Episode 21–Edwin Hawkins

Sad news from the world of music this week as we learn that Edwin Hawkins has died at the age of 74. I have to confess that this came as a surprise because I started doing the math and realized that Hawkins was in his mid-20s when “Oh Happy Day” became a hit. For whatever reason I thought he was at least twenty years older THEN.

Hawkins was the founder of the Northern California State Youth Choir, and the choir recorded some songs to make a fundraiser album, which unfortunately didn’t get pressed until after the event for which they needed the money. That event was a choral competition, and the NCSYC came in second, perhaps because “Oh Happy Day” wasn’t one of the songs they sang. As it turns out, that wasn’t one of their favorite songs!

The unexpected success of “Oh Happy Day” led to the group being asked to provide the backup singing for Melanie’s tribute to her experience at Woodstock, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”.

The Edwin Hawkins Singers experienced some more success on the Gospel charts over the years, and lead singer Dorothy Morrison gained acclaim as a backup singer for several rock artists.

And I’m sure you know the drill by now, but if your RSS feed is failing you somehow, there’s always the player below for listening or downloading:

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Episode 20–Mercedes Benz

Neil Young sang “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away,” but Damn, Janis, couldn’t you have burned with us just a little bit longer?

Janis Joplin was a ball of raw talent who took a rough childhood and let it inform her musical style. And that almost certainly carried through to the listener. When she sounded sad, so did you. When she was feeling silly, it immediately conveyed. And when she sang in an anguished style, you were right there with her.

What’s more, her band members, whether it was Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band, or the Full Tilt Boogie Band, really knocked themselves out to support her sound. Listen especially hard to the Pearl album, where a lot of the instrumentals were recorded over a ten-day span shortly after Joplin died.

But Joplin’s last recorded album track wasn’t even necessarily meant to be on the album. It was a piece that started out as an a capella goof during a technical breakdown while recording, and the producer decided that it needed to be on the album. What’s more, it needed to remain as-is, without any instrumentation.

I don’t know if her friends drove Porsches, but Janis certainly did. She bought the 1964 vehicle in 1968 for $3500 and used it as her day-to-day vehicle. The car now resides in Gull Lake, MI.

“Mercedes Benz” was based on a piece by Beat poet Michael McClure, and it was a comment on the futility of social climbing by gathering material goods. It was an interesting time for rock musicians, because they were starting to get recognition AND the money that comes with fame, and in a lot of cases they purchased expensive stuff such as cars and big houses even as they decried them in their songs. Despite this somewhat mixed message, the car company took the tone-deaf step of using it in one of their ads.

Next week: more surprise cover songs! I keep finding these things. And one in particular was a huge surprise for me.

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From Third To First!

For the record (heh), I have no idea why I goofed during the recording of Episode 19. But goof I did.

When I put each podcast together, I have a bunch of information that I’m trying to gather into a coherent narrative. Since I don’t typically think that way, that means that I script about 90% of the show, and only leave a small amount of time to ad-libs or other happy accidents. I also mix the show as I record it in small chunks, so a 10-13 minute podcast can be made up of anywhere between 8 and 20 elements that I have to mix and/or edit together. That’s neither here nor there; the important thing I’m trying to convey is that the show is largely scripted.

So while I was editing, I noticed something I’d said incorrectly. And I said it with such confidence that, when I heard it–and realized immediately that I’d said something wrong, I said, “That’s gotta be in the script.” So I went back to the script and…nope, it’s written correctly. So, without explanation, I have to apologize for something I said at about 9:30 in the show. I said, “I kinda like what they did in the first verse, with Bill Medley losing patience.” In fact, that happened in the third verse, not the first.

I don’t know what was going through my head (BuSpar, maybe), but as soon as I heard it, I knew better. But I also knew that I wasn’t going back to the studio to re-record a single sentence for a relatively inconsequential error. So now you get a dopey story here.

And, to more properly atone for my sin, I present this offering.

Don’t hate me.

Episode 19–The Coasters

Happy New Year!

The group in 1961: Dub Jones, Carl Gardner, Cornell Gunter, Billy Guy. This was the configuration that was inducted into the Rock Hall.

While they’re often mistaken for a doo-wop group, The Coasters were actually a rhythm-and-blues vocal group, whose greatest successes came when they were teamed with the composers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, and when they had humorous material to work with.They made such an impression on other artists that it was a small wonder when, in 1987, they became the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Yeah, I know I’m kinda splitting hairs, here: the previous year was all individuals plus the Everly Brothers. But I’m sticking by this assessment.)

One of the posters for the movie, which inspired the Coasters’ song (but the song isn’t based on the movie). This ain’t a bad place to be, if you’re Gary Cooper.

Their peak years, chart-wise, were between 1958 and 1960, when all of their Top 40 singles were released. In today’s episode we talk about three of them: Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, and Along Came Jones. After these three came two more: Poison Ivy and Little Egypt, which were more clever than funny.

There have been numerous configurations of the group since the first day, so you could argue that the one in the photo above, which is responsible for most of the hits, was the magic bullet. Through many personnel changes, The Coasters never quite reached the same level of success.

As if you didn’t know this already: you can listen to the show via your favorite podcatcher, or you can  just click on the player right here for listening or downloading:

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Episode 18–Fame

Happy New Year, HGII fans!

It was 1975 and David Bowie’s professional life was in some turmoil. He was in the middle of breaking a contract with his manager, and he was still trying to deal with the way his life had changed since “Space Oddity” became a hit a few years earlier. With the help of his new friend John Lennon (who advised him to get rid of the manager), he took a riff that his guitarist was noodling around with for another song, and turned it into his first #1 hit in the US.

Lennon and Bowie backstage at the Grammy Awards, 1975.

In a BBC interview recorded only a couple of days before he died, Lennon said that David Bowie had a vast repertoire of talent, and it was interesting to see him do most of his song composition right there in the studio. “He goes in with, like four words and a few guys, and starts laying down this stuff, and he has virtually nothing, he’s making it up in the studio.”

As usual, you have SO. MANY. OPTIONS. for listening. Your favorite podcatcher may already have it, or you can listen/download through the player right here:

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Oh, and as promised, here’s the clip of Bowie on Soul Train:

 

Episode 17–Home for Christmas

I can see my old house from here!

Most people who know me personally know that I’m originally from New York, but it’s not because I have an accent, because I don’t.

Well, I DO have an accent of sorts, but it’s tough to suss out that I’m from the NY metro area. Most people think I’m from the Downstate region of New York, like Poughkeepsie or Newburgh. But the fact is, I’m from a small town on the north shore of Long Island called Kings Park. When I was a small child, Kings Park had a huge mental hospital plunked down in its center, and most of the 5000-odd people who lived in that town, worked at the hospital. Nowadays the hospital is closed, the grounds are long-abandoned, and the town population is close to 20,000.

This here is a “hint”.

But for all that, Kings Park and its nearby cousin, Smithtown, manage to have a connection to a couple of Christmas songs. Kings Park was the center of a nationwide news story back in 2013 regarding the song “Silent Night”, and as for Smithtown…well, you’ll just have to listen to see what Smithtown has to do with any Christmas song.

If you’ve got a favorite podcatcher, you should have this episode already! If you don’t, and you want to get it from here,  just click the media player below:

Hey, you know what would make a great Christmas gift for me? A positive rating and review in whatever software you’re using to download the show. But iTunes still reigns supreme in this respect, so PLEASE go to iTunes dot com (even if you don’t typically use it) and leave me a positive rating.

Episode 16–Light My Fire

This was the “goddess” label that Elektra Records used on the 45 in Columbia. Look! Boobies!

It was the Summer of Love, and as Johnny Rivers sang, everybody kept on playin’ Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Everybody, that is, except for the fans of an underground band playing the clubs in Los Angeles, who kept calling the local radio stations and requesting a song from that band’s debut album. Eventually Elektra Records put out a shorter version of that seven-minute song, and before long it was climbing the charts nationwide, spending three weeks in the #1 slot in July of 1967. The self-titled album itself couldn’t break Sgt. Pepper‘s hold on the Billboard’s Albums chart, but being #2 to The Beatles is pretty respectable, nonetheless.

The Doors got their name from the title of an Aldous Huxley book called The Doors of Perception, which in turn came from a William Blake quotation:  “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

Today’s show is a little bit on the short side, coming in at just over 10 minutes, and I think it’s because I’m talking so damn fast. I shouldn’t drink so much tea right before recording the show.

And as usual, 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:

 

Also as usual: if you were to go to iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts (Spotify! Really! I had no idea!) and leave a rating, and maybe even some feedback, well, that’d be nice too.

And SCROLL DOWN! Go check out Doug Miles’ stuff!

A Quick Note

I’ve said some version of this on Twitter and on Facebook a couple of times, but not here.

Considering that this is a podcast that’s relatively new, it’s pretty cool to see that I’ve already got some regular visitors who visit this site from different spots around the world. I often see Canada, Poland and the UK in my analytics (don’t worry, I don’t see anything more specific than that), but this week I’ve also seen India and Peru. In recent weeks I’ve seen the Philippines, China and Japan. That’s very exciting to me!

I’m not quite tearing up the internet; my download count still numbers somewhere in the hundreds. But what fan base I do have appears to be a pretty dedicated group, and I thank you for listening, for your suggestions, and (in at least one case that I know of) for your evangelism.

So here’s my early Christmas present to you: long-time friend (and friend of the podcast) Doug Miles has been a fan of the Big Band sound as long as I’ve known him, and probably longer, given how encyclopedic his knowledge base has always seemed to be, and he’s got some BB-related shows that run on an irregular basis, but he’s just released a couple of hours of some fantastic Christmas songs from that era. There are a few traditional hits that you still hear today, but he’s done a deep-dive into some great stuff that you don’t often hear anymore. Check him out over here. (Never mind the name in the link, I promise it’s correct.) Also: damn, but does his voice have some resonance to it. Am I allowed to hate on him for that?

Image result for doors light my fire -site:pinterest.comAs a reminder: in this week’s episode, we’re going to look at the song that carried The Doors from wannabe Beat Poets to the firmament of Rock and Roll Stars. See you on Saturday!

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:

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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.