Saturday, March 13, 2021

MR/MISS: Pitiful


purchase [Mr Pitiful]

You could read about yourself if you don't already know but I'll save you the effort: back in '64, a radio DJ called Otis Redding "Mr. Pitiful" on account of the sound of his voice. Steve Cropper, Redding's guitarist (I want to say "long-time collaborator", but sadly it wasn't very long since he died about 2 years later in a plane crash on his way to a concert) came up with the song, which they recorded more or less in a flash.

None of his work is pitiful. In fact - reading I have done this week repeatedly reminds me that even the lowliest life is not pitiful. Pitiful is a mind-set. Sure, from the outside, it ain't hard to categorize another [wo]man's life as pitiful (  defineiton here), but that's a perspective filled with bias: how you view it may not be the whole story.

I did not know (but now do) that Steve Cropper was a member of a Stax backing band that did their thing for a number of known show-names (the Mar-Keys). Known as <the Colonel>, he fronted and was a member of other bands including Booker T and the M.G.'s He was also a member of the Belushi/Aykroyd Blues Brothers Band.

Within 2 years, Redding was producing music that, as Rolling Stone magazine wrote, was impressive - a far cry from Mr Pitiful, even if his vocal style was emotional-: "fluttering horns and staccato guitar" at the Whiskey a Go Go. Songs that hit the top of the charts even after his untimely death.

Etta James twisted the lyrics to "Miss Pitiful" from Mr to Miss.

Taj Mahal recorded a version.

The Stones have played it on ocassion.

Friday, March 12, 2021


Anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of this site will appreciate that there is likely little hip hop demographic within the reading or the writing. By way neither of apology or excuse, I guess this is a an age and colour thing, old white guys seldom experts outside their narrow zones of comfort. If I were younger, maybe a bit more: my son was a huge fan of the genre twenty odd years ago and certainly gave me limitless opportunity to absorb, wanted or not. And, I admit, largely not. But, as I peruse my i-tunes, I have rather more than I realised, and have no little grudging respect for certain artists, tending to prefer the melodic to the militant, the abstract to the angry. Like this, the contrast between the staccato delivery of the verses and the dreamy chorus grabbing my ears back then, even as I was scrubbing the graffiti off my son's bedroom walls.

Now, I guess I could now make this a hastily regurgitated precis of the life and times of the band, OutKast, or the duo, as they were, but I fear my sources would be obvious. Plus, we can all read wikipedia for ourselves, but I hadn't realise that the song relates to the relationship of Andre 3000, one of the pair, with singer Erykah Badu, or more specifically with her mother, the Ms "Jackson" the lyrics are addressed to. Whilst not necessarily a fan of the individual, she apparently loved the song, a fair bit more, in fact, than her daughter, who found it a little close to the bone. So, nearly avoiding also any clumsy link to the other OutKast song in my collection, lets celebrate a couple or so other Ms Jacksons...

Wanda Jackson isn't either actually quite my demographic, this little ditty hailing from the year of my birth, and comes from days when cultural sensitivities were, shall we say, less well honed. But, as a piece of rough hewn rockabilly, it certainly has some pizazz and she has continued ploughing that field right up until, astonishingly, as recently as 2012, that being when her last record was released. Little had changed.

So which one's Luscious, you ask? And given the Lucious, no s, Jackson was a male basketball player, and after whom this all-girl band named themselves, does this fit the strict criterion I apply to all my nonsense. Hell, no, but it's my post, and I like the band, as much for being there as for the music they produced.

Jade Jackson is/was 'One of 10 New Country Artists You Should Know", according to Rolling Stone in 2017, and has a bit more balls than many of the winsome souls who that sort of category might have you bringing to mind. In fact, she has me thinking more of a modern day Wanda. I know little of her beyond this song, but I like it. In fact, I may go check out some of her other work.

From the present back to the past I tread, desperately trying to bypass the Ms Jackson that is Janet, Mahalia being one I cannot possible exclude, a truly majestic vocal presence that lingers to this day. Whether gospel is or not your thing, I defy you to ignore the power and presence displayed. No wonder that Sinead O'Connor chose to revisit just this song for her latest come-back.

Who's your favourite Ms Jackson?

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Mr/Ms: He's Misstra Know-It-All


purchase [ Misstra Know It All ]

Is "misstra" a variation on Mr.? - and thus a viable choice for this theme?

The word <misstra> is pretty much undocumented. The intranet provides clues but no real answer:  It appears that Wonder was referencing Nixon (he could as well have been referencing our ex. )

THE internet also tells us that <Misstrah> is likely not "kind" - possibly a mix of "massah" and mister?

"Playin'  hard, talkin; fast ... He's the coolest one with the biggest mouth...and "if we had less of him, don't you know we'd have a better land .."

I guess I've tipped my hand (who plays hard and fast with a big mouth?)

But ... you are here for the music. And so ... Innervisions.

Innervisons, in that Wonder can only see inside? Innervisions, in that we should all be so gifted to see so much inside. Innervisions, in that something awoke inside Stevie Wonder that moved him for the formulaic Motown that I witnessed on stage in Seattle in 1969 as "Little Stevie Wonder". (Admittedly valuable for its time and space) to the post-Innervisions that produced this and his later work.

There are actually several points in the song where Stevie Wonder progressivly amps it up; you can hear the background vocals doing an increasingly urgent "yeah ..yeah" early on, but at about 2:30 we get a major shift that builds to that  point in the song [3:00]  where Stevie Wonder very meaningfully switches/ramps up the tempo to emphasize his point. The tempo seems to jump - and at least the emotion jumps - as we hear the hand claps and "growls" that signal a message change-

Finally he says: "You talk too much, you worry me to death .." Point well made - please, let's move on.

Chuck Schumer's playlist [100 days of tr**] on Spotify includes this song for some reason  (no the reason is clear, me thinks)


and ... James Morrison

Mr./Ms.: Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox

James Taylor: Hey Mister, That's Me up on the Jukebox

If you’ve been reading my work on this site since 2011 (!), you might notice that I often discuss why various artists aren’t as famous as I (or others) think they should be. That isn’t the problem this time, since our featured song was written and performed by James Taylor, who was, and still is, pretty famous. 

Today, we’re looking at a song written from the perspective of someone who achieved fame, and is maybe not all that happy about it. 

Taylor’s path to stardom is pretty well known. Born into a prosperous family, he was a sensitive musical child who eventually struggled with both mental illness and drug abuse. After his first “real” band, the Flying Machine, which also included his longtime friend and future collaborator Danny Kortchmar, failed to take off (sorry—I’m guessing that I’m not the first person to make that joke), he moved to England. Through Kortchmar, Taylor connected with Peter Asher, who at the time was running A&R for Apple Records, and Asher played Taylor’s demo for McCartney and Harrison, who loved it. Taylor was the first non-British act signed to Apple Records. 

Taylor’s self-titled debut, despite positive reviews, and a fine single, “Carolina On My Mind,” failed to sell well, in part because Taylor couldn’t promote the album because he was again in rehab. Upon his release, Taylor was unable to maintain the momentum from enthusiastic crowds at live shows, including the 1969 Newport Folk Festival, because he broke his hands and feet in a motorcycle accident. 

Signing with Warner Bros. Records, Taylor moved to California and recorded his next album with a big assist from Carole King (and Asher and Kortchmar). That album, Sweet Baby James, was justifiably a smash hit, garnering both critical and popular acclaim. This led to high profile concerts, benefit shows, TV appearances, and Time magazine’s declaration that he was the “face of new rock.” Let’s take a brief digression here to remind our readers who were not alive in 1971 that this was not at all as strange at the time as it sounds today. 

As often happens, the followup to the big hit album pales in comparison. That’s not to say that Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon was a bad album—it just wasn’t Sweet Baby James. Despite that, the album did spawn Taylor’s only Billboard No. 1 hit, a cover of King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” featuring Joni Mitchell on background vocals, as well as Kortchmar and the crack rhythm section of Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel. 

Also on Mud Slide Slim is “Hey Mister, That's Me up on the Jukebox,” in which the singer, presumably Taylor, is pointing out to the titular Mister that it is, in fact, he who is singing the sad song on the jukebox. On the one hand, there has to be some pride in that, but there’s also a little shock, and some sadness about the fact that: 

I have wasted too much time just to sing you this sad song
And I've done been this lonesome picker a little too long

Taylor has said that the song “is basically a way of dealing with the shock of being a private person going public.” When asked if he found it jarring, Taylor responded: 

Yeah. I found it - you know, of course, it's exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be successful. And I wanted to get people to hear my music. I wanted my music to make a difference to people. But at the same time, you know, making yourself the product, it's very distracting. 

Coincidentally, not long before starting to write this, I got to see my daughter experience a small amount of similar weirdness, although without the corresponding ambivalence (or, so far, massive commercial success). I may have mentioned before that she’s a standup comedian in Barcelona, and for a few months has been appearing semi-regularly on a TV show there, The Weekly Mag, designed to help locals practice their English. I stumbled across her IMDB page, listing her one credit, and she was shocked when I sent it to her. No, it’s not the same as what JT went through, but it is a cute story, and it allows me to make this piece a little more personal than just a discussion of the early career of James Taylor. 

Anyway, despite decades of fame, Taylor has always seemed to have a certain ambivalence about his place in the public spotlight consistent with “Hey Mister’s” lyrics, even as he has continued to record and perform, be a political and environmental activist, have a high profile marriage and divorce from Carly Simon, and a second marriage to actress Kathryn Walker (and another divorce). However, he seems to have settled into a quieter third marriage, to Kim Smedvig (who my wife, a huge Taylor fan, would point out is a Smithie), a comfortable recording and performing (pre-COVID) career, and maybe, finally, happiness.

Sunday, March 7, 2021



It's thursday night, it's 7.30, so it must be Top of the Pops, that covering most of my youth, from as early as I can recall, possibly aged five or so, and progressing much into middle youth, my twenties and thirties. I think I probably came off the bus in the '90s, as anonymous dance acts pretended to play, and it only took a couple of dozen sales to get in the chart, with the programme eventually running itself out of steam in the noughties. True, the time slot varied a bit, as did the length of the programme, but it was always, between those years, essential viewing, even when it was a family cringe-fest, ma and pa jutting in with their opinions, often broadly unhelpful, and requiring many Judas moments of denial that I liked that sort or thing. Or worse, if I actually did.

This song I shouldn't have liked at all, it being a novelty instrumental, a one hit wonder at that. But listen. It's actually very well played, and so it should have been, given the players. To be fair, I am wondering how much I did like it at the time, 1970, and how much it is the nostalgic feel good filter of rose-tinted earbuds. Be that as it may, I think it's a corker now.

It is actually a cover, the tune first cropping up, as above, a b-side of an already pretty hard to harvest band, Wind, who certainly evoke a me, neither response to anyone I know. They were a backing band for Tony Orlando, actually during the time he was better known for performing with Dawn. I guess Tony Orlando with Wind might prove a tad close to the bone, this instrumental the flip of Make Believe, a 1969 hit, seemingly, if not my side of the pond. Anyhow, it was picked up by Steve James of Dick James Music (DJM), then the record label for, amongst others, Elton John. Unable to pick up the rights to release the original, he picked a selection of artists available to him to recreate it. Elton allegedly played on the pilot project, but was ditched for a version with a Zack Laurence on the piano, the distinctive harmonica part possibly played by a Harry Pitch. However, by the time it came to Top of the Tops, the harmonica was being played by an Ian Duck. None of those three have any lasting backstory, but the rest of the band did, being, essentially, Elton's then backing band, later to become Hookfoot, with Dee Murray on bass, Roger Pope on bass and Caleb, brother of Finley, on guitar. A fairly huge hit, peaking at number two, courtesy the alongside presence of Mungo Jerry's In The Summertime. It then remained in the charts for eighteen weeks, and longer in the clubs, it fitting well into the then Northern Soul craze filling the dancehalls of northern England.

There were follow-ups, none successful. On the back of the UK success, Wind had their version re-released in the US, as and a-side, this time credited under the slightly safer band name Cool Heat. There have been the odd subsequent cover version, some very odd. Perhaps the oddest, and the least necessary, was by the Associates, the band the of maverick Scottish singer Billy McKenzie, more usually defined by his extraordinary vocal range and lifestyle choices. But, for posterity, I feel I should include it here.

Don't bloe it!