Episode 11: Failing Upward

EDITED to fix the link. Which makes the first sentence of this post just a little more poignant, no? 

Hey, everybody makes a mistake now and then. That’s why they put erasers on pencils, am I right?

But once in awhile, someone will make a mistake that manages to enhance rather than detract (“Eminence Front,” I’m looking at you.). And that’s where we’re going this week: we’ll look at four songs that had mistakes in them where the artists made a conscious decision to keep the error in place because it actually makes the song a little bit better.

 

And, as usual, you can listen to the show via your favorite podcatcher, or you can just play/download it from right here:

 

And any feedback is good feedback…especially if it’s good feedback. so please take the time to leave a rating on iTunes or whatever app you’re using to listen to the show. Much appreciated! And for your efforts, here’s a video clip of the the engineer’s point of view behind one of the stories in the show:

Episode 10: Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd

This was the newspaper headline from the Enterprise-Journal of the nearby town of McComb.

It was on this day in 1977 that a plane went down in southwest Mississippi, in a small town called Gillsburg. Even today, forty years later, Gillsburg looks like little more than a wide spot in the road, but its main claim to fame is that plane crash, which took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, along with Gaines’ sister Cassie, all members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Also killed in the crash were assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray. Other band members and passengers on the plane suffered serious injuries.

The original cover, which didn’t return to the album until 2005, when the Deluxe CD was released.

The band’s album, Street Survivors, had been released only a few days earlier and had already gone gold. The publicity from the crash helped push the album to multi-platinum status and a spot in the Top Five on the Billboard Album Chart. The unfortunate cover of the album was swiftly replaced until just a few years ago.

But this week we’re looking at a song from their first album, titled (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) that became the band’s signature tune, and the punchline to pretty much any concert-related joke. “Free Bird” was a song that was over two years in the making, and it was assembled through a combination of necessity, serendipity and a flash of Ah-HA! inspiration. And I’ve managed to make this particular podcast longer than any recorded version of the song.

Here’s the clip of the band playing during the Vicious Cycle Tour in 2003. Check out the piano introduction and how sweet the strings make it:

If you’ve got a favorite podcatcher, you should be able to hear this week’s show already, or you can just click the player below:

And, as usual, if you were to go to iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts and leave some feedback, well, that would put me forever in your debt. Until I repaid the favor, of course.

Episode 9: Under the Covers

This week we’re going to dive into famous songs that were recorded by other artists first. Some of them you’re going to know about because practically everybody knows about them, but I think there will be a few surprises in there. I know that one of them came as a pretty big surprise to me!

If you hit me up on Twitter and ask real pretty, I may tell you which Stevie Wonder song I was talking about.

As ever, you have a few listening options:

  • Either your favorite podcatcher (iTunes, Castbox, Podcast Republic, etc) already has it,
  • Or you can just play/download it right on this page.

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Episode 8: Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan

This was the song that heralded the Dylan Goes Electric era, and when he first played it live at the 1965 Newport Music Festival, he was met with boos and charges that he’d sold out, or was somehow a “traitor” to his folk roots.

But Bob Dylan stuck to his guns, and “Like a Rolling Stone” became, and remains, his biggest single ever.

This is the picture sleeve of the 45.

If it hadn’t been for a quartet from Liverpool and their obvious cry for Help!, it probably would have gone all the way to Number One on the Billboard chart.

This episode is now available through your favorite podcatcher, or you can download it or you can listen to it right here:

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During the podcast I mentioned an interactive video that’s connected to this song. Here’s the teaser trailer:

But the real fun lies here: you can play with the original video on your own by clicking on this link. I will refund every dime of your money if you don’t think this is cool.

Episode 7: Tequila by The Champs

This was the A side of the record, remember.

This week we’re taking a look at a song that was never meant to be a hit. In fact, it wouldn’t even have appeared on a record if some musicians hadn’t been hanging around when someone realized that the record he’d been working on didn’t have a B side.

So he rounded up whomever he could find and fortunately, the saxophone player had a tune he’d been fooling around with for a little while, plus he had a fondness for a certain beverage from South of the Border.

Erm…no. The one Down Mexico Way.

As usual, if you haven’t subscribed via iTunes or your favorite podcast catcher, you can download the file or you can listen right here:

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Playing the Palace

For the record: non-episode-based posts are going to have dopey titles. I’ve been doing it over at Baltimore Diary forever, and I’m going to do it here, because it amuses me and the sooner you accept it, the better off everyone will be. Mmkay?

This week’s episode was inspired by an old high school friend by the name of Kevin, who actually asked me to do a podcast about the song Crackerbox Palace, which also appears on George Harrison’s album Thirty-Three and 1/3. I did the due diligence as far as researching it, and while there is a little bit of a story behind it, it wasn’t really enough for an entire podcast, so I figured I’d save it for here.

Image result for lord buckleyIn 1975, George was at the Midem Music Festival, which is a trade show that’s been held in Cannes, France, every year since 1967. At the festival, he met up with a man named George Greif. Harrison remarked that Greif reminded him of the late comedian Lord Buckley (seen here at left). Coincidentally, Greif had been Buckley’s manager back in the day, and he invited George to come visit him at Buckley’s home in Los Angeles, which he referred to as “Crackerbox Palace”.

George was intrigued by the phrase and wrote it down, later turning it into a song that contained a little shout-out to both Greif and Lord Buckley:

Some times are good, some times are bad
That’s all a part of life
And standing in between them all

I met a Mr. Grief, and he said:

I welcome you to Crackerbox Palace
Was not expecting you
Let’s rap and tap at Crackerbox Palace
Know that the Lord is well and inside of you

Also of note is that, in addition to the “This Song” promotional film, George made one out of “Crackerbox Palace” as well, which also aired during the November 20, 1976 episode of Saturday Night Live. If you catch the re-run that’s been cut to an hour, though, this one usually gets cut based on the time considerations. It’s also pretty whimsical, though not as obviously comedic as “This Song”. Directed by Eric Idle, it features future Rutle Neil Innes as the nanny (above, right) and agai his future wife Olivia appears briefly in the bedroom shot (on the left). And while it wasn’t shot at Buckley’s house, it was shot at Friar Park, George’s home from 1970 until his death in 2001. Some have said that he occasionally referred to Friar Park as “Crackerbox Palace,” but I haven’t been able to nail that one down for sure.

Here’s the video. And if you’re curious, the answer is Yes: George did lift that “It’s twoo, it’s twoo” from Blazing Saddles.

Back it Up A Little

Image result for harrison my sweet lordThis week the podcast visited a chunk of George Harrison’s life, specifically the aftermath of the copyright infringement lawsuit surrounding “My Sweet Lord” and the tune inspired by the suit, titled “This Song”.

With regard to “My Sweet Lord,” someone commented, “I always did like the black gospel singers singing “Hare Krishna”. Most of them probably had no idea what they were saying.” And he’s at least partially right. If listeners weren’t listening too closely, they may not have realized that the backup singers were singing “Hare Krishna”, in part because for the first couple of verses, they sing “Hallelujah”. It’s certainly possible that they stopped listening too closely after that point.

After the song’s bridge, the backups stop singing “Hallelujah” as a response to each line, instead moving on to the first part of the Hare Krishna mantra:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama

According to his autobiography I Me Mine, it was always George’s intention to have the voices singing “Hare Krishna” in alternation with “Hallelujah,” largely to demonstrate that they mean more or less the same thing. They do, in fact, return to “Hallelujah” a couple of times before switching to a Vedic prayer (I’ve replaced a few letters containing diacritical marks with typical Roman letters, to make it a little easier to read here):

Gurur Brahmā, gurur Visnur,
gurur devo Maheśvarah,
gurus sāksāt, param Brahma
tasmai śrī gurave namah.

Which, according to Joshua Greene, translates as:

I offer homage to my guru, who is as great as the creator Brahma, the maintainer Vishnu, the destroyer Shiva, and who is the very energy of God.

It’s one of fourteen verses of a hymn praising Hindu teachers.

But there’s another element to the backup singers that you may find surprising: it’s not a Gospel group singing. Now, on the Billy Preston version, it’s absolutely a Gospel group. As I noted on the podcast, those are the Edwin Hawkins Singers, who had a hit of their own with “Oh Happy Day”, and had also just been noted for singing backup for Melanie on her breakout hit “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).” So who’s providing the backup voices for “My Sweet Lord”?

They’re all George Harrison, hence the credit on the album sleeve to “the George O’Hara-Smith Singers”!

Episode 6: This Song by George Harrison

This is the original sleeve that the record came in. I still have mine, though not quite in this condition.

In the mid 1970s, George Harrison was having a rough time of it. He was still embroiled in the lawsuit over “My Sweet Lord”, he was tangled up in other legal issues caused by his breakup with his business manager, his album Extra Texture had taken a beating by the critics, and to top it all off, while recording Thirty Three and 1/3 he was struck with hepatitis and couldn’t work for most of the summer of 1976.

 

A still from the promotional film (they weren’t calling them “videos” yet) for This Song, from near the end. If you look closely you can see that George’s playing hand is cuffed to the cop, played by Harry Nilsson.

But he managed to turn it around with the release of this, the first single off the album. It didn’t exactly tear up the charts (it peaked at #25 on the Hot 100), but it did remind us all that George was still around and could still bring it when he wanted to.

This episode was inspired by a suggestion by a friend of mine, who originally asked me to write about a different song that appears on the same album. It turns out that the story behind that song is quite short, not long enough for a full podcast, so I’m saving it for a post you’ll see in a couple of days.

As usual, if you haven’t subscribed via iTunes or your favorite podcast catcher, you can download it or you can listen right here:

And of course, if you’re so inclined, please leave a review on your favorite podcast software. Thanks so much for your support!

As promised, here’s the video. So tell me: who can you identify? And is that vampiric-looking prosecutor really Michael Richards?

And just for the giggles, here’s Billy Preston’s version, which was recorded first. You can still hear the “He’s So Fine” echoes in it, but I think that, compared to Harrison, Preston might have gotten away with it:

 

Update to Episode 1

Hey, gang!

It’s been great to get the positive feedback and such from you folks in the few short weeks since How Good It Is first launched. I made those first few before the official launch date, so I was working in a bit of a vacuum. And when it comes to stuff like this, I’m my own harshest critic. Back in my Radio Days I was known for doing dozens of takes before finally going back and deciding that Take 17 was “eh, good enough”.

One of my brothers has been listening regularly and is probably my second-toughest critic. But he invariably raises good points so I can’t fault him for it. He told me that he’s actively looking for a song (by a specific artist) for me to do a show about. My other brother, I don’t know if he’s been listening, but that’s OK. I’m pretty sure my wife doesn’t listen, either. Or my father, or my sisters, or my daughters, or…you get the picture.

Anyway, this post is actually in response to some feedback I’d received.

During Episode 1 I noted that the song “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc peaked at Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and that in each of the three weeks it spent in that position, there was a different #1 song. Someone in the Land of Social Media asked me, “So what are those three songs?” You took the time to listen, so I took the time to look it up.

Image result for van mccoy the hustleWhen it first reached #2 the week of July 26, 1975, the #1 song was “The Hustle” by Van McCoy.

 

Image result for eagles one of these nights

For the week of August 2, 1975, The Eagles’ “One of These Nights” was at #1.

 

Image result for jive talkinFinally, on my oldest daughter’s (negative seventeenth) birthday, it was “Jive Talkin'” by the Bee Gees.

 

As a 12-year-old, I was pretty immersed in pop music and I’d look at the Top 20 chart that was published in Long Island’s Newsday every week. I kind of remember that summer being one in which the charts churned a lot of change from week to week. So remaining in one position, even if it was #2, for several weeks, was still a bit of an event.

Next week we dive into a solo single by one of the Beatles.