Tag Archives: blues

51. Please Love Me – B.B. King – 1953

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B.B. King

Riley B. King (born September 16, 1925), known by the stage name B.B. King, is an American blues musician, singer, songwriter, and guitarist.

Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at No. 6 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time (previously ranked No. 3 in the 2003 edition of the same list), and he was ranked No. 17 in Gibson’s “Top 50 Guitarists of All Time”. According to Edward M. Komara, King “introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato that would influence virtually every electric blues guitarist that followed.”

He is considered one of the most influential blues musicians of all time, earning the nickname “The King of Blues”, and one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” (along with Albert King and Freddie King).

Trivia

  • In 1949, King began recording songs under contract with Los Angeles-based RPM Records. Many of King’s early recordings were produced by Sam Phillips, who later founded Sun Records.
  • In the 1950s, B.B. King became one of the most important names in R&B music, amassing an impressive list of hits including “3 O’Clock Blues“, “You Know I Love You,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Please Love Me,” “When My Heart Beats like a Hammer,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “You Upset Me Baby,” “Every Day I Have the Blues“, “Sneakin’ Around,” “Ten Long Years,” “Bad Luck,” “Sweet Little Angel“, “On My Word of Honor,” and “Please Accept My Love.”
  • His economy and phrasing has been a model for thousands of players, from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
  • In King’s words, “When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.”
  • King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
  • King is also known for performing tirelessly throughout his musical career appearing at 250-300 concerts per year until his seventies. In 1956 it was noted that he appeared at 342 shows. King continues to appear at 100 shows a year.
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50. Just Walkin’ in the Rain – The Prisonaires – 1953

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The Prisonaires

Just Walkin’ in the Rain” is a popular song. It was written in 1952 by Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley, two prisoners at Tennessee State Prison in Nashville, after a comment made by Bragg as the pair crossed the courtyard while it was raining. Bragg allegedly said, “Here we are just walking in the rain, and wondering what the girls are doing.” Riley suggested that this would make a good basis for a song, and within a few minutes, Bragg had composed two verses. However, because Bragg was unable to read and write, he asked Riley to write the lyrics down in exchange for being credited as one of the song’s writers.

Bragg and his band, the Prisonaires, later recorded the song for Sun Records and it became a hit on the R&B chart in 1953. However, the best-known version of the song was recorded by Johnnie Ray in 1956; it reached #2 on the US Billboard 100 and #1 on the UK Singles Chart.

Trivia

  • The group was led by Johnny Bragg, who had been a penitentiary inmate since 1943 when, at the age of 17, he was convicted of six charges of rape.
  • The Prisonaires were formed when Bragg joined up with two prison gospel singers, Ed Thurman and William Stewart (each of whom were doing 99 years for murder) and two new penitentiary arrivals, John Drue Jr. (three years for larceny) and Marcell Sanders (one-to-five for involuntary manslaughter).
  • The group was discovered by the radio producer Joe Calloway, who heard them singing while preparing a news broadcast from the prison. He arranged for the group to perform on the radio, a performance which was eventually brought to the attention of Sam Phillips of Sun Records.
  • He arranged for the group to be transported under armed guard to Memphis to record. A few weeks later, “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” was released and quickly sold 50,000 copies.
  • Their success was such that they were allowed out on day passes to tour throughout the state of Tennessee.
  • The group’s legacy was confirmed when “Just Walkin’ in the Rain”, written by Bragg, was recorded by Johnnie Ray.

46. Dust My Broom – Elmore James – 1951

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Dust My Broom” is a blues song originally recorded as “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” by American blues artist Robert Johnson in 1936. It is a solo performance in the Delta blues-style with Johnson’s vocal accompanied by his acoustic guitar. As with many of Johnson’s songs, it is based on earlier blues songs. As “Dust My Broom”, it achieved its popularity through recordings by Elmore James and has become a blues standard, with numerous renditions by a variety of musicians.

Elements of “Dust My Broom” have been traced back to several earlier blues songs. It has been suggested that Robert Johnson may have begun developing his version as early as 1933. The Sparks Brothers’ “I Believe I’ll Make A Change” (Victor 2359, recorded February 25, 1932) and Jack Kelly’s “Believe I’ll Go Back Home” (Melotone M12812, January 8, 1933) both use a similar melody and lyrics. Some verses are also found in Carl Rafferty’s “Mr. Carl’s Blues” (Bluebird BB B5429, December 1933).

