Bob Dylan: Now Appearing in Nursing Homes Across the Nation! When I saw Bob’s face on the cover of AARP Magazine, it somehow seemed natural, fitting. He’s awarded them his one and only interview since the release of his album of Sinatra-covered standards, Shadows in the Night. The interviewer is actually a veteran of Rolling Stone.
I can’t say that I’m as thrilled about that album as all the critics (and many Dylan fans) seem to be. Oh, I’m a big fan of Dylan, including—almost especially—his late-career string of back-to-roots originals, from Time Out of Mind in 1997 through Tempest in 2012. But here comes Shadows in the Night. I applaud his making it, but I just don’t personally like his voice on these songs. I never listen to Self-Portrait either. I enjoy Bob doing his own songs, most of the time. I enjoy many others’ versions of Bob’s songs. But I don’t often enjoy Bob singing other people’s songs. Maybe it’s just me.
Dylan kicks off Shadows in the Night with a Frank song that Frank co-wrote, the beautiful and sad “I’m a Fool to Want You,” from 1951. Frank did it well, like he did everything else, but this one was truly from the heart, written as he pined for Hollywood goddess Ava Gardner. Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, and others have done a good job of it as well. Elvis Costello sang a fine version with trumpeter Chet Baker accompanying.
Ahmet Ertegun is the best Turkish hit-maker I’m aware of. He founded Atlantic Records and hunted for blues and R&B talent to produce on the label. Early on, a business associate recommended to him that he take on the vocal group The Clovers, but they didn’t initially see eye-to-eye. In Charlie Gillett’s history of Atlantic Records, Making Tracks, Ertegun’s quoted as saying, “The Clovers were against all the things I wanted to do. They liked The Ink Spots, who I didn’t like at all.”
Ertegun, however, decided to become an R&B songwriter, and made The Clovers famous when he wrote “Don’t You Know I Love You,” which went to #1 R&B. It was credited to “Nugetre”—Ertegun backwards—probably because Ahmet, whose father was a diplomat, was embarrassed to be a kingpin of Rhythm & Blues. His second original for The Clovers, “Fool, Fool, Fool,” also went to #1. He went on to write quite a few more, all bluesy, gutsy hits. No more Ink Spots! The Clovers became a highly-successful, very influential group.
“Fool, Fool, Fool,” like “I’m a Fool to Want You,” was a hit in 1951. The Clovers had a second fool hit the following year, “I Played the Fool.” Their last big song, “Love Potion #9,” wasn’t such a big hit for them, but The Searchers’ cover of it made it to #3 pop.
Carl Sigman’s English lyrics turned Luiz Bonfa’s “Manha de Carnival” into “A Day in the Life of a Fool.” Bonfa had written the song for the 1959 Portuguese-language film Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus). It was set in Brazil during Carnival and was directed by Frenchman Marcel Carne.
Frank Sinatra sang it with the English lyrics, as did Harry Belafonte. My favorite version of “A Day in the Life of a Fool” is by Cassandra Wilson, from her 2010 album Silver Pony. Like all of Wilson’s albums, this one is a well-sung, well-played, and well-produced potpourri of pop, folk, jazz, blues, and R&B. Wonderful.
My favorite instrumental version, recorded as “Manha de Carnival,” is by Vince Guaraldi, from his excellent 1962 album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. The album also features a catchy Latin Guaraldi original, the 1963 hit “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”
Mr. T’s catchphrase “I pity the fool” came to him by way of Bobby “Blue” Bland. “I Pity the Fool” was a Bland hit in 1961, one in a long string that topped the R&B charts. The song was credited to Duke Records owner Don Robey (under a pseudonym), but was evidently one of many Robey commandeered from Joe Medwick and other songwriters who got caught in his web. We can all pity the fools who bought Robey’s line and lost song copyrights.
Bland, who had learned to play guitar at the age of five, spent the forties in gospel groups. He was in a group, The Beale Streeters, with B.B. King and Johnny Ace in the late forties, and went on to be B.B.’s chauffeur for a while in the fifties. Bobby did get his break eventually, from the infamous Don Robey and his record label, and had a long and successful R&B career.
Can’t fail to mention one of my favorite Paul McCartney songs, “Fool on the Hill.” From the 6th chords to the recorder solo to Paul’s wistful vocal, it’s a standout.
Best Line: Zappa does it again, with this non-sequitur line from “Dancin’ Fool”: “I may be totally wrong but I’m a fool.”
Dream Jukebox: Ike & Tina Turner’s first hit, “A Fool in Love,” is one of my favorite songs of the era. It’s a little hard, knowing what we learned long after the song came out in 1960, to listen to Tina sing Ike’s lyrics: “You know you love him, you can’t understand / Why he treats you like he do when he’s such a good man.” But the song moves, and Tina’s already got a strong, gutsy voice, balanced nicely by the backup singers, and you just know she’s gonna come out all right.