Archive for Tongue and Groove

A hedgerow with fewer bustles

Led Zeppelin, in this particular instance anyway, are Not Plagiarists:

Led Zeppelin have won a copyright lawsuit that claimed they had plagiarized the music to their most celebrated song, “Stairway to Heaven.” A Los Angeles jury determined Thursday that the lawyer representing the estate of late guitarist Randy Wolfe, who played with the group Spirit, did not prove that the hard rockers lifted the song’s intro from Spirit’s 1968 instrumental “Taurus.”

The band was, if not gleeful, certainly relieved:

“We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years,” members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant said in a statement. “We appreciate our fans’ support and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”

Jake Holmes, who’d sued Zeppelin over “Dazed and Confused” in 2010, eventually reached a settlement with the band.


It’s syndicated!

Now and again, a chance remark by a friend will send me off in several directions:

The Syndicate of Sound! Now there’s a name to reckon with. From the liner notes of their one and only LP (Bell 6001, 1966):

These five young men, who hail from San Jose, California, have captivated the attention of almost every musical minded individual around these United States. They mix their musical talent with an exciting stage presentation that is so necessary to succeed.

The words of “Chuck” Patti, who managed the band in those days. Probably not an English major, but what the heck.

Despite being tagged as a one-hit wonder — “Little Girl,” after breaking out in Oklahoma City, a great Top 40 town in its day, was picked up by Bell for national distribution and twanged its way to #8 — the Syndicate would chart twice more before disappearing after 1970. The B-side of “Little Girl” was a lovely little ballad called “You,” with lead singer Don Baskin doubling on flute, about as unlike the A-side as you were likely to find in those halcyon days of 1966.

Acts as diverse as the Dead Boys, Dwight Yoakam, and Divinyls have covered “Little Girl,” but sometimes you have to go back to the source:

Still Don Baskin singing, and two other original members of the Syndicate on hand for that 2014 live set.


Good bone structure

In Our Bones by Against the Current cover artAfter three independently released EPs, the upstate-New York trio Against the Current signed to a sort-of-major label, Fueled By Ramen, distributed by the Atlantic Group. I’d reviewed the Infinity EP favorably, and I’d been following Chrissy Costanza’s Twitter feed, which is an intriguing mix of post-adolescent annoyance and road-inflicted world-weariness, so the band’s first full-length album, In Our Bones, was inevitably going to be on my must-buy list, especially considering what I’d said about Infinity:

In American Bandstand parlance, I’d give it an 88: it’s got plenty of beat, it’s highly danceable, and the songs aren’t instantly forgettable.

I’ll happily bump up In Our Bones to 90 or so: any of these twelve tracks could serve as an object lesson in Earworm Production, melding Pat Benatar-level ferocity with lyrical twists worthy of Taylor Swift. The consistency is startling: no song here is shorter than 2:59 or longer than 3:44, and every one of them incorporates a serious hook. (Okay, maybe “Demons,” the closer, is not quite so hook-y.) I think I might have wanted a little more guitar in some of the final mixes, and the way “Roses” sneaks up on you is cruel: it sounds so much like your Standard Break-Up Song, until you find out that it isn’t.

“Running With the Wild Things” was the lead single:

In Our Bones found its way to #2 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart, though progress up the 200, the all-inclusive chart, has been slow: last I looked it was perched at #181. Then again, ATC started out as a YouTube fave — 1.2 million subscribers — and toured the world before ever releasing this album, so I imagine they’re fairly happy, if maybe a little tired.

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What a difference a half-century makes


Audience member: “Judas!”

Bob Dylan: “I don’t believe you! You’re a liar!”


Audience member: “Freebird!”

Bob Dylan:

The times, they have been a-changin’.

(Via Q104.3 New York.)


The Dormouse had it right

After mentioning Jefferson Airplane’s relatively few forays into the Top Ten back in the day — yes, folks, it’s a Slick fixation we have here, or something — I figured it might be time to focus on the best of those tunes, “White Rabbit,” recorded in 1967 and included on their Surrealistic Pillow album. Everyone knows what it’s about, of course: all the Alice in Wonderland shtick is there, just like you remember it.

But there’s more going on here. This is, I would argue, the second-best homage to Ravel’s Boléro in all of pop/rock. (The best: Roy Orbison’s “Running Scared,” from 1961.) I admit, though, this didn’t become obvious to me until some enterprising soul kindly split up Grace Slick’s vocal track and the instrumental backing, in which things become so obvious even I can’t overlook them.

(With thanks to Tom Caswell.)

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A child across the seas

The Small Kindness humanitarian organisation requests your attention for a moment:

As the world’s TV attention and news programs focus on the masses, commenting on the millions of refugees filling Europe, the real human tragedy and story of one single life is missed.

Our video focuses on the suffering of just one solitary boy who wants to go back home, but loses his life while searching for humanity. The campaign #YouAreNotAlone calls on us all to reach out and support these innocent of war.

The video is by Small Kindness founder Yusuf, otherwise The Artist Formerly Known As Cat Stevens:

It’s not quite the same voice that sang to Lady D’Arbanville four decades and odd ago, but it’s still compelling.


What happens when you don’t let it go

British comic Philip Green has developed a small cottage industry on the side: making fun of Meghan Trainor. A sample:

I don’t think I saw quite all of that coming.

Green also takes on “Me Too,” with comparable results.


No static at all

Rather a lot of us grew up in circumstances like these:

If you were born a few years before the era of Teen Death Songs, as I was, you might remember when AM radio stations played music. The greater fidelity of transmission and reception provided by FM radio put an end to that, of course. Yet some of the hits of the early Sixties don’t sound quite right in high fidelity. They seem to have been designed to be heard on tinny, staticky AM radios … specifically, the sort of radio that was built into the dashboard of a 1965 Chevy Caprice.

The result is a seeming loss of authenticity when those early AM radio hits are reproduced on modern equipment. The listening experience just isn’t the same. Why, to this day I can’t abide hearing “Walk Away, Renee” in remastered digital quality sound. My wife, that heretic, suggests that it might be because of the wear and tear fifty years of sitting in front of a computer monitor has put on my ears, but I know she and all my other friends are just trying to make me paranoid, and I’m not going to let them!

For what it’s worth, there is no known original stereo tape of the Left Banke’s third single, “Desiree”; all versions in release are the 45 single mix. That said, the “Renee” version linked seems a bit more heinous than usual.

And that said, rather a lot of Sixties records were cut specifically with auto audio in mind. For (one very big) instance:

In his still essential Motown history Where Did Our Love Go? Nelson George writes, “Motown chief engineer Mike McClain built a miniscule, tinny-sounding radio designed to approximate the sound of a car radio. The high-end bias of Motown’s recordings can be partially traced to the company’s reliance on this piece of equipment.” They knew people would be listening on their car stereos and on their transistor sets and they were going to do what it took to make their songs sound good and memorable. Even if you couldn’t put your finger on it, when a Motown song came on, you knew it.

I have a copy of “Dancing in the Street,” carefully de-noised, painstakingly remixed, and lovingly remastered. It has about one-sixth the impact of the mono single.

And I may as well admit here that our local Top 40 AM station had a simulcast on FM. The FM was a little cleaner, but not enormously so; more to the point, AM radio sets of the era were simply better than they are now. When seemingly all the music started moving to FM, receiver manufacturers found the idea of cheaping out on the AM sections irresistible. I have Bose audio in my car. CDs are great, FM is fair to good depending on station practice, and AM is not much better than an old Princess phone. Yet there are still some good AM sets to be had, if you look around.

More worrisome is the prospect of being stuck with remasters hereafter:

Last fall, we wrote about the record labels moving on from streaming companies to instead suing CBS over its terrestrial radio operations playing pre-1972 songs as well. CBS hit back with what we considered to be a fairly bizarre defense: claiming that it wasn’t actually playing any pre-1972 music, because all of the recordings it used had been remastered after 1972, and those recordings should have a new and distinct copyright from the original sound recording. As we noted at the time, an internet company called Bluebeat had tried a version of this argument years earlier only to have it shot down by the courts (though its argument ignored the whole derivative works issue).

Now, in a somewhat stunning ruling, the court has agreed with CBS that remastered works get new copyrights as derivative works of the original. You can read the full court order here [pdf]. The court, correctly, notes that for a work to get a new copyright, it must show originality beyond the initial work — and that originality “must be more than trivial.”

