Great songs are viral, adapting and ramifying

This week, I'm simultaneously fighting off a wicked head cold and moving into a new apartment with a slightly used girlfriend, so time is tight and I'm coiled even tighter. In a review of Montag on, I had this to say about Jacqeus Brel, the cornerstone of my post today, and about '60s French-language pop in general.

Put aside the fact that Brel's "pristine, precise inflections" epitomized soulful singing by a less UScentric standard (although if you're intrigued by the modern rejuvenation of old French buskers, I'll take a second to point you toward Feist and The Real Tuesday Weld); Brel's near-miss with Stateside dominance is what I'm interested in here. Brel was huge in France and continues to exert a powerful influence upon American and British music geeks; Frank Sinatra covered him; he got to Carnegie Hall (by practicing, one assumes) in '63, but he's not exactly a household name here in the old U.S. of etc., where slyly sadsack cabaret has never blown up the charts. An overly specific and personalized reading of "La Chanson de Jacky" might find him addressing just this topic. With lyrical verve and hyperspecific detail that reads like a classier Tom Waits turn on the page, Brel careens though a vivid world of Spanish bums, opium dens and pink elephants, realms of intrigue and romantic poverty and opulent wealth, even venturing to posit himself in some literally heavenly sphere, reaching and grabbing at imagined lives only to thrust them away again.

At least, this is how it scans in the most well-known English translation (I don't speak French), which would be Scott Walker's cover, "Jackie" (translated by Mort Shuman) which he recorded for the successful musical revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Walker's version cracked the top 40 and offered English-speaking listeners a window into Brel's exuberant, whimsical, and mildly profane style. "Still I would sing my song to me about the time they called me Jackie / If I could be, for only an hour / If I could be for an hour every day / If I could be for just one little hour / A cute cute, in a stupid-assed way."

"La Chanson de Jacky" continues to mutate. "I'd sell records by the ton / All sung by many other jasminlive fellows," Brel posits. Besides Sinatra and Walker, Brel tunes (albeit often lyrically bowdlerized) became standards for Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and now, in 2005, my pals Fake Swedish. While Walker's version more or less adheres to Brel's sweeping orchestral instrumentation and rapid, tripping pace, these twenty-something Chapel Hillians have tricked it out to nestle snugly in their repertoire while restoring the original spelling of "Jacky". The faux Swedes slooooowed it down (hence the extra 40 seconds or so) to a languid mod-rock daydream, complete with shimmery chords and a spaghetti Western bassline. It's a cover of a cover, and I can't imagine it'll be the last. And until someone tries to remake it as, say, a ska-punk anthem, it's going to be good when the next generation takes a crack at it too.

Finally, in honor of those defanged and inaccurate Brel translations floating about, I'll leave it to you to guess whether the following is a) a lost Gertrude Stein, poem or b) a typically useless Babelfish translation of Brel's original lyrics:

Same if one day has Knock-le-Zout I become as I fear it Chanteur for finishing women Same if I their sing Mi Corazon With the way bandoleante Argentinian of Carcassonne Same if one m calls Antonio That I brule my last fires In exchange of some gifts Madam, ye do what I can Same if I drunk A L hydromel For better speaking about virility A of the memeres decorees Like Christmas trees I know that in my sonography Each night for pink elephants I their will sing my morose song That of time or I m appellais Jacky Etre one hour one hour To only be one hour one hour some times Etre one hour nothing qu one hour lasting Beau, beautiful beautiful and idiot has the time Same if one day has Macao I become governor of Cercle knitting languid women Same if wearies D being singer J would have become maitre singer there And that they are the different ones which sings Same if one m calls the beautiful Serge Whom I sell of the sticks D opium Of the whisly of Clermont Ferrand Of truths fags of false virgins That J have a bank has each finger And a finger in each country And that each country either has me I know when same that each night... All alone at the bottom of me smoking For public of old Chinese I their will sing my song has to me That of time or I m appellais Jacky Etre one hour one hour To only be one hour one hour some times Etre one hour nothing qu one hour lasting beautiful beautiful Beau and idiot has the time Same if one day with the paradise I become like J in surprised spoke Chanteur for women has white wings The same if I their sing Alleluia While regretting time D in bottom Or C is not tous.les.jours Sunday Same if one m calls God the Father That which is in L directory Between God the son and God keeps you Meme if I m let push the beard Same if always too good apple I m creve the heart and the pure spirit to want to comfort the men I know when same that each night J will hear in my paradise the angels, the saints and Lucifere to sing to me song of at one time That of time or I m appellais Jacky Etre one hour one hour To only be one hour one hour some times Etre one hour nothing qu one hour lasting beautiful beautiful Beau and idiot has the time

Sweet Soul Music

I hardly ever post to the I Love Music website because once I dive in there and start messing about, I look up and... somehow, it's two days later. ILM is the total crack binge of music nerd-dom, and if you don't know about it, that's probably for the best. I posted there the other day because I'd looked in all the obvious sources but could find nothing of substance about a soul 45 on the Silver Fox label from 1970 that I've been fairly obsessed with for years, the Civil Rights lament "Cryin' in the Streets" by George Perkins and the Silver Stars. This song fucking slays me. George Perkins' Claude Jeter-y falsetto alone is so rad... Speaking of Jeter, I consider this tune one of the finest examples of secular gospel ever, up there with "Change Is Gonna Come."

I first heard it on Guralnick's excellent 1992 companion disc to his Sweet Soul Music book (CD found here). Greil Marcus says this about the tune in an old SALON column (the song leads off a Trikont comp. he was writing about, Down & Out: The Sad Soul of the Black South): "George Perkins and the Silver Stars' 1971 "Crying in the Streets" (is) a purposeful negation of Martha and the Vandellas' 1964 "Dancing in the Street" and a eulogy for the Civil Rights Movement." I see somebody marching," Perkins cries, but he doesn't; he's crying in the street because all he sees are ghosts."

So, back on ILM, I quickly heard back from this guy William Mills, who graciously filled me in on all he knew of George's recording career: "The only single Perkins cut with the Silver Stars was "Cryin' In the Streets". It was originally released on the tiny Golden label out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana (where I've always assumed Perkins hailed from) and ended up being picked up for re-release by Silver Fox a sub-label of SSS Intl. Perkins did cut a handful of solo singles for the Louisiana based Soul Power label. The entirety of two of those singles were compiled a few years back on the wonderful second volume of the Soul Jewels collection, I Wake Up Crying (though both volumes are wonderful with great obscure nuggets from the Wallace Brothers, Lonnie & Floyd and Clarence Carter at his pulpit-gripping grittiest)."

"There are two more singles Perkins cut with his next group from 75-76, George Perkins & The New Revue, also on the Soul Power label. The best of which, "I Can't Stand Your Kind of Lovin' Forever Pts.1 & 2," is fantastic and in dire need of reissue or at least comped, which to my knowledge it hasn't. I've also seen three singles of his on the Royal Shield label on set sale lists a few times over the years including "Crying on the Streets", no idea if that one's a straight reissue or re-recording though hopefully one day I'll turn a copy and see. Wish I had something to tell regarding Perkins bio but I've heard very little about him over the years and even less of Frank Turner, the other voice heard in duet w/Perkins on the Silver Stars single. Only wished I had tried to track him down when I lived down in Louisiana."

DJ Smurf interview

When I did college radio in the mid-90s, Ichiban was perhaps the most enthusiastic servicer of vinyl, not that I ever listened to the slabs they served on They all had non-descript white sleeves and white stickers with black type and were virtually indistinguishable from one another. But maybe if I'd spent a few more hours in the shelf stacks (which I put together by hand - manual labor is the new old blogging!), I'd have found this gem, and pre-cogged the future of Southern rap.

Interviewing DJ Smurf recently, he mentioned oh-so-casually that even though "Get Low" was a bad look for the Ying Yang Twins because of the typecasting it engendered, it was a good look for him, because, well, "We had the publishing on that shit," or something like that. Come to find out that to-the-windows-to-the-walls, which has been chanted at go-go jams and P-Funk breakdowns and black frat parties and strip clubs for who knows how long, is actually claimable. And claimed.

Indeed, the booklet on Versastyles swears it: "2 Tha Walls" is "written by D.J. Smurf." Well, ok then.

By this time, in 1995 (though Smurf said there was a cassingle of the song around 1993), bass had already seeped upwards to Atlanta from Miami (Word to Raheem The Dream. Any info on Wikky Krikky (sp?) much appreciated. Holler at left). Local livejasmin legend and former Luke affiliate MC Shy-D has a bunch of writing credits here, but like the crunk icons that would follow, this is less about verses, and more about pneumatic beats - with a weird synth-squiggle-stab-series two-thirds of the way through

(Also, pretty sure Smurf is rapping here, but anyone with a clue about P.M.H.I. - their early work, their later work, their composition - is invited to comment.)

Smurf would go on to great acclaim as a producer and cultivator of the Ying Yang Twins, helming damn near everything from the Disney-banned version of "Whistle While You Twurk" (one of the countless great songs lost to sample/publishing clearance issues) to the decency-banned "Wait (The Whisper Song)." He might also choose a name someday that keeps him out of legal trouble.

A quick jolt of superb Oz punkpop for the weekend

The Angels (known overseas by some as "Angel City") were a Sydney-based Australian hard-rock band. Huge in their own land, but like vegemite and Aborigines, never really broke it big overseas. If they had, "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again" would have been the song to do it. It was released as the band's first single in 1976 and remains their best-loved hit. An important rite of passage for bogans involves listening to this song, and after the chorus "Am I ever gonna see your face again?"

The live performance captures this.

What are bogans you ask?

Bogans are the neo-rural moderns of Australia.

They are a droll breed of suburbanites from Eastern Australia. You know that dream you had about taking all the Jovi fans in Jersey and dropping them in the middle of the outback? Well it came true!

You may find gatherings of bogans in the parking lot of the Doncaster or Traralgon Shopping Centre, wearing form-fitted acid wash jeans, singlets, moccassins and grey cardigans, smoking Winnie Blues, drinking UDLs, threatening families and performing burnouts in Toranas.

A booming Australian real-estate market, along with the increased globalization of culture and Ugg Boots appearing on Oprah, has threatened the survival of the bogan.

But one man has single-handedly pulled them back from extinction.

That man is Russell Crowe.

Old bogan culture talks of a man with fire in his eyes and flannel on his chest who will one day come and bring their people to the promised land and dammit that man is Russell Crowe.

What Grand Mal is to seizures, Crowe is to bogans.

Crowe honors his culture every opportunity he gets. My two personal fav. moments:

#1 The 2001 Academy Awards

Crowe shows up wearing sunglasses AND a bolo-bow tie AND his grandfather's Member of the British Empire medal.

#2 Crowe Marries Danielle Spencer in 2003

For the wedding Crowe commissions the building of an enormous Italianate Gazeebo