Shattered, Wild, and Floating

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Movin’ On

So Rag Mama Rag is moving to Tumblr, ya’ll! Follow me there!

 

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The One-Hit Wonder, Grammy-Style

No awards show build-up is complete without some snarking about winners past, and MSN.com’s wide world of marginally useful sites are always a good place to look for these “Worst Oscar Nominees” and “Where Is the Best New Artist Now” type lists. They didn’t disappoint on the eve of this year’s Grammy awards, trotting out a Remember These Grammy-Winning One-Hit Wonders? for the occasion.

Such lists are always subjective, and this one’s no exception. There were a few solid picks — I had to look up the Baha Men, so far have they fallen into obscurity — along with a few head-scratchers. Here are three that puzzled me:

Bruce Hornsby

By no definition could Bruce Hornsby be called a one-hit wonder. Hornsby’s been on the Billboard charts eleven times, in all; “The Way It Is” was followed by “Mandolin Rain,” which peaked at #4, “Every Little Kiss,” which peaked at #14. This, of course, is not counting Hornsby’s charting albums — an important distinction to make, considering that Hornsby has always been more an album artist than a singles artist. It’s not unlike calling the Grateful Dead one-hit wonders — yes, “Touch of Grey” was the band’s only charting single.

Marc Cohn

If a #1 chart position is the criteria for this list, 1992’s Best New Artist, Marc Cohn, isn’t even a one-hit wonder. He never reached #1, either on the albums chart or with “Walking in Memphis,” the song for which the author assumes he was nominated. Like Hornsby, though, Cohn is known as more of an albums artist — he’s had four albums chart on Billboard’s Top 200. He’s also charted several times with greatest hits collections, the ultimate irony, all things considered.

Jamiroquai

It could be just that I love Jamiroquai, but this inclusion offends me. To be sure, the band (or auteur Jay Kay, more like) is not a one-hit wonder; they’ve had songs and albums chart on no less than 14 Billboard charts, ranging from “Adult Pop” to “Dance/Electronic Albums” to “Hot R&B/Hip Hop.” Chalk this one up to xenophobia — Jamiroquai was never as popular in the U.S. as in Europe and Asia (big in Japan, for real).

Clearly Bruce Hornsby, Marc Cohn and Jamiroquai fail the one-hit wonder test — the question is why these three were included on this list when far more deserving artists were neglected. In that spirit, here’s a list of artists, a few of which won the Grammy for Best New Artist in the past. See if you can spot the winners:

The Swingle Singers

Starland Vocal Band

A Taste of Honey

Harper’s Bizarre

The Neon Philharmonic

Timbuk3

Shelby Lynne

Soul II Soul

Belly

Sisquo

Have fun!

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Same Name Game – “Polaris”

A brand new thingie here — the Same Name Game! Here’s how you play: find two unrelated songs with the same name, and marvel at your own vast knowledge and vaster collection of MP3s/CDs/wax cylinders!

Did you know that there are two great, totally different and completely unrelated songs called “Polaris?” I know!

Here’s one by my dearly beloved Megadeth:

How do you like that “Polaris,” darlins? Does it make you bang your sweet little head, or at the very least wonder at the beauty of this lyric “I spread disease like a dog/discharge my payload/my rotten egg of death rots out your nostrils”?

Don’t laugh, honeys. Underneath all that shredding — which is indeed a thing of beauty — my boyfriend Dave Mustaine has a lot to say, and it’s all worth hearing, really. He’s warning you of nuclear winter and the destruction of all mankind. Which means we need to make plans to find a spaceship and get the hell out of here and quick!

Good thing Zero 7’s ready with their “Polaris”:

Because this “Polaris” is instrumental, I can make it about anything I want it to be. As with most Zero 7 instrumentals, I make it about space.  I want this “Polaris” to be about a spaceship that’s going to take us away from the horrible death the other “Polaris” promises us.  It’s going to take us to a lovely, lovely space station where the Muzak always plays Zero 7, Royksopp and Air, everything is mid-century modern and we’re all sleek and fast.

I love the Same Name Game!

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Minor Hit: Jo Jo Gunne – “Run Run Run”

It’s time once again to consider the merits of a minor hit and allow you, the reader, to be the judge of whether this minor hit should have been a major hit.

This week’s episode features Jo Jo Gunne’s 1972 single “Run Run Run.” If you’re unfamiliar with Jo Jo Gunne, don’t feel bad — you’re in the majority. Jo Jo Gunne’s major claim to fame, aside from their almost one-hit wonder status with “Run Run Run,” is the fact that the band featured Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes, late of the great Spirit. Unfortunately for Ferguson and Andes, Jo Jo Gunne would prove less successful than Spirit, who languished unjustly as a mid-level band throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s (and yes, you do sense another “mid-level band” entry in the making).

So in 1972, Jo Jo Gunne released their self-titled first album, which featured the single “Run Run Run.” “Run Run Run”‘s chart run was the stuff that one-hit wonders were made of; the single entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at #29 in April, peaked at #6 in May, and dipped lower and lower on the chart until disappearing later that year.  “Run Run Run” would be Jo Jo Gunne’s sole charting single.

The dismal chart action didn’t deter the original Gunners, though. Despite several member changes, the band hung on for three more albums before disbanding in 1975. The lack of another hit single likely didn’t bother the ever-changing membership in the Jo Jo Gunne club much; like Spirit, the band was more an album band than a singles band, anyway.

So, the moment of decision has arrived, dear reader. Watch/listen to the following YouTube clip, and make up your mind: did “Run Run Run” deserve a longer “Run Run Run” at the top of the chart, or was the song’s quick “Run Run Run” back into mid-level popularity a reflection of the songs merits (or lack thereof)?

To my mind, “Run Run Run” barely deserved the chart action it managed to achieve. I’m a huge fan of Spirit, but I could never get behind Jo Jo Gunne, which sounded like Spirit’s stupid younger brother. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that time has borne my opinion out, as “Run Run Run” has almost disappeared from oldies radio — and all but the clearest memories from the 1970s, evidently — altogether.

However, I do have a healthy appreciation for Jay Ferguson’s OTHER minor hit, 1978’s “Thunder Island,” if not for his white man ‘fro or pornstache. To make up for subjecting you to “Run Run Run,” though, I’ll share “Thunder Island,” too:

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Cross Post!

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R.I.P. Don Cornelius

So sad to hear of Don Cornelius’ passing today. In memory of Mr. Soul Train, here’s a clip of him interviewing one of my favorite bands, Tower of Power:

And because an interview’s just not enough of ToP, here’s another clip:

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Understanding Bobby Womack

As always, I’m fashionably late to the party, but the Unsung episode about Bobby Womack that aired a few weeks ago was high up on my list of favorite Unsung episodes. Thank you, TV One, for providing this valuable service.

Why someone hasn’t made a Bobby Womack biopic is a mystery to me. The man’s life is the definition of Oscar-bait pathos. He married his hero/mentor Sam Cooke‘s widow shortly after Cooke’s bizarre death, earning the enmity of disc jockeys and fellow artists alike (not to mention earning himself a potentially career-ending beatdown at the hands of Cooke’s brothers) for years. He made a quiet comeback at the tail end of the 1960s before exploding into huge success in the early 1970s. By the middle of the decade, he’d descended into a druggy madness exacerbated by the deaths of his brother and infant son. He staged yet another short-lived comeback in the late 70s and early 80s, before drugs and the death of another son brought him low again. By the 2000s, a living legend, he was recording with hip-hop artists.

Yet, I’d hate to see Bobby Womack’s life diminished by a treacly movie. Musician movies are, by and large, overblown montages of formative moments and lip-synched “performance” shots. And no movie could come close to what makes Bobby Womack transcend his tabloid-ready history — his talent for writing lyrics that stick in your head and delivering them in a style that is truly his own.

