Sunday, December 29, 2013

Goldfinger -- "Here in Your Bedroom" (1996)

When I wake up tomorrow
Will you have changed?
'Cause I still feel the same

I would have featured this song on 2 or 3 lines long before now except that I was sure that I had already featured this song on 2 or 3 lines long before now.  Does that make sense?

Before you answer, let me rephrase that question.  Does that make sense according to the rather peculiar logic that applies on 2 or 3 lines?

OMG, this is such a fabulous song I don't know what to do with myself!

This blog is ostensibly about song lyrics -- the title is 2 or 3 lines, after all . . . not 2 or 3 notes, or 2 or 3 chords, or 2 or 3 hooks.  But I can deal with blah lyrics if the music is great -- vice versa, not so much.

There's not a lot to the lyrics of this song.  The singer is a guy who is lying in bed with a woman, wondering what she is thinking about and how she will feel about him tomorrow.  (In other words, is he going to get any more somethin'-somethin', or did he just drill a dry hole?)

He's not really sure what he thinks about it all either; in fact, he sings (twice), "I don't know what I'm thinking."  However, he is sure that he will feel the same tomorrow.  (Go figure.)

That's pretty much the whole song in terms of lyrics.  There's not much of a narrative to sink your teeth into, and no real poetry to deconstruct.

But the music is (in the words of Allmusic) "irresistibly catchy" and "hopelessly endearing."  (Hey, that sounds a lot like 2 or 3 lines!)

"Here in Your Bedroom" was released on Goldfinger's eponymous debut album in 1996.  (Appearing on an eponymous debut album is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a song to be featured on 2 or 3 lines, but it sure as hell don't hurt.)  That album helped kick off a mini-ska/punk movement in the U.S.

I'm not a big fan of ska generally -- most ska musicians dress kind of stupid, and are very annoying with all their jumping and twitching.  (You'll see what I mean when you watch the music video for this song.)

But the ska elements of "Here in Your Bedroom" -- primarily the drumming style, but also the on-the-upbeat rhythm guitar -- makes this song much more appealing than it would have been without the ska feel.  

It's too early to end this post, but I don't really have anything more to say.  Let me check Wikipedia and see if I can find anything worth mentioning.

Goldfinger lead singer (and animal
rights activist) John Feldman
Hmmmmm . . . hey, here's something.  Lead singer John Feldmann and bass player Simon Williams, who founded the band in 1994, met when they were both working at the same shoe store.  That's pretty interesting, huh?

OK . . . I'm got a plane to catch early in the morning, so that's going to have to do it for now.

But if it will make you happier, I'll drop in this quote from philosopher George Santayana, which I had planned to use in the upcoming 2 or 3 lines, but then decided to cut because it was so pointless:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness.  When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Got that?  It will make more sense after you read the next 2 or 3 lines.

Let me rephrase that statement.  It will make more sense according to the rather peculiar logic that applies on 2 or 3 lines.

Here's "Here in Your Bedroom":

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

Friday, December 27, 2013

Only Ones -- "The Beast" (1978)

Out in the streets
The modern vampire prowls
He's been spreading disease

Edward FitzGerald's translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám contains these famous lines:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

The same could be said of my humble second-generation iPod "Shuffle."  When it exercises its unfathomable logic to choose a song to play for me, neither my "Piety nor [my] Wit" (I don't have much of the former, and have much less of the latter than my vanity would have me believe) can cancel that song from my mind -- nor can all my tears (I do have more of those than you might think) wash out a word of its lyrics.

But there is one difference between Omar Khayyám's "Moving Finger" and my iPod.  Having played a song, my iPod does not necessarily move on.  If you hit the correct button, it will take you back to the beginning of that song -- over and over and over again . . . as many times as you wish.

When "The Beast" was served up to me by my iPod on one of my recent daily walks, I didn't move on at all.  In fact, I listened to it again and again -- eight or so times in a row.  If my walk hadn't ended when it did, I'm sure I would have kept listening.

My sentient iPod
This happens to me every so often.  When it does, I know what I need to do -- which is to get that bad boy up on 2 or 3 lines immediately.  Once I have done that, my "moving fingers" (I use two of them when I type) can move on -- more importantly, so can my little obsessive-compulsive brain.  

(Who am I kidding?  I don't really believe it's little at all.)

