Head to Head musical duels

Joined
Jun 19, 2003
Location
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Since it is getting close to Christmas time, I thought that this would be a good time to have a Christmas Head-to-Head Musical Duel.


The first duel is "Merry Christmas, Everyone" by Welsh Rockabilly star 'Shakin' Stevens' versus Liverpool girl group Atomic Kitten.

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The Competitors Background

- 'Shakin' Stevens'
I don't think that 'Shakin' Stevens' nor his 'Merry Christmas, Everyone' are known in North America. I understand that Shakin' Steven's "Merry Christmas has become practically a Christmas Standard in the UK.

Born Michael Barrett, he formed the band Shakin' Stevens and the Sunsets at the age of 18. He switched to a sucessful solo career in the 1980s, achieving 39 hit singles.

- 'Atomic Kitten'
Since 1999, Atomic Kitten has been churning out the hits internationally. Since their recording debut, they have amassed 15 top 10 singles in the United Kingdom. The group's attained most of their success with the lineup of Natasha Hamilton, Liz (Lil') McClarnon and Jenny Frost.

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Let the Duel Begin!

I admit that I am a fan of the Kittens, but I'll be impartial in my judgment.


"Merry Christmas, Everyone" by Shakin' Stevens
http://www.youtube.c...?v=hAEP4GTVJlk&

"Merry Christmas, Everyone" by Atomic Kitten
http://www.youtube.c...?v=sIkt8gWCCT0&

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Analysis
"Merry Christmas, Everyone" by Shakin' Stevens

Written by Bob Heatlie and produced by Dave Edmunds, this was Shakin' Stevens fourth, number one on the UK Singles Chart. Shaky performs this song with a Rockabilly flair and fun attitude that is meant to be entertaining. It seems like a hybrid of a young Elvis who hadn't found his soul-phase and... pop-version of Pat Boone (??). Fun, but lightweight fluff.

"Merry Christmas, Everyone" by Atomic Kitten
Performed in 2003, Atomic Kitten would have been familiar with Shaky's version and decided to slow the tempo down, strip the Rockabilly flair and empasize superb vocals.

The result is a winning combination of charm and the spirit of Christmas.

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Conclusion
Atomic Kitten wins by a landslide.

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Ready for another Duel?

Mannheim Steamroller versus Trans-Siberian Orchestra performing the Christmas classic, "Carol of the Bells"

Mannheim Steamroller is a music group founded by Chip Davis, and co-founded by Jackson Berkey, known primarily for its modern recordings of Christmas music. The group has sold 28 million albums in the U.S. alone.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra (often abbreviated as TSO) is an orchestra founded in 1996 by Paul O'Neill, who brought together long-time friends Jon Oliva, Robert Kinkel, and Al Pitrelli. The band's musical style incorporates progressive rock, symphonic metal, and heavy metal, with influences from classical music.

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I could only find clips that used anime instead of concert performances.

Mannheim Steamroller - Carol of the Bells, A Fresh Aire Christmas
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=EY-EL56ArUc

Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Carol of the Bells
http://www.youtube.c...?v=iv4X4J_ySu8&

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Analysis

The Mannheim Steamroller revision of the classic seems to want keep the essence of the original, but add some modern instrumentation to spice up the song. But they aren't 'pushing the envelope'. Sure it's modern, but 'modern' in a 1970's or 1980's way.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra revision of the classic is far more ambitious in intent. There's far more drama, from the quiet lone piano and cello prelude to tubular bell's opening, to the rocking crescendo in the main body of the song, this is the stuff that fills arenas with music lovers.

I like how TSO uses traditional orchestra instruments that lead to synthesizer approximations of string choruses and horn choruses replacing them. Bonus credits to the arranger for inserting 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' into the song as a counter-melody.

Conclusion

TSO has the better version because it is far more ambitious in intent and far more satisying in execution. I love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's version of 'Carol of the Bells'.
 
Joined
Jun 19, 2003
Location
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
A comparison of Mannheim Steamroller versus Trans-Siberian Orchestra. by the Pittsburg Free-Press.

http://www.post-gaze.../935972-388.stm
Trans-Siberian Orchestra sizzles; Mannheim Steamroller fizzles
Thursday, December 18, 2008
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When Chip Davis says there's really no comparison between his Mannheim Steamroller and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, he isn't kidding. Picture a cage match to the death between Godzilla and Barney, with Mannheim in purple.

The occasion for comparison is that the two Christmas music franchises played Pittsburgh last night -- the first time it's ever happened in the same city on the same night, says Davis. Lucky us, say all the people caught in the rush-hour gridlock.

The Mellon Arena was the stomping ground for a TSO spectacle that was Kiss-times-10. Trans-Siberian is a bizarre phenomenon: a metal band that rocked harder than Van Halen, playing to a matinee crowd that looked like it was there for Barry Manilow.

The two-fingered devil horn would have been the correct salute had it not been, like, an actual Christmas concert. The first-half was a sublimely melodramatic Christmas tale about finding the true meaning of the holiday, narrated with the stentorian voice of Bryan Hicks. Fortunately, there was no quiz about the plot on the way out, because my eyeballs were too busy popping out to pay full attention. The sheer quantity of bombast fell somewhere between laughable and jaw-dropping, mostly the latter.

The brilliance of TSO are these over-the-top pop-metal songs that all manage morph into familiar carols. Among the cast of 20-some performers on stage are two guitarists more fiery than the flashpots and a smoking hot violinist who might as well be a member of the X-Men team.

Ensuring that you're getting maximum bang for the buck are no less than nine singers, ranging from prototypical long-haired power ballad dudes to black blues belter Jay Pierce to a rock-chick hitting opera notes while she ran down the center aisle. Why they needed two or three guys who sang like Joe Cocker, I have no clue.

In the second half of the show, as the four female singers doubled as the Solid Gold dancers, the TSO rocked through "Wizards of Winter" (the song from the flashing-house commercial) and rolled over Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt and the "Carol of the Bells." If that sounds incredibly cheesy on paper, it is. But with the strobes, lasers, lights, fire and fog all timed to the riffs, it was the kind of cheese you've got to try at least once.

It was a much different atmosphere over at the Benedum, where Mannheim Steamroller, in the second of two nights, was taking on more of a Lawrence Welk-on-synths kind of vibe. That electronic "Deck the Halls" might have sounded 21st century in 1984, but now that we're here, your 6-year-old can do it on a $15 toy keyboard.

The Mannheim shtick is a melding of renaissance-style recorders and strings with electronic drums and keyboards, culminating in a sound just perfect for the background music at the department store -- and that's what it is, actually.

Watching it live is tiresome and not helped by the dull, low-budget video projections. During the second half, the band, not featuring Davis because he's recovering from surgery, even played behind a screen, with video of a Renaissance court in front of them.

Nothing against the musicians, because they all seemed adequate, but this Steamroller seemed more suited as the opening act for a Shakespeare play, and in terms of my evening, it got flattened by a Trans-Siberian locomotive.
"Picture a cage match to the death between Godzilla and Barney, with Mannheim in purple."
 
Joined
Jun 19, 2003
Location
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Singer Alex Chilton, best known for his work with the band "The Box Tops", has died at age 59 on March 17, 2010. They had a hit with the song "The Letter".

So I felt this was a good time to have a Head-to-Head Musical Duel between The Box Tops versus Joe Cocker performing "The Letter".

"The Letter" was a song written by Wayne Carson Thompson for the band "The Box Tops" which became a #1 hit in 1967. "The Letter" returned to the U.S. Top Ten in June of 1970 via a single release of Joe Cocker's blues-rock reinvention of the song as featured on the "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" live album recorded that March at the Fillmore East theatre.

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Let the Duel Begin!

The Box Tops - The Letter (Upbeat 1967)
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=HIWY8UyW9bw
- Yikes! They call this upbeat?
Seems to be from TV. This is a terrible performance of a good song. What the heck is Alex Chilton doing? Is he stoned? Look at his eyes! There isn't any emoting to sell the song. The organist isn't even pretending to mime playing. He is mugging to the camera and demonstrating that he isn't playing. The drummer looks like he is bored out of his mind. The rest of the band are putting on half-hearted attempts at performing.

Let me look for something better...
The Box Tops - The Letter (seems to be somewhere in 1967)
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=-z8RCfnWPOo
- Hmm, not much better...
Chilton and the band are still dull. Look! Even the audience are wooden and stoned.

It's better to have the audience stoned than having the band stoned during their performance.

