116–Mister Blue Sky

Out of the Blue was an honest-to-god masterpiece of an album, and probably the pinnacle of the Electric Light Orchestra’s use of the classical music instruments in rock and roll songs. And the centerpiece of this album was almost certainly Side Three.

The four songs that comprised that side of the album were collectively known as the Concerto for a Rainy Day, meant to evoke the emotional responses that we have to the weather. And when the sun emerges after a storm, and it’s just plain glorious outside, that’s the feeling that “Mister Blue Sky” manages to convey so masterfully. As Jeff Lynne himself said in the 2018 book Wembley or Bust:

The lyrics to ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ are simple and easy to visualize. When the song is playing, you can picture everything that’s going on and everybody knows what I’m talking about. It’s the thought of, ‘Oh, isn’t it nice when the sun comes out?’ And you know, it really is. ‘The sky is blue, wow, what a thing.’ It’s a simple kid’s story.”

A couple of housekeeping notes on this episode:

First, I screwed up some of the geography involved with Lynne’s writing of the album. The cabin was in Geneva, not Munich. However, he did record the rainstorm in Munich. Anyway, please forgive the error.

Second, I need to give credit to Soundjay.com for that needle-drop sound effect I used right before “Sweet is the Night.”

Third, some parts of this episode were a nightmare to record, so I’m sure my family is wondering why they heard me saying the same things over and over again. (This may also account for my geography error, too, but I should have caught that before committing the episode.)

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

115–Cold Turkey

So I’m sitting here in my home office-slash-podcast studio, researching and writing this week’s episode, and setting up the audio clips, and my dog is sitting at my feet pretty much the entire time. And as soon as I cracked the microphone open, he decided he needed to leave the room. Did he need to go outside? No. He just wanted to be in the next room. How’s that for a criticism?

Ah, well. At least I have you. Right? RIGHT??

John Lennon’s first non-Beatles single for which he gets sole writing credit was misunderstood and probably alienated Beatles fans, but you can’t deny the power of Eric Clapton’s guitar riffs and the claustrophobia of the mix provided by Klaus Voormann’s bass and Ringo Starr’s drumming. And it should be noted that the moaning and screaming at the end actually pre-dates Arthur Janov’s book The Primal Scream, so once again Lennon was a little bit ahead of his time. (Albert Goldman’s book about Lennon suggests that he and Mick Jagger got advance copies of the book, and that John Lennon actually underwent primal scream therapy for awhile. However, Goldman’s book appears to have only a casual relationship with the truth.

It’s allergy season and I’m sounding great, my friend. Have a listen.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

114–Leader of the Pack

I worked about as not-very-hard on this picture as I worked very-hard on the Taylor Swift picture. Go figure.

In 1964 the Shangri-Las got on a sudden hot streak with their sultry recording of “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”, written by George “Shadow” Morton.

Morton had bluffed his way into the Brill Building by telling Lieber and Stoller that he was a songwriter (he wasn’t), and when he was asked what kind of songs he wrote, he said “hit songs” (also a lie). But Lieber and Stoller took his word for it and asked him to write a song. A week later, Morton came back not only with a song, but with a quartet of teenage girls from Long Island City called The Shangri-Las. Lieber and Stoller liked both the song and the girls, and signed them to a contract (well, their parents signed the contract; they were still minors at the time). I saw somewhere that there might have been some controversy about the Shangri-Las already being signed to another label, but I couldn’t substantiate that claim.

And that’s just one of several nebulous stories that surround the Shangri-Las and their first couple of hits. We look at a few of the ones that are connected to their second, much larger hit. Have fun with it.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Episode 113–Shake It Off

WHAT! you say. We’ve been waiting a month and he brings us a Taylor Swift song?

Well…yeah. But don’t click away just yet.

Here’s the thing: I want to expand the scope of the show a little bit, and recently I heard a rather high-level discussion of Swift’s work on another podcast called Switched On Pop, which looks at songs and artists from a musical standpoint rather than a conceptual one. If you’re not well-versed in the language of music (and I’m not), you might find some of it tough to understand (and I do), but it’s still a pretty interesting show. Their look at Taylor Swift was one of their earliest episodes, so they were still looking at the 1989 album and “Shake It Off” as a new phenomenon. Anyway, they inspired me to take a modern-day look at her, a few years after her transition from Country to Pop.

And, since some people are kind of stubborn about modern-day artists, I thought it’d be a fun challenge to try and draw those folks in. Not you, of course–you’re a very open-minded person. Other people.

But this was the leadoff single from her first purely pop album, and the reaction was generally positive, though there were some people who decried her turning her back on the Country music scene. And I get that–I do miss all that banjo in her music.

As promised, here’s the clip of Dwayne Johnson lip-synching along with Taylor Swift:

For what it’s worth, later in the show he synchs the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” to win the game. Also, Jimmy Fallon commenting that Johnson probably sings the song in his car proved to be kind of prophetic, because….

…here’s Johnson in a clip from his show Ballers, which aired just a few months later. Which means he was probably learning “Shake It Off” for Lip Sync Battle around the time he shot this episode.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.