Monday, February 28, 2011

Arthur Brown -- "I Put A Spell On You" (1968)

I put a spell on you
Because you're mine

This post brings to a close my series, "29 POSTS IN 28 DAYS."  It was fun putting this series together, but not so much fun that I am looking forward to next February, when I will probably feel compelled to do it again.  

The whole idea was a little bit off the wall, so it is only fitting that we close the series with a cover version of a demented song by an equally demented performer. 

Arthur Brown is responsible for perhaps the most electrifying songs of the 1960s, "Fire," which began this way:

I am the god of hellfire
And I bring you . . . FIRE!

Arthur Brown
Unlike most songs of this era, Brown's version of "Fire" does not utilize any guitars.  Instead, the instrument that dominates the record is our old friend, a Hammond B-3 organ.  The last chorus features some horns, which turns an already frenzied record into an extremely frenzied record.

"Fire" came out of nowhere to hit #1 on the British charts in August 1968, and made it all the way to #2 in the United States a couple of months later.  

Brown's live performances were just a bit over the top.  He sometimes performed wearing a complicated helmet-like contraption on his head that was filled with fuel and set on fire.  The helmet was not terribly high-tech, and sometime things went wrong.  Once his head caught on fire, and the flames extinguished with beer by a couple of audience members.

Here's a video of a television performance by Brown:

Brown released several albums in the seventies and had a part in the Ken Russell movie of the Who's Tommy.  He sings a verse of "Eyesight to the Blind" beginning at about the 2:58 mark of this clip from the movie:

Later, he moved from the UK to Austin, Texas, and got a master's degree in counseling.  He and another counselor co-founded Healing Songs Therapy.  (Brown wrote a song about each of his client's emotional issues, presumably for therapeutic purposes -- or perhaps because it was a good way to attract clients.)

Brown is currently a proponent of the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff, a mystic and guru whose approach to self-awareness is known as the "Fourth Way."  Click here to read what one skeptic has to say about Gurdjieff and his teachings. 

Click here to read about a biography of Brown titled The God of Hellfire.

"Fire" was on Brown's The Crazy World of Arthur Brown album, which also featured a pretty convincing cover of "I Put A Spell On You."  Here's that song:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Noel Harrison -- "Suzanne" (1967)

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror

One of the more interesting singers to cover "Suzanne" was Noel Harrison, the son of actor Rex Harrison.  Noel Harrison's version was released in 1967, just before Cohen's own recording of the song was issued. 

Harrison co-starred with Stephanie Powers in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., which was THE COOLEST TV SHOW EVER!  (Unfortunately it only lasted one season.)

I had a major thing for Stephanie Powers.  That is only one of the reasons I would have sold my soul to trade lives with Noel Harrison -- he was a TV star, a recording artist, the son of a world-famous actor, and a member of the 1952 and 1956 British Winter Olympics teams.  We're talking major babe magnet.

Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison

In 1972, Harrison became a disciple of self-help pioneer Scott Nearing and decided to live "the simple life," so he  moved from the U.S. to the Nova Scotia coast and built a house from scratch.

The house had no electricity, and depended on a wood stove for heating.  One day something went wrong with the wood stove, and Harrison's house burned down.  But he rebuilt it with money he earned from performing in touring musicals (he specialized in roles that called for good-looking guys with upper-class British accents -- think My Fair Lady and Camelot) and hosting a musical variety show on Canadian television.

Harrison recorded "The Windmills of Your Mind" for the soundtrack of The Thomas Crown Affair.  The song won the 1969 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Here's a video of Harrison performing "Suzanne" in 2008:

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Suzanne (Remastered Album Version) - Life Is A Dream

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

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dead Kennedys -- "I Fought The Law" (1987)

Twinkies are the best friend I've ever had
I fought the law and I won
I fought the law and I won 

Dan White
On November 27, 1978, Dan White -- who had recently resigned from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to open a baked-potato stand at Pier 39, a popular tourist hangout -- shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk in their San Francisco City Hall offices.

