My Playlist: Fab Four Covers

What do you do in music when you run out of ideas? Get “inspired” by the work of others and claim it as your own ingenious creation. And get good legal representation.¬†Just ask Led Zeppelin!

For any first time visitors, I totally dig Zep and Stairway To Heaven. I’m glad they recorded that song, which probably is my most favorite rock tune. Messrs. Page and Plant just should have given credit where credit was due, even if ripping off Taurus by Spirit was a subconscious act. Okay, ’nuff going on a tangent, this is supposed to be a happy post. And guess what? It totally was my idea! ūüôā

This morning, I watched a clip of a Paul McCartney appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. At some point, Colbert noted many other artists had done covers of Beatles songs, adding he believed Yesterday was the most covered tune. He then asked McCartney about his favorite version. Thinking about Yesterday, McCartney mentioned Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and his favorite, Marvin Gaye. Then I completely erased the clip from my memory.

Fast-forward 30 minutes. I’m sitting at my computer, and suddenly out of nowhere, a flash of ingenuity hit me. What if I did a playlist of Beatles songs covered by other artists? What a brilliant and original idea, I thought, so here it is!

Got To Get You Into My Life (Earth, Wind & Fire)

Essentially, this was an homage to Motown, which The Beatles recorded in 1966 for the Revolver album. In July 1978, Earth, Wind & Fire released a fantastic cover of the tune as a single. It also was part of the less than stellar feature film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Feel free to snip along!

Yesterday (Marvin Gaye)

I trust this song needs no further introduction. What you may not have known is that none other than the fabulous Marvin Gaye recorded a take of the timeless ballad. And when Marvin sang, magic happened most of the time. He included his version of Yesterday on his tenth studio album That’s The Way Love Is from January 1970. Just listen to this – makes me feel like floating in space!

We Can Work It Out (Stevie Wonder)

We Can Work It Out is a non-album single The Beatles issued in December 1965 as a double A-side with Day Tripper. Stevie Wonder liked the song and decided to record a take for his August 1970 studio album Signed, Sealed & Delivered. Who can blame him? According to Wikipedia, Wonder performed the tune for McCartney on various occasions. Even if you’re Paul McCartney, it’s gotta be cool to witness Stevie Wonder playing one of your songs!

Eleanor Rigby (Ray Charles)

This is one of my all-time favorite Beatles tunes and another track from the Revolver album. I also dig this cover by Ray Charles, which he recorded as a single in 1968.

In My Life (Johnny Cash)

In My Life is one of the most beautiful and moving songs John Lennon has written and a standout on the Rubber Soul album, in my opinion. Gosh, I can’t deny this tune gets me every time! At first, I wanted to feature the cover by Bette Midler, a fantastic vocalist. Then I came across this take by Johnny Cash, which blew me away. There’s perhaps nobody better than the Man in Black when it comes to conveying raw emotion and vulnerability, especially during the later stages of his career. This take is from American IV: The Man Comes Around, a studio album released in November 2002, about 10 months before he passed away.

She’s A Woman (Jos√© Feliciano)

Jos√© Feliciano is an artist I’ve admired for many years, not only because of his outstanding guitar-playing, but also because of great covers he has done and how he has made them his own. Check out this amazing version of She’s A Woman, which The Beatles initially released as the B-side to their I Feel Fine single in November 1964. Feliciano’s take also first appeared as a single, in 1969. I love how he gave it a Latin jazz type groove.

If I Needed Someone (Roger McGuinn)

If I Needed Someone has become one of my favorite Beatles and George Harrison tunes. And who better to cover it than Roger McGuinn, the man who after seeing George playing a Rickenbacker guitar on TV knew that jingle-jangle sound was made for him and The Byrds. If I Needed Someone is another gem on Rubber Soul. McGuinn recorded his version for his seventh solo album Limited Edition that came out in April 2004. Every time I hear that distinct Rickenbacker sound, I’m getting the same sentiment than listening to a Hammond B3 – I want one. So badly!

