Posts Tagged ‘music’

Revisited: Guilty pleasures from my iPod playlist

September 18, 2010

It sure was great seeing Paul McCartney perform on the David Letterman show recently. It brought back lots of great memories of some great songs from my youth. It was an inspired touch to have him performing on top of the building marquee, recalling the Beatles’ final public performance on a London rooftop 40 years ago. He looked great for a guy in his sixties; a little jowly maybe, but hardly deserving of the steel girders propping up the marquee beneath him.

As a baby boomer, the soundtrack of my youth included a stunning variety of the most innovative music ever produced. Much of what we still recall today justly deserves the designation of “classic.” However, there are quite a few compositions that would be better off lost.

Some of these songs just had unfortunate titles. There was a Journey hit of the seventies, a soaring melody sung by Steve Perry, one of the best power ballads of the time until it came to the chorus of “So now I come to you, with broken arms.” There was the Boston classic “Four-Letter Feeling,” truly great guitar rock unnecessarily spoiled by the suggestive title. Even the Beatles themselves, widely acknowledged for three generations now as the greatest pop group of all time, stumbled with the unfortunately titled “Hey Jew.”

Other songs may have seemed like a good idea in an earlier, less-sophisticated time, yet just don’t fit the politically correct sensibilities of today. Take “Young Girl,” a number-two smash from 1968 by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap:

Young girl get out of my mind
My love for you is way out of line
You better run girl
You’re much too young girl
With all the charms of a woman
You’re just a baby in disguise
And though you know that it’s wrong to be alone with me
That come-on look is in your eyes.

It might be easy to dismiss a little-known band trafficking in pedophilia like the Union Gap, but even some of the greats had moments of questionable judgment. John Lennon wrote lyrics to “Run for Your Life” that included the line “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to see you with another man.” Neil Young penned “A Man Needs a Maid,” reacting to a fictional breakup with the reassuring thought that he could always pay “someone to keep my house clean, fix my meals, and go away.”

There is a difference, I would contend, between popular songs about misogyny and sex crimes with minors, and the songs that are bad for more innocent reasons. These are the so-called “guilty pleasures” that populate many of our iPod playlists, mine included. When you’re looking for a certain beat, a catchy interlude or a fond but distant memory to inspire your workout at the gym, quality of composition is not a prerequisite.

So here I come clean with some of the favorites from my music player, along with an attempt to justify my choices. If no justification is possible, I’ll admit that too.

 “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” by Abba. Answering the musical question “Do you realize how many people loathe your music? Do ya? Hunh? Do ya? Do ya?”

“The Stroke” by Billy Squier. A rhythmic masterpiece (or master-something) containing the unforgettable lyric “stroke me, stroke me, do it, stroke me, stroke me.”

“The Good Ship Lifestyle” by Chumbawumba. Inexcusable.

“Life in a Northern Town” by the Dream Academy. If the makers of Ambien set up a charter school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, this might be their senior class project.

“1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. Originally composed for a cereal commercial in the 1960s (“this is the cereal that’s shot from guns,” for those of you under 50), the piece was later adapted and expanded for use at the conclusion of the annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert. I’m pretty sure it’s the only song on my playlist that features a solo for cannons, and makes me wish Abba had thought to write more music for medium-range artillery.

“All We Like Sheep” from Handel’s Messiah. A celebration of our relationship with the Lord, or, a discussion of the many advantages of domesticated herd animals (wool, mutton, milk, nursery rhymes, etc.). In either case, an inspiring example of Handel’s genius, regardless of whether you’re a Christian or an animist.

“Wind It Up” by Gwen Stefani. What do you get if you combine the yodeling song from “Sound of Music” with a dance-club beat, then throw in the occasional voice of a black guy noting that “she crazy”? My sad, sad attempt to enjoy the latest sounds in pop.

“Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. A breezy summer hit that captured the spirit of warm-weather efforts at “tryin’ to feel good,” until later connections to a certain killer hurricane with 25-foot storm surges dampened Katrina’s career.

“Beautiful Stranger” by Madonna. Indefensible.

“Word Up” by Melanie G. Former Spice Girl tries to go urban but instead ends up in the central business district.

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield. Hypnotically repetitive, this piece is best known as the theme from the movie “The Exorcist.” The only lyrics are spoken introductions of the musical instruments – bagpipe guitar, glockenspiel, mandolin, fuzz guitar, Farfisa organ – capped off with the triumphal announcement of “tubular bells!”, apparently a kind of chime.

“Kicks” by Paul Revere and the Raiders. An early anti-drug anthem that would’ve been a lot more effective had it not been sung a band that sported tri-corner hats.

“Grand Hotel” by Procol Harum. Most regrettable.

“Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin, “YMCA” by the Village People and “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. There’s just something about the heresy of listening to gay anthems like these while watching Fox News on the Y’s treadmill that gives you a tremendous energy boost.

“El Condor Pasa” by Simon and Garfunkel. This ethereal but little-known piece, featuring ghostly Andean flutes, is either about the endangered scavenging vultures of South America, or Paul Simon’s disappointment at losing a bidding war on a condo in Manhattan.

“Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman and “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum. I always thought of these songs as being a paired set, but didn’t realize why until I typed them here and considered the similarities in the titles. They’re both incredibly pretentious.

“Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis. A must for any treadmill runner who looks as bad in shorts as I do.

“Clones (We’re All)” by Alice Cooper. A wonderfully clever song from late in his career, except for The Title (Being Too Clever With).

