Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Samples and Found Sounds: What The World Needs Now/Abraham, Martin, & John

Tom Clay: What the World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin and John


Few top 10 hits have featured live recordings of murder. This peace anthem, released on Motown subsidiary MoWest and a #8 US hit in 1971, includes the live coverage of John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and, chillingly, the sound of Robert Kennedy being murdered in 1968, including his last, optimistic words. All that, plus Ted Kennedy’s tear-choked eulogy at Bobby’s funeral and Martin Luther King’s poignant words in his last speech before he was gunned down in Memphis, is interspersed with army drill singing (the “I don’t know what I believe” stuff), and, framing the whole thing, a rather affecting interview with a child about definitions of such terms as bigotry and prejudice.

With all that, it matters little that the covers of Bacharach/David’s What The World Needs Now Is Love and Dion’s overly sentimental Abraham, Martin & John – performed by session band The Blackberries – are rather cheesy. Actually, the way The Blackberries launch into What The World Needs Now after the Ted speech compensates for the cheesiness.

Tom Clay, it seems, was a bit of an operator. In the 1950s, he was one of the radio DJs nabbed in the payola scandal (which was really an attack on rock & roll, rather than a fortification of ethical principles). At the height of Beatlemania, Clay cashed in on having interviewed the Fab Four by launching a Beatles Booster Club, which offered in exchange for a fee of a dollar an item used by the Beatles. Clay got 80,000 payments of a dollar. Allegedly, not everybody got the promised Beatles item, and the few who did received stuff like used tissues and cigarette butts.

Clay died in 1995 at the age of 66.

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