Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nonsense: The Jabberwocky

Jennie Avila: The Jabberwocky


I can’t let this week end without posting a version of Jabberwocky. After all, what other nonsense poem wound up contributing new words to the English language? But the problem is how to do it. The poem tells a tale of a terrifying monster, so a heavy metal version could make sense. Or perhaps, a sort of ren-fair folk rock approach? Those have been done, but I wanted something else. Lewis Carroll certainly wasn’t being very serious when he included the poem in Through the Looking Glass, or when he had Tweedle Dum explain what some of the words meant. So Jennie Avila took the poem and made a kid’s song out of it, and she didn’t have to change a word. Her light touch is just perfect here.

Nonsense: Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding

Jesse Winchester: Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding


The CD this song is on was released in 2009... so it's technically too new, according to our blog guidelines of 2000 and older - however, the story is the oldest in the world (boy meets girl, falls in love and vows to stay together forever)... as is the sweet-and-wise tone of the voice of the man singing...

I'd heard lots about Jesse Winchester over the years but hadn't paid too much attention - when LD at The Adios Lounge (also a Star Maker Machine contributor) posted about this song last New Year's Eve, I had my epiphany moment...

The tune is gorgeous unto itself... but the proverbial icing is during the YouTube video of the Spectacle (hosted by Elvis Costello on the Sundance channel) segment, when a single teardrop courses down the cheek of Neko Case - that, my friends, is the power of music...

P.S. This only whetted my appetite for Spectacle, and I made a point to catch up on all the back episodes as well as watch from that time forward - boyhowdy also had his eye on posting this song this week, but chivalrously bowed out (thanks, bh... and LD!)...

Nonsense: Radio Ga Ga


Queen: Radio Ga Ga


I nearly blew off posting this until I checked if this song had been featured here before. I discovered that SMM has never showcased a single Queen song! Eeeeek! Now I have to admit that I didn't jump on the Queen bandwagon for a couple of decades, but once I did, I became a wholehearted enthusiast.

The "Ga Ga" in this song refers to the pointless prattle infesting the airwaves by 1984. That period was well before the advent of AM talk radio and the subsequent decline and fall of western civilization as we know it. Radio has only become more and more a shadow of itself. I finally pulled the plug about 5 years ago when our (and by "our" I mean some faceless production studio in Large Metropolis, USA) best station morphed into all-Dave-Matthews-and- Matchbox 20-all-the-time, with a little Rolling Stones played for the oldsters. Now I hear all my music on the internet, where the variety is astonishing.

The "Ga Ga" is also the source of Lady Gaga's moniker. She's another Queen fan.

Nonsense: Bli-Blip / Ts Tsa Cha

Skavoovie and the Epitones: Bli-Blip

Skavoovie and the Epitones: Ts Tsa Cha


Two nonsense songs from from Ripe, the out-of-print 1997 sophomore outing from a primarily instrumental swing/ska band Skavoovie and the Epitones: a delightful cover of an old Duke Ellington big band tune, done up right with horns, funk, and a slight caribbean lilt, and a pretty crazy original jam named after the scatsinging produced by the band's "singer".

For full disclosure, I should note that my brother is on lead trumpet here, but that's no reason to sell the music short: the boys were signed to Moon Ska Records before they graduated high school, recorded three strong selling albums and toured the US and Japan at the peak of the nineties third-wave ska revival, and after a ten year hiatus, have been slowly working on their fourth album since February.

Nonsense: iieee

Tori Amos: iieee


When it comes to nonsense songs usually they're a bit silly, or at least perceived that way. This song doesn't fit that category. It appeared on my favorite album of all time, Tori Amos' "from the choirgirl hotel". The album is quite dark, having been written in the aftermath and depression of having had three miscarriages.

In the song, Tori takes on God and religion as she is wont to do and asks why people must be made to sacrifice so much for him, and questioning the whole "God has a bigger plan for us" thing, as she can't see what the plan for losing a child could possibly be. The title of the song is actually a sort of chant. In interviews she has said that a small Native American boy's spirit visited her in the wake of her miscarriages and he often chanted this. But I take such things with a grain of salt, as she tends to get pretty outlandish in interviews. Regardless, it is certainly a chant and sounds somewhat Native-American in nature.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Nonsense: Ooh La La

Faces: Ooh La La


Poor old Granddad, I laughed at all his words...

Confession time: the first time I heard this song, I thought it was a Rod Stewart cover. And I suppose that's true, in an odd sort of way, though not in the way I meant it. Because 25 years before Rod Stewart turned this song into a cheesy pop hit, his band Faces recorded it as the title track to their last album.

Or perhaps I should say that it was technically his band. Because ironically, Rod's not on the track at all. Indeed, though the Wikipedia page for the song claims that both Stewart and songwriter Ronnie Lane laid down vocals for the track, there's a distinct possibility that Rod was missing during the original recording session, as he was for the vast majority of the sessions for this last-gasp record from a band that was, for all intents and purposes, already splintered to the core, primarily due to the way Stewart had alienated his bandmates, thanks to a bit of smugness from a rising-star solo career.

