Battle of the Bands – JUMP INTO THE FIRE by Harry Nilsson

 

It’s mid-month and that means it’s time for another Battle of the Bands. (If you’re looking for my Monday’s Music Moves Me post, click on it in my sidebar or scroll down). BOTB is simple: i have chosen two covers of a favorite song; You listen to each cover version and vote on which version you like better by telling me in the comment section. And if you care to share, let us know why you chose the way you did. Then I’ll come back in 6 days, tally up the votes and determine & post the winner and the battle votes tally.

“Jump into the Fire” is a song by American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, released on his 1971 album Nilsson Schmilsson. Issued as the album’s second single, after “Without You”, it peaked at number 27 on America’s Billboard Hot 100 chart and at number 16 in Canada.

Written by Nilsson, the song is in the hard rock style – a departure from his previous work. Produced by Richard Perry, it includes a segment in which bassist Herbie Flowers audibly detunes his instrument. “Jump into the Fire” gained further recognition owing to its use in a pivotal scene in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster thriller Goodfellas.

Journalist Matthew Greenwald likened the song’s style to the early 1970s sound of the Rolling Stones. He adds: “Lyrically, on the surface, it’s a hot lovers plea; however, it could easily be taken as a plea to society as a whole. Like a lot of Nilsson’s greatest songs, it works on many different levels.” Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes the track as “surging hard rock”, while James Parker of The Atlantic calls it “livid, dragon-bones funk”.

Nilsson recorded the song in London in 1971 for Nilsson Schmilsson. As with much of the material on the album, it marked a departure from his previous work, as Nilsson was keen for commercial success after years of recognition as a quality artist and songwriter. He later commented: “What do you say to a man who writes ‘The Puppy Song’ and then writes ‘Jump into the Fire’? I really needed [to make that change], too; that was exactly what I was hoping would happen.” Nilsson acknowledged producer Richard Perry was instrumental in this progression.

Musicians on the basic track were Nilsson (piano), Chris Spedding (guitar), Herbie Flowers (bass) and Jim Gordon (drums). Flowers recalls that Nilsson gave only vague instructions: “Lots of tom-toms, a bass riff in D major.” The bass part includes a section where, following Gordon’s drum solo, Flowers detunes as he plays. According to Flowers, he began loosening the bottom string “for a laugh”, believing the performance would be faded on the released recording. Overdubs on this take included Nilsson’s vocals, guitar solos by John Uribe and a rhythm guitar part by Klaus Voormann.

Release

“Jump into the Fire” received substantial airplay throughout the early 1970s. After the international success of Nilsson’s cover of the Badfinger ballad “Without You”, the song was a surprising choice for the second single from Nilsson Schmilsson. It was edited down from around seven minutes to three-and-a-half for this release. The single peaked at number 27 on America’s Billboard Hot 100 chart, number 16 on the RPM singles chart in Canada, number 26 on Australia’s Go-Set National Top 40, and number 34 in West Germany. Later in 1972, Nilsson included “Jump into the Fire” in his musical horror film Count Downe. The film was produced by Ringo Starr and later retitled Son of Dracula for its limited cinema release in 1974.

In 1990, the song was used by director Martin Scorsese as the soundtrack to a frenetic scene in Goodfellas, when Ray Liotta’s character, a cocaine-addicted gangster, fears the authorities are closing in on his illegal activities. Rolling Stone described the effect: “This is what paranoia sounds like … the more the filmmaker fades those ‘Oh oh ooohs’ in and out, the more your own nerves start to fray.” Sean O’Neal of The A.V. Club writes: “I have to admit, even when I play ‘Jump Into The Fire’ today, I keep seeing that same helicopter.”

Michael Gallucci of the website Ultimate Classic Rock lists “Jump into the Fire” at number 3 in his list of the ten best Nilsson songs, behind “Without You” and “Everybody’s Talkin'”.

From the MediaLoper site, an interesting take on the song:

Certain Songs #581: Harry Nilsson – “Jump Into The Fire”

Posted by Jim Connelly in Certain Songs on Jun 30, 2016

Album: Nilsson Schmilsson
Year: 1971

I kinda love that Harry Nilsson chose “Jump Into The Fire” to be the single that followed the massive “Without You,” even though it barely cracked the Top Thirty, because the two songs couldn’t be more different.

