Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Step Brothers

In the latest Mojo, the one with the big piece on Physical Graffiti, Jimmy Page throws away a comment about The Beatles stealing an old r’n’b riff and fashioning it into their own I Feel Fine. Pots ‘n kettles, Jimmy! Pots ‘n kettles!

What Jimmy omitted to reveal is how the same riff more than informed Led Zep’s own Moby Dick.

bobby parker

The track in question is Bobby Parker‘s smokin’ hot 1961 r’nb stomper, Watch Your Step;

Bobby Parker’s story is the classic struggling musician versus the world tale of rip-offs, bad management and lack of recognition. Mention his name ’round these parts and folk like my father-in-law will wax lyrical about the Rangers and Everton player with the same name. The Bobby Parker we’re concerned with earned his chops tackling the music business and playing alongside Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. He toured extensively, sharing stages with rock ‘n roll’s founding fathers – Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly to name but a few. We’re all well aware of those names, but Bobby Parker? He remains niche, known only by contemporary musicians and musos, waiting to be discovered and elevated to his rightful place amongst the greats. An early b-side of his, You Got What It Takes, was recorded by Marv Johnson as one of the first singles for Motown, but upon release, to Parker’s dismay his name had been wiped from the credits and replaced, not for the last time, by that of the ever-canny Berry Gordy.

Stung by this, (“What was I to do? Fight Motown?!?“) Bobby Parker wrote what has since become his signature tune, Watch Your Step. Unlike the movers and shakers over at Hitsville USA, Parker was quick to acknowledge his references – the 12 bar blues, the similar riff and structure of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say;

and also to Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca, a skronking, relentlessly driving riff-laden jazz instrumental;

When asked about this a few years ago, he was admirable in his honesty.

I started playing Gillespie’s riff on my guitar and decided to make a blues out of it. What came out was ‘Watch Your Step.’

john lennon ukelele

Also admirably honest was John Lennon.

“‘Watch Your Step’ is one of my favourite records. The Beatles have used the lick in various forms.”

Most noticeably, as Jimmy Page was quick to point out, Watch Your Step‘s taut, snappy riff and structure lends itself quite well to I Feel Fine.

I was flattered,” said Parker later on. “I thought it was a cool idea. But I still had, in the back of my mind, the idea that I should have gotten a little more recognition for that.”

Sound familiar?

Listen closely and you’ll hear little flashes of what could be Day Tripper too;

led zep

The big baddies in the whole thing though are Led Zeppelin. For the record, I love Led Zeppelin. For the rocking, the rolling and the riff-riff-riffing there was no-one better, but they have nowhere to hide when it comes to this sort of thing. They’re certainly no strangers to the rape and pillage of the blues. Jimmy brazenly ‘borrows’ little riffs, indeed whole songs from blues’ back catalogue. I’ve written about this before, but much of the Zep’s entire recorded career was based on long-forgotten blues standards, arriving fully formed but twisted and turned into fantastically sounding ear-crunching slabs of heavy blooze rock. But nicked all the same. If they’d been more honest in their sticky fingerdness they might have been given more leeway, but it’s the deception and the credits to Page/Plant that rankle. Anyway, there are entire books and websites dedicated to uncovering such things, but this isn’t one of them.

When Jimmy was pointing out the similarities between Watch Your Step and I Feel Fine, he might, after all these years, have admitted to basing his own riff for Moby Dick on Bobby Parker’s single.

But he didn’t. Perhaps the pangs of guilt were such that at the start of the 70s Parker was offered a paltry $2000 to record a demo for the nascent Swan Song label, but nothing came to pass of this. If Jimmy truly felt guilty, he’d have given Parker a credit on Moby Dick.

Not for the first time, Jimmy got away with it. And not for the first time, Parker missed out on the credit.

Trivial post-script!

Have you ever heard the dogs barking during the fade out of I Feel Fine? The smart money is on Paul doing the yelping, but you never know…

You can hear tons of this sort of stuff over at What Goes On – The Beatles Anomalies List. It’s great!

Alternative Version, Get This!

A.R.E.T.H.A.F.R.A.N.K.L.I.N.

For anyone who needs it spelt out, Aretha Franklin is the greatest female soul singer of all time. Some come close. But no-one comes close enough. There’s a life-lived-full’s worth of hard graft and soul in that free-phrasing vocal of hers. A voice that swoops and soars around a melody; a voice that is in equal parts carried away and controlled, with its ebbs and flows a mirror to the intricacies of her complicated life, Above all else, though, it’s effortless. That’s clear if you listen to any of her records. Aretha is the of Queen of Soul.

  aretha cig

Not bad for someone raised in a broken home from the age of 5 by her wanderin’, wayward, women-lovin’ preacher father. And despite giving birth to 2 illegitimate children at the ages of 12 and 14, she was already well on her way to recording success before she was out of her teens.

You’ll know this already, but if you don’t….

Aretha began her singing career essentially playing support act to her father’s holy-rollin’, roof raisin’ sermons. Dubbed “the man with the million dollar voice“, he had friends in high places, and it wasn’t unusual at home for Aretha to be called on to sing for her father’s high calibre guests such as Martin Luther King or Sam Cooke after dinner. It was Cooke who inspired ‘teen mom’ Aretha to pursue a singing career. For six years she recorded jazz standards for Columbia (after, at her father’s insistence, she stopped short of signing for Berry Gordy’s nascent Tamla label – whatever happened to them?). All very polite and safe, but by the mid 60s, pop music had such a hold on Aretha (perhaps she should’ve gone with Gordy after all) and she signed for Atlantic Records. In 1967, she cut 2 LPs with the in-house musicians at the famous Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama. The tracks she recorded there have since become so fabricated into the rich tapestry of soul music that it’s easy to forget they actually began somewhere – haven’t they just always been around?

That’s the demo for I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You), Aretha at her piano finding her way around the song, as the Muscle Shoals rhythm section allow her the space to express herself.

From here, it was but a mere hop and a skip to creating solid soul gold. Respect, Dr Feelgood, Chain Of Fools, Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, Save Me, Baby I Love You…I could go on and on….

aretha 68

Here’s a few (note – I’ve featured quite a few tracks – every time I thought ‘that’s enough for now‘, another Aretha great would crop up, meaning I had to include it. Really, you should just get yourself to a shop and buy the lot)

Baby, I Love You (from 2nd 1967 LP Aretha Arrives)

Baby, Baby, Baby  (from 1st 1967 LP I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You))

Save Me (from 1st 1967 LP I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You))


See Saw (from 1968’s Aretha Now)

A Change Is Gonna Come (from 1st 1967 LP I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You))

Chain Of Fools (this is the complete, unedited Plain Or Pan favourite, all shimmering, twangy guitar and melodrama on the intro)

aretha bw

The relatively unknown but soulful and groovy Sweetest Smile And The Funkiest Style from the Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky) LP.

Rock Steady (alt mix from the Young, Gifted And Black LP)

The Weight (Cover of The Band track, with good ol’ southern boy Duane Allman on guitar)

….and this writer’s own personal Aretha favourite – Don’t Play That Song, from her 3rd Atlantic LP of the same name. Soaring, swooping, uplifting, effortless Aretha. Call and response vocals (“a-woo!”) atop a Motownish bassline boogie. A subtle one-chord orchestral swell. Brass that builds up to a mid-song breakdown. It has it all. Aretha in a jar. They might play this when they dispose of my dead body sometime in the future.

aretha mic

*Bonus Track!

Hot Damn! Even the Coca Cola advert she recorded with Ray Charles has more soul in it’s pinky than any of those awful ‘soul’ singers on TV talent shows:

aretha and ray