Saturday, February 28, 2015

Toby Keith – "Red Solo Cup" (2011)

Red Solo cup
I fill you up
Let's have a party!

The last day of February is always a bittersweet day for 2 or 3 lines.

Bitter because "29 Songs in 28 Days" is the ne plus ultra of my wildly popular little blog . . . its crowning achievement . . . the thing that makes 2 or 3 lines the real Slim Shady of pop music blogs.

Sweet because IT'S A PAIN IN THE ASS TO WRITE A POST EVERY DAY FOR A MONTH . . . especially when you readers just sit there and take, take, take, without giving anything back!

By now, you've no doubt figured out that the second of the two themes of this year's "29 Songs in 28 Days" is the visible spectrum.  

The posts that appeared on even-numbered dates all featured songs with a title or artist whose name included one of the six pure spectral colors – violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red.  Because 2 or 3 lines is nothing if not obsessive-compulsive, those color-related posts appeared in order, beginning with the shortest-wavelength color (violet) and ending with the longest-wavelength color (red).

Hence, we opened with Hole's "Violet" and are closing with Toby Keith's "Red Solo Cup," a song I had never heard of until five minutes ago.

Toby Keith is never afraid to tell it like it is:

Now, red Solo cup is the best receptacle
For barbecues, tailgates, fairs and festivals
And you, sir, do not have a pair of testicles
If you prefer drinkin' from a glass!

Actually, the song wasn't written by Toby.  It was written by two pairs of brothers:  Brett and Brad Warren and Brett and Jim Beavers.  (Jim Beavers, who has co-written eight #1 country singles, has an M.B.A. from Vanderbilt.  I bet he is the envy of everyone else in his class.)

A song this dumb shouldn't require four people to write it.  I think it goes without saying that they weren't sober when they penned the lyrics to this bad boy.  (When I say "weren't sober," I mean they were at eleven on a one-to-ten scale for inebriation.)

The red 16-ounce cup produced by the Solo Cup Company is the quintessential beer-drinking vessel.  (Let he – or she – who has not filled a red Solo cup with cheap beer from a keg cast the first stone!)

As the song notes, red Solo cups are not only economical, but also help to save the earth:

Hey, red Solo cup is cheap and disposable
And in fourteen years, they are decomposable

Not to mention patriotic, too:

Solo Cup's first product was the familiar paper cone used to drink from bottled-water coolers.  Over the years, Solo acquired a number of rival companies, including the Sweetheart Cup Company, which was once known as Lily-Tulip.  

In 1951, Lily-Tulip built a huge factory in Springfield, Missouri, which I remember driving by several times when I was a kid.  That building was notable for its entrance, which was an enormous faux paper cup:

By the way, Solo also makes a blue cup, which should NEVER be used for drinking beer from a keg.  

You're no doubt expecting me to start down my usual narcissistic path here, telling one pointless tale after another about the parties where I used a red Solo cup to achieve an advanced state of intoxication.  I could do that . . . but it's the end of the longest month of the year for 2 or 3 lines.  I'm purt near plumb tuckered out.

So let's just cut to the chase.  Here's the music video for "Red Solo Cup," which features not only the irrepressible Toby Keith, but also Carrot Top, Lance Burton, Craig Ferguson, Eric Church, Joe Nichols, Roger Clemens, Larry Bird, Sammy Hagar, and  . . . last but certainly not least . . . Ted Nugent!

Click below to buy "Red Solo Cup" from Amazon:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Hot Butter – "Popcorn" (1972)

Each 2 or 3 lines usually begins with a quote from the lyrics of the featured song.  But last year's "29 Songs in 28 Days" broke new ground by featuring only instrumentals, and I've decided to include one in the 2015 version of "29 Songs in 28 Days" as well.

"Popcorn" was one of the first hit singles to feature the Moog synthesizer.  It reached #9 on the Billboard "Hot 100" singles chart in 1972, and was even more popular in other countries.  ("Popcorn" was the #1 single in Norway for six weeks, in Australia for eight weeks, and in Switzerland for ten weeks.  It sold almost a million copies in France, and is the 131st best-selling single of all time in that country.)

The mother of all Moog synthesizer records was Switched-On Bach, which was one of the oddest hit albums ever recorded.

Released in 1968, it consised of Moog synthesizer performances of various Johann Sebastian Bach pieces by Wendy Carlos.  (Wendy was born Walter Carlos, but began to live as a woman shortly before Switched-On Bach was released.  In 1972, she had sex reassignment surgery.)

Wendy Carlos
The album was one of the best-selling classical records ever recorded and won three Grammys.  

Hot Butter was an instrumental cover band that was fronted by Stan Free, a jazz keyboardist, composer, and arranger.  Free had previously been a member of the First Moog Quartet, a group that was formed by Gershon Kingsley, who had composed "Popcorn" and recorded it in 1969.

Stan Free
A friend of mine who knows a lot more about science than I do recently sent me Jenny Rood's article about the physics of popping popcorn, which appeared in the online edition of The Scientist on February 11.  Here's an excerpt:

When popcorn pops, it displays similarities both to explosively flowering plants and to animal muscles, according to a study published this week . . . . High-speed video stills captured by a pair of researchers in France revealed that popping begins with the sprouting of a starchy “leg” that causes the kernel to jump when it comes in contact with a hot pan.  The popping noise, the researchers explained, is likely caused by the release of water vapor.

Capturing images of popping kernels at 2,900 frames per second enabled the team to observe the speedy transition from kernel to fluffy flake.  Once the kernel begins to fracture, the “leg” forms within 14 milliseconds and the popcorn jumps 6 milliseconds later. . . .

The scientists also determined the ideal temperature for popping by heating kernels in an oven for five minutes while raising the temperature in 10°C (18°F) increments.  They found that only 34% of kernels popped at 170°C (338°F), while 96% transformed at 180°C (356°F).  At that temperature, the pressure inside the kernel is 10 times stronger than atmospheric pressure at sea level, causing the kernel to fracture and pop.

Here's Hot Butter's "Popcorn":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs – "Little Red Riding Hood" (1966)

Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood
You sure are looking good

You may think that the Brothers Grimm are responsible for coming up with the "Little Red Riding Hood" folktale, but 'tain't so!

Mama Grimm's boys got the idea for that story from the 17th-century French author, Charles Perrault, who published it in 1697 in a collection of fairy tales that included "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty."  

But a British anthropologist has traced the tale back to the first century.  It appears to have originated in the Middle East, then traveled to China, and back to Europe via the Silk Road at least a couple of hundred years before Perrault wrote it down.

Domingo "Sam" Samudio is a Texican who was born in Dallas in 1937.  His first band was named the Pharaohs, but it broke up in 1962 when its first record didn't sell.  Later, Sam joined Andy and the Nightriders, which was the house band at the Congo Club in Leesville, Louisiana – which was (and still is) the home to the U.S. Army's Fort Polk.  (I'm guessing the Congo Club was a pretty rowdy nightspot.)  

After the Nightriders relocated to Memphis in 1963, a couple of the band's members decided to move back to Texas.  Sam and the remaining original Nightrider recruited a couple of new guys and changed the name of the group to "Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs."  (Sam was given that nickname because he wasn't much of a singer.)

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
The group's first big hit was "Wooly Bully," which was named after Sam's cat.  "Wooly Bully" sold three million copies and stayed in the top 40 for 14 weeks in 1965.  It was named Billboard's "Number One Record of the Year" despite the fact that it never reached #1 on the "Hot 100."  

"Wooly Bully" would have been a great song for me to feature today, but neither of the themes of this year's "29 Songs in 28 Days" fits it.

That's why I'm featuring "Little Red Riding Hood," which was released the following year and also topped out at #2 on the "Hot 100."  (By coincidence, another fairy-tale song – "Pied Piper," by Crispian St. Peters – was popular at about the same time.)

The fairy tale has the little girl saying "What big eyes you have!" and "What big teeth you have!" to the wolf who has disguised himself as her grandmother.  But in the Pharaohs' song, it's the wolf doing the talking – "What full lips you have!" – as he walks through the woods with the yummy Miss Red Riding Hood.

The wolf in the song is disguised as a sheep, but he blows the disguise by emitting a hearty howl.  He immediately corrects himself, baaaa-ing for everything he's worth, but surely our plucky little heroine didn't fall for that old trick.

What big . . . EYES you have!
Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs never got back into the top 20 after "Little Red Riding Hood," but they kept trying.  In 1967, three female backup singers joined the group as the Shamettes.  ("Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and the Shamettes" is just a bit unwieldy, n'est-ce pas?)  Later that year, they dropped "Pharaohs" from the band's name after the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.  (If you ask me, a little bad taste never hurt anyone – but you didn't ask me, did you?)

Samudio released a solo album titled Sam, Hard and Heavy in 1970 that won the Grammy for "Best Album Notes."  (Duane Allman played on that album.)  But after that, he ran afoul of drugs and lost just about everything he had.  

At some point, he became the skipper of the Lynchburg Ferry, a free car ferry that crosses the Houston Ship Channel near the San Jacinto battlefield.  (I only know that because The Today Show did a piece about him many years ago.)

Today, Samudio is a motivational speaker and writes poetry.

ApologetiX, a Christian parody band, released a parody of "Little Red Riding Hood" called "Little-Read Bible Book" in 2003.  Here it is:

Here's "Little Red Riding Hood."

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Phil Harris – "That's What I Like About the South" (1945)

Won't you come with me to Alabammy
Let's go see my dear ol' mammy
She's frying eggs and broilin' hammy
That's what I like about the South!

She's got baked ribs and candied yams
Those sugar-cured Virginia hams
A basement full of those berry jams
And that's what I like about the South!

Hot cornbread and black-eyed peas
You can eat as much as you please
'Cause it's never out of season
That's what I like about the South!

Those verses from "That's What I Like About the South" remind me of the Sunday dinners served at my great-grandparents' home in Goshen, Arkansas, in the mid-1960s.

My sister, mother, grandmother,
and great-grandmother in 1960
My great-grandmother was born in 1888, so she was in her seventies when I hit puberty – not too old to oversee the preparation of those Sunday dinners, when dozens of my mother's relations would gather after services at the Nazarene Church just down the road.

She had plenty of help in the kitchen.  My grandmother was one of seven children, four of whom were girls – plus there were the three boys' wives.  (This was the mid-1960s in rural Arkansas, so the men didn't lift a finger when it came to cooking and washing dishes.)

One of my great-aunts in her
Goshen, Arkansas kitchen
My mother's generation included thirteen first cousins, most of whom were married.  I was the oldest of my generation, which was growing in number from year to year -- there seemed to be a new baby or two every time we visited.  All in all, it wouldn't have been unusual to have 50 people present when the dinner bell rang.

My great-grandparents had two dining-room tables.  One was covered with meats and vegetables – fried chicken, baked ham, pot roast, chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni salad, green beans, black-eyed peas, creamed corn, okra, biscuits and cornbread, and much, much more.

The second table was for desserts – mostly homemade pies and cakes, with a couple of Jello-based desserts thrown in for good measure.

My great-grandparents and
their seven children in 1976
Once everyone had filled their plates, the women would sit at the dining-room tables while the men would retire to the living room and eat on TV trays.  Goshen was out in the sticks, but with the help of an electrically-rotated antenna mounted on a tall mast on the roof of the house, we could usually get a reasonably decent picture from two stations – which was important if the dinner took place during NFL season.  (Most of the crowd was much more interested in Arkansas Razorbacks football than the NFL, of course.)

At age twelve, I would have much preferred to dine on hamburgers, French fries, and a chocolate malt from my aunt Thelma and uncle Harold's drive-in restaurant.  Fifty years later, of course, I would kill to serve myself from what was perhaps the best all-you-can-eat buffet of locally sourced, made-from-scratch dishes I've ever had the privilege to partake in.

"That's What I Like About the South" was composed by Andy Razaf, who is best-known for his collaborations with Fats Waller – including "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Honeysuckle Rose," and "The Joint Is Jumpin'."

Andy Razaf
Razaf was born Andriamanantena Paul Razafinkarefo.  His father, who was the nephew of Queen Ranavalona III, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Imerina on Madagascar, was killed when the French invaded Madagascar in 1894.  His pregnant 15-year-old mother, who was the daughter of the American consul to Imerina, returned to Washington, DC and gave birth to Razaf in 1895.  

"That's What I Like About the South" is no longer than a typical pop song, but has 15 four-line verses – it has so many words and so much wordplay that it's not a stretch to think of it as a precursor to rap music.

Most of the verses are not food-related.  Here's one of my favorites, which could easily be from a current-day rap song:

You love me like I love you?
Send me fifty, P.D.Q.
Roses are red and violets are pink
I'm gonna get ol' fifty?  I don't think

Here's another verse, which is about as random as it gets:

Here come ol' Bob with all the news
Got the box back coat and the button shoes
Well, he's all caught up with his union dues
And that's what I like about the South!

A box back coat
"That's What I like About the South" has been recorded by a number of artists – including Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys:

But the song really belonged to Phil Harris, the bandleader, actor, and comedian who is remembered for his voice work in several classic Disney movies and his role on Jack Benny's radio show.

Alice Faye and Phil Harris
Harris continued to appear on the Benny show  even after he and his wife, movie star Alice Faye, got their own radio show in 1946.  (For several years, Harris's show aired on NBC and Benny's was on CBS.  Harris would appear during the first half of the Benny show and then walk from CBS to NBC to do his own show.)

Here's Harris performing "That's What I Like About the South" in a 1945 B-movie titled I Love a Bandleader, which co-starred his fellow Jack Benny regular, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

X – "I See Red" (1983)

At five past two, I don't feel sad
But then I see you 

"I See Red" was released in 1983 on X's fourth studio album, More Fun in the New World.  That album (and the three that preceded it) were produced by Ray Manzarek, who was the keyboard player for the Doors.

Like most X songs, "I See Red" was co-written by the group's two singers, John Doe (who was born John Nommensen Duchac) and Exene Cervenka (who was born Christene Lee Cervenka).  

Exene Cervenka then
Doe and Cervenka were married in 1980, which was the same year that X's first album, Los Angeles, was released.  They got divorced five years later.

Shortly thereafter, Exene married actor Viggo Mortensen, the star of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.  The couple had a son in 1988, as did John Doe and his new wife.  According to Exene,

[John Doe's] daughter and my son were born in the same hospital delivered by the same doctor on the exact same day.  You can’t plan something like that.  It just so happened the he and his wife had sex and me and my husband had sex on the same day and nine months later it happened.  How do you plan that?

Exene Cervenka now
In 2006, Exene moved from Los Angeles to Jefferson City, Missouri, where she turned a barn into an art studio where she created collages from "found objects" – or what most people would call trash.

Here are a few of Exene's works:

In a recent interview, Exene talked about her love of junk:  

It's really sad when you go into a thrift store and you see a box of photos that have been thrown away by someone's family.  I've been going to thrift stores since I was 12 and that was my first mind-opening experience: seeing all of this antique type stuff that was just for a quarter.  "Here's Grandpa's old overalls."  I'm like, are you kidding me?  It's people's lives, just being discarded like that.
While I think that stuff is inherently beautiful visually, I think it has this other power because it has life.  It's real, not manufactured crap. . . .
I'm trying to get rid of [all the junk I've collected] because there's way more than I can ever use in a lifetime of art.  And I didn't know why I was keeping it.  But when I used to look on the ground, the garbage was different.  Now I look on the ground and all garbage is the same.
It used to be that you'd look down and think "Oh, what is this? It's an old horse racing form!"  Or a political thing from Philadelphia or place mats from a chicken place that only existed in rural Kentucky. 

