Reader’s Choice: the Stories Behind Your Favourite Songs…# 4/250: Closer To Fine by the Indigo Girls.

Amy Ray and Emily Sailers: the Indigo Girls.

The Indigo Girls are a Folk-Rock duo consisting of lifelong friends, Amy Ray and Emily Sailers. The two met all the way back in elementary school and began playing together in bands while in high school. The two friends endured a brief separation when they first left their home in Atlanta to attend university but, after a few short years apart, they both transferred to a university nearer to their home and reunited as friends and as bandmates. It was while in university together that Sailers and Ray adopted the name, Indigo Girls. In 1987, they released their first self-produced album called Strange Fire. The success of Strange Fire brought them to the attention of major record labels and they were soon signed to a contract by Epic Records. The first major label album they released was called Indigo Girls. On that album was a song called “Closer To Fine” which has gone on to become their signature song. Over the course of the next decade, The Indigo Girls have earned multiple Gold and Platinum status for their album sales, as well as winning a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Recording in 1990.

The song, “Closer To Fine” came from an album that is noteworthy for several reasons. By the time 1989 had come and Epic Records was ready to help the Indigo Girls launch their major label career, Sailers and Ray had already been performing locally in the Atlanta area for over ten years. In that time, they had performed constantly in all manner of venues, many of which were College pubs, frosh houses and local dive bars. Consequently the Indigo Girls had become regulars on the Atlanta music scene and were quite well-respected by their peers there. So, when it came time to put together songs for their first Epic Records album, they called upon some of their peers to help out. Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M. appears on this album, as does Irish band, Hothouse Flowers, who came to know Sailers and Ray because of both being on the College touring circuit, playing at the same Folk Festivals and so on.

Rob Pilatus, left, and Fab Morvan of Milli Vanilli give the thumbs-up as they display their Grammys after being presented with the 1989 best new artist award in Los Angeles Feb. 21, 1990. They were later stripped of their award after being revealed as lip-synching poseurs. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

But, perhaps the most notorious thing that happened to Indigo Girls as a result of this album is that they were nominated for the Grammy Award for Best New Artist…which is not where the problem lay. That was the year the Grammy for Best New Artist was awarded to fraudsters, Milli Vanilli. When it was revealed that Milli Vanilli were lip syncing their songs, they were stripped of their award and instead of a second nominated artist being given the award, the Grammy organization decided to simply not give anyone the award for 1990. So, through no fault of their own, Indigo Girls will be forever associated with the Milli Vanilla-Grammy debacle on 1990.

Luckily for Indigo Girls, the Grammy snub did nothing to harm their career. They did just fine as time went by. In fact, their reputation as being artists who possessed talent in equal abundance to their own personal integrity only grew more sterling with time. The Indigo Girls have made no secret of their politics. Both Sailers and Ray identify as being lesbians and have enjoyed long successful marriages with their individual partners. The Indigo Girls have been festival stalwarts at such events as Lilith Fair and have lent their support to an endless list of causes and organizations that represent the LBGQT community. In addition to that, Sailers and Ray both support numerous causes to do with the environment, feminism, abolishing the death penalty and much more. Although Indigo Girls do not seek the spotlight for themselves, they are certainly viewed as leaders and icons. Ray and Sailers take this responsibility seriously, showing up to support other performers and organizations whenever time allows.

The song, “Closer to Fine” is about finding balance in life. With balance often comes personal happiness and fulfillment. The song speaks of being in bars after midnight and of trying to find peace there. The lyrics also point to people who peddle magical cures such as authors and college professors and how you should swallow this snake oil with eyes wide open. Most of all, “Closer To Fine” advises that balance and happiness come from within each of us and that the answers we seek tend to come from the people we surround ourselves with and the pursuits that bring us the most pleasure and satisfaction. It may sound like obvious advice but doing what makes you feel good and what makes a positive difference for others will enrich your own life immeasurably. Because this advice is so down-to-earth, it makes a song like “Closer to Fine” feel very authentic and real. In fact, the ability to write songs that are relatable on a personal level to each member of an audience is one of the most distinguishing trademarks of Indigo Girls. Sailers and Ray have lived life and met its challenges and have come out wiser and kinder and more empathetic as a result.

This song was nominated as a Reader’s Choice song by my pal, Christine Hanolsy. Thanks, Christine for nominating such an awesome song and providing me with the opportunity to introduce Indigo Girls to my readers.

So, without further delay, here are Amy Ray and Emily Sailers…the Indigo Girls…with the amazing song, “Closer To Fine”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Closer To Fine” by Indigo Girls can be found here.

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

The Stars of Stage and Screen: the Stories Behind the Most Memorable Songs from Musicals and the Movies…Song # 5/250: Interstellar Suite by Hans Zimmer from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Interstellar

I read that those involved in the making of the 2014 movie, Interstellar believed they were making a movie worthy of being thought of as this generation’s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interstellar is certainly a sweeping epic that involves weighty topics such as time travel, the origins of life on new planets and the ties that bind families together over the course of many generations. It stars an A-list cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine and Timothee Chalamet. In addition to those fine people, the movie soundtrack is scored by none other than the current king of movie composers, Hans Zimmer. *(A previous post was written about Hans Zimmer. It can be read here). So, the table is set for a sumptuous cinematic feast. Let’s dig in and find out how good it actually tastes.

The plotline of Interstellar is that our time on Earth is coming to an end. The planet has dried out because of climate change. Drinking water is becoming scarce. Dust storms are becoming more frequent. So, a team of astronauts is tasked with searching for signs of habitable planets in other solar systems. Interstellar space travel is made possible because of the discovery of a black hole beside Saturn. Exploratory missions have determined that it is possible to travel safely through this black hole, and not only that, but return again to Earth through it as well. As much as this all sounds like science fiction, the science behind Interstellar was based upon work conducted by one of the world’s pre-eminent authorities on black holes…an astrophysicist named Dr. Kip Thorne. Because of Dr. Thorne’s involvement, many of the fantastical space scenarios shown in the movie are, in fact, rooted in real science, and may end up turning from science fiction to science fact in the not-too-distant future in real life.

But the movie Interstellar is more than just a space movie. At its core, Interstellar is a treatise on the nature of family as the foundation of our society. On Earth, Matthew McConaughey’s family anchors the emotional aspect of the movie. He plays an astronaut who has left the space programme and is raising his two children on a farm. All is good until the climate starts to deteriorate, and the family starts finding what they believe to be coded messages left in the dust that collects in the daughter’s bedroom after each dust storm. The dust appears to be in binary code. The journey to crack this code leads McConaughey to return to space headquarters to volunteer to go on the mission to find new, habitable planets through the black hole by Saturn. His decision to go is based on his heartfelt need to discover a way to protect the future so his children will survive. His children, on the other hand, feel abandoned by him. The emotions at play fuel the decisions of McConaughey, his young daughter (played by Mackenzie Foy), and his son (played by Timothee Chalamet) for the rest of the movie. The added twist that helps to raise Interstellar beyond that of a typical family drama yarn is time travel. When McConaughey and his fellow astronauts travel through the black hole and begin exploring new planets, they age at a slower rate than they would have if they had remained on Earth. In the video that accompanies this post, you will note that McConaughey stays at relatively the same age all throughout the video whereas his daughter changes from a child (Foy) to an adult woman (Chastain) and then, to an elderly lady on her deathbed in a hospital (Ellen Burstyn). So, McConaughey wrestles with the fact that he may have saved the future of Earth, but in doing so, he missed out on his children’s entire lives. There is more to the story than this, but I have probably said too much already for anyone who may wish to watch this movie as a result of this post, so I’ll be quiet now.

The score for the movie was composed by Hans Zimmer specifically for an organ. By organ, I mean a grand, cathedral-esque organ with massive pipes. When Zimmer was tasked with scoring the movie for an organ, he was told that an organ produces a sound that is deep and that resonates in cavernous spaces, but most of all because an organ relies on air for its existence, just like humans do. So, as you watch the video of Zimmer conducting his orchestra, note the presence of the organ and the huge pipes. The video also shows how the score ties into the themes of the movie by displaying the notes on screen as dots and dashes. As these images flow by, you can start to distinguish between them all and match them with the notes you are hearing from the various musical instruments that are playing at any one time. The dashes that are located higher up on screen are for higher-pitched notes and those lower down on the screen are for lower-pitched notes. As well, some dashes are longer than others, which will indicate that a particular note is being held longer while other, shorter dashes/notes weave in and around it. It is fascinating to watch. In addition to the musical construction of the Interstellar Suite, segments from the movie are shown. The scenes from outer space seem to me to work particularly well with Zimmer’s Suite. All in all, I find this video entitled Interstellar Suite to be mesmerizing at times, and I find myself being emotionally invested in the story that is unfolding. You should know that Interstellar Suite is fourteen minutes long, but in my estimation, it doesn’t seem long enough. Between Zimmer’s score and the movie’s scope, this video keeps me coming back for more.

So, is Interstellar this generation’s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey? I don’t think so. But it is still a terrific movie that raises questions about the nature of Love and of how deep our commitment goes to those we call family. Interstellar is a good movie. I think it is fine to stand on its own without having its worth measured by being compared to any other movie. The science of Interstellar is sound. The emotional themes being explored will draw you in and keep you there. The action will have you on the edge of your seat. Zimmer’s musical score is excellent, as usual. So, by all means, check out Interstellar if you feel like watching a good movie. You won’t be disappointed.

If you have seen the movie I would be interested to know what you thought of it. Please feel free to leave your comments below. As well, if you have any other outer space-themed movies that you wish to recommend, feel free to do so below.

The link to the video for the composition Interstellar Suite by Hans Zimmer can be found here.

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

The link to a much more thorough and weighty dissection of Interstellar’s plot, the science behind it and the philosophy behind it all can be found here. Please note: this article goes into great detail about what happens in the movie, so obviously, SPOILER ALERT!!! Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this article, so do with that information what you will.

***As always, this is a reminder to all that all original content contained within this post is the sole property of the author. This post cannot be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Canadian Songs About Canadian Places…Song # 5/250: Your Ex-Lover Is Dead by Stars.

Today’s stop on the Great Canadian Road Trip takes us to the beautiful city of Montreal, Quebec. Montreal is one of my favourite cities. Even though I have never lived there, Montreal has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.

My initial impressions of Montreal all came through my television screen. I grew up in Nova Scotia at a time when the national baseball team was not the Toronto Blue Jays, but instead, the Montreal Expos. All of my early baseball heroes were Expo players such as Rusty Staub (called “Le Grand Orange” because of his full head of orange hair), Andre “the Hawk” Dawson, Tim “Rock” Raines, Ellis Valentine, Timothy John Foli, Gary “Kid” Carter and, of course, from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, future Hall-of-Famer, Larry Walker. On the other hand, I always had a strong dislike for the Montreal Canadians hockey team because they seemed so unfairly talented during my youth. They always got the better of my favoured Toronto Maple Leafs. The only saving grace for me growing up was that Canadiens’ Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play commentator, Danny Gallivan, was from Cape Breton, so even though I hated the Habs, Gallivan was a source of hometown pride. A few years later, I was watching Sesame Street on TV when it was interrupted for a live news coverage of the FLQ Crisis. I was upset that my show wasn’t on anymore but my mother just shushed me because our nation seemed at risk and that was more important than whatever was going on between Bert and Ernie at the time. Let’s just say that we agreed to disagree.

Not me but, the stroller is similar to the one I was carted around in while at EXPO 67.

The first time I ever visited Montreal in person was when I was three years old, and my family and I attended the EXPO 67 celebrations that were happening there. I don’t remember anything about the exhibits, but one memory I do have is being pushed around in strollers that were shaped and decorated like cans of pop. There are photos somewhere of my mother pushing me around Montreal in a green 7-Up shaped stroller. Those were the days, my friend. Another time, during my university days, I was traveling through Montreal…changing trains at the downtown train station…when I noticed the Montreal Gazette newspaper headline announcing that Wayne Gretzky had been traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles. As a family, we have visited Montreal and have enjoyed its unique blend of history and vibrant culture. There is just so much to do there, even for someone like me who is not fluently bilingual.

Pierre Trudeau was my favourite Prime Minister. He was from Montreal, as is his son, our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. I loved viewing Montreal through the eyes of great books such as The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler, as well as the poetry of Leonard Cohen. I have also enjoyed learning more about Montreal via musical acts such as The Box, Ginette Reno, Celine Dion, Patsy Gallant, Sam Roberts Band, Men Without Hats, Voivod and, of course, the subject of today’s post, Stars. For my money, Montreal is a city that is truly alive, and one that ranks among the very best and most interesting cities I have ever known.


Having said all of that, Stars are a band composed of people who are, for the most part, all from Ontario. Lead singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan both hail from Toronto, but early in their career, Stars relocated to Montreal and have operated out of there ever since. Stars have been around for more than a decade and a half, and have carved out quite a space for themselves in the Canadian Indie/Alternative musical landscape. They are contemporaries of other Canadian bands such as Broken Social Scene, Metric and The Tragically Hip. It is quite common for members of Stars to appear with Broken Social Scene and vice versa. In addition, both Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell have released solo albums. Yet, it is their work as members of Stars that has gotten them the most notice. Stars has been nominated several times for Juno awards and have multiple Gold records to their name. They have also been one of the most vocal opponents of streaming services such as Spotify, and how poorly most performers are paid by these organizations who shamelessly use their music to boost their own corporate bottom lines. Campbell gave a recent example of how their latest album, From Capelton Hill, had been streamed over 300,000 times on Spotify in the past month, which earned the five members of Stars a whopping total of $900.00. Spotify, on the other hand, charges a $10 monthly fee for full membership, so if all 300,000 streams were from individual plan members, Spotify earned three million dollars while paying out only $900.00 to the actual artist who generated their revenue for them. Needless to say, Stars support people like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, who have removed their songs from Spotify. Stars are active on social media and regularly invite fans to support the band directly by buying their music through their own website.

Pont Champlain in Montreal. Old bridge in the foreground, new bridge in back.

The song “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” came from Stars’ third album entitled Set Yourself on Fire, which was released in 2004, and which went Gold in Canada. I really like this song. It is so well written! It tells a complete story of what happens if you were mistakenly set up on a blind date with your ex-lover. The story is told from both points of view, and is one of those unique tales that doesn’t end happily ever after…and that is OK. The song begins with a taxi ride in silence across Pont Champlain, which was one of the main bridges that connected the island of Montreal with the suburbs on the south shore. The bridge mentioned in 2004 no longer exists. It was becoming structurally unsound and was replaced by a new bridge a few years ago. But, as far as the song goes, that journey across Pont Champlain sets the stage for a dramatic play about the choices we make in life, and about second chances that serve to open new doors, or else to confirm that some doors are best to remain shut. For me, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” is like a breath of fresh air. I really appreciate the fact that this band took the time to create a whole world within the confines of a three-and-a-half-minute song. Far too often today, songs are just a chorus and a verse repeated a dozen times…yes, I am looking at you, Justin Bieber! So, to listen to the nuanced phrases and points of view found in “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” is a real treat and I am grateful. I can’t help but think that there is something about the city of Montreal that lends itself to inspiring creative artists such as those in Stars to go beyond the commonplace, and instead to create Art that is deep and rich and beautiful for all to enjoy. I think “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” is Art. I hope that you enjoy listening to it as much as I do.

