Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Seven Years in Fluville




























Today would have been Elvis's birthday, but he's dead.

Today is also the Boogie Woogie Flu's birthday and it's nearly dead.

I am here tonight to help this long neglected enterprise limp into another year.  Our annual Hanukkah extravaganza died when the lights unexpectedly went out after the second night. It was not a miracle or a lack thereof - it just happened. Tonight, I'll attempt to resuscitate and breathe some life back into this dying corpse by offering seven nuggets of pure gold recorded by the King at Stax Studios in his hometown of Memphis. Hope you dig it.

Happy Birthday Elvis, and long live the BWF.


Download:

"Promised Land (Take 5)" mp3
by Elvis Presley, 1973.
available on Elvis At Stax

"Just A Little Bit" mp3
by Elvis Presley, 1973.
available on Walk a Mile in My Shoes: The Essential 70's Masters 

"You Asked Me To (Take 3A)" mp3
by Elvis Presley, 1973.
available on Elvis At Stax 

"Three Corn Patches (Take 14)" mp3
by Elvis Presley, 1973.
available on Elvis At Stax  

"Find Out What's Happening (Takes 8 & 7)" mp3
by Elvis Presley, 1973.
available on Elvis At Stax  

"If You Don't Come Back" (Take 3)"
by Elvis Presley, 1973.
available on Elvis At Stax  

"If You Talk In Your Sleep" mp3
by Elvis Presley, 1973.
available on Walk a Mile in My Shoes: The Essential 70's Masters

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hanukkah in Santa Monica




by Paul Lukas

Musical comedy usually ends up failing on both the musical and comedic fronts. Once you learn all the words, there's rarely any need to listen again -- and that's assuming there was any reason to listen in the first place.

But Tom Lehrer remains the great exception. He wasn't just a humorist — he was a satirist, and a scathingly effective one. And he wasn't just a musician — he taught musical theater on the university level, where he also taught political science and, to greater acclaim, mathematics. He is almost certainly the only person with this background to become the subject of a Rhino box set. Or to put it another way, Tom Lehrer was a pretty unusual cat.

Lehrer was born in Manhattan in 1928. He took piano lessons as a child and later, while in his 20s, began writing satirical songs as a hobby, some of which he ended up performing in nightclubs. His shows were enthusiastically received, so in 1954 he booked some studio time and recorded a 10" album, Songs by Tom Lehrer, featuring such titles as "Be Prepared" (which advised Boy Scouts on the best ways to smoke a joint while the Scoutmaster wasn't looking), "I Wanna Go Back to Dixie" (an ode to lynching, poll taxes, and the like) and "The Old Dope Peddler" (self-explanatory). Initially issued in a pressing of 400 copies on the artist's own Lehrer Records, it marked the beginning of Lehrer's reluctant engagement with the music biz.

After releasing a follow-up record, More of Tom Lehrer, Lehrer had become enough of a cult phenomenon to secure a contract with Reprise, which issued a live LP, An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer, in 1959. But it wasn't until his 1965 album, That Was the Year That Was, that Lehrer broke through to the mainstream. The LP hit No. 18 on the Billboard album chart and eventually went gold — not bad for a guy who's main gig was as a math professor.

I discovered That Was the Year That Was at age 11, when I found it in my parents' record collection. (It was one of maybe three non-classical LPs in the house.) It was filled with topical songs and one-liners, most of which I was too young to understand, but I wasn't too young to recognize intelligence, rhythm, or timing, all of which Lehrer clearly had. Even without fully comprehending all of his material, I was hooked.

Turns out I chose the right record, because That Was the Year That Was contains the cream of Lehrer's recorded output. Among the highlights: "Smut" (a paean to pornography that avoids the typical clichés), "Wernher Von Braun" (a hilarious assessment of the Nazi-turned-American rocket scientist), "New Math" (a simple arithmetic problem set to music — first in base-10 and then in base-8), and "The Vatican Rag" (which I once played for a seventh grade schoolmate who happened to be Catholic, not realizing the extent to which the song was mocking his religion).

Despite the LP's success, it marked the end of Lehrer's recording career. He dabbled in industrial musicals and children's music for a bit, at one point writing songs for the PBS show The Electric Company, but for the most part he returned to academia, citing a distaste for touring and a sense of tedium from playing the same songs over and over (although one suspects that the growing 1960s counterculture had eclipsed his once-radical positions). His songs have been repackaged and reissued many times over the years, and Rhino gave him the box set treatment in 2000 — a testament to the lasting impact of his brief career.

Lehrer was raised Jewish, and you can definitely hear hints of Yiddish theater in his vocals. You can also sense, or at least imagine, the underlying plight of the Jewish nerd — I mean, a satirical musician who's also a mathematician seems bound to be a bit of a misfit in both fields, right? But Lehrer rarely addressed Judaism in his material. One exception is the fairly pedestrian "(I'm Spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica," which is little more than a series of rhymes. A better example comes in one of his best songs, "National Brotherhood Week," the third verse of which goes like so:

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews!

Lehrer sings this progression not with self-pity, and certainly not with self-loathing, but with sardonic glee. It's the kind of line, and the kind of delivery, that only a Jew could pull off.

Lehrer, now 85, is still living, but he no longer performs and rarely gives interviews. Happy Hanukkah, Tom.


Download:

"National Brotherhood Week" mp3
by Tom Lehrer, 1965.
available on That Was the Year That Was

"Wernher Von Braun" mp3
by Tom Lehrer, 1965.
available on That Was the Year That Was

"The Vatican Rag" mp3
by Tom Lehrer, 1965.
available on That Was the Year That Was

"(I'm Spending) Hanukkah In Santa Monica" mp3
by Tom Lehrer
available on The Rest Of Tom Lehrer

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Importance of Being Arlo


by Jesse Jarnow

I can't really put a finger on my earliest memories of hearing Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Thanksgiving Day Massacree" the same way I can sometimes conjure the primal textures of my first exposures to the Beatles or the Pete Seeger LPs my parents played (at my demand) repeatedly. I remember my father singing "The Motorcycle Song," maybe, as a lullaby. I might be making that up. Perhaps it was just on some family trip. I have vague sleepy recollections of seeing Guthrie with Seeger at Carnegie Hall at one (or several?) of their Thanksgiving concerts in the early '80s and Seeger hollering a solo a capella song while chopping through a small piece of wood with an axe, which was actually quietly terrifying at the time and, in retrospect, also kind of badass. Their double-live album Together in Concert likewise provides my personal platonic Proustian memory: the particular smell of LP cover cardboard trapping the thin plastic sleeves Warner Brothers used during the early '80s. Also, an excellent solo piano version of Guthrie doing Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans" with Seeger (or a lightly overdubbed second Arlo?) joining with not-quite-gusto on the choruses.

