119–What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

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Another bit I worked way too hard on. But it’s worth blowing up if you’re so inclined.

R.E.M. had released two albums and hadn’t toured since 1989, so when it came time to put together the album that eventually became Monster, they were ready to break the mold a little bit and go back to rockers rather than the relatively quiet, introspective stuff they’d been putting out.

But the project was put through several different tests, including multiple illnesses and the deaths of a couple of Michael Stipe’s close friends a relatively short time apart from one another. At one point the band members were so annoyed with each other that it was thought briefly that they’d broken up.

But they managed to get it together and put together an album that got generally good reviews, especially for the way they were experimenting sonically.

“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” was inspired by an incident involving Dan Rather where he was attacked by someone who, when he was finally identified, turned out to have some severe psychiatric issues. At the time Michael Stipe and Company wrote the song, nobody had any idea who this person was, or if he even existed. But the phrase that Rather cited him repeating over and over during the assault became a bit of a catchphrase for awhile. And Rather himself came to have a sense of humor about it, as you can see in the 1995 clip from the David Letterman Show, below.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

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.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Episode 101–In Bloom

You should be forewarned that this episode takes a brief detour into subject matter that’s a little bit on the touchy side. Specifically, there’s a mention of a musician’s gender identity and how it’s affected their relationship with their fans and the media. I hope that’s not a problem for ye.

Anyway, you’re getting two episodes this week, to make up for the lapse I did two weeks ago. So either this is the bonus episode because it’s Monday, or yesterday was the bonus episode and this one is a day late. How you choose to view that, I care not. Anyway, are we good now?

But the members of Nirvana had a tough time dealing with their quick rise to fame in 1990 and 91. They discovered that a lot of their new fans would be bopping about and singing along with their songs without having a lot of idea what the songs meant.

There’s an old Steve Martin routine where he’s playing the banjo onstage, and he comments that “The banjo is such a happy instrument–you can’t play a sad song on the banjo – it always comes out so cheerful.” He even makes an attempt at it: “Oh death, and grief, and sorrow, and murderrrrr…” and that’s pretty much what Nirvana was going through, but in the other direction. Their songs had the benefit of being very catchy, even if the subject matter was kind of dark and alienated, so people were latching on to the hooks (‘scuse the pun, there) in the songs and not really thinking about the lyrics, or the emotions evoked. This provided a weird disconnect for them, and Cobain finally took that emotion and put it into song form. Which didn’t really help, of course, because now they’re singing along to a song that’s basically mocking them.

As the fourth single from Nevermind, “In Bloom” was Top Five in the US on the Album and Mainstream Rock charts, and Top 30 pretty much everywhere else. When the Singles box set came out in 1995, it re-surfaced on a few European charts for a bit. But at that point Cobain had already died by suicide, and Nirvana was no more.

Yeah, I think we’re good here.

Click here for a transcript of this show.

50–Exchange Students

The Billboard Hot 100 chart has been around for about 60 years. In all that time, only seven songs which weren’t recorded in English have made it to the Number One position. And there are several other foreign-language songs which enjoyed plenty of popularity without making it to the top spot, but the fact is, in United States it’s tough to score a hit if your song isn’t in English. 

So this week I tried to come up with a comprehensive list of non-English songs that made it to the Top 20. This definitely became a case of “the more you find, the more there is to find” so I’m not at all sure I caught everything, but it’s a pretty good list, and at over 18 minutes, it’s an overstuffed episode besides. 

I think that some of the songs that didn’t make Number One are going to be a surprise to you, but a couple of the ones that did, may also be surprising. And there’s one artist who actually hit the Top Five twice, with songs that aren’t in English. And no, it’s not Dean Martin. I shan’t spoil it here, but I will say that this one really knocked me out. 

By now your podcatcher may have located this show, but if you’re content to listen or download it from right here, be my guest: 

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Episode 48–Under The Covers, Part 3

First off: let me both thank, and apologize to, Jerry Bainbridge for his efforts this week. He voice-tracked the show for me this week in an effort to keep it from dropping too late, but a technical issue prevented me from using the material he’d given me. I do plan to ask him again in the near future, and I hope he’ll be kind enough to step up again then.

I’ve been spending time the past couple of weeks running up and down the coast between Baltimore and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, preparing a condo for rental, and believe it or not this show is the most relaxing thing I’ve done the whole time. And it was a nightmare to assemble. I’m going back to late-night recording!

This week, we’re looking at songs that did well on the charts, perhaps well enough that people have forgotten that there’s an earlier version. And I think at least one of them will come as a surprise to you. Maybe two of them. Hey, maybe all of them!

I’m sure you know how it goes at this point. Your podcast catcher should have picked it up automatically, but if you’re the DIY type, then by all means feel free to play or download the show through the player below:

And, of course, please take the time to leave a review in whatever website or app you happen to be listening through.

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.

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Episode 22–Under The Covers II

Did you ever decide that you were in the market for something, let’s say you need a car, and all of a sudden you see advertisements for cars all over the place? Or, you learn a new word and suddenly you see it being used everywhere?

This is called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, and it’s a weird little trick our brains play on us. And recently, I was pranked by my brain in this manner.

Episode 9 was devoted to songs that you may not have known were covers of other artists, and I thought at that time that it was kind of a fun idea, and I’d like to come back to it once in awhile. Now, I was thinking maybe another 20 or 30 episodes down the road, but then Baader-Meinhof got in the way and I started really noticing it when it was pointed out that a song I was listening to was a cover of another recording. So, because I have a tendency to write stuff down and then immediately lose the notes, I decided to return to the concept a little more quickly than I usually do. And the fun thing is, I’m saving the one that came as the biggest surprise to me for another show.

So this time around we’re going to hear from musicians as diverse as Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Led Zeppelin and Linda Lyndell. Who? Just go listen, you’ll be fine, I promise. In fact, you’re going to be sad that you don’t know who Linda Lyndell is, especially when you find out WHY you don’t know who she is.

I noted this briefly at the end of the show, but something I noticed only while I was recording was that all of the songs enjoyed only modest success until the cover came out. But the other common thread is that the more successful artist made some sort of change to the song, almost as if that made the difference between whether or not the song was a hit.

As usual, if your favorite podcatcher isn’t getting the job done, you can feel free click on the player below to listen and/or download the show:

Also, my apologies for the late delivery of this episode; I had a technical issue that was frankly kind of scary, and had me wondering whether I’d be forced to A) re-record the episode after B) buying a new computer, but fortunately I managed to fix what was wrong and we’re only a few hours late.