Thursday, February 20, 2020

The evolution will not be televised - Bryan Adams and AllMusic

If you poke around on the Internet, you can find this odd FAQ:

Why can't I find Bryan Adams on AllMusic?

Due to the request of Mr. Adams, we are no longer permitted to display his information on AllMusic.

Not that musicians haven't requested removal of Internet information before. They obviously have, especially when money is involved. And musicians can take legal action when something is defamatory or libelous.

But, to be honest, we really don't know why Adams made his request to AllMusic. Everything2 even looked at cached versions of the deleted AllMusic pages and couldn't find anything out of the ordinary.

What becomes obvious quickly is that AMG did not slag off Bryan Adam's entire catalog (see appendix) - the first few albums actually received positive reviews. His mid-80's releases, with 4.5 out of 5 stars each, even get close to the top rating.....Further AMG reviews generally claim that Adams did nothing new after the 1980s and that his more recent albums sounded simply like rehashes of his old style. But, again, this is not an unusual claim at all if a music journalist tries to look at a longer career, it's one of the most common criticisms in the field.

Oddly enough, in a 2018 interview Adams claimed indifference to his image:

Q. Many recording artists today are more conscious of their image that their music. You’ve always placed your music before your public image. It’s kind of take it or leave it.

A. To be honest, I’m not really conscious of even that much. I am that way, but only because I don’t know any better (laughs). It’s what pleases me the most and it’s the easiest thing to do. It stems from the early days when I tried different things clothing wise and I just felt like a total pratt. I felt uncomfortable so I just decided that I’d go out with what I’d wear everyday onstage and it just made much more sense.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The so-called "worst songs" are actually pretty good - it's just the context that makes them bad

I encountered the results of a 2011 Rolling Stone readers' poll of the worst songs of the 1980s. In a sense the songs that made the list aren't that surprising; some of them include "Never Gonna Give You Up," "The Final Countdown," and "We Built This City."

Some of you are turning up your noses already.

A common denominator among these songs is that they were extremely popular at the time. This makes sense; since this was a reader poll, more popular songs are of necessity going to get more votes.

But what if you had just awoken from a 40-year nap and, absent any context, were played a little ditty by Rick Astley? In that case, you would be forced to admit that the song is actually pretty good. Constructed well, performed well, and actually pretty catchy.

The reason that these songs are considered to be the worst songs has nothing to do with the songs themselves, but of the context in which the songs were played - and, in many cases, replayed and replayed and replayed.

The Astley song, of course, is a prime example of this. During its initial chart run, it was played a lot, and all of us tend to get sick of a song after too many plays. And of course, once rickrolling became a thing, the song was literally played ad nauseum.

Now take another song on the list. Let's say that you received a particular song without a label identifying the performing artist (or the lyricist). That "we built this city on rock and roll" chorus is pretty catchy, right? OK, perhaps you'll get tired of the song after a while, but you won't detest it...

...until someone drops the fact that the lyricist is Bernie Taupin. Far removed from creating classics with Elton John, now he's contributing lyrics to schlock rock. And that schlock rock is performed by...

...Starship, the third incantation of a band that was originally featured to Rolling Stone readers as the San Francisco counter-culture band Jefferson Airplane (feed your head), then moved into a second phase as Jefferson Starship. (Tangent: "Miracles" is one of the best moody songs ever.) And then...this. Rolling Stone's audience, including at least a few in 2011 who remembered the original days of the magazine, probably griped "sellout" many, many times.

OK, eliminate the "probably" qualifier:

This could be the biggest blow-out victory in the history of the Rolling Stone Readers Poll. You really, really, really hate "We Built This City" by Starship. It crushed the competition.

Rolling Stone went on to note the band's aforementioned history, and then said:

They came back in the 1980s as this sleek, corporate band named Starship with some guy named Mickey Thomas as one of their singers....To the Woodstock generation, their success in the 1980s just seemed like the final nail in the coffin of their youth.

And somehow this "betrayal" stung more than the related betrayals when the lead singer of the New York Dolls, the (first) lead singer of Van Halen, and the lead singer of the Faces all started crooning standards.


P.S. Happy birthday Elvis.

Friday, July 12, 2019

But you don't remember at all, as we get older

So one night my wife (not my girlfriend) asked me to help with a DVR problem. She was taping a weeknight show, but the Friday episodes weren't taping.

So I looked at her DVR schedule. The show was programmed to tape all new episodes.

But when I looked at the recording schedule, I saw that the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday episodes were scheduled to be taped, and that the late night repeats on each of those days were NOT scheduled to be taped.

But the first airing on Friday wasn't showing up on the tape schedule either.

I went to the guide for the Friday episode and saw that it was marked as a "New" show, so it should have taped.

At this point, I changed the DVR programming to tape all new and repeat episodes.

Once I made that change, the first airings on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, AND Friday were all scheduled to tape.

And the late night repeats were NOT scheduled.

But forget about all that. The only reason that I wrote this post was to share this Colbert clip for David Byrne's Giant Suit Emporium.

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Pink Funk

All of us of a certain age passed through the progressive rock era. In this case, the term "progressive" does not refer to a living wage or the abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but instead refers to the expansion of rock and roll beyond rock and into something deeply meaningful.

While there was certainly a lot of progressive rock in the United States, somewhat centered around the city of Boston, the true pioneering spirit of progressive rock was found in the United Kingdom. Two famous examples of progressive rock from the UK are the songs "The Court of the Crimson King (Including The Return of the Fire Witch, The Dance of the Puppets, and The Payment to Inland Revenue Expressed in Pre- and Post-Decimalisation Terms)," and the equally famous song "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo." But those who wished to explore progressive rock still further could find wonderful gems, including an entire album devoted to the castles of King Henry VII, and an even more notable album in which a performer examined a spitting incident at a concert and wrote a two-album opus dedicated to it. Perhaps you remember the song "Another Spit in the Hall (Part 19)."

Thankfully, the United Kingdom was not completely dominated by progressive music, and there was a great funk band from England that scored a couple of hits to break up the boredom. The funk band's first hit, "Money," caused a bunch of people to forget all that progressive rock junk and just get their groove on. Granted, there was a slight progressive influence due to the unusual time signature, but for the most part it was a straight out funk song.

Proving that they weren't a one-hit wonder, the funk band came back with a vengeance in 1979. Remember that this was the time when a number of English artists were adopting disco - the Rolling Stones, Wings, Rod Stewart, and the like. Well, it wasn't too hard to take a funk sound and make it into a danceable disco beat, and as a result the all-night denizens of Studio 54 had another song that they could dance to.

(OK, this sounds ridiculous at first glance, but it really isn't. It's remarkable that a number of these progressive bands were able to put out songs that shattered the progressive stereotype. But the biggest shattering was when the re-formed band Yes, composers of "I've Seen All Good People," made their own dance appearance with "Owner of a Lonely Heart.")

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How do you say "violate the space-time continuum" in Portuguese?

Almost ten years ago, there was a concert in Lisbon, Portugal - a concert with the (English) name "Lisbon Calling."

Now Madness played at this June 9, 2009, concert, but I'm not going to talk about them.

And the Tubes played, but I'm not going to talk about them either.

I'm going to mention a little band named Carbon/Silicon. It's entirely fitting that Carbon/Silicon would choose to perform at Lisbon Calling, because one of the members of the band is ex-Clash guitarist Mick Jones, co-writer of the song "London Calling."

Oh, and one other band performed at Lisbon Calling - a band called Foreigner.

And the name is apt, because the band is not Portuguese. It's British/American, including English guitarist Mick Jones.

You can see where this is going.

And if you can't, let's say that you were in Lisbon on June 9, 2009 and wanted to find Mick Jones.

Mick Jones the guitarist.

Mick Jones the English guitarist.

Even with this level of specificity, you'd have to ask, Which one?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

My Valentine's Day Empoprise-MU music post on the de-evolution of choices

So on Valentine's Day I'm going to talk about a love song.

(Or, perhaps I should say a LOOOOOVVVVVVVVE song, as one of the students put it when I briefly co-taught junior high Sunday school.)

Not a song from Dove, the Band of Love.

But from a related band.

As the only person in the known universe who likes the Devo album "Total Devo," I was thinking about the song "Happy Guy" recently.

Then something hit me.

One portion of the song lyrics sounds like something I've heard before.

Let me tell you about a boy
An average spud
He was twice in love
With two very different girls
Knowing life is short
He told them both the truth
But they already knew

If you can't figure it out from the song title, this is a very happy circumstance.

But that wasn't the case for a song on the album that a lot of people liked:

In ancient Rome
There was a poem
About a dog
Who found two bones
He peeked at one
He licked the other
He went in circles
Then he dropped dead

Many would argue that the softer version of the story in the later "Total Devo" album provides proof that Devo had succumbed to its own de-evolution. If you follow this train of thought, then you would argue that the newer song should have been entitled "Sad Guy," and the guy's confession to his two loves should have resulted in a Kent State-like murder.

But it didn't happen that way. The bouncing disco ball wouldn't allow it.

Incidentally, Aesop was Greek. But we spudboys didn't think that hard about that.

Oh, and one more thing. If "Happy Guy" is a LOOOOOVVVVVVVVE song, then this is not a love song. Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 4, 2019

From secondary geographical perspectives - when an artist's music is released haphazardly in another country

DISCLOSURE: I live in the United States of America. And that affects how I view things.

For example, lately I've been thinking about Egypt a lot, and therefore this song has been going through my head.

And, as is my wont, as the non-Egyptian strings fade into the background, I immediately think of this song:


At this point, nearly 7 billion people are asking why I would connect the two songs. Yes, they are both by the English band Madness, but they were recorded several years apart and are different stylistically.

Well, go back to my disclosure.

Madness' recording career is a very odd jumble of things, with multiple record labels and the like. And that's just in the United Kingdom - cross over to the United States, and it gets even more jumbled.

In 1982, Madness released its fourth studio album, The Rise & Fall. A semi-concept album, it offered a more thoughtful perspective from the band - not that "Baggy Trousers" didn't have its own thoughtful lyrics, but it was, as the late Graham Chapman would say, rather silly. The album got very un-nutty in its pointed song "Blue Skinned Beast," and even the more rollicking numbers such as "Our House" had a wistfulness about them. While the album didn't place as high in the album charts as Madness' previous albums, it did hit #10, and is today a well-respected album.

The Rise & Fall was not released in the United States.

Perhaps because they were so danged English, Madness hadn't really made a dent over here, so when Geffen Records decided to build an album around the hit song "Our House," it created a compilation from most (not all) of Madness' existing UK albums.

This resulted in some oddities. As I know all too well, side two started with "Night Boat to Cairo," a track taken from Madness' debut album "One Step Beyond." On the Geffen album, this nutty track was followed by the title track from Madness' latest semi-conceptual album. Quite a divergence in style, and one that would only occur to American minds.

But what if Geffen had waited a couple of years to issue its compilation?

Familial DNA when the family is breaking apart

I recently read two diametrically opposed articles about familial DNA - a positive article entitled A popular genealogy website just helped solve a serial killer cold case in Oregon, and a negative article entitled One Of The Biggest At-Home DNA Testing Companies Is Working With The FBI.

The juxtaposition immediately made me think of the 1968 album The Beatles.

By Beat 768 - Own work, Public Domain, Link

What can I say? I'm obviously on a Lennon kick at the moment.

For those of you who consider early Taylor Swift songs as golden oldies, I should clarify that the thing that people love (and hate) about this album - popularly known as "The White Album" because of its black album cover - is the wide variety of stylistic changes from song to song. This happened for three reasons: (1) there were four songwriters on the album (yes, Ringo's first solo[1] composition is here), (2) there were a lot of songs, and (3) they felt like it.

For a small sample of the wide ranging nature of the songs, take Side Three. It starts with "Birthday," a rocker composed on the spot, followed by four wildly divergent songs that are all related to India in some way. Three of those songs are Paul's mellow "Mother Nature's Son," John's jumbled-word rocker "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey," and John's beautiful scathing attack song "Sexy Sadie." That was followed by Paul's unintentionally deadly rocker "Helter Skelter," and the record concluded with George's pastoral "Long Long Long" that ended with a lawn mower or whatever.

Whoops - I seem to have left out the song that appeared between the fast rocker "Birthday" and the slow soft "Mother Nature's Son."

By UDiscoverMusic -, PD-US, Link

This song was (mostly) slow, but not soft. And there's a bit of background behind this song:

The Beatles were just as observant of musical trends as anyone else was. One case in point was the re-emergence of the genre of music called the Blues. British groups such as The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Yardbirds infused the Blues into their songwriting as well as incorporating classic Blues compositions into their repertoire. By 1968, a British Blues boom was developing, with Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience among others leading the way.

Now Lennon and the other Beatles admired Hendrix, and would work with Clapton on that very album. But that didn't stop Lennon from making a bit of fun at their expense. Hence the Beatles entered the British Blues movement with their over-the-top song that started as follows:

Yes, I'm lonely
Want to die
Yes, I'm lonely
Want to die
If I ain't dead already
Oh, girl, you know the reason why

In the morning
Want to die
In the evening
Want to die
If I ain't dead already
Oh, girl, you know the reason why

White suburban British boys belting out Mississippi blues, just like the white suburban British boys had belted out Elvis a decade before.

Well, except for one thing. Lennon was lonely and did want to die:

“The funny thing about the camp was that although it was very beautiful and I was meditating about eight hours a day, I was writing the most miserable songs on earth. In 'Yer Blues,' when I wrote, 'I'm so lonely I want to die,' I'm not kidding. That's how I felt.” In his 1980 Playboy interview, John explains that the song was “written in India...up there trying to reach God and feeling suicidal.”

Add it up. He was meditating separately from his then-wife, he was about to confess all of his previous affairs to her, he was disillusioned with the Maharishi, his relationship with his songwriting partner was falling apart, and this weird Japanese artist kept on mailing him letters that sounded like

My mother was of the sky
My father was of the earth

And you know what it's worth.

[1] Ringo's first songwriting credit was for "What Goes On," which was a Lennon-McCartney-Starkey composition. And since I already included a video of The Dirty Mac singing a Beatles song, I might as well post this.

But in an effort to get ourselves back on the topic of familial DNA, Zak Starkey apparently did not perform with the band in this clip.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Just starting to shave the fish

I've been thinking about shaved fish a lot recently.

If the term "shaved fish" sounds like the ravings of a madman, well, many would agree with you.

As some of you know, "Shaved Fish" was the title of the first best-of album issued by John Lennon, and the only best-of album issued before his death. Because the tracks are mostly chronological, it records the progression of Lennon as a solo artist.

And now some of you are probably nitpicking my characterization of these as solo recordings. "What about the Plastic Ono Band? What about Yoko?" So for the benefit of nitpickers, go ahead and mentally replace every mention of Lennon as a solo artist as mentions of Lennon as one of the key contributors to a band that did not include Paul McCartney.

McCartney looms large over the first three songs on the album, because they were released during the period that Lennon was (at least publicly) a member of the Beatles. He hadn't made the commitment to a solo career yet, so these were just songs that he put out on his co-owned record label because he felt like it. No albums or months of recording or anything - just "hey, I recorded a song, let's put it out."

The first song, "Give Peace a Chance," illustrates this precisely. (I'm familiar with the "Shaved Fish" version, which is a minute-long abbreviation of the originally-released single.) Lennon fans know the story behind the recording. Lennon was using the notoriety of his marriage to Yoko Ono to promote the cause of peace, and originally wanted to do this in the United States but could not because Nixon. So he went to Montreal and announced that he and Yoko were going to bed, thus stirring up the publicity that he wanted. Journalists were disappointed to discover that the Lennons were NOT engaging in wild sex in Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel (yes, even today we know the room in which they were staying). Instead, they were hanging out with some friends and talking about peace.

By Roy Kerwood - Originally uploaded to English Wikipedia by Roy Kerwood, CC BY 2.5, Link

So one day (June 1, 1969), John was sitting in the room with his guitar, and his friend Tommy (Smothers) had his guitar, and there were a bunch of other people in the room, and the tape recorder began rolling.

Of course, it was obvious that this was not a professional recording session. When John Lennon went to a professional recording session, he would go to Abbey Road Studios in faraway England, and George Martin and various assistants would man[1] the controls, and (especially after 1966) it would take a long time to get anything done. So naturally, Lennon took this nearly-spontaneous recording and issued it as a single the very next month, because he co-owned a record label and could do stuff like that. And the song was a top 20 song in the United States and made it to number 2 in the United Kingdom, but who cares? This was just a fun interlude by a Beatle, kinda like when George Harrison recorded Wonderwall - and the Beatles were working on a new album.

Back at Abbey Road, the Beatles were assembling the songs for Abbey Road - not quite as diverse (and long) as their 1968 album, but diverse enough. All four members received composing credits, the song styles went all over the place, and Ringo even performed a drum solo which was followed by dueling Harrison-Lennon guitar solos. As the story goes, Lennon came up with a song to include in the album, but it was rejected. So he got another guitarist - not Tommy Smothers this time, but a guy named Eric Clapton - and recorded the song right there at Abbey Road. This wasn't a folk song like "Give Peace a Chance," but very much a late 60s rock song along the lines of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles themselves ("I Want You (She's So Heavy)"). This song was released the month after it was recorded, but it didn't hit number 2 in the UK like his last song - something that Lennon subsequently referenced in a communication to Queen Elizabeth.

Oh, and by the way, Lennon secretly quit the Beatles around this time, the third to do so (although previous quitters Ringo and George returned to the band). And he continued to like the idea of releasing singles very quickly. But the third single sounded a bit different than the other two, primarily because of the producer who Lennon got to produce the song - one Phil Spector. Phil cast a shadow over music as large as Lennon's - after all, to know Phil was to love him - or maybe not. "Instant Karma!" was the first time that Spector produced a Lennon song, and the marriage of Lennon's immediacy with Spector's Wall of Sound had spectacular results. And people heard the results very quickly - the song was recorded on January 27 and released in the UK on February 6. THIS song was top 5 in the US and the UK, which meant that he could appear on Top of the Pops. (Yoko knitted.)

After these three singles, Lennon settled into a more traditional recording schedule - well, as traditional as you can get when you're married to Yoko Ono and then separated from her, and when your "band" has no permanent members. And of course, by the time he released his first real album, everyone knew that the Beatles had broken up. But those first three single still stand out today.

[1] Yeah, it's sexist, but this was the 1960s, and woman was the n- whoops, this is 2019; I can't quote that Lennon song title any more.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

In the clearing stands a boxer, and he goes doot! (Doot doot!)

It has become clear over time that my views on music are not always shared by others.

I've learned that few, if any, other people believe that "The Lebanon" is one of the Human League's greatest songs.

I've learned that few, if any, other people believe that "Total Devo" is one of Devo's greatest albums.

And, a recent web search has confirmed that few, if any, other people believe that "The Boxer" and "Doot-Doot" are the same song.

Now I'll grant that there may be reasons that others have not yet realized this. After all, Simon & Garfunkel approached things in a literary, sedate way. Any other composer would have named "Feelin' Groovy"...well, "Feelin' Groovy." But they had to call it "The 59th Street Bridge Song." And their reputation was so serious that Simon could subsequently get laughs by standing on stage in a turkey suit. (More on that at the end of this post.)

Which brings us to "The Boxer." Now back in those days, boxing was looked at more favorably than it is today. Literary giants would praise the sport, and the then-current controversy was caused by a heavyweight champion - sorry, a former heavyweight champion - espousing pacifism and racial equality. So, taken in the context of the time, it's not surprising that a song called "The Boxer" would begin with lyrics like this.

I am just a poor boy though my story's seldom told
I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest...

The boxer of the title doesn't appear until the song is nearly over.

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down or cut him
'Til he cried out in his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving", but the fighter still remains

Fast forward a little over a decade, and cross the Atlantic to Wales, and you'll find that two former members of The Screen Gemz had started a band with an unpronounceable symbol, even though they weren't signed to Warner Brothers. When they did get signed to a record label, they compromised and decided that the band name was Freur. (Underworld would come later.) This band became most famous for a song for which the lyrics were obviously NOT written by Paul Simon:

What's in a name?
Face on a stage
Where are you now?
Memory fades, you take a bow

Here in the dark
Watching the screen
Look at them fall
The final scene

And we go doot
Doot doot

OK, to be fair, there is a similarity between the chorus of "Doot-Doot" and the chorus of "The Boxer." When Simon got to writing the chorus, it came out like this.

Lie la lie, lie la lie la lie la lie, la la lie la lie

Sounds like something a fifties band would do.

Oh, and there was one more similarity between the two songs.

After Paul and Art sing about New York and the boxer in the clearing, and get to the final Lie le lies, the song takes a definite non-folk turn. The dobros and guitars from earlier in the song are overwhelmed by horns recorded at Columbia University, strings recorded at Columbia Studios (not related), and drums recorded in a corridor near an elevator shaft. The result was characterized by AllMusic as "strings and thunderous percussion on the stirring "lie-la-lie" chorus" - a description that does not do it justice.

Now "Doot-Doot" was not recorded at multiple locations, and it probably didn't take 100 hours to record the song. And there weren't any string players - synthesizers had emerged over the intervening decade, so the entire song (including the sound effects) could be performed by a normal band. The drums didn't have to be recorded specially - electronic drums could produce any sound that you desired.

Yet "Doot-Doot" has an ending that is extremely reminiscent of "The Boxer" - namely, a swelling coda in which nonsense lyrics are sung over majestic strings and horns (or string and horn sounds).

Judge for yourself.

P.S. Earlier in this post, I mentioned Paul Simon's appearance on Saturday Night Live in which he sang "Still Crazy After All These Years" in a turkey suit. That whole episode resulted from Simon putting his trust into Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, a trust that has been amply rewarded for both of them. Simon's appearances on SNL have ranged from the silly, to the moving (Simon's duets with George Harrison on two songs from their former bands), to the iconic:

When [Saturday Night Live] eventually came back on the air on September 29th, 2001, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani opened the show, telling the world that the citizens of New York would “choose to live our lives in freedom.”

Behind Mayor Giuliani stood firefighters and police officers who had just come Ground Zero, the dust of the rubble dancing off their clothes and visible under the bright lights of the studio audience.

After Giuliani spoke, the camera cut to singer Paul Simon, a native New Yorker and beloved songwriter who captured the evening’s somber tone with a performance of “The Boxer.”

“I though that Paul singing, particularly singing that song would capture the strength of the city and the emotion,” SNL mastermind Lorne Michaels would later say.

Speaking of trust, on that particular evening another non-comedian put his trust in Lorne Michaels - Mayor Giuliani (back in the days when Donald Trump was a failed casino operator).

When Simon finished his song the camera returned to Lorne Michaels, who had now joined the mayor on the main stage.

“Can we be funny?” Michaels asked, setting up one of the greatest moments in television history.

“Why start now?” Giuliani responded, sending the audience into hysterics.

Should some tragic circumstance ever strike Britain, I don't think that Freur will be called upon to comfort the nation.

Monday, November 12, 2018

It is earlier here. We have a different time.

These days, music can appear in a variety of forms.

By Bert56 at Dutch Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Take Laurie Anderson's United States, Part I-IV. According to Wikipedia, it usually took eight hours over two nights for Anderson to perform all of United States. However, by the time it was released as a live album in 1984, the resulting piece was only 4 1/2 hours in length. Visual portions of the piece were omitted from the record, and apparently no one wanted to issue a Betamax version of the entire eight hour thing.

Of course, we had heard United States before. It takes a long time to come up with eight hours of performance art, and the world had actually heard some of the songs before, on Anderson's "Big Science" album. That's how I first heard Anderson's vocal performance style, one that I parodied at one point. The title of this post is a line from my "found" recording of a Laurie Anderson-David Byrne collaboration - one of those collaborations that you won't hear about anywhere else, if you get my drift.

So there's the eight-hour United States, the 4 1/2 hour United States, or the little bits and pieces of United States. For example, when Anderson performs her big pop hit, "O Superman."

She did that one night, about two decades ago, and it was notable. I've written about this particular performance before, but rather than alluding to what I said, let me go back to the original source - a Pitchfork album review of "Big Science" that went far afield.

"In September 2001, I was on tour and played 'O Superman' at Town Hall in New York City," writes Laurie Anderson in the liner notes to her newly reissued Big Science. "The show was one week after 9/11, and as I sang, 'Here come the planes/ They're American planes,' I suddenly realized I was singing about the present."

The Pitchfork writer, Joshua Klein, digs a bit deeper, to a performance before the New York one.

"Suddenly?" Methinks Anderson is being a touch disingenuous. On the night of September 11, 2001, Anderson was performing at the Park West in Chicago. The air was heavy with dread, confusion, and anger. Waiting for the show to begin, the crowd was talking amongst itself, conversations running the gamut between those three poles. Anderson herself had allegedly spent much of the morning on the phone with her partner Lou Reed, who was back in New York-- and supposedly sitting on the roof of their building watching the Twin Towers burn-- though she made nary a mention of the day's events once she started performing.

The crowd was dead silent throughout, but when Anderson began "O Superman" you could hear the room shift as the already menacing song took on new layers of eerily contemporary meaning. "Hello? Is anybody home? Well, you don't know me, but I know you. And I've got a message to give to you. Here come the planes. So you better get ready." The lyrics chimed out like an answering machine message sent to the future, picked up several decades too late.

Of course, the emotions that were evoked in Chicago that evening, or in New York a week later, cannot be accurately duplicated today.

It is later here. We have a different time.

Monday, October 15, 2018

One more time (Devo, Madonna, and Odesza)

On Monday I created a new playlist on Spotify, entitled 18103 (I'm using shorter playlist titles for better compatibility with Google Assistant). This playlist only has three songs on it. I'll list the three songs first, and then explain why they're together.

Devo, "Going Under." Devo had just entered the mass consciousness with the song "Whip It," not realizing that from a commercial standpoint, the band had already passed its peak. So they assembled for the post-Freedom of Choice album, entitled New Traditionalists. They came up with a new uniform, and some songs that sounded somewhat similar to their previous work - however, in retrospect, it was clear that the band was moving more and more toward electronic dance, and eventually toward their "I'm a disco boy" period on "Total Devo." Irony and sarcasm were sometimes lost on the newer fans, though. Anyway, one of the songs on the album was a little electronic squawky ditty called "Going Under." This song, that would fit right in between Duty Now's "S.I.B." and Total Devo's "Blow Up," was not one of the (not so) big hits from the album (see "Beautiful World," "Love Without Anger," and "Through Being Cool"). However, it's a nice little ditty that's fun to listen to at times.

Madonna, "Frozen." Madonna did not suffer from either lack of notoriety or questions about her song's meanings. And of course, she started in the dance world that Devo eventually joined. But beginning in the late 1980s, she began to "branch out" and do "some very interesting things musically." And of course Madonna changed philosophies more than Devo changed uniforms. As a result, 13 years after her poppy "Material Girl," Madonna had adopted spiritual attire and techno beats as part of her 1998 Ray of Light album. Indirectly condemning the material girl of the past, her "Frozen" hit dealt with the heart rather than the wallet (and rather than other body parts). Certainly not a "ditty," the song is still engaging, and wonderful to listen to at times.

Odesza, "A Moment Apart." I'll confess that I don't really know much about this band, and have really only listened to one of their songs, the title track from A Moment Apart. Closer to "Frozen" than "Going Under," the song is intriguing, with little voice samples which no one is truly able to decipher. (My vote: "I love you Nathan / I love you Pedro / I love you I love you / Nathan Pedro.") Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the song is engaging and...wonderful to listen to at times.

So why did I put these three songs in a Spotify playlist? Because, at times, I love to listen to them - again and again and again.

Which can cause substantial pain for those around me.

Take the time in the fall of 1981 in which I was in my off-campus house. Believing no one was at home, I went to the house stereo, inserted my cassette tape of New Traditionalists, and played "Going Under" over and over again. After blasting the song five times in a row - or was it six? - I discovered that two of my housemates WERE in the house. Whoops.

I thought that I was more careful in 2003-2004, one night when I wanted to listen to "Frozen." No big house stereo this time - just a small CD player. And I had the volume down low - really low, I thought. But in the next room, our German exchange student daughter was slowly going insane as I repeated the song. Whoops.

Well on Sunday night I was even more careful. No one was in the house when I played "A Moment Apart" over and over a few times (or more than a few times). And so far my neighbors haven't left nasty notes on my front door.

So now you can annoy your friends with all three songs on playlist 18103.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Think - when Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi saved Aretha Franklin's career

This is a story of a woman whose career was in the toilet, and two men who were in the process of throwing their career in the toilet.

In this case, I'll go with men first. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi had arisen from comedy-improv world and were part of the hottest show on television, Saturday Night Live. But after four years on the show, they were quitting it to concentrate on a single, odd comedy-musical routine that they had first performed on the show - something they called the Blues Brothers. Yes, Belushi had scored a hit with "Animal House," but was it worth it for the two to leave Saturday Night Live? Look what happened to Chevy Chase.

But at least Aykroyd and Belushi had a career, unlike the woman who was on the top of the world just a decade ago.

Popular music was transitioning from classic soulful sounds of the late 1960s to the disco party vibes of the ‘70s, and [Aretha] Franklin was struggling to adjust to the changes. Her 1979 album La Diva—her 28th and the final studio project under her 12-year tenure with Atlantic Records—was a flop and she was having trouble securing a new record label.

Here's how Robert Christgau reviewed La Diva:

Aretha Franklin: La Diva [Atlantic, 1979]
Blame what's wrong with this record on the late trite Van McCoy, one of the most tasteless arrangers ever to produce an LP. What saves it is that McCoy didn't control half of these songs--arrangements by Richard Gibbs and Arthur Jenkins (rhythm only) and Zulema Cusseaux and Skip Scarborough (rhythm plus orchestration) provide frequent relief. Aretha contributes two sisterly originals, which are really fine, and one loverly original, which isn't. Because McCoy keeps intruding she never gets a flow going. But there haven't been this many good cuts on an Aretha album in five years. B

Oh, and to top it off, her father was also shot during that period.

Well, you know what happened next. The two men who left SNL put together their movie based upon their comedy-music routine, and included an all-star cast of soul greats - including Franklin.


And Franklin's role, though short, was prominent.

Upon Aretha Franklin's death, Dan Aykroyd tweeted:

"Happy memories of being with Aretha on movie sets and industry events. The Queen had a wry, skeptical eye on the world but once you got her laughing you were in. What a voice! What a soul. Angel choirs should prepare for increased rehearsal and discipline."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A little more on Licorice Pizza

When I moved to California in 1983, there was a record chain called Licorice Pizza. I've mentioned this chain (at least) twice on my blogs. Back in 2008, I referenced it in passing in this Empoprise-MU post:

Yankovic is not the first person to celebrate rapid release of songs - John Lennon released "Give Peace a Chance" roughly a month after recording it - but modern digital technology and distribution supports more rapid release of songs, without having to worry about pressing the discs and shipping the stuff to your local Licorice Pizza - whoops, I mean WalMart.

I mentioned it in passing again in this tymshft post from today:

For my younger readers, I should explain that these cases hold something known as “compact discs.” You see, back before iTunes or Amazon Music or any of those services, if you wanted to buy music, you would actually have to go to a physical store (kinda like a 7 Eleven, but these stores had names like “Tower Records” and “Licorice Pizza”), get a physical item like a compact disc or a tape or a vinyl platter, take it home (or, in some cases, to your car), insert the physical item into a player, and play the music that way.

But I didn't really know much about Licorice Pizza - it wasn't until recently that I realized that the store name referred to the color of a vinyl record - so I read up on it a bit.

Licorice Pizza, based in Glendale, opened its first store in Long Beach in 1969. Founder James Greenwood borrowed the company's name from remarks made in a comedy sketch on an album by '60s folk singers Bud and Travis. The entertainers mused about sprinkling their records with sesame seeds and selling them as licorice pizzas.

By 1986, Licorice Pizza was deriving more of its income from video rentals than from selling music. That was the year that Licorice Pizza was sold to Musicland, and the stores were rebranded as Sam Goody a year later.

Of course, 1987 was a long time ago...

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Songs with invented histories, indeed

Sometimes you can do your job all too well.

By Böhringer Friedrich - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

I've never seen the play The Sound of Music, but I've seen the movie, and I know all too well the use of a particular Austrian folk song in the movie - first, when the peppy governess encourages the Captain to sing it.

Then, toward the end of the movie, the intensely patriotic Captain makes a point of singing this same Austrian folk song to the Nazi interlopers.

These two appearances of the song "Edelweiss" are important parts in the plot of the movie, and moved many people. In fact, some people were so moved that they took this particular Austrian folk tune and added other lyrics to it that spoke to them. Here's an example of this, specifically instructing the reader to sing the song to the tune of "Edelweiss." In fact, I have attended a church that used to sing the song a lot.

But then we stopped.

Because, you see, "Edelweiss" isn't a traditional Austrian folk tune. In fact, the composition of Edelweiss is chlorogenic acid, luteolin, and...wait a minute. The composition of Edelweiss took place in Boston, at the Ritz-Carlton - far, far away from Austria.

...after watching the show in Boston and with only a week and a half till they moved on to Broadway, Rodgers and Hammerstein felt there was something lacking in the score. The plot of The Sound Of Music is often mocked - captain meets nun in Nazi Austria - but it works if you get the underlying emotions right. Baron von Trapp, whose family has lived on this land for generations, is facing a terrible decision: The Anschluss is transforming his country, and he has no choice but to leave it. But for that to have any impact on an audience you have to understand that this man loves his native land, and that fleeing it will exact a toll. How to express that? A song obviously. But what kind of song?

Well, the duo came up with a song that was precisely suited for the Captain - not Christopher Plummer, but Theodore Bikel in the stage version. Hammerstein never saw Plummer sing the song in the movie - even as he was co-writing "Edelweiss" he was dying of stomach cancer. But even in those early days, Hammerstein would encounter the myth that "Edelweiss" truly was an Austrian folk song.

Not long after R&H wrote the song, Theodore Bikel was leaving the theatre when he found a fan and fellow immigrant waiting at the stage door for his autograph: "I love that 'Edelweiss'," said the theatregoer. "Of course, I have known it a long time, but only in German."

Fast-forward a few years, and churches are singing "May the Lord, mighty God bless and keep you forever" to the tune of Edelweiss, until they received a legal letter.

Thank you for your recent request regarding the above mentioned composition. As you are aware, "Edelweiss" was written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Ever since its inception, people have requested the use of its melody with other lyrics for liturgical purposes in houses of worship of many different faiths.

As with any song created in modern times, this song enjoys protection under the copyright laws which state that original works may not be used in any manner inconsistent with the creators' intentions. Both Messrs. Rodgers and Hammerstein II felt strongly that they did not wish their contributions to any song be separated and used with other words or music. Such is the case with "Edelweiss." Therefore, your request must be denied . . .

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Songs with histories, indeed (Take that, dawn!)

I'm working on a special playlist for someone who doesn't like Bob Marley, so I'm searching for non-Marley songs. One of the songs that I added was the Barry Manilow classic "Could It Be Magic." I ended up reading about the song on Wikipedia, and found out that I didn't know much about the song.

By Louis-Auguste Bisson, very old and poor copy, completely restored and remastered by Amano1 - Ernst Burger: Frédéric Chopin. München 1990, S. 323, Public Domain, Link

I did know that the basis for the tune was not original with Manilow, who used Frédéric Chopin's Prelude in C Minor as a starting point for the music. With that classical base, the song itself had an understandably classic feel.

But not initially.

You see, back when Manilow was just a jingle writer and arranger, he managed to score a recording contract. However, his initial records were arranged by the vice president of the label.

One Tony Orlando.

By CBS Television - eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain, Link

So when Manilow provided his music for "Could It Be Magic," Orlando not only credited the piece to the fictional band Featherbed, but he wrote the lyrics himself - and arranged the song. The result, according to the Wikipedia writer(s), was "a bubblegum pop beat, cowbells and a 'Knock Three Times' feel."

When Manilow got more control of his career, he created his own, more classic arrangement that did much better than Orlando's version.

So much better that it began to be covered - most notably by Donna Summer (with Giorgio Moroder) and much later by the British band Take That, who used the Summer/Moroder disco version as their template.

Fast forward to 2013, and Barry Manilow is invited to a BBC-televised fundraiser, Children in Need. Manilow sits at the piano, playing the familiar Chopin introduction and singing the first verse of "Could It Be Magic" before saying, "Come on, fellas!"

The "fellas," Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams, upped the tempo.

However, no one thought to invite Tony Orlando.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Blogging isn't the only thing that I procrastinate about

Uh..hello. It's been a while. So what prompted me to write again? Another example of my procrastination.

I used to do business with two companies - let's give them the imaginative names Company A and Company B. I had accounts with both companies, but hadn't used either account lately. In the meantime, Company A acquired Company B. This happened...oh, about EIGHT YEARS AGO.

Well, I had a need to log into my new Company A account, so I tried logging into the old Company A account but it didn't work. Of course, it wasn't supposed to work, because I dimly remembered from eight years ago that henceforth, the accounts were going to use the Company B information. (Why I don't know. I guess the head of IT must have come from Company B.)

Well, I logged into the Company B account and used my PIN. Yes, that was a long time ago - the third thing that I had to do was to choose a real password, rather than a PIN.

But now I'm all set to do business with Company A again.

And you, the reader, probably wish that I had remained comatose, blog-wise.

Now I have to see the GDPR notice that Google says it has attached to this blog...

P.S. And, as I've done before, I posted this to the wrong blog. I think I'll leave it on the music blog, with a 5 AM post time, rather than re-creating it on my business blog. It's poetic or something.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Why a Billy Idol record had a side 6

I wrote about the Billy Idol album "Whiplash Smile" back in 2011. And in the course of my discussion about the varied musical styles on the album (as well as the fact that I'm one of the few people who seem to like it), I said a few things:

Take a listen to the songs on "Side Five" of Whiplash Smile. The punker and the rocker start with "Worlds Forgotten Boy"....Move on to "Side Six," and just imagine Idol playing "Don't Need a Gun" or "All Summer Single" sandwiched between some Ramones and Pistols songs - he'd be booed off the stage.

Side Five? Side Six?

Uh, yeah.


Perhaps Idol had admired the band Chicago in his youth.

Whatever the cause, Idol was clearly building a numbered collection, in which each side of a record (these were the days of records) was numbered sequentially. I also owned Idol's follow-up, "Charmed Life," and recall that this album had numbered Sides 7 and 8. However, the predecessor to "Whiplash Smile," "Rebel Yell," definitely had Sides 3 and 4.

(From Voluptuous Vinyl)

Here are the track listings for these two albums alone:

Side 3
Rebel Yell
Daytime Drama
Eyes Without A Face
Blue Highway

Side 4
Flesh For Fantasy
Catch My Fall
Crank Call
(Do Not) Stand In The Shadows
The Dead Next Door

Side 5
Worlds Forgotten Boy
To Be A Lover
Soul Standing By
Sweet Sixteen
Man For All Seasons

Side 6
Don't Need A Gun
Beyond Belief
Fatal Charm
All Summer Single
One Night, One Chance

Side 7
The Loveless
Pumping On Steel
Prodigal Blues
L.A. Woman
Trouble With The Sweet Stuff

Side 8
Cradle Of Love
Mark Of Caine
Endless Sleep
Love Unchained
The Right Way
License To Thrill

When examined in that perspective, the Billy Idol song collection displays a distinct evolution as the songs, always somewhat dark, get progressively moodier and darker.

And now that I'm writing this post, I have one of the "Side 6" songs stuck in my head - "Beyond Belief" (distinctly different than the Elvis Costello song with the same name).

In fact, I just added this song to my "Middle-Aged White People Microwave Music" playlist (over 100 songs and still growing).

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Announcing the playlist "Middle-Aged White People Microwave Music"

Yes, I'm curating a new playlist with the name "Middle-Aged White People Microwave Music."

This may be a surprise to some of you, who know that my playlists usually have names like Emu201803f-aaaa.

Well, it all started with Hollister.

Usually I create my own playlists, but of course Spotify and its advertisers really really want me to listen to the playlists that they create. So one evening Spotify informed me that my good friends at Hollister had created a playlist called "Teen Party."

Because obviously I would have great interest in a playlist called "Teen Party."

Amused by the suggestion, I actually listened to the playlist, but quit when the second song played was the new Taylor Swift remake. (Or reboot.)

I began wondering if Spotify had a playlist that was more appropriate for my age bracket, and although Spotify's powerful corporate sponsors didn't have such a playlist, Brandon Johnson did.

Johnson began working on this playlist in December 2016, and was adding songs as recently as this month. Obviously that's a different method from how I usually work; I'll usually create a playlist, and then create another one a few days or a couple of weeks later. In fact, about a week ago I started working on a playlist with the imaginative name Emu201804c.

Well, while I've really liked listening to my Emu201804c playlist over the last week, I liked Johnson's playlist also, and decided to combine the two.

The result? "Middle-Aged White People Microwave Music."

I don't know if Brandon Johnson's aunties and uncles and grandmas would necessarily groove along to Flash and the Pan. In fact, I doubt my aunties and uncles would groove to it either. But hey, I like it.

And I'll probably keep on working on the playlist. As I write this, there are currently 59 songs on the playlist, with 4 hours and 37 seconds of music. That's about half of Brandon Johnson's list, but as I said I'll possibly add stuff.

Perhaps I'll even add stuff from "Teen Party."

But not the Taylor Swift song.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The #iamnottrendy playlist - Emu201803f-aaaa

Perhaps Shawn Zehnder Rossi may be a tad confused about my Spotify playlist naming conventions, but the last four letters of my current playlist should be understandable.

You see, I ran across a meme that included a screaming cowboy, and I had to find who he was.

After a Google reverse search, I ran across a song that was really really popular last year, but I had never heard of it. The song was Kirin J Callinan's "Big Enough," and the screaming cowboy is Jimmy Barnes.

So I started a Spotify playlist with various country-themed thingies, some of which are actually country.

It includes, among other songs, the following:

Bob Dylan's and Johnny Cash's "interesting" duet on "Girl From the North Country"
The "epic western remix" of "Jolene" sung by Ellenyi
Caballero Reynaldo's cover of "A Forest"
A Jimmy Barnes song from the 1980s, "Driving Wheels"
The The's song "Heartland," with the (repeated) chorus "This is the 51st state of the USA"


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Present nostalgia - "Rocky Top" and "Fox on the Run"

Bluegrass music is an odd thing. In one sense, it reminds us of our past, of mountain music made before synthesizers and auto-tune. Yet in another sense, it is as modern as a Cracker Barrel.

Let me cite two examples that I am taking from a statement by the Southwest Bluegrass Association:

In the early 1970s “Fox on the Run” was among the most requested bluegrass songs. Along with “Rocky Top,” a bluegrass band could scarcely play a show without fans yelling for “Rocky Top” or “Fox on the Run.”

One may think that the songs were finally becoming popular with a wider audience, but in truth there was another reason why "Fox on the Run" and "Rocky Top" didn't achieve wide popularity until the early 1970s.

By James G. Howes, Attribution, Link

Louise Mandrell hinted at the reason in a TV show I saw many years ago. In the TV show, Mandrell accidentally traveled back in time, but didn't realize what had happened at first. She was surprised that the people around her had never heard of the song "Rocky Top."

Well, for such a situation to have taken place, Mandrell would have had to travel back in time all the way to...1966.

Yes, "Rocky Top" is a fairly recent song:

On August 28, 1967, songwriters Felice and Boudleaux Bryant checked into room 388 of the Gatlinburg Inn. The couple, known for such hits as Wake up little Susie, Bye Bye Love, and Love Hurts, were frequent guests of the inn and friends of it's owners, Rel and Wilma Maples....

The couple came to Gatlinburg in 1967 to work on an album for Archie Campbell.

"It was an album about golden memories or something along that line and they thought that was a little depressing and said 'let's go a little up tempo on something'," said Cross. "They sat down and they penned most of Rocky Top in about 10 minutes."

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, Link

So it only took ten minutes to write an acknowledged bluegrass classic.

But what about that other bluegrass classic? Here's a promo for it.

At this point a few less-knowledgeable bluegrass fans might be a bit confused by all this English stuff. Well, the song was originally written by British songwriter Tony Hazzard and recorded by the band Manfred Mann, not to be confused with the band Manfred Mann's Earth Band, or with the person Manfred Mann. The band Manfred Mann emerged from the same scene that spawned other bluesy rock bands such as the Rolling Stones. "Fox on the Run" was the band's second-to-last single before its breakup.

By Photographer: A. Vente - Dutch TV Programme Fanclub. Recorded 27 May 1967, broadcast 2 June 1967, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

For the next part of the story, we need to concentrate on that magical word, "Somehow."

Somehow, the Manfred Mann pop version was heard by Bill Emerson...

Bill Emerson was not an English blues rocker, but an American banjo player who started playing the instrument in 1953. On July 4, 1957, Emerson and guitarist-vocalist Charlie Waller started a band that evolved into the Country Gentlemen. Within a couple of years, Emerson had left the Country Gentlemen. By the time he heard the Manfred Mann song, he was part of a duo with Cliff Waldren. They performed a very non-English version of the song.

But the Emerson and Waldren duo didn't last long, because Bill Emerson left to join his old band, the Country Gentlemen. And he brought a song with him.

So by that time the song had become a bluegrass classic. But there was still one significant re-recording to come - that of Tom T. Hall.

Oh...and there was one more version of "Fox on the Run."

In 1974, Sweet released another song called "Fox On The Run," which was an international hit. Tony Hazzard didn't appreciate the appropriation. "There's no copyright on song titles but some titles you just don't use," he told us. "Imagine if I wrote a song entitled 'Imagine' or 'Mr. Tambourine Man'!"

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

More news about the 800 pound gorillas (Spotify, Apple, and royalties)

I haven't talked about streaming services since earlier this month, but a new agreement is affecting all streaming services that do business in the U.S.

Royalty rates paid to songwriters in the US from on-demand subscription streaming will rise by 44% over the next five years following a landmark ruling in the market....

The ruling includes a significant increase in the overall percentage of revenue paid to songwriters from 10.5% to 15.1% over the next five years – the largest rate increase in CRB history.

There are other benefits - and drawbacks - for songwriters, as described here.

But what happens to the streaming services? Obviously they don't like the idea of paying more, but one service changed, tune:

Amazon, Google, Pandora, and Spotify all argued against the new rates prior to the ruling. Those companies briefly had an ally in Apple, but Variety reports that it “broke ranks, conceding that the current royalty rate structure was ‘too complex’ and ‘economically unsound’ and advocating for “a single per-play rate that is the same for all services.”

Why was Apple more willing to agree to the reduced revenue? While the $50 billion that Apple is bringing back to the U.S. is a partial explanation, there's a more basic one.

Apple has a deeper toehold on the music industry thanks to iTunes. For all three tech companies, music is a side business that creates synergy with all of the other products they offer.

For Pandora and Spotify, music is the whole game.

So who is the 800 pound gorilla to whom I alluded in the title? Spotify? Apple? The RIAA? I don't know - I just wanted an excuse to post this video.