David Bowie had already released ten albums by 1976, and he was starting to feel the effects of burnout and a heavy cocaine habit. So where did he go to escape his drug habit? To the world’s Heroin capital, of course: Berlin!
Fortunately for Bowie and ultimately his fans, Heroin wasn’t really his thing, and he not only managed to get healthy, but he also managed to find some creative juice in that city. He wrote, or co-wrote, material for three albums, although only the second one was recorded mostly in Berlin. Those albums today are called the Berlin Trio, or sometimes the Berlin Triptych. They didn’t get a ton of love at the time, largely because Bowie was Bowie and he was streets ahead of everyone else. But “Heroes,” the title track from the second album, grew in stature and in its level of meaning for fans everywhere.
OK, so I promised you a few videos during the show. The first one is his first time performing the song on TV, on the Marc Bolan show. The instrumentation is clearly different but I think he’s singing live-to-track:
The second video is the warm-up to the third. If you’ve seen this one, you can just skip down to the next one. But a lot of people have heard the song without seeing the nearly two minutes of awkwardness that preceded it:
It was for that holiday special that Bowie produced this video, which also appears to be a live-to-track recording, with some extra echo and those extra fun pantomime moves.
But while all that’s fun, it’s probably not what you came looking for. This is probably what you came looking for:
Next week: a listener request takes us into the 80s for some Tears for Fears.
Kansas was literally on the last day of rehearsing for their fifth album when their producer asked them if they had anything else. Guitarist and songwriter Kerry Livgren reluctantly broke out an acoustic song that he was convinced the rest of the band would hate, because it was practically the opposite of everything Kansas had done until then. But it turned out to be exactly the opposite: they loved it, and they fine-tuned the song to give some of the other band members something to do (extra guitar, violin part, and a smidge of percussion), and it turned into the album’s second single and the biggest hit of their career.
And that’s about it, there’s not much mysterious about this song. It’s been either used or referenced in countless pop culture arenas, and it’s been successfully covered a few times, curiously enough by Country singers most of the time. Many people know about Sarah Brightman’s cover of the song, but I’m going to encourage you to check out last year’s recording by Caroline Jones. (No, I don’t know why she’s singing in a pond, unless she wanted to do the exact opposite of Kansas’ video.)
This may come as a complete surprise to you, but if you don’t have podcast software on your mobile device, you can listen to/download the show right here!
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The Osmond Brothers got their real start in show business when they couldn’t get an audition for one television show, and they wound up on another.
Check out the audience reaction to them at first. It cracks me up every time.
This clip, incidentally, is from the show Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, which most people seem to remember as The Wonderful World of Disney. Shoot, I was watching the show as a small kid (right after Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), and remember it under the second title, which wasn’t a thing until 1969. This episode was called “Disneyland After Dark”, and the conceit behind it was that Walt Disney himself would start to introduce the different performers on the show, but he’d never see the acts himself because tourists kept interrupting him. The show, as it originally aired on NBC, was available on DVD for awhile, but appears not to be available now.
The Disney gig led them to another show (The Andy Williams Show), and another. And finally, when they wanted to break out of their Variety TV Group image, they convinced their dad to let them record as a rock and roll band. So off they went to Alabama, as you do, and they put together an album that clearly had a Motown/R&B influence on it.
The addition of Donny Osmond to the act, and the use of him in exactly the way Motown was using Michael Jackson at the same time, allowed the Osmonds to release their first hit single, and their first Number One record.
What’s the secret to the song’s success? There’s a theory, and it involves fast food.
As usual, here’s the show for those of you who don’t dig podcatchers. And please share the show with someone you love.
Apologies for the big gap in shows; life was getting in the way, plus I got sick somewhere in between and, while my voice would have been pure comedy on your end, it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun on mine. No excuse though; I should have posted SOMEthing in the interim. I’ll do better next time.
Six episodes ago we took a peek at the work of poet/playwright/singer/songwriter/Renaissance Man Shel Silverstein, and I guess the most notable thing related to that show that’s happened since then, is that Ray Sawyer, the singer/guitarist for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 81 after a short illness. Sawyer was the main singer on “Sylvia’s Mother” and “Cover of Rolling Stone”, among others.
So this week we’re looking at some more of his work, including what’s perhaps his most-covered song (and, oddly, a song that despite all the covers doesn’t seem to do anything on the charts; I think it’s just a song that people like to sing), and a quick look at his theater work.
With any luck, you’ve already got this in your podcatcher, but if not, here it is for your listening/downloading pleasure:
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It’s the holiday season, and that means that radio stations have moved a bunch of traditional songs into their rotations. Some of them have even gone All-Christmas-All-The-Time. But it seems as though some of these songs don’t stand up to closer scrutiny as Christmas songs. They’re set in the winter time, but they don’t appear to mention Christmas at all, or they happen to take place during the season but that’s about it.