Okay, here is a modern performance...
The Box Tops - The Letter (2006 Moondog Coronation Ball Concert in Cleveland)
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=trRkSFyA7Ns
- by now The Boxtops have to know that their version is too short by today's standards. They must know the other interpretations sound better by being longer and filled out. Alex Chilton is trying to rock out, but isn't much of an improvement.

Joe Cocker - The Letter (Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, 1970)
http://www.youtube.c...?v=4RnjWLVyMps
- A Rockin' Classic! By switching tempo to Blues-rock, adding horns and soul singers as backup, Cocker has created a masterpiece. The blues-rock sax solo was a brilliant addition to lengthen the song.

Joe Cocker - The Letter (sometime in the 2000s ?)
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=c1pO3wZqEDw
Joe is keeping the song fresh by modifying the song and soul arrangement. I miss the song having the horns part and sax solo - I think that is the heart & soul of the song.

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The Winner - Joe Cocker - The Letter (Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, 1970)
Second Place - Joe Cocker - The Letter (sometime in the 2000s ?)
Third Place - The Box Tops - The Letter (2006 Moondog Coronation Ball Concert in Cleveland)
Fourth Place - The Box Tops - The Letter (seems to be somewhere in 1967)
Fifth Place - The Box Tops - The Letter (Upbeat 1967)
 
Joined
Jun 19, 2003
Location
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
I've always liked the mostly Canadian rock band, known appropriately as "The Band" and their classic blues-rock song "The Weight". The other day I was watching on TV, "Women Who Rock" concert on PBS-TV. I think the highlight of the show was R&B/Gospel Legend Mavis Staples singing Robbie Robertson's classic, "The Weight" with praiseworthy backup by Cyndi Lauper. :goodjob:

That got me to thinking that it was time for another Head-to-Head Musical Duel!

The Weight

I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin' about half past dead;
I just need some place where I can lay my head.
"Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?"
He just grinned and shook my hand, and "No!", was all he said.

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me.

I picked up my bag, I went lookin' for a place to hide;
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin' side by side.
I said, "Hey, Carmen, come on, let's go downtown."
She said, "I gotta go, but my friend can stick around."

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me.

Go down, Miss Moses, there's nothin' you can say
It's just ol' Luke, and Luke's waitin' on the Judgment Day.
"Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?"
He said, "Do me a favor, son, won't you stay and keep Anna Lee
company?"

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me.

Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog.
He said, "I will fix your rack, if you'll take Jack, my dog."
I said, "Wait a minute, Chester, you know I'm a peaceful man."
He said, "That's okay, boy, won't you feed him when you can."

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me.

Catch a Cannonball, now, to take me down the line
My bag is sinkin' low and I do believe it's time.
To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she's the only one.
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone.

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me.
According to Wikipedia, "The colorful characters in "The Weight" were based on real people members of The Band knew, as Levon Helm explained in his autobiography, This Wheel's on Fire. In particular, "young Anna Lee" mentioned in the third verse is Helm's longtime friend Anna Lee Amsden, and, according to her, "Carmen" and "Crazy Chester" were people from Helm's hometown, Turkey Scratch, Arkansas."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Weight

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The Weight (1968 album "Music from Big Pink"studio release) - The Band
This is the version heard on radio. Although somewhat Spartan musically, there is an emotional sincerity in the great 3-part harmonies of lead singer Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel that isn't often heard. A classic that inspired many cover versons.

The Weight (Woodstock 1969) - The Band
This is probably where most people of the era heard the great 3-part harmonies of lead singer Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. The Woodstock arrangement was more elaborate than the comparatively elemental and spare studio recording. Notably, it retained Robertson's simple folk guitar introduction, but Helm's slow studio performance drum bangs were replaced by a short drum roll that provided the feel of a faster tempo though the actual tempo was the same as the studio performance. Manuel's Lowrey organ, which was in the studio background, was prominent; and Robertson participated vocally in the choruses.

The Weight, from the movie "The Last Waltz" (1978) - The Band with The Staples Singers
- directed by Martin Scorsese
An interesting Gospel-Blues influenced interpretation of a classic thanks to Pops Staples "The Staples Singers".
Just after their November 25, 1976, "farewell concert," The Band performed a gospel arrangement of "The Weight" with The Staple Singers that was filmed in The Last Waltz. In particular, Mavis and Pops Staples sang second and third verse lead vocals, respectively, and Robertson performed with an electric guitar.

