7 September 2006
She did it right

File under "Terribly Catchy": from the Dawn Eden Archives, "You Did Me Wrong", written and sung by Dawn herself, circa 1990, in splendid medium-fi, worthy of your favorite girl-group mix.

You really should play it twice and let it sink in. It's that nifty, and it takes only 4:18 for the twin-spin.

A tip of the bonnet to Joe Ward, who plays all those instruments behind her.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:51 PM)
18 September 2006
It's in the pantry with the cupcakes

You or I know the words to dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of songs, but they don't just spill out of us: if we're going to recite those words, first we have to sing them, if only in the back of the mind, to get them to come out. It helps, of course, if the actual song is playing, as DragonAttack notes:

As I drove along 94 the classic rock station decided to favor me with a play of Mrs. Robinson. Woo! Do-doo-doo-doo-dooo (chicka-boo, chicka-boo). I started to sing along when the verse began and as I was singing I was thinking about how I know all the words to the song and can't remember other things. It occurred to me that maybe I could remember the words because they were set to music and it was actually the music that caused a reflex action. In this case the reflex is being able to remember the words to the song.

A minute later I turned into the world's luckiest amateur scientist because I was able to instantly prove my hypothesis. Right as the where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? line started, I entered the Lowry Hill Tunnel and lost radio reception. I immediately forgot the words to the song and stumbled along as best I could. When I popped out of the tunnel barely twenty seconds later, not only was I still stumbling on the words, I had also lost the tempo and was half a line behind.

A-ha! I thought to myself, the music is the key to remembering the lyrics. That was an exciting conclusion, but I still have to figure out why I can remember songs and not shopping lists.

Would setting the shopping list to music perhaps help?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
22 September 2006
Tequila!

Danny Flores, saxman for the Champs who wrote the humongous 1958 hit "Tequila," died in Orange County, California this week at 77.

Flores, credited as "Chuck Rio," also contributed the vocal — all one word of it. "Tequila" is arguably the most popular rock instrumental of all time, with sales over six million worldwide. Flores left the band shortly thereafter; the Champs went on to chart eight singles, including "Too Much Tequila" (by guitarist Dave Burgess) and a B-side called "Tequila Twist," on which Jim Seals (later of Seals and Crofts) did the sax work. (Dash Crofts was also a latter-day Champ.)

A family friend said that they would indeed play "Tequila" at Flores' funeral, which seems only right.

Update, 24 September: Terry reports: "'Tequila' has been banned from high school pep band repertoires here since 1998. That old zero-tolerance thing, doncha know." Sheesh.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:51 PM)
30 September 2006
Way beyond compare

Number 3, Abbey Road, St John's Wood was originally a 16-room Georgian townhouse; EMI bought it in 1929 and spent two years turning it into a recording studio. By the time George Martin arrived in 1950, doing mostly comedy records for EMI's Parlophone label, it was already well established. But the Beatles, with Martin at the helm, made it a household word, enough to spur EMI to change the name of the facility officially to Abbey Road Studios.

If, like me, you bought everything the Beatles put out and wondered just how the hell they did it, bits and pieces of the story have been coming out for years, and some of the unreleased tapes surfaced on Anthology. But what I wanted was a frighteningly-detailed look at the band's modus operandi and how it intersected with Martin's own ideas on record production.

And now I'll get it. Recording the Beatles: The Studio Equipment and Techniques Used to Create Their Classic Albums, by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew, is out now, and it promises "a detailed look at every piece of studio gear used, full explanations of effects and recording processes, and an inside look at how specific songs were recorded." For someone like me who suspects that the Beatles would never have become icons of an age were it not for whatever alchemy was going on at Number 3, this book promises to be somewhere between guidebook and grimoire. At $100, it's pricey, but the best reference works always are, and as Paul used to say, money can't buy me love. (And yes, I know: the basic tracks for "Can't Buy Me Love" were laid down, not at Number 3, but at EMI's Pathé Marconi facility in Paris.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 PM)
4 October 2006
Crank it loud when I'm gone, Sean

Crank it loud when I'm gone:

The Research for the Bereavement Register poll found these to be the songs most frequently requested for funerals in Britain:
  1. Goodbye My Lover - James Blunt
  2. Angels - Robbie Williams
  3. I've Had The Time Of My Life - Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley
  4. Wind Beneath My Wings - Bette Midler
  5. Pie Jesu - Requiem
  6. Candle In The Wind - Elton John
  7. With Or Without You - U2
  8. Tears In Heaven - Eric Clapton
  9. Every Breath You Take - The Police
  10. Unchained Melody - Righteous Brothers
  11. Danny Boy [traditional]

"Every Breath You Take"? Seriously? Has anyone ever actually listened to this song? Sting supposedly once said it was a metaphor for government surveillance, and I want dead family members watching me about as much as I want Alberto Gonzales watching me, which is to say Not Much.

Inasmuch as I am aging at an appalling rate — one whole year every twelve months or so — it's probably time for me to pick out a playlist to celebrate my own demise. I think it ought to have things like this:

  • (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - The Rolling Stones
  • Mystery Train - Elvis Presley
  • 7 Rooms of Gloom - Four Tops
  • No More Mr. Nice Guy - Alice Cooper
  • When I'm Gone - Brenda Holloway

And I'd be much obliged if someone dug up Nat "King" Cole's "That Sunday, That Summer." It bears no actual resemblance to life as I know it — but oh, how I wish it did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 PM)
8 October 2006
Audio pr0n

In the 1960s and 1970s, audio manufacturers played games with specifications, because they perceived that what hi-fi buyers of the time wanted was Really Good Numbers. Eventually the FTC stuck its beak into the proceedings and decreed a standard for power output: that "280-watt" amplifier would become "42 watts RMS per channel, all channels driven, 20-20,000 Hz, ± 2 dB, 0.5% THD, 8 ohms." As with other Federally-approved numbers — cf. "EPA city mileage" — this tells you some things and doesn't tell you others. This particular amp sits in my living room. If I fed it nothing but sine waves, I'd presumably get exactly the numbers the Feds ordered. Music, however, isn't continuous tones: it's peaks and valleys. And for very brief peaks, the box might actually deliver more than 42 watts: as much as 70, in fact. Given that this is a four-channel amplifier, you can multiply 70 x 4 and suddenly there's that "280" rating. But that rating, too, conceals a lot: mostly, that the difference between 70 watts and 42 watts is only about 1.66 dB. And none of those numbers will tell you what you really want to know, which is "How does it sound?"

Back then, there were two markets for sound equipment: hi-fi and lo-fi. Today there are three: Real Crap, Average Crap, and Hideously Expensive But Good. A catalog from a dealer catering to the latter arrived this past week, and its cover photo tells the story: a rack of gear that cost as much as my house, off to the side a tube-powered amplifier, and seated off to the right, a fashion model, presumably expensively dressed, her expression suitably dreamy. I'd hazard a guess that guys who blow $100k on audio gear probably might not date a lot, but not being a member of this class, I could be wrong, and besides, the young lady is quite lovely, which tends to mess with my capacity to rationalize.

And I have to admit, I like the idea of a $13,000 turntable. (Tonearm sold separately.) At the very least, it hews to the idea that the closer you get to Utter Perfection, which of course is denied us mere mortals, the faster the price goes up, a characteristic found in most other activities as well. Most of those dollars seem to have gone into making sure that no stray vibrations of any sort find their way to the stylus and thus into your speakers, a laudable goal. But still: thirteen thousand dollars? I paid $12,400 for a car this past summer. (Don't ask me about its alleged "200-watt" audio system.)

I must disclose here that some of the accessories in this catalog are items I actually own, and there are a couple of them I could see adding to the arsenal, had I a few zillion dollars to spare; this gizmo, for instance, actually de-warps records, assuming you haven't done something foolish like leave them in the sun. And that amplifier of mine is now thirty-one years old, ready for banishment to the dreaded Auxiliary System. I doubt, however, that I'm going to put out five or six digits for new sound equipment: contemporary CDs are mastered for Maximum Loud, and the hell with dynamic range; most of my other new acquisitions are MP3s and/or AACs, which are compressed anyway; and how much good will the finest equipment do for a scratchy old 45? (Dave Marsh once said that the sound of Gary "U.S." Bonds' "Quarter to Three" possessed "peculiar unity": "I've played it on stereo systems ranging from $49.95 to $10,000, and the equipment makes no difference.") Of course, should someone discover that high-end audio does in fact enhance one's ability to lure beautiful women in short black dresses into one's home, I'll grit my teeth and write the check.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
Fox detox

I think the last year I followed the pop charts to any great extent was 1986, after which I decided that I really didn't care anymore. And I don't think it was my age, which was thirty-three, so much as the sheer boredom that oozed out of pop radio back then. The ooze has since been supplemented by waste, sometimes toxic, which hasn't exactly encouraged me to come back to the dial; I haven't had a real Favorite Single of the Year since Alanis' "You Oughta Know", which wasn't even released as a single at first.

I still haven't gone back to the radio, but them thar Intarwebs have made finding music a lot more interesting, and I've even got a possible Favorite Single for this year, and it hasn't even been released yet: "Rehab," a glorious Sixties-soul tune by Amy Winehouse, who wasn't even thought of in the 1960s. (She's only twenty-three.) For now, presumably until someone finds out it's there, you can see and hear it on YouTube. I give this one an easy 90; as reworked Sixties soul goes, this might be the best I've heard since Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer," which came out in (yes!) 1986.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:01 PM)
13 October 2006
I wonder if you still remember

Someone, I forget the name, once said that the essence of rock and roll was "happy songs about sad things," and I filed that away with "jumbo shrimp" and all the other oxymoronic things I'd heard — until the day I realized that those premises weren't contradictory at all.

Exhibit A: The Moody Blues, "Your Wildest Dreams," 1986. Full of bright synth bits, decidedly upbeat, and a major downer:

It's possible that "Your Wildest Dreams" isn't really the saddest song ever written, but man. The entire song is based on him remembering, "once upon a time, once when you were mine," and he never really fills in specifics. Just that he is currently wondering where she is and wondering if she thinks about him. It's very vague and that makes it worse because that makes it universal. You can fill in the blanks any way you like. You don't know why he is wistful and wondering but when his voice cracks on the second line of the song you know you are in for a song that presses down on you.

That second line, of course, is "once when you were mine."

The answer to this, oddly, had come out seven years earlier: the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes," arguably the best thing either Michael McDonald or Kenny Loggins ever had anything to do with. And bouncy and upbeat as it is, the answer is no, she never gives him a second thought:

He came from somewhere back in her long ago
The sentimental fool don't see
Tryin' hard to recreate what had yet to be created
Once in her life
She musters a smile
For his nostalgic tale
Never coming near what he wanted to say
Only to realize it never really was

Still makes me think twice, even today.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
23 October 2006
Please let me wonder

The lovely and talented Dawn Eden dropped this bombshell on me today:

Via my friend Michael Lynch (nanker.podomatic.com):

Put your Robin Ward "Wonderful Summer" 45 on your turntable — I know you have one — but set the speed to 33 rpm and put the needle down.

You will hear the voice of Brian Wilson.

It is really unbelievable. The whole arrangement sounds like The Beach Boys Today!

I looked askance at this, but duly fished the 45 out of the shelf and moved the speed lever over, and by gum, it's true: I'm half-tempted to pass this off to someone as a Pet Sounds outtake.

If you're looking askance at this, here's the last half of the song, picking up at the bridge.

And here's the kicker: Ward (real name Jackie; "Robin" was her daughter's name) was obviously too old to be singing about teenage romance, so the producers (Perry Botkin, Jr. and Gil Garfield, who also wrote it) sped up the tape and released the faster version, going for a "younger" sound. Obviously they didn't speed it up to the extent that I slowed it down, but stuff like this really makes you wonder, and if this disc didn't say "9-63" right there on the label — a lot of Dot 45s include the release date in small print — well, let's not go there.

Thank you, Michael, and thank you, Dawn.

Addendum: "Wonderful Summer" at the correct speed, while it lasts, at YouTube.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:03 PM)
26 October 2006
Life after iPod

Poppy Mom loves her iPod, up to a point:

I love that I have the ability to carry 8794 songs in my pocket at all times. Actually, I can carry more than that; that just happens to be the number of songs on my iPod. I love that, when my plane hit turbulence on Thursday night, I could immediately zip to whatever song I wanted to be the last song I heard during my mortal existence. Funny that the song that was playing suited me just fine.

But (isn't there always a "but"?):

[W]hile the iPod is a wonderful, perfect little chunk of technolgical glory, it does have its problems, and not just technical ones. It's changing the way we listen to music, and I'm not 100% crazy about this.

All my life, I've found ways to keep up with my perpetual music jones. Now that the most perfect device for music transporation is in my possession, I've got some problems.

I miss hanging around with my friends, waiting for that perfect song to come on the radio or MTV. I've become spoiled, and just like any other spoiling scenario, the wealth of goods in my possession sometimes leaves a bit of a hole in my soul.

I haven't made a mix CD in well over six months. In other words, I haven't made a mix CD in the time since I bought my iPod. Mixes used to be one of my great creative outlets, and I've let it go. Why spend a few hours making a mix when I can just put it on Shuffle and let the machine do it for me?

I've also gotten woefully behind on discovering new music. Why go to the effort of getting to know a new song, new album, new artist when I can listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for the fifth time this week?

I'm still doing mixes, but I can see the rest of this somewhere in my own future. After all, the turntable is in a different room from the computer, and it's not like I can just click on a vinyl LP and expect a favored track to start.

Perhaps I should consider this a warning?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:34 PM)
3 November 2006
Look out, kid, it's something you did

Zimmerman wasn't exactly wroth, but he was definitely perplexed. He didn't mind so much when somebody called "Bobby the Poet" put out a Hardly-Worthit version of "Positively White Christmas" or something like that, and he admitted to a guffaw or two when that Weird Al guy ran backwards and forwards at the same time. In the same song, yet.

But he didn't quite know what to make of Chastity Rome-Sick Blues. Okay, the girl was way cute, if a tad fumble-fingered, and she looked the part. (Johanna? Forget those visions.) Besides, whoever heard of a music video made to promote a book? He shook his head in amazement and pressed the Watch Again button. "Funny," he finally said. "And it beats the hell out of watching parking meters."

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
4 November 2006
Sad songs say so much

Venomous Kate is looking for the 50 Most Depressing Songs, apparently to inspire her upcoming novel. Please feel free to make recommendations to her.

I suggested Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," which is a world-class downer, but I didn't mention this: at one time the song contained a spoken-word intro which was perhaps intended to set the mood, but which didn't make it into the version released to the general public. After listening to it, I don't miss it at all:

A world filled with love is a wonderful sight
Being in love is one's heart's delight
But that look of love isn't on my face
That enchanted feeling has been replaced

Somebody, maybe Berry Gordy himself, heard that and thought it was just too much.

This isn't quite an isolated incident: right before the last verse of the Shangri-Las' heartrending "I Can Never Go Home Anymore," at about the 2:30 point, Mary Weiss originally half-cried, half-whispered, "Listen, I'm not finished." The line was mixed out of the 45 and wasn't heard again for decades. (And this, too, is a Depressing Song, what with mother dying and runaway daughter contrite.)

Still, if we want Serious Discomfort in a pop tune, we call upon King Crimson, which in its first two albums was wont to work up implausible titles like "'Epitaph' including 'March for No Reason' and 'Tomorrow and Tomorrow'," from which we extract this example of finely-crafted angst:

The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
As silence drowns the screams

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying

This might be laughable were it not so perfectly orchestrated: the song (which runs over eight and a half minutes, with only one more verse and a repeat of the verse/chorus above) is carefully calculated to resonate against your last nerve, making seemingly-adolescent rubbish into a true Tale of Terror.

(Lyricist Pete Sinfield, incidentally, is responsible for the unofficial name of my workplace, but that's another tale of terror story.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:45 PM)
5 November 2006
Our world is blue

Paul Mauriat, the orchestra leader whose 1968 recording of "Love Is Blue" is, to these ears, the second-best French instrumental ever, has died in Perpignan, in southern France near the Spanish border.

Born in Marseille in 1925, Mauriat led his own band during the 1940s, subsequently working with Charles Aznavour and honing his own reputation as a classical pianist. Maintenance of that reputation perhaps led him to release his pop records, starting in 1957, under various pseudonyms; in 1962, as "Del Roma," he got his first hit as a composer, cowriting (with Franck Pourcel and lyricist Jacques Plante) "Chariot," a massive hit for Petula Clark. (The next year, an English-language version was a smash in the US for Little Peggy March, under the title "I Will Follow Him.")

You might figure from that particular example that Mauriat was an exponent of strong melodies, and let the words come in where they will, and you'd be correct. Pierre Cour's lyrics to "L'Amour est Bleu," first sung by Vicky Leandros at the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest — it placed fourth — were clearly secondary to André Popp's music, and when Mauriat recorded it in 1968, he cast it as a sort of neo-Baroque string piece with harpsichord accents. It sold zillions on the Continent and (as Philips 40495) made #1 in the States, the fifth-biggest instrumental, as Casey Kasem says, of the Rock Era. I'm on my third copy of the single.

Starting with Blooming Hits, the LP containing "Love Is Blue," the next few Mauriat album covers, at least in the US, could be described as Blatantly Sexy, peaking with the late-'68 Mauriat Magic, which produced two minor singles: "Même si tu revenais," otherwise known as "Love in Every Room," and a version of John Phillips' "San Francisco," which you remember with Scott McKenzie advising you to wear some flowers in your hair.

Mauriat also built a name for himself in the Far East, signing with the Japanese Pony Canyon label in 1994 and touring in Japan as late as 1998. His orchestra, still bearing his name, continues to perform. "Love Is Blue," to my knowledge, has never gone out of print, and Blooming Hits was just reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music.

And that first-best French instrumental? Right here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 AM)
18 November 2006
Bring on the Bringers

Trini and I were talking about Gustav Holst's infamous suite The Planets yesterday — apparently she'd played about three-sevenths of it in band, back in the day — and last night, rummaging through a box of tapes, I found a Deutsche Grammophon cassette, circa 1981, with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic.

And it was perfectly dreadful: Karajan's tempi struck me as either too fast or too slow, the orchestra sounded disconnected, and DG's recording, though identified as "digital," was below par. For a moment, I wondered if maybe I'd overestimated this piece all these years.

So today I went back to my record rack, where I turned up a 1967 LP by Sir Adrian Boult (Angel S 36420, for those keeping score) with the New Philharmonia, and I remembered why I'd been so fond of The Planets when first I'd heard it in the early Seventies. Boult recorded the suite five times, if I remember correctly, and this was his fourth; in the 1990s, when I looked for it on CD, what I usually found was his 1978 recording (when Sir Adrian was 90 years old), which had slightly better sonics but ultimately less impact.

It occurs to me that this would be a nice workout for Gwendolyn's vaunted Bose stereo, which does seem to be more impressive with classical music than with pop-rock stuff, so I'm wondering if there might be even better recordings of The Planets out there. I am not considering any post-2000 recording which incorporates Colin Matthews' add-on eighth movement ("Pluto: The Renewer"), not because of any particular animus toward Pluto, which I think got screwed out of its planetary status, but because I think Holst's original "Neptune" ending, with the instruments fading and the choir diminuendo, is just about perfect as is.

Of course, should EMI choose to reissue the 1967 Boult, the decision is made. (And yes, I could rip my original LP, and it would sound fairly decent, occasional crackles notwithstanding, but given the amount of time it takes me to do a really good vinyl rip, even a full-price CD starts to look pretty darn inexpensive.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:54 PM)
21 November 2006
There's no base like chrome

While I was digging around in the archives for that Karajan version of The Planets, I happened upon an unsolicited mix tape I had done for someone back in 2001 but never actually got around to sending out.

There was a completed J-card in the box, identifying it as one of mine; I figured it had been played once, for quality-control purposes, then stuck away on a shelf, from which it was swept into a box, packed away, and completely forgotten.

I resolved not to read the track listings on the card, and schlepped the tape out to the car, where it's being played during the daily commute this week. After hearing about half of it so far, I have to tell you, I made some pretty damned good mix tapes in those days, and this one, on a good Type II tape with 70µs equalization and Dolby B, clearly lived up to my standards.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
25 November 2006
Shannon Thomas needs a drummer

That's what it says on her MySpace Music page.

One thing she has in abundance, though, is perspective. I found this on her MySpace blog:

Here's the kind of stuff I'm constantly hearing:
  1. "Why did my favorite band have to get so popular & successful?!?! Waaahhhh!"

  2. "I don't like her 'pop' songs - I really only like her 'dark' tracks." (aka: Ew! Pop - EW!!!)

  3. "I can't believe (whatever artist) is working with (whatever popular producer who is known for their hits)! That must mean they're selling out."

  4. "(Insert any hit song here) is my guilty pleasure."

PEOPLE!! What are you guilty of?? Enjoying yourself?

You should know that it's totally possible to write a song that's meaningful AND catchy. In my opinion, that's what makes a song GREAT!

I should point out here that I didn't see this until after I'd bought Shannon's self-released CD Brainstorms, which contains 11 songs that are at least slightly meaningful and definitely catchy. And she would have won me over just from the chorus of "Don't Be Beautiful":

And since I can't have you, don't be beautiful
And if I can't love you, don't be so right
And if I can't see you, don't be beautiful, no
Please don't haunt me if I can't hide

It probably doesn't help her cause that she lives "a drama-free, abnormally normal life," which is seriously déclassé these days: a surprisingly-large number of people seem to crave All Angst, All The Time. Not I. Shannon Thomas is way young — I probably have dinnerware older than she is — but she's made a fan of me.

(Oh, and on Brainstorms, the sticks — and the other instrumentation, except for Shannon's piano — are wielded by John Conrad of Self-Titled Entertainment in Tulsa. And Conrad plays a pretty good drum, even if it's digital.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:26 PM)
29 November 2006
The Bringers are brung

From earlier this month, regarding Gustav Holst's suite The Planets:

[S]hould EMI choose to reissue the 1967 Boult, the decision is made.

Trini poked around the Web for a while, then pointed me to a vendor offering a discontinued 1998 EMI disc (66934) which contained Holst's Egdon Heath and his ballet from The Perfect Fool, conducted by Previn — and a complete Boult Planets. The 1967 Boult Planets. Link was sent, Visa was proffered, disc was shipped.

When I opened up the bag yesterday, I stared at it in disbelief: it's not the Holy Grail, exactly, but what do you say when what you've always wanted suddenly shows up out of the blue?

Besides that, I mean.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:17 AM)
30 November 2006
Shot out of a Canon

In 1979, the Musical Heritage Society (remember them?), then at 1991 Broadway in New York, issued an LP (MHS 1060, licensed from the French label Erato) with not one, but three, pieces by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706).

I bring this up because while I have to agree with Rob Pavonian's premise here, I'm not quite sure the "one-hit wonder" tag is appropriate, since there are plenty of recordings of Pachelbel's Musicalische Ergötzung out there.

Then again, I preferred Zager and Evans' "Mr. Turnkey" to "In the Year 2525," so have your grains of salt handy.

(Via I See Invisible People.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:15 PM)
3 December 2006
He just keeps movin'

When I was ten years old, one of the most compelling records I'd ever heard jumped onto the radio and demanded my attention. Matt Lucas, a name I hadn't heard before, had taken a song I had heard before — "I'm Movin' On," by the country legend Hank Snow — and turned it into a wild rockabilly jump which, I said, many years later, "simulated the song's railroad train at least as successfully as, say, Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231."

Lucas eventually found that quote on the Web, perhaps found it amusing, and over the next couple of years, let me in on what he was up to. Most recently, it was cutting a bunch of tracks in Chicago with a solid backing band and some genuine legends, including guitarist James Burton and harpist Charlie Musselwhite. Lucas says there's enough stuff in the can for a second CD, so I figure if I want to hear it, I should encourage sales of the first, issued by Ten-O-Nine Records as Back in the Saddle Again.

Which is no problem for me, since it's a damned fine album. Starting — well, actually, finishing — with that Gene Autry chestnut, Lucas has put out a sterling example of what the pigeonholers insist on calling "roots" music, some of it country, some of it blues, some of it pop, and all of it performed with verve. Lucas is past 70 now, but he can still belt out a tune, and it's no surprise: after all, he's been doing this sort of thing for fifty years or so. Some of the delights: Lucas' own update of his 1963 hit, now called "Still Movin' On"; the bluesy take on Jimmy Reed's "Little Rain"; Burton's gritty guitar on "Little Sister," the Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman Elvis hit from way back when, and solo on Ike Turner's "Cuban Getaway"; the shuffle that turns out to be "Sheik of Araby". (Don't laugh. Even the Beatles did this one, in their audition for Decca Records before their eventual signing to EMI/Parlophone.)

I did miss hearing Matt on the drums, but he says the session engineer wasn't quite prepared for a drummer who also sings. Not to worry: Jon Hiller knows his way around this stuff. The production is clean without being sterile, and the energy never flags. Pour yourself a cold one, then pop Back in the Saddle Again into your CD player. I bet even your beer will taste better.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:53 AM)
4 December 2006
Starting with 1 would simply not do

Nowadays it's all bar-coded, but in the days of wine and vinyl, records were catalogued with numbers that sometimes made sense and sometimes didn't. In fact, I once vowed that if I ever owned a record label, I would number its releases according to the Fibonacci series, a notion I abandoned when it became obvious that the second release, like the first, would be #1, and the third would perforce be #2. Besides, avoiding giving a record the number 1 was a standard practice, if only because it was a dead giveaway to the guy at the radio station who might or might not play your record that your label was brand-new and therefore the chances of your having a hit were fairly minimal.

Some curiosities I've noticed over the years:

  • Dave Marsh once noted that the Crows' 1953 R&B classic "Gee" was the second single (following Vola Watkins' "Seven Lonely Days") on George Goldner's Rama label, and indeed I've been able to find no earlier releases on the label, which had only just begun operations. "Gee" was released as Rama 5.

  • One thing Marsh was definitely wrong about was Musicor, which, he said, was started by Aaron Schroeder to release Gene Pitney's one-man demo "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away," issued as Musicor 1002. There was a 1001: the novelty record "Sick Manny's Gym," credited to "Leo DeLyon and the Musclemen." DeLyon, I'm guessing, is the same guy who did zillions of animation voiceovers.

  • According to legend, Berry Gordy started the Tamla series with 54024, in an homage of sorts to his first hit as a producer: Jackie Wilson's "Reet Petite," which was issued as Brunswick 55024. I have some doubts about this, since two different records have been reported to be Tamla 54024 — which, for Motown, wasn't that unusual an incident — and Gordy's first independent production, Marv Johnson's "Come to Me," which he licensed to United Artists, was initially pressed as Tamla 101. Further, Barrett Strong's pre-"Money" "Let's Rock" came out as Tamla 54022.

  • Some co-owned labels combined their numbers: Smash and Fontana through 1964 or so; London and Parrot around 1962-1965; all the Motown labels starting in 1982.

  • Stereo LPs presented all sorts of inventory issues. The simplest approach was taken by Capitol and RCA Victor: they changed a letter prefix. Some labels, like Elektra and Decca, prefixed a digit, usually 7. Columbia's pop series wound up as CL-[number] mono and CS-[number plus 6800] stereo. London and Liberty had entirely separate numbering sequences for mono and stereo, but eventually found it simpler to bring them into alignment. (Example: Mantovani's 1962 Moon River and Other Great Film Themes was issued on London as LL 3261/PS 249; the next Mantovani LP, Classical Encores, was LL 3269/PS 269.)

  • In 1982, the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic group began numbering their singles backwards. Fleetwood Mac's "Hold Me" was issued as Warner Bros. 29966; the next single issued from Mirage was "Gypsy," which came out as WB 29918. By mid-1985 they were down into the 28000s. The rationale for this was to make sure that when regular catalog lists came out, the newest stuff would be at the top. Really.

I, of course, have learned my lessons well. The next CD I grind out on my personal custom imprint will be 111129-2; it is the seventy-ninth disc in the sequence.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
9 December 2006
And I will give to you summer wine

Lee Hazlewood is dying, and that somehow seems wrong: it's like he's been here forever. Certainly that voice of his, instantly recognizable yet utterly mysterious, must have originated somewhere in the eternal. Even people who weren't Lee Hazlewood, which is to say everyone, somehow managed to sound like Lee Hazlewood when they did his songs (cf. Sanford Clark's "The Fool," penned by Hazlewood under the nom de disque "Naomi Ford").

This much you and I know: Hazlewood teamed up with Nancy Sinatra in the middle Sixties and wrote "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," a song so full of attitude not even Jessica Simpson could screw it up. The Nancy and Lee duets are legendary, especially the folk-psych "Some Velvet Morning", which continues to defy explanation — until you note that Hazlewood has a granddaughter named Phaedra. "And how she gave me life," indeed. Then again, Phaedra was born in 1998, thirty years after "Some Velvet Morning."

(Aside: One song that turns up on the soundtrack to Allison Anders' 1996 Brill Building exegesis Grace of My Heart is "Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder," a lovely duet by Tiffany Anders and Boyd Rice which evokes the dark shimmer of "Some Velvet Morning" as few other recordings have, or can.)

Hazlewood's Sixties solo albums range from collectible to just this side of the Holy Grail; some of them are finally finding their way onto CD. And his presumed last album is titled Cake or Death. Only Lee Hazlewood could capture the human condition in thirteen characters — including spaces.

(Via Donna, who once asked me if I had a copy of the Sinatra/Hazlewood duet "Sand." I did.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
11 December 2006
No substitutions

Over at Mystic Chords, John Salmon links to a YouTube video of Alison Balsom performing Paganini's Caprice No. 24.

Balsom plays trumpet, not violin, so Salmon offers this caveat:

[F]or those who are pissed off when pieces are transcribed for instruments different from the ones they were originally written for, you needn't listen.

I'm sure such people exist, but I am not one of them. In fact, I've heard this Caprice on piano and guitar — here's a guitar version — and I assume I'd enjoy hearing it on any instrument with comparable range.

Then again, range (I'm guessing) may be the issue for some people, since transcriptions are often in a key different from the original. If you generally dislike transcriptions, I'd like to hear why.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
13 December 2006
These tunes are downright Qwerty

"Hip-Hop Is Dead," says Nas, but there will always be rhythm, and for a while, anyway, there will be the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, which plays music sorta like Leroy Anderson but without all those pesky traditional musical instruments in the background.

Having paid some dues in my time as a typist and occasional 10-key operator, I can understand the urge to produce some serious syncopations from the Smith-Coronas, undulations from the Underwoods, rhythmic rolls from Remington Rands, and that's what BTO (not to be confused with other musical operations with similar initials) does. There's even a CD, The Revolution Will Be Typewritten.

Me, I learned on one of these, though I never did seem to display any real talent.

(Via Rocketboom [video clip])

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 AM)
14 December 2006
The electric, eclectic Turk

In 1936, Turkish nationals were directed to choose surnames, one of Atatürk's ideas. Munir, who had been an aide to Atatürk, selected the name "Ertegun," which translates roughly as "living hopefully."

When Munir Ertegun, then the Turkish ambassador to the US, died in 1944, his sons Nesuhi and Ahmet, then in their twenties (Nesuhi was about six years older) opted to remain in the States; Nesuhi and his wife stayed on the West Coast, while Ahmet went to graduate school and sold records at retail on the side.

Eventually the younger Ertegun wanted to get into the business for himself, and after a false start, he, dental student Herb Abramson, and dentist Dr Vahdi Sabit incorporated as Atlantic Records in the fall of 1947. With a strike by the musicians' union looming, the nascent label recorded dozens of sides, though nothing clicked until Stick McGhee's remake of his "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" in the spring of 1949.

Independent labels were perpetually improvident, and Atlantic was no exception. For Big Joe Turner's 1954 recording of Jesse Stone's immortal "Shake, Rattle and Roll," there were no background singers hired; Stone, Ertegun, and newly-installed producer (and partner) Jerry Wexler sang the parts themselves.

Still, the label kept rolling on, and in 1956 Ahmet's brother Nesuhi was brought into the fold; it was Nesuhi who scouted for talent out west, and who built up Atlantic's jazz department. The next year, the Erteguns and Wexler bought out Abramson, his ex-wife Miriam, who had been the label's vice-president, and Dr Sabit. All these things cost money, and by 1958 Atlantic and its sister label Atco (née "Atlas") were just about out of it. What saved them, according to Jerry Wexler, was a pair of simultaneous hits: the Coasters' "Yakety Yak" and Bobby Darin's "Splish Splash," two records with consecutive catalog numbers and titles that sounded onomatopoeic and nothing else in common.

Then in 1967, Seven Arts, which had just acquired Warner Bros., bought out Atlantic. Sensibly, the new owners opted to leave Ertegun and Wexler alone; two years later, Kinney National, later renamed Warner Communications, bought both labels and followed with a third: Elektra. It would be more than a decade before the corporate suits started messing with the individual labels, but by then Ertegun had a bigger idea: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which he founded in 1986 — and into which he was himself inducted as a "non-performer" the following year.

In October of 2006, Ahmet Ertegun took a spill at a Rolling Stones concert; while it looked like he would recover, he took a turn for the worse, slipped into a coma, and today he died.

I have no idea how many records I have that Ahmet Ertegun recorded, wrote, supervised, inspired, or had anything else to do with, but there's no doubt in my mind that he was one of the first great record men.

And, as it would turn out, one of the last.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
20 December 2006
The Big 93 Jocks are on the move

Radio Use Only is dedicated to LP records issued by radio stations, usually a collection of whatever recent hits could be licensed, with photos of the DJs or other local angle. I actually have a couple of these, and I've got one I need to scan and write up, from right across town at WKY.

No, you can't buy any of them — at least, not from her.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:51 AM)
And so it was that later

Last year, original Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher filed suit for a share of the royalties for the 1967 Procol hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale," arguing that he had developed the tune's distinctive organ line and was entitled to be listed as one of the composers, alongside Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid.

A British court has now found in favor of Fisher, and awarded him a 40-percent share of the take, which is less than Fisher had asked for, but consistent with the judge's finding that his "contribution to the overall work was on any view substantial but not, in my judgment, as substantial as that of Mr. Brooker."

Brooker, who will appeal, called the decision "a darker shade of black," and announced: "It is effectively open season on the songwriter."

Fisher, who left Procol after their third album, A Salty Dog, will not be awarded back royalties from any time before the actual filing of the suit in May 2005.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:45 PM)
21 December 2006
Hold on, they're coming

Stax Records.

Just saying the name takes you back to Memphis, with Booker T., and Otis, and Sam and Dave, and Isaac, and — well, yeah, there were issues.

Shortly after the death of Otis Redding, Stax's distribution deal with Atlantic came up for renewal, but there was a snag: the previous distribution deal was truly heinous, in that Atlantic wound up owning the entire Stax catalog up to that point. Rather than re-sign, Stax allowed itself to be acquired by the Gulf+Western conglomerate. This was the spring of 1968, and after a slow couple of years, original owner Jim Stewart and peripatetic label exec Al Bell bought Stax back and began producing serious hits again.

In 1972, Bell negotiated a distribution deal with Clive Davis of CBS and bought out Jim Stewart. Shortly thereafter, anomalies were found in the distribution chain, Davis was sacked by CBS, and by 1975 Stax was having trouble meeting payroll. The next chapter was Chapter 7: the remains of the label were sold off to Saul Zaentz' Fantasy label in 1976.

And that's where things stood for the next thirty years. Stax catalog product was still to be had, from Atlantic or Fantasy, but the old studio in Memphis was torn down in 1989, and no new recordings were coming out.

Then in 2004, the jazz label Concord Music bought out Fantasy and with it, Stax; Concord is now ready to relaunch Stax as a working R&B label. Among the first signings for the new Stax were soul singer Angie Stone, who will contribute to the first release, a tribute to Maurice White, and the legendary Isaac Hayes, one of the mainstays of the early-Seventies Stax. A 50th-anniversary box set is promised, so get your MasterCards ready.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:13 AM)
22 December 2006
Traditions mostly honored

"The Old Songs" begins this way: "O, you may moan with plaintive tone / Your gormless modern tune / But I will roar along the shore / Beneath a blood-red moon."

Having tried for many years to maintain my supply of gorm, I figured I couldn't pass up the Pratie Heads' reunion CD Rag Faire (Skylark SKY 3002), and it might well be due to this bit from a newspaper clipping reproduced on their Web site:

One thing [Jane] Peppler and [Bob] Vasile shared was a disdain for self-conscious "authenticity." When you're playing music 300 years old, Peppler once pointed out, there's no way to tell if you're authentic or not, anyway.

That darned old oral tradition, always shifting things ever so slightly with each repetition; and it's not like you're going to find original performances on some long-buried YeTube clip. And I say this as someone who once bought a bunch of Mozart keyboard pieces played on an oldfangled fortepiano.

Rag Faire is almost named for one of the tracks on the disc. ("The Rag Fair was like a flea market, and took place in the Jewish quarter in 18th century London. We had to put an "e" on Rag Faire for Googling purposes.") Not to worry: it's a silent "e." And more to the point, this is an hour's worth of rollicking good fun, and if it doesn't sound like it was frozen in amber in 1706, it doesn't sound like much of anything else you're likely to hear this year. Minimalistic yet ornate, simple yet devilishly complex, these are songs that, as they used to say of a good breakfast, stick to your ribs. Try to play them early in the morning — and then try to get them out of your head the rest of the day.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:44 AM)
23 December 2006
It is, after all, that time of year

About three hundred radio stations nationwide have adopted temporary Christmas-music formats, and it's really not hard to understand why: it's different from the Same Old Stuff they put out 11/12ths of the time, and the playlists don't seem quite so restricted. Everybody and his elf has put out some sort of Christmas record — the Beatles recorded special seasonal stuff for their fan club — and while the hardy perennials still command their share of airplay, there's something new every year. Some acts seem to aim directly at the Christmas market. (I am, in fact, typing this while listening to the first Trans-Siberian Orchestra disc, Christmas Eve & Other Stories; thank you, Aero.)

That said, though, can we issue a fatwa against José Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad"? I don't object at all to Spanish-language Christmas songs, but why is it always this one? Whoever is running the database for these things — oh, come now, everyone knows that computers program radio these days — needs to do some homework in the off-season.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:49 AM)
24 December 2006
There's always one song that gets you

Artie Wayne has been in the music biz for close to 50 years, mostly as a producer and A&R guy, though he wrote a few tunes along the way: he's responsible for Joey Powers' 1963 hit "Midnight Mary," and he and Ben Raleigh wrote "4,003,221 Tears from Now," an Australian hit for Judy Stone that somehow found its way to my listening post.

In 1995, Wayne was ill, and wound up in USC Medical Center:

It's a policy of most hospitals to send as many patients home for the holidays to be with their family and friends. Soon, I was the only one left in the ward, since I had nowhere else to go. One lonely night, as I sat feeling sorry for myself, I heard a group down the hall, singing Christmas carols. I followed the voices to the the children's ward ... where I heard the joyous sounds of "Jingle Bells". It was the Salvation Army, passing out toys and candy, and singing to the kids, who were confined to their beds. I joined in on "Silent Night", "Jingle Bell Rock", and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", but when they started singing "White Christmas"… tears started running down my face, and I had to sit in another room to compose myself. This song, written by Irving Berlin, always brings back memories of family and friends in a snow covered New York City … flooding me with emotions.

Sometimes, though, it takes some serious emotions to recalibrate one's songwriting chops. Wayne dashed off a lyric that night; years later, he found the words, showed them to long-time friend Toni Wine, and this was the result: "I Lose It When I Hear 'White Christmas'."

Extra Muse points: Toni Wine's piano used to be Irving Berlin's piano.

And if there's one song that always gets you, now's the time to admit it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:20 AM)
25 December 2006
He's not too fancy, but his line is pretty clean

The hardest-working man in show business has gone to his eternal rest: James Brown died this morning of pneumonia at Atlanta's Emory Crawford Long Hospital. He was 73.

Legend has it that King Records owner Syd Nathan, hearing Brown and his Famous Flames working up "Please, Please, Please" back in 1956, demanded that the tape recorder be stopped, then informed producer Ralph Bass that the song was a bunch of crap. Only he didn't say bunch. Or crap.

Bass finished up the record anyway; Nathan reportedly fired him for insubordination. Brown and his managers eventually persuaded Nathan to issue the track, though it came out on the subsidiary Federal label (as #12258) rather than on King. "Please, Please, Please" eventually moved about a million copies and even hovered just under the bottom of the pop chart; Bass got an apology from Nathan and his job back, though three years later he left King to work for the Chess brothers in Chicago.

The relationship between Brown and Nathan would always be prickly. Brown's live shows were legendary, and he wanted to put out an album recorded at one of those shows. Nathan had never heard of such a thing, didn't see any money in it, and turned him down. Brown kept asking; Nathan kept refusing. Finally, in 1962, Nathan relented to this extent: he would put out the LP if Brown paid for the recording expenses. Brown anted up $5700 and cut an October live show from the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Nathan didn't like it; it was finally released in January 1963, and promptly sold in seven figures, hitting #2 on Billboard's album chart.

I have to believe that had Syd Nathan stuck to his guns, the album would still have eventually come out. Two years earlier, Nathan had balked at recording Brown's new backup group; shortly thereafter, down in Miami, Henry Stone cut a track with Brown called "(Do The) Mashed Potatoes." Stone decided that maybe it was not a good idea to risk the wrath of Syd Nathan, and scraped Brown's one-line-per-verse vocal off the tape, replacing it with the voice of Miami DJ Carleton "King" Coleman. The single, released on Stone's Dade label, was issued as by Nat Kendrick and the Swans, Kendrick being Brown's drummer at the time; Atlantic picked it up for national distribution, and while "Mashed Potatoes" sold rather modestly, it kicked off a brief dance craze.

So James Brown wasn't averse to doing things out of Syd Nathan's earshot. Arguing that King owned his contract only for vocal performances, he cut an instrumental called "Out of Sight" in 1964 for Mercury's Smash label, which made the pop Top 20; Nathan took him to court. In early 1965, matters were settled, mostly in Brown's favor; he would get his own publishing company, a higher royalty rate, and almost complete artistic control over his recordings.

Brown's first recording under the new contract was "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," which topped the soul chart and made Top Ten pop despite sounding like nothing anyone had ever heard before. Dave Marsh described it this way:

With the possible exception of Little Richard, no one has ever made a rock or rhythm and blues record this extreme. At a time when Motown had made comparatively ornate records seem the wave of the future, Brown posited the most radical alternative: a record so totally immersed in rhythm that you barely noticed ornamentation at all. No record before "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" sounded anything like it. No record since — certainly no dance record — has been unmarked by it.

Which is almost hyperbolic enough to be true.

In 1968, Syd Nathan died. Nashville's Starday Records took over ownership of King; both labels were sold to LIN Broadcasting, which in 1971 sold James Brown's contract to Polydor. King's last pop hit for Polydor ("Body Heat") came in 1977; he scored in 1986 with "Living in America," a song written for Rocky IV, but by then the students had overtaken the master.

A couple of years ago, I was musing on the trend away from "pretty" pop voices, and here's one of the voices setting that trend:

James Brown's "Prisoner of Love" [was] recorded in 1963, a song previously associated with ultra-smooth crooners like Billy Eckstine and Perry Como. The Godfather of Soul couldn't croon if his life depended on it, so he got the song across the only way he could: by scraping away pop boilerplate and replacing it with his own desperate screams. This wasn't the first time Brown had attempted a pop standard — two years earlier he'd given a similar treatment to "Bewildered," another song from the Eckstine repertoire — but "Prisoner" did well enough on the pop charts (#18 in Billboard) to suggest to Brown that he was on the right track. Not that you could have persuaded him otherwise.

And that, when you get right down to it, was what made James Brown the James Brown of his time: a willingness, maybe even a compulsion, to experiment, and hang the consequences. It's hard to imagine how anyone could possibly fill his shoes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:30 AM)
Where have all the records gone?

A lot of them went to these guys:

While literally billions of LPs still exist in the world, most are slated to become garbage before too long. Vinylux products take advantage of these obsolete piles of records and give new life to this neglected, but not forgotten, material. Over the past 4 years, we have recycled about 200,000 records — about 50,000 pounds of vinyl and cardboard.

I, of course, disagree as to the matter of their obsolescence, but they do make some neat trinkets, some of which found their way to my tree.

The following 45-rpm Holiday Ornaments were received:

  • Julius LaRosa, "Domani (Tomorrow)" b/w "Mama Rosa", Cadence 1265, 1955
  • Johnny Rivers, "Summer Rain" b/w "Memory of the Coming Good", Imperial 66267, 1967
  • Amii Stewart, "Knock on Wood" b/w "When You Are Beautiful", Ariola 7736, 1979

Incidentally, only one of these (the Julius LaRosa) was pressed on actual vinyl; the other two were pressed on styrene.

Also arriving, a set of LP Coasters, as follows:

  • The Mills Brothers, Yellow Bird, Dot DLP 25338, 1960
  • Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, That Travelin' Two-Beat, Capitol T 2300, 1965
  • David Frye, Radio Free Nixon, Elektra EKS 74085, 1971
  • Various, History of British Rock, Sire SAS 3702, 1974
  • John Travolta, Travolta Fever, Midsong International MTF 001, 1978
  • Terry Garthwaite, Hand in Glove, Fantasy F 9564, 1978

Only the Bing/Rosemary disc is mono; the British Rock album was a two-disc set in automatic sequence, and the present specimen is Sides 1 and 4. (The other disc would have been Sides 2 and 3.) The John Travolta album is a compilation of two earlier LPs, John Travolta and Can't Let You Go, which made #18 in Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell's infamous book The Fifty Worst Rock-And-Roll Albums of All Time, which I quote herewith:

What matters is that this record comes with a large poster of the idol, suitable for framing. We wonder how many young girls bought the package, threw away the records, and pulled out their thumbtacks.

I am compelled to point out that #19 in said book was Days of Future Passed.

And while I could mourn the destruction of perfectly good vinyl, I suspect it wasn't all that good. From the manufacturer's FAQ:

Most of the records we get are scratched, warped, or otherwise played out. When we do get good ones, they go onto our turntable.

(Thanks, Wampy. These are Seriously Neat.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:44 PM)
4 January 2007
Quick, push the button

It's been a while since there's been a Worst Songs Ever thread, and Scott Kirwin is running one over at Dean's World with the expected results. Scott's own bêtes noires:

"You're So Vain," Carly Simon
"American Pie," Don McLean
"Feel Like Makin' Love," Bad Company

What all these have in common, most obviously, is an origin in the 1970s, which some people contend represented the absolute nadir in popular music. I'm not sure I believe that, although of the twenty songs I dislike the most, fifteen were Seventies releases.

Actually, I like "You're So Vain," though I'd like it better if it didn't turn up five times a week on the radio. Back when the charts had something to do with airplay, about 500-600 records would chart every year. A station with a Sixties-Seventies format, such as Oklahoma City's KOMA, would therefore have upwards of 10,000 songs to choose from — but they play maybe a twentieth of that. Even Jack FM claims a playlist of only 1000 or so.

Feel free to contribute your own examples of songs which make you want to change the station.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:52 PM)
7 January 2007
Running the numbers

Nielsen SoundScan has put out its annual results, and while most blog attention has been focused on the rise of downloads at the expense of actual CD sales, I'm looking at genre totals (figures presumably in thousands), which came out like this:

Alternative: 109,672, down 9.2%
Christian/Gospel: 39,715, up 1.3%
Classical: 19,447, up 22.5%
Country: 74,886, down 0.5%
Jazz: 15,720, down 8.3%
Latin: 37,774, up 5.2%
Metal: 61,557, down 4.5%
New Age: 3,412, down 22.7%
R&B: 117,005, down 18.4%
Rap: 59,534, down 20.7%
Rock: 170,726 (a)
Soundtrack: 27,177, up 18.9%
(Note: Titles may appear in more than one genre.)
(a) Rock was a new genre in 2006.

Oh, was it, now?

The big news here, if you ask me, is that classical was up a fifth, and rap was down a fifth. I raise a fifth (one drink at a time, you may be sure) in celebration of these numbers.

And here's something else heartening (figures in millions this time):

Current: 363.9, down 6.5%
Catalog: 224.2, down 2.3%
Deep Catalog: 158.2, up 0.4%

Current becomes "catalog" at 18 months: catalog becomes "deep" after 18 more (36 total). These numbers suggest a growing belief among the buying public that the newer it is, the more likely it sucks. Radio, of course, demonstrates this every day.

And Johnny Cash outsold everyone but Rascal Flatts this year, which surely proves something.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:22 PM)
12 January 2007
Sing 'em, Dano

Who knew that the theme to Hawaii Five-O had lyrics?

(Well, Jalopnik, at least before I did.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:17 PM)
13 January 2007
Bending the curve

Finally hearing Love, a reimagining, if you will, of the Beatles' recorded catalogue done originally at the behest of the Cirque du Soleil guys, reminded me that last fall I'd gotten a copy of the enormous Recording the Beatles book, and it's about time I filled you in on some of the details.

This item caught my eye at once. It's a letter from Chief Engineer Bill Livy to Studio Manager Alan Stagg relaying George Martin's misgivings about EMI's new 8-track tape recorders, dated 14 May 1968:

This machine, in common with all other 8-track machine at present available, does not include all the facilities which are present on the Magnetofon and Studer 4 track machines. Our multitrack recording technique depends largely upon these facilities, so that careful consideration should be given to the desirability of using this machine in its present condition.

The drawbacks at the present moment are:—

  1. Synchronous replay is available on each track separately, but only by switching off the normal tape replay of that track.

  2. No synchronous replay track combining is possible.

  3. No timing clock is fitted.

In addition, the mixer in [Studio] No.2 will record only 4 tracks simultaneously and with normal setting-up only 4 Line Outs from the tape machine can be connected to the monitoring circuits.

In view of these points, Mr. Martin said that the facilities existing on the 4 track machines were essential and therefore he would not use the 8-track for the Beatles sessions. He would like to be informed as soon as the modifications necessary to incorporate these facilities had been carried out.

In the end, the Beatles' fascination with new technology overrode George Martin's concerns — they recorded "Hey Jude" that summer at Trident Studios on eight tracks — and they requested an 8-track machine from EMI for the remote recording of the Let It Be project. EMI for some reason balked, and George Harrison, who had bought an 8-track machine of his own, arranged to have it delivered to Apple HQ, though by then EMI had had a change of heart, or something. The Abbey Road sessions were all done on 8-track.

One recurring story about "Hey Jude" is that about three minutes into the track you can hear John grumbling an expletive. Malcolm Toft, Trident's house engineer, explained what happened:

Barry Sheffield engineered "Hey Jude," but I mixed it when he went on holiday. John Lennon says a very rude word about halfway through the song. At 2:59 (just after "...let her under your skin") you will hear a "whoa" from him in the background. About two seconds later you will hear "F---ing hell!" This was because when he was doing a vocal backing, Barry sent him the foldback level too loud and he threw the cans [headphones] on the ground and uttered the expletive. But because it had been bounced down with the main vocal, it could not be removed. I just managed to bring the fader down for a split second on the mix to try to lessen the effect.

It was more neatly excised on the Love remix, but then we have better tools today; I once managed to edit the click-THUMPs out of a cracked 45 to get a passable CD copy, and I'm hardly in George Martin's league.

And then there's this:

The middle section of ["The End"] ... is a patchwork of edits and duplicated measures. For instance, the backing track and "love you" vocals heard from 0:46—0:53, are in fact exact duplicates of those heard behind the guitar solo from 1:02—1:09 (though to partially hide this fact, Geoff Emerick panned the vocals Right in the newly inserted measures, panning them back Left just before the edit into the guitar solo section).

Recording the Beatles, by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew, is available from Curvebender Publishing. "Curve Bender," incidentally, was the nickname of the EMI RS56 Universal Tone Control, a three-band equalizer with adjustable center frequencies, gain, and width.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:22 PM)
Crock the vote

Faster Than The World wants your vote for Best Fake Band. There are fifty nominees; I am surprised and delighted to see that my choice was (1) not running last and (2) had more votes than just mine.

You have through Sunday evening to vote. And the Monkees are not eligible; FTTW management and staff have determined that despite their Prefab Four origins, Peter, Davy, Micky and Mike were in fact a real band.

Update, 12:50 pm: Voting will close at 3 pm Eastern on 14 January.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:30 PM)
22 January 2007
The British grin and bear

I once wrote up a frighteningly-detailed history of Whistling Jack Smith, who recorded the ineffable "I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman" back in 1967. There wasn't an actual Smith, of course, but it was necessary to put one on tour to support the record, and this is how he looked.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:43 AM)
27 January 2007
Twenty-four hundred strings

Up until about News of the World or so, Queen albums boasted "No Synths," a tribute to the ability of instruments we know to produce sounds we don't. With this thought in mind, and at Lynn's suggestion, I sought out the first movement of Rhys Chatham's A Crimson Grail (for 400 Electric Guitars), and it's quite stunning without being particularly guitar-like: reviewer Stephen V. Funk compares it to, among other things, an adagio by Anton Bruckner. Slow but never standing still, Grail — at least this first movement — is exactly what you, or I anyway, would want from a minimalist composition: it synchronizes itself with your very synapses, its motions become your motions. (This is a well-documented ability of the electric guitar, shown to considerable advantage in, for instance, the much-recorded "Shakin' All Over": "quivers down my backbone," indeed.) Composers have been working with massed strings for ages, but seldom these particular strings: the orchestral textures (for indeed they are) are simply gorgeous, sometimes horn-like, occasionally pipe-organ complex, once or twice bordering on actual vocalise. If you've listened to minimalists before and thought the stuff just went on and on and on, Grail might just disabuse you of that notion: the first movement runs about twenty minutes, but seems like eight or nine. I'm going to have to track down the rest of this piece.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:47 PM)
1 February 2007
Incense and truculence

Every psychedelic record ever made, according to Lileks:

[T]he 60s aren't seen as The Past; the 60s are a Timeless Vault of Cultural Touchstones, the apotheosis of Western Civ. Sigh. Well. One of the future Diners will take place in the 60s — don't ask why, it'll be explained — and I will use many of the gutbustingly dreadful "psychedelic" records I have collected. It's obvious from Note One that everyone involved in the effort had so much THC in their system you could dry-cure their phlegm and get a buzz off the resin, but instead of having the loose happy ho-di-hi-dee-ho cheer of a Cab Calloway reefer number, the songs are soaked with Art and Importance and Meaning. You can imagine the band members sitting down to hash out (sorry) the overarching themes of the album, how it should like start with Total Chaos man because those are the times in which we live with like war from the sky, okay, and then we'll have flutes because flutes are peaceful like doves and my old lady can play that part because she like studied flute, man, in high school. The lyrics are all the same: AND THE KING OF QUEENS SAID TO THE EARTH THE HIEROPHANT SHALL NOW GIVE BIRTH / THE HOODED PRIESTS IN CHAMBERED LAIRS LEERED DOWN UPON THE LADIES FAIR / NEWWWW DAAAAY DAWNNNING!

Five years later it was obsolete.

Which argues forcefully for less-portentous fare. Cue Betty, Veronica, Archie and Jughead Ron Dante and Toni Wine:

Sugar, ah honey honey
You are my candy girl
And you've got me wanting you.

Wasn't a sugar cube, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
3 February 2007
You'll have joy, you'll have fun

You won't want to stop at one: Faster Than The World is collecting your votes for Worst Song of the Seventies through early Sunday.

I am happy to note that no fewer than four items from my list of regular barf inducers made it to the ballot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:48 AM)
7 February 2007
Golden slumbers fill your ears

It is apparently the will of the gods that our Presidential candidates have execrable musical taste. This quote seems to have upset E. M. Zanotti:

Russell Cunningham, a close friend who often went body surfing with Obama, remembered his friend Barry for introducing him to new music and for giving him sound advice.

"He introduced us to jazz and George Benson when we were all listening to rock 'n' roll," said Cunningham, now an attorney in Sacramento, Calif.

This seems innocuous enough, even though it sounds like "jazz" and "George Benson" are two entirely-separate concepts, a view which I suspect Zanotti endorses:

Now, honestly, if the intention of this piece was to make Obama more accessible to the Lite Rock crowd, their inclusion of the man who hoisted "Turn Your Love Around" on an unsuspecting public might have been a shrewd journalistic move. It's not really even "blues" per se ... it's a bit more mid-70s Motown one-hit wonder than anything remotely resembling "music." Even if we were to say, admit that "On Broadway" has some artistic merit, it still doesn't bely any kind of actual taste. George Bush had Van Morrison and Eric Clapton. Condoleezza hangs on to the Classics, and a bit of Cream. Even Hillary Clinton managed to sneak on the Beatles. Obama is jammed in between C.W. McCall and Gary Glitter on someone's smooth jazz iMix.

That said, may I commend unto you George Benson's The Other Side of Abbey Road, recorded right on the heels of that Beatles masterwork in the fall of 1969, and easily the best thing ever put out under Benson's name. It's a classic Creed Taylor production with Rudy Van Gelder twiddling the knobs and Freddie Hubbard contributing some great trumpet bits here and there. Originally it came out as A&M SP-3028, disappeared too quickly, and was reissued when Breezin' hit for Benson at Warner Bros. in 1976. If I ever find myself at a watch party, I'm bringing this along.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
9 February 2007
Songs for swingin' satellites

Frank Sinatra, 24/7? Siriusly:

Siriusly Sinatra will be a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week channel, that will air recordings spanning the entire spectrum of Sinatra’s career, as well as other artists from the big band, swing and traditional pop genres. In addition to featuring regular blocks of Sinatra’s music, Siriusly Sinatra will also feature a weekly show hosted by Nancy Sinatra, rare live concert performances, and archived material. The channel is expected to launch on February 14th.

The Interested-Participant is skeptical:

One would have to be quite the fan to enjoy 24/7 of Frank Sinatra.

Not to worry. When it comes to the Chairman, I am Board-certified.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:16 AM)
10 February 2007
So my DJ told me

Did you ever try to sing along with a song despite the fact that you obviously didn't know all the words?

Certainly one of the all-time tongue-twisters in the land of karaoke is "Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)," a project of producer-songwriters Norman Dolph and Paul DiFranco that at first no one would even try to sing. Enter bubblegum veteran Joey Levine — you heard him mentioning love in his tummy once upon a time — who actually could deliver this seemingly-endless string of namechecks without going slowly (or quickly) insane.

The disc, issued under the nom de disque "Reunion," was an enormous hit (#8 in Billboard); the pseudonym was then promptly retired, inasmuch as there was no way on earth to come up with a followup. Nineteen seventy-four being way before the death of the radio star, there was no video.

And then:

I might also note that hardly anyone dared to remake this song — with the notable exception of the always-fearless Tracey Ullman, who did a creditable job on her 1984 LP You Broke My Heart in 17 Places, done for one of those "all the others" labels. (The Reunion original was on RCA.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:45 AM)
21 February 2007
How not to B flat

Shouting Thomas scales the subject:

If you try to play along with some of the great recordings pre-1968, you'll discover some very unusual things. The tonal center wanders from song to song. (Try this with The Lovin' Spoonful.) Prior to the widespread proliferation of electronic tuners, a band tuned up in a haphazard fashion.

"Who's in tune?" somebody would call out at the beginning of a session.

And, perhaps, the bass player would respond: "I am."

"Let me hear your A," another player would say.

And the band would tune up to the bass player's A. The bass player may have tuned to a piano a week ago, and his A might be A = 430, as opposed to a perfect A = 440. Or it might be A = 445.

So, bands would be in tune to one another, but rarely would they be in perfect pitch. Since recordings were made in different sessions, it was not unusual for the tonal center to vary widely. Try to play along with a 60s band and you'll discover you have to re-tune for almost every song.

This does not necessarily explain George Martin's quandary with "Strawberry Fields Forever" — John Lennon had wanted the first half of Take 7 to be spliced to the last half of Take 26, and 7 was in A while 26 was in C, likely a greater difference than you'd hear by random tuning adjustments — but it does remind me that there was a time when I used to overdub my own instrumental parts onto favored records, and this always seemed to work better with post-1968 tracks.

(In the 1970s, I bought a four-track quarter-inch recorder: it was sold as a quadraphonic machine, but it was capable of doing some of the same studio trickery that went into Sixties hits, albeit with a less-impressive signal-to-noise ratio, and I wielded a mighty splicing blade in those days. Eventually I added, yes, Dolby noise reduction, via an outboard box.)

Incidentally, the invention of the tuning fork is credited to John Shore, sergeant trumpeter to His Majesty's Court, circa 1711. Shore's A was 423.5. (A-flat, in the equal-tempered scale set to A = 440, is about 415.3.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:42 AM)
27 February 2007
10538 and all that

Maggie Katzen has been doing short record reviews for a while now, and recently she took on this sort-of-classic:

No Answer — The Electric Light Orchestra: whee! there's nothing on here I've ever heard before, but I really liked it. probably too "arty" for most people. a few bits made me think of Apocalyptica.

Like the Move LPs before it, No Answer didn't sell all that well Stateside, though attached to it comes one of the weirder stories in pop/rock history. Snopes tells it this way:

The legend differs slightly in some the details from telling to telling, but the basic premise is that when United Artists was preparing to schedule Electric Light Orchestra's debut album for release in the U.S., someone from United Artists (either an executive or his secretary) placed a call to someone connected with ELO (either an executive at Harvest Records or the group's manager) to find out, among other things, what the LP should be titled. The caller, having failed to reach the desired party, jotted down the notation "no answer," a phrase which was mistaken for an album title and assigned to the U.S. version of the group's debut record.

ELO's Bev Bevan is cited as a source, and well, he should know, right?

The Orchestra didn't catch on here so quickly — "10538 Overture," the single, a #9 hit in Britain, did not chart in the US, and it would fall to the second album, titled Electric Light Orchestra II, to establish ELO Stateside. A version of Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," amped up with bits from Ludwig's Fifth on the strings, cut down from a tad over eight minutes to 4:30, almost made it into the Top 40; the full version got tons of airplay in New England, where actual Move records had sold in small quantities. ("Do Ya," which never made it up above #93 in Billboard, was in moderate-to-heavy rotation on WAAF.)

And to think I was going to be short on material today.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 AM)
The ones that got away

Alastair Ian Stewart isn't entirely unknown in these parts: he did chart five singles in Billboard, and the hit albums Year of the Cat and Time Passages are fairly easy to come by.

But the true Al Stewart fan knows that there is much, much more out there, and Collectors' Choice Music has announced a plan to reissue thirteen of Al's not-such-big-hit albums on CD, including the very rare Bedsitter Images from 1967, his first full-length LP, and the virtually-unnoticed Down in the Cellar, which dates from the last days of the century (sorry) and disappeared at the same time as the record label that released it.

You'll notice that there are thirty-three years between first and last, in case you thought that Al was some sort of middle-1970s phenomenon. CCM is putting these out for $12.95 each, and contrary to their usual practice, they're dropping in a bonus track or two on each title.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:11 PM)
2 March 2007
Get to the point

It was Billy Joel, I think, who addressed the issue most directly:

It was a beautiful song but it ran too long
If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05.

But that was 1974; in this era of InstaEverything, even 3:05 is an eternity. I once put together a compilation CD with no songs over two minutes, which if nothing else makes for rather more variety: 42 tracks in just under 80 minutes. Radio wouldn't dare do this.

Well, actually, they would. Enter Radio SASS (Short Attention Span System), which unapologetically edits your standard classic-rock tracks down to the essential stuff. Purists, of course, will be horrified. Stations, they say, should be delighted:

Records that were 2:00 — 3:00 minutes long have been replaced by repetitive epics. It's not unusual for today's recordings to regularly cross the four or five minute mark. The immediacy of radio has ground to a musical dawdle. While TV, newspapers, movies and other media have sped up, radio has fallen out of pace with today's rapid lifestyle. Button pushing listeners and competition from new media is fierce. TSL is down.

A return to shorter songs is essential. Will listeners object? The answer is no. Several focus groups conducted by Harker Research show that most people don't even notice. When a song begins, the average radio listeners pays attention to the beginning then makes a snap judgment. Do I know this? Do I like it? Then it's punch or play. They seldom reflect on the song as it ends. Most people use radio as wallpaper, a background to their daily activity.

I sampled some SASS, and I think I'd notice that they'd boiled down Manfred Mann's take on Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light," which runs around 7:05 in its LP incarnation and 3:48 as a single, to a startling 1:45 — but it would take probably half a minute for it to sink in, and by then they're a third of the way through the next song.

So I'm inclined to think this would work better than you'd think. Try to imagine Iron Butterfly's infamous psychotrope "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" in two minutes flat. I did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 AM)
4 March 2007
Try to see it my way

The Consumerist, generally a favorite around these parts, offers a roundup of the "top 10 worst gaffes, flops, and disasters in the history of American marketing and advertising", and indeed the cited items (including New Coke, the Edsel, and Calvin Klein's pubescent hotties) qualify as serious missteps. I take exception, though, to number 5 — the Beatles LP Yesterday and Today and its infamous "butcher" cover — not because I think the record is all that fab, or because I'm amused by the attempt to associate baby dolls with baby back ribs, but because of this offhand closing remark:

Yesterday and Today went on to become one of the only Beatles albums to actually lose money, thought this probably had less to do with its cover art than that it was a compilation album with no new material.

Depends on what your definition of "new" is. In the United Kingdom, Beatles albums generally contained 14 tracks; US releases usually had 11. Only six of these tracks had been released before in the States, and none on an album: "Yesterday" and "Act Naturally," a 45 containing two songs that were cut from the US version of Help! (we got bits from the score instead); another 45, "Nowhere Man" and "What Goes On," cut from Rubber Soul; a third single, "We Can Work It Out"/"Day Tripper." That left "Drive My Car" and "If I Needed Someone," also clipped from Rubber Soul, and "I'm Only Sleeping," "And Your Bird Can Sing" and "Doctor Robert," which hadn't yet been released on the UK version of Revolver, and which would not appear on the American release.

And it was this butchery by Capitol, EMI's US outpost, which was often cited as the motivation for the "butcher" cover, though in fact this same photo had been used already on a Beatles release: the UK single of "Paperback Writer."

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:34 AM)
8 March 2007
That "Definitive 200" list

It is, like all such lists, deeply flawed, and there's always the suspicion that there are criteria other than musical merit for the ranking. (There is, for example, no planet in this solar system where Pink Floyd and the Dixie Chicks have comparable musical importance.)

For those who asked, or will ask:

  • Number of these I have: 47
  • Number of the top 10 I have: 7
  • Earliest: Frank Sinatra, In the Wee Small Hours (1954)
  • Latest: Shania Twain, Come On Over (1997)
  • Most embarrassing revelation: I originally wrote down for "Latest" Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (1995), then sorted the list by date to be sure, and: "Wait a minute. Do I have that damn Shania album?"

Also, anybody who prefers Sparkle to Young, Gifted and Black doesn't know squat about Aretha. I'm just saying.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:16 AM)
12 March 2007
Strings attached

Nice writeup in the San Fernando Valley Sun papers [link goes to PDF file] about classical guitar maker — and actual dustbury.com reader — Greg Brandt, who's been doing this sort of thing for the last quarter-century or so and now has a colossal reputation among Los Angeles-area luthiers.

Brandt keeps no inventory: each instrument is custom-built, and he has some pretty respectable clients. (The name of the late Tommy Tedesco, who played on tons of L.A. sessions, including Phil Spector's, and sustained a solo career as a jazz guitarist, was the first to jump out at me.) Just think: Greg's doing something he finds endlessly fascinating, and he's getting paid for it. Now that's living.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
18 March 2007
Saussy recollections

It wasn't that long ago that I got around to writing this:

Despite the grandiose name, the Neon Philharmonic was basically a one-man show with a second man out front. The man at the microphone was Nashville mainstay Don Gant, of the Acuff-Rose publishing empire, who'd maybe sung a demo or two in his day but had never had a hit single on his own. Behind him was composer/musician/advertising executive Tupper Saussy, who would one day describe his style as "standards that no one has ever heard before." Warner Bros., which had never heard anything quite like the Gant/Saussy demos, signed them to a two-LP deal. "Morning Girl," the single from The Moth Confesses, is light and breezy and beautifully orchestrated and blessedly short, which means you don't have time to notice that Saussy's lyric, sung by Gant, deals with the morning after the seduction of a young woman by some aging cad. The second album, The Neon Philharmonic, was even less conventional: it opens with the five-minute-plus "Are You Old Enough to Remember Dresden?", arguably the first visit on record to a No-Spin Zone. It didn't sell, and only one other single (the non-LP "Heighdy-Ho Princess") made the Hot 100. Gant and Saussy turned their attentions elsewhere, Gant as a Nashville producer, Saussy as a painter and tax protester; for the latter, Saussy served fourteen months in Club Fed.

Don Gant died in 1987; Tupper Saussy made it all the way to this month. (It's reported that he was found yesterday slumped over in front of his computer after being unreachable for a day or so, which is precisely the way I expect to go.)

Last year he cut a new track, "I Think I See," which I think you can see here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:40 AM)
21 March 2007
Leto shuffle

Admit it: wouldn't you rather hear this than that damn José Feliciano thing every farging Yule?

Kwizatz Haderach!
Kwizatz Haderach!
Kwizatz Haderach! We're breeding
Superman to be our god!

Don't wanna be a religious leader,
Manipulated to be a breeder,
Although revenge for my dad is sweeter
Than a planet full of spice.

Don't wanna have me a terrible purpose,
Just wanna kill Harkonnen usurpers,
And then my Fremen'll shed their berkas
And we'll make Dune paradise!

(Alternate title: Raising Arrakis.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:12 PM)
24 March 2007
So where's Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.?

Just received: Amy Winehouse's Back to Black, arguably the niftiest melding of Sarah Vaughan and Martha Reeves available on CD. If you actually buy the CD, though, be advised that an absurd amount of jewel-case (and disc-surface) real estate is taken up by a fatuous "FBI Warning," an attempt by the RIAA to appear badass. (As always with organizations of this size, they are at best half right.)

I suppose, though, it's a good thing it's the FBI and not the CIA; you let the Agency in on this sort of thing and one day, out of the blue, your iPod playlist shows up in The New York Times.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
26 March 2007
Get back to where we once belonged

Up until 1948, all records were singles: 78-rpm discs, ten or twelve inches across. Once in a while you'd see a set of five or six of them bound together in one very thick package, which was called an "album."

CBS, which in 1948 began selling a 33⅓ rpm disc which could contain the contents of five or six 78s, eschewed the term "album" in favor of "LP," or more precisely "Lp," which they registered as a trademark. The customers, even then not willing to take their marching orders from record companies, persisted in calling them "albums."

And they still bought singles: from RCA Victor, also in 1948, came a 45-rpm disc, a mere seven inches across, which duplicated the format of the 78 — the hit and the B-side. RCA also developed a 45-rpm record changer that plugged into your RCA television using — yes! — an RCA plug. And despite the higher profit margin on CBS's LPs and such, the record industry learned pretty quickly that there was no way to generate those profits, except in minority formats like classical and jazz, without coming up with some hit singles once in a while. This was the way of the world, and the 45 ruled that world.

So this should surprise no one:

Last year, digital singles outsold plastic CD's for the first time. So far this year, sales of digital songs have risen 54 percent, to roughly 189 million units, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan. Digital album sales are rising at a slightly faster pace, but buyers of digital music are purchasing singles over albums by a margin of 19 to 1.

Because of this shift in listener preferences — a trend reflected everywhere from blogs posting select MP3s to reviews of singles in Rolling Stone — record labels are coming to grips with the loss of the album as their main product and chief moneymaker.

Which, again, should surprise no one:

I distinctly remember recognizing that it was a pure ripoff to plunk down several dollars for an 8-12 track album, when all I wanted was the one or two songs that were hits. I adopted a three-song minimum as a requirement for buying an album; if you’re at all familiar with the past twenty-five years of pop music, you can make a pretty accurate guess as to the paltry number of albums I wound up purchasing.

I realize I was in the minority. Plenty of my peers scooped up those albums, and justified it as the only way to get at the popular tunes. The potential bonus was the discovery of an unpromoted gem in the album's filler tracks; realistically, that was usually just wishful thinking. But for me, it turned me off on developing any sort of music-buying habit.

Further complication: musicians had long been hiding some good stuff, not on the inner tracks of their LPs, but on the B-sides of 45s, where presumably the truest of fans would find them. In 1966, Dylan had sneaked a live version of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" onto the back of "I Want You," a track you simply couldn't get anywhere else. Even Simon and by-gosh Garfunkel did this, dropping the irritable "You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies," never issued on an LP, underneath "Fakin' It." ("You Don't Know..." didn't even make it to the S&G Collected Works CD box.)

Is there a future for the "album"? It might be something like this:

I think albums can revert back to what they were in the '50s and '60s: Less concept packages and more like compilations of proven hit singles, released after they made their noise. That dynamic's already made a comeback today, with the proliferation of "greatest hits" albums from artists that had barely three or four notable singles releases.

The Beatles, who recorded their singles and their album tracks as wholly separate entities (though their US label tended to mess up their scheme) were very much anomalies in the couple-of-hits-plus-filler milieu, and when Led Zeppelin, for whatever reason, refused to allow "Stairway to Heaven" to go out as a 45 — a few white-label promos were pressed, but no store stock — radio stations treated it as a hit single anyway. The circle, I'm tempted to say, is complete.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:36 PM)
27 March 2007
A surprisingly-complicated goodbye

Country singer Henson Cargill has died in Oklahoma City from complications following surgery. He was 66.

Cargill graduated from Northwest Classen, studied law and served as a deputy sheriff in these parts before trying his hand at music. In the late 1960s, he was recording for Monument, and in 1967 he cut a track called "A Very Well-Traveled Man." It was not a hit. But on the other side of the disc, someone noticed "Skip a Rope," a casual-sounding but deadly-serious denunciation of adult hypocrisy and its effect on children, and put it on the air. "Skip a Rope" jumped to the very top of the country charts, stayed there over a month, and crossed over to pop stations, reaching #25 on Billboard's pop chart.

"Skip a Rope" sounded like something Cargill's friend Johnny Cash would do, and indeed Cash had contemplated cutting the song, but Cargill and record producer Don Law had a deal with the publishers that gave them first crack at it. It was put on the B-side, I suppose, because its hard-hitting lyrics might have upset the legendarily-hidebound Nashville establishment.

Cargill had other country hits, though he never hit the pop charts again; his last Top 20, a track from his album Uncomplicated, was titled "The Most Uncomplicated Goodbye I've Ever Heard." In the 1980s he owned Henson's, a country-music venue in Oklahoma City that regularly drew top stars; he also appeared on the Reno/Las Vegas casino circuit. A long-overdue Cargill compilation was issued a couple of years ago, and I still have my original 45 of "Skip a Rope": it, too, is well-traveled.

(Note: It is the nature of MP3s to be ephemeral.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:10 PM)
4 April 2007
Karma less than instant

I was never a great Yoko Ono fan, but neither did I understand the rather shabby treatment that she got at the hands of various Beatlemaniacs for many years: yes, she was a few degrees off plumb, but so was John, and if clearly he was the greater musical talent, she made a pretty decent Muse for him, and her own musical explorations weren't the horrorfests they were made out to be. (Well, except for "Don't Worry Kyoko," which was sort of what you'd get if you'd tried to replicate Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music with actual flesh.)

Two lengthy articles about Ono showed up at my desk this week, a new interview by Tony Sclafani in Goldmine (not on their site yet), and a two-year-old (at least) piece by Joshua Rotter for MacDirectory. (Yoko, in case you were wondering, used a G4.) What these pieces have in common is the same Michael Levine photo, in which Ono appears in a dress as short as anything sold on Carnaby Street in the Sixties. I have no idea when it was taken; it was startling, and it certainly didn't reflect the classic Johnandyoko bagism shtick, but what the hell. Ono is seventy-four now; she's paid more than enough dues and should be able to do whatever she pleases.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:18 AM)
6 April 2007
It was forty years ago today

Well, actually, it was forty years ago come June, but these things require some lead time:

To mark the 40th anniversary of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album a clutch of modern day British groups are to record their own versions of some of the tracks recorded on the original 4 track studio equipment. The Kaiser Chiefs, James Morrison, Oasis (maybe they'll finally get round to sounding like their idols at last), The Fratellis and Travis are amongst those lined up for the venture which will be aired [on BBC Radio 2] on the actual anniversary of the release of the original album on June 1st.

(Note: The album wasn't released in the States until the second of June 1967. Incidentally, the CD version came out on 1 June 1987 worldwide.)

Me, I'm hoping for an appearance by the one and only Billy Shears.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:49 PM)
12 April 2007
Five rules for a great box set

Courtesy of the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons Enthusiasts and Historical Society of the United Kingdom:

  1. A great set should have all the hits.

  2. A great set should have value added for fans who have earlier collections.

  3. A great set should represent the full spectrum of a group's styles and the complete range of its experimentation.

  4. A great set should cover a group's entire career.

  5. A great set should have great liner notes.

Of the boxes I have, the one that hews closest to this particular line is Phil Spector's Back to Mono 1958-1969 box, issued by Abkco back in the Pleistocene era (okay, 1991) for an appalling $80 list and now widely available for about a quarter of that. (Disclosure: I paid $65 for mine.) Departures from perfection: the essays by David Hinckley and Tom Wolfe (yes!) are seriously readable, but while they capture Phil, they give the actual music semi-short shrift — and would it have been so hard to toss in just one of the infamous throwaway B-sides like "Tedesco and Pitman"?

Oh, and the sound is kinda fuzzy, and, as per the title, mono only. (Then again, Spector's bounce-and-keep-bouncing recording technique doesn't lend itself particularly well to stereo mixing, though most of the hits did appear somewhere in stereo at one time or another.) And yes, Spector made records throughout the Seventies, but they were either (1) remarkably unsuccessful for some reason or (2) done on behalf of various Beatles and therefore not available for a compilation.

Nominations for Great Box Sets will of course be happily accepted.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:44 PM)
17 April 2007
Ramones leave home

Oh, I'm sorry. These aren't the Ramones. They are, however, in a home.

(Via the ever-youthful Miss Cellania.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:18 AM)
27 April 2007
No "graveyard smash" jokes

Bobby "Boris" Pickett, whose "Monster Mash" was one of the very few records ever to make the Top Ten in two different decades, died Wednesday night in a VA hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 69.

The Mash, dashed off by Pickett with the able assistance of Leonard Capizzi, one of his buddies in the vocal group the Cordials, was supplemented by wonderfully low-tech sound effects: the opening of the coffin is actually a nail being claw-hammered out of a 2x4, and that bubbly stuff is water being blown through a soda straw. Released in August of 1962, it peaked at #1 right before Halloween, knocking out the 4 Seasons' "Sherry." Producer Gary Paxton put together a whole album on his Garpax label, from which "Monsters' Holiday" was rush-released right before Christmas, topping out at #30. Pickett was capable of non-Karloff sounds, and his next single was a version of the standard "Graduation Day," which stalled near the bottom of the chart. In 1970, signed to RCA Victor, he had no new hits, but Nipper reissued "Monster Mash," which did manage to chart, and in 1973 London Records revived the original Garpax album, this time on the Parrot label (XPAS 71063), complete with original liner notes. As you might expect, they reissued the "Monster Mash" 45, which crept into the Top Ten, albeit in the spring.

And Pickett did manage one non-Monster hit of sorts: his 1975 collaboration with Peter Ferrara, "Stardrek," poking fun at another cultural institution, was a staple of the Dr. Demento Show for many years. ("Into the elevator, Mr. Schlock! Let's beam down to the planet's surface so I can find an alien to fall in love with before the program is over!" orders Captain Jerk.) Ferrara and Pickett did one more item of note, a version of "Respect" sung by the Godfather. Still, the Monster Mash was never far away, and in 2004 Pickett reworked it into the environmental anthem "Monster Slash".

TheMonsterMash.com vends Pickett material and memorabilia, should you want to crank up the ol' Transylvania Twist.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 AM)
2 May 2007
Why don't you all f... fall asleep?

My generation? Maybe the one before.

(A reader recommendation. I have some, um, remarkable readers.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 PM)
5 May 2007
Peter is Torked off

Former Monkee Peter Tork says the Prefab Four would be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by now were it not for Jann Wenner:

Bitter Tork tells Newsday, "The only person ... holding a grudge is Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone. He has never written a gracious word (about us)." Tork has spoken out about the snub after watching groups like the Sex Pistols and Run-DMC, who have covered Monkees tunes, get inducted to the Hall of Fame in recent years. R.E.M. star Michael Stipe offered the guitarist some hope when he told Rolling Stone the Monkees were more important to him than the Beatles, reportedly stating he would refuse an induction if it meant getting into the Hall of Fame before Tork and co. But R.E.M. were inducted into the Cleveland museum in March (2007).

Maybe he'll have better luck with his current band.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:51 PM)
10 May 2007
Three peas in one's Pod

Picking three songs for a radio (or podcast) set is something of an artform, and the best such are very good indeed. (I have a few tucked away for possible future use, which, if nothing else, will appall my brother, who did actual time as a Radio Guy.)

One criterion for "best" is sheer effrontery — who in the world would have thought of that? — and accordingly, I award props to Monty for her Sammich set last weekend: two Bread tunes, with Meat Loaf in between. Delicious, in a couple of senses of the word.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 AM)
The way they do the things they do

Usually inscrutable, it is:

Without fail, as soon as I buy a "The Best Of..." compact disc, the artist whose collection of greatest hits I've just purchased will invariably release a "The Very Best Of..."

Besides superior re-packaging, these annoying new CD's usually feature exactly the same track-list as the original, except that ten extra songs will have been included at no extra cost. Sometimes even a whole second disc will be added, often with multi-media elements and a free tee-shirt offer.

Obviously this unhappy situation is rather ironic, since logically you would assume that such an exclusive sounding item as a "The Very Best Of..." should surely contain less music than a plain old, undiscriminating "The Best Of...", not more.

Indeed. And while we're on the subject, how exactly does The Best Of differ from Greatest Hits, anyway?

As it happens, my automotive music for yesterday was a C-90 I recorded circa 1992, crammed reasonably full of Temptations tracks. This is not too difficult a task, since the Tempts charted fifty-five titles on Billboard, not counting joint efforts with other Motown acts; the hard part, of course, is cutting all that down to an hour and a half (or even less on a CD). The advantage, just as obvious, is that you get to hear them all again while you make your selections.

To see what might be considered Greatest Hits these days, I consulted iTunes, and lo and behold, the range is even narrower than I feared. (Then again, your local oldies station might play "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep," maybe; forget those other 52 tracks.)

And now, needless to say, I'm going to have to work up a Temptations compilation CD, which will, I suppose, be the contents of this tape minus 12 minutes or so. Earlier in the week I was listening to a Marvin Gaye tape, which deserves similar treatment. (Perhaps to follow: Supremes and/or Four Tops packages.)

Update, 13 May: Presenting: Surrounded by Temptations.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 PM)
17 May 2007
Rest in piece

John Cage's infamous 4'33", in full orchestration and five-part harmony.

(Previous discussion here and here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:26 PM)
19 May 2007
When in doubt, take it out

A couple of months ago, to illustrate some vague point about the value of Condensed Versions, I produced a two-minute edit of Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida".

There is, to be sure, a tradition of abbreviation, and WFMU honors this tradition with something called the Sixty Second Song Remix Contest. The premise was disarmingly simple: "compress a 'known' song to 60 seconds or less." Forty finalists have been selected from over 400 submissions, and your vote is solicited. I liked rather a lot of these, including, yes, a version of "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" — in 32 seconds.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 AM)
20 May 2007
The original: not still the greatest

A couple of months ago, the Onion's A.V. Club put together a list of fourteen remakes that surpassed the originals, some of which I actually agree with. (There's no reason for anyone, even Dylan, to do "All Along the Watchtower" anymore; in fact, in the 1980s, Dylan had reportedly worked parts of Hendrix' rearrangement into his own live show.) In response, In Theory questions one on the list and two others not mentioned.

Which, of course, leaves an opening for me.

  • Run-D.M.C., "Walk This Way"
    In the Aerosmith original, Steven Tyler's cadence had much in common with hip-hop delivery; converting the tune to a rap was easy enough, but the stroke of genius was inviting Tyler (and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry) to appear on the new version. The resulting hybrid was surprisingly close to its ancestor, with just as much energy and perhaps even more attitude.

  • Santana, "Black Magic Woman"
    Peter Green's original for Fleetwood Mac is a decent British blues, but nothing to write home about. In Carlos Santana's hands, it becomes vaguely mysterious, as though the magic itself had been invoked; on the Abraxas album, it merges seamlessly into a version of Gabor Szabo's jazz-guitar classic "Gypsy Queen," otherworldly in its own right.

  • The Isley Brothers, "That Lady"
    Originally, this was called "Who's That Lady," a title which makes more sense, and the Isleys themselves recorded it in 1964, a fairly ordinary soul song with none of the enthusiasm they brought to it nine years later, and also without cousin Ernie's wailing guitar, the real star of their 1973 remake.

  • The Rolling Stones, "Time Is On My Side"
    Purloined from the Irma Thomas songbook, as Irma herself will remind you at the drop of a hat. Irma's a better singer than Mick Jagger, but her recording was filled up with soul boilerplate and bored-sounding strings, perhaps because it was intended as a B-side which would probably be ignored. (And jazz trombonist Kai Winding had actually cut an instrumental version before Thomas, anyway.) The Stones did it twice, once leading off with an organ passage (on the US 45), once with a guitar lick (elsewhere), and both versions are packed with the energy Thomas expended on her A-side, since forgotten.

  • Pearl Jam, "Last Kiss"
    Wayne Cochran's 1962 original is more creepy than evocative; the monster hit by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers in 1964 turns up the earnestness but sounds more lovelorn than heartbroken. (You figure J. Frank would sound the same if he'd merely been dumped.) A Canadian band named Wednesday charted with a bland cover in the Seventies. But it took Eddie Vedder to give this song the sort of emotional coloration it seems to demand: he sounds simultaneously desolate and determined.

I could go on, and perhaps eventually I will. After all, I will always need material.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:52 AM)
21 May 2007
That Norfolk sound

There are a handful of record producers whose work you can identify from the first few notes, who simply don't sound like everyone else: Sam Phillips, almost certainly; Creed Taylor, pretty consistently; Phil Spector, absolutely.

And then there's Frank Guida, who died this weekend in Virginia Beach at the age of 84, after having made some of the most distinctive sounds ever to grunge up your radio. Some of us budding Snooty Audiophiles, back around the time they started trying to sell quadraphonics, got the notion that Guida simply was in over his head, that had he had better equipment or greater skill his records wouldn't sound so much like they were recorded during a kegger in a pup tent.

How wrong we were. In the 1980s, Steve Hoffman assembled a Gary "U.S." Bonds compilation for MCA, and with decades of accumulated muck cleared away, we could hear the real muck Guida was producing. The focal point was "Quarter to Three," arguably the noisiest recording ever to top Billboard's Hot 100. Rock critic Dave Marsh had focused on its "peculiar unity," claiming: "I've played it on stereo systems ranging from $49.95 to $10,000, and the equipment makes no difference." But even in "Quarter to Three" you can hear what Guida was up to: he doubled the bass drum to maximize the bottom, and he ran his tape deck into the red, even into the infrared. ("It sounds like it was recorded in a toilet," complained one distributor.)

Does this make Frank Guida the American Joe Meek? Probably not. Meek's life had its tragic aspects; Guida, not particularly drama-oriented, kept promoting Tidewater talent well into the 1980s, and however much he may have messed with his master tapes, he kept them in tip-top shape. The memories, of course, need no such maintenance.

(Note: MP3s disappear eventually.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 PM)
22 May 2007
Talkin' bout degeneration

Time for a pain pill:

I'm watching Metal Mania on VH1 Classic.

If your formative years were in the 80's, you realize how jarring the aforementioned premise is. That is, metal and VH1 being mentioned in the same breath without derisive laughter.

To make matters worse they ran a commercial about treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

As Pete Townshend never said, "Hope I die before I get incontinent."

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:56 AM)
11 June 2007
I think that I can take it

Jimmy Webb has given, maybe, the last interview on "MacArthur Park":

In mid-1965, I was absolutely besotted with my girlfriend at the time. MacArthur Park was where we met for lunch and paddleboat rides and feeding the ducks. She worked across the street at a life insurance company. I also wrote "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" about her, but I never even got as far as Riverside. But I lost her. She married some other guy. We're still friends. Her name is Susan Ronstadt.

Any relation to Linda Ronstadt? A cousin, says Webb.

And no, he wasn't trying to be florid and metaphorical:

Those lyrics were all very real to me; there was nothing psychedelic about it to me. The cake, it was an available object. It was what I saw in the park at the birthday parties. But people have very strong reactions to the song. There's been a lot of intellectual venom.

Count me as insufficiently venomous. I've always been fond of this song, over the top as it is; when Richard Harris died in 2002, I quipped that his voice sounded like W. H. Auden's face, "like a wedding-cake left in the rain." And yes, "Weird Al" Yankovic made fun of it: still, if you listen to "Jurassic Park," you'll hear that Yankovic went to considerable effort to replicate Webb's original arrangement, even the Hal Blaine drum fill in the last verse. You don't take that kind of care with something you don't respect.

Besides, it's still better than "Seasons in the Sun."

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:15 AM)
I don't really want to stop the show

But I thought you might like to know: not everyone thinks Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, inflicted on the world forty years ago this month, is the greatest thing since plastic waffles. I've long argued that not only is it not the Best LP Ever, it's not even the best Beatles LP ever.

This is now almost sort of quantifiable. Dave Thompson writes in Goldmine (#702, 22 June 2007):

Aliens ... have just landed, and, handing you a blank CD-R, have demanded to know what the fuss was all about. "Make us," they insist in their funny squeaky voices, "a disc containing the very best of Beatle band." How much Sgt. Pepper would you include on that?

Fact: With close to 20 officially sanctioned Beatles compilations spread out before you, just four — and that includes the historical overviews 1967-1970 and Anthology 2, and the revised Yellow Submarine soundtrack, none of which had any choice in the matter — feature Pepper tunes. That leaves one song, "She's Leaving Home," on one album, Love Songs, to convey the majesty of the "All Time Greatest Album" to anybody who simply requires an LP full of Beatles.

Even last year's Love (an album, by the way, that would have probably been a lot better if it wasn't simply an inferior rehash of the 1982 UK Top 10 hit "Beatles Movie Medley") found room for only five flakes of Pepper. By comparison, Abbey Road is covered by seven, the White Album by nine, and even the American Magical Mystery Tour LP by four.

Or, as Jim DeRogatis once said:

Sgt. Pepper's... [is] a bloated and baroque failed concept album that takes a generation of Baby Boomers back to the best shindig of their lives, a time when they were young and free and full of possibilities, yadda yadda yadda, you just had to be there. But all of that has little or nothing to do with the actual sounds on the album.

Take that, Mr. Kite.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 PM)
15 June 2007
Somewhere, William Hung is laughing

And I don't blame him:

Musician Mariah Carey has been named the worst singer of all time by British entertainment magazine The Word. The "Heartbreaker" singer was labelled a "proper tune butcher" by the anonymous writer of the piece.

The article reads, "(Carey is) clearly the worst thing to happen to popular music since (disgraced British pop mogul) Jonathan King. All technique, gallons of surgery gloop, and not an atom of soul anywhere."

Geez, and I sort of liked Jonathan King, at least before he revised "Hooked on a Feeling."

And I bet that "gloop" is more sugary than surgery.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:27 PM)
18 June 2007
The bird is the word

Some time during World Tour '05 I declared "Surfin' Bird" by the Trashmen to be the definitive road-trip song: "[I]t's impossible to ignore, yet you can't focus on the lyrics."

Point: Lileks made the effort:

I know it's a classic, but I can only take about 45 seconds of it. You get the point. Besides, the lyrics contain an unresolved contradiction: we are informed not only the Bird is the Word, but that everyone is aware of this fact. Then comes this: "Don't you know / about the Bird?" This would seem to indicate that knowledge of the Bird is not universal, as previously asserted. Such a peculiar lapse would make you suspect the veracity of subsequent lyrics, but of course there aren't any.

Counterpoint: Mark Richardson says:

Take "Surfin' Bird", which mashes together two songs by the far-more-respectable doo-wop group the Rivingtons. Like "Louie Louie", it's simple, loud, and sloppy. But when you add Dal Winslow's voice, just so leering, sounding for all the world like a sex fiend on drugs with his tongue hanging out, the generation gap makes more sense. I can picture the button-down authority figures listening to this song and grimly shaking their heads, imagining the bleak future fans of this music would usher in. But they didn't get it. Winslow wasn't singing about a dance craze called "The Bird", he was pointing out this thing that kids felt but couldn't articulate. "The bird" was code for a new freedom that only mid-century teenagers could understand. There was a whole world behind those two words, a world invisible to parents that would become much clearer as the decade wore on. The "bird," you know? Papa oom-mow-mow! You know what I'm saying? Sure, sure, I get it. And I do, finally: This must have driven the grown-ups crazy!

It was drummer Steve Wahrer, not guitarist Dal Winslow, who sang it, but Richardson seems to grasp this song on an elemental level: there are truths in the music that mere words cannot describe. Then again, my father, certainly no fan of that rocknroll noise, actually liked this one, which proves — well, nothing really. Still, I have to wonder what "Surfin' Bird" might be like had it been spawned, not by a Minnesota surf band rewriting a soul group, but by a sensitive singer-songwriter type.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:25 AM)
4 July 2007
And time can do so much

Time has run out for lyricist Hy Zaret, who died this week about six weeks short of his 100th birthday.

Zaret put out lots of words over the years, but the ones you probably remember were the words he put to Alex North's theme for the 1955 motion picture Unchained, notable both for containing serious emotional content and for never mentioning the film's title even once in the lyric.

"Unchained Melody," as it was called, hit the charts in four versions in '55; Les Baxter (Capitol 3055) took it to Number One, but his version was more or less an instrumental (there's a brief chorus), leaving the vocal prize to Al Hibbler (Decca 29441), who coaxed it to #3 and bestowed upon it pop-standard status. Lots of people recorded it over the next decade or so; Phil Spector tossed it into a 1965 Righteous Brothers session as the B-side to "Hung On You" (Philles 129), the intended follow-up to "Just Once in My Life." But "Hung On You" never broke Top 40, and DJs turned the 45 over to find, not the usual Spector throwaway instrumental, but a lovingly-produced Bobby Hatfield solo performance in front of the Wall of Sound at its lushest. (This being a B-side, rumors persist to this day that the other Righteous fellow, Bill Medley, actually produced it; I have my doubts, though Medley's production for the Brothers' post-Spector discs for Verve demonstrates his mastery of the Wall.) "Unchained Melody" climbed to #4; its inclusion in the 1990 romantic fantasy Ghost led Verve to reissue the single, which reached #13. (A re-recording by the Brothers also charted, reaching #19.)

Zaret, of course, approved. He was reportedly not amused by a George Martin-produced version by the Goons, which Parlophone stuffed back into the Abbey Road vaults before it could see the light of day, prompting the Goons to move to Decca. The recording finally surfaced in 1990, and apparently not even Dr. Demento would play it.

(Note: MP3s expire eventually.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
8 July 2007
In spite of all the danger

Two kinds of people in this world, says Blythe:

Stones people, Beatles people and people who divide the world into two groups of people, which is three groups, so there's really a fourth which consists of people who cannot count. I am firmly in the Beatles camp. I'll be friends with you if you're a Stones kinda kid, but I will never date you (probably for many reasons which are my fault, but let's not get into that). And if you've no opinion one way or another, that's a total deal breaker except right now I don't have a lot of friends, so I'd probably let it slide. For now.

Despite the fact that the very first record I ever bought was a Stones single ("Satisfaction," in the summer of '65), I am more of a Beatles person, if only because I bought everything they put out, whereas I bought only most of the Stones' stuff. There is inevitably some overlap, if only because the Stones' second single was a Beatles song: "I Wanna Be Your Man." (In the States, the first Stones release was their third single, "Not Fade Away," their Buddy Holly remake, which was issued here with "I Wanna Be Your Man" on the flip.)

Blythe also lists her top ten Beatles tracks, two of which are also on my list, which follows in no particular order:

  • "I Saw Her Standing There"
  • "I Feel Fine"
  • "In My Life"
  • "What You're Doing"
  • "Here, There and Everywhere"
  • "Strawberry Fields Forever"
  • "I Am the Walrus"
  • "I Will"
  • "Here Comes the Sun"
  • "Let It Be" (45 version)

I hasten to add that this in no way constitutes a bid for a date.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:49 AM)
26 July 2007
The Sixties abide

Musical Exile with hideelee is one of my favorite podcasts, at least partially because I am bemused by the idea of a woman born in the 1980s (which makes her even younger than Dawn Eden) with a fondness for the music of the 1960s.

In a different twist, the current edition has a bit over half an hour of newish indie acts devoted to That 60's Sound, leaning to the psychedelic side of things, and while it's not quite the equivalent of being thrust into the Summer of Love, I found it fascinating.

Besides, according to her MySpace page, her heroes are Ray Davies and Kermit the Frog. It's not easy being the Village Green Preservation Society.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:45 AM)
29 July 2007
Soy tu hombre del boogie

One in the morning, I can't sleep to save my [insert description of doomed body part], and I click on the television. Up come K. C. and the Sunshine Band, and yes, it's another disco compilation. I rouse myself just enough to notice that wait a minute, this is different.

It is, and yet it isn't. I know all these songs — yes, I admit it — but the usual unctuous Time-Life announcer is sucking up in Spanish.

It would never have occurred to me that Time-Life would buy space on Univision and Telemundo to hawk these same old wares you've already seen a hundred times on English-language channels, but there it is just the same.

Still, it would have been interesting to have heard some of these songs actually translated into Spanish. Especially "Y.M.C.A."

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:57 PM)
5 August 2007
The connections we make

"Stranger on the Shore," Mr. Acker Bilk's evocative clarinet piece that topped both British and American charts in 1962, has some truly-mournful qualities to it, but to one woman, it's the saddest song of all. It starts with a slumber party, and then:

Once the lights were out, we kept the radio on — very softly — while the get-together continued downstairs. I heard lots of songs on the radio that night, but for some reason "Stranger On The Shore" stuck in my brain, attaching itself to our musings on what adults did at parties and what it would be like when we grew up. We had all sorts of plans and ideas. And all of that talk was infused with the Acker Bilk music on the transistor radio.

How does so much stuff get wrapped up in an old song? Well, it does. I'm sure there's some kind of psychological, sound-memory thing firing off between my dendrites, but I can't help but think there's more to it than just some scientific explanation.

I've had the best of all possible lives (well, except for the money part). I've done things that I could've never imagined at 10 years old while listening to a scratchy-sounding transistor radio on a Friday night in the winter of 1962. I've gone way beyond the wife and school teacher I thought I was destined to be.

Still, I keenly remember the visions of what adult life would be like. And reality is so, so different. Not many Holly Golightly-black cocktail dresses and witty, intelligent adult conversations at city-fied parties. But it's more than that. There was something bigger. Some big adult secret world that I imagined as a child, only to grow up to find that world doesn't exist the way I'd dreamed it would be. I don't dwell on this stuff, believe me. Just when I hear that song.

I never went to any slumber parties, a perhaps-inevitable result of not having been born a girl, but I think I understand this. I have a similar reaction to Bert Kaempfert's "Wonderland by Night," which for me evokes a startlingly-exact mental picture. It's a Friday night, somewhere between ten and midnight, and a convertible is crossing the bridge into downtown; reflections of the streetlights play on the pavement, on the hood, on us. Her little black dress has a row of sequins, and as we pass under the lights, they glow ever so slightly, but it's nothing compared to the glow on her face as she smiles. "Now, you know we have to be back by...." She lets the sentence trail off.

"By when?" I ask.

She leans in slightly, faces me, crosses her legs. "Well, certainly before Thursday."

I was, of course, too young to imagine how this narrative might have continued. But it seemed so very real, and one day not so long ago I contrived to be crossing a bridge into a city at the moment this song came up on the stereo and I swear I could actually almost see her. (And if I've ever seen you in an LBD, trust me: it was you I almost saw.) I don't know what in Kaempfert's arrangement, or in Charly Tabor's trumpet solo, implanted these images, but they're strong enough to have persisted for more than forty years.

And yes, there is sadness:

A lost, enticing, oh-so-cool adult world dreamed up by a 10-year-old girl listening to a song on a transistor radio in the lavender bedroom of her best friends in the winter of 1962. That loss is why the song is so sad to me.

I know what she means.

(Note: I've pulled the MP3s, on the basis that you've had enough time to hear them, and besides, my bandwidth bill is big enough already.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
9 August 2007
Phaedra calls one last time

"When you're born in Mannford, Oklahoma," Lee Hazlewood once sang, "there ain't no up in your cup; there's just down."

Hazlewood, who was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer a couple of years ago, died Saturday in Las Vegas at 78. Inevitably folks will mention his work with Nancy Sinatra in the 1960s, which produced some remarkable singles, most amazing of which was their duet on "Some Velvet Morning," among the least explainable records of the decade. But his solo work is legendary, and to borrow a line from WFMU's Brian Turner, "Few can say they've had their songs performed by both Dean Martin ('Houston') and Einsturzende Neubauten ('Sand')."

Barton Lee Hazlewood was indeed born in Mannford, Oklahoma, in 1929; he studied medicine at SMU, served in the Army during the Korean war, and surfaced in the middle 1950s as a DJ and songwriter, scoring big with Sanford Clark's version of "The Fool" in 1956. He made solo records in the Sixties, produced by Jimmy Bowen and Billy Strange, and it was likely the Bowen connection through Reprise Records that brought Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra together. (Bowen would later produce Frank Sinatra's "That's Life.") Hazlewood reshaped her voice, pushing her into a lower register, and provided lots of songs, including the infamous "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," which stomped its way to Number One in a hurry; the story goes that Hazlewood actually thought "Boots" was more suitable for a male singer, but gave it to her anyway.

To give the man a proper sendoff, here [was] "My Autumn's Done Come," a song from The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood (1966) which might be better known in its 2003 remake by Hooverphonic.

(Note: MP3s expire after a time.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:53 AM)
26 August 2007
Should I feel deprived?

After all, I've never heard Gershwin with bongos.

"I got rhythm," indeed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:53 PM)
30 August 2007
Still groovin'

No-longer-Young Rascal Gene Cornish talked to his old hometown newspaper this week, and he touches on one issue that's always nagged at me:

The [Rascals'] first four albums are being released with both stereo and mono versions on each CD, so audiophiles can compare and argue. "The mono mix is so far superior to the stereo mix," Cornish insists. "Stereo was in its infancy back then. No one knew how to mike anything."

I don't know if I'd call it "infancy" or not — stereo recordings started to appear in quantity around 1958, a good eight years before Gene and the boys got their first big hits — but I suspect he's right about no one knowing how to mike things. The Rascals did enough of their own production to earn label credit, alongside Atlantic stalwarts Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin, but this was still the era of the 45, and the mono single mix was the one that counted. "Good Lovin'," the band's second single and first Number One, sounds particularly heinous in stereo. While the instrumental mix isn't too awful for a period piece, Felix Cavaliere's lead vocal is panned back and forth between the channels: the opening "One, two, three!" ping-pongs back and forth, and in the second verse, the voice changes sides in the middle of a syllable. Ask me my opinion, my opinion will be: get the reissues with the mono mixes — or see if you can find an original 45.

One other cool thing about the Rascals, now that I'm thinking about them: their publishing company was called "Slacsar," which is "Rascals" spelled backwards, the sort of thing you didn't see too often. (Eric Burdon's second group of Animals had a publishing unit called "Slamina.") And I never have decided which Rascals track was my favorite: it's either "You Better Run," a stomper with a growling Gene Cornish guitar riff, or "How Can I Be Sure," an atypical Eddie Brigati lead in waltz time, of all things.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 PM)
2 September 2007
Art misdirection

A lot of us have poked fun at pop-music LP jackets over the years, most recently the esteemed Rocket Jones, and there's always been one shibboleth to sustain us: "At least they'd never do something this tacky on a classical release."

Wrong-O, Brucknerian Bob. Jason of Too Many Tristans presents a three-part collection of inexplicable classical-CD covers, including a special Pagliacci edition. "Send in the clowns," indeed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:53 AM)
6 September 2007
Luciano!

What defined the late Luciano Pavarotti as a true superstar, I think, was this: he appeared in some ghastly piece of Hollywood tripe called Yes, Giorgio, playing exactly to type, and it didn't affect his reputation in the slightest.

What hurt was the diagnosis: cancer of the pancreas, which has a survival rate of somewhere around zero. He knew he was doomed, and he canceled his last tour.

Joshua Kosman fills in the details in the San Francisco Chronicle. This quote seems to sum it up:

He had the most gorgeous, supple, musical, Italianate lyric tenor of a half-century — maybe a whole century," said San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley, "as well as a delightful down-to-earth teddy-bear personality that reached out and brought millions of people closer to opera."

And now he belongs to the ages, exactly as you knew he would some day, the very first time you heard him.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
19 September 2007
Two days ahead of the trend

In The Lost Ogle's Top 100 Oklahoma Embarrassments, Hinder placed #4, just below Jim Inhofe. Says the Ogle:

Okay. We know everyone has their own unique taste in music. For the most part, we respect that. But if you're over the age of 21 and enjoy the "music" of Hinder, you need to see a therapist. And be sure to take your Axe Body Spray and Aeropostale shirt with you, too.

That was Monday. Today the Oklahoma Gazette's cover story is Hating Hinder: "Why do so many locals loathe the band?" In the story, it is revealed that there exists a MySpace group called "Citizens Against Hinder!!!", with, yes, three exclamation points.

I know, there's lead time and all, but still — advantage: Ogle.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 PM)
25 September 2007
One girl's life

When I was a kid, I wasn't exactly glued to the phonograph, but I never got too far away from it either. In 1965 (not quite twelve) I'd started buying those magical little plastic wafers, and while the newest stuff was always to be found at the Big Stores, there was much joy to be had browsing through the obscurities, not least because they were often cheaper. One common discount-store practice was to bundle three singles, carefully placing one I might actually have heard of on the outside of the package, and letting the lot go for a buck. I picked up lots of old Motown map-label singles that way.

Spiegel, the Chicago mail-order house, offered record players in several price ranges, and during this period they offered bundles of 45s for cheap; I remember snagging a pack of twenty-five, complete with incredibly-shoddy cardboard carrying case, for something like $4.99. To my despair, there were only twenty-four different titles in the pack: for some reason, they'd thrown in two copies of Wand 171, Nella Dodds' "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers" b/w "A Girl's Life," one of which I bestowed upon my sister.

I knew Wand, vaguely: they were a corporate cousin to Scepter, and the Kingsmen had wound up there. The Dodds record sounded nothing like the Kingsmen, though: this was soulful stuff, somewhere between girl groups and Motown, and it stuck in my head for several decades despite the fact that I'd never heard it on the radio.

Once Al Gore got around to inventing the Internet, I went hunting down other Dodds sides, which turned out to be not so easy a task: she'd become a favorite of the Northern Soul fans in England, and the six singles she'd cut for Wand were commanding big bucks in the collectors' market. I wished I'd held on to that second copy of "Finders," which, it turned out, was her second single: the first had been a cover of the Supremes' "Come See About Me," an album track (from Where Did Our Love Go) that hadn't been scheduled for a single release on its own. "Come See About Me" got airplay on the East Coast, and eventually word of it got back to Berry Gordy, Jr., who wasn't going to stand for this sort of thing and put out the Supremes' version in a hurry, despite the fact that "Baby Love" had been released just last month and was still making chart noise. Diana and company got their third consecutive Number One; poor Nella was cut off at the knees.

I covered a lot of this territory in my Single File review of "Finders Keepers", but I'm mentioning it here because at long last, the wizards at England's Ace Records have gone through the Scepter/Wand vault and reissued on CD all six of Nella's singles, both A and B sides, plus three previously unreleased tracks. As usual with Ace, the documentation is superb, and from it I learned not only what she looked like (rrowr) but that I shouldn't even be looking (when she cut those first sides she was not yet fifteen years old). And you may have seen her anyway: she has a Bacon number of 2.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
29 September 2007
I now appreciate The The

The band !!! (yes, that's its name) is appearing in Dallas next week, which prompted the Dallas Observer's Jonanna Widner to issue a guide to choosing a non-sucky band name (unlike, say, some of these). Some of the rules to be followed:

Use your umlauts sparingly. Thïs döës nöt löök cööl.

Anything with the word "whiskey" in it is guaranteed to blow. You do this and you're destined to the Tuesday night opening slot at Checker's Pool Hall and Sunday night blues jams.

If your band name can be identified by an acronym consisting of its first letters, a la QOTSA (Queens of the Stone Age), it's too long.

This last rule goes back at least as far as, oh, NKOTB.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:42 PM)
1 October 2007
Decelerational thinking

I'm not sure what to make of Emmy Rossum's "Slow Me Down" single, except that:

  • She's obviously studied at the Enya Institute for Advanced Overdubbing;
  • I keep wondering what she'd be like as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro;
  • Is it just me, or is there too much camera technique going on here?


If this gets any airplay at all in OKC, I will be utterly gobsmacked.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 PM)
7 October 2007
The path of Righteousness

The AP has a nice catch-up story about Bill Medley, the taller half of the Righteous Brothers, who at sixty-seven is still out there singing their hits. This bit caught me by surprise, though:

Their signature song, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," is listed by BMI as the most played in the history of American radio.

Medley still performs it every night, along with their other monster hit, "Unchained Melody."

"I have to do 'em," he says, laughing. "Or I wouldn't make it out of town alive."

No doubt. What's weird, of course, is that you can't hear Medley sing at all on the record of "Unchained Melody," issued as Philles 129 (and a B-side at that, the A-side being "Hung On You"); it's pretty much all Bobby Hatfield, who died in 2003. Stories persist that Medley produced "Unchained Melody," since it was a B-side and therefore beneath Phil Spector's dignity; I wish they'd asked Medley about that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 PM)
8 October 2007
Whatever the traffic will bear

I'm contemplating offering £4.50 — a tad over nine bucks — to download Radiohead's new album In Rainbows, and after all, the price is up to me.

Rationale: I'm not exactly a major fan, but I think I want to show support for this decidedly-unusual marketing technique.

What would you do?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:21 PM)
13 October 2007
What are you, Waring?

Blender has put up a list of the 50 Worst Songs Ever, and while I have to agree that most of them are pretty damn dire — I sort of liked "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister, which proves that even the oldest and surliest of us still have a capacity for teenage angst — there's one actual error of fact that I must address. Anent #18, Chicago, "You're the Inspiration":

It’s hard to believe, but at one point Chicago were a fairly well-respected rock band. Then Peter Cetera joined, and they jettisoned any remaining street cred in favor of soft-rock ballads your grandmother would deem harmless.

Cetera, in fact, was an original member of the band, going back to the Big Thing/Chicago Transit Authority days: in addition to playing bass, he sang up front with Robert Lamm on "Questions 67 and 68" (from CTA), wrote "Where Do We Go From Here?" and sang lead on Lamm's "25 or 6 to 4" (both on Chicago II). Admittedly, "Where Do We Go" hinted at Cetera's affinity for sub-power balladry, but it would be years before he transformed entirely into a dentist-office-friendly wuss, and anyway he left Chicago shortly after "You're the Inspiration."

Disclosure: Of the fifty, I actually paid for copies of ten.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:10 PM)
14 October 2007
Preliminary reckoner

I finally got around to downloading that Radiohead album, for which I paid 25p more than I'd announced: £4.75, plus the obligatory 45p service charge. Five days after the initial crunch, the download (48 MB or so) went fairly swiftly: the ten tracks are in MP3 format at a bit rate of 160.

I've also reported my price to What price did you choose?, which is taking a survey of buyers through the end of the month. Chicago Tribune.com is reporting that as of Thursday there had been 1.2 million downloads, though they don't speculate as to how much (if anything) the band made off each one.

There's still the question over whether anyone else can make this particular business model work, though I am at least somewhat hopeful: it likely would not have occurred to me to buy In Rainbows at retail next spring, meaning Radiohead scored about ten bucks in revenue they wouldn't have had otherwise, and if there's a substantial number of nonfans brought into the fold, then the effort, I think, is well justified.

Update, 15 October: Nate, more of a fan than I but not fanatically so, forked over $17.30.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:53 PM)
21 October 2007
Tear-up on aisle six

The one thing you can be sure of about the background music in the supermarket is this: it's not selected with your mind in mind. To wit:

I've always wondered how these stores choose their playlists; I've heard music while shopping that I can only call astonishing, and a great deal of music that, as music does, evokes memories of the past, and those not always happy. Last night I had the whole store almost to myself, and I heard the Beatles song "You Won't See Me" from Rubber Soul, one of my favorite albums of all time, which I received third-hand in childhood, and was flooded with cringe-inducing memories of my adolescence. Then, as I was checking out, an unidentifiable song by the Cocteau Twins came on, which evoked all kinds of painful mental images of my college days, when that band was all the rage among sensitive, artistic, goth-leaning girls because it featured the sort of wordless keening that seemed to express what we wished to call up out of our own souls, but could not in words.

I've done more keening than I'd care to admit, usually in the frozen-foods section. (If nothing else, there's the option of quickly hiding your head in the Lean Cuisine cabinet.)

A further comment to the original:

[P]op music is so painfully particular. Classical music calls forth universal emotions — while it's much more abstract than pop music, the feelings a classical piece evokes will be pretty similar across a listening audience (when my sister was a baby, for instance, she used to weep uncontrollably when my mother played a recording of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, rightfully called the "Pathetique"). But a pop song, while its intentions are much more specific because it has words, has the ability to evoke a wide range of emotions; a pop song is frozen in time, in a sense, and when you hear it, you always experience all over again the feelings and circumstances of your first hearing.

As close as they're likely to get to Tchaikovsky in the stores around here is ELO.

Then again, I've been known to bawl in places other than the supermarket.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
27 October 2007
Where the words come from

La Shawn Barber sees down to the undercurrent:

I sense tension in the music of secular artists (Christians and non) who consciously or subconsciously write Christian themes into their songs. They’re trying to remain secular and keep the fanbase, but at the same time, they’re seeking something deeper themselves and/or want to spread subtle messages to fans. I don’t have anything against overtly Christian music per se, but I find this tension in secular music fascinating.

Something like the reverse was true half a century ago. Gospel chords and harmony and the occasional shout abide at the very heart of rhythm and blues — there was a reason they called it "soul" music, after all — and the secularization of the process to produce actual pop hits may or may not have incorporated a spiritual message. There was, however, some question about the propriety of this kind of transformation: for instance, when Sam Cooke temporarily stepped aside from the Soul Stirrers to put out a pop tune ("Lovable," 1956), he used a pseudonym, lest the gospel fans be upset.

And "seeking something deeper" is a universal human experience. It even worked on Motown's assembly line: your attention is invited to Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" (Soul 35022, 1966). As I wrote in Vent #206:

Ruffin's bad dream, if you take the lyrics at face value, is about nothing more than the consequences of a failed love affair: pretty horrible stuff, yes, but not enough to cause ongoing paralysis of the spirit.

Even allowing the dumpee a certain measure of hyperbole, though, doesn't account for lines like "I walk in shadows, searching for light / Cold and alone, no comfort in sight."

If R&B today seems about as spiritual as Fritz Lang's Metropolis, it's due to cold calculation on the part of its vendors — or maybe it's just wandering in the desert, in which case things should get back to normal in about forty years or so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:52 AM)
29 October 2007
The memories of a satisfied mind

In this Grand Ole Opry clip, Dolly Parton honors her long-time mentor Porter Wagoner, who died last night at 80. Nothing else need be said, really.


Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
30 October 2007
Name that tune

The URL is a stretch, perhaps, but iden.tify.us has a straightforward purpose: you upload some bit of music about which you know next to nothing, and someone, you hope, will be able to, well, identify it.

Michele explains the motivation:

So you no longer have to listen to your friend call you at 1 am humming some damn pop song, asking you if you know what the hell he's singing, because he sure as hell doesn't and he can't possibly fall asleep without knowing the title.

I did sign up, and I did manage to nail down one of the 250-odd tracks awaiting identification, though obviously I haven't heard everything, and my expertise in anything later than about 1985 is dubious at best. And, lazy as I am, I'm subscribing to the podcast, in the hopes that it will make stuff easier to find.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:54 AM)
6 November 2007
He's a complicated man

Bill Peschel's talkin' 'bout "Shaft":

Despite the lyrics, if there’s any justice in the world, this would be a staple of classical orchestras. I want this played at my funeral.

Damn right. Even if it's played on ukuleles.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
9 November 2007
Unexpected tribute

This week's Ready Steady A Go Go podcast, devoted as always to the British beat, roughly 1962-1966 (same years, by coincidence, as the fabled Beatles "red album"), opened with a Tommy Quickly recording: "The Wild Side of Life," issued on Pye in 1964.

This was host Michael Lynch's nod to the late Hank Thompson, who died this week at 82, and who cut the original version of "The Wild Side of Life" way back in 1952.

I'd like to think God made one limited-edition honky-tonk angel to mark the occasion.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:31 AM)
22 November 2007
One at a time

Quick, now: How many record albums (or the CD, or whatever, equivalent) do you have that have no filler tracks whatsoever? One, maybe two? Yeah, they got seven singles off Thriller, out of a possible nine, but has anyone played, say, "Baby Be Mine" lately?

Jermaine Dupri would question your judgment if you hadn't:

Every album is created for you to hear the next song, especially on rap albums. Rappers make intros on their records for a reason — they want you to listen it to set the mood and get ready for that second song.

I'm not saying that music can't ever be sold as singles. Not every album is equal and consumers are always going to try to cherry pick the songs they like. But that doesn't mean the people who [are] investing their time, money and sweat into a record shouldn't have the right to decide how it's gonna be sold, whether that's in single units or as a whole. My book, Young, Rich and Dangerous: The Making of a Music Mogul, came out in hardcover last month, but Simon & Schuster doesn't let the book stores tear it up and sell it chapter by chapter. A record is no different.

Remember, children: start at the beginning and work your way to the end, just as Jermaine Dupri intends. And he's quite serious:

Apple, why are you helping the consumer destroy our canvas? We don't tell you to break up your computers into bits and pieces and sell off each thing. When you go to the Apple store you may only need one thing, but you have to buy all their plug ins and stuff. You have to buy their whole package, even if you don't necessarily want it, or your equipment won't work. We're just saying, if you have the audacity to sell your products like that, don't treat our products as something less than yours.

Suggestions to Mr Dupri:

  1. Release albums with one track. There is precedent: Tubular Bells, Thick as a Brick. (Yes, there's the inevitable division into Parts I and II, but this was made necessary by the limited playing time of the LP record.)

  2. If you don't want the iTunes Store selling your stuff, don't license it to them. Simple as that.

Me, I take my lead from the late James "Shep" Sheppard, who put together a seamless set of songs telling a single story: the love affair from start to finish. What's more, he did it before Pet Sounds. And here's the kicker: he did it on singles, more than a dozen 45s, starting with the Heartbeats' "Crazy for You" (1955), passing through "A Thousand Miles Away" (1956) and its presumed sequel "Daddy's Home" by Shep and the Limelites (1961), culminating in "I'm All Alone" (1962). None of them made much chart noise except "Daddy's Home," which made Number Two, and it took six years to get them all into circulation, but it's at least as compelling a story as anything you're likely to hear from the likes of Jermaine Dupri. And you can get most of them at the iTunes Store — one at a time, if you wish.

(Suggested by the singular La Shawn Barber.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:53 AM)
23 November 2007
Strong to the Finnish

The Brits talk about "northern soul," and you can't get much more northern than this: a soul band from Finland, fronted by a singer born in Brooklyn.

Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators. I kept looking around for indications that this was some lost 1970 Motown track, but no: 2005, Helsinki. It's going to take me a long time to get tired of this one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 AM)
30 November 2007
Without rage or ruin

You gotta love John Fogerty. We've misunderstood "Bad Moon Rising" for years, and this week he actually sang it the way we heard it:

Fogerty had a little fun with the song when he got to the chorus: "Don't go around tonight / Well, it's bound to take your life / There's a bad moon on the rise." Apparently a lot of people hear that last line as "There's a bathroom on the right."

So Fogerty sang it that way Wednesday night, even pointing off to the right during his performance at the Chicago Theatre, WLS-AM Chicago, reported.

'Scuse me while I kiss this guy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:46 PM)
10 December 2007
Theme with wild variations

Tomorrow night marks the premiere of Playwrights Horizons' production of Doris to Darlene, a Cautionary Valentine, a new play by Jordan Harrison, directed by Les Waters. The premise:

Doris to Darlene, a Cautionary Valentine begins in the candy-colored 1960s, when a biracial schoolgirl named Doris (de'Adre Aziza) is molded into pop star Darlene by a whiz-kid record producer (Michael Crane) who culls a top-ten hit out of Richard Wagner's Liebestod. Rewind to the candy-colored 1860s, where Wagner (David Chandler) is writing the melody that will become Darlene's hit song. Fast-forward to the not-so-candy-colored present, where a teenager (Tobias Segal) obsesses over Darlene's music — and his music teacher (Tom Nelis). Three dissonant decades merge into an unlikely harmony in this time-jumping pop fairy tale about the dreams and disasters behind one transcendent song.

Pictures and background here, though if you're anything like me, what you want to know is what sort of pop tune can be coaxed out of Tristan und Isolde. Herewith the answer, though I will not be responsible for any reactions by Mad King Ludwig.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:08 PM)
13 December 2007
Nice and rough

Inasmuch as everything else you're going to read about the late Ike Turner focuses on his seriously-dysfunctional relationship with Tina, I'm going to spend some time on the musical stuff, which starts in his late teens in the Mississippi delta with the founding of the Kings of Rhythm, who cut one of the contenders for First Rock and Roll Record in late 1950: "Rocket 88," credited to Kings vocalist/sax player Jackie Brenston and his, um, "Delta Cats," written by Turner, who played that amazingly-distorted guitar. Chess picked it up for national distribution and watched it become a jukebox staple. For the next several years the Kings toured and Ike played, in addition to guitar, the role of roving A&R man, looking for good tracks he could place with major R&B labels. Around 1958 the Kings took on a teenaged background vocalist from Tennessee named Annie Mae Bullock; in 1960, the scheduled singer having failed to show for the recording session, Annie did the lead on a new Ike tune called "A Fool in Love," which was credited to "Ike and Tina Turner," though the two didn't actually wed until 1962, and the traveling troupe became the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

Ike and Tina were major R&B stars into the 1970s. (Their backup singers, the Ikettes, made some good records of their own in the mid-Sixties.) After they split, her career eclipsed his, at least partly because he had some serious brushes with the law; the pair were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, but Ike, in jail on drug charges, did not attend the ceremony. (Tina, graciously, accepted for him.)

By 1993, Ike had cleaned up his act and gone back to what he'd always done best: playing those bluesy licks. And he kept on doing that right up until the end.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 AM)
17 December 2007
At the heart of it all

Now that we love
Now that the lonely nights are over
How do we make love stay?

Now that we know
The fire can burn bright or merely smolder
How do we keep it from dying away?

Elusive as dreams
Barely remembered in the morning
Love like a phantom flies

But held in the heart
It pales like the empty smile adorning
A statue with sightless eyes

Moments fleet taste sweet within the rapture
When precious flesh is greedily consumed
But mystery's a thing not easily captured
And once deceased not easily exhumed

Now that we love
Now that the lonely nights are over
How do we make love stay?

   —Dan Fogelberg (1951-2007), a master of the language of love. Godspeed, old friend.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
18 December 2007
Under the influences

I'm not a music critic, nor do I play one on TV, and it's been months since I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express, but I can't argue with Michele's point here:

Don't give me some standard pretentious claptrap as to why the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street ranks right up there with the discovery of penicillin. Be honest. You love the album because it's what was playing on the stereo when you finally got that goofy looking chick from the record store to make out with you. I can get behind that. That's important. Setting industry standards and enlightening legions of 12 year olds with guitars takes a back seat to flashbacks of banging Mary Anne Brady every time you hear "Tumbling Dice."

Truth be told, I've always been leery of chicks from record stores, even before I saw this. And were I to pick favorite records based purely on teenage quasi-sexual activity, well, my list would be as empty now as my dance card was then.

On the other hand, I don't think you should have to make up some pretentious nonsense about how some song exemplifies contemporary use of the Dorian mode (as does, for example, the Association's "Along Comes Mary"), or how some song, owing to its stirringly-vague lyrics, can evoke two different meanings simultaneously (as does, for example, the Association's "Along Comes Mary"). Some music reaches your head; some music reaches your heart; some music reaches, um, somewhere else entirely.

Besides, Linda Ronstadt pretty much ruined "Tumbling Dice" for me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:53 PM)
22 December 2007
Heads together

In this Wired interchange between David Byrne (Talking Heads) and Thom Yorke (Radiohead), the two Heads agreed on one thing: actually selling CDs isn't what keeps them going. Ben Worthen writes for wsj.com:

One takeaway with broader implications for any business: Yorke and Byrne say that with the rise of the Internet and digital distribution of their products — i.e. the music they make — aren't what make them money, anymore. Instead they use the music as a marketing tool and make money through licensing deals, concerts and the like.

Incidentally, Yorke addresses the issue of the name-your-own price release head on: "In terms of digital income, we've made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever — in terms of anything on the Net," he says.

Jeff Brokaw draws the conclusion that's obvious to anyone not running a record company:

So the record companies spent how much money, and prosecuted how many people, trying to protect content best used as a marketing tool?

HA!

Indeed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
27 December 2007
Taking the high road

I'll be the first to tell you that I haven't the faintest clue what's going to happen next in popular music, though I think it's probably a fairly safe bet that big bands aren't coming back. (Of course, to the real fans, they never went away, but how many real fans are there left?)

I've always suspected that the reason for the decline of the big band was purely financial: it's an expensive sort of operation. And for a while I entertained the notion that video indeed had killed all those radio stars; but after looking over a sheaf of Soundies, three-minute films from the Forties that played on a jukebox-like contraption called the Panoram, I don't for a moment believe that the big band can't work on the small screen.

To support this premise, here is the implausibly-lovely Martha Tilton, backed up by Ben Pollack's orchestra, in the classic "Loch Lomond," a mixture of wistful nostalgia and blatant cheesecake, a potent combination in 1941 and no less effective sixty-odd years later.


Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 PM)
12 January 2008
A reason to smile

Once upon a time I zinged poor Chris Muir for some extremely-trivial pop-culture goof, and I suspect he made a solemn vow to himself never to go through that sort of thing again. Anyway, this one was perfect:

Day By Day 1-12-08

Here's the album in question:

I'll Cry if I Want To

Whole lot of tears on that record, you know?

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:01 PM)
13 January 2008
Totally new and retro

And now, another case where I knew that something existed, but had no idea what it might be called.

"It," in this case, is "machinima", a sort of squoze-down version of "machine cinema," and it's just what you think it is: computer-generated video. It's derived, though, not from the hyperexpensive 3D animation software you see at the movies, but from comparatively-simple desktop-based stuff. And there is an advantage to this: you can do the renderings in real time, rather than have to set up acres of rendering hardware and wait for them to crunch zillions of numbers. So it looks patently artificial, but it's still massive fun, and when actual artists get hold of it, the results are inspiring.

Dawn Eden put up a remarkable example of machinima, a music video set to the Crests' "The Angels Listened In," designed by Charlemange Fezza of Pew Man Fu Studios using the technology of The Sims. I was properly impressed, scanned through more than a dozen more of Charlemange's works — she has her own YouTube channel — and decided to post her take on B. J. Thomas's original, ooga-chaka-free version of "Hooked on a Feeling."


By the time she's done, she'll probably have the entire Left Banke catalog animated.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 AM)
14 January 2008
Now this is devotion

In a sidebar to a profile of rapper Lupe Fiasco in Entertainment Weekly (#974, 18 January), two adjacent statistics:

553,713 MySpace friends; 554,000 total album units sold.

He has 287 fans on Facebook, right?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 PM)
18 January 2008
That's right, I'm sad and blue

After all, I can't do the boogaloo:

Monday night on the car radio, Dick Biondi (94.7 "classic hits and true oldies") introduced an old song he had played last week, and gotten some good feedback on, called "Gimme Dat Ding".

It's a goofy little ditty, from 1970, with a rollicking barrelhouse piano. I wonder if iTunes has it; I need to get this for our iPods.

Not in its original form, they don't, unless I misread the list entirely.

And suddenly, an image appeared in my head, of an old 45, and on the label it said "The Pipkins". The label was sort of an orangey off-white color. The writing was black. It was there, plain as day, in my brain. I don't remember if that was my record, or if I'd just seen it somewhere and remembered what it looked like, or if I totally invented it. It was just there.

Capitol, which issued this in the States (#2819), had a number of different 45 labels over the years, some of which were indeed orangey. My copy, however, has a blue label; it's one of Capitol's Star Line reissue singles, #6210, and it's backed with "Neanderthal Man" by Hotlegs, who might conceivably be described as 7.5cc.

And I ripped them both for my own iTunes installation, because they didn't have the original "Neanderthal Man" either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:54 AM)
25 January 2008
A whole bunch spoiled

Eighteen records ascended to Number One on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in 1971, and I acknowledged their worthiness by buying sixteen of them. Here's one I didn't:

And then we have "One Bad Apple" by The Osmonds.

Gawd, what a piece of crap this thing is. The tune is lame, the production values and "musicianship" are even worse, and the singing is, well, not so great. They're trying so hard to "out-Jackson" the Jackson 5, you can just feel it coming through the radio. And it just ain't workin'.

It sounds like some high school project by a bunch of nerdy kids who learned three chords in one major scale on a $99 electronic keyboard. After spending 10 minutes writing a melody. And improvising the words. And trying to sing like somebody else. But sounding worse.

Other than that, though, it rocks!

Oh, the other one I didn't buy? Thirteen-year-old Donny Osmond's take on the Goffin/King jailbait anthem "Go Away Little Girl," in which you have to assume he's shooing away some smitten fourth-grader. I don't revile everything in the Osmonds oeuvre — "Sweet and Innocent," another Donny solo, while every bit as unconvincing for the same reason, eventually grew on me — but you have to figure that this act couldn't possibly have come to flower in any other year but 1971, where the first new Number One was "Knock Three Times" and the last was "Brand New Key."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
26 January 2008
Off the front page

Those of you with incredibly long memories will recall that there's been non-blog stuff going on at this site since its first few pages went up in the spring of '96; most of it is covered in the front-page sidebar under the title "Vital features." I spent much of today sprucing up one of those features.

"Single File" is identified as a "not-quite-random assortment of not-quite-forgotten songs," stuff I picked out of the archives for no discernible reason other than the fact that I could come up with a paragraph about it. It occurred to me last night that no matter how well I describe a record, it's no substitute for actually hearing it, and not wishing to have rabid record-industry lawyers beating down the door, I decided I would add to each of the entries — there are somewhere around forty — a thirty-second sound sample. (They're in MP3 format with a 128 bit rate: nothing special.) If I learned anything from the experience, it's that not every record suggests an obvious half-minute excerpt, which you'd think would have been perfectly clear to me after a certain amount of ringtone experience.

Anyway, I got all those in place, and even wrote up a new item for the list: "Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl" by the Barbarians.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:49 PM)
10 February 2008
With a single purpose

Advice to garage-sale types with old recordings, by Brian J. Noggle:

Jeez, you record and cassette sellers, you need to know your price point here. Individual songs are a buck on the Internet. If someone wants to buy your old record or cassette, that person probably wants one song for sure and perhaps the rest as "maybe I'll like it, too." So you need to beat that dollar price point. You cannot hope that the stuff you liked back in the day along with millions of other teenagers in your generation will somehow prove to be a "collector's item." Keep it under a buck, or you'll keep it, period.

And one other thing: if something really is a collector's item, the collector is not likely to tell you so. If you have a mint LP of, say, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, you're probably better off trying to move it on eBay.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:59 AM)
15 February 2008
The no-slot jukebox

First, you need to know both title and artist: then feed this information into Songerize, and maybe you'll get to hear the song. I say "maybe" because there is a nonzero possibility that the site won't be able to pull it up for you. On my first tries, I got two out of three: Cat Stevens' "Wild World" and Little Peggy March's "I Will Follow Him" came up, while Petula Clark's "Chariot," which is the French song from which "I Will Follow Him" was adapted, failed to appear.

How it works:

Songerize is a simplified interface for the SeeqPod.com music search engine. Think of us as SeeqPod's "I'm Feeling Lucky" button.

To see what this was about, I went to SeeqPod, ascertained that there were results for "Hole in the Earth" by the Deftones, and came back to Songerize to listen. Weirdly, I got the right song at the wrong speed: imagine an LP played at 45 rpm. I'm wondering if maybe this might have been some sort of ruse to throw off the RIAA's robot minions; I pulled the file out of cache, renamed it, and sent it to Winamp, where it played correctly.

I have a feeling I'm going to be playing with this gizmo entirely too often.

(Suggested by David.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:23 PM)
29 February 2008
That Tottenham sound

DC6, actuallyIt took long enough, but the Dave Clark Five are finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — though poor Mike Smith, DC5 vocalist and keyboard player, won't make it to the ceremony: yesterday he died at a hospital outside London. He was 64 and had been in poor health for some time; a fall in 2003 had left him partially paralyzed. (Before that, he had kept up his performing schedule; Dawn Eden reports from onstage.)

The Five were perhaps the most serious rivals to the Beatles during the early days of the British Invasion; they appeared 18 times on The Ed Sullivan Show, and famously got about the States in a plane of their own — though not this one, which I worked into the cover art for a DC5 compilation I made for home and road use. Dave Clark was the drummer, and he contributed some major thump to the recordings, but the true heart of the DC5 sound was Mike Smith's voice, supplemented occasionally by his Vox Continental organ. There was an effort to promote the Five as having a Tottenham sound, as distinguished from Merseybeat up in Liverpool, but not a whole lot came of it. Besides, DC5 singles were easily recognizable anyway: they were quick — only one of their big hits, a 1967 cover of "You've Got What It Takes," grazed the three-minute mark — and they were punchy. (Sample for a limited time only: "Try Too Hard", from 1966, on which Smith sings and plays a simple but memorable piano bit. It runs a whole 2:08.) "The music was fun," said Smith in a 1988 interview. "It had no message. It was just supposed to be about fun and good times." And good times they were.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 AM)
7 March 2008
Chronicles of dumpage

Five songs in succession on satellite radio:

  • Miss Murder — AFI
  • Sorrow — Bad Religion
  • No More Sorrow — Linkin Park
  • I Hope You Die — Bloodhound Gang
  • Lie — Black Light Burns

And the inevitable conclusion:

It makes me think that someone may have just been dumped....

Wait a minute. Satellite radio lets the hosts pick their own playlists? Coolness.

More to the point, while I am insufferably pleased with myself for recognizing all five of those acts, if not necessarily all five of those songs, I really don't know how I'd run a twenty-minute set of Songs for the Dumped. (Well, I suppose I'd have to include "Song for the Dumped" by Ben Folds Five.) Being the sort who tends to turn anger inward, I'd probably opt for brooding stuff like the Frankie Valli B-side "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)," which became a massive Spectoresque wail fronted by the Walker Brothers. Suggestions are welcomed, not that I expect to need them for personal use.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 AM)
13 March 2008
Being for the benefit of Mr Wenner

You'll occasionally hear the term "critical darling" applied to a performer who gets rave reviews yet no attention from the audience as a whole. This is, suggests Mark Edwards in the Sunday Times, due to a basic difference in philosophy:

[I]n the unlikely event that someone, one day, bets you a large amount of money that you won't be able to identify which person in a crowd of strangers is a music journalist — without asking them directly what they do for a living — here's how you win the bet. Go up to each person in turn and ask them to name their favourite Beatles track. The music journalist is the one who chooses "Tomorrow Never Knows."

You can be sure of two things. First, nobody who doesn't listen to music for a living will choose the final track on Revolver. An early pop gem such as "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," perhaps, or a psychedelic masterpiece such as "Strawberry Fields Forever," or a late-period sing-along such as "Hey Jude," but not "Tomorrow Never Knows." Second, the music critic has to say "Tomorrow Never Knows." It's the law. If they choose "Penny Lane" or "Let It Be," they'll be drummed out of the union.

There follows a list of critically-adored albums which the public shuns, and then a list of big hits which the critics abhor. In defense of the public taste, I insist that when Genesis titled an album We Can't Dance, they were merely being truthful.

Add to "to-do" list: Ask Dawn Eden about her favorite Beatles song.

Update: She's answered, and it's "There's a Place."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 PM)
29 March 2008
Alternatively, he and her

It takes, I think, a certain amount of cheek to designate something which may or may not have a follow-up "Volume One," and the concept is perhaps more honored in the breach. The first Smothers Brothers best-of compilation was called Golden Hits Vol. 2: not only was there no Volume 1, but everything in Vol. 2 was newly recorded versions of previously-issued material. The Traveling Wilburys issued two albums, Volume 1 and Volume 3. Even Mad magazine got into the act: the first issue (October/November 1952) was of course Volume 1, Number 1; more than 400 issues later, Mad has yet to reach Volume 2.

She & Him Volume OneWhich brings us to She & Him, whose first album on Merge Records is called Volume One. And the group name makes more musical than grammatical sense: She (Zooey Deschanel) is out front, but the backgrounds (and occasional background vocals) come from Him (M. Ward). I was woefully unprepared for this set, since I had barely heard of Ward, and my one exposure to Deschanel, her portrayal of Trillian in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, had left me with one of those annoying fanboy crushes. Based on Volume One, that crush isn't going away any time soon.

Deschanel wrote most of these songs, and they fit into a mostly-forgotten segment of the pop spectrum: wedged between Shelby Flint and Norma Tanega. ("Black Hole," to me, sounds like a long-lost sequel to "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog"; here's a live version from SXSW 2008, with Ward on guitar.) Not to say that they're all of a piece, either: Deschanel does girl-group fluff ("I Was Made for You") and country yearns ("Got Me") equally well. Ward's backgrounds, augmented with outside drums and pedal steel, are spare and satisfying. There are three covers: the Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better," given a Judy Collins-ish folkie-yet-arty treatment; Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," with both voices harmonizing over a single guitar; and the spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which brings things to a gentle close. Not one track over four minutes, and not one wasted moment.

Technical note: While CDs are available, I bought Volume One as a download from Amazon.com ($8.99). Unlike previous Amazon downloads, which were at a fixed 256-kbps bitrate, these tracks are all variable-rate, floating up to 320 at times.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:45 AM)
5 April 2008
Do we need a state rock song?

I'm still reeling over our state vegetable, so I shudder to think what would be considered an appropriate rock and/or roll number to celebrate at the Oklahoma History Center, and indeed my first look at the nominees list so far did nothing to ease the twitch.

So, prodded by Jason Bondy, I sent in the one and only song that makes sense to me in this context: Wanda Jackson's "Funnel of Love" (Capitol 4553, 1961), which offers not one, not two, but three connections to this state:

  1. Wanda's from Maud, and today lives in Moore.
  2. The tasty guitar licks are provided by latter-day Tulsan Roy Clark.
  3. What could be more Oklahoman than Tornado as Metaphor? I mean, really.

I hope someone on the committee at least has heard of it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 AM)
11 April 2008
Me gotta go

This being "Louie Louie" Day, it is incumbent upon me as an advocate of the "three chords, no waiting" school of music to give you something to celebrate with.

Which means this:

Richard Berry, who wrote this tune back in 1957 (and who would have been seventy-three today), made this appearance at a "Louie Louie" parade in San Francisco in 1988, a fundraiser for the Leukemia Society of America. The band is local surf outfit The Shockwaves.

Eric Predoehl, who produced this video, notes:

Those that know the history of Richard Berry know that he had physical disabilities due to some childhood injuries. He took up music partially because of his disabilities. In this video, you can see him DANCING, and that's a wonderful thing!

And if you never quite figured out the words, now's your chance.

(Suggested by Jennifer.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 AM)
16 April 2008
Let there be remixes and mashups

I'd mentioned earlier that I was buying the new Nine Inch Nails set, Ghosts I-IV. I paid ten bucks plus shipping for the basic two-CD set, which came with a single download opportunity before the actual discs were pressed. Downloadable files, though, don't generally tell you things like this, which I found in the CD booklet:

This album is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial Share Alike license. More information: www.creativecommons.org.

Specifically:

This license [by-nc-sa] lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

As for the 36 tracks themselves, to me they sound like building blocks, parts of a yet-unreleased, maybe even yet-unconceived whole. Maybe that's the whole point: NIN provides the raw materials, and you create your own version thereof. You'd do that anyway, inside your head, but the licensing on Ghosts I-IV hints that Reznor is interested in other interpretations besides his own. No wonder he never got along with record companies.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
18 April 2008
Timing is everything (v2.42)

Larry Levine, the engineer at L.A.'s Gold Star Studios, was the man who built Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, so if anyone could confirm an old legend, he could:

At nearly four minutes long, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" was a lengthy single by radio standards of the era. "It was running 3:50, and Phil was really worried that no DJs would play it," Levine recalls. "So I suggested that we mark the record 3:05, and if anyone asked we could say it was a typo. Phil went along with that. We knew the programmers would figure it out after they listened to it. But at least it made sure that it got played once. It's a good thing, too."

Which is by way of reminding you of this item from 2005:

What makes the perfect song? Rich Appel, in his monthly newsletter Hz So Good, proposes criteria: "To me, the perfect song is about 2:30, has a beginning, middle and end, and is easy to sing along with."

Hard to argue with that, though I'd stretch it out a few more seconds; seemingly every Motown hit up through 1967 or so ran somewhere between 2:40 and 3:00.

The sweet spot, argues Joshua Allen, is 2:42:

My scientists told me that the perfect song length had to be closer to three minutes than two, but definitely shorter than three minutes. Three minutes is where bloat starts to set in. Where the band thinks: Hey, let's do the chorus seven times. Hey, let's give the saxophone guy a real moment to shine on this one. Hey, let's add another bridge....

The scientists then dug up this song by a group that pretty much defines one-hit wonder: the La's. The song is "There She Goes," and is so flawless that it instantly made everything else the band did pointless. This ditty is two minutes and 42 seconds, and is all about songwriting economy.

Allen also points to the Beatles' "Lovely Rita" as an exemplar of the breed:

It delivers that psychedelic vibe and a coda but then gets the hell out of your life.

The Fab Four's exquisite sense of timing — "Hey Jude" and "Revolution #9" aside — is manifest elsewhere: "Eight Days a Week" comes in at 2:42, as do three songs from the White Album ("Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Birthday" and "Happiness Is a Warm Gun"). Weirdly, or maybe not so weirdly, Underground Sunshine's slavish cover of "Birthday" also ran 2:42.

Allen offers a proposed mix tape of songs running 2:42. I'd like to suggest a few more:

  • "Love Me Tender" (Elvis Presley)
  • "Ooh Baby Baby" (The Miracles)
  • "California Nights" (Lesley Gore)
  • "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (Aretha Franklin)
  • "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (Glen Campbell)
  • "Midnight Confessions" (The Grass Roots)
  • "Down on the Corner" (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

All of these conform to Allen's dictum:

When [the song] is over, I guarantee absolutely no one in the room goes: "Jesus, finally."

(About the title: I've had two previous posts with this name.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:11 AM)
5 May 2008
Being given The Slip

Trini sent me a download link for the newest Nine Inch Nails project, The Slip, which was offered as a Zip file full of variable-rate MP3s or, if you do torrents, Apple Lossless, FLAC or actual .wav files. I don't do torrents, so I opted for the MP3s, which sounded decent enough.

Somewhere during the download, I found myself with a horrible thought: What if I actually met NIN's Trent Reznor and he turned out to be your genial, neighborly, 1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero sort of guy? Surely he can't be this angst-y all the time, especially after having cleaned up 100 percent following some industrial-strength substance abuse.

Or maybe he can, and after some reflection (and listening to the tracks on The Slip), I figured out just what it was I've been responding to in NIN's music. Reznor isn't even close to monochromatic, tonally or emotionally; but his reaction to emotion, as I perceive it anyway, is binary: he confronts it, or he wallows in it. This is very like me, except that I do way more wallowing than confronting. I tossed this notion at Trini, who is more of a NIN fan than I am, and she said that it made sense to her. Then again, I suspect she's still a bit surprised that I, barely on the near side of fifty-five, pay the slightest bit of attention to Nine Inch Nails, especially given my affinity for the Dawn Eden dictum "I don't consider myself legally bound to know about any music past 1968."

Speaking of 1968, Kim du Toit has a nice overview of some choice albums of that year, not all of which have been played to death in the subsequent four decades. Trent Reznor, I note for no particular reason, was three that year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 PM)
10 May 2008
Can't get them out of my head

Has there ever been a band so staggeringly popular and simultaneously so roundly despised as the Electric Light Orchestra?

To this day, I haven't been able to figure out if Randy Newman's "The Story of a Rock and Roll Band" is intended as affectionate tribute or cruel mockery, and it's been out for almost thirty years. And speaking of this day, today Entertainment Weekly hit the mailbox, and here's Diablo Cody:

The soundtrack to my life is pure fondue: cheesy, gooey, prone to accidental seepage. Venture within 20 yards of my house and you risk exposure to high levels of ELO.

I was an ELO fan the hard way: I started out listening to the Move, whose last three members (Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, Bev Bevan) were the nucleus of ELO, though Wood departed after the first album. I still play their stuff. If you're within twenty yards of my house, be warned.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 PM)
21 May 2008
A long way from Abbey Road

Beatles historian Bruce Spizer has a fab story in the current Goldmine (#727, 6/6/08): an almost frightening amount of detail regarding Introducing the Beatles, the 1964 Vee-Jay album — everyone who's dated it to '63, which would include me, is apparently wrong — which might have sold more copies as a bootleg than it ever did as a legitimate release. (There's a guide on how to value the real issues and how to spot the boots, although I was reasonably certain beforehand that my own copy, acquired well after 1964, was a counterfeit.)

Things I had wondered about:

  • How come three-quarters of the countoff for "I Saw Her Standing There" is missing? (It was apparently edited out by the engineer at Universal Recording, which did the mastering for Vee-Jay.)

  • Did any of the Vee-Jay single releases get major radio airplay? ("Please Please Me" made #35 on WLS Chicago; "From Me to You" hit #32 on KRLA Los Angeles, though it was buried nationally by Del Shannon's cover version.)

  • Where did all the bootlegs come from? (Says Spizer, the boots distributed on the West Coast were pressed by a former Vee-Jay staffer; East Coast boots might have had some connection to organized crime.)

Of course, this album will never show up on CD: Vee-Jay hasn't had the rights to any of this material since 1964, and if you have the British Please Please Me disc, you have all the tracks anyway. Still, Beatles backstory is almost always entertaining, even to people who weren't around for Beatlemania. I told Trini a few weeks ago about Capitol's early lack of interest in the Beatles, which is how this stuff wound up on Vee-Jay in the first place, and she was fascinated by this example of record-company bungling, perhaps because so many of her favorite acts have had problems with their labels.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
23 May 2008
A timely reminder

Courtesy of the late Allan Sherman, and sung to a possibly-recognizable tune:

When you go to the delicatessen store
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst
I repeat what I just said before
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst

Oh, buy the corned beef if you must
The pickled herring you can trust
And the lox puts you in orbit A-OK
But that big hunk of liverwurst
Has been there since October first
And today is the 23rd of May

So when you go to the delicatessen store
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst
It'll make your insides awful sore
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst

(More or less a reprint from this date in 2005.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:23 AM)
31 May 2008
Beethoven: not rolling over

Classical music in its death throes, you think? Scott Foglesong, chair of Music Theory and Musicianship at the San Francisco Conservatory, has heard the same stories you have:

We hear that audiences are dwindling and lacking initiative. The orchestras stick stolidly to the old standbys. Performing arts organizations float belly-up at an increasingly alarming rate. The recording industry is making like the Worm of Ouroboros, consuming itself and threatening to vanish altogether. Nobody cares about contemporary music, least of all opera. There are no Mozarts, Beethovens, or even Bruchs around these days. Sheesh. Cassandras proliferate and the soothsayers augur dire portents.

But, as Ira Gershwin might have said, it ain't necessarily so:

Let's begin with the conservatories and the music schools, which produce the musicians to come and are therefore extremely good indicators of the overall state of affairs. If classical music were indeed a dying art, then we should expect the conservatories to be suffering from shrinking enrollments, faculty attrition, poor funding, and the like.

It turns out that the opposite is true. The conservatories are not only thriving: they're expanding. Building projects flourish throughout the US, enrollments are high, and the overall level of student achievement is deeply impressive.

That's just Part 1. There are three more. Consider this:

Building a concert hall is not a trivial undertaking, perhaps not on the scale of ballparks or coliseums, but nonetheless requiring a sizable investment in funding, planning, and community support. If classical music in the United States were becoming extinct, then it follows that concert halls would be crumbling away, and certainly there would be very little — if any — new construction going on.

Without knocking myself out, I was able to determine the construction dates for 199 concert halls, ranging from a date of 1861 for the building of the Howard Gillman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, to 2009 for the completion of Kansas City's Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. My findings — such as they are — go far to contradict any notions of malaise.

To begin with, of those 199 concert halls, 66 have been built since 1990 — nearly one third of the total. It would appear that of late we've been building concert halls like crazy.

But what about recordings? Aren't record stores dying?

There is more recorded classical music available right now, cheaper and easier to access, than at any time in the history of recorded sound.

Online, the pickings are incredibly rich. For physical CDs, ArkivMusic and Amazon can provide just about anything you can imagine. For downloads, iTunes Music Store, Amazon, ClassicsOnline, Deutsche Grammophon, and HDTracks are great resources.

Just wait until Tchaikovsky gets the news.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 PM)
2 June 2008
Some people don't know Diddley

Bo Diddley, that is. And if there's any truth to the old truism that rock and roll is a hybrid of R&B and country, this is the man who made it so: a bluesman par excellence, he developed his signature beat while trying to come up with a suitably-bluesy version of a Gene Autry tune. The Bo Diddley beat debuted in a song called, of all things, "Bo Diddley," which the man waxed in 1955; it's still around today.

(For a couple of examples, your attention is directed to "When the Lovelight Comes Shining Through His Eyes," the Supremes' first Top 40 hit, and "Desire," off U2's Rattle and Hum album. Twenty-five years apart, and still easily recognizable as Diddley's children.)

Diddley's own compositions landed at an odd angle to the rest of the rock and rhythm universe. "Say Man," his only single to reach high on the pop charts, wasn't a song at all: it's a two-sided dis, a straightforward yet hilarious version of the dozens, Bo and Jerome Green swapping insults as old as the hills and enjoying it no end. ("I already figured out what you is. You that thing I throw peanuts at!") It stops short of "Yo mama," but only just.

Bo died today at his home in Archer, Florida; he was seventy-nine. That one hambone beat, though, is pretty much eternal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:04 PM)
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

These archives begin 6 September 2006. For items beginning in August 2002, click here and select the desired category.

Click the Permalink on an individual entry to read comments and TrackBacks if any.