Sunday, January 8, 2012

In the Cool of the Evening ...

. . . when everything is gettin' kinda spooky.
I was barely 16 when the rock song "Spooky" by the Classics IV came out. An ardent devotee of rock guitar, I immediately started to work out how to play it — no Internet or Google then, you had to work out the chords by ear, meticulously plunking out notes while listening to records over and over. The first chord of "Spooky" was easy: an E minor 7th chord with a cool double note on the two highest strings: D and G. Like this: 020033.
A quick detour here for non-guitarists. The numbers in the symbol above refer to frets used with each string. Left to right, lowest string to highest string: the notes E A D G B E. The "0" means an "open" string, i.e., unfingered. The fingering shown in the symbol above, then: (1) the second lowest string (A) at the second fret (thus, a B note), (2) the second highest string (B) at the third fret (a D note), and (3) the highest string (E) at the third fret (a G note). So the symbol 020033 above stands for the notes E B D G D G . . . hence, Em7. Hope that helps.
The second chord was tougher to identify. I knew it was an A major chord of some kind, but it was hipper than that. I then noticed the presence of an F# note on the high E string. And so, throw that note on top of the A chord: x02222 . . . that is, A (add 13). Beautiful. (Not quite a full-fledged, card-carryin' A13 because the 7th and the 9th are missing. You know, I always loved how those jazz guys pushed us three-chord rockers.)

The "spooky" feeling comes partly from chordal interplay on the highest 2 strings. The Em7's D note on the B string slides down a half step to a C# in the A(add13). And the Em7's G note on the high E string similarly slides down to an F# for the 13 added to the stock A chord. Back and forth, slyly and subtly, back and forth. Brilliant.

But the really brilliant part comes near the end of the pattern when the song goes jangly and dissonant with the third chord, Bb diminished 7th. You can hear this strangely cool chord behind the words "all right" in the opening verse. The Bbdim7 isn't merely a passing or transitional chord, as diminished chords often are. It's used as a main chord in the song. Now that's spooky.

Often a songwriter will quickly resolve the unstable feeling of a diminished chord by following immediately with a chord a half step higher. So one would generally expect the next chord in this song to be some sort of B, major or minor. But that doesn't happen. The song makes you wait three more measures before resolving the whole pattern (not just the diminished weirdness) with the fourth chord, a B minor. Lots of spookiness throughout the song.

Before we go any further, I need to 'fess up. I lied above. Well, a fib, a white lie. I simplified things to make the story (and the chord symbols) smoother. Guitarists love songs in E (major or minor) because the instrument's highest and lowest open strings are tuned to E, predicating the guitar's tonality. Just letting you know, 'cause surely someone among you is saying "Wait, the Classics IV didn't play the song in E minor." Yes, I know it was F minor. Just taking some poetic license. And slingin' a capo on the first fret.

All right, back to the story. The Classics IV version (October 1967) is actually a cover (that is, not the original version). Many people think Dusty Springfield's 1970 version is the original, but it's a cover too. And the lively (and well-known) version by the Atlanta Rhythm Section in 1979 is also a cover. The original "Spooky" was an instrumental by saxophonist Mike Sharpe (nee Shapiro) and Harry Middlebrooks, Jr., released in 1967. Here's a video of Mike Sharpe's cut.
Mike Sharpe, "Spooky" (1967)

Note: if you click on the arrow, the video will play here. The web address below the image will play the video on YouTube, where the screen is larger and high-definition is accessible.
Beautiful, ain't it? Wasn't really that popular, though. Then the Classics IV threw in some appropriately spooky lyrics and that's where the saga begins, for me at least. Listen to this cut below, especially the sax interlude after the second verse . . . pretty sure it's Mike Sharpe playing basically the same improv line as in the version above. The Classics IV version, with words, struck a chord with the public (forgive the pun); the song reached #3 in the US. And did pretty well in the UK too, a counter-salvo of sorts "against" the so-called British Invasion.
Classics IV, "Spooky" (1967)
Fast forward to now . . . "Spooky" has become a cover standard, with versions by many artists of all sorts.
Here's where you come in, O Gentle Reader. I'd really love to know which cover version you like best. The "classic" Classics IV version above? Or one of the covers below? Why? Write me a comment below, please. Deal?
Even someone as mainstream in the '60s as Andy Williams — think Christmas specials and "discoverer" of the Osmonds — got into the act. Check out his version, recorded quite soon after the Classics IV release.
Andy Williams, "Spooky" (1968)
And the folkies too. How much more folk royalty can you get than The Lettermen? This ain't a bad version, either, by the way.
The Lettermen, "Spooky" (1968)
"Spooky" was covered internationally too. The Golden Cups, a "proto-punk," "proto-garage" band from Japan, threw their hats (cups?) into the ring.
The Golden Cups, "Spooky" (1968)
"Spooky" in the vein of the Classics IV was definitely a straight guy's song: "Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you." The cover artists above followed the Classics IV's masculine lead. That changed with Dusty Springfield's version a couple of years later. Listen how she revises the lyrics below . . . women of that time didn't propose marriage. As a consequence the reference to Halloween was written out and, as my daughter Amanda Gotera has pointed out to me, the projected relationship between the singer-narrator and the spooky lover becomes much more indeterminate and strange.
Dusty Springfield, "Spooky" (1970)
In 1971 some members of the Classics IV formed the Atlanta Rhythm Section and "Spooky" crossed over into Southern rock. Note in ARS's version below how much more guitar-driven and Allman Brothers-ish the song becomes. I love this version. It definitely ROCKS. And there's a Wes Montgomery-style guitar break at 4:08. Hm-hmm.
Atlanta Rhythm Section, "Spooky" (1979)
"Spooky," with the Santana-esque possibilities of its Em / A vamp, lends itself well to bravura soloing, as we saw above with ARS and we'll see below with The Jazz Butcher. (The Santana band never covered "Spooky" as far as I know, though they did an excellent version of the Classics IV song "Stormy.") Okay, now here's The Jazz Butcher.
The Jazz Butcher, "Spooky" (1988)
A decade later, R.E.M. incorporated "Spooky" into their live show. In the video below, Michael Stipe tried to retrieve his lyrics "cheat sheet" from German fans who had snatched it off his music stand. "I don't know the words," Stipe said, having difficulty with the language barrier. (If you want to skip that part, the song starts at 1:23.)
R.E.M., "Spooky" (1998)
Probably the most interesting revision of the words into a female situation is Joan Osborne's. Note her graceful rewriting of the third stanza. Also more than a hint of a lesbian relationship. A smoldering, smokey "Spooky," def.
Joan Osborne, "Spooky" (1999)
Over the years, "Spooky" has been redone, re-envisioned, redecorated, "revisioned" into a variety of musical styles. Here are some samples.

Lydia Lunch . . . No Wave? Experimental? Avant-garde? You got me. Off-key on purpose. A parody of the Classics IV, actually the whole lot of the "Spooky" cover artists.
Lydia Lunch, "Spooky" (1979)
Daniel Ash . . . techno, synth-pop.
Daniel Ash, "Spooky" (2002)
Imogen Heap . . . torch, indie.

(Incidentally, this version was used in the TV show Eastwick, sung by the character Kat, reclining on a piano á là Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys.)
Imogen Heap, "Spooky" (2005)
The Puppini Sisters . . . retro-swing like The Andrews Sisters. A fun, campy version.
The Puppini Sisters, "Spooky" (2007)
Pixie Lott . . . dance-pop.
Pixie Lott, "Spooky" (2010)
Phish . .  psychedelic jam, Grateful Dead-like.
Phish, "Spooky" (2010)
Amateur YouTube renditions have also surfaced. Witness this sultry "Spooky" by the Italian singer Sayaka Alessandra. Note how she pares down the chords to let her voice take center stage.
Sayaka Allesandra, "Spooky" (2010)
I'd like to give the Classics IV the last word here — well, actually, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, descendant of the Classics IV. Here's ARS playing "Spooky" live in concert last year.
Atlanta Rhythm Section, "Spooky" (Live in 2011)
Well, that's it. According to "Wikipedia "Spooky" has also been covered by Martha and the Vandellas, Velvet Monkeys, GoldieLocks, David Sanborn, and others; featured on both big screen and little (the movies Fandango and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People as well as the TV show American Horror Story); and sampled by such artists as The Bloodhound Gang. A great track record for a "spooky little" song.

So . . . which one of the covers above did you like best? A tough choice for me. I'll always have a soft spot for the Classics IV version, but I also love Atlanta Rhythm Section's take. Gotta love Joan Osborne's rendition as well as Imogen Heap's. What's your preference? Please leave me a comment below. Which one? Let's talk about it.
I get confused 'cause I don't know where I stand.
And then you smile . . . and hold my hand.
Hope you've had a great weekend, everyone. And that this post has triggered some fun memories. Good music, at any rate. Even if you don't have a take on which "Spooky" cover rocks your world the most, leave me a comment anyway. See ya below. Take care. Ingat.


1 comment:

Voice Instructor san mateo said...

This is a really cool website. Great job, the comments are really insightful.

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