Saturday, February 25, 2017

POUR: Moi, Ca Plane - Plastic Bertrand

Just because my country has voted to BRexit Europe doesn't make me any the less the polyglot Francophile. (Pretentious? Moi?) So, given a paucity of songs pouring out this, that and and the other, or like this, that or the other, what am I to do? My first choice has had several appearances here, so it has to be the glory that is Plastic Bertrand.

Roger Allen Francois Jared, a member of that scatologically slim brotherhood, Famous Belgians, isn't really all that famous, even arguably in Brussels. But he did have an international hit single in 1977, a number 8 in the UK, and, highly convincingly for a foreign language song, number 57 in the U.S. Billboard chart. And while it only peaked at 11 in his homeland, of course the french and the swiss granted it toppermost off the poppermost, with number 1s.

It wasn't even his song, it having been originally written and performed by his record producer, Lou Deprijck, always denied by Jared until a 2010 court case eventually confirmed the truth. In fact, he hadn't sung any of the songs on his first 4 albums. Ooops. I think this truth spoils the story, if I am honest, but thankfully there has yet to be a case questioning the validity of one Elton Motello, who sang a loosely "translated" english version.

Thankfully leaving that behind, I thought it entirely essential to reveal another genuinely francophone version, courtesy the excellent Nouvelle Vague. From their 3rd album, this is what the band had to say about it. (O, so it wasn't sung by a french person either......)

Finally, and unnecessarily, above is a version I had never been aware of, NYC's finest, Sonic Youth, covering it. I wondered why too.

Find the original here

(And I bet you are still reeling that Audrey Hepburn was belgian?)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Pour: Coffee and Tea Edition

The Ink Spots: The Java Jive


Manhattan Transfer: The Java Jive


I will always associate this song with being excused from gym class. It happened in my senior year of high school. I had sung in the men’s chorus, (which was a way of getting out of homeroom), for three years, and the conductor urged me in my junior year to take choir as well. I also took choir as a senior, but I never even considered taking Schola Cantorum. This was the elite small singing group and class, and I never thought I would be good enough. I was, however, a rarity in high school especially, a true basso profundo, a low bass. I could sing notes below the staff with authority. So it happened in the middle of my senior year that one of the basses in Schola Cantorum broke his leg in a skiing accident, and could not perform with the group for the rest of the year. My choir teacher, who also taught Schola, basically strong-armed me into the group. He even got me excused from gym for the remainder of the year, which meant I got credit for nine classes in an eight period day. Java Jive was the first song I learned with the new group.

Java Jive was originally done by the Ink Spots, as presented here. I did not know that until years later. When I found the Manhattan Transfer version, I thought my search was over. In fact, I don’t think Manhattan Transfer has ever done an original song, but they do have a marvelous way with covers. Their Java Jive starts out being pretty faithful to the Ink Spots, but, at the bridge where they start listing the beans, they begin to make the song their own, and they take it out in style. The original lyric here says, “unless it is a cheery cheery bean”, which I have to assume was period slang. Manhattan Transfer’s pronunciation here is muddy, and some later versions sing it as the nonsensical, “chili chili bean.” I have never tried using coffee beans in chili, and I don’t expect to.

Horace Heidt and His Musical Knights: I’m a Little Teapot

Finally, our theme would not be complete without a version of I’m a Little Teapot. I have played the hero here, wading through some truly appalling examples of how bad children’s music can be to find this one. It’s a bit obscure now, and I could not find a purchase link. But this one was a big band hit in 1940. There was a dance that went with it, the Teapot Tip. The song was written a year earlier, and a dance that was more appropriate for very young children, and also easier, was also created at that time. I don’t have all of the details, but I believe the kids’ version was basically the moves that kids do to the song to this day. If you have ever sat through the preschooler portion of a dance school recital, you know the moves I mean. Meanwhile, in my big band version, I believe the singer is Ronnie Kelton. This is the only version of the song I could find that includes the lyrics about Napoleon.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pour: Jose, Weather Girls & Supertramp

purchase [ Jose Feliciano ]
purchase [ Weather Girls ]
purchase [ Supertramp ]

The current theme [pour] came came to mind from a number of places: a theme that hasn't been done before... a theme that is somehow current ... a theme that might spark the disparate contributors and therefore interest the audience. Actually, it was raining cats and dogs as the theme idea was in gestation. Buckets.  But at the the same time, it occured to us that there are a number of things that pour: liquids .... yes; ... some solids as well (marbles and beads pour well), but also emotions. Emotions, as in what a vocalist or a piano player puts into his/her performance: they pour out their hearts, and it is that which makes one performance  different or better than another. It is songs where the artist pours out his/her heart that draw us in and that we love.

There is no small list of songs that include "pour" either in the title or the lyrics: poring rain, pouring out my heart, pouring  liquid or other.

Of course, as a child, you likely learned: It's raining, it's pouring ... the old man is snoring.
Jose Feliciano's Rain make the most of it.

But - keeping in mind that pouring has multiple connotations ... here's a couple more:
Weather Girls:


it's the sax player that is pouring it out here ...

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Small Town: Swann Street


Here’s a band that never really was: Three was an offshoot of two DC bands, Minor Threat (drummer Jeff Nelson) and members of Grey Matter, with early involvement from Dischord Records creator and DC musical founding father, Ian MacKaye. Mackaye and Nelson had just recorded a legendary (in my town) two song project called Egg Hunt, and were looking to form something new. Sadly, Three never got off the ground, save for one album, a brilliant rock n roll album, far afield from the discordant, angry nue-punk we expect from Dischord, called Dark Days Coming.

On that album, which I heard first on vinyl, which places it in its own special category of my musical memories, is a song called Swann Street. Swann Street is anthemic in the very best ways, slow burning through a solo acoustic guitar opening before winding up full-on with tidal wave drums, Townshed-esque power chords, and a chorus meant to sung stadium-sized loud.

Despite the refrain to “keep your ear to the ground”, which is radio-worthy and demands a sing-along, there’s an odd, somewhat out of place line, …”these berries smell like shit/I don’t know why,” which places this song firmly in DC territory. The song is named after the street in Dupont Circle, Swann Street, where singer Steve Niles lived. The berries are a reference to the Gingko trees that line the streets of DC, especially in my old neighborhood of Dupont. Famous for dropping a particularly stinky berry, everyone in DC knows the springtime nightmare of stepping on a gingko berry and then carrying that sticky, jellied mess into their home, grinding it in the carpet—getting it out shoe tread is worse than dealing with dog poo. The smell of ginkgo permeates the city in spring and never fails to make one wonder: who the hell planted these trees? They had to know…

According to, where I had to turn to get a lot of this info, Three imploded before Dark Days Coming was released, but Grey Matter went on to release a number of seminal Dischord albums, and in 2008, at the Black Cat’s 15 Anniversary show, they performed a superb rendition. Hearing the audience singing along reminded me of both what a great song this is, but also how insular, in the best way, the DC music scene was (is).  This is a secret classic, and when I meet someone who knows this song, knows how great it is, there is an instant bond, in the way the great songs can bind us together.

I’m not doing the song justice: I picked it because even now, at 45, the song turns me up inside like it did when I first heard it, back in 1990. Sometimes, when I try to put into words what songs mean, I feel like I’m somehow taking away from the neural-spark that a great song ignites inside that ineffable joy, a sharpening of the soul, a infinite initial reaction that, despite the years, will always repeat.  

Swann Street is a boundless, wound-up blast; a rock anthem worthy of bands far bigger in size than Three and it never fails to remind me of home. And, DC, despite being a seat of power and almost always the center of the world’s attention, is really just a small town. But, then, home should always feel that way. Here's a few versions of your new favorite song: