October 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental Sometimes, feeling sad isn’t such a bad thing. Especially if that sadness brings out a song in you that never fades away. Carole King knows this to be true.
She recorded “So Far Away” in 1971 for her iconic album Tapestry. There’s not been a more emotional and personal compilation of songs ever recorded. In each and every piece, you can look straight into her soul and see what most of us try to hide – raw emotion. She leans heavily on piano in all her arrangements, which suits me just fine. She’s written so many songs for so many people it’s just ridiculous: “Take Good Care of My Baby” (Bobby Vee), “Chains” (The Beatles), “A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin), “Up On the Roof” (Drifters), “One Fine Day” (The Chiffons), “Halfway to Paradise” (Tony Orlando), and “I’m Into Something Good” (Herman’s Hermits) are just a few of the artists who owe their careers to Ms. King.
This one, though, was personal. Just for her. You can feel the loneliness in her voice and the pain she must have been feeling. The arrangement is very laid-back with almost no rhythm instruments. Mostly, just her and the piano and her heartache. She used a flute at the end to further set the mood, but I opted for a saxophone ’cause there’s nothing more forlorn than a lonely sax playing somewhere in the middle of the night. If you lady singers out there decide to use these backups, pour your heart out for this one and let the tenor sax take over at the end… slowly lower your head and let the lights fade. Your audience will love it. I’ll bet you can make ’em cry if you try…
“Holding you again could only do me good – Oh, how I wish I could – but you’re so far away”
October 15, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental Sometimes, things really are better the second time around. “Handyman” was a million-seller for singer Jimmy Jones in 1960, but James Taylor slowed it down in ’77 and had an even bigger hit with it.
The song is about a guy who considers himself to be the ultimate gift to all women: “Hey girls, gather ’round/Listen to what I’m putting down/Hey baby, I’m your handy man”. Okay…. he has something going on that makes the rest of us look like pikers – I can live with that. The original version was fun and crazy – Jimmy Jones didn’t take himself seriously at all. But James Taylor is another story. His slower version, even though the lyrics are the same, seems narcissistic and totally smug. You get the feeling that James really does think he is very much the “ladies man”. Oh, please. However, Taylor was married to Carly Simon when he recorded “Handy Man” so he must have been doing something right. Unfortunately, he took it upon himself to “comfort” all of Carly’s girlfriends who were hurting from recent breakups or just having a bad hair day. What a guy! What a “handy” guy! Carly eventually dumped him. Good call…
I soured on James Taylor when he let himself be drawn into John Kerry’s (former Secretary of State) idiotic idea to sing “You’ve Got a Friend” to the French people in 2015 after a terrorist attack. Very awkward and just plain dumb. Even great artists have their down days, and this was one of them for Taylor. He was used and I’m sure he regrets it.
Nevertheless, this is a great rendition of a recognizable song that would fit well into your repertoire. I do think, however, that this tune would have been better served as a love song for a woman who adores her man (now there’s a quaint idea) – renaming it “You’re My Handy Man”. That takes the pompous swagger out of the song and doesn’t make you go “Ew”. Just sayin’…
October 9, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental I don’t very often say a song is “sweet”, but there’s no other word to describe this one. Makes me feel all cuddly inside and all my “macho” instincts go right out the window. “She Believes in Me” was recorded in 1979 by Kenny Rogers and was a huge crossover hit from country to pop. I never paid too much attention to it, but I should have. It’s a tune I can definitely relate to, but I missed it completely.
It’s not easy being married to a musician – just ask Karen. There’s the borderline obsession for music that sometimes seems to crowd out all other things in life. A woman can get tired of that rather quickly. Then there’s the long, late nights when she stays home, fighting sleep, because she wants to be awake when you get home. Then there’s the fact that a huge success in the music business belongs only to a few. Usually, the most you can hope for is a bit of local celebrity – it rarely goes any further than that. I’ve had plenty of that kind of notoriety, but it never made me rich…. even though I promised that it would.
The lyrics to this great song say it all (they usually do, don’t they?). The very first line: “While she lays sleeping, I stay out late at night and play my songs”. Then, “Quietly she says how was your night?/and I come to her and say it was all right”. Ah… been there, done that. But the chorus sums it all up: “And she believes in me/I’ll never know just what she sees in me/I told her someday if she was my girl, I could change the world/with my little songs… I was wrong”. (sigh) Doesn’t that make you feel “cuddly”, guys? Well, it does me.
So, all you male singers out there with a woman at home while you’re out working the clubs, this song would be a terrific gift to her – just to show you care, even through the hard times. I solved many of these issues by marrying a musician (French Horn in her college symphony band), so she understood – most of it. After a few years, I managed to change her from being a church singer to working with me as a pop vocalist – she’s never forgiven me. After that, those long musical nights were spent together – misery loves company, you know.
