Gary US Bonds was still just “US Bonds” on the record labels until shortly after this record came out. This week we look at the story behind this song, and how it influenced another hitmaker to write and produce Bonds’ 1981 comeback hit.
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.
Click here for a transcript of this episode.
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.
As I noted during the show, the song’s video is about eleven different kinds of ridiculous, and I think New York magazine summed it up best. Click here to read the review (it’s a quick read).
And you know the rest of the bit. Either you have it or you don’t. If you don’t, here it is:
Be sure to share it with someone and/or leave a rating somewhere!
Legend has it that Bonnie Tyler’s biggest hit was originally written for Meat Loaf. But legends are sometimes wrong.
I was about 15 when I saw Devo performing on Saturday Night Live that October night in 1978. They performed “Jocko Homo”, which gave newcomers (like me) a little bit of an introduction to themselves with that lyric “Are we not men?/We are Devo”.
A friend of mine had already turned me on to Gary Numan a few months earlier, and this felt like the logical next step. And as I sat there in the darkened room (’cause I wasn’t supposed to be up), bathing in the glow from the TV, I was struck in much the same way I was a couple of years later when the B-52s appeared on the same show. “This is SO WEIRD,” I said to myself. “And it’s SO COOL.”
Mark Mothersbaugh jumping back and forth between the microphone and the keyboards, and when the band took off the yellow jumpsuits, and Mothersbaugh had trouble removing his because even though the pants were breakaway, he couldn’t remove the sleeves for some reason, and the whole thing told me that stuff was changing. Music is changing. Maybe even culture is changing. And then they played their cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and at first I admit I was a little put off, but I relaxed into it and even by the time that was over I was all, “yeah, this is cool.” And then it turned out that Jagger really liked it too.
Here’s a link to that performance on Tumblr. Who knows how long it’ll last.
Good stuff. Good memories.
Oh, here’s the cover they did for the Gateway commercial. It’s so stupid that you have to love it. I think this is from 2002:
Your podcast software should already have this, but if you want to listen/download here, have at it:
And as usual, please share the show with someone and/or leave a rating somewhere. I really appreciate any and all feedback!
Devo’s one trip to the Top 40 was a cultural touchstone partly because some people misunderstood the intent of the lyrics, and partly because MTV was starved for programming.
This week’s episode arose from an essay I published on my blog several years ago. I was looking back on some of the stuff I wrote and found this particular piece, and thought, with a little re-writing it might make a decent episode of the podcast. So, re-write I did, and I’m generally happy with the result, though I’m once again fighting off a respiratory thing.
Anyway: James “Sugarboy” Crawford wrote “Iko Iko” in 1953, and recorded it with his band, the Cane Cutters. That version didn’t go anywhere, chart-wise, and neither did any cover that followed, until 1965, when Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, using audio from the Dixie Cups’ fooling around between takes, added a backing track and turned their version, with its nonsensical lyrics, into an international hit. The song became such a big deal that the Dixie Cups eventually received partial writing credit for the song because of all the changed lyrics.
And that’s all I’m saying here, go listen to the show.
And please don’t forget to share the show, and/or leave a rating somewhere.
I was a fan of the HBO series “Treme”, and the frequent use of the phrase “Jockamo Fee Na Nay” in many songs had me wondering whether it actually meant anything. Turns out, it does, sort of.
In the early 80s, When I was in college and working at the campus radio station, once in awhile we’d play this song and announce that it was from the album, “Zager and Evans’ Greatest Hit.”
Because we were hysterically funny that way.
But Denny Zager and Rick Evans were, indeed, a One Hit Wonder. In fact, they were the very definition of the phrase, considering that they had NO other charting hits on either side of the Atlantic.
That said, their one hit dominated the Summer of 1969 and provided the background soundtrack to a host of big news stories that took place during the six weeks it spent in the Number One position on the Billboard Chart.
I also learned after recording this podcast that Odessa Symphony, which provided the orchestral parts of the record, is composed entirely of high school students. The high school they came from is Permian High School, which is the setting of the book that later became the film Friday Night Lights. (The TV series was set in a fictional town.)
As promised, here’s the Futurama clip in which the song is parodied:
And although I didn’t promise it, here’s the opening to the Cleopatra 2525 show. Gina Torres, incidentally, is the one singing the show’s theme song:
And, of course, if your podcatcher doesn’t already have the show, you can listen or download right here:
And I’d like just a wee bit of credit for writing “Summer of 1969” here, and saying it at least twice during the show, without making any tired Bryan Adams jokes. You’re welcome.