The Weight - Ringo Starr's All Starr Band Live at the Greek Theater (Los Angeles on December 3, 1989)
What a delightful surprise! Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garfh Hudson from 'The Band' are members of this incarnation of Ringo Starr's All Starr Band. Other stars of note are singer/keyboardist Billy Preston, singer/pianist Mac Rebennack aka Dr. John, singer/guitarist Joe Walsh of the 'Eagles', singer/guitarist Nils Lofgren and saxophonist Clarence Clemons of the E. Street Band, and Ringo Starr.

The Weight - Eric Clapton with members of 'The Band' (1994 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions).
Note the absence of lead singer Levon Helm.
If you look carefully, you'll see Paul Schaffer and his "World's Most Dangerous Band", the house band of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, aka "The CBS Orchestra" on "The Late Show with David Letterman"
How disappointing. Levon Helm's Arkansawian vocals are sorely missing. Nice Accordian part by Garth Hudson who usually plays piano in "The Weight". Eric Clapton's blues-rock guitar is nice, but doesn't improve on the song. Cynics would say Robbie Robertson is showing off in his guitar-work in order to be like Clapton.

The Weight (Live At The New Orleans Jazz Festival -Apr.22.1996) - The Band
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNZn-7DL5nY
What a great rocking concert version of "The Weight" with lead singer Levon Helm having a great time singing and the rest of The Band effortly playing their parts. I love it the best so far. I wonder if having an extra drummer allowed Levon to singer better than his other versions?

The Weight - Mavis Staples with backup by Cyndi Lauper (from the "Women Who Rock Concert" at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame benefit of the same name on May 14, 2011).
R&B/Gospel Legend Mavis Staples singing Robbie Robertson's classic, "The Weight" with praiseworthy backup by Cyndi Lauper. Great stuff that gives me chills! :goodjob:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAYQekfHvfI
I wish there was better Audio, but this seems to be taken from a camcorder. Despite that, you can tell that this was a powerful rendition. It looks like Mavis Staples and Cyndi Lauper were touched by the hand of God when they sing with such power and conviction. Simply Amazing.
Thank you Mavis Staples and Cyndi Lauper.

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ANALYSIS

First Place: The Weight (from the "Women Who Rock Concert" - Mavis Staples
I'm a big fan of the southern accent of Levon Helm singing voice, but I have to concede that he doesn't match the power of great Gospel Singers such as Mavis Staples when at their best. I've heard other Mavis Staples Band renditions of "The Weight", but this version from the "Women Who Rock Concert" is the best!

Second Place: The Weight (Live At The New Orleans Jazz Festival - Apr.22.1996) - The Band
What a great rocking concert version of "The Weight" with lead singer Levon Helm having a great time singing and the rest of The Band effortly playing their parts. I love it the best of "The Band" versions that I know of.

Third Place: The Weight - Ringo Starr's All Starr Band - Live at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles on December 3, 1989
What a delightful surprise! Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garfh Hudson from 'The Band' supply the their key parts necessary for the proper presentation of "The Weight" and then are complemented by singer/keyboardist Billy Preston, singer/pianist Mac Rebennack aka Dr. John, singer/guitarist Joe Walsh of the 'Eagles', singer/guitarist Nils Lofgren and saxophonist Clarence Clemons of the E. Street Band. Almost as good as above, but it lacks The Band's Robbie Robertson's input as it's songwriter.

Fourth Place: The Weight (1968 album "Music from Big Pink"studio release) - The Band
The version heard on radio has an emotional sincerity in the great 3-part harmonies of lead singer Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel that isn't often heard. A classic that inspired many cover versons is hard to beat.

Fifth Place: The Weight from the movie "The Last Waltz" (1978) - The Band with The Staples Singers
- Good audio quality, but lacking an audience to fuel the emotions of the performers. Mavis Staples sings/performs much better in the recent version with Cyndi Lauper.

Sixth Place: The Weight (Woodstock 1969) - The Band
- Merely adequate sound quality from the iconic rock concert that performers didn't realize would be so important in retrospect.

Seventh Place: The Weight - Eric Clapton with members of 'The Band'
Levon Helm's Arkansawian vocals are sorely missing causing the vocals to be unremarkable. Nice Accordian part by Garth Hudson who usually plays piano in "The Weight". Eric Clapton's blues-rock guitar is nice, but doesn't improve on the song. Cynics would say Robbie Robertson is showing off in his guitar-work in order to be like Clapton.
 
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