Social Distancing Spins – Day 31

Day 31

By Joel Francis

Baby Huey – The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend (1971) Sadly, Baby Huey was no longer living by the time The Living Legend came out. The soul singer died from a heart attack four months before album’s release.  With no chance of a sequel, The Baby Huey Story makes the most of its shot. “Listen To Me” starts the album with a horn chart so strong it should be in every pep band’s repertoire. An extended reading of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Going to Come” turns the civil rights anthem into a psychedelic soul adventure. On the flip side, Huey tackles “California Dreamin’” and three songs by benefactor and producer Curtis Mayfield. “Hard Times,” another civil rights song, popped up a dozen years ago on a collaborative album between John Legend and the Roots. In fact, hip hop musicians have mined this album pretty hard for beats and samples since the early ‘80s. There’s a good chance you’ve already heard a lot of Baby Huey’s Story, just in five- or 10-second looped intervals. Soul fans and hip hop heads will find a lot to enjoy in Huey’s abbreviated catalog.

The Cure – Standing on a Beach: The Single (compilation) Greatest hits collections were the meat and potatoes of my music library during my time as a student. In those days of early internet, anthologies were the best place to start for bands and artists with daunting catalogs. I mention this because I learned through the hits collections Standing on the Beach and Galore that the Cure were a very different band on their singles than they were on album. Singles Cure were bright, poppy and quirky. Album Cure was moody, dark and confrontational. I am a Singles Cure fan. Standing on a Beach starts with the band’s early lo-fi post-punk work and leaves off at the doorstep of their must successful commercial period. The transformation is subtle on Standing on a Beach. There aren’t any huge leaps in sound and the progression feels very natural. It’s also more fun than any proper Cure album would allow.

David Bowie – Heathen (2002) At the time of its release, Heathen was hailed as a comeback for Bowie. In retrospect this seems odd, because the final three albums Bowie released as a touring musician, before disappearing for a decade, are very much of a piece. They are Bowie reflecting on his past work, cherry-picking the best bits and reprising them in a contemporary context. Of these three albums – 1999’s Hours, Heathen and 2003’s Reality – I like Heathen best. It feels the most fully realized. There’s not a bum track to be found, but “Slow Burn” and “Everyone Says Hi” stand out as favorites. The reference to the Yankees in “Slip Away” will always make me think of that horrible/wonderful period after 9/11 when we were all New Yorkers, even if the only thing you’d done in New York at the time was go to the Bronx for a ball game like me.

Johnny Cash – Now Here’s Johnny Cash (compilation)

Johnny Cash – Original Sun Sound (compilation) Both of these albums are early 1960s attempts by the Sun Records label to cash in on Johnny’s stardom (See what I did there?) after he moved on with Columbia Records. Interestingly, neither of them contain many hits. Now Here has “Cry Cry Cry” and “Hey Porter” while Original has “Big River.” That’s it. The rest of the 21 tracks across the two albums are deep cuts. And they go pretty deep. “Belshazzar” outfits an Old Testament tale the Tennessee Two sound. Cash liked “Country Boy” so much he cut it again 30-some odd years later on Unchained.  Even the Lead Belly chestnut “Goodnight Irene” gets a spin. The producers on Now Here positioned “Oh, Lonesome Me” next to “So Doggone Lonesome.” “Port of Lonely Hearts” appears earlier in the collection, further driving the point home.  Fans wanting the hits should look elsewhere, but anyone wanting a deeper look at his early period will be pleased. Even better, both of these albums can be found pretty easily for under five bucks.

Stardeath and White Dwarves – Wastoid (2014) Stardeath may have won some new fans through nepotism – lead singer Dennis Coyne is the nephew of Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips – but they kept the converted by producing entertaining slabs of psychedelic, experimental rock. Wastoid is the Oklahoma City quartet’s second album. They are significantly heavier than the Lips, but share that band’s morbid playful side. If you ever wanted the Flaming Lips to make a stoner rock album, this is for you. I enjoy Wastoid more than their debut, simply because it sounds more effortless and assured. Stardeath released an EP in 2015 and have been strangely quite since then. I hope we get some new stuff at some point.

Neko Case, k.d. lang, Laura Veirs – Case/Lang/Veirs (2016) The appetite for supergroups goes back to Sun’s Million Dollar Quartet. But for every Traveling Wilburys or CSNY, it seems you get about three Nodding Hillbillies or the Firms. Maybe that’s why Case/Lang/Veirs works so well. I don’t remember hearing much of anything about this project before its release. There was no time to build anticipation and expectation, it was just … there.

The greater reason why Case/Lang/Veirs works is because all three women are incredible songwriters with voices of gold that perfectly complement each other. While this album doesn’t match the high points each artist has achieved on her own it should be cherished by fans of all three.

The Gotobeds – Poor People are Revolting (2014) Sometimes you end up with an album purely because of the convergence of mood, price and genre. The Pittsburgh-based punk quartet are fine purveyors of their craft, but don’t know why I have three of their albums. I’d definitely go see them the next time they come through town, but my fandom isn’t as deep as my record shelf suggests. Poor People are Revolting is the Gotobeds’ first full-length album. If you like the sound of Pavement, the Fall and Sonic Youth noisily colliding with populist politics, this is the place for you.

The Music of James Bond: Part Three – The ’80s and Beyond

Above: Jack White and Alicia Keys do the latest James Bond song, “Another Way To Die.”

By Joel Francis

Duran Duran bass player John Taylor probably had the previous two James Bond themes in mind when he drunkenly approached producer Cubby Broccoli at a party and asked when they were going to get someone “decent” to do a Bond song.

It didn’t take long to learn the answer. Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill” was a No. 1 hit, re-establishing Paul McCartney’s precedent of letting successful pop acts write and perform title songs hit. While the big synthesizers and processed drums haven’t aged well – few pop songs from the ’80s have – the chorus of “dance into the fire” remains as catchy as ever. The song also marked the last time original Duran Duran’s lineup recorded together for 16 years.

Encouraged by Duran Duran’s success, the Bonds producers handed the reigns to another pop act for 1987’s “The Living Daylights.” After being rejected by the Pet Shop Boys, who wanted to score the entire film, a-ha, the band best known for its 1985 No. 1 hit “Take On Me,” agreed to take on Bond. Sporting similar dated production as Duran Duran’s hit, but weaker songwriting and overly sensitive singing, “The Living Daylights” became another Bond footnote.

The lush orchestration associated with early Bond numbers was back for Gladys Knight’s “License to Kill” in 1989. Composer Michael Kamen did a good job incorporating the “Goldfinger” horn line into the main melody, but the lyrics and melody are bland. It’s a shame that Knight, who has one of the strongest soul voices of all time, wasn’t given stronger material. Bond’s further musical malaise is marked by the presence of Patti LaBelle’s end credits theme, “If You Asked Me To,” which was later covered by Celine Dion. Dion’s appearance marks the nadir of any expedition.

After a six-year hiatus and casting change, Bond returned in 1995’s “Golden Eye.” Written by U2’s Bono and The Edge, “Golden Eye” found the duo continuing in the same vein as their summer hit “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.” The arrangement wraps the duo’s discotheque infatuation around a haunting melody build on a horn line. Tina Turner masterfully teases Bono’s voyeuristic lyrics and was rewarded with a Top 10 hit in Europe. “Goldfinger” was the best Bond song in a generation and helped successfully jumpstart the franchise.

After the powerful, soulful voices of Knight and Tuner, Bond’s producers turned to another American female in 1997 for “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Sheryl Crow brought strong songwriting chops and chart-topping cache, but she lacked the voice to carry her melody. Her vocals fare well during the verses, but the chorus is too high for Crow’s register where her throat lacks the energy to carry the words and emotion. k.d. lang’s “Surrender,” written by the film’s composer David Arnold, fits firmly in the Bond mold of big strings and brassy horns and would have been a better opening number. Unfortunately, it was retitled and pushed to the closing credits once Crow signed on. Finally, pop-techno musician Moby was enlisted to remix Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme.” The result was a rare update that successfully enhanced and modernized the original.

Arnold successfully married his large orchestration with light techno elements for “The World Is Not Enough.” Garbage singer Shirley Manson slithers through the lyrics with authority and the rest of the band maintains a tasteful balance between rock and orchestral while adding their stamp to the song.

Madonna was easily Bond’s biggest star pull since Paul McCartney when she signed up for “Die Another Day” in 2002. While the film may have been Bond-by-numbers, Madonna blew up the formula for her electronic theme song. Her manipulated vocals hide behind banks of synthesizers and strings and spout the memorable line “Sigmund Freud/analyze this.” Although the song spent 11 weeks at the top spot of the U.S. charts, it is unlike any other theme in the Bond cannon and, as a result, not without controversy. The Material Girl wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bond was rebooted once again in 2006 for “Casino Royale.” As the character became grittier, so did the music. Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” is easily the hardest number in the Bond cannon, cut from the same stone as Alice Cooper’s rejected “Man with the Golden Gun” that repulsed producers 30 years ago.

Confirming they were no longer afraid to rock out, White Stripes mastermind Jack White was enlisted to perform “Another Way To Die” for 2008’s “The Quantum of Solace.” Unsurprisingly, White’s song sounds like a heavily orchestrated White Stripes number given an urban twist courtesy of the piano and vocals of Alicia Keys. Stripped of the overproduction that plagues her solo releases, Keys shines under White’s watch. Her call and response with White’s dirty guitar licks halfway through the song channel “What I’d Say” through Jimmy Page’s amplifier. The number is the first Bond theme performed as a duet, but based on the openness Bond’s producers have shown in the past decade, it will likely not be the last.

Keep reading:

The Music of James Bond: Part 1 – The Classic Years

The Music of James Bond: Part 2 – The Seventies