Trivia

  • According to some accounts, “Dust My Broom” was one of the earliest songs Elmore James performed regularly while he was still living in the Mississippi Delta in the late 1930s. It has been suggested that James may have encountered Robert Johnson during this time, when he learned how to play the song.
  • James often performed with Aleck Rice Miller, better known as Sonny Boy Williamson II as a duo. In August 1951, the duo auditioned “Dust My Broom” for Trumpet owner Lillian McMurry, who signed James to a recording contract.
  • Elmore James recorded “Dust My Broom” at Ivan Scott’s Radio Service Studio in Jackson, Mississippi. James, who provided the vocals and amplified slide guitar, was accompanied by Williamson on harmonica, Leonard Ware on bass, and Frock O’Dell on drums.
  • The recording studio had not made the transition to tape technology, so the group was recorded direct-to-disc using one microphone.

27. Lili Marleen – Marlene Dietrich – 1945

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Lili Marleen” (a.k.a. “Lili Marlene”, “Lily Marlene”, “Lili Marlène” etc.) is a German love song which became popular during World War II with soldiers of both sides.

Written in 1915 during World War I, the poem was published under the title “Das Lied eines jungen Soldaten auf der Wacht” (German for “The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch”) in 1937, and was first recorded by Lale Andersen in 1939 under the title “Das Mädchen unter der Laterne” (“The Girl under the Lantern”).

Following the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia, from 1941 Radio Belgrade became Soldatensender Belgrad to entertain German armed forces; the song was played frequently and became popular throughout Europe and the Mediterranean among both Axis and Allied troops.

Trivia

  • While she was in London, officials of the Nazi Party approached Dietrich and offered her lucrative contracts, should she agree to return to Germany as a foremost film star in the Third Reich. She refused their offers and applied for US citizenship in 1937.
  • In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Musac Project, musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene Dietrich, the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use, recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including Lili Marleen.
  • German Hollywood actress, and staunch anti-Nazi Marlene Dietrich became synonymous with the song, performing it for US infantrymen ‘for three long years in North Africa, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and in England’, as she later recalled.
  • In December 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, and Dietrich became one of the first celebrities to raise war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and it is said that she sold more war bonds than any other star.
  • Dietrich, who was bisexual, enjoyed the thriving gay scene of the time and drag balls of 1920s Berlin. She also defied conventional gender roles through her boxing at Turkish trainer and prizefighter Sabri Mahir’s boxing studio in Berlin, which opened to women in the late 1920s.
  • Her last great passion, when she was in her 50s, appears to have been for the actor Yul Brynner, with whom she had an affair that lasted more than a decade; still, her love life continued well into her 70s. She counted John WayneGeorge Bernard Shaw and John F. Kennedy among her conquests.

21. Gloomy Sunday – Billie Holiday – 1941

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Gloomy Sunday” is a song composed by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress and published in 1933, as “Vége a világnak” (“End of the world”). Lyrics were written by László Jávor, and in his version the song was retitled “Szomorú vasárnap” (“Sad Sunday”). The song was first recorded in Hungarian by Pál Kalmár in 1935.

“Gloomy Sunday” was first recorded in English by Hal Kemp in 1936, with lyrics by Sam M. Lewis, and was recorded the same year by Paul Robeson, with lyrics by Desmond Carter. It became well known throughout much of the English-speaking world after the release of a version by Billie Holiday in 1941. Lewis’s lyrics referred to suicide, and the record label described it as the “Hungarian Suicide Song”.

Trivia

  • The song was composed by Rezső Seress while living in Paris, in an attempt to become established as a songwriter in late 1932.
  • Seress wrote the song at the time of the Great Depression and increasing fascist influence in the writer’s native Hungary, although sources differ as to the degree to which his song was motivated by personal melancholy rather than concerns about the future of the world.
  • There have been several urban legends regarding the song over the years, mostly involving it being allegedly connected with various numbers of suicides, and radio networks reacting by purportedly banning the song. However, most of these claims are unsubstantiated.
  • In January 1968, some 35 years after writing the song, its composer Rezső Seress did commit suicide. He survived jumping out of a window in Budapest, but later in the hospital choked himself to death with a wire.
  • The BBC banned Billie Holiday’s version of the song from being broadcast, as being detrimental to wartime morale, but allowed performances of instrumental versions. However, there is little evidence of any other radio bans; the BBC’s ban was lifted by 2002.

18. The Gallis Pole – Lead Belly – 1939

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The Maid Freed from the Gallows” is one of many titles of a centuries-old folk song about a condemned maiden pleading for someone to buy her freedom from the executioner. In the collection of ballads compiled by Francis James Child in the late nineteenth century, it is indexed as Child Ballad number 95; eleven variants, some fragmentary, are indexed as 95A to 95K. The Roud number is 144. The ballad existed in a number of folkloric variants from many different countries, and has been remade in a variety of formats. It was recorded in 1939 as “The Gallis Pole” by folk singer Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, but the most famous version was the 1970 arrangement of the Fred Gerlach version by English rock band Led Zeppelin, which was titled “Gallows Pole” on the album Led Zeppelin III.

Trivia

  • Although it exists in many forms, all versions recount a similar story. A maiden (a young unmarried woman) about to be hanged (for unknown reasons) pleads with the hangman, or judge, to wait for the arrival of someone who may bribe him. The first person (or people) to arrive, who may include the father, mother, brother, and sister, have brought nothing and often have come to see her hanged. The last person to arrive, often her true love, has brought the gold to save her.
  • The song is also known as “The Prickly Bush“, a title derived from the oft-used refrain lamenting the maiden’s situation by likening it to being caught in briery bush, wherein the brier prickles her heart.
  • Legendary folksinger Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, who also popularized such songs as “Cotton Fields” and “Midnight Special” first recorded “The Gallis Pole” in the 1930s, and set the stage for the song’s popularity today.
  • Though many releases list him as “Leadbelly,” he spelled it “Lead Belly.” This is also the usage on his tombstone, as well as of the Lead Belly Foundation. In 1994 the Lead Belly Foundation contacted an authority on the history of popular music, Colin Larkin, editor of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, to ask if the name “Leadbelly” could be altered to “Lead Belly” in the hope that other authors would follow suit and use the artist’s correct appellation.
  • Modern rock audiences likely owe their familiarity with Lead Belly to Nirvana’s performance of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” on the televised concert later released as MTV Unplugged in New York. Singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain refers to his attempt to convince David Geffen to purchase Lead Belly’s guitar for him in an interval before the song is played (connecting the song with Lead Belly in a way that is more tangible than the liner notes where Lead Belly appears on other albums), and partly due to the fact that it sold nearly 7 million copies. In his notebooks, Cobain listed Lead Belly’s “Last Session Vol. 1” as one of the 50 albums most influential to the formation of Nirvana’s sound.

16. Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday – 1939

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Strange Fruit” is a song performed most famously by Billie Holiday, who first sang and recorded it in 1939. Written by the teacher Abel Meeropol as a poem, it exposed American racism, particularly the lynching of African Americans. Such lynchings had occurred chiefly in the South but also in other regions of the United States. Meeropol set it to music and with his wife and the singer Laura Duncan, performed it as a protest song in New York venues, includingMadison Square Garden.

The song has been covered by artists, as well as inspiring novels, other poems and other creative works. In 1978 Holiday’s version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Trivia

  • “Strange Fruit” is a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a white, Jewish high school teacher from the Bronx and a member of the Communist Party, as a protest against lynchings. When he saw an image of two black men hanging from a tree, ringed by a crowd of white onlookers, he was moved to pen a poem protesting against the lynching of African Americans by white vigilantes.
  • Barney Josephson, the founder of Cafe Society in Greenwich Village, New York’s first integrated nightclub, heard the song and introduced it to Billie Holiday. Because of the poignancy of the song, Josephson drew up some rules: Holiday would close with it; the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on Holiday’s face; and there would be no encore.
  • She recorded two major sessions at Commodore, one in 1939 and one in 1944. The song was highly regarded and the 1939 record sold a million copies, in time becoming Holiday’s biggest-selling record.
  • In 1999, Time magazine called it the song of the century. In 2002, the Library of Congress honored the song as one of 50 recordings chosen that year to be added to the National Recording Registry. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution listed the song as Number One on “100 Songs of the South”.