Saturday, December 31, 2011

Spell Czech - knowing Billy Idol, perhaps Spinner got it right

Director David Fincher was interviewed at Moviefone, and portions of the interview were quoted at Spinner. Fincher has directed music videos, including one for the Billy Idol hit "Cradle of Love." Idol was in a motorcycle accident just before the video shoot, and Fincher commented on this. However, when Spinner reprinted Fincher's quote, they made a little typing error.

We shot him from the waste up....

Or maybe they didn't.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In Old England Town - a brilliant mess

I hate Jeff Lynne as a producer of other artists. Not as much as I hate Eddie Van Halen as a guitarist, but it's a close second. In my view, Lynne has the production "talent" to make artists as diverse as George Harrison and Roy Orbison sound like bad knockoff versions of the Electric Light Orchestra. And I like the Electric Light Orchestra; I just don't like bad imitations.

Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO, went through various phases in their career. Some of you probably recall the end of their career, when songs like "All Over the World" and "Xanadu" were pretty anthems for the disco era. But ELO's early pop songs were a little rougher.

And their earlier songs were rougher still.

I've never heard ELO's first album, but I used to own ELO's second album on cassette, back in the days when cassette was decidedly inferior to the then-dominant vinyl LP. ELO's second album contained five very long songs, and when CBS produced the cassette version, they didn't bother with things like proper sequencing - in fact, one of the songs began on side 1 of the cassette and ended on side 2 of the cassette. (At the time, no one realized that within a few years, with the appearance of the compact disc, albums wouldn't have sides any more.)

The second album is most famous for ELO's reworking of the old song "Roll Over Beethoven." With ELO's fairly unique lineup, they were obviously able to introduce classical elements into the song, but the final version was more than a rock-classical hybrid. It was, to use a technical musical term, a "mess" of various sounds, all merged together by Lynne's decidedly unsmooth voice singing "Roll over Beethoven!"

And that was one of the slicker songs on the album.

For a song that is the direct opposite of "Xanadu," take a listen to "In Old England Town (Boogie #2)". This live version, which is fairly close to the studio version, starts with an introduction that is nothing like what anyone else was doing in rock or even progressive music at the time. So enjoy the instrumental introduction, and brace yourself for what happens at about 1:40.

Now you may think that this is just a really off live performance, but again, this performance sounds pretty similar to what ended up on the studio recording. And what that studio recording had was Jeff Lynne, barking lyrics that sounded like they came from one of Monty Python's Flying Circus "Gumby" characters - you know, the ones that would scream "I hit me head on the table!"

So what the heck was Lynne barking about in the song? According to elyrics, the song begins like this:

Down, down, you can see them all
rising gaily to the top
keep on rising babe you know you got a long drop
you better cling cos it's the done thing

And then it gets really weird. Especially at the "ten thousand tons of waste" part. (Trust me on this one.)

For some reason, this song was not as commercially successful as "Xanadu." In fact, according to Wikipedia, the song appeared on the B side of an ELO single, but with the lyric portions omitted.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Going home? Gary, Indiana, home of the Jackson 5

While musing on the Randy Newman song "Baltimore," I ran across an account that claimed that by the time Newman's song was released, Baltimore was actually staging a comeback. Now the Baltimore of 1968 - THAT was bad. Kind of like a 300 year old version of Gary, Indiana, according to the account.

Which reminded me of the story of Gary's most famous residents - the Jackson 5. You will recall that the Jackson 5 hailed from Gary, Indiana, but left at the first opportunity. Which makes sense - one of the main reasons that Papa Joe put the band together was to keep his boys out of trouble. I'm sure it was an easy decision for the family to flee to southern California.

But the Jackson 5 were not done with Gary. As a publicity move (which resulted in a TV special and an album), they returned in 1971. The J5 Collector blog records the result. Excerpts:

It was reported with a photo spread in the March 22, 1971, issue of Soul. Check out the security guard looking directly at the camera on the far right side of the first photo, and again in the last photo on the far left side. It looks like he wasn't thrilled with the photographers.

Spec teen magazine reported on the return in their July 1971 issue, claiming it was "the happiest day of their lives!" All of the photos suggest otherwise. In fact, the J5 look about as happy as their security guard.

Someone visited Gary in 2010 with the specific intention of visiting sites crucial to the Jackson 5's development. However, the account sounds rather depressing in patches.

Michael and some of his siblings attended Garnett Elementary School. It was closed, then reopened as an adult education center called Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy. It was closed again, but appeared to be reopened as of March, 2010 as Images of Hope, Inc....

Horace Mann High School is reported to have housed the only contest in which the Jackson 5 lost. The school appears to be vacant now....

This is where Michael and his siblings were born. The building is now vacant....

Katherine, Michael's mother, worked at Sears in the late 1950s/early 1960s. The building appears to be vacant but looks exactly as it did when the story first opened.

For more pictures of abandoned buildings in Gary, see this 2006 collection and this 2011 collection. But you can expect this when a city's population declines from 178,320 in 1960 to 80,294 in 2010.

And even if ALL of the Jacksons had remained in Gary, that fact wouldn't have changed much.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Stuff you probably already knew about Elvis Costello's dad

I knew that Elvis Costello's real name was Declan MacManus, but I didn't know anything else about his family. Turns out his family was a musical one. Last month, The Music's Over published a post on Elvis' dad, Ross MacManus, who passed away on November 25. Highlight:

In 1997, he released the album Elvis’ Dad Sings Elvis, but in this case the Elvis he honored was Elvis Presley.

Dad and son appeared together on several recordings.

And yes, dad wore glasses also.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Two views on Bono's Band Aid line

It's been over a quarter century since Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was released. While British musicians had participated in charity events before, Band Aid served as a catalyst for a whole raft of movements about famine, farms, and racism. Starving farmers who vowed not to play Sun City were bathed in attention.

And it all started with the Bob Geldof-Midge Ure song, which is discussed in this BBC article, which includes the following:

Bono did not want to sing the line: "Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you."

"It seemed like the most bitterly selfish line, and I think maybe it was the truth of it that unnerved me," he said. "I almost didn't want to admit to it."
But he relented and the footage of him singing the line still sends a shiver down the spine.

Well, perhaps it doesn't send a shiver down the spine of Tod Goldberg:

Ah, yes, the crux of it all. If there's one thing the Bible teaches, it's that you should thank god for other people's suffering. Now Bono is a g====== hero, we're told, since he's spent the last 30 years standing on moral high ground -- a moral high ground paved with the money of kids like me who, you know, didn't know what the f--- Sunday Bloody Sunday was all about, but who were, like, totally in support of it -- but one has to think he could have looked at the line before he sang it and suggested a rewrite. Maybe something along the lines of "Well tonight thank God you have food and clean water and a slight disposable income which allows you the opportunity to buy this great song on the latest technology...the cassette tape! Get thee to Sam Goody!" If this song were written today, Justin Beiber would certainly have something wise to say, like, I dunno, "Well, tonight thank God you're not a Kardashian."

Monday, December 19, 2011

OK, maybe primary sources AREN'T reliable (the Edgewater Hotel and Led Zeppelin)

There is a common belief that if you want to know about a particular topic, it's best to go to the original source.

Perhaps you've heard of the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle and its connection to the band Led Zeppelin. Maybe a story about a fish or something. Perhaps you've seen what Richard Cole wrote, or what other people might have written. So why not see what the Edgewater Hotel itself writes? After all, they have a page devoted to the history of the hotel. And here's how the hotel begins its section on Led Zeppelin:

•Stayed at the Edgewater in the late 1970s

OK, the band did play in Seattle in the late 1970s, but I think that people are more interested in what happened at the Edgewater in the late 1960s.

And on that particular subject, the Edgewater website doesn't say anything.

Monday, December 12, 2011

How the Dallas Cowboys got into the National Football League...for a song

I grew up in the Washington, DC area in the 1970s, and therefore am very familiar with the song "Hail to the Redskins," the fight song for the National League Football team the Washington Redskins. But I didn't know all of the history of the song.

The website helpfully provides information on the song's origins:

"Hail to the Redskins" made its debut on Aug. 17, 1938 as the official fight song of the Washington Redskins. The song was written by renowned band leader Barnee Breeskin and the lyrics were penned by Hollywood movie star Corinne Griffith, the wife of team founder and owner George Preston Marshall.

The official Redskins site ends the story there...and doesn't continue the story. Other sources, however, do.

[I]n 1958 Texas oilman Clint Murchison thought he was finally closing in on his dream of bringing pro football to Dallas. Two previous attempts to purchase teams had failed, but now word reached Murchison that Redskins owner George Preston Marshall was eager to sell his club because the team was doing poorly and Marshall needed money. Imagine! The 'Skins in Dallas! But that blasphemy was not to be. For just as the sale was about to be announced, Marshall demanded a change in terms. Murchison told him to go to hell and canceled the deal.

Unfortunately for Marshall, he was not only having problems with Clint Murchison. He had also fallen out with Redskins band director Barnee Breeskin. Breeskin saw an opportunity:

Breeskin, smelling an opportunity for revenge in the strained negotiations, approached Murchison lawyer Tom Webb and asked if he'd like to buy the rights to "Hail to the Redskins." Webb agreed, paying $2,500. He figured this would at least be good for an occasional joke on Marshall.

Meanwhile, Murchison was still trying to land an NFL franchise, and had decided to go the expansion route.

Murchison decided that his best chance of owning a team was to start one himself. In that endeavor he got support from the chairman of the NFL expansion committee, George Halas. Halas agreed to put the proposition of a Dallas franchise before the NFL owners. Unanimous approval would be required for the proposition to pass.

However, Halas and Murchison met a roadblock:

Marshall wanted none of this and he put up roadblocks to Dallas getting a franchise. He feared his Southern Dixie team would be under challenge from a Dallas team.

While a person of today thinks of Washington and Dallas as residing in vastly different areas of the country, a person in 1958 perceived the two cities as being southern cities. At that time (1959), the then-current lyrics for "Hail to the Redskins" contained the line "Fight for old Dixie!" This line was later discarded, along with other lines such as "Scalp em."

But with Murchison requiring some leverage to counter Marshall's opposition to a Dallas franchise, that song that was purchased by Muchison became VERY valuable. You'll recall that Marshall's wife wrote the lyrics to the song, so Marshall was very partial to it, and didn't like losing it.

When word of Murchison's "dirty trick" leaked out, one Washington columnist wrote that "Taking 'Hail to the Redskins' away from George Marshall would be like denying 'Dixie' to the South, 'Anchors Aweigh' to the Navy, or 'Blue Suede Shoes' to Elvis." So a deal was struck. For Marshall's approval of the Dallas franchise, Murchison returned the song. Thus, Murchison's Cowboys were free to be born.

As I mentioned, the Redskins website doesn't tell this part of the story. But a Dallas Cowboys fan site, The Landry Hat, has a lot to say about it:

Marshall not only failed to prevent Murchison from starting a new franchise, but he also failed basic business economics because he did not get ownership rights of his own fight song. Doh!...

The Dallas Cowboys never used the fight song. They certainly did not STEAL the fight song.

The truth to the story is a fan and friend of the Redskins stabbed his own brothers in the back and sold it. There was no theft involved. The transaction was legal.

And the moral of the story is never, ever, ever trust a Redskins fan.

Incidentally, I discovered an alternative version of the story in a comment on this post:

Band leader Barnee Breeskin lost the rights to the song in a divorce. His estranged wife's lawyer also was a lawyer for Murchison... that's how that came about.

According to yet another source, the second version of the story is half right:

Murchison met bandleader Barnee Breeskin, who had written the song. The recently-divorced Breeskin was in need of money; Murchison just needed a favor.

I searched YouTube for more information on Barnee Breeskin, and this song was presented:

Somehow this song doesn't seem appropriate for the Marshall-Murchison story...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Get off my lawn for December 1, 2011

McCartney is a has-been.

Jesse McCartney has not had a chart hit outside of North America since 2008.

What - were you thinking of another McCartney?

Stella, perhaps?