Monday, June 29, 2015

Rape-Kidnap Survivor Sings

Yes, the music world is divided on this week's debut single from Michelle Knight.

Most find it cringeworthy. But...a number of listeners who are now accustomed to vocoders, monotonous repetition, and simple melodies are showing tearful approval, especially since, as the lyric says, she's been through hell and back.

Even without the gruesome backstory, even if she was just a Kendall Jenner or Rowdy Ronda Rowsey, there would be people cheering, "Say, this reality star, this MMA fighter is not a bad singer! Woo hoo!"

Knight was the most troubled of the three girls who became imprisoned by Cleveland animal Ariel Castro. The grimy bus driver simply decided to harvest sex slaves from a group not likely to be missed. One reason that his reign of sexual tyranny continued for so many years is that cops seemed to assume that his victims were runaways who had become addicts or hookers. If they were buried in shallow graves it was their own fault. Few suspected they were being held captive, and none had any idea where to look for them.

When, by a fluke of luck, they were discovered and hustled away to safety, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus talked to reporters and seemed to have the best set of skills for reclaiming their lives and reuniting with friends or family. Knight was the first to be held captive, and spent years alone with her maniac tormentor. In 2002, only 21, she was lured to Castro's home. He told her he had a puppy for her. She didn't escape him until 2013. By then she had been beaten so often she went deaf in one ear and required constructive facial surgery. She also had five of Castro's punch-the-stomach abortions. Freedom was bitter for her; she had such a poor relationship with her own mother that she refused to see the woman. Instead, she was "adopted" by fellow victim De Jesus' family. It took a while before she was able to talk about her ordeal to reporters.

But all of that can be found elsewhere on the Net. As for the cowardly Castro, not long after he was jailed, and facing a lifetime without women to sexually torture, he hanged himself.

No, there's no reason to expect that there will be a singing career for Michelle Knight, but in a world that embraced obese Adele and Susan Boyle, and loves "reality stars," a great body or even talent can be trumped by a good story and fan empathy. The phrase "good for you" comes to mind. For a while, it seemed that Knight was the least likely to survive her traumas with any peace. Changes have come slowly, painfully, but they've come. The video she shot for "Survivor" doesn't have too many smiling images, but the triumph is that it was made at all.

"Good for you," Michelle Knight. And for those who actually like the singing, the melody or the production on this thing, well, good for you, too.

SURVIVOR Michelle Knight

JAMES TAYLOR - A Hypodermic Parody Tune

At 67, James Taylor just scored #1 on the Billboard charts for the first time since 1970. That was when he released his second album, "Sweet Baby James," propelled to the top by his sad, sensitive and heroic stoic ballad "Fire and Rain." That 70's disc even led to a cottage industry of Taylors (Livingston, Kate and Alex, all with new releases) and some powerful near-hits including "Mockingbird" with his then-wife Carly Simon.

All seriousness aside, when you consider that Carly (and Joni and Don McLean and Cat Stevens and just about every singer-songwriter from that era) can't get arrested, Taylor's "Before This World" is a triumph. It's a triumph I haven't heard, and don't care about. So what; Taylor in the 70's primarily appealed to women, and to a few guys who identified with cracking up, doing drugs, and conning women. That would explain peculiar tribute songs at the time such as "Keep Driving James" from Harriet Schock and "Oh James" by Andy Bown. As he aged, Taylor held onto his aging hippie-to-Yuppie fans, who were also glad to have escaped drug addiction for affluence, and to still have enough of their own teeth to have morning granola.

Back in the 70's the cockeyed and brooding singer with the soft voice seemed like he might kill himself. Gradually he emerged with a self-confident Anthony Perkins smirk, and today looks like he could stab somebody in a shower.

Look, no less a critic and artist than George Harrison once admitted, "I never cared for the Sweet Baby." He said it back in the 70's, perhaps still cringing about Taylor having been originally signed to Apple. Or he just found something creepy and formulaic about Taylor's "pity me" numbers, his predictable strumming, his very limited singing ability, and eventually his even more limited subject matter, which ended up including a cover of "Handy Man" and an ode to "branch water and tomato wine, creosote and turpentine, sour mash and new moon shine, Down on Copperline.").

Yes, here in Illvllle, we acknowledge a survivor, and James Taylor is that. He also turned in a beautifully sardonic turn as an egocentric, somewhat evil God in Randy Newman's "Faust." While sweet dreams and flying machines crashed along the way, and Carly was quite exasperated with the guy, he became that rarity, a living legend. His big hit on the new album is "Angels of Fenway," about his beloved Boston Red Sox. He'll be performing it at Fenway Park on August 6th, as part of his "You don't have to just wait around for Paul Simon or Jimmy Buffett to tour Tour."

Brother Alex is long gone. Kate never was much of a factor (although I play her stuff more than any of the other Taylors, and she did a nice job on her cover of "Harriet Tubman" as well as her light versions of Four Tops hits). Livingston? Oh, I did interview that guy and I found him pretty intimidating and intense at first, but we had some laughs.

Speaking of laughs, back when he was super-hot, James was given a different type of "tribute" via the National Lampoon "Lemmings" rock-parody show. The show was helmed by John Belushi, but the prime star was Christopher Guest, who co-wrote and performed skewering takes on both Bob Dylan and Mr. Taylor. Just how skewering did it get? Well, even in Illville, and even after all this time, one has to both laugh and shiver over the great line alluding to Taylor's hypodermic use and another hinting at lobotomy. It goes beyond the jabs at Taylor the sell-out and womanizer. Listen to the self-described "soulful, moody" Taylor bash called "Highway Toes"…

SKEWERING James Taylor

Squire Dies, but no, YES goes on, for All Good People incl. Vassar Devils

Bassist Chris Squire died (March 4, 1948 – June 27, 2015) but Yes will not cease and desist. When he was diagnosed with leukemia back in April, he gave his blessing to a summer tour without him.

"This will be the first time since the band formed in 1968 that Yes will have performed live without me,” he said.  “But the other guys and myself have agreed that Billy Sherwood will do an excellent job of covering my parts and the show as a whole will deliver the same Yes experience that our fans have come to expect over the years.”

That's why a quick check of the Yes itinerary showed a prominent picture of cadaverous Steve Howe, and a list of their tour dates in July with the equally infamous arena-rock group Toto.

A roundabout look at the history of Yes reveals that there have been many changes over the years, with Squire the leader who often decided who got tossed out and stayed tossed. For example, Jon Anderson had to leave the band in 2008, replaced by Benoit David. When Jon was ready to come back, Squire said "Not so fast." When David became ill in 2012, it was Jon Davison who became the new lead guitarist. Other names in and out of the Yes world include Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman.

Cynics would say that all the various changes didn't impact the group much, because fans of this type of progrock are a bunch of drugged out idiots who only want to stagger to their feet and shout "WOOOO."

By way of tribute to this enduring band, here's "All Good People" as covered without guitars, busy bass, or synths by the a cappela Vassar Devils. You have to admire those cunts. (Oh, both the Vassar Devils ladies and Yes, I suppose). The Devils managed to turn in a rendition without the fancy underpinnings Yes always supplied, and Yes managed to make a classic out of a song with lyrics that are pretentious even by progrock standards. This 1971 classic features music by Mr. Squire with the lyrics by Jon Anderson.

"I've seen all good people turn their heads each day so satisfied I'm on my way! I've seen all good people turn their heads each day so satisfied I'm on my way! I've seen all good people turn their heads each day so satisfied I'm on my way!" It just never gets old, does it? Or as Lugosi once said to Karloff in "The Raven," 1935, "You are saying something profound."

"Take a straight and stronger course to the corner of your life. Make the white queen run so fast she hasn't got time to make you a wife. 'Cause it's time is time in time with your time and its news is captured...for the queen to use...surround yourself with yourself….'Cause it's time is time in time with your time and its news is captured...for the queen to use! Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda…"

Yes, the music by Chris Squire launched millions of smiles and cheers, thousands of tabs of acid, and continues to help a variety of good people get through the day. As Tweeters love to Tweet: "RIP" and "He WILL be missed."

Here's "All Good People," from the appropriately named VASSAR DEVILS.

A Capella ALL GOOD PEOPLE…by those bad, bad VASSAR DEVILS

Friday, June 19, 2015

SIEMBAMBA - the South African Dead Baby Song


Yes, here and there, the blog's old links have withered. Some have been quietly replaced, but others, well, why leave it to chance that you'll ever find them?

Here's a re-up on "Siembamba," and this time, the live-in-concert version from the early 50's. The 50's was when a licensed professional brought recording equipment into a concert hall with permission, and the artists got paid.

"Siembamba" is sort of the South African version of "Rockabye Baby." We don't mind crooning to our kids about a baby hauled into a tree, and then falling to the ground when a limb breaks. Guaranteed, baby breaks a few limbs, too.

And so in South Africa, there was an equally charming old folk song called "Siembamba." The genteel, nearly forgotten husband and wife team of Marais and Miranda recorded it, along with such classics as "The Zulu Warrior" and "Marching to Pretoria." Today, folk singers are offering "Ducking from Pistorius," and "The Zulu Warrior signs with the Cleveland Cavaliers."

Goodwill ambassadors for South Africa during a naive age, fluent in songs involving both the conquering Dutch and the pissed off Africans, Marais and Miranda toured the world. They were sort of a European version of labelmates The Weavers, just two people short (or, two short people, as the album covers seem to suggest.) You can find most of their output fairly cheaply on eBay, or in one of the few record stores that is still in business.

South African Josef Marais (Nov 17 1905 - Apr 27 1978) and Amsterdam native Miranda (Rosa Lily Odette Baruch de la Pardo, Jan 9 1912 - Apr 20 1986) were kindly people. They used to sing a folk song about "Johnny with the Wooden Leg," but after the war, and mindful of injuries suffered by soldiers, they updated the lyric to "Johnny with the bandy leg." They dressed like classical concert artists, and almost never performed anything that could be considered tasteless. Almost never.

For any of you who are Dutch/South African, you'll recognize these lines:

Siembamba - mamma se kindjie. Siembamba - mamma se kindjie. Draai sy nek om gooi hom in die sloot. Trap op sy kop dan is hy dood.

"Die Sloot" doesn't have anything to do with wishing death on Joran Van Der Sloot, a walking promotion for abortion. Meanwhile, the download below includes the translation of the song and, especially for the early 50's, a slightly risque reference to what the politically correct now call "the B word."

With over-population a threat to kill us if global warming doesn't, here's...

The dead baby lullaby SIEMBAMBA.

THE LAST OF "HANSI" - JAMES LAST FINISHED Alice Cooper's Schools Out

Was he the Eurotrash version of Lawrence Welk? "Electric Light Orchestra" for guys in polyester underwear with outrageous sideburns, limp flat long hair and Gouda breath? Or "Blood Sweat and Abba" for guys in Gouda underwear, with polyester sideburns and limp dicks?

James Last (born Hans Last) preferred to call his zunshine music "happy party sounds." But the same could be said of belches and farts. But before more snarky comments can be made, "let's say something nice about Hans." OK: Billboard called him "the world's most commercially successful bandleader," for recording an astonishing 200 albums that sold — well, that's the most incredible part. They sold.

Even Billboard had to admit it was music familiar to "anyone who has spent time in a hotel lobby or elevator." Put it this way, he had enough money to NOT live in his native Germany, or in the God-forsaken flat, depressing Ass-country (Netherlands). He died in Florida, U.S.A., as far from the Europeans who adored him as he could possibly get.

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass pioneered a genial, buttery horn sound, and Al Hirt put out albums "Honey in the Horn" and "That Honey Horn Sound." Last's bunch merely turned every possible piece of music into musical mucus, coating the ears and mind with a soothing glaze. It went beyond Bacharach, Hefti, or Buddy Morrow, purveyors and often the composers of legit "pop." Last is to music what lobotomy is to the brain.

To be fair (!) Last was no cynical commercial pap-smearer, but Nurse Ratched medicating the depressed. James led his garish group of Mens Wearhouse dropouts as they dazzled eyes with the glint off their trombones, saxes and trumpets. Thus hypnotized, the pounding percussion and the smell of horn-breath did the rest, putting people at rest, if not completely comatose.

Last's cheesy-listening music remains hugely popular at blogs aimed at flaccid Dutchmen, Swedish meatball-heads and the Zippyshare Uber Alles group of Zinfarts. "More, James Last," comes the cry, "I don't have EVERY album yet on my 2TB drive! But I don't want to buy any of it! Ach, too bad he moved to Florida. To think our grandparents nearly won the war and could've taken over America!"

Ah, Mr. Last. Herb Aspirin and the Sominex Brass. Acker Bilge. Something oozing out of the The Boston Pimple Pops. Last made Percy Faith seem like Percy Sledge. Whatever it was, it was narcotic, and after an evening of stealing music, eating a lot of cheese, posting moronic shit in blog shout boxes, and checking forums for bukkake starring an Adele look-alike, a few hours of James Last's stuff was far less challenging than Tchaikovsky or five minutes jogging on a treadmill.

While Ray Conniff disappeared around the same time people realized "Love Story" was the worst piece of crap ever recorded, James Last continued on with his Eurovision of music that was actually better seen than heard. That's EuroVISION…you can turn the sound off and still get that vibe of happy people dancing even if it looks like their feet are nailed to the floor.

Year after year, Last's record label had to forage for more raw vinyl. They cannibalized naugahyde seat covers and "gummi" underwear from the grandchildren of Nazis, especially those hiding in Holland. Last kept making more albums, and his label sent people out to pry licorice gum off the bottom of bus stop benches and shovel coagulated dog shit found at boot sales. Last still wouldn't stop making new albums, "popping" the classics, softening up rock songs, and running every movie theme through his oiled brassworks. His band gimped disco hits, and even made "happy" music out of marches. Oh, they were the finest musicians ever to play cruise ships and thankful for the steadier, if more sea-sick work with James.

Maybe now it's time to "say something else nice about Hansi." He's not making any more albums. But, all seriousness aside, it isn't being condescending to say that the people who like this guy's music also consider Burger King, KFC and Applebees to be fine dining. Put fat and sugar on anything you cook, and pipe in easy-beat big-band music, and you are not likely to lose money. Who doesn't like a Domino's pizza if one has been starving for several days? And really, Last's version of "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" would give Arthur Fiedler an erection. And he died in 1979, before the great 80's plague of bad music would've put a cancer in his eardrum and blackened his brain.

To yet another nice thing about Hans's music, you could tap your cane to it. It was a good laxative, too. 60's folks moving from middle-age to Alzheimer's liked The Brass Ring. From the 70's on, James Last provided easy listening to tired businessmen unable to cope with anything else, and unsophisticated jellyfish needing something to wobble to. He gave totally uncool dimwits from Holland, beak-faced Swedes, ruddy neo-Nazis, belching Belgies and sticky-bunned Danish people the illusion that they were music lovers.

Lastly, one might point to Hansi's big band versions of rock songs as proof that he could make anything "HAPPY." Below, James and his gang boil up some aural goo on the kettle drum, and use their flatulent brass holes to blow the roof off the dump, dumping sweet treacle on Alice Cooper's venemous "School's Out." Think Alice wasn't happy about this? He cashed a royalty check.

James "Don't Call Me Hans, It's a Stupid Name" Last SCHOOL'S OUT!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

RONNIE GILBERT - The Female Weaver, Therapist and Phil Ochs fan

Ronnie Gilbert (September 7, 1926 – June 6, 2015) completed her autobiography but didn't live to see it in print. She's being remembered for many things…her work as an actress, her touring as "Mother Jones" in a one-woman show, her shows with Holly Near and others, and most certainly as one of The Weavers. As one of the few prominent women in the folk music world of the 50's, she no doubt influenced everyone from Mary Travers to Joan Baez. And for those who might wonder if they were a bit crazy for wanting to follow her into the uncertain world of the musician, well, she was a licensed psychologist!

Yes, the words "don't quit your day job" had a meaning even for someone who you'd think was making very good money off touring, and off royalties. But as Fred Hellerman (the other Jewish member of The Weavers, and now sole survivor) once said, "the airlines made the most money off the Weavers on tour." And hotels, and the managers and the owners of the venues. Hellerman also had outside work, and under various names, wrote songs and adapted old traditional songs into modern folk classics.