I’m leaving you with one more cover, which perhaps is the ultimate rock remake of all time: With A Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker. Cocker has recorded strong versions of various Beatles tunes, but this one from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the crown jewel. It became the title track of his debut album from May 1969.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Leiber-Stoller, Songwriting Partnership Extraordinaire

I believe Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller first entered my radar screen as a 13-year-old when I got an Elvis Presley songbook for guitar. It was shortly after I had started taking lessons and was able to play a few chords. Elvis was my idol at the time. What I didn’t know then and frankly didn’t fully appreciate until conducting some research for this post was the enormous scope of Leiber-Stoller’s work, which goes far beyond some of the best-known early classic rock & roll tunes.

For some time, I had contemplated writing about important songwriting partnerships including Leiber-Stoller, but once I noticed how many songs these guys wrote and how many artists they worked with, I felt they warranted a dedicated post. I also decided to largely exclude their production work and primarily focus on their writing during the ’50s and early ’60s, which is their most exciting period, in my opinion.

Lyricist Jerry Leiber was born as Jerome Leiber on April 25, 1933 in Baltimore, Md. Composer Michael Stoller, who later changed his legal fist name to Mike, was born on March 13, 1933 in Belle Harbor, Queens, N.Y. In addition to being born the same year to Jewish families, Leiber and Stoller also shared a love for blues, boogie-woogie and black culture. They met in Los Angeles in 1950, while Leiber was a senior in high school and Stoller was a college freshman.

Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
Mike Stoller (l) & Jerry Leiber in 1980

According to an extended interview Lieber and Stoller gave to NAMM Oral History Program in December 2007, Leiber had written some lyrics and knew he wanted to be a songwriter. What he didn’t know was how to write music. A drummer referred him to piano player Mike Stoller. Once they met and Stoller looked at some of Leiber’s lyrics, he noticed they were 12-bar blues. He said, “I love the blues” and started playing the piano, with Leiber singing along. And Stoller said, “Mike, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Okay, I made up that last quote, borrowing from one of my favorite black and white movies of all time. What is true is that day the two men agreed to form a partnership that would generate some of the best-known songs of the ’50s and ’60s.

The first artist who recorded a Leiber-Stoller composition was Jimmy Witherspoon, one of the blues singers the duo followed to help them develop their “black style” of writing music and lyrics. Real Ugly Woman appeared as a single in 1951. The words are just as lovely as the title! ūüôā A little excerpt: Well, she’s a real ugly woman/Don’t see how she got that way/Yeah, she’s a real ugly woman/Don’t see how she got that way/Yes, and every time she comes around/she runs all my friends away

The following year in 1952, Leiber and Stoller scored their first hit with Hard Times, which was recorded by Charles Brown. The tune climbed to no. 7 on the Billboard R&B Chart.

1952 also saw one of Leiber and Stoller’s best-known songs, Hound Dog, which was first recorded by Big Mama Thornton. It was also the first time the duo produced music, though the production credits went to Johnny Otis, who was supposed to lead the recording session but ended up playing the drums on the tune. Released in February that year, it sold more than half a million copies and topped the Billboard R&B Chart. Three years later, Elvis Presley turned Hound Dog into a mega-hit. I like his version but have to say Thornton really killed it, so here’s her original.

Another early rock & roll classic penned by Lieber-Stoller is Kansas City, which according to Wikipedia is one of their most recorded tunes with over three hundred versions – they had to count them all! Initially, the tune was titled K.C. Loving and recorded by American boogie-woogie pianist and singer Little Willie Littlefield. It appeared in August 1952. While the song had some regional success, it didn’t chart nationally. That changed in April 1959 when Wilbert Harrison released his version, which became a no. 1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 and R&B charts. Here’s the original. Feel free to shuffle along!

Going back to Elvis, while Leiber and Stoller¬†didn’t mind having written a million-seller with Hound Dog, they weren’t particularly fond of Presley’s cover. But it led to writing more songs for Elvis, including one of my favorite ’50s rock & roll tunes of all time: Jailhouse Rock. Released in September 1957, is was the title track of the Elvis motion picture that came out in November of the same year. Leiber-Stoller played a prominent role in the making of the film’s soundtrack. Apart from Jailhouse Rock, they wrote three other tunes and worked with Elvis in the studio. Of course, I had to take a clip from the picture, which has to be one of the most iconic dance scenes ever captured on film. Doesn’t it feel a bit like watching an early version of a Michael Jackson music video?

Blues and rock & roll represent the early years of Leiber and Stoller’s songwriting. Beginning in the mid-’50s after they had started working for Atlantic Records, the duo branched out and became more pop-oriented. Among other artists, they wrote a number of songs for The Drifters and The Coasters. Here’s Ruby Baby, a great soulful, groovy, doo-wop tune from 1956. More than 25 years later, Donald Fagen became one of the other artists covering the song, when he included it on his excellent debut solo album The Nightfly from October 1982.

Next up: Yakety Yak by The Coasters. The song was released in April 1958 and topped the Billboard Pop Chart, Billboard R&B Chart and Cash Box Pop Chart. The track was also produced by Leiber-Stoller and became the biggest hit for The Coasters.

The last Leiber-Stoller tune I’d like to highlight is Stand By Me, which they co-wrote with Ben E. King. He first recorded it in April 1961, a year after he had left The Drifters to start a solo career. In addition to writing, once again Leiber-Stoller also produced the beautiful track, which remains one of my favorite ’60s songs to this day.

Asked during the above NAMM interview to comment on the fact that “nice Jewish boys didn’t really write a whole lot of hit records for blues singers at that point” (in the early ’50s), Stoller said, “Actually, they did later on, or at least later on we did know…It was considered to be somewhat peculiar at the time.” Added Lieber: “Black people always thought we were black until they came in contact with us and saw that we weren’t.” BTW, if you’re into rock & roll history, you may enjoy watching the entire interview, even though it’s close to 90 minutes. Again, you can do so here.

Altogether, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote or co-wrote 70-plus chart hits. According to lieberstoller.com, their songs have been performed by more than 1,000 artists, who in addition to the above include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, B.B. King, James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Joe Williams, Tom Jones, Count Basie, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Luther Vandross, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin and even Edith Piaf, among others – wow, it almost poses the question which artists did not sing their songs!

Leiber-Stoller’s work has extensively and rightly been recognized. Accolades include inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and 1985, respectively, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Songwriters in 1996. As reported by The New York Times, Jerry Leiber died from cardio-pulmonary failure on August 22, 2011 in Los Angeles at the age of 78. Mike Stoller is 86 years old and still alive. He can be heard introducing Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul on their great 2018 Soulfire Live! album for a gig at the Orpheum Theatre in New York – priceless!

Sources: Wikipedia; NAMM; Leiberstoller.com; The New York Times; YouTube

‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ Remains Compelling Rolling Stones Proposition

‘Greatest rock & roll band in the world’ delivers powerful performance at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium

Whether you agree or not with the label “greatest rock & roll band in the world” (I dig the Stones big time but still would choose The Beatles, if could only select one band), I believe it is safe to say The Rolling Stones are a unique phenomenon. For now more than 55 years, they have brought energetic blues-oriented rock to audiences around the world. And they did so again last night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., during the first of two dates at that venue, as part of the previously postponed North American leg of their No Filter Tour.

At age 76, Mick Jagger remains one of the most compelling front men in rock. His voice still is in fairly decent shape. What’s even more remarkable is that he doesn’t appear to have lost any of his swagger. He is still a born show guy. He also continues to have the energy of a young man, allowing him to, well, move like Jagger. And let’s not forgot his heart valve replacement surgery only happened a few months ago. Frankly, all of this is friggin’ unreal to me.¬†I will say that age hasn’t been as kind to other core members of the band, but together they still sounded great.

The Rolling Stones Live
The Rolling Stones (from left): Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards

I agree with everything¬†Music Enthusiast recently noted during his review of the Stones’ gig at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. These shows ain’t cheap, but when a band puts on that kind of performance, spending big bucks is worth it, especially if you dig their music. And like Music Enthusiast, I was also surprised how fresh and dynamic Miss You sounded, certainly not my favorite Stones tune, and what a killer performance they put on for Midnight Rambler.¬† Last but not least, I also love Brown Sugar, actually more so than Midnight Rambler, and Jagger and co delivered on this one as well. Hell, even the overplayed second and last encore¬†(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction sounded cool.