Driven by a pumped-up Herbie Flowers bassline and clipped rhythm guitar from Klaus Voormann, “Jump Into The Fire” establishes its groove early and then piles on with crazy-ass lead guitar from John Uribe and a vocal performance from Harry Nilsson that starts at psychotic and only gets more unhinged from there.

Gang, this is a disturbing song on any number of levels.

Take the lyrics, for example:

You can climb a mountain
You can swim the sea
You can jump into the fire
But you’ll never be free
You can shake me up
Or I can break you down
Oh, oh, oohhhoooohhhhh

With Nilsson’s vocals swathed in loads and loads of reverb, we can tell from the start that maybe this guy isn’t in his right mind, and after the lead guitars start clattering and chittering, the chorus — which reads perfectly fine on paper — begins to sound like a veiled threat.

We can make each other happy
We can make each other happy
We can make each other happy
We can make each other happy

What’s left unspoken here, is the “or else.”

And as he shouts and screams and repeats the verses and choruses in ever more unhinged fashion, the guitars futilely rise up against Nilsson to seemingly no avail. He’s too possessed. Too obsessed.

WE CAN MAKE EACH OTHER HAPPY!!!

Eventually it takes drummer Jim Gordon just surrounding him and putting him down as the rest of the musicians look on in awe.

Eventually the guitars and bass return, but Harry Nilsson is nowhere to be found. My assumption is that he used the opportunity to break out of the studio, and is now screaming “WE CAN MAKE EACH OTHER HAPPY!!!!” at random people while running down the street towards the Thames.

One of the greatest songs ever written about obsession, “Jump Into the Fire” is one of those songs that gets periodically recontextualized by seemingly unrelated artists, reminding us just how uncomfortable it remains.

So Martin Scorsese used it to underscore a coke-fueled breakdown in Goodfellas, and LCD Soundsystem covered it on an early single and during their “last” show, and in both cases it fit right in.

Give a listen to this original version and you’ll maybe understand the point the author of this article was trying to get across. And by all means, TURN UP THE VOLUME! But don’t vote for this original: it’s only here for your enjoyment. Battle contenders are below.

 

THE BATTLE SHOWDOWN:

CONTENDER #1:  Low Cut Connie

Low Cut Connie is an American rock and roll band based in Philadelphia which was formed in 2010. The band has been recognized by various media in the US for their records and high-energy live show, of which the Los Angeles Weekly said “Their ferocious live show…is unmatched in all of rock right now.” Frontman Adam Weiner plays a piano named “Shondra,” after a dancer at the Clermont Lounge in Atlanta.

Weiner performed as a solo artist prior to starting Low Cut Connie. While living in New York City, he played piano in gay bars, karaoke bars, restaurants and ballet classes, often under the name Ladyfingers. He toured throughout North America and Europe playing to often unforgiving crowds in dive bars, honky tonks, anarchist squats, warehouses, drag bars, etc. Weiner started the project that would become Low Cut Connie with former members Dan Finnemore (from Birmingham, U.K.) and Neil Duncan (from Gainesville, Florida). The band’s name refers to a waitress who often wore low-cut tops at a restaurant near where Weiner grew up.

The group has released four albums, Get Out the Lotion (2010), Call Me Sylvia (2012), Hi Honey (2015) and their latest, released in 2017, Dirty Pictures (Part 1).

FUN FACTS re: their second album: The band began work on their second album, Call Me Sylvia, with the goal of trying harder to make a “real” album than they were with their debut, when their songs were less arranged. Finnemore moved to the U.S. in advance of the record release. The album was released on September 24, 2012, and currently holds a score of 80% on Metacritic, indicating “generally favorable reviews”. Among these reviews was a four-star (out of five) review from AllMusic‘s Stephen Thomas Erlewine, who praised them for making music in a style that originated in the 1960s, but without seeming outdated. PopMatters also reviewed the album, giving it a score of 7 out of 10 and also noting that the album’s sound resembled that of mid-20th-century music, as well as specifically comparing Weiner’s piano style to Jerry Lee Lewis. The album’s song “Boozophilia” was ranked the 31st best song of 2012 by Rolling Stone, which described it as “like Jerry Lee Lewis if he’d had his first religious experience at a Replacements show.” It was also chosen by President Barack Obama as one of the songs on his Spotify summer playlist in 2015. Weiner posted on Facebook that they were “completely humbled and honored and confused” by Obama doing this. I’d say that’s pretty cool…

Here is Low Cut Connie’s version of “Jump Into the Fire”. These guys are definitely High Energy! They are totally having a blast and really dig performing. And I like what they did with the song, incorporating elements of the Goodfellas scene that utilizes the Nilsson song.

 

CONTENDER #2:  Hollywood Vampires

Hollywood Vampires is an American rock supergroup formed in 2015 by Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, and Joe Perry to honor the music of the rock stars who died from excess in the 1970s. The band name derives from The Hollywood Vampires, a celebrity drinking club formed by Cooper in the 1970s which included but was not limited to: John Lennon and Ringo Starr of The Beatles, Keith Moon of The Who, and Micky Dolenz of The Monkees. Touring members include or have included Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum of Guns ‘N Roses fame, as well as Robert DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots.

The band has released one studio album, Hollywood Vampires (2015), featuring guest appearances by Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh, and Christopher Lee among others. Cooper and Perry have discussed plans for a future live album, stating that Depp’s schedule works differently than theirs.

The group’s debut live performances were held at Roxy Theatre (West Hollywood) in Los Angeles across September 16 and 17, 2015. The three core members were accompanied by bassist Duff McKagan, drummer Matt Sorum, rhythm guitarist Tommy Henriksen, and Bruce Witkin on keyboards and additional guitar. Guest performers for both nights were Tom Morello, Geezer Butler, Perry Farrell, Zak Starkey, and Kesha, and Marilyn Manson guesting on the second night. The next week, the group performed at Brazil’s Rock in Rio festival on September 24, 2015, and was webcast live by AOL. Guest performers were Lzzy Hale, Zak Starkey, and Andreas Kisser.

In February 2016, the group performed at the Grammy Award ceremony as a tribute to Lemmy, who had died at the end of 2015. The group also announced their first concert tour, which began at Turning Stone Resort & Casino on May 24 (2016). The group was scheduled to make their first late-night television appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on July 11, 2016; however, lead guitarist and co-founder Perry collapsed on stage during a performance on July 10. The band continued to perform without Perry prior to his return to the tour on July 22.

Current (and founding) band members:

Alice Cooper – lead and backing vocals, harmonica (2015–present)

Johnny Depp – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals, slide guitar, keyboards (2015–present)

Joe Perry – lead and rhythm guitar, backing and lead vocals (2015–present)

Current touring members are Tommy Henriksen – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboards (2015–present), Matt Sorum – drums, backing and lead vocals (2015–present), Bruce Witkin – rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards, backing and lead vocals, percussion, bass guitar (2015–present) and Robert DeLeo – bass guitar, backing vocals (2016–present)

Former touring members were Duff McKagan – bass guitar, backing vocals (2015–2016), Kesha – lead and backing vocals (2015), Lzzy Hale – lead and backing vocals, rhythm and lead guitar (2015), Brad Whitford – rhythm and lead guitar (2017) and Glen Sobel – drums (2017)

The Hollywood Vampires version of “Jump Into the Fire” is unique in that it truly highlights the group’s primary mission of honoring dead rock stars: their “Jump Into the Fire” song version starts out with a nod to another of Nilsson’s original songs: “One” (a song written by Harry Nilsson and made famous by Three Dog Night whose recording reached number five on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1969 and number four in Canada. The song is known for its opening line “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do”. Nilsson wrote the song after calling someone and getting a busy signal. He stayed on the line listening to the “beep, beep, beep, beep…” tone, writing the song. The busy signal became the opening notes of the song).

And the Hollywood Vampires version ends in similar fashion by including a bit of one of my favorite Nilsson songs, “Coconut” (a novelty song written and first recorded by American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, released as the third single from his 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson. It was on the U.S. Billboard charts for 10 weeks, reaching #8, and was ranked by Billboard as the #66 song for 1972. It only minorly charted in the UK, reaching #42. “Coconut” did best in Canada, where it peaked at #5).

