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)
As someone who relies on trying to create a diverse playlist, week after week, the topic of MUSIC GENRES is one that’s dear to my heart. Useful as they are though, identifying genres is a murky and nebulous exercise, open to countless individual interpretations. Just go into any music store and try to establish why Ian Dury’s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll can find itself in pop, rock and alternative, all at the same time, and you’ll know what I mean.
In 1979 Malcolm McLaren’s art school classmate Robin Scott had a one hit wonder with POP MUZIK, an ironic and mischievous little tune, under his pseudonym, M: “New York, London, Paris, Munich…. everybody’s talking ’bout pop music.”
According to Bob Seger, today’s music doesn’t have the same soul. He’s feeling nostalgic for some OLD TIME ROCK N ROLL. Sugarhill Gang, on the other hand, are more interested in hip-hop. Their song, RAPPERS DELIGHT, while not the first single to feature rapping, is generally considered to be the song that first made hip hop popular.
Wild Cherry’s song PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC is autobiographical in that Wild Cherry was mostly a hard rock outfit. In 1976, however, the Disco era was all the rage and many of the group’s loyal followers were asking for more dance songs. And so was born the request: “play that funky music, white boy”:
Back in 1970, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground celebrated ROCK & ROLL with their hit song of the same name. By 1977, Bob Marley – together with Steve Tyler & Joe Perry – were giving us three genres for the price of one on ROOTS, ROCK AND REGGAE.
Punk rocker Wreckless Eric took a swipe at the record companies, for the pressure they put on artists to produce a hit single, on POP SONG: “Just a two minute song with a snazzy middle eight.” Yeah, that’s all they wanted.
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band refuse to take anything too seriously, even the blues. So if you merge music hall and blues, it begs the question: CAN BLUE MEN SING THE WHITES? Our girl Joan Jett is nothing but a rock chick so of course she’s going to sing, I LOVE ROCK N ROLL.
Brooklyn rappers Stetsasonic responded to early criticisms of their sampling by releasing TALKIN’ ALL THAT JAZZ which used a clever collage of borrowings from the likes of Lonnie Liston Smith and Donald Byrd.
I think Lynyrd Skynyrd may know a little bit about the track, SWAMP MUSIC. This style of music is particular to America’s south, particularly Louisiana and Southeastern Texas but it’s developed a worldwide following and I, for one, love it.
It’s both funny and revealing that The Killers wrote INDIE ROCK N ROLL to poke fun at the pretentious and sterile independent scene in their native Las Vegas, only to find that the song was embraced world-wide as a cheerfully un-ironic anthem. Here they are playing live and sounding great:
The Beatles take Chuck Berry’s ROCK N ROLL MUSIC and attack it with such intensity that it seems to symbolise what became known as the British Invasion of the 60’s. In total contrast is Wilco’s wistful ode to youth on HEAVY METAL DRUMMER, from the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot:
Stevie Wonder ‘s contribution to this week’s topic came in the form of his dedication to Duke Ellington and other jazz greats on SIR DUKE. Arthur Conley did something similar, with his shout out to all the soul icons, on SWEET SOUL MUSIC:
Time for some blues, Creole style, with BOOGIE WOOGIE ZYDECO from Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band. Then it was a great piece of music, that recognises the enormous influence of Jazz on all kinds of music: JAZZ THING from Gang Starr. It’s from the soundtrack to the Spike Lee film MO BETTER BLUES, starring Denzel Washington. Absolutely brilliant clip.
There are so many songs that pay tribute to rock n roll that I had to be careful to not let them dominate. But there’s one that I couldn’t leave out – Ian Dury and the Blockheads with the rock n roll anthem, SEX & DRUGS & ROCK N ROLL. I hate the overuse of the word ‘awesome’ but in this case, it’s warranted – AWESOME!!
A song that merges soul and reggae is the very appropriately named REGGAE GOT SOUL from Toots and the Maytals. There are also loads of songs with Blues in the title, so many in fact that I had to restrain myself in this department too. But if you’re going to play one of them, you can’t get better than Buddy Guy with THE FIRST TIME I MET THE BLUES. In this clip he performs with bass player David Myers. It’s from the film CHICAGO BLUES, made in 1970. Now that’s what I call real music.
Bet you thought I wouldn’t give classical a mention. Well, Chuck Berry helped me out there with ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN. Here he expresses the desire for rhythm and blues to replace classical music on his local radio station. On this video clip he’s having a little bit of fun on a French TV show. Not sure of the year, but the song was recorded in 1956:
Couldn’t let disco get away with just a passing mention, so space was made for FRENCH DISKO by Stereolab. The Ramones rescue their disco queen and introduce her to something a bit more rebellious. Now, SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER.
We closed the show with a classic from Dire Straits – a song about a jazz band called SULTANS OF SWING.
Love to have your input for next week’s show. The theme is FUNNY SONGS: Songs that make you laugh or at least smirk because they are clever and witty. Ooh I’m looking forward to seeing what you send me.
Meanwhile, here’s this week’s complete playlist:
Pop Muzik – Pop Muzik, M
Old Time Rock N’ Roll – Bob Seger
Rappers Delight – Sugarhill Gang
Play That Funky Music – Those Fabulous ’70s, Wild Cherry
Rock and Roll – Velvet Underground
Roots, Rock, Reggae – Chant Down Babylon, Bob Marley + Steven Tyler + Joe Perry
A Pop Song – Big Smash, Wreckless Eric
Can Blue Men Sing The Whites? – Cornology [Disc 1], Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
I Love Rock and Roll – Joan Jett
Mambo Italiano – Latin Fever [Disc 1], Shaft
Talkin’ All That Jazz – Hed Kandi: Back to Love, Vol. 4 Disc 2, Stetsasonic
Swamp Music – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Indie RnR – Demo, The Killers
Rock And Roll Music – Live At The BBC [Disc 2], The Beatles
Heavy Metal Drummer – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco
Sir Duke (Duke Ellington) – Songs In The Key Of Life, Stevie Wonder
Sweet Soul Music – 60’s Soul, Arthur Conley
Boogie Woogie Zydeco – Boogie Woogie Zydeco, Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band
Jazz Thing – Moment of Truth, Gang Starr
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – No Thanks! – The ’70s Punk Rebellion (Disc 3), Ian Dury
Soul Makossa – Makossa Man: The Very Best Of Manu Dibango, Manu Dibango
Reggae Got Soul – True Love, Toots & The Maytals
First Time I Met The Blues – Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues – A Musical Journey, Buddy Guy
Roll Over Beethoven – 1956-Rock & Roll Era, Chuck Berry
French Disko – Refried Ectoplasm, Stereolab
Sheena Is A Punk Rocker – All The Stuff (And More), The Ramones
Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits
Listen to Lyn McCarthy at the Theme Park on BayFM, Tuesdays 4-6pm, Sydney time