How many times now have I gone into the backstory with a song and learned that the person who wrote it says something akin to, “Yeah, I knocked that one off in about fifteen minutes.”
Oftentimes they also think that the song isn’t going to amount to very much, which I find kind of funny. But it also supports a working theory I have that it’s not always the song itself, but the way it’s presented. The Crickets (sans Buddy Holly) and a few others approached it one way, but Bobby Fuller and The Clash looked at it differently, and it paid off for them.
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.
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.
When the B-52s first hit the music scene, even their own reaction to the sound of their first album was “this is SO bleak!” because it was relatively unproduced. There was no reverb, no echo, no studio tricks filling out the gaps in the recording. And then they decided they liked it that way.
Their first single, “Rock Lobster,” was originally much faster. Then it was slowed down a little and made longer. Then it was cut down for the 45. Then it was cut down again for the radio. It didn’t matter; people liked it and they began to fill the clubs with their mashup of Surf Guitar and Punk with a splash of New Wave thrown in. The song never really tore up the Billboard charts but it’s still the B-52s’ signature song and we can’t imagine a performance without it.
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.
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!
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.
For those of you who don’t follow the show on Facebook or Twitter, I’ll be posting the pictures here in another couple of days, outlining the New Studio Project. My return to the Podcast Zone was delayed a little bit by a faulty cable I needed to replace, plus I was getting into a weird funk. But fortunately I got a mental boot in the butt by Greg Yates over at the No Head Trash Nation Podcast. I met Greg a few weeks ago when I was in Orlando and, while he considers himself a relative newbie to podcasting, I’m constantly finding myself saying “Yeah, this guy knows his stuff.” “Holy cow, he’s right.” He and I spoke face to face for about twenty minutes and I’m practically ready to follow him into a burning house. Anyway, Greg’s a smart guy and you should check out his show.
But first, you’ve been waiting forever for this show! And here it is! The songs in this show were actually selected several months ago, and I lost the list. (That does seem to happen to me a lot, doesn’t it.) It turned up when I was cleaning out a computer bag, and I took it as a sign from above. Or from my computer bag, whatever.
At any rate, you probably know that most of the songs I talk about today are covers, but I’m pretty sure I still have a couple of surprises for you. Go check it out.