Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vinyl Obscurities 6: Cassius Clay - Stand By Me

Cassius Clay: Stand By Me/ I Am The Greatest. CBS AAG 190. Released 1964.
Radio 4's Saturday Live today featured quite a lengthy item with Gaz Mayall (of Gaz's Rockin' Blues fame) in praise of this 1964 single released by Cassius Clay (as he then was). He has a US copy and wasn't sure if it was released in the UK. Well it was (see photo), and it's a fairly average cover of what must be one of the most covered songs in history (400 versions to date apparently). The B side is a typical Cassius Clay rant of the era, a style of rap which was picked up by Prince Buster in some of his recordings.
I'm not a great boxing fan, but the Clay/Ali phenomenon was something that you could not overlook at the time. After his knockdown by Henry Cooper and subsequent controversial victory, Clay's career, his poems and his predictions were big news in the UK, as elsewhere. But few people thought he would beat the reigning world champion, the man mountain Sonny Liston. The much anticipated first fight took place after months of insults from Clay and was shown live on British TV - just about the first major US event to be televised live. Clay won after Liston gave up at the start of the 7th round. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to watch the second fight and was rather disappointed when Liston was knocked out in the first round in what looked like a very strange, not to say dishonest, manner. But Clay, who became Mohammed Ali shortly afterwards, proved himself a great champion, as his later fights with Smokin' Joe Frazier and others showed.
Ali wasn't the only boxer to try his hand at the music game of course. Smokin' Joe, who sadly died earlier this month, had quite a good soul voice and performed with his band The Knockouts. Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes are among other heavyweights to have tried their hand at singing. In the UK, the 'Blond Bomber' Billy Walker, who famously lost to Henry Cooper, made a number of singles, including a cover of A Certain Girl. His brother George was mixed up in the London underworld of the time, including involvement with the Kray twins, as was another British boxer Freddie Mills, who hosted Six Five Special and ran a night club before being found dead in his car in 1965.
As an aside, here's a bizarre clip on YouTube of a duet by Ali and Sam Cooke for Harry Carpenter on BBC TV


At 12:45 pm , Blogger Dave Thomas said...

Hi Nick
There is a reissue album of Cassius Clay on CD from 1999 with this track on it. The CD also has Sam Cooke on it.
Dave Thomas


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