Category: Popular

#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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#279 JANIS IAN AT SEVENTEEN

#279

AT SEVENTEEN

JANIS IAN

 

IN 1975, at the age of 23, five years after her East Orange High School (New Jersey) experience, Janis Ian wrote what would become not only her most successful song, but pretty much the leitmotif of her life.

Over the decades since “At Seventeen” was played on pop radio, its lyrics and its gentle bossa nova accompaniment have become an anthem not only for the not-popular high school girl but also simply for anyone who feels the pain of rejection, of not fitting in.

Janis Ian (born Janis Eddy Fink in 1951) has been writing songs virtually her entire life. Her first big success—and an indication of her powerful lyrical presence—was “Society’s Child”, a song relating a mixed-race romance in which a white girl ultimately leaves her black boyfriend because she cannot stand the ostracism she experiences from everyone around her, from her parents to her community to society in general.

Ian was only in her mid-teens when she wrote it. Even though the song was, all by itself, a commercial success, she was catapulted quickly to a much wider audience when Leonard Bernstein featured her—in November 1966, when she was just 15—in a nationally broadcast CBS special called Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution.

Ian had grown up in a community where whites were a minority, and she had attended a typical American high school (later supplemented by the High School for Performing Arts in New York), so the experiences she wrote about in her songs were situations that she not only identified with, but had either seen or experienced firsthand.

It would be nearly ten years, though, after “Society’s Child” until her next, and biggest, hit “At Seventeen.” This is a song in which she lyrically related remembered pain and anguish. Her words are a reflection of adolescent cruelty, spoken from the outsider’s point of view–how she never felt good enough, never felt like she measured up—because the standards she was measuring herself by were those set by that most intractable societal force—the high school caste system.

The success of such a simple song as “At Seventeen” took the pop music world by surprise. Ian won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1976—beating out Olivia Newton-John, Linda Ronstadt, and Helen Reddy for that honor—and “at Seventeen” was nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year as well.

This kind of success was not to be replicated for her. Ian has continued to record and produce all her life, and her production company—Rude Girl Records—has been a success. One of her pet peeves has always been the RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, which she lobbies against because of its anti-free-downloading stance. Ian feels that only through the free availability of artist’s music (and books) can actual sales then be generated.

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Although the following story has nothing to do with Janis Ian’s music, or “At Seventeen”, it is amazing, considering what we now know about Bill Cosby, that in 1967, when Janis was appearing on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour—and likewise, Cosby was also a guest—she was accompanied by an older female chaperon, an older family friend. During the long rehearsals, Janis lay her head on this woman’s shoulder, and fell asleep. Cosby interpreted this “behavior” as being lesbian, and made it his business to see that she would never appear on television again because of her “immorality.”

Astonishing hypocrisy…

Decades later, Ian finally did come out as a lesbian, having forced herself in the intervening years–in order to avoid societal condemnation–into a marriage with a man, which predictably had ended in divorce.
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But—as usual—the background information on artists and composers, while interesting, is completely collateral to the actual experience of immersing yourself in a beautiful—and, in this case, sad—song. Janis Ian had a true lyric gift.

Lyrics:

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired

The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone

Who called to say “come dance with me”
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems at seventeen
A brown eyed girl in hand me downs

Whose name I never could pronounce
Said: “pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve”
The rich relationed hometown queen

Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly
So remember those who win the game

Lose the love they sought to gain
In debitures of quality and dubious integrity
Their small-town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due

Exceeds accounts received at seventeen
To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called

When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free

To ugly duckling girls like me…
We all play the game, and when we dare
We cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone

Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say: “come on, dance with me”
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me, at seventeen

Photos are Janis Ian, then and now. I thought this link to a live performance–back in the day, 1976–is worth seeing. She could make you feel what she was singing.

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#277 BOBBY FULLER FOUR I FOUGHT THE LAW

#277

BOBBY FULLER FOUR

I FOUGHT THE LAW

Reflecting back on the way I heard music—all kinds of music—when I was growing up, it often feels like, in retrospect, that there was this grown-up arbiter-of-good-taste inside me approving or slamming whatever I happened to be hearing at the moment. When I say, in my posts, “I was twelve years old when” or “I was in third grade when” I heard such-and-such a song or classical work, it is always—in my mind—as though I am deferring to the taste of someone who really knew good from bad—me!

Maybe that is all restrospective wishful thinking, but it doesn’t feel like it. The question of how we all acquire the taste we have is one worth thinking about.

