Monday, September 14, 2015

(empo-caalii) New York Dreamin? (When the associations don't go that deep)

Songs can work on many levels, and sometimes the superficial understanding of a song is opposite of its underlying meaning. The two most famous examples are the rah-rah patriotic song "Born in the U.S.A." and the love song "When a Man Loves a Woman." If you take half a moment to examine the lyrics to either song, you will realize that the flip interpretations of the song titles have nothing to with the actual songs. (In that regard, Cheech & Chong's "Born in East L.A." is a true representation of the meaning of Springsteen's original.)

But let's look at another song - one that I talked about two years ago. "California Dreamin'" was written by John and Michelle Phillips and has been recorded by many, most famously by their own group The Mamas and the Papas. As I noted in 2013, the song has become closely associated with California, to the point that it's used in Powerball commercials from the California Lottery. (You know, dreaming of hundreds of millions of dollars...or something.)

But is it a California song?

Back in 2010, this blog included a series of posts on California songs. With the exception of a post about the town of California, Maryland, most of the posts had to do with the state of California. The posts talked about people ranging from Roy Rogers and Lawrence Welk to Devo and Ed Crawford, people who came from Ohio and other places and contributed to the California music scene.

The first post in the "empo-caallii" series discussed some ways to define California music.

But what exactly is California music? I can think of three possible definitions.

First, you can look at musicians and bands who use their songs to comment, explicitly or implicitly, on California. Whether you're singing about a "Hotel California," singing a song that lists a number of California surfing locations, or singing the praises of Compton and the LBC, you can definitely identify lyrical content that relates to California.

But what of musical content? Is there a "California sound"? Certainly there are Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Bakersfield-based musicians who have a clearly identifiable sound. Perhaps the Byrds, Buck Owens, Glen Campbell, Dick Dale, any of Phil Spector's bands, X, and the aforementioned Tupac Shakur never played a gig together, but there are certainly musical elements in all of their works that can be tied to the Golden State. (When speaking of Glen Campbell, I'm not only thinking of his solo work, but also his session work; he was, after all, a touring member of the Beach Boys for a while.)

And, of course, you can have musicians who don't sing about California, and who don't sound like California, but they happen to live in California. Are they part of the California sound? I've been mulling over this third question the most, and may end up posting some additional thoughts on this later. (Hence the blog label, should I care to revisit this, or any other California-related topic.)

Now if you look at the first of my three criteria, "California Dreamin" is clearly a California song. After all, the singer is dreaming about California.

But the circumstances in which "California Dreamin" was composed suggest something altogether different. Michelle Phillips has shared her thoughts regarding the composition of the song:

Michelle PHILLIPS remembers 1963 as a year of bone-chill and profound homesickness. The Long Beach native, then 19, had married John Phillips in late 1962 and the two had shuttled off to New York to seek fame with their folk group, the New Frontiersmen.

This brings to mind the first important fact about "California Dreamin" - it was written in New York City. The Phillipses were living near Washington Square at the time. Why? Because they were folk musicians, and folk musicians gravitated to Greenwich Village. Bob Dylan left Minnesota and went to Greenwich Village. John Phillips took his woman and went to Greenwich Village.

Homesick Michelle explained the incident that subsequently formed a major part of the song.

One blustery day, the couple were strolling by the marble spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral. "I wanted to go in just to see what it looked like, but John wouldn't go with me," Michelle recalled. "He had been sent off to a parochial school when he was 7 and, well, he just had very strong negative feelings about the church. So I went in alone."

So if you have a song, composed in the center of the worldwide folk movement (several years before "folk rock" became a thing), focused on St. Patrick's Cathedral, would that be a California song, or a New York song?

Perhaps the song is more at home at Coney Island than it is in Disney's California Adventure.

And it clearly doesn't have much to do with a Californian winning the Powerball lottery.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

For Simone, Jimmy, Josie, Julie, Isaac, Christina, and everyone else in Hollywood - My views on the Psychedelic Furs

I've blogged in various places for over a decade, and during that time I have expressed many incontestable truths.

Clifford is a big red dog.

Joan Jett loves rock and roll.

"Pleasure, Little Treasure" is the worst song of the 20th century - even worse than "Macarena."

But I don't think I've gotten around to one of my other truths.

It's time.

Why now? Because my cousin Simone, her husband Jimmy, her friend Josie, an unrelated tweeter named Christina, and Loren's girlfriend have all converged on the Hollywood Bowl to see the B-52s (formerly known as the B-52's) and the Psychedelic Furs.

So it's time for another incontestable truth - the Psychedelic Furs are the worst band of the 20th century - even worse than Los del Rio.

Now it's hard to say that, since the Furs were one of the bands that emerged from the United Kingdom in the early 1980s, and had some interesting musical backing (for the most part). But for me, the whole effect was ruined by Richard Butler's voice, a voice that makes Bob Dylan sound like an operatic baritone. Take "Love My Way" - interesting instruments, but Butler ruins it for me.

To be fair, others have described Butler's voice differently.

As front man for the Psychedelic Furs, Richard Butler made a permanent mark on the music world with his instantly recognizable voice, which was – and is – dark and melancholy but always full of emotion.

But they are wrong. Yet I could survive hearing a Furs song, since everything else on the records was always top notch.

But then, you see, this movie came out, and you had a song that was terrible on every level.

First off, Butler was singing it again - if you can call that singing.

At the same time, the music went down a few million notches, with the most irritating repetitive guitar solo during the chorus of the song.
And the chorus itself - here it is, in full:

Pretty in pink
Isn't she
Pretty in pink
Isn't she

As part of my exhaustive research for this post, I made a harrowing discovery - the soundtrack version of "Pretty in Pink" is actually a remake, and the movie itself was based upon the original version of the song, which was recorded BEFORE "Love My Way."

Now I'm wondering if the original version has all of the same irritating features found in the soundtrack version.

But I'm afraid to find out.

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I actually like the voice of the male singer from the other band on the bill, Fred Schneider. His is another "instantly recognizable" voice, and one that has been instantly parodied.

Fred Schneider Gets A Day Job from thepit-nyc on Vimeo.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Major Tom has been identified (and yes, he's alive)

You know that you're old when you read a question that starts like this:

Anyone into retro music knows the song Major Tom by Peter Schilling.

Considering that today's oldies stations play Nirvana, it's understandable that someone considered the song "Major Tom" to be retro. The person goes on to say:

Did you know there's a David Bowie song that also talks about Major Tom?

I can't be too harsh on the person that asked the question - I'll personally admit that I was listening to Wings before I was listening to the Beatles. I had heard of the Beatles, of course - they were just like the Monkees, only wackier!

For the benefit of those who are not as ancient as myself, Major Tom is a fascinating character who has popped up in music several times. The previously linked Straight Dope post recounts the good major's history, from Bowie's original 1969 song "Space Oddity," to a subsequent 1980 mention by Bowie in "Ashes to Ashes," to Schilling's 1983 continuation of the story. I haven't really written about this before (I mentioned "Space Oddity" in passing once), but Major Tom is a fascinating fictional character.

Or so I thought.

Those who are familiar with the Major Tom story know the details - composed in 1969 and rush-released to take advantage of the Apollo 11 moon launch in America, the first song's official title "Space Oddity" is an obvious play on the previous year's blockbuster film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Or is it?

The subsequent references to Major Tom in "Ashes to Ashes" indicate the Bowie considered Major Tom to be, to some extent, autobiographical.

Or did he?

I try to shy away from conspiracy theories, but there are several data points, scattered through the years, that are just too powerful to ignore. After extensive research, I have concluded that "Space Oddity" is not about the moon at all, but is about another "Oddity" that the culturally-attuned Bowie learned about.

Around the time that Bowie's song was being released, a young man was preparing to begin his second year of college. Although he was in Boston, he wasn't going to Harvard or MIT. He was attending a junior college - Grahm Junior College - planning to study radio and television. Now many people who study radio and television in junior college do so with the goal of becoming a star - say, a star on a hit TV sitcom. This student, however, was clearly marching to the beat of his own drummer. A few months after "Space Oddity" was released in Britain, the student mounted his first college play. The topic? God. His earnings? Five dollars...five dollars. (His wallet hurts a lot.)

Over the next few years, as Bowie himself went through ch-ch-ch-changes, the student continued his own oddity odyssey. After leaving junior college, he began performing routines the audience. People would cringe at the failures of his routines, and of his jokes, until he blew them away with a surprise ending.

Word got around, and eventually the "stand up comic" found material success as a star on a hit TV sitcom.

You know the rest of the story - how he hated the sitcom, how his alter ego Tony Clifton got fired from the sitcom, how he began to wrestle women, how he lost a vote to remain on one of the few shows ("Saturday Night Live") that could fully use his talents, and how he surprised everyone by dying. (Maybe.)

Let's observe a moment of silence.

Now listen to "Space Oddity" again, and consider this unescapable fact - Bowie wrote the song about a not-yet-to-emerge performing genius from America. Someone whom the industry tried to put into a mold, but who found a way to break out of the mold in so many ways. The "foreign man" who disappeared from the airwaves.