The Weavers, their name taken from a play by Gerhart Hauptmann, formed in 1949, in upstate New York. They kickstarted the renewed interest in folk music with several hits at the start of the 1950's, including "Goodnight Irene," and the improbable "Tzena Tzena Tzena," a Hebrew dance tune that not only could Gentiles Pete Seeger and Lee Hays sing correctly, but which had non-Jewish audiences joining in on the chorus. The foursome were hugely popular in concert until The Red Scare led to their blacklist.

They were fortunate to be able to mount a comeback in the late 50's, thanks to their manager Harold Levanthal taking a chance and booking them into Carnegie Hall. New York was a liberal town and the blacklist wasn't going to stop The Weavers there. At least, that's how it turned out. It also helped that the group really wasn't very political. They sang old songs, funny songs and sing-alongs. Ronnie recalled, “We sang songs of hope in that strange time after World War II, when already the world was preparing for Cold War.We still had the feeling that if we could sing loud enough and strong enough and hopefully enough, it would make a difference.”

Folk music shifted from old songs to passionate, topical new ones. The Kingston Trio dabbled in dark songs that mirrored current issues of lynchings and the death penalty ("Tom Dooley"), the Ivy League Trio offered the capital punishment "Ballad of Tim Evans" and Peter Paul & Mary would be the first to popularize Bob Dylan and "Blowin' In the Wind." Mary Travers knew The Weavers well; she'd been in the audience for their 1955 Carnegie Hall show.

Pete Seeger left the group in 1959, and Erik Darling and a few others tried to take his place. The Weavers toured for a while, and made a few more records, but gave up in 1964. Ronnie (born Ruth) had such talent that she could not only take the logical route of going solo, but she expanded into acting as well, having first appeared on Broadway in the 1958 production “The Man in the Glass Booth." After that she earned her M.A. in psychology. Probably her best critical acclaim came with her one-woman show as "Mother Jones," but music fans could sometimes get a surprise via a new album (usually with recording partner Holly Near) or some touring. She did some "HARP" concerts (first name of each singer) with Holly, Arlo Guthro, and Pete Seeger). The Weavers had a brief re-union for a documentary and a few concerts in November of 1980. It was just in time; Lee Hays, who had lost his legs to diabetes, died a year later, in August of 1981.

Ronnie Gilbert raised a few eyebrows when she married a woman in 2004. She had been married during The Weavers era, and had a daughter. Her frequent singing partner, Holly Near, has often been written up as a "Lesbian activist" as well as a performer. Adding to her credits, she transformed her "Mother Jones" show into a book, and here's my signed copy:

My favorite Ronnie Gilbert music is from her early solo days on Mercury. With The Weavers, she didn't solo much. Her voice was strongly identifiable in those harmonies, but the attention was usually on Seeger or Hellerman when they'd get up and do a talking blues or a folk humor piece like "The Frozen Logger." Solo, Ronnie recorded a wide range of songs, including several by Phil Ochs. Below is "The Power and the Glory," which contains that vivid caution: "Here is a land full of power and glory…(but…) she's only as rich as the poorest of the poor…"

Another line declares that America's "power shall rest on the strength of her freedom." It also rests on understanding what that word means. It doesn't mean hacking into someone's computer and posting private e-mails or documents and declaring this to be Assange-style "transparency." It doesn't mean posting some actress's nude photos copped off her cellphone, or copying entire discographies and every TV show ever made and making up lame excuses about "fair use"to toss it onto torrents. And it doesn't mean censoring somebody who said something you didn't like on Facebook, or threatening to expel somebody in a fan forum who politely shares a different point of view. It doesn't mean taping an awards show and clipping out a mild Caitlyn Jenner joke Clint Eastwood made because it "might" be offensive to some hyper-sensitive fruitcake. Or any of that crap. America's great includes a true understanding of what freedom really is.

Power and glory can't stop mortality, so here's a "so long, it's been good to know you" to the lady in the Weavers who helped popularize Woody Guthrie and so many others. Ronnie's work will continue to influence people who want to be enlightened.

"Here is a land full of power and glory…"

POWER AND THE GLORY Ronnie Gilbert

"The Patty Duke Show" theme - WITHOUT THE LYRICS

Here's a little tribute to the great Patty Duke, who has given us so much in both drama and comedy, and in her brave and important autobiography. She and her husband are going through one of those tough and anxious times: "Mike has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, surgery June 30. I know he will be ok, but many unknown factors..."

For many kids, Patty's role in "The Miracle Worker" was an inspiration. In telling the story of Helen Keller, there was also a message for all kids who felt alienated, who didn't understand what parents and teachers wanted, and who thought there was no hope that they could communicate or make something of themselves. And a few years later, she explored the schizoid world of teenagers by playing both "Patty" and "Cathy" in her sitcom; the party kid and the serious student. She was such a fine actress; she made "identical cousins" seem like two truly different people, just by her ability to reflect the different personalities of the girls, and shading one of the voices.

I know, that's getting awfully serious and analytical. But it's true. So is the fact that thanks to Patty's sitcom, every time I heard the "Maverick" theme song, I thought the line was "Natchez to New Orleans, livin' in Jackson, Queens." Patty's fictional home was in Brooklyn Heights, which probably wasn't much of a bus ride to Jackson Heights.

Which brings me to HER theme song, which was sung by the peculiar middle-aged Skip-Jacks, the group that contributed their weird sense of swing to Buddy Morrow's RCA album "Poe for Moderns," hepping up a few songs based on Edgar's stories and poems.

It was common, if not mandatory back in the 60's to have an exposition theme song that explained the premise of the show and who the lead characters were. Since we all know about the "crazy pair," and how a hot dog made Patty "lose control" STFU, Skip-Jacks...here's the theme WITHOUT the words!

This un-sung version is the work of the unsung composer-arranger Carl Brandt (August 15, 1914 — April 25, 1991).

Brandt may be best known as an arranger for Spike Jones (working on Spike's Warner Bros album "In Stereo,") and supplying incidental music for all the Dick Tracy cartoons, as well as some of the "Adventures of Mr. Magoo." He supplied the background music for a lot of TV shows from "The Alaskans" in 1959 to "Mod Squad" in 1968, with "I Spy," "The Andy Griffith Show," and "Gomer Pyle" in between.

This track comes from a 1964 compilation album of TV themes he produced for Warners, where he was on the staff, arranging material for a variety of projects and composing incidental music for TV shows. He was pretty flexible in his stylings, and while he started in the Big Band era working with the colorfully named orchestra leader Dick Jurgens, he continued working into the era of rock and funk, composing music for the soundtrack to the blaxploitation film "Cleopatra Jones" in 1973.

So thank you music lovers, Carl Brandt, and a special thank you and get well to Patty and her husband.

PATTY DUKE THEME WITHOUT WORDS Carl Brandt

Bruce Lundvall & his "Smooth" W.C. Fields "Dear Chester" single


Bruce Lundvall (September 13,1935-May 19, 2015) was saluted in obituaries for his long career in music, which included becoming the head of CBS Records, then Elektra's "Musician" label in 1982, and ultimately Blue Note where he revived the old jazz catalog and signed newcomer Norah Jones.

In Illville? He's "Smooth Lundvall." That was the name he used when he booked himself into a studio and recorded a fake W.C. Fields single.

At the time, he was an exec at Columbia (only a few years away from becoming CBS president). Ah, yes, nepotism. But forgive him. Instead of putting out entire albums simply because he could, he restricted his enthusiasm to "Dear Chester" b/w "Ode to Larson E. Whipsnade." Oh yes, and a cover of "Winchester Cathedral" b/w "I'm Gonna Spoil You Baby").

Adopting a W.C. Fields cadence, but sounding more like Rudy Vallee, Lundvall attempted to be part of the "Fields cash-in" that included new books, pop posters, and the arrival of "Uncle Bill" (imitating the Great Man in both TV commercials and on a novelty album). Aside from the "Smooth Lundvall" single, Bruce did a real service by having Columbia issue four albums of W.C. Fields radio shows, and it was very rare for a major label to bother with that kind of thing.

"Dear Chester" references "Chester Fields," a mythical son W.C. loved to mention on radio just to annoy his sponsor, the rival cigarette company Lucky Strike. Lundvall recites a script that goes from copping familiar Fields jokes into inventing lesser ones. A distracting piano offers some period flavor, and sort of echoes the musical choice Bill Fields (and his recording engineer Les Paul) used for "The Temperance Lecture," which he left a sanitarium in order to make. He died before it was released (along with "The Day I Drank A Glass of Water.")

Lundvall was once chairman of the RIAA, and also held high positions at other alphabet soup groups; Country Music Association (CMA) and National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). He received a presidential award (whatever that is) from NARM (whoever they are...the National Association of Record Merchants, whose job apparently is to wave farewell every time a record store closes.)

In his 70's, Bruce helped Blue Note continue to prosper, especially with Norah Jones' stuff selling millions. Cassandra Wilson, Al Green and Wynton Marsalis all had hits for the label. In a February 2009 article in the NY Times "Smooth" Bruce said "“I don’t want to sit around the house and mow the lawn. I don’t want to be a crossing guard for the Wyckoff, N.J., school system. I want to keep doing this.” Norah Jones declared, "I don't know where I would be in the world of music without Bruce as my friend and champion."

Don Was took over as Blue Note's CEO in 2010, as Lundvall's health took a turn for the nurse. Ahh, worse, unfortunately. Drat. The Fields imitator and music CEO was suffering from Parkinson's. Lundvall didn't completely retire; he ran some music festivals, and did so even at the assisted living home he was in. The festivals raised money for Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's research foundation.

Download "Dear Chester."


DEAR CHESTER No wait time, capcha codes, dopey Zinfart passwords or conjob demands to pay for a "premium account" so a cloud company can make the money the artist, writer and record label deserve.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Lights Go Out For…TWINKLE "The End of the World"

The girl with the annoying name Twinkle (July 15, 1948 – May 21, 2015), was actually Lynn Ripley, believe it or not. Back when Eng-a-lind swang, there was a girl named Twiggy, and another named Lulu, so being known by a one-and-only cutie-pie name was real gear.

Speaking of things gear, Twinkle had an instant hit with a song about a boyfriend who couldn't quite shift his gears. "Terry" was the name of the "teen tragedy" song, which fit in nicely with various hits before and after, including "Teen Angel," "Tell Laura I Love Her," and of course "Leader of the Pack."

Looking sweet 16, Twinkle was such a part of the silly pop scene that she dated Peter Noone (the adorable leader of Herman's Hermits) for a while. When she became typed for sad ballads, she was handed "The End of the World," which ironically Mr. Noone also took a swing at.

"The End of the World" via Twinkle is what you'd expect. Coming from the Priscilla Paris school of pouting (from which Claudine Longet would soon graduate), The Twink specialized in baby-like emoting. Her version lacks the full body and woeful angst of the older Skeeter Davis version, and isn't exactly competition to various tearful chicks up to and including Nina Gordon. Still, it effectively captures the pink blues of girls who drew hearts on the covers of their notebooks, and dotted their i's with a little circle. Teens who identified with her were seriously believed the world ended if some guy let some other girl pop his pimples. Their level of maturity didn't improve much with or without virginity, maybe only to the level of "do I switch now from junior to super absorbent?"

After "The End of the World" there wasn't much left. With barely enough collected singles to fill one album, Twinkle was history by the age of 18. It didn't mean she stopped trying. She recorded a single here and there, including "Micky," about her boyfriend Micky "Micky" Hannah. Five years later, Micky died in an airplane crash. No, the disc jockeys in England didn't rush to play "Micky." Besides, our sweet Twinkie was married to someone else (to an actor/model whose biggest deal was having the lead in a British candy commercial).

In 1975, "Bill and Coo" (Twinkle and her father) released a single, "Smoochie," and that kissed her career goodbye. She was still beloved and remembered for her iconic singles, most especially the morbid ones. "Terry" has been anthologized on several "Teen Horror" compilations but here below, as we all get closer to it, is…

THE END OF THE WORLD Twinkle

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR, not, for STAN CORNYN or ERWIN DRAKE

Frank Sinatra was to a song what the Mafia was to a storekeeper. The boss. Take "It Was a Very Good Year." He OWNED it. Unlike the Mafia, he didn't need a constant "enforcer" to remind anyone. Everyone who covered the song only confirmed: "That's Frank's song. Why give tribute to anyone else?" Certainly not Lonnie Donnegan.

Lonnie's version is below, mostly because it has the novelty of being BEFORE Frank's. And because this blog doesn't mess with giving Sinatra away! Donegan was a peculiar Brit who liked to steal American music and call the theft "skiffle." Lonnie heard the original Kingston Trio version and figured maybe it would be better as a solo ballad. Close, Mr. D. But the song only became a classic when, two years later, Sinatra took over.

The song's immortal, but not Stan Cornyn, the Warners exec who wrote the award-winning liner notes for Sinatra's album, or Ervin Drake, who wrote the song. Both died this year.

Cornyn, eventually a Senior Vice President for Warner Bros., wrote the liner notes for "September of my Years" in 1965, and the following "Sinatra at the Sands," which featured some of his best prose:

“Sinatra turns to the audience and tells them he’s going to sing a saloon song. And silently you can almost hear the perfumed ladies think “Yeah” and the close-shaved, shiny-cheeked men think “Yeah” and the waiters stop in doorways and think “Yeah.” And with just piano behind him, Sinatra turns actor. The man whose broad’s left him with some other guy and all of the loot…And there is silence all about, for this audience is watching a man become that last lucked-out guy at the bar, the last one, with nowhere to go but sympathy city.”

Nice, huh? It's the kind of thing to make you wanna grow up and write album notes. Which I did, but this was the CD era, and booklet sizes were shrinking, and I was usually limited to 250 to 500 words. And I wasn't on the staff, making bucks with other types of writing. Back in the day, Stan Cornyn was. A fan of ALL types of music, he even wrote ad copy pushing Randy Newman's first efforts. He wryly wrote: "Once you get used to it, his voice is really something." That was the era when Warner Bros. had "loss leader" albums and was open to all kinds of quirky people, from Van Dyke Parks to Ron Nagle to the team of Judy Henske & Jerry Yester.

Stan was also known to sneak gags into the "Circular," the promo publication sent out to record stores and radio disc jockeys each week. One time he padded the legit commercials for Warners artists with this fake classified ad: “QUALIFIED GIRLS: Major record company now interviewing girls to be used in a series of paternity suits to bring fame to some of our less fortunate artists. Send scatological resume of past experience to Box 5949, Columbus, Ohio.”

Cornyn (July 8, 1933-May 11th 2015) provides an insider look at the music biz via his 2002 book, "Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group."

The croak of Ervin Drake somehow escaped my morbid gaze. While Stan passed on about a week ago, Ervin was erased on January 15th of 2015, at the age of 95. He had bladder cancer, and hopefully was enjoying praise, tributes and decent health till the end came.

Happily, he wrote the Warner Bros. hit that Sinatra liked. The other one was "Strangers in the Night." The author of that tune happened to run into the legendary "affable" Old Blue Eyes, and introduced himself. "I wrote 'Strangers in the Night.'" Frank glowered, turned his back and walked away. It could've been worse.

Back to Ervin Drake, who was born Ervin Maurice Druckman in Manhattan on April 3, 1919. Despite the notion that "Jews run show biz," he knew the truth. A song with "Druckman" on the sheet music would be tossed in the trash. "I Believe" (a huge hit for Frankie Laine) would've been considered some fucking "Old Testament" piece of drivel. Instead, it was praised as All-American drivel: "I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows…I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come to show the way…"

"Good Morning Heartache" (which Billie Holiday turned into a jazz classic) would've likewise been considered schmaltz to be sung only by Al Jolson or Georgie Jessel. And "It Was a Very Good Year?" If you knew a JEW wrote it, you'd think it was sappy drek, and phony, too. A Jew going on dates with "blue blooded girls of independent means?" NO WAY, oy vey!

PS, you don't give a Jew the assignment of writing English lyrics to Latino numbers such as "Tico Tico" and "Quando Quando Quando." And so it was, that Drake got assignments that might not have come his way if his heritage was known. And that goes for his brother Milton Drake, whose big contribution to popular music was supplying the inane lyrics to "Mairzy Doats," one of the most popular Big Band novelty songs of that awful era.

Cornyn and Drake are dead. Well, 2015 has been a pretty shitty year for plenty of other reasons, too. But, oh nostalgia, there WERE some very good years. If you're old enough to have a very bad memory.

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR Lonnie Donegan

Ode to David Letterman - ADAM SANDLER

And so, ater 33 years of late night shows, David Letterman retires. As with his idol Johnny Carson, Dave leaves behind a legacy. For many, it's the end of a lifestyle. Many people shrugged about growing old with Johnny and that there wasn't a comfortable talk show anymore. They had to find something else to do at 11:30. Now, quite a few are feeling the same way...that the Jimmies (Fallon and Kimmel) are not a good alternative. Times and tastes have changed. Or in a phrase the late Robin Williams popularized, "Reality, what a concept." Rarely do things improve and the old give way to something better. One simply adapts to the loss and moves on.

Letterman's 33 years have included way too many highlights and important achievements to discuss here. Since this is a music blog, I could confine the comments to the singers and musicians who were such a part of the show. Even that would take too much space. All you have to do is go to Dave's website, or YouTube and you'll find many highlights. It should be mentioned, though, that Dave had pretty good taste, and gave valuable exposure to less-than-commmercial artists, ranging from Warren Zevon to Allison Moorer.

Aside from guests (special mention to Darlene Love's annual Christmas song) there was Paul Shafer's ritual impression of Cher singing "O Holy Night," Paul's assortment of "stings" and kooky music introductions, Dave's own occasional weird forays into singing ("Midnight…and the kitties are sleeping…") and that familiar yet un-hummable theme song. How about all the people who never listened to Miles Davis...but DID, because "Milestones" became Biff Henderson's "walk-on theme"?

I had limited interactions with Dave and the show. I did talk to him at a party once, and I was behind the scenes in the green room several times. I chaperoned friends who were actually on the show, and came to the show as a convenient meeting place for performers doing the show. I might do a quick photo shoot before or after they went on Dave's show, or even an interview. When I was with one of the top photo agencies, I was glad to get one of my photos of Dave into a national news weekly. Nice credit, nice paycheck. And I was at a few pretty historic telecasts, both at NBC, CBS and Radio City Music Hall. As the song goes, "they can't take that away from me."

In the last weeks, several stars gave Dave a special musical salute, including Martin Short and Nathan Lane. Both worked so hard over the years on song parodies that would be something special for their friend and host. One of the last, and certainly the most peculiar, came from Adam Sandler. Nervous, and singing low, not quite sure if every line was going to get the much-needed laugh from Dave himself, Sandler gained confidence and finished strong with lines that mixed tribute with tweaks. It was…not too shabby.

Adam Sandler David Letterman

Saturday, May 09, 2015

ILL-USTRATED SONGS #32: Purple People Eater by BARRY CRYER

SAPRISTI!

He could've performed this under a pseudonym. Like Ben Worse.

But it couldn't have Ben Worse.

Below, landing with a thud, the space creature called "The Purple People Eater," as covered by Barry Cryer.

Obviously done very quickly to cash in on American vocalist Sheb Wooley's novelty original, Barry's cover misses a few notes by a mile...like Jamie Foxx doing "The National Anthem" last week at the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.

There are a few interesting things about this oddity. First, it opens with sci-fi noises copped from the Mercury vault (and used on everything from "Martian Hop" to Boris Karloff's "Tales of the Frightened"). Second, they did take the time to throw in speeded up vocals for the Purple People Eater (some cover versions tried to get away with a kid's voice or just a weird voice). And last, and least, Cryer is clearly aping an American accent. Accent on the ape. Like I said, it could've Ben Worse.

Sheb Wooley (first name was Shelby) actually had another recording identity with a similarly awful pseudonym. Aside from his own novelty hits and C&W numbers, he recorded as Ben Colder. This was a gag name that came about when he recorded "Don't Go Near the Eskimos," a parody of Rex Allen's "Don't Go Near the Indians."

I hate people who grin and tell you to enjoy something because "it's so bad it's good." That's not the case with this thing! Rather, quoting a W.C. Fields line, "I won't say I like it, and I won't say I don't like it. Let me put it this way: I don't mind it." It's certainly an example of what quickie cover version recordings were like way back when...which is still a lot better than the shit that idiots throw on YouTube to try and (fail) to get a few hundred listeners.

BARRY CRYER A version of PURPLE PEOPLE EATER that could make you cry

KATE AND PRINCE WILLIAM, PLEASE, "DO IT NO MORE"

For the past week, the irritating combo of Kanye and Kim had to step aside while the world gasped at something almost as irrelevant: the new baby for Kate Middleton the Topless and Prince William the Bald. As Groucho used to say, "You seem like a nice couple…" but, you bet your life, who the hell wants to read about them, or give a crap about their diaper-fouling spawn?

Toothless and ignorant Brits actually pranced around with gleeful banners "IT'S A PRINCESS!" referring to a toothless and ignorant baby. Were you idiot commoners expecting a frog? You commoners are stupid enough to think fairy tales come true? Well, yes, they do, but only for The Royals, not for YOU LOT! What's your vicarious delight in how "classier than you by birth" Royals prance and ponce around the world, and periodically procreate?

Poor people buying up souvenirs of ROYAL events? It only encourages the ROYALS to believe that average people are absolute fools, not worthy of any respect.

Cheering Brat #2? This spawn is so far down the line she'll never be Queen. By the time she's fully grown, it might be "off with her head," for not being Muslim, the likely majority.

The way things are going in formerly Great Britain, the Queen in 40 years could be a gay man (son of Elton and David), or more likely, it'll be a Muslim, and in that case, a King. (Arabs don't think women should do much besides stay covered in cloth and pretend to enjoy sex without the clitoris that was circumcised off). In 2055 you might see King Gazzoleen, the former Duke of Oil, on the throne. He'll be shouting to the white peasants, "Let them eat hummus." Looking for Cameron? He will have been smashed to bits and given an anonymous burial under a gas station parking lot. Nick Clegg, doddering only a bit more than he is now, will be one of the midwives helping in the birthing of Muslim babies. That's all members of the "Labour Party" will be allowed to do.

Speaking of labour, after the hoopla over the birth of this useless dollop, sister to useless dollop #1, I wondered how many were secretly singing, "Do It No More." Just switch the song about Prince Albert and Queen Victoria to the new names, Prince William and Kate.

"Do it No More," popular in the 1840's, was a wry, ribald and daring song for the day. It seems that SOME people weren't too thrilled about tax money going to the ever-expanding family of "Royals," and who knows, maybe Queen Victoria's vagina was getting tired of it, too. Hence, a song with the Queen supposedly declaring a cease and desist with the royal dick.

"John Bull," in the song, refers to the press. A reporter has heard Queen Victoria say, or sing: "The state is bewildering about little children, and we are increasing, you know we have four. We kindly do treat them and seldom to beat them, so Albert dear Albert we'll do it no more."

Albert isn't pleased with the idea: "Do not persuade me or try to degrade me all pleasure and pastime to freely give over…" Well, listen for yourself, it won't won't hurt.

It especially won't hurt because the singer is the artist Derek Lamb, who chose to record British Music Hall in an intimate way, without the usual Stanley Holloway-type bombast.

As originally published in song books of the day, "Do It No More" (aka "England Forever/Do It No More") went on longer than a Thomas Hood ballad, but it's considerably truncated in this Lambinated version

DEREK LAMB Do It No More - British Music Hall update version Download or listen on line.

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Barry Cryer: "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" sung to "Girl from Ipanema"

Imagine singing the lyrics of one famous song…to the music of another.

That's one of the familiar stunts on the long running (since 1972) radio series "Sorry, I Haven't a Clue," which bills itself as "the antidote to panel games."

Below, it's Ian Dury's "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" mated to Astrud Gilberto's "Girl from Ipanema." And the singer…legendary British comedian Barry Cryer.

Don't worry, it'll all be over in just one minute. This is not a 45 rpm, but a radio moment digitized especially for the blog and your entertainment. Or confusion.

The show's stunts, musical friskiness, wordplay and mockery of popular book and film titles are all scripted in advance, of course, for each six-episode season. The segment where the stars sing lyrics over totally different music has been such a popular category, the studio audience greets the start with a half-hearted cry of "Yaayyyy." That cry is repeated for other gruesome comic tricks. These include accompanying a song with a kazoo and a slide whistle, or the "game" of singing to a track, then lowering the sound and seeing, 20 or 30 seconds later, if the karaoke singer will still be matched to the music when the sound is brought back up. Are we having fun yet? That's why samples of those two bits aren't included here.

Cryer, as you can guess from the photo, is one of the veterans, along with Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden. They were involved in the earlier radio series "I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again."

For some anti-Nazi fun, the show's theme song is "The Schickel Shamble," which starts with the familiarly ominous "Deutschland Uber Alles" chords before degenerating into a nauseating oom-pah band piece. Requests for it will be ignored. Because I don't have it.

PS, apparently "Deutschland Uber Alles" is nearly-banned in Germany. At least, it would be very unlikely that you'd hear those infamous Nazi-linked opening 8 notes should a German win an Olympic event or enter the ring or a boxing match. The "German National Anthem" these days, so I was told, borrows from the obscure third verse. Which I guess would be like, if Americans had lost the war, "Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light" being eliminated. Or something like that. But I digress…

So, HIT ME…

Hit Me To the Tune of Girl from Ipanema Barry Cryer

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TEAKWOOD NOCTURNE - TV's great classical mini-concerto

"Teakwood Nocturne" has probably been used by Universal Studios in dozens of its TV shows and movies. Its name comes from a 1961 episode of Boris Karloff's "Thriller." Called "Terror in Teakwood," it stars the supernaturally beautiful Hazel Court along with bonily handsome Guy Rolfe, who often played bizarre leading men who ended up destroyed by their own insanity. He's a crazed classical pianist in this one, and rather than abusing a funeral sonata from Chopin or Beethoven, or a darker shade of Bach, the producers went with something original.

The piece was composed by Caesar Giovannini, who was born in Chicago in 1925. The classically-trained American was originally hired by NBC to play piano for various projects and shows. In the late 50's and into the 60's he moved on to vinylly challenge Mantovani, Melachrino, Kostelanetz and other easy-listening pianists/orchestra leaders.

He recorded, with or without his "Velvet Orchestra," for small "stereo demonstration" labels along with Bally and Mercury. His reel-to-reel tapes and vinyl albums include "Caesar Plays Concert Stereo," "Brilliant Sounds of Pianos and Percussion," "The World of Strings,""Silk Satin and Strings," "Viola Paris" and "Los Dedos Magicos de Caesar Giovannini." The latter features the typical tunes middle aged people wanted to hear, including "Stairway to the Stars," "Beyond the Sea," "Stranger on the Shore" and "The Sweetest Sounds." But not his nocturne, which did get a cover version from probably the best known pop pianist of the era, Roger Williams. There's some collector value in Caesar's stash due to the good sonic quality of the vintage stereo recordings and/or the cheesy nature of the album covers.

As a behind-the-scenes pianist, Giovannini continued to find a lot of work including playing on the soundtracks for "Soylent Green," "Beneath the Planet of the Apes," "Wait Until Dark," "Pressure Point" and many more.

Although there are votes for "Alla Barocco," Caesar's most enduring original remains "Teakwood Nocturne," which, is below in the version from Stanley Wilson and his Orchestra. A Jewish conductor and arranger who died of a heart attack at 52, Wilson worked on a variety of TV shows during the 60's, including"The Virginian," "87th Precinct," "Johnny Staccato," "Checkmate," "Ripcord," "Broken Arrow," "Tales of Wells Fargo," "The Millionaire" and "Wagon Train."

Wilson, ironically enough, worked on both Karloff's "Thriller," and then "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." He was the one who adapted Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette" for use as Alfred's theme music. Let's pretend Stanley or Caesar is playing the piano on this track…using the severed hands of a dead man...echoing the Orlac-plot of that infamous episode of "Thriller."

. Stanley Wilson & Orchestra Teakwood Nocturne

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

SID TEPPER - Another of those Jews For Elvis

Who wrote more songs for Elvis Presley than anyone else? No, not Leiber and Stoller of "Hound Dog" fame. It was the team of Tepper and Bennett. They were probably the most obscure of the Jewish songwriting teams that shaped rock and roll in the late 50's and early 60's. That list includes: Mann and Weill. Goffin and King. Bacharach and David. Leiber and Stoller. Pomus and Shuman. Greenwich and Barry.

No, we will not see the likes of Sid Tepper (who died a few days ago, age 96) again. A main reason is that lyrics can be computer generated (and who listens to lyrics anyway). Music can be auto-tuned, pitch-corrected, and programmed. Any bunch of moronic rap assholes can "produce" a new album for Madonna to package. The music industry has, of course, changed to the point where there are almost no professional songwriters who have the skills to make hit songs that people would instantly memorize and sing to on the radio.

Back to Sid. It's ironic, that the kids who flipped their lids for Elvis had no idea so many of his songs were written by Yids. Yes, the same tribe that had the shit beaten out of them in schoolyards for not being cool or rockers, were giving the world most of the hippest songs on the radio…most of 'em sung by Southerners like Elvis, or black groups including The Coasters and The Drifters.

Tepper-Bennett adapted to rock and roll and rock (Elvis songs and the rockin' "Glad All Over") but started working together in 1945. They began at a songwriting mill appropriately named Mills Music. Sid had written specialty material for Special Services while in the Army. Now, with his childhood pal Roy Bennett, they learned how to write fast, often, and commercially. I always checked the songwriting credits on the 45's I bought, but didn't buy Elvis. I first noticed Tepper-Bennett on "Just a Simple Melody" by Patti Page. No doubt I got that one rounding out a "10 for a Dollar" pile from Woolworth's bargain bin. At the time, she and Tony Bennett were on Columbia. He had a pop hit with "I Wanna Be Around," and I think Patti probably hit the Top 40 at least, with this easy-aching double-tracked tune, which included sentimental backing from a tacky-keyed piano.

As you'd expect from guys knocking out songs and hoping for the best, the Tepper-Bennett catalog has some pretty strange novelty titles that didn't quite get a singer bringing 'em to #1: "Bagel and Lox," "Bonnie Lassie," "Best Dressed Cowboy," "Cane and a High Starched Collar," "Cha Cha Charlie," "Chicken Picken Hawk," "Christmas Child Loo Loo Loo," "Counterfeit Kisses," "Dreamy Dolls of Dusseldorf," "Egbert the Easter Egg," "Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce," "Gabby the Gobbler," "Googie Woogie," "Hey Mabel," "I Can't Whistle," "I Danced With My Darling," "I Like Christmas," "I'm Not Ashamed," "I've Got a Crush on New York," "I was a Teenage Monster," "In Italy," "Itty Bitty Polka," "Jenny Kissed Me," "Kewpie Doll," "Law is Comin' Fer Ya Paw," "Love is a Serious Business," "Mama Do the Twist," "Mary Smith," "One Blade of Grass," "Rock Around Mother Goose," "Say Something Sweet," "Son of Robin Hood," "Song of the Shrimp," "Ten Little Bluebirds," "Thanks Mister Florist," "There Are Two I's In Dixie," "Twenty Tiny Fingers," "Water Faucet," "Wheels on My Heels" and "Wish I Wuz a Whisker."

Their first big hit was back in 1948. It was the adorable, sentimental "Red Roses for a Blue Lady." The lyric was actually inspired by Sid giving flowers to his wife after they had a tiff. By way of tribute, this is the song you get below…but in the fractured Homer and Jethro version. Why? Well, this is a perverse blog, but you can get the Elvis stuff anywhere, as well as "The Young Ones" by Cliff Richard. As for "Glad All Over" the Dave Clark hit, we mustn't interfere with that charming man by pirating something he (and nobody else in the band) can make a few extra pennies on. And the straight version of "Red Roses" is easy to find on YouTube.

I hope Sid liked H&J's parody as much as I do. The original is still charming, but Homer & Jethro add wonderfully insulting remarks: "she's like a rose to me. They smell and so does she." It also has a wonderfully stupid punchline. (Speaking of stupid, yes, Tepper-Bennett wrote "I'm Getting Nuttin' For Christmas").

By the late 50's, Tepper-Bennett were more than willing to keep up with changes in the music world. Like Nudie the tailor learning to make flashy gold suits for Elvis, Tepper-Bennett tailored songs for Elvis movies, including "G.I. Blues" and "Viva Las Vegas." They ended up writing about 52 songs for Elvis…and 21 songs were cut by England's Elvis, that fellow named Cliff Richard. BMG even issued a CD package of Elvis singing Tepper-Bennett.

Back in the 60's, songwriting was not just a business, but a very stressful one. The best guys had to work on deadline, and on the whim of the star. Jimmy Van Heusen recalled the times he was expected to instantly come up with something for Sinatra. Sid had the same experience with Presley, or with Presley's film director, suddenly saying, "Hey, we decided to end a scene with Ann-Margret pushing Elvis into the swimming pool. Re-write the song so the last line can lead her to do it!"

Tepper-Bennett songs were covered by Sinatra. Sid recalled, "My favorite singer was Frank Sinatra, but he wasn't nearly as multifaceted as Elvis. We'd send him the demo and he'd listen to it twice and be ready to go like he'd sung it his whole life." Yes, there were great rewards, financial and artistic, in hearing Elvis and others perform his work, but the business was a business, and it eventually got the best of him.

The pressures on the Brooklyn-born lyricist led to a heart attack and eventually retirement in the early 70's. Although songwriters are rarely well known to the general public, Tepper was a big shot in Florida. In his retirement, he was pointed out to most anyone in his small town of Surfside, and when he hit 90, the citizens (as well as his many children) threw a party for him, and even Lisa Marie Presley turned up for "Sid Tepper Day."

Sid had his family and friends, and also fans…people did send him letters to thank him for songs that meant a lot in their lives, were played at weddings, etc., and he liked hearing about how much his songs were loved. “One thing I’ve learned is you can’t leave love in your will," he said, "you have to give it while you’re living."

Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett's RED ROSES FOR A BLUE LADY via Homer and Jethro

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"PETER GUNN" Obscure Lyrics to Famous Instrumentals

"But...I want to sing along..."

If a song has a catchy melody, SOMEBODY is going to insist on putting words to it. The question is how stupid are the lyrics going to be?

A while ago, the Don Ho version of "Hawaii Five-0" was presented here. And now, an even more criminal act: lyrics to Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn."

Henry Mancini seemed to specialize in melodies so artful, most any lyrics would seem clumsy. A few themes managed to escape without rotten words ("Experiment in Terror," "Pink Panther," "Hatari,") but too many were seriously wounded by Johnny Mercer or by the team of Livingston and Evans. "Days of Wine and Roses" was lame. The waltz theme for the thriller "Charade" get awful lyrics of lost love among stage actors. Mercer imagines:

"Fate seemed to pull the strings. I turned and you were gone. While from the darkened wings the music box played on. Sad little serenade, song of my heart's composing: I hear it still, I always will. Best on the bill. Charade!"

Worse, of course, was the huge hit "Moon River." Mercer called a body of water a "huckleberry friend." Anyone care? Of course not. People don't pay too much attention to lyrics, they just want to hear a voice.

Enter classy Sarah Vaughan, a jazz singer capable of doing the best she can with flaming lyrics that light a torch and burn through one of the best instrumentals ever heard on TV. It should forever STAY an instrumental. But out of morbid curiosity...

"Every night your line is busy. All that buzzin' makes me dizzy. Couldn't count on all my fingers all the dates you had with swingers. Bye bye. Bye baby! I'm gonna give you goodbye and go right through that doorway. So long! I'm leaving! This is the last time we'll meet on the street going your way..."

Well, it could've been worse, some stuff about a Peter being a gun...

Sing more of Livingston & Evans' words, Sarah:

"Don't look surprised, you know you've buttered your bread.

So now it's fair, you should stare at the back of my head."

Peter Gunn

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DON'T FUTZ AROUND! (Laugh-In stars Ruth Buzzi and Arte Johnson)

DON'T FUTZ AROUND!

Are these words to live by?

Not really. What would you be doing right now that beats downloading an obscure, annoying novelty 45? Would you instead, get on a plane and go fight Procol Harum in Nigeria? You could get killed that way.

No, the hapless fact of life is that eventually it ends, and whether you futzed around or devoted yourself to "meaningful" activities, within a generation (if not sooner) your years on the planet will be completely forgotten. A few hundred people are famous a hundred years after they've died, and what good does it do them?

It's sobering to think of how many billions of people on the planet have no idea who Arte Johnson and Ruth Buzzi are. Did they futz around? No, they went into a studio to record "Don't Futz Around!" Not only that, they thought some disk jockeys would play their over-the-top opera-voiced novelty. The flip side was "Very Interesting," keyed to Arte's German soldier catch-phrase. Jackie Kannon also issued a single called "Very Interesting," appropriating Arte's pronunciation and spouting it between instrumental segments. Which is a digression, but could also be considered futzoid.

Ruth Buzzi is 78. Her career credits have shown that she didn't futz around. Or if she did, she was well paid. And almost 40 years after "Laugh-In," she re-united with Arte Johnson for cartoon voices on "Baggy Pants and the Nitwits." Whether you had the time to futz around watching that show or not, is not the question. Neither is whether it's worth watching now.

Not that you can't ask a question in the comments section. But what's the point? Don't futz around!

Arte Johnson is now 86. Actually, he's been 86 since last January. You might think he just futzed around after "Laugh-In," but you'd be forgetting his memorable turn as Renfield in George Hamilton's vampire comedy "Love at First Bite." He managed to out-live his "funny little guy" persona and turn up on daytime soap operas, and seriously record over 80 audio books.

It's somewhat interesting to note (that's what I'm doing at the moment, although it could be futzing around) that nobody in the cast of "Laugh-In" had any great success with 45's. This includes "Sock It To Me Time" from Judy Carne. Lily Tomlin's spoken word comedy albums (using "Laugh-In" characters) did well, but she knew better than to bring musicians into a studio and...futz around.

Is it scholarly to look into the origin of "futz around?" Or is that just futzing around? What's legitimate curiosity and just wasting time? As long as you're still here, let's go with the former. Except, nobody really seems to know the answer. They're just futzing around. Speculation, of course, is that the word is just a German-Jewish variation on "fuck." In act, fuck around with your putz, and you've got "futz."

The other possibility is that "futz" fits as a German-Jewish pronunciation of "farts." Farting around on time-wasting shit is like futzing around.

(Parenthetically, the "Laugh-In" crowd had to be influenced by Steve Allen, who notoriously took "schmuck" and offered a bird-like cry of "smock, smock" getting past the censors. Johnny Carson used to joke about the Fackawi Indians (which was the punchline to the dialect joke, "Where the Fackawi?") The show "F-Troop" resurrected the gag and tamely created the Hekawi Indians). But why go on? It's time to REALLY futz around with your download below. Or not.

DON'T FUTZ AROUND Ruth Buzzi and Arte Johnson

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Songs Cynthia Lennon Sang

You know Cynthia Lennon, who passed on last week at 75. Her son is famous, and here's a happy marriage photo with her husband.

Well, it didn't end in divorce, now, did it? No, it didn't. It ended the way marriages are supposed to end.

Most Beatle fans at least own a copy of "A Twist of Lennon" (a reference to two of Cyn's other hubbies). Just why the slightly limp-wristed group The Sinceros bothered to name-check it with anemic venom, I have no idea. It wasn't a bad book, or much of a cash-in. It was just her story if you wanted it. A blonde marries, too young, because of child on the way, and it didn't last. So far it might make for the McCartney soundtrack to a mediocre working class movie. Only, Cynthia was in the family way with John Lennon, so his subsequent treks around the world, and his discovery of Yoko Ono after he'd been with dozens of groupies...well, it didn't make "A Twist of Lennon" (or her subsequent tomes) too successful, did they?

Aside from feuding with Yoko a bit and getting married a few more times, she was out of the spotlight.

This included 1995, when she was persuaded to issue a single, which quickly disappeared the way of Fred Lennon's single. And most of Julian's, come to think of it. And all of Sean's.

By all accounts, Cyn was a nice lady, and late in life she even reconciled, at least for a public photograph, with the dreaded Yoko.

Anyone who has some first hand experience with Cynthia is welcome to comment below. What survives, besides the books and photos, is the curiosity of a few songs Cynthia Lennon sang.

The three examples of her recorded work reflect three fairly different directions her musical career could've gone.