But I didn't come to tell you about snorting the musty insides of record jackets or great cover songs. I came to tell you about "Alice's Restaurant."

One homesick autumn early in college, probably right near Thanksgiving time, I used some pre-Napster file-borrowing technology to nab an mp3 of the straight-up 18:20 album recording of Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," likely one of the first 10 mp3s I ever downloaded. And somehow, miraculously, it has survived at least 10 laptops and countless panicked harddrive failures and, a decade-and-a-half later, still exists on my harddrive: a profoundly lo-fi 128 kbps rip of the song, untagged with an album or a track number, and with a sound as distinct to my ears as the familiar crackle of a record. My "Alice." (Eat it, Walter Benjamin, and download it below.)

When I listened in college, I realized that I pretty much knew all of "Alice," word for word, beat for beat, with full orchestration and proverbial five-part harmony, in some deep down part of me. Later, I appropriated my parents' thrashed Alice LP, held together with yellowing library tape, with its liner notes about "Arlo's folk-style Bar Mitzvah, which was held when he was about 13 1/2 years old in a Second Avenue dance studio loft on New York's lower East Side. Woody was there. So was Cisco Houston, Pete Seeger, The Weavers, and many others. Arlo was ushered into manhood with songs, guitar-pickin', square dancing, harmonica playing, and ritual blessings in what was the first (and probably the only) Hootenanny Bar Mitzvah in history."





Arlo's "sweet young rabbi" was a 20-something Meir Kahane, about eight years from founding the ultra-radical Jewish Defense League, their logo a raised fist inside a Star of David. "Rabbi Kahane was a really nice, patient teacher," Guthrie recalled to the Jewish Journal in 2004. "But shortly after he gave me my lessons, he started going haywire. Maybe I was responsible."

I was never Bar Mitzvahed. But as the product of a secular hippie upbringing, it was hundreds (thousands?) of memorized texts precisely like "Alice's Restaurant" that helped map my emerging worldview. Sometimes, their ingestion was self-guided and systematic, other times circumstantial and a product of the traditions of the world around me. Alice and the rest-terr-awwnt undoubtedly fell mostly under the latter. Probably, I'm not alone. Guthrie has called "Alice" an "anti-stupidity" song, and it's hard to miss that didactic aspect of the folk-tale. But--as I'd started to observe around college-time--it was also so plainly and obviously a really tight, excellent piece of writing that transmitted content, personality, style and pure lulz. Every single word was jiggled into its proper rhythmic place. Like Hunter S. Thompson's Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, "Alice" was an extended stoned reverie edited to devastating effect.

The first known recording of the song, from early 1966 at Gerde's Folk City, has a 19-year old Arlo running down a ten-minute, molasses slow version that's predominantly an extended riff on how the word of "Alice's Restaurant" might spread from MacDougal and Bleecker Streets to Greenwich Village to the west side, downtown and uptown, and beyond. There are a few familiar phrasings and Guthrie's got a Coney Island cowboy drawl that sounds awfully familiar, but there's not much to it. By February, though, if the dates on these recordings are correct, Guthrie had debuted an expanded "Alice" on Bob Fass's Radio Unnameable on New York's WBAI.

The song is far faster and jumpier than what Guthrie would record a year later, its creator clearly giddy with his new creation, which is almost totally complete. It's so fast that the rhythms and phrasings of Guthrie's word torrents reveal themselves and one can easily imagine a pepped-up Arlo dinging the song out on a typewriter with the guitar pattern running on an endless, obsessive loop in his head. It's almost entirely there, the pauses and self-interruptions, as nuanced as a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen. But it's not all there either. Some punchlines don't quite work, some line-breaks need to be elongated. The real measure of the song's strength is exactly how well Guthrie remembers it all. It might sound like a ramble, but "Alice" is a song with verses and lyrics that run in nearly exact clockwork precision atop its changes. Some of the time.



The matching album was released in September 1967, but it was already an underground hit, if not before Guthrie's Newport Folk Festival appearance in August, then certainly by its conclusion. And he was already growing weary of his masterpiece. On a recording from October 1st of that year at the Bitter End, only a few weeks after its official issue, the crowd claps wildly when Guthrie strikes up the song. "You don't know which version I'm gonna do," he warns, "and there's nobody that likes all three versions," adding, "When you play it for two years, three times a night, you've gotta do a lot to get into it," and the crowd laughs nervously. He runs through the changes a bunch of times while he decides, takes a mental breath, and plunges into "Alice"'s familiarly appointed rabbit hole of Thanksgiving dinner at the church, Officer Obie, littering, and Guthrie's draft inspection at Whitehall Street in New York City.

On another version of the song, recorded in and released on the live album Tales of '69, the year "Alice" got a movie adaptation by Arthur Penn and the LP cracked the actual bonafide mainstream top 20, Guthrie repeats a similar spiel. "Nobody likes all three," he says, this time continuing, "the last time we all clapped before we knew what song it was, we elected Lyndon Johnson President of the United States," and this time, it's a very different rabbit hole. Instead of the "Masacree," we get the "Multi-Colored Rainbow Roach Affair."

It is the "Dark Star" of the Arlo Guthrie canon, where the folksinger simply goes out, improvising on phrases and themes over the "Alice" pattern, keeping the vague pretense of narrative but almost immediately dissolving into maddening, disconnected story-streams that lie on the dreamy horizon line between half-baked and way super-duper-mega-baked. A charitable (and not inaccurate) description of Guthrie's babble would be "Pynchon-like." I dozed off while listening to one version on headphones on a long train ride and kept waking into jagged and unpleasant half-consciousness to Guthrie singing about miss-iyle explosions in the sky, the remains "dumped on the White House lawn where all the fragments are put into little jars according to what kind of fragments they was. There was Russian, Green, Red, there were all kiiiiiinds of fragments…"

Likely, Guthrie ditched the "Multi-Colored Rainbow Roach Affair" not too long thereafter, when he jettisoned his story-songs for a more proper career singering and songwritering and Arlo-ing. "Alice" stayed behind, too, both a genuine pop culture phenomenon and an achievement unparalleled by, say, Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan: an 18-minute campfire singalong for red diaper babies and public radio listeners of all stripes.

This Thanksgiving, the last time it will coincide with Hanukkah for 77,798 years, let us offer thanks for folk-pop phenomena that keep on giving almost five decades later, for good writing, for fundamental and ancient anti-stupidity parables, for holiday songs, and for Arlo. But let us also give thanks for the "Multi-Colored Rainbow Roach Affair," for stoned rambles that don't transform into parables, for first drafts, and for bizarre holiday traditions of all kinds that still leave plenty of room for editing.

Download:

"Alice's Restaurant" (early version) mp3
by Arlo Guthrie
at Gerde's Folk City, early 1966

"Alice's Restaurant Massacree" mp3
by Arlo Guthrie
at Radio Unnameable with Bob Fass, 2/26/66

"Alice's Restaurant Multi-Colored Rainbow Roach Affair" mp3
by Arlo Guthrie with Ramblin' Jack Elliot
at Radio Unnameable with Bob Fass, 5/67

"Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (degraded mp3 version) mp3
by Arlo Guthrie, 1967.
available on Alice's Restaurant



"If I Should Ever See The Mountain" mp3
by Arlo Guthrie, 1969.
available on Tales of '69

"City of New Orleans" mp3
by Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger, , 1975.
available on Together in Concert

Monday, November 4, 2013

What's Good





My conversion experience came when I was about sixteen, I guess. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard Lou Reed——I’d bought Coney Island Baby when it came out, and I’d bought Loaded but couldn’t make out what all the fuss was about (I still can’t). But I brought home White Light/White Heat and had time to play it only once before I had to tear myself away to go out to dinner with my parents. I sat bouncing on the edge of the backseat of that old Impala, just vibrating with excitement after hearing “Sister Ray”——shivering with it, experiencing some kind of aesthetic orgasm. Someone had finally told the truth about something I’d always known, even if I didn’t know I knew it, and then kept going for seventeen minutes so I had time to get used to the fact that someone had done it and admit to myself that this is who I was. From the first chord, I was home.

There was nothing unfamiliar about those songs——they opened a window onto where you were living already in your head. They were exactly what you were interested in, exactly what you’d been looking for——exactly what was needed. Who wouldn’t wanna be in the middle of that scene with Cecil and his new piece and the sailor and the bloodstains on the carpet and an arm full of speed and someone sucking on your ding dong? Is it any less than you deserve? Who doesn’t want and expect the freedom to fuck and dress as he or she or he-she pleases? Who wouldn’t play guitar like on “What Goes On,” if you could play the guitar? (Okay, every other guitar player, I guess, but screw them. That’s how I’d do it.) The surprising thing about the songs was their perfect inevitability, both the sound of them and what they were “about.” It’s like they were finally letting go of the good stuff, the real stuff——you know, not one part good stuff to four parts bullshit but everyone in the band doing the perfect thing——you never knew you could get it so pure. Every note the Velvets played was exactly what you wanted——your own desires coming back to you. They were the musical version of the question Burroughs used to ask: Wouldn’t you?



People are always describing Lou Reed as the Dark Prince of this or that, as the man who broke the taboos and who wrote about heroin when the Beatles were writing about, I dunno, the circus. But those are adult taboos. What kid is shocked by these things? The only shocking thing about those songs is that they described drug abuse and S&M and homosexuality and transexuality and found nothing shocking there, and they allowed you to admit that you, too, found nothing shocking there. Why would you? You’re a kid, you take the world as it comes. You’re putting the world together for yourself——what do you stand for? Who wouldn’t want to be the kind of person who took the humanity of these people and the intensity of their lives with immediate, unblinking acceptance, as a given? Lou didn’t explain his world and you didn’t need him to. He allowed his subjects and you the dignity of not explaining his world and thereby made it yours.

*

Maybe twenty-five years later, I caught myself standing stopped in my tracks in the middle of a room in San Francisco while a CD played, and I overheard myself say, “How many times can a person listen to ‘What Goes On’ in his life?” By then I had the usual mixed feelings about Lou Reed, best captured in the single syllable used as currency by those of us who’ve carried a torch for him for all these years: “Lou.”

If you’re reading this, you know all about it. (If you don’t, or you want to remind yourself of what was so great about him after the Velvets, go listen to some of his solo stuff, not just “Walk on the Wild Side” but also Coney Island Baby and “Temporary Thing” and “High in the City” and “Romeo Had Juliette” and “Halloween Parade,” and the monologue on “Street Hassle” and the wave of fear that blows across “Perfect Day” like a cloud moving across the sun, and the way he drops taped conversations into “Kicks” and “All Through the Night,” and the precision guitars on “What’s Good,” and the joyful leads he squeezes out on “I Love You, Suzanne” and “Outside,” and the serrated roar he lets rip on the Take No Prisoners version of “Satellite of Love,” and his guitar part on Antony’s “Fistful of Love,” which I’d trade for everything else he did in the last 20 years.) He made records so bad you don’t even want them in the house, but nothing’s made a dent in his cool. He was bigger than his songs. Maybe his real achievement was his aura. Couple of years ago I was talking to June, my girlfriend, bitching about getting old, and I said something like “Nobody’s cool past fifty.” And she said, “Look at Lou Reed: who’s cooler than him?” The answer was no one, and the proof was that he’s the one who’d first sprung to her mind.

Speaking of getting old, I find that now as I look back over these songs, what I get from them is a certain feeling for the world, a canny, street-level humanity, a basic New York understanding that life is for the living and worth it, a kind of twinkle that reminds me to be of good cheer. What’s good? Lou Reed. Lou Reed was one of the good things about life. Is.

*

A long time ago, Andrew Klimeyk wrote me in a letter that the VU songs were his hymns. He said he could imagine a world without airplanes or telephones, but he couldn’t imagine a world without “Pale Blue Eyes.” This morning I took the train over the Williamsburg Bridge——I hadn’t been home in a couple of weeks because I had someone staying at my place——and I looked up from what I was reading and saw that suddenly all the trees tossing in the wind were red and brown and yellow——there wasn’t a green leaf in sight. It’s autumn and that’s that. The other day Doug Morgan wrote this to me: “His passing lends truth to the cliché ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I even forgive him Rock n Roll Animal, whatever that is. I think the VU were the ‘perfect accident’: if you see something, say something, because you’re never coming back.”

So long, Lou.
Sha la la, man.


Download:

by The Velvet Underground, 1969.

"Coney Island Baby" (alternate version) mp3
by Lou Reed, 1975.
available on Coney Island Baby

by Lou Reed, 1978.
available on Street Hassle

"I Remember You" mp3
by Lou Reed, 1986.
available on Mistrial

"What's Good" mp3
by Lou Reed, 1992.
available on Magic And Loss


top photo: Andy Warhol, Screen Test: Lou Reed, 1966.

other photo: by Michael Zagaris, 1974.
Andy Warhol. Screen Test: Lou Reed (1966).

Andy Warhol. Screen Test: Lou Reed (1966).
Andy Warhol. Screen Test: Lou Reed (1966).

Monday, September 16, 2013

For Me to Miss One Would Seem to Be Groundless























by Will Rigby

I started getting serious about listening to music (i.e., reading about it and listening to more than just what was on AM radio) around the age of 14, in 1970. One of the earliest copies of Rolling Stone I bought had the review (by Lenny Kaye) of Loaded, the fourth and final studio album (at least while Lou Reed was a member) by the Velvet Underground. I had probably seen the band's name before, but had never heard the music and knew nothing about them. I didn't hear this record right away, and the next thing we heard was that Lou Reed had quit. But with the invaluable guidance of Bob Northcott (fellow enthusiast and first bandmate), within a year I understood what was great about them and knew the words to "Sweet Jane" and "Rock and Roll"; before much longer I'd acquired the first two albums and was well on my way to musical degeneracy and apostasy, in the best way.

In the present age—with instant access to millions of books, almost any song that has ever been recorded, any TV show or movie or work of visual art ever made—it may be hard to appreciate how difficult it could be in 1972 to find/hear an out-of-print record. The search for The Velvet Underground became something of a holy quest for Bob and me. It felt like an eternity but probably took less than a year and a half to get our hands on it, which was done by sending away for lists of cut-out (discontinued and discounted), rare, and bootleg records advertised in little classified ads in the back pages of mags like Creem and Circus. We eventually located two copies of the US LP and two of the UK LP at the same time via mail order, one of each for both of us.
















In 2013 Bob remembers, but I don't, that the two records sounded different. My UK copy is long gone in one of several rent-party record sales, but I still have that US record and it is this version that I literally grew up listening to. Its very obscurity endeared it to me in a way that only collector types can understand. Thankfully, by the twenty-first century the third VU album had assumed its rightful place of esteem and importance with its brethren. I need not add more to the many who recognize the importance of these four albums, and the fact—astonishing to this day—that none of them is remotely similar to the others.

I can't claim anything but obliviousness that I was unaware of the two versions of the album. The mixes are noticeably different on several of the songs (vocal levels, amount of reverb, etc.); the fact is discussed in the book accompanying the 1995 box set Peel Slowly and See; and the Wikipedia page for the album mentions the different versions of "Some Kinda Love." And I had both forty years ago! What I think of as the "original" version is considered the "alternate" version. Sterling Morrison dubbed the mixes on the US LP the "closet mix," a sobriquet he did not mean as a compliment. The single-CD release features (and has since at least the '90s) what are considered the "correct" mixes, known as the (recording engineer) Val Valentin mixes. However, Peel Slowly and See has the "closet mix" of the entire album, the one I'm used to.
















But when, a few months ago, I noticed that there was a second version of "Some Kinda Love" it was revelatory to me, regardless of the fact that it took me so long. The "closet" version has what I consider one of Lou Reed's two or three best vocal performances ever; by contrast, on the Val Valentin mix/take Lou sounds congested, perhaps even with a cold. The fact that both his book of lyrics and an early Lou Reed box set are titled Between Thought and Expression, a line from this song, suggest that Lou agrees with me that this is one of his most poetic lyrics ever. On the "closet" version, Lou's up-close, almost whispered vocal exudes confidence, conviction, imagination, wit, and sounds like someone who knows he's at the top of his game. The mmmms and oooohs and "la tee ta ta ta"s and the falsetto "lie down upon the carpet" display a brilliant vocalist (as differentiated from great singer in the technical/traditional sense) at work. If this is a "closet," more people should record in one.

The Val Valentin version is good, too—any studio recording by the VU is important, there's at least one lyric variation ("combines the absurd with the vulgar"), it's always good to hear more Sterling Morrison licks, and Lou mumbles a couple of spontaneous things at the end that I can't make out—but the other version is so much better that it boggles my mind that anyone would've chosen to release it instead of a vastly superior, remarkable performance. However, I'm truly thrilled to "discover" another version of one of my favorite VU songs (and likewise boggled how long it took me to notice). There are at least four released live versions of the song as well, but for vocal performance the "closet" version stands head and shoulders above all.
























Download:

"Some Kinda Love" (Closet Mix) mp3
by The Velvet Underground, 1969.
available on Peel Slowly & See

"Some Kinda Love" (Val Valentin mix) mp3
by The Velvet Underground, 1969.
available on The Velvet Underground

Friday, May 24, 2013

Maggie's Farm























When Bob Dylan famously "went electric" at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1965, he debuted his rock and roll self with a barnstorming version of "Maggie's Farm." Recorded and released earlier that year on Bringing It All Back Home with a band, it swings mid- tempo in the new folk-rock idiom that Dylan was very briefly moving through. When he performed it for the first time at Newport with a hard-ass band featuring Mike Bloomfield, and members of the Butterfield Blues Band, he picked up the tempo and delivered it with Bloomfield's incendiary guitar playing at a volume that caught the unsuspecting folk-fest crowd off-guard. The rest is history, as they say, and whether Pete Seeger really tried to cut the power cables with an axe, or the crowd were booing him for betraying some staid idea of what they thought he should be, is still up for debate. The template was set, and his new record, Highway 61 Revisited, set for release a few weeks after this engagement, would unleash the full "thin wild mercury sound," an aesthetic largely derived from the Chess Records electric blues sides of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson.



"Maggie's Farm" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1965.
available on No Direction Home: The Bootleg Series Vol.7

"Maggie's Farm," like many of Dylan's compositions, has been interpreted and recorded by a variety of artists across many genres, including Solomon Burke (whose version came out concurrently with Dylan's) Flatt and Scruggs, and The Specials, who invoked a different tyrannical Maggie of 1980's England. Also recorded and released in late 1965 is a version by Linda Gayle which I present to you here. I was recently hipped to this version by my friend Phast Phreddie Patterson, a source of many things hip and relatively unknown. I don't know much about her, and no, she's not Linda Gail Lewis of Ferriday Louisiana. Interestingly though, it's produced by Columbia staff producer Bob Johnston, who was Dylan's producer for the latter part of 1965 through 1970, but not on the original version of "Maggie's Farm," which was recorded with Tom Wilson at the helm. Gayle's version is also a scorcher, and starts with a pretty string arrangement before it takes off into garageland with a buzzsaw guitar and vocal delivery reminiscent of Wanda Jackson or a pissed off punk Dolly Parton. I'm not sure words can aptly describe this record. It's a killer and will catch you off guard much the same way the Dylan's audience had their little minds blown wide open at Newport forty eight years ago this summer.

Happy Birthday Bob.























"Maggie's Farm" mp3
by Linda Gayle, 1965.
out of print

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Earth Man Blues


















Today, St. Patrick's Day, marks three years since Alex Chilton's unexpected death. In his memory, I'm posting a record, that until very recently I had never heard. Earth Man Blues by the somewhat mysterious John Byrd Band, was recorded at Ardent in 1976 and released the following year on the local Memphis label, Power Play. Alex is listed as a "Guest Singer" in a band that includes John Byrd, Haines Fullerton, Phil Gallina, and Rit Ritennour. The two songs are credited to John Byrd, whomever that may be. Perhaps he is an invention of Alex (?) in one of his many guises, in the year before he would release his Ork single, produce The Cramps, play with Chris Stamey and the Cossacks in New York, and eventually go on to begin recording his ramshackle masterpiece, Like Flies On Sherbet.

