I have an embarrassingly large CD and record collection – spread across two flats (not both mine, in case you were wondering) and occupying everything from shelves to suitcases. Courtesy of YouTube, I thought I’d share some of the choice items – particularly some of the less well known ones.  Think of it as a slowly evolving, digital mixtape...

There’ll be a new song most days (at least that’s the plan) so keep checking back and please post your comments and suggestions as well.

Superstar was written by Bonnie Bramlett (of Delaney and Bonnie) and Leon Russell in 1969.

Originally accorded the less commercial - if rather more candid - title of Groupie, it first surfaced as a Delaney and Bonnie B-side and garnered more attention when Rita Coolidge sang it on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and, subsequently, on the album.  Her recording is considerably rawrer then her later pop hits and well worth seeking out.

Bette Midler sang it on The Johnny Carson Show which is where Richard Carpenter heard it and things really took off.  It was, reportedly, the Carpenters' version that first changed the line ‘And I can hardly wait to sleep with you again’ to ‘... be with you again’, thus thrilling the publishers by rendering it more radio-friendly.  Around about this time Cher and Peggy Lee also recorded memorable versions – Lee’s version being particularly poignant as rendered from the standpoint of an older woman still haunted by a long ago liaison.

Whizz forward three decades and the song’s co-writer recorded this perhaps definitive version for her I’m Still The Same album.  Bramlett digs deep into the lyric, managing to find some of Karen Carpenter’s longing, Midler’s desperation and Lee’s ennui.  It’s bloody good.

Sadly, it’s probably the late great Luther Vandross we have to thank for the song’s abuse by American Idol and X Factor contestants over the years.  His version is fine but loses the original meaning, becoming a generalised account of loss and paving the way for its subsequent anthemising and abuse by mindless melisma.

We can only be grateful for the song’s restoration by the woman who understands it better than any other.

 

OK – so this one’s a bit marmite. Singers and organs – love ‘em? Hate ‘em?.

I’m actually posting this to celebrate the Japanese release of one rarish and another very hard to find Joe Williams/Count Basie album.  I wanted to post something from the really obscure one, Just The Blues, which is brilliant and you really should own.  However, YouTube insisted on blocking it in some 237 countries (copyright, you know) so there would have been little point.  The track I first uploaded, Trav’lin’ Light, is probably the best version of the song after Billie’s and certainly the saddest so get that album.

This one is from an unusual date – Joe, a small group and the Count on organ.  It also features some nice, if short, solos from Freddie Green (although not here, sadly).

I think the organ thing works quite well here – mainly because the Count follows his usual rule of never playing three notes when one well-chosen one will do.  The album is also interesting in that it marks the early stages of Joe’s attempts to break away from being ‘just’ a blues singer and to explore the whole gamut of Tin Pan Alley.  Basie wasn’t, by all accounts, entirely sympathetic to his ambitions so this album represents something of a concession and recognitions of his band singer’s extraordinary talent.  It presages Joe’s move into, for example, full blown ballad singing in the early 60s.

Memories of You is also the title of a brilliant Mark Murphy album paying tribute to Joe – check that one out as well.

  

Gospel trained, Mitty Collier recorded for Chess for most of the 60s, releasing 15 singles (Ace Records have a great compilation).  Only one, I Had A Talk With My Man, was a significant hit.  Dusty Springfield covered it and the greatest complement one can pay Collier is to note that Springfield failed to improve on her original.  An exceptional singer, she was unable to build on her initial success and, at the end of the decade, returned to the church.

Her only Chess album, Shades of a Genius – so titled because it comprised songs associated with Ray Charles – features this superior version of Drown In My Own Tears, a hit for Charles in 1956. The song was written by Henry Glover, one of the first successful black record company executives and producers at King and, later, Roulette. The song has been much recorded but you’ll struggle to find a more soulful interpretation than Mitty Collier’s.

 

One of the better Bowie cover versions.

RIP David.