Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Plant Kingdom: Poison Ivy

The Coasters: Poison Ivy


Jim Gill: Poison Ivy


“Leaves of three, let it be.” That’s the old saying about Toxicodendron radicans, or Rhus radicans, “it gives you itchy hands.” A common vine at the edges of woods, in floodplains, and disturbed areas, it give nasty skin rashes to people who are susceptible. It bothers me some, but I can usually avoid it.

The first song was a hit for the Coasters. I’ll let the Wikipedia take it from here.
"Poison Ivy" is a popular song by American songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It was originally recorded by The Coasters in 1959. It went to #1 on the R&B chart and #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This was their third top-ten hit of that year following "Charlie Brown" and "Along Came Jones." The song discusses a girl named Ivy, calling her "Poison Ivy" because of her reputation with men as a player. The song makes references to other flowers such as a rose and a daisy, and diseases like measles, mumps, chickenpox, the common cold, and whooping cough. In a recently published biography about Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller, the song's authors, it was revealed that the song's lyrics are about sexually-transmitted disease, not the illnesses previously thought. (Whoa!)
The second tune is kid-folk by a Chicago-area musician named Jim Gill. He doesn’t have Wikipedia entry, so I will mention that he has six CDs, as well as some books and a DVD. Some of the tunes a bit repetitive for the preschool set, but his crack studio band and witty lyrics make him quite listenable for the parents. His tunes are mostly jazz and folk influenced.

Guest post by Paul T

The Plant Kingdom: I Am a Tree; The Trees

Guided By Voices: I am a Tree


Rush: The Trees


Most songwriters are not scientists, and vice versa. It’s probably just as well. But sometimes words get in the way of scientific fact.

Would trees survive “I have the leaves that fall off when winds blow by”? Or “I will break before I bend”? Questions, questions… But it is a great song anyway, originally from the under-appreciated Mag Earwhig, and also included on the “best of” Human Amusements at Hourly Rates. The song is by Doug Gillard, a collaborator of Robert Pollard in this particular iteration of Guided by Voices, after Pollard disbanded the “classic lineup” responsible for Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes.

And I don’t know much about Rush other than the “hits,” but the first song made me think of the second for some reason. This tune recounts a struggle between maples and oaks. Here in eastern North America, many oak species are long lived, but less shade-tolerant than sugar maple, which may replace them in dominating a forest over the long term, given moist conditions and a lack of disturbance. But here the trees “are all kept equal by hatchet, ax, and saw…”

Guest post by Paul T

The Plant Kingdom: Keep Off the Grass

Todd Snider: Keep Off the Grass


Todd Snider: Keep Off the Grass (live in Boston)

I know we already have a post about grass, but I can't come up with anything else. Plus, grass is so vital to everyday life. It covers our yards and public parks, it covers our sports fields, there's even fake grass for indoor sports, we complain about mowing it yet we spend hours making it look perfect. Is there any better feeling than walking on freshly mowed grass with bare feet?

However, there is nothing worse than when THE MAN tells you to keep off the grass. How often do you want to lie down in the sun on a blanket in a park on a beautiful weekend afternoon, but THE MAN has posted a "Keep Off the Grass" sign on a perfectly good piece of lawn. Now, they may have just chemically treated the grass, or they want people to keep their dogs from relieving themselves on it, but most of the time you cannot figure out why THE MAN wants you to keep off the grass.

In this song from Todd Snider's 2000 album Happy to Be Here, Snider laments being told what to do by everyone. He's trying to be his own man, but people keep giving him a list of things he can or can't do, including keep off the grass. If you know anything about Snider's writing, "Keep off the Grass" is probably also a double entendre for "Keep off the Marijuana." But hey, marijuana is a plant too!

I included a live version of this song from a gig in Boston last year. Snider and his people are forward thinking enough to record his shows and offer them as a download a week or so later for $5 per pass code. I go to a lot of shows (2-3 a month), and so far Snider is the only artist I have seen offer this service. This version is particularly fun as he talks about his early songwriting career and his attempts to emulate Bob Dylan.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Plant Kingdom: Sugar Magnolia

Grateful Dead: Sugar Magnolia
[purchase Europe '72 version]

I grew up in a house with 2 magnolia trees in the yard. One was a venerable tree with a diameter (not circumference) close to 3 feet and a height nearing 50 feet – beautiful, huge white flowers. The other was a third-the-size, pink-flowered tree, and we knew it as a “Japanese” magnolia. Among other specimens of the plantae phylum in that same garden were numerous fig, plum, chestnut, walnut, linden, bay and pine trees (it was a large property in a rather exotic location)

However- more to the point I intended to focus on- there are several Grateful Dead songs that reference plants, among them: China Cat Sunflower, Ramble on Rose, Scarlet Begonias … Further, the Internet Archive (bless their hearts/support them if you can) continues to offer up legally-free live recordings of Grateful Dead music.

My choice here: Sugar Magnolia, has more than one reference to plants. The lyrics include the words “willows”, “rushes”, “tall trees”, “pines”, “roses” ….all related to this week’s focus: Plant Kingdom.  Your interpretation of what the Grateful Dead meant by their lyrics is up to you: “we can have high times ..”

Not for naught, the Dead’s Europe ‘72 album offers up perhaps the best version of Sugar Magnolia, but it is no longer available at The Internet Archive, however, does offer many (many) alternate versions – all free for the taking. The one above was recorded considerably later than the ‘72 album release date, but it seems to have both the best sound quality as well as the best musical/band coherence of the many versions you can download from the above resource.

After the fact, I see that Ramone666 posted a version of this way back in 2008, but the mp3 appears to no longer be accessible, so maybe my post will bring it back to life/water the plant once again.

The Plant Kingdom: Rose Garden

Lynn Anderson: Rose Garden


"Rose Garden" (as in I beg your pardon, I never promised you one) was originally a man's song. Joe South wrote it and sang it on his landmark album Introspect. But Lynn Anderson had the smash hit with it, and transformed into a standard for female country singers. Shortly after Anderson was elevated from tiny Chart Records to the behemoth Columbia label in 1969, she started lobbying her producer -- who was also her husband -- to let her record "Rose Garden." Nope, said Glenn Sutton, that's a male lyric, and he had her record something more fitting -- "Stay There 'Til I Get There" -- instead. Anderson kept at Sutton, and eventually he acquiesced. "The reason they objected to my recording it was the line, 'I could promise you things like big diamond rings,'" says Anderson in Tom Roland's Number One Country Hits. "It was not a line a woman would say to a man, therefore it could not be a female vocal on the song."

Although "Rose Garden" featured the overlush string arrangements that typified "countrypolitan" records of the era, producer Sutton added a country shuffle beat and a distinctive steel guitar lick, lifted straight from ska music. Label chief Clive Davis heard the take and ordered it up as Anderson's next single. It became an enduring country hit, notching five weeks at #1 on the Billboard country charts, as well as a long run on the pop music charts. "Rose Garden" has been covered numerous times -- almost always by women. So much for it not being appropriate for "female vocals." Anderson's vocals, as well as a bit of the theme from "The Magnificent Seven," were prominently sampled on Kon Kan's 1989 hit, "I Beg Your Pardon."

The Plant Kingdom: Cedars and the Pines

Rick Jamison: Cedars and the Pines


California bluegrass musician Rick Jamison isn't compelled to constrain his contemporary offerings to only the genre’s more traditional stylings. Rather, he incorporates melodies, tempos and chords that work well with his folksy and amiable voice. It’s kind of nice to hear the II, VII and various minor chords along with the I, IV, and V progressions that more typically characterize bluegrass. The senior writer and editor with a Silicon Valley software company also knows how to work the lyrics in a song to convey emotional messages and feelings. Jamison released an album per year during 2003-2005, and he seized the moment to give us an hour's worth of originals on his latest called The Magic Hour. It’s a musical gift to us.

Jamison is also a painter. Much like the variety of colors used on his canvas, his original material is eclectic and covers many moods from traditional-sounding to contemporary. Rick Jamison plays guitar and sings most lead vocals. His collaborators with California connections included Dave Richardson (banjo), Erik Thomas (mandolin), Megan Lynch (fiddle), Rob Ickes (Dobro), and Cindy Browne (bass).

Jamison’s The Magic Hour album closes with "Cedars and the Pines." If you like your bluegrass with some folk flavorings, you'll enjoy Rick’s tales and the pictures he paints with his lyrics and melodies. His songs like “Cedars and the Pines” are every bit as vivid and impressionistic as Jamison's oil on canvas (Where the Mountains Meet the Sky) that graces the inside of the CD jacket. He mentions that specific location in the song -- a place that feels like home, out among the trees, where life is good, and where one is free.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Plant Kingdom: Crimson and Clover

Tommy James and the Shondells: Crimson and Clover


Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: Crimson and Clover


Dolly Parton: Crimson and Clover


Jarvis Cocker: Black Magic (Crimson and Clover)


We can call this a title in search of a song. Or maybe a singles artist in search of an album audience. Tommy James has said that this title came to him before the 1968 song itself—crimson was his favorite color, and the clover blossom his favorite flower. I'm sharing the expanded 1969 album version, with a bit of dissonance where they tried to merge new guitar solos with previously recorded vocals.

To me, this song screams late 60s pop-rock, with its tremolo'd guitar and vocals (like Autotune will remind our children of their youth in some distant future). Well, to me it also screams junior high school, which is where I was when it was released, but it may have hit you in different times of your life. Or else you might have heard one of its many hit covers, like the 1981 version by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (who keeps the "she/her" of the original, giving it an interesting twist unusual in the early 80s). Dolly Parton's 2005 take on it features Tommy James himself on vocals. Her version also mimics that tremolo with the banjo accompaniment, clever girl! Man, I love how Dolly is never afraid to tackle any genre. Even Jarvis Cocker, the vocalist of Pulp, did a Britpop song in 2006 heavily based on its riff and vocal chorus. Bet he paid royalties, is how I judge it.

Over and over and over and over and …

…what exactly is a Shondell, anyway?

The Plant Kingdom: Homegrown Tomatoes

Guy Clark Homegrown Tomatoes


Where we live, Mother's Day weekend generally marks the first safe weekend for planting vegetables. Tomatoes are our cash crop. We are a Best Boy family, though we always try to mix in a couple other hybrids. Not being particularly sophisticated growers, we choose the additional plants based on how closely their names correspond to our own personal aspirations: Valiant. Celebrity. Jet Star. Early Girl. Beefy Boy. Globemaster! We may not get there, but maybe our tomatoes will.

Invariably, sometime during our weekend of planting, we play Guy Clark's "Homegrown Tomatoes." We hope Clark's rationale for writing the song will help us. He told No Depression magazine: "'Homegrown Tomatoes' came out because I was sitting there watching my tomato plants grow and I thought, 'These guys need a song.' Music is supposed to make plants grow."

The Plant Kingdom: Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree

The Coleman Hawkins Quartet: Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree

Swing.  A simple enough word; evocative, though perhaps overused.  Still, sometimes the obvious is the only appropriate destination and this track is a case in point.  Hawk and his band wind up and let loose with glee, turning a twee old Andrews Sisters ditty into something somehow other. And while apple trees are as far removed from smoky New Jersey studios as one could possibly imagine, the fit is natural: the tenor sax locates the lasciviousness of the missing lyric, winks knowingly and invites us to join it in the shade of the titular tree.

And of course there is a something so apropos in the tension between the urbanity of East Coast Jazz and the natural world.  It's what makes Swing and Hard Bop so perfect on a hot summer day, within the city or without.  Perhaps it's the joie de vivre, perhaps the sheer abandon of the improvisation, but this summer, when I sit under the apple tree, shut my eyes and allow the sea air to wash over me and clean away all the stress and knots of the year gone by, I know what the soundtrack will be.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Plant Kingdom : Under The Silent Tree

Honeybus : Under The Silent Tree


Along with Badfinger, Marmalade and The Move, Honeybus recorded albums full of perfect pop songs and brilliant Beatlesque harmonies. They had one big hit in the UK, 1968's "I Can't Let Maggie Go", but when lead singer and songwriter Pete Dello refused to tour the US, the tires on the Honeybus all went flat.

   If you like "Under The Silent Tree" keep searching. Honeybus deserves all the buzz it can get

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Plant Kingdom: Grassy Grass Grass

Woody & Arlo Guthrie: Grassy Grass Grass


We end our day with a pulsing trance from Woody Guthrie himself, with layers of eerie dreamflute, bells, and shaken percussion added years later by his son Arlo. The tiny kidfolk piece - a world-naming lullaby of elegant simplicity - was first released as a drum and voice duo on 1947 release Songs To Grow On For Mother and Child, thus fitting for the waning hours of Mother's Day.

The Plant Kingdom: Cherry Trees

Deb Talan: Cherry Trees


I wrote most of this entry wholesale back in 2009, for a different song entirely. But it bears repeating, in part because it reminds us how artists rise and fall: before she joined up with Steve Tannen to became half of indieblog darlings The Weepies, but after cutting her teeth on the music industry with an upbeat Oregon popband called Hummingfish, Deb Talan had a relatively low-key, small-scale career as a solo artist on the New England coffeehouse circuit. Her final solo effort from this period, 2001 live release Sincerely, reveals an artist on the cusp of full-formed musicianship -- still a bit unrefined, still a little repetitive -- but the potential for greatness is clearly there. You can hear it in the sweet longing of this favorite tune, the sheer pink-petaled simplicity of its central metaphor a perfect match for Talan's girlish, impish tones and self-doubting, self-aware tendencies.

The Plant Kingdom: Green Onions

Booker T. & the M.G.’s: Green Onions (Live)

I woke up early this morning to two pieces of news—first, that our theme for the week was “The Plant Kingdom,” and second, that Donald “Duck” Dunn, the bass player who was a member of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, had died. I naturally thought of posting “Green Onions.”

Then, I found out that Dunn joined the band after the song was released. On the other hand, having been a member since 1964, I have to assume that he played the song maybe a million times, so I decided to post it anyway. The version that I have attached is not the original studio version featuring Lewis Steinberg on bass, but a live version that I obtained off of a Stax label sampler that I downloaded a few years ago. Based on the length of the track, I’m pretty sure that it is originally from an album called Funky Broadway: Stax Revue Live At The 5/4 Ballroom from August, 1965, which appears to feature Dunn on bass.

Dunn was a legendary bass player, and he also was a songwriter and producer. In addition to being part of The M.G.’s, he was a Stax session musician and appeared on recordings with Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert King, Neil Young, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan. He played himself in The Blues Brothers movies, and was in the band.

Booker T. and the M.G’s was one of the first integrated rock bands, and was the originator of the Stax sound. Booker T. Jones sat in with the band on The Late Show with David Letterman last week, and his last two solo albums, Potato Hole, where the backup band was The Drive-By Truckers, with Neil Young adding guitar, and The Road from Memphis, recorded with members of The Roots along with guests including Lou Reed and Sharon Jones, are both excellent.

And to completely tie this up, after deciding to post this song, I had a bagel with scallion cream cheese for breakfast.