Category Archives: Music

Richie Unterberger comments and reviews on vintage rock music.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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”).


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.”


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 –” 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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.

yardbirds keith402

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.


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.”


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.


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.

sainte marie buffy 119033

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.”)


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.



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.


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.

Midnight Blues


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.



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.


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.

Rare Rock Books I *Have* Owned and Known

I have a lot of books about music, mostly rock. They fill up a lot of shelf space, but I don’t really have a lot of books that were expensive, or would command much money if I sold them, even if they’re relatively rare. Not that this bothers me; I’m more concerned with the content than the resale value. (The same holds true for my records.)

The "extended edition" of Mark Lewisohn's Tune In is the longest, and one of the most expensive, books I own.

The “extended special edition” of Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In is the longest, and one of the most expensive, books I own.

I do have a few volumes, though, that are real hefty, costly, and not apt to be purchased by the casual consumer. As a kind of follow-up to my previous post about some of the most expensive/unavailable rock books I’d like to read, here’s a list of a dozen or so I do have, and which might be worth checking out if they’re up your particular alleys.

1. The Beatles: Tune In: Extended Special Edition, by Mark Lewisohn (Little, Brown, 2013). The Beatles are as omnipresent in the rare rock book world as they are in the world of best-sellers. One of the best Beatles books, and a high-selling one if not a best-seller, was Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In, the first installment (stopping at the end of 1962) of his projected three-part biography. The “standard” edition, measuring a “mere” 900 pages or so, was itself too intimidatingly large for many readers. So the “extended special edition”—running almost twice the length at around 1700 pages—was not for the faint-hearted, or the paycheck-to-paycheck. It’s gone down in price a bit since its publication in late 2013, but it’s still a little more than $100 on Amazon.

But, to condense my review of the extended edition in a previous blogpost, I feel like this monumental biography still hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It’s easily the most comprehensively researched volume on this much-written-about group; the writing is very good; and it extensively draws on the musical and social context of the times in interesting, useful ways. It’s really worth the costly investment if you’re a serious Beatles fan. It has considerably more information than the standard mass-market edition, from important additional context to fascinating trivia.

The "regular" edition of Tune In still runs almost 1000 pages.

The “regular” edition of Tune In still runs almost 1000 pages.

2. The Inevitable World of the Velvet Underground, by Alfredo Garcia (self-published, 2011). From the biggest band in the world to the biggest cult band in the world, from a big-selling title to a small limited edition—that’s the leap we’re making with this next listing. Self-published in a numbered, limited edition of 500, this 504-page book compiles and reprints almost every known press clipping, advertisement, record review, chart listing, press release, etc. related to the Velvet Underground through the mid-1970s. There’s no accompanying text, but on their own these are incredibly valuable archival/historical materials, printed clearly on good-quality paper, chronologically sequenced in the order in which they originally appeared. It also includes a bound-in bonus CD of VU radio ads and interviews. Somewhat to my surprise, copies are still available for $100 or 90 Euros (shipping and handling included in both cases) through

The Inevitable World of the Velvet Underground

3. Barrett, by Russell Beecher & Will Shutes (Essential Works, 2011). Not a biography of the great Syd Barrett, but an art book with photos of both Syd and early Pink Floyd; reproductions of paintings and illustrations by Barrett that have rarely or never been published; and repros of letters Syd wrote to various girlfriends before his brief period of fame. It’s pricey (£100 to the US, shipping included; lower in the UK and EU, higher rest of the world), and the appeal might be limited by its relatively narrow focus. But the packaging and quality of the reproductions are exceptional. I wrote a much lengthier review, and interviewed the authors, in issue #1 (spring 2012) of Flashback, which is itself hard to find now in its physical form, though it can be downloaded here.


4. Recording the Beatles: The Studio Equipment and Techniques Used to Create Their Classic Albums, by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew (Curvebender, 2006). Huge and heavy doorstop volume that goes into exactly what the title says it does, in a ton of detail. I’d have to say this is of most interest to “gearheads,” or at least music fans who are also musicians and/or recording studio professionals, owing to the sheer weight of highly technical descriptions of microphones, mixers, and other equipment. Some sections, however, are more accessible to the average Beatles fan, filling in some interesting gaps about their recordings and instruments that were not covered in other excellent books, such as Andy Babiuk’s Beatles Gear (coming out in a few months in a substantially revised/updated edition, by the way) and Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions. This retails for about $100 through, and though it’s not for everyone, those I know with more than a passing interest in the subject have been very satisfied with their purchase.


5. Shakin’ All Over: The Birth of British R&B: The Life and Times of Johnny Kidd, by Keith Hunt (The Magnum Imprint, 1996). Here for a change is a book that’s not deluxe in scale (though it’s 200 substantial pages), and not even particularly expensive. It finds a place here because it’s just not very well known, even though its subject—Johnny Kidd, the best pre-Beatles British rock musician—is very worth knowing about. Although author Keith Hunt might have been more of a devoted fan/researcher than a writer, there’s lots of first-hand interview material with those that knew Kidd (most famous for his 1960 UK hit “Shakin’ All Over”), as well as a wealth of photos and illustrations. Used copies aren’t hard to find online in the $40-50 range—not too much more than the 17 pounds I paid for it in a London bookshop in 1996, shortly after its publication. Don’t get confused by the unnecessarily long and unwieldy title, by the way; this is a comprehensive book about Kidd, not a book about the early British R&B scene.

Johnny Kidd SB 32565656

6. P.F.—Travelling Barefoot on a Rocky Road: The Musical Biography of P.F. Sloan, by Stephen J. McParland (CMusic, 2000). I noted this title in passing when I discussed CMusic in my post about rare/expensive books I haven’t read. I do have this one, however, which is a very comprehensive biography of Sloan, the cult figure who wrote and performed numerous classic pop-folk-rock songs in the mid-1960s. It’s plainly designed, and the level of record-nerd detail isn’t for everyone. But the depth of research is enormous, with 40 pages of intensely extensive discographical information. CMusic titles (most about ‘60s California pop-rock) are expensive when they first come out (this cost me 26 pounds in a London bookshop shortly after its publication), and seldom spotted in stores—in fact, the only time I physically saw this was when I bought it. Unlike all of the other titles in this post, I don’t see this for sale used anywhere online—something true of most CMusic titles, unfortunately. They must have pretty limited print runs.


7. The Beatles from Cavern to Star-Club, by Hans Olof Gottfridsson (Premium Publishing, 1997). It’s back to the Beatles for this 460-page Swedish production, with text exclusively in English. Subtitled “The Illustrated Chronicle, Discography & Price Guide 1957-1962,” it very meticulously documents their pre-1963 recordings. Some of the tables of discographic information (particularly of the sessions they did with Tony Sheridan in Germany) are dry and purely of referential use. But there are also interviews with people who knew and worked with them in their pre-fame days, like some of the Quarrymen, pianist Roy Young, and recording engineer Karl Hinze. There are many rare and interesting photos and illustrations, and possibly more reproductions of releases of the sessions they did with Sheridan than you want to know about.

It must also be said that the organization and sequencing of the material is sometimes haphazard. Having written my own book about the unreleased Beatles’ material, I might not be the most objective judge, but I’m also incredulous that the coverage of the 15 songs they cut at their January 1, 1962 Decca Records—the most significant recordings they made during these years, besides their first pair of singles for Parlophone—is so perfunctory. In other respects, however, the volume has amazing material for the (very, admittedly) serious Beatles fanatic, as well as a bound-in bonus EP with a nice picture sleeve, though the four tracks (all backing Tony Sheridan) are easily available elsewhere.

The book is still available from for the reasonable price of $48. Author Hans Olof Gottfridsson, incidentally, uncovered a lot more interesting, previously unknown information about the Beatles’ December 1962 recordings at Hamburg’s Star-Club for a two-part article in the June and July 2015 issues of the UK magazine Record Collector.


8. The Action: In the Lap of the Mods, by Ian Hebditch and Jane Shepherd with Mike Evans and Roger Powell (self-published, 2012). Most expensive limited-edition rock history books are about superstars. Or, even if they’re not about superstars, about acts with huge cult followings (as is the case with The Inevitable World of the Velvet Underground), or acts with links to superstars (like Ronnie Wood’s new How Can It Be? A Rock and Roll Diary, based around the 1965 diary he kept when he was a member of the first band with whom he made records, the Birds). One recent exception to this general rule is this lavishly illustrated, 400-copy hardback devoted to the mid-‘60s British mod band the Action, who didn’t have any hits, but have sustained a sizable cult following.

I’m not as big a fan of this book as some other enthusiasts; the Action’s history, though interesting, is a little stretched to fill out even a book of this length, and some of the sections on mod fashion and culture, eyewitness accounts of the band, and venues aren’t as interesting as the ones on the actual short-lived group. Still, it’s packed with cool period illustrations and first-hand quotes from the Action members, and even has brief appreciations by George Martin (who produced them) and Phil Collins. It’s still available through the website for £75 plus shipping (beware, the shipping adds on about 50% to your total purchase if you’re ordering from North America). There’s a £35 edition that just includes the 176-page core book, but doesn’t include the notable bonuses you get with the 400-copy limited edition: a 96-page scrapbook of sorts of vintage clippings and gig listings (plus detailed discography) and a seven-inch single of a previously unreleased track from their May 1965 Decca audition.


9. “What’d I Say”: The Atlantic Story: 50 Years of Music, by Ahmet Ertegun (Welcome Rain, 2001). This back-straining 565-page, approximately 14.5” X 10” job is the kind of thing that usually gets issued as a limited edition. Refreshingly, it was produced for the mass market, if at a pretty expensive price of $75; I was pretty lucky to find a used copy at half price. Ertegun was head of Atlantic Records, and like many books written by such executives, it’s more a celebration/glorification of the label’s successes than an objective look at the company’s accomplishments and failures. For more depth, there’s Charlie Gillett’s 1974 volume Making Tracks: The Story of Atlantic Records, and Robert Greenfield’s Ertegun biography The Last Sultan. But this coffee table book does have lots of good photos and Ertegun quotes, as well as some essays about aspects of the label by prominent music critics, though it unfortunately says little or nothing about some of their more interesting acts (like the Velvet Underground). It looks like new copies are now available online for half the list price at which it originally sold.

Whatd I Say

10. Some Fun Tonight!: The Backstage Story of How the Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964-1966, by Chuck Gunderson (Gunderson Media, 2014). Mammoth, expensive ($175) two-volume, 600-page hardback set documenting the Beatles’ mid-‘60s North American tours in exhaustive detail. This is more for the Beatlemaniac than the general reader, owing to the price but also the coverage of material that will be of most interest for reference purposes. It’s certainly in-depth in its research into how the concerts were set up and took place, however, and is lavishly illustrated with photos, posters, and documents, some quite rare.


11. 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). Some readers will think this is an outrageous inclusion, and they have a point, since this is about Star Trek, not about rock music. 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 if you’re reading a post like this to begin with, you’re probably not a casual reader of books on your favorite subjects. And if you’re someone who does opt for tomes like this, it’s time to stop being embarrassed about spending lots of time and money reading something so specialized that people look at you funny when you even mention it. And, 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 website.


12. YES: Yoko Ono, by Alexandra Munroe and James Hendricks (Harry N. Abrams, 2000). As I wrote earlier this year in another context, Yoko Ono is one of the most polarizing figures in popular culture. It will thus gain me points with many fans, and lose points with many others, to say that I’m not a fan of her music. I like much of her art, though, and that was the focus of this $60 coffee table volume. Issued to coincide with a major traveling exhibition of her work in the early twenty-first century (including a stop at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where I saw it), it does include some coverage of her music. Most of the illustrations and essays, however, are about her visual artwork, events/performances, and films. Not for everybody—nothing related to Yoko Ono is for everybody, or almost everybody—but a cool thing to have, almost functioning as a book-length (350-page) catalog for the exhibit. Especially if you’re lucky enough to find it for $25 used, as I did, since it still sells for about $60 online (a mere $20 in the paperback version, though).


Note: I haven’t listed some discographies and reference volumes that are also pretty expensive and/or out-of-print/hard to find. Several of the ones I’m fortunate to own, however, are highly worthwhile if you’re a devoted collector, including:

Endless Trip, a nearly 800-page book of reviews of North American rock albums from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, edited (and often written) by my friend and Flashback editor/publisher Richard Morton Jack. Issued in 2011, this is already going for $200-$500 online.


Galactic Ramble, a similar 500-plus-page compendium of reviews of UK rock albums from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, also edited/published/often written by Richard Morton Jack. Published in 2009, this is already going for $600-$700. Yikes!


Vernon Joynson has several huge discographies of rock from 1963-76, including volumes for acts from the UK (The Tapestry of Delights); Canada/Australasia/Latin America (Dreams Fantasies and Nightmares from Faraway Lands); and the US (Fuzz Acid and Flowers). I have just the first two of these. The only one still in print is The Tapestry of Delights, now a two-volume expanded edition selling for £68 through (though bear in mind it totals more than 2000 pages).


Mike Markesich’s TeenBeat Mayhem! is a 400-page small-print discography listing and rating nearly 10,000 US ‘60s garage rock singles, with a few essays and many illustrations. The official list price was $99.95, but you can get it for half that through the web store of Ugly Things magazine.

147 TeenBeatMayhem_frontcover

Acid Archives, edited and often written by the late Patrick Lundborg, has almost 400 pages of detailed reviews of really obscure North American rock records from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s (with a few exceptions). Some rare/underground major label releases are included, but the emphasis is on albums that few people outside of the dedicated collector community have heard of, often released in limited runs or private/vanity pressings. The second and most recent edition (from 2010) sells for $83.25 on Amazon, but you get a much better deal from Forced Exposure, currently listing it for $52.


Rare Rock Books I Have Not Known

When I determined to get a complete Beatles collection at the age of eleven in 1973, it was hard to even find non-LP B-sides by the Beatles. So to those of us who came of record-collecting age in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s a shock to be able to hear virtually anything these days at little or minimal expense, whether on physical reissues or online. We can debate whether listening to MP3s or through computer speakers devalues the experience (or whether some of the online means of delivery are even legal). But the fact is that there’s not much music I want to hear that I can’t immediately hear, whether in my (admittedly large) collection or by another means.

How much would you pay for this book? For the astonishing answer, read on...

How much would you pay for this book? For the astonishing answer, read on…

The same isn’t yet true for books about rock history, however. Yes, you can get the overwhelming majority of the ones you want at affordable, reasonable, or no cost through the library, bookstores, and online, whether they’re in print or out of print. There are a few books, however, I want to read and haven’t, and quite possibly never will. That’s because they’re ridiculously expensive limited-edition copies, and/or literally quite hard to find even if you’re willing to pay three or four figures, in part because few copies were printed.

Maybe within a few years or even a few months of this posting, technology will have changed so that the pages of these rarities will be easily accessible via online or electronic means, legally or otherwise. But at the time I write this in August 2015, the books are either way beyond my (and most rock fans’) budget, or not immediately obtainable at all. So in a novel best-of list of sorts, here are reviews of books I haven’t read, but would most like to read if they became reasonably affordable or available.

The volume that started me even mulling this whole issue over a few weeks ago is simply called Stu, a limited-edition book about the “sixth Stone,” auxiliary Rolling Stones keyboardist/road manager Ian Stewart. Some of these kinds of productions (a few of which will be listed in this post) are much more photos than text, something that doesn’t excite me too much. This, however, looks quite substantial: 432 pages, 85,000 words, lots of rare photos/illustrations, and written tributes by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood, among others.

A not-so-revealing glimpse at the packing for "Stu," a book about Ian Stewart, longtime keyboardist/road manager for (and original member of) the Rolling Stones.

A not-so-revealing glimpse at the packing for “Stu,” a book about Ian Stewart, longtime keyboardist/road manager for (and original member of) the Rolling Stones.

You can look at a few pages, and even read some of the text if your screen is large and you squint really hard, at Can you buy it? It doesn’t look like it; it was limited to a run of just 950 copies and only available direct from the publisher, Out-Take Limited, according to its website. That slow-loading site doesn’t list a price anywhere, though when it came out in 2004, it was according to one report selling for about $1000 apiece. And 2004 is how long ago it came out. It’s a testimony to its exclusivity that I, a big Stones fan who has taught courses about them, was not even aware of its existence until it was cited in a footnote in Taschen’s recent coffee table book of Stones photos (itself a hefty production, bearing a $150 list price).

Another book I wasn’t even aware of until this year was Bobby Fuller Four: Rock’n’Roll Mustangs. I’m a big Fuller fan—I wrote a chapter on him in my book Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators & Eccentric Visionaries of ‘60s Rock. And his life was interesting, not least because of his mysterious July 1966 death (ruled a suicide, though most fans believe he was murdered). It came out in 2009, but it’s sold out, according to the website of the publisher, CMusic Books.


CMusic is essentially an outlet for limited-edition books by Australia-based rock historian Stephen J. McParland, who’s issued numerous books on Californian rock of the 1960s, most but not all of them surf music-related. I have one, the 2000 volume P.F.—Travelling Barefoot on a Rocky Road: The Musical Biography of P.F. Sloan. And it’s very good, with 275 pages of fine detail about the enigmatic singer-songwriter’s career that has a lot of the same hard-to-believe stories as Sloan’s recent memoir, but are here used within a biography (if often via Sloan interview quotes), not told as a first-person account. It was quite expensive (26 pounds in a London bookshop, the only time I saw it), and is also long out of print.


So are most of McParland’s books, though they continue to be listed on the CMusic website. It’s no doubt hard to self-publish such niche volumes, but he might want to consider printing them in larger quantities. Or reprinting some of the more popular ones, so hard are they to locate once they’re unavailable from the site.

The sheer quantity of Beatles books ensures there are a few coveted limited editions by Beatles insiders. Perhaps the most famous of these is Derek Taylor’s Fifty Years Adrift, in which their frequent publicist recounts experiences both with the group and with Californian acts during his stint as a PR guy in Hollywood in the mid-‘60s. In his memoir Taylor, wrote Richard Morton Jack in the spring 2013 issue of Flashback, “is a shrewd and even-handed critic of [the Beatles] without once losing sight of his admiration for their achievements. He’s also an intelligent, perceptive and witty writer, making his prose a joy to read. Added to the myriad of facts and anecdotes on offer is a wealth of memorabilia, reproduced in full color, some of it in glued-in-facsimile.”

Can you get it? Doubtful. Published in a limited edition in 1983 by Genesis Publications (much more of whom in a bit), it’s now listing for $4,999 (!) on ebay. As Jack concludes in his review, “If ever a rock memoir was crying out for a mass-market reprinting, this is it.”

Take note: Derek Taylor's inexpensive, easily available book It Was Twenty Years Ago Today is *not* the same book as his limited-edition memoir Twenty Years Adrift.

Take note: Derek Taylor’s inexpensive, easily available book It Was Twenty Years Ago Today is *not* the same book as his limited-edition memoir Fifty Years Adrift.

Genesis, which specializes in expensive limited editions, has also done a few other Beatles titles, three of which interest me in particular. Now that he’s just passed his 75th birthday, Photograph might be the closest we come to a Ringo Starr memoir. It has more than 250 photos, and text – albeit, in line with a lot of these limited-edition books, more like captions than full-length book prose — by Ringo himself. This is the only Genesis book I’ve actually been able to read a good portion of, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library & Archives in Cleveland has copies of some Genesis volumes that the public can read on the premises (but not borrow, of course).

The run of 2150 copies (with a hefty price of about $600 each) is sold out, but good news reached me just after I put up the first version of this post. Genesis, which infrequently puts out “regular” or “trade” editions of its limited-edition books, will be putting one out for Photograph with a much more affordable list price of $50 in September.


Also on Genesis is George Martin’s 2003 memoir Playback, which at 50,000 words is more like a conventional reading experience, though its 328 pages also feature lots of images. That too is out of print and selling for high sums—almost $5000 on ebay, though for more like $1000 (if possibly not in as good condition) through Amazon.

The cover for George Martin's Playback—proof that expensive books don't necessarily look all that appetizing.

The cover for George Martin’s Playback—proof that expensive books don’t necessarily look all that appetizing.

There are plenty of other Beatles-related titles on Genesis (including ones by early Hamburg associates Astrid Kirschherr and Klaus Voormann), but the one that interests me the most is BIG: Beatles in Germany, which has a chapter by Tony Sheridan. There’s a guy who should have written a memoir, though I don’t know how big the chapter is (and it can’t be book-length, the volume only being 138 pages). The listing on the Genesis website does says “he talks frankly – and for the first time – at length of The Beatles and the early days of their career.”

A more obscure, and more affordable, Tony Sheridan book that few people, or even few Beatles fans, have read.

A more obscure, and more affordable, Tony Sheridan book that few people, or even few Beatles fans, have read.

Genesis naturally has some Rolling Stones titles too. The one I’d be most eager to read is the 2001 production Exile, featuring Dominque Tarlé’s photos of the Stones while they were recording Exile on Main Street in the south of France in summer 1971. More crucially, the 248-page book has 90,000 words, making it more of a “real book” for those of us who want books to read and not just to look at. My guess is it’s better than the non-limited-edition, non-photo-oriented books on Exile on Main Street (of which there are at least three). That’s just a guess, since this 1740-copy limited edition sold out long ago, and it’s going for about $2000 if you can hunt down a copy for sale. Which means I won’t be reading it, unless that fat government research grant comes through soon.


A real interesting-looking Stones book that will be coming out on Genesis soon (and it might already be out—it’s hard to tell from the website) is Ronnie Wood’s How Can It Be? A Rock & Roll Diary. In a way, it’s not even a Stones book, since it’s based around the diary he kept in 1965, when he was lead guitarist in the Birds, the first band with which he released records. There aren’t many such this-is-what-actually-happened documents, and as such it could be a quite valuable relic not only of Wood’s past, but of the London mid-‘60s rock scene of which he was very much part. (Or, if his diary entries were as perfunctory as the ones that have surfaced from the late ‘60s by George Harrison, it could be nearly useless.) Only 1965 (get it?) copies will be printed, though relative to the other items we’ve discussed here, at a “mere” 295 pounds (about $450-500 US), it’ll be a steal—as long as copies last.

This Birds EP has their recording of "How Can It Be," the song after which Ronnie Wood's new book is named.

This Birds EP has their recording of “How Can It Be,” the 1965 B-side  after which Ronnie Wood’s new book is named.

Genesis has a lot of other rock titles that look like they could be neat, like Maximum Who: The Who in the Sixties, or the 95,000-word California Dreaming, based around photos of the ‘60s/’70s L.A. rock scene by Henry Diltz. But before this turns into an unpaid ad for Genesis, it should be emphasized that there are some other book rarities that aren’t so much geared toward the 1% as almost unknown, in part because they’re about near-unknowns. Like Herb Bermann, for instance. Who? Well, he co-wrote eight of the songs on Captain Beefheart’s 1967 debut album Safe As Milk, though not much is known about him. Until the June 2015 publication of the first edition of his book The Mystery Man from the Magic Band, printed in a run of a mere 100 copies. It’s already sold out, though fortunately the two-part interview with him that seems to form the main part of the text is online here.


That’s a peril of even finding out of the existence of some of these books—by the time you know they’re out there, they’re gone. Take A Is for Apple, a 686-page job covering Apple Records in just the years 1966-1968, with nearly 3500 (!) images. It’s reviewed (and the authors interviewed) in the new Flashback, but has already sold out, though the price was a fairly steep $117 postpaid to the US (according to one online forum). The authors are thinking of making this series even larger than the planned four volumes, but have not announced any plans to reprint volume one, though the interview hints they might make it available digitally.


Also gone, or at least not easily findable at a below-three-figure price, is Ken Sharp’s 400-page Elvis Presley: Writing for the King: The Stories of the Songwriters, with interviews with more than 140 people who wrote songs for Elvis (or had their songs covered by him). That’s interesting in and of itself, but as the crown on this King, it came with two CDs of rare material. One features previously unreleased RCA recordings of Presley in concert in Las Vegas from 1969 to 1972; the other, more intriguing one has the demos of songs that he learned, going all the way back to “Heartbreak Hotel” (sung by Glenn Reeves), and sometimes performed by songwriters like Otis Blackwell and Mort Shuman. This didn’t come out all that long ago (2006), but it’s already long out of print and scarce, selling for about $200 if you can find a copy online. Although at least a few scattered copies are out there, and not selling for nearly as much as those Genesis titles by George Martin, Derek Taylor, and others.


Will some of these books be made available at an affordable price (or even available again at all, if they’re out of print)? From the selfish perspective of well over 90% of the people who might be interested in reading them, it seems like it would be a great service to do this, whether in reprints, ebooks, or (especially in the case of the Genesis titles) regular “trade” editions on less fancy paper. This happens once in a while; Genesis’s 512-page Jimmy Page By Jimmy Page, for instance, is in “regular” bookstores, and even some libraries, selling for around $45 on a few online outlets. Let It Bleed, photographer Ethan Russell’s valuable coffee table tome about the Rolling Stones’ activities in 1969 (especially their US tour and concert at Altamont), sells in elaborate editions for $650 or $990, but also as a quite reasonable trade edition hardback for $55 (and also as a Kindle ebook for $11.99, if you’re a real cheapskate).


The high prices and/or limited runs of books by Genesis, Out-Take Limited, and CMusic might be necessary to make these volumes viable for them to produce in the first place. Genesis and Out-Take Limited invest a lot in elaborately packaging and illustrations, as well as the cooperation and participation of superstars; CMusic puts out titles for very niche audiences. A couple other books discussed in this post are self-published jobs that might similarly take quite a bit of money and time, especially for small operations. It’s quite likely felt that reprinting expensive titles whose very rarity (as limited edition runs) were a selling point would diminish their value to the original purchasers. Nonetheless, doing more affordable and available editions (as Genesis will for Ringo Starr’s Photograph in September) seems like a strategy whose time has come, given the certainty of readers who want the content. In the meantime, should any readers of this blog want to offer more details about some of the titles I’ve described in this post, please submit comments.

Records I Have Not Known (Or At Least Right Away)

We all know—or at least most of the readers of a blog like this know—that scene in High Fidelity where the record store clerks don’t sell a copy of Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk to a customer, just because they don’t like him. (That scene’s not in the book on which the film’s based, by the way.) No doubt that scenario has played out somewhere in the real world, but it hasn’t happened to me, though I’ve been to many, many record stores. At least a few of those clerks must not have liked me, or thought me hip, but no one’s refused to take cash just because of that.


Reading the book Record Store Days—a book that generally focuses on the kindler, gentler, most positive side of record retailing—recently brought back some of my weird record shopping experiences. There have been three instances where I was actually unable to buy a record displayed in a store, or at least some resistance was mounted to my purchase. Each of them involved rare LPs, and while not many people in the general public would care about those circumstances, they’ll probably be familiar to at least a few people reading this sort of blogpost. Right?

The first of these instances was both the only one in which I succeeded in buying the LP, and the only one where some sort of resistance was given against my completion of the purchase. This took place about 30 years ago in a San Francisco record store where the owner and staff made a big deal out of constantly telling the customers, “Anyone need any help? If you want to hear something, let us know and we’ll play it.” One of them made a big show of chatting me up about the three-volume Chocolate Soup for Diabetics series of rare UK ‘60s psych on display, though I didn’t have the money to buy them (I eventually did, though not at this store).

Not being the kind of guy who enjoys gratuitous banter with salespeople in any retail establishment, I’d patronized the shop for a year or two without taking advantage of their incessant offers to play LPs if you wanted to hear them. Until one day I spotted a rarity for $3. This was Buffalo Springfield’s self-titled debut album—but not the edition I already had. This was the first pressing, with one song, “Baby Don’t Scold Me,” that was replaced by “For What It’s Worth” (after that song became a hit) on most editions of the record—and never subsequently issued on a vinyl release.

The back cover of the first pressing of Buffalo Springfield's debut LP, listing a song, "Baby Don't Scold Me," that was removed from subsequent editions. The rest of the track listing was slightly different than the more common subsequent editions as well.

The back cover of the first pressing of Buffalo Springfield’s debut LP, listing a song, “Baby Don’t Scold Me,” that was removed from subsequent editions. The rest of the track listing was slightly different than the more common subsequent editions as well.

I wanted to be sure that the fairly beat-up copy played okay, and also—since the order of the songs, as listed on the back cover, was scrambled from the version I was used to—that “Baby Don’t Scold Me” actually did play when you put the needle on the record, and not “For What It’s Worth” or some other track I already had. So I went to the counter, which happened to be staffed by the owner on a weekday morning on which no other customer had yet entered the store. I asked him if I could hear just one track, “Baby Don’t Scold Me.” He acted as if I’d interrupted his lunch to ask him if I could eat the rest of his sandwich.

“I’m making a tape,” he grumbled.

I explained that I did really need to hear the song, as it was the only one I was buying the LP for, and I had to be sure it was on the record and played without a skip. I also explained that this was the edition of Buffalo Springfield’s debut that had a song that was not on any subsequent pressings, which is why I need to hear that track in particular.

“I always thought that was a lousy song,” chipped in someone else on the staff. “I’m actually glad they replaced it with ‘For What It’s Worth.’”

What customer service! What salesmanship!

They did reluctantly play the one song, and I did buy the LP. And I never went out of my way to recommend the store again. It, like most stores of that sort, went out of business quite a few years ago, though it looks like the owner might be doing some sort of mail-order, according to a website that hasn’t been updated since 2000.

“Baby Don’t Scold Me,” incidentally, has been readily available—though only in its mono version—since 2001 on the four-CD Buffalo Springfield box set. It had also been bootlegged since at least the mid-1980s, as well. And it’s not a lousy song, though it’s not as good as “For What It’s Worth.”

Buffalo Springfield's "Stampede" bootleg includes "Baby Don't Scold Me."

Buffalo Springfield’s “Stampede” bootleg includes “Baby Don’t Scold Me.”

So does the official Buffalo Springfield box set, which won't win any awards for imaginative cover design.

So does the official Buffalo Springfield box set, which won’t win any awards for imaginative cover design.

Across the bay, and also in 1983 or 1984, I had my only record store visit where I could not buy a disc I asked to purchase that was physically in the shop. This was in Rasputin’s on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley (a few blocks north of its current location), which at that time was indisputably the best store in the Bay Area (a position it no longer holds). While browsing, I heard a record by the Move playing over the sound system—but it wasn’t any Move record I’d ever heard before. It was a live recording, and in pretty good fidelity.

I went up to the counter to take a look at the record, which was a Move bootleg I’d never seen before, and have never seen since. In fact, I’ve rarely seen any Move bootlegs, and certainly hadn’t seen one before hearing this LP. It’s so rare, in fact, that I can’t find an image of it on the Internet.

The poster for the Move's 1969 shows at the Fillmore did not boast especially memorable artwork.

The poster for the Move’s 1969 shows at the Fillmore did not boast especially memorable artwork.

I think it had a price tag of $10, which was a lot of money for me then. Still, I asked if I could buy it. The guy behind the counter told me it was not for sale. My guess is it had just come in with a batch of used LPs, and he was keeping it for himself. At least he was polite about it.

There was a happy ending, sort of, to this failure—though I had to wait almost 30 years for it to play out. For in 2012, material from the Move in concert at the Fillmore in 1969—some tracks of which I’d heard, just once, on that bootleg—finally came out legitimately on Live at the Fillmore in 1969. This official release likely had better fidelity than the bootleg, and, as a double CD, had more music than the bootleg LP offered. And I got a review copy, though only as a CDR with a PDF of liner notes. My request for a finished copy when the album came out was ignored—until, a full two years later, it arrived in the mail. That’s the only time that’s happened to me either.


As an aside, it probably isn’t that rare for owners or staff of stores that sell used records to keep prizes from used buys for themselves, though it’s not common for them to actually play such finds in the store. The only time I can recall a staffer actually telling a customer he was keeping a record he’d bought—not from this specific customer, but a customer earlier in the day—was in 1982 at a store in Northeast Philadelphia. The record the owner was keeping for himself? The Blasters’ 1980 debut LP, American Music, on the small independent Rollin’ Rock label—which was indeed already rare even by 1982 (having been pressed in a run of just a couple thousand copies), though it finally got issued on CD (with bonus tracks of course) in 1997.


The Move aren’t a well known band (at least in the US), but the third and final time I had a hard time actually buying an album that was in the bins, the item in question was far more obscure than even a Move bootleg. If I remember correctly, this took place around 1990 in New York’s Soho district in Rocks In Your Head—yet another store, beloved in its day, that’s been gone for years, closing in 2006. I wasn’t expecting to find anything I particularly needed, but there was the first LP by Kahondo Style, 1985’s My Heart’s in Motion.

Kahondo Style’s second album, 1987’s Green Tea & Crocodiles (which I did already and still own), was a quite idiosyncratic and unclassifiable fusion of rock, pop, jazz, new music, art songs, Cole Porter, middle eastern-like chanted background vocals, and more. I knew they’d put out an LP before that, but I’d never seen it. Even a personal visit to its (now also long-gone) US distributor, New Music Distribution Service (within walking distance of Rocks In Your Head), had failed to land a copy.


So I brought the sleeve to the counter, quest fulfilled at last. And guess what? They had the sleeve, but not the actual LP. It was one of those stores that, probably to eliminate shoplifting and other such crimes, only put the covers on display, keeping the discs behind the counter. And they couldn’t find the disc.

So I left the store empty-handed. I haven’t seen My Heart’s in Motion since. I haven’t even heard it—not even once. As limited as the market must be, is anyone going to reissue this?

This is the Kahondo Style LP that I *do* have.

This is the Kahondo Style LP that I *do* have.

I’m No Country Fool: The True Origins of the Who’s First Single

I wrote a book called Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll. I could also write a book called Urban Legends of Rock’n’Roll, meaning those myths about rock history that get perpetuated so often that they’re often repeated as fact. Some of these are major—that rock’n’roll died between Buddy Holly’s death and the arrival of the Beatles in the US, for instance, or that the Beatles failed their Decca Records audition because they were forced to play popular standards (though those comprised only four of the fifteen songs on their audition tape). Maybe the myth addressed by this post will be considered minor in comparison. But the matter of what one side of the Who’s first single was based on is usually misreported, and has become an unusually persistent error.

Advertising for the Who's first single, though they were billed as the High Numbers when "I'm the Face" and "Zoot Suit" were paired on a July 1964 single.

Advertising for the Who’s first single, though they were billed as the High Numbers when “I’m the Face” and “Zoot Suit” were paired on a July 1964 single.

Here’s the basic genesis of the story: in mid-1964 the Who, who had briefly changed their name to the High Numbers, recorded their debut single. Released on July 3, 1964, it featured two songs bearing the songwriting credit of Pete Meaden, a mod then involved in the group’s management. These were, however, in fact blatant rewrites of American blues and soul songs, putting rather contrived—borderline exploitative, even—lyrics celebrating the mod lifestyle to note-for-note copies of US records.

Pete Meaden.

Pete Meaden.

The more famous of the two sides is “I’m the Face,” owing to its wider availability (as it was first reissued as part of the Who’s 1974 Odds & Sods compilation) and having sometimes been reported as being the A-side. (In another mini-myth, as the inner label of the original 45 makes clear, it was the B-side, not the A-side.) The source of the tune is obvious: it’s based on the great Louisiana bluesman Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It,” using a very similar melody and shuffling, irregular rhythm. Though not exactly famous, the song would have been well known to London R&B aficionados by mid-1964—the Yardbirds, with Eric Clapton, had already recorded it for their first LP (though it wouldn’t come out until December), and the Kinks put a cool raveup version on their first LP (released in October).

"I'm the Face" was based on Slim Harpo's "Got Love If You Want It."

“I’m the Face” was based on Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It.”


Both the Yardbirds and the Kinks covered "Got Love If You Want It" on their first LPs.

Both the Yardbirds and the Kinks covered “Got Love If You Want It” on their first LPs.

The other side of the 45—officially, the A-side, though it’s often reported as the flip—was “Zoot Suit,” which had a much more unusual, winding minor melody. Many sources, such as the first big Who biography (Dave Marsh’s Before I Get Old, from 1983), report that this is a cover of “Country Fool,” the B-side of the Showmen’s small 1961 US hit “It Will Stand.” (Note, too, that although “It Will Stand” would soon become revered as one of the greatest odes to rock’n’roll, it was a small hit at the time of its release, not a big one, peaking at #61 in the national charts.) This is also stated in the most recent notable Who book, the excellent Pretend You’re in a War: The Who & the Sixties (2014), in which author Mark Blake writes that “the B-side, ‘Zoot Suit,’ was another Meaden-composed mod anthem, based on the song ‘Country Fool’ by the New Orleans doo wop group the Showmen.”

Although this ad for the Showmen, oddly, doesn't name either of the songs on their "It Will Stand"/"Country Fool" single, it prominently quotes a lyric from "It Will Stand"—"some folks don't understand it" (meaning those adults who slagged rock'n'roll in its early days).

Although this ad for the Showmen, oddly, doesn’t name either of the songs on their “It Will Stand”/”Country Fool” single, it prominently quotes a lyric from “It Will Stand”—”some folks don’t understand it” (meaning those adults who slagged rock’n’roll in its early days).

Since it was the B-side of a hit record that proved unusually durable on oldies radio for many years despite its modest initial chart placing, “Country Fool” has never been hard to find. And in 2015, it’s really easy to find—online, if you must, though it’s come out on several CDs, including the superb four-CD compilation Crescent City Soul: The Sound of New Orleans 1947-1974 (which also includes “It Will Stand”). Even these liner notes add to the chorus of confirmations that “Country Fool” was turned into “Zoot Suit” by the Who/High Numbers, Alan Warner writing that “the rambunctious ‘Country Fool’ was sabotaged in 1964 as ‘Zoot Suit’ by a British group called the High Numbers, who would later find fame as the Who.”

"Country Fool" was issued in the UK, as shown on this single on the London American label.

“Country Fool” was issued in the UK, as shown on this single on the London American label.

But guess what? “Country Fool” doesn’t sound like “Zoot Suit.” Play the two songs back-to-back if you don’t believe me.

And guess double what? Play the Dynamics’ “Misery,” which almost made the US Top 40 (peaking at #44, and reaching the Top Ten in their native Detroit) in late 1963. Except for the lyrics, it sounds exactly like the Who’s “Zoot Suit.”

(It’s on at least a couple CD compilations if you want a hard copy, incidentally, including The Big Top Records Story: Classic New York [sic] Pop 1958-1964. “Misery” is also correctly cited as the source for “Zoot Suit”‘s tune in the revised 2005 edition of Andy Neill and Matt Kent’s excellent Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of The Who 1958-1978.)

"Misery" was also issued in the UK, and also on the London American label.

“Misery” was also issued in the UK, and also on the London American label.

How could such an obvious mistake have been made—and how can it continue to be made—about who the Who were essentially “covering” on “Zoot Suit” for more than 30 years now? The source turns out to be the “writer” of “Zoot Suit” himself.

For on November 17, 1979, the New Musical Express ran an interview with Pete Meaden (conducted by Steve Turner) in which he was asked about “Zoot Suit.” (Meaden died in July 1978, but the two interviews combined in the NME piece were done shortly before his death.) His response was quite thorough, if in part inaccurate:

“‘Zoot Suit’ was the fashion record of all time—it pinched the backing track of ‘Country Fool’ by the Showmen, which was the B- side of ‘It Will Stand.’ The Showmen are now known as Chairmen Of The Board and ‘It Will Stand’ is the rock’n’roll tribute anthem of all time. I heard the melody, and the night before the session I dreamt up the lyrics, and I wrote them all down—I wrote them down on speed. The actual words were ‘I’m the hippest number in town, And I’ll tell you why’ and it goes on to ‘I wear a Zoot Suit jacket with side-vents five inches long’ and it’s a great song, man…”

Meaden—who, as even that quote confirms, was a heavy amphetamine user, and a patient in a mental hospital when Turner tracked him down in 1975—must have been misremembering the single he’d “pinched.” Obscure US soul singles were almost as prized as pills on the London mod scene, and Meaden must have owned or had access to the 45 of the Dynamics’ “Misery.”

And who were the Dynamics? There’s an amazing amount of detail about the original record, and the Detroit soul group that cut it, on this page on the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends site. This article poses this challenging question: “If Meaden simply rewrote the words, shouldn’t one or both of these songwriters be getting credit for the melody?”

Interestingly, the songwriting credit on the Dynamics’ “Misery” goes to their manager (George “Ernie” Stratton) and voice coach (Anthony Wilson). Yet this article also states that original Dynamics member Fred “Sonny” Baker “said that somehow the credits were listed incorrectly on the record labels resulting in their manager and vocal coach being given undeserved songwriting credits on both sides of the single. Baker vows that he and Warren Tippett wrote ‘Misery.’”

Were the Who aware of any of this when they recorded “Zoot Suit” back in June 1964? Probably not. And the Dynamics almost certainly weren’t either, since “Zoot Suit”/“I’m the Face” was a flop, Accounts of exactly how many copies it sold vary, but total certainly failed to even reach four figures. Only a thousand copies were pressed, and Meaden told Steve Turner that “I bought 250 records off the record company, off Fontana, to get it into the charts.”

An ad for the High Numbers single offers more confirmation that "Zoot Suit" was the A-side, as it's the only song plugged, and "I'm the Face" isn't mentioned.

An ad for the High Numbers single offers more confirmation that “Zoot Suit” was the A-side, as it’s the only song plugged, and “I’m the Face” isn’t mentioned.

So next time you see “Zoot Suit” described as a rewrite of “Country Fool”—and there probably will be a next time, given how many times it’s been reported as such—be aware that the true source was something quite different. And quite cool—“Misery” is a pretty nifty 45, in large part due to that odd winding minor melody. And even if the rewrite wasn’t all that kosher, “Zoot Suit”’s a pretty cool record too—if nowhere near as distinctive and original as the record that would launch the Who into the British charts in early 1965, the Pete Townshend-penned “I Can’t Explain.”

But could they explain where "Zoot Suit" came from?

But could they explain where “Zoot Suit” came from?

The Rolling Stones: Covering the Covers

When you teach a course on the Rolling Stones, as I’ve done three times now for a couple adult-education programs, you talk a lot about their influences. As the Stones covered so many songs by other artists in the 1960s, that often means discussing and playing some tunes they interpreted. Even for someone like me who’s been a fan for forty-five years or so, that leads you to think about and listen to some things that haven’t crossed your mind for a long time, and even to hear and learn some new stuff.

This compilation of songs the Rolling Stones covered was given away with the August 2012 issue of Mojo magazine.

This compilation of songs the Rolling Stones covered was given away with the August 2012 issue of Mojo magazine.

Of the dozens of songs they covered (especially when you count demos, outtakes, and BBC sessions), it’s now struck me that there are a few instances where the Stones probably didn’t hear the original version, learning the material from an actual cover by someone else. This isn’t that rare; the Beatles, for instance, almost certainly learned “I Got to Find My Baby” (which they did twice on the BBC in 1963) from Chuck Berry’s 1960 recording, not the early-1940s original by Doctor Clayton (or even Little Walter’s 1954 version), as you can read about in one of my earlier blogposts. Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was based not so much on the Big Mama Thornton original (which he was aware of) as a crass Bill Haley-like 1955 cover by early, now-almost-forgotten rock’n’roll group Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys. There must be countless other examples.

Of the covers the Rolling Stones placed on their official recordings (and even counting the high-quality unofficial ones), it strikes me that there are five that they likely learned from covers, rather than the originals. One of them is perhaps their most commercially successful cover version; another is perhaps the most obscure cover they placed on one of their albums. The three others have less interesting paths to the band, probably coming in all cases via their single biggest influence, Chuck Berry. Let’s start with the most obscure such item, Robert Wilkins’s “Prodigal Son,” which appeared on their 1968 album Beggars Banquet.

After the Stones covered "Prodigal Son," this Robert Wilkins LP was reissued to hype that fact on its cover.

After the Stones covered “Prodigal Son,” this Robert Wilkins LP was reissued to hype that fact on its cover.

As has often been stated by historians, Beggars Banquet marked a return by the Stones to a much bluesier sound than they’d favored since starting to write the bulk of their own repertoire around 1965 (and certainly a much bluesier sound than they’d gone for on their 1967 psychedelic LP, Their Satanic Majesties Request). While the band had occasionally gone into acoustic blues of the pre-World War II variety (as on the early Mick Jagger-Keith Richards composition “Good Times, Bad Times,” used on the 1964 B-side of “It’s All Over Now”), Beggars Banquet also went into more Delta-style acoustic blues than any of their previous releases.

All of the Stones would have known something about the form, but the biggest kick in this direction was probably supplied by Keith Richards, who told Guitar Player in 1977, “During that long recording layoff after [the 1967 album] Between the Buttons, I got rather bored with what I was playing on guitar—maybe because we weren’t working, and it was part of that frustration of stopping after all those years and suddenly having nothing to do. So my playing sort of stopped, along with me. Then I started looking into some Twenties and Thirties blues records. Slowly, I began to realize that a lot of them were in very strange tunings.”

This might have been a time when he listened to Robert Wilkins, who made his first body of recordings between 1928 and 1936. One of those recordings (performed in 1929) was “That’s No Way to Get Along,” which musically is nearly identical to the song Wilkins would later—much later—record as “Prodigal Son.” Lyrically, however, it’s totally different. Where “Prodigal Son” is almost a narrative of a, well, prodigal son, “That’s No Way to Get Along” has very basic words about being treated bad by low-down women; crying and falling into self-pity as a result; and telling the basic tale to his mama. The only strong lyrical similarity to “Prodigal Son,” in fact, is in the title phrase “That’s No Way to Get Along,” which is repeated with some variations at the end of the verses.

Amazing original ad for Robert Wilkins's 1929 single "That's No Way to Get Along."

Amazing original ad for Robert Wilkins’s 1929 single “That’s No Way to Get Along.”

Like many of the Delta bluesmen who recorded in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Wilkins was rediscovered during the folk revival of the early-to-mid-‘60s, relaunching a recording and performing career after decades without any discs. In the intervening years he’d become much more religious, in both his life and his music. He was now playing a sort of blues-gospel, reworking “That’s No Way to Get Along” with biblical lyrics. The result was “Prodigal Son,” a ten-minute epic where “That’s No Way to Get Along” had lasted just shy of three.

It’s been reported that the Stones learned, or based their version of, “Prodigal Son” on Wilkins’s version on the compilation The Blues at Newport 1964 Part 2, recorded at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1964. That would make sense; Newport was the biggest folk festival of the time, and the albums recorded there were pretty widely heard by folk and blues fans. It’s also possible, however, that they heard it first, or also heard, the version Wilkins recorded in the studio slightly earlier (in February 1964) for the Piedmont Records LP Reverend Robert Wilkins—Memphis Gospel Singer. By 1964 the Stones were going to the US and had a lot more money than they’d ever had before. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if Richards and/or some other guys in the band found the Piedmont album in an American record store, or even in a London store that imported folk and blues LPs; Dobell’s, on Charing Cross Road in Central London, was especially known for doing so.

The two 1964 versions are pretty similar, but no matter which one you hear (and both are pretty accessible now), it’s interesting how much the Stones condensed the lyrics. The Stones almost certainly wouldn’t have considering putting a ten-minute blues cover of any kind on a 1968 LP, and knocked “Prodigal Son” down to three minutes, mostly by eliminating a lot of repetition—cutting to the chase, almost. Where Wilkins made whole verses out of singing the same line over and over, Mick Jagger combined the lines into verses. Nonetheless, it’s often still not all that easy to make out the words he’s singing.

Were the Stones even aware that “Prodigal Son” had evolved from the 1929 Wilkins recording of “That’s No Way to Get Along”? Possibly not; in the late 1960s, early blues records weren’t nearly as easy to get (or hear) as they are now. Yet they quite possibly were aware of “That’s No Way to Get Along,” as it had been reissued in 1963 on the Origin Jazz Library compilation LP Mississippi Blues 1927-1940—not exactly common fare at most record stores, but almost certainly in the bins at some record stores the Stones visited.


A more intriguing question is: were the Rolling Stones aware that Wilkins had, in 1928, recorded a number titled “Rolling Stone Blues” (in parts 1 and 2, no less)? It’s pretty well known that the Rolling Stones named themselves after a Muddy Waters song titled “Rollin’ Stone,” first issued on a 1950 single. Here’s guessing, however, that they hadn’t heard “Rolling Stone Blues,” which in 1962 was very hard to find or hear, especially in the UK. It wouldn’t even get reissued until the 1967 compilation Mississippi Blues Vol. 1 (1927-1942). The term “rolling stone” had already been in slang use by the time Wilkins recorded “Rolling Stone Blues,” but that might well be the first time it was used in a blues song.

As a final footnote to the “Prodigal Son” saga, the song was mistakenly listed as a Jagger-Richards composition when Beggars Banquet was first released. This was changed on future editions, this fine March 1, 1969 Rolling Stone article by Tony Glover  (of the US blues-folk act Koerner, Ray & Glover)  detailing how the matter was brought to the attention of the group and their record label. Wilkins, stated Peter Kuyendall (who owned the song rights) in the piece, “seemed quite happy that people will be hearing his song. It couldn’t bother him that a rock group has done it.”

If “Prodigal Son” was one of the more obscure covers the Rolling Stones released, “Time Is On My Side” was arguably the most famous. Certainly that’s the case in the US, where it became the band’s first Top Ten hit in late 1964 (though it wasn’t released as a single in their native UK, where a cover of “Little Red Rooster” was issued instead, making #1 in the British charts). The group learned the song from New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas’s more gospel-flavored version. But Thomas’s rendition, as good as it was, wasn’t the original. The original, rather weirdly, was by famed jazz trombonist Kai Winding, who put it out as a single on Verve Records in October 1963.

Though the vocals on Kai Winding's version of "Time Is On My Side" were handled by well-known soul singers, they were only credited as "Vocal Group" on the label.

Though the vocals on Kai Winding’s version of “Time Is On My Side” were handled by well-known soul singers, they were only credited as “Vocal Group” on the label.

The choice of material wasn’t as strange as it might first appear. In an era where off-the-wall instrumental hit singles were not uncommon, Winding had scored one a few months earlier with “More.” In truth, that hit was more memorable for the lines played by Jean-Jacques Perry on the Ondioline (which sounded like a high-pitched, keening organ) than it was for Winding’s low-profile trombone. But when it came time for a follow-up that might likewise make the pop charts, songwriter-producer Jerry Ragovoy was contacted. He passed on one of his compositions, “Time Is On My Side.” (Ragovoy would become most famous for co-writing the soul songs “Piece of My Heart,” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” “Get It While You Can,” and “My Baby,” all of which were covered by Janis Joplin.)

After being used to the Stones’ version for fifty years, it’s a shock to hear Winding’s single. The melody is all there, and are the words to the chorus and the parts of the verse where the title is sung. But nothing else is there word-wise, the singers credited only as “vocal group” on the 45 oohing wordlessly as Winding plays trombone. It’s as if they’ve recorded everything for a full vocal number, but simply forgotten to dub or punch in those parts of the verses (and there’s no spoken rap in the middle, that being an instrumental break again dominated by trombone). For all its incomplete feel, the “vocal group” really wails with soul near the end. And no wonder – the group were top New York session singers Dionne Warwick (actually by then a star), her sister Dee Dee Warwick, and Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney).

The missing words weren’t a mistake. Ragovoy simply hadn’t written any. In a way, it’s like numerous easy listening arrangements of popular hits in the 1960s, where those pesky verses were ignored, the anonymous session singers only bothering with the title and chorus. The strategy was employed on numerous early reggae covers of British and American hits too. If nothing else, it must have saved on the typesetting bills for the lyric sheets used at the recording sessions.

In most respects, however, Kai Winding’s arrangement is fairly similar to the one used on Irma Thomas’s cover. When she did her version in 1964, however, the verses were filled in with more lyrics, as was the instrumental break (with a spoken rap). Those words were devised by Jimmy Norman, which is why the writing credits are for Norman Meade and Jimmy Norman. But who’s that Norman Meade? That’s a pseudonym for Jerry Ragovoy. Got all that? And when the Stones covered Thomas’s cover, a near-instrumental for a jazz trombonist somehow became a British Invasion hit for a blues-rock band.


The last few cases in which the Rolling Stones probably didn’t hear the original aren’t as interesting as “Prodigal Son” and “Time Is On My Side,” but still worth noting. “Confessin’ the Blues,” on their second US LP 12 X 5 in 1964 (and also on the UK EP 5 X 5 that year), is a fairly slow and standard blues that’s one of their less celebrated early tracks. It was first done as a piano-dominated shuffle way back in 1941 by jazz-blues pianist Jay McShann, with Walter Brown on vocals. Chuck Berry did a peppier blues-rockin’ version on his 1960 album Rockin’ at the Hops, which had no less than three other songs the Stones would record: “Bye Bye Johnny,” “Down the Road Apiece,” and “Let It Rock.” (Not to mention “I Got to Find My Baby,” which as noted earlier was done by the Beatles on the BBC.)

One would think the Stones would be far, far more likely to be familiar with Berry’s version than McShann’s. In his fine 1976 disc-oriented career overview The Rolling Stones: An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr doesn’t seem to think so, noting that “surprisingly, the Stones keep to McShann’s slower interpretation.” My guess is, however, that the Stones did base their version on Berry’s, simply slowing the tempo way down, from rock to blues. One other piece of evidence in favor of Berry being the model is that while the Stones omit lyrics that appear in Berry’s interpretation, there are even more lyrics in McShann’s that Mick Jagger doesn’t sing. And Mick sticks much closer to the order of Berry’s lyrics than the order of McShann’s. The order’s exactly the same as Chuck’s version, in fact, though one of the verses Berry uses is axed. (It’s also possible the Stones were influenced by harmonica great Little Walter’s midtempo arrangement of the song, which he recorded for a single in January 1958.)


Along the same lines, there’s probably no one who doubts the Rolling Stones found “Down the Road Apiece” (on their 1965 LPs The Rolling Stones Now! in the US and The Rolling Stones No. 2 in the UK) through Chuck Berry. It was first done, however, in 1940 as a piano-based boogie by the Will Bradley Trio. Keith Richards copies Chuck Berry’s intro riff pretty much note-for-note, so there’s really no question the Stones took Berry’s interpretation as their model. Berry is also certainly the source for “Don’t Lie to Me,” first done as a piano-guitar blues with a kazoo solo in 1940 by Tampa Red, and redone on Berry’s 1961 album New Juke Box Hits, Fats Domino having done a cover in 1951 as well. The Stones recorded this in June 1964, but didn’t put it out until the 1975 outtake collection Metamorphosis, by which time the title had somehow changed from “Don’t You Lie to Me” to just “Don’t Lie to Me.”


The Rolling Stones learned, performed, and recorded quite a few songs from the above two Chuck Berry LPs.

The Rolling Stones learned, performed, and recorded quite a few songs from the above two Chuck Berry LPs.

New Juke Box Hits was also where the Rolling Stones learned “Route 66,” one of the most popular tracks on their 1964 debut album. Written by Bobby Troup, it was a big hit in a far more polite, jazzy version for Nat “King” Cole in 1946, back in the days when he led the King Cole Trio. But the weirdest intermediary version you could imagine helped the Stones learn the lyrics, though not the way they played it (which was taken from Berry’s version, as is obvious again from how the band does a more guitar-oriented variation of the opening piano-dominated riff of Chuck’s track).

For according to the memoir of Jimmy Phelge—the same “Phelge” who was honored by half of the Nanker-Phelge pseudonym used on early Rolling Stones group compositions—they learned the lyrics not from Berry’s version, but…Perry Como’s. Phelge shared a flat with Mick, Keith, and Brian Jones in 1963, and when he moved in, he brought with him a Perry Como LP. After the founder Stones were done laughing at him, they noticed that “Route 66” was on it. According to Phelge’s book Nankering with the Rolling Stones: The Untold Story of the Early Days, Jones then suggested to Jagger, “Why don’t you get the words down?”

Wrote Phelge, “Mick played it three more times until he had finished writing all the words down. When Mick had finished Keith leapt over to the record player. He hastily removed the Como album then said, ‘Thank Christ, let’s have some Chuck Berry.’”

From Robert Wilkins to Perry Como…you never thought we’d get there. Did you? But there’s one thing that links them together—recordings they did influenced cover versions done by the Rolling Stones, if in the most different ways imaginable.

The Perry Como version of "Route 66" from which Mick Jagger wrote down lyrics could well have been on this LP.

The Perry Como version of “Route 66″ from which Mick Jagger wrote down lyrics could well have been on this LP.


The Top Ten Unreleased Albums From the Mid-1960s Through the Early 1970s

In late 2014, the release of a six-CD box set of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes got some people thinking about major bodies of rock recordings that, for whatever reasons, were not released at the time they were made. And, in some cases, still aren’t released, or had to wait decades to be made officially available.


For those unfamiliar with rock history, the Basement Tapes might seem to be a singular event. Why would a top rock icon not put out music which he’d obviously invested a lot of time in, and which could certainly have been made into a releasable album had some more effort been put into the project when it was recorded? Was there some sort of one-of-a-kind accident involved, or some legal obstruction?

As it turns out, however, lots of artists from the 1960s and early 1970s had albums they didn’t put out, didn’t finish, or didn’t even start despite conceiving grand plans for them. In fact, it seems like almost every big rock act from the period had an unreleased album in their history, including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Kinks, David Bowie, and others. Not a few of them had more than one unreleased album or project that never came out, including Dylan himself. It’s almost like having an unreleased album was a rite of passage, or one more badge confirming your status among rock’s elite.

That did get me to thinking: what were the best unreleased albums of what we might call the dawn of classic album-oriented rock, from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s? Especially if we count not just unreleased albums that were actually finished and could have come out as-was (of which there actually weren’t too many), but also material from sessions that were working toward an album; live and demo recordings; and even projects for which not a note was recorded, but an ambitious album definitely envisioned?

What follows is my Top Ten list of such albums, ranked according not only to their quality, but also to their historical significance and the potential of their importance had they been completed and/or released. Certainly it doesn’t include every such record—there are at least fifty such things if you count artists of major and minor note, and no doubt thousands if you count everyone who recorded an unreleased album, or tried to. But it does have some of the most famous ones, as well as a few endeavors that might be unknown even to many big classic rock fans.

1. The Beach Boys, Smile

The top four albums on this list are, I would guess, identical to or close to the top four albums most likely to be selected by many fans and critics, though the order might differ according to the listener. Smile could well be the most famous of these, and—like each of the other three records—has even inspired a book, or at least (in the case of the Who’s Lifehouse) half a book.


So to reduce the epic story to a paragraph seems a bit minimalist, but here goes: after the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds, head Beach Boy Brian Wilson wanted to make a yet more ambitious LP, one that might have them challenge the Beatles’ position as the top band in the world. Many sessions were laid down in the last months of 1966, and the first few months in 1967, that found Wilson (and, at least as participants in the sessions, the Beach Boys) venturing into territory far more avant-garde than any they or most of their peers had explored. For many reasons, including Wilson’s increasing instability; frustration that the Beatles and other competitors were moving ahead while the project foundered; reluctance of the other Beach Boys, particularly singer Mike Love, to follow Wilson’s visions; and disorganization that hindered the tracks’ completion, the album was abandoned in 1967.

Almost immediately, some excerpts from the sessions appeared on Beach Boys records; the #1 1966 single “Good Vibrations,” after all, was part of them, as was the smaller hit “Heroes and Villains.” Starting in the early 1980s, bootlegs of unreleased sessions appeared, some of them attempting to simulate what might have been Smile’s contents and running order. In 2011, an official box set, The Smile Sessions, finally appeared, one of the discs being a more or less official version of what the album would/should have sounded like.

My own feeling is that the best of the Smile sessions—including not just the most accessible songs a la “Good Vibrations,” but also some of the most structurally daring and experimental—are glorious, especially in those sections incorporating melodies of almost classical beauty, and vocal harmonies as daring in their sophistication as almost any in pop music. Yet I also feel that the tracks would not add up to an album comparable in worth to the more concise, focused Pet Sounds. And, despite the officially sanctioned version of Smile, they never sound to me like something that A) was totally finished or B) would add up to the most coherent whole. And some of the humor, which was an important ingredient to the project, is pretty corny and not-so-funny.

The "new improved" 1985 version of the Beach Boys' Smile bootleg, with liner notes by "Nancy Reagan."

The “new improved” 1985 version of the Beach Boys’ Smile bootleg, with liner notes by “Nancy Reagan.”

Also, I never felt as if the official version, or the many unofficial simulations, got the track sequencing or “final cut” selections right. It’s strange when some Smile bootlegs I’ve heard seem to have a better flow than the official 2011 one, but that’s how it comes off to me. In part that’s because it, like most of the records listed here, actually was never finished. Had it somehow been seen through to completion back in 1967, probably all sorts of things would have been different, from the running order and song selection to the mixes.

Still, Smile, for all its warts, is the Beach Boys—and it is a Beach Boys record, not a Brian Wilson solo project—aiming for their highest heights, and sometimes coming close or succeeding. Indeed, it’s pop-rock as a whole aiming for its highest heights, and sometimes coming close or succeeding. For those reasons, it is the most significant unreleased album of all time, if one that never quite captured what Brian Wilson had in mind, perhaps because its scope might have been beyond what mere humans could attain.

2. The Beatles, Get Back

The Beatles were working toward an album that would have been called Get Back in January 1969. But like Smile, the tapes recorded for it (and subsequently bootlegged, perhaps more than any other body of recorded work) were more an accumulation of sessions than a completed LP. And, by the Beatles’ matchless standards, Get Back wouldn’t have been one of their best albums, or even one of their better ones, although it did have some great songs, like “Let It Be,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Get Back” itself.

The Beatles got as far as taking a picture in early 1969 for a projected "Get Back" album, whose cover (subtly re-creating/satirizing the photo and cover designed used for their first LP, "Please Please Me," in 1963)  probably would have looked something like this.

The Beatles got as far as taking a picture in early 1969 for a projected Get Back album, whose cover (subtly re-creating/satirizing the photo and cover designed used for their first LP, Please Please Me, in 1963) probably would have looked something like this.

For even more reasons than Smile, Get Back never appeared. The Beatles were unhappy with the January 1969 sessions in general, never really agreeing on whether they should be assembled into an LP, or how they should be assembled into an LP. The project was hindered by simultaneous plans to film a documentary of the sessions (to become the Let It Be movie) and return to live performance (an idea that George Harrison in particular nixed, though they did so, in a limited way, on the Apple headquarters rooftop concert that concludes the film).

Had they pulled off what was originally planned—getting back to their roots by recording live without overdubs, and even making the album a concert LP comprised of wholly live performances of new material—Get Back would have been quite interesting. Or great, had all the songs been as great as “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Let It Be.” But with material that was more good than great, and a lack of enthusiasm (and even fighting) within the group, the Beatles couldn’t summon the will to polish it off. Abbey Road came out before the Beatles, or some of them, enlisted Phil Spector to produce an album drawn mostly from the sessions, Let It Be, which in turn would finally push Paul McCartney to announce his departure from the band.

There were versions of Get Back that probably came close to getting released, particularly on acetates cut by engineer/producer Glyn Johns that were subsequently bootlegged. There was even a cover shot for the album, originally planned for early 1969 release before getting delayed, and before Abbey Road took precedence. It’s not the best Beatles, but even imperfect Beatles is better than almost anything else. And, because it’s the only close-to-unreleased-album of sorts in the catalog of the best rock group of all time, it’s one of the most important unreleased albums by anyone, even if it doesn’t quite make #1 on my list.

The "Get Back" sessions are thoroughly described and analyzed in this book.

The Get Back sessions are thoroughly described and analyzed in this book.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that's come to light since the original edition. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

I wrote much more extensively on the Get Back”sessions in my book The Unreleased Beatles; Music and Film.

3. The Who, Lifehouse

Lifehouse is a little different than Smile and Get Back, as by the time sessions including the material got underway in earnest, plans were waning (and then abandoned) for the ambitious album that was the original intention. If not the intention of the Who as a whole, it was certainly the intention of principal songwriter Pete Townshend, who wanted to make a concept/story album of sorts after the success of 1969’s rock opera Tommy. In some respects, Lifehouse would have been more ambitious, incorporating more media than just sound recording and performance.

This bootleg of Lifehouse material uses an outtake from the photo session for Who's Next on the cover.

This bootleg of Lifehouse material uses an outtake from the photo session for Who’s Next on the cover.

A much fuller back story, if I may advertise myself for a minute, is in my book Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia, which covers the Who’s career in the early 1970s, focusing on their Lifehouse and Quadrophenia projects in particular. But to boil down an impossibly complicated scenario to a few sentences, Townshend envisioned a rock opera of sorts built around a future in which the population, in the wake of environmental devastation, is controlled by a totalitarian government that doles out necessities accessible by “experience suits.” Rebels in opposition to the regime plan and stage a rock concert in defiance of the authorities. At the concert, performers (probably the Who) and audience merge into one and transcend the trials of this bleak world into a more enlightened state.

But Lifehouse wouldn’t just have been an album (probably a double album, like Tommy was). It would also have been a movie, probably starring the Who, and probably incorporating actual concert sequences. And Townshend and the Who, he hoped, would get inspiration by workshopping the material in front of real-life audiences, whose feedback and participation would provide grist for songs, and whose personalities could even be converted into patterns that could be programmed through synthesizers.

It was all too much for even the supportive fellow Who members to handle, or even understand. After some aborted sessions in New York in March 1971, the Who started their next album back in London. Under the advice of engineer/producer Glyn Johns, it was determined to scrap the double-LP concept idea (which in truth was on the verge of being abandoned anyway) and concentrate on an album of unconnected songs. Most of the songs selected for that album, 1971’s Who’s Next, had indeed been written for Lifehouse, but it didn’t add up to a story or opera, and many Lifehouse songs were not included.

You could make a good argument for switching the order of Lifehouse and Get Back on this list, as the Lifehouse songs that did make it onto Who’s Next were considerably more significant to the Who’s career than the Get Back material was to the Beatles’. The failure of Lifehouse to exist in even an approximately finished album (as Get Back did), however, is a strike against it, and the Beatles’ status as the #1 rock group (though the Who rank up near the top) a blow in favor of Get Back.

There's much more information about Lifehouse in my book Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia.

There’s much more information about Lifehouse in my book Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia.

Had Lifehouse been completed, it would have been the realization of one of rock’s most ambitious projects, bar none. It didn’t get completed, however, for some of the same reasons Smile didn’t: it bit off more than it could chew, and it never really got organized into a coherent sequence of songs. In addition, not many people point out another flaw in the enterprise: the best half of Lifehouse’s songs (most of which would make Who’s Next) are, with a few exceptions, far, far superior to the worst half of Lifehouse’s songs (most of which have come out, in dribs and drabs, on various Pete Townshend solo projects and Townshend/Who archival releases).

4. Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes

Plenty of critics, and some fans, would put these recordings—which have actually “come out” in several iterations—at #1 on this list, not #4. Some might even judge it one of the greatest bodies of recorded work of all time, not just one of the greatest bodies of unreleased work. Some have certainly championed it as one of the most influential in its rebuff of psychedelia for eccentric roots rock. At the time they were recorded in 1967, though, their influence was mostly limited to acetates of a dozen or so of the best songs, which were passed around to some other artists to hear and sometimes cover (and which were bootlegged, though not immediately).

One of many bootlegs of the Basement Tapes, now made obsolete by the 2014 release of The Complete Basement Tapes.

One of many bootlegs of the Basement Tapes, now made obsolete by the 2014 release of The Basement Tapes Complete.

To reprint what I wrote in my mini-review of the six-CD box set The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 in my list of top ten reissues of 2014 (where I also placed it #4, as it happens):

“While I don’t find this as godhead as many critics and Americana bands do, this six-CD box rounds up everything usable known to have survived from the quirky 1967 recordings Dylan made with the Band. This found the musicians working counter to most trends in rock music that year, mixing folk, country, blues, gospel, and rock’n’roll on idiosyncratic original Dylan material (sometimes written with help from Band members). They also ran through many covers, some quite obscure, though these have a rather loose, informal warm-up feel. So do some of the originals, many of which seem casual toss-offs or frustratingly incomplete. The most fully formed and celebrated songs—generally, the ones that also appeared on the 1975 Basement Tapes double LP—are available on a two-CD distilled version of this box, The Basement Tapes Raw.”

A whole three months later, my opinion’s unchanged. If you want a much longer review I wrote of the box set, it’s in the winter 2014 (#6) issue of Flashback magazine. Part of it offers an assertion I realize will not be universally popular among Dylan devotees:

“The basement tapes that were recorded and eventually excavated have often been hailed as a necessary antidote to the indulgent psychedelia that was threatening to remove rock music from the roots that had made it such a potent force since the mid-1950s. That’s one view, but it can also be fairly observed, I think, that if Dylan was deliberately turning his back on psychedelia, he was also missing out on a lot of exciting innovations. The Basement Tapes might have a more straightforward, no-nonsense approach than Sgt. Pepper, The Doors, and Surrealistic Pillow, but it doesn’t match the peaks of those albums either, or even the peaks of Dylan’s more recklessly risky mid-‘60s electric LPs. Canonizing the Basement Tapes as the sessions that brought rock back to its senses again and pointed the proper way forward, as a number of past and recent critics seem to do, seems to me a thoughtless dismissal of much great music of the same era, and an inaccurately revisionist distortion of the Basement Tapes’ actual impact and significance.”

If you want to read a book-length history of the Basement Tapes by a respected musician and critic who likes them more than I do, I recommend Sid Griffin’s Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band, and the Basement Tapes. Whatever one’s opinion of the material, it would be interesting to know what effect they might have had if the best of the material had been officially released as a single or double LP back in late 1967 or early 1968, whether instead of or in addition to the Band-less Dylan LP that did appear, John Wesley Harding. But that’s one question we’ll never have answered.

Sid Griffin's book Million Dollar Bash has a wealth of info about the Basement Tapes.

Sid Griffin’s book Million Dollar Bash has a wealth of info about the Basement Tapes.

5. The Velvet Underground, The Lost Fourth Album

Here we reach a group of songs that, unlike the previous four, don’t seem to have been recorded with a specific purpose in mind. Even the Basement Tapes served the function of getting Dylan back into music-making after his 1966 motorcycle accident; getting some compositions into circulation for other artists to cover, which he said at least once was the motivation behind their creation; and working on some new material with the Band. And the recordings that resulted did get a name, even if they didn’t come out in any album form until the mid-1970s.

In contrast, the tracks that Velvet Underground recorded for MGM in the studio in 1969 just seemed like a stack of random sessions, rather than something intended to be grouped into an LP. They never did get a name, even though all the known ones have come out on archival releases, beginning with the 1985 outtakes compilation VU (some had been bootlegged earlier). They’re not even colloquially known as “the lost fourth album”; each of these entries needs a title, and that’s about the best one I could come up with.

"Foggy Notion" was one of the songs recorded by the Velvet Underground in 1969 for their possible "lost" album.

“Foggy Notion” was one of the songs recorded by the Velvet Underground in 1969 for their possible “lost” album.

But considering the Velvets’ status as one of the greatest bands of the ‘60s, and one that (unlike the previous four artists on this list) didn’t release that many albums, any grouping of unreleased songs recording within a five-month or so period is significant. And between May 6 and October 1, 1969, they cut about 15 songs—enough to make an album with a little left over. As I wrote in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day:

“What would a fourth MGM Velvet Underground album have included, had the label released it? Four decades later, we can only guess, but the tracklisting might have been something like this: ‘Rock & Roll,’ ‘Ocean,’ ‘Lisa Says,’ ‘One Of These Days,’ ‘She’s My Best Friend,’ ‘I Can’t Stand It,’ ‘We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together,’ ‘Andy’s Chest,’ ‘I Found A Reason,’ ‘Foggy Notion,’ ‘Ride Into The Sun,’ and ‘I’m Sticking With You.’ It might not have been a record as good as the first three VU LPs, but it would still have been a pretty good one, and perhaps even better than that, had the group later added some of their newer songs from the fall of 1969 [as heard on live tapes from the time], such as ‘New Age’ and ‘Sweet Jane,’ to the mix.”

The material was generally lighter and more good-natured in tone than their first three albums, leading to speculation that perhaps they were saving their best new songs for an album that would appear on another label. As I also wrote in White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day:

“[VU manager] Steve Sesnick might [have] already [been] maneuvering, as he later claim[ed], to get the band off MGM; maybe the band in turn [were] walking the fine line of making it look like [they were] working on a record, but making sure the recordings [weren’t] in good enough shape to be released. And yet Sterling Morrison [would] later claim to have been under the impression that the Velvets were working on a fourth album, while as Maureen Tucker puts it in the Peel Slowly And See [box set] liner notes: “As far as I knew, and know, we were making a record. I also believe we were trying to get out from MGM. I don’t know what the plan was. Maybe it was just to not finish it enough. Some of those tracks don’t even have [finished] vocals on them. Maybe we were doing it just to keep them from saying ‘We need a record!’ I’m sure the way we did all those tracks had to do with trying to get away from MGM.”

There's more info about the VU's "lost" fourth album in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.

There’s more info about the VU’s “lost” fourth album in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.

What the Velvets and MGM were planning with this album of sorts—and how the Velvets managed to get off MGM and sign to Atlantic to do their 1970 album Loaded, despite having signed a contract to MGM running through May 1, 1971—remain among the more interesting unsolved mysteries of 1960s rock. At least the 1969 recordings themselves are no longer a mystery to the public; all of the known ones are on the super-deluxe box set edition of their third album, as well as getting strewn (sometimes in different mixes) throughout other archival releases.

All of the known 1969 studio recordings that might have been considered for the Velvet Underground's "lost" album are on this deluxe edition of their third album, which was simply titled The Velvet Underground when it came out in early 1969.

All of the known 1969 studio recordings that might have been considered for the Velvet Underground’s “lost” album are on this deluxe edition of their third album, which was simply titled  The Velvet Underground when it came out in early 1969.

And as some consolation, a double album of live unreleased recordings from late 1969, including some versions of songs they’d cut in the studio earlier that year, did come out in 1974. And that double LP, 1969 Velvet Underground Live, is not just one of the greatest Velvet Underground records, or one of the greatest concert records, but one of the greatest records by anybody. So what the Velvets were up to in 1969 was pretty much properly documented, and reflected better by these live recordings than their studio ones of the same year, even if it took five years for 1969 Velvet Underground Live to get released.

6. Jimi Hendrix, First Rays of the New Rising Sun

In late 1968, just a couple years into his career as a bandleader, Jimi Hendrix issued his third album, Electric Ladyland—a double LP, no less. He’d have about two years left to live, but he never did manage to put out another studio LP, although his 1970 concert album Band of Gypsys did include some new original material. The absence of a new studio album was all the more frustrating given that he recorded prolifically during this period. Yet he couldn’t seem to get it together to finish the record, decide on the running order, conclude his tinkering with the tracks, and so forth.

Much confusion continues to hover over what Jimi Hendrix would have issued as his fourth studio album, and indeed over what it would have even been called. As early as a January 1969 BBC interview, he announced two albums that were in the pipeline, one to be called Little Band of Gypsys (presumably the origin of the name of his Band of Gypsys group in late 1969) and the other First Rays of the New Rising Sun. “The Americans are looking for a leader in their music,” he declared. “First Rays of the New Rising Sun will be about what we have seen. If you give deeper thoughts in your music then the masses will buy them.” By contrast, Little Band of Gypsys, he told NME, would be a “jam-type” affair.

Although it’s thought that the fourth album would have most likely been a double LP, in fact Hendrix had enough material by the summer of 1970 to consider a three-disc set. Typically of his mindset in his final days, however, he couldn’t decide on either which songs to include or the size of the release. Even the title was uncertain, with People, Hell and Angels and Straight Ahead also under consideration.

Hendrix did compile a handwritten selection for three LP sides of First Rays of the New Rising Sun that surfaced in 1994, and was reprinted in the November 1994 issue of the French magazine Folk & Rock. This would have gone as follows:

Side A: “Dolly Dagger,” “Night Bird Flying” (though he wasn’t totally sure where to place this), “Room Full of Mirrors,” “Belly Button Window,” “Freedom”

Side B: “Ezy Ryder,” “Astro Man,” “Drifting,” “Straight Ahead”

Side C: “Drifter’s Escape,” “Coming Down Hard on Me,” “Beginnings,” “Cherokee Mist,” “Angel.”

While an album titled First Rays of the New Rising Sun was assembled from these sessions and released on CD in 1997, it’s important to note that this was not a ready-to-go record that Hendrix had finished, but an approximation of what it might have sounded like and which songs would have been selected. No such record could be posthumously compiled, as no one knew with absolute certainty what songs he would have included, and what additional production work he might have done on the ones he’d laid down in the studio, no matter how complete they might have seemed to others. It doesn’t even follow the order, even approximately, of his handwritten list for three LP sides, and doesn’t include some of the songs from that list (such as “Drifter’s Escape”), adding a few (like “Stepping Stone”) that were not on his list:


If there’s to be a collection of such material, however, First Rays of the New Rising Sun is undoubtedly the best one that’s yet been produced. At 68 minutes, it’s considerably longer than the ten-track LP from March 1971, The Cry of Love, that represented the first attempt to make something of these sessions. First Rays of the New Rising Sun has all ten of the songs heard on The Cry of Love and adds seven more, including a few of the more notable ones from this era, such as “Room Full of Mirrors,” “Dolly Dagger,” “Stepping Stone,” and “Izabella.” And it (as well as The Cry of Love) is certainly preferable to the similarly intended 1995 CD Voodoo Soup, which had less songs and new overdubs by Knack drummer Bruce Gary on a couple tracks.

More important than the packaging and speculation as to what Hendrix was up to, however, is the music. And though it inevitably doesn’t hang together as well as his three actual studio albums, or contain material quite as impressive, First Rays of the New Rising Sun does offer what for the most part are decent songs with imaginative production, often with a more upbeat mood than you’d expect given the reports of his internal anguish in his final days. “Angel” and “Dolly Dagger” are the standouts, but there’s some welcome cosmic humor and wistfulness in “Astro Man” and “Belly Button Window,” and generally pleasing uplifting spiritual qualities to some of the rest without forsaking his blues-rock base. Some of the tracks nonetheless skirt nondescript blues-rock or riffs that haven’t quite fully developed into songs, but in hindsight this collection offers hope that Hendrix was easing his way back toward discovering his songcraft without abandoning his technological wizardry.

This isn’t a complete overview of the songs Jimi was working on post-Electric Ladyland, missing, for instance, “Message to Love,” which he was featuring in concert. If it’s considered even an approximation of his fourth album, there’s also a slight sense of letdown in that there isn’t nearly the sense of creative advancement as there’d been with each of the LPs he did with the original Experience. It’s a highly worthwhile encapsulation of his final group of studio outings, but it’s not on the level of Electric Ladyland or Are You Experienced?

A common thread that runs through several of these albums—Smile, Get Back, and Lifehouse—is a seeming inability to complete or follow through on an album blueprint that had obvious promise, or possible genius. Perhaps these failures were attributable to some combination of over-perfectionism, self-doubt as to the worth of the material, or inability to stick to the original concept. Hendrix’s fourth album might not have had as definite a concept as the above-mentioned trio of records, but likewise seems to have fallen prey to some of the same difficulties.

The book Black Gold goes into detail not on the material recorded for The FIrst Rays of the Rising Sun, but all of Hendrix's unreleased material.

The book Black Gold goes into detail not on the material recorded for The FIrst Rays of the Rising Sun, but all of Hendrix’s unreleased material.

7. The Byrds, Unrealized 1968 Double-LP Concept Album on the History of 20th Century Music

I realize the above title sounds like a put-on, but though this project was never titled, Byrds leader Roger McGuinn did want to make a record like this. It’s unlike any other item on this list in that there’s no actual unreleased album of music associated with the concept, or even sessions of unreleased music associated with the concept. It is, however, to me the most interesting of ideas for albums by major bands that were at least discussed and considered, but never actually embarked upon, let alone completed. Here’s the story:

For the Byrds’ follow-up to The Notorious Byrd Brothers—their fifth album, and their last done with David Crosby, who was fired partway through its recording—McGuinn had planned an ambitious double album that would cover no less than the entire history of twentieth-century popular music. As McGuinn noted in Johnny Rogan’s massive biography Byrds: Requiem For the Timeless: Vol. 1, “It was going to be a chronological thing. Like old-time bluegrass, modern country music, rock’n’roll, then space music. It was meant to be a five-stage chronology.”

Adds Rogan in the book, “McGuinn spoke about his plans, confident that he had the full consent of the other members [who were, at that point, original Byrd bassist Chris Hillman, new drummer Kevin Kelley, and new singer/guitarist Gram Parsons]. They planned to cut 25 or 30 tracks, culminating in a double album which he promised would be released by early summer [1968].” A small sampling of what the final leg of that journey might have sounded like, the outtake “Moog Raga,” was eventually issued more than 20 years later. There was no rock or country in this instrumental experiment by McGuinn to fuse Indian ragas with the latest (although it now sounds primitive) in synthesizer technology.

Unusual poster for a Byrds concert at a benefit for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, shortly before he was assassinated in 1968.

Unusual poster for a Byrds concert at a benefit for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy on May 24, 1968, less than a couple weeks before he was assassinated.

His double-album dream would be unfulfilled, however, as both Hillman and David Crosby’s replacement, Gram Parsons, lobbied successfully for an all-out country album. “That was more Roger’s deal,” Hillman told me [when interviewed for my book Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock in the 1960s] of tracks like “Moog Raga” and Younger Than Yesterday’s “C.T.A.-102,” which had matched another proto-country-rock track with weird electronic simulations of space alien voices. “I would play on it, but it wasn’t something I was involved in, other than as the bass player. He had that side of him, musically, that was not my style of music. It really wasn’t something that I loved that much. But I was a player, and that’s his piece of material, so I supported it. But I sort of dragged him into the country stuff, so it works both ways. And he performed quite well with that [country] stuff.”

Hillman, unlike McGuinn, has no regrets that the double-album history of twentieth-century music never happened. “With all due respect, I didn’t want a bunch of ‘C.T.A.-102’s or ‘Moog Raga’ or whatever that stuff is. He had that Moog synthesizer; then, it was like owning a computer in 1955. It took up the whole room. It made a lot of noise. It wasn’t really musical. It was like a toy, a gadget. But it was interesting. I respect him; he was following something that intrigued him, and he likes electronics.

“It didn’t work for me, and I’m glad it didn’t happen. ’Cause it would have made no sense at all. Although there weren’t that many strong parameters then; you could sort of do those kind of projects, record company budget willing, on that end. But to put the two of them [traditional and electronic styles] together would have been a little crazy. It would have been an interesting separate project, but either I didn’t understand what he was doing, or I just didn’t like it. I’m glad we did the Sweetheart [of the Rodeo, the 1968 country-rock LP they recorded instead] as it was.”

“I couldn’t get anybody to support me on that,” acknowledged McGuinn when I interviewed him for the same book. “Chris was behind Gram, and Gram wanted to do straight country, and that was it. It would have been fun if we could have pulled it off. I agree it was extremely ambitious, and it’s almost doubtful that we could have done it. But I would love to have tried, at that time. Basically, we did do it, not just in one album, but in a series of albums. We’ve done old-time music, and almost every genre you can think of.”

Single with a couple outtakes from Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the album the Byrds recorded instead of Roger McGuinn's ambitious two-LP history of twentieth century music.

Single with a couple outtakes from Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the album the Byrds recorded instead of Roger McGuinn’s ambitious two-LP history of twentieth century music.

Here’s one of my many opinions that isn’t universally popular, especially considering that Sweetheart of the Rodeo is considered a groundbreaking classic by some: I wish the Byrds had done McGuinn’s concept album instead. I think it would have been much more interesting. As for Roger’s comment that the Byrds did do it over a series of albums, that reminds me a little of Lou Reed’s comments that if you wanted to hear what the Velvet Underground would have sounded like had the John Cale-Nico lineup stayed together longer, you could hear it spread over Reed, Cale, and Nico’s solo albums. There was some good stuff on those records, but it wasn’t nearly the same as having all the musicians play it at once in concentrated doses.

Likewise, the Byrds covering all of this territory over the course of one double-LP concept record seems much more interesting than spreading it over the course of several albums recorded by different lineups. It might be, however, that the early-’68 Byrds lineup wasn’t suited for this experiment, especially as Gram Parsons (and Chris Hillman) really wanted to do country music instead of messing around with all that other stuff (especially the electronics). The previous lineups that did their 1966 and 1967 recordings were really the ones that could have handled it. But some of the same tension that drove the Byrds’ greatness during those years also pulled them apart, and since the tension between Crosby and the other Byrds in particular was so great, it’s hard to imagine that he could have stayed with them for even the six additional months or so necessary to launch this double LP.

8. Bob Dylan, Live May 17, 1966

As many of you reading this no doubt know, this was officially issued in 1998 under the awkward title The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert. As many of you doubtless also know, this wasn’t actually recorded at the Albert Hall, but in Manchester. The “electric” half of it was, however, for many years bootlegged as an Albert Hall concert. Who knows what it might have been called had it actually been released in 1966 or 1967. It certainly wouldn’t have been given its 1998 title, however, the bootleg series (and rock bootleg LPs) not yet existing back then.

The official release of Dylan's May 17, 1966 concert.

The official release of Dylan’s May 17, 1966 concert.

Unlike every other item listed here, this recording has officially come out in its complete form—not in an abridged version, a reconstructed one by the artist, or guesses as to what the track selection/mixes/sequences might have been. For that matter, it adds more material, putting the “electric” rock part of the concert (with the Hawks, later to evolve into the Band) on one CD, and the solo acoustic part on another. The sound quality on the electric part’s better than the bootlegs, especially on the opening “Tell Me, Momma.” A win-win situation for fans, then, other than having to wait 32 years for its appearance.

So what’s it doing here, if it’s easily available in all its splendor? Well, for many years, it was a hugely significant missing piece of Dylan’s oeuvre, and not only because of the quality of the music. It was the only relatively hi-fi document of the most controversial juncture of his career, when he moved from folk to not just folk-rock, but loud rock. There were other live recordings from major ‘60s acts that were not released at the time, and have since been issued or heavily bootlegged: the Beatles’ Hollywood Bowl shows, the Rolling Stones Liver Than You’ll Ever Be from the 1969 US tour, the Who’s 1968 Fillmore East concert, and the Velvet Underground’s live gig at the Gymnasium in 1967. But none are as of comparable importance, both within the career of the artist and in the history of rock itself, as this one.

The story behind this concert is more well known than the histories of most of the items in this post, so here are a couple bits that aren’t so well known, from Paul Cable’s 1978 book Bob Dylan: His Unreleased Recordings. As to how the electric half got into circulation and bootlegged in the first place, he writes, “Legend has it that a young man greatly impressed with the concert simply wrote to CBS to ask them if they would send him a tape of it. According to the legend, they answered him most mysteriously—i.e., they sent him a tape—and the rest is history.” Also, in the brief period in 1973 and 1974 when Dylan left Columbia for Asylum, “There was a widespread rumor that Columbia were all set to release an entire ’66 gig as their follow-up to [the 1973 outtakes collection] Dylan. It has also been suggested that by the time they got Dylan back they had got as far as printing the covers.”


A couple of the many bootlegs of material from Dylan's May 17, 1966 concerts, which usually misidentified the location as the Royal Albert Hall.

A couple of the many bootlegs of material from Dylan’s May 17, 1966 concerts, which usually misidentified the location as the Royal Albert Hall.

Cable also points out that had Columbia been waiting for a chance to put out this May 17, 1966 recording (or many other unreleased Dylan tapes that could have been considered) when it didn’t conflict with one of his new albums, “The rainy day came—two lots of rainy days came. On the first occasion [in 1967, when Dylan withdrew from the music business for about a year and a half following his mid-1966 motorcycle accident] they put out Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits and on the second occasion [when Dylan left Columbia for Asylum in 1973] Dylan. Strange, isn’t it?”

9. Dave Davies, Hidden Treasures

Here’s another case in which a legendary unreleased album has come out—though it’s probably not exactly in the shape it would have taken back in 1969, and in fact the shape it would have taken isn’t really known, since it wasn’t really completed. Kinks lead guitarist Dave Davies had occasionally sung and written Kinks songs since the group started, and in 1967 vaulted into greater prominence when a track from the band’s Something Else By the Kinks album, “Death of a Clown,” became a big UK hit when released as a Dave Davies solo single. A few other Davies solo singles followed in 1968 and 1969, one of which, “Susannah’s Still Alive,” was a mid-size UK hit. In late 1968, plans were made to make a Dave Davies solo album, though in a way it would have been a Kinks side project, since the Kinks backed him on his “solo” tracks. More or less enough material was completed for (when combined with previously released singles) an entire LP, but it didn’t come out.

The Hidden Treasures album contains most or all of what would probably have come out on Dave Davies's 1969 solo album, along with a lot of extra material.

The Hidden Treasures album contains most or all of what would probably have come out on Dave Davies’s 1969 solo album, along with a lot of extra material.

Understandably considering principal Kinks singer/songwriter Ray Davies’s talents, Dave didn’t get nearly as much space on the band’s releases to sing lead and present his own compositions. But the tracks on which he did were nice complements to Ray’s brilliance, Dave delivering earthier, quirky, usually wistful songs with a voice so much coarser than Ray’s that you wouldn’t suspect they were brothers. Dave’s songs sometimes had a pretty folky bent, too, that sometimes verged on rustic, though he could still unleash some of the ferocious guitar work for which he was most renowned, as he did on the wobbly Hawaiian lines on the 1969 B-side “Creepy Jean.”

On July 2, 1969, a tape was submitted to Warner Brothers that contained most of the tracks from Dave’s solo singles (and one, “Mindless Child of Motherhood,” that came out on a Kinks B-side). It also had a few that hadn’t been released anywhere, among them a couple Ray Davies compositions that Dave sang. It was kind of a hodgepodge, but did still altogether make for an interesting showcase of Dave’s talents as a singer and songwriter. Some of the unreleased tracks were pining, yearning ballads (“Crying,” “Do You Wish to Be a Man,” and “Are You Ready”) that Dave has said, in retrospect, reflect his unhappiness at being pressured to make an LP when he was unsure of whether he wanted to do so. He also had mixed feelings about putting out solo records when he was so committed to the Kinks. This could explain the nonappearance of the LP (which never got a title), to the disappointment of fans who wanted to hear more of what he had to offer as a frontman.

“I think Robert saw it as a way of me getting my own solo career going,” he told me in a 2014 interview (printed in full in the fall/winter 2014 issue—issue #38—of Ugly Things). “But the strange thing was, I never really wanted to have a solo career. I thought on that first album that I did, after ‘Death of a Clown’ and ‘Susannah,’ I felt like I was being forced to do something that I didn’t really want to do. And that’s why that first album was half-hearted, because my passion, my heart wasn’t in it.” In addition, “I didn’t like that studio at Polydor [where sessions were recorded for the album]. The Kinks had been recording in these lovely Pye [Records] studios, and I thought they were kind of undermining me.”

Added Dave, “I think [Kinks co-managers] Robert [Wace] and Grenville [Collins] did realize that I could have been a solo artist in my own right. But I was so bloody attached to family. I felt it was important for me to be around to support Ray and help the music. And I didn’t really feel that comfortable being out on me own that much. I think that comes from growing up in a big family. You’re in a family, and then you’re in the public eye. It seemed like the audience were just an extension of your own family. It was like I had this family thing all inside me, and I didn’t feel at that time comfortable being out in the front all the time.”

My entire interview with Dave Davies is in the fall/winter issue (#38) of Ugly Things.

My entire interview with Dave Davies is in the fall/winter issue (#38) of Ugly Things.

Interestingly, one of the Kinks’ managers felt Dave had considerable potential as a solo artist in the US. “The Kinks have been recording a lot of new material for the last few weeks and you will have a new album by them within the next ten days, also an album which will feature Dave Davies as a soloist backed and accompanied by the Kinks,” wrote Robert Wace to Reprise Records executive Mo Ostin on June 18, 1969. “I feel that this could be a particularly successful album and should probably be released after they have been in America or around the time that they are there, because although I have not heard all the material, Dave’s approach seems to Reprise Records be more underground than the Kinks. They are very excited about the possibility of getting into America in September, and I do hope that Warner Bros. are going to give us the support that we need.”

It’s odd that Wace felt “Dave’s approach seems to be more underground than the Kinks.” Without denigrating either the Kinks’ output or Dave’s solo output in the least, it’s hard to judge one as being more “underground” than the other. And when Wace wrote his memo, the Kinks didn’t need a Dave Davies solo record to cement their status as an underground act—their records hadn’t done well since 1966, and their Stateside following was being kept alive by a fanatically dedicated cult of fans and critics.

The unreleased album did finally come out—though the unreleased tracks among these had long been bootlegged, in lower fidelity—in 2011 on Hidden Treasures. It’s surprising how little attention that CD got considering its historical interest, appearance on a major label, and—most importantly—high quality. Note that it’s not exactly the album that would have appeared in 1969, whose track list was probably never finalized anyway. The CD expands whatever-the-album-would-have-been to 27 tracks by adding most of the Dave Davies compositions from mid-to-late-‘60s Kinks releases, including such highlights as “I Am Free,” “Love Me Till the Sun Shines,” and “Funny Face,” as well as less essential mono versions; a demo of “Hold My Hand” that only came out on a Dutch compilation; and the 1967 outtake “Good Luck Charm,” a cover of a Spider John Koerner good-time blues number. Taken as a whole, it’s an eminently worthy summation of Dave’s 1960s recordings on which he took the spotlight as singer-songwriter—a talent that was sadly underutilized, both at the time and on post-‘60s Kinks releases.

Some, but by no means all, of the material that would have appeared on Dave Davies's 1969 album was on this 1987 compilation LP.

Some, but by no means all, of the material that would have appeared on Dave Davies’s 1969 album was on this 1987 compilation LP.

 10. David Bowie, Early 1969 Demo Tape

Not a very descriptive name, I know. But it’s still unclear exactly when, where, or for what purpose this ten-song demo tape was made, though Kevin McCann dates it as having been done on March 8, 1969 in his book David Bowie: Any Day Now: The London Years: 1947-1974. The purpose was almost certainly to arouse record company interest in the between-deals Bowie, and probably specifically meant for Mercury Records, which did sign David.

Bootleg LP that contained nine of the ten songs from David Bowie's early-1969 demo tape, missing "Lover to the Dawn."

Bootleg LP that contained nine of the ten songs from David Bowie’s early-1969 demo tape, missing “Lover to the Dawn.”

Unusually, this captures Bowie at a point in his career where he was a folky, or at least folk-rocky, singer-songwriter. As hard as it might be to believe, he—with backing by second guitarist/harmony singer John Hutchinson—sounds something like a British Simon & Garfunkel here. The songs, of course, are quite different from those of Paul Simon even at this early stage in Bowie’s development, and include acoustic versions of highlights from his 1969 and 1970 releases like “Space Oddity” (with a primitive Stylophone effect), “Conversation Piece,” “Janine,” “Letter to Hermione,” and “An Occasional Dream,” the last of which is one of the greatest unreleased Bowie performances (and most overlooked Bowie songs, period) of all.

Other songs aren’t as impressive, and some, particularly “When I’m Five” and “Ching-A-Ling,” are kiddie-like leftovers from his overly theatrical phase. But even the minor tunes include some neat oddities, like a cover of Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song” (done slightly later by Elton John on Tumbleweed Connection) and the haunting “Lover to the Dawn,” which never made it onto a Bowie release, though it evolved into a song that did, “Cygnet Committee.” And you get to hear Bowie and Hutchinson unexpectedly segue into the chorus of “Hey Jude” near the end of “Janine.”

Another bootleg of material from the 1969 demo tape.

Another bootleg of material from the 1969 demo tape.

Aside from being the only document of that brief period in which Bowie and Hutchinson worked as a duo, I find this of even greater importance for capturing what might have been the true personal Bowie—or at least as personal a Bowie as he could summon given his chameleonic nature. Sincerity is not a quality we usually associate with him, but if there was any time where he meant what he sang, instead of writing as a character (or writing about other characters), this might have been it.

I asked Hutchinson if he’d agree with that assessment when I interviewed him about his memoir in 2014. “Yes, I would say, in those days he was just himself,” Hutch responds. “David Jones [Bowie’s birth name] and David Bowie were the same person. Whereas when Ziggy happened, it got a lot more complicated, and he was singing as somebody else. He was third person or removed, or whatever it is. He’d written songs for this alter ego or other person to sing. He could sing whatever he wanted them to, he could write whatever he wanted them to say, and maybe it wasn’t sincerity from him. But I don’t think he had a lot of that going anyway. I think it was all performance.”

“When you say you ‘don’t think he had a lot of that going,’ are you referring to the singer-songwriter approach?” I clarified.

“Yeah, I don’t think he had very much of that going at all. He was playing a part, and writing his stories, as the character that he’d created. So I’m agreeing with you, I suppose, that he was much more honest during those ‘Space Oddity’ days, if you like, the acoustic days. I think he was totally honest then, and it’s just that the way that he wrote and performed changed when he realized he could invent a persona. You know, David Bowie was just a stage name. But Ziggy Stardust was a character.”

Two of the performances from this tape, “Space Oddity” and “An Occasional Dream,” show up on the bonus disc of the 2009 CD reissue of the 1969 David Bowie album (titled Man of Words/Man of Music and then Space Oddity in the US). Some post-production cleanup/tampering seems to have gone on, however, especially on “Space Oddity,” which has a rudimentary blast-off effect missing on the bootlegged version. It would be great if the whole tape could be issued without any messing about, especially as the bootlegs—issued under various titles, such as the one pictured here, The Beckenham Oddity—have wobbly low fidelity that could presumably be much improved by accessing a better copy.

Read more about David Bowie's music in early 1969  in John Hutchinson's memoir, Bowie & Hutch. My full interview with Hutchinson appears in the winter 2014 (#6) issue of Flashback magazine.

Read more about David Bowie’s music in early 1969 in John Hutchinson’s memoir, Bowie & Hutch. My full interview with Hutchinson appears in the winter 2014 (#6) issue of Flashback magazine.

While it wasn’t too hard to narrow down the list of unreleased albums (or quasi-albums) from this era to my personal Top Ten, there were many others of interest, often with their own fascinating stories. Just some of the most notable ones that missed the cut would include Neil Young’s Homegrown (which might have made the list if we could actually hear the thing, though he recently intimated he’d like to finally put it out); Gene Clark’s Sings for You; Buffalo Springfield’s Stampede (which even got as far as getting a cover made); Joni Mitchell’s concert recordings from early 1969, which were given serious consideration for being selected as her second album; the Yardbirds’ March 1968 live recording in New York’s Anderson Theatre, which actually briefly came out in 1971 before Jimmy Page put a stop to it; Jackie DeShannon’s mid-1960s publisher demos; the numerous halted attempts at a Modern Lovers album in the early 1970s; Robin Gibb’s unreleased second solo LP, 1970’s Sing Slowly Sisters; the album cult acid folkie Dino Valenti cut with producer Jack Nitzsche…the list goes on, and maybe I’ll do a post detailing my picks from #11 to #20 in the future.

Could you write a book on these, and many others? Sure. And one day I’d like to do it, if any publishers are interested.

The protagonist in Lewis Shiner's excellent book Glimpses is an obsessive rock fan who develops the ability to travel back in time through his dreams, where he tries with mixed success to help the Beatles, Brian Wilson, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix complete their unfinished masterpieces.

The protagonist in Lewis Shiner’s excellent book Glimpses is an obsessive rock fan who develops the ability to travel back in time through his dreams, where he tries with mixed success to help the Beatles, Brian Wilson, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix complete their unfinished masterpieces.

Star Trek and ’60s Rock

In some ways, Star Trek seemed part of the zeitgeist that fueled so much warp-drive change in music, the arts, and society in the last half of the ‘60s. Here was a TV program that, to quote its opening voiceover, went “where no man has gone before,” just as rock music was going into wholly unexpected and even unsuspected territory. There were stories that, overtly or subtly, slipped in messages about pacifism, multicultural diversity, tolerance, and greater social roles for women, though these were often diluted or compromised by the need to stage television action drama. There was even some sex and drugs, at least by the standards of late-‘60s network television. But not, alas, much rock and roll.

Spock jams with space hippie on "The Way to Eden"

Spock jams with space hippie on “The Way to Eden”

Perhaps wisely, very little actual rock music was heard on Star Trek. (This post, to be clear, only refers to the original series’ 79 episodes as broadcast between 1966 and 1969, not the numerous movies and spin-off series from subsequent decades.) It was hard enough to predict what technological advances would be made, and how men and women would act, a few hundred years in the future. Had anyone tried to predict the rock of just ten years into the future in 1966 and 1967, they would have gotten it miserably wrong.

The one exception to the non-use of rock in Star Trek, and a notorious one, is the third-season episode “The Way to Eden.” In that installment space hippies, under the direction of a cult-like fanatic, come perilously close to taking over The Enterprise. The necessary distraction is supplied by an honest-to-god “space jam” between Spock and one of the hippies, played by Deborah Downey:

Another angle on the space jam.

Another angle on the space jam.

Listen to/watch the clip (you’ll know where to find it, even if fans aren’t supposed to post it), with Spock on Vulcan lute and Downey on what looks and sounds like a psychedelic bicycle wheel. Brief and purely instrumental, if it has any parallel in the world of psychedelic rock, it’s to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s pioneering 13-minute 1966 instrumental “East West,” with soaring guitar solos by both Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop.

"East West" was the title track of this 1966 Paul Butterfield Blues Band LP.

“East West” was the title track of this 1966 Paul Butterfield Blues Band LP.

The rhythm and choked chording to whatever Spock and his friend (and Spock was the crew member who communicated best with the visitors) are playing is a little similar to the riffs that—if as an underlying bed rather than up front—open and run throughout “East West.” Rock criticism is filled with pundits complaining that whites ripped off blacks to reap a greater share of rock’n’roll glory than they deserved. Here, if Spock knowingly “arranged” “East West” for his own purposes (and his knowledge of Earth history and culture was quite deep), we have a little-acknowledged instance of Vulcans ripping off Earthlings for their own artistic advantage, without proper credit.

The space hippies perform a few hippie folk vocal numbers in “The Way to Eden” which have been justly chastised as pretty dire, epitomizing the stereotypes of the worst actual hippie folk music in their clumsy, self-consciously hip naïveté. Interestingly, at least some of this material was written by some of the actors playing the hippies, Charles Napier and Deborah Downey. Downey even put one of the songs, “The Way to Eden,” on an album of hers titled Painting Pictures, though I haven’t been able to hear any of the record, or even find an image of the cover.

There were, as even some casual Star Trek fans know, spin-off records by a few of the series’ stars. Leonard Nimoy did most of these, voicing some of the tracks in the Spock character; others were frivolous novelties, one particularly amusing clip surviving of Nimoy (not in Spock makeup) performing the Hobbit-inspired “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.” William Shatner’s scenery-chewing Shakespearean readings of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” are, of course, notorious from their broadcast on Dr. Demento episodes and inclusion on compilations of celebrity novelty discs.

Leonard Nimoy sings "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" on TV, late 1960s.

Leonard Nimoy sings “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” on TV, late 1960s.

Nichelle Nichols, who besides playing Lt. Uhura occasionally actually sang in Star Trek episodes, did an album while the series was on the air, Down to Earth, which was disappointingly middle-of-the-road jazzy fare. Spock, incidentally, did sing (and not just play his Vulcan harp) on the series, just once, when he croaked his bizarre self-penned medievalesque ballad “Maiden Wine,” aka “Bitter Dregs,” in the “Plato’s Stepchildren” episode. Performed only under manipulation from aliens with super-powers in this fictional scenario, it was actually released on Nimoy’s 1969 LP The Touch of Leonard Nimoy. I haven’t listened to all of Nimoy’s records by any means, but I don’t know whether it’s a compliment or insult to say this is the best track of his I’ve been able to hear.

Spock sings "Maiden Wine" in the "Plato's Stepchildren" episode.

Spock sings “Maiden Wine” in the “Plato’s Stepchildren” episode.

"Maiden Wine" was included on Leonard Nimoy's "The Touch of Leonard Nimoy" LP.

“Maiden Wine” was included on Leonard Nimoy’s “The Touch of Leonard Nimoy” LP.

There was very little rock or soul in any of these cast members’ records; they were a bit older than the ‘60s rock generation, and not really in tune with the counterculture, as much as some may read some anti-establishment sentiment (often engineered by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) into some of the series’ scripts. There were, however, two very direct connections to major figures in ‘60s rock and the era’s counterculture that I was unaware of until reading Marc Cushman’s recent three-volume book series These Are the Voyages. Huge in scope (running more than 1500 pages in all), these are something of the Star Trek equivalent to Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles tomes, with Cushman’s access to original memos, scripts, and production notes yielding incredibly thorough behind-the-scenes documentation of the 79 episodes from the original series. Among these accounts are the stories of their guest stars, which yielded this pair of surprising revelations:

Chekov’s love interest in “Spectre of the Gun,” in which several regulars from Star Trek’s bridge find themselves forced to re-enact the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, is played by Bonnie Beecher. That’s the same Bonnie Beecher who hung out with Dylan in Minneapolis in the early 1960s, before he went to New York to become a folk star. Some sources have it that she was the inspiration for one of his first standout compositions, “Girl from the North Country.” It was in her home that some of Dylan’s first decent-sounding recordings (taped in Minneapolis in 1961, and long bootlegged, though dates for these vary according to the source consulted) were made; one of his Minneapolis tapes from the time includes a song in which she’s specifically named, “Bonnie, Why’d You Cut My Hair?” Another early Dylan composition, “Song to Bonny” (sic) (for which a manuscript survives, though no recording), was a number that, as Clinton Heylin wrote in Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973, “appears to be Dylan’s first serious attempt to put a real girl into one of his own songs.”

Bob Dylan bootleg bills this material as having been recorded in Bonnie Beecher's apartment in December 1961.

Bob Dylan bootleg bills this material as having been recorded in Bonnie Beecher’s apartment in December 1961.

Unlike some of Dylan’s other early muses, there’s footage of the woman herself, not on some obscure bootleg DVD, but in a widely viewed network TV series. And it wasn’t the only series in which she appeared; she also had been on Gunsmoke, Peyton Place, and The Fugitive. She didn’t continue with her acting career after Star Trek, however, marrying comedian/activist Hugh Romney, aka Wavy Gravy.

Bonnie Beecher with Ensign Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) in the Star Trek episode "The Spectre of the Gun."

Bonnie Beecher with Ensign Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) in the Star Trek episode “The Spectre of the Gun.”

The other Star Trek guest star with a connection to ‘60s rock, though a bit less direct, was Sabrina Scharf. She plays the woman Captain Kirk marries—though only after he’s suffered amnesia on a planet inhabited by Native American-like residents—on “The Paradise Syndrome.” The match didn’t last, though not for lack of love; Kirk regains his memory around the same time Scharf, playing the character Miramanee, suffers fatal wounds in a stoning.

Sabrina Scharf with William Shatner in the Star Trek episode "The Paradise Syndrome."

Sabrina Scharf with William Shatner in the Star Trek episode “The Paradise Syndrome.”

You wouldn’t guess it from watching the episode, but Scharf also plays the woman who hooks up with Peter Fonda (named Sarah) in the commune in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, filmed around the same time she co-starred with Shatner in “The Paradise Syndrome.” Did Scharf sing, in either Star Trek or Easy Rider? No. Was Peter Fonda a rock star (though he did issue an obscure 1967 single, “November Night,” written by a then-obscure Gram Parsons)? No. But Easy Rider was the first film to effectively use a soundtrack of contemporary rock recordings by artists not in the movie itself, including songs by Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, the Band, the Holy Modal Rounders, and others. It was also one of the first films to reflect the actual hippie counterculture—much more so than Star Trek (even on “The Way to Eden”). And Scharf was a part of both. Who knew?

Sabrina Scharf with Peter Fonda in one of the commune scenes in "Easy Rider."

Sabrina Scharf with Peter Fonda in one of the commune scenes in “Easy Rider.”

A couple years after I posted this, another connection between Star Trek and ’60s rock came to my attention that’s been surprisingly overlooked, considering it invovles a musician with a huge cult following. One of the most popular, and notorious, early Star Trek episodes was Mudd’s Women, memorably described in These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One as about a “rascally space trader who, in reality, is a pimp traveling through the cosmos with a cargo of prostitutes.” One of the beauties boarding the Enterprise in this episode was Maggie Thrett, who was just nineteen when it was filmed in June 1966.

Maggie Thrett with Spock and Captain Kirk on the set of Mudd's Women.

Maggie Thrett with Spock and Captain Kirk on the set of Mudd’s Women.

Besides having already appeared in TV and film productions, Thrett had also issued a rock’n’roll single on Bob Crewe’s Dynovoice label in May 1965. Most famous for producing and co-writing the Four Seasons’ biggest hits (with Bob Gaudio of the Seasons), Crewe also worked on hits by Mitch Ryder, Diane Renay, and Freddie Cannon. He produced and co-wrote Thrett’s sole 45, “Soupy”/”Put a Little Time Away.” It was arranged by Charlie Calello, who would arrange and produce Laura Nyro’s classic second album, 1968’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.


For all the big names involved, however, “Soupy” isn’t that good. It’s a generic rock/R&B dance number, Thrett yelp-singing the novelty lyrics with considerable stridency. I haven’t heard the B-side, “Put a Little Time Away.” But Thrett’s role in rock history wasn’t quite done.

In 1970, Gram Parsons—then in the Flying Burrito Brothers—was in a serious motorcycle accident in Bel Air, and injured so badly the Burritos had to cancel a visit to London. Riding in the motorcycle ahead of him was John Phillips, late of the Mamas & the Papas, and Phillips’s future wife Genevieve Waite. Riding with Parsons was—Maggie Thrett, who managed to escape unharmed.

Gram Parsons (right) in the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Gram Parsons (right) in the Flying Burrito Brothers.

The Origin of the Beatles’ “I Got to Find My Baby”

With the super-abundance of information about the Beatles out there, it’s always a surprise, and for the most part a pleasure, to come across a bit of interest that hasn’t often been previously reported. No, we’re not talking anything on the order of the real reason Pete Best got fired, or a recording of a previously unknown Lennon-McCartney original. We are talking about of the roots of one of the songs the Beatles covered in their early days.

The Beatles' June 1, 1963 performance of "I Got to Find My Baby" was issued about three decades later on Live at the BBC.

The Beatles’ June 1, 1963 performance of “I Got to Find My Baby” was issued about three decades later on Live at the BBC.

“I Got to Find My Baby” is one of the most obscure songs of which a good-quality recording by the Beatles exists. Like some of the other “most little known” songs they did, they performed it on the BBC, taping it on June 1, 1963 (the track eventually making it onto the Beatles’ Live at the BBC compilation). It’s pretty clear this jovial, bluesy number with a John Lennon harmonica solo – one of the bluesiest items they ever did, in fact – was learned from Chuck Berry, John introducing it as “Chuck Berry’s ‘I Got to Find My Baby’” on the broadcast. The Beatles even did it a second time on the BBC on June 24, a performance that’s now available as a download on iTunes’ Bootleg Recordings 1963.


Berry did indeed put out a version of “I Got to Find My Baby” as the A-side of a flop single in August 1960. Live at the BBC credits Berry as the songwriter. But he certainly wasn’t the first person to record it.

Muddying these blues waters more, blues harmonica great Little Walter recorded “I Got to Find My Baby” as a single on May 22, 1954. It’s not exactly the same as Berry’s “I Got to Find My Baby,” but in many parts, it is exactly the same. Quite a few years ago, I seem to remember even reading it stated that Little Walter did the original of the song performed by the Beatles as “I Got to Find My Baby.” The only compilation on which I have Little Walter’s version, Confessin’ the Blues, credits Willie Dixon—who wrote many blues classics, especially for artists on Chess Records—as the songwriter.



It turns out, however, that the roots of the tune go yet deeper. For in the early 1940s, Doctor Clayton put out a record, “Gotta Find My Baby,” that is in all respects the same song as the one Berry put on his 1960 single. The arrangement’s much different, of course—the chief instrument is piano, and there are no electric guitars or drums. It’s an easygoing early urban piano blues. But the tune, and most of the lyrics, are the same.


One important difference: a verse that goes as follows was not used in Berry’s version:

When my head starts aching

I grab my hat and coat

‘Cause cocaine and reefer

Can’t reach my case no more

That last line might not seem to make much sense, but that’s how it sounds. The line with cocaine and reefer, however, is definitely in Clayton’s version. And Chuck Berry, for all his boundary-pushing, was not about to sing about cocaine and reefer, especially not in 1960, when he was appealing a jail sentence for violating the Mann Act.

It seems unlikely to me that the Beatles would have even known about Clayton’s version. They were huge Chuck Berry fans; they weren’t prewar blues collectors. Which makes it less likely still that they had any notion they were performing a song that, in its original incarnation, made more blatant references to drugs than almost any song they or almost any other leading rock group performed in the 1960s.

As a final footnote, the song “Gotta Find My Baby” also lived on through the late 1960s, in the repertoire of a band that fed two members into Led Zeppelin. In 1968, the Band of Joy, featuring a pre-Led Zep Robert Plant and John Bonham, did the song on an unreleased tape that’s circulated. Check it out in the usual places we can’t name.

The Band of Joy, including Robert Plant and John Bonham.

The Band of Joy, including Robert Plant and John Bonham.