Let me open up with an apology for the delayed show. Those who know me well know that there was a medical issue in the family that distracted me, and that’s got to come first, right?
For me, “Classical Gas” is one of those songs that passes in and out of my consciousness. I forget about it for a long time, and then I can’t get enough of it for awhile. And when I did that trivia question last week about instrumentals, “Classical Gas” returned to my radar and I said, “Ooh, I gotta do this one!”. Coincidentally, a listener happened to request that I cover the song, and I was only too happy to oblige, having already started the research. (My reply to him was “boy are you in for a surprise.”)
This is the video that Williams re-scored for its use on the Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour. Try to picture it using Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; I don’t think it works nearly as well. (Also, this video–which was posted to YouTube by Mason Williams–sounds like a slightly different mix, but I could be wrong on that one.)
And I didn’t promise you this in the show, but I’m going to link it here anyway, because I like it so much. This is the cover of “Classical Gas” by Vanessa Mae from 1995:
And here is the episode itself, for those who like to listen or download from here:
So about a million years ago, back in Episode 8 (“Like a Rolling Stone”), I spent a bunch of time during that show talking about the snare shot that opened the song, and how it was practically the Shot Heard Round The World and how it Changed Everything on the rock and roll landscape.
I still believe that, and that particular episode of the podcast remains one of my favorites (if you do nothing else, follow the link to the interactive video and have a blast).
But as it turns out, this past weekend I came across a quotation from Bruce Springsteen that underlines and validates everything I said, and maybe a little more poetically, because, you know, Bruce Springsteen can be a brilliant lyricist and I’m just some guy spouting off. Springsteen was the person who inducted Bob Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this was part of his speech:
The first time that I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother, and we were listening to, I think, WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind, from “Like a Rolling Stone.” And my mother, who was no stiff with rock & roll, she said, “That guy can’t sing.” But I knew she was wrong. I sat there, I didn’t say nothin’, but I knew that I was listening to the toughest voice that I had ever heard. It was lean, and it sounded somehow simultaneously young and adult, and I ran out and I bought the single. I played it, then I went out and I got Highway 61, and it was all I played for weeks. Bob’s voice somehow thrilled and scared me. It made me feel kind of irresponsibly innocent. And it still does. But it reached down and touched what little worldliness a 15-year-old kid in New Jersey had in him at the time.
See? Bruce Springsteen agrees with me, so I can’t be wrong.
In 1981 Bonnie Tyler had exactly one hit, 1977’s “It’s a Heartache”, so it was no mystery why people were calling her a one-hit wonder. Her record label cut her loose, so she found a new manager and talked Jim Steinman, the guy responsible for Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, into partnering with her for a new album. Steinman wasn’t easily convinced, but ultimately he came to her with a couple of older songs that he thought she could record, and when she agreed to those, he came to her with a nearly complete package: here’s the song, here’s who else is going to be performing on it, you just need to come in and sing your little heart out.
That doesn’t match with the popular narrative, that “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was originally written for Meat Loaf as part of his follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell, but it turns out that the guy responsible for that popular narrative about Meat Loaf was…Meat Loaf. But the story caught on, because if you listen to “Eclipse,” you could easily imagine its huge levels of production as being Meat Loaf-esque. But “Eclipse” wasn’t written for him, nor was the other song (a hit for Air Supply) to which he laid the same claim.