Here it is. Kick back and give this one a listen.

 

Okay, it all comes down to this:

TIME TO VOTE! Which version do you like better and why? When you’re done voting, please visit these other BOTB participants and check out their cool battles:

Thanks for your participation and your votes! I’ll be back on the 21st to post the results. Until then, Rock On my friends…

 

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BATTLE OF THE BANDS – Valentine’s Edition: I WANT TO KNOW WHAT LOVE IS by Foreigner

Hope you all had a great Valentine’s Day! I’m keeping the Love theme going with today’s Battle of the Bands featuring “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner. 

A quick refresher because it’s been since (yikes!) November that I had a battle here. I’ll introduce the song and feature two contenders doing cover versions. You give a listen and then vote in the Comments section on which cover version you like better (and if you care to share, let me know why you made that choice). Then I’ll be back in 6 days to post the battle results. Stephen McCarthy pretty much runs the battle hop (although he denies that) so if you’re interested in participating, get in touch with him over at his place.

Now, let’s get started:

This amazing Foreigner power ballad is one of my all-time favorite love songs. The very nature of power ballads are that they are an emotional style of music that often deal with romantic and intimate relationships, and to a lesser extent, war (protest songs), loneliness, death, drug abuse, politics and religion, usually in a poignant but solemn manner. (Example: Wind of Change by the Scorpions and several U2 songs). Ballads are generally melodic enough to get the listener’s attention.

“I Want to Know What Love Is” is plenty melodic. It was one of the several songs I featured in my Monday’s Music Moves Me post of favorite Rock Love Songs. But I didn’t share all that I learned about the song in that post. Here’s another interesting tidbit relayed by Mick Jones, who in 1976 formed Foreigner with Ian McDonald and recruited lead singer Lou Gramm; he also co-produced all of the band’s albums and co-wrote most of their songs with Gramm. And Jones wrote the band’s most successful single, “I Want to Know What Love Is”:

Foreigner recorded for Atlantic Records, and their 1981 album 4 spent more weeks at #1 than any album released by the label. Ahmet Ertegun, who was the head of Atlantic, cried when he first heard this song. Mick Jones explains: “Part of my dream at the beginning was to be on Atlantic Records, because of the heritage: all the R&B stars of the ’50s, people like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. It meant so much to me and my growing up in music. So it meant a lot to have Ahmet Ertegun, who had been a part of that magical era and a person who I respected and looked up to, come into the studio. I took him aside and I said, ‘I have a song to play you, Ahmet.’ I took him into the studio, and we just sat there in two chairs, and I put the song on. Halfway through I looked over and indeed, there were tears coming out of his eyes. I thought, Whoa, this is a major moment for me. I’ve been able to impress this man who has heard some of the best, and produced some of the best music in the world. And here he is, and I’ve reached him emotionally. By the end of the song we were both in tears. Wonderful moments like that, they’re just very meaningful.”

Indeed, Foreigner’s song is meaningful. Here is their #1 hit “I Want to Know What Love Is” for your enjoyment only; Don’t vote on this one. The battle contenders are below. Foreigner’s song features backing vocals from the New Jersey Mass Choir affiliated with the Gospel Music Workshop of America, Dreamgirls star Jennifer Holliday, and featured keyboard work by Thompson Twins frontman Tom Bailey. The choir also appears in the song’s music video. You can read more about the choir’s moving involvement in the making of the music video at my Best Rock Love Songs post.

Now, on to today’s battle:

Battle Contenders:

Tina Arena – “I Want to Know What Love Is” was covered by Australian singer Tina Arena and her recording was released as a single in 1998 from her album In Deep. Arena’s version of the song was produced by Foreigner band member Mick Jones, who wrote the song. This version of the song includes a previously unrecorded bridge between the second and third choruses, specifically written for Tina Arena by Mick Jones.

The song peaked at #13 in France and finished 60th on the end-of-year chart of 1999.

This is a magnificent cover:

 

Another fabulous cover by:

Wynonna Judd – “I Want to Know What Love Is” was covered by American country singer Wynonna Judd and her recording was released in August 24, 2004 from her album What the World Needs Now Is Love as fourth single. Wynonna’s version of the song was produced by Narada Michael Walden, known for his work with Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and George Michael, and Wynonna. This version of the song was included in a popular Brazilian soap opera, Senhora do Destino.

In the US, Wynonna’s version peaked at #14 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. On the Hot Dance Club Songs of Billboard, it debuted at #50 and peaked at #12. It is also her first single to chart in Sweden, where it debuted at #67 and peaked at #15.

 

TIME TO VOTE! Which version do you like better and why? When you’re done voting, please visit these other BOTB participants and check out their cool battles:

Thanks for your participation and your votes! I’ll be back on the 21st to post the results. Until then, let us know if you know what love is

 

Battle of the Bands – “Spooky” by Classics IV

It’s mid-November and that means it’s time for another Battle of the Bands. I’ll present two covers of a song that I choose and you guys listen to both and vote which one you like better. What does the winner get? Nothing but a slot on my BOTB Excel spreadsheet, but hey, it’s fun. So play along, will ya?

I had fun putting together my Halloween playlist for the other music bloghop in which I participate, Monday’s Music Moves Me (which I unfortunately missed the last two weeks because my greyhound Picasso had major surgery and he had a very rough recovery…and then my other greyhound Luca got sick too and I think I spent more time staying up all night with my dogs and hanging at the vet’s office than doing anything else). Anyway, one of the songs I featured on my Halloween playlist (which you should really check out because it’s good!) was “Spooky”. There I showcased two of the most popular versions, one from 1968 by the group Classics IV and the other from 1979 when it was covered by the Atlantic Rhythm Section.

Here’s a little backstory on the song with a mini-playlist including the two versions just mentioned plus the original for your enjoyment. But don’t vote on any of these! Below the Spooky song facts I’m posting two unique covers by female artists and therein lies today’s battle.

Spooky – “Spooky” was originally an instrumental song performed by saxophonist Mike Sharpe (Shapiro), written by Shapiro and Harry Middlebrooks, Jr., which first charted in 1967 hitting #57 on the US pop charts. Its best-known version was created by James Cobb and producer Buddy Buie for the group Classics IV when they added lyrics about a “spooky little girl”. In 1968, the vocal version of the song reached #3 in the U.S. (Billboard Hot 100) and #46 in the UK.

This was one of the first songs to get a lot of airplay on the Album Oriented Rock (AOR) format. FM was relatively new, and AOR was a great format for people who wanted to hear songs on rock albums that weren’t necessarily hits.

The Classics IV is a band formed in Jacksonville, Florida, United States, in 1965. The band is often credited for establishing the “soft southern rock” sound. The band, led by singer Dennis Yost, is known mainly for the hits “Spooky”, “Stormy” and “Traces”, released 1967 to 1969, which have become cover standards.

The song was also a hit when covered by the Atlanta Rhythm Section. The Classics IV member Cobb and bandmates Dean Daughtry and Robert Nix later became part of the Atlanta Rhythm Section and they re-recorded “Spooky” in 1979, also produced by Buie. It was the second of two singles released from their Underdog LP. Atlanta Rhythm Section’s version hit #17 in the US on Billboard and #15 on Cash Box. It also charted minorly (is that a word? If it is, I don’t believe I’ve ever used it before) internationally.

“Spooky” has also been covered by a number of artists including Dusty Springfield (whose gender-flipped version was featured prominently in the Guy Ritchie film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), Percy Sledge, Martha and the Vandellas, Michel Pagliaro (recorded song in French), Velvet Monkeys, R.E.M., Imogen Heap, Kid Montana, and jazz saxophonist David Sanborn, who released it as an instrumental.

For today’s battle, I’ve chosen two well-known female artists and their unique cover versions of this song.

CONTENDER #1:  Joan Osborne

Joan Elizabeth Osborne (born July 8, 1962) is an American singer, songwriter, and interpreter of music, having recorded and performed in various popular American musical genres including pop, soul, R&B, blues, and country. She is best known for her recording of the Eric Bazilian song “One of Us” (I love this song!). She has toured with Motown sidemen the Funk Brothers and was featured in the documentary film about them, Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

Joan Osborne performing in Wilmington, Delaware in November 2009

Originally from Anchorage, Kentucky, a suburb of Louisville, Osborne moved to New York City in the late 1980s, where she formed her own record label, Womanly Hips, to release a few independent recordings. She signed with other labels and released several albums over the years and had an interesting career journey along the way, including accompanying with her band the Dixie Chicks for a national tour in the summer of 2003. During that time she also joined veteran San Francisco jam-rockers The Dead (the American rock band composed of some of the former members of the Grateful Dead) as a vocalist, and released her fourth album, titled How Sweet It Is, a collection of classic rock and soul covers. Osborne is currently a member of Trigger Hippy, along with Steve Gorman, Tom Bukovac, Jackie Greene, and Nick Govrik. Trigger Hippy released their debut album on September 30, 2014.

Having grown up in New York City and lived there for many decades, Osborne has stated that she feels a particular attachment to the city, particularly the borough of Brooklyn. Her interest in her neighborhood’s culture, history, and society has multiple influences on her music. As well, she’s expressed admiration for American poetry, especially the works of Walt Whitman, and cited that as a major inspiration for her songwriting.

Here is Joan Osborne’s cover of Spooky:

 

CONTENDER #2:  Deana Martin

Deana Martin (born August 19, 1948) is an American singer, actress, author, performer and daughter of well-known entertainer, Dean Martin. Deana was born in Manhattan, New York, to Dean Martin and his first wife, Elizabeth (Betty) MacDonald. She moved to Beverly Hills, California with her family by the age of one. She later went to live with Dean and his second wife, Jeanne Biegger. During her childhood, it was not unusual for her dad’s Rat Pack friends, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., to stop by for a visit. Being around her father and his friends led Deana to decide that she wanted a career in the entertainment industry.

She made her television debut in 1966, performing on The Dean Martin Show. She became a frequent guest, taking part in both musical and comedy numbers with a wide array of entertainers including Frank Sinatra. She trained professionally as an actress at the Dartington College of Arts in the United Kingdom and performed in theater productions in a variety of leading roles onstage and co-starred in several movies alongside some of Hollywood’s greatest actors.

Martin first established herself as a recording artist with producer Lee Hazlewood for the Reprise Records label. The recordings included her country hit, “Girl of the Month Club,” while she was still a teenager. Other tunes on the project were “When He Remembers Me,” “Baby I See You” and “The Bottom Of My Mind,” all recorded during the 1960s. Musicians from the famous Los Angeles group the Wrecking Crew, which included Glen Campbell on guitar, played on these recordings.

In 2009 the singer’s CD Volare was in both the Billboard Top Jazz Albums chart and the Billboard Heat Seekers chart. It was preceded by Memories Are Made of This in 2006. Deana’s 2013 release, Destination Moon, is a compilation of her favorite jazz and pop songs, plus a duet with her father, Dean Martin, on “True Love.” Martin returned in 2016 with Swing Street, an album of swing standards mixed with new songs soon to be classics. This is where you’ll find her cover version of “Spooky.”

The singer is also an author with her New York Times best-selling book, “Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter’s Eyes.” Deana performs her father’s songs as well as favorite classic pop hits in venues around the world including symphony halls, performing arts centers, blues venues, jazz clubs and festivals. She and her producer/husband, John Griffeth, divide their time between a home in Beverly Hills, California and Branson, Missouri.

From the Swing Street album, here is Deana Martin’s cover of “Spooky”:

If you can’t access the above video, here is a link to Spotify where you’ll be able to listen to Deana’s version of Spooky on her album there. She has some good songs on that album for anyone who may want to check out some more of her songs. (Thanks Debbie Doglady for pointing the problem out to me and providing the solution. You rock Sister!)

TIME TO VOTE! Which version do you like better and why? When you’re done voting, please visit these other BOTB participants and check out their cool battles:

Thanks for your participation and your votes! I’ll be back on the 26th to post the results. Until then, rock on…

 

Battle of the Bands: I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home) by Grand Funk Railroad

I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)” is a 1970 song written by American musician Mark Farner and recorded by Grand Funk Railroad as the closing track to their album Closer to Home. Ten minutes in duration, it is the band’s longest studio recording. One of the group’s best-known songs, it is composed as two distinct but closely related movements. Its title has been rendered in various ways across many different Grand Funk albums, including “I’m Your Captain”, “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home”, “Closer to Home/I’m Your Captain”, “Closer to Home (I’m Your Captain)”, and “Closer to Home”.

