Silver Machine/Children of the Revolution/School’s Out – James Last and His Orchestra

James Last, a.k.a Hans Last or Hansi, a German bassist turned orchestra leader, was the most commercially successful band leader of the late 20th century. He released over 190 albums, sold over 100 million copies of those records and gained over 200 gold and platinum records in Germany alone.

These were the kind of records my granddad used to bring out at Christmas. I’ve got a soft spot for their particular brand of kitsch. Presenting big band arrangements of well-known tunes with a jaunty dance beat, Last’s series of Non-Stop Dancing albums paved the way for disco and dance mixes. Asked if he minded being labelled the ‘King of Corn’, Last reportedly replied “No, because it is true.” He died in 2015 at the age of 86.

Is it just me, or does anyone else see a bit of James Last in DJ Soloman’s live persona?


Space Oddity – The Langley Schools Music Project

The Langley Schools Music Project was a group of 60 elementary school children from four different schools in Canadian British Columbia circa 1975-1977 who all shared the same music teacher, Hans Louis Fenger.

In 1971 Hans Louis Fenger was – in his own words – “a guitar strumming hippie“, teaching guitar by day and playing in clubs at night. When his girlfriend became pregnant he enrolled at university, gained a teaching certificate and was hired by Belmont Elementary School in Langley, British Columbia to teach music to kids aged 9-12. In 1975 he was asked to teach at three other local schools as well. The schools themselves were all small 3 or 4 room buildings serving local rural communities; many of the children came from isolated farms.

Fenger later said: “I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education, and didn’t know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children’s music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal…This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional ‘children’s music,’ which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary...Much music that I like was made not by people who broke the rules, but by those who never realised there were rules, such as Sun Ra and Brian Wilson…I was also influenced by Phil Spector’s ‘Symphonies for Kids’ – taking a basic concept like ‘Be My Baby’ and turning it into Wagner.

Fenger was also inspired by Carl Orff’s ‘Schulwerk‘ – a developmental approach to music education that focused less on ‘the right notes’ and rather on engagement. After several months practicisng, Fenger arranged a sing-a-long with all the three schools’ children in one of the school gyms. He also thought it would be fun to make an album from these sessions so that the children could learn about recording. The recordings were made live in the gymnasium using two microphones and a two track tape deck. The experiment was a success and a couple of years later a second record was made. On both occasions the children’s families all chipped in a few dollars, for which they would receive a copy of the album, and this helped cover the cost of pressing and packaging the record. Enough copies were made to give to the children, parents and faculty – around 150 copies of each session. They were never intended for wider release.

25 years later Brian Linds, a record collector, found a copy of the first album in a thrift store. He sent it to outsider music enthusiast Irwin Chusid and within a year a compilation of the best of the two school records was released on CD to critical acclaim.

Apart from the American Orff-Schulwerk Association who stated: “It is very evident that the [Orff] instruments were not used as they would be used in the Orff-Schulwerk approach. AOSA has no desire to be connected with this recording … Thank you for your interest in the American Orff-Schulwerk Association.

Oh well. Their loss. Fuck the American Orff-Schulwerk Association.

You can find a page of letters sent to Hans Fenger by the students who took part in his classes, after they discovered as adults that they were all now rock stars, here – They make for a lovely read. This little snippet from one, pretty much encapsulates them all:

“For twenty-five years I’ve carried with me the memories of you and all the classmates; the good you did has never disappeared from my heart.”

Fun Fact: Screenwriter Mike White’s concept for the 2003 Richard Linklater movie School of Rock was inspired by the Langley Schools Music Project story.

David Bowie described their version of Space Oddity as “a piece of art that I couldn’t have conceived of,” while musician John Zorn said: “This is beauty. This is truth. This is music that touches the heart in a way no other music ever has, or ever could.

Winter Wonderland – Stryper

As camp as Christmas? And then some. I think this might have been the cover version which coined the phrase.

Just the fact that lead singer Michael Sweet has to persuade the rest of the band, miserably suffering from colds, to participate in his joyful vision of a Yuletide sing-a-long…I mean, come on, you can’t get any more Christmas than that…For God’s sake guys…at least pretend to be happy!

Occupying a small niche of the hair metal phenomena of the eighties was Christian hair metal and Stryper were the kings of the hill. Their third album To Hell With The Devil went platinum and was nominated for a Grammy. Stryper’s cover of Winter Wonderland was released as a 7″ vinyl single in 1985. I remember buying a copy blind from a stall in Berwick Street market. It was both an embarrassment and a joy to own.

Winter Wonderland was written as a fox-trot in 1934 by Felix Bernard and lyricist Richard Bernhard Smith, who wrote the words whilst recovering from tuberculosis in a sanitorium. A cover of the song by Guy Lombardo that same year was a huge hit. Over 200 artists have covered Winter Wonderland in the years since, though I’d be surprised if anyone has done it quite like Stryper.

