Saturday, February 24, 2018

Ramsey Lewis Trio – "The 'In' Crowd" (1965)


If it's square
We ain't there

Are you in with the “in” crowd?  Do you go where the “in” crowd goes?

Do you know what the “in” crowd knows?

Last but not least, is it easy for you to find romance?

Here’s how 2 or 3 lines would answer those questions: yes, yes, yes, and YES!

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Dobie Gray’s recording of “The ‘In’ Crowd” made it #13 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in 1965.  

The Ramsey Lewis Trio recorded an instrumental version of the song later that year at the Bohemian Caverns night club in downtown Washington, DC, which made it all the way to #5 on the “Hot 100.”  It sold a million copies and won the Grammy for Best Jazz Performance (Small Group)


We’re featuring the Ramsey Lewis Trio version today because it was recorded by a trio.  (Doh!)

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Ramsey Lewis is a jazz pianist who recorded some 77 albums between 1956 (when he was only 21 years old) and 2011.

Lewis is 82 years old, and has seven children, fourteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.  (Let’s hope he lives long enough for that great-grandchild number to become much bigger.)

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Here’s “The ‘In’ Crowd”:



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Friday, February 23, 2018

Drive-By Truckers – "The Three Great Alabama Icons" (2001)


I grew up in north Alabama back in the 1970s
When dinosaurs still roamed the earth
I'm speaking of the three great Alabama icons: 
George Wallace, Bear Bryant, and Ronnie Van Zant

If you had to name an iconic political leader, an iconic athlete/coach, and an iconic musician from your state, who would they be?

That’s not as easy to do as you might think, is it?

For example, take Maryland – where I’ve lived for about 35 years.  I think you’d have to go with Spiro Agnew as the political figure.  (I doubt that you can name another Maryland politician – plus  corruption is endemic to Maryland politics, and Agnew was as crooked as they come.)  

George Wallace
Cal Ripken, Jr., would be the obvious Maryland athlete to go with.  (He grew up in Maryland, and played every game of his storied major-league career for the Baltimore Orioles.)  

But who would be the musician?  (I suppose the third icon doesn’t have to be a musician – you could go with an artist or an author or a movie director.  John Waters, who directed Pink Flamingos and Hairspray, is closely identified with Baltimore, and he would be a good choice as a non-musician artistic icon.)

Paul “Bear” Bryant
Massachusetts has an obvious political icon: John F. Kennedy.  And you couldn’t go wrong choosing either Tom Brady or Bill Belichick as your athlete/coach icon.  

But just like Maryland, Massachusetts is a little short of iconic musicians.  (Who would you pick if you had to?  James Taylor?  Carly Simon?  Donna Summers?  Tom Scholz of Boston?  Rob Zombie?  The singer from the Dropkick Murphys?  Bobby “Boris” Pickett? )

Ronnie Van Zant
What about Arkansas?  The political icon is easy – you’ve gotta go with Bill Clinton, right?  And there are plenty of great musicians from Arkansas – Johnny Cash may be the most iconic.  

But if you’re picking three iconic figures to represent Arkansas, one of them has to be Walmart founder Sam Walton – I’d include him instead of an athlete.

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Patterson Hood – a native of Muscle Shoals, Alabama – got the idea of writing a screenplay about growing up in the South around the time of the plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines of Lynyrd Skynyrd long before he formed Drive-By Truckers.

The screenplay idea was later transformed into Southern Rock Opera, the band’s third studio album.  


But after recording the songs that would become Southern Rock Opera, the group didn’t have enough money to put the record out.  So they printed up a prospectus and solicited investors, eventually raising $23,000 – which enough for them to manufacture 5000 copies of the double album in 2001.  (There was enough left over to buy a used van so the band could tour.)

The critics loved Southern Rock Opera, and the Drive-By Truckers signed a distribution deal with Lost Highway Records, which re-released the album the following year.

Here’s “The Three Great Alabama Icons,” a seven-minute-long spoken track from Southern Rock Opera:



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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Three Dog Night – "Lady Samantha" (1969)


The tales that I told round the fire every night
Are out of proportion and none of them right
She is harmless and empty of anything bad

Three Dog Night’s Suitable for Framing was one of the albums I listened to over and over when I was a senior in high school.

I didn’t brag about it, of course.  I viewed Three Dog Night as a lightweight band, and would never compare them to Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones or the Doors.  I’m actually surprised that I bought one of their albums.


Three Dog Night put out a lot of good singles – their first hit, “One,” is one of the best singles of its era – but they put out some pretty hokey stuff as well.

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Three Dog Night made a living off other people’s songs.  They wrote a few of the songs they recorded, but mostly did covers.

You’ve got to give them credit – they chose songs written by some of the very best songwriters of the sixties and seventies.  I’m talking Harry Nilsson (“One”), Laura Nyro (“Eli’s Coming”), Randy Newman (“Mama Told Me Not to Come”), Robbie Robertson (“Chest Fever’), Dave Mason (“Feelin’ Alright”), Neil Young (“The Loner”), Tim Hardin (“Don’t Make Promises”), Hoyt Axton (“Never Been to Spain”), and many others.

I didn’t know until recently that today’s featured song, “Lady Samantha,” was an Elton John-Bernie Taupin song.  In fact, “Lady Samantha” was Sir Elton’s first American single.  (It didn’t chart.)


Three Dog Night’s cover is quite similar to John’s version, with one important difference.  For some reason, John repeated the first chorus in what seems like a blatant attempt to stretch a too-short, two-verse song to an acceptable length.  

You can repeat the final chorus.  Hell, you can repeat it five or six times if it’s really good.  But you shouldn’t repeat the chorus the first time you sing it.

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I can’t think of a band other than Three Dog Night that had three lead vocalists.  (Plenty of groups have three singers, but there’s usually only one lead vocalist.  The others may occasionally get to sing lead, but are first and foremost backup singers.)

I took my older kids to see Three Dog Night perform live at the annual “Hometown Holidays” celebration in Rockville, Maryland.  I’m thinking it was the early nineties – maybe ’92 or ’93 – but I can’t be sure.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t perform “Lady Samantha,” which was never released as a single.

Here’s Three Dog Night’s version of “Lady Samantha”:



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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Johnny Bond – "Three Sheets in the Wind" (1963)


I bought me a boat
Nine cases of gin
Now I’m sailin’ high
Three sheets in the wind

Enville is a small unincorporated community in located just north of Lake Texoma (which divides Oklahoma from Texas).

The story goes that Enville’s name is a contraction of the phrase, “End-of-the-road-ville.”  I don’t know if that’s true, but I hope it is.

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The most famous native of Enville was Cyrus Whitfield “Johnny” Bond (1915-1978), a country-western singer and movie star who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame 1999.

When I was in college in the early seventies, I won a copy of The Best of Johnny Bond by calling into the college radio station and answering a trivia question.

(The price was right!)
I had never heard of the guy – I was not at all into country music in my college days – but I really enjoyed his album, which consisted mostly of songs about cars (like “Hot Rod Lincoln” and “The Great Figure Eight Race”) and songs about drinking (including “Sick, Sober and Sorry,” “Ten Little Bottles,” and today’s featured song, “Three Sheets in the Wind”).

Sadly, the album did not include his #5 hit single from 1947, “So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed.”

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How did “Three Sheets in the Wind” come to be used to describe someone who is very inebriated??  

From The Word Detective:

The first example of “three sheets to the wind” found in print so far is from 1821 (in the form “three sheets in the wind”), but the expression is almost certainly much older. . . .

Nine out of ten urban legends about the origins of words or phrases erroneously trace them to seafaring traditions and the age of tall ships.  There’s even an acronym for the folks who propagate this nonsense: CANOE (Committee to Assign a Nautical Origin to Everything).  But “three sheets to the wind” really does have a nautical origin.  The “sheets” in the phrase are the lines (ropes) that hold a sail in place.  If one of the “sheets” . . . comes loose, the sail flaps in the wind and causes the ship to lose power.  If two sheets are loose and fluttering in the wind (or “to the wind”), you’re in major trouble, and “three sheets in the wind” means the ship is uncontrollable, reeling like a drunken sailor. . . .


But there’s an alternate explanation as well, as this excerpt from a 1994 letter to the editor of the New York Times explains:

An inebriated person is often said to be a certain number of sheets to the wind.  Uncertain whether this is three or four, you still suggest that the expression comes from sailing.  Many have drawn this connection, because the line, or rope, controlling the trim of a sail on a sailboat is called a sheet.

The true origin of "three sheets to the wind" was disclosed to me by a Nantucket sailor. . . .

The old Dutch-style windmill on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, which is still grinding cornmeal for the tourists, has four wooden vanes to which are attached four sails -- or more properly, sheets.  If the miller leaves one off, only three are presented to the wind.

The mechanism is then severely out of balance, and in a fresh breeze the entire structure of the mill goes into a violent and potentially destructive shudder, evoking the image of a staggering drunk.

Letting go a sailboat's sheet to flap in the wind usually gets the skipper out of trouble by causing the boat to come up into the wind on an even keel -- the opposite of the metaphor intended.

That certainly clears things up, doesn’t it?

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Here’s Johnny Bond’s recording of “Three Sheets in the Wind” which has a 3/4 time signature:



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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Don Cherry – "The Third Man Theme" (1950)


You never knew that you could be
Enchanted by a melody
The years will never drive it out

The years will never drive the most famous piece of zither music ever recorded out of my brain.  It’s embedded there forever.

Of course, I’m speaking of the theme to the 1949 movie, The Third Man, which was composed and recorded by Anton Karas.

Here’s the original trailer for The Third Man, which prominently features Karas's theme:


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Karas was an obscure Viennese zither player who was discovered by the film’s director, Carol Reed, quite by accident. 

From Karas’s Los Angeles Times obituary:

Karas, an unheralded musician in a Vienna wine tavern, was discovered by British director Carol Reed, who came here just after World War II to direct Orson Welles in “The Third Man.”

Reed, desperately searching for a theme tune for his villain Harry Lime, chanced on the tavern in Vienna's Grinzing wine-growing district.

Struck by the simple zither melodies, Reed asked a stunned Karas if he would compose the music for the film.  Karas protested, saying he had never actually written music.

Anton Karas playing the zither
As Karas later told the story, the director insisted and invited Karas to England.

The Austrian became homesick and asked to be allowed to return.  Reed told him he could – as soon as he had written the music.  

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The Third Man, which has a 99% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is considered by many to be the greatest British film ever.  A half million copies of the movie’s theme song – known as ‘The Third Man Theme” in the U.S. and “The Harry Lime Theme” in the UK – were sold within weeks of its release.  It topped the Billboard “Best Sellers in Stores” chart for 11 weeks in 1950.

Anton Karas became an international star.  He performed for members of the British, Dutch, Swedish, and Japanese royal families as well as for Pope Pius XII.

The popularity of the movie’s theme also caused a dramatic upsurge in the sale of zithers.  (I’m guessing that most of them were never played.)

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I learned to play “The Third Man Theme” on the piano when I was a teenager – long before I saw the movie.  I still have the sheet music:


  
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American historian Walter Lord, whose most popular books were A Night to Remember (about the sinking of the Titanic) and Day of Infamy (about the attack on Pearl Harbor), wrote lyrics for “The Third Man Theme” the year after the movie was released.

Here’s a 1950 recording of “The Third Man Theme” with Lord’s lyrics by Don Cherry, who is accompanied by the Victor Young Orchestra:



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Monday, February 19, 2018

Doors – "Shaman's Blues" (1969)


There will never be another one like you
There will never be another one who can
Do the things you do

The music that was released when I was a senior in high school holds a special place in my heart.  If you don’t understand why that is, there’s no point in my trying to explain.

The Soft Parade was the Doors’ fourth studio album, but it was the first one I bought – when I was a senior in high school.  

I purt near played it to death – particularly the B side, which featured “Wild Child,” “Runnin’ Blue,” “Wishful Sinful,” and “The Soft Parade.”  (“YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!”)


But today we’re featuring a song from the album’s A-side, “Shaman’s Blues,” because it’s in 3/4 time.

In case you haven’t figured it out – and it appears that none of you have – this year’s “29 Songs in 28 Days” theme is the number three. 

Every song featured on 2 or 3 lines this month has the word “three” in the title, or was performed by a three-piece group, or has some other OBVIOUS connection to the number three.

Except that connection was obviously not so obvious to the loyal but mostly dull-normal*** readers of 2 or 3 lines.   

(***According to Webster’s, a dull-normal person is someone “having an intelligence level on the borderline between normal intelligence and mental deficiency.”  SOUND LIKE ANYONE YOU KNOW?)

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Here are a dozen other songs in 3/4 (or 6/8) time:

– “Manic Depression,” by Jimi Hendrix

– “House of the Rising Sun,” by the Animals

– “I Put a Spell on You,” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

– “I Got You Babe,” by Sonny & Cher

– “Mr. Bojangles,” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 

– “Norwegian Wood,” by the Beatles

(Don't you just hate it when that happens?)
– “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” by Aretha Franklin

– “How Can I Be Sure,” by the Young Rascals

– “Scarborough Fair,” by Simon & Garfunkel

– “What’s New Pussycat?” by Tom Jones

– “Breaking the Girl,” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

– “Nothing Else Matters,” by Metallica

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Here’s “Shaman’s Blues”:



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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Len Barry – "1-2-3" (1965)


Like takin’ candy
From a baby

It seems appropriate that “1-2-3” had three co-authors.

Len Barry, who sang the song, was one of the songwriters credited with “1-2-3.”  Barry was once the lead singer of the Dovells, the Philadelphia quartet whose biggest hit was “Bristol Stomp” in 1961.  (By the way, Barry’s real name was Leonard Borisoff.)

The other two songwriters who contributed to “1-2-3” were John Medora (a/k/a John Madara) and David White.

John Medora and David White in 2013
Medora and White had collaborated on other hits.  With the help of Artie Singer, they wrote “At the Hop,” a #1 single for Danny and the Juniors in 1958.  (The song was famously performed at Woodstock by Sha Na Na.)

But Medora and White’s best joint effort was “You Don’t Own Me,” the proto-feminist anthem that was recorded by Lesley Gore in 1963.  (It’s interesting that “You Don’t Own Me” – in which a female singer declares her emotional and sexual independence from her overbearing boyfriend – was written by two males and sung by a lesbian.)

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It appears that “taking candy from a baby” first appeared in print around 1900.

The guys at Mythbusters once tested just how much effort was required to take candy from a six-month-old baby.  Click here if you ain’t got nothin’ but time and you’d like to waste some of it by watching that episode.

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Here’s “1-2-3”:



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