News for May 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/1/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Take A Giant Step” by Taj Mahal

There is no rhyme or reason as to how I come up with the songs I choose to write about every day. They usually spring out of something I’ve been listening to or something I’ve read. So, if you regularly follow this column, you’ll get a pretty good idea of some of the stuff I listen to on a daily basis.

For instance, today’s Song Of The Day came about after reading a review of the first of three Rolling Stones concerts in Chicago this week. Now, I’m not planning on attending any of their shows here in town as I believe they’ve not only totally priced themselves out of the concert market, but have also priced themselves out of this world. And besides, I’ve seen them several times in the past when they were much younger and probably much better.

But the astronomical price of their tickets hasn’t diffused my interest in what their set list looks like and how people say they sounded. Each show on the tour so far has had Mick Taylor as a special guest coming out to play “Midnight Rambler,” but there’s usually a “surprise” guest at every show as well. While some markets have lucked out by getting guests like Tom Waits to take a star turn with the Stones, others have seen the likes of Katy Perry and Gwen Stefani “grace” the stage.

So far, Chicago is one of the luckier markets on the tour because blues legend, Taj Mahal was the Stones’ guest for their show the other night, and together they played “Six Days On The Road.” The song was one that Mahal originally cut for his 1969 double album Giant Step/De Ole Folks At Home.

This led me to pull out my copy of the record which I haven’t listened to in many years. The title track of the album is a radically revised version of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin classic “Take A Giant Step,” which most people know by The Monkees’ recording of the song from their 1966 debut album.

Henry Saint Clair Fredericks took the name Taj Mahal, which came to him in a dream, while in college studying agriculture and animal husbandry in 1959. As a child, he was as passionate about farming as he was about music, and there was a time when he considered following his interests in farming over music. Fortunately, he chose music but his love of farming has led him to perform at numerous Farm Aid concerts over the years.

Mahal relocated to the West Coast in the early 1960s and established a name for himself playing solo blues in clubs. He soon met Ry Cooder, and along with Jesse Lee Kinkaid formed the group, The Rising Sons. The Rising Sons recorded for Columbia in 1964 resulting in the release of a single. The group cut an album’s worth of material for the label, but Columbia didn’t know what to do with an interracial group in the early 1960s, so the record languished in the vaults unreleased until 1993.

Between the Rising Sons debacle and Mahal’s self-titled first studio album for Columbia in 1968, he worked with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Muddy Waters. He also played on sessions (along with Ry Cooder) for the Rolling Stones and even appeared in The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus. (Hence, the reason he was the special guest at their show the other night.)

Giant Step/De Ole Folks At Home is Taj Mahal’s third Columbia release from 1969. The double album is half electric and half acoustic and it features a freewheelin’ and eclectic selection of originals, traditional blues tunes and pop covers.

The electric half features Mahal backed by Jessie Ed Davis on guitar and keyboards, Gary Gilmore on bass and Chuck Blackwell on drums. Together they create a beautiful noise as they run through a selection of blues-flavored covers including today’s Song Of The Day, Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little School Girl,” Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road,” Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Farther On Up The Road,” Leadbelly’s “Keep Your Hands Off Her” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond.” The album’s final track is “Bacon Fat” which is attributed to Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson, but more likely stems from pen of Andre Williams’ who scored a #9 R&B chart hit with the song in 1956.

The stripped down rural acoustic blues of De Ole Folks At Home features solo performances by Mahal on vocals, guitar, harmonica and banjo performing a mix of his own songs like “Light Rain Blues,” “Blind Boy Rag,” “A Little Soulful Tune,” “Cajun Tune” and “Country Blues #1,” and covers of “Candy Man,” “Stagger Lee” and “Linin’ Track.”

All in all, Mahal recorded 12 albums for Columbia through 1976, and then moved on to Warner Bros. for three more. He also wrote the score for the films Sounder and Brothers.

Later years found him moving to Hawaii, forming the Hula Blues Band and recording numerous records for Gramavision and the Private Music record label that incorporated his love of West African and Caribbean music, Americana, Blues, Zydeco, Rock and R&B. He’s also recorded several popular children’s records. His album, Señor Blues won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 1997, and he won another one in 2000 for his album Shoutin’ in Key.

Edited: May 31st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/31/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams

It’s an album that starts with an Overture. No, it’s not a Broadway Cast album or film soundtrack to a musical; however, it is an album with lofty levels of conceit and pretension that could only have been recorded in the late ‘60s by Mason Williams. And for The Mason Williams Phonograph Album, it all makes sense since Williams is an artist of high conceit and pretension with a supreme talent level to match. Fortunately (for him and his fans), he was coddled by the most artist friendly record labels of the 1960s, Warner Bros. Records, for otherwise, a record like The Mason Williams Phonograph Album would have never been possible.

While he is best known for his 1968 chart-topping hit “Classical Gas,” which won three Grammy Awards for Best Instrumental Composition, Best Instrumental Performance, and Best Instrumental Orchestra Arrangement (for arranger, Mike Post), Mason Williams is also an Emmy-winning comedy writer, a standup comedian, an author and a poet.

During the early 1960s, Williams was a member of several folk groups including The Wayfarers and The Hootenaires who played shows at the Troubadour and many other west coast folk clubs. The Kingston Trio cut his song “More Poems” for their Nick, Bob & John album, and Glenn Yarbrough (of The Limeliters) cut several of his songs on his Honey And Wine album. It was also during the great folk era that he released several albums of instrumental banjo and six-string guitar music that paved the way for today’s Song Of The Day.

As a stand-up comedian, Williams’ format included reciting poems and telling stories in verse while accompanying himself on guitar. Some of his early stand-up can be heard on the album Them Poems which was released by Vee-Jay Records released in 1964. The record and his book The Mason Williams Reading Matter, were reissued in 1969 to capitalize on the success of “Classical Gas.”

Williams wrote comedy for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, as well as for other name brand television personalities including Andy Williams, Dinah Shore, Roger Miller and Petula Clark. With his musical background and cutting edge wit, he was the perfect choice to write for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where he introduced the Pat Paulsen For President gags that ran on the show during the 1968 election year. (Paulsen was cast on the show as an editorialist whose deadpan delivery during the faux election campaign made him famous with the counterculture.) Mason Williams won an Emmy for his writing on the show, and he also gave Steve Martin his start as a comedy writer.

Williams premiered and performed today’s Song Of the Day several times on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour including an indelible clip of him playing it using a clear Plexiglas guitar filled with water and a few goldfish. He also created an early form of music video when he synched the song to a film by Dan MacLaughlin titled 3000 Years of Art in 3 Minutes and aired it on the show.

The hit single version of “Classical Gas” was arranged by Mike Post who would go on to greater fame for writing the themes to the TV shows Law & Order, NYPD Blue, The Rockford Files, L.A. Law, Quantum Leap, Magnum, P.I. and Hill Street Blues. Williams recorded and released “Classical Gas” several other times, including a solo guitar version on his 1970 album Handmade, and in 1987 with Mannheim Steamroller.

He was also one of the flagship counterculture artists at Warner Bros. Records during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s where he released five albums including the best-selling Mason Williams Phonograph Record, The Mason Williams Ear Show, Music, Handmade and Sharpickers.

The Mason Williams Phonograph Record also garnered acclaim for its album cover featuring a Greyhound bus. The original image is an 11′ x 37′ poster that is on permanent display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The album is chock full of great ‘60s orchestral band arrangements with backup expertly supplied by members of The Wrecking Crew. There are a few throwaway “link” tracks that are only seconds long and act to bridge between songs and ideas. Along with the hit single, the album includes “One More Time” which sounds like it could have come off of a Glen Campbell album, “Sunflower” that provided the soundtrack to a film project Williams worked on of a skywriting airplane painting the sky with a huge flower. The B-side to the “Classical Gas” single was “Baroque-a-Nova” which was arranged by the album’s other arranger, Al Capp.

Williams also wrote the 1968 UK chart-topper “Cinderella Rockefella” with Nancy Ames for Esther and Abi Ofarim, and in 1980, he briefly served as head writer for NBC’s Saturday Night Live, but left after clashing with producer Jean Doumanian.

Throughout the 1970s, Williams performed his Concert For Bluegrass Band And Orchestra with the Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Eugene and Denver symphonies. In 1987, Williams teamed up with Mannheim Steamroller to release a new album titled Classical Gas on the American Gramaphone label. The album featured a re-recorded version of the title track backed by Mannheim Steamroller and Fresh Aire, and sold more than a million copies. He also went on to record several other memorable albums including A Gift Of Song which was an acoustic Christmas album from 1992.

He also wrote comedy for The Smothers Brothers many TV shows and appearances throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Today, he still releases music and performs in front of audiences around the world.

Edited: May 30th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/30/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dancing Machine” by The Jackson 5

They were growing up…and the world liked their Jacksons young.

By 1973, The Jackson 5 were becoming somewhat of a spent force around Motown. It had been a few years since the group scored a bona-fide top ten hit, and there was plenty of dissatisfaction to go around.

Brother Michael was no longer the pint-sized dynamo that he once was. He was now a pimply 15 years old geek with a much deeper voice. Motown had been grooming him as a solo star much to the detriment of his singing brothers, and between 1971 and 1973 he scored several substantial solo hits including the top five smash “Got To Be There,” “Ben” which was a chart topping hit about a rat from the movie Willard, a cover of the Bobby Day hit “Rockin’ Robin” which climbed to the #2 position on the charts and “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” which went to #16 on the pop charts and #2 on the rhythm and blues charts.

Meanwhile, some of the other brothers were also branching out. Jermaine released a solo record in 1972 that included a cover of the Shep & The Limelites’ hit “Daddy’s Home” which rose up to the top ten of the charts, and Jackie also released solo record the following year. All of this activity was beginning to play on the dynamic within the group in negative ways.

What the group collectively craved most was more control over what they recorded, and more involvement in the making of their records. While they were writing, producing and playing songs in their home studio, Motown wouldn’t let them play on their own records insisting that they use the Motown house band, The Funk Brothers, or The Wrecking Crew (for West Coast sessions). Not only that, they were only allowed to record songs that were chosen for them by “The Corporation.”

Changes needed to be made, and it was within this atmosphere of disillusion that the group’s father and manager, Joe Jackson began to look for a new record deal for his charges.

The group’s 1973 album, GIT: Get It Together, was the first Jackson 5 album to feature lead vocals by each brother.  The album also found the group dipping their collective toes into disco waters by segueing all the songs together in order to provide a non-stop mix of music for dancing.

By far, the best song of the album is today’s Song Of The Day, “Dancing Machine.” The song was an “automatic, systematic” call to the dance floor featuring syncopated funky rhythms and terrific vocal interplay between Michael and the rest of the group who traded off lead vocal lines and sang backup on the track. It was also one of the first songs that Michael employed the vocal hiccup that would end up being one of his lasting trademarks.

Like “Billy Jean” and the moonwalk, “Dancing Machine” also benefitted by an accompanying dance move which helped propel it up the charts.  When the group appeared on Soul Train to promote the album, Michael Jackson was seen doing the robot dance resulting in a spectacle that left fans wanting more.

The song was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1975 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, but lost out to Rufus’s hit “Tell Me Something Good.” While the other seven tracks on the record were less commercial, the title track was a moderate hit that charted at #28 on the singles charts, and “Hum Along and Dance” became a popular favorite in the group’s live act.

Shortly after the release of the album, the group found themselves riding high in the charts again as background vocalists on Stevie Wonder’s 1974 single “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” from his album Fulfillingness’ First Finale.

