Episode 69–In the Year 2525

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In the early 80s, When I was in college and working at the campus radio station, once in awhile we’d play this song and announce that it was from the album, “Zager and Evans’ Greatest Hit.”

Because we were hysterically funny that way.

But Denny Zager and Rick Evans were, indeed, a One Hit Wonder. In fact, they were the very definition of the phrase, considering that they had NO other charting hits on either side of the Atlantic.

Denny Zager and Rick Evans, in that order.

That said, their one hit dominated the Summer of 1969 and provided the background soundtrack to a host of big news stories that took place during the six weeks it spent in the Number One position on the Billboard Chart.

I also learned after recording this podcast that Odessa Symphony, which provided the orchestral parts of the record, is composed entirely of high school students. The high school they came from is Permian High School, which is the setting of the book that later became the film Friday Night Lights. (The TV series was set in a fictional town.)

As promised, here’s the Futurama clip in which the song is parodied:

And although I didn’t promise it, here’s the opening to the Cleopatra 2525 show. Gina Torres, incidentally, is the one singing the show’s theme song:

And, of course, if your podcatcher doesn’t already have the show, you can listen or download right here:

And I’d like just a wee bit of credit for writing “Summer of 1969” here, and saying it at least twice during the show, without making any tired Bryan Adams jokes. You’re welcome.

Episode 68–Different Drum

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The Stone Poneys was the group that launched Linda Ronstadt’s career, but the sad truth is that Capitol Records was never interested in the rest of the band, instead pushing for her to be a solo artist from the beginning. It was only through a little persuasion on the producer’s part that convinced the label that she wasn’t quite ready to work on her own.

Indeed, when “Different Drum” came out as a single in September of 1967, the labels on the 45RPM release credit the band “Featuring Linda Ronstadt”. Ronstadt herself was still reluctant to leave the band, enough that she financed the Stone Poneys’ entire third album herself, losing a ton of money in the process, before finally embarking on her solo career.

The tune was written by Michael Nesmith, of The Monkees fame, and while he didn’t record the song himself until 1972, he did perform it (badly, on purpose) during an episode of The Monkees titled “Too Many Girls”. This would have been right around the time that the original recording, by bluegrass band The Greenbriar Boys, would have come out.

As usual, your podcatcher software should have the show by now, but if you want to download or listen to it here, have at it.

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Episode 63–Shel Silverstein, Part 2

Click here for a transcript of this week’s show.

Hi! Didja miss me?

Apologies for the big gap in shows; life was getting in the way, plus I got sick somewhere in between and, while my voice would have been pure comedy on your end, it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun on mine. No excuse though; I should have posted SOMEthing in the interim. I’ll do better next time.

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Ray Sawyer, 1937-2018

Six episodes ago we took a peek at the work of poet/playwright/singer/songwriter/Renaissance Man Shel Silverstein, and I guess the most notable thing related to that show that’s happened since then, is that Ray Sawyer, the singer/guitarist for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 81 after a short illness. Sawyer was the main singer on “Sylvia’s Mother” and “Cover of Rolling Stone”, among others.

So this week we’re looking at some more of his work, including what’s perhaps his most-covered song (and, oddly, a song that despite all the covers doesn’t seem to do anything on the charts; I think it’s just a song that people like to sing), and a quick look at his theater work.

With any luck, you’ve already got this in your podcatcher, but if not, here it is for your listening/downloading pleasure:

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60–Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

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Yeah, yeah, I know: you were expecting Shel Silverstein again. Forgive me; I got Writer’s Block on it and couldn’t figure out a good way to organize my notes. 

Anyway. 

By the time 1962 rolled around, Neil Sedaka had been in the Top Ten eight times, but he still hadn’t cracked the #1 slot.

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Inspired by a doo-wop song he’d heard recently, he put together a song that had a similar structure but no doo-wops in it. He brought the song to Barry Mann, who didn’t like it until he added the “dom dooby doo dom dom” bit back in. That was deemed good enough for him to record, and it turned into the Big Hit of the summer of 1962, going to the top spot by the second week of August. 

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The happy couple in 2017

There’s a story out there in Rich Podolsky’s book about Don Kirshner (who produced the record) that says that shortly after the record came out, Sedaka proposed to his girlfriend, Leba Strasberg. Being the hopeless romantic that he is, though, Sedaka proposed over the phone, and Leba didn’t believe him. Sedaka had to put the song’s co-writer, Howie Greenfield, on the phone to convince her that he was serious. They’ve been married since September 11 of that year. 

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While there were a bunch of covers, it was the 1970 version by Lenny Welch that changed the tone of the song, and it probably inspired Sedaka to re-record it as a ballad in 1975, which he put on an album almost as an afterthought. It became the second single off that album, and Sedaka found himself in the Top Ten a second time with “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”. Oddly enough, Sedaka’s self-cover was NOT the most successful cover of the song, but you’ll have to listen to the show to find out what was. 

Speaking of which, here’s your golden opportunity to listen to, or download the show, assuming your podcast software doesn’t already have it. 

And thanks so much to the folks who have left reviews! I love you guys!

58–Alice’s Restaurant Massacree

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Arlo Guthrie in a still from
the 1969 film Alice’s Restaurant 

The early-to-mid 1960s was a great time to be a folk singer, whether or not you were the protesting type. And Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie, had the decade pretty much fall into his lap. It didn’t hurt that he was actually kind of good at it.  And when, as a freewheeling 17-year-old, he and a friend took a fateful trip to the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts to visit a couple of friends for the Thanksgiving weekend. It turned out to be an adventure that he later immortalized in a song. Between airplay on a single radio station in New York City and its inclusion on the Newport Folk Festival’s main stage, Arlo was able to get a record contract and the song became the entire first side of his debut album. 

And despite the song’s 18-1/2 minute length, and its subject matter (much of which was taboo then), and some of the language used (some of which is taboo now), the song continues to get radio airplay, in full, and unedited. 

Although the restaurant and the microbus are long gone, Guthrie continues to perform the song from time to time, though he’ll update the lyrics so that they’re either more topical or less offensive. Or both. 

And as usual, for the nine of you who don’t use the podcatchers, here’s the episode for listening or downloading:

And of course, if you DO use a podcatcher of some kind, please leave a rating and/or a review. I really appreciate the support. 

57–Shel Silverstein, Part I

Click here for a transcript of today’s show. 

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Shel Silverstein was a humorist, a poet, a cartoonist, and a musician who had a strong, if not especially obvious, influence on pop music through the late 1960s, up into the 1980s. Most people know him for his poetry books largely aimed at a children’s audience, but he also provided cartoons for Playboy Magazine, usually inserting a caricature of himself into the image: 

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And he’s also responsible for the dark, subversively comic Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book, an alphabet book you do NOT want your kids to read (but you should, because it’s hilarious): 

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But Silverstein was a songwriter who had an especially strong relationship with Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, and that led to a couple of their bigger hits, including a song that was essentially a parody of the rock star life, but it led to the sort of fame that only he could imagine: 

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You know the drill by now–Either you have the episode, or you’re looking to get it here: 

And if you’ve taken the time to leave a rating somewhere, thanks so much for the boost! If you haven’t, that’s OK but please consider doing so. 

Episode 53–Both Sides Now

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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. 

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. 

By now your podcatcher may have located this show, but if you’re content to listen or download it from right here, be my guest: 

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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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