The answer is I don’t know, but it’s not a combination you’re likely to come across very often. In fact the contrast in styles works surprisingly well as the First Lady of Song coos “Fascinating Rhythm” and Ari Up responds with an energetic, eye-opening version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine.
Too much music today is compartmentalised. Music should be an adventure that takes you out of your comfort zone and opens your ears to different styles, artists and generations. There’s eclectic, and there’s The Beat Goes On eclectic.
Anyway, welcome to the second part of the “Sisters with Voices” special edition of The Beat Goes On, featuring some wonderful performances by female artists. You can listen to the whole show online by following this link to Mixcloud.
This monthly two-part blogpost contains a full playlist and cool links to all the music, with added video clips.
Enjoy the second half of the show!
Just the 73.5 million YouTube views so far for the Welsh singer’s 2008 international hit, co-written by her and Steve Booker. If it sounds like a cover of a soul classic, or even the original of a soul classic, that’s because it’s a soul classic. Duffy once said she sings Mercy several times a day and “it’s just like having sex every time” – so if you like singing in the shower, this could be a fun song choice.
Now here’s Sammy Davis Jr to introduce Mama Cass.
My six-year-old wanted me to play this on the show for his infant school choir, who are learning the song. (Based, I imagine, on Paloma Faith’s version, which was released earlier this year.) It’s strange, but Cass Elliott died, aged just 32, in 1974. She’d be 76 years old now, yet I still feel sad about her early death whenever I hear that lovely voice.
Now talking of lovely voices, here’s the loveliest of them all.
The Gershwins wrote Fascinating Rhythm in 1924, and Ella’s version dates from 1959 and her Songbook recordings. Then, a mere two decades later, this happened …
No one would claim Ari Up was in the same league as Ella as a singer, but there’s an energy and honesty about The Slits’ work that makes them one of the most interesting punk bands, much more so than most of the boys. I love this cover version. If you are interested in The Slits, I strongly recommend Viv Albertine’s memoir – Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. It’s compelling, beautifully written, sad and funny.
Swing Out Sister – named after the 1945 American musical comedy film Swing Out, Sister – with a live performance on Top of the Pops in 1992. If you’re worried about what Corinne has on her head, it’s her spectacular bun.
This reached No 21 in the UK charts; Dusty Springfield’s excellent recording of the song in 1969 had faltered at No 43. For a really soulful version, however, try the Barbara Acklin original. Am I the Same Girl has such an interesting history, and has been covered so widely, that I’m preparing a separate blogpost just about this song.
The next item combines two regular features of The Beat Goes On: Frank of the Month and I Hope I Die Before the Band Gets Old – it’s Frankie, by Sister Sledge.
Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy Sledge had been singing together all their lives and made their first record in 1971. Debbie and Kim are still performing as Sister Sledge, nearly half a century later.
The lyrics for Frankie were written by multi-millionaire socialite, philanthropist and Democratic Party fundraiser Denise Rich after she had a dream about Frank Sinatra while dozing on a plane.
My daughter-in-law Eleanor Marsh released her crowdfunded first solo album, Splashes of Colour, this year and it’s lovely. It’s not on YouTube yet but this promo gives a flavour of the album.
Now for a guilty pleasure from the 1970s, co-written by Carole, Bette Midler and Bruce Roberts. I still find the lyrics amusing after, oh, a few hundred listens.
Watching the video, it’s not surprising that Burt Bacharach fell for her. We all did. Today, in her mid-70s, Carole is an artist and writer living in New York City.
Happy birthday to Belinda Carlisle (briefly “Dottie Danger” as drummer with The Germs), who was 60 in August, and to The Go-Go’s, celebrating their 40th anniversary this year with a new Broadway musical and gigs featuring the classic line-up: Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock and Kathy Valentine. This, from their 1981 debut album Beauty and the Beat, remains their signature song.
Not long after The Go-Go’s made their breakthrough, a British band called Monsoon were making their debut on Top of the Pops with Ever So Lonely.
Vocalist Sheila Chandra, aged 16, had just left the cast of the popular children’s TV series Grange Hill. Now she was in the UK singles charts (at No 12) with this highly original, for the time, fusion of east and west. Sheila continued to record after Monsoon broke up but in 2010, tragically, was diagnosed with the horrible rare condition burning mouth syndrome – as a result of which she can’t speak, laugh, cry or sing without suffering intense pain.
Described at the time by one critic as “an avant-pop stampede of pounding percussion and deranged shrieks”, Sat In Your Lap remains weirdly powerful, and powerfully weird, all these years later. It sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard, or ever will hear, or ever could hear. How it became a hit single I don’t know; it wouldn’t in these blander, less experimental times. The product of a creative genius, this makes me think of Kate wheeling around the recording studio, swooshing bamboo sticks through the air.
Another unique talent, the brilliant, cruelly underrated, Laura Nyro. To a Child, from her 1984 album Mother’s Spiritual, expresses the joys and fears (and exhaustion) of becoming a parent better than anything I’ve ever heard. She just has a way of opening up her soul and inviting you in.
Here are some of the other female artists I had hoped to included in this two-hour session: Joni Mitchell, Sarah Vaughan, Marianne Faithfull, Betty Carter, Martha Reeves, Dianne Reeves, Alicia Keys, Jill Scott, Mary J Blige, Brenda Russell, Dinah Shore, Julie London, Julie Driscoll, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Poly Styrene, Sandy Denny, Bessie Smith, Siouxsie Sioux, Gladys Knight, Sandy Denny … the list could go on. I promise to play them all in the future.
Back to the music with Thelma Houston and Someone is Standing Outside, a lovely Jimmy Webb song from 1969. Jimmy’s compositions deserve an entire show to themselves.
Thelma Houston is no relation to Whitney, but Whitney’s mum, Cissy, does appear on our final song, played as a tribute to the late, great Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin – the only plausible rival, in my opinion, to Ella Fitzgerald for the crown of greatest female singer of them all.
Co-written by Stevie Wonder, the 1972 Aretha version features a stellar line-up of musicians: Aretha herself on piano, Donny Hathaway electric piano, Joe Farrell flute, Hugh McCracken guitar, Chuck Rainey bass, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie drums, and Gwen Guthrie alongside Cissy on backing vocals. An absolute gem of a record.
Listen to The Beat Goes On live at kennetradio.com – the next show, featuring another eclectic mix of great music, will be broadcast on Wednesday 26 September from 9-11pm (21:00 to 23:00 BST).