The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #39/250: Feeling Good by Michael Buble

Michael Bublé is one of the most unique and interesting artists I have yet profiled. He is a singer who has sold over seventy-five million albums worldwide yet has never had a #1 hit song. He is listed as the third most successful Canadian artist of all time behind Celine Dion and Shania Twain, yet he is most known for covering the classic songs of American singers from half a century ago. His most popular album was a collection of Christmas standards. He only ever got into singing when he ran out of chances to develop into a national hockey league player. He actually paid to have his first album released all by himself. On and on the stories go. Michael Bublé has been betting on himself and going against conventional wisdom his whole life. In the end, it has brought him nothing but success. Here is the story of Michael Bublé.

Michael B. as a young man who harboured dreams of a career in the NHL

Michael Bublé was born in Burnaby, British Columbia. He grew up with a love for hockey and was a big fan of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. At the time, they had a Czech-born player on their team named Juri Bubla who became Bublé’s favourite player to follow and emulate. As a teenager, Bublé’s dream of becoming a professional hockey player came to an end as his enthusiasm for the game outstripped his skill level. For most of his late teenage years, he worked on his father’s fishing boat. The experience of being out at sea for months at a time was physically demanding. He was a boy among men during these outings. But the fact that he was able to hold his own in such a setting and play a productive part filled Bublé with a form of confidence that allowed him to eventually succeed in music. While on land during these same teenage years, Bublé started to attract attention at family events and other local gatherings in his community because of his singing ability. His maternal grandfather believed that his grandson had a gift and paid for music lessons himself. Sometimes, his grandfather, who was a plumber by trade, would offer his professional services in exchange for studio time for his grandson. It was during this time that the musical foundation upon which Michael Bublé would build his career truly began.

Michael Bible making a guest spot on CTV’s Vicki Gabereau Show in Vancouver.

Once Michael Bublé began to gain some experience on stage at talent shows and the like, he decided that a career in the entertainment industry might just be the ticket for him. Once he made that decision, Bublé showed an uncanny ability to market himself, making a series of fortuitous connections with influential people who helped him launch his career. In the beginning, his first break came when he won a local talent show and was disqualified for being underage. Normally this wouldn’t qualify as being a good break, but in Bublé’s case, the organizer of the show believed that he had the talent to be the winner and only disqualified him on the age technicality. That talent show organizer ended up becoming Bublé’s first manager. Bublé offered to work anywhere and everywhere and, as a result, sang on cruise ships, at local clubs, in shopping malls, at business conventions…basically anywhere that there was a microphone and an audience. One of the places he managed to get an invitation to perform was on the Vicki Gabereau talk show on CTV that was filmed in Vancouver. Bublé became a fill-in guest. That meant that he remained at her disposal on an on-call basis, filling in whenever a scheduled guest had to cancel at the last minute. This exposure allowed him to polish his skills as an entertainer and as a live interview guest. From his work with Vicki Gabereau, he scored a job singing at the wedding of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s daughter. It was because of the success he had singing classic tunes such as “Mack the Knife” at the wedding of Caroline Mulroney that Bublé was seen by producer extraordinaire David Foster. This changed everything for Michael Bublé.

David Foster and Michael Buble.

At the time that Michael Bublé met David Foster, Bublé was essentially nothing more than a wedding or lounge singer. He had one album to his credit at this point. But that album was paid for by Bublé on his own dime and was not the result of any record company investing in his potential. On the other hand, David Foster was one of the top music producers in the world, having had success with Celine Dion and many other big name acts. Bublé approached Foster and asked him if he thought he was talented enough that Foster might act as producer for his next album. Foster was lukewarm in his reaction. Eventually, he agreed to produce Bublé, but only if he could raise half of the production budget on his own. In this way, Foster was testing Bublé’s level of commitment and drive. Michael Bublé was not to be denied. He managed to raise over half a million dollars on his own. When he came back to David Foster, cash in hand, Foster agreed to give Bublé a try. This collaboration resulted in an album simply called Michael Bublé, which instantly went multiple times platinum and helped make Michael Bublé a star on the rise in Canada and around the world.

While Michael Bublé has had some success with songs that he has written, such as “Home”, “Haven’t Met You Yet” and “It’s a Beautiful Day”, it is his work singing the classic songs of the American Songbook that has brought him lasting fame. Ever since he was a teenage boy singing at family functions in Burnaby, B.C., Michael Bublé has been at his best when employing a singing style similar to those used by crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Perry Como and Mel Tormé. Because of his skill at turning back the hands of time for an entire generation of listeners who loved The Rat Pack era music, Michael Bublé’s albums often feature songs that are mostly cover versions of these classic hits. For this reason, he has been able to have a career with album sales cresting over the 75 million mark without having to do so by releasing hit singles of original work. It is an amazing accomplishment in many ways and makes him unique among all performers that I have ever profiled on this blog.

Of the many classic tunes that Bublé has covered, his rendition of “Feeling Good” is the one that has been most enthusiastically received by critics and fans. This song was written in the 1960s for a musical entitled The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. The song became popular when it was first covered by singer Nina Simone in 1965. However, it really gained momentum for her in the 1990s when it was used in a car commercial and came to the attention of an entirely new generation of listeners. A decade later, Michael Bublé covered “Feeling Good” for his fourth album called It’s Time. That album was Bublé’s second with David Foster and the first to reach #1 on the album charts. “Feeling Good” was the lead track. It is a song about confidence and has come to symbolize Bublé’s vision for himself and his career.

A professional photo of Michael with his grandfather.

It is not by fluke that Michael Bublé has become as successful as he has. He has a beautiful singing voice that is perfectly suited for the niche market of crooning the classics. He has an engaging personality and a winning smile that allow him to effortlessly charm audiences wherever he goes. One of his most important attributes is his work ethic. You don’t get to climb the ladder of success without drive and determination. Bublé’s willingness to pay his dues in all manner of events and locations during the early days of his career allowed others to come to trust him to always show up ready to give his best performance. Finally, perhaps the most important thing that Michael Bublé has going for him is his belief in himself and the backing and support he has from his family. It is hard to go wrong when you head out into the world armed with the courage of your convictions and the love of those who care about you the most. All in all, it is a recipe for success. Here’s hoping that Michael Bublé continues to enjoy a most amazing career. For now, let’s listen to one of the songs that really started him off. Here is his cover of the classic Nina Simone song “Feeling Good” Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song “Feeling Good” by Michael Bublé can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for the town of Burnaby, British Columbia can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. © 2023

Keepin’ It Classy: Composition #35/50…Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations

If there is one lesson that I can take after 30 years of being an elementary school teacher it is the fact that there is no one carved-in-stone method of teaching children that works for everyone. The learning styles possessed by the children who inhabited the classrooms I worked in were as varied as their hair colours, their favourite hobbies or the content of their lunches each day. They truly each are their own person. Yet, there is this seemingly endless desire to streamline and standardize education. Without going off on a huge tangent about it, just let me say that today’s post begins and ends with a story about how children learn. It involves one of the craziest things I was ever involved with as an educator. It is also the story of one of the world’s great modern pianists, Glenn Gould, and the music he would popularize and become famous for. This is the story of The Goldberg Variations. Let us begin.

About halfway through my career as a teacher I found myself working at a brand new elementary school in Bowmanville, Ontario. At the time that this story takes place, the school had been open for about five years. We had a student population of 800 or so from kindergarten to grade 8. The school drew its students from a community that most would consider to be solidly middle class. Many of the students played in sports leagues, took ballet, went on annual vacations, spent time at cottages and so on. All in all, the school community was wonderful to work with and I enjoyed my time there. As a staff we got along fairly well. We enjoyed being part of this new school community. So, imagine how we felt when we were told at a staff meeting one day that we had been chosen to participate in a pilot project about improving student success. The basis of this project was our school’s standardized test score results. In Ontario, grade 3 and 6 students write a series of standardized tests in the spring of each year. Without debating the merits of standardized test scores and the ability to draw any meaningful conclusions from them, our scores had been deemed to be stagnant. They were neither good nor worrisome. Our scores were average and had stayed basically the same. The powers that be wanted to conduct an experiment to see if there was a way to boost test scores, so they did something revolutionary…they asked for our input as educators. Now I must be honest and state up front that I have absolutely no faith in standardized test scores as a measure of anything of value. I could not have cared less about our school’s test scores. I cared about my students and their families. I cared about my fellow staff members. I cared about my profession. But I did not care about twisting myself in knots with worry about standardized test scores. But, they asked for a wish list of things we thought would help our students, so away we wished. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the wish list we created at the staff meeting that day basically became the terms of the pilot project we operated under for the next year or two. We asked for time to meet as teaching teams. That wish was granted. We asked for opportunities to visit other schools where test scores were consistently strong. That wish was granted. We asked for more classroom resources to use with our own students. That wish was granted, too. In fact, a couple of staff meetings later, we were told that all teachers in the Primary Division (grades K-3) were being given $2000.00 each to spend on books for our classroom. The books we were tasked with buying were ones deemed to be rich literature. This included biographies, books about science and the arts and so on. I can honestly say that in all my years as a classroom teacher, I have never had the opportunity to go shopping on the taxpayer’s dime. It was an unprecedented opportunity and we were all excited to go and shop for our classrooms.