The A-Side, "Earth Man Blues," is sort of a white boy jazzy blues number with a harmonica that nearly ruins it. It has a throwaway feel, but is saved by Chilton's wry delivery a la Bach's Bottom where he goads the guitar player through a pedestrian solo, "Look out It's Byrd, I'm gonna have a fit!" The singer, as usual, is detached and cracking himself up, and he likes it that way.

The B-Side, "Friend At Very Good Time," is a pretty good post-Big Star folk rock ditty that plods along sweetly to an acoustic guitar, probably strummed by Chilton, with the refrain "You opened my mind to whiskey and wine, and it's right back to blowing my mind." Sweet as it may be, there's something amiss on both of these sides, which like most of Alex's mid 70s output, has a tension that threatens everything to fall apart, which is what makes them interesting and compelling.

If any of you sleuths out there know anything about this band, feel free to illuminate me with the details.






















Download:

"Earth Man Blues" mp3
by the John Byrd Band, 1977.
Power Play 45
out of print

"Friend At A Very Good Time" mp3
by the John Byrd Band, 1977.
Power Play 45
out of print


top photo: by Stephanie Chernikowski

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Down With the King: Black Folks & Elvis

















Editors Note: Today is the 6th Anniversary of the Boogie Woogie Flu. I'd like to thank all of the talented contributors for helping me limp into another year as I continue to personally have little to say. I'm truly grateful for all the fine contributions I have received over the holidays, and today, from Michael Gonzales, an excellent piece I read in 2007 on his site Blackadelic Pop which he has graciously let me republish on the occasion of what would have been Elvis' 78th Birthday. Happy Birthday Elvis and long live the BWF.

********** 

by Michael A. Gonzales

"Elvis was the king of rock 'n' roll, huh? I guess somebody forgot to tell the folks up in Harlem listening to James Brown" — Black street comedian on 59th Street (circa 1986)"

Elvis Presley was my nigga: forget the fact that on his dying day on August 16th, 1977, the so-called King of Rock 'n' Roll was grossly overweight and popping more pills than a pharmaceutical student. Definitely, it might be best to ignore the oft spoken truths that to this day linger like an unchained melody that define the master of hypnotic hips and unmovable hair as a momma's boy who boned teenaged girls years before R. Kelly was born, munched peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and blasted TV sets in the hallowed hotel rooms above the neon glow of Vegas.

Even if there are many folks that agreed with Brit-author Martin Amis when he wrote, "Elvis was a talented hick destroyed by success", to me he was so much more. Like the other Caucasians in my then-personal canon of pop culture cool (which included Sean Connery, Elton John, Henry Winkler, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood), Elvis had a style, swagger, and charisma that radiated beyond the confines of the television screen.

Though too young to recall the red, white and blue tears people wept when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, or the shattered glass streets of chocolate cities across America when Martin Luther King was slain, the untimely announcement of Elvis' last gasp rocked my world. Having dealt with death only a few times in my then young life (mother's suicidal friend Thomas, grandma's aged boyfriend Joe), I was devastated by the announcement of Elvis' demise. As my first rock idol in the days before I realized that black dudes were supposed to reject Presley on principle, I watched with rabid interest as folks across the country cried while sharing their favorite Elvis memories with the newscaster.

In a Kodak flash, I relived those many late nights when me and baby brother would stay-up past our bedtime just to sneak peeks at the Elvis flicks that were broadcast occasionally in the midnight hour on the CBS Late Movie. From the fury of Jailhouse Rock to the kitsch of Viva Las Vegas to the goofiness of Speedway, we were both enthralled by the manic energy of Elvis. While mom had a monthly subscription to Ebony and Sepia magazines, and had even enrolled us in an after-school class in Black History, we never realized that we could be considered traitors to the race for digging the sounds of a guitar strumming bad boy standing on the hood of a stock car or tonguing down va-va-voom Ann Margret.

Spending the latter part of the summer of '77 at Aunt Ricky's crib in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, where she, Uncle Ed and older cousin Denise were the only brown faces in the community, issues of race were never discussed. With the exception of the peaceful image of M.L.K. on Sunday morning church fans (a constant reminder that a mere few years before, down south brothers and sisters were still sitting in the back of the bus or being bitten by police dogs), there was no talk of integration, race relations or the countless student uprisings that still rumbled in colleges campuses.

In her late-thirtes, Aunt Ricky was a beautiful brown-skinned woman with a wide smile, a thick body (Uncle Ed called her "butterball"), and a voice that had a stern singsong lilt that she used years later for preaching in the pulpit of a various churches in the wilds of Pennsylvania. Dressed in a multicolored housedress, Aunt Ricky leaned back in a brown living-room chair, exhaling heavily. Gazing at my emotional reaction to the news of Elvis' exploding heart, Aunt Ricky unexpectedly dropped a bomb on me. "You know, Elvis was a racist, right?" she declared. Without the hint of a smile, it was obvious she was serious as a bottle of moonshine.

Turning away from the tear stained faces being transmitted from in front of the pearly gates of Graceland, I was puzzled. "You know", Aunt Ricky continued, "he once told a reporter, 'The only thing colored folks can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records.' Now, if that's not racist, you tell me what is". In a low-talking voice that was damn near a Marlon mumble, I said, "That can't be true. Elvis would never say anything like that". Coming from the melting pot of New York City, I had never experienced, at least not to my knowledge, the kind of racism that still simmered on the other side of the George Washington Bridge. Other than a white cop, who had threatened to kick my black ass two years before (admittedly, I did call him a "pig" first, but that is a whole other tale), I had no idea that such strained relationships between the races still existed.

"It's true", Aunt Ricky declared with so much conviction, one would have thought she had been in the room when the venomous words were supposedly uttered. "You know what they say?"

"What's that?" I wondered.

"White is right", she answered. Feeling betrayed by both Elvis and Aunt Ricky, I excused myself from the room. Personally, I didn't want to believe it, but who was I to question the wisdom of a grown-up?

Years later, I wondered why none of the adults in my life ever bothered to school us kids about the early days of black music, when a rowdy Negro named Ike Turner (whose 1951 "Rocket 88" was recorded at Sun Studios a few years before Elvis shuffled through those same doors) was considered the first true rock star. Not once did one of the elders put a copy of Little Richard's "Tutti Fruitti" on the stereo and declare, "This is the true king, kid. Now, bow down".

In his masterful Last Train to Memphis (1994), author Peter Guralnick, cites a piece that appeared in Jet magazine on in 1957: "Tracing that rumored racial slur to its source was like running a gopher to earth." Some said Presley had said it in Boston, which Elvis had never visited. Some said it was on Edward Murrow's show, on which Elvis had never appeared. Jet sent Louie Robinson to the set of "Jailhouse Rock": "When asked if he ever made the remark, Mississippi-born Elvis declared: 'I never said anything like that, and people who know me know I wouldn't have said it".

