Con Funk Shun
This column is like the title says - its intention is to fill the gap for those of us who were satiated musically in the '60s and then searched desperately as we aged for music we could relate to and get the same buzz from nowadaze. iTunes was the answer for me in 2003 and I have been following the new releases every Tuesday ever since I realized there was an endless stream of music I could enjoy there.
I also include older items that I felt were obscure originally and might not have been heard back then. The reason I am writing this column is to make sure others don't miss this wonderful music. These are not top ten items; but they SHOULD'VE been!
Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.
1. "Hold On to Me" — Theresa Andersson (3:25)
If this is electronica, I am seduced big-time. In the spirit of Gotye, this Swedish-born, New Orleans-residing super talent has made a hit single that nobody knows about. If this got airplay it would have been huge in the old days. So if you agree with me, let’s see what we can do. This is a very well made record and a great song. It has elements of Enya AND The Shangri-La’s on the same page. No mean feat. Too bad she looks like this and I got dizzy trying to figure out the symmetry of that tank top!
2. "You and Me" — Plain White T’s (2:14)
This is peppy and rockin’. Their appearance on Daryl Hall’s podcast got them seen by many more than would have. I think they have a formidable following now and this track should keep that happening.
3. "Exodus Honey" — Honeycut (3:03)
This is a Bay Area conglomeration that also sounds electronica-classifiable. This song reminds me of another one that I know from the past but just can’t nail at this moment. (If you recall it, post it in Comments.) It’s very well produced but I could do without the fake vinyl cracks and pops.The keyboard player is the primary electronica influence. Let’s see what they do with a more original melody next time. The chorale break is really nice. This is from their 2006 debut album, The Day I Turned to Glass.
4. "Goin' to Brownsville" — Furry Lewis (3:32)
Born in 1899, Lewis acquired the furry moniker early on from playmate neighbors. He is primarily known as a Memphis Beale Street musician and played all over the country from 1917 until the Depression of ‘29. He was rediscovered in the ‘60s when blues became unearthed in a big way. This was recorded later in his life and is one of my favorite versions of this standard. He was one-legged most of his life from an early railroad accident. The company he kept was significant as well: Gus Cannon, Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith, and Blind Lemon Jefferson to name but a few. A good listen and a pleasant history lesson.
5. "Lay Down Sally" — Red Sovine (2:20)
Kind of a curiosity to hear a real “truck-drivin man” sing this Clapton classic. It tells you it would have been a country hit if it had slipped by Eric. Red was a contemporary of Hank Williams, Sr. and Webb Pierce, both of whom he spent important parts of his career with. He died in Nashville in 1980 from a heart attack. This is rarely heard.
6. "A Simple Game" — The Four Tops (2:54)
Hell, if Red Sovine can do Eric Clapton, then make way for Levi Stubbs, Jr and fellow Tops tearin’ up a Moody Blues (!) composition — and these Tops are fer sure not in search of any lost chords. What really makes this work is the playing of the Motown sidemen, pointing the way for what the Moodies could’ve done if they had been older and more experienced. I confess I like this MUCH more than the original. The Tops had nerve — they covered "Walk Away Renee" and "If I Were a Carpenter" as well as this one. All were great versions, especially this one.
7. "Love's Train" — Con Funk Shun (4:16)
This is one of those ones I heard on the car radio in the 1980s and drove to the soul record shop in LA to try and explain what I had just heard with NO back announcement: “I can only remember the chorus melody; can I sing it for ya?” I said to the middle-aged record shop gal and sang the melody (which reminded me of "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" from Oklahoma). So I sang those lyrics to that poor woman with the new melody. She totally got it. “Oh, that’s 'Love’s Train' by Con Funk Shun," and damned if she didn’t drop the needle right on the chorus and we both sang along and I bought two copies. Still sounds great, albeit now dated a bit.
8. "If Only the Moon Were Up" — Field Music (2:57)
This was the first track I heard from this UK band’s debut album. It dazzled me and reminded me of a strange marriage between The Who and XTC. Since then, XTC broke up and Field Music has filled the gap admirably. Two English brothers who don’t hate each other and actually get along. The mind boggles... but the feets keep tappin’. This is how they keep that dry sense of humor in the lyrics workin’ overtime:
9. "Tonight, Insomnia" — Eye to Eye (3:11)
Julian Marshall, UK keyboardist, and singer/songwriter Deborah Berg (Seattle) formed this duo in 1979 and with help from producer Gary Katz and engineer Roger Nichols (both from the Steely Dan team) released their debut in 1982 and very Steely Dan it is, with regard to production, arrangements, and engineering, that is. A second album followed in ‘83, and a third one, rightfully called Clean Slate, was not like the original two and was released in 2005. This track takes me back to the ‘80s and every night of my life insomnia permeates MY existence. I can relate. Musicians on that album include Julian Marshall, Deborah Berg, Jeff Porcaro, Jim Keltner, Chuck Rainey, Abraham Laboriel, Rick Derringer, Elliott Randall, Dean Parks, Ian Underwood, Starz Vanderlocket, Rush Underwood, and Timothy B. Schmit.
10. "Evil" — Stevie Wonder (2:48)
This is the only way to end this week. On March 3,1972, Steveland Morris put the world on notice that something was happening here and we needed to know what it was. His declaration of independence (Music of My Mind) concluded with this prophetic notice that sadly rings as true exactly 40 years later. From that moment on, we knew there was, indeed, a second blind musical genius on the planet.