fbpx

143: Me and Bobby McGee

Since I was a young adult, I’ve liked listening to Janis Joplin. That bluesy rasp she always had going on really underlined her overall sound. And like so many others my age, I devoured her biography Buried Alive. One of the things that struck me then was the way so many of the people from her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, thought she’d ruined her voice because she’d sounded sweeter and purer as a teenager. Of course, they also bullied the hell out of her because she had an artistic mindset and she wasn’t a racist at heart. (She did drop the N-bomb from time to time because it was originally the only word she had in her vocabulary for Black people.)

The other thing that struck me was that in all of her photos she seemed like kind of a mess. Her hair was everywhere. She wore a million beaded necklaces. She had the baggy, shapeless clothes on. In short, she looked kind of scuzzy and while it kind of matched her sound, it belied the emotion behind her delivery. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I saw a black-and-white nude she’d done in 1967, that I was able to see her differently.

Kubernik: The 2020 Legacy of Janis Joplin

In that image, taken by Bob Seidemann but not released until after her death, her hair is a little more under control. She’s still wearing lots of necklaces, but now they’re nearly her only defense against the camera’s eye. She’s got some curves going on that you never suspected were there. But her face…her face is an expression of vulnerability, maybe even fright. You can see it in the cropped closeup to the right which I’m pretty sure is from the same session. Janis was always artistically naked on the stage, but now she was giving us a literal nakedness that allowed the young woman behind the bawdy broad to shine through.

And I think that might be at the heart of her rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee.” Janis was able to channel more of a bittersweet sound than her usual Kozmic Blues thing, and then when the band opens up toward the end of the record, she’s just along for the ride.

Click here to become a patron of the show.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

141: Fire and Rain

James Taylor was a talented guy, but early in his career he was having a tough time getting a break. Even when the Beatles signed him to their label, it was at a time that the label was coming unraveled and promotion was scarce. Plus, Taylor had his own issues to deal with.

It took some time but he managed to get his act together, get himself cleaned up and get some talented people to work with him on his second album, which fortunately wasn’t on Apple Records. With some support from Warner Brothers, Sweet Baby James became a hit album, and “Fire and Rain” became a breakout his for Taylor.

“Fire and Rain” is one of those songs that seems to have a lot of weird theories surrounding its subject matter, and the best I can tell you is that most of them are close, but not close enough to be considered correct. But the real stories attached to the song are more compelling, if not quite as exciting.

As I promised during the show, here’s a sample of the old Smokey Stover comic strip that I referred to:

For my money, some of that art suggests that Bill Holman was a big influence on the MAD Magazine crew. It’s also likely that Holman himself was influenced by George McManus, the artist behind “Bringing Up Father.”

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Click here to become a Patron of the show.

132: Knock Three Times

So I’m in the Southern Studio again this weekend, which means I don’t have a good handle on the way the show sounds until long after I’ve posted it. Also, I tried something very different with my workflow this week so I’m curious to know what you think of the way the shows sounds at your end. I won’t be upset if you think it stinks, promise. Next week I’ll be back in Baltimore, sounding more typical.

To tell the story of “Knock Three Times” we had to dive a little bit into the early career of Tony Orlando and how he got that way. Orlando had actually retired from singing and was doing well with producing and working in Columbia Records’ music publishing department, when someone asked him a favor: could you please record this for us?

Orlando said, “No thanks. You’re not even a Columbia label. “

They said, “Please? We’ll give you three thousand dollars.”

And Orlando said, “Don’t put my name on this or there’ll be trouble.”

Candida (song) - Wikipedia

So Bell Records kept their promise and released the record under the name Dawn. They even took the time to fake a photo of the band for the 45’s picture sleeve. Look at those guys over there. None of them are on this record. They’re literally just four guys in a photograph. The band was composed of session musicians and a couple of backup singers, including Toni Wine, who co-wrote the song.

This wound up being a good news/bad news thing, because “Candida” was a pretty huge hit worldwide, and Bell Records got hot for a follow-up track. Orlando went back into the studio with the same session players and made an entire album, including a second single, “Knock Three Times.” That song was an even bigger hit, and Orlando was forced to come out in the open, hire some genuine members of Dawn and go on tour.

But I’m pretty sure it worked out okay for him in the end, yeah?

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Click here to become a patron of the show.

Episode 108–Books on Vinyl

Last week’s show was short, time-wise, and I promised I’d make up for it. And make up, I did, because this is one of my longer non-interview shows, clocking in at 20:30. If you listen to this show during your morning commute, you may have to circle the block a few times before going in to work.

But it’s so packed with stuff that I don’t think you’ll mind. This week we’re looking at songs that were inspired by books, a topic that’s turned out to be HUGE, and we’ll be visiting again in the future if you’re digging it.

As promised here are links to the stories I talked about during the show.

This is the link to “The Sound-Sweep.” It’s a little on the long side, but I think you’ll like it.

This is Ray Bradbury’s “Rocket Man.” I think it was scanned into someone’s computer because there are some weird typos.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Episode 93–Vehicle

This week’s show was suggested by someone in the Listener Survey, so thank you, Kind Stranger, for making that suggestion. Maybe next time I do this sort of thing, I leave an optional space for putting your names in.

So the car in the episode artwork isn’t THE vehicle in question, but it’s the same make and model, and (I think) year. There are some stories that say it was a 1964 others that say it was a 1965. Both stories came from the Ides of March lead singer and songwriter Jim Peterik, so I went with a ’65 and called it done.

The Ides of March, incidentally, got their name from the play Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare. They were originally the “Shon-Dels,” but Tommy James got there first, with a name that was close enough not to matter. Bass player Bob Bergland suggested the name change after reading the play, because they were still in high school and he’d read it as an English class assignment. They’d already gained some local acclaim with a song called “You Wouldn’t Listen,” which went Top 10 on the WLS surveys in June 1966 and made it to #42 on the Billboard Hot 100. See? You thought the Ides were a one-hit wonder, didn’t you.

At any rate, here’s Episode 93. Have fun with it!

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Click here to become a Patron of the show.

Episode 92–Dancing in the Moonlight

Apologies for the delay; once again I’ve been at a podcasting conference and I got in from Boston a little later than I expected to. This one was geared entirely toward educational podcasts (and yes, I do consider this show educational, though it’s probably more in the “edutainment” corner), and I picked up a lot of information I’m hoping to take to my school and see what we can do about getting something launched with my students.

Aaaaanyway, I don’t have a lot of backstory to add to this one, other than that two separate requests for this came in through the Listener Survey (it’s still open; scroll down if you’re still interested in playing along), and because the surveys are anonymous, I have no idea who put the requests in. But thank you so much for your input!

No, wait, I lied. I do have another thing to add. When I was doing the research for this song, I discovered that most people don’t know that it’s performed by King Harvest, which makes sense since they broke up before the song was a big hit. But when you do the Google searches, some of the wrong guesses will pop up in your results. Some people think it’s Van Morrison, which is a pretty good guess actually, but he never covered the song. Neither did Elvis Costello, which is also a popular guess but not an especially good one. But the best guesses are the ones who kinda-sorta remember King Harvest but haven’t quite nailed it. That would be the nonexistent artist Kink Harris. It’s gotten to the point where you can do a search for “Kink Harris Dancing in the Moonlight” and get accurate hits to the song.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Click here to become a Patron of the show.

Episode 89–Woodstock

The Summer of 1969 was also the Summer of Woodstock. Hundreds of thousands of people made their way to Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York (they couldn’t get a permit for the town of Woodstock, but the posters had already been made, and you know how it goes…) for a few days of Peace, Love and Music.

Woodstock proved to be like nothing else, before or since. Attempts to replicate its feeling, or its scale, or anything else about it gets washed away by nostalgia and the sense that someone’s trying to make a buck off of it. And, of course, they are. They were trying to make a buck off the original show, too–in fact, the organizers were hoping to raise money to build a recording studio. That didn’t work out because financially the show barely broke even. But the film and record rights put them back in the black several months later.

Several acts were barely known at the time of the show, including Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (performing for the second time ever), and Sha-Na-Na, which opened for Jimi Hendrix. Most of them have found a place in the rock and roll firmament following the show (e.g. Melanie was a relative unknown; Richie Havens, who opened the show, was barely known, Santana had been around for ten years but hadn’t broken through yet); others were pretty much unheard-of afterward (Keef Hartley Band? ).

In the wake of the show were three things that gained lasting fame, and they all happened around the same time, in early 1970. The first was this:

The other two? We talk about those in this week’s episode. I’m no spoiler.

Speaking of which, if you want to see the telegram sent to the band in today’s trivia question, look under the spoiler button below this week’s episode.

Finally, this is the text of the telegram related to the trivia question for this episode. See if you can find the hidden message! If you’ve heard the episode and you want to see what I’m talking about, click the button to show the art. If you haven’t heard it yet, go back and listen first. It’s OK, we’ll still be here for you.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Click here to become a Patron of the show.

82–Under the Covers 4

itunes pic It’s been a long time since I did a show like this one, and the timing probably couldn’t have been worse.

As I note during the show, I’m on the road for the next several days, so I’ve got a condensed version of my usual recording setup. I can get the job done, but the recording and the editing process are very, very different from what I usually do. Typically after I write the episode I edit all my sound elements and then load them all into a piece of software that keeps them organized until I need them. Then I crack the mic open and play the elements as they’re needed. If I make a huge mistake, I have to find a point where editing won’t show. Because there’s usually background sound going on, I sometimes have to backtrack a lot. But generally it takes me 30-40 minutes to record a 15 minute show. Do a little editing and boom, it’s ready for processing and uploading.

This time around, it’s a gigantic jigsaw puzzle of my recorded voice, plus all the other elements patched in. Plus I have to control audio levels through software rather than through my mixing board, so it’s a whole other kind of thing. And maybe it’s me but recording this way kind of saps some of my vocal energy out of the project.

So after nearly a year, we return to the Well of Cover Songs, wherein we look at songs that you may not realize are covers of another artist’s work. And in my opinion, in each of these cases, the cover is the superior version. That’s not something you can always say (and I cite a specific example during the show).

At any rate, after a few hours of overtime, here’s Episode 82.

Episode 64–One Bad Apple

The Osmond Brothers got their real start in show business when they couldn’t get an audition for one television show, and they wound up on another.

Check out the audience reaction to them at first. It cracks me up every time.

This clip, incidentally, is from the show Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, which most people seem to remember as The Wonderful World of Disney. Shoot, I was watching the show as a small kid (right after Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), and remember it under the second title, which wasn’t a thing until 1969. This episode was called “Disneyland After Dark”, and the conceit behind it was that Walt Disney himself would start to introduce the different performers on the show, but he’d never see the acts himself because tourists kept interrupting him. The show, as it originally aired on NBC, was available on DVD for awhile, but appears not to be available now.

This would be later in the group’s career with Andy Williams, since Donny is part of the group now.

The Disney gig led them to another show (The Andy Williams Show), and another. And finally, when they wanted to break out of their Variety TV Group image, they convinced their dad to let them record as a rock and roll band. So off they went to Alabama, as you do, and they put together an album that clearly had a Motown/R&B influence on it.

It wasn’t their first album; in fact it was their SEVENTH. But it’s the one that broke big for them.

The addition of Donny Osmond to the act, and the use of him in exactly the way Motown was using Michael Jackson at the same time, allowed the Osmonds to release their first hit single, and their first Number One record.

What’s the secret to the song’s success? There’s a theory, and it involves fast food.

As usual, here’s the show for those of you who don’t dig podcatchers. And please share the show with someone you love.

Click here to become a patron of the show.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Episode 21–Edwin Hawkins

Sad news from the world of music this week as we learn that Edwin Hawkins has died at the age of 74. I have to confess that this came as a surprise because I started doing the math and realized that Hawkins was in his mid-20s when “Oh Happy Day” became a hit. For whatever reason I thought he was at least twenty years older THEN.

Hawkins was the founder of the Northern California State Youth Choir, and the choir recorded some songs to make a fundraiser album, which unfortunately didn’t get pressed until after the event for which they needed the money. That event was a choral competition, and the NCSYC came in second, perhaps because “Oh Happy Day” wasn’t one of the songs they sang. As it turns out, that wasn’t one of their favorite songs!

The unexpected success of “Oh Happy Day” led to the group being asked to provide the backup singing for Melanie’s tribute to her experience at Woodstock, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”.

The Edwin Hawkins Singers experienced some more success on the Gospel charts over the years, and lead singer Dorothy Morrison gained acclaim as a backup singer for several rock artists.

And I’m sure you know the drill by now, but if your RSS feed is failing you somehow, there’s always the player below for listening or downloading:

And please feel free to leave comments here, or leave a review on your favorite podcast software.