55–Ghostbusters

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. 

Parker says he still has this original shirt, but he doesn’t wear it because he doesn’t want it worn out. Instead he wears one of many copies he has. 

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. 

Cindy Harrell in the video. Shortly before making the video,
she married producer Alan Horn, and she retired from acting a few years later. 
They have two children, one of whom is actress Cody Horn.  

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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54–Walk on the Wild Side

Click here for a transcript of today’s show. 

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. 

Candy Darling
Holly Woodlawn

Jackie Curtis

Joe D’Alessandro (left) in a still from the film Flesh that was cropped to create The Smiths’ first album sleeve.

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.

And if you know anything about this show then you know if you’re reading this, then your podcatcher software already has it, but if you’re not one of the billions of users of Podcast Republic, you can always listen to, or download the show from right here: 

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Episode 53–Both Sides Now

Click here to view a transcript of this show. 

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes. They’re still stunning to look at. 

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. 

As usual, your podcast software should have this show by now, but if you dig listening to it from here (looking at you, Brother Of Mine), by all means have at it:

And, of course, I’d be thrilled beyond measure if you were to leave a comment or a rating/review wherever you get your podcasts. 

What’s New, Pussycat

Hi-yoooooooooooooooo!

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! 

Taking Two

As I mentioned last week, the show is taking a brief break so that I can get a little bit ahead of the production curve. 

Work has been extra-crazy this month, and life has thrown a few curveballs our way, and it’s pushed me into a place where I’m killing myself to put together a show that, ultimately, isn’t as good as what I’ve gotten used to producing here so far. And it arrives late, besides. That’s not fair to me OR to you. 

So go play catchup if you’re a new listener, and the show will be back on October 13 when I take a look at ‘Both Sides Now.” See you then!

Episode 52–Into The Night

In 1978, Benny Mardones was a struggling singer-songwriter whose first album tanked partially because the label went bankrupt shortly after it was released. In fact, it remained out of print until 2012, when another label got ahold of it and released it on compact disc. 

The story goes that Benny was living in an apartment in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, and there was a family in the building that was on hard times, so he helped support them, in part by paying their 16-year-old daughter Heidi the sum of $50 a week to walk his dog. 

As they got close to finishing his second album (and the first for his new label), Benny and his writing partner were working out a song when Heidi came through the door to get the dog. It was then that they realized they’d been working all night long, and the partner’s response to Heidi’s presence inspired the opening line to the song. 

A rotary payphone flying through a bluescreen sky while a guy with feathered hair sings. Is there anything more 1979 than this image? If there is, I do NOT want to know about it. 

And, as the story goes, the rest of the song is Mardones trying to express his deep affection for the Heidi and her family despite all the bad stuff that’s happened to them. And there’s a certain recognition that his success isn’t necessarily their success. Now, that’s pretty much the story that Mardones has told repeatedly, and I guess you can believe him, but it also makes you wonder why he agreed to the plotline that appears in the video, which makes him look like a middle-aged guy creeping on a teeny bopper (who, incidentally, has exactly one facial expression throughout the video). 

The song made it to Number 11 in 1980, and again in 1989, putting in 37 non-consecutive weeks on the charts, the second-largest number of weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s, but not even close to the all-time record (I’ll let you Google it, the answer is kind of depressing). 

Anyway, your Podcast Republic app should already have this show captured, but if you’re a Ron Swanson type who does things the hard way, well then feel free to listen or download it from right here. 

And, of course, any and all feedback is all kinds of welcome. 

Episode 51–Barbara Ann

The year was 1958, and a guy named Fred Fassert wrote a song about his sister. Guess what her name was? I’m sure you know it was Norma Jean.

Ha, Ha! Just kidding! It was Barbara Ann! But I’m pretty sure the title of the post gave that away.

And now that I think about it, and all the girls named Barbara who had to put up with people singing that song at them, I’m not entirely convinced that he didn’t write the song to needle her just a little bit. 

Anyway, he and the rest of his group, the Regents, recorded the song but they couldn’t get a label to distribute it, so they eventually broke up. 

Three years later, a record distributor in New York picked up the recording and released it locally, where it became a hit in the NY Metro area. That distributor, in turn, leased the recording to Gee Records, which sent it nationwide and it became a #13 song for a band that no longer existed (and where have we heard that one before?)

Even the party pictures were faked. How about that!

A couple of years after that, the Beach Boys, under pressure to record something for Christmas 1965, put together a “party” album that was carefully crafted to sound like a spontaneous get-together, and they recorded a bunch of older songs that they happened to like. One of them was the old Regents tune, and they got Dean Torrence (of Jan & Dean) to sing lead. The tune closed out the album, and when radio stations started playing it, Capitol rushed out a single version of the record. 

There’s more to the story, but if I tell it all here then you won’t listen to the podcast, and I can’t have that. So go check out your podcatcher, or listen/download through the player below. 

And, as usual, please take a moment to leave a comment here, or a review wherever you get your podcasts from. 

50–Exchange Students

The Billboard Hot 100 chart has been around for about 60 years. In all that time, only seven songs which weren’t recorded in English have made it to the Number One position. And there are several other foreign-language songs which enjoyed plenty of popularity without making it to the top spot, but the fact is, in United States it’s tough to score a hit if your song isn’t in English. 

So this week I tried to come up with a comprehensive list of non-English songs that made it to the Top 20. This definitely became a case of “the more you find, the more there is to find” so I’m not at all sure I caught everything, but it’s a pretty good list, and at over 18 minutes, it’s an overstuffed episode besides. 

I think that some of the songs that didn’t make Number One are going to be a surprise to you, but a couple of the ones that did, may also be surprising. And there’s one artist who actually hit the Top Five twice, with songs that aren’t in English. And no, it’s not Dean Martin. I shan’t spoil it here, but I will say that this one really knocked me out. 

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Episode 49–School’s Out

Alice Cooper (the band, not the guy) had released two albums without much success, so they turned their backs on Los Angeles and went to Detroit (as you do, I guess), where the people were already listening to stuff similar to their own. It was during that time that Alice Cooper (the guy, not the band) found himself watching an old Bowery Boys movie and he liked something that one of the characters had said.

From that he came up with the song that made Alice Cooper (the band, not the guy) the kings of summertime, and gave Alice Cooper (the guy, not the band) a good reason to declare himself “the Francis Scott Key of summer.

This is the album’s cover, with the band inscriptions. You can see this desk in the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas these days. 
This is the album with the paper panties that a bunch of copies had inside, instead of a plain inner sleeve. A copy in decent shape is worth a couple of hundred dollars on eBay or other online sites. 

As usual, your podcatcher is so clever that it’s probably found the file already, but if not you can click on the player below to download it yourself, or just listen right here. 

And, of course, a kind word wherever you get your podcast needs filled would be a beautiful thing. 

Episode 48–Under The Covers, Part 3

First off: let me both thank, and apologize to, Jerry Bainbridge for his efforts this week. He voice-tracked the show for me this week in an effort to keep it from dropping too late, but a technical issue prevented me from using the material he’d given me. I do plan to ask him again in the near future, and I hope he’ll be kind enough to step up again then.

I’ve been spending time the past couple of weeks running up and down the coast between Baltimore and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, preparing a condo for rental, and believe it or not this show is the most relaxing thing I’ve done the whole time. And it was a nightmare to assemble. I’m going back to late-night recording!

This week, we’re looking at songs that did well on the charts, perhaps well enough that people have forgotten that there’s an earlier version. And I think at least one of them will come as a surprise to you. Maybe two of them. Hey, maybe all of them!

I’m sure you know how it goes at this point. Your podcast catcher should have picked it up automatically, but if you’re the DIY type, then by all means feel free to play or download the show through the player below:

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