Occasionally, a songwriter writes a tune that’s essentially a letter to a musical peer or fellow composer. Sometimes that message is delivered in the form of a tribute and sometimes it’s delivered as an angry diatribe. Our playlist today features both but, like our opening track JAZZ THING from Gang Starr, most of our songs are marks of respect.
I like to include a little country music every now and again, especially if its by the great Johnny Cash. As a contribution to this week’s playlist, he sings about his country music idol on THE NIGHT HANK WILLIAMS CAME TO TOWN. Punk rockers The Ramones praise the rock artists who preceded them on DO YOU REMEMBER ROCK N ROLL RADIO. And then it was UK group Television Personalities, who are obviously Pink Floyd fans with I KNOW WHERE SYD BARRETT LIVES.
The most familiar soul hit on the airwaves during 1967 was Arthur Conley’s SWEET SOUL MUSIC on which he paid tribute to other great soulmen like Otis Redding and James Brown:
When it comes to soul, Stevie Wonder knows how much is owed to our jazz legends. SIR DUKE is his tribute to Duke Ellington, the influential jazz legend who died in 1974. He also acknowledges Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.
In 1980 Dexy’s Midnight Runners appeared out of nowhere, with a sound all their own. Nobody else at the time would have dreamt of producing an impassioned, brass-powered tribute to neglected 1960s soul singer Geno Washington, but they did and they took GENO to #1 in the UK.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners also recorded a version of JACKIE WILSON SAID, but I’m faithful to the original by Van Morrison which had to be part of the list too.
A little more country music was up next with the gorgeous Gillian Welch singing the ELVIS PRESLEY BLUES. This was followed closely by the one and only Ian Dury with his incredible piece of hero worship, SWEET GENE VINCENT. On this video Mick Jones of the Clash joins the band, The Blockheads. And as Dury quips to Jones: “Listen, we’ve got four chords on this one Michael!” Great band, great song. How does Mick Jones get through this number without once dropping the ciggie from his mouth? Hilarious.
Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople’s reluctant youth anthem, ALL THE YOUNG DUDES was written by David Bowie. It namechecks T-Rex and references The Beatles and The Stones. Here they are, (with Bowie on back up!), performing at the Freddie Mercury tribute at Wembley Stadium:
The wonderful Jonathan Richman never disappoints me and he delivers again for this week’s playlist. On his song VELVET UNDERGROUND he even performs a few bars of the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray in between dispensing eloquent insights into his heroes’ dark magic. How good is that!
Bono says that U2’s song STUCK IN A MOMENT YOU CAN’T GET OUT OF is a tribute to INXS singer Michael Hutchence. According to Bono it’s the conversation he wishes had actually taken place.
John Martyn, who died at a relatively early age himself, extends a concerned hand to a fading Nick Drake on the devastatingly tender SOLID AIR.
Canadian group Barenaked Ladies recorded a hit song about mental illness that references Beach Boy BRIAN WILSON. And just in case you’re wondering, Brian Wilson does do a version during his own live shows. And why wouldn’t he? It’s a great song. Fellow Canadian Allanah Myles also had a huge hit with my favourite of all the Elvis tribute songs: BLACK VELVET.
Paul Jones and Dave Kelly honour Blues legend SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON and Neil Young references Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols on HEY, HEY, MY MY (Into the Black). The line ‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’ also became infamous in modern rock after being quoted in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note.
On a cheerier note, The Saw Doctors sing I’D LOVE TO BANG THE BANGLES, which pretty much speaks for itself. If you thought that was a wild proposition, you should take a listen to Bongwater’s NICK CAVE DOLLS. But hang in for the punchline on that one. A perfect follow up to that tune is Adam Ant’s GOODIE TWO SHOES, supposedly a critique of Cliff Richards virtuous and conservative image. “Don’t drink, don’t smoke… what do you do?”
A terrific song from Dory Previn is STONE FOR BESSIE SMITH. It isn’t just about the Blues singer Bessie Smith; it’s primarily about Janis Joplin who paid for Bessie Smith’s headstone but forgot to put anything aside for her own.
Early in his career, David Bowie often wrote about artists he admired, from Lou Reed to Andy Warhol to Iggy Pop. On SONG FOR BOB DYLAN a pre-Ziggy Bowie adopted Dylan’s nasal vocal style in order to pay tribute.
Down By Law also do an excellent tribute to the best rock band in the world: I WANNA BE IN AC/DC. Me too guys, me too.
It was hard choosing a song to go out on. Yes, of course there’s American Pie and Losing My Edge and the various spats between Paul McCartney and John Lennon, but in an effort not to be too predictable I’ve chose TUNIC (Song for Karen). Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon does a beautiful job of casting herself as the tragic Karen Carpenter reporting back from heaven.
I’ve got a marathon effort lined up for the next couple of weeks and I need your help! The playlist next week will start with a song referencing Zero or less and I’ll progressively play songs in numerical order until I run out of ideas. For example I could start with Elvis Costello’s Less Than Zero progress to Yeah yeah yeah’s Zero then Bob Marley’s One Love … you get the idea. Let’s see how far I get. If you help me we could be doing this for weeks! To make it easy to participate I’ll be posting onto the Theme Park Radio Facebook page.
But in the meantime, here’s this week’s complete playlist to peruse:
Jazz Thing – Gang Starr – Moment of Truth
The Night Hank Williams Came To Town – Johnny Cash – The Best Of Johnny Cash
Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio – The Ramones Shrek OST
I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives – Television Personalities And Don’t The Kids Just Love It
Sweet Soul Music – Arthur Conley – 60’s Soul
Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life [Disc 1]
Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile) – Van Morrison
Geno – Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching For The Young Soul Rebels
Elvis Presley Blues – Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)
Sweet Gene Vincent – Ian Dury and The Blockheads – The Very Best Of Ian Dury And The Blockheads
Blackbird, Bye Bye – Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette – Bye Bye Blackbird
All The Young Dudes – Mott The Hoople – Rock Classics 60’s & 70’s Volume 2
Velvet Underground – Jonathan Richman – I, Jonathan
Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of – U2 – The Best Of 1990-2000 & B-Sides CD1
Solid Air – John Martyn – No Little Boy
Brian Wilson – Barenaked Ladies – Barenaked Radio: Easter Special
Sonny Boy Williamson – Paul Jones & Dave Kelly – Live In London
Black Velvet – Alannah Myles – The Very Best of Alannah Myles
Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black) – Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps (Live)
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat – Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um
I’d Love To Kiss The Bangles – The Saw Doctors – Play it Again Sham
Nick Cave Dolls – Bongwater – Box of Bongwater
Goody Two Shoes – Adam Ant – Antics In The Forbidden Zone
Stone For Bessie Smith – Dory Previn – Mythical Kings And Iguanas
Song For Bob Dylan – David Bowie – Hunky Dory
(I Wanna Be In) AC/DC – Down By Law – Windwardtidesandwaywardsails
Tunic (Song For Karen) – Sonic Youth – Goo (Deluxe Edition) [Disc 1]
Next week: NOUGHT TO WHATEVER (Part 1)
Anyone who listens to the show on a regular basis knows that I adore Roy Orbison and this is why: First there’s the voice. It transcends generations by singing of universal longings that touch the heart. His voice sends quivers through my spine: part country, part rock and part pop, it’s a voice that reaches something approaching perfection.
Then there are the songs: a world defined by dreams yet rooted in reality, songs that teach us something about our own vulnerability. Songs of loss and desire and loneliness and, yes, songs about love.
Roy Orbison was born on April 23, 1936 in Vernon Texas, the middle son of Orbie Lee Orbison, an oil well driller and car mechanic, and Nadine Shultz, a nurse. He was creating music as young as 6 or 7. We played interviews throughout the program, many from Roy himself and he covered his childhood, learning guitar from his father and uncle, his time at Sun Records, why he started wearing sunglasses on stage and whether he was really lonely, amongst other things. Rather than repeat all that here, let me remind you that you can listen to the Theme Park wherever you are by using your internet connection. Go to http://www.bayfm.org and press the listen button. You should hear the show in real time via your iTunes or other media player. Theme Park airs on Tuesdays 2-4pm (that’s Sydney, Australia time).
So back to the music. First up it was OOBIE DOOBIE, recorded with the Teen Kings in 1956. We followed with CLAUDETTE, a song about Orbson’s first wife, Claudette Frady. The track was recorded in 1958. Claudette died tragically in a motocycle accident in 1966. We followed with ONLY THE LONELY written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson and recorded by Orbison in 1960; it was his first major hit. Here he is performing in Australia in the 60’s:
Then it was a great triple play: BLUE ANGEL, I’M HURTIN’ and RUNNING SCARED. We also included the song LOVE HURTS, originally recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1960. Roy Orbison’s version was issued as the B-side to RUNNING SCARED which was a #1 hit, in 1961. Here’s a rare clip of Roy and his band, The Candymen, taken from a Dutch Tv Show from 1965. The concert was from the Singer Concert Zaal in Laren, Holland, during their European tour.
We had to include the next three songs from the early sixties: CANDY MAN, DREAM BABY, (about the birth of his second son with Claudette) and WORKING FOR THE MAN – a song about a Summer he worked in the Texan oil fields alongside his father.
By 1963 Orbison was touring extensively throughout the UK, Europe and Australia with The Beatles, The Stones and the Beach Boys. We played a couple of love ballads from that era: FALLING and IT’S OVER.
Roy also filled us in on his time, while on tour, with the Rolling Stones and how PRETTY WOMAN influenced them to write Satisfaction. PRETTY WOMAN, of course, went on to be a big hit and was destined to become Orbison’s signature song. Here’s a great piece of kitch from the 70’s: An American TV variety show called Pink Lady and Jeff. Pink Lady was a popular singing duo from Japan brought to America for the show. Comedian Jeff Altman was the cohost. Worth watching just to see Roy struggling to keep a straight face and also for the 70’s fashion.
I rarely dedicate a whole show to one performer. The only other time was a tribute to Michael Jackson. But, in my opinion, Orbison is one of the great rock and rollers: a forceful, yet gentle, voice capable of dynamic crescendos. He sang both heartbroken ballads and bluesy rock numbers, running up a formidable hit streak in the early Sixties. From the release of ONLY THE LONELY in 1960 to PRETTY WOMAN, a span of four years, Orbison cracked the Top Ten nine times.
Orbison’s most memorable performances were lovelorn melodramas, in which he emoted in a brooding tremulous voice. The melancholy in his songs resonated with listeners of all ages. IT’S OVER is one great example of that style. Another is CRYING. It was great to hear how he came to write that song and we listened to the version he re-recorded with kd lang in 1987. It went on to win them a Grammy Award.
After his first wife Claudette’s death in 1966, Orbison threw himself into work, which included starring in the film THE FASTEST GUITAR ALIVE, and he continued to tour. In the late 1960s, however, music was very much a part of the psychedelic movement. Orbison felt lost, later saying “[I] didn’t hear a lot I could relate to so I kind of stood there like a tree where the winds blow and the seasons change, and you’re still there and you bloom again.”
During a tour of England in 1968 he received news that his home in Tennessee had burned down and his two eldest sons had died. The property was sold to Johnny Cash, who planted an orchard on it. On March 25, 1969, Orbison married his second wife, Barbara Jacobs, and they had two children of their own.
During the 70’s several artists released covers of Orbison’s songs that performed very well. LOVE HURTS was remade by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, and again by heavy metal band Nazareth and Sonny James sent ONLY THE LONELY to # 1 on the country music charts.
Linda Ronstadt covered BLUE BAYOU in 1977, which went to No. 3 and stayed on the charts for 24 weeks. And later that year, Orbison and Emmylou Harris won a Grammy Award for their duet THAT LOVIN’ YOU FEELIN’ AGAIN. WAYMORES BLUES is from the Class of 55 album with Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. While the album was in part a tribute to Elvis Presley, it was mainly a commemoration of those young performing hopefuls who came to Sun Records in 1955 to make music in the new era o Rock and Roll.
During the 80’s Orbison participated in a number of movie soundtracks. We played two of the most prominent: LIFE FADES AWAY from the film Less Than Zero, starring Robert Downie Jnr and IN DREAMS, from the controversial film by David Lynch, BLUE VELVET.
Orbison’s return to the public eye really began in earnest in 1987 with his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the taping of a tribute concert, Black and White Night. The concert featured such disciples as Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, kd lang and Bonnie Raitt and was produced by T. Bone Burnett. Here’s a clip from the DVD. The song is UPTOWN.
It was a great pleasure to include a 7 minute interview with members of the supergroup of all supergroups: THE TRAVELLING WILBURYS: Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison. The year was 1988. We also included the song, HANDLE WITH CARE, from the album The Travelling Wilburys Vol 1.
In the same year Orbison was recording a major comeback album, Mystery Girl. It was awaiting release when Orbison suddenly died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988. The album was finalized for release in the weeks following his death through the collaborative efforts of several artists who were all friends and admirers. The album, MYSTERY GIRL, was named after the chorus from the track SHE’S A MYSTERY TO ME, written for Orbison by U2’s Bono and The Edge.
The album was released posthumously in 1989 and would join Travelling Wilburys Vol 1 on the Billboard chart. The dual success meant that Roy Orbison joined Elvis Presley as the only two singers to simultaneously have two Top 5 albums on the Billboard chart posthumously, at that time. (This record has now been smashed by Michael Jackson who dominated the Billboard Top 10 albums when he passed away this year).
But back to Roy: Mystery Girl was extremely well received and went on to become the highest-charting album of his career. We took a listen to SHE’S A MYSTERY TO ME and YOU’VE GOT IT from that album. Rather than show a performance clip, take a look at Bono and others talking about the writing and recording process of the album. Roy sings SHE’S A MYSTERY TO ME as background to the story.
There was time for more of Roy commenting on how he would like to be remembered: “I’d just like to be remembered. If my contribution to the music scene brought someone some happiness or helped them keep things together, then that would be great.” A medley of some of Roy’s best loved tunes then closed the show: I DROVE ALL NIGHT, OH PRETTY WOMAN, LANA and HEARTBREAK RADIO.
When Elvis Presley stated that Roy Orbison is “The world’s greatest singer”, we know that he wasn’t kidding, that’s for sure.
Next week: We’re going back to THE SUMMER OF LOVE. Yes, its all love beads, incense, tambourines and the great music of the Summer of 67. Peace man.Contact me if you have any suggestions. Meanwhile, here is this week’s playlist:
Childhood – Roy Orbison Interview
Ooby Dooby – Roy Orbison Interview
Ooby Dooby – Roy Orbison
Claudette – Roy Orbison
Only The Lonely – Roy Orbison
Loneliness – Roy Orbison Interview
Blue Angel – Roy Orbison
I’m Hurtin’ – Roy Orbison
Running Scared – Roy Orbison
Love Hurts – Roy Orbison
Candy Man – Roy Orbison
Dream Baby – Roy Orbison
Working For The Man – Roy Orbison
Leah – Roy Orbison
Sunglasses – Roy Orbison
Mean Woman Blues – Roy Orbison
Falling – Roy Orbison
It’s Over – Roy Orbison
Oh, Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
Crying – Roy Orbison interview
Crying – Roy Orbison & kd lang
Blue Bayou – Linda Ronstadt
That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again – Roy Orbison with Emmylou Harris
Waymore’s Blues – Roy Orbison with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins (Class of 55)
Life Fades Away – Roy Orbison
In Dreams – Roy Orbison
Uptown – Roy Orbison
Travelling Wilburys interview
Handle With Care -Traveling Wilburys
She’s A Mystery To Me – Roy Orbison
You Got It – Roy Orbison
Being Remembered – Roy Orbison interview
Medley: I Drove All Night/Oh, Pretty Woman/Lana/Heartbreak Radio – Roy Orbison
Next week: SUMMER OF LOVE (1967)