News for July 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Answering Machine” by The Replacements
When they were good, they were really great. But when The Replacements were bad, they were truly awful. Seeing The Replacements in concert was always a crap shoot. Whether it was boredom from being on the road, or just youthful blowing off steam, you never really knew what you were going to get when you went to see the “Placemats.”
Heck, I saw them five times during their heyday, and I think they were really good only twice. I’m not sure if that makes me a sucker for punishment, or just addicted to the greatness that I did witness when they did come to play.
Once I saw them at the Beacon Theater in New York City and they were so drunk, they couldn’t even finish a song. Somehow, they’d gotten access to a helium tank and they spent a good part of their ‘set’ sucking on helium balloons and singing in high pitch voices. Most songs they performed that night were incomplete, and members of the audience threw toilet paper rolls at the band, which they gleefully threw back at us. This went on for more than an hour before they left the stage to a chorus of boos.
That said, the band could be great in concert, and often were. The couple times that I saw them truly on, they were focused as they gave an incendiary performance of some of the best-written songs of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, courtesy of Paul Westerberg.
It was the dawn of alternative music. While the rest of the world listened to Madonna’s Like A Virgin, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. and John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow, a whole new thing was brewing in the music scene as bands like REM, The Smiths and Meat Puppets began releasing albums that didn’t fit into the prevalent classic rock radio format. No, these records were played only on college radio stations giving birth to a new radio format, college rock or alternative music, that would catch on in a big way in a few years’ time.
When Let It Be by The Replacements came out in 1984, it was one-third of a “holy trinity” of groundbreaking albums that included Husker Du’s Zen Arcade and The Minutemen’s Double Nickels On The Dime that literally changed the way we listened to music. While each group came out of the punk era and held onto the punk aesthetic especially in their early recordings, these albums added the element of craftsmanship to the songwriting that set them apart from all the rest.
With the release of Let It Be, Paul Westerberg’s songwriting began to evolve. What was once loud and brash became nuanced and tuneful, as the band began to venture away from the non-stop hardcore punk rock rave-ups they dabbled in, in favor of more arranged songs like “Unsatisfied,” “I Will Dare” and today’s Song Of The Day “Answering Machine.” These songs were far better constructed, had thoughtful lyrics and terrific melodies that allowed the band to branch out into more varied instrumentation.
The rest of the band included Bob Stinson on guitar, baby brother Tommy Stinson on bass and Chris Mars on drums, who really began to congeal as a unit on stage and in the studio, especially when left to their own devices on rockers like “Seen Your Video” and “We’re Coming Out.” It was no secret that the Stinson brothers truly disliked Westerberg’s forays into down-tempo material like “Androgynous,” preferring to rock out at all times.
On one level, Westerberg wanted to be taken seriously as a songwriter, even if he and the band continued to bait audiences by playing off-the-cuff covers and goofing around on stage. And this album contained its fair share of levity in songs like “Gary’s Got A Boner,” “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and on their tossed-off Kiss cover, “Black Diamond,” that let the fans know that hey, things hadn’t changed too drastically and that they were still just a lovable punk band trying to take the piss out of their fans.
Let It Be was also the band’s last independently released record before jumping ship from the Twin Tone record label to the majors. Once they went with the majors, the overall quality of the songwriting dipped as the production values became slicker. Their first album for Sire, Tim, was indeed a stunner, but after that few of the group’s albums have held up well over time.
Paul Westerberg has said Let It Be was “our way of saying that nothing is sacred, that the Beatles were just a fine rock & roll band. We were seriously gonna call the next record Let It Bleed.”¹
¹(Azerrad, Michael; DeCurtis, Anthony (November 16, 1989). “The 100 Best Albums of the Eighties”. Rolling Stone (565): 76. Retrieved 11 June 2009. Via Wikipedia)
Edited: July 30th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Harlem Hendoo” by Al Hirt
Time was running out. By 1968, the gravy train that artists like Al Hirt and Herb Alpert had ridden to fame on, was about to make a stop. Sure, Alpert would score his last huge hit, the #1 Bacharach and David gem “This Guy’s In Love With You” in 1968, but shortly after that, even Alpert’s run at the top would end until the mid-1980s.
Things were even worse for Al Hirt. It had been four years since Hirt was on the top with singles like the Allen Toussaint-penned “Java,” “The Green Hornet Theme” and “Sugar Lips,” plus top-ten albums like “Honey In The Horn” and “Cotton Candy.” Changes would have to be made, so like many others of his ilk, Al Hirt decided to try new things to see if he could keep himself commercially viable.
