Thursday, May 29, 2014

Macauley Culkin as Lou Reed. Not. "Take a Bite on the Wild Side"

Stop me if you've heard this one. It's about a kid actor, kind of homely, who got famous for slapping Old Spice on his pubescent face and popping his eyes because it stung. The rest of the movie, "Home Alone," had the kid running around a lot and showing that he could follow directions...not that he could act.

After he became famous, he turned into a a bit of a brat, and then a has-been. Then people felt sorry because he looked like a geeky vampire. They worried he'd have an early demise like some other child stars, and go suffocate himself in a pair of Dana Plato's panties or something. What to do? Well, living in Manhattan, having his picture taken in any nightclub he stumbled into, Big Mac developed into a "hipster." Cool. Er, kewl. Now, to make it pay.

Maybe he remembered how kid-star Billy Mumy became half of Barnes and Barnes and had a mock-hit with "Fish Heads." That could be the reason he ended up banging a stick and tooting a kazoo as the lead member of "The Pizza Underground," which is just about to the Velvet Underground what Barnes and Barnes was to Frank Zappa: not competition.

Inane hipster nightclubs (mostly in dorky Brooklyn) seemed to welcome The Pizza Underground, and guffaw over vaguely remembered songs re-written to be full of pizza references.

"Hey dudes, let's go see how that Macauley Culkin kid grew up to be SO sardonic and hip and doing this groovy put-on of shouting PIZZA a lot. And like some asshole who puts too many toppings on his pie, he just can't stop himself from putting too many pizza phrases into each song! So bad it's good, huh? Peace out!"

ROTFL. Har har. LOL.

That's the joke. Child actor trades on his very dim fame in "Home Alone" to become a "Does he still look like shit?" freakshow act. Wouldn't singing songs about PIZZA be hilarious...after being lubed up on the two-drink minimum? Or will everyone throw bottles at the pretentious bastard?"

It seems the Incredible Culk did go from being a Brooklyn titter to getting hit (on stage in England). Well, some people can take a bad joke, and others can take a bottle and throw it at a guy who ain't really that funny at all.

Your download below is an audience in Brooklyn yocking it up to a Pizza-fied version of "Walk on the Wild Side," sung while Lou Reed was dying of liver cancer. There's an in-joke here that might need to be explained. Culkin substitutes "Famous Ray" for Candy (Darling) as one who "never gave it away." "Famous Ray" refers to Ray's Pizza, a once-trendy pizza chain in New York. It was so famous that various pizza joints tried to confuse tourists and get them to come to...Original Ray, Original Famous Ray's, Ray Bari, and various Ray-clones. (There was never actually a Ray...the original guy was named Ralph, and the opportunists included guys named Gary and Joe!)

PS, among the many obnoxious things about NYC is the insistence that it's not only home to the world's best pizza (which may be true) but you're a fuckin' spud if you go THERE instead of HERE. "There's this place in Brooklyn…" "No, there's John's on Bleecker…" "No, that's too flat…the REAL thing is Sal's Pizza…just don't trust any of their delivery boys because there WAS that rape incident…"

But I digress, as I really can't stomach talking about The Pizza Underground any further.

Listen. You can be just like Culkin. You don't even have to download his amateurish and obvious "Take a Bite on the Wild Side." Just smack yourself in the face with some Old Spice, take a lot of drugs, dye your hair a sick color of yellow, and then substitute 'PIZZA" or "MOZZARELLA" or "SAUCE" or "CRUST" in ANY song you like. Like...a Bob Dylan song:

"Mama take this MOZZARELLA offa me. I can't use SAUCE any more. It's gettin' TOO SPICY to see. I'm knock-knock knockin' on PIZZA CRUST…"

Har har har har har. The world really would be a lot more pleasant of Culkin remained…HOME ALONE.

