Friday, February 28, 2014

Ennio Morricone -- "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968)

After directing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly -- the last movie in the "Man with No Name" trilogy -- Italian director Sergio Leone thought he had directed his last spaghetti Western.  But when Paramount offered him a generous budget and a chance to direct Henry Fonda, Leone changed his mind.

The late Sergio Leone
Leone enlisted Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento -- two Italian film critics who later became directors -- to help him develop the story for the Once Upon a Time in the West.  (Bertolucci's directing credits include The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris.)

Bertolucci and Argento spent the best part of a year watching and discussing famous Western movies, and Once Upon a Time in the West contains references to High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma, The Magnificent Seven, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and other classics.

Once Upon a Time in the West was not a box-office success when it was released in 1968, but has a considerable cult following today.  Many great directors (among them Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Quentin Tarantino) are fans, and a number of film critics consider it to be the greatest Western of all time.  

Leone is a very patient director.  Like most of his films, this one is characterized by long scenes where very little action takes place, followed by brief bursts of violence.  Leone is content to spend a lot of time simply focusing on a character's face -- or just on his eyes.

The climactic scene of the movie is the shootout between the Frank the bad guy (Henry Fonda) and Harmonica the good guy (Charles Bronson) -- so named because he wears a harmonica on a leather string around his neck.

The bad guy
The good guy
On two earlier occasions, Frank has asked Harmonica who he is.  Harmonica replies only with the names of men that Frank has murdered. 

As the two men position themselves to shoot it out, we learn why Harmonica has been pursuing Frank: when Harmonica was a boy, Frank and his henchmen forced Harmonica to support the weight of his older brother on his shoulders after they putt the brother's neck in a noose.  As the boy struggles to support his brother's weight, Frank places a harmonica in his mouth and tells him to play for his brother.  Harmonica finally collapses -- or perhaps his brother kicks him away in a final suicidal act of defiance -- and the brother dies.

The scene is accompanied by Harmonica's leitmotif, which features a harmonica:

Ennio Morricone composed the scores for Leone's best Westerns, including Once Upon a Time in the West, and hundreds of others movies and television series.  He has been nominated for five Grammy and five Oscars, and received a special honorary Academy Award in 2007 -- one of only two composers to be so honored.

The score for Once Upon a Time in the West features musical themes for each of the film's major characters. 

Ennio Morricone
The main theme features wordless vocals by Edda Dell'Orso, who collaborated regularly with Morricone.  (As you remember, boys and girls, the human voice is just another musical instrument when there are no words being sung, so today's featured music qualifies as an instrumental.)

This post brings us to the end of this year "29 Posts in 28 Days," which was devoted to instrumentals.  We'll be back shortly with a 2 or 3 lines that begins with two or three lines of lyrics.

Here's the truly lovely main theme from Once Upon a Time in the West, which is simply titled "Once Upon a Time in the West" on the movie's soundtrack recording:

Click below to buy it from Amazon:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tornados -- "Telstar" (1962)

Robert George "Joe" Meek was born in a small town in England in 1929, and became interested in electronics at a very young age.  After serving as a Royal Air Force radar technician, he became an audio engineer and then an independent record producer.

Joe Meek
Meek did not play any musical instrument, and he couldn't read music.  But he wrote and produced a number of hit records, including "Telstar," a 1962 instrumental that became the first record by a British group to make it to #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100."

Meek pioneered the use of overdubbing, audio compression, and the use of echo and reverb.  At a time when most producers (Phil Spector, for example) brought a group of musicians into a studio and recorded them playing together in real time, Meek usually recorded the various instrumental and vocal components of a song separately and then processed and combined them to create records.

In 1991, the BBC aired a documentary about Meek, which it titled The Very Strange Story of . . . the Legendary Joe Meek.  Meek's life -- and death -- makes the "very strange story" part of the documentary's title very apt.  Click here if you'd like to view that documentary.

Meek was fascinated by the occult and was constantly attempting to communicate with the dead, especially dead musicians.  (He claimed that Buddy Holly had spoken to him in his dreams.)

He set up tape recorders in cemeteries in an attempt to capture voices from "the other side," once insisting that a cat whose meows he had recorded was really speaking for a dead person.

Meek was also paranoid.  He believed that Decca Records had hidden microphones in his studio to eavesdrop on what he was up to, and once accused Phil Spector of stealing his ideas.

