Friday, 13 November 2015

The legendary New Orleans musical giant, Allan Toussaint died this week - here are some of his greatest songs

I was going to write about the great New Orleans R&B, soul and funk performer, producer, studio and record-label owner and songwriter Allen Toussaint, who died earlier this week at the age of 77, but there’s a handsome obituary of him available here in the Daily Telegraph (although I should point out that “Mother-in-Law” was a No. 1 US hit in 1961, not 1970, and that “Here Come the Girls was first released in 1970, not 1979). Toussaint was a self-effacing music industry figure the greatness of whose achievements eventually dawned on me one day in the late ‘70s when I realised how many of my all-time favourite records were largely the product of his multi-faceted musical genius. Here are eight beloved tracks written by - and in some cases produced and played on - by the great man, plus two of his finest productions of other people's songs. Prepare for musical magic:


1961 saw Chris Kenner's delightfully laid-back "I Like It Like That" reach No.2 in the US charts - it was co-written and produced by Toussaint:


The first time I actually fell in love with a Toussaint song was probably in 1964 when I bought the first single by The Yardbirds to discover a cover of Ernie K. Doe's "A Certain Girl" on the B-side (I hope you don't find the bikini-clad girl frugging in front of Randy's Donuts too distracting):


Benny Spellman, who sang back-up on "Mother-in-Law",  reckoned its success was mainly due to his deep-voiced rendition of the phrase "mother-in-law" throughout, and badgered Toussaint to write something just for him. The result was "Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)" - Toussaint later pointed out that the "don't leave me no more" musical phrase is exactly same as the "mother-in-law" one on the earlier record:


Another Toussaint/Spellman number, "Fortune Teller" wasn't a hit but went on to be covered by any number of British pop groups, including the Hollies and The Who (a truly rotten version on Live at Leeds). Here's The Stones's go at it:


Despite the fact that Irma Thomas possessed one of the greatest black female voices of all time - smoky, powerful and soulful - Toussaint initially rejected her as a singer. But he made up for it later by writing and producing her glorious recordings of "It's Raining" (1962) and the wonderfully atmospheric "Ruler of My Heart" (1963), which was later recorded by Otis Redding and The Rolling Stones as "Pain in My Heart":


Lee Dorsey's "Working in the Coal Mine", which reached No. 8 in the UK and the US in 1966, and which has subsequently been recorded by everybody from Devo to The Muppets, was one of several classic hits written and produced for the artist by Toussaint:


Dorsey and Toussaint scored again with "Ride Your Pony". Here's a version by New Orleans funkmeisters The Meters, who acted as Allen Toussaint's house band:


Versions of Toussaint songs were huge hits for other artists - but I really can't bear Al Hirt's "Java", Herb Alpert's "Whipped Cream" or Glen Campbells' "Southern Nights" (Toussaint's favourite of his own songs), so I'll leave you with two of Toussaint's finest - and funkiest - productions for, respectively, Patti LaBelle and Dr. John:




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