The song conveys the pleas of a captain on a troubled sea voyage and facing a mutiny from his crew. Its use of an orchestra during the long repeated refrains of the closing movement served to differentiate it from much of Grand Funk’s work. Several interpretations of the song have been given; most revolve around the Vietnam War, and “I’m Your Captain” is popular among veterans of that conflict.

A truncated version of the song was a modest hit single when first released, but the track achieved greater airplay on progressive rock radio stations. Decades later, “I’m Your Captain” remains a staple of many classic rock radio stations. It is considered to be the standout track on the Closer to Home album, and considered by both Farner and others to be his best work as a songwriter. And with its melodic strengths and dramatic feel it is often considered one of the best rock songs of all time.

THEMES & INTERPRETATIONS: Over the years many interpretations have been posed by listeners of “I’m Your Captain”, including the literal one of mutiny on a voyage, but also ones involving drug addiction and ones by those who see resonance in Homer’s Odyssey and themes of returning home, such as college students returning from a long semester. Authors have seen the song as an “epic of paranoia and disease” and as a tale of a man who had lost control of his life in a fashion strong enough to invoke childhood nightmares. It has been used as the subtitle for a chapter of a novel dealing with war and addictions. Comparisons have been made to Walt Whitman’s poem “O Captain! My Captain!” in its use of the rank to mean Abraham Lincoln.

Farner himself does not explicitly state what the song is about, and indeed prefers that listeners be able to use their own imaginations when listening to songs in general. Nor did the other band members have any real idea of what Farner was getting at; Brewer has said, “I think it can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people.”

But the most common interpretations and resonances of “I’m Your Captain” revolve around the Vietnam War. The VH1 program Behind the Music said the song “became a subtle anti-war anthem.” Lee Andresen, author of Battle Notes: Music of the Vietnam War, sees it as portraying President Richard Nixon as “captain” of the United States, losing popular support for continuing the war.  Fellow Flint native Michael Moore remembers hearing it on the radio the day he went to his draft board (where he would file as a conscientious objector), and hoping the I’m getting closer to my home refrains would never end, as he felt America was his home and not Vietnam.

The song also found a following among American personnel in Vietnam, in part because the band’s working-class Flint origins were similar to those of many Americans serving in the war. It resonated with them as they tried to stay alive while waiting for the time when they could get closer to home, and then when they were finally returning from the war. It remains quite popular among Vietnam veterans and Farner has played it at several veterans’ benefits. Farner visited and performed at The Wall in November 2007, on the 25th anniversary of the memorial’s dedication. He later said, “The gig was a great spiritual and emotional experience. The ‘Nam vets I had the privilege to speak to were so gracious and personal with me, as if we were relatives getting back together after a long time apart. As you could imagine, it was really hard for me to sing ‘I’m Your Captain’ because there was a softball stuck in my throat and I couldn’t swallow it!” In 2010, Farner sang the song accompanying himself on acoustic guitar at the Vietnam Veterans of America’s National Leadership Conference, where he received the organization’s President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

This song one of my favorites of all time. Here is the Grand Funk version. However, don’t vote on this one; it’s here for your reference and enjoyment only. Be sure to put on your headphones and turn it up! Then take a listen to the two contenders below and let me know which cover version you prefer.

 

Contender #1:  HELLOWEEN – Helloween is a German power metal band founded in 1984 in Hamburg, Northern Germany. The band is a pioneering force in the power metal genre. Since its inception, Helloween has released fifteen studio albums, three live albums, three EPs, and twenty-seven singles, and has sold more than eight million records worldwide.

This cover is from their sixth studio album Master of the Rings, released in 1994:

 

Contender #2:  TOM LUM FOREST – Tom Forest, a computer programmer/software engineer living in Portland, Oregon is also a musician who has been making music since 1969 when he was a sixth-grader playing trombone in the school band. Some years later, in 1977, he bought a Pan guitar and taught himself to play. That started him on the path of a lifetime spent honing his craft, defining his style, networking with other musicians and creating music.

Regarding his music, Tom said, “I recorded my first album, “Rough but Pleasing,” in 2009. It and my second album, “Pretty as you Please,” were all covers. My third album, 2011’s “Roots of Happiness,” had a couple of originals. Subsequent albums have been mostly originals. My closest niche is probably folk-rock and/or singer-songwriter. I don’t have a band: I just hire musicians when I record an album. My leading influences are CSNY, Clapton, Santana, the Grateful Dead, Chicago, and the Allman Brothers.”

He recorded his version of “I’m Your Captain” in 2016. He arranged it as a duet with singer Sarah Billings, setting the arrangement apart from the original. As for the music, Tom said, “We lacked the strings, flute, and sea sounds of the original. But we added waves of guitars. I played the 12-string acoustic rhythm. Terry Robb is playing the six-string acoustic fills and early solo breaks. Both further set my version [apart] from the original, which has a six string acoustic rhythm and electric fills and leads. During the long instrumental break I add some 12-string leads and some more languid 6-string leads. Terry adds an acoustic slide part to the jam.”

I really like his version of the song. I’ve been listening to some of his music and it’s really quite good. You can find him here on SoundCloud or here on YouTube.

This cover of “I’m Your Captain” is from his album Pretty as You Please, released in June 2016:

 

 

TIME TO VOTE! Which version do you like better and why? When you’re done voting, please visit these other BOTB participants and check out their cool battles:

Thanks for your participation and your votes! I’ll be back on the 26th to post the results. Until then, rock on…

 

Battle of the Bands – CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND of Stuck in the Middle with You!

Last month I did my first FOUR-WAY BATTLE using the Stealers Wheel song Stuck in the Middle with You. I featured two Jazz covers and two Country covers and folks cast two votes, voting for their favorite in each genre. The winners in that Playoff Round were Michael Bublé as the Jazz contender and Keith Urban as the Country contender. That battle has lead us up to this month’s battle:

The “Stuck in the Middle with You” Championship!

For today’s battle, voters will be choosing ONE WINNER who will walk away with the Championship title (and maybe even a SuperBattle Ring).

The contenders are last month’s winners: Michael Bublé vs Keith Urban. Give a listen and choose your favorite.

Jazz Contender:  Michael Bublé – Michael Bublé (born September 9, 1975) is a Canadian singer, songwriter, actor and record producer. He has won several awards, including four Grammy Awards and multiple Juno Awards.

Here’s his jazzy take on Stuck in the Middle with You, the winning Jazz cover version in my battle last month:

 

Country Contender:  Keith Urban – As mentioned last month, Keith Lionel Urban (born 26 October 1967) is a New Zealand born country musician (singer, songwriter, guitarist, TV show judge and record producer) with an impressive award-winning career.

His cover version of Stuck in the Middle with You is from the 2004 re-release of The Ranch’s self-titled album. The Ranch was a country music trio, which formed in 1997 by Peter Clarke on drums and percussion, Jerry Flowers on harmony vocals and bass guitar, and Keith Urban on lead vocals, guitar, ganjo, and keyboards. Most of the group’s material was co-written by Urban and Vernon Rust. Self-titled album The Ranch is the band’s only album. It was released by Capitol Nashville in 1997. After disbanding the group The Ranch, Urban resumed his solo career. Due to his solo success, The Ranch’s album was re-issued in February 2004 on Capitol/EMI as Keith Urban in The Ranch with two bonus tracks: “Billy” and “Stuck in the Middle with You“. Here is that bonus track and the winner in the Country genre in last month’s battle:

 

So, who is going to reign supreme in my first SuperBattle Championship? Please cast your vote in the Comment section and let me know why you are choosing that artist for this song.

And when you’re done voting, please visit these other BOTB participants and check out their cool battles:

I’ll be back on August 21st declaring the winner of this Stuck in the Middle with You Championship. It will probably take me that long to clean up the parking lot: the tailgate parties leading up to this championship got a little rowdy…

As always, thanks so much for participating.