Reader’s Choice: Billy The Mountain by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention…Song #8/250.

The stories behind your favourite songs

Frank Zappa.

Way back when I was wrapping up the Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History countdown, I sent out a request for some songs that my readers liked and/or that had meaning to them but had not made the Top 500 list. My friend, Linda Spoelstra sent me a long list of songs to choose from, with a story to go along with each selection. One of the nine songs she nominated was “Billy The Mountain” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Her story that accompanied this selection went something like, “You haven’t lived until you have spent the afternoon drinking beer in the hot sun and singing the entire way through “Billy The Mountain”. I guess I will have to take Linda’s word for it because this was a song that was new to me when she nominated it. In fact, as it turned out, even though I knew who Frank Zappa was, I knew very little about him in actual fact. So, because I like to learn and grow as a person, I thank Linda for pointing me in the direction of one of modern music’s most creative, comedic and combative personalities…Mr. Frank Zappa. “Billy The Mountain” is certainly a song like no other I have heard, and, as such, I can imagine the addition of alcohol and heat would make the singing of it quite the experience for sure!

Mercury. It used to be a play toy for young Frank.

Let’s talk first about Frank Zappa. Like so many of us, Zappa’s adult life was shaped in large part because of how he spent his childhood. There are many examples to back this up. Here are but a few…Frank Zappa passed away in the 1990s from prostate cancer. That would not be the footnote that it is without knowing that, as a child, his father worked as a chemical engineer for the US military. His father would often bring experimental materials home to work on in his basement. For a while, some of those materials involved mercury. Because Frank had an insatiable sense of curiosity, he would often be allowed to join his father in his basement laboratory. One famous example of this comes from an incident where Frank took some of the samples of mercury to his bedroom, where he proceeded to hit them with a hammer. Each time he did so, mercury sprayed across his room. In time, scientists would discover the cancer causing link between mercury and prostate cancer. Frank Zappa was only 53 when he died.

A second way in which Frank Zappa’s childhood influenced his adult life can be seen in the fact that he and his family moved a lot because of his father’s job with the military. As a result, young Frank Zappa rarely attended any school for more than a year before moving on. This caused Frank to develop a greater sense of independence and self-reliance than most teenagers develop. Not surprisingly, he often felt that the other kids were very different than he was. At first, he felt badly about this, but as he went through his high school years he began to view his differences as making him special, and furthermore, he saw that those who were happily going along with the rules of society were sheep-like. Consequently, Frank Zappa developed a terrific anti-establishment sense about himself. In his adult life, Zappa would become widely known as someone who had little time for organized religion, political parties or the national education system.

Avant garde composer Edgard Varese.

The final link between childhood and adulthood for Zappa was seen in his approach to his music. Being a social outsider allowed Zappa to view life from a non-conforming perspective. Right from the very first moments that he became interested in music, Zappa never felt the need to produce “hits”. He viewed the music industry with the same disdain that he did all other organized industries and movements. He was very much an individualist, and as such, he sought out other like-minded people as role models for his young self. One of those who became a big influence on his musicianship was an avant garde composer named Edgard Varèse. Varèse was known for releasing albums built upon a foundation of percussion. However, this percussion was not drumming in the style of a Buddy Rich or any of the modern rock n’ roll drummers such as Keith Moon or John Bonham. Instead, Varèse’s music used percussion in experimental ways that Frank Zappa had never heard before. Music critics labeled Varèse’s albums as “unpleasant noise”. To Frank Zappa’s ears, listening to sound being used in a completely original manner was a revolutionary concept. Young Frank was so enthralled by what he was hearing that he actually wrote a fan letter to Varèse, thanking him for his approach to musical composition. To Frank Zappa’s delight, Varèse replied with a kind and complimentary letter. Zappa would later frame Varèse’s letter, hanging it in a place of honour in his studio, where it stayed until the day Frank Zappa died.

Because of his childhood experiences, Frank Zappa became an adult-aged musician with a firm idea of what style of music he wanted to make, and, just as importantly, what style of music he wished to avoid at all costs. So, over the course his career, Frank Zappa produced over 100 albums under the banner of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Frank Zappa (as a solo artist) or as producer for other highly original musicians such as Captain Beefheart and John Cale. In all cases, Zappa tackled each album in a highly ego-centric manner, with him being responsible for as many aspects of the production as possible. With regard to his own albums, Zappa became known as someone who combined elements of Jazz, Rock and Classical music together in ways that had never been attempted before. He also became known for interjecting political commentary into his lyrics. The final characteristic for which Zappa became known was for writing songs that contained humour. When he was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame after his death, he was lauded for being one of the first and only great “Rock Comedians”. But, as is the case with much social comedy, there was always a basis of observational truth ingrained within lines that, at first, come across as funny or as jokes. Such is true of today’s song, “Billy The Mountain”.

Billy The Mountain and his lovely wife, Ethel.

“Billy The Mountain” is a song that takes a full thirty minutes to play live. It concerns a mountain named Billy and his wife, Ethel (who is a tree growing off of his shoulder). He has caves for eyes. The impetus for the song is that Billy and Ethel decide to go on vacation from where they are in the southwest of the US, all the way across America to New York. Needless to say, such a journey allows for much commentary on the state of things in America, as well as the destructive nature of a mountain making such a trip, if such a trip were possible. “Billy The Mountain” was created at a time when the rock n’ roll establishment was becoming bloated on self-importance that saw a rash of rock operas, prog rock albums and psychedelic bands rise to prominence. “Billy The Mountain” was created as satire of those who felt that prog rock was finally getting to the heart of the human soul via music. As for the song itself…you, dear reader, will either like it a lot or you won’t like it at all. If you like it right off the hop, then by all means, enjoy all thirty minutes of it and revel in the witty social commentary and original musicality by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention that are on full display here. If you do not enjoy this song, then may I suggest as my pal Linda does that you listen to it with a cold drink in hand under a yellow sun on a blue sky kind of day. “Billy The Mountain” is truly unlike any song I have profiled before. It is unique and that is O.K. If you give it your best shot and end up still not liking it, well, even Frank Zappa would say that it is O.K. because, after all, having the individual right to make decisions for yourself is the height of true freedom. So, enjoy “Billy The Mountain” or not…whatever. You decide.

Thanks, once again Linda, for introducing us all to the life and music of a very interesting man. I feel richer for having learned what I have.

The link to the video for the song “Billy The Mountain” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention can be found here. ***I cannot find a “lyrics” video so, instead, here is a link to the entire set of lyrics. You can click here and follow along as the song plays in a different, open tab.

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

Today’s Top 40: The Stories Behind the Hits of Today.

The songs listed below were all found using the following Top 40 charts: BBC Radio 1, CHUM-FM and Indie88-FM (in Toronto), KEXP-FM (in Seattle), Spotify as well as Billboard Magazine. For this week’s list, I looked at songs that found themselves listed in and around chart position #8. So, without further delay, let’s dive into Today’s Top 40 hits! Enjoy.

Sunroof by Nicky Youre ft. dazy (BillBoard Magazine, Spotify and CHUM-FM)

Nicky Youre.

For the first time since I started compiling lists for Today’s Top 40, we have a song that appears in the same position on three different lists at the same time. “Sunroof” by newcomer Nicky Youre is a light, peppy bit of Pop confection that is certain to have your toes a-tapping. It is a mood lightener, for sure. The origin of the song is from an idea Youre left on a voicemail he sent to producer, dazy. The idea was for the two to join forces to create a song that captured the mood one feels when you have just met someone who makes your heart leap out of your chest. That sense of excitement that you feel when you can’t stop thinking of your new love was the vibe Youre and dazy were going for. The result was “Sunroof” which is as catchy a Pop song as you will find on the radio these days.

***The link for the lyrics video can be found here.

Foxglove Through The Clearcut by Death Cab For Cutie (Indie88-FM)

I once read a New Yorker cartoon that showed a police officer arresting a bather at the beach for reading a book by Russian author Dostoevsky. The caption read something like, “I’m afraid that’s not summer reading. You’ll have to come with me”. I thought of that cartoon as I compared the song ”Sunroof” from above with this new song from the band Death Cab For Cutie. One is definitely light and breezy with that summer vibe. The other is “Foxglove Through The Clearcut”.

Death Cab for Cutie.

What an interesting song this is! “Foxglove Through The Clearcut” comes across like a spoken-word poem about the environment. However, it is combined with haunting guitar riffs, along with a music video that captures and holds your attention. It is a very Indie/Alternative sounding song that might be a little too smart for its own good in this age of short soundbites and repetitive messaging. As you may know from a previous post that you can read here, Death Cab For Cutie originated because of a song that was included on The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack. Like the Fab Four, Death Cab For Cutie have become known for creating songs that work well in a multimedia style that allows listeners/viewers to extract deeper meaning from the lyrics. Death Cab For Cutie came into the public spotlight as the house band from the TV show, “The O.C.” a few decades ago. Their most famous hit was “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” which you can read all about here. “Foxglove Through The Clearcut” is an intelligent song that will get you thinking. It is definitely not summer reading, but instead, it is a song with artistic aspirations and a serious message, all dressed up in the guise of an awesome Alternative/Indie banger.

