Posted in 1970s, 1972, 1990s, 1996

Episode 38–Killing Me Softly With His Song

In 1971, Don McLean was a known artist but hadn’t yet hit it big with “American Pie.” Lori Lieberman was a 19-year-old singer-songwriter who’d recently scored a contract. Lieberman attended one of McLean’s shows and she was so struck by his performance

of the song “Empty Chairs” that she wrote a poem about it, more or less on the spot. She took the notes to her collaborators and they put together a song for her album. It became her first single, but it was quickly overshadowed when Roberta Flack covered it.

While the song was covered numerous times, including versions by artists as diverse as Perry Como and Michael Jackson, it wasn’t until The Fugees put together a hip-hop cover that the song gained new life. Lauryn Hill’s singing gives the song an extra emotional ache, perhaps because their original idea was to turn the song into a cautionary tale about substance abuse, an idea that the original writers didn’t support.

As usual, your podcatcher should have the show by now, or you can play it right here. Or, if you prefer to download it yourself, click here and have at it.

And remember: you can also listen to the show via Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Google Play Music and TuneIn.com, which means you can also play it through your Amazon Alexa! (“Alexa, play How Good It Is on Tune In Dot Com.”) Go check out the links somewhere in the right-hand column.

Posted in 1970s, 1975, 1980s, 1986

Episode 37–Walk This Way

Before I do anything else, let me give a shout-out to a friend of the podcast, and one of its first fans who wasn’t related to me. Connie Paulson provided the artwork that you see in this post. You can see more of her stuff if you hook up with the show’s Facebook page.

 

In 1975 Aerosmith was pretty much just another rock band with a modest hit, but when they got writer’s block, a trip to a Mel Brooks movie inspired them to come up with a title, and then Steven Tyler wrote the lyrics over the next day or so–twice, as the story goes. The song was a hit, and ten years later, it was a hit again when Aerosmith teamed up with rap act Run-DMC to cover the song. Check out the video; it’s fun, it’s very creative, and you barely notice that most of the band is missing:

Your favorite podcatcher should have the show by now, but feel free to play it right here, if you’re so inclined. Or, if you prefer to download the episode on your own, follow this link.

And remember: you can also listen to the show via iHeartRadio, Google Play Music and TuneIn.com, which means you can also play it through your Amazon Alexa! (“Alexa, play How Good It Is on Tune In Dot Com.”)

Posted in 1970s, 1978

Episode 36–Sultans of Swing

While I’ve made the joke in the past about a band taking ten years to become an overnight success, Dire Straits was successful almost from the jump. After a false start with EMI records, the band found a friend in a BBC disc jockey to whom they’d merely turned for advice. That DJ liked what he heard and started playing their stuff, which turned into a contract with a local label, and which they parlayed into a contract with Warner Brothers Records. And all of it in about the space of a year.

The song doesn’t appear on this album, but this is the guitar on which Knopfler composed “Sultans of Swing”.

Knopfler composed the song on the National Steel guitar you see in the picture here, but he wasn’t happy with it until he played it on a 1961 Stratocaster. He was so happy with the way it sounded that he stuck with the Strat for years afterward.

Given that Dire Straits was their first album, and it did so well worldwide, it was pretty clear early on that Knopfler is a ridiculously talented guitarist who has a way of making it look easy, and it seems to me that unless you’re a music aficionado, his talent is generally under-appreciated.

By now your favorite podcatcher should have this week’s show in your device, but if not, you can listen to it right here: If you’d prefer to download the episode directly, you can do so by going to this link (autoplays in a new window).

Posted in 1970s, 1976

Episode 31–The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

In November of 1975, an ore freighter broke apart and went down very suddenly in a storm on Lake Superior. Singer Gordon Lightfoot thought that the story wasn’t getting enough attention and gathered some news clippings together, then used that material to write a song about the event.

This is the original article from Newsweek’s November 24, 1975 article.

The song was recorded within just a few weeks of the tragedy, and was released the following summer. Just a few days after the first anniversary of the sinking, the song hit Number One on the Canadian charts, and peaked at #2 in the US. I have to admit, though, that when the song came out, 13-year-old me had no idea that it was about a recent event. I figured it was either fictional, or it had happened many years ago. Imagine my surprise!

One of the last dives. The bell has been replaced, and someone is in the pilot house, leaving a can of beer there.

Nowadays, the ship’s location is considered mostly off-limits to all recreational diving and most research dives or equipment, now. It’s also located in a spot in Lake Superior where the border between the United States and Canada has moved several times, now. Right now the ship is on the Canadian side.

What’s that, you say? Your podcatcher hasn’t picked up the show yet? Don’t worry, you can listen to or download it by clicking on the player below. In addition, I hear it’s now available on Google Play, so you can use that if you like. I’m still working on Spotify, but they’re taking their time about it.

EDITED TO ADD: Holy cow, I can’t believe I forgot to post the video of the ship’s launching. There’s no audio, more’s the pity. If you’ve never seen a sideways ship launch before, you’re in for a treat because it’s pretty cool in general. The action starts at about three minutes in.

See you next week!

 

Posted in 1950s, 1958, 1970s, 1971

Episode 29–Rockin’ Robin

It was originally spelled “Rock-In Robin,” which is a distinction that’s too tedious to elucidate verbally, and it was Bobby Day’s biggest hit. But while Bobby was known for his songwriting, he didn’t write this one.

It was written by songwriter and record executive Leon René, and for some reason he let the song lapse into the public domain, so I guess he wasn’t such a hot executive. Anyway, that means if you want to cut your own record, or maybe record a version for background music to enhance a project you’re doing, have at it! Change the words? No problem! You don’t need anyone’s permission! The caveat, however, is that you have to come up with your own recording. Use an existing one, and you’re almost certainly infringing on a copyright.

If your favorite podcast catcher hasn’t found this week’s episode yet, there’s always the player below, from which you can listen or download for your future listening pleasure.

And, as usual, leaving a rating in your favorite software is always appreciated. Which reminds me: I didn’t realize that the show wasn’t available via Spotify; that should be fixed within  the next couple of days.

Posted in 1970s, 1971

Episode 26–Stairway to Heaven

In 1970, Led Zeppelin band members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page wanted a new song to use as the centerpiece of their concerts. so they retreated to a cottage in Wales, as you do in these situations. And when they emerged, they had the genesis of the song that’s made so many “Best of…” lists, it’s actually created some backlash over the years, including from Robert Plant himself.

Despite being a single album, Led Zeppelin IV was originally packaged in a gatefold design, as though it was a double album. If you opened it out, this was the outside cover. That picture in the frame on the right is an oil painting!

The song proved so popular when the Album-Oriented Rock stations played it that people immediately asked, “Where can I buy this single?” And the answer was, You can’t. Go buy the album.

 

 

The inner gatefold; the only time their lyrics were printed anywhere on their albums.

The album was Led Zeppelin IV (or, just “the fourth album”, or Zoso if you like reading too deeply into things), and the song was “Stairway to Heaven” (because, duh). And while “Stairway” was never released to the public as a 45 single, the album sold like hotcakes, becoming one of the top ten selling albums of all time.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t a 45RPM record, however: a promotional copy was sent to radio stations (see below–note the small spindle hole), and a jukebox copy was created for play in those machines.

I’m sure you know the drill by now: If you have iTunes or some other podcatcher, you already have this one in your library. For downloading or listening while you’re doing other stuff, you can click on the player below.

And, naturally, every little bit of feedback helps!

Posted in 1970s, 1975

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.

Posted in 1960s, 1969, 1970, 1970s

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.

Posted in 1970, 1970s

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:

And, of course, I’d be only too happy if you were to leave some positive feedback wherever you get your podcasts.

Posted in 1970s, 1975

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:

And also as usual, if you feel the urge to leave some positive feedback on iTunes or wherever you happen to get your stuff from, I won’t stand in your way.

Oh, and as promised, here’s the clip of Bowie on Soul Train:
https://youtu.be/wFImjufN_2I