“Wasted on the Way”

December 3, 2022 • 3:00 pm

Crosby, Stills & Nash, one of the great bands of the late Sixties through the early Eighties (joined sporadically by Neil Young), got together by accident. People who followed them know the story—the group formed from the leftovers of other bands: Buffalo Springfield, the Hollies, and the Byrds.  The way I heard the tale was that C,S, and N sang together extemporaneously at a party at Joni Mitchell’s house, and the harmony was instant and mesmerizing. The version given by Wikipedia, below, differs only in the location of the party:

In July 1968, over dinner at a party at another Laurel Canyon house (the home of either Joni Mitchell or Cass Elliot, accounts by the three members differ), Nash invited Stills and Crosby to perform a Stills composition, “You Don’t Have to Cry”. They did so twice, after which Nash had learned the lyrics and improvised a new harmony part on a third rendition. The vocals gelled, and the three realized that they had a very good vocal chemistry. While singing the third time, they broke out in laughter. The Byrds, the Buffalo Springfield, and the Hollies had been harmony bands, with Nash later saying in a 2014 interview, “We knew what we were doing,” referring to the success of each of the individual bands. He continued, “Whatever sound Crosby, Stills, and Nash has was born in 30 seconds. That’s how long it took us to harmonize.”

The group was alway better on records than live, but the song below, “Wasted on the Way“—written by Graham Nash—is as good as the recorded version. That’s even more surprising because the three were well past their peak at this time (especially Stills, whose voice went downhill rapidly). But lo and behold, here the vaunted three-part harmony is on full show. And Stills’ guitar work never went downhill.

“Wasted”, of course, is a double entendre. And notice that all three times they sing the word “bridge”, Stills adds one more syllable than do Crosby and Nash.

The original recording (remastered 2005) featured Timothy B. Schmit doing additional harmony; you know him from the Eagles.

RIP, Christine McVie

December 1, 2022 • 1:30 pm

Christine McVie died the other day at the young age of 79.  Stevie Nicks got most of the attention for Fleetwood Mac’s vocals, but let’s not overlook McVie’s singing, keyboard work, and songwriting. (Plus she could play an instrument that wasn’t the tambourine.) Here are three more songs in her honor; they are all songs she wrote. (I put up my favorite one the other day.)

Everywhere” (1987). I love these live performances, which are every bit as good as the recorded ones.

You Make Loving Fun“, from 1977’s Rumors album, also written by McVie:

Little Lies” (1987):

Fleetwood Mac was, like the Eagles, one of the groups I ignored when they were popular and only discovered them much later. But when I did, I couldn’t get enough of them. Now only Mick, John, Stevie, and Lindsey remain.

Christine McVie died

November 30, 2022 • 2:37 pm

As we Boomers age, we’re going to suffer the loss of many musical idols of our youth. The latest was Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac fame, who passed away on Wednesday. She was 79, which is close to a reasonable life expectancy, but still. . .

From the NYT:

Her family announced her death on Facebook. The statement said that she died at a hospital but did not specify its location. The statement also did not give the cause of her death. In June, Ms. McVie told Rolling Stone that she was in “quite bad health” and that she had endured debilitating problems with her back.

From the band:

Here’s the group performing a song she wrote (my favorite of hers), and she sings lead:

One Love

November 25, 2022 • 1:00 pm

by Greg Mayer

For all sorts of soccer reasons, staging the World Cup in Qatar was and is a bad idea, but that’s not what I want to bring up here.

As was widely reported earlier this week, Harry Kane, the England captain, had planned to wear a “One Love” armband as a statement about human rights, especially with regard to homosexuality. FIFA then threatened to yellow card (i.e., penalize) any player wearing the armband, because in Qatar homosexuality is a crime. Under this threat, Kane, and the other European team captains with similar plans, relented.

I don’t know that there was any such connection in the minds of the Dutch national football officials who started the “One Love” campaign, but I Immediately thought of the Bob Marley song “One Love,” which begins

One love, one heartLet’s get together and feel all right

Since Kane and the other European captains can’t express the thought on the pitch, I’ve been doing so by listening to the song, and thought I’d invite WEIT readers to listen along.

A conversation between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bari Weiss on the relationship between blacks and Jews

November 22, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Bari Weiss doesn’t seem to write much on her own Substack site lately, probably because she’s doing podcasts and enlisting a lot of writers to form her own media mini-empire. She does get some good writers, but I do miss her own pieces.

Here’s one conversation she’s recently posted with basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—now a writer, activist, and film-maker.  I haven’t seen his films, but I have read his essays, and they’re good.

The topic of their conversation is something I’ve brought up before: the eroding relationship between African Americans and Jews. As Abdul-Jabbar and Weiss both note, Jews and blacks used to be partners in the civil rights struggle (with blacks taking the lead, of course). Jews, also a disliked minority, found natural affinity with black protestors. Remember that both of the whites killed in the Mississippi murders of Goodman, Cheney, and Schwerner—killed by the Klan for registering blacks to vote—were Jewish.  That is not a random sample of whites.

But lately the relationship is eroding, aided by the anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan (and Kanye West!) and a seemingly growing number of attacks on Jews by blacks. Somehow the relationship needs to be repaired from both sides, but I, for one, don’t know how. Here Abdul-Jabbar espouses the comity that used to exist and urges both sides to fight for equality.

Click to read (it’s free, but subscribe if you read often).

I’ll give just three quotes. In the first exchange, Weiss (“BW”) gives a fact that surprised me, one she got from Abdul-Jabbar (“KAJ”):

BW: I want to end by focusing on the relationship more broadly between blacks and Jews in America. In July of 2020, you published a powerful condemnation of antisemitism titled “Where Is the Outrage Over Anti-Semitism in Sports and Hollywood?” Here’s a passage that struck me:

One of the most powerful songs in the struggle against racism is Billie Holiday’s melancholic “Strange Fruit,” which was first recorded in 1939. The song met strong resistance from radio stations afraid of its graphic lyrics about lynching:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Despite those who wanted to suppress the song, it went on to sell a million copies that year and became Holiday’s best-selling record ever. The song was written by a white, Jewish high school teacher, Abel Meeropol, who performed it with his wife around New York before it was given to Holiday.

The American Jewish community I grew up in was one that prided itself on its history of joining black Americans in their fight for civil rights. We knew the names Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two Jewish civil rights activists murdered in Mississippi in in 1964 alongside James Chaney. We studied the picture of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. Has that relationship unraveled?

KAJ: I don’t think it has unraveled. The only difference is that those Jews and blacks who never understood how our fates are intertwined now have an instant platform to express their irrational thinking. The majority of Jews have been steadfast in their support of civil rights when other groups have wavered. They have done it on the ground by joining marches, and they have done it in the arts by writing books and movies promoting civil rights. African Americans need to recognize that commitment and do the same for them.

BW: What does healing the bond between our communities look like?

KAJ: The bond doesn’t need healing, because it’s already there. People like Kyrie Irving and Kanye West give the impression that it’s not, but only because we are all surprised by someone from one marginalized group using the same bad, racist arguments against another marginalized group. Even wrong perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophecies if we don’t address them every time they appear.

We don’t have to heal the bond, we have to strengthen it even more by joining together to condemn every act of prejudice against every marginalized group. We must do it swiftly and emphatically.

A discussion of the odious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam:

BW: I want to focus on Farrakhan’s influence. He believes that Jews are parasitic, that Jews are behind a plot to exploit black Americans, and that blacks are the real Jews from the Bible. We’re hearing these ideas come out of the mouths of musicians like Kanye West (“Jewish people have owned the black voice”) and athletes like Kyrie Irving (“I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from”). For many Jews, hearing this kind of rhetoric is shocking, but many black Americans have noted that these views are more commonplace than we’d like to admit. So what I think a lot of people are afraid to ask is: How mainstream are these beliefs among black Americans? Are Kanye and Kyrie unique? Or has the influence of people like Farrakhan made this strain of antisemitism somehow more normal than many want to believe?

