Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – Still Undercover

Great column by Frank Gutch Jr. yesterday. I had the pleasure of doing publicity for the 2009 release of “Lighthouse 40 Years Of Sunny Days”. The CD contained their 16 greatest hits re-mastered and the accompanying DVD was the current band in the studio recreating those hits in 5.1 sound.  A great starter kit for anyone who wants to get to know the music of Lighthouse. Astute reader Bill Curran pointed out that “Sorrow” from the Bowie album “Pin Ups” was originally recorded by The McCoys of early Rick Derringer fame. Who knew?

One of my favourite covers of all time is “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley. Ace recorded it for his first solo album in 1978; well at least they were called solo albums. The greatest marketing band of all time knew their fans were gullible enough to buy all four solo albums if they were released simultaneously. I know I was.  The one stand out song from the four combined records was “New York Groove”. The track was penned by Russ Ballard and originally recorded in 1975 by the long forgotten English glam band “Hello”. Ballard was best known as the singer of “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent. Kiss, as a collective, would have another run at a Ballard song when they recorded “God Gave Rock And Roll To You”.  Not a great cover but listenable.

A cover I have mentioned in a previous column, and would sit in my top five ever, is Nazareth’s version of Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight”. With Dan McCafferty’s whiskey soaked vocals the Scottish band absolutely owned that song. Another massive Nazareth hit was their cover of “Love Hurts” which was originally recorded by The Everly Brothers.  Once again the band owned that song. For my money Nazareth is one of the most criminally underrated hard rock bands of all time. I will take them over AC/DC in a heartbeat. Local boys Triumph also took a run at “Love Hurts” as did a host of other artists including Cher, Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris, Joan Jett, Pat Boone, Corey Hart and Rod Stewart. I am sure the family of Boudleaux Bryant (the songwriter) is very pleased with the royalty cheques.

A band that built their base on covers was The Beatles. With their thousands of sets in Hamburg alone they needed hundreds of covers at their disposal in order to play their marathon bars shows (check the movie “Backbeat” as a point of reference).  When they finally landed their recording contract the lads had no qualms about recording covers and their first U.K. album “Please Please Me”  featured such covers as “Chains”, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and recorded by The Cookies,  “Anna (Go To Her)”, written and recorded by Arthur Alexander, “Boys”, which was written by Luther Dixon  and Wes Ferrell and recorded by The Shirelles, the Burt Bacharach/Luther Dixon penned “Baby It’s You” , Broadway’s “A Taste Of Honey” and “Twist And Shout” which was recorded by The Isley Brothers and written by Burt Russell and Phil Medley. On their second U.K. full length the boys kept the covers coming fast and furious. This time they tackled “Till There Was You” by Meredith Wilson and from the musical “The Music Man”, The Marvelettes “Please Mr. Postman”, “You Really Got A Hold Of Me” by Smokey Robinson, Ricky Dee’s “Devil In His Heart”, and, adding more cash to the Motown coiffures “Money (That’s What I Want)” which was a hit for Barrett Strong and written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford. That song would receive a complete and uniquely original overhaul when it was covered by The Flying Lizards in 1979. By the time The Beatles recorded their third U.K. album, “A Hard Day’s Night”, there was enough Lennon/McCartney compositions to fill an entire disc with original material. It seems odd that on their next album “Beatles For Sale” the band went deep down in the cover well. This record included a couple of Carl Perkin’s tracks “Honey Don’t” and “”Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby”, Chuck Berry’s “Rock And Roll Music”, “Words Of Love” by Buddy Holly, “Mr. Moonlight” by Roy Lee Johnson  and  even combined two covers when they mashed-up Lieber and Stoller’s “Kansas City” with Little Richard’s “Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!”. They would only ever record one more cover on an official album release. On “Help” they let Ringo Starr sing a cover of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos “Act Naturally”. Books could be written (and probably have) about Beatles songs that have been covered. I seem to remember reading somewhere that “Michelle” by The Beatles is the most covered tune of all time.  The Beatles were not averse to giving one of their songs away as they did with “I Wanna Be Your Man”. Friendly upcoming rivals The Rolling Stones were looking for a song to record and Lennon and McCartney offered them “I Wanna Be Your Man”. John Lennon takes it from there: “It was a throwaway. The only two versions of the song were Ringo and the Rolling Stones. That shows how much importance we put on it: We weren’t going to give them anything great, right?”

Two videos came across my screen this week that I would like to share.  My business partner has been helping out a young 17 year old from Mississauga and decided to pair him with our favourite video producer Gavin Michael Booth and they produced the following.

The other video was from Jay Sparrow who we have worked with since his rockin’ punk band The Murder City Sparrows. Shortly after the band broke up Jay embarked on a solo career and recorded three great alt country/singer-songwriter EP’s. He represented Alberta in the first “Great Canadian Song Quest” on CBC Radio and recorded the stirring “The Ballad Of Mary White”.  For the last year Jay has been travelling and has once again settled in Western Canada. About six weeks ago he sent me the advancer of his new album “The White”. It took weeks to digest but the more I listened the more I appreciated the chances he was fearlessly taking. The record will be coming out on November 1st and here is the first video.

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

2 Responses to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – Still Undercover”

  1. Great article, Cameron – I’d like to add that Nazareth’s unplugged acoustic version of “This Flight Tonight” is a very different take and is excellent for completely different reasons than the studio cut.

  2. Love the piece….love Nazareth…criminally underrated act. Their greatest hits was mandatory listening for house parties in Scarborough when I was growing up. The Beatles’ most covered song is still “Yesterday” at 2,200 commercially known versions. “Something” comes in at #2 with 150 versions. In the book “Only a Northern Song” about the Beatles’ publishing story, they mention that the use of cover tunes by The Beatles was both practical (it allowed the band to fill an album if they didn’t have enough originals on hand) and financial. Parlophone was still on the industry standard of only paying mechanicals on 10 songs per album…but insisted on 12 to 14 songs to qualify the record as a full-length ALBUM for charting purposes as it took that many songs to break the 20 minute industry mandated running time. The Beatles were leery of tossing 2 to 4 extra ORIGINAL songs onto an album if they weren’t going to get paid for them…so they opted to back fill their records with cover tunes and still get the benefit of mech royalties on their 10 original songs.

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