Saturday, June 8, 2013

Numbers: One

Nilsson: One 

When it comes to the subject of numbers, it sort of all starts with the number 1, doesn't it? In some ways, it also ends there as well, when you think of “1” as the completion of the whole: 100%, a full circle, the high end of a probability ratio. Zero is nothing, and one is everything: everything in between is just partial. 

But then there's 2. Which in relationships, is the perfect, ideal number, and can make 1 seem like so much less than the whole. And that's where Harry Nilsson was coming from when he wrote “One” for his second album, 1968's Aerial Ballet. And whereas the better known version of the song is the cover recorded by Three Dog Night and released actually a month prior to Nilsson's, theirs lacks the intimate despair of Nilsson's version. They belt out their anguish, wanting the world to know their pain; Harry sits quietly in his room and thinks the same thoughts but all to himself, maybe as he writes a letter to his ex that he'll never actually send. And that makes the song seem so much more sad and, yes, lonely -- not exactly the stage tragedy of the Three Dog Night version.

Possibly the song's most potent line: “One is a number divided by two.” Which, actually, is a half, and that's what Nilsson is feeling like: half a person, without his other. The end of the relationship is tearing him apart. And the result is, to paraphrase the song, one of the greatest pop songs of heartbreak that you'll ever do.
-- Dave Gershman,

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Numbers: Rocket 88

Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats: Rocket 88

Last year, at about this time, I posted the song “Tiger Rag” and discussed my 30th college reunion, which turned out to be a great deal of fun. Last weekend, I returned for my 31st—but just for the day, the highlight of which was the long alumni parade, called the P-Rade, which is traditionally led by the 25th reunion class, this year, the Class of 1988. Thus the picture above, of a float that the class sponsored, in keeping with their “World Tour” theme. Princeton was probably not the first college to have formal reunions, but it may be the only one where all alumni are invited back every year and where everybody wears (usually garish) costumes all weekend (I’ve seen Senators, Cabinet members and famous actors and actresses wearing weird outfits and zany hats). I regret, however, that in 1892, the college ended a practice that any alumnus who returned to campus for Commencement three years after graduation received a master’s degree.

Figuring out “firsts” can be hard, especially when you are talking about things that go back a long way. Or, as in trying to decide what was the first “rock ‘n’ roll” song, where there is really no clear demarcation between rock ‘n’ roll and the many other musical streams that led up to it. In fact, it is kind of a silly debate, but it gives me something to discuss in connection with “Rocket 88,” which its producer, the future legend Sam Phillips (who, it has been said, was the only man that Jerry Lee Lewis would call “sir,”), and others, have touted as the first. Some other contenders are discussed here.

Even if it isn’t the first rock ‘n’ roll song, it is a great one, and its subject, cars, booze and women, certainly helped set the template for the style. Recorded in 1951, “Rocket 88” was credited to “Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats,” a band that did not exist. In fact, the band was Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm, featuring Brenston on vocals. That Ike Turner. And it does rock, with high energy vocals from Brenston, Turner’s boogieing piano, and one of the first (!) uses of distorted guitar.

The song was a big hit, and as was common in those days, it was covered by a white group, Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, and it was a hit for them, too. In fact some critics somehow consider Haley’s version the first rock song (while others think that Haley and the re-named Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” deserves the title of “first”).

So, if you think that Tina Turner was the more influential member of the couple, you may want to reconsider.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Numbers: 4 + 20

RadioBuscio: 4+20 (CSNY cover)
[Purchase CSNY version]

As some of you know, I write out of Istanbul, Turkey, and while the SMM purvey here is not political, obviously, my thoughts have been focused locally these past few days. Focused, in that I have been asking myself which song could best combine current regional events with our current theme of numbers.
As you may have read or heard, the long-cowed local press was slow to provide facts (Turkish journalism is generally poor on this count: generally omitting the who, what, where and when  - I taught Journalism here several years back so I consider myself somewhat informed) But in this case, because the government has long since subsumed most news outlets through financial and legal threats, they were once again slow to provide the facts/ the numbers. And that is a major issue behind the brouhaha at Taksim Gezi Park.
Having participated in the marches on Washington in the early 70s (and a few I myself organized), I find it easy to draw parallels: government information in the US in the 70s wasn’t always above board. And it was – more often than not – the musical community that stood up and pointed this out.
In this respect, I  think first of CSNY. Even before they were outright vocal about their anti-war opinions, their music was provocative: “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Woodstock”, for example. Although they weren’t alone by any means, there are several CSN(Y) titles that were anthems of a kind for the Vietnam protest era: “Ohio” (about Kent State), “Find the Cost of Freedom”, “Chicago” (about the 1968 Democratic Convention)
However, all this needs to revert to our current theme of numbers, and it is the CSN song 4+20 that I present in this light. The lyrics of the song say: “a different kind of poverty now upsets me so”, and ..if I may extend the thought, that seems to be a major part of the current unrest in Turkey: a different kind of poverty – a poverty of freedoms.
This version of the song, by RadioBucio (aka Jonathan from Chicago [again!]) is a free download from SoundCloud

NUMBERS: Pacific 202

808 State : Pacific 202


Time to try something out... I get the feel that this site is, shall we say, sometimes a bit, um, dated, relishing and rejoicing in the golden years of our middle youth and earlier. OK, the tradition of scrupulously avoiding anything from the decade immediately ahead of the day of posting perhaps governs (some) aspects thereof, but I suspect most of us are stuck in comfort zones of yesteryear, and the genres therein. Well, stuff that, I love "electronica/dance" or whatever the fish it's called. As one way to old to be able to curry kudos from the correct lingo, to paraphrase Billy Joel, it's all techno to me, from the Prodigy to Swedish House Mafia. And it's great. (When it's good, that is, like all other genres, when it's bad, it's horrid, with the "charts" usually being the demonstrator of the dross.)
So, you ask, am I a fully paid up raver? Have I been to a club, loved out on Es, Ibiza eternally on my mind and Goa in my heart? No, clearly not. I listen to it in the car on the way to and back fom work. That's where I dance and where, beneath my skin, I'm screaming. (£5 book token to anyone who can source the lyric reference there, groovers!). Yup, when it's good, it's great and I love it loads.
So what about 808 State? Probably  groundbreakers in their way, they formed in 1987, the name stemming fom the drum machine de rigeur at that time. No new material since 2003, allowing this infomercial, but, as they say, still performing DJ sets etc etc. Whatever that means.
I can hear the cynics and traditionalists groaning. Where's our guitars? Where's our sensitive singer-songwriters? Don't panic, still here/there is the answer, and I'll probably post the Stray Cats or Charles Mingus next time. (Guitars? Sensitive singer songwriters? Jeez.....) Unless anyone wants different.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Numbers : 39-21-46

The Norfollk Virginia based Showmen followed up their 1961 #61 hit "It Will Stand" with this Carolina Beach classic which was originally titled "39-21-40 Standard". Due to a label misprint, the song became known as 39-21-46, adding a hefty 6 inches to the bottom measurement and forever suggesting the group were "Ass Men".

 Lead singer General Johnson left the Showmen and formed Chairman of the Board. Their debut single, "Give Me Just a Little More Time", peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970.