"The Beast" begins with a two-measure guitar figure, which is repeated eight times.  Lead singer Peter Perrett sort of comes out of nowhere to deliver the first verse:

Run from the beast
There's danger in his eyes
He's been looking for you
For a long time
You might think this is funny
But I'm not laughing

I'm not laughing either, and neither will you be laughing -- especially after you hear the second verse:

Out in the streets
The modern vampire prowls
He's been spreading disease
All around
There's an epidemic
If you don't believe me
You ought to take a look at the eyes of your friends

The image of the "modern vampire" prowling the streets and spreading disease is bad enough.  But what's most threatening is what you can see in the eyes of your friends.  If the epidemic is visible in the eyes of your friends, it's way too close to you for comfort.

The Only Ones (circa 1978)
The real problem is that the disease is not just dangerous but also seductive -- its victims open the door and invite the beast to come inside for a nice cuppa:

When someone tempts you, you can't refuse
It's getting colder and you know you got nothing to lose
You need it

Perrett then repeats the first verse (with a small variation), beseeching his audience once again to "run from the beast."  But his heart isn't really in it -- he knows that many will fail to heed his warnings:

You can lead a horse to water
But you can't make him drink

There's really nothing more to say, and the final line of the song -- which stands alone -- is a cry of despair uttered by a modern-day Cassandra whose prophecy is being ignored:

There's no cure!

That line is followed by an instrumental outro that features a searing guitar solo that always leaves me feeling a little drained, but nonetheless eager to go back to the beginning and the whole thing one more time.

Let's listen to the "The Beast" before discussing what it all means:

After hearing "The Beast" a couple of times, I jumped to the conclusion that it was about AIDS.  

That was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that I lived in San Francisco from November 1980 until March 1982.  The city had a large population of gay males, and many of them were about as "out" as "out" could be in those days.  (There were many lesbians in San Francisco then as well, but as a group they were much less vocal and flamboyant about their sexuality.)

The bus I took to my office traversed Polk Gulch, which had been the city's most visibly gay neighborhood for a number of years.  (The neighborhood gets its name from Polk Street, which was jokingly referred to as "Poke Street" in those days.)  I remember riding past packed gay bars on my way home from work, and I particularly remember one local fetishwear store: Hard On Leather.

There was plenty of promiscuity in San Francisco in 1980 -- not only among gay males, of course, although they got most of the attention.  

But attitudes began to change shortly thereafter.  The reason for that, obviously, was AIDS -- acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

In April 1980, the first recognized case of AIDS in the United States was reported to the Center for Disease Control.  The victim was a young gay man.

Shortly after I arrived in San Francisco later that year, gay males began to die from AIDS. 

At first, the numbers were quite small.  In 1981, 121 Americans died from the disease.  In 1982, there were 618 deaths from AIDS.

AIDS awareness marchers in San Francisco (1983)
But in 1986, the death toll was 24,559 -- which rose to 156,413 in 1991 and 410,800 in 1998.  In 2004, 529,113 Americans died from AIDS.

I subsequently found out that "The Beast" was released in 1978.  So it could not have been about AIDS.  In fact, Peter Parrett was singing about drugs.

The band recorded three albums in as many years, but broke up a few months after touring the U.S. with the Who in 1980.  The primary reason for the band's demise?  Frontman Perrett's heroin addiction had a lot to do with it.  (Perrett later became a crack addict.)

From the British newspaper, The Guardian:

Plenty of rock bands have taken drugs, but the Only Ones' story is utterly bound up with them.  Initially, the band were partly funded by Perrett's dealing: he was first spurred to commit their music to tape when he thought he was going to prison after his hash-selling operation was busted in 1976. . . . One book on the band claims John Perry's guitar sound was altered dramatically by his decision to hollow out the instrument to smuggle drugs through customs while on tour.  And drugs eventually brought about their demise, during a disastrous US tour during which, Perrett says, "lots of stupid things happened."

For once, his frankness slips into charming understatement: the "stupid things" involved Perrett contracting hepatitis, getting caught up in a drive-by shooting and deliberately running over a car park attendant and fleeing the country shortly before a warrant was issued for his arrest on charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.
"Because I loved the music so much, I put up with the drugs for a long time," says [Only Ones bassist Alan] Mair, who remained the solitary rock of sobriety in the band.  "But towards the end of that tour, it became evident that everybody was taking the same drugs except me, and I just thought, that's enough. My future was in the hands of people who had lost the plot."
The band reformed in 2006, which surprised many given the level of acrimony among the group's members when they broke up.  I guess absence does make the heart grow fonder.  

Here's "The Beast" again:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Miley Cyrus -- "We Can't Stop" (2013)

We run things
Things don’t run we

I've decided that it is time for 2 or 3 lines to take a position on Miley Cyrus.  

(Hahahahaha, you're very funny -- yes, I did think about making that joke that you just thought of.)

Did you catch Miley's performance with Robin Thicke at the 2013 Video Music Awards?  (You'll definitely wanna go full-screen on this video.)

What do you think is the most appalling element of Miley's performance?  

Her hair?

Her Chuck E. Cheese outfit?

Her giant foam finger?

(By the way, what's with Miley's tongue?  It seems to have a mind of its own.)

Her touching Robin Thicke's crotch with that big foam finger?

Her enthusiastic twerking against said crotch?

Holy moly!  How did a mere 20-year-old -- and a 20-year-old who spent her formative teenage years on the Disney Channel -- become such a gynormous slut?  

XXL, a hip-hop magazine, called Miley's performance "a true trainwreck in the classic sense of the word as the audience reaction seemed to be a mix of confusion, dismay and horror in a cocktail of embarrassment."  

That wasn't my reaction -- not by a long shot.  I didn't experience one iota of confusion, dismay, or (especially) horror at her performance.

Instead, I experienced the kind of gleeful excitement that only a pop music blogger who is committed to write three posts a week and often has absolutely no idea where the next one is coming from can understand what I felt when this dropped into my lap like manna from heaven.  (If this post doesn't generate click numbers beyond my wildest dreams, I'll be surprised.)

If the Video Music Awards performance wasn't enough, there's the music video for Miley's #1 single, "Wrecking Ball," which currently has over 426 million views on Vevo.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about "Wrecking Ball":  

Upon its release, "Wrecking Ball" received generally mixed reviews from music critics who were ambivalent towards its lyrical content and overall production.

You have GOT to be kidding me.  Have these critics watched the "Wrecking Ball" video, which is divided pretty equally between shots of Miley licking the head of a sledgehammer and riding a wrecking ball in her birthday suit.

The former:

The latter:

Did you hear what I said?  She is swinging on a wrecking ball nekkid as a jaybird -- and music critics are worried about her song's "lyrical content" and "overall production"?

And then there's this outfit.  (Does this girl have parents?  A manager?  A super-ego?)

I feel sorry for the Kardashian/Jenner sisters in this photo.  Someone as megaslutty as Miley makes it tough for regular sluts to compete:

Not to mention these pictures.  (What the hell is going on here?)

Where is she getting her fashion advice?  From Larry Flynt?  Ike Turner?  (Ike's dead, you say?)

And then there's her famous "nipple tweet":

Click here to read a Los Angeles Times story about that tweet.  That story -- which is headlined "The real story behind Miley Cyrus's 'Free the Nipple' tweet" -- ends with this mind-boggling line:

Say what you will about Miley Cyrus, but she's starting to look like a feminist hero to me.

"Feminist hero"?  Really?  ("Dirty old man hero," maybe.)

Excuse me, but I need to lie down for a few moments with a cool washcloth on my forehead.

* * * * *

That's better.  My blood pressure did get just a tad high for a moment or two, but everything's back to normal now.  

Anywho . . . By the way, how's your blood pressure these days?  1o5 over 75?  Hey, that's very good!  But your blood pressure isn't what this post is all about, is it?

No, it's not.  Miley Cyrus is what this post is all about, and I'm betting her blood pressure is perfectly normal.  Miley's problem is not high blood pressure.

Miley's problem is that Satan is currently in residence in her brain, her heart, her soul, and  -- last but certainly not least -- her nether regions.

You don't have to take my word for it.  Just watch the "We Can't Stop" video.  As my mother would say, "It's . . . different."

Here's what Idolator -- a music website that sounds like it is well-acquainted with Satan, too -- had to say about that video:

Have you watched Miley Cyrus's "We Can't Stop" music video yet?  Of course you have!  Have you recovered from it yet?  Probably not!  And that’s OK — a french fry skull is not for the faint of heart.  But you have to admit, if art is supposed to elicit reactions, than this video did its job.  Our own Sam Lansky said the visual is “like a party at Terry Richardson‘s house as filmed by David Fincher that you’re watching after drinking an entire bottle of Robitussin.”  We think that’s just about the most accurate description out there.  Also, he meant that as a total compliment.  