***I feel it is important to stop for a moment and reiterate how completely bizarre a situation this was. Never before and never afterwards have I ever had access to such a large amount of money to use for classroom resources. In all other years the more common experience was to beg and plead for $50 here or $100 there to buy new classroom supplies. In most cases, that money came from fundraising conducted from school councils. So, to be given thousands to spend on books for the classroom boggles my mind to this very day.

Many thanks to the taxpayers of Ontario for allowing me to share this book with my students.

Off we went as a staff to a book repository in Toronto. There were ten of us who got to go on this shopping trip. The repository was run by the Ministry of Education, I believe. We entered a warehouse sized room that was filled with book shelves, all lined with shiny new books. We were given shopping carts and told to fill the carts up with whatever we felt would benefit the students we had that year in our classrooms. For hours we walked up and down the rows of shelves. As someone who loves children’s literature, it was an intoxicating experience. After three or four hours, my cart was finally full. We proceeded toward check out stations where our purchases would be tabulated and our books packed for shipping back to our school. I remember feeling light headed when it was all said and done. To this day, I cannot say whether or not that pilot project made any impact on the test scores of that school ( and I couldn’t care less, to be honest). But what I do know is that all of our students benefited from the injection of so many pieces of quality literature that we acquired that day. Many of these books were ones that I may not have purchased on my own due to their price tag or subject matter (which I may have viewed as being more of a want than a need). But I got to share these books with my students regardless and that was the important thing that came out of this exercise. One of the books that I acquired that day was called The Goldberg Variations by Anna Harwell Celenza. It came with an audio CD of the actual Goldberg Variations that I was able to play in class and discuss with the kids. I guess this is what they meant by the term rich literature.

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg

The Goldberg Variations was a suite of music composed by famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The story of their creation is that Johann Sebastian Bach was a composer, but he was also a teacher. Like many composers of his time, he earned much of his income as a result of offering instruction in music to students who were sponsored by members of the aristocracy. One such patron was a man named Count Keyserlingk. Whenever he happened to be passing through Leipzig (where Bach lived), Count Keyserlingk would bring along a student named Johann Gottlieb Goldberg for lessons. At one such session, Count Keyserlingk confessed to Bach that he was suffering from insomnia and that the only thing bringing him peace was having young Goldberg (who was in the Count’s employ) play for him on the harpsichord in the wee hours of the morning. Count Keyserlingk commissioned from Bach a piece of music that Goldberg might play for him at home. Bach agreed and ended up creating a composition that was based upon contrapunctual variations. Because these variations were created with the skill set of young Goldberg in mind, they became known as Goldberg’s Variations or, as they are known today, The Goldberg Variations. Without going into great technical detail, the key thing to know about this composition is that Johann Sebastian Bach was keenly interested in sounds. In a previous post (which you can read here), I wrote about his seminal work The Well-Tempered Clavier. That series of compositions was aimed at helping keyboardists acquire perfect sound quality from their instruments regardless of where they were playing. With that in mind, The Goldberg Variations was a suite of compositions that also dealt with sounds played on a piano. This piece requires great skill and dexterity by whoever is sitting at the keyboard, and as a result is viewed as being a difficult performance composition that should only be attempted by those possessing great talent.

This brings us to Glenn Gould.

A young Glenn Gould plays the piano under the watchful eye of his music teacher Alberto Guerrero.

Glenn Gould was the greatest classical pianist Canada has ever produced. The only child of parents who were also musicians, Gould was raised in an environment that was filled with opportunities to explore the world of music and of sounds. By the age of three, Gould was displaying an understanding of perfect pitch. By the age of six, he was creating his own original compositions and playing them in public at his local church. By the age of ten, Gould was enrolled in the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now, the Royal Conservatory of Music) and was receiving instruction in piano that was to shape his approach to music for the rest of his life. While his parents had always believed their son possessed prodigious talent, his teacher at the Conservatory confirmed it. Gould’s time spent with teacher Alberto Guerrero instilled in him ideas and techniques that would help Gould to become famous the world over. Techniques such as pulling down on the piano keys from below (as opposed to pushing from the top) and pre-tapping the entire composition with his fingers (so as to develop a form of muscle memory which would aid in speed and dexterity while playing) were just some of the skills handed down from Guerrero to Gould. What is most important to note is that Guerrero did what all good teachers do: he tailored Gould’s learning experiences specifically in ways that best suited his student’s learning style. Glenn Gould was a child prodigy when it came to the piano. He was an eccentric personality when it came to his social interactions. Guerrero knew upon first meeting Gould that a standardized approach would not be appropriate for this student. Because of his teacher’s efforts, Glenn Gould would develop the technical skills and the personal self-confidence necessary to take on one of the greatest challenges a classical pianist can accept…The Goldberg Variations.

Behold! The best selling classical music album of all time!

When Gould was first signed to a recording contract at age 22, he was taken to New York City to record the album. Record company executives expected Gould to choose relatively simple compositions to record because he was so young and so inexperienced at performing in public. When Gould told them that he was preparing to play The Goldberg Variations for his debut album, they were aghast and attempted to dissuade him. However, Glenn Gould was determined. The record was completed in only four days. Executives at Columbia Records were stunned. Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations has gone on to sell over five million copies worldwide, making it the best selling classical music album in history. To support this new album, Glenn Gould toured the world. However, the experience of performing to large audiences on the world’s biggest stages caused Gould to sour on the idea of performing in public. He felt that the need to “put on a show” detracted from his ability to delve into the deepest reaches of each composition. Consequently, after less than a decade of playing in public, Glenn Gould retired and spent the remainder of his days as a studio-only musician. What is noteworthy about this decision is that it placed Gould in a position that Johann Sebastian Bach would have envied. As it turned out, Glenn Gould was as enamoured of sounds as Bach was. By eliminating extraneous distractions such as performing in public, Gould was able to focus his mind on the nature of sounds in a controlled studio environment. In the 1950s, long before The Beatles and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys changed the nature of Rock n’ Roll by retreating to the studio and altering how sounds were used in their music, Glenn Gould was doing the same thing in his studio in Toronto. By splicing segments of audio tape together from various recordings, Gould was one of the first people to isolate tracks during recording sessions and reassemble them into a multi-layered soundscape. In fact, just before his death at age fifty, Gould re-recorded the entire length of his Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations album, slowing it down and giving it a depth and breadth of sound that was unprecedented in classical music history.

The iconic Glenn Gould bronze bench sculpture in front of the CBC building in Toronto.

Glenn Gould didn’t fit any mold. He was as unique as it was possible to be. Genius is like that. After his death, Gould was immortalized in bronze in a statue created by sculptor Ruth Abernethy that sits in front of the CBC broadcasting building in Toronto. In that sculpture, Gould is bundled up in a coat and hat as if he was anticipating it to be a blustery winter’s day. The truth was that Gould was always cold. He wore that same coat and hat when he performed once in Florida. At that performance, Gould was almost arrested for vagrancy by police because he looked so out of place, bundled up as he was in the Florida sunshine. Genius is like that, too. One of the warmest memories about him that was shared at the time of his death was how he would show up each morning between 2:00-3:00 at an all-day diner named Fran’s and eat scrambled eggs. Gould always came alone. He always sat in the same booth. He always ate the same meal. Genius is like that, too, I suppose.

In many ways, Glenn Gould shared much in common with his hero Johann Sebastian Bach. His fascination with all aspects of sound being the most obvious. I don’t believe that it was by fluke that Gould was drawn to The Goldberg Variations as a young man. It is almost as if Bach was speaking to Gould from beyond the grave with this composition. With its emphasis on sound creation and its origin as something to be experienced in the wee hours of the morning, The Goldberg Variations was the composition that helped connect Bach to the modern world. The only difference was that the instrument of this connection was not a young man named Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, it was a young Canadian named Glenn Gould. Perhaps if Count Keyserlingk had enjoyed some scrambled eggs during his late night concerts, he would have found the peace he was looking for. All that I know is that the most important aspect of being a teacher is coming to truly know the students under your care. The second most important aspect of being a teacher is acting upon that information and creating a learning space best suited for them to thrive. That was always my goal throughout my career. That was Mr. Guerrero’s goal with a young Glenn Gould. It was Bach’s goal with a young Goldberg. Unlike many works which, if I was being honest, are just music to me, I find that The Goldberg Variations reaches into the very core of my being. While I didn’t really need that educational shopping spree which brought The Goldberg Variations book into my possession, I am extremely glad I did get to go. That story says everything to me about being a teacher and about helping my students become the best version of themselves that they were meant to be. What an honour to have been able to do that for someone for all those years. For much of my life I have felt like I was the right person in the right place at the right time. Sometimes that is the result of luck. Sometimes it is something more. Even though it is not the middle of the night, I suddenly have a craving for scrambled eggs.

The link to the video for the composition “The Goldberg Variations” as performed by Glen Gould can be found here.

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

The link to my hometown classical music station…Classical 103.1…streaming from Cobourg, Ontario, Canada to the world can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Reader’s Choice: Song #30/250…Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus

If I were to say the name Amityville to you, what would your initial reaction be? If, like me, you are of a certain vintage then your first reaction would probably be to associate the name of that Long Island, New York village with the grisly murder that happened there in 1974. The main reason that any of us know of this small place at all is because of the book written by Jay Anson called The Amityville Horror. This book was turned into a movie of the same name that gave audiences the impression that the murders committed there were done in the name of Satan. Furthermore, both the book and the movie claimed that the house in which the murders took place remained haunted or, more specifically, under demonic possession. In the decade leading up to the release of the Amityville Horror movie in 1979, America was well-versed in the phenomenon of Satanism due to movies such as Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, The Exorcist in 1973, The Omen in 1976 and literally dozens and dozens of other films possessing varying degrees of cinematic merit. In this environment, the threat of falling prey to satanic cults was made to seem very real. It was also at this time that many people who may have been predisposed to joining satanic cults began viewing the Amityville house where the murders took place as a sacred spot worthy of a pilgrimage. One such person who made the trek to Amityville was a teenage boy named Ricky Kasso Jr.

Ricky Kasso Jr. on the day of his arrest for murder. Note the AC/DC shirt he is sporting.

Ricky Kasso Jr. was a teenage boy who grew up in Northport, New York. All through his childhood, Kasso exhibited behaviour that his parents viewed as being psychotic. Several times they begged the authorities to place their son in psychiatric hospitals for his own safety. Because the process associated with involuntarily incarcerating someone in jail or in a psychiatric hospital is a long and involved one, Ricky Kasso Jr. was left to freely roam around his community. Kasso ended up becoming addicted to drugs and was known around Northport as The Acid King. Soon Kasso began having fantasies about being in contact with Satan. In such a state of mind, he and his friends traveled thirty minutes to the west and visited the Amityville Horror house where they engaged in some rituals that the authorities were later to declare as being satanic. Not long after his visit to Amityville, Ricky Kasso Jr. violently murdered one of his teenage drug-using friends in a wooded area on the edge of Northport. Two weeks later, when police were informed of the murder via an anonymous tip, Ricky Kasso Jr. was arrested. In news photos of the arrest, Kasso was photographed wearing an AC/DC t-shirt. This is noteworthy because it sparked a wave of public hysteria that linked Heavy Metal music with satanic cult activity. In an instant, all Heavy Metal music was viewed as harbouring hidden messages, and Heavy Metal rockers were charged with leading the satanic trend in America. Those fans who happened to innocently enjoy Heavy Metal music and who wore band-related clothing also came under suspicion of being in league with the Devil.

Brendan B. Brown wrote the song “Teenage Dirtbag” about his experiences in high school at the height of the Heavy Metal = Satanism hysteria. He felt falsely judged because he was a fan of the band Iron Maiden.

At the time that the Kasso Jr. killing took place, Brendan B. Brown was ten years old. He lived in Northport, too. In fact, his home was not far from where the murder victim had been found. Brendan B. Brown came from a stable home and was as far removed from being considered satanic as one could be. What he mostly felt like was the biggest nerd in the world. More than that, he felt socially invisible. Brendan B. Brown was like so many teen and pre-teen children in that he never felt like he fit in at school. He wasn’t a jock or a fighter or a cool kid or even a class clown. He was just a quiet kid who blended in and disappeared and who also happened to be a fan of the Heavy Metal band Iron Maiden. Up until the Ricky Kasso Jr. murder, Brendan B. Brown had been able to publicly show his support for his favourite band by wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts to school. But once the murder became front page news, he and all other t-shirt wearing Metal fans became guilty by association.

As Brown left his teenage years and entered his twenties, he formed a band of his own with his brother and a few friends. They called themselves Wheatus. For one of the tracks on their self-titled debut album, Brown wrote a song about his experiences in high school in Northport. The name of this song was “Teenage Dirtbag”. In a world where one-hit wonders abound, “Teenage Dirtbag” has gone on to become one of the biggest-selling singles in history with sales of over five million worldwide. It is a super cute-sounding song that tells the universal story of what it felt like to be a social outsider in school. All that Brown’s song character wants is to be noticed by a girl he likes and to be able to display his love of Iron Maiden in public. The arc of the story told in this song is such that a welcome yet surprising conclusion occurs at the end. Many critics compare “Teenage Dirtbag” with classic tunes such as “Lola” by The Kinks, “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen and even “Love Story” by Taylor Swift. The title “Teenage Dirtbag” comes from a derisive phrase that was used to describe the killer Ricky Kasso Jr., as well as those who dressed like him, even if they hadn’t the slightest violent intention in the world.

Fighting against political opportunism, singers such as Frank Zappa, Dee Snider (from Twisted Sister) and John Denver rallied public opinion against attempts to mandate censorship of music content.

In the years that followed the uproar over the Kasso Jr. murder, the topic of music censorship became a political football. It was quite common to see legislative hearings in Washington where the topic of the need to censor the lyrical content of music was fiercely debated along political lines. One of the consequences of these hearings was the implementation of a sticker system that would be overseen by the music industry. In this system, any album or CD that contained lyrics that possessed profanity or suggestive lyrical content in any manner would have a warning sticker attached to the front so that parents could monitor what their children were buying at a glance. For what it is worth, my view has always been that censorship is a very slippery slope to start down. I have no wish to live in a country, province or town where I have to submit my views for approval before I can air them in public. If anything I say on my blog becomes so threatening or inflammatory that I break an existing law, then by all means contact the authorities and we will see what comes of it. For now, I will always stand on the side of freedom of expression. It is easy to ruin the reputations of individuals and communities simply because of how others rush to judgment without having a full grasp of the facts. Brendan B. Brown felt judged by others as being a teenage dirtbag simply because he wore an Iron Maiden t-shirt. I would like to think that Amityville, New York is actually a beautiful little place in reality. However, it will be forever linked with a grisly multiple murder and rumours of satanic activity. Far too frequently we allow ourselves to tar others with accusations that are as damaging to their reputation as they are inaccurate in the first place..

This was the Netflix documentary that Sophie and I watched. 1D do a killer cover of “Teenage Dirtbag” during this doc.

I will end this post with a version of this story that is told from an entirely different perspective. Just the other day my youngest daughter came into the living room and turned on the TV. Having finished her homework, she was looking for something to do. She ended up tuning into Netflix and selected a documentary about the band One Direction. My daughter is a huge Harry Styles fan, so watching a documentary about how he got his start in the music business was right up her alley. I remained in the living room with her and together we watched the documentary unfold. From what I saw on screen, Harry Styles and the rest of members of the boy band One Direction all seem like nice young men. Everyone was clean cut and polite. The five guys all seemed to get along for the most part. All in all, it was a very family-friendly documentary. The format that the documentary used was to follow the band during one of their tours. As a result, there were segments of behind-the-scenes shenanigans interspersed with one-on-one interviews, as well as segments showing the band in concert. All of a sudden about two-thirds of the way through the documentary, the band was shown on stage as they began to sing a song that I recognized but had trouble placing for a moment because it wasn’t a One Direction song. The song they were covering was “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus. I have to admit that this boy band did a fabulous job with the song. In interviews after the song segment ended, there were conversations about how hard it was for them to fit in when they were all so musically and artistically inclined. As it turned out, even superstars in the making like Harry Styles had moments as a teenager when he felt like an outsider. The universal appeal of a song like “Teenage Dirtbag” covers all manner of people in all manner of places. For my daughter, her introduction to “Teenage Dirtbag” couldn’t have been more wholesome and positive. She is lucky.

The link to the video for the song “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Teenage Dirtbag” as sung by One Direction can be found here.

The link to a video for the song “Teenage Dirtbag” as performed by buskers on a sidewalk in Dublin can be found here.

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

The link to the trailer to the movie The Amityville Horror can be found here.

The link to the video about the background of the song “Teenage Dirtbag” (which includes information of the Ricky Kasso Jr. murder and subsequent political fallout against Heavy Metal music) can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

The Stars of Stage and Screen: Song #37/250: Feed the Birds from the Original West End Cast Recording of the Musical Mary Poppins

Do you know the story of Mary Poppins? I don’t mean do you know the plot of the 1964 Walt Disney version starring Julie Andrews in the lead. I mean, do you know the origin story of the flying nanny? Who was Mary Poppins based upon in real life? Are you aware of how her story went from book series to movie to musical and back to a movie about a movie, again? Is it news to you that the author of the Mary Poppins books disliked Walt Disney? Well, she did. In fact, by the time I am finished peeling back all the layers of this story you are going to need to sit down and rest for a while. The story of Mary Poppins is one wild ride that all begins in a lawyer’s office with the reading of author P.L. Travers’s will. Buckle up!

When I set out to begin my research for this post about the musical Mary Poppins, I thought it was going to be fairly standard stuff. Boy, was I in for a surprise! I was barely a paragraph in on my first article when I came across the news that securing the rights to adapt the story of Mary Poppins for the stage was fraught with difficulty because of stipulations in the Last Will and Testament of author P.L. Travers that forbade any new productions from employing Americans and/or anyone associated with the 1964 Disney movie. Wait…what?! My immediate question was what did Ms. Travers have against Americans that she would ban an entire nation? As I sought the answer to that question, I ended up going down a rabbit hole of epic proportions. As I think back upon it now, I am reminded of a scene in the movie All The President’s Men (about the Watergate scandal) when reporter Bob Woodward of the Washington Post is questioning his inside source code named Deepthroat about who in the Nixon Whitehouse he should talk to next. Deepthroat replied by saying, “This goes everywhere and involves everybody”. The story of Mary Poppins is like that, too.

Helen Lyndon Goff aka Pamela Lyndon Travers aka P. L. Travers

In order to present this tale in the most coherent fashion possible, let’s start at the very beginning, before there ever was a Mary Poppins. The character known as Mary Poppins first came to the attention of the world through a series of children’s books written by a woman who went by the name Pamela Lyndon Travers or P. L., for short. That turned out to be a pen name that she used for privacy reasons. Her real name was Helen Lyndon Goff. Ms. Goff was born in Queensland, Australia. Her mother was a direct relation of the former Premier of Queensland. *(I have seen her referred to as his niece and also as his sister). Her father, on the other hand, was a failed banker who suffered from alcoholism and died while she was in her teens. Throughout her childhood, Helen Goff was often left to her own devices, so she whiled away the hours reading copious amounts of books, writing poetry and short stories and playing games that showed a vivid sense of imagination. After her father’s death, Goff began participating in plays and became a published poet, too. In her early twenties, she joined a traveling theatre troupe and toured New Zealand. It was at this time that she adopted her pen name. She picked Travers for her last name because it was her father’s first name. She opted for Pamela because she thought it was pretty. The middle name of Lyndon she kept as a means of retaining touch with her legal identity. Eventually, P. L. Travers moved to England where she continued to publish her poetry and write for several newspapers and magazines. During her time in London, Travers became acquainted with people such as the poet W. B. Yeats and the philosopher Carl Jung. It was also during this time that she published her first of eight Mary Poppins books. In interviews, Travers was quoted as admitting that the character of Mary Poppins was based upon her Great Aunt Helen Moorehead from Australia. Because of how busy her parents both were with their adult lives, young Helen Goff spent much of her childhood in the care of her Great Aunt Helen, who was her namesake. In those same interviews, Travers was always quick to paint a rather bucolic portrait of her childhood years and was very protective of her family members, especially when it came to her father’s reputation.

Walt Disney circa early 1960s ** I.V.

P. L. Travers published her first Mary Poppins book in 1934. A second soon followed in 1935. By 1940, both books were beloved the world over. Two children who loved hearing all about the adventures of the flying nanny were the daughters of a man named Walt Disney. Like many good parents, Walt Disney found time to read aloud to his children. The Mary Poppins books were among their favourite stories. Being fully aware of what their father did for a living, his girls asked him if, one day, he would turn the Mary Poppins books into a movie for them. Walt Disney promised that he would see what he could do. For the next twenty years, Walt Disney met with P. L. Travers in an attempt to acquire the movie rights to her book series. When he first decided to pursue this idea, he figured it would be a business negotiation like all previous negotiations before it. How wrong he turned out to be. In reality, P. L. Travers was fiercely protective of her stories and the characters within. She did not trust Walt Disney to be able to translate her vision onto a movie screen. She was afraid he would alter the characters, add in animation and create a musical score that would change the tone of how her characters appeared in her head and in her heart. Walt Disney entered negotiations thinking it would be all about money and financial considerations. What he discovered as the process unfolded was that the negotiations were all about trust and about Travers protecting the story of her childhood life (which was what the Mary Poppins stories were all about).

Poster for the 1964 Disney movie Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

As part of the two-decades-long courtship of P.L. Travers by Walt Disney, Mr. Disney traveled to London to meet with her at her home. He also had her flown to Hollywood in First Class so that she could meet him at the Disney Studios and get to see how a movie of her book would be produced and who might be involved in such a production. Because he was so invested in acquiring the movie rights, Walt Disney granted Travers unprecedented access to his studio. She was present for all pre-production meetings, including those with the Sherman Brothers who would go on to write the classic musical soundtrack that included such gems as “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and the subject of today’s post, “Feed the BIrds”. Everyone at Disney Studios found P. L. Travers to be extremely difficult to work with. She objected to almost every aspect of the script. She particularly objected to how Walt Disney was attempting to portray her father. However, Walt Disney had one big advantage in these negotiations and that was the luxury of time. P. L. Travers, on the other hand, had a finite amount of income and could not afford to remain in Hollywood battling Disney executives and underlings, day in and day out. She needed to get back to work and earn her own income again. Eventually, Walt Disney made his final offer for the rights to her books. P. L. Travers felt as though she had no choice, so she finally agreed. With her signature in hand, Walt Disney no longer required her approval for any aspect of the movie. He hired the actors he desired. He commissioned the songs he felt fit best. Finally, he added in a few scenes that included animation because he felt it helped bring the story to life in a magical way. So frustrated was he with P. L. Travers that he did not even extend an invitation to her so that she could attend the Hollywood premiere of Mary Poppins in 1964.

So, flash forward to the year 2000 and place yourself in the shoes of producer Cameron Mackintosh. He is a British producer of musicals for the West End theatres in London. He was given the task of approaching P. L. Travers to see if she would sell the rights to her books so that a musical adaptation could be created. After her negative experience with Walt Disney, P. L. Travers had a lot of stipulations to set out before she would consider any agreement to sell the rights to mount a stage production to Mackintosh. Foremost among those were that no Americans were to be involved, and especially no one who had been involved in making the 1964 movie that she so disliked. Cameron Mackintosh was able to score one key triumph for the proposed stage adaptation, and that was that Travers agreed to allow him to reuse the songs from the film score. As a result, the Sherman Brothers (who write the Disney songs) are credited with being co-creators of the West End musical score for the stage version of Mary Poppins. One of the reasons that the Sherman Brothers’ music was allowed to remain had to do with one particular song from the movie, called “Feed the BIrds”. While not the most popular song to be included on the original movie soundtrack, “Feed the Birds” was viewed as actually being the key reason that P. L. Travers agreed to sell the movie rights to Walt Disney in the first place.

The Sherman Brothers: Robert and Richard. They wrote the songs for the 1964 movie including “Feed the Birds”.

“Feed the Birds” is a song written by the Sherman Brothers for the film Mary Poppins. It is a song that appears four times throughout the movie and was used to set a more serious tone for the scenes in which it was included. Without going into the details of all four scenes, what is important to note is that we are introduced to the song by Mary Poppins and shown images of a beggar woman in Trafalgar Square who is selling bird seed to tourists so they can feed the pigeons who are found there. When Mary Poppins sings the song, the images are magical and filled with warmth. However, in a pivotal scene later on in the movie, the father, Mr. Banks, is seen walking through the same square on his way to a meeting at the bank, at which time he will be fired from his job. There is no joy in the scene with Mr. Banks. This was such an emotional song for P. L. Travers. It helped her to decide to trust Walt Disney enough to sell him the movie rights to her books. In her mind, with this song Mr. Disney had proven that he finally understood that her books were more than just fodder for movie scripts and were actually stories from her own life. The closing scene in which “Feed the Birds” is used isolates the father, Mr. Banks, illustrating how his life could have been different if he had invested more time in “feeding his own birds”, which Travers understood from the song to be his own children. In her heart, she knew that the Sherman Brothers were speaking directly about her and her childhood and how her life could have been different with greater attention afforded her and her siblings from her father. Perhaps he could have even remained alive and not been consumed by the stresses that led to his losing battle with alcohol. “Feed the Birds” was the one song that P. L. Travers approved of. It helped to get the Disney film made, and it helped get the West End musical made, too.

The final chapter of this story took place in 2013. Disney Studios knew that the 40th anniversary of the movie Mary Poppins was approaching. They also knew that the story behind how the movie came to be was an extraordinary one. So, a movie was made about how the original movie came to be made. This new movie was called Saving Mr. Banks. The movie starred Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak starred as the Sherman Brothers. Emma Thompson was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in this movie. Unlike the real P. L. Travers, she was even invited to attend the film’s Hollywood premiere.

The original book in the Mary Poppins book series with Great Aunt Helen Moorehead aka Mary Poppins on the cover.

One of the very first pieces of advice given to new writers is to write about what you know. Helen Goff wrote under an assumed name in order to protect the integrity and privacy of those family members she wrote about, especially her father, whom she adored in spite of his alcoholism. To P. L. Travers, the Mary Poppins books were never just stories to her. They were semi-autobiographical chapters from her own life. Consequently, it is to be expected that she would be protective of them and cautious when it came to placing them in the hands of strangers to her life. For others, such as Walt Disney, her stories were a commodity to be purchased, repackaged and sold to generations of consumers for whom Mary Poppins has no emotional attachment. That is how show business works. It isn’t wrong. It is just how it is. I still view Walt Disney as a man of principle. I appreciate how he came to understand P. L. Travers’ point of view by including a song like “Feed the BIrds” that spoke to her heart. To me, it showed that he understood that the world of commerce from which he operated his business was built upon a foundation of creativity that came straight from the hearts of those who create…including himself. Creativity is an exercise in personal passion. Walt Disney understood that. So did P. L. Travers. My parting thought today to all of you is that I know real life can get busy at times, but always make room in your world to feed the birds in your life. In the end, nothing is more important than that.

The link to the video for the song “Feed the Birds” from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical Mary Poppins can be found here. ***The lyrics version (from the movie) can be found here.

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

The link to the video for the trailer for the musical Mary Poppins can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie Saving Mr. Banks can be found here.

The link to the official website for P. L. Travers can be found here.

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

The link to purchase your own copy of any book from the Mary Poppins book series can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Her mother, Margaret Agnes Goff (née Morehead), was Australian and the niece of Boyd Dunlop Morehead, Premier of Queensland from 1888 to 1890.[

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #38/250…When I’m With You by Sheriff

In this edition of The Great Canadian Road Trip we find ourselves in Toronto, but more than being a specific geographic location, we find ourselves in Toronto during a very specific time in music history. Today’s pit stop takes us back to the time of the “Hair bands” during the 1980s. As you may recall, with the dawning of the 1980s came the beginning of the music video era. It was a time when image was as important, if not more important, than the actual musicianship of the bands being featured. The Glam rock of 1970s era David Bowie transitioned into a new chapter in music history where the rock gods on stage all donned makeup and sported hairstyles that would have turned Farrah Fawcett green with envy. However, not only did the 1980s hair bands have a look, they also sported similar trends when it came to the timeline of their own existence. Whether the band was a US juggernaut like Foreigner, Journey, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Warrant, Poison or countless others, these bands all followed a familiar musical path that saw them initially make a name for themselves as rockers only to end their careers a few years later in that blaze of musical glory known as the power ballad. All of these bands had big hair, big songs with big sounds, and all of them ended with the big emotive signal flare in the sky that was a power ballad. For Foreigner, it was “I Want To Know What Love Is”. Journey had “Faithfully”. Bon Jovi had “Bed of Roses”, and on and on it went. While not exactly the same thing, there were many fans of Metallica who thought the end was near for their favourite band when Metallica released the Black Album and shifted away from speed metal toward more of a rock sound. For the purposes of this post, we are going to focus on three Canadian bands that were actually the same one band and feature three songs that are actually the same one song, as well. Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce you to one of Canada’s most famous power ballads ever, “When I’m With You”, and the band who created it, Sheriff.

Sheriff: Clockwise from the bottom: Freddy Curci, Arnold Lanni, Rob Elliott, Wolf Hassel and Steve DeMarchi.

Sheriff formed in Toronto in the late 1970s and released their one and only self-titled album in 1982. While Sheriff started out with dreams of being rock stars in the video age, they only managed to have one hit before calling it quits. That hit was a power ballad entitled “When I’m With You”. At the time that Sheriff released “When I’m With You”, they were made up of lead singer Freddy Curci, guitarists Steve DeMarchi, Arnold Lanni and Wolf Hassel, along with drummer Rob Elliott. At the time of its release, “When I’m With You” was only a moderate hit, reaching as high as #8 on the charts and not even cracking the top fifty in the US. The success of the song was to happen years later. In the meantime, the members of the band became disillusioned and decided to split up.

Arnold Lanni and Wolf Hassel left Sheriff to form Frozen Ghost.

Arnold Lanni and Wolf Hassel left and formed a new band that some of you may recall named Frozen Ghost. This band won the Juno Award for Most Promising Group in 1987. While they had a few rock songs of note, they are best remembered for their epic power ballad “Dream Come True”. The song went to #1 on the chart and became a staple of weddings and high school slow dances. Then, the band broke up. Just like that.

Alias: clockwise from lower left is Freddy Curci, Denny DeMarchi, Steve DeMarchi, Roger Fisher and Steve Fossen. Wow! So identical to the original Sheriff lineup!

When Lanni and Hassel left Sheriff to form Frozen Ghost, the remaining members of Sheriff reorganized themselves into a new band called Alias. Just like their former bandmates, the members of Alias started out of the gate with a few rock songs that gained some airplay across Canada, but they ended up their career as a band the exact same way that Frozen Ghost did, and that was with a memorable power ballad. In their case, the song was “(I Need You Now) More Than Words Can Say”. For a brief moment in Canadian musical history, you had Arnold Lanni from Frozen Ghost singing “Dream Come True”, Freddy Curci from Alias singing “(I Need You Now) More Than Words Can Say” at the same time as “When I’m With You” by their original band, Sheriff, made a surprising return to the charts.

As mentioned earlier, when Sheriff had their one hit with “When I’m With You”, the song had its moment on the charts in Canada but never made a dent in the US. However, all that changed the way it is supposed to…by word of mouth and by authentic people power. The story goes that in 1987, a couple of local American radio disc jockeys liked the song and started throwing it into their musical lineup each week. As listeners became familiar with the tune, they began requesting it be played more often. The more “When I’m With You” was requested, the more it gained airplay. The more airplay it received, the greater the demand for it to be played. A cycle of positivity took hold for the song. Before anyone knew it, “When I’m With You” developed a second life and ended up going all the way to #1 on the charts in the US, making it the first Canadian song to do so since Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” 1974. The song was also noteworthy because it was one of the very few #1 US songs to not have a music video to help sell the song. It made it to the top on its own musical merit. Just as the original members of Sheriff had wanted to achieve when they first formed back in Toronto in the late 1970s. With “When I’m With You”, “Dream Come True” and “(I Need You Now) More Than Words Can Say” all on the charts at the same time in the mid-late 80s, people could be forgiven for thinking that power ballads were becoming a big trend in Canadian music. However, upon closer inspection, the truth is revealed that this supposed trend was actually the work of one band lineup that became three, all singing the same basic song.

Regardless as to whether the band name was Journey, Mötley Crüe, Foreigner, Alias, Sheriff or Bon Jovi, there was a very real love from the general public for the power ballads each band produced. All of the power ballads possessed similar storylines and musical structure. Each spoke to the power of love and how reeeeeeeeeeeeeally strong the feelings are that come with it. If you were to check out the viewer comments on YouTube for any of these power ballads, you will find nothing but happy remarks and fond recollections of people having the best and/or most memorable moments of their lives. The comments range from “This was our wedding song”, “I remember this from high school dances and getting my butt grabbed/grabbing butts during the slow dances”, all the way to, “This song was my Mom’s favourite so we played it at her funeral”. Regardless of the specific case, power ballads often help to form the soundtrack of the lives of many people. They may have been cheesy and formula-driven, but power ballads rank as some of the songs that have ended up connecting best with actual listeners and fans. At the end of the day, that is all most bands would have wanted to achieve. It is a legacy I am sure they are proud to have their band name attached to, regardless of whether that band name is Sheriff, Frozen Ghost or Alias. One band. Three names. Three songs that are one song. Thousands of life-defining memories created for fans. One lasting legacy. Job well done!

So, let’s get ready to tease our hair, toss it about dramatically and get our power ballad grooves on! Here are all three songs by all three bands. Enjoy them all. See you next time when we continue on with The Great Canadian Road Trip.

The link to the video for the song “When I’m With You” by Sheriff can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Dream Come True” by Frozen Ghost can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the song “(I Need You Now) More Than Words Can Say” by Alias can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official websites for Sheriff, Frozen Ghost and Alias cannot be found. They do not seem to exist. Sorry.

Since Sheriff was formed in Toronto, let’s make our pit stop there. The link to the official website for Canada’s biggest city can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Keepin’ It Classy: Composition #34/50…Voices of Spring Waltz by Johann Strauss II

I have many reasons for being happy to live in Canada, but one of the most important to me is our climate. Even though our climate is changing and we are having more frequent bouts of extreme weather, for the most part our climate remains fairly temperate. What I specifically enjoy about that is that we get to enjoy distinct seasonal changes. At the moment, we are transitioning from winter to spring. For some of you, the beginning of spring may just be a date on a calendar and nothing more. But to those of us from Canada, the dawn of a new spring is a cause for celebration. I have never really been a winter person, so I find the melting of the snow that has blanketed my world to be emotionally and psychologically uplifting. My spirits soar with every twitter from a robin, with each blade of green grass that pokes out above the disappearing snow and every bud that appears on our trees. The air feels warmer on my skin, we are no longer as housebound as Mother Nature has compelled us to be, and the sun seems to shine brighter and for longer periods of time, too. Everything just seems better with the coming of spring. There is a reason that my favourite colour is green.

Coloratura soprano Bianca Bianchi

Today’s featured composition was written in the mid-1800s by the Waltz King, himself, Johann Strauss II. I featured Johann Strauss II in a previous post regarding his famous waltz entitled “The Blue Danube”. (You can read about his background and about that waltz here). His “Voices of Spring” waltz has been written in three forms: for voice, for piano and as the foundational piece to a full opera. When Johann Strauss II first composed “Voices of Spring”, he did so for voice. But not just any voice. Johann Strauss II composed “Voices of Spring” specifically for a woman named Bertha Schwarz who went by the stage name of Bianca Bianchi. Bianchi was a singer who is known as a coloratura soprano. What this means is that she possessed the vocal ability to hit very high notes and sustain them. As a comparison, think of modern day singers such as Celine Dion or Mariah Carey, who both have the ability to display vocal gymnastics when a song calls for it. At the time that Strauss II composed “Voices of Spring” for Bianchi, she was arguably the most popular singer in all of Vienna. She was so admired that a Viennese astronomer named Johann Palisa designated a newly discovered asteroid as 218 Bianca in her honour. Being the subject of so much attention can be overwhelming for some people, but Bianchi, being one of the original operatic divas, handled it all with grace and aplomb. She performed Strauss II’s complicated composition flawlessly when it debuted at the Royal Vienna Opera House in 1882. The success of her performance was so immediate that “Voices of Spring” was altered so that it could be played without voice, as music for the piano. When the new piece was first performed by Johann Strauss II, it was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews as well. In fact, the response was so good and the demand for performances so great that the original version of “Voices of Spring” was made into an entire opera, of which the star was…you guessed it…Bianca Bianchi!

Johann Strauss II

In the time since it was created, “Voices of Spring” by Johann Strauss II has become one of the most loved and easily recognizable compositions of classical music history. Next to “The Blue Danube”, it is Strauss’ most famous work. I have great confidence that you will recognize it as soon as you hear it. Because it turned out to be such an adaptable piece of music, I will include links to performances of it for voice as well as for piano. In either rendition, you should be able to recognize and enjoy this wonderful piece of music. I hope that as you read these words the sun is shining, the birds are singing and that your world is greening up all around you. Spring is in the air here in my home town of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada and our spirits are soaring on wings of happiness. Enjoy “Voices of Spring” by Johann Strauss II and enjoy your day wherever you may be. Until we meet again…bye for now.

The link to the video for the composition “Voices of Spring” (for voice) by Johann Strauss II can be found here.

The link to the video for the composition “Voices of Spring” (for piano) by Johann Strauss II can be found here.

The link to the Johann Strauss II museum can be found here.

Since “Voices of Spring” was first performed by Bianca Bianchi in Vienna, Austria, let’s go there and see the Royal Opera House for ourselves. The link to the official website for the Royal Opera House in Vienna, Austria can be found here. The link to the official website for Vienna, Austria, itself can be found here.

Finally, the link to the best classical music radio station…Classical FM 103.1…streaming to the world from my hometown can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Today’s/Tomorrow’s Top 40: The Grants by Lana Del Rey

NOTE: As someone who is rapidly approaching his sixties, I find myself torn as to how I feel about the music that is being released today. The easy answer to that question is that I don’t really like much of it. I look at the music charts and struggle to know more than just a handful of the artists listed. Do most artists even use real names anymore? Is every song a collab.? I find it easy to be dismissive of today’s music. Conversely, I find it easy to take comfort in the music of my own life. I became musically literate in the 1980s. My library of songs leans heavily on the quarter century from 1975-2000. I enjoyed listening to that music back then and still do so today. Because of the way online algorithms work, I continue to be fed a fairly constant diet of those songs I listened to as I grew into adulthood. But the year 2000 was almost a quarter century ago itself. I find it hard to believe that music stopped being interesting after Y2K. The truth is that there still is interesting and relevant music being made today. I just have to force myself to dig a little deeper and look a little harder…beyond the industry-provided song charts, beyond the viral trending flavours of the month who come and go and finally, beyond the pre-packaged buzz that tends to stand in place of actual accomplishments today.

In writing about music and the people who make it, I have become more attuned to how music is created and shared these days and how different a marketplace it is compared to the 1970s and 80s. I am fascinated by the creative way technology is used to make music. I am still learning when it comes to how artists use social media to create a demand for their music and how they use technology to connect with their audience and distribute their tunes directly to their customers. These are amazing times in many ways. And beneath the surface of how the worlds of music and e-commerce have melded, there remain good musicians, singers and songwriters who are producing music worthy of my attention. It is music I think is worthy of your attention, too. Thus, for the past year and a bit, I have been setting aside one day per week to highlight new music for you. I have decided to do this because I think it is important for those of us who are maturing to stay somewhat connected to the world in which we actually live. The problem I am having with it all is that the Today’s/Tomorrow’s Top 40 series of posts that I publish is easily the series that has the lowest reader response. While I can’t read your minds, I do feel somewhat safe in assuming that when each new issue comes out you react the same way I do when it comes to today’s music and that is, you are generally dismissive of it. Well, I put a lot of work into bringing the stories behind six new songs to you each week, but that hard work seems not to be paying off. So, this week I am going to try a new approach. This week, I am going to profile a modern day artist of note that I think you should know more about. One artist. One new song. One profile. Let’s see how this goes. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter in the comment box below.

Elizabeth Grant aka Lana Del Rey

Today I wish to introduce you to a singer/songwriter who goes by the name Lana Del Rey. She is legally known as Elizabeth Grant but has always used a stage name since she decided to give live performing a serious try. Lana Del Rey is easily one of the more interesting artists around these days. As a society/industry, we love to put labels on artists/bands and then expect them to always “stay in their lane”. Well, Lana Del Rey is certainly someone who defies easy categorization. She has been dismissed as being anti-feminist, yet she has doggedly pursued her own unique artistic vision for well over a decade now. Del Rey used modern social media means to launch her career (promoting her music via YouTube long before having a record deal), yet much of her music and her visual style harken back to the 1950s. She is somewhat like Amy Winehouse in that regard. Lana Del Rey has a degree in philosophy and often writes songs that are highly literate and cinematic in effect, which makes her work not always the easiest to market in a world shaped by soundbites. And yet, Lana Del Rey has sold well over 32 million albums worldwide so far in her young career without having a #1 hit to her name. Finally, for me, Lana Del Rey occupies a unique space on my playlists because she is one of the very few artists whose in-studio work I prefer over her live performances. She seems so much more in her element when she is able to shape and craft her music exactly as she wants it to be, which is not always the case when one is singing live. I believe that she is an auteur…a throwback to a more glamorous time when Frank Sinatra ruled the airwaves and Lana Turner ruled the silver screen.

Over the course of her career, Lana Del Rey has released nine albums. She has earned multiple Grammy Award nominations and has won several Brit Awards, including the Ivor Novello Award for her songwriting. While her songs may not be as familiar as those released by the likes of Taylor Swift or Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey connects with her audience by different means and measures her success accordingly. Her YouTube account has been viewed over four billion times! Wow! Her most popular songs among her fanbase include songs such as “Video Games”, “Born To Die”, “Summertime Sadness” and “Young and Beautiful” (which was from the soundtrack to the film The Great Gatsby). She has a new album coming out in June called Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. She has pre-released several songs from this album, one of which is called “The Grants”. If you recall, her legal surname is Grant. This song is a beautiful ballad about the love she feels for her family. Being a published poet, her feelings are expressed extremely well. The piano accompaniment is perfect and helps to elevate “The Grants” into something very special. I hope that you will give it a listen.

So, that’s it. That concludes this week’s edition of Today’s/Tomorrow’s Top 40. I encourage you all to check out Lana Del Rey via the links to her hit songs that I have included within the body of this post, as well as the link to “The Grants” that can be found below. Lana Del Rey is a smart person with a very creative and artistic bent to her personality. Her website and YouTube channel are both well worth checking out should you wish to know more about her. Next week, I shall profile another modern artist/band and we will see how that goes, too. Hopefully you, like me, will develop an appreciation for these modern-day artists and the good music they are managing to create. The good times didn’t cease when Prince sang goodbye to 1999. They can be found today, too. You just have to know where to look. Hopefully, my searchlight can help to light the way for you. Until we meet again…take care. Bye for now.

The link to the video for the song “The Grants” by Lana Del Rey can be found here. ***The lyrics video is the only video available at the moment so click with confidence on the link above and you will be able to read Lana Del Rey’s excellent lyrics as you listen.

The link to the official website for Lana Del Rey can be found here.

The link to the video of her song “Young and Beautiful” being sung by the folks at Choir! Choir! Choir! can be found here. ***For what it is worth, this is one of my favourite Choir! Choir! Choir! renditions.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Readers Choice: Song #27/250…All I Have To Do Is Dream by The Everly Brothers

Felice and Boudleaux Bryant: the songwriting team behind “All I Have To Do Is Dream”.

“All I Have To Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers is one of those songs that is exactly what most listeners believe it to be. It is a love song about falling in love at first sight and was written as an autobiographical tale by the authors of the song. “All I Have To Do Is Dream” became a #1 hit for Don and Phil Everly in the 1950s and, in fact, became the very first song to ever occupy the top spot on all of the major music charts at the same time (Country, Pop, R&B). Not only that but this song helped launch The Everly Brothers as a pair of teenage crooners whose singing style would end up inspiring the wonderful harmonizing of future stars The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel. However, like many music stars of the 1950s and 60s, The Everly Brothers may have been the singing stars and the face of the music they were releasing under their name, but they did not write their own songs. Back then, they were being fed songs by a songwriting team named Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. The Bryants also penned the Everly Brothers hits “Wake Up, Little Susie” and “Bye Bye Love”, as well as that 1970s rock classic “Love Hurts” by Nazareth. The Bryants wrote songs for Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Ricky Van Shelton, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ray Price and many more. Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were inducted into the Songwriting Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. So, as much as “All I Have To Do Is Dream” comes across as an Everly Brothers tune, they were really only the singers of the song. The real story of this song belongs to two young lovers who found each other during WWII. This is the true story of how Felice and Boudleaux Bryant met and fell in love.

Here is an example of a USO mixer. This was a dance for African-American soldiers and their wives and girlfriends in World War Two, the United Services Organization in action, February 2, 1943. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

Felice Bryant was born in 1925 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was born into a Sicilian family and grew up surrounded by music and singing. As she matured, Felice began writing her own versions of songs to go along with the instrumental tunes played in her family home. She was only a teenager when WWII broke out. Because of her musical inclinations, she wound up working at her local USO. In those days, USOs were places where soldiers on leave or in training could go at night to see live music or a comedy show. The USOs were designed to act as morale boosters for the brave soldiers who were heading off to war. In many cases, young women from the local area would show up to dance with the handsome uniformed men. Billy Joel referenced this in his song “Allentown”:

Well our fathers fought the Second World War

Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore

Met our mothers at the USO

Asked them to dance, danced with them slow

It was in this atmosphere of music and high emotions that Felice evolved into one of the main organizers of the shows put on at the Milwaukee USO. She was all of nineteen years old when a new band came into town to perform. One of the members of the band was a man named Boudleaux Bryant. Bryant played the fiddle in a Country band called Hank Penny and his Radio Cowboys. Because of her role at the USO, it was Felice who welcomed the band to the hall. When she first saw Boudleaux and he saw her, they instantly fell in love. In fact, they fell so far so fast that they actually eloped before the Hank Penny Band could leave town for their next gig. They were married five days after they first met.

The lyrics to “All I Have To Do Is Dream” paint a picture of a lovesick man who desires to be with his true love but can only do so in his dreams. This was, in fact, the very situation that Boudleaux and Felice found themselves in. Both knew immediately that they had found their soulmate, but both also knew that unless they took drastic action, they were destined to be lovers in their dreams only. If Boudleaux continued on with his band, the chances of them having a relationship would be greatly diminished. So, Boudleaux thanked Hank Penny for having given him the chance to play in his band, to travel across America and, finally, to come to Milwaukee where he met his true love. Boudleaux and Felice became husband and wife. They also agreed to become songwriting partners.

Initially, they had little luck selling any of their songs. Times were tough for the young couple. But then, as fortune would have it, they managed to sell a song called “Country Boy” to a singer named Little Jimmy Dickens. His version of the song made it into the Top Ten on the Country charts and gave the Bryants some credibility in the music business. This success brought them to the attention of a man named Fred Rose who, along with Country star Roy Acuff, owned Acuff-Rose Music, which was a publishing company located in Nashville. The Bryants moved to Nashville and in the decade that followed wrote songs for many of Country music’s established and rising stars. One of those they began working with was Chet Atkins. Atkins, in turn, was working to promote a family of singers known as The Everly Family Singers. In particular, Atkins felt that the two teenage sons, Don and Phil Everly, had a bright future ahead of them, so he went looking for songs for them to sing as a duo. Consequently, it was Chet Atkins who introduced The Bryants to The Everly Brothers. Once Felice and Boudleaux heard the boys sing, they knew that they had the musical stories to go along with those golden voices. “Bye Bye Love”, “Wake Up, Little Susie!” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” were written in quick succession by The Bryants and given to The Everly Brothers, who recorded and released these songs to much acclaim. The rest, as they say, is musical history.

It is a privilege for me to share the stories of great songs such as “All I Have To Do Is Dream” with all of you. This particular song has a great story behind it. As it turned out, The Bryants remained united in their personal and professional lives until 1987, when Boudleaux passed away. Felice continued her songwriting work on her own and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Nashville Arts Foundation in 1991. Felice passed away in 2003. In interviews, both Felice and Boudleaux had spoken about how happy they were to have had their story sung to the world in such a wonderful manner by two singers as talented as Don and Phil Everly. The Everly Brothers, in turn, had a brilliant career with several other #1 hits that they wrote themselves, such as “Cathy’s Clown”, and were among the very first group of artists elected to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame when it opened in 1986. For more on the back story of The Everly Brothers, please read a previous post written about the song “Wake Up, Little Susie!”. You can find that post here.

It is nice to write a post with such a happy ending for all involved. If you have any songs that you would like to see featured in a future post, feel free to drop me a line in the comments below. Thanks again for reading my words. Have a wonderful rest of your day.

The link to the video for the song “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for Felice and Boudleaux Bryant can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

The Stars of Stage and Screen: Song #36/250…Montage by Manchester Orchestra ft. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Swiss Army Man

Daniel Radcliffe as Manny and Paul Dano as Hank.

If you are a follower of this blog then you will be aware of my interest in films that possess a certain quirky sensibility. I love a movie that makes me think and that makes me question what I am seeing on the screen. Recently I watched a movie that falls directly into this category. The movie was a 2016 release called Swiss Army Man. Swiss Army Man stars Paul Dano, who you may know from his star turn as the silent teenager in the movie Little Miss Sunshine. It also stars Daniel Radcliffe, who you may know from a little film and book series where he played a character named Harry Potter. Swiss Army Man was directed by two men named Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. The Daniels, as they are known in movie circles, won the Best Director prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival for this film. They also recently won three Academy Awards for writing and directing the movie Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. Their awards were all well earned.

Directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan: “The Daniels”.

Simply put, Swiss Army Man is one of the most unique and beautiful and thought-provoking movies I have ever seen. It is a movie about falling in love, but it isn’t a romance movie in the Hallmark sense. It is a movie about friendship in which one of the two friends is a corpse. It is a movie about loneliness in which the lead character is rarely alone. Finally, Swiss Army Man is about harnessing the flatulence we all have inside of us for the good of our souls. This movie is, at times, silly but also very poignant and moving. It is filled with love and imagination and generosity of spirit. The final ten-fifteen minutes will blow your mind and make you reevaluate what you thought you knew about the movie up until that point. The closing scene ends with a preschool-aged child laughing uproariously, her mother mouthing, “What the f*ck!?” (which stands as the closing line in the film), as Daniel Radcliffe roars out to sea like a human jet ski. I kid you not. And what’s more, it all makes perfect sense and will leave your heart filled to overflowing.

Robert McDowell and Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra.

A large factor in helping Swiss Army Man to have the emotional feel that it does resides with the musical score. There are no hit singles on this soundtrack. In fact, there were no instruments used in the creation of any of the twenty-four tracks used throughout the film. All twenty-four tracks were made exclusively for the human voice and for human sounds. By that I mean a capella singing that doesn’t often use real words, and hand made sounds such as percussive clapping and banging on found objects like plastic buckets and cardboard boxes. The entire soundtrack was scored by a band out of Georgia called Manchester Orchestra. The voices that you hear throughout all twenty-four tracks belong to lead actors Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. The resulting music sounds joyous and uplifting and aligns perfectly with the action on screen. Like the very best musical scores, the one used in Swiss Army Man can be felt in every second of action and dialogue contained in the movie, and yet, it is unobtrusive. If this movie can be considered as life, then the soundtrack is its breath. To give you a sense of how unique and glorious this movie powered by flatulence actually is, I am going to stop this post now and ask you to listen to a track from the film called “Montage”. It is not important that you understand the references contained in the middle of the track. What I want is for you to get a sense for how this music makes you feel as you listen to it. There is no story to this song and barely any lyrics, and yet it may just give you goosebumps. If that happens, then this movie is for you. Let’s stop and have a listen to the track called “Montage”. Click here. ***PS: There is no lyrics version because there are no lyrics per se in this song. It is mainly just sounds. Trust me. It is wonderful. Go. Listen.

Hank teaches Manny what happiness looks like.

Without giving too much of the movie away, the story starts on a deserted island with a man named Hank (played by Paul Dano) about to commit suicide by hanging. As he is about to step off of a cooler and hang himself, he opens his eyes one last time and discovers a corpse has washed up onto the beach. That corpse belonged to a man named Manny (played by Daniel Radcliffe). Hank, who wished to see his life unfold before his eyes as he drew his final breath, instead finds himself dealing with a corpse that has the propensity for farting loudly and with great frequency. Hank discovers that Manny’s farts have the power to propel himself through the water so Hank mounts Manny and rides him across the ocean with unbridled joy. What unfolds from this point is a buddy movie, of sorts. Manny comes back to life (Was he ever really dead? Is he actually alive? Is Manny still dead? Is Manny even real?) but does so with the mind of a small child. Hank tries to help him rediscover his identity by teaching him about life. Together, the two men travel together through the forest/jungle in an attempt to get back home, whatever “home” means. Along the way, there is scene after scene of imaginative role-playing, inventive use of found objects (trash) that litter the landscape and instances of personal growth and acceptance and of true, deep-rooted love. The core message of the film is that the path to personal happiness is found through love and acceptance of self. Combine that message with the glory of the music integrated into every scene throughout the entire length of the film and you really have something that will move you and make you look at your life a little differently afterwards.

Manny the corpse serves as a jet ski propelled by the power of his own flatulence as Hank drives him across the sea in an attempt to find “home”.

Dano and Radcliffe are alone on screen for ninety-five percent of this movie and both do a magnificent job of acting. Although Daniel Radcliffe plays a corpse, this movie is no Weekend At Bernie’s. It is so much deeper and better than that. If you need a comparable, Swiss Army Man combines the absurdist imagination of a Terry Gilliam movie with the deserted island character study of Tom Hanks in Castaway, combined with a movie like Fight Club but without the bare knuckle brawling. It is a movie about mental illness and depression, love and friendship, a girl on a bus, a bear, a father’s approval, but most of all, it is about finding peace with who you actually are inside and not giving a “toot” what anyone else thinks. I watched Swiss Army Man online through a streaming service called This service was free but contained approximately a half dozen one-minute long “commercial breaks” along the way. It felt like I was watching network television from the old days. The commercials didn’t bother me at all, so if you feel like checking this movie out, you can do so via Tubi. I hope that you do give this film a chance. There are very few like it that I have seen. As bizarre as my post may make it seem to be, Swiss Army Man is easily one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. I loved the story and all of the many layers it contained. I loved the music and how seamlessly it enhanced the emotional storytelling at play. But most of all, I loved how deeply satisfying it was to watch the finale of the film and revel in the beauty of a tremendous reveal. Never has the story of a lonely man and his flatulent corpse friend been better told and enjoyed than in Swiss Army Man. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie Swiss Army Man can be found here.

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

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #37/250: Rockstar by Nickelback

Nickelback: Michael Kroeger, Ryan Peake, Daniel Adair and Chad Kroeger.

Nickelback is a Canadian band that first formed in the mid-1990s in Hanna, Alberta. Originally known as Village Idiot, the band consisted of the three Kroeger brothers (Chad, Michael and Brandon) and their friend Ryan Peake. Eventually, Brandon Kroeger bowed out and was replaced by Three Doors Down’s drummer Daniel Adair. That lineup has stayed firm all through the birth of the band that became known as Nickelback. In the three decades that the band has played together, they have had several #1 hits and have had album sales totalling over 50 million worldwide. They have also enjoyed the greatest success when it comes to being a touring band with sold out show after sold out show all across North America. Since the year 2000, Nickelback is the #1 best selling rock band in the world! Just this past year they were elected to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Their success is undeniable. By any statistical measure, Nickelback is one of the world’s best bands. And yet…

Despite their overwhelming success, Nickelback is also a lightning rod when it comes to their critics, of which there are legion. The name “Nickelback” came from the experience a young Chad Kroeger had selling coffee as a teen. The term came from the change he would routinely give back to his customers. To Kroeger, the nickels and dimes that he acquired in tips helped fund much of his early musical aspirations such as buying second hand instruments for himself and his brothers. Because of the fact that he felt that the band was derived from working class roots, Kroeger always viewed it as the band’s mission to reflect that in the songs they wrote and the shows they put on. Thus, Nickelback has developed a reputation for writing songs about ordinary people and universal topics such as love and relationships and the desire for better things in life. Band members have stated that they draw inspiration from other rock bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and singers such as John Mellencamp. Critics respond by saying that what Nickelback has really done is to find a songwriting formula that worked for them and are simply repeating that formula album after album, song after song. Because the band has adopted such a formalistic approach to their music, they have found themselves routinely mocked as lacking the true passion that infuses all great bands and songs. In a world where the term “corporate rock” is equated to a lack of musical integrity, Nickelback find themselves the subject of countless internet memes and the butt of many condescending jokes.

A typical Nickelback meme.

The thing about it is that the people most in on the joke are the members of Nickelback themselves. Lead singer Chad Kroeger and his bandmates have made no secret of their songwriting style or how they portray themselves on stage. They have never even remotely attempted to be musical innovators like bands such as Tool or Radiohead. While those bands may be the musical equivalent of gourmet restaurants, Nickelback are quietly content to be the musical equivalent of McDonalds. Churning out verse-chorus, verse chorus hits such as “How You Remind Me” and “Photograph” allow fans to have a sense of familiarity with the band and their music. When you buy a Nickelback album, you basically already know what you are getting before you ever listen to it. Luckily for Nickelback, a great number of fans like Nickelback’s sound and keep coming back again and again simply because the band never changes. A Big Mac and fries is a Big Mac and fries, just as a Nickelback song from one album to the next remains the same, too.

There is no song in their catalogue of hits that exemplifies this philosophy better than “Rockstar”. The boys from Nickelback laugh at their critics from VIP lounges in clubs all over North America. These guys from Hanna, Alberta fly First Class everywhere they travel. Their bank accounts are flush with cash, making each of them millionaires several times over. They all date and/or are married to beautiful women. In short, they are living the rock star dream life and are unapologetic about how they got there. The song “Rockstar” is their anthem. It is a song about how great a life they all have. What helped give this song a somewhat higher profile than it may have had otherwise was the music video that accompanied it. In this video, the band has ordinary fans, along with various celebrities, lip sync the words to the song as it plays. While the song came out in the early 2000s, what makes it an interesting time capsule-esque watch is that it is populated with celebrities who, to a person, aligned themselves with U.S. President Donald Trump during his time in office. In the video, you will find Kid Rock, Ted Nugent and even hockey star turned conservative hero, Wayne Gretzky. It is interesting to note that the song speaks openly of objectifying women and uses women such as Playboy Playmates as examples of their version of what a woman should be. Singer Gene Simmons appears in the video, too. Why that is significant is that KISS is really the band that Nickelback emulates most closely. Simmons has always maintained that the members of KISS are not classically trained singers or the world’s best musicians, but what they are above all else is they are entertainers. So, his presence in this video is akin to him giving Nickelback his seal of approval as entertainers and showmen, too.

There is a market for the type of male-driven view of the world that Nickelback provides for their fans. While it is easy to mock the band as being derivative and corporate, it is something done at the peril of those critics who indulge in such bashing. On the eve of the 2016 Presidential election, I was asked if I was going to watch the election results on television that final night. I replied that there was no use wasting my time doing so because who in their right mind would vote for such an obvious loser as Donald Trump. I looked down my nose at a nation where almost half of the population saw their world through the lens of those who promote male-driven, white views. Consequently, for a while one of the most powerful men in the world was someone who trotted out trophy wives, lived in opulent surroundings and who viewed power as being for personal gain. So, mock Nickelback and their music all you will, their fan base is large and powerful and love them for the simplicity of their music and the comforting worldview the band puts forth with each song from each album. That each song from each album sounds exactly the same is not viewed as a tragic flaw or a weakness. Instead, fans of the band view their consistency as a strength and as something they can depend upon in these turbulent times in which we all find ourselves. If there is any sound of laughter surrounding Nickelback, it is coming the loudest from the band themselves. They know exactly who they are and are laughing all the way to the bank.

The link to the video for the song “Rockstar” by Nickelback can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

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

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

***As always, all original material contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023