Songs I never get tired of

“Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks.”

O Brother Where Art ThouThe songs I never get tired of is a very long list. Fortunately, I’m learning not to overthink this meme.

Taking It To the Streets – Doobie Brothers. The first Doobies hit I recall with Michael McDonald on lead vocal. It appears on the Cook Book Loss Leader, “focusing on Warners’ black acts.”

Man of Constant Sorrow – Soggy Bottom Boys, from O Brother Where Art Thou, my favorite soundtrack of a movie I have never seen.
My wife and I saw Alison Krauss and Union Station in 2003. Dan Tyminski told how much his wife loved watching her husband’s voice come out of George Clooney’s lips.

Sail On Sailor – Beach Boys. The most rocking BB song, from the 1972 Holland album.

Walls – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers from the She’s The One soundtrack. “Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks.”

Something in 4/4 Time – Daryl Hall. The Sacred Songs album, produced by Robert Fripp, was recorded the summer of 1977 but not released until 1980. I’d love to hear some college a Capella group take a shot at this, especially the off-kilter bridge.

Barabajagal – Donovan (With The Jeff Beck Group). Love IS hot. In my early blogging days, put this on a mixed CD exchange with a couple songs by other former Yardbirds guitarists, Page (some Zeppelin track) and Clapton (surely a Cream song).

I Can’t Get Next to You – the Temptations. The second of four #1 pop singles by the group that is STILL touring. But it’s the first one with the shared lead vocal in the era produced by Norman Whitfield. This was after David Ruffin left the group and Dennis Edwards had joined.

Tempted -Squeeze. Beyond the Paul Carrack growl, I also love the Sly Stone/Temps shared vocals in the second verse.

Fame – David Bowie. Bowie, John Lennon – that’s enough. Not incidentally, I know of know version of a song designated with a year that I like better than the original. Thus this, NOT Fame 1990.

My Randy Newman Story

When I heard When Somebody Loved Me [which he wrote] in Toy Story 2, I practically cried.

I made a cryptic comment about Randy Newman the other day. It was supposed to be something I’d bring up when I wrote about it at some future date, maybe in November, on Newman’s birthday. But my friend Rocco, who I’ve known since our FantaCo days in the early ’80s, asked about it, as well as confirming that I went with him to see that dismal Joe Jackson concert in ’89. And since today is Rocco’s birthday, I’ll tell the story now.

I was in the Poughkeepsie, New York train station, coming home from a conference c. 1999. Poughkeepsie’s about halfway between Albany and New York City, along the Hudson River.

I see walking into the ticket area a guy, a woman, and a couple of kids. That’s Randy Newman. Isn’t it Randy Newman? I LOVE Randy Newman!

If it’s Randy Newman, I know what I’m going to say to him.

I’m going to say, “I love your music! I’ve loved your stuff ever since I heard Political Science, and it’s as relevant today as ever. [I know all the words, but I wouldn’t have said THAT; too geeky]. When I heard When Somebody Loved Me [which he wrote] in Toy Story 2, I practically cried. [This is a lie; I actually did cry.] I have about a half dozen of your albums. I really like the I Love L.A. video. I even like the Band-Aid commercial you’re [then currently] in. I hope you get the Oscar one of these days. [He had been nominated about a dozen times, and wouldn’t win until 2001; see this timeline.]

So I walk over to him and I’m about to say something, but before I get a chance, he says, “Randy Newman,” answering a question I had not yet asked. But it felt like he was just having a long day the way he said it. So I said, “OK,” and left it at that, all my admiration left unstated.

If I get a chance in the future, I hope to say those things, except that I’ve gotten a couple more of his albums, I loved his music for The Princess and the Frog, and was hoping he’d win for one of his songs in that film.

So that’s the story, Rocco. Happy birthday, friend; go blog something, even if it’s to acknowledge your natal day.

Stevie Wonder is 60

Stevie Wonder is 60 years old today. Only 60? Seems that he’s been around forever. I guess that’s what happens when you’re dubbed the “12-year-old genius.” Wish I had the time to indicate all of his significance in my musical life. Among other things, I’ve stated that he and Paul Simon were THE two most important artists in my record collection in the 1970s. Here are just some highlights.

Really don’t remember the earlier singles, such as “Fingertips, Part 2”, except as an oldie. The first song I recall listened to, on the radio, was Uptight (Everything’s Alright) in 1966. I loved it! Later, I got an album from my sister’s godfather, of all people, of Bill Cosby called Silver Throat, where he sings a parody of Uptight called Little Old Man.

My sister owned the 1966 album Down to Earth, containing the title track and A Place In the Sun, the latter a song written by Stevie that everyone at the time seemed compelled to cover. I owned 1970’s Signed Sealed Delivered.

Possibly my favorite Wonder song in the early years was 1967’s “I Was Made to Love Her”

I owned the so-so 1967 Someday At Christmas, though it contains THE great secular Christmas tune, “What Christmas Means to Me.”

Jump to the seventies, the classic period: I owned every album Stevie put out, starting with 1972’s Talking Book (with Superstition and You Are the Sunshine of My Life); 1973’s Innervisions (Higher Ground, Living for the City), and 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale (You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (with The Jackson 5), Boogie On Reggae Woman. I remember hanging out, more than once with one of my political science professors, at his house, listening to those latter two albums.

One of my personal anthems after the breakup of my college romance came from Talking Book and started with:
“Shattered dreams, worthless years,
Here am I encased inside a hollow shell,
Life began, then was done,
Now I stare into a cold and empty well”
With the hope of a future with someone, yet unknown:
“I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever.”
I find that song still makes me incredibly wistful.

I remember watching Paul Simon’s famous quote on the Grammys when he won for Album of the Year for Still Crazy After All These Years (another melancholy linchpin). In his acceptance speech, Simon jokingly thanked Stevie Wonder for not releasing an album that year; Wonder had won the previous two years, and would the following year.

In the gap between FFF and the next album, I discovered 1971’s Where I’m Coming From and Music of My Mind from 1972, the latter album particularly underrated.

The Grammy winner for 1976 was Songs in the Key of Life, featuring Sir Duke, Isn’t She Lovely, Sir Duke, and my favorite As. It also featured Pastime Paradise, which was later transformed into Coolio’s Gangsta Paradise, which was in turn parodied as Amish Paradise by Weird Al Yankovic.

I bought this 3-LP retrospective called Looking Back, which contained all his charting singles from 1963 through 1970.

1979 brought the strangely unsatisfying, and sometimes weird double album Journey through the Secret Life of Plants, but it was followed by the solid Hotter than July in 1980, with Master Blaster (Jammin), I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It, and the song that helped make the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday a reality, Happy Birthday.

Have all of his subsequent albums that contain new material, some pretty good (Characters), some not so much (Woman in Red soundtrack).

I had this friend Donna. One of our shared passions was Stevie Wonder. At one point I put together a mixed cassette of songs he performed on that were NOT on Stevie albums for her. Didn’t have We Are the World (a great duet with Springsteen) or That’s What Friends Are For (a bit treacly). But it did include, I believe:
That collaboration with Paul McCartney on the latter’s Tug of War album. It is NOT Ebony and Ivory. What’s That You’re Doing, Stevie back in form, and Paul at his rubber soul best.
I’m the One Who Loves You from Tribute To Curtis Mayfield
St. Louis Blues from Gershwin’s World (Herbie Hancock)
Let’s Get Serious by Jermaine Jackson
Seasons of Love from Rent
A couple of songs from Quincy Jones albums
*Others from this list
Donna died a few years back and I wish I had made a copy of the playlist for myself.

Stevie is mostly in the accolades mode, Gershwin award and the like. Strange for a man so relatively young. His album of five years ago I wasn’t thrilled with, and he puts out more compilations and reissues than new stuff. But in his prime, he was a sensational singer/songwriter. His keyboard playing was revolutionary at the time. So I must wish HIM “happy birthday”.

a Stevie Wonder YouTube channel
Official site

Music Meme

Pete Seeger, Justin Bieber, Bobby Goldsboro, John Sebastian, Joe Jackson, Seals & Crofts, Boz Scaggs, Bobby McFerrin, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Droge, Randy Newman and Blotto are all mentioned in this post, at least one of them for no good reason.

An odd series of circumstances has gotten me writing about music far more than usual. I’d picked this meme for Monday, then needed a Q for Tuesday. I realized that I wanted to do birthday things for Billy Joel, Bono/U2, and tomorrow’s topic. I once said that sometimes the blog pieces write themselves; well, occasionally, the blog ORDER does likewise.

Here’s a meme from SamuraiFrog, also done by Scott and Jaquandor.

1. What are you listening to right now?
The Beatles Mono Box. Specifically the Past Masters, the singles, B-sides, etc.

2. What song(s) make(s) you sad?
Goodness, LOTS of songs make me sad. There are whole categories: requiems (requia?) from Mozart to Faure; certain romantic songs – such as Stay With Me by Lorraine Ellison or Gone Away by Roberta Flack. Sometimes, songs that I love that I hadn’t heard lately make me cry, such as the Blue Moon solo on Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love.

3. What is the most annoying song in the world?
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro. Wait, it’s Dominick the Donkey.

4. Your all-time favorite band?
Beatles (all time)

5. Your newly discovered band is?
I don’t know that there is one. The new music I get tends to be the same artists I’ve been buying. For instance, Levon Helm from the Band. indeed, anyone I DO discover tends to be a solo artist, such as Corrinne Bailey Rae, whose album The Sea I recommend.

6. Best female voice?
Julie Andrews. Or maybe Judy Collins.

7. Best male voice?
Nat King Cole.

8. Music type you find yourself listening to most?
Fairly eclectic, but rock mostly.

9. What do you listen to, to hype you up?
Anything with an insistent baseline, such as The Spencer Davis Group’s Keep On Running.

10. What do you listen to when you want to calm down?
Classical music, probably Bach.

11. Last gig/concert you went to?
Springsteen, last year.

12. Band you find yourself listening to the most right now?
Well, RIGHT now, I tend to listen to people whose birthday is in this week in May: Bono (U2), Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, David Byrne (Talking Heads).

13. Most hated band?
I don’t think about bands I dislike. They tend to slip out of my mind.

14. Song that makes you think?
LOTS of songs make me think. Lenten songs, for one group.

15. Band that you think the world should love as much as you do?
I don’t care what other people like; they can do what they want.

16. Coolest music video?
Ever? “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel. But I haven’t watched them in forever.

17. Music video with the most babe watch?
Robert Palmer’s? Have no idea.

18. What do you play/would you play in the bedroom to spice things up?

19. Can you play a musical instrument?

20. Ever been in a mosh pit?

21. Are you in a band?
No, but I’m in a choir. But in junior high, we tried to form a band called Ralphie’s Moonies. Had a hit song called “Pool Shark” that I still remember?

23. Ever dated a musician?
Yes. My wife played the clarinet in high school. Also, I went out with a singer for a time.

28. Do you wish yourself that you were a musician?
Some days. Or maybe I am.

29. Best chick band you know of?
The Dixie Chicks, I guess.

31. Last song that you heard on the radio/cd…etc…?
When Love Comes to Town by U2 and B.B. King

32. What do you think of Classical music?
I love it. Back in the brief period I was collecting cassettes, it was 90% classical. I don’t understand people who don’t like it, to be honest.

33. What do you think of Country music?
I like most of it. I used to listen to it as a kid. It seems, though, that more of the current commercial stuff is lite pop, and thus a bit boring.

34. What do you think of Death metal?
I don’t know what that is.

35. Last BIG band that you saw live?
Springsteen. Or does this mean Big Band, in which case it a Count Basie band. Or was it Duke Ellington’s?

36. Are you a groupie?

37. Do you listen to music in foreign languages?

38. What famous musician would you like to f***!?
Well, none, if only because the reality would never match the fantasy.

39. Worst concert moment?
Thu, 27 July 1989 Albany, NY, Palace Theatre
Joe Jackson, who I like, was performing on his BLAZE OF GLORY TOUR. After playing one, maybe two familiar songs, he played the entire first half of Blaze of Glory. Then after a couple more songs we knew, the entire second half. He felt they were complete suites with the songs segued together, but they were unfamiliar, and him playing six unknown songs in a row, especially a second time, ticked off people enough that they just got up and went to the concession stand, or, worse, just talked through the performance. They did not give the new music a chance, but I blame that largely on Jackson. At the end, more familiar tunes, but a better mix of the very same songs would have created a much better experience, for the audience, and I expect, for him.

40. Funny concert moment?
As recently mentioned, Bobby McFerrin leading an orchestra in SINGING the Lone Ranger portion of the William Tell Overture in 1999.

41. Sad concert moment?
Besides the WORST story: I saw Seals & Crofts Philharmonic (Avery Fisher) Hall, in NYC on November 12, 1971. The opening band, Boz Scaggs, was quite good, but the audience was impatient for the Baha’i duo. Being an opening act must not be a great gig sometimes.

42. Best local act you can think of?
Last local band I actually saw was probably Blotto. No that’s not true; I’ve seen local cover bands such as the Refrigerators. saw Hair of the Dog a few years back.

43. If you were a musical instrument what would you be?
A bass guitar. I feel the bass line.

44. Do you listen to the radio?
Generally wake up to a classical station.

45. Do you watch music TV?
I did from about 1982 to 1986.

46. Do you follow the music charts, like the top 40?
I did religiously until the early 1990s. Even had a subscription to Billboard, and it wasn’t cheap. But now I don’t even know most of it. When I read that Justin Bieber was the youngest solo male artist in 40 years to reach #1, I KNEW instantly that the previous artist HAD to be Donny Osmond doing Go away Little Girl, even younger than Michael Jackson when he sang Ben. I mean, I KNEW this, without looking it up. Scary.

47. Have you met any famous musicians?
Define famous. Talked a bit with Pete Seeger at an anti-apartheid demonstration. Spoke with John Sebastian very briefly. I’ve eaten at an Italian restaurant with Pete Droge and his band a couple times. I was introduced to Anita Baker. Knew the guys in Blotto.
Then there’s the Randy Newman story.

48. Are any of your friends/family/etc. musicians?
Why yes. My niece is in a singer in a band called Siren’s Crush that sings around San Diego, CA. My sister Leslie performed in Puerto Rico as a singer for six years. And my late father was well-known locally (Binghamton, NY) as a singer of folk songs.

49. Song that best describes your feelings right now?
“Daydream” by the Lovin’ Spoonful.

50. Song that describes your life?
“I’m Lucky” by Joan Armatrading.

51. Do you know the names of all the band members that you listen to?
No, but I listen to a LOT of different groups.

52. Does a musician’s physical attractiveness play a role in the music that you listen to?
Not consciously.

53. What famous musician do you want to marry?
Assuming I wasn’t married, Chaka Khan was the first name to come to mind.

53. Favourite movie soundtrack?
West Side Story. Or a Hard Day’s Night. Or Rain Man.

55. Any musician pet hates?
Vocalists who caterwaul.

56. What do your parents listen to?
My mom liked Nat Cole, and musicals such as Carousel, South Pacific, and West Side Story. My father was a fan of folk music (Harry Belafonte, Odetta, Pete Seeger), and gospel.

57. What are you listening to right NOW?
Good Night by the Beatles.

58. Do you wear band etc T-shirts?
I have a Beatles T-shirt someone gave me for my birthday a couple of years ago.

59. Do you cook to music?
I don’t cook as much as I should, but if I’m going to be a while, I’ll put on some music.

60. Do you sing in the toilet?
In the shower, yes. All the time. On the toilet, not usually.

My No Doubt story.

Q is for Queen

When I first heard the songs of the rock group Queen in the mid-1970s, I thought it was a very good group with songs such as:
*Killer Queen (#12 on the Billboard charts in the United States in 1975)
*You’re My Best Friend (#9 in 1976)
*Bicycle Race (#24 in 1978) – hey, I ride sometimes
*the rockabilly sensibilities of Crazy Little Thing Called Love (the group’s first #1, in 1980)
*Play The Game (#42 in 1980)
*the bass line-insistent Another One Bites The Dust (another #1, in 1980)
*the goofy fun of Flash (as in Gordon) (#42 in 1981)

Then Freddie Mercury died of AIDS in 1991, coincidentally the same year my friend Vito died of the same disease, and I thought the legacy of the band was over. Well, except for that annoying Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby in 1990 (#1), which swiped the instrumentation and the tune of the 1981 Queen/David Bowie performance Under Pressure (#29).

But not only did the band continue to play with other vocalists, but many of their original songs lived on.

We Are The Champions has inspired re-releases (1991 Gulf War, 1994 & 1998 World Cup, e.g.) and cover versions by various winning teams in sports around the world, usually performed very badly. The other side of that 1977 #4 single, We Will Rock You has become one of those songs that get played a great deal at US sporting events. The songs were re-released in 1992 and went to #52.

The performance of Somebody to Love on the soundtrack to the new US TV show Glee has created interest in the original (#13 in 1977) and the George Michael and Queen version (#30 in 1993), recorded for the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.

The title of Radio Ga Ga (#16 in 1984) was the inspiration for the name of the currently popular phenomenon known as Lady Gaga.

Is this…

But almost certainly, the most significant song in Queen’s oeuvre is the tiny rock opera Bohemian Rhapsody. Charting in the US in early 1976 (#9), it gained new life when it appeared in the 1992 movie Wayne’s World, when it got all the way to #2. Arguably, the best cover version is by the Muppets. (alternate location).

This is Calvin’s Canadian Cave of Cool’s favorite band, and after re-examining their music, I can better appreciate why.

So what are the rest of the members of Queen doing now?

Bassist John Deacon is retired from the music business. Drummer Roger Taylor is touring with vocalist Paul Rodgers.

The brilliant Brian May is also touring with Rodgers and Taylor. When I say brilliant, I don’t just mean his extraordinary guitar licks. In 2008, he completed “his Doctoral Thesis in Astrophysics…successfully submitted the new version of his thesis on Interplanetary Dust.” A story about him recently appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal: Queen Guitarist Brian May Digs Badgers Even If the Farmers Loathe Them.

Of course, the story of Freddie Mercury is told. I did enjoy reading a comic book trade story from the past couple of years called Freddie & Me, which I discussed briefly. Unfortunately, the direct link to Coverville #496, which features the rare Michael Jackson/Freddie Mercury demo to the Jacksons’ hit “State of Shock” doesn’t work; look for it on iTunes.

QUEEN lives on through its music.

ABC Wednesday

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