Reader’s Choice: The Stories Behind Your Favourite Songs…Song(s) #2/250: Rock n’ Roll Train/Thunderstruck by AC/DC

The inspiration for today’s post comes from my high school pal, Allister Matheson. During the Honourable Mention phase of our previous countdown series, Allister sent me over a dozen song choices for my consideration. His songs spanned the gamut of musical genres but most could be organized into two main categories: Celtic/Cape Breton tunes and the ever popular, Play-It-Loud collection of songs. So, for today, I am plucking one of his favourite Play-It-Loud songs…and mine…Thunderstruck by AC/DC. When I did my research on this song, I discovered that Thunderstruck shared something in common with another hit song of theirs called Rock n’ Roll Train, so because of that research, you are getting both songs today. So, warm up your neck muscles and get your Devil horns ready because this post is for those about to rock!

AC/DC are Australian by birth but they are beloved the world over. Since the 1970s, AC/DC has consistently been one of the most popular, best selling, arena-rocking bands in the entire world. They have a catalogue of songs that can best be described as hard-rocking songs with a great beat and catchy choruses. They sing about music, alcohol, beautiful women and having a good time. Consequently, with their life-is-short-so-you-might-as-well-have-a-good-time mentality, AC/DC are generally acknowledged as being the number one party band in the whole world. Ironically enough, back in their native Australia, they have competed for the title of the biggest selling entertainment act in Aussie history with, of all groups, children’s performers The Wiggles! When AC/DC tour, they tend to jump into the #1 ranking, but when The Wiggles rock the pre-school crowd, AC/DC often fall to #2. Such is the competitive nature of the Australian entertainment industry, I suppose.

In any case, the classic AC/DC line-up during their heyday in the late 1970s consisted of two guitar playing brothers, Malcolm and Angus Young, bassist, Cliff Williams, drummer, Phil Rudd and lead singer Brian Johnson. Johnson joined the band after the death of previous lead singer Bon Scott. Johnson’s first album with AC/DC was the massive hit Back in Black. From that album came hits Shook Me All Night Long, Hells Bells, Shoot to Thrill and the title track, Back in Black. The album was written in tribute to their fallen mate Bon Scott. That the music from this album was so good was important to their fan base, but that it came from such a deeply personal place within their collective hearts meant even more and helped solidify the band’s reputation as not only being great rockers, but also that they were good human beings, too. AC/DC quickly followed up Back in Black with another great album called For Those About to Rock (We Salute You). From that album came two more great anthemic rock tunes called Let’s Get It Up and the title track (which was always accompanied by a series of cannon blasts, as part of the band’s 21-gun salute to their fans). Throughout the 1980s, the band toured with their greatest hits as a set list. They packed arenas with fans who came to hear their best songs played loudly and fast. Those fans never left disappointed. However, as the 1980s rolled along, the band released three albums…none of which produced a song of note. For a while, it appeared that AC/DC was set to become yet another band coasting through the latter stages of their career on the strength of music written decades earlier. Then, in 1990 they released an album called Razors Edge. The lead song from that album was Thunderstruck. It almost seemed as though Thunderstruck came out of nowhere. Almost an entire decade had passed since the band had scored a hit with a song that immediately became a classic and a staple of their live shows. Then came Thunderstruck. This song was as powerful and as potent as anything the band had ever recorded. And so, that song seemed like it would be the last truly great AC/DC song…and, for a while, it was. Then, 13 years later(!), they released a new album called Black Ice, and on that album was a song that truly was their last great song…Rock n’ Roll Train.

Argentinians know how to rock! River Plate Stadium, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2009.

When I was doing my research for this post, what stood out to me was the fact that Thunderstruck and Rock n’ Roll Train were the only songs from the entire second half of AC/DC’s career that the band regularly played live. So, while Thunderstruck was my buddy, Allister’s, actual choice, I felt it wasn’t fair to talk about that song and ignore Rock n’ Roll Train, so here we are with both songs to enjoy. And speaking of enjoying them, let’s talk about the videos you are about to see. In 2009, AC/DC did a world tour that eventually took them to Buenos Aires, Argentina. There, the band performed three consecutive sold-out shows at a stadium called River Plate. While there, the band shot a video of those concerts and released it as a live concert dvd called AC/DC: Live at River Plate. I have to tell you, for whatever this is worth, that AC/DC: Live at River Plate is the single-best live concert video I have ever seen.The crowds there were absolutely unreal! What energy! What passion! This is easily the best crowd I have ever seen at a concert. So, as you watch both videos please enjoy the music, but almost more importantly than that, watch the crowd. BEST. CROWD. EVER.

AC/DC: Live at River Plate is noteworthy for sadder reasons, too. That performance was the last live concert footage of guitarist Malcolm Young with the band. By 2009, Young was entering his 60s and had begun to show the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. A few months after the River Plate show, Young retired from the band, and a couple of years after that, he passed away. However, Young’s death wasn’t the only thing to happen to AC/DC. Drummer Phil Rudd was charged with a variety of violent and drug-related charges and was actually convicted of uttering death threats. As a result, he was fired from the band. And, as if those two things weren’t bad enough, lead singer, Brian Johnson, began to go deaf, and as a result, he was unable to sing in sync with the band any longer and had to retire, too. Not long after that, bassist Cliff Williams, perhaps sensing that a natural end had come to the band, announced that he was retiring. But, the long-time star of AC/DC, guitarist Angus Young, has not thrown in the towel just yet, and refuses to state that AC/DC is finished. Instead, the term he is using is that they are on hiatus. There are rumours that the remaining original members may reunite, but as of the summer of 2022, those are simply rumours.

Therefore, the concert video we have to watch from those Argentinian shows becomes all the more precious and poignant to those of us who call ourselves fans. So, without further delay, here is one of the greatest rock n’ roll bands of all time as they have the time of their professional lives with the most amazing audience ever. To me, these videos show the power and essence of what rock n’ roll is all about. Since the band started their show with Rock n’ Roll Train, I will, as well. Thunderstruck comes next for the encore. What a way to end this post!!! Enjoy!

The link to the video for the song Rock n’ Roll Train by AC/DC can be found here.

The link to the video for the song Thunderstruck by AC/DC can be found here.

The link to the official website for AC/DC can be found here.

***Just a reminder that all original content found within this post remains the sole property of the author. This post is not to be shared, re-blogged or copied in any form without the express consent of the author. ©2022 TomMacInnesWriter.com

Today’s Top 40: a Closer Look at the Top Hits of Today…Song # 2/250: Take My Breath by The Weeknd.

Editor’s Note: Each week, I intend to write about one of the songs that is making news on the charts today. In order to do this, I shall be calling upon the following Top-40 Charts: Billboard.com, Spotify.com, KEXP.org and Toronto’s own, CHUM-FM. From each of those charts, I will pick a certain chart position number and look at the song from each list that occupies that space. From there, I will determine one song to write about.

Today’s Chart Position Number: 39

Today’s Chosen Song: Take My Breath by The Weeknd. (CHUM-FM)

Other Contenders:

Two Ribbons by Let’s Eat Grandma (KEXP)

***Don’t let the group name fool you. This band consists of two girls who have a folksy vibe not unlike Simon and Garfunkel. This is a slow, sweet song that is perfect if mellowing out is where your head space is at. A truly lovely song.

Ghost by Justin Bieber (Spotify)

***It’s Stratford, Ontario’s own Justin Bieber! I’m sure most of you know his story. For those of you who don’t, I am also confident that at some future date there will be another Biebs song that follows the same formula as this one does so we can talk about him then.

Voodoo by Future ft. Kodak Black (BillBoard)

***Cool, jazzy Hip Hop that makes me feel like donning a tuxedo, undoing the bow tie and letting it dangle, all the while walking around with a martini in my hand. Even if Hip Hop isn’t your thing, this song has a sleek, smooth sound to it and is worth a listen.

That brings us to today’s featured artist…Abel Makkonen Tesfaye or, as he is more commonly known…The Weeknd! Tesfaye was born in Toronto and was raised by his Mom. His father has not been part of his life, so as a result, Tesfaye grew up in a home provided by his mother who worked very hard in order to feed, clothe and house him as a child. Consequently, while his mother went to work, Tesfaye often found himself alone. However, for him, being alone meant that he was free to indulge the creative side of his personality. So, as a teenager, Tesfaye began writing his own songs and creating short videos of himself that he would upload to YouTube. He threw himself into his songwriting to such an extent that going to high school seemed unnecessary, and so he dropped out in the eleventh grade. At this point in time, Tesfaye came to the proverbial “fork in the road” in terms of how his life was going to play out. After leaving school, he moved out of his family home and into an apartment that he shared with some friends. After a spasm of drug use and hedonistic partying, along with a series of dead-end, minimum wage service jobs, the still-young Tesfaye took stock of his life and decided that he needed to channel his energies in a different manner if he was going to end up realizing the dreams he had for himself and for his mother.

So, Tesfaye did something that a lot of teens wouldn’t have had the skill set to do…he started his own record label. He named it XO Records. He signed himself up as his own first client and released a series of mixtapes out into the Toronto Hip Hop community. In 2009, he released his first mixtape of original music called House of Balloons. That tape made its way into the hands of the titan of Toronto’s music scene at the time, Drake. Drake gave the mixtape his seal of approval by mentioning it on a blog post that he wrote. From there, Drake’s legions of fans began clamouring for House of Balloons, which encouraged Tesfaye to release two more mixtapes of original work called Thursday and Echoes of Silence. With a growing catalogue of material to work from, Tesfaye was invited to open for Drake at Drake’s OVO Music Festival in Toronto. While Tesfaye’s dreams of stardom were starting to come true, he was somewhat hesitant to fully embrace his growing fame, because his personal privacy was important to him. Consequently, Tesfaye made the bold decision to not perform under his own name but, instead, to adopt a pseudonym. He chose the name The Weeknd because he wanted his new name to be one that most people associated with happy times. The reason he spelled it the way that he did was so that it would have an artsy, mysterious air about it, but also, because there was already a rock band in the US called The Weekend and Tesfaye wanted to avoid any legal hassles that copying their name would surely bring in the future.

As The Weeknd, Tesfaye has spent the last decade becoming one of the hardest working, most prolific and successful music entertainers in the entire world. In that time, he has sold over 75 million albums (which instantly puts him in the company of the all-time greats in music history!),he has won multiple Grammy Awards, and his records have achieved Platinum status 45 times over!!! He has collaborated with the biggest stars in the music industry: everyone from Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Drake, Post Malone and many more have shared his stage. He has had many #1 hits including songs such as Earned It (which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song of the Year from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack), I Can’t Feel My Face, Blinding Lights (which stayed in the BIllboard Top Ten for an entire calendar year), The Hills, Starboy, Heartless, Save Your Tears and today’s song, Take My Breath. The Weeknd has been the musical guest on Saturday Night LIve three separate times and was the sole musical guest at the Superbowl Halftime Show two years ago.

The future seems limitless for Tesfaye. His unique falsetto singing style has allowed him to carve out a very distinct place for himself in the music world. His voice is most often compared to that of Michael Jackson, but perhaps a fairer comparison would be that of the Gibb Brothers (who sang as the BeeGees). Whatever the case, Tesfaye seems equally comfortable singing in multiple genres such as Pop, Dance, Soul/R & B or Hip Hop. His latest song, Take My Breath, has been compared to that Disco classic, I Feel Love, by Donna Summer because of the energy that is produced by the pulsating beat of synthesizers. Whatever the song, whatever the musical genre, whether singing solo or as part of a musical collaboration, The Weeknd can seemingly do no wrong. He is riding a wave of success that is as impressive and consistent as any ever enjoyed by the all-time great artists in the history of music. The amazing thing is that Tesfaye is still relatively young. When all is said and done, 2022 may turn out to not even be the midway point of his career. If he keeps going at the rate he is at present, Tesfaye stands a chance at becoming one of the very biggest selling artists of all time. As if foreshadowing this, Tesfaye…who used to share a Toronto apartment with three friends and struggled to pay his share of the rent…recently bought a home in the Hollywood Hills for $18,000,000. After living there for a year, he sold his mansion to…Madonna(!)…for almost $20,000,000. If Tesfaye starts selling homes to Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and/or Priscilla Presley, then we will know that he has a checklist in his head and is reeling in the greats, one Top Five best-selling mega star at a time.

For now, here is The Weeknd with one of his current hits, Take My Breath, which was occupying Position #39 on this past week’s Top 40 CHUM Chart in Toronto. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song Take My Breath by The Weeknd can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Weeknd can be found here.

Header Photo courtesy of Daniel Jackson, GQ Magazine.

***Just a reminder that all original content on this blog post is the sole property of the author. This content cannot be re-blogged, copied nor shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 TomMacInnesWriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs from Broadway Musicals and Hollywood Movies…

Footloose was a movie that debuted in 1984. It starred Kevin Bacon as a young teenage boy from Chicago who ends up moving to a small midwest town. Once there, he learns that his big city upbringing doesn’t translate well to this small community that functions under the authority of a local pastor played by John Lithgow. As many of you know by now, the movie’s plot line comes to a head when Bacon convinces some of his new high school friends that dancing is fun and that they have the right to hold a Prom, just like any other high school in America. Lithgow, who preaches that dancing to rock n’ roll music is akin to worshiping the Devil, unleashes his fury upon Bacon and attempts to paint him as an evil outsider coming to turn their peaceful town upside down. Eventually, Lithgow’s own daughter chooses to side with Bacon and Lithgow is forced to choose between his love for her or his rigid ideology. In the end, there is music and dance and a grudging respect shown between Bacon and Lithgow. The end.

Sometimes a movie is merely an entertaining tale told on screen. But, sometimes a movie is more than that. That Footloose was released in 1984 was no fluke. In fact, it was part of a carefully-crafted business plan developed by a man named Dean Pitchford, who had earned a lot of Hollywood credibility from writing the music and script for the film, Fame, a few years earlier. The early 1980s saw the rise of video music channel MTV, and the proliferation of a promotional tool known as music videos. In order to capitalize on that emerging trend, Pitchford wrote a nine-song soundtrack and pitched that soundtrack as a movie idea. Pitchford’s idea was to create a story that was told through nine very different, stand-alone songs. He said that he wasn’t writing a musical in the truest sense of the word but, instead, he was writing a film whose story was being told through music. The soundtrack that eventually ended up forming the backbone of the film, Footloose, spawned numerous #1 hit songs such as the title track (sung by Kenny Loggins), Let’s Hear It For The Boy (sung by Denice Williams), Holding Out For a Hero (by Bonnie Tyler), Almost Paradise (by Ann Wilson, from Heart and Mike Reno from Loverboy) and several others, as well. The soundtrack album went to #1, knocking Michael Jackson’s Thriller from the top spot on the charts. Furthermore, the songs were written and recorded before any filming took place which was advantageous for the actors because it meant that they were dancing on screen to the actual songs from the soundtrack, as opposed to dancing to pre-designed choreography and then having the music adapted to the film later in post-production.