The group signed with CBS/Epic Records in 1975 and had to change their name to The Jacksons, since Motown owned the rights to the Jackson 5 name. Jermaine chose to stay on at Motown since he was married to Berry Gordy’s daughter, and was replaced by the youngest Jackson brother, Randy.

While the group’s commercial prospects at CBS weren’t much better, Michael eventually scored a huge hit with the 1979 album Off the Wall, and then came Thriller and The Victory Tour, and Jackson mania swept the world again…

Edited: May 29th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/29/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “House Party Starting” by Herbie Nichols Trio

If Herbie Nichols is remembered for anything, it’s probably for composing one of Billie Holiday’s signature songs “Lady Sings The Blues.” Problem is, Nichols is all but totally forgotten today, even though he recorded a handful of seminal EPs and an album for the Blue Note record label between 1955 and 1956. For the 30 or so years after these recordings were made, the music sat in the vaults, out of print and out of most people’s minds. Sometimes the greats don’t get their due during their own lifetime.

During the late ‘30s, Nichols was part of the Harlem jazz scene, playing at such clubs as Minton’s and Monroe’s while giving birth to a new form of music called bebop. Upon his return after serving 18 months in the army, he found himself outside of the bebop jazz circles he was previously part of, so he began playing New Orleans Dixieland and rhythm and blues in order to continue to support himself playing music.

While still very much a struggling musician and songwriter, a big break came when Mary Lou Williams recorded three of his tunes in 1952 including “The Bebop Waltz” (retitled “Mary’s Waltz”), “At Da Function” and “Stennell” (retitled “Opus Z”).  Then Billie Holiday heard his song “Serenade,” wrote her own set of lyrics to it, and retitled it “Lady Sings The Blues.”  It would go on to be one of the songs most closely associated with her for the rest of her career.

He was as original and innovative as Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk and Dave Brubeck, yet it literally took him from 1937 through 1955 to convince Alfred Lion to record him as a leader for Blue Note records.

The session for today’s Song Of The Day, “House Party Starting” took place on August 1, 1955 and was ultimately released on the self-titled Blue Note album (1519). Joining Nichols on piano are Al McKibbon on bass and the great Max Roach on drums. The song was later covered by Mal Waldron with Steve Lacy in 1991 on their Novus album Hot House.

Nichol’s entire recorded output during his lifetime consisted of the two EPs and an album he cut for Blue Note, and one additional album released on Bethlehem in 1957. He died of leukemia in 1963. He was 44 years old.

Edited: May 28th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – Memorial Day Repost

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “It’s Been A Long Long Time” by Bing Crosby

As our boys came home from World War II, they were welcomed back with this number one hit from 1945 that perfectly captured the sentiments of those who remained home while their loved ones were away.

It’s a perfect record in every way. You’d be hard pressed to find a better vocalist than Crosby to deliver these hopeful, romantic lyrics in a croon that is both smooth and warm. Meanwhile, the lilting melody expertly supplied by Jule Styne effortlessly supports the lyrics written by Sammy Cahn that spoke to millions of couples who had been separated by the war.

However, it’s the lyrical guitar playing of Les Paul that steals the show, with a tone as smooth and genial as Crosby’s croon. His licks are the epitome of tasteful and never overpower the proceedings, while the rest of the Les Paul Trio, featuring Jim Atkins (half-brother of Chet Atkins) on rhythm guitar and Ernie “Darius” Newton on bass, add the perfect support.

The song was also a number one recording for Harry James and his Orchestra with Kitty Kallen on vocals in 1945, and a chart hit for Charlie Spivak and his Orchestra with Irene Daye on vocals.

It’s been covered dozens of times by the likes of Stan Kenton with June Christy, Sammy Kaye, Perry Como, Peggy Lee, Keely Smith, Louis Armstrong, Al Hibbler, Guy Mitchell, Frank Sinatra, The Ink Spots, Rosemary Clooney, Brook Benton, Tom Jones and many others. Les Paul revisited the song several times throughout his career, cutting a version with his wife Mary Ford in the 1950s, and nearly 30 years later another one with Chet Atkins on the Chester and Lester album.

This recording is the definition of timeless.

Edited: May 27th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/27/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “All My Sorrows” by The Kingston Trio

Before The Beatles…there was The Kingston Trio! The Trio of Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane were the most recognized act of the initial folk boom of the late 1950s causing a sensation throughout college campuses. Their brand of exuberantly sung folk songs mingled with a healthy dose of good natured “aw-shucks” humor offered pure entertainment and insured them a place on the charts and on concert stages. Their hits included “Tom Dooley,” “The M.T.A.,” “The Tijuana Jail,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” ”A Worried Man,” plus many others.

I was introduced to the music of The Kingston Trio by my parents, with the group’s Greatest Hits album which was a staple of their record collection. They were also fans of The Brother’s Four and had a Columbia album called All Star Hootenanny that gave me my first taste at a very young age of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, The Clancy Brothers and Johnny Cash all in one place.

I’ve also had the honor and pleasure of compiling several Kingston Trio collections during my music career while working for Time Life Music and Reader’s Digest Music back in the 1990s. For Reader’s Digest, I compiled a 60-track, 3 CD set called The Kingston Trio: Their Greatest Hits & Finest Performances. At the time of its release, it was the most comprehensive Kingston Trio collection available on the market. It was also one of Reader’s Digest’s most popular single artist collections and was kept in print for many years. At Time Life, I compiled a 30-track, 2 CD collection of their greatest hits for a TV-sold package called The Very Best Of The Kingston Trio, and also created a second 30-track collection of deeper cuts for an upsell called Trio Treasures & Folk Favorites.

I also spent some time consulting for a great Chicago folk record label called Folk Era which is run by Allan Shaw, who is one of the world’s great authorities on The Kingston Trio and the music of the Folk Era. The label is also the home of the Rediscover Music Catalog which includes a well thought out selection of folk music you won’t find elsewhere. During my time working with Folk Era, I was introduced to original Trio member Bob Shane and John Stewart, who replaced Dave Guard in the trio in 1961 and remained a member through 1967. John Stewart was also best remembered for writing The Monkees’ hit “Daydream Believer” and his own classic 1971 album California Bloodlines.

Today’s Song Of the Day was originally from the group’s 1959 fourth album At Large. The group was at the absolute height of their popularity in 1959 placing four consecutive albums into the top ten of the Billboard album charts throughout the year.

“All My Sorrows” was also released as the B-side to the “M.T.A.” single. The songs is also known under the title “All My Trials” and is widely considered a lullaby because of its opening line “Hush little baby don’t you cry.” The song was actually a protest song of both hope and resignation for a time when “All my trials, soon be over.”

The song has been covered by numerous artists including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Gibson, Dave Van Ronk, Harry Belafonte, Peter Paul & Mary, and many others. Over the years, it has also become closely associated with Lindsey Buckingham who recorded it for his album From The Cradle. Before performing the song in concert, Buckingham regularly pays homage to the influence The Kingston Trio has had on his career.

The At Large album was the first Trio studio album that the group really began to gel instrumentally with each other. The inclusion of David “Buck” Wheat on double bass and occasional guitar filled out their sound. Wheat also assisted with arrangements and remained part of the outfit through the end of 1961. The album won a 1960 Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording and it was also nominated in the “Best Vocal Group or Chorus” category. It was certified Gold for sales of 1,000,000 units in 1961.

Several other Kingston Classics also came from the At Large album including their #15 hit “M.T.A.,” which is one of their most beloved recordings and “Remember The Alamo,” which was considered and rejected for use in the John Wayne film, The Alamo.  The Trio’s recording of “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)” was originally made popular by Harry Belafonte a few years before The Trio took it on and became a concert staple and another of the group’s most requested songs.  The #12 single, “Tijuana Jail” b/w “Oh Cindy,” was also recorded during the sessions for the album, but ultimately left off.

Although touring members of The Trio still exist, the last version with original member Bob Shane stopped touring in 2004.

Edited: May 27th, 2013

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – 5/26/13

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Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “Stop The World And Let Me Off” by John Doe And The Sadies

I got an email a few weeks ago from Yep Roc Records alerting me to a $5.00 CD sale they were having for a limited time. Well, since I may be one of the last few hold outs in music for physical product over downloads, I couldn’t pass up a look see to find out what they had to offer. Well, several of the featured titles were interesting to me, and at that price I figured how could I go wrong, so I took the plunge and ordered myself a handful of semi-new music.

The $5.00 treats that I chose included a Chris Stamey album featuring Yo La Tengo as guests from 2004 called A Question Of Temperature, the Gang Of Four reunion album from a few years ago called Content, an album by The Minus Five collective featuring members of Young Fresh Fellows, The Decemberists, The Posies, R.E.M., Mudhoney and M. Ward’s band from 2009 called Killingsworth, the first album by The Baseball Project featuring members of the aforementioned bands above, an album by Wilco side project, The Autumn Defense from 2010 called Once Around and the album that today’s Song Of The Day hails from  by John Doe & The Sadies called Country Club. By far, the real find out of the bunch is the John Doe project…

What blossomed from a back stage jam session while on tour with the reunited Knitters in 2005, finally spawned the straight-ahead country album John Doe fans had always wished he recorded all along.

John Doe is a founding member of X, and while that band’s roots grew out of the L.A. punk scene, Doe has always been the country lonely heart stuck in the middle of all the havoc with one of the most soulful and plaintive voices of all time.

When X originally launched their side project, The Knitters with Dave Alvin on board for D.J. Bonebrake in 1985, it really was our first inkling that Doe could wrap his voice around a set of simpler Country-tinged tunes with acoustic backing and do a credible job at conveying the inherent emotions of the songs.

The Sadies are a Canadian roots group consisting of brothers Travis Good on guitars, fiddles and mandolins, Dallas Good on guitar and keyboards, Sean Dean on bass and Mike Belitsky on Drums, that offer Doe a highly sympathetic, superbly performed approximation of the Nashville Countrypolitan Sound of the 1960s on this collection of country standards.

Country Club is a heartfelt rollicking troll through the classic Country songbook featuring weather-worn favorites by the likes of Willie Nelson (“Night Life”), Roger Miller (“Husbands And Wives”), Johnny Cash (I Still Miss Someone”), Patsy Cline by way of Dwight Yoakam (“Stop The World And Let Me Off”), Bobby Bare (“Detroit City”), Elvis Presley (“(Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I”), Porter Wagoner (“The Cold Hard Facts Of Life”), Hank Williams (“Take These Chains From My Heart”), Merle Haggard (“Are The Good Times Really Over For Good”) and Kris Krisofferson (“Help Me Make It Through The Night”).

The album also features four original tunes, one by Doe and X-band mate Exene Cervenka, called “It Just Dawned On Me,” plus three from the Sadies: “Pink Mountain Rag,” “The Sudbury Nickel” and “Before I Wake,” that blend in so well with the standards, you’d be hard pressed to pick them out from the rest of the bunch.

And just when you thought you’d heard these songs so many times that there would be nothing anyone could do to improve them in any way, John Doe comes along and records the record he was meant to make all along, and makes them his own.

Edited: May 26th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/25/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Turn To White” by She & Him

Music critics crack me up. They’re always looking for something to dis about a record in order to validate their jobs as critics. And, I suppose at times I am no different than the rest. Nothing is ever just great, some fault must be found in order to have something to say. I guess without criticism, you’re just not a critic.

The rap critics usually give Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward every time they release a new She & Him record is that the music is too lightweight and twee with no heft whatsoever.  And to this, I find myself asking what exactly do they expect from this duo, death metal?

Breezy, sun-kissed ‘60s sounding pop is not only She & Him’s stock in trade; it is also what they do best. So if you’re not predisposed to liking this kind of music, than you really have no place reviewing one of their records. But critics do what they do, and slagging off She & Him seems to be one of their favorite pastimes.

For me, She & Him’s retro-pop songs, shimmering string arrangements and heavenly background vocals are right up my alley, and I’ve been a fan of Zooey Deschanel’s dusty voice since I first heard her in the movie Elf singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in the shower. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s also not too bad on the eyes, either!) The fact that she also stars in the successful TV sit-com New Girl, which I positively love, is just icing on the cake. Furthermore, M. Ward also has a successful career releasing exceptional critically-acclaimed albums, both solo and with his quasi-supergroup side project, Monsters Of Folk. He is also a terrific producer and a sturdy performer in concert as well.

She & Him were introduced to each other by Martin Hynes who was directing Deschanel in the starring role for the film The Go-Getter. Hynes wanted Deschanel to sing a song over the closing credits of the film, so he introduced her to M. Ward and while recording a cover of Richard & Linda Thompson’s “When I Get To The Border” for the film, the two bonded over their shared a love of sunny, ‘60s pop. Deschanel had been writing for several years as a hobby, and shared her backlog of finished songs with Ward, resulting in the birth of She & Him.

It’s interesting to point out at this juncture that most people are painfully unaware that Deschanel is not only a terrific actress and singer, but she is also a top shelf songwriter, for which she gets little credit. Over the years She & Him have released three albums consisting mainly of Deschanel’s original songs. (They’ve also released a Christmas album.) And while Deschanel is clearly the star of this show, Ward’s understated influence on the proceedings as an arranger and producer is crucial, for without him the album wouldn’t have the transistorized retro pop AM radio sound that makes it work so well.

On the surface, the record is all sunshine, lollipops and ukuleles, especially on the tracks “Somebody Sweet To Talk To” and “Together.” But scratch a little deeper than the surface and you quickly find out that there’s more to this record than meets the ear. Deschanel gets her melancholy on with today’s Song Of The Day, the gorgeous pop ballad “Turn To White,” where hints of cloudy days appear as she sings “But I’m stronger than the picture that you took before you left / In the light, it faded to white…” perhaps alluding to her divorce from husband Ben Gibbard of the band Death Cab For Cutie.

Elsewhere, Deschanel sings “Your love is a blessed curse actually / Bad gets worse supernaturally” in the song “Something’s Haunted You,” and on “I’ve Got Your Number Son” she sings “What’s a man without all the attention? / Well he’s just a man… / Who am I without all your affection? / I’m a nobody,” further cementing the notion that the fallout from her failed marriage has effected the sunny disposition of these proceedings.

Rounding out the record are three well-chosen covers including Deschanel’s smoky pop reading of “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” which was a top ten hit in the 1950s by Karen Chandler, and then again in the 1960s by Mel Carter.  Their Brill Building pop cover of Ellie Greenwich’s classic 1965 hit “Baby,” is also a perfect fit for this album, and Deschanel’s superb reading of Blondie’s “Sunday Girl” proves that Debbie Harry has nothing on her.

While many consider the group inconsequential and lightweight, they do have the clout to attract the likes of Tom Hagerman of Devotchka, Pierre de Reeder of Rilo Kiley, Joey Spampinato of NRBQ and Mike Watt of The Minutemen as guest musicians on this album.

There are times that It’s hard to tell where Deschanel’s New Girl character, Jess Day begins and Zooey Deschanel ends. However, four albums in Deschanel  proves not to be the clueless cringe-inducing doe-eyed waif like she portrays on TV, but a supremely talented artist who is firmly in charge and knows exactly what she wants.

Volume 3 offers nothing that Volume Two and Volume One didn’t, but as the title suggests, this is just the latest edition of first-rate non-stop pleasing pop sounds, performed to perfection by the New Girl and her super talented counterpart.

Edited: May 24th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/24/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “SWLABR” by Cream

While some were spray painting the buildings of England with proclamations that Eric Clapton was God, the real star of Cream was bassist Jack Bruce. Not only was Bruce the songwriter behind some of the group’s biggest hits, but it was his voice that defined the group’s sound. Ginger Baker, of course, laid down the backbeat that drove the machine to greatness, and as for Clapton, he’s been literally coasting on the stellar guitar work he laid down with this group for over 40 years ago.

They were, indeed, one of the early “supergroups” with very high pedigree. Clapton had played with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds and had backed blues greats like Sonny Boy Williamson and Champion Jack Dupree. Baker played with Jazz artist Acker Bilk (of “Stranger On The Shore” fame), Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and the Graham Bond Organisation. Bruce had played with Baker in Korner’s Blues Incorporated and The Graham Bond Organisation, with Clapton in The Bluesbreakers and Powerhouse (that also included singer Paul Jones and Steve Winwood), and briefly with Manfred Mann. And for once, this supergroup was much better than the sum of its parts, especially since Bruce and Baker didn’t get along at all.

That said, Cream never made a solid studio album, and even so, the band’s studio recordings are far more preferable than their live workouts that featured endless jamming extended to maddening proportions. Even though albums like Disraeli Gears, Fresh Cream and the half studio-half live Wheels Of Fire are considered classics today, they really are patchy affairs, each featuring a clutch of classic singles surrounded by throwaways.

So if you’re looking for just the cream that rose to the top, the 1995 CD compilation The Very Best Of Cream is the one to have. It’s all here…71 minutes of the heaviest of heavy Cream including the requisite hits “Sunshine Of Your Love,” “Tales Of Brave Ulysses,” “Strange Brew,” “I’m So Glad,” “Spoonful,” “White Room,” “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “Badge,” “Crossroads” and “I Feel Free.”

But the collection doesn’t stop with the hits that everyone wants. Also included are single-only rarities, B-sides and album tracks that have gained classic status over the years, like the album cuts “N.S.U.” and “Sweet Wine” (from Fresh Cream), “SWLABR” and “We’re Going Wrong” (from Disraeli Gears), “Politician,” “Sitting On Top Of The World,”  “Those Were The Days” and “Deserted Cities Of The Heart” (from Wheels Of Fire) and the rare singles “Wrapping Paper” and “Anyone For Tennis” (which was recorded for the film The Savage Seven).  In my estimation, the only essential Cream track that’s missing from this collection is “Cat’s Squirrel.”

Oh, and for those that don’t already know, “SWLABR” was also the B-side to the “Sunshine Of Your Love” single, and the title stands for “She walks like a bearded rainbow.” Don’t ask, it was 1967 after all…

Edited: May 23rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/23/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Guitar Man” by Jerry Reed

It was difficult to take Jerry Reed seriously, and one suspects it was all by his own design. Reed’s larger than life persona was that of a goofy country hick who sure could tell a tall tale, and numerous TV appearances on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and The Johnny Cash Show, novelty story-song records like “Lord, Mr. Ford” and “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” and numerous movie appearances with the likes of Burt Reynolds and Adam Sandler cemented this notion in the psyche of the American music loving public. But Jerry Reed was a C.G.P.

The C.G.P., or Certified Guitar Player, was a title originated by the first C.G.P., Chet Atkins, and was only bestowed upon folks who not only totally mastered the guitar, but also contributed to the legacy of the instrument. Jerry Reed was one of only five pickers awarded the C.G.P. title. The other four were Chet Atkins, Steve Wariner, John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel. But more than being a C.G.P., Reed was a showman with a flashy guitar style.

Reed possessed a singular staccato finger picking style that was often imitated, but hard to duplicate. When Elvis Presley chose to cover today’s Song Of The Day in 1967, he summoned Reed to the studio for the session because Presley was dissatisfied with the sound his band was getting on the track. As soon as Reed arrived and began playing, Presley’s face lit up and the session continued, garnering Presley and Reed a hit with the song.

Here’s an account of the circumstances of that session in Reed’s own words: “See, I had my own tuning, and they were trying to record “Guitar Man,” and they couldn’t make it feel like my record. And I forget if it was Pete Drake or Charlie McCoy or Chip Young – one of those musicians said, ‘Well, these guitar players in here are playing with straight picks, and, you know, Reed plays with his fingers. So they called me, and I went down, and I hooked up that electric gut string, tuned the B-string up a whole tone, and I toned the low E-string down a whole tone, so I could bar straight across, and as soon as we hit the intro, you could see Elvis’ eyes light up he knew we had it.”

After Presley recorded another Reed song, “U.S. Male,” Reed wrote and recorded a tribute to Elvis called “Tupelo Mississippi Flash,” which resulted in his first Top 20 hit. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Reed got his start after Atlanta music publisher Bill Lowery helped him secure a songwriting and recording contract with Capitol Records when he was 16 years old.  And while he didn’t have any hits of his own during this period, his songs were covered by Brenda Lee and Gene Vincent, who scored a 1958 hit with his song ”Crazy Legs.”

Reed relocated to Nashville in 1961 to pursue his songwriting career and he garnered some success when Porter Wagoner scored a 1962 No. 1 country hit with his song “Misery Loves Company.”  It was around this time that Reed released his own singles “Goodnight Irene” and “Hully Gully Guitar” which brought him to the attention of musician and record label chief of RCA Nashville, Chet Atkins who began producing his sessions including the 1967 session that produced “Guitar Man.”

Reed continued to land hits on the charts throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including “Amos Moses” (#16/1970), “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” (#1/1971), “Ko-Ko Joe” (#11/ 1971), “Lord, Mr. Ford” (#1/1973), “I Love You (What Can I Say)” (#10/1978), “Sugar Foot Rag” (#12/1979), “She Got the Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)” (#1/1982), “The Bird” (# 2/1982), and “Down The Corner” (#13/1983). He also scored clout and credibility as a musician by recording a pair of popular albums (Me & Jerry and Me & Chet) with Chet Atkins in the early 1970s that have become a must-hear for all aspiring country pickers.

By the late ‘70s, Reed had gained recognition not only for a successful solo career but also as an ace session player. But this was never enough for Reed and Hollywood was beckoning, so he answered the call and became, you guessed it, a movie star. After appearing in the 1976 film Gator, Reed struck box office gold with Burt Reynolds in the 1977 film Smokey And The Bandit. The film also spawned another #1 hit for Reed with “East Bound And Down.”

Reed appeared as Reynolds’ sidekick, Cledus Snow in three Smokey And The Bandit movies as well as garnering parts in other films of dubious distinction including High-Ballin’ (1978), Stroker Ace (1983), What Comes Around (1985, of which he also directed), Bat*21 (1988) and The Waterboy  (1998) which also starred Adam Sandler. While none of these movies helped his credibility as a recording artist, he did score several novelty hits and also made a boat-load of money.

Reed died in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 1, 2008, of complications from emphysema.

Edited: May 22nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/22/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Little Bitty Pretty One” by Thurston Harris

It starts off so simple. Just a bunch of guys humming in harmony over an infectious backbeat, and that was the only hook “Little Bitty Pretty One” ever needed to be propelled into the pop charts and to be forever known as a golden Rock ‘n’ Roll classic. And if you’re going to be a one-hit wonder, you might as well be known for a song as great as this one!

Thurston Harris came up through the early R&B scene of Los Angeles singing with groups like The Lamplighters, The Tenderfoots and The Sharps. It was with backing from The Sharps that Harris recorded his signature hit “Little Bitty Pretty One.” (The Sharps would go on to score a huge hit with “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” under the name The Rivingtons after Harris left their ranks.)

