28 April 2006

touissant mccall - "nothing takes the place of you" (from the beg, scream & shout! the big ol' box of '60s soul boxed set, ... which is out of print! i can't believe it! this may be the greatest boxed set of all time! beg, borrow, or steal to get it!)

there are some songs that shouldn't be covered. often, this is b/c of supremely personal lyrics like, say, "idiot wind" or "late for the sky." often, a song didn't deserve being performed the first time, let alone covered. rarely, though, is a song's v. sound--the ambience, the fidelity or quality, the uniqueness of vision, &c.--a valid reason not to cover it. examples : "pretty ballerina" by the left banke, "frankie" by mississippi john hurt, and "love is all i have to give" by the checkmates (the only one of the three never covered.)

unless it's for a tribute, it is implicit in a cover that, to some extent, you think can outdo the original (as simon cowell wisely said this week on american idol; the context was all wrong there, though, b/c the idols have little choice in the matter--except for chris, who always sings material by singers he knows he's better than, w/ the noted exception of queen night when he copped- or chickened-out by performing a song no one knew). as singers, i'd take al green, william bell, and even isaac hayes over toussaint mccall, all of whom covered "nothing takes the place of you"--but none comes close in terms of performance and, especially, sound.

what do i mean? well, the cop-out answer for me is to say, "listen for yourself." but. there's something immensely endearing a/b both toussaint's dolorous voice & the shambolic quality of the record. from the immediate start, listen to how it seems as if whomever was manning the control board fell asleep at the wheel and forgot to hit "record" until a second after the band started.

forget a/b a control board, though : this sounds like the original bedroom production. "bedsit" is more likely, as every time i hear this record, i see a picture of a basement apartment or a one-room shack, w/ the "bedroom" consisting of nothing but a murphy bed, and the room's one concession to personal touch the photo of toussaint's girl on the wall. (when you've got so little room to call your own, when you lose something as big as love, you tend to notice.) the record starts off so oddly, i imagine, b/c toussaint, seated at his organ, forgot a/b the leader on the cassette he placed in his old, beat-up recorder.

i picture him recording this in a bedroom, too, b/c this is intensely personal music--indeed, i almost feel like i'm committing some impropriety each time i listen to it. it was a #5 r&b hit in 1967 and yet it sounds like found sound : a bedroom demo; a record made for a sweetheart who left it behind when she moved; a message left behind on someone's answering machine. it seems more like a family heirloom than a chart hit; small wonder that i feel as if it shouldn't be covered.

the sound, lower than lo-fi but better than three bars on your cell phone, also contributes to this idea. the organ seems to coat the v. walls of that lonely room; or the small booth where he recorded it (like where elvis recorded "my happiness" for his beloved mama); or the stifling constraints of the answering machine where it was recorded for posterity.

i like this last idea best, perhaps for personal reasons. i see poor toussaint, which i'd also prefer to believe was a made-up name--i see this poor fellow seated behind a cheap keyboard, in his run-down room, starting a little before the beep of the answering machine, thus explaining that little defect, w/ his mouth real close to the speaker so he can be heard and hopefully felt (the track stays w/ you awhile, but it also feels as if part of it has almost literally left a trace on you). he knows he's got only a/b three minutes to make his plea, so in the last verse he tries to get it all the important bits in : "again, i love you, but i'm all alone, and, oh, my darling, i'm so blue because nothing takes the place of you."

but how did she respond? was this the first time he tried this bit? or was this just simply his best number? did she approve? did she have her number changed? did he find another girl? toussaint mccall, last i read, still performs around the south, so he didn't die of loneliness. but are you happy, toussaint?

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