Episode 15–Thriller

It was the biggest album of 1982, and the title track was the last Top Ten single to come from it. That’s seven singles out of nine tracks total.

Michael Jackson wanted to top not only the success, but the ambition of his previous album, Off The Wall, and I think we can all agree that he more than succeeded. Thriller remains the largest-selling album of all time.

What! you say, bigger than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Bigger than Dark Side of the Moon? Bigger than Bat Out of Hell? Yes, indeed. As of this week, the top 15 all-time sellers are:

Artist

Album Title Year

Sales (in millions)

Michael Jackson Thriller

1982

66

AC/DC Back in Black

1980

50

Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon

1973

45

Meat Loaf Bat Out of Hell

1977

43

Whitney Houston / Various artists The Bodyguard Soundtrack

1992

42

Eagles Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975)

1976

42

Bee Gees / Various artists Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack

1977

40

Fleetwood Mac Rumours

1977

40

Shania Twain Come On Over

1997

39

Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin IV

1971

37

Michael Jackson Bad

1987

35

Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill

1995

33

Celine Dion Falling into You

1996

32

The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

1967

32

Michael Jackson Dangerous

1991

32

That’s THREE albums Jackson has in the all-time Top 15, and Off the Wall isn’t even one of them. (It’s way down the list, a spot or two below HIStory.)

This was one of the pictures originally considered for the album’s cover, which is why they used it for the Special Edition.

Anyway. Today we’re looking at the title track, a song that started as “Starlight” and ended with Quincy Jones’ wife recruiting Vincent Price to do a little white-boy rap.

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:

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, well, that’d be nice too.

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.

More From the Park

Related to this week’s episode, a couple of extras. One of them I had to cut from the podcast because it was getting so long, the other I’d forgotten about until a listener mentioned it to me.

Let me do mine first, because it’s a quicker bit. In addition to the covers done of “MacArthur Park”, Weird Al Yankovic did a parody song that’s quite faithful to the original, including the fact that there are different movements with different moods, and he plays it a little straighter than usual, with a lot of little shout-outs to different elements from the film. Plus, the video is done in claymation, which was still about as complicated as it got in 1993 (remember that Jurassic Park-level CGI was crazy expensive at that time):

Here’s a weird coincidence.  This is the third time that 1993 has come up in connection with this song:

  • During the podcast I mentioned that Suzy Horton got married to Robert Ronstadt in 1993.
  • I also noted that Maynard Ferguson did a jazz cover of the song that year.
  • And now we have this Weird Al video, which was also released in 1993. COINCIDENCE? Sure, of course it is.

The other extra I have goes back to when I was a Senior in high school. I was a big fan of the show Second City Television (SCTV), which was a comedy skit series that had a fictional Canadian television station as the central conceit of the show. Everything you saw was a show on the station, or a movie they were presenting, or a “commercial” or promo for an upcoming program (which the viewer rarely saw). Later on they branched into the behind-the-scenes activity at the station. One of the shows on the SCTV Network was a satirical sendup of American Bandstand, with a host who was so incredibly uncool that he was uncomfortable to watch in this disco setting. The show was called “Mel’s Rock Pile”, hosted by “Rockin'” Mel Stirrup (played by Eugene Levy), and there was an episode of “Rock Pile”that featured a performance from Richard Harris (as portrayed by Dave Thomas). This originally aired on February 20, 1981:

I actually remember when this first aired, and it’s funny on its face just because it’s so absurd, but I recently learned that, like so many  great parodies, it has a strong basis in reality. In 1972, Harris performed the song on a BBC special called “A Gala Evening of Music and Wit”. During the instrumental break, Harris sat on the stage for awhile, but then did an awkward roll with a spring to his feet, and some rather directionless dancing around. What’s also interesting is that he’s definitely singing it differently from the way he sings it on the record: a little more fully-throated, with some more actual singing involved.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find the entire performance on the Interwebs anywhere, but there are a few clips from it in this piece:

Go figure!

Episode 13: MacArthur Park

When Jimmy Webb got his heart broken, what did he do? Why, he did what any other red-blooded American would do: he wrote a couple of hit songs and made a million bucks off the incident!

OK, that’s not the most common reaction, but it’s what happened back in 1967, when he wrote a song that was turned down by The Association, but picked up by an actor who’d decided he wanted to conquer the music charts.

If you’ve got a favorite podcatcher, you should be able to hear this week’s show already, or you can just click on the player below to listen/download:

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 much obliged. Which reminds me: let me give a shout-out to Connie Paulson, who wrote such nice things on the Facebook page, and to Bob C. (dunno if he wants to be identified), who left a wonderful review on iTunes! Thanks so much, guys. That really warmed my heart a little bit.

Episode 12: El Paso by Marty Robbins

 

The original promo 45, showing the edited A side. The full-length song is the B.

In the late 1950s, Marty Robbins, who was commuting hundreds of miles between his home in Phoenix and various gigs in Texas, frequently passed through the town of El Paso on his journeys to and fro. The town inspired him to write a cinematic-level song with nine verses and three bridges—and no chorus. Plus, it clocked in at four minutes and forty seconds. Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, the song climbed in just a few weeks to take over the top spot on the Hot 100 for the first two weeks of 1960.

This is the consumer/retail version of the 45. The song is 4:40, even though it doesn’t say so on the label. The B side is a song titled “Running Gun”.

The song put both Marty Robbins, and the town of El Paso, at the front of everyone’s consciousness, and it’s probably the song that’s most associated with him. But what inspired him? Is the song about anyone special? And how many sequels to one song can the music-buying public take? (Answer: more than you’d imagine.)

By the way, if you have a copy of Marty Robbins’ book, I’d love to see it. That was a frustrating search.

 

 

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:

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 probably wouldn’t complain too loudly.

Episode 11: Failing Upward

EDITED to fix the link. Which makes the first sentence of this post just a little more poignant, no? 

Hey, everybody makes a mistake now and then. That’s why they put erasers on pencils, am I right?

But once in awhile, someone will make a mistake that manages to enhance rather than detract (“Eminence Front,” I’m looking at you.). And that’s where we’re going this week: we’ll look at four songs that had mistakes in them where the artists made a conscious decision to keep the error in place because it actually makes the song a little bit better.

 

And, as usual, you can listen to the show via your favorite podcatcher, or you can just play/download it from right here:

 

And any feedback is good feedback…especially if it’s good feedback. so please take the time to leave a rating on iTunes or whatever app you’re using to listen to the show. Much appreciated! And for your efforts, here’s a video clip of the the engineer’s point of view behind one of the stories in the show:

Episode 10: Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd

This was the newspaper headline from the Enterprise-Journal of the nearby town of McComb.

It was on this day in 1977 that a plane went down in southwest Mississippi, in a small town called Gillsburg. Even today, forty years later, Gillsburg looks like little more than a wide spot in the road, but its main claim to fame is that plane crash, which took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, along with Gaines’ sister Cassie, all members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Also killed in the crash were assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray. Other band members and passengers on the plane suffered serious injuries.

The original cover, which didn’t return to the album until 2005, when the Deluxe CD was released.

The band’s album, Street Survivors, had been released only a few days earlier and had already gone gold. The publicity from the crash helped push the album to multi-platinum status and a spot in the Top Five on the Billboard Album Chart. The unfortunate cover of the album was swiftly replaced until just a few years ago.

But this week we’re looking at a song from their first album, titled (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) that became the band’s signature tune, and the punchline to pretty much any concert-related joke. “Free Bird” was a song that was over two years in the making, and it was assembled through a combination of necessity, serendipity and a flash of Ah-HA! inspiration. And I’ve managed to make this particular podcast longer than any recorded version of the song.

Here’s the clip of the band playing during the Vicious Cycle Tour in 2003. Check out the piano introduction and how sweet the strings make it:

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:

And, as usual, if you were to go to iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts and leave some feedback, well, that would put me forever in your debt. Until I repaid the favor, of course.

Episode 9: Under the Covers

This week we’re going to dive into famous songs that were recorded by other artists first. Some of them you’re going to know about because practically everybody knows about them, but I think there will be a few surprises in there. I know that one of them came as a pretty big surprise to me!

If you hit me up on Twitter and ask real pretty, I may tell you which Stevie Wonder song I was talking about.

As ever, you have a few listening options:

  • Either your favorite podcatcher (iTunes, Castbox, Podcast Republic, etc) already has it,
  • Or you can just play/download it right on this page.

If you haven’t done so already, please go rate the show in iTunes or wherever you’re going, and leave a happy review. Good reviews allow me to work my way upward through the dozens of shows that are out there.

Episode 8: Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan

This was the song that heralded the Dylan Goes Electric era, and when he first played it live at the 1965 Newport Music Festival, he was met with boos and charges that he’d sold out, or was somehow a “traitor” to his folk roots.

But Bob Dylan stuck to his guns, and “Like a Rolling Stone” became, and remains, his biggest single ever.

This is the picture sleeve of the 45.

If it hadn’t been for a quartet from Liverpool and their obvious cry for Help!, it probably would have gone all the way to Number One on the Billboard chart.

This episode is now available through your favorite podcatcher, or you can download it or you can listen to it right here:

This podcast has the ability to spread through your ratings and reviews, so please take the time to go to iTunes, or Castbox, or whatever you use for your podcasts, and leave me some love.

During the podcast I mentioned an interactive video that’s connected to this song. Here’s the teaser trailer:

But the real fun lies here: you can play with the original video on your own by clicking on this link. I will refund every dime of your money if you don’t think this is cool.

Episode 7: Tequila by The Champs

This was the A side of the record, remember.

This week we’re taking a look at a song that was never meant to be a hit. In fact, it wouldn’t even have appeared on a record if some musicians hadn’t been hanging around when someone realized that the record he’d been working on didn’t have a B side.

So he rounded up whomever he could find and fortunately, the saxophone player had a tune he’d been fooling around with for a little while, plus he had a fondness for a certain beverage from South of the Border.

Erm…no. The one Down Mexico Way.

As usual, if you haven’t subscribed via iTunes or your favorite podcast catcher, you can download the file or you can listen right here:

 

Truth be told, if you have podcast software I’d prefer you got it from there; it helps me keep better track of listener stats.

And of course, if you’re so inclined, please leave a review on your favorite podcast software. Thanks so much for your support!