Today’s Song Of The Day was written by Bobby Day who also wrote The Dave Clark Five hit “Over And Over,” and is probably best remembered for his hit recording of “Rockin’ Robin” which was later covered by Michael Jackson.  When the “Little Bitty Pretty One” single was released on the Aladdin record label in 1957, it vaulted all the way up to #6 on the Billboard singles chart.

The song has been covered by the likes of Frankie Avalon, Frankie Lymon, Clyde McPhatter, The Dave Clark Five, The Jackson Five, Cliff Richard, Lindisfarne and Huey Lewis & The News. It has also appeared in the films Matilda, Christine, Corinna Corinna, The Princess Diaries and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and in the British TV show Lipstick On Your Collar. It has also turned up in TV commercials for Lipton Teas, Heinz soups and Bird’s Eye frozen vegetables.

While the song has remained popular over the years, the same can’t be said for Thurston Harris. He would only manage to grace the pop charts one more time with his 1958 single, “Do What You Did” that made it to #20 on the R&B charts.

After recording records for Dot, Cub, Imperial, Reprise and United Artists, Harris lived the rest of his life in obscurity driving a bus for the city of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, his records remained popular in Europe where tracks like “Do What You Did,” “Hey Baba Leba” and “In the Bottom of My Heart” dance floor hits in Northern Soul circles.

Harris died of heart failure and acute alcoholism on April 14, 1990.

Edited: May 21st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/21/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bloop Bleep” by Gary McFarland

Gary McFarland towed the line between samba infused light jazz and orchestral mood music. He was a vibist from California who was known as much for his vibe playing as he was for his arranging and orchestrations for others.

After serving in the army where he took up trombone, trumpet and keyboards, McFarland settled on the vibes and began fronting an orchestra that backed the likes of Anita O’Day, Bill Evans and Stan Getz. He also recorded notable sessions with Bob Brookmeyer and Gary Burton.

McFarland began to make a name for himself as an artist after recording a 1963 album with Bill Evans called The Gary McFarland Orchestra/Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans. After writing arrangements for Stan Getz’s 1964 album Big Band Bossa Nova, McFarland dove head first into the Bossa Nova craze that was sweeping the jazz world. He released several Jazz samba albums for Verve Records that were notable for his soft, wordless vocalese singing, atmospheric whistling and intimate Bossa Nova vibe on a mix of originals and covers of some of the current rock and pop hits of the day. In fact, McFarland was one of the first jazz artists of the 1960s to cover Beatles songs.

Today’s Song Of The Day comes from his 1965 Bossa Nova infused masterpiece, The In Sounds featuring the lineup of Bob Brookmeyer on trombone, Kenny Burrell and Gabor Szabo on guitar, Bob Bushnell and Richard Davis on bass, Candino on conga, Sol Gubin and Grady Tate on guitar, Willie Rodriguez and Joe Venuto on percussion, Spencer Sinatra on flute and Sadao Watanabe on flute and tenor sax. McFarland not only plays vibes and sings on the album, but he also wrote the arrangements and conducted. The album was produced by Creed Taylor and was recorded at Van Gelder Studios in Engelwood Cliffs, New Jersey over two days in August of 1965.

McFarland coos vocals about a dripping faucet on today’s Song Of The Day and manages to make it sound intimate, alluring and oh, so sensual. The album is an automatic chill pill that has the power to deposit the listener onto the beaches of Rio de Janeiro at sunset. Following this record, McFarland began to focus more on arranging and recorded several orchestral records that were both intimate and sedate to a fault.

In 1968, McFarland teamed with guitarist Gabor Szabo and vibist Cal Tjader to form the Skye Record label. The label released albums by each of the label principals, as well as titles by Lena Horne, Chuck Rainey, Grady Tate and Airto Moreira. He also released his critically lauded jazz symphony, America the Beautiful around this time.  The label lasted for two years and closed up shop after filing for bankruptcy.

McFarland’s career was cut short on November 2, 1971 after he and his friend David Burnett both ingested drinks that were laced with a fatal dose of methadone in a New York City bar. McFarland was 38 years old.

Edited: May 20th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/20/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Woo Hoo” by The Rock-A-Teens

Every so often, when I’m jonesin’ for some ‘50s rockabilly or some good old rock ‘n’ roll, I need not look any further than Rhino’s exceptional Loud Fast & Out Of Control: The Wild Sounds Of The ‘50s box set. The set was compiled by Gary Stewart, James Austin and Bill Inglot and released in 1999. Its 104 tracks are a comprehensive and enjoyable survey of the late ‘50s rockabilly scene including prime cuts by everyone including Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Burnette, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and dozens of others. While the hits are well represented, it’s the many rarer picks and one hit wonders that steal the show. I listened to the 4-CD Rhino box in its entirety the other day, and today’s Song Of The Day is one of the gems that caught my ear.

Boo Walke & The Rockets were a 1950s Rockabilly group from Virginia who changed their name to The Rock-A-Teens and found fleeting fame with their sole hit record. Their lineup included Vic Mizelle on vocals and guitar, Bobby “Boo” Walke on guitar, Bill Cook on guitar, Eddie Robinson on sax, Paul Dixon on bass and Bill Smith on drums.

They auditioned for a Virginia record shop owner named George Donald McGraw with their song called “Rock-A-Teen Boogie” which when released on McGraw’s Doran record label was renamed “Woo Hoo.” The song, plus its B-Side, “Untrue” were recorded in the back room of McGraw’s record store in one day.

When the record was first released in 1959, the Rock-A-Teens were listed on the record as the song’s writers.  Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith recognized elements of his own songwriting and sued the group for plagiarism, and McGraw settled out of court by purchasing the song’s copyright for a few hundred dollars in order to avoid a court case. Meanwhile, McGraw was wheeling and dealing on the group’s behalf and cut a deal with infamous music industry legend and alleged mobster Morris Levy, who released the record on his Roulette label with the writing credits on both sides of the record given to McGraw. Such was the stuff of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll.

The Roulette single spent 12-weeks on the charts and peaked at #16.  Based on the success of the single, Roulette pulled the group into the studio to record their sole album.  The Woo Hoo album (Roulette SR-25109) was said to have been a raw garage rock record that edged on punk rock, probably because Mizelle and Walke had to teach Cook and Dixon how to play their instruments in the studio.

The album was a dismal flop on the charts, but is now an in-demand collectable today. By 1960, it was all over and the group hung up their rock ‘n’ roll shoes never to be heard from again.

The song was covered by The 5.6.7.8’s and used to great effect in the Quentin Tarentino film Kill Bill.

Thanks to the Black Cat Rockabilly Europe website for information for this article.

Edited: May 19th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/19/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Chantilly Lace” by The Big Bopper

Jiles “Jape” P. Richardson became a radio D.J. in 1952 and worked for ten years (with a two year break in the middle for army duty) at Texas radio station KTRM where he ultimately became their music director. While working at a sock hop, he decided to change his name to The Big Bopper after he witnessed teenagers dancing to a new dance called The Bop.

Richardson wanted to get into the performing side of the business because he saw it as a way to earn enough money to buy his own radio station. So when a promo man from Mercury Records gave him the opportunity to become a recording artist, he jumped. But while his first single release flopped, his second struck gold.

Today, The Big Bopper is mistakenly remembered as a one-hit-wonder for his 1958 top-ten hit and today’s Song Of The Day, “Chantilly Lace.” Yet most people don’t realize that he scored several other hits including “The Big Bopper’s Wedding,” “Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” He was also a successful songwriter who penned “White Lightning,” a number one hit for George Jones, “Beggar To A King,” a number five hit for Hank Snow and “Running Bear,” another chart-topper for Johnny Preston.

But if you’re going to be remembered for one song, then “Chantilly Lace” is a great one to be known for!  Richardson had great shtick and the song perfectly captures The Big Bopper’s larger-than-life personality with its rolling piano, rollicking backbeat, wailing saxophone and Richardson’s exuberant basso voice gleefully exclaiming “Oh baby, that’s a-what I like!”  It is also one heck of a rambunctious novelty record, to boot!

Richardson was the first recording artist to make music videos. He was convinced that video was going to be the future of recorded music and he coined the term “rock video.” In 1958 he made videos for the songs: “Chantilly Lace,” “The Big Bopper’s Wedding” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” that are now a cherished part of his legacy.

And then came “The Day The Music Died…”

After the success of “Chantilly Lace,” Richardson took to the road with fellow musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Dion & The Belmonts on “The Winter Dance Party Tour.” His wife Adrianne, was unhappy about his decision to tour in support of the single because by now the couple had a young daughter and she was six months pregnant at the time with their second child.

After the eleventh stop on the tour, Holly chartered a plane to fly a few of the “luckier” tour members to their next stop in Moorehead, Minnesota. (Their flight was actually headed to Fargo, North Dakota where the entourage could catch a flight on to Moorehead.) The plan was for Holly and the lucky few who would get seats on the plane, would fly ahead and be able to do laundry for the rest of the musicians on the tour who had already spent weeks on a tour bus on the road.

Waylon Jennings was one of the lucky few who was supposed to take the flight, but he gave his seat up to The Big Bopper at the last minute because Richardson was suffering from the flu. Buddy Holly’s guitarist Tommy Allsup flipped a coin for the last seat with Ritchie Valens and lost, giving Valens the last available seat on the plane.

Nobody knows exactly what went down (other than the plane) on the night of February 3, 1959, but they took off during a blizzard and it is believed that Roger Peterson, the 20 year old pilot, lost his frame of reference and flew the plane down when he should have gone up, resulting in a nose dive to the ground at 200mph that ejected the three musicians out of the plane on impact. It took more than 10 hours for rescuers to find the accident site.

Richardson was survived by his wife, Adrianne and four year old daughter. His son was born two months later. Although “Chantilly Lace” went gold during his lifetime, Richardson had less than $100 in his bank account at the time of his death, and he never got the chance to pick up his gold record. His death was immortalized in the Don McLean hit “American Pie.”

Edited: May 19th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/18/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Karn Evil 9 1st Impression” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer

There was a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I’m not talking about the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Hadrosaurus, or even your garden variety Pterodactyls. These dinosaurs wore coats of proggy sound typified by 20 minute epic-length, multi-movement suites of music. These were dinosaurs that really knew how to play their instruments. Dinosaur’s with classical training, and dinosaurs that went by names like King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Genesis, PFM, The Moody Blues and Yes.

There was no pretention in what they were doing, yet many of them were very, very pretentious. And if you were a rock fan of the 1970s, you ate it up. You loved it. There was nothing better.

But a funny thing happened on their way to extinction…their music has stood the test of time. Sure the punk rock movement temporarily put them out to pasture, but today there is a whole new wave of Prog Rock bands out there (for better or worse), and a whole new fan base along for the ride.

Which brings us to Prog Rock’s first “supergroup,” Emerson, Lake & Palmer. ELP formed in 1970 and consisted of keyboard wizard Keith Emerson who was formerly with The Nice, Greg Lake who came from the classic Prog pedigree of King Crimson, and Carl Palmer who was originally with The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster.

When the group first formed, Emerson and Lake got together and were looking for a drummer. Their first choice was Mitch Mitchell of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, however this didn’t work out and acting on a suggestion from Robert Stigwood (of RSO Records fame), the pair ultimately chose Carl Palmer.

The uncredited fourth member of ELP was lyricist, Pete Sinfield, who met Lake when he was writing lyrics for King Crimson. Sinfield would later go on to co-write mega pop hits like “Heart Of Stone” for Cher and “Think Twice,” a chart-topper in eight countries by Celine Dion, but I digress….

Today’s Song Of The Day is the centerpiece of ELP’s greatest record Brain Salad Surgery, which was released in 1973 and sent the band’s popularity into the stratosphere. “Karn Evil 9” was an extended piece that took up 2/3 of the album. The piece’s title was a play on the world “Carnival” (Karn Evil – get it?) and appeared in three parts. The “1st Impression” is by far the most popular section mainly for its second part that begins with “Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends.” An instrumental section of the “1st Impression” was also used for many years as a musical bumper by New York City classic rock FM radio station, WPLJ.

“Karn Evil 9’s” perverted circus show lyrics were some of Sinfield’s finest, including the following brilliant cadences: “Soon the Gypsy Queen in a glaze of Vaseline / will perform on guillotine / What a scene, what a scene. / Next upon the stand / will you please lend a hand / to Alexander’s Ragtime Band / Dixieland, Dixieland…Performing on a stool / is a sight to make you drool / Seven virgins and a mule / Keep it cool, keep it cool. / We would like it to be known / the exhibits that were shown / were exclusively our own / all our own, all our own.”

The “2nd Impression” of “Karn Evil 9”is where ELP tried their hand at straight-ahead Jazz and came out winners. Elements of the piece were based on a track by Sonny Rollins called “St. Thomas.” The 3rd Impression” was the least interesting of the three, although it is notable for including Keith Emerson’s only vocal appearance on an ELP record.

The album opens with a stately church hymn called “Jerusalem” that featured lyrics from a poem by William Blake. The song was originally slotted to be the first single, but the band didn’t want to send out a message about themselves that could be misconstrued. It was subsequently released as a single later on.

“Toccata” is a nine minute percussive instrumental that was based on the 4th Movement of Argentine composer, Alberto Ginastera’s “1st Piano Concerto.” After recording the piece, they found out that Ginastera would not give the band permission to interpret his work. So they traveled out to Geneva to meet with the composer face to face. Once Ginastera heard the piece, he gave his approval.

All good ELP albums had a least one ballad that would garner radio play and one throwaway rocker to provide relief from all the bombast. Brain Salad Surgery’s ballad was Greg Lake’s beautiful “Still…You Turn Me On,” which was the big FM radio airplay hit on the album. “Benny The Bouncer” was the throwaway rocker, much like “Are You Ready Eddie” from Tarkus and “The Sheriff” from Trilogy. The song was a piss-take that sounded like a Keith Moon outtake.

The album’s title came from a line in the then-current Dr. John hit “Right Place, Wrong Time,” although the album originally went by the working title Whip Some Skull on Yer,; which was a euphemism for fellatio.

The cover was designed by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who also designed albums for Debbie Harry (Koo-Koo), Danzig (Danzig III & How The Gods Kill), Celtic Frost (To Mega Therion), and most notoriously, the penis-laden inner poster to The Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist album that led to an obscenity trial. The penis was also an integral element to Giger’s design for Brain Salad Surgery, but the offending appendage was airbrushed into a shaft of light under the woman’s chin with the band’s initials on top of it, in order for it to appear on retail record store shelves. The woman on the cover was Giger’s girlfriend, Lil Tobler who committed suicide shortly after the album’s release.

In support of the album, ELP embarked on what became their largest world tour ever, titled the “Someone Get Me A Ladder” tour. (The tour name came from the lyrics to “Still… You Turn Me On”). A chart-topping triple live album from the tour was released the following year under the title, Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends – Ladies and Gentlemen: Emerson, Lake  & Palmer.

Edited: May 18th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/17/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Down By The Riverside” by Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery

It was a summit between the leading purveyor of the Hammond B-3 organ, “The Incredible” Jimmy Smith, and one of greatest jazz guitarists of all time, Wes Montgomery. And together, they unleashed not one classic album, but two.

They didn’t call him “Incredible” for nothing. Jimmy Smith was the single most influential jazz organ player of all time. He pretty much changed the landscape of Jazz during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s by prolifically recording albums that popularized the Hammond B-3 Organ as a key instrument in jazz and blues. By combining the B-3 organ with a Leslie speaker, Smith was able to change the way the organ worked within the jazz idiom, by using the instrument as a musical and percussive element.

Smith signed with Verve Records in 1952 after a prolific stint with Blue Note and proceeded to record over 40 albums for the label during the 1950s and 1960s, including sessions with Kenny Burrell, George Benson, Grant Green, Stanley Turrentine, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Jackie McLean, Grady Tate and Donald Bailey.  He also recorded numerous big band sessions under the direction of Oliver Nelson including two albums with Wes Montgomery.

Wes Montgomery was right up there with Django Reinhardt, Grant Green, Charlie Christian, Gabor Szabo and George Benson when it comes to jazz guitar. And while he only walked this earth for a short time, he left behind a lasting legacy of recordings that never fail to astound.

Montgomery hailed from Indiana and idolized the guitar playing of Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. He didn’t begin to play the guitar until the age of 20, and then primarily led his own small groups. He recorded sessions with the likes of Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Smith, Milt Jackson, Cannonball Adderly and Nat Adderly, and was once recruited by John Coltrane to join his group, although he declined in favor of leading his own.

Throughout the 1960s, he recorded for the Riverside, Verve and A&M record labels and was nominated for many Grammy Awards, winning one in 1966 for his recording of “Goin’ Out of My Head.”

Today’s Song Of The Day comes from the album Jimmy And Wes: The Dynamic Duo which was the first of two albums Montgomery and Jimmy Smith recorded together in 1966. It was also Montgomery’s last session for Verve before moving on to A&M records.

Together, the two let fly right from the outset on their superb swingin’ take of “Down By The Riverside” that emphasizes all that is great about this musical union: conversant call and response interplay that leaves plenty of room for each musician to stretch out, a screaming horn chart courtesy of Oliver Nelson that raises the level of excitement, and the complementary kinship of Smith’s percussive jabs on the organ keys with Montgomery’s smooth, round guitar tones, as the two musicians push each other to new levels of greatness.

With inventive big band charts courtesy of Oliver Nelson and a cast of players including Clark Terry on trumpet, Phil Woods on reeds, Grady Tate on drums and Ray Barretto on congas, this album has much to offer, particularly on stellar readings of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Duke Ellington’s “Night Train” (titled “Happy-Go-Lucky Local” here) and on a version of vibist Gary McFarland’s “13 (Death March)” which is neither a march or deathly.

There’s plenty of blues and greasy soul on offer in this classic album that was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in 1966. It is part of Verve Record’s excellent Master Edition series that includes a full color informational booklet with photos, and a bonus track alternate version of “O.G.D. (Road Song)” that was not part of the original album.

Edited: May 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/16/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Soul Drummers” by Ray Barretto

Like Tito Puente before him, Ray Barretto is one of the all-time greatest “Soul Drummers” of them all.  He gave us the “El Watusi” in 1961, “Senor 007″ in 1969 and this gem in 1967.  The music emanated from el barrio, the South Bronx and Spanish Harlem in New York City, via the then-fledgling Latin record labels like Tico and Fania. Like Rap music in the early 1980s, this music sprang up from the streets and changed the world forever.

Ray Barretto was born in New York City and cut his teeth playing conga with Charlie Parker, José Curbelo and Tito Puente.  He replaced Mongo Santamaria in Tito Puente’s band in 1957 and stayed on for four years before working with Herbie Mann. In the early 1960s, he was also a member of the house band for the Prestige, Riverside and Blue Note record labels.

In 1961, Barretto released his breakthrough single “El Watusi,” which captured the sounds of the New York City streets and transported the Latin sound out of the barrio and into the public consciousness. “The Watusi” kicked off a national dance craze and was just one of a handful of recordings by the likes of Willie Colón, Joe Cuba (“Bang! Bang!”) and Mongo Santamaria (“Watermelon Man”) that resulted in introducing a new popular crossover genre in Latin dance music known as Boogaloo.

In the wake of “El Watusi’s” success, Barretto struggled to chart with a follow-up hit. However, he did become an in-demand session player and worked on Jazz albums by Gene Ammons, Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, Kenny Burrell, Art Farmer, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Mann, Yusef Lateef, Lou Donaldson, Red Garland, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery, Cal Tjader and Weather Report. He also sessioned on rock albums by The Rolling Stones (congas on “Sympathy For The Devil”), Average White Band (Cut The Cake album), Bette Midler (her debut album) and The Bee Gees (Main Course album).

Barretto finally gained his commercial footing after signing with Fania Records in 1967 and releasing the album Acid where today’s Song Of The Day originally appeared. The album combined the sounds of Latin, funk and soul music and included the influential tracks “A Deeper Shade Of Soul,” “Teacher Of Love” and “El Nuevo Barretto.” During his seven year stint with Fania, Barretto released nine successful albums, became the director of The Fania All Stars, and established himself as one of the leading players in Salsa music.

Barretto continued to release popular albums throughout the 1980s including the Grammy winning album Ritmo En El Corazón he recorded with Celia Cruz.

On January 13, 2006, he was awarded the Jazz Masters Award by the National Endowment for the Arts which was a distinction for lifetime achievement. He suffered a heart attack two days later and underwent several heart surgeries before succumbing to his illness on February 17, 2006.

After years of dormancy and total disregard, the Fania label was reactivated with a comprehensive reissue program through Universal Music in 2007, resulting in the essential 2-CD compilation Ray Barretto Que Viva La Musica (Ray Barretto: A Man And His Music).

Edited: May 15th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/15/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “I Married Myself” by Sparks

American brothers Ron and Russell Mael formed the group Halfnelson in 1970. Their first two albums were recorded in Woodstock, New York, produced by Todd Rundgren and released on the Bearsville record label. Both records tanked on these shores, so the brothers broke up the band, changed their name to Sparks, moved to England, got on the glam bandwagon and formed a new band that has gone on to endure for decades.

In a musical world dominated by David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Lou Reed, The New York Dolls and Queen, the newly reformed Sparks caused a sensation across the pond in 1974 with songs like “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us,” “Talent Is An Asset” and “At Home At Work At Play,” and classic albums like Kimono My House, Propaganda and Indiscreet. Although considered part of the glam movement, the brothers had a much different persona…visually Russell was the flamboyant lead singer with a hysterical falsetto voice, while Ron was the straight man with the Hitler mustache framing a permanent grimace on his face, who played keyboards and barely moved a muscle except for his eyes which were constantly rolling up into his head every time he gazed upon his brother’s antics.

As the 1970s came to an end, Sparks’ popularity began to wane, so the group began working with dance music pioneer, Giorgio Moroder to freshen up their sound resulting in the 1979 #1 In Heaven record, which re-launched Sparks as an electronic dance group and restored their clout with critics and the hip record buying public. Over the years, they’ve released countless records for countless record labels and while the hits kept on coming overseas, they only scored one big hit on these shores in 1983 with Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s called “Cool Places.”

Today’s Song Of The Day is an intimate ballad from their 2002 album Lil’ Beethoven featuring the following hilarious lyrics: “I married myself, I’m very happy together / Long, long walks on the beach, lovely times / I married myself, I’m very happy together / Candlelight dinners home, lovely times / This time it’s gonna last, this time it’s gonna last / Forever, forever, forever.”

Sparks’ concept for Lil’ Beethoven was to pull away from the electronic dance music they had been doing for many years by creating a rather ornate listening experience utilizing lush orchestral backing with a heavy reliance on repetitive piano lines, synthesized orchestration and multi-tracked vocals.

Ornate it is, but all the orchestras in the world couldn’t obscure the singular brand of humor that the Mael brothers continued to bring to their craft — “Your Call Is Very Important To Us, Please Hold” is built around an incessantly repeated business phone answering machine message, while “How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?” revolves around the oldest joke in the book (practice, man practice), and “What Are All These Bands So Angry About” takes aim at their lack of commercial prospects – “Some might have done it, broken on through /  Wagner, Tatum, or Howlin’ Wolf / Some might have done what we’ll never do / What are all these bands so angry about?”

The Mael Brothers just finished their first solo tour called “Two Hands One Mouth,” and even brought the show to these shores for a few rare dates including two at Coachella, plus stops in San Francisco and New York City, but alas they did not get out here to Chicago. With over 20 albums under their belt, including the just released Two Hands One Mouth live album, Sparks are the glam fad that thankfully never went out of style…

Edited: May 14th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/14/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Medley: Yell Help/Wednesday Night/Ugly” by Elton John

By the release of Rock Of The Westies in 1976, the bloom was beginning to fall off of the Elton John flower. While Westies was indeed a very good album that debuted at the pole position of the charts, its release signaled the beginning of a long decline in the quality of the music and the relevance of the star.

Up to this point, Elton was a white-hot commodity that seemingly could do no wrong. The costumes were at their most outlandish and everything he recorded literally turned to gold and platinum.

Westies includes a clutch of great Elton songs, including its sole hit, the number one single “Island Girl,” “Dan Dare,” “Hard Luck Story” and this track that features LaBelle on background vocals.

Elton’s follow-up album, Blue Moves, was a double-length downer that didn’t live up to his larger-than-life persona, and although it did include the huge hit “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” the double album failed to reach the top of the charts and only spawned the one hit single.

Fear not for Elton, he weathered the dry patch that lasted almost ten years, and to be fair, did include a few hits, cleaned up his hard-partying act and recovered nicely by writing songs for Disney films, most notably The Lion King.

Edited: May 13th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/13/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Around The Way Girl” by LL Cool J

“Don’t Call It A Comeback, I been here for years…,” so begins the title cut from the 4th album called Mama Said Knock You Out by James Todd Smith…aka Ladies Love Cool J…aka LL Cool J.

And back in the day in my hood, the strains of LL could be heard emanating from booming systems regularly, as a steady stream of beaters passed by while me and my boyz sat on the stoop…OK, maybe this scenario was not the case in my “hood,” but if you lived in an urban area circa the late 1980s, this was certainly true.

LL Cool J released his first record in 1984 when he was 16 years old after submitting his tapes to two up-and-coming NYU students named Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin who were running a record label from their dorm. They went on to great fame with their Def Jam Records label empire and as producers to the super stars, including LL Cool J.

By the time of this album’s release in 1990, the hip hop pioneer already had three albums under his belt and had a whole host of groundbreaking hip hop hits including “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,”  “Rock The Bells,” “I’m Bad,” “I Need Love,” “Bristol Hotel,” “Go Cut Creator Go,” “Goin’ Back To Cali,” “I’m That Type Of Guy,” “Big Ole Butt” and the original version of “Jinglin’ Baby.”

The title cut to his fourth album was a reaction to the comparatively weaker sales of his previous release, Walking With A Panther, and the critics’ contention that LL had gone soft because of the inclusion of ballads like “I Need Love” on his albums.  The album was produced by Juice Crew member, Marley Marl, who was also the man behind the knobs for classic rap records by Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Roxanne Shante, Kool G Rap and MC Shan, and the album did place LL Cool J back at the forefront of the hip hop music scene.

Today’s Song Of The Day was one of six singles released from the Mama album. “Around The Way Girl” samples The Mary Jane Girls’ single “All Night Long” and features such verbal gymnastics as “I want a girl with extensions in her hair, Bamboo earrings, At least two pair, A Fendi bag and a bad attitude, That’s all I need to get me in a good mood… She sweet as brown sugar with the candied yams, Honey coated complexion using Camay, Lets hear it for the girl she’s from around the way…” The lyrics highlight what separated LL from all the rest of the pack back in the day, his attention to details  – bamboo earrings, Fendi bags, honey coated complexion, using Camay — making the characters in his songs come alive.

The track also possesses a real New York City vibe with production values that were typical of the sounds emanating from the urban radio stations of the day, particularly WKTU.

“The Boomin’ System” was the first single released from the album and it reached number 48 on the Billboard charts. It perfectly encapsulates the feeling of standing on the sidewalk as cars drive by with their stereo systems a-blast. Such was the sound of urban America circa the early 1990s. As in many of the songs from the album, its samples included elements from James Brown catalog including elements of “The Payback” and “Funky Drummer.” The single also included a sample from “Bring The Noise” by Def Jam label mates Public Enemy.

The album’s title cut was part statement of purpose and part shameless boast that charted at number 17 and won LL a 1992 Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. The track’s popularity was benefitted by a landmark full band performance on the TV show MTV Unplugged and was also memorably parodied by the Wayans brothers as “Mama’s Gonna Kick Me Out” on their TV show In Living Color.  Samples on the track include elements of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” Sly & The Family Stone’s “Trip to Your Heart” and “Sing a Simple Song,” Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance” and LL Cool J’s own “Rock the Bells.”

Another single from the album was “To Da Break Of Dawn” which was featured in the Kid’n’Play movie House Party. In the song, LL disses his detractor’s including Ice T., MC Hammer and Kool Moe Dee. Dee responded by releasing the single “Death Blow” from his Funke Funke Wisdom album the following year. “Dawn” also includes a sample of James Brown’s “Funky President.”

Other highlights on the album include the songs “Eat ‘em Up, L Chill” (that includes memorable samples from George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” and the Five Stairsteps’ “Don’t Change Your Love”), “Mr. Good Bar” (with samples from James Brown’s “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” and ESG’s “UFO”) and “6 Minutes of Pleasure” (that includes samples from James Brown’s “Funky President” and Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show”).

LL’s TV credits include his own ill-fated 1995 sitcom In The House, plus appearances in the TV series House, 30 Rock and Sesame Street. But he is perhaps best known as Special Agent Sam Hanna whom he has portrayed since 2009 in the series NCIS: Los Angeles. His film credits include appearances in Krush Groove, Toys (with Robin Williams), Halloween H2O, Deep Blue Sea, In Too Deep, Rollerball, Any Given Sunday, Deliver Us from Eva, Mindhunters, and S.W.A.T..

LL continues to record and he recently released his 13th album Authentic last month to positive reviews.

Edited: May 12th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/12/13 – Mother’s Day!

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Invocation & Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin” by The Mothers Of Invention

It’s Mother’s Day and you should always listen to your MOTHERS!

There wasn’t anybody, and I mean absolutely anbody who sounded like The Mothers Of Invention back in 1966 when they released their second album  Absolutely Free. The Mothers offered their own brand of compositional complexity, out of the ordinary instrumentation, Doo Wop harmonies and Free Jazz wig-out all under one roof…and you could dance to it too!

Complete with paeans to vegetables, brown shoes, drinking Americans, and an endless array of characters like Suzy Creamcheese and The Duke Of Prunes, Zappa and company skewered middle class “square” America on Absolutely Free.

In fact, Mother’s Day would have been ripe for Zappa’s razor sharp commentary as well, but on this Mother’s Day, I only post this album in tribute to all mothers.

Your Mothers on this musical journey featured the sophisticated compositional talents of one Frank Zappa, who also sang and played some guitar, Jim Fielder uncredited on guitar because he left the group before the album came out the vocals of the late, great Ray Collins, Jimmy Carl Black – “The Indian of the group” on drums, Roy Estrata (currently serving 25 years in prison for child abuse) on bass, Billy Mundi also on drums, the esteemed Don Preston on keyboards and John Leon “Bunk” Gardner on Flute, piccolo, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon and saxophone.

Today’s Song Of The Day is a jazz improvisation that is best experienced within the context of the entire record, so here it is for your utmost listening pleasure, The Mothers Of Invention’s second record in its entirety Absolutely Free. In fact, I just spun my trusty old vinyl copy of this today in preparation for Mother’s Day.

Here’s one for all mothers…Happy Mother’s Day to your Mothers, happy Mother’s Day to your mother and, especially Happy Mother’s Day to mine…I Love You Mommy!

Edited: May 11th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/11/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Knowing When To Leave” by Dionne Warwick

“Walk On By,” “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” “You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart),” “Message To Michael,” “Alfie,” “”Do You Know The Way To San Jose,” “I Say A Little Prayer” — the list goes on and on, making an argument for the notion that the songwriting partnership of Burt Bacharach and Hal David was one of the most important in the history of pop music on par with Lennon and McCartney. Add the sophisticated stylings of Dionne Warwick into the mix and you got recordings that resulted in pure pop perfection.

It was a marriage made in heaven, but soon after this recording, the marriage would dissolve into lawsuits and acrimony.

But for now, things were good. Bacharach and David were coming off of their 1968 hit Broadway musical Promises, Promises which was based on Neil Simon’s film The Apartment. The musical ran for 1,281 performances and featured several hit songs (all recorded by Warwick) including the title hit, “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” “Wanting Things” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Knowing When To Leave.”

After recording her 1968 album, also titled Promises, Promises, with Bacharach and David, Warwick went to Memphis where she recorded an album of soul covers called Soulful with Chips Moman. So the time was ripe for Warwick to return to her winning partnership with Bacharach and David, which they did for the 1970 album, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.

The reunion of Warwick with Bacharach and David resulted in their last great album together, it would also be one of the last albums Warwick would record for Scepter Records where she spent the entirety of her career up to that point.  The album featured a clutch of some of the writing team’s greatest songs including “Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets,” “The Wine Is Young,” “Paper Mache,” “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” and today’s Song Of The Day. Added to the album’s tune stack was Warwick’s own version of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” plus covers of George Harrison’s “Something,” Jimmy Webb’s “Didn’t We” and Paul Anka’s “My Way.”

The album’s title song was originally a last minute addition to the musical Promises, Promises. “’I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’ was written quicker than any song that I ever wrote with Hal. I had just gotten out of the hospital. I’d been on the road and gotten pneumonia. We were on the road with Promises, Promises and we’d try to get this song written and into the show the next night or two nights later. That’s where Hal’s line came from, ‘what do you do when you kiss a girl, you get enough germs to catch pneumonia, after you do she’ll never phone ya.’ So having been in the hospital for five days with pneumonia, I got out and struggled to write that song feeling not too great.” – Burt Bacharach (from Record Collector magazine)

After the release of this album, Warwick signed a lucrative contract with Warner Bros. Records. Her new contract specified that subsequent recording would be made with Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s involvement. Their first album for the label, titled Dionne was a minor hit, only landing at #57 on the album charts.

At the time, Bacharach and David had just wrapped their first film musical Lost Horizon which when released was a colossal flop resulting in the bitter dissolution of the two writers’ songwriting partnership. This left Warwick in a precarious position with Warner Bros. facing the prospect of a breach of contract law suit. As a result, she was forced to sue Burt Bacharach and Hal David for breach of contract, ending their partnership as well.

It would be many years before Warwick would work again with Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Edited: May 10th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/10/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred

I worked at Reader’s Digest in their recorded music division for five years compiling music collections for people who were much older than I was at the time. In effect, I was selling nostalgia to folks whose memories I did not share. The job proved research intensive and ultimately rewarding, and by creating these music collections, I got a pretty good idea about what makes people feel nostalgic for music while garnering a newfound appreciation for a whole host of music I might not have ever heard otherwise.