“How to Kill” by Art of Noise. Inexplicable.

“Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles and “Venus” by Bananarama. These could easily be the same song – “Walk Like a Venutian.”

“How Can I Keep From Singing?” by Enya. One might suggest this now-aging new-age ingénue consider stuffing a large, wet sock in it.

“Flying Dutchman” by Richard Wagner. Not sure you can characterize Hitler’s favorite composer as a “guilty pleasure.” This is also the tune used in the Looney Tunes classic wherein Elmer Fudd, another of history’s homicidal maniacs, sang “kill the wabbit.”

“Circle of Life” by Elton John. I forget now where the circle started for Elton but I know it ended up on a tour with Billy Joel performing before half-filled arenas.

Revisited: I was at Woodstock — I think

August 14, 2010

Well I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going?
And this he told me
Said “I’m goin’ down to Yasgur’s farm”

So wrote Joni Mitchell some 41 years ago this weekend when she ran into me during my journey to the epic music festival that would become a touchstone for the entire baby boomer generation. For many my age, Woodstock fills the imagination with what it was like to be free and young and extremely high during the turbulent Sixties. For a fortunate few of us, though, it’s an actual memory of joining a half-million people in peace and love on a farm in upstate New York.

You see, I was at Woodstock.

As you might imagine, my recollections are a little cloudy after all these years. I was 15 years old on that August weekend my family was visiting my cousin in Binghamton. I was getting a little tired of the living room chats about long-lost aunts I had never known when I decided to slip out of the house for what became the adventure of my life.

I wasn’t normally a rebellious teenager, but there was just something in the air that called to me. I caught a ride with my cousin’s neighbor to the next town over, where I was dropped by the side of the road and started hitch-hiking north. I tried for over an hour to catch a ride when I came across three slightly older “hippie” types who “turned me on” to what was “going down.”

We traded only nicknames at the time although I later came to learn that the trio included then-reigning homerun king Roger Maris, a crazy dude named Fred Sullivan (son of TV host Ed Sullivan), and a young cowboy named Bobby McGee. We finally caught a lift as far as Bethel, NY, but the New York State Thruway was, as famously announced by Arlo Guthrie, “closed to man.” We were lucky enough to be spotted by the low-flying helicopter of singer Richie Havens, a remarkable pilot despite his lack of sight. Richie set down in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen, invited us aboard, and soon we were landing behind the stage where he’d be performing just a few hours later.

It quickly became apparent that festival organizers were overwhelmed by the unexpected turnout, so we were pressed into service as stage hands. We’d be getting a front-row seat to rock-and-roll history.

In between the routine roadie chores of hauling amps, separating M&M’s by color and periodically wiping down the members of Canned Head, we found ourselves offering advice to some of the legendary performers in attendance. I still remember telling Pete Townsend to “turn it the hell down – people are trying to sleep here” as The Who ran through their 4 a.m. set from the rock opera “Tommy.” On the final night, I saw Jimi Hendrix pacing nervously before the final set of the concert. He was debating whether he should close with “America the Beautiful” or “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It was I who suggested that instead he play the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

We were worked pretty hard during those four days and got hardly any rest. We did take a break one afternoon and Roger, Fred and Bobby tried to get me onto that mud-slide you’ve probably seen in film clips from the time. They became totally soaked and dirt-encrusted while I remained neat in the crisply pressed dress pants I had been wearing…

Wait – something doesn’t sound right. I may be a little confused about my presence at Woodstock. Something just doesn’t ring true about these memories, and I bet I’ve gotten the highlight of the Age of Aquarius confused with a 1995 business trip I took to Washington. Both locations start with “W”. I’ve always gotten Woodstock and Washington mixed up.

What I actually attended was billed as the “Woodstock of Statistical Process Control (SPC),” a four-day conference and training session for corporate quality administrators interested in being certified as ISO 9000 auditors. I was joined by three coworkers in a suburban Ramada Inn while we studied day and night to learn the proper ways to document workflow and process variation. It was an event unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since – four days of modes and tolerances.

To this day, it remains the only business trip where I was forced to share lodging with a roommate, but the hardship forged a lasting bond between us that was only slightly frayed by his questionable Spectravision and pajama choices. We’d get up early each morning for a vigorous jog around the hotel grounds, then spend the day with our noses buried in loose-leaf binders. We kept thinking we’d get at least one evening free to see the sites of the capital but the organizers of the event, a couple of Brits from Lloyd’s of London, were real taskmasters. (It was those English accents that probably reminded me of The Who).

On the evening before the last day, we were grilled during a “live-job scenario” wherein we pretended to be inspectors looking over the books of a company seeking ISO certification. The instructors played the parts of defensive company executives, trying to mislead and distract us, and we were supposed to insist on seeing the records. We did badly enough to realize we had to spend the rest of the night studying for the Friday exam.

Again, my recall might be a little off, but I do know the test was not at all what we expected. After the grueling preparations, I thought there’d be serious questions presenting difficult circumstances that required us to prepare, in extensive essay form, what our responses would be. Instead the questions were so simple as to be confusing.

“Give me an F… give me a U… give me a C…” began the examiner standing before a conference room of puzzled participants. He gave us the final letter, then yelled the question: “What’s that spell? What’s that spell? What’s that spell?” The rapid-fire interrogation made it impossible to think straight, and I flunked the spelling portion of the test.