This introductory paragraph is just to say that — I was in eighth grade when I Fought the Law was being played on the radio, and I loved it from the first time I heard it. I can remember walking the halls of Van Buren Junior High School and having I Fought the Law going through my mind on rainy, overcast days. The song is extraordinarily rhythmic, the timbre and slight reverb of the guitars is very pleasing, and the simplicity of the song—alternating for two minutes among three chords—-tonic, subdominant and dominant, of course—make it memorable. But perhaps what made it most memorable for me—and what made it commercially successful for the Bobby Fuller Four—is that it is a song of adulation for Buddy Holly and the Crickets. I had enough familiarity with Buddy Holly’s songs at that age—Peggy Sue, Words of Love, Oh Boy, Maybe Baby, and That’ll Be the Day—to immediately hear that influence in I Fought the Law.

Bobby Fuller (1942-1966) had grown poor in El Paso, Texas. He was hooked first on Elvis and then on Buddy Holly, and in his own song-writing, he tried to emulate his fellow Texan Holly. Moving to California in his early twenties, he was signed by Mustang Records. The “Four” at this point were Bobby Fuller, his younger brother Randy, Jim Reese, and Dalton Powell. Like all record producers in those days (and at any time, really) Mustang Records was just taking a chance on the Bobby Fuller Four, hoping they would be that one in a hundred groups that got some radio airplay (and make some money). Mustang had discovered Ritchie Valens, so they had a track record.

They hit pay-dirt with the Bobby Fuller Four, with their release of I Fought the Law. It is a fuel-injected, simple song with a great balance between Fuller’s voice and his backup guitar(s) accompaniment.

I Fought the Law was a song that I guess must have seemed ripe for covers by other groups. The Clash, Green Day, Hank Williams, and many others have covered the song. All of these versions are absolutely dreadful, all chock-full of self-reference and all missing that crucial Buddy Holly sound. There is, often, nothing as good as the original.

Bobby Fuller’s death, at the age of 23, is to this day a mystery. So much so that it was a segment on the TV series, Unsolved Mysteries. He was found in his car, parked outside his Los Angeles apartment. His face, neck and chest were covered with hemorrhages, and it was presumed that the combination of gas vapors and LA heat had caused his death. His death was officially listed as suicide.

But there was always speculation that Fuller had been murdered—by the police, or by the mob (he had a mob-connected girlfriend at the time), or even by Charles Manson himself. Each one of these theories had enough credence to justify a lengthy book about his death by Miriam Linna.

Had Fuller not met such an early demise, it would have been very interesting indeed to hear what he and his group would have come up with as the 60’s progressed!

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#274 QUEEN INNUENDO

#274

QUEEN

INNUENDO

The saying “bigger than the sum of its parts” is one that could apply well to the British rock group Queen. Each one of its members—Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon—wrote hit singles for the group during the 1970’s and 80’s, with each writer being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Queen became one of the most popular rock bands in the history of rock music. They are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they have won the Outstanding Contribution to British Music Award, and just last year (2018) they were presented with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

The group’s ubiquity in the popular consciousness derives from several of their hit songs. Their “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”, both from 1977, are heard at countless sporting events—it is very likely you have heard these songs—even without knowing anything about Queen—they are everywhere. Their biggest commercial success, as well as their biggest artistic legacy, was their “Bohemian Rhapsody”, written by Mercury. Bohemian Rhapsody was a lengthy (6-minute) montage of five parts and five styles—a suite, in other words. Written during a time of intense personal stress—Mercury was trying, at that time he wrote Rhapsody, to end a long-term relationship with a woman and to begin one with a man. The lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody have confounded fans for forty years. What is certain is that the general tone of the song is dark—perhaps regarding a murder and being haunted by demons. Or perhaps about nothing at all, as Mercury himself claimed, just random words that rhymed.

But this post is not about Queen’s biggest hit, but rather it is about another of their songs that I have grown very fond of, “Innuendo.”

Many posts ago, I digressed to talk about “lists” – how important they are in my life, and how, consequently, I asked my sons to make lists for me of the music that they felt was most important to THEM in their lives. My own listening to popular music generally faded away at the end of the 1980’s—in favor of art music. Back then, I figured that, given the fact that we only live once, there was more to be gained by delving deeply into the great art music that I did not know than there would be to continue devoting time to popular music. It was a conscious decision.

But I also knew deep down that by doing this, I would be depriving myself of a lot of contemporary listening pleasure. Fortunately for me, both of my sons—from their own very different vantage points—have a real handle on most “popular” music—I’m using the term in its broadest sense—of the last few decades. Their knowledge and their experience—and their taste—I figured, would acquaint me with the best of the best. I was not wrong. In Jon’s list of 50 favorites from 1990-2018, there were 17 selections that I was really impressed with. The music, I found, was really compelling.

So that is how I came to know more than the standards, mentioned above, by Queen. Innuendo is a work (at 6 minutes and 30 seconds, I think it can be called a “work”) that, like Bohemian Rhapsody, is written in sections. It grabs your attention from its first sounds—a martial snare drum, layers of sound entering one by one, Freddie Mercury’s unique and piercing voice, an extremely impressive guitar solo by Brian May (in the “Spanish” section, at 3:18 in this clip), changing tempos, and thought-provoking lyrics. Written in 1991, Innuendo is seen by many as the other Queen “bookend” to Bohemian Rhapsody in terms of musical influence.

Queen is especially admirable—to me—in the way they maintain a rock-solid pulse regardless of the style they are utilizing or the emotion-laden lyrics that Mercury is singing. If listening to Queen is new to you, I would suggest, in giving them a listen, you listen to the entire song.

Freddie Mercury’s voice is more than interesting, it is compelling—he delivers a lyric with 100% commitment. His short life (1946-1991) was an extremely interesting one. He was of Persian heritage, and grew up in Zanzibar and India before moving to England, where he formed Queen at the age of 24. Mercury died from AIDS. Innuendo (and the album of the same name, from which it was taken) was the last work he would record.

And just fyi—although it has nothing to do with Queen’s music—I happened to read a few days ago, in Astronomy magazine, about Brian May, Queen’s lead guitarist, who is a very highly respected astrophysicist. Not your usual rock group guitarist!

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“You can be anything you want to be” is the lyric from Innuendo that has become an anthem for their followers. Here are the complete lyrics:

While the sun hangs in the sky and the desert has sand
While the waves crash in the sea and meet the land
While there’s a wind and the stars and the rainbow
Till the mountains crumble into the plain

Oh yes, we’ll keep on trying
Tread that fine line
Oh, we’ll keep on trying
Just passing our time

While we live according to race, colour or creed
While we rule by blind madness and pure greed
Our lives dictated by tradition, superstition, false religion
Through the eons and on and on

Oh, yes, we’ll keep on trying, yeah
We’ll tread that fine line
Oh oh we’ll keep on trying
Till the end of time
Till the end of time

Through the sorrow all through our splendor
Don’t take offence at my innuendo

You can be anything you want to be
Just turn yourself into anything you think that you could ever be
Be free with your tempo, be free, be free
Surrender your ego be free, be free to yourself

If there’s a God or any kind of justice under the sky
If there’s a point, if there’s a reason to live or die
Ha, if there’s an answer to the questions we feel bound to ask
Show yourself destroy our fears release your mask
Oh yes, we’ll keep on trying
Hey, tread that fine line

We’ll keep on smiling, yeah
And whatever will be will be
We’ll just keep on trying
We’ll just keep on trying
Till the end of time
Till the end of time
Till the end of time

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#270 THE GUESS WHO FIVE SONGS

#270

THE GUESS WHO

FIVE SONGS:

THESE EYES
LAUGHING
UNDUN
TO TIME
AMERICAN WOMAN

The Guess Who were a Canadian rock band. Their “prime time” was from 1965 to 1975, the year they dissolved. Formed as a garage band, their roster of players included Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, and their style ranged from pop rock to psychedelic rock. Canada has always taken great pride in The Guess Who. The group was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1987.

Randy Bachman—guitarist, singer and the “Bachman” of Bachman-Turner Overdrive—was a founding member of The Guess Who. The group had their first release—“Shakin’ All Over”, a hit only in Canada—in 1965. To create a little mystique about themselves—and hopefully to increase sales—they called themselves “The Guess Who?” The name—without the question mark—became permanent.

Burton Cummings, keyboardist and lead singer—THE voice of The Guess Who—joined the group in 1966. Although the group continued to have minor success in Canada, it was only when they acquired Don Hunter as manager and Jack Richardson as producer that their popularity dramatically soared. Their ballad hit “These Eyes”, released in January 1969, became their first million seller and their first single to penetrate the U.S. market.

The Guess Who’s prominence peaked around 1971. By that point, they had released all the songs I am linking to here, including the controversial “American Woman.” American Woman was, in the eyes of many, supposed to represent the Statue of Liberty. The song itself was seen as a less-than-subtle poke at America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. When The Guess Who were asked to perform at the White House for the Nixon family and guests–yes, this happened– they were politely asked to exclude “American Woman” from their set. (One has to remember Nixon’s fascination with Elvis–and vice-versa.)

For those who are familiar with Bachman-Turner Overdrive (“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” will be a future post), it may surprise you to know that Randy Bachman became a Mormon around this time. Disagreements about all kinds of things arose between him and Burton Cummings as a result of this, and Bachman ended up leaving the group. With his departure—and the absence of his in-your-face, driven guitar work—the group’s style gradually changed and their popularity declined. Hits from these final years included “Hand Me Down World” and “Share the Land.”

The band’s star now appears on Canada’s Walk of Fame. In 2001, the group’s members all received honorary doctorates from Brandon University in Brandon, Manitoba. This was a special privilege for Cummings, who had never even finished high school. The band’s original members reunited in the summer of 2003 in an outdoor performance for 450,000—the largest ticketed event in Canadian history.

These five songs receive a lot of play on my Ipod. If you are of a certain age, this will bring back some memories. Regardless of your age, though, The Guess Who simply made timeless rock music.

THESE EYES

Introducing Cummings voice to the U.S. market…

LAUGHING

Another Cummings’ soulful tenor ballad-singing…

UNDUN

From the lyrics –

Too many mountains, and not enough stairs to climb
Too many churches and not enough truth
Too many people and not enough eyes to see
Too many lives to lead and not enough time

It’s too late
She’s gone too far
She’s lost the sun
She’s come undun

A hip spelling of “undone” I guess – solidified Cummings as having one of the most beautiful voices in all rock music–as much a jazz singer as rock – flute solo here also by Cummings

NO TIME

My personal favorite – well-written, well-performed (this fuzzy and pseudo-psychedelic video aside)

AMERICAN WOMAN

Their controversial hit…

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#267 KIM CARNES BETTE DAVIS EYES

#267

KIM CARNES

BETTE DAVIS EYES

Billboard’s biggest hit of 1981 was “Bette Davis Eyes” sung by Kim Carnes. The song ranked #12 on Rolling Stones top 500 list and it became the number one song in 21 countries in the summer of 1981. It was written by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon. After the song won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and Album of the Year, Bette Davis herself got in touch with everyone involved with the song, thanking them for making her “part of modern times” and someone her grandson could now look up to. 🙂 In what Carnes now considers a career highlight, she Carnes performed the song live for Davis at a tribute to the legendary actress held just before her death. The list of awards “Bette Davis Eyes” won is really quite long.

Carnes’ (born 1945) raspy voice was not new to audiences in 1981. She had been in the music business from the late 1960’s and had enjoyed a successful recording career from 1974. She had notably worked with, and written for, David Cassidy of Patridge Family fame in the 1970’s. Carnes and her band rehearsed “Bette Davis Eyes” for a mere three days before their momentous recording session—with no overdubbing.

Carnes lives in Nashville, and continues to record successfully. In spite of her large talent, though, it is not likely she will ever repeat the phenomenal success of “Bette Davis Eyes.”

On a personal note, long before the song was popular—in fact, in my first acquaintance with Tiraje—I told her that she had Bette Davis eyes—which is true. So, the song, when it came out, became one that had extra meaning for us.

Photos are Bette Davis, Kim Carnes.

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#266 SIMON AND GARFUNKEL 15 OF THEIR GREATEST HITS

#266

SIMON AND GARFUNKEL

15 OF THEIR GREATEST HITS

THE LATE 60’S, REDUX

Let me preface this posting with a quick reiteration of something I’ve said before, but which I feel is necessary to underscore from time to time. And that is, that even though I have very specific and often poignant memories associated with all the popular music I post, every song I post here is music that I love—my attachment to everything is primarily musical. The specific circumstances in my life that I associate with every song I love could have been totally different, but I would not love any song any less. It has ALWAYS been about the music. Even though I sometimes remark that or that song might occasion a walk down memory lane, it is not for that reason—at all—that I post popular music. The music I love is MUSIC that I love.
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Regardless of your age—but particularly if you are in your 60’s or 70’s—Simon and Garfunkel were probably some part of your life. For me, their prime-time years overlapped my high school and college experiences. I would boil their considerable success down to two ingredients: Paul Simon’s song-writing—which was (and is) impressive by any standard—and Art Garfunkel’s silky high tenor voice.

I first heard Sound of Silence on a dreary Saturday mid-winter afternoon in eighth grade. I was immediately attracted to the simple two-part harmony and lyrics which drew me in like a fish on a hook. I think it was probably The Boxer that formed the other bookend, in 1971, of my Simon and Garfunkel acquaintance.

As it happened in my own life, I spent 1970-76 in New York City. Although one absolutely need not have any “New York” experience to fully appreciate S&G’s music, I would have to say that there are many facets to Simon’s song-writing that are intrinsically part of living in and around the NYC area. Included in his songs were subtle references to the sun setting “so high”—obscured by skyscrapers, counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike, and visiting the Central Park children’s zoo. And also overt references such as the 59th Street Bridge or being the only boy in New York.

These and other New York-specific things give one a dual perspective of Simon and Garfunkel—that they were troubadours for the world, expressing feelings in music and poetry that the whole world could relate to. And, being New York City boys, they had a certain perspective on the world that could not help but come out in their music.

Simon and Garfunkel met in elementary school in Queens, New York, in 1953. By the time they were in high school, they were playing and performing together under the name Tom and Jerry in material that was reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. After high school, they went their separate ways, but regrouped in 1963 when they were signed to make a duo album with Columbia Records. Their first album, “Wednesday Morning” did not sell well, and the duo once again broke up. Their previously recorded “Sounds of Silence,” however, became a major hit in the United States in 1965. They released a second album, started extensive college touring, and after their music was featured in the movie The Graduate, they enjoyed great success, not just in the U.S., for the rest of the 1960’s.

S&G’s rocky relationship was no secret to the music tabloids, or to the music-loving public in general. They finally broke up in 1970—having won 10 Grammys. They reunited—for an evening, anyway—to perform in New York’s Central Park to an audience of half a million. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. They have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide; their Bridge Over Troubled Water album ranks #51 on Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums List.

I had the real pleasure of seeing them on their Reunion Tour–maybe ten years ago now–in Columbus. They were still exciting and expressive.

Paul Simon, in my opinion, is a fine poet. One can easily read, and be inspired by, the texts of his songs all by themselves, without music. And, there is no question in my mind that S&G simply would not have had the success they had—regardless of Simon’s song-writing ability—without the purity of Art Garfunkel’s voice.

It may seem like overkill or too much of a good thing (if such a thing is actually possible), but I’d like to link to FIFTEEN S&G tracks here. EACH ONE of these songs is expertly written—with regard for formal construction, timbre of instruments, and an equal repose between melody, harmony and rhythm.

Both Simon and Garfunkel continued to record—Simon especially—after their breakup. Both of them had notable songs and successes. I am limiting this post to what they accomplished as a duo. I’ll list these favorites in the order they came out, chronologically.

SOUNDS OF SILENCE

A generation’s shorthand for alienation. If their producer Tom Wilson had not taken the initiative to overdub a rhythm section over their previously-recorded folk song, it is doubtful we would even know of Simon and Garfunkel. This is the song that propelled their career.

HAZY SHADE OF WINTER

A great example of a marriage between lyrics and music. Written during the year that Simon spent in London, trying to make it there as a solo artist. “Time will go by and you won’t notice until it’s gone. Wasting time in the springtime of one’s life.” Realistic, but not cheery, lyrics.

HOMEWARD BOUND

Another song that Simon wrote while in London. He was waiting for a train in Merceyside—THE heart of British pop music in Liverpool—waiting for a train to go back to London and his girlfriend—when he scribbled this song down. He is the “one-man band” he is singing about. There is actually a plaque at the Widnes train station, commemorating Homeward Bound’s creation there.

I AM A ROCK

A plea to himself to avoid pain and brokenheartedness by avoiding emotional attachment. A sad song.

DANGLING CONVERSATION

Simon felt that both “I Am A Rock” and “Dangling Conversation” were pretentious, his poorest song-writing efforts. He felt they showed him trying to be literary and concerned with “high” thoughts. But the lush string orchestra here serves as a great backdrop to emotional turmoil a couple—who clearly have trouble communicating with each other. The mass popularity of both songs—the extent to which millions could relate to the very feelings he was expressing—attest to the fact that his self-analysis was incorrect.

59TH STREET BRIDGE SONG (FEELIN’ GROOVY)

Maybe the happiest song S&G did? The 59th Street Bridge in New York, also known as the Queensboro Bridge, is a NYC landmark. Many thousands of drivers, bike-riders, and joggers use it every single day. It affords great views of the city in all directions.

AT THE ZOO

Or maybe this was the happiest? A song about the children’s zoo in Central Park.

MRS. ROBINSON

Who can forget Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate? What a great movie. Dustin Hoffman’s debut, too, I think.

SCARBOROUGH FAIR – PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY AND THYME

To me, this song seemed magical, a natural and logical—yet completely unexpected—extension of what S&G had already been doing.

EL CONDOR PASA

I knew nothing about Peru when I was in high school, yet somehow this music transported me there. You could actually call this song a cover—it was written as part of an zarzuela (a Spanish operetta) in the 1920’s by Peruvian composer Julio de la Paz. Paul Simon added his own words to de la Paz’s melody.

BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER

It’s hard to say, but this may be S&G’s greatest song, or at least the one with the widest popularity. A full-throated ballad featuring Garfunkel’s voice, it never fails to make shivers run and up down my spine. Five minutes of bliss. GREAT pianist.

THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK

From S&G’s fifth and final album. Very poignant meaning: Simon wrote it when Garfunkel left him, alone in New York, to make a movie in Mexico. In spite of the wistful sound and cloud-like harmony, the lyrics tell of a young man who is really emotionally hurt. The Only Living Boy in New York was actually made into a (terribly reviewed) movie starring Jeff Bridges and Pierce Brosnan.

THE BOXER

One of my favorite S&G. The lyrics still get to me—at the time, they somehow typifying the loneliness of living in a really huge city, of feeling all alone.

In a clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving…

AMERICA

This is a song about searching. The Kathy of the song was Simon’s girlfriend at the time he wrote this song. If you’ve ever been on the New Jersey turnpike, the endless traffic and often surreal inhumanity of being part of that ebb and flow is something from this song you can relate to. It shows us—perhaps—that “America” is just a figment of our collective imagination.

FOR EMILY, WHEREVER I MAY FIND HER

Yet another crystal-clear example of Garfunkel’s sensitivity. What an expressive singer.

 

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#261 CONNIE FRANCIS A BOUQUET OF HER SONGS

#261

CONNIE FRANCIS

A BOUQUET OF HER SONGS

(LENGTHY POST…)

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When I was growing up in white, middle-middle class suburbia, our next door neighbors were the Hunters. There was nothing that was not COOL about the Hunters. How I wished I was part of that family! Stan the husband and father, athletic and well-built, a golfer, able to fix or create just about anything, and clearly in love with Doris, his wife. Doris, loving and always cool in her sunglasses and low-pitched voice. Craig the older brother, the pride of the family, a basketball player. Paulette, the knock-out middle sister, stunningly pretty and everything she uttered seemed like gold to me. And Erick, the younger son and my constant playmate—we played those yellow 45’s that were so popular in the 50’s and spent countless hours on their backyard swingset. The Hunters were American coolness.

They also frequented the Kettering Swimming Pool, a public pool that opened and closed on those summer bookend dates every year—Memorial Day and Labor Day. It was a large pool and continually crowded. In the 1950’s, every house—every house—on our street had between two and five kids. The entire city of Kettering was OVERFLOWING with kids, the first wave of the baby boom.

One clear summer day in 1961, Erick asked me if I could go to the pool with him. Of course I could! Doris drove a car typical of the late 1950’s—a really long sky blue and white Plymouth with “fins”—anyone alive back then will know what fins were. They made every car look as if it were ready to take off, like an airplane. So, I’m sitting in the back seat with Erick, Doris is driving this cool car to the cool pool, and on the radio I hear for the first time—pretty loudly too, because Doris liked her car radio volume high—“Where the Boys Are” by Connie Francis. Wow, I thought, from what UNIVERSE did such beautiful singing come from?

This very first acquaintance with Connie Francis is obviously drenched in “coolness” in my memory…

Aside from my own personal reminiscence, though, Connie Francis was indeed a huge talent. Her voice is painted all over American life in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. I find her life story very interesting, and her songs have always been music I love—though, if you are familiar with her, perhaps not the songs you might expect.

Sandwiched—as one can only see in retrospect—between Doris Day and Linda Ronstadt, the two singers who I feel Connie Francis was so similar to—this New Jersey-raised girl of Italian descent (born 1937 as Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero—does it get any more Italian than that?) became not just an American singing icon, but also Italian, German, Yiddish and Hebrew.

Encouraged by her father to enter talent contests, Francis had some success in them, singing and accompanying herself on accordion from the age of four. She got a break singing on the Arthur Godfrey television show, where she was persuaded to change her name from Franconero to Francis, and to drop the accordion entirely. From this appearance, she received a few opportunities to sing commercial jingles. Her father also purchased four recording sessions for her, hoping for success with a major record company.

MGM did reluctantly sign her to a ten-release contract. Her first record releases—“Freddy” and “You, My Darlin’, You” were commercial failures, and MGM was planning on letting her go. She was only 18 and had been preparing to enter New York University as a pre-med student (she had graduated as salutatorian of her high school) if a singing career did not work out. As it happened, though, the final recording of her contract—“Who’s Sorry Now”—was played by Dick Clark on American Bandstand. Francis’s career took off from that point on, and she never looked back. Within weeks, the song was at the top of the charts both in the U.S. and U.K. For the following four years, Connie Francis was voted Best Female Vocalist by Bandstand viewers.

In her search for a follow-up hit, Francis met Neil Sedaka, who wrote “Stupid Cupid” for her, and which was her second big success. For the next half-decade, Francis would alternate between appealing to the teen and the adult contemporary markets. She went to London to record an album at the Abbey Road Studios of Italian Favorites. This album became a huge international bestseller and showcased her voice in a way that the teeny songs never could. In the years to come, she would record other “Favorites” albums—Jewish, German and Irish—all of which sold well in their respective markets.

In my opinion, Connie Francis’s voice is beautiful because of the intuitive dramatic feel and sincerity she brings to whatever lyrics she is singing. Stupid Cupid, V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, Lipstick on the Collar, Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool, and Mister Twister were all, from my point of view, throw-away songs only meant to sell to a youth market, not typifying in the least her true temperament.

“Where the Boys Are”—although made to highlight the movie of the same name—had more of a ballad feel than an up-tempo dance song that one might expect from a teen movie. It became Francis’s signature song. [ Trivia fact: Where the Boys are—the movie—started the whole concept of the “spring break” at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. ]

Francis experienced a number of tragedies in her personal life. She was raped in an upstate New York motel in 1974, an experience that traumatized her for the rest of her life. In 1977, she underwent nasal surgery and completely lost her singing voice. In 1981, her older brother was murdered by Mafia hitmen. Shortly after this, Francis was diagnosed with manic depression. A whole succession of tragedies… Very ironically, Francis had to take voice lessons to learn how to sing again in the 1980’s. She was still performing, though, as recently as 2010, with Dionne Warwick in Las Vegas.

Francis was married four times, from 1964 to 1986. She had a romantic relationship with Bobby Darin early in her career. Her father hated Darin and forced him out of their New Jersey house at gunpoint to end the relationship. Francis said for the rest of her life that not marrying Darin was the biggest mistake she had ever made.
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I am highlighting quite a number of her songs here. My guess would be that even if you are a Connie Francis fan, you may not have heard all of them and therefore may not be acquainted with what a wonderful voice she really had. I hope you will sample some—or all—of them. Her voice was so expressive. Choosing just ten was difficult.

WHERE THE BOYS ARE (her signature song)

DIDN’T I LOVE YOU ENOUGH (dramatic!)

FORGETTING (Doris Day-like, a period song…)

WHO’S SORRY NOW? (first hit, propelled her to fame)

MY HAPPINESS (a love song)

TOWARD THE END OF THE DAY (don’t skip this…you’ll love her Italian)

MAMA (heartrending, sad)

MALAGUENA (this is awesome—who would have guessed?)

BABY’S FIRST CHRISTMAS (this is really nice, sentimental, I love it)

AL DE LA (I could listen to her Italian all day)

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#255 BOBBY DARIN DREAM LOVER

#255

BOBBY DARIN

DREAM LOVER

The sweetness of not-knowing-why-yet-being-attracted…

I would be interested in hearing from other musicians who have had similar experiences to what I had with “Dream Lover.”

Dream Lover was one of Bobby Darin’s hits, recorded in 1959. Darin had a pretty big career in the 50’s and 60’s, both as a singer and as an actor. His marriage to the gorgeous Sandra Dee was tabloid fodder—such as it was back then—for the length of their 7-year marriage. He had other hits both before and after Dream Lover—Splish Splash, Mack the Knife, Beyond the Sea, and Lazy River among them—but none, in my opinion, as good as “Dream Lover.”

Although the song is from 1959—when I would have been in second grade—I know that, however it came about, I first heard “Dream Lover” two years later in 1961, when I was 10. And I was crazy about it.

So, here is my question, a question primarily for musicians:

The song starts off in D-flat major and immediately veers, briefly, into B-flat minor, then repeats this progression one more time, all before Darin even begins to sing. The whole song then becomes basically an oscillation from a major I chord to minor VI chord. At the age of 10, I had no idea—none—about functional harmony. But I knew that I absolutely loved this sound, whatever it was. I don’t know how many years later it was until I would actually know how to explain what it was I was hearing. All I knew was: what a great CONTRAST this is to go from this happy chord to this sad chord, over and over again! It was BECAUSE of my absolute lack of knowledge about what I was hearing that I loved it all the more. It was mysterious, yet so great.

This not-knowing-why-yet-being-attracted is one of the sweetest delights of life, a totally intoxicating experience.

The number of instances of this occurring in my youth—hearing something in a pop song, being strongly attracted to it yet having no idea why, and then later on—sometimes 10 and 15 years later—discovering what it was about this song or that song that had drawn me in—this must have happened several hundred times.

Did this kind of thing ever happen to you?

Sometime soon I will post a song—I Can See For Miles by the Who—in which I’ll describe yet another one of these times…always pleasant to recall each one of them.

Darin’s voice was a great vehicle for “Dream Lover.” Darin (1936-1973) was both a singer and a songwriter. He wrote “Dream Lover” in early 1959, at the age of 23. It was produced by the legendary Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler. Within weeks of its release it was #2 in the U.S. and #1 in the U.K. Neil Sedaka, a good friend of Darin’s, plays piano in the recording—as he did for nearly every Darin recording.

I mentioned my “lists” affliction the other day. “Dream Lover” has always been in my Best of the Best list.

