From the Vaults

Subscribe to my newsletter for weekly updates.

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee: Screamin' and Cryin' Blues (1964)

17 Sep 2012

Although this song didn't appear in wide circulation until the Terry/McGhee 1964 compilation Pawnshop Blues, it seems to date back to the Thirties. Blind Boy Fuller recorded a version late in that decade (very similar, perhaps more considered) and as always with the blues, songs pass from hand to hand and down the decades. It seems likely however that blind harmonica player Terry picked... > Read more

Crowded House and Roger McGuinn: Eight Miles High (1989)

14 Sep 2012

Recorded live at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles when Crowded House met up with former Byrd Roger McGuinn, this song -- and their versions of Mr Tambourine Man and So You Want to be a Rock'n'Roll Star -- appeared on a '91 version of the CD single for Weather With You (other versions had live Crowdies tracks from the period). Not the most psychedelic guitar solo (Neil Finn could pull out... > Read more

Brave Combo: My Girl Lollipop (1982)

13 Sep 2012

It was a brave combo indeed that took piano accordion polka-rock to the good people of Denton, Texas -- but in the early Eighties this four-piece pulled together ska, Tex-Mex, rock, waltzes, rumba, zydeco and tango (with polka) and delivered their own versions of Hendrix's Purple Haze, Iron Butterfly's Inna Gadda Da Vida and The Twist, Perfidia and some mad originals. They played in prisons... > Read more

Johnny Ace: Pledging My Love (1954)

12 Sep 2012

And further to the now familiar story that death is good for a career . . . Johnny Ace had been enjoying a very good run of hits throughout the early Fifties, so much so that maybe he thought he was bulletproof. Literally. His story is well known, how on Christmas night in 1954, while at a gig in Houston he was fooling around with a gun (legend has a Russian roulette game but that has been... > Read more

Gene Pitney: A Town Without Pity (1961)

11 Sep 2012    2

Because many of us used to read album covers with something approaching an obsession when we were first buying records, we got to know the names of songwriters (Charles and Inez Foxx always sounded so mysterious when I found them on the first Downliners Sect album) and even producers. So imagine my confusion when I saw the name "Gene Pitney" credited with playing piano on Little... > Read more

The Beatles: Old Brown Shoe (1969)

10 Sep 2012

Although there's probably no such thing as an obscure Beatles' song, this one by George Harrison comes pretty close. It was the b-side to Lennon's Ballad of John and Yoko, and made it onto the second Past Masters compilation. But when the catalogue was remastered and reissued, it was pushed off the mono Past Masters in favour of another Harrison song, Ii's All Too Much (from Yellow... > Read more

Bob Dylan: Ballad in Plain D (1964)

7 Sep 2012    2

With a few exceptions (the song about John Lennon's murder on his new album Tempest), Bob Dylan's songs have long since ceased to be about anyone in particular. And there's a case to be made that perhaps many of those in the mid Sixties which seemed to have been aimed in particular directions (girlfriends Joan Baez, Edie Sedgwick and Suze Rotolo, running mate and fellow bear-baiter Bob... > Read more

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas: Third Finger Left Hand (1967)

6 Sep 2012

Beyonce's thrilling Bollywood-influenced dancefloor hit Single Ladies; Put a Ring On It reminded of the long tradition of songs about wedding rings, or the lack of them, or how tarnished a memory can be . . . Elsewhere has already posted a number of such songs: Gary Lewis and the Playboys' pop hit This Diamond Ring and Freda Payne exceptional and ambiguous Band of Gold. And... > Read more

The Beach Boys: In the Back of My Mind (1965)

5 Sep 2012

In the very interesting DVD doco Brian Wilson; Songwriter 1962 - 1969,  Bruce Johnston -- who replaced Brian in the touring line-up of the Beach Boys in the mid Sixties -- identifies this song as anticipating the classic BB album Pet Sounds. It appeared on the album The Beach Boys Today!, a record which largely went past many people who by this time had wearied of the BB's endless... > Read more

LaVern Baker: Soul on Fire (1953)

4 Sep 2012

In her long life -- she died in '97 age 67 -- LaVern Baker (born Delores Baker) sang everything from blues -- she started as Little Miss Sharecropper in Chicago -- through soulful ballads, jazz, fairly vacuous pop (see clip), creditable covers of Bessie Smith . . . And this minor classic included in the soundtrack to the '87 film Angel Heart and which could have brought her to attention... > Read more

The Honeycombs: Have I The Right (1964)

3 Sep 2012    3

In the Beatpop boom which followed the Beatles, there were any number of great one-off hits (Concrete and Clay by Unit 4 Plus Two, and Wake Up My Mind by the Ugly's spring to mind). But few had less a one-off success and promise unfulfilled than the Honeycombs. Their simplistic but energetic Have I the Right was no less interesting -- better in fact -- than the tub-thumpy pop of the... > Read more

Jimmie John: Solid Rock (1959)

31 Aug 2012

Rockabilly is a genre that seems to enjoy the fact that it doesn't change or grow, develop or move too far from a simple template of a backbeat and the invitation to dance. It is shamelessly self-referential (in truth it just borrows or steals from itself) and back in the early Fifties when it emerged it didn't take it too long to establish some fundamental principles. Then Elvis -- and... > Read more

Lula Reed: I'll Drown in my Tears (1952)

30 Aug 2012

Although Ray Charles took a version of this soul classic to the top of the charts in 1956, this earlier version by Lula Reed (1921-2008) is the one to return to. A sassy and soulful r'n'b singer who was discovered singing in a church choir by gospel singer Harold Boggs, she took this version to the top five on Bilboard's r'n'b charts but, despite her penetrating and unwavering vocal style,... > Read more

George Formby: When I'm Cleaning Windows (1936)

29 Aug 2012

In his later years George Harrison developed an affection for the ukulele, and one of its greatest practitioners, English music hall comedian, singer and actor George Formby. Right at the end of the Free As A Bird single Harrison threw in a nod to Formby, and specifically to this mildly naughty song which had them rolling in the aisles in the Thirties and Forties. Formby -- from... > Read more

Kurtis Blow: The Breaks Part 1 (1980)

27 Aug 2012

It seems a curious thing that in hip-hop -- which often brags about how much it respects its past -- the briefly famous Kurtis Blow should have disappeared from the landscape. But The Breaks made Kurtis Blow -- born Kurt Walker -- one of the first rap superstars when he was the first of the genre to record for a major label (Mercury) and the 12" version of this sold a whopping half a... > Read more

Brenda Lee, I'm Sorry (1960)

23 Aug 2012

Little Brenda Lee -- who stood 4'9" -- was never a threat. Not to girls in her audience. "My image wasn't one of a heartbreaker," she once said. "I was the little fat girl your mother didn't mind you playing with." When Lee went to number one with this powerful and aching performance she was one of the few women -- she was 15 -- to crack the charts. Just two years... > Read more

Alfred E Neuman: It's a Gas (1963)

22 Aug 2012

There's the widely held if rather snooty view that fart noises and belching are only amusing to adolescent boys. This rather ignores the obvious: that there will always be adolescent boys, and even more people who have been adolescent boys. Which perhaps explains the enduring if low appeal of this outing by Mad magazine's Alfred E Neuman. Mad did a number of such spin-off projects (none... > Read more

Patrice Holloway: Those DJ Shows (2005)

21 Aug 2012

Ridiculous to observe, but there was once a time when radio people weren't "shock jocks" (and ain't that the second easiest job in the world?) or "taking callers now." Once upon a time radio people actually played music they loved which was right-then/right-now important and they brought new sounds to their audience. Here's one stunt I fell for as a teenager. Radio... > Read more

Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels: Devil with the Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly (1966)

20 Aug 2012

Whatever the reason -- working class industrial, mix of races, impurities in the water -- Detroit has been a hotbed of great music. From Bill Haley and Hank Ballard in the Fifties through Motown, Bob Seger and the Stooges to the Dirtbombs, Eminem and the White Stripes, it just keeps coming. And let's not forget -- although many do -- the great Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels who cracked... > Read more

Hank Ballard: The Twist (1958)

17 Aug 2012    2

The Twist wasn't the first dance craze of the pop era but it was certainly the biggest -- and the last. When Chubby Checker demonstrated the dance on American television in mid 1960 -- "Just pretend you're wiping your bottom with a towel as you get out of the shower, and putting out a cigarette with both feet" -- the simple movements went around the globe from the White House to... > Read more

The Twist