4/1/2016: No April Fool’s joke, just a regular old article about music.

I love listening to different versions of the same song, especially when both are terrific.

A couple of my favorites are “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which was recorded by both Gladys Night & the Pips and Marvin Gaye (of course, a lot of other bands have covered it, too). Interesting that both artists were on Motown, and both released the song as a single.

Gladys released it first in 1967, and it went to #2 on the charts.

And Marvin released his version a year later; it went to #1.

Marvin Gaye’s version of “Grapevine” is more famous, but I love both of them. I don’t think I could pick out a favorite. He takes the sexy route on his version, and Gladys rocks out more on hers.

And then there’s “Viva Las Vegas.” I got to know the Dead Kennedys’ version first:

But then there’s Elvis. I love Elvis Presley, in a totally non-ironic way.

How can you possibly pick a favorite?

Listening to both versions back-to-back, I was struck by how similar they are. The tempos are almost the same, the arrangements aren’t all that different, and both Elvis and Jello Biafra really sell the vocals.

And speaking of Las Vegas …

3/28/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

Now you’ve done it. You’ve got me started on the Nicholas Brothers. Harold and Fayard. Genuises.

Fred Astaire told the brothers that this sequence (from the movie “Stormy Weather”) was the greatest movie musical number he’d ever seen. The virtuosity of their moves is just stunning.

And yes, that is Cab Calloway leading the orchestra.

Harold and Fayard’s parents were musicians who performed at a theater in Philadelphia. Because of this, they were able to observe the top African-American dancers of the day, and learned to dance by copying their moves. While still in their teens (actually, Harold was 11), they were performing at the Cotton Club.

Here’s a clip from 1936; Fayard would have been 21 or 22, and Harold would be about 15.

And here they dance with Gene Kelly in “The Pirate,” their last film. Both Kelly and co-star Judy Garland had to fight to get the brothers into the movie, and this sequence was cut from the film for many theaters in the South.

Okay, just one more. This is from the movie “Orchestra Wives,” and that’s Glenn Miller on the trombone.

 

Photo by Miika Silfverberg. Creative Commons License 2.0

3/21/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

Sometime after my third cup of coffee, I said to myself, “Why not play some ukrabilly?”

I saw this for the first time on Facebook. Facebook’s translations can be pretty rough, but thanks to one of the comments, I was able to find out that this is a Ukranian band called OT VINTA.

Check out this one; it’s even sillier:

OT VINTA’s website is http://ot-vinta.com. They have other songs posted that are more serious, and feature more of a traditional rock setup. But these are great – how can you feel sad when you’re dancing in a washtub?

 

Featured Image: “Dancing With the Storms” by JD Hancock. Creative Commons License 2.0

3/14/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

These are the Toelegu Pan Pipers from Toelegu Village, Havulei District, Isabel Province, the Solomon Islands.

When I talk about “Monday Funday Dance Party,” I’m serious about the dancing. If you’re in a place where you can cut a rug a little bit, you’ll just feel wonderful. And I say this with full knowledge that I am a terrible dancer.

I’m very impressed that these guys can play and dance at the same time. The dances themselves are not very difficult – even I could do that, after some practice. Of course, if I tried to play the pan flute at the same time, I’d just fall down. That’s one too many things for my brain to handle.

Check out the lower-pitched instruments and how they are being played, with those paddle things. I’ve seen Blue Man Group do something almost identical, but with PVC pipes (you’ll see it at about 1:30 in this video):

And Harry Partch’s Instrumentarium features instruments that also used pitched bamboo – the bamboo marimba and spoils of war come to mind.

http://www.harrypartch.com/#!instruments/csqv

You could make your own similar instruments, if you have access to PVC pipe and something to cut them to pitch (kids, and many adults, don’t try this. Too many opportunities to get hurt). And maybe some repurposed flip-flops for the paddles?

It should definitely be easy to make those cool shakers they’re wearing on their ankles. And so much fun while you’re dancing.

Featured Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

March 9, 2016

You can accomplish a lot in 90 years.

George Martin just passed away, and my thoughts are with his family and loved ones.

Some of you younger kids have probably never heard of George Martin. He’s a good name to look out for if you’re browsing through older music; he produced and arranged music for Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cheap Trick, America, Jeff Beck, Ultravox, and especially the Beatles.

I would argue that Martin did a lot to help shape the musical form we call rock. He brought orchestration into the Beatles’ recordings, and vastly increased rock’s musical vocabulary, adding nuance to a language then mainly spoken by teenagers.

If Martin had not been around in the 60’s, I wonder if we would have Jeff Lynne, King Crimson or Yes?

George Martin’s name is almost always linked with the Beatles. He worked on every album they recorded. I’m not putting down the Beatles at all, by the way – they came with their fantastic songwriting and their own ideas about arranging and producing. Martin helped them to realize their ideas, and added a few of his own.

And the next time you’re having an argument about whether the drums should have 12 dedicated tracks, keep in mind the Beatles’ albums were all done on either 2-track, 4-track or 8-track tape machines.

Here’s a wonderful tribute, courtesy of Paul McCartney.

http://www.paulmccartney.com/news-blogs/news/paul-mccartney-on-george-martin

And here’s one of my favorite Beatles tracks:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUMFp0F6mp0

2/29/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

Once upon a time, there was a 21 and under club called “Phil’s Bongo Room.” It doesn’t matter where it was; it’s been gone for a long time anyway. It was lost to an unfortunate infestation of luxury condos.

Anyhoo, it was fun and they had live bands and a floor that lit up like the one in “Saturday Night Fever.” I went there one night with two girlfriends; we were all about 13 or 14. They had a cover band that played “Jungle Love.”

Of course it was nowhere near what Morris & Co could do, but the band played really well and were a lot of fun to dance to.

The next song that the cover band played was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps.” Also a lot of fun, but not necessarily how I would follow up Morris Day & the Time. How about a little Sheila E instead?

 

Photo Credit: “Dancing With the Storms” by JD Hancock, via Creative Commons

February 15, 2016: Monday Funday Dance Party!

Quick note – I’m having some issues posting videos right now. I hope to have this worked out soon, but in the meantime you might see the video itself, or just text linking you to it. Sorry for the inconvenience, and I hope it doesn’t take any funday out of your Monday!

You feel alright? Good – put your hands on your hips, find that one in a million girl (or boy), and let’s do the mashed potato.

 

 

 

Brahms Festival 2016

I adore Brahms, and if I had the cash I’d be on a plane out to Detroit right now!

Thanks to Rich Brown of Good Music Speaks for turning us on to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s ongoing celebration of Brahm’s life & works. They’re doing all four symphonies, a Berio arrangement of Brahm’s Sonata for Clarinet and Orchestra (I had no idea that existed!), and even a beard contest. But trust me – that’ll be a tough one.

There’s even a beard competition, but trust me – it’s gonna be a tough one.

Here’s more info:

Source: Brahms Festival 2016

Photo courtesy of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (UK), via Creative Commons.

January 11, 2016: David Bowie

David Bowie died on Sunday at the age of 69.

In an age of macho bullshit rock & roll, he moved fluidly between styles of music, fashion, and taste, while writing great songs and lyrics.

If you haven’t listened to much of Bowie’s music, 1969 – 1983 is recognized as being his “peak” period, but he kept on working literally until the end of his life. The last album dropped a couple of weeks ago.

Here are a few of my favorites, starting with a perfect “Monday Funday Dance Party” song:

My first exposure to Bowie was this album. One of my good friends from high school was (and still is) a huge Bowie fan, and we used to play this a lot.

David Bowie Fun Fact: One of the many cool things Bowie did was introduce Stevie Ray Vaughn to the world on this record. SRV wound up having to leave the “Let’s Dance” tour when his own album began taking off.

One of Bowie’s first singles was the hit “Space Odyssey,” which leaves the hero floating aimlessly in space. This is the sequel, and things have just gone downhill.

“Ashes to Ashes” was released in 1980 and is just dripping with ennui, Weltschmerz, or what you might call “disco hangover.” It’s perfect to listen to when you’re sad and don’t want to feel better.

With Queen. I love how Bowie and Freddie Mercury sing together on this. Bowie is no vocal slouch, but Freddie just had an incredible voice. With that perfect technique and huge vocal range, it would be hard for most rock singers to perform with him and not sound like an amateur.

But Bowie is terrific here. He doesn’t do the dazzling swoops and glides that Freddie does, but he is just as effective a performer. A much better duet than Bowie’s later collaboration with Mick Jagger on “Dancing in the Streets.”

One summer in college, my friend Jen made me a couple of mixtapes. Yeah yeah yeah, cassettes = old people, I’ll be dead sooner than you will, blah blah blah. ANYWAY, One of the tapes was a Bowie mix. It had some great songs on it, including this one.

It’s kind of fun and playful, very melodic, and vaguely threatening; just how I like a song. One of these days I’ll learn how to play it.

I’m really sad that Bowie died; my thoughts are with his loved ones during this time. I’m also very grateful that he made so much great music during the time he was here.

Okay, just one more:

 

 

Image: Nico Martin via Creative Commonshttps://www.flickr.com/photos/nico7martin/

January 7, 2016

My wallen was stolen yesterday, right out of my purse. I guess you’d call it pickpocketing, except this wasn’t my pocket. Maybe “pickpocketbooking?”

Anyway, it sucks. I’m fine, and very grateful for that, but I now face a grand adventure in replacing all those little plastic rectangles that make life worthwhile. My bank has given me two completely conflicting answers about my debit card, and I do not look forward to my visit with the DMV.

In times like this, there’s really only one thing you can turn to. Two, really. Double bass drums.

And remember kids – teacher says:

  • If you prefer not to carry a purse, be sure to keep your wallet in your front pocket.
  • If you do carry a purse, make surely it’s securely closed. Don’t hang it on the back of your chair; place it on the ground between your feet.
  • Report the theft to the police – you might need a police report to replace some of your IDs.
  • Thieves are fiendishly tricky. Don’t beat yourself up if you get robbed.

Remember this: In 1999, famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma was performing in Manhattan. After the concert, he took a cab back to his hotel. He got out, and then realized he had forgotten his cello. His $2.5 million, 300 year-old Stradivarius cello. In the cab. In New York City.

The good news is, he got it back. But just imagine that moment when he realized where his cello was.

The Scream

So don’t feel so bad. As long as you’re okay, you have everything.

 

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