10/9/17: Monday Funday Dance Party

Ugh. It’s not just Monday, but a rainy, gloomy Monday. So I turned to one of my favorite feel better albums, Orchestre Baobab’s “Pirate’s Choice.” A fantastic album, it’s dignified and danceable at the same time.

But wait! There’s a new album! It came out at the beginning of the year, and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s a track from “Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng.”

 

My Monday just got infinitely better. Here’s hoping yours does, too.

 

 

Image by Jimmy Huang. Creative Commons license 2.0.

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10/4/17: A bit of wicked wacky-wicky

Have you seen the Carioca? It’s not a foxtrot or a polka.

It’s a song, it’s a dance, it will be stuck in your head all day. I was listening to the Fireballs’ version this morning:

What do I love about it? The riff, of course. And the fact that it’s in a minor key, which adds a little mystery to it. Plus the song’s rhythm is unusual and fun to dance to. Play it when you’re alone in the house – I dare you not to dance along.

“Carioca” is a word used to describes things having to do with Rio de Janiero. The song first appeared in the 1933 movie “Flying Down to Rio,” and was sung by Etta Moten Barnett:

The thirties were a very difficult time economically. People were unemployed and hungry, and their only recourse was to perform highly choreographed dance numbers on top of airplanes.

Besides the irresistably catchy “Carioca,” the movie features Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing together on film for the first time. I am a huge fan of Fred and Ginger, and heard the song for the first time while watching this movie.

The song has been covered frequently over the years – here are the Andrews Sisters doing it:

And here’s my personal favorite version, by Caetano Veloso. It’s haunting, like someone reminiscing about a very good time long ago.

9/22/17: Sunshine and rainbows and hysterical mutism

I’ve been thinking about CBGB’s lately. Back in the 90’s during my Doc Martin years, we played there a bunch of times.

I always liked playing at CB’s – they were really well-organized about the musical acts. You had your own dressing room (or shared one), so there was a place to keep your cases. And they had the onloading/offloading process between acts down to a science. We usually made a little money, too, and met some terrific musicians.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows; the ladies’ room was among the scariest I have ever dealt with. It’s hard to capture in words exactly what it was like, but let’s just say it really encouraged me to rethink this whole going to the bathroom thing. Thanks in part to that place, one of the skills I’ve picked up during my musical career is how to use the facilities without touching anything.

One night at CB’s, for some unknown reason (probably a little stage fright), I experienced what can only be described as temporary hysterical mutism. Nothing was coming out of my mouth. It happened mid-song, and I had to think fast.

What do you do when you’re in the middle of a gig and your voice gives out? You think fast. I made a split second decision to continue mouthing the lyrics, even though no sound was coming out. I did this for about a song and a half, when my voice came back online.

The poor soundman was going nuts. Every time I looked over at him, he was frantically working the knobs and faders, trying to turn up my nonexistant voice. I always felt bad about that, but in retrospect I think it was the right thing to do. If we’d stopped for a few minutes, I probably would have freaked out and stayed mute for longer.

Later on, reflecting my advancing years, I began to do gigs at CB’s Gallery, which was also a fun place to play. Much cleaner bathrooms, too. And I never went mute during a gig there – actually, the CBGB gig was the only time that happened.

Here’s a song by Syd Straw about CB’s. Her memories are different than mine, but it was the kind of place where memorable things happened. RIP CBGB OMFUG.

 

 

Image by Jeremy Keith. 

Creative Commons License 2.0. 

Golden Oldies

Have you read the book “Jane Eyre?” It’s one of my all-time favorites. I think I read it for the first time in junior high school, and even now I go back to it every few years. I do it because it’s a great story, and because I get something new out of it every time. As I grow older and change, I notice different things about the story and view the characters and events in a different light.

Music is like that, too. We all know about those musical numbers that have been played so often, you can’t stand them any more. Like “Stairway to Heaven.” Or “Born in the U.S.A.” Or “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

As I may have mentioned one or two or a hundred times on this blog, I’m a big Rolling Stones fan. I can listen to songs like “Honky Tonk Woman” or “Shattered” over and over again, but I realize that for a lot of people that would be torture. The Stones’ hits have been played so often, in so many environments from radio to stadium events, that we all know them backwards and forwards.

But I argue that it’s worth revisiting these old chestnuts from time to time. I think that if you can get beyond having heard them so often, you’ll always discover something new.

I have a Bach channel on Pandora, and it frequently plays something from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Now music from this piece has appeared in movies and TV ads and it’s on classical radio all the time; it’s kind of the “Stairway to Heaven” of classical music. But still.

Yesterday I was listening to “Fall,” and the Adagio movement came on. I literally stopped in my tracks to listen. It’s just so beautiful. It feeds your soul.

 

 

It’s always great to discover new music; that’s one of the reasons I started this blog. But the old classics can continue to give joy, whether it’s the first or fiftieth time you hear them.

Working it

The past few weeks have been pretty busy, thanks to some wonderful wonderful work. I know everyone hates waking up in the morning to get ready for their jobs, but it’s so great to have a reason to hate waking up.

It seems like the best working songs have to do with not liking your job, just like the best love songs are usually about affairs that either haven’t begun yet or have ended badly. I was really psyched to have this project, but I suspect that if I wrote a song about it, it wouldn’t be very good.

