Category: Popular

#300 MICHEL LEGRAND FOUR SELECTIONS

#300

MICHEL LEGRAND

FOUR SELECTIONS

Growing up in Istanbul—which straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia—in a certain time period—the 1950’s and 60’s—it was impossible not to be hugely influenced by everything that touched on continental Europeanism. So, it was impossible for my wife Tiraje NOT to be intimately familiar with the movie music written by Michel Legrand, the prolific French film composer.

It is possible that you are familiar with Michel Legrand’s music without knowing his name. That was certainly the case for me until Tiraje came along. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was one of her favorite movies, and Legrand—whose jazz-tinged movie scores were known all over Europe, and who wrote the “Umbrellas” music—was one of her favorites as well. Through Tiraje, I became familiar with Legrand’s name—even though I had been hearing his music for years at that point without even knowing it. Legrand is kind of like France’s John Williams, but more elegant, more prolific—he’s written 200+ movie scores—and, as a composer, more self-reliant.

Michel Legrand (b. 1932) was just 22 when his I Love Paris album became one of the biggest selling instrumental albums ever released. Interestingly, he had studied at the Paris Conservatoire during his teen years, studying composition with Nadia Boulanger, the (very) famous teacher of dozens—scores, really—of great 20th century composers, including Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, and Astor Piazzolla. By the time Legrand was 20, he was both an outstanding jazz and classical pianist, and a budding composer.

During Legrand’s younger years—in the 1950’s and 60’s—he frequently collaborated with jazz greats Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Stephane Grappelli. At various times of his life since then, he has also been conductor for the St. Petersburg (FL.), Vancouver, Montreal, Atlanta, Denver, and Pittsburgh symphonies. His musical pedigree, in both jazz and classical music, is impressive. He has worked—so it seems—with all the “big names” in both fields for his entire life. In addition to his composing, his arranging, and his work in jazz, he has also recorded over 100 albums, including many solo classical piano releases of such diverse composers as Satie, Gershwin, Amy Beach, and John Cage.

Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jacques Demy’s 1966 movie in which all the dialogue of the movie is sung—an innovation at the time—was Legrand’s ticket to huge international success. Other Legrand film scores, for movies you may already know:

Lola
Cleo from 5 to 7
My Life to Live
The Young Girls of Rochefort
How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life
The Thomas Crown Affair
Ice Station Zebra
The Picasso Summer
Pieces of Dreams
Wuthering Heights
Summer of ‘42
Brian’s Song (for TV)
Portnoy’s Complaint
The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing
Ode to Billy Joe
Other Side of Midnight
The Mountain Men
Falling in Love Again
Best Friends
Yentl
Never Say Never Again
Casanova
Angels in the Outfield

An impressive life’s work, isn’t it?  And this list is just a fraction of his creative output.  Legrand is still writing movie scores, and shows no signs of slowing down. He divides his time between France and the United States.

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Equally incomplete is the following list of “greatest hits”. These are the Legrand tunes known to all, and which I have found to be touching and beautiful. A melancholy sadness pervades much of Legrand’s music—a sadness that, inexplicably, feels good to vicariously experience.

I WILL WAIT FOREVER (in French)
from Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo

Still the best of the best? It tears your heart out…

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THEME
from Summer of ’42 (1971)

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WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND
from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Dusty Springfield

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WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? from The Happy Ending (1969)

Barbra Streisand

I slept in an attic during the summer of 1975, and listened to Barbra’s The Way We Were LP—with “What Are You Doing”—so many times. A really pleasant memory.  How great Streisand is at conveying the sentiment of a song.

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IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE…that I started these music posts a year ago this week. I hope they have acquainted, or re-acquainted, many of you with some great music. With this post—number 300—I am going to take a break. I intend to return. Happy listening, everyone.

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#298 ADELE HOMETOWN GLORY, SOMEONE LIKE YOU, HELLO

#298

ADELE

HOMETOWN GLORY
SOMEONE LIKE YOU
HELLO

Vulnerable…but confident, and powerful

When one listens to Adele, one cannot help but alternate between two modes of listening—much as happens when listening to any great artist. You are captured by her lyrics and by her music. She is someone who has lived what she writes, and she knows how to give poetic and musical utterance to her life experiences in a way that anyone can relate to.

And then there is her voice, a most marvelous instrument. In an effort to compare her to other British female singers—especially in the early days of her success (she is only 30 now)—British reviewers had a difficult time because her voice is truly unique. She says that she taught herself to sing “by listening to Ella Fitzgerald for acrobatics and scales, Etta James for passion, and Roberta Flack for control.” I would have to say that, as far as the comparison goes, Adele’s voice is a glorious mix of those singers. But I would also add that her controlled power, and the little vocal “flicks” she adds throughout her songs are all Adele. I would put it in caps, but it would seem like shouting—Adele has a wonderful voice.

Adele Laurie Blue Adkins was born in 1988 in London. Like a number of the female singers that I have posted in Music I Love, there was never a time Adele was not writing songs and moving in a musical direction. She has toured the world three times—at the expense of her voice, unfortunately. She’s had to undergo surgeries and periods of vocal cord rest just to continue as a performer. During her most recent tour, she said there would be no more touring. For selfish reasons, I hope that was an overstatement. I would really love, at some future time, to be able to hear Adele in person.

There are few—one is tempted to say “no”—awards Adele has not garnered. Among her many awards were Grammys in 2009 for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. I’ve not kept track of such things, but I don’t think anyone has earned more Grammys in such a short period of time. She won six alone for her second album, “21.” She has been named Songwriter of the Year twice. She is one of the most honored pop singers in history already at her young age.

It is an interesting commentary on her life philosophy, as well as the control she asserts over her own life and her own creativity, that she has only released three albums over an 11-year period. “19”, “21”, and “25” all take their titles simply from the age she was when she wrote the songs that comprise those albums. Her albums are musical portraits of her life.

As I imagine I have said at some point in my posts, I disdain the day in the 1980’s when dancing became a prerequisite for every singer and every group. That is an exaggeration, I know, but sometimes it seems that way. This is an additional reason I have such admiration for Adele—her concerts are just her standing there in the middle of a stage and singing. She sings. She is a singer.

Certainly one of the highlights of Adele’s musical life was the song she wrote for the James Bond film, “Skyfall,” a song that would gather yet more awards for her. She is married to charity entrepreneur Simon Konecki and they have a five-year old son. She has said that only when she became a mother did she feel she was doing anything worthwhile.

A couple of years ago, during the presidential campaign here in the U.S., Hillary Clinton was asked—not that it was in any way relevant to anything—what musical artists she liked to listen to. She immediately said Adele. The quickness with which Adele’s liberal leanings were pounced upon by the other side was breath-taking. She is an LBGT advocate and a very strong backer of MusiCares, a charity that supports musicians in need. She loves to meet her fans backstage, but asks that anyone wanting to greet her give $20 to SANDS, a charity dedicated to supporting anyone affected by the death of a baby. She keeps a low profile in her various charity-giving. Aside from her prodigious musical talent, she seems like the kind of person you’d like to personally know as a friend.

I’d like to link to a track from each of her albums, which are my favorite tracks on those albums. It would have been possible, of course, to link to versions of her songs that include the lyrics, but the videos I’ve chosen have high production values of their own—and great popularity, as you’ll see. So, for those interested, I’m including the lyrics here.

FROM “19” – HOMETOWN GLORY

I’ve been walking in the same way as I did
Missing out the cracks in the pavement
And turning my heel and strutting my feet
“Is there anything I can do for you dear?
Is there anyone I could call?”
“No and thank you, please Madam.
I ain’t lost, just wandering”

Round my hometown
Memories are fresh
Round my hometown
Ooh the people I’ve met
Are the wonders of my world
Are the wonders of my world
Are the wonders of this world
Are the wonders of now

I like it in the city when the air is so thick and opaque
I love to see everybody in short skirts, shorts and shades
I like it in the city when two worlds collide
You get the people and the government
Everybody taking different sides

Shows that we ain’t gonna stand shit
Shows that we are united
Shows that we ain’t gonna take it
Shows that we ain’t gonna stand shit
Shows that we are united

Round my hometown
Memories are fresh
Round my hometown
Ooh the people I’ve met yea

Are the wonders of my world
Are the wonders of my world
Are the wonders of this world
Are the wonders of my world
Of my world, yeah
Of my world
Of my world, yeah

FROM “21” – SOMEONE LIKE YOU (over a billion YouTube views!)

I heard, that you’re settled down
That you found a girl and you’re, married now

I heard, that your dreams came true
I guess she gave you things
I didn’t give to you

Old friend, why are you so shy
Ain’t like you to hold back
Or hide from the light

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited but I
Couldn’t stay away I couldn’t fight it
I had hoped you’d see my face
And that you be reminded that for me it isn’t over

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best
For you too, don’t forget me
I beg, I’ll remember you said
Shttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLQl3WQQoQ0ometimes it lasts in love
But sometimes it hurts instead
Sometimes it lasts in love
But sometimes it hurts instead yeah

You know how the time flies
Only yesterday it was the time of our lives
We were born and raised
In a summer haze bound by the surprise
Of our glory days

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited but I
Couldn’t stay away I couldn’t fight it
I hoped you’d see my face
And that you’d be reminded that for me it isn’t over

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me I beg, I’ll remember you said
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

Nothing compares no worries or cares
Regrets and mistakes their memories made
Who would have known how bittersweet
This would taste

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you
Don’t forget me I beg, I’ll remember you said
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me I beg, I’ll remember you said
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

FROM #25” – HELLO (over two billion views!)