The sound would have to be updated, so in 1967 “The Round Mound Of Sound” (as he was known) released the album “Soul In The Horn.” Gone was the old, good-time-trad-Jazz-Dixieland-Bourbon Street sound of yore, only to be replaced by certainly the funkiest, au go-go sounds to ever come out of Hirt’s horn. Think “Shagadelic,” but a whole lot more jazz, and a whole lot more serious in the groove department.
Hirt sets the tone right from the opening cut with a cover of Booker T. & The MG’s 1966 single “Honey Pot.” Perhaps the album’s most famous song is today’s Song Of The Day, “Harlem Hendoo,” which was famously sampled by De La Soul for the track “Ego Trippin’ Pt. 2” from the album “Buhloone Mindstate” and also by The Roots on the track “Stay Cool” from their 2004 album, “The Tipping Point.”
Credits for this album are hard to come by, but what I do know was that the sessions were arranged by George “Teacho” Wiltshire (known for his work with Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, Gene Pitney and many others) and produced at RCA Victor’s Studios in New York City and Chicago by Paul Robinson (who would later produce tracks for Maxi Priest in the 1980s).
The lion-share of the songs were written by Paul Griffin, who was famous for session work with King Curtis, Bob Dylan (on Highway 61 and Blonde On Blonde, no less), Van Morrison, The Isley Brothers, and Steely Dan (on Aja). There are several other tracks from the record that really cashed my register, including the island-flavored “Calypsoul” and the relentlessly groovilicious “Love Ya’ Baby.”
Al Hirt’s foray into soul never did bring him back into the charts or the forefront of the music scene, but he did continue to play at his club in New Orleans, and years later make many DJ crate diggers very happy.
Edited: July 29th, 2014
Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “The Alley Cat” by Bent Fabric
Dance crazes come and go, but they are never forgotten.
Most recently there was Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” wreaking havoc across dance floors all over the world while the youth of America (and Myley Cyrus) began to twerk. In the 1990s, there was “The Macarena.” In the 1980s, country line dancing and “The Lambada” had their day in the sun, and the ‘70s gave us “The Electric Slide.” But in the early 1960s, there was only one communal synchronized dance that kids and adults alike shared in, making it a staple at weddings, proms and Bar Mitzvahs.
That dance was “The Alley Cat.”
In actuality, “The Alley Cat” began life as a 1961 hit for Bent Fabricius-Bjerre in Denmark under the title “Omkring et Flygel” (“Under The Table”). The song was picked up for U.S. distribution by Neshui and Ahmet Ehrtegun and released on their Atco label in 1962, where it became a million-selling top-ten hit. The song also went on to win a Grammy Award for, get this, Best Rock and Roll Record of 1962!
Fabric released six albums on Atco between 1962 and 1968, with titles like The Happy Puppy, The Drunken Penguin and Operation Love Birds, with animal-centric album covers to match. He was also paired up with Atco’s other big instrumentalist, Acker Bilk, for a series of recordings. But no matter how many albums were released, in America he is still only associated with one thing, “The Alley Cat.”
Fabric got his start playing Jazz piano in Denmark before moving into the realm of film scores, where he wrote music for 27 different Danish films. He also founded Metronome Records in 1950, which went on to become one of the most successful Danish record companies. One of his signings was Jorge Ingmann who scored a #2 hit in America with his classic instrumental “Apache.”
While Fabric has seemingly faded from view in America, he’s continued to release recordings in Denmark over the years, most recently scoring two top-ten hits in 2006 from his album called Jukebox. That album’s title track also got airplay in dance clubs across America, where a remix of “Alley Cat” was also re-released.
Surprisingly, in Mexico, ice cream trucks co-opted “The Alley Cat” as their calling card, so when children hear it blaring through the streets, it means the ice cream man is in the neighborhood.
Edited: July 28th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Half A Man” by Willie Nelson
Right from the outset everything was in place…timbre of voice…unique phrasing…clever lyrics…it was all there back in 1965…everything perhaps, except his beard was fully formed. The arrangement was standard for Nashville at the time with heaping helpings of strings and anonymous female background vocals. Nevertheless, it still works for me.
Edited: July 27th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Creepin’” By Stevie Wonder
When it comes to a vibe, this song’s got it all in spades.
Today’s Song Of The Day comes from 1974′s Fulfillingness’ First Finale which was released shortly after Wonder’s near-death car accident, making this album an all-the-more-important part of his canon.
However, at the time of its release, it was seen as somewhat of a disappointment following nearly-perfect records like Innervisions (1973) and Talking Book (1972). And if that wasn’t enough, the record that followed it was 1976′s Songs In The Key Of Life which was also critically acclaimed, leading most people to gloss over this record.
Upon closer inspection, Fulfillingness’” has much to offer with classics like “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away,” “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” “It Ain’t No Use,” “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and “Please Don’t Go.”
Here’s the bottom line: the run of records Stevie Wonder released from 1971′s Music Of My Mind through 1976′s Songs In The Key Of Life should be an essential part of any music collection and not to be missed!
Edited: July 24th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “‘Til I Die” by The Beach Boys
Today’s Song Of The Day is one of Brian Wilson’s deepest creations from the 1971 album originally titled Landlocked but ultimately released as Surf’s Up.
The lyrics really show where Brian’s head was at the time which was not a great place. While his contributions to the album were minimal in number, they were astounding in impact.
An utter masterpiece!
Edited: July 23rd, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Cry Me A River” by Julie London
It would be hard to think of Julie London without all of the sexy cheesecake album covers, but behind all of the va-va-voom was the va-va-voice which was soft, supple and sexual.
Today’s Song Of The Day was written by Arthur Hamilton specifically for Ella Fitzgerald to record. However, Ella didn’t get around to recording it until her 1961 album called Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie.
Julie London recorded the song in 1955 for her Julie Is Her Name album and sang it in the film 1956 The Girl Can’t Help It which propelled it up to the #9 position of the charts. Backing London on this recording was the great guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Ray Leatherwood.
Barbra Streisand waxed the song for her 1963 debut album The Barbra Streisand Album, and it has also been covered by a who’s who of singing stars including Dinah Washington, Shirley Bassey, Ray Charles, Etta James, Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr., Nina Simone, Cher, Anne Murray, Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John, Rick Astley, Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall, Susan Boyle, Michael Bublé, and somewhat improbably by Jeff Beck and Aerosmith.
To most people my age, “Cry Me A River” is probably best known by Joe Cocker’s indelible rockin’ version from 1970’s Mad Dogs And Englishmen album and tour. Cocker’s version is great, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the original.
Edited: July 22nd, 2014
Pitchfork Music Festival 2014 – Day 3 Review by Eric Berman
The final day at Pitchfork Music Festival provided the usual array of adventurous music including indie rock, experimental sounds, electronic dance music and much more hip-hop than has been featured in previous years.
Highlights included the return of Grimes (aka Clair Boucher) whose brand of electronic dance music has grown in stature over the last couple of years. Even though she hasn’t released a stitch of new music since her last Pitchfork appearance in 2012, she has managed to attract a much bigger crowd on a bigger stage in the penultimate slot of the festival. Her set consisted of tracks from her 2012 album Visions including her big hits “Oblivion” and “Genesis.” We also got a glimpse of one new track that she said was not quite finished yet, but sounded just fine and was well received by the crowd.
One of the most unusual sets of the day belonged to Canadian electronic duo Majical Cloudz featuring Devon Welsh who writes and sings the songs accompanied by the sonic soundscapes of Matthew Otto. We caught the last twenty minutes or so of their set but apparently they had a malfunctioning keyboard which forced Welsh to perform many of his songs a capella accompanied only by the hand-claps of the audience. This happy accident presented Welsh in the best way possible as a singer with a terrific voice who could carry the show on his own. At the end of the set, Otto smashed his keyboard for the crowd after both musicians apologized for the malfunction. No worries, they practically stole the show for the many members of the audience who stayed around for the end of the set. (As I write this review I’m listening to their 2013 album Impersonator and it’s definitely worth further investigation. Check out the song “Savage” posted below.)
Today also saw the return of Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt whose bravura on stage made up for some rather sophomoric lyrics. Nevertheless, he’s got charisma to burn and a now-considered-classic hip-hop album under his belt called Doris. He had the crowd chanting “Hot soup in my mutha-f@#ckin’ bowl,” and “I’m gonna f@#k the freckles off your face.” Indeed, I liked him more than his music because at he’s a skilled performer with a wicked sense of humor who knows how to give his audience exactly what it wants.
Other highlights today included the girl-group garage rock of Dum Dum Girls, the newly reunited ‘90s rock band Slowdive and the psychedelic rock of New Jersey’s own Real Estate who also made a return to Pitchfork this year.
We also caught sets by Top Dawg rapper Isaiah Rashad and Deafheaven whose brand of noise rock wore thin shortly after they took the stage. We left just as headliner Kendrick Lamar took the stage satiated and also ready to see Jack White in Milwaukee tomorrow night.
Edited: July 20th, 2014
Pitchfork Music Festival 2014 – Day 2 Review by Eric Berman
The second day of Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival was all about the ladies with stunning performances by St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) whose theatrical set leaned heavily on her latest self-titled album that came out late last year and is better than any other record that I’ve heard this year. Vincent played guitar throughout while she and her band synchronized their movements to vibrant versions of “Digital Witness,” “Prince Johnny,” ”Birth In Reverse, “Bring Me Your Love” and “Rattlesnake” which opened her set.
tUnEyArDs also killed with their set today. The group, who returned to Pitchfork for a second time, is the brainchild of Merrill Garbus who plays ukulele and creates vocal and drum loops on the fly, and synthesizer/bassist Nate Brenner. This year’s version of the group jettisoned the two saxophone players they’ve toured with in the past in favor of two additional vocalists and a drummer who also sang. While the group’s latest album, Nikki Nack takes some getting used to, the songs heard tonight came off much stronger than in their studio incarnations, and the additional live vocals added another dimension to Garbus’ daisy-flavored Afro-pop.
Other highlights of the day included Ohio based indie punk rock trio Cloud Nothings who have also played the festival before, the ‘80s influenced British band Wild Beasts whose danceable sound was often reminiscent of Echo And The Bunnymen, and the psychedelic garage rock of Circulatory System featuring Will Cullen Hart of Olivia Tremor Control.
I also heard plenty of hip-hop today including sets by Kanye West’s homeboy Pusha T who made up for starting twenty minutes late with a short likable show featuring a couple of tracks from the GOOD Music compilation, and Danny Brown who for was afforded an ear-splitting 75 minute slot that began to wear out its welcome much before it actually ended. (That said, I watched the show from a distance while those who were right up close were completely enthralled.)
The night was capped off by the reunion of Neutral Milk Hotel who released two well-received albums over twenty years ago and then went on an extended hiatus. During their absence, their music began to grow in stature as the group’s influence could be heard in the recordings of a new generation of artists including groups like Bright Eyes, Bon Iver and Arcade Fire. It was great to see the adulation the band received all this adulation at this late date, although I find the somewhat whiny voice of Jeff Mangum an acquired taste…one which I never acquired the first time around.
Edited: July 19th, 2014
Pitchfork Music Festival – Day 1 by Eric Berman
It was an exceptional first day at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.
Every year I go to this festival and come away with all kinds of new bands I would never otherwise have heard that become new favorites. Day one was no different with a great chill soul singer named SZA (Solana Rowe) who is part of Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment crew. Her debut album entitled Z” came out this past April and I’m listening to it on Spotify as I type this.
Also amazing was Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks an Animal Collective offshoot project that was as wiggy and psychedelic as the mothership but with added guitar crunch.
Other highlights of the day included Beck who opened with “Devil’s Haircut” and performed no less than three tracks from the “Midnight Vultures” album which, judging by crowd reaction has surely grown in stature over the years. Giorgio Morodor’s DJ set touched on almost all phases of his career as images of his protégé’s including Donna Summer drifted on and off the screen.
There was also the welcome return of Neneh Cherry (daughter of Jazz trumpeter Don Cherry) who performed much of her new album and, of course also performed her 1989 hit “Buffalo Stance.” Another early highlight of the day was Factory Floor, an industrial dance band from London, England.
Edited: July 19th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dance At The Gym” from the Original Soundtrack of “West Side Story” – Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dance At The Gym” from the Original Soundtrack of “West Side Story” – Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim
Broadway musicals don’t get any better than this!
You can keep your Andrew Lloyd Webber with his one song per musical that gets repeated to oblivion; Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim were the real deal! And West Side Story, their musical has never been bettered.
West Side Story was one of the first musicals where dance played as important a role in story development as dialog. The choreography was expertly done by Jerome Robbins, who also choreographed the Broadway stage version. After seeing the results, it’s quite shocking that Robbins was fired from the production before it wrapped due to it going over budget!
The film starred Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, and was directed by Robert Wise. As was common for film musicals, Natalie Wood didn’t sing any of her parts, and her vocals were dubbed in my Marni Nixon. The same goes for Russ Tamblyn, whose voice was dubbed by Tucker Smith.
The Original Soundtrack recording was one of the biggest selling albums of the 1960s, spending 54 well-deserved weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. In my opinion, the performances on the Soundtrack are far superior to those from the Original Broadway Cast recording.
The musical was set in New York City of the late 1950s and was loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, except the lead characters, Tony and Maria, were of American and Puerto Rican descent respectively. In its original incarnation, the story focused on a Jewish and Catholic couple and had the working title of East Side Story. (Another working title for the musical was Kids With Matches.)
When original work began for the Broadway production of West Side Story, Stephen Sondheim was a complete unknown, while Bernstein was a renowned conductor and composer who had written several other musicals (On The Town and Wonderful Town), operas (including Candide which also ran on Broadway), ballets (Fancy Free),film scores (On The Town and On The Waterfront), plus a fair share of choral music, symphonic music, and piano music.