***The link to the lyrics video can be found here.

Fool’s Gold by Built To Spill (KEXP-FM).

When I was writing about the Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History, one of the bands that I really enjoyed getting to know better was Guided By Voices. Based in Dayton, Ohio, GBV was led by a charismatic front man named Bob Pollard. Pollard was the only real, permanent member of the band and was responsible for churning out a seemingly endless number of Indie tunes that made their way onto a seemingly endless number of Indie-type records. Fiercely independent, Guided By Voices have built a loyal following without feeling as though they had to compromise their integrity to do so. You can read more about them here.

Doug Martsch from Built To Spill.

My first impression of Built To Spill is that they are modeled very much on Guided By Voices. The lead singer is a man named Doug Martsch. His original idea was to have a band with only him as a regular member. The remaining musicians would change for each album. Built To Spill produces pure Indie rock. They tour relentlessly. They are beloved by music critics and have a very loyal fan base. LIke GBV, Built To Spill put forth copious amounts of music, much of which possesses a rawer, more frenetic energy. The video for “Fool’s Gold” revolves around trying to separate the fake from the real when it comes to music. The band hail from Boise, Idaho. Much of the video for “Fool’s Gold” was shot in the ladies restroom of a local theatre there.

***There appears to not be a lyrics video available for this song. Sorry. Here is a live version instead.

Late Night Talking by Harry Styles (BBC Radio 1).

Have bed. Will travel. Mr. Harry Styles.

This song is the follow-up to Styles #1 hit, “As It Was” which was profiled in a previous post that you can read here. The video for “Late Night Talking” has been much-discussed and analyzed for meaning. It shows Styles in various beds with various bedmates, everyone wearing different pyjamas, all the while the beds he is in end up traveling to an Italian restaurant, Buckingham Palace and so on. It is a very artsy video but done in a cute and personable manner, as has become Styles’ schtick.

When asked to describe this song and video, Harry Styles stated that it was about being him…a young, single man trying to have a love life but who also happens to be in the spotlight. Styles talked about overcoming his shyness that someone like him would have a sex life that would merit scrutiny and comment in the first place. Then, as he has grown as a person, Styles has made it clear that one of the hardest things about being someone famous is all of the labels and boxes people want to place him in. He says that the song, “Late Night Talking” is about all of us being more open to exploration and being freer with the boundaries that society sets for us. In real life, Harry Styles is presently dating actress Olivia Wilde, for those who are interested in such things. As for the musicality of the song, well, it sounds like a Harry Styles song to me. If you are familiar at all with his song catalogue then you will find “Late Night Talking” to your liking as well.

***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this blog may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

Small Of My Heart by Madison Violet: The Great Canadian Road Trip…Song #12/250.

The stories behind great Canadian songs that mention great Canadian places.

Seagulls fly over a fish processing plant in Glace Bay, N.S.

I grew up in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. Waves from the mighty Atlantic Ocean smashed into coal-streaked cliffs that sheltered my hometown. Coal mines snaked for miles under the very land that formed those towering cliffs. Whether under the ground or on the sea, there were many men who earned a dangerous living for their families and helped keep the economy of Glace Bay afloat. The members of my family were neither fishers nor miners but we knew many who were. One of my favourite childhood memories came at school. We would be outside enjoying our recess play when all of a sudden the sky would fill with the cacophonous screeching and caterwauling of hundreds of seagulls. These birds were not screeching at the children playing in our schoolyard. They were all aflutter because the trawlers that had set out to sea before the sun rose above the horizon were now coming back home to port. Their holds would be filled with fish. The seagulls circled overhead in hopes of finding a fresh caught supper should any member of a trawler crew drop a fish on the wharf as they were being transferred into the fish processing plants that sat beside the harbour. The frenzied cries of the seagulls sounded across my hometown each day with the regularity of church bells on Sunday. It signaled to all that our fishermen had returned safely once again from the sea. In our playground, the games still went on as usual, but for my friends who had fathers and uncles on those boats, you could see the tension ease out of their bodies. Even as children, we knew what it was to have danger ever present in our lives. So, the seagulls’ symphony was always music to our ears. It said as much about family and about community and as words can say.

My hometown: Glace Bay, N.S.

This very year is the 40th anniversary of my departure from Glace Bay. In that time, I have lived in five different cities, all of them in Ontario. However, even though barely a third of my life was spent by the sea, I always think of Glace Bay as my hometown. I have salt water in my blood and coal dust in crevices and cracks that are etched into my skin. I have experienced a form of life that has helped create the person that I have become. I carry that heritage with me wherever I go in this world. It is a large part of the reason that I brought my bride to Cape Breton to ask for her hand. It is why I bring my daughters home to see the places of my childhood. Glace Bay is part of who I am and they are part of me, too, so I want those that I love to feel that salt air, to smell the sea when the tide is out and the ocean floor reveals itself and to know that the people there are good for a head nod as we pass, even if they have no idea who we are. I am blessed to be able to call Glace Bay my hometown.

But, one thing that I have learned in life and which I need reminding of, from time to time, is that not everyone in my life is as lucky as I am to have been raised as I was, where I was. I have friends who had traumatic childhoods; their memories of their hometowns are forever associated with sadness and pain. I have other friends who had more of a transient childhood because of their parents being in the military or in some other line of work for which frequent job transfers were a characteristic of the profession. For those folks, the question, “So, where are you from?” is not so easy or pleasant to answer. For me, I got to grow up with my classmates from school. For some, it was a friendship that has extended throughout our entire lives. But, for those kids who moved from town to town in search of employment for their parents and/or to stay one step ahead of bill collectors, they missed out on forming those childhood bonds. Saying goodbye became regular as rain. For many, there were no goodbyes at all because they learned not to invest the energy in forming attachments in the first place.

Luckily for me and for a friend of mine named JoAnn Kropf-Hedley, we found each other in our current home town of Cobourg, Ontario. JoAnn lives a few streets over from me and if I am a really good boy, sometimes she makes me the best raisin pies in the world. JoAnn has been a staunch friend of this blog since its inception and for that, I am eternally grateful. Not only does JoAnn click that LIKE button and leave excellent comments, she has given me one more thing that I appreciate…song suggestions. Although I haven’t kept up with the series as much as I have other blog series that I write, I do accept suggestions for future blog posts from my readers, turning those suggestions into posts that run under the heading “Reader’s Choice”. Well, a few months ago, JoAnn submitted a song from a Canadian Folk duo that I had never heard of before. The duo call themselves Madison Violet and the song she suggested was one called “Small of my Heart”.

The beach at Kincardine, Ontario.

When JoAnn suggested this song, she did so along with sharing a story from her own life. She told me that she was one of those wandering souls who criss-crossed the province and the country as a child. Because JoAnn knows my life story well, she knew the importance, for me of having a hometown to go back to. For her, she said that the closest she has had to a community where she felt at home was in Kincardine, Ontario. Kincardine sits on the shore of Lake Huron. It is surrounded by some of the very best farmland in Ontario. Kincardine occupies a scenic square amid a patchwork quilt of small town communities that make up the northwest corner of southern Ontario. For JoAnn, the close knit nature of life in Kincardine was what her young soul required at that time in her life. It is a feeling of community that she has carried with her throughout the rest of her days, including those spent just a five-minute walk from me.

Lisa MacIssac and Brenley MacEachern of Madison Violet.

The song “Small of my Heart” was written about Kincardine, which is why it is such a special song to JoAnn and why I feel so honoured to share it with you all today. Madison Violet consists of two talented singer-songwriters named Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIssac. They have been nominated for several Juno awards in the Folk category. Both women have roots in Cape Breton. Lisa MacIssac is the sister of talented fiddler Ashley MacIssac. Brenley MacEachern was born in Cape Breton but ended up moving to Ontario and wound up living in Kincardine. “Small of my Heart” is a song about Kincardine even though it never mentions the town by name. However, it does mention driving down Hwy. #9 (which is the main road that takes you to Kincardine from the Greater Toronto Area). The song also mentions specific places within Kincardine such as Harbour Street (by Lake Huron). It ends with the line about the importance of having a home town like Kincardine. I have visited Kincardine once as a much younger man and found it to be a lovely spot. I imagine those who call Kincardine home do so because of the sense of community they have and for how living by a mighty body of water can imprint itself in one’s DNA. I am not surprised that JoAnn and I…two people at home in small towns by the water…get along so well. Sometimes having a sense of home is because of geography. Sometimes it is because of those who make up your world. Thanks, JoAnn for the song suggestion and for being my friend.

