Inspired by the March 23 birthdays of Chaka Khan, The Cars’ Ric Ocasek, Blur’s Damon Albarn, and Louisiana Red.
Tag Archives: Billy Preston
Inspired by the March 9 birthdays of John Cale, ABC’s Martin Fry, Mark Lindsay, Lloyd Price, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s Chris Thompson, Chingy and L.T.D.’s Jeffrey Osborne.
Singer/Songwriter/Record producer Ed Townsend had, in his own words, “a monstrous addiction to alcohol.” While in rehab he wrote a song which he described as a message to himself “about the business of getting on with life.”
On March 13, 1973, Townsend recorded a demo of Marvin Gaye singing this composition.
Nine days later, the men were again in the studio. Visiting the two men there was Barbara Hunter, a friend of Townsend. She came with her 16-year-old daughter, Janis.
Gaye was immediately smitten with Janis. As he often did, Gaye made up new lyrics in the studio. Inspired by the presence of this beautiful teenage girl, Townsend’s song about understanding and brotherhood became a paean to enjoying sex for its own sake, particularly when it is with someone you love.
Marvin and Janis got married in 1977, four years after the song Gaye recorded the day they met, “Let’s Get It On,” hit #1.
This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist consists of twenty big hits from 1973, kicking off with the classic “Let’s Get It On.”
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Today is the birthday of the late, great Billy Preston. You may be familiar with his #1 hits “Will It Go Round in Circles” and “Nothing from Nothing.” Preston has many more accomplishments on his resume. Here are ten things you may not know about him:
1. He is the only person to be given a featuring credit on a Beatles single. The #1 smash “Get Back” and its b-side, “Don’t Let Me Down,” also a top 40 hit, were credited to The Beatles with Billy Preston. He also played on the band’s Abbey Road, Let It Be and self-titled albums (the latter often referred to as The White Album) and in their famous final rooftop concert. At one point John Lennon suggested having Preston become one of The Beatles.
2. He played on several albums by The Rolling Stones, including Exile on Main Street, Sticky Fingers, Tattoo You, It’s Only Rock‘n Roll and Goats Head Soup.
3. In 1958, twelve-year-old Preston played “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy as a child in the Handy biopic St. Louis Blues.
4. At age 15 Preston joined Little Richard’s band.
5. In 1967 Preston joined Ray Charles’ band.
6. He played on Sam Cooke’s final studio album, the critically-acclaimed Night Beat. Preston was 16 years old at the time.
7. Other artists on whose records Preston played include Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton, MeShell NdegéOcello, Joni Mitchell, Jet, Neil Diamond, Sly & the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Luther Vandross, the Everly Brothers, and Johnny Cash.
8. Preston co-wrote “You Are So Beautiful,” a top five single for Joe Cocker in 1975.
9. It has been written that Stephen Stills got the expression “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” from Preston. (Some reports say it was Doris Troy who gave Stills that phrase.)
10. George Harrison wrote and co-produced “My Sweet Lord” for Preston. It appeared on Billy’s 1970 Encouraging Words album, released on The Beatles’ Apple Records. Harrison went on to record his own version of the song for his All Things Must Pass album, on which Preston played. Perhaps you’ve heard the Harrison version.
11. Preston introduced George Harrison to a woman named Olivia Arias, who worked at A&M Records, for whom Billy recorded after he left Apple. Arias soon became Olivia Harrison.
12. So impressed by Preston’s music was Miles Davis that the jazz legend recorded a song called “Billy Preston” for his 1974 album Get Up With It.
13. Preston’s primary instrument was the organ. The first time he played the clavinet was on his hit “Outa-Space,” which reached #2 on the pop charts. The first time he played the Arp synthesizer was on his hit “Space Race,” which reached #4 on the pop chart.
14. Preston’s singles “Will It Go Round in Circles,” “Nothing from Nothing,” “Outa-Space” and “Space Race” each sold over one million copies in the United States alone.
15. As a solo artist Preston had ten top 40 hits on Billboard’s R&B chart.
16. Preston played Sgt. Pepper in the ill begotten film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of my favorite bad movies. In the film he sings “Get Back” to Billy Shears, played by Peter Frampton, just after Shears jumped off of a roof to kill himself. Perhaps I should have written SPOILER ALERT, but you can’t spoil something that stinks to begin with.
17. In 1972 Preston became the first rock performer to headline at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
18. Preston was a musical guest on the first episode of Saturday Night Live.
19. Preston started playing piano and singing church. About being gay in the church, Preston told writer David Ritz “In the community outside the church, gay men were called sissies. There was zero tolerance. But inside the church, a lot of music was created by gay men. It was almost a tradition. Everyone knew that my mentor James Cleveland, who became the King of Gospel, was gay….So many of the other major figures – like Professor J. Earle Hines out of Los Angeles and Professor Alex Bradford out of Chicago – were gay. Mahalia [Jackson] surrounded herself with gay men her entire life. In the neighborhood they made you ashamed of being gay, but in the church you were almost proud to be part of the gay elite of musicians.”
20. Preston died on June 6, 2006, from complications from malignant hypertension. He was 59 years old.
Here are twenty of the many highlights of Billy Preston’s recording career:
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I started getting into Sam Cooke in 1978. That year, Art Garfunkel had a hit with his version of “Wonderful World,” while Sam Cooke’s original version appeared on the soundtrack to the movie National Lampoon’s Animal House. I was familiar with Cat Stevens’ hit version of “Another Saturday Night” and Dr. Hook’s hit version of “Only Sixteen.” I bought Sam Cooke’s Greatest Hits to hear the original versions of these songs.
Starting his career by singing gospel music, Cooke moved into the secular market in 1956. The Soul Stirrers, the gospel group for which Cooke was singing lead, were signed to Specialty Records. The label’s head, Art Rupe, didn’t like the secular music Cooke was recording, so in 1957 Cooke left for Keen Records, where his first single was the classic “You Send Me.” It went to #1 on the pop and r&b charts. Cashing in on this success, Specialty released a single of one of the Cooke recordings they had in their vault, “I’ll Come Running Back to You.” It also went to #1 on the r&b chart and went top 20 pop.
In 1960 Cooke moved to RCA Records. As Specialty did before them, Keen looked through their vaults to find a Cooke recording to release as a single. They found “Wonderful World.” Like many of his hits, Cooke wrote the song, this one with Lou Adler and Herb Alpert. The composition initially was credited to Barbara Campbell, Cooke’s fiancée, as Cooke was engaged in a dispute with Art Rupe about publishing royalties.
The song wasn’t recorded to be a single. It was done at an impromptu session. Cooke’s regular drummer wasn’t there, so he recruited the sixteen year-old nephew of one of the other musicians to play on the track. Lou Rawls was in the studio with Sam, singing the last word of each line with Cooke in the same mic.
“Wonderful World” became another hit for Cooke on the pop and r&b charts. In all, he had 29 top 40 pop hits and 34 top 40 r&b hits. In addition to singing and writing hit songs, he started SAR Records in 1960, producing recordings for Billy Preston, Bobby Womack and Johnny Taylor, in the process becoming one of the first African-American entrepreneurs in the music business.
Sam Cooke died on December 11, 1964, from a gunshot wound. He was 33.
Today Tunes du Jour remembers the great Sam Cooke on what would have been his 83rd birthday.
In 1971 an astrologer told Dionne Warwick to append an “e” to her last name. “It will bring you luck,” she was told. At that point in her career Warwick was a multi-Grammy Award winner with more than twenty US top forty pop hits, collaborations with the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, to her name. But who can’t use more luck?
Following the astrologer’s advice, Warwick became Warwicke, and besides a guest co-lead vocal on a Spinners record (the sublime “Then Came You”), Warwicke didn’t have any hits. Warwicke didn’t win any Grammys. The songwriting partnership of Bacharach and David split apart. Warwicke separated from and divorced her husband.
Dionne dropped the “e” and became Warwick again. Warwick returned to the top ten with “I’ll Never Love This Way Again,” which won her the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, with its follow-up single, “Déjà Vu,” winning her the Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female.
The lesson? Stay away from “e.” It’ll ruin your life.
Here is a playlist inspired by Warwick, who turns 73 today.
1) Mojo magazine’s list of “The 100 Records that Changed the World” placed Little Richard’s “Tutti-Frutti” at #1.
2) Pat Boone, who made a career of recording new tracks by African-American acts and sanitizing them for white audiences, covered Little Richard’s “Tutti-Frutti” in 1956 and had a bigger hit with it than Richard did. To avoid a repeat of this, Richard and his producer, Bumps Blackwell, rehearsed the follow-up single, “Long Tall Sally,” until Richard could sing it as fast as possible, with the thinking that Boone wouldn’t be able to sing it as fast. Little Richard’s version became his first top ten pop hit and the biggest-selling single in the history of Specialty Records. Unfortunately, Pat Boone also enjoyed a top ten hit with his version.
3) Richard wrote a song about a female impersonator from his hometown who was called Queen Sonya. He changed Sonya to Lucille, which became the song’s title. It became Richard’s longest-charting hit in 1957.
4) While on tour in 1957 Richard decided to give up rock & roll and enter the ministry. He left the tour ten days early. The original flight on which he had been scheduled to return home crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
5) In 1962 Richard returned to performing secular music while touring Europe. Sam Cooke was his opening act.
6) Later in 1962 Little Richard’s opening act was The Beatles. Richard taught Paul McCartney how to sing like he does.
7) In 1963 The Rolling Stones opened for Richard. Said Mick Jagger: “I couldn’t believe the power of Little Richard onstage. He was amazing.”
8) Members of Little Richard’s band at times include Jimi Hendrix and Billy Preston. This line-up can be heard on the track “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me),” the last single released by Vee-Jay Records.
9) Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The Greatest Artists of All Time has Little Richard at #8.
10) Today is his 81st birthday.
Enjoy this playlist inspired by one of rock and roll’s originators, Little Richard.