Beautiful day

I have one, and only one, complaint about this song: it’s over way too soon.



Just over a minute and a half for one of the most perfectly put-together power-pop confections I ever did hear? COME ON, MAN!

This enjoyed Most Favored Song status with my young ‘un back when she was little enough to admit to enjoying such piffle, and the kiddle-TV show Yo Gabba Gabba from whence it came just rocked her rapidly-expanding world. I haven’t checked with her lately, but at the ripe old age of not-quite-twelve now I assume this ditty is probably just too dopey and little-kiddish to be endured without at least a curl of the lip and a roll of the eyes. God forbid we even mention YGG, parts of which I could only get through myself by gritting my teeth until my jaw ached, but which DID feature some truly excellent bands on the regular, probably thanks to the show’s having been created and co-run by two guys from a decent So-Cal pop/punk-ish outfit yclept the Aquabats. Dig ye well this partial YGG list of distinguished guests:

Hosted by a character named DJ Lance Rock, the series featured a mix of live-action segments featuring all five cartoonist costumed-characters, Muno (a red cyclops), Foofa (a pink flower bubble), Brobee (a hairy little green monster), Toodee (a blue cat-dragon), and Plex (a yellow robot), and many short animated sketches and songs.

Famous musicians who have appeared on the show include Mos Def, Bootsy Collins, Ladytron, The Killers, Enon, The Clientele, Jimmy Eat World, Solange Knowles, Taking Back Sunday, Datarock, The Aquabats, Devo, Anne Heche, Joy Zipper, Of Montreal, Chromeo, My Chemical Romance, Weezer, Hot Hot Heat, The Faint, The Roots, Paul Williams, Mates of State, MGMT, Peter Bjorn and John, Trunk Boiz, The Shins, The Aggrolites, The Flaming Lips, Mya, Biz Markie, Blitzen Trapper, The Ting Tings, Money Mark, Mariachi El Bronx, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Erykah Badu. Other celebrity guests to have appeared include Jason Bateman, Jack Black, Andy Samberg, Melora Hardin, Tony Hawk, Elijah Wood, Sarah Silverman, Laila Ali, Bill Hader, and Anthony Bourdain.

Among the varied animation sequences during the show was Super Martian Robot Girl, designed by indie cartoonists Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer; the title character of that segment was voiced by Ariela Barer.

Okay, I remember SMRG being pretty cool now and then too, I admit.

Who knows, I may not be giving my own child enough credit when I say that Jimmy Eat World’s excellent throwaway number would be no more than an object of scorn and a source of blushful embarrassment for her today. I’m doing my damnedest to see to it that MJ is equipped with an ear capable of distinguishing musical wheat from chaff in all styles and genres, as well as trying to school her in identifying what it really is that makes good music good in the first place. So far, even some of the stuff she picks up from her mom which kinda leaves me cold—like, say, System Of A Down, for example—I can still see at least some merit in.

There’s a making-of vid for the Jimmy Eat World tune also, and it’s interesting enough to deserve its own spot here, I think.



Bless you, Jimmy Adkins and Co. Your music brightened my child’s early years, and put a smile on her dad’s grim old visage as well. Quite a respectable achievement for a song that clocks out at only 1:49, I’d say.

Hey, did I hear someone say The Aggrolites just now? That’s all the excuse I need to close things out with a nice little slice of old-school Bluebeat ska.



What the hell, here’s the SoaD song I find least…that is to say, it’s not all that…uhhh, it’s alright, I suppose.



Legend you never heard of

Another day, another effing brilliant SteynMusic outing.

This weekend marks the centenary of George David Weiss, born April 9th 1921. Who was George David Weiss? Well, he’s no household name, but, to reprise my old line on obscure songwriters, you’d be hard put to find a household that doesn’t know at least one George David Weiss song.

So who was George David Weiss? Well, even George Shearing, who wrote his one and only enduring song with Weiss, had no more to say about him in his autobiography than that he was “a man by the name of George David Weiss”. The man by the name of was born under that name in April 1921 and was all set to become a lawyer or accountant when he decided to follow his heart and go to Juilliard, where he learned composing and arranging. The latter got him employment with Stan Kenton and other bands, until he met his first songwriting partner, the talented West Indian composer Bennie Benjamin. A young Sinatra picked up their “Oh, What It Seemed to Be”, and a few years later Kay Starr had a monster hit with “Wheel of Fortune”…

Starr’s chartbuster is of course a true gem, one which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed performing onstage myself who even knows how many times. Robert Gordon did a mighty fine version as well.



Weiss had one hell of a capacious catalog, and as Steyn somewhat bemusedly notes, had everybody from Sinatra to Nat Cole to Peggy Lee to Elvis to…ummm…Whitesnake(?!?) cover his stuff over the years. That’s a variety so stylistically broad that it says a lot about the enduring appeal of the man’s work all by itself. I’ll embed another of my personal all-time Weiss faves before we all move on to what I consider the really fun part of the story.



The Tokens, in an ironic twist quite commonly found in the music biz, not only had no faith in the song but actually despised the thing, even going so far as to plead with the producers and their label not to release the very song that would end up being their one and only bona fide smash. Not the first time such lightning-strikes weirdness has occurred in the biz, and you can be sure it won’t be the last.

Now we come to the part I was most amused by, a chapter of the Weiss story all a-brim with music biz irony of its own unique flavor. This will require some heavy excerpting, but I assure one and all that the payoff is well worth the arduous wade to get there.

