Monday, June 04, 2007

I've been tagged by Jeff Newberry to list "Five Songs That Knock My Sox Off." Since I kinda shy away from "interesting stuff about my life" on this blog, I've tried to come up with five songs that not everyone who ventures in here will necessarily have listened to -- but everyone should. I've also kept it to songs with vocals, because otherwise it would just be too hard.

Parker's Mood
, by King Pleasure.

I want this one played at my funeral. It's evocative, yearning, and ultimately about that last journey alone. Bird probably did not want it played at his funeral. His waxing of lyrics set to one of Parker's most haunting melodies (and a tune that Parker only recorded once) came out in 1952, at a time when Bird was increasingly strung out and facing the bitter end of his own mortality. he did not want to hear what could have been his obituary blaring out of every jukebox.

Don't Drive Your Mama Away, by Shirley Caesar.

I heard this song once, on the radio of a cab in New Orleans, and could not rest until I had tracked it down. I haunted gospel music bulletin boards on Prodigy, describing the song as best I could, until someone was able to identify it for me.

Once heard, never forgotten. It sears, it soars, it has all the feeling that only the greatest gospel singers can put into a song, and a powergul story -- a variation on the Prodigal Son story, set in modern times, with a bittersweet twist. Composed by Shirley.

Lover Come Back, by Dinah Washington. "Parker's Mood" is a brilliant example of "vocalese," the technique of setting words to a jazz solo, but King Pleasure is still a vocalist. Dinah Washington, on this cut, is an instrument. Dinah jams, here, with Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Richie Powell, Clark Terry, Harold Land, and others. The session was recorded live in front of an audience that I would have given an arm and a leg to be part of. When people play the "what era would you like to have been born in?" game, for me it's always ten or fifteen years before I was actually born. And I would have liked to be born hipper than I actually was, so that I could have been on 52nd Street, and up at Minton's, to bear witness at the birth of bebop.

Voice as instrument -- I could have chosen Sarah Vaughan's Shulie a Bop just as easily...or anything by Louis Armstrong. The trouble with Armstrong is that there are so many great titles competing for one's attention, how can you choose one. But I'm happy to go with Dinah for this pick.

Banks of the Hudson
, by John Hall. I take enough pride in my own work that I'll choose one of my songs here -- lyrics by Tad Richards, music by John Hall, now The Honorable -- freshman Congressman from Dutchess County. Partially inspired (not the first time this has inspired me) by Thomas Cole's great "Voyage of Life" paintings, partly by love of my native soil, and the river that runs through it.

Ballad for Americans, by Paul Robeson. The greatest and most thrilling of American voices. I first heard "Ballad for Americans" as a child, and though some of the concepts of Americanism in it are a little dated, I wouldn't change one word of it, or one note of Robeson's magnificent voice. I interviewed Earl Robinson not long before he died, and he told me that he had deliberately written a melody simple enough that schoolchildren would sing it. I asked him if it was a surprise, then, to hear it sung by the greatest voice of his era. He said it was, and a pleasant one.

How could I leave out...? But I did. Had to leave out something. Anything by Ray Charles, I wouldn't know what to choose. Maybe "What'd I Say?" "Blue Suede Shoes" by Carl Perkins, which has much of a claim as anything I can think of to the title of The Great American Song. I hated to leave out doo-wop - maybe "When You Dance," by the Turbans, "Church Bells May Ring" by the Willows, "That's My Desire" by the Channels, "I Promise to Remember" by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. "Please Send Me Someone To Love," by Percy Mayfield, the Poet of the Blues. Specialty Records owner Art Rupe said of Percy that he suffered from a terrible self-image -- if he'd had the right encouragement, he could have been another Langston Hughes. I believe it.

I will tag someone new.

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