house and left.” He sadly died in 1993 from complications of pancreatitis, he was just 43.

What’s even sadder is that just nine months after he died, a Florida-born country singer called Billy Dean covered the track and took it to number nine on the Billboard Country chart but never saw its success.

As for Mason, in the mid-nineties he briefly joined Fleetwood Mac and recorded one album, Time which spent one week on the UK chart at number 47. In the mid-2000s he was touring North America and Canada performing at around 100 shows a year. He has already booked in a number of dates in 2018 appearing in Arizona, California, Texas, New York and Hawaii. Dave is now 71 and said in an interview in 2011, “Living is definitely not for the weak or faint of heart; it’s a constant work in progress”.

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Thunderstruck (AC/DC)

Up until December 2013 when an internet campaign was launched to get them to number one for Christmas, AC/DC held the record for the most UK hit singles without making the top 10. The campaign failed to get them to the top, but a mass of downloads allowed Highway to Hell to reach number four giving them their biggest UK hit. This week I tell the story of their first hit of the 1990s, Thunderstruck.

AC/DC were formed in Sydney, Australia by the Young brothers, Malcolm and Angus. Their original lead singer was Dave Evans who was replaced within a year by Bon Scott. By the time of their debut album, High Voltage, in 1975 the remainder of the line-up comprised Mark Evans on bass, and Phil Rudd on drums. In 1977 Evans was replaced by Cliff Williams who continued until 2016. Following the tragic early death of Bon Scott in 1980, aged just 33, the band were going to call it a day, but then reconsidered when they figured Scott would have wanted them to carry on and began looking fora new lead singer. A few were considered including Noddy Holder who declined because he had further plans for Slade and so Brian Johnson, the former lead singer with Geordie got the job and led the way until 2016 when former Guns N’ Roses vocalist Axl Rose replaced him. Angus’ gimmick was always to be in school uniform and even at the age of 62 he doesn’t look too out of place.

Many fans consider their early material the best, but Brian did a great job, they had top 20 hits in the eighties with Rock ‘N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution, Let’s Get It Up, For Those About To Rock (We Salute You), Who Made Who and Heatseeker. Their first hit of the nineties was also their biggest – discounting the aforementioned Highway to Hell – Thunderstruck got to number 13 in 1990.

The tune came about by accident really as Angus described in the sleeve notes of the parent album Powerage, “It started off from a little trick that I had on guitar. I played it to Mal and he said, ‘Oh I’ve got a good rhythm idea that will sit well in the back.’ We built the song up from that. We fiddled about with it for a few months before everything fell into place.” Angus Young explained in The Story of AC/DC: Let There Be Rock, “I created the distinctive opening guitar part by playing with all the strings taped up, except the B. It was a studio trick I learned from my older brother George Young, who produced some of AC/DC’s albums and was in a band called The Easybeats. Lyrically, it was really just a case of finding a good title. We came up with this thunder thing and it seemed to have a good ring to it. AC/DC = Power. That’s the basic idea.”

They continued to released singles and albums throughout the nineties including Ballbreaker and in the 2000s with Stiff Upper Lip and Black Ice which, in 2008, gave them their second chart-topping album, 28 years after their first. To accompany the latter they set out of a 20-month world tour which took in 168 shows. During that tour some shows had to be rescheduled due to Brian Johnson receiving treatment for ulcers. The album was released worldwide but in the US it was only sold exclusively at Walmart, Sam’s Club and the band’s official website.

In 1988 they were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association’s Hall of Fame and 15 years later into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In April 2014, Malcolm announced, via the AC/DC Facebook page, that he will be retiring from the band due to ill health but would be replaced in the studio by his nephew Stevie. Sadly Malcolm died in November 2017, just one month after his older brother George who, as mentioned earlier, produced much of the band’s early material.

Their sales figures are astronomical, by 2007, their 1980 album Back in Black had sold 22 million in the US alone which made it the fifth-best-selling album of all-time over there. Their total record sales exceed 72 million and are currently the fifth best-selling band of all time.

Thunderstruck was featured in the 1999 film Varsity Blues for which they charged a mammoth $500,000 for its use. The film’s music supervisor, Thomas Golubic, said at the time, “I remember being absolutely horrified when I heard that number, we spent a lot of time coming up with what we thought were great alternates, but there was going to be no budget on that, and they had money so they paid for it.”

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Holy Mountain (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds)

When Oasis split in 2009, it wasn’t obvious which of the Gallagher brothers was going to forge a solo career if either. Noel was the primary songwriter and guitarist whilst younger brother Liam was the voice – the sound – of Oasis and it’s usually the lead singer who will break away and launch the solo career. In this case they both did but Noel did it first.

He set out in 2010 and the band name, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is really a pseudonym for Noel although he does have a regular touring band that comprises keyboard player Mike Rowe who has been with Noel since 2010 and ex-Zutons bass player Russell Pritchard who joined in 2011. The rest of the current line-up are former Oasis members Gem Archer on rhythm guitar and Chris Sharrock on drums. Earlier this year he added Jessica Greenfield who performs backing vocals and a little extra keyboard work. The name is taken from two sources, as he explained to Jonathan Ross, “The idea to prefix the name with Noel Gallagher’s was formed whilst I was washing up dishes listening to the album Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and the Flying Birds is taken from the song High Flying Bird by Jefferson Airplane.

His eponymous debut album arrived in 2011 and made number one spending just over a year on the chart thus proving Noel’s popularity. The debut single, The Death of You and Me reached number 15 which was followed a couple of months later with Aka What a Life which made number 20. His next album Chasing Yesterday arrived four years later and also topped the UK album chart and from it the hit singles were In the Heat of the Moment and Ballad of the Mighty I which featured Johnny Marr. This year saw the arrival of his third album Who Built the Moon?

The first track from it was Holy Mountain, a much catchier song that we’re used to and very infectious. Noel explained how it came about, “It started around the tin whistle sample which was from a track, a very obscure track, called The Chewin’ Gum Kid by Ice Cream and the producer, David Holmes, played me the sample and I was like, ‘wow, it’s amazing, the sound of it and the feel of it’ and he said ‘do you think you can do something with that’ and I knew instantly it was going to be the first single. I worked out the chords of what it was and we did a tiny demo of it and then I took it on tour and added some different chords and some different verses and went back to Belfast when it started to become a song.”

Noel showcased the song live during his set at Estadio Unico de la Plata in La Plata, Argentina on 10th October 2017 and was well received. Many, at the time, compared it to Ricky Martin’s hit She Bangs, but Noel explained his side of it in an interview with Radio X, “The only similarity, his tune goes – as I remember it – She bangs! She bangs! So it’s the phrasing of the words. That’s it. I understand people have mundane jobs and they’ve got nothing better to do, so they can comment on stuff.”

Even though it’s a relatively new track, Noel has already said that it’s one of his favourites; “There’s so much joy in it,” he enthused, “until the day I die, it will be one of my favourite pieces of music that I’ve ever written. It sounds great live. My kids love it, my friends’ kids all love it and I am sure ‘the kids’ will love it.”

The single was available for download, stream and on a physical 12″ picture disc single and entered the chart in October but stalled, surprisingly, at a lowly number 69. The album was released one month later and crashed in at the top of the chart. The 12″ version came with an instrumental version of the song and the additional track Dead in the Water (Live at RTÉ 2FM Studios, Dublin) which is a song that Gallagher and Rowe recorded ad hoc whilst visiting a radio station in Dublin.

Noel’s brother Liam, unsurprisingly, wasn’t particularly complimentary about his brothers new material, he said in an interview with NME, “Musically, I find it a bit annoying,” adding “I think there are too many notes in it, and it’s just a bit not risky. It’s not for me.” No, it wouldn’t be!

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Abraham Martin & John (Marvin Gaye)

Some singers have such a command of a song that the listener is convinced it’s their own song. One such singer is Marvin Gaye who famously had a number one and is synonymous with I Heard It Through the Grapevine, but he didn’t write it nor record it first. Smokey Robinson recorded it first in 1966 and Gladys Knight recorded it the following year and her version was released first. The Isley Brothers and Willie Bobo both did it in the same year, but Gaye took it to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. But this week I focus on another Marvin Gaye track, also previously recorded by Smokey Robinson, which hit the UK top 10 in 1970 and written about four dead men.

The song is Abraham, Martin and John, I’ll come to the fourth later, which was written by the Indiana-born songwriter called Dick Holler who had been a member of band called the Dixie Cats in the mid-fifties which also included the singer Jimmy Clanton. Holler was a member of a number of different bands until the early sixties when he began to concentrate on songwriting. In 1966 he wrote a song called Snoopy vs the Red Baron which was recorded by a Florida band called The Royal Guardsmen and made number two in the US and number eight in the UK.

The following year he wrote Abraham Martin and John and gave it to the Royal Guardsmen who recorded the demo. The men in question are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, three iconic figures who campaigned for civil rights in America. The last four lines of the song are, ‘Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby, can you tell me where he’s gone? I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill With Abraham, Martin and John,’ which is a reference to JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy who was also an American politician and civil rights campaigner specialising in the fight against organised crime and the Mafia. The song was recorded just two months after Robert’s death.

Dick Holler, who had actually written the song on the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated, played the demo to the head of Laurie records who thought it would be ideal for one of his former artists whose hit making days of the late fifties and early sixties had come to an end due to a drug addiction, but was now clean and looking to get his career back on track, that singer was Dion DiMucci. He had approached his former label looking to renew his contract and offered them a song he’d written about his drug problem called Daddy Rollin’ They were happy to but also told him they wanted him to record Abraham, Martin and John, they showed him the sheet music and Dion instantly hated it and refused to record it. In return Laurie refused to renew his contract. He eventually relented and it’s often cited that either his mother-in-law or producer Phil Gernhard first made Dion realise what the song was about, he didn’t get it. Gernhard claims that it was when Dion had to perform the song live with an acoustic guitar on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour because there was a musicians strike, that he finally understood its sentiment.

Dion said in his 1988 memoir, The Wanderer, “If it had been up to me, Abraham, Martin and John would have stayed just a young songwriter’s dream. I realised that what these four guys — Lincoln, King, and the Kennedys — had in common was a dream. It was like they had the courage to believe that a state of love really can exist… Abraham, Martin and John was a way of reminding people that they could aspire to great things, even in the midst of tragedy and confusion.” He did the song in one take but was irked that his song was relegated to the b side.

What’s always made me curious is that the song is sung in the order of Abraham, John and Martin. Admittedly if it had been called that it would be more of a mouthful to say, but why didn’t they sing the second and third verses the other way round?

The song was the last real success for both the singer and the writer. Dion never returned to the US top 50 again and Holler, who continued to write songs for the like of James and Bobby Purify, Petula Clark, The Bellamy Brothers and Cher, never had another chart hit. Dion once claimed that he had received over 4,000 letters thanking him for recording it.

Abraham, Martin and John has been covered by many people and in many diverse genres including Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers, Bon Jovi, Tori Amos, Mahalia Jackson, Andy Williams, Whitney Houston, Cliff Richard, Paul Weller, Harry Belfonte, Marillion, Seasick Steve and even Dr Spock aka Leonard Nimmoy. The only UK hit version was by Marvin Gaye who never charted in his native country, however four versions did make the US top 40; Dion took it to number four, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles made number 33 in 1969, the black comedienne Moms Mabley made number 35 the same year and was the oldest person to debut on the Billboard chart – she was 75 at the time, and the radio DJ Tom Clay made number eight in 1971 when he combined his version into a six-minute medley with Jackie DeShannon’s What The World Needs Now is Love. His version included snatches of speech from both the Kennedys and Luther King and has children defining ‘bigotry’ and ‘segregation’, which, as Spencer Leigh pointed out, is audio journalism at its best.

One of the song’s poignant line is ‘it seems the good die young’ and that is true of Marvin Gaye who was shot dead by his father the day before his 45th birthday. Dion continues to make music, his last album in 2016 being New York Is My Home of which the title track was a duet with Paul Simon. As for Dick Holler, he’s just celebrated his 83rd birthday and in 2007 was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. He currently has two homes, one in Switzerland and the other in Georgia, but returns to his native Baton Rouge, Louisiana for an annual reunion at the Baton Rouge Eagles’ Club.

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