Thursday, November 19, 2009

Playlist: Songs you didn’t know black people wrote

I like this concept, y’all. I like it a lot. If you know other songs that belong on this list, let me know in the comments section.

1. “Anna (Go to Him)” – The Beatles

Early in their nightclub and recording careers, the Beatles performed many songs by black songwriters. Not only hall-of-famers like Chuck Berry and Smokey Robinson, but forgotten artists such as Larry Williams, Roy Lee Johnson and Arthur Alexander.

Alexander wrote and recorded “Anna (Go to Him)” in 1962. The next year, John Lennon sang it for the very first Beatles album. (Click here to hear Arthur Alexander’s version.)

2. “Java” – Al Hirt

If you’re old enough to remember “middle of the road” pop music, then surely you know this melody. To me, it’s as quintessentially ’60s as Herb Alpert’s “Spanish Flea.” And just as corny.

Come to find out it was written by New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint when he was 20 years old. (Click here for Toussaint’s original cut. The drummer sounds like he got three arms. He’s killin’!)

3. “Hard Headed Woman” – Elvis Presley

A No. 1 hit for Elvis in 1958, “Hard Headed Woman” was written for him by Claude Demetrius, a successful black songwriter who had worked with Louis Jordan. (Click here to hear “I Like ’Em Fat Like That,” a tune Demetrius wrote with Jordan.)

According to Wikipedia, “Hard Headed Woman” was the first rock ’n’ roll 45 to be officially designated a “gold record.”

4. “It’s All Over Now” – The Rolling Stones

This was the Stones’ very first No. 1 single in Britain. “It’s All Over Now” has since been covered by the likes of Rod Stewart, the Grateful Dead and the Chambers Brothers. In New Orleans, the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth brass bands have turned it into a familiar parade number.

The song was written by Bobby Womack and his sister-in-law, Shirley Jean, for Womack’s family group, the Valentinos. (Click here to hear the Valentinos original.)

5. “Oh Dem Golden Slippers” – The Sing-A-Long Gang

Remember those Golden Grahams commercials from the ’70s? Oh, those Golden Grahams. Oh, those Golden Grahams... Yep, a black guy wrote that melody... 130 years ago.

I grew up knowing “Oh Dem Golden Slippers” as a piece of Americana, like “Sweet Adeline.” Never knew that it used to be sung in blackface. And that it was written by Negro minstrel James A. Bland, who also wrote “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.”

Born before the Civil War to a free and educated black family in Flushing, N.Y., Bland graduated from Howard University in 1873 and spent 20 years performing in London.

Today, there are housing projects named after Mr. Bland in Flushing, Queens, and Alexandria, Virginia.

(Click here to hear Nina Simone sing another of Bland’s enduring tunes, “In the Evening by the Moonlight.”)


Geneva Girl said...

Oh Dem Golden Slippers is a Philadelphia Mummers standard. And, yes, I'm pretty sure that it was sung in blackface since that's how the different Mummer string bands used to perform. (I imagine that only people from Philly to know what a Mummer is.)

Undercover Black Man said...

(I imagine that only people from Philly to know what a Mummer is.)



bklyn6 said...

"All Coons Look Alike to Me" immediately comes to mind. I think you posted about it a while back.

How about "Playground in My Mind" by Clint Holmes?

My name is Michael, I've got a nickel, I've got a nickel shiny and new

I'm gonna buy me all kinds of candy, that's what I'm gonna do

bklyn6 said...

Forgot to add, cool concept. :thumbsup:

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thank you, bklyn6.

Another song that belongs high on this list is “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” a huge hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears. (Click here to listen.)

Only in recent years did I learn it was originally recorded by Brenda Holloway, and written by Holloway, her sister Patrice, Berry Gordy and Frank Wilson.

Click here to hear that Motown original.

Undercover Black Man said...

Another I forgot to mention is “Charleston”... one of the defining melodies of the Roaring ‘20s. We all grew up hearing this song some kind of way... like, in old movies or cartoons. You probably remember that high-kicking dance too. The Charleston was an international sensation.

Here’s a YouTube video showing the dance in its prime.

“Charleston” was composed by James P. Johnson, a founding father of jazz piano. Click here to hear a piano roll version cut by Johnson himself. (Supposedly, he never recorded it as a phonograph record.)

Undercover Black Man said...

How about "Playground in My Mind" by Clint Holmes?

That's more like, "Songs you didn't know black people sang."

Geneva Girl said...

FYI - This is what a Mummers string band looks like:

Oh Dem Golden Slippers is a perennial favorite at the New Year's Day Mummers Parade. I only know the song from hearing it all over town which is ironic since black folks were banned from performing in the parade and blackface wasn't outlawed until 1964.

Invisible Woman said...

A Black person wrote an Elvis song? Shocking!

estiv said...

"Misty" by Erroll Garner. One of the quintessential easy-listening standards.

bklyn6 said...

I once read "Doin' the Banana Split" (remember the kids show?) was written by Barry White. Didn't "fact check" until just now.

junebug said...

Fortune Teller, a tune by recorded by The Who & The Stones, was also written by Allen Toussaint under a pseudonym: Naomi Neville. And also, Alexander's original version of Anna figures in my favorite episode of Married With Children, where Al can't remember the name of this song ("Hmmm hmmm him").

Nat Sherman said...

That "it's all over now" recording is fantastic. Dark lyrics too, for the time... good stuff.

Davis Rogan said...

What about a list of all the songs Leiber and Stoller didn't actually write?

Anonymous said...

Wow! Good research, and good reveal.