And while I’m complaining about Christmas songs that don’t stand up to scrutiny, have you really listened to Andy Williams’ “Happy Holiday (The Holiday Season)”? Sometimes I think poor Andy had a stroke in the middle of recording that one. It’s little more than a bunch of clichés strung together, and then he loses his mind and starts spouting nonsense lyrics, and failing miserably to make them rhyme. I’m going to blame Kay Thompson for this mess, because there’s no way Irving Berlin is responsible.
And don’t get me started (again) on “My Favorite Things.”
During the show I mentioned a short cartoon version of “Frosty the Snowman” that’s aired every Christmas season since 1955 on WGN-TV in Chicago. Here’s that clip for your listening pleasure:
And while I’m providing extra goodies, here, also as promised, is the audio of Wally Schirra reporting a “UFO” in December of 1965.
When I was in the third grade I sent a letter to NASA, and they sent me a packet of stuff, including photos of astronauts on the moon, a photo of Earth taken from space, and a flyer with frequently-asked questions about outer space. I remember distinctly that one of the questions was about whether the astronauts had ever seen a UFO, and the answer was that Wally Schirra had reported a UFO that turned out to be Santa Claus. I presume they were referring to this event.
At any rate, the episode has been available for a little while now, but if you’re the DIY sort you may want to download or listen here:
I’m likely to be out of town next weekend, so it’s possible that I’ll be taking a week off from the show. Next time around we finish Shel Silverstein for sure, and then I have a listener-suggested episode.
Have a great holiday! Thanks so much for your support!
John D. Loudermilk (the D doesn’t stand for anything) was a singer-songwriter who wrote a few hits for a few different artists, and he also fancied himself as a prankster. So when he was asked by a Las Vegas radio station about his inspiration for writing the song “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Indian)”, he told a wild tale about meeting a band of Cherokees in a snowstorm. And when Casey Kasem’s crew got wind of the story, they called him to confirm it, and he changed it to sound even more dire. They bought it, Casey aired it, and now that the show is in re-runs, the story gets a national re-airing every now and again. And it’s entirely nonsense. But that also means we don’t really know what led him to write this song, which contains several elements indicating that Loudermilk really knew next to nothing about the Cherokee Nation.
Does that make the song offensive? That seems to be a mixed bag, based on my research. Some people are pretty specific about the fact that it gets so many things just plain wrong. Some people don’t like the whole cultural appropriation end of things, where white guys (Loudermilk as the writer, Fardon and the Raiders as the performers) are singing about Native Americans in the first person.
Some people also make a point of saying “I’m xx% Cherokee and it doesn’t offend me at all.” So in this respect, your mileage may vary.I asked my wife, who is part Cherokee, about it and she doesn’t like the song, largely because of the factual inaccuracies. I think she was pleasantly surprised that I knew what they were, though. But I don’t think she’ll be making a point of tuning in to this episode. Then again, I’m pretty sure she only listens when I play it back in my car and she’s there for it.
At any rate: my apologies for the late delivery, but here’s hoping you enjoy it. As usual, your podcatcher should have it now (or very soon, anyway), or you can listen/download it from here:
Thanks so much for the reviews I’ve seen, and the good words on Facebook. Next week will be a whole bunch of quick bits on Christmas songs, and then—finally—we’ll finish up the year with Part Two of Shel Silverstein.
Yeah, yeah, I know: you were expecting Shel Silverstein again. Forgive me; I got Writer’s Block on it and couldn’t figure out a good way to organize my notes.
By the time 1962 rolled around, Neil Sedaka had been in the Top Ten eight times, but he still hadn’t cracked the #1 slot.
Inspired by a doo-wop song he’d heard recently, he put together a song that had a similar structure but no doo-wops in it. He brought the song to Barry Mann, who didn’t like it until he added the “dom dooby doo dom dom” bit back in. That was deemed good enough for him to record, and it turned into the Big Hit of the summer of 1962, going to the top spot by the second week of August.
There’s a story out there in Rich Podolsky’s book about Don Kirshner (who produced the record) that says that shortly after the record came out, Sedaka proposed to his girlfriend, Leba Strasberg. Being the hopeless romantic that he is, though, Sedaka proposed over the phone, and Leba didn’t believe him. Sedaka had to put the song’s co-writer, Howie Greenfield, on the phone to convince her that he was serious. They’ve been married since September 11 of that year.
While there were a bunch of covers, it was the 1970 version by Lenny Welch that changed the tone of the song, and it probably inspired Sedaka to re-record it as a ballad in 1975, which he put on an album almost as an afterthought. It became the second single off that album, and Sedaka found himself in the Top Ten a second time with “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”. Oddly enough, Sedaka’s self-cover was NOT the most successful cover of the song, but you’ll have to listen to the show to find out what was.
Speaking of which, here’s your golden opportunity to listen to, or download the show, assuming your podcast software doesn’t already have it.
And thanks so much to the folks who have left reviews! I love you guys!
So until very recently, this was my studio layout:
This was the space I was talking about whenever I mentioned the Bob Cratchit Studios, because it’s in my basement and it gets pretty cold down there in the winter. Oddly, it’s not especially cool in the summer, but at least it’s tolerable.
There’s been some upheaval in my life lately, and the upshot of that is that the studio had to move out of the basement and up to the second floor of the house. and it had to happen this past weekend. So right now the studio is in many, many pieces which I’ll spend this week re-assembling. But that means that there’s no show this week.
I’ve been pondering re-building the whole thing, including replacing that circular table that holds most of the equipment, but I don’t think I have the means to do that just yet. The other thing I have to think about is that when I was in the basement, I didn’t have to worry too much about vibrations coming from other parts of the house, just some stray noises like footsteps from upstairs or the dog barking at evildoers who are using the sidewalk out front. So part of my calculus will include sonic isolation, especially for that turntable.
Anyway: my plan is to be back next week, with Part Two of my focus on Shel Silverstein.
In the late 1970s, Pink Floyd had come up with a trio of very solid albums, one of which still hadn’t left the Billboard Top 200 since its release in 1973. And between that, the growing popularity of Pink Floyd as the musical basis for laser shows, and a lot of Album-Oriented Rock airplay, the band was becoming popular enough that their audiences were getting to the point of their being able to fill very large arenas such as stadiums.
This posed a problem for the band, as they thought that A) people weren’t coming to the shows for the “right” reasons, which led to B) they were feeling a growing separation from their audiences. After an unfortunate incident (fortunately on the last night of their Animals tour), the band took some planned time off to recharge, and Roger Waters took the opportunity to put together some songs that drew upon the bad experiences they were having, plus an offhand comment he made to producer Bob Ezrin and his friend, who turned out to be a psychiatrist. He came up with two separate concepts, which he presented to the other band members a year later: one eventually became his solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking; the other became The Wall.
The Wall was likely to just become another pretty good Pink Floyd album, even if it was a double album, but some financial setbacks for the band meant that David Gilmour was temporarily unable to do as much as he ordinarily would, and so Roger Waters brought in Bob Ezrin to help. Ezrin, uncredited at the time, helped Waters and Gilmour really beat the overall concept into a cohesive shape, and he made a couple of tweaks to one song that, despite the band’s initial reservations, ultimately made the song catchier while still retaining its original Pink Floyd-iness. That song became the centerpiece of the album and the band’s only Number One song, but what a monster Number One it was, topping the charts in nations around the world.
Pink Floyd was going through so much stress that they actually broke up after a fashion; most of them stayed together but their keyboardist, Richard Wright, quit before the album was finished (or he was fired, depending on whom you ask). He was hired as a session musician for the tour, so nobody really knew that the band had fractured so badly. But it was the beginning of the end for Pink Floyd as so many people think of them. Their next album was a rehash of older material, and the one after that (The Final Cut) was leftovers from The Wall repurposed into an anti-war screed related to Britain’s conflict in the Falkland Islands. Wright was long gone by then, and Gilmour didn’t like the direction the album had taken, and that was pretty much it for them.
So while it may have seemed as though The Wall was the impetus for the band’s breakup, in fact it was a masterpiece despite the fact that things were going so badly for its members…much like another British band that released a double album with a white cover. Hm, I just thought of that!
If your podcatcher doesn’t have the show already, you can always listen or download it right here:
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The early-to-mid 1960s was a great time to be a folk singer, whether or not you were the protesting type. And Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie, had the decade pretty much fall into his lap. It didn’t hurt that he was actually kind of good at it. And when, as a freewheeling 17-year-old, he and a friend took a fateful trip to the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts to visit a couple of friends for the Thanksgiving weekend. It turned out to be an adventure that he later immortalized in a song. Between airplay on a single radio station in New York City and its inclusion on the Newport Folk Festival’s main stage, Arlo was able to get a record contract and the song became the entire first side of his debut album.
And despite the song’s 18-1/2 minute length, and its subject matter (much of which was taboo then), and some of the language used (some of which is taboo now), the song continues to get radio airplay, in full, and unedited.
Although the restaurant and the microbus are long gone, Guthrie continues to perform the song from time to time, though he’ll update the lyrics so that they’re either more topical or less offensive. Or both.
And as usual, for the nine of you who don’t use the podcatchers, here’s the episode for listening or downloading:
And of course, if you DO use a podcatcher of some kind, please leave a rating and/or a review. I really appreciate the support.