Will somebody at whoever the hell has the rights to the Mercury/Smash catalog now order a new version of “Desiree”? I’d bet on it.

(With thanks to Roger Green.)

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Meanwhile on Choctaw Ridge

“It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day…”

Everything you know about Bobbie Gentry starts with that one line, and of course you know the song:

That half-raspy belle-but-not-of-the-ball voice of hers became instantly recognizable, and it saw her through a few smaller hits on the way to oblivion.

Bobbie Gentry for Top of the Pops circa August 1968

Bobbie Gentry goes slightly wild

This is about the place where I’d insert a recent picture. But here’s the catch: there aren’t any recent pictures. Some time after her 1978 single “He Did Me Wrong (But He Did It Right)” failed to catch on, she withdrew from the public eye almost entirely.

Neely Tucker went looking for her:

Bobbie Gentry lives about a two-hour drive from the site of the Tallahatchie Bridge that made her so famous, in a gated community, in a very nice house that cost about $1.5 million. Her neighbors, some locals and some real estate agents know who she is, although it’s not clear which of her many possible names she goes by.

And no, we still don’t know what was being thrown off that bridge before Billie Joe consigned himself to those muddy waters. There was a film sort of based on the song, but there’s no reason to suspect it’s canon; it’s not even spelled right. Nor is the death of Billie Joe the worst thing that ever happened on the Tallahatchie; Emmett Till wound up there, and he was murdered.

(I am indebted to Roger Green for turning up that B&W picture, which apparently the BBC had in one of its libraries.)

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Swag of a sort

Back in February, I reviewed Sabrina Lentini’s second EP, which is titled, um, Sabrina Lentini. (My Google-Fu is legendary.) I’d been part of the crowdsourcing process, and at my level, I got not only five downloadable tracks, but actual hard copy plus an autographed photo, when she got around to it.

She’s gotten around to it. Girl goes through Sharpies like I go through Advil. It’s an actual, properly pressed CD — none of that CD-R stuff — and it’s got credits and everything. The 5×7 color glossy is amusing: she’s working a camera that looks to be at least 50 percent older than she is. (The back contains the cryptic message “Sabrina hi-res IMG_6318.jpg,” probably left there by the place that printed all these up.) Forever Daisy Music, her publishing and production operation, has a cute logo — it’s on the CD label — apparently drawn by someone who bought a lot of late-Sixties records from Elektra.

The songs, of course, are as good as ever.


Turn on your radio

Ontogeny might not recapitulate phylogeny the way we once thought, or at least the way Ernst Haeckel thought, but pop music parallels a whole lot of cultural evolution:

When there’s war, either actual or likely, you get nice bright shiny happy music — rock in the 50s and 60s, disco in the 70s, techno in the 80s, hedonistic tween pop now. But when things are great — as in the 1990s — you get songs about how awful everything is (grunge, nu metal). The only caveat here is that you have to look at what’s actually on the charts, not just what you think is going to be there — Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane never sniffed the top 10, and the only Doors songs to do so were treacly pop crap like “Touch Me.” Acidy stuff was there, but most “Sixties” music shared chart space with, and usually lost out to, crap like “Harper Valley PTA” and “Sugar Sugar” (the top song of 1969, the very year of Woodstock!).

“Somebody to Love” hit #5 in Billboard, and “White Rabbit” made it to #8, which may explain why Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane album that contained them both, topped out at #3. However, this was a short-lived phenomenon at best; JA’s third-biggest hit, “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” stopped two slots short of the Top 40, and nothing else came close to that. (We will pretend not to notice “We Built This City,” an inexplicable #1 for the de-Jeffersoned “Starship” in 1985.) The chart history of Jimi Hendrix contains no zingers, even brief ones: Hendrix’ much-loved reworking of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” stalled at #20, and “Purple Haze,” which everyone thought of as Jimi’s Big Hit, died at #65.

And while viewing that last paragraph, you should keep in mind that I have always had a taste for treacly pop crap, dating back at least as far as, oh, “Johnny Angel.”

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Un, deux, cinq

Garage rock is mind-boggling in itself. Now imagine Canadian garage rock.

Okay, maybe the Guess Who when Chad Allan was out front. They were from Manitoba, which is like Iowa with a shorter growing season. It took a little longer for me to turn up a garage band from Montreal:

“1-2-5” was the only Haunted single to be released down here in the States, on the always-quirky Amy label. I missed it when it came out in 1966.

The last Haunted single, in 1968, comprised two French-language covers: “Vapeur Mauve” b/w “Pourquoi”. You know both these songs in English already.

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News duly spread

I’m thinking they had 80 or 90 cents left over from that Kickstarter, and so:

I am sworn not to mention that the Del-Vikings actually came out of Pittsburgh.


Shirley, she can be serious

I put nothing past singer/actress Shirley Manson, who once upon a time was a shop assistant at Miss Selfridge, but wound up assigned to the stockroom, lest she come into contact with actual customers. (This is almost exactly my attitude toward retail.) That voice, however, was meant to sing, and after about a decade of various English appearances, she wound up fronting a Madison, Wisconsin band called Garbage, which would put out four albums in ten years before going on hiatus. Their third album, beautifulgarbage, contained an extremely catchy song — “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)” — with an extremely sketchy video in which the band is faceless and then some.

Shirley Manson green-screened out of the frame

Manson does not remember this video fondly.

Garbage reunited in 2012, and Manson did her part to promote their efforts:

Shirley Manson on a carpet that isn't red

Shirley Manson in a publicity pose

In the interim, she had recorded, but ultimately shelved, a solo album. The sixth Garbage album, Strange Little Birds, will be out in June, and this is the lead single:

Later this summer, Shirley Manson turns 50. I don’t believe it either.

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Back from Clarksville

Good Times! by the MonkeesIn 1966, if you’d told me there would be a new Monkees album in 2016, I’d have gone into Full Guffaw; yeah, this band, to the extent it really was a band, may hang around for a while, but no way they’ll even be remembered half a century from now, let alone in the studio cutting new material, and hey, Don Kirshner will be — what, a hundred and thirty?

Shows you what I knew then. (Hey, I was thirteen. Gimme a break.) The three surviving Monkees — Davy Jones died in 2012 at sixty-six — with the able assistance of ace producer Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), have reunited for a twelve-track popfest that ranks as the second best Monkees waxing ever, right after whichever Greatest Hits compilation you have. As always, there’s first-class outside material, plus contributions from the band themselves; the voices are a bit deeper than they were 50 years ago, but the singing is every bit as good. Do they play their own instruments? Depends on the track. On the closer, “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time),” Micky Dolenz sings and plays drums; Schlesinger takes care of bass and piano, and genius guitarist and occasional Schlesinger associate Mike Viola does the six-string thing. One track here has sort of appeared before: “Love to Love,” a Neil Diamond (!) number sung by Davy, recorded for the Headquarters sessions but struck from the track list before release. It surfaced as a bonus track in a 2007 reissue; this version adds backing vocals from Peter Tork and Micky.

Perhaps the most Sixties track here is “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” a Carole King/Gerry Goffin number made famous by the Byrds, recorded in 1968 and given fresh Tork vocals here. The least? Maybe “I Know What I Know,” written and sung by Mike Nesmith, a piano-driven piece that would have fit in well with Nez’ First National Band material.

If you’ve been a fan all these years, congratulations: you’ve just been justified. And besides, Don Kirshner’s long gone.

(In case the FTC asks: I bought this.)

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You can tell me when it’s over

Of all the songs on Taylor Swift’s 1989, none move me the way “Blank Space” does, not because I identify with either of its participants, the one who loves the players or the one who loves the game, but because it’s the logical successor to a hit from a quarter-century before:

Garnett, a New Zealander whose family relocated to Canada when she was 11, landed this slightly suggestive song at #4 in 1964. It’s highly proto-Swiftian, not just because it proposes a relationship outside the usual boundaries of love, but because it might have been written about an ex-boyfriend: in this case, Hoyt Axton. According to legend, she left Axton this song after their year, or however long it was that they were together, and he recorded it himself; but Garnett’s later waxing was the hit.

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You can’t use this

No, we don’t care who wrote it:

SoundCloud booted Chet Faker off the streaming platform today for copyright infringement … of one of his own tracks.

The Australian electronica megastar, real name Nick Murphy, tweeted that SoundCloud issued him with one of its infamous takedown notices for detecting that “one of his tracks may contain copyrighted content.”

This is the track in question:

Automated copyright-infringement detection. How does it work? (Answer: Not very well.)


Crowdfunding rokks

Freezepop’s Sean T. Drinkwater, musing on the success of the band’s recent Kickstarter, now at about 2.5 times its original goal:

A year and a half ago, when the idea of crowdfunding a record came up, I also voiced objection to this. “Let’s shop the record,” I said, confident that some reasonably intelligent label would get it and want to put the album out and save us a ton of work. We might not see very much cash from it, as such, but it would be handled by people who are more adept at getting records out into the world and promoting them. I was soundly outvoted (come to think of it there never was a vote, and since I have realized in recent years that I am, in fact, stupid, I usually acquiesce to the will of the other band members). I didn’t want to be seen as begging, or as being too pathetic to be signed to a “real” record deal.

In other news, some labels are believed to be reasonably intelligent.

We reached our initial goal in 48 hours and we’re still just completely shocked and overwhelmed by this. I am personally still processing the situation and I’m somewhat emotional about it. We started the band in 1999, and of course one wants some sense of validation that it hasn’t been a complete waste of 17 years. Well, more than the cash (NOT TO DISCOUNT THE CASH) I feel like we got this. It’s inspiring.

What’s also been so lovely to us are all the beautiful comments and stories that people have left on the Kickstarter page. It’s nice to think that we have been a part of these people’s lives, especially since the music business is no longer particularly lucrative or a warm and welcoming place. When I’m crawling into the coffin I would love to think “hey well that mattered to some people and wasn’t just us dorking around endlessly.”

Thirteen hundred backers so far (myself and Roger Green included).

I suspect Mr Drinkwater has come around quite a bit in the two weeks since he put this out:

Not to discount the beach.


Looking for the goodies

Ciara’s 2015 single “Dance Like We’re Making Love” somehow managed to crawl only up to the very bottom of the Billboard Hot 100, and I’m not sure why; the song is catchy enough, and I can’t really fault the visuals here:

I mean, it’s not like she’s prudish and buttoned-down and such. From about that same time, a trip to the ESPYs:

Ciara at the 2015 ESPYs

Ciara is generally very good at working that slit-up-to-here style, as she demonstrated at the Grammys earlier this year:

Ciara at the 58th Grammy Awards

And to be fair, it’s not always the left leg on display:

Ciara at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards

Then again, you haven’t seen the front of this dress, which I have decided to put after the jump:

Ciara at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards

This is, of course, because I’m prudish and buttoned-down and such.

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Persistence of earworm

There’s a channel on YouTube called She Politico Legs, whose purpose in life is to show you women in politics, or at least near politics, from here down. I admit to taking a look every now and then. (Which, by coincidence, is equivalent to their uploading schedule.)

The clips run three minutes or so, and there is background music. And the background music for this particular clip has been bothering me for many months:

This is a track I would happily buy if I could find it, but, as I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t been able to find it. It’s even stumped the fairly-reliable Shazam app. I left a comment for the proprietors of the channel, who have not yet responded.

I note with amusement that according to the text early on, the subject of this clip is the Mayor of “Baltimare,” which is a city on the eastern coast of Equestria, south and west of Fillydelphia; my short story The way she used to be opens and closes in Baltimare.


A somewhat quieter stream

Classical-music performances may vary in length, often due to conductor preferences. (I have two recordings of Ravel’s Boléro, and one runs two minutes longer than the other.) So I’m not particularly worried if this piece was performed slightly faster than normal:

Then again, it could have been a sloppy editing job. You never know these days.

(Via Maria Dahvana Headley.)

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Peter Sarstedt’s epic “Where Do You Go To My Lovely” opens with this line: “You talk like Marlene Dietrich / And you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire.”

Which is high praise indeed. Zizi’s breakthrough ballet was Carmen, choreographed in 1949 by Roland Petit, who also danced the role of Don José, and to whom she was married five years later.

Zizi Jeanmaire in Carmen 1949

Although we will note for record that Zizi was still officially Renée Jeanmaire in those days.

Zizi Jeanmaire strikes a pose

Zizi Jeanmaire whirls

In addition to ballet, she would appear in films through the 1950s, and actually cut a few records in the Sixties, the biggest of which might have been “Mon truc en plumes” (“My Thing With Feathers,” 1961). In this twelve-minute clip from 1979, she sings two songs, neither of which are “Mon truc en plumes,” and dances up a storm:

Zizi retired in 1982; she was widowed in 2011 when Petit died. She lives in Geneva, and she just turned 92 last month.

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Not sophomoric

Cover art Meghan Trainor Thank YouMeghan Trainor’s Title album ran up such amazing numbers — exactly eight albums in the entire world outsold it in 2015 — that I was prepared for a major letdown with her second effort, Thank You. The story goes that Epic Records bossman L. A. Reid was not overly impressed with the album as it was presented to him, dismissing it as “an album of Nice Meghan,” prompting M-Train to go dash off a badass anthem with serious attitude. “No” was a hit, reaching #3, and at least some of the concerns were allayed.

The late-Fifties doo-wop feel of Title has been ruthlessly excised, replaced in most cases by R&B beats: “Watch Me Do” invokes, musically and lyrically, the spirit of James Brown, and “No” out-Britneys Britney. The slow acoustic songs don’t quite fare so well, except for “Kindly Call Me Down,” a visit to Adeleville that tugs at the heartstrings with the strength of a meathook. Sophomore slump? Maybe, to some extent. “Champagne Problems,” to be sure, isn’t a patch on Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Boy Problems.” But when something goofily upbeat like “Dance Like Yo Daddy” comes along, you get moving so quickly that you forget what a nifty lyricist Trainor really is. (“Simon says, go touch your nose / Meghan says, touch your toes / But like, I still can’t touch my toes.”) So long as the next album is not a double-length live set, I’ll keep on paying attention.


We are not delirious

Mexican actress Anahí Giovanna Puente de Velasco — you can just call her Anahí, everyone else does — occupies a rather uncommon spot near the intersection of Pop Culture and Politics: in her thirty-three years she’s been an actress, a member of a musical girl group, and a solo singer/songwriter, and last year she wed Manuel Velasco Coello, governor of the Mexican state of Chiapas.

One might expect from this CV that she’d have a certain visual appeal, and you’ll get no argument from me:

Anahí out in front

Anahí sitting in the back

A thousand kisses from Anahí and Pepsi

In 2009, Anahí came up with this poppy tune called “Mi Delirio,” which I think was her first entry into the Billboard US Latin chart, peaking at #29. Parts of the video are perhaps disturbing:

Then again, you don’t need Google to translate “Mi Delirio.”

Feliz cumpleaños, Anahí.


Seems really legit

Somehow this struck me as odd:

Taylor Swift turned heads Tuesday night when she accepted two major honors — including one named after her — at the 64th annual BMI Pop Awards held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Wait a minute. Named after her?

The country-turned-pop star’s family joined her for the special ceremony where she was honored with the first-ever Taylor Swift Award for “incomparable creative and artistic talent and influence on music lovers around the world,” as described by BMI.

In other news, Lou Gehrig died of Lou Gehrig’s disease.


Synths and sensibility

After Switched-On Bach, the deluge: all manner of music was processed through the magical Moog and its rival devices. Perhaps the biggest hit was a Debussy collection called Snowflakes Are Dancing, on which Isao Tomita spent fourteen months trying to do polyphonics on a machine that did one note at a time. Wendy Carlos faced the same issue on her early Moog work, but she was doing mostly Bach, nicely mathematical and discrete. Debussy, a “tone painter,” would prove tricker, but not at all impossible:

The only off-note is the title of the collection, a slightly warped translation of Debussy’s original La neige danse. I played the very dickens out of this disc, and it still comes out a couple times a year to remind me.

Unfortunately, this came down the stream yesterday:

Tomita was 84. And before he was through, he did some Bach of his own:

The numbers still add up.


At which point I turned around

My introduction to Laura Branigan was the brilliant European synthpop single “Self Control,” which climbed to #3 in 1984; I kept up with her for a while after that, and was rather startled at her death — cerebral aneurysm — in 2004. Self Control, the album, was her third, and I must admit that I didn’t go back to check out the first two, or else I’d have heard this:

Which is essentially this song with a new set of lyrics:

Falco, who actually wrote “Der Kommissar,” probably had some frustration of his own, with two wildly different cover versions eclipsing his original.

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Let there be toughness

Angela Bofill turns 62 today, and oh, if she were still singing!

Angela Bofill

Not many Latina singers were making inroads into the R&B market in the late 1970s. Angie, Bofill’s first album in 1978, did decently well; the lead track, “Under the Moon and Over the Sky,” somewhat overshadowed the official single release, “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter.” She enjoyed reasonable success, if never a monster breakout hit, despite continuing efforts to tweak her image in whatever direction might work.

Cover art for Too Tough by Angela Bofill

Her last single was “Heavenly Love” in 1993. She continued to perform until 2006, when a pair of strokes, eighteen months apart, left her partially paralyzed and unable to sing. However, she somehow remained a stage presence, doing a show called The Angela Bofill Experience, in which she speaks, somewhat haltingly, while others, including Melba Moore, sing her signature songs.

“I used to study opera. Used to teach voice. Used to have perfect pitch. Now, no pitch.”

I can imagine her smiling through that.

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Someone to depend on

Cover art for Santana IVThe first three Santana albums, two of which were titled Santana — for clarity, one of them is known commonly as Santana III — constituted an amazing body of work, much of which remains essential to the Classic Rock format today, four and a half decades after the fact. The blending of hard-rock tropes with Latin rhythms, with Carlos Santana’s guitar dancing on top, made for a remarkably satisfying musical experience, and I still pull out these records — particularly the second, Abraxas — on a regular basis.

So you could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned that that original Santana lineup would be issuing a new album, with the unsubtle title Santana IV. I turned in a preorder with dizzying speed, and waited to see what what would happen.

And now that it’s happened? Well, it’s pretty much as billed: a worthy continuation of the sounds Santana made famous. At various points in this 75-minute showcase, you’ll hear echoes of the things you heard before; Carlos still plays an amazingly liquid guitar, and the reconstituted band has forgotten none of the tricks it deployed way back when. (The only missing player from the Golden Era is percussionist José “Chepito” Areas.) What Santana IV doesn’t do is take you to places you’ve never been before: if you’re familiar with the band, you’ll know what’s going on every step of the way. This wasn’t the case with, say, Abraxas, where the improbable fusion of British blues to Hungarian jazz — in a single track! — not only pushed your Good Listening button but actually jacked up your sense of wonder.

So you’ve been here before. If this was one of your favorite vacation spots, welcome back: things are just the way you remember them. (Ronald Isley contributes a couple of hypersmooth lead vocals.) If you missed this band the first time around, this is almost as good an introduction as the original Santana albums. But if you weren’t that crazy about them before, this is not going to be your giant step into the fandom — though you may like the lead single, “Anywhere You Want to Go”, which encapsulates much of what’s going on.

Disclosure: Purchased at retail.

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Good clean fun

Unexpectedly, the Monkees — the Monkees! — put out two singles in 1987, one of which (“Heart and Soul,” and no, not that “Heart and Soul”) crawled into the lower reaches of the Hot 100. And that was the end of that, right?

You are wrong, daydream believer:

This wasn’t exactly the same lineup that appeared on the Pool It! album in ’87; Michael Nesmith has returned, and Davy Jones has gone on to Rock and Roll Heaven. Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz? Present.

This particular song was written by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. And song sources are all over the map: there’s one by Nez, one by Tork, one by Dolenz with Adam Schlesinger — the Fountains of Wayne frontman also produced — and, perhaps inevitably, one by Neil Diamond and one by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Not so inevitably: songs by Harry Nilsson, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and a joint effort by Paul Weller (!) and Noel Gallagher (!!).

Good Times! is due out on the 27th from Rhino, which owns the rights to all those old Monkees records you would never, ever bring yourself to discard.

(Since you asked, “Good Clean Fun” is a 1969 Monkees single, written by Nesmith, that also crawled into the lower reaches of the Hot 100.)