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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Episode 105–Under the Covers, Part 6

True story: I hire models from Fiverr to do these pictures. All three of them, coincidentally, are from the same (non-US) nation. I don’t do that on purpose but I’m starting to think I have a “type”.

Thanks for your patience as the show migrates from one server to another. As I noted on the social media, I’m working hard to make it as invisible as possible if you listen via Google or Apple or Spotify, etc. And the website here is going to look kind of weird for awhile with a lot of double posts for previous episodes, until I pick my way through and fix them, one by one. Fun, Fun, Fun!

This week, we’re taking yet another look at a few songs which you may not have known were covers, and nearly all of them were suggested by a listener named Kim, who didn’t feel that a shout-out was necessary, but obviously I don’t feel the same way. Kim had a list of songs that could work, and I said “Sure” to most of them, with a single exception, and that’s mostly because the story is a little convoluted and I may have to turn it into an episode of its own down the road a ways.

Anyway: a new hosting partner means a new player here on the webpage for you, and I do have a little bit of customizing control over it (something I didn’t previously have at all), so I’m happy to hear your suggestions. And, of course, please let me know if you hit any weird technical snags.

Finally, as promised: here’s the original French song I discussed during the show. Check out those lyrics; it’s rather poignant.

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Episode 96–Deacon Blues

Aja, by Steely Dan, was one of the first albums I purchased with my own money. It wasn’t that I was so enamored by Steely Dan; I’d just heard a lot of good stuff about it so I took a chance.

And while fourteen-year-old me heard a ton of good stuff in it, doing a re-listen these many years later has only cemented this album in my Top Ten of all time. (Small wonder that so many others agree with me on that one.)

Aja was released to rather mixed reviews, but over a relatively small amount of time, many of the critics who didn’t like it at first were won over. It just took a second or third listen to appreciate that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were doing something genuinely new, fusing multiple genres into a cohesive whole.

As I strongly suggested during the show, go back and listen to this album with headphones. You’ll be amazed at the intimacy of every element on it.

You’re welcome.

PlayPlay

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Episode 75–Scenes From an Italian Restaurant

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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.

Episode 65–Dust In The Wind

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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.

Dustiness here, dustiness there…no wonder Caroline is in a pond. She’s gotta wash off all that dust.

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.)

This may come as a complete surprise to you, but if you don’t have podcast software on your mobile device, you can listen to/download the show right here!

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Episode 13: MacArthur Park

When Jimmy Webb got his heart broken, what did he do? Why, he did what any other red-blooded American would do: he wrote a couple of hit songs and made a million bucks off the incident!

OK, that’s not the most common reaction, but it’s what happened back in 1967, when he wrote a song that was turned down by The Association, but picked up by an actor who’d decided he wanted to conquer the music charts.

If you’ve got a favorite podcatcher, you should be able to hear this week’s show already, or you can just click on the player below to listen/download:

And, as usual, if you were to go to iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts and leave a rating, and maybe even some feedback, I’d be much obliged. Which reminds me: let me give a shout-out to Connie Paulson, who wrote such nice things on the Facebook page, and to Bob C. (dunno if he wants to be identified), who left a wonderful review on iTunes! Thanks so much, guys. That really warmed my heart a little bit.

Episode 10: Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd

This was the newspaper headline from the Enterprise-Journal of the nearby town of McComb.

It was on this day in 1977 that a plane went down in southwest Mississippi, in a small town called Gillsburg. Even today, forty years later, Gillsburg looks like little more than a wide spot in the road, but its main claim to fame is that plane crash, which took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, along with Gaines’ sister Cassie, all members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Also killed in the crash were assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray. Other band members and passengers on the plane suffered serious injuries.

The original cover, which didn’t return to the album until 2005, when the Deluxe CD was released.

The band’s album, Street Survivors, had been released only a few days earlier and had already gone gold. The publicity from the crash helped push the album to multi-platinum status and a spot in the Top Five on the Billboard Album Chart. The unfortunate cover of the album was swiftly replaced until just a few years ago.

But this week we’re looking at a song from their first album, titled (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) that became the band’s signature tune, and the punchline to pretty much any concert-related joke. “Free Bird” was a song that was over two years in the making, and it was assembled through a combination of necessity, serendipity and a flash of Ah-HA! inspiration. And I’ve managed to make this particular podcast longer than any recorded version of the song.

Here’s the clip of the band playing during the Vicious Cycle Tour in 2003. Check out the piano introduction and how sweet the strings make it:

If you’ve got a favorite podcatcher, you should be able to hear this week’s show already, or you can just click the player below:

And, as usual, if you were to go to iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts and leave some feedback, well, that would put me forever in your debt. Until I repaid the favor, of course.