EML’s Favorite Songs – BARRY WHITE: “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe”

Barry-White-Cant-Get-Enough-Of-Your-Love-Babe

I was a big fan of soul singer Barry White (born Barry Eugene Carter in September 1944), and love many of his hit songs. But my favorite of them all is “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe“. Throughout his long career, which lasted much of his adult life from the 1960s until the late 1990s, White was a singer, songwriter, composer, musician and producer. Known for his distinctive bass-baritone voice and sensual singing style, his biggest success came during the 1970s as both a solo artist and as producer/conductor of The Love Unlimited Orchestra, when he scored a number of top 10 soul, funk and disco hits.

White was born in Galveston, Texas, but grew up in South Central Los Angeles. His parents never married, so his mother gave him her last name at birth, but he later assumed his father’s surname. He was the older of two boys. White grew up listening to his mother’s classical music collection and taught himself to play the piano at a young age. His voice deepened suddenly when he was 14. He later recalled to music writer Larry Katz that his mother cried at the time “because she knew her baby boy had become a man.” Sadly, both he and his brother got involved with street gangs in their early teens, and his brother Darryl was tragically murdered in a fight with a rival gang, whereas White spent four months in jail for theft charges. After he was released, he cleaned up his act and began singing with groups and working for various small independent music labels in the L.A. area.

He got his big break in 1972 when he began producing music for girl group Love Unlimited, with whom he had a fairly sizable hit “Walkin’ in the Rain with the One I Love”. The following year, he created The Love Unlimited Orchestra, a 40-piece orchestral group that would perform the background music for Love Unlimited as well as his own songs. With Love Unlimited Orchestra, he released the gorgeous instrumental piece “Love’s Theme” in late 1973, which went to #1 in January 1974 on the Billboard Hot 100. White’s first chart hit as a solo artist was “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” in 1973, followed later that year by “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up”, both of which reached the top 10. In late June, 1974, he released “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” as the lead single from his album Can’t Get Enough. The song ultimately reached #1 on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts.

It’s a beautiful R&B song with soulful guitar and percussion, backed by sweeping orchestration, the highlights of which are the exuberant brass and lush strings. All serve to create a swirling romantic soundscape for White’s deep, velvety vocals as he fervently professes the depths of his love and devotion to his beloved:

My darling, I, can’t get enough of your love babe
Girl, I don’t know, I don’t know why
I can’t get enough of your love babe
Oh no, babe

Girl, if only I could make you see
And make you understand
Girl, your love for me is all I need
And more than I can stand
Oh well, babe

How can I explain all the things I feel?
You’ve given me so much
Girl, you’re so unreal
Still I keep loving you
More and more each time
Girl, what am I gonna do
Because you blow my mind

“Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” was later covered in 1993 by the wonderful singer Taylor Dayne as “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love”. Oozing equal amounts of soul and sex appeal, she does great justice to the classic song.

EML’s Favorite Songs – R.E.M.: “Losing My Religion”

REM Losing My Religion

“Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. is a gorgeous and haunting musical masterpiece. Released in February, 1991, it’s my favorite song from the 1990s, and one of my top ten favorite songs of all time. From their seventh studio album Out of Time, it’s their highest-charting hit in the U.S., reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Modern Rock and Album Rock Tracks charts. It was nominated for several Grammy Awards in 1992, including Record and Song of the Year, and winning for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Short Form Music Video.

Although R.E.M. had been around for ten years, releasing six albums and scoring two top 10 hits, “The One I Love” and “Stand”, they were still primarily considered an “alternative” rock band whose music was played on mostly college and FM radio stations. The immense popularity and commercial success of “Losing My Religion” and Out of Time broadened their audience beyond its original fanbase, and catapulted them to international fame. When asked at the time if he was worried that the song’s success might alienate their older fanbase, band guitarist Peter Buck told Rolling Stone, “The people that changed their minds because of ‘Losing My Religion’ can just kiss my ass.”

I agree, as it really irks me when people bitch about an indie artist or band who they feel they discovered “selling out” or “going mainstream” if they have a commercially successful breakout hit. Jeezus, we should celebrate our favorite artist or band’s success, though I suspect there’s an unhealthy kind of jealousy that occurs when all of a sudden everyone else is loving a band we felt an odd sort of intimate connection or obsession with, but I digress…

One of the many aspects that make “Losing My Religion” such an amazing song is the stunning mandolin riff that serves as the track’s driving force. Buck wrote the main riff and chorus for the song on a mandolin he’d just purchased and was learning how to play while watching TV one day. Recording of the song began in September 1990 at a music studio in Woodstock, New York, with mandolin, electric bass, and drums. Bassist Mike Mills developed a bassline inspired by some of the work of Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie, and the band decided to have their touring guitarist Peter Holsapple play acoustic guitar. Singer Michael Stipe recorded his marvelous vocal in a single take, which is remarkable in that it’s so perfect. In an interview with Guitar School, Buck later recalled, “It was really cool: Peter and I would be in our little booth, sweating away, and Bill and Mike would be out there in the other room going at it. It just had a really magical feel.” The beautiful, soaring orchestral strings, arranged by Mark Bingham, were later added to the song by members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Soundscape Studios in Atlanta, Georgia.

With regard to the compelling lyrics, Stipe has repeatedly stated they’re not about religion. The phrase “losing my religion” is a regional expression from the southern U.S. that basically means “losing one’s temper or civility” or “feeling frustrated and desperate.” Stipe told The New York Times the song was essentially about romantic expression, while he told British music magazine Q that it’s about “someone who pines for someone else. It’s unrequited love, what have you.” Well, they’re very powerful, and deeply resonated with me and millions of others.

Oh life, it’s bigger
It’s bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt, lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

Consider this
Consider this, the hint of the century
Consider this, the slip
That brought me to my knees, failed
What if all these fantasies come
Flailing around
Now I’ve said too much

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
Try, cry, why try
That was just a dream
Just a dream
Just a dream, dream

The beautiful and rather surreal music video for “Losing My Religion” was directed by Indian director Tarsem Singh. Stipe wanted a straightforward performance video, however, Singh wanted to create a video in the style of a type of Indian filmmaking, where everything would be melodramatic and very dreamlike. Singh won the argument, which among other things, required that Stipe lip sync the lyrics rather than sing them on the video. Singh has said the video is modeled after the Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” in which an angel crashes into a town and the villagers have varied reactions to him. He also drew inspiration from the Italian painter Caravaggio, and the video features portrayals of religious imagery such as Saint Sebastian, the Biblical episode of the “Incredulity of St. Thomas’, and various Hindu deities. The video was nominated in nine categories at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, and won six, including Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Art Direction, Best Direction, and Best Editing. [Wikipedia]

EML’s Favorite Songs – TINA TURNER: “What’s Love Got to Do With It”

Tina Turner

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of my Favorite Songs, so thought I’d get back into the groove with my favorite Tina Turner song “What’s Love Got to Do With It“. Not only is it one of my favorite songs of all time, but Tina is also one of my all-time favorite female singers. And quite honestly, who doesn’t love Tina! One of the best live concerts I’ve ever seen was Tina Turner on her What’s Love? Tour in September 1993 (with Chris Isaak opening for her at the Cal Expo Amphitheatre in Sacramento, California).

Born Anna Mae Bullock in Tennessee in 1939 (hard to believe she’s now 80!), Tina Turner lived part of her rather troubled childhood (thanks to dysfunctional parents) in the town of Nutbush (which she immortalized in her 1973 hit “Nutbush City Limits”), but moved to St. Louis when she was 16 to live with her mother. It was there that she eventually met musician Ike Turner, and began singing with his band Kings of Rhythm by the time she was 18. In 1960, Ike Turner wrote the song “A Fool in Love” for singer Art Lassiter, with Bullock to sing along with Lassiter’s backing vocalists the Artettes. But when Lassiter failed to show up for the recording session, Bullock suggested that she sing lead instead. Ike recorded her on a demo with the intention of erasing her vocals and adding Lassiter’s at a later date. When local St. Louis DJ Dave Dixon heard the demo, he convinced Turner to send the tape to Juggy Murray of R&B label Sue Records, who was so impressed he bought the rights to the track and convinced Turner to make Bullock the star of his show. Well, the song became a chart hit, and Turner subsequently renamed Anna Mae Bullock ‘Tina Turner’, and his act the ‘Ike & Tina Turner Revue’, also adding a girl group called the Ikettes to sing backup to Tina.

