Saturday, June 10, 2017

Large Numbers: Millions- Humor Edition

Tom Paxton: One Million Lawyers


Dire Straits: Millionaire Blues


Bare Naked Ladies: If I Had a Million Dollars


As our theme indicates, one million is a very large number. Thinking about it is enough to make your head hurt. There is simply no way for most people to imagine how much one million actually is. So we humans sometimes cope with the concept by resorting to humor. Here are three fine examples.

It may be tempting to think of folk music as serious business. There are all those murder ballads, for starters. And many protest songs are solemn affairs. But Tom Paxton has always made his points using humor. One Million Lawyers doesn’t protest anything. It simply a gentle poke at all of us. I offer it here, knowing that at least one of our writers at Star Maker is a lawyer himself. All in fun, I assure you.

Millionaire Blues is a slyer form of humor. Here, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits is poking fun at himself. Remember, this is the same man who wrote Money For Nothing, so he knows what it is like to have far less money. He reminds himself that, no matter how hard things may get for him, he has it better than many others. The blues is the perfect musical genre to make this point. “Low as the heals of my alligator shoes” indeed!

Finally, If I Had a Million Dollars is a song I was sure would have been posted by now. Barenaked Ladies make the point here that it most of us can not even imagine what we would spend it on if we did have a million dollars. In fact, buying all of the items listed probably would spend it down in record time, but that is not the point. This is a promise of love based on a fantasy of money the singer never really expects to have.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Large Numbers: Millions - Millionaire Waltz

purchase [A Day At The Races]

I don't recall every having bought a Queen album. I've made it this far with the basic awareness of the big hits: Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions, We Will Rock You,, Radio Gaga ... My loss. In consolation, as Confucius is said to have said: Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance. (Hmmm... someone else comes to mind today.)

And so, as I dug for <songs about million>, I was pleasantly surprised to come across Queen's Millionaire Waltz. If I had bought <A Day At The Races> , I might have been wiser. Then again, the album didnt have any of the hits I would have been exposed to via MSM.

I was initially struck by the similarity of <Waltz> to other Queen I was familiar with. No big surprise - a band has its style and you can expect them to sound ... well ... the same from one song to another. There's the familiar piano and the well-known vocal lead. The progression (as in time line from start to finish) also comes across as ... expected. Expected but good enough.

In reminiscing, I thought I recalled Queen at Live Aid. In fact, because I lived in a part of the world mostly bereft of this kind of media/culture, I had back then a collection of VHS cassettes that I had recorded the summer of 85 when I happened to be in the US of A and caught Live Aid on TV. Sure enough, there's Freddy Mercury and band doin' it from the London Stage (there were stages in the UK and the US/cities for that Geldoff event, and Phil Collins performed on both, flying across the ocean on the Concorde).

A long time gone. Here it is:

Large Numbers: Million: Bill Million

The Feelies: Raised Eyebrows

I suggested this theme (or something like it), thinking that there were large numbers of songs that fit, but strangely the first thing that came to mind when I sat down to write was the name Bill Million, best known as a member of The Feelies (and, it turns out, it isn't even his real name). Coming out of Haledon, New Jersey, The Feelies formed in 1976 around guitarist/songwriters Million and Glenn Mercer, reportedly after Million, tripping on acid, passed Mercer’s house and heard his band playing the Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” They soon gained a reputation as a live band. Ultimately, the group also included Keith Clayton on bass and Anton Fier (that guy!) on drums.

The Feelies remarkable first album, Crazy Rhythms, came out in 1980, during my WPRB days, and I remember thinking that it was unlike anything I had ever heard before. If you took the early Talking Heads’ quirkiness and twitchiness, Television’s intertwined guitars with strumming that would be made more famous in a few years by R.E.M. (who were influenced by The Feelies), add a touch of Dick Dale surf guitar, a bit of Phillip Glass/Steve Reich minimalism, some Eno drones, a heaping spoonful of Velvet Underground and back it with what is almost always referred to as “nervous drumming,” you might come close to understanding what they sounded like. And yet, it was something totally original. The Village Voice ranked it as the 17th best album of 1980, just behind X’s Los Angeles and ahead of Bowie’s Scary Monsters, The Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue, Joy Division’s Closer, and Argybargy by Squeeze, to name a few. Rolling Stone has ranked it as the 49th best album of the Eighties.

The album is many tracks deep, and we played the crap out of it. That year, the band performed at a party in a campus gym, and while their energy was evident, the bad sound and acoustics made it frustrating, because it was impossible to really appreciate the precision with which they played. Those of us who were familiar with the album enjoyed it, if with some disappointment at the sound, but I suspect that the performance failed to make many converts.

For various reasons, The Feelies splintered after Crazy Rhythms, with members leaving and starting side projects.  They pretty much dropped out of sight until 1986, when Mercer and Million, with bass player Brenda Sauter, percussionist Dave Weckerman (who had returned to the band after leaving before Crazy Rhythms was recorded), and drummer Stanley Demeski released the folkier, less nervous, The Good Earth, produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M. They also appeared in Jonathan Demme’s movie, Something Wild. 1988’s Only Life was The Feelies' major label debut, and it was followed in 1991 by the somewhat harder rocking Time For A Witness. And that was it, it seemed, for The Feelies.

But Million’s Princeton student son had been jamming with Mercer, who lived nearby, and that led to a reunion and a new album in 2011, Here Before, which simply sounds like it hadn’t been a decade since they had been together. Early this year, they released another fine collection, In Between.

Most of the band’s lead vocals are handled by Mercer, but our featured song, “Raised Eyebrows,” from Crazy Rhythms, is essentially an instrumental that features Million injecting the phrase "You get old." It is much better than my description.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Large Numbers : Millions : One in a Million

Giles Giles and Fripp : One in a Million

1968's The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp is one of the psychedelic eras's most eccentric little treasures, full of whimsical numbers that will make you smile. Among them, the bouncy single "One in a Million", written in 1965 by drummer Michael Giles with an apparent nod to Ray Davies. Like the album itself, "One in a Million" failed to sell any copies. 

The might have been the end of the story. But of course the Fripp in Giles, Giles and Fripp is Robert Fripp, one of prog rock's greatest guitarists. When the trio met multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, it was only a matter of time before they formed a new band. Out would go bassist Peter Giles for the stronger vocalist Greg Lake and McDonald's friend Peter Sinfield would also join to handle lyrics, lighting and PA. It was Sinfield who coined the name of the new band, King Crimson. 

From there things would get decidedly less... cheerful.

No hard feelings between the brothers. Peter Giles would join his brother and Ian McDonald in 1971 on the magnificent McDonald and Giles album.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Large Numbers: MIllions - Gold and Platinum

Rather than approaching this theme with the standard  "songs with million" in the lyrics/title, I decided to educate myself just a little.

Question 1: what is the certification level given to records that sell 1 million or more? The answer is a little more complicated than I was aware of. If you know the answer to this question, more power to you. Fact is, there are different requirements for singles and albums. As a music aficionado, you likely know that <Certified Gold> requires 500K in sales, and this is true for both singles and albums (but $1 million in sales at the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price). Howsomever, <Certified Platinum> places a 1 million threshold for singles and a 2 million bottom line for albums (again, with a minimum total income based on the MSRP).

Diamond  status takes the stakes up to 10 million, and then gets even more complicated when we get into Digital Downloads.

Question 2: the first <Gold> record? The first "gold" label was awarded to Glen Miller's <Chattanooga Choo Choo> back in 1942 (probably rightly so) - but it was an "in-house" award that was only later adopted across the board by other labels. My understanding is that the  RIAA only came into being after this point in time. You could check out the RIAA website, but I'm not so sure I would rely on their info based on their past public performance.

But - being the powerhouse that they are, we need to pay some attention to the  RIAA, and after they got on board, they awarded Perry Como and Elvis Presley some of their first "golds".

I'll go back on my word just a little by relying on the  RIAA website: they say that the very first Platinum record was Johnnie Taylor's <Disco Lady>. I confess the name meant nothing to me, but adding in my experience of where music was at at that time - highly plausibly "gold".

And from there ... the rest is probably what you are already aware of .. The Eagles, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd .... [I couldn't possibly list them all]

Sunday, June 4, 2017

LARGE NUMBERS: MILLION(S): A Million Tears/Kasey Chambers

Folk seem to be suggesting there aren't that many songs about millions, so it was with some relief I tapped into my i-pod search and and found, well, over a handful, mainly to do with miles, dollars or, as this one, tears. And delighted too I was to find this song, an artist I had somehow forgotten about of late, and, indeed, seems also to have been overlooked in the wider world of fame and fortune. Time to discover!

Kasey burst on to my consciousness back in the late 90's, in her 20's, her debut coming at me with a blast of raw, gutsy heartfelt C&W pathos. Country and western australia that is, as she hailed from,(actually south) australia, rather than the West Texas Lucinda tinted tones she reminded me of, albeit a younger and more innocent Lucinda. Her first album, 'The Captain',  was an absolute scorcher, if one discounts her years of active service in her 'family" band, honing her chops under the capable supervision of her father, himself a name in australiana. It probably did no harm that world famous in my world, hopefully yours,  husband and wife duo, Buddy and Julie Miller, were involved. Indeed, she soon eclipsed his custodianship, a run of records alerting her to international ears, with, notably, a duet with the aforesaid Lucinda appearing on her 2nd solo outing. Hell, her first 2 tours of the USA were supporting, first, Lucinda and, secondly, Emmylou Harris. The 2nd album, 'Barricades and Brickwalls', took her further, if not a better record, getting close to the sales of another australian, sales wise. The titular song from this piece comes from said album.

I was sort of surprised, whilst researching this piece, that she has a subsequent 9 releases, many performing just as well. Somehow these didn't seem to hit the radars I rely on back in the UK. I was aware she had married, and that she had become a duo with her husband, one Shane Nicholson, but none of their material had intrigued. They have since separated. The good news is that she has this year produced a new album, 'Dragonfly', which, on a first spotify, sounds and seems well much a return to form.

I feel bad suggesting there has been a fall away from grace, as, for all I know, maybe there hasn't been, but, irrespective, she's back on my register and I commend her to yours.