Tag Archives: Lou Rawls

And so another year ends

This summer marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Loesser, the great songwriter who came up with that holiday favorite, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and the best New Year’s Eve song ever.

I know that because I somehow managed to see “Heart & Soul,” a documentary about Loesser, twice this year on Turner Classic Movies.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has a great story behind it. Loesser wrote it in 1944 for their housewarming party, singing it with his first wife, Lynn Garland. They often performed it for friends at parties. Four years later, he sold the song to MGM. His wife didn’t approve. She’d always thought it was theirs alone, something special.

Well, it was special. MGM used it in the 1949 film “Neptune’s Daughter,” and it became a big hit, released by at least seven duos that year. Often covered since then, it’s a bit of an acquired taste. If breathy, baby-doll vocals are your thing, then you probably like it.

But the most special of Loesser’s tunes — at least at this time of year — is “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”

Written in 1947, it’s been described as “the only notable jazz standard with a New Year’s Eve theme.” This sophisticated tune tempers an unrequited love with some hope. It’s great no matter who does it. Listen for yourself.

It’s the ’60s. You are in a nightclub, one hard by the tracks. You hear this …

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“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” King Curtis, from “Soul Christmas,” 1968. (Recorded on Oct. 23, 1968, at Atlantic Studios in New York. That’s Duane Allman on guitar.)

Then you head to a nightclub uptown. You hear this …

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio,” from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

… and this …

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“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Eydie Gorme, from “That Holiday Feeling!” Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, 1964. (Sorry, Steve sits this one out.)

… and this.

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Lou Rawls, from “Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho,” 1967. It’s out of print.

Years later, a husband-and-wife duo revives that style.

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“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Brian Setzer and Julie Reiten, from “Dig That Crazy Christmas,” the Brian Setzer Orchestra, 2004.

This is for Jeff O. Better late than never, my man.

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Filed under December 2010, Sounds

12 days of Christmas, Day 10

When we started these 12 days of Christmas, I noted that in writing the Three Under the Tree series for the last three years, I picked up a bunch of old Christmas vinyl and CDs, more for you than for me.

In so doing, there were a bunch of records that had more misses than hits. Most of them were used, so there wasn’t a lot of money wasted.

This year, I bought only one Christmas CD, one I’d been seeking for a while. I bought it new, and it turned out to be another one with more misses than hits. So it goes.

Rarely do I come across a Christmas record that doesn’t have something worth hearing. I can think of a couple, but there’s no need to name names.

We’re here to put some nice things in your Christmas stocking, so hope you will enjoy these tunes from records that had some nice moments.

“Christmas Time,” the Mighty Blue Kings, from “The Christmas Album,” 2000. This Chicago group covers a tune by West Coast bluesman Jimmy McCracklin.

“Christmas Is A Special Day,” Fats Domino, from “Christmas Gumbo,” 1993. It’s out of print as such, but is available as “Christmas Is A Special Day,” a 2006 CD re-release with a different cover. Fats wrote this charming little hymn and does it in — what else? — a laid-back New Orleans style.

“We Four Kings (Little Drummer Boy),” the Blue Hawaiians, from “Christmas On Big Island,” 1995. Let a little surf wash into your Christmas.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Shawn Colvin, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. A lovely, low-key version.

“Merry Christmas Darling,” Deana Carter, from “Father Christmas,” 2001. What makes this cover of the Carpenters song so remarkable is its acoustic arrangement with Carter’s father, veteran Nashville session man Fred Carter, on guitar. Deana Carter sings this in a higher register than did Karen Carpenter — and that may not be for everyone — but she nicely complements her dad. Fred Carter died earlier this year.

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” the Whispers, from “Happy Holidays To You,” 1979. (The buy link is to a 2001 import CD.) Off the same album that delivered “Funky Christmas,” this is a smooth, jazzy arrangement clearly from the late ’70s.

“Joy To The World,” Aretha Franklin, 1994, from “Joy To The World,” 2006. This is an odd little compilation of Christmas songs, gospel songs and show tunes recorded over 30-plus years. This cut features Aretha backed by the Fame Freedom Choir, from the soundtrack to the 1994 remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” That is about the only nice thing we have to say about any remake of the 1947 classic, long one of our favorite films.

“What Christmas Means To Me,” Darlene Love, from “It’s Christmas, Of Course,” 2007. A cover of the Motown song done first by Stevie Wonder.

“Christmas Is,” Lou Rawls, from “Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho,” 1967. It’s out of print. This tune starts out with a swinging big-band arrangement, then has Lou channeling Santa Claus midway through before wrapping up with some smooth nightclub cheer. This Percy Faith tune never sounded so good.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Melissa Etheridge, from “A New Thought For Christmas,” 2008. Etheridge lets it rip on this Charles Brown blues tune.