So just in time for Labor Day, here are a few songs about not liking your job. Even if you do.

 

 

Photo by Matt MacGillivray. Creative Commons License 2.0.

7/17/17: Monday Funday Dance Party

I love this song because it gets to the heart of what a pop song should be – music for dancing and having a good time. Shaking your booty is optional, but encouraged.

Yes, slow, romantic songs also make amazing pop, but this is Monday Funday Dance Party, after all. Besides, I have a thing for songs that are so insanely happy that it may actually annoy the more mellow listener.

And the video! Happy toast and drunken squirrels. Does it get better than that?

 

7/10/17: US3 & Herbie Hancock

I was always a big fan of this song. I knew they were using samples from Blue Note recordings, but never bothered to track down the original source material.

 

But then it came and found me. I was listening to the radio, and some Herbie Hancock came on:

 

It’s great to listen to the original and compare it to US3’s interpretation. Both tracks are great, by the way, but right now I’m all about Herbie and his Cantaloupe Island.

 

 

 

Image by Larry Johnson, CC License 2.0

6/20/17: CDs and OCD

I own many many CDs. LPs and cassettes as well, but it’s probably less than a hundred records versus a couple hundred cassettes versus over a thousand CDs.

I keep most of the CDs in these big zippable folders that hold about 200 each. They’re organized by artist (last name first), in chronological order by release date. Compilations and unclassifiable go at the end. Classical music is separate from jazz and rock/pop, and is organized by composer’s last name or artist’s last name. CDs with packaging that I like are not put into folders, but stored elsewhere.

This is the only area of my life in which I display any ability to be neat and organized, by the way.

But my weird control issue with CDs stops the minute one leaves the folder. After that, it can go drifting around the apartment for months before it gets re-filed.

Unfortunately, a few of my favorites are missing now, and have been for some time. Thanks to music streaming services and the internet, I can always listen to the music, but there’s something special about the actual physical object that you associate with the source of a musical experience. Also, I have a gap in my collection where a CD should be.

Image – publicdomainpictures.net

6/14/17: Walking the Blues

At the age of 15, I was listening to Culture Club and ABC and Prince and Heaven 17 and Sheila E. Everything was shiny and clean and super-produced.

But I also listened to the Rolling Stones, and that led me down a really interesting musical path.

My nature, when I run into a new band or style of music, is to learn everything I can about it. So when I got into the Stones at the age of 13, I got every book and magazine article I could find. I knew how Keith strung his guitar, I knew about the sleazy apartment he and Brian and Mick lived in, I knew Mick went to the London School of Economics, I knew Charlie Watts didn’t drive and collected Civil War memorabilia.

I also read about what kind of music they had been into. That’s where I first heard the names Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson and Willie Dixon.

We had cassette tapes back then, and cassette Walkmen, and I took my cassette Walkman on very long walks listening to the blues or maybe some Culture Club or Fun Boy Three. I think comparing the two kinds of music really got me interested in the blues; I’d rather hear the comparatively simple production value of a Muddy Water or Sonny Boy Williamson album than the shiny, shiny highly produced sound of Eighties Pop.

I’m not talking abut that hissy sound you get from all old recordings. I’m talking about remarkable songs, beautifully performed, and recorded simply. That’s what got me.

Ebeth fun fact: My uncle, Pete Welding, had a blues-based record label called Testament Records. That’s not why I got into the blues, but it was always cool to look on the back of an album and see liner notes written by Uncle Pete.

“Blind” Connie Williams: “Trouble in Mind”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqi_7bGwy-U

This is from Uncle Pete’s label. Williams, an extraordinarily talented guitarist and accordion player, attended the same school for the blind as Ray Charles (that’s according to Uncle Pete’s liner notes). The song itself has been recorded by a lot of folks; I know Nina Simone does a great version.

To many people, “Rollin’ Stone” is is the “Stairway to Heaven” of blues music, but I love it. I can remember walking around the suburbs of northern New Jersey with this on my headphones.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T2hygHu8CI

There’s a whole Rolling Stones subtext to this post (as with my life), and if you ever wondered where the album title “Get Yer Yas Yas Out,” ask Blind Boy Fuller. Holy cow, listen to that playing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ciH8BULldU

If you let it, music will take you on some amazing journeys – this is where being a Stones fan has brought me. And there’s so much more to know! I’ll never know everything about music, and that what makes it so magical. Every day, it’s something new.

 

 

Image provided by Kevin Dooley, CC License 2.0.

6/12/17: Monday Funday Dance Party

The Eighties were a very fashionable time. Lots of evening wear, rhinestones and stiletto heels.

We had to do that, you know. We’d just spent close to ten years marinating in seventies fashion, which featured all of the beards and denim we see today, but without the man buns and rompers.

Thank goodness for ABC, and David Bowie, Klaus Nomi, and other fashion-forward non-beard wearers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a70yJwgQtzo

By the early nineties, we were sick of all those shoulder pads and hair gel, and grunge had to happen. Then it was back to glamour with the resurgence of cocktail music.

So, man bun people, be careful with your fashion. One day, and it will be soon, all those buns and beards will be converted to dinner jackets and cuffed evening trousers. The future is inevitable, and it will be fabulous.

 

Screencap of Klaus Nomi from “Lightning Strikes” video