Archive for Tongue and Groove

Rhymes with “flatten ‘em”

Way back in those dear, dead days of 1976, the Recording Industry Association of America proclaimed a new certification: Platinum, which was twice as high as Gold. A gold record in those days required sales of one million singles, or 500,000 albums, so this was an aspirational goal. (The first platinum album was Eagles: Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), which everyone has but me.) In 1989, as the singles market was evaporating, the RIAA cut the threshold for singles by half, but a platinum album still had to sell a million.

This year, the number of platinum albums is … one. And it’s a soundtrack, yet: to Disney’s Frozen. No individual artist or band has come even close to moving a million:

The two records nearest the magic number are Beyoncé’s self-titled album and Lorde’s Pure Heroine, but neither have even crossed the 800,000 mark, with sales of both having tapered off months ago.

Then again, Taylor Swift’s 1989 drops next week. I mention purely in passing that “Shake It Off,” the lead single, has already moved two million copies.

There were, as it happens, sixty platinum singles this year. As they did at the beginning of what the late Casey Kasem used to call the Rock Era, singles rule the popular-music market once more.

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All my bass are belong to her

Meghan Trainor has owned the charts of late with that weird little tune called “All About That Bass,” popularly interpreted as a body-acceptance anthem. (I think that line about “skinny bitches” probably disqualifies it, but I still adore the record.) And if she looks appallingly young, well, she’s not yet 21: she’s entitled.

Entertainment Weekly spent one page of a three-page article on this:

Meghan Trainor on a bicycle

And while her Amy-Winehouse-meets-the-Shirelles sound has its own charms, this is what seriously makes me grin: “All About That Bass” comes from a 2014 EP with the title Title. That’s the name of it. And she’s not pulling anyone’s chain, either. Here’s the (audio only) title song, so to speak:

I’ll consider that a supplementary explanation for the bicycle.

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They did the Mash

And boy, did they:

The formal release of this track (and fourteen others) is still a couple of weeks away, but hey, that’s why there’s a video out now.

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Sentimental on my mind

Glen Campbell, now in the final stage of Alzheimer’s, will soon leave the stage entirely. He has left us one last song, with the ironic title “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”:

The melody is somber and contemplative, but the lyrics show Campbell’s ability to find irony in his disease. The result is a beautiful combination of sadness and joy, which ends much too quickly.

At least the man from Delight goes out on a somewhat-happy note.

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One last ride at midnight

Paul Revere occupied the same relative position to the Raiders as did Harold Melvin to the Blue Notes: he was nominally the leader of the group, and hardly ever missed a show, but most of the time, the focus was on the lead singer — Mark Lindsay for the Raiders, Teddy Pendergrass for the Blue Notes.

The Raiders came out of Idaho around 1958, and scored an instrumental hit in 1961 with “Like, Long Hair,” a piano-boogie number that sounded nothing like anything they did afterwards. In 1963, they were caught up in the “Louie Louie” madness sparked by Rockin’ Robin Roberts; their own relatively polished version of the old Richard Berry semi-calypso song was well-received, but didn’t quite have the impact of the utterly insane Kingsmen version. Still, “Louie” got them a look from big-time Columbia Records, which put them to work grinding out mono singles, because it wasn’t worth the effort mixing that rock and/or roll stuff into stereo. Subsequently, the band wangled a gig with Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is series, and started wearing fanciful American Revolution-ish duds, as seen here on the Ed Sullivan show (Revere, as always, playing the Vox Continental organ):

“Kicks,” written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, was ostensibly addressed to an unnamed girl with problems who, we found out later, was not a girl at all.

In August of this year Revere, seventy-six, retired from the band; he died Saturday back home in Idaho. Oh, and “Paul Revere” was two-thirds of his real name; his family name was Dick. I do not know if he was related to Tim Allen, also a Dick.

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Mars, the bringer of yocks

The Ran-Dells’ original waxing of “The Martian Hop,” from the summer of 1963, was a cheerfully demented slice of space-age doo-wop that Dr. Demento himself was happy to play on his radio show; it’s always been a personal favorite of mine for absolutely no good reason other than sheer silliness.

Still, to hit the true heights of dementia, it takes the French:

I think M. Salvador lifted that opening proto-synthesizer bit, but otherwise this is scarifyingly original.

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Also, it helps to know all the chords

They say that Guitar George of the Sultans of Swing can’t afford a new instrument, so he buys vintage. For the best vintage, this is way beyond George’s budget, but vendors of cheap guitars tend to post those prices due to non-musical considerations:

The complete disregard with which these guitars are treated by eBay sellers, pawnshops, MusicGoRounds, and Guitar Centers helps me understand why so many of the “Burst” Les Pauls from 1958-1959 are still missing despite the fact that any of them would be worth $150,000 in any condition if they could be found today. There’s nothing quite as worthless as an old guitar in the eyes of a lot of people. The fact that none of the Electras I bought lately set me back more than $299 drives that point home.

I bet you that there are still hundreds of extremely valuable Les Pauls sitting in barns and basements, crushed and broken, forgotten and abandoned. They’re out there to be found, but the people who find them won’t like the condition their conditions are in, to quote the old song. Luckily for me, I’m not in that market. I’m just buying guitars from 1981 and 1982, buying them cheap and stacking them deep, building a fortress of rock maple around an idealized version of my childhood, you get the idea.

Yeah, yeah, oh yeah.

I wonder how true this is of pianos. (Then again, who pawns a piano?)

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See Spotify run

Pretty much all of this Bob Lefsetz rumbling about, or orthogonal to, Spotify, is wrong, but some parts of it are wronger than others. For instance:

LPs … 1964, the advent of the Beatles, to 1982, the advent of the CD.

The CD … 1982 to 2000, when usurped by the MP3.

MP3s? By 2018 they’re HISTORY!

Like each of those points represents a major discontinuity. CD players in 1982 were a thousand bucks apiece, and actual CDs, when you could find them, were close to $20; it would be years before they made a serious dent in vinyl.

The LP, incidentally, dates to that year of years, 1948, and while it’s strictly a niche market today, it’s still here, 66 years later. A lot of eighteens have gone by.

The only problem we have today is everyone’s got a voice, and those who don’t win complain, whereas we didn’t used to hear from them. Ignore them. Focus on the winners. Spread the word about them. And know that if your identity is based on liking something no one else does, chances are you’re going to live a very lonely life.

Yeah, it’s a tragedy I’m not lapping up those [name of overblown pop star] tracks. Sucks to be me.

(Via Hit Coffee.)

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A voice from days gone by

Timi Yuro died in the spring of 2004 — the cancer that took away her voice eventually took the rest of her — and I gave her a sendoff in these pages. I wasn’t doing pictures back then, or at least not many, and I didn’t give the matter much more thought until a new-release announcement came down the wire from one of those reissue labels: a two-CD set containing her first four albums plus bonus tracks. And they’d used a manually-colored version of this old Hollywood publicity photo:

Timi Yuro glamour shot

If you’re interested, here’s an Amazon link. “Hurt” was her biggest hit, but the one that’s stayed with me is “What’s A Matter Baby,” which I described this way:

Sung and recorded at the very edge of distortion, then remixed by Phil Spector, this may be Yuro’s best: the voice is just as big, and the finger she’s pointing is even bigger.

Especially since Spector apparently did this without the approval of either Clyde Otis, who produced the track and co-wrote the song, or Al Bennett, who was running Liberty Records, Timi’s label.

But the operative word is “big,” and, well, she wasn’t all that big in real life:

Timi Yuro seated

Five foot one, maybe. On the radio, you never noticed this sort of thing, and you wouldn’t have cared if you did.

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A different swing altogether

The explanation isn’t any more complicated than this:

When Han Solo was about to be placed in carbonite, he told Chewie to take care of Princess Leia. What happened after that was almost a love story for the ages. Almost.

Um, yeah. Almost:

If there’s anything I love as much as my favorite songs, it’s my favorite songs as filtered through Star Wars. And these are the same folks who did this one:

Read the rest of this entry »

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I think she was needling us

While looking for something else entirely, I happened upon this Shaggs-y one-off single by Diva Zappa, Frank’s youngest (she’s 35 now). “When the Ball Drops” is a seriously wacky tale of trying to find a date for New Year’s Eve — and worse, New Year’s Eve 1999, before the New Millennium does, or doesn’t, begin. (You want Year Zero, talk to Trent Reznor.) Diva’s vocals are archly awful, which I assume is intentional; the backing vocals by Tipper and Kristen Gore — well, I prefer to believe that this is the one time in history when anyone in the Gore household did something amusing. Tipper also plays drums, for what that’s worth.

I’d heard Diva’s middle name was Muffin; according to discography site Discogs.com, her full name is Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen Zappa. She’s done some acting, and that one record, but her main interest is knitting:

I knit and make one of a kind wearable pieces of art. I blend color and magic, whimsy and love into every piece.

And I admit to smiling at this:

All pieces are inspired by light, faeries, magic, gunfire, Bruce Willis, tea and animals (to name a few).

Sounds like Frank. Except for the faeries, anyway.

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Rhymes with “yell”

Danielle Dax, according to Allmusic, just turned 56. I wouldn’t have guessed: the music she played seldom seemed to belong to any era, no matter when it came out. She did, however, look fetching behind a guitar-like object:

Danielle Dax tuning up

“Cat-House,” the single — it was eventually put out on a compilation album called Dark Adapted Eye — dates from around 1988.

In 1995, she released, on her own Biter of Thorpe (!) label, a compilation called Comatose Non-Reaction: The Thwarted Pop Career of Danielle Dax, which goes on my One Of These Days list.

After the jump, a still from Neil Jordan’s 1984 fantasy film The Company of Wolves, in which Dax plays the Wolfgirl. She has no lines, but she will not be ignored:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Fourth among many

George Hamilton IV — yes, that was his real name, and no, he’s not related to the guy with the preternatural tan — was one of the guys who taught me how to rewrite songs on the fly for satirical (I hoped) purposes. Of course, neither Hamilton nor the writers of his biggest hit song (Bob Gibson and John D. Loudermilk) ever intended such a thing: it just happened.

This was that biggest chart hit, hitting #15 on the pop chart and #1 country in 1963:

Which I promptly turned into an auto-parts advertisement:

Valvoline,
Valvoline,
Slipperiest oil that I’ve ever seen;
All my engines run real clean
With Valvoline —
Try Valvoline.

Hamilton himself made mockery of “Abilene” in the four-dollar-a-gallon days:

Hamilton’s other big hit, “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” — well, let’s not get too blatant here.

George, a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1960, died last week of a heart attack in Nashville at seventy-seven.

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Up and coming

For some reason, singer Angela Everwood added me to her Twitter list, and as is my usual practice, I went out to look for a reason to reciprocate.

And here it is:

This is the sort of Taylor Swift-ish song that Taylor Swift isn’t interested in doing anymore, so I’m glad Angela’s here to take up the slack.

She has several tracks posted to ReverbNation for your dancing and dining pleasure.

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Several last things

The other day I got Twitterspammed — if that isn’t a word, it should be — by someone whose main interest in life, judging by that day’s tweet production, was promoting this song:

“Good theme that swings”? Okay, I’ll look.

This was the song, and I liked it enough to snag it from iTunes:

I know from nothing here, except that Aldrey is from Venezuela, and that this video was shot largely at a pediatric hospital in Maracaibo — which makes its bucket-list lyrics just a hair more poignant.

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A two-octave range

I have always wondered — since the early 1970s or thereabouts, anyway — just how it was that Bernie Taupin could churn out the words first, and only then would Elton John come up with a melody to fit them.

I need no longer wonder:

(Via Maureen Johnson.)

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Crewe cuts

Bob Crewe made great records in the Fifties, the Sixties, and into the Seventies and Eighties. When word came down that he’d died in a Maine nursing home Thursday — complications from a fall, which is something you don’t want to have at eighty-three — I slapped a bunch of them on the stereo, and finally declared two personal favorites, both by the 4 Seasons, both produced by Crewe, both co-written by Crewe with 4 Seasons stalwart Bob Gaudio, released within ten weeks of one another in that magical year of 1964. Fifty years later, these tracks still make me smile, and sometimes a great deal more than that.

“Rag Doll” (Philips 40211) hit #1; “Save It For Me” (Philips 40225) made #10. And the triple threat — the unshakable romanticism, the pristine Crewe production, and the “sound” of Frankie Valli (so declared on the 45 label) — make these two tracks stand out in a year the historians have inexplicably ceded to Beatlemania.

Also worth tracking down: the Motor-Cycle LP (1969) by Lotti Golden, then a New York City teenager, as forceful as Janis Ian and as lyrical as Laura Nyro. The seven-minute epic “The Space Queens (Silky Is Sad),” leading off side two, is sliced into four movements, just like “MacArthur Park”; for the second, Crewe fashions a Wall of Sound worthy of Phil Spector — and apparently without any overdubs, either.

And just to top it off: “What Now My Love,” the French standard “Et Maintenant” with English lyrics by Carl Sigman, previously charted by Sonny & Cher and by Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, cast by Crewe as a psychedelic torch song (!) starring Mitch Ryder, so far over the top you can barely see it from the ground, which managed #30 in Billboard for Crewe’s DynoVoice label, then just starting a distribution deal with Dot.

(Extreme trivia: During the days when we had both mono and stereo records to pick from the racks, there were different catalog numbers for each variety, sometimes changing just a prefix, sometimes adding a digit — usually 7 — to the front, sometimes doing, well, whatever the hell it was CBS was doing in those days. DynoVoice of this era was the only label I ever heard of that added a 3, a bit of weirdness for which I am grateful to Bob Crewe.)

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The adventures of Sophie

Once upon a time, there was a British band called “theaudience,” which was given to songs with fab titles like “A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed” and “If You Can’t Do It When You’re Young, When Can You Do It?”

Theaudience managed only the one album, back in 1998, before breaking up; lead singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, then nineteen, went on to a solo career, and has now released five albums, the most recent being Wanderlust, from which we extract the current single, “The Deer and the Wolf.”

Definitely a departure from her dance-pop days. And this came out day before yesterday:

I sort of explained Pretty Polly last summer.

This is the cover art from Wanderlust:

Cover art from Wanderlust by Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Why the lapses into Cyrillic? Ellis-Bextor has said that the album is like “a soundtrack to an Eastern European film from the 1970s,” and indeed one track features a Bulgarian choir, recorded at the Bulgarian Embassy in London:

It’s not often I’ve stuffed a post into four different categories.

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Spyder, man

I hesitate to call a singer an Unsung (!) Hero, but David Dwight “Spyder” Turner, born in Beckley, West Virginia but raised in Detroit, seems to be largely forgotten except by collectors of old R&B singles and Northern Soul buffs. His big hit came up on the shuffle today, and I figured it was time he got a shout-out from this corner.

A lot of people have covered Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” over the years, but none of them quite like Spyder Turner, who sang every verse in the voice of some other soul singer, the sort of tribute you don’t dare try unless you’re utterly devoted to what you’re doing and you have a voice that can pull it off. Turner did. MGM cut his 5:40 original in half to fit it on a single in late 1966; it made #12 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B chart. On the LP, Turner sounded like everyone from Jackie Wilson to Smokey Robinson to three different Temptations.

And judging by the concert footage here, Turner, then 64, can still do it. It continues to amaze me that he had only one subsequent chart record: a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “I Can’t Make It Anymore,” the sort of lost track that reminds you that if you go straight south from Detroit, you end up in Canada.

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Acts to grind

If you’ve ever told yourself “I just can’t get into opera,” here’s a handy guide to make it easier for you:

Anatomy of Operas

(Via the Facebook page of San Francisco classical station KDFC.)

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Coolen on the side

Nancy Anna Francina Coolen wound up with a shortened name (“Nance”), a career in Eurodance music, and a second career as a TV host, all before turning 40. (She’s 41 tomorrow.) There is, of course, the usual array of slightly exciting pictures:

Nance Coolen

Nance Coolen

Nance was discovered by Ruud van Rijen, who created the dance act Twenty 4 Seven in 1989. She remained with van Rijen through 1996; he continues the group today.

This video, set to Nance’s 2003 solo single “If You Wanna Dance,” contains a brief history of her career:

Last I looked, she was doing Showniews for the Dutch channel SBS 6.

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Indy Rock City

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but paper causes lawsuits:

KISS bassist Gene Simmons is among the defendants being sued by a security guard over a confetti-initiated stage accident during a 2012 concert in Noblesville, Indiana.

Courthouse News Service reports security guard Timothy Funk says he worked the band’s September 1, 2012 show at the city’s Klipsch Music Center and was injured after falling on the “slippery, waxy, and glassy” stage.

According to Funk’s lawsuit, “some or all of the defendants” sprayed water from hoses “on the stage, the area around the stage, and on some of the crowd.” They also sprayed confetti around the stage and crowd “in a foolish and reckless manner,” Funk claimed.

Remember, kids: use confetti responsibly.

Said defendants include Live Nation (as owner of the Klipsch Center) and Simmons’ production company.

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Not too much monkey business

You could point a finger at Justin Timberlake for lack of originality, says Jack Baruth, but in fact you’re missing the point:

The second guy to use a bottleneck on a guitar wasn’t being original but today we recognize it as a style to itself and we can discuss the masters of that style without worrying about originality. Half of the licks on Appetite For Destruction are stolen from Chuck Berry — check out “Think About You” if you doubt that — and nobody doubts Slash’s standing as a guitarist and musician.

I suspect that half of the licks everywhere can be traced back to Chuck Berry: rather a lot of British Invasion stuff, for instance, relied on Chuck’s back catalog. Also about this time, Berry and Brian Wilson (!) “collaborated” on “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” a blatant rewrite of “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Then again, Chuck’s own “No Particular Place to Go,” also about this time, was a blatant rewrite of “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

For extra credit, hunt down “Licks Off Of Records” from Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture in Your Living Room! (Capricorn, 1973), which is best known for the parody “Dueling Tubas”; “Licks” features a session guitarist who prefers not to be lionized, inasmuch as everything he does comes from somewhere else.

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This could go on for a while

“Bengü” is a Turkish adjective commonly used as a given name: it means “eternal” or “endless.” Meet Turkish singer Bengü — last name Erden — born in İzmir in 1979, who has been making records since the turn of the century:

Publicity photo for Bengu, circa 2003

Album art from Saygimdan by BenguIf I’ve counted correctly, Saygımdan (“Out of Respect”), released in 2013, is her ninth album; the title song is up on YouTube but for some reason — presumably, the desire of her record label — is not embeddable. The lyrics are vaguely Taylor Swift-y:

I don’t bow before anyone, but with you I am leveled to the ground,
I always leave and walk away, it is for the first time I stopped and turned around,
I cried, I silently gathered it all within me,
I raged, but then I calmed down.

(Translation found here; it was better, I thought, than Google’s.)

An earlier song, “Unut Beni” (“Forget Me”), from her 2007 album Taktik, which means pretty much what it sounds like:

And a more recent photo:

Publicity photo for Bengu, circa 2014

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How many more times?

I didn’t really warm to Led Zeppelin until their second album, the legendary Brown Bomber, so I must yield to Jack Baruth on the matter of the latest incarnation of the first:

The Super Deluxe Edition of the first Zep album is obviously the most commercialized, crass, regrettable, anti-rock, boomer-focused, rich-ass-yuppie piece of stupid bullshit to ever disgrace the name of the band that once bestrode the earth like a Colossus. Except it isn’t. To begin with, it comes with stuff you really want: rare photographs, perfect letterhead facsimiles of press releases, and additional historical information that will be familiar to those of us who have read all the Zep biographies but is presented in compelling fashion nonetheless.

The music itself — well, I had concerns. Page is an old man now and who knows how good his ears are when it comes to remastering and mixing forty-five-year-old tracks? No need to worry. He did a good job, at least by my standards.

And for your $118.98 (at this writing), Amazon semi-generously throws in an MP3 copy (regularly $13.49).

Not that I’m going to complain, having spent $60 or so for the four-disc Pet Sounds box set, and we know how Brian Wilson’s ears are, especially the right one.

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Reapplied statistics

It was true when I was eleven, and it’s true half a century later: you can always get my attention with a distinctive love song. (It’s never going to be sung to me, of course, but that’s a small matter in the grand scheme of things.) This one came out in 2005 and blew right past me, though the album whence it came (Piece by Piece) topped the charts in several Eurozone countries.

According to Katie, she and her producer/manager were actually in Beijing and were given the bicycle statistic by their interpreter. No one questioned it.

As for that “12 billion light-years” line, it drew some flak:

Then again, even Han Solo is subject to challenge.

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Now entering the afterlife

Darn few songs mention the late Don Pardo, NBC announcer since 1944. You can actually hear a lot of him in this one, and besides, it’s great on its own merits:

He married Catherine Lyons in 1938, the year he got his first radio job in Providence; they stayed together until her death in 1995.

Thanks, Don. And you too, Al.

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No sign of the dollar

I admit to not having had much use for Ke$ha, as the singer used to spell it, even if she did move 14 million downloads of “Tik Tok.” Having reverted to simply “Kesha,” she’s pushed herself a little farther, and while looking for something else — isn’t that always the case? — I stumbled across this track from her 2012 album Warrior. It’s the last song in the collection, it’s the only one she wrote herself, and I think she’s won me over:

(If this vaguely reminds you of Sia’s “Chandelier,” a favorite in these parts, well, it’s the same producer: Greg Kurstin. And Kesha’s song came out first.)

And you know, I’m the last guy in the world to complain about blue and/or purple hair, even on the Tonight Show:

Kesha on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon July 2014

(Photo by Theo Wargo/NBC.)

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A cellarful of noise

You may recall the Cavern Club, a music venue at 10 Mathew Street in Liverpool which lived up to Petula Clark’s description in “I Know a Place.” The Beatles played there upwards (or downwards, being in a basement and all) of 250 times.

The MonaLisa Twins, major Beatles fans from Austria, have now settled in Southport, a few minutes up the coast from Liverpool, and have begun a residency at that very same Cavern Club, playing a two-hour gig every Saturday afternoon. They’ll also be playing, with and without their backing band, at International Beatle Week, later this month.

Which is as good an excuse as any to trot out Mona and Lisa doing a Beatles track:

Unexpectedly, there are pronoun adjustments.

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The point being gotten to

Back in ought-seven, I did a brief writeup of something called Short Attention Span System Radio, which sought to compensate for listeners wandering away by cramming twice as much music into the same space. The results were curious:

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.

Truly revved up like a douche, as the kids used to say. I imagined there might be a place for such a format, but I couldn’t imagine where.

The answer, it turns out, is Calgary:

Top 40 station 90.3 Amp Radio has started to cut off the songs played on air halfway through, allowing for twice the number of songs to be played each hour in a bid to cater to their listeners’ ever-shortening attention spans.

“We’ve got so much more choice, we’ve got less time (and) our attention spans are shorter,” Amp Radio’s Paul Kaye told CTV Calgary. “We are observing people with their iPods, playing their favourite songs and skipping them before the end because they get bored.”

The station used to play about 12 songs an hour, but the new “QuickHitz” format allows for 24 songs each hour by re-editing the tracks.

It was a lot easier to do 24 songs an hour, I submit, when (1) songs were barely over two minutes and (2) you didn’t have to sell 15 minutes of ad space.

Still, having created what I think is the definitive two-minute edit of “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida,” which runs seventeen minutes if you don’t put your foot down, I’m probably the wrong person to complain about this.

Admittedly, I’ve gone the other direction as well. Once upon a time, after listening to the Gentrys’ 1965 version of “Keep On Dancing,” which came out of the studio running barely 90 seconds, prompting the producer to start the song over and run just enough of it to break the two-minute mark, I hacked up a 3:42 extended version in which I did the same thing the producer did, only twice. Amp Radio wouldn’t play it, of course, but at least they’d have an obvious place (or two) to edit it.

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