The 31st of August is always a Red Letter Day for The Immortal Jukebox because it’s the birthday of Van Morrison whose glorious recordings have been the keystone of my musical life for for nigh on 50 years.
Happy 73rd Van!
No one brings together all the traditions like Van.
In his songs, singing and performance you can feel he has viscerally understood and integrated into his art; The Blues, Soul, Rhythm and Blues, Folk, Country and Jazz – all delivered with blazing Celtic devotion.
Leadbelly is there.
Ray Charles is there.
Hank Williams is there.
Arthur Alexander and Sam Cooke are there.
Jimmy Witherspoon and Mose Allison are there.
Mahalia Jackson and Rosetta Tharpe are there.
The McPeakes and O’Carolan are there.
Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis are there.
Bob Dylan is always there.
In Van it all comes together – traditions respected and added to creating a revelatory synthesis.
In celebration today a rhapsodic gem from 1966 pointing the way to the earth shattering triumphs of his solo career.
I remember at college playing a Them compilation for a friend and saying .. well here’s he honouring Ray Charles, here John Lee Hooker, here Bo Diddley and here Bob Dylan and then My Lonely Sad Eyes came on and we both shouted in exultation – here it’s all of them and it’s pure George Ivan Morrison!
Fill me my cup!
Fill me my cup!
Sparkling Wine indeed!
When Van sings like this he joins the Immortals.
You can pick out almost any line, any phrase or word and be dumbstruck by his vocal brilliance.
There’s a thesis to be written on the way he way he sings the word, ‘Lonely’ alone or on the oceanic surge he gives to :
Throw me a kiss
Across a crowded room
Some sunny windswept afternoon
There’s none too soon for me to miss.
He’s singing the Song and the Song is singing Him.
Into the Mystic.
Into the Mystic.
There are more Posts about Van than any other artist here on The Jukebox so, in case you missed one or would like to be reminded of an old favourite here’s the Van Compendium for your delectation and delight!
Brown Eyed Girl’.
An introduction telling the tale of my headlong plunge into obsession following my first hearing of Van’s best known song.
St Paul tells us when we are grown to adulthood that it’s time to put away childish things.
As a guide to moral conduct that may well be sage advice.
There are choices to be weighed in the balance.
There are responsibilties to be shouldered.
There are strengths and weaknesss to be acknowledged.
There are trials, torments and traumas to be survived.
Yes, you need to look at the spinning world with a cool appraising adult eye if you are to navigate it safely.
And yet … we all carry the child we once were within our skins and deep in our psyche.
There is a knowing, an untutored first poetic knowing, known and retained by that child, we would all do well to tap into throughout all our adult days.
You should never be so old not to want to fly away on a magpie’s wings and hop that freight train in the hall all the way down to New Orleans in the fall.
All the way to New Orleans in the fall.
Tom Waits tells crazy stories blazing with drunken truths.
Tom Waits tells crazy stories blazing with sober, artful lies.
Tom Waits tells crazy stories that make perfect sense to the labouring adult crying out for rest and the blithe bubble blowing child within you.
Tom Waits tells the best damn stories you ever heard and Kentucky Avenue is one of his very best.
The song is brilliantly composed and sung in the continuous present we live in during our childhood days.
The characters who populate the story are ordinary figures and at the same time shadow thrown giants looming on the young mind’s eye.
Eddie Grace’s old Buick is rusting on his drive and Eddie don’t drive no more but Wow! you know those holes in the side … they’re bullet holes! (From the time when Eddie ran with the mob – how do ya think he got that limp?).
Mrs Storm looks at at the world from behind fly blown curtains and she don’t talk to no one not even the mail man since that son of hers went missing in the war.
He used to keep that lawn of hers so perfect it was greener and truer than Augusta.
Sshhh … don’t put a toe on that lawn – she will stab you with a steak knife if you do!
When you are a child you haven’t exhausted your capacity for pleasure and your sense of wonder is acute.
Man, half a pack of Lucky Strikes and a packet of macadamia nuts is more treasure than Long John Silver ever dreamed of.
When you’re a child you don’t have to be told you’ll live forever you just know – let’s go ever to Bobby Goodmanson’s and jump off the roof!
And .. oh oh .. the secrets. The secrets.
Hilda plays strip poker when her mama’s across the street and (he told me and he don’t ever lie) Joey Navinsky says she put her tongue in his mouth.
And … oh oh … when you got just one friend, a blood brother … you own the world. The world them others don’t even see … seems like they walking around stone blind.
Let me tie you up with kite string, I’ll show you the scabs on my knee!
Fabled adventures are born every new Dawn – watch out for the broken glass, put your shoes and socks on,and come along with me
Let’s follow that fire truck, I think your house is burning down!
Let’s go down to the hobo jungle and kill some rattlesnakes with a trowel (It ain’t dangerous at all ..).
And, oh oh … when you’re having adventures you don’t calculate repercussions – don’t you just love the sound of breaking glass?
We’ll break all the windows in the old Anderson place!
We’ll steal a bunch of boysenberrys and smear ’em on your face .. how great we’ll look!
And, ah ah .. when you give and get presents as a child they are like no presents you’ll ever get again:
‘I’ll get a dollar from my mama’s purse, buy that skull and crossbones ring
and you can wear it round your neck on an old piece of string.’
The things we did and the things we nearly, nearly did!
Remember that time we spit on Ronnie Arnold and flipped him the bird or the day we would have slashed the tires on the school bus if the janitor hadn’t woken up!
That’s the kind of thing you do when you’re Blood Brothers (funny how you’re much closer to your Blood Brother than the brothers in your house – you don’t share your dreams and secrets with them!)
I’ll take a rusty nail, scratch your initials in my arm and show you how to sneak up on the roof of the drugstore.
And … oh oh .. when you see with the eyes of a child you see with a clarity .. a vision it’s so easy to lose as your eyes grow accustomed to the adult world:
I’ll take the spokes from your wheelchair, and a magpie’s wings
And I’ll tie ’em to your shoulders and your feet
I’ll steal a hacksaw from my dad, cut the braces off your legs
And we’ll bury them tonight out in the cornfield
Just put a church key in your pocket
We’ll hop that freight train in the hall
We’ll slide all the way down the drain
To New Orleans in the fall
Thank you Tom for reminding me of how a Magpie’s wings can take you places a 747 never could.
And for letting me keep looking out for that freight train in the Hall.
Let you into a secret … one day I’m gonna ride it all the way down to New Orleans.
Before night comes each of us must work, in our few days, the work we were uniquely created to accomplish.
Surely, that’s exactly what the late Aretha Franklin did in singing with such splendour and grace from earliest childhood until the last year of her life.
Enormous gifts were bestowed on Aretha.
The triumph of her life was in her acceptance, nurture and stewardship of those gifts.
In so doing she became the greatest female singer in popular music since the Second World War.
Her profound legacy can be found in scores of breathtaking performances and in the inspiration she gave to fellow musicians and singers as well all of us privileged to hear her in our lifetimes.
When Aretha sang she summoned up her whole humanity to insist upon, to imperiously demand our attention!
R – E – S – P – E – C – T!
R for Roots :
Aretha’s roots lay in Church.
Her Father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin was a celebrated Baptist preacher – immensely influential in the community through his recordings, radio and touring appearances. New Bethel Church in Detroit was visited by all the great and good of the Gospel world.
Chuch and Choirs and Quartets.
In Church wide eyed young Aretha took into her deepest being the rhythms and dynamics of her Father’s Sermons, the soaring exultation of the choirs.
Aretha conquered far flung worlds in her career but she never strayed in her heart far from that Church in Detroit.
From her Father and the Gospel tradition she knew that singing was Important.
An important aspect of sacred drama.
Important to her, important to a whole community – the heart of Life.
Throughout her life when Aretha sat down at her beloved piano or took centre stage her very presence and every note she sang, every breath she took had the force of a sworn Vocation.
She knew from the Bible and increasingly from her own personal life that this world could be a vale of tears, a place of sore trial and torment.
But, she knew there was a further shore.
She knew that in turmoil she could turn to song to guide her there.
She believed that though you might be abandoned by all who you relied on there was yet a hand that would reach out for yours and gently lead you Home.
E for Ecstacy :
Rapture. Euphoria. Exultation!
Listening to Aretha on record or in person gave you the opportunity to stand outside yourself transcending the cares of your everyday shackles.
Filled with the spirit Aretha pierced the veil.
Filled with the spirit Aretha gave us glimpses of no time, glimpses of Eternity.
Filled with the spirit Aretha lifted herself and her audience into other worlds.
Filled with the spirit Aretha called out to us to respond with all our hearts.
FIlled with the spirit Aretha made us reciprocate her urgency to be understood, to be respected, to be heard.
Filled with the spirit when she sang Aretha was always reaching, reaching, reaching.
S for Soul :
If you gotta ask you don’t know what it is.
Aretha not only had Soul in her recordings and performances she came to define its essence.
She sang as a woman in full.
A woman who was unaffaid to expose her vulnerability.
A Woman Of Heart and Soul.
A Woman of blood and bone and guts and unabashed carnality.
A Woman who could shout and scald, scream or tenderly whisper.
A Woman who could thrillingly fuse the sacred and the secular to examine and embody our deepest emotions.
P for : Politics
Like Bob Dylan says we live in a Political World.
Aretha grew up knowing Martin Luther King.
Her Father ordained Jesse Jackson.
Aretha was an inspiration to all the struggles for Civil Rights.
Civil Rights and Respect for African Americans.
Civil Rights and Respect for Women.
Civil Rights and Respect for The Poor.
With Aretha’s Voice At your back and in your heart no barrier could seem insurmountable.
E for : Eternity
The greatest artists stop time when they sing.
Most music, most art is ephemeral.
It is given to very few to add to the cairn Human Beings have added to the treasures of Eternity.
Aretha has beyond all question added significantly to that cairn.
C for : Choir and Community
When Aretha sang she was always singing to a surrounding community.
A community including fellow singers and musicians and fellow pilgrims.
Even alone at the piano there was a senses that she was singing to Another.
In her singing offering up gifts.
In her singing offering pleas for redemption.
In her singing offering cries of supplication.
In her singing offering heartfelt sorrow.
In her singing shouting to be heard – to be heard and answered.
T for : Thankfulness
Aretha was fully aware of the plenitude of her gifts and was properly grateful for them.
Looking back at her wondrous career we should be properly grateful too.
Now that she has crossed over we are all immensely in her debt.
Over 40 years a Song can, starting out as an unremarked track on a little regarded album from a little known Band, become a veritable anthem recorded hundreds of times and exalted in concert by the great and the good from The Boss to Bill Murray to Mavis Staples.
My own relationship with today’s featured Song began many decades ago in my teenage gig going years.
Loyal readers of The Jukebox will know that I have made a series of House moves in the last few years before settling happily here in our South Downs hideaway.
One of the ‘finds’ of the moving process was a notebook with the title, ‘Gig Diary 1970 – 1975’ emblazoned in red ink on the cover.
Leafing through this historically important artefact I see that in that period I saw Nick Lowe with his then Band, Brinsley Schwarz, on stage at The Marquee, The Roundhouse, The Lyceum, The Hope & Anchor, The Torrington and The Edmonton Sundown among many other venues.
I was, of course, also buying their Albums as soon as they came out and looking at the sleeve of, ‘The New Favourites of … Brinsley Schwarz’ from 1974 I see 2 large red asterisks next to track 1, ‘ (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding’.
I should tell you that the double asterisk was a very rare accolade indeed!
From the very first time I heard it I knew that this was a breakthrough Song for Nick Lowe – a Song that would get up and walk away by itself into History.
A Song I have sung along with scores of times during Nick Lowe concerts and many hundreds of times at home through all the stages of my life.
Sometimes when the world did indeed seem a wicked place and this Song quickened my search for the light to counter the darkness all around.
‘ ….. There’s one thing I want to know:
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?
Ohhhh …. What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding’
Nick Lowe has said that this Song represented his first truly original idea as a songwriter and that having had that idea he realised that his task was then not to mess up the song by trying to be too clever – let the song flow naturally.
Brinsley himself on masterful rhythm guitar, Ian Gomm on chiming hats off to Roger McGuinn Guitar (and heavenly vocal harmony arrangement).
Bob Andrews on hats off to Garth Hudson keyboards with Billy Rankin on martial drums,
Together with Nick on Bass they hit a dead bullseye.
I remember walking back to the tube station in the rain after the first time I heard this song all the while serenading bemused passers by with:
‘ … Is all hope lost? Is there only pain and hatred, and misery? And each time I feel like this inside, There’s one thing I want to know:
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?’
That’ll do as a definition of an Anthem for me!
Once a true Song arrives it begins to find its audience.
In Liverpool in the early 70s when Brinsley Schwarz played their gigs an intense young man with a burning desire to get his songs heard was always at hand – Elvis Costello (then Declan McManus).
In Nick Lowe he found an established songwriter who was willing to take the time to listen and provide encouragement to an unknown novice.
So, in 1978 as Elvis’ career began to gain momentum, he turned to an old favourite written by his Producer, Nick Lowe.
The result was a call to arms, flamethrower version, that launched Nick’s great song into the American market and the consciousness of American songwriters and singers.
Elvis, characteristically, located the anger within the song accompanying the philosophical musing of the Brinsley’s original.
No one can ignore this take on the Song!
In a sense sending a song out to the world is like throwing a message in a bottle into the ocean – the tides and currents take over and you never know where it will end up.
Remarkably, in 1992, Nick’s Song ended up as part of the soundtrack of the film, ‘The Bodyguard’ featuring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner.
Everyone will remember Whitney’s Diva take on Dolly Parton’s, ‘I Will Always love You’ many fewer will have noted the presence of, ‘What’s So Funny ..’ sung by Curtis Stigers.
For Nick the bonanza was that the soundtrack LP sold an astonishing 44 Million copies transforming his bank balance at a stroke!
He must have reflected as the royalty cheques steamed in that his decision a decade earlier (prompted by manager Jake Rivera) to buy sole rights to his publishing was a very wise move indeed.
Among the song writing community picking up on the mysterious power of the song was Lucinda Williams.
For walk on, walk on, though you’re bruised and battered, just makes me want to cry, heart on the sleeve directness you just can’t beat Lucinda!
Now, if you want to be uplifted, to take heart as you ponder the trials and struggles ahead there can be no better source of inspiration than Mavis Staples.
Mavis’ voice with its inherent power makes you want to fight the good fight whatever the odds and however bleak the outlook.
With virtuoso guitarist Robben Ford she makes real the Song’s call for harmony – sweet harmony.
Hope will never slip away while Mavis is around!
Did someone say Anthem?
It is a truth universally acknowledged in the music world that if there’s an anthem to be sung, a rallying cry to be roared out, that Bruce Springsteen is going to be on hand to do just that.
It’s particularly pleasing to me to see him trading vocal lines and guitar licks with the great John Fogarty here.
Hard to be down hearted when this version gets cranked up!
Nick Lowe never concludes a concert without playing, ‘What’s So Funny …’ so its been a difficult task to choose the clip to showcase how he plays his masterpiece in his maturity.
But, I kept coming back to the Lion in Winter version where he is accompanied by fellow Brits Paul Carrack and Andy Fairweather Low.
There is wisdom and grace here aplenty.
Straight to the heart.
Straight to the heart.
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?
Few thing in life are certain.
Yet, one thing I can tell you – the next time Nick Lowe comes to town I’m gonna be in the front row and ready to sing with all the spirit I can muster:
As I walk through This wicked world Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity. I ask myself
Is all hope lost? Is there only pain and hatred, and misery? And each time I feel like this inside, There’s one thing I want to know:
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? And as I walked on Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes So where are the strong And who are the trusted? And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony. ‘Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away, just makes me want to cry. What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?
So where are the strong? And who are the trusted? And where is the harmony? Sweet harmony.
‘Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away, just makes me want to cry. What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?
And then I’m gonna shake Nick’s hand and say Thank You.
Then, Brothers and Sisters, I do Know, I most assuredly Know that the resulting record is one of the greatest Singles ever made!
That’s what I Know.
Listen and you’ll Know too.
And, when you Know, as we all Know – You just Know.
recorded ‘I Don’t Know …’ in Los Angeles in 1965.
He had, of course, already given nuclear energy to the launch of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the mid ‘50s.
Here he draws upon his Gospel and R&B roots with all those hours listening to Brother Joe May, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Billy Wright informing the volcanic steam heat of his performance.
Perhaps only James Carr singing, ‘Dark End Of The Street’ matches Richard on this record for soul searing intensity.
Don Covay :
was gifted as singer, songwriter and producer. He had a particular mastery of the Soul Ballad.
His Father was a Baptist Preacher and his first forays into public performance was with his family Gospel Quartet, The Cherry Keys.
Classics he wrote include:
‘Mercy, Mercy’ (covered by The Rolling Stones),
‘Chain Of Fools’ and ‘See Saw’ for Aretha Franklin,
‘That’s How I Feel’ for The Soul Clan
’Pony Time’ (a No 1 for Chubby Checker)
’Letter Full Of Tears’ for Gladys Knight
’Its Better to Have and Don’t Need (Than Need and Don’t Have) is a magnificent song he put out under his own name.
The version he cut of ‘Mercy, Mercy’ with The Goodtimers In 1964 featured Jimi Hendrix.
At one time Don gloried in the role of Valet and Driver for Little Richard.
Jimi Hendrix :
Appeared like a meteor into the consciousness of the Rock world yet he had served his time on the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’ backing up a host of R&B and Soul acts.
His hook up with Little Richard was short lived – in part no doubt because Richard was not a man to be upstaged by a flamboyantly brilliant guitar player able to play solos with his teeth!
Billy Preston :
Billy had been a part of Little Richard’s constellation since the early 60s when he was still a teenager. In Hamburg The Beatles looked on in awe as Richard tore up the joint with his crazed vocals while Billy hit grooves that seemed to affect gravity itself.
At the end of their career together it seemed there was little they could all agree on – except that Billy Preston trailed Joy all around him and that he was a hell of a musician.