Sunday, October 31, 2010

Madonna -- "Beautiful Stranger" (1999)

If I'm smart then I'll run away
But I'm not so I guess I'll stay
Haven't you heard
I fell in love with a beautiful stranger

"If I'm smart, then I'll run away" -- oh sure, like that's gonna happen.  I'm not smart and neither are you -- at least not when confronted with a beautiful stranger.

It's much easier for a stranger to be beautiful, don't you think?  She's beautiful in part because she is a stranger.  The stranger part makes it much easier to fall in love with her.

Are you a little surprised that I'm blogging about a Madonna song --  and such a girly Madonna song at that?    Well, get over it.  If you're willing to accept this song on its own terms, it's just about perfect.

This is the last post of the first year of "2 or 3 lines" -- and it's no accident that I chose this song to mark that milestone.  "Beautiful Stranger" is the last Madonna hit released in the old millennium, so there's another reason it's a good choice for the last post of the first year of "2 or 3 lines."  (As most of you no doubt realize, the new millennium didn't begin on January 1, 2000, but on January 1, 2001, but sometimes you've just gotta go with the flow.)  Also, tonight is Halloween, and Madonna is a woman who has put on many masks in her career -- or a woman who has remade herself many times, if you prefer.  (In the music video of this song, she's is described as a "master of disguise.")

Arthur Lee and Love
"Beautiful Stranger" is a perfect little pop song whose soul has been psychedelicized.  (You know what song that word is from, don't you?)    It was released in 1999, but the seed that grew into this song was sowed in 1966, which is when Arthur Lee and Love released "She Comes in Colors," a song that some people believe Madonna's song is derived from.  (Others have pointed out the similarity of the "Beautiful Stranger" introduction to the beginning of "Light My Fire.")

There are some other things about this song that should be familiar to you.  For example, the phrase "You're the devil in disguise."  In 1963, Elvis Presley had a big hit with a song titled "(You're the) Devil in Disguise."  In 1969, the Flying Burrito Brothers released an album that included a song titled "Christine's Tune."  The first line of that song (which is repeated several times) was "She's the devil in disguise" -- the name "Christine" is never mentioned in the song, and if you heard the song without knowing better, you'd probably guess that "devil in disguise" is in the title.

I'm not going to try to make the case that "Beautiful Stranger" is original.  It doesn't purport to be original.  It's intentionally retro -- after all, it was written for the soundtrack of Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me, an intentionally retro takeoff on the James Bond movies of the 60s and 70s.

But it's a brilliant pastiche of familiar elements -- and isn't that what so many great works of art (for example, most of Shakespeare's plays) are?

"Beautiful Stranger" demonstrates the composer's and producer's mastery of the vocabulary of pop music.  It's a very complicated song, both in its design and in its execution.

It's like a lot of pop songs from 40 years ago -- songs that were very commercial in intent, written and produced by professionals who knew all the right buttons to push and when to push them.  But somehow those songs work -- you buy into the best of them totally, forgetting that they were essentially products of a musical assembly line.  (Frankly, I'd much rather have a songwriter with skill and a broad and deep musical vocabulary than one who tries to get by on sincerity and intense feelings.)

Madonna -- the ultimate self-made pop star -- is the perfect match for this song.  It's the kind of song she was born to sing, and she nails it.  She nails it by not trying all that hard to sell it.

In a way, it's all as phony as a three-dollar bill.

Possible design for proposed three-dollar bill

Does anyone believe Madonna for a minute when she says she "looked into [the stranger's] eyes, and my world came tumbling down" -- that she's "paid for [him] with tears, and swallowed all her pride"?  Not a chance -- Madonna's on the giving end of that sort of thing, not the receiving end.  Even if we didn't know it was Madonna singing the song, her delivery is so cool and restrained that it's hard to take the words all that seriously.

But if she tried to sell it harder -- really put some feeling into it -- I don't think this song could carry that kind of emotional weight.  It would turn into a parody of itself.  So she just sort of puts the lyrics out there, knowing that the professionalism of the whole production will suck us in.

Dwight Clark (1982)
It reminds me of a long touchdown drive masterminded by a veteran QB and executed by a very good team.  No trick plays, no 4th-down "Hail Mary" miracles -- just a nice mixture of runs and passes, utilizing different runners and receivers.  The opponent barely feels the knife going in due to the skill and dispassion with which it is wielded by the quarterback, until all of a sudden the defensive players are lying on the ground, bleeding to death, and the football is in the end zone.