The song, Footloose, was written by Pitchford, along with help from Kenny Loggins. The story behind their collaboration was that “Hollywood” would not approve the budget to begin filming the movie until Pitchford had acquired the services of Loggins to sing the title track. A meeting was scheduled between them and all looked good until news came out that Kenny Loggins had fallen off of a stage during a concert and broken his ribs. Because of the timing of the injury…with Hollywood executives breathing down his neck and a world tour in the offing for Loggins, Pitchford asked Loggins if they could meet on the weekend that Loggins was scheduled to get married. Loggins agreed. However, when that weekend came, Pitchford developed strep throat and required medication in order to protect Loggins’ throat from becoming infected on the eve of a world tour. Loggins, on his end, was taking painkillers for his injured ribs and could not play sitting down. Somehow, the pair managed to flesh out the chorus and main ideas for each verse and Loggins was able to record a sample-type version on a tape recorder in Pitchford’s hotel room. That cassette tape contained enough proof of Loggins’ commitment to the project that the movie budget was approved and the project was given the go-ahead. This collaboration proved so successful that Pitchford and Loggins teamed up again a couple of years later for the song Danger Zone, from the soundtrack of a little film called Top Gun. This was another movie in which the soundtrack came first and formed the core of the movie pitch, before a single word of the script was written.

At the time of its release, Footloose was given only mixed reviews as far as the quality of the movie, itself, went. But, one of the most enduring elements of the film was its exploration of the old saying that “all politics are local”. Released in an era that saw the commercial potential of music videos exploding across the nation, Footloose explored the idea that there are more parts to the country than people may realize that are isolated and insulated from national trends. In these small communities, there can be individuals with powerful personalities who gain prominence by being elected as Mayor or Sheriff or as head of the local School Board or Church and, as such they come to wield an inordinate amount of influence over the lives of the citizens of that community. Such happenings are not just the work of Hollywood screenwriters. One has only to look to the most recent history of the US to see how the local politics of School Boards, Library Boards and so on, are where much of the momentum for book banning and the fight against sexual ideology are coming from. In an effort to reorient an entire nation, battles are being fought from the public squares and town halls of local communities…all occupied by zealots who believe in the purity of their cause and are willing to browbeat anyone who dares to think differently. When you think about it that way, that is the exact plot of Footloose in a nutshell. Kevin Bacon was vilified as an outsider who was trying to foist progressive views upon the citizens of a small town. The powers that be in that town fought back against him so as to preserve their traditional way of life. In the end, Bacon’s progressive views held the day but, will that be the case across America in real time today? The attack on so-called progressive values such as racial equality, social justice, freedom of sexual orientation, women’s reproductive rights, issues of gender and so on are all under threat in the US as you read this post. These are troubled times for many in America and I am not sure if dancing will be enough to save them and the causes that progressives champion. To paraphrase the Footloose soundtrack, many are holding out for a hero. But, who will that hero end up being?

The link to the video for the song, Footloose, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Footloose can be found here.

The link to the video for the movie trailer to the film Footloose can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022, TomMacInnesWriter.com

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Canadian Songs About Canadian Places…Song #2/250: Cherry Beach Express by The Pukka Orchestra

In 1982, I moved away from my childhood home in a town of approximately 20,000 people, to a city of over 2 million. There were many aspects to living in a city like Toronto that took some getting used to, but one of the biggest for me was the sheer volume of people everywhere you went. There was no getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life…the noise of a thousand conversations, the heat from too many bodies in too small a space, the smells from food vendors and garbage bags and heat grates in the sidewalk.…Life was on a so much bigger scale in Toronto. But one of the most surprising things about being surrounded by so much “noise” all of the time was the anonymity that such an environment presents. I may have never been alone, but at the same time I was rarely seen. Because there is so much going on, even when all you are doing is something simple such as walking down the street, most people in bigger cities develop defense mechanisms that involve tuning out the external stimulation that is all around them. A form of social blindness envelops you as you race from here to there. Consequently, it is easy to move about unseen and unnoticed…just as easy as it is to not see or notice what is going on around you, too.

While I was attending university in 1984, a controversy arose in the local political arena regarding the nature of policing in Toronto. The concerns being expressed revolved around accusations of police brutality, and more specifically, that the Toronto Police had an unwritten policy of racially profiling certain socio-demographic groups which resulted in a spike in the number of arrests for members of those groups. Needless to say, the Toronto Police Dept. vigorously denied that any such practices went on. The debate ended up breaking down along political lines with left-leaning factions demanding a complete overhaul of the Police Department and right-leaning groups demanding even bigger budgets and more manpower for the Police. In the midst of all of this back-and-forth, a song began receiving airplay in Toronto, especially from Alternative radio station, CFNY. It was a song from a local band named The Pukka Orchestra called The Cherry Beach Express. Being relatively new to Toronto, I didn’t know where Cherry Beach was or what the song was referring to. However, the Toronto Police Department certainly knew what the song was referring to, and immediately set about getting it banned from the local airwaves. The reason for this was because The Cherry Beach Express was, in reality, much more than just a fictional song about a fictional place that existed in some songwriter’s mind. This song was, in fact, revealing one of Toronto’s dirty little secrets…that not only did police brutality exist, and not only did the police target certain minority groups more than others, but they had been doing it out in the open for years…at a place called Cherry Beach, on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The Pukka Orchestra consisted of three men named Graeme Williamson, Neil Chapman and Tony Duggan-Smith. The Cherry Beach Express, along with their cover of Listen To The Radio, were the band’s biggest hits. The word pukka is a Hindi word that means genuine or authentic. When Williamson thought of forming a band, his father told him to form a pukka orchestra or to not bother wasting his time at all. Williamson liked that phrase from his dad and used it to name his band. In the early 1980s in Toronto, music as politics was a very real thing. Between radio station CFNY and upstart television station, CITY-TV, there was a great push to promote local talent, especially if the artist or band had something political to say. As a result, singers such as Carole Pope (from the band Rough Trade) became figureheads of a musical movement within the city to shine a light on the underbelly of “Toronto the Good”, as it was often referred to. CFNY even started up their own music awards show called the U Knows, which later became known as the CASBY Awards (Canadian Artists Selected By You). This awards show was in direct contrast to what was viewed as the corporate nature of the national awards show in Canada known as the Juno Awards. In any event, The Pukka Orchestra were voted as Group of the Year at the CASBY Awards in 1984, which was the entertainment scene’s way of publicly endorsing their exposure of Toronto Police tactics in their song, The Cherry Beach Express.

The song describes the practice which saw the Toronto Police pick up suspects and take them on a drive to the lake shore…to Cherry Beach…where “interrogations” would take place. In many instances, confessions would be extracted through physical beatings, sexual favours would be extorted from those women accused of prostitution and so on. Cherry Beach is located in an industrial area of Toronto just south of where the Gardiner Expressway turns into the Don Valley Parkway. As beaches go, it is actually not a bad spot to bring your family on a warm summer day. But at night, Cherry Beach was not the safest place in the city, especially if you were a racial minority who found yourself riding on the Cherry Beach Express in the back of a Toronto Police cruiser. As the popularity of The Pukka Orchestra’s song grew, stories began to emerge from other places in Canada where the local police were being accused of brutality. One of the most notorious of these stories was the infamous Starlight Tours from Saskatchewan. In these cases, police would drive intoxicated Indigenous men and women to the edge of town in the dead of winter and throw them out of the car and into the snow, forcing them to find their way home in sub-zero conditions. Many Indigenous people froze to death as a result of being forced to walk many kilometers without shoes or proper coats, all the while under the starry prairie sky.

The story of what was happening at Cherry Beach…in the very city I was living in…was an eye-opening experience for me. At that time, I had been in the city for two years and was beginning to think that walking through life with my head down, never making eye contact, keeping my mouth shut at all times in public, was merely how one lived in a metropolitan setting. But songs like The Cherry Beach Express by The Pukka Orchestra caused me to re-evaluate how I was living my life. I won’t say that this one song led directly to me becoming a teacher, but it was a factor in my wanting to be someone who actively made things better for others. Those initial feelings of wanting to make a difference in the lives of others were built on a foundation of moments of personal and political awakening from songs such as The Cherry Beach Express by The Pukka Orchestra, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, by U2, Biko, by Peter Gabriel and even, YMCA by The Village People. The desire for social justice and a more equal and fair society causes some people to go into politics. For me, it provided an impetus to become a teacher. Whatever the case, the biggest lesson of all is to not walk through life with your head down because there is so much out there to see.

Without further delay, here is The Cherry Beach Express by Toronto’s own Pukka Orchestra. Enjoy…and learn.

The link to the video for the song The Cherry Beach Express by The Pukka Orchestra can be found here.

The link to an article containing more information about The Pukka Orchestra can be found here.

The link to the video recorded on Cherry Beach by the comedy group Kids in the Hall can be found here. ***The video opens with two KITH members dressed as police officers. While no mention is made of the scandal that was ongoing at the time, the mere fact that this segment aired was a big political statement by the group.

The link to the video of the song Wild Things by Alessia Cara can be found here. ***Parts of this music video were shot at Cherry Beach, including all beach/waterfront scenes and all scenes that look as though they are in a factory setting. This will give you a good idea of how Toronto Police were able to “hide in plain sight” and do what they did without being seen.

Finally, the link to a story about Saskatchewan’s Starlight Tours, as written about in Maclean’s Magazine can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022, TomMacInnesWriter.com

Keepin’ It Classy: The Stories Behind the World’s Great Classical Compositions…Song #2/50: Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 by Samuel Barber

Today’s composition is one of the most famous American classical compositions of all-time: Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings, Opus 11. We know that the word Opus means that this was Barber’s eleventh published composition, but today we are also going to discuss the meaning of the word Adagio. Adagio is a musical term that instructs orchestras on which tempo (or speed) to use when playing the song. Specifically, Adagio means to play slowly. If you look at the sheet music above, you will note the term, Molto adagio at the top, left hand corner. This means Very Slowly. So, even before looking at what notes to play, an orchestra member would note the instruction given by the composer regarding the tempo they had in mind and formulate an appropriate playing style in their minds before ever beginning to play. The term Allegro is the counter-balance to Adagio, as it means to play quickly, with energy and joy. Consequently, before we start to discuss the nature of this famous composition, you can tell from its title that Adagio for Strings, Opus 11 was Samuel Barber’s eleventh composition, that it was written for stringed instruments and that it will be a piece of music that is played slowly because of the use of the term, Adagio.

Samuel Barber was one of America’s most famous and prolific composers from his early days during the Great Depression, all the way to his death in the early 1980s. He was born into a musical family. His mother was a concert pianist and his aunt was an opera singer. Barber showed prodigy-like talent from an early age and was writing his own sonatas before the age of ten. Such was Barber’s talent that he was enrolled in a special school for musically gifted children called The Curtis School in Philadelphia. While just entering his teens, Barber graduated with a triple-major in Voice, Piano and String music. While still a young man in his early twenties, Barber began writing operas. While doing so, he fell in love with a tenor named Gian Carlo Menotti and began a love affair that spanned over a half century. In addition to being a gifted composer, Barber was just as well known for being an educator and has been often cited by modern American composers as a role model and mentor for those lucky enough to have worked under his guidance. Samuel Barber won the Pulitzer Prize for Music twice, but his best known work is Adagio For Strings, Opus 11.

Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 was written for a string quartet in 1939. America was just regaining its moxy after having suffered through The Great Depression. However, the mood in the U.S.and around the world was somber, as World War II was just about to start in Europe. Barber’s composition is certainly one that captured the forlorn nature of the times. Adagio for Strings, Opus 11 has been voted as being the saddest song in the world. It possesses beauty and elegance, but does so in a way that often elicits an emotional response from listeners in the form of sadness. Not surprisingly, Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 has become one of the most requested funeral songs and has been played at the funerals of prominent people such as Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Albert Einstein. It was also played in England to close out the famous BBC Proms series of concerts just after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City. Adagio for Strings, Opus 11 was first played on NBC Radio during a performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as conducted by famed conductor, Arturo Toscanini. It was also the very first musical composition played when the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts first opened in the 1960s. This musical composition has been used to create a reflective, emotional mood in movies, too. Most famously, Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 was played while Willem Dafoe’s character was killed in the Vietnam war movie, Platoon. *(I will include that scene in the links below).

It is easy to label Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 as “sad music” and then leave it at that. But, to do so is to miss the genius of this composition. A funny and unexpected thing has happened to Adagio for Strings, Opus 11 as our calendars flipped from 1999 to the 2000s. One of the greatest trends in modern music in the past twenty years has been the coming together of classical music and electronic dance music. Orchestras the world over are now giving concerts that take the best of the classical music genre and combine it with the latest EDM technology and, as such, new life is being breathed into centuries old music which, in turn, is causing the original pieces to be re-interpreted. In 2004, a Dutch DJ named Tiesto took Barber’s “sad song” and pumped it up with techno beats and in doing so, helped to create a song that now fills listeners with euphoria. Even though Tiesto’s version of Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 is populated with synthesized thumping beats, the inner strength of Barber’s score is immediately recognizable. But, more importantly, what Tiesto managed to accomplish was to show the world that Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 is not an inherently sad song…it is an inherently emotional song, and that this emotion can be used for happiness and optimism, just as easily as it had been known for sadness and feelings of loss in the past.

So, in the videos below, I will show you a performance of this composition by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. I will add a second video that shows how Barber’s version of Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 was used in the movie, Platoon. Finally, we will change the feel of this music completely while viewing the joyfulness of Tiesto’s version as played at the mecca of electronic dance music festivals, Tomorrowland.

So, without further delay, here is Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 by Samuel Barber. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the composition Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 by Samuel Barber can be found here.

The link to the video for the composition Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 as seen in the movie Platoon can be found here.

The link to the video for the composition Adagio For Strings, Opus 11 as performed by DJ Tiesto can be found here.

***The content of this blog post is the sole property of the author. This post may not be re-posted, re-blogged, copied or reproduced in any format without the express written consent of the author, TomMacInnesWriter. ©2022.

Reader’s Choice: the Stories Behind Your Favourite Songs…Song #1/250: Cruel To Be Kind by Nick Lowe.

In this series, I will be telling the stories behind some of your favourite songs. Today’s song comes to us from my pal, Linda Spoelstra. She nominated Nick Lowe’s Cruel To Be Kind.

In the annals of modern music, Nick Lowe is exactly the type of under-the-radar yet very influential and interesting character who is deserving of a spotlight such as this. He is best known for singing today’s song, Cruel To Be Kind, which was his biggest selling single and a Top Ten chart topper in many countries around the world in 1979. But nothing is ever straightforward with Nick Lowe. This one song was just one aspect of a career that is just as noteworthy for being a songwriter for others, for producing some of the most innovative music of its day and for his own personal life and the many family connections he has with some of the biggest names in the history of modern music. So, pull up a chair and make yourself at home because today we meet one of Rock’s most interesting figures…Mr. Nick Lowe. Here we go!

In his younger days, Nick Lowe met a boy named Brinsley Schwarz. Together with some other friends, they formed a pop-rock band in the 1970s named Brinsley Schwarz. This band signed with a record company called Famepusher Records. Famepusher Records decided to help launch the band by concocting a publicity scheme on their behalf. The band was signed to open for Van Morrison in New York City. There was much publicity given to the band prior to their trip to America. In addition, the record label agreed to pay for UK music reporters to attend the concert in return for full and prominent reviews of the show. However, the band members ran into visa problems and were diverted to Canada. From there, they were secretly flown into the US in a small cargo plane. They arrived in New York City without their instruments (which were held up at US Customs). When it came time for the show, they had to borrow second hand equipment. The reporters who showed up were given access to an open bar and were thoroughly soused by the time Brinsley Schwarz took the stage. In the end, the concert was a bust, the reviews were vicious and Brinsley Schwarz were finished as a band almost before they ever began.

However, as part of the process of putting together their first album, Nick Lowe wrote a song for the band called Cruel To Be Kind. The song never made it on to a Brinsley Schwarz album so Lowe filed it away and forgot about it. To him, the song was not really the type of music he was into. It was too neat and tidy and pop oriented to suit his personal taste which was why he wrote it for his band, instead. It had been Lowe’s hope that a radio-friendly song such as Cruel To Be Kind would open the door for Brinsley Schwarz to the US and UK radio market. So, when the band dissolved, Lowe was left holding on to a song that he felt was not representative of who he was as a musician. As sometimes happens, a different record executive heard a recording that Lowe had done on his own and saw potential for the song to be a hit. He convinced Nick Lowe to release it in return for signing him as a solo artist. And, just like that, Nick Lowe the singer was born.

But, the story of Cruel To Be Kind doesn’t end there. As much as Nick Lowe may not have really liked the song himself, it entered into the fabric of his life in a very unique and personal way. Around this time, Lowe was dating a lady named Carlene Cash. She was the daughter of June Carter Cash of the famous American music family, The Carter Family Singers. Carlene Cash’s biological father was June Carter’s first husband, Carl Smith. However, after June Carter married Johnny Cash, he adopted Carlene as his own daughter and became her step-father. So, when Nick Lowe hung out with his in-laws, he was hanging out with Johnny and June Carter Cash. As a result, Lowe got the chance to record with both singers as the 1980s progressed. But, the real connection he has here with Cruel To Be Kind is that he shot the music video for this song on their wedding day. So, when you get a chance to watch this video, you will see the wedding of Nick Lowe and Carlene Cash unfold in all its glory before your very eyes.

But, if you were to ask Nick Lowe about music and about his proudest accomplishments, he would reply in terms of his producing and his songwriting. The influence of his singing career is dwarfed by the giant shadow cast by his work on behalf of others. First of all, let’s talk about songwriting. In the late 1970s, Nick Lowe became involved in a new record company called Stiff Records *(You can read an earlier post about Stiff Records here). At the time, Stiff Records was on the leading edge of a music trend that dealt with Punk, New Wave and Ska music. As such, artists and bands such as Elvis Costello and the Attractions, The Pretenders, The Pogues, The Damned and others like them, all found a home under the Stiff Records umbrella. In this environment, Lowe wrote many hit songs for others such as What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding for Elvis Costello, as well as, Stop Your Sobbing for Chrissy Hynde and The Pretenders. He also wrote I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock n’ Roll) with partner, Dave Edmunds, as part of a band they started together called Rockpile.

But, while Nick Lowe was singing and writing, he was working just as diligently behind the scenes on behalf of other Stiff Record label bands as a producer. He was behind the console for songs such as New Rose by The Damned…which many people consider to be the UK’s first true Punk song. Lowe produced all of Elvis Costello’s early albums, as well as some of Johnny Cash’s work during the 1980s, along with The Pretenders, Paul Carrack, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and one of my favourite bands, The Men They Couldn’t Hang…who are name-checked by The Tragically Hip in their hit song, Bobcaygeon. When it comes right down to it, Nick Lowe’s fingerprints are all over much of the music that came out of the UK in the late 1970s/early 1980s that formed the foundation of Punk and New Wave. Lowe’s work is considered to be essential and foundational when viewing all of the music that has evolved out of those times such as Grunge in the 1990s, Post Punk Revival in the early 2000s and much of the Trip Hop and Electronica that has been growing steadily in influence in the past decade or so.

However, if you were to ask most casual music lovers about Nick Lowe, they would start with a song called Cruel To Be Kind. So, why don’t we do the same and play the song for you all. Here is Nick Lowe’s biggest hit, Cruel To Be Kind. Enjoy.

PS: The Reader’s Choice series lives and breathes as a result of the music you request. So, please feel free to send me your requests in the comment box below and I will happily help share your favourite songs with the world via this blog series. Thanks.

The link to the video for the song Cruel To Be Kind by Nick Lowe can be found here.

The link to the official website for Nick Lowe can be found here.

The link to the official website for Stiff Records can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022, TomMacInnesWriter.com

Today’s Top 40: A look at the Stories Behind the Chart-Topping Hits of Today…Song 1/250: We Don’t Talk About Bruno from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, Encanto

Editor’s Note: Each week, I intend to write about one of the songs that is making news on the charts today. In order to do this, I shall be calling upon the following Top-40 Charts: Billboard.com, Spotify.com, KEXP.org and Toronto’s own, CHUM-FM. From each of those charts, I will pick a certain chart position number and look at the song from each list that occupies that space. From there, I will determine one song to write about.

Today’s Chart Position Number: #40

Today’s Chosen Song: We Don’t Talk About Bruno from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, Encanto (Billboard).

The other #40 chart songs that were under consideration:

The song We Don’t Talk About Bruno is from the Academy Award-winning animated movie, Encanto. It was written by one of the most influential songwriters of this generation, Lin Manuel Miranda. Miranda, as you may remember, was the man responsible for the huge Broadway hit, Hamilton. He has also enjoyed great success writing the music for other animated movies such as Moana. His ability to write catchy melodies is unparalleled at the moment, causing We Don’t Talk About Bruno to be celebrated and reviled in equal measure as this song quickly became the ubiquitous hit of this past year in music. We Don’t Talk About Bruno was seemingly everywhere, in the same manner that Let It Go from Frozen was a few years ago. It is a song whose energy and creativity are unquestioned. So, let’s take a closer look at how this song came to be, why it was such an integral part of the storytelling of Encanto, and why it wasn’t even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. But first, in order to fully understand the brilliance of We Don’t Talk About Bruno, we must first take a look at the movie itself.

Encanto is an animated movie that was made by Disney. It won the award for Best Animated Feature Film at this past year’s Academy Awards. That win wasn’t by fluke. Encanto is actually a very good movie on many levels, as you shall soon see. As with almost any endeavour that earns critical praise, one of Encanto’s biggest strengths was in the attention to detail observed by those who made this movie. The most important thing to know is that Encanto is set in the country of Colombia. In keeping with South American literary traditions, Encanto was written using a literary style known as Magical Realism. This style of storytelling was the trademark of famous South American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez (who wrote many books, the most famous being One Hundred Years of Solitude). A simple explanation of Magical Realism is that it is storytelling that is rooted in realistic settings and characters but that also has magical elements interwoven throughout the plot. In Encanto, the main story arc revolves around a multi-generational family known as the Madrigals. The back story involves a dangerous escape from soldiers during Colombia’s Thousand Days War. In this chapter of the Madrigal family history, the father is killed protecting his wife and children from the advancing soldiers, but the rest of the family escapes because of the magic of a candle. As it turns out, as long as this candle continues to burn, the Madrigal family functions under its magical protection. Included in this magical protection is the granting of one gift bestowed upon each subsequent child when they reach the age of five. As is often the case in stories such as this, these gifts become blessings, as well as curses. The family end up building a spacious home and dedicate themselves to serving the needs of those who live near them in the village (or Encanto). All is well until the day one of the grandchildren fails to receive her gift. This girl, named Mirabel, refuses to believe that her lack of a gift is merely something she has to live with. Determined to have her questions answered, Mirabel dons the role of an investigative reporter. Through her questions, we get to learn of the stress each member of the family labours under. We also get a sense of how grief can be transferred intergenerationally, and why that makes some family problems so difficult to ever fully resolve. Finally, Mirabel doggedly investigates what the big mystery is with her Uncle Bruno, and why he is so completely shunned by every member of the family. Her detective work uncovers a family shame that almost causes the magical protection of the candle to be eradicated. But, as to be expected with a Disney movie, MIrabel’s great sense of determination is also the source of redemption for her, for Bruno, and for the entire Madrigal Family.

Encanto was the first Disney movie to feature an all Latin cast. The costumes worn by the characters were all in keeping with those worn by Colombians in the time following the Thousand Days War. The vegetation shown throughout the movie was accurate for the region and even included yellow butterflies (which was a tip of the hat to the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez). In the movie, the village seems like it is part of its own special, protected realm. It occupies a geographic space that separates it from any other town or city. This gives the encanto more of a communal feel. However, this is just one more example of how the makers of Encanto paid attention to detail, because in the Andes region of Colombia, there are many such villages that each exist in their own separate area, and as such, they often develop their own unique customs, dialects and so on. But, most of all, what the producers of Encanto got right was the role of music in Colombian culture. Far too often in the past, white filmmakers have imposed their own cultural biases on Indigenous cultures when making films about them. But, in the case of Encanto, the filmmakers actually visited Colombian villages; they employed Colombian experts on food, fashion, horticulture, family dynamics and so on. For the role of music in Colombian culture, they turned to Lin Manuel Miranda.

MIranda is the modern day master of ensemble storytelling. Because singing is a valid form of storytelling, Lin Manuel Miranda was able to create songs, all throughout the movie, that involved the points of view of multiple characters at the same time. In the case of We Don’t Talk About Bruno, Miranda allows almost a dozen different people (from family members to villagers) to offer their commentary as to why Bruno is scary and needs to be forgotten. The reason why they feel this way is that Bruno’s gift bestowed upon him by the magical candle was the gift of predicting the future. This is a gift that is all well and good when those predictions were positive…such as someone will find love or inherit a vast fortune. But, when those predictions began to mirror real life and included topics such as betrayal, loneliness, heartbreak, and even death…well, people began to fear Bruno and avoid him. Eventually, the energy required to avoid their fears became too much to maintain, and as a result, Bruno was banished as a means of easing the emotional toll others were feeling. That Bruno never meant any harm is what lay at the very crux of Encanto’s plot. The cruelty of the family’s treatment of one of their own is what causes the magical protection of the candle to wane. This threatens the very existence of the family and of the encanto they support. Superficially, we watch such a movie and understand that a resolution must come with empathy and understanding. However, in the real world in which we all live, Encanto has been lauded by advocates for mental wellbeing for showing the reality of how many in society react to those they view as being frightening or different. Those same experts also praise the producers of the movie for showing how compassion and patience can work miracles for many people who feel excluded and judged unfairly. In the end, the movie’s storyline wraps up with the idea of compassionate family love being the cure for what ails us all.

The song We Don’t Talk About Bruno went on to become a #1 hit in many countries around the world. It was an obvious choice to be submitted for consideration for the Best Song award at the Academy Awards. However, when the producers of Encanto reviewed all songs from the soundtrack, they felt that there was another song that packed more of an emotional punch. That song was entitled Dos Oruguitas. It did not win. But, in a twist of fate, We Don’t Talk About Bruno did get to be performed on stage during the award ceremonies. Award or no award, We Don’t Talk About Bruno is the song that people will always associate with the movie, Encanto, first. It is a song that describes cruelty in a way that makes your toes tap and your heart sing. But in the end, it is a song that provides the key to helping Mirabel solve the mystery of why her family’s magic appears to be ending, and from there, what steps she needs to take in order to help make things right for all involved.

So, without further delay, here is one of the world’s most popular and recognizable songs of this past year…We Don’t Talk About Bruno by Lin Manuel Miranda, from the Academy Award-winning animated movie Encanto. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song We Don’t Talk About Bruno can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie Encanto can be found here.

The link to the official website for Billboard.com can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022, TomMacInnesWriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen: the Stories of the Greatest Songs from Musicals and Movies…Song #1/250: Do You Hear The People Sing? from Les Miserables.

The story of Les Miserables stands as one of the most important and popular ever told. Whether we are talking about the novel by Victor Hugo, the musical created in the early 1980s by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boubill and Jean-Marc Natel or the various film adaptations….the most recent being the Academy Award-winning film starring a whos-who of modern movie greats such as Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham-Carter, Amanda Seyfried and Sacha Baron Cohen….Les Miserables has stood the test of time and is generally regarded as one of the best stories about the human condition and the power of faith and courage.

The original book is a work of historical fiction. It takes place in France in the two decades that preceded the June Rebellion in Paris that took place in 1832. Commenting on his book, author Victor Hugo took great pains to state that the issues addressed in Les Miserables were not unique to France nor were they unique to the characters he created and the real-life people many were based upon. To Hugo, the issue of how our individual moral compass directs us in times of great stress and hopelessness is universal in nature and, as such, his book could just as easily have been set during the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution or at any number of times throughout the course of British history.

If you have never read the book nor seen the musical or film, the short strokes of the story concern a man named Valjean. He was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread and has now been released. But, he bears the mark of being an ex-convict and has limited future prospects, as a result. Throughout the story, he is hounded by a police officer named Javert. While there are many, many other things that happen in Les Miserables, the redemptive nature of how Valjean and Javert evolve over the course of the story is one of the most important reasons this story resonates so strongly on an emotional level. Intertwined with Valjean’s story arc, there are plotlines involving child labour, the role of women in society, the importance of family and of the bonds of Love that exist between family members, class distinctions and the politics of maintaining them and, of course, there is the growing organizational desire among the oppressed to overthrow the government and seek a fairer, more just way of living for all.

In the musical version of this story, there are several show-stopping songs. For example, there is I Dreamed a Dream, as sung by Fantine as she struggles to deal with the realities of her responsibilities to her child, Cossette, and the bleak future prospects they both have. Then we have the always entertaining, Master of the House, which showcases the complete lack of principles held by the Thenardiers, who own an inn and proceed to steal as much as they can from all who enter through their doors. The powerful song, One More Day, which ends Act #1, is sung from the individual points of view of many of the main characters as they stand at the eve of the rebellion. But, of all of the songs that helped to make Les Miserables such an enduring hit, none have had the global impact of the song, Do You Hear the People Sing?

Do You Hear The People Sing? is a song that is sung by those preparing to give their all for a cause they believe in. In the musical, those characters preparing to screw their courage and engage in an actual attempt to overthrow their government sang this song as they built their barricades and began to man them. There is a long tradition in warfare of hymns being sung prior to battle as a means of channeling nervous energy, as well as galvanizing the resolve of those prepared to give their lives for the cause they believe in. Do You Hear The People Sing? is a song of unity and common purpose and of Hope. It is sung in situations where the odds of victory are slim but the desire for freedom trumps the fear of defeat. All over the world there have been examples of this song being sung by real people fighting for freedom from tyranny and oppression. In fact, in the video links below, I will share with you two recent examples: one of which is by the people of Hong Kong, who sang the song as they sought to resist the threat to their autonomy posed by the Chinese government. The second example is a current one in which Ukrainian President Zelensky asked people around the world to use their voices to raise opposition to Russia’s war on his country. In response, many Broadway actors and local citizens gathered in New York to sing Do You Hear The People Sing? in order to let the Ukrainian people know that they weren’t alone in their time of struggle.

The history of human civilization is built on a fairly consistent cycle of oppression, rebellion, hopefulness and then, back into oppression again. The idea that justice and equality and freedom were worth believing in and fighting for is what inspired Victor Hugo to write his grand novel in the first place. I will close by quoting him as he speaks about the importance of Les Miserables in society and as a work of Art:

So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human frailty; so long as the three problems of the age – the degradation of Man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night- are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.” Victor Hugo.

Les Miserables is an extraordinary book but, for my money, it is even a better musical. To see Les Miz performed on stage by passionate actors who can really sing is one of the best theatrical experiences one can have. The story will rouse your emotions in a way that few plays do. So, without further delay, here is one of the most inspirational songs of all-time, Do You Hear The People Sing? from Les MIserables. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, Do You Hear The People Sing? can be found here.

The link to the official website for Les Miserables, the musical can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie adaptation of Les Miserables can be found here.

The link to the video of citizens of Hong Kong singing Do You Hear the People Sing? can be found here.

The link to the video of Broadway actors singing Do You Hear the People Sing? for the citizens of Ukraine can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022, TomMacInnesWriter.com

The Great Canadian Road Trip: The Stories Behind Canadian Songs That Mention Canadian Places…Song #1/250: The Night Pat Murphy Died by Great Big Sea.

This past Saturday, I participated in my very first Jane’s Walk. This walk was held to honour the memory of a lady named Jane Jacobs. During her life, Jane Jacobs was one of the pre-eminent experts of urban planning and, in particular, ensuring that communities were made livable for the citizens who lived there. Jane Jacobs was a champion of the idea that neighbourhoods needed to be vibrant, open spaces where people could move freely and safely. Such spaces, Jacobs argued, gave people a sense of community and personal identity within a collective framework. So, this past Saturday, my family and I, along with about one hundred other citizens of my town, went for two walks. We learned the history of those particular areas, along with making commitments to help preserve the unique heritage found there so that future generations could also come to share that same space in a knowing and thoughtful way.

The idea of community has always been an important part of my life. I was born and raised in Nova Scotia during a time when many people left their doors unlocked at night. At my home, our door was always open and our teapot was always filled with water and at the ready should there come a knock upon our door. And there were always knocks upon our door. Knowing our neighbours as well as we knew our relatives was part of the culture in Glace Bay, where I grew up. In the evenings, as a teen, we gathered downtown along Commercial Street, which was the main street of our town. Many nights, nothing of consequence happened there…..we just hung out together and talked and had fun. Some times, though, there was romance or the odd fight. There was usually music and chip truck french fries. But mostly, we simply appreciated having a place to gather and be with each other. It may sound lame to today’s generation to know that I spent some of the happiest moments of my teen years standing around downtown Glace Bay doing nothing in particular, but that is what happened. I feel confident in saying that those who stood there with me look back on those times with fondness and affection, too.

But that is not how it is today in many parts of our country. People are not encouraged to gather together in large numbers. In fact, there aren’t many places for people to gather together casually in crowds of any size and simply just be together. Urban planning these days tends to view public spaces as being lost revenue, and as such, so many of our green spaces are being plowed under and paved over so that land developers can build as many homes, as tightly packed together, as they can manage. The end result of this is that subdivision dwellers tend to live inside of their homes instead of outside, in yards that host gatherings. Even shopping is different now. Downtown cores have long battled the lure of shopping malls. Well today, even shopping malls are changing: closing down in favour of big box store plazas where all stores are separate buildings and all entrances lead outside. So now, we drive in our cars to these plazas, go directly into the stores to do our shopping and then we retreat back into our cars and return home, usually going straight inside. These days, our contact with others tends to be through the screens of our phones or computers. Entire generations of young people are growing up with the notion that living lives of compartmentalization is how life is meant to be. But, in fact, that is not how life is meant to be. For what it is worth, I believe that life is a journey that is meant to be shared.

And so, I begin the Great Canadian Road Trip series in one of the friendliest, most welcoming and happening communities in all of Canada…..St. John’s, Newfoundland. I am not sure if it is an East Coast-thing or not, but when you travel to the eastern part of Canada, you find many centres where you can tell those in charge of urban planning have put the needs of humans before the wants of the almighty dollar. Places like Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia have both done a fabulous job of developing the area along their waterfront as public spaces. There are lots of restaurants, small businesses and many cultural events there….and always, lots of music. In St. John’s, NFLD, there is a street called George Street, which is home to a seemingly endless stretch of bars, pubs and restaurants. George Street is usually closed to vehicular traffic so it is a safe place to wander about…..to see and be seen, as it were. The powers that be have also decreed that, although sales of alcohol are cut off at 1:00am, the restaurants may stay open all night and, as such, it is common for music and dancing to go on until morning.

This atmosphere was captured very well in today’s song entitled, The Night Pat Murphy Died by one of Canada’s most popular bands, Great Big Sea. Newfoundland has had a long tradition of celebrating their history and culture through music. There are scores of songs about the sea, about fishing, about the harsh climate and, just as many again, about acts of community and brotherhood/sisterhood that often involve romance and/or drinking and/or singing and other shenanigans. I grew up listening to bands from The Rock such as Ryan’s Fancy and Figgy Duff. In the 1990s, Great Big Sea was the main band. They passed the torch to other bands such as Hey, Rosetta! and many others. Regardless of when the songs were sung and who was doing the singing, music has always been a large part of the social fabric of the communities that dot the Newfoundland coastline. Because of that fact, urban planners purposely created spaces where people could gather, songs could be sung and good company kept all the while. This sort of purposeful direction from local Town and City Councils goes a long way to giving the place where you live, a sense of community. This is reflected in a song such as The Night Pat Murphy Died.

The Night Pat Murphy Died is a song whose origin stretches back into the murky fog of history so much so that no one can say for sure who actually wrote the tune. But, it was when Great Big Sea recorded it for their 1997 album, Play, that the popularity of the song spread beyond the island of Newfoundland, to the rest of the country. Great Big Sea are no longer together, but in their heyday, during the years between 1990 and 2015, they were one of the biggest and most popular bands in Canada. Lead by vocalists Alan Doyle and Sean McCann, Great Big Sea had a string of Top Ten hits including When I’m Up, Mari Mac, Ordinary Day, Lukey and Consequence Free. They earned eleven Gold records and went Platinum multiple times. They have won numerous Juno Awards, as well as winning the award for “Group of the Year” six times in a row at The East Coast Music Awards. However, despite the popularity of their “hit” songs, Great Big Sea were always most well known for their live shows. At these shows, the band often sang more traditional Newfoundland songs such as England, Excursion Around the Bay or today’s song, The Night Pat Murphy Died. These songs were always crowd pleasers and often provoked a reaction within their audiences that saw people dancing and singing and having the time of their lives.

The Night Pat Murphy Died is a song about an Irish wake. As often happens in Newfoundland songs, there is plenty of crossover between the experiences of those in Newfoundland and those who came to it from across the sea in England, Scotland or Ireland. So, The Night Pat Murphy Died revolves around the antics of those who came to honour the memory of their friend, Paddy Murphy, who had passed away. Needless to say, much drinking and rabble rousing ensues. The party, turned celebration of life, spills out of Pat Murphy’s former house and onto the streets of St. John, eventually landing at a real pub on George Street called The Sundance Saloon. It is at The Sundance Saloon that the revellers stay until sunrise before laying their friend to rest. As songs go, The Night Pat Murphy Died is a hoot and a holler. It is a great sing-a-long song. Furthermore, I defy you to keep your toes from a-tapping.

That’s how they showed their respect for Paddy Murphy,

That’s how they showed, their honour and their pride.

They said it was a sin and a shame

And then winked at one another

Every drink in the place was full

the night Pat Murphy died.

There are numerous videos on YouTube of Great Big Sea performing this song live. Any one of them will make for awesome viewing. The Night Pat Murphy Died is one of those songs that is hard to sing poorly. I believe that the reason for this is because songs that honour people are part of the cultural DNA of the entire population of Newfoundland and when you build your world around the values that real people hold dear, you do right by them. That mutual love is reflected back in the form of a strong sense of community so that every time you watch Great Big Sea perform The Night Pat Murphy Died, it seems as though you are watching a party happening between the band and several hundred/thousand of their closest friends. Sometimes, music is more than chords and notes. Sometimes, music is in our blood and our hearts. This is the case here.

So, without further delay, here is Great Big Sea with The Night Pat Murphy Died. Enjoy. See you all next time on this musical journey we call The Great Canadian Road Trip. Bye for now. 🙂

The link to the video for the song, The Night Pat Murphy Died, by Great Big Sea can be found here.

The link to the official website for Great Big Sea can be found here and here.

The link to the video for a cover version of this song by German “Speed Folk” band, Fiddler’s Green can be found here. This is a punked-up version that is rawer than that of Great Big Sea and which, also, has a terrific second half and an awesome ending. I know this version will be right up the alley of a few of my faithful readers. Enjoy this one, too. It is great!

The link to the official website for Jane’s Walks can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022, TomMacInnesWriter.com

Keepin’ It Classy: The Stories Behind the World’s Greatest Classical Compositions: Song #1/50: Morning Mood by Edvard Grieg.

Program Title: Edvard Grieg, Morning Mood, Opus 23….Also, part of the Peer Gynt Suites No. 1, Opus 46.

When I was still working as a teacher, one of my favourite parts of the job was reading aloud to my students. One of my favourite chapter books to read aloud was “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White. There was one scene, in particular, that I always enjoyed sharing with my students. It was the scene where Charlotte, the Spider, had just completed making her egg sac. Her friend, the innocent, child-like pig named Wilbur sees the egg sac and asks Charlotte what it is. Charlotte replies that it is her “magnum opus”. When Wilbur responds with befuddlement at her grandiose choice of words, Charlotte re-frames her reply by saying the egg sac is her “best work”……..magnum, meaning magnificent and opus, meaning work or product. This example of how we can be confused or intimidated by flowery language is important as we begin our own look at the world of Classical Music because it is a world filled with many terms and phrases that may seem confusing at first, but in the end, are actually easy to understand. Hopefully, this series of posts will help re-introduce us all to music that we know and have enjoyed before. In addition, I hope that we all….me, as well as you….will all learn to navigate our way through this world competently and with greater confidence because we understand the terminology better. Classical music need not be a mysterious thing. It is Art of the highest order and can fill your heart if you let it. So, let’s take our first steps…..together. Here we go.

Let’s begin with the title of our very first composition. Today’s piece of music has a formal and an informal name. The informal name is simply, Morning Mood by Edvard Grieg. The formal name is Morning Mood, Opus 23. In Classical Music, just as with Charlotte and her egg sac, the word, opus, has a very simple meaning. In Classical Music, the term opus is used to keep track of what number composition a particular work is. In the case of Morning Mood, the fact that it is labelled as Opus 23 means that it was Grieg’s 23rd published piece of music. Simple as that. This piece of music was, also, included as part of a suite of music in a play called Peer Gynt, which, when spoken of as part of the Suite, as opposed to a stand-alone piece of music, is referred to as Opus 46. So, as this post unfolds, I will be talking about Morning Mood, Opus 23.…….Grieg’s 23rd piece of published music.

Edvard Grieg was born in Norway and is generally considered to be Norway’s greatest composer. There are statues erected in his honour, as well as schools and theatres named after him, too. Grieg came along in the late 1800s and is credited with being one of the composers who helped modernize the themes upon which Classical music compositions were written. Prior to this, much of the totality of the works created by composers was done so with religious or nationalistic themes in mind. If you know anything about Mozart and/or the Academy Award-winning movie about his life, Amadeus, then you will be aware that creating whole operas praising God was the height of fashion in civilized social circles. Well, Grieg was one of those who believed that Music, as well as Art and Literature, could all grow beyond the limitations of society’s expectations and tolerances.

Because of his philosophy on the Arts, Grieg aligned himself with other forward-thinkers. One of those people turned out to be Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen is highly regarded in literary circles and is considered to be one of those who accepted the mantle of responsibility for creating thought-provoking plays as passed down by William Shakespeare. Ibsen, along with Hans Christian Andersen, is regarded as Norway’s pre-eminent writer. And so it was that Ibsen wrote an epic-style poem called Peer Gynt that was turned into a five-act play. Peer Gynt is a play told entirely in verse. It has come to symbolize the fabric of Norwegian culture in much the same way that a play like Anne of Green Gables has become part of Canada’s cultural identity. To help turn his poem into a play, Ibsen approached his friend, Edvard Grieg, and asked him to contribute some incidental music to accompany his story. ***Peer Gynt is a drama, not a musical. So, the incidental music Grieg created was intended to act as background music, as opposed to being music that the actors would sing during their scenes.

Grieg created many pieces of music for Peer Gynt but the one that has stood the test of time has been a short, three-minute piece called Morning Mood. In Peer Gynt, Morning Mood is played during a transition scene in which the main character wakes up in the morning to find that he has been abandoned by his friends and is now alone in the desert. The music that accompanies this scene was designed for flutes and oboes and, as such, it sounds light and airy when played. This airiness of sound gave a sense of unity to a scene in which a sun was rising from beyond the horizon: rays of light stretching ever upward toward the sky. Sounds, colours and emotions all going up, up, up on the stage, as well as in our hearts and minds.

I can guarantee you that all of you have heard this piece of music before. From the opening notes, you will be instantly taken back to some television show or movie that has had a transition scene in which night turns into a new day…..all the while accompanied by this little tune known as Morning Mood. So please, do yourself a favour and click on the link for this song. It will lift your spirits, just as it did over a century ago, for the audiences who watched Peer Gynt performed in Norway and, in time, all over the world. In fact, Peer Gynt was the single-most performed dramatic play in the world in 2006…..as the theatre world celebrated the centenary of Ibsen’s death. I am not sure if this post will end up being my magnum opus but, if it helps, even a little bit, to de-mystify some aspects of the world of Classical Music and helps everyone to realize just how popular and prevalent this music is in our everyday world then, I will be happy. For now, here is a song you all know, Morning Mood, Opus 23 by Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the composition, Morning Mood, Opus 23 by Edvard Grieg can be found here.

The link to a museum dedicated to the life of composer Edvard Grieg can be found here.

The link to a museum dedicated to the life of playwright Henrik Ibsen can be found here.

The link to radio station Classical 103.1, right here in my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022, TomMacInnesWriter.com