Stay home alone and groan to... Take a Bite on the Wild Side

LIBBY TITUS - "Darkness Til Dawn" w/ Carly Simon and Craig Doerge

One of the sure-thing albums released in 1977 was Columbia's "Libby Titus," the second album simply titled "Libby Titus." It features one of her best-covered songs, "Love Has No Pride," and several songs by Carly Simon, including one with Simon's music and Libby's lyrics ("Can This Be My Love Affair"). Another excellent song is a co-write with Jacob Brackman: "Darkness Til Dawn." Brackman, of course, often co-wrote with Carly.

The first cut on the album, "Fool That I Am," (co-written with Al Kooper), was the choice when the timorous, unusual beauty with the very pale complexion and mass of curly black hair turned up as the musical guest on a "Saturday Night Live" episode. In an age that seemed to say it was all right to be a bit quirky (Diane Keaton, Jill Clayburgh, Kate Bush), Libby fit right in.

The album also includes tasteful takes on both Leiber & Stoller's "Kansas City" and Cole Porter's ironic lynch-mob song "Miss Otis Regrets." Somehow these extremes, as well as Libby and Carly's originals, all fit together seamlessly. The musicians who dropped by for the sessions reads like a Who's Who of the era. Phil Ramone produced most of it. The credits include Hugh McCracken, Tony Levin, Robbie Robertson, John Gueren, Grady Tate, Garth Hudson and in backing vocals…Carly Simon, Paul Simon and James Taylor.

Your download, "Darkness Til Dawn," has Libby's voice complimented by Craig Doerge on solo piano. You may know that name from his work as a member of The Session, and on albums by James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Harriet Schock, Judy Henske and many more. In a music world loaded with performers who can play piano, it's quite an amazing achievement that Craig Doerge has been the "go to" keyboard player for so many decades.

Libby's first "Libby Titus" album (with a color cover) was released back in 1968. On the Hot Biscuit label, it's covers of pop songs of the day. Her style back then was fairly close to Judy Collins, most evident in her interpretations of Paul Simon's "Cloudy" and The Beatles' "Fool On the Hill," and most certainly Joni Mitchell's "Michael From the Mountains," which was popular via a Collins cover.

The Titus of '68 was more songbird than chanteuse…the style of her more mature second record. It was her last record. She didn't retire, she simply performed in intimate nightclubs where sophisticates appreciated Cole Porter as well as Carly or Paul Simon. She also continued her songwriting. Her co-writers include some famous names: Burt Bacharach, Martin Mull, and a guy by the name of Donald Fagen…her husband since 1993. Extra trivia note: her daughter is Amy Helm. She and Levon Helm were an item in the late 60's and early 70's.

LIBBY TITUS Darkness Til Dawn

Monday, May 19, 2014

ALL ALONE — EYDIE GORME (and a Jerry Vale obit note)

Yesterday Jerry Vale died (born in the Bronx, Gennaro Luigi Vitaliano…July 8, 1932 – May 18, 2014).

Wubbo Ockels also died on the 18th, but I'll save that tribute for another time, perhaps. Jerry was such a representative of Italian lounge singers that he turned up in the gangster films "Goodfellas" and "Casino." He had a nasal but velvety tenor voice, and pleasantly average looks…and was more in the league of Andy Williams and Mel Torme (friendly nice guys) than Robert Goulet or Sergio Franchi (overtly handsome and bombastic guys).

No wonder Ed Sullivan had Jerry on his show so often, even if he tended to make easy-listening albums full of songs that were hits for other people. And that…is all I have to say. I don't own a single song by Jerry Vale. Nothing by Goulet either, and only one single by Sergio, and maybe two Andy Williams and Mel Torme records. But for many, news of his passing will bring back nostalgia. If you're a real Vale fan and feeling alone…well, here's Eydie Gorme singing "All Alone." Which I intended to post this week anyway. Because…

Last week, I went to a thrift shop and dumped 75 CDs and a whole bunch of DVDs. And I found an Eydie Gorme album I didn't have (because I only have a few of them). I wasn't expecting to buy vinyl...can't remember the last time I did. Amazingly, I saw eight big plastic bins of records on their own table. Usually records aren't even sold in thrift shops anymore, and if they are, they're UNDER a table, where you rightly get kneed in the head and kicked in the ass by normal people passing by to get to CDs and bric-a-brac.

So I gave a flip, for old time's sake, and there was an Eydie album with "All Alone" on it. I thought, I'd kinda like to hear her take on it.

I grabbed it and stood behind two ninnies at the checkout line. I knew I was in for a long wait. The older ninny, buying blice (a pair of blouses), couldn't stop yapping to the clerk about how she'd been looking and looking for JUST THAT COLOR…She was fussing in her purse and her wallet and her change purse to give the EXACT change, burbling as if the bored cashier was her best friend.

Meanwhile the hawk-nosed nasal debutante also in front of me was busy whining (they don't talk, young girls, they WHINE) into her cell phone. I heard every word of her meaningless idiot conversation conducted in a mincing cadence and strident volume. She stayed on the phone when she made her purchase, barely listening to the cashier telling her the price. "Hold on," she said into the phone, "I can't hear you. Somebody's talking." Right, the somebody who wanted six bucks and tax.

I rolled my eyes and tried to point them elsewhere...but the store was crowded with unsightly idiots, and now somebody in the store had put on some Lady Gaga disco shit. As it thumped, the girl pulled out a bunch of credit cards, fussed about which one she'd use, and kept up her breathless conversation, yelling over the Gaga shit: "I'm buying a throw pillow! THROW PILLOW! It's pink and about ten inches…" Yeah, I was thinking of something else she could use. Long and deep to shut her mouth. She wasn't done yet. With great exasperation she paused her conversation. "What did you say? Oh. Paper or plastic…" Into the phone: "The clerk wants to know if I want a paper bag or a plastic one. I never know what to do. I know paper is good for the ecology and all that, but I need plastic bags for the garbage." To the clerk: "Do you have a paper bag with handles? No, that's too big. That's…too small…" Finally baby bear found one that was just right.

I placed the late great Eydie on the counter, slapped down a dollar and the fucking pennies for the tax, and was out the door, no bag, no conversation.

The way home? I heard loudmouth males bellowing and guffawing at each other over things even more stupid than what that simpering little slit was squealing about in the thrift shop. From behind I heard some bitch slapping the sidewalk with heeled boots (in 80 degree weather) following behind me for blocks. The sound was drowned for a while by some ethnic nutjob blasting disco from his car, and then from a howling ambulance siren set off by somebody who just wanted to speed down the street. Various little brats were crying and squalling over nothing. A dog, tied to a pole, was barking its guts up. And several nannies sashayed along blabbering to each other, their baby carriages forming a blockade that had me stumbling out into the gutter to get by them. I had to get back out of the gutter quickly, as there was construction work going on in the middle of the street, with a guy working a drill at top volume, his beer belly fluttering and shaking in time to the RAT-A-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT.

That's when the irony of my purchase hit me. ALL ALONE. That's what I wanted. To be home, listening to Eydie Gorme singing ALL ALONE, and having NO noises interfering. I hope when you download this, your asshole neighbors don't disturb your enjoyment of this most poignant song…about solitude. Solitude can be a lonely thing, but more often, it's something you wish for, and almost never get. Until you're as dead as Eydie Gorme or Jerry Vale


"It's Such a Happy Day" - Jackie Gleason wrote it for his skits…

While two songs closely associated with Jackie Gleason were not written by him (his "theme" song, "Melancholy Serenade," and the ubiquitous "Shangri-La,") he's credited with writing the one below.

"It's Such a Happy Day" was used quite a bit on Gleason's 60's variety show, usually over the silent antics of Jackie as "the Poor Soul." No reason to believe he didn't at least hum the melody for this thing, which was then orchestrated for him. That was the M.O. for quite a few celebs. A contemporary of Gleason's, with a sketch comedy show involving mime, Red Skelton, also wrote a lot of tunes that an arranger polished up. Two albums of Skelton music were issued by Liberty, and some cuts were pretty good. Both Jackie and Red were probably thinking they were in the same league as Chaplin…who not only wrote, starred and directed his comedies, but often created the music, too.

Gleason was one of the foremost sellers of lounge music. In his day, he competed successfully with Mantovani, Percy Faith and Melachrino, in coming up with sappy "music for lovers." Apparently he came in to "conduct" the orchestra, after others created the charts. The character Frank Lorenzo, on a memorable episode of "All in the Family," loved playing the romantic lounge albums for his swinging wife: "that Jackie Gleason…he knows more about love than anybody!" Leaning more toward brass than strings, maybe there was some subliminal "blow" message going on, but there aren't many serious music critics who find anything worth praise on the albums conducted by "The Great One." Today most of the interest is from album-cover-lover types, who like the kitschy poses of women turned horizontal, eyes closing in rapture.

It's kind of interesting that a guy best known for playing a childlike, brawling bus driver, and a few unattractive and peculiar characters in sketch comedy, would have such an impact on the field of romantic lounge music. However, comedians in general are very musical. In an interview I did with Phyllis Diller, she talked about timing, and pointed out that "most comics are also musicians." We tallied up the list…Woody Allen on clarinet, Jackie Vernon on trumpet, Morey Amsterdam on cello, Henny Youngman and Jack Benny on violin, Steve Allen on piano, Johnny Carson and Mel Brooks on drums, Harpo Marx on harp…you could end up with quite a band…one that could've been conducted by Jackie Gleason



Harmony: the more people there are, the worse it is.

Think about barbershop quartets. Four assholes. Why are they assholes? Because they are oh-so-strenuously straining to produce a human chord, and oh-so-fucking-proud of the result. They're in love with their own voices, which is pretty damn sad when all they're singing is shit like "Sweet Adeline."

One of the oddest quirks in pop music was that after the vaudeville Barbershop Quartets, there was the Big Band and lounge era; the 40's and 50's, loaded with foursome and fivesome idiots in love with the sound of their own voices. They'd get behind Johnny Mercer or Doris Day and croon oohs, aahs, and repeats of certain words of the chorus. They were, in a word, PESTS.

They also had pesty names, like The Hi-Los, The Pied Pipers, The Merry Macs or The Skip-Jacks. Many a decent vocal by anyone from Frank Sinatra to Patti Page, has been ruined by the intrusive, chummy "harmonizing" by a bunch of drones who make a pleasant old recording sound horribly dated.

Below, two examples. This isn't one of those cruel, effeminate "listen to this, it's so bad it's good" blogs. The cuts below aren't gonna make you laugh. They're presented as historic examples of what is now, in hindsight, a strange phenomena of a bygone age. The Key Notes were professionals and they could sing, but the arrangements were mostly insane. Part of the reason: harmony for the sake of harmony (and ego).

The main thing that distinguishes a rotten "harmony" group is a total lack of interest and empathy for the lyrics. It's all about "DON'T WE SOUND GREAT? ISN'T IT WONDERFUL HOW OUR VOICES HARMONIZE?" So listen to The Key Notes wreck "I Ain't Got Nobody." This is supposed to be a sad, wistful song. Certainly The Mills Brothers and others could get that across, concerned more with emotion and phrasing than harmony. You can easily imagine these smiling as they sing. Whee: "I ain't got nobody…and nobody cares for me…yee-hee-hee!" Yes, they do add that "yee-hee-hee."

Harmony probably goes back to the days of wolf packs. Cavemen would hear a chorus of wolves going off all night long, and grunt, "Hmm, not bad." This led to such strange groups as the "Sons of the Pioneers." What are these guys doing, without women, sitting around a campfire with their arms around each other, crooning about tumbling tumbleweeds, the 69 of bushes?

More recently, there's the incredibly obnoxious King's Singers, who not only seem on the verge of wetting their pants over their own harmonic genius, but make the most ridiculous faces as they gather close together and ooze. I have less problem with mobs of singers who are just making a racket, like The New Christy Minstrels.

When you get down to three people, there's less of a chance that they'll be precocious and precious as they sing together. The Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary and other folk groups were as busy with the message as with the harmonies. Even Crosby, Stills and Nash weren't pretentious (most of the time.) Get down to a harmonizing duo like the Everly Brothers or Simon & Garfunkel and you're pretty much ok.

The Key Notes getting a record deal represents the apex of wrong-headed harmony groups. Mostly back-up groups did their damage on a star's song, not on their own. Who wanted just The Modernaires? Or The Jordanaires? But in the late 50's, cheery and mindless groups, mindful not of lyric but of musical coloring, began to appear on record store shelves.

"I Aint Got Nobody" is followed by "Jada," mostly because you've heard this annoying tune hundreds of times, but probably only as an instrumental. Yes, there are words. And The Key Notes make every one of them excruciating. Again, they're just so full of their own cheery ability to sound like human harmonicas, they forget to be entertaining. Cliff Edwards was able to sing this crappy song without trying your patience. Not this bunch. Following a fey attempt at mimicking old 78's, they lose their minds and happily coo "AH HA HA HA…Ja da! JA DA! DING DING!"

The Key Notes I Ain't Got Nobody - Jada

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Sound of...Ronald Colman doing Paul Simon?

Last week, you got to hear a fairly inept, cheap version of "Sound of Silence," related to Paul Simon's recent court embarrassment.

Response was overwhelming. "Is there a version even worse?"

Below...a contender.

It's from a 101 Strings album called "Sounds of Love."

Rather than simply allow the overly ripe catgut twangers to do their thing, somebody thought it would be helpful to have a "romantic" narrator recite the lyrics.

Yes, narration with the 101 strings prodding from behind.

Yes, well before William Shatner began to make a name for himself with this type of thing, here's some guy affecting a kind of Ronald Colman cadence as he reads, and occasionally "improves upon" the words of Mr. Simon.

It does make one pray for silence.


Mohammed's Radio - Warren Zevon (Now Spotify & Pandora Cheat Everyone)

Your download is from over 35 years ago...amazing as it seems.

In June of 1976 Warren Zevon recorded this version of "Mohammed's Radio" in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Back then, you found about new exciting artists like Zevon through the thriving world of rock magazines. In a few years, I was editor of one of them, with a six-figure circulation (not salary) and sales all over the globe (if you only count Great Britain and Australia, as our distributor didn't deal with foreign language people).

And yes, in my day, I did feature a full page article on him.

The other way a guy like Zevon could get known...was radio. Yes. Radio. You had your favorite disc jockey...what that person played was stuff you already liked...and new stuff that had you thinking, "Hang on...I gotta pay attention and find out WHO THAT WAS..."

For several years, I had a radio show and it was a kick to play the kind of people I've featured on the blog...ones who were great but not all that well known. Not yet. OK, some of them, not ever.

There was something mystical about the radio, as you can hear in Warren's song. Those of us of a certain generation stayed up late at night, listening in the dark, our minds creating images from the fantastic sounds coming through the air.

Songwriter Paul Williams recently announced that he, and such contemporaries as Randy Newman and Jimmy Webb, were going to lobby for better royalties, now that radio stations have gone under, and Spotify and Pandora are preferred. Ever since the rise of these monsters, new and indie artists have suffered, and especially the songwriters who don't tour or sing and truly depend on royalties from radio play and purchases. How the hell do you FIND new artists you might like? You listen to Randy Newman and you get a prompt, "If you liked that, listen to this..."?? I've discovered one or two artists via Spotify, simply by typing in a word and looking to see if there were any songs on the topic. I found Jude Kastle that way, and maybe Anne McCue. That's a fraction of what I found through radio, magazine reviews, and record label "loss leader" sampler discs.

And guess what...hearing a tune on Spotify doesn't mean more than a few pennies for the artist.

Ever since SpottyPie and Pandildo appeared, an ignorant, uninformed segment of Internet music fans (ie, assholes in forums with goofy names like "Seniormole") declared these radio sites were perfect...the new "paradigm" by which artists would be able to make a living. They really believed that shit. Like they insisted it was "sharing" not stealing, and piracy's "a good thing."

So here comes the "Songwriter Equity Act," which at least, is telling the naive and nasty know-it-alls of the world that Pandora and Spotify are cheating artists worse than the radio era EVER did.

Here's Paul Williams talking about what he's planning:

"As we celebrate ASCAP’s 100th anniversary and look to the future, we recognize the rules and regulations that govern music licensing haven’t kept pace with the innovation that is transforming how people listen to music. And we’re committed to finding a solution.

That’s why ASCAP members will be coming to Washington this week. I’ll be joined by fellow award-winning songwriters Randy Newman, Carly Simon, Josh Kear, Valerie Simpson, Jimmy Webb, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Jon Batiste and Narada Michael Walden, among others, as we seek to help policymakers understand why we must modernize our music licensing system.

The root of the challenge lies in the fact that the two organizations that represent most of the nation’s songwriters, ASCAP and BMI, are forced to operate within a regulatory structure governed by federal consent decrees created in 1941.

The last time these regulations were updated was in 2001, before the invention of the iPod.

Under this system, if ASCAP or BMI cannot agree with a licensee on the price of a license, then a federal “rate court” judge, rather than the free market, determines the amount we will be paid for our music from that licensee.

As a result of these outdated laws, record labels and recording artists routinely earn 12 to 14 times more than songwriters for the exact same stream of a song. And big music companies like Pandora rake in millions in revenue, while many music creators struggle to pay the bills.

In an effort to correct the imbalance within the current system, ASCAP has announced a new initiative, the “Music Advocacy Project” or MAP, for short. It centers around five guiding principles for music licensing reform:

Simplification: The licensing process must be simplified and reflect the way people listen to music today. A lot has changed in the last decade, and the rules should reflect that.

Market rates: Let the free market determine the value of music copyrights, the same way it works in other entertainment sectors.

Consumer choice: Let music listeners access a wide variety of music on a variety of platforms for a fair price, while compensating songwriters for the value of their work.

Creator control: Include the songwriters and composers themselves in the discussion and effort to reform.

Access: Collective licensing is the best way to facilitate the transaction between music listeners and creators.

Sounds interesting, Paul. It also sounds like a complicated mess. And there's no mention of enforcing piracy, and you don't need ME or fucking Reed Hadley (of "Racket Squad") to let you know that pirates take more money out of creative peoples' pockets than all of Pandora and Spotify with their bullshit. If you demand Pandora and Spotify pay decent royalties...they'll cook the books or they'll be like every crook in the music world and go hide in Croatia or Russia somewhere and scream "Avax, Me Hearty, Piracy Be Good, Ho Ho Ha Ha Hee Hee," with dimwits agreeing 100%.

In other words, Williams needs to address the massive problem of assholes with podcasts, with streaming music oozing out of every pore of the Internet, and the ease by which "freedom of speech" means throwing everybody's songs around in a conspiracy to "share" and never "pay," ie, support a Communistic idea rather than a Capitalistic one. "Capitalism," Lenny Bruce said, "the best system, man." Or have you noticed any decent music coming out of Putinville? Not since Rachmaninoff, who, along with all his contemporaries, fled Russia ASAP.

ZEVON IN 1976 Mohammed's Radio