Saturday, January 29, 2022


Sorry, guys, going out on a Springsteen free limb here, eager to see if there is any love for the bossa. To folk of a certain age, myself included, that can open up a vista over one of the most over-exposed and ubiquitous songs of the last century, the cloying Girl From Ipanema, but don't go, stick around. It isn't actually a bad song, you've just heard it too many times.

The Girl from Ipanema/Amy Winehouse

Anyway, this isn't about the song, it's about the style. Arguably no more than a variation on the Brazilian life-source, the samba, it swept in on a wave of innovation in the late 1950's, a condensation of the intrinsic rhythmic shuffle to the minimal, buoyed by off kilter chords and progressions, all syncopated to the max. The splendidly named Milton Banana was probably the originator, the drummer/percussionist for Joao Gilberto. Gilberto's Chega de Saudade (1958) was the first record recognised within this new form, the style then breaking in the film, Black Narcissus, a year later.

Manhā de Carneval (from Black Narcissus)/Elizete Cardoso

That's about as far down that historical alley I want to go, even bypassing the superb contributions to the genre gifted by celebrated saxman Stan Getz, who blows the breathiest whisper that instrument can manage and still be audible. A glorious tone. Because I've got you here to catch what has been happening to the style since the 60s. The enthusiasm actually fell away in the homelands, the breezy music sitting uncomfortably with the political frictions occurring in Brazil, even if every jazzer and his dog in the US was tearing Ipanema to shreds in supper clubs and hotel lobbies across the nation. As latin rhythms determined a more streetwise and funky uplift, courtesy Carlos Santana, so the cool jazz lite of the 'nova was on the fade.

Wild Horses/Karen Souza

It was actually my love for cover versions, an unceasing quest of mine these past two or three decades, that lead me back to Bossanova, let alone many another arcane and forgotten style. The Rolling Stones, always a favourite band of mine, have attracted versions across the musical map, encompassing blues, reggae and zydeco, all these having been avidly devoured. So when I discovered a label, PMB, originally based in Argentina, seemingly hellbent of exploiting the emergent love for chilled beats, and morphing this with the sounds and style of Bossanova, I was made up. As well as the Stones, there are also volumes devoted to Bob Marley, the Ramones and Madonna, the bandwagon then drifting to other labels, quick to produce similar Beatles renditions. OK, not all of this is good and some is a good deal even less than good, but, when it hits base, it is perfect. Well worth a punt, as easy to pick up cheap second hand copies.

Love Will Tear Us Apart/Nouvelle Vague

Meanwhile, over in France, Oliver Libaux and Marc Collin were having similar revelations, as they set up the band/collective Nouvelle Vague, which translates roughly both as New Wave, which is one of the possible translations also for Bossa Nova. Since 2004 they have produced a sizeable body of work, largely slightly kitschy covers of New Wave artists in the anglophone sense of the word. And, yes, I have most of their work too. But surely the style should be more than for smart arse copyists?

Essa Moça Tá Diferente/Bossacucanova

I'm afraid, as tends to happen, the worm hole of bossa covers led me to new artists and new material. Bossacucanova are amongst those who consider the format still keeping alive, and have injected a little more electronica to sit alongside. I can't say it grabs me as much as I hoped, so it is gratifying to round this piece off with something that really does bestride the decades, managing to keep the delicate angularity of the original songs, with a heft of 21st century credibility. Unsurprising, therefore, to realise she is second generation Bossa. Her father was Joao Gilberto, who wrote and sang the original Girl From Ipanema. Tanto Tempo was her big breakthrough album in 2000, and I can thoroughly commend it. But I had thought her a spent force, until I learnt of Agora, an album that came out during lockdown, in 2020, and which rapidly became one of my records of that year. 

Teletransportador/Bebel Gilberto

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Boss: Bang The Drum All Day

Todd Rundgren: Bang The Drum All Day

Unless a song immediately jumps into my head when our theme is announced (or if I had one in mind when I suggested a theme), my first move is to do searches of my iTunes library. Yes, I’m an owner, not a renter. I was unimpressed by the songs that had the word “Boss” in the title (and didn’t want to write about a Bruuuuuuuuce song). You may know that there’s a site called, where you can search for words in lyrics, and narrow by genre and other filters.  It's a godsend for music bloggers, believe me. 

I powered through the filtered list (you are welcome to speculate as to what genres I chose, and which I excluded) and came up with a bunch of really good songs to write about. And because in situations like this, I like to write about artists who I haven’t posted about before, one song became the obvious choice—Todd Rundgren’s “Bang The Drum All Day.” Not only is it a great, fun song, but as I’ve mentioned here, I’m a bad drummer, and frankly would prefer to bang on a drum than work, most of the time. Since banging on drums is unlikely to make it possible to pay my bills, sadly I still have to work. 

Another thing that made me want to write about this song is that, it appears, since SMM’s founding back in 2008, no one has written a post about one of Rundgren's songs. He’s been mentioned and his production work has been referenced, but despite the fact that the guy has written a bunch of serious classic rock songs in a career that started in the late 1960s and has included more than three dozen solo and band albums, as well as being a true innovator, none of the many former or current SMM writers have written about him. 

Now, if you read my stuff, at this point, you’d probably expect the next line to be, “Born in Philadelphia in 1948, Rundgren….” followed by a long discussion of his career mostly pilfered from Wikipedia or Allmusic, with the occasional snarky aside. But I’m not going to go there. If you want to know more about Rundgren’s life and career, click on one of those links. Or both. Because you don’t want to work, either.

It may be that “Bang The Drum All Day” will end up being Rundgren’s most enduring song, although “Hello It’s Me” and “Can We Still Be Friends” might give it a run for its money. ("I Saw The Light," too.) It was, initially, a throwaway song that Rundgren claims came to him mostly in a dream, and since he had a home studio, was able to roll out of bed and record it-he plays all the instruments on the song. Rundgren has said that his record company didn’t see the song as a single from his 1983 album The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, but eventually it was released and topped out at 63 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, and 39 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. 

But it had legs. 

What makes the song fit our theme, of course, are the lyrics: 

Every day when I get home from work
I feel so frustrated
The boss is a jerk
And I get my sticks and go out to the shed
And I pound on that drum like it was the boss's head

But what made the song popular was its fun message and the catchy music. Rundgren explained

I like the idea that I've written a song that is well known to a broad segment of the population…and they have no idea why they know it! In the same sense that everybody knows 'Happy Birthday,' but they can't remember the first time they heard it, and they have no idea who wrote it. But you've penetrated the cultural consciousness in a way that transcends the typical pop song, and what it means is that if I never have another hit record on the radio again, that song is still going to be around likely twenty-five years from now. 

And although Rundgren also claims that he hates playing the song because it makes him feel “ape-like,” he also considers it his most impactful song, “because I made so much money off of it.” Not only through sales and airplay, but because it has been used in many commercials, TV shows and movies, at football games (most notably Green Bay Packers games) and as a theme song. 

Despite making all that money from “Bang,” it still seems that Rundgren still wants to work (or maybe has to.)