The link to the video for the song “Small of my Heart” by Madison Violet can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for the Town of Kincardine, Ontario, can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

Keepin’ It Classy/The Stars of Stage and Screen: Bolero by Maurice Ravel (as used in the movie, “10”).

The stories behind the world’s greatest classical compositions…Composition 12/50.

***Editor’s Note: most classical works are fine to stand on their own when it comes to the telling of the story of how that piece of music came to be. But, today’s work is one whose story cannot be told without also discussing the cultural impact that it had as the centrepiece of a famous Hollywood movie. So, for the first time since I started creating the posts for the Keepin’ It Classy and the Stars for Stage and Screen series, we are having a crossover edition. This post will appear on the checklists for each series, as well as on the Spotify playlists for each series, too.

A Blake Edwards film, “10”.

In the 1970s, one of the most well-respected movie directors in Hollywood was a man named Blake Edwards. Edwards won many awards for his filmmaking: most notably for the classic series of comedic films starring Peter Sellers that were known as the Pink Panther movies. Blake Edwards grew up in a household steeped in the traditions of Vaudeville and of filmmaking in the black and white silent era. Thus, many of his formative influences were people who frequented his very own home such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. When Blake Edwards began producing his own films, slapstick comedy was often a feature. Because of his success in Hollywood, Edwards was able to attract A-list actors to work on his projects. So, when it was announced in 1978 that Edwards was making a new movie starring Julie Andrews and Dudley Moore, the excitement level within the film industry was real. Everyone expected the movie to do well. In 1979 the movie was released in theatres and quickly became somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. That movie was called “10”. The cultural phenomenon came in the form of an unknown actress and model named Bo Derek. This is the story of why Bo Derek was always more than just a pretty face.

“Have you ever done it to Ravel’s Bolero?

The plot of “10” is fairly straightforward on the surface. It involves Dudley Moore and Julie Andrews being a couple who have reached middle age together. Dudley Moore is starting to tire of the love life he and Andrews share, and as a result his eyes begin to roam. For the most part, this involves using a telescope to spy on his neighbours as they enjoy their own intimate acts. However, one day while driving his car, Moore finds himself at a red light. As he glances over into the car beside him at the light, he sees that in the back seat sits a bride on her way to her wedding. The first time Moore sees the bride’s face is the first time we, as an audience, meet Bo Derek. Blake Edwards deliberately cast a complete unknown in the role because he wanted the reaction of the audience when seeing her face in that car to be pure and unsullied by any previous baggage she may have carried over from other roles in other movies. So, we see what Moore sees as he sees it. What Dudley saw was a flawlessly beautiful female face. Bo Derek was truly beautiful. In the movie, seeing her took Moore’s breath away. She became a fantasy that he just had to have become real. In pursuit of finding her, much physical comedy ensues. When Moore finally winds up next to her on a couch in her home, he is very quick to realize that the predator has become the prey and she has all of the power in this situation. He suddenly feels weak and inadequate. This is brought home when it is revealed by Derek’s character that she and her new husband have “an understanding” and that she is free to indulge her own fantasies whenever the opportunity arises. Then Derek asks him if he has ever “done it” to Ravel’s Bolero? Moore responds with an terrified gulp.

After “10” was released, there was some debate as to whether or not the movie made a feminist statement by having Bo Derek so confidently take charge and pursue her own sources of personal pleasure, or, as has so often been the case in Hollywood, was Edwards simply objectifying Derek and making a hit movie based solely upon her looks? Blake Edwards countered that he was always intent on making a movie that honoured strong women. He backed up his claim by telling reporters that his vision for making “10” came to him after learning of the story behind how Maurice Ravel came to make “Bolero”. This is that story.

Ida Rubenstein: the Russian woman who commissioned Bolero.

Maurice Ravel was a French composer. He was most noted for being a composer of music for ballet. Ravel was always keenly interested in the relationship between sound and movement, and therefore he created his compositions with the end goal of his music accompanying some form of dance. Because of his reputation for creating ballet scores, Ravel was approached by a woman named Ida Rubenstein in the hopes that he would create an original work for her to dance to on stage. Ravel was excited for the commission because Rubenstein was a well known figure in the international world of dance in the early 1900s. Rubenstein was a Jewish woman who was born in Russia at the turn of the century. Her family was fairly wealthy, which afforded Rubenstein the opportunity to indulge her artistic fantasies. So, she decided to become a ballerina. The unfortunate thing was that Rubenstein was never professionally trained. So, when she appeared on stage in Russia and attempted to dance in productions her lack of training exposed her as an amateur, and she became the subject of mockery in the dance world. However, Rubenstein was never one to shrink away from challenges. If she couldn’t dance in ballet productions with the premier ballet companies, then she would create her own ballets and write roles suited for her talents. Thus, Rubenstein became a player in the world of staging original ballets. But, more than that, Ida Rubenstein balked at being told that female roles had to conform to social expectations and that, as a result, she should only dance in demure roles. Because she controlled her own means of production, Rubenstein created roles for herself that often involved nudity and/or sexually-suggestive scenes. Her willingness to pose nude in public caused a scandal during the early 1900s. So, when she approached Ravel to commission some music for her latest ballet, Ravel was very aware of who Rubenstein was and the type of movement-inducing music that would please his new client.

“Bolero” is a term that is used to describe a form of couples dance that originated in Spain and Portugal. In many ways, it is a distant relative of flamenco dancing. The main difference is that bolero-style dancing is done at a much slower and more sensuous rate. Ravel’s “Bolero” composition is unique among works judged as being among the best of its genre because it is limited to only one movement. As we have seen in other posts in the Keepin’ It Classy series, most classical compositions are composed of between three to five movements. In classical music, a musical movement serves a purpose in the storytelling arc created by the composer depending on where it is placed in the overall structure of the composition. It is very rare for any classical work to have only one movement, especially one movement that comprises a fifteen-minute work. But, that is what Ravel created and presented to Rubenstein, who, in turn, loved it! The reason that Ravel’s “Bolero” was a perfect match for Rubenstein’s erotic style of performing is that the composition is built in a way that simulates love making…to put it bluntly. There are many who compare “Bolero” to the rock n’ roll classic “Stairway To Heaven”. In both cases, the songs are said to be structured so as to simulate sexual intercourse. They both start slowly and repeat themselves over and over, slowly building in intensity until climaxing in a crescendo of sound near the end, at which time, a slow, relaxed coda closes out each song. For Rubenstein, she knew exactly what Ravel had created and was happy to apply her brand of sensuality on stage. The end result of all of this is that Ravel’s “Bolero” gained a reputation as being the “sexiest” classical composition of all time.

French composer, Maurice Ravel.

Which brings us back to producer Blake Edwards. He was well aware of the background story behind “Bolero” and worked to create a fictional storyline around it. He always knew that he wanted someone in his movie who would be able to possess the irresistible beauty and sexual confidence of an Ida Rubenstein. That woman turned out to be Bo Derek. Until the end of his life, Blake Edwards always maintained that Bo Derek’s character was the strongest female role he ever created in any film he produced. As for composer Maurice Ravel, he completed “Bolero” in the 1920s and as part of his sales agreement with Ida Rubenstein was able to retain a composer’s credit on his work. Copyright laws had become standard policy by those days for composers. Consequently, when Blake Edwards licensed “Bolero” for his movie, “10”, he did so with a piece of music not yet in the public domain. As is true of almost all movies which are built upon a musical foundation, the soundtrack to the movie “10” sold millions of copies which, in turn earned millions of dollars for Maurice Ravel’s estate…a windfall his heirs continue to enjoy to this very day.

The link to the video of a live performance of “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel can be found here.

The link to the official movie trailer for the film “10” can be found here.

The link to the official website for my hometown classical music radio station, Classical 103.1, can be found here.

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

Today’s Top 40: The Stories Behind the Hits of Today.

In this edition of Today’s Top 40, I used the following current music charts that are published weekly by BBC Radio 1, Billboard Magazine, Spotify, KEXP-FM (Seattle), CHUM-FM and INDIE88-FM (Toronto). For this week, I looked at songs that were found at or close to position #25. I found lots of great tunes and interesting stories to go with them. So, without further delay, let’s dive into Today’s Top 40.

Snap by Rosa Linn (BBC Radio 1)

Rosa Linn.

Rosa Linn is a singer from Armenia. If you have never heard of an Armenian Pop singer before, well now you have. Rosa Linn’s story is a very interesting one. She was selected to represent Armenia in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The ESC has been a big deal in Europe for quite a long time. In fact, the contest has been around so long that it was the vehicle that ABBA used to get their first big break when they entered the contest with a song called “Waterloo” almost half a century ago. As Eurovision unfolds, it does so like the FIFA World Cup. Nations are placed into smaller competitive brackets (for organizational purposes) where they compete against each other in a series of round robin competitions. A select few from each bracket then qualify to go on to the final round of twenty which then becomes an elimination tournament like those types of shows seen in North America (such as American Idol). In the case of Rosa Linn and her song, “Snap”, she was eliminated in 20th place in this year’s competition. But, the story doesn’t end there. Ever since she was eliminated, there has been a groundswell of support given to her by outraged fans, many of whom believed that “Snap” was the best song in the whole Eurovision tournament, let alone the 20th best song! Since being eliminated, “Snap” has gone viral, as the cool kids say. It is roaring up the European music charts and finds itself at #25 with a bullet on the BBC Radio 1 chart in the UK.

