So I was spinning a few vintage Motown tracks, and it hit me: “Where the heck has Diana Ross been?” Answer: not so far from the spotlight, though she’s done a lot of things besides make records of late. Back in February, for instance, she showed up on the Grammy Awards and sang like she always could. And I need hardly remind you that she was seriously photogenic for a long, long time.
Take Me Higher was her 1995 (!) album; at fifty-one, she was in fine voice, and the title track topped the Billboard dance chart:
I’ve been listening to a lot of old pop music lately. Old as in you first heard it on your AM Radio. Old as in actual melodies and harmonies, even some occasional counterpoint. Old as in no politics, no sex, and no Anglo-Saxon vulgarities. The Beach Boys. The early Beatles. The BeeGees before disco. Chad and Jeremy. The Dave Clark Five. Donovan. The Hollies. Jay and the Americans. The Kingston Trio. The Lovin’ Spoonful. The Mamas and the Papas. Paul Revere and the Raiders. Spanky and Our Gang. And my all-time favorites, The Association.
When I arrived at college, I discovered something surprising: those groups and their music were almost uniformly dismissed as “plastic.” Why? They sounded good. They sang in smooth voices and played their instruments like musicians. They were non-vulgar. They weren’t trying to sell you on some political position or promote some trumped-up “crisis.”
It took a while for me to realize that those were the reasons my fellow collegians dismissed them.
The Association, in fact, had serious street cred, mostly on the basis of “Along Comes Mary,” which everyone just assumed was a drug song, though songwriter Tandyn Almer wisely kept his trap shut. By their second album, the group figured it could come up with some in-house psychedelia, which led to Jules Alexander’s wobbly “Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies,” which didn’t come close to the Top Ten:
“Heebie-jeebies,” should you be wondering, are like the fantods, only hairier. Maybe Curt Boettcher, who produced the band’s first album, could have salvaged that mess, but by then he was gone, and management brought in Hollywood stalwart Bones Howe to produce the next LP.
It was one of the symptoms of the troubles to come, the proverbial “clouds the size of a man’s hand” on our social and political horizons. And it is difficult for me, at this remove, to believe that it had no genesis other than a change in tastes.
There was a strategy in play even then. We were unable to see it, even as it operated on us.
But by no means was a united front presented. One of my best buds in freshman year had some countercultural ideas of his own: he wrote an actual piece called “In the Event That I Lose My Mind,” scored for twelve-string guitar and pipe organ, and recorded in the dead of night in the school tower by yours truly on his four-track Sony. But where did his tastes truly lie? He had a 10½-inch reel of Dionne Warwick, which got played more than anything else on his tape rack. And remarkably, no one picked on me, perhaps because I had Santana and Led Zeppelin II sitting by the phonograph on top of the Grass Roots LPs.
Weird as it was at the time, in retrospect it’s a little easier to see how “Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen” became such a worldwide phenomenon when it was released by Pikotaro, aka Japanese comedian/musician Daimaou Kosaka. Yes, it’s a dumb song that’s barely 40 seconds long, and is entirely about combining pens, pineapples, and apples, but Pikotaro handles the borderline nonexistent subject matter with such sincerity and cheerfulness that it’s easy to get swept up in the irreverent fun.
“The star-making machinery behind the popular song,” Joni Mitchell called it, and few musical acts these days wield the machine (if not the Big Machine) like Taylor Swift. With an album scheduled to drop Friday, everything is in gear, including the photographers:
This used to be one of my least favorite Swiftunes, but I have to admit, it’s grown on me during the past ten years:
It took me half that decade to catch on to the fact that she’s playing both female leads.
Well, maybe not the current Peruvian hit parade, but this middle-Sixties artifact, a cover of a Van Morrison classic, is great fun:
Issued on the Sono Radio label in 1966, “Gloria” was Los Doltons’ second single; they broke up in 1970 but reformed in 1985. Perhaps the biggest double-take I did on first hearing this band was discovering that they’d covered Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata.”
Gloria DeHaven, who made lots of movies for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, has the unusual distinction of having played her own mother in a movie: in the 1950 picture Three Little Words, a biopic of songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, she’s billed seventh as “Mrs. Carter DeHaven.” (Both Carter and Flora DeHaven had been vaudeville performers.)
In 1936, at eleven, she had a bit part in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times; in the 1940s she blossomed, and after that, television beckoned.
Because we must, and because you already know the song, here’s Gloria singing “Who’s Sorry Now?” Melody by Ted Snyder, words by Kalmar and Ruby, from, yes, Three Little Words:
A mere 35 years after it was written, Connie Francis got a big hit from this very song. Gloria DeHaven probably heard it; she was working as late as 2000, and she lived to be 91.
Most of us, if we still have a turntable, have just the one. (I have two, but I am certifiable.) But getting the most out of pre-digital recordings sometimes takes specialized equipment, especially if you’re working with 78s.
With both a 2 and 4 minute styli, this electric cylinder reproducer has none of the compromises of earlier designs, it tracks properly at 4.5 grams with its Stanton cartridge.
The cartridge is fitted to a miniature tonearm and is weighted so that it will track any cylinder of any thickness. Also any stylus could be fitted. There is also lateral tolerance so as not to cause stress on the stylus due to worn gears.
You can hear an acoustical recording made with this by clicking here. No computers were used in this reproduction, only a Timestep T-01EQ.
Our price $495.00 USD including 2 and 4 minute stylus and flexible cable.
Just the idea that you can still do this sort of thing is downright exciting, at least to me.
For some reason, I was thumbing through some photos of Rihanna, and somewhere in the midst of them it occurred to me that she can be glam, or she can be goofy, but she’ll earn your attention either way. So here are three pix, two goofy, one glam:
Rumors were floating around that this week Rihanna would announce a new album; so far, nothing’s come of it. Still, it’s been three years since Anti. The fourth and most recent single from Anti was “Love on the Brain,” which she sang live at the Billboard Music Awards to dazzling effect:
The production house known as ARK Music Factory, later ARK Media, is responsible for Rebecca Black’s “Friday”; Patrice Wilson, the semi-genius behind ARK, later pulled the company’s later productions, but fortunately, some enterprising folks managed to get them into an archive somewhere:
Some of the videos, and much of the commentary, will prove a little disquieting, even though we were spared the horrors of Alison Gold’s “Shush Up.”
Yet no actual copy of the album was forthcoming. A record-company exec (thank you, sir) offered to intercede, but he was no more successful than I. Noting that I hadn’t been charged for it yet, I decided to let it slide, and bought a copy from Bandcamp.
And this worked perfectly well right up until I started fiddling with an iPhone. Several thousand tracks were on the little gold box, but not one of them would play until I picked up my preorder: answering “Not Now” brought the same message back in a matter of seconds. Reasoning that I could leverage actual iPhone ownership, I took my problem to Apple’s tech-support chat, and while it took two separate escalations to get me to the right person (love you, Claire), I got my preorder filled at last.
Linda Ronstadt retired in 2011, and those of us who still miss her, which is a hell of a lot of us, will find this film essential:
And since rather a lot of us missed it, here’s “Heartbeats Accelerating,” an Anna McGarrigle composition in which Linda channels her inner Enya, or something; it leads off the mostly-forgotten 1993 LP Winter Light.
Singer Nadia Ali, born in Libya to Pakistani parents on this date in 1980, grew up in, um, Queens, New York. She wrote the 2001 dance hit “Rapture” in half an hour: she and producer Markus Moser released it under the name “Vaiio,” which was subsequently deemed too close to a Sony trademark. So “iiO” they would be.
She and Moser split in 2005, though Moser continued to release iiO material on which she had sung.
After a couple of duets, she resurfaced with the single “Crash and Burn.” Over the next decade, dance music was very good to Nadia, but eventually she set off in another direction, under the name HYLLS: more pop, less dance. The first HYLLS release, “All Over the Place,” appeared in January 2018.
It’s taken me a while to adjust to the fact that the freaking Pixies still exist and still make records. Of course, since Black Francis is still at the helm, things are about 30 degrees off plumb, but haven’t they always been?
“On Graveyard Hill” is from the album Beneath the Eyrie, due out in September.
The Japanese, by and large, do a better job of archiving American music than the actual Americans. An example:
The most compelling track, for me anyway, is Linda Scott’s “They Don’t Know You,” one of the last tracks recorded by the no-longer-teenaged songstress best known for her take on Jerome Kern’s “I’ve Told Every Little Star” back in 1961. I have it on a beat-up RCA Victor promo 45 (47-9424) smuggled out of the Turkish Republic, but cleaning it up is more trouble than I want to go to. (The last thing I know she recorded was a version of Smokey Robinson’s “The Composer,” an arguable Supremes number with Diana out front and the backing provided by the Andantes.)
Oh, and that bird in the upper right-hand corner looks somehow familiar.
“The Archer” was released as the [Lover] album’s first promotional single on July 23, 2019. Swift explained it would not be a single and it was meant to showcase a side of the album unseen by fans with the two singles; therefore, the song would not receive an accompanying music video.
We’ll see if there are any more at home like that.
Over the course of his career, Sir Paul McCartney has written films, oratorios, poetry collections, children’s books and more than 100 hit singles.
Now, at the age of 77, he has a new challenge: His first stage musical.
The star is working on an adaptation of Frank Capra’s classic It’s A Wonderful Life, the story of a suicidal man saved by his guardian angel.
Sir Paul, who was four when the film was released in 1946, called it “a universal story we can all relate to”.
The musical is set to debut in “late 2020”, according to producer Bill Kenwright, whose previous credits include the West End show Blood Brothers and the touring version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
I mean, this could work, am I right?
Lee Hall, who wrote Billy Elliot and the recent Elton John biopic Rocketman, is penning the script and collaborating with Sir Paul on the lyrics.
Colour me hopeful, which translates to “Not as good as Band on the Run but better than Red Rose Speedway.”
In 1968, Paul Mauriat and his orchestra scored a massive US hit with “Love Is Blue,” an instrumental version of a song first recorded by Vicky Leandros. How to follow it up? The next Mauriat release in the States was called “Love in Every Room,” and it stalled mid-chart:
This came up on the shuffle yesterday, and I suddenly had the urge to check its papers. The French title is “Même si tu revenais” — “Even if you came back” — and it was recorded first in 1965 by a fellow named Claude François:
M. François was only 26 when he recorded this jaunty little number. He’s better known, of course, for cowriting “Comme d’habitude,” which Paul Anka reworked into “My Way.” And he never made it to his forties: an electrical accident killed him.
I know at least two people born in 1966 who know WAY more about the music of the year they were born than I do about 1953. I suppose it’s because I was born in the “pre-rock era.”
And all that “pre-rock” stuff was banished to the so-called “middle of the road” radio stations; any station claiming “We play the hits” conducted itself as though time began in 1955.
While scanning the charts for that forgotten year of 1953, I came across one item that I knew, but that I never knew was a chart single. Background:
[William] Kapell played the final concert of his Australian tour in Geelong, Victoria, on October 22, 1953, a recital which included a performance of Chopin’s “Funeral March” Sonata. Days after the concert, he set off on his return flight to the United States, telling reporters at Mascot Airport he would never return to Australia because of the harsh comments from some Australian critics. He was aboard BCPA Flight 304 when on the morning of October 29, 1953, the plane, descending to land in fog, struck the treetops and crashed on Kings Mountain, south of the San Francisco airport. Everyone on board died.
On October 31, RCA Victor put out an actual William Kapell single: an excerpt from Kapell’s recent recording of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the eighteenth variation (of twenty-four), arguably the best-known section of the piece.
The actual single (49-4210) seems to have vanished, but the entire Rhapsody is accessible: the 18th variation runs from about 14:02 to 16:40.
Unexpectedly, RCA found itself with a pop hit, reaching #19. And much later — in 1998 — RCA saw fit to release a nine-CD set of the complete Kapell.
Singer Madilyn Bailey is one of the more successful musical artists on YouTube, but as anyone with a YouTube channel can tell you, some of the bozos out there work overtime to be hateful and condescending. And so she decided to splice some of her detractors’ comments into a song, with hilarious results:
And spelling, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not the haters’ strong suit.