Now I'm sure that many can poke holes in my theory. Why would Peter Schilling take the trouble to say "he's alive" BEFORE Andy Kaufman's purported death? Why did the first recorded visit of Bowie to America take place in 1970, not 1969?

Yet I can see no other explanation for the song. And when you look at the people involved in the subsequent conspiracy - Bowie, Michael Stipe, Jim Carrey - it all makes sense.

If you believed they put a man on the moon
Man on the moon
If you believe there's nothing up his sleeve
Then nothing is cool

(Additional reading)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What is @modernwest ?

On March 2, 1964, four young men reported to a train station in England that was being used as a movie set. The four men were stars of a film that was eventually going to be called "A Hard Day's Night."

The four men were not chosen for their acting ability, and if they had been given a say in the matter, they probably wouldn't have made a film at all. They were making this film because they - the Beatles - were extremely popular musicians, and making a film was an easy way for pop stars to make extra pounds or dollars or whatever. (Elvis Presley made both, when you think about it.) In fact, the film itself may not have been the major product - United Artists had the rights to release the film soundtrack in the United States, gaining a number one album hit in the process.

The four men would act in several other films, both playing "The Beatles" and playing other roles, but only Ringo Starr made a significant number of non-Beatle non-vanity movies (although George Harrison became a film producer).

Which brings us to Folsom, California, on Saturday, August 8, 2015. I had spent the week in nearby Sacramento at the International Association for Identification conference, and was visiting relatives over the weekend. We all went to see a musical artist on Saturday night - not Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, but Modern West at the Harris Center at Folsom Lake College. The Harris Center has three stages, and Modern West played on the largest of the three stages. But before the band played, we in the audience saw a whole bunch of movie clips. The movie clips were from films such as "Dances with Wolves," "Field of Dreams," "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "Thirteen Days," "Waterworld," and "Wyatt Earp."

So why would this band show film clips from a whole bunch of unrelated films? And why would the audience sit through these film clips?

Whoops, I guess I forgot to mention something. The lead singer of Modern West is a guy named Kevin Costner. Perhaps you've heard of him through his film work.

Yeah, we were in the Uecker seats. "Field of Dreams," indeed.

In one respect, this is the reverse of the Beatles' situation. Rather than having musicians dabbling in film, you have an actor dabbling in music. But in another respect, it's very different. Costner chose to pursue this.

But it was always more than just an idea for me. It was a feeling that I had been unable to articulate. For a long time now I have felt the need to connect with people in a more meaningful way than just the autograph. I have found myself here and around the world in different situations where the only exchange has been just that…a quick signature on the run usually followed by a “gee, he’s taller than I thought.”

I always thought that music could build a stronger, more personal moment for me. It would create the opportunity for a genuine exchange much greater than the movie, TV interview or magazine. It would be real, full of mistakes and without apology. But most of all there would be the chance to have some fun. The question was, would it work? I thought it could but I wasn’t really sure.

Did it work? One of my relatives was not impressed at all, but I enjoyed myself. If I had to compare Kevin Costner and Modern West to someone else, the best comparison would be to a kinder and gentler Kris Kristofferson (who happens to be a musician who has dabbled in acting). The songs are delivered well and touch on some interesting subjects - "Famous for Killing Each Other" is a personal favorite - but I don't know that Janis Joplin is going to cover any of them (especially in her present state).

If you're in the Solana Beach area, you can hear the band tonight (August 11) at the Belly Up Tavern.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Two different evangelical album efforts in the early 1970s

We love to pigeonhole people, and as a result artists such as U2 and Bob Marley are generally considered to be "secular" artists, while artists such as Amy Grant are generally considered to be "religious" artists. The truth is much more complex - as complex as people themselves, as a matter of fact.

In the early 1970s, two musical acts straddled this imaginary divided. Both Johnny Cash and the Osmonds were considered to be secular artists, but both were known for their religious beliefs. And in the early 1970s, both released ambitious musical efforts on the "religious" side of the spectrum.

Cash's effort, "The Gospel Road," was the more ambitious of the two in some ways - "The Gospel Road" was a soundtrack to a movie of the same name, filmed in Israel no less. And in those pre-Camp David days, filming in Israel was about as daring an effort as filming in Israel in 2015. Add the fact that Cash had never produced a movie before, and you can see the difficulty involved.

Rather than look at the movie, I'm going to concentrate on the soundtrack. This is part of what Raise my Glass to the B-Side said:

Despite the endless number of tracks (76 on the CD issue, 77 on my LP), there are really only ten songs on here, several of which are drawn from Johnny’s back catalogue. Motifs from the tunes are used as background music throughout the film as well. Overall the music is what you would expect of Cash approaching gospel music in the early 70s. The Statler Brothers and Carter Family are featured frequently, providing a wall of harmonies. The backing is simple acoustic guitars on the quieter moments, and the tic-tock, boom-chicka-boom of the [Tennessee] Three (still with Carl Perkins) on the upbeat numbers.

While the reviewer praised certain songs, the final verdict was not so good.

Despite some excellent music, as a whole, the album doesn’t work. I find the mood changes too abrupt – the first LP is light and buoyant, gurgling along with Perkins guitar through the Gospel Road. The second LP is heavy with narrative of Jesus’ death, bogged down by overwrought musical backing. Listening to the full set in one listen is a long haul. What would have worked far better would be a true soundtrack: “Songs from The Gospel Road.” An abridged narration by Johnny (similar to Ride This Train or America) could have tied the songs together and told the story in a far more efficient manner than simply handing over the entire film’s dialogue. It would also allow us to hear each song in their entirety rather than chopped up verse by verse.

While the Osmonds didn't try to make a movie with their effort, it had ambitions of its own. Remember that the Osmonds music evolved over time; they started as a barbershop quartet (before Donny joined), and eventually evolved into a bubblegum pop act. But after a couple of albums, they began to branch out more, recording my favorite Osmonds song, "Crazy Horses." I always thought it was a reference to the Apocalypse, but the brothers claim that it's about evolution.

After "Crazy Horses," however, they did decide to cover the apocalypse - and just about everything else in Latter Day Saint theology - in "The Plan." But this was not only an ambitious lyrical effort. While Cash pretty much stuck with a Tennessee Three type sound, the Osmonds decided to go all White Album on the public.

The end result is a testament to the group's versatility and skills as musical craftsmen but The Plan ultimately doesn't work for a few important reasons. The first is that the songs are too serious and overblown for their own good: "Are You up There?" and "The Last Days" have solid melodies, but their preachy lyrics are too awkward and diffuse to convey the group's beliefs with any real power. The other big problem with The Plan is that it is overwhelmed by its own musical ambition: the abrupt jumps from fuzzy acid rock ("Traffic in My Mind") to orchestrated show tune-styled arias ("Before the Beginning") to frenetically bopping big band soul ("It's Alright") result in more genre-hopping than a single album can handle.

Well, except for the aforementioned White Album - and there are people who hate that album too.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Songs end up in the strangest places

If you find a song that you like, you may share a link to the song on your Twitter account, or your Facebook page, or your blog.

But over the weekend, Liz Ryan shared a "Your Woman" video (not "My Woman"; "Your Woman") on the LinkedIn feed.

Hey, social networks are social. And people still remember Jyoti Mishra (who has continued to release music, by the way).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pet sounds...if your pet is a pit bull

The song "John B. Sails," better known as "Sloop John B" after the Beach Boys' version, has been covered by a lot of artists.

One such artist is Devasted. Their version is here.

No, there aren't any multi-tracked harmonies on this one.

Monday, July 20, 2015

When pop radio stations break the shackles of the three-minute format

Last week I was driving to work, flipping through the radio stations, when I landed on K-EARTH 101.

For those of you who do not live within the range of Los Angeles radio, you should know that K-EARTH is an oldies station. Of course, the definition of an oldies station changes over time. When I moved to southern California in the 1980s, K-EARTH was playing songs from the 1950s and 1960s. Today, they play songs from the 1990s.

But that morning, the station was playing a 1980s song - "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell.

That happens to be a song that I enjoy, so I left my dial (actually, not a dial any more) on K-EARTH 101, knowing that I would enjoy that song. Of course, I knew that K-EARTH wouldn't play the excellent medley that included both "Tainted Love" and "Where Did Our Love Go." Why not? Because oldies stations, like other pop stations, strictly adhere to the three-minute format and play the shortest version possible of any song. If you want to hear the full versions of songs, you need to go to a station where Zeptember and Rocktober are celebrated.

So I listened to the end of "Tainted Love," wondering what K-EARTH would play next.

But the song didn't end. Miracle of miracles, they began playing the opening notes of "Where Did Our Love Go."

As I was reflecting about the monumental and historical nature of this...K-EARTH faded the second song about a minute into it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Two of our greatest singers on, unforgettable song

No, this has nothing to do with Nat King and Natalie Cole. But it's unforgettable nonetheless.

Lately I've been leaning toward a Bob Dylan song from his Nashville Skyline album, the recorded collaboration between Dylan and Johnny Cash. As you listen to "Girl From the North Country," you are struck by something. Dylan sings in his Dylan voice. Cash sings in his Cash voice. And then, in one magical moment, the two voices unite together in unison.

Well, sort of unison.

Dylan and Cash have/had dominant personalities and distinctive singing and musical styles. But what they don't/didn't have was technical facility. So when those two cantankerous souls reach the part where they sing in unison, it isn't quite there.

You can find the track on Spotify or on your favorite music service. Or perhaps you can find a subsequent recording that the two made on Cash's TV show. Back in 2007, D.A.N. helpfully shared a video of that performance. Unfortunately, by the time I reached D.A.N.'s post in 2015, I saw this when I tried to play the video.

So I have to rely upon D.A.N.'s description of that performance:

This live version has a little more spontaneity in its feel than the album version that I think it adds another level of authenticity and although both singers are definite in their "country voices", there is still a bit of a contrast between the two....

This live duet does seem slightly tentative as well actually. Dylan idolized Cash and I think that really comes through in the performance as he does seem a little star struck by the man in black, even though they worked together before.

If you read between the lines of the euphemistic words "spontaneity," "authenticity," and "tentative," you can just picture how the live performance sounded.

Actually, the recorded version of the duet is available on YouTube. The true magic occurs at 1:51.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The truth about Larry Norman...and Robert Johnson

I ran across an April 8, 2014 post, written by Allen Flemming, at a site called "The Truth About Larry Norman." It began like this:

The United States Library of Congress has chosen Larry Norman’s album Only Visiting This Planet album to be deemed a National Treasure. The only other Rock album was U2’s Joshua Tree (an album depicting U2’s vision of America).

When I first read that, I questioned the statement's accuracy, since it was hard to believe that only two rock albums were culturally significant. It turns out that the statement was correct - sort of. These were the only two rock albums in the 2013 class of inductions (source: Variety). For the 2013 class, non-rock albums such as Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" were included, and rock songs such as Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Fortunate Son" were included.

If you look at the entire Recording Registry, however, you can find a lot of rock albums that were included in the years before and after 2013, ranging from "The Velvet Underground and Nico" to "OK Computer." And there's a lot of other stuff also.

So, why is Larry Norman in there? The Library of Congress explains:

"Only Visiting This Planet" is the key work in the early history of Christian rock. Norman was a veteran of the American rock scene of the 1960s (as well as a street corner evangelist) and his songs were musically assured and socially aware. Many earlier efforts in this genre concentrated on joyful affirmations of faith, but Norman also commented on the world as he saw it from his position as a passionate, idiosyncratic outsider to mainstream churches. "Only Visiting This Planet" was recorded at George Martin's AIR studio in London with a group of top studio musicians that included John Wetton of King Crimson (and, later, Asia) on bass. The album set new production standards for Christian music. For some, Norman and his work are still controversial, but, regardless, his influence remains strong. Selected for the 2013 registry.

On the other side of the spectrum is this culturally significant recording. This is another man who was only visiting this planet, but the common impression is that this man ended up in a different place than Norman did:

"The Complete Recordings." Robert Johnson. (1936-1937)

The recordings made by Delta bluesman Robert Johnson in 1936 and 1937 had a significant impact on fellow bluesmen, as well as on such rock musicians as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Considered by some to be the "King of the Delta Blues Singers," Johnson's emotive vocals, combined with his varied and masterful guitar playing, continue to influence blues and popular music performers to this day. Selected for the 2003 registry.

I encourage you to visit the registry list. I may revisit it again in this blog.

Friday, April 10, 2015

GWAR's Oderus Urungus sold his soul - well, his body - for rock and roll

This GWAR story is getting weirder and weirder.

I previously linked to a post that described how William Brockie, executor of the estate of his son Dave Brockie a/k/a Oderus Urungus, has sued the surviving members of GWAR, claiming (among other things) that GWAR withheld his son's ashes from him.

Well, GWAR has responded. This is part of what Courthouse News says about the case:

According to Gwar, Brockie signed his son's body over to the band, who then assumed the costs of funeral arrangements, including cremation, two services and a plot in Richmond's historic Hollywood Cemetery. Brockie did not attend any of his son's memorials, the band alleges, and that his father was only named executor of the estate by default.

The real battle, of course, isn't over Dave Brockie's ashes, but Dave Brockie's money. More here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A band is being sued over a former member's cremated ashes

I read Courthouse News Service regularly, and sometimes I come across some really interesting things.

For example, the father of a deceased lead singer of a band claims, among other things, that the band members stole the lead singer's cremated ashes.

You won't be surprised to learn that the band in question is GWAR - the costumed favorite band of Beavis and Butt-Head.

Details on the lawsuit can be found here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

At least the CSI people don't use Kinks songs for show musical themes

A long time ago, a couple of people were planning a new TV show called "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." I suspect that during one of those planning sessions, the following conversation took place:

Who do we want to use for the show's musical theme song?


No, I'm asking - who?


Abbott and Costello never get old.

Throughout all of the various shows in the CSI franchise, one constant has been the use of a song from the Who as the theme song for each show. The producers choose a snippet from the song to use as the theme. For the first show, based in Las Vegas, "Who Are You" (without the profanities) was used. The Miami show used "Won't Get Fooled Again." The New York show ended up using "Baba O'Riley"; sadly, the excerpt didn't include the "teenage wasteland" part.

Well, a new CSI show is premiering this evening: CSI: Cyber. It was probably an effort to choose an appropriate song here, since much of the Who's heyday occurred before the advent of the personal computer. Townshend, to my knowledge, never wrote a song about inserting punched cards for an IBM System/360 to read.

But the song that they chose ended up fitting, in a way.

Presumably some of the bad guys will be infiltrating systems from distant countries, so "I Can See For Miles" works on that level.

How long will it be until we get the CSI: Junior Sleuths show? We need to get "My Generation" in here somehow.

P.S. If you're looking for my CSI post about "Alpha Beta Gaga," it's here.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

And yes, it plays the song

At Hobby Lobby in Upland.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Air France Ambiance, January - February 2015

Between the time that I was perusing the shops at LAX and looking at a water-less Aquaboulevard, I was on a plane. The Air France Los Angeles-to-Paris flight offered a variety of onboard entertainment options, including several music channels. One of Air France's music channels was called "Ambiance Air France," a mixture of French and non-French artists curated to provide a particular ambience.

The airline obviously changes the playlist from time to time, but this is the playlist that I heard.


Unfortunately, the contents of this playlist were not posted in the onboard magazine, so I didn't know what I was hearing until long after my flight had ended.

Here is what Air France says about its music selection.

L’art du voyage selon Air France c’est aussi une invitation au voyage par les sens. En proposant à bord de ses avions mais aussi sur le net, des sélections musicales invitant au rêve, à la relaxation et au ressourcement, Air France met à la disposition de tous des morceaux et contenus rares voire exclusifs d’artistes du monde entier, reconnus ou à découvrir.

OK, the airline says it in English also.

The art of travel according to Air France is also an invitation to a sensory journey. With its unique selection of music on board and on its website inviting you to sit back, dream, rest and replenish your energy, Air France offers a broad repertory together with rare and exclusive content from artists all over the world, both well-known and rising stars.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Joe Cocker's part in the evolution of a song

The Beatles were at a critical point in their careers in late 1966. Musically, they were creating much more complex songs that could not be played on the stages of the day. Politically, there were people in the Philippines and the southern United States who wanted to kill them. Personally, they were all settling in to domestic life (three were married, and Paul was in a relationship with Jane Asher).

So they shook up things a little bit.

Some of the changes in their lives wouldn't happen for several years yet, but in late 1966/early 1967 they decided that they didn't want to issue another Beatles album. Instead, they wanted to issue an album by an entirely new group, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band.

The album started with a declaration that the performers were Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band. Crowd noises could be heard - not real crowd noises (the band ceased performing live in 1966), but fake ones. After a couple of minutes, the band introduced Billy Shears, whose voice sounded incredibly similar to Ringo Starr. Billy sang a song called "With a Little Help From My Friends." A nice song, but in later years no one would refer to this song as the highlight of the album.

A little while later, someone else sang that same song. And it sounded a little different.

The singer was a man named Joe Cocker, whose voice and physical gyrations would grace several other hits over the next decade and a half. But at the moment, he had transformed this incidental song into something that cowriter Paul McCartney later called a "soul anthem."

This would lead to another transformation, when a off-Broadway singer named John Belushi began to gain fame for his Joe Cocker impression. I couldn't find a video of Belushi singing "With a Little Help," but I did find this gem (which does include a little excerpt of the song).

The video above is an excerpt from the show "Lemmings," a show about death that was clearly not ready for prime time.

A few years later, Cocker and Belushi would perform together on a late-night television show. After that, people started dying. Lennon. Belushi. Harrison. And now Cocker.

But both surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, paid tribute to Joe Cocker and his amazing, transforming voice.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What is the state song for Tennessee? I'll give you my opinion.

State legislatures, who have nothing better to do, come up with all sorts of state symbols, including mottos, insects...and songs. A list of the official state songs can be found here.

As you look over the list, you'll discover that some states have problems making up their minds. New Hampshire, which gets along fine with a single motto - "live free or die" - has a whopping ten official state songs.

Tennessee has several songs, but like many other states, the multiple songs are meant to address multiple musical genres. You have your waltz ("Tennessee Waltz"), your bluegrass song ("Rocky Top"), your biometric song ("When it's iris time in Tennessee")...and your rap song.

Well, I should clarify. It's your BICENTENNIAL rap song. (Tennessee's bicentennial, not the nation's.) Written in 1996 "to provide a fun and easy way for citizens and students to learn and retain some Tennessee's history," this rap song exposes the gritty underbelly of Tennessee's major cities.

Well, actually it doesn't. Here's the first verse.

Oh, how proud we are of thee!
Volunteer State since 1812 -
Glad our fathers picked here to dwell!

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but the word "thee" usually doesn't appear in a rap song.

I have not yet found a recording of this piece, but I suspect that its relation to rap is similar to Taylor Swift's relation to country.

I hope that someday Tennessee decides to establish an official loopy hip-hop song. This is my candidate.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Jimi Hendrix estate wasn't pleased with a Devo video. But what does the Bob Marley estate like?

I'm surprised that I've never told this story in the Empoprise-MU blog before, since it's certainly been top of mind for years.

Several years ago, Devo released a video compilation entitled "The Complete Truth About De-Evolution," covering the period from the band's origins to the Smooth Noodle Maps album. In addition to historical material, the collection includes official Devo videos that were released during the period. Obviously "Whip It" (the band's one massive hit) is included, along with other Devo-authored originals, but the collection also includes Devo covers of songs by others. Some of these covers offer notable differences from the originally recorded versions; Devo's cover of the Rolling Stones song "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," for example, brought the band a lot of attention. The collection also includes two other Devo covers: "Worried Man," and "Are You Experienced?"

Well, if you have the original Laserdisc version of the collection, you have all three cover songs.

If you, like I, have the DVD version, one of those songs is missing.

The Rhino Records DVD ... received much criticism from fans of the band ... because of the ... omission of the video for "Are U Experienced?." A comment on the back cover of the DVD addresses this: "DEVO regrets that 'Are U Experienced?' is not included in the program. The current executors of the Jimi Hendrix estate were determined to prove to us the old adage - 'To seek permission is to seek denial'."

However, if you want to see the excluded video, you can go to YouTube.

If you watch the video, you will see some black 80s hip-hop kids who run into a mysterious artifact from the past - a peace sign. The scene transitions to a lab, where four of the members of Devo look respectably scientific. Mark Mothersbaugh, however, wearing the peace sign with a Sonny Bono haircut, goes through strange bodily transformations. The Jimi Hendrix estate presumably took notice when a black hippie, looking like you-know-who, emerged from a coffin and played a guitar solo for some really groovy chicks and dudes.

Or perhaps the estate noticed the line that Mothersbaugh added to the song - something that clearly wasn't in the original:

Not necessarily beautiful, but mutated!

In summary, a perfect Devo-esque sendup of the generation of peace and love - and if you know Devo's creative origins, you'll understand why Devo has this attitude. Gerald Casale was at his school, Kent State University, one day:

As I ran from them I wheeled around in the direction of hideous, mass screaming to see Allison Krause laying on the ground, a huge pool of blood spreading out around her, coagulating in the bright heat of the sun. My mind snaps.

Devo wasn't the only one to turn on peace and love - the National Lampoon crowd did with "Lemmings" also. But Kent State ensured that the 1960s peace and love message wouldn't resonate with Devo's inner consciousness.

Unfortunately, Devo's video take on the Hendrix song apparently didn't resonate with the inner consciousness of Hendrix estate.

Because of this, some Devo fans - well, at least one of them - have been watching the Hendrix estate like a hawk. If the executors object to jokes about the man, exactly what DO they endorse?

While we're waiting on that, another 1960s cultural icon who died early has his own estate managing his family's affairs, and they have come up with an interesting endorsement.

Reggae legend Bob Marley’s name is being used to market an international cannabis brand after a tie-up between the singer’s family and US private equity group Privateer Holdings.

The product will be sold as “Marley Natural” in a deal which Privateer claims will “honour the life and legacy” of the Jamaican behind hits including I Shot the Sheriff and No Woman, No Cry. It will also tap into the Jamaican's “belief in the benefits of cannabis”.

The products are due to come on to the market in 2015 in areas where cannabis use has been legalised.

The messages that I have read from the private equity group concentrate on the healing powers of the herb, but don't delve into the religious significance that the herb held for Marley.

No, Marley didn't just smoke weed because it felt good. Marley was a practicing Rastafarian:

Ganja is considered the "wisdom weed" by Rastafarians, as its use helps one to gain wisdom. Rastafarians use it as a part of a religious rite and as a means of getting closer to their inner spiritual self, Jah (God) and Creation.

Ganja is also seen by Rastafarians as the herb of life mentioned in the Bible. Rastafarians use of ganja is justified by the following Psalms 104:14 that says, "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth." Rastafarians also say it was found growing at the grave of King Solomon in the Bible.

Recent political initiatives in the United States have provided an environment in which a private equity firm can actually sell marijuana - something unthinkable a mere few years ago. And the Rastafarian religion is connected to this particular marketing effort.

However, there have been other political initiatives in the United States that have gained even more traction - namely, gay marriage. And the Marley estate would be hard-pressed to cash in on that.

If you are Rasta you would not be homosexual, yet if you were homosexual you might 'claim' to be a Rasta

But what of the Hendrix estate? While Jimi was known to partake of a substance or two, the official Hendrix estate merchandising arm isn't selling Purple Haze potions yet. It has stuck to album reissues, calendars, books, and the like.

At least for now.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

So this came up (Taking Tiger Mountain)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bozell's headquarters location is mentioned in a hit song

Louis F. Davis, Jr. was an Ohio native who attended a conference at the University of Nebraska, and ended up getting a job there. The job? To conduct and arrange a version of "Hair" that could be performed in a dinner theater setting. Originally slated to last for eight weeks, the show ended up playing for six months. At its conclusion, Davis made a promise to himself:

[Davis] made himself another promise at the time – that he would try anything except writing country music.

Protecting himself from such a cruel fate, he ended up accepting a job at an Omaha, Nebraska advertising agency, Bozell & Jacobs (known today as simply Bozell). There he made the acquaintance of the firm's senior vice president and creative director, a man named William Fries. Fries and Davis collaborated on a series of commercials that would change both of their lives. You see, the commercials starred a character named C.W. McCall. Fries described what happened after the commercials began to air:

“As soon as the spots started to air, people began writing letters to the Metz Baking Company wanting to know more about C.W. McCall and Mavis and this little soap opera that was going on,” Fries reminisced. “It was just amazing. Fan clubs were springing up and people were calling into TV and radio stations wanting to know when the spots were going to air.”

The popularity resulted in the release of a limited edition record by the Metz Baking Company that sold 30,000 copies. The record? "The Old Home Fill-er-Up an’ Keep-on-a-Truckin’ Café."

However, most of us are familiar with C.W. McCall from a record that came out a couple of years later called "Convoy." The record includes a hidden tribute to the town that Fries and Davis then called home. You see, the convoy kept on getting longer and longer, until at the end of the song, the following conversation took place over the radio:

Ah, 10-4, Pig Pen, what's your twenty? OMAHA? Well, they oughta know what to do with them hogs out there fer shure.

Fries ended up in Colorado, and Chip Davis ended up creating Mannheim Steamroller (yeah, them) - while remaining in Nebraska.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Is Amanda Bynes mentally ill...or are we?

Over the last several weeks - no, the last several years - much virtual ink has been spilled over the plight of Amanda Bynes. She's exhibited erratic behavior. She's used Twitter as a worldwide therapy session, ranging from making accusations about various people, to declaring whether she, or other people, are pretty or ugly.

One morning the reality of Bynes was so disturbing that I shut off Twitter and listened to the radio. Perhaps it would be nice to get away from all of the negative reality.

So this song popped up that declared that it's "all about that bass," in an effort to declare that negative body image messages are demeaning. Or, to put it another way, if you're not skinny, that doesn't mean that you're ugly.

This was followed by another song in which the protagonist spent a lot of time hiding in her apartment, binge eating, and throwing up in her bathtub. But then we get to the joyous chorus:

You're gone and I gotta stay
High all the time
To keep you off my mind
Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh

So I went back to the less depressing reality of Twitter - at least Bynes talked about English legal affairs on occasion. (I won't bother to link to the tweet; she'll delete it soon anyway.)

P.S. Since this is a music blog, it's worthwhile to at least touch upon Bynes' musical talents. (No, this doesn't count.) Apparently, some of her younger years were spent on stage in productions of "Annie" and "The Music Man," among others, but I couldn't find a record of the parts that she played in those musicals.