09/02/2021: “Misty” by Bob Brookmeyer and Stan Getz

This song is profoundly lovely. It’s measured, calm jazz for an evening’s contemplation.

In these lockdowns, a song like this goes a long way. It’s like marshmallows, but with saxophones. If that makes sense.

I love the way that Stan Getz’ saxophone and Bob Brookmeyer’s trombone play off against each other so supportively too!

With Elvin Jones on drums and Herbie Hancock on piano, the song simply can’t miss…

The song was originally released in 1955 by Erroll Garner – the version here was released in 1964 on Bob Brookmeyer and Friends. 

08/02/2021: “Ain’t She Sweet” by The Beatles

It’s hardly surprising that The Beatles’ very first professionally recorded song wasn’t a sophisticated and original masterpiece such as ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ or ‘Yesterday’.

They were a young rock ‘n’ roll band from Liverpool. And when this song was recorded in 1961, they didn’t even have Ringo on board.

But I like this a lot. Paul’s bass playing is creative and nimble, and Lennon’s singing is impassioned, adding a rock star growl to what was originally a very tame 20s pop song.

The list of acts which have covered the song is too long to include here, but it was originally penned in 1927 by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen. A famous version from that era is the mellow and pleasant Gene Austin version – but it was covered by rock acts in the 50s too.

The Beatles version came out in 1964, although they did a 2nd version in 1969 which showed just how far they had progressed in 10 years musically!

07/02/2021: “Zion We Want To Go” by Sons Of Negus Churchical Host

Sons of Negus is a group led by Ras Michael. Many of the big acts from Jamaica such as Bob Marley were devoutly Rastafari. But few were quite as intensely and single-mindedly spiritual in their music as Ras Michael was.

He was one of the musicians who brought traditional Rastafari Nyabinghi music to wider audiences.

The many layered drums play a key role in those songs. I’ve not heard a flute in one before though!

The flute adds a further esoteric touch – the electric piano is another innovation. A welcome innovation too, as the song is rich with melody, dripping with musical colour, and infused with fluid rhythm.

The track was released in 1968 – it’s got that classic raw 60s reggae sound…

18/01/2021: “Be By My Side” by Dom Salvador

A lot of people hold that music from the 60s was the best. And Brazil is generally considered to punch well above its already considerable weight musically.

So there’s no surprise that this energetic number from ’60s Brazil is so heavily laden with funkiness that it seems fit to burst!

The Bossa Nova background to Dom Salvador’s inspired piano playing is clear, as he sprints up and down the octaves and drags the drummer, bassist and horns player with him.

It fits somewhere between Bossa Nova and Funk – a great example of MPB, or ‘Música popular brasileira’ (Popular Music of Brazil).

The track was released on Dom Salvador in 1969, and reissued in 2016.

17/01/2021: “Capullito De Aleli” by Pepe Jaramillo

“Capullito De Aleli” was written in 1930 by Rafael Hernandez for Los Jardineros. It’s been covered many times since then, not least by Nat King Cole!

This is a solid version though, evocative of the Spanish speaking Americas even though it’s completely instrumental.

Pepe Jaramillo was a Mexican pianist, who rose to international fame after moving to London. He even gave a performance to the Royal Family…

This version of the song was released in 1960 on South Of The Border, and remastered in 2014 for a re-release as Al sur de la frontera.

10/01/2021: “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” by The Byrds

Bob Dylan actually wrote this in 1967. But he didn’t get around to releasing his (stereotypically Bob Dylan, with harmonica and country guitar) until 1971.

It’s a great song, of course. In many ways, though, I prefer this laidback 1968 cover by The Byrds.

The song has even more country character, with a walking bass and steel guitar. Makes sense really, because it was released on an album called Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. 

It’s a pleasant, easygoing song. The vocal harmonies on the chorus are very 60s, and I don’t miss Dylan’s harsh harmonica on this!

The Byrds obviously loved working with Bob Dylan, having had success previously with “Mr Tambourine Man”.

Still, there was a bit of controversy when The Byrds’ version of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” fluffed the lyrics, singing ‘pack up your money, pick up your tent’ instead of the original ‘pick up your money, pack up your tent’.

Then Bob Dylan, in his version, sang ‘pack up your money, put up your tent, McGuinn’!

27/12/2020: “Country Air” by The Beach Boys

Wild Honey, the 1967 album which “Country Air” appears, was initially panned by music critics, which tells you all you need to know about the sheer pretentiousness and groupthink of much of that cohort…

But it’s one of the bands most powerful albums. It departs from much of their earlier material, featuring a more stripped back sound – less of their harmony singing, more piano/singer combos.

It really proves the ability of the band to conjure up enduring melodies. I like the song’s simple lyrics, too.

Two minutes of good vibes!

14/12/2020: “Dr Kitch” by Lord Kitchener

Before reggae, before ska, before soca, there was calypso.

Calypso directly descends from the musical styles brought over from African due to slavery. It blends many different styles – it sounds much closer to the music of the Spanish and French Caribbean.

Lord Kitchener, born in Trinidad in 1922, was a leading figure in the development of modern, popular calypso from the traditional folk styles.

This song shows how Calypso was often used to circumvent the moralistic censorship of the day. Double meanings had been used to allow criticism of whites, but soon grew to encompass all kinds of topics. Baudy innuendos being one!

I won’t tell you what the song is about. You’ll probably figure it out soon enough. And if you can’t, then good for you!

“Dr Kitch” was released in 1963.

11/12/2020: “Guns Of Navarone” by The Skatalites

The original version of this is a bombastic theme tune for a 1961 film – as you might guess, that film is called ‘The Guns Of Navarone’.

This ska version is much more fun!

The horns are slower and more triumphant, and the classic ska bounce turns it into a dance song!

The Skatalites were a Jamaican band, but this song went over strongly in the UK, and reached number 36 in the chart. It’s brilliant first wave ska at its best.

It was covered again by the Specials in 1980, but The Skatalites’ version was released in 1965, four years after the film.

01/12/2020: “Ain’t Got The Love Of One Girl (On My Mind)” by The Ambassadors

This one is absolute soul gold. Hanging on at the end of the 60s, the song is dusted with heartbreak, stained with regret.

It’s a sign of how times have changed – but also how some things are universal. The writer is essentially warning girls that he’s a player and can’t commit. A heartbreaker.

It’s a real crooner, laying on a spread of sweet horns, sugary vocals, soft drums and honeyed strings.

Update the language, make it a whole lot coarser, and you can see it as a hip hop track. And of course, it’s been sampled. Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth use it in their 1994 song, “I Got A Love”.

Originally, though, in its purer, more wholesome form, the song came out in 1969 on Soul Summit.