This week, it’s a look at hit songs that have backup singers who are well-known, because they’re also famous.
Reminder: next week I’m taking off for the Thanksgiving weekend. See you in two weeks!
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:
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 quite the happy camper.
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.
If you’ve got a favorite podcatcher, you should be able to hear this week’s show already, or you can just click on the player below to listen/download:
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.
Love it or hate it, Richard Harris’ song from 1968 certainly seems to create some strong reactions. Here’s the story behind the song, and how (as it turns out) one woman inspired three different hit songs from the same writer, and another one in Europe.
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.
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:
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 probably wouldn’t complain too loudly.
Let us turn back the clock to 1959, when Marty Robbins put a small town in a corner of Texas on everyone’s mental map.