It started with Bob Thiele, who was a successful record producer but only a very occasional songwriter. So, for a composing partner, he turned, as so many others have done, to George David Weiss. In theory the latter could have written any or all of “What a Wonderful World”, but Thiele told me that Weiss stayed mostly down the musical end.

Which I find hard to believe, because the tune is mostly “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” and, after decades in the music biz, Weiss was way beyond that.

On the other hand, Weiss told Graham Nash (of the Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) that he wrote it with Louis Armstrong in mind – which suggests he also had a hand in the lyric.

Why Satchmo? Well, it was a ballad of hope and optimism that transcended the times. But for that very reason it also required a singer who transcended the times.

A singer like, say, Louis Armstrong…

And, if you think that seems kind of obvious now, it certainly wasn’t in 1967. If you pick up almost any jazz critic’s biography of Satchmo, they generally follow the same basic arc: Terrific trumpeter, innovative musician – and then he sold out and did commercial pap for suburban hi-fi filler. I don’t subscribe to that crude reductio myself, but it is true that, after he’d booted the Beatles off the top and taken “Hello, Dolly!” to Number One, the calculus changed somewhat for Armstrong’s management: There’s a new Broadway show opening? Take the big song and do another “Dolly” knock-off. Hence Satchmo’s “Mame” and Satchmo’s “Cabaret”, and doubtless, had he lived, Satchmo’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Satchmo’s “Phantom of the Opera”.

Nevertheless, the writers met with Louis to pitch the song. As Bob Thiele recalled, “We wanted this immortal musician and performer to say, as only he could, the world really is great: full of the love and sharing people make possible for themselves and each other every day.”

Instead, Satch peered at the sheet – unlike many singers, he was a musician who could read the music – and, when his eye got to the bottom of the page, he looked up and said:

What is this sh*t?

He was studying the music – no words, just a contemporary ballad tune that called not for Armstrong’s tight jazzy All-Stars but for a string section willing to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. I wouldn’t myself say the tune was exactly “sh*t”…But, as I said, Armstrong hadn’t seen the lyrics. And, when they passed him the words, he fell in love. Not so much because of the green trees, red roses, blue skies, white clouds, but because of the final eight bars, which ditch the “colors of the rainbow” theme:

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself
What A Wonderful World…

That quatrain reminded him of 107th Street in Queens, the tree-lined block he and his wife Lucille had lived on for a quarter-century (and whose modest red-brick home now houses the Louis Armstrong Museum):

There’s so much in ‘Wonderful World’ that brings me back to my neighborhood where I live in Corona, New York. Lucille and I, ever since we’re married, we’ve been right there in that block. And everybody keeps their little homes up like we do and it’s just like one big family. I saw three generations come up on that block. And they’re all with their children, grandchildren, they come back to see Uncle Satchmo and Aunt Lucille …and I got pictures of them when they was five, six and seven years old. So when they hand me this ‘Wonderful World,’ I didn’t look no further, that was it.

He was genuinely touched by the heartfelt optimistic simplicity of the sentiment, and its faith in the future – that a new generation would know things that he would never live to see. Like, er, Twitter. Well, let’s not get hung up on the details. He was struck by the song’s message, and so agreed to sing it.

An arrangement was made, musicians were booked, and a studio was procured – for a midnight session in Vegas, after Satch had finished up his set at the Tropicana. There was just one problem. Louis Armstrong had recently switched record labels, to ABC, and the president of the company, Larry Newton, was opposed to Satchmo doing “What a Wonderful World”. I don’t mean he was antipathetic or indifferent to it, or felt it was not a strong choice for a single but would be okay for Side 2 Track 5 of an album. I don’t even mean that he disliked it. He loathed “What a Wonderful World” with a passion: He thought he’d signed the Number One bestselling pop star of “Hello, Dolly!”, and he didn’t want his new act doing what he regarded as the polar opposite of “Dolly” – a soporific inert crawl-tempo ballad.

He’s not necessarily mistaken about that, as my kid’s class certainly demonstrated. So I’m not unsympathetic to Larry Newton’s concerns. The trouble was that on August 16th 1967 he’d flown in to Vegas for a photo shoot with his new star and that evening he showed up at United Studios determined to prevent the recording. He went so totally bananas that Ed Thiele, as producer, and Artie Butler, the arranger, and George Weiss and Frank Military, who were also present, hustled him through the door and locked him out of the studio. Which isn’t exactly conducive to Louis Armstrong recording a tender and sensitive ballad unlike anything he’d sung before…

It was a long session – either because of Newton’s antics or because they were interrupted by the toots of passing Union Pacific freight trains, or because the material was a little outside Pops’ comfort zone. They stayed there till 6am, and then they all went for breakfast. And the label only agreed to pay the orchestra for their extended shift on condition that Satchmo himself accept a mere $250 for the session. But it was worth it: Louis worked and worked on his interpretation until he and the writers were satisfied. I confess as a young child I always heard “the dark sacred night” as “the dark say goodnight”, but once I’d grasped Satch’s enunciation I appreciated what a fine pairing that makes with “the bright blessed day”: it adds a subtle touch of the holy and transcendental to the song; that the world is not merely “wonderful” in the way that a great cheeseburger and a vanilla shake can be, but truly wonderful because it’s the wonder of God’s creation. But, as I said, it’s discreetly done. And Armstrong’s reading of the middle-eight, in that unmistakeable beautiful gravelly rasp, is as sincere and true as anything he ever sang:

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, saying ‘How do you do?’
They’re really saying, ‘I love you…’

Is that really what they’re saying? Well, Pops bought into it. In the studio that night, representing all those children who’d grow to learn more than he’d ever know, was George Weiss’ kid Peggy. “So you’re George’s daughter? Pleased to meet you!” And he shook her hand, and maybe, for a small, shrunken old man not in the best of health, it really did mean “I love you.”

And, for those wondering what the hell all this hippie-dippie peace’n’love stuff had to do with Louis Armstrong, he waited to the very end to tie it back to his entire oeuvre in what, with hindsight, was the only possible wrap-up:

Ohhhhhh, yeahhhhhh.

Larry Newton wanted another “Hello, Dolly!” Well, he got the last two words.

But he wasn’t happy, and he swore to exact his revenge – by doubling down on the petty and stupid. In order to prove he was right about the song, he released the single in late 1967, but refused to promote it. He didn’t ship it to radio stations, so no disc-jockeys played it, and nobody bought it. In those days, ABC’s UK distribution was licensed to EMI, and, in the fullness of time, “What a Wonderful World” showed up at the London office, and they released it as a normal single. Actually, not that normal, because it was, I believe, the very last single EMI released on their HMV label. But, other than that, they did all the things you’re meant to do with a new release: They sent review copies to the BBC and to trade magazines, and discovered what Larry Newton, once he’d gotten over being locked out of the studio, should have realized – that people really liked it. It entered the UK charts at the beginning of February 1968 at Number 45, cracked the Top Forty in its second week, the Top Thirty in its fourth, and then climbed through March and April up to Number One.
So, just for the record, where did it get to on the Billboard Hot 100?

Er, big hit sound Number 116.

In fact, Larry Newton’s singular talent for sabotage was so effective that he wound up with a record that was a hit everywhere except his own territory: Top Thirty in Australia, Top Twenty in New Zealand and the Netherlands, Number Seven in Switzerland, Number Six in Belgium and Germany and Norway, Number Two in Ireland, Number One in Austria… What a wonderful world (America excepted). In London, EMI decided the song was so big they needed an album built around it. At which point Larry Newton decided to triple-down on the moronic. He agreed to the LP, but only if Armstrong did it for $500. Joe Glaser, Louis’ manager, wasn’t in the mood for that, and instructed Bob Thiele:

You tell that fat bastard to go f**k himself and give us $25,000 for eight more sides.

Larry Newton responded:

Tell him to go f**k himself, and why do we give a sh*t about these European companies? Screw ’em all.

They’re really saying “I love you”.

Three years later, Louis Armstrong was dead. If you’d been listening to the radio in Britain, Europe, around the planet in 1971, they marked his passing with “What a Wonderful World”. On American stations, they played everything but.

It took two decades and Good Morning, Vietnam for a great record finally to achieve the recognition on its home turf it had known for a generation everywhere else. It doesn’t matter that Satch was born in 1901; he sounds old and elegaic on the record, and that’s the point: he’s a fellow approaching the end of his life, but he’s not bitter or even bittersweet; he’s not looking back but looking forward to when those babies will grow. It’s an old man, but it’s a young song. That’s why it’s a popular father/daughter dance at weddings: It’s the past blessing the future.

And that’s also true of any great songwriter’s catalogue – which is why we salute George David Weiss on his centennial.

As for Larry Newton, well, I wasn’t sure whether he was still with us or not, so I looked him up, and read:

Newton is probably best remembered today for trying to stop Louis Armstrong from recording ‘What A Wonderful World’.

Ohhhhhh, yeahhhhhh!

Beautiful song, beautiful story, no? Tales like this provide a small window onto why it is that people get into the music business in the first place, and why a not-negligible percentage of them are perfectly willing to break themselves—financially, spiritually, morally, even physically—to stay in, on any level they can contrive. I swear, out of all the great music posts Steyn has done, and he’s done quite a few, this one may well be the beat of ’em all.

About a guy most of us have probably never even heard of.

Doin’ the dirty boogie

WARNING: Some of you more genteel types will definitely want to avert your eyes from what follows, which I’ll tuck below the fold just as a courtesy. The embedded and/or linked material is, by all civilized standards, not safe for work—or for polite company in places outside the office, probably. Vulgar old bastid that I am, I think it’s just hilarious. Continue reading “Doin’ the dirty boogie”

How you carry on!

In honor of International Women’s Day: something so hot it sizzles, from my idea of what a real woman really is: Texiz-born, Loozyanner-raised Austin legend Long Tall Marcia Ball.




Marcia’s slashing keyboard attack, all with that leg casually swinging to the beat, is plenty enough to make this tune soar. But (surprise surprise!) it’s the guitar solo that really sends me, for a reason none but a fellow picker will understand. Watch carefully: the guitarist (a fella yclept James Hinkle, no slacker his own self where o-fficial Texas Legend™ status is concerned) goes twice around with the solo, as everybody including he himself would expect. Then Marcia unexpectedly lays back to let him take a third go. As you’ll notice, he’d already gone back to playing rhythm for a few bars before realizing the boss-lady, rather than going into the next verse, had decided to give him his head—on live TV, no less.

In obvious flustercation, James dithers and mumbles uncomfortably for a cpl-three bars before regaining his equilibrium to light back into the festivities with a real vengeance, uncorking what turns out to be far and away the highlight of the evening. The ACL audience, bless their wise and experienced hearts, reacts to the improv-a-ganza they had just witnessed with raucous delight, whereupon Marcia grins hugely and salutes Hinkle’s triumph with a shot from the ol’ finger gun.

Oh, this hyar is definitely A Moment alright—one that every professional player lives and breathes for. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of indescribable feeling that drives those lucky enough to experience it to commit the completely unnatural act of climbing onto a stage in the first place and keeps us coming back again and again, looking for more of the same. You don’t get it all that often, unless maybe you’re Stevie Ray Vaughan or some other one-in-a-million talent. But I promise you with all my heart and soul, people: you feel that thrill just one time and you will be hooked forever. It is NOT the kind of thing you ever get over, at least for some of us.

Nope, you’ll cheerfully spend the rest of your life chasing another taste of that glorious high, thereby condemning yourself to a life of poverty and bitter travail, in most cases, without a trace of regret. In fact, I remember years ago hearing an interview with Dave Edmunds wherein he said pretty much the same thing with only slightly different wording, probably because of him being a Welshman and all. I wish I could dig that interview up now that I’ve gone and reminded myself of it, but I’m confident there’s no chance of that and I ain’t gonna bother looking.

Anyways, y’all enjoy yourselves an encore jolt of Marcia & Krewe, doing another rollicking little number whose lyrics I especially like.



And to think there are those who insist girls can’t rock. Clearly the poor dears don’t know Marcia Ball well enough, thus are more to be pitied than censured.

Update! I should maybe point this out before someone waxes all indignant in the comments over it: yes, I was already aware of the Commie origins of International Women’s Day. I was only using that as an excuse for putting Marcia up, that’s all. Honestly, I’m amazed I never had her up here before now, and can offer no excuse for that unforgivable lapse.

His span of knowledge was broader than just politics

Just another example of Limbaugh’s hateful racism, I guess.

Ladies and gentlemen, I was 16; I was just starting to work in radio when Aretha Franklin bopped on the scene. I was telling Snerdley, “Everybody’s calling her the Queen of Soul,” and there’s no doubt she was. I think that doesn’t go nearly far enough in describing Aretha Franklin, who she was and what she did, her talents and so forth. She was soul, there was no question. She defined it. Well, she and James Brown, who was the Godfather of Soul. James Brown was the Ambassador of Soul. He wasn’t just the godfather; he was the ambassador.

Her talent, her abilities, the range of music she could sing. There’s something else that I think we need to remember and kind of remain in awe of. Aretha Franklin, after having moved there, was from Detroit. There’s a little neighborhood in Detroit that an entrepreneur turned into one of the most powerful, one of the most identifiable, one of the most amazing music industry stories there has ever been. His name was Berry Gordy, and he did Motown. And there were two houses.

If you ever go to Detroit, you gotta drive by these two houses. That was Motown, where the recording studios were. In fact, the Motown artists thought that one of them was better than the other, and as time went on some of the acts only wanted to record in one of those studios because they felt that the sound was just better there, acoustics and everything else. But stop and think of it. You had the Four Tops. You had Gladys Knight & The Pips. You had The Supremes. You had Smokey Robinson. You had Diana Ross.

You had later on the Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, the Marvelettes… (interruption) No, no. No. What was her name? City Council Detroit, yeah. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, all in one neighborhood in Detroit, and that’s where Aretha was. She didn’t go with Motown. She went with Atlantic. She was wooed by the great Atlantic executive Ahmet Ertegun, and he signed her to Atlantic, and Gordy had all these other people.

But it’s just amazing, and that’s where Aretha Franklin came from. She stood above. It’s hard to say, but she stood above all of it. It is the quintessential American story, Aretha Franklin, and the impact she had, the reach she had, the talent and so forth. So, yeah, she was the Queen of Soul. But, to me, I mean, everywhere you turn in the media, “Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin” it seems not enough. It’s like “right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh.’ That’s not enough. It doesn’t get anywhere near describing what I do, does it?

No Rush, it really, really doesn’t, bless your great big heart. El Rushbo’s heartfelt gushing over Queen Aretha provides me an opportunity to present one of the best of her many stellar performances, for which I thank him.



The Blues Brothers got a pretty tepid reaction when it was first released, from those critics whose reviews weren’t just downright cruel about it. I didn’t agree then, and don’t agree now; I thought it was great. The film was full to bursting with some truly wonderful music, enhanced by Aykroyd and Belushi’s refusal to hog the spotlight for themselves. Their humility is to their eternal credit. Think of it: at the very height of their fame—which necessarily implies the egotism that accompanies it—these boys were still respectful enough, sincere enough, big enough fans, to step back and allow some of their favorite blue stars to really shine.

Hey hey, my my

Rock and roll will never die.


I present this ass-kicking foursome in the exact same order I heard ’em earlier on one of the local classic-rock radio stations when I was out. You can’t begin to imagine how deliriously happy it makes me to know that even now, early in the year 2021, a four-song set as insanely great as this is still available for my listening pleasure, right there on the FM dial. Warms the cockles of my cockles, it does.

Update! Looky what popped up automagically while I was typing the above.



Wonder if it really was Bon playing those bagpipes. If this ain’t what Rock And Roll Heaven sounds like, then I don’t wanna go.

A splash of Cranberries

The Cranberries have always been one my favorite bands, much though that might seem to clash with some of my other, umm, known proclivities. Fronted by the late, lamented, and completely lovely Dolores O’Riordan, they were one of those bands whose sound was so distinctive that you always recognized any song of theirs within only a handful of bars. About Dolores:

Dolores Mary Eileen O’Riordan (/oʊˈrɪərdən/; 6 September 1971 – 15 January 2018) was an Irish musician, singer, and songwriter. She was best known as the lead vocalist and lyricist for the alternative rock band the Cranberries. O’Riordan was one of the most recognizable female voices in rock in the 1990s and in pop history. She was known for her lilting mezzo-soprano voice,[5] her signature yodel, her emphasised use of keening, and her strong Limerick accent. With the Cranberries, she is regarded to have written “some of the most seminal songs in music history”.

Poor lass lived an extremely eventful life:

O’Riordan was singing before she could talk. When she was five years of age, the principal of her school took her into the sixth class, sat her on the teacher’s desk, and told her to sing for the twelve-year-old students in the class. She started with traditional Irish music and playing the Irish tin whistle when she went to school. When she was seven years old, her sister accidentally burned the house down; the rural community was able to raise funds to purchase the family a new homestead. Her formative experiences were as a liturgical soloist in the choir in local church and as singer at school. From the age of eight, she was sexually abused for four years by a person whom she trusted. At the age of ten, she would sing in local pubs where her uncles took her.

All that, and it only brings us up to age ten. Oh, did I mention she was quite the fair Colleen? Because I assure you, she was.

DoloresORiordan.jpg

Not that an abundance of personal pulchritude matters much when you can belt it out like she could.







Those last two are my own personal Best Of’s, but the real reason I thought of mentioning all this tonight relates to the first one. See, on the drive home from work earlier I heard Bad Wolves’ regrettable remake of Zombie. Not that they made such a terrible job of it, mind. In fact, to their enormous credit, the vid for the Bad Wolves version is quite tasteful, nicely highlighting the band’s obvious respect and affection for Dolores and the Cranberries. Nonetheless: some songs are just better left alone, y’know? Sleeping dogs, all that jazz.

Which brings Five Finger Death Punch to mind. From what I can gather, 5FDP seems to be big on the remakes as well, unfortunately including another perennial fave of mine: Bad Company’s signature tune. Please understand, I have nothing whatsoever against 5FDP and wish them nothing but success. Nor am I opposed to cover songs per se, having recorded a whole passel of ’em over the years my own self, offering neither shame nor apology for having thus sinned. Just the same: sorry fellas, but some things simply can’t be improved upon, and it’s sheer folly to even try.

Oh, and while we’re at it, I will never begin to understand why Bad Wolves didn’t name themselves The Big Bad Wolves when they had the chance. Redoing Zombie I can maybe make allowances for, but that lapse? Unforgivable.

Publick Notice

Added a YouTube alternative to the Neutral Territory sidebar section: Rumble. And what the hell, here’s another fine Cantus Christmas selection for ya.



Great as Chanticleer is, and they are, I really have to admit that I like Cantus better. Can’t really come up with a specific reason why, other than Cantus seems to produce a fuller, more muscular sound. Don’t know the actual number of vocalists in each ensemble off the top of my head; maybe it’s just that Cantus has more throats belting their stuff out than Chanticleer does, maybe it’s the arrangements, I dunno. Either way, when the singing kicks back in after the percussion interlude, this one takes off and soars like a mighty, majestic eagle.

Immortal, beloved

Y’all know by now that I’m more of a Mozart guy myself, but that still leaves plenty of space in my coal-black heart for good ol’ Ludwig Van Beethoven. I’ve been enjoying a bigger helping of the great man’s work than usual the past month, courtesy of the local classical station’s celebratory programming to commemorate the musical giant’s birthday. Somewhat curdling my pleasure, alas, is the fact that I had to grit my remaining teeth through the blasted 9th Symphony three fucking times today.

Understand, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the 9th as the genuine masterpiece it inarguably is. It’s just that I’ve heard it so many times I long ago got sick of the damned thing. If I never hear the 9th again in my life that will be entirely satisfactory, with no insult whatever to either the symphony nor its composer expressed or implied. For the record, I feel exactly the same way about Handel’s Messiah, another earwig which to my discomfort is nearly impossible to avoid this time of year.

Funnily enough, there’s another piece by Ludwig Van that I haven’t tired of, one that’s closely reminiscent of the 9th’s renowned Ode To Joy in certain spots. Let’s have a listen, shall we?



Also funnily enough, one of the YT commenters commends the tempo of this particular rendition as being “exactly correct.” The reason the comment merits a “funnily enough” is that I’ve been noticing, with increasing irritation, how many modern conductors seem to want the orchestra they’re in charge of to perform every work from the Classical or Romantic Period as if their foremost consideration is to just get through it as speedily as they possibly can. Hearing the musicians stampede through these classics as if the recording studio was burning down around their very ears just gripes me no end. I can’t begin to imagine why these conductors think it’s a good idea. And I fervently wish they’d just cut this crap out already.

While we’re at it, there’s another fantastic Beethoven piece I’ll leave you with—the Adagio movement of a piano piece not quite as well-known as the Emperor Concerto is, I reckon, but an unforgettable one in its own right nonetheless.



Happy 250th, Beethoven, and thanks for all the fish.

A Cold War carol

Yep, it’s time for another sheer-genius musical extravaganza from Steyn.

Back in 1952, Gloria Shayne had been the pianist in the dining room of a New York hotel when a young man walked in, took one look at the gal at the keyboard, and went up and introduced himself. He was a Frenchman who spoke very little English, she was an American who spoke even less French. She liked pop music, he had come to America to be a classical musician. Yet within a month they were married. Flash forward ten years: Noël Regney’s English has improved, and, although he still hasn’t made his name in serious music, he’s learned to appreciate American pop music since his wife hit the jackpot with “Goodbye, Cruel World”. They even write songs together – usually with Noël writing the music, and Gloria the lyrics.