The link to the video for the song, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” by Stars can be found here.

***Note, the man who does the spoken word part at the very beginning is actor Douglas Campbell, who is the father of Torquil.

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

The link to the official website for the City of Montreal can be found here.

***As always, here is a gentle reminder that all original content contained within this post is the sole property of the author. No portion of this blog may be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Today’s Top 40: a Closer Look at the Stories Behind Today’s Top Songs…Song Position #2: The Last Goodbye by Odesza ft. Bettye Lavette.

The songs listed in this post were found using the Top 40 charts of the following music organizations: CHUM-FM, CFNY-FM, KEXP-FM, Billboard Magazine, Spotify and BBC Radio 1. All six songs listed below occupied position #2 on their respective music lists from this past week. So, let’s take a quick look at the first five songs and then, a bit of a longer look at the song in today’s spotlight: “The Last Goodbye” by Odesza ft. Bettye Lavette.

Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush (Spotify)

What is happening with this song is arguably the #1 story in music today. Kate Bush has been my favourite female singer since I first saw her video for the song “Wuthering Heights” back in my university days in the early 1980s. In her day, she produced songs that were very literate, artistic and she sang them with the most unique and amazing of voices. Kate Bush was always someone who believed strongly in the integrity of her artistic vision, and as such, unlike many other musicians, she guarded her work carefully. For example, her songs were never licensed for use in commercials nor were they ever used in movie soundtracks. So, it was with great excitement for many when it was announced that Bush had reached an agreement with the producers of the Netflix TV series “Stranger Things” to use her song “Running Up That Hill” in one of their episodes. Kate Bush has stated that she believes in the artistic vision of the show and is giving it her seal of approval by lending them her iconic song. The episode featuring her song aired recently, and suddenly a whole new generation of viewers listened to her words and heard that voice for the first time, and collectively demanded to know who she was. As a result, “Running Up That Hill” has gone back to the top of the charts after an absence of almost forty years!!! Those social media savvy teens are now combing through her back catalogue which means that there is a strong possibility that other Kate Bush songs are about to be resurrected, too. Just this past weekend on Twitter, Lynda Carter (the original Wonder Woman) tweeted: To all you kids who are just discovering Kate Bush and “Running Up That Hill” because of Stranger Things, just wait until you hear “Wuthering Heights”.

It appears that a Summer of Kate awaits us all. ***For those who may wish to read posts written previously about “Wuthering Heights” and “Running Up That Hill”, click here and here.

Wait For U by Future ft. Drake and Tems (Billboard Magazine)

Future has been enjoying a very successful start to his 2022 year. He is the silky smooth, jazzy rapper who has now had several songs from his latest album hit the charts. This song, “Wait For U”, was profiled a few weeks ago when we were looking at songs that were listed in Chart position #39. Now it is all the way up to #2. Drake lends his magic touch to this song, as does a singer called Tems. So, as was stated before, if you like your Hip Hop all sexy and smooth as honey, then “Wait For U” by Future ft. Drake and Tems is for you.

Message in a Bottle by Taylor Swift (CHUM-FM)

Taylor Swift’s latest chart entry is called “Message in a Bottle”. It is an original song written by her and is not a cover of the Police classic of the same name from way back in the 1970s. Dr. Swift, as she can now call herself since she received her Honourary Doctorate in Fine Arts from NYU, originally wrote “Message in a Bottle” back in 2014 on her album “Red”. However, because of a contract dispute with her former manager in which he won a court case against her for control of her music catalogue, Swift has been re-recording and re-releasing songs from her past, making slight alterations to them and dubbing them as “Taylor’s version”, which allows her to retain a new form of copyright control. So, “Message in a Bottle (Taylor’s version)” is simply the latest in an on-going series of re-releases of songs from her past. If you liked the album “Red” when it was first released eight years ago, then chances are you will like this slightly updated, dance-oriented version of the original song, too.

It’s Alright by Mother Mother (CFNY-FM)

Mother Mother are an Indie/Alternative Pop-Rock band from British Columbia. They are fronted by a brother and sister named Ryan and Molly Guldemond. They have seven albums to their credit now. Mother Mother have been rising slowly but surely through the ranks of successful bands from Canada and have become regulars on the festival circuit, having played at Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and many other famous music festivals. The song “It’s Alright” was written in response to the gradual increase in the openness and willingness shown by society to discuss mental illness these days. The song uses a two-part play format in which Ryan sings of the feelings he is experiencing and the trouble they are causing him while Molly sings in reply about acceptance and empathy. All in all, a tiny perfect Pop nugget with a big, big heart.

Late Night Talking by Harry Styles (BBC Radio 1)

As profiled last week, Harry Styles is on top of the musical world. “Late Night Talking” is the latest song to come off of his new album, “Harry’s House”. It has been streamed via social media over twenty million times already! This peppy, dance-oriented tune is said to have been inspired by his new girlfriend, actress Olivia Wilde. If you are a fan of Harry Styles, then I am confident that you will be a fan of “Late Night Talking”, too.

The Last Goodbye by Odesza ft. Bettye Lavette (KEXP-FM)

Our featured song this week is an amazing collaboration between the Techno band, Odesza and one of the most respected Blues and Soul singers of the 1960s and 70s, Bettye Lavette. For the past decade, Odesza have been regarded as one of the top Electronic Dance Music acts anywhere in the world. Odesza are composed of two men, Harrison Mills (“The Catacomb KId”) and Clayton Knight (“Beaches Beaches”). They broke onto the music scene with a song called “Say My Name” ft. Zyra. Odesza are known for combining cutting edge DJ music production with excellent female-inspired vocal tracks. So, it was not that great a surprise when it was announced that they intended to sample the biggest hit of Bettye Lavette’s career, “Let Me Down Easy”, for a new mash-up called “The Last Goodbye”.

Bettye Lavette is someone who defines persistence and determination. Lavette was discovered when she was a teenager back in the 1960s and recorded several albums with Motown and with James Brown, but for one reason or another, Lavette never managed to rise to the top of the music scene like people like Aretha Franklin and Etta James managed to do. But, she never gave up. She kept touring and kept releasing albums, and then, when the world prepared to welcome Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States, success finally came to Bettye Lavette. She released an album of feminist classics called, “I Have My Own Hell To Raise” which included covers from such female stalwarts as Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Sinead O’ Connor, Lucinda Williams, Joan Armatrading and Dolly Parton. That album rose on the charts, and as a result, Lavette came to the attention of the Obamas, who invited her to sing at the presidential inauguration. With the world watching, Bettye Lavette stole the show and has not stopped since.

In the video for the song, “The Last Goodbye”, Odesza sample liberally from Lavette’s biggest pre-Obama hit, “Let Me Down Easy”, which was recorded when she was just nineteen years old. In the video, a teenage Lavette appears on screen, as Odesza plays live in front. The soulful power of Lavette’s young voice is amazing! It makes me wonder what might have been if her time in the spotlight had happened to her when she was a young adult instead of a senior citizen, which is who she is today. “The Last Goodbye” is a tremendous collaboration between one of the best singers of her generation and one of the best techno bands of this generation. It is pure magic. Enjoy.

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

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

***As always, reminder that all original content found in this post is the sole property of the author. No part of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Reader’s Choice…Song # 4/250: Dirty Old Town by The Pogues.

Ladies and Gentlemen…The Pogues!

The Pogues are one of my very favourite bands. They were formed in the early 1980s and grew out of the emerging Punk Rock scene in the UK. However, despite a penchant for drunkenness and wild behaviour, The Pogues were not the same sort of band as The Sex Pistols were. Their songs often read like poetry and spoke of the travails of real people in small, working class towns like the one I grew up in back in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. The Pogues are most well known for their song, “FairyTale of New York” but their catalogue is vast with songs such as “Fiesta”, “If I Should Fall From Grace With God”, “The Turkish Voyage of the Damned” and “Dirty Old Town” all being audience favourites. The Pogues were an eight-to-ten piece band at any given time. They often incorporated instruments such as penny whistles, accordions and banjos into their songs. Their lead singer was the charismatic Shane McGowan. McGowan was known for his great height, his alarming lack of teeth and for the boozy manner in which he sang his lyrics. The Pogues, in general and, McGowan, in particular, were a fun to see live. They always brought a lot of energy to their performances but, as well they always appeared to be teetering on the edge of coming apart at the seams. This sense of perpetual uncertainty eventually took its toll in the early 1990s with Shane McGowan being fired for failing to appear for concerts. In order to fill his role so that the band could carry on, former Clash lead singer, Joe Strummer fronted the band for awhile. Eventually, The Pogues disbanded for good but they will always be remembered with great fondness by their fans, of which I am definitely one.

Ewan MacColl in the 1950s when he wrote, “Dirty Old Town”.

The song, “Dirty Old Town” is one of their more famous songs but, in truth it is actually a cover song. “Dirty Old Town” was originally written back in the 1950s by a famous Irish singer named Ewan MacColl. MacColl was a song writer and social activist who wrote several famous songs such as “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, “Dirty Old Town”, as well as revising the centuries old lyrics for a song made famous by Simon and Garfunkel called, “Scarborough Fair”. *(You can read a post about “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” here). In any case, “Dirty Old Town” is a song about a real town in England called Salford, which is near Manchester, to the northwest of London. The song tells of life and love amid the factories that lined a canal that ran by the edge of town. The Pogues came to record this song because of their connection with singer Kirsty MacColl (who was Ewan MacColl’s daughter) and who, you may remember, was the female counterpart to Shane McGowan’s drunken lover in “FairyTale of New York”. *(You can read a post about that song here). While Kirsty MacColl was around the band during the recording of “FairyTale of New York”, she played other traditional songs from her father’s song book. One of the many songs that she played for the boys was, “Dirty Old Town”.

Like most songs favoured by The Pogues, “Dirty Old Town” is replete with imagery.

I met my girl by the gas works wall

Dreamed a dream by the old canal

I kissed my girl by the factory wall

Dirty old town

Dirty old town.”

Songs such as this ring true for me. Growing up in Glace Bay in the 1960s and 70s meant that I shared my town with hardworking fishermen and coal miners. Glace Bay was a blue collar town, for sure. There were plenty of stories to be told from down on the wharf that edged both sides of our harbour and from the lamp houses that stood watch over the coal mines that dotted the land. When people work hard for a living it makes the simple pleasures of a shared drink with friends or a stolen kiss from your heart’s desire seem like treasure. It is that understanding that has always come through for me in the songs by The Pogues.

Not surprisingly, “Dirty Old Town” was nominated as a Reader’s Choice song by someone else from back home….my good friend, Paul Coombs. Paul and I went to high school together and have managed to stay in touch as the decades have rolled by. So, it is with a raised glass of good cheer extended in his direction that I thank Paul for nominating “Dirty Old Town”. It is a great song from a great band and I am pleased to play it for everyone today. So, without further delay, here are The Pogues with their cover of the Ewan MacColl classic tune, “Dirty Old Town”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Dirty Old Town” can be found here.

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

The link to the official website of Ewan MacColl can be found here.

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

The link to the official website of Salford, England….the subject of “Dirty Old Town” can be found here.

Today’s Top 40: a Closer Look at the Stories Behind Today’s Top Songs…Song #38.

The songs listed in this post were found using the Top 40 charts of the following music organizations: CHUM-FM, CFNY-FM, KEXP-FM, Billboard Magazine, Spotify and BBC Radio 1. All six songs listed below occupied position #38 on their respective music lists from this past week. So, let’s take a quick look at the first five songs and then, a bit of a longer look at the song in today’s spotlight…”2Step” by Ed Sheeren ft. Lil Baby.

Father Time by Kendrick Lamar ft. Sampha (Spotify).

Kendrick Lamar occupied this spot last week with his song, “N95”. This week, “Father Time” moved into the Top 40 on Spotify. This gives Lamar a total of six songs on the chart at the same time. As I said last week, if you like insightful social commentary in a Hip Hop format then, Kendrick Lamar is your go-to guy.

Cold Heart by Dua Lipa ft. Sir Elton John (Billboard Magazine).

This song has been on the charts for several months now. It famously samples Sir Elton’s “Rocketman” song from the 1970s but, surprisingly, it is Dua Lipa who sings the “Rocketman” sampled lyrics while Elton John sings original content around the sample. Overall, as my girls would say, this song has that collab.vibe. This is a good Pop tune that I am sure you have heard on the radio if you are a radio listener these days.

Superposition by Young the Giant (CFNY-FM).

I am a big fan of Young the Giant and would have really liked to have made them the feature of this post. They roared out of the gate with their debut album back in 2010 that featured a couple of great songs that I actually spent my own money to download called “Cough Syrup” and “My Body”. Young the Giant are an American alternative music band that produces very danceable songs with catchy hooks and choruses. The song “Superposition” draws upon the world of Science and, in particular, Astronomy to express feelings of love. The line, “In any universe you are my dark star” is making the young adults of our world swoon today.

Balling by Vibe Chemistry ft. The DnB All-stars (BBC Radio 1).

I found this entry to be very interesting. For starters, Vibe Chemistry is not a band but an actual person. In this case, he is a DJ from London who is promoting a club scene built around drumming and bass work (which is where the “DnB” comes from). The “all-stars” that appear with Vibe Chemistry on this song are four rising stars in the world of UK Hip Hop. The song, “Balling” is not a good song, as it is replete with misogynistic references and violent Thug Life imagery, which does nothing for me. However, what makes this song interesting is the work of a young London-area rapper named Songer. In the video that accompanies this song, Songer is the only white rapper among the other all-stars. But, his skin colour is not what sets him apart. Songer might be the very best rapper I have ever heard! He raps at Olympian speed, clearly enunciating each word and with feeling. Up until now, I always considered Eminem to be my favourite rapper but Songer might just be better. His presence in the video for this song is my only reason for recommending it to you. But, recommend it, I do.

Sunday by Sea Lemon (KEXP-FM).

This is the debut single from Seattle-based singer/songwriter Natalie Lew. It is a sweet-voiced bit of Indie Pop that will fill your ears with all sorts of light and airy sounds. The song is about the anxiety that we all experienced over the course of the pandemic as we were forced to separate from those family and close friends that we loved but needed to stay away from in order to keep them safe.

2Step by Ed Sheeran ft. Lil Baby (CHUM-FM).

Kyiv, Ukraine.

Our feature song today is “2Step” by Ed Sheeran ft. Lil Baby. The song covers familiar ground for Sheeren in that it is about the romantic pleasure of holding someone you love close to you while dancing. While not a newlywed anymore, Ed Sheeren is certainly still very much in love with his wife and has written several songs that all cover themes of Sheeren being dazzled by the beauty of the woman he is with and how wonderful it feels to love someone like her and, in turn, be loved back in equal measure. What makes this song noteworthy is the music video that accompanies the song. It was shot on location in Kyiv, Ukraine, just prior to the start of the Russian invasion. In the video, you can see how lovely and cosmopolitan Kyiv looked before the bombs fell. While the song has nothing to do with the war, the mere fact that a love song was shot there lends added poignancy because, as we know, lots of loving relationships were lost and many young lovers, like the ones Sheeren is singing about in “2Step”, were forced to separate and may never dance romantically in Kviv again. Whether the timing of this video being shot when it was is mere coincidence or savvy marketing on Sheeran’s part is unknown by me but, regardless, the video possesses an emotional element that is hard to ignore.

The happy couple: Ed Sheeran and Cherry Seaborn.

Ed Sheeran is arguably one of the biggest music stars in the whole world at the moment. He reminds me a lot of The Weeknd in the way that between his solo songs and his collaborations, he seems to be everywhere all of the time on the radio. This has actually been the case for a number of years now. Here is some mind boggling data for you…starting with his debut album in 2011, every single album Ed Sheeran has released has gone to #1 on the charts. As far as singles go, he has had eleven #1 hit songs: “Sing”, “Thinking Out Loud”, “Shape of You”, “Castle On The Hill”, “Perfect”, “I Don’t Care”, “Beautiful People”, “Take Me Back To London”, “Bad Habits” and “Shiver”. In total, his singles have recorded sales of 20 million and have been certified a ridiculous 73 times platinum!!! But, just as much as Ed Sheeran has enjoyed success as a solo artist, he has been just as productive while engaging in musical collaborations with other artists. In those situations, he has enjoyed many number #1 hits including: “River” (with Eminem), “Sausage Rolls for Everyone” (with Ladbaby and Sir Elton John), “Bam Bam” (with Camilla Cabello) and “Merry Christmas” (with Sir Elton John).

One of the most remarkable aspects to Ed Sheeran’s musical journey is how close it came to not happening at all. As a child, Sheeran was not a popular child. He was often bullied because of his appearance due to his mop of shocking orange hair, his glasses, as well as a purple birthmark that covered much of the side of his face. As he grew into his teens, he was able to have facial surgery to remove/cover up the birthmark, giving his face a more normal complexion. However, according to Sheeran, that surgery came with a potentially life-altering consequence…it caused Sheeran to develop a severe stutter. His family took him to speech therapists who, in turn, tried many different strategies but nothing seemed to work. That was, until the day his father read about something called music therapy. This school of thought was centered upon the realization that many people who suffered from stuttering could speak very clearly and easily if, instead of talking conversationally they, instead, communicated through song. So, Ed Sheeran’s father bought him the Eminem album called “The Real Slim Shady”. Young Ed Sheeran memorized Enimen’s rap lyrics and found that he could sing them clearly. Because Sheeran could now sing out his thoughts and feelings, his self-confidence soared. *This makes his collaboration with Eminem all the more special for Sheeran when it happened. It was a way for him to express his gratitude to a man who, quite literally, changed the course of his life with his music.

In the time that has followed, Ed Sheeran has continued to receive speech therapy and is now able to communicate conversationally in ways that allow him to address audiences and tell stories about his life and his music. Sheeran continues to work with organizations that help people who stutter; especially, children. We all have gifts to share but far too often we, as a society, get too distracted by the packaging on the outside. It is a shame that so many never get to realize their potential because of how they are judged and viewed by others. Ed Sheeran is a very lucky and talented man. We are all the richer for him having found his way in this world.

So, without further delay, here is the dramatic music video that was shot in Kviv, Ukraine for the song, “2Step”, featuring rapper Lil Baby. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “2Step” by Ed Sheeran and Lil Baby can be found here.

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

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

The link to the Ukraine Disaster Relief Appeal mentioned by Ed Sheehan in the “2Step” video can be found here.

***As always, a reminder that all original content in this post is the sole property of the author. No portion of this post can be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Stars of Stage and Screen: the Stories Behind the Most memorable Songs from Broadway, the West End and from Hollywood…Song # 4/250: memory from Cats

T.S. Eliot.

T. S. Eliot was one of the greatest poets of the last century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Upon the occasion of his death, he was interred in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey in London alongside the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. His poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is considered to be one of the foundational poems of the Modernist poetry movement. And yet, there are some who would argue that T. S. Eliot’s greatest contribution to the world of art and literature was a book of nonsensical lyrical poetry called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is considered to be a form of poetry called light verse, meaning short poems that were meant to be humorous and read for pleasure. In this collection of poems, T. S. Eliot created short poems about a series of cats. Each featured cat possessed a certain personality trait such as vanity, cruelty, boastfulness and so on. The poems were written in a lyrical style, possessing a rhyming scheme that made the poems easy to read aloud. In 1954, a composer named Alan Rawsthorne viewed these poems as possessing a musical quality, and so he set about taking six of them and composing a score to accompany each so that they could be performed aloud as a set. A decade or so later, one of the people who took in a recital of Rawsthorne’s musical poems was a young boy who would grow up to become one of the most important and influential people in the history of musical theatre…that young boy was Andrew Lloyd Webber. Not only did Webber enjoy Rawthorne’s production, but he also enjoyed reading Eliot’s complete Book of Practical Cats. Andrew Lloyd Webber agreed with Rawthorne that the poems lent themselves to being presented as songs, but he also thought that the characters presented in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats acted as a form of social commentary on the nature of the composition of the society in which he was living. Even though he was still young, Andrew Lloyd Webber viewed this all as a play. As he grew into adulthood, he developed his idea into one that ended up becoming one of the most respected and revered musical plays of all time…Cats!

Cats premiered in London in 1981. It has gone on to be one of the longest-running and most successful musicals ever in the West End with almost 9,000 performances to date. While many people have heard of Cats, not everyone is familiar with the plotline of the play. The musical centers around a tribe of cats called Jellicles. Each year, all members of the tribe gather at an event called The Jellicle Ball. At this ball one of the cats is chosen to go to the Heaviside Layer (which is a form of Heaven). To the cats, being chosen is an honour and represents an opportunity to experience a form of rebirth and renewal. In order to warrant being chosen, each cat must appear before the assembled gathering and state their case as to why they should be considered the chosen one. When they state their case, the cats do so by singing the poem that T. S. Eliot wrote about their character in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Interwoven amid the individual speeches of the candidate cats is the politics of moment…the currying of favours, the process of lending support to a cat who appears to have a chance to be selected, the splintering of the gathering into competing factions, the petty jealousies and much more.

Elaine Paige as Grizabella.