Instead, we get a one-shot combo that turned stress and disaster into gold: co-writer Ronnie Wood in his first-ever turn on vocals, sweet seventies folk-rock bass and drums, barrelhouse piano flourishes, and Ronnie Lane jammin' on an acoustic guitar. And though I claim age for my original error - after all, I was born in '73 - and though the song has been covered by plenty of others in its long life, in this case, at least, it turns out there's nothing like the a number of commercial-producing advertising agencies, and the producers of Rushmore, who used it as a credit roll, know well.

Nonsense: Wiggy Waggy Woo

Barrence Whitfield & the Savages: Wiggy Waggy Woo


Before Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings brought classic R&B and soul back to the hipster mainstream, there was Boston's Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, who ripped it up through a half-dozen albums from the mid-'80s to the mid '90s. As such, they were both born too late and ahead of their time.

"Wiggy Waggy Woo" comes from their final album, Ritual of the Savages. It's a cover of a song originally recorded in 1956 by the Cadets, under the pseudonym the Jacks. And it's as much fun as the title suggests. It's the adrenaline rush of love set to music. If you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up at the office, ditch the coffee, download this track, and crank it up.

Nonsense: Wang Dang Doodle

Hindu Love Gods: Wang Dang Doodle


In 1984, vocalist Bryan Cook along with Bill Berry, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills of R.E.M. played three shows in Athens, Georgia under the name Hindu Love Gods.  At one of those shows, the original quartet was joined on stage by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and singer songwriter Warren Zevon. The group recorded two songs with Cook and Zevon in 1984 and played one more gig in 1986 with Cook and Stipe. That was pretty much it.

Then, in 1987, Berry, Buck, and Mills joined Zevon in the studio to serve as the backing band on his 1987 release Sentimental Hygiene.  One night during the Hygiene sessions, the band stayed late in the studio and recorded a collection of blues standards and one Prince smash ("Raspberry Beret").  Ten tracks from that late night recording finally surfaced in 1990 as a self-titled release from The Hindu Love Gods.

This track is a rollicking reading of Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle." It's a fitting song to have come from an all night recording binge.

Nonsense: I Zimbra

Talking Heads: I Zimbra


I Zimbra led off Talking Heads third album, Fear of Music, and it was quite a departure from what had come before. The sound was denser, with overdubbed parts instead of the basic four- piece band sound the band had exhibited on their previous albums. The rhythm was complex. Soon enough, I would come to understand that this sound was influenced by African music. And the words made no sense, but the groove more than made up for it. Still, where did Talking Heads come up with a complete lyric of detailed nonsense? That turns out to be an interesting question.

The words to what Talking Heads called I Zimbra are by Hugo Ball, who the band properly credited. Ball was one of the founders of Dadaism. I have heard the term, but I never really knew what it was. So, for this post, I thought I had better find out. What follows is what I came to understand after a brief bit of research. Any mistakes are my own.

The art and poetry of the Victorian Era, and of the early 20th century are marked by extravagant beauty. In music, this period represented the flourishing of Romanticism. But World War I began to change that. Ball initially was an idealist and a patriot, and he volunteered for the German army at the beginning of the war. But, like so many others, he quickly became disillusioned, not only with the war but also with the culture that produced it. After the ugliness of the war, the beauty of prewar culture seemed absurd to Ball and his fellow Dadaists. Their work was meant to emphasize this absurdity by shattering the forms of prewar art, and also by using these forms but stripping them of meaning. The words that became I Zimbra were an example of the latter. Interestingly, the Dadaists were drawn to African and other native musics. They were considered primitive, and therefore less shaped by a culture that had no meaning. David Byrne’s lyrics for Talking Heads, even though they were in English, often had an absurd feel. I think Byrne may well have been reacting to the “deeply meaningful” lyrics of 1970s singer-songwriter’s by creating lyrics that meant nothing at all, or at least not very much. If so, it is easy to see what would have drawn him to the work of Hugo Ball.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nonsense: Phish

Phish: The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony


Phish: Guelah Papyrus


Phish: Gotta Jibboo


Notorious for choosing words for their mouthfeel, rhythm, and sound rather than any specific meaning, long-standing jamband kingpins Phish have an entire catalog of songs with both titles and lyrics that make little sense - starting with "Fee" and "You Enjoy Myself", the first and second tracks on their 1988 debut (the second of these being mostly an instrumental based on an especially heavy LSD experience in Italy, with the sole lyrics "Boy! … Man! … God! … Shit!...wash Uffizi, drive me to Firenze.").

Here's three favorites from the quartet, presented in the order of their release: the bouncy improvisational gin-joint jamjazz of The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony, the sweet and groovy Guelah Papyrus, and the trippy horns-and-all funkjam of Gotta Jibboo, a song which apocryphally takes the second word in its title from the invented name which lead singer Trey Anastasio's pre-literate firstborn gave to her milk and juice.

Ironically - or perhaps not so - the term "jibboo" has nonetheless come to be used as a slang term for marijuana in many hidden recesses of user culture, which says just about everything about the community that would follow these awesome musicians to the end of the earth.

Nonsense: Ya Ya

Lee Dorsey: Ya Ya


This song is so infectious and fun, it's hard not to love. America agreed by making it a number 1 hit in 1962.

In the song, which was apparently inspired by a nursery rhyme, but for the life of me I couldn't tell you which, seems to be referring to a lover as Ya Ya. He's "sitting in La La waiting for my Ya Ya". Regardless, the song is clear, he wants her to hurry up and get to where he is.

Nonsense: Diddy Wa Diddie

Leon Redbone: Diddy Wa Diddie


Thanks to Geoviki, I now know that La La La La La Means I Love You. But, can somebody tell me what Diddy Wa Diddy means? There is not even agreement on how to spell it. Blind Blake probably wrote the song, and some of his recordings of say Diddie Wa Diddie. Others have it as Diddy Wah Diddy. To add confusion, there is even a completely different song with the same name, and there too, the spelling varies.

This Diddy Wa Diddie comes from Leon Redbone’s second album. I had discovered him first on Saturday Night Live, and then on his debut album the year before. I didn’t know much about where this music was coming from at the time, but I was hooked right away. Now, I can recognize strains of blues, jazz, and jug band music, all as they sounded before World War II. The music still sounds as fresh to me as it did then, and it opened the door for some wonderful artists who have come along since then.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nonsense: Doop-Doo-De-Doop

Blossom Dearie: Doop-Doo-De-Doop (A Doodlin' Song)


Jazz singer and pianist Blossom Dearie was a mainstay in the early days of Verve Records, thanks to her distinctively girlish voice and a wry sense of humor that shines through clearly here, on a delightfully lighthearted album recorded in 1959 at the peak of her rising popularity.

There's little more to say about this fun little ditty, but in general, it is a typical example of the great work Dearie produced throughout her life. Dearie's catalog is well worth exploring in other ways: through her work with Bob Dorough for Schoolhouse Rock, for example, or through her constant appearance on indie soundtracks in the last couple of decades before her death last year at the age of 84. Among those who track the rise and fall of the industry, she is notable for starting her own private label, Daffodil Records, in the mid-seventies after tepid support from her own label left her frustrated about how best to get her particular style of supper-club jazz to the masses. And her solo instrumental piano work is delish, too.

Nonsense: Ne Ne Na Na Nu Nu

Bad Manners: Ne Ne Na Na Nu Nu


I actually remember this one with a couple extra Nas in the title, but no matter. Madness, the Specials, and Bad Manners all belonged to the wave of ska bands that emerged from the London punk scene in the late 70s, and reached American shores starting in about 1980. Ska is not punk, of course, but the scene welcomed them anyway. Like punk, ska served as a conduit for the anger of working class youth, but ska also added in the grievances of immigrants to London from the Caribbean, who faced not only working class exploitation, but also racial prejudice. In the music of Bad Manners, the answer to these issues was to party. Bad Manners also covered some of the kitschy songs of early rock, such as My Girl Lollipop and even The Monster Mash, but done ska style. Ne Ne Na Na Nu Nu is a Bad Manners original that recalls the use of nonsense syllables in the rock n roll of the fifties, while delivering the high energy of ska. It is also a fine example of this band's unique sense of humor.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nonsense: La-La Means I Love You

Laura Nyro

Laura Nyro: La-La (Means I Love You)


This nonsense song title includes its own handy parenthetical interpretation for those of us who aren't quite sure what "la-la" actually means. Now we know.

There's not a cover of this song that I don't love, which lets me know right away that I need to be checking out the writer – Thom Bell. Just as the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland defined the Motown sound in the 60's, the same is true for Thom Bell and the Philly Soul sound. Bell was an influential session pianist, songwriter, and producer who, with partners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, was instrumental in some pretty awesome hits by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Spinners, Billy Paul, and the O'Jays.

This cover of the 1968 Delfonics tune is by one of my favorite vocalists and a superb songwriter in her own right. She's performed a number of 60's soul hits over her too-short career. This one's from the posthumously released Angel in the Dark and was recorded around 1995.

Magic -> Nonsense: Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo

Bobby McFerrin: Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo


Joyce: Bobbidy-Bobbidy-Boo


Two vastly different takes on a bit of Cinderella magic ease us from one theme into the next this week: Bobby McFerrin's totally deconstructed high-concept vocaljazz, which starts with almost a full minute of the original before kicking in all fragmented and scatlike, and Brazilian mononomic vocalist Joyce's jazzy, bouncy bossa nova, which - given the nonsensical lyric at the song's core - works out just fine for those of us who can't understand a lick of Portuguese. Both tracks originally came to me over at Covering The Mouse, a well-constructed, well-curated coverblog which features Disney covers exclusively. Viva la inscrutable!