5/20/20: A beautiful day

It’s a spectacular, perfect day outside – sunny, 63F, low humidity. It’s perfect little jacket weather. You know – when you say “Well, it’s gorgeous outside but I just need a little jacket.” So I wore my little jacket, and my sunglasses that are almost cat eyes but not quite, and my new mask that does not dig into my eyeballs at all, which is awesome.

I feel kind of weird going out for walks. It’s so great to see other people, but it feels like a guilty pleasure. I did test negative a couple of days ago, so that’s a bit of a relief. But there’s no telling what might happen tomorrow. Things are opening up a little bit now, but there’s still that constant worry, like a splinter under your nail that you just can’t quite reach.

Of course I brought my iPod shuffle along on my walk. I may be one of the few people left in the country who still uses one. I like being able to randomize my music. Plus, unlike my phone, the iPod is tiny and it isn’t the end of the world if I drop it. (This is not an endorsement of iPod, by the way.)

The first song that came up was “Stay Put” by Waldeck, and it was just perfect. Kind of bouncy but not too much. Mellow with a little edge. Gorgeous singing, too. And great soloing from the trumpet, keys and guitar.


Then it was “Little Willy,” by the Sweet. Instrumentalists, this is a great song to learn – it’s easy, but there’s a key change in there just to keep it interesting. At this point in the walk, I was out there in my little jacket trying not to dance down the street.

 

As I was approaching home, “Orange” by Ken Nordine came on. It was perfect because I love orange, and the song was fun and made me happy.

 

Throughout every crisis in my life, music has been a refuge; a place I can escape to for a little while. After 9/11, I could only listen to Bach’s solo cello suites. During Hurricane Sandy, in which my apartment was destroyed, I remember sitting in a van with some fellow escapees and singing along to Lou Rawls at the top of my lungs.

For me, music a wonderful, healing place to go. I hope everyone out there has something like this to help them through this awful time, whether it’s music, books, art, yoga or time with friends and loved ones.

 

 

Image by Elizabeth Walsh

4/8/20: Geeking out with Judy

I’ve been listening to the song “Judy In Disguise” by John Fred and his Playboy Band. Besides having one of the great all-time band names (although maybe not at the same level as Lothar and the Hand People or Shirley Temple of Doom), I’m currently really intrigued by the structure of the song. Allow me to geek out for a moment.

On one hand, “Judy” is a classic example of a mid-60’s pop song. The lyrics talk about cars and girls and lemonade pie, and my goodness, a bra. The chord structure is pretty standard for a pop song – your typical I-IV-V stuff. But psychedelia is creeping in around the edges.

The first sign of a freaky and awesome new world is at the intro, where the guitar goes into a series of chromatic divebombs that draw out the tension like a rubber band before it all snaps back into place and the first verse starts. The bridge also has a very different sound to it, with harmonies that add a spooky note to the song.

The hero of this song does not just want to hold your hand, and has musically described his intentions pretty well. Although by the end it seems that all he’s going to get his hands on is a pair of ladies’ glasses.

The lyrics also dabble in psychedelia; cantaloupe eyes and kite strings are mixed up with the cars and girls and lemonade pie.

At first I didn’t like the song too much, mostly because of that chromatic guitar stuff. It does bring forward momentum to a halt. But I think the payoff is much greater; you wind up with a much more interesting and emotionally expressive song. It’s amazing what you can do with a couple of small changes.

 

 

 

 

Image: Public Domain. Altered by Elizabeth.

3/21/20: The lion sings tonight

Damn, these are crazy times. Even just a week ago seems like years. I hope whoever reads this is healthy and safe, and that if you’re ill, you get well soon.

I’m right near New York City, which as of now has become the center of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Everything is closed, there’s a curfew at night, and we’re all encouraged to stay at least six feet away from each other – no mean feat considering that this is the most densely populated part of the country. I haven’t been more than six feet away from other people in decades.

I have been out for walks, and reactions from other people are pretty interesting. Everyone is careful to keep their distance, and greetings have ranged from totally ignoring me (which is pretty standard behavior around here anyway) to a big wave hello from across the street. Hello! You look like you’re okay! We’re okay too. Stay safe.

Like so many other people, I’ve been laid off for the interim, and I’m spending a lot of time listening to, writing, and playing music. One rabbit hole I tend to fall down on is the “how many versions of one song can I find?” game, which I find fascinating. I’ll get interested in a song, and try to find different versions of it. I enjoy comparing the arrangements of the songs, which gives me ideas for my own stuff.

A couple of days ago I realized I could no longer live without a copy of the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” so I bought it.


That made me think of Miriam Makeba’s “Mbube,” which is an earlier version of the song.


And then I realized I have They Might Be Giants’ “The Guitar,” which came out in the nineties and took the tune in a whole different, and awesome, direction.


They all have their high points. Miriam Makeba’s voice is so pure and strong; it cuts through my heart like a knife through butter. The Tokens version has that classic sixties pop production sound and a great vocal arrangement. And They Might Be Giants, as always, takes a fantastically creative approach to the song.

Enjoy all three, while I go wash my hands.

8/28/19: Bleeps and bloops

So I was sitting here thinking about ukulele music, which for some reason made me think about Kraftwerk (my musical universe is a strange and twisty place). And then I realized I’ve never written about songs about robots that also feature vocal manipulation and a strong synth-pop flavor.

Here’s the Kraftwerk song. This was when synths were becoming much more popular, but didn’t have the sophistication of today’s models. It was very difficult to create something that didn’t sound like it was made by a machine, so it was easy to match the mechanization of music with a song about the mechanization of human beings.

 

I adore Arling and Cameron. They’re terrific composers who are also really imaginative. Here they have a much less cold and mechanized robot. In fact, he’s feeling very bad. Why? The female human is totally unimpressed by him – even his bleeps and bloops.

(FYI, the Lemonheads covered this, featuring Kate Moss as the unimpressed human.)

 

And we turn to totalitarian robotic overlords with Styx. This is part of a theme album, so there’s an overarching storyline going on here. Based on the video, I think the song is mostly about evil henchmen and artsy lighting.

 

At the end, Dennis DeYoung wraps it all up with the line “The problem’s plain to see/Too much technology.” Of course, the kind of dystopian future Styx sings about would have much more complex, socioeconomic causes, but that doesn’t sound good in a song.

As we move into the future and AI learns to write increasingly sophisticated songs, I’m curious to see what kind of synth-pop songs the robots will write about us humans.

7/8/19: Monday Funday Dance Party (Devo version)

It’s a lovely misty morning outside, with flowers reaching out to touch the last few drops of a morning rain shower. I just sat down with my cup of coffee to listen to something that will greet the day with all the splendor it deserves.

And that’s Devo. Today, there’s is no such thing as too much Devo, And it cannot be loud enough.

 

Ebeth fun fact: My high school band used to do “That’s Good.”


I hope the Stones appreciated this cover of “Satisfaction.” It’s incredibly funky and sophisticated. I bet Charlie Watts liked it.

Also, the original video for it is out there. Like all their videos, it’s a lot of fun and I recommend checking it out. But I like a nice clean audio track, and this is the best one I found.

The 45 minute model; Amazing Album #1 (June 2019 edition)

I love albums. You can create a much more expansive and complex picture with ten songs rather than one. And there’s something about the length of a 33 RPM LP, which is roughly 45 minutes, that works very well for listeners. 45 minutes is a good amount of time to sit and listen to music. I always get fidgety if I have to stay still for much longer than that.

If you go to a classical concert, it’s often split into two parts of roughly 45 minutes each, with an intermission so you can stretch your legs and go find the ladies room. And for rock bands, a set is generally considered to be 45 – 50 minutes.

Of course, there are a lot of other factors that make up a great albums. It can’t just be 45 minutes of crap. You need great songs that are played really well, and beautifully produced. Some kind of continuity between songs really helps, whether it’s musical personnel or a single composer. And there really needs to be consistency of production to hold the whole thing together.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to write about a few albums that I really love; ones that work as albums rather than being a collection of unrelated songs that happened to wind up on the same playlist/LP/CD/etc. (That being said, there is absolutely room for albums that are a collection of unrelated songs, and I plan to write about them someday.)

Jazz Samba, featuring Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz, was the first album I thought of when writing this. Released in 1962, It was one of the first records to introduce the Bossa Nova sound to an audience outside of Brazil. Now this album is only about 33 minutes long, but trust me – it has 45 minutes of awesome packed in there.

This is actually a really good headphone album. You can pick up a lot of detail from the guitar and bass, which don’t pop out that much on the recording.

For me, one of the things that really holds the album together is the fact that it was all recorded on the same day. They did it in an old church. Especially if you’re recording something like this that’s essentially live, doing it in the same space with the same mic placement and recording levels helps to create a good continuity between songs.

Performance-wise, recording the album in one day can also be a terrific idea. Just as long as the vibe is a good one; no one wants to listen to a bunch of musicians having a bad day. Fortunately, the musicians on Jazz Samba were having a very very good day.

“Samba De Uma Nota So”

Damn, listen to the bass on this one. It’s amazing, and perfect for the song. And the guitar solo is beautiful.

I can’t leave out Stan Getz of course. But both in volume and billing, he tends to take center stage in this project. I want to point out some great work from all the musicians here.

“Samba Triste”

I love “Samba Triste” so much that whenever I hear it, I will stop whatever I’m doing to totally focus on it. It’s just heartbreakingly beautiful. So excuse me while I check out Charlie Byrd’s guitar solo (and Stan Getz’s), and I’ll be writing about more favorite albums in the future.

5/4/19: Beware the earworm

The problem with an earworm is that it starts out as a good song. But then it gets lodged in your brain and slowly becomes torturous. I’ve got an earworm right now, and it’s a bad one:

 

See, the problem is that I heard the song and thought it would be fun to learn the bass line. It was. But then “All About that Bass” popped into my consciousness and set up camp. It’s been days now.

I’ve been trying to defeat the earworm by playing even catchier songs. Right now it seems like “Rock Lobster” will do the trick.

 

If not, I can dial things upon a notch and put on some early eighties Elton John:

 

If even that doesn’t work, I’ll have to get out the super special secret anti-earworm weapon:

 

This will not only clear out all other earworms, it will burrow into your brain and be there for the rest of your life, only emerging at odd moments – like when you’re alone late at night, or when the police come for you.

But until then, I guess I’m all about that bass.

4/12/19: Keith Richards, bass player

Let me make one thing clear: I have great admiration for Bill Wyman’s bass playing. Although I’ve been a Rolling Stones fan since I was 13, I’ve only recently come around to appreciating how he plays. He’s perfect for the band. With two guitarists and a highly theatrical lead singer, Bill really had to be someone who can play relatively stripped down grooves. He was the calm center of the hurricane that is the Stones.

But I have to say that I’m a big fan of Keith Richards the bassist. His style is more melodic – It’s closer to the bass lines I usually enjoy.

If people do know that Keith played bass on any of the Stones songs, they probably know about “Sympathy for the Devil.” In my opinion, it’s one of the really iconic rock & roll bass lines.

 

I knew that Keith played on that and also on “Live With Me.” It wasn’t until I started writing this post that I learned he’s played bass on a lot of Stones songs, like “Street Fighting Man,” “2000 Light Years From Home,” and “Happy,” which of course he also sings.

 

Another song he both sings and plays bass on is “Before They Make Me Run” on Some Girls.

 

I heard that someone once asked Keith why he didn’t sing lead on more songs. He replied: “What the hell would Mick do?” I have a feeling that it’s the same deal with Bill Wyman, or more recently, Darryl Jones. Nevertheless, it would be fun to hear Keith do more bass playing on future projects, whether it’s Stones stuff or solo work.

 

 

 

Image by Corrie Barklimore. Creative Commons license 2.0.

3/30/19: Green

I’m in a great mood today because I have a new bass. It’s a little Hofner, and is an awesome shade of green.

There’s a lot of green around these days in general. Up here in the Northeast, it’s early spring, which is an enchanting time. A green haze starts to appear on trees and bushes as buds arise and bloom, and early spring flowers like crocuses and daffodils are appearing all over.

So I started thinking about songs about green things. Here’s a few that came to mind.

 

 

 

There are a lot of “green” songs out there and maybe I’ll revisit this color at a later date. But until then, let’s give Ken Nordine the final word.

 

 

Image by Sicnag. Creative Commons license 2.0.

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