Episode 23–Lady Marmalade

Clockwise from top: Sarah Dash, Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, Cindy Birdsong

In the 1960s there was a doo-wop girl group called the Blue Belles (sometimes known as The Bluebelles, or Patti and the Bluebelles). After Cindy Birdsong left the group in 1967 to become a Supreme, the group reinvented themselves and became Labelle. In the early 1970s they were a funk-rock group, recording covers of The Rolling Stones, Carole King and all kinds of other stuff that no other similarly-composed group would even consider. But another couple of years went by and they reinvented themselves again, embracing the the Glam Rock look and sound, and it was during that era that they scored their biggest hit, a proto-disco-funk track called “Lady Marmalade”, which went to Number One on the Billboard Chart in March of 1975.

Over the years since then, Labelle’s influence can still be heard in the sounds of groups like En Vogue, the Pussycat Dolls, and Destiny’s Child. Their fearlessness has inspired at least a couple of generations of pop musicians, and even their non-hit tracks are regularly covered. “Lady Marmalade” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003, and I’ll bet you didn’t even know that “Grammy Hall of Fame” was even a thing.

If your podcast catcher hasn’t figured it out yet, you can always just click on the player below to listen right here (or download it, if that’s your thing) while you admire those feathery outfits.

And, of course, it would be a great birthday present to me if you took the time to give the show a positive rating in whatever software you use to listen to podcasts.

Episode 22–Under The Covers II

Did you ever decide that you were in the market for something, let’s say you need a car, and all of a sudden you see advertisements for cars all over the place? Or, you learn a new word and suddenly you see it being used everywhere?

This is called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, and it’s a weird little trick our brains play on us. And recently, I was pranked by my brain in this manner.

Episode 9 was devoted to songs that you may not have known were covers of other artists, and I thought at that time that it was kind of a fun idea, and I’d like to come back to it once in awhile. Now, I was thinking maybe another 20 or 30 episodes down the road, but then Baader-Meinhof got in the way and I started really noticing it when it was pointed out that a song I was listening to was a cover of another recording. So, because I have a tendency to write stuff down and then immediately lose the notes, I decided to return to the concept a little more quickly than I usually do. And the fun thing is, I’m saving the one that came as the biggest surprise to me for another show.

So this time around we’re going to hear from musicians as diverse as Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Led Zeppelin and Linda Lyndell. Who? Just go listen, you’ll be fine, I promise. In fact, you’re going to be sad that you don’t know who Linda Lyndell is, especially when you find out WHY you don’t know who she is.

I noted this briefly at the end of the show, but something I noticed only while I was recording was that all of the songs enjoyed only modest success until the cover came out. But the other common thread is that the more successful artist made some sort of change to the song, almost as if that made the difference between whether or not the song was a hit.

As usual, if your favorite podcatcher isn’t getting the job done, you can feel free click on the player below to listen and/or download the show:

Also, my apologies for the late delivery of this episode; I had a technical issue that was frankly kind of scary, and had me wondering whether I’d be forced to A) re-record the episode after B) buying a new computer, but fortunately I managed to fix what was wrong and we’re only a few hours late.

Episode 21–Edwin Hawkins

Sad news from the world of music this week as we learn that Edwin Hawkins has died at the age of 74. I have to confess that this came as a surprise because I started doing the math and realized that Hawkins was in his mid-20s when “Oh Happy Day” became a hit. For whatever reason I thought he was at least twenty years older THEN.

Hawkins was the founder of the Northern California State Youth Choir, and the choir recorded some songs to make a fundraiser album, which unfortunately didn’t get pressed until after the event for which they needed the money. That event was a choral competition, and the NCSYC came in second, perhaps because “Oh Happy Day” wasn’t one of the songs they sang. As it turns out, that wasn’t one of their favorite songs!

The unexpected success of “Oh Happy Day” led to the group being asked to provide the backup singing for Melanie’s tribute to her experience at Woodstock, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”.

The Edwin Hawkins Singers experienced some more success on the Gospel charts over the years, and lead singer Dorothy Morrison gained acclaim as a backup singer for several rock artists.

And I’m sure you know the drill by now, but if your RSS feed is failing you somehow, there’s always the player below for listening or downloading:

And please feel free to leave comments here, or leave a review on your favorite podcast software.

Episode 20–Mercedes Benz

Neil Young sang “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away,” but Damn, Janis, couldn’t you have burned with us just a little bit longer?

Janis Joplin was a ball of raw talent who took a rough childhood and let it inform her musical style. And that almost certainly carried through to the listener. When she sounded sad, so did you. When she was feeling silly, it immediately conveyed. And when she sang in an anguished style, you were right there with her.

What’s more, her band members, whether it was Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band, or the Full Tilt Boogie Band, really knocked themselves out to support her sound. Listen especially hard to the Pearl album, where a lot of the instrumentals were recorded over a ten-day span shortly after Joplin died.

But Joplin’s last recorded album track wasn’t even necessarily meant to be on the album. It was a piece that started out as an a capella goof during a technical breakdown while recording, and the producer decided that it needed to be on the album. What’s more, it needed to remain as-is, without any instrumentation.

I don’t know if her friends drove Porsches, but Janis certainly did. She bought the 1964 vehicle in 1968 for $3500 and used it as her day-to-day vehicle. The car now resides in Gull Lake, MI.

“Mercedes Benz” was based on a piece by Beat poet Michael McClure, and it was a comment on the futility of social climbing by gathering material goods. It was an interesting time for rock musicians, because they were starting to get recognition AND the money that comes with fame, and in a lot of cases they purchased expensive stuff such as cars and big houses even as they decried them in their songs. Despite this somewhat mixed message, the car company took the tone-deaf step of using it in one of their ads.

Next week: more surprise cover songs! I keep finding these things. And one in particular was a huge surprise for me.

If your podcatcher of choice hasn’t picked up the track yet, you’re more than welcome to click on this link to download or listen (opens in a new window), or feel free to listen right here:

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From Third To First!

For the record (heh), I have no idea why I goofed during the recording of Episode 19. But goof I did.

When I put each podcast together, I have a bunch of information that I’m trying to gather into a coherent narrative. Since I don’t typically think that way, that means that I script about 90% of the show, and only leave a small amount of time to ad-libs or other happy accidents. I also mix the show as I record it in small chunks, so a 10-13 minute podcast can be made up of anywhere between 8 and 20 elements that I have to mix and/or edit together. That’s neither here nor there; the important thing I’m trying to convey is that the show is largely scripted.

So while I was editing, I noticed something I’d said incorrectly. And I said it with such confidence that, when I heard it–and realized immediately that I’d said something wrong, I said, “That’s gotta be in the script.” So I went back to the script and…nope, it’s written correctly. So, without explanation, I have to apologize for something I said at about 9:30 in the show. I said, “I kinda like what they did in the first verse, with Bill Medley losing patience.” In fact, that happened in the third verse, not the first.

I don’t know what was going through my head (BuSpar, maybe), but as soon as I heard it, I knew better. But I also knew that I wasn’t going back to the studio to re-record a single sentence for a relatively inconsequential error. So now you get a dopey story here.

And, to more properly atone for my sin, I present this offering.

Don’t hate me.

Episode 19–The Coasters

Happy New Year!

The group in 1961: Dub Jones, Carl Gardner, Cornell Gunter, Billy Guy. This was the configuration that was inducted into the Rock Hall.

While they’re often mistaken for a doo-wop group, The Coasters were actually a rhythm-and-blues vocal group, whose greatest successes came when they were teamed with the composers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, and when they had humorous material to work with.They made such an impression on other artists that it was a small wonder when, in 1987, they became the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Yeah, I know I’m kinda splitting hairs, here: the previous year was all individuals plus the Everly Brothers. But I’m sticking by this assessment.)

One of the posters for the movie, which inspired the Coasters’ song (but the song isn’t based on the movie). This ain’t a bad place to be, if you’re Gary Cooper.

Their peak years, chart-wise, were between 1958 and 1960, when all of their Top 40 singles were released. In today’s episode we talk about three of them: Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, and Along Came Jones. After these three came two more: Poison Ivy and Little Egypt, which were more clever than funny.

There have been numerous configurations of the group since the first day, so you could argue that the one in the photo above, which is responsible for most of the hits, was the magic bullet. Through many personnel changes, The Coasters never quite reached the same level of success.

As if you didn’t know this already: you can listen to the show via your favorite podcatcher, or you can  just click on the player right here for listening or downloading:

And a kind word in iTunes, or Spotify, or wherever better podcasts are sold, goes a long way toward making this show more visible to the world at large. Thanks for your continued support!

Episode 18–Fame

Happy New Year, HGII fans!

It was 1975 and David Bowie’s professional life was in some turmoil. He was in the middle of breaking a contract with his manager, and he was still trying to deal with the way his life had changed since “Space Oddity” became a hit a few years earlier. With the help of his new friend John Lennon (who advised him to get rid of the manager), he took a riff that his guitarist was noodling around with for another song, and turned it into his first #1 hit in the US.

Lennon and Bowie backstage at the Grammy Awards, 1975.

In a BBC interview recorded only a couple of days before he died, Lennon said that David Bowie had a vast repertoire of talent, and it was interesting to see him do most of his song composition right there in the studio. “He goes in with, like four words and a few guys, and starts laying down this stuff, and he has virtually nothing, he’s making it up in the studio.”

As usual, you have SO. MANY. OPTIONS. for listening. Your favorite podcatcher may already have it, or you can listen/download through the player right here:

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Oh, and as promised, here’s the clip of Bowie on Soul Train:

 

Episode 17–Home for Christmas

I can see my old house from here!

Most people who know me personally know that I’m originally from New York, but it’s not because I have an accent, because I don’t.

Well, I DO have an accent of sorts, but it’s tough to suss out that I’m from the NY metro area. Most people think I’m from the Downstate region of New York, like Poughkeepsie or Newburgh. But the fact is, I’m from a small town on the north shore of Long Island called Kings Park. When I was a small child, Kings Park had a huge mental hospital plunked down in its center, and most of the 5000-odd people who lived in that town, worked at the hospital. Nowadays the hospital is closed, the grounds are long-abandoned, and the town population is close to 20,000.

This here is a “hint”.

But for all that, Kings Park and its nearby cousin, Smithtown, manage to have a connection to a couple of Christmas songs. Kings Park was the center of a nationwide news story back in 2013 regarding the song “Silent Night”, and as for Smithtown…well, you’ll just have to listen to see what Smithtown has to do with any Christmas song.

If you’ve got a favorite podcatcher, you should have this episode already! If you don’t, and you want to get it from here,  just click the media player below:

Hey, you know what would make a great Christmas gift for me? A positive rating and review in whatever software you’re using to download the show. But iTunes still reigns supreme in this respect, so PLEASE go to iTunes dot com (even if you don’t typically use it) and leave me a positive rating.

Episode 16–Light My Fire

This was the “goddess” label that Elektra Records used on the 45 in Columbia. Look! Boobies!

It was the Summer of Love, and as Johnny Rivers sang, everybody kept on playin’ Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Everybody, that is, except for the fans of an underground band playing the clubs in Los Angeles, who kept calling the local radio stations and requesting a song from that band’s debut album. Eventually Elektra Records put out a shorter version of that seven-minute song, and before long it was climbing the charts nationwide, spending three weeks in the #1 slot in July of 1967. The self-titled album itself couldn’t break Sgt. Pepper‘s hold on the Billboard’s Albums chart, but being #2 to The Beatles is pretty respectable, nonetheless.

The Doors got their name from the title of an Aldous Huxley book called The Doors of Perception, which in turn came from a William Blake quotation:  “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

Today’s show is a little bit on the short side, coming in at just over 10 minutes, and I think it’s because I’m talking so damn fast. I shouldn’t drink so much tea right before recording the show.

And as usual, 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:

 

Also as usual: if you were to go to iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts (Spotify! Really! I had no idea!) and leave a rating, and maybe even some feedback, well, that’d be nice too.

And SCROLL DOWN! Go check out Doug Miles’ stuff!

A Quick Note

I’ve said some version of this on Twitter and on Facebook a couple of times, but not here.

Considering that this is a podcast that’s relatively new, it’s pretty cool to see that I’ve already got some regular visitors who visit this site from different spots around the world. I often see Canada, Poland and the UK in my analytics (don’t worry, I don’t see anything more specific than that), but this week I’ve also seen India and Peru. In recent weeks I’ve seen the Philippines, China and Japan. That’s very exciting to me!

I’m not quite tearing up the internet; my download count still numbers somewhere in the hundreds. But what fan base I do have appears to be a pretty dedicated group, and I thank you for listening, for your suggestions, and (in at least one case that I know of) for your evangelism.

So here’s my early Christmas present to you: long-time friend (and friend of the podcast) Doug Miles has been a fan of the Big Band sound as long as I’ve known him, and probably longer, given how encyclopedic his knowledge base has always seemed to be, and he’s got some BB-related shows that run on an irregular basis, but he’s just released a couple of hours of some fantastic Christmas songs from that era. There are a few traditional hits that you still hear today, but he’s done a deep-dive into some great stuff that you don’t often hear anymore. Check him out over here. (Never mind the name in the link, I promise it’s correct.) Also: damn, but does his voice have some resonance to it. Am I allowed to hate on him for that?

Image result for doors light my fire -site:pinterest.comAs a reminder: in this week’s episode, we’re going to look at the song that carried The Doors from wannabe Beat Poets to the firmament of Rock and Roll Stars. See you on Saturday!