“Snap” is a good strong Pop song that mines the familiar territory that comes with an emotional romantic breakup. However, one of the things that is helping to capture the attention of the public is an unusual and very creative official music video. Having watched it, I can attest to the fact that the video for “Snap” is very interesting from a visual perspective. *(Much in the same way that the video for “Ceremony” by Joy Division/New Order was more a movie told silently in colourful, meaningful imagery. You can recall that video here.) In any case, “Snap” by Rosa Linn is one of the most noteworthy happenings in the music world at the moment. Feel free to click away on the link above and see what all of the fuss is about. For what it is worth, I think this video justifies the hype.

***The link to the lyric video can be found here.

The Kind of Love We Make by Luke Combs (Spotify)

Luke Combs.

Luke Combs is one of the rising stars in the world of Country music. He has had numerous hits in his young career and has already been nominated twice for Entertainer of the Year and, as if that wasn’t enough, Luke Combs is the youngest singer in many years to have been invited to join the legendary Grand Ol’ Opry. Luke Combs possesses a strong, clear voice and has a passion for storytelling that allows him to tap into many of the emotions and experiences felt by “ordinary folks”. I guess that is something that Country music singers/bands tend to do better than other genres. It is easy for audiences to see themselves in the songs that many Country stars sing. “The Kind of Love We Make” is no exception. In this song, Combs offers some excellent advice for those of us who have been married/in a relationship for a number of years. The song is a cautionary tale about becoming too settled and comfortable, too distracted by parenting and running a household that you allow the romantic passion that originally brought you together to flicker out. It is easy to stop being lovers and morph into a kind of platonic friendship that, while comforting, is nothing like those days when the mere sight of each other got your hearts a-pumping. So, “The Kind of Love We Make” is a song that encourages couples to keep finding time for the romantic side of their relationships. In true Country fashion, the video tells a wonderful story that many of us can relate to.

***The lyrics video for this song can be found here.

She Had Me At Heads Carolina by Cole Swindell (Billboard Magazine).

Like Luke Combs, Cole Swindell is one of the young guns in the Country Music scene. He has had many Top Ten hits and has won awards for his singing and for his music videos. That creativity is on full display in this song, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”. One of the many things that the Country music genre does well is to honour its roots. So, while sidelined from touring because of the pandemic, Cole Swindell and a few of his songwriting buddies gave themselves a challenge. The challenge was to write a new song that built upon the story of a legendary Country song from a previous decade without simply echoing the song or turning it into a sequel. After several swings and misses, the boys opted to use the song that introduced the world to Country star Jo Dee Messina, “Heads Carolina, Tails California”.

Cole Swindell and Jo Dee Messina.

In 1996, Messina released her debut single, “Heads Carolina, Tails California”. This song was about a working class couple who were caught in the humdrum of everyday life and sought greener, warmer pastures elsewhere. The location of those new pastures was to be determined by a simple flip of a coin. Like so many songs before it, “Heads Carolina, Tails California” has this “us against the world” feel about it that has you rooting for the couple as they pull up stakes in search of finding a better life somewhere else. Needless to say, this song became an instant classic for Messina, who has never looked back in her career.

What Cole Swindell managed to do was honour Messina’s song by making the singing of it part of a love story of his own. In “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”, Swindell sets his song in a karaoke bar where he watches a girl sing Messina’s song on the karaoke stage. In Swindell’s lyrics, he states how beautiful he thought the girl looked, but he is just as enthralled with her because she “loves 90s Country just like me”. In Swindell’s capable hands, he manages to honour a singer he admires, honour the roots of the Country music genre and, at the same time, reaffirm the foundational aspect of Country music which states that it is real music for real people. All in all, this is a clever take on a time-honoured Country music tradition and proves to be an enjoyable song in all regards.

***The lyrics video for this song can be found here.

Pharmacist by Alvvays (KEXP-FM)

Alvvays.

I find it interesting that it took a radio station from Seattle, Washington to showcase the latest song by a band with its roots in Cape Breton, the home of my heart. The lead singer of Alvvays (pronounced “Always”) is a young woman named Mollie Rankin. Mollie is the daughter of John Morris Rankin, who was one of the founding members/siblings of Cape Breton’s famous Rankin Family band. As such, Mollie Rankin is descended from musical royalty in the eyes of those of us who call Cape Breton our home. While adept at playing the type of Celtic music that made her family name so well known, Mollie Rankin has chosen, instead, to focus on a career built upon a foundation of Alt-Pop. Her band’s most famous hit to date is the catchy song “Marry Me, Archie”, which you can listen to here.

Well, Alvvays has released a new album called Blue Rev. The first song from this album is called “Pharmacist”. The song has not been officially released, so there is no video as of yet…only an audio track, so in the link above, that is what you will get to hear. But the folks at KEXP-FM are pumping this song’s tires and, as a result, it is already a hit with fans of that station’s music. “Pharmacist is about three minutes long and is filled with the same type of jangle-Pop energy and spirit that have come to typify their sound. Alternative music is my go-to choice of genres so I think this song is a lot of fun. Hopefully you will give it a chance and a listen and will like it, too.

***If I can find a lyrics video for this unreleased song, I will post it here.

Happiness by The 1975 (INDIE88-FM)

The 1975.

The 1975 are an English band who happen to currently be operating out of that musical breeding ground of Manchester, UK. They are known as an Alt-Rock band who write songs with literate lyrics. The 1975 are also known for producing highly creative music videos. Keep all of that in mind as you watch the video for their latest song, “Happiness”. The whole song is filled with lyrics like, “I have traveled far to hold you near”. The wordplay is clever and will keep you guessing as to what the message of this song actually is. The music video is equally engaging. As I watched, I found myself constantly having the focus of my gaze re-oriented by the stop-start filming technique being used. That is not necessarily a bad thing because it kept my mind guessing all throughout the song. I apologize if it seems as though I might be making “Happiness” seem like a challenging song to take in. On the surface, it is a bright, fun, boppy tune that is easy to listen to and enjoy. However, bubbling just below the surface are a lot of creative touches that you don’t always get from bands. I appreciate the lengths that The 1975 went to in order to bring a deeper meaning to their music. If you care to give this song a listen, I hope that you will find it witty and clever and enjoyable, too.

***The link to the lyrics video can be found here.

Moth To A Flame by Swedish House Mafia ft. The Weeknd (CHUM-FM).

Teeny tiny iPod Shuffle.

About five or six years ago, when my daughters were more children than the young women they are today, my wife and I gave them each an iPod Shuffle. If you are familiar with iPod Shuffles at all, you will remember that they looked like sticks of gum and were basically just meant to hold and play a finite number of songs. You really couldn’t do much with the music held on these devices except to press play and listen to the same songs in the same order again and again. We bought these for the girls to use during road trips in the car. We thought that they were ready for this type of device because they had begun to have an awareness of popular music because of what I listened to and what they heard on the radio when driving around town with their mother. One of the songs that made it onto that original iPod Shuffle playlist was a song by Swedish House Mafia called “Don’t Worry Child” *(which you can listen to here). “Don’t Worry Child”, along with Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” (which the girls also had on their playlists) were among the very first songs to crossover from the burgeoning Electronic Dance Music genre and have success on mainstream radio. Because we could plug the Shuffles into our car’s audio system, we all became quite familiar with the thirty-fifty songs each girl had on their playlists, and, as a result, we know far more about Swedish House Mafia than you may expect from nerds like us.

Swedish House Mafia.

“Moth To A Flame” is the latest single from Swedish House Mafia to enjoy crossover success. This is helped in part because of the presence of The Weeknd on this song. The Weeknd owns his own publishing company. This company signs and promotes other artists and bands besides The Weeknd. One of the bands that recently signed onto The Weeknd’s company was Swedish House Mafia. So, it is not unexpected that a collaboration would take place and that The Weeknd would use his star power to boost the signal on this new song. Even though this is not a Hip Hop song, “Moth To A Flame” uses the same group dynamic as old-school rappers used back in the day. In this case, The Weeknd is the singer of the lyrics while the three members of Swedish House Mafia act as DJs. They bring their skills at sampling to bear and surround The Weeknd’s vocals with an enormous soundscape to play in.

Much is expected from this song because of the business investment being made, so I imagine we will be hearing “Moth To A Flame” quite a bit over the next few months. You get to hear it while it is still relatively fresh and new. Enjoy.

***The link to the lyrics video for “Moth To A Flame” can be found here.

Note: Header photos taken at the recent Osheaga Music Festival held in Montreal at the end of July, 2022. A link to the festival website can be found here.

***As always…all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

Kiss In a Shadow/I Have Dreamed/Something Wonderful from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical, The King and I…Song 11/250 of The Stars of Stage and Screen.

The stories behind the greatest songs from Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.

Siam: as it sat surrounded but colonized states at the turn of the century.

For over 800 years, The Kingdom of Siam sat alone at the head of The Gulf of Thailand, located between the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea in Asia. The citizens of Siam lived under a form of rule known as Dynastic rule. This meant that the King of Siam and all successors came from the same family line. A King ruled with absolute authority, setting laws by royal proclamation. A King ruled until death, at which time his eldest son would automatically assume the throne and all the authority that came with it. It was all very well organized and all very patriarchal.

One of Siam’s proudest claims to fame was that they could boast of being the only Asiatic country never to have been occupied by colonizing forces. The British Empire was well entrenched in neighbouring India, with the French occupying Vietnam and Cambodia on Siam’s eastren flank. In the middle of it all sat Siam. Because of its geographic position amid all of these colonized nations, Siam often found itself at the centre of international political intrigue as nations (particularly England, France and China) threatened and cajoled Siam in equal measure, attempting to gain access into the region. It was against this historical backdrop that the musical The King and I was based.

The King and I by Rogers and Hammerstein.

The King and I was a Broadway musical written by the famed duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1951…a mere six years after the end of WWII. As you may know, World War II concluded with the surrender of Japan after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In those pre-Internet days, many North Americans knew little about the countries that constituted the Asian continent. But, because of the War being fresh in the minds of everyone, interest in Asian culture grew, and therefore many movies were produced and books written about Asia. Some of them were based upon fact but many were not. Into this environment strode Rogers and Hammerstein with their musical The King and I, which was, as they declared, inspired by real events.

The memoirs of Anna Leonowens.

The real events that Rodgers and Hammerstein referred to were contained in a novel called Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, which, in turn, was inspired by the memoirs of a woman named Anna Leonowens, who was an English governess brought into Siam by King Mongkut in the 1860s. As mentioned earlier, in the real world, Siam found itself pitted against rival nations, all of whom wished to exert their influence over the region. King Mongkut was a pragmatic ruler. He understood that a political balancing act was necessary in order for Siam to retain its sense of independence as a Kingdom. So, one of the decrees he issued was that members of the Royal Court, along with every government official, had to be fluent in English. The reason for this was that English was the accepted language of international trade. King Mongkut speculated that one of the ways he could keep foreign powers at bay was through a series of competing trade agreements that, at their core, mandated Siam be in control of their own affairs, resources, ports of entry and so on. As part of the King’s decree, teachers of English became in high demand. Anna Leonowens was one of those teachers who came to Siam at the behest of the King. Her memoirs were one of the world’s first peeks inside of the secretive Kingdom. One of the shocking things that her memoirs revealed was that the King of Siam practised polygamy. The truth of Anna Leonowens job was that she was to instruct King Mongkut’s 82(!) children in English language studies. As it turned out, King Mongkut had numerous “wives” who, in reality, were young women given to the King as “gifts” in exchange for favourable rulings or as payments for debts that had been incurred. This form of sexual slavery left a bitter taste in the mouth of Anna Leonowens. One of those inspired to turn her memoirs into a story was Margaret Landon who wrote her novel Anna and the King of Siam, upon which Rodgers and Hammerstein based much of the story that forms their musical, The King and I. The whole aspect of polygamy and slavery came to form the critical dramatic core of the musical and is what today’s song choices are all about.

THE KING AND I, Deborah Kerr (who had replaced Gertrude Lawrence for the movie), Yul Brynner, 1956. TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection.

The main characters of The King and I were the King, played by Yul Brynner (in a role that earned him a Tony Award for Best Actor, as well as an Oscar for Best Actor when the musical was made into a Hollywood movie a few years later) and Anna, the governess, played by an actress named Gertrude Lawrence. While these roles provided the dramatic structure to the play, as a whole, it was the introduction of two lesser characters that gave this play its heart. Tuptim is a beautiful young Asian woman who arrived at the Royal Court as a “gift” for the King, just as Anna arrived as a teacher. Tuptim becomes one of the King’s many wives and, as such, falls under the terms of the decree that says she must learn to speak English. This brings Tuptim and Anna together. While Anna is teaching Tuptim and the others, she notices that a young man named Lun Tha has taken a shine to Tuptim and has fallen in love with her. Needless to say, seeking to start a romantic relationship with a wife of the King is not usually a wise decision. But Anna, who has taken a strong stand with the King against the practice of having concubines, decides to stay silent when it comes to the budding romance between Tuptim and Lun Tha, and so she becomes a willing co-conspirator. The song “We Kiss In a Shadow” is sung between Tuptim and Lun Tha as they acknowledge the futility of their forbidden love.

The King and I Kelli O’Hara (Tuptim) Bartlett Sher (Lun Tha): Director Credit Photo: Paul Kolnik studio@paulkolnik.com nyc 212-362-7778

Anna decides to take a more proactive stance against the King’s policy when a political opportunity arises. Word of the King’s harem has leaked out beyond the borders of Siam and is being used by the English as, perhaps, providing them with cause to invade the country and take it over in order to end this “barbaric” practice and restore decency to the country. An English government representative is set to arrive to “inspect” the Kingdom for traces of indecency. The King seeks advice from Anna as to how best to put on a proper public welcome for this English official. Anna gives advice that includes hosting a banquet that serves English food, and, for entertainment, puts on a play based upon a book she has loaned to Tuptim who, in turn, has created an English language play that will be performed. The book Anna has given to Tuptim is a real book about slavery called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. The King is unfamiliar with the book but is delighted with the idea of showcasing his wives speaking proper English to this official, so he agrees to Anna’s idea. All the while, Lun Tha and Tuptim have agreed to use the play as a diversion that will provide them with the chance to escape together and live out the life they have been dreaming of ever since they first met. It is while making these plans that they sing “I Have Dreamed” to each other.

So, the official shows up. The banquet is held. The play proceeds, and, as it does, the King realizes what the play is about and rages against the public humiliation he has had to endure. Just as he calls for Tuptim’s head, he is informed that she and Lun Tha are missing. At this moment, their plan becomes clear to the King, as does Anna’s role in helping bring it to fruition. If you have not seen the musical nor the movie, I will spare you the details as to what happens next. However, I will say that the musical ends with the King on his deathbed. As his heart beats for the final time, he asks for Anna to be brought to him so that he can seek forgiveness from her for how he has acted and for the decisions/laws he had made that angered her so much along the way. As they meet for the last time, the song “Something Wonderful” plays in the background. This song first appears in act 1 and is sung by the King’s “head wife”, who sings it to Anna as she tries to justify the King’s polygamy laws by saying that, in his heart, he actually was a good man. The use of this song as the play closes speaks to the nature of history and how often it is re-written to suit a particular narrative which is, after all, what The King and I is really about.

In the real world upon which this musical is based, when King Mongkut lay on his deathbed seeking absolution, one of the promises he made was to issue a final decree. That decree was that as his son’s first act as the new king, he would end the policy of “Kowtowing”, or blind obedience, that had guided the politics of Siam for centuries. While this may have brought King Mongkut a certain amount of emotional relief, his act opened the door just enough to empower those who held politically opposing views. As a result, the last century has seen Siam fall victim to coup after coup. Eventually, after one military coup, the new leader decreed that Siam was to be no more, and from that day forth, the region has been called Thailand, which, quite literally, means the land of the Thai. The Thai people form a majority of the population as far as ethnicity goes. Whereas Siam recognized all ethnic groups under the rule of a dynastic king, the new military government officially declared the majority Thai as the official ruling class, with all others falling under their thumb. As you read these words, official history books in Thailand state that the country of Thailand has always existed, going back over eight centuries. This proves one of the most basic truisms regarding the notion of history…those in power get to tell the story. As George Orwell so aptly said in his seminal book, 1984 … “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future”.

History matters, folks. But, what matters even more is viewing history with a critical eye.

One of my favourite Columbia House Record Club finds.

***Editor’s Note:

The songs chosen for this post all play a critical role in advancing the moral heart of the musical. They first came to my attention way back in the 1980s…not through having watched the musical or the movie, but because I bought a CD from the Columbia House Record Club. Because of how the Columbia House Record Club worked, it was possible to buy a number of CDs at very little initial cost, and so it became a way for me to indulge myself as I moved through various phases in my musical education. I have written here before about Radiohead, Catherine Wheel and about opera, too, all being pivotal moments in my life as a music lover because of Columbia House. Therefore, it should not be surprising that I had a Broadway musical phase, too. One of the CDs I bought from Columbia House Record Club at that time was Barbra Streisand’s terrific Broadway album. On this album, Streisand sings a whole host of standards using that beautiful voice to make each song uniquely her own. With The King and I, she put together a medley of all three songs mentioned in this post. For me, I cannot hear any of these songs except in her voice. So, in the links below, I will link to her version of these songs that she sang in medley form. If you wish to view characters from the musical perform these songs, then I know YouTube has many videos for you to look at.

The link to the video for the songs “We Kiss in a Shadow/I Have Dreamed/Something Wonderful” as sung by Barbra Streisand from her Broadway album can be found here.

The link to the official website for the musical The King and I can be found here.

***As always: all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post is to be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

Down By The Henry Moore by Murray McLauchlan…Song #11/250 on the Great Canadian Road Trip

The stories behind great Canadian songs that mention great Canadian places.

For those familiar with the evolution of modern music history, you will be aware that the late 1950s, into the decade of the 1960s was a time when society, in general, was becoming more open and permissive. The buttoned-down way of living that so characterized the Post World War II western world started giving way to the introduction of many new things such as the women’s movement, anti-establishment/anti-government protests, as well as changes brought on by the growing reach of television as witnessed most clearly by the daily coverage of the horrors of the Vietnam War. Musically, the 1960s saw the emergence of singer/poets like Bob Dylan, the move from acoustic to electric instruments, as well as the introduction of longer, more complex songs that extended beyond the traditional three minute mark and which began to feature a greater array of instrumentation and sound recording techniques. Creatively, the 1960s were a time of Modernism in the Arts and a revolution for the public recognition of the importance of the Arts in our society in the form of modern architectural design and the increasingly common practice of integrating modernist Art in public spaces. Overall, the 1960s was a period of societal transformation on many levels. Into that context, we place today’s song on the Great Canadian Road Trip: Murray McLauchlan’s classic tune, “Down By The Henry Moore”.

1960c Henry Moore in Hoglands The Henry Moore Foundation Archive 2×2 inch bw neg

Just because we lived in Canada didn’t mean that we were immune to the wealth of changes sweeping the western world during the 1950s and 60s. Sometimes for momentous events to occur, a perfect storm of conditions is required. At that time in the history of Canada, and in particular, the history of Canada’s largest city, Toronto, societal change was afoot there, too. Canada was developing its own identity as a country. So, too, was Toronto, as a city. As the 1950s went by, it began to be felt by those in power that Toronto was worthy of being recognized for the diversity of its cultural neighbourhoods, and that it was deserving of hosting great pieces of Modernist Art that would bring the attention of the world to this great city. The first step in changing the nature of downtown Toronto happened when the mayor at the time, Mayor Givens, through Council, authorized the funding of a new city hall with an adjacent square for public use. The new city hall was to be a modern architectural design. The incorporation into that design of a public square was meant to make the city hall a focal point in a vibrant new vision for how downtown communities could breathe and function. Into the vision of a public gathering place was added the notion that public spaces would be infinitely better if they contained Art. Thus, respected British sculptor Henry Moore was commissioned to create a work that was to adorn the public square of Toronto’s shiny new city hall.

Murray McLauchlan.

With plans underway for the building of the new city hall, an additional emotion flowed through Toronto. That emotion manifested itself in an explosion of music. The 1960s and into the early 1970s was the height of the Folk scene in Yorkville that saw singers such as Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte Marie, Joni Mitchel and others holding court. These singers began writing songs that used the real stories of Canadians: both ordinary folks, along with historical figures, to help create a sense of Canadian identity. It began to be important to tell the stories of places not named New York or L.A. One of those musicians who most took this to heart was a young folk singer named Murray McLauchlan. McLauchan was in his teens when he ran away from home and moved into the basement of a coffee house in downtown Toronto. While living in this coffeehouse, McLauchlan found himself in a music-rich environment. He also found himself with the freedom to explore the city. Eventually, he took pen to paper and began writing down his own poems and short songs. Soon enough, he acquired the encouragement of those who frequented the coffeehouse scene and agreed to perform a few songs live. Not long after his coffeehouse debut, he was offered a record contract which helped him launch a career that has seen McLauchlan record over twenty albums and win eleven Juno Awards. His very first song to reach #1 on the Canadian charts was called “Down By The Henry Moore”.

The Archer by sculptor Henry Moore.

“Down By The Henry Moore” is a biographical ode to the city of Toronto. It namedrops famous Toronto landmarks such as the El Mocambo nightclub, the Silver Dollar Saloon, Kensington Market, as well as Nathan Phillips Square, which is what the public space at the new city hall ended up being called. Into that public square was built a fountain that in the winter time transforms into a public skating rink. It is while skating at the public rink that Murray McLauchlan found himself “Down By The Henry Moore” because the Moore sculpture dubbed “The Archer” sits beside the rink/fountain in a place of visual prominence. Over the course of the next few decades, the Art Gallery of Ontario became home to the largest public collection of Henry Moore sculptures in the world…many of which were donated by Moore, himself, in gratitude and in recognition for how he perceived that the city of Toronto had managed to integrate “The Archer” into the fabric of its being in the very heart of the city. There are many people in other parts of Canada who hold Toronto in disdain because they detect a “centre of the universe” mindset at play. However, in all great cities around the world, mythologizing the everyday people and places that comprise those cities helps to create a sense of identity that transcends its borders. Creating a sense of community and of place is important. The Arts go a long way to helping that to happen. Murray McLauchlan, lovingly described as Toronto’s first poet, deserves a lot of the credit for documenting his city in verse and in chorus at a time when Toronto was just discovering who it could be. I am not sure if today’s Toronto poets, Drake and The Weeknd, have the personal freedom to explore all of the unique and interesting neighbourhoods in the city and translate their impressions into song, but, if they do, I am sure they would find lots to write about and to brag to the world about because Toronto is truly a great city. If you are new to Toronto and want to start your own exploration, going “Down By The Henry Moore” wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

The link to the video for the song “Down By The Henry Moore” by Murray McLauchlan can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for the Art Gallery of Ontario…home to the world’s largest public collection of sculptures by Henry Moore…can be found here.

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

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

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of the post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

Keepin’ It Classy: Frederic Chopin, Piano Sonata #2 in B Minor, Opus 35 (or, as it is better known as, The Funeral March)…Composition #11/50.

Frederic Chopin.

Frederic Chopin is celebrated for the extraordinary depth and breadth of his work with the piano. Over the course of his career, Chopin wrote well over two hundred compositions that featured the piano as the primary musical instrument. Of the many great works he produced, his Marche Funèbre or “Funeral March” is among his most popular and best known. Chopin wrote his funeral march as part of a sonata. In order to better understand what that means and how to locate this famous work, I feel it is important to take a step back from Chopin’s life story and talk a wee bit about how composers of the Classical period constructed their compositions.

In Classical music, most compositions fall into one of two categories: cantatas (compositions that are meant to be sung) and sonatas (compositions that are meant to be played with instruments only). In the case of Chopin’s Funeral March, it is classified as a sonata because it is an instrumental composition that is played on the piano only.

During the Classical period, composers who wrote sonatas tended to organize their work into four segments. The reason they did this was because many sonatas were lengthy compositions, and as such, it was helpful for audiences to be able to understand a composer’s intentions based upon which portion of the sonata they were listening to. Even though sonatas were instrumental pieces of music, the composers were still attempting to tell a story of sorts. At many performances, the audience would be given a libretto, which was a booklet that described the composer’s intentions during the various segments of the sonata.

The segments of a sonata comprised a larger organizational term known as the sonata form. In layperson terms, the sonata form was broken down into four main segments:

1-The Exposition

In this introductory segment, a composer would introduce the main thematic outline of the sonata. So, in the case of Chopin’s Funeral March, during the exposition segment that starts off this work, you will hear hints of the famous march to come, but you won’t hear the full march yet. ***Believe me when I tell you that this funeral march is a piece of music that is universally recognized. You may be momentarily confused or uncertain as to whether or not you know this piece based upon what you hear in the exposition phase, but trust me…you know this! Hang in there and all will be revealed in time.

2- The Development

Like all stories that are written in books, after the main characters and themes have been introduced, the plot of the story unfolds. The same is true of classical sonatas. At the conclusion of the exposition phase, once the main musical themes have been introduced, a classical composer such as Chopin would then take those initial notes, structures and so on and would expand upon them, exploring them in greater detail…luxuriating in the splendor of the composition’s construction, if you will. Again, referring to books, the development phase of a classical composition can be thought of as being similar to the main portion of a book’s plot. When done properly, the music of the Development phase will leave audiences breathless with anticipation for the next segment, which is called Recapitulation.

3- Recapitulation

Using story structure as our guide, the Recapitulation phase serves as the grande finale. It is often the portion of the entire composition that audiences most remember and upon which the composer places most of his or her emphasis. It is during this phase of Chopin’s Funeral March that the tune that we are all familiar with is played. Again, let me reassure you that this is one of the world’s most recognizable pieces of music ever written. You will know that you are in the Recapitulation phase of this sonata when you hear its familiar notes begin to play.

4- The Coda

The Coda is best understood as being the conclusion of the composition. It is typically a very short segment that wraps up the composer’s message.

Frederic Chopin and George Sand in Paris in the 1830s.

Frederic Chopin was born in Poland. He fled Poland when it was invaded by Russia. He ended up settling in Paris, not long after the French Revolution in 1833. Chopin wrote the familiar (recapitulation) segment of his Funeral March shortly after arriving in Paris. Once there, he fell in love with the author, George Sand. As many of you may know, George Sand was the pen name of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, who was one of France’s most popular and famous writers. It was while living with George Sand that Chopin completed the other segments of his sonata. It is believed that his happiness at living in a city that was awash in exultation because of the revolution, as well as his love affair with Sand, was what caused Chopin to look back at his homeland of Poland with such wistfulness at what could have been there, too. When Piano Sonata No. 2 was performed for the first time, it was well received by audiences and critics alike. While there were some mild criticisms of the piece as a whole, in particular, how the segments flowed into and out of each other, there was unanimous praise for the famous recapitulation segment that bestowed upon the world the famous funeral march itself.

Chasing Chopin by Annie LaFarge.

Piano Sonata No. 2 in B♭ Minor takes about twenty minutes or so from start to finish. When the time comes to listen to this piece yourself, you are more than welcome to listen to it in its entirety. However, if you wish to focus just on the famous funeral march segment, you now have a guide to knowing where to look within the composition as a whole. In either case, Frederic Chopin is certainly a composer worth knowing and enjoying. I am currently reading a book about his life, and in particular, his Funeral March, called “Chasing Chopin” by Annik LaFarge. I haven’t finished it yet but I am liking it so far and would recommend it to anyone wishing to know more about this great and talented man. And finally, I will close with a piece of Chopin trivia….yes, when Chopin passed away in 1849, the Funeral March was played in his honour at his very own funeral.

The link to the video for the composition, Piano Sonata No.2, in B minor, Op 35…The Funeral March by Frederic Chopin can be found here. ***Note: this is Movement #3 or the Recapitulation segment only.

The link to the official website for the Frederic Chopin Museum can be found here.

The link to the ClassicalFm 103.1 radio station that broadcasts from my very own hometown of Cobourg, Ontario can be found here.

***The photo used as header at the top of this post is of the Chopin sculpture that can be found in the composer’s beloved Warsaw, Poland.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of the post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

Today’s Top 40: The Stories Behind the Songs That Are Hits Right Now

For today’s post, I surveyed the following websites and looked at the songs listed on their Top 40 charts from this past week….BBC Radio 1, Billboard Magazine, Spotify, Indie88-FM & CHUM-FM (out of Toronto) and KEXP-FM out of Seattle. In all cases, I chose the song they had listed in position #5. There are some heavy hitters located in chart spot #5 this week, so without further delay, let’s find out about Today’s Top 40 right now!

Break My Soul by Beyoncé (BBC Radio 1 AND Billboard Magazine)

Beyoncé is far past the point of simply being another musician who happens to be releasing new music. For the past decade or so, Beyoncé has always released music that has been purposeful and strong and defiant. She has championed the role of females in our patriarchal society. She has taught a generation of Black people to take pride in their heritage, and to move forth into the future with heads held high. She suffers no fools in any regard. So, when the news broke last week that Beyoncé had new music ready to be released, it caught everyone’s attention.

Beyonce.

Her new album is called Renaissance. The first single to drop is called “Break My Soul”. The song is a glorious throwback to 90s House music tunes that were all the rage in the clubs back then. It has a driving beat and will surely be one of the dance hits of the summer. But, as mentioned, Beyoncé is known for making political statements with her music and “Break My Soul” is no exception. First of all, this song is a response to the experience of workers during the pandemic. The Covid-19 experience was bad for many different types of people in our society. In “Break My Soul”, Beyoncé comments upon what it was like for workers to be forced to expose themselves to dangerous work environments just so that the bottom lines of billionaires could increase. In particular, she sings about a movement/moment in time that has come to be known as The Great Resignation which details the wave of people who refused to go to work in person during and/or after the pandemic. In the bigger picture, The Great Resignation movement is one that is seeking to re-configure how work gets done in this Age of Information, which, when you start to think about it, impacts transportation, everyday things like personal wardrobes and the making of lunches, the use of private buildings, flexible work schedules and much, much more. And yet, “Break My Soul” is a throbbing, beat-driven dance tune that will get your toes a-tapping! Honestly, it is!

But, Beyoncé wasn’t content to merely comment on the nature of labour in our world. In “Break My Soul”, she lent her enormous influence to two people who were well known in the world of 90s House Music but not so well known in popular culture by sampling their work at key moments in her song. The two people were Robin S. and Freedia. The reason this is important…beyond the impact it has on the lives of these two performers…is that Beyoncé is allying herself with three social groups that are currently under legislative attack all across America. Robin S. is a Black female and Freedia is transexual. By including these samples, Beyoncé is making it clear that she supports Black people, females, as well as those who occupy any position on the gender identity spectrum.

Sometimes, a song can become leaden and burdensome when it attempts to make too many weighty statements beyond the mere musicality of the song. But that is not the case with “Break My Soul”. It is a peppy dance-oriented groove that will make you want to move. More power to Beyoncé for producing good music that is simply good music…but that is, also, more, too. ***The lyrics version of “Break My Soul” can be found here.

Hold My Hand by Lady Gaga (from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Top Gun: Maverick (CHUM-FM)

Every generation seems to have their Barbra Streisand or their Céline Dion. Today’s comparable artist would be Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta or, as she is better known, Lady Gaga. Germanotta chose her stage name based upon the Queen classic song, “Radio Gaga” and, in particular, Freddy Mercury’s outstanding performance of this song during the 1987 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London. *(You can watch that performance here). There are many who rate Mercury’s performance that day as being the single best live performance of all time. It was a moment in which Mercury and his audience were operating in perfect harmony. It was a powerful piece of music history. One of those in awe of it was Germanotta, who has devoted her whole life to attempting to bring that same spirit of Freddy Mercury to life via her career in music.

That Lady Gaga can sing is obvious. The lady has pipes! Right from the very beginning of her career, she has released all manner of songs in all manner of styles and had hits with them all. “Just Dance”, Poker Face”, “Bad Romance”, “Paparazzi”, “Love Game”, “Born This Way”, “Alejandro”, “The Edge of Glory”, “Applause”, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (with Tony Bennett) and the Academy Award winning song, “Shallow” (with Bradley Cooper from the movie “A Star is Born”) are just some of her hit songs which, taken together, read like a musical soundtrack for the last twenty years in popular culture. Lady Gaga has sold over 170 million albums so far, which makes her one of the most successful musical artists of all time.

Lady Gaga.

As a performer, Lady Gaga is becoming as well known as an actor as she is a singer. Her work in “A Star is Born” may have brought her into the public eye, but since then, she has commanded the spotlight in movies such as “House of Gucci” and is now lending her fame to the new Top Gun movie as well. “Hold My Hand” is the first single from the movie soundtrack, and it is soaring to the top of the charts. It is a power ballad that showcases Lady Gaga’s extraordinarily powerful voice. She wrote the song as a power ballad because, as you may know, the song style known as the power ballad was popular back in the 1980s when the original Top Gun movie premiered. So, “Hold My Hand” is not merely a song that will tug on the emotional heartstrings of those who have watched the movie, but it is also a connective song that ties this movie with the original from the 1980s. Lady Gaga is one of the biggest musical names on the planet these days so it is no surprise that she appears near the top of this week’s charts.

***The lyrics version of “Hold My Hand” can be found here.

A Potion For Love by Aurora (Indie88-FM)

Norwegian Singer, Aurora

Ever since I discovered Aurora’s cover version of the Beatles hit “All Across the Universe” last year while doing the “Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History” countdown, I have been a huge fan. What a sweet, ethereal voice she has! In my mind, Aurora is the logical successor to one of my other favourite and highly original singers, Bjork! Like Bjork, Aurora hails from northern Europe, specifically, Norway. She grew up near a fjord in an isolated part of the country and likens her childhood to being like the one experienced by the children who went through the wardrobe and into Narnia. Aurora brings this childlike sense of magic and wonder to the music she sings. You can choose almost any song of hers from YouTube and you will find the comments section filled with emotional gratitude from people from all over the world who view her songs as possessing such a feeling of beauty and peacefulness in a time of such global stress and despair.

“A Potion For Love” is no exception. It is a song about heartbreak that reads like a novel. The lyrics are highly intelligent and speak to the experience of loving and letting go and the emotions of that connection that is never truly over regardless of what terms the relationship ended upon. If you have never listened to Aurora sing then you are in for something completely different and unique. There is no one who sounds like her today. She stands alone. I, for one, feel fortunate to have stumbled across her work when I did. I hope that you will feel that way, too. ***The lyrics version for “A Potion For Love” can be found here.

Bad Habit by Steve Lacy (KEXP-FM)

Steve Lacy.

I have often been accused of being a music snob by my wife. She and I have very different tastes when it comes to the type of music we like to listen to. She is on record as saying that every song doesn’t have to tell a story or have a deeper meaning to be a good song. My beautiful wife maintains that a song can be great simply because of how it makes you feel and how it makes you want to move. Not surprisingly, my wife is drawn to the genre of music known as Pop. On that basis, I am fairly confident that she would approve of “Bad Habit” by a singer named Steve Lacy.

This song comes from his new album called “Gemini Rights”. The closest comparison I have would be Phillip Bailey, the falsetto-sounding co-lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire. Lacy possesses an airy voice that brings a sense of lightness to his song. “Bad Habit” is a breezy, simple-sounding song that feels exactly right for playing at sidewalk cafes and outdoor patios on a summer’s day. If a breath of fresh air is what you’re after, then “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy is probably for you. Enjoy. ***The lyrics version of this song can be found here.

Heat Waves by Glass Animals

Glass Animals.

And speaking of perfect Pop….”Heat Waves” by Glass Animals has been on the charts for over two years now!!! For many people, it is the perfect summer-sounding song. It is an earworm in the very best sense of the term. This song by English Pop band Glass Animals came out in time for the summer festival circuit prior to the onset of the pandemic…and, just like COVID, it has lingered all this time. Like many songs, its lyrics revolve around relationships and breaking up, but they are sung in such a sweet, melodic way that it appears as though “Heat Waves” has become woven into the very fabric of modern culture as we experience it today. The song is set in “…a summer day in June…”, which, when you think of it, is a clever ploy because of this wording. “Heat Waves” re-emerges every year in June like clockwork and fans fall in love with the sweetness of its sound all over again. I am sure that you have heard this song playing in the background while shopping or while driving in your car. It is a light and airy, very catchy tune. If you have never heard of it before then be prepared to thank me or loathe me for introducing it to you. Once you hear “Heat Waves”, you will always remember it. Whether that is a good thing or not I will leave up to you.

***The lyrics version of “Heat Waves” can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of the post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

You’re the One That I Want by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Grease…Song #10/250.

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The stories behind some of the best song ever to appear in Hollywood or Broadway musicals.

The very first album I ever owned.

I was twelve years old in 1976. That was the year that I bought my first album with my own money. It was called, Have You Never Been Mellow? by an Australian singer named Olivia Newton John. On our local radio station, they were playing a song of hers called “Please Mr., Please”. To my pre-teen ears, her voice sounded angelic and sweet. In those days before the Internet became a thing, I did not know what Olivia Newton John looked like. I only knew what I heard on the radio. That changed one day when I found myself in the record aisle of our KMart department store. Sitting there waiting for me to buy it was her new album. That was the very first time I ever saw her face. I didn’t know it at the time but seeing that album cover was the start of a lifelong attraction to “faces”. Hers was perfect. I couldn’t believe how beautiful I thought she was. As I held that album in my hands, I was developing my very first celebrity crush. For twelve year old me, Olivia Newton John was certainly worth emptying my piggy bank for.

I thought this was the height of fashion back in the day.

In 1977, Saturday Night Fever was released in theatres. Like many, I was captivated by the light show, the pounding disco beats and, most of all, by the dance moves being performed by John Travolta on screen. Not having grown up in the age of dance movie musicals starring the likes of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers, Saturday Night Fever was my first taste of an entire movie that was seemingly built upon a foundation of dancing. My exposure to that movie coincided with me attending my very first school dance. I was thirteen years old. I had visions of wearing the same silk suits as John Travolta and his friends all did. In truth, that first dance was a dud. Our teachers only had a limited supply of records so they played “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons again and again. I was too shy to ask the girl of my desires to slow dance so I spent the night standing around in a red polyester shirt and too tight pants. It was awkwardness and coolness on a collision course. But, at least I was at a dance. The music was loud. There were lights, of a sort. It was the beginning of a love affair for me with loud music in public settings.

As many of you are aware, Hollywood tends to chase its own tail when it comes to replicating success. Saturday Night Fever set box office records. The soundtrack album became one of the biggest selling albums of all time. The movie made a star out of John Travolta. So, when it came to deciding what his next starring vehicle should be, it didn’t surprise anyone that John Travolta was cast in another musical. In the late 1970s, movie musicals were the big trend in Hollywood. It was announced that the movie, Grease, would star Travolta opposite my girl, Olivia Newton John. I couldn’t have been more excited. In interviews that I saw on TV, Olivia Newton John presented as being the fresh-faced, innocent, girl-next-door type that I had always imagined her to be. I was fifteen years old when Grease premiered in theatres. It did so to positive reviews, quickly becoming one of the most popular movies of the year. Olivia Newton John was nominated for a Grammy Award for a song called “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. The soundtrack album went on to be the biggest selling live action music soundtrack in history (until topped by Les Miz several decades later). Needless to say, when the time came for me to finally watch this movie, I was pumped! Great music awaited! Superb dancing was on tap. And best of all, I was going to be able to watch my favourite celebrity on the planet on screen for an hour or two, which in those days, seemed like eternity. So, I grabbed my popcorn and my ice cold pop and settled into my seat at the Triple Cinemas in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Let the movie begin!

Olivia Newton John and John Travolta dance together in the movie, Grease.

Grease is a musical that was originally a stage production that had its premiere in Chicago. The success it achieved on stage there, and then on Broadway, convinced producers that it would translate well on screen. The plot involved two characters (Danny/Travolta and Sandy/Newton John) who had had a summer fling and who were now, unbeknownst to each other, returning to the same high school for their senior year. The movie opened with each character discussing their summer romance with their friends. Travolta, who had adopted a more sophisticated demeanour at summer camp, returned to school as the greasy leader of a gang of guys whose only interest was in learning if Travolta had gotten “lucky” with this girl he had met. Olivia Newton John, on the other hand, clutched her school books to her chest and waxed nostalgic as she recounted to her girlfriends how dreamy her summer love had been. Obviously, the two summer lovers meet up again at school and the movie rests upon whether the two can rekindle their romance in this new setting, especially since John Travolta’s character has revealed himself to be something other than the man Olivia Newton John had fallen in love with. For the first three quarters of the movie, I watched sweet, innocent, soft-speaking Sandy wrestle with her desire for Danny against the pragmatism of her understanding that, as a greasy gang leader, Danny was not the sort of boy she thought she would find herself ending up with. I was cheering Olivia Newton John on all throughout this decision-making process, secretly urging her to drop Travolta and pick me instead! But then, the song “You’re the One That I Want” began to play and Olivia Newton John announced her decision by ditching her “nice girl” clothes and donning tight leather instead. I was crushed! As Olivia Newton John announced that she was “open for business”, so to speak, and John Travolta’s eyes bulged out of his head, my heart cratered. My sweet crush had turned into a bad girl. Audiences went wild. The song “You’re the One That I Want” went straight to #1 on the charts and ended up selling over four million copies as a single. The message couldn’t have been any clearer…sweet girls get their hearts broken but girls that “put out” were the real stars of the show.

Danny Zucko is impressed with what he sees.

As a boy who always preferred Mary Ann to Ginger on Gilligan’s Island, Olivia Newton John’s on screen transformation ended my celebrity crush. She capitalized on her newfound success by releasing a series of albums that all employed sexual innuendos such as, “Physical”, “Tied Up” and “Make a Move On Me”. I don’t want to say that I was a naive teenage boy but I was. Watching Grease was one of the very first moments when I started to realize how the world worked for women and how much of their value in society was linked to their sexuality. The leering nature of Travolta’s Danny character when he believes that he is going to get lucky after all has always sickened me. I wish this was not the way of the world. But, as much as I was disappointed when Olivia Newton John appeared all leather clad and ready to play, my admiration for her as a real person increased as I learned more about her own life and the causes she supported and believed in. She has become an animal rights activist and is an outspoken cancer survivor. Olivia Newton John remains a very popular figure in the entertainment world and has eased into respected elder statesperson status with much grace and aplomb. The funny part of it all for me is that she has done it all despite the misogyny of a world filled with men like John Travolta’s character, Danny Zucko, as well as a world filled with judgey types like me who freely cast opinions from the safety of our keyboards. Perhaps all the men of the world…me included…should simply keep our mouths shut and enjoy the music.

The link to the video for the song “You’re the One That I Want” by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Grease can be found here. *A link to the lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the film Grease can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of the post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com