So this week has been a brief return to work for me, as my school has been preparing for what education is going to look like when classes resume in September. And it’s been playing havoc with me. It’s a stressful time to be a teacher, you bet.
On top of that, I got my second shingles vaccination early this week, and I didn’t have the best of reactions to it, losing a couple of days to some of the side effects. It sucked hard, but it beats having shingles, given what I saw my mother and my father-in-law go through. I’ll take two days of chills over a month of painful rash.
ANYway, today’s episode comes to you as the result of a request by Paul Kondo over at Podcast Gumbo. Paul has done nice stuff for the show a few times, and he had me on as his guest a few weeks ago, so when he said he wanted to hear me talk about a 10,000 Maniacs song, how could I refuse?
I didn’t really have an excellent reason for choosing this song other than I like it, despite its rather dark message. But that became part of the story, of course. Natalie Merchant-era songs from 10,000 Maniacs had that habit of disguising rather incisive lyrics with jaunty melodies so it took the average listener a little bit of time to realize what they were really listening to.
Tommy James and the Shondells started out as Tom and the Tornadoes in 1959, when Tom was 12 years old. A few years later they changed their name in honor of guitarist Troy Shondell, and they cut their second record in a local radio station after under-age Tom saw a band playing the song “Hanky Panky” in a club and noted the huge reaction it got from the crowd.
The record did well in the Midwest for a bit, and that was about it because it didn’t have national distribution. Suddenly a Pennsylvania station picked it up, and that was the start of Tommy James becoming an employee of an organized crime family.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s no new episode this week.
I’m in the Southern Studio, which means I’m using a different setup from the one I typically use when I record the show. It also means that my resources as a whole are more limited.
While working on the writing portion of the show (Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky, ” for those of you who don’t listen to my episodes all the way to the end but would appreciate the preview), my travel laptop crashed. Well…okay. It’s an older machine and that sort of thing happens now and again. But this was a hard, Blue Screen of Death-level crash, the kind where the laptop has to go back and try to recover stuff.
Now, this actually happened to me a couple of weeks ago, when I was recording the Paul Pena episode, and it’s the reason the show posted late. I’d just finished recording and the crash came while I was saving the audio file. I save them to a personal server located at home, rather than locally on the hard drive. It takes longer but it’s generally safer. However, the save didn’t complete and I lost the file, so I had to record it all over again. And that’s why you have a Stressed Out Claude releasing a show at 3AM instead of somewhere between 11 and midnight.
So yeah…I can’t say I wasn’t warned. And I guess that computer just doesn’t enjoy the whole Carolina Shag scene (never mind it never leaves the indoors). But I wasn’t prepared for this particular crash. This time around the computer said it couldn’t recover the operating system. I’m not as computer-savvy as some, but I’m more savvy than others, and one thing I do know is that if you don’t have a working operating system, what you have instead is a bunch of electronics that don’t know how to be a computer.
Finally the laptop was able to tell me “OK, I can maybe come back, IF you let me restore to factory settings.” Which, of course, means losing a lot of software. Documents I wasn’t worried about, since I was getting an opportunity to copy those over to a flash drive. But that means I’m losing my audio recording and editing software, my Photoshop, and a few other odds and ends that I can’t replace until I get back home.
But I also can’t sit here for the rest of the week staring at a screen. (I mean, I COULD, but the screen has to change now and again.) So, backup documents and reset the machine, is the route I go. Unfortunate, but necessary. And that means that the Southern Studio is shut down for the time being. So, no promises but I’m going to try hard to release two episodes in the next week or so, with the first one (Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky, in case you were only skimming the first paragraph) on the usual Sunday (26th), and a listener-requested song as the next episode. Which one? I’m not telling, but I will tell you that Paul Kondo was the guy making the request (scroll almost all the way down to see the request, if you’d like a hint), and if we lived closer together, Paul and I would totally be drinking buddies. In fact, I may owe him a drink.
Some songs seem to spring out of nowhere, and then you take a deeper look and you realize that it’s a cover, or a rewrite, or it’s a re-release that flopped the first time. “Take On Me” by A-ha, it turns out, is in the All Of The Above category. It was re-written several times and re-recorded a couple of times, and released three times before it finally became the hit we know today.
Hi, gang. I’m recording in the Southern Studio this week (and next week) so apologies for audio issues. It’s a lot harder to do what I do when I’m using different equipment to do it. Case in point: what you’re getting here is actually the SECOND recording of the show.
You see, when I record the show, everything typically saves to a home server that I have. Unfortunately, when I saved the narration file (the part where I do all the speaking), not only did my recording software crash, my entire computer died. Blue Screen of Death and everything. And unfortunately my work couldn’t be saved, so I had to record it all over again. Not TOO frustrating when it’s already after 11:00 PM.
So now it’s going on 3AM and I’m pretty cranky because it’s all recorded and I’m writing this while waiting for Auphonic to finish processing the file. However: I think I’ve put together a decent story for you to listen to, about the guy whose recording career was jacked up by a clash of egos, but who still managed to do a lot because one of his unreleased songs got into the hands of Steve Miller.
Thanks again to Larry Glickman for suggesting this episode; I went down a bit of a rabbit hole of research but it was definitely worth it to hear some new (old) material.
I should also note a correction to a goof I made in the body of the show: I mentioned that Pena appeared at a festival in 1999; upon listening back I caught the mistake right away but I’d already taken my recording equipment apart (another hardship of the Southern Studio is that there’s no studio). He actually appeared in 1995.
R.E.M. had released two albums and hadn’t toured since 1989, so when it came time to put together the album that eventually became Monster, they were ready to break the mold a little bit and go back to rockers rather than the relatively quiet, introspective stuff they’d been putting out.
But the project was put through several different tests, including multiple illnesses and the deaths of a couple of Michael Stipe’s close friends a relatively short time apart from one another. At one point the band members were so annoyed with each other that it was thought briefly that they’d broken up.
But they managed to get it together and put together an album that got generally good reviews, especially for the way they were experimenting sonically.
“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” was inspired by an incident involving Dan Rather where he was attacked by someone who, when he was finally identified, turned out to have some severe psychiatric issues. At the time Michael Stipe and Company wrote the song, nobody had any idea who this person was, or if he even existed. But the phrase that Rather cited him repeating over and over during the assault became a bit of a catchphrase for awhile. And Rather himself came to have a sense of humor about it, as you can see in the 1995 clip from the David Letterman Show, below.
I considered putting this song in one of my Songs You Didn’t Know Were Covers collections, but there’s more backstory to “Wild Thing” than most of those songs get, so I committed it to its own episode. And now you’re spoiled in that respect: yes, The Troggs’ version of “Wild Thing” wasn’t the first version of the song to be recorded.
It was, however, more faithful to the rather sparsely-recorded demo recorded by Chip Taylor, and it became the template upon which the many, MANY future covers of the song are based. And this week we’re going to look at a bunch of them, in brief. Most of them are very good. Some of them…not so much, but your mileage may vary in that respect.
The Kinks are a band that seems to have some huge, HUGE adherents, and others who are more casual fans, and not much in between. And that seemed to reflect in their chart positions here in the United States. They’d get the positive reviews, they’d get the airplay, the singles would do well, but they’d never really tear up the charts. And then a little while later, maybe a year or two, new material would come out and the cycle would begin again.
And every time a single dropped in both the US and the UK, it would do better in the UK.
Except for this one. “Come Dancing” got a boost in the US from MTV airplay, and then in the UK from all the attention it was getting in the US, which prompted Arista Records to re-release the single. And for all that, it’s The Kinks’ highest-charting single, tied with another song from many years earlier. Which one? Go listen to the show.
This is one of those things that starts with a story.
Several months ago I attended a podcasting conference, my first one. And one of the presentations there came from the folks at Patreon. They had all kinds of cool ideas about how You Can Monetize Your Podcast And Life the Comfortable Life Forever As A Professional Podcaster (I’m way overselling their oversell, but you get the idea). So with a little bit of their guidance I signed up and set up a Patreon page.
But while I was doing that setup, I realized that I didn’t really have a lot extra to offer someone who took the time to send me money. I couldn’t guarantee bonus episodes because I’m crushed for time, especially during the year. And stickers/mugs/other merch…I dunno. It frankly felt a little bit weird. So I looked at what other shows were doing and I got some ideas from them, but they also had WAY more listeners than I did (do), so their stuff scaled up pretty easily. I put in just enough to get the page active (there was a time constraint to setting up, but I don’t remember why), and I pretty much walked away from the idea. Didn’t mention it here, didn’t mention it during the show, didn’t mention it in the social media.
And then…and then.
Someone found it anyway.
So despite the relatively small return on investment, Gary Black took the time to poke around the internet to determine whether I had a Patreon page, and not only did he find it, he bought into it. Thanks so much, Gary!
So I guess it’s time to go public. While this podcast is, indeed, a labor of love, and I’ve borne all the expenses on my own so far, it does cost me a few hundred bucks each year to deal with hosting and bandwidth (which has gone up since I’ve accumulated listeners), plus equipment, not to mention that I pay for some of the artwork that accompanies episodes, and I buy lots of books each year to aid my research. In short, it’s an expensive hobby, especially since I committed early on not to run ads.
So while I’m not at the level of begging, I am thankful for any support and/or assistance you can throw my way. If you can afford to support the show, Great. If you can’t? No harm, no foul. I still love you.
Out of the Blue was an honest-to-god masterpiece of an album, and probably the pinnacle of the Electric Light Orchestra’s use of the classical music instruments in rock and roll songs. And the centerpiece of this album was almost certainly Side Three.
The four songs that comprised that side of the album were collectively known as the Concerto for a Rainy Day, meant to evoke the emotional responses that we have to the weather. And when the sun emerges after a storm, and it’s just plain glorious outside, that’s the feeling that “Mister Blue Sky” manages to convey so masterfully. As Jeff Lynne himself said in the 2018 book Wembley or Bust:
The lyrics to ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ are simple and easy to visualize. When the song is playing, you can picture everything that’s going on and everybody knows what I’m talking about. It’s the thought of, ‘Oh, isn’t it nice when the sun comes out?’ And you know, it really is. ‘The sky is blue, wow, what a thing.’ It’s a simple kid’s story.”
A couple of housekeeping notes on this episode:
First, I screwed up some of the geography involved with Lynne’s writing of the album. The cabin was in Geneva, not Munich. However, he did record the rainstorm in Munich. Anyway, please forgive the error.
Second, I need to give credit to Soundjay.com for that needle-drop sound effect I used right before “Sweet is the Night.”
Third, some parts of this episode were a nightmare to record, so I’m sure my family is wondering why they heard me saying the same things over and over again. (This may also account for my geography error, too, but I should have caught that before committing the episode.)