Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Al Kooper Primer"
THIS DIAMOND RING
You know the Gary Lewis & the Playboys version, but Al envisioned it as a horn-fueled soul number and recorded it on his album "Act Like Nothing's Wrong," check it out.
LIKE A ROLLING STONE
Yes, that's Al's organ on the supposed #1 rock single of all time. He's told the story many times of how he planned to play guitar but was intimidated by Michael Bloomfield and sidled up to the organ when Tom Wilson wasn't looking and Dylan liked what resulted. The saying is "You've got to have friends," even more you've got to have BALLS!
I CAN'T KEEP FROM CRYING SOMETIMES
Back when music was not free, there were certain albums you'd see in bedrooms that you didn't own but realized were important, like the Blues Project's "Projections." Their take on Blind Willie Johnson's composition...was a sixties classic.
But this was the most famous Blues Project song, written by Kooper and featuring Andy Kulberg's flute. This track could be just as successful today. Be sure to check out Seatrain's cover...
I CAN'T QUIT HER
Cowritten with his "This Diamond Ring" compatriot, Irwin Levine, "I Can't Quit Her" explodes out of the speakers and knocks you dead in a way that Bruno Mars can only dream of.
It begins with a piano figure, but the horns come in and seal the deal.
This is musical, melodic in a way today's hits are not.
Then again, this initial Blood, Sweat & Tears album fronted by Kooper was not a hit, but it's the only one that counts. The second, fronted by David Clayton Thomas, featured all the hits, but it's been completely forgotten and only "Child Is Father To The Man" remains in the cognoscenti's mind. It's pure magic. If you don't know it, you'll be stunned music was so good back in 1968.
MY DAYS ARE NUMBERED
A Kooper original no one ever talks about, this is the kind of track that drove the "album cut" mantra. Just imagine lying on your bedroom floor listening to this on headphones...I did!
I LOVE YOU MORE THAN YOU'LL EVER KNOW
Donny Hathaway had the cover of this Kooper original, but despite having a superior voice, BS&T's take is better, because no one can compete with the original version sung by the original writer...they feel it!
SO MUCH LOVE
But this is a cover, of a Goffin/King composition.
There are multiple versions, most notably Dusty Springfield's from her "Dusty In Memphis" album, but none of them hits. But this is not only my favorite take, but my favorite track on the album, because it's a perfect closer, they throw in everything but the kitchen sink, Kooper, the backup girls, the horns, and build it up and then break it down. Exquisite!
SEASON OF THE WITCH
It was just a Donovan cut, but Al Kooper and Stephen Stills made it legendary. It's eleven minutes long. It came out the same time as the Band's "Big Pink," but for some reason it hasn't been remembered.
The "Super Session" formula would still work today, in our live-centric world. Put Eddie Van Halen or Derek Trucks in a room with Joey DeFrancesco and Lady Gaga and have them perform covers...and watch it become classic, because music can still triumph, if it's about music. Put it on YouTube and watch the counter roll.
IT TAKES A LOT TO LAUGH, IT TAKES A TRAIN TO CRY
Completely different from Dylan's original.
Yes, I love the Stills side of "Super Session" better. Call me a heretic!
From the Bloomfield side.
It's classic, but equally is good is the James Gang's rendition on their debut, "Yer' Album."
Yes, Bloomfield could wail. Listen.
YOU DON'T LOVE ME
For the phaser if nothing else!
This was metal before Metallica, when it was not about speed, but heaviness.
Yes, this has a killer riff, once again from the Stephen Stills side.
DEAR MR. FANTASY
Hard to believe, but for years this was the definitive version, Traffic's initial LP had almost no traction, the original has only grown with time. Great organ effects, and listen to when the vocal mic cuts out and the room mic picks Al up.
I STAND ALONE
For those of us who were waiting, and I certainly was, Al was finally up front and center and this title track delivered.
HEY WESTERN UNION MAN
You can hear the telegraph!
I was unaware of the Jerry Butler original, Al turned me on to this classic, he always had great taste.
This cut is an absolute killer. It locks into the groove and doesn't let go, the horns have you throwing your arms in the air, it's a masterpiece of arranging. Listen.
And check out this Isaac Hayes/David Porter composition too. Al may be white, but he's got soul!
Overproduced but not to the point of tragedy, this is a Traffic cover for those of us who hadn't bought Winwood's group's original LP. But after this, the Kooper/Bloomfield cover of "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and Three Dog Night's version of "Heaven Is In Your Mind," I had to own it.
MAGIC IN MY SOCKS
The opening cut off of Al's second solo LP was unavailable in the U.S. until the advent of streaming services...
YOU NEVER KNOW WHO YOUR FRIENDS ARE
Ain't that the truth, the title cut from the second solo.
TOO BUSY THINKING ABOUT MY BABY
Another soul cover, more obvious than what had come previously, but Al still knocks it out.
YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT
Yes, that's Al playing the French horn on the Stones classic, making him a classic too. Come on, you know the interlude...
BRAND NEW DAY
From 1970's double album, "Easy Does It," this cut was featured in the Hal Ashby film "The Landlord," which sank like a stone, so did this cut.
That's how big James Taylor was, Al covered him.
SWEET HOME ALABAMA
Yes, Al produced "Free Bird," but before the initial LP came out, Al got a call from Lynyrd Skynyrd saying they wanted to come into the studio to cut another track. That turned out to be "Sweet Home Alabama," which wasn't released until long after, but not because it was not a hit, Al knew it was a smash from the moment he heard it. That's the power of a hit single.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM LIFE?
Ah, to jet back to 1975, when the Tubes were one of the biggest bands in Los Angeles. Sure, "White Punks On Dope" had an impact, but it was this number that cemented the band's credibility and career. If you've never heard it, you'll be stunned that something so smart and so good could get airplay on America's radio stations. Well, not all of them, but those in L.A., and the Tubes ended up being big in the U.K., but they didn't break through over here until Kooper was long gone and David Foster was king, but if you want the original sauce, dial this in, the Tubes sacrificed their shot at legendary stardom when they parted with Al Kooper.