Ike and Tina Turner went on to have a successful career, but a very tempestuous relationship, due mostly to Ike’s chronic drug use and the physical and emotional abuse he inflicted on Tina. By 1976, she’d had enough and left Ike on July 1 with only 36 cents and a Mobil gas credit card in her pocket, filing for divorce three weeks later. Tina spent the next six years performing and touring where she could get shows, becoming essentially a nostalgia act. Then in 1983 she signed with Capitol Records, and that November her marvelous cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was released. It became an international hit and peaked at #26 on the Billboard Hot 100. I remember how much I loved it, and was excited to hear Tina singing again. The song was the first single from her phenomenal comeback album Private Dancer, which she recorded in only two weeks. In May 1984 Capitol released the album, along with its second single “What’s Love Got to Do with It”.

The song went on to become Tina’s biggest hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it spent three weeks, and also reaching #1 in Canada and Australia. It’s a gorgeous R&B/pop song about the intense power of physical and sexual attraction, and how it doesn’t necessarily represent or entail feelings of love or romance. Sounds rather cynical, but I know from experience that it’s completely true. Of course, an underlying theme could be that the singer is intentionally protecting themselves from getting hurt by framing their strong sexual attraction as being merely physical.

Musically, the song has a sultry vibe, with shimmery guitars, soulful rhythms and an enchanting flute that really does it for me. Tina’s powerful smoky vocals are spectacular, with a raw vulnerability that’s strongly evident. She has the ability to seduce with a sensuous purr one moment, then chill us with impassioned wails the next.

You must understand though the touch of your hand
Makes my pulse react
That it’s only the thrill of boy meeting girl
Opposites attract
It’s physical
Only logical
You must try to ignore that it means more than that

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

It may seem to you that I’m acting confused
When you’re close to me
If I tend to look dazed I’ve read it someplace
I’ve got cause to be
There’s a name for it
There’s a phrase that fits
But whatever the reason you do it for me

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

I’ve been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I’ve been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way oh oh oh

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a sweet old fashioned notion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken
ooh got to do with it

The song has an interesting back story. It was written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, and originally pitched to British singer Cliff Richard, who rejected it. It was then given to American singer Phyllis Hyman, who wanted to do the song but Clive Davis, the head of her label Arista Records, would not allow her to record it. It was then offered to Donna Summer, who allegedly sat on it for a couple of years but never recorded it, then offered to British pop group Bucks Fizz. Bucks Fizz band singer Jay Aston wanted to sing lead on the track after hearing the demo, but was told by their producer that it was unsuitable for a female lead vocal. Then Tina got her hands on it and the rest is history.

Bucks Fizz did ultimately record the song in February 1984, but it was sung by male band member Bobby G. It was intended for possible inclusion on their next album I Hear Talk, but was shelved when Tina Turner released her version first. The Bucks Fizz version went unreleased until it was included on a re-issue of their Are You Ready album in 2000. (Wikipedia)

For comparison, here’s the Bucks Fizz version, which ain’t too bad actually:

EML’s Favorite Songs – MARTY ROBBINS: “El Paso”

Marty-Robbins-El-Paso-1518727629-640x623

I’ve always liked songs with great stories, and no music genre excels at storytelling more than Country. One of the best story songs of all time has to be the haunting ballad “El Paso” by Country legend Marty Robbins. My parents had his greatest hits album, so as a young kid I heard a lot of Marty Robbins. Born Martin David Robinson in the Phoenix, Arizona suburb of Glendale, he was one of the most popular artists of what back then was called ‘Country and Western’ music. In addition to his singing career, he also acted in several films and was a successful race car driver, competing in 35 NASCAR national races, with six top 10 finishes.

“El Paso” was written by Robbins, and tells the story of a guy who meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman named Felina in an El Paso cantina. Even though she resists his advances, he becomes jealous when another guy hits on her, and challenges him to a duel, ending up shooting and killing the man. He flees for his life, but can’t stop thinking about Felina. And so, despite the danger, he decides to return to El Paso to see her, only to be shot and killed by cowboys on the lookout. The song was released in October 1959 and shot (no pun intended) to the top of both the Billboard Country and Pop charts in early 1960. It went on to win a Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording in 1961, and remains Robbins’ biggest hit and best-known song.

It’s considered one of the greatest Country music classics for its gripping narrative that ends in the death of its protagonist, Robbins’ beautiful vocals, as well as the sublime backing harmonies by Bobby Sykes and Jim Glaser, and the distinctive Spanish guitar accompaniment by Grady Martin that gives the song a Tex-Mex feel (having grown up in Arizona, Robbins was fond of Mexican music, and wanted the flavor of a Mexican guitar used in the song).

The song runs well over four minutes, far longer than most singles played on the radio at the time, which generally ran 2:30-3 minutes. Robbins’ label Columbia Records was unsure whether radio stations would play it, so released a shorter, three-minute-long version which obviously omitted quite a few lyrics. Most of the record-buying public, however, as well as most DJs, overwhelmingly preferred the full-length version. An interesting aspect of the song is that it has no chorus, but rather one stanza following the next as the saga unfolds.

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl
Nighttime would find me in Rosa’s cantina
Music would play and Felina would whirl

Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina
Wicked and evil while casting a spell
My love was deep for this Mexican maiden
I was in love, but in vain I could tell

One night a wild young cowboy came in
Wild as the West Texas wind
Dashing and daring, a drink he was sharing
With wicked Felina, the girl that I loved

So in anger I challenged his right for the love of this maiden
Down went his hand for the gun that he wore
My challenge was answered in less than a heartbeat
The handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor

Just for a moment I stood there in silence
Shocked by the foul evil deed I had done
Many thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there
I had but one chance and that was to run

Out through the back door of Rosa’s I ran
Out where the horses were tied
I caught a good one, it looked like it could run
Up on its back and away I did ride
Just as fast as I could from the West Texas town of El Paso
Out to the badlands of New Mexico

Back in El Paso my life would be worthless
Everything’s gone in life nothing is left
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the young maiden
My love is stronger than my fear of death

I saddled up and away I did go
Riding alone in the dark
Maybe tomorrow a bullet may find me
Tonight nothing’s worse than this pain in my heart

And at last here I am on the hill overlooking El Paso
I can see Rosa’s Cantina below
My love is strong and it pushes me onward
Down off the hill to Felina I go

Off to my right I see five mounted cowboys
Off to my left ride a dozen or more
Shouting and shooting, I can’t let them catch me
I have to make it to Rosa’s back door

Something is dreadfully wrong, for I feel
A deep burning pain in my side
Though I am trying to stay in the saddle
I’m getting weary, unable to ride

But my love for Felina is strong and I rise where I’ve fallen
Though I am weary, I can’t stop to rest
I see the white puff of smoke from the rifle
I feel the bullet go deep in my chest

From out of nowhere Felina has found me
Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side
Cradled by two loving arms that I’ll die for
One little kiss, then Felina good-bye

EML’s Favorite Songs – PATSY CLINE: “Crazy”

I’ve really been enjoying the Ken Burns series Country Music that’s been airing on PBS the past few weeks, and it’s reminded me of several classic country songs that I love. So, over the next week or two, I’ll be writing about a few of my personal favorites, the first of which is “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. The beautiful but heartbreaking song was Cline’s highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #9 and reaching #2 on the Country Chart, and has endured as one of the most popular and beloved songs of all time in the 58 years since its release. It was stated in the Country Music series that it’s the most-played jukebox track of all time.

Patsy_Cline-1962_EP

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, Cline is considered one of the most important and influential female vocalists of the 20th Century, and one of the first country music artists to successfully crossover onto the pop charts. With her deep, resonant singing voice and ability to convey strong feelings of emotional pain and longing, she could bring even the biggest cynic to their knees. The Washington Star magazine beautifully described the essence of her vocal style: “She creates the moods through movement of her hands and body and by the lilt of her voice, reaching way down deep in her soul to bring forth the melody. Most female country music vocalists stand motionless, singing with a monotonous high-pitched nasal twang. Patsy’s come up with a throaty style loaded with motion and E-motion.

After a slow start, with a series of singles she recorded for Four Star Records failing to become hits, Cline finally had her first break-out hit “Walkin’ After Midnight” on the Decca Records label in 1957. Then, surprisingly, she didn’t have another chart hit until 1961’s “I Fall to Pieces”. In June of that year, she and her brother were in a near-fatal head-on car crash in which she was thrown through the windshield, suffering a severe cut to her forehead that narrowly missed her eyes and left her with a huge scar. After recovering well enough from the accident, though still in pain, she recorded “Crazy”. And oh man, that pain seems to emanate from her very core when she delivers those poignant lyrics with such conviction that we believe every word.

Like with many classic songs, “Crazy” has an interesting back story.  Cline’s husband Charlie Dick actually first heard the song one night on a jukebox while waiting for her in a bar. It was a recording by Paul Buskirk and His Little Men, featuring Hugh Nelson – now known as Willie Nelson – who wrote the song. Dick thought it would be a perfect song for her, and approached Nelson about them recording his song, to which he agreed. He then pitched it to Cline, who didn’t like it, and didn’t want to record it. She considered herself a country singer, and didn’t particularly like the vulnerable heartbroken sound of songs like “Crazy.” But her record producer Owen Bradley believed those songs were exactly right for her, and ultimately convinced her to record it.

Bradley wanted to produce a new and more sophisticated form of country music by adding more instrumentation and background vocals to create a fuller, richer sound. He brought in The Jordanaires, who also sang backup on a lot of Elvis Presley’s songs, and hired young piano player Floyd Cramer, as well as bass guitarist Bob Moore. Cline listened to Buskirk & Nelson’s version of “Crazy” and decided she would perform it differently, removing a spoken section that was featured on the original recording.  When the song was set to be recorded on August 17, 1961, Cline first performed some other material, and by the time they got to “Crazy”, she was tired and had difficulty singing the song’s higher notes due to residual rib pain from the car accident. Bradley sent her home to rest while the musicians laid down the instrumentals without her. A week later she returned and recorded her vocal in a single take. As we can all attest, it was perfect, and the rest is history.

Her untimely death less than two years later was a terrible loss, and we can only imagine how many more wonderful songs she could have given the world.

Crazy
I’m crazy for feeling so lonely
I’m crazy
Crazy for feeling so blue

I knew
You’d love me as long as you wanted
And then some day
You’d leave me for somebody new

Worry
Why do I let myself worry?
Wondering
What in the world did I do?

Oh, crazy
For thinking that my love could hold you
I’m crazy for trying
And crazy for crying
And I’m crazy for loving you

Crazy
For thinking that my love could hold you
I’m crazy for trying
And crazy for crying
And I’m crazy for loving you

EML’s Favorite Songs – EDDIE MONEY: “Take Me Home Tonight”

EDDIE MONEY AT TOY FAIR TO PROMOTE THE ALEKEN GAMES, NEW YORK, AMERICA - 14 FEB 2006
Photo by Dave Allocca/Starpix/Shutterstock (5633649d)

I was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Eddie Money yesterday from a heart attack at the age of 70. He’d recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer, but his death was apparently related to complications from heart valve surgery a few months ago. He was a great artist who had a long career with its ups and downs, but I’m safe in saying he was beloved by many. I have a special fondness for him because he actually followed me on Twitter! Money had a string of hits, beginning with “Baby Hold On” in 1978, but my favorite of all his songs was “Take Me Home Tonight“. I loved it from the first moment I heard it, and it remains one of my favorite songs of the 80s.

