Thursday, December 16, 2010

Message Received

Single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Band Aid, Columbia, 1984. B-Side "Feed the World" Near mint--pristine--you might get up to $10 bucks for it.

There are times when I really WANT to love a song, but just can’t manage it. Intentions may be good, the message may be worthy and the musicianship may be top notch, still certain songs just fall flat.

The number one single on this day in the UK in 1984 was “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” a song written by Bob Geldorf and Midge Ure and performed by the many artists who contributed their time and talents to Band Aid, the proceeds going to bring relief to the famine-ravaged people of Ethiopia. Everything good--except the song. It’s not a very good song.

I’m bothered by that lyric “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” I’ve never found that kind of schadenfreude or hubris--or whatever it is that makes us think it’s okay to wish this on someone else to spare ourselves—to be an attitude to be encouraged.

This single isn't highly collectible since it sold 3.5 million in the UK alone. It remained the top-selling single there until Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diane “Candle in the Wind” displaced it in 1997.

When I hear the song now, I just try not to cringe and remember the purity of the intention to help those in need. I hope it made a BIG difference.

Maybe soon a new generation of musicians will band together to raise money for a worthy cause and a new Christmas song will be written—I have hope!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In a Chord

"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" was a single and added to later albums. The album above, on the Gordy label, 1968, could be worth around $40 for the mono white label promo, in near mint condition. One of the more collectible Temptations albums. Course, it's that near mint caveat that's important here.
If you were like me you wore out your Temptations albums.

One this date, December 2, in 1972, the number one song on the Billboard charts was: “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” by The Temptations.

The album mix of this song runs to 11 minutes and 47 seconds, and the composition features only ONE chord throughout–B-flat minor. Throw in a whole bunch of instruments: an assortments of guitars with effects pedals, horns, drums, bass guitars, electric piano, maybe a Wurlitzer in there somewhere. Top it off with vocals and handclaps. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but instead it became a soul classic.

The song, written by Motown songwriters, was originally composed for a group called The Undisputed Truth. They recorded their version in 1971 and it was a moderate success.

But when the Temptations applied their particular vocal magic to the song in 1972 it shot to number one on the Billboard charts and won three Grammys.

Not too shabby for a song that’s a 12-minute downer, but definitely no Parent-of-the-Year award in the offing for Papa.


As a side note, the group The Undisputed Truth is collectible as well. Most of their albums run in the $20-30 range for near mint. They definitely get points for campy psychedelic soul. And in a twist, their single U. S. hit was "Smiling Faces Sometimes," which rose to #3 on the charts and had previously been recorded, with only moderate success by--yes, The Temptations.