Top Fifteen Rock Reissues of 2015

The competition for top fifteen reissues of the year—at least the kind of reissues I listen to—isn’t as fierce as it used to be. With so much rock from the twentieth century having already been reissued (sometimes several times), it’s harder to find lost nuggets that haven’t been available, or that most people don’t yet know. Reissues increasingly (and some examples are on the list below) depend on big boxes mixing oft-heard material with rarities; thematic compilations; and bells and whistles in the form of long (sometimes mini-book length) liner notes, DVDs, or rare (or, more dubiously, new) mixes. And the easy availability of music of all sorts of reissues (including some just-off-the-assembly line) on Spotify, youtube, and other online sources is making more people wonder why they should bother with physical product in the first place.

My selection for #1 rock reissue of the year.

My selection for #1 rock reissue of the year.

But even though I by no means hear every one, or most, of the reissues that might interest me on an annual basis, there wasn’t a problem filling a quality top fifteen for 2015. And, as I’ve said in previous best-of-the-year blogposts, this list covers everything I’ve heard in the calendar year 2015, through the end of December. Pressure from publications to meet deadlines sometimes means writers submit their lists two to three months before the end of the year. That not only cuts off some post-September releases, but eliminates contenders from throughout the year that they might not hear until the final months.

Note that I’ve given several of these far lengthier reviews in issues #7 and 8 of Flashback, the London-based ‘60s/’70s rock history magazine.

1. Them, The Complete Them 1964-1967 (Exile/Legacy). The sudden appearance of a three-CD set with virtually everything Them released with Van Morrison—including an entire CD devoted to demos, BBC sessions, outtakes, and other rarities—is kind of miraculous, plugging a major gap in the catalog of ‘60s British Invasion rock. Yes, the 1997 double-CD The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison had most of the studio material here, but it’s been out of print for quite some time, and didn’t have most of the rarities on disc three of the new anthology. Far more miraculous is that the concise, insightful, well-written liner notes bear the byline of Van Morrison himself, who seems to have gotten over whatever rumored resistance he might have had to preserving Them’s legacy. Not everything Them recorded with Van was great, but much of it was, with a fusion of R&B, rock, angst, slicing guitar, spooky organ, and Morrison’s commanding vocals that at its best was simply magnificent. The one notable absentee is the notorious alternate version of “Little Girl” (only issued on the first pressing of the obscure 14 various-artists charity compilation LP) on which Van yelps an obscenity on the fade—which means this collection doesn’t yet make some bootlegs obsolete.

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2. The Velvet Underground, The Complete Matrix Tapes (Universal). Four-and-a-half hours (and four CDs) of the Velvet Underground live at the Matrix, a small San Francisco club, on November 26 and 27 in 1969. Some of this formed the basis of the greatest live rock album, 1969 Velvet Underground Live. No other band was as good the Velvets were in late 1969 at imaginatively varying their songs not only from the studio versions, but from performance to performance. With Doug Yule having replaced John Cale a year earlier, the group were also reaching a concert peak as a powerful rock band, albeit one that did some odd songs and engaged in some experimental electronic dissonance and improvisation.

This is not an expanded version of 1969 Velvet Underground Live, and, despite its far greater quantity, not as great a listen. A few songs (notably “Femme Fatale”) from 1969 Live that were recorded in Dallas are missing. There are 42 tracks, but just 23 songs, meaning you get two, three, and sometimes even four multiple versions, which works against listening to all four discs at once. And just nine of these performances were previously unreleased, though the half-dozen tracks that previously appeared on Bootleg Series Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes are in appreciably better fidelity here.

Still, judged on its own merits, this is a major document of one of the greatest rock bands at their best. Some of the performances not on 1969 Velvet Underground Live—like the arrangements of “The Black Angel’s Death Song” and “Venus in Furs” with creepy organ, the longer version of “Sweet Jane” with neat improvised-sounding new lyrics, and a glowing “I’m Set Free” with some of Reed’s finest vocals—are either superb or at the least very interesting and different. And the magnificent, lengthy “version 2” of “White Light/White Heat,” long familiar from its appearance on 1969 Live, is in my view the greatest performance they ever taped.

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3. Zakary Thaks, It’s the End: The Definitive Collection (Big Beat). This isn’t nearly as lengthy and elaborate as most of the items on this list, in part because this great Texas garage band only put out a half-dozen singles in the mid-to-late-1960s. Still, it’s my #3 pick, such was the quality of their work, with searing fuzzy lead guitar and manic galloping tempos, as well as some good Merseybeat-ish pop and dark psychedelia. They should have been heard beyond their Corpus Christi hometown (where some of these 45s were hits), but weren’t heard much beyond Texas, at least until rediscovery by collectors. This has both sides of all six of their singles (not sequenced, however, in strictly chronological order), the length bumped up to 22 tracks with some outtakes and alternative versions. Most of this material has been reissued before, but this is the best package, with comprehensive liner notes featuring extensive quotes from band members.

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4. The Pretty Things, Bouquets from a Cloudy Sky (Snapper). It’s hard to evaluate a mammoth box that includes so much good material, yet also has a lot of inconsequential stuff, and excludes some rarities that need to be there to make it definitive. Such is this 13-CD, two-DVD, one-ten-inch-EP (whew!) box set for, as the tired but true cliché goes, the best British Invasion band not to make it in the US. You’d think a package of this size couldn’t help but contain everything they ever recorded, but that’s not quite the case. Take the best half of this (and add the missing rarities), and there’d be no question that it would be closer to the top of this list, and in fact find a place on lists of some of the best reissue boxes ever. As it is, it’s imperfect and, for all its attributes, quite expensive considering that almost any fan who’s tempted to buy it will already have the non-rarities.

To check off the good points: this has all five of their core albums from their prime, as well as all the non-LP tracks they issued during that 1964-1970 period. Two CDs of rarities (as well as the ten-inch EP) feature some rare and sometimes previously unreleased live/radio/TV recordings, alternate versions, and demos, though the first disc (roughly covering that peak period) is far more interesting than the second. One of the DVDs is an excellent documentary with numerous mid-to-late 1960s archive clips (presented in their entirety) that will not be made available separately. And the accompanying 100-page hardbound book of liner notes, by Pretty Things authority (and Ugly Things magazine publisher/editor) Mike Stax, has excellent text and numerous cool vintage photos and graphics.

On the flip side, the fact is that the half-dozen post-1970 studio albums aren’t nearly as essential as their predecessors (and, sometimes, just aren’t very good). There’s nothing from their interesting psychedelic-flavored contributions to late-‘60s film soundtracks (usually referred to as the Electric Banana LPs). There are just a few songs from the unusual psychedelic LP they did in the late ‘60s backing French fan/singer Philippe Debarge (though this has come out in its entirety on a separate CD). And there’s little from their numerous BBC radio sessions, though again, fortunately much of that material has been issued separately.

So it’s tough to recommend a box that, as big and impressive as it is in some respects, is also notably flawed and pricey. Yet its better half does do justice to this great band, who did so much at the cutting edge of both raucous early British R&B/rock (as heard in their 1964-66 recordings) and early British psychedelic/progressive rock (as heard in the 1967-1970 tracks).

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5. Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: Bob Dylan 1965-1966: The Cutting Edge: Collector’s Edition (Columbia). Where do you rate a huge box set of vast historical importance, but which by the very nature of its completism is often hard to listen to in sequence? Like the Velvet Underground boxes on this list that are almost more documentaries than reissue collections, it’s hard to say. I’m putting it in the middle, knowing that some historians and Dylan fanatics would want me tarred and feathered for not anointing it #1.

This is the 18-CD edition of a release also available in six-CD and two-CD versions. It has everything—literally—Dylan recorded in the studio in 1965 and 1966, in the most celebrated juncture of his career, when he shifted from acoustic folk to electric rock. That means you get all the outtakes, demos, and alternate versions from the sessions that produced Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, as well as a few non-LP singles. There’s also a disc of informal non-studio acoustic tapes done in hotel rooms during the period. Such is the sheer volume of material that books could be written about it; perhaps some are even in the works (and there are good mini-books of sorts of liner notes and photos accompanying this most deluxe of editions).

So it’s hard to sum up in a best-of-the-year roundup, even in five paragraphs. Here are some key points: there are some real interesting variations here, like a full-band electric version of “Desolation Row,” an uptempo approach to “Visions of Johanna,” an acoustic “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” a “Mr. Tambourine Man” with bass and drums, and (less successfully) “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” with car horn (seriously!). There are also many alternate versions that aren’t too different from the released ones, and as they often run together in bunches since the set is sequenced chronologically, those segments make for more scholarly listening than fun. There are sixteen versions alone of “She’s Your Lover Now”—a song not even released in any form until about a quarter of a century later.

In the more interesting alternate versions, minor lyric alterations and tempo adjustments abound. Some of the alternates also give you the chance to hear the Band (then the Hawks) on some songs that were re-recorded with other musicians for Blonde on Blonde. Heard in this mammoth as-it-happened roll call, it’s also striking how the box reveals Dylan getting much more comfortable with electric musicians over the course of these fourteen months (“The drums are driving me mad. I’m going out of my brain!” he exclaims when an attempt at “Mr. Tambourine Man” with drums breaks down). It’s also striking how much more melodic his compositions got between Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde on Blonde.

As if that’s not enough, purchasers of this (very expensive) collector’s edition also got a free download of MP3s of 208 (!) unreleased live 1965 tracks by Dylan, adding up to more than ten hours of additional music. Those MP3s are lower-fi (sometimes very lower-fi), and not up to the level of the famous Live 1966 concert from his spring European tour (eventually issued as volume four of Dylan’s Bootleg Series) in terms of sound quality, performance, or epochal historical importance. But they do add to the complete picture of one of the most analyzed eras of any musical artist’s output—which, with this Collector’s Edition box, is now documented in more detail than anyone would have thought possible.

It hasn’t been commented upon much in the media, but Dylan’s official bootleg series—in combination with his “copyright extension” releases of unreleased tracks, and some other odds and ends—has now made so much of his work available that you can trace his 1962-1967 trajectory in particular in finer details than you can almost any other rock artist. With more “copyright extension” stuff on the way (1966 live shows would be next, is my guess), it seems probable that almost everything he did in his first decade as a recording artist will soon be officially available, if you have the money and the time. (If you don’t, it will probably still be accessible in the you-know-where places if you have the right technology.) This isn’t only a development that no one would have thought Dylan would have authorized, but one that should be a model for other major artists who haven’t green-lighted release of most of their vault material to follow, from the Beatles on down.

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6. David Bowie, Five Years 1969-1973 (Parlophone). For many fans, these are THE five years when it comes to Bowie, as they saw the rise to stardom on which his legend is based. This 12-CD box set has all six of the studio albums he issued during this period, along with six CDs of other material that’s not as jammed with rarities as you might think or hope, though there are some. Most of them are on a double CD (titled Re:Call 1 ) that  wraps together most of the non-LP items from this period worth mentioning, from the Italian version of “Space Oddity” and the original 45 version of “Holy Holy” (marking its first official reissue, believe it or not) to the covers of “Amsterdam” and Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round,” as well as the original 1970 version of “The Prettiest Star” and its non-LP B-side “Conversation Piece.” Less essential are the Live Santa Monica ’72 disc (already issued separately and officially in 2008) and the double-CD soundtrack to the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars documentary, which is  better experienced on DVD (and available since 2003 on CD). Least essential is a CD devoted to a 2003 mix of Ziggy Stardust (by Paul Hicks and original LP co-producer Ken Scott) that is both unremarkable and unnecessary.

As for other bonuses, each CD contains reproductions of the original inner sleeves and inserts, as well as reproducing original LP artwork on the front and back covers (with alternate shots of Bowie-on-Heddon-Street for the 2003 Ziggy Stardust mix). More significant is the palm-sized 128-page hardback book with detailed memories of each of the half-dozen studio LPs by producers Tony Visconti and Ken Scott, and a brief foreword by Ray Davies. The book also has reprints of from-the-time reviews and features, as well as mucho period photos, record sleeves, posters, and adverts (though the tiny print on some handwritten lyrics and tape boxes makes those hard to read).

But — the actual CDs are missing material that could have easily fit on the discs as bonus tracks. These include his numerous BBC sessions of the period (admittedly those are well-represented by the two-CD Bowie at the Beeb: The Best of the BBC Radio Sessions 68-72) and outtakes that have shown up on some expanded editions of the albums. Best of all would have been a legit release, finally, of his early 1969 demos with John Hutchinson (see my chapter on Hutchinson in the ebook edition of Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll, based on a lengthy recent interview with him), which have long been bootlegged in lo-fi fidelity, though the release of a couple of these as bonus tracks on prior reissue CDs have boasted much better sound quality.

Is that a lot to ask? Sure. But since the label’s asking a good deal of money for the box, and the space is there, it’s not asking such a lot, really. Especially since, in common with a number of items on this list, most people considering buying this will already have a lot of the tracks. Which is one reason this package doesn’t rank higher. Judged on the music alone, it might well have risen to #3. But the Pretty Things, Bob Dylan, and VU boxes have significantly more material that’s both historic and rare.

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7. Fotheringay, Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay (Universal). Fotheringay were one of the more interesting one-shot bands, putting out just one self-titled album in 1970 that’s most notable for featuring Sandy Denny as lead singer. It’s pretty amazing that a four-disc box set was assembled for a band that only put out one album. But here it is, including both Fotheringay and the way-posthumous collection 2 (based on sessions for their unfinished second album): outtakes/demos/alternate mixes from sessions for those albums; nine songs from a live performance at a Dutch festival in June 1970; seven tracks performed for BBC radio; and a DVD with four live numbers they filmed for German TV in November 1970. Truth to tell, while this (aside from the absence of some BBC recordings) is the definitive Fotheringay document, even some major Sandy Denny fans may find this box a bit of a slog at times, owing to the multiple not-too-different versions of numerous songs. It’s also true this isn’t nearly as good as the late-‘60s work by the band Denny had just left, Fairport Convention, and that the tracks featuring her writing and singing are leagues better than those featuring her husband, guitarist-singer-songwriter Trevor Lucas. But if you do want to hear almost everything the band did, this is the best compilation likely to be produced, bolstered by 40-page liner notes by Sandy Denny biographer Mick Houghton.

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8. Robin Gibb, Saved By the Bell: The Collected Works of Robin Gibb (Reprise). For many 1960s collectors (and many Bee Gees fans who aren’t particularly fanatical general ‘60s collectors), a CD reissue of Robin Gibb’s solo recordings in the brief period he left the group between early 1969 and mid-1970 has been a holy grail. His 1969 solo album, Robin’s Reign, had mysteriously escaped CD reissue; an unreleased 1970 solo follow-up, Sing Slowly Sisters, was only available on lo-fi bootlegs that sometimes added other rare material. So the appearance of both albums and more unissued tracks on this three-CD compilation was greeted by many fans—and this is not a sarcastic exaggeration—with a “thank god I’ve lived long enough to see/hear this” fervor. Not only does it have Sing Slowly Sisters in actual real studio quality, and the elusive if official Robin’s Reign, but it also adds numerous outtakes, demos, alternates, BBC tracks, and even a couple Italian-language versions.

There’s no faulting the thoroughness of this project, then. As for the music, I’m more ambivalent. I like the early Bee Gees, and Robin’s my favorite singer of the Gibb brothers, but these aren’t quite lost masterpieces. There’s an almost unremittingly gloomy rainy-day cast to much of the material, which is cool if you’re in that mood (or looking out your window into a torrential downpour), but a little much in such full buckets. His use of drum machine on some tracks was undoubtedly ahead of its time, but also, if you’re not a fan of the instrument (I’m not), lends a mechanical air to some of the recordings. The incessant melodrama, particularly on the more orchestrated cuts, are definitive exercises in what I’d call the “gondola rock” genre. Meaning it’s almost operatic and more akin to sentimental pop balladry than rock, as if you’re being serenaded for actual Italian gondola rides, if ones that emphasize the crumbling side of buildings and relationships rather than celebrating sun-baked lakes.

But if I’m not as gung-ho on this odd phase of Robin’s career as many cultists, I emphasize I do find this interesting, if flawed. And Reprise has filled a major gap in a major artist’s work, at a time when it’s getting harder and harder to excavate such items for ‘60s/’70s reissues. Note, by the way, that both Barry and Maurice Gibb also recorded a lot of unreleased solo material during this murky 1969-70 period, though what I’ve heard isn’t as good as Robin’s efforts. Don’t be surprised if some or much of that finally sees the light of day in the future, especially now that this release has paved the way for solo Bee Gees recordings from the vaults that many thought would never gain official reissue.

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9. Procol Harum, Procol Harum [Two-CD Expanded Edition] (Esoteric). If this were judged merely by the quality of the album at the core of this expanded edition, this would vault to #3 or so on this list. Since this isn’t as overloaded with previously unavailable or era-spanning material as most of the preceding picks, and since that core album has long been easily available, it slides down to the second half. That’s not at all a negative reflection on this exemplary package, which augments Procol Harum’s classic debut LP (the UK version issued in January 1968) with both sides of the great “A White Shade of Pale” and “Homburg” hit singles, outtakes, BBC sessions, and stereo mixes. So the LP becomes a 37-song double CD, although some of the different mixes and extended stereo versions aren’t all that essential. The packaging is superb, with a 24-page booklet of liner notes by Procol Harum biographer Henry Scott-Irvine that’s jammed with rare photos and graphics, as well as a mini-poster of sorts reprinting a period ad on one side and lyrics to all the songs on the other. The superfluous nature of some of the extra tracks keeps this from ranking higher, but the best of this is excellent British psychedelic rock mixing soul, classical, blues, and poetry. It’s a model of how to treat an essential record with a definitive reissue, and though I don’t like their second album (Shine on Brightly) as much, Esoteric did a three-CD expanded edition of that LP that’s equally impressive packaging-wise.

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10. Various Artists, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll (Dust-to-Digital). The soundtrack to the fine documentary of the same name (see review in my best-of-2015 music film listings) compiles twenty recordings of Cambodian music—most, though not all, rock or rock-influenced—spanning the mid-1960s to the mid-1960s. Cambodian rock of this period was an odd (at least to Western ears) hybrid of surf, British Invasion, and psychedelia with more indigenous Cambodian influences. The music is haunting, sometimes spooky, and exotic in its improbable combinations, regardless of whether you know much about its social context.

The tracks on this collection are diverse enough that one hesitates to make generalizations about the Cambodian rock style, especially as this spans more than a decade. However, based on what’s here and on other comps, it certainly seems true that it often boasted high, trilling, at times tremulous female vocals; shaky, cheesy organs; twangy surf-ish guitars; and melancholy, winding melodies, along with some interjections of jazzy horns. The blend makes for a ghostly time-warp effect, evolving from primitive early-‘60s naiveté to something a little heavier. Yet those cheesy organs, as well as other attributes redolent of a decade-old era, were still hanging in there on some mid-‘70s sides shortly before the Khmer Rouge pulled the plug.

As unlikely as such a prospect might have seemed only two or three decades ago, vintage Cambodian rock is actually now fairly well represented by compilations such as the volumes in the Cambodia Rocks series. Whether you’re familiar with those or not, this is still a good wide-ranging anthology, with better packaging and annotation than other Cambodian rock comps I’ve seen. Keep in mind, however, that even basic information about some of the tracks isn’t always readily available, and though years and original label details are sometimes noted, some tracks don’t include them at all. The 36-page booklet does have basic profiles of many of the performers, as well as a wealth of vintage photos and record sleeves.

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11. Ginger Johnson, African Party (Freestyle). Nigerian percussionist Ginger Johnson was based in London, and already in his early fifties, when he made this proto-Afrobeat album in 1967. He was (as the packaging for this CD reissue emphasizes) a mentor to Fela during that legend’s time in London in the early 1960s. He and his troupe also backed the Rolling Stones on their performance of “Sympathy for the Devil” at their 1969 concert in Hyde Park. Of more importance, this is a fine fusion of African music, jazz, and Latin influences, the oft-instrumental format punctuated by merry, sometimes chanting vocals, sometimes in high-energy call-response tradeoffs. In many respects it’s African highlife before that term was in wide circulation, but has more joyful spontaneity than many of the more formulaic recordings in the style from subsequent decades.

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12. Various Artists, Dust on the Nettles: A Journey Through the British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72 (Grapefruit). Compiled and annotated by top British rock historian David Wells, this three-CD package includes 63 tracks, spanning top names who actually had hit albums to artists that even specialist collectors might not recognize. To start with the big names, Pentangle, Steeleye Span, early Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Incredible String Band, and Fairport Convention are all here, though even so, the ISB and Fairport are represented by demos (of “First Girl I Loved” and “Fotheringay,” respectively) rather than the familiar album versions. (Donovan and Al Stewart are missing, but maybe it was felt they’re just too big, or at least that no enticing rarities could be licensed from their vaults.) Going a bit down the ladder, also on board are Clive Palmer, C.O.B., Dando Shaft, Trees, Anne Briggs, Duncan Browne, Trader Horne, Mick Softley, Vashti Bunyan, and Bridget St. John. Lots of other names will be known to those who’ve kept up with more cultish rediscoveries and reissues, from Shelagh McDonald and Mark Fry to Agincourt and Comus. Some of the other cuts are so fiendishly rare that it’s doubtful anyone has all 63 of the tracks in their collection, save perhaps Wells himself.

So you’re likely to hear something new here even if you think you’ve heard it all. Of greater importance is that it’s a well-sequenced set that will give you a good overview of the more interesting fringes of the British folk-rock (and sometimes just plain British folk) scene of the time, even if you own little of it. It’s diverse enough that it’s not easy to quickly summarize common threads. But some of them would include oh-so-mild psychedelic influences, whether via unusual instruments, a tinge of raga, or unexpected blasts of distorted guitar; a frequent mysticism, sometimes verging on hippy-dippy, sometimes rooted in a more medieval air; and an overall sense that, while generally rooted in folk, the performers were itching to write and record material that burst out of traditional folk’s sometimes stifling strictures. Sometimes the idiosyncratic collision of folk, rock, and pop elements can make the artists sound like folkier Moody Blues, as Oberon do on “Minas Truth.”

That doesn’t mean everything here will appeal to all tastes, even if this wide umbrella of a style is a specialty of yours. British folk-rock was generally considerably more reserved and subdued, and less electric, than the American variety, and sometimes I got impatient to hear a some more grit, some more oomph. In this context, the selections that are a bit edgier, and even the ones that use more memorable pop-influenced melodies, stand out in relief. But in its mixture of artists of various degrees of fame and varying sub-styles within the British folk/British folk-rock genre, as well as its abundance of rarities, it’s an excellent overview. If there was a best-of list for 2015 reissue liner notes, this would rank higher, as Wells’s small-print 36-page track-by-track annotation (decorated with plenty of rare photos and picture sleeves) is a tour de force.

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13. Various Artists, Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels: The Blissed-Out Birth of Country Rock, Vol. 1-4 (Bear Family). Bearing an arguably too-long title, this series is basically an anthology of early country rock, covering 1966-1971. The first volume covers 1966-68, and the others are dedicated to a year each (1969, 1970, 1971); all are double CDs except the single-disc Vol. 2 (1969), adding up to seven CDs in all. The series will continue beyond 1971, but most people—most critics, anyway—will probably agree that 1966-1971 represents country-rock’s peak creative period, though some of its greatest commercial successes would come in following years.

Nagging logistics out of the way, country-rock experts and novices will hear many of the artists who were most important to the style’s birth and peak over the course of the four volumes, and get a good idea of the range of music that fell under the country-rock umbrella. The International Submarine Band, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gene Clark, Mike Nesmith, Poco, Bob Dylan, Rick Nelson, the Beau Brummels, the Everly Brothers, Hearts & Flowers, and Linda Ronstadt are all here. So are artists who only eased into country-rock on occasion, like the Grateful Dead, Link Wray, Moby Grape, the Youngbloods, Little Feat, and the Lovin’ Spoonful. More unusually, there are also singers primarily identified as country musicians, but who either admitted some rock into their music or appealed to lots of rock listeners, like Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Buck Owens.

I wish there had been more rarities, but there are a few, such as a pair of tracks on the 1969 volume by the Corvettes, the short-lived Mike Nesmith-produced early country-rock supergroup of sorts with Chris Darrow, Jeff Hanna (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), John London, and John Ware, the last two of whom would play with Nesmith in the First National Band. There are also selections by some minor acts who will be recognized by many specialists in sounds of the era, but have rarely or never been recognized by compilations such as these. The Gosdin Brothers, Nashville West (again with White and Parsons), Morning, Cowboy, Goose Creek Symphony, Country Funk, the Wildweeds, and Brave Belt (with just ex-Guess Who guitarist Randy Buchanan) all fall into that category. Not all of their selections are great, but they do a great deal to round out the picture of early country-rock’s evolution, supplying edges that are lost by retrospectives that just focus on the usual suspects. Also in this semi-rarity category, for better or worse, is the original 1971 version of “Delta Dawn” by Alex Harvey (no relation to Scottish rock legend Alex Harvey), who’s credited as co-writer of the song with rockabilly legend Larry Collins; it predates the hit country cover by Tanya Tucker and the huge 1973 pop cover by Helen Reddy.

Perhaps contentiously, there are tracks by artists who were more country-rock influenced than actual country rockers, like the Band. Doug Sahm, Elvis Presley, John Prine, Delaney & Bonnie, Hoyt Axton (with his version of “Never Been to Spain,” covered for a hit by Three Dog Night), British band Cochise, Bobbie Gentry, the Monkees (who did actually go into semi-country-rock sometimes) are a few examples; there are even cuts by Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin, stars associated with the San Francisco psychedelic scene. As controversial as purists might find their presence, they improve the listenability of the compilations, and also illustrate how country-rock’s reach extended beyond artists who specialized in the form, even if some of the choices might confuse listeners who aren’t too familiar with the style.

More objectionable are occasional choices that fall closer to easy listening pop than country-rock, like Glen Campbell’s “Galveston” and Kenny Rogers’s “Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love to Town”), which are neither rare nor very good. Additionally, it has to be noted that a few artists whose country-rock-oriented efforts should have been on these volumes aren’t because of licensing hurdles, notably Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (and Neil Young solo) and Creedence Clearwater Revival. But on the whole, it functions as a reasonable overview of country-rock’s prime, and the in-depth liner notes also add up to a near-book on their own.

Note that technically speaking, the first two volumes are 2014 releases, not to mention that some might find a portion of an ongoing series something that should not get an entry of its own. But I thought it most sensible to group what are likely to be the best installments of the series into one entry, fully expecting to be held accountable for these transgressions by hardliners subscribing to the “one vote, one record, one year” motto. This might have ranked higher if I was more of a country-rock fan; such is the low-energy calmness, sometimes downright laidbackness, of this material that I was desperate for something raunchier and more exuberant after hearing all of these comps in a row.

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14. Slim Harpo, Buzzin’ the Blues: The Complete Slim Harpo (Bear Family). Louisiana bluesman Slim Harpo devised (with much help from producer Jay Miller) an intoxicating shuffling, riff-driven sound fusing blues with R&B, soul, and swampy rock’n’roll. If you don’t know anything besides his two Top Forty pop hits (1961’s “Rainin’ in My Heart,” covered by the Pretty Things, and 1966’s “Baby Scratch My Back”), you probably know the covers of his songs by major British Invasion bands the Rolling Stones (“I’m a King Bee,” “Shake Your Hips”), the Yardbirds (“Got Love If You Want It”), the Kinks (also “Got Love If You Want It”), the Who (who put new lyrics to “Got Love If You Want It” on their 1964 single “I’m the Face,” credited to the High Numbers), and Them (“Don’t Start Crying Now”).

The originals are all on this five-CD, 142-track box. All of the aforementioned songs, however, are on the best Slim Harpo best-of, Rhino’s predictably titled The Best of Slim Harpo. So do you need this? No, if you’re the average fan. As good as his style was, a lot of his songs were formulaic, whether of his early shuffle style or the more soul-influenced, reverberant guitar-heavy “Baby Scratch My Back.” A good deal of this set is taken up by outtakes and alternate versions, a few of which are good, but many of which are likewise similar to other and better tracks from his official catalog. And while the live material from two 1961 concerts that comprises disc five is historically interesting, the sound isn’t that great.

But if you’re heavily into the Slim Harpo sound and are up for a lot at once (or a lot spread over a reasonable span of time), this does set a consistently pleasing mood, such is the insistently swampy-to-the-point-of-humid buzz of most of his tracks. There are occasional highlights to the rarities, like the 1960 outtakes “Lover’s Confession” (with its haunting minor-keyed melody and spooky guitar reverb) and “Wild About My Baby,” with its raucous near-rock’n’roll feel. And Bear Family again comes up aces with the liner notes, which are actually an LP-sized 106-page hardbook book jammed with descriptive detail, session information, and pictures. And it’s just a taster for a full Harpo biography—also by the author of these notes, Martin Hawkins—that will be published Louisiana State University Press in 2016.

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15. The Velvet Underground, Loaded (Re-Loaded 45th Anniversary Edition) (Rhino). If this six-disc expansion of Loaded had come out twenty years ago, it would rank higher on this list instead of bringing up the rear. It’s another of those difficult deluxe boxes that’s welcome for its completist/definitive (well, almost completist/definitive; more on that in a bit) expansion of a classic album, but one that’s too expensive and recycles too much material already in completist fans’ collections. Basically, this augments the Velvet Underground’s 1970 album (their final studio LP with Lou Reed) with mono versions; 25 demos, outtakes, alternates, and alternate mixes; the Live at Max’s Kansas City album (recorded in August 1970, issued in 1972), with some outtakes not on the original LP; a live show from May 9, 1970; and, least essentially, an audio-only DVD with hi-end remixes.

Loaded is my least favorite of the four studio albums the VU did with Reed (and the most conventional), but was still overall a major work with some of his best songs. Some of the alternate versions are important, whether it’s the significantly longer one of “Sweet Jane” or an “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” with Reed on lead vocals instead of Doug Yule. There are also some very good songs that didn’t make it onto Loaded, though some would surface in different guises on Lou’s early solo albums (like “Ocean,” “Satellite of Love,” and “Sad Song”). But – and it’s an important but – most of these 25 extras were on Rhino’s 1997 two-CD Fully Loaded Edition, which most people considering a six-disc Loaded box will already have. And for all its length, Re-Loaded misses an “alternate demo” of “Satellite of Love” that appeared on the 1995 Peel Slowly and See box, as well as one of the long versions of “New Age” from Fully Loaded Edition.

There are problems with other parts of the box too. Rhino’s expanded edition of Max’s had 17 songs; Re-Loaded is missing two of those. The May 9, 1970 show (long available on bootleg) is simply a disappointment, with lousy fidelity that no twenty-first-century tech cleanup can make too listenable. And while Lenny Kaye’s essay is okay, the liner notes on Fully Loaded Edition and the expanded Max’s offered much more information than this package does. For all its quantity, there’s simply too much barrel-scraping and not-quite-100%-everything going on with this box to put it in the top ten, though it does just make the top fourteen. For a more detailed rundown of Re-Loaded, see my review in Record Collector News.

Loaded

And an honorable mention to:

16. Françoise Hardy, Tous Les Garçons et Les Filles/Le Premier Bonhour du Jour/Mon Amie La Rose/L’Amitié/La Maison Ou J’Ai Grandi (Light in the Attic). These straight reissues of Hardy’s first five French LPs (originally issued between 1963-66) don’t have any bonus tracks. Even combined, they don’t cover this prime period of the greatest French pop-rock artist nearly as well as the 83-track, 4-CD box The Complete Vogue Recordings 1962-1967 (from 1995, on Vogue/BMG). So why is it here? First, because these mark the first time these albums have been available on CD in the US, and any more exposure for Hardy in this country is welcome. Second, the comprehensive English-language liner notes include a good amount of information that’s not easy (or possible) to come by elsewhere, including some first-hand interview quotes from the reclusive Hardy herself. Though it’s missing some very good material from this era that didn’t make it onto the original LPs, the 60 tracks on these CDs do show her growth from catchy early yé-yé—with heavy debts to American teen idols and girl groups—to spectacular mid-‘60s orchestral pop-rock of almost Spectorian grandeur.

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Some final thoughts:

If there’s a trend in reissues, it’s the appearance of material in bulk that no would have envisioned even a few years ago, both because of its expense and the real or rumored reluctance of the artists to approve such releases. Bob Dylan’s unreleased work in particular is becoming available with such minute thoroughness that it seems like almost everything he did (especially prior to 1971) will soon be available. Van Morrison didn’t record all that much with Them, but as previously noted, the sudden appearance of a three-CD set that tracks down everything—with liner notes credited to Van himself!—indicates he’s had a change of heart in preserving his early legacy in a definitive package. The Velvet Underground now have four big deluxe boxes for each of their studio albums, and a four-CD set of live 1969 material, much of it unreleased until very recently.

Is this happening because the labels and the artists are getting more desperate to make money out of a sagging record business, or because the artists realize in their old age that it’s now or never if they want input into getting this material out there and rounding out their legacy? It’s probably both, I’d guess. It’s unfortunate that some such packages come with material that the people most likely to buy them are likely to already own, sometimes more than once. It’s also too bad that few of them can seem to manage the feat of being totally definitive and including everything possible. But at least we’re seeing (and hearing) far more such rock history than most of us would have expected in our wildest dreams—a windfall that’s likely, I predict, to continue in the coming years.

Top Twenty Rock History Books of 2015

It’s not a good time for everything—just listen to a presidential debate if you want a taste of what’s wrong with the world—but it’s a good time for rock history books. Maybe it’s a combination of more and more veteran rockers wanting to get their stories down while there’s still time, as well as the book market making room for more and more “niche” titles, now that many of the stories of bigger stars and styles have been told. But we’re still seeing lots of memoirs of musicians famous and obscure, along with biographies and less easily classified volumes that go down roads dismissed as of little interest to anyone just a few years ago. Even some of the books on superstars shed new light on their subjects, along with the inevitable recycling of lots of material that’s already familiar to knowledgeable fans.

My selection for #1 rock history book of 2015.

My selection for #1 rock history book of 2015.

Such are the wealth of choices, in fact, that it’s pretty hard to make annual “best-of” lists without missing a few contenders that you aren’t able to read (or aren’t even aware of) before the end of December. So this post is divided into a couple sections. One is my list of best rock books of 2015, for which only books published between January 1 and December 31 were considered. And as this post was finished only a day or two before the end of December, it does consider all books I read in the calendar year, unlike many best-of lists that are submitted to publications a month or two (or even three) before the year actually ends.

But since it does take a while to both find out about and catch up on books from the last year or two, this post also lists noteworthy 2014 titles that didn’t make my actual 2014 Top Twenty or so list. It’s always frustrated me, as a writer and reader (and listener), that many print publications consider books and records yesterday’s news after just a few months. Books from 2014 really aren’t that old, and – like music from before 2015, or any art regardless of its age – could and should be enjoyed at any time. These 2014 books do have the advantage over, say, 2004 books (let alone 1964 books) of still being easily available, even if you might not see them mentioned in upcoming review sections, or even year-end roundups. As for the 2015 books I haven’t yet been able to read, well, I’ll be able to mention some of them as a supplement to my 2016 list.

I’ll start with my Top Twenty books of 2015. I have much longer reviews of the ones relating to Sandy Denny, Ray Davies, and Merrell Fankhauser in issue #7 of Flashback, the London-based ‘60s/’70s rock history magazine.

1. I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny, by Mick Houghton (Faber & Faber). A major work, this 500-page biography doesn’t exactly make the only other significant book on Sandy Denny (No More Sad Refrains: The Life and Times of Sandy Denny, by Clinton Heylin) redundant. But this excellent volume is certainly better, and will certainly stand as the definitive account of her life, drawing on first-hand interviews with more than fifty of her surviving colleagues, family, and friends. Houghton was also granted access to the entire archive of Denny and her husband (and, in Fotheringay and a later version of Fairport Convention, bandmate) Trevor Lucas, including previously unresearched documents and photos. The wealth of material is tied together with an even hand that both praises and criticizes her music when warranted. Also included is a lengthy “playlist” section that places her recordings in useful context with releases by other artists (usually folk-rockers) who moved in the same circles as Denny, or had some influence on her.

Note that the race, if you want to call it that, between this and the #2 pick below (Ray Davies: A Complicated Life) for the #1 position was so close that the rankings could have easily been reversed, or declared a tie. I went with the Denny bio as she’s been covered a lot less than Davies and the Kinks, making it ultimately of very slighter significance and value.

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2. Ray Davies: A Complicated Life, by Johnny Rogan (The Bodley Head). Although this is titled like it’s a biography of the Kinks’ main singer and songwriter, Ray Davies, it’s more like a book about the Kinks themselves. And it’s a very long and thorough one, too, running about 750 pages, including loads of first-hand and off-the-beaten-track interview material with the Kinks and close associates. Note that although Rogan wrote a previous Kinks biography that draws from many of the same interviews, there’s a lot more information here, including some re-interviews of subjects he spoke to the first time around. And while it does cover Ray Davies’s life to the present, the great bulk of it—well over half—is devoted to the Kinks’ prime decade, from the early 1960s to the early 1970s.

Another crucial plus is that Rogan interviewed many central and auxiliary figures, including all of the Kinks worth noting (though not much is used from drummer Mick Avory) and crucial associates like producer Shel Talmy and early managers Robert Wace and Larry Page. For this edition (if you look at it as a three-times-the-size expansion of his 1980s Kinks book), he tracked down some notable characters who’ve seldom or never spoken on the record, like pre-Avory drummers John Start and Mickey Willett, and Ray’s first wife Rasa, who sang on many of the Kinks’ ‘60s tracks. Although some of Rogan’s angles might get on the wrong side of some fans (particularly his frequent citations of Ray’s miserliness), it’s woven together with an expertise and readability that will make most of it a page-turner for Kinks devotees. In addition to his own research, the author also excerpts from a wide source of articles stretching back fifty years, as well as some unedited film footage, transcripts, and notes from interviews conducted by others.

Ray Davies

3. Notes from the Velvet Underground: The Life of Lou Reed, by Howard Sounes (Doubleday). Besides being the principal genius behind the Velvet Underground (and the creator of some good subsequent music during his long and erratic solo career), Lou Reed was notorious for being a difficult, cranky man who alienated many colleagues, romantic partners, and journalists. This well-researched, cogent biography won’t change that perception. But it’s backed up by first-hand interviews with many (though certainly not all) people who knew and worked with him throughout his life, including members of the Velvet Underground, producers, musicians in his bands, record label executives, and managers. Of special interest are comments on his married and family life by relatives and partners who have not often spoken on the record, particularly his first wife, Betty Kronstad, and his sister Bunny.

In line with many rock bios, the music Reed made got less interesting toward the end of his life, and Sounes thins out the coverage of his less essential efforts in appropriate fashion. The Velvet Underground years and his early solo work gets the most attention, and while the author doesn’t shy from criticizing Reed’s weakest records and songs, he also gives proper kudos to Lou’s best. While much of this ground will be familiar to Reed enthusiasts, it’s a better book than the previous major volume on the singer, Victor Bockris’s Lou Reed: The Biography. Sounes is considerably more accurate, did more legwork, and presents his opinions in a much more reasoned fashion.

Incidentally, another Reed biography, Aidan Levy’s Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed, appeared near the end of 2015. While I did not find it strong enough to include on my list, it does have some interesting stories from people who haven’t been interviewed much—including some people interviewed for Notes from the Velvet Underground (like Betty Kronstad) and some not (like Vinny LaPorta of the Tots, who backed Reed in concert for a while in the early 1970s). I’ve read reports that no less than three other Reed biographies are on the way, and while more info on Lou is always welcome, you have to wonder how those are going to avoid overlapping with what’s already out there.

Reed

4.  Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll, by Fred Goodman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). As business manager of both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles in the late 1960s and early 1970s (as well as numerous other British rock acts), Allen Klein played a controversial role in their careers. Although he gained unprecedented concessions from record companies for his artists, he also sowed some discord within the Beatles and Rolling Stones through both his personal style and his financial practices. The legalities of his contractual relationships with his clients aren’t all that easy to wade through if you don’t have a head for that sort of thing. But this book lays them out for the layperson with about as much accessibility as can be attained, combining the business analysis with plenty of stories about the colorful manager’s abrasive style and relationships with the celebrated rockers he represented.

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5. Shake It Up Baby! Notes from a Pop Music Reporter 1961-1972, by Norman Jopling (RockHistory). Jopling was a reporter for several UK music papers between the early 1960s and the early 1970s, most notably for Record Mirror, where he worked the bulk of that time. He’s most famous for writing the first piece about the Rolling Stones to appear in a national music paper (Record Mirror in spring 1963, before they had a record deal), but wrote about almost all sorts of rock and soul. His 500-page memoir is a very entertaining look not just inside the British music press, but the explosive growth of rock (particularly British rock) itself during that period, Joplin having written about and interviewed many legends from the Beatles on down. Some readers might find the frequent inserts of passages reprinting some of his old (usually brief) Record Mirror features distracting, but on the other hand, those articles are themselves of interest (and give a flavor for the era), and not easy to find elsewhere. Also of interest are his memories of an ill-fated attempt to start an independent record production company in the late 1960s with one-time early Who manager Pete Meaden.

Joplin

6. Good Night and Good Riddance: How Thirty-Five Years of John Peel Helped to Shape Modern Life, by David Cavanagh (Faber & Faber). From 1967 until his death in 2003, John Peel was the most influential DJ in the UK, at least as measured by how many up-and-coming acts of all kinds and eras he helped expose to a national audience. This quite large (620-page) book is not so much a biography as a survey of 300 radio broadcasts he presented, including a few he did on the pirate station Radio London in 1967 before joining the BBC. Woven into the program descriptions are details about both Peel’s personal life and the rapidly changing music scene in general.

I had my doubts about whether this format could work, but Cavanagh does an excellent job of balancing the different facets of what he covers. It’s neither an encyclopedic reference of what Peel played when or an account of his life (which Peel gave, rather unsatisfactorily, in the autobiography Margrave of the Marshes). Instead, it’s a highly readable volume that incorporates plenty of colorful anecdotes from his eccentric life, as well as documenting his eclectic tastes and avaricious hunger for new music. That made him an unlikely icon of both the psychedelic/progressive era and the punk/new wave one, though his enthusiasm for the brand-new could be reckless and dismissive of music that wasn’t up-to-the-moment, even music that he’d championed not too many years before he moved on to other styles. It also functions almost as a reflection of the many changes rock (particularly the underground variety)—and, to some extent, folk, world music, and hip-hop—went through between 1967 and 2003, Peel remaining keen all the while to find the new and the novel, even though his extreme ranges of taste guaranteed that no listener would enjoy everything he played.

Peel

7. Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock’n’Roll, by Peter Guralnick (Little, Brown). Huge (about 750-page) biography about the man who founded and ran Sun Records, the label that’s most famous for launching Elvis Presley in 1954 and 1955. Sun also did the first, or some of the first, recordings by rockabilly stars Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison, as well as bluesmen B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, and Junior Parker, along with many others. Guralnick interviewed Phillips many times over a period of more than twenty years, and also spoke with many of his artists, colleagues, and family (not to mention several women with whom Phillips had lengthy affairs). He also had access to quite a few letters, and rare photos and documents, some of which are reproduced in the book.

Nonetheless, I expected this to rank higher on my list than it does. As someone who holds Guralnick in esteem for the wealth of important writing he’s done on American roots music since the ‘70s; who greatly enjoys huge books whose length seems to put the general reader off; and has written huge books myself, it pains me to write the following cautionary. But it has to be said that while the story’s told in great detail, the detail is perhaps too great, as it really could have done with some editing to make the story more readable and less jammed with superfluous stories and repetitious over-effusiveness. To a greater extent, these flaws diminished his Sam Cooke biography; it has not been such a factor in my favorite Guralnick books, such as Sweet Soul Music and his two-part Elvis biography. If it’s the gist of the Sun story you’re after, you don’t miss too much if you go for Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins’s excellent, more concise Good Rockin’ Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock and Roll.

Phillips

8. Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio: The Ultimate Edition, by Andy Babiuk (Backbeat). Beatles Gear has been a great reference since its original publication in 2001 (with a revised edition appearing the following year). Almost fifteen years later, we have “The Ultimate Edition.” Unlike many books bearing such tags, it really is a major expansion of the original volume, doubling in size to 512 coffee table-sized pages. The extra material comes chiefly in the form of more than 650 (!) additional photos, though there’s some new information in the text as well, often from people with inside stories about the Beatles’ instruments who contacted Babiuk after the first edition.

Of most importance, however, is that this remains one of the core Beatles books for those who want really detailed, intensely researched stories on how, why, and where the group played their many instruments. It covers not just their guitars, bass, and drums, but also the keyboards, harmonicas, sitars, amps, etc. they also used, all the way up to their deployment of the Moog on Abbey Road. It’s true that gearheads will get the most out of this, but you don’t have to be a musician to enjoy the text. It’s presented in a highly readable fashion, with the technical nitty-grittys usually shuttled into paragraphs that can be skimmed if you don’t need to know where all the knobs were. The photos are highly entertaining and of themselves, with lots of pictures of the Beatles’ instruments; repros of vintage instrument ads; memorabilia like receipts for the purchase of their instruments; and plenty of pix of the group themselves onstage and in the studio, a few of which have never before been published.

BeatlesGear

9. Sound Explosion: Inside L.A.’s Studio Factory with the Wrecking Crew, by Ken Sharp (Wrecking Crew LLC). As kind of a companion to the well-received documentary The Wrecking Crew! (see best-of-2015 music documentary listings), this paperback coffee table book is an oral history of the Los Angeles studio musicians who played on countless 1960s rock records. There are quotes, sometimes numerous and extensive ones, from many of the most notable session musicians from the scene, like Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco, Don Randi, Larry Knechtel, and Hal Blaine. There are also many quotes from artists who used those musicians and producers, including big names like Brian Wilson (and other Beach Boys) and Phil Spector. And there are many cool period photos, some in color, as well as rare graphics and documents from the time, including some session sheets (which tell you exactly who was on the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” session, for example). There’s some redundancy between quotes in the main section of memories, as well as some harsh assessments of the bands they were ghosting for (and indeed of rock’n’roll in general), giving the impression some of the players felt the whole music was beneath them. But their memories are overall worthwhile, and complemented well by a final section with detailed stories about several dozen 1962-70 hits on which the Wrecking Crew participated.

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10.  Blood, Sweat and My Rock’n’Roll Years, by Steve Katz (Rowman & Littlefield). Guitarist, harmonica player, and singer-songwriter Steve Katz was an important part of the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears. He was also in some lesser known if interesting groups (the Even Dozen Jug Band and American Flyer), and did some producing, most notably for Lou Reed in the mid-1970s. This is a straightforward recount of his experiences, focusing mostly on the 1960s and 1970s, and more on the Blues Project and early BS&T than anything else. Which is appropriate—unlike some other memoirs by veterans from the period, it’s not padded with extraneous material, cutting mostly to the bone of the music and craziness of the era’s music business.

With understated wit, Katz fills in a lot of detail about the dynamics of his bands, and has some pretty harsh things to say about his older brother (and, for a while, Lou Reed manager) Dennis, Blues Project/original BS&T keyboardist Al Kooper, and BS&T lead singer David Clayton-Thomas. (For another view of disputes between Kooper and Katz, there are missives from the other side in Kooper’s memoir, Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards.) If you’re wondering whether Reed comes off better here than he does in Howard Sounes’s Notes from the Velvet Underground: The Life of Lou Reed (see review earlier in this post), no, he doesn’t. Even as a fan of the Blues Project and first-album BS&T, there are a good number of stories that were unfamiliar to me, like Katz’s affair with Mimi Fariña, the brief presence of Emmaretta Marks in a Blues Project lineup, and BS&T’s tour behind the Iron Curtain. Most affecting was his summary of the Blues Project’s legacy—“a great live band who, thanks to an uncaring record company, made some pretty poor-sounding records that never further than FM radio.”

Katz

11. Nico: In the Shadow of the Moon Goddess, by Lutz Graf-Ulbrich (self-published ebook). In the last half of the 1970s, Graf-Ulbrich (then known simply as Lutz Ulbrich) was Nico’s off-on guitarist and boyfriend. This slim but illuminating English-language memoir concentrates on the years he toured with her, also adding a bit about his interactions with the singer before (when he was guitarist in the Krautrock bands Agitation Free and Ash Ra Tempel) and after that time. It’s enlivened by some rare photos, posters, and documents, as well as letters and postcards (in German, with English translations supplied) she wrote him during their relationship. Ebooks are making niche-within-niche books like these more viable, and more are likely on the way from all directions that fill in the cracks of cult rock history.

NicoUlbrich

12. Psychedelic Bubble Gum: Boyce & Hart, The Monkees, and Turning Mayhem into Miracles, by Bobby Hart with Glenn Ballantyne (SelectBooks). As half of the songwriting/performing duo Boyce & Hart, and supplier of material for the Monkees and the Partridge Family, Bobby Hart was about as mainstream a figure in 1960s mainstream pop-rock as there was. So he won’t win any awards for hipness from many critics, but his nearly decade-long journey from journeyman singer to hit songwriter (both for the Monkees and Boyce & Hart) was pretty interesting. There’s nothing too earth-shaking about this memoir—it’s just a solid, straightforward account of his career, emphasizing the decade from his arrival in Hollywood in the late 1950s to his late-‘60s peak. There are plenty of stories about the more behind-the-scenes aspects of the era’s recording industry, from printing shops that generated the physical record labels on discs to the demo studios, Brill Building offices, and Hollywood lots where Hart (usually with Tommy Boyce) got much of their work and hustling done.

As prototypical as their career path was in many ways (though it reached a far higher zenith of success than most aspiring songwriting teams), there’s also the occasional surprise, like finding out Boyce’s girlfriend was stolen from him by New York record magnate George Goldner, or that Micky Dolenz’s wordless scatting in “Last Train to Clarksville” came about because he had trouble jamming in all the words of the original bridge. Hart was in some ways hipper than his music, as Boyce & Hart were active in campaigning to lower the US voting age from 21 to 18 and supported Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign. He also got heavily into spiritual matters from the 1970s onward, and one gets the feeling he would have been happy to write a lot more about that journey, though it’s largely limited to the final pages of this autobiography. Which is typical of the humility of his prose, which largely sticks to the story without making grander claims for himself than are merited.

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13. How Can It Be? A Rock & Roll Diary, by Ronnie Wood (Genesis Publications). Page-by-page reproduction of Ronnie Wood’s 1965 diary, when he was lead guitarist in struggling London R&B/rock band the Birds (who had a few singles, but no hits). Although this is for pretty serious Wood/Rolling Stones fans, if you are one, it’s a fascinating “he was there” look at the London R&B/club circuit. That’s not so much for the diary entries, which are mundane details about their gigs and friends, but for the memories and observations about the time they spark in the many comments Wood wrote especially for this reproduction. It’s a real-time document of a different era, when a reasonably talented but ultimately also-ran band—one of many playing in the style of the Rolling Stones that sprang up after the Stones’ initial success—could regularly run into other legends on the scene like the Who, as well as many also-rans, like the Artwoods (with Ron’s brother Art on vocals). It’s also enhanced by numerous photos and reproductions of gig posters from the time.

It’s also a reminder of the underside of the scene in which daily life was not dominated by the hit records and headlines enjoyed by the Stones and Who, but exulting over a record getting into the Top Sixty (and panicking when it quickly fell out); getting a royalty check of 15 pounds or so; being unable to rehearse in the inept harmonica player’s big garage after kicking him out of the band; backing Bo Diddley on tour; and having your mother remember Keith Moon as a gentleman, not a crazed loon. And, in a publicity stunt cooked up by their manager, serving the Byrds (from the US, with a y) writs for using a similar name when they arrived at the airport for a British tour—an incident Wood expresses guilt for, though he does note it finally got them on the front page of Melody Maker. There are also occasional brief stories about Ron’s post-1965 career, like his memory of how he got into the Jeff Beck Group by simply calling him up after Beck left the Yardbirds and asking what he was up to. Note that while this first came out as one of the very expensive limited editions in which Genesis specializes, it very quickly also came out in an affordable mass-market hardback edition close to the standard list price that you might expect from a book like this.

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14. Electric Shock: From the Gramophone to the iPhone: 125 Years of Pop Music, by Peter Doggett (The Bodley Head). Well, veteran rock and country historian Doggett didn’t set his sights low with this 630-page volume (710 counting index and source notes). This is quite possibly the most wide-ranging history of popular music—not just rock, but all forms of pop, roughly from the time records started to be made—ever written. Having the widest breadth, of course, does not equate to the deepest depth, and much of the territory might be familiar to readers schooled in one or more of the eras or styles discussed, from ragtime and swing to all forms of rock, reggae, hip-hop, and (at the very end) twenty-first-century electronic dance music.

The book’s greatest value is not in its hard information, but in examining the interrelationships between these styles; how many trends (particularly the absorption of African-American styles into the mainstream and Establishment condemnations of new, exciting genres as the end of civilization) have repeated themselves over and over since the 1890s; and, more than any other book of which I’m aware, how technology has done much to shape popular music, from wax cylinders through 45s, LPs, cassettes, CDs, and the current online mediums of Spotify, youtube, and iTunes. Inevitably, there are some gaps; American and British music is heavily accented, and there’s little attention given to some styles, like jazz-rock fusion, the late-‘60s British blues boom, and the outlaw country movement. On the other hand, there are surprisingly numerous sections on movements relatively little known to the English-speaking mainstream, like French yé-yé music and Brazilian tropicalia. No matter how encyclopedic your knowledge of pop through the ages, there will almost certainly be styles discussed of which you’re only dimly aware, with all sorts of nuggets of intriguing trivia and obscure factoids sprinkled throughout the text.

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15. These Are the Voyages: TOS [The Original Series]: Star Trek Season One/Two/Three, by Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn (Jacobs/Brown, 2013/2014/2015). As I wrote when I listed this in a previous post about expensive/rare rock books, some readers will think this is an outrageous inclusion, and they have a point, since this is about Star Trek, not about rock music. What’s more, it’s not exactly a 2015 book, but a three-volume series, the third and last of which did happen to come out in 2015.

Still, there seems to be enough of a crossover between rock fans (especially of ‘60s rock) and Star Trek to make this three-volume set worthy of attention in a post like this, especially since they’re the kind of specialist books that haven’t gotten a lot of press outside of the Trekkie community. This is an astonishingly detailed episode-by-episode survey of all 79 programs from the original series, drawing on lots of first-hand interviews, photos, and production notes. In that sense, it’s kind of an equivalent to a rock book like Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions, giving even experts their first real play-by-play look at what happened behind the scenes. As the three volumes add up to a total of 2000 (!) pages, it’s not for the casual reader, or even the casual Trekkie. But while undeniably long, this three-volume series isn’t all that expensive, especially if you get all three at once—which you can do for $67.95 plus shipping through the thesearethevoyagesbooks.com website.

StarTrek

16. Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul , by Mark Ribowsky (Liveright). The title’s a little over-wordy and misleading: this is an Otis Redding biography, not something that focuses on his milieu rather than his life. It’s better than the only previous one of substance that I’m aware of (Scott Freeman’s Otis! The Otis Redding Story), offering more depth, though the absence of first-hand interview material with some key figures due to their death or non-participation is keenly felt. Some of the stories the author dug up offer a darker side to Redding’s life than his generally cheerful,  kindly image is associated with, though they’re hardly as numerous or controversial as ones that dotted the careers of the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis or Phil Spector.  Much attention is paid to his music, recordings at Stax, songwriting, and performances. Unfortunately there are some minor but apparent factual errors when the text ventures into some of the general rock and soul history outside of Redding’s direct orbit.

Redding

17. The Record Store of the Mind, by Josh Rosenthal (Tompkins Square). Rosenthal runs the Tompkins Square label, which has reissued many way-obscure folk, rock, and other kinds of recordings from the twentieth century, as well as putting out contemporary albums. This isn’t exactly a memoir as much as a series of short pieces setting down his thoughts on various musical subjects that interest him, whether they’re profiles of obscure artists or quirky stories about record collecting and working in the record business (at both Tompkins Square and Sony; he worked at the latter for quite a few years). As he cheerfully acknowledges, like Tompkins Square product, this volume is a niche product of limited interest to the public, writing at one point, “The only thing more likely to get ignored than your label is your book.”

But collectors of niche product will enjoy some of these stories, though their interest will vary widely according to their tastes. The best parts are those on artists who are seldom covered even by cult standards, like singer-songwriter Ron Davies, the early-‘70s Raccoon Records roster, and folk singer Tia Blake. Memories of the gigs he attended and artists he helped promote at Sony are more like hanging out with a seasoned record industry vet and hearing war stories. My personal interest runs most to the little known folk and folk-rock artists and records he discusses, though his more idiosyncratic stories about growing up as a rock fan in Long Island, running a label, and navigating the rough waters of the entertainment industry have their strong points too. The book’s range is too wide and the presentation too anecdotal and specialized to find an identifiable “market,” but the same could be said of the Tompkins Square label. And if your tastes are eclectic enough to include a few Tompkins Square releases in your collection, they’ll likely be wide enough to encompass a book like this too.

Rosenthal

18. Photograph, by Ringo Starr (Genesis). First published a couple years ago as a very expensive limited edition, this book was issued in fall 2015 in an affordable (though not exactly cheap, with a $50 list price) mass-market version. This 300-page coffee table volume features photographs of and by Ringo, almost all of them predating 1975. There’s a little – not much – commentary on the pictures by Ringo, going back to childhood snapshots and mementos. Like some of the other specialized coffee table books on the Beatles and their members, it’s kind of in the “extras” category. But there are some interesting and rare images here, particularly from his pre-Beatles days in the 1950s and early 1960s, though some of the photos he took of non-Beatles topics are of more interest to Ringo than us, to put it kindly.

Although the text is more aptly described as extended captions than revelatory commentary, his plain-spoken to-the-point observations are sometimes bluntly informative and entertaining. On his decision to leave a factory to turn professional drummer: “Everyone in my family was disappointed, because I was going to Riversdale Technical College and working as an apprentice, and I could have come out of that with a piece of paper that said I was an engineer. That would have been big news in our house, that anyone would have passed anything.” And on his first solo album: “Sentimental Journey wasn’t just songs that my mum liked; it’s what my stepdad and all my family sang at these parties. I made that record with George Martin after I left the Beatles, partly because I didn’t know what else to do.”

Ringo

19. The Zapple Diaries: The Rise and Fall of the Last Beatles Label, by Barry Miles (Peter Owen Publishers). How do you make a 272-page book out of a label that issued just two records? To quote from one of Ringo’s big hits, “It Ain’t Easy.” But it’s a lot easier if  you actually ran the label, as author Barry Miles did when he oversaw Zapple, the short-lived experimental subsidiary of Apple. It also helps if you’ve already written extensively about the Beatles in the 1960s and your personal interactions with them, as Miles has in several of his previous volumes. This might have rated higher had it not repurposed some material that appeared in his previous books In the Sixties and Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now. But if you’re a Beatles fanatic as I am, it has its share of interesting stories—first-hand, not researched from several decades’ distance—of Apple, the last days of the Beatles, and unusual albums Miles did for Zapple with Richard Brautigan, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Ken Weaver of the FUgs, and others, though these weren’t actually released before Zapple went under, some of the material eventually appearing on other labels. There are quite a few interesting uncommon photos and reproductions of period documents too—another reason this was able to add up to 272 pages.

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20. Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival, by Stephen Petrus and Ronald D. Cohen (Oxford University Press, 2015). Straightforward and thorough, if slightly academic and dry, history of the folk revival as it took shape and flourished in New York from the 1930s through the 1960s. Produced in conjunction with an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, this is highlighted by many rare and interesting photos and reproductions of posters and other memorabilia, which are the real reasons this ekes into the bottom of this list.

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If you’re wondering why the following books weren’t mentioned, it’s because they came out in 2014. Honorable mentions, however, to these titles, which are also worthy of your attention. Indeed, some are so good that they would have been in or solid contenders for the 2014 Top Ten list:

1. Pretend You’re in a War: The Who & The Sixties, by Mark Blake (Aurum Press). Very in-depth and entertaining history of the Who through the beginning of 1970. This inevitably covers some of the same territory as a few of the other books on the Who, but does dig up some fresh first-hand information that sometimes questions or fills out myths that have surrounded the band.

TheWho

2. Future Days: Krautrock and the Birth of a Revolutionary New Music, by David Stubbs (Melville House). A very thorough and well-written overview of “Krautrock,” the name that’s come to refer to German progressive rock of the 1970s. Drawing on interviews with numerous key musicians, it focuses on the major bands of the movement (Kraftwerk, Can, Amon Düül II, Popol Vuh, Faust, Tangerine Dream, Neu!), as well as covering some other notable acts and putting the whole genre in the context of changes in German society after World War II.

FutureDays

3. Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man, by Marcus Baram (St. Martin’s Press). Solid biography of a pioneer in mixing soul, jazz, and socially conscious poetry. Includes looks at his literary beginnings and his sad, long struggle with the kinds of drug addiction he examined in some of his songs, leading to stretches of homelessness, imprisonment, and little new music in the final quarter-century of his life. I found this far superior to Scott-Heron’s unfinished-feeling autobiography The Last Holiday: A Memoir (Canongate, 2013), which left a lot of unsatisfying gaps both in regards to what actually happened and how he felt about his life and work.

Gil-Scott-Heron

4. Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys, by Viv Albertine (Thomas Dunne). Critically acclaimed memoir by the guitarist of all-woman early London punk band the Slits might have gained wider attention than any of the Slits’ records. Unlike a lot of the 2014 books on this list, it did receive a good amount of coverage when it came out; it just took me a while to read a copy. And the praise was deserved, as it’s a page-turning account of growing into age in the punk era in London, not only discussing her time with the Slits, but also her interactions with other leading lights of the scene like one-time boyfriend Mick Jones. It does run out of a little steam after she retires from music for a long time in the early 1980s, but most of the book takes place before that.

VivAlbertine

5. Possibilities, by Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey (Viking). Straightforward, highly readable memoir by the jazz/funk crossover star covers his unlikely evolution from straightahead jazz pianist in the 1960s (as both a solo artist and member of Miles Davis’s band) to pop star when he went into jazz-rock-funk fusion in the 1970s and 1980s. Some readers might have wanted less about his drug use and religious beliefs, but those passages are both subordinate to the coverage of the music, and for the most part woven into his musical story as appropriate.

Hancock

6. I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, and the March Up Freedom’s Highway, by Greg Kot (Scribner). Good straightforward biography of the Staple Singers, concentrating on their 1950s-1970s prime, when no other act made the transition from gospel to socially conscious soul and funk on a similar scale. Though one of their singers (Mavis Staples) is emphasized in the title, it’s more a book about the group as a whole, Staples giving the author by far the most interview material.

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7. The Haight: Love, Rock, and Revolution: The Photography of Jim Marshall, by Joel Selvin (Insight Editions). 300-page coffee table book principally devoted to photos of the Haight-Ashbury and its affiliated rock/counterculture scenes in the 1960s, primarily in 1966 and 1967. While it has basic text about the Haight-Ashbury and San Francisco rock during the time by Selvin, it’s primarily a photo book spotlighting the work of top rock lensman Jim Marshall, with plenty of pictures of icons like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin.

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8. Brothas Be Yo, Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?, by George Clinton with Ben Greenman (Atria). Clinton came up with a book title that’s as hard to remember as many of his album titles. But this is actually a pretty straightforward memoir of the Parliament-Funkadelic man’s career. I’ve never found his records as interesting to listen to as descriptions of them usually lead me to anticipate, but most of this book is a quick-moving and interesting read, told in straight-up language that avoids sentimentality and droll humor that avoids cheap yuks. There are lots of stories about his strange career path from his New Jersey adolescence and young adulthood, where he spent as much time working at the barbershop as on his music, to the hard-to-define weird mixture of funk and rock he masterminded with P-Funk. There’s plenty of sex and drugs to go with the rock, but there are a lot of details about most of his records as well. The legal tangles he became immersed in over rights to his songs and recordings start to overwhelm the narrative in the final chapters, which start to make for slightly exhausting and depressing reading, though nothing on the order of the depressing exhaustion Clinton has undergone in his battles with the music business.

Clinton

9. Calling from a Star: The Merrell Fankhauser Story, by Merrell Fankhauser (Gonzo Multimedia). Just the mere existence of a Merrell Fankhauser memoir would have seemed unlikely back in the twentieth century, when his cult was still spreading. Indeed, as much as that cult has spread, it’s a good bet that many of you reading this post don’t know who he is. His legend, such as it is, rests on his stints with three bands from the mid-‘60s through the mid-‘70s: Fapardokly, which made some beguiling if rather uneven folk-rock-psychedelia; his subsequent group H.M.S. Bounty, whose sole late-‘60s LP follows the same thread, but in a poppier direction; and MU, who in the early-1970s sounded something like a stoned fusion of Captain Beefheart and the Grateful Dead. This 200-page volume is a thorough, if sometimes rather matter-of-factly rendered, account of his improbable musical journey, from his early-‘60s surf recordings through steadily weirder enterprises (including some interactions and shared members with Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band) until 2013. The most interesting sections, as you’d expect, are on his stints with Fapardokly, H.M.S. Bounty, and MU, including some improbable stories that might be unfamiliar even to Fankhauser fans, like their Barry White-arranged session for Del-Fi Records; a brush with the Manson family; and a scheme to sell pot on Maui to build a recording studio for MU.

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10. Big Shots: The Photography of Guy Webster, by Harvey Kubernik and Kenneth Kubernik (Insight Editions). Guy Webster photographed famous LP sleeves by the Rolling Stones (Aftermath, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), the Mamas & the Papas (their debut album), Simon & Garfunkel (Sounds of Silence), the Doors (their debut album), and Nico (The Marble Index), among others. This coffee table book doesn’t focus exclusively on those album sleeves, but the sections that do are the most interesting, featuring outtakes and stories behind the photo sessions. Also in the book are numerous ‘60s rock photos, as well as others from the era of non-musician celebrities like Jack Nicholson and Jane Fonda. Note that while at almost 300 pages this is substantial, it’s also expensive, with a list price of $75.

GuyWebster

11. John Lennon: The Collected Artwork, by Scott Gutterman (Insight Editions). Not so much a major volume as a useful fill-in-the-gaps collection, this features, just like the title says, collected artwork of John Lennon. As even many casual fans of Lennon and the Beatles know, many of these were fairly basic if humorous character sketches. Many of them are found in this volume, stretching all the way back to his childhood, though most of them were drawn when he was an adult. Basic text by Scott Gutterman provides the context, as does a foreword by Yoko Ono.

LennonArtwork

Also out in 2015: the expanded/revised/updated ebook version of my book Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll. Twice the size of the original 1998 print edition, it profiles 75 cult rock acts from the 1950s to the 1980s. The 60 chapters in the print edition have all been expanded, and there are 15 entirely new chapters. Click here for more info and to order:

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Top Ten Rock Documentaries of 2015

There are a lot of music documentaries these days. Like reissues and rock history books (and my best-of-2015 lists for those are coming up in the next couple days), there are not just more being made than there were when the music they document was actually being made. There are more being made than anyone thought imaginable in the twentieth century, on subjects that no one would have thought would be of any interest to the moviegoing audience. Jobriath, the Cowsills, and Death are three very different acts, for instance, who’ve been the subject of recent rockumentaries.

My selection for the top music documentary of 2015.

My selection for the top music documentary of 2015.

The proliferation of music docs does mean it’s pretty hard to see them all, even if you go to film festivals and art houses, or catch up with them later on DVD (in part because not all of them make it to DVD, or even to film festivals and art houses). I haven’t seen the ones on Jobriath and the Cowsills, for instance, though I’ve heard about them. I’m sure I missed a bunch of 2015 music documentaries, whether I’ve heard about them or have yet to be aware they exist.

That explains, in part, why this list barely makes it to ten documentaries. I had to put a couple 2014 releases that were barely screened that year (and still haven’t been widely screened) to make sure there were ten selections. Maybe if I do a best-of-2016 list, I’ll have a few from 2015 to add at the end as a supplement, as I’ve done for my reissue and rock history book best-ofs. All of the following 2015 releases, however, deserve a mention, ranging from excellent to okay in quality. DVD labels are noted when available.

1. What Happened, Miss Simone? Nina Simone had one of the most unclassifiable discographies of all time, flitting between and combining jazz, soul, and pop, blending in some gospel, rock, world music, novelty, classical, and more. She also had a stormy personal life, getting into African-American activism as her career progressed, moving to Africa at one point, and displaying some quite erratic behavior. It’s a challenge to weave this into one documentary film, and no two-hour-or-so movie can cover all the bases of her life. But this does a good job with its subject, drawing upon some passionate first-hand interviews with close surviving family and associates. There are also excerpts from a wealth of archival performance clips, most of which are so good and exciting that you wish there was a multi-volume set of the complete versions. (However, the absence of her explosive 1969 performance of “Four Women” in Central Park—included in the DVD part of the CD/DVD release The Soul of Nina Simone—is surprising, as it’s one of the greatest performances filmed by anyone.)

Most impressive to me, however, were the numerous revealing personal letters and documents that are shown and partially recited, relaying valuable information and perspectives that were previously unearthed. There’s hardly any coverage of her post-1970s years (although she lived until 2003), which, to be heartless, is absolutely the correct decision, as her career wasn’t all that interesting for her last quarter-century or so. Just as there’s no room for sentiment in big business, there’s no room for sentiment in documentaries, or at least not so much that they should distract from or dilute what’s most important.

A biography of Nina Simone with the same title as the film is scheduled to come out in February 2016.

A biography of Nina Simone with the same title as the film is scheduled to come out in February 2016.

2. Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Cambodia had an active and fairly vibrant rock scene. This was curtailed—a word that’s far too mild for the brutality that took place—when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge came to power in the last half of the 1970s. This film’s significance extends far beyond the parameters of the usual rockumentary, illustrating how many careers, and quite a few lives, were ended (and otherwise damaged) by the new regime’s virtual banning of entertainment that reminded people of the pre-Khmer Rouge days in the slightest. Interviews with numerous surviving musicians, their families, and friends evoke both the joyful, relatively carefree heyday of Cambodian rock and the horrors of its virtual disappearance in the wake of the Khmer Rouge’s clampdown. To its credit, the film also examines some of the abuses and weaknesses of the dictatorial government preceding the Khmer Rouge.

I have just a couple criticisms of what is overall a commendable portrait of a scene that was nearly totally unknown in the US and Europe (and remains little known now, though there are now a few reissues of vintage Cambodian rock). There is virtually no actual archive footage of Cambodian rock; my guess is that virtually none exists. More critically, I wish somewhat more attention had been paid to the music itself, in addition to the social context. Cambodian rock is, to Western ears at least, a very unusual hybrid of indigenous Cambodian music and Western forms like surf, Merseybeat, girl group, soul, and psychedelia, often delivered with twangy guitars, cheesy organs, and stratospherically high female vocals. There’s little discussion of what makes Cambodian rock unique, or at least distinct from the Western rock by which it was so strongly influenced. You do hear a lot of it on the soundtrack, which is available on the CD compilation of the same name on the Dust-to-Digital label. (Technically this film is a 2014 release, but it did not make it to much of the festival/art house circuit until this year.)

Don't Think I've Forgotten

3. The Wrecking Crew! (Magnolia Pictures). Forever-in-the-works documentary on Hollywood rock session players of the 1960s and early 1970s culls from interviews done with a wealth of instrumentalists, producers, arrangers, engineers, and artists (including some real big ones, like Brian Wilson, Nancy Sinatra, and Cher). This could have become a mess considering how many pieces of the story needed to be assembled. But it’s ordered and edited in a way that both touches on the important aspects of the scene and can be enjoyed by both ‘60s rock aficionados and more general rock fans. A number of the musicians (who were often jazz players) give the sense that they were doing this just for the money and felt that lending their chops to mere rock sessions by other artists was beneath them. While that’s a bit of a drag for the many millions who cherish many of the records on which they played, this at least didn’t keep them from doing their best and making memorable contributions to many classics, even if some thought they were dumbing down their playing.

The DVD has a lot more extras than most such releases – more than six hours, in fact, of interviews that didn’t make the film, often with people barely or not represented in the final cut. These deleted scenes range from fascinating behind-the-scenes stories to dull recounts that are hard to sit through, but increase the production’s value as an important archive of oral history. Note too that a good coffee table paperback, also titled The Wrecking Crew!, was issued in 2015 in conjunction with the documentary.

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4. Lambert & Stamp (Sony). Documentary on the Who’s managers in their mid-‘60s to mid-‘70s prime, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. Being a big fan of the Who during this time, and even having written a book about their early-‘70s work, it could be expected that my interest in this subject would be strong. And I did like the film, but feel like it impressed some other Who fans more than it impressed me, for some snobbish reasons. Although there’s a great deal of archive footage, I’d already seen virtually all of it through my fandom and research. There are colorful interviews, most notably extensive ones with the late Chris Stamp, which are interesting in that he was the lower-profile part of the Lambert-Stamp duo. Yet these often recycle stories that I and other committed Who fans have already heard (sometimes several times over), albeit in a pretty entertaining fashion. Some of the bang-bang editing and montages were flashier than they needed to be, as well. These criticisms might give you a less positive impression of the film than it deserves: it’s largely informative, and very enjoyable. But I did feel like it was more apt to blow away non-Who obsessives, or people just learning about the group, than those who’ve followed them closely for a long time.

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5. Janis: Little Girl Blue. Straightforward hour-and-45-minute documentary on Janis Joplin. Are there major revelations in this? No. Are there notable gaps that are filled in by books on Janis and her scene? Yes. But y’know what? That doesn’t matter too much, because snobbish comments like “they should have talked more about Albert Grossman” or “they should have examined how Cheap Thrills had to be pieced together from agonizing recording sessions and live performances” aside, it’s a well-done and entertaining overview of her life and career. For snobs like me who’ve read a great deal about her and seen about all there is to see of her performance footage, the most significant aspects are interviews with quite a few of her associates (including members of Big Brother and her post-Big Brother bands, as well as her sister and brother), as well as numerous little-seen photos (especially from her early years). But regardless of how much you know about Joplin, it covers most of the major bases in a respectful fashion, mixing in lots of 1967-70 performance and interview clips. If this didn’t come to your town to play in theaters or only played in your town briefly, don’t despair; it will be broadcast on PBS next year as part of their American Masters series.

Janis

6. The Beatles: 1+ (Apple). Not exactly a music documentary, this two-DVD/one-CD set includes fifty short films featuring the Beatles. One DVD has one film for each of the 27 songs on the CD (which repackages their greatest-hits compilation 1); the other DVD has 23 more films, some of them for songs on the CD, some of them for songs not on the CD. That’s the basic dry information, but the important thing to know is that the majority of the fifty short films are promotional films the Beatles made back in the 1960s, all (with the exception of “A Day in the Life”) for A-sides and B-sides of singles. In other cases, some vintage live or mimed clips that weren’t specifically made as promo films are used; in the least interesting cases, there are way-after-the-fact DVD-age videos that were constructed specifically for repromotional use. But the main attractions are those promo films, which have never before been officially issued together in a DVD package (though some are seen in part or full in the Anthology documentary).

Almost ten years ago, I wrote in The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film: “While a two-DVD set of every single promo film, all multiple versions included, would not make for the most exciting Beatles archival video release, it would certainly be a pleasant and valuable one…numerous bootleg DVD releases conveniently assembl[e] copies of most or all of them into a single package, though it would be far better to have an anthology that mastered the films from the best available sources.” Now, to my surprise, it’s here. Did they read my book and take my suggestion?

This being a Beatles archive release, of course it isn’t perfect or complete. It’s still missing some of the multiple versions of promos they did for some songs, and some of the recently devised films for songs that never got promos are hokey. “Eight Days a Week” is a compilation of footage built around their 1965 Shea Stadium concert, for instance, though they didn’t perform “Eight Days a Week” there. “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love” date from the 1990s, as they were recorded by the three surviving Beatles in association with the Anthology projects.

Commentary tracks by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are unexpected bonuses, though as it turns out they only comment on a very few of the clips, and Ringo’s “introductions” (as they’re termed) are exceptionally awkward. As some compensation, the bound-in mini-book of liner notes is more comprehensive than expected, including some fairly obscure information about the filming of the promo videos in particular. As expected, the videos look better than they do on most bootlegs, though the difference between most of these and most bootlegs featuring the material actually isn’t that great.

So – is this a winner? Yeah, basically, though I’m not as big a fan of mimed promo films as many Beatles fans are. Most of them are mimed in artificial circumstances, or have the Beatles just walking around or doing silly activities while music plays on the soundtrack, in common with many music videos then and now. Still, it’s a big chunk of their video history, and now it’s largely represented on an above-board compilation. The absence of some of those multiple versions does mean that the missing promos will continue to circulate on bootleg or other media indefinitely. It also means this isn’t quite definitive, and while the addition of all those multiple versions would have made for tough watching all at once, there was room for them on these discs. And it’s overpriced, especially for those many of us who already have all 27 famous songs on the CD, and don’t need them in yet another format.

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7. Danny Says. From around the mid-1960s to the end of the 1970s, Danny Fields was in the middle of a lot of action as a journalist, publicist, record company employee, and manager. In those capacities, he played minor-to-major roles in the careers of the Doors, the Velvet Underground, the MC5, the Stooges, Linda McCartney, and the Ramones, among others. That doesn’t mean he’s as interesting as any of those artists, but he has a lot of interesting stories, and he’s a good storyteller. That’s the foundation of this documentary, which is embellished by many vintage still photos, snippets of interviews he conducted, and first-hand on-camera interviews with those he worked with, though interviews with Fields are at the core. This is probably only going to appeal to a pretty specialized rock fanatic, not a general audience, which is not a criticism: fans with a wide knowledge of this time and the scenes in which Fields was immersed will enjoy this. There’s virtually nothing about his life after the ‘70s (though he’s still around), but like the similar approach used in the Nina Simone documentary, it’s wise and appropriate to focus on his truly significant years.

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8. The Seeds: Pushin’ Too HardI admit, as with the Residents documentary (see #10), this might have ranked higher if I were more of a fan of the documented act. Still, it’s quite a feat to get a nearly two-hour film out of the story of a band for whom not many archive clips survive. This is done by interviewing quite a few people in the band or with some association with the group, along with quite a few  still photos. Fortunately two of the people interviewed were the two surviving members of the Seeds’ primary lineup, keyboardist Daryl Hooper and guitarist Jan Savage. They’re the guys who carry this film, much of whose main narrative rests on the short time in which they were a hot L.A. mid-’60s garage/psychedelic band, known best for “Pushin’  Too Hard” and “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine.” Those would have charted higher nationally had they taken off in more markets at once, and the band themselves would have had a better chance of making it bigger had lead singer Sky Saxon been more stable. There are some gaps in this documentary (especially in the period in the late-’60s when there was some turnover in personnel as they headed toward their demise), but many of those are filmed by film producer Alec Palao’s liner notes for recent Seeds reissues on the British Ace label.  Like Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, this is technically a 2014 release, but was seldom screened before this year, when it continues to make rounds on the rep circuit.

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9. Sing Out! Icons of Folk (S’More). An odd, almost-hour long collection of vintage folk and folk-rock performance clips spanning 1952 (the Weavers) to 1977 (Loudon Wainwright III, who also hosts this program with brief spoken intros). The other footage mixes folk revival clips predating folk-rock (most notably Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”) with folk-rock by the Mamas & the Papas, Byrds, and the Stone Poneys (with Linda Ronstadt); mid-to-late-‘60s folk by Phil Ochs, Chad Mitchell, and Peter, Paul & Mary; and even some soul-folk (the Staple Singers), country-folk (June Carter & Johnny Cash), and early singer-songwriter performances (James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie). The audiovisual quality of the clips, oddly, is sub-YouTube, though this was broadcast on public television. What truly makes this more of a folk revival DVD than a folk-rock one (and a more worthwhile DVD overall) are the 17 bonus clips, which—far from being extraneous—comprise some of the rarest and most interesting material on the disc. These include early-to-mid-‘60s performances by Judy Collins, Judy Henske (“High Flying Bird”), Pete Seeger, Gale Garnett, the Rooftop Singers, and Ian & Sylvia, along with some less notable wholesome folk revival combos.

SingOut

10. Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents. It’s a little tough reviewing, even in capsule best-of forms, films you know might deserve a more enthusiastic recommendation or higher placement on the list based on the cinematic quality. Not being too much of a Residents fan—interested enough to see this with some friends, but not so much to avidly seek it out on my own—I kind of feel this way about this entry. It does tell you a lot about the avant-rockmakers’ odd career, with quite a bit of footage, some rare, and quite a few interviews, as well as some coverage of how their canny merchandising has sustained interest in this most uncommercial group for decades.

How do you have interviews with or about a group that famously has never revealed the identity of their members, you ask? Well, that ties into something about the documentary that didn’t entirely please me: the feeling that some of the Residents associates being interviewed might be band members, or know more about the musicians than they’re letting on, but coyly fall short of divulging as much hard information as they could. The chronological sequencing of the film is haphazard, and there are too many extended clips of theatrical sequences from recent concerts, leaving me feeling by the end that the film had gone on too long, or at least was exhausting my patience. Residents fans, however, might find those attributes virtues rather than drawbacks. Quite a few Residents cultists are visible and/or interviewed in the film, too, which is likely to both appeal strongly to the converted and make some of the unconverted wonder why there’s so much fuss.

Residents

For those of you reading the day this was posted: tomorrow I’ll post a list of my top rock books of 2015, and on Thursday, December 31, I’ll post a list of my top rock reissues of 2015. For those of you not reading the day this was posted — just click on the links that I’m putting in the previous sentence at the end of that week.

Françoise Hardy: Les Versions Originales

Recognition for the full scope of her achievements might have taken a few decades to take off outside of France, but Françoise Hardy to my mind is indisputably the finest pop-rock artist to emerge from that country in the 1960s. One of the things that set her off from the usual singers in the girl group-influenced yé-yé genre is that she wrote much of her own material. As good as her own songs were, she was  often a superb interpreter of compositions by other writers as well.

Francoise-hardy-in-english-album-cover

Although I’ve been familiar with the bulk of her 1960s recordings for more than twenty years, the genius of much of her repertoire was reinforced by Light in the Attic’s CD reissues this fall of five of her 1962-66 French LPs. This marks the first time these have been widely available with comprehensive English-language liner notes, which note the oft-obscure sources for the songs she covered on these albums. I’d heard some of these original versions, but this made me more determined to hear the originals, and give more thought in general to this facet of her work.

While not all of her covers were great, Hardy’s overall record as an interpreter of songs previously released by others is flat-out impressive. That’s not simply because her versions were often markedly superior to the originals; nearly always at least as good; and seldom (except for a late-‘60s English-language LP where she tackled numerous well-known American songs) markedly inferior. It’s also because the songs she covered were extremely, almost absurdly diverse.

American girl groups, early rockabilly, pre-Beatles British rock’n’roll, country stars, pre-rock French chanson, Italian pop, Dusty Springfield, US and UK singer-songwriters, early-‘60s teen idols and instrumental rock, folk, folk-rock, even a bit of doo-wop and soul—all and some more were fair game for Françoise. There were unlikely connections to figures spanning Yardbirds singer Keith Relf to Ennio Morricone. Remarkably (again with the exception of that late-‘60s English-language album), very few of these were US or UK hits. A good number, indeed, were damned obscure, sometimes so much so that you wonder how she and/or her associates even became aware of them in the first place.

What follows is—for the first time in the English language, I would guess—a song-by-song comparison of the originals vs. her covers, with a couple caveats. I’ve lumped five songs from her 1968 En Anglais LP together, since as previously noted these are generally her least interesting covers, both in quality and choice of material. I’m also solely covering covers from her first and best decade or so of releases, spanning 1962 to 1972. Quite possibly I’ve missed a few songs she did that were previously released by other artists, especially among the handful of tracks she cut only in the German or Italian language. Any corrections or additions are gratefully received in the comments section.

We begin with a song from her very first release, which was one of the very first she recorded in a studio.

Oh Oh Cheri (French EP, Vogue, July 1962)

Original version: Bobby Lee Trammell (as “Uh Oh,”), 1958

Included on Hardy’s first EP, “Oh Oh Cheri” was a perky early-‘60s teen idol-type pop-rocker with a lickety-split beat. Enjoyable but a bit trivial when stacked against her greatest work, it turns out to have had a surprisingly large role in starting her career in the first place. It was this song that she was instructed to sing at her audition for Vogue Records in 1961. The audition was successful, and she recorded it on April 25, 1962 for her first EP. (The EP, rather than the two-song 45, was the dominant format for record releases in France at the time.)

In its original incarnation, “Oh Oh Cheri” was “Uh Oh,” a spry but mild 1958 US rockabilly single by one Bobby Lee Trammell, who didn’t make the charts with this record or any other. Trammell’s track, unlike Hardy’s, is burdened by whitebread doo-wop backing vocals, complete with goofy bass “bohm-bohm-bohm-bohm”s at the end of the choruses. Trammell also had a case of what we might call the “Holly hiccups,” with a vocal overtly influenced by Buddy Holly. Hardy’s version has the edge for its far greater, more relaxed playfulness, though there’s not so much you can do with a song so slight.

For all its slightness, it’s something Vogue apparently had high hopes for, adapting it into French with songwriters Jil and Jan, who’d also written for France’s top ‘60s male rock singer, Johnny Hallyday. The Hallyday connection didn’t end there—“Oh Oh Cheri” was designed as an “answer” song to Hallyday’s “Oh! Oh! Baby.” The Hallyday track, incidentally, is a rather dull, generic lovelorn early-‘60s rockaballad, and not enhanced by Johnny’s heavily accented English.

As for why Vogue artistic director Jacques Wolfsohn was so hot on “Uh Oh,” Hardy told Kieron Tyler (for the liner notes to the Light in the Attic reissue of her first LP), “He was also a publisher, and he got songs from the States. When he had heard my first audition on tape—he hadn’t seen me yet—he ndy id my voice was exactly right for ‘Oh Oh Cheri.’ That was one—not the only—reason he signed me.”

OhOhCheri

Le Temps de L’Amour (French EP, December 1962)

Original version: El Toro et Les Cyclones (as “Fort Chabrol”), circa early 1960s; possibly by Les Fantômes, January 1962 

Hardy’s second cover, in contrast to her first, was one of her greatest and most famous recordings. Understandably, not many people even know it’s a cover, since “Le Temps de L’Amour”—boasting an almost James Bond noirish feel, with snaky spy movie guitar—was based on an instrumental with an entirely different title. Only after it was given lyrics did it become “Le Temps de L’Amour,” vaulting to worldwide fame of sorts about half a century later after being featured in the Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom.

The melody of “Le Temps de L’Amour” was written by early French rock star (and later Hardy’s life partner) Jacques Dutronc, and used on a Shadows-styled instrumental titled “Fort Chabrol.” The liner notes to the CD reissue of Hardy’s self-titled debut LP say this had been recorded and released by Dutronc’s band El Toro & Les Cyclones. I can’t find a version by this group, but I did find one by Les Fantômes that I’m guessing is quite similar.

As played by Les Fantômes, “Fort Chabrol” is extremely similar to the early-‘60s work by the Shadows, the most popular rock instrumental group in Britain (and, with the exception of the US, around the world). Listeners all over the globe will instantly pick up its resemblance to vintage Shadows hits like “Apache.” Without the words that were later added, the melody of “Fort Chabrol” sounds a lot more like the Latin pop standard “Besame Mucho” as well.

“Fort Chabrol” is kind of cool, if extremely derivative of the Shadows. But “Le Temps de L’Amour” is much cooler, with the addition of lyrics and Hardy’s assured, seductive vocal—qualities she’d bring to so many of her records in the ensuing decade.

Fantomes

Je Pense à Lui (French EP, circa early 1963)

Original version: The Majors (as “A Wonderful Dream”), 1962

Until the late 1960s, “Je Pense à Lui” would have been one of the most familiar of the songs Hardy covered to American listeners, as it actually made #22 in the US in 1962 as “A Wonderful Dream.” The original version was cut by the Majors, a group (a la the Exciters, the Essex, the early Miracles, and the Platters) that was all-male save for one woman. In its initial guise, “A Wonderful Dream” was a very catchy uptempo late-period doo-wop tune. The Majors made the Top 100 just one more time before fading into obscurity.

Hardy’s cover is good-natured, but one of the few examples of an early-to-mid-‘60s recording of hers that doesn’t measure up to the original. Uptempo rock wasn’t among her strengths, and she doesn’t have the kind of ultra-high-pitched R&B voice that paced the Majors’ original. As was often the case with English-language hits translated into French, liberties were taken with the translation, “A Wonderful Dream” becoming “I Think of Him” (“Je Pense à Lui”).

Majors

L’Amour d’un Garçon (French EP, circa early 1963)

Original version: Timi Yuro (as “The Love of a Boy”), 1962

Hardy’s first EP of 1963 also contained this cover of a Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, originally a small (#44) US hit for Timi Yuro. Françoise’s version of this decent but somewhat second-tier early Bacharach-David composition is more appealing. Yuro’s low voice sounds a little too earnest and forced; Hardy’s glides more naturally, and has a little more of a girl group feel. It’s infinitely more sensual, actually. Instrumentally it follows the original arrangement fairly closely, though it’s a bit faster, and the backing vocals have a more Continental feel. Incidentally, while Hardy herself gave the song new French lyrics, the title itself is an exact translation of “The Love of a Boy.”

L'Amour Garcon

Qui Aime-t-il Vraiment? (French EP, August 1963)

Original version: Johnny Crawford (as “Your Nose Is Gonna Grow”), 1962

Child TV star Crawford’s “Your Nose Is Gonna Grow” was quite a big hit in the US, rising to #14 in 1962. Crawford wasn’t quite a child anymore in 1962; in fact, he was 16. But you might not guess from his recording, in which his voice is so high-voiced that many might mistake it for a girl’s or woman’s.

Hardy is in general rather dismissive of many of her early-‘60s recordings, and one imagines that this is one of the tracks in which she takes least pride. But though the rather sub-teen-idol material isn’t the greatest, you wouldn’t know it so much from Hardy’s vocal, which is an archetypically measured, consistent, mature (though she was still in her teens) performance. The European orchestral pop production is nice too, though again one suspects not wholly to her liking. And Hardy’s French translation saves us from such awkward lyrics in Crawford’s original as “remember if you lie, the boogie man’ll get you, and your nose is gonna grow.”

Crawford

On Dit De Lui (French EP, August 1963)

Original version: Connie Francis (as “It’s Gonna Take Me Some Time”), 1962

Connie Francis was still a huge star in 1962, “It’s Gonna Take Me Some Time” appearing on the B-side of her last Top Ten hit, “Vacation.” It might not be saying much, but “It’s Gonna Take Me Some Time” was one of the better, and more rock-oriented, sides from her vintage years, with a minor key and somewhat tougher cast than her usual tune.

That made it well-suited for an adaptation that could tap into Hardy’s knack for slightly noirish, devious rockers, a la “Le Temps de L’Amour.” In terms of its nervous tempo and Hardy’s coolly reserved vocal, as well as more spy-movie guitar, “On Dit De Lui” outdoes the original. It’s handicapped, however, by stiff-almost-to-the-point-of-histrionic doo-wopping backup vocals, presumably by French women with little or no experience singing or listening to rock music. It’s one of the relatively few occasions on which France-based production might have audibly hurt one of her tracks. There’d be less occasion for this to happen between mid-1964 and 1967, when she’d record in London instead.

OnDitDeLui

Avant de T’En Aller (French EP, December 1963)

Original version: Paul Anka? (possibly as “Think About It”), 1963; possibly Sacha Distel’s “Ne Dis Rien,” 1965?

Of all the original versions discussed in this piece, this was the most vexing to research. This is referred to in the liner notes of the new CD reissue of her second album as a cover of a flop Paul Anka A-side from spring 1963, and as a cover of a ’63 Anka recording titled “Think About It” on the Françoise Hardy All Over the World website. But I couldn’t find a Paul Anka recording called “Think About It,” or an Anka single from 1963 that sounded like “Avant de T’En Aller.”

But Anka did record a song with the same melody, “Sunshine Baby,” which showed as a B-side of a 1964 German single. Weirdly, despite the title, it’s sung mostly in German. Even more weirdly, when the track appeared on one of Hardy’s 1963 French EPs, the title was given (in small type) in English as “Think About It” under the large-type title “Avant de T’en Aller” on the back cover. That back cover also gave “Anka-Hardy” as the songwriting credit. But this was the year before Anka’s “Sunshine Baby” was released.

According to a post on the website “Françoise Hardy – Mon amie la rose,”  Anka did record the song in English as “Think About It,” but didn’t release it. Here’s an educated guess: Hardy, and/or her producer/record label, somehow got hold of the unreleased Anka recording of “Think About It,” or maybe even a demo of the song by Anka or someone else, or maybe even just the sheet music. Françoise then recorded a French version, writing her own French-language lyrics. Anka subsequently released a German-language version for the German market.

As additional confirmation that Anka wrote a song titled “Think About It,”  it’s in the 1963 Catalog of Copyright Entries (crediting both Anka and Don Costa as composers). It’s also listed as a song he co-wrote  with Don Costa (an A&R man at the ABC-Paramount label where Anka had his early hits) on Anka’s Songwriter’s Hall of Fame page.

However this all went down, Françoise’s version is easily superior to Anka’s more sentimental delivery, with understandably labored pronunciation given he’s singing in a language not his own. The arrangement’s pretty similar to Hardy’s, although it’s more heavily orchestrated, lacks Françoise’s nifty shifts into a quicker tempo on the bridge. But it’s not really that great a song to begin with, though it’s  fairly typical of Anka’s early-’60s compositions.

There’s also a recording by male French singer Sacha Distel titled “Ne Dis Rien” which has the same melody as “Avant de T’en Aller” and “Sunshine Baby.” This track is referred to by some online sources (which are hardly flawless) as a version of a composition by Paul Anka and Don Costa called “Let’s Think About It.” That’s almost certainly the same song as “Think About It,” credited by (as noted above) other sources as an Anka-Costa work. Online sources (which, again, are not infallible) refer to this Distel track as a 1965 recording, however. (For what it’s worth, “Ne Dis Rien” translates to “Don’t Say Anything,” not “Let’s Think About It.”)

One thing we do know is that Anka was one of Hardy’s favorite singers as a teenager. And “Avant de T’En Aller,” wherever it came from, is one of Hardy’s most teen idol-type pop productions, from the sweeping (even lush) strings to the chirpy girl backup singers and pseudo-Latin beat. So it might not be to the taste of some rock-oriented listeners, but actually it’s quite enjoyable. And Françoise navigates the swoops into the lower register, as well as the transition to a jazzier bridge, with charming ease.

There might not be any relationship between “Avant de T’en Aller” and Distel’s “Ne Dis Rien” besides the melody. But check out Distel’s record anyway as an example of the rather rougher, more ostentatious way older male French singers of the time handled similar material—a manner that’s likely less to the liking of most twenty-first-century English-speaking listeners.

(Thanks to reader Christine for sending information about Anka’s “Sunshine Baby,”  the credits on the back cover when “Avant de T’en Aller” appeared on Hardy’s 1963 EP,  the post on the “Mon amie la rose” site, and the songwriting credits in the sources listed earlier in this paragraph. Her blog, Spiked Candy, is at spikedcandy.com.)

distel_ne_dis_rien_paul_anka1

Catch a Falling Star (French En Anglais EP, Pye single UK, circa early 1964)

Original version: Perry Como, 1957

It was a testament to Hardy’s popularity that, within a couple of years of her first release, she was recording in English (and other languages besides French) as well as her native tongue. One of her first English-language recordings was “Catch a Falling Star,” a #1 hit in America for Perry Como in 1958. Even the liner notes of the new CD reissue of her third album call it “a weak version,” which isn’t nearly as harsh as Hardy’s own assessment in those same notes: “I hate ‘Catch a Falling Star.’ It’s stupid. It had nothing to do with me.”

So chalk this up as one of the few outright missteps in her early discography, perhaps in a misguided attempt to break her into the English-speaking market. It’s one of her least memorable early recordings, produced by Tony Hatch, most famous for his work with the Searchers and Petula Clark. That’s not so much due to Hardy’s vocal—which is, like virtually everything she did in the era, professional, if not as passionate as almost all her other tracks—as the ill-suited material, which is, as she herself says, “stupid,” and certainly unappetizingly middle-of-the-road.

CatchaFallingStar

C’est La Première Fois (French EP, early-to-mid-1964)

Original version: Joe Brown (as “Your Tender Look”), 1962

With their greater proximity to England, the French public and record industry would have been more likely than their American counterparts to be aware of pre-Beatles British rock stars. One of them was Joe Brown. With his sunny brand of slightly rockabilly-influenced, country-influenced pop-rock, he had three UK Top Ten hits in 1962-63, along with a half-dozen smaller hits in the early-‘60s. He never made the slightest impact in the US, where he might be best known—if he’s known at all—for doing the original version of “A Picture of You,” a 1962 #2 hit that was covered by the Beatles at their second BBC radio session in June of that year.

In common with most pre-Beatles British rock stars, Brown’s appeal is elusive to the great majority of American listeners. Judged on its own terms, and not against the early American rock stars (let alone the Beatles), some of his sides have a modest brisk country-pop charm. One such number was his wistful “Your Tender Look,” which was actually the follow-up to “A Picture of You,” though it didn’t do too well in his native UK, peaking at #31.

Hardy’s version isn’t radically different, also employing the kind of acoustic guitars and female backup vocals Brown used on his single. The Hardy recording is rather more forceful and energetic, however. And she’s a better and more interesting singer than Brown, which alone would make it more appealing to the average Françoise fan, though it’s not her most imaginative interpretation.

JoeBrown

Pourtant Tu M’Aimes (French EP, early-to-mid-1964)

Original version: The Joys (as “I Still Love Him”), 1964

There were oodles—well, at least dozens—of blatantly Phil Spector-influenced productions in the early-to-mid-1960s, many of them featuring the same kind of girl groups that Spector recorded. One such obscurity was the Joys’ “I Still Love Him,” which failed to chart in the US. In France, it was somehow picked up by Hardy. It would be interesting to know if she found it herself, or if one of her associates—producer Mickey Baker (the same guy who was half of Mickey & Sylvia of “Love Is Strange” fame), say, or someone at her label or at a publisher—brought it to her attention. It couldn’t have been that easy to become aware of in France. It was hard enough to hear it in the land of its birth, the US.

Hardy and Baker did a credible job of recreating a Spectoresque sound with “Pourtant Tu M’Aimes,” with new lyrics by Françoise. The arrangement isn’t drastically different from the original, but the tempo is a little faster and the general feel brighter than the rather more somber treatment by the Joys. Hardy sounds like a genial observer or teller of the story; the Joys, in contrast, seem to be voicing a solemn lament. It’s a solid move to a fuller production sound that would become more pronounced when she used British producer Charles Blackwell on many of her mid-‘60s recordings.

Pourtant

C’est Le Passé (French EP, circa mid-1964)

Original version: Dusty Springfield (as “Once Upon a Time”), 1963

Hardy did not often cover songs by well-known British or American stars before the late 1960s, and when she did, she sometimes opted for some of their most overlooked tracks. She’d done so in 1963 when she covered the Connie Francis B-side “It’s Gonna Take Me Some Time.” She did so again in 1964 on “C’est La Passé,” her French-language version of “Once Upon a Time,” which had been on the B-side of Dusty Springfield’s first solo single (and first international smash), “I Only Want to Be With You.” It was also one of the few songs Springfield herself wrote in her early career.

As noted earlier, Hardy usually matched or exceeded the originals she covered in quality. It’s tough, however, to take on Dusty Springfield and win; it’s not like taking on Joe Brown or the Joys. As a Springfield B-side, “Once Upon a Time” was a great daughter-of-Phil-Spector production, and indeed one of Dusty’s greatest overlooked tracks. Françoise’s version is okay, but it’s no match for Dusty’s from either a vocal or instrumental standpoint. And here’s one instance where Hardy’s suave approach was less suited toward the song than the more emotional, soulful one deployed by Dusty.

Springfield

Pas Gentille (French EP, circa mid-to-late 1964)

Original version: Marty Wilde (as “Bad Boy”), 1959

Like Joe Brown, Marty Wilde was a pre-Beatles British rock star who’s barely known in the US. Most of his UK hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s were inferior covers of American smashes like “Teenager in Love” and “Donna.” He did, however, write the Top Ten hit “Bad Boy,” which like some of Joe Brown’s material had a country-cum-mild rockabilly feel. Alas, he didn’t sound so much like a “Bad Boy” as the boy next door.

Some lyrical tweaking was obviously necessary for Françoise’s cover, whose title “Pas Gentille” roughly translates to “That’s Not Nice.” While she doesn’t take many liberties with the gently ambling arrangement, she perhaps gives it a touch more country ambience. More importantly, the vocal is simply a lot more interesting, not to mention alluring.

Although as noted Wilde is all but unknown in the US, “Bad Boy” marked a rare instance of a pre-Beatles British rock single making a significant impact in the American charts. It rose to #45 in the Top Hundred in 1960, though I don’t remember it ever being played on oldies radio.

BadBoy

Je N’Attends Plus Personne (French EP, circa mid-to-late 1964)

Original version: Little Tony (as “Non Aspetto Nessuno”), 1964

Prior to this tour-de-force, Hardy had always stuck to American or British songs for cover choices. For “Je N’Attends Plus Personne,” however, she opted for a song first released in Italy as “Non Aspetto Nessuno” by Little Tony. I admit I don’t know how popular Tony was in Italy, but certainly he was unknown, then and now, to English-speaking audiences elsewhere.

Italian ‘60s pop generally does not make favorable impressions on English-speaking listeners, and I admit I’m one. The original starts off promisingly with growling guitar, but the production is overall thinner and more cornily dated than Françoise’s version, and Little Tony’s vocal a little hoarse and overwrought. In contrast, Hardy’s arrangement is tougher, with mean fuzz guitar (attributed to both Big Jim Sullivan and then-session man Jimmy Page), wailing female backup vocals, and a cool-as-a-cucumber vocal. It is one of her moodiest and even most menacing performances, without sacrificing her trademark soaring melodies.

This was one of the earlier of the numerous recordings Hardy made in the mid-‘60s with British arranger Charles Blackwell. And like some of the other Hardy-Blackwell collaborations, it was one of the best Phil Spector-like productions from Europe, adding some distinctive British and French sensibilities to the mix.

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Je Veux Qu’Il Revienne (French EP, circa late 1964)

Original version: The Vernons Girls (as “Only You Can Do It”), 1964 

Charles Blackwell was one of the few British arrangers who could fashion credible American girl group-styled records, and simulate the sound of Phil Spector’s productions. In fact, he may have been the only one. And he was certainly more adept at doing this than anyone in France. So he was a suitable collaborator for Hardy as she moved into more powerful, Spector-influenced sides in the mid-1960s.

Blackwell was also a songwriter, and it’s also no surprise that Hardy recorded—in both French and English—some songs he penned that had been cut by British artists with whom he worked. While some may sniff some unseemly self-cross-promotion involved in this, actually the Blackwell songs Hardy covered were good choices for her records, and not photocopies of the originals. Such was the case with “Only You Can Do It,” which had been a flop single for the Vernons [sic] Girls earlier in 1964.

The Vernons Girls had a handful of middling UK hits in 1962 and 1963, but didn’t have much longer to go after that, breaking up in spring 1965. “Only You Can Do It” is their best record, and one that could just about pass as an actual US girl group 45. Catchy and peppy (especially when it goes into double-time for the chorus), it’s nonetheless outdone—if not by much—by Hardy’s vivacious version. She recorded it in English under the original title of “Only You Can Do It” too.

If anyone outside of the UK is aware of the Vernons Girls, it’s likely because they were one of the several second-line (or more like third-line) British Invasion acts in the 1964 UK TV special Around the Beatles, in which the Beatles were naturally the headlining act. They also did one of the earlier Beatles novelty singles with “We Love the Beatles (Beatlemania)” in January 1964, but that couldn’t help them last past Beatlemania itself. The connection between the Vernons Girls and Hardy didn’t end with “Only You Can Do It,” however, as Françoise would cover a couple of the solo tracks issued by one of the Vernons Girls, Samantha Jones, in 1965.

Vernons

Nous Étions Amies (French EP, circa late 1964)

Original version: Dino (as “Eravamo Amici”), 1964

One of Hardy’s most splendid and haunting mid-1960s ballads had its origins as a song, and with an artist, few people in the UK or North America would have known. “Nous Étions Amies” was first recorded by Italian singer Dino as “Eravamo Amici.” A melodramatic ballad (like so many Italian pop records of the time), it had its virtues, namely that haunting melody. The opening desolate, echoing percussion was nifty too. But the arrangement was overblown, especially in the farting horns, and Dino was far less nuanced a singer than Hardy.

In contrast, her interpretation is nimble and arresting, both vocally and instrumentally. The horns are eschewed for tasteful piano trills, staccato guitar notes, ghostly female vocals, and expertly flung flecks of reverberant chords. And the wordless scatting “oh oh” simply sounds far more affecting from a higher-voiced woman singer.

Dino

Dis-Lui Non (French EP, circa early 1965)

Original version: Bobby Skel (as “Say It Now”), 1965

Possibly the most obscure song Hardy covered—in the face of some pretty stiff competition—was “Say It Now,” translated into “Dis-Lui Non” (“Tell Him No,” in English). American blue-eyed soul singer Bobby Skel wrote this ballad (credited to his birth name Robert Skelton), and released this on the B-side of “Kiss and Run,” on the little-known Soft label. “Kiss and Run” didn’t make the national charts (and nor did any of Skel’s other records), but according to one youtube clip, it made #6 on the chart of Chicago radio station WLS in early 1965.

In its original version, “Say It Now” is a classy pop-soul ballad, opening with a stuttering piano figure much like the one kicking off the 1966 Rolling Stones UK B-side “Long Long While.” Skel was white, but many listeners then and now would mistake him for African-American, his singing backed by lilting soulful backup vocalists and a piano-dominated arrangement. The poppier “Kiss and Run” might have been the hit in Chicago, but “Say It Now” is the more memorable song by some distance.

Hardy’s version is quite different, putting more emphasis on the guitar (especially in some almost bluesy spiky lines near the end of some lines). Although it was a 1965 release, it was a bit of a throwback to the doo-wop/teen idol-influenced approach of her early, pre-London recordings. While Hardy’s covers were often more cool, calm, and collected than the originals, here’s an instance where Skel actually sounds a bit more reserved, and Françoise a little more emotive and yearning. And she’d record this song in English under its original title as well.

DitLuiNon

Son Amour S’Est Endormi (French EP, circa early 1965)

Original version: traditional German folk song “Alle Nächte”; possibly Tommy Kent, 1960

Unlike any of the songs discussed so far, this isn’t based on any specific previous record or version. “Son Amour S’Est Endormi” is Hardy’s adaptation of the traditional German folk song “Alle Nächte.” It can’t said for certain which version or record she might have learned this from, or if she even learned it from a performance or recording, traditional folk songs often passing on through other means. It does seem quite possible she based it at least on part on German pop-rock singer Tommy Kent’s 1960 version of “Alle Nächte,” whose arrangement is similar in some respects, especially in the backing vocals.

Though it’s more testimony to her versatility, it’s one of her weaker mid-‘60s recordings, particularly in the semi-stentorian backing choral vocals. It’s not one of her more typical ones either, combining country-ish piano, folky acoustic guitar, and a rather more liltingly frivolous vocal delivery than her usual wont, especially when she wordlessly scats.

francoisehardy-atouchofmusicatouchoffrancoisehardy(gatefold)

La Mer (German LP Portrait in Musik, 1965)

Original version: Charles Trenet, 1946 

A track so obscure that I don’t remember seeing it on any CD reissue, “La Mer” was first released on the 1965 German LP Portrait in Musik, a mixture of German-language songs with French-language tunes such as this one (and one English-language track thrown in for good measure). Before 1965, all of the songs Françoise covered had been originally released in English or Italian. Here, after all this time, is her first cover of a French-language song (though she’d recorded numerous French-language songs by other composers that had not previously released by anyone else).

Dating from well before the rock era, “La Mer” was first issued back in 1946 by Charles Trenet, a quite popular French singer-songwriter who—certainly these days—is little known outside his native land. The song is certainly well known everywhere, though. In addition to being one of the most famous standards of any kind in France, in 1960 it became an American Top Ten hit for Bobby Darin, who sang it in English under the title “Beyond the Sea.”

Trenet’s original recording will bring to mind the kind of sentimental songs performed in vintage romantic movies of the 1940s, complete with operating singing, grand swelling orchestration, imposing backup choral vocals, and melodramatic piano trills. Hardy’s version, frankly, can’t compete with either Trenet’s or Darin’s. With one of her corniest arrangements, it sounds like a leftover from her earliest sessions, or perhaps something done as an afterthought for a foreign market, with musicians and arrangers with whom she usually didn’t collaborate. The movie-soundtrack strings and glee club backup vocals in particular are not characteristic of her ‘60s recordings, though her singing’s fine.

charles_trenet-la_mer_s_1

Les Feuilles Mortes (German LP Portrait in Musik, 1965)

Original version: Yves Montand, mid-1940s

In some ways, “Les Feuilles Mortes” occupies a similar place to “La Mer” in this overview. It’s one of Hardy’s most obscure 1960s recordings; it also found release on the German Portrait in Musik LP; it’s a French-language song; it was originally done by a singer immensely (and primarily) popular in France; and it’s familiar to English-speaking audiences through versions that use English lyrics.

“Les Feuilles Mortes” was first popularized by French singer Yves Montand (better known in North American and the UK as an actor, particularly for his role in the 1953 classic Wages of Fear) in the mid-1940s. His recording of the song from that time is stark. Rickety piano backs the sad, elegantly—and, typically for French pop, suavely melodramatic—sung melody. In those respects, it’s not too unlike many of Hardy’s own compositions, though she’d sing her haunting songs in a more straightforward fashion.

American and British listeners will recognize the melody, as with English lyrics by famed songwriter Johnny Mercer, it was changed into “Autumn Leaves.” Recorded by many singers, including Jo Stafford, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole, it became a standard and, in an instrumental version by pianist Roger Williams, a #1 hit in 1955. Eric Clapton even did it on his 2010 album Clapton.

Here’s one respect in which “Les Feuilles Mortes” differs from “La Mer,” however—Hardy’s cover is better this time around. Backed primarily by acoustic guitar and piano, with a strange cha-cha beat, it avoids the orchestral excesses on her arrangement of “La Mer.” According to a youtube clip—not the most reliable of sources in all cases, it should be cautioned—“she reportedly hates this version.”

Hardy had another brush with Montand in the mid-1960s, incidentally, but outside the recording studio. She had a small role in the 1966 film Grand Prix, starring Montand as a champion race car driver.

YvesMontand

Le Temp des Souvenirs (French EP, circa mid-1965)

Original version: Samantha Jones (as “Just Call and I’ll Be There”), 1965; and/or P.J. Proby (as “Just Call and I’ll Be There”), 1965

When Samantha Jones left the Vernons Girls in mid-1964, she continued to work with Charles Blackwell, who’d produced and written their 1964 single “Only You Can Do It,” covered later that year by Hardy. He also wrote “Just Call and I’ll Be There,” the B-side of her second single, which was released in February 1965.

Perhaps too good to be wasted on a B-side, it was a nice, tuneful midtempo number graced by atmospheric female backup vocals, orchestral swells, and smidgens of what sounded like steel drums and flamenco guitar. It was a little reminiscent of the girl group-cum-British Invasion pop being generated by Dusty Springfield, Lulu, and Sandie Shaw at the time, though Jones would never have a UK or US hit. And, as with “Only You Can Do It,” it was just a hop, skip and a jump to reconfigure it for a Françoise Hardy record.

It must be said, however, that Hardy’s cover absolutely trounces Jones’s rendition. Indeed, it’s one of her most decisive victories in the covers vs. originals department. It’s one of her sexiest, strongest vocals, and even the sha-la-la-la’s of the female backup singers are quite intoxicating. Jones’s relatively faceless vocal is a telephone book reading in comparison. And while the arrangement isn’t that much different (no surprise as Blackwell oversaw both versions), Hardy’s track is considerably more powerful by that measure too, especially in the orchestral crescendos at the end of the choruses.

It’s possible the original version of “Just Call and I’ll Be There” was recorded and released by another UK-based artist, American expatriate P.J. Proby. The song appears on his debut LP, which charted in the UK in February 1965. A big star in the UK by that time, Proby never had comparable success in his home country, and while there will be those who vehemently disagree, I don’t think he deserved it. His version of “Just Call and I’ll Be There” is inferior even to Samantha Jones’s, with a pinched vocal style that brings to mind an anemic Gene Pitney, especially when he histrionically climbs the high notes of the chorus.

Hardy wasn’t done with the Blackwell-Jones connection after “Just Call and I’ll Be There” (which she recorded in English as well as a French translation). She’d cover the A-side of Jones’s second single, “Don’t Come Any Closer,” on her next French EP.

JustCall

Non Ce N’est Pas Un Rêve (French EP, circa late 1965)

Original version: Samantha Jones (as “Don’t Come Any Closer”), 1965 

Released in February 1965 as the A-side of Samantha Jones’s second single (the B-side was also covered by Hardy; see above entry), “Don’t Come Any Closer” was another track more impressive for the production and song than her vocal. A quality mixture of girl group, British pop, and a bit of soul, it had a dramatic soul-pop melody, booming (nearly bombastic) orchestral production, and wailing female backup vocals. Samantha’s singing, however—veering between a girlish whisper and more conventional belting—wasn’t in the league of Dusty Springfield’s, Lulu’s, or for that matter Françoise Hardy’s.

Hardy was really reaching an extraordinary peak on tracks like “Le Temps des Souvenirs” (her other Samantha Jones cover; see previous entry) and “Ce N’est Pas Un Rêve,” which were Righteous Brothers-strength in their grandiose production. Her vocal again makes this a decisive triumph—indeed rout—over the Jones original, especially in the beguiling husky low tones of the verses and the almost forlorn, wistful ones she breaks into after the orchestral crescendos. More great sassy female backup vocals on this track, too, which wisely begins with an arresting instrumental opening, rather than bursting right into the chorus as Jones does.

SamanthaJones

Quel Mal Y A-T-Il à Ça (French EP, circa late 1965)

Original version: Patsy Cline (as “When I Get Through With You”), 1962

We’re back to more familiar territory here: a cover of an American song that wasn’t a big hit. Patsy Cline was a big country star by the early 1960s, and some of her songs were also big pop hits. “When I Get Through With You,” however, wasn’t one of them. It peaked at #53, though it made it to #10 in the country listings. Although I have a half-dozen or so Patsy Cline compilations, it doesn’t appear on any of them, and I didn’t hear this original version until I prepared this article.

It wasn’t as much of a stretch for Hardy to cover Cline as you might think. In the early 1960s, several singers who straddled country and pop made some singles with a girl-group feel, sometimes with great success, as Skeeter Davis did with “I Can’t Stay Mad at You” (and Brenda Lee did on a few hits). “When I Get Through With You” seems to be an attempt by Cline to reach into this style, with a bouncy verse and catchy chorus, and not all that much country after the slow, nearly a cappella introduction.

Hardy had a greater affinity for girl group pop than Cline, and her version is better, though not as different from the original as you might guess. Her singing is more, well, girlish than Cline’s. The arrangement uses the same kind of backing vocals and dancing strings as the original, but with a little more verve.

Cline

La Maison Ou J’Ai Grandi (French EP, circa early 1966)

Original version: Adriano Celentano (as “Il Ragazzo Della Via Gluck”), 1966

Hardy turned her attention to covers of Italian songs in 1966, the first of those being Adriano Celentano’s “Il Ragazzo Della Via Gluck.” If you think French pop of the time was sentimental, it had nothing on its Italian cousin, though at least this acoustic ballad had a swinging rhythm. Acoustic guitars were joined by violins halfway through the song, backing Celentano’s rather operatic delivery—a trait shared by many male Italian singers of that time, and of other eras.

I have the feeling I’m in the minority on this, but Hardy’s adaptation—“La Maison Ou J’ai Grandi”—isn’t among my favorite mid-‘60s tracks of hers. I find it a bit meandering and, yes, sentimental. But if you’re not a fan of Italian ‘60s male-sung pop (I admit I’m not) and a fan of Françoise Hardy (as you likely are if you’re reading this), you’re certain to like her version better. There’s a more even, unexaggerated lilt to her vocals, and some bluesiness to the hastily picked opening acoustic guitar riff. The liner notes to Light in the Attic’s CD reissue of the first LP on which this appeared speculate that it’s the work of Jimmy Page.

American listeners are most likely to be familiar not with Hardy’s version (or certainly not with Celentano’s), but with yet another translation of the Italian original. As “Tar and Cement,” it became an unlikely Top 40 hit for Verdelle Smith in 1966, who gave it a treatment combining folk and orchestral pop.

adriano_celentano-il_ragazzo_della_via_gluck_s_2

Il Est Des Choses (French EP, circa early 1966)

Original version: Tony Renis (as “Ci Sono Cose Piu Grandi”), 1966

Hardy was generally drifting away from rock, albeit of the poppiest orchestral-girl group sort, and into more sentimental pop in 1966. One of her targets was “Ci Sono Cose Piu Grandi,” by Italian singer Tony Renis. His version starts off with a rather eerie sequence of what sound like high organ notes, then easing into a fully arranged dramatic ballad. Not a minute’s over before the sweeping strings and crooning backup vocals enter; one of those singers goes into a ghostly soprano a few lines later. It might be a layered, mannered production, but as the cliché goes, for what it is, it’s pretty good. The tune’s appealingly melancholy, and Renis doesn’t overdo the opera as much as many of his peers, though there’s some of that in the orchestral climaxes.

Appearing on the same EP as “La Maison Ou J’Ai Grandi,” Hardy’s French version, “Il Est Des Choses,” has a significantly sparer arrangement emphasizing rolling piano. There’s some strings here, too, but they’re more subtle, and her singing is nicely nuanced, as if she’s just about keeping her emotions below a boil. There’s also a neat passage where it slows down dramatically for the finale without sounding contrived. It’s not as superior to the Tony Renis original as I might have predicted, but it’s another notch in her victory column.

TonyRenis

Je Changerais d’Avis (French EP, circa mid-1966)

Original version: Mina (as “Se Telefonando”), 1966

Another Italian singer who’s likely unknown to record collectors from North America and the British Isles (even if they specialize in ‘60s pop), Mina had a hit in her homeland with “Se Telefonando.” Like Adriano Celentano’s “Il Ragazzo Della Via Gluck” (covered by Hardy earlier in 1966 as “La Maison Ou J’ai Grandi”), there was some folkiness to this sentimental pop. And like “Il Ragazzo Della Via Gluck,” albeit in a different fashion, it was a little unconventionally structured for a pop song, moving into a different melody and tempo for the chorus that could have almost been airlifted from another composition.

Hardy tones down the more overt mannerisms of Mina in her vocal—no surprise there—and gives it a far, frankly, breathier approach. She does march into a more determined mode for the chorus, without taking the pile-on climax into grandstanding territory. It’s a bit of a surprise, however, when she repeats the chorus instead of going back into the verse, which makes this one of her more aggressive (relatively speaking) mid-‘60s productions and performances. Like “Il Ragazzo Della Via Gluck,” it’s not one of my favorite Hardy tracks from the era, but I like it better than the original, as it’s almost like the more grating features have been sanded off into something more palatable.

This track marked a little-known connection between Hardy and another giant from the era, though from a much different field. “Se Telefonando” was co-written by Ennio Morricone, who even by 1966 was a top soundtrack composer, and might now be the most highly regarded soundtrack composer of all time.

Se_telefonando

Il N’y a Pas d’Amour Heureux (French EP, circa late 1967)

Original version: Georges Brassens, 1954

Another major figure in pre-rock French pop who will likely be unfamiliar to English-speaking readers, Georges Brassens set a poem by Louis Aragons to music for “Il N’y a Pas d’Amour Heureux” in the mid-1950s. More somber and yet more melancholy than many of Hardy’s own melancholy compositions, a strong sense of loss and lament comes through on the Brassens original even if you don’t understand any French. The sadly strummed acoustic guitar brings to mind a fisherman pouring out his sorrows by the dockside. If nothing else, tracking down the original versions of Françoise Hardy songs gives you a chance to sample strains of French pop you might be unfamiliar with, and I think this prototype of “Il N’y a Pas d’Amour Heureux” will be one of the most appealing to non-French audiences.

Hardy’s version emphasizes rolling, almost classical piano as the backing. Actually, there’s no backing but piano until some mournful strings join in the gloom at around the halfway mark, joined by some doleful choral backup vocals in the final section. It’s a little different hearing this sung by a young woman rather than a more experienced man (Brassens was in his early-to-mid-thirties when he recorded it), which puts an interesting different spin on the record.

Hardy’s interpretation, then, is quite different, and respectable. But, a little to my surprise, my overall preference is for the Brassens original. You can certainly have both, however.

Brassens

Ma Jeunesse Fout Le Camp (French EP, circa late 1967)

Original version: Michèle Arnaud, 1962

Much as 1966 had seen Hardy focus on Italian songs when she covered outside material (though it should be kept in mind that she was writing most of her own repertoire), 1967 saw her concentrate on French songs when she opted for cover tunes. Less well known than the likes of Yves Montand and Georges Brassens, Michèle Arnaud had nonetheless been active on the French recording scene for quite some time by the late 1960s. Not at all part of the yé-yé scene, she was already in her early forties by the time she recorded the original version of “Ma Jeunesse Fout L’Camp” in the early 1960s.

I’ve already described many songs in this post (whether by Hardy or others) as sad, wistful, and melancholy. That doesn’t mean this doesn’t fit in this category as well, declaimed by Arnaud almost as though it’s a poem—something this shares with Georges Brassens’s “Il N’y a Pas d’Amour Heureux.” Unlike some of the Italian and French male singers Hardy covered, Arnaud gives this original version a nicely controlled, subtle vocal that gets the serious emotions across without hammering you with them. The orchestral production is nicely understated, too, though it shows no influence from the rock music that was part of Françoise’s style from the start.

Although Hardy was only 23 in 1967, she seemed to be making a determined move toward a more mature, less rock-oriented style. Of course you could be mature and rock hard too, as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and so many others were proving. But that wasn’t Hardy’s bag, at least at the moment, and perhaps plumbing for non-rock covers that had first been issued more than five years ago was part of that process.

Whatever the motivation, “Ma Jeunesse Fout L’Camp” was one of her less memorable tracks, though it was used as the title of her 1967 LP. Her interpretation is okay, but not too different or imaginative, and a bit formulaic if there was such a thing on Hardy’s ‘60s records, the expected violins and cloudy-day choral vocals entering after the acoustic guitar-dominated opening sections.

Michele Arnaud

La Fin de L’Été (French LP Ma Jeunesse Fout L’Camp, 1967)

Original version: Gerard Bourgeois, 1963 and/or Brigitte Bardot 1964

The third and final of Françoise’s French covers to appear in 1967 was quite different from the previous pair. “La Fin de L’Été” (“The End of the Summer”) was, in contrast to much of her output, easygoing and upbeat. It might have been lushly produced—it’s a bit over-lush in comparison to her previous productions, actually—but the muted angst and overt melancholy characteristic of many of her slow and midtempo ballads is absent. It sounds a bit frivolous in the context of her overall work, in fact.

I haven’t, unfortunately, been able to track down the original 1963 version of “La Fin de L’Été,” issued in 1963 by its co-composer, Gerard Bourgeois. It seems possible, however, that she based her cover on Brigitte Bardot’s 1964 recording of the song, or at least was aware of Bardot’s version as well. Bardot’s arrangement, as you might guess, is a little more in the yé-yé vein, with a jazzier backing featuring acoustic guitar, piano, and Herb Alpert-like trumpet. Her vocal’s a hell of a lot more frivolous than Hardy’s, as you’d definitely expect.

Hardy is definitely a better singer and recording artist than Bardot, who really did records (and quite a few of them) as a kind of adjunct to her principal career as an actress, often with an irreverent playfulness suggesting she wasn’t taking her musical endeavors too seriously. Nonetheless, I have to admit I like Bardot’s version of “La Fin de L’Été” better. Not because she’s a better singer or more creative, but because the material suits her better, and she brings a more appropriate approach to this rather lightweight piece of froth.

Brazilian magazine cover, September 1964

Brazilian magazine cover, September 1964

Il Est Trop Loin (French LP Ma Jeunesse Fout L’Camp, 1967)

Original version: Peter, Paul & Mary (as “Sorrow”), 1962; and/or traditional folk song “Man of Constant Sorrow”

The Françoise Hardy All Over the World website cites Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Sorrow” as the source for “Il Est Trop Loin.” I’m not so sure about that. As “Man of Constant Sorrow,” the song has been recorded by many artists, including (on his first LP) Bob Dylan, an artist of whom Hardy was certainly aware (and had personally met when he played Paris on his 1966 European tour). Other songs have varied the title and lyrics, as Judy Collins did on “Maid of Constant Sorrow.” While Peter Yarrow and Noel “Paul” Stookey were credited as the writers when it appeared as simply “Sorrow” on Peter, Paul & Mary’s first album in 1962, that track was the same as the song—usually described as a traditional folk song—that had appeared as “Man of Constant Sorrow” and other variants. It would have been more proper to credit them as arrangers rather than writers.

Wherever she first heard it, it’s not surprising that Hardy was attracted to a bittersweet folky song with sorrow as its main motif. She did little that could be classified as straight-up “folk-rock,” but “Il Est Trop Loin” comes close, with a jangly circular guitar riff and just-barely-there bass and drums. After almost two minutes, of course, an orchestra enters to alter the mood, followed by ethereal backup vocals. It would have been less predictable, and perhaps more interesting, to let this play out as low-key folk-rock the whole way through instead of bowing to the Françoise formula of sorts. The guitar does solo for an uncommonly long time near the end, for a Hardy track at any rate.

It’s hard to call this a “superior” cover considering both that it’s unclear what her source was, and that there are so many other versions of this standard. But it’s still a worthy, somewhat unusual interpretation of this oft-covered (some would say over-covered) song, and certainly one of her more unusual late-‘60s recordings, both in its arrangement and her choice of material to reconfigure.

Elle magazine cover

Elle magazine cover

Comment te Dire Adieu (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1968; titled Comment te Dire Adieu on CD reissue)

Original version: by Vera Lynn (as “It Hurts to Say Goodbye”), 1967, or Arnold Goland (as “It Hurts to Say Goodbye”) circa 1967

Vera Lynn was one of the most popular British singers of the pre-rock era, and made the UK and even US charts into the late 1950s. These days, she might be most remembered for songs associated with the Allies’ World War II effort: “We’ll Meet Again,” “The White Cliffs of Dover,” and “There’ll Always Be an England.” But she had plenty of other British hits in the 1940s and 1950s, and even had a fair amount of success in the US, where “You Can’t Be True Dear” made the Top Ten in 1948, and “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” went all the way to #1 in 1952.

In 1967, Lynn—by then 50 years of age—had a last chart hurrah of sorts when “It Hurts to Say Goodbye” made the Top Ten of the Easy Listening charts. Although it’s in some ways the relic of an era that rock had superseded, it’s actually a pretty impressive and powerful ballad, with an impassioned vocal, grand cinematic orchestration, and a bittersweet melody to complement the lyric of regretful parting. The opening in particular can’t help but recall the bombastic burst of strings and voices that kicked off Dusty Springfield’s 1966 smash “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” if rock-oriented listeners (and I am one) need a point of reference.

This could have been a version Hardy heard, but there was an earlier one by American singer Margaret Whiting on her 1966 LP The Wheel of Hurt. Although it’s not too much different than Lynn’s cover (and a tad more rock-influenced in the arrangement), it’s considerably less memorable. It’s just not nearly as over-the-top, vocally or instrumentally, as Lynn’s (to its credit) was. Virtually forgotten today, Whiting had been recording jazz, pop, country, and easy listening since the 1940s, and had a couple #1 hits in the late ‘40s with “A Tree in the Meadow” and “Slippin’ Around.” And she wasn’t totally off the scene by the mid-‘60s, landing a #26 single in late 1966 with “The Wheel of Hurt,” which topped the US easy listening charts.

Hardy’s French-language cover, “Comment te Dire Adieu” (whose lyrics were supplied by legendary French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg), was really different than either of these predecessors—almost radically so. Where Lynn (and Whiting, if you want to include her in the discussion) had played up the staunch sadness of parting from a loved one, Françoise—unusually, even shockingly, given her track record—lightened things up, instead of retaining or even accentuating the melancholy.

“Comment te Dire Adieu” is not just upbeat—it’s downright jaunty, with a light swing and pseudo-Herb Albert trumpet that almost puts it in bachelor pad music territory. The vocal’s teasingly playful, almost as if Hardy’s joyful at being set free, rather than tearful at being torn apart. The slightly ominous rock-ish downward-descending riff at the end of the verses isn’t found at all in Lynn’s version; nor are the super-sexy spoken passages in the bridges. Note that the French title translates to “How to Say Goodbye,” not “It Hurts to Say Goodbye,” perhaps accounting in part for the less sorrowful tone.

All this combines to make “Comment te Dire Adieu” one of Hardy’s most interesting covers, and certainly one of the covers that differed most from its model. It’s hard to compare such different arrangements, which makes it something of a tie between Hardy and Lynn for quality, or a case where you should choose the one you play depending on your mood.

A few months after I first put up this post, reader Magnus Astrom chimed in with some useful information. “When it came to her source of ‘It Hurts to Say Goodbye’ [Françoise] has said herself in numerous interviews that she heard it at an editor as an instrumental,” Magnus wrote.  “Apparently this person had booked a meeting with her to present her with, what he considered, suitable songs for her. And of all the songs he played her she liked none, with the possible exception of an instrumental that she took almost only so that the whole session shouldn’t have been a total waste of time. Listening to it again at home, she found that it started to grow on her. Then her secretary suggested that they should ask Serge Gainsbourg to write lyrics for it. Which, to Françoise’s surprise, he agreed to do.”

The new lyrics by Gainsbourg could in themselves account in part for the more upbeat tone of Hardy’s version. More crucially, however, this indicates that Hardy might have heard the instrumental version that one of the two composers of the original “It Hurts to Say Goodbye,” Arnold Goland, issued on a single circa 1967. The arrangement is extremely similar to the one on Hardy’s “Comment te Dire Adieu”—so much so, however, that the possibility can’t be discounted that it’s based on Hardy’s version, not the other way around.

Further complicating matters, as Magnus points out, “Some fan discussion claims that this single was cancelled – https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/spectropop/conversations/topics/47367.” What’s more, the other co-writer of the original “It Hurts to Say Goodbye,” Jack Gold, also put out a version (in 1969). But as Magnus observes, “This version features a choir singing the lyrics so it can’t be the source version. And it’s too late, only appearing after her version.”

VeraLynn

Parlez-Moi de Lui (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1968; titled Comment te Dire Adieu on CD reissue)

Original version: by Kathy Kirby (as “The Way of Love”), 1965, and/or Dalida, 1966

Most, though not all, of the 1968 French album simply titled (as were, confusingly, several of her other 1960s French LPs) Françoise Hardy was devoted to songs by other composers, some of which had been previously released by other artists, some not. In my view—and with so many Françoise fans, there are bound to be many who disagree—this record showed her slipping distressingly further into less interesting middle-of-the-road pop. If that’s what she wanted to explore, however, “Parlez-Moi de Lui” was certainly the right kind of source material.

The song had first been recorded as “The Way of Love” by British singer Kathy Kirby in 1965. Kirby had a bunch of UK hits between mid-1963 and mid-1964, but was rapidly passing out of fashion as the tougher sounds of the British Invasion overwhelmed first her home country and then the globe. “The Way of Love” wasn’t just tamer than the Beatles or the Stones; it wasn’t even rock, and not even a particularly strong mainstream pop ballad. Or even sung with that much distinction, though the orchestra gave it their all when they entered the proceedings, crashing in with the subtlety of a tree falling through the roof. Unusually, though Kirby’s single missed the UK charts entirely, it did make a ripple across the Atlantic, peaking at #88 in the US (where it was her only 45 to enter the Top 100).

It seems possible, and maybe even likely, that Hardy was also—or even only—familiar with a French-language cover by Italian woman singer Dalida in 1966. Titled (like Hardy’s own interpretation) “Parlez-Moi de Lui,” it outdid Kirby’s original on every level. That didn’t change it into a great song, but her vocal was far more effectively sultry, in addition to just plain having lots more horsepower. The orchestra played harder and louder too, especially at the de rigueur pull-out-the-stops soaring finale.

Hardy’s take on this tune is quite different to Dalida’s or Kirby’s. It’s no shock that she gives it a much quieter, more thoughtful vocal, though the orchestra and choral backup vocals still make their entrances as if on cue. But the backing is more understated—if only just—than those on the prior versions as well, making it more different to the prototypes than most of the songs she covered in the ‘60s. Too bad it’s one of the least memorable of the songs she chose to interpret, however, when all’s said and done. For what it’s worth Dalida’s version might be better, as her style is more of a match for the material.

Dalida

La Mésange (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1968; titled Comment te Dire Adieu on CD reissue)

Original version: Quarteto em Cy & MB-4 (as “Sabia”), 1968, and/or Cynara & Cybele, 1968

The first sign of Hardy’s growing interest in Brazilian pop and bossa nova was her cover of “Sabia,” co-written by one of bossa nova’s giants, Antonio Carlos Jobim. Recordings of “Sabia” from 1968 by both Quarteto em Cy & MB-4 and Cynara & Cybele have been cited as the inspiration for her French-language version. I haven’t been able to find one by Cynara & Cybele, but did locate the rendition by Quarteto em Cy & MB-4.

I confess I’m not the biggest bossa nova or Jobim fan, and Quarteto em Cy & MB-4’s “Sabia” didn’t impress me much. It’s a very lushly produced track, suffused with strings and interwoven harmonizing vocals by both male and female singers. The melody’s relatively complex and winding, but ultimately not too memorable to me.

You can tell I don’t have as much to say about this song as most of the previous items in this post, and I don’t have too much to say about Hardy’s cover either. It’s also overproduced, with too many strings, though not quite as overcooked as the Quarteto em CY & MB-4 version. I do prefer hearing her solo lilting vocals, as opposed to Quarteto em CY & MB’s multi-layered harmony vocals, which (like some others on vintage bossa nova records) have a jazz-choral-pop feel that’s not to my taste.

me-33 quarteto em cy

Où Va La Chance? (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1968; titled Comment te Dire Adieu on CD reissue)

Original version: Joan Baez (as “There But For Fortune”), 1965; and/or Phil Ochs, 1966 

Although Hardy was drifting into more middle-of-the-road pop in the late 1960s, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t aware of hipper British and American sounds than, say, Kathy Kirby’s “The Way of Love.” A couple selections on her 1968 Françoise Hardy LP indicated she was paying attention to folky singer-songwriters as well. One was her take on “There But for Fortune,” one of the most outstanding early compositions of Phil Ochs, the best socially conscious folk singer-songwriter on the mid-‘60s scene other than Bob Dylan. While “There But for Fortune” didn’t totally evade the protest/social commentary field, it was also one of his first songs to add a non-social-specific sense of poetry to his lyrics, complementing the wistful melody.

Before Ochs put out his own version on his 1966 In Concert album, Joan Baez had a small hit single with the song in the US, where it reached #50 in late 1965. (In fact, it was her biggest single of the 1960s, though of course she had numerous big hit LPs during that decade.) Baez’s cover was a much bigger hit in the UK, where it reached #8. It seems likely her version was the one Hardy heard first and most often, though it’s possible she also heard the one in 1967 by Michèle Arnaud, original performer of another song Françoise covered, “Ma Jeunesse Fout L’Camp.” Arnaud also used the same French translation for the lyrics (by Eddie Marnay) that Hardy did, retitling the song (again, as Hardy did) “Où Va La Chance?”

Hardy’s “Où Va La Chance?” has, unlike the plain folk of Baez and Ochs’s prototypes, an overtly baroque arrangement, dominated by harp (as in the instrument with plucked strings, not the harmonica). Light drums are added before the expected addition of orchestration after a minute-and-a-half or so. Her cover’s okay, but not a match for Ochs’s. And while Hardy’s coolly measured phrasing often worked to curb the excesses of the melodramatic material she often interpreted, here’s one case where the more committed and nuanced singing of Ochs works better.

Ochs never had hit singles (or very high-charting LPs) on his own, and there were no hit covers of his songs other than Baez’s “There But for Fortune.” So one would have to think that its placement on a Françoise Hardy LP was actually one of his bigger money-earners, if the publishing revenues got to him.

Baez

Suzanne (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1968; titled Comment te Dire Adieu on CD reissue)

Original version: Leonard Cohen, 1967, and/or Judy Collins, 1966

Although Hardy was one of the earlier artists to cover a Leonard Cohen song, she was hardly the first, or even the first to do one of his most famous works, “Suzanne.” First on that score was Judy Collins, who put “Suzanne” (and another Cohen composition, “Dress Rehearsal Rag”) on her In My Life LP in late 1966, about a year before Cohen’s own version came out on his debut album. The first artist of any kind (let alone a renowned one) to interpret Cohen’s songs, Collins put a few more on her next LP, 1967’s Wildflowers. And in late 1967, Noel Harrison had a small US hit with “Suzanne,” while in the UK, Fairport Convention did a great folk-rock version on the BBC in September 1968, though they didn’t put it on any of their studio releases.

While Collins might have been more responsible than anyone else for pioneering the “baroque folk” genre—folk, and a bit of rock, dressed up with orchestration—her rendition of “Suzanne” actually only uses acoustic guitar and bass. Hardy, unsurprisingly, goes the all-out baroque route. Like “There But Fortune,” it’s okay, but not a match for the prototypes by either Collins or Cohen. Unusually, it uses multi-tracked vocals, which does set it a bit apart from her average ‘60s recording.

It’s also indicative of a challenge she faced as she began to do material by fairly well-known singer-songwriters other than herself. Though her choice of songs often testified to her good taste, by taking on artists who were much were well known than, say, the Joys or Samantha Jones, she was inviting far more unfavorable comparisons to the originals. And by taking on artists with a much more formidable body of work than the Joys or Samantha Jones, she would find it hard to match the quality of or inventively reshape those originals.

Cohen

La Rue Des Coeurs Perdus (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1968; titled Comment te Dire Adieu on CD reissue)

Original version: Ricky Nelson (as “Lonesome Town”), 1958

Early American rock’n’roll was a big (if hardly the only) influence on Hardy, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that she covered well-known early rock’n’roll classics. Actually, while “Lonesome Town” was a big hit for an early rock’n’roll star (Ricky Nelson), it wasn’t exactly rock’n’roll even in its first incarnation. This 1958 Top Ten hit was a lovelorn acoustic ballad with ghostly backing vocals and something of a cowboy western feel, like the song of heartbreak the leading man would sing as he rode his horse out of the town he’d just rescued. It wasn’t exactly typical of Nelson’s early hits, but it was very good, haunting, and effective.

And, one would think, it would be an appropriate song for Hardy to cover, should she want to cover any big early rock’n’roll hits at all. Alas, this not only proves not to be the case. Instead, her arrangement is swamped with strings, and set to a modified country-and-western beat, complete with barroom-tinged piano. The swell of background voices at the end, as if to bring down the curtain on a number in a musical, is especially disheartening. As much as she excelled at melancholy songs of heartbreak, here she sounds innocent and chipper, failing to project the genuine forlorn desolation that Nelson did—and quite well—in his hit original.

ItalianMagazine

Hang on to a Dream (UK LP En Anglais, 1968)

Original version: Tim Hardin (as “How Can We Hang on to a Dream”), 1966

Although Hardy’s all-English-language album En Anglais was disappointing (more details a few entries down), there were a few tracks that stood out from the rest, both for their higher quality and for the greater obscurity of the sources. One was “Hang on to a Dream,” which had featured on Tim Hardin’s 1966 debut LP. It could be expected that Hardy would have an affinity with Hardin, another singer-songwriter who favored darkly bittersweet, introspective moods. Hardin wasn’t exactly obscure, but he wasn’t a big star either, or even as big as Leonard Cohen, though Bobby Darin had taken Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter” into the Top Ten in late 1966.

Hardy’s treatment of the song is fairly different from Hardin’s, if not too different from how she usually handled such material. Gothic backup vocals at the very opening (which recur throughout the track) make it evident it’s going to be gaudier than Hardin’s original, and understated orchestration also pushes this from folk-rock to baroque folk. It’s those gloomy backup vocals, however, that do the most to differ this from Hardin’s prototype, accentuating the song’s desperation. While it doesn’t equal the original (or, for that matter, Ian & Sylvia’s less ornate folk-rock cover on their 1967 Loving Sound album), she handles the vocals in a nicely sweet-but-sad manner too.

Hardin

Tiny Goddess (UK LP En Anglais, 1968)

Original version: Nirvana, 1967

The British ‘60s band Nirvana—no relation, of course, to the Seattle grunge stars of the ‘90—had just one low-charting single (“Rainbow Chaser,” #34, 1968) in the UK, though they garnered a cult following many years later with their brand of delicate baroque-pop-psychedelia. “Tiny Goddess” was their first single, combining harpsichord, cello, and hushed female backup vocals in its gently flower-power-styled portrait of the song’s subject.

It’s a little surprising that Hardy found the song, but then, she’d been sniffing out flop singles and little-known foreign sides for her entire career. It has a more orchestral arrangement than the original—I know, what a shock—but otherwise differs less from the Nirvana version than most of her covers. Her typically cool and collected, less-is-more delivery is a good fit for the tune, and like “Hang on to a Dream,” it’s far superior to the other covers on En Anglais.

As a reader notes in the comments section, “It’s possible that FH found ‘Tiny Goddess’ via the ’67 recording of the Jackpots, a popular band in Sweden. I also recall someone saying Nirvana’s recording got considerable play on pirate radio stations in the Channel.”

TinyGoddess

Empty Sunday (UK LP En Anglais, 1968)

Original version: Keith Relf (as “Shapes in My Mind”), 1966

This peculiar track only counts as a half-cover, perhaps. For the verses of “Empty Sunday” are acceptable, if hardly exceptional, slightly glum pop-rock with a Continental flavor. Yardbirds fans ears will instantly perk up, however, when Hardy sings the bridges, which are taken note-for-note and word-for-word from the bridges of Keith Relf’s flop 1966 single “Shapes in My Mind.”

“Empty Sunday” was written by famed British music entrepreneur Simon Napier-Bell and Ready Steady Go assistant producer (and Dusty Springfield manager) Vicki Wickham. The pair collaborated on a few songs in the 1960s, most famously Dusty Springfield’s 1966 megahit “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” They co-wrote the English lyrics to Springfield’s version when it was adapted from the Italian original, “Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)” (a big 1965 hit in Italy for one of the original co-writers, Pino Donaggio).

In 1966 Napier-Bell became the Yardbirds’ manager. Though his stint was relatively brief, it did take in the even briefer attempt to launch a sideline solo career for their singer, Keith Relf. That was pretty much a bust, and Relf’s second and final 45 while with the Yardbirds, “Shapes in My Mind” (actually released in two different versions, one starting with organ, another with sax and bass) was a flop. It’s a pretty cool, unusual moody song with a baroque-pop flavor and unusual tempo changes, moving from tango-like verses to more insistently pounding bridges. Those bridges were recycled for the otherwise unrelated “Empty Sunday,” Hardy faithfully using the same rhythm.

This was not, incidentally, the only instance in which Napier-Bell wrote for Françoise. With his chum Vicki Wickham, he also wrote “Never Learn to Cry,” which with more tweaking from Hardy became “Mon Monde N’est Pas Vrai,” a track on her 1970 album Soleil.

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Let It Be Me; Loving You; That’ll Be the Day; Who’ll Be the Next in Line; Will You Love Me Tomorrow (UK LP En Anglais, 1968)

Original versions: The Everly Brothers, 1960; Elvis Presley, 1957; Buddy Holly, 1957; The Kinks, 1965; The Shirelles, 1960

Some fans will find it heresy—indeed, be outraged—to have these five songs from En Anglais grouped into one entry and, essentially, dismissed. Nonetheless, it’s my feeling that Hardy’s covers of these are A) not very good, and B) not worthy of extended individual comment.

As noted in the entry on “Lonesome Town,” early rock’n’roll was a big formative influence on Françoise. So it made sense that she’d want to pay homage to Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Shirelles, and the Everly Brothers (who didn’t do the first version of “Let It Be Me,” but probably did the one that inspired Hardy, an Everlys fan). But it wasn’t going to be easy—indeed, it wasn’t going to be possible—to equal the originals. She did put different arrangements to them, but they were fairly disastrous, drenching them in strings and generally removing their considerable edge, even on the Everlys and Elvis ballads. If the strategy was to aim somewhere between the US easy listening and country-pop markets, she succeeded, but it’s hard to imagine either easy listening or country-pop listeners taking much of a shine to these pretty dreary interpretations. And as much as she might have loved early rock’n’roll, she simply wasn’t capable of summoning the raucous energy necessary to sing it (or certainly sing “That’ll Be the Day”) with any effectiveness.

That problem becomes more acute on “Who’ll Be the Next in Line,” which actually was much better known in the US (where it became a Top Forty hit) than the Kinks’ UK homeland (where it was only a B-side). Like many early Ray Davies songs, “Who’ll Be the Next in Line” was almost punky in its raw raunch. Hardy’s arrangement is not only tamer (especially in the vocal department, including double-tracked ones on the bridge), but afflicted by soaring strings that are wholly at odds with the song’s spirit and thrust. Where Davies sneered the words with genuine hurt, Hardy enunciates them with all the congenial neutrality of someone waiting in line for a sandwich at the cafeteria.

Ev'rybody's_Gonna_Be_Happy_cover

Soleil (French LP Soleil, 1970)

The title song for Hardy’s 1970 LP Soleil has a source so obscure I didn’t become aware of it until more than a year after I originally posted this article. American singer-songwriter Sandy Alpert co-wrote the English-language original, “Sunshine,” with Tash Howard, who also produced Alpert’s original version.  This seems to have appeared on a radio-only promo 1970 single and a Spanish 45.

The arranger for Alpert’s version was Jimmy Wisner, who worked with many hit artists. He also got a Top Ten hit record of his own (under the pseudonym Kokomo) in 1961 with the instrumental “Asia Minor,” a rocked-up rendition of Grieg’s classical piece “Piano Concerto in A Minor.” Wisner also co-wrote the 1963 Orlons B-side “Don’t Throw Your Love Away,” which was covered for an early British Invasion hit by the Searchers the following year.

Hardy’s version isn’t too different from Alpert’s, and is one of the more faithful of her covers to the original arrangement. Hardy even replicates the double-tracked vocals on the chorus from Alpert’s single.  Alpert’s 45 might be more lushly orchestrated, Françoise’s employing, as was her wont, more acoustic guitar.

Overall, however, this is one of the closest Hardy’s covers comes to scoring as more or less a tie with the original. She also sang the English-language version, “Sunshine,” on a 1970 English-language LP (titled Alone in the US), using the same backing track. On this English version, Françoise omits one verse and, more oddly, sings “some day” instead of the “amen” heard at the end of the choruses in the original.

Sandy Alpert’s original single on Metromedia even had a picture sleeve (see below). It seems doubtful it made it into the stores, however, as the back cover is entirely given over to a rather tacky message poem by producer Tash Howard. “Give A Brilliant New talent A Shot!” it proclaims. “She’s tender, young, and warm. Needs lots of love. Dedicated to her commitents. You’ll love the way she sings. And she’s a great composer. Loves to perform. Plays the guitar. Eats tuna fish sandwiches. Rides a Honda. Tries to bring a little happiness to everyone.”

The strongest indication that this might be a promo-only release is the “P.S.” Howard adds at the bottom: “Sandy loves to rap. So why not call her. Even if it’s only to ask for additional copies of this record. Call Sandy at 212-582-5646.” Printing the personal phone number of the artist and encouraging requests for giveaways is not the standard practice for commercial singles, to say the least, and quite likely not even for promo 45s.

Considering the obscurity of the original version, one wonders how it made its way to Hardy. Quite possibly she heard a demo. Maybe this very 45  was the demo she and/or her associates was sent. It’s hard to imagine her or anyone else she worked with stumbling across it in a shop.

It’s difficult to gauge Albert’s talents on the basis of this one modestly appealing pop 45, though she had at least a couple other singles (both on United Artists in the late 1960s). The only other thing I’ve been able to find out about her is that she wrote the music for Well…Fair, described by New York magazine as a “street musical by Anne Roby” in its listing for its run at Cabaret 73 of the Manhattan Theater Club from October 5-9, 1972.

(Thanks again to Christine, who runs the blog Spiked Candy,  for sending information Sandy Alpert’s original version.)

The picture sleeve for Sandy Alpert's original version of "Sunshine," probably a radio-only promo release.

The picture sleeve for Sandy Alpert’s original version of “Sunshine,” probably a radio-only promo release.

The back cover of Sandy Alpert's "Sunshine" 45 even listed her phone number, encouraging listeners to rap with her and ask for more copies of the single.

The back cover of Sandy Alpert’s “Sunshine” 45 even listed her phone number, encouraging listeners to rap with her and ask for more copies of the single.

San Salvador (French LP Soleil, 1970)

Original version: traditional

According to the Françoise Hardy All Over the World website, “San Salvador” is a traditional song. That makes it hard to determine how Hardy might have become aware of it. For that matter, I haven’t been able to find out much about the song in general. That means this is going to be one of the shortest listings in this overview, except to note that whatever its origin, Hardy gives this sad song a fair reading, the arrangement combining folky picked guitar with tastefully mild orchestration.

1970 magazine cover

1970 magazine cover

Rêve (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1971; titled La Question on CD reissue)

Original version: Taiguara (as “A Transa”), 1970

Most of Hardy’s 1971 LP—easily her strongest post-mid-1960s album, not to mention one of the all-time makeout records—featured songs written by herself (usually in collaboration with Brazilian singer-songwriter-guitarist Tuca) or by Tuca with Hardy or other composers. There was, however, one track that had been previously released in another version. “Rêve” (“Dream”), which concluded the LP, had originally been issued by another Brazilian singer-songwriter, Taiguara, as “A Transa.” A nearly instrumental piece, it trod somewhere between sumptuous string-laden easy listening and cinematic movie theme, its descending motif very slightly recalling the one from Midnight Cowboy. Taiguara interjected some spoken murmurings near the end—not ones I can translate from the Portuguese, but which I feel pretty confident about guessing are romantic/poetic in nature.

Hardy curbs the fussiest excesses of the original, and adds some pretty enchanting cloud-drifting scat vocals through most of the arrangement. She’s also able to utter the sweet nothings—well, they’re nothings to most of the English-speaking audience, with limited or no knowledge of French—at the end, though in French, not Portuguese (enabling her to add her name to the credits as co-writer). Heard by itself, it might understandably be too MOR for many listeners. Heard in the context of La Question, where it closes an album where spare, acoustic-flavored arrangements anchor some of Hardy’s most frankly sexual deliveries, it makes an appropriately grand finale, as if bringing a love story to a happy final-credits ending.

Since “A Transa” is so easygoing, it’s a shock to learn that Taiguara—like several Brazilian artists whose music sounds rather innocuous on the surface—regularly ran afoul of the authorities in his volatile homeland. He worked abroad in exile for parts of his career, and according to Wikipedia, “was one of the most censored Brazilian artists to date, having close to 200 songs vetoed throughout his career.”

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Ocean (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1972; titled If You Listen on CD reissue)

Original version: John & Beverley Martyn, 1970

Hardy’s 1972 self-titled album (helpfully identified as If You Listen on its 2000 CD reissue) was lots different from her previous LP. She wrote just one song, and recorded most of it in London. She’d recorded in London on numerous previous occasions, of course, but this time, there seems to have been a conscious attempt to penetrate the international market, as almost all of the songs were in English. And while her 1971 LP seems to have marked a decided turn toward Brazilian pop, here most of the material had been already released by British and American singer-songwriters both famous and obscure.

Perhaps the London production (at Sound Techniques studio) and English-language-dominated repertoire helped make Hardy aware of some relatively underexposed British songwriters. “Ocean,” for instance, had first been aired (as “The Ocean”) on John & Beverley Martyn’s 1970 album Stormbringer! (exclamation point included). Although they (especially John, who recorded most of his albums solo without wife Beverley) have a solid cult following now, back then the folk-rock duo weren’t all that well known, despite being produced by Joe Boyd. “The Ocean” was one of their more memorable early tracks, the haunting tune decorated by eerie keyboard/guitar sounds. As composer Beverly Martyn sang it with restrained stateliness, and light orchestration was deployed, it’s understandable if it was thought to be a natural for Françoise to tackle, given she often blended similar ingredients.

Hardy does a decent job with the song, though not one that takes it into much different territory. The arrangement has a more straightforward combination of acoustic guitar and orchestration, minus the more eccentric instrumental touches. Although Hardy’s English-language recordings in general don’t stack up too well against her primary French-tongue work, her French accent gives “Ocean” an enticing sheen.

Martyn

Until It’s Time for You to Go (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1972; titled If You Listen on CD reissue)

Original version: Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1965

“Until It’s Time for You to Go” is easily the most famous song by Native American singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, who put it on her second album, Many a Mile, in 1965. Although she was also known for protest folk songs (including some of the few of the era to highlight the plight of Native Americans and Mexican-Americans), “Until It’s Time for You to Go” is an out-and-out love song, if a delicately phrased and sophisticated one. Since then it’s been covered by many artists, from Bobby Darin and Cher to Mike Nesmith and Andy Williams. The Four Pennies had a Top 20 UK single with it in 1965; Elvis Presley took it to #40 in 1972; and Neil Diamond had a small hit with it in 1970.

It’s easy to see why a haunting, sentimental folk song that avoided over-sappiness would appeal to Hardy. It might have been unwise, however, for her to choose such a well-known tune, which even by the early 1970s was something of a standard. Her rather predictable version—another arrangement that starts with acoustic guitar backup for a minute-and-a-half before the low-key orchestra comes in—is pleasing but formulaic.

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The Garden of Jane Delawney (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1972; titled If You Listen on CD reissue)

Original version: Trees, 1970

In utter contrast to “Until It’s Time for You to Go,” the next track on Hardy’s 1972 LP was one of the most obscure English-language songs she attempted. “The Garden of Jane Delawney” had been the title track of the debut album by British folk-rock band Trees, who issued just two albums in the early ‘70s before splitting. Very similar to Fairport Convention in approach (even to the point of featuring a woman singer, Celia Humphris), Trees made little commercial headway before breaking up, though (as a recent cover story in Flashback testifies) they have an enthusiastic cult following today.

At a guess, it seems quite likely Hardy became aware of the song since Trees had also recorded at Sound Techniques, where their The Garden of Jane Delawney album had been co-produced by Tony Cox, who also produced most of Françoise Hardy aka If You Listen. Her take on “The Garden of Jane Delawney” is one of the LP’s highlights, though it’s not all that different from the one by Trees (sung by Celia Humphris with a multi-tracked vocal), which in turn was a highlight of that band’s debut. While it’s not a traditional folk song, it sounds as though it could have been, with the mournful, ominous feel of a medieval narrative ballad. Where Trees uses acoustic guitar and harpsichord, Hardy does use super-light drums, making it one of her few (and most successful) outings that could just about be called folk-rock. She can’t resist bringing in the strings for the final part, though these are muted by her standards.

As the song’s composer, Trees bassist/guitarist Bias Boshell, told Flashback, there’s no significance to the name Jane Delawney: “It sounds right, doesn’t it? When you’re writing, you just sing whatever comes in your head. It was like a Thomas Hardy name, but I’d never read any Thomas Hardy! I can’t think of why I wrote that sort of Gothic lyric. I know I had this thing about horror and beauty—that beautiful things can be very frightening, and that very frightening things can be very beautiful.” The version by a Hardy other than Thomas remains by far the highest-profile cover of a Trees song, and one of the very few of a Trees original, though UK band All About Eve also did it in the late 1980s.

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Sometimes (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1972; titled If You Listen on CD reissue)

Original version: Allan Taylor, 1971

It took quite some doing to dig up a track yet more obscure than “The Garden of Jane Delawney,” but Hardy managed the feat with her 1972 LP’s very next track, “Sometimes.” This was the title song of the little-heard 1971 album by British singer-songwriter Allan Taylor. Although it was a pretty enough ballad with acoustic guitar and a dash of harpsichord and light orchestration, there wasn’t much to set it apart from much similar music of the early ‘70s. So how did it make its way to Françoise?

Again, the answer’s probably producer Tony Cox, who worked on Taylor’s LP as well as the 1972 album by Hardy. While there’s not an enormous amount you can do with a slight-but-pleasant number, her version is actually quite a bit superior, especially in the vocal department. Her breathy, whispery delivery is loads more appealing than Taylor’s stolid singing, which is very much in the most reserved “we’re British, no facial expression please” wing of UK folk-rock. The arrangement boasts the usual acoustic guitar-strings combo she favored in this period, but executed with admirably gentle aplomb.

Sometimes

Let My Name Be Sorrow (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1972; titled If You Listen on CD reissue)

Original version: Gilles Marchal (as “Quand Je Te Regarde Vivre”), 1970, and/or Mary Hopkin

Another of the French artists Hardy covered who is basically unknown to English-speaking audiences, Marchal was a pretty popular singer in France in the ‘70s. Although he wrote much of his own material, he also covered songs by Lee Hazlewood and Fred Neil. He didn’t, however, write “Quand Je Te Regarde Vivre” (“When I Watch You Live”), which is credited to Martine Habib (with whom he’d recorded a cover of the Hazlewood-Nancy Sinatra hit “Summer Wine”) and his producers, George Chatelain and Bernard Estardy. Starting with a plunking piano, “Quand Je Te Regarde” is a soaring, tuneful, sorrowful ballad, if rendered with a solemnity some might find too earnest. Vestigial female backup vocals and string instruments also put this firmly in the camp of sort of songs Hardy leaned toward.

It seems quite possible, however, that Hardy also heard, or perhaps even first heard, the English-language version Mary Hopkin issued on a June 1971 single, “Let My Name Be Sorrow.” Sneaking into the UK charts for just one week at #46, it’s a little less overwrought and a little more folky than Marchal’s original, using orchestration by Richard Hewson (most famous for executing the same task on several tracks on the Beatles’ Let It Be LP, most notoriously “The Long and Winding Road”). She also did a French-language version for the French market, keeping the original “Quand Je Te Regarde Vivre” title. As for why she covered the tune, she commented in the liner notes to a 2010 CD reissue, “That’s the Welsh in me. There’s something rather lovely about dark tones and minor keys.”

One could easily imagine Françoise herself uttering that previous sentence. And while her version of “Let My Name Be Sorrow” doesn’t depart too far off the path of either Marchal or Hopkin, her vocal steers clear of both Hopkin’s vibrato and Marchal’s manly stoicism. For that reason, it might be the winner among more audiences than not, if only by a slight margin. Light drums are added in the final sections, the track concluding with a fanfare of slowly, dramatically plucked classical piano.

Hopkin

Can’t Get the One I Want (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1972; titled If You Listen on CD reissue)

Original version: John & Beverley Martyn, 1970

Hardy must have liked John & Beverley Martyn’s Stormbringer! album a lot, as she covered not just one, but two, songs from that relatively underground album on her 1972 LP. Like the other track from Stormbringer! she covered (“The Ocean”), “Can’t Get the One I Want” was written and originally sung by Beverley Martyn. “I’m feeling down” is the song’s first lyric, itself an indicator that it might make the grade for a Hardy record, given Françoise’s predilection for slightly downbeat, introspective songs that didn’t quite cross over the line into outright gloom.

The Martyns used guitar, piano, and strings on their version, and Hardy’s arrangement doesn’t stray too far from that format, although it subtracts piano and adds mild drums. She takes more liberties, in a good way, with the vocal, which manages to simultaneously project more regret and playfulness than Beverley.

As even some listeners barely aware (or unaware) of Hardy now know, had things worked out differently, she could have done some covers of a British folk-rock singer-songwriter who might have been even more obscure than the Martyns at the time—but who’s now way more famous than the Martyns (and maybe even more famous than Hardy herself). Around this time she met another artist who recorded in Sound Techniques, singer-songwriter Nick Drake. Drake—a good friend of the Martyns, as it happened—attended one of her London sessions, and was interested in writing songs for her.

Drake was a musical kindred spirit of sorts with his brooding, textured folk-rock sound, though much less capable of dealing with the real world, and no collaborations actually occurred. In her biography Superstar et Ermite, Hardy remembers how Nick sat in a corner, never saying a word, when he watched her session. Drake, in Hardy’s words, “was truly the champion of inhibition.” Additionally, observed Françoise in MOJO, “Nick seemed—and was no doubt—so shy, so wrapped up in himself, that in retrospect I’m astonished that he managed to come and see me two or three times, even knowing that I appreciated his enormous talent.”

Had Hardy done a whole album of Drake songs—including ones, as seems to have been the intention, he hadn’t recorded or would not record on his own—the result might have been one of the more interesting offbeat records of the early 1970s. Somewhat like the quirky 1970 LP Nilsson Does Newman, it might have brought some attention to a cult singer-songwriter who sorely needed it. And Hardy might have brought an interesting, if not necessarily better, dimension to Drake’s tunes that would have been absent from Nick’s own renditions. Drake wasn’t really capable of doing much of anything in the two years or so before his death in November 1974, however, and this will have to remain one of many mooted albums throughout rock history whose sound we can only imagine.

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I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1972; titled If You Listen on CD reissue)

Original version: Judy Collins, 1966 and/or Randy Newman, 1968

By the time Randy Newman put “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” on his 1968 debut LP, it had already been recorded by a number of artists, including Judy Collins, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Bobby Darin, and even Chris Barber. That makes it hard to determine where Hardy might have heard it first, though the Collins cover (on her 1966 album In My Life) seems like a fair bet. It’s even hard to determine whether Collins’s interpretation was the first, as according to at least one source, it was preceded by an unlikely version from operatic balladeer Julius La Rosa.

Although the song hadn’t been a US or UK hit for anyone, by the time it appeared on Hardy’s 1972 album, it had been covered so much it was nearly a standard. Dusty Springfield, Ricky Nelson, Peggy Lee, Claudine Longet, Nina Simone, Neil Diamond, Dave Van Ronk, and even Leonard Nimoy had taken shots at it. So it didn’t make for the most imaginative choice of material—in fact, it was one of her least imaginative choices. It’s not one of her greatest interpretations, either, her enunciation—and she seems to be struggling more with English-language lyrics than usual—getting submerged by the orchestra to some extent. It might have been a little more interesting to hear her sing this with just a piano, as you do at the very beginning of the recording.

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Take My Hand for a While (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1972; titled If You Listen on CD reissue)

Original version: Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1968

When Bob Dylan kicked off a craze for recording country-rock in Nashville, Buffy Sainte-Marie was one of the first to follow the mini-trend. Her 1968 album I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again didn’t make many waves, but it did include “Take My Hand for a While,” the second Sainte-Marie cover featured on Hardy’s 1972 LP. I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again isn’t that great a record, but the song’s a decent thoughtful folk-country ballad, with spare accompaniment by top Music City session men.

“Take My Hand for a While” was a far more interesting performance than the other Sainte-Marie cover on If You Listen, “Until It’s Time for You to Go.” For one thing, “Until It’s Time for You to Go” had been covered by many artists, making it one of her least interesting cover selections. “Take My Hand for a While” wasn’t nearly as overexposed, though Glen Campbell had done it on his 1969 album Galveston. That Campbell LP also included, as it happens, “Until It’s Time for You to Go,” which makes one wonder whether this was where Hardy got the idea to also do both songs on her album, though that’s probably a longshot.

Hardy’s arrangement of “Take My Hand for a While” is also distinguished from “Until It’s Time for Me to Go”—and from anything else she cut, for that matter—by the totally unexpected fade-in of backwards noises at the start the track. I can’t be sure which instruments are involved (guitars are my guess), but the backwards effects continue throughout the background of the recording, which is otherwise a straightforward mild folk-rock effort (with the predictable addition of orchestration in the final section). A final swell of backwards effects sans voice or orchestration concludes the recording, as if to make sure the listener has noticed she’s tried something different. It doesn’t make this a brilliant overlooked gem, but it does make it different, if just a bit, from anything else she issued in her first decade.

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Till the Morning Comes (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1972; titled If You Listen on CD reissue)

Original version: Neil Young, 1970

Hardy’s 1972 album concludes, rather anticlimactically, with Neil Young’s “Till the Morning Comes,” which had brought side one of his breakthrough 1970 hit LP After the Gold Rush to a close. In its original version, “Till the Morning Comes” had lasted a mere 77 seconds, giving the impression of an unfinished sketch that had somehow escaped onto a record dominated by fully formed compositions. On an album also featuring such Young classics as “Southern Man,” “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” it sounded almost like a tacked-on afterthought.

Much the same could have been said of Hardy’s cover. It does last 14 seconds longer than Young’s, but it’s pretty inconsequential, though the short length does mean there’s not quite enough time for the orchestra to make its usual entrance. A pounding piano and muted steel guitar support her sweet, at times multi-tracked vocal. Some searing low-volume distorted guitar somehow squeezes through the door in the final half-minute.

It’s a strange, tossed-off finish to a decade that had seen so many memorable Hardy covers (as well as many fine tracks Françoise wrote or co-wrote, which are beyond the scope of this article). It’s hardly typical of her output. But then, what was typical of her output, or certainly of her covers? Few artists took on such a wide and eclectic range of music during the same period. In that respect if nothing else, “Till the Morning Comes” made for an appropriately odd finale.

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Hardy’s career continued, if with not nearly as frequent a release schedule as 1962-1972, almost to the present day; her most recent album, L’Amour Fou, came out in 2012 (although she announced in 2015 that her musical career had finished). There’s some outside material on her post-1972 records that falls outside of the focus of this article, including some oddities like a 1988 cover of a 1983 track by Barclay James Harvest, and a 1997 duet with Iggy Pop on Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Some goodies from her prime decade that do concern us, however, are songs that were written for her that might not be “covers” in that they hadn’t previously been released, but involved some composers who’ll be familiar to 1960s rock enthusiasts.

Not all of the songs written for (or, sometimes, with) her during this period, of course, were by figures who made an impact on the international rock audience. Many were by French composers who are basically unknown outside of France. A handful, however, were by movers and shakers on the British and American rock scenes, as well as French stars who’ve gained some English-speaking fans in the last few decades. The identity of the songwriters in this category who worked with her most often in her salad years will come as a shock even to many knowledge ‘60s/’70s rock experts.

BY MICK JONES AND/OR TOMMY BROWN:

Je T’Aime (French EP, late 1965), written by Françoise Hardy & Mick Jones

Before rising to fame as a key member of Foreigner, Mick Jones had a surprisingly long and varied career. Many ‘70s rock fans know he was in Spooky Tooth for a spell, but his career had started way back in the early 1960s as part of one of the more notable pre-Beatles British rock bands, Nero & the Gladiators. And for much of the 1960s he was based in France, where he was a session musician, musical director, and songwriter for such top acts as Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan, often in tandem with drummer and fellow ex-Gladiator Tommy Brown. As a duo and under different names, the pair also made some uneven records on their own, including some really good mod-pop-psych ones, like “With Love from 1 to 5” (credited to the State of Micky & Tommy), “Frisco Bay” (also credited to the State of Micky & Tommy), and “There She Goes” (credited to the J. & B.).

Jones wrote the music (and Françoise the words) to Hardy’s “Je T’Aime,” a nifty pop-rocker adroitly mixing acoustic guitar power chords, a midtempo stomping rhythm, breathy vocals, and wistful minor-key female backup singers. It’s easy, incidentally, to confuse this with another track Hardy recorded around the same time, “Tous Ce Qu’On Dit” (see next entry), which prominently uses the words “Je T’Aime” in the chorus.

As to how she ended up working with Jones and Brown, she told Kieron Tyler in the liner notes for the CD reissue of her 1965 album, “I knew Tommy Brown and Mick Jones because they were working for Johnny [Hallyday] and Sylvie [Vartan]. They always made me feel that I interested them more than Johnny and Sylvie, which was very flattering. If I wanted to meet them, it was because they wrote songs for Johnny and, particularly, for Sylvie which I wanted to sing. I wished they had written them for me.”

And as to how they ended up in France in the first place, Jones told Record Collector in 2010, “I joined this band who were offered a tour backing up this French singer, so we went over to France and I immediately fell in love with this girl…As you do (laughs). I ended up staying there for almost seven years, and I hooked up with a singer called Sylvie Vartan, who was married to Johnny Hallyday.

“Johnny Hallyday was known as ‘the French Elvis,’ so I got to learn what it was like to play on stage with a great showman and a big star. That whole experience taught me a lot. Everything sort of happened simultaneously, because I was starting to write and produce my first real songs and Johnny Hallyday was recording some of them, so I got immersed into the studio world and learned how to record and arrange songs. I started to play on a lot of sessions, and we would go over to England and spend a month here working with people like Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Glyn Johns.” It could thus well be that Jones and Brown are playing on the pair of Charles Blackwell-produced mid-‘60s Hardy tracks one or the other wrote, though it’s not certain.

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Tous Ce Qu’On Dit (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1965), written by Françoise Hardy & Tommy Brown 

“Tous Ce Qu’On Dit,” written by Hardy with Tommy Brown, is a stormer of a track that’s one of her greatest rockers. Liberal fuzz guitar—quite possibly, though not certainly, the work of then-session man Jimmy Page—scoots under Hardy’s multi-tracked vocal, decorated with uncommonly expressive (for her) “whoa”s. A fairly tough mod rocker with a catchy chorus, it was one of the strongest items she cut with Charles Blackwell in London.

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Fleur de Lune (French LP Soleil, 1970), written by Françoise Hardy, Mick Jones, & Tommy Brown 

It took a while for Jones and Brown to work with Hardy again, but when they did, they were key contributors to her Soleil album. Besides co-writing three tracks, they played on the record and did some of the arrangements. Bearing a Jones-Brown-Hardy credit, “Fleur de Lune” is not just the LP’s best song, but her best post-1966 recording, period. Anchored around a captivatingly moody, descending circular riff, the brooding verses glide into forceful choruses with a pounding beat and dramatic orchestral punctuation. Yes, there’s orchestration, but this is a rock song and not, like so many of her post-’66 efforts, a pop one with some rock touches. It has the sound of a familiar hit single, but it wasn’t one, at least in the US or UK. As with all three of the songs Jones and Brown helped write on Le Soleil, Hardy also cut an English version, “Song of Winter,” that’s well worth hearing too.

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L’Ombre (French LP Soleil, 1970), written by Mick Jones, Tommy Brown, & Pierre Delance

Another highlight of Le Soleil, with another neat descending melody, if not quite on par with “Fleur de Lune.” There’s an urgency to both the vocals and arrangement that was missing on many of her late-‘60s/early-‘70s efforts, as well as nifty hastily strummed acoustic guitar and dancing, jittery rhythms. Again the orchestration doesn’t seem like an obligatory entry at halftime, but a tastefully integrated feature into what’s as a rock song as well as a pop one.

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Je Fais des Puzzles (French LP Soleil, 1970), written by Mick Jones, Tommy Brown, H. De Courson, & P. Modiano

The poppiest of the trio of songs Jones and Brown helped write on Le Soleil, it’s still a pleasant ditty, especially when the multi-tracked vocals on the emphatic chorus give way to an ascending swirl of strings. Unlike the average Hardy song of the period, it has a pronounced hit-worthy catchy vocal hook in the chorus. Since Jones, Brown, and Hardy seemed to be working together so well, the obvious next step seems to have been giving Micky and Tommy fuller rein, perhaps via an album for which they’d produce, play on, and write (with and without Françoise) much of the material. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, though they’d at least get to write a couple songs on her 1972 LP.

Soleil

If You Listen (French LP If You Listen, 1972), written by Mick Jones & Tommy Brown

The opening track of Hardy’s 1972 album, and one that didn’t need to translated into French, hence listing just Jones and Brown as composers. It’s a nice gentle folky ballad, though not one of their stronger contributions to her repertoire. The orchestration is kept more in the background than usual, and the spooky echoing clicks in the bridge are nice touches.

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Bown Bown Bown (French LP If You Listen, 1972), written by Mick Jones & Tommy Brown

The small but significant catalog of Jones and Brown’s songwriting contributions on Hardy discs ended on a high note with “Bown Bown Bown.” Despite the Eurovision-sounding title, it’s a reflective meditation with nice harp and subdued gongs, as well as high-for-Hardy singing in the bridge. Jones and Brown are credited with the arrangement and musical production on this track too, at least on my CD copy. A French version appears on the 1972 French LP titled—compounding an already nightmarish situation for discographers trying to differentiate one album from another—Françoise Hardy, though it’s titled Et Si Je M’En Vais Avant Toi on a CD reissue. (As it things couldn’t get any worse in that department, the French version also is given an oh-so-slightly different title, “Bowm Bowm Bowm.”)

As to why she didn’t do any Jones-Brown songs after 1972, that might have been due at least in part to Jones seeking new pastures. “By that time I realized that I’d gone about as far as I could go in France and I was really yearning to get back to either England or America,” he told Record Collector in 2010. Around this time he joined Spooky Tooth; a few years later, he co-founded Foreigner.

Jones’s work with Françoise remains little known to the average Foreigner fan, and while such fans might not be interested in Hardy records, it’s too bad there’s not a cleverly assembled collection of the best material Jones and/or Brown wrote for French artists. There’s much such stuff out there, and of course what they contributed to Hardy’s discography would be a major part of such an anthology.

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BY JACQUES DUTRONC: 

Vas Pas Prendre un Tambour (French EP, circa mid-to-late 1963), written by Jacques Dutronc & Maurice Vidalin

Jacques Dutronc had a key role on one of Hardy’s earliest and greatest records as the writer of the El Toro et Les Cyclones instrumental “Fort Chabrol,” which when set to lyrics generated her 1962 classic “Le Temps de L’Amour.” The following year, Dutronc wrote the music to another Françoise track, “Va Prendre un Tambour,” with lyrics by Maurice Vidalin (who’d written for French stars Juliette Greco and Barbara). Yet it’s one of her more forgettable early tracks, prancing along in a fairly generic girl-group/yé-yé-style way, with plenty of jaunty strings decorating the uptempo arrangement.

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Cafard (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1972; titled Et Si Je M’En Vais Avant Toi for CD reissue), written by Françoise Hardy & Jacques Dutronc 

Ten of the twelve songs on Et Si Je M’En Vais Avant Toi were written solely by Hardy, the only exceptions being the French version of Micky Jones and Tommy Brown’s “Bown Bown Bown” and “Cafard,” written by Hardy with Jacques Dutronc. A slow rockaballad, “Cafard” frankly doesn’t make that strong an impression. Although the slightly sad melody is okay, the sadness just isn’t as pronounced as much of her previous work. Whether or not it’s attributable to Dutronc’s influence, the tune has a meandering nature, especially in the middle sections, that works against it sticking in the memory. A piano plunking a series of the same notes serves as one of the main hooks, which some listeners might find mildly irritating.

As Hardy and Dutronc were romantic partners for many years starting in the late 1960s, and Dutronc is himself a French star, one might expect them to have collaborated more often. As many couples could testify, however, it’s often wise to keep professional and personal lives separate, as Hardy and Dutronc seem to have done in their musical projects.

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BY SERGE GAINSBOURG:

L’Anamour (French LP Françoise Hardy, 1968; titled Comment te Dire Adieu on CD reissue), written by Serge Gainsbourg

Although he didn’t start in rock, and never kept solely to rock in his long and storied career, Serge Gainsbourg is now pretty famous to listeners outside of France. In France, he’s a legend almost on the scale of Elvis, both for his own recordings and the many songs he wrote for others. And he did write for several female French pop-rock singers (or at least French singers who at some points sang pop-rock), most notably France Gall, Brigitte Bardot, and honorary Frenchwoman Jane Birkin, who though British was based in France after beginning a relationship with Gainsbourg in the late 1960s.

He did not, however, often write for Françoise Hardy. As someone who wrote much of her own material, of course, she had much less need for a writer like Gainsbourg than Birkin, Bardot, and Gall did. One exception was “L’Anamour,” which appeared on Hardy’s 1968 album, and wasn’t nearly as distinctive as what either Hardy or Gainsbourg usually wrote and sang. Indeed, this even-tempered, quite upbeat (for Françoise) number is one of the most average Hardy recordings or Gainsbourg giveaways, the melody very slightly recalling the Righteous Brothers’ “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” in the chorus. The song reached a wider audience when it was included on an album he did with Jane Birkin in 1969, the year they scored an international hit with the notorious “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus” (which “L’Anamour” directly followed on that LP). (As previously noted, Gainsbourg also supplied the French lyrics to “Comment te Dire Adieu,” which had originally been recorded in English by other singers as “It Hurts to Say Goodbye.”)

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L’Amour En Privé (French LP Message Personnel, 1973), written by Serge Gainsbourg & Jean-Claude Vannier

Extending our chronological boundaries a bit past our 1972 deadline just this once, it’s worth noting that Hardy’s 1973 album Message Personnel includes a track co-written by Gainsbourg, “L’Amour En Privé.” The co-writer is Jean-Claude Vannier, himself a cult figure of sorts whose recognition is growing outside France, both for his own albums and his arrangements for artists like Gainsbourg, Brigitte Fontaine, and Jane Birkin.

Used as a song in the movie Projection Privée, “L’Amour En Privé” starts with a busy round of electric guitars wholly unlike any of Hardy’s pre-1973 recordings. It’s a bit of a false alarm, as the track’s a rather lighthearted mix of music-hall bounce and sunny early-‘70s mainstream rock. It’s not all that wonderful, but the highlight is a chorus where swimming strings fight it out with emphatic electric guitar riffs, Hardy sexily sing-whispering the title.

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BY TONY MACAULAY:

Soon Is Slipping Away (UK LP One-Nine-Seven-Zero, 1969), written by Tony Macaulay 

On his own and with others, British songwriter Tony Macaulay’s long career took in some of the most pop-oriented rock hits of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He might be one of the least critically respected behind-the-scenes pop-rock composers of the era, but there’s no denying his long list of successes, including the Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup,” Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” Long John Baldry’s “Let the Heartaches Begin,” Scott Walker’s “Lights of Cincinnati,” and the Hollies’ “Sorry Suzanne.” In the late 1960s, he also contributed a couple songs to Hardy’s English-language recordings, with “Soon Is Slipping Away” showing up on her One-Nine-Seven-Zero album (issued in late 1969, despite the title).

Some of the British writers Hardy covered during this period don’t seem to have been giving her their best, and “Soon Is Slipping Away” is one example. It’s a fairly forgettable slice of period string-speckled pop with a sing-songy chorus, Françoise’s vocals getting multi-tracked for that section. About the only hint of melodic ambition comes at a part in the verse where the tune briefly augments in a minor direction.

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The Bells of Avignon (B-side of UK 45 “Soon Is Slipping Away,” 1970), written by Tony Macaulay 

Much better than “Soon Is Slipping Away,” and tucked away on a non-LP B-side few Françoise fans have even heard, is the other Macaulay song she covered, “The Bells of Avignon.” Although (like its A-side “Soon Is Slipping Away”) it’s cheerier than her usual wont, it’s a pleasant enough lyrical jog through memories of the French town honored by the title. It’s kind of hard to picture Hardy as an on-the-road rambler, but that’s the role she takes here, Macaulay making better and catchier use of those periodic bends into more bittersweet melody. It’s sort of neat how the bridge is quite different from the verses, going into a more uplifting, hopeful, yet yearning mood as she anxiously anticipates a reunion with the Avignon boy she left behind.

As far as I know, “The Bells of Avignon” has never been reissued, making it one of the prime Hardy rarities. It’s not even on the recent 24-track Ace compilation of many of her late-‘60s/early-‘70s English-language recordings (Midnight Blues: Paris London 1968-1972), an omission that’s odd indeed.

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BY MARK BARKAN & SCOTT ENGLISH:

All Because of You (UK LP One-Nine-Seven-Zero, 1969), written by Mark Barkan & Scott English 

Mark Barkan and Scott English were two minor Brill Building writers who nonetheless had a few notable successes. Barkan wrote or co-wrote Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo,” Lesley Gore’s “Maybe I Know,” and—lest we forget—the Banana Splits’ “The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana).” English, who was also a singer and recording artist, co-wrote (with Larry Weiss) the American Breed’s “Bend Me, Shape Me,” Eric Burdon & the Animals’ “Help Me Girl,” and Jeff Beck’s “Hi Ho Silver Lining.”

English also produced Thin Lizzy’s debut album, and, in the most intriguing footnote of all, helped Jimi Hendrix get a passport in September 1966 by claiming that he’d known Hendrix for several years. Without that passport, English’s friend Chas Chandler might not have been able to bring Hendrix to London to launch the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Less laudably, as a singer, English landed a #12 UK hit with “Brandy” (which he co-wrote with Richard Kerr) in 1971; revised into “Mandy,” the song became a #1 smash for Barry Manilow a few years later.

All of which is a fairly far cry from “All Because of You,” the song English and Barkan co-wrote for One-Nine-Seven-Zero. Like some of the other material she was doing at this point in her career, it’s given a rather fruity middle-of-the-road production somewhat at odds with most of her 1960s output. That noted, it’s about her best such effort, with a nicely soaring melody and a trite but affecting “life is just a ferris wheel” lyric in the chorus. It sounds like something that should have been tailored for Claudine Longet instead of Hardy, but Françoise still does a good job with the tune, giving it a sultrier cast than Longet could have ever managed. The jump into a higher key for the final verse is a nice bonus, too.

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BY SIMON NAPIER-BELL & VICKI WICKHAM: 

Never Learn to Cry (UK LP En Anglais, 1968), written by Simon Napier-Bell & Vicki Wickham

In addition to recycling part of Keith Relf’s “Shapes in Mind” into “Empty Sunday,” Simon Napier-Bell and Vicki Wickham came up with another song for Hardy, “Never Learn to Cry.” Used on her 1968 album En Anglais, it’s a quite spry (certainly for Françoise) number with a midtempo bounce and (again unusually for Hardy) cool, penetrating organ. The colorful, controversial Napier-Bell has never made great claims for his songwriting; indeed, he sometimes seems to take pleasure in disparaging it. “Never Learn to Cry” is nothing less than a triumph, however, and an infectiously catchy highlight of En Anglais. It actually works better, however, as “Mon Monde N’Est Vas Vrai,” the French-language version she put (using the same backing track) on her 1970 album Soleil.

Napier-Bell was offered the chance to produce the song by United Artists after working as the music editor for What’s New Pussycat, in which Hardy had a small part. When it was recorded at Pye Studios—according to a recollection Napier-Bell wrote that was posted on the Jonty Skrufff’s Blog site [sic]—“quite a few things were wrong with it. For one thing I’d made the tempo a little faster but she was singing in the style of the demo I’d given her—a little slower, which gave her voice less dynamics. Yet I didn’t change a thing. I don’t know why, just in a fluster, I suppose. She got it finished in a couple of takes and I pushed the session along far too quickly.” Napier-Bell still gets royalties from it, he added, “but it’s nothing to be proud of. Not at all a good recording.”

Three weeks after the session, continued Napier-Bell in the post, United Artists called to let him know “the Françoise Hardy track has gone down well in Paris. Our French office want you to do another one. Would you be free to go there next week?” Napier-Bell eagerly agreed. But upon his arrival, it turned out UA wanted a song not for Hardy, but for Amanda Lear—“quite a different sort of girl. Later she turned out to be as alluring as Françoise. And much more in tune with what I was used to.” File the Napier-Bell-Hardy collaboration under another of Françoise’s lost opportunities—though it likely would have turned out far less interesting than an album of Nick Drake covers.

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There is a chapter on Françoise Hardy in the new expanded and updated version of my book Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll:

Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll can be purchased by clicking here.

Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll can be purchased by clicking here or on the cover image above.