I fell for this song the second or third time I heard it, and I fell hard.  (I still can't get up.)  Last weekend, I listened to it for about 45 minutes straight while on my bike -- over and over and over.  I never got tired of it.  There are no weak places in its structure, nothing annoying or distracting in -- nothing so idiosyncratic that it starts to stick in your craw.  The song just rolls along, taking you with it.

The soundtrack for The Spy Who Shagged Me sold two million copies in the US alone.  "Beautiful Stranger" song was one of the most played singles in the history of UK radio, and it reached number one is countries as diverse as Canada, South Africa, Italy, and Finland.  The song won a Grammy and the music video won an MTV music video award.

And here's that video -- just ignore all the Austin Powers nonsense and enjoy the song:  

Here's the Arthur Lee and Love song, "She Comes in Colors."  (I am second to no man in my love for Love.  If the haters want to say that "Beautiful Stranger" is a copy, that's OK with me -- there aren't nearly enough Love songs to go around, and a counterfeit Love song is better than nothing.)

Here's a link to iTunes if you'd like to buy this song:

Here's a link to Amazon:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Harvey Danger -- "Flagpole Sitta" (1997)

Paranoia, paranoia

Everybody's comin' to get me
Just say you never met me

I had a plan for what was going to follow the "Season of the Witch" post.  But when I was listening to that song on my morning bike ride to Lake Needwood a couple of days ago and thinking about the paranoid aspects of that song -- suddenly these lines from "Flagpole Sitta" hit me.  

Just like me when I'm mountain biking on Cape Cod, "2 or 3 lines" twists and turns and takes little side trails until it doesn't know where it is.  Forget what I had planned -- after all, the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley

"Flagpole Sitta" is a real tour de force of a song.  It's energetic.  It's crazy.

If "Season of the Witch" is about sly, 60's-style paranoia -- one-half fear of the FBI and the police (and all those government agencies they're keeping hidden from us) and one-half marijuana overconsumption -- "Flagpole Sitta" is about paranoia as plain ol' insanity.

At first, the song is just amusingly snarky:
Been around the world and found
That only stupid people are breeding
The cretins cloning and feeding
And I don't even own a TV

But later it gets plain ol' creepy:

Put me in the hospital for nerves
And then they had to commit me
You told them all I was crazy
They cut off my legs now I'm an amputee, Goddamn you

Didn't see that coming, did you?  It's all rather Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-ish, isn't it?  (Now there was someone who had good reason to paranoid.)  

From "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"
It's like the old saying -- just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

The first line of the chorus is "I'm not sick, but I'm not well."  Half of that sentence is clearly true -- but I'm not sure about the other half.

By the way, flagpole-sitting was a real phenomenon back in the 1920s.  The fad began when a friend dared stunt actor Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly to sit on a flagpole. Shipwreck's initial 1924 sit lasted 13 hours and 13 minutes, but his record was quickly broken by many others.  In 1929, Shipwreck decided to reclaim the title. He sat on a flagpole for 49 days in Atlantic City.  But the following year, Bill Penfield sat on a flag pole in Strawberry Point, Iowa, for 51 days and 20 hours. 

Here's a really well-done home video of "Flagpole Sitta":

Here's a lip dub video of "Flagpole Sitta," featuring the staff of Connected Ventures LLC, a new media network and development company with headquarters in New York City.  (I need to make sure none of my mutual funds own stock in this company.)

Here's another lip dub video of "Flagpole Sitta."  (Hotter chicks in this one.)

What the heck -- here's one more.  This girl is not a very good lip-syncher, but she's kind of cute:

How about one more?

Here's a link to use if you want to buy "Flagpole Sitta" from iTunes:

Flagpole Sitta - Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?

Here's a link to Amazon:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Al Kooper and Stephen Stills -- "Season of the Witch" (1968)

When I look over my shoulder,
What do you think I see?
Some other cat looking over
His shoulder at me

Paranoia was very popular when I was in college.  Some people were sure that the FBI or the police or the army or someone was keeping track of them.  (Doubtful that most of them were really dangerous enough to attract such attention, I'm guessing.)  

