Here at Music History, we don’t shy away from much, not even overplayed pop songs from our early teen years (I don’t know about you, but I was awkwardly attending awkward 7th grade dances when this song came out).
Almost exactly eleven years ago, at the 1999 Grammy Awards show, Latin pop star Ricky Martin splashed onto the mainstream American pop scene with a sizzling performance of “La Copa De La Vida (The Cup of Life)” (see video post), which had been the official song of the 1998 World Cup. Within two months, Martin released the first single from his first English album. That song, “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” flew to #1 and dragged the self-titled album right with it. You know the rest of the story… (Props to my girlfriend for getting the chronology of these events exactly right.)
What I find more interesting about “Livin’ La Vida Loca” is its songwriter. If songwriters were not credited on songs and albums, no one would know who Desmond Child is. Even so, most pop and rock fans still have no idea what Child has accomplished. In a career that extends from a song on last year’s Katy Perry album all the way back into the 1970s, Child has written, co-written, or produced 70 Top 40 hits. Among them: KISS’ “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” and Aerosmith’s “Angel,” “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” and “Crazy.”
Yep, the same man who wrote hard rock/hair metal anthems in the ’80s came up with Latin smash hits “Cup of Life” and “Livin’ La Vida Loca” in the 90s. And you thought Ricky Martin had nothing in common with KISS.
''You see, no matter how many times people tell you stories about what music means, forget them. Stories are not what the music means at all. Music is never about anything. Music just is. Music is notes, beautiful notes and sounds put together in such a way that we get pleasure out of listening to them, and that's all it is.''
"Strict Time" by Elvis Costello and the Attractions 
Random Music History Song of the Day
"Strict Time," from Elvis Costello and the Attraction’s 1981 album Trust, shows Costello coping with the general move toward conservatism in the early ’80s. Ronald Reagan had been elected in the US during the recording of Trust and Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party had taken leadership in Costello’s native England only a year-and-a-half before. Costello bemoans continued fear-mongering of the Cold War and intolerance of personal expression:
Oh he’s all hands, don’t touch that dial The courting cold wars weekend witch trial Strict time All the boys are straight laced and the girls are frigid The talk is two-faced and the rules are rigid ‘cause it’s strict time
The opening guitar chords are pure ska/reggae. While the sound fit the time as the 2 Tone ska revival was near peak popularity, Costello drops a lyrical hint about his inspiration for the style of the intro. Near the end of the song Costello sings these lyrics: “More like a hand job than the hand jive / Strict time.” The reggae style and lyrics mentioning “hand jive” mean Costello was almost certainly referencing Eric Claption’s 1974 recording “Willie and the Hand Jive,” even if the rest of “Strict Time” feels more like jittery New Wave than reggae. I doubt there is anything profound behind this connection, but I found it interesting.
"Too Marvelous for Words" (live) by Art Tatum 
Random Music History Song of the Day
In 1932, mostly blind pianist Art Tatum, from Toledo, Ohio, moved to New York City as accompanist for singer Adelaide Hall and became the talk of the New York jazz community. Soon after, in 1933, he played a cutting contest at a Harlem bar with/against his idols, the three greatest stride pianists in New York and in all of jazz: James P. Johnson, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and Fats Waller. Tatum easily beat them at their own game. Oh, to be a fly on the wall…
A child prodigy, Tatum never lost his skill for unbelievable improvisations without losing his incredibly light touch. The recording above comes from late in his career. After a recording drought in the early 1950s, Norman Granz (founder of five record labels including Verve) signed Tatum to record anything and everything he could think of. In three brief sessions in late 1953 and early ‘54, Tatum recorded 124 sides, most in one take, among them an old Johnny Mercer (words) and Richard Whiting (music) popular songbook standard from 1937 called “Too Marvelous for Words.” That song is considered one of the best in the set.
This lively version, taken from the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, contains all of Tatum’s trademarks. It is not the studio recording from 1953, rather a live recording made at a private party in 1955, only a year before Tatum’s untimely death from kidney failure caused by extended alcohol abuse. Tatum has never and will never be matched in any facet of jazz piano; not dexterity, not harmony, not repertoire (he could play Chopin just as well as anyone), and certainly not imagination.
"Oh, I" contains a little bit of everything Funkadelic had become famous for in the previous decade: an extended groove built on a pure funk bass line, a catchy vocal hook provided by long-time member Garry Shider, sheer electric guitar filling out the background throughout, and simple, yet relatively opaque lyrics, in this case about a photograph bringing back memories of "making love in the park after dark." The only thing missing is funkmaster George Clinton himself. Clinton co-wrote the song, but let other band members perform it for the record.
"Oh, I" appeared as the penultimate song on the final Funkadelic album (well, until 2007), 1981’s The Electric Spanking of War Babies. This song had little to do with the political theme of the title track, but it might contain the single best melody on the album.
The relationship between George Clinton and Warner Brothers was strained at the time of this recording and release. Clinton had intended the album to be a double LP, but Warner Brothers forced him to cut it back to a single. WB also limited promotion of the album. Clinton got the last laugh, though, as his song “Atomic Dog,” which he pulled from this album when its length was cut, topped the R&B chart in Spring 1983.
“La Mer: 3. Dialogue du vent et de la mer (Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea)” by Claude Debussy  performed by Max Pommer and the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra 
Last night I took my wonderful girlfriend to dinner and a show at Orchestra Hall. We saw the second performance of the The Minnesota Orchestra’s Inside the Classics series, Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and La Mer. To share at least a portion of my music history outing, posted above is a different recording of the third and final movement of La Mer, descriptively titled “Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea.”
Things I learned at the show: La Mer is notable historically for being the first music in the Western Classical tradition to eschew traditional melody lines in favor of sound layers. In other words, no single instrument carries the lead melody for more than a bar or two. At the same time, Debussy avoided cliched techniques of orchestrating themes related to water (i.e. rolling cello arpeggios). Despite the subtlety of each movement, finding one’s own imagery to match Debussy’s descriptors is not difficult.
Innovative composition and style with a perfect balance of subtlety and clarity - that combination is the genius of La Mer and why the piece remains a staple of symphonic music.
Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and a leading faculty critic of BU president John Silber, died of a heart attack today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling, his family said. He was 87.
General history reblog… I can say I was lucky enough to see Zinn speak in October of 2006 about history in general and more specifically about the role of history in shaping the War on Terror.
The Beach Boys’ final recording for their proposed album SMiLE LP included “I Love to Say Da Da.” If the recording sessions had not fallen apart, this song would have formed part of the song/track “Cool, Cool Water,” which itself was to be part of a suite called “Elements” based on the four ancient elements. See the video for how the various parts of “Cool, Cool Water” might have sounded together. As such, “I Love to Say Da Da” was put to to different use and renamed “In Blue Hawaii” when Brian Wilson finally completed the project in 2004.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Requiem in D Minor, K. 626: 3. Sequentia: Dies Irae
Sir Neville Marriner, Academy and Chorus of St. Martin in the Fields
And a happy 254th birthday to our dear friend Wolfgang.
1) Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Mozart! 2) I just started reading a biography of Mozart yesterday. 3) This is a great recording of Mozart’s Requiem, which he composed in Vienna right up to his death in December 1791.
“Church on White” – Stephen Malkmus (Words/music: Stephen Malkmus, available on Stephen Malkmus, Matador 2001)
“Church on White” bears two of Stephen Malkmus’ trademarks. First, Malkmus plays with the words in his lyrics, using homophones and twisted meanings to bend phrases in different directions. Whether it’s the possibility of a double meaning (“pot” in the first line likely referring to the one on the stove, but the “do the fakers drop out” line leaves the possibility for “pot” being the drug) or the twisting of pronunciations (“carry on” and “carrion” in the second verse and “alive” and “a lie” in the chorus, “Church on White” never gets close to being a linear narrative. Instead, Malkmus offers something more surreal – a series of disjointed images running through his brain while walking through lower Manhattan. Even without a storyline, Malkmus draws a rough sketch of these characters as overwhelmed yet cautiously optimistic; where others might paint a well-defined portrait, Malkmus lets all of the colors bleed together, making it difficult to discern where one ends and the next begins.
The second discerning characteristic is the guitar riff. Even though the riff isn’t as fast or jagged as many of Pavement’s, the main guitar riff lets notes pop out at different times. These aren’t misplayed – rather, they are just unexpected – a high note in the middle of a lower phrase or an entire chord strummed in the middle of an arpeggio. However, after the rolling triplets in the main riff give way to the overdriven chords in the pre-chorus, the lead guitar takes control of the melody, playing it expressively with lots of vibrato. It’s this lead phrase in the chorus and in the outro where the guitar articulates the unspoken feelings in these characters. In a recent article on indirectness in Spoon’s music (and indie rock in general), Tom Ewing suggested (somewhat skeptically) how Pavement used words “as a misdirection, giving the ache or bittersweet delight in the guitars space to get under your skin.” In this case, the words set up the guitar’s communicative qualities; without the conversation derailed by double meanings and a lack of a narrative thread, the guitar can’t become the unspoken subtext. In other words, without a failed attempt at communication, we can’t consider the possibilities for what isn’t said.
Radiohead barely concealed their influences on their 1993 debut album Pablo Honey. For example, while “Stop Whispering” was lyrically a tribute to The Pixies, the band rather obviously modeled the music on U2’s many crescendoed anthems. ”Anyone Can Play Guitar” takes its musical cues from Sonic Youth, references The Clash (“if London burns”), and name-drops Jim Morrison.
In this case, though, Thom Yorke and the band use Sonic Youth’s noise rock to make a point about rock and roll idolatry. That’s why he mentions Jim Morrison. Instead of trying to be Jim Morrison or learning how to play the guitar simply to impress others, a person should try to do something new, different, or interesting with his/her musical talents.
"Anyone Can Play Guitar" was released in February of 1993 as the band’s second single in the UK, following the first, mostly unnoticed release of "Creep." As "Creep" slowly gained notoriety around the world - but not yet back in Britain - "Anyone Can Play Guitar" peaked at a modest #32 on the UK charts.
Gene Clark will always be best remembered for his two-year stint as a vocalist with the Byrds between 1964 and 1966. A fine legacy to be sure, but the shame of it is that there was far more to Clark’s body of work than that; he was a superb songwriter, one of the founding fathers of country-rock, and recorded a number of fine albums with an impressive array of collaborators whose quality far outstripped their modest sales figures.
Until 1970, Dolly Parton’s career in country music looked to be average at best. She had songwriting talent from the beginning, but despite the popularity of her duets with Porter Wagoner (five had reached the US Country Top 10 from 1967 to ‘69), Parton’s solo releases barely dented the chart. In fact, after her first few moderate hits in 1967, successive releases charted successively worse through the end of the decade. That is, until she released a cover version of the Jimmie Rodgers country standard “Mule Skinner Blues” in 1970.
Rodgers wrote the song as one of his “Blue Yodels” - No. 8 to be exact - and first recorded it in 1930. Dolly Parton’s version forty years later peaked at #3 on the US Country chart. The song carried RCA Record’s release of her first “best of” compilation, released the same year, and set Parton up for the success that followed with “Joshua” (the song and the album). Also helping Parton get noticed: 40 double-Ds.
“In an environment where access to music was through specialist gatekeepers – radio stations and print magazines – genres became coalitions. Metallica were truer metal than Cinderella? Perhaps, but the economics of genre meant that gatekeepers had to pitch a product that would capture fans of both. And the very existence of the umbrella thus held over them would exaggerate the similarities as well as the differences. Even so the coalitions had to be policed – the very first issue of NME I ever bought agonised on its cover over whether certain bands (The Darling Buds, The Wonder Stuff) joining major labels meant disaster. To a great extent the story of popular music in the 80s and 90s is the story of these grand coalitions – hip-hop and dance music, too – forming, winning and facing the consequences.”—
This idea of genre as “coalition” is especially interesting given the impending Pop World Cup happening at Freaky Trigger (granted, that’s an entirely different type of grouping - nation rather than genre - but grouping nonetheless).
"You Turned the Tables on Me" by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra 
Random Music History Song of the Day
As Benny Goodman’s newly-formed swing band - already the tightest of the era - was taking off in 1935, he convinced young singer Helen Ward to join his band permanently. Her vocals on a number of Goodman’s early hits, including “You Turned the Tables on Me,” helped propel Benny Goodman to the title The King of Swing. Ward left the band upon her marriage in 1937, leaving behind a very promising career, but influencing many other swing-era singers.
Sidney D. Mitchell (words) and Louis Alter (music) originally wrote “You Turned the Tables On Me” for the quickly-forgotten 1936 musical Sing Baby, Singstarring Alice Faye, but the song gained further life when Goodman and Ward took it to #1 for two weeks around Halloween the same year (only two months after the film’s release). The song quickly became a standard and was eventually recorded by artists as various as Ella Fitzgarald, Bing Crosby, Eydie Gormé and Freda Payne.
Surrounded by social and political statements like “War” and “Rat Race,” “Cry to Me” provided a moment of catharsis on Bob Marley’s 1976 album Rastaman Vibration. While Marley still brings up heartaches and pain, the song is about release. We all know how good it feels to cry, especially when you have the support of a good friend.
Rastaman Vibration is arguably the least known of Marley’s classic ’70s albums, simply because it featured no hit singles and contributed no songs to the Legend compilation. If you have only heard Legend or Exodus, give Rastaman Vibration a try. It’s quite good.
"Swastika Eyes [Chemical Brothers Mix]" by Primal Scream 
Random Music History Song of the Day
A pounding anti-fascist rant using biological and psychological metaphors, “Swastika Eyes” appeared twice on Primal Scream’s critically acclaimed 2000 album XTRMNTR. The Chemical Brothers Mix, which has a steadier, harder house beat, served as the penultimate song. Where the band’s 1991 breakthrough album Screamadelica was laid back, XTRMNTR was intense. A contemporary, political rave.
A version of the Chemical Brothers Mix of “Swastika Eyes” was released as the lead single from the album, peaking at #22 in the UK.
Craig Finn’s distinctive storytelling and Tad Kulber’s classic rock-quoting riffs take up most of the attention, but Nicolay’s keyboard (going beyond piano to include harpsichord and accordion, among others) helped fill out the band’s sound. At their live shows, Nicolay set up on stage right, flanking Craig Finn’s manic preacher performance with an array of gesticulations on top of his keyboard parts and backing vocals. For most of the show, Nicolay remains a secondary player, content to let Finn and Kubler dominate the mix. Then, when the band starts playing “Stevie Nix,” Nicolay has his moment in the spotlight. After a couple blistering verses, the band stops and Nicolay turns the piano break before the final verse into a cadenza, improvising and extending the bridge with nimble trills and a giant smile. It’s the one time of the show where all eyes are on Nicolay, and every time he made the audience feel like our attention belonged there all night. As he finishes up and Finn resumes the story, the crowd erupts into thunderous applause (and if/when the band plays “First Night” in the encore, this routine repeats). Perhaps the Hold Steady will recruit a new keyboard player eventually, and while they may play Nicolay’s parts, they will not be able to replace the man who played them.
I met Franz after a Hold Steady show once and he graciously talked to all of the gathered people for far longer than necessary (which I can say about all of the members in this band), and he was the same ebullient soul that bounced along behind the stage. I wish him nothing but the best in all his new projects and look forward to hearing the end results.
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