Click here to read a Rolling Stone article about an amazing garage sale Exene once held.

Here are a few shots of the stuff that was up for grabs at that garage sale.  There was vintage clothing:

There were dolls:

There were old paperbacks and magazines:

And there were lots and lots of pocket knives:

Before she left Jefferson City a few years ago to return to southern California, Exene recorded a solo album titled Somewhere Gone at local legend Lou Whitney's recording studio in Springfield, Missouri.
The late Lou Whitney
I grew up just an hour from Springfield, and I'm pleased to hear that Exene recorded an album there.  But in my humble opinion, the acoustic country-folk songs of Somewhere Gone don't hold a candle to the punk music X was recording 30-plus years ago.  Those four Ray Manzarek-produced albums are hard to beat. 

Here's "I See Red":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tommy Roe – "Jam Up and Jelly Tight" (1970)

You won't say you will
But there's a chance that you might!

If I had been a father in Atlanta in the fifties, I wouldn't have been happy to see Tommy Roe sniffing around my daughter.  Based on the lyrics to "Jam Up and Jelly Tight," it looks like Tommy had one thing and one thing only on his mind.

Tommy was a sly one.  He started girls off with a compliment, and then politely asked for a little smooch:

You've got a sweet disposition
So come on and give me permission
For one kiss and maybe another

Note how Tommy asked for the girl's permission before moving in for a kiss.  His behavior would pass muster on even the most politically-correct college campuses – unless he had gotten the girl drunk or slipped her a roofie before asking for a kiss.

As you've probably read, colleges have recently become very serious about preventing sexual assault.

Antioch Hall at Antioch College
Antioch College was way ahead of these johnny-come-latelies when it came to overthinking this issue.  Here's part of what Sandy Banks, a Los Angeles Times columnist, wrote last year about Antioch's code of sexual conduct:

It seemed funny 20 years when Antioch College unveiled a sexual offense prevention policy so prescriptive that students weren't allowed to kiss without receiving explicit permission.

(It wouldn't have been so funny if you were a male Antioch student, of course.)

The small Ohio campus became the butt of national jokes, including a parody on Saturday Night Live mocking the question-and-answer process that student trysts required.

The code's premise was simple: every sexual encounter, from first kiss to post-coitus snuggle, must be agreed upon by both parties.

"Silence is not consent," the policy decreed. Also: "Body movements and . . . moans are not consent," and "Grinding on the dance floor is not consent."
(Excuse me all to pieces, but I must admit that I thought grinding on the dance floor was a pretty good indication of consent.  I guess I'm lucky that no woman ever engaged in such grinding with me or I might have done something I shouldn't have.)

The person initiating the sexual activity had to ask for consent. The person asked was required to respond verbally. Each new level of intimacy called for another verbal agreement.  

(That last sentence pretty much eliminates the ol' "Abe Lincoln" from my repertoire.)

After "one kiss and maybe another," the singer of "Jam Up and Jelly Tight" moved in for the kill:

I said, the first day I met you
"Someday, I'm gonna pet you"

"Petting" is a funny word.  In case you're not sure exactly what it means, here's how defines it:

More often referred to as "Making Out" or "Rounding The Bases" (you know, getting to first base, second base, third base . . . ), and sometimes called "Heavy Petting." Petting is actually a term that covers a broad range of sexual behaviors, including giving/getting a hickey, deep kissing, and sexual touching of one's partner. 
(Can I admit something?  I never understood what the deal with hickeys was.  What the hell was the point of giving or getting a hickey?) sees petting as fairly benign, describing it "a natural progression in becoming a sexually mature adult."  (That's easy for to say because doesn't have teenaged daughters!)

The site's discussion of petting closes with a statement that few people would argue with:

Many adults, if they search their memories, recall their first sexual touch quite fondly, many remembering the first time they touched a breast or penis all of their life.

(You can bet the farm on that, boys and girls.)

"Jam Up and Jelly Tight" was a top ten hit for Tommy Roe in 1970.  It was the last of his top ten singles, which included "Sweet Pea," "Hooray for Hazel," and "Dizzy" (which made it all the way to #1).

Roe co-wrote "Jam Up and Jelly Tight" with Freddy Weller, who joined Paul Revere & the Raiders just before they visited Joplin, Missouri in 1967, where they performed at Memorial Hall and took the cover photo for the Revolution! album.

Here's "Jam Up and Jelly Tight":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Agent Orange – "Bloodstains" (1979)

I've lost my sense
I've lost control
I've lost my mind

Agent Orange is a surf-punk band that formed in Orange County, California in 1979.  Their song "Bloodstains" became a big hit in southern California when legendary KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer (who introduced a number of punk and new wave bands to his Los Angeles listeners) played it regularly.  

Agent Orange's frontman, Mike Palm, contended that the Offspring's 1994 hit, "Come Out and Play," appropriated a Middle Eastern-sounding guitar riff from "Bloodstains."  But the Offspring's publisher declined to pay royalties, citing a musicologist who opined that while both records did use the Phrygian scale, the two guitar parts were not identical.

(If you want to know what a Phrygian scale sounds like, play a C-major scale with the D, A, and B flatted.)

Another Orange County band, the Vandals, poked fun at Palm's claim in their 1996 song, "Aging Orange":

Back in ancient Egypt 
Many pharaohs went to jail
For misappropriation
Of my Phrygian scale
I said, "Listen, Tutankhamen, 
You're driving me insane
It's obvious those bellies are all
Dancing to 'Bloodstains.'"

Click here to read a 1996 Los Angeles Times story about the dispute.

And click here to read a discussion of the whole meshugganah mess on an forum.  (Robbie Fields, who contributed the most content to this discussion, was a former high-school substitute teacher who founded Posh Boy Records, which released records by Agent Orange and other Orange County punk bands.)

The "Bloodstains" saga came to a very odd conclusion in 2000, when Offspring covered the song for the soundtrack of Ready to Rumble, a forgettable "comedy" movie about World Championship Wrestling.

Here's the trailer to that movie:

Here's Offspring's "Come Out and Play."  The riff that Offspring allegedly stole from "Bloodstains" begins about 25 seconds into the song:

Here's Agent Orange's "Bloodstains."  The guitar riff that was allegedly stolen by Offspring begins at 1:12 of the song:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Newbeats – "Bread and Butter" (1964)

I like bread and butter
I like toast and jam
That's what my baby feeds me
I'm her loving man

Obviously, the singer's girlfriend can't cook worth a damn.  

It's a good thing he's happy with his diet of bread and butter and toast and jam because meat and potatoes is not an option:

She don't cook mashed potatoes
She don't cook T-bone steaks

The singer's diet is further limited by a severe allergy to peanuts:

Don't feed me peanut butter
She knows that I can't take

We learn later in the song that the girlfriend not only can't cook, but can't keep her legs closed:

Got home early one morning
Much to my surprise
She was eating chicken and dumplings
With some other guy

(If those were really good chicken and dumplings, it might have been worth it for the singer to overlook the little slut's infidelity.)

The lead singer of the Newbeats was Larry Henley, the pride of Arp, Texas– population 976.  He met brothers Dean and Mark Mathis in Shreveport, Louisiana, and the three young men formed the Newbeats in 1964.  (Don't confuse the Newbeats with the Easybeats, an Australian pop group best known for "Friday on My Mind," who formed in Sydney the same year.)

"Bread and Butter" was the Newbeats' first hit, climbing all the way to #2 on the Billboard "Hot 100" chart.    The Newbeats had a couple of other top-20 singles, but never matched the success of "Bread and Butter."  Henley and the Mathis brothers finally decided to go their separate ways in 1974.

Henley wrote #1 country hits for Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker, Janie Fricke, and Randy Travis.  But the success of those Henley compositions was dwarfed by the success of the hugely popular "Wind Beneath My Wings," which was co-written by Henley and Jeff Silbar.

Jeff Silbar, Bette Midler,
and Larry Henley in 1989
"Wind Beneath My Wings" was originally recorded by Roger Whittaker in 1982, but the version you no doubt remember was Bette Midler's, which won the "Record of the Year' Grammy in 1989. 

Larry Henley, who suffered from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, died in Nashville two months ago.  He was 77.

Here's "Bread and Butter":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, February 20, 2015

R.E.M. -- "Orange Crush" (1988)

Follow me
Don't follow me

Make up your mind, Michael Stipe!

As for me, I'm choosing the "Don't follow me" option.  That's because I think you'd have to be nuts to follow Michael Stipe anywhere.

I'm not a big fan of R.E.M., but you don't have a lot of choices when you need a song with "orange" in the title.

Michael Stipe -- the exceedingly brown-eyed lead singer of R.E.M. -- has said that "Orange Crush" is about a young American football player who goes to fight in Vietnam.

R.E.M. lead guitarist Peter Buck had this to say about our featured song:

I must have played this song onstage over three hundred times, and I still don't know what the f*ck it's about.  The funny thing is, every time I play it, it means something different to me, and I find myself moved emotionally.  Noel Coward made some remark about the potency of cheap music, and while I wouldn't describe the song as cheap in any way, sometimes great songwriting isn't the point.  A couple of chords, a good melody and some words can mean more than a seven-hundred-page novel, mind you.  Not a good seven-hundred-page novel mind you, but more say, a long Jacqueline Susann novel.  [Although] I really liked Valley of the Dolls.

(I don't think I'd follow Peter Buck anywhere either.)

The title of "Orange Crush" isn't a reference to the carbonated soft drink.  Rather, it's a reference to the herbicide popularly known as Agent Orange.

Agent Orange (which got its name from the orange-striped plastic barrels it was shipped in) became famous during the Vietnam War. 

A U.S. Army helicopter applying
Agent Orange in Vietnam
In November 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized "Operation Ranch Hand," the code name for a U.S. military program designed to destroy food crops as well as jungle foliage in Vietnam.

Over the next decade, the military sprayed about 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other chemical herbicides in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

The health effects of Agent Orange have been debated for years, but the Department of Veterans Affairs has officially acknowledged that several cancers and other diseases are associated with exposure to the herbicide.

Here's the official music video for "Orange Crush":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

10cc – "Life Is a Minestrone" (1975)

I'm leaning on the tower of Pisa
Had an eyeful of the tower in France
I'm hanging round the gardens of Madison

The "Leaning Tower of Pisa" is a free-standing bell tower (or campanile) that stands in Pisa's Cathedral Square.  

The construction of the tower began in 1173 and was completed in 1372.  It began to sink in 1178, shortly after work started on the tower's second floor.  The problem was unstable subsoil.  

The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Between 1990 and 2001, the tower was stabilized and reconstructed.  It once tilted 5.5 degrees, but now tilts only 4.0 degrees.  Engineers say that the tower will be stable for at least 200 years.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is nothing compared to the Leaning Tower of Wanaka in New Zealand, which was constructed to lean at an angle of 53 degrees to horizontal:

The Leaning Tower of Wanaka
I have a real weakness for bands like 10cc and songs like "Life Is a Minestrone."

One reviewer called the song "a truly joyous slice of pop nonsense, and one of 10cc's most effervescent hit singles. . . . Lyrically, it is nothing less than a deadly accurate barrage of disconnected theories, thoughts and ghastly geographical puns, all tied together by that bizarre nomenclatural observation.  Utterly daft, wholly compulsive."

"Life Is a Minestrone" was released in 1975 on 10cc's The Original Soundtrack album, which I bought when I was in law school.  It reached #7 on the UK singles chart.  (The big hit from that album was "I'm Not in Love," which I think is one of the worst songs in history.) 

