Over this past American Thanksgiving weekend, a Michigan station I can pick up here in Ontario was playing The History of Rock and Roll, one of those pre-recorded chronological series of songs and trivia. I tuned in mainly for the early stuff, and was just starting to taper off a bit when I happened to catch them featuring The Doors. I came in the middle of some guy (band member? critic?) saying that "Riders on the Storm" was the last song Jim Morrison ever sang. It was the last song on the last album he did, and when the vocals were done, Jim told the rest to wrap it up technically without him - he was going to split to Paris and get down. Then they all said their "goodbye"s and "see ya when ya get back"s. Only, of course, Jim didn't get back. I suppose if one specializes in Doors trivia, this is a well-worn piece of info, but I'd never heard it before. And I'm glad I did. Now whenever I'm in the mood for some Doors, and flip their GH into the machine, that song will carry extra meaning for me.
Then this afternoon I was cruising around YouTube when I came across a really good video accompanying Don McLean's hit, "American Pie." Among the images were pictures of both Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr., as well as Buddy, Ritchie, J.P., Janis etc. And I just had one of those moments. You know, the kind where the weight of what's been lost is perfectly balanced with that of the legacy left behind.
Okay, before things get too sappy here, let me quickly mention that in one of the essays in Papa Do Run, I turn all the other annotations on their ears, and "prove" that "American Pie" isn't really about Buddy etc after all. Who then? Would you believe Dinah Shore? Aw c'mon, won't you even consider it? It's all in good tongue-and-cheek fun, but who knows, I just might make a believer out of you... Meanwhile, check out the YouTube vid, The Meaning of American Pie, posted by lonestarsound. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ycgegp0KdE4
One pop music revelation made public; a few gazillion more to go. It seems the superstar Neil Diamond has finally laid his musical burden down (we didn't know he was carrying one) and told the world that his huge hit, "Sweet Caroline" was written about none other than Caroline Kennedy. A friend sent me the following link, which I will do my tech-impaired best to put here for you so you can read the whole thing for yourselves. I must admit, it never occurred to me to even question if there was a real Caroline behind the song...and I just finished a whole chapter for my next book (the sequel to Papa Do Run) called "Peanut Butter and Mashed Potatoes," that deals with real people in some of our favorite rock and pop songs. I did come up with a lot of surprises, but this one wasn't even a green blip on the radar. Apparently, Neil Diamond, who is now 66 years old (when did that happen?) saw a photograph ages ago of young Caroline standing with her pony. The image stayed with him a several years later he wrote "Sweet Caroline." It's obviously more a song "inspired" by her than a song written about her, but still, it's a very cool piece of music trivia, wouldn't you agree? Call it another thread in the rich tapestry of our popular culture. And while we're sort of on the subject, I'll just add that ( in my opinion) while the Founding Fathers were wise to call for a separation of church and state, thank goodness they didn't say anything about keeping politics and entertainment apart. Where would we be? For one thing, we probably wouldn't have had this great song from Neil. In conclusion, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that, even though the identity behind "Sweet Caroline" never bugged us the way certain other songs have...for example that mysterious, perennially unidentified vain guy with the apricot scarf...we're all very glad Neil Diamond stepped up and revealed his source. http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/071120/entertainment/music_neil_diamond
In a recent post (Tues 1 Nov) I described how this whole business about covers totally baffles me. Like, why are the lyrics sometimes so different? If you recall, I even gave a detailed example, "Long May You Run" by Neil Young, and covered by Emmylou Harris. Well, here's another example (which I already referred to in the post before this one). Today we'll look at them a little closer. We'll take the DC5 version first, since that's the first version I heard back in the day, even though Bobby's was released two years earlier.
"Over and Over" by the Dave Clark Five, 1965 Well, I went to a dance just the other night
Everybody there was there
I said over and over and over again
This dance is gonna be a drag
Didn't you always kind of wonder about that last word in the second line when Dave and the boys sang it? "Everybody there was there"? I don't know about you, but to me that always seemed a little too metaphysical for rock and roll. I mean, I hear it in my head in a more David Carradine intonation ("Ah Grasshopper, everyone there was indeed fully there!") and not Dave Clark. Maybe it's me. Anyway, some time later I happened to catch the wonderful 1963 original by Bobby Day, and things suddenly made much more sense -- at least for a moment (hold that thought).
"Over and Over" by Bobby Day, 1963
Well I went to a dance just the other night Everybody there was stag I said over and over and over again This dance is going to be a drag
Now isn't that better? For one thing, "stag" actually rhymes with "drag." For a brief span of time I was content. Then I got to those last two lines of the song; the ones where she blows him off by telling him she's waiting for her steady date. My first thought was, Wait a minute -- why would a guy who's trying to pick up a chick be complaining about a dance where everyone is unattached? Then, even more to the point, I thought -- why would a girl be waiting for her "steady date" at a stag dance in the first place. Hmm. I think she probably just told him she was waiting for her date just to politely get rid of him. Wonder if he got the message.
One of the earliest songs I can remember practicing my dance (Chicken, Bop) moves to is "Rockin' Robin" by Bobby Day. What a great song! It was 1958, I was 11 years old, and my mom's dining room chair was just the right height to stand in for a dancing partner. Then later, in 1963, Bobby recorded "Over and Over" (which was covered - less impressively in my opinion) by the Dave Clark Five in 1965. In fact, Bobby (sometimes under different names) was in or connected to a number of West Coast doo-wop / soul starting right back in the early '50s. There's The Four Flames, The Laurels, Bobby Day and The Satellites, The Hollywood Flames. And calling himself Jackie Lee, Bobby recorded "The Duck" (a dance craze number) in 1965. There were so many more, including "Truly Truly," "Buzz Buzz Buzz," "Don't Ever Leave Me," the list goes on. My particular fave is the number he did with Earl Nelson, as Bob & Earl - "Harlem Shuffle." That is one very fine song indeed! Sadly, Bobby is no longer with us; he passed in 1990. But it's no cliche that his music still lives on. Go bird go!
People have asked me how I came up with the exact title for my book. Well, when it came time to think of one, I knew it had to be based on a song title from the vintage era. Various working titles included "Those Oldies But Goodies," "It Will Stand," and "That Old Time Rock and Roll." Not bad. I mean, they all certainly had the music connection covered, but they were just way too serious. I wanted something that would suit not only the the subject ('50s & '60s rock and roll trivia) but also fit with my overall approach to the material (humorous, irreverent, downright goofy in places). Then one fine day I was listening to my favorite Internet oldies station, WPON, when they happened to play Jan & Dean's "New Girl in School." What a good one that is, I thought to myself, and went on with my day. Later on, I happened to hear them play "I Met Him on a Sunday" by The Shirelles, with that wonderful opening phrase. All of a sudden it came to me in a bright flash of channeled genius, as if all the cool spirits of those departed music legends up in Rock and Roll Heaven got together and zapped me with a collective lightning bolt: "Papa Do Run." The perfect choice.
Since then, I've also come across a rockin' little number from Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers (to be perfectly honest, I didn't recall it from my youth) called "Teenage Love." Anyway, you guessed it, that one contains the immortal lyrics, "papa do run" too. Next I found out there's a band called Papa Do Run Run, a group of talented musicians who are kind of California's "house band." They've been closely associated with the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean for donkey's years. Wow. It looks like "papa do run" is at the very foundation of rock and roll. Those ghostly musicians really nailed it. So, now I wonder - are there more songs out there with "papa do run" in the lyrics? There just may be. Here's the deal. I'll give a free copy of my book to anyone who can find me another song with those three words, in that order. There you go; that's your homework.
Meanwhile, I'm posting YouTube links to the songs on my website, www.papadorun.com. Someone just posted the Shirelles, and I'm going to get that link up ASAP. It's not the original 1958 version, but a 1966 re-do, a little pale in comparison; at least you can hear the song. Ciao for niao.
Like every music person, I have a bunch of love songs I would put at the top. That doesn't necessarily mean I think they're all the best songs ever written, but for me they are best a summing up those emotional highs and lows we've all found ourselves from time to time. Here's my list from my teenage years, broken down into handy categories. See how yours compare, or send in a list of titles and categories of your own.
Happiest Love Song: "I Got You Babe" Sonny & Cher. Two hippies against da wurld.
Saddest Love Song: "Long Long Time" Linda Ronstadt. What's worse than getting dumped?
Best Break-up Song: "This Time" Troy Shondell. No light at the end of his tunnel.
Best Make-up Song: "The Best Part of Making Up" The Ronettes. Big hair knows all about it. (see picture)
Best Kiss-off Song: "Hats Off to Larry" Del Shannon. He loses half a point for that line about wanting her back regardless, but I'll still give him the medal.
Best Come Back To Me Song: "He'll Only Hurt You" Dion. Love the big finish!
Best Love Song to Something Other Than a Person: "Dirty Water" The Standells. Frat Rock at its absolute best!
Many people, when they hear the word kazoo think of those weird little tin-whistle lookalikes that used to come in Cracker Jack boxes. Or, sometimes you could hook one at the Fish Pond game at your local elementary school fair. If you even remember the Fish Pond, you deserve a kazoo, but unfortunately I don't have any to send. As I recall, kazoos were the great equalizer for those with no musical talent, because they required absolutely no skill to play. To make music on a kazoo, you just need to use your regular singing voice, no matter how bad it might be, and just "sing" into the kazoo, usually with the syllable "doo" and the kazoo would then distort it in a hilariously funny (to 10 year olds in the 1950s) manner. Thus, while the kazoo may look like a whistle, it actually isn't. It's an instrument. Of course, it's not an instrument in the same way that a guitar or an oboe is an instrument, but because of the principles on which it works, you would be technically correct to call it one. Just be prepared for the laughter when you declare yourself a virtuoso. More than likely, the older stoners among us would look at a kazoo and go, "Man, I used to have a pipe just like that!" But, as the famous Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte would have said of his kazoo, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." Sorry, I had to put all those Art History classes to use somehow. So, you might be thinking that this is the end of the subject, but oh, no! The kazoo played a much bigger part of our lives than just grade school prizes and hippie era flashbacks. The lowly kazoo was a very important member of our vintage repertoire. It's still in use today, but you can look those songs up for yourself if you want. Here's my list (sure to be incomplete) of Vintage Kazoo Hits.
"Johnny Get Angry" Joanie Sommers "Little Diane" Dion "So Long Baby" Del Shannon "I Love Onions" Susan Christie "You're Sixteen" Ringo Starr "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die" Country Joe (haven't heard this one myself, but am told there's a kazoo in one of the versions. Not Woodstock, though. "San Francisco Bay Blues" Peter Paul & Mary (check out the video on YouTube with PPM in a kind of "dueling kazoos" segment, not to mention Mary making the "Cher hair flip" her own.
Okay, maybe you're wondering about the picture up top. Like, what does that have to do with the subject at hand? Well, that's me getting a tow on the driver's side, and my roomie skiing shotgun, after a big snowstorm in the winter of '66 in Kalamazoo, Michigan...aka Kazoo. That's the first thing I always think of.
You know the kind, you got way more stuff done on Saturday than you normally do, so now you have this wonderful stretch of guilt-free hours with absolutely nothing "to do," and everything is wide open. So I decided to putter around with some of the more fun stuff that has been sitting to one side for too long. (I won't bore you with the details, and besides, everybody's idea of fun is different, so I think I'll retain an air of mystery, rather than tell you and have you snicker and go, "That's her idea of fun?!") And of course, I had to play some music to go with. I started out with Cat Power; that got things rolling very gently. Then I decided to pick up the tempo a bit, and switched to a compilation CD of oldies (1959-61) from the CUB label. What a great collection of R&B! Terrific tunes from the Impalas (best known for "Sorry I Ran All the Way Home"), The Harptones, The Pyramids, the Velours, and many many more. After that, I fast-forwarded to the '00s for some rascally alt country from the Canadian group, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. Then I paused for a moment to once again savor the fact that the Wolverines beat the Spartans yesterday, and that kind of led to a double dip of the Beach Boys - "Be True to Your School" and "Pom Pom Playgirl." After that, it was time for a second cup of coffee and my new Ronnie Spector CD, "Last of the Rock Stars." Don't know what the rest of the day will hold. Maybe I'll take The O.C. out for a spin (see Oct. 26 post) and look at the fall colors before they're gone. That might require some Don Henley ("Boys of Summer") and some Byrds ("Turn Turn Turn"). Okay, I'm outa here.
The two artists who are most heavily represented in the non-oldies section side of my CD shelf are Neil Young and Emmylou Harris. Those are two voices I will simply never get tired of hearing. Which segways perfectly into my question about covers. Just how free, exactly, are artists when they set out record someone else's song? This is a mystery to me on par with Eleusis in the ancient world, or, if you want a more contemporary comparison, how they get the centers in the Caramilk bars. Okay, here's the music example.
One of Neil's more popular songs is his sweet elegy for his first car (hearse, actually), "Long May You Run," released in 1976. Presumably he wrote down exactly what he wanted to say about it. I'll just make note of the lyrics in question for you:
It was back in Blind River in 1962When I last saw you aliveBut we missed that shift on the long decline...Maybe the Beach Boys have got you nowWith those waves singing "Caroline No"Rollin' down that empty ocean roadGettin' to the surf on time...
Well, what could be more clear, really. Plus it's lovely song; no wonder Emmylou wanted to record it. You can find it on her 1982 album, "Last Date." But, astonishingly (to me at least) the lyrics are quite different:
Well it was back in Blind River in 1962When I last saw you aliveRollin' down that empty ocean roadGettin' to the surf on time...
That's it. No shift, no Beach Boys. What gives? Now, don't get me wrong, I totally like both versions. This is not about which one is better. I'm just curious (not being a songwriter, or a song coverer, or a copyright lawyer, or any other kind of person who might have an interest in such matters) about how these kinds of lyrics-cut-and-paste jobs happen. Like, did Emmylou say to Neil, "Hey man, I really like your song and want to record it, but I just want to make a couple of teensy-weensy changes, 'kay?" And then Neil said, "Sure Emmy, do whatever you like." Hmm. Why wouldn't Neil (who has a rep for being pretty fussy about things) say, "Take it as is, or leave it"? If anyone out there can clear this up, by all means, let me hear from you.
I'm a baby boomer who grew up dancing in the streets of Detroit during the classic Motown years, lived beside the Rocky Mountains for many years, now retired and living (and writing full time) in S. Ontario. I have one blog for rock 'n' roll oldies, and one for nature, poetry and life along the Lake.