KAJ: Certain black leaders do exactly what certain white leaders do who want to gather followers, money, and power: They find a scapegoat they can blame. They can’t blame others who are marginalized because of the color of their skin, like Latinx or Asian-Americans, so they go for the default villain of fascists and racists: Jews.

What astounds me is not just the irrationality of it, but how self-destructive it is. Black people have to know that when they mouth antisemitism, they are using the exact same kind of reasoning that white supremacists use against blacks. They are enabling racism. Now they’ve aligned themselves with the very people who would choke out black people, drag them behind a truck, keep them from voting, and maintain systemic racism for another hundred years. They are literally making not only their lives worse, but their children’s lives. The fact that they can’t see that means the racists have won.

Those who condemn Weiss as an alt-righter, racist, and “dark web” adherent should ask themselves, “Would such a person be able to secure an interview with Abdul-Jabbar, much less have a civil and respectful discussion?”

Finally, Abdul-Jabbar’s conclusion:

BW: If you were putting out a statement, what would you say to Jews? To Black Americans?

KAJ: In the words of Marvin Gaye in What’s Going On: “You know we’ve got to find a way/To bring some understanding here today.”

Wouldn’t it be great if a great quote were enough? Marvin may inspire me, but in practical terms I’d say that we have to be mindful of our common goal to live in a country that values us and in which our children will never be called names, humiliated, can walk without fear, can pursue love with anyone they choose, have a fair shot at any profession they choose. That doesn’t just happen. We have to work together to achieve that. And anyone who doesn’t share that goal must be shoved aside.

As Jake tells Bret in the last line of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

It’s a long interview but well worth reading. An as your reward, here are the two songs mentioned in the piece.

Strange Fruit” sung by BIllie Holiday (1959):

Marvin Gaye live, singing “What’s Going On” (he wrote the song) in 1972:

The best three “modern” Broadway songs

November 16, 2022 • 2:00 pm

I’m not going to say anything much beyond giving my opinion that modern Broadway-style musicals, while more sophisticated than the great ones of yore (e.g., “Brigadoon,” “My Fair Lady,” “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific” and the like), aren’t as full of memorable tunes as the older ones.  I was brought up on those old musicals, as my parents had all the LPs, and I can still remember the words to all the songs (“All I want is a room somewhere. . . “, etc.). I’ve also listened to more modern musicals (i.e. those after 1957, when “West Side Story” came out), but, with the exception of a few decent tunes in “Camelot” (1960), I can think of only three truly great and memorable songs, and one of these is from 1957.

Now I may be missing some songs here, and I’m sure readers will remind me, but here are the three ‘modern’ ones I love. I won’t worry too much about dates.  And the three I’ve chosen are all performed here by one of my favorite singers  (in the top two with Karen Carpenter), Barbra Streisand.

In chronological order:

Somewhere” from “West Side Story” (1957). Music by Leonard Bernstein, words by Stephen Sondheim (the next to last great song he wrote). Babs really shows off her pipes on this one, particularly in the last third:

Send in the Clowns“, from “A Little Night Music” (1973). Words and music by Stephen Sondheim. This is a great song, but Sondheim always regarded it as a throwaway song of no great import. He was wrong: he never wrote anything better on his own.  (Judy Collins’s version is better, but this is Barbra’s post.)

All I Ask of You” from “Phantom of the Opera” (1986), written by written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe.  I love it when someone with a voice of this quality can belt, and oy, can she!

I’m throwing this in because even though it’s from a musical (“Funny Girl”, 1964) it goes back to 1920, when it was a French song, and was popularized by Fanny Brice in the late Twenties. This is from the movie. Streisand, playing Fanny Brice, has to go on to sing it while still in tears after her breakup with the gambler Nicky Arnstein, played by Omar Sharif. Then she recovers and brings the song to a rousing finish.

A new Beatles video: “I’m only sleeping”

November 15, 2022 • 2:00 pm

This is one of those Beatles songs that I’ve grown to appreciate more with age. Originally I thought it was a George Harrison song—probably because of the psychedelic “backwards guitar” stuff and because it reminds me of “Tomorrow Never Knows“, which I long thought was also a Harrison song containing weird backwards music.(Both songs have an Eastern flavor.) It turns out that both songs were written largely by John Lennon. I should have known that because Lennon sings lead on both, and in the Beatles the lead singer was usually the lead writer.

