Episode 102–The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Roberta Flack was one of those artists that the label couldn’t quite pigeonhole, which meant that they couldn’t find a way to make her accessible to listeners. As a result, her first two albums got some positive press, but the sales weren’t especially great.

It wasn’t until after her second album came out that a track on the first album caught the attention of a first-time movie director by the name of Clint Eastwood. He called Flack at home and asked if he could use the song in his film, a psychological horror film about a disc jockey called Play Misty For Me. It took a little bit of convincing (about two thousand dollars’ worth), and the song made it into the film.

When Play Misty For Me turned into a hit, Atlantic Records finally saw the light and released a slightly shorter version of the song on a single, and it became the first of several big hits for Flack over the next few years.

What most people don’t realize is that Flack’s recording was a cover of a song written and recorded in 1957, and covered rather faithfully several times after that. But once it hit for her, the covers began to sound more like Flack’s version. And while the song finally becoming a hit made its writer a ton of money, the truth is, he’s never really liked anyone else’s recording other than the one his then-girlfriend made.

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Incidentally, here’s the link to the Flaming Lips/Amanda Palmer video that I discuss during the show. It’s definitely Not Safe For Work. You have been warned.

For you independent types who don’t use Google Podcasts or some other podcatcher software, here’s the show for your listening/downloading pleasure:

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Episode 101–In Bloom

You should be forewarned that this episode takes a brief detour into subject matter that’s a little bit on the touchy side. Specifically, there’s a mention of a musician’s gender identity and how it’s affected their relationship with their fans and the media. I hope that’s not a problem for ye.

Anyway, you’re getting two episodes this week, to make up for the lapse I did two weeks ago. So either this is the bonus episode because it’s Monday, or yesterday was the bonus episode and this one is a day late. How you choose to view that, I care not. Anyway, are we good now?

But the members of Nirvana had a tough time dealing with their quick rise to fame in 1990 and 91. They discovered that a lot of their new fans would be bopping about and singing along with their songs without having a lot of idea what the songs meant.

There’s an old Steve Martin routine where he’s playing the banjo onstage, and he comments that “The banjo is such a happy instrument–you can’t play a sad song on the banjo – it always comes out so cheerful.” He even makes an attempt at it: “Oh death, and grief, and sorrow, and murderrrrr…” and that’s pretty much what Nirvana was going through, but in the other direction. Their songs had the benefit of being very catchy, even if the subject matter was kind of dark and alienated, so people were latching on to the hooks (‘scuse the pun, there) in the songs and not really thinking about the lyrics, or the emotions evoked. This provided a weird disconnect for them, and Cobain finally took that emotion and put it into song form. Which didn’t really help, of course, because now they’re singing along to a song that’s basically mocking them.

As the fourth single from Nevermind, “In Bloom” was Top Five in the US on the Album and Mainstream Rock charts, and Top 30 pretty much everywhere else. When the Singles box set came out in 1995, it re-surfaced on a few European charts for a bit. But at that point Cobain had already died by suicide, and Nirvana was no more.

Yeah, I think we’re good here.

Click here for a transcript of this show.

Episode 100–Christmas (Baby Please Come Home

Holy Moley! Episode 100! What a milestone!

This is the first of TWO episodes I’ll be publishing this week. You’re getting this one now, and another one sometime tomorrow, because I felt badly about taking my time with Episode 99.

As I mentioned during the show, the Phil Spector-produced Christmas album went through several re-issues and name changes between its release in 1963 and the early 1980s, including an unfortunate period when the album was remastered into manufactured stereo. In those days, that often meant that the higher-end sounds went to one channel and the lower-end stuff went to the other. It was a mess and really added nothing to the product overall.

At any rate, it was around the same time in the 1980s that a bunch of different events came together and allowed the song to finally break out. One was the reissue of the album on Rhino Records, in its original mono mixes. The second was Darlene Love’s appearance in a Broadway show, which led directly to her string of performances on David Letterman’s show on both NBC and CBS, and finally we have the cover version by U2 the following year. All of these things made for a resurgence in both the popularity of the song, and in Darlene Love’s career.

Stay tuned! Very soon we’ll take a look at a Nirvana song, by listener request!

Click here for a transcript of this show.

Episode 99–Purple Rain

First off, my apologies for the delay in this post. It appears that GoDaddy likes to do scheduled maintenance on Sunday nights, so I’ve been getting blocked out of the site on my end lately. At your end everything looks fine, but I can’t create new posts or transcripts or anything, really.

This week comes to us by request of Innkeeper Freddie, about whom I’ve gushed a little too much already. There are links to his show in the Episode 98 post below. He asked me to do this the day I met him, and who am I to disappoint.

“Purple Rain” the song was one of the last written for the movie, and it only became the title of the movie once the director managed to impress upon Prince how important it was to the scene he envisioned. Once he got a handle on that, Prince then asked him if the movie could also be titled Purple Rain. Given that hardly anyone expected anything to come of the film, the production company didn’t have a problem with it.

The extraordinary thing about the Purple Rain soundtrack is that three of the songs—including the title track—were recordings made of the first time the band ever played them for an audience, at the First Avenue Club in Minneapolis. The other two songs needed a bunch of post-production reworking, but “Purple Rain” only needed to be cut for length and not much else.

It’s unfortunate that, because of the Me Too movement, the film hasn’t really aged well (women are treated pretty poorly), which is a bit of a shame because, considering that it was a first-time director working with an entire cast that had never been in a film before, it’s not that bad. Also, as it turns out, Prince was a bit of a natural in the sense that the concert scenes were shot in about one-fourth of the typical time, partially because he didn’t want to do a million takes of every song, so the director set up multiple cameras and each song was performed three times, tops. And, as the story goes, Prince hit his marks exactly each time, making the editing much easier later on.

For those of you who listen or download here, enjoy this bounty:

And as usual, you can click here for a transcript of this show.

Episode 98–What a Wonderful World

Holy Cats. I completely forgot that my website host wasn’t working when I did Episode 97, and I didn’t do a post for that one. It was down for maintenance, and I never came back to it. Shame on me.

So for those of you looking for an entry for “Like a Virgin,” sorry. There isn’t one. We’ll just have to let it stand on its own.

In the meantime, I was thinking about doing the Sam Cooke song, but every time I hit the Internet to do some research, I’d bump into the Louis Armstrong song, so I figured, Why not do both in a single show? And so here we are, with a show that talks about both songs and the stories behind them. Especially interesting to me is that both songs picked up a following in Europe that didn’t have a lot to do with their performance in the US.

Click here for a transcript of this week’s show. And, of course, if your podcatcher hasn’t already picked it up, click below to listen/download it.

ADDENDUM: I noted during the show that next week’s episode was a listener request, and that wasn’t a lie. I should note, however, that the listener is another podcaster who calls himself Innkeeper Freddie, and he runs an interview podcast called Guestbook. Freddie runs a bed-and-breakfast or two in the heart of Washington, DC, and he interviews some of the people who stay at his B&B. Consequently he gets in a fascinating array of people, all of whom have some neat perspectives on life in general, plus the discussion is capped off with the “Seven Questions,” which is a fixed set of questions that he asks of all his guests. It’s definitely worth a listen, and you can check him out here. I got to meet Freddie a few weeks ago at the PRX Podcast Garage in DC, and now I’m playing catch-up with his show. He’s a really enthusiastic guy whose show isn’t getting the love it deserves.

Episode 96–Deacon Blues

Aja, by Steely Dan, was one of the first albums I purchased with my own money. It wasn’t that I was so enamored by Steely Dan; I’d just heard a lot of good stuff about it so I took a chance.

And while fourteen-year-old me heard a ton of good stuff in it, doing a re-listen these many years later has only cemented this album in my Top Ten of all time. (Small wonder that so many others agree with me on that one.)

Aja was released to rather mixed reviews, but over a relatively small amount of time, many of the critics who didn’t like it at first were won over. It just took a second or third listen to appreciate that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were doing something genuinely new, fusing multiple genres into a cohesive whole.

As I strongly suggested during the show, go back and listen to this album with headphones. You’ll be amazed at the intimacy of every element on it.

You’re welcome.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Episode 95–Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen was a local favorite and a darling of the critics, but that sort of thing doesn’t cut any ice when you’re Columbia Records and your artist has already released two albums without scoring any hits.

But Springsteen had an epiphany about what his next album should sound like, from both a lyrical and a sonic sense, and it was the start of his reputation as a serious perfectionist when it came to his recordings. The result was the album Born to Run, and its title track, which were both released on the same day: August 25, 1975.

The album went to Number 3 and just a couple of weeks later, Springsteen made a kind of history by being the first rock star to land on the cover of both Time and Newsweek Magazines during the same week, on October 27. According to biographer Peter Ames Carlin, that wasn’t a coincidence: Jay Cocks of Time found out that Maureen Orth of Newsweek was doing a piece about Springsteen and convinced his editor to run a piece as well. Time’s piece was all about his music, though, while Newsweek concentrated on the publicity machine that put someone like Springsteen on the map.

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I, being only 12 years old at the time, remember seeing the covers but didn’t read either magazine because we didn’t have a subscription. But a pretty big deal was made about it in the newspapers and on TV at the time, so I have a memory of that too.

And as promised, here’s the video of the Springsteen pastiche that appeared on Sesame Street:

Next week’s show was inspired by a suggestion from a listener. In the meantime, have fun with this week’s show:

Click here for a transcript of this show.

Episode 94–Touch of Grey

The Grateful Dead were definitely a rock band, and at the same time they managed to defy most definitions with regard to their specific genre. Sometimes they were funky, sometimes they were bluesy, sometimes they were jazzy, sometimes even gospel. Usually they were jamming, and rather than discouraging fans from recording their concerts, they encouraged it, often even giving them opportunities to plug recorders into their own equipment. Going to a Dead concert was a weird, beautiful, communal experience, and I think the closest equivalent in the absence of Jerry Garcia and Company would be…I don’t know, maybe Phish? The one time I went to a Phish show was in 1999 at what was then the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (Now the PNC Bank P.A.C.), and it was a very similar vibe, right down to the joint being passed down the row from god knows where.

They started out as The Warlocks in 1965 but changed their name after they discovered that The Velvet Underground had already released an album with that title. Stories vary with regard to how they came up with the new name: Phil Lesh says that he found it in a Britannica World Language Dictionary; Garcia’s story is that he found it in an old dictionary of folklore. At any rate, the name stuck and the concerts became known as special events to be experienced.

But while they were enormously popular, their records didn’t exactly burn up the charts. While it took them a few years to crack the Hot 100, it was over 22 years before they saw their one and only Top Ten record. And coincidentally, that’s the one we’re talking about in this episode.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Episode 93–Vehicle

This week’s show was suggested by someone in the Listener Survey, so thank you, Kind Stranger, for making that suggestion. Maybe next time I do this sort of thing, I leave an optional space for putting your names in.

So the car in the episode artwork isn’t THE vehicle in question, but it’s the same make and model, and (I think) year. There are some stories that say it was a 1964 others that say it was a 1965. Both stories came from the Ides of March lead singer and songwriter Jim Peterik, so I went with a ’65 and called it done.

The Ides of March, incidentally, got their name from the play Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare. They were originally the “Shon-Dels,” but Tommy James got there first, with a name that was close enough not to matter. Bass player Bob Bergland suggested the name change after reading the play, because they were still in high school and he’d read it as an English class assignment. They’d already gained some local acclaim with a song called “You Wouldn’t Listen,” which went Top 10 on the WLS surveys in June 1966 and made it to #42 on the Billboard Hot 100. See? You thought the Ides were a one-hit wonder, didn’t you.

At any rate, here’s Episode 93. Have fun with it!

Click here for a transcript of this show.