The Dead Kennedys -- a hardcore punk band whose song lyrics were often political but always crazy -- formed in San Francisco the same year that White killed Moscone and Milk.  I once heard someone say that the Dead Kennedys was only the 2nd-most tasteless name for a punk band -- the most tasteless name was that of the Austin, Texas band, Sharon Tate's Baby (which appears to still be performing).

The band's first (and most successful) studio album was titled Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, and included the songs "Holiday in Cambodia" and "California Über Alles."

"Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables" cover
The second song took a satirical look at California governor Jerry Brown, depicting him as hippie neo-Hitler:

I am Governor Jerry Brown
My aura smiles
And never frowns
Soon I will be president . . .

Zen fascists will control you
100% natural
You will jog for the master race
And always wear the happy face . . . 

Now it is 1984
Knock knock at your front door
It's the suede/denim secret police
They have come for your uncool niece 

DIE on organic poison gas
Serpent's egg's already hatched
You will croak, you little clown
When you mess with President Brown   

Brown was recently re-elected to the California governor's job, almost 30 years after he left that office in 1983.  Proof is stranger than fiction, and don't let anyone tell you different.

Here's "California Über Alles."  

The Dead Kennedys' original frontman called himself Jello Biafra.  Biafra (born Eric Reed Boucher) ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979.   His campaign slogan was "There's always room for Jello."

His campaign espoused a requirement that businessmen wear clown suits when within the city limits and the erection of statues of Dan White throughout San Francisco.  There were nine mayoral candidates, and Biafra finished third with about 6600 votes -- almost 4% of the votes cast.  

Biafra has remained active in politics.  In 2000, he sought the Green Party's presidential nomination.  Biafra and another candidate finished tied for 2nd in delegate votes at the party's nominating convention, well behind nominee Ralph Nader.  Biafra actively supported Nader's 2000, 2004, and 2008 campaigns.

I lived in San Francisco from late 1980 to early 1982.  During that time, Biafra co-hosted a punk-rock show on the Pacifica radio station in Berkeley.  I used to record the show, and still have a few dozen cassettes of those shows that I really should get converted to computer files and listen to -- I imagine there are many obscure punk-rock gems on those tapes.

The Dead Kennedys' rewrite of "I Fought The Law" -- which turns the song's meaning on its head -- references Dan White's so-called "Twinkies defense."  White's attorneys argued that he was not guilty of murder because he suffered diminished mental capacity due to depression at the time he killed Moscone and Milk.  (This isn't quite the same thing as an insanity defense, but it close to it.)    

White, a former policeman and fireman, was a fitness fanatic.  The fact that he had started to consume a lot of high-sugar "junk" foods instead of sticking to his usual healthy diet was said to be one tangible indication of his depression.  In addition, according to one of the psychiatrists who testified in his behalf, consuming such foods could have worsened his existing mood swings.

Sean Penn, Harvey Milk
The defense was not that White's consumption of sugary foods caused him to lose it and start shooting.  No one ever mentioned Twinkies, but one reporter coined the term "Twinkie defense," and the public misunderstanding caused by that and other reporting from White's trial persists to this day.  (The "Twinkie defense" is mentioned in Milk, the 2008 biopic that stars Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.)

The jury was persuaded by White's defense, and did not find him guilty of murder.  He was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison.  The Dead Kennedys' recording of "I Fought The Law" was released after White was paroled after serving five years of his sentence, when it appeared that he in fact had fought the law and won.  

Au contraire.  Less than two years after his release from prison, White committed suicide in his garage by running a garden hose from his exhaust pipe to the interior of his car.

Here's "Holiday in Cambodia," my favorite Dead Kennedys song.  (The music is preceded by a brief scene from Apocalypse Now.)

Here's a live version of "Holiday in Cambodia" performed by the Foo Fighters and Serj Tankian of System of a Down:

That's pretty good, but nothing beats Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys:


Friday, February 25, 2011

Lolita No. 18 -- "Video Killed the Radio Star" (1999)

In my mind and in my car,
We can't rewind, we've gone too far.
Pictures came and broke your heart,
Put the blame on VCR
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star

Lolita No. 18
I could have used the Ben Folds Five version of "Video Killed The Radio Star" here, but instead I chose this version by the Japanese all-girl punk band, Lolita No. 18.  (It was a no-brainer.)

Lolita No. 18's record company calls them "[t]he Pioneer of all girl punk in Japan.  The most vigorous and the most famous girls punk band in Japan."  It then goes on to say:

This punk-rock-band-next-doors debut CD "KARATE TEACHER" was released in February 1995 from BENTNE Label and quickly captured the heart of both punk rock fans and cartoon fans. In March 1996, Lolita No.18 went to Austin, Texas to play live shows and record their second full length album. They played 7 places in Texas including the international showcase at SXSW.
Although they are singing in Japanese, the audience loved Lolita No.18. They did 2 radio live shows during their stay in USA, KVRX in Austin and KZSU in San Francisco. Their Texas recorded album "Sister Run Naked" was released that following July 1996. They released their 4th album "FUBO LOVE NY" in July 1997 produced by Joey Ramone. Yeah, they are the first and last Japanese band Joey Produced. You can see how he enjoyed this project in the promotional video of Rockaway Beach.
In '97 they did an American tour in 50 day & went to 43 spots. (This US tour video was released from Sister Records) The members are all funny like cartoon character and vocalist, Masayo's weird voice also became the talk in all over the world. They released their 6th album (on Nov. 18th in 1999 ) "TOY DOLL" which was produced by Olga from The Toy Dolls and recorded in Hull, United Kingdom. 

In 2000 Lolita 18 did 40 places Japan tour then US tour again and did Europe tour also. The original member did the final show at Shibuya Club Quattro in Tokyo on Dec. 21 2001. Masayo, the singer and the leader got new bass player, Tacochi, new guitar, Tacchamen and new and powerful drummer, To-Bu and has started new Lolita No. 18 since 2002. 

(Before you make fun of their English, tell me something -- how's your Japanese?)

Here's the Lolita No. 18 video:

If you want to buy this song, you can try their record company's website, but it looks to me like the album this song was on is sold out.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Doug Anthony All Stars -- "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (1994)

You can't hide what I've seen 
And you can't hide what I've heard
But I can't stand this bein' confused
So if it's true, you'd better tell me, dear
Do you plan to let me go
For the other guy you loved before?
Dear God, I heard it through the grapevine

As you've probably figured out by now, the "29 POSTS IN 28 DAYS" series consists of posts about four different versions of seven well-known songs -- plus a wild-card post about a Black Eyed Peas song for Super Bowl Sunday.

It wasn't easy choosing exactly four different versions of each of these seven songs.  For some of the songs -- "Season of the Witch," for example -- the problem was choosing from among a lot of really good (and quite diverse) covers. 

"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" presented the opposite problem.  I had two great versions of the song (the Marvin Gaye and Creedence Clearwater Revival versions), a third that was pretty good and historically significant (Gladys Knight and the Pips), but no obvious selection for the fourth spot. 

Smokey and the Miracles
I thought about using the Smokey Robinson and the Miracles recording of the song, which was actually the original version -- although it was not released until the Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye versions had become big hits.  The Temptations also recorded the song.  But I didn't want three Motown versions of "Grapevine" -- I thought two was enough.
I considered and rejected a number of other recordings.  Former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald has done the song, but since I had rejected a couple of authentic Motown recordings, it wouldn't have made much sense to choose one by a Motown wannabe.  The Slits, an all-female British punk band, did a reggae-ish version that isn't bad.

Amy Winehouse -- what a train wreck she is -- sang the song on television, and sang it very badly if you ask me.  Italian guitar virtuoso Antonio Forcione recorded "Grapevine," but this blog is titled 2 or 3 lines, and there are no lines in an instrumental recording.  Last but not least, there's a version by an Australian alternative rock band called Birds of Tokyo.  (I don't really recommend it.)

I was about to give up and just throw in an extra version of "I Touch Myself" -- after all, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of cover versions of that song by slutty chicks to choose from.  But at the very last minute, I stumbled across a YouTube video of the Doug Anthony All Stars -- a/k/a "DAAS" -- performing "Grapevine."
I had never heard of DAAS, and I'm willing to wager you haven't either.  It turns out that DAAS got their start as buskers in Australia in 1984, hit it big in 1987 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (the world's largest theatrical festival -- in 2009, this festival featured an average of 1300 performances per day over its 25-day run), and then moved back to Australia and became major television stars in 1989.  The group split up in 1994.

The Doug Anthony All Stars ("DAAS")
DAAS were in-your-face performers.  One critic described their style as "[pushing] the boundaries of humour and good taste to their absolute limits."  They recorded songs like "Commies for Christ," "I Want to Spill the Blood of a Hippy," and one that is far, far worse than those two. 

This last song is truly tasteless and about as offensive as a song can possibly be.  I don't know what's worse -- the song's lyrics, or the light-hearted manner in which they perform it.  If you are easily offended, DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO.  In fact, even if you aren't easily offended, DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO.  I guess you should watch this video only if it is pretty much impossible to offend you.

Remember, these guys started out as street performers -- to make a living doing that, you have to be willing to do just about anything to get the attention of passers-by.  And singing a song about have sex with man's best friend is guaranteed to do that.

As is doing an impeccably harmonized version of a classic Motown song.  Believe it or not, DAAS sang beautiful three-part harmony.  

The first video is actually pretty funny, but that's not the main reason I included it in this post.  I included it because the contrast between the two videos is so startling.

Here's a link you can use to order the Doug Anthony All Stars' recording of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" from iTunes:

Heard It Through the Grapevine - DAAS: the LAST Concert

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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Genitorturers -- "I Touch Myself" (2000)

A fool could see
Just how much I adore you
I get down on my knees
I'd do anything for you
And now for something completely different (to borrow the old Monty Python catchphrase).

According to the band's website, lead singer Gen (no last name) "gave birth to the concept of the Genitorturers while in college studying pre-med."  (The band was originally called The Festering Genitorturers, which was gilding the lily a bit, non?)  They debuted at a club in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in 1986, sharing the stage with Declared Ungovernable, Belching Penguins, and The Rhythm Pigs. 

The Genitorturers today

In 1993, Miles Copeland of IRS Records (he had discovered the Police -- his brother, Stewart, was a member -- R.E.M., the Go-Gos, and the Bangles) signed them and released their first album.  The band issued its fifth studio album, Blackheart Revolution, in 2009, but it appears that they are one of those bands you really need to see live to truly appreciate.  

The Genitorturers bill themselves as "The World's Sexiest Rock Band," and were once featured in a Hustler spread as "The Most Perverted Band in America."  If Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson and White Zombie are a little tame for you, the Genitorturers might be just what the doctor ordered.

Here's a recent promotional video that will give you a taste of what one of their live performances looks and feels like.  

The Genitorturers' industrial metal take on "I Touch Myself" isn't bad -- although I can't say that the material and the performance are a match made in heaven.  From what I've read about their live performances generally, I'm sure they put this song to good use.

Here's "I Touch Myself" by the Genitorturers:

Bai Ling
And here's a bonus video of Bai Ling singing "I Touch Myself."  Bai Ling is a Chinese movie star who came to the US in 1991, and has appeared in a number of movies as well as the TV show Lost.

Bai Ling was a contestant on a VH1 show called But Can They Sing?, which featured nine celebrities (including Morgan Fairchild, Larry Holmes, and Carmine Gotti) in an American Idol-style singing competition.  She sang "Like A Virgin" and "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and a couple of other songs before she was voted off, but was later invited to return for a special performance of  "I Touch Myself."  Here it is:

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Touch Myself - Touch Myself EP

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

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vanilla Fudge -- "Season of the Witch" (1968)

Beatniks are out to make it rich,
Oh no, must be the season of the witch
In 1965, three young musicians left a Long Island band called Rick Martin & the Showmen to form a group with one of the worst names I've ever heard -- the Electric Pigeons.

Vanilla Fudge's
first album
The Pigeons, who specialized in performing very complicated cover versions of familiar top 40 songs, developed a strong local following.  A local producer heard the band perform live and was very impressed by their version of the Supremes' hit, "You Keep Me Hangin' On."  He recorded the song (in one take) and that recording impressed Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records, enough that he signed them to a recording contract (as Vanilla Fudge) and released it both as a single and as a track of the band's eponymous debut album.

Vanilla Fudge
I'm not aware of any band that took the approach that Vanilla Fudge took.  That first album included long, baroque/psychedelic cover versions of seven hit singles -- including "Ticket to Ride" and "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles, "She's Not There" by the Zombies, "Bang Bang" by Sonny and Cher, and several others.

Vanilla Fudge's versions of these songs were very different from the originals -- they were much longer, performed at slower tempos, and often used minor keys.  I loved them all, but they are not necessarily to everyone's taste.

Carl Wiser of Songfacts was kind enough to contribute some very interesting tidbits he gleaned from a 2004 conversation with Carmen Appice, Vanilla Fudge's drummer:

Carmine Appice is an interesting character. Among other things, he's the drummer for Vanilla Fudge and co-wrote the Rod Stewart hit "D'ya Think I'm Sexy."  He also played on the Pink Floyd song "Dogs Of War" because Nick Mason's calluses were soft.

Led Zeppelin opened for Vanilla Fudge on their first American tour, and legend has it that Zep blew them away, leaving the headliners cowering in fear. I gently addressed this when I spoke with Carmine in 2004, and he explained that on that tour, fans were there to see the Fudge, and while Zeppelin made an impact, they certainly didn't blow them away. Said Carmine: "Their first date with us was Vanilla Fudge and Spirit, and we were already sold out when they were added to the show. When they went on, the audience was yelling, 'Bring on The Fudge.' It was hilarious. I remember telling Robert Plant he should move around more on the stage."

As for the Fudge and their crazy cover songs, here's how it happened in Carmine's words: "In 1966, when I joined the band, there was a thing going around the New York area and Long Island that was basically slowing songs down, making production numbers out of them and putting emotion into them. The Vagrants were doing it, they had Leslie West in the band. The Rich Kids were doing it, they had this writer named Richard Supa. The Hassles were doing it, they had Billy Joel. It all started from The Rascals, I think. We were all looking for songs that were hits and could be slowed down with emotion put into them."

Here's a video of Vanilla Fudge performing "You Keep Me Hangin' On" live on television.  It is one of the most unbelievable things you will ever see.  The arrangement of this song on the LP is crazy enough, but the band goes even more over the top in this live (not lip-synched) performance.  The go-go dancers -- who don't have a clue how to dance to this -- add a truly surreal element.

Does everyone recognize our old friend, the Hammond B-3 organ?  (Vanilla Fudge's organist, Mark Stein, was a master -- Deep Purple's organist, Jon Lord, cites him as a major influence.)

The band's second album, The Beat Goes On, is sort of a collage of bits and pieces of familiar music (by the Beatles, Cole Porter, Mozart, and others) and original material.  It mystified everyone and the band later blamed it on their producer, who put this album together without much input from the band.

Vanilla Fudge's third album, Renaissance, consists mostly of original music, but the last track on the LP is a version of "Season of the Witch" that is almost nine minutes long.  It's very weird, but very good.

Here's the Vanilla Fudge cover of "Season of the Witch":

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

Season of the Witch - Renaissance (2006 Remastered)

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

Monday, February 21, 2011

Creedence Clearwater Revival -- "I Put A Spell On You" (1968)

I ain't gonna take none of your
Foolin' around
I ain't gonna take none of your
Puttin' me down
Creedence Clearwater Revival's style is about as far from the theatricality and histrionics that characterized a Screamin' Jay Hawkins performance as it is possible to be.

CCR's eponymous first album
CCR's version of "I Put A Spell On You" -- which was the first track on their first album -- is intense and VERY LOUD at times, but it's all music.  No one's climbing out of a coffin or setting anything on fire.

There's not a lot to the song as far as lyrics -- really just one relatively simple verse, which is repeated.  

The song is in 6/8 rhythm -- just like "House Of The Rising Sun."  (Now that would have been a great song for Creedence to cover.  I wonder if they ever played it, or thought about recording it?)  

After the first verse, there is a long instrumental passage -- if the first verse takes up the first quarter of the song, the second and third quarters are the instrumental part, and the final quarter is the repeated verse.

The part of the Creedence version of this song that is the most interesting to me is the short bridge that connects the first half of the instrumental passage to the second half (beginning at about 2:05 of the song), is repeated to connect the second part of the instrumental passage to the repeat of the verse (beginning at about 3:08), and then is used as a coda at the very end of the song (beginning at about 4:10).  

It's a very interesting chord progression, played in double time.  It's too intense to last for long -- just 6 measures long, with a new chord for each measure -- no more than 12 seconds. 

Here's CCR's cover of "I Put A Spell On You":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

I Put a Spell On You - Chronicle: 20 Greatest Hits

Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Scala & Kolacny Brothers -- "Suzanne" (2010)

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

I've already told you about Scala & Kolacny Brothers.  I didn't discover that they had recorded "Suzanne" until very recently.  Once I did, it made it easy for me to decide which version of the song to use in my 4th and final post about it.

This version of "Suzanne" is beautifully done, but it's not nearly as startling to hear a girls' choir sing this song as it is to hear them sing a Metallica song:

I don't know if this video is "official."  The first part -- with the couple walking on the beach -- is very pleasant to watch, but doesn't really go with the lyrics to the song.  The woman is very pretty, but she ain't Suzanne if you ask me.  She doesn't look half crazy and certainly isn't wearing "rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters."    

The part of the video that accompanies the second verse of the song is completely different.  It depicts Jesus's crucifixion in a very explicit manner.  

The nice young couple returns for the third part of the video.  She's flying a kite and he's wearing an argyle sweater.    

Here's the Scala and Kolacny Brothers version of "Suzanne":

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sonny Curtis and the Crickets -- "I Fought The Law" (1959)

Robbin' people with a six gun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
"I Fought The Law" was written by Sonny Curtis, who was one of the original members of Buddy Holly's band, the Crickets.  Curtis rejoined the Crickets after Holly's death, and was one of the pallbearers at Holly's funeral.  He still performs.

Sonny Curtis
Curtis wrote a number of other hit songs -- mostly for country artists.  His most famous song is "Love Is All Around," the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore television show.  

This version of the song is very similar to the Bobby Fuller Four's version -- Fuller's is better, I think, but clearly modeled on the Crickets' 1959 recording.  

The Crickets came up with one especially clever touch.  The words "six gun" are accompanied only by six equally-spaced drum beats, which simulate six pistol shots -- the rhythm shifts from four beats per measure to six beats in that measure.  It is a brilliant little piece of showmanship, and most of the bands that subsequently recorded the song were smart enough to do it the same way the Crickets did.  Listen for it at the 1:16 mark of the Crickets' recording of the song:

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Presidents of the United States of America -- "Video Killed the Radio Star" (1998)

And now we meet in an abandoned studio,
We hear the playback and it seems so long ago,
And you remember how the jingles used to go?
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star

The Presidents of the United States of America did a cover of "Video Killed The Radio Star" for the soundtrack of the 1998 movie, The Wedding Singer.

The Wedding Singer is a bad, bad movie.  Adam Sandler is NOT FUNNY.  (Neither is Will Ferrell or Steve Carell.  Neither one is in this movie, thank heavens, because then it would be even more NOT FUNNY than it already is.)

To add insult to injury, Drew Barrymore is UGLY.  (So is Julia Roberts and so especially is Sarah Jessica Parker.) 

