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160: Failing Upward, Vol 2

Pardon my allergies; I’ve sounded kind of rough for a week or so. There was a lot of throat-clearing to edit out of this one. I can’t even blame the Southern Studio on this one; it’s the direct result of spending too much time cutting the grass at home. (And THEN I can blame the Southern Studio a little bit, because I went there the next day and it certainly didn’t help matters.)

How does one spend too much time cutting the grass? By having an electric mower and starting the job with a battery that isn’t fully charged, that’s how.

This is an episode topic I’ve wanted to return to for a long time, but for some reason I kept procrastinating. But way, way back in Episode 11, I featured a bunch of songs that had mistakes in them which were discovered before the final product was released, but they decided they liked it better that way and ran with it. And today we return to that well for another dip.

The tough part with songs like this is curating the best ones to use. Led Zeppelin often left in stray noises because they didn’t really care (ringing phones), or because they were actually counting on it (squeaky pedal on Bonham’s drum kit). So finding one that was both inadvertent and improved the recording? Absolute Gold, Jerry. Similarly, The Beatles would make an error in rehearsal or elsewhere and decide that that was something they needed to retain/reproduce (e.g. the wine bottle rattling at the end of “Long Long Long”), so those weren’t really good candidates.

And, of course, you run into a story which is just plain wrong. Yes, Ronnie Van Zant was talking to the board operator when he said “turn it up” while recording”Sweet Home Alabama,” but he did not mourn the loss of doughnuts near the end. (What you’re hearing is, “Montgomery’s got the answer.”)

At any rate, I finally buckled down and did the necessary research, and I hope you have fun with this one as much as I did.

Incidentally, a big shout-out to the newest member of our Wall of Fame. Everyone say hello to Cousin Robert! If you want to join the family, you can click here to become a Patron of the show.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

152: Sundown (with guest Mike Messner)

This episode is a special one, boys and berries. Mike Messner, from the podcast Carefree Highway Revisited, joined me a few weeks ago to talk about the Gordon Lightfoot hit “Sundown.”

“Sundown” was Lightfoot’s only song to reach Number One on the Billboard Hot 100. During our conversation we each took our own approach to the song. So what you’re getting is a pretty well-rounded view of it.

In addition, we make a couple of fun diversions to another Lightfoot song and my own personal heartaches. It’s a fun ride, and I invite you to join us.

If you’re interested in listening to Mike’s show, you can click on the link in the first paragraph, or just do a quick search in your favorite podcatcher.

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Click here for a (partial) transcript of this episode.

151: More Obscure Christmas

Oh, I do enjoy breaking format once in awhile to do special episodes like this one.

For this year’s Christmas episode, I return to the songs that you don’t seem to hear on the radio when the stations are playing All Christmas All The Time. You’d think that with the huge catalog of recordings to choose from (even if the list of songs is relatively limited), radio stations could go on for literally days without ever repeating a recording. But no, we’re going to get Mariah Carey and Trans Siberian Orchestra over and over and over again.

There was one station that managed to have a pretty deep catalog one year. It was out in Colorado and I think I went four hours before I heard a repeat. So that was pretty good. I don’t think they’re still doing that, though, more’s the pity.

I took a little more time to script this show than I did last year, so for those of you who are interested, there is a transcript this time. Last year, I was working off of notes, and it clearly shows. Hey, you live and you learn. Or you don’t live long. (h/t to Lazarus Long)

Here’s the playlist for this year’s episode:

  • Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (1979 version)—Elmo and Patsy
  • Christmas Kisses—Ray Anthony and the Bookends
  • Christmas on the Block—Alan Mann Band
  • Crabs for Christmas—David DeBoy
  • Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)—The Darkness
  • How to Make Gravy—Paul Kelly
  • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town—Joseph Spence

And finally, let me note that Jenna Getty has come through again with a Christmassy version of the theme music, funded by the Patrons of the show. I haven’t mentioned this enough: Patrons of the show got a special hour-long episode a couple of weeks ago as an extra “Thank You” for their support. Plus they get the Newsletter with my lame blatherings every single week, whether a show drops or not. And if you become a Patron of the show, you’ll have access to all of that. If that sounds interesting to you, please click the link below.

Have a great and safe holiday!

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149: Musical Hookers

This image is a composite of photos taken by Mike Palmowski (streetscape, via Unsplash) and Sofia Alejandra (woman leaning on bed, via Pexels).

This whole episode came about because of a request by someone who wanted to hear the story behind a song. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot to it, but it got me thinking about other songs with similar subject matter. And now that I’m typing this, I realize that all the songs I discuss came from roughly the same period of time. What the hell was going on in the late 70s, anyway?

Ah, well. With this episode I feel as though I’ve bookended a series that I started all the way back in Episode 80. Here’s a couple of panels from a Sunday Doonesbury strip from 1979. Nerd that I was (OK, am), I remember when this first appeared:

For what it’s worth, “Songs about prostitutes” is a well I could come back to repeatedly. I’m not sure I have the mental stamina to do so, frankly.

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148: Another Chat With John Hall

John Hall, you may remember from a couple of episodes ago, is the founder of the band Orleans. He recently released a solo album, his seventh (if you count the John Hall Band material). After spending some time in local and national politics, he returned to Orleans and they’re still making music. In fact, at the time of the previous interview they were putting the finishing touches on Orleans’ first Christmas album.

That album is now finished and is available for your purchasing and listening pleasure. It’s called New Star Shining, and it’s a great piece of work. There’s a lot of original material, a traditional Christmas carol and a single song from more recent holiday music canon. For lack of a better term, it’s a kind of Yacht Rock Christmas album. I think the rowdiest track on it is their version of “Winter Wonderland.”

John and I met in the atrium of a Nashville hotel (more details during the show itself), and I do hope you’ll forgive a little ambient noise. Plus, there was a little bit of both of us fidgeting with our handheld microphones. For all that, once again John comes through as a very thoughtful fellow. By that I mean he’s not spouting out canned answers to the questions I asked (although some of them were inadvertentely rehearsed–my recorder failed and we had to start over again). And even with that technical glitch, he was both gracious and forgiving, and managed to make me feel not as stupid as I originally felt when I looked at the recorder in horror and realized what happened.

Also, I’m a complete idiot because I didn’t ask for an autograph, or a selfie of the two of us, or anything. So this recording is the only evidence that we were in the same space together.

As an aside, the next day I was in the Podcast Movement conference and chatting with the people from ElectroVoice Microphones. I was using some new EV microphones for the interview. I told them about my interview “right over there in the atrium,” and some of the issues I had with the fidgeting noises and such. While we chatted, one of the EV reps walked away and then came back. He handed me a box and said, “Here, try this one.” It was a different model microphone, which he said would probably solve that problem. Boom! Free microphone! I used it to record some other material you’ll hear in an upcoming episode and I think you’ll notice the difference! This is why I worship at the Church of ElectroVoice. I did get the opportunity to thank them again a couple of days later.

So here is my follow-up interview with John, which we did during the first week of August this past summer. Enjoy!

Sorry, no transcript available for this episode. Enjoy this instead.

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145: I Honestly Love You

Original cover photo by  awatif abdulaziz  on  Scopio

Olivia Newton-John was already a pretty big star by the time 1974 rolled around, but she still hadn’t scored a Number One hit.

Then along came Peter Allen, who was coincidentally also from Australia. Allen was putting together an album of his own, and he enlisted Jeff Barry to help him with the songwriting. Together they put together “I Honestly Love You” and cut a demo. The intent of the demo was to have something to work from when they recorded it for the album.

Instead the demo wound up in the hands of Olivia Newton-John’s producer, who played it for the singer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Except, not quite. There were a couple of other things that needed to happen. But if I told you here, why would you bother listening to the episode? I ask you!

Because this episode is running a few days late, you’re getting a treat: Episode 146, which will be an interview with John Hall, founder of the band Orleans, will drop either Monday or Tuesday, depending on how quickly I finish my post-production. Hall was a terrific interview and I hope to do a follow-up with him in the near future.

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144: Everlasting Love

The interesting thing about this song is that it was written for a specific singer. That said, it’s been a pretty big hit for many different artists over the years.

“Everlasting Love” was written in 1967 specifically to match Robert Knight’s voice, but it’s proven to be quite the malleable tune. It’s been rendered in R&B, in disco, in rock, in techno and god knows what else.

So the story behind the song isn’t incredibly interesting. Interesting, but not incredibly so. But the journey it’s taken to embed itself in the hearts of different generations is a fun one. Ride along with me, why don’t you?.

This is not the episode that I teased earlier. That one’s still coming; there’s an interview attached to it and we’ve had some scheduling issues.

As promised, here’s the video of the song by Sandra from 1987. It’s got a very 80s feel to it. I think that comes from the editing and the “backstage” feel it’s supposed to be conveying. I dare you to tell me I’m lying about the Natalie Wood thing:

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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.

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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.”

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140: Cars

When I was in high school, there was a guy I knew named Phil. Phil and I shared an art class, a class I had to be talked into attending because I’d had a bad experience with an art class in the eighth grade. But I was told that the teacher was really good and kind of a cool guy, and sure enough he was.

Mr. L, our art teacher, let us bring in our own music to listen to while we worked. So one fine day in the spring of 1980, Phil brings in a bunch of 45 records, and one of them was this song.

“Cars” was the kind of tune that, at the time, was unlike anything I’d heard before, and I was both fascinated and hooked. The first opportunity I had, I went out and got my own copy of the record (I wasn’t very album-focused yet), and played that record hard.

Numan didn’t see a whole lot more action in the United States after that, probably because New Wave came along and nudged him out of the way, but I don’t think I’ll forget the impact of hearing that record for the first time, even on that crummy, bulky, big brown nearly-portable record player that so many schools used.

In retrospect, it occurred to me that you kind of have to see the original video–at least the first minute or so–to understand what they were doing with part of the Die Hard commercial, so here’s the original 1979 video:

And here’s the Die Hard commercial in full:

What song did you hear that just knocked you out on the first listen? Tell me in the comments!

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