So does 2 or 3 lines, Miley.  Honest!

Click here to join the 315 million people who have viewed the official music video for "We Can't Stop":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Robin Thicke (ft. Black Thought) -- "Blurred Lines" (2013)

Good girlfriends, I've had a few
But the best girlfriend I ever had is you 

Let's start this post off with an inspirational quote from Edward Gibbon, author of the groundbreaking historical work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book. 

Substitute "blog" for "book," and . . . welcome to 2 or 3 lines!

Robin Thicke recently performed "Blurred Lines" with Jimmy Fallon and his house band, the Roots, on Fallon's late-night show on NBC.  The  thing that makes that performance so charming is that the Roots and Fallon accompanied Thicke on toy instruments like those you might find in an elementary-school classroom:

Fallon is a total douche.  For one thing, he broke the heart of a young female lawyer at my law firm.  But much more importantly, he's a Red Sox fan, or at least he played a Red Sox fan in a movie, which is close enough for government work.  

However, he has a great house band in the Roots and he has a lot of cool musical guests.

Tariq Luqmaan Trotter -- who goes by the nom de hip-hop "Black Thought" -- is the lead MC and co-founder (with drummer Ahmir Thompson, a/k/a/ "Questlove") of the Roots.  The lines quoted above come from Black Thought's freestyle rap during Thicke's performance on Fallon's show.

Black Thought and Questlove
I'm using Black Thought's lines rather than lines form the rap verse of the original recording of "Blurred Lines," which was contributed by our old favorite, T.I.

T.I. usually doesn't pull any punches, and he certainly doesn't on his "Blurred Lines" verse, which starts off like this:

One thing I ask you
Let me be the one you back that ass into

Things go straight downhill from there, I'm afraid, so I used Black Thought's lines instead -- if they are clean enough for NBC's lawyers, they're clean enough for 2 or 3 lines.

Robin Thicke gets twerked
Here are the first four lines of Black Thought's freestyle rap for "Blurred Lines":

Good girlfriends, I had a few
But the best girlfriend I ever had is you
I thank God for my blessings, it began with you
So I put a ring on it and I married you

As you regular readers know, 2 or 3 lines has the utmost affection and respect for girlfriends.  Click here if you doubt me.  But girlfriends and wives are two very different things, and just because you can handle one of those roles well doesn't mean you can handle the other.

Former president Bill Clinton has this to say about girlfriends and wives:

I'm not saying that Black Thought will be sorry for putting a ring on it.  I'm just saying that the words below are just as true now as they were when English author John Heywood wrote them in 1546:

And though they seeme wives for you never so fit,
Yet let not harmfull haste so far out run your wit:
But that ye harke to heare all the whole summe
That may please or displease you in time to cumme.
Thus by these lessons ye may learne good cheape
In wedding and all things to looke ere ye leaped
(They obviously didn't have spell checkers back in 1546.)

Here's the official music video for "Blurred Lines," which has attracted 237 million viewers on Youtube:

Here's a video of Thicke's performance of an excerpt from "Blurred Lines" at the Video Music Awards.  He got a little help from Miley Cyrus.  (The video begins with Miley performing "We Can't Stop" solo, and then segues into a "Blurred Lines" duet with Thicke about three minutes in.)
Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Rolling Stones (ft. Merry Clayton) -- "Gimme Shelter" (1969)

Rape, murder!
It's just a shot away!

Great art often comes at a great cost.  But rarely does an artist pay a price as high as backup singer Merry Clayton paid the night she recorded the stunning vocal that made "Gimme Shelter" so extraordinary.

The great rock critic, Greil Marcus, once said that "the Stones have never done anything better" than "Gimme Shelter," which is the opening track – and the best track – on the Rolling Stones' best album, Let It Bleed.  

"Gimme Shelter" begins with a nervous, twitchy guitar solo by Keith Richards (who turned 70 two days ago), but then drummer Charlie Watts – always unsung, but perhaps the most essential of all the Stones – takes over, propelling the song down the tracks as only he can.  Mick Jagger's lead vocal is unusually strong, but the crucial element of "Gimme Shelter" – the one thing that lifts it above just about anything else the Stones ever recorded – is backup singer Merry Clayton.

Here's a photo of a portion of the inner sleeve of my copy of Let It Bleed.  Note the two misspellings:  "Gimmie Shelter" and "Mary Clayton":

You could say that "Gimme Shelter" and the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" are fraternal twins.  Their message is the message of William Butler Yeats' masterpiece, "The Second Coming":

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

Musical anarchy is loosed upon the world when backup singer Merry Clayton tears "Gimme Shelter" a new you-know-what about 2:45 into the song.

Click here to listen to "Gimme Shelter."

*     *     *     *     *

Merry Clayton got her start with Ray Charles, and later sang backing vocals for Joe Cocker, Tom Jones, and Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Sweet Home Alabama").  She is featured in 20 Feet From Stardom, a documentary I recently saw in an almost completely empty movie theater in Washington, DC.  (It was just me and one other person in the whole theater.) 

The movie focuses on a half-dozen or so female backup singers who made their names singing on soul and rock albums in the sixties and seventies – including not only Clayton, but also Darlene Love (who sang on dozens of Phil Spector records, often without being credited), Lisa Fischer (who has accompanied the Stones on every one of their tours since 1989), and Claudia Lennear (a former Ike and Tina Turner "Ikette" who also backed up Joe Cocker and Leon Russell, and was the inspiration for the Stones' "Brown Sugar").

Here's the trailer for the movie:

*     *     *     *     *

Clayton and the Stones didn't know each other before she was picked to do the backing vocal that made her famous.  Years later, she told an interviewer about the night she was called and asked to sing on "Gimme Shelter":

Well, I’m at home at . . . almost 12 o’clock at night.  And I’m hunkered down in my bed with my husband, very pregnant, and we got a call from a dear friend of mine and producer named Jack Nitzsche.  Jack Nitzsche called and said you know, "Merry, are you busy?"  I said, "No, I’m in bed."  He says, well, you know, "There are some guys in town from England.  And they need someone to come and sing a duet with them, but I can’t get anybody to do it.  Could you come?" He said, "I really think this would be something good for you." 

Merry Clayton then
Clayton's husband talked her into going down to the studio – she claims she had no idea who the Stones were.  When she showed up, Keith Richards explained what they were looking for her to do:
I said, "Well, play the track. It’s late. I’d love to get back home." So they play the track and tell me that I’m going to sing – this is what you’re going to sing: "Oh, children, it’s just a shot away." . . . I said, "Well, that’s cool."  So I did the first part, and we got down to the rape, murder part.  And I said, "Why am I singing 'rape, murder'?" . . . They told me the gist of what the lyrics were, and I said, "Oh, okay, that’s cool." 

Merry Clayton now
So then I had to sit on a stool because I was a little heavy in my belly.  I mean, it was a sight to behold.  And we got through it.  And then we went in the booth to listen, and I saw them hooting and hollering while I was singing, but I didn’t know what they were hooting and hollering about.  And when I got back in the booth and listened, I said, "Ooh, that’s really nice."  They said, well, "You want to do another?"  I said, well, "I’ll do one more," I said, "and then I’m going to have to say thank you and good night."  I did one more, and then I did one more.  So it was three times I did it, and then I was gone.  The next thing I know, that’s history.
Click here to listen to Clayton's isolated vocal track from that recording session.  Listen to her voice crack – and listen to the reaction from the Stones.

*     *     *     *     *

Shortly after leaving the studio that night, Merry Clayton suffered a miscarriage and lost her child.  
“That was a dark, dark period for me,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1986, “but God gave me the strength to overcome it.  I turned it around.  I took it as life, love and energy and directed it in another direction, so it doesn’t really bother me to sing ‘Gimme Shelter’ now.”
Merry Clayton later recorded "Gimme Shelter" on her 1970 solo album of the same name.  Click here to listen to her version of the song.

Click here to watch a video of Lady Gaga doing "Gimme Shelter" with the Stones at a benefit concert in 2012.  I wouldn't say it's bad, but I wouldn't say it's good either.

Click on the link below to buy the original "Gimme Shelter" from Amazon:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver -- "Please, Mr. Kennedy" (2013)

I'm six foot two
So perhaps you'll
Tell me how to fit into a
Five-foot capsule

Hey -- I'm six foot two, too!  What a coinkidink!  (I used to be six foot three, but I was so much younger then . . . I'm older than that now.)

NOTE:  I know there are a lot of grammar nerds who read 2 or 3 lines.  FYI, "six foot two" is correct -- if you don't believe me, click here.  If you still don't believe me, consider this:  "Five foot two, eyes of blue/But oh! what those five foot could do!"  I rest my case.

ANOTHER NOTE:  I had quite a tussle with the ol' spell-checker over "coinkidink."  Did you know it is the classical Latin pronunciation for coincidence?  

Inside Llewyn Davis, which was written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, is a movie about a folk singer who is having a tough time making a name for himself in the Greenwich Village folk-music scene of 1961.

The movie is currently in very limited release in the U.S.  (It goes wide later this week.)  So it's almost certain that you haven't seen it yet.  

But 2 or 3 lines has seen it.  2 or 3 lines saw it at a press screening in Washington, DC, last week although 2 or 3 lines did not attend that press screening as a member of the press.  

That's about as much as I'm going to say about that -- anything more about that evening will be provided strictly on a need-to-know basis.  (2 or 3 lines works in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform.)  The last time I looked, you mos' definitely did NOT have a need to know.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) and friend
I liked Inside Llewyn Davis a lot.  Most of the time, my opinion of a movie is highest when I'm in the moment -- after a few hours or a few days of reflecting on it, my enthusiasm may wane a bit.  The opposite is happening here -- the more I think about Inside Llewyn Davis, the more I think I like it.  

But that doesn't mean I would expect everyone to like it.  I think many people who will see it will walk out and say, "Meh."

One of the highlights of the movie is its soundtrack was produced by T-Bone Burnett.  He also produced the soundtrack for the Coens' O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which includes the traditional American folk song, "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow."

The Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack contains a number of traditional folk songs.  (Davis offers this definition of a folk song: "If it was never new and never gets old, it's a folk song.")

But it also contains "Please, Mr. Kennedy," a brilliant and hilarious original song about a reluctant astronaut who pleads with President Kennedy not to send him into outer space.  

Here's the scene from the movie where "Please, Mr. Kennedy" is performed by Oscar Isaac (who plays the title character), Justin Timberlake (who plays a folk singer who is a friend of Llewyn Davis), and Adam Driver (who plays a third folk singer).

Click here to read an interview of Burnett, Isaac, and Driver about the writing and recording of the song.

I said that "Please, Mr. Kennedy" was an original song.  But strictly speaking, it's not an original song.

The "Please, Mr. Kennedy" songwriting credit lists not only T-Bone Burnett, Justin Timberlake, and Ethan and Joel Coen, but also Ed Rush and George Cromarty.

That's because Rush and Cromarty, who recorded as the Goldcoast Singers, wrote a song called "Please, Mr. Kennedy" (which released on a 1962 album titled Here They Are! The Goldcoast Singers) that is essentially the same song as the Inside Llewyn Davis "Please, Mr. Kennedy," but with new lyrics.  Click here to listen to that song.

But that's not the whole story.  

In 1961, Motown released a single by Mickey Woods that is also called "Please, Mr. Kennedy."  It's a pretty big leap from that song to the Goldcoast Singers' song, but it is also about a guy asking President Kennedy not to draft him -- not because he is opposed to the war, but because he wants to marry his best girl first.  (The singer would also be satisfied if his best friend -- who he suspects of having designs on his girl -- were to be drafted at the same time.)

And you can go back a little further still.  The Mickey Woods' "Please, Mr. Kennedy" may have been inspired by Larry Verne's "Mr. Custer," which was a #1 hit single in 1960.  

"Mr. Custer" is sung by a private in the 7th Cavalry who begs General Custer to leave him behind if he insists on fighting the Battle of Little Bighorn:

There's a redskin a-waitin' out there
Just a-fixin' to take my hair
A coward I've been called 
'Cause I don't wanna wind up dead or bald

The Inside Llewyn Davis "Please, Mr. Kennedy" has been nominated for the "Best Original Song" Golden Globe.  But it won't be nominated for an Academy Award -- or it won't be unless the Academy committee that nominates songs for the "Best Original Song" Oscar changes their rules.  That's because the Academy's rules limit eligibility for that award to a song that "consists of words and music, both of which are original and written specifically for the motion picture."  

Forrest Wickman of Slate is not happy about this state of affairs because he believes that the Inside Llewyn Davis song is an adaptation that is "transformative" -- which happens to be a term of art that is fraught with significance for copyright lawyers (and which won't be explained further here because you're not paying me $670 an hour) -- and that represents a "form of genius" equal (or superior) to that of creating a song from scratch (if such a thing is really possible).

The Coens, Burnett, Timberlake, and Oscar Isaac put in hours and hours overhauling the song entirely: In addition to adding the countdown at the beginning and Driver’s ad libs, Burnett himself wrote "10 or 15 verses."  The Coens then "edited and refined and changed" these verses.  Together they kicked around and recorded multiple versions over the course of weeks, before the performers finally shaped the final version under Burnett and the Coens’ direction.  It was a perfect example of the kind of "creative interaction between the filmmaker(s) and the composer(s)" that the Academy explicitly values.

But the Academy’s rules, as they exist today, don’t reward this kind of creativity. In fact, it’s dismissal of this kind of creativity that prevented the Academy from recognizing classics like "Gangsta's Paradise" and "Fight the Power" from
Dangerous Minds and Do The Right Thing because they used samples. 
I couldn't agree more.  

Once again, here's "Please, Mr. Kennedy":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Donna Fargo -- "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." (1972)

Skip-a-dee-doo-dah, thank you Lord 
For making him for me
And thank you for letting life turn out the way
That I always thought it could be

"The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." is possibly the most surprising musical choice ever for a Nike TV commercial -- they usually feature somewhat less syrupy songs.  (Think "Revolution" by the Beatles, "Search and Destroy" by Iggy Pop and the Stooges, "List of Demands" by Saul Williams, and other of that ilk -- loud, intense and high-energy.)

"The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." was a #1 country hit for Donna Fargo in 1972, and made it to #11 on the Billboard "Hot 100."  The singer is a newlywed who is singing to her new husband, and she couldn't be happier -- performing the simplest household chores fill her with delight because she's married the man of her dreams.

The Nike commercial that uses this song as its soundtrack features women softball players -- including members of the 2008 United States Olympic softball team.

The U.S. softballers at the 2008 Olympics
That was the last year women's softball was an Olympic sport.  It wasn't included in the 2012 Olympics, and it won't be part of the 2016 Olympics either.  Whether it is reinstated in 2020 or later is anyone's guess.

Why was softball dropped from the Olympics after the 2008 games -- which was only the fourth Olympics to feature it?

Most suspect that the Olympic powers-that-be decided that the United States was simply too dominant in women's softball.

Pitcher Jennie Finch
Ironically, the USA did not win the 2008 gold medal after winning the 1996, 2000, and 2004 golds easily.  The 2008 gold medalist was Japan, which edged the Americans in the gold medal game.

The Americans had cruised past Japan 7-0 in the preliminary round, and prevailed once again in the semifinals by a 4-1 score.  After the Japanese edged Australia, 4-3, in the bronze medal game, the Japanese shocked the heavily-favored American team in the ultimate contest, 3-1.

This Nike commercial was shot and broadcast before the American softballers' shocking defeat.  It alternates shots of the Olympic team's members in action with shots of high schoolers and even younger players.

Let's watch it now:

I love this commercial because I love girl jocks.  (I'm sorry if that is politically incorrect language, but "female athletes" sounds so stiff.)

Please don't jump to the conclusion that there's anything prurient about my love for girl jocks.  The fact that my younger sister and my daughters were such good athletes has a lot more to do with it.

My sister was one of the first female athletes inducted into her college's athletic hall of fame -- and she was voted in on the basis of her accomplishments in two sports, basketball and softball.  I saw her play exactly one basketball game, and I never saw her play a college softball game.  (She was a pitcher.) 

That's because I was almost exclusively interested in my own life back in those days.  I didn't pay much attention to anyone else.

U.S. Olympian Jessica Mendoza trying to score
I tried to make up for that when my daughters started playing sports soon after they started grade school.  I rarely missed a basketball or soccer game of theirs, and when I did have to miss one because I was out of town or when a game was cancelled due to bad weather, I would get very salty.  

I don't remember ever being sorry for choosing one of their games over working or anything else.  (There's an old saw to the effect that no dying man ever said "I wish I had spent more time at the office."  I second that emotion, boys and girls.)

This commercial goes heavy on the slow-motion shots, two of which I especially like. 

The first is at 0:14, and features a very young pitcher who is rotating her hips almost violently in order to generate torque and increase her arm speed and, consequently, the velocity of her pitch.  The second (at 0:43) is a shot from the catcher's point of view of a batter swinging and missing at a fastball -- the ball gets larger and larger and the viewer feels like her or she is going to get hit by it right between the eyes.  But at the last second, there's a cut to  a shot of the catcher snagging it.

There are some wonderful small touches in the commercial.  Near the beginning of the spot, several players are shown riding in a golf cart, their insouciant postures essentially indistinguishable from that of male players in a similar situation.  The fact that they are jocks is much more significant than the fact that they are girls.

The 2008 Olympic softball team off the field
And notice the very quick closeup (at 0:17) of a softballer's hand gripping a chain-link fence, her nails painted a delicate coral-pink color.    

I wonder why "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." was chosen as the musical accompaniment for this spot.  

I suppose we could simply focus on the title (which is the last line of the chorus) and say that the song is simply a statement of the utter joy that these girls (or women) feel when they are on the softball field with their teammates.  

But as noted above, the song as a whole is about a young newlywed who glories in a very traditional marriage -- albeit a marriage where the young husband seems to share equally in the household chores:

You make the coffee
I'll make the bed
I'll fix your lunch
And you fix mine

But the fundamental point of this song is that the singer would never have been truly happy without a husband -- for her, having a man to love is absolutely necessary to her feelings of fulfillment.

Do the softball players in the Nike commercial feel the same way as the singer?  Some of them may.  But others may find their fulfillment in athletics or a career, not in a traditional marriage.

That's especially true for gay female athletes, of course.  They aren't thanking God "for making him for me."

Very few of the athletes in the 2012 London Olympics were openly gay.  According to CBS News, only 23 of the more than 10,000 athletes who participated in the 2012 Olympics were "out" -- 20 women and three men.  

It is widely thought that there are many more gay female athletes than gay male athletes, but I couldn't find any hard evidence to back up that perception.

It is also widely thought that it is harder for a gay male athlete to come out than it is for a gay female athlete.  But it's not at all clear that's true either.  

Straight male athletes aren't really threatened when a teammate announces he is gay -- the public perception is that male athletes are generally straight, and the fact that there are occasional exceptions to that rule doesn't call into question the heterosexuality of the typical male athlete.

But as Dr. Pat Griffin (an expert on LGBT issues in sports) has noted, “I think straight women historically have been very concerned with the image of sports and being tagged with the lesbian label, which has lead to a lot of division among woman in sports.”

Brittney Griner
It does seem to be true that gay female athletes who come out of the closet are subject to much less scrutiny than gay male athletes.  When female basketball superstar Brittney Griner acknowledged last April that she was a lesbian, there wasn't much attention paid to that.  But when Jason Collins -- a relatively unknown NBA veteran -- became the first active male professional athlete playing a major team sport in the United States to come out, his story was all over the newspapers, ESPN, and sports-talk radio.

One reporter attributed that to the fact that "[a]n openly gay female athlete almost isn't news.  A lesbian in the locker room conforms to a stereotype, just as a straight male athlete is a stereotype."

Or perhaps the two announcements were treated so differently because women's sports never get nearly as much attention as men's sports -- regardless of the subject.

As I noted above, the enjoyment I derive from watching girl jocks is due in large part to the pleasure and pride I felt when I watched my sister and daughters play sports.  When I watch this commercial, I see them -- and their teammates -- in every one of the softball players who are shown throwing a ball, swinging a bat, or simply running to first base.

To me, every one of those girls is strong and graceful and utterly beautiful.  More importantly, every one of them seems to be having the time of her life.  

Two lines appear on the screen near the end of this commercial:  "We have softball.  You can have everything else." 

For most female softball players, that's no doubt something of an exaggeration.  But I hope each one of them has felt that way on occasion.  Perhaps during the moment of exhilaration that follows a diving catch or a game-winning hit -- or perhaps after a devastating defeat like the one the 2008 U.S. Olympic team suffered against Japan, when teammates hugged each other and the tears flowed.  

Here's a live recording of "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.":

Click below to order the song from Amazon: