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Year: 2020

136: Ain’t No Sunshine

Original photo by Marcus Castro, available on Scopio.

Bill Withers was an aspiring musician, but he kept his feet on the ground for a long time. Even after his first album started to climb the charts, he kept working his job assembling bathrooms in an airplane factory because he thought the music industry was fickle. He wasn’t wrong, incidentally. But in his case he may have been pessimistic. It wasn’t until “Ain’t No Sunshine” went Gold that he finally left the factory job and went on tour to support the album.

Just as I Am (Bill Withers album) - Wikipedia

Given the star power that supported him with the recording of his debut album, Just As I Am, it’s a small wonder that he became such a huge star right away. When you’ve got Booker T. Jones producing and the rest of the MGs, plus Stephen Stills and Jim Keltner on drums, you’re going to be a huge hit. Or, maybe you’re not nearly as good as you think you are, and you may as well spend the rest of your life in that factory.

“Ain’t No Sunshine” wasn’t the first single off the album. And I don’t think I’m spoiling any surprises here when I tell you this: It isn’t too tough to figure out how it got all the airplay, and eventually all the sales, that it did.

Oh—and, as promised, here’s the video of the cover by the Black Label Society from a few years back. They’re a heavy metal band, but this cover is mostly acoustic. Zakk Wylde kind of digs the negative attention that the video got for the use of the horse masks (and more) that you’ll see in this video. But maybe just lean back and enjoy it instead of reading into it too deeply.

I’m aiming for the next show to drop on January 3, so until then: have a Happy and Safe New Year!

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135: Lesser Known Christmas Pop

Merry Christmas!

I actually had a different show in mind but I got to listening to some old radio airchecks (not my own) and I was inspired to do something different from the usual show.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s a half-hour long. That’s because I’m playing songs in their entirety and not really talking very much. (If any episode is going to net me a C&D letter, this’ll be the one.)

In this year’s Christmas episode, I’m playing eight songs that don’t get airplay anymore for some reason. A few of them are kinda goofy, a couple are kind of derivative, and I daresay a few of them are seminal to their genre. And while I share a little history with you here and there, the intent this time is to just sit back and wonder why the All Christmas All The Time station in your area is sticking with the same twenty songs, and not playing any of these guys.

All of these songs can be found without too much hassle on Amazon Music or YouTube. If you want to revisit them, here’s the playlist:

  • Merry Christmas, Mary—Tommy Dee and Carol Kay
  • Merry, Merry Christmas, Baby—Dodie Stevens
  • Santa’s Song—The Oak Ridge Boys
  • Yulesville—Edd “Kookie” Byrnes
  • Santa Claus Meets the Purple People Eater—Sheb Wooley
  • Please Come Home For Christmas—Charles Brown
  • White Christmas—The Ravens
  • Silent Night—The Ravens (flip side of White Christmas)

    And just for the giggles, here’s one more song that didn’t make it into the show itself. It’s Bobby Helms’ other shot at a Christmas tune, from 1965. He wasn’t the original artist (I think he was the fourth) to release this song. I think the most popular version came from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1968, though Bobby Vinton’s version is kind of well-known, too. At any rate, here’s Bobby Helms:

    Sorry, no transcript of this episode, since it’s mostly music.

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134: Maggie May

NOTE: I got word that there was a problem with the uploaded file. It should be fine now. Apologies for those of you who had hassles.

(Original photo by Meg Wagener for Unsplash)

Let me start by thanking the show’s newest Patron, Scott Fraser, for joining the family!

Next: my apologies: I counted on taking a week’s break but not two. I got remarkably sick a couple of times in the past week, culminating with a trip that involved having testing swabs stuck up my nose to varying depths, depending on what they were looking for that time. They were relieved to tell me that I “only” had food poisoning…they think. Reassuring? Anyway, if I sound a little rough in this episode, now you know why.

There are several elements of the story behind “Maggie May” which are going to sound very familiary to you, if only because I’ve told a variation on them at some point in the past with regard to other songs.

On the other hand, there are definitely a few elements to “Maggie May” which you’re not going to hear anywhere else, because not every song starts with getting deflowered at a jazz festival’s swan song.

Oh–and as promised, here’s Godley and Creme’s first video, for their own “Englishman in New York.”

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133: All I Wanna Do

When Sheryl Crow finished her debut album, she decided that it didn’t sound the way she wanted it to. So she actually convinced A&M Records to scrap it and let her start over.

The result was a collaboration between her and several other Los Angeles-area musicians who met weekly to help each other with their songwriting. That quickly turned into a project dedicated to putting together Crow’s second debut album. That group became the Tuesday Night Music Club, because that’s the night they’d meet, and it also became the title of that album.

Now, some controversy arose around the TNMC and the album that arose from it, specifically who got credit for what, and it may have led to the death of one of the members. But that all came later on and as a result I didn’t focus on any of that in this episode. Instead I stuck to Crow’s early career and what led to the Club, her (second) first album and how “All I Wanna Do” went from a throwaway track to her breakout hit.

And as ever, I’m thankful for your support.

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132: Knock Three Times

So I’m in the Southern Studio again this weekend, which means I don’t have a good handle on the way the show sounds until long after I’ve posted it. Also, I tried something very different with my workflow this week so I’m curious to know what you think of the way the shows sounds at your end. I won’t be upset if you think it stinks, promise. Next week I’ll be back in Baltimore, sounding more typical.

To tell the story of “Knock Three Times” we had to dive a little bit into the early career of Tony Orlando and how he got that way. Orlando had actually retired from singing and was doing well with producing and working in Columbia Records’ music publishing department, when someone asked him a favor: could you please record this for us?

Orlando said, “No thanks. You’re not even a Columbia label. “

They said, “Please? We’ll give you three thousand dollars.”

And Orlando said, “Don’t put my name on this or there’ll be trouble.”

Candida (song) - Wikipedia

So Bell Records kept their promise and released the record under the name Dawn. They even took the time to fake a photo of the band for the 45’s picture sleeve. Look at those guys over there. None of them are on this record. They’re literally just four guys in a photograph. The band was composed of session musicians and a couple of backup singers, including Toni Wine, who co-wrote the song.

This wound up being a good news/bad news thing, because “Candida” was a pretty huge hit worldwide, and Bell Records got hot for a follow-up track. Orlando went back into the studio with the same session players and made an entire album, including a second single, “Knock Three Times.” That song was an even bigger hit, and Orlando was forced to come out in the open, hire some genuine members of Dawn and go on tour.

But I’m pretty sure it worked out okay for him in the end, yeah?

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131: Candle in the Wind

Elton John and Bernie Taupin were in a remarkably productive period in the early 1970s. Over a span of just two weeks they’d not only written enough material for an album, they’d written enough for two. And they were thematically similar enough that all the songs could be combined into a single two-LP package. That became the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which yielded three hit singles. It would have generated at least one more, but in the meantime John had cranked out yet another album (Caribou), and any more singles from Goodbye would have delayed Caribou‘s release.

So “Harmony” became a B side, and while “Candle in the Wind” had been released as a single in the UK, it never came out in the US. However, 1973 was early in the period when FM radio was starting to grow, and some radio stations were only too happy to play entire album sides without interruption. And since Side 1 of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road could be considered practically a single piece, “Candle in the Wind” got some FM airplay then. At any rate, it wasn’t an unknown quantity by the time 1986 rolled around and Elton played it in concert in Australia, where the song made it onto the live album he released the next year and it WAS released as a single, this time charting in the US and (again) in the UK.

Because the song had gotten some national attention it turned out that Princess Diana was familiar with it to the point where she’d told Elton John that she’d found herself identifying with some of the predicaments that the Marilyn Monroe of the song had faced during her lifetime. So when Diana was killed in a car crash at the same age that Marilyn was when she died, and when the Royal Family asked Elton John to play at Diana’s funeral, Elton asked Bernie Taupin to come up with new lyrics for the song.

And thus it was that “Candle in the Wind” found new life on the charts. But there’s more to the story than just that. Tune in and find out what!

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130: The Twist

First off, I have to note that I do have fun doing the artwork for these episodes.

Where were we? Oh yeah. Somewhere in the late 50s, early 60s. And Hank Ballard has a new song that’s picking up traction in Baltimore thanks to the Buddy Deane Show, when suddenly it gets yoinked out from under him by a newcomer from Philadelphia.

That newcomer is named Chubby Checker, and the song is (surprise!) “The Twist,” which rockets to the top of the charts just a few weeks after Dick Clark features Checker on his Saturday night show. Suddenly the floodgates open up and the nation is awash in Twist records for two years. I’m talking about a couple of dozen songs at least, and those are just the ones that made the charts.

No wonder The Beatles just walked in and took over. I kid! They’d have done that anyway.

This didn’t make it into the show for some reason (though it’s in the transcript), but Ballard wasn’t even mad about Chubby Checker (and Dick Clark) hijacking his record. You see, Ballard’s label didn’t have a lot of confidence in it—hence its placement on a B side—and as one of the writers, Ballard made a pile of money on it anyway. Plus, his version peaked at Number 28 the same week Checker’s version reached Number 1 the first time around. And Dick Clark made it up to Ballard by promoting his other single, “Finger Poppin’ Time,” which was at Number 7 that same week. So, all’s well that ends well.

And, as promised, here’s the Chubby Checker/Fat Boys video for ye. Man, I thought rap in the 80s was just the most fun.

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129: Seasons in the Sun

It’s whiny. It’s treacly. It’s mushy. It’s kind of a bad song. I’m not going to talk you out of any of those things. This isn’t one of those shows where I try to convince you—and perhaps myself—that an objectively bad song is somehow good. (And if you don’t know what songs those are, that means I’m doing a pretty good job.)

But the fact is, “Seasons in the Sun” absolutely dominated nearly the first half of 1974, and like Kurt Cobain, it was one of the first records I bought with my own money. I promise I’m not considering any self-injurious behavior today.

Not today.

And like Norman Greenbaum before him with “Spirit in the Sky”, Terry Jacks was able to use the money he made from his song to do pretty much whatever he wanted for the rest of his life. Maybe we should all write a song with the title “[thing] in the [another thing]”, hm? Could that be the secret to financial security?

Incidentally, I used different software to record this episode. Usually I use Audacity, but I heard a lot of good stuff about a program called Hindenburg, and while there’s a bit of a learning curve involved, it’s pretty good and may actually change my workflow once I get better used to it. If it sounds better or worse, I’d be curious to hear from you about it.

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128: In Your Eyes

By 1985 Peter Gabriel had released four solo albums, all of them titled Peter Gabriel. Nowadays most people subtitle them based on the cover artwork (e.g. Peter Gabriel (Scratch), Peter Gabriel (Melt), etc.), and while I suppose that amused Gabriel, it did not amuse the folks at his label.

They pushed back hard to get him to take marketing his work more seriously, so he came up with a title that wasn’t really much of a title: So. But Gabriel had, perhaps because of his work on Birdy, had caught on to the worldbeat sound, and incorporated it into the compositions on So. In addition, he got ridiculously lucky with some very creative people to direct and produce the videos that supported the singles. “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time” in particular were very MTV-friendly, and all of a sudden Gabriel is himself on his way and making it in the Big Time, with So going Top Five around the world.

And the fact that the “In Your Eyes” single was a tonal changeup from most of the other singles (“Don’t Give Up” notwithstanding), meant that Peter Gabriel was being taken more seriously as a versatile performer than he was previously, when he was thought of largely as a cult favorite.

I didn’t promise this during the show, but I’m throwing it in here anyway. Here’s the source material for some of the “In Your Eyes” video.

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127: Foreign Influence

I don’t know why it fascinated me so much recently to poke around with songs that had foreign lyrics in them. But, here we are. This week’s show (and I promise I’m done with the premise for awhile) looks at four songs between 1969 and 1984 which have non-English phrases in them. Some of them have been hilariously misunderstood for a long time. One of them is pretty obvious but I decided to throw it in anyway. And one may come as a surprise to you, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

As promised, here’s an episode of the European game show Jeux Sans Frontières from 1975. This episode comes from Engelburg, Switzerland:

And here’s another, airing from Vilamoura, Portugal in 1980:

And just for laughs, here’s this week’s episode:

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