Just about everyone recorded "Season of the Witch," which was written and originally recorded by Donovan in 1966.  Donovan had good reason to be paranoid -- just a few months before his Sunshine Superman album was released, he became the first big British rock star to be busted for marijuana possession.  

Julie Driscoll
Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger covered the song in 1967.  (I only recently became familiar with their version, which is very good -- perhaps the best of all of the covers.)  

Vanilla Fudge's version of the song was released as a single and made it to #65 on the Billboard chart.  (Vanilla Fudge re-released it in 2002, when they reunited.)  The legendary supergroup, the Masked Marauders (more about them later), included it on their one and only LP in 1969.  

Others to record the song included Sam Gopal, Pesky Gee!, Suck, Hole, Luna, Dr. John, Joan Jett, Richard Thompson (his version is on the "Crossing Jordan" soundtrack album), and Lou Rawls.  

Perhaps the lines quoted above inspired these lines from Massive Attack's "Safe from Harm":

I was lookin' back to see 
If you were lookin' back at me
To see me lookin' back at you

The version of "Season of the Witch" I remember best is this one, the Al Kooper-Stephen Stills version that was included on the Super Session album.

Super Session was Al Kooper's idea.  Kooper was sort of a rock music Renaissance man -- he did everything and did everything well.  When he was 14, he was playing guitar for the band that recorded "Short Shorts," and when he was 16, he co-wrote "This Diamond Ring" for Gary Lewis & the Playboys.  (I believe this puts Kooper within two degrees of Leon Russell, although I wouldn't be surprised if they had a one-degree connection somewhere down the road.)  And Kooper was the guy who played the organ on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone."

Kooper formed Blood, Sweat & Tears, but left after their first album, Child Is Father to the Man (which is a brilliant piece of work -- more about it later as well).  He discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd, and produced their first three albums.  He produced the first Tubes album (which I've written about on this blog -- it's a work of genius as well).  He was the musical director for the mid-1980s Michael Mann television series, "Crime Story," which starred one of my favorite character actors, Dennis Farina.  And this barely scratches the surface of Kooper's musical accomplishments.  

Super Session was Kooper's idea.  It features Kooper and guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills, but Bloomfield and Stills never play together on the record.  (It's Bloomfield on side one, and Stills on side two.)   Here's the story behind that.

Al Kooper
When Kooper decided to do Super Session, he had recently left Blood, Sweat & Tears and was working as an A&R man for Columbia Records.  (A&R stands for "artists and repertoire" -- in essence, Kooper was a talent scout).  Bloomfield was about to leave Electric Flag (I'll get to them eventually as well), so Kooper called to see if he was free to come down to the studio and jam.

Kooper booked two days of studio time and recruited keyboardist Barry Goldberg and bassist Harvey Brooks (both were old pals of Bloomfield's from the Electric Flag), along with session drummer "Fast" Eddie Hoh, who by coincidence had played drums on Donovan's recording of "Season of the Witch."  The first day, they recorded mostly blues-based instrumental tracks.

Super Session (day 2)
On the second day, Bloomfield was nowhere to be found.  The desperate Kooper was able to reach Stephen Stills, who was in the process of leaving Buffalo Springfield and who agreed to drop by the studio.

That day, Kooper's merry little band recorded mostly vocal tracks, including Bob Dylan's "It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry" and a leisurely, eleven-minutes-and-seven-seconds long version of "Season of the Witch" by Donovan.

The album, which eventually went gold, cost just $13,000 to make.  It was The Blair Witch Project of rock albums, and helped inspire a whole series of "supergroup" collaborations — Blind Faith (coming soon to this blog), Crosby, Stills & Nash, and others.  

Kooper forgave Bloomfield, and the two of them made several concert appearances after the album was released.  A three-night gig at the Fillmore in the fall of 1968 was turned into a two-record album The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.   The cover of that album was a painting of Kooper and Bloomfield by . . . are you sitting down? . . . Norman Rockwell.

Just in time for Halloween, here's the Kooper/Stills version of "Season of the Witch":

Here's a link to use if you'd like to buy the song from iTunes:

Season of the Witch - Super Session

Here's a link to use to buy the song from Amazon:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends -- "Comin' Home" (1969)

I'm so tired and I'm all alone.
We'll soon be together
That's it --
I'm comin' home to your love.
Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett recorded with Eric Clapton and a veritable "who's who" of other rock musicians, including George Harrison, Duane Allman, Dave Mason, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Tina Turner, etc., etc., etc.

Let's get the "One Degree of Leon Russell" story out of the way right now.  Delaney and Leon Russell met in 1964 in Los Angeles when they (as well as Glen Campbell and Billy Preston) were members of the Shindogs, which was the house band for "Shindig," an ABC-TV musical variety show that aired in primetime from 1964 and 1966

 (The performers that appeared on "Shindig" included the Animals, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Chuck Berry, James Brown, the Byrds -- and that leaves 24 more letters of the alphabet to go.)  Delaney and Leon were tight after that -- Leon played on Delaney & Bonnie's first three albums.

Teri Garr in "Mr. Mom"
(By the way, that show's troupe of go-go dancers -- known as the Shindiggers -- included one Teri Garr, who also danced in the "T.A.M.I. Show" and several Elvis Presley movies.  I LOVED her in Mr. Mom, where she more than held her own with Michael Keaton and Martin Mull.  I thought Dustin Hoffman was an absolute moron for dumping her for Jessica Lange in Tootsie.  She's much better looking than Lange, plus she seems like she'd be a lot less high-maintenance.)

Delaney & Bonnie's best-selling album, On Tour with Eric Clapton, was a live record.  Most people believed that they weren't at their best in a recording studio -- that you really needed to see them live.  

Eric Clapton (who said that Delaney taught him everything he knew about singing) started playing with Delaney and Bonnie when they were the opening act for Blind Faith's lone U.S. tour.  Clapton wrote in his autobiography that "going on [with Blind Faith] after Delaney and Bonnie was really, really tough because I thought they were miles better than us."  (We're talking Blind Faith here, boys and girls -- Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood's super-supergroup -- they weren't exactly chopped liver.)

Bonnie with Roseanne Barr
Here's a random fact:  Bonnie Bramlett appeared on about 20 episodes of the "Roseanne" TV show.  In one episode, she sang with David Crosby, who played her husband on the show.
"Comin' Home" -- which was officially co-written by Bonnie Bramlett and Eric Clapton -- is my favorite Delaney & Bonnie song.  (I've read that Delaney later said he wrote or co-wrote some of the songs that Bonnie was officially credited for -- he supposedly assigned her ownership of the songs to dodge the limitations of his recording contract.)

Delaney & Bonnie
The song has a complicated history.  It was released as a single late in 1969, and a live version is on the On Tour with Eric Clapton album.  It was included on Delaney & Bonnie's last album, D&B Together, which was released in 1972 -- just before they got divorced.

Delaney & Bonnie were actually under contract to Elektra Records when "Comin' Home" was originally recorded, but Elektra assigned the recordings to Atco/Atlantic Records, which released the song as a single.  Atlantic wasn't happy with the quality of the new recordings for D&B Together, and sold Delaney & Bonnie's contract and the master tapes to Columbia Records, which eventually issued the album with three songs (including "Comin' Home") that had not appeared on any previous Delaney & Bonnie album.  

"Comin Home" reminds me a lot of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" -- you know, the song that says "Don't ask me what I think of you/I might not give the answer that you want me to" --  although it's less British and more Tulsa (despite the presence of Clapton and Harrison).  Like that song, it starts of with a quick lead guitar line leading into a very catchy little hook, which both bands were smart enough to repeat over and over and over.  The words are somewhat secondary to the riff in both songs. 

Let's start with the single version:

Here's a video of "Comin' Home" being performed live.  This is a very interesting video -- you get glimpses of Clapton and Harrison, not to mention drummer Jim Gordon and our old Tulsa friend, bassist Carl Radle.  And then there's Bonnie -- check out the hair.  She looks like a tall, skinny Little Orphan Annie (except much cuter).

Finally, here's the live version from On Tour with Eric Clapton:

Here's an iTunes link to the single version:

Here's an Amazon link to the live album version: 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Derek and the Dominoes -- "Tell the Truth" (1970)

Whole world is shaking now
Can't you feel it?
New dawn is breaking now
Can't you see it?