In theatre circles, there is a term known as an eleven o’ clock song. Traditionally, evening performances ended not long after eleven o’clock so, the big, emotionally-driven grand finale song that wrapped up the storyline of the musical was usually placed near the end of the play and would be performed just before closing time. When Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote Cats, he decided that none of T. S. Eliot’s poems had sufficient dramatic impact to serve as his play’s eleven o’clock song. So, he asked his friends to each submit a song of their own creation. Award-winning director Trevor Nunn submitted a song entitled Memory. This song was meant to be sung by a character named Grizabella who was a cat, who in her day, was quite glamorous, but who had fallen onto hard times and was a mere shell of her former self. When Andrew Lloyd Webber heard Nunn’s song of redemption and compassion, he knew he had found his eleven o’clock song and that his musical was now complete. Memory was first performed on stage by an actress called Elaine Paige. Her rendition of the song was given the Ivor Novello Award for Best Lyrical Composition in 1981. Even though Memory has been sung to great effect by singers such as Barbra Streisand, it is Elaine Paige’s rendition that is held up as the standard by which all others are compared. Not only that, but Memory is generally considered to be one of the most memorable songs in the entire history of staged musical productions anywhere in the world.

So, it is with great pleasure that I present the enormously talented Elaine Paige singing the hit song Memory from the musical Cats. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song Memory as sung by Elaine Paige from the musical Cats can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for Andrew Lloyd Webber can be found here.

***As always, this is a reminder that all original content of this post is the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Canadian Songs About Canadian Places…Song # 4/250: Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane

Fifty-five years ago, my mother and father decided to take me on a trip across Canada. We started out in Sydney, Nova Scotia, by train. My folks even put our car on the train! I can’t imagine how much that cost but the car and the three of us spent the next ten days traversing this great country of ours by rail. I can’t remember much about that trip but there is one exception…the Rocky Mountains. The train we were on allowed passengers to stand on an open-air platform at the back of the last car. I can clearly remember being in awe of the height of the Rockies, how crisp the mountain air was and at how snow-capped these mountains were. I, also, remember periods of blackness whenever we would travel through a tunnel. Going by train through the Rocky Mountains served as a clear reminder as to what an extraordinary feat of engineering the railway was that united the land we call Canada. I am grateful to the sacrifices of those who endured hardship in the building of it. ***For the sake of brevity, I also acknowledge the damage that the building of the railway did to the Indigenous Peoples of this land but will save further discussion on this topic for another post.

When we arrived in Vancouver, our car was unloaded and waiting for us when we got off of the train. We spent a couple of days there. Vancouver is truly one of the most scenic major cities in the world…with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east. I haven’t been back to Vancouver since I was a child, but I do recall Stanley Park being a wonderful spot. As we began our drive back to Nova Scotia, we started up along the coast. It was there that I saw towering totem poles and forests thick with huge trees as far as the eye could see. Going over the Rockies might have been hard on the car engine, but from the back seat, unbelted, I had a panoramic view of the majesty of those mountains. We stopped several times at look-out points. I still feel small and insignificant when I think about those times. Everything that people say about the prairies is true to a point…all I remember was how boring the scenery suddenly became. It was hour upon hour of wheat fields…flat, flat wheat fields. The only break in the tedium of that drive was at the very beginning when we spent a day in Lake Louise, which is absolutely gorgeous. Somewhere in the many boxes of slides that I hope my mother still has possession of, is a photo of me at The Big Nickel in Sudbury, Ontario, as well as at Niagara Falls and Parliament Hill in Ottawa. All in all, we drove back across Canada over the course of twelve days. What an epic journey! Looking at the logistics of such a trip through my adult eyes, I am not sure if it was foolish of my father to have attempted it in such a short time frame, or instead if it was a Herculean feat for the ages! Regardless, I can truly stake my claim as someone who has traveled across this beautiful country, even if I was only three years old at the time.

Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane is one of Canada’s most iconic songs, and Tom Cochrane one of our most successful and respected singers. From the mid-1970s, when he was the lead singer of a band known as Red Rider, through the 1980s, when the band became Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, and into the 1990s, when he performed as himself, Tom Cochrane has been involved in writing and singing some of the most well-known songs in Canada’s musical canon. HIs hits include songs such as Lunatic Fringe, White Hot, Big Leagues, No Regrets, Mad Mad World, I Wish You Well and his biggest hit, Life is a Highway. Tom Cochrane is an officer of the Order of Canada, the winner of over a dozen Juno Music Awards, and has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, as well as given a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. As grand as those accomplishments may sound, to Tom Cochrane, his greatest accomplishments have come via his philanthropic and charity work. He is involved in many organizations that work to preserve our environment, but he devotes most of his time and energy into helping children in impoverished areas of our world. In fact, it was as a result of his first trip to Africa (on behalf of the World Vision Canada organization) that Tom came to be inspired to write Life is a Highway.

Cochrane in Africa on behalf of World Vision Canada.

Cochrane says that going to Africa for that very first time in the early 1980s opened his eyes to how privileged his own life had been as compared to how so many other human beings were living in abject poverty. Seeing the distended bellies of tiny African children caused Cochrane to re-evaluate his priorities in life. This reassessment of his purpose in this world became an integral part of his personal journey. As Cochrane reflected on the manner in which his life was transforming before his very eyes, he took pen to paper and wrote Life is a Highway. The use of a highway as a metaphor for a personal journey of discovery is nothing new in the world of literature, but in Tom Cochrane’s capable musical hands, he was able to create an iconic rock song that, at once, spoke to the massive breadth and width of our country, while still touching on the soul-inspiring nature of how one’s life can change when you travel: seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures along the way.

To this day, Tom Cochrane continues to devote a significant portion of his time and energy toward humanitarian relief efforts around the world. But, to hear him talk about it, he doesn’t want any attention or pats on the back. Instead, he hopes that the example he is setting will inspire others to adopt a more charitable and compassionate outlook towards those in need, wherever they may be found. So, when you watch the video for Life is a Highway, you won’t see much, if anything, about poverty and hunger. Instead, you will see Canada. Canada has a long and proud tradition of helping those in need around the world. So, Cochrane’s video was shot in such a way that it helps to create feelings of pride in the beauty of our land, and, by extension, in being Canadians. Most of the video was filmed in and around the Badlands of Alberta.

In life, it is easy to be comfortable. Always living where you live and never straying too far from the safety of your home base is an easy and familiar way to go through life. But, many riches await those who travel. There are so many parts of our own country, as well as other countries around the world, that are just so interesting and inviting. As I have written in previous posts, leaving my Cape Breton childhood home and coming to Toronto as a teenager changed my life. I am so much richer for having experienced the diversity that a city like Toronto holds. For those who have traveled internationally, the history and culture and traditions of those countries adds to the fabric of our souls, and I feel makes us better as citizens of an interconnected world. Seeing how other people live their lives can inspire us to live our own lives differently. In the case of Tom Cochrane, that experience tugged at his heart strings and made him a more compassionate man. Whatever the case, life is indeed a highway, so let’s all get out there and ride it all night long.

The link to the video for the song Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for the humanitarian charity World Vision Canada can be found here.

***As always, please remember that all original content of this post remains the sole property of the author. There is to be no reblogging, copying or sharing of any part of this post without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Keepin’ It Classy: the Stories Behind the Most Memorable Classical Compositions in History…#4/50: The Overture to Carmen by Georges Bizet

Carmen by Georges Bizet is considered to be one of the most important and well-constructed operas ever produced. The piece of music from Carmen that we are looking at today is known as the Prelude or Overture. Generally speaking, any time you hear that a piece of music is an Overture, it tends to mean that it is music that precedes the actual opera or musical or symphony. The purpose of an Overture is to set a tone for what is to come. In the specific case of the Overture to Carmen, you will note that in the upper left-hand corner of the sheet music is the term Allegro Giocoso. The term Allegro means to play at a fast or upbeat tempo. When combined with the term Giocoso, it means to play at a fast and cheerful or joyous tempo. As with many of the classical compositions I am profiling for you in these posts, I have great confidence that you have heard this Overture before. It is one of those compositions that has become interwoven into our cultural and artistic experiences in life. Even if you know nothing about the opera, Carmen, I am sure you will listen to the opening notes of this Overture and nod knowingly. However, familiarity with this tune is just the beginning of your journey today. Carmen is such a famous opera because it was pioneering in scope. It also made a hero out of its composer, Georges Bizet, who, in turn, became one of Classical Music’s most tragic figures. So, let’s polish our eyeglasses and get ready, because the curtain is about to rise on one of Opera’s most famous tales, which begins, as almost all operas do, with an Overture.

Georges Bizet.

Georges Bizet was born in France in 1838. He was viewed as a child prodigy in much the same way that Mozart was when he first came to the attention of the Royal Court in Vienna. Bizet was enrolled in the very best private music academies and won many awards for his virtuosity on the piano, including the prestigious Prix de Rome, as a teenager. However, there were several aspects of his life that conspired against his future success. For starters, Bizet did not like to perform in public. So, even though his music professors and mentors were all aware of his talent, Bizet rarely displayed those skills for the public and/or for influential people in the French aristocracy. As a result, Bizet’s public popularity was never great. Furthermore, Bizet did not always believe in himself, and therefore, even when he was given commissions to work on, he often failed to complete them because he was never confident that his compositions were good enough, or more to the point, that they never quite measured up to the high standards he set for himself behind closed doors. But the biggest obstacle that Bizet faced when it came to becoming a famous composer during his lifetime had to do with the nature of opera and of classical composition at that time in history.

Up until the mid to late 1800s, it was felt that for an opera or a symphony to be considered proper, it had to be made in a way that promoted or upheld proper virtues of the time. Proper virtues were considered to be music that praised God, as well as music that praised royalty and the policies of governance that monarchs espoused. Well, Georges Bizet did not believe in organized religion, and so he felt that creating works that praised God made him a fraud, and that because he didn’t believe in God, any work he created in God’s name would, by the very nature of his feelings toward the subject matter, be flawed. Since Bizet had high standards for himself, he refused to create work that would be flawed before it was ever premiered in public, so as a result, he simply refused to play the role of a traditional composer. Bizet’s refusal to toe the line, as it were, cast him as an outsider in the political sense in the competitive world of classical music in France.

But sometimes being viewed as an outsider is where one needs to be in order to have the freedom to create original work. This was the case for Bizet and for his opera, Carmen. All throughout Europe in the 1800s the music establishment continued to operate as it always had, which was to create works praising God and/or royalty. However, there was an undercurrent of discontent that was percolating in quiet salons and small playhouses. It was in these locations that some composers began creating operas and symphonies for the common citizen. The stories being told in these smaller venues concerned more realistic themes such as sexuality, crime, the politics of daily living, poverty and so on. This type of storytelling became known as Verismo, or realistic, theatre. It was toward the Verismo school of storytelling that Bizet was always drawn and it was Carmen…his opera…that was Verismo’s first great work.

The story of Carmen revolves around a young man who falls in love with a Gypsy woman named Carmen. However, Carmen understands the power of her beauty, and so she uses her feminine wiles to seduce a man of influence so as to advance her own station in life. In a fit of jealous rage, Carmen’s lover is killed, and Carmen, herself, ends up losing her life. The opera Carmen was a morality tale bordering on the bawdy, in which the central character dies. All of this was unheard of in the established opera scene in Paris at the time. As such, Bizet’s work was savaged by the critics, and his opera was closed after only a few weeks of performances. At the time, Carmen was considered yet another failure by Bizet, in a long line of failures in a career that many considered to be an utter disappointment. Bizet lapsed into a state of depression which, coupled with a throat condition (which may have been cancer), caused Bizet to pass away at the very young age of 37 years. In death, his many compositions were destroyed or given away by his wife because they were valued so poorly as to be considered worthless. Several other composers adapted Bizet’s score for Carmen so much that, for a while, it was difficult to accurately know where Bizet’s influence left off and the work of newer composers began.

During his life, Bizet was judged harshly by his critics. However, history painted a much more complimentary picture of the man and his work. It all began when composers such as Rossini and Puccini gained fame using the Verismo style of storytelling. As the telling of stories steeped in realism became more commonplace in theatre and opera, many people began wondering how it all came to be. What were the trailblazing productions that served as the foundation for modern theatre and opera? As experts traced the evolutionary path backwards, they kept coming back to Bizet’s so-called notorious work, Carmen. Viewed with more modern eyes, the plotline of Carmen hardly seemed profane anymore. In fact, when critics had a closer look at Carmen, they came to realize how revolutionary it was in terms of its construction, how Bizet’s musical score complemented the emotions of the characters and the emotional reaction of audiences, and so on. Carmen was restaged toward the turn of the century and was very well received. In the century since those new performances, the opera Carmen has been performed thousands of times, and fittingly enough, it has become the most performed opera of all time in Paris. Around the world, Carmen is regarded as one of the finest operas ever produced. It is certainly Georges Bizet’s magnum opus.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am highly confident that you will all recognize the Overture to Carmen as soon as the opening notes are played. Furthermore, I am equally confident that you would recognize a second piece…an aria called the Habanera which appears early on in the opera when Carmen first appears on stage and sings, as a way of introducing herself. So, I am going to provide links below for both pieces of music.

It is tragic how we allow our biases to cloud our judgements at times. How different Georges Bizet’s life may have been if the social mores had been different while he was alive. If they had been then, perhaps the ingenious nature of his opera would have been more greatly appreciated, and his status as a composer of note and worth would have been elevated. Positive recognition of Bizet’s talent coming when it did is fine as far as his legacy goes, but it is cold comfort to a man (and his family) whose life’s work was deemed worthless and thrown in the trash after his death. I wonder if, as you read these words, there are geniuses alive today whose work is mocked and reviled by those with judgey states of mind. I guess that only time will tell.

The link to the video for the composition Overture to Carmen by Georges Bizet can be found here.

The link to the video for the instrumental version of the composition Habanera by Georges Bizet can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Georges Bizet Museum in Paris can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Classical Music station found in my very own hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada….Classical 103.1….can be found here.

***As always, please be aware that all original content of this blog post is the sole property of the author. The content of this post may not be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the expression written consent of the author. ©2022

Today’s Top 40: A Closer Look at the Stories Behind the Hottest Songs of the Day…Song # 3/250: As It Was by Harry Styles

Editor’s Note: Just for the information of those keeping score, I am tweaking the format of this series slightly. For starters, I am expanding the list of Top 40 charts I am leaning on for content, and as well, I am going to be more random in what chart position I compare each week. In the past, I had started at Position #40, and then I wrote about Position #39 the following week, etc.… Now, I am going to bounce around the chart positions in order to give these posts a bit more variety than they may have had otherwise. So, starting today, I am using the Top 40 charts from the following places: BBC1, CFNY-FM and CHUM-FM (from Toronto), Billboard Magazine, Spotify Weekly Countdown, as well as KEXP.FM (from Seattle). So, without further delay, let’s look at what is hot and trending in the world of music today.

Today’s Chart Position: #1.

Today’s Musical Selection: As It Was by Harry Styles (BBC1)

Other Contenders:

Kendrick Lamar: n95 (Spotify, KEXP)

Kendrick Lamar is, arguably, the most respected performer in the world of Hip Hop at the moment. His albums have been hailed as masterpieces for years now. As Hip Hop lyricists go, he has often been considered a poet, as much as he is a rapper. It is not by fluke that Kendrick Lamar finds himself atop two very different Top 40 charts at the same time. He is highly recommended, if you are in the mood for some cutting edge Hip Hop. ***Listener discretion advised.

Of Monsters and Men: Alligator (CFNY.FM)

Of Monsters and Men hail from Iceland and have had much success on the Alternative music scene for the past decade. They hold a soft spot in my heart because we used to play their song King and Lionheart at my favourite little school, Grant Sine PS, just before it closed. The song spoke of change and the need for courage. Our school was located in the middle of a socially-assisted housing complex, so change was not something that anyone wanted. In order to prepare the kids for the coming storm, as it were, we often gathered together and sang as a school community. One of the songs we sang the most was King and Lionheart. Alligator is a peppy, Folk-Rock song that you will enjoy if you give it a listen. It will get your toes a-tapping, for sure.

Camilla Cabello and Ed Sheeran: Bam Bam (CHUM-FM)

Ed Sheeran is certainly one of the most prolific musical talents of his generation. Whether we talk about his solo records or his many collaborations, it seems as though Ed Sheeran is everywhere, all of the time, when you turn on the radio. Camilla Cabello got her start with the hit song Havana. Since then, she has enjoyed much chart success around the world, and is definitely one of the most respected and recognized young female stars in music today. The song Bam Bam is about picking up the pieces after breaking up with someone you thought you might build your life around. Many believe that this song is about her relationship with Canada’s own Shawn Mendes. As one would expect from one of today’s top Pop stars, Bam Bam is infused with Latin beats and plenty of upbeat vibes. It is an easy song to bop to, all the while forgetting that her heart is breaking throughout the whole song.

Jack Harlow: First Class (Billboard)

A rapper from Louisiana, Jack Harlow is one of the rising stars of the genre. I don’t particularly like this song nor this style of sexually-charged storytelling, but apparently, that may just be me. Harlow debuted at #1 on many charts in the US and around the world with this song. Feel free to check this out if a song about doing favours for beautiful women…such as moving them up to First Class… in exchange for sex…is your jam.

Now, on to today’s chosen artist and song….

Harry Styles is a multi-talented artist who has experienced success as a solo singer, as a member of one of the biggest selling Boy Bands of all time, One Direction, as well as taking star turns as an actor in highly-regarded movies such as Dunkirk. But as much as Harry Styles is known for being a star of stage and screen, he is becoming equally as well known for his work in the Fashion world as a style icon and for his philanthropic work supporting numerous causes…the most important to him being those centered around gender identity and the LGBTQ2s+ community. So, let’s take a few moments and get to know a young man who is combining substance and style in ways rarely seen these days. Harry Styles is one of the biggest stars on the planet at the moment. This is his story.

Harry Styles is actually his real name. It almost seems too perfect to be true, but it is. He was born Harry Gordon Styles in 1994 in Redditch, Worcestershire, England (which is a little over an hour to the northwest of London, just south of Birmingham). Harry was a music lover all through his childhood. When he turned sixteen years of age, his mother encouraged him to try out for a British television show called The X Factor. Harry Styles made it through the initial audition process as a solo singer, but was eliminated in the second round of competition. However, Styles was given a second chance by the show’s creator, Simon Cowell. That second chance turned out to be one of the turning points in Harry Styles’ life. Cowell told all those who had been eliminated in the second round that they could re-audition for a chance to be on the show, but this time, they weren’t allowed to be solo acts anymore. They had to find a partner or form into a group. Harry Styles still had dreams of having a singing career, so he agreed to Cowell’s new format and met up with four other male singers named Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik. The five boys agreed to rebrand themselves as One Direction…because there was only one direction they wished to be headed, and that was straight to the top! One Direction ended up making it all the way to the finale and placed third overall. As a reward, they were given the chance to record and release a song out in the real world. The song was called What Makes You Beautiful. That song became a monster hit for the boys, reaching all the way to #1 around the world. I can tell you for a fact that it was a very popular tune in my own house, with my two daughters who were reaching the age where they were just starting to make their own song choices and playlists. One Direction had many more hits such as Story of My Life, Best Song Ever, Drag Me Down, Perfect, Steal My Girl and many more. From 2010-2015, One Direction sold over 70 million albums, making them one of the biggest-selling Boy Bands in history (trailing only The Backstreet Boys, The Jackson 5, BTS and surprisingly enough, The Osmonds).

As One Direction released album after album, their success grew exponentially. However, keeping in mind that the members of the band all entered into the profession with dreams of solo stardom, it was not all that surprising that the band called it quits at the very height of their fame. While all five members possess musical talent, it was Harry Styles who seemed to always stand out…just as Justin Timberlake did while a member of ‘NSync. So, in 2016, Harry Styles began his solo career. That phase of his musical career has been just as wildly successful as was his time in One Direction. His many hits include Sign of the Times (which was Rolling Stone Magazine’s Song of the Year in 2017, as well as being BBC1’s Music Video of the Year), Falling, Watermelon Sugar, Adore You, Fine Line, Treat People With Kindness (Harry Styles’ merch. is often tagged with the letters TPWK, which, as it turns out, is an acronym for this song), and finally, the #1 song around the world today, As It Was.

The song title, As It Was, is actually part of a longer line from the lyrics of the song which states that…nothing is the same as it was. This song is about many things, but primarily, it offers a commentary on the changing nature of how we view other people. As mentioned earlier in this post, Styles is on the forefront of a societal change with regard to gender identity and how accepting we must be of the personal choices that people make. Many people note that Styles has started becoming known for wearing clothes on stage that many would consider to be “women’s clothing and accessories”. When asked if his style of fashion was signalling to the world that he was coming out publicly with a sexual preference, Styles replied that his sexual preferences should not be a factor in accepting him for who he is as a singer and an actor. Harry Styles believes that our penchant for judging others in gender-specific ways serves to limit the potential that each of us has within us. I am not sure that I want to wear pearls, as he often does, or to don frilly frocks, but I suppose that If I did, I would still be me and that is the point that Harry Styles is using his public platform to make. When asked about being a role model, Styles claims that he wishes to follow in the footsteps of people such as David Bowie, who used fashion and music for the cause of advancing social change.

As 2022 unfolds, the sky is truly the limit for Harry Styles. His new album, Harry’s House, is the top-rated album in the world as you read these words. I am sure that another acting gig awaits after how well he did in his role as a British soldier in the Academy Award-winning movie Dunkirk. Harry has also been heavily involved in the fashion Industry, and has already served as co-chair of the extravagant Met Gala in 2019, so a fashion-oriented future remains on the table for our young star, too. Overall, Harry Styles stands as one of the world’s biggest stars and most forward thinkers. It is with interest that we should all monitor how his future unfolds, because, no doubt, more great and memorable things are in store for everyone.

The link to the video for the song As It Was can be found here.

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

The link to the closing scene from the movie, Dunkirk, featuring Harry Styles can be found here.

The link to the official website for BBC1, where Harry Styles and As It Was are ranked as #1, can be found here.

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