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?

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Click here to become a patron of the show.

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!

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Click here to become a Patron of the show.

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.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Click here to become a Patron of the show.

125–Psycho Killer

Click here to become a patron of the show.

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.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

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.

Click here to become a Patron of the show.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

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.

Click here to become a patron of the show.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

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.)

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

112–Rhiannon

Don’t forget to leave a review on Podchaser so they’ll send some money to Wheels on Meals America through the #Reviews4Good program.

Or, The Episode Where I Can’t Speak Welsh.

There’s an old Doonesbury strip (Aug 1977) where rock star Jimmy Thudpucker is sitting on Bob Dylan’s porch, chatting with Dylan (who appears as a disembodied voice coming from inside the house), and they’re discussing the fact that then-President Jimmy Carter has just called him, looking for a quote to use during his next presidential chat with the public. Apparently the President thinks very highly of Dylan, who doesn’t necessarily agree with this assessment:

DOUG ROCKS RECORDS - LEGEND

And there’s a little bit of this with the Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac song “Rhiannon”: Nicks saw the name in a book and was taken with it, so she began to write a song centered around the image that the name presented to her. In fact, she began a series of songs about the Rhiannon that she had in her head.

Later on, she discovered that Rhiannon was a Welsh goddess whose attributes dovetailed rather nicely with the character she’d envisioned in her head. So when the song became a hit, she began to attribute the song as being about “a Welsh witch” (I can barely type that–no wonder I had trouble saying it). But the fact is, she knew nothing about the Welsh mythology when she first wrote the song.

That doesn’t take away from the overall quality of the song, but it does, at least a little bit, suck away some of the mystique that Nicks attached to it during the live performance, methinks.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Don’t forget to leave a review on Podchaser so they’ll send some money to Wheels on Meals America through the #Reviews4Good program.

111–Werewolves of London

Warren Zevon was a talented musician and songwriter who had a lot of friends in the business, but didn’t have the commercial success that his contemporaries had.

One day in 1975 he, along with guitarists Waddy Wachtell and LeRoy Marinell, are just goofing around with their guitars when someone asks them what they’re playing. Zevon, referring back to a joke he’d recently heard, told that person that they were writing “Werewolves of London”. The joke actually started to take shape, but was quickly abandoned.

That is, until other artists picked it up. According to Wachtel, it was one of the toughest recordings he’d ever done, but the appeal of the finished product—to practically everyone but Zevon—was undeniable. It became Zevon’s highest-charting single, and even at that, it wasn’t the monster (heh) hit people remember it being.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Episode 108–Books on Vinyl

Last week’s show was short, time-wise, and I promised I’d make up for it. And make up, I did, because this is one of my longer non-interview shows, clocking in at 20:30. If you listen to this show during your morning commute, you may have to circle the block a few times before going in to work.

But it’s so packed with stuff that I don’t think you’ll mind. This week we’re looking at songs that were inspired by books, a topic that’s turned out to be HUGE, and we’ll be visiting again in the future if you’re digging it.

As promised here are links to the stories I talked about during the show.

This is the link to “The Sound-Sweep.” It’s a little on the long side, but I think you’ll like it.

This is Ray Bradbury’s “Rocket Man.” I think it was scanned into someone’s computer because there are some weird typos.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.