Barenaked Ladies: Brian Wilson
From 1992's Gordon, Canadian musical group Barenaked Ladies tells the story of a man whose life parallels that of Beach Boys member Brian Wilson, referencing his diagnosis of mental illness via the mention of psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy, as well as Wilson's weight gain during that time - I never fail to be touched by the wry use of the "fun, fun, fun" lyric...
An interesting factoid I learned from Wikipedia: "Brian Wilson rearranged and sang this song a cappella with his new band at live concerts, one of which was recorded for a live album he recorded in 2000. One of the stories the band often tells is about the time he came to their studio while they were recording Maroon (having an association with producer Don Was) to play the track for the band. They played him a bunch of their new songs, and then he played them his version of "Brian Wilson". At the end, he turned to them and asked, "is it cool?" Upon his departure, his advice to the band was "don't eat too much." The band described the entire experience as surreal. In honor of his covering their song, in recent performances the band has started singing the first chorus a cappella, eliminating all instrumentation (the rest of the song continues as normal)."
Barenaked Ladies: One Week
This song, from BNL's 1998 One Week, is an hysterical and historical rapping tour-de-force of a couple enmeshed mid-argument, wherein the narrator name-drops not only three musicians (LeAnn Rimes, Sting and Bert Kaempfert) but also movies, food and numerous Japanese references - it became one of the band's signature songs and is their best-performing single on the charts in both the United States and UK. What's not to love about the rapid-fire delivery and pop-culture lyrics? - "how can I help it if I think you're funny when you're mad, trying hard not to smile though I feel bad, I'm the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral..."
Barenaked Ladies: Be My Yoko Ono
In this song, the narrator is clearly willing to emulate the relationship between Yoko Ono and John Lennon, willing to give up everything to be with the person he loves - BNL imitates Yoko's trademark warble quite effectively ("don't blame it on Yokey"... :-)
Another Wikipedia gem: "In 1993, a professional video, directed by Larry Jordan, was made. It features the band playing in a dark room and imitating many of Yoko Ono's avant-garde performance art pieces, including "Cut Piece" in which audience members used scissors to cut off her clothing until she was completely naked. The video is also interspersed with various film clips of Yoko and John, which she sent to the band herself after her son, Sean Lennon, (after seeing the band perform) brought her a tape of the song.
In 1992, MuchMusic produced a TV special about Barenaked Ladies to celebrate the release of Gordon. In the special, MuchMusic managed to interview Yoko Ono to get her reaction to the song. Ono said she enjoyed it, but that she liked "If I Had $1000000" more."
As a six-degrees-of-separation bonus, here's Dar Williams' viewpoint, a reverential name-drop of Yoko, and poking-fun-at-herself-in-college live intro - this narrator asserts that, like Ono, she values her own artistic contributions, and wants to make sure that the object of her affection is worthy of her time and love...
Dar Williams: I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono (intro only - live)
Dar Williams: I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono (studio recording)
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Joni Mitchell’s early career was marked by confessional songs about her relationships. It wasn’t hard to find out who each song was about, and people did. But, at that point, Mitchell never dropped a name in her songs. For this reason, these early songs possess a universal quality that makes them just as relevant to listeners today as they were then.
So what was it that inspired Mitchell to drop a name later in her career? It happened twice.
Joni Mitchell: Furry Sings the Blues
Furry Lewis was a blues musician in Memphis in the 1920s. At the time, Beale St, his chosen haunt, was a center of lawlessness of every kind. Gambling, drinking, prostitution, and drugs all thrived here. And so did the medicine shows. A medicine show would feature musical and other entertainment, and then the main event would be a pitch for some sham medication. Lewis was a noted medicine show performer.
For thirty years after that, Lewis disappeared from view. Then, in the folk revival that began in the 1950s, Furry Lewis was rediscovered along with so many others. But many of these revival artists made artistic compromises to try to stay in the game. Even the great Lightnin’ Hopkins plugged in. But not Lewis. He played his music just as he had thirty years earlier. And he continued to do so for the rest of his life.
Joni Mitchell had sung songs about resisting artistic compromises in the past, For Free being one example. So I think this is why she was drawn to Furry Lewis in particular. Furry Sings the Blues appeared in 1976, and Lewis would still sing for another five years. He passed on in 1981.
Joni Mitchell: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
Mitchell’s version of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is an unusual example of vocalese. Charles Mingus wrote the original, instrumental version in 1959, as a tribute to Lester Young. Mingus counted Young not just as an admired fellow musician, but also as a friend. The song became a jazz standard. Twenty years later, Mingus had asked Mitchell to collaborate with him on what would be his final work. As they got to know each other, Mingus shared his reminiscences of Lester Young. Mitchell then shaped these into the lyrics for Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. What is unusual is that this version features an entirely new musical arrangement, done in collaboration with the creator of the original work.