The Telstar satellite
And Meek was a homosexual at a time when homosexual acts were illegal in the UK.  In 1963, Meek had been convicted of "importuning for immoral purposes."  His only penalty for that offense was a £15 fine, but subjected him to potential blackmail.  

Last but not least, French composer Jean Ledrut sued Meek for copyright infringement, alleging that he had stolen the tune for "Telstar" from a film score Ledrut had composed.  As a result, the royalties from Meek's biggest hit were withheld for years.  

That was apparently the last straw.  On February 3, 1967, Meek -- who was 37 years old -- killed his landlady with a shotgun and then shot himself.  Three weeks after his death, the copyright lawsuit was dismissed.

The Tornados
The Tornados, the group that recorded "Telstar," was Meek's house band.  They played on many records produced by Meek, and toured as a back-up band for Billy Fury, who was an Elvis-style English singer who had 26 top-forty hits in the UK between 1959 and 1966.

"Telstar," which was named after the communications satellite that was launched into orbit in July 1962,  featured a small electronic keyboard called a clavioline.  The bridge solo on Del Shannon's "Runaway" was played on a clavioline, and the Beatles used one on "Baby, You're a Rich Man."

A clavioline
Roger LaVern, who died last year, played keyboards for the Tornados.  When he left the group, he received only £1900 in royalties from Meek in addition to the session fees he was paid.  That's not much given the success of "Telstar" (which sold five million copies) and the Tornados' other hits. 

LaVern's post-Tornados life was very eventful.  From the Telegraph's obituary of LaVern (which you can read in its entirety if you click here): 

“There were so many girls,” LaVern recalled. “You came out of the stage door and you could click your fingers and say 'you, you and you’. It was like plucking apples off a tree.” Over 30 or so years he bedded, by his own estimate, “a good 3,500”, married nine times (one union only got as far as the wedding reception and he married his last wife twice), and furnished a further four women with children (“all accidents”). 

“I would get so wrapped up in girls that they would take over everything,” he recalled. “I felt a bit like a lemming that kept throwing itself off the cliff.”

Roger LaVern in a rum ad
On the strength of "Telstar," LaVern went on to develop a career as a solo pianist and found success in Mexico, where he appeared in television commercials for Ron Castillo Rum and Chevrolet cars and played the piano on television and in hotels and nightclubs.

Known as El Lobo Plateado (“The Silver Wolf”), he became something of a celebrity, playing at presidential cocktail parties.  In 1978 he broke the world record in a piano-playing marathon which lasted 48 days, 20 hours and 47 minutes.

But eventually his hands seized up with Dupuytren’s Contracture and he had to return to Britain for a series of operations which took 10 years to correct the condition.  His professional career was over, and at one point in the early 1990s he was reduced to working as a security guard for Associated Newspapers.

Here's "Telstar":

Click below to buy "Telstar" from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Young-Holt Unlimited -- "Soulful Strut" (1968)

Barbara Acklin started working at the Chicago office of Brunswick Record as a lowly receptionist in 1966, but she quickly moved from the reception desk to the recording studio.

Barbara Acklin
After she co-wrote a top ten hit for Jackie Wilson, Acklin was signed to a recording contract.  Her biggest solo hit, "Love Makes a Woman," reached #3 on the Billboard R&B chart in July 1968.

Later that year, she recorded a song titled "Am I the Same Girl," which was a minor hit.  ("Am I the Same Girl" was co-written by Eugene Record, the lead vocalist of the Chi-Lites.  A few years, Acklin and Record -- who eventually got married -- co-wrote the big Chi-Lites' hit, "Have You Seen Her?")

Here's Acklin's recording of "Am I the Same Girl":

Does that record sound familiar?  It should.  

"Am I the Same Girl" was produced by Carl Davis, who decided to strip Acklin's vocal off the record, add a piano solo to the background track, and release the resulting instrumental as "Soulful Strut."

Isaac "Redd" Holt and Eldee Young
"Soulful Strut" was credited to Young-Holt Unlimited, which had been formed in 1966 by bassist Eldee Young and drummer Isaac Holt.  Both Young and Holt had been members of the Ramsay Lewis Trio, whose biggest hit was "The In Crowd."

Here's "The In Crowd," which is an instrumental worthy of being featured on 2 or 3 lines all by itself:

I've read that neither Young nor Holt actually played on "Am I the Same Girl."  If that's the case, it's unclear why producer Davis credited that single to Young-Holt Unlimited.  I'm guessing it had something to do with either money or sex.  (On the other hand, it might have had something to do with both money and sex.)

In any event, "Soulful Strut" was a major hit for an instrumental, climbing all the way to #3 on the pop charts in early 1969.

Swing Out Sister covered "Am I the Same Girl" in 1992, and their version reached #1 on the Billboard "Adult Contemporary" chart that year.  Martha Stewart later used the Swing Out Sister version as the theme song for The Martha Stewart Show, her syndicated one-hour talk show that began to air a few months after Ms. Stewart got out of the poke in 2005 and ran until 2012.  

Here's "Soulful Strut":

Click below to buy "Soulful Strut" from Amazon:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bent Fabric -- "Alley Cat" (1962)

Bent Fabricius-Bjerre -- who became known internationally as Bent Fabric -- was a Danish pianist and composer whose 1961 instrumental, "Omkring et Flygel" ("Around a Piano"), became a big hit in Denmark.

The following year, the record was released internationally under the name "Alley Cat."  It was a #1 hit in Australia and reached the top ten in the United States, where it won the Grammy for best instrumental.

I still have the sheet music for "Alley Cat," which I learned to play when I was 12 or so.  It was a particular favorite of my mother's. 

"Alley Cat" has a simple structure.  It begins with an eight-measure primary theme, which is repeated.  Then comes an eight-measure secondary theme.  The primary theme then returns, followed by an eight-measure variation on that theme (which is also repeated).  The secondary theme comes back for an encore performance, followed by one final iteration of the primary theme.  The piece closes with a four-measure coda.

All that is a little abstract, so here's a short video:

Fabricius-Bjerre, who was born in 1924, began to perform and compose shortly after the end of World War II, and he continued to write music into his eighties.  The title track of his album Jukebox made it to #7 on USA Dance/Club Play charts in 2006 -- 44 years after "Alley Cat" was a hit.

According to Wikipedia, "Alley Cat" is the most common music played by ice cream trucks in Mexico. 

Here's "Alley Cat":

Click below to buy "Alley Cat" from Amazon:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lalo Schifrin -- "Theme from Mannix" (1967)

George Orwell (who was born Eric Arthur Blair) coined the neologism doublethink, which he defined as "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."  

Orwell first used doublethink in his remarkable dystopian novel, 1984, which was published just a few months before Orwell died in January 1950.

But Orwell had penned a notable example of doublethink in his 1945 novella, Animal Farm

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

The same applies to 2 or 3 lines, boys and girls.  Let me explain.

I decided a few weeks ago that one of the instrumentals in this year's "29 Posts in 28 Days" would be a theme song from one of the many great old detective/secret agent TV shows of my youth.

I'm talking about shows like Peter Gunn and The Untouchables and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy and Mission: Impossible and Hawaii 5-0 . . . all of which had theme songs worthy of being featured on 2 or 3 lines.

Mike Connors
So why did I choose to feature the theme song from Mannix, a CBS private-eye series starring Mike Connors that ran from 1967 to 1975?

Mannix was not the best of those shows -- it was a solid private-eye series, but wasn't particularly distinctive or stylish.  And its theme song doesn't really stand out.

The Mannix theme was written by Lalo Schifrin, a very successful composer of television and movie soundtracks.  

Schifrin composed the music for dozens and dozens of movies, including classics like Cool Hand Luke, Dirty Harry (and its sequels), and Enter the Dragon (Bruce Lee's final movie).  But he is most famous for his Mission: Impossible theme.

The Mannix theme is a little different from most TV themes because it's in 6/8 time.

But Mission: Impossible has a 5/4 time signature, which is very innovative.  Most people would no doubt pick it over the Mannix theme.

So why am I featuring the theme from Mannix?  Because my high-school jazz band performed it -- with me at the piano.

So you might say that the Mannix theme isn't as good as the Mission: Impossible theme -- but at the same time, it's better.

You may not understand how that is possible.  But George Orwell would have.

Here's a video of the opening and closing credits of a Mannix episode, which will give you the theme song as it was heard by viewers of the show:

And here's an arrangement of the theme song performed by the WDR Big Band.  (WDR -- Westdeutcher Rundfunk -- is a German public-broadcasting institution based in Cologne that also sponsors a symphony orchestra.)

Click below to buy a recording of the Mannix TV theme:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Booker T. & the M.G.'s -- "Time Is Tight" (1969)

A "29 Posts in 28 Days" focused on instrumentals would be sadly incomplete if it didn't include a record from Booker T. & the M.G.'s, who had no fewer than 18 instrumental singles on the Billboard "Hot 100" between 1962 and 1971.  

Three of those singles made it to the top ten, including today's featured instrumental, "Time Is Tight," which peaked at #6 in February 1969.  (It was a #4 hit in the UK.)

Booker T. & the M.G.'s were the Stax Records house band, and they played on hundreds of records by great R&B artists like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave, and Bill Withers.

Jackson, Cropper, Jones, and Dunn
The group's original members were Booker T. Jones (organ and piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Al Jackson, Jr. (drums), and Lewie Steinberg (bass).  In 1965, Steinberg was replaced by Donald "Duck" Dunn.  

"Time Is Tight" was the last song on the soundtrack album for the 1968 movie, Uptight, which was an update of John Ford's 1935 film, The Informer.  

The Ford movie involved a former member of the Irish Republican Army who turns informer.  In Uptight, the informer was a member of a group of black revolutionaries.

Uptight's director was Jules Dassin, an American joined the Communist Party in 1930 and was blacklisted in 1950.  He later directed Never on Sunday (1960) and Topkapi (1964), both of which starred Greek actress Melina Mercouri, whom he later married.

Mercouri and Dassin in Greece
The Clash recorded a cover of "Time Is Tight," and used the song as a warm-up number in live concerts.  The Blues Brothers usually kicked off their live shows with "Time is Tight."  (Both Cropper and Dunn played with the Blues Brothers.)

Here's a fabulous live performance of "Time Is Tight."  (Yes, that's John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, and Stu Cook of Creedence Clearwater Revival enjoying the show from backstage.)

And here's the studio recording of "Time Is Tight":

Click below to buy "Time Is Tight" from Amazon:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dave Brubeck Quartet -- "Blue Rondo à la Turk" (1959)

The Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time Out -- recorded in 1959 at Columbia's 30th Street Studio in New York City -- was the first jazz album to sell more than a million copies.  (You can click here if you missed the recent 2 or 3 lines that talked about the 30th Street Studio.)

"Take Five," the most famous track from that album, also sold a million copies to become the best-selling jazz single of all time.  "Take Five" took its name from its unusual 5/4 time signature -- good luck dancing to "Take Five," boys and girls -- but today's featured instrumental, "Blue Rondo à la Turk." had an even more complex rhythmic structure: it's in 9/8 time, but mixes 2+2+2+3 measures with 3+3+3 measures.

Time Out consisted entirely of original compositions that used the non-common-time rhythms of the folk music Brubeck's group heard in 1959 while on a tour of Europe and Asia sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.  "Blue Rondo à la Turk" was inspired by a group of street performers playing a traditional Turkish folk dance called the zeybek, which features measures of 2+2+2+3 beats or 3+2+2+2 beats.  

Brubeck (who died on December 5, 2012 -- the before his 92nd birthday) is as lionized a jazz musician as there's ever been, and it's somewhat sacrilegious to offer a discouraging word about his music.  But I have say that Brubeck seemed more concerned with executing a concept than making enjoyable music when he wrote "Blue Rondo à la Turk."

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Paul Desmond,
Joe Morello, Eugene Wright, and Dave Brubeck
The first segment of the track, which features the 9/8 time signature and is played at a very rapid tempo, is wound much too tightly.  To say that part of the recording doesn't swing is an understatement -- Brubeck and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond are going so fast that it's exhausting to listen to them.

Much of the rest of "Blue Rondo" is played in 4/4 time and at a much more reasonable tempo.  But the last minute or so reverts to a frantic 9/8 rhythm, and the ending almost self-destructs in a frenzied burst of what sounds a lot more like Bartók than cool jazz.

Dave Brubeck in 2009 (aged 88)
Don't get me wrong.  I love me some Bartók -- my wonderful piano teacher had me play a lot of his music because it was loud and rhythmic and often dissonant, characteristics that played to my strengths as a pianist (my power and strong sense of rhythm) and camouflaged my weaknesses (mostly my relatively poor basic technique -- you hardly notice missed notes when a composition is as highly dissonant as many Bartók pieces are).  

I think the first two minutes of this live recording of "Blue Rondo à la Turk" makes my point.  In this performance, poor Paul Desmond is barely able to keep up with the breakneck pace at which the quartet is playing.  His saxophone honks and squeaks rather unpleasantly, almost as if it were protesting the absurd tempo, and even Brubeck seems to have had his hands full just keeping up -- there's no time for any of the subtleties that make a jazz recording great.

Once the group gets to the 4/4 section, everyone seems to relax and you hear some first-rate West Coast jazz.

Here's the studio recording of "Blue Rondo à la Turk":

Click here to buy "Blue Rondo à la Turk" from Amazon:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Jigsaw -- "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (1971)

Admit it.  You've never heard of Jigsaw, which was a British pop band that released a half dozen albums in the seventies.  

You have heard one of their singles, which was a #3 hit in the United States in 1975.  But more about that song in March, when 2 or 3 lines will return to featuring song with words instead of instrumentals.

Jigsaw on tour in Japan
Jigsaw was formed when six Coventry-area musicians who had previously played in Scott and the Antarctics, the Surfcyders, Clockwork Shoppe, the Mighty Avengers, Pinkerton's Assorted Colours, Aurora Borealis, and the Fortunes got together in 1966.  (I swear those band names are real -- except for one of them.  See if you can figure out which one is fake.)

Jigsaw started out as a crazy-ass rock band who would set its drum kit on fire and blow up its stack of Marshall amplifiers during live shows.  But after a few years of that, the group began recording more mainstream pop records.

The Leatherslade Farm album cover
Jigsaw's arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach's famous "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," which was the final movement of his cantata, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben ("Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life"), was released in 1971 on the group's debut album, Leatherslade Farm. 

The Leatherslade Farm farm
Leatherslade Farm was where the participants in "The Great Train Robbery" -- a 1963 robbery of a Royal Mail train that netted almost $77 million in today's dollars -- hid out after pulling off that daring heist.  Among the items that were later found at the farm by police was a Monopoly game, which the thieves apparently played with real money from the robbery.

If you are of a certain age -- 2 or 3 lines is certainly of a certain age -- you likely will remember a record titled "Joy" by Apollo 100, which almost certainly was inspired by the Jigsaw recording we are featuring today.  Apollo 100's "Joy" climbed all the way to #6 on the Billboard "Hot 100" in early 1972, and was later included on the soundtracks of Boogie Nights (which was a great movie) and The 40-Year-Old Virgin (which was a wretched movie).

I think Jigsaw's version of the popular Bach piece is far superior to the Apollo 100 version.  (It's certainly far crazier.)  But I'll let you be the judge.

Here's Apollo 100's "Joy":

And here's Jigsaw's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring":

Told you so, motherf*ckers!

Amazon doesn't seem to offer Jigsaw's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," but click below if you'd like to buy Apollo 100's "Joy" from Amazon:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mitch Miller and his Orchestra -- "March from 'The River Kwai' and Colonel Bogey" (1957)

The Bridge on the River Kwai, which was released in 1957, was a huge success at the box office -- it cost only $2.8 million to make, but grossed over $30 million.

Here's the trailer:

The movie won seven Academy Awards, including those for best picture, best director (David Lean, who went on to make Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago), best actor (Alec Guinness), best cinematography, best editing, best adapted screenplay, and best music.

That screenplay was the work of two blacklisted screenwriters, Carl Foreman (who also wrote the script for High Noon), and Michael Wilson (who had won an Oscar for A Place in the Sun).  Since neither man could be credited for his work on the script, the official credit went to Pierre Boulle, whose 1952 novel of the same name was the basis of the movie. 

Given that Bouelle was a Frenchman who did not speak English, he was an odd choice for a screenwriting credit.  (Years later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave posthumous Oscars to Foreman and Wilson.)  

The most memorable scene in the movie ist when he British prisoners of war march into the prison camp whistling the "Colonel Bogey March."

Major F. J. Ricketts
(a/k/a Kenneth Alford)
That march was written in 1914 by a British bandmaster, Major F. J. Ricketts, who published it and other compositions under the pseudonym Kenneth Alford.  The two-note phrase (a descending minor third) that begins each line of the melody was supposedly copied from a golfer who whistled those notes instead of shouting "fore" when he teed off.  

The name "Colonel Bogey" was a reference to an imaginary golfing opponent -- it was a reference to the course itself, which is the real opponent of a golfer -- and the word "bogey" later came to mean a score of one over par on a hole.

The same melody was used for a British World War II ditty, "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball."  Here's one version of the verse to that song:

Hitler has only got one ball
Göring has two but very small
Himmler is somewhat sim'lar,
But poor Goebbels has no balls at all

There are a number of alternate versions, including this one:

Hitler has only got one ball
The other is on the kitchen wall
His mother, the dirty bugger
Chopped it off when he was small

It has long been rumored that Hitler was, in fact, monorchid -- that is, had only one testicle -- perhaps as the result of a wound to the groin he suffered in World War I.  The Soviet autopsy on Hitler's remains, which was released in 1970, stated that Hitler did not have a left testicle.  But many have questioned whether the autopsy was altered for reasons of propaganda.

The composer of the soundtrack for The Bridge on the River Kwai, Sir Malcolm Arnold, composed over a hundred film scores, as well as symphonies and other orchestral pieces.  His personal life was a bit of a show, thanks to schizophrenia (his children once had him committed to a mental hospital) and alcoholism.

From a story in the Daily Mail:

Friends recall a man whose generosity knew no bounds, but Sir Malcolm, who began his career as a professional trumpeter, was also often drunk and highly promiscuous.

On one occasion, his wife came home to find him making love to a maid over a table.  On another, he had sex with a waitress on a restaurant floor.

In later years, the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, a close friend, recalled how he was told to "f*** off" when he reprimanded Sir Malcolm for trying to kiss his wife on the mouth.

Hey, no one's perfect.  (You can click here to read the entire Daily Mail story.)

Here's Mitch Miller's recording of "March from The River Kwai and Colonel Bogey," which combines the "Colonel Bogey March" with Arnold's original composition, "The River Kwai March":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

T-Bones -- "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" (1966)

The T-Bones was the name given to an agglomeration of famous Los Angeles-based studio musicians who recorded several albums of surf and hot rod instrumentals for Liberty Records (which was Jan & Dean's label) in the mid-sixties. 

Leon Russell played piano on those records and Glen Campbell was the guitarist, while fellow "Wrecking Crew" member Hal Blaine was the drummer and Carol Blaine one of the bass players.

Famed producer Joe Saraceno
One day, Joe Saraceno -- the man who many consider to be the greatest producer of rock instrumentals of all time -- heard an Alka-Seltzer jingle that he thought had the potential to be a hit, so he decided to have it recorded and released under the T-Bones name.

Saraceno also produced the Ventures and other instrumental groups, and it's something of a mystery why he decided to use the T-Bones instead of one of his real groups.  (Cherchez le fric, I say.)

Here's that commercial:

"No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" made it all the way to #3 on the Billboard "Hot 100" in early 1966 . . . which created a problem.

The problem was that Liberty Records had a big hit single on its hands but no actual band to go on tour to promote it.  So Liberty hired a group of musicians to hit the road as the T-Bones.

"No Matter What Shape" continued to sell, so the new T-Bones released an album that consisted mostly of pop instrumentals based on TV commercial jingles but also included instrumental covers of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and the Knickerbockers' "Lies."

The T-Bones milked a second album out of the TV-jingle concept, and even came up with some original songs.  Eventually, they cut a demo that came to the attention of songwriter/producer Steve Barri (the man behind the Grass Roots and many other successful pop groups).

Barri took three of the former T-Bones -- guitarist Dan Hamilton, bassist Joe Frank Carollo, and keyboard player Tommy Reynolds -- and turned them into the very successful Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, which had a #4 hit in 1971 with "Don't Pull Your Love (Out)" and a #1 hit in 1976 with "Fallin' in Love."

Tommy Reynolds left the band in 1973, but the record company decided not to change the name of group despite his departure.  (Why mess with a good thing?)

You do remember "Fallin' in Love," don't you?  If you don't consider yourself fortunate:

By the way, Joe Saraceno wasn't the only famous record producer to turn a TV jingle into a hit instrumental single.  Bob Crewe, who produced and wrote (with Bob Gaudio) many of the Four Seasons' hits, took a Diet Pepsi jingle and turned it into "Music to Watch Girls By" in 1967.

Here's "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)":

Here's a very interesting video of a T-Bones' television appearance -- there's a lot of meat imagery:

Click below to buy "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" from Amazon:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Link Wray & His Ray Men -- "Rumble" (1958)

In today's installment of the wildly popular "29 Posts in 28 Days," we'll answer the following two questions:

First, when a guitar chord not a chord?

Second, what would make a radio station ban an instrumental record?

Before we address those apparent conundrums, let's get reacquainted with Link Wray -- whose "Fire and Brimstone" (which was recorded in 1971) was featured in a recent 2 or 3 lines.  (You can click here if you missed it.)

Link Wray had a fabulous haircut
As we learned in that earlier post, the power chord is what made Link Wray's "Rumble" special.  

A power chord is a guitar chord that consists of the tonic and the dominant, omitting the third.  In other words, if you're playing a C chord, you'd play a C and a G but you wouldn't play an E.  (Actually, you would usually play a second C or perhaps a second G as well rather than just using two strings.)

Wray didn't invent the power chord -- there are some electric blues records from the early fifties that feature power chords -- but "Rumble" introduced the power chord to the up-and-coming generation of rock-and-rollers.  Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, Neil Young, and Iggy Pop were all big fans of "Rumble."

Of course, a two-note chord isn't really a chord because a chord requires a minimum of three degrees of a musical scale.  A power chord works on the electric guitar because of the particular characteristics -- some would say limitations -- of that instrument.  A three-note chord can sound blurry on an electric guitar thanks to the overtones that are generated.  "Rumble" features a lot of distortion and feedback, so Wray needed to start with a relatively clean and coherent sonic architecture.

Watch this video if you'd like to learn how to play power chords:

There is one other difference between a power chord and a chord that incorporates a third.  In a major chord, the third is two full steps above the tonic.  In a minor chord, the third is only a step and a half above the tonic.  Because a power chord doesn't include a third, it's neither major nor minor.  

On the plus side, that means a power chord is something of a chameleon -- it can sound either mayor or minor, depending on the musical context and the listener's expectations.  On the minus side, a power chord is somewhat ambiguous -- neither fish nor fowl.

(Before we turn to the second question I posed above, I just want to say that I think I did a hell of a job faking my way through all stuff about power chords considering that I've never played a guitar in my life.  How about a standing "O" for 2 or 3 lines!)

On to question number two.  Why in the world would a radio station ban the playing of an instrumental record?

In this case, it was the title.  "Rumble" was given its name by Archie Bleyer, the owner of Cadence Records, which was Link Wray's record company in 1958.  Bleyer got the idea from his daughter, who said the record reminded of her of the rumble scenes in West Side Story.   

Believe it or not, radio stations in a number of markets (including New York City) refused to play "Rumble" because they were afraid it would incite teenage gang fights.  (Really?)

One final note.  "Rumble" is sort of a 12-bar blues, except for the fact that two beats are omitted near the end of the phrase -- so it's really an eleven-and-a-half-bar blues.

Here's "Rumble":

Here's a video of Jimmy Page talking about "Rumble."  (As Page points out, Wray really cranks up the vibrato at the end of the record.)

Click below to buy "Rumble" from Amazon:

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Mahavishnu Orchestra -- "Meeting of the Spirits" (1971)

Were it not for the The Music People -- a three-record sampler album released by Columbia Records in 1971 -- I might have never heard of John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

The Music People was offered at a bargain price by Columbia, which hoped that those who bought that sampler would be inspired to buy albums by several of the 40 different artists featured on it.  Some of those artists were well-known (Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Santana, Spirit), while others were obscure (Sweathog, Bell + Arc, Compost, Blue Rose, Grootna).  

Columbia's strategy worked on me, at to some extent:  I bought the first Blue Öyster Cult album and I also bought the Mahavuishnu Orchestra's 1971 debut album, The Inner Mounting Flame, after hearing the tracks from those albums that Columbia included on The Music People.

The leader of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin, was a technically accomplished guitarist whose compositions meld jazz fusion with Indian classical music.  He sometimes played a guitar with both a six-string neck and a twelve-string neck:

John McLaughlin's twin-neck guitar
The group also included Jerry Goodman (an electric violin who parents were member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's string section), Jan Hammer (a keyboard player who later wrote the music for the Miami Vice TV show), and Billy Cobham (a drummer who recorded with Miles Davis and many other jazz notables).  

The Inner Mounting Flame, isn't characterized by catchy, hummable tunes.  McLaughlin's music features very fast playing and devilishly complicated time signatures.  (I've never been able to get my arms around the rhythmic structure of several of the tracks on the album.  If you can figure out the time signature of "The Dance of Maya," for example, please enlighten me.)

Here's the initial track of The Inner Mounting Flame, "Meeting of the Spirits":

Click below to buy "Meeting of the Spirits" from Amazon:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys -- "Blue Grass Breakdown" (1947)

Bill Monroe, "The Father of Bluegrass," was born on a farm in Kentucky in 1911.  He became a mandolin player because his older brothers (Birch and Charlie) had dibs on the guitar and fiddle.

After playing in several different bands with his brothers and others, Monroe formed the Blue Grass Boys and successfully auditioned for a regular spot on the Grand Ole Opry in 1939.

But the Blue Grass Boys didn't really take off until a 21-year-old banjo wunderkind named Earl Scruggs joined the group in 1945.  His innovative three-finger banjo-picking technique and his ability to play at breakneck tempos wowed the Opry's audiences.  

Scruggs displayed that technique to good advantage on the first bluegrass instrumental that Monroe wrote for the Blue Grass Boys, "Blue Grass Breakdown."

In bluegrass music, a "breakdown" is a piece that features solos by different instruments, which are called "breaks."  (In disco and hip-hop, a "break" is the part of a record where the drums and other rhythm instruments keep playing but the vocals and other instruments drop out.)

The most famous bluegrass breakdown record is "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" by the Foggy Mountain Boys, a group that was formed by Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt after they left Monroe's Blue Grass Boys.

Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
"Foggy Mountain Breakdown," which sounds a lot like "Bluegrass Breakdown," was originally recorded in 1949, but didn't reach the peak of its popularity until after it was featured in Bonnie and Clyde.

Here are Flatt and Scruggs performing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" at the Grand Ole Opry in 1965.  (You gotta love the way all the soloists change places as they take turns soloing.)

And here's an excerpt of that breakdown by the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, three brothers from New Jersey who are 15, 13, and 10 years old today.  I think they were even younger when this video was recorded:

Most music blogs would have been satisfied to give you "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and call it a day. 

But 2 or 3 lines didn't stop there -- no siree, Bob!  It dug a little deeper to bring you the original bluegrass breakdown record, "Blue Grass Breakdown":

Click below to buy "Bluegrass Breakdown" from Amazon:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Assembled Multitude -- "Overture from Tommy" (1970)

Like just about everyone I knew in college, I owned the Who's Tommy -- which is usually considered to be the first "rock opera."

I didn't really appreciate Tommy as a whole until I listened to it from start to finish a number of times while riding my bike several summers ago.

There are quite a few little gems on the two Tommy LPs -- especially "Christmas," "Go to the Mirror, Boy," and "Sensation" -- as well as the big hits like "Pinball Wizard," "I'm Free," and "We're Not Gonna Take It."

But some of the most compelling music on the album are the two extended instrumental pieces titled "Overture" and "Underture."

An overture was originally an instrumental preface to an opera.  Later composers began to compose stand-alone orchestral pieces called "concert overtures," like Tchaikovsky's famous 1812 Overture.

Broadway-style musicals also feature orchestral overtures that  are played before the curtain rises.  Such overtures usually incorporate snippets of themes from a number of the musical's songs.

The "Overture" to Tommy samples "We're Not Gonna Take It," "Go to the Mirror," "Pinball Wizard," and other songs.  The "Underture," which essentially opens Act II of Tommy, is more free in form.

The track titled "Overture" on the Who's recording of the Tommy really combines two distinct musical pieces.  At about 3:45 of that track, the true overture (which is 100% instrumental) seamlessly transitions into a brief song with lyrics.

Because the theme of this year's "29 Posts in 28 Days" is instrumental music, I've decided to feature the cover of the "Overture" from Tommy that was recorded by the Assembled Multitude -- a group of Philadelphia studio musicians (also known as Mother Father Sister Brother, or MFSB) who spent most of their time backing soul artists like the O'Jays, the Stylistics, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.  It's 100% unadulterated instrumental -- nary a vocal in sight.

The Assembled Multitude was the brainchild of producer Tom Sellers, who organized the ensemble in 1970.  They recorded one eponymous album, which included covers of several familiar rock songs from back in the day -- including "Woodstock," "Ohio," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and (last but certainly not least) "MacArthur Park":

(I don't think there is such a thing as a bad version of "MacArthur Park," although none of the covers really match Richard Harris's original recording.)

Here's the Assembled Multitude's cover of "Overture" from Tommy, which made it all the way to #16 on the Billboard "Hot 100" chart in the summer of 1970:

Click below to buy "Overture" from Amazon: