Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Animal Kingdom: Gallo del Cielo

Tom Russell: Gallo del Cielo


Due to my love of country and folk music, I have 68 horse mp3s in my collection. But since I always wait until the last minute to post on Star Marker Machine, I usually miss my chance to post my first thought on the given subject. I spent the week scouring my brain trying to think of a non-horse animal kingdom song to post. Finally on Thursday, while listening to Outlaw Country on XM radio, it hit me.

Tom Russell's "Gall del Cielo" is the quintessential Americana song. Written near his native Los Angeles in 1979, the song tells the story of Carlos Zaragoza, a Mexican man trying to win enough money via betting on cockfights to buy back the land that Pancho Villa stole from his family. The rooster from heaven, Gallo del Cielo, is the strongest of the cockfighters. Zaragoza steels the rooster from his home in northern Mexico, swims the Rio Grande and travels the southwestern US and California winning money on Gallo del Cielo's fighting prowess. Unfortunately by the time Zaragoza gets to Santa Clara, Gallo del Cielo meets his match. Zaragoza losses all of his money on the fight, and exiles himself so as to not bring his family shame.

Ruseell has recorded several versions of "Gallo del Cielo." This one is from the completion Veterans Day: The Tom Russell Anthology, but the original is from Russell's 1984 album Heart on a Sleeve.

The Animal Kingdom: Will the Wolf Survive?

Los Lobos: Will the Wolf Survive?


Time flies. Los Lobos -- "The Wolves" -- formed in 1976. For a band that's been together for more than 35 years, Los Lobos has aged incredibly well: Los Lobos' founding members (David Hilgado, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez, and Cesar Rosas) remain, and the new kid (Steve Berlin, who joined in 1983) is still there too. Members even work together on side projects (For example, Hildago and Perez collaborated on the Latin Playboys, as well a wonderful duet album quietly released in 2010). Not only do the band members seem to genuinely like each other, they are also committed to their craft. The breadth of material Los Lobos has recorded is impressive, and each of their 16 full-length albums has something to recommend.

Among mainstream listeners Los Lobos may be best known for two cover songs -- "La Bamba," which appeared in the film of the same name; and a rollicking cover of "I Wanna to Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" from the movie The Jungle Book. Their signature song really is "Will the Wolf Survive?," which echoes both the name of their first full-length English-language album (How Will the Wolf Survive?) and the translation of the band's name. Recorded in 1984, the song seems to sense the challenges the band would face during its long career. Looking back at over three decades as one of America's premiere roots rock bands, the answer to the question "Will the Wolf Survive?" is a resounding "Yes."

Bonus Track: Since it fits in with our animal kingdom theme, here's Los Lobos's fun cover of "I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" from the Disney soundtrack tribute album, Stay Awake.

Los Lobos: I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)


Friday, May 25, 2012

The Animal Kingdom: The Lion Sleeps (Wimoweh)

The Tokens: The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)


My favorite football team has always been the Detroit Lions. When I was little, my mom told me this song was written about the Detroit Lions. A misstatement I should have seen through -- but I had never heard the song "Wimoweh," and, frankly, the sentiment "The Lions Sleep Tonight" did come awfully close to describing the my team's play on the field. The Detroit Lions appear to finally be contenders, but I still think of them whenever I hear this song.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Animal Kingdom: Cows

The Suburbs: Cows


I lived in Minneapolis back in the 80’s, so I am familiar with the Purple One. The album that includes ”Starfish and Coffee” is one my favorites of his. I never saw him perform except in that movie about Violet Precipitation and the other one which shall remain nameless. During the 1980s several other bands from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area got some critical notoriety outside Minnesota, such as The Replacements and Husker Du. Other groups like the Suburbs (from the Mpls. suburbs, of course) didn’t become as well known, and it seems a mystery to me. They had the dapper 1980s bad haircut look (see here) and performed sweaty, beer-soaked dance punk.

Since I grew up in the Dairy State of Wisconsin, I have some fondness for bovines, and when I was young, my dad was a dairy farmer. He gave it up for a steady paycheck and regular hours before I was old enough to take much responsibility for farm work. The song “Cows” is from the Suburbs first album In Combo, which seems to go in and out of print, but is also available on “best of” recordings. It is short and sweet and to the point: “and like their friends the shaved sheep, they got the skinny feet.”

Guest post by Paul T

The Animal Kingdom: The Caterpillar

The Cure: The Caterpillar

Skittering sticky sweet and sensual from the close confines of The Top, perfect pep deception from an imperfect post-Pornography, post-Pop epiphany Cure curiosity.  Onomatopoeic ticks and clicks scratch as cocoons hatch, new wings stretch and bend, a heart swoons and rends. Lies and disguises belie the truth he can't quite hide - gossamer bears away what gossamer lies hold back, and she was never in his league, not really.  He may be a caterpillar, but she isn't.  Not anymore.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Animal Kingdom: Tiger Rag

Original Dixieland Jass Band: Tiger Rag

For some reason, this post was out of place, requiring me to delete the original and repost.
In a couple of weeks it will be my 30th reunion at Princeton University, so “Tiger Rag” seemed like the right song for this week. The picture is my class’ logo; our theme is “30 Rocks,” which fits with my participation in this blog and the fact that I worked at WPRB for 3 and a half years. Also, Alec Baldwin’s character on the show “30 Rock,” Jack Donaghy, went to Princeton, and based on clues about his age, could have been in our class, if he were a real person. Fifteen years ago, our theme was “The XV Files,” in reference to David Duchovny, the star of The X Files, who is a real person, and a member of my class (but who I don’t believed showed up at the 15th). Princeton Reunions is a crazy experience that defies easy description. Alumni all wear costumes, the drinking is excessive, and it is a blast. Google it, and you will find embarrassing pictures, and news articles that try to do it justice, but can’t. My kids tease me that it is the only weekend when I am friendly to everybody. Which is probably true.

The tiger became the mascot of Princeton sometime in the 1800’s. In 1867, Princeton started to use orange as its color, in honor of William III, of the House of Nassau, who was Prince of Orange. The oldest building on campus, Nassau Hall, was named for William. Black lettering was used on orange ribbons, and by 1896, the official graduation gowns were orange and black, despite the fact that the official colors of the House of Nassau were orange and blue. Meaning that Princeton came close to being Syracuse. With orange and black the official colors, it wasn’t much of a leap to sportswriters referring to Princeton teams as “tigers”.

“Tiger Rag,” however was not written about Princeton (although my class's 25th reunion theme was Tiger Gras). Its origins are lost in the mists of history, but the original recording was by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917 (that isn’t a typo, by the way). This version, recorded in 1918 by them, after they changed the spelling to “Jazz” was on the Victor label, and therefore has been available from RCA and later owners of the label for years. It has been recorded by everyone from Louis Armstrong, to Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra to Django Reinhardt to Joe Jackson to Jeff Beck. It is the official fight song of Clemson University, another team of tigers, and I performed it regularly, and inexpertly but loudly, as a member of the Princeton University Marching Band, which has been in existence since 1919, and embarrassing the university since at least the 1950’s. (Quick unrelated aside—my good friend Steve was the drum major in 1981, and we were marching in the streets of Princeton after a football game. Steve was arrested for parading without a license, because we didn’t need no stinkin’ licenses.. New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne, a Princeton graduate, officially pardoned him. Saludo, Steve.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Animal Kingdom: Boa Constrictor

Johnny Cash : Boa Constrictor


For his 23rd album, 1966's Everybody Loves A Nut, The Man In Black took his cue from Roger "Dang Me"  Miller and recorded a batch of silly songs that would entertain kids as well as adults. "Boa Constrictor" was written by poet, children's author and the man who would be responsible for Cash's 1969 worldwide hit "A Boy Named Sue" : Shel Silverstein.

As a single "Boa Constrictor" just barely crept into the Country Singles Top 40 in 1966. But my kids love it and I hope yours will as well.

The Animal Kingdom: Starfish and Coffee

Matt Nathanson: Starfish and Coffee


Haddy N'Jie & The Stoones: Starfish and Coffee

[unauthorized & unavailable]

Lest two horsey songs in a row set too narrow a net for our theme this week, I spent a few moments looking for an animal song from the other end of the kingdom, and came up with the first track above - a little number I first encountered on 2004 release For The Kids Too!, the middle child of a three round alt-rock kindie concept which remains a core component of our collection even as our kids come upon their second decade.

The song is actually a cover, but naming the originator runs high risk in a world of blog takedowns and song loss (hint: his name is royalty, and he likes purple), while sharing the song as first recorded would invite disaster. Instead, I'll merely note that Matt Nathanson's version of the song is bouncy and joyful enough for kids of all ages, and that the second of the above tracks is seriously unauthorized, coming as it does from a huge and hugely diverse collection of Norwegian he-who-cannot-be-named covers which I managed to scoop up before it was blocked at the starting gate just a few years back. And that it could just as easily have been posted in our recent Unusual Instruments theme week, given that it features a truly haunting saw as lead instrument in what turns out to be a funky world-beat epiphany once it gains momentum.

The Animal Kingdom: A Horse With No Name

Aemrica: A Horse With No Name


Back in the early 70s,  America was three kids whose fathers were US military stationed overseas: Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek.  They came together in the London area towards the end of their high school years.  Their 70s hits also included Ventura Highway and Sister Golden Hair. Today Bunnell and Beckley still tour (Dan Peek passed away last year).

Story has it that Dewey wrote A Horse With No Name with thoughts of the desert around Vandenberg AFB, one of the temporary places his family lived and one he would surely have missed in drizzly gray London. The song was first named Desert Song and was apparently additionally inspired by images of horses from Salvador Dali and MC Escher works.

The three-part harmony vocals and the acoustic guitars call to mind CSNY, and in fact Dewey admits the influence; you could be forgiven for thinking it was Neil Young singing. Personally, I have always thought that the song manages to convey a horsey rhythm of sorts and that the lyrics paint images of the desolation of the eastern California desert.

The Plant Kingdom --> The Animal Kingdom: Black Horse and the Cherry Tree

Black Horse and the Cherry Tree was the 2004 breakthrough hit for Scottish singer KT Tunstall. She first performed it live on Jools Holland's British music show, and it was later nominated for a Grammy. It's based on the Bo Diddley Afro-Latin beat (you can hear it clearly in his Who Do You Love), which is related to the earlier hambone rhythm of a traditional African-American dance. So from Africa to America (tinged with the Caribbean) to Scotland, this tune takes us on a worldwide musical journey. Plus the title features both a plant and an animal, making it the perfect transition song.

Note: Things are unsettled in musical blogland since the demise of MegaUpload earlier in the year, and the other file servers are now very twitchy. Very soon I'm going to delete my own music links older than a month or so to hopefully delay a suspension from my host. I think we all feel vulnerable these days, even though we hope that our posts are benefiting artists who may be introduced to new listeners.

Is it ironic that this post is the one that got me permanently suspended from my file server? Looks like I'm on an extended hiatus, folks, but I had a great time while it lasted.