Category Archives: Pop

Standard Time ~~ “You’ve Got a Friend”

Carole-KingCarole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” may not be the most covered pop song of the second half of the 20th century, (that title is often said to belong to McCartney’s “Yesterday”), but it may be the most successfully covered. I say this because despite Carole King having written and initially recorded it, the most famous version remains James Taylor’s. In addition, countless other versions exist from artists who have since made it staples of their own. The wide array of interpretations help show that besides being a superbly written song, it is remarkably flexible. Taylor’s version is, true to form, very low-key, with little more than guitar, percussion, and beautifully sung backup-vocals (courtesy of Joni Mitchell); quite different than the original. But, as we will see, the song has the ability to convey all types of emotions and styles.

Carole King


Despite it being composed and often performed by Carole King, many have not heard her original version. In comparison to where it would eventually go, this is a rather tame take. Take note of the short introductory tag, which is only otherwise utilized by James Taylor. The form is unusually long, and we can either see it as a an ABABCB form or AABBAABBCBB, because the verses and choruses turn around on themselves without really reaching a cadence. The style and tempo falls somewhere between a ballad and a medium soul tune, both of which we will see fully realized later. In addition to the heavy soul inflections provided by King, there is a strongly implied backbeat that never manifests itself. It can be assumed that King certainly approached this song as a ballad, but others, such as Donny Hathaway, took it into a more driving, soulful direction.

Donny Hathaway


hathawayThere were many soul artists of the 70’s who covered “You’ve Got a Friend,” including Al Green and Aretha Franklin. It was even included on an expanded reissue of Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis. But of all of them, the Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack duet version was probably the most well known. While this recording of Donny Hathaway performing the song live does not include Flack, it is based on the same arrangement and features an incredible performance by Hathaway. Hearing this song live shows how powerful Hathaway was able to make the song, this time including a heavy backbeat and lots of soulful melismas and crowd-participation. It is in this version that we see the song as more of a crowd pleasing soul standard as opposed to a ballad, and the effect is significant. It’s hard to believe that this song wasn’t written specifically for Hathway; it fits his voice and style perfectly, and this still stands as one of his best recorded performances.

Jacky Terrasson


Like its utilization in the soul community, there are many jazz musicians who have interpreted “You’ve Got a Friend.” Some were recorded as early as its release, including a version by Ella Fitzgerald with the Count Basie Orchestra. It has actually become more increasingly popular in recent years, especially with pianists. Kevin Hays, for one, recorded it for his album of the same name, which featured other newly interpreted modern standards.


Jacky Terrasson’s recent solo version is especially interesting. Going more in the ballad direction, the french pianist mixes classical flourishes with beautiful harmonies to create a genuinely emotional version of this classic. The length of the form is certainly felt in his slower take, but without much cost. The verses and choruses are performed with such tasteful refrain that when the bridge finally does arrive (over 4 minutes into the song) it is all the more powerful. Terrasson’s interpretation is of particular interest because, surely as a testament to the song’s quality and longevity, for the most part very few have taken it very far from its initial harmonic form. Still, much of the form remains the same, but Terrasson adds new and vibrant harmonic colors to the climax of the chorus as well as the intro and outro.

These three versions of “You’ve Got a Friend”, with the addition of the probably too-often heard James Taylor version, clearly illustrate a song that has rightfully earned a place in the library of “modern standards.” It has still been under 50 years since its initial recording, but the obvious power and distinction this song holds show it will continue to be covered for a long time.

A ~~ Z – The Grays – Ro Sham Bo

graysThe Grays were the most unexpected “supergroup” of the 90’s. Unexpected because, well, none of them were at all famous at the time of the recording. And, to be completely truthful, none of them are that famous even today. Jon Brion is the most well-known of The Grays’, having established himself as not only a successful pop producer (contributing to the likes of Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, the Crystal Method, and even Kanye West), but also as a film score composer (for films like Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and I [Heart] Huckabees), and (to a lesser extent) as a pop artist himself. But the Grays aren’t about one person, and by no means is their sound the result of one musician. The second most currently established former member of the band is Jason Falkner. Falkner, while taking a path similar to that of Mr. Brion, is now more renowned as an ace studio musician in addition to his output as a leader. While not as recognized in his home country for his solo work, he is quite established abroad as a pop singer, having released over 6 records in the last 15 years. The third “leg” of the grays was Buddy Judge, a singer/songwriter whose own wave of success has largely been boosted by help from both formerly mentioned artists. The forming of the Grays was essentially about three singer/songwriters in LA, frustrated with their previous exploits and failed bands, hoping to form a “more perfect union.” They hoped to form a group where everyone’s submissions and contributions were treated equally, a sort of democratic enclave within what was a highly feudal musical society. A noble idea, no doubt, and one that did actually work, for a brief period.

Jason Falkner Live

In the recruitment of their friend Dan McCarroll on drums, the Grays set out to evenly split their album into 4 original songs each. In the end, Falkner got a fifth, and 13 tracks were presented as 1994’s Ro Sham Bo. The opening track, Falkner’s “Very Best Years,” is as illustrative of the guitarist’s style as you will find. In hindsight, it really epitomizes 90’s pop/alternative rock (so if you have any friends who are obsessed with 90’s era radio, this will most likely strike their fancy), but despite its retrospectively typical sound, at the time it was quite a new style. I mean, essentially we are dealing with studio legends on this album, so it is no surprise to hear that they were one step ahead of everyone else.

“Very Best Years”

This studio-friendly sound really rings true on Buddy Judge’s debut track, “Everybody’s World.” The first minute and thirty seconds act as an exposé of the band’s talent in the studio. It is actually kind of creepy listening to today, to think that such a well-written, expertly produced and radio-friendly album could be so under the radar and then go out of print, and still, to this day, be relatively unknown.

But as well-intentioned as the Grays were, they were also essentially doomed from the start. Having three massively talented musicians trying to form a band that is completely democratic in nature is extremely oxymoronic. And for listeners, the seams show. Falkner, Judge, and Brion may all be coming from similar places and striving for similar sounds, but stacked side by side they couldn’t sound more different. Judge clearly is the weakest writer: his songs stand out the least on the album and ultimately act as fillers. Contrastingly, Falkner has an incredible knack for writing verse hooks and melodies, and his voice is certainly the strongest of the three, but his ability to string together entire well-rounded songs is lacking, and thus his input suffers. jonbrionJon Brion is not only the most talented member of the Grays, but he also is the most devoted to their concept. His first track on the album, “The Same Thing,” features verses and choruses sung by himself, but a bridge sung by Falkner, a guitar solo by Falkner, and even a curious little drum interlude by McCarroll. Not only are Brion’s songs the best on the album, but they’re also the most unconventional, which on an album like this is far more of a blessing than a curse. Even when taking a step away from conventionality doesn’t workout as planned, it ends up leaving a stronger mark when the album is all said and done.

“The Same Thing”

Like its finest parts, I like to treat this album as a deviation from what it was supposed to be. Think of it as a compilation: “Where were they then? Works by three of the last decade’s best pop producers/songwriters.” The album sounds a lot better this way, and it will make a lot more sense.

I’ve said it before…and I’ll say it again…

Patti Austin is RIDICULOUS



Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, more familiarly known as Becker/Fagen in this regard, account for almost one hundred percent of Steely Dan’s composing credits. One of the few exceptions exists on the title track of the band’s 1980 release Gaucho, which includes the addition of piano player Keith Jarrett. The thought of a collaboration between Steely Dan and Mr. Jarrett probably makes more than a few fans drool, but unfortunately the song was not written on amicable or cooperative terms.

Steely Dan, “Gaucho”:

Rather, Mr. Jarrett claims that Becker and Fagen stole from him, and sued on the basis of copyright infringement. The song that Jarrett claims they stole is his own “Long as you know you’re living yours,” from his 1974 release Belonging. Fagen and Becker were rather straighforward about its influence on their music (from an early 80’s interview in Musician Magazine):

MUSICIAN: Are you familiar with a Keith Jarrett record Belonging, particularly a tune called “Long as you know you’re living yours”?


MUSICIAN: Have you ever listened to that up against “Gaucho”?


MUSICIAN: I’m not casting any aspersions now, but in terms of the tempo and the bass line and the saxophone melody it’s pretty interesting.

BECKER: Parenthetically it is, yeah [uneasy laughter]

MUSICIAN: At this point the reporter traditionally asks the cornered politican or athlete to “go off the record.”

FAGEN: Off the record, we were heavily influenced by that particular piece of music.

BECKER: I love it.

Keith Jarrett, “Long as You Know You’re Living Yours”:

As far as Becker and Fagen go, this is a remarkably candid response, and for good reason. As their 1974 hit “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” illustrates, the duo are no strangers to borrowing from their influences: the first 8 bars are an exact transposition of Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father.” Keith JarrettLike many other artists, Becker and Fagen see such interpolations as intrinsic rather than insidious. It is at once both musically inherent and traditional to draw from music that one admires. But what is the difference between drawing from and stealing from others? Apparently, Keith Jarrett knows the difference: over $1 million dollars in royalties. So is there a difference between Jarrett and Silver? Where do we draw the line between influence and pilferage? Historically, the line is blurred.

Beethoven “expanded upon” Mozart: The influence of Mozart on Beethoven was documented by the latter composer himself in sketches and notes. He even copied an entire section from Mozart’z 40th symphony and used it in his own 5th symphony. The eventual overshadowing of the 40th symphony by the 5th in the classical music canon shows that such unintended collaborations contribute to both the further development and increased popularity of music.

Ravel “drew influence from” Debussy: In 1903 Ravel debuted his String Quartet in F Major. Like his older contemporary, Debussy, it would be the only string quartet he ever wrote. When it emerged, many rejected its significance because of its obvious similarities to Debussy’s 1893 String Quartet in G Minor. Blair Johnston explains this:

The similarities between [the two] can hardly be avoided or ignored. During the early years of his career, Ravel was frequently and sometimes vehemently criticized for having copied Debussy, and it was only later that musical society began to realize that, in the realm of piano music at least, it was equally possible that Debussy had imitated his younger colleague. With the String Quartet in F, composed in 1902 and 1903 and then revised up to 1910, however, Ravel seems more certain to have relied on Debussy; as emotionally, psychologically, and even structurally different as the two works are, one could never accuse them of having a language barrier.

Yet despite the cries of musical heresy, there was one person in particular who appreciated Ravel’s Quartet for what it was: Debussy. In a personal letter, he told ravel “In the name of the Gods of music and in my own, do not touch a single note you have written in your Quartet.” It remains one of the most often-performed string quartets of the last century.

Bebop pioneers “developed contrafacts” from the Great American Songbook: Open the Charlie Parker Omnibook and you’ll find dozens of original songs that were staples of the bebop era. The only catch is that Parker and his contemporaries didn’t exactly compose the songs themselves, the chords were borrowed from “pop” songs of the day. To avoid the same legal action that later cost Steely Dan over $1 million, artists like Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver and Tadd Dameron, among others, constructed new songs out of the works of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and more of their contemporaries, as well as from traditional songs. These contrafacts exist today as staples of the idiom, as an invaluable base to an ever-developing style.  

Hip Hop producers “sample” anything and everything: Hip hop production is based almost entirely on sampling. What started as DJing and spinning turned into modern beat-making: pioneers such as Prince Paul, RZA, Dr. Dre and DJ Premier composed beats for MCs that were comprised of parts of any vinyl they could get their hands on. Pete RockWhat started as a combination of sometimes even more than 15 often unrecognizable samples in a song paved the way for instrumental artists such as DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, who more overtly used samples to create their pieces. In more recent years, the style of sampling has become legally accepted, and after certain rights are obtained, producers like Kanye West create singles that are little more than exact copies of the songs they sample.

Cut Chemist, “The Garden”:

Despite the ominpresence of mutual influence in today’s music, however, some artists still decide to take it to heart. The Rolling Stones sued The Verve for 100% of the royalties for their biggest hit, “Bittersweet Symphony”, claiming that the entire song is based on a previous arrangement of a Rolling Stones original. Asked to comment, Keith Richards said “If the Verve can write a better song, they can keep the money.”

In the most absurd example to date, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), Joe Satriani, and the band Creaky Boards are all seperately claiming that Coldplay’s hit single “Viva La Vida” was a copy of their own. These accusations (some requesting royalties, some not) exist despite the fact that “Viva La Vida” is an extremely simple melody that bears similarities to not just these other examples but also to the standard “Everything Happens to Me” and the them from Zelda.

A professor of mine once scoffed at a famous musician’s claim that he was “self taught.” No one is self taught, he argued, we all get our influence from somewhere. And in most cases, even when it is blatantly obvious, it is generally understood and accepted. But sometimes, money becomes more important. The truth is whether it be stealing, adapting, drawing from, interpolating, interpreting or even blindly and unintentionally copying, drawing upon other artists for influence is the way music develops. Those who accept and admit this fact are essentially just admitting that they are real musicians, and the ones who deny it are only proving that money becomes more important than the art itself.

Such a distinction separates artists like Steely Dan and Keith Jarrett. Asked whether he thinks Keith Jarrett is happy with the royalties he ended up receiving from Steely Dan, Walter Becker replied “I certainly doubt it, but I’m fairly happy with mine.”

A~~Z – Emitt Rhodes – The Emitt Rhodes Recordings (1969-1973)

emitt+ICSomeone once called Emitt Rhodes’ eponymous debut “the best album Paul McCartney never made.” Because of comments like this and the obvious likeness to the former Beatle, I always just assumed that Rhodes was British. Not true, actually. He’s from Southern California by way of Illinois. So how could such an obvious difference have slipped by me? Well, the fact is that very few people seem to know anything about Mr. Rhodes. This is despite the fact that his songs have been used in movies and the track “Fresh As A Daisy” was a top 50 recording in 1970. Rhodes even scored a west-coast hit a couple years earlier in the band Merry-Go-Roung with the song “Live.” And now, despite his relative obscurity, the album “Emitt Rhodes” is considered a “true classic of the period.” What is most remarkable about the album, despite it’s sheer consistency in quality of songwriting, is that Mr. Rhodes wrote, sang and recorded every single instrument himself. As far as I’m concerned, this was pretty much unheard of in the late 1960’s in terms of the quality.

Upon looking up some of his songs on YouTube, one comment struck a chord with me: “If you actually listen to the lyrics, they’re pretty lame.” This is true. Rhodes may have some serious songwriting chops in terms of hooks, chords and production, and his voice may be good, but he doesn’t have much to sing about. The best songs tend to be the ones with the simplest and most repetitive story lines, because this helps him avoid such banal topics as dragons and fair maidens, or fairies and daisies.  It is clear to see why Emitt Rhodes sort of washed away in the early 70’s, after four very similar releases, and even clearer to see why he stuck with producing. That makes the tracks on this collection seem all the more like a ‘stroke’ of genius.

Late July 4th

I’ve heard that Take 6 write their own arrangements, although for some reason I think this particular arrangement was done by a third party. If anyone knows otherwise let me know.

Work of a genius…

This is wonderful insight into how Fagen and Becker compose, and comes off as a remarkably logical and intuitive process.

In sum, “Peg” is just this:

Intro: I – VII7(b9) (x3 down whole-steps) to “Peg motif” 1x (IVmaj7-Isus4)

Verse: “Peg” motif (IVmaj7-Isus4) in blues format: I – I – I – I – IV – IV – I – I – V – IV – I – I

Chorus:  “Peg” motif, tonic to relative minor: I – vi – I – vi, and then #iv(b5) – IV – I – vii – iii – VI7 – ii – V7

There is an interlude, but other than that this is pretty much the whole thing. Pretty simple when he explains it like this.