But not this time. Noël Regney had had a lively war. Born in Strasbourg, he’d been conscripted, after the German invasion, into the army of the Reich. And, although he soon deserted and joined the Resistance, he stayed in German uniform long enough to lead his platoon intentionally into the path of a group of French partisans, who wound up shooting him. After the liberation of his country, he went east to be the musical director of the Indochinese service of Radio France, and found himself in the middle of a new conflict. He thought the Second World War was so terrible that it must surely be the end of all war. But here it was – October 1962 – and as he saw it Washington and Moscow were playing a dangerous game of nuclear brinksmanship over Soviet missiles in Cuba. On the streets of Manhattan, he saw two infants in strollers being wheeled by their mothers along the sidewalk, and decided he wanted to write something for them. Not music, but words: A poem.

He wrote a tune to go with it, too, but he decided it wasn’t right, and turned to his wife. “When he finished,” said Gloria, “Noël gave it to me and asked me to write the music. He said he wanted me to do it because he didn’t want the song to be too classical. I read over the lyrics, then went shopping. I was going to Bloomingdale’s when I thought of the first music line.”

I was gonna withhold the name of the song so as to keep y’all in suspense as to which Christmas classic he’s referring to, but then realized there’s no way I could resist embedding it here, and that I had no desire to anyway.



Amazing, isn’t it, how so very many of those Great American Songbook tunes have such fascinating backstories?

Promise: kept

Told y’all I’d be re-running this heavenly beauty once again this year. Maybe more than just this once, if I remember my stated promise/threat correctly. What, you thought I was just kidding around or sump’in?




As many times as I’ve seen that one, it never fails to choke me up even yet. While we’re Christmasing around, here’s another good ‘un.



Yeh, yeh, I know: it’s Frosty the Limey, a Brit-pale knockoff of the real all-American magilla. But still. A lovely little tune—simple, elegant, moving. And while I’m reposting a few of my personal holiday favorites, no such list could ever be complete without departed genius John Fahey on there.



More to come, as and when? Oh, you betcher, bub. In fact, the local classical station, WDAV, played a piano adaption of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite the other morning, one I’d never heard before, that blew me away completely. Gonna have to see about digging that one up for sure.

The most wonderful time of the year!

Yes, folks, it is indeed the time of year when some of the most wonderful music yet written comes back around to enchant us all. Yes, I will most certainly be posting the wonderful Cantu/Chanticleer barside team-up on Biebl’s wonderful Ave Maria again this year—count on it. Probably more than once, actually. I swear, no matter how many times I watch that one—about eleventy million so far, I think, but who’s counting—I still get so badly choked up over it that singing along myself, much as I’d surely like to, is simply out of the question.

Anyways, thanks to MisHum and his wonderful ONT, to kick this wonderful season off in a most wonderful way we have something I didn’t see coming.



I always really liked Johnny Winter’s pickin’ but somehow missed this uncharasterically delicate little confection completely over lo, these many years. Talk about UNEXPECTED!™, eh?

Good Friday the 13th

A most hearty welcome back to some old and dear friends.




Sounds great to me—even more so when you ponder the trials and travails this band has managed to overcome over the decades. Some folks say that it really isn’t AC/DC anymore without Malcolm, and that’s a legitimate opinion, I guess. But for myself, I’m just glad as all getout to see these guys still in the game, still persevering, and still rocking the ass right off of it even yet.

Glad to have you back, boys. Many thanks for laying down such a remarkable catalog of pure, bone-crushing rock and roll for our enjoyment. Long may you wave.

Helloween

DAMMIT, I only realized on the way home from work that I had completely spaced on activating the CF Halloween theme this year. And given the insane amount of tweaking that will be required to bring the tired old thing even nominally into line with the more recent WP versions, it ain’t likely it’s going to make an appearance this year, alas.

On the bright side, however, it’s a matter of a paltry few days now until our beloved Scrooge Picard rears his top-hatted pate once more around these parts—since I blew off Halloween, I’m gonna inaugurate CF’s traditional holiday makeover early than ever this annum to make up to the CF Faithful. No need to thank me, folks. While you’re waiting, enjoy yourselves some spooky TuneDamage.




Not at all a Baroque-period guy myself, being the confirmed Classical/Romantic era man that I am. But could there possibly be a more fitting way to kick off our Spooky TuneDamage session than Bach’s legendary Toccata and Fugue?



Well, unless maybe it’s Chopin’s world-famous Funeral March, that is. Now let’s shift gears.



Back in my punk-rock halcyon days, I loved the Dead Kennedys all to pieces, and the lyrics of this one in particular spoke to my very soul. Why not every day/Are you so afraid/What will people say? indeed.



Sure, I could very easily have taken the easy way out and tossed up Boris and the Crypt Kicker Five’s classic “Monster Mash” to close things out, like any ordinary blogger certainly would have. But predictability and obviousness ain’t why you guys hang around here in the first place, I figger. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with “Monster Mash,” I hasten to add. But we’ve all heard it enough times, and Gene Simmons’ rollicking, lesser-known little finger-snapper sounds fresh and fun in comparison.

Now to get back to seeing if there’s anything I can do to fit the old Helloween theme into a fresh new WP framework. In case you haven’t seen it or don’t remember it, the theme’s feature image was done up special for me by the seriously amazing American artist Coop, so I’m gonna do my damnedest to make this thing work here.

Update! It occurred to me, in light of the H-ween theme’s shortcomings, that I maybe oughta check up on Scrooge Picard’s overall operability just as a precautionary measure. And wouldn’tcha know it, looks like that one’s gonna need some re-working also—thereby sending any chance of getting Coop’s Helloween masterpiece into usable condition this weekend a-swirling right down the ol’ drain, dammit.

