Archive for Tongue and Groove

Hum a tune, save a life

It’s the way CPR works:

Music can be a lifesaver — literally.

When first responders are being taught to perform hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation, known as CPR, on an adult whose heart has stopped beating, they’re told to administer 2-inch sternum compressions (between the nipples) at a rate of around 100 beats per minute (bpm). That’s a little less than twice a second, and can be hard to approximate. So thank goodness for pop music.

“Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees is a classic example of a song that hits that 100 bpm benchmark (and has obvious connotations to the task at hand). Ditto Gloria Gaynor’s breakup anthem, “I Will Survive.” Looking for something a little less on the nose? Try Hanson’s mega-hit “MMMBop.” All of those tracks appear on a 100-bpm playlist released this week by New York Presbyterian Hospital.

And if you dig reverse psychology, there’s Norman Greenbaum’s evergreen “Spirit in the Sky” — and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

(Via Fark.)

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Six weeks on

“The Great Divide” continues to unite us on the dance floor, up two spots from last week:

The Great Divide

And yet another cover served up, this one a duet with Drumaq. The original was recorded last year by Noah Cyrus, who is Miley’s younger sister. (“Lana Montana”?)

Warning: One brief untoward utterance at the end.



“Walk right in,” the song begins. “Sit right down:”

Oh, the song absolutely was a hit for the Rooftop Singers, two weeks at #1 in 1963, and they even get a little songwriting credit for their sparkling-clean version —

But the original was old even then: in 1929, Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers recorded “Walk Right In” with considerably more complexity — and a kazoo solo!

Heaven knows we don’t get enough kazoo solos. Herewith, an attempt to redress that issue. First, Dion, despite the titling actually post-Belmonts, with “Little Diane” (1962):

Ginny Arnell, in a song they will never, ever play on the radio anymore, from the very end of 1963:

Even the Beatles — okay, one ex-Beatle — dug the buzz:

And speaking of buzz, a 1982 classic from the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra:

We may now put aside this keyword for a decade or two.

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Musique afrique?

Jeanne Galice — call her Jain — is twenty-five, musically gifted, about ten degrees off plumb, and she has one album out: Zanaka (2015), which the cataloguers at Discogs have described as “Reggae, Funk/Soul, Pop.” Somewhere in the middle of that continuum is track eight, “Makeba,” a sort of tribute to the late Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), unbelievably catchy and yet visually implausible.

That bit of drawing-room silliness at the beginning is actually the end of the video for “Come”, the first track from Zanaka. (“Zanaka” means “child” in Malagasy; Jain’s mother has roots both in France and Madagascar.)

Jain is currently touring North America; she won one of three Grulke Prizes at SXSW this year. Said they:

The Grulke Prize winner for Developing Non-U.S. Act is Jain. A captivating French singer-songwriter, Jain has already reached Platinum status with her album Zanaka. Her unique sounds draw listeners in with their dazzling international flavor and magnetic hooks. Though success has been quick in Europe, she’s been working on her music since she was a teenager moving around the world with stops in the Congo, Abu Dhabi, and Paris.

Zanaka has no US distributor as yet, though Amazon will sell it to you as an import.


The motor cooled down

Some thoughts on the life and times of Charles Edward Anderson Berry (1926-2017), the man who caught Maybellene at the top of the hill, and much, much more.

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Not the usual J-pop

Kana Nishino gets a mention here because:

  • It’s her 28th birthday;
  • Unlike many J-pop artists, she writes most of her own lyrics.

Neither of these necessarily explains why she had a hit record titled “Esperanza”:

Still, why shouldn’t the Japanese be treated to an occasional Latinesque beat?

Of course, Kana ranks high on the Disturbingly Cute scale, as is seemingly mandatory in J-pop:

Photo from session for Kana Nishino's album To Love

Kana Nishino in cover art

Portrait of Kana Nishino

Okay, one more single. This is “Aitakute Aitakute” (“I miss you, I miss you”), which is perhaps more typical J-pop:

For some reason, I never get tired of this stuff.


