Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Kingston Trio – "Bad Man's Blunder" (1960)

Early one evening I was rollin around
I was feelin kind of mean
I shot a deputy down

Michael Ritchie’s 1976 movie, The Bad News Bears, is about a really bad Little League baseball team.  It has many, many inappropriate lines and scenes – so many that I don’t think the movie could be made today.  Which is why it’s possibly the funniest movie ever made.

The team’s coach (played by Walter Matthau at his most irascible) always has a Budweiser in his hand as he chauffeurs the kids (sans seatbelts, of course) to and from practices and games. 

His best player smokes cigarettes and tries to pick up 21-year-olds.  (“You from around here?  I’ve got a Harley-Davidson.  Does that turn you on?  A Harley-Davidson?”)

The team’s diminutive shortstop is appalled by his rag-tag collection of teammates: “All we got on this team are a buncha Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eatin’ spaz.”  (“Spaz” was a very common word when I was a kid, but you don’t hear it much anymore.)

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I was reminded of The Bad News Bears while listening to the equally inappropriate “Bad Man’s Blunder” – one of two songs on The Best of the Kingston Trio album about a criminal who gets arrested in Mexico.

In the other of those songs, “Tijuana Jail,” the guy who ends up in jail got caught gambling – not a very serious crime.  

But the narrator of “Bad Man’s Blunder” is guilty of murdering a deputy sheriff in Texas.  The blundering bad man skedaddles off for Mexico, but is quickly tracked down and brought back to the Lone Star State.  

He has a bad feeling when he walks into the courtroom to stand trial for murder:

The judge was an old man, ninety-three
And I didn't like the way the jury looked at me
(I think they were suspicious)

Not surprisingly, things don’t go well for the criminal:

It was a most unsatisfactory trial
They gave me ninety-nine years on the hard rock pile
Ninety and nine on the hard rock ground
All I ever did was shoot a deputy down

Back in the eighties and nineties, a lot of people lost their minds over gangsta-rap songs about killing the police.  But I’ve never seen any evidence that anyone protested “Bad Man’s Blunder,” which treats the cold-blooded murder of a deputy sheriff as a laughing matter.  

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“Bad Man’s Blunder” was written by Cisco Houston (who performed for years with Woody Guthrie) and Lee Hays (a member of the legendary folk group, the Weavers, and a co-writer of “If I Had a Hammer”).

Lee Hays
Hays was the nephew of the famous Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph.  In 1948, Randolph published a book of Ozark folksongs that included one that’s usually called “Bad Lee Brown” or “Little Sadie,” which “Bad Man’s Blunder” was clearly inspired by.  I have to think that Hays got the idea for his song from his uncle.

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Here’s “Bad Man’s Blunder,” which the Kingston Trio recorded in 1960:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Kingston Trio – "Tijuana Jail" (1959)

So here we are in the Tijuana jail
Ain't got no friends to go our bail
So here we'll stay ’cause we can't pay

Allowing an accused criminal to post bail rather than requiring him to stay in jail until his trial is an idea that the Anglo-Saxons came up with centuries ago.

Today, many want to radically reform the American bail system because they believe it unfairly discriminates against the poor.

A 2015 Slate article by a former public defender argues that when bail is set too high for a poor defendant to afford to pay it, prosecutors are dealt “an essentially unbeatable hand” because many (if not most) of those accused of relatively minor crimes will gladly plead guilty to avoid having to hang out in jail until their trial.

The criminal justice system would collapse under its own weight if fewer cases settled and more went to trail.  According to the author of the Slate article, over 365,000 criminal defendants were arraigned in New York City courts in 2013, but there were fewer than 700 cases that resulted in full-blown trials.  (In other words, 99.8% of all New York City criminal cases were disposed of prior to a verdict being reached in a trial.)

Some believe that keeping defendants incarcerated because they can’t afford bail violates the equal protection or due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  

That legal theory doesn’t hold water.  That’s because the Eighth Amendment prohibits “excessive” bail, which clearly implies that reasonable bail is fine and dandy under the Constitution.