“Christmas Celebration,” Roomful of Blues, from “Roomful of Christmas,” 1997. The B.B. King version may be more familiar, but this take by the veteran East Coast group is pretty good.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time,” Pete Jolly, from “Something Festive!” 1968. Long out of print. This is a Christmas sampler from A&M Records. It was sold at B.F. Goodrich tire dealers in 1968. This cut is a cool, stylish, upbeat rendition by the California jazz pianist. (You’ll also find it on “Cool Yule: The Swinging Sound of Christmas,” a UK compilation released in 2004.)

“Blue Christmas,” Ann and Nancy Wilson, from “A Very Special Christmas 2,” 1992. Not a big fan of this tune, which everyone associates with Elvis, but this is a pretty good version. Melissa Etheridge also does it justice.

“What Child Is This,” Reverend Horton Heat, from “We Three Kings,” 2005. An upbeat yet moody take — it feels a little like Morricone — on a song usually done with much reverence.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

Three under the tree, Vol. 39

Hope you enjoyed the intermission.

Tonight’s three under the tree also are for cool cats. They’re from a guy who was a pretty cool cat himself.

I came to know Lou Rawls from the TV variety shows I watched with my dad in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He hit the charts later in the ’70s, did Budweiser commercials and long hosted the United Negro College Fund telethons. He seemed to be a guy from my dad’s generation.

What I came to learn much later was that Lou Rawls was about as cool as it got. He started out in gospel (with Sam Cooke, no less) and opened for the Beatles at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field in 1966. When he teamed with Capitol Records producer David Axelrod in the mid-’60s, well … man … what a time that was. His 1966 live album — Live! — is terrific.

So dig the sophistication, the cool, of Lou Rawls in these three Christmas tunes from 1967.

“Good Time Christmas” is a little slice of R&B, as gritty as Lou gets. There are some nice horns and drums on this one.

“Christmas Is” starts out with a swinging big-band arrangement, then has Lou channeling Santa Claus midway through before wrapping up with some smooth nightclub cheer. This Percy Faith tune never sounded so good.

“Christmas Will Really Be Christmas” is Lou’s way of saying “We’ll have peace someday, people.”

All from “Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho!,” Lou Rawls, 1967. It’s out of print. It was produced by Axelrod, with the arrangements by H.B. Barnum.

(Apologies for the scant notes. I borrowed this CD from the library a few years ago, and there’s not much information about it on the Web.)

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds

20/20/20 vision, Part V

Here’s the last installment in our supposedly brief series, 20 Songs from 20 Albums for $20.

There are tunes off the albums I found under the tents in the back yard of one of our local used record dealers last month. We’ve taken so long to finish the series that there’s another tent sale this weekend.

Today’s batch is a bit of a mixed bag, if only because we’ve come to the end.

“Dead End Street,” Lou Rawls, 1967, from “The Best of Lou Rawls,” 1968. Reissued in 1979 but out of print regardless. Available on “The Legendary Lou Rawls,” a 1992 CD release.

Though the album jacket is falling apart, the grooves on the record have held up pretty well. Most of Lou Rawls’ early tunes produced by David Axelrod have held up pretty well. This cut is preceded by one of Rawls’ classic spoken monologues. He, too, is a godfather of hip-hop.

“Get Ready,” the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band,” from “Together,” 1968. The album link is to a 2007 CD release by Rhino UK. The remastered LP features eight bonus tracks.

This mostly instrumental version of the familiar tune came after it was a hit for the Temptations in 1966 but before it became an even bigger hit for Rare Earth in 1970. Charles Wright and the band crank up a driving, jazzy, funky take on the tune written by Smokey Robinson.

“Sweet Sticky Thing,” Ohio Players, from “Honey,” 1975.

You know the big hit off this album. This is the other hit, one you may not have heard or simply may not remember, having long been overshadowed by the enduring popularity of “Love Rollercoaster.” It’s a sweet slice of classic ’70s soul/jazz.

“Roll Over Beethoven,” Electric Light Orchestra, from “ELO II,” 1973. The album link is to a 2006 CD release. The remastered LP features four bonus tracks.

I confess. I bought this album only to get a decent rip on this tune. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve seen it posted here before. No apologies, though. I like it that much.

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Filed under June 2008, Sounds

Midnight Tracker sampler, Vol. 1

Our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, has been around for three months, and only now are we figuring out how to do it right.

We post a vintage side of vinyl over there roughly once a week.

Over here, we’ll post a little sample of that side, in the hopes you’ll head over there for more.

Tonight on The Midnight Tracker, it’s Side 1 of “Lou Rawls Live!”

Recorded before a room full of music industry folks in Los Angeles in 1966 and produced by David Axelrod, it has everything you’d want — jazz, blues, soul and Rawls’ trademark stream-of-consciousness patter between some of the songs.

This tune features Rawls, of course, and Tommy Strode on piano.

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“Tobacco Road,” Lou Rawls, from “Lou Rawls Live!” 1966.

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Filed under February 2008, Sounds