I’d never seen an interview with Bobby Womack prior to seeing the Unsung episode, and it was enlightening, in that you can literally hear his musical talent just by listening to him speak. There’s no doubt that Womack owes at least part of his conversational singing style to Sam Cooke, but when you hear Womack speak, you can see where his uncanny talent for lyrics comes from. Few artists can write songs that sound as much like natural speech as Bobby Womack, but, then, few artists are as naturally well-spoken and compelling in conversation as Bobby Womack, either.

Songs like “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha,” “I’m Through Trying to Prove My Love to You,”  and “Woman’s Gotta Have It” sound as much like Bobby Womack speaking as they do songs.  Even his rhymes seem natural; you’re never jarred out of the enjoyment of a Bobby Womack song by a contrived rhyme or the sense that a line has been manipulated to fit the meter.

I’ve always thought that Bobby Womack’s lyrics were more like conversations than any others I’ve ever heard, so I was thrilled to hear how many times he referenced a song of his, only to say it was inspired by a conversation he’d had with someone, or that he’d overheard.

“I’m Through Trying to Prove My Love to You” was not one of the songs he mentioned, but see if (some of) the lyrics don’t explain my hypothesis:

… But I’ve found someone, and I think she understands

What it really means to have a real man.

Her daily deeds, the things she do and say,

She say,  “I’m not trying to take that other woman’s place, but if I can’t help you I swear I won’t stay in your way-”

“Tell that woman you’re through, trying to prove your love to her.”

… I’m through staying up all night, waiting on you to return.

I don’t think there’s another lesson I have to wait awhile to learn.

You’ll find out further down the road

See when you take my heart I can’t let you take my soul.

… It always happens in so many love affairs

You’re so in love today and tomorrow you just don’t care.

One gets tired and gives up on loving the other,

The other one goes running in the streets trying to find it in another…

There’s nothing mind-blowing there, but the lyrics are remarkable for the way that they read, as much as sound, like something someone would actually say.  That’s a hallmark of Bobby Womack’s songwriting, and goes a long way toward explaining the enduring appeal these songs have. It’s no wonder his songs have been covered to death.

But no matter who does his songs, no one does them like Bobby Womack does.  He’s a gifted, emotive singer and one of the few soul artists aside from Bill Withers I’ve seen who evidently writes most of his songs on acoustic guitar.

And when he does play them stripped down, just him and a guitar — did you realize that Bobby Womack plays acoustic guitar primarily? Or that he’s left-handed? Or that his style is so elegant and gorgeous that he’s played on Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, and Don Covay records?

Anyway, to get the essence of Bobby Womack, check out the string of awesome albums he made from Fly Me to the Moon to Lookin’ for a Love Again. These albums capture what makes Womack’s style so timeless: great songs (whether his own or covers), his unique delivery, and the simple, elegant production that makes these albums sound just as relevant now as they did when they were released and transcend genre.  They’re sophisticated, adult in a way that even the silky Philly soul albums of the time couldn’t touch. Bobby Womack’s songs would sound at home on any radio station, be it rock, R&B, blues or even country.

In fact, when he plays his songs live, stripped down, most of his songs sound more like folk or country than what we think of as soul.

Which brings me to one of my favorite moments in the Unsung documentary, an apochryphal story about the, ah, unique name Womack wanted to give his 1976 country album, B.W. Goes C&W —  Move Over Charlie Pride and Give Another Nigger a Chance. Yes, you read that right. According to Womack, his label didn’t like that title.

But you can only appreciate the rich irony here if you’ve seen the cover:

Interestingly, two of the songs Womack tackles on this album of covers are songs made famous by Charlie Rich, who, like Womack, had a career full of struggles before becoming wildly successful in the early 70s with a string of songs that brought a new sophistication to country.

You need to see this shot, too:

Bobby Womack, ever the rebel.

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R.I.P. Jimmy Castor

Oh no! Jimmy Castor of the immortal Jimmy Castor Bunch has slipped this mortal coil. It’s good we have this to remember him by:

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The Pointy-Headed Spawn of the Bee Gees and Crosby Stills and Nash…

 

… can be found HERE.  Go ahead. Click. You know you want to.

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