Merry Clayton Now and Then

Merry Clayton, she of the iconic backing vocals on the Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter”, released an album of her own, Beautiful Scars, this past Friday. Thanks for the tip, Helga! In the 50 years since she sang on the Stone’s track, Merry not only sang backup for many famous artists and on other famous songs (including improbably Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”), but released albums of her own, acted on TV and on stage, and was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom.

The title track for the new album was written especially for her and for this project by uber-songwriter Diane Warren. The final track is a medley that includes pieces of 1969’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” and 1970’s “O-o-h Child”.

While Tina Turner performed the role of the Acid Queen in the 1975 film of the Who’s Tommy, Merry preceded Turner, singing the role on a 1972 album by the London Symphony Orchestra that also featured vocal tracks by Rod Stewart, Richie Havens, Steve Winwood and Ringo Starr.

And here’s Merry and Mick telling the story of “Gimme Shelter” from “20 Feet from Stardom”. Merry had already spent a couple of years as one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, and was the kind of person you dragged out of bed in the middle of the night when you needed a crack vocalist.

Obviously – Lake Street Dive

I wrote my first post about Lake Street Dive in 2013, and a few more since. This past Friday they released their new album, Obviously. The band is celebrating fifteen years together, and throughout that time has defied categorization. Whatever buckets they jump between, the constants are the incredible voice and vocal stylings of Rachel Price, backed by a very talented and tasteful set of writers and musicians.

The lead single from the new album, “Hypotheticals”, has been rattling around the web for a few weeks. They performed it on The Late Show last week (thanks for the heads up, Barry), and here’s a studio video version that seems to have Bridget Kearney’s great bass work tweaked up a bit in the mix – put those good headphones on!

Here’s Rachel performing an unplugged version of “Nobody’s Stopping You Now”, from a livestream last summer.

In addition to working on Obviously, the band fit in time to have some fun during the COVID times. Carole King’s Tapestry was released in February 1971, and I’m sure she appreciated this cover of “So Far Away”. Enjoy Rachel’s voice and, again, Bridget’s exquisitely tasteful backing.

And here’s the band on a Brooklyn rooftop reprising the Beatles’ iconic performance, complete with outfits and facial hair. Not quite the energy of the original, but where did Rachel find that coat?

Teddy Swims

Jaten Dimsdale (aka Teddy Swims) has launched his career the new-fashioned way – posting covers on YouTube. So far it’s earned him over a million YouTube subscribers, over a million Facebook followers, and a record deal with Warner Brothers.

Swims’ voice can genre bend all over the map. I really don’t need to say much except watch these videos to see what this guy can do. If you like what you see, check out teddyswims.com where you can link to pretty much everything he’s got out there.

Here is Swims’ take on “Tennessee Whiskey”, a song covered over the years by George Jones and Chris Stapleton.

On this video of Swims’ original tune, “Broke”, he lends his soulful voice to a playful collaboration with Thomas Rhett – the reigning Entertainer of the Year from the Academy of Country Music 2020 Awards.

And now for something completely different, here’s Teddy throwing down some modern R&B on “Night Off”.

Merry Christmas!

I’m proud of the Christmas music collection I’ve curated over the years – dozens of albums covering all the classics and spanning every conceivable genre. But there are a few songs in the collection, my “alternative classics”, that I need to hear for the season to really be complete. Hope you enjoy them. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

At the top of the list is “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” by James Brown. The song is from the Funky Christmas album, an incredible set all around from the Godfather of Soul, full of great grooves and great lyrics.

The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” is a bouncy piece of fun that hooks you, ’cause you just have to hear how the story ends.

The special harmonies of the Beach Boys make for creative takes on Christmas classics. But if you live in a cold winter climate, like I do, and wonder how Christmas feels when palm trees are outside you window, “Little St. Nick” by the Beach Boys is what I imagine.

And finally, the most bizarre Christmas song every recorded, “Christmas at K-Mart” by the late Root Boy Slim. K-mart sued to keep this song off the radio for many years, though it’s 7-11 that really takes it on the chin in the lyrics. And if this is your first exposure to Root Boy, do root around on YouTube to hear his madness and political commentary, 70’s style, with tremendous backing musicians.

Tainted Love

A friend and reader turned me on to a great musical arc that is right in Music Now & Then’s wheelhouse. Thanks, David!

In 1964, Motown singer Gloria Jones recorded “Tainted Love”. The song was a B-side and didn’t get much attention (nor did the A-side), but in the early 1970’s it started to turn up in British “Northern Soul” dance clubs.

Marc Almond, half of the synthpop duo Soft Cell, heard the song in such a club and made it part of Soft Cell’s live sets after the group formed in 1977. When Soft Cell released the song as a single in 1981, it catapulted the band to fame. It was a No. 1 hit in 17 countries (No. 8 in the U.S.), and spent a then record 43 weeks in the top 100.

The song was later covered by an unlikely collection of musical acts ranging from Marilyn Manson to Pussycat Dolls. Check out this article for a sampling. The Soft Cell version was also the driving sample for Rihanna’s first #1 single in the U.S., “SOS”, released in 2006. Believe it or not, this video has been viewed 115 million times.

If you have another five minutes, hear the story of “Tainted Love” as told by Gloria Jones herself, and learn about her relationship with one of last week’s 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees.