Save Me (from the Gloria Progression)

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One of the more interesting musical reinventions in 60’s Soul & Pop is Help Me by Ray Sharpe with the King Curtis Orchestra. The track is revered among collectors as one of the first appearances by a young James Marshall Hendrix on guitar. Hendrix at the time was in King Curtis’s band, who back Sharpe on this track. In addition to the early notoriety, the song went on to have unexpected second and third lives.

Help Me began as a simple progression from Curtis, Atlantic Records’ go-to band leader at the time. It was based on the recent hit, Gloria by Them, which had featured a young Van Morrison. Even now, Gloria is in most amateur guitarists’ quivers. Its three chords, ploddingly played, are simplicity defined. From there, R&B singer Ray Sharpe added seemingly extemporized lyrics (at one point adding a “here come my baby” straight out of Gloria) and a minor classic was born. Be sure to listen for a few tasty Hendrix licks on Part II starting around 3:01.

After its relative failure to light the charts on fire, Curtis recycled the track for the debut Atlantic release of a new signing with some promise, Aretha Franklin.  ‘Retha and her sister Carolyn wrote new lyrics, or more accurately wrote actual verses for the first time, and a MAJOR classic was born. Aretha is soul personified and it’s impossible not to like any song that name checks Batman and The Green Hornet in its fading moments.

Call in the caped crusader, Green Hornet, Kato too
I’m in so much trouble, I don’t know what ta do

From there, the cover versions started amassing. Nina Simone’s is the best known.

King Curtis liked the progression so much that he revisited it as an instrumental, renaming it “Instant Groove”.

However, Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger’s version is my favorite as it adds fantastic bluesy organ playing by Auger. Combined with a bit of uber-groovy syncopation and Driscoll’s commanding vocal, it’s a winner.

The most recent (and oddest) version is a recent official mash up created by OMD which merges their 1980 hit Messages with Aretha’s version of Save Me.

On a side note, there have been many variations of Gloria itself, but perhaps the greatest is by Van Morrison’s old band mates in Them who briefly changed their name to the Belfast Gypsies. It’s a great garage take produced by pop exploiter-extraordinaire Kim Fowley, who never let an opportunity to cash-in on a current hit pass him by. The track is called Gloria’s Dream.

Thanks for wading through this morass of I-VII-IV chords with me. I recognize that three simple chords probably shouldn’t be subjected to this much scrutiny (unless it’s Louie Louie, of course).

From the Fruit Tree: Surprising Nick Drake covers.

Nick Drake

Being a Nick Drake fan, you’re often confronted with the fact that he made only 3 albums and you will never get to hear anything new. With the exception of an odds and ends collection, some early demos, and a few outtakes, this has proven to be fairly immutable.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I happened across a Drake biography from 1998 by Patrick Humphries which mentioned that there had been a few unlikely covers of Nick’s songs in the early 70’s.

Joe Boyd, Nick’s producer, was doing everything he could to expose Drake’s songs to the world. To make them more palatable, and maybe less cryptic, he hired a studio singer to sing basic demos of the songs. The singer’s name was Reginald Dwight, but you might know him better as Elton John.

I’d vaguely been aware that John made these demos for Joe Boyd‘s Warlock Publishing, but had never heard them. Luckily they’ve since turned up on youtube, along with everything else in the world.

Perhaps the most surprising cover wasn’t directly related to the Warlock demos, but involved Joe sharing an early Drake demo with the producers behind Jamaican singer Millie, of My Boy Lollypop fame. It’s somewhat disconcerting hearing Nick’s Mayfair sung in a jaunty rocksteady/ska version, “jaunty” and “ska” being words you wouldn’t wager would ever show up in the same sentence as Nick Drake. But, Mayfair was recorded before Nick’s debut, Five Leaves Left, and is a little less structurally ambitious than his later work. As a result, it lends itself fairly well to this treatment. Check it out:

As for the Elton John demos? They’re hit or miss. His version of Saturday Sun is quite nice and Way to Blue succeeds by becoming a proto-Elton song. There are also fairly amusing comments between EJ and ND fans, neither of whom seem to like each other very much.

Apparently when Elton sold his voluminous LP collection for charity, the only two records he kept back were a signed copy of Sgt. Pepper and his copy of these demos. Here are a few to peruse:

Saturday Sun

Time Has Told Me

Way To Blue

When the Day is Done

I would be remiss not to mention one of the more successful (if better known) Nick Drake covers, Lucinda Williams’ Which Will. This is one of the few that nails the sadness inherent in Nick’s work.

If you have any other favorite Nick Drake covers feel free to share them below.