Saturday, November 19, 2016

"Baby Love" by The Supremes

It was today in 1964 that The Supremes hit no. 1 on the UK singles chart with "Baby Love". Not only was it their first number one record in the United Kingdom, but it also made them the first girl group to ever have a number one record there. The song also hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, where it was their second no. 1 (after "Where Did Our Love Go") and the second of five consecutive no.1 records.

Like "Where Did Our Love Go?", "Baby Love" was written by songwriting and production team Holland–Dozier–Holland (Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland). At Motown Records owner Barry Gordy's request, "Baby Love" was written and recorded to sound a little bit like "Where Did Our Love Go?", down to the backing vocals. Curiously, while "Baby Love" was a huge hit across the globe, at the 1965 Grammy Awards it lost the award for  Best Rhythm & Blues Recording to  "How Glad I Am" by Nancy Wilson.

Here, without further is "Baby Love" by The Supremes.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: Rick and Louis in Casablanca

(If you haven't ever seen Casablanca, you might not want to read this post. Warning: Here there be spoilers!!!)

When people think of Casablanca (1942), it is most likely the romance between Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart) and  Ilsa Lund (played by Ingrid Bergman) that comes to mind. What people often forget is that it is not the only story about a relationship in the film. A good deal of Casablanca is devoted to the friendship between  Café Américain owner Rick Blaine and corrupt government official Captain Louis Renault (played by Claude Rains). In fact, in many ways Casablanca is as much about the redemption of Louis Renault as it is Rick Blaine's feelings for Ilsa.

In the beginning of the film Captain Renault is a corrupt official, something he freely admits. He openly takes bribes. He has a bill at Rick's Café Américain, but he never pays it. He cooperates with the Nazis, even though doing so goes against his own personal political beliefs. At the same time, however, there are clues that Louis is merely doing what he has to survive, not to mention support his lavish lifestyle, and that he is ultimately a good man. Indeed, he keeps Rick's Café Américain open, even though he knows visas have been sold there. While he denies it, I have to think Louis suspects that even Rick has sold visas at the club. Of course, Rick claims that Renault keeps the club open because he lets him win at roulette (something to which Louis admits). Despite this,  I have to think that much of the reason that Louis keeps the club open is of his friendship with Rick.

What is more, I think it's likely Louis admires Rick because Rick ultimately has principles. At one point Captain Renault points out that Rick ran guns to Ethiopia in 1935 (this would have been during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, when Ethiopia fought the invading Fascist Italy) and in 1936 Rick fought on the Loyalist side in Spain. As Louis points out, in neither case was Rick on the winning side. Louis also admits to Ilsa that were he a woman and he was not around, he would be in love with Rick. When Major Strasser (played by Conrad Veidt) refers to Rick as "...another blundering American," Captain Renault warns him against underestimating "American blundering".  Even when Louis tells Rick that he is going to miss him because he is the only one with less scruples than he has, it seems clear that he thinks Rick does indeed have scruples. What is more, it is clear that he wishes he had scruples as well.

That Louis does have some scruples can be seen on those occasions when he lets his own personal beliefs slip. He even does this with Major Strasser, a Nazi who could easily have him sent to a concentration camp. When Captain Renault tells Rick that they are honoured as Major Strasser "is one of the reasons the Third Reich enjoys the reputation it has today.", Strasser points out that he says "'Third Reich' as if he expected there to be others." It seems clear that while Louis cooperates with the Nazis, he has no respect for them. Combined with his admiration of Rick, it would seem Captain Renault does have some morals, even if he has chosen to ignore them for the moment.

One has to suspect that on some level Rick realises there is a good man deep inside Captain Renault. Indeed, Rick trusts Louis more than one would reasonably expect the proprietor of a nightclub to trust a corrupt official (even a poor one). And one has to suspect that trust has to go further than knowing Captain Renault can be paid off with a big enough bribe. I think that perhaps Rick saw in Louis a bit of kindred spirit. Rick lost his way when his heart was broken by Ilsa. Louis lost his way when his home was invaded by the Nazis. While Rick has the strength to somewhat stand by his convictions, he perhaps realises that Renault does not. Rick may well realise that Louis was an essentially good man who found himself in dire circumstances and simply did what he had to do in order to survive (not to mention continue his life of women and gambling).

Fortunately, Rick does ultimately bring out the good in Captain Louis Renault. Louis watches as Rick sacrifices rekindling his romance with Ilsa in order to help in the fight against fascism. This gives Louis the strength to make his own stand. When Rick shoots Major Strasser, Louis simply advises the local police to "round up the usual suspects", full well knowing it was Rick who shot the Major. And it is Louis who suggests to Rick that they join the Free French in Brazzaville. In the end Captain Louis Renault is redeemed by the sacrifice Rick made to aid in the war.

At the end of Casablanca Rick tells Louis, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." While it would seem that Rick and Louis had been friends all along, the statement affirms that both men have once more regained the strength to stand by their convictions. One can only think that the two of them served valiantly in the Free French Forces and ultimately came out of the war the better for it. Whether Rick ever reunited with Ilsa is debatable, but I have to believe Rick and Louis remained friends throughout the war and beyond.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Coz I Luv You" by Slade

It was forty five years ago today, on November 17 1971, that "Coz I Luv You" by Slade hit no. 1 on the UK singles chart. It was the first of Slade's six number one records. "Coz I Luv You" was phenomenally successful. It was released on October 8 1971 and reached the number one spot in only a matter of weeks. Reportedly, "Coz I Luv You" sold half a million copies in two weeks alone. It also remained at the number one spot for four weeks. Besides being Slade's first number one record, "Coz I Luv You" started a tradition with Slade of misspelling their song titles, something that caused school teachers no end of frustration. Slade's other number one singles to feature the trademark misspellings were "Mama Weer All Crazee Now", "Cum On Feel the Noize", and "Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me".

Here, without further ado, is Slade's "Coz I Luv You".

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Leon Russell Passes On

Leon Russell, pianist, guitarist, songwriter, and session musician, died on November 13 at the age of 74. The cause was a severe heart attack.

Leon Russell was born Claude Russell Bridges in Lawton, Oklahoma on April 2 1942. He began studying music at a very young age. At age 4 he started classical piano lessons. In his high school band he played baritone horn and also learned to play the trumpet. He began playing gigs when he was only 14 years old.

It was in 1958 that he moved to Los Angeles and began working as a session musician and playing in clubs. It was during this period that he learned to play guitar. As a session musician he played on records by such diverse artists as Jan and Dean, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Freddy Cannon, Doris Day, Ray Charles, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, The Band, B. B. King, Bob Dylan, and many others. He was part of the house band of the TV show Shindig!, which aired on ABC from 1964 to 1966. He was also part of the house band of the concert film The T.A.M.I. Show.

In 1967 he built his own home studio. He and guitarist Marc Benno began working together under the name The Asylum Choir. Their first album, Look Inside the Asylum Choir, was released in 1968. A second album, Asylum Choir II, was delayed because of contract disputes. It was released in 1971 after The Asylum Choir had broken up.

In 1969 Leon Russell founded his own label, Shelter Records. He also responsible for forming Joe Cocker's new band,  Mad Dogs & Englishmen, when the Grease Band broke up. Mr. Russell performed with the band during the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and appeared in the tour film as well.

It was in 1970 that Leon Russell's first solo album, Leon Russell, was released. The album contained the original version of "A Song for You", which would be covered by artists from Andy Williams to Amy Winehouse. Mr. Russell released several albums throughout the Seventies. His song "Tight Rope", from his 1972 album Carney, hit no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. His single "Lady Blue", from his 1975 album Will O' the Wisp, went to no. 14. Leon Russell also produced tracks for Bob Dylan, and collaborated with blues guitarist Freddie King on three albums. He was instrumental in giving Tulsa basedd funk group The Gap Band their start. He also played on records released by Badfinger, B. B. King, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan. He collaborated with Willie Nelson on two albums.

Leon Russell released fewer albums in the Eighties. Of those, two concentrated on country music. Hank Wilson Vol. II was recorded under the pseudonym "Hank Wilson" that he used for many of his country releases.  Solid State was a country blues album that he released as Leon Russell.  The Nineties saw Leon Russell release more albums than he had in the previous decade, including a Christmas album (Hymns of Christmas). The Naughts saw Leon Russell release several more albums than he had in either the Eighties or the Nineties. He collaborated with Elton John and Bernie Taupin on the album The Union.  In the Teens he released several more albums.

Leon Russell was one of the most talented pianists in rock history. While he could play guitar and play it well, it was always on the piano where he was at his best. Of course, he was also a talented songwriter. While Leon Russell would have only two singles that would hit the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100, he wrote several memorable songs that would be covered by others. His song "Delta Lady" was covered by Bobbie Gentry as "Delta Man". His song "Bluebird" was covered by Helen Reddy and peaked at no. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100. His song "This Masquerade" was covered by Helen Reddy, The Carpenters, George Benson, and others. As a session musician, a solo artist, and a songwriter Leon Russell was immensely talented. His influence will be continued to be felt for years to come. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Late Great Leonard Cohen

Poet, novelist, and songwriter Leonard Cohen died on November 7 2016 at the age of 82.

Leonard Cohen was born on September 21 1934 in Westmount, Quebec. His paternal grandfather was Lyon Cohen, co-founder of the Canadian Jewish Times, the first English language Jewish newspaper in Canada, and the first president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. His father, Nathan Cohen, owned a successful clothing store. His mother, Masha (née Klonitzky), was a nurse and the daughter of Talmudic writer, Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline. Leonard Cohen's father died when Leonard Cohen was only nine years old.

Leonard Cohen attended Roslyn Elementary School in Westmount. He attended several years at Herzliah High School in Montreal before transferring to  Westmount High School. He became interested in poetry and music while still in school, and became particularly interested in the work of  Federico García Lorca. He taught himself to play acoustic guitar.

In 1951 Leonard Cohen enrolled at McGill University in Montreal. The magazine CIV/n published his first poems in March 1954. Leonard Cohen graduated from McGill University in 1955. It was in 1956 that his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published. Mr. Cohen furthered his education with a term at the law school of McGill University and then a year at the School of General Studies at Columbia University. His next book of poems, The Spice-Box of Earth, was published in 1961. It was followed by the novel The Favourite Game in 1963 and another book of poems, Flowers for Hitler, 1964. Another novel,  Beautiful Losers, was published in 1966.

Leonard Cohen made little money from his writing upon the initial publication of his books, and as a result he turned to songwriting. He wrote the songs "Suzanne" and "Dress Rehearsal Rag" in 1966. Both were recorded by Judy Collins and appeared on her album In My Life. Miss Collins also released "Suzanne" as a single. Mr. Cohen released his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967.  Many of the songs on the album would be covered by other artists. "Suzanne" was recorded by Noel Harrison, Neil Diamond, Tori Amos, Nick Cave, Peter Gabriel, and others. "Sisters of Mercy" was recorded by Judy Collins and The Chieftains; it also provided the name of the Goth band The Sisters of Mercy. "So Long Marianne" was recorded by Brian Hyland and the band James.

In the late Sixties and in the Seventies Leonard Cohen followed his first album with four more albums (Songs from a Room in 1969, Songs of Love and Hate in 1971, New Skin for the Old Ceremony in 1974, Death of a Ladies' Man in 1977, and Recent Songs in 1979). As with his first album, many of his songs would be covered by others. "Story of Isaac", from Songs from a Room, was covered by Suzanne Vega and others.  "Famous Blue Raincoat", from Songs of Love and Hate, was recorded by Jennifer Warnes, Tori Amos, and others. "Ballad of the Absent Mare", from Recent Songs, was covered by  Emmylou Harris and others. Mr. Cohen also published two more books: The Energy of Slaves in 1972 and Death of a Lady's Man in 1978.

It would be in 1984 that what might be Leonard Cohen's most covered song appeared on the album Various Positions. "Hallelujah" has been covered by such artists as John Cale, Jeff Buckley, and many, many others. Over 300 versions of the song are known to exist. It was also in 1984 that his book Book of Mercy was published. In 1988 Mr. Cohen released the album I'm Your Man.

The Nineties saw the release of Mr. Cohen's album The Future in 1992 and his book Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs in 1993. He spent most of the Nineties as a a Buddhist monk  in the Mount Baldy monastery near Los Angeles. At the time many pondered if he would ever record again, but in 2001 he released the album Ten New Songs. He followed it with Dear Heather in 2004. His book Book of Longing was published in 2006.

The Teens saw more new music from Leonard Cohen. He released the albums Old Ideas (2012), Popular Problems (2014), and, his final album, You Want It Darker (2016).  His book Poems and Songs was published in 2011 and Fifteen Poems in 2012. Leonard Cohen continued to work even as he was dying. He was working on two other musical projects and another book of poetry.

To say that Leonard Cohen was one of the greatest songwriters of all time might well be an understatement. He was certainly one of the greatest lyricists. Through his songs Mr. Cohen addressed a number of topics, both timeless and current: love, religion, despair, isolation, war, politics, and many more. His songs could at times be depressing, although even at their darkest there would always be a glimmer of hope. Mr. Cohen could even address the darkest themes with a sense of humour (as in his song "Everybody Knows").  Even when Mr. Cohen's songs did not directly address the subject of religion, his songs were always deeply spiritual. What is more, anyone could identify with Leonard Cohen's songs. He was Jewish all his life and had lived as a Buddhist monk, but his songs could be appreciated by anyone, whether they were Christian, Muslim, atheist, or someone with no particular belief system at all. Quite simply, like any great poet, Leonard Cohen addressed the human condition, and he did so with lyrics that were as often oblique as they were clear.

Throughout his career Leonard Cohen saw little success on the charts. Only his first album ever went gold. Even so, he must stand as one of the most successful songwriters of all time. There are over 300 versions of "Hallelujah" alone. With the exception of his most recent album, nearly all of his albums boasted at least one song, usually more, that was covered by multiple artists. Much of this was perhaps because Leonard Cohen's songs were much like he was: elegant and charming, yet human and approachable. While Leonard Cohen may not have seen much success on the charts, there can be no doubt he will be remembered long after many pop sensations have been forgotten.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Godspeed Kay Starr

Legendary singer Kay Starr died on November 3 2016 at the age of 94.

Kay Starr was born Katherine Starks on a reservation near Dougherty, Oklahoma on July 21 1922. Her father, Harry, was Iroquois. Her mother, Annie, was of Irish and Native American ancestry. She was still only three years old when the family moved to Dallas, Texas. Miss Starr began singing while very young. When she was seven years old her Aunt Nora entered her in a talent competition held by radio station  WRR and she won.  Afterwards she had her own fifteen minute show on the station, singing both pop and hillbilly tunes. The family eventually moved to Memphis, Tennessee. There she sang on radio station WMPS, continuing to perform both pop and hillbilly songs. It was while she was there that she and her parents decided to change her stage name to "Kay Starr", due to misspellings in her fan mail.

Kay Starr was only fifteen when she was discovered by jazz violinist Joe Venuti. Mr. Venuti hired to sing with his orchestra for his dates at the Claridge Hotel in Memphis. He was so impressed with her that he hired her to tour with his orchestra during the summer. Miss Starr toured with Joe Venuti and his orchestra for three summers in all. Performing with Joe Venuti's band led to Kay Starr performing with Bob Crosby and His Bobcats on the radio show Camel Caravan briefly in 1939, and then for a brief time with Glenn Miller and his band when their regular vocalist Marion Hutton was ill.

After graduating from high school she did further tours with Joe Venuti. She sang with  Wingy Manone's band for a time. From 1943 to 1945 she sang with Charlie Barnet's band. She was forced to take a year off from performing when she contracted pneumonia and then developed nodes on her vocal cords. She returned to performing in 1946 as a soloist. The following year she was signed by Capitol Records. She had her first hit was "You Were Only Foolin' (While I Was Falling In Love) ", which went to no. 16 on the Billboard singles chart. She followed it with "So Tired", which went to no. 7 on the singles chart and "How It Lies, How It Lies, How It Lies", which peaked at no. 28.

It would be 1950 that would see Kay Starr become a major pop star. That year she had her biggest hit so far with "Hoop-de-Doo", which peaked at no. 2. It was followed by "Bonaparte's Retreat", which peaked at no. 4. That same year her first album, Songs by Kay Starr, was released. The early Fifties would see Kay Starr have yet more hits, including "I'll Never Be Free", "Oh! Babe", "Come On-A My House", and "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)". Her biggest hit was in 1952--"Wheel of Fortune" hit the no. 1 spot on the Billboard singles chart and was certified gold.

In 1955 Kay Starr signed with RCA Victor. Unfortunately, the rise of rock 'n' roll would put an end to the string of hits she had since the late Forties. In the late Fifties she would only have two hits. "The Rock And Roll Waltz" hit no. 1 in 1956. "My Heart Reminds Me" peaked at no. 9 the following year. In 1959 Kay Starr returned to Capitol Records. While she recorded several more albums, she would only have a few hits in the Sixties. "My Heart Reminds Me" peaked at no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965. Tears and Heartaches" peaked at no. 19 in 1966. "When The Lights Go On Again (All Over The World)" peaked at no. 24 in 1968. She not only recorded several more albums, but also continued to tour.

In the late Forties Kay Starr appeared in a few films. She appeared in Stop That Dancin' Up There (1944). Make Believe Ballroom (1949), and When You're Smiling (1950). In Down to Earth (1947) she provided Adele Jergens's singing voice. On television she appeared on such shows as Four Star Revue, The Colgate Comedy Hour, Toast of the Town, The Honeymooners, Producer's Showcase, Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Hollywood Palace, and The Red Skelton Show, as well as the TV special The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957).

Kay Starr was a phenomenal singer. In fact, she was so versatile that it is difficult to pin her down to any one genre. Over the years she sang traditional pop music, jazz, the blues, hillbilly music, and Western music. Indeed, while her two best known songs ("Wheel of Fortune" and 'Rock And Roll Waltz") are traditional pop, her best work was arguably in jazz and the blues. Some even consider her to be the greatest jazz singer of all time. Certainly her voice had great range and was incredibly expressive. Kay Starr could convey any emotion she chose through her singing. What is more, her voice was absolutely explosive. One had no trouble hearing Kay Starr. She will certainly be remembered for many years to come.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Godspeed Lupita Tovar

Lupita Tovar, who starred in both American and Mexican films, died yesterday at the age of 106.

Lupita Tovar was born Guadalupe Natalia Tovar in Matías Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico on July 27 1910. Lupita had been her nickname since childhood. The family later moved to San Pedro de los Pinos near Mexico City.  In school Miss Tovar studied gymnastics and dance, and it would be this that would lead to her acting career. When she was 16 documentary filmmaker  Robert J. Flaherty and a group of talent scouts visited her gymnastics class at her school. Miss Tovar received a 7 year contract for $150 a week with Fox Studios. Her grandmother accompanied her on the train to Hollywood in 1928.

Lupita Tovar made her film debut in 1929 in a bit part in The Veiled Woman (1929). She appeared in bit parts in the films Joy Street (1929), The Black Watch (1929), and The Cock-Eyed World (1929). In 1930 she moved from Fox to Universal. Her first film with Universal was La voluntad del muerto (1930), a Spanish language version of The Cat and the Canary. It was in 1931 that she appeared in her most famous film, Universal's Spanish language version of Dracula. The film was shot on the same sets as Tod Browning's English language version, but used a different cast and director. In 1932 she appeared in Santa, the first Mexican sound film. During the Thirties she also appeared in such films as Carne de cabaret (1931), Yankee Don (1931), East of Borneo (1931), Border Law (1931), Vidas rotas (1935), Alas sobre El Chaco (1935), The Invader (1936), Blockade (1938), María (1938), The Fighting Gringo (1939), and South of the Border (1939).

In the Forties Lupita Tovar appeared in the films Two Gun Sheriff (1941), Resurrección (1943), Gun to Gun (1944), Miguel Strogoff (1944), and The Crime Doctor's Courage (1945). Her final appearance was in an episode of the anthology series Invitation Playhouse: Mind Over Murder in 1952.

Lupita Tovar married talent agent and producer Paul Kohner in 1932. Many of their descendants would go into the film industry. Their daughter was actress Susan Kohner. Their son was producer and director Pancho Kohner. Among their grandchildren were producer, director, and writer Paul Weitz and producer, director, and writer Chris Weitz.

In more recent years Miss Tovar has appeared in retrospectives of the Spanish language version of Dracula (1931), Santa, Mexican cinema, and Old Hollywood.

Lupita Tovar was certainly beautiful. In fact, with her dark hair and big eyes she was absolutely striking. She was also very talented. This is more evident than in her best known film, the Spanish version of Dracula (1931). While Helen Chandler was an adequate Mina Seward in the English language version, Miss Tovar was absolutely amazing as Eva Seward in the Spanish. Indeed, Miss Tovar brought a touch of sexuality to the role that was entirely lacking with Helen Chandler. She also gave a superb performance in Santa, playing the title character, a young woman whose husband's cheating ruins her life. While Lupita Tovar never achieved major stardom, her career was filled with memorable performances.