Today’s Song Of The Day, “Dance At The Gym” features several sections: a blues, promenade, mambo, pas de deux and jump. This gorgeous piece of music is breathtaking in its scope, and works on every level: as ballet, as orchestral work and as jazz. The piece has such power that stripped of its visuals from the movie, it stands on its own as a modern Jazz classic. Never before and never again would we ever get music this expertly crafted for the Broadway stage.
Edited: July 16th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bad Time” by Grand Funk Railroad
This is not exactly the “Footstompin’ Music” that Grand Funk Railroad were known for in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
But once they lost the Railroad in their name and came under the aegis of Todd Rundgren and Jimmy Ienner, the hits started to come fast and furious including “We’re An American Band,” “The Loco-Motion,” “Shinin’ On,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Some Kind Of Wonderful” and today’s Song Of The Day which climbed to #4 on the pop charts in 1975!
The song was on the group’s ninth album All The Girls In The World Beware!!! and was the follow-up single to their huge hit “Some Kind Of Wonderful.”
Pair this song with “Go All The Way” by The Raspberries and you’ve got pure pop nirvana!
Edited: July 15th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Rednecks” by Randy Newman
Here is what Randy Newman had to say about the lead song from his 1974 masterpiece Good Old Boys:
“I wrote ‘Rednecks’ soon after I saw Lester Maddox (Georgia Governor from 1967-1971) on The Dick Cavett Show. They sat Maddox next to Jim Brown, a black man and one of the greatest football players of all time. It looked like in a fair fight Brown would whip Maddox pretty bad; Brown had about 40 pounds, half a foot, and 30 years on him. The audience hooted and howled, and Maddox was never given a chance to speak, let alone put on the gloves. It bothered me, so I wrote the song, and Northerners have recognized ever since that they are as guilty of prejudice as the people of the South. I’m sure glad I wrote it. I wrote “Marie, “Rollin’,” “Birmingham,” and “Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man)” for the same character.” (Jordan, Scott (2008). (“Backtalk with Randy Newman”. offBeat Magazine.)
Good Old Boys had its origin as a musical piece called Johnny Cutler’s Birthday that featured most of the source material for Good Old Boys and several other songs that didn’t make the final cut. Newman went into the studio in early February of 1973 to lay down one-take piano versions of each song and a draft of the story line for the intended Cutler album.
The tape was never meant for release, and remained in the can until the deluxe Good Old Boys CD reissue from Rhino Records in 2002. Listening to the Cutler tape gives one a real appreciation of how Newman thinks, as well as a window into the creative process he uses in developing the rich character studies of his songs.
If you’ve never heard the whole Good Old Boys album, you are missing out on a humorous, tongue-in-cheek American treasure. The version of today’s Song Of The Day comes from The Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey as recorded on February, 11 1978.
Edited: July 14th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Chicken Fat” by Robert Preston
I felt the need to repost this gem today because I saw today’s Song Of The Day hawking an exercise app from Apple.
It’s “Poultry in motion!” (Sadly, I didn’t write this line but it was too great to pass up.)
How many of you remember this gem from the early 1960s? Even though I was only one year old when this record was released to public schools across the nation, I distinctly remember exercising to this song in gym class when I was in grade school. “Go you Chicken Fat, Go Away!”
Childhood obesity is nothing new. Even though the problem has risen to epidemic proportions, it was an issue in America as early as the late 1950s.
Enter “Chicken Fat”to save the day!
In the late 1950s, an international study found that American children were far less fit than children from other countries. In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. During the 1960 Presidential election, John F. Kennedy made physical fitness an integral part of his campaign. While on the campaign trail, he wrote an article for Sports Illustrated called The Soft American which spelled out his proposed fitness program.
When Kennedy got into office, Physical Fitness for America’s youth was a very high priority: “We’re in a war with two great nations. Not a shooting war, but we’re at war with China and Russia. If we cannot do something to improve the physical fitness of Americans, then, as history has proven, in fifty years we will not be able to compete with these societies.” (John F. Kennedy) And as we know today, Kennedy was absolutely prescient on this topic. To that end, Kennedy chose Bud Wilson, the football coach from the University of Oklahoma to be the first Physical Fitness Consultant to the President.
Around this time, Meredith Wilson’s musical The Music Man was a smash Broadway hit starring Robert Preston as Professor Henry Hill. The musical included such Meredith-penned standards as “76 Trombones,” “Goodnight My Someone” and “Till There Was You” (which would go on to be covered by The Beatles on their U.S. debut album).
Upon hearing about Kennedy’s program, Meredith Wilson offered to write an exercise song completely free of charge to help, and Robert Preston agreed to sing it. Wilson consulted with Physical Fitness Council director Ted Forbes, to ensure that the song would provide a good workout and came up with today’s Song Of The Day, “Chicken Fat.”