Mitchell was going to do Goodbye Pork Pie Hat in any case, due to the extraordinary nature of the project it was a part of. But Lester Young was also uncompromising. In his case, this applies to not only his music, but also to his resistance of the social pressures of his time.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Bob Dylan: Song to Woody
So here we have three songs written from an artist to one of his influences. Bob Dylan's "Song to Woody" is the most direct of the three: it's a love song to Woody and his songs. It was one of only two self-penned songs on Dylan's eponymous debut, and he nicked the music from Woody's "1913 Massacre". It's obvious Dylan sees himself as the next link in the chain here, and he wants his listeners to know that, too.
David Bowie: Song for Bob Dylan
Nine years later, David Bowie, of all people, picks up the chain and writes "Song for Bob Dylan" for his Hunk Dory album. It's still written in the form of a letter from artist to inspiration, but it's a bit harder to follow the narrative. Who exactly is "the same old painted lady from the brow of the super brain"? I have no idea.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre: (David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six
Twenty-Five years on, the Brian Jonestown Massacre find themselves conjuring up one of their influences in "(David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six". This is not a gushing fan letter. The lyrics don't even mention Bowie. But the title and the borrowed melody leave no doubt about who they were thinking of.
I don't know (yet!) of any songs written to the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
I mean, for months we were on the road behind 10,000 Maniacs. We were playing the same cities, and in a lot of cases, the same venues -- but just, like, a day before, or a day after. You just come to realize that...every hotel you've stayed at, they were there the day before. Every highway you drive down, every truckstop you go in, every... venue you play, every PA guy you meet -- they've JUST MET these other people, who you thought you had nothing in common with, and then you realize you're living the same LIFE as [that other band]. So... the denotation of The Replacements is kind of a pun. - John Flansburgh
FiL posted a TMBG track just last week, but his Replacements tune below reminded me of this relatively obscure B-side name-dropper, and I couldn't resist the chance to drop one of our own names into the mix.
As noted above, this is just another song about life on the road, as was my earlier post for this week's theme. The band name in question makes for a perfect nod to "the replaceable nature" of bands on tour. I've never been on tour, but I suspect the feeling of anonymous interchangeability is a universal one. Must be pretty humbling.
Bonus points to Art Brut for their great and grungy 2009 song The Replacements, which describes disbelief at having discovered the genius of the band in question so late in life [a sentiment I can certainly sympathize with]. We don't post new music here on SMM, but the tune is available free to stream at last.fm, and well worth the listen.
Everclear: AM Radio
Narrowing down my long-list for this weeks theme from nearly 200 songs has proved to be quite a task. I knew of many but there were many more that my research revealed. Fortunately, some of them have already been posted thereby making it slightly easier for me to pick a few others.
Anyone who grew up in the 70's can identify with this one. ''You could hear the music on the AM radio", even "the Led Zeppelin" !
Travis Tritt: Outlaws Like Us
Hank Williams is mentioned in more songs than I care to count so for me to not include at least one would be unacceptable. This one by Travis Tritt has a few others artists singing on it too.
Paul and Storm: Old Keith Richards
In April of 2006 Keith Richards dropped out of a palm tree in Fiji was taken to a New Zealand hospital with a mild concussion. This song is somewhat a chronicle of the event. Ol' Kieth did more than just drop a name there.
Steven Brust: I Was Born About Ten Million Songs Ago
...and lastly,this guy is such a liar!
I’m sure most of you have heard my news. If not, head on over to my blog, Oliver di Place for that, and then rejoin us here. I’m sure I will have my good and bad days for a while, but tonight I feel up to posting. And I had this one planned before everything happened. Without further ado...
Vocalese. Don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize the word. Neither does my spell check program. Still, it is a real word. Vocalese is a technique of jazz singing, where the singer takes a particular version of a tune, and writes lyrics to the melody and the solos in that version.
Eddie Jefferson: Body and Soul
Eddie Jefferson is widely credited as the creator of vocalese. Body and Soul is a jazz standard that became one of Jefferson’s best known songs. The name-drop comes at the very end, when Jefferson credits James Moody as the artist responsible for the version of Body and Soul he used.
Manhattan Transfer: Birdland
After Eddie Jefferson, the next artists to become known for vocalese were Lambert Hendricks and Ross. This trio were active as a group from the 50s into the early 60s. Perhaps their best known song, because of Joni Mitchell’s cover, was Twisted.
Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross remained active separately for many years. Their work as a group inspired many, including Manhattan Transfer. So when Manhattan Transfer decided to turn their attention to vocalese, it was only natural that they would turn to Jon Hendricks for help. Hendricks wrote the lyrics to Birdland for them. Birdland was the legendary jazz club in New York City in the 1950s, and the lyrics mention some of the jazz legends who played there. The song first appeared on the Manhattan Transfer album Extensions, which also includes their version of Body and Soul.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Arthur Conley: Sweet Soul Music
"Do you like good music?" asks Arthur Conley at the start of his biggest hit, "Sweet Soul Music". Apparently we do, because it made it up to #2 on both the Pop and R&B charts in the U.S. in 1967. The rest of the song is one big feel-good shout-out to some of the then-current royalty of soul: Lou Rawls, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, and Otis Redding (who co-wrote the songs with Conley).
Aside from being a great song, "Sweet Soul Music" also gave its name to the title of an highly recommended book about southern soul music by Peter Guralnick. I read the book years ago, but as I hold it in my hands, flipping through the pages, I'm thinking it's time for a re-read.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Mary Lou Lord: His N.D. World
After seeing Anne's post, I just had to post this one.
No Depression was a magazine that charted the rise of alt-country music in the late '90s to such an extent that its name is one of the many alternate appellations for the genre. Mary Lou Lord cleverly reworked her song "His Indie World" into "His N.D. World", thus affording her the chance to name-drop a couple dozen more artists.
This version of the song was recorded at KGSR, a excellent radio station in Austin, Texas, and was released on one of their annual Broadcasts charity collections. Every single one of them is highly recommended, and they usually sell out quickly.
Mary Lou Lord: His Indie World
I was reminded of this song after reading and listening to Susan's submission of the Todd Snider track. This is another song that consists almost entirely of lists of artists. In this one's case, it's a song about how she doesn't feel like she fits into a guy's life because his life is just one long reference to the indie rock bands he loves, and she'd rather sit around listening to "Joni, Nick, Neil and Bob". The references are used so familiarly at times that they're merely first names that only an avid music fan would be able to get the reference right away.
The song was released on her first EP which came out in 1995 and the references are to the indie music of that era. It's an adorable little two minute guitar-and-girl ditty that always makes me smile.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Tom Tom Club: Genius of Love
This one drops the names of some of the greatest names on the dance floor, as of the early 80s. You can trace the history of dance music, from James Brown to Bootsy Collins to Bohannon to Kurtis Blow. And there are a few ringers thrown in for good measure.
The Tom Tom Club was put together by Tina Weymouth and her husband Chris Franz, of the band Talking Heads. At the time, the music of Talking Heads was taking on an intellectual air. For a breather, Weymouth and Franz posed the question, “Who needs to think when your feet just go?” Indeed.
The Replacements: Alex Chilton
Whenever I listen to an '80s album from a great rock band like the Replacements, I can't help but wonder what it might have sounded like had it been recorded in some other decade--any other decade, really. The major-label '80s production on Pleased to Meet Me takes some of the excitement out of the band. But for for 1987, it rocks.
The album was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, where Alex Chilton's second important band, Big Star recorded, and it was produced by legendary producer Jim Dickinson, who helmed Bg Star's 3rd album, so it's pretty safe to say that Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg was a fan. That admiration came to full fruition on his ode to the Box Tops/Big Star singer (who actually played guitar on a different track on the album).
Monday, November 9, 2009
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Name Droppin'
Here's a good old fashioned country-blues stomp courtesy of Ray Wylie Hubbard.
In this song Hubbard introduces us to some Austin music luminaries... namely Jon Dee Graham, Darcy Deaville, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Mary Gauthier, and Mambo John Treanor.
Jon Dee Graham and Mary Gauthier are two of my favorites, but I'll admit to not being overly familiar with the others. I've been doing some listening, however, as I write this. I'm now convinced more than ever that Austin is a truly magical place that I must visit again someday.
If you take nothing else from this song... always remember these words.
Todd Snider: Vinyl Records (live recording plus intro from Tales from Moondawg's Tavern)
Todd Snider: Vinyl Records (studio version from New Connection)
It is no secret on this list that I am crazy about Todd Snider - when this week's theme was announced, I knew I had the ultimate Name-Droppers song, in the form of Vinyl Records!
I am including two versions:
~ the studio recording from his New Connection CD - after he sings the line "I've got piles and piles and piles of Tom Petty", I especially love the drum bit following, which is an homage to the signature sound of TP and the Heartbreakers)...
~ a live cut, complete with an hysterical intro... courtesy of Rich Willis, a creative and generous Todd-lister who, in May 2007, put together (and made available to the list) "Tales From Moondawg's Tavern, a compilation of Todd's stories [with the associated song] thru the years" (backstory here and download info here)...
P.S. In doing research for this post, I just ran across a new Todd blog - sweet!
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Grand Funk Railroad: We're An American Band
Up all night with Freddie King
I got to tell you, poker's his thing
Booze and ladies, keep me right
As long as we can make it to the show tonight
We're an American band...
Bluesman Freddie King, who toured on the rock circuit for much of his career, died in the mid seventies, but his stirring combination of open-string Texas blues and the "raw, screaming tones" of West Side Chicago blues lives on in the work of bluesmen from Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Meanwhile, post-blues rock band Grand Funk Railroad's anthemic, stadium-rockin' take on the quintessential touring band experience is said to be based on a true story of hanging with King backstage, presumably at some double-bill or festival, and I love the montage that plays in my head when I hear the lyric.