It was 1975 and David Bowie’s professional life was in some turmoil. He was in the middle of breaking a contract with his manager, and he was still trying to deal with the way his life had changed since “Space Oddity” became a hit a few years earlier. With the help of his new friend John Lennon (who advised him to get rid of the manager), he took a riff that his guitarist was noodling around with for another song, and turned it into his first #1 hit in the US.
In a BBC interview recorded only a couple of days before he died, Lennon said that David Bowie had a vast repertoire of talent, and it was interesting to see him do most of his song composition right there in the studio. “He goes in with, like four words and a few guys, and starts laying down this stuff, and he has virtually nothing, he’s making it up in the studio.”
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Most people who know me personally know that I’m originally from New York, but it’s not because I have an accent, because I don’t.
Well, I DO have an accent of sorts, but it’s tough to suss out that I’m from the NY metro area. Most people think I’m from the Downstate region of New York, like Poughkeepsie or Newburgh. But the fact is, I’m from a small town on the north shore of Long Island called Kings Park. When I was a small child, Kings Park had a huge mental hospital plunked down in its center, and most of the 5000-odd people who lived in that town, worked at the hospital. Nowadays the hospital is closed, the grounds are long-abandoned, and the town population is close to 20,000.
But for all that, Kings Park and its nearby cousin, Smithtown, manage to have a connection to a couple of Christmas songs. Kings Park was the center of a nationwide news story back in 2013 regarding the song “Silent Night”, and as for Smithtown…well, you’ll just have to listen to see what Smithtown has to do with any Christmas song.
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Hey, you know what would make a great Christmas gift for me? A positive rating and review in whatever software you’re using to download the show. But iTunes still reigns supreme in this respect, so PLEASE go to iTunes dot com (even if you don’t typically use it) and leave me a positive rating.
It was the Summer of Love, and as Johnny Rivers sang, everybody kept on playin’ Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Everybody, that is, except for the fans of an underground band playing the clubs in Los Angeles, who kept calling the local radio stations and requesting a song from that band’s debut album. Eventually Elektra Records put out a shorter version of that seven-minute song, and before long it was climbing the charts nationwide, spending three weeks in the #1 slot in July of 1967. The self-titled album itself couldn’t break Sgt. Pepper‘s hold on the Billboard’s Albums chart, but being #2 to The Beatles is pretty respectable, nonetheless.
The Doors got their name from the title of an Aldous Huxley book called The Doors of Perception, which in turn came from a William Blake quotation: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
Today’s show is a little bit on the short side, coming in at just over 10 minutes, and I think it’s because I’m talking so damn fast. I shouldn’t drink so much tea right before recording the show.
And as usual, if you’ve got a favorite podcatcher, you should be able to hear this week’s show already, or you can just click the player below:
I’ve said some version of this on Twitter and on Facebook a couple of times, but not here.
Considering that this is a podcast that’s relatively new, it’s pretty cool to see that I’ve already got some regular visitors who visit this site from different spots around the world. I often see Canada, Poland and the UK in my analytics (don’t worry, I don’t see anything more specific than that), but this week I’ve also seen India and Peru. In recent weeks I’ve seen the Philippines, China and Japan. That’s very exciting to me!
I’m not quite tearing up the internet; my download count still numbers somewhere in the hundreds. But what fan base I do have appears to be a pretty dedicated group, and I thank you for listening, for your suggestions, and (in at least one case that I know of) for your evangelism.
So here’s my early Christmas present to you: long-time friend (and friend of the podcast) Doug Miles has been a fan of the Big Band sound as long as I’ve known him, and probably longer, given how encyclopedic his knowledge base has always seemed to be, and he’s got some BB-related shows that run on an irregular basis, but he’s just released a couple of hours of some fantastic Christmas songs from that era. There are a few traditional hits that you still hear today, but he’s done a deep-dive into some great stuff that you don’t often hear anymore. Check him out over here. (Never mind the name in the link, I promise it’s correct.) Also: damn, but does his voice have some resonance to it. Am I allowed to hate on him for that?
As a reminder: in this week’s episode, we’re going to look at the song that carried The Doors from wannabe Beat Poets to the firmament of Rock and Roll Stars. See you on Saturday!
It was the biggest album of 1982, and the title track was the last Top Ten single to come from it. That’s seven singles out of nine tracks total.
Michael Jackson wanted to top not only the success, but the ambition of his previous album, Off The Wall, and I think we can all agree that he more than succeeded. Thriller remains the largest-selling album of all time.
What! you say, bigger than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Bigger than Dark Side of the Moon? Bigger than Bat Out of Hell? Yes, indeed. As of this week, the top 15 all-time sellers are:
Sales (in millions)
Back in Black
The Dark Side of the Moon
Bat Out of Hell
Whitney Houston / Various artists
The Bodyguard Soundtrack
Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975)
Bee Gees / Various artists
Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack
Come On Over
Led Zeppelin IV
Jagged Little Pill
Falling into You
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
That’s THREE albums Jackson has in the all-time Top 15, and Off the Wall isn’t even one of them. (It’s way down the list, a spot or two below HIStory.)
Anyway. Today we’re looking at the title track, a song that started as “Starlight” and ended with Quincy Jones’ wife recruiting Vincent Price to do a little white-boy rap.
Per our Standard Operating Procedure, if you’ve got a favorite podcatcher, you should be able to hear this week’s show already, or you can just click the player below:
Before they were famous, lots of artists sang backup for other artists. But once in awhile, they’ll lend their talent to someone else because it’s fun, or because they owe someone a favor or maybe just because they were asked to.
This week, we’re going to listen in on a bunch of songs that have famous people singing backups. Some of them are pretty well known; others may come as a surprise to you.
Per our Standard Operating Procedure, if you’ve got a favorite podcatcher, you should be able to hear this week’s show already, or you can just click the player below to listen/download it right here:
Related to this week’s episode, a couple of extras. One of them I had to cut from the podcast because it was getting so long, the other I’d forgotten about until a listener mentioned it to me.
Let me do mine first, because it’s a quicker bit. In addition to the covers done of “MacArthur Park”, Weird Al Yankovic did a parody song that’s quite faithful to the original, including the fact that there are different movements with different moods, and he plays it a little straighter than usual, with a lot of little shout-outs to different elements from the film. Plus, the video is done in claymation, which was still about as complicated as it got in 1993 (remember that Jurassic Park-level CGI was crazy expensive at that time):
Here’s a weird coincidence. This is the third time that 1993 has come up in connection with this song:
During the podcast I mentioned that Suzy Horton got married to Robert Ronstadt in 1993.
I also noted that Maynard Ferguson did a jazz cover of the song that year.
And now we have this Weird Al video, which was also released in 1993. COINCIDENCE? Sure, of course it is.
The other extra I have goes back to when I was a Senior in high school. I was a big fan of the show Second City Television (SCTV), which was a comedy skit series that had a fictional Canadian television station as the central conceit of the show. Everything you saw was a show on the station, or a movie they were presenting, or a “commercial” or promo for an upcoming program (which the viewer rarely saw). Later on they branched into the behind-the-scenes activity at the station. One of the shows on the SCTV Network was a satirical sendup of American Bandstand, with a host who was so incredibly uncool that he was uncomfortable to watch in this disco setting. The show was called “Mel’s Rock Pile”, hosted by “Rockin'” Mel Stirrup (played by Eugene Levy), and there was an episode of “Rock Pile”that featured a performance from Richard Harris (as portrayed by Dave Thomas). This originally aired on February 20, 1981:
I actually remember when this first aired, and it’s funny on its face just because it’s so absurd, but I recently learned that, like so many great parodies, it has a strong basis in reality. In 1972, Harris performed the song on a BBC special called “A Gala Evening of Music and Wit”. During the instrumental break, Harris sat on the stage for awhile, but then did an awkward roll with a spring to his feet, and some rather directionless dancing around. What’s also interesting is that he’s definitely singing it differently from the way he sings it on the record: a little more fully-throated, with some more actual singing involved.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find the entire performance on the Interwebs anywhere, but there are a few clips from it in this piece:
When Jimmy Webb got his heart broken, what did he do? Why, he did what any other red-blooded American would do: he wrote a couple of hit songs and made a million bucks off the incident!
OK, that’s not the most common reaction, but it’s what happened back in 1967, when he wrote a song that was turned down by The Association, but picked up by an actor who’d decided he wanted to conquer the music charts.
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And, as usual, if you were to go to iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts and leave a rating, and maybe even some feedback, I’d be much obliged. Which reminds me: let me give a shout-out to Connie Paulson, who wrote such nice things on the Facebook page, and to Bob C. (dunno if he wants to be identified), who left a wonderful review on iTunes! Thanks so much, guys. That really warmed my heart a little bit.
In the late 1950s, Marty Robbins, who was commuting hundreds of miles between his home in Phoenix and various gigs in Texas, frequently passed through the town of El Paso on his journeys to and fro. The town inspired him to write a cinematic-level song with nine verses and three bridges—and no chorus. Plus, it clocked in at four minutes and forty seconds. Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, the song climbed in just a few weeks to take over the top spot on the Hot 100 for the first two weeks of 1960.
The song put both Marty Robbins, and the town of El Paso, at the front of everyone’s consciousness, and it’s probably the song that’s most associated with him. But what inspired him? Is the song about anyone special? And how many sequels to one song can the music-buying public take? (Answer: more than you’d imagine.)
By the way, if you have a copy of Marty Robbins’ book, I’d love to see it. That was a frustrating search.
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Hey, everybody makes a mistake now and then. That’s why they put erasers on pencils, am I right?
But once in awhile, someone will make a mistake that manages to enhance rather than detract (“Eminence Front,” I’m looking at you.). And that’s where we’re going this week: we’ll look at four songs that had mistakes in them where the artists made a conscious decision to keep the error in place because it actually makes the song a little bit better.
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And any feedback is good feedback…especially if it’s good feedback. so please take the time to leave a rating on iTunes or whatever app you’re using to listen to the show. Much appreciated! And for your efforts, here’s a video clip of the the engineer’s point of view behind one of the stories in the show: