Joni and JT: “You can close your eyes”

October 31, 2023 • 1:25 pm

I found the blurb below on Facebook, with a link, and how could I resist listening to a duet by two of my favorite singers?  Well, if you follow the link you can hear part of the song “You Can Close Your Eyes“, a lullaby written by James Taylor and released in 1971, the year I graduated from college. There’s a long Wikipedia entry on it which notes this:

 It was initially recorded by his sister Kate Taylor for her 1971 album Sister Kate. The song has been covered by many artists, including Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Maureen McGovern, Richie Havens, Sheryl Crow, Sting, Eddie Vedder with Natalie Maines, and the King’s Singers.

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Here’s a rare live duet between Taylor and Carly Simon (you might remember that they were married for a while—9 years—but are no longer speaking):

 

But you can hear the whole Mitchell/Taylor duet below, with the notes and a place to buy the well-known Joni Mitchell archives, which are coming out gradually:

. . . . recorded on In Concert, BBC at the Paris Theatre in London in 1970. “You Can Close Your Eyes” along with the entire BBC performance will be available on November 12 as part of JONI MITCHELL ARCHIVES VOL. 2: THE REPRISE YEARS (1968-1971). Pre-order your copy here https://jm.lnk.to/JMAVol2

BBC live recordings are always the best. And I find this version much better than the one above; for one thing, Joni harmonizes better with JT than Carly.  Also, there’s some nice patter and tuning-up before this one. It’s lovely: two great singer/songwriters/instrumentalists at their best (Joni doesn’t play guitar on this one).  The song has melodic echoes of “Carolina On My Mind.”

You can see Taylor singing it solo in 1971, also for the BBC, here.

Olivia Rodrigo: an overhyped musical phenom

September 9, 2023 • 9:00 am

Olivia Rodrigo, who came out of the Disney franchise, has become one of the most acclaimed pop singers of the past five years. I listened to several of her songs after reading two laudatory articles about her in the NYT (click on headlines below).

She’s only 20, but, according to Wikipedia, here’s some of that acclaim:

After signing with Geffen and Interscope Records in 2020, Rodrigo released her debut single “Drivers License”, which broke various records and became one of the best-selling songs of 2021, propelling her to mainstream fame. She followed it up with singles “Deja Vu” and “Good 4 U”, and released her debut solo studio album, Sour (2021), which was met with critical and commercial success, winning various accolades including three Grammy Awards. A Disney+ documentary, Olivia Rodrigo: Driving Home 2 U, followed in 2022, chronicling her creative process with Sour. In 2023, Rodrigo released her second studio album, Guts.

Rodrigo has achieved three Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles, one Billboard 200 number-one album, and five multi-Platinum certifications by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In addition to other recognitions, she has won an American Music Award, seven Billboard Music Awards and three MTV Video Music Awards. Time named her the 2021 Entertainer of the Year and Billboard named her Woman of the Year in 2022.

The first NYT article, on August 24 of this year, proclaims her greatness:

and the second was published yesterday, just two weeks later:

Why is she livid? It appears to be a combination of bad men (viz., Taylor Swift) and the letdowns of celebrity, even though, at 20, she’s rich, famous, decorated with honors, and beloved. From the second piece:

Two years later, on her poignantly fraught, spiritually and sonically agitated follow-up album “Guts,” Rodrigo has seen too much. “Guts” is an almost real-time reckoning with the maelstrom of new celebrity, the choices it forces upon you and the compromises you make along the way. As on “Sour,” Rodrigo, who is 20 now, toggles between bratty rock gestures and piano-driven melancholy. But regardless of musical mode, her emotional position is consistent throughout these dozen songs about betrayal, regret and self-flagellation.

Oy! At 20!  If she feels battered now, give her thirty years!  And remember, she’s not a burger flipper or paper-pusher, but a self-employed musician of wealth.

I listened to several of her songs, and present her two of her more acclaimed ones below.

As always, I keep looking for new rock and pop music of extraordinary merit.  I’m not sworn to dislike new rock and pop music, even though it’s mostly swill and, in my view, the genre is moribund. I’ve liked several recent groups or singers I’ve heard, including the Staves, Pentatonix, Molly Tuttle, and Billy Strings. But you will notice that none of these fits neatly into “rock” or “pop”.  Frankly, if music is for the masses but shows lyric or melodic talent, I’ll listen.

Unfortunately, I see little merit in Olivia Rodrigo. That puts me at odds with the critics, of course, but, as Hitch said, I don’t need a second. If your taste in music makes you gravitate towards songs of angst by young women mistreated by men, you will like Rodrigo. If you want clever and memorable lyrics and melodies, songs that don’t need music videos to make them sick, you won’t find them here. Or rather, I didn’t.

But listen for yourself, and feel free to disagree. My prediction is that these songs are ear candy for part of one generation, and will not last, unlike (of course) the Beatles, still appreciated and listened to by many young people. (I’ve met some.)

No, rock and pop are not dead; they’re just moribund, stretched out on the ground.  Young people, the object of these songs, will always need a musical background to their youth, just as a good movie needs a musical soundtrack. Rock and pop will not die; they’ll just descend through the circles of Music Hell.

Classical music is moribund, as is the Great American Songbook and jazz (but fortunately not country or bluegrass—not yet). Musical genres run their course and wane; why should rock and pop be exceptions? Classical music and jazz won’t die for good, as there will be new generations to discover Bach and Ellington, but we won’t see new Johann Sebastians or Dukes emerge from out of nowhere. People still write new classical music, of course, but it gets a hearing only when put on a program sandwiched between Mozart and Brahms. Why? Because people don’t really like the new stuff. Mozart and Brahms are the spoonfuls of sugar that help the new stuff go down.

I’ll say it again, and it will anger some—especially those tone-deaf miscreants who bawl, “every generation thinks the music of its youth was the best”— but what’s true is this: I was lucky to be born in an era when, during my youth, rock and pop music reached its apogee.

I pity the young folk who must cut their musical teeth on stuff like this. But face it: in an era of tin-ear tunes, somebody has to win a Grammy!

You will find these songs touted in the NYT articles:

Note the ungrammatical line in the one below:  “I’ve never felt this way for no one”.

At least she’s not autotuned (or so I think).  And yes, she has a good voice. Finally, I’ll admit that her songs are above the vast majority of their current competitors. It’s not BAD music, but neither is it music worth the hype dispensed in two back-to-back NYT pieces.

p.s. I’ve left rap and hip-hop out of my screed above. That’s because I don’t listen to it and have nothing useful to say. I’ll leave the judgments about how it’s faring with John McWhorter, a fan.

Hasidic rockers

September 6, 2023 • 1:00 pm

This speaks for itself; see details in the YouTube description. This video of the Gat Brothers was taken by Jay Tanzman last night in central Jerusalem. And yes, they’re genuine Hasids, not fakers tricked out to look like Orthodox Jews.

But shouldn’t they be studying the Talmud instead of wailing on the axe?

Sinéad O’Connor dies at 56

July 26, 2023 • 1:57 pm

According to the BBC, Sinéad O’Connor has left this vale of tears at 56. This is incredibly young (her 17 year old son died, an apparent suicide, last year), and the cause of death was not given.

Irish singer and activist Sinéad O’Connor has died at the age of 56.

In a statement, the singer’s family said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad.

“Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

She was best known for her single Nothing Compares 2 U, released in 1990, which went on to hit number one around the world.

Taoiseach (Irish PM) Leo Varadkar paid tribute to her, saying her music “was loved around the world and her talent was unmatched and beyond compare”.

I wasn’t a big fan, but I do remember seeing this live:

In 1992, one of the most notable events of her career took place when she ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II on the US TV show Saturday Night Live, where she was the invited performer.

Following an acapella performance of Bob Marley’s War, she looked at the camera and said “fight the real enemy”, a protest against the Catholic Church.

The incident resulted in her being banned for life by broadcaster NBC and protests against her in the US.

“I’m not sorry I did it. It was brilliant,” she said in an interview with the New York Times in 2021.

Two lists: the best Joni Mitchell songs

July 14, 2023 • 9:30 am

Reader Bob knew I couldn’t resist looking at this post from SingersRoom, as it has two things that attract me: rankings and Joni Mitchell.  If you read here, you’ll know that I think Joni is the best woman singer/instrumentalist/songwriter of our era, and, if you rule out Dylan because he can’t play or sing all that well, then all that’s left is the Beatles, which is a group, not an individual. Ergo you might leave “woman” out of the description above.

Click to read the SingersRoom ranking.

First, the site’s list, with links to either a live or recorded performance.

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

 

Songs about getting old or dying

July 2, 2023 • 12:30 pm

My  life list of pop and rock songs is many pages long, divided into sections by genre or date. Here are what I consider the best songs for Baby Boomers about getting old or dying. This list has been carefully curated over decades, but I’m sure I’ve forgotten some good ones. If you can think of any, note them below, and I may add them to my own list. Note that a couple of songs are about long-lost romances.

I’ve put a few videos in to spice things up; I’ve chosen live performances when possible. If no video is shown for a sing, I give a link to one in the title.

Father and Son; Cat Stevens

Touch of Grey; The Grateful Dead

When I’m Sixty-Four; The Beatles

Boys of Summer; Don Henley (here with the Eagles)

Cherry Bomb; John Mellencamp

Long May You Run; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

All Summer Long; The Beach Boys

Caroline, No; Brian Wilson

Nick of Time; Bonnie Raitt

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8ll7zy

When We Was Fab; George Harrison

Rocking Chair; The Band (see here also)

Taxi; Harry Chapin (This poignant song, so well written, is one of my favorites. Note that the soprano part is sung by a man, something I didn’t realize until I saw the video.)

Cat’s in the Cradle; Harry Chapin

Old Friends (Bookends); Simon and Garfunkel

Wasted on the Way; Crosby Stills & Nash

Don’t Fear the Reaper; Blue Öyster Cult

All Those Years Ago; George Harrison (not live but a loving remembrance of John Lennon)

Worst lines in popular songs

July 1, 2023 • 1:00 pm

I was looking at my very long list of “best and worst” music today, and found an old section called “The worst lines in popular songs”.  I present them to you as an inspiration. There are many more, of course: I expect people may bring up “MacArthur Park” or “I’ve got a brand new pair of rollerskates,” but those are just overall bad songs.  Bad songs needn’t contain bad lines, though. Here’s some of the lines that I’ll never be rid of as earworms:

This is a story about Billy Joe and Bobbie SueTwo young lovers with nothin’ better to doThan sit around the house, get high, and watch the tubeAnd here is what happened when they decided to cut looseThey headed down to, ooh, old El PasoThat’s where they ran into a great big hassleBilly Joe shot a man while robbing his castleBobbie Sue took the money and run

. . . . Hoo-hoo-hoo, Billy Mack is a detective down in TexasYou know he knows just exactly what the facts isHe ain’t gonna let those two escape justiceHe makes his livin’ off of the people’s taxes

—Steve Miller “Take the Money and Run”

Rhyming “El Paso” with “hassle” and “Texas” with “facts is” are just not rhymes. And someone should remind Mr. Miller that “facts” is plural. Steve Miller may in fact be the producer of the worst lines in music. Don’t forget “Abracadabra” and the immortal lines in “The Joker”:

Some people call me the space cowboy, yeah
Some call me the gangster of love
Some people call me Maurice

‘Cause I speak of the pompatus of love

There is no such thing as “pompatus,” at least not in the Oxford English Dictionary

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Here’s an example of a not-bad song with terrible lines.  The first two just make me cringe, and the words “when we rode the horse we got some thrills” does likewise. Only one horse? Some thrills?       

“Sittin’ in my car outside  your house
Remember when I spilled Coke all over your blouse.

. . .Miniature golf and Hondas in the hills(Miniature golf and Hondas in the hills)When we rode the horse, we got some thrills.”

                                    –Beach Boys, “All Summer Long”

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This is a good song but Loretta strains for rhymes several times. Here’s one example:

“The work we done was hard
At night we’d sleep ‘cause we were tard.” [“tired”]

                                    –Loretta Lynn, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”
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Here we have one of at least three uses of the word “chicken” in a rock song (can you name another?), but rhyming “chicken” with “bit me” doesn’t work. That said, I love this song; it’s bouncy and one of the best songs Stevie wrote:

“I was knee high to a chicken
When the love bug done bit me.”  (a rhyme)

                                    –Stevie Wonder, “I Was Made to Love Her”

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This speaks for itself:

Wooly bully, wooly bully.
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully.

–Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “Wooly Bully”

 

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This song was on the jukebox in the greasy diner where we ate every night in college (99 cents per meal, including rice pudding!). It is one of the worst songs of that era. And the verse just cuts off: we don’t know what they will find in 2525!

In the year 2525,
If man is still alive,
If woman can survive
They may find.

–Zager and Evans, “2525”

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I never understood this verse. These words may make some arcane sense to Chicago, but didn’t to me:

Should I try to do some more?
25 or 6 to 4.

–Chicago, “25 or 6 to 4”

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I’m a huge fan of Steve Stills, but when he got it wrong, he got it wrong big time. And here’s one of those times!

The deeper you go ’cause of the pressure of the air
The nitrogen comes and goes (gets you high)
It’s an alien atmosphere
They call it rapture of the deep
Be you not afraid
You’re too far down by now to be scared
Two hundred and eighty-seven feet
I saw Jesus and it made sense that he was there

–Stephen Stills, “Black Coral”

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This comes from my late friend Kenny, who found the lyric:

“Ooooh, poor Romeo
Sitting’ all on his own-e-o.
Ooooh, poor Romeo.

–Phil Lynott, “Romeo and the Lonely Girl”, from “Jailbreak”, byThin Lizzie

UPDATE: I’ll retract the last quote as “bad rhyming” based on one a comment in the thread by Brendan Teeling, who says that “own-eo” was normal Dublin parlance at the time. Also, this was the only quote that was given to me by someone else; all the rest I’m well familiar with.

You know the drill: NOW IT’S YOUR TURN! Put your worst lyrics below.

“Free Man in Paris”

June 24, 2023 • 1:15 pm

I’m exhausted and not feeling so hot, so you’ll have to do with music today. Plus it’s supposed to be my day off, and I’d like to reclaim Saturdays for fun before I die!

Once again YouTube “suggestions” lured me to this song, a superb one from what I think is Joni Mitchell’s last good album, “Court and Spark” (1974; hear the original song here). This was before she got deeper into jazz, although jazz elements are already creeping into her music, as you can see in this performance with jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. Still, she was the best: a great writer, singer, and instrumentalist.  I haven’t seen anybody with comparable talent in my lifetime.

The YouTube notes: “Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Michael Brecker, Lyle Mays, Don Alias.”  This is not the Pat Metheny group.

The song is clearly about a music executive who, tied up in his duties, longs to be a flâneur in Paris, an aspiration that I share!  But YouTube informs us that it was written about one person:

The song is about music agent/promoter David Geffen, a close friend of Mitchell in the early 1970s, and describes Geffen during a trip the two made to Paris with Robbie and Dominique Robertson. While Geffen is never mentioned by name, Mitchell describes how he works hard creating hits and launching careers but can find some peace while vacationing in Paris. Mitchell sings “I was a free man in Paris. I felt unfettered and alive. Nobody calling me up for favors. No one’s future to decide.”

And I found some information about Geffen, too (we’ve all heard of him):

Geffen has an estimated net worth of $10.8 billion, making him one of the richest people in the entertainment industry.

Geffen was initially defensive about his sexuality. During the 1970s he fell in love with Cher and spent 18 months in a relationship with her, a time he referred to as “the greatest high I had ever experienced”. Eventually, Cher left him for Gregg Allman.  Geffen eventually came out as gay in 1992. In May 2007, Out magazine ranked Geffen first in its list of the fifty “Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America”.

Below is a live version that’s closer to the original, recorded four years after the one above. The YouTube notes:

Written & produced by Joni Mitchell | from the album Court & Spark (1974) | live from Wembley Arena, London (1983)