I don’t often play favorites on this show; in fact there have been a couple of songs I genuinely disliked, but I covered them anyway because the story behind them was kind of interesting. And I think you’d be hard-pressed to identify those songs, because I do try to be even-handed.
I am going to take the time to gush about “Tiny Dancer” just a little bit, because it’s one of my favorite songs by Elton John, and it may even be somewhere in my all-time Top Ten, if I took the time to compose such a list. Actually, I’ve already taken that time, and here’s the episode.
Before you listen, however, I will note that my wife doesn’t really like this song, and I can’t convince her to sing along with me on the chorus. Ever. Spoilsport.
One of my favorite titles for an album comes from The Animals. They did a bunch of albums up to 1969, then for a year or two there were a couple of compilation albums after they broke up. But in 1977 the Animals reunited and released a new album, titled Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted.
I don’t know what made me think of that. Anyway. (heh.)
This was one of those episodes where, the more I found, the more there was TO find. And so what I thought would be a relatively short episode clocks in at close to twenty minutes. What a bonus for ye!
“Without You” has humble beginnings and a huge, happy ending, except for the composers, Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Although it was a huge hit for Harry Nilsson and later Mariah Carey, neither composer saw much money for it. They, themselves, didn’t see much potential in the song, so they buried it in the dead center of the album, at the end of Side 1. Then in 1975, after years of mismanagement and legal squabbles, Ham committed suicide shortly after learning that all of his money had disappeared. Then, in 1983, following a dispute over royalties from the song, which had been in escrow going back to the Apple Records era, Evans also committed suicide.
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A Sense of Pride for Having Helped Foster an Independent Creator
If you want to get technical about it, Looking Glass was NOT a one-hit wonder.
“Brandy” was, to be sure, their biggest hit and the song that most people identify with the band. But “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne,” the opening track from their second album, spent only one week less on the Billboard Hot 100 chart than “Brandy” did. Okay, it peaked at #33 while “Brandy” spent most of its chart life at or near the top, but still.
“Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” was actually a departure from their usual sound, which was a little more Jersey Shore Rock and Roll. This wound up creating a little trouble for audiences who came to see them expecting to hear an entire evening of “Brandy”-grade music, and it probably contributed to the demise of the band.
Founding member Elliot Lurie left the band in 1974 for a solo career, and by the end of the next year the band changed names twice and moved into a power pop/metal sound. That band, called Starz, did have a couple of hits and they do still play from time to time. Lurie, meanwhile, moved into the production and music supervision side of things for awhile, and occasionally returns to live performances.
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.
Roberta Flack was one of those artists that the label couldn’t quite pigeonhole, which meant that they couldn’t find a way to make her accessible to listeners. As a result, her first two albums got some positive press, but the sales weren’t especially great.
It wasn’t until after her second album came out that a track on the first album caught the attention of a first-time movie director by the name of Clint Eastwood. He called Flack at home and asked if he could use the song in his film, a psychological horror film about a disc jockey called Play Misty For Me. It took a little bit of convincing (about two thousand dollars’ worth), and the song made it into the film.
When Play Misty For Me turned into a hit, Atlantic Records finally saw the light and released a slightly shorter version of the song on a single, and it became the first of several big hits for Flack over the next few years.
What most people don’t realize is that Flack’s recording was a cover of a song written and recorded in 1957, and covered rather faithfully several times after that. But once it hit for her, the covers began to sound more like Flack’s version. And while the song finally becoming a hit made its writer a ton of money, the truth is, he’s never really liked anyone else’s recording other than the one his then-girlfriend made.
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.
What do you think? You like that picture? I PAID for that stock photo, like some kind of honest guy.
Despite this being perhaps The Hollies’ biggest hit in the US, it still managed not to make it to the Number One position on the Billboard Hot 100. It was kept out of that position by Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” for both of the weeks that it spent at #2 with a bullet. And for all that time on the charts (11 weeks altogether), that’s a pretty popular song, considering that nobody understands the words. At least, not until you’ve seen them. Then they totally make sense. Plus, I’d be willing to bet that it’s not about what you think it’s about.
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Shel Silverstein was a humorist, a poet, a cartoonist, and a musician who had a strong, if not especially obvious, influence on pop music through the late 1960s, up into the 1980s. Most people know him for his poetry books largely aimed at a children’s audience, but he also provided cartoons for Playboy Magazine, usually inserting a caricature of himself into the image:
And he’s also responsible for the dark, subversively comic Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book, an alphabet book you do NOT want your kids to read (but you should, because it’s hilarious):
But Silverstein was a songwriter who had an especially strong relationship with Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, and that led to a couple of their bigger hits, including a song that was essentially a parody of the rock star life, but it led to the sort of fame that only he could imagine:
You know the drill by now–Either you have the episode, or you’re looking to get it here:
Alice Cooper (the band, not the guy) had released two albums without much success, so they turned their backs on Los Angeles and went to Detroit (as you do, I guess), where the people were already listening to stuff similar to their own. It was during that time that Alice Cooper (the guy, not the band) found himself watching an old Bowery Boys movie and he liked something that one of the characters had said.
From that he came up with the song that made Alice Cooper (the band, not the guy) the kings of summertime, and gave Alice Cooper (the guy, not the band) a good reason to declare himself “the Francis Scott Key of summer.
As usual, your podcatcher is so clever that it’s probably found the file already, but if not you can click on the player below to download it yourself, or just listen right here.
And, of course, a kind word wherever you get your podcast needs filled would be a beautiful thing.
In 1971, Don McLean was a known artist but hadn’t yet hit it big with “American Pie.” Lori Lieberman was a 19-year-old singer-songwriter who’d recently scored a contract. Lieberman attended one of McLean’s shows and she was so struck by his performance
of the song “Empty Chairs” that she wrote a poem about it, more or less on the spot. She took the notes to her collaborators and they put together a song for her album. It became her first single, but it was quickly overshadowed when Roberta Flack covered it.
While the song was covered numerous times, including versions by artists as diverse as Perry Como and Michael Jackson, it wasn’t until The Fugees put together a hip-hop cover that the song gained new life. Lauryn Hill’s singing gives the song an extra emotional ache, perhaps because their original idea was to turn the song into a cautionary tale about substance abuse, an idea that the original writers didn’t support.
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