"Those Were The Days" is an unfortunate if obvious choice. Recorded in 1995, out of nowhere (somebody apparently asked and she agreed), it doesn't erase the memory of Mary Hopkin's icky schoolgirl version. Cyn doesn't quite give the producer what he probably wanted, which was some kind of pathos-ridden mope about the past. Marianne Faithful she isn't, and the tempo really doesn't let Cynthia do much besides gallop by the mythical tavern (er, "Cavern") and shrug that life goes on.

Not an actress (neither a Marianne nor an Honor Blackman), Cyn ends up with a fairly enigmatic reading of her ex-husband's "In My Life." At times she sounds like she's under contractual obligation, but towards the end, when she actually sings the final chorus or two, she seems to have more than come to terms with her place in rock history, and in John's past. No, she doesn't read it badly, but it's an uncomfortable idea, for a lot of reasons.

Which is why ultimately the best direction Cynthia could've chosen was to leave the more overt, obvious Beatlemania stuff alone, and do something that simply reflected her current artistic mood. "Walking in the Rain" isn't bad at all, a distant cousin to Yoko's "Walking on Thin Ice." Who knows, with more of a poofter butt-thump beat, she could've joined Yoko on the disco charts.

Imagine...Cynthia being another Yoko, and instead of a few singles, literally dozens of expensive albums you need "for the collection." Now you're appreciating Cynthia on a whole different level, aren't you. "Thanks, Cyn, for not being Yoko...Ringo...Sean..." Go ahead, add those Paul albums you never play, and "Wonderwall" and probably John's rock and roll album and the Black Dyke Mills Band and...and...

One thing about the mp3 era is that you don't have to embarrass yourself by having shelves loaded up with Beatles-related music that points out how deeply into Pepperland you still are. A lot of fans aren't sure whether to feel proud or pathetic owning Fred Lennon's single, or all the albums by Beatles cash-in groups (with Liverpool or insect names). How about the stacks of 45's including stuff like "My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut?"

After a while, as Ringo began knocking out all those albums and singles (whoops, there's a new one just come out)...it was really beginning to be a case of "I'm spending a lot of money on stuff that I never listen to...JUST because it's Beatles related."

Now, you can own the stuff, and proudly point to that 2TB drive "FULL of BEATLES AUDIO MEMORABILIA" and it doesn't take up much space. To which, you now have three additions, via married-a-Beatle Cyn.

To quote a more obscure Beatles song, "It's All too Much." Sean stuff. Julian stuff. Even John and Yoko stuff (how ofte have you flashed the nude "Two Virgins" cover out of "pride of ownership" or some more nefarious reason?) "It's All Too Much."

In a way, Cynthia Lennon's left us wanting more. These three will probably have you listening more than a few times, and reflecting on that special era. Imagine there's a heaven...and she's there with the husband of her choice now. Or, imagine there's one hell of a heaven...and she's there with more than just one of 'em.

Cynthia Lennon Walking in the Rain

Cynthia Lennon In My Life

Cynthia Lennon Those Were the Days

Thursday, March 19, 2015

WALDEMAR MATUSAK - Czech versions of Bob Dylan and Marvin Hamlisch

All right, I'll get the stupid puns out of the way as quick as I can. Just call me Praguematic. Slovackian legend Waldemar Matusak spent his last years in America, but certainly had a Czech-ered career. He was a star in his native land through the 60's and 70's. Waldemar (July 2, 1932 - May 30, 2009) was not only a popular singer, but an actor as well, starring in Lemonade Joe (1964), If a Thousand Clarinets (1965), The Phanto of Morrisville (1966), The Pipes (1966), Hotel For Strangers (1967) and All My Good Countrymen (aka "All My Compatriots) in 1968. He added more in the 70's including "A Night in Karlstein" (1974).

As is often the case with European performers, Matusak embraced a variety of styles, having hits with pop, folk and ethnic music. Aside from originals in his own language, he happily covered hits from other countries, including translations of French pop by Hugues Auffray and Gilbert Becaud among others, and American ballads originally done by Frankie Laine and Al Jolson. Like many a burly foreigner ("Ronny" of Germany comes to mind), Waldemar had a love of cowboy music, and scored with his tongue-twisting versions of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "High Noon," the latter re-named "Bud Porad Se Mnou." And I think that rather than high noon, the gunfight itself took place at around 5pm, Prague time.

One way in which Waldemar was similar to the other pop stars of his day, was his early habit of singing through his nose. Dylan did it, and the cover here of "Blowin' in the Wind" seems pretty authentic. The effect isn't quite so romantic on the Marvin Hamlisch ballad "The Way We Were," but fans of the unusual, or even the eerie, will be most amused.

Given the stormy political climate of the Slovakian and Slovinian and just plain Slobby countries, it's no surprise that in the 80's, with Waldemar now living in Florida, the Commies found some reason or other to ban Waldemar's music. All was forgiven thanks to a change of leadership in 1989, and he was welcomed back home as a music legend. He divided his time between international touring, and the good life in the U.S.A. The po' guy died in 2009, but here, Monsieur Waldemar lives!

Waldemar Slýchám harmoniku hrát (The Way We Were)

Waldemar Vitr to Vi (Blowin' in the Wind)

"Detox Mansion" Warren Zevon 2/27/1990 for LIZA MINNELLI

"It's hard to be somebody. It's hard to keep from falling apart."

So sang Warren Zevon on "Detox Mansion."

The song somewhat comically referenced Minnelli (as well as Elizabeth Taylor).

So the other day, it was reported that after a decade of sobriety, Liza's had to check in for some treatment.

I'm no poofter, and I'm not exactly fond of hearing her sing "Life is a cabaret, old chum," but I've always had a soft spot for the lady. This is sad news.

Musically speaking, while she was never all that interested in rock, she sometimes worked outside of her show-tune-bombast comfort zone, covering "For No One," "Everybody's Talkin'," "Look of Love," and other songs that didn't require pipes like her mother or Ethel Merman. And while it's certainly disco-fruity more than cutting edge, the results weren't bad on her Pet Shop Boys collaboration from 1989, "Results," which included strong beats in a pulsating take on the sad Sondheim ballad "Losing My Mind."

That was the CD booklet she autographed for me. A mutual singer friend, older than both of us, was an alkie. He appreciated the Poe line I sometimes quoted to comfort him: "What disease is like alcohol?" To which he'd be prone to snort, "Ain't I a pain in the ass?" And yes, getting a call to come scrape him off a sidewalk after a bar binge did make him a pain in the ass sometimes. I have no idea what caused Liza's relapse, but it was probably one of her various physical ailments that required medication and unfortunately, some added self-medication.

I haven't glimpsed Liza in person in a long time; not since the debacle of her relationship with some waxy guy not worth mentioning by name. The weird thing was I saw those two in a local restaurant. She went out to have a cigarette, and he stayed behind, looking grim. He seemed so bored and miserable I thought maybe he was just a bodyguard, or some escort hired for the evening. They were not a love match. But shouldn't a hired hand have followed the lady outside, in case of photographers or some autograph hound? Later on, when their photos together appeared in the tabloid, I realized this fame queen (him, not her) was unfortunately for real, another bad decision in her life.

Zevon was right: "It's hard to be somebody." Especially if your mother was somebody, too. As for the chords of fame, yes, "It's hard to keep from falling apart." Liza probably wasn't even famous to most of the under-40 viewers of the Academy Awards show when she was STILL subjected to a zinger. She was sitting in the audience when a tranny joke slapped her in the face, courtesy of the normally oh-so-elfin and nice Ellen Degeneres. Charming Ellen singled her out, pointing at "one of the best Liza Minnelli impersonators I've ever seen in my entire life. Good job, sir."

Zevon tended to rock "Detox Mansion" with that arched eyebrow, suggesting that self pity is as dangerous as self-medication. So hopefully L.M. is getting that combo of tenderness and tough love to help her along. And, no, I don't think in Liza's case going into detox is a publicity move. Warren had a feeling some past-the-prime celebs do enjoy that kind of drama: Well, I'm gone to Detox Mansion, way down on Last Breath Farm. I've been rakin' leaves with Liza. Me and Liz clean up the yard..."

Warren Zevon Detox Mansion, Live In Minneapolis, February 27, 1990