Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Perhaps not forever and ever, amen - how to damage your brand

The Empoprise-MU music blog has previously touched on the topic of a band in which the actual membership may not be all that important. My early June post, Forever and Ever, Amen, discussed several bands (such as the Temptations) who have had all sorts of members over the decades. I also wrote a post in October 2009, Editorial comment in biographies, which covered a biography writer's irritation at the fact that the present-day Sugababes includes none of the original members.

Clearly, the biographer felt that a band consisted of a particular set of members, and while perhaps a member or two may depart over the years, you don't completely change the entire band. Others, however, presumably feel that Sugababes the brand is the important thing, and it doesn't necessarily matter who is in the band as long as they continue to produce Sugababes music.

(I could go into the stories of Peter Gabriel and David Lee Roth here, but perhaps I should save that for another time.)

Like it or not, music marketing is heavily brand-dependent, and the band names are very important brands. And the brand managers need to control the brand, its image, and its product, and must also guard against things that could damage the brand.

Enter the Pussycat Dolls. For those who are not familar with this band, they're a bunch of half-naked women who sing and dance. Actually, the Pussycat Dolls band is an extension of the overall Pussycat Dolls brand, which initially started as a dance troupe before any music was released. Now this sounds like it could be a formula for disaster, but they've actually put out some pretty good music. As members of the Empoprise-MU Facebook group (all one of us) already know, my clear favorite is "I Hate This Part."

However, it seems that all was not well between the various Dolls. As Wikipedia documents, there was a long period of speculation about the band's future, which boiled down to the question, "Is the band breaking up?" On the one hand, a July 2009 item in Hollyscoop quoted Ashley Roberts:

“This is the last time we'll be in the UK as a band. We've broken up. We're sorry.”

On the other hand, you have Robin Antin, the "brand manager" of the Pussycat Dolls, emphatically saying that the band was not breaking up. From the same Hollyscoop item:

"The Pussycat Dolls r NOT breaking up…. & IF they ever were, u would hear it from ME 1st, NOT GOSSIP…Album #3 on the way!"

Despite Antin's emphatic statement, comments continued to be issued from several of the Pussycat Dolls that seemed to cast doubt on the unity of the group. By early 2010, every member of the Pussycat Dolls except for one (lead singer Nicole Scherzinger) had left the group. Antin, however, still maintained that the group had not broken up, but had merely undergone a change of membership.

Note the semantic difference. If the Pussycat Dolls had broken up, then they would no longer exist and the brand would be dead. If the Pussycat Dolls merely changed 80% of its membership, then it would still be a going concern, no different than before.

But how are the fans reacting? I don't have permission to view actual posts in the Pussycat Dolls forums at Generation Network, but when I looked at the forums, it seems that there were a lot of posts about Nicole...and Kimberly...and Melody...and Ashley.

But why are the fans concentrating on these people? What about Kherington, Rino, Vanessa, and Jamie, all of whom performed in Los Angeles with Nicole back in May?

If I were the Pussycat Dolls brand manager, I'd be extremely worried right now. Antin would clearly prefer that fans focus on her official group of half-naked women who sing and dance. However, there's a good chance that the fans will concentrate on other groups of half-naked women who sing and dance - something which potentially decreases Pussycat Dolls revenue.

And even if Antin successfully broke the legs and vocal cords of all of the former Pussycat Dolls, there are other troupes of half-naked women who sing and dance, such as Coyote Ugly. And since pop culture tends to follow fads anyway, there's always the danger that the Pussycat Dolls will be yesterday's news, relegated to a theater in Branson, Missouri.

Perhaps the outcome couldn't be changed, and perhaps Antin should be praised for assembling a new set of Pussycat Dolls, rather than shutting down the musical side of the project. But this just goes to show that a brand can only be stretched so far.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

(empo-caallii) California music? Bobby Vinton

When you think of Bobby Vinton, you think of the east coast, or perhaps a Milwaukee bingo casino. But this June 1983 newspaper article states that Vinton lived in California at the time. (Wikipedia says that Vinton now lives in Florida, but MySpace says that he still lives in California. Are you going to trust a bunch of crowd-sourcers, or the esteemed journalist Rupert Murdoch?)

Regardless, I'll call him a California musician, and I'll declare that Vinton released a concept album before the Beatles and the Moody Blues even thought about such a thing.

The Moody Blues, as you may know, released the album Days of Future Passed, an album in which each song progressed through the day. (The album's hit, "Nights in White Satin," was the closer.) And the Beatles, of course, released an entire album with the concept that it was created by another band - a band called Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Both albums are somewhat popular.

But way back in 1963, Vinton released a concept album. The album had two titles in its life - "Blue on Blue" and "Blue Velvet" - and that should give you a hint about the concept. The album consisted entirely of "blue" songs, some reflecting a blue emotional state, and some reflecting a musical style.

The songs:

"Blue on Blue" (Hal David, Burt Bacharach)
"Am I Blue" (Harry Akst, Grant Clark)
"Blue, Blue Day" (Don Gibson)
"Mr. Blue" (DeWayne Blackwell)
"Blue Velvet" (Bernie Wayne, Lee Morris)
"St. Louis Blues" (W.C. Handy)
"Blue Skies" (Irving Berlin)
"Blue Hawaii" (Leo Robin, Ralph Rainger)
"Blue Moon" (Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers)
"Little Miss Blue" (Bobby Vinton, Shirley Formosa)
"Blueberry Hill" (Al Lewis, Larry Stock, Vincent Rose)
"My Blue Heaven" (Walter Donaldson, George Whiting)

The album was released too early to include the Beatles' "Blue Jay Way," ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky," New Order's "Blue Monday," Eiffel 65's "Blue (Da Ba Dee)," or anything by the Blues Brothers.

But it had "Blue on Blue," and that's good enough for me.

Monday, June 28, 2010

In praise of Todd Baio, and everyone else who has covered "Tumbling Tumbleweeds"

I can't get the Sons of the Pioneers out of my head (see previous posts in my Empoprise-MU music blog and my Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog), and on Monday night I found myself scouring and YouTube for just about every artist who has covered Bob Nolan's "Tumbling Tumbleweeds." See this FriendFeed thread for the results, which include:

Gene Autry
Moe Bandy
Perry Como
Bing Crosby
Clint Eastwood
Don Everly
Arthur Fiedler
Leo Kottke
The Muppets
Michael Nesmith
Elvis Presley
Marty Robbins
Shenandoah (with Arlo Guthrie)
Kate Smith
The Supremes
Lawrence Welk (both as an instrumental, and with the Lennon Sisters)
Slim Whitman

Now Kottke and Fiedler performed the song as an instrumental, and some of the artists (such as Crosby) sang it solo, but most of the people who covered the song duplicated the harmonies from the original Sons of the Pioneers version.

As mentioned above, I got some of these from YouTube, and YouTube is obviously known for the versions of less-famous people. I wanted to share one of those with you here. The singer is Todd Baio. Baio, like Bing Crosby, chooses to sing this solo, but he plays his ukelele while he does it. This video was recorded live at a folk music festival in October, 2008.

A little more about Baio, from his website:

Todd Baio has been an active musician for 20 years. His live music work experience is vast and varied. He has played everywhere from colleges, to clubs, to churches, bookstores, coffee shops, private parties, and family events.

His passion is for playing simple acoustic music that is interactive, fun, and that can be tailored to a multitude of situations. Todd’s song choices have a fresh feel while being firmly rooted in the folk traditions of the past. He draws upon both adult and children’s music from great artists such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, as well as contemporary artists such as Raffi, Dan Zanes, as well as writing originals himself.

Being a multi-instrumentalist, Todd uses the guitar, ukulele, harmonica, kazoo, various vocal techniques, and various percussion instruments in his presentations.

Hmm...this song could use a kazoo solo...

(Picture source, license)

(empo-caallii) California music? Sons of the Pioneers

Perhaps you missed this story - I put it in my Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog because of the Victorville connection - but the contents of the former Roy Rogers Museum are being sold at auction. Yes, you can buy Trigger.

While Roy Rogers had a multi-faceted career as a movie star, museum owner, and yes, restaurateur - he also had a notable musical career as part of the Sons of the Pioneers.

The West has always had its heros but until the 1930s a distinct type of music was not part of Western lore. The public did not connect any separate genre of music to the West and the cowboy. Starting in the early 1930s the film and radio industry changed all that forever.

From the earliest days of the film industry the cowboy has been a favorite movie subject. Westerns became the bread and butter of most early studios. When musical segments were added to broaden a movie’s interest the “singing cowboy” was born. It created mega stardom for people like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter and Rex Allen. Enter the Sons of the Pioneers in 1934.

The Pioneers were different right from the start. While some screen stars sang traditional sweetheart songs the Pioneers actually sang about the West. The Pioneers' songs painted unforgettable images and stories of horses, cattle, cowboys, “night herds”, tall timber, cool water, canyons and prairies. The songs were original compositions freshly penned by the original members, Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer and Roy Rogers (then known as Leonard Sly). They created a whole new library of music. The group and their music garnered millions of both national and international fans through appearances in over 90 movies, numerous radio shows, major label recording projects and later television appearances.

And yes, the Sons of the Pioneers were a California band, since Roy Rogers (then Leonard Slye) had ended up in Tinseltown, following a familiar Depression route:

Leonard and his father felt imprisoned by their [Ohio] factory jobs. In 1929, his older sister Mary was living at Lawndale, California with her husband. Father and son decided to quit their shoe factory jobs. The family packed their 1923 Dodge for a visit with Mary and stayed four months before returning to Ohio. Almost immediately, Leonard had the opportunity to travel to California with Mary's father-in-law, and the rest of the family followed in the spring of 1930.

The Slyes rented a small house near Mary. Leonard and his father immediately found employment as truck drivers for a highway construction project. They reported to work one morning, however, to learn their employer had gone bankrupt. The economic hardship of the Great Depression had followed them west, and the Slyes soon found themselves among the economic refugees traveling from job to job picking fruit and living in worker campsites. (He would later read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and marvel at its accuracy.) One day Andy Slye heard of a shoe factory hiring in Los Angeles and asked Leonard to join him in applying there for work. Leonard, having seen the joy that his guitar and singing had brought to the destitute around the campfires, hesitantly told his father that he was going to pursue a living in music.

And pursue he did.

While Roy Rogers left the group in 1937, he continued to be associated with the group for years afterwards. The Sons have gone through numerous membership changes, but are still a going concern today. (Yes, another of those forever and ever amen groups.)

One interesting song in the Sons' catalog is "Old Man Atom" - see my FriendFeed thread on this song. The song was written in 1945 on Vern Partlow, but was then recorded by Sam Hinton.

Sam recorded Old Man Atom in 1950 for ABC Eagle, a small independent label.

Influential New York disc jockey Martin Block played the record on his show 'Make Believe Ballroom.' Overwhelming listener response prompted Columbia Records to acquire the rights for national distribution.

From all indications, it promised to be one of the year's biggest novelty records. RCA Victor rush-released a cover version by the Sons of the Pioneers.

Bing Crosby was reportedly ready to record Old Man Atom for Decca when right-wing organizations began attacking Columbia and RCA Victor for releasing a song that reflected a Communist ideology.

Buckling under pressure, both Columbia and RCA Victor withdrew Old Man Atom from distribution.

As Variety said at the time:

Victor has quietly withdrawn its Sons of the Pioneers plattering of “Old Man Atom” off the market. It is reported that RCA top tier execs feel that the lyrics of the novelty stresses capitulation as an ideal to be pursued by US foreign policy in light of present world conflict, with focus, of course, on Korea.

To my knowledge, right-wing groups never protested "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."

Friday, June 25, 2010

(empo-caallii) California music? Vladimir Lande

The Empoprise-MU music blog has looked at a number of California musicians, including some who live in California, some who sing about California, some who died in California, and some who briefly stayed in California before going back east. This post is the story of Vladimir Lande, a musician who grew up outside of California and then went to California.

His biography begins as follows:

Vladimir Lande was born in St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia. He graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music with a Master's Degree in Oboe while maintaining studies in conducting and piano. He served as a principal oboist with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra from 1984 until 1989.

In December 1989 Lande immigrated to the United States, and spent some time in Maryland before going to California.

Vladimir Lande works as a principal oboist and soloist with groups such as The Baltimore Opera and Concert Artists of Baltimore. He also worked with the Baltimore, Delaware, Richmond and many other symphony orchestras.

But all of that changed when Lande went to California in September 2003 to become the music director of the Chamber Orchestra of Southern Maryland.

Now you're probably asking why Lande would go to California to direct an orchestra in southern Maryland. The answer is simple - the Chamber Orchestra of Southern Maryland is located in California.

California, Maryland - population about 9,000 (9,307 as of the 2000 census).

View Larger Map

Hey, we all know that there's more than one Los Angeles - why can't there be more than one California?

But there's one similarity to the state of California. The aforementioned chamber orchestra goes by the acronym "COSMIC." Pretty cool.

As for the orchestra itself, here is the program from their last performance:

Beethoven and Bess
Featuring COSMIC Community Chorus
Saturday, May 15, 2010 7:00 PM
Great Mills High School in Great Mills, MD
Sunday, May 16, 2010 4:00 PM
Huntingtown High School in Huntingtown, MD

Leonard Bernstein Mambo from West Side Story

Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1
Featuring Kirsten Taylor

Alexander Borodin Polovtsian Dances
Featuring COSMIC Community Chorus

George Gershwin Porgy and Bess

Lande is also involved with several other orchestras, and is also a member of the Poulenc Trio. But the latter's repertoire does not include any Beach Boys, Eagles, or Tupac - although an oboe/bassoon/piano arrangement of "California Love" sounds intriguing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

(empo-caallii) California music? Ed Crawford (ed fROMOHIO)

I was researching this series of posts, and happened to run across a Wikipedia page entitled Category:Musicians from California. While perusing the list, I noticed Ed Crawford's name on it.

Crawford certainly wasn't born in California, and he certainly doesn't live in California today, but he's definitely associated with California music. But let's allow Mike Watt to tell the tale.

edward blew everyone's mind (including watt's) when he found watt's phone number in the phone book (didn't know you had to pay to be unlisted, do now) and just rang up saying he wanted to come out to cali and play. so in the spring of 1986, edward came to pedro and became ed fROMOHIO.

Watt is known for his economy of words, so let's flesh out a fuller version of the story via Wikipedia:

In 1985, Minutemen vocalist and guitarist D. Boon was killed in a car wreck. In 1986, Ed, a recent Ohio State University graduate and Minutemen fan, found out that Minutemen bassist, Watt, and drummer, Hurley, were not going to continue the group. Ed was determined to motivate them to continue making music and contacted Watt after obtaining his phone number. However, Watt and Hurley were still very much grief stricken over the death of their friend and bandmate. Nonetheless, Crawford traveled all the way from Ohio to San Pedro, California to meet Watt. Crawford was about return to Ohio, when at the last minute, Watt accepted Ed's offer. Along with Hurley, they formed fIREHOSE.

This is probably one of my favorite stories in music - fan shows up and ends up joining a new version of his favorite band. I actually saw fIREHOSE back in the day (at the Green Door in Montclair, if memory serves me correctly), and still have to add "If'n" to the list of CDs that I need to acquire (I used to own it on cassette).

AFter fIREHOSE, Ed Crawford joined Whiskeytown for a time, then ended up in a trio, playing in Pittsburgh.

So while Crawford has left California, his influence is remarkable. I'll let Watt have the last word:

I am forever grateful to edward for getting me back in the saddle and wrestling bass again.

Incidentally, the one song that I remember from "If'n" is "Operation Solitaire." Probably atypical, but certainly melodic.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

(empo-caallii) California music? Devo.

Perhaps this story is fairly well known, but I'll share it anyway. Devo is an example of a band who lives in California, but (at least initially) didn't really talk about California.

The geographical information in early Devo records refers to Ohio in general and Akron in particular. The members of Devo were obviously shaped by their years in Ohio, and a few of them were definitely affected by what they witnessed at their school one day - the school being Kent State University. (Scroll down to the bottom of my mrontemp post for the story.)

But Devo eventually left Ohio and moved to California. And boy, did they leave Ohio. By this time Bob Lewis had been edged out of any involvement in the band, and he got some local lawyers to represent him. Devo also retained local lawyers - L.A. lawyers. (No, not her.)

The move to California elicited one major change, as was noted in these 1993 notes from an interview with Gerald Casale:

On the pronunciation of Devo: When the band formed, the emphasis was on the second syllable (dee-VOE). But when they moved to California, everyone started calling them DEE-voe. So I guess either one is valid. Jerry said that the name is already butchered up so much (being short for de-evolution) that it doesn't matter how much worse it gets.

And there was one other thing that happened when Devo went to California. According to this story about the Wipeouters, Devo actually invented surfing music back in Ohio, back when the ninnies and the twits would toss the future Devo members around Lake Erie. When Devo relocated, the band members discovered a new kind of surfing:

[W]hen we finally did get out to California as Devo, the Bobs said, “Let's go down to the beach and go surfing.” We had heard about the muscle builders at Venice Beach and we figured we could find a few assholes to throw us across the water. We got down there and they were cheating, they were using boards. We were like, “What's that about?” We were again embarrassed for them. To us, it was like using training wheels.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

(empo-caallii) California music? Lawrence Welk.

When people try to place the "wunnerful" Lawrence Welk geographically, the first place that comes to mind is North Dakota, the state where Welk was born in 1903. But the midwesterner Welk, like the midwesterner Johnny Carson before him, was determined to be successful, and to do that he'd have to leave North Dakota.

Initially, he didn't make it very far:

In 1927 the band decided to relocate to New Orleans to escape the early and harsh winters of North Dakota. The band never made it farther than Yankton, North Dakota, however. The quartet auditioned for local radio station WNAX, and the success of the audition's live broadcast netted them a contract for a regular radio program featuring the orchestra's music and commercials for hog tonic and other agricultural products.

Hog tonic paid the bills, so Welk and his band stayed put for a while, although they toured extensively. They did eventually move their base of operations southward, to Omaha Nebraska, but eventually played a decade-long engagement in Chicago. But that changed in 1951:

The waning popularity of big bands subsequently forced Welk to go back on tour to make ends meet. In 1951, he made a successful appearance on a late-night TV show in Los Angeles. The idea of working in television captured his imagination, and led him to move to L.A....

Welk definitely ended up working in television, creating "The Lawrence Welk Show" for local TV station KTLA. The results were wunnerful:

Meanwhile, the ABC television network was starting to gain steam, partially because of a 1954 show called "Disneyland." (The Wikipedia author noted that this was "the beginning of a relationship between the [Disney] studio and the [ABC] network which would eventually, four decades later, transform them both.") Other emerging shows at the time included The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave It To Beaver.

By 1955, ABC aired Lawrence Welk in a summer replacement slot, eventually giving him a permanent slot. The show appeared under several names, but the format was recognizable to anyone who had seen the old KTLA local show - accordions, bubbles, and the like. Still produced in California, which was emerging as a national television production center, Welk and ABC remained together for over a decade. But ABC itself was changing:

Broadcasting in color from the mid-1960s, ABC started using the new science of demographics to tweak its programming and ad sales. ABC invested heavily in shows with wide appeal, especially situation comedies such as Happy Days, Barney Miller, Three's Company and Taxi. Programming head Fred Silverman was credited with reversing the network's fortunes by spinning off shows such as Laverne & Shirley and Mork and Mindy. He also commissioned series from Aaron Spelling such as Charlie's Angels.

While this youth surge proved wildly successful for ABC, it left little room at the network for the likes of Lawrence Welk, and ABC canceled Welk's show in 1971. This didn't hurt Welk, however, who not only arranged a syndication network to air new shows for another decade, but also branched out into a variety of other businesses. For example, if you remember when I discussed Vanguard Records and Sugar Hill Records, you may have noted that both labels are affiliated with the Welk Music Group. (And if you don't understand the latter link's reference "tried to push a song called "Grasser's Delight" on a fledgling record label," perhaps this fake radio transcript may jog your memory.)

So while Welk traveled all over the country, in a sense his best success came as a California musician, reaching massive popularity just a few years before the Beach Boys and the Byrds.

And if you need any further proof that Welk is a California guy, consider that he was not buried in the Dakotas, but in Culver City.

Monday, June 21, 2010

(empo-caallii) What is California music?

Those of you who have visited Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, California probably can't forget the entrance to the theme park. As you walk under a cartoonish replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, your ears are surrounded by a sampling of "California music" to get you into the California mood.

If you have a Disney annual pass, you quickly realize that Disney pretty much plays the same songs over and over. Kinda like top 40 radio.

If you listen a little further, you'll notice that the playlist has been somewhat Disneyfied. Tupac Shakur's homage to California, for example, is never heard at the park.

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.)

I leave you with two things. First, you may not have seen the post that I wrote over a year ago, but it mentioned a California band that you probably don't know about. Not sure why you haven't heard of them.

There was a wealth of southern California bands devoted to surfing and/or cars - the Beach Boys were just the most popular of a slew of bands in those genres. But what of the younger set whose parents wouldn't let them own a surfboard, and who were too young for a car? Enter Don Kirshner, who was between gigs with the Monkees and the Archies and who decided that swimming pools and bicycles were the ticket to stardom with the younger set. Unlike the Beach Boys before them and the Beastie Boys after them, the Deck Boys truly were boys. Kirshner didn't want to monkey around with the Beach Boys' successful formula, so he started with the pool songs first and branched into bicycle songs later. "Floating Safari, "Swimming USA" (Kirshner avoided a lawsuit on that one), and "Be True To Your Bike" did respectably well, although the Deck Boys are best remembered for their subsequent novelty album "Pet Sounds," in which all of the lead vocals are sung by the members' dogs (and gerbil).

Second, I want to return to Tupac Shakur. I thought that I had previously posted the video for "California Love" in this blog, but I guess I haven't. Enjoy.

Do not adjust your record speed, revisited eight times

Back on March 10 I wrote a post entitled Do Not Adjust Your Record Speed which highlighted TotallySoundsLike's allegation that Rick James' "Super Freak" received a significant amount of inspiration from Michael Nesmith's "Cruisin."

The whole idea of borrowing from other songs is popular in music, and occurs in a variety of forms. Devo's "Some Things Never Change" includes an intentional quote from the lyrics of "A Day in the Life," but the snippet is so small that I doubt that lawyers needed to get involved. It was a different story, of course, with George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord." And then you have the whole topic of parodies.

Regardless of whether the borrowing was accidental or intentional, laudatory or malicious, there's certainly a lot of borrowing going around. Here's a list of a number of cases. In the list, the first song is the original, while the second song is the subsequent one. Here are a, samples from the list:

AEROSMITH-- "Walk This Way"
"Walk this Way", Run D.M.C.

Inasmuch as Steven Tyler and Joe Perry appeared in Run D.M.C.'s video, presumably this was a case in which the borrowing was approved.

Incidentally, the idea to cover the song did not originate with the band.

While working on Raising Hell, Rick Rubin pulled out Toys in the Attic (an album they freestyled over) and explained who Aerosmith were. While Run and DMC had no idea who Aerosmith were at that time, Jam Master Jay suggested remaking the song. Both Run and DMC did not like the idea. Later, however, they covered the song with Aerosmith.

CHUCK BERRY*-- "Sweet Little Sixteen"
"Surfin' USA", The Beach Boys

This borrowing was not approved until the copyright of the latter song was changed to give Berry a co-writing credit.

THE MOMENTS-- "Sexy Mama"
"It Was a Good Day", Ice Cube

This illustrates something noted in the post - often when we hear a song, we have no idea that the song is based on a previous one. I've never heard of the Moments or their song.

ANDREW LOOG OLDHAM-- "Last Time" (From a Rolling Stones Instrumental Album)
"Bittersweet Symphony", The Verve

Now obviously I have heard of Oldham and the band he used to manage, but I never made the connection between "Bittersweet Symphony" and "Last Time." (To be fair, I had never heard the instrumental version before I wrote this post.) Incidentally, this was not a friendly borrowing - both Oldham and Allen Klein have sued the Verve over this.

THE POLICE-- "Every Breath You Take"
"I'll Be Missing You", Puff Daddy feat Faith Evans and 112

This song can result in polar opposite views. I was discussing this with someone once, and asserted my preference for the Police version because Mr. Combs really didn't add much of anything in his take. My verbal opponent disagreed, saying that Mr. Combs' version is a much more positive song, as opposed to the creepy version by the Police.

QUEEN and DAVID BOWIE-- "Under Pressure"
"Ice Ice Baby", Vanilla Ice

On the other hand, I know of no one who prefers Vanilla Ice's version over the original (even if Vanilla Ice once claimed that the two songs were totally different).

VAN HALEN-- "Jamie's Cryin"
"Wild Thing", Tone Loc

Here's another case where I never made the connection between the two songs, but it's obvious once you think about it. Did Jamie get paid to do her cryin'?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Watch your audience!

Many of us live under the illusion that musicians only play for their fans. Some of us are even uncomfortable with the fact that musicians play in casinos.

But if the truth be told, musicians make a lot of money off of corporate events. Over the years, I've chronicled a number of musicians who performed for Larry Ellison (at the annual Oracle OpenWorld conference).

True story - I once attended a sales conference run by a particular company. (I won't name the company, but its initials are HP.) Whoever was managing the sessions became very insistent on controlling where people sat. Rather than allowing you to take a seat in the back left corner of the room, the handlers insisted that you had to sit in row 4, smashed up against other attendees. This carried on all through the conference, including during the final dinner. Toward the end of the conference I was getting sick of this handling, and intentionally skipped the musical entertainment - John Fogerty. I like Fogerty, and it would have been fun to see him, but I couldn't take the overbearing person control any more.

Perhaps you heard that Elton John played a special event recently - Rush Limbaugh's wedding. If you're familiar with the two, the booking sounds somewhat surprising. Elton himself was surprised, but eventually concluded:

"Life is about building bridges, not walls."

Some fans, however, felt betrayed by the booking. Roseanne Barr was not pleased:

You sully the memory of Ryan White by performing for unsavory haters and rogue governments practicing ethnic cleansing.

The latter is a reference to Elton's Israel concert. Haaretz has noted that a number of artists have performed in Israel:

Last summer Israel hosted an array of international artists such as Madonna, Leonard Cohen, MGMT, Depeche Mode, Morrissey and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

I don't know if Roseanne is boycotting Madonna.

Of course, the granddaddy of all music boycotts took place a few decades ago, when Artists United Against Apartheid loudly declared, "I'm not gonna play Sun City." (This is not to be confused with The Sound Strike, the 21st century movement that refuses to play in Sun City...or any other city in Arizona.) As this 2005 article notes, Elton John played Sun City also.

Now it's not only the liberal commie America-haters who boycott musicians. The fascist baby-seal clubbers do it also. Note that Rush Limbaugh didn't invite Natalie Maines to sing at his wedding.

Or perhaps he would. In my view, it's sad when musicians are condemned for playing to the wrong people. Elton's "Life is about building bridges" statement rings true.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cover version of the day - Atrocity, "The Sun Always Shines on TV"

In my view, a-ha's best song wasn't the video favorite "Take On Me." Their best song was a later one, "The Sun Always Shines on TV."

While trying to find the a-ha video for that song, I found Atrocity's version. Take the most disturbing parts of Devo's "Beautiful World," amplify them by ten, add operatic dramatics, and add the aforementioned Scandinavian song, and you have this video.

The song is taken from the album Werk 80 II, a sequel to Werk 80. Both albums include cover versions of a number of 1980s hits; the second installment includes (in addition to the a-ha song) Depeche Mode's "People Are People" and Visage's "Fade to Grey." A review of the album can be found at

Friday, June 4, 2010

Forever Young, Amen (actually, "Young Forever") with a passing reference to Sherlock Holmes

It's entirely coincidental that this post appears just after another post that mentioned "Forever," since this post originated in my radio listening on Thursday morning. (Since I was listening to KGGI, should I post this in my Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog?) So anyways, since I don't necessarily hear the top 40 all that much, it turns out that I had never heard this song before Thursday.

Those of a certain age will realize that Jay-Z's "Young Forever" song is primarily based on the old Alphaville song "Forever Young," although it's not accurate to refer to it as a complete sample, since the vocals were not sung by Alphaville's Marian Gold, but were actually done by Mr. Hudson.

Incidentally, the Alphaville song "Forever Young" should not be confused with Bob Dylan's identically-named song. Here's Joan Baez singing "Forever Young" (guess which).

Perhaps Mrs. Hudson will sing this one.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Forever and Ever, Amen

Some bands have an interesting trajectory. They start out, build a fan base, sign a record deal, have some hits...and then continue for decades afterwards.

At least in name only.

Take a fairly famous example, the Beach Boys, which was founded by the three Wilson Brothers, Mike Love, and (at various times) Al Jardine and David Marks. Time has passed, and if you were to go see a Beach Boys concert today, you would see...Mike Love. And Bruce Johnston (who initially joined the Beach Boys in the 1960s when Brian Wilson quit touring), along with Randell Kirsch, John Cowsill, Tim Bonhomme, Christian Love, and Scott Totten.

I ran across another example recently. The Music's Over published a death notice for Ali-Ollie Woodson, who was a former member of the Temptations. Specifically:

His terms with the group were 1984 to 1986, and then again from 1988 to 1996. His biggest hit for the group was the 1984 #2 record, “Treat Her Like A Lady,” on which he sang lead, co-wrote, and co-produced.

While I don't mean to demean this accomplishment, most people who think of the Temptations do not think of a 1984 hit. In fact, there are some people who would look oddly at me when I mention my favorite Temptations song.

Back to Woodson. It turns out that he has a bit of experience in joining bands that have been around for a long time.

During the early part of his career, Woodson was part of a Drifters revival act of the early ’70s.

On one level I can't fault musicians who join a band 20 or 30 years after it began. I mean, if there are people who want to hear a band's music, then it's nice if the band (or at least something that sounds like the band) is there to provide it.

But on the other hand, I feel kind of funny about.

P.S. My apologies to Randy Travis fans who came here expecting to find a ton of Randy Travis stuff in this post. Let me make it up to you.

Unfortunately, Randy's YouTube handlers requested that embedding be disabled. But (then) 14 year old Owen Pickard had no such restrictions.

Perhaps he'll tour as Randy Travis someday. But then, what would Kelcie do?