It really is hard to tell the difference
Here's the music video for the Presidents' version of this song, which has some brief clips from the movie.  (For example, you'll see Steve Buscemi at about 00:46 of the video.) 

Here's a link you can use to buy this song from iTunes:

Video Killed the Radio Star - The Wedding Singer (Music from the Motion Picture)

Here's a link you can use to get it from Amazon:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Creedence Clearwater Revival -- "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (1970)

I know that a man ain't supposed to cry, 
But these tears I can't hold inside
Losin' you would end my life, you see
'Cause you mean that much to me
You could have told me yourself
That you love someone else 
Instead I heard it through the grapevine

If I had to pick one band as the personification of rock music, American-style, I would pick Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Here's what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says about Creedence:
Creedence Clearwater Revival . . . were progressive and anachronistic at the same time.  An unapologetic throwback to the golden era of rock and roll . . . [t]heir approach was basic and uncompromising, holding true to the band members’ working-class origins.

The term "roots rock" had not yet been invented when Creedence came along, but in a real way they defined it, drawing inspiration from the likes of Little Richard, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and the artisans of soul at Motown and Stax.  In so doing, Creedence Clearwater Revival became the standard bearers and foremost celebrants of homegrown American music. 

"I Heard It Through The Grapevine" had been a huge hit -- not once, but twice -- for Motown artists.

But that didn't scare off CCR.  Their version of "Grapevine" was released on the Cosmo's Factory album in July 1970.  That was only about 18 months after Marvin Gaye's version of the song had been #1.

Creedence's version of the song -- which is one of the few cover versions of a great song that is equally great -- is eleven minutes long.  I'd be happy if it was an hour long.  It has the no-frills feel of a live performance -- compared to the Motown versions, it's a white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans.

By the way, did you know that CCR performed at Woodstock?  Thanks to the Grateful Dead's endless jamming, Creedence didn't take the stage until 3 AM.  CCR frontman John Fogerty thought their performance wasn't up to snuff, so they are missing from the movie and the original soundtrack album.  (The 25th-anniversary Woodstock box set does include six CCR songs.)

Creedence Clearwater Revival at Woodstock

One other odd fact that somehow seems to fit Creedence, which I think never got the respect it deserved:  the band never had a #1 hit, but had five #2 singles.

Here's CCR's "Grapevine":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

I Heard It Through the Grapevine - Cosmo's Factory (40th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered]

Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon:


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scala & Kolacny Brothers -- "I Touch Myself" (2002)

You're the one who makes me feel happy
You're the sun who makes me shine
When you're around I'm always laughing
I want to make you mine

Scala & Kolacny Brothers is a Belgian girls' choir.  The Kolacny brothers are Stijn, the conductor of the choir, and Steven, who accompanies them on piano.

The brothers started the choir in 1996, with just 18 singers.  Currently, Scala consists of more than 200 young women (or girls) between the ages of 16 and 26.  While Scala initially performed classical choir music, it became famous when it became a "rock choir," performing pop and rock hits in traditional choral arrangements.

Here's a link to their website.

Scala has issued several studio CDs.  The first, titled On the Rocks, was released in 2002 and included versions of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Nirvana), "Every Breath You Take" (the Police), and "Creep" (Radiohead).  Their recording of "Creep" was used in the trailer for The Social Network.  It is a stunning performance, and it makes the trailer pretty stunning, too.  

They've subsequently recorded songs by Coldplay, Depeche Mode, Kings of Leon, Metallica, Peter Gabriel, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, and a host of European recording artists I've never heard of.  They are very good singers.  

To hear a girls' choir sing this kind of music is a somewhat unnerving experience, but they are irresistible.  Their performances reveal so much about these songs.

I don't know whose idea it was to have them record "I Touch Myself."  Maybe the Kolacny boys have a very twisted sense of humor, or maybe they don't quite get the song.  They're lucky they live in a relatively enlightened country -- I hate to think what would have happened to them in a country like Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Here's Scala performing "I Touch Myself":