Friday, September 7, 2018


As with so many acts these days, I came late to the National, somehow thinking for ages they were were yet another set of blue-collar Jersey rockers, thrift shop Springsteensalike. Indeed I didn't let them trouble my ears until an otherwise unfettered weekend had me perusing the streams from last years's Glastonbury Festival, a TV highlight over here. This is all that is left still on-line. I think it fair to say that the National made a fair old impression, not just on me but the armchair revellers of the UK in general. I thought that show terrific, hoovering up their back catalogue. Thus, when the opportunity came, as it did, in the early summer to catch them, headlining at All Points East, a new festival, or series of day festivals, in London's east side, I was there. Here was my review, penned elsewhere.

Wine seems apt in association with the National, or at least in connection with the often exuberant front man, honey-tonsilled baritone Matt Berninger. His performances often contain as much wine as his lyrics, bottles seemingly downed, empties hurled who knows where, as an adjunct to finding his acceptable level of muse. (Strangely, when I saw him he was strangely euthymic, water seemingly by his side and in his hand.)

The song I feature comes from, arguably, their breakthrough album, the 3rd, 'Alligator', when they moved from being part time hobbyists to full time musos. This was 2005, but the earlier year has seen the song also featured on a EP, 'The Cherry Tree'.

As to whether the studio versions are the same is harder to know. Maybe in the mix? It gained some discussion on the bands own forum on their website, the confusingly entitled American Mary. (It's a song on their debut.) So, seeing as this "other" version gets a mention, you may as well be the judge.

As to what it all means? Me, I just like the play on words, the cadence of syllables, the meaning of lesser import. It is, after all, only rock and roll. But there are websites devoted to such ephemera, did you know? Maybe I speak to the converted but here is a snatch from one.

I don't know what it is about the band I like so much. I think it is probably the mix of the cerebral and  the bacchanal. And, importantly for an old guy like me, they are clearly no callow boys off some svengali's floor, or raw garage busboys bringing in a new wave of youth rebellion, frightening the horses of my generation. The sound is meticulous, hewn from experience and talent, technique with an additional bravadaccio that boasts both the library and the taproom as sources of inspiration. Charles Bukowski with a eng. lit. major, perhaps? And as apt for the live experience as at home with, yes, definitely, a glass of wine.

Get the song.
And some wine.

Wine: (Have Some) Madeira M’dear

Flanders and Swann: Madeira M’dear


The Limeliters: Have Some Madeira M’dear


Have Some Madeira M’dear is a song that I married into. It was a favorite of my late father-in-law, and I had never heard it until my wife introduced me to it. My father-in-law had a fine sense of humor, and this one also appealed to his lecherous tendencies. The Limeliters were the nearest rivals in popularity to the Kingston Trio and Peter Paul and Mary. These three were at the top of what I think of as the pop-folk genre. For a great gentle satire of the excesses of that genre, find and watch the movie A Mighty Wind. Still, pop-folk did include some very talented musicians, and that certainly included the Limelighters. Have Some Madeira M’dear is a song that I hope will not offend any of our readers and listeners. It describes in a humorous way something which certainly is not humorous in real life: date rape. But the song is not meant to be real life at all. It is a send up of Edwardian social mores, and the genteel way in which it describes something I feel sure the songwriters would not have approved of is the joke, certainly not the act itself.

I only discovered in researching this post that The Limeliters were not the songwriters on this one, but I might have known. Now that I do, it seems obvious that this one must have been written by British artists, in this case the duo of Flanders and Swann. Michael Flanders and Donald Swann were a musical and comedy duo active roughly from the end of World War II until the mid 1960s. During their career, they would even write operettas. But Madeira M’dear, as they titled the song, is probably their best known song nowadays. You may also know the Hippopotamus Song. That’s the one that has the chorus that starts with “Mud, mud, glorious mud…” I had not remembered that there were verses until I worked on this post.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Wine: Bottle of Red Wine

purchase [ Eric Clapton]

I confess that I am a die-hard Clapton fan: one of the first albums I bought was Disraeli Gears. Not too long after, I had the chance to see Blind Faith live in Seattle.  But probably one of my favorite/top albums is the eponymous Eric Clapton first solo album from 1970. To me, it seems to embody/include the best vibes of the John Mayall/Yardbirds era with the harmonic vibrancy that has infused Clapton's later music.

The album - to my recollection - came out at about the same time as McCartney was starting on his solo career: Wings and such, and they both had a transformative effect on me - band-based musicians that had broken free and could produce substantially better music than they were capable of under the constraints of working together with other band members.

Eric Clapton first solo album shows-cases a style that blends Clapton's transition from the harder/rougher (Slwabyr? is what?) to the more melodic tones we hear when he picks up the Steve Winwood influence of Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie and beyond.
There's a certain amount of John Mayall influence in this album, a certain amount of Cream - but more of what later turns out to be really inside the man: more melodic tunes.

I can't say that Bottle Of  Red Wine is my favorite track from the album: my choice would be a toss-up between Slunky, Easy Now, Let It Rain and After Midnight (and that comprises most of the album).

I do wonder why Clapton might focus on wine when there was so much else of the mind-bending substances going on around him at that time (see my last post about West Bruce & Laing). You could take a minute to consider the lyrics:
I went to an all-night get together
And everyone I knew was there.
Had the love that would last forever.
Everywhere I looked, I saw you standing there.

Get up; get your man a bottle of red wine.
Get up; get your man a bottle of red wine.
I can't get up out of bed
With this crazy feeling in my head.
I said get up right now, oh oh.
I said get up right now.
In digging around for copies of songs for Eric Clapton's Bottle of Red Wine, I came across a series of clips that I wanted to share from a guy who does a very decent cover of most of the album. He's doing what I myself have also started in on: guitar on top of backing tracks (it's a great way to perfect your chops)


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wine: Killer Queen

Queen: Killer Queen [purchase]

Like many people, A Night At The Opera, and particularly, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was my gateway to Queen. That album came out in 1975, when I was in high school, and it really was not like anything else I (or most people) had heard. My love for that album led me to look at their prior albums, which at that point consisted of their self-titled debut from 1973, and Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack, both (!) released in 1974.

What made Queen so fascinating was that they were one part heavy metal, one part prog, one part vaudeville and music hall, and one part pop, but elevated above the pack by Freddy Mercury’s other worldly voice, Brian May’s distinctive guitars, and a strong rhythm section. Mercury, who has been scientifically proven (!) to have been the world’s greatest singer, would have turned 72 today, had he not died in 1991.

While Queen’s debut may have tilted toward metal, and their second, filled with tales of fairies and black and white queens, might have been more proggy, Sheer Heart Attack, was, as its title hinted, more straightforward hard rock. But not completely.

In fact, the big hit single from the album—their first international hit that made it to No. 2 on the UK charts and No. 12 on the US charts, was “Killer Queen,” a song that Mercury stated was not the hard rock that people expected from Queen, but was more like a song that Noel Coward might have sung. In addition to using a grand piano, Mercury overdubbed it with an upright, to give it a vaudeville feel. And May’s multitracked guitar solo is excellent (and one of his favorites)—he added it late in the recording process because he had been in the hospital with hepatitis and a stomach ulcer.

“Killer Queen” is a song about a high class call girl, and the lyrics set this up by informing us, at the song’s very start:

She keeps Moët et Chandon
In her pretty cabinet.

Moët et Chandon, is, of course, a famous maker of champagne, whose history goes back to 1743, and its prestige made it a perfect signifier for the expensive (if not quite Dom Pérignon-level) tastes of the person who Mercury was describing in the song.

One problem, though—he pronounced it wrong.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Wine: Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee

Wine is a theme that is rich with possibilities. I hope it will allow us to make a strong comeback from our last theme. This one differs from our old Drinking Songs theme in two important ways. First, we are limited here to Wine. I thought of opening with something by Tom Waits, but his drinkers go for the hard stuff. Beer is also right out. But the second difference should open things up quite a bit. Yes, wine can get you drunk, but many songs about it describe a gentle glow, rather than a full-on drunken stupor, so I hope we will see some examples of that as we go along. I am afraid, however, that that is not the case here. I went with the first song that came to mind, and it is definitely a drinking song.

I was prepared to keep looking. I knew that Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee became one of Jerry Lee Lewis’ signature tunes, and I wasn’t looking to feature him. But it turns out that he wasn’t the original artist or writer. In fact, the song had been around for twelve years and numerous other covers before Lewis recorded his version in 1959. Let’s have a look.

Sticks McGhee: Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee


Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee was written by Sticks McGhee, who first recorded a solo acoustic version in 1947 that went nowhere. But two years later he signed with Atlantic and recorded a new version, heard here, that became Atlantic’s first hit. McGhee is one of several artists in this post who could have been featured in our Forgotten theme. He was the brother of the great bluesman Brownie McGhee, and Sticks had several other hits on the R&B charts before the era of rock and roll dawned. That he is not better known probably has everything to do with him arriving on the scene too early.

Lionel Hampton with Sonny Parker: Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee


Lionel Hampton certainly has not been forgotten, but the great singer heard here, Sonny Parker, has been. In his case, it had everything to do with the shortness of his career. Parker was just establishing himself in 1949 when he recorded this hit with Hampton. His career would only last until 1957, when he died of a brain hemorrhage. Based on this evidence, I for one would like to know more.

Wynonie Harris: Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee


As I said earlier, Sticks McGhee’s hit version of Spo-Dee-o-Dee came out in 1949. It was the custom of record companies in those days to rush to record and release new covers of current hits. So it was still 1949 when Wynonie Harris had his own hit version. McGhee gave us an acoustic blues-based treatment, Hampton jazzed it up, and now Harris gave the song a full blown R&B treatment. What else was there to do with it?

Loy Gordon and His Pleasant Valley Boys: Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee


Actually, I’m glad you asked. How about a western swing version? This one is also from 1949, and technically the musical genre here is something called bopping hillbilly music, but it sounds to me like a very close cousin to western swing. Loy Gordon and His Pleasant Valley Boys are a truly forgotten act. I could find nothing about them except for this song, but it’s a good one. If anyone has more information about them, please add it in the comments.

Jerry Lee Lewis: Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee


And so it went for the next ten years. Every year, a new artist or three released their version of Spo-Dee-o-Dee, with varying degrees of commercial and artistic success. I invite the reader to seek out for themselves some fine rockabilly versions from this time. But gradually, it became more difficult to add anything new to the conversation. There are many versions that simple rehash what previous artists had done. So Jerry Lee Lewis in 1959 deserves a lot of credit for his version. He took the song and made it one of his piano-based rockers that couldn’t possibly be anyone else.

Larry Dale: Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee

I couldn’t resist closing with one more. Larry Dale’s version is so forgotten, I couldn’t even find a purchase link. But that is a shame, because this one really cooks. Even after Jerry Lee Lewis had claimed the song as his own, Dale could still find life in it. That is a process that continues to this day, as the song has become a rock standard. I’ll drink to that.