When Paul Simon turned down the chance to write the theme song for Midnight Cowboy and the rights of Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” proved too difficult to pin down, someone suggested up-and-comer Harry Nilsson for the job. John Schlesinger liked Nilsson’s cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin” on Aerial Ballet, and had even been using the song as a ‘temporary’ track around which he could edit the film. Nilsson’s cover, beautiful as it is, is still a pretty straightforward reading of the original, replicating detail after detail of Neil’s own laid back, breezy arrangement—it only really diverges in its orchestral embellishments, and of course in the coda which allowed Nilsson to show off his angelic vocals. “The Lord Must Be in New York City,” the substitute theme tune Nilsson supplied tries to re-capture that same Fred Neil spirit, slyly adding lyrics that were a bit more appropriate to the film. But, as everybody now knows, it was ultimately rejected by Schlesinger. In 1968, “Everybody’s Talkin” became the iconic theme of an iconic film.
The story is instructive because it shows the way in which a sound that was integrally Fred Neil’s became disassociated from the man himself.
In 1969, Neil began collecting significant royalties for a song he penned off the cuff—and whose popularity seemed to overshadow him. No stranger to drug addiction (two of his closest protégés were Gram Parsons and David Crosby, if that means anything to you), he quickly faded into obscurity. His last album, The Other Side of this Life, was released only three years after Midnight Cowboy (as if sign-posting its own contractual obligations, the LP was padded out with alternate and live versions of his old songs). By the mid-Seventies, the Greenwich Village folkie who let an unknown Bob Dylan sit in with him, had moved permanently to Coconut Grove, Florida, playing the odd gig but devoting himself primarily to conservationism and philanthropic causes. He died, shortly before beginning treatment for skin cancer, in 2001.
Because of the enigmatic nature of Neil’s biography, you can’t trace his influence as directly or in as coherent a way as you can other lynch-pins in folk-rock history—Dylan, say, or The Band. He is further back in the picture and about to fade away. Listen for him and you can certainly hear his influence everywhere. However, it’s always a ghostly thing, like the sea still echoing inside a seashell.
The first thing that usually gets commented upon is the ‘deep voice’, but what tends to be overlooked is the unique melodic sensibility that went along with it. Watch him surprise you at the end of a line by diving deeper into his register, sustaining it, making it resonate at its lowest end. The melodies soar momentarily, but they are always drifting downwards. Johnny Cash would seem an obvious touchstone–but then again, a little too obvious. Johnny Hartman had a deep voice too, after all, and Neil’s phrasing swings far more than a folk singer’s should. That said, his voice is freighted with melancholy. The waltzy sway of his arrangements (not unlike Dylan’s take on “Corrina, Corrina”) are forever being off-set by that languorous, after hours croon. As a songwriter too, Neil seemed to be mining a divide between the hammock and the abyss, supplying lyrics that were as laid back as they were fatalistic: wars and dolphins, summer breezes and the shadows of everyone’s eyes.
And then there’s the electric guitar playing: flangey and reverb-laden, as fluid as a Floridian beachfront view; awash in major sevenths and occasional instrumental breaks (doubly distinctive as his first solo album was released right in between Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited). It was a sound he’d codified by his second album, the one that opens with what is today the quintessential Fred Neil composition: “The Dolphins.” You will find the same sleepy jangle echoing through everything from The Byrds to Tim Buckley, from Gram Parson’s “Brass Buttons” to Joni Mitchell’s “Otis and Marlena,” all the way down to the watery drone of “Champagne Supernova”.
Through a career that spans over forty years and travels nearly every road on the musical map, Loudon Wainwright III has always maintained an ultimate honesty in his work. Whether it’s the “New Bob Dylan” sincerity in his 1970 debut record, his aptly placed humor, or his deeply sentimental songs about family, death and loved ones, Loudon has the ability to poetically flip a switch between quick and slow, quiet and loud, happy and sad.
