Archive for Tongue and Groove

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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It crawled into my ear, honest

The Friar may be sticking his fingers in his ears about now:

Over at Today I Found Out, a writer explores some of the reasons that songs become earworms, and I imagine those same music folks have pored over these ideas to see what kind of combination of catchiness, repetition, hook and whatever else you can think of actually makes a song something that you can’t get out of your head.

The problem for them is that no two heads are alike (except maybe for Vice President Joe Biden and Peanut), so the triggers that will make a song stick in my head are not necessarily the triggers that will make one stick in your head. Even if the triggers are the same, the qualities that trip those triggers might not be. I may be an unreconstructed punk who will start bobbing my head and drumming out a rhythm on the armrest at “I Was Wrong” or “Bad Luck.” You may be a later music lover who has the same reaction to a Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga duet (in which case may the Lord and all of his angels help you before it’s too late). The point is that a record company that wants to find a formula for a hit can’t make a song that will cause both of us to click on iTunes and demand it take our money.

In my own defense, I do know my own weaknesses. I’m just … I mean, this is exhausting.

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Ninety plus ten?

About the only thing I knew about singer/songwriter Charli XCX, born Charlotte Emma Aitchison 23 years ago, is that she wrote Icona Pop’s weird international hit “I Love It.” (Charli is listed as “featured” on the track, though apparently she joins in only on the one line “I don’t care/I love it,” and she doesn’t appear in the video. And the only reason I know “I Love It” is because I happened upon a note-perfect parody called “I Ship It,” devoted to implausible fanfiction, something I know a little bit about.

Charli has been making music since her teens, and she shares the blame for Iggy Azalea’s irritating but catchy “Fancy,” lampooned by “Weird Al” Yankovic as “Handy.” But Charli’s own stuff works pretty decently on its own terms. “Nuclear Seasons” was the first track on (and the second single from) her 2013 album True Romance:

With all the graphic gizmos cleared away, we see her this way:

Charli XCX in the summer of 2013

And what’s the deal with the Roman numerals, if that’s what they are? Hint: they aren’t:

Well, people have speculated that it means “Kiss Kiss,” but I really just chose the name because I thought it looked cool and sounded catchy. Of course, when I was signed to my record label, I suddenly felt like it needed to stand for something. So I told my label that it could mean, “X-Rated Content” or something like that, and everyone there just kind of looked at me as if I was crazy. They were all probably thinking, “Oh, no, what did we get ourselves into?!” But really, at the moment, it just stands for everything I’ve done so far.

Whatever the heck that means.

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Shaw is the new Black

Is this, as Entertainment Weekly’s Music Mix suggests, “the most hated song on the Internet right now”?

One might reasonably question Catey Shaw’s own Brooklyn Girl credentials — she only recently moved to 11206 from Virginia Beach — but I think most of the hate (51 percent thumbs down on YouTube) comes from people wondering “Oh, geez, is this the next Rebecca Black?” Of course, in so doing, they extend RB’s fifteen minutes of fame even further, but they’re not thinking about that.

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See Spotify run

Singer/songwriter Michelle Shocked is short, sharp, and peeved with streaming-music operations:

She recently released a album on CDBaby.com called Inaudible Women, containing 11 songs named after big-shots in the music industry. With song titles like “David Drummond (Google, Youtube),” “Robert Walls (Clear Channel),” and “Chris Harrison (Pandora),” she’s calling out people who run the digital streaming world. Shocked is associated with a campaign called CopyLike which, according to their website, is made up of artists who defend their copyright and intellectual property.

Shocked insists that the album isn’t silent. Instead, it’s aimed at a completely different audience: dogs. “We love our furry friends. They share our beds, our toothbrushes, and they share our burgers,” she said in a weird video introducing the project. “We decided we would make a high album — in fact, the highest album ever made. Just so that my friends Spot and Rex can hear it, not audible to human ears, and to raise money for my tour — never in the history of recording music has it been this easy to keep Spot happy and support working musicians.”

This is perhaps the most significant recording for canines since the Beatles tossed a 20-kHz tone onto UK copies of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band back in 1967. Shocked suggests that you stream the album for your dogs while you’re at work, which will make her a few bucks and (perhaps) keep the furry friends from finding your toothbrush on their own.

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Seven miles apart

This comes from the “Why the hell didn’t I notice this?” file.

In 1967, Bert Berns met up again with soul singer Hoagy Lands, for whom he had written half a dozen songs in the early Sixties; Lands recorded Berns’ “32 Miles out of Waycross (Mojo Mamma),” which is presumably still sitting in the Bang Records vault, and with the title clipped to just “Mojo Mamma,” the song became an album track for Wilson Pickett. It goes like this:

If those verses remind you of Edwin Starr’s “Twenty-Five Miles,” well, you’re not the only one, and current copies of Starr’s record bear composer credits for Berns and occasional songwriting partner Jerry Ragovoy.

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To be a Rick, and not to roll

I sense a disturbance in the Humor Force:

YouTube has restricted access to a seven-year-old video upload that spawned the still-popular RickRoll meme, in which people trick others into watching [Rick] Astley shimmy in his cheesy “Never Gonna Give You Up” clip.

Simply titled “RickRoll’D,” the video was uploaded by YouTube user cotter548 and has amassed nearly 71 million views. It has been blocked by YouTube in several countries, including the United States.

The video-sharing giant did not immediately respond to request for comment on the takedown, which happened once before, albeit briefly, in 2012.

I have to believe this is a temporary measure, and that Rick has not in fact deserted us.

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Get it while it’s last

Brook Benton, dealing with a man with a long cigar in “Hit Record,” in 1962: “Well, he made me sign the paper for twenty years.” And Benton wasn’t kidding: Rick Nelson’s contract with Decca, starting in 1963, was originally for twenty years, though MCA, successor to Decca, dropped him after thirteen.

Mandatory Fun by Weird Al YankovicI mention this because “Weird Al” Yankovic signed a record contract in 1982 which only just now, 32 years later, has been completed. This does not mean he’s through with recording, but Mandatory Fun may be the last full-length Al album ever: the man’s at his best with topical material, and it’s hard to be topical with two or three years between album releases. So the coming scarcity of Yankovic long-players would be reason enough to snap it up, I think; fortunately, there’s enough good stuff here to justify your ten-buck outlay (or your eighteen-buck outlay for the vinyl version, which comes out next month).

Yankovic’s promotional campaign was unusual: no single, but eight videos to be released over the first week of release, each of which was put together with a Web partner because Sony wasn’t about to fork over a ton of money for someone who hadn’t put out an album in three years and who had had only one Top Ten single ever (“White & Nerdy,” 2006, which made #9). Everybody loved “Word Crimes,” a reworking of Robin Thicke’s utterly awful “Blurred Lines,” partly because of the brilliant kinetic-typography video, partly because everyone loves to play the More Grammatical Than Thou card, but mostly, I think, because the rewrite was so much better than the original. And “Foil,” a parody of Lorde’s “Royals” with aluminum at its heart, was downright weird, which never hurts.

Deserving of more note: “Mission Statement,” which is what Crosby, Stills and Nash, with or without Young, would sound like if they were present-day buzzword-driven corporate consultants, and “First World Problems,” a Pixies sendup with Al doing his best (and not at all bad) Black Francis and Amanda Palmer in the role of Kim Deal. The polka medley, as always, is delightful, with wholly unexpected transitions and no bleep in “Thrift Shop.” And you won’t miss much by ripping just the first 11 songs: the 12th, “Jackson Park Express,” is a pretty acoustical tune, à la early-Seventies Cat Stevens, over which is laid a genuinely creepy boy-meets-girl story that takes nine minutes to go nowhere.

Note: Amazon.com put this out as a download, just for this weekend, for $5.99. If you find Mandatory Fun compelling and don’t object to the sheer intangibility of downloads, you’ll find it more so at four dollars off.

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A hint of thirst

First she was Agnes Monica Muljoto, which was quickly shortened to simply “Agnes Monica,” under which name the Indonesian singer released several albums, the last of which was a best-of package called Agnes Is My Name. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t; she resurfaced as “Agnez Mo,” perhaps in the interest of getting some recognition in the States. I think I’d recognize someone like this:

Agnez Mo in 12/13 Regard Magazine

That business about “Coke Bottle” in the text refers to this:

Something of a departure, I think, from her earlier image:

Agnez Mo

Of course, I’m old enough to remember when “Coke Bottle” described cars:

Chevrolet Camaro

And it’s not like Agnez is some sort of throwback, either. In a weird sort of marketing innovation, the aforementioned Agnes Is My Name compilation was distributed through KFC locations in Indonesia: you could buy it separately, or it could be thrown in with the purchase of a combo meal. The album moved about a million copies.

(Now that I think about it, though, it’s probably a good thing that the album came out before the “Coke Bottle” single, inasmuch as the 400-odd KFC stores in Indonesia sell Pepsi.)

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Here we go loop

Why we don’t have 8-tracks anymore, as explained by Roger:

Because the eight-track was a stupid technology. I remember exactly when I realized this. I was in a car listening to someone’s Beatles Again/Hey Jude 8-track. The song “Rain” came on, and IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SONG, it did that weird grinding noise in the middle of it. I should note that “Rain” is a three-minute song.

I think I decided this about three seconds after I had one jam on me, opened it up to see what I could do about it, and discovered that this mechanism couldn’t possibly work.

Lots of that particular title out there; I didn’t have one, but then I already had the LP. At the other extreme, 1982′s 20 Greatest Hits by the Beatles, which Capitol scrapped right before release: the number of copies which managed to escape the label is believed to be in single digits, and only four have ever been seen.

My last-ever 8-track tape was Janis Ian’s For All the Seasons of Your Mind (1967), the second of her four albums for Verve/Forecast, featuring the slightly bitter tune “Shady Acres,” which remains a favorite.

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Business un-taken care of

Lots of people have pointed to this article about “classic rock” by Walt Hickey at FiveThirtyEight, and as usual with something from Nate Silver’s baby, it’s meticulously researched and presented with an eye toward actual clarity.

Some weird statistics emerged, of course. In the Phoenix radio market, Creedence gets about half again as much airplay as might be expected. I assume this is sort of induced nostalgia, since nobody in Maricopa County has ever seen a river, green or otherwise, let alone a bayou. Furthermore, Bostonians have a curious love for the Allman Brothers Band. And Billy Joel does well in Miami, which made no sense to me until Hickey explained: “Think about who might be listening to classic rock stations in Miami: retired New Yorkers!”

Still, one thing puzzles me about the entire enterprise, to the extent that it challenges my very definition of “classic rock”: I contend that the one song the format must contain is “Takin’ Care of Business”, yet there is not a single mention of Bachman-Turner Overdrive anywhere in the article.

(I was originally sent the link by Dr. Pants.)

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Turn it up

California singer/songwriter Sabrina Lentini, last mentioned here, put out a very nice EP, a stripped-down girl-and-her-guitar set called No Price for Love. She took gigs wherever she could get them, and eventually tried out for American Idol; 212 performers were offered tickets to Hollywood, and she made it to the top 48 before being culled. And she got an idea for a second EP to be somewhat unlike the first:

This time, I want to breathe even more life into my songs. I’m ready to be “AMPLIFIED!” I’m so excited to add amazing musicians, producers, and creativity. I have so many songs that I’ve written since the last EP, and I just cannot wait to share them with you all!

But this takes money, which she calculated as $1500 for each of five tracks — and started up an IndieGoGo campaign that ended Tuesday with $7620 in the kitty, 101.6 percent of the goal.

In the meantime, it’s summer, she’s out of school, and she’s working, with eight appearances in July alone, all within a couple of hours of her Orange County home. (Two, in fact, are on the same day: the fifth, around noon on the Huntington Beach pier, followed by an early-evening show up in Ojai. I hope the traffic is bearable.) Here’s a clip from a Long Beach appearance, in which she performs the Pistol Annies’ “Hell on Heels”:

Amps, schmamps: there’s a lot of life left in the girl-with-her-guitar scene.

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Al in a day’s work

“Weird Al” Yankovic would like to set the, um, record straight:

I did a print interview recently where I talked about how I only had one more album left on my current record contract, and how after that I would be weighing my options. I talked about how at that point I might be more inclined to focus on digital distribution, since theoretically that would allow my releases to be more timely and topical. I talked about how quickly the industry is evolving, and how perhaps it might not even make sense to continue releasing conventional albums at that point. In fairness, my quotes in the article seemed pretty accurate. But the headline screamed, “WEIRD AL SAYS HIS NEXT ALBUM WILL BE HIS LAST!” Well, um … no, I didn’t. That’s inaccurate, and extremely misleading, and has caused more than a few fans to freak out. But I guess “WEIRD AL IS CAREFULLY WEIGHING HIS OPTIONS AND ISN’T ENTIRELY SURE WHAT HE’S DOING AFTER HIS NEXT ALBUM!” isn’t quite as catchy, headline-wise. So again, to be clear … if you were led to believe that I’m planning on retiring anytime soon, I’m not (sorry, haters). I truly love what I do, and if I ever stop working, it won’t be of my own free will.

Mandatory Fun by Weird Al YankovicThat album — Mandatory Fun — ships on the 15th of July, a mere two weeks from now. And, says Al, don’t look for a single to lead the way:

Well, here’s the thing … there IS no “lead single” for my new album. I’ll be releasing 12 “singles” all at once on July 15 — so you can decide for YOURSELF which songs are the hits!

By the way, I’ll have 8 — that’s right, 8 — brand new music videos … and I’ll be world-premiering one every single day for eight days straight, starting on July 14!

No, I don’t understand the Cartoon Communist graphics. However, I always assume Al knows what he’s doing.

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Make me feel so good

Some things you need to know about Gloria and about “Gloria,” as explained by Dave Barry:

She comes around. She is not playing hard to get. We later learn that she comes around “just about midnight,” and “she knock upon my door.” In other words, she is the perfect woman if you’re a teenage male, which is what Van Morrison was in 1963 when he wrote “Gloria,” and what I was in 1965 when I first heard it performed by Mr. Morrison when he was with the band “Them.”

(Yes, to be grammatically correct, the band should have been called “They.” But hey: rock ‘n’ roll.)

Three-chord songs, of course, are in the repertoire of every band known to man — and, for that matter, to woman. Which makes me wonder about female cover versions of “Gloria.” Of course, girl-on-girl action, as it were, is No Big Deal these days, and anyway Sixties revivalists like the MonaLisa Twins would sing it, you should pardon the expression, straight: no change in the lyrics. In the actual Sixties, though, maybe not:

The Belles, circa 1966

I bet a couple of them might be taller than five foot four.

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Don’t even look in this direction

As mentioned a few weeks back, there are two videos for Sia’s hit single “Chandelier,” and she doesn’t appear in either of them; nor does she show her face in her live performances these days.

For the second year in a row, Sia’s won the APRA Songwriter of the Year award, and she sent a video to accept it. This is the video:

As with the videos, it’s Sia’s voice, but it’s emphatically not Sia.

This is consistent, at least, which what she’s been saying since the 1000 Forms of Fear album was announced:

I don’t want to be famous. If Amy Winehouse was a beehive then I guess I’m a blonde bob. I thought “well if that’s my brand, how can I avoid having to use my face to sell something,” so my intention was to create a blonde bob brand. Throughout this whole thing I’ll put a different person in a blonde bob and either they lip-synch while I’m doing a live performance or they perform a dance or do some sort of performance while I have my back to the audience, as with Ellen. I recently recorded a bunch of stuff for VH1 where a 78-year-old woman wears the blonde bob and is lip-synching on a treadmill. Then there’s a black boy that Ryan choreographed a dance for, who’s not a dancer, and he’s in the blonde bob.

You could say, I suppose, that she’s screwing with us; but that’s what we, or at least what I, signed up for.

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Fiddy bits

Rapper 50 Cent’s new album Animal Ambition, released this month, can be paid for with cash, plastic, PayPal — or bitcoin, which his online store accepts and processes through service provider Bitpay.

This is the part I like:

According to the new media director for G-Unit Records, Corentin Villemeur, accepting bitcoin fits with [Curtis] Jackson’s narrative and history of being open to make money in as many ways as possible.

Which, of course, 50 acknowledges.

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My tears are falling

And of course, you came in with ’cause you’ve taken her away, the opening to “Take Good Care of My Baby,” recorded by Bobby Vee in 1961, the second Number One hit for Brill Building stalwarts Carole King and Gerry Goffin. The first, you may remember, was the prodigiously influential “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” cut by the Shirelles in late 1960. Carole did the music, Gerry did the words; Eva Boyd, who did their baby-sitting, sang their third.

Goffin and King broke up in 1968; both stayed in the business and made lots of hits.

Then King tweeted today:

She was never the words person, but she came up with a few:

“Gerry Goffin was my first love. He had a profound impact on my life and the rest of the world. Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come. His legacy to me is our two daughters, four grandchildren, and our songs that have touched millions and millions of people, as well as a lifelong friendship. He will be missed by his wonderful wife Michele, his devoted manager, Christine Russell, his five children, and six grandchildren. His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say.”

When they wed, Gerry was twenty; Carole was seventeen. He made it to seventy-five; she’s still working. And you know, she could knock out a lyric if she really wanted to.

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Oscillation sensation

If the Best Popular Song of 2014 is going to come out of the second half of the year, this is what it has to beat:

And no, that’s not Sia herself in the video. (There’s also a separate lyric video, and she’s not in that either. Much.)

“Chandelier” topped out at #48 in the Billboard Hot 100, a chart position that belies its greatness. (Similarly stalled: “Lucky Man,” “Get Out Now,” “Street Fighting Man.”)

And if you’ve never been a party girl in serious denial — well, perhaps you should consider yourself fortunate.

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Definitely in gear

Pop Gear/Go Go Mania (the latter being apparently a US-only title for no good reason other than the fact that it wasn’t British) was a brief (one hour, ten minutes) music revue on film, with various Big Beat acts generally faking their way through their 1964 recordings, interspersed with dance numbers. For lack of a better name, this is the Gold Pants Dance:

The song ending as the clip begins is “Tobacco Road,” a John D. Loudermilk tune recorded by the Nashville Teens, who of course were (1) not teens and (2) not from Nashville. The Teens’ second single, “Google Eye”, also a Loudermilk song, missed the bottom of the Billboard Hot 100; however, it does show up later in Pop Gear.

The vaguely oily host, Sir James Wilson Vincent “Jimmy” Savile, OBE, KCSG, died in 2011; a year later, a scandal broke, with Savile accused of multiple acts of sexual abuse. He is now on his way to becoming an unperson.

(Suggested by Peter J. Rudy.)

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In your face via your ears

The Loudness Wars, as described by yours truly about four years ago:

The quest for airplay usually results in something that sounds like everything else on the playlist, just so it will fit in better. And these days, everything else on the playlist is loud, louder, loudest: it is now understood that you cannot exceed 0 dB in the digital domain without horrendous distortion, so everything is cranked up as high as possible, with a hard limiter shoved in right below the distortion point. Dynamic range is conspicuous by its absence. And once we’ve compressed the life out of it, we compress it some more to save disk space.

Gagdad Bob Godwin sees something similar in the actual attitudes behind the music:

If you read the wiki article about the loudness war, you can see that something analogous has happened in mass culture vis-a-vis our tediously transgressive pop stars. Loud and crass as it was, whatever tawdry thing Madonna was doing in 1985 no longer shocks the sensibilities (which it probably never did, since it was old and decayed before it even came out of her piehole), which is why Miley Cyrus has to be that much louder and cruder.

You might say that she clipped Madonna of all *subtlety* and compressed the monotonous sexual message to soul-shattering amplitude. Just as louder CDs result in the image of the digital brickwall … the range of human reality of a Miley Cyrus is extraordinarily narrow but shrill and in your face. The only way she can continue her courageous artistic development is to embrace straight-up pornography.

What Madonna was doing in 1985 was pretty standard discofied synthpop; she didn’t start catching serious flak until the largely misunderstood “Like a Virgin,” which, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, didn’t actually suggest that first-timers ought to proceed to boink their brains out. But Madonna was anxious to crank it up, whatever “it” may have been, and Cyrus manifestly shares this anxiety.

The anti-Miley, of course, is Rebecca Black.

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A very large number indeed

Infinity by Against the CurrentThe reason I know of this band is because I pay way more attention than average — the average for people aged 60-up, anyway — to current pop and indie stuff, and one of the regular readers, having long noted this tendency of mine, pointed me towards girl singer Chrissy Costanza, who fronted a band out of Poughkeepsie, New York called Against the Current, which at the time included a relative of his. Costanza proved to be a worthy (and prolific!) Twitter read, and when they announced an EP to be released today, I hung out beside the iTunes Store with Amex in hand.

It was a wise move. The five tracks of Infinity have a freshness to them, the sort that manages to elude most of the stuff on the radio, and Costanza has enough of a voice to eschew most of the usual processing. “Infinity,” the single, and “Another You (Another Way)” are the stronger tracks, but there’s not a dud in the bunch. 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 have no idea how many of you listen to this kind of thing, but if you do, I’m happy to recommend it. (If you’d like a preview, there’s a lyric video of “Infinity” that’s gotten over 200,000 views this month.)

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Pretty fly for a White girl

Priscilla White became Cilla Black purely by accident. A featured vocalist with several Liverpool bands, she’d managed to work herself up to a mention in Mersey Beat, about which founder/publisher Bill Harry recalls:

I remember going down to the State Ballroom one evening when I was putting the first issue together and asking Cilla if she had the fashion column she promised me. She was with her mate Pat Davies and Cass & the Cassanovers were on stage. When I got back to the office I began working on the copy of the first issue and then began to type out a story on Cilla. When it came down to putting down her surname, my mind went blank. I knew it was a colour, but forgot which one. I took out the piece of paper with Cilla’s fashion column in it, but she hadn’t signed it. The column was all about colours in fashion and went from white to black. Looking at it, I decided on the black. I was wrong. Her name was Cilla White! After Mersey Beat was published, Cilla came into the office and told me I’d got her surname wrong — but she liked it so much she decided to call herself Cilla Black from now on!

Her career managed by Brian Epstein, her records produced by George Martin — for Parlophone, natch — Cilla became a major star in Britain and a television fixture.

Cilla Black on British television

Lots of middle-Sixties pop stars were on the wane by the end of the decade, but not Cilla. Her 1969 album Surround Yourself with Cilla was ostensibly so titled because it was never issued in mono:

Surround Yourself With Cilla

Or you might listen to the final track:

Her last UK chart item was a 1993 duet with Dusty Springfield titled “Heart and Soul” — not the Tin Pan Alley standard — which, like all her records, went largely unheard in the States, except for this one:

“You’re My World” crept onto Billboard at #26; the follow-up, “It’s For You,” a Lennon/McCartney (of course) number, died at #79.

Cilla Black is 71 today, and still all over British television. Meanwhile, her 1960s self abides: ITV is shooting a three-part TV series about her rise to fame, which will star acclaimed actor Sheridan Smith.

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Truckulence intensifies

Collin Raye, who had a fair number of country hits in the 1990s, suspects that the genre is now essentially played out:

[A]s someone who grew up loving and being forever affected by the true greats of country music, I simply have to offer up this plea to the Nashville country music industry to reclaim the identity and poetic greatness that once was our format. The well-written poetic word of the country song has disappeared.

There appears to be not even the slightest attempt to “say” anything other than to repeat the tired, overused mantra of redneck party boy in his truck, partying in said truck, hoping to get lucky in the cab of said truck, and his greatest possible achievement in life is to continue to be physically and emotionally attached to the aforementioned truck as all things in life should and must take place in his, you guessed it … truck.

I could throw some dime-store psychology in here, to the effect that since nobody can afford to buy a house anymore, a guy’s single largest purchase is his truck, and therefore that which is truck-related is uppermost in his mind. This is, of course, easily refuted by the fact that no one sang about partying and/or hoping to get lucky in a tract house, back in the days when even I could afford one.

Of course, the operative word in “party boy” is “boy.” The Friar, however, imputes comparable guilt to the girls as well:

[T]he ladies have their own share of guilt, with nearly every female singer or female-led act now supplying their albums with at least one sluts-in-boots track a la 2004′s “Redneck Woman” from Gretchen Wilson. And the boots better be paired with a spectacular set of gams shown off in cutoffs.

For the obligatory counterexample, I offer you Rosanne Cash’s freshly squeezed The River & The Thread, which includes a track titled “When the Master Calls the Roll.” Cash turned 59 today, which may explain why this example came to mind so quickly. If you stay past the final chord, you’ll learn this: Cash wrote this song with her current husband, John Leventhal, and with her previous husband, Rodney Crowell. Neither of those guys is much on bro-in-a-truck stuff.

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Money taken, run executed

There’s one problem you’re likely to encounter while immersing yourself in 1970s “classic rock,” and Robert Stacy McCain is quite familiar with it:

Nobody had more lame-crap hits than Steve Miller Band, and don’t get me wrong: I liked Steve Miller back in the day, and still enjoy listening to his hits, but from the standpoint of songcraft, the guy sucked. The closest he ever got to writing lyrics that made any sense at all was “Take the Money and Run,” but that song is a celebration of murder and robbery, so it kind of proves the point.

On the other hand, there’s a bit to the effect that the detective “makes his livin’ off of the people’s taxes,” useful information in case you’ve never seen an actual government employee.

Here’s the way I figure Steve Miller operated as a songwriter: He would come up with a nifty little guitar riff, and then a catch-phrase to be repeated in the chorus. Once he had the guitar riff and the chorus, he would be like, “Yeah, OK, gotta write some verses now.”

Which may explain why my favorite Steve Miller track is “Jet Airliner,” which he didn’t write. The Paul Pena original from 1973 is decidedly bluesier; unfortunately, it was never released until 2000, by which time Pena, who died in 2005, was living mostly off the royalties from the Steve Miller recording.

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