A walking, talking melody

Chart progress: continuing.

The Great Divide by Rebecca Black at 25 on the Billboard dance chart

Meanwhile, Kurt Hugo Schneider has contributed this song to the cause:

We can dig it, as they used to say back in the day.


While the city dreams

Robin Trower, after leaving Procol Harum, embraced the power-trio format, with James Dewar on both bass and vocals. By 1977, the trio had grown to a quartet, with Dewar still out front but Rustee Allen taking over on bass. This ensemble, with drummer Bill Lordan, cut In City Dreams, which eventually became my favorite Trower album, mostly due to its opening track, “Somebody Calling,” based on a ferocious bass line — Allen, after all, had replaced Larry Graham in Sly’s Family Stone — and featuring some Trower licks that Hendrix himself might have appreciated. The studio track still sounds amazing today — in fact, I spun a tape of it on Monday’s commute, mostly to help me forget it was Monday — but it’s deeply satisfying to know that Trower still has the chops.

This performance was recorded in Glasgow last fall. Trower turned 72 this month.



“The Great Divide” continues to climb the dance-club chart:

The Great Divide by Rebecca Black at 27 on the Billboard dance-club chart

And there is, yes, another cover for your delectation, this time of “Starboy” by The Weeknd.

You should probably consider this totally unsafe for your workplace, what with the pseudo-Oedipal references scattered throughout.


The standard Fate

They buried John Schroeder last week, which struck me as slightly odd, since he died back on the 31st of January following a long battle with cancer.

Schroeder’s musical career was long and varied; where it intersected with my life was right in the middle of the British Invasion, when he teamed up with pianist Johnny Pearson at Britain’s Pye Records to provide, for lack of a better term, easy-listening sounds that could compete for radio airplay, and maybe even sales, with the beat groups.

At the end of 1964, using the name Sounds Orchestral, they cut this version of a Vince Guaraldi standard:

Pye had no formal US distribution in those days. Cameo-Parkway eventually acquired the US rights, and issued the 45 on Parkway 942 this week in 1965; it climbed to #10 in Billboard, and the subsequent LP made it to #11. Said LP contains two “Scarlatti Potions,” Number 5 and Number 9.

Schroeder and Pearson and various players kept up the Sounds Orchestral name through sixteen albums, the last of which came out in 1977. I saw only the first two of them here in the States until the CD-reissue era.


Not suddenly slinky

Singer Işın Karaca was born in London on this date in 1973 to a Cypriot mother and a Turkish father. (Perhaps understandably, she shortened her surname from Büyükkaraca.) Despite a degree in theatre, she didn’t start singing in earnest until her middle twenties, when she recorded songs for the Turkish version of Disney’s Hercules.

Işın Karaca in blue

Işın Karaca in red and blue

Işın Karaca with singing partner Sefa Chesmeberah

By the middle of last decade she’d put on something like 30 kg, and in 2005 she wrote a book titled Büyümek İçin Küçümek Lazĭm (“Need to get smaller to grow”), which, she said, would not be published until she got down to a size 36. The book came out in 2007.

The chap with her in the third picture is singer Sefa Chesmeberah, who duets with her on the single “Sevmekten Anladığım” (“What I understand about love”), from her so-far-unreleased album Eyvallah (“Okay,” more or less):

The single, the second from the album, was released this past January.

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Seven points higher

First, the chart action:

The Great Divide at 35 on Billboard dance chart

Next, the obligatory cover song:

Which is that Taylor Swift/Zayn Malik song from Fifty Shades Darker. I note in passing that the original peaked at #33 on that same Dance Club chart. (Okay, yeah, it hit #2 on the Hot 100, but you I can’t have everything.)


Up seven notches

Progress continues:

The Great Divide reaches Number 42 on Billboard's Dance Music Chart

Meanwhile, it’s back to the covers, this time a song first recorded by Katy Perry and released a whole two weeks ago. Whatever else you might say about Rebecca Black, she does pay attention to what The Industry is doing.

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Trapeze be unto you

I’d wandered over to the iTunes Store for something or other, and got to wondering: “Geez, how long have I been doing this?”

We turn back the clock ten years and change, and find this statement:

I opened up the Store and said, “If they have [insert song information here], I will sign up, and I will purchase that track, and no doubt there will be others to follow.”

They had that track. It was, in fact, “The West Wind Circus,” a narrative by Adam Miller that Helen Reddy cut back in ’73 for her Long Hard Climb LP; it has stuck in the back of my head for lo, these many years, but never pushed its way far enough to the front for me to track down either the LP or the current CD release. (Yeah, yeah, I know: Helen Reddy. Forget those 45s you threw away; this is a lovely song, beautifully sung.) Ninety-nine cents well spent, I’d say.

There are a couple of live versions on YouTube, but they stay so close to the studio-recorded original that you might as well listen to the LP track, which led off side two:

“Is that all there is to the circus?” Peggy Lee had asked four years earlier. Well, yeah, if you can retain your ironic detachment. Not here, though.


That southern Northern Soul

And the twain shall meet somewhere in between:

I grew up listening to polka, since I grew up in Northeastern Ohio, where there was a large Polish-and-other-Slavic immigrant community. (In fact, until I was in college, I just assumed everywhere had a radio station that played polka and broadcast in Polish for at least part of the day. Well, where I am now there are channels that broadcast Norteño music and broadcast in Spanish part of the day, so that’s similar — a lot of Norteño is polka-influenced.)

And in turn, Norteño, once inflected by other American styles, gave rise to something called Tejano. Did any of this reach the Anglo audience? I give you the Sir Douglas Quintet, practitioners of the Norteño two-step polka beat as filtered through a standard 12-bar blues, who achieved a #13 hit in 1965:

Some background information on Doug Sahm and the band here. Note that despite the lyric, “she,” at least in the video, isn’t much of a mover at all.

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Thank you for the music

In 1974, I was in northern Turkey, assembling a hi-fi system when I wasn’t toting a rifle or doing other soldier-ish things. One of the discs I used to blast at overly high volume was the Waterloo album by ABBA, crisply recorded and full of pop hooks.

Forty-odd years later, Waterloo remains my favorite ABBA album, but the song I play most from it is not the verve-y title track, but this comparatively obscure number from side two, with its occasionally weird time signature and its gently cooing vocals:

It may be the least-played, least-covered ABBA track ever. I don’t care.


Knowing when to hold ’em

Long before this year’s Superb Owl, I’d learned never to underestimate Lady Gaga — especially not if she’s doing an acoustic set:

In case you were thinking “Poker Face” was some kind of mechanical dance tune, fercrissake.

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Took about six, actually

The first two, circa 1972, were singer Lyn Collins and producer-writer James Brown, in a semi-massive hit called “Think (About It),” circa 1972, which floundered on the pop chart but became a legitimate Top Ten soul record. Its staying power was demonstrated sixteen years later when Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock turned it into “It Takes Two,” old-school hip-hop of the highest grade.

In 1988, when “It Takes Two” forced its way onto the dance floor, Carly Rae Jepsen was not quite three years old, and Lil Yachty hadn’t even been thought of yet. At the behest of Target, they gave it their all:

Sanitary, as Target demands, but still James Brown-level danceable. (That spectral-sounding opening line, incidentally, is a shout-out to producer Mike Will Made It.)


At the end of Electric Avenue

Roger Green’s slice-of-life story yesterday centered on Eddy Grant’s humongous hit record “Electric Avenue,” to which I tacked on a bit of marketing history. It gave me an idea, and I stumbled down several roads that didn’t go anywhere before finding this exquisite bit of silliness. From 1998, this is Eurodance combo Duck, from beautiful downtown Serbia, with “Kako si mogao” (“How could you?”):

This is, of course, a rewrite of Eddy Grant’s “Romancing the Stone,” a song written for the 20th Century-Fox movie of the same name but not used therein.


Duly quarter-noted

The Oklahoma City Philharmonic stuck this up on their Facebook page with the promise that it would improve your dating life 110 percent:

S'up babe?

After that much sightreading, I could use a rest.

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It’s on your shoulder

The Beatles arrived in America in February 1964, and the earth twisted and shouted on its axis.

Now the Fab Four, their heirs and assigns, and whoever else might be involved, have somehow allowed a bunch of promotional videos out of the vault. This, for perhaps obvious reasons, is one of the longer ones.

I’m not absolutely certain, but I think they’re playing over a copy of the original master tape, minus the vocals. (With McCartney on piano and lead, there’s no place for a bass player, and indeed, the bass is mixed out of the master.)

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Ed aims to please

Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill,” from his album ÷ — yes, that’s the name of it — is an atmospheric ballad about growing up in Framlingham, Suffolk. All the more reason, I think, that it should be covered by a half-Indian guy from Cincinnati and a half-Mexican girl from southern California, right?

(For comparison, here’s Ed’s original.)

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Girl with a uke

Cover art for Perfectly Imperfect by Grace VanderWaalIt’s probably a good thing that you can’t trademark a title, because Perfectly Imperfect, as an album title, has been around the bend more than once. (See, for instance, Elle Varner’s first album, which came out in 2012.) That said, I’m not about to complain about seeing it on this five-song EP by Wunderkind Grace VanderWaal, winner of last year’s America’s Got Talent; it’s that good, and yet it may rub you the wrong way.

I think the issue, for me, is that Grace’s singing voice is crisp and pure, but the way she uses it is somewhat mannered; she’s writing at the level of Taylor Swift, which is some dandy writing indeed, but I can’t help but wonder if she learned to sing by listening to old Tom Waits records. (Then again, there are a lot worse role models than Tom Waits.) The big hit, “I Don’t Know My Name,” appears, as it should, as Track 1; perhaps the charmer here is “Beautiful Thing,” co-written with producer Greg Wells and featuring none of Grace’s trademark ukulele at all, only Wells’ piano work. Grace’s vocal here blends sprightly youth with the world-weariness of us old folk without ever sounding like anyone other than Grace. I keep reminding myself that she’s just turned thirteen, and I wonder if there’s a ceiling for her; but after hearing some of the covers and new songs she’s sent up to her YouTube channel — named, disarmingly, “Oh Never mind it’s just me” — I’m inclined to think that, for now anyway, the sky’s the limit.

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Thirteen times two

The night Grace VanderWaal won America’s Got Talent, Simon Cowell told her she was the next Taylor Swift. And yeah, she had kind of a Swiftian hairdo at the time, which may have influenced Cowell just a little.

And then last night I went looking for pictures of Grace, now all of thirteen, and Bing served up rather a hefty proportion of Taylor Swift shots. (An example of what I mean.)

Oh, I went ahead and bought Grace’s EP Perfectly Imperfect. Remind me to put out something resembling a review. Not on it: this cover of Alessia Cara’s “Scars to Your Beautiful.”

This is apparently not the guitar Shawn Mendes gave her.


Into something good

The Best of Herman's Hermits: The 50th Anniversary AnthologyOf all the Sixties groups I can name — and believe me, I can name a heck of a lot of them — Herman’s Hermits got just about the least benefit of stereo recording techniques, largely because producer Mickie Most didn’t believe in such a thing: he was a singles man, and singles were mixed to mono because singles were always mixed to mono, and he did much the same thing for the Animals and for Donovan and even for Lulu. (Most’s only real rival here was Joe Meek, and Meek, who died in 1967, is undeservedly unknown in the States; the Yardbirds got similar nonsupport from Giorgio Gomelsky, who died last week.) So a 66-track compilation with, um, 66 tracks in stereo is going way beyond the call of duty; 58 of them have appeared in mono only for half a century.

More astonishing than that is that these 66 tracks appear on a mere two CDs; the legendary German reissue label Bear Family managed to cram more than 87 minutes on each of these discs. (The CD spec originally called for 74 minutes, later boosted to 80.) Better yet, they hired Ron Furmanek to do tape research and produce, and Furmanek is one of the best in the biz. A lot of the early stuff is two-track because that’s all there was; producers of this particular era figured that this was the last step before a proper mono mix, and that’s what they kept.

The songs, or at least the hits anyway, you already know. A few have additional studio talk or countoffs from the original tapes; “Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” runs out to a cold ending instead of fading at 2:46 like the 45. The booklet runs 140 pages, and explains several things it didn’t occur to me to wonder about, like why the Hermits recorded old R&B stuff like “Silhouettes” and Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” Both these songs, it turns out, were controlled by American gung-ho exec Allen Klein, who took on Most’s representation in the States, and later managed both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. No wonder latter-day issues, when you could find them, came out on Klein’s ABKCO label — in mono, of course.

The band’s fractious post-1970 existence led to no hits, so the collection runs out in 1970. (The last American chart item, “Something’s Happening,” was recorded in late 1968 and released in 1969.) If you remember Herman and the Hermits, this is a pricey way to get all their tunes; a 2004 ABKCO issue called Retrospective contains the hits for about half as much — in mono, of course.

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Pants of incendiary nature

The Castaways’ original version of “Liar, Liar” ran eight or nine seconds short of two minutes and ended with a nice, cold thump, as though the prevaricator in question had finally been silenced.

But that was 1965. Twenty-three years later, Debbie Harry covered the song for the soundtrack of Married to the Mob, and despite being just as speedy as the Castaways, she takes almost three minutes to bring things to an acceptable closing. Like anyone wanted Blondie Herself to disappear in a hurry.

As mobsters go, these are pretty cartoonish, but then again, Married to the Mob was supposed to be funny.

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To do that doo-wop once more

Alan Freed’s colossal reputation is based largely on the fact that he invariably passed up seemingly antiseptic white cover versions in favor of the original recordings by black acts. And Freed’s aesthetic judgment was largely borne out; the number of white covers that surpassed the black originals was vanishingly small. I feel I can make a case for exactly two, one of which was Elvis’ take on “Hound Dog,” which leaves Big Mama Thornton’s blues shouter in its high-velocity dust.

This is the other.

What’s particularly cool about this Diamonds gig is that Maurice Williams, who wrote the darn thing and recorded it first with his Gladiolas, gets to sit in. I’d like to think Alan Freed would have enjoyed it.


Roughly half of fifteen

Xia Vigor is Taylor Swift, half-sized:

Background, sort of:

Hailing from Exeter in England, Xia is a proper star in the Philippines, with a big social media following and a career in movies and TV. In fact, this isn’t her first turn on Your Face Sounds Familiar. Xia previously did a performance as Selena Gomez, covering the singer’s hit “Love You Like A Love Song.”

For some reason, this girl of seven makes me think of a Tom Lehrer pronouncement: “It’s people like that who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.”

Professor Lehrer was thirty-seven at the time.


At 5:00 it’s much too crowded

The music business, it seems, is drowning in irony. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, one of the definitive soul-music production teams and the proprietors of the legendary Philadelphia International label, started out producing a bunch of white guys. Admittedly, they were white guys from Philadelphia, but on AM radio they sounded pretty darn black.

Gamble says he wrote the words to “Expressway to Your Heart” while on an actual expressway: the Schuylkill (“Sure-Kill”) Expressway through Philly. He had a date that night with Dee Dee Sharp (“Mashed Potato Time”), about whom I haven’t written nearly enough.

The passing of Soul Survivors vocalist Richie Ingui last Friday prompts the posting of this live track from 2011:

Contrary to the lyrics, there was always room for them.

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Boost your shelf-esteem

Fourteen “Weird Al” Yankovic albums in one humongous (and tuneful!) box set:

Yes, even UHF.