Robinson then spoke to people "who were in a position to know" and heard from Dr W. A Zuber, "a Negro physician in Tupelo" that Elvis Presley used to "go round to Negro 'sanctified meetings'; from pianist Dudley Brooks that he "faces everybody as a man", and from Presley himself that he had gone to colored churches as a kid, churches like Reverend Brewster's, and that "he could honestly never hope to equal the musical achievements of Fats Domino or the Inkspots' Bill Kenny".

"To Elvis", Jet concluded in its August 1st, issue, "people are people regardless of race, color or creed."


















**********

In 1985, five years before composing his satirical anthem "Elvis is Dead", which featured a cameo from Little Richard, I met Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid. Flipping through the cluttered bins inside Sounds record shop on New York's sleazy St. Marks Place, I recognized the musician's wild styled locks and funky attire from a recent band photo published in the arty magazine East Village Eye.

After introducing myself, we chatted for about 20 minutes about movies, science fiction novels, and of course, music. "What do you do?" Vernon asked.

"Well, besides working at Tower Records, I'm a writer that doesn't write", I confessed.

"Me and some friends have started an organization called The Black Rock Coalition", Vernon said. "We're meeting this Saturday in the Village Voice offices. Perhaps you should come by".

"Yeah," I answered, not really understanding what he could possibility mean; Jimi Hendrix was dead and Sly Stone might as well have been, so what was this strange beast known as Black Rock? With the exception of Prince and the Bad Brains, I thought, how many others of color are doing the wild electric on stage or vinyl. "But, I'm not a musician. The only things I play are records," I said..

Chuckling, Vernon answered, "Don't worry 'bout that. Yeah, it's about the music, but it's also about so much more. We got filmmakers, writers, all kinds of folks. Just come over to the Voice offices about two o'clock or so".

Without a hint of irony, I showed-up at the B.R.C. meeting clad in sneakers, jeans, and a colorful t-shirt of Elvis' face superimposed on a Confederate flag. Standing on lower Broadway outside the newspaper offices with a collective of folks, I was uncomfortable. Feeling less bohemian than the rest of the bunch, I leaned against the wall and waited until it was time to file into the building.

A soulful clique of spirited people who would have a major influence over a generation of new jack artists developing their own personal cult-nat-freaky-deke-nu-blax-aesthetic, gathered on the sidewalk. The tribe included cultural critic Greg Tate, bluesman Michael Hill, trumpet player Flip Barnes, poet Tracie Morris, singer Cassandra Wilson, guitarist Jean Paul Bourelly, keyboardist Bruce Mack, producer Craig Street, bassist Melvin Gibbs, future musical genius Me'Shell Ndegeocello and, of course Vernon Reid.

"Is that Elvis shirt supposed to be a joke?" asked a kooky looking dude with bugged eyes and dreadlocks. With a goofy voice that reminded me of Richard Pryor, he introduced himself as Darius James. A satirical performance artist who also wrote for lit-mag Between C&D, Darius would later pen the celebrated surreal novel Negrophobia and the semi-autobiographical history of '70s cinema That's Blaxploitation: Roots of the Baadasssss 'Tude (Rated X by an All'Whyte Jury).

"Er, no," I answered. Slightly insulted, I lit a Newport.

"If I were you, I would tell people it was", Darius snorted. Embarrassed, I wanted to melt into the concrete like a black Santeria candle. "So, I guess you must be a fan of Otis Blackwell, huh?"

"Who?" I asked. God, why did all the weirdoes generate towards me, I wondered? "Otis, who..."

"Man, you wearin' that redneck on your shirt and you don't even know the real deal", Darius spat, droplets of spittle stained my glasses. Simultaneously reminding me of Daffy Duck and Goldie the Pimp, there was an endearing quality to his madness. "Otis was the bad piano playin' Brooklyn brother who wrote 'Don't Be Cruel' and 'All Shook Up'", Darius snickered. "Shit, I think your boy Elvis might have got them both for the price of a pickled pig foot, a fried chicken wing, and a bottle of cream soda. He might not have stole the soul, but he bought it mighty cheap".

"You're joking, right? 'Don't Be Cruel' was written by..."

"A black man!" Darius screamed, sounding like one of the sugar high kids on the Stevie Wonder track (from Songs in the Key of Life, 1976) of the same name. "Yeah, and he also wrote 'Great Balls of Fire,' 'Fever,' and 'Handy Man'. Dude had one bad songwriting mojo going down".

"You're serious, right?" I asked.

"If I'm lying, I'm flying and believe me, I ain't no mothership. In fact, I ain't dropped acid since I was in high school in New Haven".

Upstairs, the dank meeting room was filled-up to capacity. Me and my new buddy Darius sat next to one another and listened to lengthy rants for the next few hours: record company politics, lack of diversity on radio, the underrated power chords of former Funkadelic ax-men Mike Hampton and Eddie Hazel, finding a venue for a BRC fund-raiser, the color problem at MTV, racism in New York nightclubs and the frustration of defining "what exactly is Black Rock, anyway?"

Like Amiri Baraka getting off the subway in Harlem to kick-start the Black Arts Movement in 1965, it was obvious that everyone in that room believed themselves to be a "pioneer of the new order". Fighting a rhythmic revolution that challenged the mainstream's fear of blackness (be it black music or black people), I was convinced the agenda of the Black Rock Coalition would change the world.

Twenty years later, though "Black Rock" is still a foster child fighting for acceptance, artists like Apollo Heights and Martha Redbone gives me hope for the future.

                                                                    


























**********

In a 2002 interview with rapper Chuck D., who dissed ("Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me/You see, straight up racist that sucker was simple and plain") Presley on the classic Public Enemy track (which also served as the opening theme to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing) "Fight the Power", said, "As a musicologist — and I consider myself one — there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis, especially during his Sun sessions . . . As black people, we all knew that. My whole thing was the one-sidedness - like, Elvis' icon status in America made it like nobody else counted. My heroes came from someone else. My heroes came before him. My heroes were probably his heroes. As far as Elvis being ' The King,' I couldn't buy that".

Certainly, the real issue is how come Elvis got anointed "The King", while Little Richard is seen as a hysterical sissy, Ike Turner is better known as a wife beater, and Chuck Berry is a musical footnote who once sang about his ding-a-ling. Still, this cultural Apartheid goes back further than Elvis' popularity: Count Basie vs. Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington vs. George Gershwin. Oh, and lets not forget the self-proclaimed King of Jazz, the aptly named Paul Whiteman.

Twenty-eight years after the pale-faced teddy bear Elvis suddenly slumped on the cold tiles, not much has changed on the pop-cult landscape. White is still right, which would surely explain why we're watching Eminem's 8 Mile instead of Live from Queensbridge: The Saga of Marly Marl, Justin Timberlake is considered more of a soul stirrer than Carl Thomas, a frump like Fergie is a bigger star than Res, and most minority music writers are still relegated to the rear review pages of Rolling Stone and Blender.

