Saturday, January 8, 2011

Resolutions: Outskirts of Town

Jimmy Witherspoon: Outskirts of Town


Outskirts of Town is a classic blues song. B B King, The Allman Brothers, and Big Bill Broonzy are only a few of the artists who have recorded it. Here is a man who loves his girlfriend or wife so much that he can’t imagine how any other man could resist her. So he resolves to move them out of “harm’s way”. As much as he loves her, there is a lack of trust,, to be sure. But when the song is done right, you don’t judge him, because his pain is so real. When I hear the song in my head, I hear Jimmy Witherspoon singing it.

‘Spoon, as he was called by many, perfectly demonstrated the overlap between blues and jazz. He worked with small jazz combos, like the Gerry Mulligan Quintet heard here, but his singing was always pure blues. His delivery was smooth, but it ached with emotion, especially on the ballads. Outskirts of Town is a perfect example.

Resolutions: We're Gonna Change The World

Matt Monro: We're Gonna Change The World (link DMCAed)

For most people it’s enough to resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, save money, find a job or stop swearing. Matt Monro took the bigger view: in the post-heady days of 1970, he made a belated resolution of the Zeitgeist on behalf of a collective plurality which would change the world.

Monro was a British crooner (and a very good one) not famous for his revolutionary aspirations. Apparently he not even owned a beret or a Che beard. In short, he was Mom’s favourite, not a prototype Obama campaigner.

Here I may point out my regret that the Obama campaign failed to adopt We’re Gonna Change The World as their campaign tune, even if it might have made promises that the president could not possibly keep.

There is a persistent but untrue rumour that the song was created for another agent of unfulfilled promises: as a commercial for Corn Flakes, the breakfast cereal of dubious nutritional value, peddled by a corporation of dubious moral values (and which was founded by an utter madman). One can see cause for the rumour. The merry sing-along melody would not seem out of place in a commercial (hence my recommendation to Mr Obama), and then there is the opening verse: “Shirley Wood gulped down her breakfast, shut the fridge and joined the throng. Margaret Beatty snatched the milk in, scanned the news and went along...”

But before too long, Matt has his various female protagonists involved in a public protests, probably an anti-Vietnam demo, Shirley Wood's throng of the first verse. We encounter her again later, being “dragged, still sitting, by a policeman from the road”. Newspaper-reading Margaret Beatty “had her face slapped by a man she tried to goad”. But there is pathos, too. Anne Harris (also mentioned in the first verse), observes the protest from her office, and thinks of Don, her man, killed in combat. Monro observes, presumably with a healthy dose of irony: “Died for others to live better.”

Monro also addresses the women passing by the demo: “Harried, busy shopping wives; try to stir their ostrich notions, whip them up to wild emotions, put some fire into their wretched lives.” It is these harried, busy shopping wives who might just have purchased Matt’s latest album, for some post-housework easy listening relaxation.

All the more subversive then the stirring chorus: “So, come with us, run with us – we’re gonna change your world. You'll be amazed, so full of praise, when we’ve rearranged your world. We’re gonna change your world!”
What’s the way to the Bastille?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Resolutions: I’m Gonna Be an Engineer

Bobbie McGhee: I‘m Gonna Be an Engineer


I don’t usually post quizzes here, but I have a few questions for our readers as we go along. Please respond in the comments. Thanks.

I had two introductions to folk music growing up. One was what I heard at the peace demonstrations I attended, starting at age eight. The other was a program that was broadcast on WQXR out of New York City when I was young. The show was called Woody’s Stepchildren, and I don’t remember the name of the host, so that’s question 1. Does anyone else remember the show? At any rate, that was where I first heard I’m Gonna Be an Engineer. I believe the song was written by Peggy Seeger, and hers was the version I heard. It was my introduction to feminism, before the term had even been coined. I never thought about what kind of engineer the singer was going to be. My father was an electrical engineer, so that must be it.

The version here is by Bobbie McGhee. Who was she? I have no idea, so that’s question 2. All I know is that I like her version better than Seeger’s. McGhee sounds more determined to me, perhaps because feminism had made some strides by the time McGhee recorded it. I can tell you that McGhee’s album came out on Collector Records in 1981, and was reissued by Smithsonian Folkways in 2006.

Years after I first heard this song, I dated a woman who was a mechanical engineer. That was the mid 1980s, and she was still paid less than her male colleagues. I hope things have continued to improve since then. If there are any female engineers among our readers, feel free to report. I hope there will come a day when we no longer have to talk about someone being a female anything; that is what true equality will mean.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Resolutions: Tamara

Juliana Hatfield: Tamara


There's lots of quotes about tomorrow, most of which are about change, about how tomorrow will be better than today. There's no time like the breaking of a new year to really feel like tomorrow has arrived.

In this early Juliana Hatfield b-side, from her "Forever Baby" single/EP, she has almost created tomorrow as a person, an entity. In that way, she names the song "Tamara", a play on the word "tomorrow". The song is about plans for betterment in general. In the song, she has big plans to make herself better tomorrow than she is today, but by the end of the song she's already started to give up hope that tomorrow/Tamara can ever really change anything and is destined to always be the same.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolutions: I Won't Be Your Dog Anymore

Paul Kelly: I Won't Be Your Dog Anymore

[recent web-only recording; purchase alternate live version here]

For every battered woman who keeps promising herself that this time, she's going to leave.

For every man who compromises his ethics daily just to make that next paycheck.

For everyone who has ever been a dog.

May this be your year.

In Memoriam/ Resolutions: Gregory Isaacs - Write Myself a Letter

Gregory Isaacs: Write Myself a Letter


In 2010, the world lost three important reggae artists, Yabby You, Sugar Minott, and Gregory Isaacs. Isaacs was probably the best known. He is credited with creating the reggae style known as “lover’s rock”, which obviously involved love songs. Isaacs wrote many such songs, and he set the mark in reggae for how to sing them. But Write Myself a Letter is an unlikely cover. The original version, which you will find below, was a classic early jazz song by Fats Waller. The conversion of the song into a reggae number shows the rare musical imagination that Isaacs possessed. He also did a fine version of House of the Rising Sun.

Isaacs’ stage persona was all lover, except when he performed his protest songs. But off-stage, he battled an addiction to cocaine for most of his life, and he spent time in and out of jail. This hard lifestyle finally claimed him in 2010.

Bonus track:

Fats Waller: I‘m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter


To be honest, I did not set out to do a transitional post at all. The first song I thought of for our new theme was this classic by Fats Waller. The singer’s resolution is to not allow himself to be lonely. I wanted to find an interesting cover version to go with it, and that’s when I discovered the Gregory Isaacs version. He certainly deserves to be honored, so I’m glad it worked out this way.