Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell.
Joe: Together, we listen to the legendary tracks and the timeless — but sometimes not-so-well-known — songs they sampled from. Toby, what are we listening to today?
Toby: We are listening to Jack-Ass by Beck off his 1996 Odelay album.
Joe: I’m looking forward to spending some time diving into Beck’s repertoire. He’s an artist I wasn’t super familiar with before this episode, other than he’s clearly a loser.
Toby: Ok, before you start with all the name calling, why don’t we hop in the Delorean and see what track was sampled to make this hit?
JOE: Toby, can you tell the good people what we are listening to?
Toby: This is a track called It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue by a band called Them. Have you ever heard of Them?
Joe: Hear of who?
Joe: I know, I think I missed who you were talking about. Who is Them?
Toby: That’s the name of the band.
Joe: Let me guess. Third Base. Ok, before Abbott and Costello start rolling over in their graves, let’s talk a little about the band, Them, and in particular, a certain member by the name of Van Morrison.
Toby: I know you’re a big fan of of Van and pumped to get into this episode.
Joe: I also want to give a shoutout to show listener Diane, who is also a huge fan of Van Morrison. She’s got a great story about seeing him at a bar in Scotland in the early 80s. Apparently the locals paid him no mind, but he did a nice cover of Elvis’s Can’t Help Falling in Love.
Toby: Thanks for listening Diane, and we’re happy to bring this episode to you and all the Van fans out there. Let’s dig into our first featured track, It’s All Over Now Baby Blue. This track has a pretty storied history.
Joe: Sure does. It was written by Bob Dylan and first appeared on his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. Let’s hear his original version.
Toby: You can’t mistake that voice. Right?
Joe: Are you a fan of Dylan, Toby? I feel like we need to do an episode on him. He’s obviously an icon, but I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan. I’m sure I’m going to backlash on social, but I don’t understand the fascination with his nasal whine. I generally only like COVERS of Dylan tunes!
Joe: So let’s talk a little bit about Them. First, that band name was taken from a the 1954 sci-fi classic that gave us giant nuclear-created ants in the deserts of New Mexico.
Toby: This movie is one of the early classics of the genre, and also has a cameo by a young Leonard Nimoy long before he became Spock.
Joe: Another cool story about this movie - apparently Walt Disney went to see it in order to confirm James Arness as the guy who would play Davy Crockett. Instead, he was so impressed with Fess Parker that Parker got the part.
Toby: Don’t feel bad for Arness though, he went on to play the legendary role of Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke for twenty years, so I think everything worked out ok.
Joe: You know what else is crazy? I saw the movie Them!, randomly a couple months ago. My dad has been having health problems and so we’ve spent some time together in hospitals. He loves old westerns and classics, so this was one of the movies we watched recently together. If you can suspend disbelief regarding 1950s special effects, it’s still pretty good.
Toby: Let’s get back to the band Them. Van Morrison was looking to get a band together for a standing gig at a new R&B club that was opening at the Maritime Hotel in Belfast.
Joe: Van had left his previous band, the Golden Eagles, and he plucked the members from another band called the Gamblers, which included a young piano player by the name of Eric Wrixon, who suggested the new band name.
Toby: Wrixon later go on to be a founding member of the band Thin Lizzy, another band out of Ireland that would have an enormous musical legacy. Wrixon only played on their debut track, The Farmer. Let’s take a listen to that.
Joe: Here’s another connection to Bob Dylan. His backing band from 1965-67, The Band, went on to their own commercial success.
Toby: Wait, wait. Which band? You never said their name. You just said “the band.”
Joe: Yessir, that’s right.
Toby: What’s right? Is it Them again?
Joe: No, it’s The Band.
Toby: Alright, here we go again. So it’s not Them, it’s The Band?
Joe: Yep. Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson — those cats.
Toby: Oh, you mean THE Band. I’m with you now. Please continue.
Joe: I just thought Thin Lizzy’s debut tune, The Farmer sounds a lot like The Band’s 1969 hit, Up On Cripple Creeek.
Toby: The Farmer. The Band. Them. Can we get any more vague in this episode? Alright, let’s take a listen.
Joe: We should probably do an episode on Thin LIzzy at some point. You mention their legacy — from their pioneering use of dual lead guitars and their influence on bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and Alice in Chains — plus Phil Lynott’s influence as the first black Irishman to become a rock superstar.
Toby: For now, let’s get back to Them. Their live shows at the Maritime were largely spontaneous and ad libbed, with Van stretching out songs like Gloria to 20 minutes on some nights.
Joe: Their performances got the attention of Decca Records, who took the band to England for their first recording session. There they laid down a 2 1/2 minute version of Gloria and released it in 1964. Let’s give that a spin.
Toby: This version reached #71 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it was a cover by the Chicago band The Shadows of Knight the following year that charted in the top ten. Let’s hear that.
Joe: Apparently the song lyric “she comes to my room” was a little too risque for radio stations, so they would play the Shadows of Knight version instead, since it changed the lyric to “she calls out my name.”
Toby: Them had another hit in 1965 with the song Here Comes the Night. This was written by Bert Berns, who also wrote the classic Twist and Shout.
Joe: Bert Berns wrote another tune that I know is dear to your heart my friend. O - H!
Toby: I - O!
Joe: Bert co-wrote Hang on Sloopy, which was first recorded by the Vibrations, but became a number one smash in 1965 for The McCoys. Let’s hear that:
Toby: For those of you wondering, The Ohio State University marching band began playing this song at games in October of 1965, and now it’s a tradition to play it before every fourth quarter.
Joe: Now let’s hear Here Comes the Night, which charted at #24 in the US and #2 in the UK for Them.
Toby: You know, there was a cat that played guitar on this track, but I heard his playing was for the birds and went over like a lead balloon.
Joe: Ok, I see what you did there. A little shout out to Jimmy Page, who of course went on to superstardom with The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin.
Toby: Them also started to gain popularity in the US and became part of the British invasion. They would headline a residency at the Whisky a Go Go in LA and even had a band called The Doors open for them.
Joe: OK, that’s it. I’m throwing in the towel. In fact, that’s what I’m going to name my next band. The Towel. If we can have Them and The Doors and The Band and The Farmer, The Towel should be a big hit.
Toby: You can finish each set with, “goodnight folks, that’s a wrap!”
Joe: Speaking of wraps, Them fell prey to the money disagreements that plague many bands, and Van Morrison left to return home to Belfast while the rest of the band remained in America.
Toby: This is where Bert Berns makes another appearance, and this time it seems a bit more nefarious.
Joe: In 1967, Bert persuaded Van to come back to New York and record as a solo artist for Bert’s new label, Bang Records. They recorded for a couple of days, and Van signed a contract that he hadn’t really studied.
Toby: That’s never a good idea. First, Bert released an album from those sessions without even telling Van. Then, he released a little song called Brown Eyed Girl. Perhaps you’ve heard it. Let’s take a listen.
Joe: This is obviously still a popular classic and remains in the top ten of most requested songs of DJs. Van, however, has never seen a penny of the royalties for writing or recoding the song.
Toby: The contract he signed was so bad that not only did he not get royalties, but he was liable for all the recording expenses from those Bang Records recordings. This is not the first, and sadly probably not the last time a record company has had shady dealings with an artist.
Joe: That is unfortunately true, but I also want to point out another fun connection. Although session player Hugh McCracken played most of the main licks in Brown Eyed Girl, one of the other guitarists to play on the track was Eric Gale, who would later go on to play in the band Stuff, which backed Joe Cocker for a time. That harkens all the way back to our first Riffs episode.
Toby: Stuff might also be the mother load of generic band names. We’re not even bothering to identify objects any more. Just stuff.
Joe: Even better, one of Stuff’s most popular songs is a tune called Foots. Not feet. Foots. Let’s listen.
Toby: Van Morrison got a little revenge on Bang Records though. Bert had passed away in 1967, and so Van was able to get Warner Bros. to buy out his Bang contract for $20,000. But he still had to submit 36 songs to Bern’s publishing company.
JOe: To fulfill that contract, Van went and recorded 31 songs in one session, making many of them up on the spot. Let’s just say songs like Blowin Your Nose, and if that’s not enough, Nose in Your Blow, aren’t meant to be chart toppers.
Toby: He also took swipes directly at Bang with songs like The Big Royalty Check, but my favorite is this little ditty, which I’m sure he made up on the spot and pretty much sums up the vibe for the album.
Joe: Finally, we get back to some real music with Van’s first album for Warner Bros, Astral Weeks. Though this album didn’t sell well at the time, it has come to be regarded as a classic and highly influential work that consistently shows up on “Best of All Time” lists. Let’s take listen to the title track to Astral Weeks
Joe: Van Morrison’s commercial breakthrough came with his next album, the 1970 release, Moondance.
Toby: For this album, Van moved away from the ethereal folk of Astral Weeks and towards more R&B pop songs. The Moondance album would peak at #29 on the US charts, even thought the title track wasn’t released as a single until 7 years later. Let’s hear Moondance.
Joe: One of my all-time favorite tracks by any artist is the song Into the Mystic from the Moondance album. Let’s hear that.
Toby: Another classic track, Crazy Love, has appeared on numerous movie soundtracks and been covered by dozens of artists, including Aaron Neville, Brian McKnight, Rod Stewart, and Michael Buble. Let’s hear Van’s original version.
Joe: Van has had such a long and prolific career, and his output has seemed to vacillate between beloved and despised by critics, depending on the album. And since he’s made 40 albums, there’s a lot to weigh in on!
Toby: We could literally play Van Morrison songs all day, but let’s finish with one of his most popular ballads, Have I Told You Lately from his 1989 album, Avalon Sunset.
Joe: Great stuff, but as you say, it’s time to move on to our second featured track that samples Van Morrison and Them. Let’s take another listen to Beck’s song Jack-Ass.
Joe: Toby why don’t you tell the good people a little bit about Beck.
Toby: Gladly, Beck David Campbell was born on July 8th, 1970 in Los Angeles, CA. Beck is a vocalist and a musician. He’s an artist that I always struck me as one that doesn’t quite fit perfectly in a box or genre.
Joe: Well we are all products of our environment and to say that Beck has a diverse background is an understatement. His father was a composer and conductor, and his mother was a visual artist and that combined with the fact that he lived in Los Angeles really influenced his perspective on music.
Toby: He became a street musician and largely focused on folk music until he was exposed to the music made by this man.
Joe: That was White Lines by the one and only Grandmaster Flash. The interesting thing is that while Grandmaster Flash is credited for this track he really didn’t have much to do with this song. Back in the day, the DJ’s were the stars of the show for hip hop groups. The voice we were listening to is actually Melle Mel.
Toby: What also interesting is that White Lines was all about the trappings of cocaine and drugs as a whole — a problem that Flash suffered from himself unfortunately. We’ve discussed Flash on a previous episode but it’s always nice to see how his influence was felt on both coasts.
Joe: Beck’s life as a teenager was a tough one. So much so that he dropped out of school after junior high. It wasn’t that he didn’t like school, he just felt unsafe there.
Toby: He managed to continue his education by using a fake ID to sit in on classes at the Los Angeles City College. He was working menial jobs and busking on buses, playing covers of Mississippi John Hurt tunes like this one, Coffee Blues.
Joe: After a stint in New York, Beck traveled back to L.A. and started performing at arthouses. He would find interesting ways to keep his audience engaged, like making up ridiculous songs on the spot just to see if people were listening. Beck and Van Morrison would get along well!
Toby: Beck’s antics eventually caught the attention of some folks at BMG and the partners of a small independent label, Bong Load Custom Records. In 1992 they hooked him up with a producer from Rap-A-Lot records named Carl Stephenson. The resulting song was a track called “Loser”. Let’s take a listen.
Joe: The funny thing about this track is that Beck thought the song was mediocre at best, but it got a lot of traction at radio stations and bigger record labels. Loser reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and charted in the multiple countries.
Toby: After a fierce battle between labels, Beck was signed to Geffen and released the album Mellow Gold on March 1, 1994. His contract allowed him to release some of his older tracks with indie labels, which included an album called Golden Feelings in March 1994 and another called Steropathic Soulmanure in Feb 1994.
Joe: His 4th album, One Foot in the Grave, was comprised of earlier material that features his more folksy sound. Let’s listen to one of those tracks, I Get Lonesome.
Toby: Well, I try to have an open mind about music, but I’m not a fan of this song at all. In fact I would say that if you wanted to stay lonely, singing this song might be a VERY good way to accomplish that. All jokes aside, we know Beck’s talented, so let’s skip to his next album. Odelay, which contains our 2nd featured track, Jackass.
Joe: Beck felt that his past albums were just collections of demos and he wanted to do something different for Odelay.
Toby: This album combines a lot of genres, including blues, rap , jazz, and folk all layered on top of each other. That’s one thing that I really like about this period in sampled music — you could really compose a song in a way that’s still very innovative.
Joe: Beck took inspiration from multiple sources for Odelay, including the 1966 album by Them…
Toby: Oh geez, Them Again…
Joe: Correct! That’s the name of the album, Them Again. It was not only the inspiration for our second featured track, Jack-Ass, but also for another track called Devil’s Haircut. First let’s hear the original Them track, Out of Sight.
Toby: and now let’s hear how Beck used Out of Sight for Devil’s Haircut:
Joe: The Odelay album took a year and a half to produce with the help of the the Dust Brothers, the production team behind the Beastie Boy’s album, Pauls Boutique. Together, they created an album that was nominated for album of the year in 1997, and also won Grammys for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Male Rock Vocal performance for the song Where It’s At.
Toby: This song contains 9 samples, including drums from the 1966 Lee Dorsey hit Get out of My life Woman. Those drums were the same ones used in Biz Markie’s track Just a Friend, as well as Fat Joe’s song called Flow Joe. Let’s take a listen to the drums from Lee Dorsey and how these other artists used them:
Joe: and Now let’s hear Fat Joe’s Flow Joe
Toby: Now let’s listen to how Beck used it in Where It’s At
Joe: Beck has continued to produce material that runs the gamut of genres, including some deliciously crafted pop songs and collaborations. Let’s take a listen to the song Night Running by Cage the Elephant that features Beck, off their 2019 album Social Cues.
Toby: And he’s gone back to his Loser roots and the use of slide guitar on his latest single, Saw Lightning, which features production by Pharell. This will be on Beck’s upcoming album, Hyperspace. Let’s hear that.
Joe: Alright Toby, we talked a little bit about how Them’s cover of It’s All Over Now Baby Blue sounds like it interpolates Stand By Me. But what do you say we dive into that a bit more for our bonus material?
Toby: Sounds good. Let’s start with a little side by side comparison of the two. Tell me you put together one of those mashups for us.
Joe: I got your back buddy. Have a listen:
Toby: So there’s clearly a connection there. But let’s start at the beginning, and the inspiration for the 1961 hit by Ben E King, Stand By Me.
Joe: As always, this has some fascinating connections. Ben has said that the song was inspired by the spiritual “Stand By Me Father” that was recorded by the Soul Stirrers. Let’s take a listen to that.
Toby: Stand By Me Father was written by Sam Cooke and JW Alexander, and even though Sam was once a member of the Soul Stirrers, he wasn’t the lead singer on this track.
Joe: But we can’t pass up an opportunity to play some Sam Cooke. Let’s take a listen to one of his most powerful tracks, A Change is Gonna Come, off of his 1964 album, Ain’t That Good News
Toby: Sam Cooke had left the Soul Stirrers to start his solo career in 1957, and Stand By Me Father was sung by Johnnie Taylor.
Joe: Johnnie would go on to a successful solo career of his own that saw him nominated for 3 Grammies, including this one in 1977. Let’s hear Disco Lady.
Toby: Stand By Me has been covered over 400 times and Ben E King’s version hit the top ten on Billboard Hot 100 twice. It peaked at #4 in 1961 and #9 in 1986 after its inclusion in the movie Stand By Me that starred Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Cory Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland and Richard Dreyfuss. That’s a classic!
Joe: The Stand By Me track is a classic in its own right, as the chord progression in the song has been used so often in popular music that it is sometimes referred to as the “Stand By Me” progression, or the 50’s progression.
Toby: It’s one of those things that fits like a warm blanket. Hearing it feels like home.
Joe: Let’s take a listen to how Imagine Dragons shows us just how influential Stand By Me is even today. Let’s listen to their cover of Taylor Swift’s Blank Space.
Toby: We are just about out of time my friend. We covered a lot in this episode, starting with our first featured track, It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue as done by Van Morrison and Them. Our second featured track was Jackass by Beck.
Joe: Good stuff as always. What do we have lined up for our next episode?
Toby: I’m not sure, I keep forgettin. But I do know you can’t be any geek off the street. You’ll have to be handy on the mic, earn your keep.
Joe: If you know like I know, you don’t wanna step to this. I’ll be sure to bring my A game. Until then, thank you for listening. We’ll catch you next time on Riffs on Riffs.