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.
It’s about time I got around to covering the Talking Heads, don’t you think?
Weirdly, a lot of their material is kind of under-researched, unless you’re willing to do deep dives into the biographies and such. However, that seems to be loosening up in recent years as more people get nostalgic about the 1980s. And now I’m realizing that that’s like my grandparents being nostalgic for World War 2.
Anyway, that, I think, is why I was able to find a decent amount of material for this song. It was the Heads’ first single and the one that encouraged David Byrne to keep on keeping on. Because, while it didn’t chart huge in the US (peaking at Number 92 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart), it gave him the understanding that there was, in fact, an audience out there for his rather peculiar musical style.
Meat Loaf was one of those performers who seemed to just come out of the blue, especially if you weren’t familiar with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But in the early and mid-70s he was better known as an actor than a singer. In fact, he was a comedic actor, given that Jim Steinman met him while the two of them were working on the National Lampoon‘s show Lemmings.
Steinman had written a show called Neverland a few years earlier, and while it had seen workshopping, it hadn’t seen much else, so he and Meat Loaf (or, “Mr. Loaf,” as the New York Times likes to refer to him) chose a few songs from Neverland and used them as the heart of a seven-song suite that comprised an entire album. Meat Loaf’s bombastic acting style and ability to sing combined to create a rock-and-roll soap opera that appealed to teenagers, especially inasmuch as the themes were aimed directly at their hearts…and maybe a couple of other organs. And it served him well when working with Todd Rundgren, who produced the album and thought that perhaps it was a parody of Bruce Springsteen records.
The first obstacle that Steinman and Mr. Loaf had to deal with was getting someone to fund recording and distribution based on the demos, which were usually live performances of Steinman on the piano and Meat Loaf (and occasionally Ellen Foley) singing for record executives, a process that took over two years. It got so bad that their manager once joked that they were creating companies for the sole purpose of rejecting Bat Out of Hell.
“Paradise” wasn’t a huge hit from chart standpoint (there’s a reason for that in the US, but you’re just going to have to listen in), but it did get a ton of radio airplay, and the promotional film that he shot also saw a lot of activity on MTV, especially considering that the song was over three years old by the time that channel made its debut.
I should make one more point: during the show I pulled some audio from an interview with Jim Steinman. I wanted to give some credit, but I have no idea where it came from. If anyone knows, please enlighten me and I’ll do what I can in that respect.
And, as promised, here’s the GoPhone commercial that Mr. Loaf and Tiffany appeared in. You may want to listen to the show first for a little extra context.
Hi, gang. I’m recording in the Southern Studio this week (and next week) so apologies for audio issues. It’s a lot harder to do what I do when I’m using different equipment to do it. Case in point: what you’re getting here is actually the SECOND recording of the show.
You see, when I record the show, everything typically saves to a home server that I have. Unfortunately, when I saved the narration file (the part where I do all the speaking), not only did my recording software crash, my entire computer died. Blue Screen of Death and everything. And unfortunately my work couldn’t be saved, so I had to record it all over again. Not TOO frustrating when it’s already after 11:00 PM.
So now it’s going on 3AM and I’m pretty cranky because it’s all recorded and I’m writing this while waiting for Auphonic to finish processing the file. However: I think I’ve put together a decent story for you to listen to, about the guy whose recording career was jacked up by a clash of egos, but who still managed to do a lot because one of his unreleased songs got into the hands of Steve Miller.
Thanks again to Larry Glickman for suggesting this episode; I went down a bit of a rabbit hole of research but it was definitely worth it to hear some new (old) material.
I should also note a correction to a goof I made in the body of the show: I mentioned that Pena appeared at a festival in 1999; upon listening back I caught the mistake right away but I’d already taken my recording equipment apart (another hardship of the Southern Studio is that there’s no studio). He actually appeared in 1995.
Out of the Blue was an honest-to-god masterpiece of an album, and probably the pinnacle of the Electric Light Orchestra’s use of the classical music instruments in rock and roll songs. And the centerpiece of this album was almost certainly Side Three.
The four songs that comprised that side of the album were collectively known as the Concerto for a Rainy Day, meant to evoke the emotional responses that we have to the weather. And when the sun emerges after a storm, and it’s just plain glorious outside, that’s the feeling that “Mister Blue Sky” manages to convey so masterfully. As Jeff Lynne himself said in the 2018 book Wembley or Bust:
The lyrics to ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ are simple and easy to visualize. When the song is playing, you can picture everything that’s going on and everybody knows what I’m talking about. It’s the thought of, ‘Oh, isn’t it nice when the sun comes out?’ And you know, it really is. ‘The sky is blue, wow, what a thing.’ It’s a simple kid’s story.”
A couple of housekeeping notes on this episode:
First, I screwed up some of the geography involved with Lynne’s writing of the album. The cabin was in Geneva, not Munich. However, he did record the rainstorm in Munich. Anyway, please forgive the error.
Second, I need to give credit to Soundjay.com for that needle-drop sound effect I used right before “Sweet is the Night.”
Third, some parts of this episode were a nightmare to record, so I’m sure my family is wondering why they heard me saying the same things over and over again. (This may also account for my geography error, too, but I should have caught that before committing the episode.)
Thanks for your patience as the show migrates from one server to another. As I noted on the social media, I’m working hard to make it as invisible as possible if you listen via Google or Apple or Spotify, etc. And the website here is going to look kind of weird for awhile with a lot of double posts for previous episodes, until I pick my way through and fix them, one by one. Fun, Fun, Fun!
This week, we’re taking yet another look at a few songs which you may not have known were covers, and nearly all of them were suggested by a listener named Kim, who didn’t feel that a shout-out was necessary, but obviously I don’t feel the same way. Kim had a list of songs that could work, and I said “Sure” to most of them, with a single exception, and that’s mostly because the story is a little convoluted and I may have to turn it into an episode of its own down the road a ways.
Anyway: a new hosting partner means a new player here on the webpage for you, and I do have a little bit of customizing control over it (something I didn’t previously have at all), so I’m happy to hear your suggestions. And, of course, please let me know if you hit any weird technical snags.
Aja, by Steely Dan, was one of the first albums I purchased with my own money. It wasn’t that I was so enamored by Steely Dan; I’d just heard a lot of good stuff about it so I took a chance.
And while fourteen-year-old me heard a ton of good stuff in it, doing a re-listen these many years later has only cemented this album in my Top Ten of all time. (Small wonder that so many others agree with me on that one.)
Aja was released to rather mixed reviews, but over a relatively small amount of time, many of the critics who didn’t like it at first were won over. It just took a second or third listen to appreciate that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were doing something genuinely new, fusing multiple genres into a cohesive whole.
As I strongly suggested during the show, go back and listen to this album with headphones. You’ll be amazed at the intimacy of every element on it.
Come with me on the Billy Joel Tour of Long Island!
This week we’re looking at Billy Joel’s longest studio track, from his breakout album The Stranger. Joel was inspired by the last half of Side Two of the Abbey Road album, which also involved several shorter songs stitched together into a longer suite. And, as matters would have it, it’s the last half of Side One of The Stranger. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.
The song mentions several places on Long Island that are pretty easy to identify. But the big to-do about this song concerns the location of that restaurant. Billy Joel gave shout-outs to a lot of people and places on Long Island, so what restaurant was he talking about? That’s one of the mysteries we try to answer this week.
David Bowie had already released ten albums by 1976, and he was starting to feel the effects of burnout and a heavy cocaine habit. So where did he go to escape his drug habit? To the world’s Heroin capital, of course: Berlin!
Fortunately for Bowie and ultimately his fans, Heroin wasn’t really his thing, and he not only managed to get healthy, but he also managed to find some creative juice in that city. He wrote, or co-wrote, material for three albums, although only the second one was recorded mostly in Berlin. Those albums today are called the Berlin Trio, or sometimes the Berlin Triptych. They didn’t get a ton of love at the time, largely because Bowie was Bowie and he was streets ahead of everyone else. But “Heroes,” the title track from the second album, grew in stature and in its level of meaning for fans everywhere.
OK, so I promised you a few videos during the show. The first one is his first time performing the song on TV, on the Marc Bolan show. The instrumentation is clearly different but I think he’s singing live-to-track:
The second video is the warm-up to the third. If you’ve seen this one, you can just skip down to the next one. But a lot of people have heard the song without seeing the nearly two minutes of awkwardness that preceded it:
It was for that holiday special that Bowie produced this video, which also appears to be a live-to-track recording, with some extra echo and those extra fun pantomime moves.
But while all that’s fun, it’s probably not what you came looking for. This is probably what you came looking for:
Kansas was literally on the last day of rehearsing for their fifth album when their producer asked them if they had anything else. Guitarist and songwriter Kerry Livgren reluctantly broke out an acoustic song that he was convinced the rest of the band would hate, because it was practically the opposite of everything Kansas had done until then. But it turned out to be exactly the opposite: they loved it, and they fine-tuned the song to give some of the other band members something to do (extra guitar, violin part, and a smidge of percussion), and it turned into the album’s second single and the biggest hit of their career.
And that’s about it, there’s not much mysterious about this song. It’s been either used or referenced in countless pop culture arenas, and it’s been successfully covered a few times, curiously enough by Country singers most of the time. Many people know about Sarah Brightman’s cover of the song, but I’m going to encourage you to check out last year’s recording by Caroline Jones. (No, I don’t know why she’s singing in a pond, unless she wanted to do the exact opposite of Kansas’ video.)
This may come as a complete surprise to you, but if you don’t have podcast software on your mobile device, you can listen to/download the show right here!