KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #375: Tiny Dancer by Sir Elton John.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #375: Tiny Dancer by Sir Elton John.

Sir Elton John was born as Reginald Dwight in 1947. As “Reggie”, he grew up listening to his parent’s records that included Elvis, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. He was always drawn to piano players but, more than that, to performers who matched their skill at playing with style and panache. Not surprisingly, his early role model was Little Richard. Reggie spent his teens playing in bands that made their own original music or else, as a backing musician to more established names such as Long John Baldry. One such backing band was named “Bluesology”. In that band were two friends named Elton Dean and lead vocalist, Baldry. It was because of these two men that Reggie Dwight created his new stage name, “Elton John”. *In fact, the later song, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, Elton John mentions someone called “Sugar Bear”……well, Sugar Bear was based on his friend, Long John Baldry.

In any case, not long after playing in “Bluesology”, Reginald Dwight met one of the most important people he was ever to know: a writer named Bernie Taupin. Both young men had answered the same ad seeking songwriters and singers. When Reggie showed up, he was handed the lyrics to songs Taupin had penned. He created music to match the lyrics and the two men were hired as a writing team. It was the beginning of a lifelong, fruitful partnership that has ended up with the creation of some of most memorable songs of all time such as, “Daniel”, “Your Song”, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, “Crocodile Rock”, “Bennie and the Jets” and so many more. Even though Elton John gets most of the recognition for such a stellar career, the fact is that he and Taupin have been equal partners in the very same way that McCartney and Lennon were partners and the same way that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were a team.

The song, “Tiny Dancer” came from an album called, “Madman Across the Water” and is, ostensibly, about Taupin’s wife, Maxine Feibleman who actually was “the seamstress for the band”, helping to keep Elton John’s many elaborate costumes in a good state of repair. For me, one of the things I really like about “Tiny Dancer” is that is shows how he and Taupin created moods and stories with deeper meanings. “Tiny Dancer” is six and a half minutes long. You don’t often hear songs of that length anymore. Everything today is short and often the structure is a verse or two with a chorus that repeats multiple times to fill up the space. “Tiny Dancer”, at six and a half minutes, has plenty of time to dig a little deeper and create an atmosphere that luxuriates in its storytelling narrative. It is a novel masquerading as a song.

Because of the richness of the lyrics and musical arrangement, “Tiny Dancer” was a hit when it was released. But, it received a further boost into our cultural consciousness when it was used so well in the movie, “Almost Famous” to describe what life in a rock n’ roll band on tour is really like. Furthermore, the career of Sir Elton John was the subject of a competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. In this contest, filmmakers were challenged to create an original, live-action short film based upon one of his hit songs. The winning entry was based upon “Tiny Dancer” and is phenomenal! I will post both, the “Almost Famous” movie scene and the Cannes Film Festival winning entry, below.

Sir Elton John has sold hundreds of millions of albums in a career that is still going on today. He has been inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a performer and, along with Taupin, in the Song category. He was knighted by the Queen of England for his continued contributions to English culture. He has created a musical catalogue containing some of the most-loved and influential songs of our time. We have not heard the last of him in this countdown list, either. For today, please enjoy one of my favourite Elton John songs, “Tiny Dancer”. Just a man and his piano and six and a half minutes of pure magic.

The link to the video for “Tiny Dancer”by Sir Elton John, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Sir Elton John, can be found here.

The link to the movie scene from “Almost Famous” that contains the song, Tiny Dancer”, can be found here.

The link to the award-winning, Cannes Film Festival video for “Tiny Dancer” by Sir Elton John, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their website can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #376: Christmas Eve/Sarajevo12/24 by The Trans Siberian Orchestra.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #376: Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 by The TransSiberian Orchestra.

One of the most important lessons that I learned while working with young children as a teacher was that we, as adults, do ourselves and our children a disservice when we take for granted that our base of general knowledge is automatically their base of general knowledge, too. In other words, when we fail to explain their world to them because we think they already understand it all. A simple example relates to Christmas.

One of the curriculum guidelines that I followed as a teacher of Grades 1 and 2 stated that children should have knowledge of, and be able to explain the nature of the traditions enjoyed by their families. Fair enough. Virtually every child could tell me Christmas traditions that their family followed such as putting up the Christmas tree, some of the decorations they used, some of the food that was prepared and so on. Brainstorming such a list was never an issue. But, when I asked what was the reason that we bring a tree into our living rooms, for example (because on the surface of things, that is kind of a weird thing to suddenly do in December), the kids had no clue at all. So, part of what we did in class in the weeks leading up to the Christmas Holiday break was to explore one facet of Christmas traditions each day and for me to help the children understand what was happening in the world around them so that their experiences in life made some kind of sense.

Fast forward to my final year of teaching. I had the great pleasure of having a special friend in my classroom all year named Deb Wilton (who is a faithful reader of these posts, too). Deb is an Educational Assistant by trade, which means she works with students who require extra assistance in order to successfully navigate their way through their school day. Because of her efforts, Deb helped make my job as classroom teacher easier. We were a good team. Part of how that teamwork manifested itself was in how, every now and then, Deb would come to me with an idea or suggestion, based on what we were learning in class at the time. So, it was no surprise that she approached me one day during our Christmas Unit with a suggestion for a carol the kids might enjoy. (We were looking at the background of famous Christmas carols, too, as part of exploring the meanings behind the traditions of Christmas). She suggested I check out a claymation-based video of an orchestra performing “The Carol of the Bells”. She said that she was sure the class would like it and that she thought my girls at home would like it, too. Well, Deb was correct! The video is an absolute hoot and a holler! I loved it at first sight and shared it with the kids in class and my girls at home. While both, Leah and Sophie liked the video, it was Leah who really got into it. Ever since hearing the TransSiberian Orchestra’s version of this song, Leah always comes alive with delight. So, when I asked the girls for their list of ten songs for me to discuss in these posts, I was not surprised that Leah picked this song (It is #8 on her list of ten songs.) It is definitely one of her favourites now so, thanks, Deb!

But, a funny thing happened on the way to making this post. In doing my research, I came to learn that just about everything I thought I knew about this song was, in fact, wrong. Here is the amazing, true story of the song I have always called “Carol of the Bells” by TSO. First things first, The TransSiberian Orchestra is, in fact, not an orchestra in the traditional sense. The TSO is actually a side project put together by some members of a Heavy Metal band out of Miami called Savatage. Savatage had released several albums in the early 1970s and were contemporaries of such Metal heavyweights as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and the like. But, as often happens when a band has been together for a number of years, some of the members decided that they wanted to take a turn trying something a bit different. At that time in music history, “rock operas” were the big trend, as well as, epic, lengthy, “prog rock” concept albums from bands such as Rush, Yes and Genesis. The guys from Savatage decided to create a series of six rock operas, some of which would have a Christmas component to them. They decided to do this under the moniker of “The TransSiberian Orchestra” *(The band name originated because of a trip that member Paul O’ Neill took across Siberia on the TransSiberian Railrway and how beautiful and rugged he found it all).

One of the concept albums they released as TSO was called, “Dead Winter Dead”. On this album was a song entitled, “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24”. This song is the one that is played on radio and the one I have always called, “Carol of the Bells”.”Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24″ is structured, musically, upon the traditional carols, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, as well as, “Carol of the Bells”. However, the inspiration for the song has nothing at all to do with Christmas. In fact, the band drew their inspiration from a real life example of the strength of the human spirit that happened during the Balkan War in the 1980s.

You may recall that the city of Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1984. Just prior to the Games taking place, military strongman, Josip Broz Tito died. He was no hero but, under his authoritarian rule, he was able to keep the various ethnic factions that comprised the Balkans in their regional areas. However, in the political vacuum that arose after his death, various nationalist groups sprang up and, not long after the Winter Olympics had successfully concluded, the entire Balkan region of Europe descended into Civil War. One of the most famous events of this war was called The Siege of Sarajevo. The beautiful, cosmopolitan city that had just been held up to the world as a beacon of ethnic co-operation and harmony, fell under the siege guns of the Serbian Army. Sarajevo is ringed by hills and mountains so, when the perimeter of the city was taken by the Serbs, they placed their artillery guns on high and were able to pound the city unmercifully. Sarajevo was laid waste. But, the image that shocked the world most was the fact that Serbian snipers were training their guns on citizens who were starving and who were attempting to do simple things such as buying bread in the marketplace. On the worst day for deaths by sniper fire, 22 civilians were shot dead in the town square. Men, women, children, the elderly….no one was safe from the sniper’s bullets.

But, as the Siege of Sarajevo dragged on, something miraculous began to happen. A man named Vedran Smailovic decided that enough was enough. He was a trained cellist. Smailovic decided that he needed to do something to inspire his fellow citizens of Sarajevo to hold on and not give up hope. He felt that the strength of the human spirit was more powerful than the Hate of the Serbian Army. So, Smailovic took his cello and went into the ruins of a church and he began to play. In the silence that had blanketed Sarajevo at night, his notes rang out and spread across the city. He played the same song each night (Adagio in G minor). He played that song for exactly 22 minutes, in honour of the 22 victims of sniper fire in the marketplace that sad day. When the siege finally ended and the survivors were being interviewed, many related the story of hearing the “Cellist of Sarajevo” playing at night and how his music gave them something to look forward to amid the gloom and despair of the war. As it turned out, it wasn’t just the survivors of the siege who were inspired by Smailovic’s actions. So, too, were a bunch of heavy metal musicians who wanted to write a rock opera about Christmas!

So, as you listen to this song with wiser ears, note the use of a cello at the beginning of the song (a tip of the hat to Smailovic), note how the opening tune mimics “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and note the use of electric guitars (the heavy metal influence). The name of this song is not “Carol of the Bells”, as I have so mistakenly been calling it all these years, it is actually, “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” in honour of the miracle of The Siege of Sarajevo and the power of Hope and Love that can often be found at Christmas time. I will post the official TSO video below, along with the claymation video that started this all off. In addition, I will post a news report about the “Cellist of Sarajevo” so you can see the story for yourself. Have a happy day and be on the lookout for miracles. They tend to show up when least expected but most needed.

The link for the video for “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24″by The TransSiberian Orchestra, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The TransSiberian Orchestra, can be found here.

The link to the claymation video for “Carol of the Bells” can be found here. *It’s a hoot, trust me!

The link to the news report concerning the Cellist of Sarajevo” can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #377: Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #377: Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder.

Stevie Wonder spent most of his childhood in The Motor City of Detroit, Michigan. That is noteworthy because Detroit was, also, the home of Motown Records. When Stevie was a child, he sang all around Detroit in church choirs. At age 11, he wrote and performed an original composition that was heard by one of “The Miracles” (of “Smokey Robinson and the Miracles” fame) who, in turn, brought Stevie to the attention of Motown head, Barry Gordy. Gordy liked what he heard and signed Wonder to his first recording contract. After, initially, recording cover versions of existing songs (including an album entirely comprised of Ray Charles tunes called, “Tribute to Uncle Ray”), Stevie began touring with The Motortown Revue. One of his live sets (20 minutes long) was recorded and released as an album called “Recorded Live: The 12 year old Genius”. In that set was a song called, “Fingertips”. “Fingertips” went to #1 on the charts, making Stevie Wonder the youngest singer to ever top the charts. Needless to say, that song was just the beginning of a career that remains relevant to this day.

Overall, Stevie Wonder has sold hundreds of millions of albums, has earned 25 Grammy Awards and countless other accolades, he has released dozens of #1 hits songs such as “Superstition”, “My Cherie Amour”, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours”, “You are the Sunshine of my Life”, “Living in the City” and many more. One of his funkiest songs was a song that eerily predicted a life-altering event that almost cost Wonder his life. That song was, “Higher Ground”.

“Higher Ground” was released in 1973 from an album entitled, “Innervisions”. The song deals with themes of reincarnation. Wonder is quoted as saying that he was of a mind that believed in the possibility of our human spirit transcending our time on earth and that our soul had a strength that might enable it live on even after our the shell of our body was diminished and gone. Not long after the release of this song, Stevie Wonder was involved in a serious car accident that left him in a coma for several days. Like many who have experienced similar situations, Wonder emerged from his hospitalization with a renewed determination to make his life count for something more than just fame and fortune. As such, he took the stirrings for Civil Rights and for Social Justice that had always existed within him and brought them to the forefront of his public life. Consequently, Stevie Wonder has been lauded with many Humanitarian Awards and has lent his name to many important causes throughout the rest of his days.

The song, “Higher Ground” incorporated many aspects of a style of music called, “Funk” that was becoming popularized by artists such as James Brown, at the time. In fact, although many musicians are present in the video you are about to see, the reality is that Stevie Wonder played all instruments used in the recording of this song. He did this on most of his songs and, as a result, Stevie Wonder has been often called a “genius” and “a one-man band”. “Higher Ground” was a Top Ten hit for Stevie Wonder. It was, also, a Top Ten hit, many years later, for “The Red Hot Chili Peppers”, who began their career as Funk-Rockers. So, get ready to move and groove because here comes Stevie Wonder and, as well, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, with one of the most funked-up songs of all-time, “Higher Ground”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Stevie Wonder, can be found here.

The link to the video for”Higher Ground” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #378: Always On My Mind by Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and The Pet Shop Boys.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #378: Always On My Mind by Brenda Lee, Elvis, Willie Nelson and The Pet Shop Boys.

All throughout the history of modern music, there have been songs initially released by one artist and then, subsequently, recorded and released by a new artist. We call these second releases, “Cover Songs”. Cover songs tend to follow one, of two, formats……they are either a faithful reproduction of the original song or else, they are a complete re-interpretation of the original song that results in something completely new and vital. While there have been many successful cover songs over the years, no song has been covered so successfully by so many different artists as has the song, “Always On My Mind”. For some, the Elvis version immediately springs to mind. For others, they immediately hear Willie Nelson’s voice. In the 1980s, The Pet Shop Boys covered this song and ended up having one of the biggest hits of their entire career. And, let’s not forget who had success with it first…..Brenda Lee. Her version is lovely (as you shall soon hear).

“Always On My Mind” was written by three men named Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James. Singer B.J. Thomas was the first to record it but, his version failed to launch, as they say. After another couple of failed attempts by other singers, “Always On My Mind” ended up in the care of Brenda Lee, which is where the story of this song begins today.

Brenda Lee’s Cover Version:

Brenda Lee had been singing since she was a small child. Always on the pixie-ish side, Brenda Lee was fussed and fawned over as a child because of her cuteness and her excellent singing voice. By the time she was in her early teens, Brenda Lee’s father passed away and she ended up becoming the breadwinner of the family. Prior to Madonna coming along in the 1980s, Brenda Lee held the record for the most Top Ten hits. Ironically, her biggest hit had nothing to do with Country and Western songs (for which she is most known) but, instead, it is for a Christmas song called, “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”. It is hard to find a Christmas compilation cd that does not have her song near the top of the list of songs available for playing. I know that everyone in my household knows her song. Anyway, Lee recorded “Always On My Mind” back in 1972. It received some radio play and reached the low 40s on the Top #100 countdown. But, the most significant aspect of Brenda Lee’s version of “Always On My Mind” is that it brought the song into the public spotlight and, because of that, the song was heard by a couple of other singers who would put their spin on it and take it to the next level.

Elvis Presley’s Cover Version:

He is called, “The King” for a reason. WHAT. A. VOICE! It is easy to forget how truly amazing Elvis’ singing voice actually was. It tends to get lost, at times, in the tabloid nature of his later years (the weight gain, the white jumpsuits, the weirdly-themed rooms at Graceland, the drug use). But, the man could sing. I would give anything to be able to open my mouth and have the sound of his voice pour forth! Elvis was the face of Rock n’ Roll for the 1960s and continues to be regarded as the best of all-time by many. He is certainly the biggest selling singer of all-time, with album sales in the hundreds of millions. During his heyday, he was the biggest star in the world and his every move was reported on. So, when he married Priscilla, their ceremony took on the air of a Royal Wedding. Subsequently, when they divorced a few years later in 1972, it seemed like their loss was America’s loss. A month after the divorce, Elvis recorded “Always On My Mind”, which opens with the line, “Maybe I didn’t love you, quite as often as I should have…”. It seemed as though he was singing directly to Priscilla through the lyrics of this song. America swooned. “Always On My Mind” went on to become one of Elvis’ biggest selling singles and one of his signature songs. To many, “Always On My Mind” is an Elvis song and that is a hill that they are willing to die on.

Willie Nelson’s Cover Version:

In the KEXP Countdown list, it is Willie Nelson who is given credit for this song in slot #378. Nelson recorded and released this song in the early 1980s. One of the reasons many consider his version to be the definitive version of “Always On My Mind” is because it is this version that has ended up winning many awards. For example, this song won three Grammy Awards and served as the first time the songwriting trio of Carson, Christopher and James were formally recognized for their contribution as the original writers of the song. As was the case for Elvis, Willie Nelson’s version of this song went to #1 on the charts, staying there for several weeks. For many, the sound of Nelson’s voice is the one most closely associated this song. It is his most popular song and the one that often closes his live concerts.

The Pet Shop Boys Cover Version:

The Pet Shop Boys were a UK synth-pop duo consisting of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. They had several big pop hits during the 1980s, including “West End Girls”, “It’s a Sin”, “Opportunity (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” and “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”. In 1986, The Pet Shop Boys were invited to contribute to a celebration commemorating the tenth anniversary of Elvis’ death. Each performer who appeared on the TV special offered up a cover version of an Elvis classic. The Pet Shop Boys chose “Always On My Mind”. Unlike all of the other cover versions throughout the decades, The Pet Shop Boys chose to speed up the song and filled it with dash and pizzazz! This peppy rendition caught everyone by surprise and turned out to be one of the biggest hits for the band and one of the songs that has come to define the musical sound of the 1980s. In fact, the video for this song is consistently listed as one of the best from the 80s. It stars Tennant and Lowe as cab drivers and veteran actor, Joss Ackland, as an eccentric passenger who, when asked who he was, replies that he is a “bilingual illiterate……I can’t read in two languages.” The highly original video only gets better from there.

All in all, one of the ways that you can judge the quality of a song is by the ability of many to create Art from its lyrics and musical structure. “Always On My Mind” is that rare jewel of a song that has gifted generations of performers with material of pure gold with which to work from. It has gifted us, as an audience, with countless outstanding versions to listen to and enjoy. It is not necessary to argue over which version is the best…..because they are all stellar in their own way…..but, is there a version that particularly appeals to you? If so, let me know in the comments below. I will post versions of all four covers, starting below, with Brenda Lee’s song. The others will appear in the comment section. Enjoy all four songs and have a wonderful day!

The link to the video for “Always On My Mind” by Brenda Lee, can be found here.

The link to the website for Brenda Lee, can be found here.

The link to the video for “Always On My Mind” by Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the music video for “Always On My Mind” by Willie Nelson, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Wille Nelson, can be found here.

The link to the music video for”Always On My Mind” by The Pet Shop Boys, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Pet Shop Boys, can be found here.

The link to radio station, KEXP, who helped to inspire the writing of this post, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #379: Be My Baby by The Ronettes.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs In Modern Music History.

Song #379: Be My Baby by The Ronettes.

***Warning: The story of “Be My Baby” is not a happy one, as it turns out. It involves domestic abuse, among other things. If you are someone who would find this disturbing then, please, stop reading now and skip this post. Happier songs and stories await in future posts.

The story of “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes reads like one of those “Unsolved Mystery” television detective shows. It involves fame and love and kidnapping and murder and redemption, too. It is an epic saga that spans several decades and ultimately ends in vindication for the lead singer of The Ronettes, Ronnie Spector. But, more than anything, it is a very human tale of love gone wrong, opportunities lost and a lifetime of wonder at what might have been if things had evolved differently. Here is the story of Ronnie Spector, The Ronettes and their biggest hit, “Be My Baby”.

Before The Ronettes came to be, the three singers were better known as “The Darling Sisters”. All three were family; lead singer Veronica Bennett, her older sister, Estelle Bennett and their cousin, Nedra Talley. Like many singers of colour back in the 1960s, The Darling Sisters performed at church basements and local community events. Many folks complimented them on their harmonies and their good looks. The girls were encouraged to try and take their talent to “the next level”, as it were and sing professionally. So, the girls began visiting night clubs and jazz hotspots in NYC. Soon, they were offered jobs as back-up dancers and back-up singers. One night, when the scheduled singer failed to show up for their gig, the nightclub owner asked Veronica if she had songs she could sing and, if so, would she mind filling in. She was delighted to sing her church songs, backed by a professional band. The audience took to her right away. Veronica and her sister and cousin were invited to come back to the club and take a regular slot performing with the band. One person who was in the audience that night and heard Veronica sing was a man who was becoming increasingly influential in the music business. His name was Phil Spector and he was about to change Veronica Bennett’s life forever.

Phil Spector was a record producer. He is best known for what became known as his “Wall of Sound”-style of music-making. Spector’s “Wall of Sound” created a full, rich aural experience by using all manner of instruments that produced sounds at all ranges of the sound spectrum. Thus, when you listened to a typical Phil Spector-produced song, you heard sounds in combinations that were fresh and original and awe-inspiring. Spector worked with everyone from The Beatles, to The Rolling Stones, to The Righteous Brothers, to Ben E. King, to Ike and Tina Turner and then, to a young girl named, Veronica Bennett. When Spector heard Veronica Bennett perform that night in the club, he immediately assessed her voice as possessing hit-making ability. He invited her to audition for him. Veronica was thrilled do so for a man of Spector’s renown. But, one thing that Phil Spector was known for, in addition to his talent at producing hit records, was his all-controlling nature. Typically, Spector handled all aspects of the recording of the songs he produced; everything from the recording of each track, to the sound mixing, the planning of rehearsal schedules, the booking of studio time…..everything! When he worked with male singers or bands, he was a hard task-master but he was professional, too. When he worked with females, Phil Spector was different. For example, he was very dismissive of Tina Turner. He claimed that she had no particular talent and that her husband at the time, Ike, could have trained any number of women to be his, “Tina”. So, when the small-town, young and inexperienced Miss Veronica Bennett showed up for her audition, Spector immediately began belittling her. He mocked all of her song choices. He ridiculed her vocal range. In the end, he told her that she would amount to nothing without his guidance and training. This was a pivotal moment in Veronica Bennett’s life.

Like many young women, when faced with power imbalances with powerful men, Veronica was being pressured into doing nothing less than relinquishing a fair degree of control over her life. Unsophisticated and unprepared as she was in that moment, she agreed to work under Phil Spector’s rules. The first rule he insisted upon was that she was to no longer share equal billing with her family members. In fact, she was to turn her back on her family ties, altogether. The intoxicating effect for Spector of having a female completely under his thumb caused him to propose marriage. Veronica was hardly in a position to argue so, not only did she change from Veronica to Ronnie but, also, from Bennett to Spector and thus, his new, legally-bound protégée, Ronnie Spector, came into being. While most people marry for Love, Phil Spector married for control. He insisted that she record and release the song “Be My Baby” and to tour relentlessly under his watchful eye. In the years that followed, “Ronnie” brought forth many other songs that she wanted to sing but, Phil Spector rejected her choices, time and time again. Often, he would give her song choices to other singers that he was working with, leaving her without any new source material to help advance her career. The song, “Be My Baby” became a #1 Hit and helped bring attention to “Ronnie Spector”, who was careful to always appear happy and upbeat when on stage and/or being interviewed by the media.

But, behind the scenes, she was being, quite literally, held captive within the walls of the home she shared with Spector. He even kept her shoes under lock and key so that she wouldn’t have anything to wear should she have ever decided to leave him. If she did wish to leave, Spector said he would kill her and her family. Eventually, with her mother’s help, she was able to file for divorce but, as a condition of divorce, she had to relinquish all rights to her hit songs to Spector. Even in divorce, she was subjected to years of abuse and control by Spector that would have continued ad infinitum if not for a serious event that happened to another female singer.

One day a 911 call was placed by staff who worked at Phil Spector’s studio. A woman had been shot in the mouth and ended up dying. Phil Spector was seen holding the gun in his hands, muttering that “I think I’ve just killed someone”. He was charged with murder and placed in jail. That unfortunate incident was what freed “Ronnie Spector” from her imprisonment. With Spector removed permanently from her life, Veronica was able to step back out into the real world and establish her own life again.

One of the first things that happened was that her song, “Be My Baby” was selected for induction in the Song Category of The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Previously, when Phil Spector was a free man, he actively campaigned against the honour, claiming that his ex-wife was undeserving of such an award and that, without him, she would still be “nothing more” than a back-up singer in small time clubs. But, now that he was in jail, Spector had no more influence on her life and, as such, she was free to accept the induction and to step back into the limelight.

We often allow ourselves the privilege of viewing celebrities as being different from us. We lend them an air of glamour that, in some cases, only serves to mask the human drama that exists in their private lives. From everything I have read, many people knew of Phil Spector’s treatment of Veronica but, because of his position as a Kingmaker in the music industry, no one reached out to help her throughout the years that they were married, including those years when they were divorced. Once Spector was jailed, people felt freer to approach Veronica. One highlight for her was a musical collaboration she did with singer, Eddie Money, called, “Take Me Home Tonight”. The song was a hit for them both. From that song, “Ronnie Spector” was accorded the respect given to veteran singers (such as Diana Ross or even, Tina Turner) based on the strength of “Be My Baby”. What most did not know until much later was that she had only a small career, with a few minor releases and collaborations, after “Be My Baby”. Veronica Bennett could have had a whole string of hits and Gold records to her name but, instead, was denied, again and again, by a man who sought to control her rather than promote her and help her realize her dreams. Of all of the stories behind the songs that make up this list of the greatest songs of all-time, the story of “Be My Baby” is, arguably, the saddest of them all.

Away from the glitz and the glamour, Veronica remarried and is now known as Veronica Greenfield. She lives quietly in Connecticut with her husband and family. She performs on occasion but tends to avoid the bright lights and the big stages. From everything I have read, she is now happy and content with her life. That is important. As for Phil Spector, he spent the remainder of his life being controlled by prison guards. Upon entering prison, one of the first things that happened to Spector is that the authorities took his shoes. He died in custody in January of this past year, having been incarcerated for longer than he had been married to Veronica Bennett.

The link the video for “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, can be found here.

The link to the website for The Ronettes, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #363: A Forest by The Cure.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #363: A Forest by The Cure.

In 1989, I began my first year of teaching in downtown Toronto. I was 24 years old, living and working in the biggest city in Canada. It should have been an exciting time in my life but, in the beginning, I found it overwhelming and lonely. Being a new teacher is always an overwhelming experience and I was no different in that regard. But, not having someone to lean on during those times made it harder, perhaps, than it needed to be. Anyway, in those pre-Internet times, it wasn’t as easy to connect with people as it is today. There was no Tinder or Bumble or E-Harmony or social media of any sort. The primary forms of media back then were TV, Radio and Newspapers. Sometimes, in newspapers, people would place classified ads, in which, they would seek a companion. Being shy, as I am, this seemed like an avenue worth exploring so I actually placed a “companion ad” of my own in the Toronto Star newspaper. From that ad, I received three responses. One was from a 19-year old girl, whose parents owned the General Store in Phelpston, Ontario (not far from Wasaga Beach). Initially, we corresponded the old-school way by writing letters to each other. In the course of those exchanges, we discussed Music. Based upon her desire that “a piece of her should be with me in my world”, she made me a mixed-tape of songs that meant something to her. The cassette was filled with songs by Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure and so on. In retrospect, it was an outstanding collection of music. Unfortunately, as is often the case with things of this nature, the mixed tape she sent to me turned out to be better than actually being together with her and it quickly became apparent that she was not The One I was hoping to find. So, she went back to Phelpston but, her cassette remained.

The first song on that cassette was, “A Forest” by The Cure.”The Cure” have been together as a band since the beginning of the 1980s. Lead singer, Robert Smith, has been the only member of the band to have been there for the entire duration of their career. Overall, “The Cure” have record sales approaching the 30 million mark in a career that has seen them release some of the most well-known songs in history such as “Pictures of You”, “Its Friday, I’m In Love”, “Love Cats”, “Let’s Go To Bed”, “Lullaby” and “Just Like Heaven”. They were inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.The song, “A Forest” comes from their second album called “Seventeen Seconds” which saw the band start to dabble a bit in more of a darker, almost “Goth-like” sound. “A Forest” is one of those songs that is almost an instrumental song (even though it has lyrics) because it is the guitar playing and keyboard work that are what makes this song sound so special. Smith is quoted as saying that he was trying to create an “atmosphere” with “A Forest” and he is bang-on with his assessment. “A Forest” is a super-sounding song. It is a song that you can listen to with your eyes closed and allow your imagination to create marvellous stories in your mind. The actual song lyrics describe a boy being lured to the edge of a forest by, what he believes, is a girl beckoning him forth. Does he go past the tree line? Is there really a girl on the other side for him to find? I will leave the answers to those questions for you to explore on your own when you listen to the song below. “A Forest”, while not a big hit, chart-wise, is none-the-less, one of the most popular songs that “The Cure” play live. It has been a fixture on their set lists all throughout their career. Without question, the “sound” of this song has become synonymous with the sound of “The Cure” as a whole.

As for me, back in Toronto, all things happen for a reason. I didn’t end up with the girl, at the time but, I ended up with a decent story to tell and a stellar mixed tape to own. Whether my Phelpston flame was trying to lure me across her tree line and into a whole new world with her selection of “A Forest” as song #1 on the mixtape, I can’t be sure. All that I know is that I didn’t end up following the path she laid out before me and, instead, turned away to a brighter future that included, eventually, finding my true love, Keri who, at the time all of this was unfolding, was in Grade 6 in Trenton, Ontario, of all places. One never knows what life has in store. But, the lesson is, I suppose, that the right path to follow is the one you follow with your heart. Here is, “A Forest” by “The Cure”. Enjoy.

A link to the music video for “A Forest” by The Cure, can be found here.

A link to the official website for The Cure, can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting the music that becomes the soundtrack to our lives. A link to their website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #213: Boys Don’t Cry by The Cure.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #213: Boys Don’t Cry by The Cure.

In a world filled with toxic masculinity, one of the surest ways to change things is by allowing young boys to show their emotions, without fear of ridicule or abuse. But, as we all know, that is easier said than done. As a boy, we are told to “Walk it off!” when we are hurt and, furthermore, that playing hurt is what tough guys do and, after all, it is tough guys who win championships. When boys experience loss, they are told to “Get over it!”, to “Suck it up!” or, best of all, to “Be a man!” Emotions such as sadness or feelings such as empathy must be suppressed for the sake of appearances because, to cry, is to show weakness and to show weakness, as a man, is to be a disappointment to those around you who demand that you exude strength at all times. I would never claim that life is easy for women or girls but, at the same time, society doesn’t make it easy for young boys, either. Sometimes, allowing ourselves, as men, to be vulnerable is the greatest feat of strength imaginable.

When the members of “The Cure” were growing up in England, the prevailing sentiment was that boys should never cry. If you have ever seen a photo of Robert Smith, the lead singer of “The Cure”, you will quickly notice the wild hair and the make-up and realize that his upbringing was steeped in abuse, based upon his appearance. As a result of “not looking like a normal teenage boy”, Robert Smith channeled his emotions into his music which was, at first, described as Punk rock-ish. But Smith, and his bandmates, Lol Tolburg and Michael Dempsey, never sought to confine themselves to one style or genre of music…even in their very earliest days as a band. So, the combination of wanting to create all manner of songs, along with his need to express his frustrations with how males were being trained to behave in society, caused Smith to write one of the great pure Pop songs of the early 80s, “Boys Don’t Cry”.

When “Boys Don’t Cry” was first released, it didn’t chart at all. That was primarily because the nature of the style of the song didn’t mesh with the expectation that “The Cure” would put out Punk or Goth tunes as a general rule. But, a few years later, the song was re-recorded for a Greatest Hits album. At that time, Robert Smith’s voice had matured so the song sounded better and, as well, “The Cure” had established themselves as a top band based on a string of hits that straddled the lines of many genres. Because of all of that, “Boys Don’t Cry” was accepted with open arms and charted very well.

I have two personal connections to add to this post. If you recall, I wrote a post about another “Cure” song called, “A Forest”. In that post, I mentioned that I once dated a girl in Toronto who made a mix-tape for me and that, even though the relationship wasn’t meant to be, that mixtape was awesome and was my introduction to many great songs. “Boys Don’t Cry” was one of the songs on that tape. When I was given the tape, I was told that “Boys Don’t Cry” was included because, even though we had only just met, she could tell I wasn’t one of those guys who kept his emotions all bottled up inside. I took that as a compliment. Thus, “Boys Don’y Cry” makes me smile.

Secondly, I follow a site on Twitter called, “Bright Wall, Dark Room”. It is an on-line magazine-type site devoted to movies. If you like watching movies and talking about movies with other cinephiles then, @BWDR is for you. I don’t tend to get too worked up about movies so I don’t engage in any of the debates and discussions that go on. However, once a week, they ask a survey question about some “trivial” aspect of movies. For instance, one survey was about “your favourite use of the colour Yellow in a movie”. People answer in a tweet and, generally, add a Gif or still image of what they are talking about. These Twitter threads make for highly enjoyable reading. The survey question last week was, “Have you ever ugly-cried because of a scene in a movie? If so, what was the movie and what was the scene?” It was amazing to be reminded of, movie after movie, containing special scenes that touched your heart. For me, it was a chance to remember a few scenes in which I have cried while watching. *(My ugliest cry, being “Cinema Paradiso” but, also, I cried at the end of “Toy Story 3”, as well as, “Coco”; neither film being “just a kid’s movie, I’ll have you know!” My girls have seen me cry while watching movies or TV at home. I hope that they feel that this is normal behaviour for good men and that, when their time comes to start dating, they won’t tolerate any of the “you must keep all emotions inside to be a man”-type of guys who are still out there.

In any case, being an emotionally-healthy person means that, at times, you will cry. That is what Robert Smith was getting at when he wrote, “Boys Don’t Cry”. It was what that long-ago girlfriend was getting at when she put that song on the mixtape she made for me. It is what I believe all men should feel free to do in front of their family and friends and heck, even in front of complete strangers. What do you think? Is an occasional teary moment a sign of weakness in a man? Feel free to speak your piece in the comments below, if you feel so inclined. For now, here is “The Cure” with one of their very first hits, “Boys Don’t Cry”. Enjoy.

The link to the music video for “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure, can be found here.

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

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #380: Radar Love by Golden Earring.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #380: Radar Love by Golden Earring.

One of the things I like to do to unwind is to go for a drive in my car. As you know, there are various types of driving that one does in a car; everything from a relaxing, meandering drive through the countryside, to the stop-and-go of the city. But, my favourite type of driving is being on the open highway, throttle down, engine roaring, wind blowing back your hair, tunes on ten! Now that I am retired and now that we are in Covid-inspired lockdown, I don’t find myself travelling down the highway as much. But, every now and again, circumstances conspire to bring me out of the house and into my car and out onto the highway and when this happens, “Radar Love” by Golden Earring is always one of the songs that I play.

Golden Earring happen to be a Dutch band. I find the biography of this band to be shocking in the sense that they formed in the early 1960s (when they were only in their mid-teens) and only just recently broke up due to health issues among some of the band members. As a functioning band, Golden Earring were together for almost sixty years!!! In that time, they have released dozens and dozens of albums in their homeland and have scored numerous Top Ten hits. In a way, they remind me of Canada’s own, Tragically Hip. They are woven into the cultural fabric of Holland the same way The Hip are in Canada yet, in both cases, neither band has had much of a presence in America. In fact, if I were being honest, I would have to admit that I only really know two songs of theirs: the US hits, “Twilight Zone” and “Radar Love”. But what songs they are!

“Radar Love” is a driving song. In the niche category of best road trip songs, “Radar Love” consistently ranks at or near the top all of the time. It is a song about two lovers racing to be together, bonded by this thing that they call, “Radar Love”. It is, almost, a supernatural force that is bringing them closer and closer together as the singer says, “I’ve been driving all night, my hands wet on the wheel….”. The guitar work in “Radar Love” is often used to mimic the roaring of a car engine in this song. The drums opening the song sound like wheels turning on pavement. So, as you burn down the highway, getting closer and closer to your destination, the song proceeds along to its ultimate climax, too. In the end, you get where you’re going while having had a rock n’ roll ride at the same time.

“Radar Love” was released in the 1970s but is a staple of Classic Rock radio stations right up to today. It is a typical guitar-driven rock song of the era but, unlike so many others, it perfectly captures the joy of being on the open road, the engine wide open, tunes blaring, beautiful lover waiting at the other end. As songs go, this tends to be a “guy’s” song but don’t let that stop you (if you are a lady) from enjoying the feelings that it espouses. If ever there was a time to get out of our homes, our neighbourhoods and our towns and travel some place new and different, these are those times. And, if you do decide to head out then, “Radar Love” is one of the best tunes you can place onto your playlist.

“No more speed, I’m almost there.

Gotta be cool now. Gotta take care.

Last car to pass, here I go,

And the line of cars go down real slow.

And the radio’s playing that forgotten song,

Brenda Lee’s, “Coming On Strong”

And the newsman sang, his last song

Oh, one more Radar Lover gone!”

The link to the video for “Radar Love” by Golden Earring, can be found here.

The link to the website for Golden Earring can be found here.

The link to the website of the fabulous KEXP, who have supported “driving songs” for almost as long as there have been roads to travel on, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #381: I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab for Cutie.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #381: I Will Follow You Into the Dark by Death Cab for Cutie.

Well, as we now know, the band, “Death Cab for Cutie” is based upon a song featured in The Beatles TV movie, “The Magical Mystery Tour”. The band was formed in the late 1990s and has released several albums that have been nominated for Grammy Awards in the Alternative Rock categories. The band is comprised of lead singer Ben Gibbard, Nick Harmer (bass), Dave Depper (keyboards, guitar and vocals), Zac Rae (keyboards/guitar)and Jason McGerr (drums).

The song, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” is Death Cab for Cutie’s biggest selling, and most well-known song of all-time. The song deals with Gibbard thinking about relationships and how they might extend beyond our living years, into the dark void of whatever happens after we die. It is a romantic song in the sense that it chronicles how the singer would search the Hereafter for as long as it took to find those he loved.

What really has helped Death Cab for Cutie establish themselves is the placement of their songs in well-known television shows. A song like “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”, with its theme of an everlasting love, was well-suited for angst-driven dramas in which it has appeared such as “90210”, “Scrubs”, as well as, “Grey’s Anatomy”. In each case, Gibbard’s lyrics, paired with the storylines of beloved television characters, helped create a greater sense of emotional depth for all involved. As such, Death Cab for Cutie were able to reach a vast audience who may never had listened to their song if not for having it be the soundtrack to the storylines of their favourites characters on tv. Smart marketing on their part.

So, please enjoy this acoustic ballad that soared to prominence because of TV. From a band who came into being because of a Beatles movie that appeared on TV, too. Here is, “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie.

The link for the video for “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie, can be found here.

The link for the video for when this song was used in the TV show, “Scrubs” can be found here.

The link for the video for when this song was used in the TV show, “Grey’s Anatomy”, can be found here.

The link to the video for “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Choir! Choir! Choir!, can be found here.

The link to the website for Death Cab for Cutie can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Sings in Modern Music History…Song #382: The Magical Mystery Tour/I Am The Walrus by The Beatles.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #382: The Magical Mystery Tour/I Am The Walrus by The Beatles.

In the year of my birth, 1964, an American author named Ken Kesey set forth with a band of family and friends who came to be known as The Merry Pranksters. Driving in a decaled-up van known as “Further” and armed to the teeth with all sorts of mood-altering chemicals such as LSD, Kesey and his gang set out to expand their consciousness and live a life that went beyond the confines of the expectations society placed on its citizens. There was a book written about this journey that was relatively famous, called, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip” by Tom Wolfe. At the time of Kesey’s travels, media was not the 24-7, real-time enterprise that it is today. However, several journalists did cover the story and printed their reports in newspapers and magazines around the world. One of the people who was following the exploits of The Merry Pranksters with interest was a young man named Paul McCartney. A lot had happened to The Beatles by the time Kesey began his journey. Beatlemania was in full bloom in the UK. The Beatles had already had several hit albums and many #1 hits under their belts. Like Elvis, The Beatles began making movies to help expand their commercial reach. *(For any young folk reading this, in 1964, there was no Internet, there were no websites for bands to promote themselves, there were no music videos nor YouTube nor Instagram nor TikTok or any other form of social media). In addition to their music careers, the members of The Beatles were, also, starting their exploration of Eastern Mysticism and expanding their own consciousnesses via meditation, as well as, drugs. The final big change in the Beatles story arc was that their manager, Brian Epstein, who had guided the early days of their careers with a firm but, gentle hand, had passed away. The combination of all of these events formed a “perfect storm” of sorts for the band when it came to deciding what projects to focus on next. So, when Paul McCartney pitched the idea of a TV movie about a fantastical bus trip called “The Magical Mystery Tour”, the band signed on.

The premise of the movie was that The Beatles would invite viewers to board their bus. The bus would then make several stops along the way and the band members would engage in silly, satiric adventures suited to the setting. There were a total of six songs written for this movie. The first song was the title track, “The Magical Mystery Tour”. It was written and performed mainly by Paul McCartney. It is a whimsical invitation to board the magic bus. The final song written was “I Am The Walrus” by John Lennon. The story behind “I Am The Walrus” was that word had filtered back to The Beatles that the lyrics to their previously-released songs were being studied in schools/universities for their “literary merit”. John Lennon, in particular, thought that this was an absurd state of affairs and set out to create a nonsensical song that would defy closer, scholarly examination. He based the gibberish-laden lyrics upon such literary tales as the poem, “Jabberwocky” and, more specifically, a Lewis Carroll poem called, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”. Ironically, in attempting to create a nonsense song, Lennon actually created one of the most literature-rich songs in their whole musical catalogue.

“The Magical Mystery Tour” movie was savaged by critics when it aired. Claims that the movie was “self-indulgent nonsense” stung the band mates and was part of the reason that they decided to put more of their efforts into travelling to India and away from the UK. “The Magical Mystery Tour” was the beginning of the end of the height of Beatlemania. This movie soundtrack also put the band at odds with their record company. As noted earlier, six songs were recorded for this movie soundtrack. Six is an unusual number because it is too many for an EP (extended play albums had no more than four songs) and too few for a full-blown album (which usually had 8-10 or more). So, to “solve this issue”, the record label decided to create a double-album by adding on several singles that had been previously released or that were slated for future albums. So, if you were to look up the soundtrack to “The Magical Mystery Tour” on Spotify or Goggle, you would see songs listed like, “Strawberry Fields”, “Hello/Goodbye”, “Penny Lane” and “All You Need is Love” and, not surprisingly, you would think that this was a whopper of a soundtrack. But, truth be told, none of those songs were actually in the movie which, in retrospect, even McCartney acknowledged as being more of a lark than a polished project.

“The Magical Mystery Tour” movie was the first real taste the members of The Beatles had at being in total creative control of their work. As such, they learned many lessons that they applied to later masterpieces such as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. To put a final bow on the movie, just like Ken Kesey had his band of Merry Pranksters touring with him in America, McCartney invited a group of Monty Python-esque singers called, “The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band” aboard the bus with him. These folks sang a song in the movie that was based on a pulp fiction novel called, “Death Cab for Cutie”. Why this is important is that, for starters, “Death Cab For Cutie” is the name of the band coming up in the very next post. When Keri saw this band name, she remarked at how odd it was and why would anyone named themselves that? Well, my dear, the answer lay within the walls of the Magical Mystery Tour bus. “Death Cab For Cutie”…the band…are fantastic, as you will soon see. In the movie, the song sung by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band is symbolic of the silliness that marked the movie as a whole. I will share it with you below. As well, we will listen to Paul McCartney’s “The Magical Mystery Tour”, as well as, John Lennon’s, “I Am The Walrus”. So, climb on board, everyone, the Magical Mystery Tour is about to begin. Enjoy.

The link to the video for “The Magical Mystery Tour” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the video for “I Am The Walrus” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the video for “Death Cab for Cutie” by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, can be found here.

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