Something very weird just happened.  A few minutes ago, I sat down at my piano to noodle the chords for these lines of this song.  (It's a very simple but very powerful hook that I could listen to about a thousand times before getting tired of it.  There's a measure of G, a measure of D, 3/4 of a measure of E, followed by B, E, B, E, B -- always on the off-beat -- and then back to G to start it all over again.)

After that I sat down at the computer and could barely type.  Somehow the difference in layout between the piano keyboard and the computer keyboard have really thrown my brain out of whack.  I never learned to type properly, but use only two fingers -- I don't know if that is part of the problem or not.  

The only way I can describe the sensation I am feeling is that I am looking for black keys while I am typing.  Also, I seem to have lost my memory of where different letters are on the computer keyboard -- I'm having to search for them.  I know it sounds crazy, but I'm going to stop typing for a few minutes and see if my brain will reset itself and work properly.

[Ten minutes later . . .]

Much better.  I've never experienced that sensation before.  Maybe I've never gone directly from piano to computer keyboard before -- it was almost like I was experiencing vertigo when I tried to type.  My fingers just wouldn't do what I wanted them to do.  I swear it felt like I was feeling for the black keys on the computer keyboard.  Very unsettling.     

Anyway, I doubt that I heard any record more often during college than the Derek and the Dominoes.  It was officially titled Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, but I don't remember anyone calling it by that name.  Since it was the band's only studio album, calling it by the group's name didn't confuse anyone.

"Layla" is by far the most famous song on the album -- it's one of the most-played songs of the whole era.  Most people who know the song know that it was inspired by Clapton's then-unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of ex-Beatle George Harrison.  Clapton and Harrison were good friends and co-wrote Cream's "Badge."  

Boyd was frustrated by Harrison's drug use and affairs with other women.  (Hey, Pattie -- sex, drugs, and rock and roll -- you can't have one without the others, I guess.)  

Mr. and Mrs. George Harrison
Harrison once went to Spain with the wife of Faces' guitarist Ronnie Wood, who later joined the Rolling Stones.  So Boyd had an affair with Wood.  (Payback's a bitch, George.)  

Clapton, who had also professed to be in love with Boyd, moved in with her younger sister.  (The sister left after hearing "Layla," which she felt proved that Clapton saw her as a substitute for Pattie.)  Years later, Boyd and Clapton were married.  

It was a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire for Boyd -- Clapton was a heroin addict and alcoholic and had children by two other women while he and Pattie were married.  (One of these children, a four-year-old boy, died when he fell out of a 53rd-story window in New York City.)  The two were divorced in 1988.

Mr. and Mrs. Eric Clapton
I could go on and on.  (For example, Mick Jagger once told a girlfriend that he had tried for years to get Boyd into bed.)  Boyd wrote an autobiography a few years ago -- I may need to read it.  She's no Pamela des Barres -- the rock supergroupie who has rebranded herself as a "muse" -- but she did OK.  

Several of the tracks on the Derek and the Dominoes album were covers of old blues songs.  Most of the original tracks were co-written by Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, who sang and played keyboards.  

The second half of "Layla" -- the instrumental part that begins with a piano solo -- was written and performed by drummer Jim Gordon.  In 1983, Gordon -- an undiagnosed schizophrenic -- used a hammer and a butcher's knife to murder his mother.  He's been in prison in California ever since.  Here's a link to a "Free Jim Gordon" website.

The other musicians on the Layla album were guitarist Duane Allman (who was invited to sit in with the band after they had started recording the album) and bass player Carl Radle.  Allman died in a motorcycle accident less than a year after the album was released.  Radle died in 1980 of kidney disease (attributed to his alcohol and drug abuse).

Duane Allman
Radle was a Tulsa native, and played with Leon Russell on a number of albums.  (He and Russell were part of Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" band, and also played with Delaney & Bonnie, as did Clapton and Allman.)  Of course, Clapton played on Russell's first solo album, as did Jim Gordon.  So all those guys would be acceptable answers in a "One Degree of Leon Russell" game.

For years after the Derek and the Dominoes album was released, Clapton toured with Radle and several other Tulsa musicians.  Famed rock critic Robert Christgau said this in a review of one of Clapton's solo albums:  "No matter what Eric isn't these days . . . he's certainly king of the Tulsa sound."

Here's "Tell the Truth."  Watch out for that B, E, B, E, B, G chord progression -- once it gets hold of you, you may never get rid of it.

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Leon Russell -- "Roll Away the Stone" (1970)

Roll away the stone
Don’t leave me here alone
Well they rag me and they tag me
Don’t leave me laying here
What will they do in 2000 years?

Everyone knows the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," right?  Leon Russell is sort of the rock and roll equivalent of Kevin Bacon.

This post kicks off a new series featuring songs by famous artists or bands that Leon Russell has performed or recorded with -- sort of a "One Degree of Leon Russell" game.  (If we took things to a full six degrees with Russell, it would be overkill -- two or at the most three degrees is probably as far as we would need to go to include every musician worth including.)   

Most of these songs also fit in my ongoing series of posts featuring records that were popular when I was in college in the early 1970's.  So you're killing two birds with one stone, and it's not costing you a penny more.  (Or I guess it's me that's killing two birds with one stone.)

Anyway . . . Leon grew up in Oklahoma and is a 1959 graduate of Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, which is also the alma mater of Anita Bryant, David Gates (the lead singer of Bread), Elvin Bishop ("Fooled Around and Fell in Love"), Susan Hinton (author of The Outsiders and other novels), and our old friend Gailard Sartain -- better known as Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoida

Will Rogers High School (Tulsa, OK)

Russell started playing in clubs in and around Tulsa when he was 14.  He and J.J. Cale (who wrote the Eric Clapton hits "After Midnight" and "Cocaine") played together in a group called the Starlighters, which is one of the progenitors of the mix of rockabilly and blues that became known as "the Tulsa Sound."  

Russell was one of the first "Tulsa Sound" musicians to move to Los Angeles, and a number of his friends followed him and became successful session musicians.  Russell backed up a very diverse group of recording artists in the early 1960's, including the Byrds, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Bobby "Boris" Pickett ("Monster Mash"), Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and the Midnight String Quartet (an easy-listening chamber music group that released nine albums between 1966 and 1971).  He was one of the group of Phil Spector studio musicians who served as the backing band for "The T.A.M.I. Show" movie, which I discussed in an earlier post

Russell's first big success as a songwriter was "Delta Lady," which became a hit for Joe Cocker in 1969.  (Russell headed up Cocker's band on the "Mad Dogs and Englishman" tour.  A very entertaining documentary movie was made about that tour.)  

The same year he co-wrote the song "Superstar," which became a big hit for the Carpenters but was also recorded by Cher, Bette Midler, Vikki Carr, and Peggy Lee.  He also recorded two very underrated albums with Marc Benno -- they called themselves the Asylum Choir.  (Click here to read my post about Asylum Choir's "Ballad for a Soldier."

That brings us to 1970, and Russell's eponymous (I do love that word) solo album, which includes his version of "Delta Lady," the very well-known "A Song for You," and the song featured in this post -- "Roll Away the Stone."

The musicians who appeared on this album are a rock and roll "who's who" -- I'm talking three Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, and Bill Wyman), two Beatles (George Harrison and Ringo Starr),  Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker, and a host of first-rate studio musicians (like Beatles' protege Klaus Voorman and Jim Gordon, who was the drummer for Derek and the Dominoes).  

I'm familiar with this album mostly because my college girlfriend -- a graduate not of Will Rogers, but rather of Nathan Hale High School in Tulsa -- owned it.  (Yes, she owned Carole King's Tapestry as well.)  I'm not sure that this album was all that popular among my fellow classmates, but it was sure popular with her.  And since I spent a lot of time with her, I heard it a lot.   

I remember when the comic strip "Doonesbury" started to appear in the Rice student newspaper, the Thresher.  Although Garry Trudeau (who started to draw "Doonesbury" when he was a Yale undergraduate) was a very hoity-toity New Yorker, the character the strip was named for -- Mike Doonesbury -- came to Yale from good old Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Mike was terribly embarrassed when his high-school girlfriend showed up at Yale for a visit wearing bib overalls and a straw hat.  I thought that was soooooooo funny, and I made fun of my Tulsa girlfriend for months after that "Doonesbury" appeared.

Can you believe the nerve I had?  I was from Joplin, Missouri, for cryin' out loud -- where did I get off making fun of someone from Tulsa, which was much bigger and much more cosmopolitan place?   

The verses to "Roll Away the Stone" tell a fairly conventional I-caught-my-woman-cheatin'-on-me-with-my-friend story, but the chorus (quoted above) makes obvious references to Jesus Christ's death and resurrection.  

I don't know what it all means.  If you do, please let me know.  But if you, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

Click here to buy the song from iTunes:

Click here to buy it from Amazon:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fleetwood Mac -- "Jewel-Eyed Judy" (1970)

I just wondered if
Your eyes still shine
As they did
When you were mine . . .
Jewel-eyed Judy please come home
Jewel-eyed Judy don't leave me alone

I own Fleetwood Mac's Kiln House album now, but I first became familiar with it when I was a sophomore in college.  A freshman named Norm who lived just a few rooms away from me used to play it a lot.

Norm and his roommate were major marijuana consumers.  At night, the smoke in their room was so thick room that you could barely see the other people in the room.  I think Norm went to south Texas during spring break that year with another freshman to harvest peyote buds -- people were serious about drugs in those days. 

I have a vivid memory of returning Norm's copy of this record on my way to lunch one day in  December.  I knocked on the door and Norm eventually answered in a T-shirt and briefs.  It was about noon, but it wasn't all that uncommon for students to sleep late in those days, so I wasn't too surprised that he was still in bed after noon.

Norm was a bit nonplussed to learn that it was already lunchtime -- and not because he was afraid of missing a meal.  You see, it was finals week, and Norm had slept through a final exam that had been scheduled for 9 am that morning.  This may have been his very first college final exam -- not a promising start for a student who purported to be planning to go to medical school -- but he didn't panic.  

I'll never forget Norm (who looked a little like Jeff Spicoli, but was from Fort Worth) asking me very calmly in his soft Texas drawl what I thought he should do about the situation.  I advised him to contact his professor as soon as possible, explain that he had overslept, and see if something could be worked out.  He thanked me politely, and I handed him his copy of Kiln House and proceeded to the dining hall for my midday repast.  

Norm made it through his freshman year, I think, but I don't know what happened to him after that -- I moved off campus and don't remember seeing him again.  I somehow doubt that he ever achieved his dream of becoming a doctor, but who knows?  Stranger things have happened.  I mean, this guy became president of the United States -- and she almost did as well:

(What were we thinking?)

Fleetwood Mac's original members were blues purists -- three of the four original members had played with legendary blues singer John Mayall.  Guitarist Peter Green, who had replaced Eric Clapton in Mayall's band, was the main creative force in the original band, but left in 1970 -- he became schizophrenic after taking LSD and spent a lot of time in psychiatric hospitals undergoing electroshock therapy and doing other fun stuff.

The Kiln House album is a bit schizophrenic as well.  (Actually, schizophrenia has nothing to do with dissociative personality disorder -- which is characterized by split or multiple personalities -- but you didn't come here to be lectured on proper psychiatric nomenclature, did you?)  It is somewhat bluesy in feel, but much less of a blues album than the previous Fleetwood Mac albums.  

The word that comes to mind when I think of this album is naive -- the songs have an innocence and a simplicity that was not like anything I listened to in those days.  There was a lot of very high-falutin' rock music around in those days -- for example, Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Pictures at an Exhibition album, a progressive rock album based on composer Modest Mussorgsky's 1874 piano suite, which has been orchestrated by many composers.  (British conductor Henry Wood recorded his orchestral version in 1920, but prohibited public performance of his work after Maurice Ravel published his orchestration, which Wood considered vastly superior to his own.  Can you imagine someone doing that today?)

Danny Kirwan
About the half the songs -- including "Jewel-Eyed Judy" -- were written by Danny Kirwan, who had been an 18-year-old wunderkind when he joined the band a couple of years earlier.  Most of the rest of the songs on the album, which had more of a 1950s flavor, were written by Jeremy Spencer, who disappeared while the band was in Los Angeles touring in support of Kiln House.  Spencer joined a religious cult called the "Children of God," now known as "The Family International," and is still a member.

"Jewel-Eyed Judy" has a very simple structure.  After a 12-bar instrumental introduction, there are two verses, the chorus, two more verses, the chorus again, and a brief instrumental "outtro."  It's typical of Fleetwood mac songs of this era -- especially Kirwan's compositions.  There aren't a lot of words, the music isn't very complicated, and the performance isn't at all showy.

The story of this song is straightforward.  As the song begins, it's night -- "moonshine time" -- and the singer is thinking about a girl he once loved.
Thoughts of you
Spinning round
As thoughts do

Next, he sings the words quoted above, wondering if "your eyes still shine/as they did/when you were mine."  

The second verse uses similar imagery: the boy asks "would your eyes/still sparkle then/if we were/once again?"  (Once again what?  That's not explicitly stated, but we can fill in the blank pretty easily -- If they were once again a couple, once again together.  He doesn't need to say that in so many words -- the fact that the rest of the thought is unspoken makes it more poignant.)

The instrumental accompaniment for these two verses is quiet at first, but gradually becomes louder.  Then we get to the chorus, which Kirwan belts out as full volume:

Jewel-eyed Judy please come home
Jewel-eyed Judy don't leave me alone
Jewel-eyed Judy please come home
Jewel-eyed Judy don't leave me alone

Each line of the chorus is exactly the same musically, built around a figure of six forceful guitar chords (A, B, D, A, B, E).  The singer's mood has changed from the wistfulness of the verses to outright agony and desperation.

The volume drops back down during the brief instrumental bridge that follows until we are back where we started.  In the final verse, it's no longer Judy's sparkling, jewel-like eyes shining in the moonlight.  Rather, it's the singer's eyes that are shining -- but not from joy:  "So am I/sitting here/moonlight glistens/on my tears."

The loud, anguished chorus is repeated once more, followed by an instrumental passage that quickly fades out.  And that's all she wrote -- or, in this case, all he (Danny Kirwan) wrote.  When you break it down like that, it all seems so easy, doesn't it?

Here's the song:

It appears that you can't buy an mp3 of "Jewel-Eyed Judy" from iTunes or Amazon.  (The versions they do offer appear to be from recent albums featuring alternate takes -- not the version that ended up on Kiln House.)

Click here to buy the Kiln House CD from Amazon:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gucci Mane -- "Lemonade" (2009)

Lemons on the chain with the V-cuts
Lemonade in shade with my feet up
Lemon pepper wings and a freeze cup
Lemons in their face watch 'em freeze up

Time to leave the 1970's briefly -- my marketing department thinks we'd have better luck monetizing this blog if our demographic skewed a little younger.  Ergo, this post.  

I love this song, but Atlanta-based rapper Radric Davis (a/k/a "Gucci Mane") might as well be singing in Lithuanian because I have got no clue what he's talking about.

According to RapGenius, the first line quoted above refers to yellow-colored diamonds of very high quality (VS or even VVS -- or "V-cuts").

The lemonade mentioned in the second line is no doubt mixed with prescription cough syrup containing codeine.  (Another line in the song is "I'm movin' slow 'cause codeine syrup's in my lemonade.")  References to cough syrup mixed with Sprite, Mountain Dew, lemonade, or other soft drinks -- the mixture is often called "purple drank" because the dyes in the cough syrup turns the mixture purple -- can be found in dozens of rap lyrics, especially those by rappers from the South.  (The first pick in the 2007 NFL draft, QB JaMarcus Russell, who is rumored to be a long-time purple drank user, was arrested this summer for possessing codeine cough syrup without having a valid prescription.)

Lemon-pepper wings
Pizza Hut just added spicy lemon-pepper chicken wings to its menu.  A "freeze cup" is a kind of homemade popsicle -- frozen Kool-Aid served in a plastic or styrofoam cup -- that could be found in neighborhoods where Good Humor trucks feared to drive.

The last line quoted above is another reference to those yellow diamonds, according to RapGenius.  When you put diamonds ("ice") in someone's face, it's not surprising that they would freeze up.

Reading RapGenius's translation of the rest of the lyrics of this song was a real eye-opener for me.  Mostly it opened my eyes to the fact that I am very old and very white.

"Lemonade" is from the 2009 album, The State vs. Radric Davis.  Gucci Mane has spent time in jail for cocaine possession, assault, and violating the terms of his probation.   He was involved in the fatal shooting of a man in 2005, but murder charges were dropped the next year when he persuaded prosecutors that the victim was killed in self-defense

Here's the official music video for "Lemonade":

Here's a link to buy the song on iTunes:

Here's a link to use if you prefer Amazon: