Sunday song of the day: Today’s song is a celebration of Indian culture.
This is Sunday’s song of the day, but posted a day late due to computer problems. A Monday song will be posted a bit later to catch up.
The English rock band Cornershop was formed in the early 1990s by Tjinder Singh, who was born in England of Indian heritage. Indian music and themes were often explored by the band, and even the name Cornershop referred to Singh’s Indian ethnicity: a common stereotype in England is that Indians run corner shops – much like the American stereotype of Indians owning convenience stores.
In 1997, Cornershop released their most well-known song, Brimful of Asha. The song is a celebration of the music used in Bollywood films, especially that of Asha Bhosle. When Brimful of Asha was released, it went to #60 on the UK singles chart. It was an OK showing, but not at all a big hit. The next year, however, a remix by Norman Cook was released. Cook, better known by his sometimes stage name Fatboy Slim, sped up the music and vocals and made an already upbeat song even more bouncy. The remix version was a much bigger hit, going all the way to #1 on the UK singles chart. In other countries, the Norman Cook remix of Brimful of Asha was generally a hit, placing in the Top 40 in most countries, and the Top 10 in several. In the United States, it did not crack the Billboard Hot 100, but did manage to place at #16 on the Alternative Songs chart. Personally, I prefer the original mix. The remix just sounds too gimmicky to me.
Monday song of the day: The creator of today’s song didn’t get any royalties for this hit record.
Yesterday’s Cornershop song was a big UK hit in a remix done by Norman Cook, and today we are looking at one of his early hit songs. Born Quentin Lee Cook, but known more by Norman Cook or Fatboy Slim, he was a bassist for The Housemartins before going solo as a musician and DJ.
As Fatboy Slim, he had a few singles in 1996 and 1997 that placed low on the UK charts, but his big breakthrough came in 1998 with the release of The Rockafeller Skank. The song was propelled by a driving beat, and featured very simplistic lyrics, consisting mainly of “Right about now, the funk soul brother” and “Check it out now, the funk soul brother” repeated over and over. Most of the music came from samples that Cook edited together.
The use of samples ended up resulting in Cook doing the record essentially for free. Paying the artists from the original works ended up accounting for all of the royalties. As he describes the split, “Well it’s normally when there’s more than one sample. When you have to split it between say The Rockafeller Skank there was four different samples on it we had to clear, and they all wanted 40%, or 50%, and we were like ‘Hold on, there’s only like 100% that’s available.’ So we were like, ‘you can all have 25%,’ and there was none left for me.”
Still, while he didn’t make any money on the record, it did establish him as a star, paving the way for more hits. The Rockerfeller Skank placed at #6 on the UK singles chart. It had less mainstream popularity in the United States, managing to place only at #76 on the Billboard Hot 100, but was more popular in clubs, rising to #2 on the Dance Singles chart. In general, Fatboy Slim was much more popular in England, with several top 10 hits in the late 90s and early 2000s. In the US, his highest placing song was the #36 Praise You in 1999.
Tuesday song of the day: Today’s song was originally intended to be part of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust project.
In 1972, the English band Mott the Hoople were thinking of breaking up after three years together. Their most recent record had failed to sell very well, and they had just finished a tour that also earned them very little money. Despite not having much commercial success, Mott the Hoople had a cult following, especially in England. (Mott the Hoople’s All the Way from Memphis was song of the day for September 6th, 2014 here: All the Way from Memphis – Mott the Hoople )
One of their fans was David Bowie. He heard that they were considering disbanding when the band’s bass player, Peter Overend Watts, came to him looking for a place in Bowie’s band. As a fan, Bowie wanted Mott the Hoople to continue, so he offered to produce an album for them, and also give them a song that he had written. Bowie was at that time in one of his most creative periods and was working on the Ziggy Stardust album. He gave them a demo he had recorded for the song Suffragette City, but Mott turned down the offer because they felt that it didn’t fit very well with the band’s style. So Bowie offered them another song that was part of his work for Ziggy Stardust. This was All the Young Dudes. He met with the band and played them the song on an acoustic guitar. Although it was not yet quite finished, the band thought it fit them very well and would be a hit.
Although it did not end up as part of the concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars because he had given it to Mott the Hoople, Bowie later explained its place in his original narrative, “The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of a lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock and roll band and the kids no longer want rock and roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ’cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. All The Young Dudes is a song about this news. It is no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite.”
Mott the Hoople recorded their album, also titled All the Young Dudes, in the spring and summer of 1972, with David Bowie producing. The song All the Young Dudes was the first single from the album. It went to #3 on the UK singles chart, and #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The record sales and a successful tour revitalized Mott the Hoople’s career.
There was a bit of controversy with the song in England, however. All the Young Dudes contained the line “And Wendy’s stealing clothes from Marks and Sparks,” with “Marks and Sparks” a slang phrase for the English store Marks and Spencer. The BBC had a rule that prohibited songs that included perceived advertisements from being played on radio or TV, so singer Ian Hunter had to re-record the line for the version played by the BBC, replacing the original line with “And Wendy’s stealing clothes from unlocked cars.” The Kinks had had a similar problem with their classic song Lola in 1970, and had to replace the record’s original line “Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola” with “Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola” for the BBC version.
During the recording of the song, Bowie recorded a vocal track to go along with the music that Mott the Hoople had recorded, giving Mott’s singer Ian Hunter sort of a guide for how the lyrics should fit. Years later, the version with Bowie singing the verses over the Mott the Hoople instrumentation (with Ian Hunter’s vocals on the choruses) was released as a bonus track on the 2006 reissue of the All the Young Dudes album.
Bowie performed the song during his Ziggy Stardust tour, and later recorded a version for the 1973 Aladdin Sane album. It ended up not being included on the album’s original release, but it first released on a compilation album, The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 in 1997, and later included on the 30th anniversary reissue of Aladdin Sane in 2003.
As for Suffragette City, the song that Mott the Hoople had turned down, it was included on Bowie’s classic album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as originally intended.
Wednesday song of the day: Today’s song was reportedly inspired by a real incident in a Paris bar.
In discussing All the Young Dudes yesterday, I mentioned that like the Mott the Hoople hit, a classic song by the Kinks also had a line re-recorded to appease the BBC, who had a policy that denied airplay to recordings which contained anything that could be construed as advertising a company. That song was Lola, and the offending line “Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola” was changed to “Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola” on the edit that was played by the BBC.
Surprisingly, the BBC didn’t seem to have much problem with the actual subject matter of the song, which is no big deal by today’s standards but was pretty wild for 1970. In short, Lola tells the story of a young naïve guy who goes out to a club, meets a girl who ends up taking him home, and then finds out that she is really a man. The song’s protagonist, however, is perfectly fine with the discovery.
Lola was written by the Kinks’ singer Ray Davies, and there are a few different versions of just what had inspired the song. In one version, Davies himself danced with a girl in a club and only when seeing her in better light did he notice she needed a shave. In the most often cited story, the band was at a club in Paris and their very drunk manager had an incident with a woman who was not what she appeared to be. Davies described it as, “It was a real experience in a club. I was asked to dance by somebody who was a fabulous looking woman. I said, ‘No thank you.’ And she went in a cab with my manager straight afterwards. It’s based on personal experience. But not every word.” Whatever the true story, apparently it was a brief encounter that never went as far as the one in the song.
Lola was recorded in April and May 1970 and released as a single on June 12th. The album associated with the single, Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1, was not released until a few months later. The single turned out to be a big hit, reaching #2 on the UK singles chart and in the United States placing at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Lola placed at #1 in many European countries as well. In the years since, it is considered a classic of early 1970s rock, and has been included on several music magazines’ lists of the greatest songs of all time.
Recently, the Kinks released a 50th anniversary edition of Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1. The expanded edition was released on December 18th, 2020, and contains additional material, alternate takes of songs, etc. In the marketing lead-up to the release, The Kinks commissioned a new video of the song, with a cartoon-style visual representation of the story accompanying the music. This video was released on November 25th, 2020.
Thursday song of the day: Today’s song was recorded by a 12-year-old girl.
Geraldine Pasquale was a bit of a precocious child performer. She recorded her first record, Merry-Go Merry-Go Round at the age of eight and performed it on the Art Linkletter TV show. At the time she was billed under the stage name Geri Pace.
The record didn’t cause much of a stir, but a few years later she appeared on a local show in California and caught the attention of Carl Burns, the president of Crystalette Records. He signed her to the label and suggested she record under the name Dodie Stevens. The first song selected for her to record was a novelty song written by Mickie Grant. The song Pink Shoe Laces told of the singer’s boyfriend Dooley, who dressed in outrageous clothes, specifically,
“Tan shoes with pink shoelaces
A polka-dot vest and man, oh man
Tan shoes with pink shoelaces
And a big Panama with a purple hat band”
She also told of Dooley taking her deep-sea fishing in a submarine and making other outrageous claims about the oddly-dressed boyfriend.
Accounts differ whether she was eleven or twelve years old when she recorded the song, but what is known is that the Pink Shoe Laces debuted at #96 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week of February 16th, 1959, the day before her thirteenth birthday. The record reached its highest position on the chart two months later on April 13th, topping out at #3. Along the way it sold over a million copies.
Stevens had a few more songs chart as a teenager in the late 50s and early 60s, but Pink Shoe Laces was her only record to crack the Top 40.
The vocal group The Chordettes, who had had several hits in the 1950s including the #1 Mr. Sandman and the #2 Lollipop, recorded a cover version later in 1959. Their version did not chart. Stevens herself re-recorded the song in 1962 as well.
Friday song of the day: Today’s song was written while on acid.
The Chambers Brothers consisted of four actual brothers – George, Joe. Lester, and Willie Chambers – along with drummer Brian Keenan. They started off as a gospel and folk group, but in the mid-1960s developed a more rock style that evolved into psychedelic soul. Their most well-known song was developed by Joe Chambers after attending a class at UCLA with Timothy Leary and taking LSD. After getting home, Joe wrote the lyrics at the same time his brother Willie was downstairs working on a guitar tune, and the words and music fit well together.
The group began playing the song, called Time Has Come Today, in live shows starting in 1965. They recorded and released the song, in a short two minute and 37 second version, in 1966. The record did not garner much attention. Despite this, they continued playing the song live, in much more expanded versions. In late 1967 they decided to give it another try. Clive Davis, the head of Columbia Records, did not want them to record the song again, but they and their producer David Rubinson decided to do it anyway. Willie Chambers later described it as, “A couple of days went by and our producer came by and said, ‘I don’t give a shit what he says, we’re going to record that song. When we get our recording date, you guys show up an hour early, we’re going to go in the studio, we’re going to turn on the tape, we’re going to play it live, we’re going to do it like a live performance. We’re going to record it and whatever we get we’re going to have to live with it. We can’t play back, we can’t overdub, we can’t splice, we can’t fix something if there’s a mistake, we’re just going to have to live with it.’ He says, ‘I’m probably going to lose my job, but that’s how important it is to me to record this song.’”
They eventually did record it. Willie recounts, “When we got our moment, we went in the studio and did it in one take. Time Has Come Today was done in one take. There was no listening back – we couldn’t listen back. When we came to the end of it, we had no idea where it was going to go. Once we ended it, we shut down the machines and then we left the studio and came back at the time we were supposed to.”
The new recording featured a fuller sound and a more coherent arrangement that the 1966 original. That take was an extended version that ended up on their The Time Has Come album in an edit that ran for over 11 minutes. Clive Davis was not happy and fired the producer. Still, the album was released in November 1967, and Time Has Come Today was released as a single in December, first as a 3:05 edit, and later as a 4:45 version. It took several months, but the song eventually gained some traction and became a hit, peaking at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the fall of 1968.
It is now considered one of the landmarks of the psychedelic era, and along with songs such as Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix or Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival, has been used in numerous films as a handy shorthand for that particular time in the 1960s.
Saturday song of the day: Today’s song is about being attracted to someone who has no interest in you.
The Grass Roots were sort of a mid-level band of the late 60s and early 70s who had a few good hits but are not ranked among the more remembered acts of the period today. Their biggest hit was the 1968 Midnight Confessions, which peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1970, they had another hit with Temptation Eyes, a song in which the singer expresses his strong attraction to a woman who can never be his.
Temptation Eyes was released as a single in December 1970 and climbed to #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. There were two versions of the song released. One, a mono mix, the chorus was double-tracked, while in the other, stereo mix, the chorus used just one voice.
Sunday song of the day: Today’s song is a vision of the singer as a homeless man.
The band Dramarama never really got much mainstream attention, despite putting out some pretty good alternative rock records in the 1980s and early 1990s. Their fifth album, 1993’s Hi-Fi Sci-Fi, was particularly good, and contains probably my favorite of their songs.
The song was Work for Food, in which the band’s singer and main songwriter, John Easdale, imagined himself as a mentally ill homeless person sometime in the future after his career in music fell apart. In an interview on MTV’s 120 Minutes program, Easdale explained the genesis of Work for Food, “The song was just, you know, in L.A. you see people with the sign – “Work for Food” – all the time, and a lot of times people kind of ignore them, make believe they’re not there. I put it in the first person. At the same time I was having, you know, premonitions of the future, of my success as a rock musician. And imagined just what it might be like to be that guy who was in this rock band and was out there. And basically, that’s what the song’s about.”
The lyrics of the song are filled with references that would apply to many homeless people: a shopping cart full of his random belongings, possible paranoia, getting thrown out of a home, etc. Other lyrics, however, made it clear that Easdale was singing about a hypothetical future version of himself. Among the other mundane things mentioned as being in the shopping cart, some of the items were “A poster and some magazines/with my picture,” hinting that the character had once had a mild amount of celebrity. In a later verse he mentions “and the records never sold and that was bad,” indicating that eventually he couldn’t support himself through his music.
Work for Food never made the main Billboard Hot 100 chart, but it did place at #10 on the niche Alternative Rock chart. Throughout Dramarama’s career, they never cracked the Hot 100, and managed to place only four songs on the Alternative Rock chart. In July 1993, Work for Food was the last of these, and the band broke up in 1994.
Ten years later, Dramarama appeared on the VH1 show Bands Reunited, and stayed together after the show, releasing an album in 2005. They continue to perform today, and in May 2020 released their first album in fifteen years.