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.
Warren Zevon was a talented musician and songwriter who had a lot of friends in the business, but didn’t have the commercial success that his contemporaries had.
One day in 1975 he, along with guitarists Waddy Wachtell and LeRoy Marinell, are just goofing around with their guitars when someone asks them what they’re playing. Zevon, referring back to a joke he’d recently heard, told that person that they were writing “Werewolves of London”. The joke actually started to take shape, but was quickly abandoned.
That is, until other artists picked it up. According to Wachtel, it was one of the toughest recordings he’d ever done, but the appeal of the finished product—to practically everyone but Zevon—was undeniable.It became Zevon’s highest-charting single, and even at that, it wasn’t the monster (heh) hit people remember it being.
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.
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.
Yeah, I know it’s supposed to be spelled with periods, but that really screwed with the file names, so let’s all just live with it, OK?
Victor Willis was hired on to be the voice of the Village People, but like Ron Dante and The Archies, he was pretty much all there was to the band until they needed to put in some live appearances. So, like The Monkees, a casting call went out. Sure, the criteria for being in the Village People were a little different from being in The Monkees, but most of the group was cast based on their ability to dance (and, presumably, grow a moustache) rather than on their musical talent.
But as a result of this, and the fact that Willis was a writer or co-writer on most of the Village People’s biggest hits, the group has gone through some lengthy legal hassles in recent years. In 2012 he regained some control over the tracks, and in another lawsuit he stopped performance of that year’s incarnation of the band when he discovered that recordings involving him were being used to promote the show. Recently–just a few weeks ago–he announced that he was going to re-boot the group, which also includes finding new characters to play the various parts.
But enough nonsense. Listen to the show and enjoy the effect that all the pollen in Baltimore is having on my voice.
Incidentally, here is the American Bandstand clip. From everything I’ve heard about Dick Clark, I’d be willing to bet that he was the one who caught the kids’ actions and told the tech crew to capture them on camera so that he could not-so-subtly coach the group into adopting the arm letters. .
The Isley Brothers were an act that seemed to do well on stage, but they were having difficulty getting traction as far as record sales or radio airplay were concerned. While performing in Philadelphia, Ronald Isley recognized that their cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops” was getting a terrific response from the audience, so he started ad-libbing a call-and-response section to keep the song going. It worked out so well that they kept doing the bit, and when they’d finished the series of performances, their producers suggested that they turn the bit into a single of its own. And a gigantic hit was born!
Ha, Ha! Just kidding. The song only went to #47 on the Billboard charts. But it became a popular party tune, and was covered repeatedly by numerous artists, including Lulu, who was only 13 years old and still performing as Lulu and the Luvvers. Here’s her 1965 appearance on Ready Steady Go. I like the full ending she puts on the record, and the way she gives up lip-synching before she’s quite done:
Finally, 1978 rolled around and the song was used in the film National Lampoon’s Animal House, performed by a fictional band called Otis Day and the Knights, which re-activated the song’s popularity (and contributed heavily to the Isleys getting Gold certification for their version), and allowed the singer of the band (not the guy you see on stage, that’s a lip-synching actor) to put a real Otis Day band together and go on tour. Over ten years later they recorded an album with a new recording of “Shout”.
If you usually get your podcasts from somewhere else, well, you should already have it by now. Either that or you ran out of data on your plan and you’re waiting for the next cycle to come around. But anyway, if you listen and/or download from here, have at it:
And, of course, ratings and reviews are always welcome. Which reminds me to send a big Thank You to StampingJulie, who was too kind to me over at Apple Podcasts recently.
Gerry Rafferty was pretty much a known element to music fans as the voice behind Stealers Wheel and the song “Stuck In The Middle With You,” but by the time that song came out, Rafferty had quit the band, which had to shoot the promotional film (they weren’t quite called “videos” yet) without him. The guy lip-synching the vocals is Rafferty’s partner Joe Egan. Shortly afterward, Egan talked Rafferty into coming back into the band, and they managed to put together their contractually-required third album.
Rafferty and Egan split up again, and the legal battles prevented both of them from recording for three years. But that didn’t prevent Rafferty from writing songs in the interim. And it’s pretty clear that “Baker Street” was a reflection of his mood through all the legal craziness that went on.
But while the song was a huge hit internationally, there are two pockets of controversy surrounding it. One stems from that haunting saxophone solo, and the other comes from the fact that, at the time, no other song had spent as much time in the Number 2 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart without ever reaching Number 1. (The “Most weeks at #2” record has been surpassed many times since then, but the six weeks that “Baker Street” spent there was the record in 1978.)
As usual, if you have Podcast Republic or some other podcatcher, you should already have the show, but if you prefer to listen or download from here, feel free:
Let me give an extra shout-out to Co.Ag Music, a YouTube channel that provided some of the moody music near the end of this week’s show. They’ve got some cool stuff going on over there, especially if you like music with a science fiction bent to it.
No show next week! I’ll see you on July 21 with something really special (no hints)!
While I’ve made the joke in the past about a band taking ten years to become an overnight success, Dire Straits was successful almost from the jump. After a false start with EMI records, the band found a friend in a BBC disc jockey to whom they’d merely turned for advice. That DJ liked what he heard and started playing their stuff, which turned into a contract with a local label, and which they parlayed into a contract with Warner Brothers Records. And all of it in about the space of a year.
Knopfler composed the song on the National Steel guitar you see in the picture here, but he wasn’t happy with it until he played it on a 1961 Stratocaster. He was so happy with the way it sounded that he stuck with the Strat for years afterward.
Given that Dire Straits was their first album, and it did so well worldwide, it was pretty clear early on that Knopfler is a ridiculously talented guitarist who has a way of making it look easy, and it seems to me that unless you’re a music aficionado, his talent is generally under-appreciated.
By now your favorite podcatcher should have this week’s show in your device, but if not, you can listen to it right here: If you’d prefer to download the episode directly, you can do so by going to this link (autoplays in a new window).
Hey, everybody makes a mistake now and then. That’s why they put erasers on pencils, am I right?
But once in awhile, someone will make a mistake that manages to enhance rather than detract (“Eminence Front,” I’m looking at you.). And that’s where we’re going this week: we’ll look at four songs that had mistakes in them where the artists made a conscious decision to keep the error in place because it actually makes the song a little bit better.
And, as usual, you can listen to the show via your favorite podcatcher, or you can just play/download it from right here:
And any feedback is good feedback…especially if it’s good feedback. so please take the time to leave a rating on iTunes or whatever app you’re using to listen to the show. Much appreciated! And for your efforts, here’s a video clip of the the engineer’s point of view behind one of the stories in the show: