Thursday, May 27, 2010

Two things about David Bowie...

...that I didn't know until this week:


He sang an Italian version of Space Oddity, titled "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola," which literally translates as "Lonely Girl, Lonely Boy."

The original "Space Oddity" was Bowie's first hit song, and blew me away when it came out in 1969. The title was a play on the great Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and also tapped into the zeitgeist surrounding the US/Russia race to the moon. The lyrics, however, are not so much about space travel, but of isolation and hopelessness.

He became famous and I became an instant fan.

Getting back to the Italian version: According to the liner notes of the recent reissue of the album Space Oddity, Ivan Mogul had written the lyrics for a cover by the Italian group, Computers, and Bowie used those lyrics as well. But here's the funny part: The lyrics had nothing at all to do with the original song!

Tell me lonely boy where are you going,
Why so much pain?

(See Italian and translated English lyrics here.)

Bowie, not knowing the difference in the lyrics, learned them all phonetically and sang this version, not knowing the words portrayed a much more conventional story of love. (The liner notes conclude, though, that he "took it well.")

Mogul went on to write another Italian translation, recorded by I Giganti (The Giants) in 1970, which, after a truly spacey opening, breaks into beautiful multi-part harmony. I Giganti sings "Corri Uomo Corri" (Run Man Run).

To round out the European covers, a French version was recorded in 1971 by Gerard Palaprat, titled "Un Homme a Disparu Dans le Ciel" (A Man Who Fell From The Sky). That alternate title is interesting, as Bowie would star in a movie 5 years later titled "The Man Who Fell To Earth."


The song "Fill Your Heart" from Hunky Dory (1971) was written by Biff Rose and Paul Williams, and was originally recorded by Tiny Tim as the B-side to his hit "Tiptoe Through The Tulips." (And what a grand version that was! No irony intended.)

Over the 40-plus years of Bowie's career, very few of his songs have been what you would call "optimistic," as he tends to focus on existential themes of the human condition such as loneliness, mortality and angst. But the lyrics are fearlessly positive, which should've tipped me off. They begin:

Fill your heart with love today
Don't play the game of time

A real change of pace for a guy known for song titles like "The Man Who Sold The World," and "I'm Afraid of Americans" (me too, Dave!).

Well, here's the original in all it's glory. I love it:

The album it appeared on, The Thorn In Mrs. Rose's Side, is wonderful from first track to last, and if this song appeals to you, is worth checking out. It provides a nice little mood lift in between Bowie discs.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oh, Hush!

Way back when I was in junior high school (known as "middle school" these days), I came across a Deep Purple hits compilation called Purple Passages in the school library's listening room.

The album artwork (strangely, a deep blue) entranced me but the song "Hush" really blew my mind (man) and I became an instant fan. Up until then, I had enjoyed the occasional AM radio hit: The Beatles, The Monkees (on the same level as far as I knew then - hah!), The Turtles, etc. But this was hard rock - a doorway to a new, more powerful, more exciting world of music.

I recently came across this "live in the mansion" version. Clearly the stars of the show were Ritchie Blackmore on guitar and Jon Lord on keyboards. (I also couldn't help noticing that none of the ladies had breast implants in those days - nice.)

Up until now, I hadn't thought much about whether Deep Purple wrote the song or not. Turns out, they didn't, Joe South did. However, he wrote it for a fellow Alabaman, Billy Joe Royal, which peaked at number 52 on the US charts in 1967:

Then, I found out that Australian Russell Morris had covered the song in 1968, several months before Deep Purple released theirs. It reached #15 on the Australian charts (though I doubt very many Americans heard it at the time). There's an innocent charm not found in other versions:

Russell is still performing it in 2010 , a little slower but with more soul.

There have been a handful of other interesting covers, including an over-the-top French performance by Johnny Hallyday (a comination of Rod Stewart, Roger Daltrey and Tom Jones) from 1969; a 1992 metal version by Gotthard, most notable for the sexy pics accompanying the video, and a spirited version by the UK's Kula Shaker from 1996.

But at the top of Hush mountain, Joe South stands tall as the originator of the song, and to my ears the most soulful. This performance, recorded in 1969, is "more than brilliant, it is electric, innovative" as Joe Viglione writes on Backing vocals, impassioned lead vocal, thumping bass, swing, this song just kicks it on all levels. Turn it up!

Sadly, Joe South will never be as well known as some other names associated with this song, but he deserves to be. At least we know...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Can't wait to get Together

I love this band: Easily one of my favorites of the last decade, Canada's New Pornographers features some major musical talent. Among them: Carl Newman (formerly of Zumpano and creator of several very good solo albums), vocalist extraordinaire Neko Case, and Destroyer's Dan Bejar (rhymes with 'ledger' as they explained in a concert I attended a while back). But more importantly, they write great, beautiful, catchy tunes. Here's a sample of their work, from the debut album Mass Romantic. I like the way they combine such a serious topic with such light, bouncy melody/harmonies.

I sometimes lose faith that modern rock bands can actually write hooks and complete songs like they used to (read pre-2000's). Take for example Caribou's latest, Swim, which just bleeps along amiably but doesn't really amount to anything, song-wise (despite the warm AMG review).

But the New Pornographers (unfortunate name, that - still awkward to tell friends about them) just keep cranking out one memorable song after another. And it's not just great "power pop," either, as there's real emotional weight to a lot of their songs. For example, check out "Challengers," from the album of the same title.

The NP's are one of the few bands that when I hear they have a new release out, I just order it retail, no questions asked - my way of saying, "I really respect this band and want to support them."

Here's one of Bejar's songs with a trippy video, to give you a sample of what he adds to the band:

And so, just out today, the new album: Together. (Allmusic review.) Here's the Amazon listing, only $7.99 plus shipping! Judging by the song samples, I'm not going to be disappointed.

Love that album art,'s got a magical, hard-to-define quality about it. Click image to enlarge:

Can't wait for it to arrive and play it in the Corolla for full Car-Surround Sound!