David Allan Coe is one of those figures in the music firmament who people seem to either love or hate, at least as a performer. As a songwriter, he’s remarkably talented and for awhile his work was among the most in demand on the Nashville scene.
But it was a song he didn’t even write that put him on the map as a performer. Writing credit for “You Didn’t Even Know Me By My Name” goes to John Prine and Steve Goodman, both of whom recorded it before Coe got his hands on it, though nearly everyone agrees that Coe’s version is the definitive one.
By the way, I mentioned during the show that “Take This Job and Shove It” was another Country song that had a wry sense of humor and had a connection to this one. That connection is Coe, who wrote “Take This Job”.
This week’s episode is below. Enjoy it as you will. And please remember to share the show with someone if you’re enjoying it.
Come with me on the Billy Joel Tour of Long Island!
This week we’re looking at Billy Joel’s longest studio track, from his breakout album The Stranger. Joel was inspired by the last half of Side Two of the Abbey Road album, which also involved several shorter songs stitched together into a longer suite. And, as matters would have it, it’s the last half of Side One of The Stranger. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.
The song mentions several places on Long Island that are pretty easy to identify. But the big to-do about this song concerns the location of that restaurant. Billy Joel gave shout-outs to a lot of people and places on Long Island, so what restaurant was he talking about? That’s one of the mysteries we try to answer this week.
Kansas was literally on the last day of rehearsing for their fifth album when their producer asked them if they had anything else. Guitarist and songwriter Kerry Livgren reluctantly broke out an acoustic song that he was convinced the rest of the band would hate, because it was practically the opposite of everything Kansas had done until then. But it turned out to be exactly the opposite: they loved it, and they fine-tuned the song to give some of the other band members something to do (extra guitar, violin part, and a smidge of percussion), and it turned into the album’s second single and the biggest hit of their career.
And that’s about it, there’s not much mysterious about this song. It’s been either used or referenced in countless pop culture arenas, and it’s been successfully covered a few times, curiously enough by Country singers most of the time. Many people know about Sarah Brightman’s cover of the song, but I’m going to encourage you to check out last year’s recording by Caroline Jones. (No, I don’t know why she’s singing in a pond, unless she wanted to do the exact opposite of Kansas’ video.)
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The Osmond Brothers got their real start in show business when they couldn’t get an audition for one television show, and they wound up on another.
Check out the audience reaction to them at first. It cracks me up every time.
This clip, incidentally, is from the show Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, which most people seem to remember as The Wonderful World of Disney. Shoot, I was watching the show as a small kid (right after Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), and remember it under the second title, which wasn’t a thing until 1969. This episode was called “Disneyland After Dark”, and the conceit behind it was that Walt Disney himself would start to introduce the different performers on the show, but he’d never see the acts himself because tourists kept interrupting him. The show, as it originally aired on NBC, was available on DVD for awhile, but appears not to be available now.
The Disney gig led them to another show (The Andy Williams Show), and another. And finally, when they wanted to break out of their Variety TV Group image, they convinced their dad to let them record as a rock and roll band. So off they went to Alabama, as you do, and they put together an album that clearly had a Motown/R&B influence on it.
The addition of Donny Osmond to the act, and the use of him in exactly the way Motown was using Michael Jackson at the same time, allowed the Osmonds to release their first hit single, and their first Number One record.
What’s the secret to the song’s success? There’s a theory, and it involves fast food.
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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.
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.
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John D. Loudermilk (the D doesn’t stand for anything) was a singer-songwriter who wrote a few hits for a few different artists, and he also fancied himself as a prankster. So when he was asked by a Las Vegas radio station about his inspiration for writing the song “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Indian)”, he told a wild tale about meeting a band of Cherokees in a snowstorm. And when Casey Kasem’s crew got wind of the story, they called him to confirm it, and he changed it to sound even more dire. They bought it, Casey aired it, and now that the show is in re-runs, the story gets a national re-airing every now and again. And it’s entirely nonsense. But that also means we don’t really know what led him to write this song, which contains several elements indicating that Loudermilk really knew next to nothing about the Cherokee Nation.
Does that make the song offensive? That seems to be a mixed bag, based on my research. Some people are pretty specific about the fact that it gets so many things just plain wrong. Some people don’t like the whole cultural appropriation end of things, where white guys (Loudermilk as the writer, Fardon and the Raiders as the performers) are singing about Native Americans in the first person.
Some people also make a point of saying “I’m xx% Cherokee and it doesn’t offend me at all.” So in this respect, your mileage may vary.I asked my wife, who is part Cherokee, about it and she doesn’t like the song, largely because of the factual inaccuracies. I think she was pleasantly surprised that I knew what they were, though. But I don’t think she’ll be making a point of tuning in to this episode. Then again, I’m pretty sure she only listens when I play it back in my car and she’s there for it.
At any rate: my apologies for the late delivery, but here’s hoping you enjoy it. As usual, your podcatcher should have it now (or very soon, anyway), or you can listen/download it from here:
Thanks so much for the reviews I’ve seen, and the good words on Facebook. Next week will be a whole bunch of quick bits on Christmas songs, and then—finally—we’ll finish up the year with Part Two of Shel Silverstein.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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:
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):
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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The Isley Brothers were an act that seemed to do well on stage, but they were having difficulty getting traction as far as record sales or radio airplay were concerned. While performing in Philadelphia, Ronald Isley recognized that their cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops” was getting a terrific response from the audience, so he started ad-libbing a call-and-response section to keep the song going. It worked out so well that they kept doing the bit, and when they’d finished the series of performances, their producers suggested that they turn the bit into a single of its own. And a gigantic hit was born!
Ha, Ha! Just kidding. The song only went to #47 on the Billboard charts. But it became a popular party tune, and was covered repeatedly by numerous artists, including Lulu, who was only 13 years old and still performing as Lulu and the Luvvers. Here’s her 1965 appearance on Ready Steady Go. I like the full ending she puts on the record, and the way she gives up lip-synching before she’s quite done:
Finally, 1978 rolled around and the song was used in the film National Lampoon’s Animal House, performed by a fictional band called Otis Day and the Knights, which re-activated the song’s popularity (and contributed heavily to the Isleys getting Gold certification for their version), and allowed the singer of the band (not the guy you see on stage, that’s a lip-synching actor) to put a real Otis Day band together and go on tour. Over ten years later they recorded an album with a new recording of “Shout”.
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Lou Reed had been out of the Velvet Underground for about two years, and his first solo album had tanked, but people like David Bowie still believed in him, and brought him to London to record his second album. One of the songs he recorded during the ten days they spent on Transformer was a song he’d been noodling with for about a year. It started out as part of the score for a show that never materialized, but over time it morphed into a tribute to several of Andy Warhol’s “Superstars” at his studio-cum-crash pad, The Factory.
The song got a remarkable amount of airplay despite its subject matter (and because of how well it was coded), and propelled Transformer into the Billboard Top 30, cementing its place as a touchstone of the Glam Rock genre of music.
Incidentally, the album’s cover was photographed by Mick Rock, who’d accidentally over-exposed the image in the darkroom, but he liked the way it came out and submitted it as a possible cover anyway.
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