Congress or state legislatures are free to change the bail system if they feel it is unfair.  But courts shouldn’t be ruling that bail requirements are unconstitutional because they are inherently discriminatory against the poor.

Click here to read more about the history of the cash bail system and the policy arguments against that system.

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I was arrested in 1971 in Galena, Kansas for having an open beer bottle in public.  (I didn’t.)

The bail for this offense was $20.  My friend and I didn’t have $20 between us, so he drove to his home and borrowed the cash from his mother to bail me out.

I was full of righteous indignation (not to mention 3.2% beer), and informed my jailer that I would be back to contest the validity of my arrest in court.  He nodded, and told me that was certainly my right.

But he then informed me that if I didn’t show up for my court date, the judge would not issue a warrant for my arrest but simply order the forfeiture of my bail.

If I did contest the charge, that fact would be a matter of public record, and likely show up in the pages of my hometown’s daily paper – which my parents read assiduously.

The penny finally dropped, and I forgot about returning to Galena to defend my innocence in court.

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The singer of “Tijuana Jail” – which was a #12 hit single for the Kingston Trio in 1959 – was arrested while illegally gambling in Tijuana, the Mexican city just south of San Diego that has always had a very shady reputation.  (We’re talking Las Vegas, Amsterdam, and old Times Square all rolled into one.)

He only needs $500 to bail himself out, but can’t raise a penny.  So there he’ll stay . . . ’cause he can’t pay.  

If you’re a fan of Mexican stereotypes, you’re going to love this song!

By the way . . . “Tijuana Jail” is not the only song on the Best of the Kingston Trio album about a man who had major-league legal problems in Mexico.  Tomorrow 2 or 3 lines will feature the other one. 

Here’s “Tijuana Jail”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Monday, February 26, 2018

Kingston Trio – "Merry Minuet" (1959)

The French hate the Germans
The Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs
South Africans hate the Dutch

The end of February is rapidly approaching, which means that we’re nearing the end of this year’s “29 Songs in 28 Days.”  IT’S ABOUT TIME!

This year’s theme was the number three, and a number of the featured songs were recorded by trios.  So I’ve decided to close out the month with not one, not two, but THREE songs by the Kingston Trio – all three of which were released on The Best of the Kingston Trio album, which I played to death when I was 12 years old.

I still know the words to purt near every song on that LP, including “Tom Dooley,” “Everglades,” “Scotch and Soda,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Tijuana Jail,” and “M.T.A.”

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“Merry Minuet” is a Tom Lehrer-style song – a sardonic little geopolitical ditty that must have tickled JFK-era, too-cool-for-school, Ivy League types.

Sheldon Harnick (1964)
But “Merry Minuet” wasn’t written by Tom Lehrer.  Its composer was Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the lyrics for a number of Broadway musicals – most notably, Fiddler on the Roof.

Like all minuets, this one has three beats per measure.

Here’s “Merry Minuet”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Blue Cheer – "Summertime Blues" (1968)

Lord, I got to raise a fuss
Lord, I got to raise a holler

Blue Cheer sure as hell raised not only a fuss but also a holler on their cover of “Summertime Blues,” which Eddie Cochran originally recorded in 1958.  

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It seems counterintuitive that many of the loudest and “heaviest” bands of the sixties – bands like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Grand Funk Railroad, and James Gang – were power trios with only a single guitar player.

Blue Cheer was as loud and heavy as anyone.  Jim Morrison said they were “the single most powerful band I’ve ever seen.”

From The Mix website:

As the tale goes, Blue Cheer were so loud that at one show a dog sitting on an amplifier actually exploded.  Taking blues-rock cues from England and adding sun-blocking stacks of Marshall amps, these acid-charred hippies . . .  practically invented heavy metal.

I second that emotion: if Blue Cheer’s first album, Vincebus Eruptum, isn’t the original heavy metal album, I don’t know what is.   (Vincebus Eruptum was released in January 1968 – a full year before Led Zeppelin and two years before Black Sabbath.)

But calling Vincebus Eruptum a heavy metal album doesn’t really do it justice.  It’s also a psychedelic/acid rock album, a punk album, and a grunge album.

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I bought Vincebus Eruptum for 33 cents at a discount store in my hometown that was so low-budget that it made Walmart look like Neiman Marcus.  (By the way, the album’s name is faux Latin – it doesn’t mean anything.)

I loved Blue Cheer’s version of “Summertime Blues” even more than the Eddie Cochran original (which may be the best rock ’n’ roll song of the 1950s).  But I think I only listened to the rest of the album once.  

AllMusic’s Mark Deming has described Vincebus Eruptum as “a glorious celebration of rock & roll primitivism run through enough Marshall amps to deafen an army.” 

Primitive, yes – loud enough to deafen an army, yes.  (It has been called “the loudest record ever made.”)

But I’m not so sure about “glorious” – maybe I need to give it another listen. 

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Blue Cheer’s “Summertime Blues” is one of those rare covers that turns an iconic song inside out and upside down, and ends up with something that’s completely different from the original but just as good.

Blue Cheer
The only other cover that I can think of that is comparable is Vanilla Fudge’s apocalyptic version of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

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By the way, Blue Cheer’s name was inspired by a variety of LSD that was manufactured by Owsley Stanley, who not only was the Grateful Dead’s sound engineer but also the creator of that band’s skull logo.

From all accounts, it seems that the members of the band consumed more than their fair share of Blue Cheer.

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Here’s the first paragraph of a piece about Blue Cheer that appeared in 2016 on the Teamrock website.  It’s as excessive and over-the-top as the Vincebus Eruptum album:

They were the bellowing Gods Of F*ck.  There were no big ugly noises in rock’n’roll before Blue Cheer.  They created sonic brutality, coiling their teenage angst into an angry fist of sludge and feedback and hurling it at stunned, stoned hippies like a wave of mutilation.  Everything about them was badass.  They had a Hell’s Angel for a manager, they were despised by the other bands in their scene, and they played so loud that people ran from them in fear.  Proto-punk, proto-metal and proto-rehab, Blue Cheer took acid, wore tight pants, cranked their walls of Marshall stacks and proved, once and for all, that when it came to all things rock, excess was always best.

When “Summertime Blues” became a top 20 hit single, Blue Cheer appeared on TV shows like American Bandstand (you can click here to see video of that appearance) and The Steve Allen Comedy Hour to promote the record.

Here’s how Steve Allen introduced them: “Ladies and gentlemen, Blue Cheer.  Run for your lives!”

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Here’s “Summertime Blues”:

Click below to buy the record from Amazon:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Ramsey Lewis Trio – "The 'In' Crowd" (1965)

If it's square
We ain't there

Are you in with the “in” crowd?  Do you go where the “in” crowd goes?

Do you know what the “in” crowd knows?

Last but not least, is it easy for you to find romance?

Here’s how 2 or 3 lines would answer those questions: yes, yes, yes, and YES!

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Dobie Gray’s recording of “The ‘In’ Crowd” made it #13 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in 1965.  

The Ramsey Lewis Trio recorded an instrumental version of the song later that year at the Bohemian Caverns night club in downtown Washington, DC, which made it all the way to #5 on the “Hot 100.”  It sold a million copies and won the Grammy for Best Jazz Performance (Small Group)

We’re featuring the Ramsey Lewis Trio version today because it was recorded by a trio.  (Doh!)

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Ramsey Lewis is a jazz pianist who recorded some 77 albums between 1956 (when he was only 21 years old) and 2011.

Lewis is 82 years old, and has seven children, fourteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.  (Let’s hope he lives long enough for that great-grandchild number to become much bigger.)

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Here’s “The ‘In’ Crowd”:

Click on the link below to order the song from Amazon:

Friday, February 23, 2018

Drive-By Truckers – "The Three Great Alabama Icons" (2001)

I grew up in north Alabama back in the 1970s
When dinosaurs still roamed the earth
I'm speaking of the three great Alabama icons: 
George Wallace, Bear Bryant, and Ronnie Van Zant

If you had to name an iconic political leader, an iconic athlete/coach, and an iconic musician from your state, who would they be?

That’s not as easy to do as you might think, is it?

For example, take Maryland – where I’ve lived for about 35 years.  I think you’d have to go with Spiro Agnew as the political figure.  (I doubt that you can name another Maryland politician – plus  corruption is endemic to Maryland politics, and Agnew was as crooked as they come.)  

George Wallace
Cal Ripken, Jr., would be the obvious Maryland athlete to go with.  (He grew up in Maryland, and played every game of his storied major-league career for the Baltimore Orioles.)  

But who would be the musician?  (I suppose the third icon doesn’t have to be a musician – you could go with an artist or an author or a movie director.  John Waters, who directed Pink Flamingos and Hairspray, is closely identified with Baltimore, and he would be a good choice as a non-musician artistic icon.)

Paul “Bear” Bryant
Massachusetts has an obvious political icon: John F. Kennedy.  And you couldn’t go wrong choosing either Tom Brady or Bill Belichick as your athlete/coach icon.  

But just like Maryland, Massachusetts is a little short of iconic musicians.  (Who would you pick if you had to?  James Taylor?  Carly Simon?  Donna Summers?  Tom Scholz of Boston?  Rob Zombie?  The singer from the Dropkick Murphys?  Bobby “Boris” Pickett?)

Ronnie Van Zant
What about Arkansas?  The political icon is easy – you’ve gotta go with Bill Clinton, right?  And there are plenty of great musicians from Arkansas – Johnny Cash may be the most iconic.  

But if you’re picking three iconic figures to represent Arkansas, one of them has to be Walmart founder Sam Walton – I’d include him instead of an athlete.

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Patterson Hood – a native of Muscle Shoals, Alabama – got the idea of writing a screenplay about growing up in the South around the time of the plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines of Lynyrd Skynyrd long before he formed Drive-By Truckers.

The screenplay idea was later transformed into Southern Rock Opera, the band’s third studio album.  

But after recording the songs that would become Southern Rock Opera, the group didn’t have enough money to put the record out.  So they printed up a prospectus and solicited investors, eventually raising $23,000 – which enough for them to manufacture 5000 copies of the double album in 2001.  (There was enough left over to buy a used van so the band could tour.)

The critics loved Southern Rock Opera, and the Drive-By Truckers signed a distribution deal with Lost Highway Records, which re-released the album the following year.

Here’s “The Three Great Alabama Icons,” a seven-minute-long spoken track from Southern Rock Opera:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Three Dog Night – "Lady Samantha" (1969)

The tales that I told round the fire every night
Are out of proportion and none of them right
She is harmless and empty of anything bad

Three Dog Night’s Suitable for Framing was one of the albums I listened to over and over when I was a senior in high school.

I didn’t brag about it, of course.  I viewed Three Dog Night as a lightweight band, and would never compare them to Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones or the Doors.  I’m actually surprised that I bought one of their albums.

Three Dog Night put out a lot of good singles – their first hit, “One,” is one of the best singles of its era – but they put out some pretty hokey stuff as well.

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Three Dog Night made a living off other people’s songs.  They wrote a few of the songs they recorded, but mostly did covers.

You’ve got to give them credit – they chose songs written by some of the very best songwriters of the sixties and seventies.  I’m talking Harry Nilsson (“One”), Laura Nyro (“Eli’s Coming”), Randy Newman (“Mama Told Me Not to Come”), Robbie Robertson (“Chest Fever’), Dave Mason (“Feelin’ Alright”), Neil Young (“The Loner”), Tim Hardin (“Don’t Make Promises”), Hoyt Axton (“Never Been to Spain”), and many others.

I didn’t know until recently that today’s featured song, “Lady Samantha,” was an Elton John-Bernie Taupin song.  In fact, “Lady Samantha” was Sir Elton’s first American single.  (It didn’t chart.)

Three Dog Night’s cover is quite similar to John’s version, with one important difference.  For some reason, John repeated the first chorus in what seems like a blatant attempt to stretch a too-short, two-verse song to an acceptable length.  

You can repeat the final chorus.  Hell, you can repeat it five or six times if it’s really good.  But you shouldn’t repeat the chorus the first time you sing it.

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I can’t think of a band other than Three Dog Night that had three lead vocalists.  (Plenty of groups have three singers, but there’s usually only one lead vocalist.  The others may occasionally get to sing lead, but are first and foremost backup singers.)

I took my older kids to see Three Dog Night perform live at the annual “Hometown Holidays” celebration in Rockville, Maryland.  I’m thinking it was the early nineties – maybe ’92 or ’93 – but I can’t be sure.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t perform “Lady Samantha,” which was never released as a single.

Here’s Three Dog Night’s version of “Lady Samantha”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Johnny Bond – "Three Sheets in the Wind" (1963)

I bought me a boat
Nine cases of gin
Now I’m sailin’ high
Three sheets in the wind

Enville is a small unincorporated community in located just north of Lake Texoma (which divides Oklahoma from Texas).

The story goes that Enville’s name is a contraction of the phrase, “End-of-the-road-ville.”  I don’t know if that’s true, but I hope it is.

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The most famous native of Enville was Cyrus Whitfield “Johnny” Bond (1915-1978), a country-western singer and movie star who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame 1999.

When I was in college in the early seventies, I won a copy of The Best of Johnny Bond by calling into the college radio station and answering a trivia question.

(The price was right!)
I had never heard of the guy – I was not at all into country music in my college days – but I really enjoyed his album, which consisted mostly of songs about cars (like “Hot Rod Lincoln” and “The Great Figure Eight Race”) and songs about drinking (including “Sick, Sober and Sorry,” “Ten Little Bottles,” and today’s featured song, “Three Sheets in the Wind”).

Sadly, the album did not include his #5 hit single from 1947, “So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed.”

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How did “Three Sheets in the Wind” come to be used to describe someone who is very inebriated??  

From The Word Detective:

The first example of “three sheets to the wind” found in print so far is from 1821 (in the form “three sheets in the wind”), but the expression is almost certainly much older. . . .

Nine out of ten urban legends about the origins of words or phrases erroneously trace them to seafaring traditions and the age of tall ships.  There’s even an acronym for the folks who propagate this nonsense: CANOE (Committee to Assign a Nautical Origin to Everything).  But “three sheets to the wind” really does have a nautical origin.  The “sheets” in the phrase are the lines (ropes) that hold a sail in place.  If one of the “sheets” . . . comes loose, the sail flaps in the wind and causes the ship to lose power.  If two sheets are loose and fluttering in the wind (or “to the wind”), you’re in major trouble, and “three sheets in the wind” means the ship is uncontrollable, reeling like a drunken sailor. . . .

But there’s an alternate explanation as well, as this excerpt from a 1994 letter to the editor of the New York Times explains:

An inebriated person is often said to be a certain number of sheets to the wind.  Uncertain whether this is three or four, you still suggest that the expression comes from sailing.  Many have drawn this connection, because the line, or rope, controlling the trim of a sail on a sailboat is called a sheet.

The true origin of "three sheets to the wind" was disclosed to me by a Nantucket sailor. . . .

The old Dutch-style windmill on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, which is still grinding cornmeal for the tourists, has four wooden vanes to which are attached four sails -- or more properly, sheets.  If the miller leaves one off, only three are presented to the wind.

The mechanism is then severely out of balance, and in a fresh breeze the entire structure of the mill goes into a violent and potentially destructive shudder, evoking the image of a staggering drunk.

Letting go a sailboat's sheet to flap in the wind usually gets the skipper out of trouble by causing the boat to come up into the wind on an even keel -- the opposite of the metaphor intended.

That certainly clears things up, doesn’t it?

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Here’s Johnny Bond’s recording of “Three Sheets in the Wind” which has a 3/4 time signature:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Don Cherry – "The Third Man Theme" (1950)

You never knew that you could be
Enchanted by a melody
The years will never drive it out

The years will never drive the most famous piece of zither music ever recorded out of my brain.  It’s embedded there forever.

Of course, I’m speaking of the theme to the 1949 movie, The Third Man, which was composed and recorded by Anton Karas.

Here’s the original trailer for The Third Man, which prominently features Karas's theme:

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Karas was an obscure Viennese zither player who was discovered by the film’s director, Carol Reed, quite by accident. 

From Karas’s Los Angeles Times obituary:

Karas, an unheralded musician in a Vienna wine tavern, was discovered by British director Carol Reed, who came here just after World War II to direct Orson Welles in “The Third Man.”

Reed, desperately searching for a theme tune for his villain Harry Lime, chanced on the tavern in Vienna's Grinzing wine-growing district.

Struck by the simple zither melodies, Reed asked a stunned Karas if he would compose the music for the film.  Karas protested, saying he had never actually written music.

Anton Karas playing the zither
As Karas later told the story, the director insisted and invited Karas to England.

The Austrian became homesick and asked to be allowed to return.  Reed told him he could – as soon as he had written the music.  

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The Third Man, which has a 99% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is considered by many to be the greatest British film ever.  A half million copies of the movie’s theme song – known as ‘The Third Man Theme” in the U.S. and “The Harry Lime Theme” in the UK – were sold within weeks of its release.  It topped the Billboard “Best Sellers in Stores” chart for 11 weeks in 1950.

Anton Karas became an international star.  He performed for members of the British, Dutch, Swedish, and Japanese royal families as well as for Pope Pius XII.

The popularity of the movie’s theme also caused a dramatic upsurge in the sale of zithers.  (I’m guessing that most of them were never played.)

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I learned to play “The Third Man Theme” on the piano when I was a teenager – long before I saw the movie.  I still have the sheet music:

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American historian Walter Lord, whose most popular books were A Night to Remember (about the sinking of the Titanic) and Day of Infamy (about the attack on Pearl Harbor), wrote lyrics for “The Third Man Theme” the year after the movie was released.

Here’s a 1950 recording of “The Third Man Theme” with Lord’s lyrics by Don Cherry, who is accompanied by the Victor Young Orchestra:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Monday, February 19, 2018

Doors – "Shaman's Blues" (1969)

There will never be another one like you
There will never be another one who can
Do the things you do

The music that was released when I was a senior in high school holds a special place in my heart.  If you don’t understand why that is, there’s no point in my trying to explain.

The Soft Parade was the Doors’ fourth studio album, but it was the first one I bought – when I was a senior in high school.  

I purt near played it to death – particularly the B side, which featured “Wild Child,” “Runnin’ Blue,” “Wishful Sinful,” and “The Soft Parade.”  (“YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!”)

But today we’re featuring a song from the album’s A-side, “Shaman’s Blues,” because it’s in 3/4 time.

In case you haven’t figured it out – and it appears that none of you have – this year’s “29 Songs in 28 Days” theme is the number three. 

Every song featured on 2 or 3 lines this month has the word “three” in the title, or was performed by a three-piece group, or has some other OBVIOUS connection to the number three.

Except that connection was obviously not so obvious to the loyal but mostly dull-normal*** readers of 2 or 3 lines.   

(***According to Webster’s, a dull-normal person is someone “having an intelligence level on the borderline between normal intelligence and mental deficiency.”  SOUND LIKE ANYONE YOU KNOW?)

*     *     *     *     *

Here are a dozen other songs in 3/4 (or 6/8) time:

– “Manic Depression,” by Jimi Hendrix

– “House of the Rising Sun,” by the Animals

– “I Put a Spell on You,” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

– “I Got You Babe,” by Sonny & Cher

– “Mr. Bojangles,” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 

– “Norwegian Wood,” by the Beatles

(Don't you just hate it when that happens?)
– “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” by Aretha Franklin

– “How Can I Be Sure,” by the Young Rascals

– “Scarborough Fair,” by Simon & Garfunkel

– “What’s New Pussycat?” by Tom Jones

– “Breaking the Girl,” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

– “Nothing Else Matters,” by Metallica

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Here’s “Shaman’s Blues”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: