Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I can't escape the Electrical Parade - "Above the Northern Lights" (Gene Nery/Mannheim Steamroller)

Those close to me know that I usually equate Mannheim Steamroller with Disney's (Main Street) Electrical Parade.

I HATE Disney's (Main Street) Electrical Parade.

But on Monday evening I heard a Mannheim Steamroller song that I truly enjoyed - "Above the Northern Lights." The vocalist is Gene Nery. Yes, Gene Nery. Oh, you haven't heard of Gene Nery? Neither had Chip Davis:

The new album features vocals by Johnny Mathis, Olivia Newton-John and Gene Nery. Gene who? "Believe it or not, he was some random guy that a friend of mine knew — Ed Wilson, who wrote the words for the song 'Above the Northern Lights.' He sent a demo with Gene singing on it. I called and said, 'Hey, Ed, the words sound great. Who is this guy you've got singing it?' He sings in clubs and stuff. He lives on Orcas Island, off the coast of Washington State. We just met the other day when we played Everett, Washington."

For more about Gene Nery, see this article.

But back to "Above the Northern Lights." So anyways, I looked on YouTube for a video that included the song. And what was the first video that was listed? A video in which the song is linked to a Christmas lights display.

Well, at least there aren't twirling Disney figures.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rob Michael "White Christmas" (solo, and with Rahsheen)

I missed these videos last year when they were originally shared, but it's about that time of year.

The first video is a Rob Michael instrumental solo of "White Christmas."

The second is the same guitar solo, with vocals from Rahsheen.

As far as I know, there is not a third version that incorporates Josh Haley's ukelele or Helen Sventitsky's keyboards.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Prey Before Prey Before Prey Before Prey

Continuing my previous thought, there's also Blacksteel & Badger's "Toxic Jerry," which obviously includes both Gerry (with a G) Rafferty's "Baker Street" and Britney Spears' "Toxic."

I wasn't familiar with one of the songs in the mix, so I looked into it and found out that it was Fatboy Slim's "Sunset (Bird of Prey)."

(Embedding disabled by request.)

The vocals are by Jim Morrison and were released posthumously.

But Jim Morrison wasn't involved with the next little bit in "Toxic Jerry." I don't know whether Fatboy Slim did it or Blacksteel & Badger did it, but someone mixed "Sunset (Bird of Prey)" with another Fatboy Slim song, "Star 69." And no, I'm not linking to that song - too much Wisconsin Tourism Federation for me, if you get my drift. And the Wisconsin Tourism Federation stuff is itself a sample from Roland Clark's "I Get Deep."

At this point I probably haven't identified half of the samples in "Toxic Jerry," but the ones that I know about include Roland Clark, Jim Morrison, Gerry Rafferty, and Britney Spears. Plus some instrumental music from Norman Quentin (Leo) Cook. Now that's an interesting...um...mix of people.

P.S. If you clicked through to the embedding disabled by request video and would like more information about the filmed flight sequences, go to http://www.flight-logistics.com/Bird_of_Prey.html.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Day After Day After Day After Day

I had been listening to "Toxic Jerry" by Blacksteel & Badger, and ended up going to last.fm to see what other downloads were available. There really weren't any details on what songs were included in the mashups, so I figured I'd listen to a 30 second sample of the song "Day After Day." Maybe there's some Badfinger in there, I thought.

I listened to the 30 second sample, and all that was in the sample was the Paul McCartney/Michael Jackson song "Say Say Say." That was enough for me to commit to the download.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Kelly Osbourne's "One Word" was a major component of the mix. It turns out that "day after day" are the last three words of the chorus.

No Badfinger though.

You can download the song at http://www.last.fm/music/Blacksteel%2B%2526%2BBadger/_/Day+After+Day. The Blacksteel & Badger website is no more, but their podcast blog is still online.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Control - the history behind "Love on the Run"

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Human League had released two albums with minor success (despite highlights such as "Circus of Death"). Then the band ruptured into two parts, with the remaining Human League part achieving stratospheric success with "Don't You Want Me" and other songs such as "Seconds." The band continued to play with their sound, most notably on the guitar-based "The Lebanon," but the record label wasn't pleased because the band wasn't enjoying success similar to that of "Don't You Want Me." In other words, the record label was asking, "What have you done for me lately?"

That's when the "hot producers" idea kicked in, and an agreement was reached to have Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produce the band. Jam and Lewis, ex-members of the Time, were the hot producers of the moment. Three facts about Jam and Lewis were pertinent:

First, they learned their chops under Prince, who was well known for his controlling nature over projects.

Second, they had just finished working with Janet Jackson on an album called "Control."

Third, the majority of the songwriting credits on the song "Control" were held by Jam and Lewis.

Even if you had never heard the story before, you can probably guess how it's going to end. Robert Windle:

Four solid months of stressful recording followed that were full of vocal retakes and some days would end in creative disagreements. In the end, session musicians and backing singers were brought in as Jam & Lewis sought a level of pitch perfection that was simply alien to the appeal of The League. The production team's trademark was that of polished soul with plenty of treble, whilst the League always favoured an understated and sometimes harsher sound of leftfield pop that would stray from obvious.

Adrian [Wright] eventually gave up on trying to record soul styled keyboard rifts that he was completely unfamiliar with and decided to spend the rest of the sessions playing table tennis....

The recording sessions reached breaking point when it became apparent that only six of the League penned tracks would make it to the album with Jam & Lewis adding a few tracks of their own.

Song writing credits were essential when it came to the bread and butter payments once an album was released.

Jam & Lewis were already receiving a huge production fee from Virgin, and the League felt they would receive little in the way of royalties that were so desperately needed.

As a result, the sessions ended in acrimony even though the personal relationship between the band and the production team had been a relatively good one.

The band reaped material success from the collaboration when the Jam/Lewis-penned "Human" reached number one. But was that the destiny for the Human League - to record songs that could have just as easily been recorded by any other male-female singing group?

However, the band wasn't COMPLETELY shut out of their own album, and the song "Love on the Run" is a bright spot for fans of the band.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Genius is pain - the whiners

Now that I've gotten the introductory post out of the way, I can get to my thesis.

Good music is painful. There is certainly pleasant, soothing music that is produced, but music doesn't really grab you unless there is an element of pain in it. While the pain is sometimes lyrical (for example, all of the tragic teenage death songs), the pain that is inflicted on the listener is often musical.

And that pain may be inflicted by the singer's voice. There are a number of examples of singers with voices that are not soothing, but attention-grabbing. In this post, however, I'm going to talk about the whiners.

One of the first whiners that came to mind was Tom Petty. While Petty sometimes sings in a fairly low register, he's often up in treble-land, and he can get pretty whiny up there. He first came to national attention with "Refugee," but Petty's whiniest performance is probably his duet with Stevie Nicks.

But Petty isn't the best whiner out there. He certainly has competition from Canada's contribution to supergroup-dom and grunge hero worship. I speak, of course, of Neil Young - a man who can whine with the best of them when in electrical mode, but who surpasses all when he's in an acoustic mood, as he was during Farm Aid.

Of course, the painfulness of this song, with its delivery and its references to Elvis Presley and the Sex Pistols, was made even more painful several years after this concert, when Kurt Cobain quoted it in his suicide note. (I briefly referenced this noted in a prior post about Steve Taylor, Jim Morrison, and Cobain.)

But Petty and Young, excellent whiners though they be, are exceeded in whining by a man named Billy. I could choose from a number of examples, but in this case I've gone for the song "Eye" by Smashing Pumpkins and lead singer Billy Corgan.

And now that I've presented Billy's whining ways, I can tell you of my dream duet - one that will surpass Petty and Nicks. If only Billy Corgan and Gwen Stefani would sing a duet, the world would truly be a magical place. (Yeah, I know that Moby and Stefani performed together, but it's not the same.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Genius is pain - the origins

I plan to write a future music post that will emphasize the point that genius is pain, but some people may not be familiar with the origin of the line.

Back during the heyday of the National Lampoon (before the low days of the National Lampoon), one of their albums included a rather wicked parody of John Lennon's primal scream period, entitled "Magical Misery Tour." A downloadable MP3 of the parody can be found at this 2005 WFMU post.

Since it IS the Lampoon, it probably goes without saying that there is a language warning here. My favorite line, however, is "The sky is blue." Oh, and a reference to the "the Walrus was Paul" line from "Glass Onion." The latter song, of course, was the one that made fun of all the Beatles rumors...but a year later became the basis for the biggest Beatles rumor of all, the one about the death of Paul McCartney.

That's not funny, that's sick.

But returning to the other National Lampoon album, the lyrics to "Magical Misery Tour" were not written by the Lampoon, but by...John Lennon:

This is an unrelentingly brutal parody of John Lennon made all the more pointed due to the fact that the lyrics are Lennon's own words taken from an interview he granted to Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone in 1970. The interview itself is legendary. At the time it was conducted, Lennon was still hopelessly trapped under the vast, oppressive shadow of The Beatles, and he was angry, whiney, and petulant. With his characteristic cutting wit and candor, Lennon held nothing back and unearthed intensely personal details about his experiences with LSD, heroin, his petty ego issues with Paul and Mick Jagger, and the pain of seeing Yoko publicly maligned and almost universally hated.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kinks reunion - if I may quote Romeo Void...

Stereogum recently ran something entitled Kinks Reunion Impossible Because “Ray Davies Is An Asshole”. The anatomical assessment of Ray came from his brother Dave; Stereogum notes that the Davies brothers were the "Mendelian blueprint for Noel and Liam’s bro-bickering" (Noel and Liam being the Gallagher brothers, formerly of Oasis).

But it's dangerous to bandy about the word "impossible." Remember that the Sex Pistols reunited (with Glen Matlock), the Eagles reunited (in the Hell Freezes Over tour), and that the death of John Lennon didn't stop the Beatles from reuniting.

Quoting Romeo Void, "never say never."

P.S. Although I haven't heard it, there is a link between the Kinks and Romeo Void - namely, the Queens of the Stone Age album Rated R (Deluxe Edition); the bonus disc includes covers of the aforementioned "Never Say Never" from Romeo Void, and the Kinks' "Who’ll Be The Next in Line."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It's just another town along the (Bermuda) road

I previously posted a link to an interview with Jon "Bermuda" Schwarz, long-time drummer with Weird Al Yankovic. In the interview, Schwarz took time to point out that a tour doesn't depend upon the musicians alone. First, Schwarz talked about road life for Yankovic and his band.

I wish I could tell everyone that it's vacation and that we have a lot of personal time for sightseeing or recreation, but traveling by coach to five or six cities a week is grueling and gets disorienting. A lot of time is spent just going from city to city, and most days off are better described as travel days; it's rare to have an entire day and night free in the same location.

However, we are pretty comfortable on the road. Al and the band have a coach with satellite TVs, videos, stereos, kitchen, lounge, and plenty of room to move. After each show, we're usually in a hotel to get some real rest, but most of our waking hours are spent traveling.

Then he told the rest of the story.

I have to also mention that the crew works VERY hard, and operates on a somewhat different schedule than the band. They are almost always traveling overnight after a hard day's work, so they can start all over again in the morning setting up the next show. I don't envy them but I do respect them, and we all get along well. There's no 'us' and 'them' in our organization.

Of course, then there are road crew members who will stab the artists in the back. Take Reno 911 refugees Tom Lennon and R Ben Garant, who joined Yankovic's road crew and released a lurid expose with shocking revelations:

Dr. Demento is not a real Doctor.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Three really good parodies

I was musing about parody songs, or cases in which someone takes a song originally written by someone else and modifies it, usually (but not always) for comic effect. I thought I'd list three of my favorite ones here.

I applied a rule to the list - Weird Al Yankovic would only appear once on the list. So what Weird Al song do I put here? I was originally leaning toward "Amish Paradise," but then decided to go in a different direction. Yankovic's mid and late period songs, whether parody or not, are always inventive, professionally done, and the videos are also executed well. But one song of Yankovic's that stands out is one of his early ones - his parody of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," called "Another One Rides the Bus." Unlike his later productions, this one consists of Al, his accordion, and a guy playing "drums" on an accordion case, all recorded during a live airing of Dr. Demento's radio show. The story of the recording can be found here. The randomness and exuberance of that event is more magical than the most complex device that is planned deep in the bowels of Cupertino.

For more information on that life, and how it changed Jon "Bermuda" Schwarz's life, see this interview.

My second parody is one of those which is not entirely comedic in nature, although it has its comedic elements - heck, when Cheech and Chong do something, there's bound to be comedy in there. The original song, Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," was one that was misinterpreted as a patriotic jingle, but in actuality was a song about injustice. So it's fitting that Cheech and Chong's parody, "Born in East L.A.," also has a serious message embedded within it - namely, the fact that Mexican-Americans who have lived in the U.S. for multiple generations cannot always be equated with the newer arrivals. "Cheech" Marin later turned the song into a movie; here's the trailer.

And if you don't necessarily think of "Born in East L.A." as a serious song, note that Rosa-Linda Fregoso has written a scholarly article on it.

But since this blog (and all my blogs) are all influenced in some way by "The Beatles" (the album, not the band), it's fitting that my third parody choice should be off of that album. The Beatles and the Beach Boys - or, more specifically, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Brian Wilson - had a friendly rivalry in the mid-1960s which led to such "top this!" masterpieces as Pet Sounds and Sergeant Pepper. Wilson began having problems after Pepper (or, more accurately, after other substances), so the rivalry had pretty much ended in the Beatles' favor by 1968, but the band played homage to their American label-mates by constructing a thematic parody of one of the biggest Beach Boy hits, "California Girls." Except, instead of talking about east coast girls, southern girls, and the like, the English version talked about Ukraine girls and Georgian girls (from the then-province of the USSR, not the US state). "Back in the USSR" was a literally wicked opening to the Beatle's double album, and as the Cold War began to thaw, many Western musicians got to sing the song in the USSR itself. McCartney eventually joined them in heading east, not only to Moscow, but to the Ukraine girls themselves, as this 2008 concert clip from Kiev shows:

For a little more background, including who played drums on the original recording and why, consult John T. Marck's site. (And if the Beatles inspired you to find a Ukraine girl, check the ads at the top of Marck's page; you just might get lucky.)