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131: Candle in the Wind

Elton John and Bernie Taupin were in a remarkably productive period in the early 1970s. Over a span of just two weeks they’d not only written enough material for an album, they’d written enough for two. And they were thematically similar enough that all the songs could be combined into a single two-LP package. That became the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which yielded three hit singles. It would have generated at least one more, but in the meantime John had cranked out yet another album (Caribou), and any more singles from Goodbye would have delayed Caribou‘s release.

So “Harmony” became a B side, and while “Candle in the Wind” had been released as a single in the UK, it never came out in the US. However, 1973 was early in the period when FM radio was starting to grow, and some radio stations were only too happy to play entire album sides without interruption. And since Side 1 of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road could be considered practically a single piece, “Candle in the Wind” got some FM airplay then. At any rate, it wasn’t an unknown quantity by the time 1986 rolled around and Elton played it in concert in Australia, where the song made it onto the live album he released the next year and it WAS released as a single, this time charting in the US and (again) in the UK.

Because the song had gotten some national attention it turned out that Princess Diana was familiar with it to the point where she’d told Elton John that she’d found herself identifying with some of the predicaments that the Marilyn Monroe of the song had faced during her lifetime. So when Diana was killed in a car crash at the same age that Marilyn was when she died, and when the Royal Family asked Elton John to play at Diana’s funeral, Elton asked Bernie Taupin to come up with new lyrics for the song.

And thus it was that “Candle in the Wind” found new life on the charts. But there’s more to the story than just that. Tune in and find out what!

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130: The Twist

First off, I have to note that I do have fun doing the artwork for these episodes.

Where were we? Oh yeah. Somewhere in the late 50s, early 60s. And Hank Ballard has a new song that’s picking up traction in Baltimore thanks to the Buddy Deane Show, when suddenly it gets yoinked out from under him by a newcomer from Philadelphia.

That newcomer is named Chubby Checker, and the song is (surprise!) “The Twist,” which rockets to the top of the charts just a few weeks after Dick Clark features Checker on his Saturday night show. Suddenly the floodgates open up and the nation is awash in Twist records for two years. I’m talking about a couple of dozen songs at least, and those are just the ones that made the charts.

No wonder The Beatles just walked in and took over. I kid! They’d have done that anyway.

This didn’t make it into the show for some reason (though it’s in the transcript), but Ballard wasn’t even mad about Chubby Checker (and Dick Clark) hijacking his record. You see, Ballard’s label didn’t have a lot of confidence in it—hence its placement on a B side—and as one of the writers, Ballard made a pile of money on it anyway. Plus, his version peaked at Number 28 the same week Checker’s version reached Number 1 the first time around. And Dick Clark made it up to Ballard by promoting his other single, “Finger Poppin’ Time,” which was at Number 7 that same week. So, all’s well that ends well.

And, as promised, here’s the Chubby Checker/Fat Boys video for ye. Man, I thought rap in the 80s was just the most fun.

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129: Seasons in the Sun

It’s whiny. It’s treacly. It’s mushy. It’s kind of a bad song. I’m not going to talk you out of any of those things. This isn’t one of those shows where I try to convince you—and perhaps myself—that an objectively bad song is somehow good. (And if you don’t know what songs those are, that means I’m doing a pretty good job.)

But the fact is, “Seasons in the Sun” absolutely dominated nearly the first half of 1974, and like Kurt Cobain, it was one of the first records I bought with my own money. I promise I’m not considering any self-injurious behavior today.

Not today.

And like Norman Greenbaum before him with “Spirit in the Sky”, Terry Jacks was able to use the money he made from his song to do pretty much whatever he wanted for the rest of his life. Maybe we should all write a song with the title “[thing] in the [another thing]”, hm? Could that be the secret to financial security?

Incidentally, I used different software to record this episode. Usually I use Audacity, but I heard a lot of good stuff about a program called Hindenburg, and while there’s a bit of a learning curve involved, it’s pretty good and may actually change my workflow once I get better used to it. If it sounds better or worse, I’d be curious to hear from you about it.

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128: In Your Eyes

By 1985 Peter Gabriel had released four solo albums, all of them titled Peter Gabriel. Nowadays most people subtitle them based on the cover artwork (e.g. Peter Gabriel (Scratch), Peter Gabriel (Melt), etc.), and while I suppose that amused Gabriel, it did not amuse the folks at his label.

They pushed back hard to get him to take marketing his work more seriously, so he came up with a title that wasn’t really much of a title: So. But Gabriel had, perhaps because of his work on Birdy, had caught on to the worldbeat sound, and incorporated it into the compositions on So. In addition, he got ridiculously lucky with some very creative people to direct and produce the videos that supported the singles. “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time” in particular were very MTV-friendly, and all of a sudden Gabriel is himself on his way and making it in the Big Time, with So going Top Five around the world.

And the fact that the “In Your Eyes” single was a tonal changeup from most of the other singles (“Don’t Give Up” notwithstanding), meant that Peter Gabriel was being taken more seriously as a versatile performer than he was previously, when he was thought of largely as a cult favorite.

I didn’t promise this during the show, but I’m throwing it in here anyway. Here’s the source material for some of the “In Your Eyes” video.

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127: Foreign Influence

I don’t know why it fascinated me so much recently to poke around with songs that had foreign lyrics in them. But, here we are. This week’s show (and I promise I’m done with the premise for awhile) looks at four songs between 1969 and 1984 which have non-English phrases in them. Some of them have been hilariously misunderstood for a long time. One of them is pretty obvious but I decided to throw it in anyway. And one may come as a surprise to you, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

As promised, here’s an episode of the European game show Jeux Sans Frontières from 1975. This episode comes from Engelburg, Switzerland:

And here’s another, airing from Vilamoura, Portugal in 1980:

And just for laughs, here’s this week’s episode:

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126–Kyrie

Mr. Mister is kind of a peculiar name for a band, but a lot of them have peculiar names, so there’s that. This particular band, originally from the Phoenix, Arizona area, got their name from an inside joke about the Weather Report album Mr. Gone.

Sorry, not all the stories I have are great stories.

“Kyrie” is one of those songs that is very well understood by a certain slice of America. It’s also very misunderstood by the rest of the country, and it largely depends on your religious upbringing, although if you know a lot about classical music, you may also have a clue. No, I’m not going to tell you here. Go listen to the show.

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Also, I probably shouldn’t mention this, but this is one of a few songs that will invariably have me Chasing Amy…so to speak. And if you think you’re Amy, drop me a line.

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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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Everything Old Is New Again

Phil Collins' 'In the Air' Is a Hit Again, Thanks to Reaction Video

Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” which we looked at back in Episode 5, is not only on the charts again, it’s made it back into the Top 10 on iTunes in the US, nearly 40 years after its release.

Why? You ask. I presume you’re asking because you’re reading this in 2025 or something, and don’t remember this phenomenon. But a pair of YouTubers, Tim and Fred Williams, have been making videos where they listen to older pop songs recommended by viewers, and they’re recording their reactions as they listen to the song for the first time.

The 21-year-old twins already had a pretty respectable following, and then someone edited their response to “In the Air Tonight” down to a roughly 45-second snippet where they hear the drum break for the first time and they’re both surprised and wowed by it.

The video as a whole (all of their stuff, really) is pretty cool, with them stopping and starting the song to comment in-between, but what makes this one extra-good, I think, is that the song is such a slow burn, they’re slowly warming up to it, and then WHAM! They’re literally (their words) woken up by the beats. The whole thing is worth watching, but if you’re impatient, skip to 4:13:

(Fair Warning: They run an intro at the beginning that drops some NSFW language.)

What’s tough to remember, years and years down the road, is how WE first reacted to this song, and I have to think that it was much the same, and that’s the fun of this particular set of reaction videos. These guys know what they’re talking about musically, and they express it in a unique way. And because they’re usually pulling the songs from YouTube (recursive stuff, that), sometimes they spend a little time reacting to the videos (if the song has an official promotional video).

And once you’ve seen this one, go check out some of their other reaction videos over on YouTube. Their YT handle is TwinsTheNewTrend. Good luck getting out of that rabbit hole.

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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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123–Candy Everybody Wants

So this week has been a brief return to work for me, as my school has been preparing for what education is going to look like when classes resume in September. And it’s been playing havoc with me. It’s a stressful time to be a teacher, you bet.

On top of that, I got my second shingles vaccination early this week, and I didn’t have the best of reactions to it, losing a couple of days to some of the side effects. It sucked hard, but it beats having shingles, given what I saw my mother and my father-in-law go through. I’ll take two days of chills over a month of painful rash.

ANYway, today’s episode comes to you as the result of a request by Paul Kondo over at Podcast Gumbo. Paul has done nice stuff for the show a few times, and he had me on as his guest a few weeks ago, so when he said he wanted to hear me talk about a 10,000 Maniacs song, how could I refuse?

I didn’t really have an excellent reason for choosing this song other than I like it, despite its rather dark message. But that became part of the story, of course. Natalie Merchant-era songs from 10,000 Maniacs had that habit of disguising rather incisive lyrics with jaunty melodies so it took the average listener a little bit of time to realize what they were really listening to.

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