Shel Silverstein was a poet, a cartoonist, a humorist and a songwriter who wrote more hits than most people would suspect.
The Isley Brothers were an act that seemed to do well on stage, but they were having difficulty getting traction as far as record sales or radio airplay were concerned. While performing in Philadelphia, Ronald Isley recognized that their cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops” was getting a terrific response from the audience, so he started ad-libbing a call-and-response section to keep the song going. It worked out so well that they kept doing the bit, and when they’d finished the series of performances, their producers suggested that they turn the bit into a single of its own. And a gigantic hit was born!
Ha, Ha! Just kidding. The song only went to #47 on the Billboard charts. But it became a popular party tune, and was covered repeatedly by numerous artists, including Lulu, who was only 13 years old and still performing as Lulu and the Luvvers. Here’s her 1965 appearance on Ready Steady Go. I like the full ending she puts on the record, and the way she gives up lip-synching before she’s quite done:
Finally, 1978 rolled around and the song was used in the film National Lampoon’s Animal House, performed by a fictional band called Otis Day and the Knights, which re-activated the song’s popularity (and contributed heavily to the Isleys getting Gold certification for their version), and allowed the singer of the band (not the guy you see on stage, that’s a lip-synching actor) to put a real Otis Day band together and go on tour. Over ten years later they recorded an album with a new recording of “Shout”.
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The Isley Brothers’ first charting hit from 1959 got its start not as a song, but as a bit they’d do to extend another song they were already singing in concert.
Dan Aykroyd, who is well-known for being interested in parapsychology, came up with the idea of creating a comedy horror film in the tradition of the movie comedians he’d grown up watching. The first draft was a bit of a mess, but Aykroyd is a good egg in this respect and knows that he’s a better Idea Guy than a Polished Script Writer, so he handed off the project to director Ivan Reitman and a few others, and threw in some jargon and other ideas along the ride.
Reitman and his (and Aykroyd’s) agent Michael Ovits went to Columbia Pictures and, pulling a dollar figure out of a hat (roughly three times what Reitman spent on Stripes), got a budget of $25,000,000, which was HUGE for a comedy at that time. Columbia slated the film to open about a year later, which really put the team in a crunch position, especially since the script was still being re-written and there were lots of special effects to create.
So many things could have gone wrong and made the film a flop (in fact, Columbia execs thought so at first), but it caught on with audiences, and part of that success was the support it got from its theme song, written by Ray Parker Jr after several other musicians had either turned down the project, or given it a shot and found lacking. But his original 20-second effort (what he was commissioned for) excited Reitman so much that he convinced Parker to write a complete song, and he’d support it with a video. That video became only the second one featuring an African-American artist on MTV.
As I mention during the show, the video involved a lot of items painted on glass, and then the camera shot through the glass, giving everything a funky, ethereal look.
Glass shots were also popularly used in films as a cheap way of creating illusions that are more easily done nowadays with green screens and CGI imagery. In this shot from Star Wars below, only the walkway to the right (where the stormtroopers are standing) and the cone-shaped gizmo on which Obi-Wan Kenobi is standing is real and full-size. Everything else, including the pillar below the cone-shaped gizmo, is painted on a sheet of glass carefully placed in front of the camera. It’s like doing a matte shot on the cheap.
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Ray Parker Jr wasn’t the first person approached to come up with a pop song to support this film, but he was the last, and the best.
Lou Reed had been out of the Velvet Underground for about two years, and his first solo album had tanked, but people like David Bowie still believed in him, and brought him to London to record his second album. One of the songs he recorded during the ten days they spent on Transformer was a song he’d been noodling with for about a year. It started out as part of the score for a show that never materialized, but over time it morphed into a tribute to several of Andy Warhol’s “Superstars” at his studio-cum-crash pad, The Factory.
The song got a remarkable amount of airplay despite its subject matter (and because of how well it was coded), and propelled Transformer into the Billboard Top 30, cementing its place as a touchstone of the Glam Rock genre of music.
Incidentally, the album’s cover was photographed by Mick Rock, who’d accidentally over-exposed the image in the darkroom, but he liked the way it came out and submitted it as a possible cover anyway.
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Lou Reed’s signature song (he once joked that he knew his obituary would start with “doot, di-doot, di-doot…”) has its origins in people he knew and worked with at Andy Warhol’s studio, The Factory.
The late 1960s was a great time for the fusion of folk and pop music, and a lot of singer-songwriters made their marks with recording their songs, and those of other performers, during that time. So it was when Judy Collins first heard Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides Now” down a telephone line one late night in 1967. Collins met with Mitchell and Al Kooper that very night in the bar from which Kooper placed the phone call, and the song wound up as the opening track to Side Two of Collins’ seventh album, Wildflowers.
For whatever reason, though, the song wasn’t released as a single for about a year, but releasing the song turned out to be a great idea, because it turned into Collins’ first foray into Billboard’s Top 40 and propelled Wildflowers to the Number 5 position on their albums chart.
Joni Mitchell, in the meantime, managed to score a recording contract of her own and recorded it, along with several other songs that had already been cut by other artists (including “Chelsea Morning”, which Collins had recorded and released as a single earlier that year) and a few new tracks. “Both Sides Now” became a stealth title track for her self-produced second album, Clouds, and finally propelled her into the public light.
The song has been covered literally dozens of times from 1967 all the way up to this decade, and by artists of all ages and genres so clearly this is a song whose impact will be felt for many years to come.
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One fine evening in 1967, Judy Collins gets a call from Al Kooper and Joni Mitchell, and it turns into her first Top 40 hit.
In an effort to make the show as a whole more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (and, let’s face it, to make it more visible to search engines), transcripts of each show will now be available.
As it happens, because the show is heavily scripted, and because I’m weirdly obsessive about saving digital stuff, I still have the original Microsoft Word files for most episodes. I lost a few to accidental overwrites, but I’ll figure something out for those shows as well.
So, beginning this week when the show returns for Episode 53, there will be a transcript linked from the episode’s blog post. In addition, I’ll be backfilling the older episodes over the next couple of weeks until everything is caught up.
See you on Saturday!