I just don't understand how me acknowledging the brilliance of Elvis or wailing timeless tracks like "Suspicious Minds" or "Heartbreak Hotel" when they blare through stereo speakers is going to change Planet Pop's perception of race and originality. Just be content that Elvis' gritty message song "In the Ghetto" hasn't been cited as the first rap record: the king is dead, long live the king.

**********

Download:

"In The Ghetto" mp3
by Candi Staton, 1972.
available on Evidence: The Complete Fame Records Masters

bottom photo: Elvis with Junior Parker and Bobby Bland
by Ernest Withers

other photos: photographer unknown

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bert Berns' Seven-Year Itch























by Andy Schwartz

“Okay…so you scratch your head, you look at the guy who represents the company and he’s dead serious. Furthermore, he’s telling you all the sweet things a weary producer loves to hear:  ‘Money’s no object…Get all the down cats you need…Just give ‘em soul.’ So you finish scratching your head and you reach for the nearest phone. You’re cooking, you’re really cooking! So you call Teacho Wiltshire to make the arrangements, and he says ‘okay.’ Then you get tensed up because it hits you like a rock about all the things you’ll need – songs, the right artists, the right sounds…Give ‘em soul. The next couple of days your desk is piled up with all the great R&B records of the past, including a few original things which will knock everyone out. And then, right smack between all that sweet confusion, all the empty and grotesque coffee containers and crushed cigarette butts, it was there. I mean pow!” 

- Bert Berns, from his liner notes for Capitol LP George Hudson Presents Give ‘Em Soul


Really, it’s all there, in his own words – maybe not the details, but the atmosphere of a Bert Berns production. You feel the sense of near–desperate improvisation, the need to make something out of nothing. The desk “piled up with all the great R&B records of the past” – the better to pinch a time–tested hook, riff, or chorus. The “original things that will knock everyone out” – because after all, the same Berns original (or a variation of it) already knocked everyone out the previous two times he cut it with other singers, and if it didn’t…hey, third time’s the charm, right?

And always, the insatiable demands of Capital: To give ‘em soul, or a Western–flavored folk song, or a Latin boogaloo, or a dance named for a zoo animal because that’s what’s happening right now or at least what somebody thinks might be happening in about three weeks which is when they’re planning to release this record he’s trying to create from nothing. The red light is on in the control room, the union clock is running, the studio bills are starting to pile up, but Bert is cooking, he’s really cooking and…pow!

In this hothouse atmosphere, in a career that spanned just seven turbulent years, Bert Berns created a handful of songs and recordings that echo to the present day: “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers, “My Girl Sloopy” by The Vibrations, “Here Comes The Night” by Them, “Piece Of My Heart” by Erma Franklin, “Brown–Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Tell Him” by The Exciters.

“His unique voice as a songwriter, producer and record man is so deeply ingrained into the fabric of pop music, it has become common parlance,” writes veteran music journalist Joel Selvin in the introduction to his forthcoming biography Here Comes The Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns &; The Dirty Business Of Rhythm & Blues. Berns’ songs, says Selvin, “have been covered, quoted, cannibalized, used as salvage parts and recycled so many times, his touch has just dissolved into the literature. His name may be lost, but his music is everywhere.”

There are the records everyone knows. There are the records everyone should know but that arrived stillborn, or expired soon after delivery: “My Tears Are Dry” by Hoagy Lands, “It’s Been A Long, Long Time” by Dotty Clark, Ben E. King’s searing “It’s All Over,” Lulu’s towering rendition of “Here Comes The Night.” And then there are the records that make you scratch your head – like the guy in the Give ‘Em Soul liner notes – and wonder who thought that sounded like some kind of a hit.

Time: There never seemed to be enough of it for the child born to a Russian Jewish immigrant couple in the Bronx on November 8, 1929, to whom his free–thinking father gave the name Bertrand Russell Berns in honor of the renowned British philosopher. Bert was fourteen when he contracted rheumatic fever, a condition that he knew even then would shorten his life.

A bright but restless and inattentive student, he never graduated from his Miami boarding school. He liked to sing, play the piano, and strum his nylon–string acoustic guitar. Bert dug the big bands and Latin dance orchestras he heard at Grossinger’s, the fabled kosher Catskills resort where his parents were wed and where they spent every August for the rest of their lives. During a trip to Cuba in 1958, he immersed himself in the island’s rich musical culture: The chords of “Guantanamera” would form the basis for many a Bert Berns song to come. But at the age of 30, he was still living in his parents’ Bronx home, having failed at such music–related ventures as the first record by future Las Vegas lounge queen Eydie Gormé.

Things began to pop when an old–school music publisher, Robert Mellin, hired Bert to be his firm’s conduit to teenage music. Berns and the African–American songwriter Phil Medley came up with “Push Push,” recorded by Austin Taylor in a somewhat goofy but undeniably infectious production rife with Berns’ trademark Caribbean undertones. The Laurie Records release struggled to #90 on the Hot 100 – Bert’s first song to make the charts. September 1961 brought a career breakthrough when a Richmond VA group called the Jarmels made it all the way to #12 with his song “A Little Bit of Soap.”

Bum ticker be damned: Bert Berns was off and running. In the summer of ’62, he took the Isley Brothers all the way to #2 with “Twist and Shout,” a Berns/Medley song and a Bert Berns production. On February 11, 1963, it became the last song recorded by the Beatles in nearly nine hours of recording for their debut album Please Please Me. (“Twist And Shout” was later covered by Johnny Rivers, Mae West, Booker T. & the MGs, The Mamas & Papas, and Rodney Dangerfield, among others.)

All through the 1950s, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler (along with Ahmet’s brother Nesuhi Ertegun and the gifted engineer Tom Dowd) had made musical history and impressive profits at Atlantic Records. Yet by early 1961, the label had turned stone cold and for eight long months failed to produce one Top Ten single; its two biggest stars, Ray Charles and Bobby Darin, both had defected to other companies.

It was Bert Berns who brought Atlantic back from the brink. Beginning with the December ’61 session that produced “Cry To Me,” Berns produced five consecutive Top 20 R&B songs for Solomon Burke including “If You Need Me” and “You’re Good For Me.” He succeeded Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller as producer of The Drifters, and brought forth “Under The Boardwalk,” “At The Club,” and “Saturday Night At The Movies.” Other Berns productions for The Vibrations and Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles failed to hit big. But they served notice on the industry that Atlantic could still create great pop/r&b records in–house and not simply license masters from smaller labels (cf. Carla Thomas’ “Gee Whiz” on the fledgling Stax Records of Memphis).