October 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental This somewhat obscure tune was actually a number one hit for Elvis. It might be considered just a hair “sexist” today, but it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. The lyrics use biblical references to describe what apparently is a very stubborn woman – or maybe I should stay “strong-willed”. We’ll just look at the lyrics themselves as commentary. So here’s to all you hard-headed women out there… you know who you are:
“Well, a hard headed woman/a soft hearted man/been the cause of trouble since the world began
(chorus) Oh yeah, ever since the world began/a hard headed woman been a thorn in the side of man
Now Adam told to Eve/listen here to me/don’t you let me catch you messin’ round that apple tree (chorus)
Now Samson told Delilah/loud and clear/keep your cotton pickin’ fingers out my curly hair (chorus)
I heard about a king/who was doin’ swell/till he started playin’ with that evil Jezebel (chorus)”
Obviously, these backups would be for male singers only. Sorry, ladies. But, just to be fair, check out “Hard Headed Man” by Sweethearts of the Rodeo:
October 1, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental In 1956, this song soared to number one on the charts. A honky-tonk piano player named Bob Davie wrote the tune and recruited a local disc jocky (Jim Lowe) to sing it. It was recorded in Lowe’s Greenwich Village apartment with The High Fives doing backup vocals. Actually, the original sounded like it was recorded in someone’s apartment, but that didn’t stop it from becoming a huge hit.
The inspiration for “Green Door” came from a popular club in Dallas, Texas. There was something mysterious about this bar and its bright yellow door (Davie used “green” because it fit better in the lyrics). Not just anyone could get in. If you didn’t know the password, the door was promptly slammed in your face. How rude!
Our singer tells us that he can’t sleep at night because he’s obsessed with what’s behind the green door of that enigmatic honky-tonk. He hears partying and loud music and raucous laughter and rollicking piano-playing behind that door (sounds a lot like our house) and he just has to get in to join the fun. He even tries a fake password – “Joe sent me”- not very original and the door remains closed. “Green door, what’s that secret you’re keeping” has us all wondering what nefarious things are going on behind that green portal. Doncha’ just love a good mystery?
I gave our arrangement a more “boogie-woogie” feel than the original. A guy named Shakin’ Stevens recorded this one in the 80’s and I really liked his rowdy version – so I’m imitating that style – I’ve never had an original thought in my life. And, just so you know, our front door isn’t green and you don’t need a password to get in… 5 bucks will do just fine.
September 24, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental I love the sound of a clarinet, so I’ll throw a clarinet solo into a song every chance I get. Granted, it has no business in a Fats Domino tune, but do we care? I know, I know… the solo is supposed to be a saxophone, but I decided to make the lead vocal track a sax. Any singer who uses these backups will mute the sax track anyway. And… they’ll have a clarinet solo. Cool! Everybody confused now? Good.
Fats Domino was stranded on a lonely country road in 1957. As he walked away from his old car, a fan drove by and shouted out, “Hey! That’s Fats Domino – and he’s walking!” “Yeah”, Fats muttered to himself, “I’m walking”. He wrote this song in his head as he walked toward town. Personally, I don’t believe this tale, but it has followed this song around for years. In the first place, Fats Domino was famous in ’57 and wouldn’t have been driving an old car. And, what self-respecting “fan” would leave him stranded? I mean, if I saw Lady Gaga walking away from a broken-down vehicle, I would pick her up even though I’m hardly a fan. Wouldn’t you? Well, maybe not.
The title “I’m Walking” has nothing to do with the rest of the lyrics. But all Mr. Domino (is that his real name?) was concerned about was cranking out a rollicking two minute tune that everyone would remember. He certainly achieved that lofty goal with this one. Stick this one in your repertoire and you’ll make your crowd happy – that’s what it’s all about.
Domino is his real name – Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. to be precise. He was born in New Orleans to a French Creole family and never lived anywhere else. Even in the heyday of his fame he insisted on sleeping outside in a hammock every night. What a guy! Ya know, living in “The Big Easy” all his life, you’d have thought he’d have put a clarinet solo in there somewhere. Just sayin’…
September 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
A singer named Randy had a bit of an odd request for a song. He’s in Monticello, Indiana, working the lobby of a place called The Brandywine Inn. Apparently, he sits in a corner with a microphone and nothing else. Well, I’m guessing he’s dressed, but one never knows. Anyway, he wants this Bee Gees classic without any violins, trumpets, or harps. What? You’re killing me here, Randy. Just piano, bass, guitar, and drums? That’s it? It’s the Bee Gees, man! But all is not lost. He needs a backup vocal track. At least that gives me a little bit of fun. But you know best, Randy. It’s your gig, after all, not mine. There might be other people who need it this way, so I’m putting this arrangement on the Pop/Rock list. But couldn’t we throw in just one violin? Guess not.
Barry and Robin Gibb wrote “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” in 1970 in an hour and a half. They composed it in the style of Andy Williams (who never sang anything without a violin, by the way… Randy). They offered it to Williams, but he turned it down. So The Bee Gees recorded it themselves and it became their first No. 1 hit in the United States. Before that they had minor hits with terrible songs like “I Started a Joke”, but this tune was a turning point for them. Then along came Disco and the rest is history.
If you ever stop in at the “Brandywine”, you might casually walk up to Randy and say, “Ya know, that song would really sound good with strings.” Just for fun…
September 17, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental Don Gibson wrote “Sweet Dreams” for Patsy Cline, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” for Ray Charles, and this one for himself. He recorded “Oh, Lonesome Me” in 1957 and since then every country artist on the planet has redone it in their own peculiar way. Some of their renditions are good, but others just suck. I’ve always really liked the tune, but never once performed it. Must be a reason for that. Yeah… it’s just a hair too country.
I heard a version of this by Ray Price the other day and liked it because he threw in some violins and brass. But it was still definitely “country”. I sat down to do his arrangement, but halfway through my work I realized the lead instrument didn’t have to be a steel guitar. I kept hearing a clarinet playing around underneath the melody instead of the guitar. So I thought, “Why not Dixieland?” Yes, Dixieland. I live a hop, skip, and a jump from New Orleans – so sue me. Can’t help it – my keyboard has a great clarinet voice.
So if you want to perform this classic country tune like your audience has never heard it before, give these backups a shot on your next gig. Pete Fountain, eat your heart out. My apologies to Mr. Gibson.
September 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental It’s a sad time in the music world. Walter Becker passed away last week from an undisclosed illness. He was only 67. Rarely does a death in the music industry affect me so greatly. It happened with John Lennon, then Harry Chapin, and now Walter Becker. But, at some point in time, we all must carry on without our heroes. I don’t have any left. Sad.
Becker and Donald Fagen were the core members of Steely Dan, a hugely successful band of the 70’s – my favorite group from that decade. The music was a cerebral combination of rock and jazz, with a little R&B mixed in for good measure. Sophisticated rock, I would call it. The music was complicated and, I thought, difficult to play. The lyrics were cryptic and quite sarcastic at times – but oh, so interesting. Becker played bass and lead guitar while Fagen handled the keyboards and lead vocals. And that was pretty much the whole band. They used studio musicians for any other instrumentation and none of those guys were ever considered to be a part of Steely Dan – that’s just how cerebral they were. Kinda snobby, really, but who cared? The music was outrageously good!
“Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number” was released in 1974 and was their most successful single. Donald Fagen met a New York artist at a college party named Rikki Ducornet. Even though she was married and pregnant at the time, Fagen wrote down his phone number and gave it to her before he left the party. She was tempted to call him but, alas, never did. Hence, the song. Rumor has it that Becker was interested in her too, so the idea of them collaborating on this song is intriguing. Ah, musicians…. they’re a sordid lot.
And speaking of “sordid”, I won’t tell you how Steely Dan came up with their name. You can google that one yourself.
August 27, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental Where were you in December, 1963? Not alive yet? Too bad, cause you missed the best era of music ever. This song came out right smack dab in the middle of the “disco craze”, but was never actually considered a disco tune. But I remember being in plenty of discos in the 70’s and dancing to this one nearly every night. And, over the years, I’ve played this song a million times. It always gets the crowd out on the dance floor. So, if you’re having trouble getting your audience to pay attention, trot this baby out there. Guaranteed to get ’em dancing. That’s your job, after all.
The Four Seasons recorded this in 1975 and it was their last number one hit. The official title is “December, 1963”, but everyone knows it as “Oh, What a Night”. Kinda silly, really. The first line is “Oh, what a night – late December back in ’63” – and that’s the only time December is mentioned. But “Oh, what a night” is repeated over and over and over again. Go figure. Artists, right?
What’s worse – Frankie Valli didn’t sing the lead. I mean, you hear “Four Seasons” and you think Frankie Valli – who else? But, oh no. For some reason, they let the drummer, Gerry Polci, do the honors and reduced Frankie to backup vocals. How dare they take my favorite Italian out of the spotlight (his real name is Francesco Stephen Castelluccio – kinda rolls nicely off the tongue, doesn’t it?). I think Frankie could have done it even better, but that’s just me.
Makes no difference, I guess, who sang it. Now it’s your turn. Take these backup tracks and have some fun with it …