What Time Is Love? – The Williams Fairey Brass Band

In 1997 The Williams Fairey Brass Band covered the KLF’s What Time is Love? on the Acid Brass album, a collaboration with Turner Prize winning conceptual artist Jeremey Deller who saw a connection between the genres of acid house and brass bands, viewing them as “two authentic forms of folk art rooted in specific communities”.

Upon hearing the Williams Fairey track, the KLF incorporated it into their epic 14 minute single Fuck The Millenium, released in 1997 under the moniker of 2K.

The KLF released three key versions of What Time is Love? as well as multiple remixes and the What TIme is Love? Story compilation featuring remixes and covers by other artists.

What Time is Love? The Pure Trance Original was released in 1988, What Time is Love? Story in 1989, What Time is Love? (Live at Trancentral) (which added vocals and a new bass line) in 1990 and America: What Time Is Love? in 1992 (which uses guitar samples from Motörhead’s Ace of Spades). Each version took elements from its predecessors to create a new interpretation in a distinct musical style: from acid house to stadium house and finally rock-heavy electronica.

The KLF (also known as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The JAMS, The Timelords, The K Foundation, 2K and other names) were formed in London in 1987 by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. Known for their pioneering of stadium house and ambient house, in 1991 they were the biggest selling singles act in the world.

See also K Sera Sera – The K Foundation

My Favourite Things – The Sachal Jazz Ensemble and the Wynton Marsalis Quintet

This East meets West interpretation of John Coltrane’s arrangement of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favourite Things was performed at The Marciac jazz festival in 2013.

In the 1970s and 80s, the military dictatorship of Pakistan resulted in the rapid obliteration of art, culture and tourism. The Sachal Jazz Ensemble, an offshoot of the Sachal Studios Orchestra, was formed with the intention of bringing together some of Pakistan’s most established classical musicians, many of whom had been forced into menial work as a result of the countries political climate. The ensemble found new audiences in 2011 with their tabla and sitar-infused cover of Dave Brubeck’s 1959 composition, Take Five.

Wynton Marsalis is an American trumpeter, composer, teacher, and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Marsalis has won multiple Grammy Awards, and composed the first jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. The first Wynton Marsalis Quintet was formed in 1982.

My Favourite Things was composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the musical The Sound of Music, which debuted on Broadway in 1959. The film version, sung by Julie Andrews did not appear until 1965, four years after John Coltrane had recorded his 1961 arrangement for his seventh studio album. Inspired by Indian classical music, Coltrane described the track as “my favorite piece of all those I have recorded”.

In 2019 Ariana Grande based her song 7 Rings on the melody of My Favorite Things. 7 Rings topped the charts in fifteen countries.

I Think We’re Alone Now – Lena Lovich

A polymath with an amazing presence and expressionist image, Anglo-American musician Lena Lovich recorded her version of I Think We’re Alone Now in 1978. Although released as the A-side of a single for UK record label Stiff Records, an original song on the B-side – Lucky Number – became the bigger hit and the single was re-released with the sides reversed. As well as the English release she also recorded versions sung in German and Japanese. Prior to her first single for Stiff Records, Lovich had attended art school, busked on the London Underground and appeared in cabaret clubs as an ‘Oriental’ dancer. She had also met Salvador Dalí at his home in Spain, worked as a go-go dancer with the Radio One Roadshow, toured Italy with a West Indian soul band, recorded screams for horror films and written the lyrics for disco hit Supernature.

I Think We’re Alone Now was originally a 1967 US hit for psychedelic pop/rock band Tommy James and the Shondells, who a year later had a second hit with Mony Mony, covered in 1981 by Billy Idol.

I Think We’re Alone Now was a hit again in 1987 when it was covered by 15 year old US pop sensation Tiffany, who covered the song a second time in 2005.

Other notable artists who have covered I Think We’re Alone Now include The Rubinoos in 1977, Snuff in 1989, Girls Aloud in 2005 and Greenday’s Billie Joe Armstrong in 2020.

Bittersweet Symphony – Booost / The Last Time – The Andrew Oldham Orchestra

Swiss reggae band Booost covered The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony on their eponymous 2013 album.

The string loop of Bittersweet Symphony, released by The Verve in 1997, is sampled from the 1965 Andrew Oldham Orchestra’s instrumental cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1965 song The Last Time, itself inspired by This May Be the Last Time, a 1954 recording by the Staple Singers which was an arrangement of a traditional song.

The Verve negotiated rights to use a six-note sample from Oldham’s recording from Decca Records, but they did not obtain permission from former Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein, who owned the copyrights to the Rolling Stones’ pre-1970 songs. Klein refused to grant a licence for the sample, leading to The Verve relinquishing all royalties from the song and the songwriting credits being changed to Jagger-Richards. In 1999, Andrew Oldham successfully sued for his own royalty share which he had never received, and for many subsequent years all songwriting royalties from Bittersweet Symphony went to Jagger-Richards-Oldham.

It would be a further twenty years before an agreement was finally reached, with The Verve receiving a share of the royalties to Bittersweet Symphony from 2019 onwards.

Neither the late Shirley Joiner, the arranger of The Staple Singers’ This May Be the Last Time, or her estate has ever received any royalties from any of the songs inspired by her original arrangement.

Whole Lotta Love – Alpha Blondy

African reggae artist Alpha Blondy’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love featured on his 2018 album Human Race.

In 1962 Muddy Waters recorded a blues called You Need Love with lyrics by Willie Dixon for Chess Records. In 1966 The Small Faces recorded a version of the song as You Need Loving for their debut album. Led Zeppelin’s recording of Whole Lotta Love appeared on their second album Led Zeppelin II in 1969 and was released as a single in 1970. The track frequently places in the top ten greatest rock songs of all time. Long-running UK chart show Top of The Pops used versions of the song as theme music for most of its history.

Similarities between Whole Lotta Love and You Need Love led to a lawsuit against Led Zeppelin in 1985 which was settled out of court in favour of Dixon for an undisclosed amount. On subsequent Led Zeppelin releases, Dixon’s name is included on the credits.

Robert Plant later said about Led Zeppelin’s version of the song: “Page’s riff was Page’s riff. It was there before anything else. I just thought, ‘well, what am I going to sing?’ That was it, a nick. Now happily paid for. At the time, there was a lot of conversation about what to do. It was decided that it was so far away in time and influence that … well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game.”

Your Time is Gonna Come – Sandie Shaw

Sandie Shaw’s version of Your Time is Gonna Come was the first ever cover of a Led Zeppelin song on record and appeared on her self-produced 1969 album Reviewing The Situation, her last album of the 1960s. Although she continued to release singles throughout the 1970s, it would be over a decade before her next full album release, Choose Life, in 1983.

Your Time is Gonna Come was originally recorded by Led Zeppelin in 1968 and appeared on their eponymous debut album in 1969. After its recording it was never played live by the band.

Rock El Casbah – Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha (1958-2018) was an Algerian musician and activist based in France. In the late 1970s Taha founded a nightclub called Les Refoulés (The Rejects) where he would DJ Arabic pop classics over Led Zeppelin, Bo Diddley and Kraftwerk backbeats. Taha later became the lead vocalist for the Arab-language rock group Carte de Sejour, meaning Green Card or Residence Permit, who were strongly influenced by The Clash.

In 1981 Taha met The Clash in Paris before they were due to play at the Théâtre Mogador. Taha gave them a copy of a demo tape by Carte de Séjour. “They looked interested,” remembers Taha, “but when they didn’t get in touch, I thought nothing of it. Then, a few months later, I heard Rock the Casbah…Maybe they did hear it after all.”

Unlike the majority of The Clash’s songs, the music for Rock the Casbah was written by the band’s drummer Topper Headon. Before hearing Headon’s music, Strummer had already come up with the phrases ‘rock the casbah’ and ‘you’ll have to let that raga drop’ as lyrical ideas that he was considering for future songs. After hearing Headon’s music, Strummer went into the studio’s toilets and wrote lyrics to match the song’s melody.

In the mid 2000’s Mick Jones joined Rachid Taha for several performances of Rock El Casbah in support of the Stop The War Coalition who had formed to protest unjust wars, including The War on Terror instigated by the United States after the 9/11 attacks.

Summertime – Rosinha De Valença

Born in Rio de Jainero in 1941, Rosinha de Valença was a Brazilian composer, arranger and musician. She was considered one of the best acoustic guitarists in Brazilian music. At the age of 50 she suffered brain damage as the result of a heart attack and fell into a vegetative state. She died of respiratory failure 12 years later in 2004.

Summertime was originally composed as an aria by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera ‘Porgy and Bess’.

All Along The Watchtower – The Brothers and Sisters Gospel Choir

From Dylan’s Gospel, a 1969 album by The Brothers and Sisters Gospel Choir, a one-off gathering of Los Angeles session singers. Produced by Lou Adler, who went on to work on Carole King’s Tapestry, and arranged by Gene Page, noted for his work for Motown, the performers were at the time largely unknown, but included Gloria Jones who recorded the original version of Tainted Love as well as Edna Wright, Merry Clayton, Ruby Johnson, Shirley Matthews, Clydie King, Patrice Holloway and Julia Tillman.

All Along the Watchtower was originally recorded by Bob Dylan in 1967. The Jimi Hendrix version was released in 1968. Dylan said of the Hendrix version: “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”