When Bert Berns made his second trip to England in October ’64, his fame as the co–composer of “Twist and Shout” preceded him. The brash, chain–smoking, toupee–topped producer was “an American archetype, a species entirely unknown in Britain – the Broadway record man,” writes Joel Selvin. “He reeked of Marlboros, cheap cologne and hit records...Berns called the shots and Decca’s rules were out.” Through his contacts at Decca Records, he hooked up with a band of Belfast hard cases called Them and their sawed–off lead singer Van Morrison; together they spent four days in the studio knocking Berns’ “Here Comes The Night” into shape. The single shot to #2 in the UK and even breached the US Top 30.

Berns’ original Atlantic version of his “My Girl Sloopy” by The Vibrations (co–written with Wes Farrell) only reached #26 R&B in ‘64, but the following year a rewrite of the song would become The McCoys’ #1 Pop smash “Hang On Sloopy.” The McCoys were on BANG, a new label founded by Berns with financial backing from the Atlantic partners and thus named for Bert, Ahmet, Nesuhi, and Gerald.

BANG became the launching pad for a struggling Brooklyn singer/songwriter named Neil Diamond, lofting him into the Top 20 with five successive singles beginning with “Cherry Cherry” in the summer of ’66. Less than two years after “Here Comes The Night,” Them were yesterday’s papers – but Berns sensed the raw talent in Van Morrison, and produced the sessions that begat the Irishman’s US #10 hit “Brown Eyed Girl” and his BANG debut album Blowin’ Your Mind! – the one with the ugly pseudo– psychedelic cover and ten minutes of blues torment called “T.B. Sheets.”

In his relentless climb to the top of the pops, Bert Berns had many helpers. Some were label owners, some were co–writers and publishers, some were studio musicians and engineers…and some were straight-up gangsters, to whom the fast–moving, streetwise record man turned for friendship, financing, and muscle. There was Tommy Eboli a/k/a Tommy Ryan, a mainstay of the Genovese family going back to the reign of Lucky Luciano; the Columbo underboss John “Sonny” Franzese; and Patsy Pagano, Berns’ lead negotiator with Jerry Wexler when the BANG/Atlantic relationship turned sour.

We can only guess at the effect these dark eminences might have had on Bert Berns’ career in a post–Sgt. Pepper world. On December 30, 1967, he died of a massive heart attack at age 38, leaving behind his wife Ilene and three children, the youngest born just three weeks before.

In his 2011 book Save The Last Dance For Satan, Nick Tosches quotes Joe Smith of Warner Bros. Records on what it took to buy out Van Morrison’s contract from the tangled web of BANG that Berns left behind: “I had to meet a guy at six o’clock at night on the third floor of a warehouse on Tenth Avenue in Manhattan. The guy said to bring the money [$20,000]. I wasn’t feeling very good about that…” But the deal got done, no out–of–town record executives were killed or injured in the process, and in November 1968 Van Morrison released his Warner debut, Astral Weeks. To the best of my knowledge, Morrison has never spoken publicly about his relationship with Bert Berns, not even after “Brown Eyed Girl” was named to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004.

Neil Diamond likewise remains silent. When in 2011 Sony Legacy released the outstanding and long–overdue anthology Neil Diamond: The BANG Years, 1966–1968, the singer wrote a reflective essay that fills fourteen pages of the accompanying booklet. In his text, Diamond name–checks everyone from his high school singing partner Jack Packer to studio engineer Brooks Arthur, while Bert Berns is referred to only as “an ‘independent producer’ (who unbeknownst to me had some nefarious silent partners)…” Elsewhere, Diamond refers to being signed by Jerry Wexler and to “being an artist on Atlantic Records” (which distributed BANG – Diamond never made a record on the Atlantic label).

“In the end, Berns’ career almost perfectly encapsulated the height of the New York independent record scene,” Joel Selvin summarizes. “He walked onstage in those days after the emergence of rock and roll when the New York music business utterly dominated the pop music universe. When he died seven turbulent years later, the day was done. Corporations started buying up the few independents still standing. New songwriters and new songs stocked the hit parade. The pop music world turned a page.”

The man is gone, but the songs live on. No bullshit: They really do. L’shanah tovah and thank you, Bert Berns.

Download:























"Push Push" mp3
by Austin Taylor, 1960.
available on The Bert Berns Story Volume 1: Twist & Shout 1960-1964























"You'd Better" mp3
by Russell Byrd (Bert Berns), 1961.
available on The Bert Berns Story Volume 1: Twist & Shout 1960-1964























"If Your Pillow Could Talk" mp3
by The Edsels, 1962.
out of print























"Hully Gully Lamb" mp3
by The Renaults, 1962.
out of print























"Cry To Me" mp3
by Betty Harris, 1963.
Lost Soul Queen























"Raise Your Hand" mp3
by Junior Lewis, 1963.
out of print























"Come On And Stop" mp3
by Marv Johnson, 1963. 
Available on The Bert Berns Story Volume 1: Twist & Shout 1960-1964























"It's All Over" mp3
by Ben E. King, 1964.
available on Stand By Me























"If I Didn't Have A Dime" mp3
by The Furys, 1964.
out of print























"Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" mp3
by Hoagy Lands, 1964.
out of print























"Hello Walls" mp3
by Little Esther, 1964.
available on The Best Of Esther Phillips (1962-1970)

"Here Comes The Night" mp3
by Lulu, 1964.
available on The Bert Berns Story Volume 1: Twist & Shout 1960-1964























"If I Would Marry You" mp3
by Tammy Montgomery, 1964.
available on The Bert Berns Story - Mr Success Volume 2: 1964-1967























"My Girl Sloopy" mp3
by The Vibrations, 1964.
available on Very Best Of The Vibrations























"There They Go" mp3
by The Exciters, 1965.
available on Something to Shout About!























"Ain't Gonna Cry No More" mp3
by LaVern Baker, 1965.
out of print























"Come Home Baby" mp3
by Wilson Pickett ( with Tami Lynn), 1965.
available on In the Midnight Hour

"A Little Bit Of Soap" mp3
by Garnet Mimms, 1966
available on Cry Baby























"Up In The Streets Of Harlem" mp3
by The Drifters, 1966.
available on Rockin & Driftin: Drifters Box

"Killer Joe" mp3
by The Kingsmen, 1966.
available on The Best of The Kingsmen


















"Solitary Man" mp3
by Neil Diamond, 1966.
available on The Bang Years: 1966-1968























"I'm Gonna Run Away From You" mp3
by Tami Lynn, 1966.
available on Love Is Here & Now You're Gone

"Are You Lonely For Me Baby" mp3
by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, 1967.
available on King & Queen















"Madame George" mp3
by Van Morrison, 1967.
available on Bang Masters

"Baby Come Home" mp3
by Led Zeppelin, 1968.
available on The Complete Studio Recordings