Born Edward Mahoney in Brooklyn, New York, Money started out as a police offer for the NYPD. He relocated to Berkeley, California in the late 60s, where he began his music career performing in Bay Area clubs. In 1976, he met Bill Graham, then a major music impresario and concert promoter in San Francisco who would eventually become his manager. Money landed his first record deal with Columbia Records, who released his debut self-titled album Eddie Money in 1977. The album generated his first two big hits “Baby Hold On” and “Two Tickets to Paradise”, both of which charted in 1978. Later that year, he released his follow up album Life For the Taking. The album did not perform quite as well, but it did produce one modest hit “Maybe I’m A Fool”, which is among my favorites of his songs.

Beginning in the late 70s and continuing on and off for many years, Money struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, including a 1981 incident in which he nearly died from an overdose of fentanyl. Still, he turned out some great work, most notably his albums No Control in 1982 and his 1986 comeback album of sorts Can’t Hold Back, which featured what would turn out to be his biggest hit – “Take Me Home Tonight”. His 1988 release Nothing to Lose was also very good, producing another of his greatest songs “Walk On Water”.

“Take Me Home Tonight” is a sexy, exhilarating song that’s brilliant on so many levels. Not only is it a spectacular pop-rock song from a musical standpoint, the lyrics are powerful and raw, and Money never sounded better. But perhaps the greatest thing about the song is the added performance by the legendary Ronnie Spector, who samples her 1963 Ronettes hit “Be My Baby”, taking the song into the sonic stratosphere.

From the moment we first hear those dramatic strings,  guitar licks and pounding drumbeats, the song hooks us in and never lets go. As Money begins to croon with a palpable sexual urgency, the music expands with more guitar, bass, heavier drumbeats and aggressive tinkling piano keys. When Ronnie Spector finally enters with “Be my little baby”, the sexual tension between her and Money is positively electrifying. The music continues to build to a crescendo with a wailing sax riff, and I’m covered from head to toe with goosebumps! “Take Me Home Tonight” is a masterpiece, and a classic for the ages.

I feel a hunger, it’s a hunger that tries to keep a man awake at night
Are you the answer? I shouldn’t wonder when I feel you whet my appetite
With all the power you’re releasing
It isn’t safe to walk the city streets alone
Anticipation is running through me
Let’s find the key and turn this engine on

I can feel you breathe
I can feel your heart beat faster, faster, oh
Take me home tonight
I don’t want to let you go till you see the light
Take me home tonight
Listen honey just like Ronnie sang: “Be my little baby”

I get frightened in all this darkness
I get nightmares I hate to sleep alone
I need some company
A guardian angel to keep me warm when the cold winds blow

I can feel you breathe
I can feel your heart beat faster, faster, oh

Take me home tonight
I don’t want to let you go till you see the light
Take me home tonight
Listen honey just like Ronnie sang:
“Be my little baby Be my little baby”

Just like Ronnie sang, I said just like Ronnie sang:
“Be my little baby, baby my darling. Oh oh oh oh oh”
I feel a hunger it’s a hunger

Take me home tonight
I don’t want to let you go till you see the light
Take me home tonight
Listen honey just like Ronnie sang: “Be my little baby”
Take me home tonight
I don’t want to let you go till you see the light
Take me home tonight
Listen honey just like Ronnie sang: “Be my little baby
Oh be my darling, oh oh oh oh

EML’s Favorite Songs – THE BROTHERS JOHNSON: “Strawberry Letter 23”

Strawberry Letter 23

One of my favorite songs from the 1970s, or of all time for that matter, is “Strawberry Letter 23” from R&B/funk band The Brothers Johnson. It was one of the defining songs of my summer of 1977, when I spent two glorious months in Portland, Oregon before starting college. The track was written by the brilliant singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Shuggie Otis in 1971, whose own original version was featured on his album Freedom Flight.

It’s a romantic song with a dreamy, almost mystical vibe, thanks to the whimsical lyrics and his use of chiming guitars, xylophone, calliope and other sparkling synth instrumental sounds. For their recording of the song, which was masterfully produced by the legendary Quincy Jones, The Brothers Johnson embellished on all those lovely instruments and added their own funky guitar, bass, beats and smooth vocal harmonies, along with a dreamy backing vocal chorus. The result was a gorgeous and captivating track that took the song to the next level.

The song was included on their 1977 album Right On Time, and reached #1 on the Billboard R&B Chart and #5 on the Hot 100. It’s been featured in several films and TV shows, including Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Six Feet Under and Nip/Tuck. Otis’ version was featured in the film Munich.

I’d originally wondered why the song was titled “Strawberry Letter 23” when the lyrics speak of “Strawberry Letter 22” instead. The reason is that Otis intended for the song to be about a couple exchanging love letters in the form of songs. The singer is creating “Strawberry Letter 23” as a reply to the “Strawberry Letter 22” song he received from his lover and refers to in the song.

Hello my love, I heard a kiss from you
Red magic satin playing near, too
All through the morning rain I gaze, the sun doesn’t shine
Rainbows and waterfalls run through my mind
In the garden, I see
West purple shower bells and tea
Orange birds and river cousins dressed in green

Pretty music, I hear
So happy and loud
Blue flowers echo from a cherry cloud
Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue
Playgrounds will laugh
If you try to ask “Is it cool? Is it cool?”
If you arrive and don’t see me
I’m going to be with my baby
I am free, flying in her arms
Over the sea

Stained window, yellow candy screen
See speakers of kite
With velvet roses diggin’ freedom flight
A present from you
Strawberry letter 22
The music plays I sit in for a few

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh

For comparison, here’s the original version by Shuggie Otis:

EML’s Favorite Songs – LESLEY GORE: “You Don’t Own Me”

Lesley Gore You Don't Own Me

I heard something on the radio today about how the defiant – and now iconic – anthem of female empowerment “You Don’t Own Me“, which was a big hit for young pop singer Lesley Gore, was actually written by two men, John Madara and David White. It reminded me of how much I’ve always loved this song.

Gore possessed a remarkable voice with a maturity beyond her young age, and had a string of hits while still in high school. She recorded her first breakout single “It’s My Party” when she was only 16 (the song went on to become a #1 hit), and followed in quick succession with “Judy’s Turn to Cry”, “She’s a Fool” and “You Don’t Own Me”, which she recorded at the age of 17. For a brief time period, she was one of the most popular female singers in the U.S.

As good as Gore’s vocals were, the song’s greatness must partly be attributed to the flawless production by a young Quincy Jones, who also produced her other hits. He used lush, sweeping orchestration to great effect, enhancing the drama of the mesmerizing melody. “You Don’t Own Me” peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February-March 1964, where it spent three weeks, held down by the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, which spent seven weeks at #1.

Despite her youth, Gore’s commanding vocals make her sound totally credible when she sings the lyrics telling a lover that they do not own her, that they can’t tell her what to do or say, and that they are not to put her on display.

You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys
You don’t own me, don’t say I can’t go with other boys

And don’t tell me what to do
And don’t tell me what to say
And please when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display, ’cause
You don’t own me, don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me, don’t tie me down ’cause I’d never stay

Oh, I don’t tell you what to say
I don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you
I’m young and I love to be young
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please

And don’t tell me what to do
Oh… don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display

I don’t tell you what to say
Oh-h-h-h don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you
I’m young and I love to be young
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please

The song has been covered many times, most notably by Dusty Springfield, Joan Jett, the Blow Monkeys and, more recently, in a darker and interesting version by Australian singer/songwriter Grace, featuring American rapper G-Eazy. The song was also a highlight of the 1996 film The First Wives Club, where in a delightfully gratifying scene at the end of the film, Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn perform the song as they leave the building.

Cover photo by David Redfern.

EML’s Favorite Songs – CARPENTERS: “Superstar”

Superstar-Carpenters

From the moment I first heard “(They Long to Be) Close to You” in the early summer of 1970 until the mid-1970s, the Carpenters were one of my favorite acts. Their music was beautiful, with the kind of lush orchestration I’ve always loved, and Karen Carpenter had the voice of an angel. I loved them so much I actually wrote a paper about them for my 11th grade English class – perhaps an early presage to my much later calling as a music blogger? They had a successful run of huge hits from 1970-1975, and one of my favorites is the bittersweet “Superstar“.

The song was written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell, and originally titled “Groupie Song”. But when it was recorded by Delaney & Bonnie and released as a B-side on their single “Comin’ Home” in December 1969, it was re-titled “Groupie (Superstar)”. The song tells the story of a female groupie’s one-night stand with a rock star, whom she hopes will return to her. It was covered by a number of artists, including Joe Cocker (on his Mad Dogs & Englishmen Live Tour album, with vocals sung by Rita Coolidge), Bette Midler (on her debut album The Divine Miss M), Cher, and Australian rock group McPhee, among others. But it was the Carpenters version that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and became one of their biggest hits, peaking at #2 (Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” had a 5-week run at #1 in the fall of 1971, preventing “Superstar” from reaching the top).

The story goes that Richard Carpenter first became aware of “Superstar” after hearing it sung by a relatively unknown Bette Midler on The Tonight Show in 1971. He loved the song and thought it would be perfect for Karen, and wrote a new arrangement to fit their style. Shockingly, when he played it for her, she wasn’t thrilled with the song. She later recalled “For some reason that tune didn’t hit me in the beginning. It’s the only one. Richard looked at me like I had three heads. He said: ‘Are you out of your mind!‘” But after they recorded the song, she grew to love it too.

“Superstar” was produced by Richard Carpenter with Jack Daugherty, and recorded with members of The Wrecking Crew, the famed collective of Los Angeles area session musicians. As the song’s storyline was originally more risqué than what was typical for the Carpenters, Richard changed a lyric in the second verse “And I can hardly wait to sleep with you again” to the somewhat less suggestive “And I can hardly wait to be with you again.”

The song is breathtakingly beautiful, with rich orchestral instrumentation highlighted by a soaring horn section, gorgeous oboe played by Earle Dumler, a somber, understated bassline by Joe Osborn, drums by the legendary Hal Blaine (even though Karen was herself an accomplished drummer), and a lovely keyboards by Richard Carpenter. Karen’s distinctive contralto vocals never sounded better or more resonant, beautifully conveying the fervent longing for someone you love to return and ease your loneliness. “Superstar” is one of my favorite songs of the 1970s, and for all time.

Long ago and oh so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show
Your guitar it sounds so sweet and clear
But you’re not really here
It’s just the radio

Don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby oh baby
I love you, I really do

Loneliness is such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again
What to say to make you come again…ooh baby
Come back to me again…baby
And play your sad guitar

Don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby oh baby
I love you, I really do

I still remember the exact moment in February 1983 when I heard that Karen Carpenter had died from heart failure at the age of only 32, as a result from years of suffering with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. I was in my car on the way to a meeting, and nearly burst into tears. Like so many other great artists and musicians who passed away far too soon, Karen’s death was a tremendous loss to the music world.

EML’s Favorite Songs – JUNIOR WALKER & the ALL STARS: “What Does it Take (To Win Your Love)”

Jr Walker What Does It Take

Few popular artists of the 1960s – or any other decade for that matter – could play the saxophone like Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., better known as Junior Walker. Along with with his band the All Stars, Junior Walker had a string of hits from the early 1960s through the early 1980s, including the fantastic “Shotgun” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” (Walker also went on to play sax on the great Foreigner song “Urgent” in 1981.) But my absolute favorite was “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)”, which was a big hit for them in 1969. It has one of the best intros of any song ever. That opening bass riff, followed by Walker’s wailing sax, are fucking incredible, sending chills up and down my spine that remain there through the song’s entire two and a half minute run time.

The song was written by Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua and Vernon Bullock and, shockingly, was initially rejected for single release by a Motown quality control group. Thankfully, several radio station DJs chose to play the song, making it gain popularity, and prompted Motown executives to reverse their decision and ultimately release it as a single. It became a huge hit, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B chart. It’s one of my favorite songs of 1969.

What does it take to win your love for me?
How can I make this dream come true for me?
Oh, I just got to know
Ooh baby, cause I love you so
Gonna blow for you

I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried in every way I could
To make you see how much I love you
Ooh I thought you understood
So you gotta make me see
What does it take to win your love for me?
Gonna blow again for you