This live ballad, off 1979’s A Live One, delves into the woes and romantic tolls of life on the road, finding the singer in a state of utter desperation, trying to scratch that itch caused by the loneliness of empty motel rooms and beautiful faces with no names. The song was originally released on Loudon’s sophomore record, 1971’s Album II, and serves as a hint to where his songwriting and wonderful autobiographical narratives were soon headed. words / p dufrene
Not sure what you had accomplished musically by the time you hit 20 years of age, but I’m fairly certain Hayden Pedigo has you beat. But hey, age is just a number, right? What counts here is that the Amarillo, TX-based guitarist has just put out his star-studded sophomore LP, Five Steps, and it is a pretty wonderful collection.
The first side consists mostly of duets with Pedigo’s Takoma School/American Primitive elders, including Mark Fosson, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Danny Paul Grody and Chuck Johnson. The vibe is casual and there is lovely instrumental interplay throughout; even though much of the recording was done long-distance, it’s easy to imagine the musicians trading licks from across a room. Side 2 is something else altogether, though it keeps the collaborative momentum rolling. For “Dream Theory,” Pedigo draws on the talents of some post-punk/experimental heavy hitters, including This Heat’s Charles Hayward, avant-guitarist extraordinaire Fred Frith and Faust co-founder Werner Zappi Diermaier. The four-part suite is an absorbing, oddly hypnotic, and yeah, dreamy composition. Hayden has some seriously eclectic, ambitious sounds at his fingertips, making you wonder what else the dude has up his sleeve. Whatever it is, it’s sure to be a fun ride. words / t wilcox
More r&b and early soul gems from my grandpa, C.W. “Pop” Hardwick’s stash of jukebox stock. For the full story and more killer sides that set San Antonio’s hips to shaking and hearts to breaking, refer back to volume two.
Download: Hipshakers & Heartbreakers – Vol 3 (external link, zipped folder)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Couple of dudes get together to bash out a few ramshackle indie rock songs and they end up sounding like the Velvet Underground. Sure, what James Hoare of Veronica Falls and Jack Cooper of Mazes are doing here with Ultimate Painting isn’t anything new, but who needs novelty when you have quality like this? “Central Park Blues” positively struts around in its influence, with its chime of guitar and cigarette-in-mouth vocal delivery. The duo take their time letting that melody out, dropping it like a ball of yarn down a flight of stairs, and they recount their trip to NYC with a light drawl and self-conscious wonder that makes them sound a bit like Courtney Barnett wandering up from Lou Reed’s downtown spots. Sure, “Central Park Blues” may roll down the same paths as a thousand nuggets before it, but you’ll still feel every bump. words / m garner
Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice, every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.
SIRIUS 364: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ The B-G System – I Don’t Want To Be Your Man ++ Harvey Mandel – Wade In The Water Part I ++ Unknown Japanese Artist – Song Unknown ++ Toy Factory – Little Girl ++ The Rattlers – The Witch ++ Think – California (Is Getting So Heavy) ++ Spirit – The Other Song ++ Lightmyth – Across The Universe ++ Unknown Russian Artist – BPEMR ++ Wilding/Bonus – Son Of Alma ++ Emy Jackson and Blue Comets – You Don’t Know Baby ++ The Mardi Gras – If I Can’t Have You ++ Novac – Beyond The Look ++ Little Richard – Nuki Suki ++ Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity – This Wheel’s On Fire ++ Delia Gartrell – See What You Done, Done ++ Funkadelic – I Wanna Know If It’s Good To You? ++ Shuggie Otis – Jenni Lee ++ Takuro Yoshida – A Night Of Our Trip ++ The Cryan’ Shames – Baltimore Oriole ++ The Fabulous Flippers – It Was A Very Good Year ++ Zephyr – Night Fades Softly ++ The Tigers – Seaside Bound ++ Ichiro Araki – Itoshi No Macks ++ The Dirty Shames – Coconut Grove ++ Old Well – Sanae-chan ++ The Kinks – Apeman ++ Midnight Sun – Where You Going To Be ++ Anita Kerr – Strange ++ The Free Design – Girls Alone ++ The Tempters – Kamisama Onegai ++ David Axelrod – Part I ++ Takuro Yoshida – I Live On ++ Modern Vices – Baby
*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.