Episode 47–Remembering Aretha Franklin

My wife and I bought a condominium in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina this past week. The closing was supposed to be on Monday but there was a snafu, so we wound up wandering up and down a 30-mile stretch of coast from North Myrtle Beach down to Pawley’s Island, in a rented high-top cargo van full of stuff we’d intended to move into the condo after the closing. We still had a couple of pieces of furniture that we needed, so we popped into pretty much every consignment shop we could find, looking for a sleeper sofa that matched Wife’s design concept that wouldn’t break the bank. After a few minutes in any given store, I’d get restless and start looking through some of the other stuff, including the used records that were for sale. 

The closing, and the recording of the documentation, didn’t take place until Thursday, which is the day that Aretha Franklin died. By sheer coincidence, we were in a consignment shop called Good Times, down in the Pawley’s Island area. And while we’d actually located the sleeper sofa we were looking for, I of course was looking at other stuff. This store, however, didn’t have any records to unload, except for a very small pile on a high shelf. I’m talking maybe fifteen albums, and that was the entire store’s inventory of vinyl. 

The album I’d purchased. The original plastic wrap probably had a sticker reading “Includes Respect”

As it happened, one of the records was a copy of Aretha’s first album for Atlantic Records, I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You. What’s more, it was in good shape and it still had its original inner sleeve. It was worth nearly three times what they were asking for it, and I jumped at the opportunity. I hadn’t even heard the news yet. 

Aretha Franklin, her music and her performance style left an impact on the music world that is immeasurable, and the reaction of her fellow music stars, in addition to performers of all stripes, bears witness to this. 

This week, we take a crack at remembering the Queen of Soul, who coincidentally died on the same date as the King of Rock, Elvis Presley. (August 16 is also the anniversary of the death of blues pioneer Robert Johnson. This is not a good date if you’re a musical groundbreaker.)

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As promised, here’s her 2015 performance at the Kennedy Center Honors show, during the segment honoring Carole King. Watch for the standing ovation mid-song. 

Also, just for fun, here’s a clip from a 1991 episode of Murphy Brown. In the episode, Murphy gets an opportunity to interview Aretha Franklin, whom she has worshipped, live on television. She convinces the producer to give her the entire hour. Unfortunately, Aretha is delayed and the entire cast of the show has to vamp and otherwise fill time until her arrival, which unfortunately doesn’t happen at any point in the hour. As the clip starts, everyone has departed the studio except Murphy. 

Rest in Peace, Queen of Soul. 

Episode 46–Mellow Yellow

 

Donovan Leitch had already experienced some success in the UK, enough that Epic Records showed interest in distributing his music in the United States. When he signed the contract, however, it created a brief legal quagmire because his label in the UK had a distribution agreement with a different US label. As a result, there was a period where his albums and singles just couldn’t synchronize with one another. As a result, “Sunshine Superman” was released in the US months before it was in the UK, and in the meantime he’d moved on to his next project, which began with “Mellow Yellow”. Again the releases were asynchronous, but it was a Top 20 hit on both sides of the Atlantic and throughout Europe as well.

The song probably took on some extra popularity because it also became a song into which anyone could plug practically any meaning, at a time when theories about “what did the artist mean when he wrote this?” were really starting to thicken the air. And as it happens, he was largely being pretty straightforward.

As I mentioned during the show, the 1999 Gap ad has a few young future stars in it. Keep your eye peeled for Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) at the very end, for Monet Mazur (lots of one-offs but starring in All American starting October 2018) as the blonde girl singing the second line, and Jason Thompson (General Hospital) somewhere in between. 

https://youtu.be/jIfTh0T6M8Y

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Episode 45–Rapture

It was the late 1970s and Disco was finally making that transition out of the clubs, to be replaced by Hip-Hop or New Wave, depending on where you hung out. And the members of Blondie were at the forefront of the Hip-Hop movement, going to clubs and seeing performers freestyling in the streets.

When Fab Five Freddy suggested to Deborah Harry and Chris Klein that they should write a song about him, they thought it was a good idea and came up with a song that represented several “firsts” in the music industry:

  • First Rap record to reach #1 on the Billboard charts;
  • First Rap video on MTV;
  • First Rap video in MTV’s 90-song rotation.

Unfortunately for the band, it was also their last major chart success in the US, but it paved the way for a bunch of other artists to move forward with the genre.

Incidentally, I mentioned this during recording and it wound up being edited out, but the sax player on this record is none other than Tom Scott.

Around the same time this record came out, the Tom Tom Club was working on a rap track of their own, “Wordy Rappinghood”. However, neither group knew what the other was up to, because Blondie was working in New York City while the Tom Tom Club was in the Bahamas.

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Episode 44–Smoke on the Water

It was December of 1971 and Deep Purple was in Deep Trouble. They were all set to record their newest album, when the location they’d chosen for recording was accidentally set ablaze and burned completely to the ground.

This is the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording studio. This picture is probably from the 1980s, given the computer screen over the mixing desk. The studio went through two major upgrades during its years of service; this was after the first one.

It took a little scrambling, but they managed to locate a hotel that had closed for the season and were able to use it for recording. The only problem was, the mobile recording studio couldn’t be placed close to the recording space, so they had to run cables along walls, through a window, under a door, down a corridor, across a balcony, and who-knows-wherever else. This also meant that the band members had to traverse this route every time they wanted to hear their work played back. Ultimately they got tired of climbing all over the hotel and decided on-the-fly whether a particular take was any good.

The last song they recorded was one that they wrote pretty quickly, combined with an abandoned riff that Ritchie Blackmore had recorded without any particular project attached to it. It told the story of the fire, and the band’s travails in locating another place to record.

Deep Purple didn’t think the song had a lot of potential, but when they finally released it, it became one of rock and roll’s great iconic tunes, and a touchstone for novice guitar players everywhere. And the town of Montreux, where everything took place, commemorated the event with a memorial marker.

 

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Episode 43–Where Did Our Love Go

By nearly all accounts, the Supremes were starting to look like a failure. Between 1961 and 1963, they had recorded six singles, five of them for Motown, and none of them reached the Billboard Top 40 chart. There was a glimmer of light when the song “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” reached #23, but the act still wasn’t getting a lot of traction.

It wasn’t until the songwriting/producing team of Holland/Dozier/Holland (who also wrote “Lovelight”) wrote a song and produced a musical track for the Marvelettes, which the Marvelettes hated and refused to record. Desperate to get an artist to record a vocal (lest they be forced to pay for the musicians out of their own pockets), they managed to strong-arm the “No-Hit Supremes” into recording the song, even though the finished music track wasn’t in Diana Ross’ key. But the key change, and the bad attitude that the girls brought to the recording studio, was enough to turn the song into their first Number One hit, and that was the start of a string of chart toppers.

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A Brief Pause

Image result for beatles piggies

As I mentioned on the show last week, there won’t be a show this week because of a planned break. We have a big party at my place every year at this time. If you know where I live, come on down! The more the merrier!

Next week I have something pretty cool planned, and I hope I can get all the elements in place for it in a timely manner. If not, it’ll be two weeks hence.

In the meantime: if you haven’t done so already, go check out and click “Like” on the show’s Facebook page.

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Hey! I re-did the webpage! What do you think? Please to leave comments here.

Thanks so much for your support and I’ll talk to you on the 21st.

Episode 42–Baker Street

Gerry Rafferty was pretty much a known element to music fans as the voice behind Stealers Wheel and the song “Stuck In The Middle With You,” but by the time that song came out, Rafferty had quit the band, which had to shoot the promotional film (they weren’t quite called “videos” yet) without him. The guy lip-synching the vocals is Rafferty’s partner Joe Egan. Shortly afterward, Egan talked Rafferty into coming back into the band, and they managed to put together their contractually-required third album.

Rafferty and Egan split up again, and the legal battles prevented both of them from recording for three years. But that didn’t prevent Rafferty from writing songs in the interim. And it’s pretty clear that “Baker Street” was a reflection of his mood through all the legal craziness that went on.

This is the cover of the 45 sleeve as sold in Italy.

But while the song was a huge hit internationally, there are two pockets of controversy surrounding it. One stems from that haunting saxophone solo, and the other comes from the fact that, at the time, no other song had spent as much time in the Number 2 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart without ever reaching Number 1. (The “Most weeks at #2” record has been surpassed many times since then, but the six weeks that “Baker Street” spent there was the record in 1978.)

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Let me give an extra shout-out to Co.Ag Music, a YouTube channel that provided some of the moody music near the end of this week’s show. They’ve got some cool stuff going on over there, especially if you like music with a science fiction bent to it.

No show next week! I’ll see you on July 21 with something really special (no hints)!

Episode 41–Summertime Blues

Eddie Cochran’s premature death in an auto accident cemented him as forever young in his fans’ minds. And it didn’t hurt the story that he died protecting his girlfriend from harm.

Cochran was in a taxi with his girlfriend, Sharon Seeley, along with Gene Vincent and their tour manager, Patrick Thompkins on the night of April 17, 1960. It was the final night of a very successful tour, and they were in Chippenham, on their way from Bristol to London in order to catch a plane back to the United States. The road they were on was dark and winding, and the car was clearly going too fast. The driver had realized that he’d made a wrong turn, and when he hit the brakes the car spun out of control and smashed into a concrete lamp post.

Seeley reported that Cochran threw himself across her to protect her, and the impact threw him upward against the roof of the car and then out the door, which had sprung open. Gene Vincent had broken his collarbone and re-injured his left leg, which he’d broken badly in 1955. The accident left him with a limp he’d have for the rest of his life. Image result for eddie cochran memorial marker -site:pinterest.comSeeley and Thompkins walked away with minor injuries, but Cochran received a serious brain injury and died a few hours later in a hospital. To this day there’s a memorial marker on the spot.

Coincidentally, one of the people who saw Cochran during this tour was a young George Harrison, and both the guitar playing and the on-stage persona made a huge impression on him. He once recalled it in an interview:  “He was standing at the microphone and as he started to talk he put his two hands through his hair, pushing it back,” Harrison later recalled. “And a girl, one lone voice, screamed out, ‘Oh, Eddie!’ and he coolly murmured into the mike, ‘Hi honey.’ I thought, ‘Yes! That’s it—rock and roll!”

The story of Eddie’s signature hit is the subject of this week’s show. If your podcatcher doesn’t have it already, feel free to listen to or download the show from right here:

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Episode 40–Murray Head

Murray Head is one of those guys whose name you may or may not know, but you’re certainly familiar with some of his work.

In 1970 he worked on a concept album with Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The first single from that album was written and recorded before the entire rest of the album, and it was released by the record company to gauge interest in the idea of an entire album built around that idea. The song did poorly in the US, at least at first, but international sales were enough that MCA Records gave the go-ahead to the rest of the album. And that’s how the original double album Jesus Christ Superstar came to be.

Fast-forward several years and Tim Rice again taps Murray Head to help him with a concept album, one that uses the chess rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union (no, literally: which country had the best chess players was a big deal in the 1970s and 80s) as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the Cold War. And once again, the success of the album leads to the production of a stage musical, called Chess.

And these two successes put Murray Head in an interesting place in the record books.

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This Is A Fix

It’s a glorious day here in Baltimore, so of course I’m inside maintaining this website. But don’t worry: I’ll be getting my fresh air later when I attend the Aberdeen Ironbirds game. Come find me in Section 115.

At any rate, I’m making a few changes to the older posts, eliminating the on-site players in favor of embedded players from the Podomatic website, so I can keep better track of my download/playback statistics. I don’t think this will create any hassles for you if you’re a regular reader of this site, but if it does, my apologies in advance (and please let me know if that’s the case).

I mentioned this on Facebook, but it bears updating and repeating here:

As of ten minutes ago, this show has:

  • 304 plays, either directly at Podomatic or streamed through a mobile device—only one of which appears to have been “skipped”;
  • 257 plays via embeds (since May 26, when I first started using the Podomatic embed);
  • 5507 downloads;
  • Uncounted plays from directly at this website (because that’s the way that goes, and why I’m making these changes)

I can’t possibly thank you so much for all of your support. If you’d like to translate that support into cash, I wouldn’t turn it down. Heh. (Seriously, though, I’ll be setting up a Patreon soon, as soon as I can figure out a decent Thank You kind of giveaway.) Also please take the time to give the show a rating and a review wherever you happen to listen to it.

Now go outside and get some fresh air on my behalf!