Every night I hope and pray
A dream lover will come my way
A girl to hold in my arms
And know the magic of her charms
‘Cause I want (yeah-yeah, yeah)
A girl (yeah-yeah, yeah)
To call (yeah-yeah, yeah)
My own (yeah-yeah)
I want a dream lover
So I don’t have to dream alone

Dream lover, where are you
With a love, oh, so true
And the hand that I can hold
To feel you near as I grow old
‘Cause I want (yeah-yeah, yeah)
A girl (yeah-yeah, yeah)
To call (yeah-yeah, yeah)
My own (yeah-yeah, yeah)
I want a dream lover
So I don’t have to dream alone

Someday, I don’t know how
I hope she’ll hear my plea
Some way, I don’t know how
She’ll bring her love to me

Dream lover, until then
I’ll go to sleep and dream again
That’s the only thing to do
Till all my lover’s dreams come true
‘Cause I want (yeah-yeah, yeah)
A girl (yeah-yeah, yeah)
To call (yeah-yeah, yeah)
My own (yeah-yeah, yeah)
I want a dream lover
So I don’t have to dream alone

Dream lover, until then
I’ll go to sleep and dream again
That’s the only thing to do
Till all my lover’s dreams come true
‘Cause I want (yeah-yeah, yeah)
A girl (yeah-yeah, yeah)
To call (yeah-yeah, yeah)
My own (yeah-yeah)
I want a dream lover
So I don’t have to dream alone

Please don’t make me dream alone
I beg you don’t make me dream alone
No, I don’t wanna dream alone

 

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#251 NANCI GRIFFITH FIVE SONGS

#251

NANCI GRIFFITH

LAST OF THE TRUE BELIEVERS
LOVE AT THE FIVE AND DIME
MORE THAN A WHISPER
BANKS OF THE PONCHARTRAIN
LOOKIN’ FOR THE TIME (WORKIN’ GIRL)

Country western sweetness…

Part of my daily practice routine involves doing about 45 minutes or so of finger exercises. Exercises were something I had no use for and had a condescending attitude about—as in why would anyone want to waste their time doing them?—until I was studying with concert pianist David Bar-Illan, who became the strongest musical influence on my life. He was a strong advocate of exercises, practiced what he preached, and his attitude was why would anyone NOT do exercises?

This little intro about my life is just to say that I have this time set aside for exercises every day. Like any kind of physical exercises, they become routine, and do not need your undivided attention. So, since all my exercises are done hands separately—leaving a free hand, etc—I read during my exercises—books, newspapers, whatever.

One of the things I have always read during my exercises are record review magazines—starting with High Fidelity and Stereo Review back in the day, and now a wider assortment—Fanfare, American Record Guide, Absolute Sound, and Rolling Stone. Most of my attention is allotted to classical music reviews, but I try to cover all the bases—pop, jazz, and so on. Starting somewhere in the late 1980’s, I started seeing reviews of this country western singer named Nanci Griffith. She seemed to have come from nowhere, and all of the sudden I was reading review after review of what a great singer and songwriter she was—and that she was not what one would expect. I was interested.

But it would take many years before I finally gave her a listen. When I finally did—about eight years ago—I bought my first album, then second, and then pretty soon, everything she had done. I wish I had not taken so long to make her acquaintance. I love her voice. There is something so honest about it. She calls her own style “folkabilly” music, and I think that is pretty fitting.

Griffith is a native Texan, now living in Nashville. She has been performing her whole life. Her twenty albums (thus far) have ingratiated her not just to the C&W market but also to a much wider audience beyond that. She was a Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1994, and she is very highly esteemed as a writer by other female C&W stars such as Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss.

Griffith, who was born in 1953, is a cancer survivor, twice over—she beat breast cancer in 1996, and thyroid cancer in 1998. The lyrics of Griffith’s songs appeal to me because they tell imaginative stories, and they stray far afield from what might expect in country/bluegrass lyrics. Her voice is sweet—much sweeter and genuine than Reba McIntire’s, I feel—but her lyrics make you stop and reflect on life. In “Lookin’ for the Time”, she is a streetwalker—a working girl. In “Banks of the Pontchartrain”, she is going to meet a friend at the train station hear Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana, one of her favorite places. In other songs, she laments on how it feels to be a Texas country girl in Manhattan or Montreal. She uses the country-western idiom in her own unique way.

She also surrounds herself with first rate players. Her band is called the Blue Moon Orchestra, and consists of Pat McInerney on drums, and husband/wife team Pete and Maura Kennedy, who both play guitar(s) and add vocals. Backup singers vary from tour to tour and recording session to recording session, but they have always been impressive—Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett are among this elite group. A descriptive word that continually comes up in any conversation about her from her fellow musicians is how extremely professional Griffith is. She has been around the block; she performs for the sheer joy of performing.

One of her earliest albums was THE LAST OF THE TRUE BELIEVERS, released in 1986. I have a lot of Griffith on one of my Ipods, but this is the album I return to most often. I am linking to five songs from it. You’ll know after listening to any one of them whether you’ll relate to her or not. I certainly do.

Pictures above are from early in Griffith’s career and more recent.

LAST OF THE TRUE BELIEVERS

LOVE AT THE FIVE AND DIME

MORE THAN A WHISPER

BANKS OF THE PONTCHARTRAIN

LOOKIN’ FOR THE TIME (WORKIN’ GIRL)

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