Some songs seem to spring out of nowhere, and then you take a deeper look and you realize that it’s a cover, or a rewrite, or it’s a re-release that flopped the first time. “Take On Me” by A-ha, it turns out, is in the All Of The Above category. It was re-written several times and re-recorded a couple of times, and released three times before it finally became the hit we know today.
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.
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.
I considered putting this song in one of my Songs You Didn’t Know Were Covers collections, but there’s more backstory to “Wild Thing” than most of those songs get, so I committed it to its own episode. And now you’re spoiled in that respect: yes, The Troggs’ version of “Wild Thing” wasn’t the first version of the song to be recorded.
It was, however, more faithful to the rather sparsely-recorded demo recorded by Chip Taylor, and it became the template upon which the many, MANY future covers of the song are based. And this week we’re going to look at a bunch of them, in brief. Most of them are very good. Some of them…not so much, but your mileage may vary in that respect.
The Kinks are a band that seems to have some huge, HUGE adherents, and others who are more casual fans, and not much in between. And that seemed to reflect in their chart positions here in the United States. They’d get the positive reviews, they’d get the airplay, the singles would do well, but they’d never really tear up the charts. And then a little while later, maybe a year or two, new material would come out and the cycle would begin again.
And every time a single dropped in both the US and the UK, it would do better in the UK.
Except for this one. “Come Dancing” got a boost in the US from MTV airplay, and then in the UK from all the attention it was getting in the US, which prompted Arista Records to re-release the single. And for all that, it’s The Kinks’ highest-charting single, tied with another song from many years earlier. Which one? Go listen to the show.
This is one of those things that starts with a story.
Several months ago I attended a podcasting conference, my first one. And one of the presentations there came from the folks at Patreon. They had all kinds of cool ideas about how You Can Monetize Your Podcast And Life the Comfortable Life Forever As A Professional Podcaster (I’m way overselling their oversell, but you get the idea). So with a little bit of their guidance I signed up and set up a Patreon page.
But while I was doing that setup, I realized that I didn’t really have a lot extra to offer someone who took the time to send me money. I couldn’t guarantee bonus episodes because I’m crushed for time, especially during the year. And stickers/mugs/other merch…I dunno. It frankly felt a little bit weird. So I looked at what other shows were doing and I got some ideas from them, but they also had WAY more listeners than I did (do), so their stuff scaled up pretty easily. I put in just enough to get the page active (there was a time constraint to setting up, but I don’t remember why), and I pretty much walked away from the idea. Didn’t mention it here, didn’t mention it during the show, didn’t mention it in the social media.
And then…and then.
Someone found it anyway.
So despite the relatively small return on investment, Gary Black took the time to poke around the internet to determine whether I had a Patreon page, and not only did he find it, he bought into it. Thanks so much, Gary!
So I guess it’s time to go public. While this podcast is, indeed, a labor of love, and I’ve borne all the expenses on my own so far, it does cost me a few hundred bucks each year to deal with hosting and bandwidth (which has gone up since I’ve accumulated listeners), plus equipment, not to mention that I pay for some of the artwork that accompanies episodes, and I buy lots of books each year to aid my research. In short, it’s an expensive hobby, especially since I committed early on not to run ads.
So while I’m not at the level of begging, I am thankful for any support and/or assistance you can throw my way. If you can afford to support the show, Great. If you can’t? No harm, no foul. I still love you.
Here’s the link to my page: https://www.patreon.com/HowGoodItIs
Tune in later tonight for a look at a hit by The Kinks!
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.)
So I’m sitting here in my home office-slash-podcast studio, researching and writing this week’s episode, and setting up the audio clips, and my dog is sitting at my feet pretty much the entire time. And as soon as I cracked the microphone open, he decided he needed to leave the room. Did he need to go outside? No. He just wanted to be in the next room. How’s that for a criticism?
Ah, well. At least I have you. Right? RIGHT??
John Lennon’s first non-Beatles single for which he gets sole writing credit was misunderstood and probably alienated Beatles fans, but you can’t deny the power of Eric Clapton’s guitar riffs and the claustrophobia of the mix provided by Klaus Voormann’s bass and Ringo Starr’s drumming. And it should be noted that the moaning and screaming at the end actually pre-dates Arthur Janov’s book The Primal Scream, so once again Lennon was a little bit ahead of his time. (Albert Goldman’s book about Lennon suggests that he and Mick Jagger got advance copies of the book, and that John Lennon actually underwent primal scream therapy for awhile. However, Goldman’s book appears to have only a casual relationship with the truth.
It’s allergy season and I’m sounding great, my friend. Have a listen.
In 1964 the Shangri-Las got on a sudden hot streak with their sultry recording of “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”, written by George “Shadow” Morton.
Morton had bluffed his way into the Brill Building by telling Lieber and Stoller that he was a songwriter (he wasn’t), and when he was asked what kind of songs he wrote, he said “hit songs” (also a lie). But Lieber and Stoller took his word for it and asked him to write a song. A week later, Morton came back not only with a song, but with a quartet of teenage girls from Long Island City called The Shangri-Las. Lieber and Stoller liked both the song and the girls, and signed them to a contract (well, their parents signed the contract; they were still minors at the time). I saw somewhere that there might have been some controversy about the Shangri-Las already being signed to another label, but I couldn’t substantiate that claim.
And that’s just one of several nebulous stories that surround the Shangri-Las and their first couple of hits. We look at a few of the ones that are connected to their second, much larger hit. Have fun with it.
WHAT! you say. We’ve been waiting a month and he brings us a Taylor Swift song?
Well…yeah. But don’t click away just yet.
Here’s the thing: I want to expand the scope of the show a little bit, and recently I heard a rather high-level discussion of Swift’s work on another podcast called Switched On Pop, which looks at songs and artists from a musical standpoint rather than a conceptual one. If you’re not well-versed in the language of music (and I’m not), you might find some of it tough to understand (and I do), but it’s still a pretty interesting show. Their look at Taylor Swift was one of their earliest episodes, so they were still looking at the 1989 album and “Shake It Off” as a new phenomenon. Anyway, they inspired me to take a modern-day look at her, a few years after her transition from Country to Pop.
And, since some people are kind of stubborn about modern-day artists, I thought it’d be a fun challenge to try and draw those folks in. Not you, of course–you’re a very open-minded person. Other people.
But this was the leadoff single from her first purely pop album, and the reaction was generally positive, though there were some people who decried her turning her back on the Country music scene. And I get that–I do miss all that banjo in her music.
As promised, here’s the clip of Dwayne Johnson lip-synching along with Taylor Swift:
For what it’s worth, later in the show he synchs the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” to win the game. Also, Jimmy Fallon commenting that Johnson probably sings the song in his car proved to be kind of prophetic, because….
…here’s Johnson in a clip from his show Ballers, which aired just a few months later. Which means he was probably learning “Shake It Off” for Lip Sync Battle around the time he shot this episode.