Something’s happenin’ here

What it is ain’t exactly clear.




Tonight’s TuneDamage selection is pretty much self-explanatory, I believe. Been meaning to put this one up for a cpl-three weeks now; I was just waiting for an excuse, and now seems like about as good a time as any. Although on reflection, election day might be an even more apt choice.

All in all, one apt tune calls for another, right?




If you’re experiencing a strong sense of deja vue right now, it’s justified. I have indeed run this one before—more than once too, if I’m not mistaken. Now admittedly, with apologies to our good friend Bill, I’ve never been what you’d call a Bob Dylan fan, although of course I’m musician enough myself to acknowledge the man’s genius. That said, I’ve always considered this song to be one of Dylan’s absolute best. And here, Frankie Perez—with his breathy, passionate vocal overlaying a gently captivating instrumental arrangement—has rejiggered a genuine masterpiece into a thing of purest, deepest beauty.

Legions of players have covered Dylan’s stuff over the years, with varying results. While I do still maintain that some classic tunes should just be left the hell alone, the above isn’t one of ’em. I’m confident Mr Zimmerman is well aware of Lopez’ rendition. And I’d be surprised indeed if he didn’t approve wholeheartedly.

Creature feature

Harpy (noun)

har·​py | \ ˈhär-pē  \
plural harpies

Definition of harpy
1 capitalized : a foul malign creature in Greek mythology that is part woman and part bird
2: a shrewish woman

Synonyms
battle-axe, dragon lady, harridan, shrew, termagant


Just in time to freeze the blood of every male in existence for Halloween, and make his testicles draw all the way up into the back of his throat—because they’ve heard that tune before, too may times, and know all too well what it forebodes. Every one of the guys I forwarded the vid to confessed with a shudder that they could only stand about ten or fifteen seconds of it before having to turn it off, and no wonder; one of them compared its powerful psychological impact to what he imagined having a needle-sharp icicle plunged straight into his heart might feel like. Via our old friend Stephen, whose lovely wife thankfully does NOT resemble the above dictionary in any way, bless herwarm, sweet heart.

As shitlib propagandist Walter Cronkite used to intone gravely: it oughta scaaaare yuh to death. But it does make for a note-perfect segue into tonight’s TuneDamage selection, I do believe.




That’s the legendary Swedish band Backyard Babies, masters of a subgenre that came to be known as Sleaze Rock. Their guitarist, Dregen, was also in another fine aggregation of Swedish hard-rockers yclept the Hellacopters, who I’ll have to remember to feature here sometime soon. I’m eternally grateful for having been put onto both bands by an Australian BPs fan, Helen, with whom I was quite close friends indeed for a goodish while there. Well, as close as two people can ever be who live half a world away from each other, I guess.

All Swedish rock bands have a rep for being almost preternaturally precise in their songwriting, performing, and recording too—a rep which is entirely justified, if you ask me. That almost anal-retentive approach to music holds true across genres, too; some Swedish buds of mine have a rockabilly outfit called the Go-Getters, and it’s the exact same way with them. They’re crazy good, almost too perfect, like some kind of clockwork machine when it comes to their music.

But to talk to ’em, Peter and his boys are just the nicest, most polite bunch of tall, blonde, blue-eyed devils you’d ever want to meet. Perhaps unexpectedly, though, they have not a trace of the cold, aloof arrogance that seems to be hardwired into the German musicians I’ve known. They had some swagger onstage, which is as it should always be, but offstage Peter and the other Swedish players I’ve had the opportunity to spend some green-room time with were all diffident and deferential, almost to the point of being downright painfully shy.

Be they arrogant or retiring, those Swedes can sure lay down some mighty fine rock and roll, all of ’em I ever heard tell of anyway.

Tonight’s Tune Damage™ selection

Heard this on the car radio earlier. I’d almost forgotten how much I always dug it.




I’ve been told, by people who would certainly know, that Ian Astbury was a pluperfect prick to work with, for whatever that’s worth to ya. But no matter; if the guy never produces another hit record his whole life long, he sure did good with that one.

We’re the Ramones…and you’re not

Just put up my first MeWe post, but sadly the video I tried to embed failed to embed for some reason. Yes, I’ve posted this one here before, I know, but I just don’t care. Deal, baby.




As I said on MeWe: it’s the greatest performance of the greatest song by the greatest band in history. Or, as Louder Than War’s John Robb puts it: “It’s all already there.. the ripped jeans, perfect poses, great tune, simplicity turned to an artform… a year later they would change music for ever…” Perfectly true, all of it.

One of the YT commenters says:

You know you are a serious Ramones fan when you think the terrible audio quality sounds cool

That’s as may be, I suppose. But the audio, umm, “quality” is one of the biggest reasons this video just flies all over me—to quote Little Richard, it makes my big toe shoot up in my boot. That raspy, buzzsaw distortion is every sound engineer’s worst nightmare; one can readily imagine the audio techs in the TV studio control booth literally bursting into tears and pulling their hair out by the handful when they realized that there was absolutely nothing they could do to fix this.

Much as the audiophiles and knob-twiddlers might disdain distortion as the very anathema of good sound and moral propriety, though, it’s also the direct result of the very thing that makes real rock and roll great: the awesome power of sheer, brain-busting VOLUME.

Without volume to excess, rock and roll loses its ability to excite, to incite, to inspire passion and release. Mind you, I don’t mean to say that there’s no ceiling, no point at which enough spills over into way the hell too much. It’s a surpassing-fine line that must be drawn here, and it’s very easy to cross over and get on the wrong side of it, to the ruination of everyone’s good time. I’ve certainly been to shows where the band was so loud it was actually unendurable, a muddled, unpleasant mess.

The fact remains, though: if it ain’t LOUD, it might just as well be jazz. In real rock and roll, and not some lame-ass Chris Cross pop-a-doodle claptrap, you want that guitar to bite; you want that snare to crack, that bass to thump. You want to feel that kick-drum push against your chest. The right level of LOUD is indeed a physical thing. But it shouldn’t be a painful one. You can peg the needles now and then, but you never want to bury them.

To my ears, the Ramones had things dialed in exactly right in this instance. It’s one of their very first TV performances, on a NYC local-access show called Arturo’s Loft, before they were known much of anywhere outside the hallowed halls of CBGB’s. And it’s just…remarkable.

Yes, that distortion is absolutely filthy all right. But notice: the levels of all the instruments, and the vocals too, are dead on. Meaning, nobody is drowning anybody out; you can hear Joey’s vocals just fine, loud if not exactly clear. And the vocals are usually the first thing to suffer from high volume—if they aren’t overwhelmed by a tidal wave of guitar, they’re sure to be lost behind the cymbal crashes perpetrated by an over-excited Keith Moon enthusiast.

But in the above video, you can actually distinguish everything, vocals included. Of course, the Ramones’ pure-as-the-driven-snow simplicity helps a lot with that. And it’s just as Mr Robb says: the Ramones turned simplicity into an art form. In fact, “simple” was the driving force from Day One, the whole idea, their raison d’etre. Johnny, for example, never was much for meandering, self-indulgent guitar solos, a staple of rock from its earliest days. Even later in the band’s career, when he did toss off his (very) occasional lead bits, he always kept them short, sweet, and straight as a razor.

I was fortunate enough to get to chat with Joey for an hour or so once, at the old Coney Island High entertainment complex on St Mark’s Place in NYC. Me and the GF were just kind of hanging out, nothing out of the ordinary going on, when I realized that I was standing not ten feet away from Joey Ramone his own self. I dithered for a moment; on the one hand, the Ramones really did change my life, and that’s the truth. So I very much wanted to express my gratitude for the crucial role they had played for me personally, for the inspiration they had provided me.

On the other, I hated to be That Guy, foisting myself on a celebrity who probably just wanted nothing more than an evening out, without having every Bozo from Brooklyn get all up in his grill and make a damnable nuisance of himself.

In the end, the GF insisted I stop being silly and just go over and say hello to the guy, ferchrissakes. Which I did, after a little more waffling. Even though he had to have heard my worshipful spiel so many times already that it made his hair hurt, he was quite gracious about it all. I succinctly explained to him that, after hearing the Ramones in the 70s, I had left the old classic-rock outfit I had been in before to start up Charlotte’s first punk outfit. I told him I had then drifted into the rockabilly thing, and was doing fairly well with it. He told me that he actually loved hearing such things from fellow players—people who were actually out there fighting the rock and roll road-wars for real and not just idly fantasizing about it, or boasting to their friends about all the big things they planned to do—someday.

Then a fight broke out behind us and some doofus got shoved into Joey’s back, nearly knocking him down and causing him to stagger slightly and spill his drink. He excused himself to head for the bar and a refill, and the GF and I wandered off someplace else.

I listen mostly to classical music on the radio nowadays, and go for long stretches at a time without listening to the Ramones at all. But I swear, every time I put ’em on again I wonder what the hell took me so long, what the hell was I thinking by it. Then I go on a Ramones binge for a few days, and I enjoy every second of it, too. It’s a fact, Jack: though the Ramones may not be everybody’s cup of tea, they really did change rock and roll, completely and forever. It’s kinda funny that their influence is so far-reaching and deep…but just the same, nobody else sounds quite like ’em. Ironically enough, the Ramones’ simple, stripped-down approach turned out to be a thing that moved mountains.

RIP Eddie

Of course y’all know that Eddie Van Halen passed away the other day. I won’t belabor the thing by saying much, beyond repeating what everybody else already said: the man was just a stupendous player, truly one of a kind. His influence on the evolution of rock guitar-playing is simply incalculable. I was fortunate enough to see ’em live in Charlotte on their first arena tour after that first blockbuster album was released, and was duly blown away not just by Eddie, but by the whole damned band—they were ALL fantastic. That show remains one of the best I ever did see, and ever expect to see. So without further ado, a vid or two.




My very favorite VH song of ’em all, and a goofy, fun video too. Which was typical of them; their videos were always light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek, and…well, just plain FUN to watch. You could accuse VH of a lot of things, maybe but taking themselves too seriously was never one of ’em. This next one is interesting: a compilation of five great live Eddie solos.



Next is another intriguing oddity: the one and only Slash opines on EVH’s passing.


Slash is a most hellacious player his own bad self, although I never much cared for Guns N Roses, honestly. Don’t get me wrong here; the band itself was excellent, as the short-lived Velvet Revolver side project with the late, great Scott Weiland more than amply demonstrated. It was that goddamned whiny pissant Axel Rose I couldn’t stomach.

Aw, what the hell, while we’re on the subject…yes, I know it ain’t EVH, but somehow I don’t think he’d resent the digression.




Goooood shit. Rest easy, Eddie Van Halen; the guitar-slinger bar in Rock ‘N’ Roll Heaven’s house band, already ridiculously high, just got seriously raised.

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