“Help! (take 5)” – The Beatles (from Help! Sessions bootleg)
Instrumental take begins tentatively, but opens up to the classic “Help!” shuffle. The revelation of this early take is how much the song is propelled by the vocal track; without it, all there is a mid-tempo nodder. Ringo has a couple of really weak fills, tentative and unconvincing; I’m not one to slag Ringo (there are plenty of people who have seemingly made a career of it), but on this take he’s not up to snuff. McCartney is still playing rather pedestrian basslines at this point, which isn’t a bad thing. Though he pioneered the bass as a melodic instrument once the Beatles became a studio bound entity, his r&b influenced (particularly James Jamerson, the Motown anchor) earlier work was a great counterpoint to the folky variants of Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan so prevalent on Beatles For Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul.
“Cool It Now” – New Edition (from New Edition)
Remember when Bobby Brown was known as a musician instead of a crackhead ex-con? If so, you must be over 30. This was never my New Edition jam; I was partial to “Mr. Telephone Man”, and used to have a tape I made from the radio where that song was followed by Autograph’s “Turn Up The Radio”. I loved listening to the radio before it became format exclusive, market researched, codified, gentrified crap. “Cool It Now” does have the “Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike” breakdown from Ralph Tresvant, which I still bust out regularly. Someone should bust out and buy me this shirt (XXL please. I’m a big boy.).
“Jack Palance” – Mighty Sparrow (from Mighty Sparrow Volume One)
Ah, calypso. Not only does it have conga drumming par excellence, but great horn stabs are common and Jack Palance gets a song. Unrelated, but the Jack Palance reference reminds me that Robert Mitchum recorded a calypso album. It isn’t bad; being a world class stoner with a weary, yet slyly charming, voice makes him perfect for the sing-song rhythms of Americanized calypso. The band he’s backed by is pretty atrocious, but thats what he got for not going to Trinidad to record. All that aside, this song is bemoaning guys with “a face like Jack Palance” bogarting all the fine Island women. It is phrased as blaming the women for falling for the American’s money and ignoring the loving attention of their own people; Sparrow sells it both at that face value level and metaphorically for the willingness to be exploited. Plus, you can dance to it.
“Frustration” – The Mamas & The Papas (from Deliver)
West Coast folk rock cross-polinated with Motown arrangements; The Mamas & The Papas get no credit for expanding the lexicon as they do on this three-minute instrumental. How many vocal groups did instrumentals? All the vocal groups had a songwriter/arranger the caliber of John Philips. As in, no one else. The only negative I can see in this beautiful piece is that it pretty much single-handidly created the aesthetic of Wes Anderson.
“Bring The Noise” – The Unholy Trio (from Down To The Promised Lane)
Perhaps my favorite cover of all time; definitely the best “rap recast as something else” cover, though what are the other contestants? I guess The Gourds “Gin & Juice” isn’t bad, except for where it goes on too long and sounds like Phish. Anyone who brings up Ben Folds’ “Bitches Ain’t Shit” can, to quote Shaq, “tell me how my ass tastes.” The Unholy Trio is a one-off group of guys doing basement, gutbucket blues (sounds like washtub bass, a three-piece trap set and a guitar with a 10″ practice amp); the singer has a nasal baritone twang and he sings the line “just he wax that the Terminator X spuuunnnn” with stunning conviction. A home made video that uses the beginning of the song can be seen here.