Since Capitol Records was riding high on the charts with the Original Cast Recording of The Music Man, they agreed to provide their musicians, chorus and recording studios to record the song. Crucially, they also provided their distribution network, shipping over three million copies of the record to public schools across the country, completely free of charge.
There were two versions of the song recorded for the 7-inch, 33 1/3 RPM small-holed single. One version ran over six and a half minutes and featured eleven different exercises, including push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, toe touches and marching in place. The flip side was a two-minute “Disk Jockey” version, that was edited for radio and television use.
After being out of print for close to 40 years, an updated version was released in 2000 by Bernie Knee who was a part-time cantor and commercial jingle singer. That recording is still a popular favorite in schools today, and now Apple has borrowed the tune to hawk an exercise app proving that physical fitness (and this song) never goes out of style.
Edited: July 13th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Don’t Let’s Start” by They Might Be Giants
You can’t bottle creativity, but in the case of They Might Be Giants, you certainly can buy it! They were two wild and crazy nerd-boys when they burst onto the scene in the mid-1980s, we just didn’t realize how wild and crazy they really were.
The two Johns: Flansburgh and Linnell have always looked at the world through different glasses than the rest of us, and it has manifested itself in some of the most creative ways to hear music. Case in point was “Dial-A-Song,” where you could call a phone number and hear a new original song on an answering machine…every day! The call was to a Brooklyn exchange, so they came up with the tag line “Free when you call from work” to publicize the service. This went on for several years.
“Dial-A-Song” got them signed to their first record deal and today’s Song Of The Day comes from their debut album released in 1986. Once they conquered your telephone, it was only a matter of time before TMBG discovered the internet where they were amongst the first groups to use the medium to publicize and distribute their music.
With songs like “Birdhouse In Your Soul,” “Dinner Bell,” “Why Does The Sun Shine (The Sun Is A Mass Of Incandescent Gas),” and “Older” in their repertoire, it was only a matter of time before they got into the children’s music game releasing the album No! in 2002. They’ve since released several more children’s record insuring that their original fan base would take their kids to see them some day.
Indeed, I fulfilled my duty as a parent and took my own kids to see them in 2002 when they were eight and five years old respectively. On the road, they perform adult and kids shows at most tour stops and they also have a penchant for debuting newly written songs about each town they’re performing in each night.
The two Johns are still very active today on stage and off where they regularly record and release enjoyable and inventive podcasts. If you’ve never heard their records or seen their shows, you really should before you grow up, or even worse, they do!
Edited: July 10th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Empty Lives” by Graham Parker
He was never a punk rocker and was already around too long to be part of the “New Wave,” but marketing is marketing and that’s how much of the world came to discover Graham Parker.
By the time of Squeezing Out Sparks, his 1979 breakthrough album, Parker had already been recording with his trusted band The Rumour featuring Martin Belmont, Brinsley Schwarz, Andrew Bodnar, Bob Andrews and Steve Goulding for several years, and had classic albums like Howlin’ Wind (1976), Heat Treatment (1976) and Stick To Me (1977) under his belt.
But like fellow journeymen Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Elvis Costello, the music machine had to put them somewhere, so new wave, punk rockers they became. Sparks was Parker’s most consistent album and it benefitted by the promotion that accompanied a label change in America from Mercury to Clive Davis’ Arista imprint.
By the recording of Parker’s second album for Arista, The Up Escalator from 1980, Bob Andrews was out of the band and members of the E Street Band (including Bruce Springsteen) participated in the recording sessions which were helmed by producer Jimmy Iovine. Escalator would also be the first album credited to just Graham Parker. The record was his highest charting album, but was not as well received as his previous release.
Here’s a live version of the album’s signature track from the now-defunct TV show Fridays. Throughout the 1980s and to the present, numerous albums on numerous record labels including Elektra, RCA, Atlantic, Capitol, Razor & Tie and Chicago’s own Bloodshot Records (where he’s recorded his last several albums) have been met with declining sales, but no decline in quality of performance and songwriting.
In fact, Parker’s releases over the last ten years have been his best yet.
Edited: July 9th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Soul Kiss” by Joe Jackson
For an artist as ornery as Joe Jackson was on stage berating his audiences regularly; he did come out with some of the sweetest and most articulate music of his time.
While critics were rushing to compare Elvis Costello to Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, they kind of missed out on the real carrier of their torch in Joe Jackson. The Big World album was conceived on stage and recorded in a controlled live environment in front of audiences.
