138: Wish You Were Here

In a relatively short period of time, Pink Floyd went from a band with a fairly small but loyal fan base to an international phenomenon. And it was taking its toll on the members of the group. Even as they were putting together this, probably their most cohesive album, they were largely working in isolation. Only occasionally were all four members in the studio at the same time as they worked on it.

This sense of alienation from each other and their newfound audience, plus the cynicism of the record label executives they met up with after the success of Dark Side of the Moon, gave rise to Wish You Were Here. (The story goes that they did, indeed, have someone ask them “Which one’s Pink?”) In addition, the band was sorely missing founding member Syd Barrett, who’d left the group a few years earlier after having a breakdown. There were a few attempts to bring him back, but Barrett just wasn’t able to bring the spark he’d had previously.

Wish You Were Here the album explores all of these themes separately, but I’d argue that “Wish You Were Here” the song ties all of them into a neat little bow. From that point there are only about twelve minutes left to the album. That leaves twelve minutes of a coda bringing the whole thing to a tidy close.

So where have I been the last few weeks? I’ve been doing some pondering about re-working the show a little bit, and getting some new elements in. So you’ll hear some big differences in the beginning of the show (and a little bit at the end), and I’ll be trying out a couple of other things soon as well.

Here’s a for-instance: the show has new theme music! Thanks to the generosity of the show’s Patrons, I was able to commission some custom music for the show. I’ll always have a soft place in my heart for “Surfing Day” but I think this new track has a little bit of the same feel and I hope you like it as much as I do. (You can hear it unsullied by my voice on the Facebook page.)

For what it’s worth, the show has been away for a few weeks, but I haven’t. I’ve been communicating with the Patreon crowd every Sunday morning via the newsletter. If you’d like to see what that’s about, click here to become a Patron of the Show. You won’t be able to see the recent newsletters, but you can see the ones from this past fall.

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136: Ain’t No Sunshine

Original photo by Marcus Castro, available on Scopio.

Bill Withers was an aspiring musician, but he kept his feet on the ground for a long time. Even after his first album started to climb the charts, he kept working his job assembling bathrooms in an airplane factory because he thought the music industry was fickle. He wasn’t wrong, incidentally. But in his case he may have been pessimistic. It wasn’t until “Ain’t No Sunshine” went Gold that he finally left the factory job and went on tour to support the album.

Just as I Am (Bill Withers album) - Wikipedia

Given the star power that supported him with the recording of his debut album, Just As I Am, it’s a small wonder that he became such a huge star right away. When you’ve got Booker T. Jones producing and the rest of the MGs, plus Stephen Stills and Jim Keltner on drums, you’re going to be a huge hit. Or, maybe you’re not nearly as good as you think you are, and you may as well spend the rest of your life in that factory.

“Ain’t No Sunshine” wasn’t the first single off the album. And I don’t think I’m spoiling any surprises here when I tell you this: It isn’t too tough to figure out how it got all the airplay, and eventually all the sales, that it did.

Oh—and, as promised, here’s the video of the cover by the Black Label Society from a few years back. They’re a heavy metal band, but this cover is mostly acoustic. Zakk Wylde kind of digs the negative attention that the video got for the use of the horse masks (and more) that you’ll see in this video. But maybe just lean back and enjoy it instead of reading into it too deeply.

I’m aiming for the next show to drop on January 3, so until then: have a Happy and Safe New Year!

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134: Maggie May

NOTE: I got word that there was a problem with the uploaded file. It should be fine now. Apologies for those of you who had hassles.

(Original photo by Meg Wagener for Unsplash)

Let me start by thanking the show’s newest Patron, Scott Fraser, for joining the family!

Next: my apologies: I counted on taking a week’s break but not two. I got remarkably sick a couple of times in the past week, culminating with a trip that involved having testing swabs stuck up my nose to varying depths, depending on what they were looking for that time. They were relieved to tell me that I “only” had food poisoning…they think. Reassuring? Anyway, if I sound a little rough in this episode, now you know why.

There are several elements of the story behind “Maggie May” which are going to sound very familiary to you, if only because I’ve told a variation on them at some point in the past with regard to other songs.

On the other hand, there are definitely a few elements to “Maggie May” which you’re not going to hear anywhere else, because not every song starts with getting deflowered at a jazz festival’s swan song.

Oh–and as promised, here’s Godley and Creme’s first video, for their own “Englishman in New York.”

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132: Knock Three Times

So I’m in the Southern Studio again this weekend, which means I don’t have a good handle on the way the show sounds until long after I’ve posted it. Also, I tried something very different with my workflow this week so I’m curious to know what you think of the way the shows sounds at your end. I won’t be upset if you think it stinks, promise. Next week I’ll be back in Baltimore, sounding more typical.

To tell the story of “Knock Three Times” we had to dive a little bit into the early career of Tony Orlando and how he got that way. Orlando had actually retired from singing and was doing well with producing and working in Columbia Records’ music publishing department, when someone asked him a favor: could you please record this for us?

Orlando said, “No thanks. You’re not even a Columbia label. “

They said, “Please? We’ll give you three thousand dollars.”

And Orlando said, “Don’t put my name on this or there’ll be trouble.”

Candida (song) - Wikipedia

So Bell Records kept their promise and released the record under the name Dawn. They even took the time to fake a photo of the band for the 45’s picture sleeve. Look at those guys over there. None of them are on this record. They’re literally just four guys in a photograph. The band was composed of session musicians and a couple of backup singers, including Toni Wine, who co-wrote the song.

This wound up being a good news/bad news thing, because “Candida” was a pretty huge hit worldwide, and Bell Records got hot for a follow-up track. Orlando went back into the studio with the same session players and made an entire album, including a second single, “Knock Three Times.” That song was an even bigger hit, and Orlando was forced to come out in the open, hire some genuine members of Dawn and go on tour.

But I’m pretty sure it worked out okay for him in the end, yeah?

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131: Candle in the Wind

Elton John and Bernie Taupin were in a remarkably productive period in the early 1970s. Over a span of just two weeks they’d not only written enough material for an album, they’d written enough for two. And they were thematically similar enough that all the songs could be combined into a single two-LP package. That became the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which yielded three hit singles. It would have generated at least one more, but in the meantime John had cranked out yet another album (Caribou), and any more singles from Goodbye would have delayed Caribou‘s release.

So “Harmony” became a B side, and while “Candle in the Wind” had been released as a single in the UK, it never came out in the US. However, 1973 was early in the period when FM radio was starting to grow, and some radio stations were only too happy to play entire album sides without interruption. And since Side 1 of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road could be considered practically a single piece, “Candle in the Wind” got some FM airplay then. At any rate, it wasn’t an unknown quantity by the time 1986 rolled around and Elton played it in concert in Australia, where the song made it onto the live album he released the next year and it WAS released as a single, this time charting in the US and (again) in the UK.

Because the song had gotten some national attention it turned out that Princess Diana was familiar with it to the point where she’d told Elton John that she’d found herself identifying with some of the predicaments that the Marilyn Monroe of the song had faced during her lifetime. So when Diana was killed in a car crash at the same age that Marilyn was when she died, and when the Royal Family asked Elton John to play at Diana’s funeral, Elton asked Bernie Taupin to come up with new lyrics for the song.

And thus it was that “Candle in the Wind” found new life on the charts. But there’s more to the story than just that. Tune in and find out what!

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129: Seasons in the Sun

It’s whiny. It’s treacly. It’s mushy. It’s kind of a bad song. I’m not going to talk you out of any of those things. This isn’t one of those shows where I try to convince you—and perhaps myself—that an objectively bad song is somehow good. (And if you don’t know what songs those are, that means I’m doing a pretty good job.)

But the fact is, “Seasons in the Sun” absolutely dominated nearly the first half of 1974, and like Kurt Cobain, it was one of the first records I bought with my own money. I promise I’m not considering any self-injurious behavior today.

Not today.

And like Norman Greenbaum before him with “Spirit in the Sky”, Terry Jacks was able to use the money he made from his song to do pretty much whatever he wanted for the rest of his life. Maybe we should all write a song with the title “[thing] in the [another thing]”, hm? Could that be the secret to financial security?

Incidentally, I used different software to record this episode. Usually I use Audacity, but I heard a lot of good stuff about a program called Hindenburg, and while there’s a bit of a learning curve involved, it’s pretty good and may actually change my workflow once I get better used to it. If it sounds better or worse, I’d be curious to hear from you about it.

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125–Psycho Killer

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It’s about time I got around to covering the Talking Heads, don’t you think?

Weirdly, a lot of their material is kind of under-researched, unless you’re willing to do deep dives into the biographies and such. However, that seems to be loosening up in recent years as more people get nostalgic about the 1980s. And now I’m realizing that that’s like my grandparents being nostalgic for World War 2.

Anyway, that, I think, is why I was able to find a decent amount of material for this song. It was the Heads’ first single and the one that encouraged David Byrne to keep on keeping on. Because, while it didn’t chart huge in the US (peaking at Number 92 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart), it gave him the understanding that there was, in fact, an audience out there for his rather peculiar musical style.

And, as promised, here’s a video of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performing their version of this song in 2009. Stay with it, it’s pretty cool.

I am NOT, on the other hand, going to link you to “Psycho Chicken.” You can find that one on your own. You have been warned.

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124–Paradise by the Dashboard Light

Cover image for Episode 124: Paradise by the Dashboard Light by Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf was one of those performers who seemed to just come out of the blue, especially if you weren’t familiar with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But in the early and mid-70s he was better known as an actor than a singer. In fact, he was a comedic actor, given that Jim Steinman met him while the two of them were working on the National Lampoon‘s show Lemmings.

Steinman had written a show called Neverland a few years earlier, and while it had seen workshopping, it hadn’t seen much else, so he and Meat Loaf (or, “Mr. Loaf,” as the New York Times likes to refer to him) chose a few songs from Neverland and used them as the heart of a seven-song suite that comprised an entire album. Meat Loaf’s bombastic acting style and ability to sing combined to create a rock-and-roll soap opera that appealed to teenagers, especially inasmuch as the themes were aimed directly at their hearts…and maybe a couple of other organs. And it served him well when working with Todd Rundgren, who produced the album and thought that perhaps it was a parody of Bruce Springsteen records.

The first obstacle that Steinman and Mr. Loaf had to deal with was getting someone to fund recording and distribution based on the demos, which were usually live performances of Steinman on the piano and Meat Loaf (and occasionally Ellen Foley) singing for record executives, a process that took over two years. It got so bad that their manager once joked that they were creating companies for the sole purpose of rejecting Bat Out of Hell.

“Paradise” wasn’t a huge hit from chart standpoint (there’s a reason for that in the US, but you’re just going to have to listen in), but it did get a ton of radio airplay, and the promotional film that he shot also saw a lot of activity on MTV, especially considering that the song was over three years old by the time that channel made its debut.

I should make one more point: during the show I pulled some audio from an interview with Jim Steinman. I wanted to give some credit, but I have no idea where it came from. If anyone knows, please enlighten me and I’ll do what I can in that respect.

And, as promised, here’s the GoPhone commercial that Mr. Loaf and Tiffany appeared in. You may want to listen to the show first for a little extra context.

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120–The career of Paul Pena

Hi, gang. I’m recording in the Southern Studio this week (and next week) so apologies for audio issues. It’s a lot harder to do what I do when I’m using different equipment to do it. Case in point: what you’re getting here is actually the SECOND recording of the show.

You see, when I record the show, everything typically saves to a home server that I have. Unfortunately, when I saved the narration file (the part where I do all the speaking), not only did my recording software crash, my entire computer died. Blue Screen of Death and everything. And unfortunately my work couldn’t be saved, so I had to record it all over again. Not TOO frustrating when it’s already after 11:00 PM.

So now it’s going on 3AM and I’m pretty cranky because it’s all recorded and I’m writing this while waiting for Auphonic to finish processing the file. However: I think I’ve put together a decent story for you to listen to, about the guy whose recording career was jacked up by a clash of egos, but who still managed to do a lot because one of his unreleased songs got into the hands of Steve Miller.

Thanks again to Larry Glickman for suggesting this episode; I went down a bit of a rabbit hole of research but it was definitely worth it to hear some new (old) material.

I should also note a correction to a goof I made in the body of the show: I mentioned that Pena appeared at a festival in 1999; upon listening back I caught the mistake right away but I’d already taken my recording equipment apart (another hardship of the Southern Studio is that there’s no studio). He actually appeared in 1995.

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116–Mister Blue Sky

Out of the Blue was an honest-to-god masterpiece of an album, and probably the pinnacle of the Electric Light Orchestra’s use of the classical music instruments in rock and roll songs. And the centerpiece of this album was almost certainly Side Three.

The four songs that comprised that side of the album were collectively known as the Concerto for a Rainy Day, meant to evoke the emotional responses that we have to the weather. And when the sun emerges after a storm, and it’s just plain glorious outside, that’s the feeling that “Mister Blue Sky” manages to convey so masterfully. As Jeff Lynne himself said in the 2018 book Wembley or Bust:

The lyrics to ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ are simple and easy to visualize. When the song is playing, you can picture everything that’s going on and everybody knows what I’m talking about. It’s the thought of, ‘Oh, isn’t it nice when the sun comes out?’ And you know, it really is. ‘The sky is blue, wow, what a thing.’ It’s a simple kid’s story.”

A couple of housekeeping notes on this episode:

First, I screwed up some of the geography involved with Lynne’s writing of the album. The cabin was in Geneva, not Munich. However, he did record the rainstorm in Munich. Anyway, please forgive the error.

Second, I need to give credit to Soundjay.com for that needle-drop sound effect I used right before “Sweet is the Night.”

Third, some parts of this episode were a nightmare to record, so I’m sure my family is wondering why they heard me saying the same things over and over again. (This may also account for my geography error, too, but I should have caught that before committing the episode.)

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