10cc consisted of two distinct songwriting teams.  Eric Stewart (formerly of Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders) and Graham Gouldman (who wrote "Bus Stop" for the Hollies and "No Milk Today" for Herman's Hermits) wrote pop songs, while Kevin Godley and Lol Creme wrote 10cc's artsy-fartsy songs.  

Before forming 10cc, all four of its members worked at Strawberry Studios, which was located in the Manchester suburb of Stockport.  (Eric Stewart, the co-owner of the studio, named it after his favorite Beatles song, "Strawberry Fields Forever.")  

In 1969, famed American bubblegum pop producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz – who were responsible for the Ohio Express, the 1910 Fruitgum Company, and Crazy Elephant – commissioned Graham Gouldman to write bubblegum songs, many of which were recorded at Strawberry Studios.

Gouldman felt he had prostituted himself by accepting the Kasenetz-Katz deal.  "That was a time when I had lost a little bit of confidence in my writing," Gouldman said.  "I hadn't had any hits for some time. I felt awful. I just didn't seem to be keeping up with what other people were doing. It was very depressing."

Gouldman convinced Kasenetz and Katz that the series of throwaway two-minute songs he was writing could all be performed and produced by him and Stewart, Godley, and Creme at a fraction of the price of hiring outside session musicians.

Kevin Godley described the quartet's three-month stint at Strawberry Studios for Kasenetz and Katz:

We did a lot of tracks in a very short time – it was really like a machine.  Twenty tracks in about two weeks – a lot of crap really – really shit.  We used to do the voices, everything – it saved them money.  We even did the female backing vocals.

Here's "Life Is a Minestrone":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beatles – "Yellow Submarine" (1966)

In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines

I'm not going to beat around the bush: "Yellow Submarine" is a bad song.

Actually, "Yellow Submarine" is a terrible song.  (Not as bad as Michelle and When I'm Sixty-Four, but terrible nonetheless.)

That shouldn't comes as a surprise.  After all, the Beatles released a lot of bad songs.  (Fully half of the "White Album" sucks, as does virtually all of side one of Abbey Road.  The less said about Let It Be, the better.)

"Yellow Submarine" was a nonsense song, written for children.  "There's nothing more to be read into it than there is in the lyrics of any children's song," said Paul McCartney, who wrote it.

But somehow the song became what Time magazine called a "symbol of the psychedelic set's desire for escape."  

Music journalist Peter Doggett called it "a kind of Rorschach test for radical minds":

On picket lines in Britain, striking workers sang, "We all live on bread and margarine."  The folk magazine Sing Out! printed an anti-Vietnam War interpretation, with the refrain: "We're all dropping jellied gasoline [napalm]." 

Radical poet LeRoi Jones (who changed his name to Amiri Baraka) bloviated nonsensically about "Yellow Submarine":

The Beatles can sing "We all live in a yellow submarine" because that is literally where they, and all their people (would like to) live.  In the solipsistic pink and white nightmare of "the special life," the artifactbeings [sic] worshiping their smells frozen in glass and gaudy jewelry.

(Say what?)

Amiri Baraka (né LeRoi Jones)
The George Martin-produced recording of "Yellow Submarine" incorporates a number of wacky sound effects, including the cash register that Pink Floyd later used in "Money."  

"Yellow Submarine" was the best-selling single in the UK for 1966, and stayed at #1 on the British charts for four weeks.  In the United States, the record made it only to #2, behind "You Can't Hurry Love," by the Supremes.  

"Yellow Submarine" was released about the same time that John Lennon famously said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, and some people believe that is why it never made it to the #1 spot.  It did sell enough to give the Beatles their 21st U.S. gold record, eclipsing Elvis Presley's mark.  (The Beatles were overrated, but they weren't nearly as overrated as Elvis.)

Here's a picture of the "Yellow Submarine" sculpture, which is now located at Liverpool John Lennon Airport:

Here's "Yellow Submarine," with footage from the eponymous movie:

Click below to buy the movie soundtrack from Amazon: