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Fool, Fool, Fool

Fool, Fool, Fool

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.

Cover Boy

Cover Boy

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.

frank sinatra

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.”

tracks

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.

clovers

“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.

guaraldi

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.

Hello Goodbye

Hello Goodbye

“You say goodbye…” Mary Hopkin is pretty much remembered today only for her 1969 #1 hit, “Those Were the Days.” Maybe I’m worn out on that song or maybe I’m just being difficult when I say that I prefer her follow-up, “Goodbye.” It was written expressly for her by Paul McCartney, whose song “Get Back” beat it out of the #1 spot on the UK charts. (Paul also, of course, wrote the song that gives this post its title.) Ms. Hopkins’ lovely voice gave both of her hit songs a kind of Old Country folk quality, but that verges on pastiche with “Those Were the Days,” I think. “Goodbye” makes me think of mead and moors and sheep dung. In a good way.

“…and I say hello.” “Hello Hello” was San Fran band Sopwith Camel’s only hit. It made it to #26 pop in The Summer of Love. It’s a retro-sounding trifle, but it’s memorable to me for a couple of reasons. First, it was one of the songs of the rock ‘n’ roll generation that Steve Allen lampooned on his variety show by reading the lyrics as profound poetry. He especially milked the delivery of the lines “Would you like some of my tangerines? You know I’ll never treat you mean.” And then there was Sopwith Camel’s appearance on my local music-scene show, Sump’n Else. Show host Ron Chapman kept getting distracted, while interviewing the Camel’s singer, by a plastic fly affixed to his glasses lens. Crazy hippies in Dallas, Texas!

My pick for the most gorgeous recording in jazz will probably always be the John Coltrane and Duke Ellington pairing on Duke’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” But right behind it is the magnificent and melancholy saxophone tour de force of Cannonball Adderley on his version of Gordon Jenkins’ ballad “Goodbye.” Adderley is justifiably remembered for his soul-jazz hits, but his way with a ballad is outstanding. People forget that Cannonball was alongside Coltrane and Miles on Kind of Blue. His “Goodbye” is a fine song made stellar. I’ve also heard a nice vocal arrangement of the song performed by the latest generation of Four Freshmen.

hya

“Hy’a Sue” is minor Duke Ellington, but any song by The Duke (and any song that uses the expression “hy’a”) is worthy of a few words. It was first recorded in 1947, a version I have on a 78 rpm record. In his book Duke’s Bones: Ellington’s Great Trombonists, Kurt Dietrich mentions this recording as a nice vehicle for one of Duke’s lesser ‘bones, Tyree Glenn. On the song, writes Dietrich, Glenn showcases his “outstanding ability with the plunger” and his solos “establish him as (Tricky Sam) Nanton’s worthy successor.”

dukes bones

Tricky Sam Nanton on the cover of Duke’s ‘Bones

“Bye Bye Love,” written by the Bryant couple, Felice and Boudleaux, was the Everly Brothers’ debut in 1957—a nice one, at that, going all the way to #2 pop. Webb Pierce made the top ten of the country charts with it the same year, but I don’t think I’ve ever even heard that recording. Versions of the pop/rock/country standard I own include Ray Charles’ swingy thing on his Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music album (1962), Simon and Garfunkel’s live version from Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970), and the Ditty Bops’ 2006 version on Moon Over the Freeway. (I also own the completely different “Bye Bye Love” the Cars recorded on their own debut in 1978.)

everlys again

The Everlys

Bob Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello” is a high-point song from a high-point album—my favorite of his—Blood on the Tracks (1975). I’ve listened to the record countless times since it came out, and I can’t say that I’ve ever gotten tired of it; however, I can say that the songs I’ve gotten least tired of are “Tangled Up in Blue” and this one. Why haven’t more singers covered it?

Original Dylan, from Blood on the Tracks album cover

Original Dylan, from Blood on the Tracks album cover

What do The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” have in common? Well, they both got to number one. But The Beatle song is divine, while the Steam song is a throwaway, a goof. But both songs had catchy sing-along codas that were standbys at parties of my high school choir gang. Steam’s ending was the “lite” variant of “Hey Jude”’s. On a bus trip across the desert, someone started singing the Steam song, and by the second time around we were all singing. We drove our bus driver mad as we continued, mile after mile, giddy and unable to stop. I don’t recall exactly how it came to an end, but I think it put us all to sleep (except the irritated driver, thank God). It is my most vivid memory of high school choir, all these years later.

prine

One music faux pas I committed involved the John Prine gem “Hello in There.” I’d performed the song many times and decided to do it when my turn came around in a jam circle I was new to. I played it on that occasion in a slightly faster tempo than the original version, and in a reggae beat. I saw another jammer’s jaw drop and a look of horror come across his face. I later found out that he was a John Prine fanatic and felt I’d committed blasphemy with my irreverent rendition. Oh well. I think the emotional depth of the song’s tragic story can survive a treatment that is not funereal. I still engage in John Prine heresy now and then.

The best song to close this post is one that says hello but means goodbye. It’s actually a song within a song, “Hooray for Captain Spaulding,” written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby for the 1930 Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers. “Hello, I Must Be Going” is quintessential Groucho absurdity. He sings “I’ll stay a week or two / I’ll stay the summer through / But now I’m telling you, I must be going.” “Hello, I must be going” is such a great line that it’s been used for album titles, movie titles, weekly column titles, and Groucho’s autobiography.

And now, to close a blog post: Hello, I must be going.

My True Story

My True Story

If I could pin down any doo-wop song as my favorite, it would be The Jive Five’s “My True Story.” Its verse is nothing special; it follows the usual “ice-cream changes” that 90+% of doo-wop songs do (you know: C down to A-minor, to F and then G, like “Heart and Soul”). But each chorus’s repeated falsetto up-swoop is rapturous, and I feel like I could listen to it forever. I find myself whistling it, long after listening to it.

The “true story” involves a love triangle that includes a guy named Earl, which not only conveniently rhymes with “girl” but also happens to be the first name of quite a few doo-wop singers (though not any of the Jive Five). The sad story that makes the singer “cry, cry, cry” is a sensitive one for him. Taking off on the Dragnet intro, he sings, “The names have been changed, dear, to protect you and I.” (As a grammar nerd, I can’t help but sing “me” to myself every time I hear the line. But as a doo-wop fan, I un-correct my correction, quickly enough not to screw up the meter.)

Another tragic autobiographical miniature is “The Story of Wild Man Fischer,” and it really is his true story. Larry “Wild Man” Fischer was a mentally unstable street performer discovered by (and maybe exploited by?) Frank Zappa in the late ‘60s. His sad tale, sung sans accompaniment, as all of his best little gems were, is a series of one-liners tracing a decline: “In the year of 1965, I was committed to a mental institution.” Each of these one-line intros is followed by a frantic spoken rant that is then quickly modulated back to the next year’s line. “In the year of 1966, I was committed to a mental institution again.” A little disturbing to listen to, but also hard to turn off.

The thing about Wild Man Fischer is that, although it is a guilty, at times uncomfortable pleasure to listen to this unhinged fellow laying it all out on tape, many of his songs are catchy as hell. They maybe could’ve been hits if they’d been developed and spruced up a bit and—no, what am I saying? Their charm is their nakedness, just the Wild Man letting go. A couple of them, “Monkeys Versus Donkeys” and “Which Way Did the Freaks Go?,” were on my kids’ most-requested-record list when they were young. They sang along, mimicking Wild Man’s phrasing and inventing appropriate dance moves. Fond memories, thanks to the late Larry Fischer.

odeon

Randy Newman often sings his twisted tales in first person, but we know that he’s at a reasonably sane remove, just playing characters—sometimes buffoons, sometimes jerks, sometimes lost souls. But in the song “My Life is Good,” (from Trouble in Paradise, 1983), the pompous ass at its center is addressed by name: “Rand.” Newman sings that “Mr. Bruce Springsteen” had a proposition for him. “I’ll tell you what he said to me. / He said, ‘Rand, I’m tired. Why don’t you be The Boss for a while?’” Rand(y), of course, is putting us on, but we wonder just how much. I first heard the song when it was new, on the excellent video Randy Newman at the Odeon. It is quite an entertaining performance, alarmingly convincing. Just play-acting. Right, Rand?

Avenging Andy

Avenging Andy

Andy Pratt came out with several nice albums in the seventies, but his only brush with the Billboard Top 100 came from his debut, Andy Pratt, in 1973. The first-person narrative “Avenging Annie” is an odd song, in which the companion of “Pretty Boy Floyd, the outlaw” boasts of being “the avenger of womanhood.” Andy-as-Annie uses a bright falsetto on the choruses, but the verses are in the baritone range, and on the line “So I joined up with my outlaw, and headed for California,” he (she?) gets down to a bass F#. I love the song, but I’m not surprised it only got to #78 on Billboard.

Favorite Music Memoirs: I love to read almost as much as I love to make and listen to music. Consequently, good books about lives in music are a real joy. The best of these tend to be books by writers about great musicians, since most musicians, unfortunately, aren’t great writers. But some artists have still managed to do more with their own stories than just lay out the facts. (However, several of those listed here got assists from “real writers.”)

Mezz Mezzrow's True Story

Mezz Mezzrow’s True Story

  • Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow—Mezz was not a great musician, but he has a great story. He was a white Jewish Chicagoan who loved black culture and immersed himself in it—basically becoming black. His entire book is written in hepcat language, and is a delight.
  • My Life in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong—Satchmo also has a great story to tell, and paints a fascinating picture of the New Orleans neighborhood where he came of age.
  • Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan—This book’s randomness can be a little bit frustrating. Bob, the song and dance man, picks and chooses bits from his kaleidoscopic life—with all of his idiosyncrasies on display. In his “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column, Nick Hornby writes, “In fact, after reading the book, you realize that Dylan isn’t willfully obtuse or artful in any way—it’s just who he is and how his mind works.” Ready for Volume Two!
Woody's True Story

Woody’s True Story

  • Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie—You can hear Woody’s plain Okie voice on every page of this peripatetic memoir.
  • Life by Keith Richards—OK, not great lit, but Keef captures the flavor of life with Mick, the other Stones, and the ladies and rivals.
Ms. O'Day's True Story

Ms. O’Day’s True Story

  • High Times, Hard Times by Anita O’Day—This one’s a look at the ups (from great performance experiences and heroin highs) and downs (from not-s-great shows and heroin busts), as well as a look at the life of a woman in a male-dominated enterprise.

Amazing Jimmy (“No such thing as a bad song”) Nominee: “I Write the Songs.” In a clunky way, the lyrics really seem to be more about the power of music, but they sound pretty self-aggrandizing. I hated it right out of the gate. On top of that, this song in first person about writing songs was introduced to the world by Barry Manilow—but he didn’t write it!

The writer who committed this assault was Bruce Johnston, Brian Wilson’s post-crackup stand-in in The Beach Boys, first on tour and later to augment the studio recordings. The Boys never recorded “I Write the Songs,” but they did put another Bruce Johnston drippy-fest, “Disney Girls,” on their Surf’s Up album. It was a hit for Art Garfunkel and for the dreaded Captain and Tennille. (By the way, why in the world does spell-check recognize and approve Tennille but not Thelonious? A damn shame.)

Dream Jukebox Candidate: The splendid “My True Story” by The Jive Five

What autobiographical songs resonate with you? Which music memoirs have you enjoyed?

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