Since most if not all more frequent visitors of my blog also follow¬†Music Enthusiast, I’m going to deliberately highlight other tunes. Let’s kick it off with the opener last night: Street Fighting Man. As usually credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune was first released as a U.S. single in August 1968. It was also included on the Beggars Banquet album from that same year.

Next up: Tumbling Dice from Exile On Main Street, a favorite among Stones fans. Even many critics who initially were lukewarm about it changed their opinions later and concluded it’s one of the band’s best records – I guess being a critic and saying something clever is hard, and I’m definitely happy I’m not one of ’em! Co-written by Jagger and Richards, Tumbling Dice also appeared as the album’s lead single in April 1972, one month ahead of the record’s release.

Are you ready for something acoustic? Well, ready or not, here’s the second and last tune the Stones performed on the so-called B-stage. And even though as a country-oriented song it’s less typical for the band, Dead Flowers off Sticky Fingers¬†from April 1971 is one of my favorite tracks from what has become my favorite Stones record. Again, it’s a Jagger/Richards co-write. Take me down little Susie!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is one of my other favorites from the Stones: Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Recorded during the Beggars Banquet sessions, the track was released as a single in May 1968. While officially it is only credited to Jagger and Richards, according to Wikipedia, then-bassist Bill Wyman in his autobiography Stone Alone wrote that he came up with the tune’s signature guitar riff on a piano but wasn’t acknowledged by the Glimmer Twins – that doesn’t sound nice!

Here’s the setlist from last night.

Main Stage:

Street Fighting Man

Let’s Spend the Night Together

Tumbling Dice

She’s a Rainbow (audience request)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

B-Stage / Acoustic:

Sweet Virginia

Dead Flowers

Main Stage:

Sympathy for the Devil

Honky Tonk Women

Slipping Away (Keith Richards on lead vocals)

Before They Make Me Run (Keith Richards on lead vocals)

Miss You

Paint It Black

Midnight Rambler

Start Me Up

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Brown Sugar

Encore:

Gimme Shelter

Play Video

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Core members Mick Jagger (lead vocals, harmonica, guitar, percussion),¬†Keith Richards (guitars, vocals),¬†Ronnie Wood (guitars, backing vocals) and Charlie Watts (drums, percussion) were backed by¬†Darryl Jones (bass), Chuck Leavell (keyboards, backing vocals), Matt Clifford (keyboards, percussion, French horn), Karl Denson (saxophone), Tim Ries (saxophone, keyboards), Sasha Allen (backing vocals) and Bernard Fowler (backing vocals, percussion). In addition to Jagger, Wood stood out to me with excellent guitar work among the Stones’ core members. And while all supporting musicians were top-notch, I’d like to call out Jones for his killer bass solo in Miss You and Denson for his strong sax work, which was on display during Miss You and other tunes.

Three fun facts I learned: Jagger said last night was the first time for The Rolling Stones¬†to play at MetLife Stadium. During band introductions, he called Charlie Watts Frank Sinatra’s favorite drummer – an allusion to Watts’ age who turned 78 in June? No idea, but I found it funny. Watts didn’t look bothered by it. Opening act The Wombats, an indie rock and power pop band from Liverpool, England, during their set mentioned that it was one of their songs, Techno Fan, to which Jagger danced during his post-heart surgery practice video that went viral on the internet. It sounded like that song choice led to outreach to the Stones and to¬†The Wombats opening up for them last night – cool story.

The Stones are playing MetLife Stadium again on Monday, August 5. Then it’s on to Denver (Aug 10) and Seattle (Aug 14). The last North American date and I assume the end of the tour is in Miami on August 31. The No Filter Tour kicked off on September 9, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. There were a few bigger breaks throughout the two-year span. The schedule for the remaining shows is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stones website, YouTube