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.
The Rolling Stones’ deluxe reissue of Goats Head Soup has been out for a few weeks. The album was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica in late-1972, though an article in the magazine Rolling Stone notes, “Jagger jokes that the Stones may be the only band to make an album in Jamaica with ‘not the slightest influence of reggae on any of the tracks.'”
The most notable songs from the reggaeless original album were “Angie” and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)”, and an instrumental version of the latter is included on the deluxe reissue. Listen to the familiar original, with its timely first verse, and then the instrumental version. And count the “Doo Doo”s. The song title has five, but to my ear they clearly come in sixes.
While the Stones are re-issuing, legendary Kingston band Toots and the Maytals released a brand new album, Got to Be Tough. The band is credited with introducing the term reggae to the world with their 1968 song “Do the Reggay”.
Rolling Stone has an article on Toots Hibbert in this month’s issue, based on a December 2019 interview. Sad to say that just the other day, though, Hibbert was hospitalized – an apparent COVID-19 victim. Listen to the title track from the new album, to the song that gave reggae it’s name, and pray for Toots.
This past week in music covered an awful lot of ground – definitely music now and then.
Taylor Swift dropped a new album, Folklore, recorded in quarantine over the past four months. It seems to have gotten more attention in two days than all other quarantine musical output combined, but hey, she is TSwift. The album features suitably stripped down arrangements, Swift’s young woman, broken heart lyrics, and really nice, soft vocals. The song that jumps out at me is “seven”. Its vocal style and harmonies are different from other tunes on the album, and the first several lines remind me of something that I can’t quite put my finger on! Call to Music Now and Then readers: help me out on this!
While TSwift was releasing 16 new tracks, the Rolling Stones excavated one unreleased track, “Scarlet”, from 1974 featuring Jimmy Page sitting in with the band. I’m not sure Page and Keith Richards are a match made in guitar heaven, but it’s rock history.
While taking in these new releases, we should also take in a bit of the legacy of Peter Green who passed away yesterday. Green was the co-founder of Fleetwood Mac, but left the band a few years before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined. Green was a highly respected guitarist, serving a brief stint replacing Eric Clapton in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. He also wrote “Black Magic Woman”, covered by Carlos Santana a year after Fleetwood Mac released it as a single. Here’s a live version of FM’s hit, “Oh Well” from 1969, with Green on guitar and vocals.
There have been a zillion at home performances created over the last several weeks by artists famous and undiscovered, young and old, solo and synced-up with bandmates. Stripped down as they are, the performances reveal just how good – or not so good – voices and musicianship are. Below are a few performances that succeed on both counts – for the most part.
Pink begins this clip by admitting that playing piano is a new part of her repertoire. Bob Dylan wrote “Make You Feel My Love” for his 1997 album Time Out of Mind. A cover of the song by Garth Brooks was a huge hit for him in 1998, as it was for Adele a decade later. Pink gives us a very pretty version for this decade, showing off her fantastic voice and the fruits of all those hours of piano practice.
The Doobie Brothers prove they still have it on both counts with this performance of “Black Water” Live in Isolation. I’m just sorry I didn’t get tapped for the amateur harmonies at the end. And Patrick Simmons is as cool a grandpa as a kid could have.
This one is a comical group effort (I’ve never seen air drumming, and I have no idea what the heck Keith is doing). But Mick is incredible! His voice hasn’t lost anything, and he even anchors the guitar work.
Over the past few months the documentary “20 Steps From Stardom” has been showing up in limited release. Directed by Morgan Neville, an Emmy winning and Grammy nominated creator of music documentaries, the film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013 and tells the stories of women whose vocals have been so much more than “backup” for decades of hits. This clip from SimplyShowbiz.com begins with an interview of Merry Clayton telling the improbable story of one of the most memorable pieces of backup work ever.
While these backup singers remain largely unknown, big stars cover their iconic vocal tracks. Here are a couple working to capture the magic that Merry Clayton created. The first clip features Alicia Keys at the New York Live Earth concert in 2007 (this is a great performance if you’ve never seen it), and the second features a Lady Gaga cameo at an early date on the Stones’ 50 & Counting tour.
And, of course, we can’t end without hearing the original in all its glory.