59–Another Brick in the Wall

Click here for a transcript of this show. 

In the late 1970s, Pink Floyd had come up with a trio of very solid albums, one of which still hadn’t left the Billboard Top 200 since its release in 1973. And between that, the growing popularity of Pink Floyd as the musical basis for laser shows, and a lot of Album-Oriented Rock airplay, the band was becoming popular enough that their audiences were getting to the point of their being able to fill very large arenas such as stadiums.

On tour in 1977, at Madison Square Garden.

This posed a problem for the band, as they thought that A) people weren’t coming to the shows for the “right” reasons, which led to B)  they were feeling a growing separation from their audiences. After an unfortunate incident (fortunately on the last night of their Animals tour), the band took some planned time off to recharge, and Roger Waters took the opportunity to put together some songs that drew upon the bad experiences they were having, plus an offhand comment he made to producer Bob Ezrin and his friend, who turned out to be a psychiatrist. He came up with two separate concepts, which he presented to the other band members a year later: one eventually became his solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking; the other became The Wall

The text was hand-written by Gerald Scarfe; there’s no “The Wall” font but there’s something similar called “Floydian”. On the albums the text appeared in either black or red.  

The Wall was likely to just become another pretty good Pink Floyd album, even if it was a double album, but some financial setbacks for the band meant that David Gilmour was temporarily unable to do as much as he ordinarily would, and so Roger Waters brought in Bob Ezrin to help. Ezrin, uncredited at the time, helped Waters and Gilmour really beat the overall concept into a cohesive shape, and he made a couple of tweaks to one song that, despite the band’s initial reservations, ultimately made the song catchier while still retaining its original Pink Floyd-iness. That song became the centerpiece of the album and the band’s only Number One song, but what a monster Number One it was, topping the charts in nations around the world. 

Pink Floyd was going through so much stress that they actually broke up after a fashion; most of them stayed together but their keyboardist, Richard Wright, quit before the album was finished (or he was fired, depending on whom you ask). He was hired as a session musician for the tour, so nobody really knew that the band had fractured so badly. But it was the beginning of the end for Pink Floyd as so many people think of them. Their next album was a rehash of older material, and the one after that (The Final Cut) was leftovers from The Wall repurposed into an anti-war screed related to Britain’s conflict in the Falkland Islands. Wright was long gone by then, and Gilmour didn’t like the direction the album had taken, and that was pretty much it for them. 

So while it may have seemed as though The Wall was the impetus for the band’s breakup, in fact it was a masterpiece despite the fact that things were going so badly for its members…much like another British band that released a double album with a white cover. Hm, I just thought of that!

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Episode 52–Into The Night

In 1978, Benny Mardones was a struggling singer-songwriter whose first album tanked partially because the label went bankrupt shortly after it was released. In fact, it remained out of print until 2012, when another label got ahold of it and released it on compact disc. 

The story goes that Benny was living in an apartment in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, and there was a family in the building that was on hard times, so he helped support them, in part by paying their 16-year-old daughter Heidi the sum of $50 a week to walk his dog. 

As they got close to finishing his second album (and the first for his new label), Benny and his writing partner were working out a song when Heidi came through the door to get the dog. It was then that they realized they’d been working all night long, and the partner’s response to Heidi’s presence inspired the opening line to the song. 

A rotary payphone flying through a bluescreen sky while a guy with feathered hair sings. Is there anything more 1979 than this image? If there is, I do NOT want to know about it. 

And, as the story goes, the rest of the song is Mardones trying to express his deep affection for the Heidi and her family despite all the bad stuff that’s happened to them. And there’s a certain recognition that his success isn’t necessarily their success. Now, that’s pretty much the story that Mardones has told repeatedly, and I guess you can believe him, but it also makes you wonder why he agreed to the plotline that appears in the video, which makes him look like a middle-aged guy creeping on a teeny bopper (who, incidentally, has exactly one facial expression throughout the video). 

The song made it to Number 11 in 1980, and again in 1989, putting in 37 non-consecutive weeks on the charts, the second-largest number of weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s, but not even close to the all-time record (I’ll let you Google it, the answer is kind of depressing). 

Anyway, your Podcast Republic app should already have this show captured, but if you’re a Ron Swanson type who does things the hard way, well then feel free to listen or download it from right here. 

And, of course, any and all feedback is all kinds of welcome. 

Episode 28–You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

The Righteous Brothers were originally part of a larger group called The Paramours. In 1962 they split up, and members Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield began appearing in local clubs in southern California as a duo. One night, when they finished singing a song, a Marine from a nearby base shouted at them, “That was righteous, brother.” When they were signed to Moonglow Records shortly thereafter, they were asked to come up with a name for the act, and they recalled that incident. “Righteous Brothers” sounded about right for them so they ran with it.

About two years later, they were playing in a show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, where a record producer was conducting the band. That conductor was Phil Spector, who was looking to add some male voices to his Phillies label. Spector’s first move was to hire Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to write a song specifically for his new act. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was the result of that hire.

I’ve seen two different versions of the ad. Most of the descriptions mention the plug for Ready Steady Go!, as this one does, but there’s another version that doesn’t have the plug but does feature Oldham’s actual signature at the bottom. I’m not sure which one is the real one, but this is the one that doesn’t require me to pay a fee.

Shortly after the record was released, the Beatles’ producer, George Martin, got Cilla Black to rush-record a cover for quick release. It started to out-pace the Righteous Brothers’ version, until two things happened: first, the label caught wise to what was going on and flew the Righteous Brothers to the UK for a week-long publicity tour that included some TV appearances. Meanwhile, Andrew Oldham, the manager for the Rolling Stones, spent his own money to promote the version from across the pond. In short order, the American version was topping the UK charts, and Cilla Black’s was dropping rapidly.

Naturally, if you iTunes or some such, you’ve already got this in your library. But if you don’t, you can click on the player below to listen or download.

Oh—and, as promised in the last post, here’s a photo of my basement studio:

The laptop on the left holds my audio elements while the one on the right is my “everyday” machine that I use for recording. The Audacity file you’re looking at is the unedited, unprocessed (via Auphonic) version of this week’s show. You can see I use two mice; one is wireless and the other one isn’t. The wired one is the one that I use for the left-hand machine, because it gives me (I think) more control and that’s where I really need it.

There’s another panel of foam squares just out of frame to the left, and a third one behind me. My mic is on a boom that’s clamped to the table. And that’s my script between the computers and resting on both keyboards.

Hope you liked the tour!

Episode 14: Six Feet From Stardom

Mick Jagger, as it turns out, became Carly Simon’s backup singer on “You’re So Vain” because he just happened to pop into the studio the day of recording. The bad news is, that put him on the list of candidates that people think Simon’s singing about.

Before they were famous, lots of artists sang backup for other artists. But once in awhile, they’ll lend their talent to someone else because it’s fun, or because they owe someone a favor or maybe just because they were asked to.

This week, we’re going to listen in on a bunch of songs that have famous people singing backups. Some of them are pretty well known; others may come as a surprise to you.

Per our Standard Operating Procedure, 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 to listen/download it right here:

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 quite the happy camper.