One of my co-workers at Digest was a musicologist named Gary Theroux. Gary used to say that “Nostalgia is the past with the pain removed.”  It was a very true statement, and one I subscribed to for the rest of my days working in the music industry selling people their musical memories. For it is nostalgia that turns yesterday’s songs into tomorrow’s standards.

In all my years of making music compilations, I came to the conclusion that the songs we feel most nostalgic for today, are the songs that were most reviled by the critics when they were new, and equally loved by the everyday radio listening fan. Many of them also have some kind of novelty value as well.

I’m not talking about songs by The Beatles, Bob Dylan or even Rodgers & Hammerstein that are stone cold classics today. I’m focusing more on the fringe songs that crept into our consciousness mainly because they had some kind of novelty value. Songs like “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, “Macarena” by Los Del Rios, “Rock Me Amadeus” by Faclo , “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc., “Walk Like An Egyptian” by The Bangles, “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin, “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys and today’s Song Of The Day, were all pretty much hated by critics upon their release, yet have managed to stand the test of time anyway.

They were all played to death on radio to the point where even fans of the songs never wanted to hear them again, and they all had some kind of novelty value. Many of them were co-opted by Madison Avenue for use in TV commercials in subsequent years after their run on the charts.

These are the songs we loved to hate when they were new, and today we kind of hate to love them. But we do love them. They make us feel good and warmly nostalgic when we hear them. Instead of hastily reaching for the dial to turn them off like we did when they were new, now we turn them up.

This brings me to a song that is ripe to become one of tomorrow’s golden classics, but only time will tell if PSY’s “Gangnam Style” will stand the test of time…

Today’s Song Of The Day, “I’m Too Sexy” is one such novelty song that has managed to stand the test of time. It’s the kind of song that was roundly panned by the music cognoscenti upon its release, but now when played on the radio or by DJs at parties, it is warmly received and remembered. The song was recorded by a British group called Right Said Fred that consisted of brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass and Rob Manzoli.

Right Said Fred took their name from the 1962 hit “Right Said Fred” by Bernard Cribbins. They released their signature hit, “I’m Too Sexy” in 1991 and it swiftly topped the U.S. singles charts, as well as the charts in 32 other countries. Their follow up single “Don’t Talk Just Kiss” landed in the top ten of the U.S. singles charts.

So here’s a bit of Right Said Fred trivia for you to end today’s Song Of The Day.

Q: What does “I’m Too Sexy” have in common with David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan?

A: The Fairbrass brothers worked with all of the above named legends: Fred played guitar in Bob Dylan’s band in the film Hearts Of Fire, Richard appeared in David Bowie’s Jazzin’ For Blue Jean video and both took part in Mick Jagger’s home video Running Out Of Luck.

Edited: May 9th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/9/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Poem 58” by Chicago Transit Authority

The fact that Chicago Transit Authority was the horn band of the late 1960s has obscured the fact that Chicago was also one hell of a guitar band. Proof positive is this somewhat obscure track from their eponymously titled debut album from 1969.

(Play the track and continue reading.)

This song has it all! The track kicks off with a funky rhythm guitar pattern that quickly moves into an extended guitar solo courtesy of one of the most underrated guitarists of all time Terry Kath. Heck, even Jimi Hendrix was a big fan of Kath, and his intuitive and imaginative playing is what sets this Chicago record apart from all of the rest.

Then there’s a breakdown of sorts right in the middle of the track leading into a monster riff that settles into a spooky boogie pattern that’s both sinister and funky. Then the golden toned vocals courtesy of Peter Cetera takes the song into another more conventional radio-friendly direction.

But being radio friendly wasn’t where the band was at in 1969. There was only one single released from the record while Chicago Transit Authority was the band’s current album, and that song, “Question 67 And 68” wouldn’t become a chart hit for two more years when it was released again as a single after Chicago II took off.

CTA’s debut album was a double record, unheard of at the time, especially for a debut album. Their manager and producer, James William Guercio, had just come off of working with Blood Sweat & Tears on their second album which was a smash hit, and he used his clout with Columbia Records to push the notion of a double album through.

This gave the band featuring Robert Lamm on keyboards, Terry Kath on guitar, Peter Cetera on vocals, James Pankow on trombone, Lee Loughnane on trumpet, Walter Parazaider on saxophone and Danny Seraphine on drums, room to stretch their musical muscle. In fact this would be the only Chicago album where the band really did stretch out. After this album, Chicago began to shorten their tunes and play up the horns, leading them to the dominance of the singles charts they’d have for the rest of the 1970s.

CTA spawned several hit singles including “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “Beginnings,” “I’m A Man” and “Question 67 And 68,” but they were all released after their second album became a hit, so while the album sold well and charted at number 17, its popularity was not driven by single releases. And anyway, it’s the album cuts that weren’t released as singles where all the action is.

For the vinyl album-centric fans out there, the third side of this record is especially tasty.  “Free Form Guitar,” begins this side with seven minutes in pure improvised sonic heaven featuring Kath plugged directly into his amp without the use of any pedals. When I was younger, this particular track used to leave me cold, but now I could listen to this all day long. As the first take fury of “Free Form Guitar” comes to an close, “South Carolina Purples” kicks in with another memorable opening guitar riff before settling in for some great horn and organ jamming. The track gives a nod to the Beatles by quoting “I Am The Walrus” in the opening line. The side culminates with an Afro-Cuban cover of Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man.” The track became a chart hit in 1971 when DJs found it on the B-side to the single “Question 67 And 68” and began playing it on the radio.

Politics were never far from the band’s mind, especially after the anti-war demonstrations that took place outside of the Democratic Presidential Convention in the summer of 1968 on the band’s home turf in Chicago. In an early use of sampling, the band took the demonstrator’s chant “The whole world is watching” and turned it into the track “Prologue August 29, 1968” which segues into “Someday (August 29, 1968)” where the chant reappears.

The album culminates with the nearly fifteen minutes of fury called “Liberation” which is another killer Terry Kath showpiece featuring even more free form guitar soloing.

Their debut album would be the only album where the group went by the name Chicago Transit Authority. Shortly after its release, the actual Transit Authority of Chicago threatened a law suit and the group was forced to shorten their name to Chicago. Terry Kath died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1978 while participating in a game of Russian roulette. The band would never be the same again without him.

Edited: May 8th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/8/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric

“If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a f*ck.” “The world’s most flexible record label.” “Undertakers to the industry.” “We came. We Saw. We Left.” “In ’78 everyone born in ’45 will be 33-1/3.” “When you kill time, you murder success.” “If they’re dead, we’ll sign them.”

The above non-sequitors were all slogans for one of the coolest record labels to be associated with the late 1970s punk rock movement. Stiff Records established itself by not only having a roster that included Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, The Damned, Wreckless Eric and Ian Dury, but by the hyperactive media antics they pulled off in the name of cheap publicity.

The label was formed by Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera (aka Andrew Jakeman) in 1976. Robinson managed British pub rockers Brinsley Schwartz while Riviera managed Dr. Feelgood. Their first release was the Nick Lowe single “So It Goes” b/w “Heart Of The City” which sold well and got the label off to a great start. While success ensued with subsequent recordings by the above named artists, so did acrimony between Robinson and Riviera. By 1978, Riviera left to form Radar Records taking Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and The Yachts with him.

Stiff continued on its merry way eventually signing such artists as Lene Lovich, Madness, Rachel Sweet, The Pogues, The Feelies, The Belle Stars and Yello before closing its doors for good in 1985.

Wreckless Eric (aka Eric Goulden) was one of the original artists on the Stiff roster and released his signature song “Whole Wide World” on a 1977 Stiff compilation album. It was also released as the A-side to Eric’s first single and then his eponymously titled debut album in 1978. Most of the tracks on the album were sped up making Eric’s vocals higher than they should have been. Backing Eric on the single was Nick Lowe who played most of the instruments and Steve Goulding on drums.

While the single was well-liked by critics when it was first released, it never charted. It has since grown in stature and has been covered by The Monkees (on their 1987 Pool It album), Paul Westerberg, Mental As Anything, The Lightning Seeds, The Wallflowers and The Proclaimers. The song was also performed by Will Ferrell in the 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction.

Eric released two more albums on Stiff and had a few minor hits including “Take The K.A.S.H.,” “Crying Waiting Hoping” and “Reconnez Cherie” before leaving the label in 1980. In the mid-‘80s he formed the group Captains Of Industry with Norman Watt-Roy and Mick Gallagher who were both members of Ian Dury & The Blockheads, and has released projects under the names The Len Bright Combo, Le Beat Group Electrique and The Hitsville House Band.

Eric continues to record and tour today with his singer/songwriter wife, Amy Rigby. Together, they have released three duo albums.

Edited: May 7th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/7/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Undo The Right” by Willie Nelson

“If you can’t say you love me say you hate me,

And that you regret each time you held me tight,

If you can’t be mine forever then forsake me,

If you can’t undo the wrong, undo the right.”

Totally brilliant in its simplicity!

And so is this demo recording made for Pamper Music, the music publishing company owned by Ray Price and Hal Smith. Only Willie Nelson could put this song over so matter of fact, and that’s why he is not only considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time, but also one of the greatest song stylists bar none. His vocals are unique and utterly resourceful so as not to over sing a single note. There’s a lesson to be learned here for all of the American Idols out there who believe putting a song over means over singing, and never hitting a note square on the head.

The Pamper demos were all one-take affairs recorded primarily between 1961 and 1966. “We would cut fifteen; sometimes twenty songs in one session…The publisher would make us wait until we had that many songs before we’d be allowed to go into the studio.” (Willie Nelson)

Some of the later Pamper sides had backing by a crack band with Willie Ackerman and Buddy Harmon on drums, Bob Moore, Roy ‘Junior’ Huskey and Floyd ‘Lightnin’ Chance on bass, Hargus ‘Pig’ Robinson on piano, Ray Edenton and Pete Wade on guitars and Jimmy Day and Buddy Emmons on pedal steel guitar.

That’s Jimmy Day on the pedal steel here, both he and Nelson were members of The Cherokee Cowboys, which was Ray Price’s backing group in 1961 when this was committed to tape.

Record Store Day this year saw the release of the Willie Nelson vinyl album Crazy – The Demo Sessions on Sugar Hill Records, featuring fifteen of the Pamper Demos including the Nelson classics “Are You Sure,” “Crazy,” “Things To Remember,” “Are You Sure,” “Three Days” (a #3 hit for Faron Young) and “I’ve Destroyed The World” that Ray Price took to the top twenty of the charts.

Edited: May 6th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/6/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Midnight Cowboy Theme” by John Barry

Not only is today’s Song Of The Day perhaps one of the greatest movie themes of all time, it is also from one of the greatest films of the 1960s.

The 1969 film Midnight Cowboy was based on the 1965 novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy. The movie starred Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight (in his film debut) and was directed by John Schelsiinger. It won three Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. When it was originally released, it was given an X rating, so it also holds the distinction of being the only X-rated film to ever win an Academy Award for Best Picture.

The hit theme from the movie was written by John Barry who also composed eleven soundtracks for James Bond films between 1963 and 1987 as well as the famous “James Bond Theme” from Dr. No, the first Bond film. He also wrote the award winning scores to the films Dances With Wolves and Out Of Africa as well as the scores for The Lion in Winter, Born Free, and Somewhere in Time. Barry won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Theme for today’s Song Of The Day as well.

The film also included the hit version of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” which was performed by Harry Nilsson, who also took home a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Nilsson’s “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City” and Randy Newman’s “Cowboy” were also considered for the film but never used. The soundtrack included songs by Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Elephant’s Memory, plus a song called “He Quit Me” which was performed by Lesley Miller and written by a then-unknown Warren Zevon.

The song starts off with a mournful harmonica solo, played by Toots Thielman in the film and Tommy Reilly on the soundtrack with a light rock backing, and culminates with a majestic full orchestral crescendo. It is far superior to the hit version that was recorded by twin piano duo Ferrante & Teicher, who brought it into the top ten of the charts in 1969.

Edited: May 5th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/5/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Waiting Is Forbidden” by Rudresh Mahanthappa

Welcome to the sonic space where Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time meets King Crimson. Sound intriguing? If it doesn’t, read no further because today’s Song Of The Day is not for the faint of heart or those of closed mind.

Despite his exotic name, Rudresh Mahanthappa was born in Italy of Indian descent, but raised in Boulder Colorado from a very young age. He studied music at Berklee in California and earned his Master Of Fine Arts degree at DePaul University in Chicago. While at Berklee, he was introduced to Indian saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath, and the two traveled to India to play concerts between 2005 and 2008 while working on a grant. He is a Guggenheim fellow and was nominated for the 2012 Downbeat International Critics Poll as Alto Saxophonist of the Year.

Mahanthappa relocated to New York City in 2010 where he leads several different outfits including The Rudresh Mahanthappa Quartet (with Vijay Iyer or Craig Taborn on piano, François Moutin on bass, and Dan Weiss on drums), Raw Materials (with Vijay Iyer), Indo-Pak Coalition (with Rez Abbasi on sitar-guitar and Dan Weiss on tabla), MSG (with Ronan Guilfoyle on bass and Chander Sardjoe on drums) and the electro-acoustic quartet Samdhi featuring guitarist David Gilmore.

Mahanthappa has released 13 albums and has appeared as a sideman on 19 other projects. Today’s Song Of The Day comes from his latest album entitled Gamak featuring David “Fuze” Fiuczynski on electric guitar, Francois Moutin  on acoustic bass and Dan Weiss on drums.

Mahanthappa rips shards of sound from his horn at jaw-dropping break neck speed on “Waiting Is Forbidden,” the album’s opening track, while Fiuczynski, who is one of the most original guitarists I’ve heard in years, lays out some harmolodic sound (in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value), taking what Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time was doing and moving it forward. Then right in the middle of it all, the whole band effortlessly goes into full-on King Crimson crunch mode. It’s a track that is both breathtaking and totally original in its scope.

Elsewhere, there are echoes of Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler sifted through a prog-rock filter. “Lots Of Interest,” finds Fiuczynski shadowing Mahanthappa on the guitar before both go their separate ways and coming back together time and time again. On the track “Abhogi” Fiuczynski plays a slippery slide part on his guitar that is reminiscent of some of the playing of King Sunny Ade, and the track called “F” allows Moutin to set the tone on the bass while the rest of the group answers his call.

Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of the most innovative composers and performers in jazz today and Gamak is as spellbinding an experience that you’re likely to get on any current jazz album.

Edited: May 4th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/4/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Calcutta!” by Lawrence Welk

Instrumental week continues…

Wunnerful…wunnerful…this groovetastic little number conjures visions of Gomez and Morticia dancing up a storm in their creepy parlour while Lurch serenades them on the harpsichord. I’m not sure if this Lawrence Welk ditty was ever used on The Addams Family, or if it’s just something I’ve yanked from the cobwebs of my mind, but if it never happened, it probably should have.

From 1951 through 1982, Lawrence Welk brought his special brand of bubbly “Champagne Music,” complete with an accompanying bubble machine, into the living rooms of millions of mood music loving viewers. Welk’s band focused on popular standards, polkas, and novelty songs, delivered in a smooth, easy listening style befitting his mature family-oriented audience. Welk’s show, in essence, was the direct opposite of American Bandstand.

Welk was central to the show’s appeal and his unusual accent led to “Welk-isms” like “Wunnerful, Wunnerful,” the “And-A-One-And-A-Two” count-off, and the term “Champagne Music,” all becoming part of pop culture. But it was the music that audiences really tuned in for, and Welk’s orchestra featured some of the best musicians of the day including Dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain, longtime accordionist Myron Floren, guitarist Buddy Merrill and violinist Dick Kesner.

Today’s Song Of The Day was originally titled “Tivoli Melody” and was written in 1958 by Heino Gaze and Hans Bradtke. “Calcutta!” was released as a single by Dot Records in 1961 and soon after topped the charts, knocking The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” out of the top position. Dancers Bobby Burgess and Barbara Boylan worked up a dance routine to accompany “Calcutta” and performed it on the show many times helping to propel the record to the top position on the charts.

Welk, who was then 57 years old, earned the somewhat dubious distinction of being the oldest artist at the time to top the pop charts. (That record would be broken three years later by Louis Armstrong who was 62 years old when “Hello, Dolly!” topped the charts in 1964.) The Calcutta! album was also a 1961 chart-topper.

The television medium helped Welk score numerous easy listening hit singles including “Moritat (A Theme From Threepenny Opera),” “The Poor People Of Paris,” “Weary Blues,” “Tonight You Belong To Me” (with The Lennon Sisters), “Last Date,” “Theme from My Three Sons,” “Yellow Bird” and “Baby Elephant Walk.” He even tried his hand at several Champagne versions of rock era favorites like “Green Tambourine” and “The Beat Goes On,” which really need to be heard to be believed. He also landed several albums into the top ten of the charts including Last Date, Yellow Bird, Moon River, Baby Elephant Walk and Theme from The Brothers Grimm.

Lawrence Welk died at the age of 89 in 1992.

Edited: May 4th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/5/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)” by The T-Bones

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It used to be that if an artist sold a song to Madison Avenue for use in a TV commercial, it was considered taboo and completely selling out to the man. Nowadays, recording artists line up to have Madison Ave. consider their music because it provides exposure they can’t get anywhere else. Heck, even The Beatles have licensed their music to be used in TV commercials, and today when you turn on the TV, it is not out of the ordinary at all to hear music from your favorite artist turn up in a TV commercial or a TV show, or even more to the point, discover new music you’ve never heard before via the medium.

Back in the 1960s, artists like Herb Alpert benefitted by having their songs used in commercials, but they were squarely in the minority. Does anybody remember “The Teaberry Shuffle?”

Another 1960s Madison Ave. phenomenon was songs that started life in TV commercials and then crossed over into the pop charts. Today’s Song Of The Day is one such song.

“No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)” began as an Alka-Seltzer commercial showing various stomachs of different shapes and sizes, ensuring viewers that Alka Seltzer could bring relief to any stomach. The Sascha Burland composed jingle melody proved so infectious that Joe Saraceno, The Ventures’ producer and arranger Perry Botkin Jr. turned it into a chart hit by assembling some studio musicians and recording them under the name of a group who had already recorded records for the Liberty record label called “The T-Bones.”

The T-Bones were actually three different groups. The first version of the group was assembled by Liberty Records producer Dave Pell and consisted of Leon Russell on piano, Steve Douglas and Plas Johnson on saxes, Tommy Tedesco and Glen Campbell on guitars, Ray Pohlman on bass, and Hal Blaine on the drums. This version of the group released two hot rod albums in 1964 called Boss Drag and Boss Drag At The Beach, plus the dance album Do The Jerk.

The second version of The T-Bones was the group who recorded “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)” consisting of Tommy Tedesco on guitar, Hal Blaine on drums, Carol Kaye on electric bass and Lyle Ritz on upright bass. The song was produced by Joe Saraceno and recorded at United Artists studios in Hollywood on December 9, 1965. The thought was that rather than establishing a new group, they would take the already somewhat established entity called The T-Bones and use the name again for this new studio aggregation.

Once the song began getting airplay, a third version of the group was assembled in order to promote the record and handle public appearances. That group consisted of brothers Judd Hamilton and Dan Hamilton, Joe Frank Carollo, Richard Pello and Tommy Reynolds. This version of the group only actually played on their very last record called Everyone’s Gone To The Moon (And Other Trips).

Dan Hamilton, Joe Frank Carollo and Tommy Reynolds later formed the group Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds and scored hits with “Don’t Pull Your Love” and “Fallin’ In Love.”

The single reached #3 on the charts in 1966 and the album peaked at #75. A follow-up single was released called “Sippin’ N Chippin’ (which was a Nabisco jingle) and that peaked at #62 on the charts. The album included instrumental covers of The Four Seasons’ “Let’s Hang On,” Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright),” The Knickerbockers’ “Lies,” Booker T & The MG’s “Hole In The Wall,” Little Willie John’s “Fever,” plus thematic songs like “Pizza Parlor,” “My Headache’s Gone” and another TV commercial jingle, “Chiquita Banana.”

“No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)” paved the way for “Music To Watch Girls By,” a Pepsi jingle turned into a hit by The Bob Crewe Generation and “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,” a Coke commercial turned hit single by The Hillside Singers and The Seekers.

Edited: May 2nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/2/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat

We’ve all heard about the British Invasion in rock music that took place in the early 1960s, but what about the late ‘60s French Invasion?

Never heard of it? That’s because it consisted of only one record by one artist. OK, technically you could argue that Petula Clark was also part of the French Invasion, but her single “Downtown” is widely recognized as part of the British Invasion. But let’s not split hairs over facts…

The French Invasion took place in 1968 with an instrumental record called “Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat, which is the only number-one hit by a French artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 in America.

But “Love Is Blue” was not Mauriat’s first American success. In the early 1960s, he co-wrote a hit song under the pseudonym Del Roma called “Chariot,” which became a big hit for Petula Clark. The record was successful all over the world, except in America. In America, the song was given English lyrics by Arthur Altman and Norman Gimbel and became “I Will Follow Him,” a 1963 number one single by Little Peggy March.

During the 1950s, Paul Mauriat was the music director for French singers Charles Aznavour and Maurice Chevalier and toured the world with both of them.  In 1965, Mauriat established Le Grand Orchestre de Paul Mauriat and began to release what would add up to hundreds of recording for the Philips record label over the next 28 years. He also arranged 130 recordings for Aznavour between 1967 and 1972.

“L’amour est bleu (Love is Blue)” was written by French composer, André Popp and was originally sung by Greek singer Vicky (aka Vicky Leandros) where it won fourth place in the Eurovision Song Contest for Luxembourg in 1967.

Mauriat’s recording of the song featured a sweeping orchestral arrangement combining harpsichord with a hint of rock guitars and drums thrown in for good measure. The song was released on the album Blooming Hits in 1967 which topped the charts for five weeks, knocking The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour out of the top slot. The album cover featured an attractive naked lady with a butterfly tattoo on her face. But let’s face it; nobody was really looking at that butterfly anyway…

The album was typical easy listening fare for the late ‘60s, featuring covers of current rock hits like The Beatles’ “Penny Lane,” Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid,” Sandie Shaw’s “Puppet On A String,” Petula Clark’s “This Is My Song,” Sonny Bono’s “Mama” and Herman’s Hermits “(There’s A) Kind Of Hush.”

Mauriat would only reach the singles charts two more times after “Love Is Blue,” with his recordings of “Love In Every Room” and the title theme from the movie “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Mauriat died on November 3, 2006 at the age of 81.

Edited: May 1st, 2013