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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tommy James and the Shondells started out as Tom and the Tornadoes in 1959, when Tom was 12 years old. A few years later they changed their name in honor of guitarist Troy Shondell, and they cut their second record in a local radio station after under-age Tom saw a band playing the song “Hanky Panky” in a club and noted the huge reaction it got from the crowd.
The record did well in the Midwest for a bit, and that was about it because it didn’t have national distribution. Suddenly a Pennsylvania station picked it up, and that was the start of Tommy James becoming an employee of an organized crime family.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s no new episode this week.
I’m in the Southern Studio, which means I’m using a different setup from the one I typically use when I record the show. It also means that my resources as a whole are more limited.
While working on the writing portion of the show (Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky, ” for those of you who don’t listen to my episodes all the way to the end but would appreciate the preview), my travel laptop crashed. Well…okay. It’s an older machine and that sort of thing happens now and again. But this was a hard, Blue Screen of Death-level crash, the kind where the laptop has to go back and try to recover stuff.
Now, this actually happened to me a couple of weeks ago, when I was recording the Paul Pena episode, and it’s the reason the show posted late. I’d just finished recording and the crash came while I was saving the audio file. I save them to a personal server located at home, rather than locally on the hard drive. It takes longer but it’s generally safer. However, the save didn’t complete and I lost the file, so I had to record it all over again. And that’s why you have a Stressed Out Claude releasing a show at 3AM instead of somewhere between 11 and midnight.
So yeah…I can’t say I wasn’t warned. And I guess that computer just doesn’t enjoy the whole Carolina Shag scene (never mind it never leaves the indoors). But I wasn’t prepared for this particular crash. This time around the computer said it couldn’t recover the operating system. I’m not as computer-savvy as some, but I’m more savvy than others, and one thing I do know is that if you don’t have a working operating system, what you have instead is a bunch of electronics that don’t know how to be a computer.
Finally the laptop was able to tell me “OK, I can maybe come back, IF you let me restore to factory settings.” Which, of course, means losing a lot of software. Documents I wasn’t worried about, since I was getting an opportunity to copy those over to a flash drive. But that means I’m losing my audio recording and editing software, my Photoshop, and a few other odds and ends that I can’t replace until I get back home.
But I also can’t sit here for the rest of the week staring at a screen. (I mean, I COULD, but the screen has to change now and again.) So, backup documents and reset the machine, is the route I go. Unfortunate, but necessary. And that means that the Southern Studio is shut down for the time being. So, no promises but I’m going to try hard to release two episodes in the next week or so, with the first one (Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky, in case you were only skimming the first paragraph) on the usual Sunday (26th), and a listener-requested song as the next episode. Which one? I’m not telling, but I will tell you that Paul Kondo was the guy making the request (scroll almost all the way down to see the request, if you’d like a hint), and if we lived closer together, Paul and I would totally be drinking buddies. In fact, I may owe him a drink.