Anyway, here’s a new music video made for “I’m only sleeping.” This isn’t a video in the sense that it shows real people, but an artistic rendition of a Lennon-McCartney song that appeared on two different albums at two different times. As Wikipedia notes:

I’m Only Sleeping” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1966 studio album Revolver. In the United States and Canada, it was one of the three tracks that Capitol Records cut from the album and instead included on Yesterday and Today, released two months before Revolver. Credited as a Lennon–McCartney song, it was written primarily by John Lennon. The track includes a backwards (or backmasked) lead guitar part, played by George Harrison, the first time such a technique was used on a pop recording.

More:

The song features the then-unique sound of a reversed guitar duet played by Harrison in a five-hour late-night recording session with producer George Martin. Harrison perfected the part with the tape running backwards so that, when reversed, it would fit the dreamlike mood. One guitar was recorded with fuzz effects, the other without. Engineer Geoff Emerick described the meticulous process as “interminable”. “I can still picture George hunched over his guitar for hours on end”, Emerick wrote in 2006, “headphones clamped on, brows furrowed in concentration.”

During the break before the second bridge, the sound of a yawn can be heard, preceded by Lennon saying to McCartney, “Yawn, Paul.”

And the genesis of the song:

The first draft of Lennon’s lyrics for “I’m Only Sleeping”, written on the back of a letter from 1966, suggests that he was writing about the joys of staying in bed rather than any drug euphoria sometimes read into the lyrics. While not on tour, Lennon would usually spend his time sleeping, reading, writing or watching television, often under the influence of drugs, and would have to be woken by McCartney for their songwriting sessions. In a London Evening Standard article published on 4 March 1966, Maureen Cleave, a friend of Lennon, wrote: “He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England. ‘Physically lazy,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more.'”

From The Laughing Squid:

An official music video for “I’m Only Sleeping” by The Beatles was released as part of the newly remixed stereo release of their album Revolver. The wonderful oil paint animated video was directed by Emmy-nominated animator Em Cooper, who skillfully combines traditional oil techniques with modern animation tools and used the lyrics to guide her art.

Artist and director Em Cooper explored the space between dreaming and wakefulness, working on an animation rostrum on sheets of celluloid. She painted every frame individually in oil-paint, a labourious process which took many months.

What can I say except that this is a lovely video. Watch it and match the images with the music.

“Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find, there’s no need (there’s no need)”

 

h/t: Jean

“All the things you are”

November 14, 2022 • 2:00 pm

Here’s a song that I found among the 1700-odd draft posts that are now in alphabetical order (notice the quotation marks, which counts before “A”).  It was in draft because I like it and it was written by a pair of master tunesmiths. Further, it has unusual modulations which makes it really attractive. The weird opening gives nothing away. There are many versions; another I like is Charlie Parker’s (here). And if you want to hear Stephen Sondheim’s deconstruction of the song, go here.

All the Things You Are” is a song composed by Jerome Kern with lyrics written by Oscar Hammerstein II.

The song was written for the musical Very Warm for May (1939) and was introduced by Hiram Sherman, Frances Mercer, Hollace Shaw, and Ralph Stuart. It appeared in the film Broadway Rhythm (1944) when it was sung by Ginny Simms, and again in the Kern biopic Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), sung by Tony Martin.

This version is by clarinetist Artie Shaw and his band, with Helen Forrest as the “canary”. Shaw begins by playing some sweet licorice stick (note him going from high to low 25 seconds in), and Forrest comes in at 1:29.

More information about Shaw:

Arthur Jacob Arshawsky was born on May 23, 1910, in New York City, United States; he was the son of Sarah (née Strauss) and Harold “Harry” Arshawsky, a dressmaker and photographer. The family was Jewish; his father was from Russia, his mother from Austria.

He was also married eight times, including to Lana Turner and to Ava Gardner, the world’s most beautiful woman.

Ava and another of her husbands.

Rick Beato analyzes Karen Carpenter

November 1, 2022 • 10:45 am

Reader Norman sent me this informal 37-minute Rick Beato analysis of why Karen Carpenter and her songs were so great. It’s not heavily structured like many of his videos, but worth watching—IF you like the Carpenters. (I’m beyond being ashamed of liking them: they were terrific talents who produced some good music.)

Beato names his favorite Carpenters song (below), and mentions the importance of their backup session musicians, a loose affiliation of players known as “The Wrecking Crew“. Two of them—Leon Russel and Glenn Campbell—later became stars on their own.

Beato proclaims his favorite Carpenter song at 22:25. I disagree, but I’ll let you find it for yourselves.

Here is my second favorite Carpenters song; both this and my favorite, right below it, have what Richard called Karen’s famous “money notes”: her ability to sing low and throaty. This song was written by written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell with a songwriting credit given to Delaney Bramlett; it was written in 1969 and recorded by the Carpenters in 1971:

And without a doubt, the piece below is my favorite Carpenters song, replete with low notes, especially in the title phrase.. It was written by Fred Karlin, Robb Wilson (Robb Royer),and Arthur James (Jimmy Griffin), and was created for the 1970 movie “Lovers and Other Strangers” (it got the Oscar in 1971 for Best Original Song).

Wikipedia notes that the first studio recording of “For All We Know” by the Carpenters had an intro by another well known musician:

According to Richard, the intro was originally played on guitar. They had run into Jose Feliciano in a restaurant, who was a big fan of theirs and wanted to play on one of their records. They went into the studio and the intro was devised by Feliciano, using his nylon string acoustic guitar. The next day, though, Richard got a phone call from Feliciano’s manager, demanding that he be removed from the recording. Richard essentially did as requested and replaced Feliciano’s guitar intro with that of Earle Dumler’s oboe. The other instruments heard on the song were recorded by session musicians later known as the Wrecking Crew.

The oboe intro is great, but I would love to hear the original Feliciano version.

I never get tired of this song. She had a voice like an angel, always with perfect pitch, both high and low, and a vibrato that could shake you in your shoes.

But Karen herself always claimed that the song below was her own favorite, and it’s certainly in my top five. This one was written by  Richard CarpenterAlbert Hammond and John Bettis in 1976.

Karen died in 1983 at only 32, and even in this video you can see the signs of the anorexia that killed her. What a loss! As I’ve always said, Karen Carpenter and Barbra Streisand were the two best pop songstresses of our era.

Shakira’s new music video

October 22, 2022 • 1:45 pm

I can only interpret this song, sung by Shakira and Juan Ozuna, as an expression of sadness after she separated this year from her partner of 12 years (they have two kids). I think she’s also been accused of tax fraud.

The song’s not bad, but Lord, the video! I mean, they blow a big hole in her torso with a bazooka because she illegally eats Cheetos in a grocery store. There’s lots of blood and a realistic beating heart, too.

I don’t know Spanish, so can’t translate the lyrics (the songs called “Monotonía”). Pitchfork reviews the song favorably:

When you’re a pop star, your private life—new love, a growing family, scrapes with the law—rarely stays private. Of all the public trials Shakira has faced lately, none seem to weigh more heavily on her than her recent divorce. On her latest single “Monotonía,” a twinkling bachata duet with Ozuna, she seemingly embraces the final stage of grief from it, admitting that the relationship was long over before the actual split. “Nunca dije nada, pero me dolía/Yo sabía que esto pasaría” (“I never said anything but it hurt me/I knew this would happen”), she sings. There’s a sour sweetness to bachata’s requinto guitar that perfectly captures the timbre of heartache, the kind of pain that only comes from having experienced the height of pleasure. Ozuna’s angelic croon complements Shakira’s dour resignation as she places the blame not on herself, or even the narcissist who’s “frío como en Navidad,” but monotony: the slow drain of passion from a relationship.

I put this up not because I love the song (it’s not nearly as good as, say, “Hips Don’t Lie”, but because of the video.