Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hey Moe! Hey Moe!

I've always loved The Three Stooges! I'm not sure why, but I have. As a kid I watched reruns of their short films on TV, and my brothers and I frequently mimicked their antics, fake eye poking and punching each other at every opportunity.

I heard the song The Curly Shuffle on the radio the other day -- the 1984 hit by Jump 'N the Saddle that rose to number 15 on the Billboard charts. I loved the song when it came out, and hearing it recently brought back all sorts of good memories of my childhood, and the hours of amusement and laughter the Stooges provided to me and my brothers.

Back when I was in high school I had a classmate named Robin who was Larry Fine's grandniece, which at the time I thought was really cool. (Still do!) Larry was in his early 70s at that point, and not in great health, but through Robin I felt I had a personal connection to one of the Stooges, and it doesn't get much better than that! To this day whenever The Three Stooges name gets mentioned, I make it a point to brag: "You know, I went to high school with Larry Fine's grandniece." Folks are seldom impressed.

Down through the years I've even collected some Stooge memorabilia -- a few photographs, a video collection, and my most prized possession: a pair of Three Stooges pajama pants that I where around the house when no one else is home. (Just kidding. Or am I...)

I think having a fascination with the Stooges is a guy thing. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure. (Correct me if I'm wrong here.) And I guess that's because their slapstick and physical humor appeals to men on a kind of neanderthal, adolescent level -- a level from which, alas, most men (including myself) never seem to rise above.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sweet Baby James

Seeing and hearing James Taylor sing America the Beautiful at the Presidential  Inauguration this past week literally brought tears to my eyes. So simple and so, well, James Taylory, the performance was absolutely wonderful -- even though he sang only one verse and the entire performance lasted little more than a minute!

As I heard him sing, I wondered if forty-three years ago, when his classic Fire and Rain was climbing up the charts, he ever imagined that one day he'd be singing at the second inauguration of the country's first African American president. After all, it was a very different time back in 1970: Commander in Chief Richard Nixon was in the second year of his first term as president, and the word "Watergate" mostly just referred to a hotel in DC!

Taylor's performance this past Monday brought back 40+ years of memories and music -- beginning for me with his album Sweet Baby James in the early 70s, to seeing him live in concert in the 1990s, to watching the PBS special of his 2007 concert at the Troubadour with long-time friend Carol King. And you know what?  It's all good!

I was in seventh grade back in 1970 when Fire and Rain rose to #3 on the Billboard charts. And as a 12-year-old budding young guitarist/singer (And James Taylor wannabe!), I remember distinctly spending hours learning his songs and trying with all my might to sound just like him when I sang -- which, unfortunately, didn't really work. Instead, I simply ended up sounding like "Bill trying to sound like James Taylor," which was not at all the effect I was shooting for, and, frankly, just not very impressive! (Ask my friends at the time -- they'll tell you!)

No doubt about it, James Taylor is a class act -- his music getting better and better down through the years. And so I'll continue to play and sing his music -- mostly in the solitude of my own home -- because it never fails to bring back some great memories.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bray Slips and Uniwrongs

John Fred
The song Judy in Disguise by John Fred and His Playboy Band has always fascinated me a little bit. Of course, growing up as a child of the 60s, that’s fine. But the fact that after 43 years it still fascinates me, well, frankly, that’s a tad embarrassing! The bottom line is I just think it’s a pretty cool song. (See player below.)
I’m not sure what it is about Judy in Disguise that captivates me most. Maybe it’s the fact that you can’t really understand all of the words. Or, maybe it’s the psychedelic ooh-ah-ooh-ah vocal interlude used before the first and last verses of the song, as well as the use of a sitar toward the end. Or, maybe it’s because when I saw them perform the song on American Bandstand back in 1968, Harold Cowart’s electric bass looked like a powder blue toilet seat with a guitar neck and strings attached! (It really did -- although I can’t for the life of me explain why I remember that.)
The lyrics are definitely hard to understand, and I remember as a kid wondering what the words “Keep wearin’ your bray slips, and your uniwrong” meant. I discovered later that the actual words were “Keep wearin’ your bracelets, and your new rara.” And even though I understood what bracelets were, I had absolutely no idea what a new rara was. (I’ve since come to find out that a rara was a short dress with ruffled layers that was popular in the 60s. Who knew?)
Down through the years, I’ve also come to learn that song itself was written as a parody of The Beatles’ song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Legend has it that John Fred (who co-wrote the song with fellow band member Andrew Bernard) misunderstood the Beatles’ lyrics as Lucy in disguise with diamonds, so when he wrote the parody, he used the word disguise instead of the skies. (I know -- this is just way too much information and way too interesting, but bear with me!) The fact that the song was a parody also explains the use of the psychedelic interlude (as well as the sitar used at the end of the song), giving the song a Lucy in the Sky kind of feel.

As far as why Harold Cowart would play a bass that looked like a toilet seat, I have absolutely no idea! I've exhausted my search capabilities, and just can't find a picture of it anywhere. But believe me, I'm not making it up.
As a side note, I must mention that, as a kid, American Bandstand was one of my favorite television shows. The show, which originally aired from Philadelphia before moving to Los Angeles in 1964, was hosted by Dick Clark and broadcast on Saturday afternoons at 1:00 p.m. I hardly ever missed watching it -- except when I had to go to my Saturday afternoon ballroom dancing class! I’ll write more about that later, but for now suffice it to say that, as a young boy, having to take a bath, put on a suit, and spend a perfectly good Saturday afternoon in a stuffy church fellowship hall learning to foxtrot and tango -- well, that was just about all the torture I could handle!
But, again, that’s a story for another time…

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ground Control to Major Tongue

Down through the years countless lyrics to pop songs have been misconstrued by listeners – two classic examples being Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising (There’s a bathroom on the right), and Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix (Excuse me while I kiss this guy). Go ahead – sing them out loud – nobody’s listening! (See player below.)

My own misconstruing (Is that even a word?) of lyrics started as a child of six or seven. I remember listening to my brother’s copy of The Beatles’ single, I Saw Her Standing There, and mistaking the line “and the way she looked was way beyond compare” as “and the way she looked was wavy on her hair.” Hearing me singing these lyrics out loud, my always compassionate older brother began to ridicule me mercilessly, repeatedly referring to me as a mentally challenged individual, although he didn’t use that term.

As a teenager I used to spend hours and hours listening to records, writing down the words to songs I liked, and then figuring out the chords so I could play the songs on my guitar. (Okay, so I was a lonely kid!) I can’t begin to count the number of times I heard a song and was unable to discern the lyrics. But I do remember trying to understand the words to David Bowie's Space Oddity and coming up with the line “Ground control to Major Tongue” instead of “Major Tom.” And I remember hearing the words to Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild and thinking the line was “Ah that’s funky lightening; every little thunder” instead of “I like smoke and lightning; heavy metal thunder.”

Now, to be honest, I don’t think substituting the words “every little thunder” for “heavy metal thunder” was all that big of a deal. But substituting “Major Tongue” for “Major Tom,” well, that’s a bit of a stretch, don’t ya think? Not to mention the fact that I’m pretty sure Major Tom wouldn’t be too thrilled with the new nickname!

I’m not sure what my favorite mistaken lyric is. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what the “warm smell of cold leaked gas” is that The Eagles are singing about in Hotel California.

What’s your favorite misconstrued lyric?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Oz Never Did Give Nothing!

My daughter recently appeared in her high school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. She played the part of one of the trees in the forest, and, after hurling some of her fruit at Dorothy and the others, delivered with great enthusiasm the classic line, “How do you like dem apples?”

The show was absolutely wonderful, taking me back to my childhood and allowing me to recall the excitement of watching the movie version every year on television. Of course, it also brought back memories of being tormented in my dreams for weeks afterward by startling and vivid images of flying monkeys and cackling witches. I’ll get you my pretty! And your little dog, too!

The show also got me thinking about the song Tin Man by America (see player below), which spent several weeks on the Billboard Pop charts back in November of 1974. The song’s title and lyrics make reference to the role of the Tin Man – one of the more colorful, albeit squeaky, characters in L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The chorus to America’s song, Tin Man, includes the grammatically confusing lyric, “Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have.” Of course, the phrase “Oz never did give nothing” is an example of a double negative, suggesting Oz really did give something to the Tin Man. And, I can follow that.

But here’s where I get confused: When you add the words “that he didn’t already have” to the phrase “Oz never did give nothing,” you create, in effect, a triple negative (never-nothing-didn’t), which means even though the Tin Man already had something, and Oz gave him nothing (which was really something), it didn't really matter because he didn’t need it given to him anyway since he already had it in the first place! Now, is it just me, or is this really – and I mean REALLY – confusing? After all, a double negative is confusing enough, but a triple negative, well that’s just about three times more complicated than my little pea-sized brain can handle!

Maybe I'm making way too much of this. I mean, after all, all the Tin Man really wanted was an oil can, right? Or was it a heart?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Gee, I Think You're Swell!

If the Jeopardy category were Worst Lyrics of All Time, The Turtles' 1968 hit, Elenore, would be right up there at the top of the list. (See player below.) Consider the following:

I really think you're groovy. Let's go out to a movie.
What do you say, now, Elenore, can we?
They'll turn the lights way down low.
Maybe we won't watch the show.
I think I love you, Elenore, love me.

But wait, there’s more!

Elenore, gee I think you're swell, and you really do me well.
You're my pride and joy, et cetera.
Elenore, can I take the time, to ask you to speak your mind.
Tell me that you love me better.

Touching, eh?

Up until recently, every time I heard the song Elenore I wondered why in the world anyone would release a song with such lame lyrics. First of all, rhyming the words “groovy” and “movie” is about as cheesy as you can get. Second, even in the 60s no one actually used the word “swell” -- that is unless they were six years old and wore a beanie! Third, I can’t help but think the phrase “do me well” probably raised more than its fair share of eyebrows. (But hey,maybe that’s just me!) And fourth, no other song in pop history has ever used the phrase et cetera.

There’s an interesting backstory to the words, however. They were written as the band’s reaction to their record company’s request for a follow up song to their first hit, Happy Together (1967). In order to piggy back on the success of that hit, the executives at White Whale wanted the band to produce a follow up song with a similar, schlocky pop sound and feel.

The Turtles, however, wanted to move forward with more creative musical efforts, and had absolutely no desire to produce yet another shallow, upbeat pop tune. So they they wrote the song Elenore as a parody of Happy Together, thinking it would never be taken seriously. In other words, the song was supposed to be a joke! A joke that apparently no one (other than the band) caught on to, because the song went to all the way to No. 6 on the Billboard charts!

In 1969 The Turtles released their final top ten hit, You Showed Me, which also made it to No. 6 on the charts. Now that was a swell song!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Merry Christmas, My Friend!

If I mention the band The Royal Guardsmen, what’s the first song that pops into your head? Well, okay, maybe it would be the second song to pop into your head, but, still, my guess is one of the first two would be Snoopy’s Christmas (see player below), recorded in 1967 on the Laurie record label – the same label, by the way, which brought us hits by the likes of Dion and the Belmonts, The Chiffons, and – make sure you’re sitting down – yes, that’s right, Bobby Goldsboro!

The song, Snoopy’s Christmas, was a follow up to the group’s debut hit, Snoopy vs. the Red Baron (which might have been the first song to pop into your head!), and, like its predecessor, Snoopy’s Christmas tells the story of a WWI air battle between everybody’s favorite beagle, Snoopy, and his old nemesis, the Red Baron – who for some reason is now used to promote frozen pizza!

Anyway, unlike the first tune, this song has a seasonally appropriate happy ending when, after being inspired by the sound of Christmas bells from the town below, the Red Baron adopts a spirit of peace, calls a halt to the fighting, and offers Snoopy a holiday truce – and perhaps a slice of pizza, as well! The song’s chorus rings forth with seasonal words of hope and goodwill:

Christmas bells, oh Christmas bells, ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world and goodwill to man.

As a kid, I owned both The Royal Guardsmen’s hit singles. (You did, too, right?) And, as a drummer, I remember thinking that the march-like drum cadence used on both songs was pretty cool – a rhythmic style, which (for some unknown reason) wouldn’t make it back into pop music until 1974 with the Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods’ hit Billy, Don’t be a Hero! But we can discuss the merits of that song another time…

Merry Christmas!