Every once in a while I stumble across something really beautiful and rare. This is one of those finds. Zod bless YouTube users for cataloging practically everything in filmed existence that would otherwise be lost or inaccessible to mass audiences. This 45 minute documentary features guitar legend Carl Perkins and Beatle legend Paul McCartney just hanging out, strumming, picking and singing the time away. The video also has some interesting Carl Perkins history tucked away between the performances. I particularly loved the history of “Blue Suede Shoes” and how Carl always thought ‘suede’ was spelled ‘swade.’ The closing song, “My Old Friend,” was also touching, especially the revelation of Carl playing it for Paul right after John had died. It is a beautiful song and its remarkable how Paul has the ability to just create wonderful vocal harmonies and backing melodies on the spot. This is a nice companion piece to the Carl Perkins and Friends Rockabilly School (where George Harrison got to sit in as Carl’s best friend), and it is well worth your time.
PS- If you are wondering where I have been, take comfort in the fact that I pretty much do blog style reporting for a living. Check out my work at Sheepshead Bites and Bensonhurst Bean, covering all the ins and outs of Southern Brooklyn.
“Hound Dog” is one of the greatest blues rock songs of all time, so it should come as no surprise that this is the third instance of me posting a version of it. The other two occasions involved the King Elvis Presley, but for this time, I have the superior version. Its Big Mama Thorton and Buddy Guy teaming up to play the song that Mama made a hit 4 years before Elvis. Her version just roasts with perfection. The way Big Mama just growls and bites into the verses, singing like no one else could sing it, even the King of Rock and Roll. This performance is almost too hip for this galaxy, proof of human artistic perfection, and America couldn’t help but agree as Willie Mae Thorton sold 2 million copies of it in 1952 and 1953, spending 7 weeks at #1; an ultra smash for the early era of rock and roll. I’ve played this video about eight times this week and I can’t get enough, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
On June 5th 1956, a 21 year old Elvis Presley strutted onto the set of the Milton Berle show. When Milty introduced Elvis, the future King of Rock and Roll exploded into “Hound Dog.” Its a performance that changed America. It helped usher in the sexual revolution, the rock and roll revolution, and launched Elvis as an immortal icon of cool. The clip, 56 years old on this day, features the aforementioned “Hound Dog,” a funny interview where Elvis gets some digs into Berle, as well as insight into what hair gel Elvis used on his jet black hair. Its really an amazing slice of history, especially getting a prolonged glimpse at Elvis’s hypnotic stare that practically brainwashed the entire youth the Western World over. Elvis plays up his role as the coolest, hippest, and coolest king of teenagers, alternating between fits of nervousness, confidence, and uncontrollable sexual desire in the presence of a beautiful woman. This clip is still incredible to this day and is must watch for anybody with a pulse for rock and roll perfection.
There are a lot of “Worst Beatle Songs” lists out there, and they all have the same formula. The writer lists 2-3 songs that are absolute duds, and then sprinkles in a few that are actually classics just to fuck with people’s long held opinions. In preparing for this piece, I read those articles, many written by major magazines, and top online blogs, and saw songs like “Hey Jude,” “All You Need is Love,” “Yesterday,” and “Penny Lane.” It’s simply a travesty, even if you are just trying to get attention, to lump any of those songs onto a “worst ever” list, and you won’t see it here. Also, its mandatory for all of these writers to include “Revolution #9,” a song loathed and skipped the world over. I know its equally pretentious to claim being a fan of “Revolution #9,” but count me as one. I just think it adds richness and color to the “White Album.” It’s interesting to listen to, not a bore at all, and has really nice snippets of sound effects and music woven into it very beautifully. It’s experimental, daring, and fuck you for criticizing the Beatles for trying something off the wall after giving you the soundtrack to your life. Ok, with all that said, I’m going to give you the three worst Beatle songs according to me. Now, I also want to preface, that despite the fact that I think these songs are terrible, I still let them play if they pop on my iPod, and they still get stuck in my head.
#3. “Mr. Moonlight”- This is a song that finds its way on most lists, and for good reason; its probably the worst cover the Beatles ever did. John’s lead vocal is forced and the backing vocals are lame. It’s one of these ancient 50s standards that the Beatles can’t quite seem to bring into the next decade. I just don’t understand why the guys liked this song enough to put it on one of their albums. The lyrics are insanely embarrassing and bad, “we love you, Mr. Moonlight.” Lastly, when they repeat “Mr. Moonlight” to end the song with a dark three part harmony, its just dreadful, and possibly the worst harmonizing they ever laid on tape.
#2. “A Taste of Honey”- Another cover song. This one has lyrics more thoroughly embarrassing then “Mr. Moonlight,” and musically, its just as awful. It’s some kind of dark samba like shuffle with utterly bizarre emotional and lyrical moments with the main dramatic hook being biggest offender, “A taste of HONEY!…tasting, much sweeter, then wine, doo doo do dooo!” The thing about this song is that it’s terrifyingly catchy. You will probably be humming the start and stop melody for a week in the back of your brain after hearing, so be warned. Perhaps the Beatles recorded it to show off their range at playing show tunes, or perhaps they appreciated its catchy refrain, the number one ingredient they were searching for in their own songwriting. Whatever they were really thinking when making “A Taste of Honey,” is hard to fathom, and thus can only be appreciated with irony, delicious as it might be.
#1. “Do You Want to Know a Secret”- Before George was George, he was just the youngest member of the Beatles. He hadn’t cultivated any songwriting ability, and his voice wasn’t as strong as John or Paul’s, but being a Beatle, he had a massive fan base that wanted to hear from him. So, John and Paul took it upon themselves to write songs for George and Ringo, and were quite clever about it. They realized that there would be a huge demand for it, and that they could give the lesser songs, they themselves to embarrassed to sing, to George and Ringo, just to get rid of them. One of these songs was “Do You Want to Know a Secret.” Right away, you can tell why John dumped this thing on George. It starts off with an ambitious declaratory and unmusical refrain, but then kicks off into the schmaltziest take on 60s doo-wop ever heard. The backing vocals say it all, “doo-wah-doo” sung after ever line with shameless pixie like stupidity. The most immortal line, “I’ve known a secret for a week or two, nobody knows, just we twoooo,” is a crime not only against music, but grammar as well. John famously said that he gave it to George because, “it only had three notes and he wasn’t the best singer in the world.” He did qualify the brutally harsh statement by saying “he has improved a lot since then.” John said that in 1980, a full decade after George’s rise to genius songwriter/performer, so he’s either being sarcastic by limiting his praise for George, or just outright mean. Either way he ignores the fact that he wrote the stupid song, and it would sound awful coming from anybody. On the plus side, there is still something magical going on, mainly its unstoppable catchiness. The melody is timeless…existing at the lowest wrung of timeless melodies, but hanging in, somehow. It proves that even at their worst, the Beatles had some enchanted sense of beauty that permeated everything they touched…..doo-wah-dooo.
“All I Want for Christmas is a Rock and Roll Electric Guitar…” I wonder how many Fenders and Gibsons this line sold. 1958’s “Run, Run, Rudolph,” is basically Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” rewritten as a Christmas song, but when you’ve written the 4 greatest possible rock and roll songs or so, what does it matter if you copy yourself? Actually, Chuck didn’t even write the words for this song. Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie own that distinction, giving Chuck a beautiful snow covered Christmas wonderland for him to sled around on his guitar. Anyway, this song is extremely joyful and fun, and the thing is, you only hear it around Christmas making it easy to forget. So, lets not forget it this Christmas, and soak up all the jolly spirit it has to offer.
So one day, on a crummy radio in the 1940s, Chet Atkins was listening to Merle Travis play guitar. He thought for sure that what Merle was doing was picking with his thumb and two fingers, because if he was just using his thumb and index finger, it would have been impossible. It turned out Merle was just using his thumb and index finger, so what Chet accidentally did was invent his own style of guitar playing known as the “Atkins Style.” Chet was a massively influential and beautiful guitar player who did everything from jazz, folk, country, rock, blues, and even classical. I have two gorgeous clips of Chet. One is from 1954, in color no less, of a TV performance he did of “Mr. Sandman,” the song that defines 50s dreaminess. The other is probably 25 years later or so of him doing Simon and Garfunkel’s immortal “Mrs. Robinson,” all as a stunning guitar solo. To appreciate Chet, is to appreciate the artistry of the true guitar virtuoso. His timing, feel, and fluidity are second to none, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the work of a master.
I thought it appropriate to segue from one guitar god to another, this time to Les Paul. For those who don’t know, old Les was one of the pioneers of electric guitar rock, inventing his own solid body guitar in 1940, arguably the first ever. He tried selling the design to Gibson, but they rejected it continuously until Leo Fender made waves with his telecaster and stratocaster solid bodies that hit the market in the late 40s. Les, mainly a brilliant jazz and country player himself, more so then a master inventor, lent his name to a series of electric guitars at the Gibson company, increasing his fame and mythic status in the rock world. His guitars, especially his 1958 and 1959 standard models, of which only 1700 exist, are the most collectable guitars in the world. You’d have to shell out about $750,000 for the right to claim ownership. Everyone from Keith Richards to Jeff Beck to Paul McCartney to Slash all have strapped one on in the name of extravagant rock and roll perfection. Like I mentioned, Les was himself an insanely amazing guitar player, a feat made more impressive after a ghastly car accident forced doctors to permanently set his right arm at an angle that would allow him to play guitar somewhat comfortably. In the 50s, he was married to country singer Mary Ford, a voice younger readers might recognize from traveling the wastelands of Fallout 3, the awesome post-apocalyptic video game. The marriage between Les and Mary didn’t last, but luckily the incredible clips from their TV show produced by Listerine Mouth Wash have. The spots featured Mary singing and Les picking, and by picking I mean playing his guitar like the world was about to end, and the only way to save it is for Les it beat the devil in a guitar contest. It’s that good. As for Les and Mary’s marriage? Perhaps one of them wasn’t using Listerine, as the bonus video below warns you. Remember, the key to any marriage, is a fresh smelling breath…
And here it is, the ultimate rock and roll guitar song played by the ultimate guitar rock god. We have Jimi Hendrix, taking the Chuck Berry classic “Johnny B. Goode,” to a place no one thought imaginable. His guitar sounds like a galloping steed from Hell, riding headlong into a firestorm, conquering everything in its path. I mean, what are we listening to here really? It’s kind of like that scene from “Back to the Future,” where Marty McFly takes you through the history of rock and roll with the song. The one difference being that Jimi just plays the song at the end of the history. He takes the song to the limit of rock and roll, almost breaking it forever. It’s remarkably spellbinding and should be studied by musicologists. So, until then, it’ll just be up to us try our best and take in what’s presented below, enjoy.
Before Michael Jackson, before Justin Bieber, there was Frankie Lymon. Well, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers to be exact. Frankie is the original rock and roll prodigy, a 13 year old backup singer from Harlem who by a stroke of fate stepped in to sing lead for his vocal group the Teenagers when original lead vocalist Herman Santiago caught the flu on their crucial audition day. Even when Herman got better, it was no contest, Frankie was the goods, blessed with the voice of a rock and roll angel, annihilating audiences with his golden pipes. When Frankie and the Teenagers became a smash, they hit the road hard. Frankie was dating 25 year old women, smoking cigars, drinking booze, and using heroin. He ended up marrying 3 women, without divorcing any of them, losing his front teeth, joining the army (well he was sentenced to join by a judge) and then quickly dropping dead in a NYC bathroom at the age of 26. Frankie burned out quickly, but his voice and songs live on. “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” and “Little Bitty Pretty One,” are testaments to inhuman voice, a voice he lost quickly when puberty hit. I guess he was basically one of the early prototypes for childhood stars who got success too quickly, and turned to drugs in an effort to destroy their lives. It’s hard to imagine a time when the songs below rocked hard, but at one point they did, so give em a play and let Frankie’s voice soar one more time.
Little Richard is the greatest vocalist in rock and roll history. He is the man that was James Brown’s #1 influence, the man Paul McCartney copied, the man who first employed Jimi Hendrix, and the man that arguably started rock and roll with the second he let out his primal rock and roll roar for the first time. Little Richard had the voice of a super-being out of a comic book. His vocal chords were just blessed with the most perfect construction necessary to start a world wide revolution, and they did. Oh yea, he also played a mean piano as you can see in the glorious video below. Yea, this was an odd early 90s promo video for the John Goodman movie King Ralph, but God bless that movie for giving Little Richard another spotlight to elevate his classic hit “Good Golly Miss Molly,” to an absurd level of perfection. He just tears the roof off, proving that even at an advanced age, he hadn’t lost a lick of talent. Richard’s voice really was one of the most remarkable miracles in the history of music, and there is no one that can take away from him. Watch the hell out of this video below and just try to find someone with a better voice. It’s impossible.