Saturday, March 3, 2012
Temple of the Dog: Say Hello 2 Heaven
Chris Cornell of Soundgarden wrote this song months before "grunge" alternative rock exploded onto the national music scene. He wrote it in memory of his close friend and roommate, Andrew Wood, lead singer of the Seattle band Mother Love Bone. Wood, a long time drug addict, overdosed on heroin in early-1990 while Cornell and Soundgarden were on tour. After writing two songs, Cornell approached the surviving members of Mother Love Bone about recording them. The recording sessions went so well that they started writing and reworking other songs, while adding a few members to the band (mostly from Soundgarden and the future Pearl Jam). This group was eventually named Temple of the Dog, from the lyrics of the Mother Love Bone song, "Man of Golden Words."
When Temple of the Dog's self-titled album was release in early 1991, music critics gave it generally favorable reviews, but the album didn't sell well. It was reissued a year later after both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden had received national mainstream success, and was marketed by A&M Records as a Soundgarden/Pearl Jam collaboration, despite the fact that Pearl Jam didn't yet exist when Temple of the Dog was recorded. "Say Hello 2 Heaven" reached number 5 on the US Billboard mainstream rock charts.
As an aside I think that "Say Hello 2 Heaven" is one of the outstanding early examples of why Chris Cornell is the best rock vocalist of the last two decades. Here are two more recent examples: Imagine from the Howard Stern show, and I Will Always Love You from a recent show in San Francisco.
Cheap Trick: Hello There
Cheap Trick is a band that has been around since the 1970's and is still active today with all four long-time members. The song "Hello There" begins their second album In Color as an introduction and as a statement of purpose. The song also is a staple opener for their concerts.
In interviews, songwriter and guitarist Rick Nielsen stated that the song originated in the band's early days. As an opening act at concerts, they were not always given a proper sound check before going on, so a song where each instrument comes in in turn followed by vocals was a way for them to get a feel for how they would sound.
Short and sweet and a great introduction to a power pop classic.
Guest post by Paul T.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Barenaked Ladies: Hello City
Can you believe it's been over a year since we posted a song from the biggest nerd-rockers to come out of Canada since Leonard Cohen went electric? This cut opens Barenaked Ladies' debut album Gordon, making it the very first song of theirs to tickle the ears of a huge number of early adopters; whimsical, bouncy, and well-supported by the harmonies and fluid bass that epitomizes the very best products of their early line-up, it's long been a favorite, and I'm thrilled as treacle to be able to offer it up here.
As a personal aside, I am shocked to note that Gordon is now twenty years old - meaning that after my Sunday post on Guster's early evolution, my own personal sub-theme this week has accidentally become "college rock I listened to when I was in college", a.k.a. "bands that are really old but I remember as young". The jaded lyrics on this tune, especially, are a bit dated and immature, but nostalgia never hurt anyone, I suppose. Also, check out Ed's haircut on the original cover above. Hello, indeed.
Buddy Guy: Hello San Francisco
To aspiring blues musicians, it’s really not fair that there are people like Buddy Guy. Guy is known for the crying tone he gets from his guitar. But then again, his more recent work has been acoustic blues. And, on Hello San Francisco, we find him playing the staccatto lines of classic Chicago blues. The unfair part of it is that Guy sounds great on all of it. He’s a blues chameleon, and I have yet to hear him try anything that didn’t work. Here, the interplay between his chattering guitar and the more fluid piano part is classic, and the occasional accents from the sax are just a wonderful bonus. Guy saves the crying tone on this one for his vocal. I think this is the vocal sound John Mayall used to try for, but could never pull off.
Let me just close with a special thank you to fellow Star Maker Bert for sharing this song with me.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
In 1960, Willie Nelson was struggling as a songwriter in Nashville. His name didn't even appear on best-known composition to date, "Family Bible." Nelson sold the songwriting credit for $50.