Hello, it’s me
I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet
To go over everything
They say that time’s supposed to heal ya
But I ain’t done much healing

Hello, can you hear me
I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be
When we were younger and free
I’ve forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet

There’s such a difference between us
And a million miles

Hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

Hello, how are you?
It’s so typical of me to talk about myself I’m sorry
I hope that you’re well
Did you ever make it out of that town where nothing ever happened

It’s no secret that the both of us
Are running out of time

So hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home
Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

Ooooohh, anymore
Ooooohh, anymore
Ooooohh, anymore
Anymore

Hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home
Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

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#296 SECOND BRITISH INVASION – THREE MEMORIES

#296

SECOND BRITISH INVASION – THREE MEMORIES

JOE JACKSON 1982
THOMPSON TWINS 1984
TEARS FOR FEARS 1985

I know I tend to sometimes get verbose when writing my posts. I do love to write. And more often than not—much more often than not—it is not enough for me to simply like a particular pop song. If I like something enough, I usually look into it pretty thoroughly, taking time to see what else about this group I may have missed—not to leave any stone unturned, etc.

But that is not true with these three songs, or with a lot of pop songs that I experienced in the early 1980’s.

Back in 1981, I had just gotten a teaching position in Sinclair’s music department and was beginning to see how really great it felt to be a part of students’ lives. Musically, I was at a point where I felt the need to establish my identity, both by playing concerts and through community music involvement. Jason, our older son, was 4 in 1982, Jonathan would be born in 1984. Being a father to young boys was off-the-charts wonderful. Tiraje was as beautiful as ever, and was enjoying motherhood as much as I was fatherhood. I was still churning out pages in my doctoral thesis, a project that was always receding into the future. This was a time in my life when I had to be content to listen to pop music only in the car, driving back and forth to work. No time to learn anything about the people I was listening to—even when I liked them a lot. It was a great time to be alive.

These are three songs that I liked a lot for their musical qualities—and still do. In addition to their musical appeal, though, I also have to say they do bring back a lot of profoundly good memories—especially those of walking to my car at 10 at night, driving home with the windows down and inhaling the spring air, of just feeling physically and psychically good and being aware of it.

But I have never to this day taken the time to learn anything much about these groups. What I do know is that they were all British. Joe Jackson’s work was often nominated for Grammys, I remember seeing that on TV. The Thompson Twins were, in fact, not twins, but a group that had taken their name from a British comic strip. I liked the harmonies of “Hold Me Now” and am still impressed with the vocal range of Tom Bailey, their lead singer. Tears for Fears, like the Thompson Twins, were part of what came to be known as the “second” British invasion, part of the “new wave.”

So, all I’m posting today are these three songs-slash-memories that I loved. Maybe they will have some meaning for you as well.

Photos: Joe Jackson, Thompson Twins, Tears For Fears.

JOE JACKSON – STEPPIN’ OUT

THOMSON TWINS – HOLD ME NOW

TEARS FOR FEARS – EVERYONE WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD

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#294 ROLLING STONES (I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION

#294

ROLLING STONES

(I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION

This may be a strange post, and it might not give much “satisfaction” to some readers.

I’ve mentioned before my aversion to the Rolling Stones. While we all think that our own particular musical taste is THE right taste to have—that OUR preferences and aesthetic choices are just so right that how could anyone disagree?—the fact is that we all hear music through different lenses. I would not (and do not) expect my opinion on the Rolling Stones to change anyone else’s opinion. I just have not been equipped with the proper lens—aesthetically or intellectually—to appreciate the Rolling Stones, so I have never understood their popularity.

I was discussing this with my good friend Dean a month or so ago—he had asked me, “Hey Bob, where are the STONES in your music-i-love blog??—and I was telling him that, with regard to the Stones, the best—and fairest—path I could take would be to listen to ALL of the Rolling Stones, to get the broadest possible overview, before posting anything about them. (I was hoping, I guess, that through such a thorough approach, I would come to appreciate their music, and that I would also be able to talk more intelligently about the super-group.)

I’m afraid it just hasn’t worked out that way. The other day, I was cleaning the kitchen (in Tiraje’s absence) and I decided, what better time to get to try to appreciate them than while I was working up a sweat! “Alexa, play Rolling Stones!” I commanded. And, as Alexa always does, she first presented all of the Stones’ best-known songs before working her way into those that are less well-known (at least to me). I wrote down all the songs I was already familiar with (this was a pretty long listening session):

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
19th Nervous Breakdown
Ain’t Too Proud to Beg
Angie
Get Off My Cloud
Lady Jane
Let’s Spend the Night Together
Paint It Black
Ruby Tuesday
Sympathy for the Devil
Under My Thumb
The Last Time
Pain in My Heart
Heart of Stone
Brown Sugar
Beast of Burden
Have You Seen Your Mother
Not Fade Away
She’s a Rainbow
Wild Horses
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Time Is On My Side
Jumping Jack Flash
Gimme Shelter
Start Me Up

Since these two dozen songs represent the best of the Rolling Stones, their “greatest hits”—and since these songs also represent them over two decades—in which I didn’t hear any stylistic changes—then it seems fair to say—and logical—that one is not likely to hear anything significantly different—or better—by listening to every track they recorded on their 26 studio albums. At least that is what I am guessing.

So, I think I gave them a pretty good shot at re-shaping my opinion. But I have to say, I definitely still don’t get it, I still don’t understand the Rolling Stones success. Which has been, to understate it, pretty incredible–they have won every music award and honor in the pop music world that exists, and they continue to tour to sold-out audiences all over the world. Still, there is no aesthetic level on which I can appreciate them. So, it must be me. I’m not trying to be simplistic—and certainly not argumentative—but I can only guess that the Rolling Stones were, from the start, selling attitude, personified (for decades now) by Mick Jagger’s swagger.

I understand that their music is rooted in rhythm and blues. And, that perhaps one is “supposed” to relate to the style, not to individual performances, in order to appreciate the Rolling Stones. BUT—in my opinion—other British bands of the time who had similar roots—the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, the Animals, the Spencer Davis Group, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames—had, each one of them, better song-writing skills and always something aesthetically pleasing to offer. And this is not to mention half a century’s worth of American R&B artists.

Aside from their generally thin, repetition-laden song-writing, I’ve also never been able to relate on any level to Jagger’s voice. There have been other unique voices in rock music—Robert Plant, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Axl Rose, Randy Bachman and dozens of others—who, in spite of—or in addition to—their vocal uniqueness were still eminently listenable. But not so with Jagger—for me. Even the ballads the Stones sang—great ballads like Ruby Tuesday, Angie, and Time Is On My Side—would have better served by a better singer.

Ok, I’m sorry to dwell on that. As I said, I guess I just don’t have the appropriate aural lens through which to hear the Rolling Stones. When the rest of the world is going one way and you’re going the other, one tends to feel the need to explain….

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HOWEVER…the Rolling Stones’ first huge hit—“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”—was something I DID find—and still find—quite appealing, on musical grounds.

I have mentioned in other posts about the use of the “fuzz box” in some 60’s music—Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky (Music I Love #121) and The Carpenters’ Goodbye to Love (MIL # 43). The “fuzz box” was the invention of Nashville recording engineer Glenn Snoddy. The Gibson (guitar) Company found out about his invention, bought the rights to it, and proceeded to manufacture the Maestro Fuzz-Tone.

It is THAT sound that is the iconic opening of “Satisfaction”—one of the first and certainly the best-known, instantly-recognizable use of the fuzz box in pop music history–it is that sound that hooked me, along with many millions of other pop music fans. Musically, “Satisfaction” alternates between two chords. It is not at all complex, but that—and the fuzz box—are, I believe—the reasons for its musical success.

I happened to first hear “Satisfaction” in the spring of 1965. I was just finishing seventh grade. I was standing in the unfinished basement of our small suburban house in the late afternoon, sunlight was streaming through the small windows near the ceiling, at ground level. When I first heard the opening—Keith Richards’ fuzz tone—I stood still and had to listen to every word of the song. Surprisingly, I caught a number of them on first listen:

When I’m drivin’ in my car, and the man come on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more about some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination

When I’m watchin’ my TV and a man comes on and tells me
How white my shirts can be
But, he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarettes as me

When I’m ridin’ ’round the world
And I’m doin’ this and I’m signin’ that
And I’m tryin’ to make some girl, who tells me
Baby, better come back maybe next week
Can’t you see I’m on a losing streak?

The lyrics and the fuzz tone had my undivided attention. For whatever reason, I did not find Jagger’s voice objectionable in “Satisfaction.” I bought the Stones’ Out of Our Heads album and wore it out. But try as I might, I could not get the same kind of satisfaction (sorry…) from the album’s other tracks. That ended up being the only Stones album I would purchase.

Nevertheless, “Satisfaction” will be a song I will always love. I’m very thankful for that fuzz box. Can you just IMAGINE that lead-in being played by ANY other instrument? The song would be totally deflated…

I’m open-minded when it comes to music. So I can’t rule out yet another attempt to “get into” the Stones. Just don’t anyone hold your breath, though…and I’m sure you won’t

Everyone has their own “Satisfaction” memory. I hope this brings yours back for you.

And please, if anyone wants to, convince me I am wrong about their music.

 

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#291 CAROLE KING IT’S TOO LATE

#291

CAROLE KING

IT’S TOO LATE

I was thinking yesterday about who I might like to post today. I thought of Bobby Vee—whose voice I liked and whose “Take Good Care of My Baby” was a song I really liked. I considered the Drifters, who brought back memories of the beginning of junior high school for me with their “Up On the Roof.” I’d also been thinking for many months about posting the Righteous Brothers, who had many songs I loved, one of which was “Just Once In My Life”–they were certainly a pop music leitmotiv of my adolescence. And, the whole girl-group phenomenon of the 1960’s is also something I related to—the Shirelles with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and the Chiffons with “One Fine Day”—truly one of my favorite songs. There were so many great songs from the girl groups.

And then it occurred to me that the common element among all these singers was Carole King. Carole King had written all of these songs.

Carole King is the most successful female pop music composer of the last half of the 20th century. Her enormous talent and ingratiating—humble, even—personality have justifiably earned her some of the highest musical honors—the Kennedy Center Award, an honorary doctorate from Berklee, the Gershwin Prize, an armload of Grammys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame—and most importantly, the love—real love—from an adoring public as well as from her fellow musical colleagues, of which there are many.

King was a New York City girl, and happened to grow up being friends with the likes of Paul Simon and Neil Sedaka. King—then Carol Klein—had dated Sedaka in high school, and she became the inspiration for his first hit, the one that established his future career, “Oh, Carol.” King was writing hit songs from the time she was a teenager. Her first huge success was the Shirelles singing her “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” written when King was just 18. It is interesting that for the first 15 years or so of her professional life, she regarded herself as a song-writer for others—not a performer in her own right.

It was with the runaway success of her second solo album, Tapestry, that she could no longer NOT perform, the demand for her was so high.

I’ve mentioned before this particular trait—if that’s the right word for it—I have regarding memories and pop songs. While I was a student in New York, I was ever the industrious musician, with every hour accounted for from the time I woke up until I went to bed. (Quite boring, in retrospect, and certainly the opposite of Tiraje, who was always about living life!) So, it’s all the more puzzling to me when I remember that there was one weekday in May of 1971 when I was home from school in the middle of the afternoon! I guess I must have felt some urgency about just “getting away from it all.” I lived six subway stops from Juilliard, and that was sufficiently “away.” There was no one home in the apartment. It was a very sunny May afternoon and I was gazing—at nothing in particular, across the Hudson River—out of the huge windows of the apartment I lived in, and “It’s Too Late” was playing on the radio. There was nothing about the song’s lyrics that I related to—although the lyrics are great—but the music was just so good, so well-written. I’ll always remember that particular moment.

But for me—and millions of other Carole King fans—our lives have been FILLED with moments that her music illuminated.

Here is a partial list of her songs (it has to be partial because it’s just so long):

Will You Love Me Tomorrow Shirelles
Take Good Care of My Baby Bobby Vee
Chains The Cookies, The Beatles
Loco-Motion Little Eva
Go Away Little Girl Steve Lawrence
Up On the Roof The Drifters
Hey Girl Donny Osmond
One Fine Day The Chiffons
I’m Into Something Good Herman’s Hermits
Just Once in My Life The Righteous Brothers
Don’t Bring Me Down The Animals
Pleasant Valley Sunday The Monkees
You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman Aretha Franklin
Crying in the Rain Everly Brothers
Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby The Cookies
I Can’t Hear You No More Betty Everett, Helen Reddy
If It’s Over Mariah Carey
It’s Going To Take Some Time The Carpenters
The Reason Celine Dion
Sweet Young Thing The Monkees
You’ve Got a Friend James Taylor

And then, of course, there are these King mega-hits, performed by the artist herself:

Beautiful
Been to Canaan
So Far Away
Now and Forever
Jazzman
Nightingale
I Feel the Earth Move
It’s Too Late

King’s 1971 album, Tapestry, was a phenomenal success, staying at the number one spot on the charts for an amazing four months. The album won four Grammys—Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year—King was the first woman to ever win that honor.

More recently, in 2014, King’s career was summarized well in a Broadway musical called “Beautiful” about her own life. Jessie Mueller won the Tony Award that year for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her portrayal of Carole King.

In the same way that George Gershwin songs represent an era of American history—the 1920’s and 30’s—Carole King songs do the same for the 60’s and 70’s, her golden decades. I imagine her songs will have the same kind of longevity that Gershwin’s have had. I could not write a better tribute to her than this one I found from when King was awarded the Gershwin prize:

“Carole King has been one of the most influential songwriters of our time. For more than five decades, she has written for and been recorded by many different types of artists for a wide range of audiences, communicating with beauty and dignity the universal human emotions of love, joy, pain and loss. Her body of work reflects the spirit of the Gershwin Prize with its originality, longevity and diversity of appeal.”

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#289 ELLA FITZGERALD GERSHWIN SONGS

#289

ELLA FITZGERALD

GERSHWIN SONGS

I remember, as a young boy sometime in the 1950’s, seeing and hearing Ella Fitzgerald on various TV shows—variety shows of one kind or another. She was kind of ubiquitous—when I began to notice her, it seemed like she was always on this show or that. I had no idea that she was already known by various monikers—the First Lady of Swing, the Queen of Jazz, Lady Ella. But I could appreciate the pureness—that is the best word for it—of her tone. And, even at that age, I could appreciate the lyrics of whatever she was singing because she lived each song—she became a real musical conduit.

I want to only post one small–but significant–aspect of Ella’s vast repertoire today. I’ll plan on having more time—later—to really give a better tribute to Ella—Ella, who was known by all of America by her first name only.

My strongest connection with her singing is through the Gershwin Songbook. Tiraje has always had a real passion for Gershwin which was contagious. During her preparation, years ago, of playing a lengthy medley from the Gershwin Songbook for a pops concert with the Dayton Philharmonic, I got to really listening—because she was—to Ella singing these great songs.

For many music-lovers, the Gershwin songs ARE Gershwin, much more so than anything else. Gershwin, as we’ve noted before, started out—as a teenager—writing songs in Tin Pan Alley. He wrote one great song after another during his brief life. The “Gershwin Songbook” was actually published during his lifetime, in 1932, a collection of 18 of his songs.

These are the songs from that publication:

Clap Yo’ Hands
Do-Do-Do
Do it Again!
Fascinating Rhythm
I Got Rhythm
I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise
Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)
The Man I Love
My One and Only
Nobody But You
Oh, Lady Be Good
Somebody Loves Me
Strike Up the Band
Swanee
Sweet and Low Down
‘S Wonderful
That Certain Feeling
Who Cares? (So Long As You Care for Me)

In 1959, Ella greatly expanded on these 18 songs with the release of a 5 album set—Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book. It was recorded with Nelson Riddle, her first collaboration with the great conductor and arranger.

Choosing favorite Gershwin songs is an impossible task. Each one of them is a gem. I gravitate toward the ballads myself. Here are just a few of my favorite Ella-sings-George selections.

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME

THE MAN I LOVE

S’WONDERFUL

EMBRACEABLE YOU

OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY

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#287 BRUCE HORNSBY MANDOLIN RAIN

#287

BRUCE HORNSBY

MANDOLIN RAIN

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing musical instruments and indoor

Bruce Hornsby (b. 1954) is an American singer, pianist, and song-writer. He draws upon a pianistic background which includes classical, jazz, bluegrass, rock, and blues. Unlike many performing musicians who never bothered (or felt they never had to bother) with a college education, Hornsby honed his skills and widened his background by attending the University of Richmond (in his home state of Virginia), the Berklee School in Boston, and the University of Miami with its strong jazz program. As soon as he arrived in Los Angeles, he became a much-desired sessions player (as well as touring performer) for Ambrosia and for Sheena Easton. Over the years since then, he has appeared in albums released by Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills and Nash, Stevie Nicks and Pat Metheny. He was keyboard man for the Grateful Dead from 1988 to 1995 (when Jerry Garcia died). As a collaborator with others and then as lead man for his own band, Hornsby has garnered much attention and many awards.

RCA signed him and his band—The Range—in 1985 and he had his first (and biggest) hit with “The Way It Is.” Hornsby is particularly noted in his playing for his rhythmic invention, being able to overlap two different rhythms, to syncopate at will, and in general, to rhythmically retain his listeners’ attention. He combines in many of his recordings the sound of a synthesizer with that of a bright acoustic grand piano.

Hornsby has always been growing musically, and always experimenting with sound, especially with his newest group, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers. But he always returns to his acoustic piano roots. His first release with Columbia Records in 2004–an acoustic piano CD–was done in collaboration with Sting, Elton John, and Eric Clapton, all titans of pop music. From time to time, Hornsby will also work in some Bach–the Goldberg Variations–into one of his concerts. He is truly a versatile musician! The most recent chapter in his musical life involves an ongoing collaboration with bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs.

My favorite Hornsby song is “Mandolin Rain” from 1986–early Hornsby. His love of bluegrass (which would ultimately result in a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in 1990) overlaps with his rock experience in “Mandolin Rain.” It has long been in the Best of Best pop music folder on one of my Ipods. In particular, I am really attracted to what Hornsby does here rhythmically, and in particular the ten seconds (!) from 4:14 to 4:24—I just find it so pleasing!

A memory for some, maybe a brand new experience for others….

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#285 BURT BACHARACH I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER

#285

BURT BACHARACH

I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER

DIONNE WARWICK
ARETHA FRANKLIN
LIANNE LA HAVAS
TRINTJE OOSTERHUIS

I suppose there are some music lovers who have never been attracted to the music of Burt Bacharach, but it’s really kind of hard for me to imagine. His writing is so inventive, so imaginative, and so felicitous that it just seems like anyone with ears would find it immediately pleasing.

Doing a panoramic survey of Bacharach’s songs will be the subject of another post—it’s too intimidating to take on right now. Together with his song-writing partner Hal David, Bacharach wrote hundreds of easy-listening songs from the 50’s to the 80’s. I’ll save my admiration (in writing) for him for later.

For right now, I just want to focus on one particular song, “I Say a Little Prayer.” Bacharach had developed a special (professional) relationship with Dionne Warwick, starting in 1962, when they recorded “Don’t Make Me Over.” For quite a number of years, Warwick’s voice, in hit after hit, was synonymous with Bacharach’s music.

I was in the middle of my tenth grade year of high school when “I Say a Little Prayer” was popular. I found both the melody, the rhythm (which is very interesting), and the lyrics all really attractive.

Hal David was Bacharach’s lyricist. They had already had ten years of song-writing success in 1967, when “Prayer” was released. The lyrics were timely: although not particularly evident when listening to the song, the lyrics are meant to convey a woman’s concern for her man who is serving in the Vietnam War—an extremely timely subject in the late 60’s.

“Prayer” was the fourteenth collaboration of Bacharach and Warwick which resulted in the release of a single. All of the previous recording sessions they had done were accomplished quickly—most of them in three successive takes, and many in just one. Bacharach insisted on ten takes of “I Say a Little Prayer.” Of particular concern to him was the tempo. The time signatures of “Prayer” were unusual in that they were continually varying: two measures of 4/4, a measure of 10/4, back to 4/4, and a chorus in 11/4 (which itself is subdivided into 4 and 3 and 4). Settling on a tempo that adequately reflected this varying meter, while also expressing the lyrics, was important to Bacharach.

Warwick’s version—the one that acquainted the world with the song, and still to this day is the version of the song that most listeners relate to or think of first—became a huge hit. It was certainly a song I loved. I can vividly remember having the song in the forefront of my mind during many a “homeroom” period—the first thing in one’s everyday life in high school—during the winter of 1968. But Bacharach was never fully satisfied with this version, feeling that, ultimately, it was just too fast.

“Prayer” was SO popular—whether you were relating to the contemporary (Vietnam etc.) lyrics or not—and most listeners, I am guessing, definitely were not. For most people, Prayer’s lyrics were timeless and simple and only concerned with love. And the music was infectious. The song was IMMEDIATELY covered—first by Sergio Mendes and then by the Baja Marimba Band—both of which illustrate the purely musical power—i.e. compositional, melodic and rhythmic—which the song held.

Aretha Franklin’s version of “Prayer” was released in the fall of ’68, not even a year after Warwick’s and it became yet another commercial success. Truer to the Bacharach’s feeling about the tempo, there was definitely something more real about her less upbeat version, something more soulful, something everyone could relate to. For many, Franklin’s version became the go-to version of Prayer.

I love them both, and am including links to both. But as you might expect from any well-written song, there are quite a number of covers of the song. It lends itself well to all manner of interpretations, from reggae to big band to calypso to soul to Sweet Adeline-type choral. The song was prominently featured in the 1997 Julia Roberts movie My Best Friend’s Wedding, which gave it a second life on the pop charts. “I Say a Little Prayer” is, among all Bacharach’s compositions, also one that did exceedingly well internationally, in other languages—in Mexico, in France, in Switzerland. Franklin’s version was a chart-topper in the U.K. as well.

Two of my favorite versions to appear well after Prayer’s initial success are those by Lianne la Havas and Trintje Oosteerhuis.

Lianne la Havas (born 1989) is a British singer and song-writer. Her exotic looks come from her Jamaican father and Greek mother. This particular video went viral years ago after it was recorded at Belgium’s Rock Werchter festival. Havas’ love for the song—which she says is “perfect in every way”—is evident in her delivery.

Trintje Oosteerhuis (born 1973) is a Dutch singer who I guess one could say specializes in doing covers—of Billie Holiday, George Gershwin—and of Burt Bacharach. Two of her albums—The Look of Love and Who’ll Speak for Love—are both collaborations with Bacharach, with whom she has a close professional relationship. Bacharach plays piano for her on each of these albums. Oosteerhuis can really get to the heart of Bacharach/David songs.

I think you will also like these two lesser-known “Prayer” versions, too.

DIONNE WARWICK

ARETHA FRANKLIN

LIANNE LA HAVAS

TRIJNTJE OOSRHUIS

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#280 HEART THESE DREAMS

#280

HEART

THESE DREAMS

MARTIN PAGE AND BERNIE TAUPIN, SONG-WRITERS

ANN AND NANCY WILSON, VOCALISTS

In my life, “These Dreams”—which I was listening to in March of 1986—marked the end of being a faculty member in the Sinclair Community College music department and the beginning of being department chairperson—which I saw as the ending of something familiar and the beginning of something quite unfamiliar. I had no idea of course at the time how long a stint my being chairperson would be (it was 30 years), all I knew was that this song—because of its lyrics, because of its composition, and because of its delivery via the Wilson sisters—somehow embodied for me a feeling of reaching out for something unattainable—or perhaps of losing something forever. All of that was all tied up, for me, in this song.

Of course, as I repeatedly say here in my posts—when relating this or that life event of mine—none of that is consequential, none of it matters at all—it is always about the music, the substance. And THAT is definitely what attracted me to “These Dreams” in the first place.

I had never heard of Heart in 1985 when all of the sudden I started hearing their “What About Love” on the radio. (I hadn’t stopped listening to pop radio yet at that time.) I was impressed with the female vocal duo of Heart—who turned out to be sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, two singers who could really pack a punch. But it was only when I heard “These Dreams” that I really stood up and paid attention.

The song was written by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin. Page was in his late twenties and was just beginning to acquire some real attention in his songs written for the group Starship and for the movie soundtrack of Pretty Woman. He teamed up with his long-time idol, Bernie Taupin—who had written the lyrics for so many of Elton John’s hits—to create “These Dreams.” They offered the song to Stevie Nicks, who expressed no interest in it.

As a short parenthesis here—Heart had been around for a while at this point. Ann and Nancy Wilson had always been the core of the Seattle-based group. They had played acoustic and folk-rock for years, with significant success both in clubs and on records. In 1985, though, after signing with Capital records, they had a total makeover, morphing into a glam-metal group, abandoning their prior appearance for one with tons of piled-up hair, and an experimental attitude toward instrumentation.

They grabbed the Page-Taupin song, and had their biggest-ever success with it. The song went immediately to the number one spot, and over the course of time, helped them secure them an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “These Dreams” was completely unlike anything they had done before. It was a power ballad and was polished in rehearsal to perfection (one imagines Taupin’s influence here). It was also the first time that Nancy Wilson had performed the lead vocal. Prior to this, Ann had been the primary go-to singer for everything the group had done.

The story about this is that Nancy (the blond sister—Ann has black hair) had a bad cold when “These Dreams” was recorded—one can easily hear the raspiness in her voice. After the success of “Dreams”, Heart’s producers wanted her to replicate that raspy, gravelly voice for future recordings—which of course she couldn’t do. The lyrics refer to the fantasy world of dreams where one escapes to when faced with a difficult situation in real life.

In one formation or another—with “sidemen” often changing—Heart has been performing continuously since the mid-1970’s. I have not followed them since “These Dreams.” I do know that a few years ago, they performed at the Kennedy Center Honors in tribute to Led Zeppelin, and that their rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” brought a standing ovation. A YouTube video of the performance had four million views in just a few days (it now has six)–Itunes even issued a video release of it. If there is one thing the Wilson singers were good at, it was delivering a strong performance.

Photos: early Wilson sisters; Heart’s glam-metal rebirth; current picture of the Wilson sisters.

I’m linking to a version with the lyrics, the poetry of which I feel is worth reading.

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#282 LENNY WELCH SINCE I FELL FOR YOU

#282

LENNY WELCH

SINCE I FELL FOR YOU

Beauty and pain,1963…

One did not need to have a backlog of life experience—as I certainly did NOT have at age 11—to hear—and feel—the pain and anguish expressed in Lenny Welch’s “Since I Fell For You.” To this day, I find his version of the big band standard the most heart-wrenching of all I have heard. The song, written by Buddy Johnson had been successfully recorded by his siter Ella Johnson in the late 1940’s—and it has been covered by many artists since then, most notably by Dinah Washington. But the most successful version remains Lenny Welch’s.

Lenny Welch (born Leon Welch in 1938) did not have the career that his voice and talent warranted. Born and raised in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Welch was excitedly picked up by Cadence Records in the early 1960’s. Cadence had had great success launching the careers of Andy Williams, the Everly Brothers, and Johnny Tillotson. “Since I Fell For You” was a major coast-to-coast hit for Welch and Cadence in 1963. Everyone was expecting Welch to be the next Johnny Mathis. But shortly after this, for unknown reasons, the record company folded. And, on the heels of this, Welch was drafted into the army.

When his two years of service concluded, Welch—very mistakenly, in hindsight—decided to take a year off, honing his musical skills, before returning to the music scene. He expressed no interest—even though he was immediately invited—in playing the Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe clubs. All of this—plus the “British invasion” of 1964—with its profusion of “new” pop music—all contributed to the gradual ending of Welch’s career.

And what a shame that was. WHO could sing a ballad with more soul and more emotion? This recording still gets to me EVERY time I listen to it. I always have to listen to it several times in a row.

When you just give love
And never get love
You’d better let love depart
I know it so
And yet I know
I can’t get you out of my heart

You
Made me leave my happy home
You took my love and now you’re gone
Since I fell for you

Love
Brings such misery and pain
I guess I’ll never be the same
Since I fell for you

Well it’s too bad
And it’s too sad
But I’m in love with you

You love me
Then you snub me
But what can I do
I’m still in love with you
Well I
Guess I’ll never see the light
I get the blues most every night
Since I fell for you

Since I fell for you…

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