Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

She And Him

In the early days of Plain Or Pan I penned under the nom de plume of Phil Spector. I suppose it was a combination of being embarrassed to put my real name to anything that might read like a 3 year old’s best efforts and the fact that I didn’t really want anyone to know I had a sideline in writing about old music that kept me from using my own actual name. Things came to the fore when my daft pseudonym cost me the chance of an interview with Nancy Sinatra. “Why on earth would I want Phil Spector to interview me?” she growled, not quite getting the fact that it wasn’t yer actual Phil Spector who’d been in touch. “He was a strange, strange, man and I want nothing to do with him.” At the time, Nancy had been working with a still-hip Morrissey, and I was hoping to base our interview around the recordings they’d been making. Alas, it never happened.

Shortly afterwards I was contacted by someone who wanted me to interview Sandie Shaw. By coincidence, another iconic singer with connections to Morrissey, this was too good an opportunity to pass up. There and then I dropped the pretence and proudly added my own name to the by-line in every article I’d written here. The subsequent interview and article with Sandie (where she name-dropped Morrissey, Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux within the first 5 minutes) became the first piece of paid writing work I’d ever done.

Anyway, back to Nancy S. I’ve had her Greatest Hits rotating recently, a scratchy, crackly 11-track best of that I picked up for 50p (!) in a wee junk shop just off of Glasgow’s Byres Road. Much of it is kitsch nonsense, the sort of stuff that, had she not been the daughter of an icon, may well never had been afforded the attention it got.

The material she recorded with Lee Hazlewood though is fantastic, a heady combination of female/male, light/shade, sweet/sour on record. Sinatra’s voice is cutesy-cute, all light and airy melodies blown in from Hit Factory central. Hazlewood rumbles in like a gothic cowboy, with a voice deeper than a well and twice as dark. Together, they make the sound of milk chocolate and dark chocolate on vinyl.

Some Velvet Morning is the one for me.

Nancy Sinatra & Lee HazlewoodSome Velvet Morning

Druggy, fuggy and full of sexual innuendo, it’s a psychedelic pop masterpiece, miles away from the light and airy country pop that defines many of their duets.

Hazlewood takes the lead, gliding in on a bed of Barry-esque strings with a baritone that could rattle the lids on the coffins of the dead. He gives way to Nancy, fluttering in like a waltz-time muse. “Sing like a 14 year old who fucks truck drivers,” he instructed, with the blessing of ol’ blue eyes himself. Can you imagine anyone getting away with that nowadays?!?

The whole thing see-saws back and forth, a call-and-response danse macabre. Had it popped up soundtracking The Wickerman or a crucial scene in a Tarantino movie you wouldn’t have been surprised. Quentin T. may yet find a use for it in the future, I feel. Musically, the record is very rich. With instrumentation by the famed Wrecking Crew, it’s lush yet louche, wonky and weird and wonderful.

The other high point of their collaborations is Summer Wine, a track that has all the makings of a great lost Bond theme. There’s the innocent female vocal, parping brass and a not-so-subtle nod to all things Bond with the addition of John Barry’s ubiquitous 5 note signature theme midway through.

Nancy Sinatra & Lee HazlewoodSummer Wine

The Lee/Nancy thing was done to great effect by Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell a few years ago. A post in the near future for sure….

As a bonus for now, here’s Lee’s version of Nancy’s signature theme. It’s a cracker.

Lee HazlewoodThese Boots Are Made For Walking

And here’s Let Me Kiss You, Nancy’s take on the Morrissey track that led them to find one another, the song I never got to ask her about. Hey ho. Morrissey has quite rightly come in for a lot of stick in recent times, and whether he still holds a place in your heart or not, you can’t deny that his performance in the background of this record is vintage Stephen.

Nancy SinatraLet Me Kiss You

Get This!, Hard-to-find

Carol Rules Oh Kaye!

It’s a long story, but just over a week ago I found myself tartin’ around backstage with the Magic Numbers and fell into conversation with their super-cool bass player,  Michele Stodart. A total muso, we hit it off straight away. For Michele, music’s Year Zero was 1964 and her favourite bands tend to be the originals, or those (like her own band) inspired by the originals. Our talk turned from James Jamerson’s one fingered bass lines to the thrill of seeing all three of Teenage Fanclub take the mike at the same time and why I should give Joni Mitchell another listen (I’ve never been a fan. Michele is a super-fan).

michele

Michele.  Ma belle.

(Photo (C) Paul Camlin)

Michele is a really terrific musician in her own right. Like all the best bass players, her basslines are wee tunes within tunes. Isolate them from the rest of the music and you’d find yourself frugging like a frugging maniac. But it’s not just what she plays. It’s how she plays it. Michele plays her instrument as if it’s an attachment of herself. When she’s lost in the music (and on the evidence of the Magic Numbers set, this is often) she’s headbanging, legs akimbo and hair a go-go like a foxy, female Ramone. That she caresses her guitar like a young wife might her soldier sweetheart when he returns unscathed from a tour of duty in Afghanistan only added to the weak-at-the-knees, heart-a-flutter heightened state of arousal I foun...SPLASH!….

That was the sound of a bucket of ice cold water being tipped over my head. Phew! I went all misty eyed there at the flashback of it all. But now, back to the story.

We got chatting because I mentioned to her that she is hands-down no contest the best female bass player since Carol Kaye. The table tennis ball she was skelping back and forward across the ping pong table was straightaway ignored as she dropped what she was doing to skelp me instead with a hi-five. Table tennis forgotten about, we got down to the business of talking music. And Carol Kaye featured much in our conversation.

carol kaye

Carol Kaye is one of the most prolific, widely heard bass players ever. You might not know what she looks like, or even have heard her name, but you’ll know the stuff she’s played on. I could quite confidently predict that your record collection will feature her Fender bass lines somewhere amongst the grooves.

She is most famous for her work with The Wrecking Crew. I’ve already written quite a big piece about their significance in popular music. I’d urge you to clear 10/15 minutes of your time and go and read it here. While there, you’ll also be able to listen to audio tracks of some of Carol’s best-known work.

A lone woman in a man’s, man’s world, Carol had to work that wee bit harder than the boys in order to gain acceptance. Coming from a jazz background she was schooled in reading charts and in 1963 fell into popular music quite by accident, being in the right place at the right time when the appointed bass player failed to show up on time for a Capitol Records session. Carol stepped in and from that moment on found herself much in demand.

beach boys session carol kayeLook closely…

Throughout the 60s, Carol played on hundreds, possibly thousands of hit records. No-one, least of all her, is actually certain how many. A one-time in-house Motown staffer, she’s somewhat contentiously laid claim to playing some of the label’s finest lines that had always been attributed to the afore-mentioned James Jamerson – Bernadette and Reach Out for the Four Tops and I Was Made To Love Her for Stevie Wonder amongst others. What’s undeniable though is that her high-pitched staccato motifs helped make God Only Knows one of the Beach Boys’ finest. Her 5 note written off-the-cuff intro makes Wichita Lineman instantly recognisable. The opening of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin, the Mission Impossible theme, the breakdown in River Deep, Mountain High. All the work of Carol. I bet you’re humming them right now.

She often played anonymously. The boys in the bands with their Beatles cuts and pointy boots may have looked the part, but often were hopeless musicians. As well as her more well-known stuff with Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, Kaye played some of the trickier bass parts on Love‘s Forever Changes album, Neil Young‘s first LP and the first couple of Frank Zappa albums. What pedigree!

Her indelible stamp runs through the very core of music like the word ‘Blackpool’ in a stick of rock. Responsible for creating the very DNA of popular music, Carol Kaye is an actual living legend. Just ask Michele Stodart.

Here’s just a teeny tiny fraction of some of the music she’s played on;

Andmoreagain from Love‘s Forever Changes LP

Glen Campbell‘s Jimmy Webb-penned Wichita Lineman

I’m Waiting For The Day from Pet Sounds

Porpoise Song by The Monkees

Ike and Tina‘s River Deep Mountain High

carol kaye 1

*Carol fact #1!

Carol played bass on Frank Wilson’s northern soul standard Do I Love You (Indeed I Do). (Indeed, she did).

*Carol fact #2!

Carol is Paul McCartney’s favourite bass player.

I’ve often played Pet Sounds and cried. I played it to John so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence … it was the record of the time. The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the bass lines … and also, putting melodies in the bass line. That I think was probably the big influence that set me thinking when we recorded Pepper, it set me off on a period I had then for a couple of years of nearly always writing quite melodic bass lines.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

There’s No Money Beyond The 5th Fret

Tommy Tedesco said that.

Tommy who?

wrecking crew movie

Last summer I went to the Glasgow screening of the above film about The Wrecking Crew, the crack bunch of LA sessioneers who played anonymously on a whole host of things, from film and TV scores via advertising jingles to some of the biggest-selling and best-loved songs of that golden period in early-mid 60s pop music. Tommy Tedesco was a jazz guitarist, and somehow found himself part of that inner-circle of session men and women. Made by Tommy’s son Denny, the film is a celebration of the life and work of his father and The Wrecking Crew. It’s terrific. Denny has, for the past couple of years, been touring the world showing his movie at Film Festivals and special screenings in a bid to drum up the finance required to support the publishing rights of the film. It’s impossible to make a movie about such great music without actually featuring that same music, and seemingly it costs a whole lot of money to negotiate the publishing minefield that the lawyers and money men have put in front of him. If you ever win the lottery and want to help someone out, I’m sure Denny would be more than happy to take your call. If you ever get a chance to see his film, grab it with both hands. Much of the music featured throughout the years on Plain Or Pan is a product of The Wrecking Crew, so if you’re a regular on here, I’d even go so far as to say it’s right up your street.

wrecking crew elvis

The Wrecking Crew were the go-to guys in the LA recording industry. Slicker than the Brycleem covering Bing Crosby’s bald bits and packing more swing than Sinatra with a six iron, they swept aside the old shirt ‘n tied brigade with little regard for history or unwritten rules.

I coined the name The Wrecking Crew,” explains ace drummer Hal Blaine. “We came into the studio with our Levis and t-shirts, smokin’ cigarettes, and the older guys were sayin’ ‘They’re gonna wreck the music business!'”

Working quickly and cheaply, and with the ability to read charts and scores of music at the drop of a cocked hat (they had backgrounds in jazz and classical) they were able to turn their hand to anything at all. Often, they came up with the licks and riffs that we all still whistle and hum today. Uncredited. The intro to Wichita Lineman? The intro to These Boots Were Made For Walkin‘? Plucked from thin air by The Wrecking Crew. Working on flat union fees rather than the gamble of percentage royalties, each musician knew that if they played more than one session a day, by the end of the week after they’d multiplied up the standard session fee, they’d be rich. They were so much in demand that playing only one session a day was not ever likely. Producers would request The Wrecking Crew, then hold off the recording session until the Crew could fit them in. The Wrecking Crew did them all. In and out the studio in the time it took to learn the part and record it before going off to the next one. And the next. And the next.

wrecking crew studio

Without the benefit of hindsight of course, they had no idea that this music they were playing would shape the sound of popular music forever. The roll call of records and groups bearing The Wrecking Crew’s stamp is a super-long embarrassment of riches. Off the top of my head – all of Phil Spector‘s epoch-defining Wall Of Sound records, many Beach Boys records, including the sessions that would produce Pet Sounds and Smile, the Elvis ’68 Comeback Special for TV, The Byrds first album (only Roger McGuinn was considered good enough to play on it. The other Byrds sang, but the rest of the music was provided by The Wrecking Crew), a ton of Dean Martin stuff, Frank Sinatra‘s Summer Wind, the Pink Panther theme, Aquarius by the 5th Dimension, most of The Monkees records (Mike Nesmith was The Monkees’ version of Roger McGuinn), Somebody Groovy, California Dreamin’, Monday Monday and countless other Mamas And Papas tracks, Harry Nilsson‘s Everybody’s Talkin‘, Sonny & Cher‘s And the Beat Goes On. And on. And on. And on. You get the idea?

wrecking crew hal blaine

The Wrecking Crew were seemingly involved in everything. Hal Blaine alone estimates he’s played on 35,000 sessions. Thirty five! Thousand! Playing 3 sessions a day for 7 days a week, that’d take him about 30 years going by my calculations. At the height of their activity, I reckon The Wrecking Crew must’ve been doing 50 sessions a week, easy. One day alone might produce The More I See You for Chris Montez and Coconut Grove for The Lovin’ Spoonful before lunch, Dizzy with Tommy Roe and It Never Rains In Southern California with Albert Hammond in the afternoon and a longer session with Simon & Garfunkel in the eveningHomeward Bound and off to tuck the kids into bed. (In the chronology of it all, doing these 5 particular records might’ve been impossible, but you know what I mean). Not a bad day’s work, and, it seemed, every day in The Wrecking Crew calender was like that.

Of course, sadly, frustratingly sadly for some, without the benefit of hindsight, who knew that they’d be involved in so many solid-gold standards? Taking the gamble of percentage royalties would clearly have been the smart thing to do. Every member of The Wrecking Crew would still be a millionaire now. Hal Blaine knew the value in working hard and to paraphrase from the film wanted to make the ride to success as quick as possible and the inevitable decline as slow as could be. By the mid 60s, artists would want to play on their own records. Crucially, the record companies would allow them to play on their own records, and the slow demise of The Wrecking Crew was set in motion. But at the time, The Wrecking Crew were coining it in. As super-cool bass player Carol Kaye points out, “I was making more money than the President of the United States!” Hal Blaine was also earning enough to have a huge house and a yacht, but divorce saw to the end of that. When the sessions dried up, he ended up taking a job as a security guard, spending his days listening to the radio blaring out the countless hits he had played on. The irony was not lost on him.  Go and see the film when you get the chance, it’s all in there. Check the website for details: http://www.wreckingcrewfilm.com

wrecking crew carol kaye

The Music

You know all the biggies, so here’s  a few less well-known selections from the absolute embarrassment of Wrecking Crew riches…

Carol KayeBass Catch.

Ridiculously funky, even for a white man from the West Coast of Scotland. That’s Carol in the picture above.

5th DimensionAquarius.

The hippy dream set to the most fruggable bassline since the word ‘frug’ was invented.

The Mamas and The PapasSomebody Groovy.

The hippy dream sang beautifully. Michelle Philips. Aaaaaaah.

Sonny & CherThe Beat Goes On.

Written by Sonny Bono, the title is inscribed on his gravestone. Later covered in a big band jazz stylee by Buddy Rich, with his 10 year old daughter doing the Cher parts.

Lee HazlewoodThese Boots Are Made For Walkin’.

Kind of a post-demo, if there is such a thing, Lee’s version takes the same backing track from Nancy Sinatra’s hit single, but he tells the story of how they recorded it. Essential listening!

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The Curios (neither of these were recorded wham! bam! thank you, maam!, that’s for certain)

Brian Wilson haranguing Hal Blaine and co. during the recording of Wouldn’t It Be NiceQuiet please, genius at work.

Phil Spector haranguing Hal Blaine and co. during the recording of Be My Baby. Wonderful!

wrecking crew spector