Some of that "Family Bible" money was spent at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a Nashville watering hole around the corner from the Grand Ole Opry. Soon, Nelson made the acquaintance of another Tootsie's habitue, Faron Young. A country music superstar and bona fide wildman, Young had enjoyed a decade of uninterrupted chart success with fast-paced twangers like “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young,” “If You Ain’t Loving, You Ain’t Living” and “That’s the Way I Feel.”
At Tootsie's, Nelson pitched Young two freshly written songs. Young liked both compositions and committed to recording them. In the studio, everyone figured the more mainstream number, “Congratulations,” would be Young’s next hit single. But, the singer favored the more offbeat song Nelson had offered, “Hello Walls,” in which the narrator anthropomorphizes his broken home. Apparently, Young was alone in seeing the commercial potential of the song; his producer and the session musicians ridiculed it. In an interview quoted in a biography of Young, Live Fast, Love Hard, he describes the scene:
They said "Hello guitar, hello there microphone, hello chair." Everyone was just dying laughing because they thought this song was so stupid...I said, "That’s the reason that song’s gonna be a hit. It sticks in your mind.”
He was right. “Hello Walls” became Nelson’s first number one song as a writer. It stayed atop the country charts for nine weeks and broke into the pop top 20. Again in need of spending money, Nelson offered to sell Young the rights to the hit song. Young convinced Nelson that wasn’t a good idea. “I gave him five $100 bills, and I made him swear on a stack of bibles he wouldn’t sell that song,” Young said. Once the money started rolling in, Nelson offered to repay the advance, but Young refused. Nelson was grateful. “I was sitting at Tootsies," Young recalled, "and all of a sudden this big hairy arm came around my neck, and Willie French-kissed me. Probably the best kiss I ever had.”
In 1987, long after Young’s star had faded, Nelson again demonstrated his appreciation by insisting his record label put out a Willie 'n' Faron duet album. It was Young’s last major-label release. Faced with health problems and financial woes, Faron Young committed suicide in 1996.
I have a penchant for most things Creative Commons [Little Feat | Grateful Dead]. Roger Greenawalt's Beatles Complete on Ukulele is among my favorites. It is a project wherein he and his team aim to offer the entire Beatles collection online - provided each recording includes a ukulele. If you are a Beatles aficionado (and who isn't), it is an amazing, extensive, free, legal collection that grows by the week.
This week, and considering that the Beatles Ukulele project is up to about 150 songs now - almost any week/any topic, we are in luck, because the collection includes a recording of "Hello Goodbye".
I am going to crib from the notes that are included both online and embedded as text inside the mp3 files themselves because they are an excellent source of Beatles trivia: you really can't find better - for factual details and personal opinion. The website "liner" notes for this song are a little thinner on Beatles ephemera than many of the others, but there is so much to learn from the extensive research the project coordinators have done for each of the songs. Much of the notes are personal opinion interspersed with informed asides: "John hated Hello Goodbye ..." and "Hello Goodbye is Paul's Imagine".
As for the music, Sharlotte Gibson does an incredible job: she makes the song her own but manages to keep it true to the Beatles' original. I didn't know it myself until I checked it out, but the notes ID her as one of the [past?] backup singers from American Idol.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Amuro Namie: Hello
SHINee : Hello
Lucky me! Three songs that hit the Japanese airwaves all have the English title "Hello". Lucky you, too, 'cuz I'm gonna share them.
The first is by R&B/pop singer Amuro Namie from her 2007 album, Play. Her career reads a lot like Britney Spears': a teen pop idol from the age of 14, she faded a bit after motherhood and divorce, only to rebound strongly by moving to a more mature sound that she calls hip-pop. Like Spears, she isn't afraid to flaunt her naughty sexuality either: the album covers for Play (there are several) all feature Namie brandishing a whip. Yeah, that kind of play, I'm guessing.
The second is straight-up J-rock by L'Arc~en~Ciel vocalist Hyde, from his second solo album, 666. Its lyrics emphasize the urgency he feels at rushing to return to a loved one. To be honest, I always have to check whether any of Hyde's songs are with Laruku or solo since his style doesn't vary much between the two.
The third version highlights one of my latest addictions (I just read yesterday that there are "no guilty pleasures, just pleasures"). SHINee is a Korean pop group that is scratching my itch for well-crafted boy-band pop. I've got this album on repeat in my SUV, which is probably odd, but there you go. I find it's just really addictive. They've just released this song in Japanese for their primary market, but I think I like the Korean sound better.
Elvis Presley : Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello
Elvis starred in thirty one musicals, usually playing men with names as generic as the films themselves. He played "Mike" in Spinout, Fun in Acapulco and It Happened at The World's Fair (seen above with co-star Vicky Tiu, the future first lady of Hawaii). He played "John " or "Johnny" in Harum Scarum, Frankie and Johnny and Change of Habit ( with Mary Tyler Moore). He also played "Greg" "Steve" and "Rick" but never "Jim" ( unless you count "Jimmy" the stage name Deke Rivers is given by a publicist in Loving You and I don't).
"Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello" is Elvis's 1962 follow up to his Gold selling "She's Not You". The Leiber Stoller composition only climbed to 55 in the US charts but it's a worthwhile tune. You can hear The King's trademark vibrato in every single line. Plus, as an exciting bonus, you get a lot of triangle. You can almost imagine the producer in the booth yelling over the intercom "I need MORE triangle!"
Monday, February 27, 2012
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Cindy Boehler: Hello Central
Born in Colorado and raised in Nebraska, Cindy Boehler acknowledges that growing up in a small Midwestern town made her a self-proclaimed ruralist. Growing up around music, she was singing by an early age. Attributing her mother, as well as role models like Karen Carpenter and Patsy Cline, for inspiration, Cindy’s first public appearance as a vocalist was in 1976 at her sister’s wedding.
Boehler’s motto in life could easily be “Never give up your dreams.” Her advice to other musicians with original material is to patient. As evidenced by her professional debut album in 2006, “Set It Free,” the personal satisfaction is worth the wait and sacrifice. The six original songs, co-written by Boehler and producer Steve Ivey, are the crowning moments on her debut bluegrass gospel project. Top Nashville session men included Rob Ickes (Dobro), Richard Bailey (banjo), Shad Cobb (fiddle), Andy Leftwich (mandolin), Charlie Chadwick (bass) and Steve Ivey (guitar, background vocals). Of special note was inclusion of The Jordanaires (Gordon Stoker, Ray Walker, Louis Nunley, Michael Black) on six of the 12 tracks. Boehler has also released “A Heartland Christmas” and in 2010 was included on a bluegrass compilation with Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Steve Ivey, Ralph Stanley and Bill Anderson. Under the name “Cindy Bealer,” she’s also released “Twang to Torch” with a variety of classic country, current country, pop, blues and jazz.
On her 2006 debut, Cindy’s cover of C.K. Harris’ “Hello Central” is given engaging bluegrass treatment. One doesn’t typically hear bass harmonica much, and Pat Berguson’s instrument imparts the song with some rhythmic and breezy propulsion. “Hello Central” is a call to Heaven to tell her mother that she’s sad without her here. “You will find her with the angels over on the golden stairs.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could ring up a deceased loved one to continue receiving their sage advice and wisdom?
In a contemporary new acoustic style, Cindy also sings about finding meaning, place, and direction to make her dreams come true. She hopes that the messages will similarly provide some guidance and direction for others during life’s journeys. Considering that it took many years for Cindy Boehler to find her own musical bearing and course to Nashville, the underlying tenet of a song like “Hello Central” reinforces how strong her own maternal instinct is. After all, Boehler has seven kids ranging in age from 11 to 31, as well as two grand-daughters.
Guest Post by Joe Ross
The Fourmost: Hello Little Girl
John Lennon: Hello Little Girl (Decca Audition)
"Hello Little Girl" is said to be the first song John Lennon wrote (in 1957), and was recorded by the Beatles twice: in a home demo tape with Stu Sutcliife on bass, and in the failed Decca audition on New Year's Day 1962. The Decca version is pleasant enough - there's some nice interplay between John's lead vocal and Paul and George' backup voices, but on the whole it's not a lot different from the standard Mersey sound that quite a few other bands were firing off at the time. In short, nothing particularly overwhelming.
When the Beatles were recording Please Please Me later in 1962, they had already moved beyond their audition material (they only re-recorded one of the audition tracks for release -- their unbelievable version of "Money"), and "Hello, Little Girl" got pitched into their trunk of songs. From which it was extracted in summer 1963 by manager Brian Epstein, for another Merseybeat band that he had just signed, the Fourmost (pictured). And the Fourmost's version, a bit more up-tempo but otherwise none too different, sailed to #9 in the UK in the wake of the first Beatles hits. Timing is everything.
Guest post by Q-Man
Guster: Come Downstairs and Say Hello
Guster were a hometown folk rock college band when I first found them in the clubs of Boston in the early nineties, but by the time they released 2003 album Keep It Together, they were already well-known on the international college radio scene, opening for the Dave Matthew Band, filling medium-sized halls and mid-afternoon frat rock festival crowds from Northampton to Toronto. The dual acoustic guitars, nasal vocal harmonies, and frenetic hand-drumming which were their early hallmark had turned a bit to something a bit more alt-rock, thanks to the introduction of multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapia, and a change in their primary instrumentation to electric/acoustic hybrid and a more traditional drum kit.
In many ways, though other, earlier hits such as 1999 Adult Top 40 charter Fa Fa would prove to be more popular, this personal favorite from Guster's catalog represents a magnum opus of sorts for the trio-turned full-sized band - a hazy, dreamy proto-shoegaze ballad that slows to a false, frozen denouement at its midpoint, only to build into a pulsing new-wave sunrise without skipping a lyrical beat at the three minute mark. Lyrically and sonically, the song calls to the passive-depressive ennui and self-imposed isolation of many members of their post-collegiate alternative fan-base, with the shift in music serving as the crucial promise of life and energy upon release from exile; listen for the early reference to the infamous Wizard Of Oz/Dark Side Of The Moon parallel as a sort of metaphor, laying a pop-culture-positive foundation for this emergence even as the change in tone matches that of both Pink Floyd's own opus and the shift into color which Dorothy experiences.
"Hello in There" features some of the most poignant lyrics John Prine ever wrote -- and that's saying something, considering he's got a catalog of lump-in-the-throat songs -- "Sam Stone," "Six O'Clock News" and "Souvenirs" among them.
Prine earned an early reputation for being able to write "old." "He was unlike anyone I'd ever seen," Kris Kristofferson said. "Such a young kid and yet he's writing songs like 'Hello in There.'" Most of the song's narrative is told from the perspective of an aging factory worker. He's retired, the kids have scattered to the winds, he doesn't have much left to say to his wife or his friends. The tune shuffles along, as if in time to the gait of the aging protagonist.
"Hello in There" seems to be building toward a rebuke of its narrator for (to borrow a phrase from a Townes van Zandt song from around the same time) waiting around to die. That wouldn't be surprising, given that Prine wasn't even 24 when he composed "Hello in There," at the height of the 1960s youth culture. But, that's not the direction he takes the song. "Old trees just grow stronger, and old rivers grow wilder every day," he observes with sadness. Yet, "old people just grow lonesome." For the song's coda, Prine steps out of character and admonishes his peers not to pity or ignore the elderly. "Don't just pass them by and stare, as if you didn't care. Say 'hello in there.'"
The song, which was later covered by Bette Midler, Joan Baez and others, appeared on Prine's incredible 1970 debut album. But, the version posted here is a re-recording from Souvenirs, released 30 years later. Prine's singing on the original recording lacks some of the vocal finesse he developed over his career. In middle age, Prine brings fresh perspective to the song. He still offers up the lesson to those who too quickly dismiss their parents. But, in his performance, you can also sense Prine's realization that he's closer in age to the main character in "Hello in There" than he is to the songwriter who composed it.
Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont: Hello, I Must Be Going
[purchase the film]
“Animal Crackers” was released more than 80 years ago, in 1930, and it is still funny. The second Marx Brothers movie released, it was a film version of a popular stage play that they starred in. The Marx Brothers were incredibly popular in their day, but faded from popularity until interest in their brilliance was revived starting in the late 1960’s through the 1970’s. Then, it seems, they faded again from popularity. It is interesting how fashions change in art criticism. You see it in the music world, too, when say, all of a sudden, ‘80’s dance music that was critically scorned becomes cool again. I wonder if their classic movies and routines, which are based on absurdity, double entendres, zany word play and physical humor will become exposed widely again, or if their black and white movies, dated plots and references and generally primitive production values will ever catch the fancy of people raised on “The Hangover” and “Avatar.”
This song, sung by Groucho, was written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. It is a short introduction to the longer and somewhat more famous “Hooray for Captain Spaulding,” which became Groucho’s signature song, but it epitomizes the Marx Brothers’ humor. The absurdity of Groucho, playing Captain Spaulding, the honored guest at a high society party, singing that he “must be going,” as soon as he arrives, is just a start. But you can understand why he is not comfortable there, and wanted to leave. His hostess, Mrs. Rittenhouse, played by Margaret Dumont, implores him to stay, singing:
For my sake you must stay.
If you should go away, you'll spoil this party I am throwing.
I'll stay a week or two.
I'll stay the summer through.
But I am telling you that I must be going.
But Dumont is not deterred:
Before you go will you oblige us
and tell us of your deeds so glowing?
Groucho then sets up the punch line:
I'll do anything you say.
In fact, I'll even stay!
The party goers respond, in unison:
And Groucho finishes the bit by singing:
But I must be going.
For years, Groucho perpetuated a myth that Dumont was so good as a straight woman in this and many other Marx Brothers’ films because she didn’t actually get the jokes, but apparently that wasn’t true, and she was just a gifted comic actress.
Interpol: Say Hello To The Angels
Hello. Not the most interesting word in the world, of course. Over-used by necessity. And a real challenge for the humble music blogger whose assigned task is to locate a song that has managed to use the word without resorting to cliché or anodyne sentiment.
Interpol, of course, have never knowingly plumped for empty sentiment or Lionel Ritchie-esque cheese. Those angels they would like you to greet aren't just hanging around at the local coffee shop waiting to buy you a skinny latte. The song's meaning is open to interpretation, but the menace, the malice behind the words really is not.
Betty Carter and the Ray Bryant Trio: Tell Him I Said Hello
My introduction to jazz singing was Joni Mitchell’s version of Twisted. It was an exciting bit of vocal gymnastics with a wonderful sense of playfulness. For a long time, that’s what I thought jazz singing was all about. But there is also a more serious side. A great jazz singer like Betty Carter can instill a ballad with emotional richness and complexity. Listen to Tell Him I Said Hello, and you will hear a woman torn between desire and despair. She wants to be hopeful that her lover will return to her, but she fears that letting him see this will scare him away. She tries to keep all of this bottled up inside, but the feelings are simply too powerful. You might say that that is too much information for a song that is less than three minutes long to carry. But not only does Carter’s performance make it possible, she even manages to sum all of this up at the end with just one word: hello. With a singer this fine, there is no need to force the issue by piling on strings and other instruments. Ray Bryant and his group only need a piano, bass, and some wonderful brush work on drums. Carter does the rest, brilliantly.