Monday, November 30, 2009

Easy Star All Stars: Lucy In The Sky WIth Diamonds

I’ve always been a big fan of reggae music and for today’s cover tune, I’m treating you to Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band featuring Frankie Paul on vocals with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Who would have every thought that the entire Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album could be done in a complete reggae style, but the Easy Star All-Stars manage to accomplish what I would have thought as being an impossible feat, but do an exceptional job. I have some definite favorites on this LP, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is one of them. I would venture to say they improved on this tune (I know sacrilege) – let’s just say then, it’s better than Elton John’s cover of the tune.

The one that I thought would have been impossible was George Harrison’s “Within You Without You,” but the one that was one of my least favorite tunes on the original, is one of my favorite songs here. The mixture of Indian instruments and a Jamaican treatment surprisingly work well together.

I have created a YouTube playlist – so you may listen to the LP in its entirety.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hot Tuna: Bright Side Somewhere

It’s Spiritual Sunday again and I found this little gem this week while looking for some music from the band Hot Tuna. It’s a little country-blues version of Gary Davis’ song, “There’s a Bright Side Somewhere.” Mandolin aficionados will love the licks played by Barry Mitterhoff.

This tune was recorded for Minnesota Public Radio and features the current Hot Tuna lineup. When I mentioned Hot Tuna to several musically knowledgeable friends, they did not know the band. Hot Tuna was one of the many splinter groups to come out of the Jefferson Airplane/Starship. The only two original members are Jorma Kaukonen on guitar and vocals, Jack Cassidy on bass, and as previously mentioned newcomer Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin. Cassidy by the way is playing the “Jack Cassidy Bass” by Epiphone, which is a mirror image of his Gibson EB-2 that he played with the Jefferson Airplane.

I'm just wondering what kind of fiddle licks the late Papa John Creach could have added to this number. Papa John, another one of the founding members of Hot Tuna, died as a result of the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. He suffered a heart attack during the quake and the led him to develop pneumonia from which he succumbed a month later. We miss you Papa John, but "There's a Bright Side Somewhere."

This is just a happy little song that should bring a smile to face and a tear of joy to your eye. I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Time Out

As Saturdays have been reserved for albums that made a difference in my life, I am grooving to an album that I purchased sometime in the latter 1970s. Usually, I can remember where or when I was when I purchased a particular record, but I am at a loss to where and when I bought this one. I am thinking perhaps in 1976 or 77 at Murphy Mart in Ashland, KY. I can’t swear to it, but that seems to be what my memory fogged by nearly 54 years of information that crammed into my brain is telling me.

"Time Out" is a great LP all the way around and it was probably years later that I understood the full significance of this album in the scheme of jazz and music as a whole. I bought it primarily for the album’s only hit – “Take Five.” In the late seventies, I was immersing myself into jazz of all kinds, but piano jazz such as Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk, and others were frequent acquisitions during the period.

What I didn’t realize that that songs on all this album were out of character even for jazz at the time because they deviated from common time that is so – er – common in all types of music. The album begins with “Blue Rondo Ala Turk” in an unusual version of 9/8 time.

As a time signature, 9/8 is not that uncommon. If you pick up an old hymnal from the 1940s, a number of odd time signatures are used for some of the songs such as 6/4, 9/8, and 12/8. Brubeck et al’s treatment of 9/8 isn’t your typical sets of triples: 123-123-123. It is the rather unusual count of 12-12-12-123. Add to the fact that the solo breaks are in 4/4 time and then the song jumps back into 9/8 ala Brubeck.

The second cut, “Strange Meadow Lark” starts in a very lyrical freeform style with no real time signature and ends in straight forward 4/4 time. The signature number of the album is saxophonist Paul Desmond’s composition, “Take Five.” Done in a syncopated 5/4 time – which normally would be a straight forward 1-2-3-4-5 or 1-2-3 1-2; however, the syncopation in this number makes it 1-and and-2 3-4-5 – which is more like 1-2 1-2-3. Are you confused? I certainly am. Anyway, upon his death, Paul Desmond willed the royalties of “Take Five” to the American Heart Association and it is estimated that it generates 100 grand a year for this charity. The song is also in Ebm.

Side two opens with “Three to Get Ready” which starts in 3/4 time and uses eighth notes to quicken the pace all within the confines of 3/4, until the solo then its two measures of 3/4 followed by two measures of 4/4. Similarly, “Kathy’s Waltz” starts in 3/4 and then alternates between 3/4 and 4/4. The last two numbers, “Everybody’s Jumping” and “Pick-Up Sticks” are in 6/4 time.

I’ve listened to the whole thing twice through today as I was preparing to write this. There was no doubt in my mind that “Take Five” would be my choice. It took two years for the album and single to make a dent, but “Time Out” would be a number 1 album and “Take Five” placed at #5 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart.

In 1983, I got to see Dave Brubeck live in an intimate setting at Park Junior High (now Middle) School in Beckley, WV. It was a great evening in music. I went with a couple of musician friends, guitarist Robert Tipane and drummer Meredith Trent. At that time, Brubeck was playing with his sons Darius, Dan, and Chris. There also was saxophonist present at the gig, as I remember “Take Five” being played. I had a chance to meet Dave after the show and he signed a program for me, but I have since misplaced it over the years. Drat.

To help you appreciate this album in its entirety, I have created a YouTube playlist that features all of the songs in order. Enjoy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Steely Dan: Black Friday

Well since it is “Black Friday” the absolute best/worst (pick one) shopping day in the US, I am suspending the usual Friday theme to play the live version of Steely Dan’s “Black Friday.”

The song was released as the first single from Steely Dan’s fourth LP, “Katy Lied.” While it didn’t have great chart success (#37), the album did much better charting at #13 and achieving an RIAA gold certification. But all was not joy in Mudville with mixing the 24 track masters down to a stereo mix.

According to guitarist Denny Dias, there were multitudinous problems with the DBX noise reduction system that the mixing process was next to impossible to complete. Eventually the DBX system was scrapped and Dolby processing was used. No one could explain what happened but the LP was finally released and most listeners were none the wiser except through some cryptic notations on the LP’s back cover.

Studio Version

Steely Dan, even with their fluid membership outside of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, has been entertaining audiences with their eclectic mix of influences. The session musicians as well as the regular band mates have all been top notch. While Becker and another guitarist share leads during the live performance, it is all Becker on the 1975 LP.

While the song has nothing to do with the busiest shopping day before Christmas, it really is a look back/forward (pick one) to the stock market crash. Is it historical?, yes. Is it prophetic?, yes. It’s two mints in one [there is a joke there if you look hard enough].

To dispel any myths about the song, here are the lyrics:

When Black Friday comes
I'll stand down by the door
And catch the grey men when they
Dive from the fourteenth floor
When Black Friday comes
I'll collect everything I'm owed
And before my friends find out
I'll be on the road
When Black Friday falls you know it's got to be
Don't let it fall on me

When Black Friday comes
I'll fly down to Muswellbrook
Gonna strike all the big red words
From my little black book
Gonna do just what I please
Gonna wear no socks and shoes
With nothing to do but feed
All the kangaroos

When Black Friday comes I'll be on that hill
You know I will
When Black Friday comes
I'm gonna dig myself a hole
Gonna lay down in it 'til
I satisfy my soul
Gonna let the world pass by me
The Archbishop's gonna sanctify me
And if he don't come across
I'm gonna let it roll
When Black Friday comes
I'm gonna stake my claim
I'll guess I'll change my name

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sly & the Family Stone: Thank You (Falletime Be Mice Elf Agin)

Happy Thanksgiving. Today, my last Thanksgiving related song is Sly and the Family Stone’s "Thank you (Falletime Be Mice Elf Agin)." As on Thursdays I feature songs that have a TV connection – today’s song was recently used for a Subway commercial.

The song with the creative title spelling was a double sided hit (with “Everybody is a Star”) was released in December 1960 and both songs charted at #1 in 1970. Both tunes appeared on the “Greatest Hits” LP released on Epic in 1970. In its list of the top 500 songs of all time, Rolling Stone listed this song at number 402.

It has been thought by some to be the first funk recording; however, I am really not certain if it deserves this accolade – I might lean towards some of James Brown’s records that predated this release. There may be others even before Brown that may be considered as “funk.” One thing is certain, bass player Larry Graham created an often Imitated style of playing the bass. His popping attack (which he terms as “thumpin’ and plunkin’) changed the way the instrument has been played ever since.

Not much today, as I hope to get a heavy dose of tryptophan – but not before I hit the caffeine. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and “Thank you (Falletime Be Mice Elf Agin).”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bon Jovi: Thank You For Loving Me

One thing about the rockers, they often are the best ballad vocalists. Today’s example, as we continue with our Thanksgiving theme, is no exception. From the 2000 LP “Crush,” Bon Jovi shines on “Thank You for Loving Me,” a song co-written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. Today’s feature is a live version only featuring Jon and Richie.

As great a song this is, it did not chart very well. In the United States it appears that the single only received a modicum of Top 40/Contemporary Hit Radio (#57) and Album Oriented Rock (#40) airplay. The song did much better on Adult Contemporary radio where it peaked on the Hot AC charts at 15. This situation was repeated in a number of other countries. The exceptions included the UK where it peaked at 12 on the Top 75 charts and in Argentina where it was a #1 record.

The Studio Release of "Thank You for Loving Me"

Having spent the beginning of my career as a radio programmer, I can tell you the charts don’t always indicate the quality of a release and they are often influenced by independent variables. While I do not know the situation with “Thank You for Loving Me,” some of the variables could have been the following:
  • the time of year the single was released,
  • the amount of promotional money the record label was spending (hiring independent promoters to work the record),
  • competition with other acts the record label is promoting (it may not be their priority single – so it is not worked as hard),
  • a lack of support from other media (i.e., MTV & VH1),
  • whether the band is supporting it with TV appearances and a tour, and
  • a minimum of secondary and major market airplay – which means the markets that drive sales are not being exposed to the song.
A number of these factors could create a confluence of a perfect storm that prevents an honest to goodness hit from becoming one. The release of the single on December 12, 2000 - which was too close to Christmas - was probably a major problem for this tune's success. A November release would have greatly enhanced airplay and sales. The moral to this story is – not everything that is good charts very well and not everything that charts very well is good.

Actually, I can see this being a giant country hit, and it would work very well for a female artist – perhaps Shania Twain. It is one of those tunes that with a change of instrumentation could transition as a crossover hit. Additionally, if I were its producer, I would have a key change with the chorus after the short bridge. If someone takes my suggestions on this, let me know as I would be interested in tracking its success on the country side of things.

The author with Jon Bon Jovi during spring 1987

As for Bon Jovi, I had a chance at meeting Jon Bon Jovi during spring 1987 and found him a very congenial fellow. It was one of the highlights of my career.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fairport Convention: Now Be Thankful

For Thanksgiving Week, the Traditional Tuesday feature is by veteran English folk-rockers Fairport Convention. “Now Be Thankful” was written by former FC members Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick and was released as a single in the UK, but not in the US. Swarbrick, who played fiddle and mandolin with Fairport, sang the original. Today’s live version features multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie on lead vocals.

Me and Chris Leslie in 2006

The original version of the song was recorded during the sessions that produced the Full House album and was released only as a single in September 1970. It did not appear on an album in the UK until the 1972 compilation, “History of Fairport Convention” was released. It was not released in the US until 1976 when it appeared on the USA only compilation, “Fairport Chronicles.”

Me and Simon Nicol in 2006; Simon played on the original recording

I became aware of Fairport when my brother gave me about 30 albums from his collection and a nifty 12-string electric Dan Electro Bellzouki following his move back to Pennsylvania in the fall of 1972.

The albums represented a wide variety of music that included everything from doo-wop to hard rock. The group of albums contained the debut album by Fairport Convention which became one of my favorites of the whole lot. Although not considered their best work, I still believe this first LP stacks up very well – although it is much different from the band’s later recordings.

Studio Version with Dave Swarbrick

During spring 1973, I was pursuing the selection of import albums at Heads Together in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill and found and purchased “History of Fairport Convention.” This became my introduction to Fairport’s traditional side as well as their song “Now be Thankful.”

As an aside, Fairport attempted to get into the Guinness Book of World Records with “Now be Thankful’s” flip side – an instrumental titled, “Sir B. McKenzie's Daughter's Lament For The 77th Mounted Lancer's Retreat From The Straits Of Loch Knombe, In The Year Of Our Lord 1727, On The Occasion Of The Announcement Of Her Marriage To The Laird Of Kinleakie.” Hoping for the longest song title, Guinness did not recognize the title as being legitimate.

Me and Ric Sanders of Fairport Convention in 2006

There are a number of interpretations of the lyrics and their meaning and there appears to be a medieval Christian connection. Back in the early 90s, my brother Chuck and I performed it for a Thanksgiving service at our home congregation.

When the stone
is grown too cold to kneel
In crystal waters I'll be bound
Cold as stone, weary to the sounds upon the wheel

Now be thankful for good things below
Now be thankful to your maker
For the rose, the red rose blooms for all to know

When the fire is grown too fierce to breathe
In burning embers I'll be bound
Fierce as fire, weary to the sounds upon the wheel

Now be thankful for good things below
Now be thankful to your maker
For the rose, the red rose blooms for all to know

Monday, November 23, 2009

ZZ Top: I Thank You

During this week of the American Thanksgiving holiday, I am featuring songs with a thankful theme to follow my normal daily features. On Mondays, I feature cover songs and probably the best “thankful” cover is ZZ Top’s version of the Sam and Dave classic – “I Thank You.”

“I Thank You” was penned by David Porter (not the Dave of Sam and Dave – that was Dave Prater) and Isaac Hayes who were staff songwriters and producers with Stax Records in Memphis, TN. Of the artists signed to Stax, Sam and Dave were probably the label’s most prolific artists during 1965-1968 when it was distributed by Atlantic Records.

Sam and Dave’s original recording of “I Thank You” charted at #9 on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart and at #4 on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1968. ZZ Top added the song to their 1979 album “Degüello” and “I Thank You” charted at #34 as a single in 1980. The album produced one other single, “Cheap Sunglasses” which charted at #89.

Me with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top in 1986

 Me and the ZZ Top Roadster in 1982

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Casting Crowns: Lifesong

It's Spiritual Sunday and today’s feature is a live version of the title cut from Casting Crowns’ album “Lifesong.” I love the guitar on this one as it reminds me of The Edge from U2. It really drives. I hope you enjoy it.

This single and album were colossal hits for the band. Formed in 1999, Casting Crowns has had phenomenal success. While their latest album “Until the Whole World Hears” was released this week, all but one of the band's seven previous albums was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for attaining one million copies sold. The remaining LP, “Peace on Earth” – the band’s Christmas album, achieved gold status for selling at least 500 thousand copies.

Studio Version

In addition, Casting Crowns has had two albums in Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart's top ten. “Lifesong” charted at 9 and “The Altar and the Door” peaked at 2. Four of the band’s five previous studio albums charted at #1 on Billboard’s Christian Album Chart. The debut LP for the band only peaked at #2. The “Lifesong” album was also chosen to be the 2005 Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album Grammy winner.

All of Casting Crowns’ singles have charted in the Top Ten on the Billboard Christian Songs and Hot Christian AC charts. Like many of their songs, the “Lifesong” single simultaneously placed at number one on both charts.

Empty hands held high
Such small sacrifice
If not joined with my life
I sing in vain tonight

May the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to You

Let my lifesong sing to You
Let my lifesong sing to You
I want to sign Your name to the end of this day
Knowing that my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to You

Lord I give my life
A living sacrifice
To reach a world in need
To be Your hands and feet

So may the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to You

Let my lifesong sing to You

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Renaissance: Ashes Are Burning

For the last two Saturdays, I’ve been featuring cuts from albums that have had profound effect upon the expanse of my own musical horizons. Though lesser known to my contemporaries than my past two examples (see: Cream’s “Disraeli Gears” & King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King”), the British progressive rock band Renaissance’s album “Ashes are Burning” is one of those albums. The album has numerous classical and folk influences and the impeccable five octave range of lead vocalist Annie Haslam.

I found it difficult to pick one song to feature as this album must be heard in its entirety. The Top-40 programmer in me allowed the decision to be an easy one, as “Carpet of the Sun” is obviously the most commercial cut on the album. At 3:31, the length was perfect for a pop single.

Renaissance was originally a spin-off from the rock/blues heavy hitters, the Yardbirds. As most people are aware, the Yardbirds provided a proving ground for exceptional guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. When they disbanded, Jimmy Page recruited a new crop of musicians to fulfill contractual obligations of a Scandinavian tour.

Known as the New Yardbirds, the band quickly metamorphosed into Led Zeppelin. It is hard to imagine that Renaissance and a later incarnation of the original Renaissance named Illusion were spawn of the Yardbirds; however, this strange but true musical twist of fate actually happened. Renaissance and Illusion exhibited a musical style quite different from their parent organization.

Renaissance was birthed from an idea of ex-Yardbird vocalist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty. Keith’s sister Jane Relf was enlisted as the lead vocalist. The band had several transformations until the lineup featured on today’s release with Annie Haslam as the band’s third female vocalist – undoubtedly, the best known of the three.

I first heard this LP on WOHI in East Liverpool, Ohio when I was living one summer across the river in Chester, WV. That summer, I became familiar with this 1000 watt AM station that played an Adult Contemporary mix during the day and the night jock was pretty much free to play whatever he pleased.

It seemed that I was exposed to Renaissance's “Ashes are Burning” and its progressive mix of songs nearly every evening. Part of this may have been related to my frequent calls to the disc jockey (whose name escapes me some 34 years distant) and requesting to hear the album. Yes Virgina, there is a reward in persistence.  After being exposed to the entire album for a period of two weeks, I traveled across the river to the nearest record store and added this album to my ever growing collection - now some 15,000 in number.

Many of the songs on this album are arranged in a manner that each song is made up of several movements – not unlike one would hear with the Moody Blues, Yes, Genesis, and numerous other progressive bands of the period. There is also an influence of classical music. This is evident on one cut in particular as Claude Debussy’s “La Cathédrale Engloutie” appears at the prologue and epilogue of “At the Harbour.” Because of changes in English copyright laws that were passed after the initial release of this album, the Debussy’s song was edited out for the later repackaged version of the LP.

The LP’s opening track, “Can you Understand” liberally borrowed from the soundtrack from the movie Dr. Zhivago. It incorporates a piece written by Maurice Jarre called "Tonya and Yuri Arrive at Varykino." It was originally thought that the tune was a public domain Russian folk. Later releases carefully credit Jarre as a contributor to this symphonic piece.

"Ashes are Burning" cover issued in the UK

"Ashes are Burning" cover issued in the US

Additionally, the covers for this release in the UK were different from the US release. Although I have the US version (on Capitol-Sovereign), I prefer the UK cover as the photos of Annie Haslam and Terry Sullivan seem less serious and the cover is less orange. John Camp and John Tout appear on the album cover’s reverse – which I believe was a gatefold in England – it was not in the US. Michael Dunford, who appears on the LP as a composer and side musician, did not officially become a member of the band until after the album was released. He is not depicted on the cover.

Hear the LP in its entirety (in order)

The cuts in the above YouTube playlist are as follows:
  1. "Can You Understand?" (Dunford/Thatcher/Jarre)* - 9:51
  2. "Let It Grow" (Dunford/Thatcher) - 4:14
  3. "On the Frontier" (McCarty-Thatcher) - 4:55
  4. "Carpet of the Sun" (Dunford/Thatcher) - 3:31
  5. "At the Harbour" (Dunford/Thatcher/Debussy)* - 6:48
  6. "Ashes Are Burning" (Dunford/Thatcher) - 11:20**

*Neither Jarre and Debussy are credited on the original release. 

**"Ashes are Burning" is over 11 minutes long and YouTube imposes a 10 minute limit on video length - it is here in two parts - there is a break in the middle of the song before it resumes.  Just pretend that you are listening to an 8-track tape in your car.

Later edit of "At the Harbour" sans Debussy's composition - it can stand on its own


Friday, November 20, 2009

Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks: How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?

It’s Fun Fridays and my feature song is from Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks’ first album, “Original Recordings.” This tune has received its fair share of airplay on Dr. Demento’s show. The pertinent and rhetorical question Dan and the gang ask is “How Can I Miss You If You Don’t Go Away?”

My first experience with this band that defies categorization was with their second album, “Where’s the Money?” I briefly heard this album at my brother Chuck’s house during late 1973 and the music as well as the album’s cover prompted me to buy it in the first place. On second thought, it was primarily the cover that really intrigued me.

The LP's cover contained a strange collection of instruments. This musical menagerie includes the likes of Sid Page’s fiddle (mostly obscured), an Epiphone vintage guitar amplifier from the 30s or the 40s, a bowed zither called a Marx Pianolin, a bass drum with its head painted with a cheesy Hawaiian scene (despite there being no drummer in the band), Naomi Ruth Eisenberg’s fiddle, Dan Hicks’ Guild guitar, Jaime Leopold’s double bass, and a Gibson Style A mandolin.

I don't know, I always liked collections of instruments. I bought Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma" because the back cover had the band's equipment lined up on an air strip like it was the armaments of a fighter jet, but I digress.

Reverse of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma LP

Add to the mystique of this eclectic collection of Dan Hicks et al's instrumentation, the zoot suit era clothing and a custom designed cover package screamed to me from the record racks. It was even on Blue Thumb, an independent American label that I had become familiar with from recordings by Aynsley Dunbar’s Retaliation, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Dave Mason, and Mark-Almond. To beat it all, it was a live recording that was of studio quality.

So I bought it, loved it, and sought out more Hicks’ LPs. As the second album was my first, the first album was my second – boy that sounds like something quasi spiritual – I was introduced to the original lineup of the band and some of their earlier tunes including our feature today – “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” The 1969 album “Original Recordings” was his/their only record for CBS’ Epic label.

One writer described Hicks’ music as occurring at the “intersection of cowboy folk, jazz, country-swing, bluegrass, pop and gypsy music.” It won’t be for everyone, yet I believe most will at least find this ditty somewhat amusing.

Happy Friday (late as it might be) – tomorrow, I’ll feature the progressive rock/folk band Renaissance.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Roxy Music: More Than This

It’s TV Thursday and I heard the featured song on CNN last week during a commercial for Centennial Wireless. I immediately recognized the tune as “More Than This” from my favorite Roxy Music LP – “Avalon.”

While this 1982 song was a top 10 single in numerous countries, it failed to break the top 100 in the US. Although Rolling Stone considers “Avalon” as #31 of the top albums of the 80s and at #307 on the list of the top 500 LPs of all time, this would be the final studio recording for the British art-rock band.

“More than This” would return to the American charts in 1997 with a cover version done by 10,000 Maniacs that charted at #25. While this faster tempo and more rhythmic version is interesting and I like it; however, the Roxy Music original is still the better version in my book.

10,000 Maniacs “More Than This” 


I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they're blowing
As free as the wind
And hopefully learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning

More than this-there is nothing
More than this-tell me one thing
More than this-there is nothing

It was fun for a while
There was no way of knowing
Like a dream in the night
Who can say where we're going
No care in the world
Maybe I'm learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Toots Thielemans & Stevie Wonder: Bluesette

Here’s a little number that features the chromatic harmonicas of Toots Thielemans and Stevie Wonder performed at the Polar Awards in Sweden. The addition of Stevie Wonder was a total surprise to Toots and this obviously unrehearsed and spontaneous performance was wonderful because of the energy of these two mulit-instrumentalists.

Most of this audience is familiar with Stevie Wonder, who needs no introduction. Toots Thielemans’ name is not readily recognized by most Americans; however, most of us have heard his musicianship countless times.

To name just a select few . . .

  • If you’ve heard the whistling on the Old Spice commercials, you’ve heard Toots. 
  • If you’ve seen the movie, Midnight Cowboy, the harmonica on the opening sequence played during the theme song – you’ve heard Toots. 
  • If you’ve heard the harmonica on Sesame Street, you’ve heard Toots.
  • If you’ve heard Billy Joel’s hit “Leave a Tender Moment Alone,” you’ve heard Toots.

Born as Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor Thielemans, he was nicknamed “Toots” after musicians Toots Mondello and Toots Camarata. Toots was influenced at a early age by the music of Django Reinhardt and Charlie Parker. His performance pedigree reads like a musical who’s who with Toots having stints in Benny Goodman’s band, Charlie Parker’s All Stars, the George Shearing Quintet, and as a sideman for Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones, Paul Simon, Pat Matheny, and many others. In fact, it was Toots Thielemans that inspired a young John Lennon to buy his first Rickenbacker electric guitar after seeing Toots play one in Hamburg , Germany in 1959.

Guitar? Yes – Toots got his start playing guitar. In fact, my initial exposure to his music came from an album I purchased at a flea market in the early 1970s. As the title suggested, “The Whistler and His Guitar” featured his guitar work coupled with his unique habit of simultaneous playing single note lines on guitar while simultaneously whistling the same notes. The title intrigued me and it was a very nice album – that also featured today’s song – his composition “Bluesette.” I don’t remember if he recorded any harmonica on this particular album, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized that this same guitarist was better known for his harmonic a work.

Toots has endorsed his own chromatic harmonica that is available through Hohner. The “Hard Bopper” is no easy purchase as it lists for over $200 new. This 12-hole instrument, as Hohner states, has “greater volume and a more aggressive sound than other models.” Each “Hard Bopper” has a unique serial number and signed letter from Toots guaranteeing the harp.

In 2001, the king of Belgium granted Toots the titular nobility of “baron.” He also holds two honorary doctorates. He has won numerous music awards, which is to be expected. I hope you too have gained an appreciation of the multi-talented musical master, Jean “Toots” Thielemans.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bethany & Rufus: 900 Miles

They used to say on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “now for something completely different.” On this Traditional Tuesday, I’m featuring a traditional American folk song in a jazzed up arrangement. Some may consider that the fusing these two styles is a musical train wreck, but it works well in a minimalist fashion as Bethany and Rufus do the classic railroad folk song “900 Miles” (not to be confused with 500 miles).

Bethany Yarrow is the daughter of Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary and certainly has a folk heritage. When she teams up with Rufus Cappadocia, she crosses over into the jazz genre – not unlike what Maria Muldaur did decades ago. From what I can tell, the recording only contains only Bethany’s vocal and ‘cello played by Rufus pizzicato style.

Actually, I believe there is at least a second ‘cello that was overdubbed on this recording. If you listen closely, you will hear a second (and perhaps a third) ‘cello playing in the left speaker as an answer to the main ‘cello parts – higher and a little more percussive. There is also a ‘cello played arco as well - it may be the same track as the the high pizzicato ‘cello as they do not seem to be playing simultaneously. It is a little down in the mix so it may not be that evident the first time you listen - but it is definitely there.

I stumbled on this song looking for American folk tunes and it was a rather nice experience. It is obvious that Cappadocia is a master ‘cellist; however, on some of their other recordings, he is a little more avant garde than my tastes run. This occurs mostly during the solos that he plays prior to the main tune in which Bethany sings.

This Yarrow is not her father’s Oldsmobile – she is more like an Avanti Convertible. Enjoy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cas Haley: Walking On The Moon

Monday is reserved for cover songs and here is a pleasant surprise from the second season of “America’s Got Talent.” Cas Haley doing the Police number “Walking on the Moon.” Haley placed second that season in the finals.

From Arlington, Texas, Haley’s got swing in his strings as he is the nephew of rock legend Bill Haley. The younger Haley currently plays both acoustic and electric guitar in a band called Woodbelly. His debut, a self-titled album, charted at #8 on Billboard’s album charts. Although he is an unlikely looking reggae musician, it is a genre that he prefers – and does very well – despite the lack of dreadlocks.

This is a great version of “Walking on the Moon,” and I agree with judge Piers Morgan when he said, “I’ve heard Sting at a private club singing that song a cappella that you did and he has an amazing voice and you actually sang it better than Sting.” Listen to the Police’s version of this and decide which one you like better.

The Police: Walking on the Moon

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bruce Cockburn: Lord of the Starfields

It’s Spiritual Sunday and today’s feature song is by Canadian Bruce Cockburn (pronounced Co-burn). For the past 25 years, Cockburn’s music has taken a political twist; however, in his earlier recordings, he frequently alluded to his Christian beliefs. This is one of those songs, “Lord of the Starfields.”

While other songs intimate his Christian beliefs – which at times he has gotten defensive about his faith because people expected him to be a Christian musician and not what he considers himself a musician who happens to be a Christian. Roger McGuinn, formerly of the Byrds, has the same leanings. Their vocations are musicians – their commitments are to Christianity.

This is not unlike a plumber, teacher, or physician that also is a Christian. Sometimes Evangelicals can understand this with other professions; however, they (we) wish contemporary musicians to conform to a Christian only content because they wear the Christian moniker. The same standard is not held for country musicians who happen to be Christians (i.e., Ricky Scaggs, Vince Gill, and others).

OK, off the soap box and back to the song. I first heard this on Pandora last year and was pleasantly surprised as I was unaware of this 1976 recording. Cockburn admitted that he was attempting to write something that was psalmic in nature. It certainly fits that modality well and this is one of those tunes in which Cockburn is not intimating his faith, he is broadcasting it. It has a great message – enjoy.


Lord of the starfields
Ancient of Days
Universe Maker
Here's a song in your praise

Wings of the storm cloud
Beginning and end
You make my heart leap
Like a banner in the wind

O love that fires the sun
Keep me burning.
Lord of the starfields
Sower of life,
Heaven and earth are
Full of your light

Voice of the nova
Smile of the dew
All of our yearning
Only comes home to you

O love that fires the sun
keep me burning

Saturday, November 14, 2009

King Crimson: In The Court Of The Crimson King

Last Saturday, I featured a song from one of my favorite albums – Cream’s “Disraeli Gears,” and I have made up my mind to use this as a regular feature. Today, I am featuring King Crimson’s debut LP “In the Court of the Crimson King” and my favorite cut when I first got the album: “I Talk to the Wind.” The vocals are handled by Greg Lake and Ian McDonald.

I received this album, I believe, in the winter of 1972 and loved every cut on the album; however, the heavier “21st Century Schizoid Man” was and is probably my least favorite cut on the LP. I prefer the mellower King Crimson songs and, while I am probably leaning towards the song “Epitaph” as my current favorite, I already used this song in connection with the piece on the Mellotron (see my post on the Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow”).

"I Talk to the Wind" was written by Ian McDonald and his lyricist, Peter Sinfield, and features Greg Lake and McDonald on vocals. I just love the woodwinds on this song, McDonald’s flutes and clarinets make this piece the great song it is. Add to this Robert Fripp’s contemplative guitar lines, the Mellotron (played by McDonald), Michael Giles’ drums, and Lake’s bass and you have a masterpiece.

A depiction of the 21st Century Schizoid Man painted by 
Barry Godber who died shortly after the debut album's release

In my opinion, “In the Court of the Crimson King” was King Crimson’s absolute best album bar none. While some of the other Crimson LPs have merit, they do not have the consistency that the debut album exhibited.

Although “I Talk to the Wind” was released in 1969, two additional versions of the song were recorded as demos by the band’s precursor: Giles, Giles, and Fripp.

The first of these features Judy Dyble, the original female lead vocalist with Fairport Convention. Ironically, Judy worked with two Ian McDonalds. The first, the original male lead vocalist with Fairport Convention, changed his name to Ian Matthews – using his middle name Matthew with an added “s” to avoid confusion with King Crimson’s Ian McDonald. Matthews now uses his birth spelling of his first name as “Iain.”

Following Dyble’s departure from Fairport Convention, she began dating the King Crimson Ian McDonald and both joined Giles, Giles, and Fripp in 1968. They produced a number of demos including the original version of “I Talk to the Wind,” which first appeared on the 1976 compilation, “A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson.”

Giles, Giles, and Fripp: I Talk to the Wind (with Judy Dyble)

When McDonald and Dyble’s relationship ended, she left the band and a second demo was cut by Giles, Giles, & Fripp with McDonald and the Giles brothers on vocals. This version was not released until 2002 with the issue of “The Brondesbury Tapes: 1968.” This incarnation features an excellent guitar solo by Fripp and a different flute solo by McDonald that was not used on the King Crimson version.

Giles, Giles, and Fripp: I Talk to the Wind (with McDonald, Giles, & Giles on vocals)

When Fripp and Peter Giles didn’t agree on the direction of the band, Peter Giles left the group. Fripp, Michael Giles, McDonald, and Sinfield enlisted Greg Lake for bass and vocals and this lineup became King Crimson and the personnel for the debut LP. Following an American tour to support this LP, Crimson disbanded.

In the wake of the split, Greg Lake formed Emerson, Lake, and Palmer with Keith Emerson (ex the Nice) and Carl Palmer (ex Atomic Rooster). McDonald and Michael Giles became a duo that was appropriately named McDonald and Giles (enlisting Peter Giles on bass and Sinfield on Lyrics).  McDonald and Giles recorded one self-titled album that was released in the US on Cotillion. Beginning in 1971, Fripp reformed King Crimson.  This is something he has done several times and has been the only constant member of the band in all of its various incarnations.

Incidentally, Peter and Michael Giles returned as a members on the second album, “In the Wake of Poseidon.” Ian McDonald was replaced by Mel Collins on woodwinds and Keith Tippett on keyboards. McDonald was later enlisted to be a session musician for Crimson’s seventh LP – “Red” in 1974.

Since the 70s, King Crimson alumni have been involved in numerous projects. Crimson disbanded a second time in 1975. After a five year hiatus, Fripp reformed the group in 1980. The band would split and reform numerous times always with Fripp at the helm.

In 1976, McDonald was a founding member of Foreigner and played on all of their hits from the 70s and 80s. In 2009, he produced Judy Dyble’s album “Talking with Strangers.” Robert Fripp was also utilized as a session musician on this project.

To support the re-release of several CD versions of “In the Court of the Crimson King,” a new group was formed by King Crimson alumni and Michael Giles’ son-in-law, Jakko Jakszyk. Jakszyk may have the best voice of anyone who has sung this song. The lineup of the 21st Century Schizoid Band included:

  • Michael Giles – drums
  • Peter Giles – bass
  • Ian McDonald – woodwinds, keyboards, and vocals
  • Mel Collins – woodwinds and keyboards
  • Jakko Jakszyk – guitar and lead vocals

21st Century Schizoid Band (poor live recording): I Talk to the Wind (with Jakszyk and McDonald on vocals)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ames Brothers: Rag Mop

The Fun Fridays tune today is a novelty song that was written in 1949 by Deacon Anderson and Johnny Lee Wills. “Rag Mop” (sometimes spelled as “Ragg Mopp”) was initially made famous in 1950 by the Ames Brothers.

Not only was “Rag Mop” the Ames Brothers’ first hit, it was the last #1 record on Billboard’s pop charts that was only released on 78 rpm disc. Subsequent number one records either were simultaneously released on 78 rpm and 45 rpm discs or only as 45s. Because of its rockin’ beat and swing inspired piano and guitar, the song was used by a number of western swing bands during the period.

As big as this song was, my first experience with the tune wasn’t from any of the legitimate releases. I first heard it in the early 1960s when Cecil, the sea-sick sea-serpent, sang it on an episode of Beany and Cecil. Bob Clampett based his animated series on ABC after a puppet show that he developed and produced for Los Angeles TV from 1949 to 1954.

I watched Beany and Cecil every Saturday morning; however, I can only remember a two isolated events surrounding the adventures of the crew of the Leakin’ Lena. One of these that I remember is villain Dishonest John’s signature sound, “Nya-ah-ãhh!” The other is R-A-G-G-M-O-P-P as sung by Cecil. That was over 45 years ago and I still remember the song. It is only fitting that I provide also that cartoon episode: “D.J. the D.J.”

Beany & Cecil: "D.J. the D.J."


I say M-O
Mop Mop Mop Mop

I say R-A
Rag Mop

Rag Mop
Rag Mop
Rag Mop
Rag Mop
Rag Mop!

I say A-B

I say M-O
Mop Mop Mop Mop

I say R-A
Rag Mop

Rag Mop
Rag Mop
Rag Mop
Rag Mop
Rag Mop!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sia: Under the Milky Way

It’s TV Thursday and I first heard this song last week on a new Lincoln commercial. It immediately caught my ear and I made a note to use it this week. Today's song is Australian Sia Furler’s cover of the 1988 song by fellow Aussies – The Church, “Under the Milky Way Tonight.”

As we moved into this week, I started hearing this song more frequently. Furler, who is primarily identified by only her first name of Sia, recorded this tune for her next album, “We Are Born.”

Lincoln MKT Commercial

The Original Version by The Church from 1988

No matter which version of this song you enjoy, you can agree with me that it is a great tune – period.


Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty
Sound of their breath fades with the light
I think about the loveless fascination
Under the Milky Way tonight

Lower the curtain down on Memphis
Lower the curtain down all right
I got no time for private consultation
Under the Milky Way tonight

Wish I knew what you were looking for
Might have known what you would find
Wish I knew what you were looking for
Might have known what you would find

And it's something quite peculiar
Something shimmering and white
Leads you here despite your destination
Under the Milky Way tonight


Under the Milky way tonight..
Under the Milky Way tonight...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

3 Doors Down: Citizen Soldier

For Veterans’ Day, I wanted a song that honored our military. While searching for a fitting song, I remembered seeing a promotional piece utilizing today’s song choice. I first saw this video in 2008 at a meeting where Maj. Gen. John Barnette of the West Virginia National Guard was discussing the many accomplishments of our state guard. Three Doors Down recorded “Citizen Soldier” as a promotional and recruiting tool for the Army National Guard.

While this song extols the virtues of the National Guard, I want to honor all Vets for their service on this US holiday. Veterans’ Day was originally Armistice Day and celebrated the signing of the armistice with Germany ending World War I. The armistice was signed in a rail road car in the Compiègne Forest on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour.

The unit emblem in the video’s section concerning the Normandy Invasion in 1944 is for the Army’s 29th Division. Currently, units from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and West Virginia serve in this division.

Citizen Soldier

Beyond the boundaries of your city's lights.
Stand the heroes waiting for your cries.
So many times you did not bring this on yourself.
When the moment finally comes, I'll be there to help.

On that day, when you need your brothers and sisters to care. I'll be right here.

Citizen soldiers.
Holding the light of the ones that we guide from the dark of despair.
Standing on guard for the ones that we've sheltered.
We'll always be ready because we will always be there.

When there're people crying in the streets
When they're starving for a meal to eat
When they simply need a place to make their beds
Right here underneath my wing you can rest your head

On that day when you need your brothers and sisters to care I'll be right here

Citizen soldiers.
Holding the light of the ones that we guide from the dark of despair.
Standing on guard for the ones that we've sheltered.
We'll always be ready because we will always be there.

Hope and pray that you never need me the rest assured, I will not let you down
I walk beside you but you may not see me
The strongest among you may not were a crown

On that day when you need your brothers and sisters to care I'll be right here
On that day when you don't have a strength for the burden you bare I'll be right here

Citizen soldiers holding the light of the ones that we guide from the dark of despair
Standing on guard for the ones that need shelter
We'll always be ready because we will always be there

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Traffic: John Barleycorn

It’s Traditional Tuesday and today’s song is Traffic’s version of the traditional tune “John Barleycorn Must Die.” While there are several versions of this same song, I favor Steve Winwood and Traffic’s rendition. This tune is about the barley season – from planting to harvesting.

I first heard this song on WDVE in Pittsburgh in 1972. Every week, DVE’s Jim Roach featured three hours of a particular artist and I religiously recorded these selections. During one weekend, Traffic was featured and I was hooked. Many of the cuts came from one album – their fourth – “John Barleycorn Must Die.”

I didn’t get this LP until much later as I had four of the six cuts on tape, but eventually gave in and got the vinyl version. This is absolutely my favorite Traffic LP and “John Barleycorn” is my favorite song. A great deal of sound was produced by this band then reduced to a three piece after the second exit of Dave Mason. Mason would be in Traffic three different times. In 1968, Traffic disbanded for the first time when Winwood left to pursue interests with the supergroup Blind Faith.

While other members would be added to the lineup, the nucleus of Traffic consisting of Winwood, Chris Wood, and Jim Capaldi reformed in 1969 and released “John Barleycorn Must Die” in 1970 – the first Traffic LP to sell over 500 thousand copies and attain gold status. While only featuring six cuts, the album was a change in direction for the band and showcased a variety of styles that were influenced from a multitude of sources.

Of the trio, Steve Winwood handled keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, and vocals; Chris Wood handled flute, sax, keyboards, and percussion; and Jim Capaldi was featured on drums, percussion, keyboards, and vocals. No session musicians were used on the “John Barleycorn” LP. On this track, Winwood is on acoustic guitar and vocals, Capaldi on tambourine and vocals, and Wood on flute.

As an aside, when I received my Irish bouzouki for Christmas two years ago, I began learning some folk tunes to add to my repertoire – one of these was “John Barleycorn Must Die.” Unless you read the song in its entirety, the imagery of this tune seems to be about a murder. One evening when I came home from work, I was caught at the front door by my wife who wondered about the gruesome lyrics my then 11 and 13 year old daughters found. They were worried that their dad was singing songs about a violent murder. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince anyone that the song really was about the barley season and not about some guy named John who was being savagely murdered.

The lyrics – you be the judge . . .

There were three men came out of the west
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die.

They've ploughed, they've sown, they've harrowed him in
Threw clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lie for a very long time
Till the rains from Heaven did fall,
And little Sir John sprung up his head
And so amazed them all.

They've let him stand till Midsummer's day,
Till he looked both pale and wan.
And little Sir John's grown a long, long beard
And so become a man.

They've hired men with the scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee,
They've rolled him and tied him by the waist,
Serving him most barbarously.

They've hired men with the sharp pitchforks,
Who pricked him through the heart
And the loader, he has served him worse than that,
For he's bound him to the cart.

They've wheeled him around and around a field,
Till they came unto a barn,
And there they made a solemn oath
On poor John Barleycorn

They've hired men with the crab-tree sticks,
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller, he has served him worse than that,
For he's ground him between two stones.

And little Sir John and the nut brown bowl
And his brandy in the glass
And little Sir John and the nut brown bowl
Proved the strongest man at last

The huntsman, he can't hunt the fox
Nor so loudly to blow his horn,
And the tinker, he can't mend kettle nor pots
without a little barley corn

Monday, November 9, 2009

Eric Clapton: Outside Woman Blues

Today’s cover tune is actually a semi-cover of a cover: Eric Clapton is doing an acoustic version that was written and originally recorded in 1929 by Blind Joe Reynolds. It is also a semi-cover, as Clapton played and sang on the original cover recorded by Cream in 1967. It was one of those rare occasions where Cream's vocals weren't handled by Jack Bruce.

Despite the misogynist lyrics (hey it’s a blues cover recorded originally by a known womanizer), this is one of my favorite tunes on “Disraeli Gears.” The album contains several different motifs that run from the sublime – “We’re Going Wrong,” to the rocking “Swlabr,” to the R&B influenced “Strange Brew,” to the ridiculous – “Mother’s Lament.” It truly has something for everyone. I featured “Tales of Brave Ulysses” from this same LP on Saturday and had run across this version in the process of doing my research for that post.

I love the Clapton’s acoustic guitar on this. I attempted to learn this song about two months ago when I was discovering all of the "Disraeli Gears" cuts on YouTube.  The tablature online differs from what Clapton does on this song. The accompaniment lick (B – C# - E) in the tab has it starting on the low E string at the 7th fret – with the E7#9 chord at the 7th fret region – makes the transition from the chord to single lines much easier to play from where Clapton actually starts the lick (2nd fret of the A string). The lower position, although the same notes, actually sounds better with the open grace notes that can be added. What can I say, he is Clapton.

Even the tab’s lead sheet is different – placing the lead licks all up at the 12th fret. On this video, Clapton eventually gets to the 12th fret, but the bulk of it he is playing between the 5th and 7th frets. Clapton makes it look so easy, but that is the beauty of his playing. Although it looks and sounds simple, it isn’t. His fluidity, string bends, and overall tone make him the guitar great that he is.

Cream “Outside Woman Blues”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Talbot Brothers: Easy To Slip

It is Spiritual Sunday and the feature is the Talbot Brothers' initial Contemporary Christian single, “Easy to Slip.” The message is one of faithfulness because, “It’s so easy to slip; it’s so easy to fall.”

As program director at WKCC, I remember receiving both the album and single in the mail during spring 1976. I was baffled that the album was on one label, Warner Brothers, and the accompanying single was on a new label, Sparrow Records. The album had a phonographic copyright ℗ date of 1974, so not only were there two labels represented; it was a two-year old recording.

I gave the album a spin and was impressed immediately. The production was impeccable; however, the Christian content was scant – although Sparrow purported it as a Christian album. My favorite song on the album was one of the secular numbers about the Cherokee nation’s “Trail of Tears.” While it’s lyrical content is sad, the musical performance is absolutely beautiful.

The single release of "Easy to Slip" was a cover of a Little Feat song from “Sailin’ Shoes,” one of their best albums. While Lowell George did not write this from a Christian perspective, a few minor word changes allows it to be ambiguous enough to be about slipping from one’s faith. We played this song, as well as a few others at the station.

Brothers Terry and John Michael Talbot, former members of the underground country-rock band Mason Proffit, recorded this LP in an effort to fulfill their former band’s contract to Warners. Once Sparrow exhausted the excess Warner Brothers’ copies, they re-released the album under the title of “Reborn” sans one track "Moline Truckin'," which had a great potential for eliciting controversy because of its lyrics.

You can really see these new converts to Christianity moving into a direction that captures their new found faith, while still recording secular music as well. By the time this album was re-released, the Talbot Brothers had split for solo careers; however, they returned to the studio in 1980 with “The Painter” and again in 1986 for the album “No Longer Strangers.”

By the way, the slide guitar and lap steel on this tune is played by David Lindley who is best known as Jackson Browne’s slide guitarist (and the high voice on Browne’s “Stay”). In addition to the electric slide track, Lindley is all over the LP playing pedal steel guitar, Dobro, and Hawaiian acoustic guitar. The banjo licks are courtesy of John Michael Talbot.

If you have a chance to pick up this album, do so. It is an excellent, but an under-recognized recording.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cream: Disraeli Gears

Every once and a while an artist will record a complete album that holds up well over time. Cream’s “Disraeli Gears” is one of those efforts and is showcased with today’s recording of “Tales of Brave Ulysses.”

I created the video by combining a live performance with the audio track from the album. While the live performance’s audio was good, Jack Bruce’s vocals seem to be coming from him directly and not via the microphone. He is overshadowed by the instrumentation in places, which is a shame as this is a great recording. I took it upon myself to create this faux live version that was a little more difficult than I expected as the live recording is at a slower tempo, so things didn’t match up. Some creative editing took care of some of this and I did the best I could with the rest.

As far as the song, the lyrics were penned by Martin Sharp who did the cover art for the album. Sharp had returned from a Mediterranean vacation where he based the lyrics on Homer’s Odyssey.

The Story behind “Tales of Brave Ulysses”

Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce wrote the music, which was loosely based on Zal Yanovsky’s guitar riff from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s hit, “Summer in the City.” Clapton also uses a Cry Baby wah-wah pedal throughout the song. During the slower breaks, Ginger Baker employs mallets on his cymbals to get the shimmering effects that correspond with lines like, “The tiny purple fishes run laughing through your fingers, and you want to take her with you to the hard land of the winter.” What amazes me is the speed in which Baker switches from regular drumsticks to mallets and then back again to sticks.

Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City”

Recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York, Cream’s “Disraeli Gears” served to be one of this power trio’s greatest efforts. Its unusual name comes from a malapropism of derailleur gears from a bicycle that substituted derailleur with the name of 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Sources have conflicting accounts of who actually made this verbal gaffe; however, it stuck and became the title for Cream’s second album.

It was not my first Cream album, as I had received their fourth LP -“Goodbye Cream” as a Birthday present in 1971 from my brother Chuck. I had heard Cream’s hits on the radio, but it wasn’t until I was exposed to “Goodbye Cream” that I took an interest in this band. “Disraeli Gears” remains one of my all time favorite albums.

I remember buying “Disraeli Gears” at H.L. Green’s in downtown McKeesport. This five and dime’s record department was one of the best in the area and the prices among the lowest. Typically, I would take the bus from East McKeesport into McKeesport (about seven miles) every week or so and peruse there selection of albums.

I bought many albums during the early 70s at Greens (including Cream’s third album “Wheels of Fire”), as their prices were often a dollar cheaper than National Record Mart. The only thing that NRM had on other stores was their small selection of imported albums – from which I purchased Cream’s debut LP (“Fresh Cream”). The domestic release of “Fresh Cream” replaced the classic Willie Dixon composition “Spoonful” with the single “I Feel Free.”

Of the original seven ATCO releases from Cream, I am missing three: “Best of Cream,” “Live Cream,” and “Live Cream, Volume II.” As previously stated, “Disraeli Gears” is my favorite Cream album and one of my top favorite LPs of all times.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Soundcatcher68: Mashup

It is Fun Fridays, and while I play novelty tunes on the final workday of the week, I also feature different mixes and mashups. Soundcatcher68, from Italy, created the following mashup featuring Madonna, Tears for Fears, and Depeche Mode. This is a very smooth job of editing and the three tunes work well together.

Soundcatcher68 liberally used the Madonna’s “Frozen” and Tears for Fears’ Shout; however, only keyboard parts from Depeche Mode’s Stripped were used.

Madonna – “Frozen”

Tears for Fears – “Shout”

Depeche Mode – “Stripped”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sixpence None the Richer: There She Goes

It's TV Thursday and I bring to you Sixpence None the Richer with “There She Goes,” which was used for an ad for Ortho Tri Cyclen Lo. This 1998 cover of the La’s tune had more radio success in the U.S. than the original; however, the original was released four different times and was also featured in a Bali Bras commercial, as well as on numerous movie sound tracks. Both versions feature electric 12-string guitars.

It is a definitely a simple song – but simple songs have great hooks and great hooks become part of the formula for making hits.

“There She Goes” by Sixpence None the Richer charted on the following Billboard charts:
  • Hot 100 - 32 (based on airplay and sales)
  • Adult Contemporary - 19 (airplay on adult contemporary radio)
  • Top 40 Tracks - 14 (a defunct chart – station submitted airplay on a number of radio formats)
  • Top 40 Mainstream - 13 (now Pop Songs – monitored reports from mainstream radio)
  • Adult Top 40 -7 (now Adult Pop Songs – monitored reports of music similar to cuts on VH-1)
  • Top 40 Adult Recurrents - 1 (songs that have spent 20 weeks on the Hot 100 and has fallen below 50)
All of the previous chart actions occurred in 1999 except the Top 40 Adult Recurrents, which charted in 2000. In addition to the Ortho Tri Cyclen Lo exposure, Six Pence None the Richer's version appeared on the Six Feet Under TV show. The original version by the La’s was released in 1988, 1990, 1999, and a 20th anniversary release in vinyl in 2008. Only the second release charted for the La’s in the U.S. - #49 on the Hot 100 and #2 on the Alternative Music charts. In addition to the Bali Bras commercial, the La’s version appeared on the Gilmore Girls TV show and on the soundtracks for The Parent Trap; Fever Pitch; Girl Interrupted; and So, I Married an Axe Murderer.

Apparently, there is a general assumption that this song is about heroin addiction; however, the La’s deny that this is the case. A cursory look at the lyrics below might give you the impression that it is about some sort of needle based addiction; however, it could mean a strong feeling towards someone you love. I have no idea and I’ll let you be the judge.

“There She Goes”
There she goes
There she goes again
Racing through my brain
And I just can't contain
This feeling that remains

There she goes
There she goes again
Pulsing through my veins
And I just can't contain
This feeling that remains

There she goes
There she goes again
Racing through my brain
And I just can't contain
This feeling that remains

There she goes
There she goes again
She calls my name,
Pulls my train
No one else could heal my pain
And I just can't contain
This feeling that remains

There she goes
There she goes again
Chasing down my lane
And I just can't contain
This feeling that remains

There she goes
There she goes
There she goes

The thing that really bothers me about the La’s is their name. The apostrophe is intentional, but I am not sure why it is there. It may be for no real reason at all – and that is fine. It may be a statement like e.e. cummings or k.d. lang using all lower case letters for their names. This too is acceptable; however, if they are using it to make the name a plural, then it is a grammatical issue as the apostrophe shows possession and not plurality.

This is a common problem I see with my own students – especially when it is something short like making a plural of a letter of the alphabet and it is used incorrectly as A’s – when As is proper. Just a pet peeve of mine. There, your lesson in music and the English language.