After the three-sided, 2 record set came out in 1986, he took to the road to promote it, hence this video. “Soul Kiss” is one of his funkiest songs, with a piano part that rivals anything Elton John ever came up with. The band on this track consisted of Joe Jackson on piano and vocals, Vinnie Zummo on guitar, Rick Ford on bass, Gary Burke on drums and Joy Askew, Nikki Gregoroff, Peter Hewlett and Curtis King Jr. on background vocals.
Twenty-seven years later, the music resonates and hasn’t dated at all. Indeed, it is still a Big World.
Edited: July 8th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “State Trooper” by Bruce Springsteen
The guttural howls that he lets out at the end of this psychobilly classic mixed with its pleading paranoid lyrics conjures the mood of pure dread…and with Bruce Springsteen’s sixth album, it was all about mood.
Hot on the heels of The River, his biggest album yet from 1980, and after several years on the road with The E Street Band touring to support it, Springsteen found himself back at home in Colts Neck, NJ with some restless free time on his hand and lots of bummer songs rattling around his brain.
A change of work habits was in the air as well. Rather than writing songs in the studio with the band waiting around as he had done up to this point resulting in albums taking years to complete, Springsteen called upon his engineer friend Mike Batlin to set up a primitive home studio so he could create demos of his new set of songs to be presented to the band in the studio. Springsteen worked fast at home and over a period of few days at the end of 1981, he captured fourteen new songs on his very basic Tascam 4-Track cassette recorder including early versions of songs that wouldn’t see the light of day for several years to come including “Born In The USA,” “Pink Cadillac” and “Working On The Highway” (then titled “Child Bride”).
Springsteen proceeded to carry the cassette of his stark new songs around with him for several weeks before making a copy and sending it to his manager, Jon Landau, who was blown away by not only the darkness and depth of the material, but the change of musical direction he heard.
Upon reconvening in the studio with the E Streeters to work up full band versions of the songs, it became evident that the band couldn’t capture the dark, desolate feeling that these songs needed. So a remixed version of the “demo” cassette that Springsteen recorded at home literally became his next record.
Once the bigwigs at Columbia Records got it in their head that they weren’t going to be releasing another blockbuster Springsteen record as the follow-up to The River, they devised a laid-back promotional campaign to suit the material. Springsteen fans were confused with the release of Nebraska in 1982, but the critics were rightfully blown away by its austere grandeur, hailing the record as one of his best…which it, indeed, still is.
Edited: July 7th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Head Over Heels/Broken” by Tears For Fears
There never was a “sophomore slump” for the duo of Roland Orzabel and Curt Smith, the ‘80s synth-pop duo better known to the world as Tears For Fears. While The Hurting, their debut album topped the charts in their native UK, it was their second album Songs From The Big Chair that did the trick around the rest of the world.
The album’s title was a reference to Sybil , a TV movie that told the story of a child with multiple personality disorder who sought solace in the big chair of her psychiatrist’s office. Chair was a multi-platinum success that spawned several hit singles including the two U.S. chart-toppers “Shout” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” plus “Mother’s Talk” and today’s Song Of The Day and the albums best and most melodic track.
The duo stayed together for one more album, the Beatle-esque The Seeds Of Love (featuring the huge hit “Sowing The Seeds Of Love”) before calling it quits, although Orzabel continued to release albums under the Tears For Fears moniker well into the 1990s.
The second version of Tears For Fears, featuring Alan Griffiths and Tim Palmer, released several albums that did well overseas, but tanked in the states. The duo reunited and released the much underrated Everybody Loves A Happy Ending album in 2005, and joined Spandau Ballet on the road for a tour in 2010. The production values of the mid-1980s (tinny electronic drum sounds, overpowering synth washes) have rendered some of their music somewhat dated, but the current Synth Pop revival led by groups like Divine Fits and STRFKR has happily led me to rediscover some of the music of the era, and enjoy it anew.
Edited: July 6th, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “This Land Is Your Land” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – 4th Of July Playlist
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “This Land Is Your Land” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – 4th Of July Playlist
Here’s my ultimate 4th Of July playlist:
- “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie (http://youtu.be/XaI5IRuS2aE)
- “Power And The Glory” by Phil Ochs (http://youtu.be/ZelYGi5ZTPw)
- “America The Beautiful” by Ray Charles (http://youtu.be/TRUjr8EVgBg)
- “Freedom” by Richie Havens (http://youtu.be/W5aPBU34Fyk)
- “Saturday In The Park” by Chicago (http://youtu.be/e0HDsguQcsE)
- “U.S. Blues” by Grateful Dead (http://youtu.be/DPBLfzTPCDc)
- “One Time One Night” by Los Lobos (http://youtu.be/qmgfLI1NBe8)
- “Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp (http://youtu.be/qOfkpu6749w)
- “Rockin’ In The Free World” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse (http://youtu.be/PdiCJUysIT0)
- “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty (http://youtu.be/nUTXb-ga1fo)
- “4th Of July” by X (http://youtu.be/lhu807VUY24)
- “4th Of July” by Aimee Mann (http://youtu.be/vOYI85anqmQ)
- “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (http://youtu.be/KgFHM8HMbWQ)
- “Independence Day” – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (http://youtu.be/gnAJlJHXn_M)
- “Don’t Pull It Down” from the Broadway Musical Hair (http://youtu.be/_w2gyWE0M0k)
- “America” – by Chita Rivera and Company, from the Original Soundtrack of West Side Story (http://youtu.be/GB4lOWfgD5s)
- “Young Americans” by David Bowie (http://youtu.be/ydLcs4VrjZQ)
- “America” by Neil Diamond (http://youtu.be/hc-v8CFJzu4)
- “America” by Simon & Garfunkel (http://youtu.be/ZO3gWIGzH3A)
- “Sail Away” by Randy Newman (http://youtu.be/uwwhHI_IMog)
- “American Tune” by Paul Simon (http://youtu.be/AE3kKUEY5WU)
- “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke (http://youtu.be/gbO2_077ixs)
- “American Trilogy” by Elvis Presley (http://youtu.be/gbE1Dg-4fvI)
- “Back In The USA” by Chuck Berry (http://youtu.be/xGCJ5j7oVWc)
- “Spirit Of America” by The Beach Boys (http://youtu.be/log61aFaNS4)
- “Ragged Old Flag” by Johnny Cash (http://youtu.be/JnivJb3Rv5A)
- “The Star Spangled Banner” by Jimi Hendrix (http://youtu.be/sjzZh6-h9fM)
- “This Land Is Your Land” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Tones (http://youtu.be/WsDOvbTQzwo)
Now add your tune to the list and publish on your Facebook feed…Happy 4th Of July!
Edited: July 3rd, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Lemmings Lament” by National Lampoon
“Welcome to the Woodshuck Memorial Festival: Three Days Of Peace, Love And Death!”
So began one of the funniest and spot-on parodies of the Woodstock generation with this announcement made by none other than John Belushi. Lemmings was performed as a stage show by National Lampoon in 1973, and not only launched the career of Belushi, but also introduced many of us to Chevy Chase, Tony Hendra and Christopher Guest.
The show opened at the Village Gate, in New York City, on January 25, 1973, and ran for 350 performances. It included a then-unknown John Belushi performing a parody of Joe Cocker on the song “Lonely At The Bottom” (with fellow Lampooner Paul Jacobs taking on the part of Leon Russell). Belushi’s Cocker would reach a much wider audience on Saturday Night Live several years later.
Other parodies included “Highway Toes” performed by Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap, Best In Show, Waiting For Guffman and A Mighty Wind) taking on James Taylor, “Positively Wall Street” also by Guest, this time as Bob Dylan and “Pizza Man,” a send up of ‘50s Rock and Roll hilariously performed by Alice Playton. Today’s Song Of the Day, “Lemming Lament” was performed by Paul Jacobs, Christopher Guest, Alice Playton and John Belushi, billed as Freud, Marx, Engels and Jung, taking the piss out of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
I’ve been a fan of this album since it came out in 1973, but I never knew of the existence of a filmed performance that was released on VHS many years ago. Of course, it is now out of print on video again, but it turns up in its entirety on YouTube every so often.
The Lemmings album was not National Lampoon’s first foray into musical parody. They released the album Radio Dinner the year before which also featured Christopher Guest and Tony Hendra (who does a great John Lennon on “Magical Misery Tour”), along with SNL alum Michael O’Donoghue and Melissa Manchester. The Lampoon would go to the well again in 1975, with the album Goodbye Pop featuring Christopher Guest, Paul Jacobs, Paul Shaffer, and future SNL alum Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner.
John Belushi as the Woodshuck announcer parodying an actual Woodstock announcement: “There isn’t enough food to go around. There just isn’t enough food. So remember, the man next to you is your dinner.” Classic…all the way!
Edited: July 2nd, 2014
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Cat’s Squirrel” by Cream
“All right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right…all right, all right, all right, all right.”
That pretty much sums up the lyrical content of this scorcher from Cream’s 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream. And for my money, the band’s studio recordings are far more preferable than their live workouts featuring endless jamming extended to maddening proportions.
While some were spray painting the buildings of England with proclamations that Eric Clapton was God, the real star of the show 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. And one would be hard-pressed not to mention Ginger Baker here as well for his undeniable contributions on drums.
And as for Clapton, he’s been literally coasting on the stellar guitar work he laid down with this group for over 40 years. Enjoy your retirement and thanks for the memories.
Edited: July 1st, 2014