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.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Echo Helstrom Casey was not tentative, but she was authentic and spontaneous

Back in July 2015 I wrote a post about the Bob Dylan-Johnny Cash duet on "Girl From the North Country." The post contained a lot of adjectives - dominant, distinctive, and cantankerous are a few of them. To understand why these adjectives were used, advance to the 1:51 point of this song.

By Unknown -, from the 1964 yearbook of St. Lawrence University, CC BY 2.0, Link

The song was actually written (and released) by Dylan several years previously, and some have speculated who the girl from the north country was.

One candidate, Echo Helstrom Casey, passed away last week. She was once a true love of Dylan's.

Born in Duluth in 1942, Casey grew up in a small house in the woods three miles southwest of Hibbing, the youngest of three children of Martha and Matt Helstrom, a mechanic and welder. She met and started dating Dylan, then Robert Zimmerman, in 1957 and the pair attended the Hibbing High School junior prom together before ultimately breaking up in 1958.

In her yearbook, Dylan wrote: “Let me tell you that your beauty is second to none. Love to the most beautiful girl in school.”

But there was something other than her beauty that appealed to the young Zimmerman.

“She was an important figure in his life, there’s no question about that,” said [Toby] Thompson, now a professor at Penn State. “I don’t know what he would have done if he didn’t find someone like himself. She had that spirit, that electricity that was comparable to his. She was wild in a way that he wanted to be wild. She would go off with her girlfriends in the summer and hitchhike all over the place, have adventures. She was kind of an outsider and from the wrong side of the tracks, and (Dylan) was certainly attracted to that. … In Hibbing, she was as bohemian as anybody in Greenwich Village.”

But eventually both Bob and Echo left Hibbing. Echo went south, then west.

She eventually found her way to Minneapolis, where she worked as a booker at National General Pictures. She married briefly and gave birth to her only daughter, Danae, before moving to Los Angeles in the early ’70s.

She alternated between shunning the limelight and embracing it. She had an unlisted number, but allowed a friend to post her picture next to Dylan's at a Hibbing restaurant called Zimmy's.

But it's interesting to note that these two freewheelin' folks ended up in southern California - Dylan in Malibu.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Wixen and Spotify - frenemies for life

So I saw this Reuters story:

Music streaming company Spotify was sued by Wixen Music Publishing Inc last week for allegedly using thousands of songs, including those of Tom Petty, Neil Young and the Doors, without a license and compensation to the music publisher.

Wixen, an exclusive licensee of songs such as “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty, “Light My Fire” by the Doors, (Girl We Got a) Good Thing by Weezer and works of singers such as Stevie Nicks, is seeking damages worth at least $1.6 billion along with injunctive relief.

I wanted to get Wixen's own take on the issues involved, so I went to Wixen's website and searched for information on the Spotify lawsuit. Instead of finding that, I found this:

Yes, it's an embedded Spotify playlist.

So this is all apparently a negotiating tactic by both companies to settle on fair compensation. To be continued...