Sorry, We're Closed

Monday, September 29, 2008

Flowers on the Wall

The Statler Brothers, a country music quartet featuring a vocal approach based on gospel music, enjoyed a huge off-the-wall pop hit in 1966 with "Flowers on the Wall," a classic lonely-guy lament with a sprightly backing and comic lyrics.

(None of them were brothers, and none named 'Statler'; originally known as the Kingsmen, they were forced to change that when "Louie Louie" by Seattle's Kingsmen hit big in 1963. As a result, the vocal quartet named themselves after a brand of facial tissue!)

Because of shrinking playlists and the lack of imagination on the part of radio programmers, you aren't likely to hear the catchy "Flowers on the Wall" these days, even though filmmaker Quentin Tarantino brought the song back several years ago. The version used in Pulp Fiction and generally available now is a stereo cut that is NOT the same performance that buyers heard and purchased on mono 45s back in early '66.

I have noticed that some sixties 45s on the Columbia label--thinking, just off the top of my head, of Simon & Garfunkel and Byrds records--feature totally different performances than the ones heard now on stereo CDs and on the radio.

It's not clear to me why this is the case, but as a historian, it both intrigues me and annoys me that what people heard and purchased in the old days is NOT what you hear now.

Here's the original Statler Brothers 45. If you know the song, listen for variations in the drumming (especially in the chorus) and in the vocal mix. If you're not yet familiar with the song, enjoy its period references and all-around charm!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The All-Time Good-Time Bad Time

When I wrote recently about 20s-style 1960s social commentary music, I omitted perhaps the best one of all. Unfortunately, Country Joe & the Fish's "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag" is just as lyrically spot-on today as it was in 1967.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Once Upon Eternity

Though I believe in God, I am not a Christian. But, as my friend Larry Epke has said, the existence of really great spiritual music is a strong argument for its own validity.

Here is an example of such beauty, the first song off the album Come Alive! With the Sacred Heart Singers. This album, dating from sometime in the early 1970s, features a choir of girls and young women from a small town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula singing songs written by members of the choir.

This charming ensemble of 20-odd young ladies recorded at least three albums, and were apparently a big deal up north--they sold their music on album, cassette, and 8-track! I'd love to know what happened to the various members, or whether any of them continued in music. (An internet search shows that the lyricist for several of the best songs, Paulette Niemi, is involved in the school system of a town in the UP.)

Some of the lyrics on the album are more, er, doctrinaire than I'm comfortable with ("Make this a Christian generation!"), but the more open-ended material here features lyrics wishing peace to the listener and a mass of harmonious voices brimming with simple sincerity.

The simple blend of singers and guitars on this track, "Once Upon Eternity," is special. It's as affecting as anything I've heard in a long time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Big Z!

Congratulations, Carlos!

In my years of watching baseball, I've never seen any pitcher better than Carlos Zambrano was tonight. He was better than Kerry Wood in his 20K game, better than Jack Morris in the 1991 World it the best performance you've ever seen?

Rodd Keith: "I Died Today"

Herewith is the greatest-ever film noir song-poem about insurance fraud. What a fantastic piece of work.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Root-a-Toot Social Commentary

The mid-1960s saw an interesting trend in pop/rock music, one in which bands began to invoke sounds of the 1920s and 1930s.

The British music-hall tradition was bedrock, for example, to Herman's Hermits; "Mrs. Brown,You've Got a Lovely Daughter," "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," and "My Old Dutch" are just three of their songs informed by music from twenty years before their birth. The magnificent Kinks, of course, combined R&B and George Formby in such top stuff as "Mr. Pleasant," "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," and "Victoria."

Americans went way back, too; the "Bald-Headed Lena" and "Fishin' Blues" good-time sound of The Lovin' Spoonful was wildly influential. Michael Nesmith did several great wacka-do-wacka-do songs with the Monkees, while Harry Nilsson's entire approach owed much to the old school. Then there's always Tiny Tim's ukelele-led stroll through the tulips...

Weirder even than Tiny Tim was the wedding of such vo-de-o-do-do sounds to intelligent social commentary. Here are two "root-a-toot" songs by singer/songwriters who, for some reason, thought that their message was best delivered with ukeleles, kazoos, and tin pans.

Many of you have probably heard Phil Ochs, a great topical singer and songwriter who released a handful of great albums in the 1960s. Here's the closest thing he ever had to a hit single: "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends," from Pleasures of the Harbor.

Ray Repp is a recent discovery around here. He has spent most of his long career as a Christian artist, but the more non-sectarian "Apple Pie," a real charmer in its humor and its almost overwrought good-sense liberalism, comes from his 1969 release (which I think was recorded in 1966) The Time Has Not Come True.

Enjoy! Are there other songs in this category?