From the Vaults

Subscribe to my newsletter for weekly updates.

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

6 Sep 2012  |  1 min read

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  |  1 min read

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  |  <1 min read

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  |  1 min read  |  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  |  <1 min read

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  |  <1 min read

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  |  <1 min read

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  |  <1 min read

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  |  1 min read

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  |  1 min read

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  |  1 min read

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  |  1 min read

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  |  3 min read  |  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

Candi Staton: I'm Just a Prisoner of Your Good Lovin' (1969)

15 Aug 2012  |  <1 min read

Now in her early 70s, the great soul and gospel singer Candi Staton is still out there touring and speaking about the healing power of the gospel spirit. Back in the day, her voice was on dance and disco hits also (see below for a classic disco-era hit), but in the Sixties she was a young and often raunchy soul sister whose first r'n'b hit out of the Fame Studios in Alabama was I'd... > Read more

Eddie and the Hot Rods: Teenage Depression (1976)

14 Aug 2012  |  <1 min read

As their name suggests, Eddie and the Hot Rods were never really part of the UK punk scene although -- like fellow pub rockers Dr Feelgood -- they were often lumped in with it during the late Seventies. But their thing was old school rock'n'roll (on record they'd covered Sam the Sham's Wooly Bully before this single) although as the musical climate changed they revved up their act and rode,... > Read more

Elvis Presley: US Male (1968)

13 Aug 2012  |  1 min read

In '67-'68 very few people were listening to Elvis Presley in the way they once did. The mode of the music had changed, the musical cultures of London and San Francisco were dominant and the new heroes were the Sun Kings (the Beatles), Jimi Hendrix, psychedelic bands and so on. Tough minded rock'n'roll singles  -- aside from those by John Fogerty for Creedence -- weren't of as much... > Read more

Little Willie John: Let Them Talk (1960)

8 Aug 2012  |  1 min read  |  2

One of Bob Marley's greatest and most pivotal songs was Soul Rebel, in the earliest version you can hear him moving away from the secular rude boy world into embracing the Rastafarian faith. He announces he is a "soul rebel", and while you can lock a rebellious man away, take his weapons and slander his name, if he is a rebel right from his soul he will never be broken. In... > Read more

The Chicks: The Rebel Kind (1966)

6 Aug 2012  |  1 min read  |  2

New Zealand has no great tradition of political pop or rock. All those years of high unemployment during the Flying Nun heyday . . . and who mentioned it? Very few. Even the Springbok tour in '81 barely generated a whisper from musicians. (Riot 111 here being the noble exception.) And during the Vietnam period? Barely a dickey-bird . . .  aside from, oddly enough, mainstream pop... > Read more

Peter Sellers; The Trumpet Volunteer (1958)

3 Aug 2012  |  <1 min read  |  1

There has been a long tradition of mocking the pretentions of rock and pop singers, which isn't that hard. Many of them take themselves very seriously. When National Lampoon for example got stuck into a Pink Floyd-like musician who wanted to create a massive rock opera (on their '75 album Goodbye Pop, helmed by Christopher Guest of Spinal Tap) they were just part of a long lineage of... > Read more

The Trumpet Volunteer

The Electric Prunes: I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night (1966)

2 Aug 2012  |  <1 min read

Recorded at the end of 1966 and almost tipping into the US top 10 in January of the following year, this implosion of garageband rock, backwards guitar and tripped out intentions ushered in a year which was going to be full of such stoner delights. But the Prunes -- like New York's Blues Magoos -- had always been more raw rock than some of their colleagues although, as with so many bands at... > Read more