Then, came the multiple-choice questions: “And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for?” One, two and three? Is this how they do it in Britain? What about A, B, C or D (all of the above). D is almost always the answer when questions are phrased in this format, but we don’t have that choice. Again, I fail.

Finally, there was the essay question: “What would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me?” I had learned that SPC was all about reducing variation, and that any singing out of tune could only be acceptable if it were within a predefined tolerance. I wrote something to this effect on my paper, but this too turned out to be wrong.

I tried commiserating with my coworkers on the flight home, but they actually had performed pretty well on the exam. They understood there were fundamental truths underlying the event, that it was impossible to quantify the heady experience we’d just been through, that “answers” were a fleeting concept and sometimes the questions were more important. In other words, they had been certified while I had failed.

I could’ve gotten by with a little help from my friends.

Fake News Briefs: From Uncle Ted to Wilson Pickett

August 12, 2010

Stevens and Rostenkowski find peace at last

HEAVEN, D.C. (August 11) — Newly elected representatives Ted Stevens and Dan Rostenkowski are already exerting their powerful influence here. St. Peter has appointed Stevens to the Celestial Senate and Rostenkowski to the Heavenly House, and neither has wasted any time in resorting to the pork-barrel politics they were famous for on Earth.

Both men have joined together to co-sponsor legislation that would fund the construction of an express lane from the physical world to the afterlife for those who have devoted their lives to conscientious, bi-partisan public service. The $644 million project would provide a “pathway to sainthood” to politicians who rise above the current Washington environment of petty bickering and instead work toward improving the general welfare of their nation.

Opponents in both the Celestial Senate and Heavenly House were quick to criticize the proposed project as a “bridge to nowhere.”

Passenger frustrations boil over

NEW YORK (August 10) — A would-be terrorist who planned to force a Pittsburgh-to-New York JetBlue flight to proceed smoothly with no delays and a pleasant experience for all was thwarted by a group of disruptive passengers Tuesday.

Ahmad al-Malawi, a software salesman from Albany, N.Y., who described himself as a frequent business flier, commandeered the plane’s PA system when unruly passengers began arguing about space in the overhead luggage bin.

“The Muslim people of the world just cannot take this anymore,” he reportedly announced. “We try to explode a shoe bomb and you interrupt us. We try to explode an underwear bomb and all we get is a painful Brazilian. Now, I try to force you to behave like adults and even that fails. It is all so frustrating.”

Al-Malawi then uttered what was believed to be an Arabic curse — “fuq u-Al” — grabbed two cans of beer and deployed the emergency chute. When he remembered his Islamic faith forbade him from drinking alcohol, he returned the beers and instead took two cans of sugar-free cherry Dr. Pepper. When he realized that the current celebration of Ramadan forbade him from drinking anything during daylight hours, he returned the sodas and selected two copies of JetBlue’s award-winning in-flight magazine Airways. He then jumped on to the inflated chute, landed on the tarmac and calmly walked toward the rental car counter where his mid-sized sedan was waiting.

More are making music to politics transition

DETROIT, Mich. (August 11) — First it was Wyclef Jean, reggae and hip-hop artist, announcing he was entering the race to be the next president of Haiti. Now, another legendary musician has said he’ll make a bid to cross over from the music world to international politics.

Wilson Pickett, a major figure in the development of American soul music, told reporters yesterday that he will seek the office of president in the Land of 1,000 Dances.

Though dead since 2006, Pickett said he could still help the long-suffering citizenry in the imaginary land he created in his 1966 hit, which peaked at Number 6 on the Billboard charts.

“The Land wasn’t a real place, and I’m no longer a real person, so I think there’s a certain synergy there,” Pickett said. “Hey! Uh!”

Pickett said his main focus if he’s elected would be to halt the threatened extinction of many of the 1,000 dances. He noted that the watusi and the pony were in particular danger, and that preserving all of the various gyrations was critical to maintaining the cultural heritage of the imaginary nation.

“C’mon, y’all, let’s say it one more time,” he said in announcing his campaign slogan. “Na na-na-na-na na-na-na-na na-na-na na-na-na, na-na-na-na.”

Pickett said that by paying personal attention to each individual “na,” he hoped to restore the once-proud country to the fame and glory it knew almost five decades ago. He called on both current and expatriate Dancians to “aah, help me … aah, help me.”

Revisited: Guilty pleasures from my iPod playlist

July 18, 2010

It sure was great seeing Paul McCartney perform on the David Letterman show the other night. It brought back lots of memories of some great songs from my youth. It was an inspired touch to have him performing on top of the building marquee, recalling the Beatles’ final public performance on a London rooftop 40 years ago. He looked wonderful for a guy in his sixties; a little jowly maybe, but hardly deserving of the steel girders propping up the marquee beneath him.

As a baby boomer, the soundtrack of my youth included a stunning variety of the most innovative music ever produced. Much of what we still recall today justly deserves the designation of “classic.” However, there are quite a few compositions that would be better off lost.

Some of these songs just had unfortunate titles. There was a Journey hit of the seventies, a soaring melody sung by Steve Perry, one of the best power ballads of the time until it came to the chorus of “So now I come to you, with broken arms.” There was the Boston classic “Four-Letter Feeling,” truly great guitar rock unnecessarily spoiled by the suggestive title. Even the Beatles themselves, widely acknowledged for three generations now as the greatest pop group of all time, stumbled with the unfortunately titled “Hey Jew.”

Other songs may have seemed like a good idea in an earlier, less-sophisticated time, yet just don’t fit the politically correct sensibilities of today. Take “Young Girl,” a number-two smash from 1968 by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap:

Young girl get out of my mind
My love for you is way out of line
You better run girl
You’re much too young girl
With all the charms of a woman
You’re just a baby in disguise
And though you know that it’s wrong to be alone with me
That come-on look is in your eyes.

It might be easy to dismiss a little-known band trafficking in pedophilia like the Union Gap, but even some of the greats had moments of questionable judgment. John Lennon wrote lyrics to “Run for Your Life” that included the line “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to see you with another man.” Neil Young penned “A Man Needs a Maid,” reacting to a fictional breakup with the reassuring thought that he could always pay “someone to keep my house clean, fix my meals, and go away.”

There is a difference, I would contend, between popular songs about misogyny and sex crimes with minors, and the songs that are bad for more innocent reasons. These are the so-called “guilty pleasures” that populate many of our iPod playlists, mine included. When you’re looking for a certain beat, a catchy interlude or a fond but distant memory to inspire your workout at the gym, quality of composition is not a prerequisite.

So here I come clean with some of the favorites from my music player, along with an attempt to justify my choices. If no justification is possible, I’ll admit that too.

 “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” by Abba. Answering the musical question “Do you realize how many people loathe your music? Do ya? Hunh? Do ya? Do ya?”

“The Stroke” by Billy Squier. A rhythmic masterpiece (or master-something) containing the unforgettable lyric “stroke me, stroke me, do it, stroke me, stroke me.”

“The Good Ship Lifestyle” by Chumbawumba. Inexcusable.

“Life in a Northern Town” by the Dream Academy. If the makers of Ambien set up a charter school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, this might be their senior class project.

“1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. Originally composed for a cereal commercial in the 1960s (“this is the cereal that’s shot from guns,” for those of you under 50), the piece was later adapted and expanded for use at the conclusion of the annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert. I’m pretty sure it’s the only song on my playlist that features a solo for cannons, and makes me wish Abba had thought to write more music for medium-range artillery.

“All We Like Sheep” from Handel’s Messiah. A celebration of our relationship with the Lord, or, a discussion of the many advantages of domesticated herd animals (wool, mutton, milk, nursery rhymes, etc.). In either case, an inspiring example of Handel’s genius, regardless of whether you’re a Christian or an animist.

“Wind It Up” by Gwen Stefani. What do you get if you combine the yodeling song from “Sound of Music” with a dance-club beat, then throw in the occasional voice of a black guy noting that “she crazy”? My sad, sad attempt to enjoy the latest sounds in pop.

“Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. A breezy summer hit that captured the spirit of warm-weather efforts at “tryin’ to feel good,” until later connections to a certain killer hurricane with 25-foot storm surges dampened Katrina’s career.

“Beautiful Stranger” by Madonna. Indefensible.

“Word Up” by Melanie G. Former Spice Girl tries to go urban but instead ends up in the central business district.

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield. Hypnotically repetitive, this piece is best known as the theme from the movie “The Exorcist.” The only lyrics are spoken introductions of the musical instruments – bagpipe guitar, glockenspiel, mandolin, fuzz guitar, Farfisa organ – capped off with the triumphal announcement of “tubular bells!”, apparently a kind of chime.

“Kicks” by Paul Revere and the Raiders. An early anti-drug anthem that would’ve been a lot more effective had it not been sung a band that sported tri-corner hats.

“Grand Hotel” by Procol Harum. Most regrettable.

“Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin, “YMCA” by the Village People and “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. There’s just something about the heresy of listening to gay anthems like these while watching Fox News on the Y’s treadmill that gives you a tremendous energy boost.

“El Condor Pasa” by Simon and Garfunkel. This ethereal but little-known piece, featuring ghostly Andean flutes, is either about the endangered scavenging vultures of South America, or Paul Simon’s disappointment at losing a bidding war on a townhome in Manhattan.

“Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman and “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum. I always thought of these songs as being a paired set, but didn’t realize why until I typed them here and considered the similarities in the titles. They’re both incredibly pretentious.

“Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis. A must for any treadmill runner who looks as bad in shorts as I do.

“Clones (We’re All)” by Alice Cooper. A wonderfully clever song from late in his career, except for The Title (Being Too Clever With).

“How to Kill” by Art of Noise. Inexplicable.

“Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles and “Venus” by Bananarama. These could easily be the same song – “Walk Like a Venutian.”

“How Can I Keep From Singing?” by Enya. One might suggest this now-aging new-age ingénue consider stuffing a large, wet sock in it.

“Flying Dutchman” by Richard Wagner. Not sure you can characterize Hitler’s favorite composer as a “guilty pleasure.” This is also the tune used in the Looney Tunes classic wherein Elmer Fudd, another of history’s homicidal maniacs, sang “kill the wabbit.”

“Circle of Life” by Elton John. I forget now where the circle started for Elton but I know it ended up on a tour with Billy Joel performing before half-filled arenas.

Rewritten songs reflect reality

April 16, 2010

It’s that time of year when we roll down the ragtop, crank up the radio, and give full voice to our inner Bowersox. Nothing is more American than hitting the open road with a song in your heart that bursts unchecked onto your lips, causing the guy in the next car over to wonder if you’re spastically seizing or merely rocking out.

Singing along with our favorite popular tunes is a great warm-weather pastime in this country, ranking right up there with foreign invasions. Though both often involve a brutal assault, the sing-along’s casualty counts are far more contained, with only your fellow passengers suffering. If only innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians could simply wait for the next stop light to hop out of harm’s way.

I try to limit collateral damage by taking the advice of American Idol judges and “making the song my own.” I’m not content to regurgitate well-worn lyrics verbatim; I like to modify the words to fit my personality. This allows me to still feel the original songwriter’s spirit while accommodating my own peculiar pecadilloes.

For example, I like to try to clean up the grammar and syntax. As a former copy editor, it bugs me no end to hear supergroups like the Supremes, the Rolling Stones and the Who mangle our language. So I take a few liberties, knowing I’m probably beyond the long reach of ASCAP as I tool down Interstate 77 in my Honda Civic. So “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” becomes “There Isn’t Any Mountain The Elevation of Which is Higher.” The classic interlude of “Satisfaction” is changed from the huffing “Can’t get no…/Can’t get no…” into “I can’t get any…/I can’t get any…”. “Summertime Blues” is transformed from a passionate working-class teenage lament into a well-reasoned labor complaint:

Well, I’m going to raise a fuss and I’m going to raise a holler
About working all summer just trying to earn a dollar
I went to the bossman and I tried to get a break
But the boss said “No dice, son, you have to work late”
Sometimes I wonder what I’m going to do
Because there isn’t any cure for the summertime blues.

Note the absence of abominations like “gonna” and “ain’t” and “gotta”. Think about how much more likely I would be to have a Schedule Variance Form approved by my supervisor than a whiner like Roger Daltry.

I’m also not comfortable singing certain songs in the first person. I’m not one to wear my emotions on my sleeve, and prefer instead to croon about hypothetical feelings. I might’ve wanted very much to hold her hand, or became extremely agitated when I saw her standing there, but I don’t like to admit it. It works better for my own personal style to comment on the angst of others:

Oh, yeah, he’ll tell you something
He thinks you’ll understand
When he says that something
He wants to hold her hand

Or perhaps:

Well his heart went boom
When he crossed that room
And he held her hand
In his …
Well, they danced through the night
And they held each other tight
And before too long they fell in love with each other

I don’t have to actually become the Alan Parsons Project:

He was the eye in the sky
Looking at her, he could read her mind.

…and I don’t have to spend hours in makeup and wardrobe becoming Lady Gaga:

Her her her her her her her her pokerface

And I can belt out one of the most clever song lyrics in the history of rock without feeling gay:

He walked into the party like he was walking onto a yacht
His hat strategically dipped below one eye
His scarf it was apricot
He had one eye on the mirror as he watched himself cavort
And all the girls dreamed that they’d be his partner, they’d be his partner

He’s so vain, he probably thinks this song is about him
He’s so vain, I bet he thinks this song is about him
Doesn’t he? Doesn’t he?

Finally, I try to put certain songs in a more realistic perspective. When these classics were current hits some 40 or more years ago, they reflected our youthful yearnings. Now that we’re older and more concerned with losing our hair than losing our baby, it only makes sense that we adapt those charmingly naive lyrics to reflect lives that are well lived but mostly over. So a favorite Beach Boys oldie requires a few changes:

Wouldn’t it have been nice if we had been older?
Then we wouldn’t have had to wait so long
And wouldn’t it have been nice to have lived together
In the kind of world where we would’ve belonged?
You know if would’ve made it that much better
When we could’ve said goodnight and stayed together
Wouldn’t it have been nice?

Maybe if we would’ve thought and wished and hoped and prayed it might’ve come true
Baby then, there wouldn’t have been a single thing we couldn’t have done
We could’ve been married, and then we would’ve been happy
Oh, wouldn’t it have been nice?

I can still be an inveterate romantic and a huge fan of Lennon and McCartney’s timeless songbook, yet still retain my respect for Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

Revisited: Poets for our times (about 30 years ago)

February 27, 2010

The rise of folk and, ultimately, rock music was grounded in a lyrical foundation that gave us pop stars who were also poets. Beginning with the likes of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Simon and Garfunkel, it’s a tradition that has stalled in the contemporary era. Though Jewel may have published a book of poetry – including “I lived in a car/But couldn’t drive far/My teeth they are weird/It’s chewing I’ve feared/Yet somehow I’m hot/Which forgives quite a lot” – it’s hardly comparable to what the giants of the 1960s and 1970s were able to produce.

Two of my favorites from that earlier period were the Doors and John Denver. Mercurial front-man Jim Morrison composed lyrics for the Doors that were every bit as evocative and stirring as anything written by bards as far back as Shakespeare. When Morrison cries out “Father/Yes son?/I want to kill you/Mother/I … want…  to/Waaarrriiiihhhhyyyyaaaa!” in his masterpiece “The End,” it’s not hard to imagine Coleridge, Byron or even Emily Dickinson adding “right on, dude.” When John Denver soars through the musical heights of his beloved Rocky Mountains, he’s flying in the experimental tradition of earlier wordsmiths such as Buddy Holly, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Amelia Earhart.

I thought I’d take a look at one short piece from each of these inspired giants, and try to analyze what it was that causes our emotional reactions to be so profound. I start with Morrison’s tone-poem “Horse Latitudes”:

When the still sea conspires an armor 
And her sullen and aborted currents breed tiny monsters 
True sailing is dead 
Awkward instant, and the first animal is jettisoned 
Legs furiously pumping their stiff green gallop 
And heads bob up 
Poise 
Delicate 
Pause 
Consent 
In mute nostril agony 
Carefully refined and sealed over

 

 

I remember when I first heard this piece as a young man how sad it struck me that early seamen had to throw horses overboard when the winds died. What a terrible fate those noble beasts faced. They suffered at least as much as Morrison himself did after his arrest on obscenity charges for exposing himself during a concert. I see the exposed horses as an allegory for the act he allegedly performed on stage in Miami, though I hesitate to think what the “mute nostril agony” might be symbolic of. This poem captures perfectly the angst of a time when America’s youth were questioning traditional morals, and what the hell something like this was doing on a rock album.

Now, let’s contrast that hallucinogenic imagery with a folksier sentiment from Denver’s classic “I’m Sorry”:

It’s cold here in the city
It always seems that way
And I’ve been thinking about you, almost every day
Thinking about the good times, thinking about the rain
Thinking about how bad it feels alone again

I’m sorry for the way things are in China
I’m sorry things ain’t what they used to be
More than anything else I’m sorry for myself
Cause you’re not here with me

I’m sorry for all the lies I told you
I’m sorry for the things I didn’t say
More than anything else I’m sorry for myself
I can’t believe you went away

I’m sorry I took some things for granted
I’m sorry for the chains I put on you
More than anything else I’m sorry for myself
For living without you

Denver, obviously, is sorry – he’s very, very sorry. To this day, some critics claim he was a sorry songwriter in more ways than one, though I tend to see his pathos in a more positive light.

Remember that this song debuted in an era when the U.S. was feeling its way in a post-Vietnam world, trying to consider old relationships in a new light. Amidst the profound self-pity about his girlfriend leaving, he still takes time to offer regret about the Cultural Revolution in China and the hardships that caused for a billion people, as well as the cold and rainy forecast in his hometown. By the end of the song, you can tell he’s heading to a better place – this is about the time he left Colorado for California and the contentment that came from his role in movies like “Oh God” and “Walking Thunder.”

We lost a great poet but we found an even better actor.

Revisited: The Fabulous Band Names

January 2, 2010

There was a time when I thought the creativity put into the naming of a rock band correlated to that band’s skills and success. If you came up with a clever enough name, you’d shoot straight to the top. Then I became familiar with the oeuvre of “Frankie Goes to Hollywood,” “Death Cab For Cutie” and “Panic! At the Disco,” which made me realize that talent wasn’t necessarily a part of the equation.

Still, you have to admire how witty some of these are. Take a look at this collection of actual band names I compiled recently:

Sonic Death Rabbit

Southern Culture on the Skids

Cottonwood Frostbite

Phil and the Blanks

Dexateens

Plants and Animals

The Hothouse Hefftones

Closed for Remodeling

Trivia Night

Bubonik Funk

Thunderlip

Coma League

Dante’s Camaro

Cowboy Mouth

Electric Chicken

The Holy Trinity Family Band

Stiff Knee Birthday Jam

Dangermuffin

Col. Bruce Hampton and the Quark Alliance

British Sea Power

These Arms are Snakes

I Set My Friends on Fire

The Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank

Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head

God Came From Space

Lee Press-on and the Nails

Somebody and the Really Somethings

IWANTTOKILLEVERYHUMAN

And I’ll Form the Head

E=MC Hammer

The Unnecessary Gunpoint Lecture

Guy Who Looks Like Me with Glasses

Penguins with Shotguns

Robin Williams on Fire

Mel Gibson and the Pants

The Shark that Ate my Friend

One Small Step for Landmines

Boneless Children Foundation

The Busiest Bankruptcy Lawyers in Minnesota

Sorry About Your Couch

As great as those real-life names are, I always thought there was a rich source of funny names that was being overlooked. They could easily be ripped from today’s news headlines:

Gaza Rocket Attack

Mideast Peace Initiative

The Heart Transplant List

Workplace Hazards in the Poultry Industry

Federal Wildlife Experts

The Time and Frequency Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology

Cholera Death Toll

The Volatile Diyala Province

Bhutto’s Ancestral Village

The Year-End Deals

Santa Slays Seven

36 Months Free Financing

The Taliban

The Obama Daughters

The Spectrum of Neurological Disorders

Boneless Wing Tray

Double-Digit Unemployment

Multiple Listings Service

Certificate in Treasury Management

Checked Baggage Fees

Consumer Price Index

Federal Stimulus Package

Children Left Behind

Bristol Palin’s Baby

50 Herbert Hoovers

Repeat DUI Offenders

The Credit Freeze

Pork Tenderloin and the Spicy Cranberry Glaze

The Additional Rebates

Revisited: The worst Christmas song of all time

December 6, 2009

Yesterday, I listed what I thought were four of the five worst Christmas songs of all time. Today, we learn who the winner is and, of course, by “winner” I mean “loser.”

The perhaps unlikely recipient of this honor is “Do They Know It’s Christmastime?” by Band Aid. I will admit that this song had at least two positives going for it: (1) it was a genuinely catchy and inspiring arrangement, and (2) it single-handedly saved the African continent from the ravages of hunger. Those are pretty strong plusses, so you can imagine the kind of negatives it would take to offset all that good, and transport this effort to the status of worst Christmas song of all time.  

I know he’s already considered something of a “Gloomy Gus,” but consider what singer Morrissey had to say about the song. “I’m not afraid to say that I think … (Band Aid creator) Bob Geldof is a nauseating character. The record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it’s another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England. It was an awful record considering the mass of talent involved. It was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music.”    

Another critic suggested “the song presents a very bleak view of Africa, which the lyrics appear to refer to as a whole. Some of these, such as the suggestions (if read literally) that the continent has no rainfall or successful crops, have been seen as absurd by critics. The lyrics as patronizing, false and out of date.”    

Well, let’s take a look and see what we, and by “we” I mean “I”, think.    

 It’s Christmastime (for the half of the African continent that is Christian)
There’s no need to be afraid
(yes there is, if you’re living in many part of Africa)
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade (thank you, ‘80s British rockers)
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy (that’s your best idea?)
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime
(just not practical) 

But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmastime it’s hard when you’re having fun (please, don’t put yourself out)
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you (that just seems terribly selfish)
 
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime (Accuweather calls for humid)
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
(Oooh) Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow (except the Nile, Niger, Zambezi, Victoria Falls, etc.)
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all? (do these people have no calendars?)
 
(Here’s to you) raise a glass for everyone (we’ll have champagne; you drink the tears)
(Here’s to them) underneath that burning sun (thanks for that shade banishment)
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmastime again
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmastime again (OK, OK, we heard you the first two times)
 
With only a few weeks left till Christmas, I think I can avoid radios, malls, medical offices, elevators, etc., long enough to avoid this song for the rest of the season. If you can’t hole up quite the way I plan, then all I can say is

thank God it’s you instead of me.   

    

  

  

  

  

  

 

Revisited: Worst Christmas songs ever

December 5, 2009

Today I begin my list of the five worst Christmas songs in the history of the universe. In reverse order, they are:

Number 5 – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by Michael Jackson

This is the only song on my list that is a re-imagined classic rather than an original composition. It was recorded back in the Jackson Five days and features Michael at his high-pitched screeching worst. (I’d say he was pre-pubescent at the time, but then I could be talking about last week.) In the final bars – “…mommy kissing Santa Claus … last … night” – the pitch is so grating that I get a headache just describing it. It’s so bad that it’s possibly even worse than the allegations of child abuse against him.

Number 4 – “Little St. Nick” by the Beach Boys

Allow me to quote what is otherwise one of my favorite groups of the rock era:

Well, way up north where the air gets cold
There’s a tale about Christmas that you’ve all been told
And a real famous cat all dressed up in red
And he spends the whole year workin’ out on his sled

It’s the little Saint Nick / Ooooo, little Saint Nick
It’s the little Saint Nick / Ooooo, little Saint Nick

And haulin’ through the snow at a frightenin’ speed
With a half a dozen deer with Rudy to lead
He’s gotta wear his goggles ’cause the snow really flies
And he’s cruisin’ every pad with a little surprise

Run run reindeer / Run run reindeer / Run run reindeer / Run run reindeer

Ahhhhhh / Oooooooo
Merry Christmas Saint Nick
Christmas comes this time each year

I think that last line is my favorite. Nothing puts cheer in the season like reminding us that holidays come on a regularly scheduled basis.

Number 3 – “Step Into Christmas” by Elton John

I don’t know if Elton collaborated with long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin to create this song, or whether it was one of his rare song-writing efforts with the ghost of Adolf Hitler. Either way, it’s a sorry, sorry offering.

Welcome to my Christmas song
I’d like to thank you for the year
So I’m sending you this Christmas card
To say it’s nice to have you here
I’d like to sing about all the things
Your eyes and mind can see
So hop aboard the turntable
Oh step into Christmas with me

Step into Christmas
Let’s join together
We can watch the snow fall forever and ever
Eat, drink and be merry
Come along with me
Step into Christmas
The admission’s free

 Note that he’d like to sing about “all the things your eyes and mind can see,” in other words, virtually everything known to mankind, from kangaroos to the tensions on the India-Pakistan border to the third law of thermodynamics. Just “hop aboard the turntable so … we can watch the snow fall forever and ever … because the admission’s free.” Excuse me, but I just have to ask: what?

Number 2 – “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney

This “song” is an absolute abomination. Even if you didn’t compare it to other holiday efforts by former Beatles – the haunting “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon and the not-really-a-Christmas-song-but-I-think-it-mentions-Jesus “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison – it would still be ghastly. Let’s look at some of the “lyrics”:

The moon is right
The spirits up
We’re here tonight
And that’s enough
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

The party’s on
The feelin’s here
That only comes
This time of year

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

The choir of children sing their song
Ding dong, ding dong
Ding dong, ding ohhhh
Ohhhhhhh

“Ohhhhhh” indeed. And, I might add, “arrgghhh” and “eeewww.”

Tomorrow, the number-one worst Christmas song of all time.

Website Review: DavidWhiteman.com

December 4, 2009

Every now and then, I Google myself just in case I became wildly famous and somebody forgot to tell me. Most recently, the ever-helpful search engine took my request, and asked if what I meant to type was “David Whiteman.”    

Well, I don’t know — maybe I did, especially if this guy whose name is one letter different from mine is fabulously wealthy and keeps his money in a casually secured bank account. When I investigated further, I was able to stumble upon what is the subject of today’s Website Review.    

DavidWhiteman.com is a bare-bones site that promotes David and his Texas band. The combo plays the “widest range of songs around,” including R&B, hip-hop, Latin and dance music, and is apparently one of the most versatile and entertaining bands in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.    

When David brings together his ten or more musicians, they are known by two different names: there’s the “David Whiteman Experience” and “The Love Chocolates.” It’s not clear what the distinction is between the two. I also have an “experience” under my name, but it includes a lot more typesetting and proofreading, and a lot fewer Chaka Khan covers, than are happening in dance clubs throughout the Lone Star State’s second-largest metropolis. But there is one thing we do have in common — I too love chocolates.    

The home page says the band consists of male and female vocals, a horn section and a very experienced rhythm section of bass, drums, keyboards and percussion. Among their performance credits are “Oasis at Joe Pool Lake, Nine Fish in Frisco, the Glass Cactus at the Gaylord Resort, and the Dallas Arboretum.” I know that last location suggests they are very popular with plants, but I can’t for the life of me guess what those other locales hint at. The group also performs for private parties, weddings and corporate events that included a concert for the Chamberlain Ballet, where I would’ve loved to see the ballerinas trying to keep up.    

According to the Calendar section, it seems these relatively low-profile shows make up a big part of the David Whiteman experience. For example, there are seven days in the month of December alone that are jam-packed with dates. Tonight at 6:30, you can catch the gang at “Pappadeaux in Arlington Big 12 Championship Weekend.” This is a seafood kitchen off the interstate in the midst of the Metroplex that offers fried gator along with its David. The rest of the December shows include two performances at Reflections (where the band will share top billing with new wide-screen TVs, pool and darts), three private parties, and the annual Firefighters Christmas Jam.

It’s pretty obvious the big money happens at the parties, because the calendar warns “any club date may be replaced by a private function with advanced notice.” I guess you have to first get your name out there with the fish diners and the EMTs in order to secure those lucrative Dallas Geological Society gigs.    

Under the Band pulldown, we get a chance to learn more about the individual members, or at least those who have a life capable of being described in writing. (Four members — drummer Steve “The Big Bo” Richardson, percussionist Otis “The Big O” Tarkenton, keyboardist Gary Wooten and trombonist Gaika James — have bios “to come soon.”)    

David is “widely becoming known as one of the finest vocalists in the Dallas/Fort Worth area,” a description so broadly worded that I think it also could include Oliver Cromwell and Sandy Koufax. Both of David’s parents were musicians, allowing him to develop an early vocal style he claims was reminiscent of Barry White, a little hard to believe for a ten-year-old, but whatever. His skills in piano, vocals and guitar led him to spend 14 years working as a fireman with the Dallas Fire Department, where “he fought fires, saved lives, delivered infants and experienced the worst in death,” contributing to his “positive and upbeat attitude” that has translated so well to the stage, or at least that small tiled area in the corner of the barroom that serves as a stage.    

Bassist Narcisco Carballo is originally from Havana, Cuba, bringing a distinctively communist flavor to the group’s sound. He pursued a career in aviation for 13 years before joining “the Weekend Warriors program sponsored by Brook Mays Music where he brushed up on his chops” and, presumably, other select cuts of meat. He occasionally defects from the David Whiteman Experience (typical Cuban) to join others bands such as Chill Factor, the Right Time Band and Tejano Passion. His biography oddly includes the equipment he owns — various guitars, amps and cabinets.    

The group’s female vocals are handled by the soulful CiaMar. You can tell she’s a professional singer by the fact that she goes by a single name that includes a capital letter in the middle of it. (If she’d add an accent mark, maybe an umlaut, and perhaps a couple of punctuation marks, who knows how far she’d go?) She made her very first recording at age seven, though it may have been the greeting message on her parents’ answering machine. Since then, she’s been among the 25 finalists on the TV series Pop Stars, made an appearance on Good Morning Texas and sang the national anthem at several sporting events. Rave reviews that are quoted include “she will be incredible when her time comes” (from 1996), “you have great potential in this industry” (from 2000) and “waiting patiently is a mega-hit song!!!” (from 2003). I think it bears repeating that it may be time to consider some semicolons.    

Everybody else in the list looks a lot less charismatic. DeAnthony McGee was first chair alto saxophonist in the eighth grade, was nicknamed “Sax Man” in high school, and made the top lab band at Texas Tech. Trumpeter Corey Wilson worked in healthcare in Oklahoma and played with the Disney All-American College Band. Sound engineer Stephen Adkins is always smiling, formed a flag football team while working at the fire department and “keeps the dance floor packed mixing on the wheels of steel.”    

The Music section of the website carries two lists of songs that the band is capable of playing, one a mix of blues, ballads, jazz and dinner music, and the other strictly for dance. Most are covers of hits performed by better-known artists, or their poorly spelled counterparts. There’s Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone by Bill “Whithers”, Treat Her Like a Lady by the “Cornelious” Brothers, Billy Jean by “Micheal” Jackson, and It Ain’t Over til It’s Over by “Linny” Kravitz. Some of the dance tunes haven’t quite made it to my iPod yet, including Doin’ the Butt, Ms. New Booty and My Humps, though I’m confident they’ll appear soon enough. There are even several pieces by “ZZ Hill,” the legendary Texas boogie trio with not quite the prominence of ZZ Top, but certainly more elevated than ZZ Knoll.    

Finally, I’ll mention the Gallery of photos showing band members banging and blowing and otherwise abusing their instruments, and one where the guitar fights back, appearing to electrocute the unidentified axeman. There are 23 pictures in all, and I’ll leave you on your own to enjoy these if you like.    

All things considered, it’s an attractively designed website, not terribly full of worthwhile content and therefore reflective of its subject matter. There were some audio feeds that would’ve given me some idea of what the DWE sounded like, but of course these failed to work. Probably, not unlike the band itself.    

Experience the David Whiteman Experience